Wednesday, 30 June 2010

England's green and pleasant land

I had one of those semi-weird thought processes yesterday while walking the dog round the Roman Camp. You know the sort of thing I mean, when one thought leads to another seemingly unconnected matter and then on to a third? If I try to tell it in chronological order, I could start at either end since the first thought led me back to something that happened almost 20 years ago and then back still further. But perhaps I'll start at the bottom, or far, end of the thought chain.

Brighton always has a large number of foreign students in the town, partly because of the two universities and partly because of the large number of language schools established to teach foreigners to speak English. This has given rise to what might almost be described as a cottage industry: acting as host families to students in town to improve their English. They might stay just a couple of weeks, or they might be here for a year or more. Either way, people can earn money by providing accommodation - and usually the taxman knows nothing about it. The students are out at their classes all day and the host family provides breakfast and an evening meal during the week, but three meals a day at weekends (assuming the student is not out gallivanting). Anyway, many years ago we were in a less comfortable position financially than we are now and we decided to host foreign students to ease the situation. The first lad, a German aged about 17, was fine: he fitted in with the family, mowing the lawn for me and so on. He stayed for two weeks I think. He was followed by a slightly younger Norwegian who also fitted in well, but the third was a disaster. We had to ask the language school to move him. After that we decided that our financial situation was not quite dire enough to continue as a host family.

Until several years later. Come to think of it, it must have been between 10 and 15 years later. There was no financial motive involved this time, more an emotive one. Our younger son had left home to work at a hotel somewhere 'up north' and our elder son was about to leave for a year swanning around Australia with a couple of friends. The nest would not quite be empty as our mid-teenage daughter would still be at home, but Mrs BP was not looking forward to having such an empty house. The came the letter. It was from the President of the Lions Club of Lyon saying that his son was to attend "university" (language school) in Brighton for nine months and asking if there was a Lion family which would host him. Mrs BP jumped at the chance to extend her mothering beyond her one remaining chick and Philippe duly came to live with us. He must have been 21 or 22 then, good looking and with charming manners. He fairly soon acquired a girl friend, Sandrine, another good-looking French language student, and we were only too pleased to have them both with us for meals at weekends. We had many enjoyable times and laughs with both Philippe and Sandrine and, as a result, had no hesitation a year or so later in hosting the daughter of a friend of Philippe's family and, later still, Philippe's younger brother Charles. They all discovered that some of their preconceived ideas about England were wrong. The cooking (in our house at least) was good and it didn't rain all the time. Indeed, Philippe managed to get sun burnt on the beach.

The only problem we had with any of them was when Philippe bought a car. Not just any car, but a white Rolls-Royce. Second- (or third- or more) hand, of course. This was just a few weeks before he was due to return to France and he arranged for the dealer to store it for him until he could no longer resist bringing it home. The problem was that he had difficulty in insuring the car, but I managed to arrange for my insurance company to provide cover. But only for me to drive it. I ended up having to drive it to Dover for Philippe and leaving him to drive onto the ferry and down through France while I caught the train home.

So what started this trip down memory lane? It was the sight of a fairway on the golf course which had turned brown as a result of the lack of rain over the last few weeks. Philippe, while he was with us, was amazed how the English countryside stayed green even in the height of summer.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

A busy time for Brighton Lions

I've only just realised what a busy time Brighton Lions have had over the last two weeks. There have been very few days when one or more Lions have not been engaged in some form of activity on behalf of the Club from service to fund raising to social. It started two weeks ago today when transport was provided for stroke patients. Then on the Wednesday there was a business meeting of the club, with an outing to the zoo for children the following day. Friday was, I think, a blank day, but Saturday saw members fund raising at Rottingdean Lions fair and Sunday at Adur East Lions donkey derby. Monday was a social evening - a pub games night in the zone inter-club Olympics - and there was the funeral of one of our members on Tuesday. Bingo sessions for senior citizens were held on Wednesday and Friday evenings, with an outing for Housing Society tenants in between on the Thursday. Saturday was another blank day, but Sunday we held our fun day in the Pavilion gardens. Yesterday evening was the final Olympics event, skittles. I regret having to report that Brighton Lions did not excel themselves. We came 6th out of the six clubs there. But at least we were there, unlike one club. Our dismal performance meant that we were unable to recapture the overall lead in the competition and we ended in thirds place. The incoming zone chairman has indicated that the competition will be run again next year as we have had such enjoyable social evenings.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Was it worth it?

There was very little business being done in the Royal Pavilion gardens yesterday afternoon and the Lions will not have made much from the fun day. I had to leave early to see that Fern got her afternoon walk and after I got off the bus to walk the rest of the way the streets seemed eerily quiet. I have to wonder how many people who watched Germany beat England 4 - 1 considered it worth missing such a glorious afternoon. The weather was probably a second factor in the lack of custom as many of those who might otherwise have come to the gardens were on the beach. I did have the camera with me and took plenty of pictures - including this one of two attractive England supporters.

