Wednesday, 31 December 2008

And finally...

Yarmouth borough council are threatening one of their residents with legal action because he allows noisy cockerels to roost in his tree - and they're not his birds!

I wonder - am I missing something here?

New Year's Eve

The last day of 2008. I suppose I should be musing on what has happened during the past twelve months. Either that or on what will happen during the next. Or both.

I have no crystal ball so will leave the forecast to others. Likewise I will leave to others more eloquent than I the musings about world affairs, such as the continuing problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli/Arab situation, the American presidential election result, the financial crisis, climate change, the abysmal record of the British Government, Zimbabwe, the Congo, Darfur. There is such a lot of suffering right across the world.

I'm not sure that anything momentous has happened in our household or family this year; most of it happened in 2007. One thing that has happened is that we have gone back to having our milk delivered. Towards the end of November we had a salesman call to tell us that his dairy was starting a new delivery round. Although the milk was going to be more expensive than in a supermarket, we signed up and we now have milk delivered to our kitchen door on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. And it's in the old fashioned one-pint glass bottles. That means that there is a bit on the top which, while not exactly cream, is markedly thicker than the rest and this bit certainly tastes good on my morning cereal.

And I suppose that just about sums up 2008!

A cunning plan

The manufacturers of the washing-up liquid that is used in our house have devised a sneaky way to increase their sales - and presumably therefore their profits. They have not reduced the quantity of liquid in the bottles (at least, as far as I am aware), nor have they increased the price. They increased the size of the hole the liquid squirts from (OK - from which the liquid squirts - I've read yesterday's blog on Rants & Musings). It's only a very little bit bigger, but the result is that a gentle squeeze on the bottle ejects almost 50% more liquid than before. Even when I try very hard, I get about a third as much again. So, a bottle that would last say, four weeks, now lasts only three. Crafty, eh?

Frustration - again!

I spent ages yesterday trying to format the bit about my local council. Each time I clicked 'publish post' it came out different, and never the way I wanted. I tried using the compose mode, I tried manually editing the html, I tried throwing things at the computer screen, but not of it worked, so I just gave up.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008


No-one with common sense need apply

That could easily be the text of a sits vac ad for my local authority. I quote from a piece in yesterday's Daily Telegraph:

A care home for elderly Christians has had its council funding withdrawn after residents refused to disclose whether they were homosexual or bisexual.

The pensioners claimed that the questionnaire from Brighton & Hove city council - as part of its "fair access and diversity" policy - was intrusive. After they refused to disclose their sexuality, the council accused the charity that runs the home of being closed to homosexuals and cut its £13,000 grant.
Pilgrim Homes, which runs 10 projects for elderly Christians across Britain, is suing the coucil for religious discrimination. [Name], the charity's chief executive, said: "The council has taken overzealousness to the extreme. People in their nineties are very vulnerable and shouldn't be treated in this way."

Last year, the council introduced new rules to comply with the Equality Act 2006 and Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. Under the rules, it issued the questionnaire to the [home], where 39 Christians aged over 80 live.

A spokesman for the council said: "We have never expected any residents to answer questions about their sexuality if they preferred not to do so. The Government specifically states the home must be open to the gay and lesbian community and that it must demonstrate this to qualify for funding. In the absence of any willingness to do this, the funding has been withdrawn."

I actually like living in Brighton, but I do wish my local council and its officials would use a modicum of common sense.

I'm a little worried about my daughter.

No, worried is the wrong word. Puzzled would be better. She seems to exert some kind of malign influence on things electrical and/or mechanical in our house. It was some years ago that we first noticed this. She had borrowed her mother's car and when she came in after parking it she announced that all the warning lights – the little pictograms of a battery, an oil can etc – had come alight after she had switched off the ignition and removed the key. I went to look, and it happened to me as well. After Karen had left to go back home, the problem disappeared. Yesterday, she left mid-morning. Soon afterwards, I noticed a knock in the water pipes whenever the hot tap in the kitchen was turned on. It had disappeared by the evening, but returned briefly this morning. There must be something about that girl.

Another bright, crisp day, slightly warmer than yesterday. This afternoon I walked up through Stanmer woods and across the fields towards Ditchling Beacon. Absolutely beautiful. I managed to spend half an hour in the garden during the morning, pruning the passion flower and ... Botheration!! Another senior moment. The name of that plant is on the tip of my tongue. I know it starts with a T - at least, I think it does. Oh well, no matter, I suppose.

Got it! Tamerisk.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Corfu voted off

Corfu is off the list – mainly beach and disco holidays, which is not what we want. Madam then suggested we consider Cyprus, but Karen was there back in August and didn't think much of the island. It looks like it could be Amalfi/Sorrento.


I was very tempted to write to the newspaper today, something I have never done. A reader wrote that if stores could offer a discount of 70% and still make a profit, he would boycott those stores in future. I had to wonder where he has been for the last few weeks. Stores are offering huge discounts, yes, but that doesn't mean that they make a profit on the discounted goods. There can be so many reasons for the discounts, from needing cash to pay rents and salaries, to having to get rid of stock that will soon become unsaleable because fashions change or electronic goods become obsolete, to simply having to match a discount offered by a competitor.

But I can't be bothered. I expect somebody else will put him right.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Where shall we go?

Internet search engines are useful tools. We were talking about holidays yesterday evening and Madam was humming and hahing about Corfu, the Amalfi coast and Provence. This morning I have been researching weather, especially temperatures, in the three places and what there is to do on Corfu or in the Amalfi/Sorrento area. I already know a bit about Provence. Now all I have to do is wait for the decision to be made for me.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Boxing Days past

Having all the grandchildren with us yesterday afternoon reminded me of Boxing Days when I was a child. My brother and I, along with our mother (and father, if he was not at sea), and our six local cousins and their parents (except Uncle John when he was at sea, both he and my father being in the Navy), would go to Nan and Pop's house, they being my maternal grandparents. This house was a Victorian terraced house with a large front room (only used for special occasions like Christmas), a morning room, a breakfast room (which Nan and Pop used as a living room and called the kitchen) and a kitchen (which Nan and Pop called the scullery). Pop would have used some sort of adaptor in the central light in the ‘kitchen' to run fairy lights across the room. It must have been horribly dangerous, but there were never any accidents. There was no way we could all sit at the table for tea but I can't remember what we did. I do recall that at some stage in the afternoon/evening we would all gather in the front room where Nan would play the piano while we all sang carols. Each of the children had to perform a party piece before being given his/her Christmas present from Nan and Pop.

I do remember being very scared on one occasion. Two of my uncles are only ten or twelve years older than me and they loved to play tricks on their nephews and nieces. The year I have in mind was the one when they decided we would play aeroplanes. This involved each child being blindfolded in turn and led into the morning room where the uncles were waiting. The child would be seated on a chair, which the uncles proceeded to lift into the air and wobble about slightly. When our heads hit the ‘ceiling' we were told the plane was crashing and we had to jump. Of course, we were only about three inches from the floor really, but we thought we really had hit the ceiling. On another occasion we were allowed to feel ‘Nelson's eye'. The story was that an ancestor was serving with Nelson when he lost one of his eyes. Our ancestor picked it up and kept it. It had to be kept in complete darkness in a bag to prevent it from rotting, but as a treat we could put our hands into the bag and feel the eye - a peeled grape!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Boxing Day

A bright day, but with a very cold east wind. Karen (daughter) is due to arrive here in time for lunch, then Ian (son) will bring Ben and Max (grandsons) in the afternoon and Neil (son), Wendy (d-in-law) and Emily (granddaughter) will join us all for tea. In England, this is Boxing Day and still Christmas, although I know that in many other countries Christmas is just a one-day holiday. Today has become the traditional day for shops to start their sales, but this year so many are struggling to get cash to pay salaries and rent that the sales started weeks ago. In some cases there have been discounts of as much as 70% in an attempt to get people to part with their cash.

I didn't make a note that earlier this week I dropped off a disc with the text of ‘Lavenders Blue' at a vanity publisher's. I hope to get the books in mid-January. Of course, as soon as I got home I thought of some alterations I would have liked to make, but by then it was too late. I have always thought it rather infra dig to use a vanity publisher, but so many people seem to have enjoyed the first few chapters of the book that I thought ‘What the heck. If I'm being vain, that's just tough.'

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

I really can't imagine that I will be bothering to 'blog' tomorrow, so:




Did I hear that right?

Tom Cruise has spent $6,000 on wrapping paper? I'm sure that's what was reported on our local radio station.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

I still can't quite believe it

I go to the Argus office to place the Lions book fair ad in the Leader for 1 January and the Argus for 2 January. I explain that I want to re-run the ad with this reference, but that the date in the ad will need to be changed to Saturday, 3rd January. I ask if there will be a Leader printed next week as the usual publication day is a bank holiday.

‘No,' the lady tells me, ‘because it's a bank holiday.'

‘In that case, we'll just have the ad in the Argus on the Friday.'

‘You want me to take out the Leader?'

‘If you're not printing the Leader, I can't advertise in it.'

‘That will be £24.05.'

‘But we normally pay £16.08.'

‘Yes, but that's for a package in both the Leader and the Argus.'

‘You mean it's cheaper to buy two ads than just one?'

‘Yes, because that's a package which includes the Leader.'

‘But if you are not printing the Leader, I can't advertise in it.'

She goes away to make a phone call. Two minutes later:
‘There is a Leader next week and it's been printed in it.'

‘You mean you've printed our ad in next week's Leader?'

‘No, the deadline for ads was brought forward and that was printed in the Leader.'

