Thursday, 31 May 2012

The French ceiling

I was telling you how my friend Chris and I planned to construct a false ceiling in the hall of our house in France.  Having re-read that opening sentence I realise that it is actually ambiguous: the house is not owned by Chris and me but by my wife, aka the Old Bat, and me.  Oh heck, just take it from here.

(This was the ceiling after I had replaced the old polystyrene tiles.  It certainly needed something!)

Back home again, Chris and I e-mailed each other with badly drawn sketches showing how we thought the false ceiling in the hall could be put up. We rubbished each others ideas on the phone, but managed to remain friends despite that, and agreed to wait until we were back in France before deciding how to proceed. On the whole, that is how we have tackled each job we have undertaken, Chris having been a great help in making improvements to the house.

Once we were able to look at the challenge on site, we agreed that neither of us had really worked out the best way to do the job and that a completely different approach would be much better.

The first thing to do, we agreed, was fix battens around the walls at the height the ceiling was to be. Fortunately, being an old house, the original ceiling was fairly high so reducing the height would not make the hall claustrophobic. Having fixed battens to the wall, cross battens would have to be fitted between them. We carefully measured the width of the hall and counted how many cross battens would be needed. We double checked our figures before going off to buy the timber.

It was a pity we forgot to allow for the battens to be fixed to the walls, so on our return we measured those as well and then went back to buy some more timber. Then we realised that although we needed a total of ten cross battens, each 1.4 metres in length giving a total length of fourteen metres, we should actually have bought rather more than seven two-metre lengths as each two-metre length would provide only one cross batten.

We made our third trip to the timber yard.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Precious moments

One day a week I have the privilege and pleasure of collecting my granddaughter (5 today) from school and bringing her home with me until one of her parents takes her home for bed.  This gives the Old Bat and I a stretch of about three hours with just little E and - apart from the dog - no other distractions.  We play games - snap and happy families or perhaps dominoes - and E frequently draws or gets out a colouring book and felt tips.  This week she decided she would teach me to dance the salsa, which ended with me being tied in knots.

I know all grandparents think their second generation offspring are the only ones in the world as good as they, but the Old Bat and I are truly amazed at young E's ability.  This week she took a piece of paper and wrote out the alphabet, only checking about six times that she had the next letter correct and twice that she had the letter facing the right way.  Everything was spot on which we thought pretty good for a nearly-5-year-old.

It is always good to see children advancing and the improvements in their skills and abilities but, oh, how nice it would be to slow things down just a little bit sometimes so we can enjoy those precious moments just a little longer.  It will doubtless be no time at all before E considers it was beneath her to try to teach her grandfather how to dance.

Precious moments indeed - and thank goodness for a camera with which to catch those invaluable memories.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Is that fries with that then?

I did get a little anxious one morning last week when I found myself nodding in silent agreement with the results of some new research that were published in the morning newspaper.  It is not often that I reach the news pages over the corn flakes - no, it was muesli that day - as I am usually trying to complete the sudoku puzzle before I finish my breakfast.  It must have been easier than normal that day.

Anyway, this research.  It shows that in the majority of couples, the woman selects the menu, buys the food and prepares the meals.  This being so, she tends to opt for the healthier choices with plenty of greens and salads.  Whilst many of these meals would not be considered as particularly appetising by the men, they keep quiet for the sake of domestic harmony.  But, as soon as they are let of the leash and allowed to choose what they want from the menu in a restaurant, they revert to form and it's chips with everything.  The funny thing is, the women show the same tendency, albeit not to such a marked degree.

As I said, I was nodding in agreement.

There are meals the Old Bat serves up on a fairly regular basis which almost make me groan out loud.  I do not much like lamb chops, for instance, and I would never dream of telling the old dear that her Bolognaise sauce is actually a disaster.  On the other hand, she does know what I like and tries to cover my preferences as well as her own.  But do things change when we eat out?

The answer is, I suppose, both yes and no.  Here in England we generally eat out twice a month.  There is the Lions Club dinner meeting one evening where we are usually presented with a fixed menu with perhaps two starters and two main dishes to choose from.  The mains could be, for example, steak and ale pie or poached salmon together with vegetables.  Hardly chips with everything there then.  The other meal out is a pub lunch with a large crowd of people with Scouting connections.  Here we have the choice of the menu and, yes, this time it is usually chips.  Not unnaturally, I tend to go for something that we don't eat at home, like scampi.  The Old Bat will often choose ham, egg and chips or something similar.

So it would appear that my personal experience mirrors what the researchers discovered.  But I have to wonder: what was the point of the research?  Who paid for it?  And what good has it done for mankind in general and the man on the Clapham omnibus in particular?

Here for your delight is a picture taken in Patcham, a quiet corner of a close just off the Old London Road.  Those soft, gentle tones just whisper "England" to me and I don't think this could be anywhere else.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Modern life and times

Many people express surprise that, ten years down the line into retirement, I still use an alarm clock.  Just about every retired person I know threw out the alarm as a way of passing from one life-form to another - a sort of coming-of-age ritual or rite of autumn.  They probably think, but are too polite to tell me, what a saddo I am.  OK, maybe I am  -  in their eyes. But it has nothing to do with them anyway.

I have for years expressed amazement myself when people have told me that as they got older they found they needed less sleep; if anything, my experience has been the opposite.  That is why I have found the last four or five mornings giving me cause for anxiety.  I have been awake before the alarm has rung (only it doesn't ring, it buzzes).  And not just before the alarm buzzed, either, but as much as two hours ahead of the wake-up call.  With no chance of going back to sleep,  have given in and showered, grabbed the laptop and been reading my favourite blogs almsot as early as the sparrows have been farting.

When I was working I developed a routine that had me up early to leave home at 6.00am.  You will realise that having the alarm wake me at 7.00 in retirement seemed at first a luxury.  Anyway, I would be at my desk in London by 8.05 after a two-hour journey.  I would leave again at 4.15 and be home about 6.15 to 6.30.  Doing that meant that I missed the worst of the rush hour both ends of the day and got a seat on the train and I also had an evening to enjoy.  I was horrified when my son told me that on two morning last week he was on the 5.45am train to London for 7.15 meetings!  It also transpired that on one of those mrnings he had sent an email to his solicitor shortly after boarding the train.  The solicitor had replied within 30 minutes.  He also answers emails at weekends.

On a similar point, my daughter's partner works as a trouble-shooter for a large European brewery and s frequently away from home.  But there was one day last week when things pretty much reached the nadir.  He had to catch five different flights in one day!

I am so pleased I am no longer involved in this hectic round of earning a living.  I would so love to tell all those bosses who insist on ridiculous hours of work to reach ever-growing targets, calm down.  Turn off the merry-go-round for just a few minutes.  There is more to life.  Learn to listen to the birds and watch the sun set.  Life doen't have to be an ever-turning treadmill.

And in that vein, here is a picture I took yesterday evening on 39 Acres while walking the dog after the temperature had dropped a bit.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

In praise of coffee

It has only just dawned on me how long it is since I walked along a street past a shop emitting a tantalising smell of roasting coffee.  Somehow the smell always seemed tastier than the taste, if you see what I mean.  Anyway, I do like coffee.  It wasn't always so but when I was in my just pre-teen years or thereabouts my mother decided it was time for me to acquire the taste.

