Monday, 30 September 2013

As the evenings draw in . . .

And don't they just?  I know we've passed the autumn equinox, but it does seem a little hard having to switch on the lights in the living room by six o'clock.  I now close the living room curtains as well, a sure sign that the dank, dismal days of an English winter are approaching.

The mornings are almost as bad.  It seems only last week that I was waking before the alarm clock sounded because of the light seeping in around the edges of the curtains and even through the curtains as well.  I'm sure it is a result of the ever-extending darkness that I am suffering trouble with both my back and my eyes.  When the alarm rings - no, it doesn't ring, it buzzes - well, when it sounds I have great difficulty on these darker mornings in forcing open my eyes and getting my back off the mattress.  I know full well that it is hardly a matter of life and death if I stay in bed another few minutes so I simply hit the snooze button - and again and again.  It would be all the same in a hundred years (as my old granny was fond of telling me) if I stayed in bed all morning, but there are things that have to be done and thigs that I would like to do.  The longer I stay in bed, the less time there is for me to do those things I would like to do after I have done those things that have to be done.

It will be different next week.  We shall be in France and when we are there, there are fewer things that have to be done.  There is no dog to be walked as she stays in kennels in England - and you don't have to feel sorry for her as she enjoys going because she is spoilt rotten.  The one thing I do have to do in the mornings over there is visit the boulangerie to buy the bread for lunch.  An possibly some patisserie as well.

Well, I can't sit here gossiping all day - there's a car-load of garden rubbish to be taken to the tip.


Before I go, I'll leave you with a little puzzle.  You can see from the sign that this Brighton building is the home of the Proud Brighton Ballroom, a cabaret bar/restaurant or, as they describe themselves, "a retro supper club".  (I've never been there, something I really should put right!)  But what was its original purpose?

It was built in 1892 as a wing of the family homeas a mausoleum for Sir Albert Sassoon and other members of his family, including Sir Edward Sassoon, 2nd Baronet, of Kensington Gore.  Albert Abdullah David Sassoon was born in Baghdad in 1818 to a prominent, Sephardic Jewish family. After many years spent managing the family's banking and merchant shipping business in Bombay, he retired to England where he was created a baronet. He died in Brighton in 1896.  In 1933 the remains of the Sassoon family were removed and reburied in the Willesden Jewish Cemetery in Londo.

The former mausoleum was for a time a furniture depository. During World War II it was used as an air raid shelter during fierce bombings. In 1949 it was purchased by a brewery for use as a pub - The Bombay Bar. In 2001 the mausoleum housed the Brighton Arms Pub. In 2003 it was bought and the name changed to "The Hanbury Club".

In 2011 the mausoleum reopened as Proud Cabaret Brighton.

(Thanks to Wikipedia.)

Sunday, 29 September 2013

New neighbours coming?

The young couple in the bungalow across the road are moving out this weekend.  I've been wondering when it would happen as there has been a "sold" board on show for several weeks.  They don't seem to have been living there all that long - perhaps about three years or so - but have spent a great deal of money, especially on landscaping the back garden.  Their departure has made me realise just how deep people's roots go in this road.  Next month it will be 44 years since we bought this house.  The family who lived then in the adjoining house down the hill is still there - at least in part.  Two of the children have married and now have children of their own, the husband died some years ago and his widow has only recently become too frail to continue living there with only her younger son, a bachelor of about 50, so has moved in with her daughter.  The house beyond that has a widow living there and she and her late husband must have moved in at least 25 years ago if not nearer to 30. Going up the road, our next-door neighbour moved in with his wife and two children more than 30 years ago.  The children have moved out and the wife died last year.  I wonder how long it will be before either or both of the houses next door to us will be on the market?

Up the hill beyond Tom, the next two houses still have the same owners as when we moved in, and there is another couple across the road who were also here then. Nearly all our other near neighbours have been here at least ten years.

Plus ça change etc.


This resident has been around quite a while as well.  She is (was) Phoebe Hessel, a cross-dresser from the 18th century.  Buried in St Nicholas churchyard in 1821, you can read her fascinating story here.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

My plan for today

I have spent part of the last two afternoons - only part, mind you - reclaiming the vegetable patch.  I'm not sure just how much work I did two autumns ago but i do know that I did none at all last year.  So, the two beds have become almost completely smothered in grass, dandelions, buttercups and all kinds of weeds.  I can fight my way through to the raspberry canes, but that's about the limit.  Of the rhubarb crowns there is no sign at all.  The hedge between my garden and my neighbour's has been pretty much non-existent for several years, most of the original hedging plants having died, but there has sprung up a very productive bramble patch.  This, of course, needs to be cut back severely each year and as we now have enough blackberries in the freezer to see us through until the last trump, or so I am told, I have made a start.  I now have a mountain of green rubbish to be removed to the tip.  A bonfire would be easier, but that's a no-go, so several trips to the tip await.  I hope to make the first this morning, provided the rain that was starting as I got back from walking the dog does not get itself set in for the day.


I've always thought I would like a garden path made of old bricks, like this one at the Upper Lodges of Stanmer Park.

Friday, 27 September 2013

If it's not fun, don't do it

District Governors - those people way, way up the hierarchy in Lions Clubs - often, maybe even usually, adopt a motto for their gubernatorial year.  Long ago - or so it seems now - we had a DG here in south-east England who adopted as his motto the phrase I have used for the title of this piece.  It was brought to mind by Skip's post script.

I have been surprised time and time again when something or other that we are doing as a Lions Club turns out to be more fun or, at least, less boring than had been expected.  Granted, there is a certain camaraderie involved, but even so, there is pleasure or amusement to be gained from many apparently tedious occupations.  Selling carnival programmes door to door is a typical example.  We don't actually hold our carnival any longer for a number of reasons I don't need to go into, but when we did, we spent weeks beforehand selling those programmes around the streets.  It helped, I suppose, that we always, always met up in a pub before hitting the streets for a couple of hours, after which we needed refreshment so it was back to the pub.  The thought of spending two hours travelling home from work and then having to rush dinner so as to get out selling was really dispiriting, but once out there, things always seemed better than expected.  And, as I say, there was nearly always a laugh.  On one occasion, it was me that provided the laugh.

There were five of us out that evening and for some reason, the other four had been having a particularly lean time whereas I had sold quite a few programmes.  I told the others my trick of the trade:  hold the programme out to the householder so they automatically take hold of it and nod your head as you ask them to support Brighton Lions Club by buying a carnival programme.  As they are already holding the programme you are halfway there.  Nodding your head makes the householder subconsciously nod his head, so hey presto! you've got a sale.

"Watch me," I said.  "I'll demonstrate."

The others stood at the gate as i walked up the path and knocked on the door.  A little old lady answered and I went into my routine.

"Thank you, dear," she said - and shut the door in my face, keeping the programme.

Then there is the warm glow that sometimes comes.

For many years, our club has organised a day out in the summer for disadvantaged children, a local zoo being our regular destination.  In the way back, the children were accompanied only by Lions and their other halves and on one occasion my wife was sitting next to a girl aged about 10 or 11 on the coach during the journey home.  The girl whispered to my wife, "That was a lovely day.  It's the first holiday I have ever had."

(Cue violins.)


