Saturday, 31 March 2012

The slab is stuck

The three of us stood around the concrete slab which seemed to be the source of the unpleasantness. This slab was rather more than a yard square and consisted of a concrete-filled metal framework which had then been lowered into another metal frame set in more concrete. A metal ring in the middle was obviously intended as the means of lifting the slab from its bed, but the inner and outer frames were a tight fit, and looked to have rusted together over the years. Furthermore, the slab itself was badly cracked and looked none too safe. It all looked suspiciously like the entrance to a septic tank - but the estate agent's particulars had indicated that the house was on mains drainage. Could there be an old septic tank through which waste flowed before reaching the public sewer? We would have to lift the slab to find out.

Ever optimistic, we found a stout screwdriver, inserted it in the ring, and I tried to lift the slab. Needless to say, I failed. While I stood massaging my aching back, Chris and Alan had a go with the two of them holding the screwdriver. Still no sign of movement.

The rust was obviously too strong and we would have to break its hold on the metal. The wallpaper scrapers we had been using on the hall floor were the obvious answer and we set to with a will. After working for half an hour or so we tried the screwdriver again. Still no sign of movement. We decided to try a chemical resolution of the problem and the three of us piled into the car - still in our rather dirty a somewhat smelly working clothes - and drove to the small garden centre in the nearby town where they stocked a small range of DIY tools and materials.

It would have been easier if we had thought to check the dictionary before driving off as none of us knew the French for penetrating oil. Unable to see what we wanted on the shelves, we approached an assistant to ask for it. The combination of sign language and Franglais left him somewhat bemused, but we eventually found what we thought was what we wanted.

Alan slopped the oil over and around the rust while Chris and I washed and prepared the lunch. After a suitable rest we would attack with the wallpaper scrapers once more before trying the screwdriver again.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Our first season comes to an end

Our first season really went very well. We had just one party which rather let the side down, a family of four, of which the father was a clergyman. When they left, there were coffee and tea stains on the floor alongside dollops of jam and marmalade, a china ornament had presumably been broken as it was no longer in evidence, the terra cotta umbrella stand had been broken and glued back together rather badly, and one of the smoke alarms had been dismantled and left on the floor.

Fortunately we had taken a security/damage deposit as well as the hire charge, so a reasonably substantial deduction was made before the balance of the deposit was returned. The clergyman then wrote telling us that his wife had had to go into hospital while they were there and he had only a little time to collect her before dashing off to catch the ferry, leaving him with no time to clean up properly. That really didn't cut much ice with us: we thought he should have controlled the children better.

I took two friends over with me for a week in the hope that the three of us could concentrate on scraping the screeding off the hall floor, which had been covered with a rather sad looking piece of lino which was definitely past its best before date. On reflection, I suppose it was expecting rather a lot - they could hardly have the same interest in the job as I had - and we did find the screeding in the hall harder to remove than it had been in either of the bedrooms. As a result, we only managed to clear about half the hall floor.

But we did get sidetracked - we noticed a rather pungent aroma in the courtyard. At first I thought that our neighbouring farmer had been muck-spreading, but it gradually dawned on the three of us that, despite its agricultural properties, the smell was emanating from under a concrete slab in the courtyard. Steps would have to be taken.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The first guests arrive

Even before the purchase of the house had been completed, we had started advertising for our first season. There had been considerable thought put into just how we should advertise and we had finally decided to place small lineage advertisements in two weekly religious newspapers to run for thirteen weeks. I had, before my retirement, worked for one of them and knew that their holiday classification was reasonably successful from the advertisers point of view. And I had a pretty good idea of the readership profile. By advertising here we would, we reasoned, avoid letting our pride and joy to the hoi polloi, lager louts and others who might not take care of the house and contents quite as well as we would like.

On the whole this worked quite well. We received a steady trickle of telephone calls and, in response, sent out fully illustrated booklets that I had prepared. It was pleasing that out of about sixty enquiries we obtained five bookings for a total of eight weeks.

We were a bit flummoxed by one of our earlier guests when we received a postcard which simply read, "Do you have a key to the post box?" (Unlike the English system, in which the postman pushes letters through a slot in the door, the French have lockable boxes positioned at the edge of their properties.) We thought of replying with a one-word answer - "Yes" - but realised that our guests would not be able to retrieve the card from the post box even if it reached Les Lavandes before they departed for England!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Still chez Jean-Paul

On another occasion Mrs S and I walked into the usual empty restaurant, although this time it was not quite empty. In the middle of the dining room stood a pram that would not have been out of place in Kensington Gardens in about 1910. In the pram was Etienne, Florence and Jean-Paul's three months' old baby. And Etienne was not a happy baby. He was red in the face and screaming at full volume. Mrs S tried to calm him by rocking the pram while I started my tour of the village.

I never found Jean-Paul, but I did meet his daughter, Elise, and she succeeded in finding her mother. Mariette was perhaps the better of the two to find as she was able to calm Etienne – Mrs S not having managed it – at the same time as cooking our meal.

Jean-Paul was a great tribulation to Mariette in that when she had the next course ready for him to serve, he was frequently nowhere to be found. She finally came up with a solution and bought him a mobile phone, which gave Jean-Paul a chance to display his child-like enthusiasm for Christmas: he set the ring tone to play ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Eating chez Jean-Paul

It's time to get back to the tale of Les Lavandes, our French house. I had spent the better part of five months travelling back and forth, spending a week in France working on the house followed by a week in England recuperating and preparing for the next week.

Even though there was still work to be done in some areas to bring it up to the standard we had set ourselves, the house was finally ready to receive the first guests. There were four of them – an English couple and their Canadian friends. Our confidence received quite a boost when they were fulsome in their praise of both the house and the area. They particularly liked the village restaurant. We like it as well, so much so that we make a point of eating there each time we visit Les Lavandes. In fact, while I was working on the house it was not unusual for me to eat there twice during the course of a week.

Actually, eating chez Jean-Paul can be something of a daunting experience depending on how many others are eating there and what mood he is in. We have come to expect the unexpected and quite look forward to the evening, trying to anticipate what form the entertainment will take. I'm not sure that one experience really comes under the category of entertainment. I arrived to find both Jean-Paul and Mariette clearing a drain which runs across the garden. I sincerely hoped they both washed thoroughly before preparing my dinner, but I suffered no ill effects.

On another evening Mrs S and I walked in just before eight o'clock. It is quite usual for the restaurant to be completely empty of people and for one to have to go on a manhunt to find Jean-Paul, which can take twenty minutes or more as he could be anywhere in the village and Mariette will usually be at home. But on this particular evening, Jean-Paul was behind the bar.

"Do you want to eat?" he shouted.

"Well, err, yes, please. If that would be possible."

"Have you booked?"

I sheepishly admitted what Jean-Paul knew full well: I had not booked.

Jean-Paul considered this as he gazed around his empty restaurant trying to work out where he could fit us in. Finally, he indicated a table were we could sit.

"Or you could sit there if you prefer. Or there, or there."

Apart from us, the restaurant remained empty for the whole evening.

Monday, 26 March 2012


Or Ta Ta For Now.

The car is packed and all chores done. Tomorrow we will endeavour to start a week in our French house. The last two trips have been seriously curtailed so we are keeping our fingers crossed. Back home for just one day next wee before setting off again, to my cousin's farm this time. Finally back home in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I have scheduled more of the story of Les Lavandes.

