Tuesday, 31 July 2012

This way, that way

My brother and I were urban brats, townie children.  Consequently, our playground was the largish back garden and then the pavements and alleys of the streets around our house.  Although I have no accurate recollection of doing so, I am sure that at some time one or other of us would have laid a trail for the other to follow, a trail of arrows chalked on the pavement, arrows about a foot long and generally no further apart than about four feet.  Not exactly a challenge for a nine-year-old boy let alone a North American Indian tracker.

The next time I had any experience of tracking was after I had joined the Scouts.  One of the tests to be passed before a boy could be awarded the Second Class badge (the one a step up from a tenderfoot) he had to follow a half-mile trail made from natural materials.  The signs might be an arrow made by lying three sticks in the appropriate shape, a bunch of grass tied in a knot, an oak leaf spiked on a beech tree.  All sorts of things, some of which were difficult to see anyway and some of which might or might not have been deliberately placed.

Very much easier to see and follow are the public footpath signs found around England.  The design varies according to which authority has paid for them and they have a nasty habit of disappearing completely after one has followed the footpath across two ploughed fields and through a copse.  An Ordnance Survey map is a good stand-by in places not well known to the walker, or perhaps I should say the serious walker.

The Old Bat and I have, in the past, walked many miles while on our holidays, especially when we have been on smallish islands.  We walked practically the whole of the coastline of Guernsey in one day and spent many happy hours wandering the coastal paths and green lanes of Jersey.  Malta we found surprisingly barren and completely void of bird-life. (We were, however, surprised to see a Brighton dustcart tucked away in an odd corner of the island.)  Madeira we loved.  The levadas, canals to bring water from the wet north to irrigate the banana groves of the sunny south of the island, each have a narrow footpath alongside and we especially liked following these through those banana groves and stands of eucalyptus trees.

And then there is France.  When we first started going there regularly we bought a book detailing various walks in the area where we stayed.  The French don't go in for signposts as much as we do in England, although those they do have are usually much more elaborately decorated than ours, but they do waymark the footpaths.  It's a very simple system, but great fun to follow.  The signs are painted on trees, lamp-posts, walls - anywhere usueful.  They will consist of two horizontal bars, one above the other, to indicate "you're on the right path"
or a similar sign quite obviously indicating to turn left or right.  In case the walker misses the turn sign, a cross will be painted a little further on.
They might be in a single colour or they might be a mixture as shown here.   Unfortunately, we are no longer able to follow these paths and stroll the green lanes like this one not far from our house.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Will you buy any milk today, Mistress?

I know I'm old but I'm not old enough to have heard any of the old cries of London like the one in the title.  I do remember the milkmen having little electric carts they pulled behind them and steered with a long shaft at the front.  The milk, in those days, was in pint and half-pint bottles which were sealed with cardboard discs.  At school, each pupil was given a third of a pint every day, drunk straight from the special-size bottle with or without the intervention of a straw.  I cold weather the bottles would be placed on the heating pipes running round the classroom to warm up the milk.  I was never that keen on milk but the warm stuff was horrible!

It is still possible to have milk delivered to the door - usually on three days a week - but most people buy their milk at the supermarket.  Even my cousin does that now.  When they first took over the farm 25+ years ago they bought two Jersey cows for their milk.  The cows were milked twice a day by hand and the milk was placed in the farm dairy to settle.  After a while the cream could be skimmed off the top.  This was churned into butter: I spent what seemed like many hours turning the handle on that churn!  The remaining milk was thick and rich and our "silver top" always seemed thin and watery after a stay on the farm.

So nowadays we have whole milk with blue bottle tops, semi-skimmed with green and skimmed with (I think) red tops.  There are a few other options like organic.  But in France it is all different.  Most French people buy UHT milk.  In their supermarkets there is very little shelf space in the chiller cabinet given over to fresh milk but there will be a complete aisle of the UHT.  And just to add to the confusion, whole fresh milk has red bottle tops.


The view from the bedroom was good again this morning when I woke, though the sky was a paler, more English blue.  This time I did have the camera.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Lehargy rules

Indeed, lethargy rules so much that I can't be bothered to correct the typo in the title of this post.  There are numerous jobs from before our trip to France that are still waiting to be done.  Admittedly, some have been started.  I shall have to dredge up some energy from somewhere as several of those unfinished jobs need to be completed by tomorrow evening.

For both the Old Bat and me, one of the pleasures of returning to sunny Brighton is the first sight of the South Downs as we descend Bolney hill on the A23.  Even at night the "line of the Downs so noble and so bare" (Hilaire Belloc) is visible against the light pollution spilling out of the coastal conurbation.  Friday, however, was slightly misty and it was just a little difficult to make out the Downs in the dusk.  This morning, Sunday, I threw open the bedroom curtains and was rewarded by the sight of a magnificent blue sky and sun shining on the sheep and cattle pastures and on the ripening barley.  My camera was not immediately to hand and I decided to wait a while to take a series of photos that I could merge into a panoramic shot with Photoshop.  During breakfast the cloud cover increased and the photo opportunity was lost.  Halfway to the park with the dog, the heavens opened.

Over in the Loire valley, the farmers were working flat out last week and by the time we came home the wheat, barley and oats were all harvested and safely in.  There was still some straw waiting to be baled and some hay was still being turned but otherwise it was almost time to wind down a little before the maize and sunflowers are ready for harvesting in a few weeks.  There were fewer sunflowers in evidence this year but I did manage to get this picture:

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Back to Blighty

We are back in Brighton after a very restful week at our house in France.  Too restful, really.  I did manage to put a coat of emulsion on the walls of the shower room and trimmed the wisteria threatening to invade the upstairs bedroom.  For us wimpish English it was just too hot for much of the time to do anything outside so we lounged indoors and read.  OK, so the temperature never exceeded 35 celsius as far as I am aware (that's 95 to my American readers) - in the shade - but that's way too hot for us to spend more than about 20 minutes in the sun.  Fortunately, our two-foot-thick walls keep the inside considerably cooler.  The arthritis didn't help matters either.

I'm not sorry that we seem to come back these days to less mail, fewer messages on the answering machine and generally fewer emails as well.  But there is still the little matter of the washing and catching upwith the blogs I follow!  So I'll just leave you with a couple of pictures of the local village restaurant where we passed a very pleasant evening during the week.

Our table:
 The view across the garden:

Friday, 27 July 2012

Meet the neighbours

I'm not at all sure that Jacques got a very good impression of me the first time we met. It was in the late spring of the year we bought the house, during the period when I was spending one week in France and one in England. I was standing in the kitchen one evening, cooking myself a meal. That in itself is most unusual since I am not a cook. Mrs S has even been known to complain that I don't know where the kitchen is, let alone how to use any of the implements in it. But be that as it may, I was cooking a meal that evening. Probably something very simple, like sausages, oven chips and frozen peas or baked beans, which is why I suspect that Jacques' first impression of me was not terribly good.

As I said, I was in the kitchen when Jacques appeared at the window with a large bowl in his hands. My first thought was that he was begging, but he introduced himself and told me he had been picking cherries and thought I might like a few. I invited him in and was astonished to find that what he called a few cherries was actually a couple of kilograms of them. All I could find to hold them was a tatty plastic carrier bag from a supermarket. I offered him a drink (coffee, tea, wine or scotch?) and, while Jacques was explaining that he doesn't drink coffee or tea, and that he was rather partial to scotch, the smoke alarm went off. I have virtually no sense of smell and had not noticed that the sausages were burning.

Jacques, I have since discovered, is one of those infuriating people who seem to be able to do everything, and to do it well. He also has a large range of tools that would arouse the envy of a combination of a professional builder, electrician and plumber - and he knows how to use them. He speaks very good English although he said he had never been to England. Jacques' job is something to do with wine-making equipment and he has quite frequently to travel abroad to oversee the installation of it. He has visited Australia, South Africa and the USA, so he found it useful to learn English.