A drinks vending machine I spotted in Nara, Japan.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The end of the season

By "the season" I don't mean the Society Season of Henley. Royal Ascot et al, but the silly season.  I sincerely hope that the change in weather we have seen today marks the end of what has been a particularly silly Silly Season.  Our wannabe Prime Minister has excelled himself this week here in Brighton at his political party's annual conference.  Regular readers will - or might be - aware that I try to avoid political matters (and religion) on this blog as I have no wish to cause offence.  But really!  Ed Milliband, otherwise known as Red Ed, promised that if he becomes Prime Minister after the next election, he will immediately cap gas and electricity prices for two years.  Only it's not really two years, just 20 months.  And he seems to be unaware that he will have no control over the wholesale price of power coming from abroad.  The price of shares in power companies immediately fell by 5%.  I am surprised it wasn't more.  Oh, and if development companies have land on which they have not yet started building, the land will be confiscated.  Heaven forbid that the loonies ever take control of the asylum!

Perhaps it was appropriate that Red Ed's announcements were made in Brighton, a city where the loonies are already in control.  Our Council is controlled by the Green Party, but most of the Green councillors represent wards in the city centre where green means a few blades of grass and from where few of the residents ever venture into true greenery.  Well, that's how it seems to many of us who live in the outlying parts such as Westdene and Patcham.  The Council's latest scheme involves Ditchling Road.

Perhaps I should explain that there are three main routes into the city centre.  From the west, traffic uses the bypass and Dyke Road; from the north, London Road; and from the east, Lewes Road.  That, at any rate, has been the usual practice since the bypass was built some 20 or 30 years ago.  Until the Council "improved" the Lewes Road and, as a result, caused gridlock.  Now a lot of drivers prefer to take a slightly longer route, travelling up Coldean Lane and then into the city by Ditchling Road.  It just so happens that, from the bypass a tongue of the South Downs National Park stretches southwards some way into the city, with Ditchling Road running through it for about a mile.  The northern stretch of this road has fields on both sides, then a stretch of unfenced grassland, including part of the field known as 39 Acres where many people walk their dogs, then a golf course on one side.  This part of the road is subject to the national speed limit, ie 60mph.  The Council's idea is to put cattle grids at each end, allow free grazing of cattle and sheep, reduce the width of the road, reduce the speed limit to 40mph, remove road markings, install a gravel-surfaced cycle/pedestrian track, bus stops, picnic areas and pedestrian crossings.  The aim?  To improve access to the National Park.  All they will succeed in doing (if the scheme goes ahead) is to make the road more dangerous (free-roaming sheep and cattle on a major route into the city?) and reduce the number of people who use this valuable amenity.

Granted, the Council has asked for public consultation by means of a survey on their web site.  There were 5 questions.  Four of those questions were designed to elicit favourable responses, the fifth was a space for further comments.  Then there were a raft of questions about "equality".  No doubt, the comments will be ignored and the favourable responses will be a substantial majority in favour of the proposal.

Cynical of me?  I call it realism.


The heart of old Brighton is an area bounded by East Street, North Street, West Street and King's Road (the seafront).  There used to be a South Street but that was washed away in a storm hundreds of years ago.  (And no, Skip, I don't remember it!)  This area is known as the Lanes because so many of the streets are just that.  This is Meeting House Lane.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Ees a puzzlement

It has me completely bemused.  Some days it does one thing, some days another.  And then, just occasionally, it does something else entirely.,  Then again, if this were television, it would be quite different.  Have you noticed, when somebody in a television programme - and I'm not thinking of documentaries or chat shows - presses the button to turn on a computer, the thing fires up instantly?  Now why doesn't mine do that?  Some days I have time to walk the dog three times round the block between pressing the "on" button and the screen lighting up.  The I could have a cup of coffee before I can actually do anything.  Other times the screen lights up almost instantly and, hey presto!, we're up and running.  Today, it was neither of those.  The screen lit up immediately - for which I gave premature thanks - but it took almost five minutes before the page on my browser came to life.  I just don't get it.


Where do you think this is?  Could it be a chateau in the Loire?

If you said the Loire, you're almost right, although it's actually here in Brighton.  It was built in the 1890s on behalf of the French government and received patients from the French Hospital in London, serving as a home for elderly French nationals.  It is believed to be the only building in England constructed in the style of a French chateau.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A close shave

Phew!  That was indeed a very close shave.

I'm very pleased to report that I have recovered.  I think I might have been suffering from post-traumatic sunstroke or something like that.  You see, yesterday was absolutely gorgeous as far as the weather went: warm, sunny, no wind.  In short, a perfect summer's day - except, of course, that as we approach to fag end of September we don't really expect such bounty.  I even mowed the lawns after walking the dog! But I alluded to my (fortunately brief) fit of madness.

I started writing a piece in which I invited you to come along with me on a virtual walk across 39 Acres and round the Roman Camp.  The trouble was that I got carried away and started waxing lyrical, talking about ships steaming down Channel and heading off to the Afric sun and exotic places like Araby and the Orient.  I didn't use those actual words - at least, I don't think I did - but the purple prose would have been most embarrassing had I gone on to hit the "publish" button.  I suppose had I done so I could always have claimed I was doing no more than those old "romantic" poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge, who wrote some of what is considered their best work under the influence of laudanum or opium.

The Roman Camp was indeed where I walked yesterday afternoon, and most delightful it was.  I did not have the camera with me yesterday but this is a panoramic view over Brighton and the South Downs made up of pictures I took a week or two ago from the southern rampart of the Camp.  At the left we are looking to the south-east and at the far right, west or even perhaps north-west.  I would point out some of the landmarks but there are just too many!

Monday, 23 September 2013

The little things in life

I quite often find myself surprised how little things in life can provide an inordinate amount of pleasure.  It might be a particularly memorable meal or the scent of sweet peas as one strolls through the garden in the early morning.  I well remember the pleasure I felt as a young man when a girl and I ran down a hill hand in hand.  I don't really remember the girl, but I remember running down Box Hill with her.

One of those little things occurred on Saturday morning.  I was standing at the kitchen sink washing up a few things after breakfast when my attention was drawn to a yellowish, greenish bird in the tamarisk.  As I watched, I saw that there was not just the one bird, there was a pair.  Now, although I take delight in recognising all the birds we see regularly in the garden, I am certainly not an avid twitcher, not even a keen ornithologist.  I was not able to immediately identify these two, although I guessed they were either willow warblers or chiffchaffs.  It was not easy to see them clearly enough to distinguish whether or not they had a stripe through the eye - which I seemed to remember was how to tell the difference - or the colour of the legs.  Eventually I decided that there was an eye stripe and the legs were dark.  Whichever they were - willow warblers or chiffchaffs - they had presumably stopped off for breakfast on their journey to Africa or wherever they prefer to spend the winter.  This was the first time I had seen either breed in the garden and it gave me great pleasure to watch them flittering in and out of the tamarisk for a couple of minutes.

Afterwards, I found the bird book to look up which they were.  Both have eye stripes, but the willow warbler has pale legs, the chiffchaff dark - although it also says that some willow warblers have dark legs and the leg colour should not be relied on for identification. They can be identified by their song.  But neither sings at this time of the year.  I eventually decided they were willow warblers on account of their size, the smaller of the two by 3/4"!

I didn't see them again that day or yesterday, but they were back this morning - with some more!  There was a small flock of four.

As I said, a small thing, but very pleasing.


That picture of St George's church that I posted the other day reminded me another phot of a church I took in New England - Craftsbury Common, Vermont, to be exact.

Putting things in perspective

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Work expands

I'm not so sure that there is much more than a grain of truth in that old dictum that work expands to fill the time available.  I grant you that in my 11 years of retirement I have never had any difficulty in finding something to do, and I also fully accept that I do things more slowly now that I did at one time.  Some researchers, if there were any who were interested,might claim that this just goes to prove the truth of that old dictum.  But that is only one side of the coin.  What about the other side which has time expanding to be sufficient for the work that has to be done?  I have been fast running out of time this past week, and still there is work undone.