I refrain from pointing out again that no Leader has been delivered to us for several weeks. The loose inserts have been, but not the paper itself.

‘I tell you what,' I say, ‘let's compromise. I'll book the ad in next week's Leader even though you can't print it because we've past the deadline.'

‘That'll be £10.65.'

I don't argue, but when I get home I see on the receipt that our ad will be in the Argus on 2 January and the Leader on 8 January.

Pass me that bottle of Scotch – I need a drink!

Another sign of spring

I was beginning to think that everybody had left town when I went for a walk this morning. I met nobody on the way to the park and nobody as I walked down through the woods, but there were just four or five people walking dogs when I emerged onto the grass. It was a delight to hear a blackbird singing, although it sounded as though he was just practising little bits of his song at first. Later, he sang away pretty well.

Yesterday evening I noticed an odd thing. The dishwasher has changed colour, and the washing machine is starting to do the same. They were both white when we bought them, and the top of the dishwasher still is white, but the sides and door (apart from the control panel at the top, which is still as white as when we bought the machine) have turned cream, a definite cream. And it's not a trick of the light or a reflection of the very pale yellow walls. What's more, the sides and front of the washing machine have started to go the same colour. Weird.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Signs of spring

Yesterday being the shortest day, we should now begin to see the evenings drawing out again, although it will be a little while yet before we really notice it. The daffodils are starting to come up in the front garden and I noticed that Kay's snowdrops are in bud, so much so that the first will be in full bloom in a day or two, but there's no sign of any in the park as yet. I still think of them as Kay's snowdrops even though she has been dead for two or three years and the bungalow sold.

I now have a date for my driving test – 5th January – so I must keep up the good habits for another couple of weeks.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Exchange rates and other things

The value of the pound seems to be sinking ever lower. We thought, when we last visited the USA just over two years ago, we had done well by getting something like 1.75 dollars to the pound. It later went to two dollars, but has now sunk to about 1.5. That is better than the euro. Some years ago a pound would have bought about 1.75 euros, and even when we bought our French retreat we got 1.53 euros to the pound. Now the pound and the euro are just about on a par. The official rate might be 1.06 or so, but tourists don't get as much as that, and by the time exchange commission is charged by the bank, the poor tourist gets less than one euro for his pound. I do marginally better as I send a reasonably significant sum from my English bank account to my French, for which the English bank charges just £9. It rather annoys me that the French bank also charges me sometimes. It might be three euros, or it might be 13 – it varies. Anyway, if the rates had been back in 2002/3 what they are now, our house would have cost £10,000 more and there would have been no way we could have afforded it. Of course, if we were selling the house now, we would be looking to make a killing on the move in exchange rates. But we aren't, and even if we were I doubt we would find a buyer. The property market in France is about as dead as that in England.

Chris asked me last night if there are any jobs in France that he can help me with. He understands that there is now no way I can go over with him for a week, leaving Sheila at home on her own, but there is a chance that Chris and Mrs Chris could come over with both of us in March. The problem with that would be getting all the tools in the car as well as clothes, bedding etc. But I'm sure we will manage it when the time comes. And there are a couple of jobs I have in mind - but more about those later.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

I forgot to mention that

the cellist's wife is also called Sheila, and the other Sheila (that's Mrs Chris) has a cousin Sheila who might well be there tonight. It gets a might complicated at times, what with my Sheila as well.

Christmas starts here

I might not have had the fun and games that I was looking forward to (?) with the outside lights, but we put up the Christmas tree yesterday evening and I was allowed to play with the lights on that. In some ways, this evening will be the real start of the Christmas season for me. Sheila's friend Sheila – pay attention now, this gets complicated – is married to my friend Chris (of Les Lavandes fame). But let's start at the beginning.

I had got to know Chris and his wife Gill through Scouts and had become very friendly with them. Gill unfortunately fell down the stairs and died of her injuries, leaving Chris with four children to bring up, ranging in age from 16 or so down to about 9.

Sheila had been at school and in the Guides and was running a cub pack with another Sheila. The ‘other' Sheila's husband had gone off with another woman and she was by then divorced with two children. In time, Chris persuaded me to arrange for him to meet Sheila – and the rest is history. In fact, we all had a riotous time on their honeymoon. There were Chris and Sheila and the four youngest children, Sheila and I and our three, plus another couple and their only son. We almost took over the holiday camp for the week.

Now Mrs Chris (it's less to type that "the ‘other' Sheila"), having been an infant-school teacher, can play the piano, a friend (another teacher) plays both flute and guitar, and another friend plays the cello. The three form a trio and invite other friends round one evening just before Christmas. Chris prints off copies of the words of carols and Christmas songs and we all have a jolly evening with mince pies, sausage rolls, mulled wine etc.

Friday, 19 December 2008


The OB wasn't able to buy any more replacement bulbs so I have been spared the frustration of having to get the lights working once more – even if only for a day or two. BUT ... I am being frustrated by my computer. I have been trying to convert a WordPerfect file into a PDF, but all I manage to get is up to 31 pages of 180 or so. I've tried restoring the computer to a different date, re-installing WordPerfect, but all to no avail. I am one of those people (I assume there might be a few more) who use Microsoft products as little as possible. It's not that I have anything against Microsoft products particularly, but when I first bought a computer there was no word processing or spreadsheet package pre-installed. On investigation, I decided on WordPerfect for WP and Lotus 123 for spreadsheets. I have since decided that WordPerfect is a better programme (when it works!) than Word in that I have greater control over formatting. And I don't use Internet explorer, preferring Mozilla Firefox, or the Microsoft e-mail package (can't remember what that's called). I just read my e-mails off my ISPs web site.

The Indian rope trick

Well, I did get the outside decorations out of the loft and the ladder out of the garage and put up some of the decorations. There is just one still to go – the icicles. I knew when I took them down last year that there were a few bulbs gone, in fact a complete section had failed, but when I tested them yesterday, three sections out of four were not working. I replaced a few bulbs here and there and managed to get two sections working, but just doing that used all my spare bulbs. So I gave up. The Old Bat is going shopping today and has threatened – no, she promised – to buy more so I can have more fun later today. If I ever do get the wretched thing to light properly I have devised a way of putting it up without using a ladder. It involves dangling a length of string from the bedroom window and pulling the lights up with that. A bit like the Indian rope trick, I suppose. I just hope it works out.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

OK, where do we go from here?

No-one would claim that Princess Row was the best street in town. Situated as it was between Queen's Road up the hill to the west, Marlborough Place down the hill to the east, Trafalgar Road to the north and, paradoxically, North Road to the south (towards the sea), it was in the heart of what had become known as the North Laine. North Laine lacked the feeling of spaciousness one had in, say, Dyke Road Avenue, and it had none of the grandeur of the Regency terraces and squares of Kemp Town in their uniform of cream rendering with shiny black doors and Juliet balconies. But despite these shortcomings, or maybe because of them, it had developed into the arty, some would say bohemian, part of the town with its specialist shops and funny little back alleys.

And if no-one would claim Princess Row as the best street in town, likewise no-one would claim number 2 as the best house in Princess Row. It was virtually indistinguishable from its neighbours, number 1 on the left and number 3 on the right. Of course, mused its current owner and sole occupier, whether number 1 was on the left and number 3 on the right or vice versa depended entirely upon one's point of view. If one stood in the street and looked towards the houses, number 3 was on the left. On the other hand, if one stood in the house and looked towards the street, number 3 was on the right.

This was a deeply philosophical thought for Tom Finch. Tom was not a man given to much philosophical thought, or indeed much thought of any sort. Ask any person to describe the average man and the description would fit Tom to a T. He was perhaps fifty-something, of average height and average build. His hair, which was starting to thin a little on the top, was a mid-brown, and his eyes were an indeterminate colour, sometimes grey, sometimes blue, sometimes even seeming to be almost but not quite brown.

Tom had lived at number 2 Princess Row all his life. Well, nearly all his life, he would say. The first week of his life had been spent in the old maternity hospital in Buckingham Place, but after his mother had been discharged and had proudly brought him back to Princess Row he had lived nowhere else. If he thought about it, which he never did, he would realise that he had no wish to live anywhere else. Princess Row suited him very well. What need did he have of more than two bedrooms, a front room and a kitchen? Most people would find it inconvenient to have the bathroom situated on the ground floor beyond the kitchen, but this didn't bother Tom at all; he was used to it, and had been for all his fifty-something years. If he cast his mind back, he had vague memories of baths with a clockwork submarine and his mother wrapping him in a large towel before he could get cold.

His mother had always been very proud of Tom. At least, she had always said she was, although she often felt there was something niggling away at the back of her mind telling her that her pride was possibly just a little misplaced. She always felt, when reading Tom's school reports, that he could do better if only he could be bothered to use his mind. She felt, when he received the very mediocre results of his GCE examinations, that those results could have been better. She felt, when he found a job in the caretakers' department of the Polytechnic, that perhaps, if she had encouraged him to use his mind a little more while at school, he could have done better for himself.

But Tom was, if not happy, at least not unhappy with his life as it was. To tell the truth, he never bothered to wonder if he was happy or not. Life was as it was and there was no point bothering about being happy or unhappy. He rose at six o'clock every morning, had a cup of tea and walked down the hill to St Peter's church, buying his daily paper on the way. He had always read the Daily Mirror because that was the paper his father had bought, and which his mother had continued to buy after her husband's death. At St Peter's, he caught a bus along the Lewes Road to the poly, as he had done now for more than thirty years. Here he performed his duties methodically, even conscientiously, but never imaginatively. Tom was not blessed, or cursed, with much imagination.

