Monday, 30 April 2012

Busy day

Not just busy, but it's also a bright, sunshiny day - I've been keeping my eyes open for flying pigs but have not yet been lucky enough to spot them.

So, what's on the agenda to keep me so fully occupied.  First, I must find time to go to the local newspaper's office to place the ad for the Lions book fair to be held next Saturday.  This is a regular event on the first Saturday of the month but I have yet to work out how to place a recurring ad in the paper when the date in the ad changes every time and the publication is on the Thursday and Friday before the first Saturday of each month.  Nor can I do this online.  Still, it does give me a reminder to check the collected specs at Asda as I have to park in their car park.  The newspaper has no parking facilities and there are double yellow lines all around.  Asda has an optician's in-store and they collect spectacles for recycling by the Lions.

Then the Old Bat has her hairdresser coming round so we have to have lunch early so that I can walk the dog in time to go and collect my granddaughter from school.  This evening I am part of the Olympic squad.  No, not the London Olympics.  This is a series of social evenings organised by our local Lions Clubs with various "sporty" themes.  Tonight's sport is pub games so we get three for the price of one, as it were - darts, pool and shove ha'penny.  I'm in the shove ha'penny team.  There is a meal served - lasagne and garlic bread - so that will save the Old Bat cooking as she is coming with me.

To get back to where I started - the weather - today and possibly tomorrow are providing a very welcome break from what has seemed like incessant rain.  This was the view of a neighbour's sycamore tree yesterday morning.  Special effects by the Weather Clerk- Photoshop not required!

Sunday, 29 April 2012


It is almost two weeks since I wrote about time lapse photography.  That was when I declared my intention of taking a picture of the view from the bedroom window every day with the intention of joining them in a slide show to illustrate the changing seasons.  Since then we have had, I think, two mornings when it has not been raining or foggy - and on one of those it was still rather grey.  Nonetheless, I have religiously taken the daily picture and I am just hoping that the weather lords will smile on me again eventually.

Although it was grey first thing on Friday, the day turned out to be very pleasant and I thoroughly enjoyed a walk on the Downs in the afternoon.  I parked by the Upper Lodges to Stanmer Park and walked northwards across the field running alongside the Ditchling Road.  From the first field, this was the view looking west.  I watched the farmer sowing that spring wheat (probably barley) a few weeks ago - the picture can still be found here.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

It's alright - we're Scouts

Occasionally, just very occasionally,  a long-lost memory comes unbidden to the forefront of my mind.  I have not as yet determined what it might be that triggers this involuntary recall: it may perhaps be something that somebody says or does, or maybe it's just another of those things that come along as the good old anno domini pass on their merry way.  One such memory came to me a few days ago and has been stuck in my mind ever since.  It is my sincere hope that by writing about it here and telling the whole wide world, I might exorcise the beast.  Of course, I fully realise that I might not, but it seems to me that I have nothing much to lose - especially as this memory what I am about to relate does me no real discredit.

At the age of 11 I joined the Scout troop attached to my new school.  From time to time, during our Friday evening meetings, our scoutmaster would send us all out on a wide game.  (For the uninitiated, a wide game is simply a game played over a wide - or widish - area as opposed to one played on, for example, a football pitch.)  These games usually involved one party trying to attack the scout hut which was being defended by the other party.  The scout hut stood in the school grounds which extended over quite a large area - enough space for three rugby pitches, a hockey pitch and a cricket square with space to spare.  One side of the grounds, the side at the back of the playing fields, was open to a road except for a fence of iron railings.  At one corner was a gate with a catch which could be used as a foothold to climb over.

I can't remember if, on this particular occasion, I was defending or attacking.  Either way, I was by the gate - as was Roderick Dolling, who was one of the opposing force.  One of us wanted to climb the gate while the other was determined to prevent the incursion.  We ended up rolling around on the ground, yelping and snarling like a couple of puppies.  It meant nothing, of course.  As Shakespeare might have said, "Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".  As we were rolling around a little old lady happened to come along.  These days, of course, no self-respecting little old lady would be out at dusk (it was that time of the evening) and if she were and came across two teenagers rolling on the ground, she would quickly cross the road and avert her eyes, being afraid that she might be mugged.  England was a different world half a century ago.

Anyway, the little old lady stopped and exclaimed, "What do you two think you are doing?", whereupon both Roderick and I jumped to our feet, snapped to attention and gave the Scout salute.  "It's alright, madam," one of us said.  "We're Scouts."

"That's all right, then," said the little old lady and she went on her way.  Roderick and I went back onto the pavement to continue where we had left off.

And so to today's picture.  This is Home Farmhouse, Stanmer.  It stands just across the road from the well house pictured yesterday.

