Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Dark clouds

Although the sun was still shining - just - on the Chattri and surrounding fields, dark clouds were looming on the horizon the other evening.

And tomorrow we're off again. It's three months since we saw our house in France - and I'm certainly looking forward to the break!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Bank holiday weather

The last bank holiday before Christmas, and what do we get weather-wise?  Rain, that's what.  Typical English bank holiday weather, many would say.  Mind you, about Thursday last week the forecast was for rain yesterday, which would have been a shame.  My elder son was planning a barbecue, as requested by his partner's soon-to-become teenage daughter.  As well as those three, there would be my son's two boys, my other son, my son's partner's parents and a couple of friends of the birthday girl.  As it happened, we were able to spend the afternoon in the garden quite comfortably.

We really can't complain too much about today's rain - not, of course, that it would be any good if we did.  Up until the tag end of Bertha arrived we had been enjoying a splendid summer, warm and dry, with hardly any rain at all.

Which reminds me.  Quite a few times recently I have wanted to ask, "A tall what?"

We of the elder generation - and I reluctantly now include myself in that - are known to mutter about the gay abandon with which youngsters spray the word "like" into their verbal outpourings.  But it really isn't just the youngsters who develop verbal habits that can be irritating or even downright annoying.  The Old Bat had a friend who used to spend one or two weekends with us each year for one of the regular girls' nights out.  Apart from the timbre of her voice (strange how some voices simply grate on the ear), I found myself getting increasingly irritated by her over-frequent use of "you know?".

But to get back to "at all".

I had made my regular purchases at the deli counter (a Melton Mowbray pork pie for me, a goat's cheese and sun-dried tomato tartlet for her) when the assistant, a lady of mature years, asked me, "Anything else at all?"  Then the cashier in the supermarket, despite me having a trolleyful of shopping bags, asked, "Do you need any bags at all?"

Why has this "at all" habit developed recently?  Or has it existed for a long time without me being aware of it?  Curiously, I have noticed another habit which has probably been going on for ages, right under my nose, so to speak.

The television newsreader opens the story and then announces something like, "Joe Smith is in Brussels for us.  Tell us, Joe, what do you think the outcome will be?"

"Well, Jane, it's like this . . . "

Joe or whoever almost invariably uses the word "well" - and frequently goes on to tell us "it's like this".

Oh, heck, maybe it's just the rain getting to me.  I'll be less niggly tomorrow.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Taxable assets

When my mother died, nearly 15 years after my father's death, her estate was comfortably below the threshold for Inheritance Tax to be due.  Had it not been, I very much doubt if I would have taken into account any potential value attached to the medals my father had earned during the Second World War and those earned by his father during the First.  It would simply not have occurred to me.  Just as her clothes - all chain-store purchases - were valueless, the run-of-the-mill crockery had no value, the rusting garden tools also, I would have lumped those medals in with them.  That is not to say that they had absolutely no value to me; I would simply not have considered them to form any part of the estate for tax purposes. 

And that is where, as I have discovered this week, I would have been wrong.

I suppose I have for a long time known that medals could be bought and sold and, therefore, they must have a value.  Or rather, a price.  I don't think the two words are necessarily synonymous.  Those medals are worth more to me than any price at which I could sell them.  But that is not the way Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs look at things.  In their view, medals are salable and therefore have a value.  And that value has to be taken into consideration for the purposes of Inheritance Tax.

But not all medals are classified in this way.  In the eyes of HMRC, there is a distinction between campaign medals and those awarded for gallantry.  Medals awarded for individual acts of heroism or gallantry, such as the Victoria Cross and the Military Medal, may be passed down through the generations without having a taxable value - until they are sold.  Only after the sale to somebody outside that generation-line are they classified as being part of an estate for the purposes of Inheritance Tax.  And that is quite equitable.

But campaign medals are treated quite differently and have to be included in the value of an estate at the estimated price they would fetch at auction.  So my father's Arctic Star, Atlantic Star and so on count as taxable assets.  As does my grandfather's 1914-15 Star.

The "value" of those campaign medals is not actually very high; there are too many of them kicking about for that.  But that is not the point.  I see no reason why they should not be treated in exactly the same way as those gallantry awards.  After all, they weren't awarded simply for opening packets of corn flakes; my father endured the horrors of the Arctic and convoy duty in the Atlantic to earn just two of his medals.  Was that not a form of gallantry?

It is quite possible that even though I am by no means a wealthy person, my estate will be above the Inheritance Tax threshold as that is not being raised in line with the increase in the value of houses.  If that should be the case, I hope my sons will have the nous to say that I passed ownership of those medals to one or other of them years before I died so they fall outside my estate.  Or simply ignore their existence.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

How long?

