Thursday, 31 December 2009

To end or not to end, that is the question

Just as, ten years ago, there were heated debates about just when the new millennium began, so now there are debates about just when the new decade begins. Television and newspapers seem to have decided that today is the last day of the current decade and are providing lists of such things as the most influential people of the ‘noughties', as the years 2000 - 2009 appear to have been dubbed. Whether or not the decade runs from 2000 to 2009 or from 2001 to 2010 is not something I can get very worked up about.

Nor can I get excited about the last day of the year. At least there is no argument about just when one year ends and another begins, although that has not always been the case. I don't know exactly when the calendar changed - sometime about 1750 I think - but the year used to end on Lady Day, 25 March. When the calendar was changed there was such a hullabaloo about people losing 11 days interest, that it was agreed to alter the date on which the financial year ended to 5 April, and that is still the case.

Now I have started rambling miles away from what I was going to write about: the highs and lows of the last ten years. (Who cares if the decade still has another year to run?) I had been giving thought to what has happened over the last 12 months and decided that life has, on the whole, cruised along on a pretty even keel during 2009, so I thought back a bit further. During the last ten years there certainly have been lows, but there have been highs as well. The lows include the breakdown of the marriages of both sons, although one has since remarried and appears very happy. My mother died, but that was a blessed relief as she had lost her sight, was practically deaf and was in considerable pain. The highs have included the births of three delightful grandchildren. The lowest of the lows was, I suppose, the (almost) diagnosis of the Old Bat's condition, although conversely one of the highs this year is that it has progressed much more slowly than I had feared. I just hope and pray that the same applies during 2010.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Dog days

I'm sure that people who have never owned a dog are unable to appreciate just what an effect they can have on one's life. It's pretty obvious if we think of an assistance dog, but the bog standard family pet can make a big difference. We have owned dogs for more than 40 years, since a year after we were married. The first was a collie cross which we got from a rescue centre. I can still remember how proudly she seemed to walk along the road with us after we left the centre as if she knew full well she was "rescued". Although very friendly generally, she was a tremendous guard dog. We had had her a little more than four years before our first son was born but she immediately adopted him as a surrogate puppy. If Mrs S wanted to pop into a shop, she left the pram outside with Sandy tied to it and woe betide anyone who had the temerity to so much as look into the pram.

Our next dog, Rags, was a flat-coat retriever and just about the soppiest dog you could meet, although as he was big and black, a lot of people gave him a wide berth. Our daughter learned to walk by hanging onto his tail and on more than one occasion he was found lying on the floor wearing a jumper and covered in the dolls' blanket. His biggest treat was to meet the children from school when just about every child would come and make a fuss of him. Later, when the children were old enough to come home by themselves, he knew just when they should be home and would be sitting by the door waiting. After school activities really worried him because the children were not home on time. I remember that one winter, after it had snowed, we took the children and Rags across the golf course. The children had extra-strong plastic sacks to act as sledges and we soon found a spot where children were sliding down a steep hill into a bunker. Rags insisted on sitting on my younger son's sack as he slid. When they reached the bottom, he (Rags) jumped off the sack and ran back to stand in the queue for another go. He was just that sort of dog - completely mad and almost untrainable, but as big-hearted as they come.

Then came Bramble, a golden retriever. Another gentle dog but not a madcap like her predecessor. She had a strong maternal instinct and even allowed motherless lambs to try and suckle. One year we looked after just such a lamb for a farmer friend. I built a pen on the lawn from chicken wire and the lamb was supposed to stay inside it during the day. Unfortunately, Bramble learned how to open the pen and on several occasions we found the lamb rushing about the garden eating the wallflowers while the dog sat in the safety of the pen. Our garden attracted all the local children, each of whom wanted to give the lamb its bottle. Not only that, but Mrs S took the lamb to her cub pack on one occasion. The lamb went in the back of our estate car and was then walked down the road on a lead, just like a dog. A passing motorist nearly crashed when he saw it.

We ran up vast vet's bills with Bramble as she had a sort of stroke when she was 6 and was paralysed from the neck down. Eventually, steroid injections got her back on her feet and she made a full recovery. A few years later one eye had to be removed, then a year after that, the second one as well so she was completely blind. This didn't stop her, and she would rush headlong across the field when I took her to 39 Acres.

The current canine companion is Fern, an English springer spaniel. She is well-known in the various parks we go to as a happy dog with a tail that is constantly wagging. She thinks that children were put on earth just for her pleasure and absolutely adores them. If she spots a child in the park she rushes over, never touching the child, and drops her ball before retreating a few feet and lying down to wait for the child to throw her ball.

Yes, a dog is a tie and one does have to think before just heading off for a day out on a whim. In fact, one doesn't do that. But there is something about coming home to a house that is not completely devoid of life and having a dog come to greet you, and at least one can tell a dog one's troubles without it seeming to get bored.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

In case of disappointment

And that's as kinky as it gets!

Kinky people

I have come to the conclusion that some people, of whom Mrs S is one, are just born that way. They have an innate kinkiness. Now, don't misunderstand me, dear reader: I would hate you to get over-excited and swallow your teeth. What I am talking about is not the kinkiness of Page 3 shenanigans, thigh-high boots and g-strings or three-in-a-bed romps. Mrs S would never be into anything like that, not even in her younger days, but she has a strange ability to put a kink or tangle into the lead of any electrical appliance. Take, for example, the telephone we used to have in the kitchen. This was before the days of digital, cordless handsets and we had a wall-mounted apparatus which was the one most used for making and receiving calls. The dearly beloved had a habit of pulling the handset across the kitchen so that she could sit down to chat. I did try suggesting that it would be easier on the cord if she moved a chair to the telephone instead of the telephone to a chair, but my suggestions fell like seeds on stony ground. The cord was one of those coiled things that are supposed to contract when the handset is replaced. It always did that, but somehow it always managed to twist itself up so that when the handset was next used, one had to lean across the working surface and hold ones head about three inches from the base set. Eventually, of course, the cord had been practically pulled free at each end so I had to buy a new phone. I bought a cordless one, thinking it would mean that Mrs S could sit down to talk and I could pass from one end of the kitchen to the other without having to negotiate a stretched-taut lead. In suppose I should have known it wouldn't suit, but she seems to have got used to it, and we no longer have a tangled telephone cord.

Another example is the vacuum cleaner. I would have thought it simple enough to wind the lead around the fixtures made specially for that without getting into a mess. But somehow Mrs S manages to kink the lead so tightly that the plastic sheathing cracks and, eventually, the insulation round one of the wires also gives way. The first I am aware of the the problem is usually when there is a loud bang and the cleaner shorts out. The kink is always just where the lead enters the cleaner, so all I have to do is to cut off the last foot or so of the lead and rewire the machine. The trouble is that after this has been done a few times the lead becomes too short to be of any practical use and I have to buy a new length.

The latest piece of equipment to need my attention was the iron. I just happened to notice that the earth wire was bare - again at the point of entry into the iron. No problem, I thought; I'll just remove the back plate and pull through six inches of lead before reconnecting. No such luck. The lead was connected with spade connectors and I ended up at a car spares store where I had to buy a pack of 25 connectors so that I could use three.

And so passed Christmas Eve.

Monday, 28 December 2009

The Cruel Sea

I was delighted to be given as Christmas presents both the book and the DVD of the film of The Cruel Sea. I am just a little surprised that the book, first published in 1951, was re-issued in a new edition only this year. The film came out in 1953. At the time, my brother and I were at school on the Isle of Wight. It was a boarding school run by nuns and was described as an open-air school for delicate children. And no, we didn't sleep in tents, nor did we spend that much time out of doors. We were there for eight months and while we were there we were taken to the cinema on two occasions. One was to watch a film of the coronation (which took place in June that year) and the other was to see The Cruel Sea. I still find it surprising that the nuns allowed us to see a war film. But that film made an indelible impression on me. My father always said that the book was the only one he had ever read which accurately described what became known as the Battle of the Atlantic. I will be very pleased to be able to read and to watch it again.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

When I get around to it

I sometimes think that procrastination must be my middle name. It seems ridiculous that now I am retired I just don't manage to finish those little jobs I set myself. OK, none of them are of life and death importance, but I really should discipline myself to finishing one before starting another. Two that I have on the go at the moment are the scanning of my collection of 35mm slides - a rather bigger job than I had first realised - and the remounting of my grandfather's and my father's medals. It is more than four years since they came into my possession and, very soon after that, I bought new ribbons for them. The intention was to give the medals bright new ribbons and then mount them in a frame, possibly with photographs of my grandfather and father. This picture shows how far I have got in those four years. Not something of which I am particularly proud.