Friday, 27 April 2012

More of Lions - and other things

I have been asked to propose one of the toasts at my Lions Club's charter night. For those who might not know it, the annual charter night (or, nowadays more frequently, charter lunch) is the birthday party of the club. Brighton Lions' charter night is not as posh a do as it used to be when ladies all wore long evening dresses but the majority of the men wear dinner jackets and the ladies choose cocktail dresses. We do things somewhat differently from other clubs (Brighton has always liked to be different) in that our toasts and speeches are , well, idiosyncratic could describe the names and order.   After dinner the first toast is, of course, the Loyal Toast.  Then the President proposes a toast to Lions Clubs International and District 105SE.  Just that - no speech.  The District Governor (or whoever is the official Lions guest) responds and ends by proposing a toast to Brighton Lions Club.  The President then speaks in response to this toast.  The last toast - the one I am to propose - is a bit of a catch-all.  This is to the City of Brighton and Hove, the Ladies and Our Guests.  We have to include the City if the Mayor is to respond - and what Mayor can refuse a free dinner?  He (or she) is always at our Charter night.

I have started giving my speech a little thought - just a little as I still have getting on for two months in which to prepare - and have decided that  must try to work in a quote from Keith Waterhouse about Brighton being a town which looks always as though it is helping the police with their enquiries.


Looking back I see that both the preceding paragraphs started "I have" and I very nearly started this one the with the same words!

Since some time in 2009 I have been posting daily pictures of Stanmer and Around on another blog.  These pictures have, for the most part, been of the South Downs (including Stanmer Park and woods) just to the north of Brighton, although I have wandered from time to time and included pictures of Brighton itself and even places further afield.  However, from today the two blogs are merged into onw under the "Pebbles" banner and here is the first (or next) photograph.  This is the donkey wheel house in Stanmer village where donkeys at one time walked round to bring up the water.  I do like the weather vane!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Thoughts on a Thursday

That picture is one I have borrowed from here.

It doesn't seem to very long ago that the sight of a cowslip growing wild was a cause of some jubilation.  They really were that uncommon.  Nowadays they are to be seen almost everywhere, sometimes in very large patches.  Those growing on the verges of major roads and motorways might be the result of seeds sown by the highway authorities but the plants growing in our garden and on the grass verge of our suburban street are more likely to have been distributed by birds or wind.  I wonder how long it will be before the cowslip is considered as much a weed as the dandelion of the common daisy.


I have come to the conclusion that there is a class of people which is, in large part, in danger of slipping through the cracks and being completely disregarded or considered.  Perhaps that is putting the case a bit strongly, but it has come to my attention that there are many people who, because they are caring for disabled or sick relatives, are in need of care themselves.

It is easy for me to feel sympathy with my cousin, confined to a wheelchair by MS.  But what people tend to overlook is that it is not only she who is housebound, but her husband is in almost the same situation.  Yes, he can get out and about easily.  Physically, at least.  But naturally he will not go to places and do things if his wife cannot be included.  He is suffering from MS as well even if not to the same extent as his wife.  At the end of our visit at Easter I commented on the extra work that we had caused him.  His reply was that it was good to have different company and gave him at least a partial break.

My next-door neighbour is in a similar situation.  His wife has suffered a couple of strokes and is now almost bed-bound.  Apart from getting out to do the shopping, he can hardly leave the house and is woken two or three times at night to tend to his wife.  He, too, is in need of relief.  I must make a point of asking him in for a coffee to give him some different company for half an hour - and the chance to look at different walls.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Lions Court

It was back in 1968 that the first block of 12 flats owned by Brighton Lions Housing Society was formally opened.  The flats were built on a plot of land leased from Brighton Borough Council (as the local authority was in those days).  After some negotiation, it had been agreed by the Ministry of Housing that the annual ground rent of just £5 would be acceptable.  A few years later we negotiated the lease of more land on which we built another block of 18 flats.  The ground rent on the whole plot remained at £5.

The lease now has less than 50 years to run and we are anxious to secure our tenure for the future.  Having recently spent a lot of money replacing all the windows, kitchens and bathrooms and now being in the throws of rewiring, we are concerned that in 25 to 30 years time, when further substantial sums will need to be spent, we will have little incentive if there is only about 20 years left on the lease.

We started talking to the Council a year ago about the possibility of buying the freehold but it was only yesterday that we actually managed to meet anybody to talk face to face.  We are promised that we will hear something, even if it is only what needs to happen next, within about four weeks.

This is turning out to be a very long drawn out process but at least we seem to be moving at last!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Pig ignorant

I never cease to amaze myself with the depth of my ignorance.  Just the other day two wildly different examples cropped up.  The first involved a small holding the Old Bat has in a unit trust.  Said trust wants to change its rules so that it can invest in derivatives amongst othet things.  Personally, I just want to run a mile from any such investment, but that might be simply because I have no idea what derivatives are.  I always associate them with the riskier side of investment on the stock market but I am more than willing to be corrected if I am wrong.

That said, it does seem to me that almost any investment on the stock market is on a par with an investment in a one-arm bandit.  My experience is not quite the same as that of Mr Buffett.  The most sophisticated type of deal I have ever made on the stock market - or, for that matter, understood - is stagging.  I did make quite a bit of money doing that.  I'm not sure if it is still done, but back in the days when I worked for a bank there were two of us at one branch who got into this in quite a big way.  It involved applying to buy shares that were being issued by a company which was going to be traded on the stock exchange.  One applied for the shares in the hope that a number would be issued and they could be sold as soon as the company was quoted on the stock exchange and the share price was higher than the issue price.  I say I got into this in a big way but I am really talking about investments of £100 or so and profits of perhaps £20 a time.

