Tuesday, 30 November 2010


Please meet Peppa Pig and her classmates. This is top of the granddaughter's wish list for Christmas. I have just checked out our local stockists through their web site and find they have two in stock, so I have reserved one for collection later today when I take the Old Bat shopping. She would normally go on her own while I take the dog out this afternoon but we had a light covering of snow overnight and my arm will be welcomed for support.

I might have succeeded as far as granddaughter is concerned, and the OB has already bought No 1 grandson a series of books (he is a good reader), but No 2 grandson might be a bit more of a problem. His birthday falls towards the end of November and he dearly wanted a candyfloss machine. Unfortunately, the only stockist we could find is a nationwide chain of catalogue shops (the same one that sells Peppa Pig) and none of the branches within 20 miles, nor the home delivery option, had one in stock for his birthday. They still don't, so it's back to the drawing board again for him.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Weather report

It's been very cold the last few days with the temperature rising only just above freezing. We've had frosts, of course, but luckily we have so far escaped the snow which has brought some parts of the country to a standstill with well over a foot lying in places. Today - for a change - we have a blue sky and sun, not that there is much warmth in it. All the same, it was quite pleasant in the park when I managed to get shelter from the north wind and stay in the sun. It's good to have firm footing through the woods and Fern comes home without being covered in mud. That mug of coffee when I get in after half or three-quarters of an hour straight after breakfast is very welcome. My main concern at the moment is that the snow should stay away as we will be off to France at the weekend and I don't want the driving conditions shown here.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

An ill omen?

I hope not.

The 2011 Convention for Lions MD105 is to be held in Belfast. The pin being produced shows, as well as the Lions badge, a representation of the Titanic, the ship having been built in Belfast. I hope the Convention committee is not tempting providence.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Scenic Saturday - Gloucestershire

Number 18 in the series.

We come this week to the first of the counties whose names end in ‘cestershire' so a brief note about pronunciation might be in order. The ‘cester' or ‘chester' in the names of English towns and cities indicates that they were once Roman garrison towns - Colchester, Manchester, Leicester and so on, including Gloucester. If the names includes the ‘h', eg Rochester, it is pronounced as written. However, in other cases such as Gloucester and Worcester, the ‘ce' is silent and the name is pronounced Gloster, Wooster etcetera.

Although Berkshire is normally the county referred to as ‘Royal', Gloucestershire could also lay claim to the appellation as both the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal have homes in the county.

The county lies astride the River Severn and the low-lying areas along the river, including the historic abbey town of Tewkesbury, were subject to the worst ever flooding in England in 2007. Cheltenham is known for its Georgian architecture, the Cheltenham Ladies College, and its race course which features the Cheltenham Festival and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The late Queen Mother was a keen visitor to the races here and when she passed through the village/suburb of Prestbury the owner of the village store always presented her with a box of chocolates.

Tewkesbury, Cheltenham and the city of Gloucester are all worth visiting, but the main attraction for tourists is the range of hills known as the Cotswolds. Here you will find villages tucked into valleys, the houses built from the local honey-coloured stone: Naunton, Upper and Lower Slaughter, Broadway, Bourton-on-the-Water all have people claiming them as the prettiest village in England, but our picture this week is of another Cotswold village - Bibury.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Dream worlds

As a young man - probably still in my teens or maybe very early twenties - one of my favourite authors was Dennis Wheatley. Many of his books, if not all of them, (and I was surprised to find they are still in print) involved the supernatural and I recall that one of the central tenets was that a person's spirit, or ka, left the body during sleep and travelled on different levels of astral planes. Dreams, it would seem, are the subconscious result of the mind recognising what is happening to the ka. It all seemed quite possible to me in those days, but I never did really believe it.

I know I do dream although when I wake all I have is a vague recollection of having dreamed. I can very seldom recall the substance of the dream. Indeed, it's not often that I can even recall in the morning having dreamed during the night although I do know I had a dream a few nights ago. When I woke I was surprised that fragments of the dream were still in my memory, although they have gone now.

There are just two dreams that I can still remember. They both occurred on the same night about fifty years ago. Perhaps I am wrong to call them dreams as I am pretty certain they were the result of delirium during the onset of pneumonia. One of them was more nightmare than dream, although I suppose that a nightmare is a dream, albeit a "horror" dream.

The bedroom in which my brother and I slept was at the back of the house and had a view over the neighbouring gardens to the corrugated asbestos roof of a garage. This was not the sort of garage to be found nestling alongside a suburban semi in which the family car is parked: it was an altogether larger building in which cars were repaired. In my dream the garage had grown to even larger proportions. But it was not the size of the building that caused my terror. It was the cowboys and Indians clambering over the garage roof waving their six-shooters and tomahawks in an alarming fashion as they came for me. Just why they should have been coming for me I really couldn't say, but I knew that they were. I assume that I must have screamed fit to bring the house down as my father spent the rest of the night in my bed and my mother moved me into their bed with her in the front bedroom.

The comfort of my mother beside me didn't stop me dreaming, although the next dream was altogether less terrifying. Somehow our house had been relocated to the far end of the road, about as far from the bottom as it was, in reality, from the top. There was a street light outside, shining into the bedroom, and it was by the light of this lamp that I could see rather small men and women in strange garb climbing through the window and mounting two or three steps onto a sort of minstrels' gallery that ran round two sides of the room.