My first priority is, of course, the daily and weekly routines such as walking the dog, going with the Old Bat to the nearby supermarket on Tuesdays and taking her to the MS centre and doing more shopping on Fridays.  I find, too, that I have to do a little more about the house each month as the Old bat's mobility gets worse. Then there is the garden, which I confess to having neglected shamefully for the past year.  It was the case for many years that the Old Bat took care of the borders and tubs while I mowed the grass and dealt with the vegetable garden, pruning trees and shrubs when necessary.  Nowadays the old duck is unable to get into the garden, and I have trouble coping with more than about 30 minutes at a time - always assuming that I can find 30 consecutive minutes to work out there!

What has really hit me this week is the volume of paper work created by my membership of Brighton Lions Club.  Well, it would have been paper work if I were still using pen and paper rather than keyboard and monitor. I realised at the beginning of the week that it was time for me to make a start on the next issue of the club's newsletter, which I have produced for the past nine years.  My efforts in that area were interrupted by a request to come up with a poster for our fireworks display.  The one that the cricket club had produced (we produce this as a joint event) was considered too wordy for our large billboards so I had to set to with an artwork program.  Then I agreed to take the minutes at the meeting this week as our regular minutes secretary is away.  On top of that, I received an email from somebody who writes history notes for several free-distribution local magazines.  She is proposing to write an article about fireworks in Brighton: could I give her information about the Lions fireworks history, which it so happened I could.  To cap it all, the programme organiser at a club for the blind wants me to produce 60 large-print bingo cards by next weekend!  And I must get on with the documentation for the special general meeting needed to change the rules governing the Lions Housing Society.

So why am I wasting my time scribbling this rubbish?


I'll take this opportunity to get in a quick plug.  After all, we have sent tickets as far away as Aberystwyth and Liverpool in past years.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

In which the Brighton Pensioner does a silly thing

Yesterday was Friday . . .  Of course, you know that.  On the other hand, there is no "of course" about it as it may well be that you are reading this on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or the day that little green men land on earth, whatever day that is.  But as I write, yesterday was Friday.  That being the case, the normal routine kicked in and I drove the Old Bat over to Southwick for her weekly session in the diving bell.  While she was busy reading and inhaling pure oxygen under pressure, I trotted off to Sainsbury's to do the usual Friday supermarket run.  Somehow I managed to get round rather more quickly than usual, partly because the shopping list was shorter than usual and partly because there seemed to be fewer people blocking the aisles as they stood chattering.  What this meant was that by the time I had paid and loaded the car, I still had at least an hour before the OB would be ready.  That was what led to me doing a silly thing.

The trip from Sainsbury's to the MS treatment centre is only about three miles and it needs only a short detour to take in the several car dealerships along Victoria Road.  One of those dealerships has the Volkwagen franchise, and that was where I headed.  My present car is and the one before was a VW, both being Passat estates.  I have had this car five years now, which is quite a long time for me.  It has 65,000 miles on the clock and, being a diesel, should be good for plenty more.  But I'm getting bored with it and would like a change. 

I long ago stopped buying new cars as they depreciate by thousands of pounds as one drives off the forecourt.  What I look for are cars about one year old that have been used as demonstrators.  They have the advantage of having been looked after properly, with any minor teething problems sorted, and have already depreciated to a reasonable extent while having a low mileage.

As luck would have it, there on the forecourt was just what I would be looking for.  A Passat estate, exactly one year old with just 9,000 miles on the clock.  Diesel-engined with a manual gearbox, cruise control . . .

I shouldn't have looked.


I have been blethering on about clock towers in Brighton and said, in passing, that I could not think of any church in the town that had a clock in the tower.  I had completely forgotten St George's church, Kemp Town.  This was opened in 1826 and, according to Wikipedia, "Queen Adelaide, the consort of King William IV, made the church very popular. The queen consort was popular with the British people and often spent time in Brighton. When in the town, she worshipped at St George's."  Hence the Royal coat of arms above the door.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Manners Maketh Man

Talking of anachronisms - well, I used the word in my blog on Monday this week - I have learned only very recently that a white tie should be worn with a tail coat but with a dinner jacket, a gentleman should wear a black tie.  I suppose this is where the dress code "Black tie" comes from.  But how many people dress for dinner these days?  and how many of them would consider it infra dig to wear what we nowadays call a dinner jacket instead of tails?

Isn't it amazing what one can learn by watching television?  You see, the Old Bat and I have been watching the repeats of Downton Abbey, a drama set in the home of an aristocratic family in the period from before World War I until the 1920s.  We never did watch the programme when it was first broadcast but did start watching when series 1 was repeated on ITV3, followed by series 2.  The repeats of series 2 had not finished before series 3 was being aired on ITV1 but for some reason I never did record those programmes.  Now, however, they are being shown on ITV3 before series 4 starts on ITV1 next Sunday.  (Are you totally confused by now?  I am!)

But what has struck me is how manners have changed over the intervening years, apart from gentlemen's dress code.  For example, if one of the ladies rises from the dinner table, all the men immediately get to their feet.  What lady would expect that sort of behaviour now?

I can well recall the time when - at a Lions Club charter night dinner, for example - nobody would dream of leaving the table for any reason before the loyal toast.  One just held one's thighs more tightly together until the opportunity arose.  There was one year when I was President and the Mayor, sitting next to me, was a lady.  After the starters had been served nobody picked up their cutlery.  The Mayor asked me why nobody was eating and I explained that we were all waiting for her as she was the guest of honour.

In an odd sort of way, I seem to have been following a kind of theme over the last three days, what with that phone call I mentioned on Wednesday, yesterday's piece about the social necessity to lie - and now today, manners in general.  I'll try to get onto a different tack tomorrow!

Oh, that title.  It is actually a misquote.  The correct spelling of the second word is "makyth" and the whole is the motto of Winchester College, founded by William of Wickham (spelled Wykeham in those days), Bishop of Winchester, in 1382.  Alumni of the college are known as Wykehamists (pronounced "Wickemmists").


And yet again, I am on a roll of sorts.  The pictures over the last two days have been on clock towers - and here is another.

We are back in Brighton again, that town of many towers.  This, specifically, is in Patcham.  Between the wars, a large housing estate was developed to the east and slightly north of the old village.  At its entrance, the developer erected a clock tower as a way of advertising.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Those little white lies

I do, on the whole, try to follow my old Granny's advice to speak the truth and shame the Devil.  On the whole.  By and large.  To some extent.  But there are times when speaking the truth leads only to discord or, at the very least, disappointment.  I suggest that there are very few of us who do not, from time to time, tell little porkies.

I, and probably every married man, have occasionally been less than wholly truthful in conversation with my wife.  She has, perhaps, bought a new item of clothing and sought my opinion.  Now that's a tricky one.  There's absolutely no point in trying to fudge the answer.  Telling her something along the lines of, "Yes, dear, it's very nice - but I really prefer you in red" might be seen as an attempt at a diplomatic answer.  Wrong.  She instinctively knows that what you really mean is, "It's horrible!"  No, gentlemen, for the sake of future domestic harmony (and if you want your dinner on a plate rather than over your head) it's time for a little white lie.

And then there's the time your six-year-old granddaughter draws you a picture that she says depicts a princess.  Naturally, you exclaim that it is a beautiful picture, implying that if the trustees of the National Gallery were to see it, they would immediately ditch one of their Rembrandts or Gainsboroughs to hang this in its place.  Granted, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but are you not, in truth, exaggerating just a little?  Is that not bending the truth?

