Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Notes from a small island

Yeah, I know - I stole the title of this posting, but it is appropriate and I'm sure Mr Bryson probably wouldn't mind even if he were to become aware of my plagiarism, which he probably won't.

We who have had the privilege of being born on
"This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England" (Shakespeare)
sometimes find it difficult to comprehend that there are thousands - no, millions of people who will never in their lives sea the vastness of the ocean.  I have read that nowhere in England is more than 75 miles from the sea - or perhaps that should be salt water.

[I thought I should try to verify that last point and find that, according to the Ordnance Survey, a farm just outside the Coton in the Elms, a village in Derbyshire, is the furthest inland at 70 miles from the coast.  It is, however, a mere 45 miles from the nearest high tide point on the River Trent.]

Anyway, that trivia aside, I was going to say that I have always lived almost within spitting distance of salt water.  The first 15 years of my life were spent in Gillingham, one of the Medway towns in Kent, and although Gillingham is not exactly a coastal town, it lies on the estuary of the River Medway.  Our house was just under a mile and a quarter from the "beach" as the crow flies.

We moved to Hove - and if I craned my neck in the front upstairs bay window, I could just glimpse a sliver of sea.

After I married, we lived just a couple of hundred yards from the harbour, and for the last 40+ years, I have lived about 2 miles from the sea, which I see nearly every day as I walk the dog.

What I have missed out in all that is the fact that, back in 1953, I spent several months at a residential school in Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight.  The dormitory in which I slept had windows looking out across the town, over the church tower, and out to sea.  There were no curtains, and I can distinctly remember my attempts to stay awake at night , listening to the church clock striking the hours, as I sat up in bed looking out to sea.  One night in particular stays in my mind. 

1953 was the year of the coronation of our present Queen and a large review of naval ships was held in Spithead, the stretch of water between the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth.  Included in the review were some sailing ships and my memory is of seeing one of those tall ships sailing across the path of the moon late one night.

There are some sights one never forgets.


Still on the farm, these are some of the stock animals.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Now, where was I?

Or - more to the point - what was it I was going to say?  I'm sure there was something I wanted to mention this morning, something I was musing on as I walked the dog in the park.  I say "walked", but in my advanced state of decrepitude, "ambled" would be a more accurate description.  I had pretty much written this blog in my head when Fern (that's the springer spaniel I was ambling with) spotted somebody she recognised and just had to say hello, so I passed the time of day with Chris (whom I have not seen to speak to for probably a couple of years) and what I had mentally com,posed just ambled away.

That, of course, is one of the challenges to be faced when one reaches my time of life - a memory just a little less sharp than it used to be.  In my case, that becomes quite a daunting challenge as my memory has never been exactly razor sharp.  Yes, I have, just occasionally, found myself in a room and asked myself why I had gone in there.  But I have not - yet - found myself in the middle of the stairs, wondering if I was going up or coming down.  That little pleasure is still to come.

Talking of pleasure...  And that's another thing about old age; one tends to drift off the subject more easily.  Probably because my attention span is not what it was.  Either that or it's something to do with the failing memory.

Anyway, pleasure.  That can actually come along with the failing memory.  Or as a result of the failing memory.  I find that I am able to watch repeats of many of my favourite old television shows just as if I am watching them for the first time.  I have no idea who did it or what happens next.  It's the same with books.  I visit the library and find a book by an author I like.  I read the blurb on the back cover and on the inside flap and nothing seems familiar.  I hand it to the assistant who informs me I have read it before.

"That's all right," I reply.  "It was a long time ago and I don't remember it."

"It was last month."



There's nothing special about today's picture, just a view across the fields on my cousins farm in deepest Somerset on a delightful spring morning.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Up homers

I used a phrase yesterday evening that I have not heard for a good many years.  For some reason it just slipped off my tongue; I didn't even have to think about it.  Before I knew what was happening, I had said it.

"Where do you think you are?  Up home or round our place?"

Meaning, that's a bit of a liberty you are taking.

The only person I have ever heard say that was my father.  That being the case, I had always assumed it to be "jack-speak", naval slang.  I have tried, just now, to trace the origin of the phrase but have come up with a complete blank on Google.  I can only think it is based on the phrase "up homers", another piece of naval lingo meaning home hospitality extended by a family to a sailor visiting a foreign port.  I recall my father mentioning going "up homers" in the Falkland Islands and in Australia.

As my father served in the Andrew (another "jack-speak" term meaning the Royal Navy) for over 20 years, many visitors to our house were fellow sailors so conversation in our home did tend towards the nautical.  I must stress nautical, not naughty.  I still get some odd looks if I tell somebody to "drop that and grab a scrubber", by which I simply mean stop playing around and do something useful. ("Scrubber" in this case is scrubbing brush, used to scrub the deck.)

Belay that! = Stop, I've changed my mind.
A run ashore = A trip out
Friday while = Long weekend leave
Go round the buoy = Do it again, have a second helping of food

All those and many, many more are the phrases of my childhood.


At this time of the year, the bluebells in the Great Wood, Stanmer, are magnificent.  Fortunately, they are English bluebells, not the Spanish variety that is intruding so much, so the scent is almost as good as the sight.  As every year, I have tried to capture the sight on camera but have failed to catch the je ne sais quoi that is really needed.  This is about the best from  last week.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Heyman was a gentleman

Heyman being my several-times-great grandfather.  He wasn't born a gentleman, but after his father Simeon left him £500, he started to describe himself as such.  Mind you, that happened 300 years ago and no doubt £500 was a serious sum of cash in the early years of the 18th century.  I'm not at all sure that being possessed of a substantial balance at the bank - or under the mattress - is a necessary qualification for one to be described as a gentleman.  I can think of quite a few people whom I would describe as gentlemen but who probably don't have all that many ha'pennies to rub together.  A big bank balance failed to make it to the list of gentlemanly golden rules promulgated recently by Country Life, a magazine for folks from the top drawer - or (more likely) folks who would like to think that they have clambered into the upper echelons of society.  The magazine published what it called Gentlemanly Commandments, a list of Dos and Don'ts, six Dos and nine Don'ts.  Would 10 out of 15 make me a gentleman?  I think not.  But anyway, here are the rules:

A gentleman...
- is at ease in any situation and puts others at their ease;
- is always on time;
- dresses to suit the occasion;
- makes love on his elbows;
- occasionally gets drunk but never disorderly;
- is mindful of others' financial circumstances.