I haven't the faintest idea how the dream ended and I have not been able to remember a dream since then - a fact for which I am actually very grateful.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

A celebration

I've waffled quite a bit over the last few days so today I'm going to give you all a treat: I won't dribble on at all and will simply wish all my American and Canadian friends -

And remember: a stranger is just a friend we have yet to meet.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Look after the pennies

It is fifty years since I left school and things have changed more than a little during that half century. No, slates had been made obsolete even before I started school, which was more than sixty years ago, but there have nevertheless been considerable changes in both what is taught and how it is taught. In my day, students who sat their A level exams were given their results as either a pass or a fail, with the percentage mark also being notified. Nowadays the results are given as grades, the top being A*. What has been noticeable over the past goodness how many years is that the percentage of students being awarded either A* or A has increased every year. The question being asked is have students have become cleverer or have the exams have become easier? We hear (or read) this question every August when the results are announced, but the matter has been aired again this month when it emerged that questions were set in one exam that touched on matters not covered by the national syllabus.

I don't propose to enter into that discussion here but I will state that in my opinion the exams have become easier. As far as the science exams are concerned - especially maths - they must have done. The whole subject of maths is easier now than it was before our currency was converted to decimal and since we have surreptitiously converted our weights and measures to a decimal system. Whereas under the old system of currency people were quite accustomed to doing mental arithmetic to convert a given number of pennies to shillings and a given number of shillings to pounds, no such mental exercise is needed now. But when there were twelve pence in a shilling and twenty shillings in a pound, it was second nature to know, for example, that thirty shillings represented one and a half pounds. Likewise, eighteen pence was one shilling and sixpence. If a shopkeeper told you that the price of something was fifty-five shillings, it was second nature to hand over three one-pound notes and expect two halfcrowns in change.

Even when my children were at primary school, they had to learn their multiplication tables up to twelve. They may still have to: I have no contact these days with schoolchildren of that age (or their parents) so have no way of knowing. Yes, it was tedious, but my elder son commented when in his teens that he was glad he had been made to learn them as it made life much easier to know that twelve sixes are 72 without having to work it out. If we had retained our imperial measures and currency, schoolchildren would still be learning their tables and finding later how useful they are.

It really made much more sense to use the imperial measurements of inches, feet, yards and miles. These were based, after all, on measurements taken from the human body, whereas the metric measurements are based on the metre which is itself based on the circumference of the earth (I think). That sounds eminently sensible - until one discovers that the measurement on which the metre is based is incorrect, thereby throwing out the whole system. Anyway, the base units of 12 and 20 in our old currency, 12, 3, 220 and 8 in distance and 16, 28, 4 and 20 in measurements might look somewhat haphazard, but they are capable of much better division than the base unit of 10.

I wouldn't want to bring back hanging, but I would be quite happy to see shillings and pence reintroduced. Yes, I know - I'm on old fogey, a proper dinosaur. But I'm a likeable chap as well.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

A hard lesson

It has been brought home to me over the last couple of weeks that the application form used when joining the local Lions Club should carry a warning along the lines of "Completing this form may damage your health".

There seem to be three distinct phases of a person's membership of a Lions Club. It is completely impossible to know when one moves from one phase to the next, especially as there is no chronological indication of any kind, but it is relatively easy for a fellow Lion to distinguish which phase one is in. The first phase is when the new (or newish) member is feeling his feet and gradually easing himself (or herself - take it for granted that where I use the masculine it is intended to be fully inclusive) into the day-to-day activities of the club. There usually comes a time when he is fully integrated and has moved into phase two. This is the really useful phase during which the Lion plays a full part in the club and can be relied on to organise a fund-raising event or service activity. Unfortunately, there are a few Lions who never quite manage to make the transition from phase one to phase two but that doesn't mean that they should not be members of the club. They can be excellent foot soldiers, willing to undertake jobs under the leadership and instruction of a Lion who has progressed to phase two. It sometimes helps to have more Indians and fewer chiefs.

Some people avoid phase three completely by simply leaving; others make a gradual transition into it. This is the time when, although still members of the club, Lions feel unable to do as much as they once did - possibly through loss of interest, possibly through ill health or advancing years. But they, too, have a part to play. Their years of experience and knowledge of both the Lions organisation and the world at large is there to be tapped into even if they are no longer capable of spending a day chopping wood.

So where does the potential health damage come in? It's in phase two. The danger is that a Lion can become over-enthusiastic, letting the club and Lions' activities take over his life to the extent that he has no interests outside Lions, his job is just a means of earning money and his home and garden are left to look after themselves. I have come across a very similar situation just recently. A Lion I know very well has had to take sick leave due to stress. His problem is that he hasn't learned to say, ‘No'. If someone has suggested something should be done, he has always been the first to volunteer. If he has had an idea for a service activity or fund-raiser, he has always had to lead it.

I know what it is like: I have been there. Well, almost there: I have fortunately managed to draw back more than once when I realised (either of my own accord or because it has been pointed out to me) that my involvement first in Scouting and later in Lions was in danger of damaging irrevocably my family life. I have learned the lesson of saying, ‘No'.

One of my fellow Lions submitted a piece for publication in the recent issue of Jungle Jottings in which he recalled advice given to him many years ago: one's family comes first, one's job second. If there is time left over, give some of it to the Lions. Some of it, not all. We Lions of several years standing owe it to other members of our clubs to make sure both we and others know when to say, ‘No'.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Riches from Rags

I was burbling the other day (was it really only yesterday?) about the disadvantages of dog ownership and ended by saying that there is a flip side. ‘OK,' you say, ‘convince me.' Well, one big advantage to owning a dog is that you have to walk the animal, thereby giving you the double benefit of fresh air and exercise. Yes, I know one doesn't actually need a dog in order to take exercise by walking in the fresh air. Indeed, there are many people who actually go jogging on an almost daily basis without the benefit of canine companionship but I know full well that I wouldn't do so. Without the dog I would rarely, if ever, take exercise - and certainly not when it's cold or raining. Even the bad weather has its advantage. Rather like enjoying the relief when you stop banging your head against the wall, coming back into a warm, dry house and a mug of hot coffee is a real pleasure I wouldn't be able to feel without having been in the cold rain before. I suppose all I have done so far is convince people that I am either a masochist or a raving lunatic. Let me try to put that right.

