Monday, 31 January 2011

Back soon

I think maybe I'd better take a break today. I should by now be heading home again and, with luck, normal service will resume tomorrow.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Those shaggy dog stories

I did promise, or at least hint at, worse to come after the shaggy chicken stories on Friday. Being a man of my word, here it is.

(Cue roll of drums: Drrrr rrrrr rrrrr)

The Story of the Ambitious Cornflake

(Cue trumpet fanfare: Taraa tarara tarata)

One day a new cornflake factory started production. It was opened by a Very Important Personage, a Member of the Royal Family, a fairly junior Member admittedly - in fact, a very junior member - but nonetheless, a Member of the Royal Family. After declaring the factory well and truly open, the very junior Member of the Royal Family was invited to flick the switch to start the machinery rolling. A Cleaner of the Household of the Royal Family (a very junior Cleaner of the Household of the Royal Family as the Very Important Personage was himself only a very junior Member of the Royal Family) stepped forward to dust the switch, after which a Health and Safety Inspector of the Household of the Royal Family (a very junior Health and Safety Inspector of the Household of the Royal Family) ensured that it would be safe for the very junior Member of the Royal Family to flick the switch. The switch was duly flicked by the very junior Member of the Royal Family and the new cornflake-making machinery thrummed into life.

After a few moments, the very first cornflake popped out of the machine onto a conveyor belt.

‘Hey,' said the cornflake to himself, ‘I'm the first cornflake out of a new machine that was switched on by a Member of the Royal Family in a brand spanking new factory which was opened by a Member of the Royal Family. I must be a Very Important Cornflake and I'm always going to be the top.'

He was a Very Ambitious Cornflake.

By the time these thoughts had passed through the mind of the Very Ambitious Cornflake (which didn't take long as even Very Ambitious Cornflakes have very little minds), it had reached the end of the conveyor belt and was tipped into a second piece of machinery which would pack the cornflakes into greaseproof bags. Naturally, as our Very Ambitious Cornflake was the first to reach the machine, he was the first into a bag. This meant that a whole heap of other cornflakes landed on top of the Very Ambitious Cornflake and he was at the bottom of the heap.

‘Hey,' said the Very Ambitious Cornflake to himself, ‘I'm supposed to be the Numero Uno around here, the Top of the Heap.'

With that, he started climbing to the top of the bag, pushing, elbowing, scratching and generally fighting his way to the top. He made it, but barely had time to draw breath before he reached the next machine. This was the one that placed the greaseproof bags inside the cardboard cartons. In doing that, the bags were turned upside down. Which, of course, meant that our Very Ambitious Cornflake was back at the bottom.

Once again, he pushed, elbowed, scratched and generally fought his way to the top.

‘I knew it,' said the Very Ambitious Cornflake to himself. ‘I'm just destined to be Top of the Heap, the Most Important Cornflake around here.'

But once again, by the time these thoughts had passed through the mind of the Very Ambitious Cornflake, he reached the next machine. This was the one where the packets were placed in the large cardboard outers, 24 packs to an outer. Once again, the machine turned the packets over as it placed them in the new packaging, so once again the Very Ambitious Cornflake found himself at the bottom, and once again, he pushed, elbowed, scratched and generally fought his way to the top.

A forklift truck carried the outer containing 24 packs of cornflakes into a warehouse and the Very Ambitious Cornflake took the opportunity to catch his breath. It was as well he did, because the forklift driver was new to the job and made a hash of unloading. He managed to tip the outer containing the 24 packs of cornflakes - and it landed upside down. This, of course, meant that the Very Ambitious Cornflake was back at the bottom once more.

He started out again, pushing, elbowing, scratching and generally fighting his way to the top. But before he made it, the whole outer was picked up and put in place in the warehouse. Of course, it was turned the right side up in the process, so our Very Ambitious Cornflake had only managed to get halfway to the top before he had to turn round and go back the way he had come.

And that, my friends, is all I can tell you today. You see, this is a cereal story.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Scenic Saturday - Suffolk

Number 25 in the series.

This is a largely rural county, England's most easterly, with the town of Lowestoft at the easternmost point. Lowestoft is, or was, a fishing port with the autumn herring migration being most important. Nowadays Lowestoft, along with neighbouring Southwold, is trying to be a seaside holiday resort. Lowestoft is in the north-east of the county but in the south-east corner is another, more successful port - Felixstowe. This is the largest container port in the UK and one of the largest in Europe.

The small, seaside town of Aldeburgh was also once a port but the few remaining fishing boats are now generally drawn up onto the shingle beach and the town is better known for its annual music festival, founded in 1948 by the composer Benjamin Britten, the singer Peter Pears and the librettist Eric Crozier.

Suffolk shares with its southerly neighbour Essex the Stour Valley and Dedham Vale - Constable country.

Lavenham, which insists upon calling itself a village, has been described as the most complete medieval town in England where mansions of wealthy merchants mingle with simple cottages, some of which mix crooked timber beams with sprightly pink-painted infill.
The older buildings are centred around the market place, with its 16th century Guildhall and still earlier market cross. The market cross was the scene of bear-baiting contests during the late medieval and Tudor periods. This photo by Charles Rawding captures the essence of the village most excellently.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Shaggy dog stories

I do like shaggy dog stories. You know, the sort that causes those who hear them to emit huge groans of exasperation (or relief that it's finally come to an end). Here are a couple I first heard a goodly number of years ago. The fact that I can remember them shows how much I enjoyed them the first time round - and they still make me smile. Given that they are both about chickens, perhaps I should describe them as shaggy chicken stories instead of shaggy dog, but let's just get on with it.
One day, as I was driving back to Brighton from London, I glanced in my rear-view mirror and saw a chicken running down the road behind me. I was doing close to the speed limit (70 mph) but this chicken managed to overtake me. As it ran past I noticed it had three legs. Intrigued, I followed it as it left the dual carriageway. It wasn't easy for me to keep it in sight along the winding country lanes but it finally ran into a farmyard. When I turned in, the chicken had vanished. Just as I got out of the car, an old boy came out of the nearby barn. I explained that I had been following a fast-running chicken with three legs, fully expecting him to call for the men in white coats.