This, that and the other

First, there's this:


So read a headline in yesterday's paper. I don't like to rub it in... Well, I do really. We here in dingy old England don't often get the chance to crow that we have better weather than the folks in sunny Cal.

So that was this - and this is that.

Also seen in a newspaper (while waiting at the barber's): nowhere in the United Kingdom is more than 73 miles from the sea. I had heard that many years ago, except that back then the distance was 75 miles. I had visions of some geek sitting with a large-scale map and a tool rather like a cross between a slide rule and a pair of dividers carefully following the coastline to discover how much of the country lies more than or less than a given distance from the sea. But what we don't know is how "sea" is defined. Is it salt water, or perhaps tidal water - in which case there are all the rivers to be included up to the point where they are no longer tidal. That would make a huge difference.

And just a passing thought for the other. Here in England we buy our milk and beer in pints, our spirits in gills and our wine in centilitres. We buy our petrol in litres but calculate fuel consumption in miles per gallon. We measure distances in miles, yards and feet (or even furlongs when it comes to horse racing) but timber is sold in lengths and widths expressed in centimetres or millimetres. Jams and similar comestibles are sold in grams but the containers have the equivalent weight in ounces shown as well and the number of grams is typically 340. It is illegal to sell fruit by the pound - it has to be by the kilogram - but people typically ask for a pound of apples. Confused or just plain daft?

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Catching up

This glorious summer-like weather continues. Yesterday afternoon I walked across the Downs from Falmer towards Plumpton Plain and did without coat or sweater, just a short-sleeved polo shirt. I suppose we should really be making the most of the sun as this is probably the best weather we shall have this year! This is England after all.

Friday's quick fix seems to have been only temporarily successful as my Blogger address seems to have splipped back to Oh well, c'est la vie and all that.

Remember Henry Jervis? If you don't, you could catch up (if you are at all interested - which you probably aren't) here and here. Anyway, I decided to redo my research. All those years ago I had to traipse around between three or four places to find the records I needed. This week I trawled around the internet instead and in just one afternoon and a bit I had not only recreated most of what I had found before, I had found a lot more information.

Both the London Gazette archives and the Army List for various years - the latter digitised by Google from the library copy in the University of California (or was that Southern California?) - proved most informative and I was able to reconstruct Henry's progress through the ranks. Throughout the relevant years he was, according to the Army List, in the 72nd Regiment. I even found (again, from California) a digitised copy of the history of the regiment written in 1848 in which our Henry was mentioned as being with the regiment in South Africa in 1838/39. Also, in the history of South Africa he is recorded as having been the British Commandant of Port Natal from 20th January to 24th December 1839.


In the sketch books is a picture dated July 1829 showing Templemore Barracks.

The Kilkenny Independent (a newspaper) dated 28th May 1828 reports, "The 62nd Regiment, which was stationed at Enniskillen, is ordered to Templemore". This was confirmed when I discovered a web site recording the stationing of the 62nd Regiment. It also confirmed that the regiment was deployed to India in 1830 and was stationed at Bangalore - which bears out the picture of his quarters in my previous post! There are plenty of other sketches from India and from the journey to get there.

I also discovered that there are museums for the regiments which the 62nd and 72nd had become and I thought to email them to see if they could throw any light onto this puzzle. Then I found that they charge - one £12 and hour, the other more - for "research". I decided that I could live in ignorance a little longer. But it just goes to show how much information there is out there in the internet if only one knows how to find it.

And to finish, here is a picture of the new barracks at Limerick dated August 1829 with the 62nd Regiment on parade.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Feeling my age

There are various "official" stages to getting old in this country and I have already passed several of them. I really can't recall at what age some of them happen: I just know that I have passed those particular milestones! There's the free bus pass which means that should I so wish I can travel all round England on local bus services without paying a penny. I'm not sure that I'm quite mean enough or keen enough to view the English countryside from the top deck of a double-decker bus to put that to the test. (I think my grandparents did many years ago, and that was before the free bus pass was even as much as a twinkle in some civil servant's eye.) Mind you, the pass does come in handy if I want or need to go into town. Parking in Brighton is horrendously expensive so it is good to have a free ride on the bus.

There is, of course, the old age pension - sorry, that should be the state pension. It always was called the old age pension but that was many years before I became an old age pensioner. I started receiving this when I was 65: I never could quite understand why women received the pension when they reached 60 but that is gradually being evened out. In any case, the pension will soon not be paid until people are at least 75. Well, maybe not just yet, but people will have to wait until they are older before claiming it.

Another state handout is the winter fuel allowance. This is paid, I think, to all households where there is an OAP at the rate of £200 per household , usually in November. If there are two pensioners in the household it is split between them - £100 each.

Eventually, when I'm really old, my state pension will have an age-related increase - currently, I believe, 25 pence a week. I will also be eligible for a free television license at some point in the future.

But what has really made me feel ancient was when I received a letter reminding me that my driver's license is due to expire shortly. Driver's licenses in the UK are valid until one reaches the grand old age of 70, at which point they have to be renewed and then every three years. I duly sent my form off - not, I did it online - and received my new two-part license complete with photo. (Quite why the license is in two parts which have to be kept together is a mystery to me.) But now I am not licenced to drive minibuses. My old license allowed this, but if I wanted still to be covered I needed to have a medical. I decided against that, not because I thought I might fail but because I couldn't see the point in paying for something I am unlikely ever to use.

All the same, it made me feel my age.

Friday, 23 March 2012

A quick fix

Re my post about the loss of the editing pencil, The Broad has directed me to another blog - Perpetually in Transit - where the quick fix has been posted by Perpetua. Since Perpetua is generous enough to suggest we all copy her post, I will do so. But first, the raison d'etre behind the change. Blogger advised:

We are doing this to provide more support for managing content locally. If we receive a removal request that violates local law, that content may no longer be available to readers on local domains where those laws apply.

And what is the "this" Blogger was talking about? It is a change in the URL from to or whatever. Doing that has removed all the quick fix tools such as the spanner and screwdriver, the pen, etc.

If that has happened to you - and it applies only to bloggers outside the US - here is the fix, couresty of Perpetua:

Open your blog, then edit its address in your browser address bar. Delete the or .fr or whatever it may be, then after the word blogspot add .com/ncr and hit your return key. This takes your blog address back to and Hey Presto! all the Quick Edit tools are back.

And talking of "have you noticed", have you noticed the weather forecast across on the right? Three days of bright sun! Yesterday was warm and sunny, too, with the afternoon temperature hitting 19.5 - that's about 66 or 67 for those still using the old money. I had a most enjoyable walk with the dog up the Waterhall valley. There were dozens and dozens of tiny tadpoles swimming about in the dewpond and I heard my first chiffchaff of the year. Two weeks today will be Good Friday and we will be on my cousin's farm anxiously awaiting the return of the house martins. At least, I expect we will still be waiting for them as they don't usually arrive until mid April.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Have you noticed...

...Blogger seems to have removed that little pen graphic at the bottom of your posts? The one you could click on to edit the post? OK, it is still possible to edit posts but I do miss that little shortcut. And I can't be bothered to go the long way round to change "avery" to "every" in that last post.

