Saturday, 30 November 2013


Memory is a funny thing.  There are some events that stay in one's mind almost for ever while other things are very quickly forgotten.  Then there are those things about which one is never quite certain; are they memories, or are they one's wild imaginings of what somebody once told one?

I was born, as I wrote in another, recent blog, in the middle of the Second World War in the Medway towns, an important naval base.  I have been told that there was in the road behind our house, a mobile anti-aircraft gun.  This was moved up and down the road in an attempt to fool German airmen into thinking that there we had more guns than was actually the case.  I know that I have no memory of the gun, firing or otherwise, but I'm not so sure about the searchlights.  I do have vague memories of searchlight beams dancing in the sky - but whether this really is memory or just my imagination, I couldn't say.  However, I do remember walking along the of the Darland Banks, part of the North Downs, fairly soon after the war.  Huge pits had been dug and were still there, open to the sky and any passing drunk.  They had been dug to stop tanks in the event of a German invasion.

There is just the vaguest memory of my father returning from the war, probably in 1948.  He had been in the Far East and Australia where he had managed to buy a whole heap of things that were not obtainable in England.  There were toys for my brother and I, including a large, clockwork bumper car each.  When set in motion, these would change direction if they bumped into the furniture or any other obstruction.  Magic!  For the family, especially my mother, there was a dinner and tea set.  During the war, the only crockery permitted in England was plain white - probably something to do with pigments having to be brought across the sea or the chemicals being needed for something else.  Anyway, Dad was in a department store in Sydney when he saw an assistant starting to unpack a dinner set.  The china was a deep cream colour, with flowers around the edge.  Dad immediately told the assistant to stop and to pack it all up again and he bought the lot.  Strangely enough, the set had been made in England!

Dad brought back so much from that trip that he had to get the ship's carpenter to make a large chest to stow it away.  That chest must measure about 2' 6" square in cross-section by about four feet long, maybe bigger.  You might notice that I used the present tense; the chest stayed in my parents' home until my mother died and my brother has it now.

Ahh, memories.

Thursday, 28 November 2013


I sometimes wonder, when I glance at the personal ads for "friends" - which i do from time to time although very rarely as I am lucky enough not to be in the situation of needing to advertise .

Now, where was I?  Oh yes.  Just what is a GSOH?  Yes, I know it's an acronym for Good Sense Of Humour, but how does one define it?  I would have thought that just what comprises a good sense of humour (and, Blogger, that word is quite correct when spelled - or spelt - with a U) differs from one person to another.  And it can change as we get older.  Sometimes.

As a child, I was wont to practically fall of my chair when reading the "Beano" - which was why I always sat on the floor to read said comic.  Nowadays, the antics of the Bash Street Kinds or Dennis the Menace leave me cold.

As a teenager, I thought the Goons hilarious.  Yes, maybe even today I would crack a smile, but I still prefer something a little different.

What I cannot find at all humorous are some of the supposedly comic programmes broadcast on television these days.  "Mrs Brown's Boys" and "Live at the Apollo" are just a waste of time as far as I am concerned.  Of course, for someone of my age, there was a golden age of comedy ushered in by television sitcoms such as "Steptoe and Son".  You can tell I'm getting old when I say, "They don't make 'em like that any more".

Like this classic from Morecambe and Wise:

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


My mother, bless her, was very protective of her two chicks.  Indeed, one might almost say that she was over-protective in many ways.  Granted, if there were any germs or viruses about you could pretty much guarantee that one of us would catch whatever it was - and pass it on to the other!  Mum took to heart the old maxim, ne'er cast a clout till may be out.  But even when the hawthorn was in bloom, the likelihood was that my brother and I would still be wearing hand-knitted pullovers - as well as vests under our shirts and jackets when we left the house!

The pullovers - some long-sleeved, some sleeveless - were knitted by my mother.  She was seldom to be seen sitting down and relaxing without the knitting needles going clickety clack.  Jumpers, scarves, wooly hats, cardigans - even swimming costumes were home-made.  The clothing produced by Mum's knitting was as good as anything that could be bought in the shops so we were never embarrassed to wear it.  Except that I do recall being slightly embarrassed by my knitted swimming costume.  It was a costume as well - not just trunks.  The body came up over my chest and there were straps across the shoulders.  And how heavy it got in the water!  As I say, I can remember being just a bit embarrassed on the beach that year.

Mum was a great knitter, a hobby she continued until her sight became too poor, but she was not a seamstress, although I believe that as a teenager (aged about 18 or so) she may well have done some embroidery work.  Nor could she do smocking, although this was something she absolutely loved.  I'm sure she would have been delighted to have a daughter to dress, but she did her best to make up for the lack.  As youngsters, both my brother and I were dressed in blouses rather than shirts, blouses that had started life as plain white garments.  But before we were allowed to wear them, they were taken to either Mrs Hutton (our landlady) or a neighbour of hers to be smocked.

I've spoken to my brother since I typed the last paragraph and he confirms it was not Mrs Hutton who did the smocking, nor was it a neighbour of hers.  However, we agreed that whoever it was who did it, she lived on the Wigmore road in a bungalow with a wooden veranda - what would be called a porch in the southern states of America - the whole plot being covered in trees which made it seem rather spooky.


Those woollen swimming costumes:

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Better late than never

Although I was out of bed this morning a littel earlier than usual for a routine check-up with my rheumatologist (all going well, thank you) I seem to have got way behind with everything.  The situation hasn't been helped by the fact that we are off to France first thing tomorrow (got to stock up the wine before Christmas) and there have been numerous things to get done before then.

The day dawned bright and sunny, although brisk with a frost.  I kicked myself when I was almost at the park with the dog as I had intended taking my camera.  It was sitting on the kitchen worktop next to the mobile phone - but I missed it.  My intention had been to take pictures of autumn colours - but although yesterday the leaves were there, today most had fallen.  Not that my effort would have been anywhere near as good as the pictures taken in Buckinghamshire by Jenny Woolf - just take a look at these.  It makes me want to spit!

Still, I was quite pleased with this view of the sea at Rottingdean that I captured this afernoon after taking the dog to kennels.

Monday, 25 November 2013

In praise of pasta

My late mother, bless her, was not the world's most adventurous cook.  Granted, she could bake cakes and produce the most wonderful steamed puddings, but as far as main courses went, she was strictly a meat-and-two-veg type.  And, if I am to be completely honest, the vegetables would have been boiled to within an inch of their lives, if you see what I mean.  Al dente was not something Mum had ever heard of.  Or if she had, she probably thought he was a singer from the southern states of America.  Potatoes were roasted on Sundays, but otherwise came boiled or mashed.  Parmentier, duchess, Lyonnaise, hassleback - no, these were not in her cookery book.  Don't misunderstand me; I'm not criticising Mum.  She was a working class girl who learned her cooking in the England of the 1930s - and that was the English cuisine in those days!