'Oh arr,' he replied. 'Oi breed 'em.'


'Oi breed 'em. You see, there's the three of us - me, the missus and the boy - and when we have chicken for dinner we all like the legs and there's always a bit of a squabble over who goes without. So Oi decided to try breeding chickens with three legs.'

'So no more family rows!' I exclaimed. 'Well done. But tell me, do the three-legged birds taste any different?'

'I don't know,' replied the farmer. 'Oi haven't managed to catch one of the buggers yet.'
The next one is very old and dates to the days when "gay" meant "jolly". Perhaps it's a bit non-PC but no less funny for that.
Farmer Giles kept a few chickens and a cock in his yard but the cock was getting old and past his prime so Farmer Giles went along to the weekly market and bought a new, young cock from Farmer Bill. When he got home he put the cock in the yard with the other birds.

The old cock stalked up to the newcomer. 'I know what you're doing here,' he said. 'You are supposed to be my replacement and I'm going to get my neck wrung and end up in the pot. Well, if you think you can take over as easily as that you've got another think coming. We'll have a race round the yard and the winner gets to stay.'

The young cock accepted the challenge.

'Tell you what,' said the wily older bird, 'as I'm a bit older than you perhaps you could give me a bit of a start. Not too much of one, but just a little to make it a bit fairer.'

The young cock agreed and they set off round the yard. Seeing this, Farmer Giles grabbed up his shotgun. Bang! The young cock dropped dead.

Next market day Farmer Giles bought another cock from Farmer Bill, put it in the yard, and exactly the same thing happened. Bang! The young cock dropped dead.

Week three, and Farmer Giles tried again, only for exactly the same thing to happen. Mrs Giles was a bit bemused by all the shenanigans and asked her husband what was going on.

'I'm not buying any more birds from Bill,' he explained. 'The last three cocks he sold me have all been poofters.'

And if you think that's bad, just you wait till Sunday!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

The great phone rip-off

As in, I presume, all other countries, the UK is divided into areas each with its own telephone dialling code. These all start with the numeral 0 so that the automatic equipment can differentiate between a call to an area outside the local one where no dialling code is required. All geographical codes start with either 01 or 02 but there are numbers starting 03, 07, 08 and 09. These are known as non-geographical codes. 07 numbers are all mobile phone numbers and I'm not too sure just what the 03 and 09 numbers are - there are very few of them around anyway.

The 08 numbers are themselves divided into several classes. 0800 numbers are free to the caller, probably because the subscribers to whom they are allocated are happy to pay for calls received. 0845 numbers are charged as local calls no matter whereabouts in the country the call id coming from or going to. This is convenient for many people but is also irritating to just as many who are on tariffs which allow free local calls except for non-geographic numbers. As I said earlier, all numbers other than those starting 01 and 02 are non-geographic. There is a web site where one can find the geographic equivalent of 08 numbers but not all of them have been listed there - usually the ones I want!

Somebody in the Lions Multiple District persuaded British telecom to allow every Lions Club to have an 0845 number free of charge with the calls being diverted to any number the club proposed. This is a useful facility, especially as the number to which calls are diverted can be changed at fairly short notice. It means that clubs can announce a number that never becomes out of date and it also means that each club is listed in Yellow Pages (not the white pages) so members of the public can trace there local club quite easily.

Brighton Lions' 0845 number diverts to a second line I have with my broadband package and I have an answering machine on it so calls to the Lions are kept separate from calls to our usual number. But why is it, I wonder, that about 90% of the calls on the Lions' number are for other clubs? Do callers look in Yellow Pages and just call the first number they see? Or do they just Google ‘Lions' and have our club come up before any other? I don't like to ask callers how they found the number - but perhaps I should.

It is the 0870 and 0871 numbers that I dislike. These are premium rate numbers and calls to them are charged to the caller at a higher rate than the standard numbers with the recipient of the calls getting a cut from the telephone company. Typically these are used by television companies or newspapers for competition entries. But there are plenty of other users who, in my opinion, should not be. They include tourist information offices and the visa departments of various embassies. But the worst are mail order companies who have the nerve to charge buyers just for placing orders. Then they charge post and packing on top of the asking price. Now that really is a rip-off.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Do I go local or cheaper?

I've been feeling a little bit guilty over the last couple of weeks. My guilt isn't really justifiable as I have done nothing wrong - at least, there is no reason for me to feel guilty about what is causing my guilty feelings.

It all started when I took the car to our local garage for it's first of what will henceforth be annual MOT tests. (MOT = Ministry of Transport. The test is an annual test of road-worthiness of cars three years old and more. My car's third birthday was this month.) I was in the office sheltering from the rain and chatting, as one does, to the proprietor about all manner of things when two other men came in. It transpired that all three are members of the same Lodge and what followed was pretty much the sort of thing that happens when three members of the same Lions Club get together. My car was ready and I managed to escape before they tried to recruit me.

We have been using this garage for donkeys' years (I think that apostrophe is correct) and have always had excellent service - little jobs done for just the cost of the part, people kept back on overtime to finish a rush job before I go to France - that sort of thing. But last year the Institute of Advanced Motorists introduced a benefit to members (I am one) whereby garages belonging to a particular trade organisation would service cars at a low price, picking them up from the members home and delivering them again after washing and vacuuming the car. As the quoted price was quite a bit below that previously charged by the local garage, I had my car serviced under this scheme last year. That's what I feel guilty about. After all the years of excellent service, should I blow the local place out for the sake of saving a few (albeit quite a few) pounds? And what if I need a bulb changing or some other small job? It would be much easier to drop into the local place.

If this was rural or semi-rural France I would have no option. I heard of a man who wanted to change his car. The local garage had nothing he liked but he found just what he wanted in a town some distance away. The local garage owner admired the car but said, ‘You needn't expect me to service it'. He hadn't sold it so he wouldn't service it.

