Friday, 31 May 2013

What if . . . ?

There are times when I subject myself to . . . enjoy . . .  endure . . . undertake a bout of navel gazing.  Such bouts are few and far between, and neither do they last very long when they do occur.  All the same, there are times when I ask myself, "What if . . .?"

It seems to me that there have been two occasions in my life when momentous decisions have been made without any real thought for what might lie in the future.  If either one of those decisions had been made the other way, if the coin had come down tails instead of heads (and it seems to me now that those decisions might as well have been made by tossing a coin), the effect on my life would have been . . .  Well, I'm not sure that there is a word to describe just how enormous the effect would have been.

The first of those decisions was not really mine to make, but nevertheless both I and my brother had a voice.  It was when my father retired after 22 years serving in the Royal Navy, getting on now for 60 years ago.  Certainly more than 50.  Dad applied to join, and was accepted into, the Civil Service, specifically the District Audit team, although which branch of the Service that might be in is something I have never known.  But that is by the bye.  Quite how it came about that he was offered a choice of three postings is something else I have never quite got to grips with.  (Yes, I know.  That sentence should end, "with which I have got to grips" but that sounds very formal, almost stilted.)  But he was.  Perhaps my parents could not decide which to accept, but for whatever reason, Dad asked my brother and I - mere teenagers - which place we would prefer to live: Bath, Brighton or Truro.  We may very well have tossed a coin as neither of us knew anything about any of the three towns, except that Truro was way down in Cornwall, Bath was also a fair distance away in Somerset, while Brighton was within striking distance of Gillingham.  We were living in Gillingham in those days, as were my grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and many others of my extended family.  So Brighton it was.

Whether or not the second decision would have been made if we had moved to Bath or Truro is obviously a matter of conjecture.  What cannot be gainsaid is that if that second decision had been made, and if the decision had been the same, it would have led to a completely different result.  It happened like this.

During my last year at school I had no idea at all what I might do with my life.  The only career path that held any interest for me was closed to me, or so I assumed.  Partly to postpone the day when I would have to make a decision, I applied to several universities.  It was only after I had left school that I received the results of my A level exams (not as good as I had hoped) and the universities advised me the results of my applications.  I had been turned down by each and every one of them.  At a loss as to where my future lay, I continued with my job stacking shelves in a supermarket.  Dad obviously talked the matter over with his boss, who suggested that as my arithmetic was good I should think about working in a bank.  I didn't then and still don't understand quite what arithmetic had to do with working in a bank, but I acquired recruitment packs from all of England's major banks.  My choice of which bank to apply to was based simply on my liking for the name of the bank and what I saw as the quality of the recruitment pack.

It was only because I was accepted by and worked for the bank of my choice that I met the girl who was to become my wife and with whom I have now lived happily (well, for the most part) for nigh on fifty years.  She worked for the same bank.

I do sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if Dad had chosen to work in Bath or Truro instead of Brighton, or if I had chosen a different bank to which to apply for a job.  And then I wonder, was it all pre-ordained anyway?

All the same, what if . . . ?


Time goes by so very fast and it seems hardly possible that it is nearly two years since we spent a holiday in the Auvergne region of France.  Here are a couple of pictures i took at St Madeleine's chapel just outside the town of Massiac.  As you can see, the chapel stands high on a rocky outcrop.

Given my fear of heights, it took quite a bit of nerve to get the next picture! 

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Today is . . .

Or rather yesterday was . . .

Oak Apple Day.

Oak Apple Day - 29th May - was at one time an official holiday to commemorate the escape of the future King Charles after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.  After the battle, Charles hid in an oak tree and subsequently made his way to Brighton (or Brighthelmstone as it was then known) before fleeing to France.  The date is still celebrated in some parts of the country; indeed, it is also known as Founder's Day at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea - home of the Chelsea Pensioners - which was founded by Charles II after he had been restored to the throne.

In Sussex, the day was known as Pinch Bum Day.  People were expected to wear a sprig of oak leaves and if a child caught another without the sprig, he was entitled to pinch the other on the bum.

Today is my granddaughter's birthday - 6 going on, well, you know little girls?  Pity the weather is too bad for her to try out the kite we bought her.  But maybe she'll try reading The Magic Faraway Tree.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

These foolish things . . .

. . . and maybe some other bits and pieces as well.

Despite what the weather girls had foretold, Monday remained dry and bright right through the afternoon and evening so the two stalls Brighton Lions had at the Hove carnival did pretty well.  In fact, they did very well taking just over £300 between them.  But on Monday evening, both Alexis (local) and Nina (national) told us that the forecast for Tuesday was for rain in the south-east.  Guess where I live?

[Nina is my cousin's daughter-in-law and is married to an army officer who has just been promoted to full colonel.  Well done, John!]

Sure enough, when I opened the bedroom curtains yesterday morning I had no need to shade my eyes from the strength of the sunlight.  It was raining.  It rained while I walked the dog in the park.  It was still raining as I left just before 9.00 to take my car to the garage.

And this is where those foolish things crop up.  I realise I'm not alone; we have - each and everyone of us - done foolish things at times.  Don't bother to deny it because I won't believe you if you try to tell me that you have never in your life committed a foolish deed.

It had seemed a good idea at the time.  I had an appointment with my rheumatologist at Hove Polyclinic at 10.30.  The car needed to be taken to a VW specialist in Hove.  Why not kill two birds with one throw of the dice?  Take the car to the garage, leaving myself about an hour and a quarter to walk the three miles or so to the Polyclinic.

(I've just checked: it's not three miles, it's just under two.)

The doctor is almost certain to be running late so if I reckon to leave the clinic between 11.15 and 11.30 I would be back at the garage at about 12.30.  That would give them time to check what is wrong with the parking brake and prepare me a quote for doing the work.  Simples! (as the meerkats say.)

(I wonder if I could get paid for giving them a mention?)

As I said, it seemed a good idea at the time.  But when I fixed the garage appointment I was unaware of the weather forecast.

So, it was raining yesterday when I woke up.  It rained as I walked the dog.  It was still raining when I left the car at the garage.   I got pretty wet getting to the clinic, even if I did cheat and catch a bus part of the way, which made me early for my appointment but I'd had the good sense to take a book with me. The doctor was not running late; in fact, I was out of the consulting room before the time of my appointment.  It was raining as I left the clinic with two hours before I was due to collect the car.  I hung around for 20 minutes to catch a bus part of the way back to the garage but still had to pop into bookshops and a library to kill time (and attempt to dry off).

And it had seemed such a good idea at the time!


I suppose this rain might be welcome to some people who want it for their gardens.  As far as I am concerned, it has at least washed some of the gulls' droppings off the car.  Where we live we are under the direct flight path of what seem like thousands of herring gulls and they all manage to hit my car.  Well, some of them do.


Monday afternoon.  Glorious weather so a walk round the Roman Camp was in order.  From the northern rampart I looked throug an arc of 180 degrees and counted no fewer than 14 fields sown with oil seed rape.  There must be a subsidy from the EU!  This was one of the fields, although the photo was taken from a different spot on a different day.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Seeking the Golden Calf

A few days ago I mentioned a book I had been given and promised that, when I came to the appropriate part, I would disclose the whereabouts of the Golden Calf buried on the South Downs.  I have now reached that part and hasten to fulfill my promise.  But I must confess, most of the following script has been shamelessly copied from another web site.

Dozing quietly on the soft underbelly of Britain is the county of West Sussex. There are some modern nondescript conurbations in the north west of the county on the London to Brighton spine that divides it from East Sussex, but the county town of this peaceful area is Chichester in the south west, a cathedral city of Roman origin that retains its function as a market town for the surrounding villages and farmland.