Yesterday evening we watched a television programme I had recorded back on 4th August, the exact date of the 100th anniversary of Britain declaring war on Germany.  The exact causes of the war are still subject to some debate, but there is no doubt that the immediate reason why Britain joined the fight was the German invasion of Belgium.  It was that invasion and the reports of atrocities carried out on Belgian civilians that inspired so many of Britain's young men to join up.

Fast forward 25 years and in 1939 Britain again declared war on Germany.  The reason was once again a German invasion; this time, of Poland.  In both cases, this country was honouring treaty obligations and coming to the assistance of other countries under attack.

I have never been entirely convinced . . .  Correction: I have never been convinced at all that the invasion of Iraq was about anything other than oil supplies.  The weapons of mass destruction excuse was a figment of somebody's overactive imagination.  But how much longer, I wonder, can we hold back from further action in the Middle East?

I have no views of the rights and wrongs of the Shia/Sunni dispute.  As far as I am concerned, the two sides should forget their differences in much the same way as Catholic and Protestant Christians have learned to do.  But the Islamic State is a beast of a different hue.

This is evil and needs to be stamped out.

I have no wish to be told that more young English man and women - and Scots and Welsh and Irish and American and Australian and Canadian - have died and I would never want to be the Prime Minister or President who ordered troops into combat, but that is what is needed.  And it should not be just American troops backed by British and Australian allies with a smattering of other European countries.  It is time for some of the emerging economies such as India and Brazil to stand up and be counted - and Saudi Arabia.

It is repugnant to me to say it, but action needs to be taken - with boots on the ground.  We have no treaty obligations this time, just humanity.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Independence Day, Detroit

Skip's story about the Beatles reminded me of one of my first experiences of American hospitality.  I had won a freebie, a trip to the Lions international convention which, that year, was being held in Detroit and Windsor.  (Detroit, as most Americans will know, is the one American city from which one travels south to cross the border into Canada.)  Skip and GS were also at the convention.  We had never met face to face but Skip and I had become electronically acquainted through a message board on the Internet.

Although the conference was not due to start until the Monday, I had travelled to Detroit on the Saturday, so Sunday was a free day.  It so happens that GS had family in Detroit, namely her brother, he of the Beatles story.  The Sunday was 4th July, and also the birthday of (I hope I've remembered this correctly) one of GS's nephews.  The family was holding a barbecue to celebrate and, hearing that I would be at a loose end, they very kindly invited me along.

The family have formed a Celtic band, playing traditional Irish music, and we all had a great time.

I remember that one of the guests, Dan(?), had been in the Detroit police, holding a high position.  He had spent some time in England on secondment to a Yorkshire police force and told me that on his return to Detroit he had mentioned to his colleagues that there had been 11 murders in the county.  (There had been 5 in Detroit the night before we met.)

"Eleven in one night?" asked a colleague incredulously.

"No," he had replied.  "In a year!"

He was quite convinced that the US gun laws didn't help, nor did the fact that US police are armed, unlike ours in the UK.  As a guest, I felt it was not my place to make any comment.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

How now, brown cow?

Or, Now You See Them, Now You Don't.

I am fortunate to live where I do, within easy reach of some of the finest countryside in England.  Owning a dog is an excellent reason for me getting out of the house and walking over the South Downs.  Don't get me wrong; what I do isn't to be compared to serious walking, the sort of serious walking that is involved in Snowdonia or the Lake District.  No, my walking is more akin to a Sunday afternoon stroll.

There are two or three routes that I like best, partly because they offer some delightful views, partly because they involve no strenuous (to me) hill climbing.  One of those routes takes me up Scare Hill, which is just the other side of the Brighton bypass at Patcham.  but this is not a walk I can take very often.  One of the fields - a very large one - is used as sheep pasture every spring and although I am sure Fern would not chase sheep, I prefer not to take the risk.  She would probably be scared of the animals as they are bigger than her so I would need to keep her on the lead, which rather defeats the object.

Fern is really frightened of cows and would refuse to enter a field with any in, so I have to check that there are none in the first field we would cross.  This last week or so, this has proved something of a puzzle.  I can see the field from the bedroom window and when I have looked out first thing in the mornings, the field has been empty.  I've looked again after lunch, and a herd of cows has taken up residence!

So we have not walked those fields for a while, which is something nof a pity as these are the sort of views I would have.

From the first field, there are good views up the Standean valley.

The Standean valley with Standean Farm

Turning aside before reaching the Chattri, we head across rougher pasture until we reach the top. From here we look out to the southern slope of Clayton Hill with the village of Pyecombe. There is a glimpse, too, of the busy Brighton to London road.