During our married life the Old Bat and I have owned four dogs at one time or another. Each has had their own distinct (and discrete) character but I will tell you about Rags.

Rags was our second dog. Our first had to be put down because of old age and illness and all four of us, perhaps especially the two boys who were then aged about four and one, felt the loss acutely. Within a couple of weeks my wife and I had decided that we needed another dog in the house and agreed to look out for a retriever. We chose that type because although we had been lucky with our previous rescue dog (a collie cross) we wanted to be reasonably certain that the new dog would be good with children. It just so happened that I was glancing at the small ads in the local paper one day during a break at work when I spotted it - the ad for a flat coat retriever. I rang home and my wife arranged for her mother to babysit that evening while we drove nearly 50 miles to see the dog. He was the runt of the litter, considered too small to be useful as a gun dog, and the last remaining pup.

We really should have done more homework and learned a bit about the breed first, but we were enchanted, paid over the necessary cash, and brought home the still nameless pup. To start with, we put him in the back of my estate car, but he wasn't having any of that and whined until I stopped and he was allowed on my wife's lap where he dozed quite happily as we drove home. For reasons I don't need to into here, the elder son decided the pup would be called Rags.

It wasn't long before we discovered the down side of owning a flat coat retriever. The breed is highly intelligent but notoriously difficult to train, and Rags was true to his breed. He quickly learned that he was supposed to come when called, and he would - but in his own time. He learned to climb the chain-link fence down the side of our garden and scramble through the top of the privet hedge the other side so that he could explore the neighbourhood. He grabbed any food that had not been put right at the back of the kitchen working surfaces. Furthermore, a quick twenty-minute walk was hopelessly inadequate. He needed a couple of hours exercise a day and with two young children (three before too much longer) in the house and me working, sometimes long hours, that was a bit difficult.

But exasperating and infuriating though he was, Rags was a fantastic dog with children. They could do anything with him. My daughter learned to walk by clinging to him. He would happily let children dress him in jumpers, dark glasses and funny hats - and then sit for his photograph to be taken. He was pleased to play the part of a doll, being put to bed with a pillow under his head and a blanket covering him. One of my daughter's friends had been mauled by a dog when just a toddler and was, understandably, scared of all dogs thereafter. Rags was big and black, so naturally she was scared of him. That didn't last long. Rags knew she was scared and took his time getting close to her. A neighbour would leave her two daughters at our house to be taken to school. Her marriage was rocky and the girls, especially the younger, were frequently upset and tearful. One day my wife discovered the younger girl in the dog basket with Rags. Just who was cuddling whom was uncertain, but Rags was like a comfort blanket. He would even let a child take away a bone he was chewing. All he did was look at my wife as if to say, ‘Can't you teach that child better manners?'

Before our children were of an age when they could go to and come home from school on their own, Rags' biggest treat was to be taken to meet them at the end of the school day. Other children would crowd around him - Rags was well-known at the school gate - and as far as he was concerned, this was like his birthday and Christmas rolled into one. Later, when the children came home from school on their own, he knew exactly when they should be back and if one was late because of an after-school activity, Rags just could not settle until all his flock was safely home.

I was becoming increasingly unhappy at work for various reasons and on many days I when I came home the children would disappear upstairs and the dog down the garden to get away from me, but at weekends I would walk Rags for hours over the Downs and he would walk right by my side as I told him all my troubles. I have never known a dog be such a wonderful listener.

He was his usual energetic self right up until one Saturday morning he had trouble getting out of his bad. I had to help him down the garden and to stand while he had a pee. Putting him the car to take to the vet, I knew this was the end. The vet confirmed this, saying that Rags had a large tumour. I held him as the vet injected him but I managed to keep the tears back until I got home. I had said goodbye to one of the best friends I have ever had: exasperating, infuriating even, but good-natured, loyal and affectionate to the end. In all his twelve years there had been not the faintest hint of a growl.

And that, perhaps, is the true downside of owning a dog, being unselfish enough to know when it's time to say goodbye.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Dog owner = masochist

There are many people out there who would consider me to have a masochistic streak and others, no doubt, who would suggest that I, my wife and our house are dirty. Far be it from me to suggest that either school of thought is wrong, but the cause of the views of both schools is our choice. We are dog owners. We have been for, oh, forty-five years or more. Not the same dog all the time, of course, but apart from the first year and the gaps between our different dogs we have owned dogs for our entire married lives. On those cold winter mornings when the rain is lashing not down but almost horizontally in a fierce north-east wind, my opinion is not that I am a masochist; rather a raving lunatic. All our dogs seem to have or have had the ability to attract mud and wet leaves to their fur and to have needed to be dried thoroughly before being allowed back into the house, but they have to be walked every day no matter what the weather.

Which brings us to another reason why dog owners are considered either mad or masochistic: not only do dogs have to be walked in all weathers, they have to be walked daily and really cannot be left on their own all day. This means that the sudden urge to, for example, make a trip to London to visit museums and take in a show has to be put down. Days out need to be planned well in advance so that somebody is available to look after the dog. It could even be that the animal has to go into kennels for a couple of nights, adding considerably to the expense of the day out. And when it comes to taking a holiday for a week or, heaven forbid! a fortnight, it's almost a case of taking out a mortgage to pay the extra costs. Kennels don't come cheap.

