Sunday, 31 March 2013

Easter Day

I won't be at church this morning for all sorts of reasons with which I do not propose to bore you.  However, in the spirit of the day I offer this piece which I posted back in 2011:

People who know me know that I find it difficult to sit back and say nothing. I don't mean that I witter on with small talk: small talk I don't do. Land me at a party with a lot of people I don't know, or don't know particularly well, and I find it difficult to maintain a conversation. But if there is a discussion going on and I have an opinion, I'm in there with my big mouth. It lands in all sorts of odd - and sometimes awkward - situations. Like the time I ended up preaching a sermon.

I was then heavily involved in the church, certainly on the parochial church council and either as a sidesman or churchwarden. As in so many churches, there was a monthly church parade for the scouts, guides, cubs and brownies at one of the regular Sunday communion services. The vicar did have a tendency to spend rather longer in the pulpit than was comfortable for the younger ones and, me being me, I plucked up the courage to tell him so. It didn't, I pointed out, encourage the youngsters to attend church if they found it boring. I accepted his challenge to do better and so it was that a month or two later I found myself due to speak on Sunday morning. It wasn't until I arrived at church that I discovered not only was it a church parade, but there was also an infant baptism to take place during the service. Luckily, what I had in mind to say was easily adapted to cover a baptism.

I spoke about promises, reminding the youngsters that they had each made a promise when they were invested in their pack or troop, and saying that God would be making a promise to the baby who was to be baptised, a promise that He would always be there, a promise that He had made to each of them as well.

Then I told them about a ceremony that used to be held by North American Indians in the forests of what is now Canada. When a boy reached the age of 12 he was considered to have reached manhood but to prove it, he had to spend a night alone in the forest. One boy was led away from the village by his father deep into the forest, farther away from the village than he had ever been before. He was told that he had to spend the night in the clearing and make his way back to the village the following day. Knowing that there were wild animals such as bears in the forest, the boy hunted around for twigs to make a fire. He kept it burning all night as he sat there, watching the firelight reflected in the eyes of the wild beasts that had smelled man and came to investigate, but the fire kept them away from the boy. In the morning he made his way back to the village without mishap.

What the boy didn't know was that his father had been on the edge of the clearing all night, watching over him. The boy couldn't see his father, but that didn't mean he wasn't there. We can't see God, our Father, I told them, but that doesn't mean He isn't there watching over us, just as He has promised.


The pirate's grave in Brockley churchyard.  The story is that a sick, penitent pirate spent his last days in the village being cared for by the priest. The grave is the opposite way round to all the others.  The last line reads, "Turned to dust".

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Still on the farm

All being well we should be there by now.  I still have nothing with which to titivate your senses so I'll just post another picture.  The main thrust of the farm is breeding deer and selling venison.

Friday, 29 March 2013

On the farm

All being well we should be there by now.  I still have nothing with which to titivate your senses so I'll just post another picture.  Leave the farmyard, cross the lane, go over two fields and then a few yards along another lane and you come to the village church which has an imposing entrance to the churchyard.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

On the way

We're off to the cousins' farm for Easter and I have nothing with which to titivate your senses so I'll just post a picture taken on the farm in, oh, 2006.  These are a kind of Hebridean sheep, possibly a Soay cross.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The muse has departed for warmer climes

It didn't feel quite so cold this morning when I walked the dog, partly because the wind was lighter, and the thermometer in the car when I drove to the practice nurses confirmed that the temperature was indeed higher than yesterday.  It had actually reached 3 degrees against yesterday's 1.5!  But all the same, it is becoming somewhat tedious, especially as my arthritis is now a lot easier and I would dearly love to spend some time in the garden.  I'm not planning on growing - or perhaps I should say attempting to grow - so much in the way of vegetables but I do like to try for a few and the plot still hasn't been fully dug.  I really should have garlic and onions in by now.  Fat chance!

I'm still mulling over the virtual menu for the virtual dinner party but a bacon sarnie wouldn't go amiss right now.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The dinner guests

I was musing the other morning while I waited for the energy to get my back off the mattress - or was it the other evening as I was dropping off to sleep?  Not that it matters either way, really.  But the fact remains that I was musing, musing about how much pleasure there is to be found in conversation with a group of friends round the dinner table.  This led me to ponder on who I would like to invite from the world of the great and the good if I had the opportunity to host a dinner for people such as they.  I would want the conversation to flow well, perhaps covering serious matters at times, but also - and I consider this most important - in a light-hearted vein.

There are, no doubt, many people from the past who would be interesting to meet and with whom it might be fascinating to talk but I think those people would probably make fairly dull dinner companions given that their language and food preferences would be so much different from those of today.  So the guest list will have to consist entirely of people alive now.  And I refuse to bow to convention by ensuring that there are an equal number of ladies and gentlemen.  I will assume that the Old Bat will be at dinner with us and I will invite six guests to make up the table.

Given my general opinion of politicians, it might seem odd that my first two guests are from the world of politics.  Many people regard Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, as a buffoon.  Yes, there are plenty of times when he does come across as that, but I am convinced he is an extremely clever man.  He is also very knowledgeable and seems to have no pomposity.

The second politician, albeit now a retired politician, is Dame Ann Widdecombe.  She has always seemed to me to be a person not afraid to tell things as she sees them while being quite happy to have fun poked at her.  Indeed, she is not averse to making fun of herself.  What is more, I have rather enjoyed the novels she has written.

My guest list would also contain two people from the world of entertainment, both of them past presenters of radio shows.  Terry Wogan, or Sir Terry Wogan as he now is, presented a breakfast-time show on BBC Radio 2 for many years and has also hosted television shows such as the Eurovision Song Contest (until he got so fed up with it that even the fat fee the BBC offered was unable to induce him to continue) and the BBC's annual Children in Need television appeal.  An Irishman (not that I hold that against him) of charm and wit, he would be capable to keeping the conversation flowing.

As would my other one-time radio show presenter, Sarah Kennedy.  Her show ran from about 6.00am and I listened to her and laughed with her as I drove to the station.  Radio presenters have to be people never short of a word and, like Terry Wogan, Sarah would be able to keep the conversation flowing.

My fifth guest would be a man whom I have admired for many years.  He sometimes comes across as irascible but that, I believe, is simply because he cannot abide fools.  He expects a certain deference to be paid to him but will, I am sure, be happy to put ceremony aside.  The Duke of Edinburgh is the first person on this guest list whom I have had the honour of meeting and I would very much like to renew his acquaintance.

And so to my last guest.  So far all the names are well know, but not this one.  My cousin's brother-in-law is a retired professor   Anthony Ridge is one of those people who are most interesting to talk with, people who can converse on a wide range of topics and seem interested and knowledgeable on all of them.

So those are my six dinner guests.  But perhaps I had better have a seventh, just as a reserve.  I think I will opt for a fellow member of Brighton Lions Club.  An old-Etonian and a farmer, Robin Windus is another of those men like Anthony Ridge who have a wide range of interests and who can talk intelligibly about almost anything.

