Thursday, 31 July 2014

Back on driverless cars...

Any more for the Skylark?

Eastbourne lies a little more than 20 miles along the coast from here.  Once best known as a genteel resort favoured by geriatrics, it does seem to have become more popular with younger people in recent years.

Seeing the pictures of the fire reminded me how these (mostly) Victorian structures are so peculiarly English - and I think that English rather than British is the correct adjective here.  I can't recall seeing pleasure piers like these anywhere else in the world - not that I have travelled that much of it.  My thoughts then wandered off to recall one of the pleasures of seaside holidays when I was a lad, a pleasure which I doubt can be found nowadays - the boat trip round the bay.

The boats used for those trips were built of wood, completely open to the weather and seated about a dozen people.  There would be a landing stage with large wheels at the seaward end, nothing inshore.  This stage could be pushed up and down the beach according to the state of the tide and it enabled the passengers to reach the boat for embarkation.  One man would collect the fares on the landing stage while a second boatman would help people off the stage and into the boat.  For some strange reason, these boats always seemed to be named Skylark, hence the cry, "Any more for the Skylark?"

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Keep your mind on your driving

Keep your hands on the wheel
Keep your snoopy eyes on the road ahead

How long will it be, I wonder, before those seven girls in the back seat, a-huggin' and a-kissin' with Fred, won't need to give those instructions to the driver?  The British government has announced that three UK cities will be allowed to experiment with driverless cars on the road early next year.  OK, so we will be almost light years behind other places, notably California, but at least it will be a start.

I occasionally cause people to break out in almost hysterical laughter when I produce my mobile phone.  Although not the size of a house brick like those very early examples, mine is, shall I say, a little elderly.  I can't surf the web with it, I can't even use it to take photographs and texting is nigh impossible - press a button three or four times for some letters - but I can use it to make and receive calls.  Seeing my mobile phone might give people the impression that I am a technophobe.  That's not really true.

All the same, I am, well, not worried about driverless cars.  Perhaps a little concerned - or maybe perhaps not even that.  But I am puzzled.  There must be so many challenges to be overcome by the designers before truly driverless cars can become a reality.  That said, I suppose one must first ask, what exactly is the definition of a driverless car?  Will it be truly without any need of a driver?  Well, of course not.  Somebody will need to do something to start the vehicle moving even if by some miracle this could be achieved simply by a thought process.  And presumably somebody will be needed to actually instruct the vehicle to stop at the destination.  Or will they?

I'm told that there are already cars on sale that can park themselves, although I have yet to witness such a feat.  I know also that there are cars that automatically apply the brakes if the driver fails to slow down when approaching another vehicle on the road.  Given that satellite navigation is now commonplace (even my car has it) it is no great stretch of the imagination to see the possibility that the driver could state his/her destination and voice recognition software would lead the in-built sat-nav to calculate a route.  Another command, and the car would automatically start to follow the chosen route.  On reaching the destination, the car would, presumably, seek out a parking place and stop.  It's that seeking out a parking place that causes me to stop and wonder. 

I think that before this could happen, the sat-nav systems would need to be improved considerably.  For instance, a simple postcode leads one to a street or part of a street in England.  In France, a postcode can cover a whole town.  Some refinement would appear necessary.  And how would the car know if the house it was going to had a drive to park in?

Another problem would be sudden road closures.  Not all road closures by any means involve putting a barrier in place, especially if it is simply a temporary closure for something like a carnival procession.

No; it sounds a good idea - in principal.  But I think I will stick with my trusty steering wheel, accelerator, brake pedal and manual gear change.  At least for the next year or two.  Perhaps I might think about a new mobile phone instead.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A trivium for Tuesday

In order to ensure the full and complete accuracy of what we are about to tell you, we have spent more hours than we could really afford searching the inter-thingies for confirmation.  And what have we achieved?  Zilch.  Zero.  Splat.  Not a thing.  We shall, therefore, rely on our increasingly unreliable memory for the nugget that is today's trivium, the pearl we intend to cast before the swine.

Although the swastika is most commonly associated with Hitler and the Nazi party of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, it is in fact a very ancient symbol which for centuries had positive meanings.  Before Herr Hitler adopted it, the swastika was associated with Hinduism and it is, I believe, still viewed positively in parts of the east.  But here in the west, we regard it as symbolizing evil.

And today's trivial question:  which is the only Christian church in which one can see a swastika?

I'll give you a clue:
Photo: Dr Thomson's Tours
 Still not sure?

Think Thomas à Becket.

You must have it now.

The answer, to the best of my belief, is Canterbury Cathedral.  I have been trying to find a reference to a modern (post-WW2) stained glass window on the south side of the cathedral in which are depicted the gates of Hell.  The keyhole in the gates is in the shape of a swastika.

Another delight in the cathedral is a double row of pillars, four on each side.  These pillars are, as I recall, in the crypt and date from many centuries ago.  The first pair are intricately carved all round.  The second pair are plain, but the third pair are also carved in great detail.  The fourth pair . . .  Well, one of the pillars in this pair is plain and unadorned.  The other one is plain and unadorned also - for the most part.  There is a bit at the top which is partly carved.

The mason who did the carving on that pillar must have spent many hours on his work, using, as he would, only chisels and hammer and working very delicately.  I love to imagine his reaction when the foreman pointed out that this pillar was supposed to be left plain!

