Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Haggis Day

OK, so I spoke too soon. Or, rather, I wrote too soon. I mentioned the other day that I had not experienced outages in my Internet (Why does that word start with a capital letter?) connection. You've guessed it. To add insult to injury, I have also been having trouble accessing my email contacts and I have an email to send to the members of Brighton Lions Club!

I share a peeve with Buck who was complaining about call centres being located on the Indian sub-continent. I, too, frequently have trouble understanding what I am told because of the accent. Indeed, a friend of mine asked for so many repeats that she was told by the operator that if she was hard of hearing he could increase the volume. Many British companies - well, some - are bringing their call centres back to the UK. I just hope they don't staff them with Glaswegians or Geordies. We'll be no better off if they do! I did hear somewhere that one can ask to be transferred back to an English office is a call to a help line ends up in India but I can't speak from experience.

About this time of the year I like to review the photographs I have taken during the year and select my favourite, a task which is much easier some years than others. This looks like being a difficult year. I have a short list of five (so far) but I still have more to look through.

Now that my American friends have Thanksgiving done and dusted for this year and we in the season of Advent, I feel safe in mentioning the next major holiday, Christmas. I have already made a start on the shopping having bought presents for two of the three grandchildren and one of the three children.

I asked my granddaughter (4 1/2) what she wanted for Christmas, expecting a torrent. I was astonished to hear her reply: "Nothing".

Reverting to the matter of peeves, I'm sure there are many who find it irritating to phone a company and be given a long, automated list of options. What really gets my goat is the fact that when I have pressed the button for my chosen option, the computerised mandroid starts telling me the next list before I have got the phone back to my ear! Eventually, if one is very lucky, one reaches an option which promises to find the only human in the company offices. That human, however, is trying to deal with a hundred or so calls and I, meantime, am being kept in a queue listening to Vivaldi and another irritating computer assuring me at regular intervals that my call is important but that all their agents are busy dealing with other customers. I sometimes wonder if the intention is to drive callers away. I quite often end up replacing the phone but there are days when I feel so liverish that I hang on until somebody is forced to listen to my complaint. It doesn't often do me any good. Indeed, it often just increases my frustration.

We should be eating haggis today. It's St Andrew's Day.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Musings on the BLT

One of the other blogs I frequent is Exile in Portales where, the other day, Buck rhapsodised on the BLT, even going so far as to make that for his dinner. Reading that post - or, rather, looking at the pictures as there was very little text to be read - prompted a number of thoughts. I'm not entirely sure now just which was the first thought to enter what passes for my cerebral grey matter, but that, I suspect, is of little interest to my reader. Heck, it's of no interest to me either! So, random thoughts on the BLT - and possibly on sandwiches in general.

[No, I will not be commenting on the Earl of Sandwich (A pleasant little town in Kent, famous for its golf course - or maybe its golf links. I've never known the difference.) slapping a lump of meat between two slices of bread as he was in a hurry and had no time to sit down to a three-course meal.]

I first stumbled upon the BLT as the result of a train strike. At the time, I was living in Brighton and commuting daily to an office in London, heavily reliant on whatever the successor to British Rail was called. My job was general manager of a small newspaper company, which was run more or less as a partnership by the editor and me although we were answerable to a board of non-executive directors. Coincidentally, the editor lived in Hove, known to many as the posh part of Brighton although that's a downright calumny. The employees of the various rail transport companies decided on strike action just at a time when it was important for both the editor and me to be in the office. We decided to stay the night in London. The following lunch time we both went out to a pub and my colleague ordered a BLT. Now the editor was a real stick-in-the-mud when it came to food, although I don't think this was anything to do with him being a Lancastrian, and to hear him order something by what appeared to be a code name, something of which I had never heard, came as quite a shock. (As an aside, I had introduced him to spaghetti the previous evening, which just shows how conservative were his eating habits.)

But a BLT for dinner? That is another of those myriad little differences between us and the US. There may be fewer families sitting at the table to eat together these days, but very, very few English people would consider any sandwich sufficient for the main meal of the day. A sandwich is a lunch-time snack or would be served in a completely different guise for afternoon tea. Little triangles with the crusts cut orf, cucumber or egg and cress as the filling.

Talking of dinner, the Old Bat had, as I might have mentioned elsewhere, taken to her bed last Sunday. Our daughter was with us overnight and expected to be fed in the middle of the day before travelling back to her home in the Midlands. I managed to rustle up roast gammon, roast potatoes, French beans and broccoli followed by fresh pineapple. I'm not sure who was the more surprised - my daughter or me!

I've drifted and need to get back to the good old BLT. Bacon, yep, great. Preferably cooked crispy and preferably back bacon rather than streaky. Lettuce, mmm, OK. I'm not a great fan of salads, but will eat lettuce reasonably happily. But I much prefer my tomatoes cooked. I will eat them raw - if I have to or if they are served that way in a goat's cheese salad among other dishes - but I much prefer them grilled or even fried. And to eat a tomato with a cheese sandwich! Horrible!

One of the best sandwich fillings I have ever come across is bacon and avocado. Now that in itself is surprising as I don't like avocado, but while I was working for the newspaper company I ended up on the council of the Newspaper Society and sandwiches were served after one council meeting for a reason I don't recall. Among the fillings was this bacon and avocado. It wasn't only me who thought it great. Those sandwiches disappeared quicker than a snowflake in the Sahara.

And to think all that drivel was inspired by a picture of a BLT.

Monday, 28 November 2011

In vino etc

I like a glass of wine with a meal (or, quite often, without a meal) both at home and when I dine in a restaurant. When I eat in a restaurant, I don't look at the wine list and order the second most expensive wine. I am reliably informed that people who know nothing about wine will often do that. They think that you get what you pay for and, therefore, the more expensive the wine, the better it is. So why, in that case, don't they just order the most expensive? But that would be showing off and is something that only the nouveau riche would do in order to impress their friends and acquaintances. So the second most expensive it is as they would hate to be seen as nouveau riche.

On the other hand, I don't plump for the second cheapest either. That, I am told, would show to the sommelier that I'm a cheapskate, but a cheapskate who doesn't want to be seen as one as I would be if I ordered the cheapest wine.

In fact, in a restaurant I very often do order the cheapest wine - the house wine. I reckon that the restaurateur has selected this wine as providing good value for money. He will not have selected a wine that will reflect badly on his taste.

It's much the same when I buy wine in a supermarket. I did at one time use a wine merchant but now buy nearly all my wine at French supermarkets. One thing I have found is that the supermarket wine buyers generally know what they are doing and, as a result, the supermarkets' own label wines are very often as good as if not better than other labels at twice the price.

Some years ago our local Asda held wine-tasting evenings. The price was very modest - a couple of pounds or so - because quite obviously the company hoped to increase the sale of wine, especially their own label wine! We met in the cafeteria where the visiting "expert" started by enthusing about wine in general before getting down to the serious stuff and opening a few bottles. That was when it started, all that talk about being able to smell gooseberries or the garrigue, taste lemon grass or wild cherry. Frankly, those tasting notes on the back of the bottles are just so much... Well, I'm not sure exactly what they are so much of, but they always seem to me to be a little precious or snobby. It might have something to do with my palate being insufficiently fine-tuned to be able to taste red berries or spices. But I don't care. I either like the wine or I don't. What some expert thinks about it is of little interest to me. After all, it's me who will be drinking it.

I suppose all this is just a long way of saying one man's meat is another man's poison, but it was nice to think about wine for a while.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

This is drifty

A child hit by a car travelling at 30mph stands an 80% chance of living. A child hit by a car travelling at 40mph stands an 80% chance of dying.

I sometimes think the world is passing me by. Just lately there have been references to the Russell Group of universities. Now, I have - until these recent references - never heard of such a group. Who? What? When? Having resorted to Mr W Ikipedia I find that this group comprises 20 of the UK's leading universities, but when and why it was established is still a mystery to me.