Nor do vets' bills. We have been using the same veterinary surgery since acquiring our first dog, although the vets have changed over the years. All the vets we have seen have been highly satisfactory and when we talk to other dog owners we find that our vet's fees are not as high as most others' in the town. I suppose that must be a bit of a bonus, but we still hope that nothing major goes wrong as we have consistently refused to take out pet insurance. Even the vet advised against doing that, saying that we would be better off putting the equivalent of the monthly premium into a savings account and drawing on that if need be.

All of which just goes to support the "You're a masochist" school of thought. But there is a flip side and perhaps I will manage to cover that another day.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Scenic Saturday - Oxfordshire

Number 17 in the series.

Oxfordshire has one foot in the Chilterns to the east and the other in the Cotswolds to the west, with the bulk of the county's southern boundary being the River Thames, or Isis as it is called in Oxford.

There are some pretty villages in the west of the county, although the better known attractions of the Cotswolds are in neighbouring Gloucestershire. Henley-on-Thames is the site of the annual Henley Royal Regatta, considered to be the premier rowing regatta in the world and definitely one of the highlights of the traditional English social season - straw boaters, striped blazers, Pimms and cucumber sandwiches.

Of course, the main tourist attraction in the county is the city of Oxford itself, home to one of the oldest universities in the world. The first college was established somewhere between 1249 and 1264 and even New College dates from 1379. When a person says he was ‘at Oxford', that is understood as meaning he studied at the University. However, I can also claim I was ‘at Oxford'. I was at the University for a short period. I applied to Worcester College and actually got as far as spending a few days in room on a staircase in one of the quads while I sat the entrance exam. That, I regret to say, was as far as I got. Worcester being "my" college so to speak, our picture this week is of a corner of one of its quads, quite possibly showing the door to the staircase on which I stayed. It was so long ago that I can't remember which one.

Friday, 19 November 2010

In which the Pensioner contemplates life without gizmos

If the rate at which things have been invented was at its fastest during the 20th century, surely the pace picked up and reached a peak during the second half. Or - to split hairs - during the last 50 years. Just think of all the gizmos and gadgets that were, for a brief period of time, "must haves" for every home in the Western world. Where now are all the fizzy drink-making machines or the fondu sets which no self-respecting suburban housewife would have been without back in the mid-1960s? (Was it then that we all held fondu parties or was it later?) How many toasted-sandwich makers lie buried beneath plastic supermarket bags, quietly rotting in the bottom of a cupboard somewhere? And what has happened to all those woks? Yes, I know. The wok wasn't an invention of the 20th century - but it might just as well have been given how it was treated in much the same way as those in-then-out-of-fashion-just-as-quickly inventions.

(We still have both the sandwich-maker and the wok. The sandwich-maker is used occasionally as it doubles as a waffle-maker, but I scraped a decade of dust off the wok when I redecorated the kitchen - before putting it back on top of the cupboard to collect another decade's worth.)

Some of those inventions have, of course, become normal, everyday fixtures in our lives: the mobile phone and the TV remote control, for example. I can fully understand why the mobile phone plays an important part in modern life although I do think its importance (or necessity) frequently over-rated. The Old Bat and I have one between us but it is intended primarily for use in emergencies. Having said that, I don't think it has ever been used in an emergency: it's main use is for booking tables at restaurants while we are in France.

The TV remote control, however, is something for which I am very grateful. When my parents bought their first television there were just two channels to choose from. That had, I think, increased to three - or maybe four - by the time the OB and I were married and contemplating buying a set. Nowadays, given the plethora of channels we are able to enjoy - no, from which we can choose - the remote control is almost essential. That is especially so for us oldies as we are less agile than we once were and find it a struggle to get out of the chair and across the room just to switch from one pointless reality show to another. Staying with the television for a moment, I am grateful for a DVD recorder. The old video tape recorders were fine in their way, but it is a whole lot easier to record to a hard drive. The time delay option which we have on our recorder is useful at times. Last night, for instance, we were watching a show ‘live' (by which I mean it was not one we had recorded) when the phone rang and I was involved in a 10-minute conversation with a fellow Lion. On returning to the living room I was able to resume watching the show from where I had left off. I grant you that my life would hardly have been changed for the worse if I had missed those ten minutes, but it was nice not to have done.

But the gizmo that I consider the absolute acme of luxury is the snooze button on the radio-alarm clock. Having, for many years, had to jump out of bed as soon as the alarm sounded, the thought that I can press that little button and turn over for another nine minutes is bliss - as is pressing it again after the first nine minutes! The guy who invented that tiny gizmo should have been awarded the Nobel prize for something or other. I would certainly vote it the greatest thing since sliced bread (another 20th century invention I really dislike).

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Bringing home the bacon

My father served in the Royal Navy and, in 1943, was drafted to HMS Bonaventure, a converted merchant ship which was used as a depot or mother ship for midget submarines - X craft as they were formally known. By the end of the war, the Bonaventure was in the Far East and was (I believe) used to transport Australian POWs back home. It was not until late 1947 or early 1948 that the ship returned to home waters and my father was once again able to be a part of the lives of my brother and me. I would have been at school by then, having last seen my father when I was little more than a toddler. I suppose it was hardly surprising that when I was told to kiss my father goodnight, I went straight to the photograph on the mantlepiece, not having registered that this strange man in my life was my ‘real' father.