A toss-up

What a glorious day it was yesterday. I thoroughly enjoyed my after-lunch walk with the dog - across 39 Acres and round the Roman Camp - after which it was a toss-up what I should do. I have been tasked by the lady who usually does it with finding musical entertainment for the Lilac Lark. With less than two months to go that could be rather a tall order. I needed a haircut if I am to avoid the use of pretty pink ribbons. And the grass needed cutting. The garden won and I got both the back lawns cut. I was a little surprised that the grass box was not more full until I realised I had left the mower on a high setting from last summer/autumn. Still, that's not a bad idea for the first cut of the year. In fact, I'm not sure I won't leave it on that setting all summer as the grass does feel delightfully springy at this height. I also got the peas in. In past years I have sown them a row at a time avery few weeks in the hope of spreading the cropping season (as recommended on the seed packet). It never worked. Either the rows all grew together or, in the case of the last sowings, nothing came up anyway. So this year I thought what the heck and sowed the whole packet straight away.

Now, should I go and get my hair cut or try to find some music or write the minutes of last night's Lions meeting?

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Back on the tele

Having had a rant the other day about television programmes... well, perhaps not really that much of a rant, more of a derogatory comment, really. Anyway, however you want to look at it, I was saying how little there is on television these days that I want to watch. Of course, as soon as I had written that, somebody had to set out to prove me a liar. There have been two excellent documentaries over the last three days - and there is another new Midsomer Murders tonight (which I shall have to record as I will be at a Lions meeting). So, those documentaries. Both concerned the Falkland Islands and the Argentinian invasion 30 years ago.

(It is astonishing that it all happened so long ago. My own memories seem so fresh: how my wife was very tempted to keep the children off school and drive to Portsmouth to see the task force sail; the BBC television reporter on the aircraft carrier who was not allowed to say how many planes flew but said, ‘I counted them all out and I counted them all back in again' to indicate that none had been shot down; how we were glued to the television each night for news of what was taking place on those wind-swept and almost barren islands some 8,000 miles away.)

The first of the two programmes was about a plan to bomb the runway at Port Stanley. How on earth they ever managed to do so is almost beyond belief. It involved making airworthy an ancient - in fact, two ancient - Vulcan bombers that were about to be scrapped and providing them with the necessary equipment for air-to-air refuelling. They flew to Ascension Island - the nearest airfield to the Falkland Islands from which they could operate although it was 4,000 miles away - along with a fleet of 21 (or was it 23?) Victor tanker aircraft. When the armada flew from Ascension, they discovered that the lead Vulcan had developed a fault and could not be pressurised so it had to return to base. The second Vulcan had no map of the South Atlantic so the navigator used a map of the North Atlantic turned upside down, with the Cape Verde Islands doing duty as the Falklands! The refuelling was a complicated exercise: one Victor refuelled the Vulcan, five Victors refuelled the other five and the six empty Victors returned to base. Later, one Victor refuelled the Vulcan and two Victors refuelled the other two, and so on. It was all very much a (typically British) Harry Tate, back of the envelope job. But it worked. Not one Argentine jet was able to use the runway to bomb the ships of the task force.

Yesterday the programme followed three men who had been there 30 years ago on a return to the Falklands. There was a war correspondent, an ex Royal Marine and an ex Welsh Guardsman. It was perhaps not quite as rivetting as the previous programme but it was nonetheless interesting to see the reaction of the three when they returned to where they had fought. A few Falkland residents were also interviewed and it became apparent that those few at least were adamant that the islands should stay under British control despite the current noises coming from the Argentine president.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012


Those who know me know that I am a "list" person. I make lists: lists of things to do; lists of things I have done; lists of things I own. Lists of all sorts of things and of all sorts of lengths. Given that I am so much of a "list" person, you might think I would approve whole-heartedly of such things as Christmas and birthday lists. By that, I mean (as if you had not already realised) lists of things one would like to be given as presents. Just like wedding lists - or letters to Father Christmas. But no, I don't like them. I don't like to draw them up and I don't like the idea of other people drawing them up. I mentioned the Father Christmas letters we all used to write as children. (Whatever did we actually do with them? We surely didn't try stuffing them up the chimney?) "Dear Father Christmas, I would like a bike, a train set, a doll that cries and wets herself, Meccano, etc, etc, and I've been a good buy/girl." It all seems just a tad materialistic when its adults who are writing these letters, sorry, lists.

As for the person buying and giving the present, my thinking is that if they are sufficiently fond of the recipient, they will know the sort of thing the recipient would like and actually trawling through the shops to find just the right gift is an act of love in itself.

On the other hand, there is little worse than giving a present that one senses will almost immediately end in the dustbin, be passed on as a raffle prize or just stuffed at the back of a cupboard. It's not the thought of having spent hard-earned cash on something that is not appreciated, it's more the embarrassment really. It's actually just as bad for the recipient, having to feign appreciation and gratitude for that ghastly scarf great-aunt Isobel has knitted while wishing that somebody had the nous to buy that recently-published book by one's favourite author.

It's the Old Bat's birthday today. She did produce a list of sorts after a certain amount of prodding by the three children who are no longer children. Her list consisted of three things: vouchers for books, CDs or DVDs to be used at either of two named supermarkets (she doesn't git into town these days), milk chocolate, and garden vouchers. (I secretly told the kids not to give garden vouchers as we have enough plants in the garden already and these would only mean more work for me anyway.)

What did I give her? I bought the complete set of DVDs of Porridge, a comedy sitcom starring the late Ronnie Barker. I will enjoy those as well.

Monday, 19 March 2012

'Allo 'allo!

I may well be looking through those famous rose-tinted specs, but it does seem to me that as we have access to more and more channels on the television, there is less and less that I want to watch. When we had just BBC and ITV (the one with the commercials) there seemed always to be a programme worth watching. Or was that just the novelty of being able to watch television at all that had still not worn off? Most of the television that the Old Bat and I watch is on a channel of repeats but we are beginning to get a little bored with watching the same shows several times within a period of just a few months. Sometimes it is even worse than that. Take this last weekend, for instance. ITV3 - that channel we tend to watch most - had a Lewis-themed weekend. Wall to wall (practically) repeats of a show we liked very well the first and second times around. Indeed, I have recorded two or three of the weekend's shows as we didn't think we had seen them recently. But when one episode is shown three times during the weekend...

So we have resorted to spending time watching DVDs of one of the hilarious sitcoms from the 1980s and 90s - 'Allo 'allo!. The shows are set in a cafe in a small town in northern France while it is occupied by the Germans during the Second World War and features a mix of farce, double entendres, and zany humour. There is a lengthy description on Wikipedia and most of the episodes can be seen on YouTube, including the pilot show from which this clip is taken:

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Lt Henry Jervis

Yesterday I was telling you about a pair of sketch books that came into the possession of the Old Bat and me almost by accident. Dating from 1826 to 1835, they were the work of one Lt Henry Jervis.

[Parenthetical note: Have you noticed that the American pronunciation of the word "lieutenant" (lootenant) is much closer to the original French than is the English (leftenant)?]

The ma-in-law had no idea how, when or why the books had first come into her possession but there was a clue! My late father-in-law had as a second Christian name "Jervis", this also being his mother's maiden name. Adding two and two to make five, we assumed that these books were family heirlooms and that Henry Jervis had been an ancestor or distant cousin of my wife's father. I determined to discover exactly what the relationship was.

In those days - and we are probably talking twenty years ago - there was no such thing as the internet and all research of this nature had to be conducted in libraries and similar establishments. I was then working in London and my office was not all that far from St Catherine's House where one could browse large ledgers listing all the recorded births, marriages and deaths from 1837 (when registration of these events became compulsory) up to about two years before the date of the search. (Later records had still to be amalgamated and printed in chronological alphabetical order.) Slightly nearer my office was Chancery Lane, where the Public Records Office was situated. It was here that one could study the filmed copies of the annual censuses taken every ten years from 1841, although no census would be released into the public domain until 100 years had passed, meaning that the 1891 census was the latest I could study. Further away, but still within striking distance, was the Army Museum with its library.