A gentleman does not...
- wear a pre-tied bow tie;
- drink Malibu;
- buy fuchsia trousers;
- tweet;
- put products in his hair;
- wear Lycra;
- write with a ballpoint;
- plant gladioli;
- own a cat.

I shall leave you to guess what my ten successes were!

By the way, the use of Facebook is permitted in order to keep in touch with one's "many" god-children.


It's raining today, but this was the South Downs yesterday afternoon, just before six o'clock, seen across the houses of Patcham.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Busy, busy, busy

Just too busy today to think of anything to moan about or praise or just generally drone on about, so I'll just leave you with a picture of an English country churchyard.  This is St Nicholas' Church, Brockley, Somerset, pictured last weekend.

Friday, 25 April 2014

The Snowdrop

(I'm going to quote extensively from Wikipedia just to save myself having to type it all out.)

The Lewes avalanche occurred on 27 December 1836 in Lewes, Sussex, when a huge build-up of snow on a chalk cliff overlooking the town collapsed into the settlement 100 metres below, destroying a row of cottages and killing eight people. It remains the deadliest avalanche on record in the United Kingdom.

The town of Lewes lies approximately seven miles north of the Sussex coast, situated on the River Ouse in a gap in the South Downs. Hills rise above Lewes to the east and west, with Cliffe Hill to the east rising to 164 metres above sea level. The hill has a precipitously sloping western edge which dominates the eastern panorama from the town. In 1836, a row of seven flimsily constructed workers' cottages called Boulder Row, on South Street, stood immediately at the foot of Cliffe Hill. The total number of inhabitants of Boulder Row is unknown, but contemporary reports indicated that fifteen people were in the cottages when the avalanche struck.

The winter of 1836–1837 was exceptionally severe across the whole of Great Britain, with heavy snow, gale force winds and freezing temperatures being recorded in locations all around the country from the end of October 1836 through to April 1837. Very heavy snowfall began across South East England, and in particular over the South Downs, on 24 December 1836, and continued unabated over the Christmas period. Strong winds at the same time created blizzard conditions, with reports of snowdrifts over ten feet high in some areas of Lewes. Unbeknownst to the inhabitants of the town, the accumulation of snow at the top of Cliffe Hill, driven by a particularly severe gale on Christmas night, had been forming into a large cornice overhanging its almost sheer western edge. On the evening preceding the disaster, a significant build-up of snow was observed falling from the top of the hill into a timber yard close to Boulder Row. The inhabitants were warned that they could be at risk and were advised to leave their homes until the danger had passed, but for their own reasons they chose to ignore the warning.

At 10.15 on the morning of Tuesday 27 December the cornice collapsed more extensively, producing an enormous avalanche of accumulated snow directly onto Boulder Row. The Sussex Weekly Advertiser, reporting the testimony of eyewitnesses, stated: "The mass appeared to strike the houses first at the base, heaving them upwards, and then breaking over them like a gigantic wave. There was nothing but a mound of pure white." A rescue operation by townspeople succeeded in pulling seven survivors from the wreckage before hypothermia or suffocation could claim them, but eight other individuals were found dead. Their names are recorded on a commemorative tablet on the inside wall of South Malling parish church, one mile away, where the funeral and burial took place. The fatalities included people with the family names Barnden, Bridgman and Geer, while survivors included a young labourer Jeremiah Rooke, a middle-aged woman named Fanny Sherlock (or Sharlock) and a two year old child, Fanny Boakes, believed to be Sherlock's granddaughter (the 1841 census records two individuals matching these names and ages living at the same address in South Street). In the aftermath of the tragedy, a fund was set up by prominent townspeople to provide financial assistance to the survivors and families of the deceased.

A public house called the Snowdrop Inn (named in commemoration of the incident) was built in South Street on the site once occupied by Boulder Row, and still trades under the same name today. The white dress being worn by Fanny Boakes when she was rescued was preserved and is now in the Anne of Cleves House museum in Lewes.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

A common misconception

You can blame Buck for this post - if you feel you must apportion blame.  Of course, you might just feel he should be given a medal for inspiring me to ...  No, perhaps not.  Anyway, it was his post about Abba that reminded me of another popular group from way back.  And I'm going back even further than Abba, ten years further to 1964.  That's right, 50 years ago.  Half  a century.  It was back in 1964 that an Australian group, three guys and a gal, hit these shores.  They were clean cut, the boys wearing suits and ties, the girl singer wearing long dresses.  It was even possible to hear the words of the songs they sang.  They were the Seekers.  They had hits with songs like Morningtown Ride, The Carnival is Over and Georgy Girl.  Judith Durham, the singer, had a great voice.  I say "had", but I believe she still has, despite having suffered a brain tumour last year.  The group have got together again for a 50th anniversary tour and will actually be in Brighton in about three weeks' time.

I am going to post a video of Judith Durham singing Danny Boy but, before I do that, there is something I feel I should explain.  I have always assumed the song to be a traditional Irish love son - after all, the tune is known as The Londonderry Air - and I have long thought it one of the greatest of love songs, if not the very greatest  Then I heard the introduction on this video clip.  Yes, I thought, that makes sense too.  But there is a more prosaic - and probably more accurate - story of the origin of the song.  The tune is, indeed, a traditional Irish air, but the words were written only in 1910 by an Englishman, Frederic Weatherly in Bath. After his Irish-born sister-in-law Margaret in the United States sent him a copy of Londonderry Air in 1913, Weatherly modified the lyrics of Danny Boy to fit the rhyme and meter of Londonderry Air.