(My grandfather's medals on the right are the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal (WWI), the 1918 Victory Medal and the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. My father had the 1939-45 Star, the Atlantic, Africa and Pacific Stars, the Victory Medal and the LS & GC Medal.)

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Christmas madness

I didn't bother going down to the beach yesterday but there is a picture in today's newspaper of a good many people taking their traditional Christmas Day swim. It seems this is something that started back in 1885, so madness is obviously not something new. Continuing the sporting theme, I was driving back from my son's house during the morning when I glanced across a park I was passing and noticed a cricket match in progress. By the time I had managed to park the car the players were retreating into the pavilion so I didn't manage to get a picture.

I suppose it takes all sorts.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The land of milk and honey

No, scrub the honey. As I said yesterday, we have milk delivered three times a week, yesterday was a milk day and the milkman was unable to get to us, so we went to the supermercado and stocked up. The milkman was not due again until after Christmas but - bless him - he came this morning and delivered yesterday's order. We are now almost overflowing with milk, but at least what we bought yesterday can go into the freezer.

I am, however, unhappy with the dairy. I received an email yesterday telling me that the price of milk will go up from 1 January. To quote: "For the past year we've all been enjoying the reduced VAT rate of 15%. Unfortunately this can't last forever and the government are increasing the VAT rate back to 17.5% as of the 1st January 2010. There's nothing for you to do, we just wanted to let you know that our prices will be going up in line with the VAT increase." Now I read that as meaning that the price will go up because the VAT element will be increased from 15% to 17.5%. But milk is zero-rated so there is no VAT element in the price (delivery is free). To both me and Mrs S this seems an underhand way of increasing the price and we are cancelling our order. We shall just have to go back to buying at the supermarket.

Oh yes. After 24 hours of more than zero temperatures the snow and ice have virtually disappeared. Long may they stay that way.

A Christmas card

This was sent to me by email.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Got any milk?

It rained last night, then froze. As a result, many of the roads in Sussex were closed this morning because of black ice. It also meant that our milkman didn't arrive. We have a delivery three days each week - Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Of course, he failed to arrive last Friday, unsurprisingly, but did get to us on Monday. As Friday this week is Christmas Day there will be no delivery, so we doubled our order for today. Now I shall have to push my way through the crowds in the local supermarket to get some milk, unless the newsagent has some left. I have to go out anyway as we need to collect the meat ordered from the butcher.

This snow and ice is a real pain. It looks very nice on calendars, but they can keep it in Switzerland as far as I am concerned.

The quote for repairing my car arrived this morning. The work involves just a couple of scratches to be rubbed down, possibly filled, and then the bumper resprayed, although as there is also a scratch on the black plastic underpart of the bumper that will need to be replaced, but the part costs just under £50. I was astonished to see that the total cost is over £400 - and this body shop is not the most expensive either. Then there will be the cost of a hire car while mine is in the shop... It all adds up to a tidy sum for a moment's carelessness.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A Christmas treat

I managed to get the car out today after chipping the ice away from the top of the drive - it was 2" thick in places - and I was taken for a Christmas treat. Shopping at Tesco's. Including a stop at the car body shop to get a quote for repairs, the trip took two and a half hours. I thought that all of Brighton was there, but my neighbour assures me that Asda was the same. Must be people making up for not getting out over the last few days. We have had no post now for four days but presumably the postman will get up our road eventually.

Monday, 21 December 2009

A good excuse

SWMBO has, for the past several years, decided that we would decorate the outside of the house for Christmas as well as the inside. This involves me balancing precariously on a ladder to hang icicle lights from the eaves (amongst other things). When I got the decorations out of the loft yesterday (for She to decorate the tree)I deliberately left behind the outside lights. Apart from the fact that the ground all around our house slopes in a most alarming manner, I didn't fancy trying to place a ladder securely on the ice. She kindly agreed that I could defer the decorating for a day or two. Then I reminded her that my son borrowed the ladder several weeks ago and he still has it.

I think I might have got out of that one for this year.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Times past

I have picked up a project that had been lying dormant for many moons - scanning onto the computer many of the 35mm slides that I took over the years before digital cameras came into my life. It is a tedious job and while the scanner does its work I tend to distract myself with solitaire. Anyway, here's one of the pictures from 1974 when we were all somewhat younger.

Saturday, 19 December 2009


There are some great pictures on the Telegraph web site which I would have liked to copy but as they are all copyright I will just post a link to the gallery.

Snowed in

I indicated somewhere that Fern, our springer spaniel, doesn't like the snow. Today she proved me a liar. After breakfast, which is our usual time for a walk to the nearby Withdean Park, she was positively eager to get out and thoroughly enjoyed rushing around in the snow.

The pavements are, for the most part now, trodden-down snow with only a thin layer of ice beneath so it's safe to walk. The roads, however, are a different story. The main roads, by which I mean bus routes (some of the bus routes) have been salted but the temperatures dropped well below freezing during the night and the side roads are little better than sheets of ice or frozen slush. Even if I could get the car up the drive, the road outside is impassable. One car going down the hill just managed to stop before hitting a tree; another coming uphill failed to make it and slid back to be abandoned just at the point where it is likely to be side-swiped by a car going down. All this is rather a pity as it means we will not be going to Chris and Mrs Chris's annual Evening of Christmas. Mrs Chris plays the piano, a friend plays the flute and guitar (although not both at the same time) and a third plays the cello. This makes for an unusual trio, but they get together just before Christmas every year with about thirty or more of us gathered in the room (Chris and Mrs Chris have a large dining room with a sun lounge opening off it) to sing carols and take breaks for mulled wine and mince pies. It always seems to me to be the start of Christmas.

At some time I shall have to put my boots back on to try to find some milk.

Friday, 18 December 2009

A quote

From our local newspaper's web site:

" Gritters started the first run yesterday at 4pm with a 40g drop on all main routes.

Following this, they continued on continuously throughout the night

Ploughs were used from at midnight and ploughing took place using 3 vehicles on plough routes until 2am. "

If the person who wrote this is supposed to be literate, Heaven help us.

A bit of a bummer

I wasn't over pleased to be greeted by this scene when I opened the bedroom curtains this morning. Although that is not quite accurate: when I opened the curtains it was still snowing and was too dark for taking photographs, but you get the picture (pun intended). All schools in Brighton are closed and there are no buses running. Cars were, I am told by the local radio, being abandoned on the main London to Brighton road last night. We have a steep drive which would need quite a lot of work to clear before I could get the car out, and then it would be onto a steep hill which is passable only in one direction as yet. So may plan to take the car to a repair shop for an estimate have had to be abandoned today. Yesterday I was stationary in the local supermarket car park when a woman drove into the back of me. Fortunately nobody was hurt and it looked as though there was a lot more damage to her car than to mine. Once I clean the mud off my rear bumper I might find more damage, but in any case I want it repaired, especially as it will be her insurance payng for it.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Bye-bye cheque-book

A group of faceless bankers and others, known as the Payments Council, yesterday decided that banks in this country will stop issuing cheque books in 2018. There was a rumour a couple of weeks ago forecasting this decision, but a report in today's paper confirms that it has been made. I have to agree with the majority of comments that follow the foresaid report, although I use internet banking and am happy to buy on-line from trusted retailers. But there are many occasions when I find it necessary or more convenient to write a cheque. Only a couple of days ago I paid the kennels for Fern's keep while we were in France; I always pay the Lions Club by cheque for dinner meetings (while I was treasurer I found it preferable to be paid by cheque rather than in cash - that way I always knew who had paid). Many charities cannot do without cheques as people use them to send donations.

