Friday, 30 September 2011

I'm not sorry that's over

"That" being a job that crops up once a year round about this time, although if the experience of the past two or three years is repeated, I need not have done it for another three or four months.

When we bought our holiday home in France the intention was that we should let it out as a way of covering some of the standing expenses involved in owning a second home. As well as advertising in newspapers and magazines (which we have since stopped) and on one or another holiday cottage web sites, we also set up our own web site. I say "we" set it up but actually it was I who did it and it is I who maintains it. At some time during the years that we have owned Les Lavandes (the name of our French home) it occurred to me that many of our guests might prefer to pay by credit or debit card rather than posting cheques to us. Arranging that is basically quite simple, even for a technobabe like me. I signed up for a PayPal account and set up a page on the web site where people booking could pay the deposit for the week or weeks they were booking by clicking a button for each week. Then I had to produce another page for people to pay the balance. Every year those pages have to be copied and the dates amended for the following year. Sounds simple? Actually, it isn't difficult - but it does need concentration. Altering the dates of the weeks to be booked is quick enough and easy but altering the dates in the HTML code for PayPal is a much more finicky operation, and one that has to be done twice, first for the deposit and then for the balance. Then there are tweaks that need to be made in other places on the web site. It is quite usual for me to remember one I had overlooked some hours after I think I have finished the job - this week it was as I was cleaning my teeth before bed. I think it's done now.

I wrote at the start that I need not have done the job for several months. Way back when we started out, we were getting enquiries - and the occasional booking - during October and November for the following summer. That doesn't seem to be the case now. Indeed, this year we were getting enquiries only a couple of weeks before people wanted to go on holiday. Our experience is that people are leaving it until almost the last minute before booking holidays. Is this something to do with the precarious financial circumstances we all seem to be living in or could there be some other reason?

Anyway, if you are curious you can see what our holiday home is like by checking out the web site for Les Lavandes.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Indian summer

OK, so they were quite right, "they" being the weather forecasters who predicted the spell of very warm weather we are now experiencing. Yesterday, on the evening television news, we were shown pictures of people on beaches in Scarborough, Minehead and Brighton and we were told the temperature in each place. Brighton was, apparently, the coolest at just 21 (what's happened to the little o thingie for degrees?) but the thermometer in my car had recorded 27 during the afternoon. Of course, that was a couple of miles or more away from the beach and the cooling effect of the water but I don't know where the official thermometer is situated. It may well be that my car thermometer is inaccurate anyway.

Whatever. The short-sleeved shirts have come out of hibernation even if only for a few days.

The saga of the Old Bat's car continues. You may remember it failed the MOT because an indicator repeater light on the dashboard wasn't working. This was a job for a main dealer to rectify and it was duly taken away. The wiring cluster was sent away only to be returned with the light still inoperative. When it was returned next time the garage rang to say they would be delivering the car during the afternoon but then another fault was found. Eventually the car was returned just before we went to France on holiday. It passed the MOT a few days after our return. The Old Bat took it to go shopping the other day and was mindful of the need to refuel, but a glance at the gauge showed that the garage had kindly put in some petrol. Well, we assumed it was the garage since nobody else would have done. Then yesterday the low fuel light came on - but the gauge still shows 3/4 full! Looks like it will be going back to the garage as there is yet another fault in the wiring.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Peace and quiet

It was just over six months ago that I posted about a moment when, for me, time stood still and there was nothing but peace and calm in my world. I had taken a walk over the South Downs on a glorious spring afternoon - you can read about it here. I have done the same walk several times since without experiencing quite the same degree of solitude and quiet but I had high hopes yesterday. The weather was unseasonably warm, albeit not yet reaching the temperatures we are promised for the end of the week, and being a mid-week afternoon I figured most people would be at work.

Things started off reasonably well, even though there was a muted roar from the traffic on the main road half a mile or more away. The wind just happened to be in the wrong quarter. Then the engine of the police helicopter broke the almost silence. But that soon vanished, only to be replaced by the chug-chug of a tractor's engine as it refilled the fertilizer hopper on the back of another tractor.

Before we reached that, however, there was the distraction (for Fern, my springer spaniel) of three students sitting beside the path with a picnic lunch. I had no sooner managed to get Fern past them than she was nearly run over by a cyclist storming down the narrow path. Then she saw the farm hands beside the tractor a little way across the field and just had to go and say hello. When two of them came back across the field, over the footpath and into the next field where their Range Rover was parked, Fern followed, yelping sharply as she touched the electric fence. The farmer and his man climbed into the Range Rover and roared away across the field to check on the sheep. Meanwhile, the tractor engine was chugging more loudly as it made its way across the furrows.

I could still hear the tractor when we met a group - about 20 or so - of youngsters making their noisy way down the path. Why were they not in school or college, I wondered, instead of adding to the disturbance of my afternoon. By the time the noise of their chatter had died away the peace was being shattered by an overhead jet - Easyjet, I think, since I could see the bright orange tail livery.

Then Fern saw something in the stunted hawthorns growing in the field we were passing. Taking shelter from the heat of the sun was a herd of cattle. Now Fern doesn't "do" cattle and I had quite a job persuading her not to run back to the car but to come on a little further. And it was only a little further before I gave in and turned for home, only to be met by that group of 20 or so youngsters who had also turned round.

I have once before seen a helicopter on the lawn beside St Mary's Farm cottage and there was one there yesterday. As I glanced across the valley I saw the rotor blades start to turn. Sure enough, the sound of the engine soon filled the air. Eventually the pilot took off and chased his shadow along the valley in an easterly direction. It was a few minutes before the noise of that engine died almost to nothing, but by then a biplane had appeared just to the south and the pilot of that machine started practising aerobatics, looping the loop in particular. By the time he had looped half a dozen loops, the St Mary's farm helicopter had completed a wide sweep to the east and was heading back towards me in a westerly direction. The biplane moved north out of the way and then flew off altogether.
Chasing his shadow.

As the helicopter disappeared over Stanmer woods, we approached the lunching students. They had actually finished their lunch by then - but that didn't stop Fern going to see if there was anything left for her. Then the traffic noise impinged on the peace of the afternoon once more, complete with the two-tone horns of a police car or ambulance.

Not the most peaceful walk I have ever had across the loveliness of the South Downs.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Town mice or country yokels?

Family Investments, a children's savings provider, recently undertook a survey to find the best place in the United Kingdom in which to raise a family. In top place was a Devon village -Winkleigh. To me, it sounds more like a small town that a village with a butcher, baker, fishmonger, school, doctor, vet, two pubs and a sports centre.

