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!