Having said all that, the threatened cut-off date is nine years away and the Council has said it will review the situation in 2016 to see that other payment methods are in place. I wait with interest to see just what form those other payment methods might take.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Books and inn signs

When I first blogged about inn signs I said it was a somewhat tortuous route I had followed. It all started when I clicked on the link to one of the books read by Skip - The War for All the Oceans. It looks a fascinating read. I then discovered on their web site that the authors have also written a book about the battle of Trafalgar. And there it was - a picture of the inn sign displayed by a pub in Chatham called "Trafalgar Maid". The picture on the web site showed the pub as being a free house, but I remembered it as a Whitbread pub and the sign was reproduced in miniature - and I have one. On the back is written:
"To the only woman who fought at Trafalgar - on the frigate Euryalus. Later she lived at the "New Inn", John Street, Chatham, now removed to this spot."
Sadly, it gives no more detail about her, but there were in fact numerous women on board ships at the battle, many of them prostitutes. One was Jane Townsend, on board HMS Defiance, who applied for a medal but was turned down. The National Archives have interesting information on their web site.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Back from France...

...having slept too much, read too much, eaten too much and drunk too much. The diet begins today!

Oh, the Good Granny Guide I mentioned before we went away proved a success after all.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Mars v Venus

I earned some disapprobation yesterday. I brought the Old Bat a present from the Lions' book fair - a book entitled The Good Granny Guide by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall. I thought it looked as though it might amuse her, but I got it wrong again. 'Just like a man!' was her comment.

Not entirely unconnected with the previous paragraph, I saw a report in the newspaper this week of some research undertaken by an American (not that that is germane) professor who must need something useful to do in his life. Perhaps he should take up blogging - or even just reading other people's blogs.

It would seem that the said Prof researched why women like browsing the shops whereas men don't. He posits that this is a genetic thing, or liked to the X/Y chromosome, and can be traced back as far as the Stone Age. In those days, women went out searching for fruit, berries and nuts and had to be very careful to pick just the right ones, so they looked at them carefully, moving from one bush to another to make sure they selected only the very best quality. This makes them capable of going from shop to shop trying to ensure that the sweater or whatever is exactly the right shade of green, blue or red, and is made to just the right pattern. Men, on the other hand, set out to kill a bear or deer or bloody great dinosaur, and when they had done that they went home to their cave. Get out, get it, get home.

As I shall be out of contact with the bloggosphere for the next week or so, I shall leave you with this conundrum. My own research has been of a more limited extent, but I have noticed a strange thing. Maybe you have as well? When women talk about property which is jointly owned with their husbands - a house, for example - the refer to it as 'mine' - 'my house'. But men refer to it as 'ours' - 'our house'. I have yet to conduct any research into why this may be and will welcome comments.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

A family connection

Researching my family tree has thrown up an astonishing number of ancestors who ran pubs. It all starts with my 7x great grandfather who, in 1702, appears to have been prosecuted for selling beer without a license. There is a document in the Hampshire Records Office which reads:
"Borough of Portsmouth
"Robert Hewett and William Tooth do formally make oath that this day how at Portsmouth Simeon Waldgrave did in his dwelling house sell and retail beer and those depositioners do further make oath that they have heard and believe that the said Waldgrave is not licenced to sell and retail ale or beer according to law.
Inv 14:9:1702 (signed) Robert Hewett the mark X of William Tooth"

Come forward to the 1880s and the Woodland Tavern. The licensee was Walter Cooke, a 2x great uncle.

The inn sign produced above has information on the back which reads:

"Some local cynics aver this inn was so named as a protest against 19th century planning, although there is little doubt a tavern of this name existed when the area was still largely wooded, and supplied much of the timber for His (or Her) Majesty's more picturesque but less efficient men-of-war." Those ships would have been built in Chatham Dockyard, where my grandfather was employed as a shipwright - but long after the ships were built of wood.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Sign ins

Before my granddaughter interrupted me I think I had just reached the fact that Whitbread's very soon produced a second series of fifty inn signs. By the end of 1952 I had collected several, but matters were put on hold for pretty much all of 1953 while I was away at school on the Isle of Wight (which is an altogether different story). The third, fourth and fifth series were produced in cardboard, and there was more information printed on the back. It wasn't until the fifth series came out (must have been 1954 or 55) that some of us twigged on to how best to collect them. Our father's had, of course, been encouraged to visit all the local outlets, a task taken up more eagerly by some than by others, but as my father was away with the Navy I wasn't able to adopt this approach. But for the fifth series, I somehow managed to obtain a complete list of the pubs covered. It was then a simple matter to write to the licensee of each pub, enclosing a stamped addressed envelope, and ask for an inn sign. Most were happy to oblige, or, if not exactly happy, they did oblige anyway. But some stuck to the letter of the law and refused to hand over a sign without a drink being bought. There were, I seem to remember, three of these, and each of those three pubs was in a pretty inaccessible spot as far as we Medway-towns-ites were concerned. I remember that two of them were the Red Lion at Stodmarsh and the Ypres Castle at Rye, but I can't remember the third. But there were ways and means.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Time for a break

I'll continue the inn sign saga later, but today, please meet my little princess.

Emily is 2½ and has just discovered that she likes oranges. She spotted the fruit bowl when she visited last Sunday and helped herself to one, although Grandma had to peel it for her. She can, of course, twist Grandad round her little finger, but hey, that's what Grandads are for, isn't it? I've noticed that Grandma isn't immune.

By the way, Emily is blonde, not ginger. I don't know what happened to the photo. Who said the camera never lies?

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

To continue

It must have been in 1950 or, more likely, 1951 that Whitbread's introduced a new marketing ploy. They selected 50 of their pubs and produced miniature copies of the signs of those pubs, each pub having a supply of its own miniature signs to be given to customers. Those miniatures were printed onto thin sheets of tin, 2" x 3", with just a minimum of detail on the back. It didn't take long before we schoolboys had started collecting the miniatures. Being printed onto tin, the pictures were particularly susceptible to scratching, so we protected out collections by wrapping each miniature in a sheet of toilet paper. Izal was the usual brand, probably because it was the most commonly used (no doubt price had something to do with that). None of this soft namby-pamby stuff we use nowadays, Izal was smooth and shiny on one side, slightly rough and matt on the other. And it was stiff, so it was easy to fold around the inn signs.

And I have just discovered that Wateringbury had at least two more pubs.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Inn signs

It was a tortuous thread that reminded me of a hobby I had rather more than 50 years ago, that of collecting inn signs. I don't mean to suggest that I crept out at the dead of night with a ladder and a toolbox to remove the signs from local hostelries. By way of explanation I should start by saying that there was at the time a brewery based at a village in Kent (which has since become a national name although it has no doubt been taken over by an international name by now). The said brewery also owned a fairly substantial chain of public houses which were known for their artistic and/or humorous hanging signs. Some of the pubs had unusual names themselves. I should imagine that Royal Oak or King's Head are possibly the most common names, although Red Lion could well be a contender.

The village where the brewery was based - Wateringbury - boasted at least three pubs. There was while a little further along the road wasand on the edge of the village was
I think perhaps we will return to this another day. Just looking at those pictures is making me thirsty!

Monday, 30 November 2009

Mad dogs...

...and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Or in the gales and driving rain at any time of day. We do seem to have had a lot of wind and rain lately, but there has also been a super-abundance of rainbows. Last week, while walking the dog in Stanmer Park, I saw a double rainbow - the first I remember ever seeing. Needless to say, I didn't have my camera with me at the time. Then yesterday, over the Downs, there was a complete arc. Again, I don't remember ever seeing that before. What's more, the ends weren't touching the horizon as they so often seem to do, but actually appeared to be touching houses. By the time I had fetched my camera the colours had lost much of their intensity, but I took a couple of picture all the same.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Christmas is coming

I know that because I keep being asked for my Christmas list. I wonder if I am the only person in the world who baulks at drawing up a list of what I would like to be given as Christmas presents. I realise that it can be difficult to say 'thank you' with any sincerity when a person has given a wholly inappropriate present, or something that one really doesn't want, so the idea of picking something from a list is one way of avoiding that. But surely part of the giving is the thought that goes into selecting what to give.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

In the garden at last!

A fine blue sky greeted me when I opened the curtains this morning and it was still blue when I set out after breakfast for the first of Fern's two daily walks. I should have known better than to wear a fleece instead of a waterproof: it started to rain just as we were leaving the park. Fortunately, it wasn't very heavy and had stopped by the time we had walked home. With blue skies once again, I spent some time tidying the garden - a little light pruning, some not so light, and cutting down the raspberry canes. There were still four berries on them that were worth eating. I think this is the latest date on which I have ever picked raspberries. I also lifted a couple of parsnips which the OB will, I hope, roast with tomorrow's joint.