When my grandmother died she left me a sum of cash - I think it was about £1,500 or so.  I decided to split this (then) largish sum in half.  One half would be invested in speculative shares, the other half in a safe, blue chip company.  As luck would have it, the gambles paid off, but the safe blue chip?  I chose Rolls Royce, which promptly went belly up and lost me £750!  Since then I have been a rare and reluctant investor.

But to get back to the subject: my ignorance.  The second example was my sighting of a small, brown flying object, butterfly or moth.  I knew not which it was.  Which led me to muse that I don't know the difference between a moth and a butterfly.  I had always thought that moths fly at night, butterflies during the day, but now I know that to be incorrect.  I suppose that is one step forward - but I really must look it up.

Monday, 23 April 2012

I almost forgot

Today is also traditionally the day for picking the dandelions to make wine.

St George's Day

23rd April - St George's Day.  Also the anniversary of both the birth and the death of William Shakespeare.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

My mind is a blank

It's not often that I am at a loss for words but that is the case this morning.  Usually I find that while I am ambling through the woods in the park - I'm not one of those power-walking people - walking the dog after breakfast, several strands of thought are competing with themselves to come uppermost in my mind.  But today - nothing.  No, that's not quite true.  I was thinking about taking photographs.  I knew one of the berberis shrubs had come into bloom and I wanted to get a picture of the bright orange flowers against the sky, which was for once a brilliant blue.  Quite how I managed to make a pig's ear (or dog's dinner) of it, I don't know.  But I did. Just look - the flowers are all out of focus!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Talking of happy families . . .

Well, I was two days ago although I have strayed away from that subject in my last post, although I suppose that's not quite true.  Many people would, after all, consider a dog as part of the family.  Either way, it is completely irrelevant to what I am abut to tell you.

Some of you might well know already that over the last umpty-ump years I have been collecting data on my family tree.  I now have over 6,000 names and many more dates with the tree's branches spreading ever wider.  Why? you ask.  I don't really know, if I am to answer honestly.  It all started innocently enough but I have found myself getting hooked on finding more and more names, dates and places.  I suppose it's a bit like the answer mountaineers give when they are asked why they do it: because it's there.  The information is there and I quite enjoy winkling it out.  Occasionally, I find myself making contact with - not a long-lost relative, but a newly-discovered one.  I did so this week and she was able to give me the next clue in one of my "treasure hunts".  This was the name of a ship on which my grandfather served back in the 1920s.  I don't think it is actually the one I want, but who knows?  It might lead to the next clue and I might eventually find out the truth about the mutiny he was supposed to have led which resulted in him being put ashore in Calcutta and left to find his own way home.

Friday, 20 April 2012

No, I'm not going mad

Although I rather suspect many visitors will come to the opposite conclusion when I say that I am convinced my dog has a sense of humour.  And no, I am not in the habit of anthropomorphising dogs - or any other animal for that matter.  But let me explain.

Fern, my dog (or, to be more accurate, my wife's dog) is an 8-year-old English springer spaniel.

Granted, this picture was taken a few years back but she still looks basically the same and still holds up her right front paw when asking for something - like a treat.

Fern and I spend somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours walking every day, in our local park, through the woods or over the South Downs.  On some walks she is in the habit of carrying a tennis ball which, from time to time, she drops in the hope that I will throw it for her.  She has never learned to drop the ball at my feet or to put it in my hand.  To be honest, I never bothered to train her to do that.  Anyway, she is more of a sniffer dog than a retriever of game.  So when we are walking in Stanmer woods she will go off the path a little way and drop the ball, usually about two or three yards into the trees.  She then goes further and lies down waiting for me to get the ball and throw it.

This is where her sense of humour comes in.  Sometimes Fern will drop the ball in such a way that it is hidden from me and I have to search for it.  I have yet to work out if this is done by accident or if it is a deliberate ploy on her part, either because she gets a kick out of watching me search or she thinks I enjoy the game.  Other times she will drop the ball in an obvious place, wait for me to approach it and then dash in to scoop it up just as I bend down to pick it up.  I swear she is smiling as she does it!  OK, you may think I'm mad, but I am convinced she does this to tease me, thereby showing she has a sense of humour.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Happy Families

Our granddaughter started school last September but on Mondays neither her mother nor her father could be at the school to meet her at the end of the day.  Fortunately, an honorary aunt was prepared to step in and granddaughter has been happy to help look after and amuse said honorary aunt's young son.  But honorary aunt gave birth during the school Easter holidays and it is not now convenient for her to be at the classroom door to meet the granddaughter on Mondays.  So granddad answered the call, was duly shown how to navigate around the outside of the school to be in place outside the appropriate classroom by 3.15.  This week was my first 'duty' and I am pleased to report that I was in place on time and granddaughter came skipping out of the classroom, handed me her two bags (yes, two - one her lunch bag and one for her books and homework.  Homework - for a 4-year-old!) and placed her hand in mine.

