Tuesday, 31 January 2012

An open letter to my American friends

As well as all the usual clichés, there are four phrases that really grate on me:
  • give someone a heads up;
  • touch base;
  • keep me in the loop;
  • push the envelope.

Those phrases are, of course, a result of you Americans mangling our beloved English language. I know you are not the only ones to do it, those irrepressible Australians have done it as well. Or I should say, have tried to do it. Frankly, their efforts are more laughable that irritating. "Strides" for trousers; "tinny" for a can of beer. Those really are just puerile.

There are other ways you have marmalised the language as well. For your information, pants go underneath trousers and vests go underneath shirts. The sleeveless garment worn over the shirt is a waistcoat (sometimes pronounced weskitt) and over this one wears a jacket, not a coat. A coat is a garment worn over the jacket and usually comes down below the knees.

Of course, all this started when you dear folks had a bit of a paddy and threw your toys out of the pram. Well, the tea into the harbour. (That's another thing: words like colour, harbour and honour all have a "u" in them.) Anyway, since then you have, I'm sorry to say, fallen in with some very dubious, not to say shady, characters. A thoroughly bad lot, some of them. There were the French to start with. They so mesmerised you that you turned a blind eye to all their shenanigans when they started lopping heads of left, right and centre. And then they conned you into buying Louisiana. After the French it was the Spanish. And what did you get from them? Las Vegas and Los Angeles? I ask you!

Surely you must have noticed by now that those southern European countries are very bad company to keep. Just look at Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Each of them threw over their monarchy and resorted to dictatorship - and just look at the state of their economies now. You need to be very careful or you will find yourselves losing that triple A rating as well.

Another of the unforeseen results of that tantrum is that you elect a new head of state every four years. As soon as one moves into the White House, you start planning to remove him - and spend many millions of dollars in the process. We, on the other hand, have a head of state who, come next Monday, will have been in office for 60 years. And we know who her successor will be. And he's been in training now for a good many years. And what's more, we are already starting to train his successor!

Now, dear ones, why don't you just admit that it was all a ghastly mistake and set about making the Queen your head of state? Look at all the benefits there would be: you could play the real man's game of rugby instead of that padded-up set-piece you call football; and I'm sure that, clever people that you are, you would very quickly pick up the rules of cricket. Of course, there would have to be something in it for us. For a start, you could promise to stop mangling our language.

So, why don't you think about it? Give all your mates a heads-up, put do keep me in the loop. We can touch base again a bit later, but please make sure you don't push the envelope too far.

Monday, 30 January 2012


It's a funny thing, time. It's possibly the thing shared out between mankind more equitably than any other. We all have exactly the same number of seconds in a minute, minutes in an hour and hours in a day. Doesn't matter how rich or how poor you are, you just can't alter the fact that you have 24 hours in a day and the poorest man in town has just as many as you.

Some of us are slaves to time. I like to think I'm not one of those poor saps, but I'm not entirely sure. I mean, I wear a wristwatch and it's not unknown for me to check the time as I leave the house in the morning to take the dog for a walk. At least I no longer have to feel tied to leaving the house at a set time in order to catch the train so as to be at my desk etc etc. But surely now that I am retired I don't need to get out of bed at the same time every morning? Now I'll admit it - I don't. I do use an alarm clock but it's one of those with a snooze button - and I make shameless use of said button!

(And there's something that strikes me as odd. That snooze button means that the alarm will sound again a little later. But why is the chosen interval nine minutes? It seems such a peculiar length of time. Why not ten minutes?)

I made a little too much use of it yesterday morning. Sunday mornings are special. I can lie in a little but I do like to have eaten breakfast and done the washing up in time to get out on the streets before most people are out and about. There's something special about being the only person on the street while the birds are still enjoying themselves with the fag end of the dawn chorus (it seems to go on for at least two hours) and the street lights are yawning themselves to sleep. "Out before the streets have been aired," as my old granny would have said. It also means that there are no cars being driven around. One downside is that as I come back home, somebody in one of the houses I pass is cooking bacon!

The there is a peculiar knack I have of being able to tell the time within about five minutes either way. It might have been hours since I last looked at a watch or clock, but I seem to be able to say something like, "It's about five and twenty past seven" and find that the time is indeed somewhere between twenty past and half past seven.

(Another little diversion. Did you notice I wrote "five and twenty past seven" just then? "Five and twenty" is an archaic way of saying "twenty-five" - in times past people would have said , for example, "four and thirty" - hence the nursery rhyme about four and twenty blackbirds. Nowadays the only time it is said is when talking of 25 minutes past or to the hour.)

One of my little foibles is that I hate to be late. If I am not five minutes early for an appointment, then I am late. It really doesn't matter what the appointment is or how firmly the time is arranged, I have to be at the appointed place five minutes before the appointed time. For instance, I might arrange with fellow Lions to meet at about ten o'clock to set up, say, the book fair. Now it really doesn't matter if people turn up ten minutes before ten or ten minutes after, as far as I am concerned the time is engraved on tablets of stone and I have to be there at five minutes before the hour arranged.

I am well aware that this is a foible I take to extreme lengths. We are due to go to France and are booked on a particular train through the tunnel. I know full well that if we arrive at the terminal a little late we will be switched to the next available train. I also know that if we are early we might, just might, be offered a slot on an earlier departure. But that is not something I am thinking about when I fix the time we should leave home. I know how long the drive is, and I add half an hour in case of a puncture or heavy traffic. I have never suffered either, but I console myself by saying there's bound to be a first time.

As I was saying earlier, we all of us, rich or poor, have the same amount of time at our disposal. What is important is what we do in that time. And what's important to me right now is that it's time for coffee.

Cheerio for now. I'll be back tomorrow.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


I don't think I shall ever know how I managed to remember enough of the plots and characters of Macbeth, Emma, Great Expectations, 12th Night and all those other books and plays that I studied in order to pass my English Lit 'O' level and English 'A' level - let alone all the poetry by Milton, Wordsworth, Keats et al. I suppose reading each one several times in quick succession, discussing them in class and writing essays about them dunned them into the soggy mass of my brain in just sufficient detail for me to be able to convince the examiners that I merited a pass mark. Nowadays I read a book, put it down and two weeks or even two days later I have forgotten what it is about. Just occasionally I come across a book that does manage to stay in my memory, even if only vaguely. Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks, is one such. Although I have read it several times, I would have been hard pressed to describe the plot in anything other than broad brush strokes and could probably recall the names of none of the characters. All the same, I consider it to be one of the best books I have ever read and a copy rests on my bookshelf alongside some of my other "best" books. It was therefore of considerable interest to me to read that the BBC were to show a television adaptation of the book.

This, it transpired, would be in two 90-minute episodes, the first of which was last Sunday. We were unwilling to stay glued to the TV screen until 10.30pm so I recorded the programme. During the week the Old Bat and I were slightly concerned to read that the programme had been the subject of quite a few complaints. A few of these were about the main female actress appearing topless but most were about inaudible speech. We wondered just how much we would enjoy watching the programme, or even if we would manage to sit through it all. We agreed that we had to watch it before the second episode is broadcast this evening in order to decide if that will be worth recording.

So perhaps it was not really necessary for Clémence Poésy to bare as much as she did although to my mind those scenes demonstrated the intensity of the love between Isabelle and Stephen and I make no complaint. (The programme is, after all, screened after the 9.00pm watershed.) Nor have I any complaint about the volume of the diction. When the characters are speaking in whispers it adds to the realism of those scenes - and even I heard and understood 90% of the so-called muttering. No, I have no complaint about gratuitous nudity or inaudible diction. I did think the drama moved rather slowly at times with Stephen and Isabelle seeming to spend an inordinate amount of time gazing across crowded rooms at each other - well, maybe not really crowded rooms, but in places where other people were about. According to one critic, tonight's concluding episode speeds up dramatically. I shall look forward to watching it - and maybe I will take the book to France next week to read yet again.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Daphne and friends

On our kitchen table sits a white jug, a small, white jug about three inches high. I think we found it in a junk shop and bought it for small change. It doesn't sit on the table all the time, only when there are a few flowers to go in it. It makes a very good flower vase for small posies. At present it is holding a few shoots I cut from the daphne in the garden. I'm told the scent hits you when you open the kitchen door, but I have to bury my nose in the flowers to appreciate the scent.

If my eyesight were as poor as my sense of smell I would be registered blind. This is not something that bothers me and I'm not looking for sympathy (I don't suppose I would get it anyway) - just stating a fact. Although this is something I have lived with all my life, many people assumed that smoking was the cause. I haven't smoked now for 6.. 7.. nearly 8 months and although there might have been just a small improvement it's certainly not as though I have thrown open the shutters and let the sunlight flood into the room! This olfactory shortcoming has both advantages and disadvantages. For instance, if the dog rolls in something obnoxious while we are out, I don't notice the horrible small in the car or at home. On the other hand, I only know the toast is burning when I see the smoke. My wife learned early in our relationship that her use of perfume had no effect on me.

Despite what I wrote in that last paragraph, there are some times when scents do get through to me. Occasionally, when we are going out for the evening I will catch a whiff of perfume in the car. Some scents are more likely than others to get through the blockage. Lavender is one of the best.