There are just 6,000 miles to go before my car needs its next service and before I have to make the decision. I think I will probably bite the bullet and go local.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

After Crittitude

I regularly drop in on several blogs, some every day, some every few days and some just once in a while. Some of those I like to visit are shown in the sidebar and today I would like to single out one of them (that sounds like tautology) for particular praise. Step forward, Crittitude. I look forward every morning to discovering what antics the various animals have been up to while I have been asleep.

I am full of admiration for the way the author links photographs to create a story. Indeed, I am full of admiration for the photographs themselves. I cannot imagine how many he must take, or how long he has to hang around with his camera. Obviously this is a labour of love, one for which I am grateful.

By way of homage, I have posted a series of pictures today on Fern's blog. Nowhere near Crittertude's standard, I know, but the best I have been able to achieve.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Decision time

If all has gone according to plan, I could well be heading roughly southwards on an almost deserted French motorway by the time this shows up on the blog. I'm typing it yesterday, only it's still today at the moment, and it will probably be tomorrow before you read it - or maybe even the day after tomorrow - even though you think it's still today.

I could well be thinking ahead as I drive to the evening meal: there's not a lot more to do when sitting behind the wheel on a motorway as empty as those we had in England fifty years ago. We will stop at one of a chain of restaurants I have mentioned before on another blog, a Buffalo Grill (or Buffalo Bill's as we call them). I will be trying to decide what I will eat. There is a wide selection of dishes on the menu but I do tend to stick with three or four that I know I like. So, will it be the hunter's platter with three small steaks, one rump beef, one buffalo and one ostrich, served with chips (French fries for you funny Americans) and a sauce of my choice (Roquefort as ever) or will it be the brochettes de boeuf, skewers of pieces of beef interspersed with slices of onion and green pepper and also served with chips and a sauce? Or maybe the chicken Cajun style or a burger?

There will be plenty of time to decide but I will still not know until the waiter or waitress comes to take the order.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Catching up

Several days ago I mentioned my intention of saying as little as possible at the meeting of Brighton Lions Club on the grounds that (a)if I wasn't careful I would end up with too many new jobs and (b)I had made enough suggestions to the club at the previous two meetings and it might seem to some that it was becoming my personal fiefdom. I am pleased to report that, despite extreme provocation from the President who seemed to want me to speak about everything on the agenda and several things that weren't, I managed it. I did speak (but not fervently or persuasively enough) in favour of the club taking over the classic motorcycle run. As soon as my colleague had finished explaining what was involved etc, one of the oldest members immediately said it was too big a project for us. I had to bite my tongue to stop myself reminding him that he was a member of the club when they instigated an even bigger project - a week of carnival activities - and that I could see no good reason why we shouldn't take on a one-day event even if it did mean a lot of preparatory work. Anyway, when it came to the vote there were just four of us in favour.

I do worry (if that's not too strong a word) that the club has had things too easy for a number of years and is now unwilling to make much effort to raise funds. We received a very substantial legacy about ten years ago and have been spending only the income from the money. That had been building up faster than we were spending it (there are restrictions on how it can be used) and there are still substantial funds sitting there. However, with interest rates as low as they are we are now spending faster than we are earning. On the unrestricted side, we raise a lot of money at the annual fireworks display. Although this needs a lot of preparation by a small - very small - group, the majority of the Lions are involved only from about 5.00pm until about 8.30pm. Easy money as far as they are concerned.

But there is good news. There were no fewer than four prospective members at the meeting this month, three of whom have already attended at least three meetings and one fund raising event so they know something of what is involved and are more than likely to join the club.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Scenic Saturday - Cambridgeshire

Number 25 in the series.

Cambridgeshire is a bit like Oxfordshire in that, to many people, the university town is the county. The university, which was established over 800 years ago, is the second oldest in the country after Oxford and the seventh oldest in the world. A tradition established in 1918 is for a festival of none lessons and carols which takes place on Christmas Eve in King's College chapel.

The county has grown in size from the original having taken in the old county of Huntingdonshire and what was the soke (an administrative county) of Peterborough. The cathedral at Ely is famous for its unusual octagonal tower. Ely is situated in the Fens, an area of partly-drained marshland that was home to Hereward the Wake who led resistance against William the Conqueror's invasion in the late 11th century. Ely was also home to another of England's famous leaders - Oliver Cromwell.

Near to Cambridge is the village of Grantchester, made famous by the poet Rupert Brooke. "Stands till the clock at ten to three? /And is there honey still for tea?"

When it comes to selecting a picture I am spoilt for choice. Should it be one of King's College chapel showing the Backs and the River Cam? Perhaps Wisbech, an attractive town with a host of Georgian architecture? Grantchester? Ely? I'll plump for a shot of the cathedral tower at Ely which I have borrowed from the web site

Friday, 21 January 2011

Little things please little minds

I do derive a certain amusement from some of the bits in the sidebar to the right. They have all been put there for my benefit alone, not for the edification of any passing reader, although I know of one regular from California who always reads the quote of the day - which he has been known to steal on occasion. I sometimes find one I am happy to borrow to include in Jungle Jottings, the monthly newsletter for Brighton Lions Club of which I am the editor. I like to include a quotation as a 'pause for thought' each month.

Next we have the flag parade. I put this widget there 15 months ago, since when this blog has had visitors from no less than 93 different countries, which I find staggering. The gizmo also tells me that I have collected the flags of 47 out of the 51 states of the USA. I haven't the faintest idea which states are missing as the information is listed by states in the order of numbers of visitors rather than alphabetically. I can't be bothered to work out which are the missing ones.

Down at the bottom of the side bar are snippets from what are called "popular posts". Ever since I put this up, the St David's Day post has been top of the list, with "Stories from Childhood" and "The Richest Language" vieing for second place. These "popular posts" are the most read posts from the blog over the last 30 days. Looking at the statistics provided by Blogger (for which many thanks - another little thing to please a little mind) I see that quite a few of the visitors to this trivia of a blog have come here after conducting searches on Google, searches for daffodils (usually pictures) or the richest language. I must try doing that myself sometime - out of sheer curiosity to see where this blog features in the results. The majority of the other visitors have come from Skip's or Suldog's blogs. It is said that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. I hope that was not the experience of all those readers who arrived here that way - but I suspect that many of them quickly became disillusioned.