Another time when courtesy dictates that we lie is when we meet a friend or acquaintance and greet them, "Hi!  How are you doing?" hoping against hope that they won't tell us in every minute detail just what is wrong with them, their family and the dog.  Even greeting them in that way is an untruth.  We imply that we are interested when really, we could hardly care less.  Of course, it they answer, "Fine" when really they are feeling rotten - perhaps the lumbago is playing up - and their wife/husband is in bed with a cold and the cat was at the vet yesterday with a cut paw, then they are just as guilty of lying as you are.  Worse, in fact.

So you see, social intercourse demands that we do not always speak the truth and shame the Devil.  Those little white lies are the oil that keeps the wheels of civilisation turning smoothly.


For today's picture, you can blame my good friend Skip - who has probably been struck down by exhaustion working at a food distribution depot in NorCal set up by his and other Lions Clubs to help people made homeless by recent wildfires.  Yesterday, after I had written a piece with the title Upon Westminster Bridge which had nothing to do with the bridge, I put up a picture of the Clock Tower in Brighton.  Skip commented that I could have found a picture of the bridge.  So here it is, complete with the Houses of Parliament clock tower housing Big Ben.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Upon Westminster Bridge

I must start today by apologising, apologising to all those good folks who have arrived here at my blog as a result of them searching using the phrase "Upon Westminster Bridge".  They may very well complain that they have been brought (or directed) here under false pretences as they were looking for deep, meaningful insights into Wordsworth's sonnet - or maybe the actual words of that sonnet which starts:
Earth hath not anything to show more fair.
Dull would he be of soul etc etc.

As I say, I apologise.  You see, I am conducting a small experiment.  About a week ago I wrote a piece which carried the title "Ode to Autumn" and you could have knocked me down with the skin of a rice pudding when I saw how many times that page had been visited.  It occurred to me that Wordsworth might possibly have the same sort of drawing power as Keats.  So I thought I would try it.

Anyway, now you're here why not stay for a chat?  I would happily offer you a cup of tea or coffee but those fibre optic thingies have yet to be developed sufficiently for one to pass a beverage between computers.  I say "chat" although I am well aware that the blogosphere allows chats only by way of commenting on people's posts.  That is not something I do very often, usually because someone else has got there before me and said what I would have said only better!  It might make me seem rather rude, ear-wigging on other folk's conversations the way one listens in to the people on the next table in a restaurant.

Talking of being rude reminds me.  Some guy put the phone down on me the other day, saying he had better things to do than to talk to somebody as rude as me.  It had started as one of those terribly annoying phone calls that went like this:

Me: "123456" (our phone number)
Him: "Good morning.  Is that Mr Pensioner?"
Me (cautiously): "Ye-es?" in that querying way in which one can inflect a single word.
Him: "I'm Reg Somebody from Havenu Window Company.  How are you today?" (as if we had been talking the day before and I had told him I was feeling off colour)

By now I suspected that this was one of those cold calls disguised as market research to get round the fact that I have signed up to the telephone preference service in order to stop cold sales calls.

Me (attempting to sound puzzled): "Why do you ask?  What is it to you?"
Him: "I'm being polite."
Me (starting to get irritated): "But what is it to you?"
Him: "Like I say, I'm being polite.  But if you would rather I didn't ask. . .?"
Me: "Yes, I would prefer it."

And that is when he told me he didn't want to talk and put the phone down.  Which saved me having to choose between listening to him wittering on or being rude and telling him to go away.  Which just goes to prove that my old granny was right when she told me that honesty is the best policy.


I have not been taking photographs much of late so what I post will come out of the archives.

Brighton is a town (I'm talking here about Brighton itself, not the city of Brighton and Hove) which seems to have a thing about clock towers.  I can't recall there being a single church with a clock on the tower, but free-standing clock towers abound.  There is THE clock tower, which stands at a busy crossroads in the centre of town.  It was built in 1888 to commemorate Queen Victoria's golden jubilee and the golden ball on the mast rose and fell under hydraulic power every hour, until it was discontinued because of the excessive noise!

Having got this far, I have searched my files and found that the only picture I have of the Clock Tower is too poor to post here, so I will use this one from Wikimedia by someone calling himself (or herself) The Voice of Hassocks.

I started today's post with an apology - and now I'm ending with another!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The camera never lies

I suppose in some respects that is true.  In some respects.  The camera is, when all said and done, just an implement that records light.  Just how it records that light is - or can be - subject to human intervention.  Even with my fairly simple digital camera I am able to under- or over-expose and so alter the image that is recorded.

This glorious sunset, for example, was under-exposed in order to produce the saturated colour of the sky.

But it is not only when actually taking the photograph that the camera fails to tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  With digital photography it is so very easy to crop pictures to remove an object or person intruding into an otherwise tranquil scene or to rotate the picture slightly to level the horizon.  (It's amazing how often I have taken pictures in which the sea goes uphill!)

But there's more.  Graphic-enhancing software is so easy to acquire that one can never be entirely certain that a picture has not been manipulated.  We have all heard of film stars having their photos air-brushed for cosmetic reasons.  I have done it with landscape photographs.  This one, for example, had a strand of barbed wire running across the middle which quite spoiled the shot.  I dare say you will see what I have done if you enlarge the picture sufficiently.

Monday, 16 September 2013

By Appointment

It might seem an anachronism in this day and age, but there is still plenty of kudos to be gained by those companies that are holders of a royal warrant.  A royal warrant of appointment indicates that the warrant-holding company supplies the goods covered to a member of the Royal Family.  There are just three such members who grant warrants: the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales.  The late Queen Mother also issued warrants but these expired automatically five years after her death.

Warrants have been issued for many years although there seems to be some doubt as to when the practice first started in this country.  There is a record of a royal charter granted in 1155 by King Henry II to the Weavers' Company and it is thought that this was a type of warrant.  It is known that King George IV (he who had been Prince Regent and ordered the building of Brighton's Royal Pavilion) caused warrants to be issued during his reign from 1820 to 1830.

Royal warrants are not peculiar to the United Kingdom.  They are also issued in Belgium, Denmark, Japan, Monaco, Netherlands, Sweden and Thailand.

There are currently about 850 companies that hold warrants issued by the British Royal Family, indicating that the companies involved have supplied the family for at least five years and that there is a satisfactory trading relationship.  As the holders are allowed to display the coat of arms or heraldic badge of the royal personage on the products, advertisements, letterheads etc they are able to indicate that the product is of good quality.  Under the coat of arms are the words (and here I quote the wording on the bottle of washing up liquid in our kitchen):

By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen
Suppliers of Soap and Detergents
Proctor & Gamble

Harrods, the world-famous London department store, at one time held three warrants, issued by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales.  (Or was there a fourth, the Queen Mother's?) However, after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed, his father, the Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed who owned Harrods, insisted that the deaths were the result of a plot instigated by the Duke of Edinburgh and had the large coats of arms then displayed outside the store, torn down and burned.  Never did think much of the man anyway.


Sunday, 15 September 2013

The picture that got away

I sometimes think I would have liked to have been a professional photographer. There was a time when I supplemented my income by taking the occasional commission as a wedding photographer, but otherwise I have never been any more than a blow-hot-and-cold amateur.  Frankly, I just don't have what it takes to be any more than that.  I dislike portraiture, and studio work would bore me silly.  By that I really mean taking photographs for catalogues or cookery books. 

What I like is landscape photography.  I remember reading an article in Amateur Photographer or some other magazine telling readers how to earn cash while on holiday by taking photographs to sell to the package tour operators for their brochures.  The trouble was that we never went to those types of places, so that didn't work out for me.