Travelling north from Chichester on the A286 towards Midhurst, the road soon rises gently into the foothills of the South Downs. After passing the small village of West Dean and the walls of West Dean College, you see sloping up from the road on the right an extraordinary collection of ancient buildings. This is the Downland Museum, a place where old buildings and their neighbours from around the county have been brought to live out their dotage among their peers. It is a meadow of peace, where buildings are restored and rebuilt, nurtured and repaired, and are then mercilessly exposed to public view. If time permits, and should you have any interest in how life was lived in the past, a diversionary visit to the museum is recommended. Although the mixing of periods is a little confusing, and there is little in the way of 'entertainment' - the museum is about the buildings and not the inhabitants - there is much here to make you think that life might be better if it were simpler. Immediately after the museum, turn right up a country lane, just as the main road turns left into the village of Singleton. In these villages, and increasingly so if you stay on the road to Midhurst, you will see many Sussex flint cottages, some with the mustard-coloured doors and windows that signify ownership by the polo-centred Cowdrey Estate.

The lane rises, with woodland and West Dean College walls to your right and mini-vistas of rolling Downs to your left. Quite soon you'll find yourself with a view of Goodwood Racecourse. Horse races are held here regularly, and have been since 1802. The most important meeting is at the end of July/early August, known as Glorious Goodwood, a title that could not be more apt on a bright sunny summer's day. If you catch such a day, with cotton wool clouds scudding in a blue sky, the sight of the green track with its spectacular grandstand and associated buildings, sat isolated and splendid atop the Downs, is one you will never forget.

On very few days of the year, the sky is the colour of the cornflowers that, along with red poppies, once peppered the wheat and barley fields in summertime... not so very many pre-weedkiller years ago. There is even a Cornflower Day held locally, celebrated during Chichester's annual fair in early July. Cornflowers are distributed among the people by the girls of the town clutching armfuls of them. Sadly, they are now imported, and probably cultivated.

As you come up the lane, with the racecourse spread out below on your left, you soon approach the main grandstand. Before you do so, on the right, there is a spectator's enclosure. Park in front of it and take a muddy track up through the woods on the far side. The track stays close to the enclosure fence and can be a little strenuous. Suddenly the beech woods end, and you see a steepish hill in front of you and the beginning of a spectacular view to your left.

The enclosure fence ends and you are left with a short upward trek. Ignore the views if you can, avoid the rabbit holes, and clamber up, down and up over the remains of the iron age ramparts that ring the top of the hill. Ahead you will see a small concrete pillar, erected by the Ordnance Survey as a mapping aid, marking the highest point. As you reach it, atop this hill, called 'The Trundle' for no discernible reason, allow yourself, at last, to take in the views. The coastal plain stretches out below you, a real-life map. To the south is Chichester, the cathedral spire an obvious landmark, and beyond it the inverted 'V' coastline, at the peak of which is Selsey Bill. Down to your left, in leafless winter, you might glimpse stately Goodwood House and the car racing circuit. Further east, in the distance, is a smudge that is Brighton. To the west, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight are clearly visible on a bright day. Between Chichester and Portsmouth are the many inlets of Chichester, Langstone and Portsmouth Harbours, visited by Romans, Saxons and Vikings and protected from Napoleon only by the untested forts clearly visible in the Solent. Turning around to face north, you have the racecourse and the rolling South Downs, with the North Downs of Surrey rising in the distance. Now is the time to select a picnic site and unpack the hamper you have laboured to bring this far (you didn't forget the hamper, did you?). You are only some 677 feet high, but you feel well and truly on top of the world.

Somewhere among at least four prehistoric forts is supposed to be buried a Golden Calf, the calf that Aaron had made for the Israelites.  You might dig, but should you so much as catch a glimpse of gold, he will immediately move the treasure.  ('He' in Sussex refers to the Devil.)

This is England, and the weather is changeable. Up here you are very exposed and, facing south-west, there is nothing between you and the Caribbean save the often stormy Atlantic. Here there are hail showers in June, and biting winds in July. Here the clouds come down in spring and autumn to cover this once fortified and populated hill-top with fog. A night trip in such a fog might be blood-chillingly spooky, but also, even in gentle Sussex, dangerous.

A view of the Trundle:

Non-italicized words borrowed from a long forgotten page of the BBC web site, picture from English Heritage.

Monday, 27 May 2013

First - and last

I thought I had learned the hardest lesson of all; how to say no.  But it transpired that I had either not learned it or had a temporary lapse of memory as, just about a year ago, I agreed to act as zone secretary for a fellow Brighton Lion who was to become zone chairman.  Admittedly, the role of zone secretary is not exactly arduous, but I do particularly dislike taking the minutes of meetings.  I did it for 14 years in my job as company secretary, I did it for two consecutive years for Brighton Lions, and I have done it in the past as zone secretary.

I was more on the ball this year when Pete asked if I would continue in the role and I declined the privilege.  Gracefully, I hope.

Anyway, the last zone meeting of this Lions' year will be held next Monday so I have just one more set of minutes to take.  That's the last in the title.  Now for the first.

About four weeks before each zone meeting I have emailed the secretary of each club in the zone asking them to complete their club's report and send it to me a week before the meeting so I can collate them and send to everyone interested.  This time, for the first time this year, every secretary has sent in his/her report on time!


Today is another Lions day.  Brighton Lions will have two stalls at the Hove Lions/Martlets Hospice carnival.  I just hope the weather stays as good as it was yesterday.  Meanwhile, I must hie me to Hove Park to help set up our stalls.  That will be all I do as I am still pacing myself and, if anything, did just a tad too much yesterday.


There is a town in Lancashire called Bury where the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a shop . . .

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Smells and bells

Sunday morning.  As usual, somebody was cooking bacon as I came back from the park with the dog.  I do wish they wouldn't do that; it makes my mouth water!.  Mind you, I could always cook myself a proper breakfast, I suppose - if only I wasn't so idle.

There is just one problem I have with the smell of frying bacon.  Years ago, when I was working in London, I travelled every day on the tube.  My mainline train stopped at a station shared with the London Underground and all i had to do was walk over the footbridge to the next platform but one on my way to the office.  One day, somebody either fell or jumped off the platform and landed on the live rail.  It was several weeks - if not months - before I could face a bacon sandwich and even today the smell of frying bacon reminds me of that morning.

The phrase 'smells and bells' is commonly used in a slightly derogatory way by low church folk when they refer to services in high C of E or RC churches: incense and the ringing of a bell when the host is lifted up.  Of course, Sunday is the day most people associate with the ringing of church bells to remind people that the service is about to start.  Not that we hear the sound of bells very often nowadays.  In fact, I can't recall when I last heard a church bell here in England.  I do hear the bell of our village church in France most weeks that we are sur place - not that I have ever attended a service there.

Talking of bells, let me give you a little snippet of trivia.  I expect most people will either know this already or be completely uninterested, but what the heck.

Londoners are often referred to as Cockneys (although I have yet to learn why that should be - possibly a reference to cock sparrow) but true Cockneys must be born within the sound of Bow Bells.  Bow is a part of East London but people born there are not Cockneys even if they are born within the sound of the bells in the church at Bow.  No, Bow Bells are the bells of the church of St Mary at Bow, which is in Cheapside in the heart of the City of London.

As this post seems to be much about bells, here's a picture of a rather unusual church tower/spire in a village not very far from our in France - but I failed to make a note of which one and have forgotten it.  Sorry about the overhead power lines.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Will it or won't it?

Another bank holiday weekend, which should by rights mean that the weather is terrible.  That's the way we do things here in England.  But wait a minute; the young lady who gave us the local weather forecast just after half past ten last night said the temperature today and tomorrow would rise to about 17 or 18 degrees.  That's mid 60s in old money.  If were not so bone idle I could look it up and give a more exact translation but I reckon mid 60s is near enough.  Not that there has been much sign of the temperature matching the forecast so far today.  Indeed, when I walked the dog after breakfast I wore a winter coat and was not too warm at all.  There was still a stiff breeze from the north to keep things from becoming too tropical.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the weather widget in my sidebar tells a different story from last night's forecast, with the temperature for today hitting a high of just 15.

Global warming, whatever happened to that?  Three or four years ago it was suggested that we English should restock our gardens with drought-resistant plants and those we are more accustomed to seeing around the Mediterranean.  This year we have suffered a cold spring, with the month of March being the coldest for more than half a century!