Clayton Hill and Pyecombe

On the way back, we pass closer to the Chattri, built on a south-east facing slope of Scare Hill.  During the First World War, the Royal Pavilion and the Dome in Brighton were used as a hospital for Indian soldiers wounded on the western front.  The Chattri is a memorial to those who died in Brighton and was erected on the site of the funeral pyres of the Hindu and Sikh soldiers whose religion required them to pass through the flames.  The Muslims are buried in a Muslim cemetery in Surrey.  This must have been a very isolated spot a century ago, none of those houses in the photo having been built.

The Chattri, with Hollingbury in the distance and a glimpse of the sea.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The happy folk

There are some people that my 10-years-old springer spaniel absolutely adores.  Well, one person really - my daughter.  We have never managed to work out just why that should be, but it is.  There are other people she likes very much, enough to make her excited when they come through the door.  Then there are others the mere sight of whom send her into a frenzy.  "Ten years old going on two months," as Dee remarked this morning.  At the time, Fern (the spaniel) was running dementedly in large circles around her.  Again, we have never been able to work out just what it is about these people - and there are perhaps just four or five - that has such an effect on the dog.

But then, I find that there are people who have, well, not exactly a similar effect on me, but an effect.  I'm very happy to greet friends and neighbours and to pass the time of day with them; with some, I am delighted to spend the time to put the world to rights.  I smile when I greet these people.  Well, one does, doesn't one?  But there are a precious few whose simple presence makes the world a brighter, friendlier place.  After a minute in their company I can leave, smiling, and that smile stays with me for quite some time.  They have some sort of charisma that transcends time and place so that even the thought of one of them starts my lips turning up.  I am lucky enough to know two such people.  And they could not be more different people, apart from that magic ingredient.

Here in Brighton one of my near neighbours is one of those two.  The fact that she is an attractive brunette, 40-ish (although I could be wrong; I'm hopeless at assessing ladies' ages) doesn't hurt, but it's not her looks alone that make me happy to see her.  And she always seems happy.

In Chateaubriant, a regular in one of the bars we frequent is the second person.  He stands well over six feet tall and almost as much round the waist.  He speaks not a word of English and has the largest hands I have ever seen.  There are several teeth missing and his moon-face is usually covered in about two days' of stubble.  He always greets the Old Bat with a bear hug and a kiss.  Just like my Brighton neighbour, he always seems happy.

They have some sort of a joie de vivre, but it's not that alone that brings happiness to others.  I don't know exactly what it is, but I'm glad it's there.  If only somebody could bottle it, he's make a fortune - and the world would be a much better place.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Getting old

Yep, I've come at last to that conclusion: I am getting old.  I know it happens to all of us - except Peter Pan - to get 12 months older every year, but I really had hoped I would never develop the symptoms of old age.  I really don't mind that my hair has turned grey, I'm not vain about that.  Mind you, I would have preferred to be silver or white instead of the dingy, sad grey that my hair has become.  I'm slightly less content about the bald patch - although the last time I had my hair cut the young lady (who was cutting my hair for the first time) seemed to get the hair to just the right length to cover that spot.  I must make sure it is she who cuts my hair next time!  The waist has expanded very little over the years, for which I am grateful as I hate those saggy stomachs that flop over the belt.  Have you noticed how many men will wear shorts that positively scream, "LOOK AT ME!" with one of those stomachs?

No, my problems are mental.  And there are two of them.

I am becoming a cantankerous, grumpy old git.  I have a tendency to get upset by council officials who send me emails about missed recycling collections without any regard to the actual content of my complaint.  Cyclists riding along a busy, fairly narrow, winding road annoy me intensely - especially when they are completely ignoring the new cycle path constructed beside the road at enormous expense.  I try not to yell at drivers who either fail to signal their intentions - or, as seems to happen frequently, give the wrong signals.  I even had to bite my tongue yesterday when the Old Bat said something to me.  It wasn't what she said as the way she said it, something to which I should have become accustomed after nearly 50 years of marriage.

All this means that I am more and more having to remind myself of the Garbage Truck rule, so much so that I was going to include it in this post.  Which leads me to the second symptom of my old age.

I was reasonably confident that Skip had first posted the rule on his blog, so I searched for it and found it.  Then I also found it on my own blog - just three months ago!  Help! My memory is going!  I must be getting old!

Anyway, just in case you are curious about that Garbage Truck Rule, you'll find it here on Skip's blog.  And it's here on mine.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Mans best friend

I am frequently astonished just how much a person's life can be improved by a dog.  Guide dogs for the blind have been around for many years now, as have hearing dogs for the deaf.  But what astonishes me is the way dogs can be trained to do all sorts of jobs - such as emptying the washing machine or pressing the button at a pelican crossing.  I have met quite a few assistance dogs, including one that had to be trained not only as a guide dog but also to help its disabled keeper (the dog was still owned by the charity which supplied it) with various tasks such as opening doors.

