Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A puzzle

My Californian friend was making fun of Englishmen the other day. If you are English and are sufficiently masochistic, you can read what he he said by clicking here. On the other hand, if you are American and want to join in the fun, you should click here. If you are Irish - or, for that matter, American of Irish descent (which means you if your name is anything like O'Bum) - you should click here and try to work out what the words mean. If you have taken the trouble to read what Skip said, and then taken the trouble to come back here, you might have seen that he wrote, "those drivers who kept turning in front of me in Oregon looked British".

That is the puzzle - and it's a game the Old Bat and I frequently play when in restaurants in France. How is that when we walk into any restaurant in France the waiters know immediately, before we have said anything, that we are English? Granted, as soon as we open our mouths we give the game away either by speaking English or speaking French with an English accent. The Old Dear and I then go on to guess the nationalities of other diners just by looking at them - and have to earwig their conversations to try to confirm our guesses. I suppose we are right about 50% of the time. But that is also part of the puzzle: what is it that makes a person look English or American or French?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

In the garden

I had a little moan yesterday about the weather we have enjoyed (or not enjoyed) this summer. It has certainly not helped the vegetable garden, although one plus is that I have had to use the hose only sparingly. More sparingly than usual, I suppose, as on the whole the weather has been cool rather than wet. I have recounted already how the rhubarb, garlic, onions, parsnips and peas have done less well than I would have hoped. Fortunately, the blackcurrants did well but sod's law came into play as they are far from my favourite fruit. The runner beans are growing - fitfully. I think I must sow a different variety next year. (The eternal optomist, that's me.) And the French beans have been eaten by slugs but at least the raspberries are coming on stream very nicely - big and juicy. I grow an autumn-fruiting variety and they seem to get more flavour as the year passes. The blackberries in the garden hedge are also good this year, and I really must pick the apples before we go away at the end of next week. It is another bumper crop this year.

At least there are some good points.

Monday, 29 August 2011

August Bank Holiday

Yep, that's today - which means that summer is nearly over. Not that we have had much summer this year. I think the best weather was actually over Easter! I did feel sorry for my grandson last week. He was at his first Cub camp and we had rain at least every other day. I just hope he enjoyed himself.

It made me think of some of the camps I have been on. I was never a Cub but I joined the Scouts and for many years, as a boy and then as a leader, I spent a week under canvas every August. The first was a camp in Somerset. I was a member of a Scout troop in Gillingham, Kent. We travelled to Somerset by train, presumably carrying our personal gear although it is possible that that had been sent on ahead with the tents and other equipment. One could do that sort of thing in those days! One of my clearest memories of that week is of a conversation with one of the hands on the farm where we were camping. He had such a broad accent it was all we could do to understand him!

I know it is said that one looks back at the past through rose-tinted spectacles and thinking of some of those past camps proves the point. It must have rained sometimes - but I can't actually recall one single occasion! There are plenty of things I do remember, though - many of the memories being of things we would never be allowed to do today on Elf 'n' Safety grounds. Like the raft we built one summer. We must have taken oil drums and an old bicycle with us because the drums were used as floats and the cycle was adapted to power some sort of paddle.

Then there were the canoes. I had a few of the older Scouts come to the HQ on a second evening each week to build a canoe. This was a kit which provided a wooden framework over which one had to stretch canvas. We finally got it finished and the boys were so proud of their work as, one summer evening, we carried the canoe down to the beach - just a few hundred yards from our HQ - to launch it. That was when we discovered the keel had a slight bend in it. Given an even stroke of the paddles on both sides, the canoe would slowly describe a circle. To keep going in a straight line required a stronger pull on one side than the other. That year I took the troop to the Forest of Dean where I had found a camp site right on the bank of the River Wye. We took our canoe along with others I had borrowed, but you can guess which was the one the boys most wanted to use even with a kink in the keel!

That was quite a camp. The boys were in their patrols and the patrols took it in turns to do something different each day. One patrol would be rock-climbing while another was on the river in the canoes. A third patrol would be out of camp on a hike while the fourth was duty in camp, preparing meals and generally mucking about.

I prided myself that I could dream up pretty good wide games - the sort of game, usually involving escape and evasion, that would take place across a wide area. This camp included one of my failures. Round the camp fire one evening, I told the boys about a newspaper I had found lining a draw or something at work. It was a hundred years old and an article recounted the story of a ghost which appeared once every hundred years in the woods on the other side of the river. The legend was that the ghost could be laid to rest by a group of people encircling it with joined hands. Coincidentally, the ghost was due to appear that very night. Later, we woke the boys and told them to get up and dressed for a ghost hunt. We sent them along the river bank to a footbridge about a quarter of a mile downstream. After they had left one of the scouters paddled across the river in a canoe and took up position in the woods, draped in a sheet. Unfortunately, either the leader or the boys failed to find the right place as they didn't meet each other and the whole scheme flopped. Some years later, I met one of those scouts who reminded me of this failed wide game. At least he had a good memory to look back on - and it gave us both a laugh.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Word trivia

Did you know...

Dreamt is the only word in the English language to end with the letters mt?

Facetious is the only word in the English language to have all five vowels in alphabetical order?

And now your homework for the week. Can you think of a word of four letters or more that contains no vowel? The only one I can come up with is hymn.

Saturday, 27 August 2011


Nothing to do with the hokey-cokey, left arm in and all that, but a fish served regularly in the village restaurant in France. A white fish reminiscent of cod or pollack (or pollock for that matter. Pollack and pollock are two similar but different species of fish.) which I have seen nowhere else. According to the various interwebby sources I have been looking at, hoki is a New Zealand fish and has been placed on a red list by Greenpeace, which is a shame as I particularly like this fish and I usually choose it when we eat chez Nicholas. The words of that old song come true again:

It's illegal, it's immoral or it makes you fat.
It really dosn't matter what you're aiming at,
If it's something you enjoy you can be certain that
It's illegal, it's immoral or it makes you fat.