It was Jacques who solved for us the problem of our garage. We had from time to time smiled at the recollection of Monsieur Detroit's little quip that the garage/shed was suitable for a very little car, but otherwise had really thought nothing about the fact that the estate agent's particulars showed that the house had a garage.

Monsieur Detroit had told us that the garden had been sold separately. At least, we thought that was what he said: maybe he had actually said that it was to be sold separately.

It was some three years after we had bought the house that Jacques told us he had just bought a patch of spare land across the road, at one corner of which stood a ramshackle garage built in corrugated iron. Apparently, the land had at one time been the garden of out house - and that was our garage!

"Our" garden stretched from the fence to those trees!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Bank robbers or royalist plotters?

If the mysterious Lionel could be found at No 13, what was it that drew people to him?

Every so often a group of two, three, four or - very occasionally - five people would walk past our house from the direction of the village, staring curiously at the house, the courtyard, the car and us (if we happened to be in the courtyard at the time) as they went. They would reach the end of the pavement just beside our well, turn around and walk back towards the village, staring at us once again just as though we were animals behind a fence in a zoo. We never seemed to see the same people twice, so we guessed that they could not all be villagers we had yet to meet. Could they come from the mysterious number 13? Or was somebody organising coach tours to see the mad rosbifs?

My curiosity became too much for me and I determined to track down the source of these mysterious passers-by. The next time it happened while I was in the courtyard, I went out onto the pavement and pretended to rearrange the clematis on the fence as the group returned. I had thought of hiding behind the gatepost and peeping out from waist height, but that seemed just a little too melodramatic. From the corner of my eye I watched the group of four as they passed Mr & Mrs Onions, giving the house barely a glance. I could see no tourist coach parked in the village, so I wasn't really surprised to see the interlopers disappear into number 13. But why should the parish room of a sleepy little village attract so many visitors? Furthermore, they were, many of them, visitors from other départements according to the registration numbers of the many cars that were parked outside the house.

One evening, while eating at the village restaurant, we asked Jean-Paul if number 13 was a parish room. He told us it wasn't, and bustled away as only Jean-Paul can before we had a chance to ask him the next question: what is it, and who are the people who go there? We speculated wildly. Could they be witches? One who had come to the door had looked very much as though she could be. Or could they be a secret society plotting the reinstatement of the French monarchy? Could number 13 be a thieves' kitchen where they met to plan the next bank job?

It was a letter from one of our visitors that told us how wide of the mark we were - or how close, depending on your point of view. The people who meet at number 13 are spiritualists.  But can't they see the place is about to fall down?

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Still looking for Lionel

By the time the alarm clock did ring I had pretty well forgotten the incident, but I was reminded of it a month or so later. Once again there was a ring at the door and once again a woman on the doorstep asked for Lionel. This was mid-morning, so I was in a much better state than on the earlier occasion that somebody was looking for Lionel. I explained that I didn't know Lionel.

"The last house in the village," said the lady, as if that explained everything. She had one thing right: ours is the last house in the village. But there is another last house in the village if one is travelling in the opposite direction and I was about to send her there when I remembered: that house is occupied by an English couple and neither he nor she is called Lionel.

Once again I explained that I knew nobody called Lionel. As I did so a thought struck me. I asked the lady if she wanted number 13, this being the number of the parish room.

"Oui, oui," she replied enthusiastically, so I directed her past our neighbours, past the vegetable garden, to the falling-down house which was number 13, and off she trotted like a spaniel that has just been given a ball. I could have sworn I saw her tail wagging, she was so happy.


Our first impression of the nearby twon of Pouance was not good.  It looked a scruffy sort of a place then but somehow it has grown on us and we now like the place despite - or maybe because of - its warts.  But there are some attractive little corners like this one.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Looking for Lionel

After we had bought our French dream I spent one week there and one week in England as I carried out the necessary  work.  The Old Bat stayed in England as she was still working.

One dark winter morning while I was in France alone, I reached out to hit the snooze button on the alarm only to find that the alarm was still ringing as I pulled the duvet back over me. Eventually I managed to work out that the noise was not the alarm clock. I lay there trying to work out what could be causing such a racket, and it slowly dawned on me that there was somebody at the door with their finger pressed firmly and continually on the bell. My next reaction was to panic, thinking that maybe the house was on fire and the pompiers were trying to rescue me. I jumped out of bed quicker than I would jump out of a cold shower - and believe me, that's pretty quick - pulled on my dressing gown and tripped over my feet as I rushed to the door. Still on my knees, I reached up, turned the key and opened the door.

On the doorstep, towering over me, was a witch. She wore a black hat, had long black hair, and in my befuddled state I mistook her overcoat for a witches cloak. All that was missing was a broomstick and a cat. I had just about decided I was dreaming and that I should drink a smaller nightcap in future when she spoke. I say she spoke, but all I could hear was a string of garbled words that might have been French or might just as easily have been Hungarian. I screwed my eyes shut, but she was still there when I opened them again.

She spoke again, and this time the French nearly penetrated my brain. I muttered a sort of half-strangled, "Pardon?"

On her third attempt I realised she was asking for somebody called Lionel. I shook my head, which was a mistake as this made the street light bounce up and down as though it were bungee jumping.

"Never heard of him," I replied, and shut the door.


This is the chateau at the nearby village of Challain la Poterie (although I might have got the spelling wrong).  As one drives along the approach road the spires and towers appear above the trees making it look like a fairy-tale castle.  Unfortunately, there is no place where that sight can be photographed properly.  Or I have not yet found it.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Not again!

Chris and I had a similar problem another time when he had come over with me to do some job or other: we had no hot water at all in the shower room, neither in the shower itself nor in the hand basin. Once again, the water pressure had fallen too low, and once again we had to call in the plumber as neither Chris nor I could work out how to increase the pressure. Monsieur David quickly increased the pressure, and showed us how to do it. But he took no prisoners while speaking and I just could not persuade him to slow down enough for me to understand him. Anyway, we had hot water in the hand basin.

It was not until after Monsieur David had left that we realised that, despite having hot water in the basin, we had none in the shower. It eventually occurred to us to remove the shower head, after which the hose produced piping hot water. The shower head was obviously the cause of the problem. We deduced that the holes had become partly blocked, thereby reducing the flow of water to below that needed to operate the gas heater in the boiler.

A trip to our favourite DIY store meant that a new shower head was easily obtained. I bought a rather flash one that could be adjusted to provide a gentle spray, or a body-tingling hard jet, or a combination of the two. There were cheaper ones on the shelf, but what the heck, I thought. It was a pity that we had to cut up the packaging, because it meant that I was unable to return the new shower head when we discovered that this one too reduced the flow of water to an unacceptable low.

It took the cheapest shower head on sale at the local supermarket to do the trick.


Not a river picture today but a lake.  This is the lake at Pouancé, the nearest town to our village.  This stretch is the swimming beach where there is a lifeguard in the summer months.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

More water problems

Continuing the story of the trials and tribulations involved in owning a house 400+ miles away and in a different country.

As I had trouble getting water into the house when we bought it, and there had been trouble with water leaving the house, I suppose it should have come as no surprise when we had trouble with water inside the house.

The problem started one Saturday morning when we were due to return to England. Mrs S was most upset to find that the water in her shower was stone cold. I had showered before her and had enjoyed hot water to start with, although it did turn cool after a while. I had assumed this was just a hiccup and that normal service would be resumed almost immediately. Obviously I was wrong.

My brother and sister-in-law had spent the week with us. They had both showered before going to bed the previous evening and reported no problems, so something appeared to have gone wrong overnight. Graham and I decided that the place to start was the combination boiler. A glance at the front showed that the water pressure was low; so low, in fact, that the needle was in the red zone. This meant that there was insufficient pressure to turn on the gas heater and was clearly the cause of Mrs S having a cold shower.