In those days, the only coffee I knew, possibly the only coffee available in England, was a coffee essence, a semi-viscous fluid called Camp Coffee.  Of course, I am talking here about those early years after the Second World War.  I dare say there had been a great shortage of coffee during the war and things still had not recovered during the early and even mid 1950s.  Anyway, Camp Coffee it was.  A little of the essence was poured into a cup before being stirred into a nearly boiling 50/50 mix of milk and water.  Using all milk to produce a really milky drink was considered the height of extravagance; such luxuries were rarely seen in our house.

[I've found one can still buy Camp Coffee and this is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Camp Coffee is a glutinous brown substance which consists of water, sugar, 4% coffee essence, and 26% chicory essence. This is generally used as a substitute for coffee, by mixing with warm milk in much the same way as cocoa or added to cold milk and ice to make an iced coffee, but it is commonly found on baking aisles in supermarkets as it is also used as an ingredient in coffee cake and other confectionery.]
I am pleased to report that nowadays my taste is a little more refined.  But I do have trouble.  I hardly dare go into one of those coffee outlets that are springing up everywhere.  I actually dislike most of their coffees anyway, but being confronted by a list of 24 or so different types of coffee is something I find difficult to cope with - especially when I don't have the foggiest idea what skinny lattes or americanos are.  And why does the shop assistant have to be called a barrista?  I can cope with black coffee, white coffee, cappuccino and espresso and surely that should cover just about every eventuality?

It's not just in England that I have trouble.  French coffee is a completely different matter and, to my mind, is far superior.  It is, basically, espresso, but does tend to be served in slightly larger portions than espresso coffee in England and much larger than in Italy.  The normal request is simply for a coffee but sometimes the waiter in a cafe will bring me a double as I'm English and either he thinks he can get away with selling me something more expensive or he thinks all Englishmen want that size cup.  So I tend to be more specific and ask for "un petit noir" - a small black.

The Old Bat drinks her coffee white and that can cause a little confusion as well as giving further choices.  For a start, should she ask for café au lait or café crème?  She prefers au lait but some places only serve it with cream.  Sometimes what is called cream is not.  Either way, it matters little but is can be a trifle irritating to ask for café au lait and have the waiter or waitress smugly repeat, "café crème."  Then there is the size of the cup to be considered.  Most places will bring a double espresso cup with a single espresso coffee in it - but some ask if she wants a large coffee.  And should the milk be warm or cold?

Most of the restaurants we use know us and actually don't need to be told what our preference is and it will be good to drink some proper coffee again at the end of next week.

Meanwhile, the cafe culture in Brighton is going strong.  I took these pictures early last Thursday afternoon.

Duke Street above, Dukes Lane right and East Street below.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Brighton then

It was quite by accident that you got two from me yesterday - something to do with heat stroke, perhaps - but I'll make amends today by just giving you one story linked to today's photograph.  You might recall me mentioning that our friends Chris and Mrs Chris came round for coffee during the week.  In honour of their visit I decided to discard my usual tatty dog-walking attire and drew from the wardrobe a pair of smartly creased (in the right places) trousers I had not worn since last summer.  Obviously the fairly recent rains had got to them as they had shrunk rather alarmingly and were just a tad tight around the waist so next day I reluctantly decided they were no longer for this world - at least, no longer for me.  There is still life left in them so they may well end up in a charity shop.  But I needed replacement strides so I took me off (complete with trusty camera) to catch the bus into town.

Now, I have reached that stage in life where there is more to look back on than to look forward to, when memories come more frequently than dreams.  Those memories can creep up on one at odd times and certainly catch me unawares.  It happened on Thursday.  I got off the bus at Churchill Square and looked around me.  I was instantly transported to the mid-1950s and my first ever visit to the gaudy town of Brighton with its rather seamy reputation.  (Keith Waterhouse famously described Brighton as a town that looked as though it was helping the police with their enquiries - but that's another story.)

My father was then coming to the end of his 22-years' service in the Royal Navy and had been offered a job in the Civil Service based in Brighton - well, Hove, actually (and that's another story!).  We - my parents, my brother and I - drove down for the day during the school Easter holidays.  We went first to the outlying suburb of Woodingdean.  The name had attracted my mother and she rather thought she might like to live there.  Bungalow town and a long way out.  It still is.  We headed for the town centre.

[Another paranthetical explanation is called for.  My father's strategy when driving into a new town to visit the town centre was to head in what he thought was the right direction and park the car when we seemed to be nearly there.  We would then proceed on foot, seeking directions from passers-by as necessary.  This did sometimes lead to problems, like the day we went to Bristol.  He parked by a red-brick cigarette factory.  Half an hour later we had decided we were never going to reach the centre of the city and wanted to catch a bus back to the car.  Having found a bus going the right way, he asked to be put off by the cigarette factory.  "Which one?"  "W H Wills."  "They've got three.  Which one?"  "The red brick one."  "They all are."]

Asking a lady for directions to the shops, she enquired which shops we wanted.  "London Road, St James's Street or Western Road?"  It was decided we wanted Western Road and we set off again.  We reached Queen's Road leading downhill past the Clock Tower into West Street and on to the sea.  Shops!  Big shops.  Bigger than we were used to, but not all that many of them.  But just wait a minute.  Turn right at the Clock Tower into Western Road and, "Wow!"

We wandered along until we came to something new, something we had never seen before.  It was a large (for those days) shop selling food stuffs.  Back then, our experience of food shopping was limited to the local shops like the grocer, the greengrocer, the baker, the butcher and so on.  Apart from just a couple of others in the High Street - the International Stores and J Sainsbury.  Both of these were national chains (as was Maypole but I don't think Mum used them very often).  At Sainsbury's one would queue at one counter for bacon, move to another counter and another queue for butter and a third for cheese and so on.  At the International a shop assistant behind the counter would collect the items one ask for - tea, sugar, coffee etc.  In both shops one presented ones string bag or wicker basket in which the purchases would be placed for one to carry home.

What we had here was a supermarket!  People picked up a wire basket on their way into the store and walked the aisles selecting their goods.  There were (I think) five tills just inside the window.  Mum decided to pop in but Dad, my brother and I waited outside.  Men did, in those days.  Dad was fascinated by the whole concept and stood adding the takings t one of the tills (mental arithmetic was one of his strengths).

"Good heavens!" he proclaimed.  "That till alone could take as much as £75 in a day!"

The shop is no longer there and Western Road has been changed almost out of all recognition since that day.  But one thing remains the same.  On that 1950s day I was staggered by the number of red buses that passed along the road.  I had never seen so many buses together before - except in Oxford Street in London.  Even today it can sometimes be difficult to see the shops between the buses.

Friday, 25 May 2012


I should have been calling bingo on Wednesday evening last but was persuaded by fellow Lions to give up my place on the rota - which I did thankfully.  But this post is not really about bingo.  Let me explain.

As many of my regular readership (all three of you!) will know, the Old Bat and I have a small cottage on the other side of the Channel (or Manche as the French call it - "sleeve".  Look at a map and you will see why.)  This, of course means that we have bills to pay over there.  I dare say that there are places in the world - Mali and the upper reaches of the Amazon spring to mind - where the local authority does take a hideous amount of Danegeld but Frnce is not one such place.  If we want electricity and water, well, that has to be paid for too.  And they don't want to take English £5 notes.  Not that I would want to walk around with that quantity of folding, you understand.  The result is that we have bank accounts both her in Blighty and over there in French France.  The French account has to be topped up from time to time from the English bank and this involves purchasing euros.  You will appreciate that I have become quite an avid watcher of the exchange rate - at least the rate between the pound and the euro, the dollar or yen rate is of little consequence to me.  It was nine years ago that we bought the house and transferred the biggest sum of money.  At that time I was lucky - I got something over or about 1.5 euros to the pound.  Since then the rate has slipped and last year I was buying euros almost at parity.