Florence serves hoki with a delicious sauce. It was at one time a buttery confection, then it was a sorrel sauce, now it's Provencal. The sorrel sauce was particularly good and the Old Bat decided she would like to try her hand at making it. First, though, we had to find some sorrel.

None of the supermarkets she uses regularly here in England ever seemed to stock it. Nor did the French supermarchés. We decided (I say "we" but it was really SWMBO who made the decision; I just went along with it) to try and buy a plant. We looked in several garden centres small and large. In fact, I think we visited every garden centre within a 20 mile radius of Brighton, but without finding any sorrel. Eventually we found a few plants in a French garden centre and so we now have a pot of sorrel in the garden. It's been there now for several months but we have yet to have sorrel sauce on the supper menu.

Ironically, I was in Stanmer Park the other day to walk the dog and I decided to visit the Council nursery where they sell plants. This just happens to be the nearest nursery to us but we hadn't gone there during our search. Stocks of plants were pretty low, but they did have plenty of sorrel!

Friday, 26 August 2011

Irish workmen

These workmen have been installing bollards to stop people parking on the pavement outside the Royal Hospital in Belfast. They are cleaning up at the end of the day. How long do you think it will be before they realise that they can't go home? I am assured that this is a real photograph...!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Coming up

The next couple of days promise to be busy so I have scheduled pictures to be posted over on the Stanmer blog. Today I am one of the party of Lions to greet the Mayor when she visits the Lions Housing Society's properties at Lions Gate and Lions Dene. I dare say there will be pictures to post on the Lions' blog but in the meantime you can see pictures of the properties (if you are at all interested) over here.

I rather expect that I shall be driving She Who Must Be Obeyed to her weekly session in the diving bell tomorrow morning and then on to the supermarché - or I will go to the supermercado while Madam is in the gas tank. Her car is still out of commission and I rather think she would prefer not to drive mine in the supermarket car park. That should take up most of the morning, then I will have to walk the dog after lunch and, if the weather forecast is wrong and the rain holds off, the garden will be calling. The clematis over the arch leading to the vegetable garden was a picture earlier this year but is now in desperate need of a haircut!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Double Dutch

The English have long had some sort of fascination with Holland, or - as I really should call the country - the Netherlands. (Holland is just part of the Netherlands, a sort of county or administrative area.) I'm not sure that 'fascination' is quite the word I'm looking for, but we have numerous references to the country in our language, especially our idiomatic language. A man will refer to his wife as 'my old Dutch'. Or he used to; the term is not heard nowadays and I suspect that many youngsters will not understand the reference. Then there's 'going Dutch' when the cost of something is shared between all the participants. It is generally used when a boy and girl share the cost of their evening out. 'Dutch' also at one time meant gin. Perhaps the most common references nowadays are to 'double Dutch', which is when somebody is babbling unintelligibly (usually a baby not yet able to talk or a toddler pretending to be a baby) and as an expression of disbelief, eg 'If that's red I'm a Dutchman'.

There was a time when the Dutch and English were sworn enemies. (Come to that, there have been times when the English and most other nationalities have been sworn enemies.) But, thankfully, that time is now past and we get along famously.

I like Holland - I have done for many years. I'm not exactly sure when I first visited the country but I became a pretty frequent visitor when I was in my 30s. I was then heavily involved in the Scout Association. Another leader in the district for which I was Commissioner had formed a friendship with a scout leader in the Hague. The Dutch scouter was a leading light in putting on a Gang Show one year and we got up a party to visit the Hague. From then on there were several trips each way every year for a number of years. For our part, it helped that the Dutch are almost bilingual, there being very few of them who speak no English and the majority being fluent. I even discovered that coffee, especially a brand we liked which was then unobtainable in England anyway, was so much cheaper in Holland than in England that I could go over for a weekend and bring back enough coffee for the saving to pay the ferry fare and for the petrol. Our consumption of coffee went up accordingly!

I even learned to speak Dutch. Well - just a little. When we visited the Hague for one Gang Show we took a cake which had been iced with the Scout emblem and the British and Dutch flags. The idea was that I, as District Commissioner, would sneak onto the stage at the end and grab a microphone to make a short speech of thanks as I presented the cake as a token of friendship. I thought it would be a good idea to make my speech in Dutch. It just so happened that my then boss had married a Dutch girl so I wrote my speech, she translated it, and my boss recorded it on tape. I learned it parrot-fashion by listening to the tape. I can still say, 'Het heft mei veil pleisir' although I can't spell it!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

It is broke

Not completely, but just enough to fail the MOT.

Here in the UK cars of three years old and over have to be tested every year to ensure they are road worthy - the Ministry of Transport (MOT) test. In France the test is, I believe, every two years and I think I heard mutterings not so very long ago that there were plans to make the test bianuual here as well - and only for cars of four years or more. Be that as it may, the current rules are for cars to be tested on or before the third anniversary of their registration and annually thereafter. The test can be carried out up to a month before the old certificate expires with the new certificate running for twelve months from the expiry date. This, of course, means that if a car is tested early and fails, it can still be driven quite legally until the expiry of the old certificate, thereby giving time to get work done if the job can't be done there and then. The Old Bat, unfortunately, never thinks to get her car tested until the last knockings. This year it was just two days before the old certificate expired. And guess what? The car failed the test and couldn't be repaired immediately.

The problem was the internal repeater for the left turn indicator flashers or, to give it its technical name, the tell-tale. No problem, thought the mechanics at our local garage. We'll just replace the bulb. They rang an auto-electrician to find out how to remove the dashboard only to be told it was not a bulb but an LED and the job was one that could only be undertaken by a main agent. So the car failed the test.

On returning home, the Old Bat rang the only main agent for that marque listed in our telephone directory, a garage some 12 or 15 miles away. They would willingly fetch the car (but not until today and the certificate expired last Friday) and the job would take a week. The unit has to be sent away as it is not a job the garage can do. The cost - an estimated £250.And I bet that's before VAT is added to bring the bill to £300.