As we stood pondering the problem, I recalled that Monsieur Ebert, who had come to my rescue when I was unable to turn the boiler on, had said that there was a control knob to increase the water pressure. I knew it was somewhere on the underside of the boiler, so I sat on the floor and looked. Under the boiler were several control knobs, each of which looked vaguely similar to the one Monsieur Ebert had described. I looked in the instruction manual to see if I could find out which was the control I needed, but, as far as I could make out, the manual made no mention of pressure control knobs. I got back under the boiler and tried twisting, turning, pushing, pulling and generally fiddling with each of the controls in turn, first individually, then in combination, but nothing I did made any difference.

A glance at my watch showed that if we didn't leave pretty well immediately we would miss our ferry and be stranded overnight in Cherbourg. But we had paying guests arriving that afternoon, so something had to be done. But what? 

I realised there was nothing I could constructively do and we took the easy way out. I left a note for Sue, who would be coming in later that day to change over the bath mat and shower curtain, explaining the problem and asking her if she could possible sort it out. It was too early in the morning to ring her, but when we stopped for coffee later that morning, I did so, only to get her answering machine.

We learned later that Sue spent ages going through the Yellow Pages but eventually found a plumber who dropped whatever he was doing to drive over and put matters right. The visitors, naturally, arrived at the house early to find Sue still there and the plumber working. We comforted ourselves that they did at least know we had taken steps to solve the problem of the water. 


Another river.  This is the Havre, a tributary of the Loire which joins the main river at Oudon.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Back to square one

All seemed well - until we learned that one party of visitors that summer found the smell so overpowering that they had to leave early. I sighed deeply when I heard this, but refrained from suggesting that perhaps they should re-examine their diet, realising that there must be further work to be done. But what? The tank had been emptied and fed, so surely that should have sorted matters. Then I remembered that we were supposed to be on mains drainage. Could it be that the problem was not in our septic tank, but in the main sewer? I called in at the mairie and explained my problem. The lady promised to speak to the mayor and let me know what he suggested. About half an hour after I had got back to the house, the phone rang. The lady had spoken to the mayor and he had arranged for the commune's employee (the man who cuts the grass verges and tends to the flower beds in the village square) to call round.

The mayor's man duly arrived just after we had sat down to lunch and told me what I had long suspected was the case: we were not connected to the mains drainage. We were back to square one.

I recalled that Sue's husband was a plumber, although he worked away from home most of the time. But one Saturday while I was there, Alan came across to see if he could work out just what our problem was. Or rather, what was the cause of our problem. Alan took a long look at the system, first with the tank cover on, then again after the cover had been removed.

"It's your vent," he announced. "It's too small. The vent should be at least as wide as the pipe flowing into the tank, but it's not. And the top of the vent pipe should be much higher than it is or the gas will easily spill downwards into the courtyard instead of being cleared by the wind."

Alan offered to install a new vent, digging a trench from the tank to the side of the house so that the new vent could be fixed there and could release the gas at a much higher level. And so the work was done, although we discovered later that it was actually Sue who did the hard bit - digging the trench.

And that did solve the problem of the smell - although It did lead to another couple of small jobs for Chris and I a few months later.

The River Loire again, this time at Ancenis.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The agricultural smell

I have, from time to time, tried to entertain you with tales from deepest France, the joys and challenges of buying and subsequently owning a house in a small, French village.  One of the problems we faced after owning the house for about a year to eighteen months was the smell.  It seemed to come and go but we traced it to the cover of the septic tank in the courtyard.

The cause really was something of a puzzle. Well, perhaps not the cause - we knew that well enough - but the reason. When we first saw the house the estate agent's particulars clearly indicated that the house was on mains drainage. But if that was so, why did we still have a septic tank which was full to the brim? (I knew this to be the case as Chris and Alan had helped me to lift the lid when they came over to help with another job.) I had no experience of septic tanks, and wondered if perhaps being full was the problem. Maybe we were on mains drainage, but waste water and so on was passed through the tank before reaching the sewer?

I decided my next step would be to have to tank emptied so I spent an interesting half hour in the post office studying the French Yellow Pages. I wasn't entirely sure quite what heading I would need but in the end I left with the telephone numbers of three or four businesses I thought might be able to do what I wanted. I struck lucky with my first call, and the lady promised service the next morning. Sure enough, just as I was finishing breakfast, a lorry pulled up outside and the driver scrunched his way across the courtyard. With luck, our smell would soon be gone.

After helping the driver to lift the lid of the septic tank, I retreated indoors and shut the windows, having no wish to share the experience of emptying the tank. I suppose it didn't really take very long: it just seemed as though it did. I was quite happy to write a cheque in payment, having noticed that the tank was now delightfully empty.

Having no knowledge of the workings of septic drainage systems, I had assumed that after the tank had been emptied, we just waited until it was full again and called the company back in for another session with their suction hoses. I was, therefore, somewhat taken aback when the driver told me that I should now half-fill the tank with water. In my ignorance, I thought doing that would reduce the length of time before it needed emptying again. All the same, I did what I was told and decided to read up on septic tanks once I had returned to England.

It isn't necessary for me to go into the details of my research, but one thing I did discover was that septic tanks need feeding. As soon as I had read this, I recalled that in the olden days people would feed their septic tanks by throwing in a chicken carcase, feathers and all. I didn't fancy doing this - in any case, I had no chickens, dead or alive - so when I was next in France I phoned Sue and asked her what I should do. Apparently, according to Sue anyway, I could buy a suitable product at any supermarket.

Sure enough, the next time I visited Super U I discovered almost a complete aisle given over to products for septic tanks. I emptied the carton down the loo as instructed on the box, and flushed. Surely that would get rid of the smell?


Just for a change, let's see a picture of the River Loire, not so very far from "our" village.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

How the hamlet of Hove changed its name

Or, Today's Trivia

It all started in the 1700s with Dr Russell of Lewes.  Until then, there was a sleepy little fishing village on the south coast of England called Brighthelmstone.  A mile or two to the west lay an even smaller village, just a hamlet really, called Hoove or sometimes Hove.

The good Dr Russell of Lewes came to the conclusion that bathing in sea water was good for one's health.  The nearest place on the coast to Lewes was Brighthelmstone and it was in that village that the doctor established a surgery.  Before long, people were flocking to Brighthelmstone and the sleepy fishing village had become a fashionable resort town.  The icing was put well and truly on the cake when the Prince Regent decided to build his seaside palace there.

By this time the name of the village had been abbreviated to Brighton and the town had spread westwards along the coast.  Hoove had decided it was really Hove and some building work had taken place there.  By the mid 19th century the towns of Brighton and Hove had become Siamese twins joined at the hip.  Unless one knew just where the boundary lay one could stray from Brighton into Hove and back again (or vice versa of course) without knowing.  Unless one was on the sea front.

You see, although the houses and shops may have looked the same, the residents of the two towns had completely different outlooks on life.  Brighton had become gaudy and was to become synonymous with dirty weekends and famous for trunk murders and race course gangs.  Hove, on the other hand, was sedate, quiet and rather posh and superior.  Not for Hove the razzamatazz of entertainment on the sea front.  Hove had simply the esplanade and the Lawns.  Brighton was the town whose name was known across the land, whereas few people had heard of Hove.  So, if a Hove resident was asked where he lived, he would generally answer, "Brighton" before qualifying his answer by saying, "Well, Hove actually".

And so Hove gradually became a town with a double-barrelled name: Hove Actually.


Toady we move south again for our picture, to the 17 Mile Drive on the Monterey peninsula of the California coast.  This is Fanshell Beach.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

White rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits.