In those days there were still food rationing and shortages of all sorts of goods in the shops in England but my father had taken the opportunity of buying various items while he was away. There was a dinner and tea set he had seen being unpacked in a store in Sydney. He had told the assistant to stop unpacking it and to repack the rest as he wanted it. It seems almost unbelievable now that the china had been made in Birmingham, sold in Sydney, and returned to England as that sort of crockery was just not available in England. (I learned only a couple of days ago that immediately after the war only white china was allowed to be sold in Britain: coloured crockery was for export only.) My mother still had a few pieces of that set when she died five years ago. My father bought so much while overseas that the ship's carpenter had to make a special chest for it and my father had to get one of his ratings to help carry the chest from the taxi into the house.

My memory of what was in the chest - other than the dinner set - is now very hazy: after all, it was more than 60 years ago! I seem to recall a tin-plate humming top and a clockwork model dodgem car that reversed when it bumped into something - also tin-plate. Neither of these could have been found in England. The chest is still in use, my brother and his wife using it to store blankets and so on, but I fear nothing else survives from that home-coming except for an envelope, a souvenir first day cover sent to my father when he was in Hong Kong by (presumably) one of his suppliers in the colony. I don't really know why I kept it - I am not a stamp collector - but a few weeks back I decided I should try to find out what it is worth. I stumbled across a company that would provide free valuations over the web. All I had to do was scan the envelope and send an email. I received a very swift response. In better condition, the envelope would be worth about £10. I might, I was told, find a less discriminating buyer on Ebay.

So I signed up to Ebay and posted the envelope as for sale with a starting price of £5. It has sold for £12.50 - so my father did bring home the bacon.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Royal Hysteria

Given the news announced yesterday morning from Buckingham Palace, there were no prizes for guessing what would drive just about everything off the front pages of the country's newspapers this morning. Indeed, the Telegraph, probably like many others, managed to devote a further 16 so-called ‘souvenir' pages to the engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton. The British people - perhaps English especially - being what it is, this means that we are entering a period of mass hysteria. Granted, Prince William seems to be a thoroughly decent sort of chap: a serving officer in the RAF who has just completed training as a search and rescue helicopter pilot, reportedly popular with both his fellow officers and the other ranks. Kate, who one assumes will become Princess Katherine, is a very good-looking woman and it is probably to her advantage in these days that she comes from a bog-standard, middle class family - a commoner, not an aristocrat from some almost unknown European dynasty. Taken all round, this looks like being a Good Thing for both the monarchy and the country as a whole.

(Pause to explain the Upper Case Initials. Some years ago, there was published a slim volume covering the history of the United Kingdom. In this tongue-in-cheek work, all major events were classified as either a Good Thing or a Bad Thing. Memo to self: must get hold of a copy of that book.)

The wedding will take place in the spring or summer of next year. It will have to be in 2011 or the couple will need to hold off until 2013 as the year in between is the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen's accession to the throne and they wouldn't be allowed to upstage those celebrations.

The television news showed the number of photographers gathered outside the Middleton family home in a village in Berkshire, the sub-text seeming to be how the rest of the media was already in a feeding frenzy. The BBC then showed clips in which they themselves had interviewed some of the village tradesmen and residents, thus proving themselves to be part of the feeding frenzy. No doubt it will not be long before our shops are filled with Will and Kate tat imported from China.

All the same, I am not being sarcastic when I wish the couple every happiness.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Jungle Jottings

Jungle Jottings is the name of the monthly newsletter for members of Brighton Lions Club. It was first issued almost 60 years ago but, although described as a monthly newsletter, there have been gaps of a month or two here and there. I was asked to take on the job of editor back in 2004 and have done the job ever since, which probably makes me the longest serving editor the newsletter has had in its existence.

Right from the start of my editorship, I set myself the target of producing eight pages each month. I aimed to include items that would inform fellow Lions of what was happening in the club (including the club diary and rotas for service and fund-raising activities), from time to time reminding members of what was expected of them (nagging, to put it bluntly) and telling them a little of what is happening around them by outlining the aims etc of other charities and the activities of other clubs, particularly our twin club. And I have generally succeeded in producing those eight pages.

But I have of late been wondering if what I have been doing is producing what I think the other Lions should have rather than what they want. How many, I have asked myself, actually read what I produce? I think that in future I will spend less time flogging myself to get out quite as much. Yes, the last page of humour will stay - that's probably the most read part - but information about other charities and clubs will go by the board. I might change my mind again in a few months time, but we'll just see how it goes for now.

Monday, 15 November 2010

City Daily Photo

I don't remember how I came across the group of bloggers that go to make up the team under the name City Daily Photo, but I'm glad that I did. The idea behind it is that a "member" (I use the term loosely as there are really neither rules nor sanctions) posts a picture of his/her home city or town on a daily basis. There are now hundreds of people doing that, or in some cases posting two or three pictures a week. Their photo blogs offer fascinating views of places I would never visit, and they are not just the standard tourist views one would find in guide books. Some of the photographers are very good, some are mediocre, and some are just not really up to the mark at all. I decided I would join this band of bloggers - goodness knows why! And so Fern's photo blog was born. As I rarely venture into the centre of town - and Fern never does - I decided to concentrate on the countryside and villages just out of Brighton. Hardly city photos, but others post pictures taken outside their cities so I reckon it's OK to base Fern's blog on Stanmer. I really joined up with my tongue very much in my cheek. I might be lucky occasionally and manage to take a picture worth publishing, but I am really just a fair amateur snapper rather than a photographer. All the same, I'm glad I did as nit has made me more aware of what is around me whenever I take Fern for a walk. It's surprising how little we see around us even though we claim to be looking.

Dare I suggest you try it?