Now all I have to do is decide on the menu.


I will be meeting my cousin Hilary for lunch on Thursday.  Her mother (my favourite aunt) cut herself off from the family many years ago and Hilary was unaware of our existence and knew nothing about her grandparents until after her mother's death.  I have been looking out and copying old photos, like this one, which I have dated to about 1906.  My grandfather is the one-badge leading seaman on the right.

Monday, 25 March 2013


A wealthy old lady decides to go on a safari in Africa, taking her faithful aged poodle named Cuddles along for company.

One day the poodle starts chasing butterflies and before long, Cuddles discovers that he's lost. Wandering about, he notices a leopard heading rapidly in his direction with the intention of having lunch.

The old poodle thinks, "Oh, oh! I'm in deep doo-doo now!" Noticing some bones on the ground close by, he immediately settles down to chew on the bones with his back to the approaching cat. Just as the leopard is about to leap the old poodle exclaims loudly, "Boy, that was one delicious leopard! I wonder if there are any more around here?"'

Hearing this, the young leopard halts his attack in mid-strike, a look of terror comes over him and he slinks away into the trees. "Whew!", says the leopard, "That was close! That old poodle nearly had me!"

Meanwhile, a monkey who had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree, figures he can put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the leopard. So off he goes, but the old poodle sees him heading after the leopard with great speed, and figures that something must be up. The monkey soon catches up with the leopard, spills the beans and strikes a deal for himself with the leopard.

The young leopard is furious at being made a fool of and says, "Here, monkey, hop on my back and see what's going to happen to that conniving canine!"

Now, the old poodle sees the leopard coming with the monkey on his back and thinks, "What am I going to do now?", but instead of running, the dog sits down with his back to his attackers, pretending he hasn't seen them yet, and just when they get close enough to hear, the old poodle says: "Where's that damn monkey? I sent him off an hour ago to bring me another leopard!"

And the moral of this story?

Don't mess with old farts...  age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill!  Bullshit and brilliance only come with age and experience!


This day last year I posted this:

This glorious summer-like weather continues. Yesterday afternoon I walked across the Downs from Falmer towards Plumpton Plain and did without coat or sweater, just a short-sleeved polo shirt.


Also this time last year:

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Warm thoughts

Still bitterly cold this morning with a biting north wind.  Fern didn't seem overkeen on a second walk yesterday afternoon, having been very happily lying beside a warm radiator, but she agreed to come along just to keep me company.  I think the cold must have got into my computer this morning as it seems most reluctant to do anything at anything like its usual speed.  The piscures in the paper are pretty horrible: 12-foot snow drifts in the north, cars barely visible, and a gritter-cum-snow plough lying on its side.  By way of contrast, there is a picture of sunbathers taken at the same time last year!  Yesterday's paper even mentioned the possibility of rationing of gas being introduced as the country is running very low.  Today, though, we are told that a gas tanker ship ffrom Qatar is due to dock within a few days and that will relieve the situation.  Who would have thought that in 2013 the UK could be in the position of waiting for a ship to arrive to stave off rationing?

Let's get onto warmer things.  One of the regular dishes on the dessert menu at the village restaurant in France is moelleux au chocolat.  This is a chocolate sponge pudding the size of a cup cake and is served warm with crème anglaise (which the French think is like custard but it isn't really).  The centre of the pudding is almost runny.  I suppose both the Old Bat and I order this every second time we eat there.

Our local Italian restaurant here in Patcham also have it on their dessert menu - the only place I have seen it in England - but they call it chocolate soufflé and serve it with vanilla ice cream.  The Old Bat thinks she has - or had - a recipe but is unable to find it.  It doesn't help that she can't remember what the dish was called - it certainly wasn't chocolate soufflé.  Neither of us was entirely sure what
moelleux translates as, my guess being smooth.  Looking it up, I discovered that a very rough translation of moelleux au chocolat would be squidgy chocolate.  But that didn't help.  I have since discovered several recipes in all of which the dish is known by its French name.  Now I'm just waiting for Madam to make it.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Spring into summer

It seems scarcely credible that we lose an hour of sleep next weekend when we put the clocks forward and we move officially into British Summer Time.  Things should, by rights, be warming up by now but, instead, we are lucky if we see the temperature rise above 5 or 6 degrees at its peak during the day.  People are still going out wearing overcoats, scarves and woolly hats.  I suppose at least here in the south we are luckier than the folks north of London who are under several inches of snow - but they missed out when we had it a couple of weeks ago.  It was a week before that when we thought spring had arrived - for two days!  There was a hen blackbird in the garden busy picking up bits of moss and flying backwards and forwards to and from the hedge where she was presumably lining her nest.  Meanwhile, sparrows where picking pieces of our neighbour's pampas grass for the same reason.  But all nest-building has come to a halt and the sparrows and finches are busy squabbling over whose turn it is on the bird feeders.

Not only do the clocks go forward next weekend, but that will be Easter as well and, as has become the tradition, the Old Bat and I will be spending a long weekend in Somerset on my cousin's farm.  We've been doing this for more than 25 years now and it's interesting to see the changes that have taken place over that time.  For a start, we always used to reckon that at least one meal would be eaten in the garden.  That practice stopped some years ago as the weather just hasn't been kind enough.  This year, for the first time ever, I will probably take a hat and gloves to wear when walking the dogs!  There seems no chance that the house martins will be back checking their nests under the eaves.

But come rain, shine or snow, I forecast a most enjoyable weekend.


This was taken on the farm two years ago.  There's no chance of the trees being in leaf this year - but two years ago Easter was rather later.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Word association

I'm sure I have mentioned before that I am intrigued by the way chains of thoughts are linked together in people's minds.  It's a bit like word association.  For example, we can get from mountain to chocolate in just a few easy steps that cam be followed and understood by just about everybody: mountain - wind - storm - teacup - teapot - chocolate.  It was a similar process that led me from Carmargue to Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks.  But just for fun I'll explain backwards.

DCI Banks is the hero of a series of books written by Peter Robinson which are set in Yorkshire.  In the books, Mr Robinson almost waxes lyrical about the countryside, almost but not quite lyrical, but enough for me to picture the beautiful Yorkshire dales.  Like any other reader, I also formed in my mind a picture of what DCI Banks looked like and how he acted and reacted.  I enjoyed the books I had read and eagerly anticipated the television adaptations when I heard they were to be shown.

But what a let down.  The actor playing Banks looked nothing like I had imagined he should and either he or the director seemed to have formed a completely different impression of the man's character so that it wasn't the DCI Banks I thought I knew.  The same went for the female lead, DI Annie Cabot.   And the location manager must have been instructed to find the least attractive parts of Yorkshire as there was no sign of the gorgeous dales scenery - just pylons and mine spoil tips.  And most of it shot in murky light.