I'm probably tempting providence by mentioning the improvement I have noticed in my Internet access over the last few days. It was back in July that my ISP undertook "improvements" to its service and since then I have experienced intermittent loss of access, sometimes for just a minute or so, sometimes for several minutes. For a few days now there has been no interruption. I'm not holding my breath.

I said yesterday that I was supposed to have been on bingo duty for the Lions during the week. This is a service activity for Brighton Lions. Four times a month we send Lions into local retirement complexes to run an evening's bingo session. I say an evening but the bingo generally lasts only a little over an hour. We charge the participants 50p for a book of five tickets. For those five games we pay the magnificent sum of £3 for a line and £6 for a full house. Then we give another ticket to each player and for this game we use all the money the players have paid, one third for the line and two thirds for the house. We get up to about 20 players each evening and they very often stay behind for a chat - and maybe a glass of wine - afterwards to make a social evening of it.

As well as eating foods such as stews, casseroles and puddings, now it's getting colder we have switched to more solid, chewy wines. No longer the lighter reds such as Saumur Champigny or Cotes du Ventoux, now it's Fitou, Cahors, Cotes du Rhone.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

That was the week that was

There's a blast from the past! My title is the title of a satirical television show from many years ago - the early 60s, in fact - on which the young David Frost made his name. I didn't start out intending to write about ancient history and I could just as easily have misquoted Ronnie Barker's well-known line, "It's been a funny sort of day", as he closed up at the end of each episode of Open All Hours, a British sit-com.

Yes, it's been a funny sort of week.

(I'm posting this on the laptop while I back up my photographs from the desktop PC to a stand-alone hard drive. It says there are another eight and half hours to go!)

Anyway, back to the funny sort of week. The Old Bat felt unwell on Tuesday and stayed in bed, just coming downstairs for a couple of hours in the evening. Same again Wednesday, but on Thursday she forced herself out of bed in the morning although still not really feeling up to it. This is a strange sort of illness and, as she has had similar attacks at least twice already this year, I have persuaded her to see a doctor. She has an appointment next Wednesday, the first day her doctor of choice will be in the surgery. It's difficult to put a finger on just what is wrong: general listlessness and feeling unwell, lack of appetite etc. At the same time, I have noticed a sudden, sharp deterioration in her condition re walking etc. I was not aware that CBD could go in leaps and bounds with periods of stability in between in the same way that MS does, but that seems to be the case.

(Less than three hours left to back up the photos now.)

I'm no great shakes in the kitchen although if really pushed and up against it, I can manage to fry a couple of rashers. Anyway, I decided on Tuesday to treat myself to fish and chips. I particularly like fish and chips (but leave out the mushy peas, thank you very much) and have not had the dish for many months, maybe even years! We have a chippy quite close to us which was for many years owned by a Chinese lady. Nobody knew her real name and she was called Wendy by all her customers. She sold the best fish and chips in town - then one day she wasn't there. The new proprietors of the chippy didn't have Wendy's touch and the standard fell. When I went into the shop on Tuesday evening I saw that it had changed hands once again. The food seemed OK although still nowhere near as good as Wendy's, but it played havoc with my digestive system on Wednesday and I just had to take a chance to walk the dog. I was supposed to be calling bingo for the old folks in the evening but I didn't dare and had to arrange a stand-in. Wednesday's dinner was two slices of toast!

But come Thursday I was fine. I drove the OB to a village the other side of the Downs because we like the meat at the butcher's shop there and because she wanted to order the Christmas turkey. In the afternoon my younger son brought our granddaughter round after school. She was in splendid form. I don't really remember much of our own children at that age (she is 4 and a half) and it is wonderful to see her develop. Every grandparent thinks his/her grandchildren are the best in the world, naturally, but I am amazed at the extent of her vocabulary. Her reading is also very good and her mental arithmetic astonished me. I am so lucky to have all three of my grandchildren living so close and to be able to see them as often as I do.

Yesterday also had its interesting moments. The OB didn't feel like driving to Southwick for her regular seesion at the MS Centre so I took her. After I had done the shopping I drove to Old Shoreham. First stop was at the old church, St Nicolas, which is a Grade 1 listed building dating, in parts, from the 10th century. There are some interesting Norman arches in the tower and I was surprised by the number of war graves in the graveyard, both first and second wars, including one rarity, the war grave of a woman.

Then on to Mill Hill, out on the Downs, for a chance to photograph Lancing College across the River Adur. I have known for many years that there is a road out across Mill Hill to Truleigh Hill but I have never ever been there. The photos will eventually end up on the Stanmer photo blog.

Friday, 25 November 2011


An American professor was recently reported as lambasting the way history is taught in Britain. One's first reaction was, "What's it got to do with him anyway?" but he is a professor of English history so maybe he does just about have an interest. He also has a point. I studied history through the O level GCE exam at 15 and on to the A level at 18 (in which I scraped a pass). But nowadays pretty much all I can remember is short list of dates - or partial dates as in many cases I can remember only the year in which the event occurred.
  • 1066 - Battle of Hastings, a date most English people can remember as this was the last time anybody successfully invaded England.
  • 1215 - Magna Carta. It's only in the last 12 months or so that this year has become embedded in my memory.
  • 1605 or thereabouts - Gunpowder Plot. I can't remember the actual year but I know this was in the first 10 years of the 17th century.
  • 1805 - Battle of Trafalgar. To my shame, I remember only that the battle was in October of that year.
  • 1815 - Battle of Waterloo. June?
  • 1837 - accession of Queen Victoria.
  • 1914-18 - First World War.
  • 1939-45 - Second World War.
  • 1941 - Pearl Harbor attacked. November?
  • 1952 - Queen Elizabeth II succeeded King George VI in February.
So much for the history of my country - and the world! I do remember having it drummed into us that the study of history - or, more specifically, the causes behind major historical events - could enable us to avoid similar tragedies. But I have no recollection of what lay behind the Peasant Revolt (I can't even remember when it was but Watt Tyler was one of the leaders) although I do have vague understandings of the causes of the Napoleonic wars and both world wars. I even know what caused the American War of Independence. At least, I think I do. Mind you, the chances of me ever being in a position to see the causes of World War I being repeated and also being in a position where I could say, "Whoa! We're heading straight for World War III: let's just take a minute to rethink" are about as good as my chances of winning £10 million on the Eurolottery. And that's nil as I have never bought a ticket and never will.

I suppose when we think of history we automatically think of those big events - Agincourt, the Civil War (English or American), the Battle of the Somme and the like. One of the most interesting history lessons I can remember - indeed, the only one I can remember - was about Nelson's tactics in the battle of Trafalgar. It was the minutiae, the nitty-gritty, rather than the great sweep of world affairs - and it was this that was, to me, so interesting.

This fact - that the small, everyday matters are more interesting than the so-called important happenings - was brought home to me one year during a holiday on the island of Jersey. The Old Bat and I had visited a place called Hamptonne Farm. Hamptonne Farm was a country life museum (it still is) brought to life with characters from the island's past. A bit like a small Old Sturbridge or Strawberry Hill. When we visited there was a wonderful woman in the kitchen who claimed to be the housekeeper/cook. She really played her part extremely well and had the children in the audienc rapt. The adults were pretty interested as well.

And that really illustrates what I am trying to say. History is not just the story of world leaders; it is also the day-to-day story of you and I. The trouble is that so much of that fascinating story is lost to us. Or if not lost completely, it is devilish hard to find. We pour, entranced, over a ledger detailing household expenditure in the 18th century, but what are the chances of anybody keeping such detailed records now? What games children played, how food was prepared, how a heavy sleeper was woken before alarm clocks were available to farm labourers: all this is what people want to know even if they don't know that they want to know it. That is why it is so important that we attempt to record at least some of our daily lives for our children's children to read. Skip's post earlier this week does the job superbly.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

I almost forgot... wish my American readers a happy Thanksgiving.