Reminds me of that old rhyme: For the want of a nail the shoe was lost. For the want of a shoe the horse was lost. For the want of a horse the kingdom was lost. Let's just hope it's not that bad.

Monday, 22 August 2011

A bit of a moan

There are times when life just seems so damned unfair. Mrs BP suffers from an unusual condition which has never been fully diagnosed. The consultants have narrowed it down to one of two things, one a form of Parkinson's disease, the other a form of motor neuron disease. Either way, the condition is progressive and there is no treatment. The only time she has ever shown any sign of self pity was the occasion we visited King's College Hospital in London and the consultant there gave her the bad news. We sat in the car on leaving the hospital and she said, 'It's not going to go away, is it?'

Things have gradually got worse. It's nearly two years since she last took the dog for a walk, something she used to enjoy. She finds it impossible to walk up or down the drive without assistance. But she won't give in. She still likes to get down on her hands and knees in the garden, for example. And our garden is by no means flat, sloping in two different directions. Yesterday afternoon I glanced out of the window and saw the good lady crawling across the grass to find something by which to pull herself to her feet. Then later she fell as she was walking across the kitchen.

Like I said, life just seems so damned unfair at times. But then I remembered that things could be worse. A lot worse. There's my cousin stuck in a wheelchair and in pain with MS, and there's Tina dying slowly from a brain tumour. That's unfair.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

A medical break-through

"Experts" from the University of Queensland have conducted research that, they say, proves that every hour we spend watching television shortens our lives by 22 minutes.

When I read the report in the nespaper this week, my second thought (we'll come back to my first thought in a minute) was, 'How did they conduct this research?' I assumed that the researchers spent several years on their studies, having first found several hundred subjects who were willing to provide accurate details of how long they spent in front of the idiot box. Presumably those volunteers were also required to send in a report of exactly when they croaked.

Then I had another thought. What if the so-called experts had it the wrong way round? Was it watching television that was the cause of people's early demise or could it be that those people who were more likely to die early were just the sort to watch more television? Anyway, how could they tell that if Joe Bloggs had not watched that football match he would have lived an extra 22 minutes?

OK, I fully agree that watching a lot of television would drive me to an early grave - out of sheer boredom!

But does anyone really believe this? Or care?

To get back to my first thought. Why didn't I go to university and get paid to do research leading to such earth-shattering conclusions?

Saturday, 20 August 2011

If it ain't broke,...

...don't fix it. Most of the time I think what an excellent maxim that is by which to live. Most of the time. Then I have a change of heart and realise that it is the idle man in me that thinks so. Where would we be if nobody bothered to "fix" things that weren't broke? Presumably we would still be reading in the evenings by the light of candles and would be relying on horses or Shanks's pony for transport. I don't aspire to such heights as to invent a new method of providing artificial light or an improvement to the horseless carriage but I'm not beyond tweaking something that I think could be better. The Lions District web site is a case in point.

I assumed responsibility for this site just over a year ago. Unfortunately, despite my predecessor eventually sending me details of how to access the host server, I was never able to get into it to update what had become a very much out of date web site. In the end I gave up and decided to start from scratch. I was able to transfer the domain name to a new host and set about building the new site.

My knowledge of web site construction came from a one-day course some 12 or more years ago plus whatever I have managed to learn from books like the Idiot's Guide to HTML. Frankly, this means that my knowledge is severely limited. All the same, I do find that I usually manage to achieve the result I want - in the end. But I have never been entirely happy with the site. It was largely the navigation that niggled. OK, I had produced a site with simple navigation and a visitor could get to any part of the site in no more than two clicks - but somehow it all looked just a bit too amateurish.

Then I saw that Lions International were offering to Districts a scheme that had previously been for Lions Clubs only and I decided to give it a try. After some experimenting I decided it was just a bit too restrictive for what I wanted. Users are limited to about 10 pages whereas our site has at least 20 (I haven't bothered to count them). So things stayed as they were. Until this week when, by coincidence, I received two emails. One asked me to add something to the site, the other suggested that instead of providing one facility that the site offered, it would be more useful to provide a slightly different facility.

The result was that I decided the time had come to tweak the site. But it took me two days just to tweak! Part of the trouble was that navigation system. This was the main cause of my dissatisfaction but improving it was almost beyond my ability with HTML. I made one change, then tried it out. If that worked, I altered something else. Problems arose when I got over-confident (or too cocky) and made just too many changes before checking that all was still hunky-dory. When it wasn't, I ended up having to start from scratch. As I said, it took me two days before I managed to get what I wanted. And that was fixing something that wasn't broke. But I feel much happier about the site now that I've done that.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Sacré bleu!

And all sorts of other imprecations. Is nothing sacred?

I suppose it is perhaps the stereotypical image of a Frenchman: wearing a beret, riding a bicycle, cigarette drooping from a corner of the mouth and carrying a baguette in one hand. The French, I think, eat more bread than do we Brits. Certainly, a basket of bread is routinely placed on the table in restaurants over there. As well as eating more of it, they have a wider variety of it than we do. Most English people these days buy their bread from supermarkets, usually wrapped in cellophane and already cut into slices. That sort of bread is also available in French supermarkets (it's known as American bread) but those same shops also stock a range of different loaves, many baked in the stores own bakery. At least, that is what we are told.

(We are also told that in England but research has shown that much of the bread supposedly baked in-store comes delivered as part-baked loaves which only need finishing off.)

However, what the French have but we do not - at least, not to the same extent - are small, independent bakers. One of the delights of being in France is visiting the boulangerie for freshly baked bread. If it is a baguette that one buys, it has to be eaten that day as the bread goes stale very quickly, presumably because the preservatives that are routinely added to the pap that our supermarkets call bread are missing. That is why so many French housewives are (or were) accustomed to visiting the boulangerie twice a day. But things are about to change.

