Monday, 30 June 2014

Serendipity and lists

This morning I had breakfasted, got the Old Bat up and sorted her breakfast, done the washing up, started the laundry, swept the kitchen floor and vacuumed the hall and living room - and I was still out on the Downs with the dog before nine o'clock.  Everything was going smoothly.  Serendipity indeed.  Could this mean that I will at last start to make some headway with my "to do" list?

Yes, I have a "to do" list.  I'm a list person, always have been.  It's not something I'm especially proud of, but then, neither am I ashamed to say it.  I think it's nature rather than nurture as I'm pretty sure my father was a list person as well, even if he did manage to subordinate the urge most of the time.  I suppose it might be seen as a men-are-from-Mars-type thing as I'm sure it is a trait that has been seen in boys pretty much ever since trains were a common thing.  Possibly even before then.  Trains, why trains? you ask.  Actually, for me it was even before trains; it was cars.  I collected car numbers.

I can see your face as you read that last sentence, a sort of quizzical, is he mad? expression.  But you must remember that when I was but a wee lad there were many fewer cars on the roads.  My brother and I were able to play in our street in nigh-on perfect safety.  There were only three cars in our road, a road of about a hundred houses.  One belonged to the District Nurse who lived half-way down the other side, one belonged to my grandmother's posh neighbour (he owned his own shop) - and I can't remember who owned the other.  Anyway, collecting car numbers was a common hobby for boys back then.  We would write them down in a notebook in a sort of list.  But that was as far as it went.  We did nothing else with them, which made the whole exercise rather pointless.  And it's not exactly as if it kept us off the streets!

But eventually we graduated to train spotting.  This, too, involved collecting numbers (and names, as the classy engines were all named).  There was a small, paper back book which could be bought quite cheaply and in there were listed all the railway engines in the country in there various classes - more lists.  Having collected the numbers, we would carefully underline (in red) those railway engines we had spotted.

In my last job I would often make a list as the last thing before leaving for home at the end of the day.  That list was to remind me of the jobs that needed doing the following morning.  More often than not, I would make a start on the list only to find myself distracted by a more urgent job or a phone call.  At the end of the second day at least half of the jobs would be carried forward again - but at least the list served to remind me that those jobs still needed doing.

Nowadays I find lists even more important.  Especially shopping lists.  Even if I have only four things to buy - and even if they are all from the same shop or store - unless I have a list to refer to, the chances are that I will get back home without something.  I did it only last week.  Four things I needed, three things I bought - and had to go out again to buy the bananas the Old Bat wanted!

Some people think that list-makers are organised folks, infuriatingly organised.  Wrong.  List makers are DISorganised - that's one of the reasons we make lists.  Without them our lives would be not just chaotic, more like total anarchy!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The summer curse

Actually, it's not just in summer that it happens.  It's just that it seems worse then, possible because they arrive in greater numbers.  On Friday, travellers invaded Withdean Park, which is where I usually walk Fern in the mornings.  Given that the travellers throw waste food around, defecate in the wooded areas and generally make themselves obnoxious, I am walking elsewhere.  What really gets the goat of so many of the local residents is the mess these uninvited guests leave behind, the damage they do while they are there, and the cost to us ratepayers of getting them off the parks and clearing up after them.  Anyway, I will refrain from ranting any further.

I am considering a new career as a wildlife photographer.  No, not really, but this is a picture of a slow-worm that has been in much the same spot in the garden for a week or more.

He - or she - is a very welcome guest given that the staple diet is slugs - and the other morning he was curled around one, presumably his breakfast.  Meanwhile, in the drive was this creature.

Either another slow-worm or a grass snake, but it looked a bit long for a slow-worm.  Then I took Fern onto the Downs.  For a springer spaniel, the recipe for total happiness requires long grass, a tennis ball - and somebody to throw it!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

100 years ago

Today is the 100th anniversary of the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  I have been to Sarajevo - or, to be more accurate, I have driven through the city.  It was back in the late autumn of 1996, not long after the end of the civil war.  I was with a party of Lions taking aid to refugees.  At the time I was employed by a newspaper and this account of the trip was published in it.