But I don't have what it takes to be a professional landscape photographer either.  That needs dedication.  One would have to decide what view is to be photographed, then wait at the appropriate spot for light, cloud and all other conditions to be just right.  I don't have that sort of patience.  My photographs are very much taken on the spur of the moment when I see something that appeals to me.  I don't deny that there are occasions when I will go to a place specifically to take pictures because I think that conditions are just right, but those times are few and far between.

Having said that, there are several pictures I have wanted to take - sometimes for many years - but never done so for a variety of reasons.  I have driven miles and miles in France looking specifically for an orchard (preferably in blossom) with buttercups and brown cows.  They don't exist.  I have wanted to photograph a view from Seaford Head, just a few miles along the coast, which was selected a few years ago as one of the ten best views in Britain.  I have never actually seen the view myself, but I have seen pictures.  Some weeks ago, when I had been to Eastbourne, I came back via Seaford and attempted to find my way to the Head - but failed dismally.

John Constable's painting of Salisbury Cathedral from across the meadows has inspired me to take a similar picture.  His view seems to me to be from the north-west whereas I always see the cathedral from the south-east when driving to my cousin's farm and from the south-west on the return via the bottom road between Wilton and Salisbury.  However, from the bottom road, not far from Netherhampton, one sees the spire across the fields.  There must be just one spot from where it should be possible to take a photograph without modern houses getting in the way but I have yet to find it.  The problem is that this is a narrowish road with no pulling off places and plenty of traffic so I have been unable to stop and look.  Anyway, I think there are electricity cables crossing the view from any spot so I might as well give up.

This is how Constable saw the scene in 1831.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Papaver rhoeas

The poppy - papaver rhoeas -has been in the news this past week here in England; it even made the front page headline in my morning paper one day.  All because next year will see the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. There has been an amount of almost half-hearted discussion about how best to commemorate that anniversary.  One proposal was to give packets of poppy seeds to schools and other establishments to grow the flowers.

I learned this week from an article in the newspaper how the poppy came to be such an emotive symbol of remembrance.  Actually, I was surprised to learn that the idea came from America - I had always thought that the poppy was a particularly British thing.  But it seems that Moina Michael, an American lady, first had the idea even before the armistice in 1918.  She was browsing a magazine in which was published John McCrae's poem, In Flanders Fields.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
Miss Michael immediately thought of using the poppy as a symbol of remembrance but had something of a struggle to get universal acceptance.  However, in 1920, a French woman by the name of Madame Anna E Guérin happened to be in the USA and heard of the idea.  Returning to France, she had artificial poppies made for sell to raise funds to help children orphaned in the war.  The next year, she persuaded Field Marshal Earl Haig, President of the British Legion (now Royal British Legion) to take a supply of her poppies to raise money to use for the welfare of ex-servicemen.

The British Legion ordered 9 million and sold the first a few seconds after midnight on 11 November 1921.  The asking price was 3d, but by next morning, a single petal was selling for £5.  The sum of £106,000 was raised that year, the equivalent of nearly £30 million today.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Going, going,


I sold the Old Bat's car yesterday afternoon.  Our local garage owner, Well, he's not exactly the most local garage owner as there are two garages nearer to us than his, but both the OB and I have been using his garage for more years than I care to remember.  Anyway, he showed interest in taking the car when I was talking to him last week so I took it down to him.

Negotiating a deal has never been one of my strengths, the more so when I am selling and therefore have to set the bar at what I consider to be the apprpriate height.  Barry asked me how much I wanted and I hummed and haaed a bit intil I had a brainwave.

"Give me what Glass's Guide shows as the trade price."

He took me up on the deal, but the price was lower than I expected.  All the same, the Old Bat was happy enough with the cheque.  What does rile me is that the insurance company deduct a £40 fee from the refund of the premium.


As I remarked only a couple of days ago, time goes by faster and faster as one ages.  It really doesn't seem as long as two years since I took this photo, but it is two years and a day since we were in le Puy en Velay, France.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The original Big Mac

We went out for a meal last night, the Old Bat and I.  Not that we visited the Golden M, that's just not our style.  In fact, we would need to be extremely hard pushed to enter the portals of one of those establishments.  But I'm going to let you into a secret.  The burgher did not, as most people would surmise, make its world debut in the United States of America.  No, it originated in France.  Specifically, Calais.  Indeed, we need to go back more than 600 years to learn about the now-famous Burghers of Calais.

(I know - it's a ghastly pun, but it lets me tell a story that would otherwise come at you right out of context.)

In 1347 the French port of Calais was captured by the army of the king of England, Edward the Third, after a year-long siege. Calais was important to the English, not only because of its position just across the English channel, but because it had been a base for French pirates who made regular raids on the English. King Edward hated Calais and its citizens.

The siege had left the people of Calais starving to death, and the French army could not get close enough to the city to try to rescue them: the marshy land and the presence of English troops made that impossible.

In desperation the governor of Calais, Jean le Vienne, asked to parley with the enemy. King Edward sent two of his barons to hear what he offered. The governor told them how the people were dying of hunger, and asked that the citizens be allowed to leave the city in order to survive. Then the English troops could occupy it and its castle.

The barons went back and told Edward about Jean le Vienne's proposal, but he would have none of it: Calais must surrender unconditionally, and that was that.

The barons tactfully pointed out that the king might find it wise to set an example of mercy: if he did not, there might be retaliation by enemies in the future, with no mercy showed to English citizens.

Edward gave this some thought and made a decision. ‘You can tell the governor of Calais that six of its chief citizens must walk barefoot from the town to my camp, with rope halters round their necks and the keys to the city and the castle in their hands. On them,' he said darkly, ‘I will do my will. The rest of the citizens will be pardoned.'

Jean le Vienne ordered the city bell to be rung, and when they heard it the people gathered at the city centre to hear what they hoped would be good news. But when they heard what the king had decreed, they were soon groaning and weeping in despair.

Then one of the chief burgesses of Calais stepped forward. His name was Eustace de St. Pierre. He said he was prepared to give himself up to the English king, and was happy to do this and so save the citizens of Calais. One after the other, five more men joined him. Barefoot, and with ropes round their necks, they set out on the painful walk to the king's tent. Edward was waiting for them, and with him was his much-loved wife, Philippa.

The six burghers of Calais knelt before the king and queen. Then Eustace de St. Pierre said: ‘We are six men of the old bourgeoisie of Calais, and we bring you the keys of the city and the castle. We entreat you to show compassion to our suffering townsfolk.' Many of the English lords present shed tears of pity – and of respect for the men's bravery – as they listened.

But King Edward was still angry with Calais, which had cost him so much in English lives and money, and ordered that the six men were to be beheaded at once.

One of the barons who had talked with the governor of Calais now came forward. ‘Sire, you have a reputation for being noble and generous. I urge you to restrain your anger and not tarnish your reputation for fairness by a vengeful act of cruelty.'

The king would not listen, but called for the executioner to come with his axe. ‘The people of Calais have caused the death of so many of my men, now these men must die.'

Queen Philippa came closer to her husband. She was expecting a baby very soon, but despite the bulk of her pregnancy she dropped on her knees in front of the king. ‘My lord,' she said, ‘I risked great danger by sailing from England to be with you, and have asked for nothing in return. Now I humbly ask for one gift: for God's sake, and for the sake of your love for me, be merciful!' And she too broke down in tears.

The king looked down at her in silence for a long time. Then he said, ‘ I could say I wish that you had not been here! Then I would not have had to listen to a request I cannot refuse. I give these six burghers of Calais into your care: do what you like with them.'