Whistle down the wind

Oh deary me indeed. I've lost my whistle. I lost it about a week ago. There I was, walking through the woods in the park when I wanted to call the dog who had wandered off through the trees to investigate some foul smell or other. I pursed my lips prettily, as one does when one wants to whistle, and blew. And what came out? A feeble little peep, a piccolo compared to the trombone blast I generally manage. So feeble was it that Fern didn't even hear it, and she has very sharp hearing (when she wants - it is somewhat selective). I didn't worry about it; after all, when one reaches my advanced age various things don't always work quite as well as they once did. There had been previous occasions when my whistle had failed and within a few minutes things had returned to normal. But it's been a week this time. Will I be destined to go through the autumn and winter of my days without the ability to whistle? Will I have to relearn the art?

One doesn't hear whistling very often these days. There was a time when delivery boys, milkmen, postmen at el would whistle as they walked the streets. Of course, there aren't the delivery people walking or cycling the streets now that there were some sixty years ago when I remember the baker passing regularly with his horse-drawn van, the milkman with his electric float (I think), the postman and the paper boy. I don't even hear people whistling their dogs very often now; they shout, or use some strange type of castanets or clappers.

Whistling used definitely to be discouraged on board ship, if not entirely banned. Sailors were a very superstitious crowd (they may still be so for all I know) and it was thought that whistling on board ship was unlucky. Or so the story goes. I think it was frowned on because it could have been confused with the bosun's call. But didn't sailors caught in the doldrums whistle in the hope of calling the wind? Or am I just getting confused as normal?

I don't know if it is the same in other navies, but in our Royal Navy the bosun's call is still used, both to preface an announcement of the tannoy and as a greeting to important visitors to the ship.

When we acquired our present dog, I determined that I was not going to walk through woods and parks shouting at her to come. She would learn to respond to a dog whistle, one of those high-pitched instruments that dogs can hear but that are inaudible to humans. Having bought one, we were uncertain if it really did produce a note when blown. We couldn't hear anything, and Fern was taking no notice of it. I discovered that it could be adjusted so that the tone was audible - just - to the human ear. This adjustment was achieved by unscrewing slightly the two halves of the whistle. But this left the two halves susceptible to falling apart completely - and that is indeed what happened. Somewhere under the autumn leaves of Stanmer a half dog whistle may some day be found. I bought another but we very soon gave up even bothering to take it with us when walking the dog. I can't remember why that was, but I then started pursing my lips instead of calling the dog by mechanical means. Now I've lost my whistle perhaps I should go back to carrying the one hanging on a length of string beside Fern's lead.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Versatility in action

In the way-back, someone was fool enough kind enough to bestow an award upon us, an award which proclaimed us a versatile blogger. We suspect that we were selected just to make up the numbers, but we were touched and honoured all the same.

(Pause for going off at a tangent. "Touched": I had to write "honoured" as well just to make sure no reader thought I meant round the bend because "touched" can mean that as well as overcome by emotion.)

We do try to offer a variety of subjects in our miserable scribblings but today we intend to go farther than we have ever gone before. To do so we will travel by bus. Not the great six-wheeler, diesel-engined monarch of the road beloved by Messrs Flanders and Swann, the London Transport omnibus, but a similar object. Ours, however, is dressed in a red and cream livery rather than the plain red overcoat as worn in London. I refer to the vehicles in the fleet of Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Company Limited.

Every bus in their fleet is named. And I don't mean names like Bluebell, Daisy or Skylark. Nor names of famous landmarks such as Arundel Castle. Our buses have human names - real human names like Virginia Woolf, Dusty Springfield and Rudyard Kipling. And how are the names chosen? According to the bus company's web site:
...since 1999, every new bus that has entered the fleet has been named. 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.
The names are painted on the fronts of the buses so they can be something of a danger, presenting an opportunity for on-coming drivers to try to read the names and ponder on what the named person did for Brighton, or even just who the person was. Many a name means nothing to me. A book has been published listing all these so-called prominent people - or one can simply check out the bus company's web site which carries a list of the names and the numbers of the buses to which they have been allocated. Each name also provides a link to another page giving a potted biography of the person concerned.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Sauce for the goose - or the hoki

We here in England (and that might be a regal "we" - which means "me". No, it means "I".) Anyway, I always think of boiled potatoes as a rather boring part of a meal. Granted, yes, they are necessary to bulk out the more interesting food... No, we could have rice or pasta. But mashed potatoes always seem to have more flavour. probably because they have butter, milk and a little pepper mixed in. Well, they do in our house. If I'm making them they are just as likely to have some chopped garlic as well. Actually, we don't have plain boiled spuds very often. We might have potato wedges, or something I call hatchback (I think the proper name is something like hasselbad) or even potatoes in their jackets. With roast meat it is always roast potatoes.

I once asked an American friend why he waxed so lyrical about mashed potatoes served with his roast turkey at Thanksgiving. It just seemed wrong to me. Roast turkey and mashed potatoes? No, the flavours don't blend as well as they would were the potatoes to be roasted as well. His reply was that the mashed potatoes soak up the gravy better. Granted, there's no arguing with that. But I still prefer the idea of roast potatoes - partly, perhaps, because I never take gravy with a roast dinner. In fact, I rarely take gravy at all, unless it be with plain boiled potatoes!

I have never been offered gravy in France, where I eat in restaurants every night while we are there. The French are likely to serve any meal with sauce of some description. Indeed, it used to be the belief of every right-thinking Englishman that the French had to smother their meat in sauce because the meat was so bad. Actually, their beef is generally pretty awful but I have found one restaurant where it is good. But sauces are used a lot more in France than here in England. A favourite meal in one particular restaurant is turkey escalope. This used to be served with a delicious mushroom sauce (escalope de dinde Normande) but earlier this year the dish was described differently on the menu (escalope de dinde Vallée d'Auge). The sauce was even better and I asked what it was based on. Cider, I was told.

Florence, the cooking half of the couple who run the village restaurant, produces wonderful sauces. I often have the fish when we eat here. It's described on the menu as what was bought in the market, ie pot luck, but as it's nearly always hoki, a New Zealand fish, I doubt if it has ever seen the local market! But never mind, I like hoki which has a firm, flaky flesh not unlike cod. Florence used to serve it in a buttery sauce (one of our guests described this sauce as "to die for"), now it's a sauce Provençal, but in between she made a sorrel sauce.

Now the Old Bat was very taken with that sauce in particular and decided she would like to make it herself. We searched French supermarkets, English supermarkets and greengrocers for sorrel. There was none to be bought. We searched garden centres for plants, but there were none. However, while looking for something else last spring, I came across sorrel plants in a French garden centre. We bought a pot. That plant is still on the patio in the pot it came in and we have still not had a sorrel sauce. Maybe one day.

Monday, 21 November 2011

My reward

Have you noticed the difference? I finally finished the minutes yesterday by promising myself a few minutes (sorry - the pun is not intentional!) playtime. The result is the new look blog. I had been thinking that the bright blue sea I was using as a background courtesy of Blogger was not really right. Here in England we rarely see the sea that shade of blue. It's mostly grey - as in the picture above which I took on Brighton beach earlier this year. We would need much bluer skies than we usually have to have the sea a true blue. Mind you, I seem to remember that the day I took that photo was a sunny one.

Interesting that a few words about food - in particular, mention of specific dishes - drew a few comments from the woodwork. This links in with a reference Skip made to a forum on which he and I 'met' electronically way back when. That was in the days before all these social networking sites. This particular forum was intended for discussions of matters concerning Lions Clubs but it quickly degenerated into covering this, that and the other. The threads that gathered the most posts always seemed to be about food.