Vitez, Bosnia - Saturday

Late at night, a convoy of cars comes down the road from the mountains, lights blazing and horns blaring.  They disappear somewhere in the town.  Twenty minutes later we hear a burst of automatic rifle fire.  Then the convoy, now twice the size, returns into the mountains, still with lights blazing and horns blaring.  We settle for the night in our motor caravan, secure in the knowledge that we are in a locked compound protected by an armed guard.

Our party of seven had left Dover the previous Monday in our own convoy of two lorries and the motor caravan.  The lorries were loaded with 30 tons of foodstuff, clothing, medical supplies and toys, all donated by people and companies throughout south-east England and bound for refugee camps in Bosnia.  The motor caravan was to act as a support vehicle, providing facilities for both cooking and sleeping.

The journey through France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Slovenia had been fairly uneventful.  With the lorries fully laden, we had plodded down the autobahns at a maximum 56mph, slowing to less than 25mph on the steeper hills.  There had been delays of two and a half hours at the Austria-Slovenia border and three and a half hours at the Slovenia-Croatia border.  But worse was to come.

A burnt-out factory
We travelled down the Dalmatian coastline, through rugged, inhospitable mountains and past seemingly endless islands basking in bright sun in the blue Adriatic Sea.  Before reaching Split, we turned inland to head for the border crossing into Bosnia at Kamensko.  From here on we saw almost constant signs of the conflict – burnt-out cars, buses and lorries beside the road and deserted villages with every house in ruins.  In the towns, complete factories had been destroyed, their fleets of lorries standing blackened and useless after the fires.  Churches and mosques alike were without roofs or windows.

In 50 miles, perhaps one per cent of the dwellings had signs of people living in them and many of those were of questionable habitability.  Fields were untended, many of them marked as uncleared minefields.  For mile after mile we passed through ghost towns.

We reached the Croatia-Bosnia border just after 6pm yesterday, Friday.  The evening was spent in fruitless argument with customs officials in an attempt to untangle red tape.  The problem seemed to be that the Croatian officials were loath to let us leave the country because our paperwork, which was clearly marked “Humanitarian Aid”, stated that we carried coffee.  Unfortunately we were quite unable to tell them how much or where it was because we had hundreds of shoeboxes packed by many different people.

After passing the night under the watchful eyes of the Royal Military Police and the ambulance section of 23 Para [British army units] who maintain a guard post on the border, proper hot showers this morning were a real and unexpected luxury.  We were even able to obtain an up-to-date map of Bosnia showing the IFOR (Peace Implementation Force) road markings.

We were starting to despair of ever entering Bosnia when, at 11.00 this morning, a British couple working for Children’s Aid Direct, the charity with which we have contacts, passed through the border into Croatia.  They were able to convince the officials that we carried only humanitarian aid, and by 11.15 we were on the road again.  We had spent 18 hours at the border and were now 24 hours behind schedule.

Croatia had seemed bad, but Bosnia was even worse.  Burnt out vehicles – including a tank – were more frequent.  Piles of rubble beside the road marked cleared road blocks.  Minefields were more extensive.  The IFOR presence is very heavy.

If one could ignore the signs of was, the scenery is magnificent.  Travnik must have been a beautiful town, but now every building is pock-marked by bullets and most of the doors and window frames have gone for firewood.

We finally reached Vitez late this afternoon where we made contact with Stuart.  He is the resident Children’s Aid Direct worker and an ardent St Johnstone fan!  [A Scottish football club.]

Visegrad, Bosnia – Sunday

This morning we discovered that last night’s disturbance was just a high-spirited wedding party.  We all hoped that the next weddings we attend will be a little calmer!

We met Oliver, the project manager for Children’s Aid.  He has three refugee collecting centres that are in need of aid such as ours, but he recommended that we visit just the one outside Visegrad, near the eastern border of Bosnia.  This is the one which is best organised, which means that there is less chance of our aid ending up on the black market.  Furthermore, because we are so far behind schedule, there is little time to see the country.