It's not only people that are pictured in the mind, or my mind anyway.  I do the same with places I have never visited or of which I have never seen pictures.  And sometimes that can result in disappointment (as with the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen) or surprise.  It was the latter I felt when the Old Bat and I visited the Carmargue village (as I expected) of Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer.  I had read of this southern French village which is hemmed in on the south by the Mediterranean Sea and on the north by the wild marshes of the Rhone delta.  In my imagination I saw a handful of low cottages huddled against the elements, built in a line either side of a somewhat decrepit church on a bank barely above the level of both sea and marsh.  In May each year gypsies would arrive for their pilgrimage and festival when the village would come to life.

In reality, I drove along a wide highway with a scattering of farms and houses until we came within a mile or two of Saintes-Marie.  Now there were riding establishments every few yards, each with a row of the famous white horses hitched to a rail.  Then came the hotels.  This was no village where the inhabitants eked out an existence based on fishing and basic agriculture.  We parked in the centre of the town, surrounded by shining white buildings and bright flowers.  The shops sold all the usual tourist tat and beach impedimenta such as buckets and spades and shrimping nets.  There were restaurants, cafes and bars.  It was Margate transported to the Med!

We found that the church roof was accessible to visitors and I left the Old Bat sitting in the sun for a few minutes while I paid my 50 cents or so and climbed the stairs.  I even managed to scamble up the gently sloping roof to sit astride the ridge but had a nasty few minutes when I tried to get back down and my vertigo kicked in.  (Yes, I should have known better.)  But I got a few pictures while I was up there.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Bored? If only I had the time!

I know full well that I really have nothing to complain about in at least one area of my life.  I seldom find the time to be bored - and that is what I'm moaning about today.  My life is, to put it simply, too full.  Before I retired I had a vision of a life that would be full, yes, but a life in which I would be able to find the time to do both the things I would like to do and the things which I ought to do.  Granted, there have been weeks - many of them - when life has trundled along much as I had anticipated.  But then come the weeks when it seems as though all hell has been let loose.  This week is a case in point.  There are so many things I want to do and, at the same time, there are so many things I ought to do (but don't necessarily want to do) and yet life has conspired to leave little time for either.  And most of the things that I have managed to cram into a packed week have been pleasant:  lunch with friends on Monday was great - both the company and the food; Tuesday was my turn to do the stroke club transport and in between dropping off the passengers and picking them up again I had to visit the practice nurses for blood to be taken for testing then there was a shopping trip in the afternoon; yesterday there were two Lions meetings in the evening, the first at the horribly early hour of 7.00pm which rather cramped the afternoon; this afternoon our old friends Chris and Mrs Chris are coming round and then the Old Bat and I are going out for dinner; tomorrow I might be called upon to drive the Old Bat for her hyperbaric oxygen treatment and we will be eating early again as my younger son and granddaughter will be eating with us.  Throw in walking the dog and the usual household chores and there is certainly no time this week to worry about what to do next.


I mentioned the Carmargue in yesterday's post.  Not only did we see the white horses, the black bulls and the flamingos on our visit, I also managed to take my best ever picture of sunflowers.  I have had a small section of this picture printed on canvas and it hangs on the kitchen wall.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Birthday blues

It's not my birthday today - that best-forgotten date is still two months away - but it is the Old Bat's - and I won't tell you how old she is except that I will confirm she is younger than me.  But then, so many people are.  Younger than me, that is.  (Sigh)  As I was saying, it's the OB's birthday today.  And I have two meetings to attend this evening.  I really have to be at the first, a meeting of the Lions Housing Society management committee, as I am treasurer and the annual accounts are to be considered by the assembled throng so that we can call the AGM for next month.  Oh yes, we do try to do things properly.  There should be no problem with the accounts for the year as they show income (mainly rents received) up to just a whisker short of £700,000 and a net surplus of £260,000 to put towards the next development.  Either that or possibly buying the freehold of a plot of land which we currently have on a long lease.  For two years we have been trying to get the council to agree to sell the land (on which we have two blocks of flats) and a council representative is to be at the meeting to give us the decision.  Finally!

After that, I have a business meeting of the Lions Club.  I missed the meeting last month as we were in France so I am not keen to miss this one.  And we are due to have the fireworks accounts presented.   That will almost certainly spark off a heated debate - not about the accounts, which show a healthy surplus, but about the arrangements we have with the Sussex County Cricket Club.

Anyway, I have promised to take her ladyship out for dinner tomorrow.  She was given the chance to choose the restaurant and I was not at all surprised when she opted for our local Italian.  I'm looking forward to it already!  I was really pulling my hair out over a present for her and have ended up being most unoriginal.  A potted orchid and a box of (milk) chocolates for her to spoil herself while I'm out this evening.


Glancing through some photos, I came across those I took a couple of years back when we on holiday in Provence.  We drove to the Carmargue one day, that marshy land in the delta of the River Rhone.  The Carmargue is, I believe, the only place in western Europe where one can see wild flamingos.  It is also known for black bulls and white horses.  And we were lucky enough to see all three.  It's a pity the horses refused to pose properly for me.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Saturday morning pictures

A very enjoyable evening over a bowl of pasta and a glass of wine with friends and, as one does when one gets to our age, we fell to reminiscing.  Jacquie mentioned that she used to be given a shilling and sent off to Saturday morning pictures and the memories came, if not quite flooding back, well, they were seeping slowly to the forefront of my mind.

Saturday morning pictures was an occasional treat for my brother and me.  It certainly didn't happen often enough for it to become habit-forming, but every now and then our mother would give us the money to go to the Palace cinema.  I have no idea how much was involved, whether it was sixpence each or a shilling, but it didn't run to an ice cream at the interval. We lived in Gillingham and the Palace was in Chatham, but the boundary between the towns ran along the middle of the A2, the main London to Dover road officially known as Watling Street but known to all our neighbours as "the top road".   We lived in a side street running off the top road, only about 200 yards away from the cinema.  Mind you, we had to cross the main road and I am surprised that we were allowed to do so without supervision.  I certainly have no recollection of ever crossing that road without my mother, at least until I was about 13 and far too grown up for Saturday morning pictures.

This was before the wide-scale introduction of colour films and all those we saw were in black and white.  The programme would include a comedy with Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy (who were my favourites) or similar, probably Roy Rogers and Trigger in another amazing adventure, and other films of a like kind.  There may well have been a serial and we would have missed several episodes, but that was of no matter as we were very quickly caught up in the ongoing action.

During the interval, the cinema organ would rise from below and the organist would play while the words of the songs were shown on the screen.  Thinking back 60+ years, I must admit to some wonder at the songs selected for us to sing.  There was a sprinkling of songs from World War I days such as Pack up Your Troubles and Keep the Home Fires Burning, and one of 9to me) indeterminate date - Nellie Dean.  And I still remember the words to that!

I have discovered this picture which shows the cinema as I remember it.  (Of course, it's not a cinema now.)  That's Chatham on the right, Gillingham to the left, exactly as it used to look as my mother walked us home from school along the top road.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Missed it!