If it hadn't been for that forum, this would never have happened in Maryland in 2002:

Followed by this in Detroit in 2004:

And this in San Francisco in 2006:

This Interthingy truly is wonderful, but it needed the finishing touch of the Lions Clubs to bring it all about.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Just a minute

I have a feeling that today's post would be very suitably titled "Drifty", but since I am going to start off by moaning about minutes, perhaps what I have typed up there won't be too far from the theme, or the main theme if I do drift away.

In my last employment one of my jobs as company secretary was to produce the minutes of board meetings. Those meetings were invariably held in the morning and I liked to get the minutes written up that afternoon. At the latest, the job had to be done the following morning. There was no particular reason for such promptitude; I just preferred it that way. Besides, for some strange reason, the longer the job was left undone, the greater was my reluctance to start it. That might have been the thinking behind my action the one time I wrote the minutes before the meeting. All I had to do was ensure that the chairman steered things the way they had been written. It worked pretty well and there was little that need re-writing.

I am currently minute secretary for Brighton Lions Club. Our monthly meeting was held last Wednesday evening and in the usual way I would have written the minutes on Thursday morning. But on Thursday morning I had to take part in the annual staff appraisals for the Housing Society. That took all morning. After lunch I had to walk the dog, then the Old Bat and I had to go out to buy a birthday present for the grandson who was 5 yesterday. I did make a start after that - I got as far as listing those present and the apologies - but then No 2 Son and granddaughter came through the kitchen door. Oh well, I thought, Friday morning will do. But on Friday, the Old Bat wanted a lift to the MS Centre and for me to do the shopping. Friday morning gone. Walk the dog, fire up the computer, with just enough time to write a little more before taking the Old Bat to the doctor. Bang went the rest of Friday afternoon - and I was blowed if I was going to write minutes in the evening. Anyway, that would not have gone down too well with She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Saturday dawned and there was just the dog to walk, library books to change and a hot water bottle to buy. (That latter was the doctor's prescription for curing the Old Bat of her painful back. He did also provide a prescription for painkillers but finished by saying that time is a great healer. In other words, there wasn't really a lot he could do.) In between, I managed to write a bit more. But now it's boring, a real chore rather than just one more thing to be done - if you know what I mean. If you don't, well, don't let it worry you.

So here we are. It's Sunday morning and I still have those wretched minutes to write. Once that's done I have the notes of the staff appraisals to write up, letters to be sent to all staff as three-quarters of them (that's three out of four staff) are changing their hours and all have salary changes.

Then there's... You don't want to know what else is on the list. I'm trying to forget it as well.

Hey, I've just realised. I haven't drifted!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Food - at last!

Well, I have been reading blog after blog full of memories of Thanksgiving Days past and they seem to concentrate on the food. There are usually mentions of getting together with family members, but food seems to be the main priority.

(Before you all start bombarding me with comments I'll confess to having written that bit with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek.)

I might have said that pumpkin pie is unobtainable in England were it not for the fact that when I was shopping yesterday (the Old Bat's back was playing up so I had to toddle off to Tesco) I spotted this delicacy in the delicatessan. Not that I consider pumpkin pie a delicacy: I don't like it. Does that count as sacrilege to my American friends and acquaintances?

And there have been various references to what sounds to me like a most peculiar concoction. A jelly with nuts and vegetables in it? Now I know that jelly is another of those words that means something different each side of the Atlantic. Come to that, it means two different things in England - if not three! As foodstuff goes, the first thing most English people think of is a fruit-flavoured dessert made by melting a cube of rubbery-stuff in boiling water, pouring the resulting mixture into a mould and cooling it before turning out onto a plate. Perhaps the simplest way of describing this is to post a picture.

Then there is a type of jam - bramble jelly, for example. This is basically a jam that has been strained to make a preserve very similar in appearance to the fruit jelly above. But you knew all that, didn't you?

Jelly and blancmange were always the centre pieces of birthday party teas when I was a child. My grandchildrens' birthday party teas seem much more likely to feature sausages, crisps and other savouries than the sweet things of my youth.

What I had really intended monologuing about was winter warmers. And I don't mean long johns or woollen underwear. With the colder days now only just around the corner (they should be here already but it still seems unusually mild) we will be looking for those heavier, more solid meals. Out with the rabbit food and salads, in with the steak and kidney puddings, beef wellington and hearty stews.

Puddings. There is such a variety. My mother used to make a ginger pudding that the Old Bat, superb cook though she is, has never managed to copy. It was a suet pudding of some sort, I think, and was (of course) served with custard. Jam rolypoly (again, with custard) is another great British traditional pudding, and spotted dick. Our friend Wendy lives in France and for some time she had a stall at various markets where she sold chocolate puddings she had made (along with jars of marmalade) and the French eventually came to appreciate at least one British culinary favourite. They have recently started serving apple crumble but theirs is cooked in a pastry case as a tart and is served with ice cream instead of custard.

Of course, the French don't do custard. They think they do - they call it crème anglaise - but it's thin and watery and served cold.

Anyway, back to Thanksgiving. We don't have it over here in England, as you know, but it won't be long till Christmas (he he he! That should wind Suldog up!) when we can enjoy roast turkey with roast potatos, Brussel sprouts, pigs in blankets, etc etc followed by Christmas pudding, mince pies and brandy butter. Then there's Christmas cake to come...

Friday, 18 November 2011


I mentioned - nearly two weeks ago - that the Brighton Lions fireworks display went off very satisfactorilly. The display lasted about 45 minutes. Unlike the display at Oban, Scotland. This was supposed to be a 30-minutes display but a technical hitch set all the fireworks off in less than a minute.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


I started off the other day intending to chat about food but I got sort of side-tracked, tangented. That's a good word, isn't it? It's one of my own invention and means sent off on a tangent. That's one thing that is done quite a lot in our house. Inventing words, I mean. My wife (otherwise known as the Old Bat, She Who Must be Obeyed, 'Er Indoors and various other terms of endearment) has probably invented more words than William Shakespear himself. (The name - Shakespear - had got a twiddly red line under it but I'm sure it is one of the permitted variations of the Bard's name. Even he used different spellings from time to time. A bit like my 7 x great grandfather - and his son and grandson - who had several different ways of spelling Waldegrave. It was sometimes Waldgrave, sometimes Walgrave, or Walgrove, or Woldgrave etc etc.) Now, where were we? Oh yes, the Old Bat's propensity for inventing words.

Actually, that's not right. She doesn't really invent words, she uses existing words in new ways. It's usually a matter of turning a noun into a verb. For example, whereas you or I might well put garden rubbish into a black sack, the Old Bat would say, 'I'll black sack it'. See? She's turned "black sack" into a verb. Ok, split hairs if you must. I did say she uses nouns as verbs and there she has used both a noun and an adjective - but the principle remains the same.

Talking of being tangented, have you noticed that Blogger has changed the colours of the "new post" screen? Anyway, food.

In my abortive post about food, I mentioned that here in Brighton we have a lot of restaurants. I don't actually eat in restaurants very often here in England so I can't be too dogmatic about the way English people act when they go to restaurants. There is one quirk I have noticed about French people. You get a party of, say, four or six - or it could be 24, it really doesn't matter - shown to a table in a restaurant and handed copies of the menu. Each of them immediately puts down the menu without opening it and starts to talk. Some minutes later, the waiter (or waitress, there's no sexism involved) comes by to take their order. At that point, the party realise they were supposed to have looked at the menu and, as one, they pick them up - and proceed to read every word on every page. With the à la carte as well as several fixed-price menus, this could easily involve half a dozen pages. Every word will be read, including the lunch-time only menu - despite the fact that it is now 8.15pm. Then each member of the party will need to discuss a different dish with the waiter (or waitress - there's still no sexism involved).