I quite quickly discovered that my father-in-law's maternal grandfather was Humphrey Jervis, a book-keeper born in Ireland who first appeared in the 1881 census in Liverpool - a poor part of Liverpool at that. That, of course, didn't actually mean that our gallant Lieutenant was no relation, but it did make it rather unlikely. It seemed even more unlikely when I discovered that he died in 1879. It appeared he had never married but he had left a will. Thinking this might give clues to other members of his family, I visited Somerset House and obtained a copy. That didn't really help much as he left a bequest to a servant and the rest of his estate to another man who had been his companion. I reluctantly came to the conclusion that my father-in-law must have found these sketch books on sale in a junk shop or similar and, spotting the name Jervis, thought they might have some familial connection and bought them. There was, it seemed, no connection other than coincidence. All the same, I determined to discover what more I could about Henry Jervis.

Having obtained a reader's ticket for the Army Museum library, I went there to study past copies of the Army List to throw some light on the life history of our artistic army officer. I tracked his career and various promotions right through to his retirement from the army with the rank of general - but this only gave rise to more questions. Our Henry proved something of an enigma.

The earlier of the two sketch books is inscribed inside the cover:

Now that quite plainly reads "Sketches from Nature by H Jervis 62nd Regt" and the book starts in 1826. But, according to official records, Henry was not then and never was in the 62nd Regiment. The Army List has him serving in the 61st Regiment in 1826 and on for several years.

Another puzzle concerns the second book of sketches which is inscribed "May 1833 H Jervis Lieut. 62nd Regt." As well as indicating the different regiment here, there is also a discrepancy over rank. By May 1833, the Army List insists that Henry Jervis was a major serving in the 61st Regiment.

What was going on? Why did the Army List show a different regiment from Henry's inscriptions in his sketch books? And why did Henry give himself the rank of lieutenant when he had been promoted to major? But more was to come.

Henry's sketch books include pictures drawn in India which he has dated 1831 to 1832, including this one which he has labelled "My bungalow or residence while I was quartered at Bangalore in the years of 1831 & 1832".

But according to the Army List, he was then in Africa and was even awarded a medal for gallantry during that time! But there is a note in the sketch book which reads:
"Many thanks. The whole of the India sketches are remarkably accurate, animated and well selected. I have suggested in the page opposite Bir Chukee a little work for you, & if you like to execute it, I will take 50 copies with much pleasure.
S R Lushington"

(The note he refers to was unfortunately written in pencil and is no longer legible.)
Stephen Rumbold Lushington was Governor of Madras from 1827 to 1835, which would add even more evidence to the fact that Henry was in India - even though the Army List insists he never was!

That's another of those mysteries that will never be solved - but I love looking at Henry Jervis's sketches.

It was this that got me started on researching my own family history where I very soon disproved the notion, told me by my mother, that her family was descended from one of Nelson's captains, albeit on the wrong side of the blanket. In fact, the truth is even more interesting than that. But that is, or might be, for another day.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Henry Jervis

I have a sneaking suspicion that at sometime in the distant past - or what counts as the distant past in the terms of this blog - I may well have written about Henry Jervis. If I'm wrong, and I haven't, I'm going to do so now. If I'm right, and I have, I'm going to do so again.

I should, perhaps, explain that the Old Bat is and always has been an only child. It was therefore not surprising that she rather expected that three particular things in her parents' house might one day come into her possession. In the hall stood a magnificent grandfather clock. I have no idea how old this clock was, nor do I know anything else about it such as who the clockmaker was. Past the grandfather clock and the stairs was a passage leading to a room which I don't recall ever having a name. It wasn't the dining room or the lounge. I suppose it was really a breakfast room although it was never called that. My grandparents had a similar room which they called the kitchen even though they never cooked in that room. The room in which they cooked (by 'they' I really mean my grandmother) and washed up and did the laundry was called the scullery. But, as usual, I am starting to drift away so let's get back to my in-laws' house.

In this room without a name, hanging on the wall was an antique copper warming pan. And in a corner stood a genuine Sussex shepherd's crook. This was a thing of rare beauty whilst being eminently practical and suitable for use as a working man's tool. At the top of the 6' or so pole was grafted a delightfully crafted hook.

It would be wrong to say that the Old Bat coveted these three things - the grandfather clock, the warming pan and the shepherd's crook - but she had hopes of eventually having to find room for them. That, regretably, was not to be. One day, when visiting her mother, the Old Bat noticed that 'grandfather' no longer stood in pride of place at the foot of the stairs.

'Oh,' said ma-in-law, 'somebody came to the door and gave me £5 for it.'

In the fullness, or even shortness, of time the warming pan and shepherd's crook went the same way despite all the warnings about knocker boys given to the old dear. Fortunately, none of the knocker boys had seen the sketch books but one day my wife found her mother about to throw the two of them in the dustbin. My wife rescued them and brought them home. They date from the 1820s and 1830s and show scenes in England, Scotland, Ireland and India, all drawn and painted by Henry Jervis.

I took both books to London and had them valued at Sotheby's. I was pleased that the estimated value at auction was not very high. Had it been, we would have had to decide whether or not to sell and, if not, should the books be kept in a bank safe? As it was, we were happy to keep them at home and I take them out occasionally to admire them. Only very occasionally, you understand, as I would hate to damage them. Here is one of the sketches. Do click on it to enlarge so that you can see the detail. The original measures just over 9" x 6". Dating from August 1832, this shows the mausoleum at Laul Baug, Seringapatam with tombs of Hyder Ali, his wife, and son Tippoo Sail.

Good grief, look at the time! I must dash - and I haven't told you anything about Henry Jervis. Tell you what, come back tomorrow and I'll carry on from where I left off.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Down town or downtown?

When I was but a wee lad the single word "downtown" was unheard of in England although it might even then have made its way into the American lexicon. What we - or, rather, my mother and grandmother - would say was that we - or they - were going "down town". That is two discrete words, although it should really be three - "down to town". In those days we also used the phrase "up to Town" (note the upper case T) which meant going to London; specifically, the City. But to get back to going down town. I am talking here about the time when every town had its high street - and it usually was called High Street - which was the main shopping street in town. There were scattered around towns little parades of shops where one could buy all the day-to-day necessities; there would be a baker, a butcher, greengrocer, grocer, newsagent/confectioner/tobacconist and possibly a chemist or hairdresser. But for bigger things - clothes, furniture and so on - one would go to the High Street.

I have long bemoaned the growth of out-of-town shopping centres which have led remorselessly to the loss of town centre, ie High Street, shops. But this week there have been two occasions when their importance to a certain section of the community has been brought home to me. My wife has difficulty in walking and is the holder of a disabled person's parking badge which does allow her to park pretty much anywhere provided there are no loading restrictions in force. And provided also that there is a space where she can park. On Monday both she and I needed to go to the bank. We use a bank in a shopping parade which is really too big to be called such but too small to be called a shopping centre. For those who know Brighton it is Fiveways. Now at Fiveways there are no special parking places for disabled persons and the nearest space to any of the shops might be several hundred yards away. Fortunately, on that occasion I was able, with much backing and filling, to squeeze into a space fairly near the bank. Then yesterday she wanted to go to the butcher. There are loading restrictions all along the London Road on the side the shop is situated but I was lucky enough to be able to park on a double yellow line just around the corner. But there was no way she could go to a second shop she wanted to visit as that was too far to walk and I could not park within several hundred yards.