So now you know.  And here is Judith Durham.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

St George's Day

Cry 'God for Harry, England and St. George!'

The words of Henry V - according to William Shakespeare.  Today might well be St George's day, but there will, I suspect, be precious little sign of it in England, even though St George is our patron saint.  The English have a tendency to be undemonstrative; reserved; reticent.  We don't take every opportunity to fly our national flag - by which I mean the flag of St George rather than the Union flag.  Every public building in France, and quite possibly other European countries as well, flies two flags permanently, the French tricolor and the blue European Union flag with its circle of gold stars.  Few private houses in France have flags flying, possibly even fewer than in England and very much fewer than one sees in the USA.  As an aside, I seem to recall that one needs planning permission to erect a flagpole in England, which would be a definite turn-off if many English felt inclined to fly the flag.

There is, as always, an exception to the rule.  When the England football team is engaged in a competition such as the European Cup or the World Cup, the St George's flag is flown from many cars using those fixings that slip over the top of a window, and hung from many windows.  But that seems to bring out the worst in those who already lean to the extreme right-wing politically, the ultra nationalists, and it may well be that some people are worried about being associated with the BNP, the British National Party who, as far as I can tell, have no association with any of the United Kingdoms except England.

Having paid nodding respects to good old George, I will also mention in passing that today is the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare.  He was both born and died on St george's day, his death being on 23rd April 1616, but as he was born of 23rd April in 1564 some might argue that we should wait until 2nd May to celebrate (or mark) the true 450th anniversary.  You see, it was in 1752 that the calendar in Britain was changed from the Julian to the Gregorian.  This involved "losing" 11 days; Wednesday 2nd September that year was followed by Thursday 14th.  It is said that rioters demanded, "Give us back our eleven days", but this tale is probably apocryphal.  The calendar change also altered the financial dates in England.  before the change, the financial year had begun on Lady Day, the quarter day marked on 25th March.  However, after the loss of 11 days, it was agreed that the new financial year would start on 5th April so that nobody would lose 11 days interest on investments.  Another day was skipped in 1800, so from then on the financial year started on 6th April.  And it still does.


Having been on the farm for Easter, I do have a few pictures to inflict upon you.  First, the farm as seen from across the fields.  Those frame-like contraptions are protecting fruit trees planted about three years ago - the new orchard.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Gone farming

Well, it makes a change from "Gone fishing".   This is an easter tradition, as I explained three years ago thus:

With Easter coming this weekend there is only one place for the Old Bat and me to be. For more than 25 years it has been our custom to visit my cousin and her husband on their farm a few miles outside Bristol. (I wonder why there is no generally accepted term for the spouse of a cousin? I can't keep referring to "my cousin's husband" so without further ado I shall coin the phrase "cousin-in-law".)

Although I am no farmer, being a thoroughbred townie, I have, over the years, turned my hand to numerous jobs around the farm, albeit frequently acting mainly as gofer to my c-i-l. I have helped to dig holes for fence posts. That, on the face of it, sounds an unnecessary task but these fence posts were not the usual chestnut stakes. They were mini telegraph poles almost a foot in diameter and needed to be buried four feet into the ground. I am talking about the corner posts for an 8' high fence of high tensile steel netting to contain deer. At that time, there was no money to hire a contractor to do the job so it had to be done by hand. I have repaired the ordinary sort of barbed wire fence, having herded the cows that had broken it down back from the garden which contained grass so much more luscious than they had in the field. I have rounded up sheep, ducks and geese, though not all at the same time. Using my minimal carpentry skills I have constructed gates, I built a pig pen and dug a trench across the rock-hard ground of the yard. I helped install a milking machine and taught calves to drink from buckets. I have cut down trees (and tended the resulting bonfires) and I have planted hedges.

My job this year, I am told, is to construct cow-proof protectors for the fruit trees c-i-l wants to plant in groups in the Pond Field.

The weather forecast is good - at the moment - so it should be an enjoyable weekend with fresh air, good food, good wine and good company. Oh, and I'm meeting that long-lost cousin again for lunch on the way to the farm.

See you next week. 
Well, that's what I'm doing today.  Back next week, but in the meantime, happy birthday, ma'am, on 21st April.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Let's spend more money

I have two meetings to attend this evening, both to do with Lions.  first, there is a meeting of the management committee of the Lions Housing Society (which I might very well end up having to chair).  This will be a short meeting - they generally are - in which the report and accounts for the year ended 31st December will be considered and approved (I hope).  We, by which I mean the Society, had another very successful year with the accounts showing a surplus of just under £600,000.  Mind you, £350,000 of that was a donation from a charitable trust which was wound up.  We now have enough funds in the bank to put towards another development - when we find a suitable site - and always provided the bank will lend us the rest, about £3 million at a guesstimate.  That should mean another 20-30 flats to add to our present stock of 116, all let to people of retirement age at affordable rents.

Lions Dene is one of the Housing Society's developments.  It includes a doctors' surgery and a meeting room for the Lions Club as well as 37 flats and an office used by the nurses of Leo House Children's Hospice in the Home.