A party of English people are shown to their table and handed the menu. They immediately open said menus, quickly glance down the à la carte section and turn to the cheapest fixed-price menu available. It just so happens that there is one dish in each course that is particularly well-liked. Decision made, the menus are put down and the party chats until the waiter (or - well you know) arrives to take the order.

We still haven't really got around to food and now I've got to go out to do staff appraisals for the Lions Housing Society. Perhaps we will get round to food tomorrow.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Another difference

I may well be misquoting him, but I think it was Winston Churchill who said the Britain and America are two nations separated by a common language. Or something like that. Actually, our "common language" can lead to some humerous misunderstandings, although I'm blowed if I can think of any right now. I suspect that all who read this know that the car boot is the same as the trunk and bonnet = hood (in terms automobilic). Sidewalk = pavement and pavement = road. Chips = crisps and fries as well. Confusing, isn't it?

Far more confusing the a Brit who dares to drive in the States are the different rules of the road, in particular the rule about overtaking and which lane to drive in. In Europe (not just the UK) the rule is that on a multi-lane road one keeps to the nearside except when overtaking. In England that means keeping to the left. In the rest of Europe, to the right - as it would be in the States. None of this cruising along in the second lane when the first is empty. Stay in the right-hand lane, pull out to overtake (pass) a slower vehicle, then move back. (In France they tend to start moving back even before they have completely passed one - which is highly disconcerting.)

It follows from the above that one does not pass another vehicle on the other driver's nearside. In Europe, I mean. Driving on a motorway/autoroute/autobahn/freeway in the States, I found it strange that I was expected to stay in the same lane regardless of whether lanes to my right were empty or not and that other vehicles were as likely to pass on my right as my left.

I even got worried just watching that video on Skip's blog the other day!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


It seems a long time since we mentioned food in our morning conversations. Well, alright - I mentioned crème brûlée yesterday but that wasn't really the subject of the conversation. Conversation? Hardly. Monologue would perhaps be a more accurate description. So, it seems a long time since one of my morning posts was about food. Is that better? Are my pernickety readers satisfied now? Hah! Did you notice? I referred to readers (plural). Ever the optimist.

Well now, dear reader, if you were to visit Brighton and I were to take you to a different restaurant for dinner every day of your stay, you could stay for over a year and still not visit a restaurant twice. Throw in all the pubs that serve food (as opposed to pork pies, salt and vinegar crisps and small packets of peanuts) and you could extend your stay to two years. Brighton - or, more specifically, the city of Brighton & Hove - is supposed to have more restaurants per thousand inhabitants than any other town or city in Britain, except for London. And I reckon we give London a run for its money.

Not only is there a wide range of establishments for dining, there is also a very wide range of cuisines. We have French restaurants and Italian, Chinese and Indian, Thai and Mongolian, Turkish and Greek, Spanish, Japanese, American. And English, of course. Actually, that "of course" is extraneous; there is no "of course" about it. Well, perhaps there is now, but twenty years ago there wasn't. We had a young Frenchman staying with us for the better part of a year. I think he was about 21 at the time. He was a typically French charmer but had come to England expecting it to rain every day and actually dreading the food. He got sunburnt on our beach and quickly decided that English food and cooking was far, far better than he had been told. He wanted to visit a restaurant where the food was traditional English but we had great difficulty in finding such a thing. Nowadays there are carveries where one can eat a roast dinner (traditionally English) every day - and sometimes for silly prices that are almost less than it would cost to provide the same meal at home.

We also seem to have quite a wide range of nationalities owning our restaurants. At one time they were mainly Greek Cypriot - and they are still around - but of course we also have Chinese and Indian/Pakistani although a lot now are Iranian. Our local Italian restaurant is staffed by Albanians.

Well, somehow I haven't really mentioned food today either, apart from a glancing blow. There's always tomorrow!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Then the gas ran out

Our French house is centrally heated by gas but we are not connected to the main, or town gas as they call it over there. We have a big tank in the courtyard and a gas tanker comes round every so often to fill the tank if necessary. It's great - I don't even have to call the supplier, although should we run short between the gas man's visits I can phone and a tanker calls round the next day. What is not so great is the price. To fill the tank can cost 900 euros, which generally translates into £750-£800. That tends to last about a year, depending on how often there are people in the house during the winter and how cold the winter happens to be. Actually, the current tankful seems likely to last for two years. Here in England, however, our house is connected to the gas main. But that doesn't power the Old Bat's gas gun.

She (the Old Bat) only uses the gun when she makes crème brûlée, which she did yesterday. Unfortunately, when she went to burn the sugar, the gas ran out. Finishing a crème brûlée under the grill of an electric oven just doesn't work properly so I promised to call in at B & Q on my way home after walking the dog. There in the plumbing supplies section I found a suitable bottle of gas. Back home, I changed the gas bottle and the OB lit the gun to brûlée the crème. Well, she tried to light the gun. With the gas turned up quite a long way, it lit, but as soon as the lighter was removed, the flame went out and the gas merely hissed out of the bottle. Perhaps, we thought, the butane/propane mix was not right given that the bottle of gas was from a different manufacturer.

I charged down to an independent hardware store in the village, arriving only a few minutes before they shut. I didn't have time to fiddle about finding a proper parking spot and took a chance, parking on the bus stop. The lady in the hardware store knew immediately what I wanted when I explained that the OB was making a crème brûlée and I was soon on my way back home.

Would you believe it? This canister behaved in exactly the same way as the other. Or almost exactly. The flame stayed alight until the volume control was touched, when it was immediately extinguished. The problem must, we decided, lie with the gas gun and not the gas.

It was too late to attempt to buy a gas gun so we had an unbrûléed crème brûlée. But we do now have a spare gas canister so if one runs out when the Old Bat is making crème brûlée on a Sunday afternoon we can just swap it over.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

We will remember

The official Remembrance Day in England is today, the second Sunday in November, and has been for a good many years. I always think it a shame that we no longer stop the country at 11.00 on 11 November, although there is a growing movement to return to that tradition. The move to a Sunday for the services of remembrance means that the Royal British Legion's Festival of Remembrance is always held on the eve of Remembrance Day. This takes the form of a small military tattoo in the Royal Albert Hall in London followed by a service of remembrance during which there is a two-minute silence while poppy petals are dropped from the roof of the hall - one for each serviceman killed in action since 1914. Before the entertainment part, squads representing the various branches of the armed forces march into the arena and take their seats. I always find the entrance of the war widows especially moving and it always leads me to think of Nell.

I was still living with my parents when Nell, her mother and her son moved into the house next door. Nell and her mother were Londoners. Not Cockneys - they came from the wrong side of the Thames, from Bermondsey. They could just as easily have been Cockneys, demonstrating the same joie de vivre and loving a good knees-up with a crate of stout. Nell had two sisters, one of whom lived just a couple of miles away across the valley and the other of whom (together with her husband) later bought a bungalow down our road. Oddly, whereas Nell was always cheerful, Charlotte - the one who bought the bungalow - seemed permanently miserable.

Nell and Charlotte (Lottie) had married brothers and Lottie's husband owned a garage in Hove. Lottie was the manageress of a supermarket and it was she who gave me a job to get me off my paper round. But that's another story.

Nell's husband was a Second Lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry and was killed in North Africa in 1942: he never saw his son, Alan, who was the same age as me. Nell never remarried and raised Alan on her own, working as a barmaid to earn a living.

Alan went on to attend university and landed a good job with IBM. He was transferred to the USA so Nell saw her two grandchildren only infrequently - and even less frequently after Alan's marriage broke down. Alan was transferred again, this time to Japan. It was in Tokyo that he died.

Despite the loss of her son and the death of her mother, Nell remained unfailingly cheerful, although Parkinson's disease was by now making life uncomfortable and difficult. It was always a pleasure, whenever I visited my mother, to call in to spend a few minutes with Nell.