Sarajevo: the library
Visegrad is a five-hour drive from Vitez.  Our route took us through many villages and towns, including Sarajevo.  Nowhere has been spared the destruction of war.  In Sarajevo, high-rise blocks of flats look like ruins – then one spots just one or two flats with washing hanging on the balconies.  In some places, wooden huts not much larger than garden sheds have been built at the roadside and serve as shops.  There are bailey bridges over rivers and across bomb craters in the roads.  Bridges and important road junctions are guarded by soldiers from the UK, Canada, Italy, Portugal and Malaysia with tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

Where the Gorazde convoys assembled.
We stopped for coffee at one of the canvas-roofed cafés that have sprung up amid the ruins where the convoys for Gorazde were assembled in less peaceful times.  These cafés were opened to serve the troops of the Portuguese battalion now guarding this most important of road junctions.

We had passed through Visegrad and travelled for some miles along a lane when we saw, on top of a
A corner of the camp.

bank beside the road, a couple of transport containers.  A second glance showed that these containers were different.  They have windows and chimneys and are being used as dwellings.

The main part of the collecting centre is in a large building that was once a school.  At first sight it appears almost pleasant as one looks down the drive through the trees.  Then one sees the extra plywood shacks, the mud, and the women doing the laundry in a stream beside the drive.

Doing the laundry
There are about 350 people living here.  We have qualms about their ability to store 30 tons of aid, but the medical supplies will be taken to a hospital and the refugees’ eagerness to take what we offer dispels our doubts.

Today there was time to unload only the smaller lorry before dusk fell.  When the work was done we were invited inside for refreshment, including small cups of thick coffee.

The refreshments were taken in one of the dormitories, a classroom that is now home to 84 people.  They live and sleep in bunks not much larger than double beds, three to a bunk, with the bunks stacked two high.  The only place to hang clothes is on the side of the bunks.  An ancient wood-burning stove provides cooking facilities.  We would consider it barely large enough for a family of five or six, so we have no idea how 84 people manage.

We eventually tore ourselves away with promises to return early tomorrow.

The vehicles are now parked outside a hotel some five miles from the camp.  We wanted hot showers and a good meal.  This, we were told, is the best hotel in the area.  We shudder to think what the rest are like.

The hotel seems to be in use as a psychiatric clinic, but we have taken two rooms just the same.  Three of us will stay with the vehicles, but there is no reason why the rest of the party cannot have a little more comfort.  Unfortunately, the hot water runs only fitfully, and when it does run it is only just the tepid side of cold.  The meal, when it was eventually served, was of the same standard.  But at least the beds are clean.

Vitez – Monday 

Here for another night in the guarded compound, and now on the homeward journey.  We are all tired, but exhilarated.

This morning, the lorry guards started work at six o’clock, moving supplies from the larger to the smaller lorry.  The idea was to speed up delivery when we returned to the camp.  The smaller, 16-ton lorry can be driven into the camp but the articulated truck is too big, and had to be left almost blocking the road.  By nine o’clock we were all at the camp, with the smaller lorry being unloaded.  The remainder was later trans-shipped in three or four loads.

The men stood and watched.
Most of the work was done by the women and young people.  It seems that in this culture the men just stand and watch.  Most of the children should have been at school.

We all spent time talking with the refugees as best we could.  Fortunately, there are four children who speak some English.  Otherwise sign language suffices.

As well as more coffee, we were given walnuts and corn on the cob roasted in the ashes under a still.  Some of the older men asked us to take their photographs.  By dint of crossing themselves and then holding their index fingers in the form of a cross, they indicated that the photographs were wanted for the headstones on their graves.

One man was so overcome with emotion that he spent five minutes shaking hands, completely speechless, while tears ran down his cheeks.

Dover – Friday

Back in England almost 12 days to the minute since we left the country.  More than 3,000 miles have been covered, with only 120 to go.

On the ferry, we took the opportunity to assess our reaction to the trip.  The poverty and destruction had been far worse than we had expected.  On the other hand, the people, including the refugees, had seemed reasonably well-nourished.  Perhaps there is a magic ingredient in the coffee.

A new teddy bear
Oliver had told us that our supplies would see Visegrad through the winter, which was a comforting thought.  We remembered, too, the gratitude of the refugees, not just for the food and clothes but also for the fact that somebody, somewhere had cared enough to do something.

We reminded ourselves how we had to show the children how to unwrap sweets and to teach then to use skipping ropes, and how the sheets of hardboard used in the packing were prized almost as greatly as the aid itself. 

There was no doubt in our minds that this had been a very worthwhile exercise.