It could have been twenty years ago that I noticed a delightful scent coming from the border in front of the drawing room window at my cousin's farm. A small shrub was the source, a small shrub with rather plain, pink flowers. With four petals laid out like a miniature star, up to about a dozen of these small blooms clustered together in various places around the plant. This was daphne; daphne odora to be exact. We visit the farm each Easter and the shrub blooms in March so we were treated to the scent most years. After several years we decided to plant a daphne in our garden. None of our local garden centres were able to help but I eventually, by sheer chance, located a grower in Scotland and placed an order. The plant he despatched failed to arrive and a second was sent, wherupon two turned up. I asked the grower what he wanted me to do and he told me to plant both, which I did, in large tubs as we understood that these plants are not lovers of chalky soils like ours. That was a good few years ago now and although one of the plants has since died, the other is going strong. I cut a few pieces last weekend when the buds were still quite tight but the warmth of the house has them coming out fast.

After the daphne is over the small, white jug will be washed and put back in the cupboard until the lily of the valley is ready. We have a lot of that in the garden so I always pick a bunch to have in the kitchen even though I don't get the full benefit. The Old Bat likes it, though. Later, in the summer, the jug will be used again - for sweet peas.

And so this olfactorily-challenged, inadequate gardener tries to keep the kitchen smelling sweet through the spring and summer. I don't always succeed, but daphne never lets me down.

Friday, 27 January 2012

It sticks in my craw

My waist expanded yesterday evening by an inch and a half. I know just how much because I ended up the evening undoing the top button of my trousers and it was then I observed that the button was that far from the button hole. At the start of the evening the two had been pretty much in alignment. It was going out for a meal that did it. I had for some time been intending to take the Old Bat out for a quiet meal on our own but somehow had never managed to find just the right time to suggest it. I'll skip over the reasons for that and simply say that this week I got it right. Madam chose the local Italian restaurant. We have eaten there before with much pleasure and yesterday was no exception.

The Old Bat elected to have garlic mushrooms from the starter menu accompanied by garlic bread. She opted to go without a "main" course so that she could have dessert. I skipped a starter and ordered tagliatelle amatriciana. When it came to ordering desserts, we decided we would each order a different one and swap over half way through. I ordered tiramisu - which they do particularly well - and the Old Bat plumped for pannacotta. After just one bite she informed me that there was no way I was getting any of it! Naturally, I gave way with good grace.

When the bill came I glanced at it quickly before handing over my credit card. I noticed that a 10% service charge had been added with no "by your leave" and with no real option to delete it. I suppose I could have done if I wanted, but I would have left a tip anyway so I didn't bother. As it happens, the cash tip would probably, certainly have been more. I also saw that the cost of my pasta was shown as two items, the sauce and the pasta. I thought that the price shown for the sauce was the price I had seen on the menu but assumed I was wrong. In any case, the charge for the tagliatelle was, as you can see, only 50p.

On the way out I picked up a copy of the menu which they provide for take-away business. I see from this that the price for amatriciana is £5.95 and there is no mention of an extra charge for the pasta. No don't get me wrong. I would have been quite happy to pay £6.45 for my meal, but it does stick in my craw to find that I am being charged extra for something which is an integral part of the meal , which extra charge is not mentioned anywhere but on the bill when it comes after the meal. That smacks to me of sharp practice.

But it's only 50p.

Now, we don't eat out all that often but we do like this restaurant. The food is good, it is conveniently placed and we can always park pretty much right outside. But as a matter of principal I do not like being taken for a mug. But, as I said, it is only 50p. If a supermarket tried to charge me 50p too much I would certainly argue about it. If it were, say, £1 I would almost certainly argue about it. But do I really want to make a fuss and possibly create a scene by quibbling over 50p when we eat there again? Or do I cross that restaurant off the list on the grounds that I don't like their business practices? This is going to take some thinking about. And all over 50p.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Mungy weather

The weather today is distinctly mungy. It has been all week. But then, despite the evidence of snowdrops and crocuses in the garden (and daffodils elsewhere) we are still in January. Just. Although truth to tell, this has been a very mild January. I can count on the fingers of one hand - and that doesn't include the thumb - the number of days when I have looked out of the bedroom window to find that the lawn has turned white. And we have had none of that white stuff which descends like manna from the heavens.

Because of the general munginess of the weather I have been rather more busy distracted indoors than in the garden. What with the minutes of last week's meeting of Brighton Lions Club and the monthly newsletter, preparation of which I left much later than usual, I have found myself sitting at the computer longer than usual. I have also been distracted by finding several strands of relations in my family tree. It made me think when I discovered that one of my great aunts had died in the workhouse. Not that she was really just a great aunt: she was really 3 x great. Even in this backward country we had got rid of the workhouses before any of my 1 x great aunts would have needed them. I wrote "got rid of" but that's not entirely true. The Brighton workhouse still exists. It's a hospital now, and a pretty grim hospital at that.

Despite being so busy I have still found time to check out all the blogs I follow on a daily basis. I do find this taking longer now than it once did as I keep finding new blogs I want to follow! How on earth some people manage to follow what seem like two or three hundred blogs is quite beyond me. But I have been remiss - and I apologise to all involved. I have failed to respond to comments people have left on my blog, which is most rude of me. I am so sorry. I will respond - possible even before I have posted this!

Talking of comments reminds me. Some blogs have comments that are threaded. How come? What is it that I'm missing?

I rarely comment on other blogs. This is partly a time thing - I'm too anxious to get on to read the next blog - and partly a time thing - other people have got there before me and their comments are just what I would have written.

But those responses.

Buck said how lucky I am to live near to London and he would have liked to live there. You're welcome, Buck. I can't understand anybody wanting to live in a city the size of London - or anywhere near as big as that. Brighton, with it's 250,000 inhabitants, is really bigger than I would prefer.

Stephen's comment was that I live in a part of the world rich in culture and heritage. But so do you, Stephen. It's simply a matter of different cultures - and look at the terrific scenery you have!

And thanks to Buck (again!) and SP for your kind comments about my Roman Camp post the other day.

Responding to all those comments about Kodak and photo albums would have been a day's blogging in itself.

Oh, yes. Skip, what is that strange "SF" emblem that has appeared on your blog - in two different forms?

Now I must get on and read all those blogs I follow before I am taken to the butcher's to buy Sunday's joint.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Tantalising glimpses

In my last job before retirement I had on occasion to visit other parts of the country. I was working for a newspaper and although I had no editorial input, it was considered that I should go along to the annual conference covered by the paper. This lasted four days (so it was necessary to stay in an hotel for the duration) and was a peripatetic affair. Newcastle, Scarborough, Leeds, Blackpool, Southport, Derby, Bristol, Bolton, Huddersfield, Cardiff . . . I've seen them all. It was following an unfortunate experience with the hotel at Cardiff that the editor and I decided we should change our system. Up till then the editor had selected the hotel, a little more scientifically than sticking a pin in a list, but without any real, personal knowledge. The Cardiff hotel was a definite let-down. After that, I went along to the conference town a few months ahead to check out the hotel we had chosen and to look at others if the first choice was unsatisfactory. Naturally, I made these trips alone.

Have you ever walked the streets of a strange town or city at dusk? Just at that time when it is dark enough for people indoors to switch on the lights but not dark enough to close the curtains? It's funny, I'm not a person to get homesick, but as I walked the streets of those towns to get a breath of air before dinner, I would feel a definite twinge. I missed my own town; I missed my wife even more - and I had only been away for little more than 24 hours! It was something to do with the time of day. I find even now I can get a sense of that feeling when I'm in France, have perhaps just driven to the supermarket and am on my way back. But I digress.

It is at that time - dusk, dark enough for the lights but not for the curtains - that one can get tantalising glimpses into strange houses, strange rooms, strange lives. (Strange as in other rather than as in peculiar.) One sees the wallpaper chosen by other people, the pictures and light fittings, sometimes the furniture. One is allowed a tantalising glimpse into another person's life.

That, for me, is part of the attraction of those blogs to be found under the umbrella of City Daily Photos. People post photos of their home towns, towns and cities I shall never visit as well as some I have been to. Avignon, Sydney, Funchal and scores of others. But what most of those photographer bloggers seem to overlook is that what to them is everyday can be exotic to others. They try to show the (to them) unusual and artistic. OK, there's nothing wrong with that, but what about showing something of everyday life in Bangkok or Melbourne, Dallas or Stockholm? The souk in Marrakesh might not seem interesting to somebody who lives there, but to me?

I joined this happy band of bloggers some time back, albeit with my tongue in my cheek. I rarely post photos of my city (Brighton) because I rarely go into the city proper. I live in the suburbs (ghastly thought but true) and spend more time walking the dog over the South Downs and in the local parks and woods, so that's where most of my pictures are taken. But then, I suppose I'm back where I started, aren't I? I'm allowing other people to have glimpses of my world. Just see my Stanmer photo blog if you are feeling nosey!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The romance of travel

I have never subscribed to the theory that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. Granted, there have been occasions when I have been disappointed in my destination but they have been very few and far between, both in distance and time. There have, more frequently, been occasions when I have found some part of my destination failed to meet my expectations or anticipations. On the other hand, I have usually approached travel with an open mind, neither expecting anything spectacularly memorable nor being wary that all I would find would be dismal and drear. Perhaps, then, it is just as well that I have never managed to visit some of the places that I have always associated with magic and romance.