Nell would have been horrified at any suggestion that she should take part in anything like the Festival of Remembrance which would entail a public display. To her, grieving was something done in private. Nell's life was not an easy one but she showed many of us how to face up to problems and defeat them. I have no picture to commemorate Nell but the following is taken from the web site of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

In Memory of

214646, 8th Bn., Durham Light Infantry

who died
age 28

on 12 June 1942

Son of Alexander Christopher and Frances Maude Gaze, of Bermondsey, London; husband of Emily Eleanor Gaze, of Portslade-by-Sea. Sussex.

Remembered with honour


Commemorated in perpetuity by
the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Saturday, 12 November 2011


Our heir to the throne rejoices in many tiles: Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.

In Vanuatu he is known as "Nambawan pikinini blong Missus Kwin".

On a tour of various regions of Africa this week he was given another. The Masai have crowned him "Oloishiru Ingishu", "he whom the cows love so much that they call for him when they are in times of distress".

My old granny used to say that she didn't mind what she was called as long as it wasn't late for her dinner. I hope Prince Charles feels the same.

In case you didn't get it, that Vanuatu title is pidgin for "Number one piccaninny belonging to Mrs Queen".

Friday, 11 November 2011

In Memoriam

The Menin Gate stands in the Belgian city of Ieper (Ypres), at the point where many British and Commonwealth soldiers left the city to march to the front line in World War I. The gate was built to commemorate the many thousands of those soldiers who never returned and who have no known grave. (Much more information here.)

The Menin Gate stands over a major road in the city, but every night since 1929 (except while the city was occupied by German troops in World War II) the road is closed at 8.00 and buglers from the Belgian fire brigade play the Last Post. Sometimes there are just a handful of spectators, sometimes as many as two or three hundred - people from all European countries, from Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. The ceremony lasts just a few minutes but is an immensely moving tribute.

We Shall Keep the Faith

by Moina Michael, November 1918

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valour led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honour of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Ther are many videos of the Menin Gate Last Post on YouTube - this is just one of them.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Nature notes

My neighbour has a bird feeder hanging from a tree not far from the house. Although we can't see the feeder from our downstairs windows, it is in full view from our bedroom and I always look towards it when I open the curtains in the morning. I generally go to the window and watch for a few minutes whenever I go into the bedroom during the day. Until recently, our resident squirrel was often to be seen hanging upside down as he helped himself to whatever had been put out for the birds but Evelyn now has a thin like a small parrot cage in which the feeder hangs. The cage has gaps between the bars which are big enough for the smaller birds but through which the squirrel just cannot squeeze himself. As one would expect, the feeder attracts quite a number of birds, both in quantity and in variety. We regularly see house sparrows, blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, greenfinches and goldfinches at the feeder while robins, hedge sparrows, wrens and blackbirds are not far away, along with the larger wood pigeons, jackdaws, magpies and herring gulls.

House sparrows are supposed to be in decline with numbers falling quite dramatically. I find it difficult to say whether our numbers have dropped, but we still have a good many around. What we are missing these days are starlings. A few years ago they were one of the most numerous birds in the garden but I can now go days on end without seeing one, either here or in the local park when walking the dog. The number of blue tits, on the other hand, seems to have swelled and we now get flocks of anything up to a dozen or so. I think them the most amusing of our garden birds as well as one of the most attractive. It's interesting to see their behaviour at the bird feeder. Whereas all the other small birds (although I'm not sure about the great tits) sit on the perch and feed until they have eaten enough, the blue tits take a piece of whatever is in the feeder and fly to the nearby tree. Here they hold the food down with a claw while the peck at whatever it is they have taken. Once they have finished, they return to the feeder for another piece.

I have often marvelled at the strength of the small birds, especially the strength of their legs and claws. Just look how a bird will cling to a branch which is waving wildly in a strong wind, or how a bird will hold onto an upright twig, leaning away from its perch for minutes at a time. I don't know if there has been any research into the strength:weight ratio but I wouldn't mind betting that birds would come out pretty high in the list.

The resident squirrel - in fact, there might be more than one: they all look the same but we rarely see more than one at a time - is an amusing little character even if he/she is a bit of a pest. He is bold enough to sit on the wall outside the kitchen window and watch the humans inside. The other day he was on the corner of the garage roof watching me. When I fetched my camera he insisted on washing his face before posing for his portrait. It's a pity that he will dig up the bulbs planted in pots, take a bite and then throw the bulb away. The other day I saw him digging in a pot - and coming up with a peanut he must have buried there earlier. He has one habit I have never before seen in a squirrel: he wags his tail like a dog.

We do see foxes in the garden - all too frequently - but have never seen a badger. Neither do we yet suffer from damage caused by deer, although there have recently been reports that their numbers have grown so much that they are starting to venture into towns. Talking of deer, I saw one on Tuesday evening. I was driving to a village which lies off the beaten track when there in the middle of the lane was a small deer, a roe deer, in my headlights. It moved to the side of the lane but the hedges were too high for it to jump so it trotted along the lane in front of the car for a quarter of a mile or so until it was able to move off the road. I know that deer are supposed to be very numerous, but it's not often that a townie like me sees one - and when I do, it's a special treat.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

This and that

When uploading today's picture on the Stanmer blog, I noticed that I am using 43% of my space. What, I wonder, do I do when I have used 100%? Will I be able to "borrow" somebody else's? Not every blogger uploads pictures so they don't all need that space. Will I just have to register again with Blogger under a different name and then start a new Stanmer blog? When will it happen, anyway? I reckon I must have another three or four years-worth of picture blogging before the crunch comes so maybe I won't have to worry.

I was, as I said, uploading a picture and I commented that it seemed appropriate. I had quite a tussle deciding just which adjective to use. Then it dawned on me that fit, apt, appropriate, meet, right, proper, correct and suitable are all synonymous - or very nearly so. Is there, I wondered, a larger collection of synonyms?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The annual extravagance

Six years ago the Old Bat and I went a little mad. Only on the financial front, you understand. On other fronts we have both been a little mad for donkeys' years. This particular madness took a form of extravagance, an extravagance that has been repeated every year since at about this time. We have a calendar printed. This is a bespoke calendar that is hung in the kitchen to remind both of us of activities that are taking place and forthcoming engagements. OK, so there is nothing especially extravagant about a wall calendar - or there wouldn't be if we did not, as I said, have ours printed. By this I mean that we have a calendar printed especially for us. Just the one copy. There is a page for each month and each month is illustrated with a photograph I have taken during the past year. The calendar therefore serves as a souvenir of our holidays and other trips. I always produce a shortlist of potential pictures and generally leave the final selection to Her Ladyship. (Don't men usually do that? It tends to lead to a quieter life but I do get into trouble - or I did, until I learned better - when I suggest that the Old Bat goes on her own to choose curtains, cushions or whatever. She thinks I should show more interest. Nowadays I just tag along bored stiff, knowing full well that what we buy will be what she wants.)

This year excelled myself: the shortlist ran to 70+ pictures. I wasn't surprised when this one of deckchairs on Brighton beach (that's the remains of the West Pier in the background) was selected:

This one, however, did surprise me. I like it very much (for reasons I just can't explain) but I didn't expect it to meet with such approbation from SWMBO. It's a door of the church in Orcival, a town we visited while on holiday in the Auvergne, France.

Monday, 7 November 2011

My moment as a hero

It is, I suppose, possible that I have related this tale before. If I have, then I have forgotten when it was. If I have and you read it the first time round, you are hereby forgiven if you just click on the "next blog" link up the page or wander off to put the kettle on or even prepare the Sunday lunch. (Yes, I know it's Monday. So what?) Either way, you are going to get the story. Again - or for the first time.