Ah.  No.  That's what you say o the first day of the month.  What I meant was, "oh, my gloves and whiskers," or whatever it was the White Rabbit said as he sped past Alice.  I feel a bit like that this morning.  We are off to France on Friday and before we go I have to finish printing the Lions Club directories - feeding in one sheet at a time as it's card and the printer doesn't like more than that - and print out the minutes of the last meeting in time for tonight's meeting and print out the details of the proposed old folk's Christmas party in case something dreadful happens to me and confirm the booking with the entertainer if the club approves the budget tonight and check the weather forecast over in France and take my books back to the library and check the tv schedule for next week in case there is something we want to record and check the oil level in the car and take the dog to kennels and buy the paint for the shower room today because it's 10% for OAPs day and that will cover the cost of the roller and tray and check the tyre pressures and reply to cousin Linda's letter that has been sitting on my desk for two months and prepare the new zone diary as I am secretary this year and there is a zone meeting just 48 hours after we get home and answer that email about the District web site which reminds me that there are two other web sites that need updating and I haven't even started producing the next issue of Jungle Jottings and... and...


What I need to do is to invest ten minutes in drawing up a list of jobs and then work through them in order of priority.


For today's picture we move a bit north of Yosemite, well into North State in fact.  This is Burney Creek.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Hysteria in Brighton

The Olympic torch arrived in Brighton last night. Well, it was Hove, actually (and there's a story behind that phrase) and as it was at 6.00pm it was either late afternoon or early evening but not really night.  The main junketing was at the County Cricket Ground (not Hove Park nor Hove Lawns as was originally mooted) and the whole schebang left from the Royal Pavilion at about 7.00 this morning.  Those who read my rant the other day will not be surprised to learn that I did not bother to see either the arrival or the departure.  I did make a desultory effort to see about watching the arrival as the Old Bat had hinted that she might like to see it.  It had to be the arrival; no way were we getting up early enough to see it off this morning.  I checked out the route and found there were two designated disabled spectator viewing areas.  But road closures and additional parking restrictions made those almost inaccessible for the old dear so the whole idea was quietly dropped.  As it happened, it was wet and blowing a hooly so we were quite happy that all we saw was on the local television news.

Our friends Chris and Mrs Chris are due to arrive fairly soon and we shall all be heading off for a pub lunch with 30-40 other past leaders in the Scouts.  At the last lunch, one of the chaps was organising a collection for something to be done to the local camp site.  As I passed my donation he muttered something about Brighton Lions never giving to the Scouts.  I pretended not to hear as I didn't think it the appropriate moment for a discussion.

After some thought I realised that Brighton Lions have not given money to the Scouts for many years - but the Scouts haven't asked for our help anyway.  Each member of Brighton Lions is allowed to nominate one charitable cause a year to receive a donation of £100 and I had almost decided that my £100 donation would be to the Scouts.  I thought I would just dig a little deeper first and it was then I found that the Scouts had more money than the Lions!  David was astonished when I rang him with the news that there was more than £60,000 sitting in the bank and they didn't need £300 from the Lions.  He determined to ask a few questions.  I wonder if he will mention it this lunch time.


There is a picture in this morning's paper of a waterfall in Yosemite.  I can't match that, but here is Yosemite's Siesta Lake.

Monday, 16 July 2012

In every man lurks a rebel

I have reached a stage in my life where I dress as I please rather more than as I think is necessarily conventional.  It used to be the other way round.  In my younger days I worked in a bank and my working clothes consisted of a two-piece suit,shirt and tie, and polished shoes.  Just the same as every other male bank clerk.  But there were subtle differences.  OK, most of us wore grey or dark blue suits but just occasionally somebody would wear a brown one.  I even worked with one ultra-conventional man who wore a palish green tweedy-type suit, but that was so rare as to be almost unique.  Shirts were generally white (cream was "out" by then) or pale blue, socks and shoes were black, and ties were sober, toning with the suit or in club stripes.  But this was where the rebel in me burst out of his chains.  My ties were most definitely not sober, they did not tone with my suit and they were rarely in club stripes.  They were in floral patterns or bright paisleys - nothing that would seem outrageous today.  Indeed, they were probably pretty tame by today's standards.  Nonetheless, I was rebelling by wearing those ties. 

Which leads me to the rather dapper gentleman whose name I don't know.  I don't see him every day but quite frequently we pass on opposite sides of the road as I walk either to of back from the park with the dog after breakfast.  This smartly dressed gentleman is either on his was to or back home from the local convenience store cum post office.  At least, that is what I have always assumed as he is always carrying a shopping bag.  He has never told me that is where he goes; he has never told me anything.  We merely call "good morning" as we pass.  He always seems to me to be the sort who would carry his carefully folded raincoat over his left arm, just so.  His shoes are always polished and he wears a trilby which he raises slightly as he greets me.

This morning, as he turned the corner and walked up the hill away from me, I noticed he was wearing bright red socks.  I had spotted his hidden rebel.


So much for St Swithun (or Swithin - whichever you prefer).  Yesterday might have been fine but it's wet today.  Let's go for a picture to remind us of what summer should be like.  This is the Domaine Faverot in the Luberon (AYear in Provence country) where we bouht some terrific wine a couple of years back.

Sunday, 15 July 2012


In the wayback, almost as far back as the dreamtime, there was a television programme/quiz show called Mastermind.  This was hosted by a genial Icelander who spoke better English than 90% of the British population, albeit with a very slight Edinburgh accent, whose name was Magnus Magnusson.  And with a name like that, he could be noting but Icelandic, could he?

The format of the show, which was usually broadcast from a university or similar institution, was for six contestants (or contenders, as Magnus M would always call them) to answer questions in two two-minute rounds.  The first round consisted of general knowledge questions and the second consisted on questions on the contenders chosen specialist subject.  This could be, say, the American Civil War or the works of William Worsdworth or Italian art in the 15th century.

I had a friend - sadly, no longer with us and, even more sadly, he died a bitter and disappointed man - who always said that if were ever to appear on Mastermind his chosen specialised subject would be the novels of Wilbur Smith.  I was reminded of Peter (for that was my friend's name) the other day when I read an obituary in the Daily Telegraph.  Now don't run away with the idea that I habitually read the obituaries in the Telegraph of any other newspaper.  I don't.  Indeed, I rarely even glance at that page of the paper.  Just occasionally I might flick it over and pause as a sub-heading catches my eye: Submarine commander who won an MC at Waterloo or something equally unlikely.  Then I might pause and read a paragraph or two.  But not the other day.  What caught my eye was, Chinese scholar who devoted 70 years to the study of one novel.  70 years?  Wondering just what I had misread as 70 years, I turned back the page to find out.  I hadn't misread; 70 years it said.  Intrigued, I read on.

To be completely frank, the details of the life of Zhou Ruchang did not make particularly fascinating reading but I was interested in finding out a little more about the novel Dream of the Red Chamber which he had been studying for so long.  The obituarist described it as "China's greatest novel, a work so multi-layered and allusive it has spawned its own field of scholarship: 'Redology'".

As you might expect, I searched the internet for more information.  I discovered that I could buy a condensed version of the an English translation from Amazon in America or, from the English Amazon, the three-volume Penguin translation (cost: £32 or so).  But better still, the University of Virginia has been kind enough to put up a translation of the preface and first chapter right here.  I must say, it would probably take me 70 years just to read the book, 70 years of boredom.  I cannot imagine why anyone would want to spend 70 years studying it.  But maybe I'm being unfair.


St Swithun's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mare
That's today - and it's a fine day (although we did have rain in the night).  Mind you, rain is forecast for tomorrow.  Just like yesterday.  This was the gloomy view from the bedroom yesterday afternoon in between the showers and prolonged outbursts.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Bastille Day

When yesterday I quoted the Red Queen I had quite overlooked the fact that today is Bastille Day.  OK, so that is perhaps of marginal interest to anybody outside la belle France, but it did start me musing as I stumbled around the park this morning hoping that the exercise would loosen up the knees.