That can be the same in the town's main shopping street, Western Road. (Brighton does have a High Street but it's not really a shopping street and is actually just a side street.) This is not accessible by cars - just buses and taxis - so disabled persons have to use the few special parking bays in side streets. But they can be quite a distance from the main shops. That might well be why my wife has not shopped in town for the last couple of years and has, instead, stuck to out-of-town shops where she can park comparatively easily - and close to the shop she wants.

So there is something to be said for those places after all.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Red meat kills

Eating red meat increases your chance of dying.

When I read that in my newspaper I immediately read it again. And again. I may very well have typed words different from those I read, but that was the gist. The paper was actually reporting a report produced by scientists ("experts"?) which apparently did say that eating red meat increases our chances of dying. Now, I'm not sure just what planet those experts come from, but in this world we are all going to die sooner or later. Drawing your first breath is about the only thing that increases your chances of dying. Do that and the chance of you dying is immediately 100%, an absolute certainty. I could say that dying is a dead cert. You can't increase that.

Another government scientist (I may have it wrong that he is or was a government scientist) said that we should eat no more than two and a half ounces of red meat per day, which is, I suppose, marginally better than none at all. All the same, there are those who seem to be trying to persuade those of us who consider themselves "normal" that we should eat nothing but lettuce and drink nothing but water. But isn't that how rabbits evolved? I also read somewhere that we can survive on three lettuce leaves, one tomato, a small bowl of muesli and a glass of water every day. It won't guarantee that you live for ever: it will just feel like it!

But what does bother me slightly is the fact that this business of abstaining from the consumption of red meat seems to be gaining ground. How long, I wonder, before some nanny state government decides that we should be discouraged from this lethal practice and slaps on a punitive tax? Then, after more of the population have been brain-washed, it will be made illegal to put red meat on public display in the shops. Anybody foolish enough to want to buy it would have to ask for it and shame themselves publicly. After all, there are precedents. The tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products has, in the UK at least, been increased year on year in vain attempts to stop people smoking. Now it is an offence to have those products on public display. There are proposals now to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol in order to curb consumption. Tax has already been increased here and pubs are fast going out of business. I suppose the next logical step is to ban the public display of beer, wine and spirits.

But what the heck. The Old Bat wants me to go with her to the butcher's. He sells great beef. Back tomorrow.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Figure work

You will have to forgive me if you catch me trying to smother a yawn in the middle of our conversation. If I do, it won't be a sign that I have become bored with your company. Perish the thought! And perish the thought, too, that should I become bored I would be so ill-mannered as to allow you to realise the fact. No, it will simply be because I was late getting to bed last night and early getting up this morning. "Late" and "early" are, of course, comparative terms. Or relative.

As I turned out the light last night I noticed that the bedside clock showed the time as 11.30. Half past eleven might not seem particularly late to you; it doesn't to me either. All the same, that is about half an hour later than I usually retire. I happened to be the duty driver from Brighton Lions Club to take our local attendees to the monthly meeting of the Tuesday Club for blind and partially-sighted people. The meeting was held in a village hall about 30 miles away, most of the journey being on winding country roads. Consquently the trip takes the better part of an hour each way. Last night there was entertainment from a singer, a young man who sang songs associated with Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Matt Munro and the rest of the boys in the band. He called himself "the Crooner" and he wasn't bad. Not especially good, but not bad. We left just before ten, hence the late night.

Then this morning I had to be up early in order to walk the dog before a meeting with the auditors. Not my auditors but the Lions Housing Society auditors. I am Hon Treas of said Socy so really had to be there to go through the annual accounts which the auditors have produced. You might gather that the duties of my Hon Treas-ship do not extend to finalising the annual accounts. In fact, my Hon Treas-ship duties are possibly the least onerous of all the other Hon Treas-ships I have held over the years. Suffice it to say that on a turnover of £634,000 we achieved a surplus of £235,000 to put towards our next development.

Accounts have loomed large in my life the last few days. When Tony came to dinner last Saturday he brought me a copy of the final accounts for the Lions fireworks display. As the display was held on 5th November - rather more than three months ago - you might think it a little late to be producing the accounts. You would be right, but the blame lies with the cricket club with which we cooperate. This professional organisation need three months to work out what they took in ticket sales and what their expenses were! And the final result? A profit of £27,500 to be shared between the Lions and the cricket club.

Now I have to publish the figures in Jungle Jottings, the monthly newsletter of Brighton Lions which I edit. I will also produce graphs comparing the figures from several years as many folks find it easier to assimilate financial facts from graphics than from words. I always use Lotus 123 speadsheets for this as I consider that program produces better-looking graphs than Excel.

I think I have managed not to yawn yet but I had better close before I do (yawn).

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Magnum Opus

I'm going to let you into a secret but you must promise not to steal, tell or otherwise misuse the knowledge I am about to impart. What follows is my intellectual property and mine alone. I have decided that for my debut novel I will write about a family in the early years of the 20th century. The central character - let's call him Tom Packham - can hardly be called a hero. He was born in the dying years of the 19th century - 1899, to be exact. Although he came from a reasonably good home (his father was a removal man) in London's east end, Tom was something of a problem child. Eventually, his parents decided they could no longer control him and, as he was an habitual truant, he was sent to the Islington truant school. (This will provide me with an opportunity to write about the abominable treatment of boys sent to these residential schools.)

In 1913, at the age of fourteen, Tom is released from school. He helps his father for a few months but eventually enlists in the army - the Royal West Surrey, an infantry regiment - as a musician although still only 14 years of age. The discipline, surprisingly, is what he wants and he is fairly happy for about 18 months or so. But things go wrong and he deserts in the autumn of 1915. But civilian life doesn't suit him so he re-enlists after just three months. He chooses a different regiment - the Royal Field Artillery - thinking that they will not discover he has already enlisted once and is, in fact, a deserter. Of course, his secret is discovered but his commanding officer treats him leniently, deciding that as he is back in the army the loss of time served for pension will be sufficient punishment.

We are now, of course, in World War I. Tom is sent to France and is very soon in trouble. He is punished, it seems, every two weeks or so for some misdemeanor or other: being late on parade, absenting himself from the stables without permission, refusing to comply with an order. (This will give me the opportunity to describe Field Punishments No 1 and No 2.) After about six months somebody wakes up to the fact that Tom is still only 16 and is too young to be serving on the front. He is sent back to England - and promptly deserts again.

Six months later he enlists for the third time. But does he? Although the man who enlists gives his name as Tom Packham, his occupation and background story seem remarkably similar to those of his cousin, Herbert Cobie.

Somwhere along the line I will have introduced Tom's Aunt Matilda. Matilda Packham was not a particularly good-looking girl but she was (as my old granny might have said) no better than she ought to have been. She fell pregnant at the age of 17 and reluctantly married the father-to-be. However, her own father had disowned her and refused to attend the wedding. (She told the vicar he was dead.) Her mother did manage to persuade her father to relent and she, her husband and the new baby lived with her parents for a while. The marriage didn't last and before many years are gone she is to be found living with her cousin Charles D'Arcy, having assumed his name without the benefits of any ceremony. This is where Tom comes in as he claimed to have spent two years working as a salesman for Charles, although quite obviously he has not been out of the army for two years in total since he left school.