There are three places in the east that have names which have always thrilled me with the promise of I don't know what. Arabian nights, perhaps, even though they are not in Arabia? Baghdad was always well up on my list of places to see before I kick the bucket - until I saw it on the television news: now I'm not so sure. Likewise those two cities on the Silk Road, Tashkent and Samarkand. I have always thought they sound dreamy, mystical. Then I learned that Tashkent is one of the foulest industrial cities sprawling across that part of the world. I doubt Samarkand is any different.

The Shenandoah River has always exerted a magnetic pull since my schooldays when we sang the song in music lessons. Like Samarkand, Tashkent and Baghdad, there is something about the name. The words of the song help, of course. Then one year we spent a holiday in the Blue Mountains of Virginia. That magnetic pull exerted itself, naturally, and I saw the object of my dreams, the Shenandoah. For once I was not disappointed: it was everything I had always dreamed it to be.

Another place that didn't disappoint was Carson City. The name has always sounded to me as though the place should be the epitome of the wild west, even though I knew before we went there that there would be no dusty street lined by boardwalks and saloons with gun slingers crouched around every corner. But I still felt a sort of frontier town atmosphere even as I entered a distinctly 20th century casino with its slot machines.

There are still some places that I would love to visit and that I think - at least, I hope - would not disappoint me. The Norwegian fjords, for example. But I suspect that my long distance travelling days are past. There used to be something exciting about travelling by plane, but not now. I'm too old to enjoy long-haul travel crammed into those ridiculously cramped seats in economy and I can't afford anything better. Besides, the sheer tedium of going through all that rigmarole just to board a plane is enough to deter me. Then there are so many hoops one has to jump through if travelling to or through the USA that the mere thought is exhausting.

I have always liked the sea, but frankly I cannot stand the thought of cruising, locked into such a small place with all those other people whom I would probably detest and finding interesting stopovers crammed by the very people I am trying to avoid. I have thought of those merchant ships that carry a few passengers, but that sort of journey sounds boring.

No, future travel for me will be to places I can reach in a couple of days by car. It sounds terribly unadventurous but there are still so many places even here in England that are crying out to be explored: Northumberland and Shropshire for starters. And just across the Channel there is the vastness of France, plus Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria and parts of Germany and Italy. What more could I ask for?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Reflections on the Roman Camp

I went for a walk round the Roman Camp over the weekend. The Roman Camp is situated on a high spot of the South Downs at the northern edge of the city of Brighton & Hove - but if you look for it on a map you will be disappointed. It's not on any map. Actually, that last statement is untrue; it is on many maps, but is always described as Hollingbury Hill Fort, not a Roman Camp. Hollingbury Hill Fort might be the official title but generation after generation of Brightonians have called it the Roman Camp. I don't suppose the Romans ever used the spot as a military outpost and there is no sign of a Roman villa. It's too draughty a spot for one thing. If the fort did date from Roman times it would be between 1,600 and 2,000 years old, but when the Romans were busy building their roads across England the Roman Camp was already ancient. It is not a mere sixteen hundred years old but a full three and a half thousand years so when the Romans were teaching the Celtic tribes about central heating and hot baths, this camp had already seen at least fifteen hundred winters.

The Camp is situated in the middle of a golf course and to reach it I prefer to drive towards Old Boat Corner and park at the edge of 39 Acre Field. This is a triangular field, possibly 39 acres in extent, which is owned by the Council and left as open grassland. It is mowed just once a year but dog walkers keep open a path right round the edge and one across the middle. In the summer one can see scabious and knapweed, cow parsley and sow thistle, Harebells, clover, vetches and daisies among other flowers. The song of the skylark can sometimes be heard overhead although they rarely nest in this field as it is too busy with humans and dogs.

I walk across the field and through a scrubby wood the top of the Wild Park before turning right to go uphill, round the back of the 7th (or 8th or whatever) hole of the golf course, and continue uphill to enter the Roman Camp by the eastern gateway. I know this is a gateway as archaeologists have marked the holes where the ancient gateposts stood by sinking iron pipes and filling them with concrete. This weekend I glanced back, as I usually do on entering the camp. I looked east across the modern housing estates of Moulsecoombe and the even newer buildings of the University of Brighton. As usual, I could quite easily see the white of the chalk pits outside Lewes but this time I could also make out the houses in the streets creeping up the slopes of Mount Caburn. Through the gap between Caburn and Castle Hill I could see the hills of the High Weald, perhaps forty miles away. The light was so good and the air so clear that those hills seemed closer than usual. Was it just my imagination that I caught a glimpse of pinpricks of light as the sun reflected on glass somewhere there?

As I walked the rampart round to the south the view opened up and I could see the Isle of Wight over fifty miles to the west. The island seemed to be floating on a bank of low cloud, something I have often read about but don't recall having seen before. That hump is St Catherine's Down and it might have been 59 years to the day since I had first walked over St Catherine's. It was in January 1953 that I was sent to school in Ventnor, a town huddling beneath St Catherine's Down. To the south-east was the grandstand of Brighton racecourse. Had it been a race day I could have watched the horses as they passed the winning post although the distance would have been too great for me to say which was the winner.

The ditch and rampart of the Iron Age (or is it Bronze Age?) fort are still there, even if the ditch has filled up a bit and the rampart shrunk since t was built all those years ago. As I walked the rampart I thought of those men digging that ditch to a depth of, what? Ten feet, perhaps. Not for them the ease of mechanical diggers of JCBs. It was the strength of their arms that used primitive picks and shovels to fling the earth up from the ditch to build the rampart so that attackers would have scale a steep incline twenty feet high, or more than the height of three men. There they would have been faced with an almost impenetrable wall of branches cut from thorn trees. In those days an army would have been only a couple of hundred men and battles would have been fought hand to hand, looking the enemy in the eye.

I did once try to calculate the area covered by the Camp. I came up with the answer of 48 acres but I think I must have made a mistake somewhere in my calculations as I'm sure it is not that big. But it's big enough. The centre should be typical downland but it seems more like moorland. The wild flowers growing here are different from those on 39 Acre Field. There are plenty of violets and wild thyme, orchids and other flowers I am unable to name and which I have seen nowhere else. I do recognise the gorse bushes which cover about a quarter of the Camp. These grow to a height of eight feet or more and, with the labyrinthine pathways threading through them, they make a natural maze.

The three graves in the Camp are never covered by the gorse. Indeed, little grows on them except grass. These are disc barrows, the grave sites of chieftains of the tribe who built the Camp. They are empty now, having been excavated in the middle of the 19th century. The grave goods are, I think, kept in the Brighton Museum.

No matter how still the day might be, there always seems to be a wind up here. The tang of the sea is on the breeze and if you lick your lips you will taste the salt. Herring gulls and black-headed gulls wheel overhead and just occasionally I might spot a green woodpecker as it flies between the stunted, wind-swept hawthorn trees. As I approach the northern side of the camp I can see across the rolling Downs to the Chattri, the site of the funeral pyres for Hindu soldiers who died in Brighton in the first World War, and, further on, there is a glimpse of Jack and Jill, the windmills at the top of Clayton Hill. Closer are the massed ranks of trees in Stanmer Great Wood. How many other people have, over the centuries, seen the same views, I wonder? What were their thoughts as they trod these ancient ramparts? How many were joyful, with something to celebrate? Or sad and mourning? Or, more likely, oblivious to it all?

But we have returned to the eastern gateway. It's time to descent the hill, walk back through the wood and across 39 Acres to the car. Fern has enjoyed the walk and the wind has certainly blown the cobwebs away. I shall enjoy that cup of coffee when I get home.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

39 x 39 x 39

Picture, if you will, a black, plastic sack. A black, plastic rubbish sack. A black sack full of rubbish with a draw string pulled tight and tied at the neck. OK, now just put that to one side for a moment.

Picture, if you will, a container with a capacity of one cubic metre. Need help? OK, it's a large box. The base is one metre wide and one metre long and the sides are one metre high.

(If you are metrically challenged and prefer imperial measurements, this little bit of doggerel might help:
A metre measures three foot three;
It's longer than a yard, you see.
If it's any help, you could always picture a container one yard by one yard by one yard. That would be a little smaller than a cubic metre but I don't suppose it would matter all that much.)

So, we now have a container with a capacity of one cubic metre (or one cubic yard) and a full, black, plastic rubbish sack. How many of those sacks do you think would fit into the container? No need to pummel and push and squeeze, just place the sacks in. How many? Four, quite easily, possibly five, maybe even six. For the sake of this exercise, let's accept four even though there will be room to spare.

So we have a container of one cubic metre capacity filled with four rubbish sacks. Now picture, if you will, a whole row of those containers, a row of 39 of them, each containing four rubbish sacks. That makes 39 cubic metres of rubbish.

In you mind's eye you now have 39 x 4 rubbish sacks. That's 156 sacks. Now it just so happens that 156 can be divided by 52, the answer being three. So if you filled three sacks of rubbish every week for a complete year, you would end up with 39 cubic metres of rubbish.

Do you know, I can hear the cogs in your mind going round and producing the tought, "What has happened? Has he finally fallen off his trolley?" But bear with me and all will become as dense as the old London pea-soupers.