Then after that, a business meeting of the Lions Club.  I hope to get the club's agreement to spend another £3,000+ on a number of projects.  I want to subsidise holidays for four disabled Brighton residents, buy sleeping bags for a charity working with the homeless in the city, buy art materials for a charity working with abused women, donate £275 to MedicAlert's Early Start programme for children under 10, and £250 to Lions Clubs International Foundation scheme to provide measles vaccinations.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014


I have been asked to propose a toast at the annual Charter Night celebrations of Brighton Lions Club.  Charter Night is the annual bash, basically the birthday party for the club.  When I joined the club it was a very smart affair.  The dress code was black tie, and the ladies all wore posh frocks.  The venue had at one time been the Royal Pavilion but price - and ongoing renovation work - had forced the club to look elsewhere.  Nowadays we hold the event at one of the hotels in the town or a golf club on the edge.  The dress code has become a little more relaxed and although most men wear dinner jackets and black (or colourful) bow ties, there is a growing tendency towards lounge suits.  The ladies are now more likely to wear cocktail dresses rather than evening gowns.

Dinner is followed by speechifying and then dancing.  The first toast is, naturally, the Loyal Toast, then the President proposes, "Lions Clubs International and District 105SE" - but he doesn't make a speech.  The District Governor responds to the toast and ends by proposing, "Brighton Lions Club".  This is the President's opportunity to make a speech as he responds.  Next comes the toast I am to propose, to "The City of Brighton & Hove, the Ladies, and Our Guests".  We have to include the city if the Mayor is to respond - a matter of protocol.  This is where I am very tempted.

When proposing a toast to someone - or something - it is customary to be tactful and say good things about the person or thing.  But I am strongly tempted to say what I think of the Council's treatment of Brighton Lions Club.  I have a vague memory of it being done once before and I would dearly love to do the same.  The Lions used to enjoy a very good relationship with the local council, but it has, to our regret, deteriorated.  My particular gripes would be:
  • The Lions re-introduced a carnival to Brighton, with the support of the council.  Groups entering floats in the procession covered their own, sometimes considerable, expenses.  Years later, the council started to charge us for road closures for the carnival procession - but when Gay Pride came along, groups entering floats in their procession were given grants by the council and Gay pride was given a grant of £25,000 to cover losses.
  • The Lions asked the council for permission to erect a sign showing the Lions badge at the entrance to the town, similar to those seen in many other towns.  This was declined - yet Rotary have put one up.
  • The elm trees in Elm Square had to be felled.  We offered to pay for replacements if the council would allow a plaque stating that the trees were planted by the Lions to mark our diamond jubilee.  We were told that plaques on trees are against council policy - but there are trees with plaques in other parts of town.
  • One councillor invited us to send him details of our Housing Society's need for a development site so he could tell us of opportunities.  The email has been ignored, yet development sites have subsequently been sold by the council.
  • It took us three years to get council representatives to agree to meet us with regard to buying the freehold of a plot of land leased to our Housing Society.  Three council official were due to attend; only one bothered to turn up.  That meeting was four weeks ago.  We have just managed to arrange a fresh date.
I still have several weeks in which to draft my speech and I suspect I will manage to avoid temptation, but it will be a damn close-run thing - to misquote the 1st Duke of Wellington. 

So here's to tact and diplomacy.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Ice cream

Talking of ice cream... Well, I did mention it yesterday.  Anyway, the Old Bat started making her own ice cream some years ago.  I was rather taken aback when this started as I have known for many years that she is not exactly an ice cream sort of person.  Sure, she indulges in a very occasional ice cream in very hot weather and has been known to select an ice cream dessert on occasion when we have eaten out.  This happens especially in France, where ice cream confections are much more common and where there seems to be a much wider range of flavours than we have here in England.

On the other hand, I don't recall seeing brands like Haagen Daz or Ben & Jerry in any french supermarkets, but maybe that is simply because I have not looked particularly hard.  But they do seem to have a wider range of fruit-flavoured ice cream than we do, the only non-fruity ones being rum & raisin - and that, of course, is partly fruity - and the newcomer, ginger.  Oh, and mint chip.  One that both the OB and I like is the lemon that seems to be a halfway house between ice cream and sorbet.  But to get back to the home made stuff.

It started out with strawberry - using real fruit, of course.  That was good.  I don't recall just what other fruits were used, but white chocolate was and still is a particular favourite.  Mind you, it is not cheap to make, but what a decadent taste!  Now that summer is a'coming on I must nag her into making some more.

There was one flavour that all three children - and I - refused to eat after the first time of serving.  Brown bread.  Yes, you did read that correctly.  Brown bread ice cream.  A most peculiar mix of flavours and an odd consistency.  Thank goodness she took the hint and didn't make any more.


The River Ouse at Lewes.  On the skyline towards the left of the picture is Lewes Castle, built by William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, the brother-in-law of William the Conqueror, in 1069.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Speculoos ice cream

Sunday, that means roast.  The Old Bat and I are traditionalists as far as Sunday dinner is concerned and we always have a roast.  And if the meat is beef, then there has to be Yorkshire pudding.  Chicken (or, very occasionally, turkey) is always accompanied by chestnut stuffing.  Gammon is glazed with honey and mustard, while lamb - which we had last week - is cooked with rosemary and garlic and served (for me) with mint sauce.  I suspect that today's meat is to be pork.  The Old Bat always has apple sauce with hers, but I have never much liked stewed apples so I pass on that.

We ate apples last night - in a crumble.  I have always thought of apple crumble as an English dish but it has now been discovered by the French and I have seen it on the menu in a number of restaurants over there, although they usually serve it as a form of tart or flan.  And I have never seen an apple pie in France.  Come to that, I don't recall ever seeing any sort of pie.  Except in the supermarket in Pouancé.  There they have a small section devoted to English foods, much as English supermarkets have a section for Polish food.  The English food stocked by Super U (the Pouancé supermarket) includes Heinz baked beans, Colman's English mustard, Cooper's Oxford marmalade - and Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies.

The commonest apple dessert served in French restaurants is tarte Tatin, but what is served up is rarely what I know as tarte Tatin.  Usually what we get is an apple flan.  But during the last six months or so there has been a revolution in France.  Desserts - such as tarte Tatin - have generally been served with piles of Chantilly, the sort of whipped cream served from an aerosol can.  For many years that was the only cream sold in France but about three years ago pouring cream started to appear in the shops and this is now quite widely available.