On the same day that Tom had his deeply philosophical thought about whether number 3 Princess Row was to the left or right of number 2, his neighbour at number 3 was thinking about Tom.

Thumb-twiddling time

I wonder what I will do with myself now? I have actually finished writing the story of Les Lavandes, which has been given the title ‘Lavenders Blue'. It runs to just over 170 pages, some 53,000 words. I've found it quite an enjoyable experience, but whether I could ever knuckle down to being a full-time writer, I very much doubt. For a start, I don't have enough imagination to conceive a suitable plot, let alone the skill to write believable characters, and I don't have the knowledge to write non-fiction.

On the other hand, maybe if I start with a paragraph or two the storyline will just take over and lead me on. It might be worth trying.

Of course, I could get on with the work in garden, or put up the Christmas decorations, or ...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

I'm amazed

In fact, my flabber is well and truly gasted.

We went out this morning to look for the new flooring for the bathroom, something which I expected to take all morning without any particular success at the end. Our intention was to order a vinyl flooring and, expecting it to come in four-metre widths, I was hoping to find one that would suit both the bathroom and the toilet, both floors needing pieces just under two metres by one.

As we walked across to the vinyl flooring section of the first showroom, we saw exactly what we wanted for the shower room, the very top sample in the folder. Unfortunately, this would not do for the toilet, but there was another in the same pattern but a different colour which would do for the toilet and would be OK in the bathroom. Then I noticed that it came in two-metre, three-metre and four-metre widths. We ordered one metre of each in two-metre widths. It can't be delivered until the New Year, but at least we are on our way.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

What use is average?

Can there be a word more meaningless than ‘average'? Yes, I know that ‘average' can be defined, but what use is an average?

I started musing along these lines when I read a report in the paper (repeated on the late night weather forecast) that this year has seen the coldest start to a winter since 1977. Apparently, meteorologists count 1st December as the first day of winter, and the average temperature over the first ten days of this month was lower than it has been for 31 years. But how is that average calculated? Do ‘they' (whoever ‘they' are) add up the ten highest and ten lowest temperatures and divide by 20? Or do they take the average temperature for each day, add those and divide by ten? Would the answer be any different anyway?

And where is the temperature measured? Is it in just one place, or is an average (that word again!) calculated from measurements from several places?

But does it matter anyway? OK, so it's been cold, we know that.

Whatever happened to global warming?

Monday, 15 December 2008

Now there's a thing

There was something I was going to sound off about on Saturday, but I decided to put it off for a day. Yesterday I decided again to defer my rant - and today I've forgotten what it was!

It reminds me of one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given. It was the manager of one of the bank branches at which I worked who told me that if he received a letter from a customer which really wound him up, he would dictate his reply and have it typed up, but would then put it in his desk drawer until the following day. If he still felt the same then, he would sign it, but otherwise he had a chance to rethink.

Another curious comment

I was surprised to receive e-mail notification that a comment had been added to a post I made on my Les Lavandes blog, a post I made a month ago, on 15 November! I had written about making a window shutter, and I presume that the company that commented had surfed the net for the word 'shutter'. They kindly informed me that external shutters, drapes and blinds all let in light and that what I needed was internal shutters, which they would be happy to make. Since I live in England, the house is in France, and they are in Virginia USA, I think it hardly likely that I will be taking up their offer.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Weather again

The weather has improved enormously today - neither wind nor rain - although it was reported on the news last night that the heavy rain had caused flooding in parts of Devon and Somerset. Flooding is just about the last thing likely to happen at our house, living as we do pretty much at the top of a hill.

Given the better weather, I really should crawl into the loft to retrieve the outside decorations, but I think I might get away with it for a few more days. I have a strong dislike of climbing ladders and always put off hanging the outside lights as long as I can.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

A very wet and windy morning and I cut the walk short today. Funny how there are always fewer dogs in the park on mornings like this. Sheila was still doing her exercises when I got home and it occurred to me that she is beginning to spend so much time trying to fight off the effects of CBD that she is in danger of having no time to actually live. Every time she has a physiotherapy session she seems to be given more exercises to do, and then there is her weekly tai chi session, plus the weekly oxygen treatment. The last two take an hour each and involve driving half an hour each way, but they do at least get her out of the house and meeting people. Frankly, I'm not sure that any of it is doing any good as I'm sure I have seen a deterioration over the last few months. Her co-ordination is, I think, worse and she more frequently drops things, and her spacial awareness seems to be dropping off in that she needs more room to walk. But she keeps cheerful.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Read all about it

Despite my last posting, there is a little story I could tell.

I drove over to Westdene this morning to post off a packet for Pam and Graham. The queue was so long that I waited twenty minutes to be served, but despite the pressure, the lady behind the counter kept smiling and chatting to the customers. What a difference from our local post office. This is just round the corner and I can walk there and back in less than five minutes, but instead I get the car out and drive for five minutes to Westdene. The reason is that I have been banned from the local post office. No, that's not quite right: I have banned myself. I am an usually even-tempered person, but the last time I was in the shop I came within an ace of punching the obnoxious little twit who owns it.

For nearly forty years we had our newspapers delivered from that shop. It was OK for nearly all those forty years, but about two years ago, the then owners sold up. We thought little of it, but after a while our paper delivery became less and less reliable, reaching the stage where at least once a week the paper was not delivered and I would have to go round to collect it. No great deal, perhaps, but (a) I like to look at the paper while I eat my breakfast and (b) we were paying for delivery and weren't being credited for the days when I collected the paper. The last time this happened the newsagent more or less blamed me, in very rude terms, for the fact that the paper hadn't been delivered and told me he was losing money by supplying me. Backed up by his wife, he went on to say that he would be happy if I got my newspapers elsewhere.

I quickly made alternative arrangements and have never been in the shop since.

And if, as has happened on rare occasions, the new shop fails to deliver, we ring them up and they bring a paper round.
Funny how some days there seems to be nothing worth commenting on.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

A start for 2009 at Les Lavandes

Yesterday evening we got our first booking for 2009 - a week in high season at that. I was very doubtful about the enquiry coming to anything as I realised that the phone number was American. However, I e-mailed and pointed out that we don't supply bed linen etc and she replied, assuring me that she was aware of that. She promptly went to our web site and booked, paying the deposit through PayPal.
Last night, one of the mainstream TV channels here in the UK screened a programme about assisted suicide. They included a piece of film showing a man in the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland as he used a switch to take the killer drugs and his subsequent death. Surely this must be about the height (or depth) of bad taste: one of the last things I would want to watch on TV is somebody killing himself.

It has also been reported that a 70-year-old woman in India has given birth after IVF treatment. Is she selfish or just plain mad?

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

I've learnt how to delete comments

My post about mental gymnastics had somehow attracted a comment from somebody who was trying to sell a book she had written. I rather take exception to being used in that way, so I have deleted her comment.

Yah boo, sucks to you!

What a bore

(Watch for the pun later.)

Rather late posting today, partly because I was out to lunch and partly because it has taken so long to write it!

One evening during our week in France turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. We had gone to our favourite restaurant for a meal. This restaurant has a distinctly dismal appearance from the outside, a sort of downcast look which is not helped by its situation at possibly the busiest crossroads, next to one of only three sets of traffic lights in town. One opens the door and is immediately pitched headlong down three steep steps into the bar. French bars are completely different from English pubs. There is no warm, welcoming feeling to them; they are plasticy and usually have rectangular, formica topped tables lined up in neat rows, with hard chairs to sit on. Granted, this bar is not quite as bad as that, but an English country pub it is not. The restaurant is through a narrow arch and down another step.

Once in the restaurant, one could be forgiven for thinking that one had passed through a time warp and was back in the 1970s - or even 1950s. At first glance, the floor appears to be tiled, but it is actually covered in lino. The bottom half of the walls is covered in wainscotting stained a deep brown, the upper half of the walls having been painted in what is now a rather dirty-looking cream. Or is it magnolia? The window frames and a door into the street are painted dark brown. (That door, by the way, is permanently locked and duct tape has been placed over the edges to prevent draughts coming through.) The windows have net curtains at the bottom half, and I'm not at all sure those curtains have been washed in the six years or so that I have been eating there. The ceiling has beams - also stained a dark brown. Hanging from the walls and some of the beams is a collection of ancient woodworking tools and, somewhat incongruously, a wooden coffee grinder. Also decorating the walls are a number of pictures, including a rather dark landscape, an old photo of somebody's great grandparents, a pin-and-cotton spider's web on black felt and a mock horse's collar complete with plastic flowers. There are pots of artificial flowers on each windowsill and a five-foot tall artificial laburnum in full flower. Goodness knows how they all get dusted – or even if they ever do. Standing against one wall is an ornate upright piano, and just beside the entrance is a large charcoal grill on which the meat and fish is cooked.

The tablecloths are bright yellow with bright blue tulips – a garish combination – and the napkins are a pale blue, a colour that manages to clash with both the yellow and the blue of the tablecloths. None of the colours actually seems right in this setting. And on each table is another pot of artificial flowers.

The restaurant is owned and run by two very nice gentlemen who would be quite at home in Brighton. One is in charge of the front of house, while the other is in charge of the kitchen and cooks the meat. They both greet us effusively when we arrive, with kisses for Mrs S and handshakes for me. The first time the kisses started I backed up against a handy pillar, but I needn't have worried: I'm obviously not their type. All joking aside, they are always very pleasant and we usually manage to crack a feeble joke somewhere in the conversation. It has to be a feeble joke as neither of them speak as much English as I do French, which is little enough.