I have recently received a bill in connection with the house in France. I think it is a bill for rubbish collection. It is printed on pretty pink paper and it tells me to return the slip with my cheque. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a tear-off slip - but that's just a minor inconvenience. I shall take a copy of the whole invoice and return that with my cheque. I say that I think this is a charge for rubbish collection, but what i can't work out is how it has been calculated. No, that's not quite accurate. I can work out how it is calculated - it says the charge is 39 cubic metres times 63 cents - but what puzzles me is the 39 cubic metres. Are 'they' suggesting that they have collected hree sacks of rubbish from our house every week for the past year? Never! I don't suppose there is a house in the village that ever puts out three sacks of rubbish in any one week let alone every week for a whole year. So it can't be that.

Last year's bill was for 37 cubic metres. In 2010 it was for 36 and in 2009, 30, while way back in 2008 it was 32.

You will appreciate that these bills are not exactly enormous and the Old Bat and I are quite happy that we should pay our way in the village. I'll do the same this year as every other year: just pay up.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Whistling dead bodies stopped by the police

Just for once I wrote the blog before the title. Then I found myself stumped, hence the bit above which has no bearing, or maybe a little bit of bearing, on what follows.

I read in the paper of a chap who took his mother on an outing. She died while they were out so he took her back home on the bus. Yes, really! It helped that she was in a wheelchair. For some reason the thought of a guy pushing a wheelchair with a dead body onto a bus just creased me up.

It must be about five or six weeks now. I did mention around then that I had lost my whistle. I had gone to call the dog who had wandered off a bit and when I pursed my lips and blew, all that came out was a feeble "phoo" instead of a "shree". I had thought at one stage that my whistle had come back, but I regret having to report that I still can't emulate the guy who had a hit record of himself whistling. It is really quite embarrassing if I forget my inability and try to whistle while I happen to be with somebody else, dog walking in the park being the social activity that it is. "The Man Who Lost His Whistle": sounds like the title of a novel by Agatha Christie or Alexander McCall Smith, doesn't it?

Anyway, a man was stopped by the police at around 2.00am and was asked where he was going at that time of the night.

The man replied, ‘I'm on my way to a lecture about alcohol abuse and the effects it has on the human body, as well as smoking and staying out late.'

‘Really? Who is giving that lecture at this time of the night?' asked the officer.

‘That would be my wife.'

Friday, 20 January 2012

Kodak moments

I first heard the phrase "a Kodak moment" just a few years ago, possibly something to do with me being out of touch with what is happening in the big world beyond the South Downs. But with the news this week that Kodak, or Eastman Kodak or whatever the company is really called, is close to going bust, perhaps that little phrase has but a limited life ahead of it. I suppose what has really put the skids under Kodak is the digital age. Time was when almost every household owned a Kodak Brownie camera and bought rolls of Kodak or Ilford film from the chemist, taking the exposed film back to the chemist to be processed. As a young teenager, ie when I was about thirteen, I owned just such a camera. I seem to recall it taking a size 127 film which allowed me to take ... was it 8 or 12 pictures? Oh, the anticipation while waiting to collect the prints two or three days after taking the exposed film to the chemist - and the excitement with which the cardboard folder was opened! Few, very few, of the resulting photographs were worth preserving but every one would be lovingly kept in a photograph album.

Remember those? They consisted of a number of sheets of thick, black paper which was considered best for displaying the black and white photographs (colour film might have been available but if it was it would have been prohibitively expensive). The photos were held in place by mounts, little triangular paper things which slipped over the corners of the photos and were either self-adhesive or needed licking to make them stick to the page - I don't remember which. Then the photos had to be captioned using special white ink and either a dip pen or, if you couldn't find one of those, a cocktail stick or similar.

The photos themselves were mostly just contact prints, hence the small number on a roll of film. I have a couple on my desk in front of me now and they measure 1 7/8" by 2¾", which is just about OK for a head and shoulders portrait (those on my desk are of my mother and father) but absolutely hopeless for landscape pictures. All the same, I used to take great care in arranging all my pictures - portraits and landscapes - on the pages in artistic fashions.

Now that almost all photography is digital, the majority of pictures are stored on computers or, increasingly it seems, on mobile phones. Albums are almost things of the dim and distant past, remembered only by dinosaurs like me. I know two people who still use them but they use the modern version, the sort which consists of pockets fronted by cellophane into which one slips the pictures. There are always two to a page and the pictures are always displayed in landscape format (one has to turn the album to look at a portrait-format picture). I think that the sheer mass of pictures presented at a view with no space between them distracts from them and I find it difficult to look through such an album. But I wonder if it is still possible to buy the old sort?

Perhaps the ultimate in photograph albums is the printed picture book available over the web from so many places. It might even be possible nowadays to get them from the local supermarket. I did have one made and I found it great fun selecting the pictures to include and arranging them on the pages in various sizes. This is a great reminder of the before, during and after of our holiday home in France.

But on the subject of Kodak moments, I burst out laughing when I saw this:

That is the lock on the shower-room door as it was when we bought our French house. Yes, the lock was on the outside, not the inside. I had visions of the Old Bat locked in. You know the song?

"Oh dear, what can the matter be?
One old lady locked in the lavatory."

I've changed it now.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

To kill a duck

At our Lions business meeting last night we received a report from David about the children's outing to the pantomime. This actually took place in December but he was absent from last month's meeting. Apparently it all went swimmingly.

We have been organising two outing a year for children. The one in the summer is to a reasonably near zoo and then it's a pantomime at Christmas. The original idea was that these should be for disadvantaged children, children who might otherwise not have an outing. At first, we relied on the social services people to provide a list of names and addresses. Unfortunately, it became apparent that many of these were the people who yelled the loudest and were not necessarily particularly needy or disadvantaged. We gave the matter some thought and decided that school teachers were probably the best people to provide names of needy children. But, of course, they wouldn't. The answer was to provide an outing for a whole class (or year group) thereby covering the disadvantaged even though it meant that some of the beneficiaries were not. But if we chose a school in the poorer part of town, there was a good chance that a large proportion of the children would be the ones we wanted to help.

Unfortunately, I think David has lost sight of the original idea. Certainly few of the children who were taken to the pantomime could be said to come from needy families. (I do have the advantage of inside knowledge as my granddaughter attends this school.) This was demonstrated when the school took up a collection at the Christmas concert and sent the Lions a cheque for over £300! Somehow we really must try to get David back on track.

This will be made even more difficult for me as he has provided a report to be published in Jungle Jottings, the club's newsletter which is edited by me. His report is crying out not just for editing but for rewriting completely. I could try to make a few minor changes - but if I start I will end up doing a full rewrite. It would make JJ look better but might not sit so well with David.

What the heck, publish as written: it will all be forgotten in a month's time anyway - and I should be looking to build up, not destroy.

To finish on a lighter note. Some years ago the summer outing was to a playground-cum-activity centre. One of the boys, only about 4' 6" tall but 10 years old, claimed he had been pushed into the pond by a duck. After consoling him, one of the Lions suggested he should sit in the sun for a while to dry off. No fear, he said. He was "going back to kill that b..... duck!"

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Allez les bleus!

If there is one thing the French do better than anyone else, it is bureaucracy. You might think you've come across some pretty good examples of the science of bureacracy but, believe me, if not come across it in France, you've yet to meet the world champions. They are masters of the art. I expect to have the pleasure of banging my head against the proverbial when we allerons en france next month. Of course, this will not be my first experience. I wouldn't say I'm an old hand at the game, but there have been a couple of bouts. (I first typed "skirmishes" but thought that would be mixing my metaphores so you've been let off.) The first time was when we exchanged contracts to buy our house (here) and then when we completed (here). The next occasion was not too long after we had bought our dream cottage.

In view of what I had heard about the bureaucratic French, I thought we should check we didn't need a permit of some sort to let the house as a holiday home. I duly presented myself at the village mairie on one of the mornings it was open. This is a building that seems far too large for a commune of just about three hundred souls; it is almost as big as the church and has a tower just as imposing as the church tower. I opened the nail-studded, oak door and crept into the enormous hallway. The last time I had seen an entrance hall this large was in one of the Loire châteaux. There was no sign of anybody, and there was no indication as to which, if any, of the many doors leading off the black and white tiled floor might provide access to a receptionist, or whether I would have to mount the magnificent flight of stairs. There was no ringing of telephones, noise of computer printers or even subdued murmuring to give me a clue. I decided to try the first door on my right and, if necessary, work my way round anti-clockwise. The first door was locked. The next door opened into a committee room where the plastic tables and chairs looked distinctly incongruous against the wood panelling of the walls. All the other doors were locked, until I came to the last. It would have been just the same if I had decided to go in a clockwise direction: the reception would still have been in the last room I tried.

An enquiry counter ran diagonally across the room. Well, it went from corner to corner, though not in a straight line, turning through ninety degrees every three feet or so to perform a zig-zag. On the desk behind the enquiry counter was a large ledger in which a lady was making entries with a ballpoint pen. From the look of the ledger and the lady's clothing, I assumed that she had only recently given up using a quill. Her grey hair was parted in the middle, pulled back hard from her forehead, and wound into two coils which were pinned one above each ear. She wore a grey blouse with a piecrust collar that buttoned tightly at the neck. Even her lips looked grey and, for the first time in my life, I saw somebody actually wearing pince-nez. I had to choke back a laugh as she reminded me of a Beatrix Potter illustration of a mouse. She looked at me timidly as I introduced myself as the new owner of old Madame Erlanger's house.