Being English through and through (as I am) I completely overlooked the fact that yesterday was Paddy's Day.  And that despite the fact that I've kissed the Blarney Stone!  The Old Bat didn't mention it either, and she has Irish blood in her veins.  Mind you, I think she would prefer to forget that and think of herself as pure Sussex (not that she is).  Her mother's family goes back through the Sussex centuries as far as we can tell.  The maternal grandfather was something of a dark horse and nothing about him is certain, except that he liked to tweak the nose of authority.  For example, his daughter (my late ma-in-law) was born in Brighton - we have the documentary proof.  But when it came to completing the census in 1911, he filled in her place of birth as Philadelphia.  There is nothing to suggest quite why he chose Philadelphia.  Nor am I entirely certain that his place of birth was Norwich, as he stated.  Since he also used a fictitious surname just about everything is open to question.  Perhaps that why people from Sussex are described as "silly Sussex", although there is a theory that the word "silly" in this context is a corruption of the Saxon word "selig", meaning "holy".  But to get back to the Irish mix.

The OB's great-great grandfather was born in England to English parents but emigrated to Australia where he married a girl born in Ireland to Irish parents.  So the grandfather was 100% Australian by birth but 50% English and 50% Irish by blood.  He came to England and married a girl born in Liverpool to parents who were both born in Ireland.  So grandma was 100% English by birth (though as she was born in Liverpool she was really Scouse) and 100% Irish by blood.  The OB's father, therefore, born in Hackney, London, was 100% English by birth but 25% Australian and 75% Irish by blood.  That means the Old Bat is 3/8ths Irish by blood, 1/8th Australian by blood and 1/2 English.  But like I say, she prefers to think of herself as wholly English if not Sussex.


Nature's jewellery.
(I should have posted this last autumn but never did.)

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Et Les Oiseaux Chantaient

It was back in 1978 that I first heard this.  I and my family had been on a short break in Holland with my friend Chris and his family.  Both Chris and I had driven and we tried to stay together on the road.  As we drove back home across Belgium, Chris heard this on the radio and insisted that we stop and find a record shop.  Having heard it in the shop, I too bought the record, but goodness knows where it is now.

Just spend a couple of minutes or so relaxing as you listen.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

20:20 vision

I could think of better places to be this morning than in the park with the dog.  There was a stiff, cold wind blowing and occasional showers of rain swept across the grass almost horizontally, stinging where the drops hit my face.  But as my late father was fond of saying, you shouldn't have joined if you can't take a joke.  Some joke!  All the same, there were compensations.  I have had fresh air and exercise (with more to come this afternoon) and I cannot recall ever having seen the flowers of the yew tree before.  Tiny little globes of greenish yellow, less than an eighth of an inch in diameter.  However, that's not what I was going to blog about this morning.  Nor was I going to join the hordes of bloggers bemoaning the fact that Google are pulling their reader this summer.  Not that I won't miss it, ‘cos I will, but I'm not going to moan about it all the same.

Am I, I wonder, alone in seeing a certain irony in this picture?  I took it last week while in the centre of Brighton and walking to the hospital.  Those two traffic signs, when unmasked, will indicate a speed restriction of 20mph.  It would seem that the city council, of whatever hue as this "problem" goes back a few years, is determined to prevent motorists entering the city.  In order to achieve that aim they are introducing more and more restrictions.  We first noticed that the cost of parking in Brighton was extremely high compared with other towns.  Indeed, the Old Bat reckoned it was cheaper for her to drive nearly 25 miles to Crawley to do her shopping than to drive just a couple or three miles into Brighton.  We also noticed that it was cheaper to park in Cannes or Monte Carlo than in Brighton!  Perhaps the peak was reached last summer when the cost of parking for the day on the sea front was increased to £20.  And that had to be fed into a meter in coins of no greater value than £1! 

Parking controls - prepaid meters and residents parking permits (for which one must pay in order to be permitted to park outside one's house) - have gradually been extended further and further through the city, possibly as a means of increasing the council's income.

Then came the installation of cycle lanes.  I have no deep-rooted objection to cycle lanes.  Indeed, I think there existence can be a boon to both cyclists and motorists.  We have had some in Brighton for years, usually along the inside of the carriageway and abut 3 or 4 feet wide, ie wide enough for a cyclist to avoid being hit by a passing motor vehicle.  But has that been enough for our council?  Oh, no.  They have spent many thousands of pounds ripping up some of the main cross-city routes to install wider cycle lanes with kerbs separating them from the traffic.  This has resulted in narrower carriageways and horrendous traffic jams with all the increased frustration and pollution that they bring with them. 

Speed limits of 20mph have been introduced on many roads in the city, usually stretches that run past the entrances to school.  (There is one, however, that runs past one school entrance and continues in force for another half a mile, only to be lifted as the road reaches another school!)  Now, however, the council plans to restrict speeds across most of the centre of the city to 20mph and has spent thousands of pounds erecting signs like these and painting the speed limit on the roads.  Of course, without spending millions more on speed cameras, that limit will be completely unenforceable.  And what will it achieve?   Frankly, I doubt very much if it will make the roads safer, which is what the council is claiming.  There are very few accidents on these roads anyway, and most of those are unrelated to speed.  I think it's just another stick with which to beat the motorist.

And the irony in that picture?  It was back in the 19th century that the 4mph speed limit was removed and motorists celebrated the derestriction with a drive from London to Brighton.

Like I said earlier, you shouldn't have joined if you can't take a joke.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Now there's this

I have been treasurer of Brighton Lions Housing Society for several years but I have to confess that, like my predecessor, my approach to my so-called duties has been rather casual.  This is mainly because the treasurer's role in this instance is almost the name alone as the Society employs staff to do the office work.  All the chairman and I really do is sign the cheques and make, with the management committee, strategic decisions.  We have never bothered overmuch about budgeting and such like actions because there always seems to be sufficient money in the bank to do what is necessary.  Indeed, more than enough.  We have built up a property portfolio which is reckoned to be worth over £8 million and currently have £800,000 cash at the bank.  Granted, there is over £700,000 owing on the bank loan and the Lions Charity Trust Fund is owed another £500,000 - all of which shows that we are not talking peanuts here.

The Society's auditors try each year to get us to adopt a slightly more business-like approach and at the annual accounts review meeting with them this week, they indicated that they would like to see proper budgets produced so that the management accounts (supposedly) prepared for the (supposedly quarterly) management committee meetings are rather more meaningful.

Given that our General Manager is about to retire and her successor has never in her life produced budgets like this, it seems it will fall to muggins to do the job.

Oh well, at least there's no panic.  We won't see the auditors for another year.


The snow has just about disappeared now but the heavy frost has all but done for the daffodils in the garden.  Those in Withdean Park look somewhat happier.

