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!