Suddenly, she became a model of business efficiency as she asked for my passport, which I just happened to have with me, and proceeded to photocopy every page that had anything on it. I decided not to ask why she needed a copy of the Maltese entry and exit stamps from a holiday three years before and just let her get on with it.

"Are you married?" she asked.

Blimey, I thought, she doesn't waste any time, but I replied in the affirmative.

"Is your wife with you?"

I looked around but could see nobody in the room apart from the mouse and me. Perhaps she thought Mrs S was very short and was hidden from her by the counter. "Err, not right at the moment," I replied.

A withering glance from the mouse, as if to say it was just typical of a man to leave his wife behind when it was obvious her presence would be needed and that I shouldn't be allowed out on my own. "She will need to come in with her passport."

I promised her, "Cross my heart and hope to die", that I would ensure Mrs S called at the mairie on the very first occasion she happened to be in the village with her passport at a time when the mairie was open. Then I dropped a bombshell. I explained to the mouse that we intended letting Les Lavandes as a holiday home and asked if we needed a permit for this. A look of utter terror came over her face as she told me that she didn't know and I would have to enquire at Angers, the large city that is the capital of the département. It was the way she said it that convinced me she didn't want me to make any enquiries that might stir up trouble from the big city and that it would be better just to leave them in ignorance while the village slumbered on in peace.

That time we opted for the quiet life.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

All history is bunk

I'm probably misquoting Henry Ford and I am certainly taking him out of context but there is no way I can agree with his point of view. Although perhaps he is right and I just like some of the bunk! I find life, or the little details of other people's lives, endlessly fascinating. It is, to me, good to read of the life of an English lady in rural France (strictly speaking not yet history, I suppose) or about growing up in San Francisco after the war and comparing that with my own experience of growing up in England after the war. That was a time of shortages, not that we children realised there were shortages: we thought that was just how things always were. Those were the days when we would find a few odd scraps of wood and some rusty nails and build ourselves a cart. If we found we needed another nail we would go to the hardware shop and buy a single nail - and be given a paper bag in which to carry it home!

I read recently that the past informs the present, although that, perhaps, is not really relevant to my next comment. As you might know, one of my distractions is studying my family history. Although it is only during the last 200 years that it has been possible to learn much about the occupations etc of one's ancestors, even in that time one can see the truth of that old saying, like father, like son. There are some things that travel through the generations (and I don't mean like red hair). I'm talking about character traits. My wife's 2 x great grandfather was a pharmacist. His son was a keen photographer, this being in the days when being a photographer meant dealing with chemicals. I don't know about my wife's grandfather, but her father also dabbled in photography, developing and printing his own films. Am I being perhaps a little fanciful in seeing a family trait here? Well, how about an ancestor of mine back in the 17th century. He was a guardian of the poor and a magistrate. In the 20th century, two of his descendants became local councillors (one ending as mayor) and another was a trades union shop steward.

A copy of the birth certificate of my late father-in-law's step-sister has just arrived. I see that her father, my f-i-l's step-father, was a pen manufacturer and further research shows that for a while he owned a company making steel pens. This reminded me of my early schooldays when we learned to write using wooden pens into which steel nibs were inserted. Our desks had small, china inkwells in holes at the top right corner and every morning the class ink monitor would have to go round the room topping up the ink. There would also be two milk monitors to a class. In those days every school child was given a bottle of milk at school, one third of a pint. These had cardboard tops with a small tab at the side to pull them off. The monitors would fetch a crate of bottles for the class. On really cold mornings the bottles would be put on hot water pipes running along the side of the classroom to warm the milk. It was bad enough drinking cold milk but the warm milk was horrible! There would also be a straw monitor whose job was to hand out the drinking straws, although the tough guys would drink straight from the bottle if they could get away with it.

Ah, memories. History. . .

Monday, 16 January 2012

A little knowledge is a worry.

I know, I know, you don't have to tell me. The commonly quoted proverb is that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing - and it is, or can be. It can also be a worry.

Years and years ago, a neighbour and I went to evening classes to learn motor mechanics. This was back in the days when one went to night school not only to study for professional exams and qualifications (I did it for years before I managed to pass my banking exams and become an Associate Member of the Institute of Bankers or AIB) but also for cultural study such as conversational French, cookery or chess for beginners. Alan, for that was my neighbour's name, and I had become disenchanted with the prices charged by garages for servicing our cars and reckoned we could save money by doing the work ourselves. We became adept at changing brake pads, bleeding and adjusting brakes, adjusting tappets, dismantling carburretors and distributors - indeed, everything in the standard service and a bit more besides.

Nowadays it's a different story. For a start, I'm a lot less keen on standing in a cold wind on the drive fiddling around under the bonnet. In any case, it seemed a lot easier when there were two of us doing the job and Alan moved away years back. Anyway, with modern cars it's about all I can do to open the bonnet to check the oil and water. With my present car even changing a light bulb is a garage job. But despite this, I still read the question and answer column in the motoring supplement that comes with the Saturday edition of my daily paper. The questions asked cover a very wide range of motoring subjects and it is through reading these and, especially, the answers that I have learned what happens if a timing belt snaps and that there are such things as a dual mass flywheel, this latter being something that, apparently, can disintegrate without warning and do a great deal of expensive damage.

I had it at the back of my mind that later this year I should consider having the timing belt and associated pulleys etc changed in my car. I had the job done on my previous car - same make and model as this one - and it cost an arm and a leg. I also know that later this year I will have to spend quite a lot on a major service. With the worry of the dual mass flywheel at the back of my mind, I was thinking that maybe I should change the car for one that has a timing chain (doesn't need replacing) and does not have a dual mass flywheel (I don't actually know if mine does or not). That would also save the cost of the service and (maybe) a set of four tyres.

You see? Just enough knowledge to make life a worry.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

I got Friday back

Yep, that's right. Last week I got Friday back. Not all of Friday - just Friday morning. I hadn't lost the rest of the day. To tell the truth, I hadn't really lost Friday morning either, but last week Friday morning was back to what it used to be.

Friday is the day when the Dearly Beloved takes herself off to the MS Treatment Centre for an hour of breathing pure oxygen under pressure in a sort of land-based diving bell. She doesn't have MS but she does have a condition which, in many ways, is similar. It just has more letters - CBD - but not the pain of MS. All the same, the old love finds that her weekly high dosage oxygen treatment ameliorates her condition.

It was sometime in November that she developed a peculiar, well, what can I call it? Disease, condition, infection? We don't know what it was (nor does her GP) but it left her feeling light-headed and, as a consequence, unwilling to risk getting behind the wheel of a car. So on Friday mornings I drove her to Southwick, went on to Tesco's to do the shopping, and then had about 45 minutes before I had to collect madam. I used that time to explore parts of Shoreham that I didn't know and to take photographs. Many of them have already appeared on Stanmer and Around and I have more to come. But last week the old duck felt OK to drive and my services as chauffeur and personal shopper were no longer required. I had my Friday morning back.

Maybe it wasn't such a good thing. I got stuck into chasing down a few loose ends in my family tree and, as a result, spent far too much time at the computer. This is something I find almost impossible to stop once I get started. I find one new person and have to take it further. When were they born? Did they marry? If so, who? What about children? And so on. And then there are the puzzles that seem to be quite impossible to solve. They are rather like cryptic crossword puzzles where solving one clue can help with the next - but don't expect everything to fall into place at once! Take this little conundrum.

The Old Bat's great grandfather emigrated to Australia. In Melbourne he married an Irish girl and they had three children, one of whom died as an infant. The wife also died and the two children (my wife's grandfather and great aunt) were sent back to England to live with their grandparents. The boy, William Carstairs, grew up and married Helena Jones, a girl born in Liverpool to Irish immigrant parents. A son was born and was also named William but when he was only four, his father died. But he didn't die in London (where the son had been born) or in Brighton (where Helena had lived before her marriage, attending the same church as William's grandparents). He died in a small village on the borders of Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire and was buried there as there was no money to bring his body back down south.

Many years later, William junior and his wife (my wife's parents) were still very friendly with a family living in that little village - but nobody was able to explain how the connection had come about. Why did a young couple from Brighton visit a remote Midlands village? And how did a Liverpool girl come to be in Brighton in the first place?

As I implied earlier, I had traced Helena to Liverpool where she was born in 1878. Her parents and an older sister where living there at the time of the census in 1871 but there was no trace of the family in 1881 when the next census was taken. I eventually traced Helena's father and older sister to an address in London and saw that the father was described as a widower. There was no record, however, of the mother's death. Nor could I find any trace of Helena. I found her in Brighton in 1901, living with Mr and Mrs Hall. It was in 1902 that she married William Carstairs, their son was born in 1904 and William died in 1908.

How I wished there was a diary to tell me what had happened to Helena before her marriage. Eventually, I learned. An Internet contact told me she had been adopted by Mr & Mrs Hall after her mother's death. The Hall's lived in that little village, hence Helena's (and subsequently her son's) connection. The Hall's had moved from there, ending up in Brighton.

Helena had a tragic life. Not only had her mother died while she was very young, but her husband died after only six years of marriage. She did later remarry but her second husband mistreated her, attacking her with a knife on at least one occasion, and he committed suicide.