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Bits and pieces

This is a rather peculiar weekend in some ways with both celebrations and commemorations taking place. The main celebration took place in London yesterday morning - the Lord Mayor's Show. Luckily, the weather was reasonably fine for it. It always seems a little - odd, shall I say? - that the day after the razzamatazz of the Lord Mayor's Show is Remembrance Day. Up until 1964, Remembrance Day in the UK was 11 November but since then it has been on the nearest Sunday, which is, of course, today. There is a fairly strong movement for the occasion to be moved back. Certainly, many, many people across the country observe the two minute silence at 11am on 11 November. Even buses and taxis stopped in Trafalgar square on Thursday.

Every year, on the Saturday before Remembrance Day, the Royal British Legion's Festival of Remembrance is held in the Royal Albert Hall. I'm not ashamed to admit that my eyes are never dry when representatives of the war widows take there places.

I have been watching this morning's commemorations at the Cenotaph on my lap top and have been moved tremendously by an interview with the widow of a bomb disposal officer killed in Afghanistan - one of only a handful of men ever to have been awarded the George Medal twice. His 10-year-old son was also there, proudly wearing his father's medals. Asked why it was important for him to be there, he replied, 'To show how proud I am of my father'.

There has also been some very good news this weekend. It was announced yesterday evening that Aung San Suu Kyi had been released from house arrest in Burma (or Myanmar as it is called nowadays) and this morning we hear that a British couple captured and held hostage for more than a year by Somali pirates have also been freed.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Scenic Saturday - Buckinghamshire

Number 16 in the series.

Moving west again, we come next to Buckinghamshire. This is another county which I have passed through more than I have stopped in, but I did visit Aylesbury on business on one occasion. I was there only for an evening, but it seemed to me to be a pleasant little town. Oddly enough, although there is a town called Buckingham after which the county takes its name, it is Aylesbury that is the county town. Aylesbury is possibly better known for its ducks which have white plumage, yellow feet and a pale pink beak. This developed because of the grit they were fed which is characteristic of the Aylesbury area. Beatrix Potter's Jemima Puddleduck was an Aylesbury.

High Wycombe is a town that was at one time the centre of the English furniture manufacture using wood from the beech trees which covered the Chiltern Hills. A traditional ceremony of the town since the medieval period is the weighing of the mayor, where at the beginning and end of the mayor's serving year, they are weighed in full view of the public to see whether or not they have gained weight at the taxpayers' expense. This custom is still in use, and the same weighing apparatus is used as in the 19th century. The Town Crier announces "And no more!" if the Mayor has not put weight on or "And some more!" if they have. The actual weight of the Mayor is not declared.

Although the Chilterns run from Oxfordshire through to Hertfordshire, the bulk of this chain of chalk uplands is in Buckinghamshire. They are very reminiscent of the South Downs and it is here that a successful re-introduction of the red kite has taken place. These scavenging birds were once common, even in the centre of London, but were extinct in England by the end of the 18th century. It is now not uncommon to see a dozen or more wheeling in the sky on their 5-foot wingspan – a magnificent sight. Our picture this week is of one of these birds, courtesy of redkite.co.uk.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Rest and Be Thankful

It does nobody any harm to step aside once in a while and consider their blessings. I should give thanks for many, but for today just these five will do.

I was born an Englishman. I can't imagine what it might be like not to be English and have all that great history behind one. My family is English as far back as we have been able to trace it, although there is a distinct possibility that my mother's side came from Normandy at about the time of the conquest in 1066. We just cannot find the the parentage of a 16th century ancestor who could well be a son of that line. The Old Bat has a bit of a mixed bag of ancestors. On her mother's side she is Sussex through and through, tracing her family back through several centuries in the county. Not so on her father's side. He was born in London to a Liverpool Irish mother (her parent's were both Irish and she was born in Liverpool) and a father born in Australia to an Irish mother and a father who had been born in Devon. But the old dear's none the worse for that.

I live on the edge of Brighton. Although I am a Man of Kent, I find Brighton a great place to live. It is a cosmopolitan, vibrant city - not too big, but where there is always something happening. We have the sea, and my house looks out over one of the most beautiful pieces of country in England - the South Downs. I don't think I will ever tire of the view from our kitchen window or of walking over the fields with a dog. Do look at the wonderful view over on Fern's blog today.

My three grandchildren are a source (or should that be sources?) of great joy. Each is a completely different person and it is fascinating to see their characters develop as the grow older. My elder grandson (7) is a very patient young man who has always loved things like jigsaw puzzles and takes great care colouring pictures. His younger brother (4 next week) is a bundle of energy which is unable to concentrate on anything for very long, although he has recently shown a little more aptitude for careful work involving scissors. Their cousin, youngest by six months, is a charmer, although her nursery teachers describe her as the noisiest child in the nursery. She delights in organising other children (and grown-ups) but follows her cousin around like a puppy.

Then there are my friends. I am fortunate in having several very good friends on whom I know I could call for help at any time as well as at least as many more other friends. I can sit with any of them and enjoy a drink and a chat - or even just a chat. Although I share the same opinions as each of them severally over a number of things, we can argue over other areas but part still good friends.

I am also lucky enough to have the resources (time, money, health and - dare I say it? - intellect) to be able to help a few other people improve their lives a little. And I can, with my fellow members of Lions Clubs across the world, help effect great improvements in the lives of millions of people.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Lest we forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McRae

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Health & Safety? Bah, humbug!

The health and safety brigade have much to answer for. Admittedly, they give me a laugh at times - unwittingly so, I am sure. I'm thinking of the warnings we see on various items, like the birthday card proudly proclaiming, "Now you are 2" while a warning on the packaging stated, "Not suitable for children under 3". Then there was the warning on a packet of peanuts, "May contain traces of nut"; and the label on a tin of tuna read, "Warning: contains fish". All quite ridiculous, of course, but basically harmless - except that very often the packaging should contain another warning,"Reading the warnings on this product may damage your eyesight as the typeface is so small".