At home, she sat on the sofa beside grandma and read the book she had brought home.  This was to teach the reader the "kn" and "ight" sounds with such words as knight, knit, (and, just to confuse matters, king), fight, delighted etc.  Then grandma got out the new card game - Happy Families.  The Happy Families I remembered from my youth consisted of four members: there would be Mr Bunne the baker, Mrs Bunne the baker's wife along with Master Bunne and Miss Bunne.  Other families included the butcher, the farmer and so on.  Not these French cards.  There were a total of seven families, each comprising six members: father, mother, son, daughter, grandfather and grandmother.  And they weren't the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker; they were the lion, the hippo, the zebra.  However, we didn't have to worry about the frou frou family or the poids lourd family as each family's cards had a different colour strip across the top, along with a number from 1 to 6.  So all we had to do was ask for green 3 or whatever instead of Master Giles the farmer's son.

This was Emily's introduction to Happy Families.  Of course, there was no way her four-year-old hands could hold 14 playing cards so we put the down on the table.  I rather think she very quickly twigged to the fact that she could see what cards grandma and granddad held so it was no surprise that she won!

It is, of course, a great joy to have our granddaughter spend time with us - but it does cramp our style a bit.  No more Monday lunches for a while and no skiving off to France as the mood takes us.  School holidays only for the time being.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Only in France...

Although I have been driving for more than 50 years and have driven in (at the last count) 13 different countries, I have been stopped by the police in only two.  One was Croatia or Slovenia - one of those Balkan countries that used to be part of Yugoslavia - and I was driving a camper van as part of a three vehicle convoy taking relief supplies to refugees in Bosnia, a Lions project.  I think the officers were so surprised to see a British vehicle that they stopped us just to make sure we were genuine.

I have, however, been stopped three times in France - once by Customs officers and twice by police.  Now, before anyone gets any funny ideas about my driving, I must add that French police (and Customs officers, for that matter) don't need a justifiable excuse to stop a car.  On all three occasions every car was being stopped.  Why the Customs were stopping cars 35 miles from the nearest Channel port - and hundreds of miles from the border with any other country - I never did understand.  But they still insisted on half turning out the car (I was driving back after a week working in our French house so had all sorts of tools and so on in the back of the estate).  After a few minutes they gave up and let me go.

Another time I was driving back from the local supermarket with the makings for lunch or some such when I was flagged down and asked to show my papers.  The officer neither spoke nor read English - or maybe that was just the impression he wanted to give - so I had to explain my driving license, insurance certificate and MOT certificate.  Again, I was very quickly waved on.

The third time was further down towards the centre of France, in the Dordogne, where we were staying on holiday.  It was approaching lunch time and we were driving towards a town where we had every expectation of finding a bar that would serve us a sandwich and a glass of wine when we, along with every other car on the road, were flagged down.  The young lady approached what she thought was the driver's door and was astonished to see no steering wheel.  It dawned on her that this was an English car and she came round to my side.  She asked me, very politely in broken English, to step out of the car and blow into a gadget, a gizmo.  That was the first breathalyser I had seen.  As I had drunk nothing but a glass of orange juice and a couple of cups of coffee that morning, I was confident of being well below the legal alcohol limit, and so it proved.

All that is merely by way of introduction to my passing comment that I must hie me to Halfords to purchase a breathalyser.  There is a new law coming into force soon in France (July, I think) under which every car will have to carry as part of its standard equipment, a breathalyser.  This is in addition to a first aid kit, a warning triangle, spare bulbs and high visibility jackets for every occupant - and a GB plate if the car is British.  Apparently, President Sarkozy has undertaken to reduce the number of deaths on the road in France and this is part of his campaign.  Drivers are being encouraged to carry two breathalysers so that if one is used, there will still be one in the car to comply with the law.  It is, of course, the retailers and manufacturers of the equipment that are encouraging the purchase of two breathalysers.  (Did you detect the note of cynicism in that last sentence?)  It seems they are only a couple of pounds each so maybe I will buy two just to be on the safe side.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Another challenge

I find time-lapse photographs fascinating - you know, the ones that show clouds scudding across the sky or a bud turning into a flower.  I even include those comparison pictures, the pairs that show the same view 100 or so years apart.  Well, there is a time lapse in those too.  Of course, in order to take a real time-lapse picture, like the bud opening, one needs to set the camera on a tripod and leave it in position, pressing the shutter release button at predetermined intervals.  I have, from time to time, toyed with the idea of producing a time-lapse picture - or though they are really videos - but have decided that the whole enterprise would be too complicated for me to set up.  I was musing on the subject the other day when I recalled an episode of Midsomer Murders in which the owner of a camera shop set up his camera and tripod on the pavement outside his shop every day and took a picture of the High Street as the church clock chimed the hour - nine, I seem to remember.  That gave me an idea.

When I get out of bed in the morning and throw back the curtains, I always look across the valley to the Downs and I watch the changing of the seasons.  I notice the sky: sometimes a leaden grey with 10/10 cloud, sometimes a duck-egg blue with no clouds at all, sometimes a deeper blue with fluffy, white clouds scattered across, sometimes hidden in mist or fog.  Why don't I, I thought, take a picture of that view every day and then use Photoshop to merge them into a video?  So that is my latest challenge.  But at what time of day should I take the photo?  My favourite for the light is as the sun is going down and the shadows are getting long, although the morning light can be great as well.  The problem with either morning or evening is that they are dark during the winter months.  Never mind, I will settle for somewhere between about 7.30 and 8.30 in the mornings, and if I have to migrate to a later hour in the winter, so be it.  If I'm still going in the winter, of course.   I have decided not to set the camera and tripod in place - the Old Bat would object or it would be knocked out of true - but I have taken a picture this morning and I will use that as a template to get future pictures to show the same area.  Once I have 10 or 15 or 20 I will see how the video comes out and, if it's OK, I'll carry on.