At least I did eventually learn about Helena. I'm still struggling with her step-daughter, Moira, who was last heard of in Paris just before the second World War and who is believed to have joined a nunnery but who I have been unable to find in any official records. I have found a record of Helena's step-daughter Johanna - of whom my wife had never heard. Was she Moira? I wonder if I shall ever find out.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Frustrating books and television

Just recently two different writers for two different media have had me writhing, gritting my teeth and clenching my fists. The first is a well-known television presenter who has also written several novels. I borrowed his latest from the library on my last visit. It's not exactly a who-dun-it, although there is a mystery surrounding the death of a girl back in 1816, nor is it a romance, although the main male character does fall for the woman next door. This latter is in 2010, by the way. The book switches between 1816 and 2010 all the way through. The final outcome is irrelevant to my griping so I won't bother you with the details. Suffice it to say that the denouement depends on a scullery maid from 1816, a 15-year-old girl, being able to read well enough to read novels and a 16-year-old boy from the same year, a miller's son, being able to write and being sufficiently literate to write a daily diary. Sorry, Mr Author - that just doesn't gel with me as I know that well into the 19th century very, very few people of that class could read and write.

On Wednesday evening the Old Bat and I settled down to watch the latest episode of Midsomer Murders. I should explain that Midsomer is a fictional English county centred around the county town of Causton and that the villages of Midsomer Worthy, Midsomer Parva, Midsomer Magna et al are the murder capital of the country. They have, over the years, experienced more murders per 100 population than London, New York, Detroit or any where else you care to mention. Each and every one of those murders has, of course, been solved in the course of a two-hour television programme. For years, the successful detective was Tom Barnaby, played by John Nettles.

(Just going off on a bit of a tangent for a while. The Old Bat is, I think, quite keen on Mr Nettles. I think he frequently looks like my brother. When I mentioned this to him - my brother, that is, not Mr Nettles who I have never met - he told me that his daughter thinks the same. Now it happens that many people think my brother and I look alike. I don't, nor does the Old Bat, but could it be that she subconsciously sees me as the hero in those television programmes? No, don't answer that!)

One of the reasons why those programmes gave so much pleasure is/was the location shots. These were in beautiful Buckinghamshire villages full of cricket on the green, thatched cottages and low-beamed pubs. If the Old Bat liked John Nettles, I rather took to his screen wife, Jane Wymark. Mind you, she seemed to be involved in every organisation in every village, from bell ringing to civil war re-enactment, but that brought her into the plot in most episodes so I wasn't complaining as it gave her bigger parts. Tom Barnaby retired and his place was taken by his cousin, another Barnaby. The new Barnaby is not so much to the Old Bat's taste but his wife is quite a looker as well. She doesn't get such big parts as she teaches full-time so is not involved so much in village life. All that, though, is by the bye. It was this week's episode that got my goat.

I haven't quite decided if the scriptwriter was extracting the Michael or if he was really quite serious, but the story-line concerned the Midsomer in the March Ornithological Society and the sighting of a supposed rare bird, the blue crested hoopoe. Now I'm not an expert, but I suspect there is no such bird. If there is, I don't suppose it looks anything like the stuffed bird which was displayed as an example. This was an ordinary hoopoe with the tips of the feathers of its crest coloured blue. Quite ridiculous. Then two or three of the members of the society were in a hide watching birds which they identified as non-existent breeds. But the thing that really got me going was that one of the members was going out at the dead of night to record bird song. Bird song? At midnight? Of a meadow lark? Do me a favour!

Frankly, if scriptwriters can't be bothered to make their plots at least reasonably accurate in the detail, I don't think I can be bothered to watch the programmes.

But I do wish I could find a 19th century diary written by one of my ancestors. It might help me solve one or two riddles. I won't go into that any further just now - I've dribbled on long enough. I'll save that for tomorrow.

Friday, 13 January 2012


I know some of us complain from time to time about our frustrations concerning Blogger and its glitches but let's be honest with ourselves, those are mere trivialities in life's rich tapestry. (Am I starting to mix metaphores yet?) Just think how much worse our lives would be if we were unable to get light at the flick of a switch or if we, like so many African people, had to walk miles to collect clean water. Yes, I know. That's a bit like when my mother used to tell me to think of all those starving African children when I refused to eat cabbage. I never could really see what good it would do those children if I did eat my cabbage or what harm would befall them if I didn't.

And those Blogger frustrations are as nothing compared to the frustration thrust upon me almost every day by my Internet service provider. My broadband Internet access is painfully slow - less than 2 mps - but I don't find that a problem. At least, not usually. I stream or download or whatever it is called films never and short videos only occasionally. Clips off YouTube are about my limit and a slow download speed is only a minor frustration then. Much more frustrating is the several times a day disconnection. Every now and then I will find a web site taking a long time to open and then I get the "unable to connect" message, or words to that effect. My broadband connection has become disconnected. This might last for just a few seconds or for several minutes. Either way, it is a cause of severe head-banging.

I called in at the Lions Housing Society office a week or two back and found they had a computer techie-type in doing some work to connect an extra PC to the web. I mentioned my frustrations with my IPC and he tried to tell me what the problem was. He talked about bandwidth and all sorts of other things I didn't understand. The upshot was that I should change my ISP.

I have, on numerous occasions, considered doing just that but every time I have considered doing so I have decided against it. It's not so much the little matter of changing my email address; that is not such a big deal. I already have two or three email addresses and all of them point to just one place. It would be a simple matter to switch the redirect from my personal domain and gradually notify people who have just the email address with my ISP. No, the reason for me not changing my supplier is simply that I am too miserly. My current supplier charges me comparatively little each month to cover phone line rental, unlimited broadband usage (when I'm not disconnected), a second phone number through my computer (which has been allocated to the 0845 number for Brighton Lions Club) and free phone calls 24 hours a day to all UK geographic numbers and 35 international destinations. For that, I'm prepared to put up with a little frustration.

Thursday, 12 January 2012


The Chubby Chatterbox and Uncle Skip have inspired me to cast my mind back in the search for memories of my first pet. I trawled back through a succession of dogs, oe cat, two rabbits and - for a short time - one lamb. Then, further back in the dim past, came the recollections of a budgerigar named Billy. He was a very smart, blue budgerigar and it had taken a great deal of persuasion before my mother agreed to admit a feathered creature into the house. It wasn't that she was particularly unfond of feathered creatures, or furry creatures either for tht matter. Her concern was for my brother and me. We boys were both quite severely asthmaticand our doctor had suggested that we would probably be allergic to fur and feather. As it transpired, Billy caused no problems. But he wasn't the first pet in our household. Before Billy came a succession of goldfish, fish carrying neither feather nor fur they were considered safe pets for us boys. Thinking about those fish has brought to mind the funny little shop in Canterbury Street where we acquired these creatures. I don't think it was a full-blown pet shop; in my mind's eye I can see only tanks of fish - tropical fish in the main part of the shop and cold water fish in a sort of passageway at the back and side of the shop. That was where the proprietor would lead us to gaze at the fish in the tanks as we decided which particular fish we wanted.

But even the goldfish weren't the first pets. I need to explain here that my mother's sister lived fairly close to us. She had three children - a boy a year older than me, another boy a year younger than me and a year older than my brother, and a girl another year younger than my brother. We sort of meshed agewise, but my boy cousins were allowed a great deal more freedom than were my brother and I. It was their back garden that was dug over in a series of trenches and encampments with a dug-out for a shelter. It was my cousins who were allowed to go off on their own and explore the chalk pits, the disused chalk quarries. Now I come to think of it, I don't even know where the chalk pits were (or are). It was through my cousins' chalk pit explorations that my brother and I acquired our very first pets - a couple of newts. Just how these unfortunate wild creatures ended up in our house I cannot say, but they did. Neither my brother nor I - nor, indeed, our mother - had the faintest idea of how to look after newts, what sort of habitat they needed and, even, what they ate. Given that I was probably about 8 at the time and my brother 6, our ignorance could, perhaps, be excused. Nowadays, of course, newts are protected by law and capturing any wild creature to keep as a pet is abhorrent to any right-thinking person. Things were different 60+ years ago when this all happened. Anyway, my mother found an enamel dish, about 9" x 6" and 2" deep, into which we put a few stones and an inch or so of water. We pulled up some weeds and grass from the garden and threw those in - and that was home for the newts. We must have put something over the top to stop them escaping but I can't remember what it might have been.

I suppose we had taken the dish into the garden to do something or other. That was when the newts escaped and dived down a drain. Goodbye newts.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

I mentioned last week. . . At least, I think it was last week. Anyway, whenever it was, I mentioned that the blackbirds had joined the chorus of robins in the park in the mornings. Now the song thrushes have joined in as well and the small wood we walk through every day has become quite noisy. There are snowdrops growing in the woods in two places but although the shoots are well up, there is as yet no sign of the blooms themselves. Unlike Kay's snowdrops. Kay lived in a bungalow across and just down the road from us. She was a delightful lady who adored the cat we had then but both she and the cat have been dead for several years. All the same, we still refer to Kay's bungalow and, by extension, the snowdrops growing in a corner of the garden are Kay's snowdrops. They are of a variety which blooms early and have been in flower for a couple of weeks. Unlike Tony's wife's daffodils, which he says were in bloom before Christmas. Like Kay, Tony's wife died some years back. She had planted early-blooming daffodil bulbs in the triangle of grass at the road junction outside their house. Tony adds a few bulbs each year in her memory.