Thursday, 14 March 2013


There was a referendum held in the Falkland Islands a few days ago.  It was a question that required a simple "yes" or "no" answer: "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?".  The reason for holding the referendum was to demonstrate to the government of Argentina (and anyone else who might be at all interested, such as the United Nations) that there is no question but that the residents of those far-flung islands wish to retain the status quo and that the islands should stay British.  Had the answer been "no", a second referendum on possible alternatives would have been held.  That will not be necessary.  Out of a total of 1,518 votes cast (91% turnout), there were 2 spoiled papers, 3, "no" votes and 1,513 "yes" votes, that being 99.8% of the votes cast.  A pretty decisive majority.

I well remember the feeling in this country 30 or so years ago when Argentine forces invaded the Falklands.  There were large crowds at Portsmouth to see the task force set sail.  The Old Bat even considered keeping the children away from school that day and taking them to watch as this was likely to be the one and only time in their lives that such a sight could be seen.  During the fighting, people were desperately anxious for news and there was tremendous support for the campaign.

I would suspect that public opinion in the UK is now less in favour of the Falklands remaining an Overseas Territory, basically on the grounds of cost.  We keep a few planes and troops stationed there at quite considerable expense and there are bound to be those who feel that the islands have no value to us, so why should we pay out to keep them?  On the other hand, if Argentina were to try another invasion, public opinion would probably swing back in support of the islanders.  Mind you, with all the cuts our defence budget has suffered over the last two or three years, I doubt we could do very much to right the situation anyway.

I do hope there's no witch hunt to find out who voted "no".


There was just about enough snow left for this youngster to enjoy it.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Happy thinking

Given my getting-to-be-highly-advanced age, people might expect me to be turning cantankerous.  I've got news for you if you are one of that band: I don't need to turn, I've always been cantankerous.  But not necessarily all the time.  Just occasionally I manage to be pleasant and think happy thoughts, so here are just five of the things that make me smile or give me pleasure - and I am quite deliberately omitting any reference to family.
  1. The view across the valley when I open the bedroom curtains on a sunny morning.
  2. Catching a whiff of the scent of the daphne sitting in a jug on the kitchen table.
  3. The song of a skylark as I walk on the South Downs on a summer afternoon.
  4. Eating a bowl of rigatoni amatriciana at our local Italian restaurant.
  5. Lying snug under the duvet while the rain lashes down and the wind blows a hooley. 

The view from the bedroom yesterday afternoon.  Blue sky with snow is not that common in these parts.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Rejoice with me - but spare a thought

So I had found my joints becoming increasingly stiff and my mobility more and more impaired by the return of the dreaded arthritis as I mentioned a few days back.  I managed to make an emergency appointment with a rheumatologist at our local hospital and he prescribed a new drug, sulfasalazine, and a course of steroids.  Sulfasalazine, much like the methotrexate I took until it started doing nasty things to my liver, can only be taken if a blood test proves satisfactory, and further tests have to be taken fortnightly.  The first test having proved OK, I started on sulfasalazine and the steroid on Friday evening.  Even on Saturday morning I could see and feel the difference.  For a start, I was no longer walking like an emperor penguin!  Two days farther down the line and things are still getting better.

I would love to share my pleasure at this improvement with the Old Bat but am very reluctant to say anything remotely like, "Look how much better I am" for fear of rubbing her nose in the fact that she has no chance of gaining more mobility.  What she can look forward to is a steady decline in mobility.  But that fact alone means it is so important that I retain my abilities, such as they are, for as long as I can.  Things are beginning to slide a bit, especially in the garden.  The Old Bat can do nothing out there now and she always enjoyed pottering around weeding, trimming and generally keeping the garden in good shape.  My contributions were restricted to mowing the grass, trimming the hedge, and the vegetable garden - but there is no way I can control the entire plot.  I have not yet told the Old Bat my plans, which involve allowing some of the borders to grass over to save on the weeding.

Now, this next bit might strike you as a wallow in self-pity.  But believe me, it's not that.  It is a simple statement of fact - and, perhaps, a plea for any who read this blog to bear in mind that a condition which afflicts one person can have an almost equally devastating effect on that person's partner.  Let me give you an example.  Near our holiday home in France are several delightful way-marked walks along green lanes and footpaths and we had sampled some of these.  There are still a good many which we have never tried since the Old Bat started finding walking difficult.  Now neither of us ever will.

And then a few years ago we were in the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa.  There were few people about and a very short queue to ascend the Leaning Tower.  "You go up," said the OB.  "I'll wait here."  But how could I leave her standing there for half an hour, waiting while I enjoyed myself?

Now where was I?  I was interrupted and lost my thread.  Oh yes...

Please , as I said earlier, don't think this is me wallowing in self-pity.  I only used those examples because I know about them.  My point is simply this.  When you see a person being pushed along in a wheelchair or a blind person leaning on the arm of a sighted guide, by all means give them your sympathy: they almost certainly won't want your pity.  But please spare a thought for the person behind the wheelchair and the sighted guide.  The chances are that their lives have been drastically altered as well.


Spring?  Huh!  We're snowed in again.  Actually, the drive - for once - is clear, having been scoured by the wind but there is a covering of a couple of inches with drifts up to 12 or 15 inches.  After her experience of ice-balls under her paws yesterday, I fully expected that Fern, the springer spaniel, would decline the offer of a walk but, no, she was up for it and thoroughly enjoyed romping in the snow-covered park.  Being out and about allowed me to check the state of the roads.  We (or I) need to go shopping and while I can get the car up the drive I'm not sure about getting back up the hill again.  I've just checked the bus company's web site and they have no buses on the road.  Methinks another long walk will be called for.


Many of the houses in Brighton, possibly even most of them, have wheelie bins for household refuse but in some areas of the city they would be impractical.  In those areas communal bins such as this as placed at strategic points.  I suppose they must be about 5' from side to side, 4' deep and about 4' 6" high.  There was one occasion when a man out of his mind on either drink or drugs climbed into one to sleep and was subsequently killed somehow - I don't remember the grisly details.  That is why the council has plastered them with warning signs - but what person out of their mind will pay any attention to them?

Monday, 11 March 2013

So this is spring?

I've tried sending thoughts across the airwaves to Nina to let her know that we really wouldn't have minded if she had been wrong!  She presented the weather forecast again last night and told us that we would have snow, that the temperature today would probably not get above zero and that it would in any case feel like minus 5 or minus 6 on account of the wind chill resulting from the stiff north-easterly.  And this was the view from the bedroom this morning.

Fern, the springer spaniel, wanted her usual morning walk but didn't really enjoy it.  The trouble for her is that she has fur growing between her pads and the snow accumulates in and on that fur where it is compressed to form ice balls, thus making walking painful.

Looking into the park as the snow continued to fall:


I was sorry to learn last week of the death of one of Britain's greatest jazz trumpeters, Kenny Ball.  Mind you, he was 82.  One of the best known of his numbers was Midnight in Moscow but I always thought Sukiyaki better. Here it is.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Right or wrong?