And here is a picture of those pillars.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Thankful villages

I'm reasonably sure that by the time this year is ended, let alone by the time we get to 2018, I shall be suffering from World War I overload.  I am not meaning to be disrespectful to those of my grandparents' generation who suffered so much, but still, today, we are battered almost senseless by a seemingly never ending procession of wars.  We have had Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine . . .  But to revert to WWI, it was only this weekend that I first heard of the Thankful Villages.

Occupying a prominent place in most towns and villages in England is the war memorial.   This was probably erected in about 1920 to commemorate the men from the town who gave their lives during what was then called the Great War.  Very few war memorials existed before then, but the war of 1914-18 had affected every family in the country in one way or another, the first war ever to have had such wide-ranging reverberations, and there were few families which had not suffered the loss of one or more menfolk.

But there are a few villages - just 53 in England and Wales, none have been identified in Scotland - which are collectively known as the
The Rodney Stoke memorial
Thankful Villages, a term coined in the 1930s by the children's author Arthur Mee.  In these villages, every man who left home to fight in the war, returned alive.  Not necessarily whole, but alive.  There was no memorial erected in those villages to commemorate the local men who had died fighting for their country.  That does not mean that those villages have no memorial.  In Rodney Stoke, Somerset, there is a memorial window in St Leonard's church inscribed, "All glory be to God who in his tender mercy has brought again to their homes the men and women of Rodney Stoke who took part in the Great War 1914 - 1919".  (I wonder how many other memorials erected then mention women?)

Of those 53 villages, there are a smaller group of 13 which are Doubly Thankful, having lost nobody in the Second World War either.

What a pleasant change to learn that there are places with no war memorials as we know them.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Food fads

Our dinner last night was salmon en croute with parmentier potatoes and French beans, which might suggest that my culinary skills are improving dramatically.  Not so.  Marks & Spencer were offering "dine in for £10" this weekend and I took advantage.  It really represents pretty good value: a main dish, a side dish, a dessert - each for two people - and a bottle of wine, all for £10.  Inside the pastry and on top of the salmon was watercress sauce.  I'm sure it's not a new dish, but this is only the second time I have ever eaten it.  The previous occasion was when, not all that long ago, we bought some salmon fillets from another superwotsit and they came with a sachet of the sauce.  I suppose this - watercress sauce - will be the in thing, the flavour of the next few months, before a new fad hits the block.

I've noticed that while some dishes stay around for years and years, others come and go.  Go into any pub where food is served and you will almost certainly find scampi and chips on the menu, just as has been the case for many years.  But prawn cocktail, a regular on restaurant menus 50 years ago, disappeared for decades and has, in the last year or so, made a return.

On the dessert side, it is almost impossible, either in England or in France, to find a menu without tiramisu.  But whatever happened to Black Forest gateau?  Another common feature of the dessert menu in France is ginger ice cream.  This is generally served with apple dishes such as tarte Tatin in place of vanilla ice cream and the slight sharpness complements the apple beautifully.  It is possible to buy a common brand of ginger ice cream in French shops but although the brand is widely available here, the ginger ice cream has yet to make an appearance.  That said, I understand that Tesco's sell it under their own name but in small tubs and at a high price.  No doubt it will be sold over here before too much longer.  But what, I wonder, will be the fad after that?

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The ham sandwich

It's too hot and sticky this morning for my brain to get properly into gear so I shall tell a simple story of the best ham sandwich I have ever tasted.

I was reminded of that sandwich just the other day.  The OB was feeling unwell - again - and had said that for dinner she wanted just a baked potato.  I decided that I would bake another for myself and serve it with slices of the gammon joint left over from last Sunday and some tinned spaghetti left in the fridge.  Easy enough for my almost non-existent culinary skills and making use of left-overs at the same time.  But the OB changed her mind - she would have a gammon sandwich.


It was about 1950 and I was about 8 or 9 years old when I came down with pleurisy.  Fortunately for my parents, the National Health Service was up and running (it started in about 1947 or 48, I believe) - and possibly fortunately for me as well as I'm sure my parents could not have afforded to cost of my treatment.  I'm told that I was deemed too ill to be moved, even by ambulance, although I should really have been in hospital.  The doctor called almost every day, sometimes more than once a day, and the District Nurse was also a regular visitor.  A portable x-ray machine had to be maneuvered up the stairs and into the bedroom on at least one occasion.

There was, my mother told me, great rejoicing throughout the land (a little hyperbole there perhaps) when I actually expressed a wish to eat.  I asked if I could have a ham sandwich.

Now you need to remember that this was in England back in about 1950.  The Second World War had been over for a few years, but there were still food shortages and even some rationing.  Soap was rationed until 1950, tea until 1952, sugar till 1953 and meat stayed rationed until 1954.  And here was I, asking for a ham sandwich!  Back in those days the only ham we ever saw came in tins - from Canada.  These was none in our house.

There was no point in going to the shops, so my mother went the rounds of the neighbours in the hope that there might be a slice of ham with which to make the sandwich I had asked for, but they had none either.  However, one neighbour had a chicken and she cared enough to give it to my mother.

These days chicken is possibly the cheapest meat in the shops.  It is certainly plentiful.  Back then, nearly 65 years ago, chicken was a luxury, so for one of our neighbours to give my mother a chicken was quite something.