By this time, though, Matilda has left Charles D'Arcy and has actually married Charles Arnold.

It's all very confusing still and there are plenty of details I need to iron out in my mind before I get very much down on paper. But I'm sure you will agree that there are some interesting possibilities. Was it Tom who enlisted for a third time, or had he persuaded (blackmailed?) his cousin to join the army in his place. If so, why? If not, why did he use his cousin's life story?

I need to digress very slightly at this point to tell you that in the way back yonder I was travelling by train from London to Plymouth, the reason for my journey perhaps being a suitable subject for a blog another time. I was reading a book by Wilbur Smith when the man sitting opposite me struck up a conversation. He suggested I might like Robert Goddard's books and recommended I start with In Pale Battalions. I followed his recommendation and Mr Goddard is now my favourite author with, to my mind, In Pale Battalions being his best book. The plot bears an uncanny resemblance to some of the story I have outlined above. But my story is not the synopsis of an intended novel; it is the true story of distant cousins of She Who Must Be Obeyed, a story I have pieced together over the last week or so. It's quite true that fact can sometimes be stranger than or at least as strange as fiction.

Monday, 12 March 2012

A pub crawl

Not everybody sets themselves a bunch of tasks to be completed or challenges to be overcome before they finally pop their clogs. Some of those challenges that are set can be quite unusual, even eccentric. Not that I know too many eccentrics, you understand. In fact, most of the tomb-stone lists (is that the correct nomenclature?) are fairly down to earth. Take, for example, the list of one of my friends. He is trying to visit every medieval church in Sussex, which is quite a daunting task. But when you add another of his challenges you might wonder how much time he thinks he has left to him. On realising that there are many parts of England he and his wife have never visited, he took a map of the country and divided it into sections, each section (as far as I can gather) measuring about 30 miles east to west and twenty miles north to south. The challenge is to visit every one of those "squares". Obviously there were many squares he could colour in right at the start but he is gradually filling in the gaps. He started in the north and has, he tells me, got as far south as Nottingham so he still has a way to go.

I had drawn up my own list of half a dozen objectives. On reflection, I have decided that several of those challenges were highly unlikely to be met. Indeed, the chances of me becoming fluent in a foreign language are, frankly, nil. So I have scratched about four of the six things on the list. However, I have added one.

I have been continuing my family history research and it has dawned on me that quite a number of my ancestors or those of the Old Bat were pub landlords. OK, I might be stretching things when I describe all of those licensees as ancestors but they were all blood relations even if they were 2nd cousins once removed. So, my new challenge is a pub crawl, visiting every one of the pubs that have been in the hands of past members of the family. I'll need to get a move on as I know of two that are no longer there. One gave way to road widening and another, I discovered only yesterday, closed in 1910. I shall probably find that other village pubs have also given up the ghost. I will need to search my database to draw up the complete list, but there are a few already.

I will start at the the White Horse in Camelford Street, Brighton, although I believe the name has now been changed to the Camelford Arms.

Then we will move to Burgess Hill and the Potters Arms...

...before going on to the Wheatsheaf at Cuckfield. We have quite a drive ahead of us now as he travel to Gillingham, Kent, to visit Ye Olde Five Bells, later to become the much plainer Five Bells, named that because the church opposite had just five bells. Oh dear, I have just discovered that this pub is now flats!

We will press on and travel north to Suffolk where the Plough, in the village of Blundeston, was where my great grandfather is supposed to have drunk himself blind.

That will have to do for a start. I'm sure there are more but it will take me some time to trawl through my database of nearly 6,000 people!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The March of the Toads

Although the past week has not been entirely spring-like weather-wise, last weekend being particularly unpleasant, it has warmed up a bit now and there are more and more signs of spring. The snowdrops are nearly finished - and I see them as a sign of winter coming to an end rather than spring beginning. But... there are more and more daffodils coming into bloom, the first violets showed themselves during the week and yesterday afternoon I saw the first wild primroses of the year - and quite a lot of them, too.

The birds are really getting into the swing of things as well. If I manage to get into the park early enough I hear robins, wrens, blackbirds, song thrushes and chaffinches singing as well as the calls of the green woodpecker, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits and greenfinches. Our resident robin was very busy the other morning, collecting nesting materials. I don't know whether it was him or her I saw, but whichever it was, it would scoop up a beakful and fly onto the wall outside the kitchen to see what I was doing (the breakfast washing up, as it happens) and show me what he/she had collected before flying off to our next-door neighbour's hedge to continue the building work. That robin in the picture is not our resident robin but that is a picture I took a couple of years ago in Falmouth.

So where do the toads come in? They come into our garden under the fence. Our bottom lawn would appear to be slap bang on their route from A to B - not that I know the whereabouts of either A or B. We only see the toads at certain times of the year and always forget just when it is that they migrate. This is the time of the year. I first realised when I found a dead one on the lawn. It had probably been killed by a cat as Fern, our springer spaniel, only ever kills rabbits. There have been several occasions recently, usually late at night, when she has been barking at something lurking beneath plants and I suspect that toads were behind the furore. My wife and I did watch one as it hopped across the lawn but we never do see very many of them.

I mentioned a few posts back that I had been watching a buzzard "making lazy circles in the sky". I watched it again on Friday, but this time its mate was there as well. I spent ages just watching the pair of them swinging about the sky mewing to each other. Wonderful.

So, I got the first of this year's vegetables in the garden yesterday afternoon - three rows of onions. Last year I forgot to buy the onion sets until too late with the result that none grew. I am hoping for better this year. (Obviously.) That done, I set to and stuck labels on 72 Message in a Bottle bottles which are wanted by a local retirement home. Message in a Bottle is a Lions Clubs initiative and if it's something you have never come across you can find details on Brighton Lions Club's web site. Follow the links through "our projects" and "service projects" to Message in a Bottle.

Then in the evening we had a friend - a fellow Lion - round for dinner. He and the Old Bat had been talking a month or so ago about tuna steaks which he said he had never eaten. The result was a dinner date with tuna steaks on the menu, accompanied by a sauce made from balsamic vinegar and crab apple jelly. It's delicious and it looks simple enough to make but don't ask me to describe how!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The oddest ball in the bag

We have been - well, I have been recalling some of the teachers I had as a schoolboy and their eccentricities. Far and away the most eccentric, definitely the oddest ball in the bag, was "Dinger" Bell. Frankly, he should never have been teaching monkeys let along boys of 12 and 13. His main subject was physical education. Now, our school had no separate gym, the assembly hall doing double duty; neither did we have any gym equipment such as vaulting horses. However, there were wall bars on two sides - and a piano on the stage. So, our PT consisted of wall bar exercises. We would stand facing the bars and grip one at shoulder height with both hands, arms outstretched. As Dinger played Greensleeves on the piano, we went through our routine. Up on tiptoe, knees bend, back on tiptoe, heels to the ground, left leg stretch sideways, back, right leg stretch sideways, back - and start again. Quite what he thought such gentle aerobics would do for energetic young boys I cannot imagine.

I must have been 12 going on 13 when a new subject was introduced into the curriculum specifically for Dinger: survey. I was by then enjoying map reading as a Boy Scout and this, an extension of that, was right up my street. As Dinger explained triangulation it all seemed so obvious. I lapped it up. Now, another of Dinger's eccentricities was to range pupils at desks according to their ability (as he saw it). The best pupil was at the front left of the classroom, right in front of Dinger's desk, then along the front row, working to the back, the corner furthest from the teacher, where the desk was occupied by the least able pupil. I never ever got to the top desk. That was Hobday's. Even though I was just as good as him, it was always the No 2 desk for me. Until...