My very good friend Skip enjoys his little teases (as, indeed, do I) such as when he recently made a comment saying how "the English don't know on which side of the road to drive".  (And it's worth following that link - not for Skip's profound thoughts (of which there are none) - but for his link to a video of the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain.)  Although I told him that driving on the right was made compulsory by Napoleon, I thought I should check my facts.  A few minutes research resulted in finding a web site from which I quote:
In the past, almost everybody travelled on the left side of the road because that was the most sensible option for feudal, violent societies. Since most people are right-handed, swordsmen preferred to keep to the left in order to have their right arm nearer to an opponent and their scabbard further from him. Moreover, it reduced the chance of the scabbard (worn on the left) hitting other people.
Furthermore, a right-handed person finds it easier to mount a horse from the left side of the horse, and it would be very difficult to do otherwise if wearing a sword (which would be worn on the left). It is safer to mount and dismount towards the side of the road, rather than in the middle of traffic, so if one mounts on the left, then the horse should be ridden on the left side of the road.
In the late 1700s, however, teamsters in France and the United States began hauling farm products in big wagons pulled by several pairs of horses. These wagons had no driver's seat; instead the driver sat on the left rear horse, so he could keep his right arm free to lash the team. Since he was sitting on the left, he naturally wanted everybody to pass on the left so he could look down and make sure he kept clear of the oncoming wagon’s wheels. Therefore he kept to the right side of the road.
In addition, the French Revolution of 1789 gave a huge impetus to right-hand travel in Europe. The fact is, before the Revolution, the aristocracy travelled on the left of the road, forcing the peasantry over to the right, but after the storming of the Bastille and the subsequent events, aristocrats preferred to keep a low profile and joined the peasants on the right. An official keep-right rule was introduced in Paris in 1794, more or less parallel to Denmark, where driving on the right had been made compulsory in 1793.
Later, Napoleon's conquests spread the new rightism to the Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Russia and many parts of Spain and Italy. The states that had resisted Napoleon kept left – Britain, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Portugal. This European division, between the left- and right-hand nations would remain fixed for more than 100 years, until after the First World War.
There is a lot more to be found at the site here. I knew that business about swords and scabbards but whoever wrote that piece did it much better than I would have done.  Besides, why re-invent the wheel?  So there's your trivia for today, Mothering Sunday.

Which leads me into more trivia.  In England, Mothering Sunday (not Mothers' Day - that's American) is traditionally the 4th Sunday in Lent.  Mothering Sunday was a day when children, mainly daughters, who had gone to work as domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother and family.  Another name for Mothering Sunday was Refreshment Sunday because delicacies given up for the rest of Lent, could be enjoyed, though why that should be is something I have yet to discover.

Now you can't say you don't get information from this blog, even if most of it is absolutely useless in the 21st century.


I used to like Nina, my cousin's daughter-in-law.  Nina is one of the BBC weather girls and it was the forecast she gace last night that has turned me against her.  (Only joking, of course.  She's a delightful lass really.)  She forecast brisk north-easterly winds and snow during the week ahead.  Snow?  In mid-March?  Oh, spring can be so fickle.


Mothering Sunday, and the daffodils should be out in all their glory.  It just ain't so this year, and although the earlier varieties have been in bloom for two or three weeks in this part of the country, the mainstream varieties are still to show.  In Withdean Park, the snowdrops seem to have been fully in bloom only for a few days but they look to be going over already.

Must get on: daughter is driving down from Sutton Coldfield to join younger son and others in taking the Old Bat and I out for lunch as it's Mothering Sunday.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

This and that

It seemed positively spring-like at the start of the week with Monday and Tuesday being gloriously sunny days.  Wednesday was overcast and Thursday slightly rainy.  Yesterday, however, was completely soggy, so much so that I decided the morning walk with the dog was quite enough for one day.  The poor dog didn't seem too happy about going without her second walk but she got over it.

I do have to wonder about the weather reports in the daily rag.  They give the highest and lowest temperatures for various towns around the country together with the amount of rain and a one or two word description of the weather during the 24 hours up to 6.00pm the previous day.  Thursday's paper reported that Brighton had enjoyed an hour and a half of sun on Wednesday.  Finny, I didn't notice it, nor did any of the Lions at our dinner meeting that evening.  It's not the first time that the reports have differed from my recollections, indeed, it happens quite often.  Makes me wonder where they take the readings.

Yesterday morning - or most of it - was spent at the hospital.  My joints have been swelling, especially my hands, and I have been getting increasingly stiff so I followed my consultant's advise and tried for an earlier appointment than the one already fixed.  That was Tuesday and the same afternoon I was offered a slot yesterday morning.  The downside was that it was at the main Royal Sussex County Hospital.  There is nearly always a long wait for a space in the car park, which costs exhorbitantly, and the on-street parking around the hospital is pay and display.  One never knows just how long one will be and as the Old Bat was otherwise engaged (her regular Friday hyperbaric oxygen treatment) I caught the bus.  Actually, I quite like doing that occasionally as it gives me an opportunity to people-watch.  But I allowed far too much time so even though I walked the last mile, I was still half an hour early for my appointment.  And the doctor was an hour behind.  He sent me for a blood test - for which there was no waiting! - and then I had to go to the pharmacy to pick up some new medication.  That involved a wait of nearly half an hour.  Time was getting on so I went mad and took a taxi to get home - the cost of which caused me to wince.  The doctor rang in the afternoon to confirm that all was OK with the blood test and I can start the new wonder drug.

I referred to the Old Bat up the page a bit and that reminded me of the variety of soubriquets we bloggers employ for our husbands/wives/partners/ whatevers.  As well as the Old bat, sometimes known as She Who Must Be Obeyed, I have referred to the dear lady as Mrs S.  Then we have Grandma Skip, albeit usually now abbreviated to GS, and there is MY WIFE.  I have come across The Man, DH, Mrs Chatterbox (or just Mrs C), Him Outdoors (a nod there to Arthur Daley) - all, presumably, in an effort to prevent unscrupulous folks gaining too much personal information which they then proceed to use maliciously.