I can still remember the taste of that sandwich, the best ham sandwich I never had.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Postman's Park

Although this memorial gives little by way of clues to Alice's age, I think she was about 25 when she died.  That was also the conclusion reached by Patrick Marber, the script writer of the 2004 film, Closer, which starred Julia Roberts and Jude Law.  I'm not a cinema-goer and I have never seen the film, but the internet is a great source of information.

The memorial does exist in real life.  It can be found in London, not far from St Paul's Cathedral.  Specifically, in Postman's Park.  In 1887, the artist G F Watts wrote to The Times proposing a project to mark Queen Victoria's Jubilee of that year. He believed that stories of heroism could uplift and stimulate and should therefore be commemorated.  As his idea was not taken up he created the memorial himself in the form of a 50ft long open gallery situated in the public gardens on the site of the former churchyard of St. Botolph, Aldersgate.

I do love stumbling across quirky things like this, and this memorial to otherwise ordinary people is a delight.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

There's this meme doing the rounds

Yes, I know; there's always a meme doing the rounds.

(I wonder how that word would be pronounced?  Could it be just one syllable, to rhyme with beam, or are there two as in Mimi?  Answers on the back of a £20 note, please, to ...)

Anyway, someone who shall be nameless (she lives somewhere to the west of here) wrote a piece about her blogging, opening with the reason why she blogs.  That got me thinking.  Why do I do it?  Come to that, why do any of us do it?

There are, of course, people for whom blogging is just part of their job.  People working in marketing departments come to mind.  They are expected to tell the world about their company's fantastic new soap powder or whatever.  To them, blogging is about on a par with writing a press release.  These are blogs of no interest to anyone.

Then there are "celebrities", actors and singers and so on who do it to keep their names in front of the hoi polloi on whom they depend.  These are people who crave publicity.  Indeed, their celebrity status depends on continual publicity.  Followers of their blogs are probably the people who buy those magazines devoted to what she wore, who she was seen with, where and what they ate.  These are blogs of no interest to anyone except the few.

Political thinkers and writers also blog.  Their reasons are something of a mix of the first two types; the need for publicity and the fact that blogging is all part and parcel of the day's work.  There, no doubt, some cerebral blog readers who are interested.

But if we discount all those professional bloggers, why do the likes of you and I inflict this task upon ourselves?  Well, after much cointemplation (or even contemplation) and navel gazing (when I should probably have been doing something useful - like sweeping the kitchen floor or cleaning the shower) I have decided that there are several reasons why people write blogs.  Granted, not everybody falls into any particular one of these classifications, and the lines between them can get a little blurred after a couple of glasses, but I have identified the following types.
  • There are those people who aspire to be professional writers and are hoping that somebody somewhere will stumble across their efforts and offer them a huge sum of money to write a novel, a film, a newspaper column - anything!
  • Then there are those who use blogging as a way of keeping friends and family up to date with what is happening in their lives.
  • Some like to make contributions to the world at large, contributions of recipes, kitting patterns, arty crafty ideas and so on.
  • Others are keen photographers and just like to show off their work.
  • Some people use blogging to tell others about places to visit or trips to make.

As I said, and as with any attempt at classification, not everybody falls neatly into any one category - and there are plenty more categories and/or sub-categories I could have listed.

But why do I blog?  To tell the truth (and that's not necessarily the case every day) - I haven't the bloggiest idea!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A sad case

That's me - the sad case.  I'm not alone in that as the Old Bat is equally as sad a case as I.  And I very much think there is no cure for either of us.  Nor can I believe that we are alone in our affliction, although in all probability the other sufferers are much of a muchness with the two of us as far as age is concerned.

Our problem is that we find most of the humour broadcast on the mainstream television channels distinctly un-funny.  We are stuck - or perhaps I should say our sense of humour is stuck - in the golden age of British sit-coms.  Where today are the true successors of The Good Life, To the Manor Born, Steptoe and Son and Open All HoursDad's Army - claimed by some, with some justification, as the greatest of them all - is still being repeated on BBC2 but otherwise it is necessary to catch the occasional repeat on BBC4, where they recently aired a few episodes of Ever Decreasing Circles, or on ITV3 during the afternoon.  Otherwise, it's the box sets.

And we have a few, including Porridge, 'Allo 'Allo and As Time Goes By.  When we are not watching ITV3's oft-repeated Midsomer Murders we are running through the near-100 episodes of As Time Goes By - for the third time at least.  And we still find them amusing.  Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer are absolutely made for the parts they play.

Our appetite for past TV glories is fed in part by a well-known internet retailer.  Some time last year I was seduced by them into applying for their credit card.  For every pound I spend on the card, they give me one point - and for every 1000 points, I get a £10 gift voucher.  As I use my credit card for nearly all purchases, those points tend to add up.  I've received two £10 vouchers recently and have ordered another box set (Ever Decreasing Circles this time) and a copy of a film I have not seen for ages - A Man for All Seasons - the 1966 film starring Paul Scofield that won six Oscars.

We might be sad cases to some folk, but we are happy in our sadness.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

What is it about foxes?

I don't like foxes.  Granted, they can be magnificent-looking creatures, although most of those I see are scraggy and possibly downright mangy.  But what I dislike most about the animal is the way it has of killing for the sake of killing.