Just as a teaser, this is a picture I took one morning some months back.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Logic doesn't come into the equation

It seems to me that, logically, two squared plus three squared should equal (two plus three) squared, but it doesn't. I have spent a long time trying to find the fault in my logic and I think I have it - at last! (I have tried writing those figures in a word processor and pasting into Blogger but the little 2 meaning squared doesn't come out properly.)


Back to that list of 50 Things to Do Before You're 11¾ two days ago. Buck commented that he had to Google a number of them. He's not alone. "Wild swimming" was something I had never heard of but I guessed it meant swimming in the sea, a river or lake. I was right. But I still don't know what a grass trumpet might be.

Sunday, 15 April 2012


The Brighton marathon is being run today.  This means that several of the main roads in the city are closed for at least a part of the day and some - like the seafront - for all of the day.  As well as all the runners, I have heard that 100,000 spectators are expected, many from outside the city.  For 'ordinary' people like me, this is a day not to go into town!

It's actually very cold today as a result of a bitter and biting east, north-east or maybe north wind (it seems to be swirling around and coming from different directions).  I even wore a cap and gloves when walking the dog!  In mid-April!!

I was having a thunk yesterday (a thunk is less concentrated than a think) and for some reason that I can't explain now, I signed up for Google Adsense.  I was probably thinking (or thunking) that I might earn some cash from this blog.  But of course, that was just a wild pipe dream.  So, although I have signed up to display ads, I don't think I will actually take the next step and re-arrange the blog to accommodate them.

I really must get round to sorting out and acting upon that pile of paper on my desk.  I know there is the renewal notice for an insurance policy which is probably due before the end of the week.  There is a letter to the Old Bat giving her the good tidings that her recent mammogram was clear but asking for comments and suggestions.  I intend writing to point out that the clinic's situation is such that access is extremely difficult for disabled people and that there is absolutely no provision for parking for the disabled.  It was as well that I had accompanied the OB or she would have been unable to get to her appointment.  There's other stuff as well so I had better get on with it.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

50 Things to Do Before You're 11 ¾

The National Trust was, I always thought, established to look after old buildings of national importance so when I saw that they had produced a list of 50 Things to Do Before You're 11¾ I was just a little bemused. It transpired that this is little more than a gimmick to get people to visit NT properties. Anyway, here is the list as produced by the National Trust:
1. Climb a tree
2. Roll down a really big hill
3. Camp out in the wild
4. Build a den
5. Skim a stone
6. Run around in the rain
7. Fly a kite
8. Catch a fish with a net
9. Eat an apple straight from a tree
10. Play conkers
11. Throw some snow
12. Hunt for treasure on the beach
13. Make a mud pie
14. Dam a stream
15. Go sledging
16. Bury someone in the sand
17. Set up a snail race
18. Balance on a fallen tree
19. Swing on a rope swing
20. Make a mud slide
21. Eat blackberries growing in the wild
22. Take a look inside a tree
23. Visit an island
24. Feel like you're flying in the wind
25. Make a grass trumpet
 26. Hunt for fossils and bones
27. Watch the sun wake up
28. Climb a huge hill
29. Get behind a waterfall
30. Feed a bird from your hand
31. Hunt for bugs
32. Find some frogspawn
33. Catch a butterfly in a net
34. Track wild animals
35. Discover what's in a pond
36. Call [like] an owl
37. Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool
38. Bring up a butterfly
39. Catch a crab
40. Go on a nature walk at night
41. Plant it, grow it, eat it
42. Go wild swimming
43. Go rafting
44. Light a fire without matches
45. Find your way with a map and compass
46. Try bouldering
47. Cook on a campfire
48. Try abseiling
49. Find a geocache
50. Canoe down a river

Hmm. There are quite a few things on that list that I have never done - and I'm 69¾!

Friday, 13 April 2012

New, improved!

I'm so glad it's not just me that has accidentally "improved" my blogging experience: my friend Skip has done it as well, as he reported here.  I recalled that some time back Blogger introduced a new improved dashboard which we were invited to try.  I did, but preferred the old, unimproved version and was able to switch back.  With that in mind, I was happy to click on the button for the latest new, improved product - only to find that the switch was irreversible.  i shrugged my shoulders and got on with things as I had noticed that this new, improved Blogger was to be foisted on all of us within a few weeks anyway.

Mind you, I do admire the guys (and, presumably, gals) who are able to produce the code for such complicated things as the Blogger web site.  I remember years ago attending a one-day course on HTML and being amazed that I could write code to produce a (very simple) web site.  I say 'very simple' because it really was.  I could dictate the background colour and the font - and even the size of the text as well as its colour, but not much more than that.  I subsequently bought the Idiot's Guide book and learned how to do much more complicated things.  Now I can produce a reasonable web site but compared with those Blogger guys and gals - and the great majority of those who produce commercial web site - I am as a toddler compared to an Olympic marathon runner.