It doesn't matter what time of year it is, there will always be gorse in bloom - and indeed there is on the Roman Camp. Equally, marigolds can bloom at all times of the year and we have several of these bright orange flowers in the garden. We also have a few grape hyacinths trying bravely to bloom as well as the first pale mauve crocuses. I did see yellow crocuses in the verge as I drove down Ditchling Road yesterday although the great swathes of them planted by the council have still to come through.

It was about this time last year that we were under a foot or so of snow and I was unable to get the car out for a week. What a difference this year! Of course, the plant life wouldn't suffer much under a blanket of snow but I just hope we don't get any sharp frosts.

It is even noticeable that the mornings get light earlier now. Perhaps spring is on its way.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

If music be the food of love. . .

I suppose there might well be some clever clogs out there who are thinking I am a little late with this post which should, they are thinking, have appeared last Thursday but yah boo sucks to you and all that, this really has nothing to do with Twelfth Night. Mind you, the Old Bard knew a thing or two, didn't he? Whether or not music can induce love I really don't know - I don't recall it ever having that effect on me - but music certainly can affect one's mood. Look how some music will set your foot tapping no matter how down in the dumps you might be feeling to start with. Some music makes me want to laugh, while other music seems to bring about a serious mood. And I know it's not just me who can be affected by music.

Years ago I ran a scout troop and every year we went off for a week's camping in the summer. During the camp we always had two or three formal camp fires - sing-alongs. I say 'formal' because we did treat these camp fires as a sort of ceremony. The fire was always lit in a special camp fire circle which would ideally be a little distance from the tents etc and be furnished with logs for seats. The fire would be set during the afternoon and built with logs of appropriate size laid as a pyramid, bigger logs at the base, smaller at the top. The centre would be stuffed with small sticks and kindling and axle grease would be smeared onto the outer logs. We tried not to light the fire using magic fire water (paraffin) but didn't mind cheating with a bit of grease.

I had been taught by an expert how to run a camp fire and I think I had learned my lesson well. I always planned in advance what songs would be sung and made it a rule never to introduce a new song at camp. New songs would be learned during troop meetings. There were three basic groups of songs: starting songs that would get everybody singing along, songs for the middle section of the programme that were more complicated, and songs to wind down as the camp fire drew to a close. It was important that songs were used in the correct part of the programme; it would have been pointless introducing a quiet, thoughtful song near the start and foolish to get everybody jumping around and shouting at the end.

I ran many camp fires but there was just one occasion when I achieved near perfection. That year the camp fire circle was in a woodland glade, which helped with the ambiance. As the programme of songs went on I could feel the atmosphere becoming more and more electric. We built up in a crescendo just exactly the way I had hoped, and then gradually things calmed down. After the last song (only I knew it to be the last) there was silence. I eventually said just a couple of words - "Goodnight, lads" or something like that. Two dozen or so boys got up and went to bed in absolute silence, so affected were they by the atmosphere.

Just the once - and I shall never forget it.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

I wish I could give an undisputed credit to the person who coined this phrase but, to my regret, there is no agreement about the author although it seems probable that it was the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Actually, it matters not who said it originally, at least, it matters not as far as this particular post is concerned. The phrase is merely a useful title providing an introduction to what I am about to say.

(Pause for a triviality concerning the word "actually". Before the adjoining towns of Brighton and Hove were merged into one - known by the very unoriginal name of Brighton & Hove, which doesn't exactly slip off the tongue very easily - people who lived in Hove, the smaller and lesser-known of the two towns, would often say, when asked where they lived, "Brighton. Well, Hove, actually". Hove therefore became known not as plain Hove but as the double-barrelled Hove-Actually.)

But to get back to reality. I have been glancing, as one does from time to time when one has an idle moment or three or when one is vain enough to do so, at the statistics so kindly provided by Blogger. I don't place a great deal of faith in the absolute accuracy of those statistics, which quite often seem to differ from the stats provided by Flag Counter (and Flag Counter does provide those pretty little graphics in my side bar). All the same, according to Blogger, my post with the most views is the one from nearly two years ago, St David's Day. This post has received over seven times as many visits as the next most popular. I was left puzzling when I discovered this fact until I looked at the statistics page showing traffic sources. This revealed that many of the visitors to the St David's Day post had searched for pictures of daffodils - and my post had one. So all those people didn't really want to read my purple prose about the patron saint of Wales - they just wanted a picture of daffodils! Put me in my place good and proper.

And like others, I'm puzzled by the traffic coming from a weird Russian site.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

I probably shouldn't write this

But I'm going to do so anyway. It is possible that what I am about to write will cause offence in some quarters or to some people. I don't see why it should, but these days it seems ridiculously easy for people to take offence just because somebody disagrees with their religious views or convictions and says what they think. That is what I am about to do. If my words cause offence, I apologise. No offence is intended and I fully respect your right to hold views different from mine and to express your opinions both verbally and in written form.

I will start with a hypothetical situation. There is a very old building in town, possibly dating from Tudor times, a building which you admire greatly, a building you would wish to see preserved. Unfortunately, this building is owned and occupied by a right wing political organisation, a very right wing organisation. So far to the right that its policies are repugnant to you and most other people. This organisation doesn't have the funds to maintain the old building which is falling into disrepair. An appeal is made for funds to effect essential repairs to the building. You would be happy to contribute towards the cost of those repairs but are not happy that some of any money you donate might be used for political purposes and, in any case, you have no wish to provide this repugnant organisation with a headquarters building. What do you do? Do you make a donation so that the building can be preserved, hoping that it will become the property of somebody else or a different organisation in the near future? Or do you accept the risk of the building falling down because you don't want to risk giving a penny to that political party?

There is, of course, no wrong answer to those questions, just as there is no right one either. Nor is there a right or a wrong answer to the particular problem with which I have been wrestling over the past few days. All the same, I will be interested to hear what my readers have to say about it.

My family moved to Hove almost 55 years ago and almost immediately started worshipping at St Helen's church in Hangleton. This is the oldest building in the city of Brighton & Hove, parts of it being more than 900 years old. It is a beautiful example of an old church which, thankfully, escaped restoration in Victorian times. But the congregation is too small to be able to maintain the building and the diocese can no longer contribute towards the shortfall of some £600 a week. The church is faced with closure unless more money can be found.

My parents attended St Helen's until the end of their lives and my mother's ashes are buried in the churchyard. I am loathe to see the church closed. But I became aware that St Helen's, like so many other C of E churches, was lurching to the right and becoming more and more Roman. the 'Hail, Mary' was a feature of Sunday services and pilgrimages were organised to Walsingham. This is where my problem arises - and where I may cause offence. I do not hold with the Roman Catholic version of Christianity and would not want to contribute towards the salary of the clergy at the church because of the Catholic leanings. Any contribution I would make would be intended solely for the upkeep of the church building. But that is not possible as any donation would go into the general fund of the parish.

Another factor in the problem is that the church is a listed building, Grade II*. This, presumably, means that the owner is obliged to maintain it in status quo, so there is no danger of it being left to rot. But what if the owner can't afford to maintain the building?

I think I will probably end up by making a regular contribution just to ensure the church stays open. It is a beautiful building as you can see from these photographs.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Travel List Challenge

I have registered on Facebook although quite honestly I can't think why. I suppose it is of some slight interest to see what other people I know are up to, but frankly so many of them seem to post pointless things like,"On the train - at last" that I really start to worry about their sanity.

The apps are things that I usually steer clear of. Things like Farmville (is that right?) bother me as I worry that they could lead to somebody stealing (or maybe just borrowing) my identity. Yes, I know - I'm being a boring old worryguts and there really is nothing to get all worked up about.

Having said that, I recently took the Travel List Challenge. Have you seen it? The hook is that you are told the originators think that most people will have visited no more than 9 of the places on a list of 100 before they die. (I don't suppose they will get to visit many more after they die. . . ) So I was quite chuffed to discover that I had visited no fewer than 23 of the places. Then I saw that the average is actually 22, so that statement about people visiting no more than 9 is a tad misleading. Still and all, my 23 was just a few more than most people I know so I must be quite well-travelled. Don't suppose I will get the chance to cross off many more of those 100 places, though. Indeed, I don't actually want to visit several of them anyway.

Friday, 6 January 2012

French frolics

For all the love the French have of bureaucracy, I always find it surprising that they manage to ignore so many rules, regulations and, especially, dictats from the Big Brother in Brussels, otherwise known as the European Parliament (or Commission, which is rather like an unelected parliament with the power to make its own laws). Take, by way of one example, the average French tractor. Yes, I know that many French farmers, courtesy of the European Common Agricultural Policy and the French government, which seems to think that farmers and fishermen have more rights than anyone else, there are many rich French farmers. But there are just as many who simply scratch a living. Certainly they are better off than peasant farmers in, say, Bosnia, but rich they are not. Their tractors are often twenty or more years old, which means they don't possess some of the modern safety features which are required by law in England - and probably in France as well. Many is the tractor one sees in the fields or lanes where there is no roll bar to protect the driver in the event of the tractor overturning.