I am a townie. I was born and bred in a town and have never lived anywhere but towns, although my mother would take my brother and I for country walks whenever possible. My wife is also a townie but she did have family friends in a small village in the Midlands and spent much of the school holidays with them. There was a time when my wife and I briefly considered a move to a country location. At the time I was working for a bank. One of the advantages of that employment was the low interest rate and comparatively high loan-to-salary ratio available to staff. The interest rate was a fixed 2½% - not tied to bank rate - and the mortgage could be up to four times annual salary. This was a time when mortgages were generally limited to three times salary. Another perk - but one which didn't come round all that often - was that the bank would sometimes agree to meet all the costs associated with moving to a new house - estate agent's fees, solicitor's fees, removal expenses, the lot - when one was transferred from one branch to another. Admittedly, this was only the case if the new branch was considered (by the bank) to be too far for convenient daily travel. Some of my colleagues used this scheme to move up a notch every few years. For me, there was only one occasion when the bank offered to pay removal costs. I was sent to a branch in an unprepossessing town and it was suggested to me that I should move to that town. We briefly considered a move to a village a few miles outside the town, but we decided to stay put as our eldest son had only just changed school and had settled nicely. We had no wish to disrupt the children's education.

But, I wonder, is the received wisdom that it is better to raise children in the country really correct? In the town we have always lived within walking distance of the children's schools and, from a fairly early age, they (the children, not the schools) would make the walk on their own. Could they have done that in the country? In many places the narrow lanes with no pavements or verges are just too dangerous to allow children to walk or cycle to school (if the school is with walking or cycling distance anyway) so the parents drive them. And what about those out-of-school activities like Scouts? Are they available in small villages or is it necessary to drive several miles each way?

Eventually, every child will end up in a town. At least our town mice were street-wise at much younger ages than many country yokels would have been - and in less danger because of that. There is a lot to be said for a country upbringing. But the converse is also true.

Monday, 26 September 2011

The subject

After leaving school I found a job with one of the country's High Street banks. I'm not entirely sure that my career choice was the best, but hey ho, it's too late to do anything about that now. I stuck at it for 25 years so maybe it wasn't too bad a choice after all. I only left because the powers that were kept moving the goalposts. Well, that's my story; the then board of directors or whomever they left to make the decisions might have a different point of view.

Every now and again I was sent on a course at one or other of the bank's schools. The first course I attended lasted four weeks and was supposed to give the "students" an insight into the world of banking as seen by our particular bank and knowledge of how to operate the accounting machines that were installed in most branches. That was of little use to me as not too long after I returned from that course I was transferred to a different branch. This was in a small village just the other side of the Downs and the machine in that branch was completely different from the one I had been taught to use. When the manager sat me at the machine, I searched everywhere for the on/off switch but eventually had to ask where it was located. It transpired that this machine was not operated by electricity but was a sort of cross between a manual typewriter and an adding machine. But that's all by the bye.

After I had attended several courses - by now quite well into my 25-year career - I applied for a posting as an instructor at the bank's school. Instructors were employed in branches of the bank to carry out normal banking work but were called into the school several times a year for a week or two. Do I need to add that there was extra remuneration? Anyway, my application was successful in that I was selected to attend a training course for potential instructors. This was perhaps the most enjoyable and most interesting of all the courses I attended and was the one that had the least to do with banking per se. It was on this course that I first came across the torture of having to talk for two minutes on the subject of a word or phrase that was only revealed when one was standing in front of the class. It might be "roast beef" or "trees" or "baseball". Of course, the quicker-witted among us (which did not include me) were able to use the word as an introduction to something they had prepared and memorised earlier. So, for example, somebody told to talk for two minutes on baseball might start by describing baseball as a team sport played with a ball and then go on to say that they played no sport themselves but found stamp collecting satisfying. Anyway, that's cheating so a goody-two-shoes like me would never dream of committing such an atrocity.

In some respects, typing a load of drivel on a blog can sometimes be a bit like having to talk for two minutes on whatever - except that in this case it's write 500 words on the subject.

(According to my word processor, there are 546 words up to the end of the previous sentence so I can sit down now.)

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Hold very tight, please.

It's not very often that I catch a bus. No, I don't miss them - well, not all of them - I just don't set out to catch them. The route that runs nearest to our house has a bus once an hour in each direction. That is, once an hour between about 8.00am and 6.00pm. I think they run less frequently on Saturdays and I know they don't run at all on Sundays. On weekdays the timetable seems to be pretty flexible. I know that the bus is due at or close to the hour going up the hill and a few minutes later going down, but it is quite often that I see people waiting at the stop 15 or 20 minutes after the bus should have come.

On those few occasions when I do want to take the bus I start with a brisk 5-minute walk downhill through the twittens to get to a different route where the buses run every 10 minutes. That's the advertised timetable. The reality is that I usually have to wait for at least 15 minutes and I have waited more than 20. But however long I wait, I never ever look to see what the bus is called. Yes, you did read that correctly - what the bus is called. You see, way back in 1999 every bus was given a name and the practice has continued. Those names are nothing like Skylark or Tess but are the names of real people.

"The main criterion for inclusion is that the deceased person made a significant contribution to the area or had a strong connection during their lifetime. As more contemporary names have been suggested another criteria is that the person has been deceased for at least a year," it says on the company's web site. I know that somewhere it is possible to see all the names in use and to find out to which bus each has been allocated along with short biographical details. Frankly, I can't be bothered, although I do sometimes see a name and wonder who or what and why.

As far as I know, the company that runs buses through our village in France hasn't got round to naming them. I say 'as far as I know' because I have never actually seen a bus in the village - except the school bus. I believe such vehicles might be spotted occasionally - there is a bus shelter and a timetable is affixed to the bus stop (which is not at the bus shelter - but let's not go into that!). I have tried to make sense of the timetable but it has proved somewhat difficult. It would seem to me that there are two buses running through the village every day (except some days either during the school term or during the school holiday, I'm unsure which). The problem seems to be that the bus from the village to the nearest town runs after the bus from the nearest town to the village - which makes a shopping trip a tad awkward. But at least there is a bus both ways.

Which is more than the residents of a Wiltshire village can say. They used to have a bus to Andover and a bus back, but the service was heavily subsidised by the county council. The council, because of financial hardship, was forced to cut the subsidy by half. Consequently, the bus company now runs the bus from the village to Andover - but not the return journey! That's what I call sensible.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The last days of summer

It seems scarcely possible that only two weeks ago we were driving through France with the temperature steadily climbing to 38 Celsius - just 100 in old money. While in France for a week we didn't experience those dizzy heights again but it was pleasantly warm with temperatures up to 26 or 27 most days (80-ish). Since coming home, however, we have been lucky to see 20 (68). The short-sleeved shirts are washed and hanging in the cupboard, not to be seen again until next year, and the leaves are falling from the trees. Oddly, several plants in the garden that had finished blooming and been cut back, have burst into flower again, albeit it with only limited numbers of blooms. I have been picking plenty of raspberries in the garden. It is very pleasant to have a bowl of freshly-picked raspberries and cream for desert when it is starting to feel like autumn but that is the benefit of the autumn-fruiting varieties. Than this morning the news on the front of the paper caught my eye. "Dust off the barbecues," read the headline. The forecast is that we shall have the best Indian summer for decades with temperatures rising during the second half of the coming week to the mid 20's. I'll believe it when I feel it.