The first thing to cross my mind was that I have received an electricity bill for our house in France.  Nothing very unusual in that as they are sent out every couple of months.  This one is for less than £20.  But I have to pay the best part of a pound to post the payment back to them.  I really must set up a direct debit, much as I dislike the wretched things, as that would save me quite a bit during the course of a year.

Somehow the thought processes led me to muse on national characteristic.  And then, is there any one song the words of which display or define the characteristics of a nation?  I have to admit that I was unable to think of one for the French, the Germans, the Japanese...  indeed any other then the English!  For us, I could not help but light on a song from the First World War, Fred Karno's Army.

We are Fred Karno's army,
The ragtime infantry.
We cannot fight, we cannot shoot,
No bloody use are we;
But when we get to Berlin
The Kaiser he will say,
"Hoch! Hoch! Mein Gott!
What a jolly fine lot

Are the ragtime infantry."
So just what English charateristics are displayed in those words?  Well, for a start there is self-deprecation.  We English do seem to have a tendency to describe ourselves as less successful or less capable than we really are.  But despite the self-deprecation, there is a quiet confidence, a dogged determination.  Note that the soldiers sang "when we gate to Berlin"; "when", not "if".

There is a lot said about the failings of the younger generations and how they are not the men their fathers or grandfathers were.  Personally, I think that is a load of tommyrot.  If the call ever came, the present younger generations would react in exactly the same way as their forebears.  They are English when all said and done.


I took this picture when waiting at traffic lights the other evening.  It is not the most attractive view of Brighton, granted, but there are a number of features of passing interest.  The architect behind the construction of St Peter's church was Sir Charles Barry, who was also responsible for the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament.  The nearer pub on the right, the North Star, is owned by Shepherd Neame, England's oldest brewery.  My 6x great grandmother was Deborah Shepherd and back in the 18th century she lent her nephew £3000 to start the business.

Friday, 13 July 2012


Here it is three o'clock in the afternoon and I'm only just putting finger to keyboard.  I had fully expected to be doing this five hours ago but, just as I was about to take the dog for her morning walk in the park, the Old Bat asked if I would have time to drive her to her oxygen treatment session.  The wind had got up a bit and she does find that trying.  I suspect that a lot of the problem is lack of confidence rather than a probability that she will be blown over, but either way she needs my arm as well as her stick.  I do wonder just how long it will be before she is unable to leave the house without me.  As it is, these days she only goes on her own on Tuesdays - to the supermarket - and Fridays - to the MS centre.  The rest of the week her car sits in the garage costing me money.  I suppose in a good week it might be driven almost as far as 15 miles but at least it provides an illusion of independence and dignity.

What I had thought to burble on about this morning was an obituary I read in the paper of a Chinese chappie who had spent 70 years studying one book.  But I've changed my mind.  Maybe tomorrow.  Unless I am acting the Red Queen: "Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow but never jam today".

I have long held that the city of Brighton & Hove, despite its quarter million population, is really little more than a village.  There are so many family connections, entanglements and entwinements that it can be positively dangerous to run down anybody in front of a third person.  That third person is just as likely to say, "That's my mother's cousin's best friend you are talking about" or something similar.  Of course, the world is getting ever smaller and many of us find we bump into somebody from our home town in the most unlikely of places.  Something like that happened to me this week - but doubled.  It was while I was at Herstmonceux Castle with the blind club.  I was sitting at a table for the meal with several ladies I had never met before.  The two immediately to my right were both volunteer helpers but as one was on her first day they had never met before either.  Somehow, in the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I had lived in the Medway towns.  "Whereabouts in the Medway towns?" asked the lady two to my right.  "Gillingham."  "Oh, I lived in Rainham," she replied (Rainham being a suburb of Gillingham).  "Really?" exclaimed the lady in between us.  "I lived at Rainham Mark!" (a suburb of Rainham.)

Well, that's good news.  I have just taken a phone call from VW who promise me a full refund of £753 and the cheque will be sent late next week.  But a snag: it will be sent recorded delivery which means I will have to sign for it and we will be in France from the end of next week.  Nina promises to hold onto the cheque until we get back.  So maybe....

More good news.  Well, not so much good as very pleasing.  I received an email this morning from somebody I have never heard of.  He stumbled across this blog when googling something and sent these complimentary remarks:

"...which led .to your blog "Pebbles in the sea". It was a delight - I read it out loud to my wife. But thanks for the blog - more a stone endlessly skipping over the sea."

Deary me, a chap could get swollen-headed!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

A Greek tragedy

Ot maybe farce would be a better choice of word.  But did the Greeks do farce?  No, don't let's get diverted down that track.  Nor shall I allow myself to be diverted into a discussion of the euro and the problems of the economies of southern European countries such as Italy, Spain...    and Greece.

When it was announced that London had "won" the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games I was not one of those jumping for joy in Tafalgar Square.  No indeed.  You see, cynic that I was (and still am) I forecast that It Will All End In Tears.  Now, with barely two weeks to go before the opening ceremony, my opinion remains resolutely the same.

Yes, the run-down area that was east London appears to have been transformed.  I say "appears" because (a) I didn't know Stratford before and (b) I haven't actually seen what it is like now.  I am highly sceptical about the views shown on our television screens, wondering just how much care has been taken to position the cameras just exactly so.  Cynical?  You bet!

But even if Stratford has been gentrified, not everybody round there is over the moon.  There is the factory owner who has been told he will be unable to send out lorries during the games, effectively bringing his business to a standstill.  Transport across London generally is forecast to be in a diabolical state and employers have been urged to allow their staffs to work from home rather than commute into London.  That is all very well, but many jobs have to be office/factory/shop based and those employees just have to travel.

And we are told that there will be thousands upon untold thousands of foreign tourists trying to get into the country.  I say "trying" because there are huge problems in the UK Border Agency.  People have been queuing for 2 or 3 hours to reach immigration control at Heathrow airport - and that is in normal times!  The head of the Border Agency resigned just this week having been put in place last year to sort out just those problems.

When that original announcement was made in Singapore, we were told that the cost of staging the Olympics would fall largely on the residents of London.  I can't remember why that was: possibly because they were thought to be the ones to benefit most from the "legacy" of the arenas and accommodation to be contructed.  I didn't believe them then and it seems I was right.  In any case, why should any country pay such money on sideshows such as the opening ceremony?  It is said that the London ceremony will cost £41 million.  That right, forty-one million pounds!  That, in any case, strikes me as obscene - but why couldn't they just hire the massed bands of the Brigade of Guards for less than £41 thousand?

And there is more.  Yesterday the company contracted to provide security announced that it has been unable to recruit, let alone train, sufficient people to do the job.  Accordingly, another 3,500 troops are on stand-by, bringing the number of armed forces personnel involved to one tenth of the total forces.

Maybe I am just an old curmudgeon, but this mass hysteria we are seeing on out television each night around the Olympic Torch Relay is something I find deeply disturbing.  Have the authorities released clouds of laughing gas or similar to whip up such frenzies?

No, I think that after it is all over and we find out - if we ever do - just how much it has cost each and every one of us in this country both directly and indirectly (commercial sponsorship from banks bailed out by the taxpayer?) there will be tears all round.


Yesterday being Wednesday, it was the day for washing the bed linen.  We were drinking coffee when the machine came to the end of its cycle and the Old Bat and I discussed whether we should risk putting the washing on the line as it appeared a reasonable day.  However, showers were forecast and we decided to play safe and use the tumble drier.  Just ten minutes after I had started that machine there was a roll of thunder and the rain came lashing down.  It rained on and off until after I had walked to dog in the afternoon - and got myself thoroughly soaked.