But that is not the revolution I'm talking about.  It was towards the end of last year that we were served with tarte Tatin accompanied by ice cream.  One might have expected the ice cream flavour to be vanilla, but no - it was ginger (speculoos in French).  And it went surprisingly well with the apple.  So well, in fact, that the Old Bat decided to adopt the practice.  Well, we were quite unable to find ginger ice cream in any English supermarkets so we looked in France.  The first couple of stores didn't have it, but we did track some down and there is now a tub in our freezer.  We had some last night with the apple crumble - and I highly recommend it.


Just outside the town of Lewes (that's pronounced almost the same as Lewis - two syllables) is Mount Caburn, an outlier of the South Downs.  This is a popular spot for hang-gliders, as it was when I drove past last Wednesday.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

If it sounds too good to be true...

I'm big enough, old enough and ugly enough to know full-well that if something sounds too good to be true, it very probably is.  But one always lives in hope that one might come across that elusive exception to the rule, the veritable four-leaved shamrock, the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow.  That's what I am very much hoping is the case here.

I have been planning to change my car sometime about the end of this year.  By then, or very soon after, I will be looking at about £1,000 of expenses to keep it running and quite honestly I don't think it will be worth spending that sort of money as the car will be approaching the possible end of its reliable life.  Granted, it could go on quite a bit longer, but that's not a risk I am willing to take given the sort of journeys I do.

My preference, when buying a car, is to find one less than 12 months old and with under 10,000 miles on the clock.  That saves me a considerable sum of money and means there is a good chance that any niggling glitches have been sorted.  So I have been looking around to see which cars are being sold now that will be of interest to me in January next year.  So it was that I spotted just what I will be looking for - on a forecourt now.  An estate car with a 2 litre engine and cruise control, just over 6,800 miles on the clock, registered just 9 months ago - and (the clincher) priced 25% below the list price for the same model brand new.  What's more, that price is only £200 more than I paid for my present car some six years ago.

I went to look it over, drove it, liked it.  I was offered £500 less for my car than I would have liked but the salesman hinted strongly that he could probably increase that offer by £250.  I went away to think it over.

The following day I went to one of those "we'll pay cash for your car and save you money" web sites.  The valuation I got there was only just above the possible higher part-ex figure.  I rang the garage and told the salesman he had a deal - provided he increased his offer by £250 and supplied and fitted a dog guard - which I knew would cost a bit over £200.  And he agreed, and threw in a year's road fund (although that's only £30) and will treat the seats with a scotch-guard-like thingy which would normally cost £200 and which I had declined.

I pick the car up on Wednesday, just in time to take it to my cousin's farm in Somerset for Easter.  A pig in a poke or a pot of gold?  Hardly the latter, but I just hope it doesn't prove to be the former.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Innovative Brighton

Brighton is a vivacious city on the south coast of England and is known to people across the world.  It's reputation is racy and the city is often associated with dirty weekends, Mods and Rockers fighting on the seafront and the nudist beach - as well, of course, as the site of the Royal Pavilion and the illicit relationship between the Prince Regent and Mrs Fitzherbert.  What few people realise is that Brighton is also the home of the world's first electric public railway.

The son of a German clock-maker who had settled in Brighton, Magnus Volk was a leading electrical
The official opening in 1883.
engineer.  He set up the first telephone line in the city in 1879 and pioneered the early use of electricity.  He brought electricity to his own house in Dyke Road and soon had the Royal Pavilion illuminated in the same way.  In 1883 he obtained permission to construct an electric railway on Brighton seafront and the line was officially opened on 4th August that year.  Granted, it was only a quarter of a mile long, but it was still the world's first.  The town council refused permission for an extension westwards to the town boundary, but did agree to an extension to the east to bring its length to a little short of a mile.

In 1892, with the electric railway comfortably installed over its one mile length, Magnus was keen to extend as far as Rottingdean. To extend the existing railway three miles would entail either a steep climb to take it along the cliff top or a man-made viaduct along the unstable undercliff. Understandably he was not keen on either alternative so he turned his mind to building a completely new railway that would ‘travel through the sea’. A similar system was already in operation across St. Malo harbour in Brittany but this was pulled along the rails by chain rather than being self-propelled, and ran through sheltered water not the English Channel. Finance was raised, construction began, and the new "daddy long legs" railway opened in November 1894.

It ran for just 8 years, but the original Volk's Railway still operates, now along a longer stretch of the sea front from the Palace Pier to the marina at Black Rock.

Thursday, 10 April 2014


Way back when, and I'm talking 60 years and a little bit, after I had shown that I could tie several different knots, knew a bit about first aid and so on, I was invested as a Boy Scout.  This was in the days when Scouts wore khaki shirts and shorts and hats with a big floppy brim that was the very devil to keep flat!  Anyway, the investiture ceremony involved me making the Scout promise:
"On my honour I promise that I will do my best to do my duty to God and to the Queen, to help other people at all times and to obey the Scout law."
The Scout law was in fact a series of ten commandments, not like those Moses brought down from the mount because old B-P knew a thing or two.  There was nary a "shall not" in all the ten Scout laws, each being a positive rather than a negative.  The first of those laws was, "A Scout's honour is to be trusted".

That word again - honour.  Now, I would guess that we all know what the word means but I'm also pretty certain that most of us would have difficulty in defining honour succinctly - in, say, fewer than a dozen words.

There was a time - or so I am led to believe - when a gentleman's word was his bond, when it was a matter of honour to keep a promise, to do the right thing.  Frankly, I rather doubt that ever was the case and that the current time is no worse than any other from the past as far as honour is concerned.  But I do wish that our politicians would set a better example.  We elect them to make laws and to govern the country on the unspoken understanding - a gentlemen's agreement, if you will - that our Members of Parliament will act with due honour.