One area in which Mum excelled was milk puddings.  These would be based on a grain of some sort and baked in the oven - rice, sage, tapioca, macaroni were all used.  Yes, macaroni.  I'm not sure that the Old Bat believed me when I mentioned this a week or two back.  She had never heard of macaroni - or any other type of pasta - being used for anything other than savoury dishes.  But yesterday afternoon we were at a small family get-together to mark a grandson's birthday and I remarked on this to his other grandfather.  By some strange coincidence, he said that he had received the same reaction from his wife very recently when he mentioned a macaroni milk pudding as made by his mother!

Nowadays, of course, there is almost a complete aisle in our local supermarket taken up with the numerous varieties of pasta that are available but I can almost remember when macaroni and spaghetti were the only choices.  And the spaghetti was in tins with tomato sauce.  Poor old Mum never did really get the hang of all that Italian food.  A few years before her death - by which time Italian restaurants were all the rage in England, serving both pizzas and pasta - I took Mum over to France for a few days so that she could see our holiday getaway cottage.  While there, we went to an Italian restaurant.  Looking at the menu, Mum was hesitant about choosing something she didn't know.  She finally plumped for spaghetti Bolognaise, explaining that she had eaten that once before on an all-inclusive holiday.

I love pasta dishes, my current favourite being rigatoni amatriciana, but I do still get twinges of guilt for taking Mum a little out of her depth.  Mind you, I think she enjoyed it in the end.


Having been drifting on about pasta, it seems appropriate that today's picture should be of Italy.  I'm not well up on tourist attractions in that country, but I understand the triangular piazza of the small town of Greve in Chianti is quite well-known.  I was disappointed as the day we went there - and probably this is true of most days - it was full to overflowing of tourists.  Much more pleasant is another triangular piazza, the one in Figline Valdarno, and here it is.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Community spirit

Before he died, an uncle of mine wrote his memoirs.  Fortunately, his memory was pin-sharp and he could recall names of both fellow pupils and teachers from way back - something like 60 or 70 years.  My memory is nothing like as good as that, a matter of constant regret to me.  All the same, given how fascinating both his children and grandchildren found his memoir, I determined to do likewise.  Somehow, although I did at one time make a start, I have never really driven myself to get down to it.  I have, from time to time, posted snippets here on the blog, and that, perhaps, will be the best way for me to continue.  At least I will know where to find all the bits of what could be quite a large jigsaw.  On the other hand, given my failing memory, perhaps what will emerge will be more a work of fiction - or a very short autobiography!  Whatever I do manage to get down on screen, it is unlikely to be of more than passing interest to any regular readers I might have attracted but it might just stir up a few memories for other people.

Having thought all that out, it struck me that many people bemoan the fact that nowadays, in the 21st century, there is not that sense of community that once existed in our towns.  There might still be the remnants of it in smaller villages, but in the towns and cities it is nowhere near as strong as it is said to have been 70 or 80 years ago.  But the loss of that community spirit, or part of it, is all part and parcel of the evolution of our lives in general.  Back then - in England, at any rate - many people, possibly the majority, lived in small houses built in long terraces.  There were no front gardens, the houses opening straight onto the street, and only small back yards.  Meeting one's neighbour would have been a much more frequent occurrence then than now, especially as the women, once married, were at home or at the local shops buying fresh food every day.  The men would, very likely, be working together at the docks, on the railway or in a local factory.  Now, of course, most of the women are out at work all day and the men are quite likely to commute to towns and cities some distance away.  There just is not the social interaction in the daily lives of people that once there was.

Of course, it doesn't help that English people are so reserved.  With the lack of day-to-day social interaction, there is a lot less of the popping next door to borrow a cup of sugar, or delivering a bunch of flowers to new neighbours.  Anyway, it might not be convenient for them if we just turn up on their doorstep unexpectedly.  Much better to wait for an invitation.

Heavens, I have really drifted off course again today.  Better stop now before I end up somewhere I don't know where I am.


Yesterday I posted a picture of the Kennedy memorial at Runnymede.  Just a couple of hundred yards away is another memorial.  This was erected by the American Bar Association to commemorate the signing of the Magna Carta - which has provided the basis of the American constitution.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Home is the sailor

It could just be down to the fact that I am an old curmudgeon.  Or maybe I want to feel superior in some way.  Whatever the reason, I do sometimes want to tell those wives of sailors and soldiers who complain about their husbands being away from home for six months that they should think themselves lucky.  Yes, I know things have changed, even in my lifetime.

I am - or perhaps I should rephrase that in the past tense: I was a war-time baby.  Don't misunderstand me: I'm not claiming that the fact of being born in the very middle of World War II should qualify me for any special privileges.  At least, no special privileges other than those that are due to me anyway as an old geezer.  My brother was a war baby as well, although by the time he came along the war was close to the beginning of the end, with D-Day being just a moon away.  No, I came a couple of years earlier.  The United States had entered the war by the time I was born.  I have sometimes wondered if President Roosevelt had heard of my forthcoming arrival and decided that it was time to come to my aid. But, quite frankly and to be completely honest, I doubt the fact of my mother's "interesting condition" had any bearing on matters whatsoever.

During the War, and for some time both before and after it as well, my father served in the Royal Navy.  Or the Andrew, as it is sometimes known.  Don't ask me why.  The Navy is known as the Andrew, I mean.  I know why my father  - oh, heck.  This has no bearing on what I am trying to tell you.

At the outbreak of the War in 1939, Dad was serving on HMS Sheffield, a light cruiser of the Southampton class.  During my father's time aboard the Shiny Sheff*, she served in home waters, the Arctic and the Atlantic.  It was in 1943 that Dad was drafted to HMS Bonaventure, a miniature submarine depot ship.  The Bonaventure sailed for Australia and the Pacific early in 1945 and, after the end of hostilities, was used to transport nurses from Australia to Hong Kong and, I believe, rescued Australian prisoners of war from Hong Kong to Australia.  It was to be three years before the Bonaventure returned to Chatham.  Granted, there had been a war on, but when I hear those young wives complaining about husbands being away six months . . .

I don't know about my reaction, but my mother told how, after Dad had come home, my younger brother - then aged either 3 or 4 - was told to kiss Daddy goodnight - and he kissed the photograph of Dad as was his usual custom.

*HMS Sheffield was known as the Shiny Sheff as much of what would have been brass on other ships was stainless steel on the Sheffield, the steel being donated by the city after which the ship was named.


Just about all the blogs I read that are written by Americans mentioned yesterday that it was the anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy - and each and every one of the writers could recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.  Well, I'm sorry - I don't remember.  I'm not at all sure I can remember where I heard about the death of Princess Diana, either.

Anyway, what you might not know is that an acre of land at Runnymede was given in perpetuity to the United States of America in memory of JFK.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Don't shoot the messenger

Well, they don't these days, do they?  Especially if the messenger is bringing good news.  And that's what I am doing today - except that I'm not actually bringing the news as Geoff will have done that yesterday.