So, now I have told you about some of the little things that please my little mind, I'll chunter off until tomorrow when you will have another Scenic Saturday post to amuse you.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

This is not the time

It really isn't the time for me to be sitting here reading too many other blogs, even if one of those that I regularly drop in on has been selected as the Blog of Note. Congratulations, Jim.

I suppose this is as good a point as any for me to confess: it was only about a week ago that I actually discovered this Blog of Note thingy. I think perhaps I am just a tad slow on the uptake these days. Maybe it has something to do with the onset of creeping (no, Skip - not crepuscular) decrepitude.

But enough of this gimcrack tomfoolery. I have things to be doing. The minutes of last night's Lions meeting need to be written (I just have to get minutes written as soon as possible I can reasonably do so after a meeting), and I have to get the monthly newsletter out this weekend so that needs finishing off. I should go to the barber's and I must go to the bank etc etc etc, so I'm off to be doing things.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

I wonder...

...if the weather will play havoc once again with my travel plans. We are supposed to be going across the Channel (or under it) next week for the first time since last September. Our planned trip just before Christmas had to be cancelled when we were snowed in. At one time the weather people were forecasting more snow for the end of this month although I haven't heard that said for a few weeks. I do hope this morning's sharp frost is not a foretaste of worse. The wind has gone into the north (either backed or veered - I can never remember the difference) and I hope it doesn't go any further to the east. That probably would bring either bad weather or low temperatures with clear, bright skies - like this morning.

...why we write these blogs. Do we really imagine that there are thousands of people out there hanging on our every word? Is it that we are all frustrated wannabe authors who either can't actually write a book or, having written one, are unable to find a publisher interested in taking it?

...if every Lion who writes a blog placed a Lions' logo in the sidebar with a link to the Oak Brook site, would that make much difference to the profile of the organisation to which I am so pleased to belong? (As an aside, yes, I know that it's not me but the club to which I belong that is part of the International Association of Lions Clubs.) In this country, Lions are often called the best-kept secret since World War II or suchlike. We could certainly do with having our profile raised.

...why it is that some days it can take an hour or more for me to boot up the computer when on others the dratted thing fires up instantaneously (well, almost). Then I get a message saying that something or other in my browser has stopped working. It's just so damned frustrating!

...if every sentence that starts "I wonder" should end with a question mark?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

I must keep my mouth shut

We have a Lions' business meeting tomorrow and I must make sure I keep my mouth shut. Far too often I seem to be the only one to put forward new (or new to us) ideas and I really must let other people have their say. Trouble is, there are several projects knocking about in the back of my mind that I would like the club to take on. There's the motorcycle run I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog. Actually, I will speak in favour of that - and I will almost certainly offer to be on the organising committee. But I would also like the club to think of offering the appropriate schools in our area the latest Tacade material (Life Changes) at a reduced price. The production of this resource was funded by Lions Clubs and it has received rave reviews from teachers across the country. The price from Tacade is £34.95 and I would like to club to offer schools in our area the chance to buy a copy for just £5 with the club paying the difference. I think it better that the schools pay something towards the cost or they will all say ‘yes please' and half of the packs will end up unused in cupboards. But there are no fewer than 35 infant, junior and primary schools in our part of the city - and those are just the state schools: the figure doesn't include private schools. Having only last month persuaded the club to commit £6,000 to the Lions' St Dunstan's project, I don't have the nerve to ask for another £1,200 for this. Besides, I suspect that if the club did agree, it would have to be me organise it, phoning each school to ask the name of the appropriate teacher and then writing to each of them. I already have enough to do without that.

In my opinion, we don't do enough to promote Tacade. What I would very much like to do is organise a series of twilight sessions for PHSE teachers where they could browse through samples of all the Tacade materials and place orders which would be subsidised by the club (subsidised for the same reason I mentioned above).

I would also like to suggest that the club make a donation to the Australian flood appeal - minimum £500.

And then there is the little matter of the young carers that has only just come to my attention.

Maybe I will attempt to prioritise these matters and bring them up one at a time over the next two or three months.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Blue Monday

Yes, folks, it's that day again, the day psychologists have calculated (or just decided) is the most miserable day of the year for many of us. This is down to a combination of worry over Christmas debt, broken New Year resolutions and grotty weather. Taking those causes in reverse order, yes, the weather is lousy today. We had fog (probably just very low cloud) and rain for much of last week but it cleared up for the weekend. Now we are back with our heads in the clouds once more and the paths through the woods where I walk the dog are inches deep in mud and rotting leaves.

I have yet to break any New Year resolutions, so that doesn't bother me, but since I didn't make any...

And I have no Christmas debts to bother about. (Yes, a wotsit at the end of a sentence is grammatically incorrect but it sounds so much better than 'I have no Christmas debts about which to bother'.) That might, on first reading, seem horribly smug. It might still seem smug on a second reading, but smug I am not. You see, I have been carefully squirreling money away over the past few months in order to pay the bills that always come in at this time of year. I just hope I have put enough aside to cover the road fund (or excise duty as I think it is officially known) on both my car and the Old Bat's, the insurance on both cars, the breakdown insurance, the house and contents insurance, the annual newspaper subscription, Income Tax - and the accountant's bill for working out how much tax I have to pay. (Why is it, I wonder, that I always have to pay more tax but the Old Bat always gets a rebate - and the accountant sends the bill to me! Something inequitable in that, methinks.) I'm sure there are other bills to come in but for the moment at least they have slipped my mind.

But to get back to generalities, there are apparently antidotes to Blue Monday. Dancing (though probably best not with Ann Widdecombe) is one, walking round the office barefoot also comes recommended - and it seems that doing somebody a good turn is a surefire way to beat the blues.

Can that wait until tomorrow? I shall be on transport duty for the stroke club then.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Just a moment's madness

That's all it takes. I think I may have mentioned before that I have a tendency to start things without really thinking about how much is involved - and I've done it again this week. I had been thinking (always a dangerous thing to do) after I had driven a couple of blind people to their monthly social meeting on Tuesday evening.
(When it comes to Lions I seem to have drawn the short straw this month. First I was on the rota for the book fair, then there was a meeting to discuss the proposal that the club should take over a classic motorcycle run, then bingo for the residents of one of our blocks of flats, and next week I'm the duty driver for the stroke club transport.)