As I said, Thursday was gloomy, but I still took a walk up the Waterhall valley and even took a photo showing that the dew pond is fuller than I can recall ever before seeing it.  It was a bit murky up the valley.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Pet peeves

I really have no idea what prompted me to think about my top five pet peeves, let alone blog about them.  But I suppose it might do me some good to get this off my chest, even if as far as you, dear reader, are concerned it's all a complete waste of time.  Of course, you always have the ultimate sanction: the "next blog" button at the top of this page!  But to get to my peeves.  They are in no particular order of peevishness and tomorrow my selection might be entirely different, but these are they for today.
  1. Cold callers who open the conversation with, "Hi, Brian.  How are you today?"  There are actually three peeves here but I'll lump them all in together and call the score just one.  First, cold calls.  (As I typed those words a cold call came in!  Grr!)  Second, I dislike being called by my Christian name by somebody who is probably young enough to be my son - and almost young enough to be my grandson - and who is a person to whom I have never spoken let alone met face to face.  And then there is that false bonhomie in asking how I am today, just as if we were talking yesterday and I didn't feel too well.
  2. I frequently drive along a road where there are three right turns into shopping areas, each with a right-turn lane in the centre of the road.  As I drive past the shopping areas to get to Stanmer woods to walk the dog, nearly every driver in front of me wants to turn right.  But why do they have to leave it to the last minute to move into the centre lane?  And when they do move over, why do they have to straddle both the straight-ahead lane and the centre lane so that following traffic can't get past?
  3. People who keep me waiting for an appointment or who arrive late.  There are exceptions here as I am fully aware that my GP, for example, spends as much time as needed with each patient and this can - and usually does - mean he runs late.  But when I was working it annoyed me intensely if somebody made an appointment to come and see me and was then five or even ten minutes late turning up.  On at least one occasion I had them sent away again on the pretext that they were so late I was in another meeting.
  4. The misuse of the English language by people who should know better.  What gets my goat in particular is the use of the word "less" when the correct word is "fewer" and "Feb-you-ree" instread of "FebRuary".
  5. For years and years they have been railway stations.  Why, oh why do they suddenly have to be train stations?
Thanks - I feel better now.

Oh - and cyclists who will insist on using the carriageway instead of the dedicated cycle lane!  Which makes six instead of five - but you'll get over it.


A family enjoying the sun in Stanmer Park earlier this week.  There is a dog in there somewhere.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

I wonder why?

I sometimes take to a form of navel gazing and wonder why I - or anyone else for that matter - try to write something fresh every day to publish on a blog that hardly anybody ever reads.  Is it that I (or we) consider that we have some important point to try to get across, some point that will enrich the lives of millions of people across the world if only we could get a few more people interested?  Is it because our egos are so enormous that we think any vapid thoughts of ours are worth recording for posterity?  Are we perhaps hopeful that somebody somewhere in a position of authority will say, "I like your style of writing.  My company will offer you a ginormous amount of money to publish what you write"?

As far as I am concerned, the answers to those questions are, "No, no, no".  Which still begs the question, "Why?"  I suppose the real answer is, "I haven't the faintest idea".  But I still do it.


There's something about the tracery of bare branches against the sky that I find attractive.  And each variety of tree looks different.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The little luxuries of life

If my great-grandparents - or, come to that, even my grandparents - could see some of the things we now take for granted they would be absolutely amazed at the level of luxury in our lives.  Come to that, so would many people alive today and living in what we once called "the third world".  And I'm not talking about the big things like jet aircraft or refridgerators (yes, I can recall when fridges were luxury goods).  I'm thinking of the little things like central locking in cars and remote controls for televisions.

I think my favourite luxury-producing device (for that's what they really are) is the snooze button.  Oh, how wonderful it is to be able to reach out and press that little button knowing that I will be allowed a few more minutes of blissful nothingness.

(A parenthetical aside:  my radio alarm in England allows me an extra nine minutes.  Why nine?  What's wrong with a nice, round ten minutes?  And the one in France - a different make - allows just seven minutes, which is just as odd as nine.)

My enjoyment of those few extra minutes under the duvet stems from the last few years of my working life.  In those days I had to be ready to leave the house at 6.00am so that I had time to scrape the ice off the windscreen if necessary before driving about ten miles to catch a train.  Not being one of those people who can be up, washed, dressed and out of the house in 20 minutes, I set the alarm for 5.00am.  That was the alarm on the bedside cabinet.  But I was always wary of my proclivity to switch off the alarm in my sleep, so a second alarm - a wind-up clock with those two bells on the top - stood on the chest of drawers on the other side of the room.  That alarm was set for 5.15 so that if by chance I should switch off the first one in my sleep...  But I quickly discovered that the 5.15 alarm allowed me ample time to go through my first-thing-in-the-morning routine before I needed to leave so it became a matter of habit to switch off the first alarm and turn over.  Now I'm retired I just press the snooze button - maybe once, maybe twice, but probably three times.


The last two days, especially yesterday, have been sunny and positively spring-like.  Today is more overcast and we are promised (?) rain.  The sun has brought out the thousands of crocuses we have in the garden.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Procrastination rules, OK?

Long, long ago  - back in December 2009 - I posted this picture explaining how I had decided to replace the ribbons and remount the medals earned by my grandfather in World War I and my father in World War II.  Both of them served in the Royal Navy and I am proud to have their medals and service documents.  My grandfather was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal and he also earned the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal.  My father's medals are the 1939-45 Star, the Atlantic Star, the Africa Star, the Pacific Star and the Victory Medal as well as the LS&GC Medal.  I did order new ribbons and the bars on which to mount the medals and eventually managed to remount my grandfather's medals.  My father's, however, remain devoid of their ribbons and unmounted.  Which is, in a way, a blessing.  You see, the Government has finally relented to pressure and decided to award a new medal to those who took part in the Arctic convoys delivering war materials to Russia all those years ago.

I might well have missed the announcement that applications for the medal should be submitted as we were in France at the time it was promulgated.  However, I spoke to my brother at the weekend and he told me about it.  It is down to me to apply as I am the official next of kin and I have the service certificate showing that my father served on HMS Sheffield when she was deployed in the Arctic.  I thought I might have quite a job locating the application form.  That, in fact, proved simple.  Trickier was making sure of the Sheffield's movements during the time my father was aboard.  But the application form has been completed and submitted with copies of Dad's service record.  Now I just have to wait and, eventually, see about those new ribbons for the other medals.

Now the Old Bat wants me to take her to the butcher's.  Seems we are getting low on meat.

I've just noticed today's quote from Ellen DeGeneres
"Procrastination isn't the problem, it's the solution. So procrastinate now, don't put it off."

Monday, 4 March 2013

Does this make me a failure?

The author of a blog I came across some weeks back posted the following and it has been flitting through my mind ever since I read it:
It's so easy to put ourselves down, to think only of our failures and to forget our successes.
So here's a request for those of you who stop by to read this blog, and you can comment anonymously is you wish:

"Please tell me three things that you do well"
As I said, those words have  been flitting in and out of my mind since I read them.  I have yet to comply with the author's request.  You see, I'm not so sure that I can claim to do anything particularly well.  I suppose I would call myself an above average driver.  So would most men, but at least I can back up my assertion by pointing to the fact that I have passed the test to become a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists.  But, quite honestly, I can think of nothing else which I can claim to do well or at which I am successful.

There was one occasion, years and years back, when I was a member of a winning darts team, but any skill I had managed to develop in that particular sport has long since deserted me so that doesn't count.

One thing at which I do consider myself successful is map reading.

I suppose one could claim that as an Englishman I have an innate sense of modesty.  It was, after all, always considered the done thing not to brag or boast about one's achievements and to claim to be only moderately successful in anything.  Or to have enjoyed a huge slice of luck if winning at anything.  So perhaps that's the third I'm good at: being self-effacing and modest.