It all started three weeks ago when I dropped into the Sussex MS Treatment Centre to collect the Old Bat after her hyperbaric oxygen session.  As I dropped off the Old Bat, Alan, the centre manager, had said that he had met somebody from a local Lions Club who had commented that it was sometime since the centre had received any funding from that Lions Club.  Alan couldn't place just which Lions Club it was, nor how to contact them.  I thought about it while wandering the aisles of the supermarket and almost missing several things on the list, and on my return told Jane, the fund-raiser, how to get in touch.  She mentioned that she was trying to raise the money to buy a piece of equipment they had been lent on trial.  The price was £5,245, towards which the users of the equipment had donated £500.  I suggested she speak to Geoff, the member of Brighton Lions who deals with grants.

This week, Brighton Lions agreed to donate £4,745 so that the equipment can be bought and it will be my pleasant duty to give them the cheque this morning.  But Geoff will have rung Jane yesterday to tell her the good news, which means I'm not the messenger.


There are always sheep on the Downs at all times of the year, but there seem to be more during the winter months.  I rather suspect that some of them have been moved from the Romney Marsh in the hope that the fields behind Brighton will provide less challenging weather conditions.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Out of gas

I don't know that it could really be called her signature dish, but the Old Bat makes a pretty mean crème brûlée.  Her dish is not just burnt cream (the literal translation) but also includes (usually) white grapes.  There is, in the kitchen, a gas gun used especially to "burn" the brown sugar topping.  For many years, the gas gun screwed onto the top of a small cylinder of butane, the sort of cylinder that is used in those one-man-type camping stoves.  As is the way with so many things, that gas gun gave up the ghost and had to be replaced.  It was replaced with a modern, all-singing, all-dancing gas gun, considerably smaller than the old blowtorch variety, and operated by filling the integral gas cylinder by using a cylinder of cigarette lighter gas.

As I recall from the days when I used a gas-fired cigarette lighter, it was easy to buy the gas refill cylinders.  Any tobacconist would have them, as did the cigarette kiosks at every supermarket.  But not now.  I have tried to buy a new cylinder at several places, only to be told that nobody stocks them now.

I do have a few more places I can try, but I'm not over optimistic of success.  What then?  How will we be able to finish off the crème brûlée?  What do they do in restaurants?


To the butcher this morning, where we ordered the turkey (a large bird to be kept in the freezer till Easter when it will be eaten on the farm, and a smaller crown for us on Christmas Day) and, after lunch, a muddy walk in Stanmer Woods.  It really is most unpleasant out of doors today with a cold, north-easterly wind and rain flurries.  And mechanical things have not been making the day any easier.  There was a peculiar rattle in the car which seemed to be coming from inside the driver's door.  It had not been there yesterday - or whenever it was I last used the car.  Strangely, when I started the car up again after visiting the butcher, the rattle was gone.  Then neither the desktop nor the laptop computer would open an attachment to an email - until this afternoon, when everything has gone swimmingly.  As a result, I don't even know if I'm frustrated or not.  It's most frustrating!


A picture of crème brûlée under the gas "stolen"from somewhere.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Crabs or Bramleys?

We had tuna steaks for dinner the other evening and I noticed that the jar of crab apple jelly is getting dangerously near empty.  Crab apple jelly can be used as a jam and spread on bread or toast but in our house it is generally used only to make a sauce to go with the tuna steaks.  Once the steaks are cooked, a spoonful of c-a jelly is melted in the pan, then balsamic vinegar is added and mixed in.  It can be used as a sauce with things other than tuna steaks but it does seem to go with them remarkably well.

In past years - but not last year - the Old Bat has made the jelly herself from crab apples I have collected.  There are two or three trees in grass verges in streets around Patcham and nobody else seems at all bothered about picking the fruit, probably not being aware that it can be used.  I have never bothered about the fruit being squashed or damaged as it makes no difference to the jelly and have just scooped up the apples off the pavement and verge.  But not last year.  Last year the apple tree in our garden - a Bramley's seedling - produced just two apples - and they both rotted on the tree.  The crab apple trees produced no fruit whatsoever. 

The lack of the fruit was a culinary disaster for this household.  We learned from a farmer friend that there was no fruit on any other tree either.  So what could we do?  I scoured the shelves at various supermarkets but found no crab apple jelly on sale.  The farm butcher we use didn't stock it.  Oddly enough, the young man who served us had never heard of it.  A lengthy search on the Internet showd that just one company in England makes it (there may be a few farm shops that sell their own) but it is not widely available in stores.  We wanted a further supply and I ended up buying it from some obscure on-line pharmacy, paying well over the odds to have just one jar delivered.  It is that jar which is now nearly empty.

This year, our apple tree was absolutley laden with good fruit - but once again there were no crab apples.  I am once again reduced to scouring the Internet - except that the Old Bat has confessed.  She could use red currant jelly instead to make the sauce.  Or maybe I should buy a crab apple tree to plant in place of the Bramley that has blown down.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The milk of human kindness

I don't know if I have always believed in the essential goodness of mankind.  It's possible, I suppose, that I am just a starry-eyed optimist.  (Is that a line from a song?)  But let's just declare this a negative-free zone and decide that my original assertion is correct.  Either way, the events of the last couple of weeks here in Blighty have done nothing to diminish my faith.  The Royal British Legion hope to have raised £37 million through their Poppy Appeal to provide assistance to past-members of the British armed forces.  Within 48 hours of the launch of another appeal - this one to help the people of the Philippines - £23 million had been donated.  Then last Friday the BBC broadcast its annual Children in Need telethon - and raised £31 million on the night with more still to come.  Of course, the doom-sayers will point out that the total of the donations amounts to less than £2 per head of population of the United Kingdom (63 million or thereabouts) but in these times of economic difficulty, I still think it generous.


Over the last few days I have added a couple of blogs to my daily reading list.  But I have to wonder about those bloggers who list seemingly dozens of blogs that they claim to read.  How on earth do they find the time?  Or do they sit at their computers all day every day?  That's not far off the pot calling the kettle black, but I do try to have a life.


After those two days of bright blue skies, the weather has turned dank and drear.  Not exactly the kind of weather to encourage me to take photographs, so let's remember what summer can be like.  There was a field of these which we could see from the bedroom and one day the light was just right.

Monday, 18 November 2013

What price security?

I have read recently of an Englishman who was being pursued by the German tax authorities for payment of £134,000 which they claimed was owing to them. Value Added Tax - or whatever it is called in Germany - or something like that. This had all come about since his passport was stolen some years ago and another person had assumed his identity.

Then there was the instance very recently when a friend received an email from a friend of his asking for money to be sent to him as he was in Rome and all his things had been stolen. Of course, this was immediately recognised as a scam, somebody having managed to hack into the poor guy's email details.

These are but two recent examples of identities being stolen - and they do make me wonder just how much information one should disclose on social networking sites such as Facebook - or even Blogger. When I think of all the so-called security questions to which some web sites want answers, I wonder just how good their security is. How do we know what controls are exercised over the information? And in any case, how many other people out there in the wide, wicked world are capable of finding out very easily what my mother's maiden name was? Or my first school? It's all very well those sites asking for the name of a favourite place or some such, but how can I be expected to remember that sort of thing seven, eight or nine years down the line?