Now I have been using this new, improved Blogger for a while I'm beginning to feel at home with it.  Certainly there appear to be some welcome improvements and I haven't found many things which I thought were better before.  Yes, I give it a cautious thumbs up.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

In times gone by

Did I mention that we have been spending Easter on the farm in Somerset for 30 years?  I think I did in yesterday's post.  (If I wasn't so bone idle I would check up.)  In those early years I thoroughly enjoyed singing for my supper by doing various jobs around the farm.  I have helped erect new fences for the deer fields where the corner posts have to be sunk four feet into the ground and because of the lack of cash to have the job done professionally, Julian and I had to dig the holes manually.  I have mended fences, rounded up stray cattle and horses, fed the animals, installed a milking machine, dug a trench for a water pipe across the rock-hard yard, made gates, taught calves to drink from buckets...  a whole variety of things.  This year, the weather was too bad to have a fire to burn all the brash from a chestnut tree that Julian had pollarded and the only other job I had was to hold the scarecrow as Julian knocked it into the ground.  This crittur was meant to scare not crows but foxes, to prevent them taking the new-born lambs.

The sheep are a Hebridean variety. The lambs are black but the wool changes to a dingy blackish-brown in the adult animals.

The rest of the time was taken up with talking, eating, drinking, reading, crossword puzzles...  In other words, it was a lazy weekend - and none the worse for that!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

So that was Easter

After a week of super weather in France - sunbathing in the courtyard - we got home and spent one day in Brighton before heading off again last Thursday to spend Easter at the farm as we have done every year but one for the past 30 years!  I was pleased to meet up with a cousin for a pub lunch on the way to Somerset, a cousin who was 'lost' to the family until just a couple of years ago.  Which reminds me: I promised to send her a couple of pictures of her grandfather.  Her mother (my father's sister) cut herself off from the family in 1952 and my cousin knew nothing about her mother's side of her family until after her mother's death.

It was also good to catch up with my cousin on the farm and to meet her son's latest addition to the family, a young girl born last May.

Now I need to go on a diet.  I think my waist has grown by an inch or more.

I know we need the rain we have been having the past few days, but it really is inconvenient!  I need to cut the grass - and walking the dog in the pouring rain is not my idea of fun!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

What little girls wore

Four Meals for Fourpence by Grace Foakes is about her childhood in the very early tears of the 20th century. Mrs Foakes grew up in Wapping in London's East End and she provided a delightful description of children's clothing. Mrs Foakes wrote:
"You might like to know the way we used to be dressed when I was a young girl. I wore a flannel vest with short sleeves which slipped over the head and had no fasteners. Then came a calico chemise, and over this went what my mother called 'stays', a strip of flannel a few inches wide fitted round my body and fastened with buttons and button-holes. Two straps over my shoulders kept it from slipping. On the bottom edge of the stays were six buttons - two at the back and two either side at the front. They were for fastening my knickers on to. The knickers were made with a waistband that fitted round my waist, and on this were the buttonholes to take the buttons on the stays. The back of the knickers had a flap which opened or shut as required. When shut, this was attached to the stays. The knickers were made in what was known as fleecy-lined material. They were grey in colour, reached to the knees and were very cumbersome and awkward, especially if you were in a hurry, for small fingers found it very hard to manipulate buttons at the back side. Many a time we left them undone, not caring if the flap could be seen as we ran along. Next came a flannelette petticoat with a draw-string through the neck, and then a dress, or whatever else was to hand.

"My brothers were dressed in flannel vests with Oxford shirts over them. They wore no underpants. Their breeches came to below the knee, where they were fixed into a band which buttoned with two buttons. They each wore a celluloid Eton collar and a tie if one was available. Their socks came just above the band of their breeches so that they were held in place by them. They wore thick heavy boots fitted with studs, tips and blakeys."

Monday, 9 April 2012

An idea is born

Chris seemed keen to come out with me again to do other work to improve the house and we had cast our eyes around to see what ideas we could come up with. I knew that Mrs S was unhappy with the lino in the shower room, but this is such a small room that working in there is awkward to say the least; it doesn't help that the floor is at two levels about an inch or so apart with a 45% slope between them. Ideally the floor should be tiled, but I was keeping quiet about this.

One day, while the four of us were out there, Chris and I had called in at one of the hardware stores in the area. Stacked high just inside the doorway was tongued and grooved timber on special offer. Chris and I looked at it and the idea came to both of us simultaneously. A timber ceiling in the hall would look so much better than the polystyrene tiles I had used to hold up the straw and cow dung. We wasted no time in obtaining the approval of both Mrs S and Mrs Chris before measuring the ceiling and racing back to buy the timber. There was plenty of room to store it and it was hardly going to go off.

It's one thing having the idea: planning how to execute the idea is a completely different matter, as Chris and I were to find out.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Cleared at last!