You might be aware that my mother married a sailor, but what you probably don't know is that her sister did as well. It so happened that my uncle was drafted to the naval base at Singapore for three years and this was an accompanied draft so my aunt and my cousins went along as well. They came back to England during the school year in which the survey lessons were started. One cousin was a year older than me and he went into a class a year ahead of me. Another was a year younger than me but his education had been such that he was on a par with my year and so he was put in the same form as me.

I imagine that my elder cousin played up during Dinger Bell's PE lessons - he would be like that - and so Dinger took a deep dislike to him. That dislike also covered his brother, who went straight to the bottom of the class in survey even though he was just as good as me. It was a few weeks before Dinger learned of my relationship to the two brothers. When he did, I was immediately dispatched to the second bottom desk and never again managed to get any higher. But David and I got our own back.

Dinger, for whatever reason, started to teach us boxing in our PE lessons. At first, this was little more than an extended version of the wall bar exercises. The pupils spread out in neat lines and rows and put up our fists. Dinger then walked among us correcting each individual stance. By the time he had finished the lesson was over. Eventually, we progressed. This involved carrying out a sequence on command: "On dancing feet, commence!" We started dancing from one foot to the other. "Exercise number one, lead!" We jabbed with our right hands. "Exercise number two, double punch!" and so on.

The day finally came when we had to place four benches to form the ring and pair off. David and I were not too different in height and we managed to pair off. When out turn came to enter the ring, David whispered to me, "Pretend to hit me hard". I did so, whereupon he leaped out of the ring, followed by me, out of the hall, followed by me, right round the school, followed by me, and eventually back into the hall and into the ring, where he fell to the floor.

I don't think we did boxing any more after that.

Of course, poor old Dinger should never have been teaching. I have, occasionally, had twinges of guilt when I have thought how we boys treated him, but the really guilty parties were those who allowed him to teach. It may have been that he had suffered shell shock or some such during the war and allowing him to work was intended as compassion. Frankly, if that was the case, the compassion was misplaced. But what ever the background, I will always remember him as the oddest in a bunch of oddballs.

Friday, 9 March 2012

More oddballs

The other day I introduced you to Mr Wilson, my one-time music teacher, and promised (or should that be threatened?) to tell you about the other oddballs who were teaching at my school.

The deputy head was a Welshman named Parsons. He had a catch-phrase - "I'll have you trotting along as sure as a couple of eggs" - by which he meant that he was threatening to send you to the head, the only teacher to administer corporal punishment. In those days it was the cane on the backside. Mr Parsons seldom took a class but he did cover for sick teachers from time to time. When he did, he had a habit of addressing boys, whose names he rarely if ever knew, as "tomato" or something similar. I recall the occasion when he took my class and, for some reason, called one pupil to the front of the class. "And what's your name, bacon?" he asked.

Truthfully, the pupil replied, "Gammon, sir".

Mr Parsons did not see the funny side.

"Ozzie" Ford would never get away with it nowadays but nobody thought anything of it nearly 60 years ago. A large man who could, like so many large men, creep about completely unheard, he taught maths. If, during a lesson, he caught a pupil not doing whatever work had been set, he took one of two courses of action. He would sometimes just grip the short hairs above the pupils ear and twist hard or he would lift the lid of the desk, push the pupil's head down and bring down the lid of the desk on the pupil's head. I understand that both punishments were painful but as I was never taught by Ozzie I never found out from personal experience.

"Hoppy" Hargreaves taught French. He earned his nickname though having one leg shorter than the other by several inches. He also looked as though he had forgotten to put his teeth in - his mouth appeared to be somewhat sunken - and his speech was slightly affected, almost as though he had a cleft palate. His bête noir was waste - or, as he wrote, woste. We were allowed to use only the narrowest of margins in our exercise books and every line had to be written on. None of the "leave a spare line at the end of an exercise, rule across the page, leave another line and then start the next exercise" for him. Should he spot an infraction of his rule he would scrawl across the page, "Don't woste space" - for some reason the "a" in "waste" was never correctly formed.

But these counted as normal when compared with Mr Bell, about whom tomorrow.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Second thoughts

I would need to think twice before ordering any electrical goods from the company whose van I saw today. As well as the company's name it was sign-painted with the slogan:

Deliver - Repair - Install

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Lunacy in Libya

Picture: Reuters.

I had fully intended writing about the madness that seems to have swept into the minds of some so-called Islamists, in particular the Salafists who were responsible for the vandalism seen in this picture of the British military cemetery at Benghazi. They even had the gall to film the destruction and post it on YouTube!

Since words have, for once, completely failed me I will write no more about those...

There are similar cemeteries in no fewer than 53 countries across the world, all under the management of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This was established back in 1917 and is funded by the UK, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa. The cemeteries are maintained in superb condition and those in western Europe - France and Belgium - are visited by many thousands of people every year. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, tried to reduce the payment made by the Treasury to the CWGC but the public outrage was so great that he had to give way.

The CWGC say that they estimate some 250 headstones have been damaged and the new headstones will cost about £200 each. Those in desert cemeteries like Benghazi are made from an Italian marble while others are Portland stone. All are carved, surprisingly, in France.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Drink to me only

I suppose I am not alone in that I frequently have a tune running round in my head, but there may not be quite so many who can claim that they have a tune running round almost constantly in the way I do. Generally the tune is one I have heard on the CD playing in the car; occasionally it might be the theme tune from a television show; sometimes - but rarely - it might be a snatch of music from a television advertisement. The other evening, however, a rather surprising tune came into my head quite uninvited and out of the blue. Unusually, I even started singing the words (the Old Bat and I were washing up at the time - not that that piece of information has any bearing whatsoever on the music).
Drink to me only with thine eyes
And I will pledge with mine.
Or leave a kiss within the cup
And I'll not ask for wine.

Diddly-diddly-diddly doth ask a drink divine,
But might I of Jove's nectar sip
I would not change for thine.
As you see, I don't remember all the words. In fact, it is really quite surprising that I remember as many of the words as I do, given that it is more than fifty years since I last sang this song. Indeed, it is, as far as I can remember, more than fifty years since I last heard the tune played, so just why it sprang into my mind the other evening is and will remain a mystery.

I wrote fifty years ago, but my maths were letting me down. On reflection I realise that it was actually much nearer sixty years than fifty. At that time I was a pupil at Gillingham Grammar School for Boys. In the first two or three years, when we were aged from 11 to 13, we "studied" music along with the usual range of other subjects. I used inverted commas round the word "studied" as our music teacher, Mr Wilson, had a rather narrow view of how the subject should be taught. His idea was that during the lesson each pupil should have a copy of a book of songs - words and music (melody only) - and would sing the songs as he played the piano. The only songs in that book, or maybe the only ones we ever got to sing, were traditional English songs such as Drink to Me Only, The Ash Grove, Fair Lass of Richmond Hill. What on earth made him think that 12- and 13-year-old boys might learn something by singing those songs is still beyond me.

But then, Mr Wilson (I just cannot remember his nickname) was just one of a collection of eccentric - or even oddball - teachers at that school in those days not so very long after the war. Maybe I'll come back to the subject in a day or two.

Monday, 5 March 2012

The tree trunk field

Something brought this to mind but I'm blowed if I know just what that something was.