I am very pleased to see that Blogger has reinstated the picture control allowing enlargement by clicking on them. (Uncle Skip knows what I mean even if you don't! It's the second comment down if you follow that link.)

Friday, 23 September 2011

A curiosity and a rant

But which should come first? Now I come to think of it, I don't think I have ranted for quite some time so I'll get that off my chest first.

I agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to act as minute secretary for Brighton Lions Club for the 2010/11 year and consoled (or comforted) myself with the thought that this would be only for one year. Step back a pace and I will tell you that one of the little things I have been doing for the club for some years now is to produce the annual directory. Imagine, then, my surprise, horror, whatever when the President elect gave me a list of the names of people who would be doing the various jobs this year and I saw that I was down once again as minute secretary. And he had not even had the decency or courtesy to ask me if I would do the job! This despite the fact that a few months ago I produced a short paper for incoming presidents suggesting how they should approach the job. I definitely mentioned the need to ask people to take on jobs and not to assume that folk would continue from year to year. I also suggested that at the end of his/her year, the President should drop a note of thanks to the Lions who had undertaken jobs such as committee chairmen during his year. I wonder?

So I must get down to writing the minutes of Wednesday's meeting. I do like to get minutes written as soon as possible after a meeting and I'm a little surprised that I didn't get down to them yesterday. There was one meeting - not Lions - where I had the minutes written before the meeting was held! I just had to make a few minor alterations afterwards.

OK, we've got that out of the way so now to the curiosity.

I see that Blogger started keeping stats back in May 2009 (although according to them this blog had no visits at all during May and June that year). Since then, the most read post of mine has been the one entitled "St David's Day" which I posted on 1 March last year. That posting has attracted nine times as many views as the next most popular! The reason for this becomes apparent when looking at the search words used to find this blog. "Daffodil image" and variations is the most common phrase. Even so, that doesn't account for more than a fraction of the views so I must assume that others are using the link in the side bar under "Most popular posts".

Just in case anybody might wonder, the next most popular post is about English being the richest language in the world.

And so back to the minutes - and the October issue of Jungle Jottings.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Cherchez la femme

Shortly after I had posted my comment about the Old Bat's car failing the MOT yesterday, the garage rang again. The man was most apologetic but had good news. He had picked up the wrong piece of paper: the car had NOT failed after all. I just hope he didn't have to ring somebody else to tell them that his earlier phone call to say their car had passed was a mistake.

I made a mistake myself the other day but have turned it into an opportunity. When downloading an updated version of my virus protector I inadvertently left ticked the box to download Google Chrome so for the last couple of days I have been trying it out. It's OK, mostly, but doesn't seem to like uploading pictures into Blogger. I'm quite happy to stick with Firefox.

And so to my title - "Cherchez la femme" - and "l'homme" as well! I knew that one set of great-great-grandparents were William Bolton and Phoebe Green and that they married in 1850. I'm not sure how I came to the conclusion that Phoebe was the daughter of William Green and Phoebe Sexton. I might have made an assumption based on information gleaned from the International Genealogical Index (hosted by the Mormon church) or somebody else had made that assumption and I copied it from them. For some reason, I had never bothered to order a copy of the 1850 Bolton/Green marriage certificate. I did so just before we went to France and it was waiting for me on my return. This threw everything back into the melting pot as it showed than Phoebe Green was the daughter of Timothy Green, not William! As Shakespeare had king Henry V say, "The game's afoot".

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

So true

Today's quote - "No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one." (Elbert Hubbard) - rings horribly true. Granted, there were only 1500 or so spam emails and all but two had found their way straight into my junk folder, but quite a few of the 47 non-spam messages required some action from me. I'm still working my way through them. Then there are the accounts to update. I'm a stickler for keeping tabs on what money I have and what I owe (on the plastic) so there was a fair bit of updating to do there. I managed to take something like 200 photographs while we were away. Quite a lot of them can be deleted now I have chance to see them on the monitor rather than the camera's tiny screen and the rest need to be titled.

Just over a month ago the Old Bat's car failed its annual roadworthiness test because the left turn indicator repeater light on the dashboard had packed up. I think I mentioned that this proved to be a job for a main dealer so the car was collected by the nearest one, the light cluster (I assume) behind the dashboard - LEDs rather than bulbs - removed and sent away for repair. When it was returned to the garage, the wretched thing still didn't work so had to be sent away again. It came back and the garage rang to say the car would be returned. Then they rang again to say the car would not be returned as the unit was shorting out. In the end, the car was returned late on the afternoon before we left for France. It was put into our garage and left - but before we went away a fresh test appointment was made. That was for today. The garage have just rung to say the car has failed the test again - this time because the near-side constant velocity joint gaiter has a split. They will try to get this fixed today but are extremely busy and can't promise. Which is handy as the Old Bat has agreed to babysit the grandsons and I have a Lions meeting this evening. If push comes to shove, she will arrive with the grandsons pretty early and could well be staying later than planned as I will have to provide a taxi service.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Auvergne

For some reason quite beyond my understanding, the Auvergne is a part of France that is relatively unknown to we English. It is an area of volcanic mountains, steep-sided valleys filled with woods, high moorlands and villages perched on the edge of or top of mountains. We drove for miles without seeing another car, the only human presence being an occasional farmer on a tractor somewhere across the fields. The villages we passed through seemed deserted: indeed, any shops we saw were usually shut. On the moors the only sound would be the distant ringing of cowbells.

These were being brought in for milking.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Another holiday done and dusted

Yep, we're back home after a week in the Auvergne, the volcanic region in the centre of France. Some years ago we passed through the area on our return home from Provence and determined to go back. It took us until last week! We were very lucky with the weather. On the drive down (which we split over two days, spending a night in Chartres) the temperature rose to 38 (that's Celsius - must we the highish 90s in old terms) but I am pleased to say it didn't get above about 27 for the rest of the week. One day was cloudy and overcast with rain in the evening, but otherwise we had gloriously sunny days in which to admire the spectacular scenery.