We finally solved the problem of the metal bucket she wanted for forcing rhubarb. No, we didn't find a bucket, but it occurred to one of us that we might be able to buy a metal wastepaper basket. I ordered one from my regular stationery suppliers last weekend, and it arrive at 7.30 on Tuesday morning. Other orders placed through the internet last weekend took a little longer. There were the seeds for next year's vegetables (arrived Thursday) and as I had managed to get the OB to choose the pictures for next year's calendar after a wait of about three weeks, I was able to order that as well and it arrived yesterday.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Syrup tins

To go back to the syrup tins, although I am really not talking about tins just now. When the children were young, the Old Bat (or Young Bat as she was then) and I were less comfortably placed in the financial sense. We weren't poor, but we had to watch the shillings if not the pennies. With the children, we probably consumed more syrup then than we do now, so the YB bought the supermarket's own brand. This came not in a tin, but in a clear plastic container with a black screw-top lid. I suppose the contained measured about four inches in diameter (it was round) and about three inches in height. I found the empty containers most useful for storing screws, nails and other miscellaneous small items of hardware that I bought in fairly large quantities. I always seemed to need a few staples or whathaveyou, and these syrup containers (I can't call them jars or tins, so containers they will have to be) came in very handy for keeping them tidy. I screwed a row of the lids under a shelf in the garage so when I needed a one-inch number eight screw it was a simple matter to get hold of one. Other syrup containers could be kept on the shelf below, so all though I had a double height of them, I never had to move one to get at another.

The empty Lyle's tins were another matter. Those tins have a lid like one gets on a paint pot, one that has to be prised off with a screwdriver and has to be pressed down very firmly to make sure the tin is closed. One of these was handy for holding a ball of string. I punched a small hole in the lid, put the string in the tin and fed the end of the string through the hole before replacing the lid. With a few inches poking through, it was an easy job to cut off a length of string. This storage system had two advantages. First, the string didn't get tangled, and second, nobody could come along and start using the string from the wrong end. But those empty tins also had another use.

For more years than I care to remember, I was a leader in the Scouts. Every now and then we (other leaders and me) would arrange an incident hike in which the Scouts had to follow a set route between check points with some sort of activity to be done at each check point. it might involve first aid, or compass work. Or they might be given an empty syrup tin, a dixie, a bottle of water, a box of matches and a bundle of newspaper and told to make an explosive device. The idea was that they should light a fire, pour some of the water into the syrup tin and replace the lid fairly tightly. The remainder of the water would be poured into the dixie and the syrup tin placed in it. The water would then be brought to the boil and, after a while, the steam in the syrup tin would expand sufficiently to blow the lid off.

Happy days.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


As a boy, I collected many things. Probably the first were car numbers, although why I stood for hours jotting down the numbers of as many cars that passed me as I managed to read I really cannot imagine. A present of an autograph album got me started on that. I knew no famous people and there was no chance of me meeting any, so the autographs I collected were those of uncles and aunts, schoolteachers and neighbours. Most of the people who signed my book wrote a little verse or drew a sketch and I can still recall some of them. There was, of course,
"By hook or by crook
I'll be first/last in this book"
with someone else squeezing in before/after that "Oh no you won't!"

An honorary uncle wrote
"Here's to the bird
That sat on a thistle.
He pricked himself
And it made him whistle."
He (the uncle, not the bird) also drew a sketch of a thistle growing horizontally and a bird perched on it.

Then I think it was my grandmother who wrote
"Love many, trust a few.
Always paddle your own canoe"
which made no sense to me as a 7-year-old.

The forerunner of texting was, I thought, the peak of wit:

"Y Y U R
Y Y 4 me"

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


I downloaded Apple Quicktime yesterday, forgetting that I did that once before and it slowed down my computer terribly. It has done so again, so I will have to use the system restore tool.


Just like everyone else who is still the right side of the turf, I am getting older at the astonishing rate of 365 days a year, although - again just like everyone else - I do occasionally step it up to 366. As I pile on these years, I find that I take more and more pleasure in reminiscing. Of course, as the years go by there is more for me to reminisce about (bad grammar but you know what I mean). I appreciate that to those of more tender years the sound of an old dinosaur saying, 'When I was your age... ' (or words like that) means anything from a few seconds to an hour or so of boredom.

The Old Bat and I had a few minutes of happy reminiscence yesterday evening after supper, and it was this that started it.

That's right - a tin of Lyle's golden syrup.

The Old Bat had served rice pudding for dessert. It was nothing like the rice pudding that my mother used to make. She put the rice and some milk into a Pyrex dish, added a knob of butter - no, it would have been margarine as I'm sure she couldn't have afforded butter - and put the whole lot in the oven to bake. When it was done, there was a brown skin across the top and, although mother would try to avoid serving the skin, some always ended up in the bowl. I hated that skin and it always made me gag if I tried to eat it. The pudding itself was a bit runny, not like the tins most people buy nowadays. Although I prefer Ambrosia rice pudding, Mrs S always buys the supermarket's own brand, which is not so thick and creamy. But that's what she prefers, and since it is she who does the shopping... I don't need to say more. I like my rice pudding as it comes from the saucepan - hot and steaming - but the Old Bat always adds a spoonful of golden syrup to hers: hence the tin sitting on the table. I mused that the design of the tin had remained practically unchanged since I was a boy, just a bar code and nutritional information added really, and that led us to think of things we recalled from childhood, like Bassett's liquorice allsorts (I liked them, the OB didn't), aniseed balls (I liked them, the OB didn't) Cadbury's dairy milk chocolate flakes (we both liked them).

Out of curiosity, I thought to see if I could find out how long the syrup tin design had remained unchanged. They did use one in which the green became gold (to mark their centenary or something), but I learned that "this distinctive packaging has hardly changed since 1885 and has been named by Guinness World Records as the world's oldest branding in 2007! Launched in the 1880's, the Victorian-style design has altered little over the years and its enduring image has now earned cult status in the design and packaging industries. During World War 1 the 'tin' was even made out of thick cardboard as metal was being used for the war effort! Abram Lyle had strong religious beliefs, which is why the Lyle's Golden Syrup trademark depicts a quotation from the Bible. In the Old Testament (Book of Judges 14:14) Samson was travelling to the land of the Philistines in search of a wife. During the journey he killed a lion, and on his return past the same spot he noticed that a swarm of bees had formed a comb of honey in the carcass. Samson later turned this into a riddle: "Out of the eater came forth meat and out of the strong came forth sweetness". The "lion and bees" were quickly becoming identified with Lyle's Golden Syrup, and it was registered as Lyle's trademark in 1904. Plaistow employees did not forget to celebrate its 100th birthday in 2004. However, no-one knows why Abram chose the wording 'Out of the strong came forth sweetness'. Was he referring to the tin holding the syrup - or the company producing it?"

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

My first car

It was, I think, in 1961 that I bought my first car - a 1935 Ford 8. I was extremely proud of that car, even though it was already more than 25 years old and had covered goodness knows how many miles. I seem to remember that I paid £20 for it. On a downhill road with the wind behind me I did once manage to get the speedometer up to 60. I would call in to the garage and ask them to fill up the oil and check the petrol!

It was soon after I acquired this spectacular mode of transport that the new cathedral was consecrated at Coventry. I saw the pictures in the press and determined to visit this splendid building myself. So when my holiday came round, I tossed a few bits onto the back seat of the Ford and set off for Coventry. I can't remember the route I took from Brighton to the Midlands, but I think it was probably fairly circuitous in order to avoid having to drive across London. Anyway, I reached Coventry and was stunned by the new cathedral, although I think what made the greatest impression on me was the cross of nails and the carving behind the altar in the old cathedral - "Father forgive".

I slept in the car in a car park somewhere in the city, and the next day I gave myself another treat: I drove back along the M1. England's first stretch of motorway had been a short piece of by-pass (round Preston, I think) but the M1, an 80-mile road linking London and Birmingham, was a sign of the future. I cruised down towards London in the nearside lane, doing something like 45-50 mph, on an almost empty road, but I remember being overtaken by two cars at once. A Jaguar passed me in the middle lane, possibly doing 60 or more, and as he did so, a Rolls passed him in the outside lane. Just why that incident should stick in my mind I really can't imagine.