Anyway, if the temperatures do get up to "normal" either today or tomorrow, things are due to start going downhill again during the course of the Monday bank holiday and the children on half-term holiday next week will have to endure cold - and probably wet - weather.

But I must stop off for a while as the Old Bat wants to go to Marks & Spencer.  She fancies one of their "dine in for two for £10" meals tonight.  They are pretty good value with a main dish, a side dish, a dessert and a bottle of wine all for the price of £10.

When I get back I'll look out a picture to post.


Skip was telling us about an earthquake he didn't notice.  We might get the odd tremor in England but they are always very faint - nothing to warrant signs like the one we spotted in a shop in Eureka, California.  It probably seems quite commonplace to many, but to this Englishman it was extraordinary, even exotic.

Friday, 24 May 2013


We have lived in our house for more than 40 years.  There have been times when we thought about selling and moving somewhere else but here were always very good reasons for staying put.  So we did.  I think we have now become so deeply rooted here that we will only move out in boxes, or to places halfway to our boxes.  In all those years there has been only time when I have made an effort to redesign the back garden.  Granted, there have been tweaks from time to time, but only that one complete redesign.  The time has come, or is fast approaching, for me to find paper and pencil once again.

Our back garden - and it is the back garden with which I am the more concerned at the moment - slopes down away from the house.  There are steps down from the house to the garden and then, a third of the way down the garden, there is a steep bank with more steps.  This is why I talk about the top lawn and the bottom lawn. The bottom two-thirds is divided into two parts, the part nearer the house being grass and flower beds while below the fence is what has until now been the vegetable garden.

The top garden is bordered on one side by our garage and consists of a kidney-shaped lawn (although the convex side is really just a straight line) with flowers and shrubs on the concave side.  The straight side has a narrow border between it and the paved path and between the path and the garage is a flower bed.  Our next-door neighbour has a number of trees which overhang this part of the garden and there is a pear tree just at the top of the bank to the lower lawn.  This encouraged me to try recreating a sort of woodland glade here, with the aim that as one walked down the garden, different plants would come into view.

We descend three steps under an arch covered with honeysuckle to reach the bottom lawn.  I shaped this with a sweeping curve from bottom right to top left, halfway along which was another short, curving grass path leading under an arch to a gate to the vegetable garden.  Various shrubs were planted alongside the fence separating the bottom lawn and the vegetable garden with a vigorous clematis scrambling along the fence and over the arch - which has a climbing rose on the other side pushing up through the clematis.  There is an apple tree with daffodils beneath and a bench facing the setting sun.

This all sounds very English country garden; I just wish it looked as good as it sounds.

As I said - or implied - earlier, the whole shooting match was designed so that a person walking down the garden would encounter new plants and flowers and different views while progressing in either direction.  But what I want to think about now is the view of the garden from both the kitchen window and the bedroom window.  The Old Bat has not been into the garden for several months now.  Granted, the weather has not been inducive to it, but I really don't see her getting down there much if at all in the future.  So I need to ensure that what she sees is better then what we have now.  The shrubs in the bottom garden might perhaps need to be taller than at present while I could think of more pots planted with colourful annuals around the top lawn.

I shall need to give this matter some more thought.


Surrenden Road, Brighton is a suburban road with a difference.  It is a dual carriageway for much of its length with a wide swathe of grass down the middle.  Horse chestnut trees line the verge and the centre grass, trees that are allowed to reach their full size, like this one.

Thursday, 23 May 2013


This is proving to be an expensive week - and it will continue into next week.

Monday: we went out for a meal, driving down to our local Italian, possibly our favourite Brighton restaurant.  Should have checked first: they are closed on Mondays.  So let's try another we have heard good reports of.  It was OK, but we both prefer our local.  It was also somewhat more expensive, but fortunately the Old Bat decided to treat me to mark my not-long-past birthday.

Yesterday: the dog was at the vet's to have her teeth cleaned and polished.  Lucky they take credit cards.

Today: the car is in for service - and might need new brake pads.  Another hit on the plastic.

Next Tuesday:  the car again.  This time at a VW specialist to look at the electric parking brake.

And it's cold.  Here we are, just a month off the longest day and we still have the heating on!  It would be pleasant to have some warm weather like we enjoyed when we visited Turckheim in Alsace.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The awkward squad

There was a programme on the BBC a few days ago about the Dambusters which we were unable to watch at the time.  It was a live broadcast from RAF Scampton to mark the 70th anniversary of the raid.  The BBC saw fit to air it on their second channel but really it should have been given more prominence.  I recorded it and have just got round to watching it and it inspired me to find out a little more about the leader of that raid, Wing Commander Guy Gibson.  It's staggering to think that he was just 24 at the time.  His death just two years later remains a mystery - or, rather, the cause of his death remains a mystery and deserves a post all of its own.  Anyway, it seems that although he was an inspirational leader of men, he could be an awkward bugger.  I was reminded of that other awkward bugger of an airman, Douglas Bader.

Although he was knighted later, he was just plain Douglas Bader - or probably Flying Officer Douglas Bader - when he crashed his plane and, as a result, had both legs amputated.  Within 6 months he had learned to walk again on artificial legs but was ruled unfit to continue as an RAF pilot.  That was in the 1930s.  However, when war broke out he joined up again and was soon flying Spitfires and then Hurricanes.  He was shot down and taken prisoner, escaped - or tried to - and eventually arrived at Colditz, the camp for the determined escapers.

His determination and refusal to be beaten meant that, like Gibson, he didn't always hit it off with others, although he was an inspirational leader.

Another person whom I would describe as a member of the awkward squad is my wife, the Old Bat.  Her lack of mobility due to her condition (corticobasal degeneration) is slowly increasing.  I say slowly, but there seems to have been a marked deterioration over the last few months.  And yet she refuses to give in although it is obvious to me that she finds some things more and more difficult.  I am only too willing to help out where I can, but I do wish she would tell me when things are getting too bad.  I also wish she would accept that she sometimes needs more than just a stick to help her - but I just cannot bring myself to suggest that a mobility aid such as a walker is needed.  Stubborn, obstinate, too proud to admit defeat, that's the problem.

It must be 20 or more years ago now that the Old Bat, our daughter and I rented a cottage fairly near to Paris and made a day trip into the city.  I remember that my hip was playing up and I was struggling to walk but I took inspiration from the Marines who had "yomped" across the Falkland Islands covering goodness knows how many miles a day over difficult terrain and with full battle kit.  Just by imagining myself as one of them I was able to forget the arthritis and walk more easily.  I no longer see myself as a Bootneck (Navy slang for a Royal Marine) but Bader and the Old Bat still provide inspiration when it is needed.


The rape was in full bloom in the Loire when we were over in France a few weeks back but it is only just coming to its peak here on the Downs.  This is the view to the east from 39 Acres, looking directly over the University of Brighton's Falmer campus with the new Amex Community Stadium just to the right.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The golden calf

I have occasionally told of legends connected with my adopted county of Sussex but I have only just learned of a new one.  I was given a book about Sussex on my recent birthday and the flyleaf promises to tell the tale of the fabulous golden calf which lies buried somewhere on the South Downs.  The calf is the one that Aaron had made for the Israelites and some people are supposed to have a pretty good idea of its approximate location.  When I get that far into the book I'll let you know!

Meanwhile, you might be amused to learn of a twist in the Sussex dialect that was once common: the reduplicated plural.  For example, fairies were commonly called pharisees.  Schoolteachers used a nonsense rhyme in their attempts to drum the habit out of children:

I saw three ghosteses
Sitting on posteses
Eating hot toasteses.
The butter ran down their fisteses,
Dirty little beasteses!

In old Sussex, gender was almost always feminine.  The old Sussex saying about this is that "everything in Sussex is a She except a tom cat and she's a He".

Mayhap I'll come back to this subject somewhen.

Could the golden calf be buried somewhere in this picture of Standean on the South Downs just north of Brighton?