Somebody -and a French somebody at that! - has invented a slot machine to sell baguettes. Customers insert a coin (currently one euro, which is more than 20 cents above the standard price) and the machine warms up a loaf before dispensing it. Reports are that the machines, of which I understand two have so far been installed, are proving very popular. Somehow it just doesn't seem right to me.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Urban pests

We - that is Fern (the dog) and I - were making our way to the park this morning and generally minding our own business. Well, I was minding my own business. Fern does tend to try to see what other people are doing, being a rather inquisitive creature. Anyway, there we were, walking along the street, when I realised that the creature sitting on the pavement ahead of us was a fox. It scratched itself, just as a dog does - which isn't all that surprising seeing as foxes and domestic dogs are part of the same animal family - and just sat there, waiting for us to get nearer. It waited until we were only ten yards or so from it before it got up and ambled onto the path of the nearest house where it turned and watched as we passed with Fern straining at the lead to get at it.

I knew that foxes were getting bolder but that is about the boldest I have seen myself. I know that they have snatched hens from the yard down on my cousin's farm while my cousin was also in the yard, and it is quite obvious that they are no longer put off a town garden just because there is a dog which has left its smell in the garden. Some years ago my younger son was actually attacked by a fox. He was on his paper round when he noticed a fox following him. Son increased his speed; so did fox. Son ran up a garden path and was chased by the fox, which leapt on him. The general conclusion was that the fox was accustomed to being fed by humans who carried food in a bag and the fox was hoping for food from the bag holding the papers.

It is said that no carnivore eats other carnivores, but I am not convinced. The normal diet of the country fox is rabbit with the occasional hen, duck or lamb. Town foxes tend to disturb dustbins in the search for food thrown away by humans but there are those who believe they also kill and eat cats. I am not convinced although with foxes having entered houses and attacked sleeping babies it does seem to me to be entirely within the bounds of possibility if not probability that cats are also on the menu.

Fern does what she can to keep our garden clear of the animals. It is nothing for me to be woken at some God-forsaken hour as Fern barks at foxes in the garden but I think she is wasting her breath.

I'm not sure that I would describe the urban fox as a problem - yet. But I think it is becoming one.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Last Saturday

I've been thinking quite a lot about the events of last Saturday morning. I really had not wanted to go but She Who Must be Obeyed had expressed the wish to be there and it was implicit that she should be accompanied by her husband. Friends were marking their 45th wedding anniversary, the 'bride' being one of a group, originally six in number, who have been friends since their school days. They have continued to meet more or less monthly for the past 50 years (or since the first of them married). The group has shrunk as one has died and one is now more or less housebound and needs a wheelchair to get out. As she is unmarried and lives alone she doesn't get out much but the others visit her from time to time. The one whose wedding anniversary was at the weekend has a brain tumour and is spending her last days in a nursing home. It is thought that she can no longer see although she can still hear. Whether or not she recognises anybody - husband, daughters, sons, friends - is uncertain but seems almost unlikely.

I'm not good at hospital visiting. I never know what to say, for one thing, small talk not being a strong point of mine. It seemed to me that what was planned was almost like a wake - only the deceased would be joining in. Only of course she couldn't. She sat slumped in a wheelchair for almost an hour before being taken back to her room, shortly after which SWMBO agreed to leave. While it wasn't as grim as I had expected, I can think of better ways to spend a morning.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Why do we say that?

The English language (and, for all I know, other languages as well) is full of rather peculiar phrases. For example, one of my schoolteachers used to threaten miscreants that he would have them "trotting along a sure as a couple of eggs". By "trotting along" he meant he would send them to the headmaster for punishment - possibly six of the best. I don't think the fact that said schoolmaster was Welsh had anything to do with the eggs, but I have often wondered what is so certain about a pair of eggs? And, come to that, why should six strokes of the cane be considered "of the best"? There are plenty of other examples of odd-sounding phrases that come to mind. "Raining cats and dogs" is one. I did once hear how that phrase came about but I thought it was a cock and bull story. See? There's another one! You want some more? How about "hell for leather", "like a bat out of hell" and "pull the other one"?

So how did these phrases come into existence? I have long intended buying a book explaining just that but for some reason have never actually done so - until now. Earlier this year I was given an Amazon gift voucher for my birthday. So far I have used it to buy the three volumes in the Loss of Eden trilogy (I suppose if it's a trilogy there would have to be three volumes, wouldn't there?) by John Masters. I paid only 1p each plus post and packing as they are second hand, the books being long out of print. I was left with quite a balance which I have used, in part, to buy Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable which I hope will supply the answers to many questions. I suppose I could look things up on the Internet (and why does the word "Internet" start with a capital letter?) but books are so much more conducive to these things. After all, it's good to be able to turn the pages, dipping into the book here and there as the whim takes.

I hope the book will arrive in a day or two. When it does, I should be able to tell why a couple of eggs are so sure and other unlikely tales.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Cogitations in the veg

Or maybe that should be vegetating in the vegetable plot. Or any verb that indicates nothing much is happening. You see, that is pretty much the state of play in my vegetable plot this year.

My vegetable plot takes up about a quarter of the garden, the quarter the furthest from the house, and has also to house the garden shed, a mini-greenhouse, the compost bin, a pear tree (but no partridge) and two plum trees. Which doesn't leave an awful lot of space for the vegetables. Especially when you bear in mind that there are also a gooseberry bush, a blackcurrant bush, four rhubarb crowns and numerous rampant raspberry canes.

As well as the aforesaid fruit, I do try to grow a few vegetables from seeds (or sets) sown annually. I generally sow runner beans, French beans, peas, parsnips, onions and garlic. I start the runner beans in the greenhouse and plant them out once they are about a foot tall, provided the weather is right, but the rest are sown direct into the ground. I do try to sow peas on at least two occasions in the hope that the crop can be harvested over a longer period but somehow the second sowing nearly always catches up with the first and my hopes are dashed. Parsnips are a bit of a challenge for me as over much of the garden we have no more than nine inches of soil - insufficient to grow good, stout parsnips - and what we do have is stony, leading to the parsnips splitting. Nevertheless, both the Old Bat and I are fond of roast parsnips and those grown in the garden are much more tender and have more flavour than any bought in a supermarket. My method with them is to use a dibber (a length of old broom handle, about eight inches long and sharpened to a blunt point at one end) to make a hole which I fill with compost. The parsnip seeds are sown on top of the compost and, with luck and a fair wind, the parsnip grows down the stone-free hole. That's the general idea, but generally it don't work. I find that a good 50% of the seeds fail to germinate and the 50% that do are gathered in about half a dozen clumps of three or four. I try to thin these clumps out very carefully and replant the thinned-out seedlings. Occasionally one of them actually grows into something resembling a miniature parsnip. I counted the successful-looking plants the other day. I know one shouldn't count chickens before they hatch and the same applies to parsnips - not the hatching, obviously, but the should not be counted before they are lifted. With luck we might get four. Or maybe five.