That poor old Ford 8 eventually gave up the ghost just up the road from my then girl friend, later to become the Old Bat. We had been out somewhere and the engine went BANG and stopped. It transpired that the core plug had blown out. My future father-in-law borrowed a friend's car to tow me back home the next morning. Our route took us across Preston Circus, which in those days was a large roundabout standing at a major junction in town where one of the roads was the one from London. It was a Sunday at the height of summer, so there were hordes of cars streaming into Brighton. The tow rope snapped as we were going round the roundabout and before anyone could do anything, the traffic was snarled up for what seemed like miles. Three policemen appeared from nowhere and told the Young Bat to get behind the wheel, never mind that she wasn't insured to drive the car. They helped push it into a side street from where it was eventually towed home. I rang a scrap merchant who charged me £5 to take it away.

Happy days.

Monday, 23 November 2009

It's a toss up

I can't decide who is crazier - me and the other dog walkers in the park this morning, or the dogs that wanted to go out in the wind and rain.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Wind and rain

We have had rather more than our fair share of wind and rain these last few days and I counted myself lucky not to get wet this morning when I walked the dog. When I came downstairs first thing the sky was blue, but by the time I had taken Her Ladyship a cup of tea and come back down for breakfast, it was like a monsoon outside. But we are very lucky compared to the people in Cockermouth where they had had floods several feet deep.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Nuisances of the night

I am blessed with the ability to sleep soundly; so soundly, that the ringing of the telephone doesn't wake me. Not that the telephone rings in the night very often. I think the last time that happened was when the hospital rang to tell me that my mother was dying and I slept through the bell. But that really has nothing whatever to do with what I started out to blether about.

There are two things that irritate me at night. The first happens at that delicious point when I have been lying there for a minute or two, cocooned in the warmth of the duvet, and am just on the cusp of falling asleep. Mrs S then jerks in her sleep and kicks me, or she turns and pulls the duvet so that it tickles my face. Either way, I am wide awake again and it takes me an age to get asleep.

Then there are those times when I wake feeling that I have had the best night's sleep for absolutely ages, I'm all fired up and ready to go. I want to jump out of bed and greet the day with a whoop. Then I notice that it is still pitch dark. I peer at the clock and see that it is only 1.00am and I've only been asleep for an hour and a half. Naturally, I sleep through the alarm the later in the morning.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Blogs I visit

There is still something funny going on with those links on the left. Some of them update with remarkable regularity, showing new posts that only only an hour (or less) old, while others never seem to update. Skip's blog (the original) is still showing that the last posting was 4 weeks ago. As the King of Siam said, "Is a puzzlement."

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Of cabbages and kings

I spend quite a lot of time (some would say, probably quite rightly, too much) meandering through the blogosphere and have come to the conclusion that there are five main categories of blogger. Each of those categories is capable of division into several sub-categories, but that is just too far to go along a dead-end street. They also tend to overlap, with some blogs falling into different categories week by week or even day by day.

Perhaps the most annoying category is the person (or commercial concern) who uses a blog as a shop front from which to sell anything from shoes or clothing to software or computer accessories. These blogs seldom, if ever, carry the navigation bar at the top to enable a surfer to click "next blog". What is worse, after returning to the previous blog by using the back arrow and then clicking "next blog" again, the irritating commercial blog re-appears, if not immediately, two or three blogs down the line.

Then there are the bloggers who post every day (or nearly every day) but whose blogs consist entirely of progress reports on craft projects, such as quilting or painting, or recipes. These have no interest for me, but they all seem to have numerous followers. I include in this main category those people who scan in the covers of LP records and post one of them each day. I have to ask myself just what they are trying to achieve. Also in this group are the large number of people who post a photograph every day, Many of these are "city daily photo" bloggers and some are accomplished photographers whose work is a pleasure to see, although many, unfortunately, are little more than snap-shotters. Two of the best that I have found are not city photographers (although one does take his pictures in London) but nature photographers. There is Nick Hamilton of London and Abe Lincoln of Brookville, Ohio, both of whom rank very high in my estimation. I also like to see Avignon by Nathalie and Menton by Jilly.

Some people seem to use their blogs as a form of those letters one still sometimes receives with a Christmas card, You know the sort: "James has done very well with his football and has been the star player in the school team as well as playing the lead in the school play and being the principal triangle soloist in the orchestra." I suppose Grandma might be interested in knowing that young Fred can now blow his own nose, but who else is likely to want to know that?

The fourth category covers those whose writings are meant to be fairly serious. Many of these blogs are written as a form of serial story with a little bit being drip fed to readers on a daily basis. A few (a very few) have sufficient merit to attract a publisher and end up in the bookshops but a lot of them are, frankly, too grim to even bother with. Also in this category are the blogs which are not necessarily serious - they can be, and sometimes are, humorous - but are rather more than random musings. I think I would include Jim Sullivan in this category as well as Stephen George and Melissa, although in she perhaps belongs more in the fifth category. But I did say they overlap.

And so to the fifth and last category. Needless to say, it covers everything that doesn't fall into one of the previous four! So, we have some of those blogs that give fascinating insights (well, they are fascinating to me) of other people's lives. Toni's blog is an example of this type. And, of course, this category includes those blogs that consist of random thoughts and musings. (Yes, Skip, that means you!)

I really think that I have rambled on far too long now. I must get down to clearing the bits and pieces from last night's Lions meeting.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Thanksgiving comes first

Every year, the Royal Mail doesn't just encourage us, it positively urges us to post early for Christmas. It is good to see that they are practising what they preach. Yesterday we received the first Christmas card of the year - from the Royal Mail. Honestly, I do think that mid-November is just a tad early for Christmas. As Skip and Suldog (and probably others too) point out on their blogs, Thanksgiving comes first. Of course, we don't actually have Thanksgiving in this country, although I suppose we could give thanks that we managed to transport so many criminals to the American colonies before they broke away. All the same, when I saw workmen putting up the Christmas lights in Châteabriant last week and realised that the lights had already been installed in Pouancé, it reminded me of just how commercial this religious festival (should that now be pseudo-religious?) has become.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Today's quote

This is so appropriate that I must keep it available.

"If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is the significance of a clean desk?"

Monday, 16 November 2009

It's obvious really

One of the books that I am dipping into at the moment... No, that should read "One of the books into which I am dipping at the moment..."

I'll start again.

I recently borrowed a book by Bill Bryson entitled Troublesome Words. This is not so much a book to read as a book to dip into, which is just what I have been doing. And I have discovered that for a long time I have been guilty of a simple error, that of putting the letters "AD" after the date year. Of course, had I troubled to think about what those letters stand for I would have realised straight away that they should go before the date year, eg AD 1757, whereas the letters "BC" come after the date year.

Which reminds me: I don't like the use of the term "common era". Give me AD/BC every time.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Back in Blighty

A really relaxing week. I did decorate one room (except for the window, doors and radiator, all of which will have to wait until the weather is warmer) which meant just a quick coat of emulsion on the ceiling and walls. I think I read about six books, one by an author new to me - Greg Iles. The Devil's Punchbowl runs to something over 500 pages and the hero does conveniently know a number of very useful people (or knows people who know people) but the story gripped me. I will try to find more of his works. I had previously read just one of Harlen Coben's books (Gone for Good) which I sort of enjoyed but certainly wasn't mad about, but I tried another - Hold Tight - which I thought much better.

The drive back yesterday was smooth, apart from the buffeting of the wind, which was strong, until we hit the stretch between Boulogne and Calais. Although it wasn't us that hit the stretch, it was storm force winds and torrential rain. A motorway that normally has cars moving along at 80mph saw traffic slowed to 20. I see in the paper this morning that the port of Dover was closed yesterday afternoon with the winds too strong for ferries to sail, so it was lucky that we were travelling through the tunnel.

Having checked most of the regular blogs this morning, I have become concerned about Skip, who seems to have sunk more than usually deep into philosophical thought. I expect he will recover quickly.

Friday, 6 November 2009

That's it

All done, now I can relax with a coffee before watching what is about the only programme on television that I enjoy. Off first thing - first thing for me, that is. Other might think the day half gone by the time we leave.

Even busier!