It has been documented just how having a dog can help autistic children - as this clip shows:

But what I find really exciting is the news that some dogs can detect cancer in people just by smell!  I can't face paraphrasing and typing all this so have copied it from http://www.dogsdetectcancer.org: 
"Dogs can smell in parts per trillion. An example of this is: one cc (less than a drop) of blood, diluted into 20 Olympic sized swimming pools.  . . . We have trained dogs to sniff gun powder, narcotics, missing persons, and now, finally, diseases. The interesting part about this is that cancer absolutely has a smell. Most oncologists will tell you that humans can actually smell cancer in latter stages through the patients breath. If we can smell it at stage 3-4, then of course a dog would be able to detect the scent much earlier, in stage 0, 1 or 2. There are many published studies that prove dogs can detect cancer through breath samples, and scientists and doctors are trying to come up with a breathalyzer test that works as good as the dogs nose. So far, the only ones that can smell cancer in early stages, are the dogs."

I find that absolutely astonishing.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Trial by media

When I switched the television on to watch the late evening news the other day, I fully expected the usual round of reports from Iraq, Syria, Gaza and Israel with, perhaps, the lighter touch of another defeat for England on the cricket pitch.  I was, however, astonished to watch police officers searching a house, the pictures obviously being taken from a hovering helicopter.  The we saw a convoy of unmarked police cars leaving the property, the number plates carefully obscured.

Next we were introduced to a reporter who had been sent to Portugal (or maybe he is based there anyway) and who showed us pictures of the Portuguese house owned by Sir Cliff Richard, whose home in Berkshire we had seen being searched earlier.

Thames Valley police, we were informed, had been co-operating with their South Yorkshire colleagues who were following up a complaint against Cliff of alleged sex abuse in Sheffield 30 years ago.

It seems that nobody had bothered to let Cliff know of the search - but the BBC had been given sufficient notice for them to have a helicopter on stand-by and a reporter outside Cliff's Portuguese house!  It is hardly surprising that no advance notice was given to Cliff.  After all, if he did have anything incriminating in the house he would have taken steps to dispose of it.  But why was the BBC "invited" to film the search?

I have no idea whether Cliff Richard is innocent or guilty of the alleged offence.  Strike that, I know he is innocent - at least until he is proven guilty.  That's the basis of the law here in Britain.  And he can only be found guilty by a jury in a court of law.  But given the enormous publicity that has ensued, there is bound to be speculation, especially following the high profile scandals surrounding Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris.  Even if no charges are ever brought against Cliff, there will always be a question mark hanging over him.  Mud sticks.

Whether the BBC contravened its editorial guidelines, as purportedly suggested by South Yorkshire Police, or whether the police encouraged the publicity in the possible hope of drawing out further complaints, is something we shall no doubt learn in due course.  Either way, it seems to me that somebody boobed in spectacular fashion and should be thinking very seriously about his future in the job, whatever that job might be.

Saturday, 16 August 2014


I'm not at all sure just why I have been thinking recently of my late grandmother.  But I have been.

My mother could never have been described as an assertive person so it must have been quite an ordeal for her as a new bride of just 20 years of age to be living right next door to her in-laws.  Furthermore, my father was away at sea for much of the early part of the marriage.  During my boyhood, Gran never came across to me as an awkward person but in her old age she was distinctly cantankerous.

Living next door to Gran had definite advantages for my brother and me.  There was a gate in the fence between the two gardens - probably made by my grandfather - so it was easy for my brother and I to pop next door.  In my memory, Gran spent a lot of time baking - always buns - and scraping out the mixing bowl while the buns were in the oven was a great treat.  As were the warm buns later!  My brother and I could, occasionally, earn a little extra pocket money by scraping the salt.  This was bought in blocks.  I don't really remember what size those blocks of salt actually were but in memory they were about the size of a large loaf of bread.  The block had to be scraped with a spoon or similar tool and the resulting grains could be stored and used.  We would sit at or kneel up to the table with the block between us on a sheet of newspaper, scraping like mad.

My fondest memory, though, is of the three of us - Gran, my brother and me - sitting in front of the fire playing board games.  Sometimes we would play snakes and ladders, but ludo was always the favourite.  I always played with the yellow counters and Graham had the red ones.  I think Gran usually used the blue.  There were great shouts of joy whenever one of us children managed to send Gran's counter back home.

And Gran always seemed to be singing.  She was a very spasmodic church-goer and although professing to be Church of England, I always felt she inclined more to the Methodist Church or even the Salvation Army.  Despite it being only the occasional Sunday that she went to church, it was always hymns that Gran sang, which is probably why I knew the words to so many of the old hymns.