I did imply right at the top of this post that things have not gone too well on the vegetable front this year. I did manage to pick a few sticks of rhubarb from one crown - the one that was underneath a metal wastepaper basket to force it. The others have done absolutely nothing.

Most of the garlic failed to grow and all I lifted was three small bulbs.

I forgot to buy the onion sets at the right time and when I did remember all I could get were some shrivelled up things that I should never have bothered buying let alone planting. None of them have done anything.

The first sowing of peas went well. Those that weren't eaten by the slugs. But I reckon I lost only about 20% and the remainder produced lots of lovely long pods that filled with fat peas. But they were over in a week - and the second sowing just didn't germinate.

I should have been picking runner beans at least two weeks ago, but I have yet to pick the first. There are a reasonable number of flowers, and some mini beans that should grow well, but they are all very late. Same goes for the French beans.

The blackcurrants did very well - at least something has! - but the gooseberry crop was a bit disappointing. More than a bit, in fact. And the plums... I got half a dozen off one tree. Those on the second are not yet ready. The funny thing (funny?) is that a lot of the fruit is rope on one side but not on the other. I suspect that by the time the second side is ready to pick, the first will have gone over.

All in all, I don't know why I bothered this year. Apart from the disappointment that all my hard work has produced such dismal results, it would have been a lot cheaper just to go to Asda!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Bacon alert

That was the headline in my newspaper. The article went on to report that "eating just one sausage a day or two slices of bacon raises the risk of developing diabetes by 50 per cent, according to a Harvard study".

Apparently researchers found that eating just 50g (1.8oz) of processed red meat daily raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 50g of processed red meat is equivalent to two rashers of bacon (since when have they been called "slices"?) or one sausage. They obviously haven't seen the sausages produced by my butcher. You get just six of those to the pound - sometimes - and they aren't half bread crumbs.

To my way of thinking, the secret of a happy life is to ignore all those warnings about coffee causing cancer or bacon causing diabetes or marmalade causing something else and just get on with life practising moderation in all things.

Friday, 12 August 2011

140 years on

We have been tripping gaily down memory lane this week but that has come to an end, even if the end is only temporary. Anybody who has been reading my outpourings for any time (and there are a few) will know that I have an interest in family history. Not family history in general, but mine in particular. They might also recall that, earlier this year, I was thrilled to discover information about Mrs BP's great grandfather. But before I go any further, perhaps I should briefly explain the background.

The good lady's great great grandfather (yes, there are two "great"s) was born in Exeter and, in 1814, was baptised William. For the sake of clarification, I shall from now on refer to him as William I. He married in 1839 and his marriage certificate states his occupation as "druggist". The first child of the marriage was a boy, William II, who was born in August 1840, also in Exeter. By 1851, when a census was taken, the family had moved to the small Devon town of Modbury where William I ran his own business as a chemist and druggist. Some time before the next census in 1861, William I had moved both the family and the business to Brighton. The shop was on Kings Road - the sea front - and William I employed two assistants and a boy, one of the assistants being his son, William II.

It is really William II about whom I am writing as my discovery earlier this year was that he was also a photographer and was one of the country's leading experimenters in stereoscopic photography. Several of his photographs ended up in the collection of one James Gray, who amassed a large collection of photographs of Brighton in bygone times. On Mr Gray's death the collection passed to the Regency Society. The original photographs are now held by Brighton Museum but they have been digitized and can be viewed on the Society's web site. I know that those photographs must have been taken during the 1860s as William II emigrated to Australia before 1871 and married in Melbourne in 1872.

One of the pairs of photographs in the Gray collection is of St Nicholas church, Brighton, and I went there this week in the hope of taking a picture of the church from the same spot that William II had taken his picture some 140 years ago. I succeeded in lining things up pretty well, I think.

It is interesting to see the changes that have taken place. A tree now blocks the view of much of the tower and the buildings behind the church in Dyke Road. Most of the headstones have been removed (they are now placed against the churchyard walls), as have the railings around the grave in the old photo, although the grave can still be seen. There is what seems to be a sort of market cross erected near that grave now and, although it appears to have been there for centuries, it was not there in the old photo. I noticed that the tower appears shorter now than it was then, but then I saw that the roof of the nave has been raised and a row of clerestory windows inserted. (According to Wikipedia, this was done in 1892.) Otherwise, the building appears unchanged.

Just to continue with the story of Mrs BP's ancestors. William II emigrated, as I said, and married an Irish girl in 1872. Their first child (Mrs BP's grandfather) was also a boy, born in Melbourne in 1873 and christened William. After William II's wife died in 1884, William III and his siblings were sent back to Brighton to live with their grandparents. William III also married an Irish girl - well, she was born in Liverpool to Irish parents - and their son, Mrs BP's father, became William IV.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Still in memory lane

We seem to have spent a lot of time this week (some might well say too much) meandering fairly aimlessly along memory lane, but we have not yet finished.

I can't remember just how old I was when my father gave me this toy car. In fact, I can't even remember if it was my father who gave it to me but I can't think who else it might have been. Unless it was my Aunty Grace. She worked in Greece after the war for one of the United Nations agencies so might have had access to toys of this sort. They certainly would not have been available in England, which is why I have assumed it was bought by my father on a visit to a foreign port. It has painted on the bottom, "Made in US Zone Germany" - which dates it pretty accurately.