Funds in France were nearing exhaustion and I am always very wary of letting the balance of that account get too low, especially as it is a criminal offence in France to issue a cheque without sufficient funds to meet it and just do that once and all banking facilities are withdrawn.  So I'm careful to transfer funds in good time.  As I said, I knew the balance was getting low and I was keeping an eye on the whole situation in Europe, especially the problems in Greece.  Last week I decided to act and transferred £2,000 to cover an anticipated large bill.  And bingo!  I got the top of the market!  That doesn't happen too often so you will realise that the extra couple of hundred euros are very welcome.


 Cow parsley in in bloom again.
It's too hot for deeply philosophical thoughts but a fellow Lion recently sent me the following information which some might find amusing... or sad... or something.  I have done nothing whatsoever to verify the truth of the assertions (but the veracity would not surprise me).

The Lord's prayer has 66 words.
The Ten Commandments have 179.
The Gettysburg address, 286.
The US Declaration of Independence runs to 1,300 words
while the US Constitution, with all 27 amendments, needs 7.818.

The European Union regulations on the sale of cabbages - 26,911 words.


 In this hot weather, Fern prefers her walks to be under the shade of the trees in Stanmer Woods rather than across the open fields.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Dear old pals,

Jolly old pals.

And "old" is the word as far as our friends Chris and Mrs Chris are concerned.  I first got to know Chris, his late wife and their family, ooh, probably 35 years ago or even more.  Mrs Chris and the Old Bat have been friends even longer - nearly 60 years - going back to when they were in the Guides and at school together.  After Chris's first wife died tragically (she fell down the stairs and suffered an embolism) leaving him with four children and Mrs Chris's first husband had left her with the two children, Chris eventually persuaded me to effect an introduction.  I was extremely reluctant to do so - not because I disliked either party but because I could see the possibility that things might not work out and we would lose two friends for the price of one.  As it happens, things did work out and they have been happily married for 30 years.  The honeymoon was a hoot.  There were Chris and Mrs Chris, Chris's two younger children, Mrs Chris's two children, the Old Bat and I and our three children plus another couple and their one son.  We all went to a holiday camp together and had a riotous time.

Chris and Mrs Chris came round yesterday for coffee and it was amazing how quickly the morning went.  We certainly don't live in each others' pockets and there might be several months between me seeing either of them but somehow we don't seem to have a need to "catch up" and are able to carry on seemingly from where we broke off before.  That, I think, is one of the secrets of really good friendship.  There are plenty of people whom I would describe as friends, but really only a small handful who count as such good friends as Chris and Mrs Chris.

I am so thankful to have them and my other friends around me.

Lastly, I am reminded of what I think is the best definition of friendship I have ever come across:
...true friendship exists not on account of the service performed by one to another, but that true friendship demands nothing but accepts service in the spirit in which it is given.
(From the Lions Clubs International code of ethics.)


Suddenly summer is here and the temperature in Brighton is higher than in Rio de Janeiro!  I managed a short walk across the fields yesterday and admired the hawthorn scattered like summer snow along the hedgerows.  Given the weather (the temperature was 26) it was not surprising that there was a haze in the distance.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

More excitement

It's not just the Brighton Festival providing interest and even a modicum of what passes as excitement in this little corner of the universe.  The Olympic flame landed on these shores last Saturday and is even now wending its way through hill and dale to (almost) every corner of the land.  The torch actually went out yesterday in the small Devon town of Great Torrington but, unlike the last time the Olympics were held in London (1948), there was a strong back-up team of about 350 people and I imagine that somebody in that team had remembered the matches.

The other junketing had already started before the flame#s arrival and will be all done and dusted by the time the Olympics finally hurl themselves upon a tolerant or not-so-tolerant multitude.  I'm talking about the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  Her Majesty has been undertaking visits across the country (a bit like the Olympic torch really) to great excitement.  Last Friday she hosted a lunch for the crowned heads of the world at Windsor only to be snubbed by the Spanish who are throwing a paddy over Gibraltar.  On Saturday there was a parade and muster of servicemen and women some thousand strong to honour the Queen.  It didn't occur to me until I saw it mentioned in a newspaper that, in contrast to some countries, our parade consisted of bands and marching units only.  No tanks or ballistic missiles, just pomp and ceremony.

The highlights of the jubilee celebrations will be on the weekend 2 - 5 June - two days tacked on to the normal weekend as holidays.  There is to be a concert and the grand procession on the River Thames with literally hundreds of craft taking part.  As the OB and I will be in France I have bought a new DVD recorder so we can see it when we get home.  (No, I didn't buy it just for that.  It's all connected with the change from analogue to digital television.)

That leads me almost neatly into today's photograph which is of a horse trough now used for nothing much but at one time in use as a flower planter.  This stands at the junction of the Patcham by-pass and the Old London Road and was erected in 1887 to mark another royal jubilee - Queen Victoria's golden.  I'm not aware of any plans to erect a fountain or suchlike to commemorate our present Queen's diamond.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Festival time

Yeah!  I managed it!  I actually took the dog for a walk yesterday afternoon.  Mind you, I had not really appreciated just how weak this wretched chest-thingy has left me and I was getting pretty tired after only 10 or 15 minutes ambling across a flat playing field.  All the same, it was good to get out again.  I had an errand to run in what we call "the village", which is the old village of Patcham, nowadays simply a suburb on the northern edge of Brighton alongside the South Downs.  The posters on the side of the road, that is the main road from London to Brighton, reminded me that we are just about halfway through the Brighton Festival.

The Brighton Festival is the largest arts festival in England and lasts for three weeks every May.  I cannot even begin to describe all the events that take place around the city during those three weeks - try Googling it and don't miss the fringe - but I will say that it starts with the children's parade which this year supposedly consisted of 5,000 children from 77 schools led by Vanessa Redgrave.  Brighton Lions Club do get involved in the festival in a sort of tag-along role right on the very ringe.  The Lilac Lark that we organise in conjunction with the Friends of Withdean Park is one of the fringe events.

Regulars at the festival are the Moscow State Circus and the Lady Boys of Bangkok.  But that's just the sort of act to go down well in Brighton.  Not that I have ever been.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The seductive charms of lethargy

I have spent the last week being wooed by the smooth waters of the River Lethe.  I have not taken Fern for her twice-daily walks ince ast Saturday week.  I have done nothing in the garden - and there are plants desperately in need of care and attention in the shed at the end of the garden.  I have let the laundry build up to an unacceptable level (we have just two clean tea towels in the drawer) and I have entered my "office" just the once to grab the laptop I have been using to make these posts.  There are things I need to be doing and I must shrug off this temptation to sit back and let the world get by without me.  So, as the weather is supposed to become pleasantly warm this afternoon (21 possibly - that's hitting 70 - though there's precious little sign of it as yet) I must try to take Fern for a gentle walk.  Perhaps a stroll over the football pitches at Waterhall.