I wonder why it is that, no matter how comfortable the bed while one is away, one's own bed always seems to provide a better night's sleep.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The deed is done

Maitre Legrand's office that morning was even more crowded than Monsieur Detroit's had been when we exchanged contracts. I was a good five minutes early, but even so I managed to arrive last, to find an assortment of chairs from baroque to bentwood arranged theatre style in front of Maitre Legrand's imposing desk. I was ushered to my place in the front row of the stalls by the modern French equivalent of Uriah Heep. Seated to my left, on the opposite side of the aisle, were Monsieur and Madame Erlanger, while on my right was a nondescript lady of indeterminate age. She introduced herself, but she was so immediately forgettable that I cannot for the life of me remember her name. It might have been Hermione, Hydrangea or just plain Mary. I gathered that she was English and was there to act as my guide and interpreter. Behind the Erlangers was Monsieur Detroit, while sitting behind me was another man who might have been dragged in off the street for all I know. He was never introduced to me, nor was his function explained. Uriah Heep sat on Maitre Legrand's right to pass him the papers as they were needed, while to Maitre Legrand's left sat his secretary. I didn't manage to fathom out quite why she was needed, but perhaps Maitre Legrand did nothing unless she was present to record the proceedings.

Maitre Legrand started the proceedings by clearing his throat in a particularly French way, though if I was asked to explain the difference between the French way and the English, I would have to admit defeat. It just sounded particularly French at the time. It was his responsibility as a representative of the French state to see that everything was done according to the book. This involved reading aloud what seemed like the entire Old Testament. I gathered that he was actually detailing the past owners of the land, from whom Mrs S and I would derive a good title. There was a little difficulty as he started becoming a little impatient with the interpreter. After every couple of paragraphs or so, he would stop so that she could provide me with a translation. But Maitre Legrand must have been in a hurry to get to a lunch appointment, because he started reading again before the previous translation was complete. This meant that the interpreter failed to hear everything and had to ask for bits to be repeated, which made Maitre Legrand even more impatient.

Eventually, Maitre Legrand finished reading and it was time for me to say "I do", or something similar. After that, Monsieur Erlanger had to sign each one of several hundred sheets, affirming aloud with each signature that the contents of the page were true and correct. I had to do it twice: once for me, and once as attorney for Mrs S. Maitre L handed cheques to Monsieur Detroit (his firm's commission) and Monsieur Erlanger, the latter being quickly grabbed by his wife and stuffed into her handbag. I was handed three large bunches of outsize keys.

I had read all the books and magazine articles, so I knew what happened next: we would all decamp into a bar and celebrate the completion of the deal, during the process of which Monsieur Erlanger and his wife would become my bosom friends and come over to cut the grass for me every week (except that we don't have any grass).

Well, I don't know about all those authors, but it didn't happen like that for me. Maitre Legrand and his secretary hurried off to their lunch engagement. Monsieur Detroit positively raced back to his car. Monsieur Erlanger stomped off frowning, with the walnut scurrying along three paces behind him, clutching her handbag to her chest as if it contained the crown jewels (though I don't suppose France has any crown jewels). Uriah Heep wrung his hands and vanished into the basement. The unknown man who had been sitting behind me lit a cigarette and strolled off down the street with his hands in his pockets, whistling cheerfully but tunelessly. The interpreter, whatever her name was – I wish I could remember it, coughed delicately and vanished in a puff of smoke. Actually, it was exhaust fumes from her car which had been parked right outside the office. So it was that I was left standing on the pavement, alone, and with three enormous bunches of outsize keys hanging from my left hand. My right hand was half outstretched as I was fully expecting to shake hands with everybody before going to the bar. In fact, I had shaken hands with nobody. I couldn't even call Mrs S on mobile as she was incommunicado in the school library. What a let down!

Friday, 16 September 2011

The waiting game

I wrote to Maitre Legrand, the notaire, who has been holding the keys asking him to act for us in the purchase. Well not exactly for us as the French system is quite a bit different from ours. It is customary for both parties to use the same solicitor (notaire) as he is not acting on behalf of either of them but on behalf of the state. His role is to see that the seller has a good title to the property and that it is transferred correctly to the buyer. Because of French inheritance laws, we wanted a special clause written into the documentation to ensure that after the death of either Mrs S or myself, the property passes to the survivor. Without that clause, the half owned by the late lamented passes to his or her children in equal shares, which can give rise to quite an awkward situation. This is very often the reason why one sees country cottages falling down: there might be a dozen or so owners and they just cannot agree what to do, so they do nothing.

Writing that letter gave me quite a headache and practically wore out the dictionary. I received a very prompt reply from Maitre Legrand from which I gathered he understood what I was asking for. But time alone will tell if I got the clause right. Mrs S will give me hell if I got it wrong and I am the first to go! I suppose the answer is to sell the house before either of us pops our clogs.

After that, things went very quiet. Well, they didn’t exactly go quiet as slump into a stupor for a couple of months. That, of course, gave us time to start drawing up lists; a list of furniture we would need, a list of kitchen equipment, a list of crockery, cutlery and so on and so on. We recalled the numerous times we had rented cottages both in France and England and wracked our brains trying to remember the essential items that were missing from each of them. Whilst this was to be a holiday home for us, our family and our friends, we were conscious that when we rented it out to guests, we wanted everything to be just right. It is funny how a week can seem like a lifetime when faced with a small irritation such as the lack of a kettle and we were determined to provide our guests with just about everything they could need and then a bit more. There were three things, however, that we vetoed right from the start: television, telephone and washing machine. Our thinking is that we are happy to get away from televised wallpaper for a week or two, most people nowadays have a mobile phone (even if, like ours, it is for emergency use only), and why would anyone want to do washing when on holiday? Anyway, TV, phone and washing machine were out.

But that still gave Mrs S plenty of excuse for visiting the shops. We had already decided that it would be easier to buy most of the bedroom furniture and kitchen units in England and take the flat packs over to France. Crockery and glassware would be bought in French supermarkets on the grounds that these - glass and china - are things that were most likely to be broken by guests and it made sense for them to be able to purchase replacements as easily as possible. We also decided that it made more sense to buy the larger items – cooker, fridge and beds – over there. But the lists of other items which we needed to have as soon as the house was ready seemed endless. At times it was all we could do to get into our spare bedroom to squeeze in a frying pan or something equally exotic.

All the while this was going on, the dearly beloved was working in a school library to keep the recently-retired man of the house in the manner to which he had become accustomed. This, of course, meant that her visits to France were limited to school holidays. Apart from the fact that ferry prices seemed to treble at the faintest whiff of a school holiday, this was of little real importance – except that when the time did come round for us to complete the purchase, both of us were expected to be present. And, surprise, surprise, completion day fell during term time.