It just so happened that the blind club meeting and the bingo session were on consecutive evenings - and that was the cause of the trouble. The two became inextricably entangled in what passes for my mind. I don't mean that I took the blind people to the bingo session 24 hours early or anything quite as daft as that, but what came into my mind was almost as daft. 'What if...' I thought (yes, it's that dreaded "what if" again!). 'What if we were to run a bingo evening at the blind club?'

I know just what you're thinking. 'He's fallen off his trolley,' or something like that. 'How,' you ask yourselves, 'can blind people mark off their bingo cards when they can't see the numbers?' If you'll just exercise a little patience all will be revealed.

Most of the people who attend the Tuesday Club (as this particular club is called due the meetings being held on Tuesdays) are registered blind. In fact, they are all registered blind but most have a degree of sight albeit very small. Most of them can read the numbers on cloakroom tickets even if they do have to hold the tickets about three inches from their eyes or use strong magnifying glasses. Those with no sight at all and the ones who would have any real difficulty could have a sighted helper. It shouldn't be impossible, I thought, to obtain large print bingo cards. Say about A4 in size (for readers unfamiliar with European paper sizes that is approximately 11½ inches by 8¼). A quick Internet search showed that this was indeed possible. Large-print bingo cards could be bought from, amongst other places, the Royal national Institute for the Blind. They also sold little plastic cups to placed over numbers called so the cards could be re-used. The cost wasn't unreasonable and was certainly something the Lions Club could afford.

I continued thinking. The cups, I felt, were not really practicable as they could too easily be knocked after having been placed over the called numbers. Felt-tip pens in bold colours would be better: the Lions could afford to buy enough cards so that they needn't be re-used. Then I looked more closely at the description of the cards. They were (are) A5 size (half the size of A4) and had the numbers printed in a 48 point font. I didn't really think that was quite large enough. As I said, I had in mind A4 size. Each sheet would be divided into 15 squares for the numbers, which would be in a very large font.

If I couldn't buy cards like this, I reasoned, I would have to produce them myself. I couldn't be that difficult. So I set to.

Sure enough, it was easy to set up a table 3 rows deep and 5 columns across and fit that to fill an A4 sheet in 108 point Verdana. All I have to do now is produce about 50 sets of four cards, each set different. I have "borrowed" a pile of standard bingo cards from the Lions' stock and have started copying the numbers. And what a mind-stultifying job it is! Surely there must be an easier way?

As I said at the beginning of this post, I will start these jobs without really considering just what is involved. But having started, I shall have to finish.

By the way - I've cracked the challenge I set myself last Sunday. The new pages aren't up on the web site yet: I need to wait until the club agrees to take this on and fix a date.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Scenic Saturday - Bedfordshire

Number 24 in the series.

Bedfordshire is one of England's smallest counties and is, frankly, not one of the most attractive tourist destinations. That said, there are the stately homes of Woburn Abbey and Wrest Park as well as various museums, although of course museums are hardly suitable material for a scenic review.

As in every English county, there are attractive villages - Sharnbrook is just one of those in Bedfordshire. The best-known town is Luton which was once the centre of England's hat-making and where people suffered badly from mercury poisoning. Mercury was used widely in the making of hats, hence the term "mad as a hatter".

This week's picture is of Wrest Park, showing the house and formal garden.

Friday, 14 January 2011

It's coming

I don't know when: it could be soon or it might be several weeks or even months away, but it's definitely coming. No, I'm not talking about spring, although I most sincerely hope that is also coming. I'm talking about the moment when the Old Bat says she wants to buy new lampshades for the landing. It was a month or six weeks back that she started talking about replacing the lampshade in the hall and I'm reasonable certain that it won't be too long before that one and the two on the landing are linked.

Now don't get me wrong. I have no objection to changing those lampshades - or any others in the house - if that's what the Old Dear wants. If she doesn't want to change them that's OK with me too, but I'm sure as a couple of eggs (and where does that come from?) that the day of change is not too far away. That means that WE have to go to choose the new shades. By which I mean that I have to tag along as well - which I will do with as much grace as I can muster.

Like most men, I dislike shopping. And that's not a sexist comment: I'm simply stating a fact of life. I particularly dislike shopping for lampshades, towels and other fairly minor household accoutrements. (Yes, that is the correct spelling - here in England. In America the spelling is accouterments.) The trouble is that the Old Bat sets out knowing what she wants and she is most reluctant to compromise if she can't see exactly what she has in mind. I tag along without the faintest idea of what she is looking for - other than that the object of the search is a lampshade or a new duvet cover or suchlike. Despite having in her mind a very clear picture of what she seeks, the Old Bat seems to have particular difficulty in describing it to anybody else, me included. Actually, that's not the whole truth: some of the Old Bat's friends seem to know by a form of osmosis, but that doesn't work with me.

The result is that I tag along and possibly pick up something that I think might fit the picture that I haven't seen.

'How about this?' I ask hesitantly.

'Oh, no!' comes the reply, without any attempt to explain why it's not right or to expand any further on what would be right.

I watch as she examines but after a time rejects a different object. Finding another fairly similar, I offer it for consideration.

'Oh, no!' comes the reply - again.

I give up trying to find what she wants and just drift along two paces behind.

'Do you like this?' she asks.

Frankly, I don't give a damn. I just want to get out of the shop and if that's what she likes then that's OK by me.

I did once suggest that my presence on these shopping expeditions was superfluous, that I was more than happy that the Old Bat would choose something in exquisite taste even without me beside her. The suggestion wasn't received gladly. Apparently, my input is considered important even though we always buy exactly what the Old Bat wants (if we can find it) whether I like it or not. After all, anything for a quiet life - including wasting a couple of hours shopping for lampshades.

I wonder when it will happen?