With smiles at the memory of one little girl fiercely clutching her new teddy bear, we started on the last lap for home.

Friday, 27 June 2014

The price of heroism

I know that I have related this tale before.  If you read it the first time round, you are hereby forgiven if you just click on the "next blog" link up the page or wander off to put the kettle on or even prepare the Sunday lunch. (Yes, I know it's Friday. So what?) Either way, you are going to get the story. Again - or for the first time.

It all happened on a Saturday morning about 30 years ago. That's right - 30. It might have been only 27 or, on the other hand, it might even have been 33 years, but that is completely irrelevant. It was certainly a Saturday. I know that because I was still working ... No, hang on. I suppose it could have happened on a weekday if I was on holiday at the time ... Oh well, never mind. It might have happened on a Saturday and it might have happened about 30 years ago, but it definitely happened.

I wanted a new pair of shoes so I went into Brighton to see what I could find. I can't for the life of me remember if I drove into town or caught a bus but I know I started at the Clock Tower and made my way along Western Road towards Hove, looking in every shoe shop that I passed. Just before I reached the end of the bigger shops a police car passed me at high speed. It stopped outside the Argos store - a catalogue store with a jewellery counter - on the opposite side of the road. I assumed the police had been called to an attempted robbery and carried on. I reached the next road junction and turned back. I had gone only a couple of yards when I saw a youth dash out of the Argos shop, pursued by two policemen. The youth darted into the road and was heading straight for me.

From then on, time slowed down. I actually managed to think about what I could and should do. It was axiomatic that I should attempt to apprehend this (probably) highly dangerous villain, but how to do it? (Actually, it didn't cross my mind that he might be dangerous; I just knew I should try to stop him.) My first thought was that I should just stand in his way with my arms spread wide, but I quickly dismissed that idea as impractical. Then I decided that a rugby tackle would probably see me sprawled on the pavement while the escapee simply side-stepped. By now it was very nearly time for me to take some form of action if I was ever going to, so I just stuck out my leg and tripped him up. The youth fell on his face. A passing driver leapt out of his van and sat on him until the police arrived.

Although time had slowed sufficiently for me to think of - and reject - a couple of ways of stopping the escapee, and even a third way which proved remarkably successful, there had not been enough time for me to think through the full likely outcome of sticking my leg out. Sure, it worked in that the youth tripped and was caught. But what I had overlooked - or not had time to think of - was the fact that by sticking out my leg, I would be putting myself off-balance. Or rather, balanced on just one foot. What happened was that the force of my right leg being struck by the youth caused me to fall. As I did so, I instinctively put out my hands to break my fall. I landed awkwardly on my right hand, hurting the wrist badly. The pursuing policeman inadvertently trod on my left hand, as a result of which the thumb was extremely painful.

Fortunately, I knew somebody who lived in one of the side streets not too far away and I made my way there, hoping somebody would be at home. She was, and she persuaded me that I should have a hospital check-up. She rang my wife, who drove me to the accident and emergency department where it was confirmed that I had broken my right wrist as I landed - and the copper had broken my thumb when he trod on it!

So much for being a hero!

There is, however, a postscript to this story. It was a week or ten days later that I happened to be speaking on the phone to my brother, not a particularly common occurrence in those days although it happens quite frequently now. Brother was then a serving police officer in another county.

'Have you sent off the forms to the Criminal Injuries Board?' he asked.

'Do what?' I replied.

It transpired that the local police should have informed me of my right to lodge a claim with said Board. They had not done so, possibly in an attempt to save themselves some work - or maybe because they simply hadn't bothered to check that I was OK. Anyway, I duly obtained the forms and sent them off. In the fulness of time I received a cheque for no less than £500!

And that was the price of heroism.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Liebster Award

It was a week ago yesterday that Sarah nominated me for this award.  It would be something of an exaggeration for me to claim that I have spent all the time since then cogitating, but I have given some thought to the matter.

Now the word 'liebster' is German and translates as 'dearest' - but, no.  I couldn't be that lucky.  And in any case, what would the Old Bat say?

I did some further research and finally came to the conclusion that the award is, frankly, meaningless, simply a way of spreading alarm and despondency among the general blogger populace.  What is does entail is that the awarder asks a number of questions of the awardee, questions which, it would appear, are intended to draw out embarrassing answers.  Well, Sarah, I will answer your questions, but you might be a tad disappointed with the answers.