Queen Philippa led the six men to her own part of the camp. Here her attendants took the rope halters from their necks, provided clean clothing, and made them a good meal. The queen then gave them some money and saw that Eustace de St Pierre and his friends were escorted safely out of the camp and back to Calais.

These days, Calais is more than happy to welcome the English who sail across the Channel to buy wine and tobacco at lower prices than are charged in England.

And here is a picture of Rodin's statue of the burgers.  It stands outside the Town Hall in Calais.

The picture is from Wikimedia (public domain) and much of the text is from the Peace Pledge Union (of which I am not a great fan)

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Nine eleven

Where have those 12 years gone?  I know that time goes faster as one gets older, but this is ridiculous.

Back in 2001 I was still working, although it would be only another eight months before I retired.  I knew nobody who was personally affected by the tragedy, but it was not all that long before that the Old Bat and I had visited New York (for the first and probably the last time) and we had gone up to the observation deck at the WTC.  My knowledge - admittedly only slight - of the site of the tragedy made it seem just a little more personal to me.

I am ashamed to say that, before the full extent of the horror became obvious - this was after hearing simply the first radio reports - there was a certain feeling here in Britain of 'now they know what it's like'.  We, especially in Northern Ireland but also here in Brighton and elsewhere in England, had lived through some 30 years of bombings by the Irish Republican Army and its off-shoots.  What was especially galling was that much of the funding for the IRA came from collections taken up in the USA.  Of course, as soon as people realised the extent of the horror, that attitude disappeared.

But why, oh why, can mankind not live and let live?  What is it about religion that brings out the worst in people?  We have had Catholics and Protestants fighting in Ulster, Sunni and Shia fighting in Iraq, Muslims and Christians fighting in other places.  Is it really any wonder that many people have turned their backs on all of the "gods"?  Or, perhaps, not the gods but organised religion.


I mentioned that we had a bombing by the IRA here in Brighton.  That morning (12 October 1984), my wife was taking our younger son and a friend of his into town for some school event.  The traffic was horrendous and Johny (son's friend) asked, "Could it have anything to do with the bombing?"  That was the first the Old Bat had heard of it!  This is the Grand Hotel after the explosion, courtesy D4444n at the English language Wikipedia


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

An entanglement of red tape

I have in the fairly recent past - by which I mean within the last month or so - taken part in a survey for the City Council.  I may even have mentioned it elsewhere on this blog.  It was about a proposal to extend the city-centre speed limit (20 mph) out to pretty well all of the city.  They (by which I mean the council officials in charge of the proposal and survey) had divided the city into several sections and residents in each section were asked to indicate their views.  Survey forms were delivered to each house, along with reply-paid envelopes, so goodness knows how much the exercise cost.  Not that the cost is the reason for today's rant.  Nor even is the proposal to reduce the speed limit.

[Perhaps, though, I could add that I replied saying what a nonsense the whole idea is.  One of the reasons behind the proposal is to make the roads safer.  I suggested reducing the speed limit even further - to 4 mph - and having a man with a red flag walk in front of each vehicle.  I doubt that my sarcasm will have been well received.]

What really irritated me - apart from the fact that the proposal will almost certainly be put into practice regardless of the result of the several surveys - were the supplementary questions. 
At the end of the survey come what are called "Equalities Monitoring Questions".  These read:
  • What age are you in years?
  • What gender are you?  (Male, female, other, prefer not to say)
  • Do you identify as the gender you were assigned at birth? For people who are transgender, the gender they were assigned at birth is not the same as their own sense of their gender.
  • How would you describe your ethnic origin? followed by 18 options plus "prefer not to say" (pnts)
  • Which of the following best describes your sexual orientation? followed by 5 options plus "pnts" 
  • What is your religion or belief? followed by 13 options plus ptns
  • Are your day-to-day activities limited because of a health problem or disability which has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 12 months?
  • Are you a carer?
  • Are you currently serving in the UK Armed Forces?
  • Have you ever served in the UK Armed Forces?
  • Are you a member of a current or former serviceman or woman's immediate family/household?
What does it matter what answers people give to those questions?  What do they have to do with the proposal?  What does equality monitoring achieve?

I answered "prefer not to say" to each of the questions, but I rather chuckled when somebody told me he just ticked any box at random.

There will be another red tape rant soon - I'm just deliberating how to answer the complicated questions in another "consultation".

Meanwhile, as the shadows grew eastwards on Saturday, the farmer was clearing the straw up on the Downs.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Ode to Autumn

But before we get onto that, a quick update on yesterday's blog.  I wrote that I had watched the Last Night of the Proms and was not appreciative of the lady who sang Over the Rainbow and Rule, Britannia.  (Over the rainbow is where she should have stayed.)  Anyway- I have since read no fewer than three reviews (which is almost a first since I don't generally bother with reviews) and it is obvious that I was experiencing one of those everyone-is-out-of-step-except-me moments.  Joyce DiDonato or Di-Donato - there being some confusion over whether or not she should be hyphenated, which sounds like a particularly gruesome medieval torture, rather like her singing - received rave reviews, one actually describing her as "a marvel".  But I suppose that can mean more than one thing.  Whatever, I did not enjoy her rendering of Over the Rainbow.  Mind you, I have never liked the song anyway; it's too saccharin-sweet for my taste.  Oh well, chacun a, one man's meat, and all those other clichés.

So, autumn.  It has most decidedly arrived.  At the start of last week we were basking in temperatures in the upper 20s but by the end of the week we were getting used once more to the mid- to low teens.  At this time of the year a poem I had to study at school always comes into my mind: Keats' Ode to Autumn.  You probably know the opening lines:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom friend of the maturing sun.
For some reason, I had it fixed in my mind that the poem was actually a sonnet - despite the title!  We most certainly did study the sonnet form and even now I can tell you that a sonnet is a poem of 14 lines of iambic pentameters.  Which means, I think, that each line should go di da di da di da di da di da.  There is also a convention about the rhyming, these being abba abba cde cde (I think).  I know I was intrigued by the form of these poems, which I decided must be extremely difficult to compose.  I tried my hand on more than one occasion but all I can remember is the opening of one:
Tis autumn.  The armies of the seasons
Intermingle.  Summer retreats, winter
Advances her probing, dead'ning squadrons.
Yeah, I know - but I was nobbut a teenager at the time.

I have already picked several pounds of blackberries from the jungle that was at one time my vegetable plot.  The apples will not be long - and there are plenty of them.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Pot of gold

I had pretty well determined that i couldn't be bothered to watch the Last Night of the Proms yesterday.

{Parenthetical explanation for those who don't know what the heck I'm talking about.  The Promenade Concerts are a series of classical music concerts held every summer at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where they have been staged for more than 100 years.  This year there were 50+ concerts in the series.  The Last Night has some traditional elements and always a party atmosphere.  The second half is the traditional bit and is broadcast on BBC.]

The Old Bat is not a classical music aficionado - despite her ever-increasing years she still favours Radio 1 - and I have watched the Last Night so many times that I have become just a little bored by the same old same old.  Anyway, the news was early to allow for the concert and I just couldn't be bothered to switch off.  So I watched the Last Night.

And there were changes!  Gone was the arrangement of sea shanties (which includes the ever-popular hornpipe) and instead we were treated to Verdi's Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves and some light music, including Some where Over the Rainbow sung by some American soprano who should have stayed at home.  She also nuked the traditional Rule, Britannia but the audience didn't seem to care. (Nothing wrong with her being American: I just didn't like her voice.)