Maybe I'll post more pictures over on Fern's blog during the days ahead.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The World Cup

This has been quite a week for sports fans with Wimbledon, the World Cup, England v Australia cricket and, today, the European Grand Prix. But for most Englishmen the highlight will be this afternoon's match against Germany. I have watched none of the football so far, not being a great sports fan, but England versus Germany will be, for many, THE match of the World Cup - unless England get through to the final and meet Brazil, which is most unlikely. I would have liked to watch the game, but today of all days the Lions have their annual Fun Day in the Pavilion Gardens...

But looking on the bright side, it is a beautiful day, forecast to be the hottest of the year so far, and this will give me an opportunity to take those pictures of the Royal Pavilion that I was going on about the other day. Watch this space - or perhaps Fern's blog.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Baggy knees

I have a nasty suspicion that I may have failed my two sons. Since the elder has now passed his 40th birthday and the younger his 37th, it is probably if not certainly too late to make amends. This fact - my failing my sons, that is - only came home to me this week. For some years now I have ironed all the trousers that are washed in this house. I am a bit pernickitty about the creases in my trousers, hating to see what I call tramlines running down the front. I was doing just that one evening, ironing trousers, including a pair of the Old Bat's. These had baggy knees, a result of her not hitching up her trousers when she sits down.

In the days of my childhood, all boys wore short trousers and it was not until the age of about 13 that long trousers were considered appropriate. I well remember my first pair of long trousers and the strange feeling of them hanging around my legs. Because they were different, I was almost embarrassed to wear them when other people would see. But that's beside the point. The other thing I remember is being told always to hitch up my trousers when sitting down to avoid the knees going baggy. My dear wife was obviously not told this. Actually, I think very few women do hitch up their trousers when they sit down. I watched my fellow jurors the next day and not one woman hitched up her trousers whereas all the men did.

To get back to my failure: I have no recollection of ever telling my sons that they should perform this little action when sitting down. I suppose the fact that they wore long trousers in the shape of jeans or similar pretty well from the day they were born might have something to do with my not saying anything. All the same, their suits don't appear to have baggy knees, so perhaps I did tell them at some point. Or maybe they knew instinctively. But my daughter doesn't hitch up her trousers.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Apus apus

Being something of a show off, I have given today's blog the title "Apus apus" as that is the Latin name for the bird illustrated - the picture being copied from the web site of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The bird in question is more commonly known as the swift. My daily fish wrap carries every day on its back page a small piece about natural history and they mentioned yesterday that this bird, a summer visitor hereabouts, is on the Amber List, meaning that it is a species of conservation concern. Given that there are an estimated 85,000 breeding pairs in the UK that concern might seem a little over the top, but numbers of these birds have 'declined dramatically in the past ten years' according to the RSPB.

These birds are the most amazing fliers. They even sleep on the wing and it is estimated that they fly an average of 500 miles a day. They are the fastest recorded bird in true flight, reaching speeds of almost 70 mph, and their agility in the air is truly fantastic.

I have mentioned watching the swifts screaming as the fly around the church tower in Chateaubriant, a sight I could watch for hours at a time, but the other day I was given a real treat. I was walking with Fern across 39 Acres late one afternoon after court when a flock of swifts was flying above us. They came lower and seemed not at all bothered about flying close to and around me. Some were no more than two feet from me - close enough for me to be able to make out individual feathers in their wings. I stood far too long watching that display of aerial acrobatics but what a privilege it was.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Shove ha'penny update

I mentioned the other day that I was to represent Brighton Lions in the latest round of the Zone Olympics and that my event was to be shove ha'penny. But I have failed to report the outcome of the evenings fun and games. Since nobody has bothered to ask me about them, I assume that nobody who read that post is remotely interested - and I can't say that I can blame them. All the same, I will report on what happened, if only so that I ... Oh, never mind why - here goes.

Shove ha'penny, with its tradition of being a game played in English pubs since time immemorial, is a very simple game with rules that are easy to understand and very little by way of equipment. It is played on a board measuring approximately 2 feet 6 by a little under 18 inches. No, that sounds wrong - the board's depth is more than twice its width, so say 3 feet by 15 inches. A line is marked across the width of the board about 6 inches from the bottom, and another line about 6 inches from the top. The space between is also lined left to right, the lines being spaced at a very little more distance than the diameter of a tupenny piece - much the same size as the pre-decimal half-penny. The object of the game is to propel five coins in succession from the bottom of the board so that they come to rest between the lines. A point is scored for each (or any) coin which does not cover any part of a line and which has not gone beyond the top line and thus out of play. A coin is placed so that it projects slightly over the bottom of the board (which has been placed flat on a table) and is then "shoved" by tapping it with the base of the thumb. Simple enough. But getting your coins to land between the lines is a matter more of luck than skill! The game continues for an agreed length of time with players taking turns. It can be played singly or in teams. We played in teams of two.

In the first round my partner and I won - although I can't remember the score - and so progressed to the semi-final, which we also won. The final was a close-fought game, but in the end we lost by a fairly substantial margin.