Today is even busier than yesterday. Delete reference to the fireworks display on the Lions web site; change the message on the answering machine; banking bits and pieces; visit the library; take Fern to kennels; help set up the book fair. Oh, and pack the car.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Busy day

What with the Lions' fireworks display this evening - I have to be there at 3.00 - and various other "must do's" as we are off to France on Saturday, I really don't have time to think of anything to write today.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Ticket sales

If I had been asked, I would have guessed that the number of adult tickets sold for the Lions fireworks display would have been roughly the same as the number of child tickets, perhaps a little more. I would have been wrong. An analysis of the tickets sold through our web site shows that we have sold 2.8 adult tickets for each child ticket, nearly three to one. And now I come to think of it, we were handing child tickets to adults at the gate last year when we ran out of adult tickets so this sort of ratio must have been going on for some years if not for ever. Perhaps it just goes to show that adults are children at heart.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A lot to answer for

He really has - Alexander Graham Bell, that is. Just think of all those millions of telephones around the world and what a dreadful cacophony of noise there would be if they all rang at the same time and in the same place. Come to think of it, that wouldn't be possible, would it? Only half of them could ring at once, because the other half would be used to make the calls. I suppose what I am really trying to say in a rambling and rumbunctious sort of way is that our phone line developed another fault yesterday. Coincidentally, when I rang to report it I got straight through to the very nice Scottish lass to whom I spoke on Saturday. She was very apologetic and thanked me profusely for my patience, but she could not get an engineer to me until Wednesday (this was about 4.30 on Monday afternoon). Then she discovered that she could get one out to us during Tuesday afternoon. She told me that she would be off on Tuesday, but promised to ring me on Wednesday to make sure everything is alright. Less than an hour later, a telephone engineer was at the door. Despite his best efforts, he was unable to fix the problem, but at 8.30 this morning - Tuesday, just in case you've got confused (and I know how easy that is) - another engineer arrived and eventually traced the fault. My cynical side wonders how long till it crops up again, but I am nonetheless impressed with the standard of service we have received - so far. Except for Lawrence, of course, who was in the call centre I spoke to on Friday and who was completely useless.

Monday, 2 November 2009


I was reading on another blog a list of 15 books that the writer described as "life changing". I can't say that any of the books I have read have had that effect on me, but I freely admit that I read for enjoyment and as a form of escapism. Nevertheless, that blog set me thinking about the books I have most enjoyed. I'm not sure that I could actually come up with the full 15 if I include only those few that I have read and re-read, some of them three or four times, but I have enjoyed reading many, many books. Anyway, here is a random list of my favourite books and authors. I say random, because it is in no particular order.
  • In Pale Battalions by Robert Goddard has to be included. This was the first of his books that I read and has, I think, more twists and turns than any other book I have ever read. I have enjoyed every one of his other books as well, but this, for me, is his best.
  • Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks) is another of those books that I remember well. I am, in any case, reminded of it every time we drive to our French cottage as we pass over the River Authie which features quite strongly in the book. (Memo to self: get a copy of his latest.)
  • Very much in the same vein is C J Sansom's Winter in Madrid, although this is set around the Spanish civil war instead of World War 1, which is the setting of the previous two titles.
  • I have also enjoyed most of Thomas Hardy's "Wessex" novels (I deliberately wrote "most" as there were a couple that I couldn't get on with for some reason) but I think the one that stands re-reading the most is possibly Under the Greenwood Tree, although Tess of the d'Urbervilles runs it close.
  • Charles Dickens would also feature in my list with Great Expectations, possibly because I studied this one at school and I know well the marshes of north Kent where it is set.
  • I don't think there is a one-word title like "chicklit" for the genre that I, along with many other men, enjoy - stories of war at sea. Douglas Reeman (also writing as Alexander Kent) is prolific in this field and I enjoy his work, but there are two books by other authors that I consider quite outstanding. HMS Ulysses by Alexander MacLean is about a ship of that name sailing on the Arctic convoys during World War II and how the cold and exhaustion affected each man differently. Possibly the least well-known of MacLean's books (others include The Guns of Navarone) but in my mind his best. But the really outstanding title in this genre is The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Montserrat. Again set in World War II, but this time concerned with Atlantic convoys. My father, who served in the Navy during the war, considered this the only book truly to capture the real spirit of the battle of the Atlantic.
  • Out of print now is John Masters' Loss of Eden trilogy - Now God be Thanked, Heart of War, In the Green of the Spring - describing the effects on different social classes of World War I. Pity that, as I would like to read them again and the local libraries have got rid of their copies.
  • I also regret being unable to borrow Morris West's novels about the catholic church, specifically the papacy: The Shoes of the Fisherman and Devil's Advocate are two titles that spring to mind.
I could go on, but I think sufficient unto the day etc.

Sunday, 1 November 2009


Season of mists and all that. Today being the first Sunday in November it is generally known to residents of Brighton as Old Crocks Day. On Old Crocks Day, the weather is expected to be either cold and sunny or mild, wet and windy. Today it is mild, wet (very wet at times with heavy, squally rain) and windy (gale force, driving the rain horizontally). That should reduce the number of spectators along the route.

Old Crocks Day has nothing to do with the members of Brighton Lions Club, as some people might unkindly assume. No, it dates back to 1896 and commemorates the day that the speed limit of 4mph applied to horseless carriages was raised to 14mph: the requirement for a man with a flag to walk in front of the vehicle was also removed. It is officially known as the London to Brighton veteran car run and is restricted to vehicles manufactured before 1905. There are usually some 500 entries from all over the world.

Death of a cynic

If I'm not careful, my natural cynicism will be sadly dented if not completely destroyed. Not only has our telephone line been restored within four hours of me reporting the fault, albeit my second attempt, but the editor of our free newspaper has actually published a piece about Brighton Lions' fireworks as a result of my letter!

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Oh ye of little faith

I should have trusted the nice Scottish lass. Our phone is now back.

Still cut off

After spending most of yesterday dialling and redialling, I finally managed to speak to somebody at about five o'clock yesterday afternoon. I think the call centre was in India and the line was faint. The gentleman I spoke to was difficult to understand because of the faintness of the line and because of the thickness of his accent. He promised we would be back on line within half an hour. This morning I spoke to a charming Scottish lass and she has actually given me a fault reference number, so maybe something will now be done. But no doubt nothing much will happen for a couple of days at least as we are now in the weekend. But the Scottish lass did promise to divert incoming calls to one of our other lines so we will not be completely cut off.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Cut off!

We have - would you believe? - four telephone numbers. One is our "normal" land-line with a number known to friends, family and anyone who cares to look in the telephone directory. This has an answering machine incorporated in the apparatus. Another line came with the cable television service we are with. This has another number, but we never use that line and I can't even remember the number. I suppose I have got a note of it somewhere. Then my broadband service also provides me with a separate number and I have a phone plugged into the router (if that is what the gizmo really is). That number I can find very easily and calls to the Brighton Lions telephone number are diverted to it. This also has an answering machine. Then there is our mobile number - but we keep that secret as we don't want to pay for unnecessary overseas calls to it while we are in France.

On one occasion we arrived home from France to find no messages waiting for us on the main answering machine, a most unusual happening. But somehow, all the messages had been stored on the answering machine attached to the broadband service number. Now although the same cable brings the telephone and broadband services into the house, the two numbers should not have become mixed up and I don't know how it happened. I have, however, found a way of stopping it. It just involves setting the main answering machine to click in very quickly.

During yesterday afternoon I had been at the Housing Society and our General Manager told me she had left a couple of messages on our answering machine. The red light had not been blinking when I left home, I was certain of that, but I had forgotten about it by the time I got back. In the evening we were at the greyhound stadium where six of us had taken a table for a meal as the Lions had sponsored one of the races for the local MS Treatment Centre at their charity dog night. One of the others mentioned a firework display I had promised to help at tonight and it occurred to me that I had not received confirmation of the time and place. Perhaps Guy had rung and left a message? Could the messages have been diverted to the second machine? They hadn't.

Another thing that has happened once for some inexplicable reason is that a separate answering service operated by the telephone company has switched in. To get those messages we have to dial a number - but we have no way of knowing that there are messages waiting. Anyway, when we got home from the dogs I rang the number: no answer. Our phone line had been disconnected.

This morning I have tried numerous times to call the phone company but have not managed to get through as the line is always engaged. There must be a lot of people complaining that they have no phone lines!

At the half-way mark, I was beating the bookies - by 53p! - but needless to say, they won in the end. I should have quit while I was ahead.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Is the end in sight?