I've just checked my records and I see that it was in August 1913 that Gran and Grandad married.  How different the world was then.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Have we mentioned the weather lately?

probably, but it is always a good conversation starter.  At least, it is here in England.  Pass somebody in the street, somebody one knows only very slightly, and the conversation will go something like this:

"Morning!  Lovely day."

"At the moment, but I think it will rain later."

"Well, the garden could do with it."

It really does get just a trifle boring.

There are days when I feel like grinning inanely as I walk to the park with the dog, not because I feel especially happy, but because so many people look as though they have the cares of the world on their shoulders and I just want to take their minds off things.  At least if they see me looking daft they'll go on their way puzzling rather than frowning.  Well, that's the theory - whether or not it would work I just don't know; I've never tried it.

We used to do silly things like that on the train sometimes.  Yes, I know we should have acted our ages but we just felt like being foolish once in a while.  It was back when I was working in London.  There were four or five of us who smoked and were regular travellers on the 17:43 from London Bridge.  Smoking was banned on most of the train but there were just a few compartments where it was permitted and we always travelled in the same one.  We were a small, select group - at least, we thought so.  Sometimes, if it looked as though we were about to be joined by somebody we didn't like the look of, we would all adopt ridiculous poses.  The person next to the window, for instance, would press his nose against the glass and pull silly faces.  It always stopped others getting into the compartment.

All I can say in mitigation is that I've grown up since then.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Rus in urbe

The guest speaker at the annual general meeting of the Friends of Withdean Park urged that the powers that be should allow some of the grass to grow long.  He described the open spaces as green deserts, quite unfriendly to much wildlife, especially the amphibians that inhabit the ponds.  I had never viewed the park through the eyes of a frog or newt and had always considered the park a delightfully natural space; there is woodland - largely unmanaged, there are large clumps of shrubs, there are two small ponds, and there are open spaces left to grass which the council parks department staff cut every six to eight weeks.  There are wild flowers, although perhaps not as many as there could be, and plenty of bird life - but I had never considered the amphibians.

The garden wildlife has never really been at the forefront of my mind either.  We do get plenty of birds, or so it seems to me.  We get squirrels and foxes and occasionally we might see a toad.  There has been a slow-worm in residence this summer, although I have not seen it for a week or so.  But the garden is not especially friendly towards the local fauna.

I have been leaving things a bit of late and the garden is definitely less formal now than in the past. Flower borders are being allowed to grass over and weeding is done less obsessively.  In truth, weeding is hardly done at all.  It has all become a bit of a chore and just a bit too much.  In the past the vegetable plot was "my" area and I did the mowing and hedge cutting.  The Old Bat did all the more intricate work - such as weeding.  She can no longer get into the garden and I have to pace myself carefully to avoid a flare up of arthritis.  So, I've been toying with the basic idea for some time and have almost, but not quite, come to the conclusion that much of the garden should be left largely to its own devices.  That should provide birds and insects - and creatures of all varieties - with food and shelter to a greater degree.  the only snag with that is that it would be the brambles that would take over and entangle the whole place, then the holly and ash trees that are already trying to get established in the hedge would also push up properly . . .

Or perhaps I should just employ a gardener.


San Francisco, September 2006.  Rest in peace, lovely lady.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Can't think

There was so much bursting to be said - until I caught up with Skip's blog.  It's knocked the stuffing right out of me and I just haven't the heart to say or write anything.  Perhaps tomorrow.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Jam tomorrow

I'm reasonably certain that it was the Red Queen who told Alice that there would be jam tomorrow, jam yesterday but never jam today.  When Alice pointed out that there must come a "jam today" day, the Queen retorted that the rule was jam every other day and today is never any other day.

This post is one of those "jam tomorrow" moments.  You see, I'm writing it yesterday and will instruct Blogger to post it tomorrow so you can read it today - if you see what I mean.

That's because tomorrow - or today if you are reading this today - or maybe even yesterday of you are reading this the day after tomorrow . . .   Anyway, it's still tomorrow today, although tomorrow today will be yesterday.

I'm getting confused.

Let's just stick with the fact that it will be a busy day tomorrow.  Life can be such a hectic social whirl, don't you know?  If I get up early enough I might have time for a quick cup of coffee after I have walked the dog.  Then  I have to attend the annual moaning meeting for the Housing Society tenants.  They always have something to moan about - it keeps them happy - but they usually end up finding something they are happy with as well.  After that, I will dash home to collect the Old Bat as we are going out to lunch with a friend (who will also be at the meeting) to try out a pub where the landlord has changed since we last lunched there.  We did enjoy the buffet they laid on for the inter-club skittles match so we have high hopes for lunch.