Monday, 20 May 2013

I really must learn... pace myself.  Both today and - even more so - yesterday I have felt almost uncomfortably stiff, the result of doing too much on both Friday and Saturday.  I am, naturally, well aware that I am not now as fit or as young as once I was and I have made adjustments to my routine to accommodate my slowly failing flesh.  The flesh may be weaker but the spirit is still willing - and therein lies my problem.  Or challenge.  I absolutely refuse to vegetate but until the latest drug starts kicking in properly - or some other treatment is more successful - I must accept that there is a limit to what I can do.  What really finished things off on Saturday was spending most of the evening on my feet while kurling.

Kurling, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the indoor version of curling, the sport (or game) in which players slide stones across the ice.  Saturday's event was the 6th in the local Lions Clubs' Zone Olympics and I was half of one of the two pairs Brighton Lions had entered in the event.  It might perhaps have been better if the four of us from Brighton had not made a fundamental mistake in how we thought the scoring was carried out.  It was not until halfway through the evening that we learned of our error.  Had we known earlier, we might have adopted different tactics.

Both our pairs had won their first match 3-0 and went on to win their following two matches so at the halfway stage we assumed we were doing very well.  Then we learned otherwise.  We had assumed that each team scored a point for winning a game so that the team which won the most games would end up as overall winners.  But it doesn't work like that.  It's a bit as though, in football, the number of goals scored by each team decides their placings rather than how many matches they have won.  So a team that lost three games but scored two goals in each would be higher in the table than a team which won three games 1-0.  It is, frankly, highly unlikely that any attempt on our part to adopt different tactics would have made any difference, such is the abysmal level of our skill.  We still managed to come 4th out of 7, and other results mean that Brighton still leads the league table by a decent margin.  With one event to go, if we come no lower than 5th we will be the overall winners this year.  Mind you, the next event is skittles, at which we are notoriously useless!


Looking into the garden of Preston Manor, Brighton.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The doctor's letter

I received a letter from my GP's practice during the week. It read, "In view of recent changes in clinical guidelines your Doctor would like to discuss your condition.

"Please can you make an appointment with Dr X or Dr Y."

It so happens that neither Dr X nor Dr Y are "my" doctor.  I am registered with Dr C, although it matters not which doctor I actually see when I need one.  All the same, I have been seeing Dr C reasonably frequently - and exclusively - over the last couple of years and have come to both like him and, far more importantly, trust him.  On phoning the surgery, it was explained that Drs X and Y are dealing with the reviews of all patients with rheumatoid arthritis - I expect they have been on a course or attended a seminar at the very least - and I was offered (and accepted) an appointment with Dr X the following afternoon.

"Oh no!" exclaimed the Old Bat when I told her.  "Not Dr X!  He's useless.  You saw him when you had that cough."  (The old duck is a little prone to hyperbole.)

I tried to calm her fears.  "Perhaps he knows more about RA than he does about coughs."

When I saw him the following day, Dr X explained that it has become apparent that people with RA are more likely than others to suffer heart conditions or osteoporosis so all patients should be examined once a year.  "Have you had your cholesterol checked?" I was asked.

I was astounded.  I didn't think anybody at this practice had even heard of cholesterol as It has never been mentioned before.  Anyway, I have to have it checked next time I have a blood test and I am to be sent for a bone scan.

My doctor's (or doctors') surgery is opposite Preston Park so as it was a sunny afternoon I took the opportunity to wander through the park and the gardens of Preston Manor.  This is the 13th or 14th century church of St Peter, Preston Park.  (One source says it dates from the 13th century, another says the 14th.  Either way, it's pretty old.)

Saturday, 18 May 2013

That's another one I missed

Another anniversary, I mean.  Thursday just gone, 16th May, was the 70th anniversary of one of the most daring bombing raids of World War II - the dambusters raid.  It was on that day back in 1943 that 19 Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron took off from RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, on their mission to break the dams on reservoirs in the Ruhr industrial heartland of Germany.  To achieve their objective, the planes had to be flown at exactly 60 feet above the water and at precisely 230 miles per hour - and in darkness.  Throw in the anti-aircraft defences with which they had to contend, and one can only marvel at the bravery of those airmen.  53 of the 133 airmen who took part never returned.

By coincidence, it was in 1943 also that The Magic Faraway Tree by children's author Enid Blyton was published.  Both the Old Bat and I remember it from our childhoods, along with so many other books by Miss Blyton:  Noddy, the Famous Five and the Secret Seven series in particular.  Her books were later banned by many public libraries as they were considered racist (some Noddy stories featured a golliwog) but she merely wrote in line with the thinking of her day.  Fortunately, good sense has subsequently prevailed - although some changes have been made in later editions.  One example being the change of name from one character in The Magic Faraway Tree from Dick to Rick!  We have bought a copy of this book - as well as a kite in the form of a seagull - as a 6th birthday present for our granddaughter.  I hope I have time to read it before her birthday!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Respec', innit?

It's not really an indicator of my increasing anno domini, although I suppose that since the anno are mine thay should not be described as domini.  But I expect you know what I mean.  I'm getting old.  Correction: I have got old.  I know that because I can no longer run up the stairs two at a time and I no longer balance on one leg while I put a sock on the other foot.  I sit down to do that now, so I must be getting old.  But then, I am but a few days shy of my 71st birthday so I should expect not to be able to do all the things I used to.  Oh heck, I'm going off target again!

We've all done it, I'm sure.  Sometime after somebody has said something to us we have suddenly thought of the most apt rejoinder.  Of course, it is by then far too late, usually by several hours in my case.  But what I am talking about here takes the process a little further on.  I had to see one of the nurses at our surgery the other day for a blood test and it was not until several hours later that I realised she had, throughout the short session, always referred to me as Mr Slater.

"Hey," I thought (and remember, this was several hours later), "she called me Mr Slater."  Granted, she is young enough to be my daughter, but having read not so very long ago of all the elderly people who felt demeaned and disrespected by nurses calling them by their Christian names when in hospital, it came as something of a surprise.

(Oops! I should, I suppose, have written "forenames" or "given names" rather than Christian names now we are living in a multi-cultural society.)

Later that same day - in fact, it was before I had that enlightening thought - I had occasion to call at the pharmacy in our local supermarket to collect a prescription for the Old Bat.  (She was queuing to buy postage stamps at the customer service desk: I didn't even know they sold postage stamps.)  The young lady at the pharmacy - young enough to be my granddaughter - greeted me with the words, "Hello, Brian".  I only know her as a result of calling at the pharmacy quite a lot over the last couple of years.  Honest, guv!

I really cannot see a problem - or, necessarily, disrespect - in calling somebody older than oneself by their Christian name.  I well remember an incoming manager at the branch of the bank I worked at asking all the staff to call him by his Christian name.  That they did so showed no disrespect.  Indeed, he was probably more respected than many other mangers who wanted to be addressed as "sir" or "Mr Mainwaring".

As usual, my old granny had the right idea.  She always said she didn't mind what people called her as long as it wasn't late for her dinner.  It's not what people say that shows lack of respect, but how they say it.


I don't have many new pictures at the moment so here is one taken several years ago.  This shows Patcham mill caught in a moment when the late afternoon sun was shining on it on a dismal day.  The original was a 35mm slide which I copied - regrettably without cleaning it of dust!

Thursday, 16 May 2013


I find myself becoming increasingly irritated by my car.  I have had it nearly five years now, which is quite a long time for me to go without changing, and I find it a delight to drive.  It's comfortable, reasonably economic as far as fuel is concerned, and has as much oomph as I need either around town or on those long, nearly empty stretches of French motorways.  But... And isn't there always a but?  But it has developed an irritating, intermittent fault.  The electric parking brake sometimes comes on when I press the button but more often it just causes a "beep" and a message on the screen telling me there's something wrong.  The old style lever handbrake was so much more reliable.