Foxes are carnivores, but then, so are cats both domestic and large ones in the wild, and mankind as well, although i suppose that to be rather more accurate man should be classified as omnivore.  Being both carnivores and wild animals, it is hardly surprising that foxes kill.  That, after all, is how they are going to get their food.  And while I have every sympathy with farmers who lose the odd lamb or two to the local fox, I do have a little sympathy for the fox as well.  (I had better not let Julian hear me say that as he has a small flock of sheep and regularly loses lambs to the fox.)  But what is worse than seeing one less cuddly black lamb in the field in the morning, is seeing a hen-house full of dead birds, every one killed by the fox who just took one.

It is generally assumed that foxes will not attack humans.  But my younger son can testify to the opposite.  When aged 13, he had a paper round and as he went up the path at one house, a fox followed him.  Neil was well aware that foxes pose no threat to humans so he was not bothered.  But the fox followed him along the road and, eventually, lunged at him.  When he got home (having been rescued by a kindly householder) my wife rang the council pest control office.  They expressed disbelief but were finally convinced that the attack had indeed taken place.  The general consensus was that this fox was accustomed to being fed from a bag by a human and it thought the paper bag contained food.

I think there are possibly almost as many foxes in towns now as there are in the country, the creature having adapted supremely well to urban living and finding much of its food in dustbins.  It used to be the case that foxes would keep away from farmyards and urban gardens that smelt strongly of dog but that is no longer so.  Just why there should be such antipathy between dog and fox is something I don't know - and I'm not sure that anyone has ever researched the matter.  But it is most certainly the case.  If she thinks there is a fox in our garden, Fern barks furiously.  She does that when she hears the fox bark during the night - much to my annoyance!

I do wonder if foxes actually taunt Fern.  As we walked up the drive this morning I noticed that a fox had left a calling card right outside the kitchen door - and as soon as I have hit the "publish" button I must go and clear up the fox shit.

There's always something.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Island in the Sun

It's a good few years no since Harry Belafonte and his calypso songs were popular, but I still like them.

For the last several days - and, if the forecast is correct - the next several days as well,the has been an island in the sun.  We do occasionally have good weather even though many people in other countries seem to have the impression that England is always wet and foggy.

With the warm, sunny days, thoughts turn, unsurprisingly, to holidays.  As a child, and while my own children were young, holidays involved beaches, preferably sandy ones, and the sea.  But once the Old Bat and I were off again on our ownsome, we seemed to gravitate to islands.  We visited Madeira, Malta, Guernsey, Jersey - all of them islands considerably smaller then Great Britain.  Beaches weren't our thing.  We much preferred to do the tourist sights, interspersed with country walks.  Of course, many a time the two were one and the same thing, as we walked through countryside to reach a tourist trap.  That was especially true on Jersey which, along with Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm, is part of the Channel Islands group just off the coast of France.

Although the Channel Islands are essentially British (I think they are termed Crown Dependencies) they have there own governments and tax rules etc.  They are a delightful mix of English and French.  Many of the English chain stores are represented in the towns but street and place names appear to be French.  The language spoken, however, is English.

We enjoyed those holidays, every one of them.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

One-hit wonder

When one thinks of composers of classical music one usually thinks of the likes of Beethoven or Mozart, composers with numerous works to their names, many of which are played regularly today.  But there are a number of composers who are known principally for one piece, one-hit wonders.  Perhaps I am rather overstating it when I describe Pietro Mascagni as a one-hit wonder.  He was born in Livorno, Italy, in 1863 and died in Rome in 1945.  During his lifetime he composed no fewer than 15 operas as well as a selection of other works.  However, it is for his first opera that he is best known - and, indeed, for one piece from that opera.  Cavalleria Rusticana is that opera - it was an immediate hit when it was first performed in 1890 - and the Intermezzo is the tune from it.  The music was used as the main theme in the 1980 film, Raging Bull.  I have never seen the film but I find it quite hard to see the gentle, haunting strains of the Intermezzo with the violence of the film.

Personally, I think that if I had managed to compose a piece of music as near to perfection as this, I would never have written another note.  And so, without further ado, here it is, played by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Is that all there is to it?

(To quote the song recorded by Peggy Lee - which perhaps gives an indication of my age.)

Those were my thoughts - is that all etc - on first coming face to face with the Mona Lisa.

I had decided to try to stop smoking and had been saving up the money I was no longer spending on the weed.  After about six months I had enough put by so I took the Old Bat off for a romantic weekend in Paris.  Well, scrub the romantic - we were a bit long in the tooth for that - but we went to Paris.  It was the first time for the OB and I had been only once before, as a schoolboy staying in a hostel for one night on a school trip to Switzerland.  The OB and I did all the usual sights - the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomph, Sacre Couer, Notre Dame - and, of course, the Louvre.

After walking along several miles of corridors, we found ourselves at the back of a crowd of people, all craning to see over those in front of them.  By standing on tiptoe I just managed to catch a glimpse of a postage stamp fixed to the wall behind a thick pane of bullet-proof glass.  This, I was informed, was the world famous Mona Lisa of the enigmatic smile.  I really could not be bothered to wait until we were able to get close enough to confirm the fact, but I can at least say that I have seen the painting - even if I did think, "Is that all there is to it?"