Despite the ambience, we always enjoy eating there as the meat is the best we have ever had in France. Starters will usually be tartar of crab or ham, warm goat's cheese salad or terrine of scallops in lobster sauce. Snails are also on the menu but I avoid these as this restaurant only serves six whereas I get a dozen at the village restaurant. The main course might be a thick steak or a thinner one served with shallots, or turkey escalope served with a mushroom sauce, or salmon, or a fish called panga which I have never seen anywhere else. As I said, the meat and fish is cooked on the charcoal grill and is served just the way I like it cooked. With the fish one gets a serving of rice but there is a portion of chips with the meat. With all dishes one is served seasonal vegetables and a jacket potato. This potato is the restaurant's signature dish and is prepared in a way that nobody who has eaten there with us has been able to work out. One day we might be bold enough to ask how they do it! Desserts include creme caramel, a chocolate cake, ice cream etc. With wine and coffee this costs just over fifty euros and in my opinion represents very good value.

But we were disappointed last week. To start with, our favourite waitress no longer works there. Aged about nineteen or twenty, she is a sweetie – not especially good-looking but with a delightful smile. She had got to know us and was not beyond having the occasional dig at an English couple in a most charming way. Then it was Michel's night off, Michel being the chef, and neither Max (front of house who was meat chef for the night) nor the waiter nor the woman who cooks the vegetables could get the charcoal to light. Out meat ended up being cooked in the oven and it was just not the same. But we ate there again a few days later and all was back to normal, except that mademoiselle had not returned.

What did make the first evening memorable was the sight of a wild boar on the verge as we drove back through the lanes, the first either of us had ever seen.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Can't think of a title

A most relaxing week in France with just a little work done to keep things up to scratch. Leaves seemed to be nearly knee-deep across the courtyard, which is normal at this time of the year. We had borrowed Neil's garden vacuum cleaner and that did make the job of clearing a little easier but it took a while to get the hang of emptying it into a black sack. I eventually took six sacks of leaves to the tip and nearly filled another afterwards. The geraniums in the tubs were about finished, so we took them out and planted primulas and pansies in their place. I made a start on redecorating the downstairs bedroom. The ceiling and walls have been painted, but the gloss paint that I had over there had separated too much for me to be able to use it. I'll have to buy more and finish the job next time we go over.

Christmas trees are much cheaper in France, so we brought one back with us, although I suspect it will have shed most of its needles before Christmas.

I managed a lot of reading: The Unknown Soldier (Gerald Seymour), Atonement (Ian McEwan), A Spot of Bother (Mark Haddon) – all for the first time – and I re-read Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks). It was a long time since I had first read this and I had forgotten just what a harrowing read it is. Having finished that lot, I've started re-reading Playing for Pizza (John Grisham). It really is so different from his usual setting: no courtrooms, only one lawyer, and American football – in Italy!

Skip has posted a comment on his blog saying that somebody should buy a laptop and take it wherever they go. I hope I'm not being big-headed when I suggest that might be a dig at me. In case it is, I would reply that one of the benefits of being incommunicado for a week is that the batteries can be recharged (my batteries, that is) ready to post some more!

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Mental gymnastics

I'm a great believer in the phrase "use it or lose it" when it comes to mental agility. I don't bother overmuch with physical ability, mainly because I never did have much to lose anyway. But I do like to exercise my mind.

For many years I have done the cryptic crossword in the Daily Telegraph. I say done, but I don't always (for 'always' read 'often') manage to get it completely done. I used to, but I suppose my mind has become less agile with age. My father started me off on it and we would compare notes on a weekly basis.

Another of my mental exercises is a fairly recent craze – sudoku. And on Sundays, over our morning coffee, the Old Bat and I work on the target in the paper. This involves finding as many words as possible from the nine letters given. Each word must contain the specified letter and must be four or more letters long. There is always one nine-letter word and it irritates the Old Bat immensely when, as happens occasionally (it did this morning) I am able to glance at the letters and have the nine-letter word just leap out at me.

I am being called to go Christmas shopping and am off to France first thing tomorrow, so that's probably it for a week or so.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

One way and another, this has been quite a busy week, much of the ‘work' being in connection with the Lions Housing Society. There was, of course, the abortive appointment about the hearing loop - the guy turned up at Lions Dene on Thursday morning without telling me first and wondered why I wasn't there. Then the salary review and the production of the report, which took me far longer than I would have expected. On top of that, I have been researching canopies to go over the door to the community room so that people can stand outside to smoke without getting unduly wet.

Yesterday I had another of my ‘observed drives' from the Institute of Advanced Motorists. This was to get a second opinion on whether I was ready to apply for the test. It seems I am, so the application form has now gone off.

I have had no opportunity to get into the garden this week and I had hoped to do so today, there being plenty of work to be done, but the weather has turned bad again. I hope I might get a chance after we are back from France on Monday week, but if the worst comes to the worst, I shall just have to get wet.

Friday, 28 November 2008

"Hello there, I'm Olly."

"I'm getting very waggy tailed at the thought of Christmas! I came to Dogs Trust when my owner could no longer look after me. I'm so grateful to Dogs Trust because they gave me all the medical attention and TLC I needed to get back on my paws. I'm really looking forward to having some festive fun with some new toys and treats! Please help more Christmas wishes come true for dogs like me by buying or selling some of these raffle tickets. Thank you so much.
"Woofs and wags, Olly"

We English (perhaps I should rather say ‘we British', since I assume the Welsh and Scots are just the same) are a strange lot. The previous paragraph is the message printed on the front of a book of raffle tickets by (you've guessed it) Dogs Trust, a national charity providing care for unwanted dogs. When I read those words, I squirmed. I'm not sure whether I find them irritating, patronising or just mildly insulting. On reflection, I don't really find them any of those. Puerile would be a better word. But do the people who wrote that rubbish really think it will fool the great British public? I suppose they must do: either that or they don't care just so long as people buy the tickets, whether because of or despite that message.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The wonder of Woollies

The wonder of Woollies is no more. When I was a child, no High Street was complete without its branch of Woolworth's, a store that seemed to sell almost everything. Most of their products were cheap and many were nasty, but to a child with a little pocket money to spend, those stores were magical places. We could wander up and down the aisles where everything was laid out on counters with shop assistants behind them – none of this modern idea of having shelves reaching up to six feet high and nobody to put your purchase into a paper bag for you. Yesterday, the management of the company announced that it is being put into administration.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

More dribs and drabs

We now learn that the Government planned, maybe still plans, to increase the rate of VAT to 18.5% after the temporary reduction ends. This was in a document which was released to the media in error. (Or was it done on purpose, I wonder?) Whether or not the Government will be too embarrassed to put the plan into effect, only time will tell.

Governments embarrassed? That will be the day!

I have just spent 23 minutes on the phone to my credit card company. Back in September last year, I bought a batch of ten tickets from Speedferries at what was even then an advantageous rate, thinking to use them gradually when we cross to France. Unfortunately, their sailings have since proved to be increasingly unreliable, although they were excellent when we first started using them about three years ago, and we have switched to using the tunnel. Speedferries has now gone into liquidation and I am hoping that I can get a refund from MBNA on the unused tickets. Things look hopeful, but we must wait and see.

Talking of waiting, I am still waiting for the hearing loop installation company to get back to me about the rescheduled appointment.

A meeting I had this morning was most productive. At the meeting last week of the Lions Housing Society management committee, I and two others were tasked with reviewing the Society's complete salary structure and making recommendations. There are just six employees, but with caretakers living in rent-free flats and other staff with highly individual responsibilities, we needed to give considerable thought to the whole matter. In just an hour and a half we had come up with our proposals. All I have to do now is to type up our report!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Title? What title?

I managed to waste an hour this morning by going down to Lions Dene where I was due to meet somebody to get a quote for the installation of a hearing loop. Twenty minutes after the appointed time, I rang Pat, our secretary/manager, at Lions Gate to see if he had gone there by mistake, but he hadn't. Pat rang the company only to be told that the meeting had been rescheduled for tomorrow. Not by me, it hadn't - I know I can't manage tomorrow. The company is supposed to be calling me to rearrange.

Yesterday afternoon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alastair Darling, presented his Pre-Budget Report to the House of Commons. Somehow, over the last few years, this seems to have become a mini-Budget in addition to the Budget traditionally presented in March. Anyway, the main priority at the moment is to tackle the recession in which the UK, along with pretty much the rest of the developed world, is suffering. Perhaps the main headline grabber is the reduction in Value Added Tax from 17.5% to 15%, which we are told will cost the Government £20 million during the thirteen months that this reduction will last. It seems that the idea is to stimulate consumer spending in the High Street. I remain sceptical. An item which has cost £117.50, ie £100 plus VAT, will now cost £115. I really can't see that a reduction of that much will encourage more people to buy. In any case, I thought (in my naivety) that the underlying cause of the recession was (a) people borrowing too much, and (b) spending what they had borrowed and couldn't afford to repay. This smacks to me of pouring oil on a fire in the hope of putting it out – but then, I'm not an economist. Another measure is to bring forward Government funded capital projects such as road building and the cross-London rail link. The cynic in me wonders how much of that money will end up going outside the British economy since I expect the companies which get the contracts will be French or German, and the majority of the workers will be eastern Europeans scrimping and saving to send the bulk of their wages back to Hungary or Romania. Perhaps it's just as well that I'm not Chancellor.