I'll just mention in small print that our darts and pool pairs both lost in the first round so at the end of the evening Brighton were placed 5th out of 6.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


The court case in which I was on the jury was finally wrapped up just before lunch today. The judge had finished his summing up yesterday afternoon, allowing us jurors just about half an hour of discussion before we broke for the day. The case has been going on, with breaks for various reasons, since Monday last week and, although I am prohibited from making any detailed comment about the jury's deliberations, the details of the case itself are, I presume, now in the public domain. There were two charges. The first was that three defendants had caused an affray; the second was that one of the defendants had caused grievous bodily harm. This all took place during an evening back in November 2008 - yes, 18 months ago - in two adjoining villages, moving between three pubs in those villages. I think it fair to say that only two of the witnesses and defendants had drunk nothing that night, although two more (the land lord of one of the pubs and the landlady of another) had probably remained sober. Just about all the others had been under the influence to some extent, ranging from having drunk just one pint to having been pretty much legless.

The jury, which was selected completely at random, consisted of a good cross-section. Ages ranged from low 20s to upper 60s, there were seven men and five women, there were a variety of occupations and all were strangers to each other at the start. I was impressed by the way everybody was open-minded and prepared to listen to a point of view completely different from their own and, whilst disagreeing, remaining on polite and friendly terms. Of course, that is exactly how it should be, but it reinforced my faith in the British system of justice.

Having delivered our verdict, we were held in the retiring room for a short time while the jury bailiff made a phone call. He then announced that we would not be needed this afternoon - nor tomorrow or Friday either! My stint as a juror is over. I found it an interesting experience, but not one that I would be in a hurry to repeat.

Oh yes, all three were found guilty on the affray charge and the one was found guilty of causing GBH.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Trivial irritations

Nana posted on her blog about trivial irritations. I have one right now - I can't access my email and keep getting a 404 error when I try to log in to my ISP. Perhaps I should explain that I don't use the M'soft email software (can't remember the name) but read it straight off my ISP's server. Grrr!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Good morning, evening

I will freely admit to being a person who slips very easily into a routine. My regular morning routine, for example, is to shower, dress, let the dog out, feed the dog while I make tea and start the coffee filtering, take a cup of tea to her ladyship, eat my breakfast, wash up, walk the dog, have another coffee, then switch on the computer and, after checking my email, post to this blog. That routine has gone out of the window for the time being and I have tended to post blogs in the evening, scheduling them to appear the following morning. This one, for instance, is being typed on Sunday. But today (Monday, that is) I shall have no time in the evening for posting blogs as there is the penultimate round of the Lions zone Olympics and I have been selected for the team. I say 'selected', but that implies there were more Lions wanting to take part than there were places available. In fact, I volunteered on the basis that although I am useless at two of tonight's events and have never attempted the third, I was prepared to make up the number if it became necessary. And it did. So, tonight I shall be playing shove ha'penny. I just hope I manage better than I did in the curling competition. And anyway, there is always the chance that our darts and pool pairs will be good enough to bring us a few vital points.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

And yet another

My son, d-in-l and g'daughter have just left and I heard from them that there was another bike ride last Sunday - a naked bike ride. They happened to be on the train which runs along the seafront when a horde of naked cyclists descended on the front.

Another bike ride

No, no, no! Not me! But today sees the annual London to Brighton bike ride organised by the British Heart Foundation. This, it is claimed, is Europe's biggest cycling event with (wait for it) thirty thousand - yes, 30,000 - cyclists taking part. It does cause just a little disruption in the town, making almost impossible to get from the far eastern side to the west (and vice versa) and it means that I won't be taking Fern into Stanmer woods today as the road is closed for the cyclists.

While some of the events do cause disruption, nobody could truthfully say that nothing ever happens in Brighton. Two months back we had the first Brighton marathon with some 9,000 runners (and many roads closed for part or all of the day), and I noticed yesterday that there was some sort of fair or fete in Preston Park. I had seen no advance publicity, but maybe it's just something connected with the bike ride. Last Sunday saw the annual service of remembrance at the Chattri. I'm sure I have mentioned the Chattri before, but in case my memory is playing tricks again I will explain.

During the early part of the First World War, the Royal Pavilion in Brighton was used as a hospital for Indian soldiers. Many, of course, died of their wounds and those whose religion required that they be cremated on a funeral pyre were taken to a site on the South Downs set aside for this. Later, a memorial was built on the site, known as the Chattri, and on the second Sunday in June each year a short service of remembrance is held there.

That was last Sunday; the bike ride is this Sunday; and next Sunday there will be the Lions fun day in the Pavilion Gardens. As I said, there is always something going on.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

What? No bacon?

Last Monday, when I was released from court for a lunch break, I wandered across the road past a sandwich bar that didn't attract me greatly, then down a side street where I came across a pub. I decided a glass of wine and a sandwich would suit me very well so I went in. I was the only person on the customers' side of the bar and there was just one person behind the bar, tucked into a corner with his (or maybe it was her - I couldn't see him/her very well) back to any potential customers and quite obviously not interested in serving anybody who might dare to venture in to what was not a particularly inviting pub anyway. There was no obvious sign that food of any sort was available but I found a sheaf of menus tucked away in the corner of a windowsill. No sandwiches featured and I had failed dismally in attracting the attention of the barman/maid. I left.

Back nearer the court, in fact almost opposite, I came across another sandwich bar which looked a little more inviting than the first. Indeed, considerably more inviting. I ordered a bacon sandwich and a coffee, surprised to note just how reasonably priced all the sandwiches were. When it had been established that I wanted to eat in, I was invited to take a seat upstairs where my food would be brought to me. That sandwich was so good that I have been back there every day, but yesterday they had run out of bacon! I had to have a sausage sandwich instead; very good, but I prefer bacon. I hope they don't run out again next week as I shall be back.