There are times, times that seem to me to be coming along more and more frequently, when I hark back to the unsophisticated cars of 50 years ago like the Morris Minor.  When you lifted the bonnet (hood) of one of those cars you could see and reach just about every part of the engine.  When I lift the bonnet of my VW Passat all I see is the windscreen washer filler and the oil filler cap.   Just changing a bulb is a garage job!  Part of the trouble is that cars have been "improved" by adding more and more gadgets and gizmos.  I grant you that some of them, like cruise control and electrically adjustable exterior mirrors, are actually worthwhile, but all these extras just mean something else to go wrong.  Like my parking brake.  There was a letter in the motoring section of the paper the other weekend about the VW parking brake from a driver who had been quoted £119 by his local dealer just to look at the problem.  Putting it right would cost even more.

And that's another gripe I have with the Passat.  The timing belt should be changed every 4 years or 40,000 miles - at a cost of approaching £500 at a specialist garage or more at a franchised dealer.  That adds £2 a week to the running costs.

So I've been thinking about changing.  I've always hankered after a Volvo estate (and I definitely need/want an estate car) but quite honestly I think they are overpriced for what they provide - and I can't bring myself to pay that sort of money anyway.  The Ford Mondeo looks good but the equivalent Vauxhall/Opel is out.  The Skoda Octavia has had rave reviews, including one from a taxi driver when I took a cab a few weeks back and found myself in just such a car.  Skoda was at one time a marque that caused great hilarity - a bit like the Trabant - but is now much improved - and part of the VW/Audi group.  The Skoda is almost on a par with the Passat but is much cheaper.  As is the Toyota Avensis.  I have had Toyotas in the past and was much impressed - but that was long ago.  All the same, this is definitely in the frame.

But I don't suppose I will actually do anything except soldier on for another year or two.


I posted a picture of one of our pear trees yesterday.  The apple (we have just the one) is still quite tightly in bud but should burst forth quite soon.  We got no apples at all last year so are hoping for better this.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

What's in a name?

Nothing much, really.  After all, as somebody once said (or wrote), a rose by any other name would simply pong the same.  Yes, all right, clever clogs.  I know it was Shakespeare who gave Juliet the line, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet".  Of course, that's quite true: the name of the flower has no effect on the scent.  Except...

Just imagine that you have in your garden a prickly shrub which bears red flowers (or pink or yellow).  This plant is called hogspittle.  Maybe it's just me, but changing the name from rose to hogspittle rather puts me off.  I just can't imagine a flower with the name hogspittle as being sweet smelling.

I'm sure I'm not alone - indeed, I know I'm not - in assigning certain traits of character to people according to their names.  Very often this happens because of characteristics of the first person we knew by that name.  For example, I was at school with a rather pugnacious boy called Roderick.  As a result, all my adult life I have tended to give a wide berth to anybody pf that name.  Probably quite unfairly!

On the other hand, when I was about 10 I had a crush on a cousin called Beverley, then later there was a girl called Jennifer lived next door.  Had she and her family not moved away I might have become close to her.  But any girls (or women) called Beverley of Jennifer are off to a good start as far as I am concerned.

Dawn is another name I find attractive, simply because the first Dawn I ever knew was good looking, petite and with long, dark hair.  (Somehow dark hair and the name Dawn seem a contradiction, but there you are.)  The Old Bat, on the other hand, knew a Dawn at school and disliked her, so...

By a strange coincidence I have heard from both a Beverley and a Jenny in the last few days.  My cousin Beverley rang to tell me of the death of an uncle.  During our conversation I told her of my crush, which she found highly amusing.  Then I had a call to tell me that Jenny's husband Ivan had died.  Strangely, Ivan had been suffering much the same symptoms as the Old Bat when I first met him and Jenny a few years ago.  He was put through the same tests but the final diagnosis was different.  He had already gone blind and became pretty much paralysed.  His death will be a huge relief to both himself and to Jenny.

I shall try to get to Uncle Geoff's funeral but I am not close enough to Jenny to bother with Ivan's.


There is plenty of blossom on the top pear tree this year.  I just hope the jackdaws leave us some fruit!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

All change

This is the picture of the Punch & Judy show that I was trying to upload yesterday.  I finally got there by shutting down the computer and rebooting, so it was presumably my computer causing the problem rather than Blogger.  There are even smaller children at the front of the audience, hidden from our view.

I think it is great that we are able to help keep this old English tradition going, although given the level of gratuitous violence involved I am slightly surprised that somebody hasn't tried to ban the show.  This picture was taken at the point soon after Judy has asked Mr Punch to look after the baby.  The Devil has just appeared and is trying to persuade Punch to throw the baby downstairs so as to avoid all the problems involved in looking after the baby.

We also had Morris dancers at the Lilac Lark, another old English tradition I'm happy to support.  Provided they don't impinge too much on my attention!  All the dances look much the same to me, either waving handkerchiefs or banging sticks, and all the tunes sound the same.  I find it all gets a bit boring after about three minutes.  But others enjoy it.


I had expected that this would be another day when I didn't manage to post until late afternoon but things have changed (hence the title).  I've been to the surgery for one of the practice nurses to take a blood sample for testing, currently a regular fortnightly procedure.  Then I expected to be called upon to drive to the butcher's but that has been deferred until after I have walked the dog this afternoon and will be combined with a leisurely stroll round the supermarket aisles.  And I really should cut the grass again - but it's started raining so I might well be able to put that off for a day or two.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Did it have to rain on my parade?

Rather to my surprise, when I opened the bedroom curtains yesterday morning, it was on a bright, sunny day.  This augured very well for the Lilac Lark, the fete organised jointly by Brighton Lions and the Friends of Withdean Park.  I am the lead Lion in this and I had drawn up and distributed a duty list allocating two or three Lions to each stall and sideshow we planned to run.  These included sweets, coconut shy, jewellery, plants, books, pig racing and bowling for a pig.  Obviously, there were a number of Lions who for reasons of age, infirmity, holiday or work whom I had not included - as well as several who never show up for anything - but I was extremely disappointed when no fewer than 5 members failed to appear.  Only one had had the courtesy to get in touch and explain why he would not be there, and I had been with one of the others only on Friday evening when we spoke about the event!  This meant that we could not reasonably run the bowling for a pig, but at least all the other stalls and sideshows seemed to be doing well in the sun - and wind.  And boy, was it windy!  The pig racing was as popular as ever with the youngsters.

And the first house of the Punch and Judy attracted a good audience.

(This post should have been put up on Monday morning and there should be a picture of Punch and Judy right here.  Whether it is down to Blogger or my computer I know not, but I have been quite unable to upload the picture.  It didn't help that I was off out to lunch today, a valedictory lunch for the retiring General Manager of the Lions Housing Society.  Rest assured that neither she nor her successor have been or will be on the sort of salary level expected by managers of football clubs.  I read that David Moyes, who is to succeed Sir Alex Wotsit at Manchester United and has been manager of Everton for 11 years, is leaving on a salary of £4 million.  £4 million!  And although Everton is a Premiership club, they have won no trophies for years.  Ridiculous.)

But at four o'clock the rain started and the crowds drifted away.  We got soaked clearing up.  Surprisingly, when I glanced in the mirror at bedtime I saw a red face peering back at me.  I had really caught the sun - or the wind.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The hidden workers

Today, Brighton Lions Club members will be out in force, manning our various stalls and stands at the annual Lilac Lark which we run in conjunction with the Friends of Withdean Park.  Quite obviously, this is a high profile affair with members of the public seeing Lions at work.  But what many of those members of the general public will not think about is the amount of work that is put in by Lions Club members either right behind the scenes or in fairly private situations.  Just as a f'r'instance, take this last week - and this is just what I know about.