Sometimes, however, the French seem to delight in going to the other extreme. When one sells a house in France, there are several reports the seller has to have prepared - at his expense. This is possibly because the French rarely have a survey done when buying a house; they rely heavily, it would seem, on these reports. Until quite recently there were three of them, covering lead paint, asbestos and termites. It doesn't matter if there are no termites withing a couple of hundred miles of the house you are selling, you still have to have the survey and report done. Now there is a fourth report if the house you are selling is not on mains drainage.

Our holiday home in France is not on mains drainage. I think our house and the one next door are the only ones in the village that don't enjoy this amenity. Sewers were installed along our road when two small developments were built, one each side of the road, way back, but for some reason the drains didn't get as far as our house. Maybe the elderly occupiers of the two houses decided they couldn't afford - or didn't want to pay for - the extension of the sewer to our house. It means, of course, that we have a fosse septique, a cess pit. It works quite adequately, but. . .

Back in 2004 new rules were introduced. All houses not on mains drainage were to be surveyed and, where necessary, the drainage systems had to be brought into line with the new requirements by the end of 2005. I am not aware that our house has ever been surveyed and we have certainly never been told officially that our drainage system is not up to standard - but I know it isn't. I also know that we have insufficient land for us to bring the system up to the required standard, which states that the whole system must be a minimum distance from passing traffic. We - the Old Bat and I - just assumed that, as in so many things, the French were being pragmatic and just shrugging their shoulders in a Gallic way. We should have known better. There is now a fourth survey and report required when selling a house, a report confirming that the drainage system is up to standard.

Quite how we shall overcome this problem I have no idea. Oh yes I do - we don't sell but leave the house to our children and they can have the problem!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

On the subject of hotels

I consider Skip a very good friend despite him being a Californian

My very good friend Skip posted pictures of the oldest hotel in California here and I made a cheeky comment. To rub even more salt in his wound, here is a picture of the White Hart Hotel in nearby Lewes.

You may be able to spot a blue plaque just to the left of the door. This is a close up shot of the plaque.

Thank you, Blogger - I don't think

I suppose if I were to adopt an infuriatingly positive approach I would say Blogger is looking after my interests. On the other hand, I could accuse Blogger of being an infuriating Big Nanny. But the truth of the matter is that Blogger has developed in infuriating glitch. I wondered at firstLink whether it was Blogger or my computer, although I think I should have realised from my usually futile efforts to correct matters that the problem lay with Blogger. The number of blogs I follow has been increasing almost alarmingly over the phttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifast few weeks and has reached a stage where it can take me half an hour or more just to catch up with them all. So, in an attempt to save me from myself, Blogger has very kindly developed a thingummy which blocks some of the blogs I follow from my dashboard. This, of course, means that I am completely unaware of any new posts on all such blocked blogs and it is not until I suddenly think, "why isn't so-and-so blogging these days?" and go to the blog that I discover what has happened.

(If you are another one of those who have been affected by this glitch, which has apparently featured quite strongly on Blogger's own forum without a remedy being made available, you might like to read the solution suggested by Perpetua on her blog here.)

(Another little Blogger glitch is to insert a piece of code - http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif - at a random place in the blog whenever I post a link, thereby producing the little bull's head you can see further up. And why, I wonder, did the insertion of that code by me not produce a graphic?)

(Which reminds me of an infuriating habit of one of the most senior - indeed, the most senior - TV newsreader who, when warning of horrific pictures to come, would announce, 'The following report contains graphic images'. Aren't all images graphic?)

So, Blogger is obviously aware that my life was in danger of shrinking to a screen 12" x 9" and took steps to rescue me. After all, it is important to connect with the real world, to feel the dampness of rain, the coolness of wind, the warmth of the sun, to hear robins sing, to see the buds swell on the trees in spring. . .

I was getting carried away there. Sorry about that.

But there is more to life than reading the minutiae of the daily life of other people. Although, when all is said and done, all blogging is, is the modern, electronic equivalent of two housewives gossiping over the garden fence while hanging out the washing or two old boys putting the world to rights over a couple of pints and a game of dominoes in the village pub.

So what have you been up to today?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Thanks, Nina

Not really a claim to fame, but my cousin's son's wife is a BBC weather girl. She was on duty on Monday and can be seen here warning us of some pretty foul weather to come. And it has. Monday was bright and sunny - a gorgeous day, as you can see from the photo on my Stanmer blog today. (The photo was taken on Monday.) Yesterday I had difficulty in walking from the car to the side door with the shopping as the wind down the drive was gusting at about 60mph. Granted, it's not exactly hurricane weather, but neither is it quite what we are used to.

My cousin's son's wife. That makes him my first cousin once removed, so is Nina my first cousin-in-law once removed? Or just my cousin's daughter-in-law?

And does it matter?

But to get back to the weather. The wind and rain lasted all morning then, around about lunch time, some blue sky appeared. The wind eased off a little, the skies cleared, and I was able to take the dog for a walk across the Downs without getting soaking wet. I drove to the Clayton windmills and walked up from there, knowing that this is a stony track so Fern should not get too muddy. She enjoyed a paddle, though, as there was a substantial stream flowing down the edge of the track - and sometimes right across it.

It rained again later.

And there is a complete dearth of anything that piques my interest on the goggle box these days. Even the channel that shows repeats is repeating repeats it repeated only a few weeks ago.

I wonder if I used the correct word in that last sentence. Should I have written "the channel which" or was I right to use the word "that"? But since I assume everybody who reads that sentence will know exactly what I meant, does it really matter? Will the earth stop spinning if I used the wrong word?

Now I must get on the phone and chase up the company which (or that) owes me money - £370 no less.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


I may have mentioned this before. . . No, not "may have"; I'm pretty sure that I have actually mentioned this before. It's just that I can't find exactly where I mentioned it. I'm a list person. No, not Brahms and Liszt. That's Cockney rhyming slang for. . . Anyway, I'm the sort of chap who makes lists. If I had been on the Titanic I would probably have been making a list of how many deckchairs were floating off to sea or something just as idiotic. But I did find when I was working that a few minutes spent at the end of the working day drawing up a list of the important things to be done the next day paid off. Now I'm retired I still make lists. Lists like shopping lists. Even if I have only four or five things to buy, if I don't take my list with me I'm bound to come home without something vital. Before going to a Lions meeting, I make a list of the things I need (or want) to say. I don't always say everything on the list but at least I have thought things through. This train of thought comes courtesy of Skip, via Matt and Suldog, all of whom have posted lists on their blogs in recent days (or weeks or even months/years). Having seen their lists, I have felt the itch, the yearning, the burnig desire to create another list. But what should I list? My CDs? No, perhaps not. Books I plan to read in 2012? Hardly, since I never plan to read books, I just pick up those that look interesting. No, none of those. I'll make it a list that might, just might, be of interest or use to other people, other people who are travelling in Europe. Here are a few of the things that I have found in cities across Euro pe and that have delighted me. Whimsical, stunningly beautiful, just plain surprising: all, to my mind, well worth seeing.

Postman's Park, London. This is one of the many parks in London and is one of the smallest and least well-known. It gets its name from its situation, very close to what was at one time the General Post Office, which itself is close to St Paul's cathedral. It is this park that one finds a very moving memorial, the Watts Memorial, which has over 50 plaques made of Royal Doulton tiles, each commemorating somebody who died trying to save another life. Each is full of tragic detail, like that to David Selves, aged 12 of Woolwich who "supported his drowning playfellow and sank with him clasped in his arms".

Begijnhof, Amsterdam. I found this delightful little square when visiting Amsterdam with my family (wife and three children) and with my friend Chris and his family (wife and two children). It offered a peaceful spot for a picnic in a city with few green spots in the centre.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. Paris, like London, abounds in tourist attractions but, to my mind, this is the most magnificent and yet it is one of the least known. Situated on the Île de la Cité not far from Notre Dame and tucked away behind the Ministry of Justice. Another of those places I have found by accident,the first time I visited was a sunny morning. The stained glass around the upper chapel is absolutely stunning with the sun shining through. I have not found a picture to really do it justice but the rose window gives a taste of what is there.

Florence - the Baptistry. Forget the cathedral, the Ponte Vecchio, the statue of David and the art galleries. Facing the main west door of the cathedral is the Baptistry. The doors of this building consist of several metal panels - highly polished brass, I should think - on which are depicted biblical scenes such as the one on the left. Absolutely stunning.

Jeanneke Pis, Brussels. Possibly the best known attraction in Brussels is the Manneken Pis, a statue of a small boy urinating and thereby providing an amusing fountain. The original statue dated from the 14th century but was replaced in the 17th. However, in a nod to feminism, another statue was made in the 1980s - Jeanneke Pis. This is a little girl squatting and urinating. Tucked away in a narrow, dead-end alley, it is found by few tourists.

Figline in Val d'Arno, Italy. Greve-in-Chianti is noted for its triangular piazza but when I visited I found it unpleasantly crowded. A few miles away the little town of Figline also has an attractive, triangular piazza where it is possible to sit at a cafe terrace enjoying a coffee while locals go about their business without the hassle of umpteen tourists.

And, in my opinion, two well worth not visiting: the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen Harbour is too small to be worth bothering with and is poorly situated. You can't get close enought to the Mona Lisa to see the picture, which is behind thick glass anyway and always has a hundred or so people elbowing each other in an attempt to get closer.