Given that it is at least 60 years old it is in astoundingly good condition. But then, it really hasn't been played with an awful lot. It's just not an easy toy to play with. Not only does it have a hand brake but the steering wheel works and it has four forward gears and reverse - the gears being changed after depressing the clutch switch which is just in front of the driver's door. As you can imagine, it is difficult to keep up with the car (and steer it) when it is in top gear.

The only thing wrong is that the windscreen is missing and I no longer have the box. All the same, I would expect it to fetch somewhere between £50 and £100 at auction and I am tempted to take it to a local auction house which specialises in toys. But do I want to sell it or keep it with the thought that it might become a family heirloom - just like the jigsaw puzzle given to my grandfather on his 9th (or maybe 8th) birthday?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Cherry plums or mirabelles?

It's happened again: another word I had not heard or read in, oh, ages, has sprung to life. This time it didn't just appear in my head. I saw it first in a French supermarket the other week, then it cropped up again last wee (though I can't remember where) and yesterday I found it on another blog. Mirabelle.

I was introduced to mirabelles, or cherry plums as they were known then, shortly after my cousin and her husband took over Manor Farm. They had a cherry plum tree in the garden. That's my cousin in the picture harvesting the cherry plums. (The picture was taken when she was both younger and considerably more active. The dreaded MS now has her confined to a wheelchair.) Vert few people had ever heard of cherry plums and the crop from that one tree was almost too much for the family to cope with.

A few years later, the Telegraph newspaper food writer published a recipe using mirabelles and suddenly the world and his dog wanted cherry plums - or mirabelles, as they now had to be known, the French name being much more alluring. The local fruit stall was happy to buy the surplus crop from my cousin. Gradually, though, the fruit fell out of fashion again so it was no great loss (except to the family) when that cherry plum tree died and had to be cut down.

While we are on the farm, I should like to share this picture of a greater horseshoe bat. They roost in a nearby building and their nightly flight takes them through the garden on the farm. That is where this photo was taken by my cousin-in-law. He really should not put his pictures on Facebook if he doesn't want them borrowed!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

We're all going on a summer holiday

Well, actually, I'm not, but it would have been about this time that, as a child, my parents (or sometimes just my mother if my father was abroad somewhere with the Navy), my brother and I would decamp to Broadstairs for a fortnight. We stayed each year at Mrs Ponsonby's guest house. After breakfast we would make our way down the High Street (which was a pretty steep hill according to my memory) to the beach. We would return to Mrs P's for dinner (or was it lunch?), then it was usually back to the beach until it was time for the next meal. High tea, perhaps? Or maybe dinner had been a light meal and this was the main meal of the day? This would have been the pattern of my August almost every year until I was ten.

It is a well known "fact" that the English Do Not Like children. So great is their dislike that, if they are very much Upper Class or above, they hire nannies, and sometimes nursemaids as well, to take care of their little darlings 24 hours a day. The children are presented to - or paraded in front of - their parents once a day, duly washed, scrubbed and ready for bed. Those who are not very much Upper Class - indeed, some who are - and cannot afford a nanny will settle for an au pair, a bonny lass with shot-putter's shoulders from some obscure East European country. She does not take care of the children 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Actually, some of these temporary visitors to our shores don't really take care of the children at all, but the parents think everything is hunky dory so that's all that matters.

Of course, as soon as the little darlings are out of nappies it is time for them to be sent away to school. Well, maybe not quite as young as that.

There is no way that my parents could have been described as Upper Class. My father was a naval rating and my grandfathers were an electrician and a dockyard matey. So there was no way that I had a nanny or an au pair, and there was certainly no way my parents could have afforded to send me away to school. Nevertheless, sent away to school I was - but not until I was ten.

I almost saw my old school yesterday - from a distance of 50 miles! I was walking across the fields with the dog when the visibility, which was already good, suddenly improved and I happened to notice the Isle of Wight. It was little more than a smudge on the horizon but I know its distinct shape and just where it should appear. Of course I couldn't see the school, which was (and, I believe, still is) in Ventnor, but I could see the hump of St Catherine's Down which sits behind and above the old town.

Anybody reading this with more than two or three brain cells switched on will have spotted the apparent contradiction. My family was distinctly not Upper Class - heck, we were probably not even middle Middle Class - and yet, there was I - and my brother as well - sent away to school. I had better come clean. It was charity pure and simple. The school was run by nuns and was described as an open air school for delicate children. Yes, my brother and I were classed as "delicate" on account of our asthma and our doctor had persuaded my mother that the fresh air of the Isle of Wight would be far better for our health than the polluted air of the Medway towns. I don't recall the school as being all that much "open air". Twice a week we would be walked in a crocodile up onto the Downs behind the town (which is how I know St Catherine's Down - the school was also called St Catherine's, by the way) or, occasionally, to a small secluded cove where we would be allowed to scramble over the rocks at low tide.

We were only at the school from January until August. That year I sat and passed the exam known as the Eleven Plus and was awarded a place at the grammar school. My mother thought it more important for me to have a grammar school education than live in the rarefied air surrounding the nuns and took my brother and I home again in August. But we didn't go to Broadstairs that year.

Monday, 8 August 2011


Even before the Treaty of Rome and the advent of the Common Market leading inexorably to the European Union, the United Kingdom had made arrangements with most other European countries to enable British visitors to those countries to enjoy medical treatment on the same terms as the citizens of those countries. Since all the major tourist destinations were in countries with schemes broadly similar to our National Health Service, this really meant that we could obtain treatment free of charge (or nearly so) in the case of emergencies. This didn't obviate the need for tourists to take out travel insurance since the national scheme didn't cover such things as repatriation in the case of severe injury or death. However, it did at least mean that if one, for example, broke a leg, treatment could be obtained without having to consult insurers.