Then we are told that we should have a different password for each password-protected site - and that those passwords should be changed regularly! It's bad enough having to remember my PIN for the credit and debit cards - five, at the last count. I think. I'm told I could change these at a cash machine, but if I use the same PIN for each card and something goes wrong, I stand to lose a lot of money. Or, at the very least, have a load of aggro that I don't need. There have been two occasions when somebody has tried to clone a card of mine, successfully on one of them.

The first occasion was when the Old Bat and I had taken my cousin and her husband out for a meal while we were staying with them on the farm. When I came to pay the bill, the credit card company wanted to speak to me. Had I used my card recently to buy something very cheap? No, said I, and proceeded to tell them the last two or three times I had used the card, even telling them just how much had been spent as I still had the slips in my wallet. It transpired that somebody had cloned my card and tried a transaction for 1p just to see if the details were correct.

On the second occasion I had checked my credit card account online - and was horrified to see that I had bought plane tickets and various other things in Madrid - a city I have never visited. The money was immediately refunded, but it has all made me rather wary. And yes, I do have different passwords for each site. I use a combination of the site's address and an old car registration number which I just happen to remember from about 30 years ago. I'm reasonably sure that it would be more trouble than it's worth to try hacking that.


Today I shall indulge myself and psot another picture of my 6-year-old granddaughter.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A cute accent

I have never really thought that I speak with an accent.  Except when I am speaking my version of pidgin French when I know full well that I speak with an English accent.  That doesn't bother me in the slightest - although I would much rather be told that I speak French like a Frenchman.  I was told long ago - or maybe I read it somewhere - that the French consider an English accent sexy.  Rather like we English think that old geezer Maurice Chevalier speaks (or spoke - he might be dead for all I know) English with a very sexy accent.  He was the guy in the film Gigi who sang "Thank heaven for leetle girrrls".

I don't notice that I speak with an accent  (I'm back speaking English, b the way.) but I am aware that to some people it sounds like it.  My accent is commonly know as a Chatham accent.  It's a bit more estuary English than the standard "received English" but somewhat posher.  It's also posher than a Sarf London accent.

Given what a small country our is, it seems rather surprising that accents change so dramatically in such short distances.  One of the most irritating accents (to many people) is heard in Birmingham - or worse, the Black Country, which is just on the north-west edge of Birmingham.  Oddly enough, although the Brummie accent is nasal and somewhat whining - the Black Country accent being even more nasal and whining - the accent of folk from the south-west of Birmingham - Bromsgrove, say - is much softer to the ear.  The north-east, round Sutton Coldfield and Lichfield, is also easier to listen to.

Moving further north we get the distinctive tones of the Scouse accent from Liverpool.  At least that is understandable, which is more than can be said of Geordie accent of Newcastle Upon Tyne.  And as for Glasgow . . .

Some years ago I was paid a compliment I have never forgotten.  I was at a dinner - not a posh affair - in America and fell into conversation with the people near me at the table, all of them American (except for the Old Bat).  One of them told me that she could listen to me talking all night, my English accent was so attractive!  Just imagine - me being told I have a cute accent!!


Another bright, sunny day yesterday and I remembered to take the camera with me when I walked the dog across 39 Acres and round the Roman Camp.  This was the view across the Downs to the north-west of the Camp.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Street names

I found myself totally distracted yesterday when trying to put down a few thoughts about street names in Brighton and, as happens so often with me, I wandered happily down a variety of memory lanes until, eventually, I had ended up miles from my first destination.  OK, that is perhaps a little picturesque since I had all along intended writing about Brighton and that's exactly where I ended up.  Only it wasn't in the High Street.

Coincidentally, not all that long after I had posted that blog, the Old Bat asked me where High Street, Brighton, is.  She has lived in Brighton all her life - except for six years shortly after we were married during which time we lived in Hove, actually, but that is now part of the city of Brighton and Hove so I think she really has lived here all her life.

But I'm drifting again.  And waffling.

I'm pretty sure I have told people that the original fishing village of Brighthelmstone that became Brighton was basically bounded by East Street (on the eastern side), North Street (in the north), West Street (do I really need to tell you which side that was?) and the now drowned South Street.  But just two blocks to the north of North Street is another road, confusingly named North Road.  There is a South Road as well, but that is about a mile further north!

To add to the confusion, there are in the city two George Streets, one in Brighton, the other in Hove.  There is a Trafalgar Street (in Brighton) and a Trafalgar Road (in Portslade, which became part of Hove, which became part of Brighton & Hove).  Throw in Church Street (two of them), Church Road, Church Hill, New Church Road and Old Church Close - mostly well apart from each other - and you will see that we have further cause for confusion.

Oh heck!  I'm doing it again.  Time to call it quits.


The weather over the last few days seems to have set out to prove me a liar.  I wrote the other day about dank, dreary November days but of late the sun has shone and, although somewhat cooler, the days have been bright, as shown in this photo taken in the local park this morning.  The beech trees still have some colour although the upper leaves have gone.  Just a touch of frost on the grass.

Friday, 15 November 2013

To Brighton

I do find it slightly discombobulating, even frightening, that I can remember quite so vividly my first visit to Brighton.  The scary part is that the visit in question was over 50 years ago.  That - gulp - is more than half a century.  The day in question would have been in March or April - the school Easter holidays.  Or maybe it was during the half-term holiday in May?  Not that it matters whether the visit was in March, April or May.

My father was due to retire from the Royal Navy after 22 years service and he had secured a job which was to be based in Brighton.  Or Hove, actually.  As Brighton was an easy day trip from the Medway towns, where we were then living, we came to see what was in store for us.  My mother had heard of a part of Brighton called Woodingdean and she thought it sounded a rather nice place to live, so we went there first.  It proved to be rather too far out, so we went on into town.

Dad's usual method of seeing new towns was to drive until he thought he was near the centre, park, and then walk into the centre of town, usually asking for directions to "the shops".  That is just what he did on this occasion - and it was just as well that he asked for "the shops" and not "the High Street".

Perhaps I should explain that last little bit for those readers who are not familiar with the English way of life back in the 1950s.  Most towns then, and quite probably now as well, have a High Street.  This was the street where could be found the largest shopping centre with food shops, clothes shops, even department stores in some towns.  But not supermarkets.  These had only recently been invented and they were few and far between.

Had my father asked for directions to "the High Street", we would have formed a very different opinion of Brighton.  You see, Brighton's main shopping centre was not in the High Street; it still isn't.  There is a High Street in Brighton, but it is a little back street running between Edward Street and St James's Street.  There aren't any shops in Brighton's High Street, not even a corner shop.

We did find the shops, although when my father first asked for directions the response was, "Which shops?  There are three shopping centres."  We were astounded by the number of buses running along Western Road (which is where the big shops were - Marks & Spencer, British Home Stores, Woolworths, Littlewoods, W H Smith et al.  (Just typing those names brings back a few memories as well!)  We also discovered a supermarket - the first we had ever seen.  My mother decided she needed to buy something so Dad, my brother and I stood outside.  We watched in amazement as customers queued at the checkouts with their wire baskets - all new to us.  Dad noticed the money being rung up on the tills - there were five, I think - and announced in amazement, "Each one of those tills could take as much as £75 in a day!  That would mean a day's taking could be £375!!"  Bearing in mind that only a few years before it would have been possible to buy a house for £500 and that later that same year my parents would buy their house for £2,300, the day's takings of £375 represented a considerable sum of money.