In the way back yonder, it seems to me that my mother quite frequently took my brother and I into the country for picnics. I say 'my mother' because I have no recollection of my father ever being there for one of those expeditions. This was probably because he was serving in the Royal navy and in those days a draft (or deployment) to a ship lasted for three years. If the ship in question was in the Pacific or Far East fleet, the man was away from home for those three years. A far cry from the six month deployments that are moaned about by the wives of today's servicemen!

One of her favourite picnic places was the tree trunk field. Well, that is what we called it. To get there we had to take a bus from Gillingham, through Chatham, Rochester, Strood and Frindsbury out almost to the Isle of Grain. We would get off the bus at Chattenden and walk down a track through woods into the tree trunk field. There was a small copse in the field and a tree at the edge of the copse had fallen. It must have been down for a good many years as it had lost the bark and the trunk was bleached to a silvery colour. My brother and I thoroughly enjoyed climbing on this.

After we had finished our picnic we would continue down the hill to the village of Upnor. Here we would board a small ferryboat to travel up and across the River Medway to Sun Pier at Chatham to catch the bus home. It must have been quite something for my mother to get on that boat as she could be seasick walking along a stone jetty.

I have just Googled Upnor and looked at the pictures of the castle. I don't remember ever seeing it on our picnic expeditions; we certainly never went there. Perhaps it wasn't open to the public in those days. I looked at the map as well - which looks completely different to how I recall things. But then, it was 50 years ago that I last went to the tree trunk field.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Wishing Game: a review

It's not often that I subject my readers to a book review, even less often that the review says, "Don't bother with this one". The Wishing Game by Patrick Redmond is not a recently published book. (I seldom read really new books as I am too mean to buy them. The books I read are mostly borrowed from the public library (free) or acquired at the Lions' monthly book fair where we charge only 50p a book.) But to get back to The Wishing Game.

Although the story appears to start in 1999 (which was when the book was first published), we are very soon transported back through time to a minor boys' public school in 1954. The plot involves one 14-year-boy befriending another and what resulted from that new friendship.

I have three main gripes about the book. First, I found the basic concept of the plot scarcely believable but I read on hoping for some explanation, in particular some explanation about two aspects of the plot. The final explanation was not convincing - not to me, at any rate - and it left in the air the two aspects about which I was so puzzled.

Neither was I happy with the characterisation. Most of the characters in the book are pupils at the school and the majority of them are aged 14. In my experience (and I once was a 14-year-old boy myself although I didn't attend a public school) a 14-year-old boy doesn't cry on another boy's shoulder because his best friend has become the best friend of someone else. Mr Redmond, however, seems to think this quite normal. Indeed, his 14-year-old boys seem to turn on the tears for almost any reason. On the other hand, Mr Redmond has them more perceptive than many an adult about the reasons for other people's actions. No, these are not characters in which one can easily believe.

I think that I could perhaps have excused the poor plot (or, at any rate, the denouement) and the abysmal charcaterisation, but how the punctuation ever got past an editor is something I just cannot understand. The dialogue has more sentences ending with exclamation marks than I have ever seen. In most instances I failed to check just how many consecutive sentences ended that way but in one place I did notice four. The first of those sentences was actually a question and that, like many other questions, is closed with not only a question mark but an exclamation mark as well - ?! - something I have never seen before. On the other hand, there is a distinct lack of commas. I particularly noticed this in dialogue when a proper noun, ie the name of the person being addressed, was inserted in the speech. For example, "I did think David that you would agree with me". There should, of course, be commas after "think" and after "David" - but not according to Mr Redmond or his editor. There is no instance of a similar situation where the punctuation is correct.

Taken all round, this was a most unsatisfying read.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Busy, busy

Life seems to be getting back to busy, busy. There was the meeting on Wednesday evening with the Friends of Withdean Park planning the Lilac Lark (I've booked the Punch and Judy, now I'm trying to find a band - and possible a hog roast!) and Thursday evening was a Lions dinner meeting. Then yesterday morning we welcomed a local member of Parliament at Brighton Lions Housing Society to show him what we are doing and to see if there is any way he can help with a problem we are experiencing. Today is the monthly book fair and I'm on the rota this month! I suppose it does at least stop me getting into mischief.

Friday, 2 March 2012


"If" is not the shortest word in the English language but it is certainly one of the shortest. And yet it covers so very much.

If my father, when he left the Navy, had taken the job in Bath or Truro instead of the one in Brighton...

If I had applied to work at one of the other banks instead of the one I did apply to...

If I had been sent to a different branch of the bank...

Right through our lives we are making choices - or others are making choices - which affect the rest of our lives, and we make those choices almost blindly, thinking of the immediate, short-term effects perhaps but without a thought to what the decision might mean ten, twenty, fifty years down the line. Of course, there is no way we can see that far into the future so there is little point wondering what effect a decision will have on our old age when what we are deciding is whether to take this job or that.

If my father had taken the job in Truro, or
if I had not applied to the bank I did,

I would never have met the woman to whom I have been happily married for so many years;
my children would not have been born or would be completely different people.


So was it pre-ordained that I should meet my wife or was it simply chance, the unrelated result of several unrelated decisions made by several different people? Are our lives mapped out without us seeing the map, or are they simply the results of random decision, calling heads or tails on the toss of a coin?

Thursday, 1 March 2012


Today being St David's Day, 1st March, it is also the first day of spring in my personal calendar. I fully appreciate that not everybody agrees with me about this but I am happy enough in my own little world so that doesn't bother me. I think the Weather Lords must have overlooked the fact that this is a leap year because they treated yesterday as the beginning of spring. The day had dawned (if that is the word) misty but by lunch time the sun was shining and it really felt quite warm. I really enjoyed walking across the fields with the dog.

Those Weather Lords had a quick practice run one day last week. I took much the same route on my walk that afternoon and it was then that I thought of the song from the musical Oklahoma, in particular the line about watching "the hawk making lazy circles in the sky". I see plenty of buzzards in France, although they are usually to be seen perched on fences or electricity poles along the lanes, but I rarely see any here in Sussex. Our most common raptor on the Downs is a smaller bird, a falcon, the kestrel or windhover, but that afternoon it was a buzzard that caught my eye as it passed overhead. I stood and watched and it started circling, gradually rising on the thermals until it was little more than a speck.

But to get back to yesterday. I took a slightly different track across the first field as I had spotted a farmer a couple of fields away sowing what I assume was barley in a field running down the valley and up the side of Tegdown Hill. I was interested in the patterns and wanted to take photographs (which you can see on my other blog). As I walked on I was astonished to see a large clump of snowdrops in bloom in the hedgerow (picture on my other blog tomorrow). I'm sure they can't really be wild; somebody must have thrown out or planted bulbs some years back and they have just spread.

Just along from the barley field is a very large field in which there are usually sheep. But not just now. These animals are due to lamb very soon and have been moved into the lambing sheds to make life easier for the farmer and his hands. I just hope he doesn't get hit by this awful Schmallenberg disease which is causing so much distress to sheep farmers here on the south coast and in East Anglia. I know what a joy it is to watch new-born lambs and I can only imagine how farmers must feel having to shoot lambs deformed so badly by this disease.

So, no sheep nor buzzard nor kestrel yesterday. But I did hear a snatch of song from a distant skylark as I came back, admiring the view across the Stanmer valley towards Castle Hill and Firle Beacon. I thought of other lines from that same song and paraphrased them:
I know I belong to this land
And the land I belong to is grand.