All this came to mind yesterday evening as I was chatting to a man I met in the bar of a hotel in Brighton.  If that all sounds a bit Graham Greene, let me assure you that I had met the gentleman before - in the bar of a hotel in Detroit!  he and I are members of our respective Lions Clubs, we were in Detroit for the Lions international convention and we have kept in touch since then.  Joe is in England for a few days taking a tour round the country with his daughter and son-in-law and his granddaughter.  He had promised Emily that he would take her to Paris when she graduated and they are "doing" England en route.  I can't remember just when they arrived in London - it was just a few days ago - but they have been on the road pretty much ever since, visiting Stratford-on-Avon, Oxford, Broadway (a small town in the Cotswolds) and Bath.  They left Bath yesterday morning, saw Stonehenge, had 45 minutes to see Salisbury cathedral and arrived in Brighton at about 4.30.  They left Brighton again this morning at 8.30 to travel back to London and tomorrow they move on to Paris.

That's not the kind of holiday I would want, travelling all the time on a coach with a crowd of 40 or so others.  And just about all they see of England is through the window of the coach.  But it's their holiday and it's up to them how to spend it.  They will, after all, be able to see that they have seen Stonehenge etc etc.  But Peggy Lee's words come back to me!

Joe did list some of the things they want to see in Paris (Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomph, Louvre, that place where all the artists are) and I did suggest to him that if they had time, especially if the day is sunny, they should try to see the Sainte Chapelle, one of the lesser-known highlights of Paris and where one can see possibly the most magnificent medieval stained glass anywhere in the world.

Stolen image

Friday, 18 July 2014


"We're having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave.
The temp'rature's rising..."
Irving Berlin
The temperature here in Brighton, as registered by the thermometer in my car, hit 29 degrees yesterday.  That's 29 degrees Celsius (When did centigrade become Celsius?  And, for that matter, why?) which is equivalent to about 82 Fahrenheit.  Hardly life threatening, I would have thought.  And yet my newspaper headline yesterday morning screamed, 
Heatwave advice: stay indoors
It went on to provide what it called "official guidance on staying safe".  Public Health England (presumably a government quango but not one I've heard of before) warned us to close our curtains (to stop rays of sun getting through), not to turn on lights, not to leave computers and printers in stand-by mode (televisions and DVD recorders were not mentioned), to wear a hat, but above all, on no account to go outside between 11am and 3pm 'cos that nasty sun would be waiting to zap us!

What a pity nobody told Edward Payne, whose mortal remains now lie in Stanmer churchyard.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to lie down quietly in a darkened room.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Bingo trivia

We didn't call it bingo when I was but a wee lad, we called it housey-housey although some called it lotto and, I believe, some even called it tombola.  My father used to play it - or run the sessions as the caller, I'm not sure which - on board ship and he had a set which we used at home.  There were cards with the random numbers printed on them and we had small squares of card cut from corn flakes packets and the like to cover the numbers when they were called.  None of these special marker pens for us.  They probably weren't available anyway.  In fact, I'm certain they weren't.  In any case, we couldn't mark the cards as we wanted them for future games!

Nowadays there can be very few towns in England without a large building devoted to the game, often a converted cinema.  Personally, I find it hard to imagine a more boring way of passing an evening but apparently playing bingo is good for us oldies, or so the "experts" tell us.  Something to do with getting out of the house and socialising, I expect.  I'd much prefer to do my socialising at the pub!

It was in 2000 that Brighton Lions Club started running bingo sessions as a service activity.  Lions operating in pairs visited three Council-run old people’s homes, each home receiving two visits a month, to run bingo sessions for the residents. The residents were charged 50p for a book of five bingo cards and prizes of £2 for a line and £4 for a full house were paid from club funds. The money paid by the residents was used as prize money for a sixth game for which the players were not charged.  We have increased the value of the prizes since then and now pay the magnificent sum of £3 for a line and - wait for it! - £6 for a full house!  What the commercial operators charge - or pay as prizes - I have no idea and, quite frankly, no interest either.  But mention of commercial operators brings me to the real trivia.

Which organisation can claim to have introduced bingo to England as a commercial concern?  I am willing to bet that very few people know that it was Brighton Lions Club.

It was in 1957 the club started bingo sessions as a fund-raiser, believed to be the first such operation in England. Bingo evenings were held on Fridays in what had been the Territorial Army drill hall and the club worked a rota system with each member being allocated to one of four teams. Records show that the average attendance in 1959 was 550 with an average spend of 4s 7¾d, up from 4s 2d the previous year. The most popular prize was a tea set, chosen by fourteen per cent of the winners.

Who'd 'a thought it?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Morcambe and Wise

Especially for the No 1 Nana!  But also because I think they are hilarious.

Eric Morcambe and Ernie Wise were a British comedy duo appearing first in working men's clubs and music halls and, during the 1970s and 1980s, on television.  Many celebrities appeared on their shows, only to have the mickey taken out of them mercilessly.  This is possibly the most popular of their items, featuring the world-famous conductor, André Previn, from their 1971 Christmas show.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014


I know that many people have a thing about bats,the creatures that are a sort of halfway thing between mammals and birds.  They don't bother me, but I can well understand why people cringe and shrink away from them as they seem to flutter perislously close to one's head.  The fact that they are out and about at night and one can neither see nor hear them approach only makes matters worse.  As I say, they don't bother me, but my cousin-in-law Julian (he's married to my real cousin) has a thing about them.  Only his 'thing' is that he's keen on the critters.