Then I must walk the dog again before dashing off to Asda for my regular Tuesday wander around the aisles trying to find things that are out of stock.  I might just fit in a bit of ironing before going out for an evening meal.  This involves collecting two visually-impaired (not quite blind) people and taking them to their social club, which this month is enjoying (we hope) a meal at an Eastbourne golf club.  With luck I should be back home about eleven - ready to fall into bed!

Tomorrow evening we shall be not all that far away from this sight, Beachy Head lighthouse.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Summer merrygoround

Unusually for me, I have driven a stretch of the London Road twice in the last few days.  On Thursday, I noticed that a number of travellers had invaded a small park known as Surrenden Field - and not for the first time.  I hardly had time to check just how many there were but I suppose there were seven of eight caravans.  That afternoon I walked Fern across the fields from the Upper Lodges and drove back past 39 acres on the Ditchling Road.  That lot of travellers had broken into a field alongside 39 Acres, immediately opposite a field that had been similarly occupied just a couple of months ago, much to the tenant farmer's disgust.  Then on Friday, as we approached the MS Treatment Centre in Southwick, there on a patch of grass almost alongside, were three more travellers'vans.  At least those last were in Adur District Council, not the city of Brighton & Hove.  Adur will have moved them on pretty fast.  Mind you, I noticed on Saturday that the Ditchling Road encampment had gone, to be replaced by peacefully grazing cattle, and as I drove along the London Road yesterday, I saw that Surrenden Field was once again devoid of squatters. 

I'm amazed that our council officials acted so quickly as Brighton has a reputation among travellers of being a welcoming place.  The official council line is
"Travellers are identified as being the most disadvantaged ethnic group in the country, suffering a high level of inequality.  Travellers die younger, experience more chronic health conditions, have a poor level of education, and regularly experience discrimination and racial hatred. Lack of suitable, secure accommodation underpins many of these inequalities as access to employment, health, education and other services is made easier when people are living in settled accommodation."
but many city residents point out that nobody forces them to adopt their lifestyle and the "inequalities" are a direct result of that lifestyle.  The other things that people object to are the mess nearly always left behind when travellers move on - or are ejected, a mess that costs we tax payers a small fortune to have cleaned up.  Not only is general rubbish, broken furniture and so on left around, along with old tyres and piles of unused asphalt, but frequently human excrement as well.

The Council is proposing to spend millions on extending the present, inadequate authorised travellers' site.  There will be toilets, washrooms, kitchens, day rooms - almost luxury.  But travellers will be expected to pay when pitching up there, albeit a fairly negligible amount, I believe.  I wonder if that alone will deter them.  In any case, there will not be enough pitches to accommodate all the travellers who visit Brighton each year.

And I almost forgot: several of those pitches will be for permanent stays.  And they call it a site for travellers?

This is the site in question, tucked into a delightful spot on the Downs.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

She's nearly here

That was the view from the bedroom just a few minutes ago. The Downs are out there somewhere!  Fortunately, it was just "Scotch mist" when I walked the dog after breakfast.  Scotch mist is what the schoolmasters called light rain when I was but a lad.  At playtime we might complain, "But, Sir, it's raining!"  "Nonsense," would be the reply.  "It's just a bit of Scotch mist.  Get out there and play!"

We were warned to expect heavy rain and strong winds, gusting to between 50 and 60 miles an hour.  An "Emergency Services Day" had been planned for today, to be held on the lawns along Hove seafront, but that was cancelled because of worries that people might be injured.  The latest forecast from the Meteorological Office is for the sun to appear mid=afternoon, and the strongest wind is expected to be just 31mph.

There were a few rumbles of thunder about half an hour ago but otherwise it seems to me that it will all be a bit of a damp squib.  So much for the severe weather warnings.

I think it all goes back to the 1987 hurricane.  At the time we were told that there was no need to worry, only to be hit by the worst storm for 300 years.  Since then, the Met Office have, perhaps, been over-cautious and now many people take warnings of severe weather with a large pinch of salt.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

I got there

As I was eating my breakfast cereal this morning (no advertising here so I'll refrain from telling you just what but it wasn't Kellog's) I breathed a sigh of relief.  I had reached the end of the book I had been reading for several days.  I had been by turns both irritated and interested by this book, which comprised parts of letters sent home from "somewhere in France" by a World War I soldier, linked by the narrative of his son who also expanded on the background to the letters.  I had hoped that the book would give me a more personal view of that war than we have so far been given by television programmes and newspaper articles.  And I suppose it did do that, hence the interest, but the language frequently irritated me.  I got the distinct impression that the soldier was using words and phrases - and grammar, too - that he would not have generally used in conversation.  The result seemed at times stilted and almost pedantically correct - and yet at the same time almost childish.  It occurred to me that he was trying his utmost to better himself, to step into a higher stratum of "society" than his upbringing as the son of a shopkeeper would suggest as his level.