  1. What was the first ever comment on your blog - who was it from and how did it make you feel?  It was so long ago that I don't actually remember it.  I rather suspect it would have been from my Californian friend Skip.
  2. What's your favourite cake?  Pretty much any cake except carrot.  The doughnuts from our local bakery are to die for, as are the strawberry tartlets from my favourite patisserie in Pouancé.
  3. Do you have a friend who you would hate if you didn't love them so much? Love?  Friends?  Never!
  4. When did you last make and arse of yourself and how?  No comment.
  5. Kittens or puppies - quick, QUICK you HAVE to choose!!!  Puppies.
  6. Do you have an item of cleaning or cooking equipment that you don't know either what it's for or how to use?  I don't have any items of cleaning or cooking equipment full stop.  No, belay that!  I do - it's called a wife and I don't have the foggiest idea how to use it.
  7. Have you ever cyber-stalked anyone - either someone famous (I haven't) or an ex (hmmm, maybe a little ...) or an ex's new partner (not guilty of that one either, he goes through them too fast to make it worthwhile) or someone that you used to go to school/work with (might have done that a little too ...).  No.
  8. What's the weirdest injury you've ever sustained?  I took the Scouts rock climbing and broke my ankle when I slipped in the mud at the foot of the rocks.  Then there was the time a policeman broke my thumb when he trod on it...
  9. Have you ever accidentally sent a text/email etc to the wrong person?  No that I'm aware of - but maybe that's why several of my friends no longer speak to me.
  10. Have you ever vlogged?  If yes, what was it about?  If no, would you ever?  Vlogging?  What that?
According to the rules, I'm now supposed to nominate a few other mugs and ask them impertinent questions - but who goes by the rules all the time?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Positive thoughts

There are times when it feels as though I take two steps back for every one step forward.  Sometimes it feels very much like that even though the reverse is true.  Yesterday was one of those times.  Blogger was still frustratingly refusing to show more than the latest post on any of the blogs in my reading list.  I spent another frustrating half hour trying to find a way round the problem, referring to the Blogger help site and Blogger's forum, all to no avail.  All I found was a reference, dated last Friday, to the fact that Blogger was aware of the problem and working to resolve it.  And success has attended their efforts as, this morning at least, all is back to normal.  That's one positive!

During the last few days I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time just standing around waiting.  Waiting for the Old Bat to get herself in position for me to help her out of bed, waiting while she was in the bathroom to help her back to bed, waiting for this and waiting for that.  Thankfully, the OB has got up this morning and is, it would seem, able to be a little more active around the house.  With luck, I won't have to cook tonight!  Another positive.

There was a ring on the doorbell yesterday and a courier stood on the step with the most enormous cardboard box.  I was expecting something to be delivered, but didn't expect a package two feet square and two feet six deep.  Anyway, I opened it and, nestling among screwed up newsprint and piles of shredded paper, double wrapped in bubble wrap, it was what I had been expecting.  My grandfather's and father's medals duly cleaned, remounted and framed, like this:

But there has been frustration as well.  I have spent quite a long time preparing a list of grocery products for the Lions to buy from a local supermarket to donate to a food bank.  The list was checked by people from the food bank.  I traipsed round the supermarket in an attempt to see what quantities each item is packed in; no point ordering 30 tins of something if they are packed in dozens.  I checked the stores web site for the product reference numbers.  Yesterday, I went to do a little shopping and spoke to the duty manager, giving her a copy of the list and explaining what it was all about.  I admit, I was hoping to be offered a discount.  But what I got was a shock.  She told me she thought they would be unable to sell us the goods.

I must have looked gob-smacked, and I asked, incredulously, "You don't want to sell us a thousand pounds worth of food?"

She explained that she wasn't being awkward, but that the store has no control over ordering so they would be unable to order things in especially for us.  She did promise that she would have the grocery manager ring me today - but I'm not holding my breath.

I'll try ringing other supermarkets to see if they might be a little more public-spirited.  But it's frustrating all the same.