It all happened on a Saturday morning about 30 years ago. That's right - 30. It might have been only 27 or, on the other hand, it might even have been 33 years, but that is completely irrelevant. It was certainly a Saturday. I know that because I was still working ... No, hang on. I suppose it could have happened on a weekday if I was on holiday at the time ... Oh well, never mind. It might have happened on a Saturday and it might have happened about 30 years ago, but it definitely happened.

I wanted a new pair of shoes so I went into Brighton to see what I could find. I can't for the life of me remember if I drove into town or caught a bus but I know I started at the Clock Tower and made my way along Western Road towards Hove, looking in every shoe shop that I passed. Just before I reached the end of the bigger shops a police car passed me at high speed. It stopped outside the Argus store - a catalogue store with a jewellery counter - on the opposite side of the road. I assumed the police had been called to an attempted robbery and carried on. I reached the next road junction and turned back. I had gone only a couple of yards when I saw a youth dash out of the Argus shop, pursued by two policemen. The youth darted into the road and was heading straight for me.

From then on, time slowed down. I actually managed to think about what I could and should do. It was axiomatic that I should attempt to apprehend this (probably) highly dangerous villain, but how to do it? (Actually, it didn't cross my mind that he might be dangerous; I just knew I should try to stop him.) My first thought was that I should just stand in his way with my arms spread wide, but I quickly dismissed that idea as impractical. Then I decided that a rugby tackle would probably see me sprawled on the pavement while the escapee simply side-stepped. By now it was very nearly time for me to take some form of action if I was ever going to, so I just stuck out my leg and tripped him up. The youth fell on his face. A passing driver leapt out of his van and sat on him until the police arrived.

Although time had slowed sufficiently for me to think of - and reject - a couple of ways of stopping the escapee, and even a third way which proved remarkably successful, there had not been enough time for me to think through the full likely outcome of sticking my leg out. Sure, it worked in that the youth tripped and was caught. But what I had overlooked - or not had time to think of - was the fact that by sticking out my leg, I would be putting myself off-balance. Or rather, balanced on just one foot. What happened was that the force of my right leg being struck by the youth caused me to fall. As I did so, I instinctively put out my hands to break my fall. I landed awkwardly on my right hand, hurting the wrist badly. The pursuing policeman inadvertently trod on my left hand, as a result of which the thumb was extremely painful.

Fortunately, I knew somebody who lived in one of the side streets not too far away and I made my way there, hoping somebody would be at home. She was, and she persuaded me that I should have a hospital check-up. She rang my wife, who drove me to the accident and emergency department where it was confirmed that I had broken my right wrist as I landed - and the copper had broken my thumb when he trod on it!

So much for being a hero!

There is, however, a postscript to this story. It was a week or ten days later that I happened to be speaking on the phone to my brother, not a particularly common occurrence in those days although it happens quite frequently now. Brother was then a serving police officer in another county.

'Have you sent off the forms to the Criminal Injuries Board?' he asked.

'Do what?' I replied.

It transpired that the local police should have informed me of my right to lodge a claim with said Board. They had not done so, possibly in an attempt to save themselves some work - or maybe because they simply hadn't bothered to check that I was OK. Anyway, I duly obtained the forms and sent them off. In the fulness of time I received a cheque for no less than £500!

As I said, so much for being a hero!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Yesterday once more

It was one of those Lions days, the sort of day when Lions activities take up most of the time. Being the first Saturday of the month, we had our regular book fair when we sell second-hand books in the community room at Lions Dene, one of the blocks of flats owned by Brighton Lions Housing Society.

Lions DeneThis is Lions Dene, a block of 37 flats with a community room used as a meeting place by Brighton Lions Club.

Selling books at 50p each means that we don't take an awful lot of money as a rule: £45 is probably about average for the two hours the fair lasts. Yesterday, however, we took £73. The monthly book fair does tend to be treated almost as a social occasion for the Lions. Yesterday, no fewer than 30% of our members turned up to do a little work, drink a cup or two of coffee and chat.

Meanwhile, a good proportion of the other members of the club were preparing for the evening's fireworks display ("remember, remember the 5th of November etc"). Whichever deities are responsible for the weather pulled out all the stops for us and we had a dry day (which is almost as important as a dry evening) and evening with the wind neither too strong not from the wrong quarter for safety. Despite stiff competition, there was a good crowd and we took slightly more cash at the gate than we did last year. Advance ticket sales are believed to be up on last year and there is a good chance that the total income will be in the region of £60,000. If so, the profit to be shared between the Lions and the Sussex County Cricket Club should be in the region of £40,000.

From about 3.30 in the afternoon until the display started at 7.30 I was manning a ticket sales booth and it was noticeable once again just what a friendly, good-humoured atmosphere surrounds this event. All the teenagers who came to buy tickets were well-spoken and good-mannered; the adults were, almost without exception, cheerful and smiling. Tony (who shared the booth with me) and I thoroughly enjoyed the banter.

One of the odd things about Lions Club activities is how there is always something humorous or enjoyable about them. What might seem at the outset to be a boring job but one that needs doing, always turns out differently, either because of the banter between a group of friends or because of interaction with others. Whatever, this is definitely one of the benefits I get from being a member of the local Lions Club.

Two other events this weekend - one of them a major event - are taking place in Brighton. Neither has anything to do with Lions. Yesterday there was a car rally in which cars of the future, ie low emission cars, were driven from Brighton to London. Today sees the annual London to Brighton veteran car run. Think Genevieve, if your cinema memories go back that far. The run started many years ago when the speed limit was raised from 4mph and the need to have a man with a red flag walking in front of the horseless carriage was deemed unnecessary. In celebration of these twin events, a number of motorists drove from London to Brighton and the event has been a hardy annual ever since (although I suspect it didn't take place during the war). Cars taking part have to have been made before 1921 and it's quite a sight to see them trundling along the road into Brighton.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Dog days

The Old Bat and I have owned dogs since just a year after we were married. We have never owned more than one dog at a time, and there have on occasion been gaps of several months when we have been without a canine companion. Owning a dog is not something that should be undertaken lightly or without due consideration: as one of the country's leading dog welfare charities says, a dog is for life - not just Christmas. Dogs are demanding pets. They need feeding, naturally, and regular visits to the vet for innoculations - and these don't come on the National Health. What's more, dogs need regular exercise.

For me, that last is one of the benefits of dog ownership. Before I retired, I walked the dog only at the weekends - or occasionally during summer evenings. After I retired, the Old Bat and I shared the pleasure of walking our golden retriever. She (the dog) was getting old by then, blind and suffering from arthritis - but she still wanted her walk every day. We now have a springer spaniel which we acquired as a pup. Officially she is my wife's dog, but Fern doesn't realise that and is happy to accept that she belongs to both of us. She would prefer to belong to my daughter, who lives more than 100 miles away so is seen by Fern only infrequently, who is worshipped by the dog for reasons none of us have managed to work out.

Anyway, Fern joined our household after I retired but while my wife was still working, albeit mornings only. As a pup, the dog needed more exercise that our old dog and we fell into the habit of walking her twice a day. I took her in the mornings and, on three days a week, my wife took her in the afternoon. We have never broken the habit of twice-daily walks but the Old Bat can no longer manage them so both walks are down to me. The morning walk is just to our local park but in the afternoons I vary our route and head for the South Downs which lie just behind our house. I really enjoy those walks in the glorious Sussex countryside, walks I would never bother to take were it not for the dog.

I stumbled across a blogging community calling itself City Daily Photographers or some such - the idea being that each should post a picture of their city or town on a daily basis. I decided to join in, mostly with pictures of the local countryside but occasional shots of Brighton appear. Since I started doing this I have found myself seeing things I was only looking at before (if you see what I mean). Anyway, the pics are over here at Stanmer & Around.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Those were the days

I very much doubt that any reader of this blog will recall the dark days of the early months of 1974. I call those days dark because that is what they were for hours at a stretch. The coal miners had been working to rule and, as a result, the generation of electricity was severely limited. To conserve power, commercial users of electricity were limited to three specified days' consumption each week. In addition, power was cut for all users during certain hours. Back then I was in the habit of using an electric shaver so, as my effort to assist the country, I resolved to stop shaving for the duration. I never did bother to start again so my daughter (who was born a couple of years later) has never seen me clean-shaven.