One other thing I have discovered this week is far more personal. I was absolutely exhausted yesterday evening. I found this surprising, until I realised that although I have not been undertaking anything resembling physical exertion, I have had to concentrate for longer periods of time that has been my custom for the eight years since I retired. Indeed, even before I retired it would rarely have been necessary for me to concentrate on one thing for such long periods. I was lucky enough throughout my working life to have jobs that involved variety so that I would spend perhaps an hour or two - or maybe even shorter periods - concentrating on one thing before moving onto something completely different. It is, perhaps, hardly surprising that having to concentrate on a case involving a dozen or more people, each of whom seems to have a nickname and each of whom is sometimes referred to by their given name and sometimes by their nickname (are you keeping up, dear reader?), when I have never been used to such mental activity has taxed my powers somewhat. Thank goodness I have a weekend in which to recover - and the case is scheduled to end on Tuesday anyway.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Fotographic phrustration

It's not very often that I venture into the centre of Brighton. In fact, I can't recall the last time I was there other than when I was driving through to get to the hospital. But every day this week I have longed to have a camera with me as I passed the Royal Pavilion with no scaffolding around it, the sun shining and the sky a beautiful blue. Of course, cameras are not allowed in the court building and my mobile phone - which I have not carried anyway - has no camera. It's much too old for that. I shall just have to make the effort after this jury business is out of the way to go into town on the first fine day and try to get some different shots of the Pavilion.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Justice is seen to be done

As my regular reader is aware, I am doing my civic duty this week having been called to undertake jury service. I, along with 14 others, was required to report to the Brighton Crown Court at 9.30 last Monday morning where I fully expected to be incarcerated for two weeks. Incarcerated, that is, during the hours the court sits. The information booklet I had received and the video we were shown at the court emphasized that there could be periods when we potential jurors (or jurors, if we were hearing a case) would be required to wait and do nothing much that is constructive. These periods could sometimes be lengthy. And that is what has transpired so far.

Having reported at 9.30, we all sat around waiting until 11.30 when 15 of us were taken into court and 12 (including me) were selected to act as the jury. Obviously I cannot speak about the case itself, except to say we were told it had been scheduled to last for seven days. We had barely been sworn in when it was announced that the first witness for the prosecution had yet to arrive. We adjourned for lunch just before 12.30 with instructions to be back ready to start at 1.30. 1.30 came and went, but just after 2.00 we returned to court. By 3.45 we had finished hearing from that witness and court was adjourned until 10.00 Tuesday. We had already been told that we would not be sitting Tuesday afternoon, but on Tuesday morning much of the time was taken up with legal discussions which the jury was not permitted to hear and by the time we adjourned again at 12.55 we had heard maybe an hour of evidence. Today, by contrast, our waiting periods have been shorter, and we have heard some interesting (and contrasting) stories.

By the end of my two weeks I might have formed a different opinion, but I am convinced our system of justice is probably the fairest in existence. Not for us the quasi-justice of the former communist states nor of the so-called banana republics. I think our system is better, too, than the system used in many European countries. Although I'm not entirely sure how they go about it, from what little I have heard I prefer our way of doing things. At least both prosecution and defence are given a fair crack of the whip and juries, which are selected entirely at random, are ordinary men and women who are completely impartial.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Was it really necessary?

Yesterday saw the publication of the report of Lord Saville's enquiry into Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday is the name given to 30 January 1972 when a civil rights march in Derry (Londonderry) ended with 14 marchers, all of them civilians, shot dead by the army. It was back in 1998 that the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, asked Lord Saville plus a Canadian judge and an Australian judge to investigate the events of that day, this being the second investigation. It has taken the noble Lord and their Honours no less than 12 years to complete their enquiry - at a cost (as of 3 months ago) of £190 million. So the enquiry only started 26 years after the event and the report has now been published 38 years after.

While I don't deny the terrible nature of what happened, I do have to wonder about the relevance of a report produced so long after and at such enormous expense.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010


Whenever I have visited the USA I have noticed that it is far from uncommon for people to fly the stars and stripes. (Sorry - should that be Stars and Stripes with capital "s"'s? I really meant no offence.) The same is not quite true in France. Well, they wouldn't fly the Stars and Stripes, would they? But one does see the tricolour flown quite a lot. Every mairie flies one, along with the European Union flag. The same is even less true in England. Very, very few people would ever think of flying either the Union Jack or the St George's flag. But there has been a patriotic flush and a veritable rash of the red crosses on white backgrounds over the last couple of weeks. I even had one given to me in the local supermarket, and the guy across the road has hung one over his front door. That one must measure 9 feet by 6 - it's enormous! Every second car has one or two flying from windows, although they are a lot smaller than the one across the road.

So why this sudden outbreak of apparent patriotism? I call the patriotism "apparent" because it's not really patriotism; all these flags are to show support for the English football team in the World Cup. Unless it's for football, the English don't fly flags. The Scots and the Welsh might, but not the English. After all, we don't need to. We know who we are and have no need to announce it to all and sundry, especially when the all and sundry to whom we would announce it are, for the most part, fellow Englishmen. The French are unsure whether they are Frenchmen or Europeans and so hedge their bets by flying both flags. The Americans are still amazed that their country exists - it is, after all, very young as countries go - and are of such mixed backgrounds that they need to reaffirm their unity at all times, hence the multiplicity of flag flying. But it's just not the done thing here.