It's five years now since that was shown to be a forlorn hope, five years since our free press discovered that our MPs were claiming all sorts of expenses to which they were not entitled and, albeit quite legally, engaging in what is now known as "flipping" the house which they declared was their main home with the one used solely for the business of Parliament.  Some MPs have been found guilty of fraud and jailed, some have been made to pay back thousands - sometimes tens of thousands - of pounds, and many have since found other employment.

Five years - and still very recently a Minister of State has been found to have been claiming expenses in a distinctly dodgy way.  When one newspaper started asking questions, that Minster's aide spoke to the paper and allegedly "flagged up" the fact that Maria Miller, the Minster concerned, was also responsible for looking at new press controls.  The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards ruled that Mrs Miller should repay £45,000, but a Parliamentary committee reduced that to £4,800.  The also flipped her homes so that when she sold her Wimbledon house for £1.2 million, she avoided paying Capital Gains Tax.

In my naive way, I would have expected Mrs Miller to have behaved honourably in the first place and to have been squeaky clean in claiming expenses and not flipping homes, especially in the light of what has happened over the past five years.  At the very least, she should have resigned as soon as she was ruled to have acted wrongly.  But no, she hung on to her job as Minister for Culture until at last the pressure on her was too great and she resigned yesterday.

There are among us those who try their utmost to conduct themselves honourably, to do the right thing.  Is it so very wrong of us to expect that our politicians will set a good example?  Or am I being hopelessly naive?


Just to lighten things up a bit, here is a picture I took on the way back from Eastbourne yesterday.  The South Downs from the north (for a change) with the village of Alfriston almost lost.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Summer is coming

Perhaps that is what is disturbing my sleep pattern.  Take this morning, for example:
5.00am - wide awake
6.00am - still wide awake
7.00am - sound asleep when the alarm goes off!
And I had to be up and doing on account of what I am trying to cram into the morning. 

Anyway, summer most certainly is a'coming in, although it's approach does seem a bit like two steps forward and one back.  I saw the first of the summer migrant birds in the park yesterday, a chiffchaff, and the lilacs are coming into bloom.  Meanwhile, here in the garden the Maigold rose has at least four buds showing colour.  That rose generally comes into bloom round about my brother's birthday on 8th May so it seems to be a little early this year.  As are the bluebells in Stanmer woods, many of which are already out.

This is a picture of the pear tree in the garden which I took yesterday.  The pink haze just visible further down the garden is a montana clematis which clambers over an arch leading to the vegetable patch and now almost in bloom, while the yellow is the forsythia right at the end of the garden..

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

This and that...

...and there's still the other!  I have spent too long prevaricating and now have a mountain of paper piled on top of the laptop on the desk, behind the laptop, on the floor to my left - and some on the floor to my right which should have been thrown in the recycling several days ago.

I had to act as assistant deputy treasurer - or maybe it was deputy assistant treasurer - for the Lions dinner meeting last Thursday evening.  This meant that I had to ensure everybody paid their due whack, including a little extra as tips for the staff, and then pay the venue.  It was slightly complicated as the organiser of the meal had offered people a choice of two courses or three.  I had been given a list of those attending showing what they had selected and how much they were due to pay.  As the duty manager was apparently unable to use the machinery to produce a bill (he is new) we settled on paying what was shown on my list.  It was simple enough to write a cheque as I and another Lion there are both signatories on the account.

It was Friday afternoon before I got round to checking that I had the right amount of cash to cover the cheque.  But something had gone wrong; I had too much - £23 too much.  I easily accounted for £1 - somebody had overpaid - but it seemed to me that we had underpaid the golf club by £22.  I saw the treasurer on Saturday morning and handed everything over to him, explaining the difference.  We agreed that he would write a second cheque for the £22 which I would take to the golf club.  I did that yesterday morning, only for the people there to tell me that we had paid exactly the right amount.  The manager even fetched the list I had inadvertently left behind (which explained why I had been unable to find it on Friday).  Then I pointed out that beneath the fold was an additional name.  But they still insisted on giving me back £6.  I'll leave Tony the Treasurer to sort it.

Now I must start making inroads into the piles of paper.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Lance Corporal Joel Halliwell VC

Joel Halliwell VC

Yesterday evening, as part of its commemoration of the centenary of the start of  World War I, the BBC broadcast a special edition of Antiques Roadshow which had been filmed largely in the cemetery at Thiepval, close to the monument to all those Commonwealth soldiers who died in the battle of the Somme but have no known grave.  The last item in the programme had, however, been filmed in a different military cemetery, that at Warloy-Baillon.  With presenter Fiona Bruce and a medals expert were a frail, elderly lady and her two granddaughters.  The elderly lady was Lance Corporal Halliwell's daughter and they discussed the event which led to the award of the Victoria Cross before Ms Bruce led the elderly lady to the headstone marking the grave of her uncle, Thomas Halliwell, Joel's brother, who died on the Somme.  It was an extremely emotive end to the programme.

But what I find so astonishing is the bravery demonstrated by Joel Halliwell.  In 1918, during the
The Victoria Cross
Battle of the River Aisne, he was captured by the Germans and was a prisoner for a short time before escaping back to British territory.  He was met with carnage along the way, seeing many of his comrades lying wounded in the chaos.  Finding a stray enemy horse, he rode back through the heavy shell- and gunfire to pick up the wounded one by one and take them back to safety. Braving these terrifying conditions over and over, he picked up ten of his comrades until unfortunately, the horse was fatally wounded. He then trekked well over a mile and back to bring water for the wounded men.