However, a piece in the paper this week turned me incandescent with rage. That is an exaggeration, you understand. I wasn't really incandescent, nor was I in a rage. I may have fulminated a bit (if I knew what it is to fulminate), but it is probably just as well that I wasn't a witness to this piece of idiocy. A mother took her 6-year-old daughter shopping and decided to buy a box of Christmas crackers. (She had obviously not heard of the "Thanksgiving comes first" campaign.) At the checkout, the daughter helped her mother take things from the trolley and put them on the conveyor belt, including the box of crackers. The assistant refused the crackers, saying it was against the law to sell explosives to a girl of 6. The girl became upset, scared she might be sent to prison for breaking the law. As I say, it is as well I wasn't there: I really would have been incandescent with rage.

Given how small-minded people can be these days over what they think are health and safety matters, it is also just as well that I no longer run a scout troop. When I remember the things I had the boys do, things they thoroughly enjoyed, I do sometimes admit to myself that maybe, just maybe, I did stretch my luck on occasion. But in those days it was the done thing to teach a scout how to use an axe and to encourage him to light a fire. I also had them make a raft at one summer camp, a paddle-raft powered by a bicycle. They made a canoe and I accompanied the patrol leaders when we launched it in the sea. At least they did wear life-jackets!

It is such a shame that my grandchildren will not be able to enjoy such good healthy fun - all in the cause of health and safety.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

I wonder

Regular visitors to my blog (and I know there are a handful) will be well aware that I am a member of my local Lions Club. I have been for nearly 24 years. From time to time I have voiced my opinion at meetings of the club - no, I have frequently voiced my opinion, but only very occasionally have I done so other than privately when the subject of members non-attendance has been aired. My view has tended to be that if a member is not prepared to attend meetings or fund-raising events nor join in any form of service activity, they are not true members of the club even though they pay their annual subscriptions. I know that circumstances change and I have every respect for members who, having been hard workers in the past, find themselves unable to contribute for various reasons. The usual response is to allow them to ‘go at large', ie miss all activities, for a period of six months. Trouble is, that first six months so frequently stretches into an indefinite period.

But reading a fellow Lion's comments yesterday on his blog here on the shaping of a Lion has made me think again. Perhaps I should be a little less dogmatic in the future.

Monday, 8 November 2010

In vino veritas

I like a glass of wine with my evening meal - plus a top-up making my daily consumption a glass and a half. With the Old Bat drinking the same, we get through a bottle in two days. Steady, but not exactly excessive and certainly not binge drinking. It is normally French wine that we drink - not because we don't like other countries' wine but because we buy most of our wine in France (where it is cheaper than in England - considerably cheaper) and the range of vins etrangers in French supermarkets is very limited. You will gather that we don't go for so-called fine wines but are happy drinking the cheaper plonk. The particular supermarket chain where we buy our wine sells a very passable merlot for 2 euros (1.99 if you want to split hairs), sundry other reds such as Cotes du Rhone and fitou for about 3 euros and a very nice muscadet for less than 4. Occasionally, very occasionally, I might splash out and spend £7 on a bottle of "decent" wine, usually a New Zealand sauvignon blanc (it's where the best comes from in my opinion) or an Australian red (cabernet sauvignon or shiraz). I suppose it might be that my palate is insufficiently refined to recognise the nuances of more expensive wines, but I really don't think it necessary to spend £20 or £30 on a bottle. Imagine, then, my astonishment to read in the paper last week that somebody (Chinese, I think) had paid £180,000 for a bottle of wine. That works out at £30,000 a glass! Surely nobody can have a palate so refined that they are able to taste the difference between such an expensive wine and the cheaper (but still extortionately priced) wines that sell at nearly £100 a bottle? The truth is probably that he bought it because (a) he could afford to and (b) he wanted to let his friends and colleagues know he could afford to. I just hope for his sake that it doesn't turn out to be undrinkable when he opens it.

In vino veritas indeed: there's one born every minute.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

All went well

Skip's incantation on Friday worked: the low cloud lifted a bit and the drizzle stopped. Even the heavy rain expected at about 8.30pm failed to materialise. The fireworks were brilliant (as always) and one lady told me as she left that it was the best show she had seen. It was the annual Brighton Lions fireworks display. Takings on the night were down on last year by a third, but we understand that advance sales by the cricket club were well up so we hope that the overall takings won't be too far below last year's record figure. It will be a couple of months before we know the final outcome - the finance department at the cricket club is working on its year-end figures which rather take priority - but we are hoping for a profit of £30,000 to be shared between the cricket club and the Lions.

Since then I have completed the challenge I set myself and redesigned the web site for Les Lavandes, out holiday home in France. I hope I have made it more attractive than the previous one. I will be happy to listen to constructive criticism (well, read rather than listen) but I don't promise to take action on any. You will find the site here.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Scenic Saturday - Hertfordshire

Number 15 in the series.

I know very little about Hertfordshire (and that's pronounced "Hart" not "Hurt"). I have driven through the county on numerous occasions when I have taken the M1 motorway north but I have never spent much time there. The county town is Hertford, but much better known is the old Roman city of Verulamiun, now known as St Albans. After Londinium (London), this was the second largest Roman town in England. St Albans also claims to be the oldest site of continuous Christian worship) in Britain.

Welwyn Garden City was founded in 1920 as part of the garden city movement and in 1948 was designated one of the ‘new towns' which were intended to take overspill population from London. Far earlier than the incomers from London were the Romans and Roman baths can still be visited.