What I do find distasteful is the way some people deface the flag by printing "ENGLAND" along the centre. Even more distasteful to my mind is the production of underwear seemingly made from the flag. Somehow I can't imagine disrespect such as that being shown in either France or the USA.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Still on food

When I came in from dealing with the orchard grass on Saturday, I discovered a tarte tatin lying on the working surface, together with a tub of Cornish clotted cream. And very nice that dessert was when we ate it that evening.

Tarte tatin originated in the Loire valley, albeit quite a few miles upstream from our neck of the woods. The most popular version of how it came about is as follows:

Two French sisters, Carolina (1847-1911) and Stephanie Tatin (1838-1917), created the tart. The sisters lived in Lamotte-Beuvron, a small rural town in the Loire Valley of France, owned and ran the hotel called l'Hotel Tatin in 1888. The elder sister, Stéphanie, dealt with the kitchen. She was a particularly fine cook but was not the brightest of people. Her specialty was an apple tart, served perfectly crusty, caramelized and which melted in the mouth. One day during the hunting season, during the midday scramble, Stephanie placed her tart in the oven the wrong way round. The pastry and apples were upside-down but, nevertheless, she served this strange dessert without giving it time to cool. The French call this dessert tarte des demoiselles Tatin (the tart of two unmarried women named Tatin).

The dessert gained its popularity when the famous Maxim's Restaurant put it on their menu. According to some historians, when word of this new gastronomic delight reached Paris, Maxim's owner decided he must have the recipe. He supposedly sent a cook/spy, disguised as a gardener, to Lamotte-Beuvron to discover the secret. The spy was successful, brought the recipe back to Maxim's, and it has been on the menu of that famous restaurant ever since.

It features quite frequently on restaurant menus in France, but I have rarely had a genuine tarte tatin over there. Usually what is served is just a normal apple tart - with ice cream. The French (bless 'em) don't do cream like we English. They have no pouring cream, no whipping cream and no clotted cream. All they have is what they call Chantilly, which is squirted from an aerosol. And this is supposed to be the best cooking in the world!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

RIP, Bruce

When his wife told me last Saturday that the hospital had decided to withdraw the medication for one thing because it was fighting with the medication for another, I realised that this was the beginning of the end for my friend Bruce. He had heart problems and diabetes and needed dialysis (although for some reason the NHS had never got round to starting that) and had developed dementia. Despite knowing how ill he was, I really didn't expect to get a phone call this morning telling me that he had died in the early hours.

Bruce was a member of Brighton Lions Club and had served two terms as president. He also served for ten years as secretary, possibly the most efficient secretary the club ever had, and was on the District cabinet for several years. He was also a founder member of the International Relations Committee of Brighton Lions Club. That committee was a group of four of us who made day trips to Calais three or four times a year. On the last occasion that Bruce came with us, he realised as we left Folkestone that his passport had expired. On our return, the immigration officer told us, half joking, half serious, not to take him again until he had a new passport. Bruce never did get round to applying for a new passport so his place on future trips was taken by another Lion.

We took Bruce and Jane to Les Lavandes a few years back and had a splendid holiday.

Bruce, I shall miss you. And you can bet that I will be serving on a jury on the day of your funeral.


It seems a long time since I last aired the subject of food on this blog and perhaps now is the time to put that right. I spent time yesterday afternoon in the garden, cutting the long grass under the trees in our orchard. That sounds pretty grand, doesn't it? But I should explain that our "orchard" consists of just two trees, one plum and one pear. We do have other fruit trees, but they are scattered around the garden so don't count as part of the orchard. The plum tree - the one in the orchard that is (we have two) - had as much blossom on it this year as I can remember ever having seen and, fortunately, we had no late frosts to prevent the fruit from setting. As you can see from the picture, the plums now look almost like bunches of grapes and I rather think I will need to thin them out.

Although they are not Victoria plums, they do have a very good flavour and are excellent for freezing. The main problem is that in the last few years they have contracted a mould of some sort which has substantially reduced the crop. This year I have bought a spray and am religiously spraying the tree once a week in the hope of eradicating the problem.

Watch this space!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

The new television

After a week or so of humming and hahing and generally faffing around, I finally did it: I decided on a new television set and placed an order. My choice, in the end, was not one that I had been considering earlier but a a model with a slightly larger screen (I had made a mistake about the screen size of our old set) but without an Ipod dock or USB port. All this meant that the model I chose was actually cheaper than the others I had been considering. True to their word, the company delivered the day after I placed my order.

It was not until the following day that I could unpack the set and try to get it set up. I made a careful note of which lead went where, but since there were only the aerial lead and a scart lead that wasn't very difficult, even for me. One of the plus points about this particular set was that it had an automatic tuning facility, so I followed the instructions most carefully and pressed the button on the remote control. Problem number one: we can't get Freeview here although the tv has it built in. In my naivety I had assumed that because this was built in, I would be able to receive all those wonderful channels broadcasting programmes that I don't want to watch. Not so, I discovered. Our local transmitter has to be set up to broadcast all those channels in digital format and that won't happen until 2012. Oh well, tell the set to tune in to the analogue stations. Although there are actually five analogue channels, we can only receive four. But here comes problem number 2: the auto tuning facility can only find three channels, and none of those has a watchable picture. OK, let's try manual tuning. No better.