Or perhaps it is enough that I can do lots of things reasonably well.  So perhaps I'm not a failure after all.


I am so thankful that I am able to walk on the South Downs when we have days like this one was.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Among My Souvenirs

I didn'y start out with the intention of writing about Connie Francis or any of the other singers who are associated with the song of that title so I shall say no more about it.

There can be very few of us who have not, at some time or another, come back home from holiday with a souvenir of some sort.  I have returned from Switzerland with a cuckoo clock, from America with a CD of screen savers of views of Shenandoah National Park, from Spain with an orange sombrero, from Detroit with a CD bought at the Ford Museum entitled Music Box by Candlelight as performed by the Porter twin disc music box, and from France with a CD of accordian music.  I rather fancied a cuckoo clock and it did hang in my office for a while but I cannot for the life of me remember why I thought it such a good idea to buy the screen savers, the sombrero or the music box CD.  I do know why I bought the accordian music.

It was when Chris and Mrs Chris were spending a blistering hot week with the Old Bat and me in our French home.  The Old Bat and Mrs Chris had taken themselves off to explore the clothing stalls in the market in Chateaubriant (of which there are many) and Chis and I had retreated to our favourite café/bar where we sat in the sun on the terrasse to enjoy a welcome few minutes of doing nothing in particular.  One of the nearby stalls sold DVDs and CDs - every market of any size has one of these stalls - and to attract business the stallholder played one of the CDs.  In this case, as in so many, it was accordian music.  I've never seen anybody buy anything from one of these stalls.  Looking through the titles on offer, yes; but buying anything, never.  Except for that day.  I think Chris and I must have had a touch of sunstroke because we both bought a CD.  We bought different ones and (whisper it quietly) copied both of them so we each had two CDs.  I don't know about Chris, but my two CDs haven't seen the light of day for yonks.

On the other hand, the CD by the Kish Celtic Band that was given to me by the lead player in Detroit has been played many a time. This is one of my favourite tracks.


The weather during our recent sojourn in the western Loire was mainly grey and cold with several frosty mornings and a couple of light dustings of snow.  However, there was one afternoon when the sun shone and, as I wanted to check if Mr Bricolage was still open in Segré, we took ourselves off for a drive.  It was that afternoon that we passed through the village of Armaillé and I took this photograph.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The I Spy Tribe

Back in the early 1950s I was a Redskin in the I Spy Tribe.  Quite how I heard about this club I have no idea.  It was run by the News Chronicle newspaper but my parents were Daily Mirror readers.  Be that as it may, somehow or other they were persuaded to change their allegiance and move up market so that I could read the daily I Spy column.

Presumably we had to pay to join this not very exclusive club.  In return for said payment the members, who were known as Redskins - no such thing as political correctness in those days! - received a code book and (presumably) a badge.  The daily newspaper column included a coded message and we would have to look up the appropriate code to find out what important details were contained in the message.  But the newspaper column was only part of it.

The paper also published a set of books such as I Spy in the Country, I Spy in the Street, I Spy at the Zoo and so on.  Each book - they were small enough to fit in the pocket of a jacket and cost 6d (that's six old pence) - contained line drawings of various objects such as a telephone box, a policeman on point duty (both these being from I Spy in the Street) and so on.  The Redskin would note when and where s/he saw each item.  Points were awarded depending on the rarity of the item or the difficulty involved in seeing it and when a specified number of points had been accumulated, the book could be sent in the Big Chief I Spy.  He would then return the book together with a large, coloured feather, the feathers being coloured according to the book sent in.  I have a very clear memory of receiving a bright pink feather to put into my headband.

One book I remember very fondly: I Spy the Sights of London.  My mother took my brother and I to London for the day so we could  basically do an I Spy trail.  There was the Peter Pan statue in Hyde Park, the imperial measurements in Trafalgar Square (I wonder if they are still there?) and other interesting tourist sights.  But the one that lives in my memory was the lamp lighter we spotted in one of the Temples.

Some of the first I Spy books are still available through specialist sites at £4 upwards.  That's 16,000% inflation!  (I think - though it sounds an awful lot.)


Another cold and misty morning in France.

Friday, 1 March 2013


Is it just a boy thing or do girls collect things as well?  I didn't know many girls when I was a boy.  We had separate schools from the age of about 8 and the only girls I knew were my two girl cousins (one of whom we saw only about once a year) and the girl who lived two doors down the road.  Since then, the only girl I have known of an age when I was into collecting has been my daughter, and she was never a collector.  Come to that, I don't recall the two boys collecting things very much either.  But I did.

I suppose it all started with collecting car numbers.  Quite what was either the point or the fun in writing down the registration numbers of cars as they sped along the main London to Dover road is something that, these days, I find difficult - make that impossible - to comprehend.  The sheer pointlessness of the exercise, its utter futility, was something that quickly became apparent to me even at that young age.  The in thing, according to my peers, was train spotting.  And so it was that, armed with a new notebook and a freshly sharpened pencil, I made my way to the level crossing where the footbridge over the tracks was considered the best place to practise my new hobby.

Looking back, I have to say I'm surprised that I was not only allowed to go that far without an accompanying adult, I was even allowed to supervise my younger brother who wanted to come with me.  (I've just checked and discovered that it wasn't as far from home as I had thought.)

One of the drawbacks associated with train spotting at that particuloar spot was that it was only just on the downside of Gillingham station and the line was electrified as far as Gillingham.  This meant that the majority of the trains we "spotted" were uninteresting electric trains.  They all looked the same and just had numbers whereas the steam engines - at least, the majority of those pulling passenger trains - came in different classes which looked distinctive in style - and they all had names.  There was the Schools class in which the engines bore the names of English public schools such as Rugby and Shrewsbury, the King Arthur class with Sir Lancelot and Sir Gerwain, the West Country class in which the engines were named after towns in the south-west of England such as Appledore and Bideford, but best of all was the Battle of Britain class with names of famous air stations and squadrons that took part in the battle.  Just occasionally we had a treat and the Golden Arrow, the famous London to Paris all-Pullman express, was diverted from its usual route and came through the more northerly line over our level crossing.  This train was usually pulled by a Battle of Britain or West Country class engine but on one occasion we saw it pulled by a London, Midland and Scottish engine - Britannia - instead of the regular Southern Railway engine.

Like all the other train spotters, I had bought the Ian Allan book which listed all the Southern Railway engines, both steam and electric, in their various classes and I very carefully underlined in red the ones I saw.

Ian Allan published other similar books covering buses, warships, tugs etc etc and I was soon hooked on collecting bus numbers as well - and, when I could talk my mother into taking us to Gravesend - the names of tugs operating on the Thames.  Bing part of a naval family, it was natural as well that I should note down the names of the warships moored in the Medway and in the dockyard when we visited on Navy Days.

Mentioning the Ian Allan books reminds me others - those in the I Spy series.  But perhaps I'll save that for another day.  Meanwhile, here's a picture taken on a chilly morning in France.