I am not generally given to reading books of an improving nature or for the purpose of self-education.  At my time of life there is precious little hope of improving me (some might say that i don't need improvement) and I have little need of further education.  No, my reading is for pleasure, to help me escape from the humdrum world.  This means that my literary diet is light, fictional works, although there is the occasional leavening of a Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy.  Very occasional.  I've just read the latest offering from Michael Connolly and the most recent in the Ladies No 1 Detective Agency series (although if you read one of these you have read them all) and I have lined up awaiting attention Robert Goddard's latest and a friend has lent me Peter James' most recent Roy Grace novel, the series set in Brighton, so things should be set fair for the next week or so.

Friday, 8 August 2014

A sticky night

Hot and sticky and the most uncomfortable night for many a long day - or night!  It has seemed a little less clammy today although still a bit sticky.  It has been cloudy, thin in patches, and there is a slight haze obscuring distant views.  I was unable to see the sea this afternoon when walking the dog - and there are dark black clouds over the Downs to the north of us as I type.  According to the weather forecast in the local paper, there is a 90% chance of rain today, the weather system moving down across the country from somewhere near Iceland.

We are also on alert for tropical storm Bertha to hit us on Sunday when we could see three-quarters of the average rainfall for August fall in just one day. A Met Office spokeswoman is quoted as saying: “The worst case we are looking at on Sunday is 60mph gusts of winds and 50mm of rain."   That's two inches or thereabouts.  Apparently the average total rainfall in August is 69mm.  

There was rain during the night earlier this week, and heavy thunderstorms about a week or ten days ago, but so far this really has been a good summer weatherwise.  It has been pleasantly warm most of the time, occasionally hot but not too often, and there has been not a lot of rain to spoil daytime activities.  Or so it seems to me.

Mind you, I am notorious for not being able to remember whether last summer was good or bad.  I do recall that last winter was very, very wet with a lot of flooding but not much snow.  In fact, I'm not at all sure that we had any snow.   There are just two years I remember for the weather: 1976 was a very long, dry summer with water rationing (using self-discipline) and standpipes.  I remember that because that was the year my daughter was born.  The other year I remember is 1987 when we had a "hurricane" in October.  Many of the fine beech trees in Stanmer Wood were blown down; in fact, the upturned stumps and roots and some of the decaying tree trunks are still there to be seen.

You might gather from all this that there is nothing much going on.  Don't be fooled - there is plenty to occupy me and my mind but none of it is suitable for disclosure in the public domain.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Dogs can't climb trees

Which, as far as our pear harvest is concerned, is just as well, suffering as we do from fairly severe depredations from the local wildlife.  I opened the bedroom curtains this sunny morning to see a pair of jackdaws treating the tree as a self-service breakfast bar.  The critters flew off when I clapped my hands, the window being already open.

When a few minutes later I was downstairs, I let the dog into the garden - as one does - only to see that the jackdaws had been replaced by a couple of squirrels who were munching contentedly.  The dog soon put paid to that and, after doing what she had gone out for, came back in for her breakfast.  Breakfast for the dog usually consists of one scoop of dog meal but today she decided to have a second course.  Her "afters" consisted of a fallen pear.

She adores pears, even though they are not yet ripe, and spends ages each day rooting around in the flower beds hoping to come across one that the jackdaws have dropped.  As I say, it's as well that she can't climb trees - although I did spot her looking up longingly the other day.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Conversations with my wife

Conversations with my wife can be confusing at times. At other times they can be downright disturbing. I put it down to the fact that she is a woman, whereas I am but a mere male.

One of her habits – I wish I could call it endearing but it is actually distinctly irritating – is to miss off the last word of a sentence. Granted, that doesn’t make a lot of difference on many occasions but there are times when that is the one word needed for the sentence to make any sense at all. As I said, I am a mere male and so this sometimes baffles me. But I have noticed that when the Old Bat is with female friends, they know instinctively what the missing word is. Indeed, they are often responding to a remark or question before the Old Bat has finished speaking. Take this as an example:

OB: That dress Fiona is wearing is very . . .

Me, to whom the dress in question looks quite ordinary and unremarkable: Very what?

OB: Oh, you know!

Me: No, I don’t. Very what?

OB, turning to a woman friend: What do you think?

Woman friend: Yes, you’re right, it’s very . . .

The dress still looks very ordinary and unremarkable to me and I remain ignorant of the OB’s opinion.