Oh well, we can at least watch through the cable and the picture on the LCD screen is so much better that on our old set. Perhaps I can find some sort of signal booster so that we can also receive the analogue broadcasts. There is a good reason for wanting that, but that's another story.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The projects mount up

Any regular readers of this blog will be fully aware that I am a member of my local Lions club - that is Brighton Lions Club. Any member of a Lions club can keep him/herself as busy as they want as there is always something that can be done. I have two particular roles within the club: I manage the web site and I edit the monthly newsletter, Jungle Jottings. I have also taken on the role of District webmaster for the next year or so. This latter role is causing me grief at the moment. I have rewritten (if that's the word) much of the web site in an effort to make it less cumbersome and easier to use but there is still some way to go. The problem I have is that I have been quite unable to access the server to upload the new pages. The outgoing webmaster has given me the address and password etc, but it doesn't want to work for me. I've emailed him again asking him to tell me what I am doing wrong, but getting an answer from him can take an age. Meanwhile, I will try to get help elsewhere.

One project is almost at an end. Brighton Lions celebrate their 60th anniversary later this year and I took it upon myself to produce a history of the first 60 years of the club. The manuscript is now in its 5th or 6th version - the final version, I hope - and I am just waiting for the incoming Chairman of the Council of Governors for our Multiple District to supply the foreword. Once I have that I can get the whole thing to the printers.

Which will allow me the time to start another project. I ran a piece in the last issue of Jungle Jottings suggesting that maybe it would be a good idea for club presidents to serve for two years, either consecutively or coming back after a break of a year or two. I don't propose to go into the whys and wherefores here: anyone who is remotely interested can read the piece here. Even though I wrote that piece, I'm not at all sure that I fully agree with the idea. My aim was to get people thinking and possibly, just possibly, to start a discussion. That issue was sent out almost two weeks ago and, surprisingly, I have received two responses. Unsurprisingly, neither is from a Brighton Lion. But brief chats with one or two other Lions, especially our current President, have given me food for thought and I have come to the conclusion that the root of the problem (if problem it is) lies with the lack of training, mentoring or what have you that vice presidents receive in our club. Hence the possible new project - a handbook for vice presidents to help them prepare for taking on the role of president in Brighton Lions Club.

For several years now, another of my pastimes has been family history. I have a large collection of people in my family tree, but there is a gap in the background information between the 1901 census and first- or second-hand knowledge. The 1911 census became available to search sometime last year, but it has only very recently been uploaded onto genealogy web sites in a form that can be searched by name. I hope shortly to take advantage of this to find out where my grandparents and great-grandparents were and how they were living then. It might also help me track down my late mother-in-law's family which has remained a mystery to my wife and I for many years.

So what with those projects, plus this and other blogs and the continuing "work" for the Lions, I should keep myself pretty busy over the next few weeks or months. Actually, some of those newer projects will probably have to be put on hold for a while as on Monday I start jury service. I sincerely hope I don't catch a case that lasts weeks or even months!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

The answer

Capital - "a pit" in "Cal" - and Sacramento is the capital of California. Very nearly right, Skip!

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt

A recent survey into the number of Brits trying outdoor pursuits came up with the following results:
  • 62% have never gone fishing;
  • 59% have never started a camp fire;
  • 50% have never ridden a horse;
  • 47% have never used a compass;
  • 46% have never gone hill walking;
  • 41% have never swum in natural water;
  • 39% have never stood on a mountain;
  • 30% have never spent a night outside.
I have never gone fishing, but I have done all the others.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Use it or lose it.

Whilst I certainly believe in that dictum, I could I suppose be justifiably accused of not practising what I preach. Actually, no, I couldn't. Not because I do practise what I preach but because I don't preach. At least, not that particular sentiment although there are probably times when people around me wish that I would just hop down off the soap box for a while.

But to get back to the point. Yes, I agree that if one doesn't use it, one stands a chance of losing it as far as physical and mental abilities are concerned. It is, of course, commonly understood that as one gets older, one's physical abilities decline. Hence the majority of professional footballers being over the hill well before they are forty. I suppose the joints of a person's body could be compared to a hinge: if the hinge is never used it will probably seize up. The same goes for our joints, so, as we get older it is all the more important to keep our joints supple and well-oiled - and that's not a euphemism for being drunk, although now I come to think of it, a couple of glasses of red wine each day are supposed to be good for one in some way or other. So I accept that I should be exercising my body, but I don't. I don't play any sports or swim or jog: all I do is take a gentle stroll with the dog a couple of times a day.

What I fail to do with my physical body, I do try to do with my mental faculties as I have an absolute horror of ending up with dementia. Not that mental exercise necessarily keeps dementia at bay, as has been proven by a good friend of mine. He regularly completed the Telegraph cryptic crossword as well as a number of other mental exercises, but he now only just recognises his wife and hasn't spoken for weeks. Despite that example, I do try to complete a couple of sudoku puzzles every day and I try to make time to attempt the Telegraph crossword every day - and this is where I get to my hidden agenda in this blog.