In order to take advantage of these reciprocal arrangements, travellers had to obtain a certificate known as a form E111. This was issued by the Department of Health and Social Security and was valid for the dates specified, which were the dates of travel plus a couple of days tacked onto the end (I think). So it was necessary to obtain a new E111 for each journey - a bit of a pain for frequent travellers. Eventually things changed and the E111 became valid for life. Even so, not all that many people knew about the existence of these forms and the need to obtain one before embarking on a continental excursion.

Things changed yet again and the E111 was replaced by a plastic card the size of a credit card - the European Health Insurance Card. I duly applied for one and I have always carried it with my passport. However, with the passage of time I had forgotten (if I had ever noticed) that the EHIC had a period of validity of only five years. It was reading the travel section of the weekend paper that drew this to my attention. My card expired at the beginning of last year! What's more, although I travel frequently to France, I have never bothered with supplementary insurance, relying entirely on the EHIC to cover medical problems and trusting to luck that neither I nor the Old Bat will need repatriation by air ambulance. It's just as well I have had no accident in the last 18 months.

And yes, I have applied for replacement cards which should arrive within the next couple of weeks - or so I am told.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Now there's a thing or two

Or rather, there's not a thing or two. What is it, you ask, that is not? Email, I respond. It's strange, but over the last three days the volume of email I have received has fallen to almost nothing. Almost nothing, that is, speaking comparatively. My spam folder is still getting between 100 and 150 emails a day, but that is down considerably on what I was getting only a week or so ago, but otherwise I have received only two or three emails a day that were not spam. I suppose it's because we are now into August and people don't bother with things in August.

My internet connection is still wobbly. My ISP announced a while back that improvements were being made to the service. As a result, the connection could be unstable for a day or so after the work had been completed. That was , oh, a couple or three weeks ago but I find that all of a sudden my connection can be cut for several minutes.

It's not just my internet connection. My PC is horribly slow and I really should get it looked at by an expert. I suspect that there are at least two programmes running in the background which are fighting for supremacy and this internal warfare is clogging things up. The trouble is that I don't know enough about these things to try solving the problem myself. It's a bit like cars. In the good old days I became quite adept at working on car engines despite the fact that I am not mechanically minded. Nowadays even opening the bonnet is almost beyond me.

It's not just email that's missing. The volume of snail mail has also dropped - and we seem to be getting fewer phone calls. I have a second line which is used for the Lions and there has been only one call on that in the last three weeks!

It's not just incoming email that is giving trouble. About 10 days ago I sent out the August edition of Jungle Jottings, the monthly newsletter for Brighton Lions Club. I learned yesterday of several members who had not received their emails for some unknown reason. Since these things are, I assume (I know - one should never assume anything), fully automated and untouched by human hand, it seems strange that an email can go astray. Even stranger that four or five out of a batch of 30 can go walkabout.

It's not just email that's giving rise to a challenge these days. Trying to think of a title for each day's post is almost as big a challenge as the one I blethered about yesterday - finding a fresh pic for the Stanmer photo blog. Especially when the posting wanders all over the place like this one. I certainly don't envy those sub-editors their job of coming up with suitable headlines for each story in the newspaper. But I suppose it's a case of horses for courses.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The challenge

I may have mentioned... in fact I know I have mentioned elsewhere on (or should that be "in"?) this blog my propensity for starting something without fully thinking through all the ramifications. My photo blog is a case in point.

At some time I came across a sort of informal group of bloggers who go under the name of City Daily Photo. As the name implies, these bloggers (most of them) post a photograph of their city every day. I am a fairly keen although not terribly good amateur photographist and I was quite taken with the idea. But as I don't get around my city (Brighton) all that much I was unable to join in. Then it occurred to me that I could take photos while walking the dog in Stanmer Woods, over the fields and pretty much everywhere. So I started.

The challenge for me (and, I assume, all the others who do this) is to post no duplicates but to find a fresh picture every day. That didn't seem such a tall order when I started. But I had overlooked the fact that my walks tend to be restricted to about half a dozen routes within easy reach of home - and routes that don't involve too much exertion for a sexagenarian verging on a septuagenarian. I do try not to take too many pictures of the same view, but I do take them at different times of the year and in different lighting combinations.

One thing I have found is that I now see much more than I used to because I am consciously looking for something different all the time. And I think doing this has taught me better to appreciate the marvellous countryside I have so close to home.

I must go to the Lions' book fair, but before I do I'll upload a picture I took yesterday afternoon to demonstrate what I mean by glorious scenery.

The high spot on the horizon is Ditchling Beacon.

Friday, 5 August 2011

They got it right.

The weather gurus, I mean. They told us we would have rain yesterday - and we did. It actually woke me so it must have been raining pretty hard to do that. And it wasn't only the weather girls who were right. Some of Brighton Lions were spot on as well, and they forecast the rain rather earlier than the weather girls. For the last three or maybe four years, Brighton lions have held a barbecue at the house of one of our members. A very nice house it is, too. Way out in the country and several centuries old. Bill has had the house extended but it has been done so sympathetically it is difficult to tell which is old and which is new. Anyway, the first Wednesday in August meant a barbecue at Bill's. Every year we have been lucky with the weather. One year it poured down the day before; another time we watched the lightning gradually getting closer as we cleared up. But every year we were able to hold our bbq. This year, though, we have changed our social meeting night from the first Wednesday of the month to the first Thursday. So the barbie should have been last night, but ten days or so ago, it was agreed not to hold a barbecue but to have an informal dinner at one of the Italian restaurants in town. Now, had we not changed the meeting day all would have been well; Wednesday evening was fine and warm. But how lucky we were that the decision was taken to cancel!

Having a meeting in a restaurant in Brighton prompts me to comment that there are more restaurants per 1,000 population in Brighton than in any other town in the UK. We could quite easily eat at a different venue every night for a year and still not have covered them all. I do tend to forget this fact when I'm in another town. I have cursed the lack of eating places in towns and cities as far apart as Blackpool and Norwich, Bristol and Leeds. What is surprising as well is that all these restaurants tend to be busy on every night of the week.