I can see that I might need to make several visits, one to buy 96 tins of peas, 96 of carrots, 60 bags of rice, 60 jars of coffee and so on.  Luckily there is space in the garage - if I declutter first!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

This, that and the other

First, this: a gripe about Bloogger (again!).  The reading list on the dashboard, showing all the blogs I follow and the latest post on each, has been shrunk to show just the last post.  Just the one.  there is a link beneath which says, "view more", but that link doesn't work.  frustration is most definitely the name of the game!

Now that: the OB is much better (and thank you everyone for your good wishes) and has risen from her bed today and got dressed.  Whereupon I was instructed to wash the kitchen floor (did it on Sunday) and vacuum the stairs. (Now done that as well.)  I asked if she would feel like eating some lunch.

"A boiled egg and a slice of toast sounds good."

"What about dinner?  I shall be going to Asda this afternoon so can get anything then."

"Perhaps fish of some sort?"

Who does she think I am; Marco Pierre White or Raymond Blanc?  I can't boil an egg for goodness sake!

Lastly, the other.  This is in response to a pic on Skip's blog.

It was a sweltering August day in 1937 when the Cohen brothers entered the posh Dearborn, Michigan, offices of Henry Ford, the car maker. "Mr. Ford," announced Norman Cohen, the eldest of the three. "We have a remarkable invention that will revolutionise the automobile industry."

Ford looked sceptical, but their threat to offer it to the competition kept his interest piqued. "We would like to demonstrate it to you in person." After a little cajoling, they brought Mr. Ford outside to a black automobile parked in front of the building.

Hyman Cohen, the middle brother, opened the door of the car. "Please step inside, Mr. Ford."

"What!" shouted the tycoon, "Are you crazy? It must be two hundred degrees in that car!"

"It is," smiled the youngest brother, Maxwell, "but sit down and push the white button."

Intrigued, Ford pushed the button. All of a sudden, a whoosh of freezing air started blowing from vents all around the car. Within seconds, the automobile was not only comfortable, but quite cool.

"This is amazing!" exclaimed Ford. "How much do you want for the patent?"

Norman spoke up, "The price is one million dollars." Then he paused. "And there is something else: The name 'Cohen Brothers Air-Conditioning' must be stamped right next to the Ford logo."

"Money is no problem," retorted Ford, "but no way will I have a Jewish name next to my logo on my cars!"

They haggled back and forth for a while and finally they settled. Five million dollars, but the Cohens' name would be left off. However, the first names of the Cohen brothers would be forever emblazoned upon the console of every Ford air conditioning system.

And that is why, even today, whenever you enter a Ford vehicle, you will see those three names clearly printed on the air conditioning control panel:


Monday, 23 June 2014

Quite a weekend.

Yep, one way and another it has been quite a weekend.  On Friday, the OB and I, along with another 30 or so, drove out to a village pub which has a skittles alley.  There we held the last event in this year's Lions Club Olympics for our local clubs.  I'm sorry to say that my first effort was abysmal - only three of the ninepins knocked over with three balls - but I did improve later and managed to avoid winning (if that's the right word) the wooden spoon.  Brighton Lions only managed third place on the evening but we did end as joint winners overall.  What's more, the buffet the pub laid on was splendid

That's one of the joys of England - the pub.  I have never managed to understand just why it is that other countries don't have pubs like we do.  My experience of what passes for standard drinking establishments - in other words, the equivalent of our pubs - in other countries is somewhat limited.  Indeed, in recent years it has been restricted to France, but in the past I have visited places in Ireland, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia, Malta, Madeira and the USA.  None of them compare even remotely to the English pub, whether we be talking about a cosy country pub or a brash, Victorian town pub.

We used to visit the Royal Oak - the scene of Friday's gastronomic delight - more frequently as it was a convenient equidistant lunch venue when we met up with Bruce and Jane.  The pub has changed hands since then but seems as good now as it was then.  Tony (a fellow Lion) and we two have agreed to go there for lunch in a few weeks' time just to check it out.

I've managed to wander off the subject once again!

Saturday night was pretty awful.  Something had upset the OB's system and she had me up to help her to the loo about five or six times.  She stayed in bed all day yesterday - which meant I had to go without my Sunday roast!  I ended up quite surprising myself.  OK, I followed the recipe almost slavishly, but we had almost all the ingredients to hand for a pasta tuna bake recipe I found.  The only thing missing was the spring onions.  I did consider substituting garlic - of which I am inordinately fond - and I think it would have been better if I had.  All the same, the result was surprisingly tasty.