There's a bat roost in an old, large house just up the lane from Julian's farm - greater horseshoe bats, I believe.  Now what many people don't realise is that bats have a very strict routine.  When they leave the roost in the late dusk, they don't simply scatter to hunt insects.  They all follow a predetermined route to reach their preferred hunting ground.  The Brockley bats enter Julian's garden at one end and fly along the path between the hawthorn hedge and the magnolia trees before crossing in front of the house and dispersing across the fields.

Julian, bat-lover that he is, has bought a gizmo that captures the calls of the bats and alters the frequency to one audible to the human ear.  On a number of occasions I have been in the grden with him to listen to the bats as they pass through on their way to the hunting grounds.  More recently, he has acquired the photographic equipment to take the pictures posted here today.  Quite amazing, aren't they?

Monday, 14 July 2014

100 Lots of things I like about England

Well, maybe not lots, but several.  Like the view from my bedroom window.  This was what I saw when I opened the curtains this morning.

And then, in no order whatsoever:

It's not Italy...   or Egypt...   or Venezuela.
Fish and chips.
We don't have climate, we have whether - whether it's raining or whether it's not.
The beer's not cold enough to pull the fillings out of my teeth.
Stiff upper lips, don't you know.
The distant view of Salisbury cathedral as I drive through Britford.
The people speak English (except for some in the north-east who speak a strange language known as Geordie).
A nice cup of tea.
The Lake District.
The National Health Service.
Royal Marine bands.
The English reserve.
Trafalgar Square.
The Royal Family (well, most of them).
Bourneville chocolate.
The South Downs.
Swallows and Amazons.
Old wooden signposts.
The English Channel (which the French call The Sleeve).
Cornish cream teas.
Devonshire cream teas.
Tower Bridge.
Kentish oast houses.
Morcambe and Wise.
Magna Carta.
A full English breakfast.
The sense of humour.

Speaking of which,
On a train from London to Manchester to watch the cricket, an Australian was berating the Englishman sitting across from him in the compartment.

"You English are too stuffy. You set yourselves apart too much.  You think your stiff upper lip makes you above the rest of us.  Look at me. . ..  . I'm ME! . . .. . . .I have Italian blood, Greek blood, a little Irish blood, and some Aborigine blood.    What do you say to that?"

The Englishman replied,"Awfully sporting of your mother, old chap!"

Sunday, 13 July 2014

People are peculiar

Take yesterday, for instance.  I had occasion to make a trip to the supermarket - having forgotten a few things on Friday.  Being a Saturday morning, the place was busy so I drove to a quiet part of the car park.  I've gathered too many scratches and scrapes in busy car parks to worry about walking a few yards extra.  I parked in a space where the one in front was empty - although the ones each side of that were occupied - so that I could simply drive off, always assuming tht nobody parked in that space before I returned.  There were two (or three) empty spaces to my right and three or four more to my left.  When I returned, somebody had parked right beside me, so close that the driver would have had to squeeze out of the door.  The rest of the empty spaces were still that - empty!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Culinary hints

Now that is something anybody who knows me would least expect to see me writing about.  I am no cook.  I have said that time and time again, here and in many other places.  I could be a cook - a plain cook admittedly, nothing fancy - but I don't actually like cooking.  I like eating.  In fact, eating the results of good cooking is one of my favourite pastimes, but the fiddly bits and the clock-watching and the washing up are just all too much for me.  It's much easier to pop down to the chippy or the Chinese take-away.

However, the times they are a-changing.  At least, they have been this week.

Wednesday, late afternoon (or early evening, depending on your point of view).  The Old Bat had prepared a smoked mackerel and sliced potato thingy which was baking in the oven.

"Could you check the potatoes and if they're nearly done, switch on the water for the broccoli?"

Of course, it wasn't really a question, more an instruction.  Anyway, I obeyed and reported that I had started the water heating for the broccoli.  It was then that She announced she didn't want any food.  She stayed up most of the evening but did go to bed rather early.

Next morning, Thursday, she looked and felt rough, decided to stay in bed.  She must have felt truly awful as she asked me to make an appointment with the doctor for the following day.  I did that, but an hour later, after walking the dog, I rang the surgery to cancel the appointment and ask for a home visit, the OB obviously being too unwell to get to the surgery.  Frankly, I was worried about pneumonia but the doctor assured me it is simply a viral infection which should clear itself in a few days with rest, paracetomol and lots of water.

This, however, means that I am chef de cuisine, even if it is a matter of feeding only myself.

There was one pork chop lying in the freezer on Thursday and the OB, ever worried about me feeding myself, suggested I should thaw that out for my dinner.  Now, when it comes to cooking I am a fervent believer in the KISS principle, indeed, the simpler the better.  I also believe that anybody should be able to cook by merely following the instructions in a recipe.  For my part, I get lost trying to follow recipes more often than not, simply because I don't understand what is meant by some of the words used or the subtle variations in nuance.  For example, I don't know if there is a difference between mixing, blending and/or melding.  All the same, I duly turned to the library of cookery books that the OB has collected over the years and to which she seldom needs to refer.