When I looked out of the bedroom window this morning, what should I see but:-

I'd better go and seek that pot of gold!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Car for sale: one careful lady owner

I have been given another job.  Granted, this is a one-off and should not take all that much of my time, probably no more than an hour or two.  The Old Bat has reluctantly decided that the time has come to sell her car.  I took it into the garage this week for its annual roadworthiness test, which it passed with no problem, and noticed that the mileage since the test almost to the day last year had increased by 283.  Yes, 283 miles covered in a year.  The old duck is still quite capable of driving but just can't get to or from the car without assistance.  I know the time will come when I have to accept that I can no longer be trusted behind the wheel and will have to accept that my days of independence are over, but it must come very hard to people who suffer from neurological conditions such as the Old Bat's CBD or MS when they have to acknowledge that they are no longer independent at a comparatively young age.  The Old Bat is, in most ways, still very much compos mentis, she has no cognitive problems whatsoever.  It is simply that her legs don't do what she is telling them and she shuffles along.  Once she is in the driving seat of a car she is OK.  For now.

So I have to decide how best to dispose of the vehicle.  We both have a dislike of selling cars privately.  We don't think there are any problems with the car, but should something go wrong a little way down the road, we might almost feel morally obligated to make recompense.  That is not the case if we sell to a motor trader.  There is a company which frequently advertises on the television that they buy any car.  One goes to their web site and enters the details of the car, they tell you what they think its worth, then you take it to their local branch for inspection.  What I have heard is that they then reduce the offer price.

Another option is to send it for auction, but that involves paying the auction house a percentage and to transport the car.  One also has to hope that it actually gets a reasonable price.

My favourite option (at the moment) is to take it to our local garage, where it has been regularly serviced, and see if they will buy it.  The boss-man certainly expressed interest when I collected it after the MOT test this week.  And I trust him - which is worth something.

Which is more than I do for a main dealer along the coast.  The car was recalled recently for a possible small defect and I took it to the nearest main dealer.  When I collected the car I was told that the driver's wiper blade and the rear wiper blade were both split and one tyre was almost worn out.  Did I want them to do the work there and then?  There is nothing wrong with any of the tyres and no splits in wiper blades.  I did nothing and the car still passed the MOT.

I'll drop in on our local garage one day next week.

This bijoux cottage is just along the road from the garage.  It's not often that one sees the rows of bricks that this has in a flint cottage.

Friday, 6 September 2013

I wonder what they thought?

Easter was late that year.

It was about 25 years ago, I suppose, and we - that is, me, my wife, my two sons and my daughter - had once again driven to Somerset to spend the long weekend on the farm with my cousin, her husband, their two sons and their daughter and my cousin's husband's aunt (who lived with them and had farmed the land until it became too much for her).  Also with them were two French teenagers, here in England for two or three weeks to attend a language school.  The house was a little crowded, especially given that it had just the one bathroom, but the upstairs corridor was 22 yards long (yes, yards, not feet) with two short passages leading off and a total of seven bedrooms and a dressing room which doubled as a bedroom that weekend.

I know Easter was late because there were already a few weeny black lambs in the orchard.  Julian had been building up a small flock of Soay sheep, a Hebridean breed of smaller than average animals.  Their fur is mainly a dark brown and is not sheared but plucked.  The lambs are usually jet black, sometimes mousey, and tiny.  Just a snack for a hungry fox.

[The field was called the orchard although it was completely devoid of trees.  Years ago it really had been an orchard and the name had stuck.  Other fields were the paddock, the pond field, the 14 acres, the far field, the patch and the two park fields, left and right.]

On the Friday evening - Good Friday - Julian decided to take steps to reduce the likelihood of foxes snatching any of the lambs.  Accordingly, all the male members of the household were required to report for duty in the orchard just after sunset, the distaff side being excused.  Julian placed each of us at a particular spot beside the hedge through which the foxes gained access to the field.  At a given signal, we each unzipped and sprayed the ground, the smell of human urine supposedly being sufficient to keep foxes away.  Whether or not it worked, I couldn't say, but I think there were the same number of lambs in the field the next morning.

We told the French students that this was an old English custom, peeing on the hedges on Good Friday.  They were townies so they probably believed us.  Many a time we have chuckled over what they might have told their parents.

Not very seasonal, perhaps, but here is a Soay ewe with her lamb.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

In which I wonder . . .

There are several themes for blogs jostling for space in my head this morning and I am having great difficulty in making a decision, which will not come as a surprise to anyone who read my blog a few days ago when I was blethering about possibly changing my mobile phone.  I suppose I could always blame my indecision on the weather, after all, it is unseasonably warm and humid today.  I see that the Met Office forecast in the sidebar this morning is predicting 21 degrees for Brighton.  Rubbish!  It's already quite a lot hotter than that.  But then, I don't know just what the Met Office considers is "Brighton".  OK, so the weather stats printed in the Telegraph are not provided by the Met Office (they're from Accuweather) but they frequently fail to coincide with my memory of the weather the previous day.  This morning, the paper says that the high temperature in Brighton yesterday was 22.  The thermometer in my car recorded 27 - and it felt like 30!  I suppose the weather station is in some out of the way place where things are not quite the same as in my part of Brighton.  Anyway, the high today has been predicted at 27 or 28  - but tomorrow it will be all change with a high of just 17 or 18.

I have been busy picking blackberries and we now have quite a good supply in the freezer.  The Old Bat complained that I failed to pick enough last year and I am determined not to fall into the same trap this autumn.  Given that we seem to have a bumper crop I should have no difficulty.  I do like blackberries, especially in pies or crumbles with apples.  In fact, I think that apple pie (or apple crumble) without a few blackberries is like chips (fries) without salt, lacking in flavour.  The Old Bat made an apple crumble earlier this week.  I did offer to pick a few blackberries but she said no, she didn't want any.  Almost criminal to my mind!

I've started picking the apples as well.  I noticed yesterday morning that one or two were ready so in the afternoon the dog and I ventured forth.  The dog does enjoy gardening for some inexplicable reason.  Actually, she can be a real pain the neck when I'm trying to cut something back or dead-head low-growing flowers as she butts her head in and quite often I only just avoid trimming her whiskers with the secateurs.  So I picked half a bucketful of apples that were ready, all on one side of tree.  I'll get down there again at the weekend.  And we had the first dozen or so of our raspberries yesterday.  "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness", as the man said.

I may well like blackberries and I also like escargots (snails) but mussles I just can't get on with.  Not so the grandsons, however.  Here they are with an evening meal while at our French retreat a few weeks back.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Australia - by the Aussies

The questions below about Australia are from potential overseas visitors. They were posted on
an Australian Tourism Web site and the answers are the actual responses by the web site
officials, who obviously have a sense of humour.

Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia? I have never seen it rain on TV, so how do the plants
grow? (UK).
A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.

Q: Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street? (USA)
A: Depends how much you've been drinking.

Q: I want to walk from Perth to Sydney - can I follow the railroad tracks?(Sweden)
A: Sure, it's only three thousand kilometres through inhospitable desert - take lots of water.

Q: Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in Australia? Can you send me a list of them in
Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville and Hervey Bay? (UK)
A: Would you like your list freighted to you, or can we use it to wallpaper the crapper?

Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia?(USA)
A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe. Aus-tra-lia is that big island in
the middle of the Pacific which does not... oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday
night in Kings Cross. Come naked.

Q: Which direction is North in Australia? (USA)
A: Face south and then turn 90 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we'll send the rest
of the directions.

Q: Can I bring cutlery into Australia? (UK)
A: Why? Just use your fingers and lick the plates like we do.

Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys' Choir schedule? (USA)
A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is...oh forget it. Sure, the
Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Kings Cross, straight after the hippo races.
Come naked.

Q: Can I wear high heels in Australia? (UK)
A: You are a British politician, right?