Going into no-man's-land just once to rescue someone would be brave enough, but to do it ten times is almost beyond belief.  And, what's more, he would have had to heave the bodies onto the horse each time.  No wonder he was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award for valour in the face of the enemy.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Today's challenge

But not for me!  I would have difficulty running for a bus so there is absolutely no way on earth that I would take part in a marathon.  The Brighton marathon is being run today and as I type this, I see that the first man finished about 20 minutes ago, Cherbor, from Kenya, has set a new course record.  His time - still unofficial - was 2:09:25.

The event does prove rather inconvenient for many people as some roads are closed for the best part of the day, making it a little difficult to get around the city, and some people can be trapped in their homes for hours.  But there are some large sums raised for charity by the participants.  All the same, being a grumpy old man there are things I dislike about the whole affair.

I have a strong dislike of sponsored events to raise funds for charity, however noble the cause.  Sucking fruit gums, staying silent, swimming, walking, running, climbing Kilimanjaro and so on are all things that the participants want to do - well, most of them are, especially the adult activities - but contribute nothing to the community.  Why not undertake some activity that provides a service and get people to sponsor the participant for undertaking that service?

Looking at these events from the other side, the major efforts - such as marathons - are often if not nearly always run by commercial concerns.  The Brighton marathon is no different.  The organisers expect participants to pay to take part - and then, in the case of the Brighton marathon, appeal for volunteers to act as stewards and so on.  To my mind, that smacks of hypocrisy. 

But then, I'm just an old curmudgeon.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Tilting at windmills

I am no modern-day Don Quixote, I have no squire by the name of Sancho Panza, neither do I own a horse named Rocinante.  All the same, there are times when I am tempted to imitate that poor deluded fool and take a tilt at windmills.  I have a particular dislike of wind turbines, which are, to my mind, a 21st century curse.  I consider them to be ugly, the most gigantic pieces of man-made litter to be seen in the countryside.  And on top of that, I'm not at all sure that they actually produce enough electricity to make their manufacture and installation worth while.  In any case, there are many times when I pass a small collection of these monstrosities and see that only about 50% of them are moving.

My scepticism about their effectiveness could, perhaps, be proven wrong.  I have no figures with which to back up my assertion and am working entirely on instinct - and what I have read of others researches into the matter.  I know full-well that others think they are the saviours of our planet and will not just reduce our reliance on fossil fuels but eliminate it completely.  I won't be holding my breath.

I do, however, wonder if my dislike of these infernal machines and the desecration of our countryside caused by their installation is evidence of my reactionary viewpoint.  I sometimes wonder if people ever had similar thoughts about the old-fashioned windmills that we now consider to add to the beauty of a view.  In Holland, especially, they are considered a great addition to views of the canals and Kinderdijk is famed for the number of windmills that can be seen.  I think I counted 23 when we were there.

Although I may well be called an old curmudgeon who is unwilling to move with the times, I do at least have the satisfaction of knowing that there are people out there who share my point of view.

This picture shows just part of a wind farm over in France.  On the day this photo was taken, none of the turbines were working!

Friday, 4 April 2014

A garden is a lovesome thing

Plum blossom and forsythia

Yes, well, maybe everything in the garden is lovely.  Most things.  There is a sprinkling of white on the cherry tree, the pear trees are a haze of pale green and white, the plum trees look as though three inches of snow is clinging to the branches, the forsythia is in full golden bloom.  Granted, the daffodils are all but finished and the tulips are still to come, but there are violets showing there purple spots everywhere, along with a few grape hyacinths (masses in the front garden) and a couple of scrawny pink hyacinths.

On the other hand, there is no sign of any of the peas poking through.  Nor the sweet Williams or antirrhinums, but one runner bean has poked a tentative shoot into the air.  And the grass needs cutting - again!

The title is part of the first line of a poem I knew quite well as a child.  Auntie Grace - who later cut herself off from the family - was a dab hand with the needle and thread and embroidered a table cloth frequently used by my grandmother when we went round for tea.  The embroidery featured garden scenes and round the edge ran the words of a poem by Thomas Edward Brown:

A garden is a lovesome thing,  God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot -
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not -
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
’Tis very sure God walks in mine.
 I wish he'd cut the grass while he's here.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Market day

Like most French towns, Pouancé hosts a weekly market.  It is in Pouancé that we buy most of our food when in France as the supermarket there - just the one - and the boulangeries (two) are the nearest to the small village on the edge of which you will find our cottage.  So, market day.  Market day in Pouancé is Thursday and the main drag is closed to vehicles for about half of its length - and about half of that traffic-free section is lined on either side of the road by vans and stalls.  This is a small market compared to those in such metropolises as Segré and Châteaubriant.  There are, usually, two stalls selling flowers and plants, one or two selling ladies' clothing (especially those all-enveloping aprons so beloved by the local yokels), one or two greengrocers, a fishmonger and a butcher, who also sells charcuterie.  Oh, and a sewing machine vendor.  Sewing machines seem still to be commonplace in France, although I have never seen anybody even browsing the machines, replacement parts, threads, zips and other bits and pieces on offer.

So last Thursday I was in town despite the rain, looking to purchase our lunch at the butcher's stall.  In particular, two small leek tartlets, or quiches au poireau as the French would have it.  This is always the most popular stall in the market and last Thursday was no exception so I was in a queue of people, each of whom seemed to be intent on stocking up for a week.  For several families.  It was as I was waiting - learning the French for a variety of cuts of meat, all of which I have since forgotten - that a gaggle of schoolchildren aged about 5 came past, softly singing a song whose words I was unable to discern.  Each child, and every accompanying teacher, was in fancy dress.  There was a troop of clowns, the circus band and a variety of other performers, and the street was lined by mothers more excited than the children, who all seemed to be taking matters very calmly.  They walked down the street to the Place de la République, did a circuit of the square, and then came back up the hill and off to goodness knows where.  I never did manage to ascertain just what the occasion was, or even if there was an occasion at all.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


It's most unfortunate, but I find it very difficult to change the habit of a lifetime.  Time.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm obsessed with it, but time is important to me.  Not time in the sense that I want time for myself or time to do this or time to do that but time in the sense that things should happen on time and I want to know the time, both the time now and the time when things are supposed to happen.  I don't know why I should have this, not exactly obsession, but perhaps this quirk of nature.  I think it has always been there in that I have always, always hated to be late for anything.  So much so that I have maintained for many years that if I am not five minutes early for a meeting, I am late.  And I do so hate being late.