We both slept extremely well last night but, even though she is much improved, the OB has kept to her bed.  I shall have to give serious thought to tonight's meal.  Maybe a quick trip to Asda for a ready meal for one?

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Resolved that...

Every year I make a New Year's resolution.  Just the one.  Every year it's the same.  And every year I break that resolution just by renewing it.  You see, that New Year's resolution is that I will not make any New Year's resolutions.  But that does not preclude the making of resolutions at other times of the year, such as Midsummer Resolutions.  And this year, for the very first time, I have made a Midsummer Resolution.  It's very simple, and consists of merely three words:


That's it.  Simples, eh?

I wonder, though, if I should have inserted a hyphen: de-clutter.  Mind you, Blogger doesn't like either version; they both have wavy red lines under them.

It's not as though I'm a hoarder.  At least, I don't think I am.  I'm just a natural-born clutterer.  Strangely enough, when I was working, my desk, my whole office in fact, was the very epitome of efficient tidiness.  On the surface.  The desk drawers, the filing cabinet and the coat locker would, if opened, have given the lie to that impression.  Now I'm retired, my desk is littered - look, I'll show you a picture.

No, I won't: I'm too ashamed to do that.  But take it from me, loking from left to right, there is a Sellotape dispenser, an opened pack of cardboard photograph frames that I really don't want, a tangle of connecting and recharging leads for various gadgets, A printer/scanner that now only scans, a laptop with an open notebook on top and several papers lying on top of the notebook, including a bank statement and a couple of credit card receipts, a letter from the clinic cancelling my last appointment,  a handful of dead AA batteries, an old computer mouse, a swathe of 35mm slides, last year's diary, this year's diary... I could go on, but I imagine that's enough for you to see what I mean?

As I said, I'm not really a hoarder.  I will admit, though, that I tend to keep odd pieces of wood if I have the room.  I have found many a time that I need a small piece - say, a a bit of 4x2 about 9 inches long.  If I have to buy some, I am faced with a 2 metre length, with almost six feet left over after I have taken off the nine inches I need.  Whereas if I have kept back the offcuts from previous jobs, all is (sometimes) well.  I have also got quite an impressive collection of cardboard boxes.  So often, when buying something such as a toaster or computer, one is advised to keep the packaging in case one needs to return a duff purchase.  I have in the past simply thrown the box into the loft - and completely forgot to take it out to throw away.

But I have made a start.  I cleared out all the junk from the lean-to we laughingly call a conservatory.  It's really a glory hole with the freezer, tumble drier and muddy wellington boots, wet weather gear and a dog basket for when she comes home wet or muddy.   Mind you, all I did was move the clutter into the garage.  There's still some more to go - and then I'll make a start on clearing out the garage!

I keep telling myself that Rome wasn't built in a day.  Neither is my home going to be de-cluttered in a fortnight.  But I've made a start.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Our first date

Do you know Sarah?  No, don't get the wrong idea - my first date was not with her!  (I'm far too old for her anyway.)  Sarah has a blog you really should read and this post is all her fault.  You see, I read this post of hers and followed a link to read about her hilarious first date with Matt.  It reminded me of my first date with the Old Bat and Sarah asked that I tell the tale.  Well, me being the gentleman that I am, I cannot refuse the request of a charming young lady like Sarah so, even though I think I may well have told this tale before, here it is.

Bear in mind that the Old Bat and I are both pretty much in our dotage and our first date was in the way back when.  Way back before I had my own transport and had to rely on buses to get around.  Way back before I could afford to take a taxi rather than catch a bus.  Way back before mobile phones were even dreamed of.  Ye gods, we're almost prehistoric!

The Old Bat and I both worked for the same bank, albeit at different branches but those branches were situated at either end of the street and the juniors from each bank met on a daily basis to perform a ceremony known as the local clearing.  (Believe me, you don't want to know!)  One day a rather very attractive young lady from the other branch was on duty and I was sufficiently taken to ask her name.  We saw each other only occasionally, always in one of the banks along the street, except for the one occasion we met after work for a coffee.  Then I was transferred to a branch several miles away and things never progressed any further.  Until one Christmas.