I have to admit that I was not sorry to see the rain. I should have used the hose on the vegetables several days back but something else cropped up and distracted me (that happens only too easily) and the last couple of days I prevaricated as the forecast was for rain on Thursday. Mind you, our local farmers might not be quite so happy: they had started harvesting the barley on Tuesday and were still hard at it on Wednesday. I suppose they will now have to wait for the crop to dry a bit before they can carry on. Or can they dry the grain after cutting these days?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Penny pinching

Yesterday, a young lady came along our road with a can of white paint which she proceeded to spray to mark where she considered the potholes sufficiently large for the road to be repaired. It is no more than a few months since the road was last patched - it was after the bad winter - and, as you can see from the photo, this has been a fairly frequent occurrence over the years. But patching the road, just filling in the potholes and resurfacing a bit around each of them, seems to me to be a case of penny wise, pound foolish. Most of the potholes we have now and which are shortly (we hope) to be filled in have appeared in places where the road was patched before. Patches just don't last. Surely, it would be cheaper in the long run to resurface the whole road properly?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Summer weather

The temperature here has been getting into the upper 20s this week - it reached 27 yesterday - and could go higher today. It certainly feels warmer than it did at this time yesterday. Of course, these are pretty small beer as far as some folks are concerned (27 Celsius just tips over 80 in old money) but it counts as fairly hot for England. Our thoughts of a perfect summer day involve temperatures of about 23 or 24 (about 75 F) with puffy white clouds. We have some patches of blue sky today but there is a lot of thin cloud and it feels muggy. I have little faith in the accuracy of weather forecasts and my cynicism appears to have been justified as I have just looked at the BBC forecast for Brighton. Maximum temperature 23, humidity 57%. Whatever, the hot, muggy days and nights mean that people are sleeping less well and are inclined to irritability. But with luck we shall be back to normal English summer weather tomorrow - temperatures of 19 (66 F), humidity of 100 % - and rain.

I wonder if the hgher temperatures have anything to do with the passion and volatility of the Spanish, Italians and Greeks? Maybe it's because of our weather that the English are seen as... well, grey, I suppose. Come to think of it, that's just like our weather.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Ho hum, twiddle my thumb

Here I am, about two months in. I could work it out exactly but I am isufficiently masochistic to do that. I am just a little surprised that today is the most difficult I have had in all those eight weeks or so. The craving actually started before breakfast when I was making tea to take to her Ladyship in bed (as I do every morning). Then after breakfast... and on and on. But I shall not give way.

A rarity

Back when the world was somewhat younger than it is now although probably no more innocent... in the days when I was knee-high to a toad... I'm talking here about the post-war years (post World War II - not Napoleonic) not the Middle Ages as some might have you believe... the daily newspaper delivered to our house was the Daily Mirror. I confess that I am almost ashamed to admit ever having read that particular red top tabloid, but it was at my urging that my mother changed the order with the newsagent and we started taking the News Chronicle. This wasn't because I had any particular aversion to the Mirror - to be honest, I scarcely ever looked at anything except the Jane strip cartoon in which the eponymous heroine seemed always to be prancing around in her underclothes. No, my motive was considerably less altruistic. You see, the News Chronicle ran the I Spy Club and in every day's paper there was a secret message which only members of the I Spy Club could decode. I don't remember any of those messages being of earth-shattering importance; indeed, they were probably so mundane that I had forgotten each one by the following day.

One of the big attractions for a boy of 8 or 9 years of age was the selection of pocket-sized books produced for members of the club. Each of these books listed, with illustrations, a number of objects connected with the title of the book. For example, I Spy in the Street (if there was such a book and I think there was) would list a wide range and variety of things that could be seen in the street: street furniture such as pillar boxes, lamp posts, traffic lights; maybe delivery vans; all sorts of things. Each object was valued at so many points according to its rarity and the idea was for the I Spy member to tick off the objects when seen. Once a certain number of points had been collected, the book could be sent away for validation and a brightly coloured feather would be returned with the book.

The pillar box shown in the picture would have been worth quite a high score because it is a rarity. The design of the box remained much the same for the better part of 100 years, so it's not that. It's the royal cypher that makes this box rare. Every pillar box carries a royal cypher, the one applicable when the box was installed. It's not uncommon to see Queen Victoria's cypher in town centres, King Edward VII appears a little further out and many suburban boxes carry the cypher of George V. This one, however, has Edward VIII's cypher. Now Edward VIII reigned for only a very short time before he abdicated. He was never even crowned. That's what makes this a rarity.

Monday, 1 August 2011


"Wordplay"; is that a word, I wonder? Maybe I should have made two words of it - word play, but Blogger seems quite happy to accept the one-word version.

I came across a new word yesterday - nocivorous. I can spell it but pronunciation is a different matter. I don't know if the letter c is soft (nossivorous) or hard (nockivorous) and I have great difficulty with all those funny symbols in the disctionary - yes, and the dictionary as well - that are an attempt to explain the pronunciation. Anyway, it describes animals that eat nuts.

Which made me wonder. We have carnivorous animals and omnivorous, but how do we describe animals (such as cows, sheep, rabbits) that eat grass or other vegetable matter? "Vegetarian" seems somehow too anthropomorphic, but I know of no other word.

And still with words. I was a little upset over the weekend when I was on the receiving end of some bad manners. Of course, I didn't show that I was upset and I didn't react in any way. I just walked off muttering silently, 'ignorant **^%$)**'. Then another word just popped into my head in the way that words do when you least expect it. "Churl," I thought. Now there's a word. Just like it's cousin "boor", "churl" is a word we never hear used in the modern world. "Churlish" and "boorish" are both common enough, but the nouns are rarely, if ever, used. OK, perhaps "boor" is used a bit, but "churl"?

Anyway, I have decided that from now on my favourite insult will be to describe someone as an ignorant churl. It's such a delightful word. Somehow it sounds just what it is. It's not onomatopoeic (Onomatopoeic: I know what it means and I can pronounce it - but spelling it is a different matter! I had look it up.) but it sounds as though it is.

So here's to the next ignorant churl to cross my path!