Saturday - 8 members setting up, running and clearing up the monthyl book fair, a sale of second-hand books.
Monday - 1 member printing menus in preparation for Charter Night.
Tuesday - 1 member printing menus in preparation for Charter Night, 1 member producing entertainment poster for today's Lilac Lark.
Wednesday -  1 member checking & preparing bingo equipment & prizes, 1 member sorting books at the club's store, 2 members dealing with paperwork for the Housing Society, 3 members running bingo at a retirement home.
Thursday - 3 members making a presentation to the Sussex Heart Charity, 1 member checking & preparing bingo equipment & prizes, 2 members dealing with requests for Message in a Bottle bottles, 1 member preparing notices etc for today's Lilac Lark, 1 member dealing with coconut shy equipment.
Friday - 1 member collecting coconuts for today's Lilac Lark, 2 members running bingo at a retirement home.
Saturday - several members loading van in readiness for today's Lilac Lark, 1 member delivering Message in a Bottle bottles, 1 member putting up notices around the park for today's Lilac Lark, 3 members attending other Lions Clubs events in the evening.

On top of that, there have been various phone calls making and confirming arrangements, the secretary has had to deal with post and emails, the treasurer has been paying in at the bank and updating his paperwork etc etc.  And there have certainly been other things going on about which I know nothing.

That is a glimpse of the "behind the scenes" work put in by just one Lions Club.  Add up the hours of work done by other Lions across the country, the continent and the world - and then add in the hours of work done by members of Rotary, Round Table and so many other voluntary service organisations and give thanks.  The world really is not such a bad place when there are so many people willing to give so much of their time to help their communities.


I'm not sure why I took this photograph in Stanmer woods the other day - or what it is that I like about it.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

My favourite kitchen gadget

I don't cook.  It's not that I can't cook - I'm quite able to do so if necessary - it's just that I don't.  I don't enjoy cooking, although I do enjoy eating.  Luckily, the Old Bat does enjoy cooking so it is no great hardship for her to take charge of the culinary aspects of our household.  Which is probably just as well as I have never been taught to cook.  My mother, bless her, was firmly of the Old School of Thought.  As far as she was concerned, the woman's place was in the home - washing, cleaning, shopping, cooking - and a man was tolerated in the kitchen only to help with the washing up.  The education system here in England in those days was of a like mind.  There were no mixed-sex schools after the age of 7 or 8 - even university colleges were single-sex - and boys were taught woodwork or metalwork while girls were taught cookery and sewing.

I have a vague recollection of Fanny Craddock, probably England's first television cook.  I don't recall ever seeing her programme when it was broadcast but I have seen clips - and it's probably on Youtube.  Anyway, she had a cut-glass accent and used her husband as an assistant.  Although skivvy probably describes his role more accurately.  I seem to recollect that he was at least half cut all the time and that a glass of wine was always either in his hand or very near to it.  Fanny treated him abominably.  My role in the kitchen is fairly similar, although I must say I am not treated abominably.  But it's washing up that I am used for, although I am occasionally allowed to stir the gravy.  In all that washing up I have become intimately acquainted with a variety of labour-saving devices.  Or so-called labour-saving devices.  I'm almost certain that in the case of some of them the amount of energy used to clean them is considerably greater than has been saved by using them.  However, since it is the Old Bat who uses them and I merely wash them...  Need I say more?

There are quite a number of these devices that are in regular or even frequent use chez Brighton Pensioner.  The bread-maker, the pressure cooker, the slow cooker, the electric whisk, the liquidiser, the Magimix all come into their own at least once a week or so.  The sandwich toaster less frequently, and then only for making waffles for dessert.  The ordinary toaster is used occasionally, and of course the coffee filter machine is used several times every day.  All these I know, and know well.  But there are a few others tucked away that rarely, if ever, see the light of day.  We have thrown out the wok and the fizzy drinks maker, along with the fondue set.  The salad dressing mixers that we bought cheaply in France proved to be too cheap and quickly broke so have been thrown away.  Tucked away in a cupboard, though, is a salad dryer - a plastic basket with a lid and a handle that turns the basket so that centrifugal force ejects the water from the lettuce leaves.  I can't remember the last time that was used.  And then there is a potato masher, a plastic thingummyjig that will probably wave a white flag if ever it is faced with a real potato.  I don't think that has ever been used.

But my favourite device of all is a mole wrench.  When - as now seems to be pretty much always - my hands are unable to open a bottle of milk or a carton of orange juice or take off the screw-cap from a bottle of wine, the faithful mole wrench is brought forth and, hey presto, the job is done.  What's more, the mole wrench doesn't have to be washed up!


The bluebells in Stanmer woods were just about at their best the other day.  I took far too many photographs but not one is really what I was aiming for.  This is probably the one that came closest.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Be careful what you sow

The following moral tale was sent to me this week by a fellow Lion.

A successful business man was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor to take over the business.  Instead of choosing one of his directors or his children, he decided to do something different. He called all the young executives in his company together.
He said, "It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO. I have decided to choose one of you. "The young executives were Shocked, but the boss continued. "I am going to give each one of you a SEED today - one very special SEED. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from the seed I have given you. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO."

One man, named Jim, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly, told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil and compost and he planted the seed. Everyday, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow.

Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew

Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing.

By now, others were talking about their plants, but Jim didn't have a plant and he felt like a failure.

Six months went by -- still nothing in Jim's pot. He just knew he had killed his seed.

Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing.  Jim didn't say anything to his colleagues, however, he just kept watering and fertilizing the soil - he so wanted the seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the young executives of the company brought their plants to the CEO for inspection.

Jim told his wife that he wasn't going to take an empty pot. But she asked him to be honest about what happened.  Jim felt sick to his stomach, it was going to be the most embarrassing moment of his life, but he knew his wife was right. He took his empty pot to the board room.

When Jim arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other executives. They were beautiful - in all shapes and sizes Jim put his empty pot on the floor and many of his colleagues laughed, a few felt sorry for him!

When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives. Jim just tried to hide in the back. "My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown," said the CEO. "Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!"

All of a sudden, the CEO spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered the Financial Director to bring him to the front. Jim was terrified.. He thought, "The CEO knows I'm a failure! Maybe he will have me fired!"

When Jim got to the front, the CEO asked him what had happened to his seed, Jim told him the story.  The CEO asked everyone to sit down except Jim. He looked at Jim, and then announced to the young executives, "This is your next Chief Executive Officer!  His name is Jim!" 

Jim couldn't believe it. Jim couldn't even grow his seed.

"How could he be the new CEO?" the others said.

Then the CEO said, "One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed.  I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today.  But I gave you all boiled seeds; they were dead - it was not possible for them to grow.  All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you.  Jim was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it.  Therefore, he is the one who will be the new Chief Executive Officer!"

If you plant honesty, you will reap trust.  If you plant goodness, you will reap friends.  If you plant humility, you will reap greatness If you plant perseverance, you will reap contentment If you plant consideration, you will reap perspective If you plant hard work, you will reap success If you plant forgiveness, you will reap reconciliation.

So, be careful what you plant now; it will determine what you will reap later.


I was in Stanmer Park the other day, hoping for a picture similar to the one I took three years ago.  As luck would have it, the sky turned cloudy and grey, so here's the three-year old picture.  Of course, now the flowering cherry trees are bloom, the wind will pick up.  Indeed, we have been warned of 60mph gusts along the coast.


Thursday, 9 May 2013

It's Thursday today

Which means that my local library might be open for me to change by library books.  I had intended to do that on Monday, but that bank holiday crept up and spoiled things.  Mind you, I'm not entirely certain about the library being open.  Thursday is one of the designated opening days, along with Monday and Saturday, but things local government-wise seem to be going haywire this week and I'm wondering if there is a strike.  Neither our wheelie bin nor our recycling boxes have been emptied this week.  I was expecting that to be done yesterday but it didn't happen.

It's that bank holiday again.  Normally our wheelie bin is emptied on Tuesday each week and the recycling boxes on Tuesday every second week but when there's a bank holiday Monday the collections get put back to Wednesday with the crews working Saturday to make up the lost day.

We used to have dustbins but now, as in practically every other village, town and city, we have a wheelie bin.  Note that: A as in one wheelie bin.  My friend Chris lives under the auspices of a different authority and he has three wheelie bins, each for different material.  We do have two recycling boxes: one for glass and the other for paper, card, plastic and metal.