In England (and Wales, and probably Scotland and Northern Ireland too) it is a legal requirement that an employer with five or more employees provides those employees with access to pension provision. This had completely slipped the minds of all involved when the Housing Society completed the last development and employed the third caretaker, bringing the number of staff up to five. Indeed, it was not until we took on a part-time handyman that it suddenly dawned on me that we should do something. The fact that two of our employees were of an age to draw the state pension, and that three were part-timers, had no bearing on the matter. Nor was it of any importance that none of our employees actually wanted access to pension facilities. As it happened, before i could do anything about it, we 'lost' two caretakers and were down to four staff for a while. Eventually we took on a new caretaker to cover the work previously done by two - and we were back up to five. Then the new caretaker asked - yes, asked - about pensions. And it was down to me to do something about it.

My first port of call was our insurance brokers, who wanted £350 just to send some paperwork. I told them what to do with their papers and looked in Yellow Pages where found an insurance company claiming to provide stakeholder pensions (which is what we need). I rang them and after playing musical chairs for some twenty minutes, was promised that they would send the necessary paperwork. Three phone calls later and still no paperwork.

I looked on a Government web site where there was a list of all stakeholder pension providers. As I worked my way down the list I discovered that something like half of them were refusing to take on any more business, but one well-known was apparently happy to do so. I went to their web site and completed the registration form. Since then, nothing.

Two weeks ago I returned to the Government site and eventually found another company which has lately been advertising heavily on television. I rang their nearest branch and was promised a phone call back to arrange an appointment. It came! Then the rep rang to rearrange the appointment. The new time is this afternoon. Could I be nearly there?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Ranting again

I wonder what Blogger has against Skip and me? I see that our blogs on each other's blog lists are not being updated whereas others are. If you see what I mean.


Last week's issue of our local free newspaper (newspaper - that's an oxymoron if ever I saw one!) had an article which started off by saying, "Brighton's biggest fireworks display is back again". I not unnaturally expected to read about Brighton Lions' display, but no, it was about another one. The article went on to say that this display would last for 25 minutes. As that is not much more than half the length of the Lions' display, I thought that calling it Brighton's biggest was... inaccurate, shall I say? To rub salt into the wound, they didn't even mention the Lions' display. I have written to the editor in the hope (probably a vain one) that a correction will be published this week. In the meantime, while driving around the town the last couple of days I have spotted a number of fly posters for the other display. I am tempted to print a load of slips saying CANCELLED with the idea of going round one night to paste them on the posters. Tempting, but I probably won't. In fact, I certainly won't. But I would like to.

The headline on the next article in said paper reads, "Recsession makes Sussex roads safer".

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

On the other hand...

There are benefits to be had from the internet.
  1. Quick and easy contact with friends across the world.
  2. Access to a wide range of merchants offering services not easily available, or not available at all, locally.
  3. A massive compendium of knowledge.
Only three? Surely there must be more.

And I'm still picking raspberries.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Number 6

6. Spam emails that come through not marked as spam.

I feel a rant coming on

I haven't had one for a long time; I deserve one, and I'm going to have one!

Five things that irritate me about the internet and related matters:

  1. Web sites that insist on playing music to me - usually music I don't like. I know - but I only put it there to prove a point and it's been removed now.
  2. Web sites that look as though they have been created by a five-year-old using his first box of crayons. You know - those that consist of all the colours of the rainbow and with each sentence or paragraph in a different colour.
  3. People who send on emails warning me about the latest computer virus that will probably cause my computer to burst into flames and burn down the entire street.
  4. People sending on emails that have already been forwarded through a dozen different people, none of whom have bothered to clean them up.
  5. People hijacking my email address and using it to send spam.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Fern, CDP

Fern is now a fully accredited City Daily Photo blogger which means that I am usually carrying my camera when I take her out. I am finding that I am now experiencing the difference between looking and seeing and am noticing far more of the things around me as we walk across the fields or through the woods - or even just in Withdean Park on our morning walks. OK, so I started doing it with my tongue in my cheek and it is still there really, but I hope the whole thing will benefit me by improving my observation skills.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Tippoo's tomb

I have found a recent photograph of the mausoleum (it's copyright, so I've just posted a link). The name seems to have an alternative spelling - Tipu.

How not to speak English


The first ad appeared in the paper yesterday and orders for tickets are starting to come in over the Lions Club web site. I shall be running around like mad delivering them by the end of this week!

Friday, 23 October 2009


I've been playing this on and off for the last week, but why no Acker Bilk, Chris Barber, Kenny Ball, Ian Menzies, Terry Lightfoot, Temperance Seven?

Those sketchbooks

We still have them. There may be no link between the artist and Mrs S, but we like the sketchbooks. They are not of any great monetary value - I took them to a couple of auction houses to make sure that we didn't need to store them in a bank vault - but there are some delightful water colours in them.

This one depicts the 62nd Regiment on parade at the New Barracks, Limerick, and is dated August 1829. It is perhaps not one of the best.

I like the elephant in this picture of the mausoleum at Laulpett, Hindustan, dated November 1830.

Then there is another mausoleum, this time in the gardens of the Laul Baug (?), Seringapatam, August 1832. The mausoleum contains the tombs of Hyder Ali, his wife, and his son, Tippoo Sail. I seem to recall Tippoo featuring in Sharpe's Tiger by Bernard Cornwell. Must read it again sometime.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Still on the trail

Having exhausted the information about Lt H Jervis at the Army Museum, I moved over to St Catherine's House where the registers of births, marriages and deaths used to be kept. I know by then that the man I was looking for was Henry Jervis, not just plain H Jervis. I also knew when he had retired from the army - he had obtained the rank of General by then - and that his death must therefore have occurred after that date. My object was to find when he died and then look up his will in the hope that it might contain details of his family. This was before the days of the internet, and at St Catherine's I had to heave out the register summaries - one for each quarter of each year - and look to see if Henry Jervis's death was registered. Those summaries are ledgers up to three inches thick and measuring about 30 inches high and 24 wide. They are not lightweight paperbacks! Anyway, I found his death registered in 1879 and his age given as 82. From this I calculated that he had joined the army at the tender age of 13. Having obtained a copy of his death certificate, I now knew where he had lived (Bloomsbury Square, London) so I was able to search the census returns kept at the Records Office in Chancery Lane, but not until I had obtained another reader's ticket. I also searched for his will at Somerset House.

The end result was that he appeared not to have married, so could not have been a direct ancestor of Mrs S, and he left his entire estate to another retired army officer who had been living with him. There was no mention of any family. Of course, it was still possible that he was an uncle or distant cousin, albeit several generations removed, but further research makes that seem most unlikely.

The question remains: what were the sketchbooks doing in my late father-in-law's possession and how did he come by them? Did he spot them for sale at a car boot sale or similar and think, as we did at first, that there might have been some familial connection? Who knows - we never will!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

This is hard to believe

Read the news report here.

Russian dolls in Chelsea

I was working in London back then so there was no need for me to take a day off to go to Chelsea and the army museum. Although it took something like half an hour to get there from the office, I reckoned that as I was the boss I could extend my lunch hour occasionally and stretch it to two hours. And that is what I did. And then my search became something like those Russian dolls: every time I thought I had answered one question I found that I had unwittingly posed another.

At the museum's library I discovered the Army List, a book published annually and containing lists of army officers and their regiments, the places that the regiments were stationed and so on. Now, the earlier sketchbook - which was apparently started in July 1826 and covers the years from then until 1832 - is inscribed "H Jervis 62nd Regt", while the later book is inscribed "H Jervis Lieut 62nd Regt" and was started in May 1833. But the Army List for the years 1826 to 1835 (the date of the last sketch) had no record of an officer named Jervis serving with the 62nd Regiment, although I did find him listed under the 72nd Regiment in the list for each of those years. And by the time he started on the second book, Lieut Jervis had been promoted to Major - yet he still inscribed the book as a Lieutenant.

So, I turned back to the first book and worked my way through them all again looking at where the 62nd and 72nd Regiments were posted in those years, thinking that this would confirm with which regiment he was serving. You've guessed it - neither regiment was stationed in any of the places shown in the sketchbooks at the time of the sketches!

(I should perhaps add that by now I was on my umpteenth visit to Chelsea.)

It was then that I spotted that another regiment (I think it was the 73rd, but I have mislaid my notes) appeared to have been stationed at the places sketched by Jervis at much the same time as he claimed to have been there.