Another letter was sent to Maitre Legrand, this time asking for a suitable form of words to give me power of attorney so that I could act as proxy for Mrs S. I had great difficulty translating the document when it arrived, but I finally deduced that it need to be signed by both Mrs S and me in the presence of a suitably qualified solicitor, probably a commissioner of oaths. The only reasonably honest solicitor I knew was not exactly a commissioner of oaths, but I reckoned that I knew him well enough to get away without paying through the nose for five minutes of his time and a signature. I calculated that his French was probably worse than mine so he would rely on me to tell him what the documents said, meaning we should get away with him not being quite as well-qualified as he was supposed to be.

All went well. Sheridan couldn't understand the forms and was happy to append his signature where I showed him. He then added various rubber stamps to make it look more official, although I was a little hesitant about the ‘First Class Post' stamp which I thought lowered the tone a little. Anyway, the forms were returned to France and we had heard nothing before it was time for me to set off for the ferry. Am I being cynical in suggesting that the fact that I had transferred several thousands of pounds (even more when expressed in euros) into the notaire's bank account a week or so before might have had just a little influence? I could picture them rubbing their hands with glee and saying to themselves, "Another English mug! We've got his cash, so bugger the paperwork!"

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The third degree

That evening we went back to the village to eat at the restaurant. We had barely had time to sit down at the table to which the proprietor showed us before the inquisition started.

"You were in the village yesterday," he said accusingly.

The village had seemed to us to be sound asleep, just like most French villages that one drives through, but obviously somebody had been keeping watch from behind the net curtains. We explained that we were buying old Monsieur Erlanger’s house. Well, it had to be admitted sometime. That did it.

"How old are you?" Yes, that really was the first question and it was quickly followed by "What do you do for a living?" "Where do you live?" "Aperitif?" "How much are you paying?" and so on. I was reeling by the time he turned away to fetch his photograph albums. As soon as the five huge volumes had been placed on the table, Nicolas (it transpired somewhere along the way that this was his name) started to give us his life history. Eventually I managed to interrupt him long enough to ask for the menu.

We enjoyed a very pleasant meal during which we were introduced to Nicolas’s wife Florence, who undertook all the cooking, and their two children, Alexander(nine years old) and Constance(seven). By the time we came to leave we felt that we had become bosom friends. If everyone else in the village turned out to be as friendly we might even be tempted to up-sticks and move from England.

I suppose it is not really surprising that, on the way home, we started suffering from the "Oh dear, what have we done" syndrome. Let’s face it, we had spent no more than twenty minutes or so looking at a house, and the very next morning we signed a contract to buy it without so much as thinking of obtaining a survey. But that is the French way. Their thinking seems to be that if the house has been standing there for a hundred years, it is probably good for a few more yet. But the doubts had disappeared by the time we disembarked at Portsmouth.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


We arranged to go back the following day to meet the vendor and exchange contracts. And to pay the ten per cent deposit, of course. After that matters would grind on through the darkest corners of French bureaucratic practice until, possibly about three months later but maybe four ... or five ... or six ..., we would pay the balance and become the proud owners of a small part of France which had, centuries back, been ruled by English kings.

Not surprisingly, we then drove back to ‘our' village to have another look at the house we were to buy. The chain-link fencing and high gates looked just as unwelcoming in the overcast of the afternoon as they had in the bright morning sun, but at least the house hadn't fallen down since we had last seen it. There was nothing much of interest in the main street, but the village square was attractive with its lawn, flower beds, war memorial and flower-decked well. The pollarded horse chestnut trees had obviously received recent attention. The marie or town hall was in an imposing building with a tower almost the same height as the church spire but was apparently open only two mornings a week. There was a restaurant with a bar, a public telephone and a post box – and an enormous church that looked as though it might fall in half at any time. Walking down the lane beside the restaurant, we discovered the village football pitch, complete with a public convenience, which we didn't bother to investigate thinking it might be just a hole in the ground.

And that seemed to be about the extent of the village, although we were to learn later that there was a school and a cemetery. And a bus twice a week.

Monsieur Detroit's office was a little crowded the next morning. Apart from Monsieur D, there were the elderly vendor and his equally elderly, walnut-look-alike wife, Mrs S and myself, and a very attractive young lady who was introduced to us as Karen, an English rose who had married a Frenchman and had been transplanted into foreign soil. She was to act as the interpreter, which gave Mrs S great relief as she had suffered nightmares at the thought of sitting there for a couple of hours with the only language spoken being French, and French legal terms at that. Karen's presence certainly added something to the proceedings, although it would almost certainly add something to the agent's costs which we, the buyers, were to pay, as is customary in France. Pushing this unchivalrous thought to one side, I tried to concentrate on what was happening.

I managed to keep up for about half an hour or so, but by then I was becoming somewhat mind-numb. There were probably not quite seventy-three A4 pages, each of which had to be read in its original French, translated into English, and then initialled by Monsieur Erlanger (the vendor) and both Mrs S and me, but by the end the total cannot have been far short of that. Monsieur Erlanger was delighted to see me hand a cheque to Monsieur Detroit, but was considerably less happy when told he had to pay for three surveys to be conducted to ensure that the house was free of termites, had no lead paint and was asbestos-free. He and the walnut-look-alike went of muttering after grudgingly shaking hands. Mrs S and I shook hands with Karen and Monsieur D and took ourselves off for a celebratory drink which had to double as a reviving draught. Coincidentally, a few minutes later Karen walked in. It transpired that she and Jacques, her husband, owned the bar.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Mrs S decides

The house was certainly in need of some love and attention, not to mention a good airing to clear the musty, uninhabited smell that greeted us in the hallway, along with a ladder and an estate agent's ‘for sale' board. We peered into the corners of each room, including the enormous upstairs room and, with the aid of a cigarette lighter and half a box of matches, the closely-boarded loft. Everything seemed to tally with the estate agent's particulars that we had been given: well, nearly everything. The particulars stated that the house faced south, but I was absolutely certain that it faced east. But no matter as there was even a separate shower room instead of the usual communal facility on the landing. Not that this house had a landing anyway.

Returning to the courtyard, we checked the roof. Yes, it appeared to be new. Dragging the ladder out from the hallway, I climbed into the granary loft, followed by the elegantly-suited Monsieur D, who seemed to be joining in gleefully. He had probably sensed that he was in with a chance!

"This could easily be converted into another bedroom," he exclaimed. "So could the loft in the main building. Then you would have four bedrooms."

That really was not what I wanted to hear, especially as I recognised the look that was coming across Mrs S's face. I had a sneaking suspicion that her mind was made up and there was already a sight too much do-it-yourself involved without the added bonus of employing a horde of Gauloise-smoking builders who would down-tools for a lunch break every day at noon – and probably not return until two days hence.

"No, no," said Mrs S. "We don't want more than two bedrooms."

I breathed again.