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Sense and sensibility

When I was in the library the other day I spotted a book on the "new in" shelf which looked as though it might be interesting. It was about wine tasting. Now, I'm not a wine buff. I read the waffle on the bottles I drink and am always amused by the phrases such as 'full of red fruits', 'hints of citrus', 'reminders of the garrigue' and so on. It all seems a bit OTT and pretentious. As far as I'm concerned, the important thing is whether I like the taste not whether somebody somewhere thinks he/she can just get a hint of the scent of roses or whatever. Thinking I might be able to expand my education, I picked up the book and flicked through it. I put the book back on the shelf when I read that the most important think when it comes to wine tasting is one's sense of smell. The author made the point that what one smells influences how one tastes and suggested a small experiment. Hold a ripe pear under your nose, he instructed, while you eat an apple. The apple wil taste like a pear because the small of the pear overrides the taste of the apple. I'm sorry, sunshine, but that doesn't cut it with me. You see, I have practically no sense of smell. I can be standing right by the toaster but if I have my back to it when the toast burns, that's it. I only know the toast is burning when I see the smoke: I can't smell it.

This lack of a sense of smell has its disadvantages, of course. I don't get the benefit of the Old Bat's expensive perfume unless she practically bathes in it. I have to poke my nose right into a fragrant flower such as a sweet pea if I'm to get and pleasure from its scent. You will gather that my sense of smell is not completely non-existent; there are some smells that do get through. Luckily, most of these are pleasant: baking bread, roasting coffee, garlic (I love garlic).

As well as having disadvantages, there are certain benefits of my lack. When the dog rolls in fox shit the smell is less distasteful to me than to others; indeed, there have been times when I haven't noticed it at all until the Old Bat complains that I've brought a foul-smelling dog into the house.

But how this lack of a sense of smell affects the taste of things I haven't the faintest idea. I suspect that the taste of food is less strong for me than for others but I have no way of comparing things. The strength or weakness of sight and hearing can be measured, but there is no way of measuring smell or taste.

People have tried blaming my lack of the ability to smell on the fact that I am a smoker but I point out that it is hereditary. Neither my mother nor her mother had much of a sense of smell and somehow it has been passed down the male line in this generation. (It couldn't go down the female line as I have no sister.) I don't know if any of my mother's siblings or their children are affected - I've never thought to ask. Come to that, I don't even know about my brother!

I do sometimes wonder what it must be like to have a keen sense of smell. (The Old Bat can be upstairs when I come into the back door, but she still knows if I've had a drink.) But then, what you've never had you can't miss. I do have my sight and that, to me, is the most precious of the senses, followed by hearing. But smell - I can live without it.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A foggy day in Brighton

I'm glad we didn't have today's weather yesterday. When I got up this morning I discovered a world that hardly existed beyond the sycamore tree in a neighbour's garden. Fog was the culprit. As I say, I'm glad it wasn't like this yesterday as in the evening I was on transport duty for the Tuesday Club. This involves collecting blind people from their addresses around the city and driving them to their monthly social evening - which takes place in a village hall almost 30 miles away.

I'm on duty again tonight: bingo for the residents of one of our blocks of flats. At least that's less than a mile away.

Such excitement! I can hardly contain myself.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


No, not yet, but spring will come and already there are signs that it is on the way. Yesterday in the park I noticed that the snowdrops are forcing their way up through the soggy dead leaves in the wood. They are nowhere near blooming- indeed, nowhere near being in bud even - but it is encouraging to see them nonetheless. I have also noticed more bird song. The robins are certainly tuning up and I caught a brief snatch of a blackbird's song this morning. Far be it for me to wish my life away, but I will be glad to see the back of this winter. The days are a little warmer now than they were a week or two back and the overnight rain has cleared as the weather girl promised, but she did say that the rest of this week will be wet and rainy so we must just make the most of today.

Yesterday I started working on my latest challenge - the one I mentioned on Sunday. Unfortunately, my first thoughts didn't work and I have the feeling that the end result will be somewhat less elegant than I had hoped. It did occur to me that I might be wasting my time. If the club does agree to put on this motorcycle run, will any participants register on-line anyway? Time alone will tell, but I do think it a good idea to give people as much choice as possible when it comes to sending money to the Lions Club.

Monday, 10 January 2011

"A big ask" and other irritating phrases

Can a single word be called a phrase? I think the answer is that it can, so when I describe the word "like" as one of the phrases that causes me irritation I'm not being wildly inaccurate. I am, of course, referring to the use of the word as a sort of thinking space and not in it's true sense of meaning "similar to". You know, like, it's when somebody, like, is having trouble, like, thinking of the next word, like. When used in this way it really means "umm" or "err", but that doesn't prevent me from almost snapping at the culprit. I managed to introduce another of those irritating phrases just now: "you know". Mrs Pensioner had a friend, sadly no longer of this world, who stayed overnight with us once a year. She was a big lady with an equally big heart but for many years she had the annoying habit (to me) of sprinkling her speech with a large helping of "you know"s.

Two much over-used clichés that irritate me are "It's not rocket science" and "At the end of the day", particularly when the latter is uttered by a television news reporter (or correspondent or analyst or whatever fancy word they are using today) whose job involves the use of language and who should know better.

Talking of television, the weather girls upset me as well when they talk of "winds dying back down". "Returning back" also gets me going.

Sports people are not immune either. So often we hear phrases (or clauses or sentences) along the lines of "It's a big ask" or "The boy done good". Which leads on to another major source of aggravation. "How are you?" "I'm good." No, no, no. The question referred to your health or state of mind - not your behaviour!

I think my current pet hate is a habit some telephone sales people have. They have probably received training which encourages them to try to establish a rapport with the person on whom they inflicting a cold call. Picture the scene.

The phone rings. '123765,' I answer (giving my phone number).

'Is that Mr Pensioner?'


'Good morning, how are you today?'

This is somebody I have never met, never even spoken to before, and he presumes to start a conversation as if we were talking only yesterday and I told him I was feeling a bit under the weather. My blood starts boiling even before he can start to tell me why he has called.

OK, folks, rant over for today.