Monday, 24 November 2008

What an exciting day.

On this day . . .

Apparently today is the anniversary of the first sighting (in 1642) by a European (Dutch explorer Abel Tasman) of what is now called Tasmania. Today is also the 25th anniversary of the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President J F Kennedy, who had been shot two days before on 22 November.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Christmas is coming...

Today is known as ‘Stir-Up Sunday', the day on which the ingredients of the Christmas pudding are traditionally stirred. The name is actually derived from the words of the collect for the Sunday before Advent, which starts, "Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord. . .". A Christmas pudding is traditionally made with thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and His Disciples, and a proper Christmas pudding is always stirred from east to west in honour of the three Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus. Every member of the family must give the pudding a stir and make a secret wish. A coin was traditionally added to the ingredients and cooked in the pudding. It was supposedly to bring wealth to whoever found it on their plate on Christmas Day. The traditional coin was an old silver sixpence or threepenny bit. Other traditional additions to the pudding included a ring, to foretell a marriage, and a thimble for a lucky life.

Sheila doesn't make her puddings on Stir-Up Sunday but rather earlier so that they have time to mature. In fact, she makes puddings only every second year, one to be eaten that year and the other to keep for the following year.

A cold, wet morning and I certainly didn't feel much like walking the dog. Still, it had to be done and at least I benefited from an hour's exercise and fresh air. And it's cheaper than going to a gym.

I've no idea who wrote this or where I found it, but it's been sitting on my computer for absolutely ages:

If a dog was the teacher you would learn stuff like:
  • When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  • Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
  • Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
  • When it's in your best interest, practice obedience.
  • Let others know when they've invaded your territory.
  • Take naps.
  • Stretch before rising.
  • Run, romp and play daily.
  • Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
  • Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
  • On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
  • On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
  • When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
  • No matter how often you're scolded, don't buy into the guilt thing and pout - run right back and make friends.
  • Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
  • Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. Stop when you have had enough.
  • Be loyal.
  • Never pretend to be something you're not.
  • If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  • When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Motoring matters (or matters motoring)

So the price of oil is falling on the world markets, down to $49 a barrel from a peak of $147 a barrel a couple of months ago. People are hoping this will quickly work its way through to the forecourts. I've been doing a little exercise on my fuel consumption spreadsheet and I see that I was paying £1.27 a litre (£5.77 a gallon) at the local Asda back in June and July, although it did come down to £1.23 a litre (£5.59 a gallon) in August. Also in August, I bought diesel in Belgium and paid 95p a litre (£4.30 a gallon). Diesel is down to about £1.06 a litre (£4.80 a gallon) now, and probably about 96p in France. This time last year I was paying 98p a litre (£4.45 a gallon) in Brighton, and as little as 77p a litre (£3.49 a gallon) in Calais. I shall need some fuel before I reach Boulogne on Monday week, but I won't fill the tank and I shall wait until about Thursday before refuelling in the hope that the price will have dropped a little. It's a far cry from the days when I would ask for four gallons of 4 star and still get change from a pound note!

It is, I suppose, a typical English anomaly that we buy our petrol and diesel in litres, but still insist on calculating our cars' fuel consumption in miles per gallon. Car advertisements in the newspapers also carry what is, I assume, the continental way of quoting fuel consumption, which is the number of litres required to drive 100 kilometres.

Still on motoring matters, I had my fourth ‘observed drive' for the Institute of Advanced Motorists yesterday and my observer had just three minor quibbles in an hour and quarter's driving. I hope to get a second opinion next week, after which (all being well) I shall apply for the test.

I walked round the Roman camp again this afternoon, despite the bitterly cold north wind, and came back past the dew pond, hoping that Fern would not decide to go for a paddle. Fortunately, she didn't go anywhere near the edge. The car thermometer gave the temperature as 5 C but the wind chill factor probably brought the ‘feel' down closer to zero.

Dew ponds are a long-standing feature of the South Downs in Sussex: in fact, one at Chantonbury Ring has been dated back to prehistoric times. The one near us is considerably more recent, having been made only about ten years ago. The traditional way of making dew ponds on the South Downs was to dig a shallow, saucer-shaped hole, which was then lined with chalk. The chalk was crushed by having oxen trample it or by driving a horse and cart round and round. Crushing the chalk made it watertight, and the pond subsequently filled with rain, thereby providing sheep and cattle with water in an otherwise dry area.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Sheila has another of her gas chamber sessions this morning - an hour of high dosage oxygen treatment in a machine similar to those used to treat divers suffering from the bends. This follows yesterday's physiotherapy session, plus an hour of tai chi on Mondays, and her physio has given her a set of exercises she has to do twice daily. All this is in an attempt to delay (it probably can't prevent) the onset of the symptoms of the condition which was diagnosed earlier this year.

I say diagnosed, but that is perhaps slightly too strong a word. The consultant that she had been seeing locally and the consultants she saw at King's College Hospital in London were unable to say for sure what the condition is. They believe that it is one of two - either corticobasal degeneration (CBD), a Parkinson's disease variant, or primary lateral sclerosis (PLS), a variant of motor neuron disease. Apparently the two conditions exhibit very similar symptoms but are caused by the deterioration of cells in different parts of the brain. Sheila, bless her, presents most of the symptoms common to both conditions, together with some which are indicative of CBD but not PLS and vice versa. Plus she doesn't present some of the usual symptoms for either! The consultant, when we saw him in the summer, said that he was 70% sure it was CBD. It is actually almost an academic matter as the treatment (there is none) and the prognosis (it won't get any better and will slowly get worse) are the same for both conditions.

Although both the consultant and the physio have told Sheila that they have seen signs of improvement, the cynic in me thinks they are either trying to boost her morale, which would be foolish, or they are mistaken. I incline to the latter. I am confident that over the last six to nine months I have actually seen a deterioration, but maybe that's just me being pessimistic. One good thing is that Sheila seems to have come to terms with the problem and she remains remarkably cheerful despite not being able to do a lot of things that she would dearly love to do.

On a more cheerful note: one of the first Christmas cards we receive each year is from Gary and Wendy Dempsey in France. This year, Gary has really got ahead of himself as we received their card yesterday!

The sunset yesterday was one of the most glorious I have ever seen. The red and gold covered nearly a quarter of the sky, the red being a really deep, rich colour - very intense. Unfortunately, it was on the way back from the hospital that we saw it and there was no way I could take a picture. The late evening local news programme on BBC did show a couple of viewers' shots, so magnificent was it.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Murphy's Law

I have been producing Jungle Jottings, the monthly newsletter of Brighton Lions Club, for over four years and have endeavoured to come up with eight pages each month. I think there has been only one occasion when I failed to produce eight pages, but I thought the forthcoming December issue was going to be the second. At the beginning of this week I was scratching around with three pages still to fill, but by lunchtime yesterday I had reduced that to just half a page, which I intended to use for a resume of the club's business meeting last night. (I actually had two Lions meetings last night, first the Housing Society management committee and then a business meeting of the club.)

Of course, Murphy's law has kicked in and I picked up so many bits and pieces last night that I now need more than half a page to fit it all in. So, it's back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Weeding the cars

Having changed my car a couple of months ago, I decided it was time to do a little weeding in the filing cabinet. I see that I bought my new car five years almost to the day after I had bought the previous one. The old car was a VW Passat estate with a 1.9 litre diesel engine; the new one is a newer version with a 2 litre engine. The new car does have a few extra refinements, such as cruise control, a sixth gear and an electronic parking brake, but the CD player can only handle one disc whereas the player in the old car was an autochanger which could handle six discs. Interestingly, I paid £2,000 less for the new car than I did for the old. Both of them were ex-demonstration cars.

In the five years that I drove the old car I covered 84,000 miles at an average of 45.36 mpg. Over the first two thousand miles, the new car has averaged 45.05.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The vixen is around again this evening, yowling like mad, which upsets Fern and causes her to bark. I don't mind too much when it's only half past six or so, but the other evening is was after half past eleven and I worry that Fern's barking will upset the neighbours. What's worse, it keeps me awake!

Whatever happened to RSI?

It doesn't seem so very long again that we couldn't open a newspaper or listen to the news on radio or television with hearing the latest horrors of RSI - repetitive strain injury. This, it seemed, was largely caused by sitting at a computer keyboard or a games console for hour upon hour, constantly repeating the same movement and thereby causing muscle strain. All sorts of gadgets were produced, each of which was, according to the manufacturer, the solution to almost all of the ills of mankind.

We never seem to hear of RSI now - and I bet all those gizmos have been thrown out of the window. Maybe it was all just a fashion statement.

Monday, 17 November 2008

One man's meat . . .

We broke one of our golden rules last week: we bought meat from a supermarket. It was actually no more than a Cumberland sausage, so maybe that doesn't count as meat. Sheila wanted to recreate a dish she had eaten while we were on holiday in the Lake District a couple of months ago - a deep Yorkshire pudding filled with Cumberland sausage and onion gravy. The gravy was superb, but then it should have been as the onions were from our garden. Sheila swears they have more flavour than those she can buy at a supermarket.

Our meat is bought at one of two local butchers. We are lucky that there are still a few local shops such as these as most of them have disappeared, unable to compete with the supermarkets. One of the butcher's shops only opened fairly recently, say a couple of years ago. It was opened by a local farmer to sell meat from his farm and, I think, three or four other nearby farms. The meat is excellent, even when they have had to buy it in from elsewhere. They fully deserve to do well and we will continue to give them our custom.