The Chiltern Hills just creep into the county in the west and the village of Aldbury can just about claim to be in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Our picture is of an old house in the village.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Remember, remember. . .

Remember, remember the fifth of November -
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Today sees the 405th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot in which Guy (or Guido) Fawkes and the rest of his gang attempted to blow up the House of Lords during the state opening of Parliament, thereby killing King James 1 (of England - VI of Scotland), hoping to restore Roman Catholicism as the country's religion. Brighton Lions are due to hold a large fireworks display tonight as part of the annual celebrations. The weather forecasters have been remarkably constant this week in warning of rain for today for this part of the country. The morning started with low cloud - I couldn't see much of the Downs when I opened the curtains - and while I was out with the dog after breakfast it started mizzling with the cloud even lower. I just hope it clears up before this evening.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

A challenge

I have decided to set myself a challenge.

The web site for Les Lavandes is looking tired and somewhat dated, not to mention amateurish. The time has come to give it a make-over. I started yesterday afternoon and have been enjoying the mental stimulation of redesigning the site. The main challenge is not the design of the site, which is fun, but writing the words. I was once told that I have a way with words, which may be the case, but I don't seem to have the right sort of mind to produce advertising bumpf. I know, or think I know, the unique selling points of our holiday home, but putting together the words to get those across in a way that is attractive to potential punters is not something I am good at. I did consider asking visitors to this blog to have a go at producing the words for me but I'll keep plugging away for a while and see what happens. Maybe I'll be inspired if I keep at it.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Lions' pride

I am well aware that some of the visitors to my blog not only recognise that logo but know a lot more than I do about the work of Lions Clubs around the world. If you are one of those, then by all means feel free to click the ‘next blog' link at the top of the page. Come to that, even if you are not one of those there is nothing I can do to stop you clicking that link, but I do hope you will bear with me for a couple of minutes.

What you may not realise is that the International Association of Lions Clubs is the world's largest volunteer service organisation with over 1.3 million members spread across more than 200 countries and geographic areas. That is part of the problem, at least it is here in England. Although the Lions are big across the world, it seems that very few people have heard of us and what we do. Why is it that people have heard of Rotary even though (here) they are a lot less active than Lions? It doesn't help that the British rugby team is known as the British Lions, nor that Brighton once had an ice hockey team known as the Tigers, although there are fewer and fewer people who remember that and ask if we are a new version. It's not just Brighton Lions Club, but others in our area as well who find it almost impossible to get a mention in our so-called local paper. And as for radio or television - well, forget it. If it is the same where you come from, do help by looking out for the Lions badge and supporting your local club - you don't have to be a member to do that. And if you don't know what Lions Clubs do, visit http://www.lionsclubs.org/ for the international organisation, or www.brightonlions.org.uk for my club. You'll find that ordinary people - just like you - can do amazing things.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Harry Graham

Although not at all well known these days, Harry Graham wrote nonsense rhymes to rank alongside those of Edward Lear. Here are a couple of examples.

Billy, in one of his nice new sashes,
Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes;
Now, although the room grows chilly,
I haven't the heart to poke poor Billy.
- * -
Making toast at the fireside,
Nurse fell in the grate and died;
And what makes it ten times worse,
All the toast was burnt with nurse.

- * -

In the drinking well
Which the plumber built her,
Aunt Eliza fell -
We must buy a filter.

Monday, 1 November 2010

St Cuthman

Today being All Saints' Day, it would seem appropriate to narrate another Sussex legend, this one about the origin of a notable landmark, the Devil's Dyke. This is a steep-sided, dry valley which cuts into the north side of the South Downs just outside Brighton.

Cuthman lived in Steyning on the far side of the Downs from Brighton and, it is said, had converted many of the Sussex people to Christianity. As a result, a large number of churches had been built in the Sussex Weald. One day Cuthman set off to visit a woman living as a hermit on the top of the Downs and to hear her confession. The climb up from the bottom of the hill was a stiff one and he rested when he reached the top. As he looked out over the Weald, wondering at the numerous churches built as a result of his ministrations, the Devil paused by his side.

'All that you are looking at,' said the Devil, 'once belonged to me. I will win it back yet.'

'Really?' responded the saint. 'And how do you propose to do that?'

The Devil stated his intention of digging a mighty ditch through the Downs to the sea so that the Weald would be flooded and the people drowned.

Cuthman challenged him. 'You'll never do that in one night.'

The saint and the devil agreed that if the Devil succeeded in digging the ditch between sunset and sunrise, he could take back the souls Cuthman had won for God. On the other hand, if he could not do it, the Devil was to leave Sussex, never to return.

As the sun set, the Devil started his mammoth task while Cuthman set off to visit the hermit woman. Having heard her confession (which wasn't very much at all, really), Cuthman told the woman her penance. She was to pray in darkness through the night but at 3.00am, was to light a candle and place it in the west-facing window of her cottage. Leaving her to her prayers, Cuthman returned to watch the Devil at work. Huge chunks or earth and chalk were being flung from the Downs as the Devil dug furiously, convinced that he was winning his race against the clock. Every now and then he looked at Cuthman and laughed maniacally. Cuthman just watched in silence. Meanwhile, the hermit woman was at her prayers.

Then at 3.00am, as instructed by Cuthman, the hermit lit a candle and placed it is the west-facing window. The Devil's attention was attracted by the light. With sweat pouring into his eyes, he couldn't see it clearly and thought it was the first light of dawn. Flinging aside his shovel, he vanished and has never again been seen in Sussex. But the Devil's Dyke remains to remind us of the strength of the devil.