Sunday, 9 January 2011


I like to set myself a number of daily challenges. There are the sudoku puzzles in the morning paper and, a habit I got from my father and which I have kept up most days for many years, the cryptic crossword. On Sundays, the Old Bat and I drink our mid-morning coffee while attempting to find as many words of four letters or more as we can from the target puzzle in the paper. One or other of us usually manages to find the nine-letter word (today's is pyramidal - quite a challenge) and usually we get fairly close to the number of words needed for a rating of "excellent".

Now I have another challenge. If Brighton Lions do take on the organisation of the classic motorcycle run, I would like to incorporate an entry form in our web site. OK, that in itself is not a challenge as including a form in a web site can be done quite easily. The challenge will be to incorporate a simple and elegant way of transmitting all the information we would need (name and contact details of entrant, make, model, engine capacity and registration number of the machine entered, etc) with a way of paying the different entry fees depending on the class entered. I think I can probably do this by having entrants click on a link to PayPal and, once they have paid, being redirected to another page where they would enter the necessary details. But that is not as elegant as I would like.

I foresee several hours of puzzling, and probably frustration, ahead of me as I would like to have this ready to go if the club does agree to take this event on.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Scenic Saturday - Northamptonshire

Number 23 in the series.

Northamptonshire is probably best known as the home of the British Grand Prix as the Silverstone circuit lies in the county. The county town (Northampton) was the centre of the English boot and shoe industry but that has now all but disappeared. Likewise, Corby was an steel town but the works have been shut down. Corby is still the home of the Pole Fair, which takes place once every 20 years. It involves readings of the Royal Charter – granted by Elizabeth 1 in 1568 - at special toll gates around the town, followed by a carnival. Anyone who fails to pay a toll is carted off to the stocks.

This is not a county well-known for its tourist-attraction beauty spots but there are gems to be found by those who look. The Talbot Hotel in Oundle is one example. Although the hotel's origins date from the original timber hostelry of 638 AD, the Talbot was rebuilt from the stone ruins of nearby Fotheringhay Castle in 1626. The ghost of Mary Queen of Scots, who was imprisoned and executed at the castle, is said to haunt parts of the hotel, particularly the magnificent oak staircase down which she reputedly walked to her execution. Oundle is also the home of the ubiquitous school, one of England's oldest public schools (fees - £27,000 a year for boarders).

On our pictorial tour we have not yet seen much of England's really old castles but this week we can put that right. Rockingham Castle was built on the orders of William the Conqueror almost a thousand years ago. It was relinquished as a royal castle by Henry VIII and has been owned and lived in since then by the Watson family. This is the solid-looking gatehouse.

Friday, 7 January 2011

That meeting

There were six of us at the meeting - three from Brighton Lions and three from Hove Rotary. It was certainly interesting to hear about their classic motorcycle run. They have organised it for fourteen years but now feel they are getting too old, especially the one whose brainchild it was and who has undertaken the bulk of the organisation each of those 14 years. It has built up over the years and there are now regularly some 300 or so participants. Well, that's what they told us. I came away with several year's programmes which list all the pre-registered participants and in none of the more recent years were there more than 250. Last year there were just 202.

We were given a breakdown of the takings for 2009 - just the takings with no expenses shown - which were just over £6,000. What we were told is that the net profit from the event is about £3,000.

That's the upside, or maybe I should call it the potential upside. But for every upside there is a downside and this event certainly has several of those. (Yes, I know - I should be positive and look at them as challenges rather than obstacles.) I mentioned the programme. This has always been produced "in house" with Rotarians selling ad space to cover production costs. OK, we could no doubt produce the thing, but selling ad space is not something for which any of our Lions are noted.

Another challenge is the sheer slog of printing 500 entry forms, all the address labels from the database, stuffing the entry forms into envelopes and fixing the address labels. The Rotarians also put stamps on the envelopes but I think the Post Office would frank them if asked. See? Already I have reduced the workload! If I go on like this we'll soon convince the club this is an opportunity not to be missed. It's not as if we are re-inventing the wheel. The Rotarians have run the event for years and have ironed out all (or most) of the snags. They will let us have all the computer records and artwork. I think we should go for it. Let's hope the club agrees.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

A brain maze

The way the human brain works never ceases to amaze me, especially when I realise how tortuous are the paths of my own thoughts. Take this morning as an example.

From Tuesday, the rate at which Value Added Tax is levies has been increased from 17.5% to 20% and my daily fish wrap (and probably all the other rags as well) has been burbling on about the increase in the cost of living resulting from that, price rises obscured by that and other price rises that have nothing to do with that. This morning, the paper compared the increase since a year ago in the price of bread - 4.9% with zero rate VAT, oil - 15%, and VAT - 2.5%. But hold it! my brain said to me. VAT has not gone up by 2.5%. Yes, the rate at which it is charged has gone up from 17.5% to 20% - but that is actually an increase of more than 14%. I put that thought to the back of my mind and read on.

The article went on to relate how people in China are anxious to improve their standard of living and how the number of cars on the road is increasing faster in China than in any other country, how many more Chinese are able now to afford meat. My first thought was that it is good to know other, heretofore poorer people are able to enjoy a standard of living nearer mine. But that led me on to the thought that as more and more people across the world are able to enjoy a higher standard of living, so the world's resources will be consumed at an ever faster rate.

And not only the finite resources such as coal and oil. There will be increasing pressure to expand farmland, thereby devastating more wild areas (including the already dwindling rain forests). It won't be just farmland either: there will be more land needed for housing, more concrete poured on the land for roads etc etc.

Mankind will, I think, find this problem escalating at an ever-increasing rate as higher standards of living lead to lower mortality rates.

I hope that somebody will, someday, be clever enough to find the solution. I know it won't be me and it probably won't happen in my lifetime, but I hope for the sake of my grandchildren that a solution is found and the quicker the better.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Christmas dinner

The Lions' Christmas dinner meeting due to have been held last month had to be cancelled because of the snow so we will be holding it tonight. As today is the twelfth day of Christmas this will be my last Christmas dinner of this season rather than the first of next (if you follow my drift). I have put together a little quiz by way of entertainment - a sheet of pictures of various Lions in their younger days with a few others thrown in just to muddy the waters a bit. Here are a couple of the pictures:

Yes, the one on the left is me, taken a few days before my third birthday, probably to send to my father who was at the time serving in the Far East in the Royal Navy. My mother had a thing about smocking (the stitching on my shirt) and although she couldn't do it, she knew somebody who could and every suitable garment had to receive the treatment. The one on the right is not me but a well-known entertainer. Can you guess who?