It was just a little later that, for the first time in my life, I heard a Frenchman crack a joke which, while not rib-snortingly funny, was at least mildly amusing. The particulars clearly stated that the house had a garage. But where was it, my wife asked. The agent pointed to a large shed which had just one ordinary-sized door in the side wall.

"You would never get a car in there!" exclaimed Mrs S.

With a slightly wry smile, Monsieur D quickly responded, "A very small car, per'aps?"

The keys were duly returned to the notaire and after saying goodbye to Monsieur D, the better half and I turned into a nearby bar for some lunch. I already thought I knew what was coming, but this was confirmed for me when Mrs S offered to pay for the sandwiches and wine. So it was that, after allowing a decent interval for Monsieur D to imbibe his own lunch, we returned to his office to announce that we were prepared to offer the asking price which, we had been told, had already been reduced as the house had been on the market for some time.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Monsieur Detroit turns on the charm again

Mrs S seemed quite full of anticipation as we drove to meet Monsieur Detroit. I could not decide whether this was some form of extra-sensory perception concerning the house we were to view or whether it was the thought of Monsieur D's Gallic charm and youthful good looks being brought to bear. We were a few minutes early arriving at the agency, and as we approached I was surprised to see the door open apparently of its own volition. But it was not an electronic sensor that had started the mechanical action, merely a French estate agent who thought he might just be onto a good thing.

By now it must have penetrated into Monsieur D's mind that although we were serious buyers, we didn't have serious cash. But perhaps the housing market was going through a slow patch and any sale would be welcome: even our meagre budget would produce some commission. No matter, the charm was switched on to maximum.

We drove off to a village about twenty minutes away, collecting the keys from a notaire's office situated in a small town on the way. As we pulled up, I noticed the high, chain-link fencing on top of the walls, and a pair of gates that looked capable of containing a herd of rampaging bulls. Not a very auspicious start. It didn't help, either, that Monsieur D was unable to find a key to the gates on the large bunch that he had acquired from the notaire. After he had tried each one at least three times, he admitted defeat. We stood around outside while our Gallic guide returned to the notaire for guidance, or another key, but it was really not long at all before we were forcing back the gates against a much-overgrown rose bush and trampling across the courtyard through a forest of weeds and dead leaves to a pair of shutters held closed by a strategically-placed breeze-block.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Third time lucky?

In order to view the third possibility we had to drive back almost to our starting point. During the journey, Monsieur Cholon sat in silence, except to give directions, and appeared to have given up all hope of ever selling another house. When we saw the object of our drive, we were immensely grateful it was not situated even further away than the others. That would only have meant more time (and petrol) wasted. A narrow footpath separated the front of the house from an extremely busy road along which enormous trucks hurtled almost continuously at breakneck speeds. The walls were obviously in need of some attention before the passing traffic finally shook them to pieces. It might have been Joshua's trumpets that brought down the walls of Jericho, but it would be Renault's and Volvo's horns that would do the same for this house.

The gloomy exterior was matched by the looks on the faces of the elderly couple who greeted us at the door of their house, which was adjoining. We understood that they were selling the house because the old lady's mother was about to die, or maybe it was because she had already died. It was difficult to tell which. Either way, the grand old dame must have been knocking on a bit to judge by her daughter, who looked as though she was old enough to have been knitting by the guillotine.

As we squeezed our way between the heavy, ornate furniture with which the house was over-furnished, we wrinkled our noses. The smell seemed to get worse as we approached the bedroom. Surely they had not left the old lady's body in the bed? Luckily they hadn't, and we never did work out what was causing the smell. We went through a fair amount of the ‘After you', ‘No, after you' routine as we peered somewhat reluctantly into each room and at the plumbing arrangements which were, as usual, on the landing. I had the feeling all the while that the old couple were expecting us not only to part with a small fortune for the house but to pay extra for the contents, including about five years' back numbers of the local newspaper. It was with no small feeling of relief that we went to view the garden.

When we Brits talk of ‘going out into the garden' we tend to think of going out of the back door and stepping into an area of lawns and flower beds with perhaps a small vegetable plot at the far end where we grow a few runner beans and tomatoes. Not so the French – or at least, not the average French villager. His garden might be a hundred yards away from his house and is really more like what we would call an allotment; an area of ground in which he grows his vegetables and which is surrounded by the gardens of his neighbours. It is all very convivial, but certainly doesn't provide the privacy for which one might wish when acquiring an all-over tan.

This garden was no exception. Some fifteen or so feet wide, it stretched down the hill as far as the eye could see. Well, it seemed like that to me, but maybe it did end just beyond the raspberry canes and the gooseberry bushes. It brought back memories of the time I had an allotment and my back started to creak just at the thought of having to subdue this riot of nature every time we managed to visit the house. Anyway, we didn't like the house and the thought of having that old couple keeping an eye on what we were doing to her mother's house didn't bear thinking about.

Poor old Monsieur Cholon took it very well really and as we shook hands outside his office he seemed almost, well, not exactly happy, but perhaps relieved that he wouldn't have to go through all the paperwork involved in selling a house.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

We meet Monsieur Cholon

The method we adopted for our second trip was very simple. We started at one end of the area we had chosen as most suitable and visited every town and large village, calling in at estate agents and notaires to explain our requirements. Responses ranged from a Gallic shrug with a down-turned mouth to barely controlled, sometimes almost manic, laughter. However, one notaire and two agents, one of them the long-suffering Monsieur Detroit from our previous visit, found enough possibilities on their books to give us a selection of properties to consider.

Where possible we took what details we could so we could try to find the properties before our appointments to view, but one agent immediately and eagerly locked the door of his office to drive us around the three houses on his books that looked vaguely as though they might suit us.

Monsieur Cholon was a shortish, stocky man in his late 50s. His greying hair in its tight curls was strangely at odds with his large, droopy moustache and his eyes which had a mournful look about them, almost as if he was convinced that people only ever brought him the unsaleable houses and even if by chance one of them did turn out to be of interest to somebody, they would buy it through a different agent or notaire. In short, his look seemed to imply that, offered two choices, one good and one bad, his luck was that he would always select the bad. This was confirmed when we had found his car – which wasn't where he thought it should be – only to discover that the battery was flat. He turned his doleful eyes towards me and suggested that perhaps Monsieur would care to drive as his car was certain to prove more reliable than that of a poor estate agent. I fully concurred with his thoughts about cars and readily agreed to drive us round to the three houses.

The first of these turned out to be the rear lodge of a château with several acres of land deep in the heart of the country. Despite all the empty land around, the house was right next to the sties of the neighbouring pig farm. We moved on, very pleased to be leaving the flies behind us. Monsieur Cholon's eyes had turned more mournful by now.