You, dear reader, will probably be wondering why on earth I needed a recipe simply for cooking a pork chop.  But you forget - or don't realise - that I was quite unaware whether that meat should be fried, grilled, baked, roasted (what is the difference between baking and roasting anyway?) or even boiled.

Delia (Smith, of course.  Who else?) provided two recipes - but we were missing some ingredients for each.  Then I discovered a tiny book of one-pot recipes - and there it was!  My holy grail!!

So I duly peeled sufficient potatoes and sliced them thickly, placing them in an oven-proof dish to which I added a few slices of onion and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a splash of wine.  Cook at 200 for 20-30 minutes (until the potatoes start turning brown), then place the chop on top and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix grated Cheddar cheese, milk and whole-grain mustard.  After the 10 minutes, pour the mixture on top of the chop and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes for the cheese to start bubbling, then serve.  I did some French beans to eat with what I thought was a very tasty dish.  And so simple that even I managed it!

Friday, 11 July 2014

In praise of superwotsits

The title is really supposed to be super-sarcastic.  I'm not actually foaming at the mouth as I write; indeed, for the past week or so I have been torn between shaking my head sadly and - surprisingly perhaps - extolling the virtues of two of England's supermarket chains.  All four of the big boys - Asda, Morrison's, Sainsbury's and Tesco - have a presence in the city, as do both those German upstarts, Aldi and Lidl.  Our shopping is done at Asda on Tuesdays - that's the nearest to us - and Sainsbury's on Fridays because it's convenient for me to pop in there while the Old Bat is at the MS Centre.  We could do the whole week's shopping in one go but splitting it means that the vegetables, fruit and milk are all that little bit fresher.  And seeing how long it can take "fresh" veg to reach the supermarket, that's an important consideration.

I don't know why I'm blethering on like this because, quite frankly, our household's shopping habits are not what I started out to write about.  And I'm sure they are of no interest to anybody anyway.

(I was just about to pause while I put the washing on the line but I see it's started raining so I suppose I shall have to use the drier instead.)

It all started back in May.  I was anxious that Brighton Lions Club should spend some of the money that had built up in the bank and it occurred to me that a local food bank would probably be grateful for a donation.  The Club agreed that we should spend £1,000 on groceries and I drew up a list of products to buy from Asda.  I got the approval from the food bank for the items I had listed and wet into Asda one Tuesady to arrange for them to order in what I wanted as I felt pretty certain they would not have everything on the shelves.  Anyway, I wanted tinned foods supplied in wrapped dozens rather than have to shift 96 individual tins of each of several foods.

I was astonished to be told by the duty manager that she didn't think they could help.

"You mean you don't want to sell me £1,000-worth of food?"  I realised that £1,000 was no more than a flea-bite compared to their weekly sales, but all the same...

She explained that she thought they would be unable to override the automatic ordering system but did promise to pass my list to the grocery manager who would ring me the following day.

Twenty-four hours went by and I had heard nothing.  I rang the city-centre branch of Sainsbury's and explained what I wanted.  "Can you help?" I asked.

"Of course," was the reply, and my call was transferred to Sue, who confirmed that they could indeed do what we wanted.  She suggested I should let her have my list before the weekend so that the goods would be in the storeby the time I wanted to collect them.

Half an hour later I received a call from Asda (this was the Wednesday) who said they thought they might be able to help but would not know until Friday!  She sounded a bit shirty when I told her not to bother as Sainsbury's were happy to oblige.

I took the list into Sainsbury's the following day and on Friday Sue rang to confirm that she had put the order through.  A few days later she rang again to tell me everthing had come in.

I went into Asda on Tuesday this week with a list of about 12 items, all common or garden stuff.  Three of the things were out of stock and there were great gaping spaces on many of the shelves.  So much for their brilliant automated ordering system.

But full marks to Sainsbury's.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

A Brief History of England - Part the First

One of the problems with challenges connected with the history of England is that it goes back such a blooming long way.  So far back that it is very easy to get totally immersed in one particular part and to miss the big picture.  In short, one fails to see the wood for the trees.  The object of this exercise is to distil the essence of our great history so that what remains is easily digestible.  Much, indeed most of what has happened in our history can be classified into one of three groups:  Good Things, Bad Things, and Things That Are Neither Good Nor Bad and Don’t Really Matter Very Much Anyway. 

So much of what we are taught in school seems to fall into that third category that history is consigned to the “It’s Boring” set of lessons.  If only history were taught so that our schoolchildren could see that history is relevant to their lives today or, if not exactly relevant, can be hilarious fun.  That is a second, underlying objective of this exercise.

That said, let’s get started.

There was nothing really important or interesting happening until the Romans came.  The various tribes had been paying customs duties to those guys in dresses but somebody reckoned that taxing people as part of the Roman Empire would raise more cash.  (The dresses the guys wore were known as togas, which became shortened to togs, a modern word for clothes.)  The debate in the Roman senate when it was agreed to tax the Brits till the pips squeaked was the forerunner for the annual budget presented nowadays by the Chancellor of the Exchequer so the Roman invasion in about the year 43AD is very relevant and is, on the whole, a Bad Thing.  However, the Romans wanted to get about the country so they built a lot of roads, many of which are still being used today, which makes this a Good Thing.  Unfortunately, most of those roads go to places that nobody wants to visit so they are not really a Good Thing, especially as they are now full of potholes.