Meanwhile, here is a picture, not of the Lethe, but of the Trout River in New Hampshire - or was it Vermont?  I took this several years ago when the Old Bat and I managed a short visit to New England in the fall.  I have always delighted in this peaceful scene which just happened to present itself to me.  As I drove over the bridge I spotted the pleasant scene and noticed the cattle making their way to the river.  By the time I had parked and walked back to the bridge they were in the perfect position to complete the composition I wanted.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

They don't make things like they used to

It doesn't matter if you're talking about fridges, chairs or silk top hats, they just aren't what they used to be.  In this particular instance, I am talking about television comedy programmes - specifically, sitcoms.  I cannot remember the last time I watched a genuinely funny (or even amusing) new sitcom.  There are people who say that there are no good, new programmes produced on televsion.  Indeed, there was a letter from one such published in the newspaper during the week.  He claimed that he never watches television so how on earth he knows about the programmes beats me.  Anyway, I don't agree with him or his ilk.  There is good, new material broadcast almost every week.  Just not overmuch of it.  And certainly not sitcoms.  But the Old Bat and I have found a way out of the impasse.

It came to pass that about two years ago - it may even be three years ago, time passes so swiftly - we were going through a particularly lean patch in our evening viewing.  I had a brainwave and solved the problem by buying the complete set of DVDs of one of my all-time favourite sitcoms, As Time Goes By.  With more than 60 episodes of this brilliant series to watch again and thoroughly enjoy, we once again found pleasure on the box.

And so I repeated the dose and bought the set of 'Allo 'Allo!  This is an animal of completely different colour.  Set in German-occupied France during the Second World War, it features the owner of a cafe in a small town, the local occupying troops, the two competing resistance groups and fleeing British airmen.  But the central plank is that the German officers are competing amonst themselves to acquire the valuable painting of the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies by van Clomp to sell after the war.  With plenty of doubles entendres and pure farce to go with the tight scripts and clever acting, this is another gem.  Try this as a sample:

But last night we watched the last episode.  Not to worry - I have something else up my sleeve - Porridge.


It was only last year that I stumbled across the fact that the Old Bat's great-grandfather was one of the country's - possibly the world's - leading experimenters in stereoscopic photography was back in the 1860s.  He emigrated to Australia and I have managed to find out nothing about his life there except that he married and had three children.  After his wife died, the two surviving children were set to England.

Brighton's Regency Society owns several of his pictures, including this one of St Nicolas church, Brighton, which is one of a pair dating from the 1860s.  I have tried taking another picture from the same spot.  Interesting to see how the roof of the nave has been lifted and a row of clerstory windows inserted.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Anniversaries and other twaddle

If three-score years and ten really is the allotted span, then everything from here on in is a bonus.  Yes, folks, today I have reached that mythological milestone.  Today is also the birthday of my great-great-great-aunt Phoebe.  Her 220th.  Well, it would be if she were still with us.

One result of my enforced inactivity this past week has been that I have spent far too much time in front of my computer digging around in the dusty archives of parish registers and other obscure corners adding to my already extensive family tree.  Hence the bit about Great-Aunt Phoebe.  I had been aware of her existence but it was only a few days ago that I learned she and I share a birthday.

A relatve I had not previously encountered was a distant cousin named Walter whose history gave me cause to stop and ponder.  Born in a very small village in East Anglia, he left home in the mid-1880s to seek a new life across the Atlantic.  Exactly how old he was in uncertain as he quotes the year of his arrival in the USA as any one of three in the various census returns I have examined.  However, he was either 14, 15 or 16 at the time - which seems pretty young to me.  Somehow he ended up in Cincinnati where he found employment as a driver with US Express, a job he kept for many years.  He married, had a daughter, divorced and married again, although I have been unable to find what happened to wife number two.  His later years were spent moving around Cincinnati from one boarding house to another until he died in 1953.  Oddly though, there is mention in a newspaper report of a cousin and another daughter, the cousin then living in Cincinnati although there was no mention in the report of the daughter's whereabouts.

I had rather assumed that Walter had led a somewhat solitary and, perhaps, rather unhappy life without ever seeing any of his family after leaving England.  But my assumption was probably wrong as he was a member of bothe the Odd Fellows and the Masonic lodges in Cincinatti.


This is not the picture I had intended to post today but I stumbled across it quite by chance in my Picasa album on-line and thought it not totally inappropriate.  You see here the South Downs behind Brighton.  On the right are buildings of the University of Sussex while on the left can be seen part of Coldean, a Brighton suburb.  This picture was taken two years ago when that field suddenly burst into a riot of colourful poppies.

Friday, 18 May 2012

There ain't nothing' like a dame

Especially a dame like the Old Bat when she has her dander up. Which is one reason why I was not at the Lions' meeting on Wednesday evening.  Had I even hinted that I was likely to attempt to decamp she would have had me hog-tied in a jiffy.  Not that she (or I) really knows what is ivolved in hog-tieing, but I'm sure she would have managed something equally effective.  To be frank, I knew there was no way I would have been safe behind the wheel to drive myself there and none of my fellow Lions would have agreed to provide transport.  What's more, I knew I wasn't up to it.  So I stayed at home and watched a new episode of Lewis.  I know that at least one of my American friends enjoys the show but others may not know that this is a spin-off from the old Morse detective series featuring John Thaw and based on the books by Colin Dexter.  Lewis (played by Colin Whateley) was Morse's sidekick but is now the lead character, cupported very ably by Laurence Fox as Sergeant Hathaway.  I think if I am to be completely honest I must confess to a preference for the spin-off over the original.

This could very easily lead into a dissertation about the various police procedural shows I have enjoyed (or otherwise) on television, from Maigret to Lynley, from Van der Valk through Bergerac and Midsomer Murders to Gently et al.  But I will not be drawn into that today.  Back, instead, to the dames.  Specifically, my dame.

I have so far been unable to make up my mind if this otherwise intelligent woman has a complete blankness when it comes to the laws of physics or if she was away from school on the day the law of gravity was explained.  I incline to the former since I know from personal experience that there are some things a brain just will not assimilate.  I once sat an end of year chemistry exam and was given one mark for spelling my name correctly at the top of an otherwise blank sheet of paper.  There was absolutely no way I could answer any of the questions - or even begin to do so.

The Old Bat has a thing about towels, especially the hand towel in the kitchen.  Near to the sink we have a space under the working surface where is fixed an expanding towel rail, to sort that sits under the surface out of the way but can be pulled out when needed, like when one wants to replace the towel.  But the Old Bat rarely bothers to replace the towel because she doesn't remove it to dry her hands.  She just wipes them underneath the working surface.  This means that the towel is gradually pulled onto one side of the rail and, in the fullness of time, the law of gravity prevails.  The towel falls onto the floor.  OK, no great hassle.  Just pick it up, pull out the towel rail, replace the towel and puch back the rail.  But how would you hang the towel on the rail?  Approximately midway along the length of the towel?  So that the towel hangs eother side of the rail more or less equally?  I thought so.  But not my wife.  Oh dear me no.  There will usually be at least 80% of the towel drooping from one side of the rail and quite frequently the towel falls off again before the rail has been full retracted.  I have seriously wondered if the dear soul thinks there is some magnetic quality about towels and towel rails which means the law of gravity is suspended (Gravity - suspended!! Get it?) or if she just doesn't appreciate that an apple falling from a tree gave Newton such thoughts.