A good many miles later (it was fortunate that I had filled the tank earlier) we arrived in a most attractive village. In the square was a pleasant house bearing a 'for sale' sign. Mrs S and I set off across the square, but the agent turned his back. With a flourish, he pointed out a doorway almost hidden behind its neighbouring house. This proved to be the entrance to another Blue Peter-type construction where the kitchen and shower room were in a three feet wide alley roofed with corrugated plastic leading from the front door to the house proper. If only French estate agents would provide more detailed information before taking clients to view hopelessly unsuitable properties!

Friday, 9 September 2011

The story continues

Some time ago I started narrating the story of Les Lavandes, our holiday home in the Loire valley. You can (if you are feeling sufficiently masochistic) read the first few instalments starting here. Or maybe you would prefer me to recap briefly.

On retirement, I had commuted my pension and my wife and I decided to buy a small house in France. We had friends living in the western Loire valley and, while staying with them, had spent time looking round without success. The story continues from here.

After our first tentative foray into the French property market it was to be some three months before we could return to the area. By that time our announcement that we were looking for a property in the Loire had produced some unexpected results. Wendy and Gary had moved 100 miles away and their local bar had gone out of business. I hadn't realised that they relied so much on Gary's custom, nor that Wendy and Gary had such a dread of actually living fairly close to a house owned by Mrs S and me. In fact, Wendy did assure us when we telephoned that they had for some time been looking for a smaller property following a serious operation she had undergone at the beginning of the year, so maybe it was all just a series of coincidences.

What it meant for us was that we no longer had a home from home in the area, a friendly voice to advise – in a language we could understand – on local customs over a glass or two (or three or four) in the evenings. On our next trip we would need to find a hotel each day.

This in itself proved to be quite an adventure. Not finding the hotels, but staying in them. In one very elegant looking auberge we discovered that our bathroom was in the fitted wardrobe. I have never seen a wash basin and shower unit of such Lilliputian proportions outside a doll's house. And for those looking for a modicum of privacy when availing themselves of the sanitary facilities (using the loo, in plain English) it would prove to be quite a trick to shut the wardrobe door behind them. Being a contortionist would help. Another thing that would have helped matters slightly was a light, but when did you last see a light in a wardrobe?

At another hotel I was threatened with arrest when I refused to pay the full bill as there had been no hot water available. Mrs S had not appreciated her cold shower and had given me a severe headache which I was determined to pass on to somebody else. In the end we agreed to settle for free breakfasts. Then we were told that the hotel's credit card machine was out of order, they had no manual back-up machine, and they wanted cash. Luckily I had taken the precaution of opening an account with a French bank and had sufficient funds to issue a cheque which was accepted with surly reluctance.

There is something about those hotel chains in France which has puzzled me for years. It doesn't matter whether I stay at a Campanile, Ibis, Marmotte, Formule 1 or any other of the cheaper chains. There is only ever one bath towel in the room. Two hand towels, but never, never more than one single, solitary bath towel. If I am on my own this is no problem, but if Mrs S is with me – and it is never anybody more exciting – I have to drag all the way back to reception (we have always been allocated the most distant room) and coax the girl away from the latest episode of an appalling soap opera on her television to attend to me, and ask for – nay, demand – an extra towel. Having repeated the sentence so often, this is probably the only time when I am completely fluent in French. Anyway, I usually return with a promise that another towel will be delivered to the room tout de suite. I then wait half an hour before starting all over again. By this time there is always a different girl on reception and a different soap opera on television. What causes this reluctance to provide a bath towel for each guest? Do the French not bath as frequently as us? Are they content to dry themselves with wet towels? Or is it just an attempt to save on the laundry bills? I shall probably still be pondering the question when I arrive at the Pearly Gates.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The alarm clock is set

The car is packed, just the TV recorder to set for what the Old Bat wants. Off first thing tomorrow to the Auvergne, a part of France we don't know.

Interim report

The other day I promised to investigate pub signs because I had the feeling that there are few humorous or artistic signs these days. Naturally, the very first one I saw, the pub nearest to home, proves me wrong. This is really quite a clever sign but does need some explanation.

The pub, The Long Man, stands at the end of a road called Wilmington Way. Wilmington is a village in Sussex lying at the foot of the South Downs. In the steep slope of the Downs above the village the figure of a tall man was carved in the chalk centuries ago. The Long Man of Wilmington is, in fact, the tallest chalk figure in Europe.

As you can see, the little man in the pub sign is a representation of the Long Man of Wilmington.

But the lion? A simple explanation: the pub is one belonging to the Golden Lion Group of pubs.

I shall keep looking.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Don't quote me!

It is nearly 34 years since Michael Fish made what has become the biggest gaffe in weather forecasting. He was a television weatherman and in October 1987 he told viewers that he had received a call from a lady worried that a hurricane was coming our way. He assured everyone that, although it would be windy, there was no chance of a hurricane. of course, winds did reach hurricane force and there was severe damage across much of southern England. And what does that have to do with me? Well, yesterday I wrote about the pleasure of walking over the Downs in high winds. In particular, I wrote, "It should be just as good this afternoon, with the added tang of a little damp in the air."

Yes, well. The winds increased to severe gale, force 9, and the "tang of a little damp" was heavy rain being driven horizontally. At times it was all I could do to stay upright, let alone walk into the wind. Fern, my dog, being lower and having four feet was quite happy. I think she prefers a wet and windy day to a dry, sunny one. Later, as the Old Bat and I set off for the supermarket, I was locking the back door when the OB was, quite literally, blown over as she walked to the car. Luckily, apart from to her dignity, there was no damage beyond a grazed elbow and laddered tights.

Today is calm and almost sunny but the rain is forecast to return tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Yes, invigorating - that's the word. As I walked across the fields with the dog yesterday afternoon there was quite a strong wind blowing from the south-west. I could see squalls of rain being blown up-Channel, all of which, fortunately, passed to the south of me. It was only after I was back indoors that one of the squalls hit the fields I had been walking.

There's something about walking on high ground in a strong wind that I find enjoyable. The seafront is another place where a walk in a wind is great, but the top of the Downs is the place for me. It should be just as good this afternoon, with the added tang of a little damp in the air.

I know our winds and rain are as nothing compared with what people in eastern America have had to put up with but even so, yesterday the wind was forecast to rise sufficiently for ferries from the south coast to France were cancelled in advance. It's actually quite surprising that the weather is so poor this week. The children are back at school now and that's usually when the weather improves. I just hope it will be better than this while we are in France next week.

Monday, 5 September 2011

"At Home"

A couple of weeks ago the Old Bat received a letter. It was actually addressed in the old-fashioned, formal manner to "Mrs B S..." - my initial rather than hers. Inside was a printed card which read simply,

Mrs Robin W...
At Home

followed by a handwritten date and time. There was an address for a reply printed in the bottom left-hand corner.