This morning, though, the view from the bedroom window was proper summer.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Yesterday (reprise)

As planned, I collected my two passengers.  Neither is totally blind but I have never managed to work out just how much sight either has.  Derek (who is, I think, in his 70s) has rather more than Caroline, who is nearly 50 going on 5 and decidedly hard work.  Despite never having been there before and depsite having been given duff directions by the Tuesday Club transport officer (thanks, Jenny!) we arrived at the right spot in the castle grounds at about the right time.  My knees had been causing problems early in the day and I felt they were probably not up to walking the gardens and grounds (which I should have liked to do) so I left my two charges in the care of others.  I was soon pressed into other service as one of the fully-blind attendees felt unable to walk and I was asked to escort him into the ballroom where we were to be served a meal later.  A gentleman from the Castle offered to show us the way via the lift and I was to discover that he is the Big Banana.  He told me something of the more recent history of the Castle and how it came to be an international study centre owned by Queens University, Ontario.

The Castle dates from the 15th century and was built as a country home rather than a fortification.  It is one of the oldest significant brick buildings in England.  Almost derelict by the end of the 19th century, two 20th century owners carried out major restoration and renovation so that by the mid 30s it was again in good condition.  In 1946 it was bought by the Admiralty and it served for the next 40+ years as the Royal Observatory.  (The telescope housings are still in the grounds.)  Bought in 1989 by a development company which went bust, it was spotted by one Dr Alfred Bader.

Alfred Bader was born a Czech Jew and was sent to England in 1938, aged 14, to escape the Nazi persecution.  He was fostered somewhere in or near Herstmonceux but was rounded up with all other German, Austrian and Czech people and placed in internment.  In his case, it was in a camp in Canada.  He studied chemistry and wanted to go on to university but, I was told, universities operated a strict quota for Jews in post-war Canada.  Queens, however, offered young Bader a place.

Dr Bader went on to found Aldrich Chemical Co,l ater merged with Sigma, and he chaired the joint company, becoming a multi-millionaire.

Dr Bader, it is said, first offered to buy the Castle for his wife but she declared there were too many rooms to clean, so he approached Queens.  The university gratefully accepted the gift of the whole estate for use as an international study centre.

I did get a very few pictures, including this one.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

There's more...

(Which was the catchprase of an Irish comedian whose name escapes me.)

More trivia, I mean.  Today is the anniversary of the start of what Winston Churchill had forecast  - the Battle of Britain.  Good old Auntie has info on it here and here is Churchill's speech:

(Jimmy Cricket is the comedian's name.)


This evening I shall be visiting somewhere I have never been before - Herstmonceux Castle.  It is my turn on the Lions Club rota to provide transport for blind and partially-sighted people from Brighton to attend their monthly social club.  The activities arranged vary enormously; from ten-pin bowling to barbecues, from ghost story evenings to walks in the woods - or, as tonight, the Castle grounds.  Let's hope the weather is kind.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Today's trivia

No, it's not Bastille Day, nor Presidents' Day, nor Bonfire Night, nor St George's Day.  It's just plain old 9th July - or July 9th if you are an American or a British newspaper man.  For some unexplained reason, British newspapers follow the American way of writing the date with the day numeral after the month name.  Out of curiosity I looked up the historic events that have taken place on 9th July expecting to find the usual raft of birthdays or deathdays of not-known-to-me celebrities.  But I came across a rather interesting snippet.

Today is the 135th anniversary of the first ever Wimbledon tennis tournament.  It was in 1877 that the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club invited men to enter the championships.  22 men registered, each paying the entry fee of one guinea, but on the opening day, 9th July 1877, only 21 men turned up.  The champion was W Spencer Gore and his prize was 25 guineas.

Given that yesterday was the men's final day and the last day of Wimbledon 2012 all this trivia seems quite appropriate.  And by the way, I don't know what the entry fee is nowadays, but the winner of the singles receives a prize of £1.125 million or thereabouts!


 While the shenanigans were going on yesterday afternoon, Fern and I dodged the showers and walked across the fields by the Upper Lodge Wood.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Because they care

The latest issue of the Lion magazine for the British Isles and Ireland arrived the other day.  The following article is copied in full from that issue as this is something which I feel deserves much wider attention.   Further comment from me would be superfluous.

In 2011 the repatriation of military men and women who have lost their lives in conflict was transferred from RAF Lyneham where the processions were honoured by the people of Royal Wootton Bassett, to RAF Brize Norton.  The local Lions Club, Carterton, volunteered to help the County, District and Town Councils by providing manpower to help, and to keep a team of volunteers always ready to assist with car parking.

Their role has become much broader as they meet the friends and wider family members of the returning soldiers, giving help and advice, suggesting places to eat, where to get flowers, and keeping a constant supply of tissues to help dry tears…


It’s strange how we watch the news with different eyes these days. The Lions of Carterton are constantly alert for the dreaded news - another death in Afghanistan.

The process begins. There are 16 Carterton Lions available on the rota. When just one Repatriation is taking place we need eight. When the six soldiers came back, 14 of us were there. The rota is sorted and the timetable sent out. Usually the plane lands at 1.30 pm and the cortege passes the Memorial Garden at
around 3.30 pm.

It is 8.30 am: One of us is on site to check it is clear, put the initial signs out, and start reminding local people that there will be some disruption to their travel arrangements that day. The parking area we use is a well-known short cut around the town.  Most of them sympathise with the need for the road closure which we will put in place later to reduce traffic movement and ensure the safety of our visitors.

At 9.30 am Lion Mike fetches all the signs from the store and brings them up to the site – placing them carefully. Local people walking their dogs stop to ask us what time the cortege will arrive – and stop to chat and put the world to rights. The Team Leader receives the radio allowing us to communicate with the organising team. We make sure the portable loo has arrived – and put out the Lions’ free shoe cleaning facility. With so many of our visitors having military connections, clean shoes are a must.

Some people start arriving very early, especially if they have travelled a long distance. They may have come the night before; they like to get their bearings and then have time in nearby towns (Witney or Burford) before the Repatriation itself takes place. We are there to provide information and advice for them.

10.30 am: Lion Don or Lion Alan arrive; they understand how the cars will be parked that day. If it has been dry enough, then we can park on the grass – otherwise we need to use the road spaces which are more difficult to organise. They put up the marker posts to mark the lines for the first rows of car parking and
work out the order for the day.

11.30 am: Lion Jeff arrives as the first of our “greeting” team. These are the Lions who offer emotional and practical support to the visitors – and this is a vital part of our work. The initial thoughts of us all are with the close family – and a nucleus of them actually go to the Repatriation Centre on RAF Brize Norton where they are in the care of the Military.

But the Lions see the wider family - aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. They frequently arrive in convoys having driven long distances. Some weeks ago there were eight cars which arrived in convoy from Liverpool – each car containing four young people. For them this is a devastating time: they have lost their mate, the chap who played centre forward for their football team, the bloke who played the bass in their band or the one they sat next to at school. And for many of these young people, it is their first real brush with death.

They need our support. They are glad of a chance to stretch their legs and walk down to the Memorial Garden. Our “greeting” Lions are there to walk and talk with them on their way to the Garden – to provide a helping hand, a friendly smile, basic advice and even a packet of tissues. At the Garden they move into the care of the Royal British Legion Family Support team. We have also put together a leaflet showing a map of the area, where they can buy flowers, get some refreshments or take time out in a peaceful environment.

By 12.00 noon our team numbers six or seven and our own radios are distributed amongst them. This enables us to keep in touch with each other throughout the rest of the day across what is a widely spread site. We are pleased to see the arrival of one of our Lions with his Motorhome and a welcome brew, cup of soup, sandwiches and cakes. Lions need feeding!