The other butcher makes some of the best sausages I have ever eaten. No, not some of the best - the very best. His Lincolnshire sausages really are superb. He has from time to time tried a new recipe, such as pork and Stilton, and has asked us to give him our opinion, to which he has listened and acted on. His shop is another we shall continue to support.

The leg of lamb we ate yesterday came from our third butcher - my cousin's husband.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Then there's this

I was astounded to read in the paper this week of the funeral in Manchester of an 87-years-old lady. Apparently the funeral was the first time all her grandchildren had been together - all 172 of them. Yes, she had one hundred and seventy-two grandchildren. It seems that she herself had 15 children, of whom 12 survived her, and there were 36 great grandchildren and 18 great great grandchildren. And she would buy each of her grandchildren a Christmas present.

She must have had a very good memory or filing system to remember all their names - I have enough trouble with three grandchildren.

and this

Walked across 39 Acres and round the Roman Camp this afternoon. Actually, it is not a Roman camp at all, although that is how it is known locally; it is really an Iron Age fort. Be that as it may, the defensive ditch and rampart are still there and there is a footpath on the rampart from which there are very good views in all directions. To the east one can see Lewes, to the south the view is over Brighton and out to sea, to the west along the coast past Worthing and, on a clear day, as far as the Isle of Wight some 50+ miles away. To the north one looks over the South Downs. Visibility today was very good to the south and east, but there appeared to be rain clouds building up over Worthing and the Isle of Wight was hidden from view.

Still on the subject of names...

...although this time it's cows' names rather than dogs'. My cousin's husband has had some cows with unusual names - not that he can be blamed for all of them: our two daughters had a hand in it.

The girls are much of an age, and one year while we were staying on the farm, they spent much of their time in the cow shed with the young calves that were too small to be let out to join the herd. The girls would sit on the barrier separating the stalls and dream up names for the calves. Among them were Chainsaw (it had an odd moo) and Beefburger.

Also on the farm were two very pretty Jersey calves named Crocus and Splodge. Some time later we returned to the farm to find that only Crocus was still in the field. We enjoyed some delicious beef and the other (older) children were sworn to silence about the source of the meat in case it should upset my daughter, who was aged about eight. We brought some of the beef home with us and were enjoying a Sunday roast a few weeks later when daughter held up her fork with a piece of beef on it.

"Is this Splodge we are eating?" she asked.

Hesitantly, we confirmed that it was.

"Tastes good, doesn't it?" was the response.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

The weather this morning was good and I managed to get down the garden to do some work - the first time for ages. I got the runner beans and sweet peas down and cut down the raspberry canes. There were still a few raspberries ripening, but not enough to worry about. I brought just four indoors, the last for this year.

A dog by any other name

What has happened to dogs' names? They used to be Rover, Spot, Blackie and so on, or Ben, Bob or Meg for sheepdogs. Not nowadays it seems. There are a number of dogs that I meet on a fairly regular basis when I walk Fern in the park in the mornings. Rob and Jake are both collies and have what I regard as regular names. But then there are Indy, Mabel, Willoughby, D'Arcey, Sally, Molly, although I suppose those last two are not so far-fetched. But earlier this week there was a young puppy in the park and he and Fern played together for quite a while. It was not until I was talking to the dog's owner another day that I learned he was called Muga. Apparently that is a Spanish wine, although it's not one that I had ever heard of before, and is the favourite wine of the owner and her husband.

My favourite wine is probably cabernet sauvignon. The mind boggles at the thought of what breed of dog would suit a name like that. Or Heineken? Port and Lemon? Perhaps St Emilion?

Our last dog was a golden retriever named Bramble at the suggestion of the children. At first we thought it a slightly odd name for a dog, but strangely we discovered that it was actually quite popular and we met several other Brambles during the course of her life. When we got ourselves a springer spaniel I thought that Fern would be a suitable name - easy to call out without sounding stupid and appropriate for a breed that loves scurrying through long grass and the undergrowth. So Fern she is.

Friday, 14 November 2008

That was quick

Goodness knows what time Steve Brewer gets up in the morning. My e-mail to him was sent at exactly noon, and his reply was timed at eleven minutes after one. As he lives in California and there is an eight hour time difference, that means he answered at just after three o'clock in the morning. So, was he late going to bed or up early in the morning?

Steve writes an internet blog and I wanted permission to use one of his pieces in Jungle Jottings, the monthly newsletter I produce for Brighton Lions Club. He was kind enough to agree.

The name of the game at the moment is frustration.

When we are away I suffer no withdrawal symptoms as a result of not being able to access my email, but it's amazing just how much I rely on it when I am at home. Yesterday I logged on, only to receive a message that said Orange (my internet service provider) email was unavailable due to some updates that were being made to the service. It was expected to resume at 3.00pm. I was anxious to send an email so checked again at 3.00 and then again at 5.00pm, only to find it was still unavailable. I rang the service line and waited in a queue for over twelve minutes before giving up - luckily I had a non-geographic landline number so I was not charged for the call. This morning I tried logging on again, only to get a message that the changes were "taking slightly longer than anticipated" and thanking me for my patience. "Slightly longer"? 18 hours is only "slightly longer"? If this goes on much longer I shall have to find some alternative way of making email contact.

I'm a fool!

I've just remembered - I do already have an alternative email address! I can't see what emails people have sent me, but at least I can send one out, and the reply can come to the second address. Can't imagine why I didn't think of this before.

That's just typical

I had no sooner sent an email using my second service than Orange came back!

(And I've altered the posting times of today's entries so that they can be read in chronological order more easily.)

Thursday, 13 November 2008

To sleep, perchance to dream

I can't understand why so many people say that as they get older, they need less sleep. With me it seems to be the other way round. Before I retired, I worked in London and would leave home each morning at 6.00, which meant getting up soon after 5.00 if I was to have any breakfast as well as a shower, although I suppose that "soon after 5.00" became 5.20-ish on fairly frequent occasions. But the alarm clock was set to go off at 5.00. At the other end of the day it was quite normal for me to go to bed at about 11.00 so a full night's sleep during the week was about six hours. Admittedly, I was able to catch more on the train to London, but that was little more than cat-napping. Now I'm retired, I am usually in bed by about 11.30pm, and I still need an alarm clock to wake me, but it's now set (normally) for 7.00, although the snooze button gets pressed two or three times after that. The snooze button gives me another nine minutes, which seems to me an odd sort of time lag. Why not a nice, round ten minutes? I suppose that's just another of life's puzzles to which I shall never know the answer.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Nature notes (and an Irish joke)

I mentioned (back in August, I think) that autumn was here early this year. But it does seem to have lasted a long time. Last Friday I was 'up country' - well, as far up as Warninglid - and the trees looked glorious in their autumn foliage. They have been looking pretty good in the local park as well, but I noticed this morning that most of the leaves have come off in the high winds we had over the last few days. To compensate, there are a number of large daphne bushes which are in bloom with a delightful scent and the autumn berries - especially those on the cotoneasters (I still don't know how to pronounce that word. Is it cot-tony-asters or cotton-easters? I always go for the former.) - are more plentiful than usual.

The OB was due to go for another physiotherapy session this morning and I was planning to spend the hour sitting in the car starting the latest John Grisham novel. That didn't happen as, when I got back from the park, the OB told me her session had been cancelled as the physio was off sick. The book will just have to wait - probably until next week.

At last night's blind club social meeting there was entertainment from a chap who played an electronic piano, sang and also performed as a stand-up comedian. Quite an all-rounder - and pretty good at it. He told what was for me a new Irish joke.

An Englishman walked into a shop in Dublin.
"Do you sell newspapers?"
"Yes indeed, sorr."
"But do you sell English newspapers?"
"Oh, yes, sorr."
"How about the Telegraph?"
"Indeed we do, sorr."
"Ah, good. I'll take a Telegraph then."
"Would that be yesterday's or today's, sorr?"
"Well, I think I'd prefer today's."
"In that case, you'd better come back tomorrow."

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Busy, busy, busy

No time to think of anything to write today. I rubbed down the paintwork in the bathroom yesterday, so today I must get busy with the brushes. Then this evening I am on the Lions Club rota to provide transport for three blind people to their monthly social meeting. This will mean leaving home at or just before 5.00 for a drive around town and then off almost to the far end of the county - about 2 hours in all, then reverse the process at the end of the evening.

Monday, 10 November 2008


I was particularly disturbed to read in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph of a report from Amnesty International. A 13 year old girl in Somalia complained that she had been gang-raped. Under Sharia law she was tried for adultery, found guilty, buried up to her neck and stoned to death.

What religion can demand such action? What god condone?

Sunday, 9 November 2008


Although I didn't say it in so many words in yesterday's blog, I gave up on Dorothy Wordsworth's journal. I really can't see any sense in reading a book that I find boring - after all, I read for pleasure. I interspersed Dorothy with a novel by Reginald Hill about life in Paris under German occupation during World War II. Accepting that it is a novel, it still gives a pretty good idea of what it must have been like. I have now started the book about Meriwether Lewis and his exploration of the upper Mississippi. Waiting in the wings is a John Grisham, The Appeal, which my younger son left for me when he visited yesterday.

I see that Skip is reading World Without End by Ken Follett, a book I thoroughly enjoyed.