But never mind.  It keeps me amused.


And so to today's picture.  I am still having to run repeats as I can't face the struggle up our steep drive to fetch my camera from the car.  This is a window in the troglodyte village of Rochmenier between Angers and Saumur in the Loire valley in France.  That heavy old shutter and the vibrant geraniums just speak to me of warmth.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

A little light reading

Today ve haf for you something a leetle different.

What you see above is a copy of a genuine document dating from 1702 concerning my 7 x great grandfather Simeon Waldegrave.  Considering this is a scan of a photocopy of a photocopy I think it has come out remarkably well.  Granted, the script does take a little time to understand.  I will post a transcription but only below another picture so that you can have an opportunity to work out the words for yourself.  It took me a long time so why should I hand it to you on a plate?

This is a picture I took in Ribeauville, one of the delightful wine villages of the Alsace region of France.  This is an area little known to the British but popular with German tourists.

That transcript I promised:

Borough of Portsmouth:  Robert Hewett and William Tooth do formally make oath that this day how at Portsmouth Simeon Waldgrave did in his dwelling house sell and retail beer and those depositioners do further make oath that they have heard and believe that the said Waldegrave is not licenced to sell and retail ale or beer according to the law.  Inv 14:9:1702   (signed) Robert Hewett  the mark of  X  William Tooth

Sadly I have no knowledge of what transpired but Simeon died just three years later.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Steam radio

It's all the fault of Suldog.  And Bill.  And Skip.  Between them they made me think of what might be my favourite television shows.  There is no way I could comply with Jim Suldog's rules about watching every repeat: I have enjoyed many different shows but none of them to that obsessive extent.

My family had no television set until about 1960 so the entertainment in our house while I was growing up was the old steam radio.  There was a 15 minute programme just after lunchtime aimed at pre-school children called Listen with Mother.  It consisted in part of a song and a story: "Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I'll begin."  After I had started school my allegiance switched to Children's Hour at 5.00pm.  The name was a slight misnomer as the programme ran for just 55 minutes, ending at five to six for the weather forecast before the six o'clock news.  Uncle Mac was one of the favourite presenters and he always signed of with the words, "Goodnight, children, everywhere."  One of the early favourites on Children's Hour was Toytown, featuring Larry the Lamb and his friend Dennis the Dachshund and the unlikely scrapes they got into which usually meant they had to apologise to the Mayor: "Please, Mr Mayor sir..."  When I grew out of the soft toy stage the adventures of Jennings and his friend Darbyshire at their prep school became top favourite.  I think I probably had every one of the books as well!

I came home from school for dinner back then.  (Dinner, eaten at midday, was the main meal of the day.  Tea was at five and was bread and butter - actually, margarine - and jam and a slice of cake.)  The radio was always on and Workers' Playtime was a regular programme.  This was a variety show broadcast from (or recorded at) a factory canteen, a different one for each programme.  Sunday dinner times were, of course, different.  At 12 noon, Jean Metcalfe would be in the studio in London with Cliff Michelmore in a studio in Cologne Germany) to present Two-Way Family Favourites.  Then at 1.30 there would sometimes by the Billy Cotton Band Show or The Navy Lark.

As a teenager, my tastes took in Life with the Lyons, an early sitcom featuring an American couple, Ben Lyons and Bebe Daniels, who for some unknown (at least to me) reason were living in London.  But top favourites were undoubtedly the Goon Show and Hancock's Half Hour (which I thought failed dismally on television).


I've dribbled on long enough to bore the pants off everybody so I had better get onto the picture.  A re-run again as I still can't get to my camera with the newer pictures.  Still on the Roman Camp, this is the western rampart but the triangulation point is presumably obsolete now we have sattelite mapping.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Stanmer House

So Stanmer House, surrounded by parkland and woods and facing the village church and pond, has been taken over and opened as an up-market restaurant.  Frankly, when I heard this I was expecting the prices to be way beyond my credit card but, as you can see from the menu on their web site, they have an interesting menu at prices that are not excessive.  Granted, they are a tad more than I generally reckon to pay, but I am known as a tight-fisted old git and these prices are no more than one would expect to see in the centre of the city.

And that is about all I have the energy for today.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Neither here nor there

The weather for the Lilac Lark was glorious, as perfect a spring day as can be found only in England.  It was such a pity that I was unable to enjoy it.  I had very strict instructions to find somebody else to unload the car and then come straight home.  Which I did.  The problem has been that my breathing has been getting steadily worse for the past week and really just about hit rock bottom yesterday.  The slightest exertion would cause me to cough uncontrollably  (is one able to cough controllably?)  - sometimes for as long as five or even ten minutes.  It had come so that I could be sitting eat ease in the armchair without moving a muscle when I would suddenly burst out coughing.  And sometimes those coughing fits would leave me feeling about to black out.  I had intended trying to get an appointment with my GP today but as soon as the Old Bat came downstairs this morning, she picked up the phone and called for an ambulance.  She was still talking to the operator when the first paramedic arrive and the ambulance was along less than ten minutes later.  A truly excellent service.  I was subsequently taken off to hospital where I was given an x-ray and an ECG.  As luck would have it, the consultant who I was about this time last year, and whose outpatient clinic I still attending, came into A&E this morning so she came and saw me.  My next appointment in her clinic is not until September but she has said she wants to see me in a fortnight.  Having been given a dose of steroids and a prescription for more steroids and also anti-fungal tablets, I was released into the care of a fellow Lion the Old Bat had called on to help, she having felt unable to give me the physical support I would need.  Anyway, that's enough about me - except to say that I was touched to hear how many Lions had rung this morning to find out how I am.


As we continue the walk round the Roman Camp, I would have posted a recent picture of the footpath on the southern rampart, but that is still on the camera in the car.  So here is one I took last year.  Of course, over the course of the 3,500 years or so since the rampart was thrown up, it has no doubt been worn down a bit.  And the ditch (to the left in the picture) has probably filled up a bit.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

I'm not here

I'm in the park preparing for the Lilac Lark.  On the other hand, if it's raining (and rain is not forecast) then I probably am here.  If I'm not here, there is nothing to say but if I am here I will add something.  Meanwhile, I will schedule this to come up tomorrow morning.


The view yesterday's couple were looking at.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

We'll gather lilacs

Did I mention... ?  Yes, I know I said we had been warned that filming would take place in our road last Monday for live transmission on national television.  It was a programme in a series about urban foxes.  I didn't carry out my threat to take the dog for a walk - just a flippant throw-away comment anyway.  But we did watch the programme and, sure enough, a roving reporter was shown during the first few minutes in what we recognised as a twitten running from our road to the next.  Later in the programme she was to be seen in somebody's back garden where a regularly visiting fox was trapped and fitted with one of those tracking collars.  And that was it for Brighton so there was no way I could have got even a few seconds of my 15 minutes of fame.