Somehow I have managed - once again - to drift miles away from what I had intended to write.  Maybe we'll manage to get there tomorrow.  Or then again, maybe not.


Yesterday I posted a picture of Vitré, a small town not all that far from our French village.  Here is another  shot.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Dear Santa

The boy who delivers our morning paper can, perhaps, best be described as erratic - erratic in his timing.  The previous paperboy was always at our door before 7.30 and I was able to read at least the letters page breakfast.  Now, the paper might arrive at anytime between about 8.00 and very nearly 9.00.  But today was an early day and I had time to glance at a little more than the letters page before i set off for my morning constitutional. 

You might well ask what all this about newspaper deliveries has to do with Santa Claus.

Well, on the front page of the paper was a large picture of the Prince of Wales, whose 65th birthday it is today.  (Don't bother to stand up or start singing "Happy Birthday".  It really isn't necessary.)  There was a brief quote from his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, about him.  It seems that he still writes lists of presents he would like.  (There seems something a little odd in the idea that a royal prince would receive presents on his birthday.  But why not?)

As a child, I wrote each year to Father Christmas telling him I had been good and I would like . . .  There followed a rather lengthy list.  Now in my 70s, I am still expected (by my children) to produce lists of what I would like as presents for birthdays and Christmas.  I always feel terribly awkward having to do this.  It seems somehow so mercenary.  Yes, I can see how it makes life so much simpler for the present-giver and I appreciate other people giving me their lists, but it takes away an almost indefinable something from the giving.  It all boils down to that old mantra - it's the thought that counts.

It can be very difficult to think what somebody else would like, appreciate, enjoy, and to find something exactly right for each person.  It takes a good understanding of the recipient and, above all, time.  Perhaps that is the problem.  We are all so busy, so pushed for time, that we cannot spare enough of it to think and then to trawl through the shops to find the perfect gift.

So, if you wish to know what I would like for Christmas, here goes.

"Dear Santa,"


A little over 30 miles to the north of our French hideaway is the small town of Vitré.  I like to take guests to see it as I think it an attractive place.  I usually drive round the ring road to enter from the opposite side - the north - as doing so provides this view of the castle seeming to
almost hang over the old houses of the town.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Perpetual motion

It seems almost as though I have discovered the apothecary's stone, or what several prominent scientists from past ages would consider almost as important if slightly less valuable than the apothecary's stone. No, hang on a minute! Was it the philosopher's stone rather than the apothecary's? Well, whichever, it doesn't matter in the slightest since I have discovered no stone, neither the apothecary's nor the philosopher's. No, what I seem to have discovered is perpetual motion. That is, perpetual motion itself - not the secret of it, which still eludes me.

There is no way that I could begin to complain this week that I have nothing to do. And so much of what I have to do this week involves driving half way around the county rather than sitting at what passes for my desk hitting the keyboard, that perpetual motion seems to be the order of the day. It probably doesn't help that I positively refuse to get out of bed before about 7.30 and I also refuse to do anything that could count as work after dinner. Having said that, I was out last night on quasi-Lions business (duty driver for the blind/partially-sighted) and tomorrow evening there will be a Lions dinner meeting. I don't actually count either as work, but they do fill up the time and do involve driving! (It's that perpetual motion thing again.)


Nearly half-way through the dreary, dank days of November and it was a pleasant surprise to draw back the curtains this morning and see blue sky. There was a hint of a frost on the grass in the park first thing (that's my first thing, ie about nione o'clock) but so far it seems a decent day weatherwise. It was on Sunday as well, and yesterday, in Stanmer Park, although the sky was cloudy, the autumn colours made for a photograph good enough to share.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

What's the difference between 1 and 10,000?

News broke at the end of last week that a court martial had found a Royal Marine guilty of murder.  He had, it was found, shot an injured Taliban insurgent.  Just how this came to light is something I have not discovered but recordings of a discussion between him and two other Marines about it have been played on the television news and transcripts have been printed in the newspapers.  There is no doubt whatsoever about his guilt, but there is a considerable divergence of opinion about his sentence.  This has yet to be pronounced as he is to undergo psychiatric assessment first.

I cannot begin to understand the level of stress under which he was operating.  This was, I gather, his third tour of duty in Afghanistan.  Just to walk along a dusty road not knowing if your next step will be onto a bomb or if that hedge is sheltering a man with a rifle aimed at you and to do this day after day must in the end cause some people to 'freak out'.  It seems to me that this would be something akin to shell shock, as it was at one time called.

But is that sufficient justification for the court to pass a lenient sentence on this man?  He has been found guilty of a most heinous crime, a crime abhorrent to almost every one of our serving men and women, a crime which has brought shame to his unit and his family - not that the shame is of any importance here.  If he is treated leniently, will that encourage the Taliban to mete out the same treatment to wounded members of our forces who are captured?  Will it inflame the situation - or will the 'enemy' nod their heads in understanding.  Both sides of this argument have been put by senior men in the armed forces.

My own view is that we must expect the highest standards from all members of our armed forces and that they must receive sufficient training so that they do not go off the rails under stress.  Nothing less than a severe sentence for Marine A (as he has been known) will meet the need.

As we were absorbing the news of the murder of one man, we learned of the disaster that his struck the Philippines and that 10,000 people are feared dead in one town alone.  But somehow we seem to have become inured to news of natural disasters in other parts of the world: floods in Pakistan, earthquakes in China, and now, a typhoon in the Philippines.  Thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of deaths impinge on our collective consciousness less than the death of one man.  How can this be?  I suppose we hear so frequently of these natural disasters, and they occur so many thousands of miles away, that they seem almost to come along like buses in the High Street, whereas one Royal Marine murdering a prisoner is such a rarity that we are forced to sit up and take notice.  I don't suggest that it is right for us to almost ignore the natural disasters, but it is certainly right that we should take notice when something like that abhorrent act occurs and take what steps we can to avoid a repetition.


This is the tear-jerking moment a schoolgirl was reunited with her Royal Navy officer dad at a concert dedicated to servicemen and women.  Megan Adams, 10, sang in front of the Queen and Prime Minister [Saturday] as part of the Festival of Remembrance.  The youngster performed as part of the Poppy Girls, a group made up of daughters of servicemen who were chosen to perform this year's Poppy Appeal single The Call (No Need to Say Goodbye).

She was not expecting to see her dad for another three months as he has been serving with the Royal Navy in the Seychelles as part of an anti-piracy task force, but after the Poppy Girls' performance, host Huw Edwards told Megan he had a surprise for her.

As Lt Cdr Adams walked down the steps towards his daughter, she burst into tears and shouted: "Daddy!" as she ran towards him.

Not a dry eye in the house.

Monday, 11 November 2013

We will remember them

There are three almost identical Naval Memorials in England, one each at Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth, those being the three main naval bases in the country (although Chatham has now been closed).  This is the Chatham memorial, on which are recorded the names of more than 18,000 sailors who lost their lives in the two World Wars and who have no known grave.