I wonder why some people paint their house number, sometimes even the road name as well, on their wheelie bins and recycling boxes.  It's not as if they own the things, which remain the property of, in our case, Brighton & Hove City Council.  Do they think there is something special about "their" bins and boxes - or are they perhaps afraid that if somebody else's wheelie bin is returned to them they might catch something like the dreaded lurgy?  Or maybe it's the contents of their bins that are special -  "Our rubbish is of a much higher quality than those common people next door put in their bin" - so they are, in fact, showing off.  They want to world, or at any rate those who pass by and look into their bin (as if anybody would) to see that they can afford to throw away things other people covet.

(I've just checked the council web site which states:
Our refuse, recycling and street cleansing crews have not gone out to work yet. 
There was no refuse recycling or street cleansing service yesterday, Wednesday 8 May, as a result of unofficial industrial action by our workforce in relation [to] discussions on pay and allowances. 
This morning our crews have not gone out to work yet and we do not know whether the service will be operating later today.)
At least that means the library will almost certainly be open.  Of course, even if it isn't, all is not lost.  Last Saturday, while clearing up after the Lions book fair, I spotted a copy of a book I had been wanting to read again - Winter in Madrid, by C J Sansom.  I first read this book several years ago having borrowed it from the library but there has been no sign of it on the shelves for a long time now.  Although I have started reading it, I shall probably put it aside and take it up again when we are next in France.  It is the sort of book that it pays to read in fairly solid chunks rather than dipping into for a page or two at a time.  I think it is also better to absorb it slowly.  At least, that's how I remember it.


The Waterhall dew pond is swarming with tadpoles this year, far more than last.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Arthritis killed my father

But I'm damned if I'll let it kill me!

But before I go any further, let me explain something.  I am well aware that this blog is open to the whole wide world and that anybody can read whatever I have it in mind to say, but I do sometimes treat it as a personal, almost private thing.  It practically doubles as an outlet for random thoughts and moans and also as a personal journal.  The journal bit is usually hidden between the lines and, I hope, is intelligible - even apparent - only to me.  Today's post is overtly of the nature of personal thoughts.  Please do not get the idea that I'm wallowing in self-pity or looking for sympathy from anyone.  This is just to remind me of my intentions and is to be here as a prod when things get bad.  As they may well do at any time.

I started this post with something of...   a lie?  an exaggeration?  Whatever, it is patently untrue that arthritis killed my father.  Arthritis is not a life-threatening condition.  All the same, my father suffered badly and for the last few years of his life was very nearly chair-bound.  I think that was the cause of the pneumonia that killed him.

My experience is that sitting around moaning about how stiff one is only makes matters worse.  Many a day I have struggled to take the dog for a walk in the morning, only to find that after about 20 or 30 minutes of gentle walking, the stiffness has gone from my legs.  Slowly pushing the affected muscles farther and farther does have a beneficial effect.  But I must make sure I don't overdo things, which is what happened yesterday.  After lunch I walked the dog (for the second time) and we strolled in Stanmer woods for nearly an hour.  As soon as I got home, I went out again with the Old Bat and spent 50 minutes walking round the supermarket.  Then I mowed the grass.  By the evening my shoulders were agony.  So I took a couple of paracetamol mid-evening and two more on going to bed - and hey presto, this morning I'm much better.  I can even make a fist of my left hand, something I have been unable to do for several weeks, and enjoyed a small triumph when I picked up the kettle and poured from it using my left hand alone.

So, a final memo to self:  don't give in - but be reasonable in what you try to achieve.


The last two or three days have been glorious, but it's raining again today.  On Monday I walked up the Waterhall valley, which is looking much greener that the last time I posted a picture taken at this spot.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Fashion and the man

And then there's me.

Did I mention that I went to a funeral on Friday?  Actually, I believe I did.  Sue, whose funeral it was, had been a friend of the Old Bat since they were Girl Guides together.  She had been a frequent visitor to us over the years, usually arriving quite some time after we had expected her.  Sue was one of those people who just could not be on time for anything.  I always teased her that she would be late for her own funeral - and she was!  Which was just as well as we were, too, having been held up in the traffic.

I had dressed suitably, as I thought, for the occasion.  Dark lounge suit (the only one I possess anyway), pale lilac shirt (the white one doesn't fasten at the collar any longer) and black tie.  I wouldn't usually dress like that to do the supermarket shopping, but needs must.  There would be no time to come back home, change, and then drive to collect the Old Bat from her session in the oxygen chamber.

The number of people attending the funeral surprised me, but I was also surprised that, apart from members of Sue's family, Chris, Ron and I seemed to be the only men wearing ties.  (Chris and Ron's wives are also long-standing friends of the Old Bat having been in Guides together.)  Am I really so far behind the times in terms of fashion?  What did surprise me was the number of men of about my age - OK, maybe a bit younger, but still retired - who wore no ties.  Or jackets, either, in some cases.

I recall that when I was still in my teens, I would never take a girl out for the evening without putting on a jacket and tie.  It didn't matter where we were going - to the pictures or just out for a coffee - a jacket and tie was de rigeur.  Come to that, it was for a walk on the Downs on Sunday afternoons in summer.  And that was while I was still at school.  When I started work, I was expected to wear a lounge suit Monday to Friday.  We were permitted to dress down on Saturday mornings by wearing a sports coat instead of a suit!

So I'm talking fifty years ago - that's half a century! - and understandably things change in that time.  The standard apparel for our Lions meetings has changed.  When I joined the club 25 years ago it was expected that everybody would wear a jacket and tie for meetings (and I mean everybody as there were no women members back then).  Some years ago we had a good summer and it was suggested that the dress code for business meetings should be relaxed, just for the summer and just for business meetings; dinner meetings would still call for the jacket and tie.  Somehow that relaxation for business meetings spread throughout the year, and now it has even spread to dinner meetings, although nobody has ever said anything.  It's just happened.

Even our Lions' Charter Nights are not what they were.  (Charter Nights are the annual birthday bashes for the clubs.)  Here in England they were always DJs for men and long dresses ("posh frocks") for the ladies.  Most men still wear DJs but the posh frocks have been put back in the wardrobes and cocktail dresses are now more usual.  The number of men wearing lounge suits instead of DJs is increasing rapidly.

I suppose it marks a lowering of standards generally.  Well, some would call it a lowering of standards; others would say different.  I have never been one of the class of people that changes for dinner, by which I mean changes into evening dress.  But all the same, I do sometimes regret the loss of a certain formality.  Like not leaving the dinner table before the loyal toast at a formal do.  Somehow it seems to me to indicate a certain lack of respect.  Which brings us back to the black tie for a funeral.


There was fog across the Downs first thing yesterday but that cleared fairly quickly and we had a glorious day.  The fog had almost cleared by the time I managed to get away from the kitchen sink to take a picture.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Oh no! Another bank holiday!

Now that I have been retired for (ahem) nearly eleven years, I have a tendency to treat every day as a holiday.  Well, one does when one doesn't have to get out of bed at the crack of sparrow fart to catch a train to London.  But it does mean that I tend to get just a little blasé about those days that meant so much to me during my working life.  In fact, I get so blasé that the wretched days have a habit of sneaking up behind me and taking me unawares.  Like last Wednesday.  I told you the other day that 1st May, May Day, is a public holiday in France.  There are people who say that France today is rather like England was 50 years ago.  They have a point, as shops in France stay resolutely shut on Sundays (except the boulangeries) and all shops are closed on public holidays.  Even though my favourite boulangerie had for several days been displaying a notice advising their esteemed clientele (or something like that) of the forthcoming holiday on which the shop would be shut, it sort of drifted over or past me and it was only on the morning we were leaving - May Day - that I remembered.  So we were unable to do our usual shopping for essentials like wine.

(I must apologise to those of you who are regular readers and who are therefore fully cognisant of the foregoing.  But stick with it; this does have a bearing on what follows.)