While the Romans were over here they had a lot of bother with rough people called Picts and Scots.  The Picts and Scots lived in the wild, northern mountains (which the Romans didn’t want anyway) and ate haggis and porridge (which the Romans didn’t like).  One of the Romans, a chap called Hadrian, had a Bright Idea.  He called up some mates who were pretty good builders and they built a wall right across the country.  As it was Hadrian who had had the idea they called it Hadrian’s Wall.

After a few years, the Romans got fed up with the weather (it kept raining and they weren’t used to that) and they wanted to get back to see the final of the Gladiator Show which was on at the Coliseum.  As nobody had invented television then they had to go to Rome to watch the Christians being eaten by lions.  (A Bad Thing – but as it didn’t happen in England it Doesn’t Really Matter.)

After the Romans there were all sorts of people wanting to get a bit of the action.  The Danes came and grabbed a lot of land – which could be why there is a Legoland near Windsor (a Good Thing, as you will know if you have ever been there) – but their taxes were even higher than those of the Romans (which is why Legoland is so expensive - a Bad Thing) so people were often hard up (another Bad Thing) and wanted to get rid of the Danes.  They chose a chap called Alfred as their leader.  He must have been a big man as he is often referred to as Alfred the Great.  Alf wasn’t much of a cook and when he was asked to watch the oven while the woman of the house popped next door for a cup of tea, he managed to let the cakes burn.

While Alfred the Great was burning the cakes, the King of the Danes was at the seaside, actually at Bosham, which is now a small village on Chichester Harbour in Sussex.  If you have ever been to the seaside, you will know that the sandcastle you build on one day will be washed flat by the sea before you get back on the sand the next day.  King Canute, as the king of the Danes was known, must have taken his family on holiday with him and his children, Canute’s Kids, obviously had a go at him.  “You’re the King,” they must have said, “So why don’t you tell the sea not to come in and wash our sandcastles down?”

I expect Mrs C sided with the kids, so what was poor old Canute to do?  He tried to stop the tide, but failed.  (Neither a Good Thing Nor A Bad Thing.)  Anyway, Canute was so upset that he went back to Denmark and Alfred became King of England.  (A Good Thing, so long as you didn’t want any cakes baked.)

After that, things settled down for a bit so we'll just pause at this point and maybe carry another day.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014


It's quite ridiculous just how lost I feel today without my car.  I wasn't happy with the way it had been repaired after the accident a couple of months ago and today it has been taken back to the bodyshop for them to try again.  I have known for some time that today would be a car-less day but it really is quite silly just how many things I have wanted to do already this morning, things that either require a car or that I can just about cope with on foot but would be so very much easier with wheels.  Of course, what I should be doing is relaxing and enjoying life at a slower than usual pace.  But that is easier said than done!


Wimbledon is all done and dusted for another year so the Old Bat and I can start planning a trip to visit friends who moved there from Brighton to be nearer their family.  I'm told that one can see the All England Club from their flat.  The Henley Royal Regatta is also over now.  These are two quintessentially English events in the summer season - especially Henley with striped blazers and panama hats very much in vogue for the men.  Wimbledon always means strawberries and cream as the tennis is always on just about the same time as English strawberries are in season.

I bought some strawberries only yesterday but they were very disappointing.  I know it's late in the season but I had hoped for better.  The supermarkets seem to stock mainly the Elsanta variety which we don't think worth bothering with.  This variety has presumably been developed for its looks and its long shelf-life: pity they bred flavour out of it.  One variety we found last year which we liked very much was Camarillo but I have seen none this year.  Instead I have bought Sonata - pretty good - and, yesterday, Capri.

What I will not do is buy strawberries grown in such faraway places as Spain and Israel.  I have even seen American-grown fruit on sale.  And strawberries grown under glass just don't have what it takes.

In some ways it's a pity the strawberry season is so short.  On the other hand, it means we don't get bored with the fruit.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Taken for granted

For the last few years of my working life I commuted to London five days a week.  Given the time at which I travelled, there were only a handful of people on the train in the morning until we got nearer to London when it started to get crowded.  I was always able to get a seat and, with only the few regular travellers, we generally sat in the same seats each day.  One of my fellow travellers always wanted to sit on the left-hand side of the train because, as he explained one day, he wanted to take in the view as we crossed the Balcombe Viaduct.  The views to the west were wonderful, especially shortly after dawn with mist gently rising from the fields.

Despite learning not to take that view for granted, I generally completely ignored other magnificent views on the journey.  After leaving London Bridge station, the train travelled on tracks raised well above ground level and passed very close to Southwark Cathedral before crossing the River Thames.  As we crossed the river there was a great view downstream to Tower Bridge, with glimpses of HMS Belfast (a WWII cruiser now a museum) and the Tower of London.  The Monument stood proud of the buildings in that part of the City and, as though keeping watch over everything, there was the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Nowadays I frequently remind myself not to take things for granted.  I did so this morning as I stood on the southern rampart of the Roman Camp, gazing out across the city to the blue sea, the Isle of Wight only just a smudge on the horizon.  I thought how lucky I am to live where I do with such magnificent views so close to home.  And I thought, too, that I must never take for granted my ability to walk across the fields, to see those glorious views and to hear the wind in the trees.

There are few people as lucky as I, and I am truly thankful.