Things, however, could be different this afternoon.  Late yesterday evening I received a phone call from the presenter of a programme on one of our local radio stations.  She has heard of the Lilac Lark (a fete in our local park organised jointly by the Friends of Withdean Park and Brighton Lions Club) and wants me to tell people about it on her programme this afternoon.  At the same time, I have to request a record.  The Old Bat and I have been racking (or should that be wracking?) our brains tryning to come up with something appropriate.  The first thought for both of us was We'll Gather Lilacs but neither of us thought that suitable: too old - even before my time.  I came up with the one with the line "the lion sleeps tonight" but we couldn't remember the title: something like Woomerra I thought.  I've checked and it's Wimoweh or The Lion Sleeps Tonight.  Apparently either will do.  But I didn't think that a very good choice.  I also rejected Singing in the Rain as it has stopped raining and promises to remain fine until Monday.  I have finally settled - for now, at least - on Abba singing Waterloo.  There are three reasons:
  • this was the winning song when the Eurovision Song Contest was staged in Brighton so it has a local connection;
  • it's a lively tune;
  • I like the pun (water = rain; get it?).
It's just a pity that the radio station concerned is only listened to by wrinklies.  Still, we hear talk of the grey spending power so maybe...


We continue our walk around the Roman Camp.  There is a seat on the southern ramparts where, on a pleasant day, it is good to sit and admire the view across the golf course and the city out to sea.  Just like this couple were doing the other day.

Friday, 11 May 2012


I really don't know if the wood pigeon is a would-be mother or father.  Maybe the bird is just a first summer crittur practising its nest building techniques.  Whatever, we have a wood pigeon which keeps arriving with a twig in its beak.  It flies into the fir tree in my next-door-neighbour's garden, a tree which overhangs our garden, at which point there is a fearful commotion as the bird works its way in to the construction site.  That is always provided it managed to get a grip on the branch it tried to land on.  The outer branches of this densely-packed tree are on the thin side and the bird doesn't always manage to land successfully.  It's really most amusing to see it crash into the tree, panic, and fall away again.  I would have thought it a bit on the late side to be starting nest-building, which makes me wonder if it is a first summer bird doing what its instincts tell it to do.

And so by one of those tangential leaps for which I am justly world famous to Mothers' Day.  This, I understand, will be celebrated in the former colonies and associated states this coming Sunday, which is the second Sunday in May.  The second Sunday in May is well-known hereabouts as being the date of the Lilac Lark, which just goes to point to another of those differences between "them" and "us".  We don't have Mothers' Day here in England.  Nor do they in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands.  Mind you, some people think we do and give our day of celebration of motherhood the American name instead of the traditional British name, Mothering Sunday.

Mothering Sunday is a much more mobile affair than Mothers' Day as it is on the fourth Sunday in Lent.  This, of course, puts it pretty firmly in March every year, usually about the time when the primroses are coming into bloom in the hedgerows.  In days gone by, children attending church on Mothering Sunday would be handed a small posy of primroses to give to their mothers.  The primrose is now a protected plant, and in any case there are far fewer primroses now than, say, 60 years ago when I would have been given just such a posy.  Nowadays the posy usually consists of a couple of daffodils and a bit of greenery.  Instead of people going out to pick the flowers, I suspect that most of them now will be bought.  It seems such a shame that this part of the tradition has been pushed aside by modernisation (amongst other things, like the scarcity of primroses).

Mothering Sunday, we are told, was traditionally the day when girls working away from home as domestic servants were given a whole day off to go and visit their mothers.  On the way, they would pick small bunches of wild flowers as gifts.  Which leads quite nicely to today's photo.

I mentioned in an earlier post that there are plenty of wild flowers on the Roman Camp.  This is one of the more prominent, the early purple orchid.  There are - quite literally - hundreds of them in bloom at the moment.  Others are violets, bluebells, cowslips, daisies, dandelions and gorse.  And those are just the ones I can name.  There are others I don't know, like this tiny blue flower.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Fed up and happy

I am becoming decidedly fed up with all this precipitation (why use one syllable when five will do the job?).  The dog comes back from our walks wet and frequently muddy and she is equally fed up at having to stay in the lean-to we call a conservatory to dry off a bit before being allowed indoors.  Unfortunately she is frightened of the noise of a hair dryer so we can't use that to speed things up a bit.  The damp conditions are not helping my chest either and I'm coughing as if i were a 60-a-day smoker.  Still, the forecast is that things will improve over the weekend before deteriorating once again next week.  If that is an accurate forecast it means that there is a chance for the Lilac Lark, the annual mini-extravaganza organised jointly by Brighton Lions and the Friends of Withdean Park.

On a different note, I was very pleased to hear a cuckoo yesterday when I walked the dog along the Waterhall valley.  That is the first cuckoo I have heard in England for a few years.  I was also pleased on the Roman Camp the other afternoon to see not just one or two but a flock of wheatears on their north-bound journey.

Interesting that my rant yesterday about grammar (or the lack of it) should have been echoed by Trish at her Old Biddy blog. She picked up on one or two points I had intended to mention but didn't because I felt I had gone on quite long enough.

My picture today should really be another of the Roman Camp but I am going to break the sequence with one of the lilacs and a chestnut tree in Withdean Park.  They are just about at their best now and will provide a great show for Sunday.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Grammatical grumbles

While idly glancing over the notice board in a village hall yesterday evening I spotted this notice:

Monthly services
9.30 every Sunday

OK, I don't need you to tell me that there is no grammatical error in there but it gave me a chuckle and I hope it did you as well.  And I swear it is the absolute truth.  Of course, I do appreciate that I may well be guilty of having made similar faux pas in various places in this blog.  I just wish people would point them out to me so that I can join in the general laughter.

What has caused me a little irritation of late is an invitation which is even now propped up in a prominent place.  I will make alterations to the wording to protect the guilty party or parties but it reads something like this:

John and Jane
Invite you to join us
In a
Celebration of Our Marriage
[Whatever date they chose]
[A venue of their choice]

And what is so heinous about that? you ask.  Two things, I reply.  First, every line starts with a capital letter.  Granted, the only other place where a capital letter appears when not required is in the words "our marriage" but just picture that invitation as ordinary prose.  It is, after all, just one sentence long so could be written:

John and Jane Invite you to join us In a Celebration of Our Marriage On [date] At [venue]

So many people do produce invitations and notices like this.  Why?  (That's a rhetorical question so you don't need to reply.)

And the second niggle?  "John and Jane invite you to join US"  -  it should be "them" as the invitation is written in the third person.

So you think I am being over-picky.  Maybe I am, after all, the invitation is easy to understand and it will all be the same ina hundred years from now, as my old granny used to say.  But there are rules of both spelling and grammar and I am willing to bet that many of the people who accuse me of being over-picky would complain about teachers failing to correct errors of spelling on the grounds that pupils need to be encouraged to express themselves.  It is all a matter of where the line should be drawn.  I say to those who accuse me of being pernickety, w8 a minit, r u happy to reed proes like this?  If the rules of spelling and grammar are cast aside, that is a logical result.  The problem that I see is possible misunderstandings that could have disastrous results.  There are rules.  Let's stick to the important ones ourselves and encourage others to do so as well.

Meantime, I must check with the pharmacist.  I have a spray to relieve my chest condition.  The dosage instructions read, "two to four puffs up to four times a day".  So the maximum dose is 16 puffs.  But why can I not spread those puffs over more than four uses?  Say, two puffs eight times in a day?  As I say, I must check.


I did mutter about taking a photograph every morning and then joining them in a slide show as a way of producing a type of time lapse photography.  I have abandoned the idea as there have been just two occasions during the last three weeks when the sky at 7.30 has not been overcast or - as this morning - completely missing due to very low cloud cover.