My local library is open on just three days each week: Monday, Thursday and Saturday.  I had borrowed a couple of books which I read while in France and although they were not due back for another week, I wanted to exchange them.  But Thursday passed in a blur of catching up, so I had to wait until Saturday.  The day dawned promisingly and I got up early to walk the dog before hieing me to my duty at the Lions book fair.  Then lunch, walk the dog again, check emails etc - and blow me down!  The library is closed now.  Oh well, there's always Monday.  Except that today is a bank holiday so the library isn't open.  Another sneaky holiday has crept up behind me!  And not only is the library closed - there's no post collection either, which means my brother's birthday card will be late arriving.

Saturday may well have dawned fine, but it didn't last.  Which was a shame as that was the first day of the Brighton Festival, the biggest arts festival in England.  The Festival always opens on Saturday morning with the children's parade through the town.  This year, unfortunately, they would have got a bit wet as it was damping - and not very warm.  The weather improved in the afternoon and I was quite happy to walk the dog in Stanmer Great Wood.  I wanted to check how the bluebells were doing.  Many were in bloom, and there was a delightful scent, but they won't be at their best for a few days yet.  Not like those in Withdean Park, very few of which have progressed even as far as the bud stage.

Withdean Park is the venue for Brighton Lions' contribution to the Festival.  The Lilac Lark, which we organise in conjunction with the Friends of Withdean Park, is part of the Festival Fringe.  The fair is to held next Sunday but I noticed yesterday how very few of the lilacs are anywhere near blooming.  Given that the posters for the Lilac Lark carry the strap line "all this and the scent of the lilacs too" that will be rather a shame.  We must just hope for warm, sunny weather this week to bring the blooms on fast.


Looking across the fields to the château de Tressé in Pouancé.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

On the box

One of the things I do before we leave Brighton for any trip, be it to France or the farm or anywhere else for a few days, is to check the television schedules for the time we are planning to be away from home.  I did it for our recent trip and noticed that there was just one completely new programme that I wanted to see plus a repeat of a programme I had not seen first time round and a couple of other repeats of repeats that I may or may not remember.  Anyway, I set the recorder for all those, plus another couple that the Old Bat spotted.

Tonight the Beeb will broadcast the last episode of six of a series that should have been extremely good.  The first episode was broadcast when I couldn't watch for some reason - I think we were probably away - but I did watch it a few days later on the catch-up facility.  We then watched the second episode.  But that was it - no more; the programme proved to be an irritation to me and the OB just didn't like it.  I had read some blurb about it before the series started and I had thought this was a great idea.  Basically, the story, as I understood it to be, was the story of a village and its people for the past 100 years.  But I must have misunderstood the blurb I read - or I didn't read it properly.  As I understood things, there was to be a main character and the story would be told as a series of his reminiscences.  But the first episode was set in 1914 and our "narrator" recalled the arrival in the village that year of the first motor bus.  Given that he was then about 6 or 7 years old and on screen (as the narrator) he looked no older than his early 70s, there was an immediate anomaly.  And I understand that tonight's last episode is only set in 1920 so there is no way the story covers 100 years.

Then there were the inaccuracies.  In the first episode we saw army recruits marching off behind a brass band.  The band was playing "Jerusalem".  Now, I couldn't have told you when that music was composed, but there were several letters published in the paper pointing out that the music was composed in 1916 so there was no way that a band could have been playing the tune in 1914.  The next inaccuracy was obvious to me, although I dare say a lot of people might have missed it.  For some reason I have forgotten, the central character - then still a young schoolboy - needed to raise money and he charged his classmates sixpence for something; it doesn't matter what.  The point is that in those days there would have been no way that schoolboys in a poor Derbyshire village would have had sixpence.

Despite my criticisms, the show has apparently attracted an audience of over 6 million and further series are planned to take the story through the 1920s, the second World War and post-war austerity Britain.  I don't think I shall be watching.

On the other hand, I doubt there is a television company anywhere that does better wildlife programmes.  Quite recently we watched a series of five about wildlife in Africa, each programme concentrating on a different area of the continent.  The superb photography took four years.  Lord only knows how much that must have cost, but what a series.  Absolutely fantastic.


Not far from our village in France is the forêt de Juigné and each time we are over there we take a drive through.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Reluctant admiration

I suspect that we all of us have admiration for some crooks.  Let's be honest, Robin Hood was just a bandit even though he is an English folk hero, and many of us admire the exploits of Raffles.  Granted, Raffles is entirely fictitious and Robin Hood may well be the same.  But there is, just occasionally, a real-life crook who occasions admiration, even if the admiration is reluctant.  James McCormick is one such.

The day we left for France, the newspapers were reporting how McCormick had been found guilty of fraud and on Thursday it was announced that he had been sentenced to 10 years in jail for selling fake bomb detectors.  (I'm too bone idle to type all the details so I'll copy from the Daily Telegraph site.)

Millionaire James McCormick, 57, sold the useless devices, based on novelty golf-ball finders worth less than £13, for as much as £27,000 each to customers including the Iraqi government, the United Nations, Kenyan police, Hong Kong prison service, the Egyptian army, Thailand's border control and Saudi Arabia.
The ineffectual detectors were used by soldiers and peacekeepers out in the field, putting lives at risk, with McCormick thought to have made an estimated £50 million from sales of his three models to Iraq, Belgium and the UN for use in Lebanon.

Experts said the detectors lacked “any grounding in science, nor does it work in accordance with the known laws of physics”, adding that they were “completely ineffectual as a piece of detection equipment".

Brochures marketing the fake bomb detectors under the Advanced Detection Equipment brand promised that the devices could also pick up substances up to 30 metres underwater or 10 metres underground, and through walls.
The equipment consisted of a swivelling antenna connected to nothing except a plastic handgrip.  No battery or other power source was needed as the devices "came to life after the user had shuffled their feet".  Colour-coded cards could be inserted depending on the substance to be detected: explosives, drugs, ivory or even specified currencies.  Needless to say, the cards were simply different coloured pieces of plastic.

Granted, peoples lives were put at risk - but what chutzpah the guy had to sell these things at up to £27,000 each!  You have to admire that.  And whatever happened to caveat emptor?


Another shot of the oil seed rape from our trip to France.

Friday, 3 May 2013

And all the world was yellow

And if that title isn't a quote from a song, well, it darned well should be!

As we moved further south into the Pays de la Loire so we saw more and more cowslips in the verges, masses and masses of them in some places.  Further north, fairly close to Calais, there were still primroses in bloom, but down in the Loire they had finished.

The last couple of years we have seen fields of sunflowers in the lanes around La Prévière but this year things were different.  Still yellow, but different.  There must be a subsidy available to farmers on rape oil this year as there is acre upon acre of the bright yellow plant in the fields.

Our standard routine on these wineracking trips is to stop at a supermarket on the way down to buy the essentials for the week - coffee, milk, butter and so on - and then, on the way home, do the big shop, have a meal at the nearby Buffalo Grill and then get the train for England.  This last time, however, the routine needed to be abandoned.  We realised, when we arranged the dates of our trip, that we would be returning on May Day, a bank holiday in France.  Our big shop would have to be done earlier in the week as all shops are shut on bank holidays.  But unfortunately, it was not until the Old Bat and I were washing up the breakfast things on the day of our return to England that we remembered.  So that was the end of the wineracking.


I lied yesterday when I said that I was back to blogging in real time.  This is being written on Thursday and will be scheduled for Friday as I will do the supermarket shop on Friday (that is either tomorrow or today depending on your point of view) while the OB is in the diving bell as we will then be going on to the funeral of the friend who died last week.  Then I will be fetching the dog from kennels etc etc.


I wrote - a long time ago it seems now - about winning the shove ha'penny competition and Suldog left a comment asking what shove ha'penny is.  Sorry to be so late answering, Jim, but here goes.

This is a traditional British pub game and is played on a wooden board divided into horizontal "beds", each bed being slightly wider than the old halfpenny coin.  A coin is placed at the near end of the board, slightly over-lapping the edge, and is propelled by striking it with the ball of the thumb (or other part of the hand as desired) so that it slides up the board with the aim of coming to rest cleanly in a bed.  As we play it, the players take turns to score as highly as possible over a set time, say 10 or 15 minutes.