1.00 pm: We are now almost up to full strength. There are at least three greeting Lions, four to guide the cars and park them safely as they begin to arrive more frequently. Local people are now slowed down and reminded clearly about the repatriation and the fact that the road will shortly be closed off.

The British Legion Bikers are arriving and taking up their places in their reserved area. Many of them come every time – from Devon, Norfolk, Yorkshire, Birmingham, and ‘Portsmouth Pete’ who has become a firm friend to us all.

1.30 pm: The plane lands. For many of us this is the most poignant moment in the day. But there is work to do. The short cut road is closed and we can now work safely guiding larger numbers into the main area.

2.30 pm. This is when the “rush” starts as local people begin to arrive. Many of them we know well and they know where we would like them to park and what the protocol for the day entails. There are always some very latecomers – which makes life very difficult as the later they are the further away they need to park.

3.30 pm. The message comes through on the main radio to say that the cortege is approaching. A distinct envelope of peace seems to come over the area and, even though we cannot see the cortege, we know it is there.

This is the time for us to be opening up the road block to ensure that everyone coming off the site has two choices for exit.

4.00 pm We are surrounded by people making their way back to their cars and their homes. Many stop to thank us for what we are doing – all say “hope we don’t see you again”. We know what they mean.

4.30 pm The signs have been gathered back together and Lion Mike takes them safely back to storage at the Pavilion.

As we go back to our own homes, we reflect on the change to the work we do from the initial “parking” task that we were allocated. Our remit is so much wider – providing emotional and practical support for the huge number of people, both young and old, who come to pay their respects or receive their loved ones back home. We all say how good it would be if there were no more repatriations. But if there are, then Carterton Lions will be there. We have never been more conscious of our motto - “We Serve”.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

St Catherines

One Tuesday morning in January 1953, two brothers, aged 10 and 8, were woken earlier than usual.  After breakfast, each with his suitcase, the boys were taken by their mother to the railway station where they caught the London train.  They crossed the city to a different railway terminus where they boarded another train bound for Portsmouth harbour.  A half-hour ferry ride took the trio to the Isle of Wight and another train, this one an old London Undrground train doing service on the Island railway.  Alighting at the other end of the line, at Ventnor, they made their way through the streets.  The gate was opened by a nun and, soon after, my mother started her 4-hour return journey in tears.  My brother and I were shown our bedroom, a small room with two beds which was to be "our" room until we had settled in enough to be moved into the main dormitory.

I have no recollection whatsoever of the journey and only vague memories of that small bedroom - but I do remember very well that my brother and I cried ourselves to sleep that night and for several nights.

Please don't run away with the idea that our mother had simply dumped us.  She must have felt pretty rotten herself.  This would be the first time since my birth that she was on her own in the home.  My father was serving in the Royal Navy and had left for Belfast only a few days earlier where he was to "stand by" a ship being built.  My mother, bless her, was acting on the best professional advice available to her when she consigned the care of my brother and me to the nuns of Ventnor.  Both of us boys suffered from asthma and our doctor was convinced that living in the Medway towns was a conributory factor.  Being on the River Medway, just about at its confluence with the Thames, he thought that foul airs and miasmas were collected in the basin fromed by the rivers.  The fresh air of Ventnor, where the breezes had travelled thousands of miles across an empty ocean, would be extremely beneficial and it just so happened that in the town was what was described by the nuns who ran it as an open-air school for deleicate childen.  I have no idea what payment arrangements were in force, nor do I know what was the long-term plan.  Indeed, I suspect that there was no long-term plan.

Children are surprisingly resilient animals and it really was not very long before my brother and I were transferred to St Joseph's House under the care of Sir and Nursie.  As with all children of that age, our days were taken up with lessons (in classrooms - not under the baobab tree).  That was all day for four days.  Wednesdays and Saturdays we had school only in the mornings.  We were sent to our beds for a rest after lunch every day and, after our rest, on our half days we were taken for walks on the Downs behind the town or - occasionally - to a secluded cove where we could scramble over the rocks and explore the contents of the pools.  One walk, into Coombe Bottom, took us past the remains of a crashed aircraft (it was still not so very long after the end of WW2) and another was through a tunnel on a disused railway.  Highly exciting.

Also very exciting was what took place before our rest on Wednesdays and either Saturdays or Sundays (neither my brother nor I can remember which).  That was when we allowed our sweet ration.  There were, I think, just three different sweets to choose from: boiled fruit sweets, chewy peppermints or Cadbury's flakes.  We were allowed two boiled sweets or peppermints (or one of each) or a Cadbury's flake.  Oh, the thought and deliberation that went into the twice-weekly selection.  On the one hand, the boiled sweets lasted the longest but were just a little bit boring.  The peppermints could be sucked but somehow always drove one to chew them.  But oh, the ecstacy as the chocolate of the flake dissolved on one's tongue.

I am reasonable certain that sweets came off the ration while my brother and I were on the island but if anything different happened on those two days, I have no memory of it.

While we were there, I sat the 11-plus exam and was awarded  a place at Gillingham County Grammar School for Boys.  My education was deemed more important that the fresh air of the Isle of Wight so we came home again in August that year ready for me to start my new school in September.


The Race for Life in aid of cncer research took place in Stanmer Park and woods last weekend.  This wee we have the Brighton Kite Festival - but at least that's not in the woods.

Friday, 6 July 2012

I've been contemplating

I mentioned how poor the vegetable crop is this year but I did not say that this even extends to the apple tree.  There are very few apples on it because, apparently, when the blossom needed the attention of the bees there was too much rain for them to fly and get the tree pollinated.

Part of the problem, as far as the garden is concerned, is that it is just too big.  All was reasonably well while the Old Bat was able to get out and weed the flower beds but now she is unable to do that the whole of the maintenance falls upon my shoulders.  And I am just becoming too decrepit to dig over the vegetable plot properly anyway.  Old age, I'm afraid.

So I thought, why not release half the vegetable plot - the left-hand half where the raspberry canes are and the gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes, retaining all those but sowing wild flower seeds on the rest.  I could let the grass grow on that bit without having to mow, just mow a narrow path so I can reach the gooseberries, blackcurrants and raspberries.  I could sow cowslips, bluebells, ox-eye daisies, cornflowers, poppies, foxgloves.  It would be a sort of mini-nature reserve.

Perhaps I'll float the idea past the Old Bat.


While we are in the area let's have a quick look at the Lanes.  I can't recognise just which Lane this is.  Possibly Meeting House Lane?  I should have made a note when I took the picture.  As you can see, the lane is about the same width as a supermarket aisle.  The fire brigade had to buy a special appliace in case they were called to a fire in one of the lanes.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Bomber Boys

London has a new memorial.  Last week the Queen unveiled a memorial in Green Park to the 53,500 men of Bomber Command who lost their lives during the Second World War.  Seventy years does seem rather a long time to wait to mark their sacrifice but there has long been a certain controversy about the rightness or otherwise of what was called area bombing as demonstrated at Hamburg and Dresden.

There was a very interesting programme on television the other evening expertly narrated by John Sergeant.  He kept out of view all the while and allowed a number of survivors from Bomber Command to tell their stories, stories which were edited in such a way that the whole developed and built up to a climax.

I have long been aware that, during World War II,  the Merchant Navy suffered greater casualties as a percentage of personnel than the navy, the army or the air force.  What I had not known was that Bomber Command lost even more.  Their losses ran at over 50%. 

The programme included archive film of flack seen from a bomber and it made me wonder just how much courage it must have taken to go through that time after time.  Then I heard that the bomber crews had to undertake 30 missions before being rested - but few managed to make more than 10 before being shot down.

At the end of the programme each of the survivors told how many missions he had flown.  34, 48, 60 - and one had completed as many as 84 missions.  My admiration of those men and the courage they displayed knows no bounds.