Although we did have advance notice of when power would be cut, the cuts caused considerable inconvenience. We had two children aged three and one and getting them dressed and breakfasted on days when we had morning power cuts was quite an effort. Not that I had much to do with that side of things. I left my better half to deal with the children after I had gone to work.

Of course, offices and shops were also subject to power cuts. I was working in a bank and recall that when we lost power in the afternoons we had to resort to portable lamps of all descriptions. We also had to make alternative arrangements for doing the book-keeping as the accounting machines ran on electricity.

I seem to remember that the general population as a whole took all the inconvenience pretty well - but maybe those rose-tinted spectacles have something to do with that! Actually, it all reminds me of that old Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times.

Talking of interesting times, tomorrow sees the annual Brighton Lions fireworks display which commemorates the failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament back in 1605. We are anxiously watching the weather forecasts. A few days ago - indeed, even last night - the forecast for tomorrow evening was intersting if not downright iffy. It's amazing that in my 25 years as a member of Brighton Lions the event has been cancelled only once because of inclement weather. This is our biggest fund-raiser of the year and we have £10,000-worth of fireworks ready to go so we are hoping for the best.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

I can't ride a bike

They (whosoever "they" might be) say that many actions are like riding a bike: once learned, never forgotten. But I never learned. That is, at root, down to the fact that I never had a bike. I don't know why that should have been. I don't think it was a lack of money as my parents always seemed to have sufficient for other things. I did have a tricycle.

It was only about two years after the end of the war that my father took me to Maidstone by bus one afternoon. (That sentence alone contains four pieces of information that would benefit from further illumination. This parenthetic note could stretch to several paragraphs. To start with, I should explain that to many people of my generation - and my parents' generation - "the" war was the Second World War. Why other conflicts such as the Korean War and the First World War are relegated to "other" wars is something I don't understand and am therefore unable to explain. You'll just have to accept that the war means World War II.

It must have been two years after the end of the war that this momentous bus ride took place because my father served in the Royal Navy and, in 1945, was in the Far East. It was not until 1947 that his ship returned to England.

Maidstone was - and still is - about eight or nine miles from where we were living in Gillingham. To get there involved a walk of about half a mile to catch a bus at the Jezreels. This took us to the bus station in Nelson Road where we would change for a bus to Maidstone.

Oh dear. Now I need to explain Jezreels. But I'm not going to give you chapter and verse as might be found any where on the web. Instead, I'll tell you what my mother told me. The Jezreelites where members of a religious sect who established their world headquarters in Gillingham. Here they bought a piece of land on which to build a great temple where many of the members could live. The aim was to build this temple high enough to reach Heaven so that they would have a stairway they and they alone could climb. Unfortunately, they were unable to finish their tower for reasons my mother either could not or would not explain (and I probably never asked) and the remains stood there. A nearby road junction became known as Jezreels, after the tower. And I think we can close these parentheses and get back to the original story now.)

So we caught the bus to Maidstone. It must have been in the afternoon because I distinctly remember it being dark when we came back home, so it was probably fairly late in the year as well - about this time of year, maybe. The reason for this expedition - and it was an expedition rather than a mere journey or trip - was to buy a tricycle. Presumably there was no tricycle to be bought in any of the shops in Gillingham, Chatham, Rochester or Strood - three adjoining towns and a city making up the conurbation known as the Medway Towns. This was, after all, only a couple of years after the war and there were still shortages of many things in England - even rationing of various foodstuffs was still in force. Anyway, that was presumably why the trek had to be made to Maidstone.

Bringing the tricycle - it was blue - back from Maidstone was something of a challenge. Like the outward journey, the return was made by bus and I have a feeling that the bus was pretty crowded. My father made the journey on the platform as the trike wouldn't fit in the luggage space under the stairs.

(More explanation. In those days buses in England were mounted at the rear. On double-decker buses there was no door, just an open platform from which there was a step up onto the lower deck and a winding staircase to the upper deck. Luggage could be stowed under the staircase. Standing was allowed on the lower deck if all seats were taken but passengers were not allowed to stand on the upper deck or ride on the platform or the stairs. Smoking was allowed upstairs only.)

And you can blame Skip for this trip down memory lane as he was recently waxing nostalgic about his bicycles.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Busy day

I have a seriously busy day ahead of me so I will just copy an old post complete with pictures of our French house as it was when we bought it.

Open the front door, and this was the view of the hall, except that I had brought in pots of paint before taking the picture. The ladder had been left by the previous owners.

Turn sharp right and we enter the downstairs bedroom. Blue and pink? Note the plastic sheet covering the radiator.

Back across the hall we come to the living room. There was a sliding glass hatch between this room and the kitchen, but it was almost at ceiling height.

Another view of the living room. The dark door leads out to the courtyard and the partly open door into the kitchen.

And on into the kitchen.

From the hall, there was a steep, winding staircase...

...leading to the upstairs bedroom.

Complete with a dodgy bit of floor under the lino.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


That's enough of this tomfoolery. Pictures, indeed. Let's get onto something more serious.

We came home on Friday so the first newspaper I had seen for a week was delivered on Saturday morning. The verdict in a murder trial was splashed on the front page, a murder that had aroused a lot of interest across the country. The Commonwealth countries had all agreed to the ending of male primogeniture in the Royal Family. More problems, or rather more of the same problems in Europe. But what really grabbed my attention was a small piece at the foot of the page. It was just a couple of paragraphs, continued on page 4 or 6 or soemwhere towards the middle of the paper. The Prime Minister had said he was happy for the Government to consider changing the clocks so that we are in line with the rest of western Europe. Now this, oddly enough, is something about which I feel quite strongly.

What it basically means is that we would put our clocks forward one hour - permanently. During the winter months we would be running on Greenwich Mean Time plus one hour and in the summer it would be GMT plus 2 hours. This would mean that dawn would be an hour later than it is now - and sunset would also be an hour later (obviously). So what are the pros and cons?

Well, it would stay light later in the evenings. During mid-summer weeks, it would still be light at 10 o'clock in the evening. I'm not sure just how that would be of a great benefit other than for keen gardeners who would have longer to spend in their gardens after coming home from work. The main benefit would be in the winter months when children would be coming home from school in the light so there should be fewer accidents. On the other hand, they would be going to school in the dark.

I don't remember it personally, but there was a trial some 30 or so years ago which is being referred to in the arguments/discussions about this proposal. It would seem that the number of road accidents fell during the trial, a trial which was abandoned after complaints from people living in Scotland and the north of England who were more affected than people living in the southern parts of the country. That fall in the number of accidents is one of the main arguments used by those in favour of the proposal.

Another so-called pro is that businessmen in England would be on the same time as those in, say, Paris and Frankfurt. But that seems to me to be a particularly puerile argument. If a businessman who deals with people in Paris can't adjust his time mentally, there's not a lot of hope for him, in my opinion. After all, what about New York, Tokyo, Sydney?

I do have personal experience of putting the clocks forward permanently - other, that is, than the trial I can't remember. Our house in France is actually further west than Our English home, although by not a lot. The clocks there are an hour ahead of the English clocks so I know what would be the effect of permanently changing the time. And I like it not.

While we were in France last week I watched the sun creep over the horizon several mornings. At about 8.30. I do not like getting up in the dark and having twilight until 9.30 - or even 10.00 on really dull days. No, I think we should stick with GMT, plus an hour in the summer. It has served us well for centuries and it ain't broke so why try to fix it?