Journals (again)

Following on from yesterday's note, and what my Californian friend wrote on his blog, this is what I posted as a comment:
It did occur to me that a blog could be an ideal place for a journal - but then I decided that I really don't want too much personal detail being available to all and sundry. Besides, if I just start a journal now, it would take a lot of explanation to give any reader sufficient knowledge of the background to appreciate some of the comments. I think that means that if (a big 'if') I decided to start a journal for the sake of my descendants, I would really have to make it autobiographical, at least to start with.
Something along these lines:

The beginning for me was in Canada House, a Royal Navy maternity home in Barnsole Road, Gillingham, Kent, in May 1942. World War II was two and a half years old and still had rather more than another three years to run. My father was serving in the Royal Navy and he and my mother were renting a house in Holmside, Gillingham, next door to my paternal grandparents. 73 Holmside was a three-bedroomed terrace house on two floors, with a large back garden and a reasonable size front garden, and I was to live there for the first fifteen years of my life.

On the ground floor were two reception rooms (known simply enough as the front room and the back room. None of this parlour and dining room nonsense!) and a kitchen. Beyond the kitchen was a small, square lobby with the back door and also the toilet leading off. Upstairs, the main bedroom was in the front, with the second and very small third bedrooms at the back. Beside the main bedroom at the front of the house was the bathroom. This contained just a bath with a large water cylinder in which the water for the bath was heated by gas. There might have been a hand basin, but I don't recall one and I rather doubt that there was one as we always washed at the kitchen sink. It was quite a palaver to light the geyser, as the gas boiler was called, to have a bath and we only used it once a week.

The kitchen was quite small and had two doors - one from the hall and the other to the back lobby - but, as well as the sink and draining board, there was a cooker, a fitted dresser, a ‘copper' and a drop-down table which was fitted to one long wall. The copper was a large tub with a wooden lid which would be filled with water for the weekly laundry. The water would be heated by gas burners underneath. While the laundry was immersed in the near-boiling water, it would be stirred around with a stick about a yard long. After the laundry had been washed, it would be put through the mangle before being hung on the line to finish drying. A mangle was a machine with two rollers, one above the other, one of which could be turned by a handle at the side. The laundry would be fed in between the rollers with one hand while the other was turning the handle. As the rollers turned, they squeezed water out of the washing, the water being collected in a bucket for re-use in the copper.

As was the norm for families of our class in the 1940s and ‘50s, the front room was used only for special occasions and the back room was a combined dining and living room. Both these rooms, and indeed the two main bedrooms, were fitted with fireplaces and were heated when necessary by coal fires. It was very rare for a fire to be lit in the bedrooms and I can remember this being done on only one occasion when I was seriously ill.

I was only three years old when the war ended, so I am uncertain whether what I think of as war-time memories are real or imagined. They are few enough, in all conscience. I have vague memories of searchlights crisscrossing the sky as seen from the bedroom window, and large pits dug along the top of the Darland Banks (part of the North Downs) to act as tank traps in the event of a German invasion.

It was in 1947 that Dad came home from the war. I doubt if I recognised him, and my brother Graham certainly did not know him as he had been but a babe in arms when Dad had last seen him some three years before. During the latter stages of the war Dad had been serving on HMS Bonaventure, a depot ship for midget submarines which had been in the Far East and in Australian waters. He arrived in a taxi and had brought with him one of his ratings to help carry indoors a large, wooden chest which was filled with things he had bought while abroad, things which were unobtainable in England. There were toys for Graham and me, and a dinner and tea set, some pieces of which my mother still had when she died nearly sixty years later.

Saturday, 8 November 2008


While we were in France a couple of weeks ago, I started reading Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere journal in which she chronicles the life of her brother William and herself at Dove Cottage. I started with high hopes of learning something about how people lived in the early 19th century, and I suppose I have learnt something. However, the journal is so repetitive that I became bored after 60 or so pages of entries along the lines of, "A fine evening. Walked around the lakes." "Took tea with Miss Simpson." (This followed by a long explanatory note by the editor to tell the reader that Miss Simpson was the third daughter of Mr & Mrs Simpson. Does any reader really want to know that?)

Perhaps the trouble is that most diarists (except politicians, sportsmen etc who write their memoirs) are writing for themselves and don't give a thought to the fact that anybody reading their journals a hundred or more years later will want to know much more about things the writers took for granted: what their houses were like, how they were furnished, what food they ate, what their daily routine was, and so on. It would interesting as well to learn how national and international affairs impinged on their lives. As somebody who has become interested in my family history, that is what I would dearly love to know about my ancestors.

What would have made it difficult for any of my ancestors (on my father's side at least) to keep any sort of journal is that they were farm labourers in what was then a remote part of north-east Suffolk and that few of them, if any, could read or write. I have obtained facsimile birth, marriage and death certificates for many of my ancestors and even as late as the 1880s some were signing with a cross.

Perhaps I should take the trouble to write my own journal in which I would make sure that I include all the things I would like to know about my ancestors. I wonder if I can find the time - and the self-discipline?

Friday, 7 November 2008


Point 1: I should have earned myself a few Brownie points yesterday. I spent nearly 6 hours working in the shower room (as it is now, the bath having been removed) putting up a new blind and refitting the various furnishings such as the bathroom, sorry - shower room cabinet, towel rail etc etc. All I have to do now is repaint and lay new flooring (when it has been bought). I already have the paint having had it made up a couple of days ago.

Point 2: Yesterday the Bank of England announced a cut in its base rate from 4.5% to 3%. I was reminded of the time when I worked in a bank. Back in the 1960s the ledgers recording customers' accounts were all hand-written (in ink - never ball point pens). To calculate interest due on overdrafts or loans, we would multiply the overdraft by the number of days it had been at that level and note the result, known as 'points', in another column. Whenever the base rate changed we had to go through all the ledgers and calculate the total points to that day. This total would be checked against the charts in a thick book which enabled us to convert the points into pounds, shillings and pence. Given that the sort of hand-held calculators that are so common nowadays did not exist, our powers of mental arithmetic were quite extraordinary. Of course, there was much scribbling on scraps of paper as well. All in all it was quite a palaver - and we were not happy bunnies when the rate changed!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

"Brutus is an honourable man," said Caesar

Others can speak (or write) far more eloquently than I about what the result of the US presidential election might mean for the world generally and the USA in particular. I will restrict myself to saying that it has been an interesting, if long-winded, affair, interesting even for an apolitical animal such as me who lives across the pond. It has been said that this has shown American democracy/politics at its/their best. I only wish we could have politicians in this country who are able to stir up so much interest. All the same, if 140 million people turned out to vote, I wonder how many there were who could not be bothered? It also seems a little odd to me that someone can vote early, but their vote still counts even if they die before election day.

I have been known to declare, in my usual cynical fashion, that politicians are in the business only for what they can get out of it. I still think that is true in many (if not most) cases, although I can name less than a handful of British politician who I have thought of as honourable men. (What a pompous-sounding, old fashioned word that is - 'honourable' - but we could do with hearing it more!) As for the new President-elect, I suppose I shall just have to wait and see, although I can say that I do have my hopes for this one.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Remember, remember...

...the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Today's note actually has no connection with Papistry, Protestant martyrs or plots of any kind, but I could hardly let the day go past without some acknowledgment. Mind you, I thought at one time yesterday afternoon that we had brought forward the bonfire celebrations by 24 hours. There seemed to be an awful lot of smoke coming from the kitchen, as well as a disagreeable smell. I was rather surprised, as the Old Bat is a pretty decent cook - in fact, she is a very good cook - and I have never known her produce smoke and smells quite like we had. It turned out that it was all to do with the new cooker we had delivered yesterday morning. It seems that the smell will disappear once the cooker has been run in, as it were.

While we were eating, the fan in the oven was whirring exuberantly, but the OB assured me that she had turned off the oven. In fact, she said, she hadn't even used the fan oven, just the top one. But, she explained, the top oven has a fan to cool things down.

Cool things down? And there was me thinking that ovens were supposed to heat things up. But I was forgetting. Not only did the cooker come with an Irish telephone number for the help line, but three of the OB's great grandparents were Irish, which makes her three-eighths Irish and it is bound to show sometimes.

Which reminds me: I haven't heard a new Irish joke for a long time. Could it be that the thought police have finally got to us?

I love the one about what they put at the top of ladders on Irish building sites.


Mind you, I bought a ladder in France, and three rungs from the top is a sticker which says in both French and English, "Do not climb any higher". So perhaps it's not just an Irish thing.

With apologies to any Irishman or person of Irish descent who might by chance stumble across this.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

It's nearly over

The US presidential election, that is. It seems to have been going on forever, but apparently it's only been 20 or 21 months. But that's nearly 2 years!! And something like a billion dollars has been spent.

I wondered for a moment just how the tv news presenters and newspaper editors would find anything to fill their time slots/pages, but then I realised that there will be speculation about who will fill the important posts, then facts about the post holders, then speculation about what they will do, and before we know where we are, the whole process will start all over again.

Monday, 3 November 2008

I like Brighton

I always tell people that Brighton is a great place to live. We have the sea on one side and the Downs on the other, and the town in between has most things that people want: a theatre that frequently has new plays on their pre-London run before transferring to the West End, a concert hall with a very varied programme from classical music to pop, a conference centre that also hosts concerts (and an ice show during winter), more restaurants per head of population than any town in the UK outside London, and it seems a never-ending run of free spectacles. Yesterday, for example, was the day of the old crocks run from London to Brighton. This is a rally of vintage cars (I seem to recall that all entries must have been made before 1921 or thereabouts) which starts at Hyde Park in London and ends on Brighton seafront. The rally commemorates the passing of a law which removed the requirement for a man with a red flag to walk before a horseless carriage! It frequently seems to rain for the old crocks, but yesterday was bright and sunny for a change.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

St Cuthbert

I suppose I should have posted this yesterday, 1 November being All Saints' Day.