Q: Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available all year round? (Germany)
A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of vegan hunter gatherers. Milk is illegal.

Q: Please send a list of all doctors in Australia who can dispense rattlesnake serum. (USA)
A: Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca which is where YOU come from. All Australian snakes are
perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make good pets.

Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Australia, but I forget its name. It's a kind of bear
and lives in trees. (USA)
A: It's called a Drop Bear. They are so called because they drop out of gum trees and eat the
brains of anyone walking underneath them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with
human urine before you go out walking.


Son, two grandsons, son's partner and her daughter enjoying a meal out when they stayed at our French retreat a month ago.  This is one of our favourite restaurants as well.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Police produce pandemonium

As is our wont when in France, we spent an evening at the village restaurant.  The food is always first class, Florence being a very good cook, but the service from Nicolas can be, shall I say? a bit hit or miss.  I had wondered a bit how we would be received as our son and his partner, together with their three children, had walked out in disgust just a couple of weeks before we were there.  The French can be inclined to bite off their noses to spite their faces so I was just a tad wary.  (I heard of one instance when a local garage was unable to locate a suitable car for a long-standing regular customer.  He found what he wanted at a garage 20 miles away and the reaction of his usual garagiste was, "You can take it back there for servicing.  I won't touch it as I didn't sell it.")  As it happened, I needn't have bothered; Nicholas was all smiles.

Apart from the rather lackadaisical service, my main gripe is that the menu has remained unchanged for almost 11 years - except for the price - and although outside the restaurant there is a notice proclaiming fixed menus and a la carte, there is no carte.  But we don't go there every week, only about every other month or so, so it is no great problem.  Actually, my biggest problem is deciding what to eat for my starter.  I do enjoy escargots (of which they serve a dozen) and although it is not actually on the menu, there is usually a goats' cheese salad as a special.  The bacon and egg salad is also very good, as is the house speciality, salade presbytere, but that includes grapefruit with the smoked salmon and I am not permitted grapefruit on medicinal grounds.  On cold winter evenings the fish soup is a good starter.

I always make a reservation as I have learned that if nobody has booked, it might prove difficult to track Nicolas down - and Florence will probably stay at home.  So I book for 7.30, aiming to arrive about 7.45 in the hope that Nicolas has got there by then.  He doesn't always manage it, but this time not only were we there almost on the dot of 7.30, but another couple was already seated and our host was in attendance.

From my usual seat at our usual table I have a view of part of the village square and at one point during the evening I glanced out and was astonished to see a police car drive through.  We don't see police in the village; in the nearly eleven years that we have known the place, there has only been one crime that we are aware of.  That was the theft of a trailer left unchained on the pavement overnight.  (Ironically, it was owned by an Englishman who had bought a house in the village but left quite soon as he complained that nothing ever happens there and he couldn't get a decent pint.)  That theft was talked about for weeks, possibly months.  It was the most excitement there had been in the village since some old boy had a heart attack in the middle of Sunday mass.

I thought no more about the police presence that evening but I did think it rather unusual that the other couple in the restaurant (a young French couple from the nearby town who couldn't keep their hands off each other all evening) where given directions in the square by Nicolas and then drove away down a side lane leading past the sports field.  All was explained a few minutes later when Nicolas returned to the restaurant and explained that the police were stopping all vehicles and breathalysing the drivers.  My alcohol consumption during the whole evening would be no more than two glasses of wine, but I know that the legal limit in France is quite a bit lower than in England and I was accordingly a touch bothered.  Even though we live only a quarter of a mile from the restaurant, that is too far for the Old Bat to walk and I had driven there.  Nicolas and I discussed alternative routes home, the shortest being a drive of at least five miles!

The surprising thing was that, although the service had seemed to be no quicker than usual, we were ready to leave earlier than we had ever been - before 10 o'clock (which is when the street lights are switched off).  But Nicolas had mislaid his new glasses and could not prepare our bill without them.  So it was some time after 10 before we had searched the dining room, the bar and even the garden before spotting the offending specs behind a bottle of brandy.  By then the police had given up and gone home, so we did as well.

This is the village restaurant:

Monday, 2 September 2013

Do the gods want to destroy us?

Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.  It really doesn't matter who coined that phrase, whether it was Euripides, Sophocles, Aristides or any of the other boys in the band.  But I rather think that the gods must be fed up with some of the officials working for Brighton & Hove City Council.  Please note, I wrote "officials", not "councilors" - although now I come to think of it. . .

I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog - and not so very long ago, if my memory serves (which it often doesn't - that Brighton suffers each summer from a locust-like plague.  The travellers seem to like Brighton as a holiday destination and they arrive in their dozens.  As I have also said before, I have no objection whatsoever to people living a nomadic life is that is what they choose, but I do object when they think they have the right to damage parks and gardens in the city and leave behind a disgusting mess that we ratepayers have to pay to have cleaned up.  Despite our Green-Party-led Council telling us "we must respect minority groups", they have been prodded into putting locked gates at vehicular access point to parks and building up bunds or planting large, timber posts along the edges of parks where they abut roads.  But the travellers usually just use angle grinders to cut the gates, diggers to remove bunds or pull out the posts.

This week, though, travellers descended on Brighton's Wild Park, a nature reserve on the outskirts of the city.  The Council had not long managed to evict another group of travellers from the site and had installed a locked gate to prevent a further incursion, but the new arrivals had simply driven over the earth hump beside the gate.  The police were about to issue what is known as a Section 61 Notice which would have given powers to remove the travellers immediately when a Council official, worried that somebody might hurt themselves driving over the humps, unlocked the gate.  The Council will now have to spend thousands of pounds taking court action to evict the travellers!

And the same thing has happened at Surrenden Field, another small park.  The Council opened the gate for the travellers!

As I said, those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.


Another look at Saltdean beach taken from the same spot as yesterday's picture.  But the beach to the east was almost empty.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Like a donkey's gallop

That's me this morning, all behind like a donkey's gallop, which is another of my old granny's sayings.  Quite why a donkey's gallop should be all behind was something I never did understand as a child.  I probably just accepted the saying as gospel truth (after all, one's granny never tells an untruth, does she?) without ever querying the facts behind it.  Anyway, I'm all behind this morning, whether or no there is any similarity to a donkey's rapid ambulation.  The cause of my tardiness goes back to Friday (and just in case you're not quite on the same wavelength as me, today is Sunday).  I woke on Friday with a stiff shoulder, the arthritis having managed for once in a while to beat my daily drug dose.  I full expected that the stiffness would wear off as I used the shoulder, but it became stiffer as the day went on and was quite painful by the time I went to bed.  It woke me in the early hours and even with the help of a couple of painkillers, I managed little sleep.  Things had eased by bedtime yesterday and I managed a whole night's sleep - deep, restful, satisfying sleep - that made me late rising today.  But what bliss it had been!  I very nearly burst into song as I stood in the shower.

Today, of course, is the first of September, so summer is over.  The last couple of mornings have started off much cooler than of late and I have worn a light jacket when walking the dog after breakfast.  The children go back to school this week.  Hey ho, the season of mists will be upon us before we know what's happening.  I suppose very soon some of my American friends will start their "Thanksgiving comes before. . . " campaign once more.  There are still two month's to go till bonfire night but already Brighton Lions have had enquiries about this year's fireworks display.

Summer might be over, but this year we have had a summer, unlike the last couple of years.  When I went to fetch the dog from kennels after our return from France last week, I stopped off briefly on Saltdean beach where people were enjoying the sun and the sea - and the little bit of gritty sand exposed as the tide goes down - to take a couple of snaps.  Here's one of them.