What with the distractions of the smell and the bedroom light, we never did get much of the hall floor cleared that week. Unfortunately, we had disposed of the lino that had been in the hall - it was pretty well finished anyway - and there was no way we could leave the floor in that state during the next summer season. I would have to go back and finish the job.

So it was that I returned to France quite soon, intent on spending a week on my hands and knees.

I quickly developed a system to help me through the boredom and pain. We had acquired a CD player and I had taken with me a selection of discs. I found that if I played some lively music, I could scrape away in time to it. When the CD was finished, I would take a break - a cup of coffee, a cigarette and Mars bar to give me energy - then change the disc and get back on my knees. But I didn't manage to finish the floor even working like this.

The floor at the beginning of the week . . .

. . . and at the end of it.

Mrs S and I planned to return during the half term week the following February, and we managed to persuade Chris and his wife to come with us. During that bitterly cold week, Chris and I spent most of the time on our knees, Mrs S froze while weeding the courtyard, and Mrs Chris froze while painting the window shutters and the shed doors.

By the end of the week, Chris and I had cleared the floor, except for a small patch in the middle which had defied all our efforts. We put a rug over that bit and called it a day.

And finally . . .

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Light, glorious light

Having successfully drilled through the bedroom ceiling into the loft, we now found that the shank of the hook was too long. It would have been a simple matter to find a piece of timber of the right thickness, drill a hole through it, and then pass the shank up through the ceiling and then through the timber. But this was Les Lavandes, and that would have been too easy. The length of the wires coming up from the light fitting meant that the connections would have to be just where the timber block would lie. We would need to build a bridge, with the connections underneath it.

After we have screwed three pieces of wood together to make the bridge, I climbed the steps and held the light fitting in place, for all the world like a rustic Statue of Liberty. Using a piece of thin wire as a hook, either Chris or Alan fished through the hole to pull the leads up into the floor space. This proved to be quite a tricky job. After ten minutes or so my right arm felt as though all the blood had flowed out and it was becoming distinctly numb. I had to change hands. This meant relinquishing my hold on the step ladder. As I reached up to take hold of the light in my left hand, the steps wobbled. Luckily the light fitting was made of wood and it landed on me when I hit the floor, so nothing was broken.

I replaced the steps and held up the light fitting again. This time Chris managed to hook to wires quite quickly, but the ends were so short that it was another half an hour before we could push the shank of the hook through the bridge and tighten the nut, by which time I was in agony. But we did now have a light in the upstairs bedroom.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Light dawns

Chris had already drilled a hole in the bedroom ceiling through which we would pass the threaded end of the hook's shank, narrowly missing the electrical cable which had gone off in a completely unexpected direction. We had realised that the shank was too short to pass through both the ceiling and the floor, but were confident that we knew where the hole would be. But as we peered around between the joists, we could see no sign of a hole. Alan went back downstairs and poked a screwdriver into the hole. It jammed against something solid. Could we have drilled into that beam, all five inches by six inches of it? Perhaps we should have taken the measurements of the ceiling and the loft floor before drilling the hole.

Measuring the loft floor was quite a feat. Firstly, it involved crawling through dust which appeared to be been gathering since the house was built in 1840. We had to crawl in order to reach the edges of the floor under the sloping roof. The we had a few tricky moments as we were using a six-foot tape to measure a floor which was sixteen feet by twenty. We might not have needed to be exact to the thousandth of an inch, but we did want to avoid drilling into any more beams. Eventually, we thought we had the measurements accurately enough.

Now, of course, we needed to transfer those measurements from the loft floor to the bedroom ceiling. Strangely, the bedroom ceiling seemed to be a slightly different size to the loft floor - one wall was two inches shorter, another just one inch longer, while a third was as much as three inches longer. Only the fourth was almost the same size as the loft. It probably didn't help that we were using that six-foot tape while standing on steps and chairs on a distinctly uneven floor, and stretching over our heads to measure the ceiling.

We went back up to the loft to check our measurements. At least there was less dust to crawl through this time, much of it having already been transferred to our clothes, up our noses and into our mouths. We need not have bothered: the measurements were spot on.

After arguing amiably for a while, we decided that each of us should mark where we thought the hole should be and we would then draw lots. The winner (or should that be loser?) would then drill through his hole. It was Alan who won, and as he withdrew the electric drill, we were delighted to see light shining through the hole.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Let there be light - maybe

On the face of it, it was a simple enough job. Turn off the power at the mains by flicking the trip switch, disconnect the three wires running into the existing light fitting, unscrew the fitting, and then reverse the procedure to install the new fitting - half an hour's work at the most. But by now I knew that no job at Les Lavandes is that simple. It was easy enough to remove the old light fitting, but it was then that the fun started.

The replacement fitting which Mrs S had bought at the local junk shop was a wooden affair with five spokes radiating from a central boss, each spoke having a bulb holder at the outer end. The central boss was suspended by a chain from the rose. This all made it rather weightier than the old fitting, which had been held up by a couple of screws. The replacement would need to be held by some sort of hook which would need to be held in place by a nut under the floor of the loft. I had taken the precaution of buying just such a fitting in England and had bought the one with the longest reach, about three inches.