Then tomorrow morning I will be attending what promises to be an interesting meeting. Hove Rotary Club have organised an annual classic motorcycle run for the last thirteen years but have decided they can't do it any longer. They have asked Brighton Lions if we would like to take it over and tomorrow some of us will meet with a few Rotarians to see what is involved. I have to say I'm curious as to why they didn't offer the event to another Rotary Club - there are at least three others in the city - or run it as a joint venture with another Rotary Club. But perhaps they tried and nobody wanted to know. Maybe I will find out tomorrow.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Walking into the past

I think it is possibly, even probably, my favourite walk. It involves driving to a car park on the Ditchling Road, walking across 39 Acre Field, through the woods at the top of the Wild Park, across a golf course and so onto the Roman camp. The proper name for this is Hollingbury Fort although locals have for decades if not centuries called it the Roman camp. It predates the Roman occupation of England by centuries, even millennia given that the earliest occupiers were there in the Bronze Age. The remains that we see today, however, date only from the Iron Age but that still makes them about 2,500 years old.

The fort is roughly in the shape of a squared-off circle with a diameter of some 500 metres. The only real evidence still existing is the ditch and rampart. Walking round the rampart provides glorious views over the city of Brighton to the sea in the south, across the Downs to Stanmer Woods in the north (with a glimpse of the sails of Jack and Jill windmills on the Downs above Clayton), over the Moulsecoomb valley to Bevendean and Woodingdean to the east and across Patcham and over ridge after ridge of the Downs to the west. I have posted numerous pictures of both the fort and the views over on Fern's blog, including a fresh series of pictures that started yesterday. and there is a good explanation of the fort on this web site.

When walking the ramparts I do sometimes wonder about the people who have trodden the path before me. I suspect that there were few people other than the occasional shepherd for several centuries until mid-Victorian times, but what about those Iron Age men who dug the ditch and built and defended the ramparts? How long must it have taken them with the primitive tools they had? Who decided just where the ditch would be situated and how did he communicate that decision to the diggers? What sort of language did they use? There is no sign of the ghosts of those Iron Age settlers when walking round the fort nowadays so it is impossible to ask, but what a history lesson could be built by an imaginative teacher.

And let's face it, 'History is who we are and why we are the way we are,' as David McCullough said. And I'm not going to tell you who he was: that's your homework for today.

Monday, 3 January 2011

What ever happened to global warming?

We never seem to hear those two words now although we do hear a lot about climate change. Are the two phrases interchangeable or are the "experts" having second thoughts? I have never been entirely convinced of the complete doom and gloom scenario although I accept that mankind does need to be more careful about the effects of its activites on the natural world. Parts of the media in this country seem to have leapt onto the global warming wagon with a vengeance and anyone reading their prognostications would think the whole planet is doomed to implode by the end of this century. But is it getting any warmer?

Going off on a slight tangent, our Met Office forecast a mild winter. What happened? We had the coldest December for 120 years!

Global warming?

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Bah, humbug!

It's got to the stage where I just wish everybody would be where I expect them to be when I expect them to be there. Having had a four-day holiday last weekend, we now have another three-day holiday this weekend, and the three supposedly working days in between have been anything but for many people. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy Christmas and I'm very happy that we in England enjoy a two-day holiday. I would hate having to cram everything Christmas into just one day. It's those days between Boxing Day and New Year's Day that cause my irritation. Not actually the days themselves, I suppose, but more the way so many people treat them as extra holidays. I was never able to do that while I was working - in many ways they were the busiest days of the year for more reasons than one - and even then I would get wound up when I phoned somebody at another company over something fairly urgent only to find the company completely closed until after the New Year holiday. It's just as bad now I'm retired. There were several things I wanted to do last week but couldn't because of extended Christmas holidays and/or shut-downs. Roll on Tuesday so we can get back to normal!

Things will be just as bad after Easter this year. Easter falls as late as it can be (or pretty much so) on 24 April. So we have Good Friday and Easter Monday as holidays, then the following Friday is also a holiday for the royal wedding and the Monday of that weekend is a bank holiday for May Day so I guess there will be a general unwillingness to do anything during that three-day week after Easter. Still, it will probably be good news for somebody.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Scenic Saturday - Warwickshire

Number 22 in the series.

We start with the usual note about pronunciation. "Warwick" is pronounced "Worrick", not "war-wick".

Although the north of the county is in the industrial heart of England, there are some very attractive villages in the southern and eastern parts. Many of the buildings are in the local sandstone which has a rich red colour. This, I think, tends to make old town centres rather gloomy, especially when the stone is discoloured from pollution.

There are two great castles in the county - Warwick and Kenilworth. Warwick is now almost a theme park with its medieval banquets, jousting and so on, while the vast medieval fortress of Kenilworth Castle is one of the most spectacular castle ruins in England and set in vast grounds perfect for exploring. This was the home of Robert Dudley, lover of Queen Elizabeth I, but was destroyed in the Civil War by Oliver Cromwell's forces.

Apart from Warwick itself, the most popular destination for tourists is Shakespear's town of Stratford-upon-Avon. In and around the town are five houses connected with the playwright: his birthplace, the farm owned by his grandparents where his mother grew up, Anne Hathaway's cottage where his wife lived before marriage, Halls Croft where his daughter and son-in-law lived and Nash's House where his granddaughter lived. Nearby stood New Place, where Shakespear lived and died. This is now a garden (the house is long since destroyed) where one can see an ancient mulberry tree which is claimed to be from a cutting planted by Shakespear. Stratford has many half-timbered buildings in the ancient town centre and a stroll provides a delightful experience.

This week's picture is of Anne Hathaway's cottage.