So Henry Jervis seemed to think he was with the 62nd Regiment, while the Army thought he was with the 72nd, and yet he was in the same places as the 73rd! What's more, he seems to have overlooked his promotion - and he even overlooked a medal he was awarded while serving in Africa with the 72nd although at the time he earned the medal in Africa he was sketching in India!!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Mah jong

A few of the pieces from the mah jong set. They are about 1¼" long by just over ¾" wide and about ½" deep. I think the focus is good enough for the picture to be enlarged to see the quality of the carving and painting.

The sketchbooks

I mentioned a day or two back that something in the morning paper had reminded me of family heirlooms. What I had in mind was an heirloom - in fact, two heirlooms - from my wife's family.

It was way back in 1991 that Mrs S, on visiting her mother, found the old dear about to throw away a couple (hence the two heirlooms) of old sketchbooks. Mother-in-law was beginning to lose the plot a little and had already (much to Mrs S's disappointment) disposed of an antique grandfather clock, a genuine Sussex shepherd's crook and an antique warming pan. Mrs S immediately told her mother that she would be very happy to take the sketchbooks off her hands and so they came into our possession.

These sketchbooks date from the 1820s and 1830s and are inscribed "Sketches from Nature by Henry Jervis, Lieutenant 62nd Regiment". They show scenes from England, Scotland, Ireland, India etc where Lt Jervis served during his army career. Now Jervis was the maiden name of one of Mrs S's grandmothers and was her father's middle name, so it seemed reasonable to assume that the good lieutenant was an ancestor. Quite naturally we wanted to learn something about the gentleman, and just what was the relationship between him and Mrs S. Could he have been her great grandfather? Or, more probably given the dates, her great great grandfather?

My first port of call (if you will pardon the nautical analogy when talking about an army officer) was the Army Museum in Chelsea, London. Or, more accurately, the library at that museum. But to gain access to the library I had to register and obtain a reader's ticket. I duly completed the application form, including the names and addresses of a couple of referees, and returned it. Some weeks later I received my ticket and I was set to start my research in earnest.

Monday, 19 October 2009

I lied

No, that's not quite true. But I did tell an untruth, although it was completely by mistake, when I wrote yesterday that I have one heirloom. Later in the evening my daughter telephoned and I earwigged to Mrs S's side of the conversation for a while. Something she said reminded me that I have another family heirloom tucked away in a cupboard. Although whether or not it can be correctly classified as an heirloom is, I suppose, open to question since it has only been passed down one generation.

My father served some 22 years in the Navy and, in the course of his service, visited a lot of places, including Hong Kong. It was on a visit to that port sometime in the late 1940s that he watched the peices of a mah jong set being carved. He told the man doing the work that he would buy the set if English numerals were carved on the pieces. Whether that was done while my father waited or whether he returned the next day I am not sure, but he did buy that mah jong set. Back on board, the ship's carpenter made a cabinet for the set, a wooden box with a sliding front that lifts to reveal a set of drawers, each lined with green baize, in which the mah jong set fits beautifully.

The mah jong pieces themselves are works of art. They are ivory fitted with bamboo backs, the fitting being dove-tail joints. The joints are so good that the pieces feel as though they are made of one single material; there is no sensation of a join when a finger is rubbed along the side. Then there is the carving and painting of each piece. I must try to take a picture of some of them to post here and share.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Evening papers

I find that sometimes the smallest thing can start a new train of thought, not necessarily related directly to what caused it, or bring to mind something that has been long forgotten. It was some small item in Friday's paper that did it for me.

I don't usually read the morning paper until the evening. By that time, Mrs S has been at it and I frequently need to remake the paper sheet by sheet. It's not that they are out of order - well, not out of numerical order anyway - but that they are out of alignment and need straightening. I'm finicky about that: I do like my newspaper to be "just so". What I really need, I suppose, is a butler to straighten the pages and iron them for me. [Evening paper? Get it? Sorry pardon!]

Anyway, what I was reminded of was a family heirloom that is tucked away in a cupboard and rarely sees the light of day. That's the problem with family heirlooms. Modern houses are too small to allow much to be kept from one generation to another and passed on down the line, so what is kept tends to be small and tucked away. But I suppose that has always been the case for most people. It was actually only the rich who lived in large houses, mansions, castles or palaces and only the rich who had anything to be passed down the generations.

I do have one heirloom. It is a Victorian chest of drawers. I remember it standing in the small bedroom of my grandparents' house and it might even have been passed down to them from one side or the other - or maybe they bought it second hand. It ended up standing in my parents' small bedroom, a depositary for all manner of things that nobody knew what to do with but were reluctant to throw away. When we cleared the house after my mother's death, everything in the drawers did get thrown away as there really was nothing of any value - monetary or sentimental. But I insisted on keeping the chest. However, unlike Edith Piaf, I do have one regret.

The chest had at some stage been painted white. I actually seem to recall it as black when it was in my grandparents' house, but by this time it was white. What I wanted to do was to strip the paint completely and polish the plain wood. What I regret is the decision I made to have the chest dipped rather than going through the lengthy process of stripping the paint myself by hand. It stripped the paint pretty well, but warped the drawers so that I had to plane down some of the timber in order that they could be opened and shut easily, and the drawer fronts are now obviously twisted. Still, I polished that chest with beeswax every day for about three weeks while it was standing in our hall. The intention was that it should be taken to France to stand in the hall at Les Lavandes - and that is where it is now.

While it was in the hall here in England, the low table which had been there for the telephone had to be moved. It was, of course, put back once the chest had been removed, but then Madam decided she preferred the chest to the table! I had to search for weeks before I could find another similar chest.

The heirloom in France.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

My own radio station

A most enjoyable evening yesterday - dinner with friends both old and new. It started many years ago when the Old Bat was at school. Several of her friends from then still get together every month or so and they decided that for once their other halves would be invited. The ladies prepared a selection of starters and desserts and we all chose our main course from the menu of a local take-away Italian restaurant. I have known three of the ladies ever since marrying the OB and two of their husbands since their respective marriages. The third husband is my old friend Chris, who met (and later married) Mrs Chris after her marriage broke up and his first wife died. The last lady I had met on only one occasion as she and her husband live in the Cotswolds and they are in Brighton only to visit her mother. Yesterday was the first time I had met her husband, but we seemed to get on pretty well.

So what on earth has this to do with a radio station, you ask? Naturally, the conversation round the dinner table ranged wide, and one of the men mentioned a web site which enables one to set up a list of artistes whose music can then be played over the computer. It has several advantages over playing ones own CDs on the computer. First, one tends to know the exact order of songs on ones own CD collection. Then it leaves the disc drive free. But perhaps the biggest advantage is that the web site suggests other artistes one might like and of whom one has never heard. And I nearly forgot to mention that it is completely free!

Where is it? Try

Friday, 16 October 2009

The postal strike threatened for next week will probably have little effect on me if it does take place. It is rare that the postman passes our house without delivering something, but most of the post seems to be junk mail. I have had only two letters this week: one was a note telling me how much I owed for using French toll roads last month and the other I will have to pass on to another Lion. The rest of the post has been either begging letters, letters trying to sell me something, or catalogues from mail-order companies. Glancing through one of the latter, I wondered how many people really want a set of nodding meerkats to decorate their gardens or an electronic gizmo that winds up a watch. And how many people have to wind a watch nowadays? I bought a watch by mail order a couple of years ago. I think it was probably advertised in our daily paper as a reader offer, so I thought I was reasonably safe to part with my hard earned. The watch was described as radio controlled as it connected to a radio clock to ensure that it both kept accurate time and changed to different time zones when travelling. Just what I wanted, as this would save me having to alter my watch whenever I went to France. How convenient it would be to have the hands whizz round an hour as I left the ferry at Calais, then round 23 hours on my return, all done as if by magic. I suppose I was just a little naive and a few moments thought would have made me realise that the European radio clocks are situated in Rugby, England, and Dusseldorf, Germany. How would the watch know that I had got off the ferry and it should switch its connection from Rugby to Dusseldorf, especially as Rugby was still closer and presumably the signal from there would be the stronger? Anyway, that didn't occur to me until after the watch had arrived. It was then that I discovered the connection to the nearest radio clock was made only twice a day - 4 am and 4pm - so the watch would still be wrong much of the first day after arriving in a different time zone. Then I discovered another problem. There was no way that the watch could receive a signal in our house. There was no signal in the garden either, and in fact the only place I could make a connection was a hundred yards up the road. Go a hundred and two yards and the signal was lost again. But I did get my money back.