One of the names on the Chatham memorial is that of my cousin, William John Slater.

William was a deckhand on the fishing drifter 'Eyrie', sailing out of Lowestoft, Suffolk, when World War 1 broke out.  He was 18 years of age.

The Admiralty sent officers up the east coast requisitioning fishing boats to act as minesweepers and on 1st September 1914, the 'Eyrie' was taken over.  The entire crew volunteered to stay manning the vessel and were, it seems, sent off to sea immediately.  One wonders just what training they were given.

The following day, 2nd September 1914, the 'Eyrie' hit a mine and sank with all hands.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

We will remember them

I vow to thee, my country,
All earthly things above,
Entire, and whole, and perfect,
The service of my love.
The love that asks no questions.
The love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar
The dearest and the best.
The love that never falters.
The love that pays the price.
The love that makes, undaunted,
The final sacrifice.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Busy weekend

Not especially for me, but this weekend will certainly be a busy time for some people, especially in London where three traditional events are due to take place.  First up is the Lord Mayor's Show.
"The Lord Mayor's Show has floated, rolled, trotted, marched and occasionally fought its way through 798 years of London history, surviving the black death and the blitz to arrive in the 21st century as one of the world’s best-loved pageants.  

Thanks to the ancient and justified precautions of King John, every newly-elected Lord Mayor of London has to leave the safety of the City of London and travel up the Thames to Westminster to swear loyalty to the Crown. 

Over the centuries the Mayor's journey became one of London's favourite rituals. It moved from river barges to horseback and then into the magnificent State Coach, and around it grew a splendidly rowdy and joyful mediæval festival known as the Lord Mayor's Show. 

That ancient cavalcade is still rolling today. The modern procession is over three and a half miles long and fills the whole space between Bank and Aldwych from 11am until about 2.30pm, cheered by a crowd of around half a million people and watched live on the BBC by millions more. There are fewer sword fights these days but the floats are grander than ever and it's a great day out for every generation."
Then, this evening, in the splendour of the Royal Albert Hall and in the presence of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the Royal Family, the Massed Bands of the Household Division, and the bands of HM Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force perform in the Royal British Legion's Festival of Remembrance. Together they pay tribute to the victims of war and conflict in a festival that also includes the traditional two-minute silence as thousands of poppy petals fall from the ceiling, each one representing a life lost in conflict.  Although the festival does not have 800 years of history behind it, this can now be considered a traditional event as it started back in the 1920s and so hase been running for more than 80 years.

Tomorrow morning sees another 20th century innovation - Remembrance Day ceremonies.  These are held in just about every city, town and village across the country, but the big, national event is, of course, in London, at the Cenotaph on Whitehall. Wreaths are laid by Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Princess Royal, the Duke of Kent, the Earl of Wessex, the Duke of Cambridge, Prince Harry of Wales, the Prime Minister, leaders of major political parties and former Prime Ministers, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Commonwealth High Commissioners and representatives from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets and the civilian services. Two minutes' silence is held at 11 a.m., before the laying of the wreaths. The silence represents the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, when the guns of Europe fell silent.  This silence is marked by the firing of a field gun on Horse Guards Parade to begin and end the silence, followed by Royal Marines buglers sounding Last Post.

Her Majesty the Queen steps back to pay her respects after laying a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, during the Remembrance Sunday service.

Friday, 8 November 2013

What price freedom?

I have long believed that any true democracy needs a free press, a press that is free to criticise the government of the day or its opposition, a press that is free to conduct investigations into potential scandals - and a press that is subject to the law of the land.  In order for the press to be completely free, politicians, whether they be national figures or local, must be restrained from interfering in the day to day activities of newspapers and broadcasters.

This whole matter has been exercising minds in the United Kingdom - minds far better than mine and far more influential than mine - over the past . . . well, I was going to say months but in fact it is really a couple of years or more.  But things have come to the boil in the last few days.  Two things have come about to cause this: the trial has started of two prominent one-time newspaper editors (amongst others) accused of knowing about and encouraging phone hacking and of hiding evidence during a police investigation; and the signing of a Royal Charter to establish a press watchdog.

This all started because one (or more) newspaper was found to have been hacking into the mobile phone calls of numerous people - celebrities of stage and screen, royalty and even a murdered schoolgirl.  The hacking is not alleged, it has been admitted and one newspaper was closed by its owner.  It is the editors of that newspaper who are at present on trial.  A public enquiry was held, headed up by Lord Justice Leveson, and the Government has decided that the long-standing self-regulatory body established by the newspaper industry lacks power.  They, the politicians, came to the conclusion that a body established by Royal Charter and whose powers are laid down by politicians is the way forward. The newspaper industry disputes this and has set up a new regulatory body with greater powers than the Press Complaints Commission had.  At first, the Government was minded to make it so potentially costly for newspapers not to sign up to their regulatory body that it would become, ipso facto, the body, leaving the alternative to languish.  But the newspapers are being bloody-minded, so it seems that the Government may be about to concede.

I have to say that, as with the newspapers, I do not like the idea of a body set up by Royal Charter.  The sticking point for me, as for the newspaper industry, is that politicians will be able to change the rules.  That, to me, is a step too far and represents the thin end of the wedge.  Our MPs were very upset when, a few years ago, a press investigation revealed how so many of them had been blatantly dishonest in claiming expenses to which they were not entitled and how the rules allowed what were, basically, fiddles.  And they want to control the body that controls the press?

There are already laws concerning libel and all manner of other matters.  These should be sufficient for the prosecution of people or newspapers accused of malfeasance.  Extra quasi-laws brought in by a regulatory body are hardly necessary.

Of course, I must admit to a certain bias in this matter.  I worked for several years in the newspaper industry, although my job was on the administrative rather than the editorial side.  I was a member of the council of the Newspaper Society for much of my time in the industry, which just emphasises how biased I am.  But then, so are the politicians caught with their snouts well and truly in the trough.


A November sky.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

No-one said it would be easy

But why oh why does life have to be so damned complicated at times?

I seem to have acquired three particular jobs - or at least become involved in them - in connection with the Lions Housing Society that are, each of them, proving more and more complex, far more so than I would have ever dreamed possible. Take the first of them, for instance. Granted, I took this one on myself so I have no right to complain - not that it does me any good moaning about it anyway. This seemed at first a simple enough matter. The rules, or constitution, of the Society needed to be amended. In fact, we (that is, the management committee) had been acting for many years in contravention of at least two of the rules. One of them was that the Society could borrow a maximum of £6,000. Given that only a few years after the Society was founded it borrowed £50,000 - this was back in 1970 or thereabouts - you will appreciate that this rule has been ignored for many years. There was a time when the borrowing reached close to £3 million, and there is still over £1 million outstanding!

So, I checked through the rules completely and found several that really needed updating. I drafted what I thought would be acceptable alternatives and even thought to send them to the Society's solicitor to make sure they were satisfactory. Yes, he said, they were. But . . .