Yesterday I could not find the time to even start the crossword although I did glance at one clue. It somehow leapt off the page at me because it mentioned the state where one of my good friends lives, California. The answer was an 7-letter word and the clue (remember, this was a cryptic crossword) was "Sacramento, a dump in California".

I'll leave you to think about that and maybe I'll put you out of your misery tomorrow.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


Over on Fern's blog I've posted a picture of a hawthorn tree in full bloom. During the latter part of last week and the weekend we had perfect clout casting weather, but today it is considerably cooler and wet. The cynics amongst us would say that the English summer has arrived.

But there is good news. SWMBO was back at the hospital yesterday for another session of physiotherapy on her wrist and was told that she can now get back behind the steering wheel. Tomorrow it will be exactly five months since she broke her wrist, and it is therefore a good five months since she last drove. Come to that, it's five months since she dd a lot of things. She hates having to admit it when things become too difficult for her as a result of the CBD and I think I am expected to use some sort of ESP to know when I have to offer to take something on. The broken wrist has probably given her a perfect excuse to stop doing the supermarket shopping or hanging out the washing.

Monday, 7 June 2010


I wish I knew more about television - the sets, that is, not the programmes broadcast on tv.

Over the course of the next few years, television broadcasting across the whole country is to be changed from analogue to digital. In fact, the change has already taken place in some parts. Now I don't pretend to understand the difference between analogue and digital when it comes to broadcasting. I do know the difference between an analogue watch and a digital one, but that's it as far as my knowledge goes. Except that television sets which receive analogue signals will not necessarily receive digital ones. Those "old" sets can be converted by plugging in a set-top Freeview box (at a cost) or by linking to cable broadcasting (a different box) or to satellite broadcasting (a receiver dish and yet another different box). I took the step of linking to cable a year or two back and this gives us quite a lot more channels to watch. With the indoor aerial that we use we get just the standard four channels and these are generally enough for us, although we do occasionally watch a repeat of an old programme on one of the cable channels. There are also times when atmospheric conditions are bad for reception and we switch over to cable, but otherwise we never use cable - and I'm paying £12 a month just to have it there.

A few weeks ago, I was in one of the local supermarkets when I saw a television on offer at £180. Not only did this have in-built Freeview, and therefore digital reception, but it also had a built-in dvd player and records onto a memory stick. The flat screen and slim build impressed me and would look a lot neater than our 8-years-old set which is one of those bulky tube things - although there is still absolutely nothing wrong with it. I was tempted, but did nothing.

Last week, however, I saw that the store still had some of those tvs and it occurred to me that with the built-in Freeview they offered, I would be able to cancel my cable subscription and recoup the price of the new tv in 18 months. So I wnt onto the store's web site to find out more. I think perhaps that was where I made my mistake. I just don't understand what all the technical terms mean. I just about managed to work out that a screen with a resolution of 1366 x 768 doesn't display a picture quite as well as a screen with a higher resolution, but what on earth is contrast ratio (I think I understand aspect ration correctly as width compared to height) or component input?

So do I lash out and buy one? Or do I lash out a bit more and buy one with a better specification? Or do I do nothing?

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Heard at Charter Night

Murphy was an Irishman who ran a very successful cheese-making company. He had reached the point where he wanted to expand so he went to his bank manager to ask for a loan.

"I want to start exporting cheese and I have decided to start with France. We'll call the new company Murphy's French Cheeses."

"I think it's a great idea to expand your business," said the bank manager, "but I'm not so sure about exporting to France. That is the country which makes the greatest variety of cheeses in the world. You really should think again."

Murphy went away, but a week later he was back again.

"I still want to expand the business by exporting," he explained. "We'll try Italy and call the business Murphy's Italian Cheeses."

"I'm still not sure," responded the bank manager. "Italy produces the second greatest variety of cheeses in the world. Think again."

Two weeks later Murphy was back in the bank.

"We're going to export to Israel."

"That's a great idea! I can't think of a single cheese that comes from Israel. I'll lend you the money. By the way, what will you call the business?"

"Cheeses of Nazareth."

Saturday, 5 June 2010

A Lions day

Apart from all the usual things (walking the dog, going to the library etc) there are a number of Lions activities to be covered today. For a start, I really should write our monthly letter to Joe. This is an activity that has been arranged between Brighton Lions and our twin club in Maryland, Freedom District. Each club has "adopted" a severely ill child in the other country and we write or send a postcard on a monthly basis in the hope that it will brighten up the recipient's life a little.This month I will tell Joe a bit about the inside of the Royal Pavilion.

As this is the first Saturday of the month, our regular book fair is being held this morning. I can't get there to help set up, but I will go down a bit before noon to help clear away. If we get enough hands it only takes about 20 minutes of hard labour.