A friend was planning to hold a party and I wanted to be there.  But my regular girl friend was a children's nurse and was rostered on duty that day.  There was no way I could turn up at a party without a girl, so what to do?  After much humming and ha-ing (I was distinctly lacking in self-confidence in those days) I plucked up the courage to telephone the bank where I knew the Old Bat had last worked, that being at least six months earlier.  Somewhat to my surprise, she remembered me.  And to my even greater surprise, she agreed to accompany me to the party.  As she lived on the other side of town, she suggested she should catch the bus and I should meet her at the stop, which we duly did.

Although I had agreed to the Old Bat catching the bus at the start of the evening, there was no way I would leave her to make her own way home late at night.  Despite knowing that she lived at the other end of town, I didn't actually know where she lived or which was the bus route nearest to her house.  As it happened, at that time of night there was only one route still running in anything like the right direction so we caught that to a stop somewhere near where she lived.  I relied on her to guide me to her home through streets I didn't even know existed.  After a mile or so, by which time I was completely lost, on the corner of some back street, we stopped for a quick cuddle.  It was then that she fainted.

A cold, winter's night.  Late - very late.  In a part of town I had never before been in, completely unaware of where I was.  A girl who had just fainted on me - and I didn't even know where she lived!  No-one about and all the houses in darkness.

But wait!  There was a light in an upstairs window!  Although still very groggy, the Old Bat was starting to come round.  I half-carried her to the house with the light and hammered on the door, which was eventually opened.  The householders took pity on me - or, rather, the young girl quite obviously in a state of some distress, and allowed us in.  The Old Bat revived quite quickly as some warmth got back into her and we were soon able to resume our journey.  Luckily, we had only another three or four hundred yards to go.

That was not the most propitious way to meet my future mother-in-law - but I think she forgave me in the end. And it wasn't very long before my second date, and then a third.  The rest, comme on dit, is history.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Confusion worse confounded

There are many things about the world and life in general that I don't understand.  Most scientific facts are way over my head; quantum physics, Einstein's Theory of Whatever, how electricity can be used but still flow through the negative side of the plug - all sorts of complicated things like that.  And as for macro- and micro-biology or economics - indeed, anything micro- or macro-.  As far as I'm concerned, the only difference is one letter!

Those things - the things I don't understand - don't bother me in the least.  Although it's not actually the things that don't bother me, it's the fact that I don't understand them.  I don't exactly understand all the why's and wherefore's of the internal combustion engine, but I'm happy enough to drive my car.  There is, however, one thing I don't understand where my lack of understanding irritates the hell out of me.  It's been brought to my attention once again this week by the visit to London of the Chinese Prime Minister or Great Panjamdram or whatever he is.

Our Prime Minister has hailed as a great success and earth-shattering achievement the fact that he has persuaded the Chinese to seek investment opportunities in the United Kingdom.  Like putting up cash for the high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham.  Why is it considered such a "good thing" for other countries to invest in our businesses and industries?  That's what is bugging me.

There was a time - OK, about 150 years ago - when this country was possibly the most powerful in the world, both militarily and economically.  And how did we achieve and maintain our economic superiority?  By investing in other countries!  We paid for railways in South America, we developed mining industries in various parts of the world and so on and so on.  But now we rely on other countries to invest in us.  More than rely on, we actively encourage it.  The high-speed rail link from London to the Channel is owned by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Fund; much of our transport  is owned by the French; airports are owned by the Spanish; our car-making industry is owned by the Indians, the Japanese and the Germans; electricity is supplied by a French company; our chocolate companies are owned by the Swiss and the Americans.  Damn it, even our football clubs are owned by Russians, Americans, and Arabs!

I recall that, as a raw recruit into one of England's banks back in 1960, in the strong room we still held a number of stock certificates in an Argentinian railway company.   British merchants had invested in this business to build railways in a country on the other side of the world.  granted, the Argentinians had the benefit of a modern railway system, but the real beneficiaries, those who reaped the profits, were British merchants.  Could the same thing be happening in reverse?

Can anyone end my confusion by telling me just why it is such a good thing for this once-great country to be holding out the begging bowl in this fashion?