Nor did I get down the garden on Monday when I said it was calling.  By the time I got there it had started to rain again!


This picture is looking across the centre of the Roman Camp - a flattish expanse with a wide variety of wild flowers now the brambles have been cut back.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Support your local Lions Club

Early this morning a plastic sack was pushed through our door with the request that we fill it with clothes to raise funds to fight breast cancer.  That's more or less what was written on the front of the wrapper, alongside the usual pink ribbon.  I have for many years been sceptical about these so-called charity collections and the plastic sacks are immediately thrown in the rubbish bin.  This morning, however, I happened to glance at the back of the wrapper and for some reason one word amongst the small print just jumped straight at me.  Lithuania.  Lithuania?  I was intrigued and looked again.  It transpired that the company distributing the sacks and collecting the clothing is the authorised agent of another company registered in Lithuania.  That company promises that at least £5,000 will be donated from the sale of clothing every month to fight breast cancer   -   in Lithuania.

I am sure that many people will see the wording on the front of the wrappers and will leave sacks of clothing out for collection on Thursday this week, not realising that they are (a) providing the collecting company with a good income as you can bet your boots that they take the lion's share of money raised, (b) indirectly donating to fight breast cancer in Lithuania, not - as they probably think - this country.  I was tempted to keep hold of that wrapper so that i could knock at doors where the filled sacks have been left out for collection just to point out to the unsuspecting donors what it is they are actually contributing to.  But I can't be bothered - which is a shame as it only needs good men to do nothing for evil to flourish.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not suggesting this is evil, but it is certainly a blatant attempt to pull the wool over people's eyes.

So what should people do to make sure that their charitable donations go where they intend?  One way is to support your local Lions Club.  Lions Clubs across the world work on the same principles:  all the costs of running the clubs are paid by the members so any money donated by the public is used for charitable purposes.  Every penny, except for some things that can't be avoided like the actual cost of raising funds and the inevitable management costs like bank charges.  What is more, most clubs are like my own (Brighton) and spend the major part of their income locally.  Brighton Lions Club usually spends about 90% of money raised here in our local community.  This is a big plus as far as attracting local support is concerned.  And what money we do send out of our local community is nearly always distributed by other Lions Clubs.  For example, is we donate towards relief from a natural disaster, it is the local Lions Club that controls the spending.  That way we know the money reaches the people who need it and that nothing is deducted that should not be deducted.

The message is simple: support the Lions!


After the funeral last Tuesday (was it really a week ago?) I walked the dog across the field known as 39 Acres and round the Roman Camp.  Which isn't.  It is officially know as Hollingbury Hill Fort but has for generations been known to locals as the Roman Camp.  The Romans, as far as I know, came nowhere near this camp or fort which was constructed about 3,500 year ago.  As we reach the eastern entrance to the camp and look back, this is the view.

So what have we here. We are looking across the golf course and the suburbs of Coldean and Moulsecoomb.  About halfway up the picture just left of centre is a building under construction.  Known as the keep, this will be a records office for East Sussex.  Beyond that is one campus of Brighton University and the new football stadium.  The white patches just past the field of rape are chalk pits just outside Lewes.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The garden calls

The sun is shining - well, nearly shining. It was doing better earlier on and actually shone brightly enough to wake me before the alarm went off. Now the clouds have come across again, albeit only fairly light clouds. It is also a lot warmer this morning than it has been of late. It got so cold that a couple of days ago I pulled out a pair of gloves to wear when walking the dog. I do find that if I let my hands get too cold the arthritis starts playing up even more than usual. So as the sun is shining, I should be out there working in the garden which has been left to its own devices now for far too long. Instead, I am sitting here reading through the various blogs that constitute my daily reading list and wondering why on earth I bother to try and put something onto this blog every day.


Let's just get to the pic of the day. Still enjoying our stroll in the Waterhall valley, we leave behind the pond with its tadpoles and make our way past the north-facing bank where the primroses are still very much in bloom. The provide an attractive background for an attractive butterfly which I guessed was a peacock. Checking when I got home, I found I was right! So here is that peacock butterfly resting on primroses.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

15 minutes of fame

I haven't the foggiest idea who it was said it or what the exact words were, but I'm pretty darned sure that somebody somewhere once said something along the lines that every man is entitled to his 15 minutes of fame. Could tomorrow evening be the moment when my 15 minutes arrive? This has been very much a "Lions" week. It started on Monday when we had the pub games evening as the next event in our zone Olympics in which each of our local clubs takes it in turn to provide a social evening for the other clubs in the "zone". On Monday, Tony and I played shove ha'penny while others played pool and darts. Tony and I only managed a second place but Brighton did win the evening overall. On Tuesday there was the funeral of a fellow Lion, then my club's dinner meeting on Thursday. There were other little bits and bobs on Wednesday and Friday, but the week was rounded off yesterday evening by another Olympic event. This was kurling, in indoor version (played in a gym) of the old Scottish game. Second again. When I got home it was to find a note from a film company. It seems they will be filming in our road on Monday evening and this will be transmitted live. The programme is about urban foxes - of which we have more than our fair share. It will be interesting to see if we can watch the filming taking place while seeing what is being filmed on our television screen. But if I just happen to walk up the road - taking the dog for a walk perhaps... Nah, it will never happen that I'm on national television. Talking of wildlife, today's picture is of the Waterhall dew pond. Or, more specifically, the tadpoles in the pond. I have never seen so many. Fern is fascinated by them (Fern being the dog) but I make sure she stays out of the water.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

No pearls of wisdom today

‘Je suis pressé,' as the French would say.  ‘I am pressed.'  Too pressed for time, presumably, to add those final two words.

I wonder why it should be pearls of wisdom?  Why not rubies, emeralds or sapphires?


Today's picture is really a scene-setter.  This is the Waterhall valley, with its dew pond.  This photo was taken a few weeks ago.  I was walking here yesterday but it was too dull to get a better picture.  I heard a frog croaking, presumably one of the tadpoles having grown, but failed to catch a sight of it.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The hierarchy of adjectives

I don't know when I developed an interest in language or what sparked it off.  But I can't deny that every now and then something about language - specifically, the English language - grabs my attention and interest.  I do like to read English written correctly and to hear it spoken correctly.  That is not to say that I object to local accents or dialects: I mean grammatically correct.  I can also accept that English grammar is variable and can depend on the version of the language that is being used - English English, American English, Australian English and so on.  I made mention of one example yesterday - and must now admit my mistake.  I wrote that I looked out of the window when I should have said that I looked through the window to be strictly correct.  I wonder when it became accepted that one looks out of a window?  One can throw things out of a window (or out a window in the USA) but look?  No, that should really be look through.

But this is all mere twaddle compared with something that was brought to my attention yesterday: the hierarchy of adjectives.  Had you realised that adjectives have a pecking order?  No, I hadn't either.  But the rule is opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose.  Take, by way of example, the jacket of mine that the Old Bat insisted on throwing away last week.  I described it as a comfortable old green tweed jacket.  The Old Bat described it differently - as a scruffy old mud-coloured rag.  Which it is/was is, of course, entirely a matter of opinion which has no place in this scholarly dissertation.  But... (I'm starting too many sentences with that word) but... try changing the order of the adjectives.  Go on - use either description, it won't matter.  Use both if you like.  See what I mean?  it doesn't sound quite right if you put them in any other order.  Odd, isn't it?