Then this evening we have of 59th charter anniversary dinner. This is a formal affair - DJ, bow tie and all. I have managed to get all the menus printed in time, which was something of a feat as I only had this week to do them. Each one is individual as they act as place cards as well so names have to be printed on the front. The inside has the individual's choice of menu printed (partly as a reminder) so the mail merge application comes in very handy. But what takes the time is the actual printing. I have learned that it is unwise to try putting a stack of card in the printer and just going for it; each sheet has to be inserted separately (twice: back and front) or things go very wrong with overprinting, blank pages etc. Tonight's guest speakers are the Council Chairman Elect, a past governor of our district, and the Mayor.

Here are pics of the menu, although the real things have more white space around the edges. Maybe I do say it as shouldn't, but I'm pleased with them.

Friday, 4 June 2010


The widow of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid was pictured in yesterday's paper after she had received the George Cross awarded to her late husband who was killed while defusing an explosive devise in Afghanistan. He had already successfully defused 65 IEDs and was on the last day of his tour of duty when killed.

One so often hears the word "hero" used when it is really not appropriate, sportsmen are quite frequently so described, but can there really be anybody more heroic than bomb disposal men who risk their lives on a daily basis? Their courage is, to me, almost beyond belief.

I have at times pondered on the difference between a courageous act carried out instinctively and one undertaken only after knowing the full extent of the danger involved. Does an instinctive action - or reaction - really demonstrate bravery? I suppose it could be argued that a person acting bravely from instinct might well have the sort of temperament to undertake those actions even after consideration of the danger and might therefore truthfully be described as a brave person. But I have to agree with Thucydides, who was quoted by Staff Sergeant Schmid's widow, when he said, 'The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.'

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The garden calls

I really must spend time in the garden this afternoon. The grass needs cutting (or else a sheep or two), the runner beans have grown enormously in the greenhouse while we were away and I need to put up the poles and plant out the beans, the sweet peas need planting out, there are geraniums to pot to go beside the front door, and I must dig over a bit more of the vegetable patch and get the French beans in before it's too late.

Talking of sheep reminds me of a story. One of our friends (and a fellow Lion) is a farmer who, when these events took place, bred sheep. The Dearly Beloved was talking to him one day shortly before his sheep were due to lamb and, jokingly, told him that if he had a lamb lose its mother and needing bottle-rearing, we would take it from him as she loves looking after lambs in this way. A few weeks later we got a phone call from Robin to say that he had a cade lamb and would we like to fetch it?

The Dearly Beloved had NOT been joking, so I traipsed down to a DIY store and bought a roll of chain link fencing and then to the Lions' store to borrow a dozen or so road pins. With these I made a pen on the bottom lawn. I also cleared out the shed to use as overnight accommodation. Then we drove to the farm, spread straw over the luggage compartment of my estate car, and brought the lamb home.

Word soon got round our local children that we had a lamb in the garden and they would queue up for a chance to feed the animal its bottle. Madam was then running a cub pack, so one evening she took the lamb to cubs. She had to park a little way up the road and a passing driver nearly crashed when he spotted a lamb being walked through the town on a collar and lead.

Our then dog was quite happy to have a lamb in the garden, but she learned to open the pen and release the lamb, whereupon the dog would go into the pen in place of the lamb which would proceed to jump and skip all round the garden.

Minty, as the lamb was known, eventually went back to the farm, but Robin and his wife are softies and bottle-reared lambs never did end up in the freezer.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Walking the dog

I'm told this is a true story - but you can decide whether or not to believe that.

A woman was flying from Melbourne to Brisbane when the plane was diverted to Sydney. The flight attendant explained there would be a delay and, if the passengers wanted to get off the aircraft, the plane would re-board in 50 minutes. Everybody got off the plane except one lady who was blind.

A man had noticed her as he walked by and could tell the lady was blind because her guide dog lay quietly underneath the seats in front of her throughout the entire flight.

He could also tell she had flown this very flight before because the pilot approached her and, calling her by name, said, 'Kathy, we are in Sydney for almost
an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?'

The blind lady replied, 'No thanks, but maybe Buddy would like to stretch his legs.'

Picture this:
All the people in the gate area came to a complete standstill when they looked up and saw the pilot walk off the plane with a guide dog! The pilot was even wearing sunglasses.

People scattered.

They not only tried to change planes, but they were trying to change airlines!

Have a great day and remember....


Tuesday, 1 June 2010


I seem to have lost interest in producing what I fondly imagined as book reviews: I have certainly read a good number of books since I posted the last review. A week in France provided the opportunity for some serious reading time and I tried to make the most of it. Following a comment made by Skip, I have read three of Michael Connelly's titles - Echo Park, The Lincoln Lawyer and The Brass Verdict - and thoroughly enjoyed each of them. Thanks, Skip, for the recommendation. I have also read a number of Peter James's books written before the Grace series. What a difference! Two of them turned out to be horror stories (which I normally leave alone) and the blurb on them called the author Britain's answer to Stephen King. The other - Faith - was different again, although perhaps slightly less enjoyable than the Grace books. Despite my slightly derogatory comments about six weeks back concerning Allan Mallinson's Matthew Harvey series, I have read a couple more and enjoyed them. But the book which has made the deepest impression on me, despite this being my umpteenth reading of it, was The Cruel Sea. First published in 1951, this epic story of the Battle of the Atlantic in WW2 is still in print almost 60 years later. My father, who spent some of the war in the North Atlantic, always maintained that this book was one of the very few to tell it as it was.