That's was when he told me about all the red tape to be fought through and the hoops to be jumped. We had to hold a special general meeting of shareholders to approve the changes. Simple enough. Having done that, we need to get clearance from the Financial Conduct Authority before the changes can be brought into effect. This involves printing out several copies of the proposed new rules, each having to be signed by three members of the Society and the secretary, and so on and so on. But thank goodness for the solicitor, who will do most of he work - for a fee.

Then we have been trying to negotiate with the Council to buy the freehold of a piece of land we currently rent from it. We have built two blocks of flats on the land and at the end of the lease, the land and all that stands thereon will revert to the Council. It took us rather more than two years to fix a meeting with the appropriate council official. Then he left and his successor denied that it was his responsibility. Then he left as well. His successor at first denied responsibility but then agreed that it was his baby after all. He arranged for a valuation to be undertaken, but we heard no more until, about a year later, we finally managed to get a response, only to be told that as we had not commented on the valuation (which we had not been informed of) they assumed we had pulled out. This seems to have landed in my lap now as well.

On top of that, I had a call yesterday from a local estate agent about another piece of land we have been trying to buy for two or three years. The current owner has obtained planning permission for five houses with the rest of the land to be leased to the Council for use as allotments. We have been trying to meet the appropriate Council officials to discuss obtaining permission for a block of flats and altering the way in which the land is to be split between buildings and allotments by swinging the whole thing through 90 degrees. We only have until the end of the year to get this change agreed (for some planning reason I don't understand) but the council officials are playing hard to get. Now I am told that the mortgagee has appointed a receiver and the sale is being put to tender, tenders to be submitted within just over two weeks. The successful bidder will be liable to pay the Council nearly £70,000 on top of the purchase price and will also have to hand over the allotment land set up and ready to go. I have a feeling we shall be pulling out of this one.

Oh well. A friend is taking the Old Bat and me out to lunch so I will be able to let it all go for a couple of hours.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

They got it right

The weather forecasters, I mean.  They told us that we would have rain yesterday morning - and we did.  They also said it would stop about midday - and it did.  So, once again Brighton Lions Club held their annual fireworks display.  I have been involved with the Lions since 1986 and there has been only one year since then when we have had to cancel our fireworks display because of the rain.  Given that we are in England and that Guy Fawkes Day (or Bonfire Night) is in November, one of our wettest months, that is quite some record.

Tony (a fellow Lion) and I were at the ground and set up to sell tickets by 3.30 and we had barely a few minutes between then and very nearly 8.00pm when we sat and twiddled our thumbs.  From 6.00pm, when the gates opened, until 7.30, when the display started, there was no let up.  I am told that total ticket sales yesterday were just over £30,000 - and there are the advance sales to add to that.  I calculate that people came into the ground at the rate of about 100 a minute.

It was good to find this tweet from a spectator:
Fireworks not normally my thing.. But tonight's was actually quality. Good work @BrightonLion followed up by: completely agree!

Yes, we are on Twitter - not that we know how to use it!

I have also hand-delivered to old folk 70+ invitations to the Lions pre-Christmas party and just hope we don't get too many acceptances.  The room the hotel lends us can't cope with more than about 50 people - fewer if their are several wheelchairs.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Remember, remember

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
I doubt there is a person in the land above the age of about four who does not know that 5th November is Bonfire Night, otherwise known as Guy Fawkes Day.  This is the day when bonfires are lit, effigies of Guy Fawkes are burned and fireworks light up the evening sky.

As the Gunpowder Plot Society tells us,
"On November 5, 1605, a solitary figure is arrested in the cellars of Parliament House. Although he first gives his name as John Johnson, a startling series of events begins to unfold under torture. Guy Fawkes, as he is really called, is one of thirteen who have conspired to blow up the parliament, the King, and his Lords, thereby throwing the whole country into turmoil, out of which these traitors hoped to raise a new monarch who was sympathetic to their cause, and return England to its Catholic past."
So religious fighting is nothing new.

The sale of fireworks is strictly regulated these days but it was not always so.  I well recall that as Bonfire Night approached each year, my brother and I would visit the local stationer's shop.  As well as stationery, books and a few toys, this shop was the local supplier of fireworks during October each year.  These magical incendiary devices were stored in a glass-fronted, glass-topped counter and my brother and I, with our pocket money either clutched in our hands or lying red-hot in the pockets of our trousers, would spend an age deciding just which ones to buy.  There were none of the large fireworks we see in supermarkets these days.  Rockets shot into the sky on sticks about a foot long, if that, and the ground-based fireworks would generally stand only two or three inches tall.  What should we buy next?  The Emerald Fire, perhaps?  Or a couple of bangers?  The thing with bangers was that they just blew up, usually with a disappointingly quiet "bang", whereas the "pretty" fireworks could generally be trusted to burn for a minute or two.  Catherine wheels were pretty much always a calamity, possibly because my father never fastened them to a post so that they would spin as they were meant to do.  Jumping crackers were another type that we learned not to bother with; they had a hrrible habit of going under plants in the garden and staying there.

It's many years now since we had fireworks in the garden and I am always involved with the Lions fireworks display.  We don't have a bonfire - that would be most unpopular with the cricket club whose ground we use - but we do have some pretty spectacular fireworks with plenty of bangs and stars.  Here's a promotional video we put together.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Fingers crossed

I wonder what is happening here. Firefox kept crashing on me so I - rather reluctantly - switched to IE. I opened up a new blog and typed in the title - above. And that was it. A message appeared at the foot of the screen informing me "error on page". No way could I start typing anything on the "compose" screen. I tried refreshing, reloading and everthing I could think of to absolutely no avail. Then I switched to the HTML screen. I am still getting the "error on screen" message but at least I can type something!

I wonder. Perhaps that message is a not-so-subtle hint that what I am typing is a right load of codswallop. Well, I know it is, you might very well think it is, but how the heckythump can a computer know it is? Are we really being taken over by heartless technological wizardry? I don't really think matters have quite reached that stage, although given the driverless cars that are being tested, maybe we are not so very far off. What a scary thought!

Anyway, the next couple of days are going to be pretty busy. Today, a trip to see the quack. I rather expect he will prescribe a course of steroids to put down what I have self-diagnosed as the aspergyllosis thingy playing up. I certainly hope he will so that I can move about at a normal speed without bursting into a fit of coughing! Then this afternoon I hope to deliver the invitations to senior citizens to attend the pre-Christmas party being organised by Brighton Lions. I know it sounds horribly early but they need a bit of time to reply and we need to know numbers so that if we are short of attendees we still have time to find more (if you follow my drift).

Tomorrow is the BIG DAY. I expect I will need to fit in a supermarket run with the Old Bat but not long after lunch I will have to make my way to the county cricket ground where Brighton Lions are staging the county's biggest and best fireworks display. So it's fingers crossed for the weather as this is our big fund-raiser and we have already spent £12,000 or so on the fireworks!