Not far from the Town Hall is this building.  But don't be fooled by the sign over the door:  this was apparently never used as a "house of correction" (prison).  Digital enhancement shows that the sign originally read "Antiques purchased" - not that that in itself would mean the building had not been a house of correction - but when it was built (or claimed to have been built) the Town Hall, with it's six cells in the police station, had just been built.  It is thought that this sign was intended to entice people into the shop when it was a boutique selling bikinis etc.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Should I or shouldn't I?

I suppose the first answer is I could - but I'm not going to.  I'm not going to talk (or write) about Independence Day except to note, in passing, that it is today our erstwhile colonial cousins celebrate and enjoy high jinks.

But my rhetorical question - for rhetorical it is - is about something entirely different.  It is actually Buck's fault that the question is being posed at all.  If he had not been boasting eulogising about his new Tart the thought might never have entered my head.  No, that's neither fair nor entirely true as I had been dreaming for a couple of months or more about changing my car.  There is, as far as I know, nothing wrong with the car I have now but having suffered a breakdown - a most expensive breakdown - on a French motorway earlier this year I do slightly wonder what will happen next.  My brain tells me that the other three injectors have now been replaced (under a recall notice) and that I should soon receive reimbursement of the cost of repairs following the breakdown; I have had the cambelt changed this year (also at enormous expense) so that should be good for best part of another three years;  there is probably another 4000 or 5000 miles on the tyres, although I anticipate having to replace them in the autumn; and there is only just under 50,000 miles on the clock.  That's what my brain tells me.

My heart tells me that I would very much like a new toy.  But just what should I buy?  The first part of the answer is easy enough: an estate car of the Passat/Mondeo size.  I have long hankered after a Volvo.  They are not at all as staid as many people's view of them and are - or used to be - very well made and one of the safest cars on the road.  But expensive.  So, I want an estate.  But have you noticed how so many estate cars these days have a sort of slope to the roof over the load compartment?  I suppose this is a design trick to improve fuel eonomy but I think it creates unusable space in the load compartment.  If I want to transport a chest of drawers, for example, I don't want that sloping roof.  That rather restricts my choice.  But I have actually already decided.  At least, my heart has.

An ad for a local dealership flashed onto my monitor and, like a fool, I followed it.  They sell (among a whole range of marques) both VW and Volvo  -  and they have a very nice looking Volvo V50 estate for sale.  It must be an ex-demo car as it has 3,000 miles on the clock, but hey, what's that?  Just one snag: it's a diesel.

Here in England diesel-engined cars cost more than their petrol-fuelled equivalent and diesel fuel is more expensive than regular petrol.  Granted, a diesel car provides better fuel economy, but one needs to drive (usually) a minimum of 15,000 miles a year, mostly on long runs, to really benefit.  My annual mileage has shrunk to about 10,000.  But I drive quite a lot in France on long, motorway runs and diesel is cheaper than petrol over there - and cheaper there than in England.  So I have done a little calculation (with thanks to a spreadsheet) and discovered that since I bought this car, 57% of my fuel has been bought in France.

But what the heck.  It's all just a dream, rather like a small boy pressing his nose against the window of a sweet shop where everything costs at least 3p - and he has just 2p in his pocket.


This is Brighton's Town Hall.Built (I think) in the 1830s, it is nowhere near large enough for today's bureaucracy and there are additional offices in nearby Priory House as well as in Hove Town Hall and King's House, Hove.  The Town Hall stands in Bartholomew Square, just back from the sea front and on the edge of the Lanes.  All four sides were originally the same as far as the slope of the site would allow with the police station being on the far side from the main entrance.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The end of the pier

And it's not just the pier, which we will get to shortly.  First, the really important bit of news.  While I was over in France at the beginning of last month I added another word to my very limited vocabulary: secheresse - only that first "e" should have an acute accent.  Secheresse is French for drought and I was explaining to our French neighbours that contrary to what they generally believed, it does not rain all the time in England and that, following two dry winters, the south-east half of the country was in drought.  Since then we have enjoyed endured the wettest June on record, the hosepipe ban has been lifted and the drought declared at an end.  Needless to say, I no longer want to use the hosepipe!

And so to the pier.  Well, not exactly as the pier is no longer in existence - a bit like Brighton's West Pier, I suppose.  The pier about which I talk was constructed about seven or eight years ago and was built to replace the coffee shop.  But perhaps I should start the explanation from the beginning.

Several eons ago, long before the advent of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, I stumbled across a forum that had been set up by a Californian husband and wife team (I think) specifically for members of Lions Clubs to discuss matters common to all clubs or to exchange ideas.  This attracted a following of Lions from the USA, the UK, Australia and other parts of the world.  But the intended serious side of the forum was not much in evidence as we soon started teasing one another about a wide variety of things such as the English liking of Bovril and Marmite.  Eventually the founders decided that things had got out of hand and announced their intention of pulling the plug.

The challenge (if challenge it was) was accepted by another Lion from Los Angeles and things went on in much the same vein.  Somewhere along the line we seemed to lose a few followers but we gained more.  Milt, for it was he who had set up the replacement forum, also became a little agitated about how much it was costing him to host the scheme which still saw almost no action on the serious side.  In the end, he, too, pulled the plug.

It was the Coffee Shop which was the replacement, established by Paul from Birmingham, England.  The number of followers dwindled to a dozen or so regulars and some long-lasting friendships have developed.  (These forums have achieved that if they achieved nothing else.)  Unfortunately, Paul also decided to act the prima donna and close the coffee shop, whereupon I set up a replacement Under the Pier.

Times change, new products are developed and Facebook came along.  The number of people dropping by Under the Pier fell away and yesterday I noticed that it was nearly a year since the last posting on the serious side and six months on the chatty side.  The time had obviously come to pull down the pier.  So it's gone.


Brighton's West Pier is nearly gone as well.  Storm lashed, ship crashed and set on fire.  There's very little left but still there is talk of rebuilding.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Bye bye, Brock

I'm not sure that the badger could really be described as one of our cuddliest wild animals.  Cute, perhaps, but not exactly cuddly.  Indeed, I believe it can actually be quite ferocious and those strong claws, ideally suited to digging through earth and stones, could do extensive damage to human flesh.  Nevertheless, Kenneth Grahame probably did the creature a lot of good in the eyes of townie children with his depiction of the animal in Wind in the Willows.  Mind you, the idea of a mole and a water vole teaming up with an animal about 100 times as big does take some swallowing now that I'm an adult.  I just took it for granted when I read the book as a child.

I've only seen a real live badger on two occasions - both in recent years and both in the town - although I have, of course, seen numerous carcases at the side of the road.

But whether the animal is seen as cuddly or ferocious, there are many farmers who see the badger as damaging to thier livelihoods.  You see, the badger can be a carrier of bovine TB. The government, in its collective wisdom and acting partly as a result of pressure from farmers, has instructed that badgers be culled from two areas to see if that reduces or even eliminates outbreaks of tuberculosis in cattle in those areas.

It may be that I'm just a soft-hearted townie but I can't help thinking that the elimination of badgers from any area as a result of deliberate extermination is wrong.  My brain tells me that if badgers are removed from any limited area, no matter how large or small, other badgers will simply move in from neighbouring areas and everything will be back to square one.  Surely the only foolproof way of dealing with this problem would be the complete elimination of badgers from these islands?  And just who do we think we are if we even contemplate such drastic action?

I have every sympathy with farmers trying to scratch a living from the land, especially dairy farmers who are paid (by supermarkets) less for their milk than it costs to produce it, but I cannot agree that a cull, even a limited cull, of badgers is the answer to this problem.  If, indeed, the badger is the problem in the first place.


I am certain that there are badgers in Stanmer Great Wood.  This year, for once, there are also foxgloves.  The seeds have been lying dormant for years until this area was cleared and coppiced and now the flowers are in bloom.