We happen to know Mr & Mrs W - he is a Brighton Lion - and count them as friends but somehow we didn't connect Mrs R W being "at home" with Robin's recent birthday, his 80th. Nor did we feel we could ask other Lions if they would be going, just in case they had not been invited and would feel slighted. We bought Mrs R a box of chocolates and duly attended Truleigh Manor a few minutes after the appointed time - to find two other Lions parking their cars in the yard.

We made our way through the back garden and into the kitchen through what is now the usual entrance (I don't think the real front door has been used for years) and were immediately offered drinks and ushered into the lounge. What a pleasant afternoon we had: plenty of booze for the non-drivers and a good supply of food (two pigs were roasted on a spit) and a trad jazz band to provide entertainment. Fortunately, the heavy rain of the morning cleared up so we were able to get to the tent erected in the garden to eat our meal.

There were four other Brighton Lions invited among the crowd of family, friends and neighbours so we felt quite honoured to have been included. I was also flattered when asked to say a few words.

Although the farm is mentioned in the Domesday Book and Truleigh Manor obviously dates back a few years, it isn't that old.

Entertainment provided by a small group playing traditional jazz.

Cutting the cake, which was in the form and colours of Robin's old school tie.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Signs of the times

I got to thinking the other day. Yes, I know - that's always a dangerous thing to do, especially at my age. It tends to mean that while I am thinking I am paying no attention to my surroundings. I might walk into a tree or lamppost, or trip over the kerb or even walk in front of a bus. Fortunately, none of that happened to me the other day. I merely wandered off down some metaphorical side track and then down another equally metaphorical turning.

My thoughts had started by being musings on how modern pub signs are less amusing and/or artistic than they were in the days of my youth. Then I decided that this was due in part to the fact that pub names are less inspiring than they were. (In fact, on reflection I have decided that neither is true.) This led me on to thinking about business signs in general: a red and white striped pole for a barber, a bush for an ale house. And, more specifically, "at the sign of the spread eagle" for Barclays Bank or "at the sign of the swan" in such-and-such a town for an inn. I was musing about how much we miss these days by not having these signs when it dawned on me: we do have them, but they are in a different form. The trade marks and, more like the old signs, corporate logos.

But to get back to my original thoughts - pub signs. Whitbreads were especially good - as in the example above - but others were less imaginative and some just had a hanging sign with the name of the pub painted on it; no picture at all. Boring.

So I have decided to investigate. I will take a closer look at any pub sign I come across. Indeed, I might even photograph them and report back here at a later date. Of course, I could always investigate more thoroughly...

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The saga continues

So when we returned from the MS centre yesterday, there was a message on the answering machine from the garage. The Old Bat's car would be returned during the afternoon and if no-one was at home the keys would be put through the letterbox as there would be nothing to pay. That was a bit different from the £250 we had originally been quoted. Anyway, the OB returned the call - goodness knows why; I'm not sure even she knows - and expressed surprise that there was nothing to pay. She was told the final bits were being put back even as they spoke and that the work was being done under warranty. Under warranty? The car is eight years old! Wisely, the OB decided keep her mouth shut.

Later, the phone rang. It was the garage. Their driver had been returning the car when the battery warning light came on indicating no charge. The electrics have now been sent away again as there is a short in the wiring. The will be no extra charge over and above what was first quoted.

So when the car will be returned is anyone's guess. As is how much, if anything, it will cost.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Still keeping busy

It was, I think, just over two weeks ago that the Old Bat's car failed it's annual roadworthiness test because the left turn indicator repeater light on the dashboard wasn't working.  It was ten days ago that the main dealer sent a man to collect the car so they could remove the dashboard and send the light cluster away somewhere.  (I should add that the light concerned is not an ordinary bulb but an LED.  I assume the rest of the warning lights are as well.)  The garage rang last Friday to say that the cluster had been returned but the indicator repeater was still not working so it all had to go away again.  We have heard nothing more.  Of course, there was a bank holiday last weekend (No, Skip! Don't start that again!) so it's perhaps not to be wondered at but it does mean that I am on chauffeur duty once again this morning.  And not just chauffeur duty.  I will also be expected to traipse round the supermarket.

And tomorrow I have to be at Lions Dene almost before I've walked the dog.  Being the first Saturday of the month, the Lions will be holding their book fair and I am on the rota as one of the setter-uppers.

My regular reader will be aware that I have been researching my family history.  Having ended up with more names than the local telephone directory, I decided I had probably gone far enough, seventh cousins three times removed not being overly interesting.  The trouble was that I got engrossed in the hunt rather than in the object of the hunt.  Anyway, I did make a start on putting the history together as a narrative rather than the more usual family tree.  With all the branches involved, a standard family tree wouldn't work anyway.  That start was made months ago and it's all I can do to average writing a paragraph a day.  At this rate they'll need to put all the papers in my coffin so I can finish the job.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Who is August Bank?

And why does he (or she) have a holiday named after him (her)? That was a question posed by my Californian friend with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. So [sigh] here comes the history lesson.

It all began way, way before my time. Even before Skip's time. But not quite before we here in the UK had managed to shake off those pesky colonials. Back in the early 19th century - yes, nearly 200 years ago - the Bank of England had been getting out of hand and closing its doors on too many occasions. So Parliament decided to Act. And that's just what they did: the passed an Act of Parliament limited to just four the days in the year on which the Bank of England could close (in addition to Sundays, of course). That was in 1834. I have as yet not managed to find out just which days were those four but i suspect they were Easter Monday, Whit Monday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. These four days, perhaps not surprisingly, became known as bank holidays as that was when the Bank was on holiday. Simples!

As time went by, other businesses started copying the B of E and closing their doors on bank holidays.

That was the situation until 1871 when a new act of Parliament was passed, the Bank Holiday Act 1871.

Now here I must confess to being somewhat bemused as well as confused. You see, what I have posted above is a summary of what appears in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable under the heading "bank holiday". But according to Wikipedia, it was the 1871 Act which restricted bank holidays to just four in England and Wales and five in Scotland. Those four days were Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August (August bank holiday) and Boxing Day. Apparently Good Friday and Christmas Day were already recognised as holidays under common law so they are not bank holidays at all but are really public holidays.

Anyway, in 1971 two more holidays were introduced in the Banking and Financial Dealings Act: New Year's Day and May Day (this is nowadays celebrated on the first Monday in May). The Whit Monday holiday was cancelled and replaced with the Late Spring Bank Holiday on the last Monday in May. The August Bank Holiday had already (in 1965) to the end of the month.

(Surprisingly perhaps, one of the best sites for information about English traditions and customs is Woodlands Junior School.)