Having removed the old fitting, the three of us ascended into the loft, where I had rigged up a lead with an electric light on the end so that we could see what we were doing. We made our way towards the centre, brushing aside the cobwebs that hung as thickly as lianas in the jungle, and looked at the close-boarded floor. Whoever had laid that floor had done a superb job: it would be difficult to get a cigarette paper between the boards, they were so closely laid. Try as we might, we could not get up the small section we needed to be lifted without smashing the tongue and grooving, splintering several section of floorboard in the process.

So far we had spent five minutes removing the old light fitting - and half an hour lifting a section of loft floor. And now we had another problem.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Mrs S - the junk shop junkie

Mrs S had become hooked - I might almost say addicted - to browsing through the numerous junk shops in France. Some of these are almost magical places, labyrinths full to overflowing with 1930s plates (usually chipped), kitchen fittings from the 1960s in garish plastic, rusty tools that had been found in ancient barns, 1950s records (probably scratched and completely un-playable), top hats, dented saucepans and all sorts of other odds and ends. This all started because we wanted an old chair.

I had, in my younger days, worked for a bank and one of the branches at which I worked was to be refurbished. This meant that the writing table in the interview room was surplus to requirements and was about to be scrapped. I was looking for something to use as a desk at home and this table was exactly right. After a few years, the table was relegated to the garden shed and was cruelly misused. It occurred to us that, suitably renovated, this table would be ideal in the living room in Les Lavandes and I spent many hours during the summer stripping off the old varnish and applying coat after coat of beeswax polish as well as cleaning and refitting the leather insert. It looked pretty good after I had finished, but it did need a suitable chair. Hence the search of French junk shops.

Over time we found numerous knick-knacks: an old bar stool with a heavy wooden seat, now in use as a side-table in the hall; an enamel coffee pot which now sits on the bar stool; ornaments in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours; a brass lamp to go on the writing table; a cart wheel to hang on the outside wall; a chair for the writing table; and a light fitting to replace the one in the upstairs bedroom.

This was another job to be done while the three old codgers were there, a job which would require Chris's knowledge of electrical wiring, mine being almost non-existent.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

In the s***

The next morning we gingerly lifted the slab again: we did it gingerly because the concrete in its cradle was cracked badly and looked about ready to give up the ghost. The cradle didn't look any too safe, either, being almost rusted through in places. Setting it aside, we looked into the cavity. There, about a foot below ground level, was another concrete slab. This one was round, and set on top of its hole so there was something for us to grab hold of. We were nearly overpowered by the smell as we lifted it, and we very quickly put it back in position, but not before we had seen what was underneath.

The dark, swirling mass was the content of a septic tank, not withstanding the fact that the estate agents' particulars had stated that the house was on mains drainage.

On the premise that discretion is the better part of valour, we replaced the top slab and went back to scraping the hall floor.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Success at last

No time was lost attaching one end of the rope to the slab and the other to the car. While Chris watched the slab for signs of movement, Alan stood in the road to warn me of any traffic that might be coming as I careered out of the courtyard. All that happened was that Chris was sprayed with half a hundredweight of granite chippings from the spinning wheels: the slab remained immovable.

We cleaned up Chris's scratches and stood looking despondently at the slab.

"It does look," said Alan, "as though there is a slightly wider gap between the slab frame and the cradle just there, near that corner."

A closer inspection revealed him to be right: the crack was very slightly larger. The bolster chisel could not fit in the crack, but a few blows with a club hammer soon had it wedged. We freed it, and tried again slightly to the left. Gradually, the gap widened, but there was no way we could exert sufficient leverage to lift the slab from its bed. We could ease it up a fraction of an inch, but as soon as the chisel was removed, the slab sank back down. What we needed was a jemmy.

Back at the garden centre, we tried to explain to the horrified assistant just what we wanted.

"A piece of iron like that," indicating the thickness of a thumb, "and like that," spreading hands apart to indicate the length. Much to our surprise, he understood us and we were soon the proud possessors of our first piece of housebreaking equipment.

With two of us exerting pressure on the jemmy and the other straining on the chisel to prevent the slab falling back, we eventually lifted the slab in the light of the fading sun. We laid it carefully across the hole to prevent anyone falling into it in the dark and went for a shower and a meal. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof - and that smell was evil!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

It's still stuck

There are not many people who walk past the house, but there is an occasional passer-by. Whether or not there were any that afternoon I couldn't say, but any there were would have witnessed a strange, ritualistic dance taking place in our courtyard. Three men on their hands and knees were crawling round in a circle - backwards. Chris, Alan and I were working away at the rust.

When we thought we had cleared enough to lift the slab, we tried the screwdriver once again. The slab still didn't budge, but this time we bent the screwdriver through forty-five degrees. I now had a screwdriver which would go round corners, but the problem of accessing the septic tank remained.

We stood gazing at the slab, hoping against hope that inspiration might strike.

"I wonder," mused Chris. "Suppose we tied a rope to the ring in the slab and the other end to the towing bracket on the car . . ."

We raced back to the garden centre DIY section to see if they had any suitable rope. The assistant we had seen in the morning blanched when he saw the three mad Englishmen walk through the door, but - give him his due - he stood his ground courageously. As it happened, we didn't need his help and were soon roaring back with the answer to our problem in the boot of my car.