Cuthbert was the Sussex saint and was, I believe, responsible for bringing Christianity to large stretches of the county. There is a delightful legend about how he outwitted the Devil, but before I can relate that, it will be necessary to have a short geography lesson.

Running approximately east-west almost all the way through Sussex, a little inland in the west, but culminating in the chalk cliffs between Seaford and Eastbourne in the east, is a range of low chalk hills known as the South Downs. The highest point is only 711 feet above sea level, so they certainly are not mountains! The Downs slope gently to the sea on their southern side, but the north side is a steep escarpment from which there are magnificent views over the Sussex Weald.

Back in the mists of time (I know - that's a cliche but I like it so I'll repeat it!) Back in the mists of time, an old lady (some say she was a nun) lived the life of a hermit in a small cottage on top of the Downs. Cuthbert was in the habit of visiting her to encourage her in her prayerful life and one day, on his way to visit the old lady, he stopped to rest a little way off. He was admiring the view over the Weald, particularly noting the number of churches that had sprung up, when the Devil appeared beside him.

The Devil was furious because at one time the people of the Weald had worshipped him. He blamed Cuthbert, and announced that he would dig a passage through the Downs so that the sea would rush in and drown all the Christians in the Weald. Cuthbert struck a bargain and it was agreed that if the Devil could dig his channel before sunrise the next morning, he could reclaim the Weald. If he failed, the Devil was to leave Sussex for ever.

Cuthbert left the Devil digging furiously and went to visit the old lady. He asked her to make sure that she rose at a very early hour and asked that she should place a lighted candle in the window facing west.

The old lady did this. The Devil saw the light to the east and thought it was the rising sun. He had only dug halfway through the Downs, so he flung away his shovel (you can still see the mark where it hit the ground) and left Sussex, never to be seen again. The steep-sided valley that he dug is known still as the Devil's Dyke and is a popular tourist attraction just north of Brighton.

More here.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

The shower works!

It was great to have a shower this morning, even though we are still having to clean our teeth at the kitchen sink! But credit where credit's due, Barry arrived to continue in the bathroom this morning and again after lunch. Having a builder work on a Saturday is something I have never before experienced.

The house seems very quiet at the moment with just the OB and daughter here. Number 1 son arrived earlier this afternoon and left the two grandsons with us, Barry arriving almost simultaneously, then number 2 son and number 2 d-in-l arrived with g-daughter, and then daughter arrived. She usually manages to wind up her nephews but didn't do so today for some reason. Her mere arrival winds up the dog though, so it was mayhem for a few minutes. Then just after number 2 son and number 2 d-in-l had left (with g-daughter), number 1 d-in-l arrived to collect the boys. Now peace has descended with daughter reading the newspaper and the OB getting dinner ready.

I found what I hope will be a couple of interesting books at the library this morning: one about the first exploration of what was then known as Louisiana just after the US had bought the land from Spain. Apparently this included all the Mississippi/Missouri drainage basin right up to the Rockies. The other is about the old British queen Boudicca (or Bodicea) and her unsuccessful struggle against the Roman invaders. All I need now is the time to read them!

Friday, 31 October 2008

A whole week away from the world - wonderful! A little gentle work in the courtyard, training the wisteria up the wall and so on, and one bedroom redecorated. But this gave plenty of time for reading: one book about the history of the olive tree, another which was the diary of a civil servant during WW2, started Dorothy Wordsworth's journal, plus a couple of light novels.

Drove home yesterday through snow between Laval and Le Mans - in October! There was enough for the snow ploughs to be out. Barry had obviously been working hard on the bathroom while we were away, but last night was just a quick wash at the kitchen sink. With luck he will have the shower fitted today so we will be able to try it tomorrow, but there will still be the hand basin to install.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Busy days

Yesterday was mostly a Lions day. My club operates a rota to provide transport to there social/therapy meetings for people who have suffered a stroke. Yesterday was my turn. Then a zone meeting in the evening. As this year's zone chairman is a good friend, I agreed (albeit with some reluctance) to be zone secretary, so now I have the minutes to write.

I did manage to cut the grass yesterday as well. It was really too wet, but if I had left it much longer I would have needed a combine harvester instead of a lawn mower.

We are off to France tomorrow, so the dog will have to be taken to kennels this afternoon and I will have to pack the car with tool boxes and decorating materials - I want to repaint one of the bedrooms. While we are away we have a builder coming in to work in the bathroom. The bath is to be taken out and a walk-in shower installed. This means all the tiles coming off the walls, so at least we will be away for the messiest part of the job. It also means I have to remove the bathroom cabinet, towel rail etc. As they have been there for, oh, twenty years or so the screws are bound to have rusted in. So I had better get on with things instead of sitting here blathering.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

We will remember them

Talking of war cemeteries, the Old Bat and I visited a couple on our way back from our holiday in Alsace earlier this year. We had time in hand before our ferry and were able to fit in a visit to the Lens Memorial, which is in Dud Corner cemetery, to find the name of one of the OB's distant cousins who is commemorated on the memorial. He has no known grave, so it might have been one of those we was marked simply "Known unto God". Of course, it might be that his body has never been found and never will be, although I believe that it is not uncommon for the remains of soldiers killed during World War I to be discovered. I seem to remember reading that the remains are then given a military funeral at the nearest war cemetery.

We also visited Trois Arbres cemetery and found the grave of one of my distant cousins.

Although of course we never knew these men, somehow it pleases me to be able to pay my respects to them. As far as I am concerned, they were all heroes.

Trois Arbres cemetery

I find the rows of white headstones (they are all made from Portland stone) in their unfussy shape, all in sight of the cross of sacrifice, intensely moving. And it is strange: I have visited quite a few of these cemeteries over the years and rarely have I been in one without somebody else stopping, perhaps just for a few minutes.

They are not forgotten.

Monday, 20 October 2008

I'm glad that's over

From the back of our house we have a magnificent view across a valley of houses to the hills and fields of the South Downs, with a distant view of the Chattri. This is a memorial garden which has been created at the spot where Indian soldiers who died in Brighton during the first World War after service on the Western Front passed through the fire.

During the last week it has been one of the sites used in the World Festival of Sacred Music which is held in Brighton each year. To quote from their web site:

Environmental arts group Red Earth is creating Nada/Mantra, a unique installation of sacred sound, spirit and space at the Chattri Memorial on the South Downs, which commemorates the Hindu and Sikh Commonwealth soldiers cremated there during World War I.

This is a week-long, free-access collaboration between international artists, involving public participation and live sound - with performances each day at 5pm.

Drop by any time to watch – and take part in – the creation of gateways and avenues that will extend the sacred Chattri space into a living temple. Or come at 5pm to experience live sound improvisations between musicians and artists of different faiths and traditions, which culminate in a final celebration of sound, spectacle and performance on Sunday 19 October.

Somehow it doesn't seem quite ‘the thing' to me - using what is effectively a war cemetery in this way. I would most certainly not like to think that any of the war cemeteries in France and Belgium where my ancestors are buried would be treated in this way. However, this morning I'm glad to see that the flag poles and banners which had been erected on the site have been removed and that the Chattri is being returned to what I think it should be - a place of peace and tranquillity in the middle of the fields.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Metric martyrs

For a little more than half my life I have been using the decimal system of currency in which 100 pennies make a pound. This now seems to be the norm anywhere in the world, but I do sometimes think our quirky pre-decimal system was more adaptable. In that system we had pounds, shillings and pence. Twelve pence made one shilling and there were twenty shillings in a pound. That might at first glance seem cumbersome, but having 240 pence in a pound was actually very convenient: after all, 240 is divisible by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12 etc whereas 100 is divisible only by 2, 4, 5, and 10. Anyway, back in the early 1970s, Britain lost its ancient system of currency.

But we retained our equally quirky system of weights with eight ounces to the pound, fourteen pounds in a stone, eight stone in a hundredweight and twenty hundredweight in a ton. The arithmetic did become a little complicated, but we all learned our tables at school and generally had no problems.

Then the Government decided that our weights should go metric - 1000 grams in a kilogram, and however many kilos to a metric ton. If we had been allowed to acclimatise ourselves to this gradually it might not have been too bad. But no. We had to switch over all of a sudden. And worse, it became a criminal offence to sell food such as apples and bananas by the pound. So the little old lady who was accustomed to buying half a pound of butter, two pounds of apples and four ounces of tea suddenly didn't know what she wanted.

Some traders, particularly market traders, were quite happy to accommodate there customers by selling in the old weights. Then along came The Law in the shape of local authority jobsworths and one market trader was taken to court and fined for selling somebody a pound of bananas. Not surprisingly, many people contributed towards a defence fund to pay for his appeal (which was turned down). Steve Thoburn died this year of a heart attack at the age of 39. There has been speculation that the heart attack was brought on by the stress of the original conviction and subsequent, unsuccessful appeals, even the European Court of Human Rights having turned him down this year.

When all this was brought in, we were told it was being imposed on us by Brussels. Whether or not that was the original position I don't know, but I do know that Brussels, in the form of one of its commissioners, this year stated that there was no reason why Britain should not keep using its pounds and ounces.

All the same, Janet Devers was ordered to pay costs of £5000 this month when she was given a discharge on various charges relating to the sale of goods on her market stall. (See the story here)

Now it seems that somebody in Whitehall has had an attack of common sense The Government is to produce new guidelines to prevent local authorities taking market traders to court for selling goods in imperial weights.

Could this be the dawn of a new age? I somehow doubt it!