I have trawled though the photographic archives and found this scene.  The picture was taken back in November 2010 and is the view from Balmer Down looking to the south-east.  The chalk cliff is Seaford Head and that is indeed the sea in the distance - the English Channel.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

In a jam

I really didn't pay much attention to an announcement made this week by Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that the minimum sugar content of jam is to be reduced from 60% to 50%.  I most assuredly did not expect the announcement to cause such a furore, with MPs demanding a debate and letters being sent to the papers from people such as Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.

Actually, I have never to my knowledge seen a letter purporting to be from Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.  That pseudonym is a complete fabrication indicating that Colonel Blimp-like reactionary people inhabit the genteel spa town in Kent.  In fact, Tunbridge Wells is - or was, I haven't been there for donkeys' years - a rather pleasant town.

But to get back to the jam.

By the way, it was reported earlier this year that the Queen is rather partial to the strawberry jam made by the Duchess of Cambridge.  Not that the fact has any bearing on what I am supposed to be burbling about, but at least it's about jam.

As I said, the minimum sugar content is to be reduced from 60% to 50%.  One Honourable Member (as MPs call each other) declared that because of this, British jam could become no better than coloured mud.  Apparently, the change is to bring this country into line with other European countries and thereby make it easier for British manufacturers to export their jam.

Since all the jam eaten in this house is made by herself, the change will have absolutely no effect on me or my standard of living.  It will not cause the demise of the British breakfast (another of the fatuous claims made this week) in this house as we don't eat toast and marmalade.  Indeed, I really do not understand (a) why the change in sugar content is being decreed, and (b) why people are getting in such a fuss about it.

It seems to me that if British manufacturers feel that it would be an advantage to produce jam at the lower sugar content and do so for export only, that would solve the problem.  In any case, the change simply reduces the minimum permissible sugar content.  That does not mean that manufacturers will be obliged to reduce the sugar content in their jam.  Should they do so, and the reduction mean that people buy other makes in which the sugar content has not been reduced, then market forces will dictate the reactions of the manufacturers.

And it struck me that I had always believed jam is made with equal amounts of fruit and sugar, ie a 50% sugar content.  Now I do not claim any prowess in the cuisinery department, haute or otherwise; I am quite possibly the only person living who could burn a boiled egg.  But, i also understood that it was pectin, not sugar, that caused jam to set.  So why are people claiming that we will be sold gloop?  I checked my facts with the fount of all knowledge.  No, not Wikiwotsit.  The Old Bat.  At least she knows about cooking.  She told me that for many years she has made jam with less than 50% sugar content.  Less than!  And her jam is not mud-coloured sludge, nor is it a gloopy mess, it tastes fine, and it keeps well enough.

What is the problem, other than the Nanny State dictating to us the proportions of the ingredients in jam?  That I could do without.


This being the first Sunday in November, we will be treated to a fine display of "old crocks" being driven from London to Brighton today.

The first Sunday in November each year sees the re-enactment of the Emancipation Run from London to Brighton which celebrated the passing into law of the "Locomotives on the Highway Act".  This raised the speed limit for 'light locomotives' from 4 miles per hour to 14 mph, although this was reduced to 12 mph before the act come into force. The act abolished the requirement for the car to be preceded by a man on foot.

The Brighton Run has been reported to be the longest running car event in the world and ranks as one of Britain's biggest motoring spectacles. It attracts entrants from around the world, all eager to take part. The event is not a race. The cars are limited to an average speed of 20 mph and the only reward for a successful run is a Bronze Medal (awarded to all who reach Brighton before 16.30).  Only cars built before 1 January 1905 are eligible to take part.

Here's one of the cars due to start.  It's a Peugeot from 1898 with 2 cylinders producing 6 horsepower.

Not my pic.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Sarajevo - again!

It's the stream of consciousness thing or something like it that causes me to think further about that Balkan city.  Or perhaps not so much about the city itself, but something that sprang from an event which occurred there a little more than 99 years ago.  The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on 28th June 1914 was the spark that ignited Europe and led to what is or has been known variously as the Great War, the War to End Wars and the First World War.  With next year marking the centenary of the outbreak of that war, there has been a resurgence of interest which, doubtless, will redouble as the date of the anniversary approaches.  Already, one of our national newspapers has started printing supplements about the 1914-18 war, publishing one on the first weekend of each month.  There has also been a rather low-key campaign to clean and tidy up war memorials across the country - and to replace metal panels listing casualties that have been stolen from memorials and sold as scrap.

People do seem to have more interest in history generally than they did only a few years ago.  As well as the almost never-ending cookery programmes on television, Who Do You Think You Are? seems to be very popular.  This is a programme in which the familial roots are explored of one "celebratory" for each hour-long programme.  I suppose many of the viewers - probably most of them, in fact - are those people for whom the lives and doings of "celebs" are important.  All the same, there has been an increase in the number of people delving into the past, whether that be a matter of tracing their family tree or the history of the town or village where they live.

What I find surprising - a more than slightly alarming - is how close some of those historical events seem.  For example, it really doesn't seem as though the First World War was a century ago.  We were watching a (fictitious) television programme the other evening which was about a feud between two families in a small village.  The feud arose from the fact that a member of one family had been charged of cowardice in the face of the enemy and sentenced to death.  A member of the second family, in charge of the firing squad, had been obliged to administer the coup de grace.  This was shown as a flashback and aroused great indignation from the Old Bat about inhumane treatment, until I pointed out that it had happened nearly a hundred years ago and that people's attitude to these things had changed somewhat in the meantime.

I suppose, now I come to think about it, the past is not so very far away from us.  After all, I clearly remember my grandfathers.  One worked in dockyards during the Great War while the other served in the Royal Navy - aboard those primitive submarines.  Perhaps it's not so surprising really.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Off at a tangent - to Sarajevo

Yes, Sarajevo, the city in what was once Serbia and, later, Yugoslavia and now, Bosnia Herzegovina.  I mentioned it in passing a couple of days ago as the city that hosted the 1984 winter Olympics.  I went there once.  In fact, I went there twice, although it might be rather more accurate not to say that I went there but that I drove through there.  Sarajevo was on the route to Visegrad and my destination was a refugee centre near the latter town.

It was shortly after the break-up of Yugoslavia and the dreadful war that had broken out between what is now Croatia and its neighbour, Bosnia.  The Lions Club of south-east England collected hundreds of shoe boxes filled with little gifts such as toothpaste, soap, pencils and paper and all manner of things to be donated to refugees made homeless by the war.  We borrowed a couple of lorries and a party of seven of us, with the two lorries and a camper van, drove to Bosnia to deliver the goods.

I think that just about everything that could have gone wrong on that journey, did so.  The fresh water tank on the camper van was accidentally filled with petrol; three different drivers (one in each vehicle) were involved in accidents - none of them serious and nobody was hurt but one driver ended up in court in Slovenia.  Plus a seemingly endless list of lesser irritants.  We did reach the refugee centre and were made very welcome.  Being unable to unload all the goods that first day, we were directed to what was described as the best hotel in the area, one which had been built especially for those winter Olympics, but it turned out to be more of a psychiatric hospital than a hotel!

This was more or less our first view of the refugees' living arrangements:

 And we did wonder if this still, producing slimovich, would be the destination of the bottles of water that had been donated by (I think) Gatwick Airport.