The Old Bat's friend Sue was one of those people who are the diametric opposite to me.  She was never on time.  It used to irritate me no end, despite my knowing full well that there was nothing I could do to change her - until we came up with the solution.  We started telling Sue that the meeting or whatever started 15 or 20 minutes earlier then it really did.  That way she had a sporting chance of getting somewhere on time.  How she ever managed to catch a train or plane is quite beyond me.  And even after her death, nothing changed.  She turned up late for her own funeral!

It is not really surprising that the Old Bat is not time-conscious to the extent that I am.  This means that she might have the evening meal ready at any time within a spread of about 45 minutes - although, to give her her due, that is usually a shorter span of nearer 30 minutes.  But either way, I never know just when the meal is to be served, which means that I frequently stop doing something before I have finished what I wanted to achieve, only to find that I could have carried on for another 10, 15 or even 20 minutes.

My obsession (if that is what it is) also means that clocks and watches have to show the correct time.  Two or three minutes out might not result in the world coming to an end, but it might just as well mean that event is imminent as I am so obsessed with the kitchen clock showing to correct time.

There was a time . . .  That word again - but this time I really mean there was an occasion when I saw an advertisement for a wrist watch that maintained the correct time by checking in with the atomic clock.  Wow, just the ticket for a time-obsessive like me.  It would also mean that when I visit France, the watch would automatically adjust to continental European time when I landed in Calais, and switch back to Greenwich Mean Time on arrival in Dover.  What a marvellous toy! 

But naturally, I was doomed to disappointment.  When the watch arrived, I discovered that it checked in with the atomic clock only twice a day, 3.00am and 3.00pm or something similar.  So it would not automatically adjust to a different time zone as I crossed to line.  I might find myself wandering around with a watch showing the wrong time for as much as twelve hours!  And there was another snag.  The watch was set to check with the atomic clock in Rugby.  That would not be a great help if I was in France or Belgium, where the rime is an hour ahead of the time in Rugby.

And just to add to the difficulties, although I could manually make a connection between watch and atomic clock, there was no signal between the watch and Rugby anywhere in our house or garden - or even our road.  I had to walk nearly a quarter of a mile away before I could even make the connection.

But I did at least get my money back.  And now I have two watches - one set to English time and one to French.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

I got lost!

Yep, I got lost, almost completely and utterly lost.  It was all the fault of those dastardly Frenchies.  There we were, gayly swanning up the A-something autoroute yesterday on our way from the Loire valley to the Channel ports when a sign on an overhead gantry warned that the A29 was closed 65 kilometers ahead.  I saw the sign and, after a brief cogitation, decided that it presented no problem for us.  Sure, we would be driving up the A29, but I reckoned that we would have switched to the A-something-else before we had travelled those 65 clicks.


We had just crossed the river Seine by the spectacular Pont de Normandie and were crossing the canal running parallel to the river when we joined the end of a long queue of cars and lorries.  After what seemed an age, we reached the barriers across the two lanes of the motorway and followed the queue down the slip road to a roundabout.  There was no indication of any diversion so I simply decided to follow a German-registered lorry that I guessed was heading back home.  He wasn't.  He led us a couple of miles along a road lined on either side by oil storage tanks, heading for the port city of le Havre.  This was a dual carriageway and even if I had wanted to perform a U-turn, the concrete central barrier would have made it just a bit difficult.  So I waited until we reached a crossroads ruled by traffic lights.  I could go straight on to Ports 2000 - 3000, turn right for Ports 4000 - 4500 or turn left for Ports 5000 - 6000.  Or something like that.  I spotted a café with a car park just up the road to the left and headed there to study the road atlas.

Returning to the roundabout where we had gone wrong, I spotted a sign which said that traffic for Amiens, Paris and Calais should follow S2.  I also spotted a sign indicating the road known as S2, so off we set.  Now, given the number of other vehicles that we usually see on the closed stretch of the A29 - and the number that had been in that queue - I would have expected to see more traffic on this relatively minor road taking us through industrial estates along the north bank of the Seine.  Had I gone wrong again, I wondered?

Just as we reached a toll station, I spotted a side road signposted for a village I had already decided was the way we wanted to go.  It was a delightful drive along a country road with pleasant scenery - and ours was about the only vehicle, apart from a tractor I had to follow at slow speed for a mile or so.  But it would have been better if there had been a signposted diversion instead of leaving us poor motorists to figure out an alternative route ourselves.  I did get us back onto the A29, where there was far less traffic than usual.  Not that it is ever the busiest road in France.

We reached Calais about an hour later than usual.  By the time we had toured the supermarket (wine, coffee, patisserie, carrots inter alia) and had a meal, I reckoned we would have missed the train we were booked on.  Not that it bothered me as there are two an hour during the evening and if we missed one, we would be put on the first one with space available.  But no, we were just in time to go straight through with no waiting at all.

Then guess what.  Heading along the M25 and repeated on the M23 were signs reading, "A23 closed after A264".  This would involve an interesting detour through narrow, country lanes and I wondered just where we would be directed - always assuming that there would be directions!  But it didn't matter as I was one of the last to squeeze though as the cones were being put in place.

Now all I have to do is sort through which emails need action, deal with the begging letters, check my accounts, update a couple of web sites, read the thousands of new posts on the blogs I visit.  And fetch the dog from kennels!


This picture was taken in April last year just outside "our" French village and is the picture for April on our kitchen calendar.