There is nothing particularly scenic about today's picture, which was taken on my walk up the Waterhall valley.  What caught my eye was the strength of the colours.  I have made no change to the colour saturation but how vivid are the leaves and the grass, and what a beautiful sky.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Now you see it

Now you don't.

I think I know how I managed it so I will try to avoid repeating my mistake.  I did post a second time yesterday but have managed to delete it.  I think I overwrote that posting with this mornings.  Anyway, I merely explained that the rose is called maigold, not maiday.

A bit of this and a bit of that

If you want a bit of the other, well, you had better go somewhere else 'cos you won't find it here!

During a muddy meander through the Withdean Park woods this morning I was cogitating in my usual way while vaguely keeping an eye on where I was walking, what the dog was doing and the birds around me.  Feathered birds - although come to think of it, there are occasionally, very occasionally, some attractive examples of the other kind for me to feast my eyes on.  It occurred to me that I have not gone out actively looking for birds for many years - not since I was a schoolboy with a slight interest in ornithology - but I still take an almost inordinate pleasure in spotting one of the breeds I seldom see.  Not necessarily rare birds, but just ones that show themselves only occasionally.  Yesterday, for example, I was delighted to catch sight of a great spotted woodpecker; not a rare bird, but one that is only seen if one happens to be looking in the right direction at the right time.

During the last few days I have managed to waste more time than I care to admit just standing in our conservatory.  From here I can see the nesting box in my neighbour's garden where blue tits are busy feeding a brood.  Yesterday I thought I caught sight of the first swallow I have seen in England this year.  (I have seen one in France.)  I was changing a pillow case when I glanced out of the bedroom window and thought I spotted one.  As I walked towards the window I saw another but that was the last I saw of either of them.  I hope that when we get back to France again later this month I will be able to eat outside the Italian restaurant in the square at Chateaubriant (there should be an accent over the first letter "a" but I can't be bothered to fiddle around cutting and pasting) from where I can watch the swifts circling the church tower.  Then I will know that summer has arrived.

Did you notice the proper English as opposed to American wording back there?  "I looked out OF the window" is the way we say it over here where the language was invented.


Monday afternoon this week was glorious and I walked the dog in the Waterhall valley.  This is a dry valley in the South Downs which bends through a right angle about half way along.  The bottom end has been filled and flattened to provide several football pitches.  I park near the rugby club just at the bend and walk northwards into the Downs.  From the side of the valley one can see the area of football pitches from which the goal posts have now been removed.  The car park has been taken over by travellers.  The first caravans were there before Easter and the number has now swollen to about twenty.  Stanmer woods are on the distant horizon in this picture.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Busy again

Or just rushing around getting (almost) nowhere.  Yesterday was such a rush and bustle that it nearly slipped past without me realising it was May Day!  Appropriately enough, our maiday rose - I know it's called maiday but I think I have forgotten how to spell it - came into bloom yesterday.  I don't recall it ever blooming quite so early, the first flower generally appearing about 8th May.

It didn't help that I was a bit too free with the snooze button on the radio alarm so after I had eaten breakfast, washed up, walked the dog and drunk a restorative cup of coffee while reading about the new England football manager, I had only just enough time to read my emails and post a blog before heading off to the dentist.  Who was running seriously late.  So late that I had to go out and put more money in the parking meter.  (Yes, I know it's illegal but I did it anyway.)  As this was my first visit for three years, the dentist insisted on taking x-rays (which added to my time there) before announcing in tones of great wonder that I need just a small filling and a visit to the hygienist.

Back home for a quick cheese roll before changing to go off to a funeral, that of a member of a local Lions Club whom I have known for many years and counted as a friend.  I have never seen the chapel at the crematorium so packed.  People standing not just at the back but well down the aisle.  (I most sincerely hope there will not be so many people at my funeral as I would like to outlive all the buggers!)  I had only just enough time afterwards to get to the local newspaper office before the copy deadline to place the ad for our book fair, a job I had not managed to do on Monday.  Then it was walk the dog time again and it was a great relief to get up onto the Roman Camp with time to think and to remind myself - as I do nearly every day - how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful part of the world.

In his comment on (or to) yesterday's bolg, Skip mentioned Burney, a small town in northern California that I visited, with Skip and GS, way back in September 2006.  It tempted me to post a picture from that time but I will stick with my beloved South Downs.  Continuing from yesterday's picture, a little further along to road is a large field with an enormous flock of sheep - and their lambs.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

More hot air

Yesterday's paper reported a study by scientists that had come to the conclusion that global warming is caused by wind turbines.

No, I must be honest and not allow my in-built dislike of wind turbines to lead me astray.  That opening sentence was, I admit, both an exaggeration and a simplification.  All that was discovered by the research was that temperatures near the ground in the vicinity of a wind farm are higher than elsewhere.  I'm not at all sure quite what, if anything, that discovery does for the future of Planet Earth.  In any case, I always take these research projects - or the reports that come afterwards - with a very substantial pinch of salt.  They so often seem to come up with pointless facts like left-handed people who put on the right sock first are less likely to die than synchronised swimmers or standing on your head for five minutes every day will improve the long-term memory.  We all remember (don't we?) how one week marmalade caused cancer but the next week it cured the Big C!  I do, however, take to heart the very occasional recommendation.  I religiously drink my glass of red wine every day.  Or a glass and a half.  Or two glasses.  But sometimes it's white wine.  Similarly, I eat my two squares of dark chocolate every evening.  Only I eat four squares so that must do me twice as much good.  But, as usual, I digress.

I don't like wind turbines partly on the grounds that they spoil the countryside.  The French are putting up the wretched things faster than they can eat snails or frog's legs - and a large number of those turbines are being erected in beautiful countryside.  Of course, the French don't seem to care for country views.  Why else would they grant permission for a factory to be built on top of the higher ground in an area of outstanding natural beauty?  And then paint it in purple and yellow vertical stripes with a red roof so that it blends in with the background?  I exaggerate, of course, but these wind turbines do so very often seem to be in the wrong places scenic-wise.  There is a letter in today's paper bemoaning the fact that some of these machines have been erected on the moors that inspired the Bronte sisters.  Just imagine the effect of a wind farm on Castle Hill in the picture below.  (If you do scroll down now to look at the picture, don't forget to scroll back up to read the rest of today's rant.)

But I must accept that not everybody will share my opinion.  Indeed, it may well be that in years to come, people will regard the few wind turbines that remain as attractive parts of the scenery in the way that we see windmills today.  I doubt it, but it could happen.

My main grip is that I don't think wind turbines are an efficient or cost-effective way to produce electricity.  I see a lot of them as we drive through France and almost every farm has about half the turbines not working.  Whether that is due to faulty manufacture or lack of the right wind speed, I obviously know not.  But I do know that at any given time a large proportion of the machines are standing idle.

I could go on, but I think you have probably got the gist by now so I will just comment on today's picture.  It was taken last Friday when I walked the fields alongside the Ditchling Road to the north of Brighton.  After passing the end of the northern spur of Stanmer woods, the scene to the east opens up and provides what is one of my favourite views.   We look eastwards through the Stanmer valley and over Mill Wood to Castle Hill, the whale-back hump on the right horizon, and Firle Beacon, the pointy bit in the far distance.