Then there are the times when she has been thinking about something and assumes that I, by ESP or osmosis or something, know full well what she has been thinking about. Like this:

OB: Can you get them out, please?

Me: Get what out?

OB: The chops, of course!

Me: Get the chops out of what?

OB: Get the chops out of the freezer!!

Me: There are lamb chops and there are pork chops. Which do you want?

OB, sighing: The lamb chops! I told you we’re having them for dinner.

Me: When did you tell me?

OB: Oh, I don’t know. Sometime.

I find it easiest to simply shrug my shoulders and get on with things, even if it does entail splitting an infinitive.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Number 4

Photo: CNN

According to CNN, Brighton beach ranks as the 4th best in the world after Ipanema, Bondi and Waikiki.

They say:

Brighton's proximity to the British capital has earned it a reputation as a kind of "London on Sea."
Yet while some apply the soubriquet derisively, the town's fusion of hip urban energy and fresh sea air acts as a tonic to any traveler and commuter ills.
The beach, which is mostly shingle down to the low tide mark, is a far cry from the paradise cliches -- this is England after all -- but it resonates charm and pulses with energy, especially on rare sunny days.
Arcane British seaside traditions such as stripy deckchairs, sticks of rock candy and fairground rides abound, but Brighton Lanes -- a maze of quaint streets and alleyways crammed with independent shops -- are a stone's throw away.
Lowdown (5-point system)
Cleanliness: 3 -- Although considered clean by British standards, Brighton doesn't have a Blue Flag -- official recognition by the international Foundation for Environmental Education of "super clean" status.
Visual stimulus: 4 -- Brits aren't slow to strip off at the first glimpse of sun, so there's plenty of flesh on parade during summer. Brighton's (stony) naturist strand was the first official clothes-optional beach in Britain.
Food/drink: 5 -- "London on Sea" is blessed with a superb eating and drinking scene.
Safe swimming: 3 -- The beach slopes sharply into the sea at high tide.
Party factor: 5 -- Great nightclubs and music venues and frequent appearances on the beach by big names make Brighton popular with music fans.

I must go there sometime!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Melodrama, overkill - and history.

It wasn't the first word that came into my head when I heard of the proposal, but it must have been pretty well the second - melodrama.  There are undoubtedly some parts of the world where people are unaware of the fact that this weekend has marked the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, the Great War, the war to end all wars.  At the outbreak of hostilities, the British Foreign Secretary was Lord Grey and he is famously quoted as having remarked, "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time".  Whether or not there is any truth in the attribution to his lordship hardly matters;  it seems an apt thing to have said, albeit perhaps a touch pessimistic.  The quotation has received fairly wide publicity during the last few days and it has been suggested that across the country, people should turn off their lights for an hour between 10.00 and 11.00pm, perhaps leaving just one light on or a candle burning. Tower Bridge and 10 Downing Street will be darkened and "At 10pm, to coincide with the start of the 'Lights Out’ initiative, a vigil service will be held at Westminster Abbey during which members of the congregation will extinguish candles until there is just one left alight on the tomb of the unknown soldier, which will be snuffed out by the Duchess of Cornwall." (Daily Mail)

I have remarked elsewhere that I shall almost certainly be suffering from WWI overload before too long.  Newspapers and television aren't helping, nor is the proliferation of web sites:  www.1418now.org.uk, www.everymanremembered.org, https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/ and so on.  Then, today, good old Auntie BBC is devoting a total of very nearly nine hours to coverage of a memorial service in Glasgow cathedral in the morning and, in the evening, commemorative events covered in Belgium and Westminster Abbey. 

If the first - Lights Out - smacked to me of melodrama, the second seemed like overkill.

But . . .

The effects of that Great War have been felt ever since, and are still, today, a hundred years on, it is still affecting the lives of ordinary people in many parts of the world.  The Second World War was indirectly caused by the First - or, more exactly, by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles ending the war between the Allied powers and Germany.  And much of the present trouble in the Middle East has come about because of the (arbitrary) drawing of national boundaries under the Treaty of Sèvres between the European allies ant the Ottoman empire.  Perhaps that sounds melodramatic to you - but it's history as well.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Garden party

Our friends Chris and Mrs Chris held a garden party yesterday.  The weather forecast during the previous few days had been pretty dire but in the event everything turned out fine.  I have to admit to having made a bit of a pig of myself with the scones, strawberry jam and cream.  My doctor would not have approved of the attack on my cholesterol level!

The Old Bat did condescend to cook a light meal on our return but it did make me wonder how on earth the posh folk managed to eat a cooked breakfast, a two course lunch, afternoon tea and then a three course dinner every day.  And it's not as if the "upstairs" people did anything particularly energetic.  They employed servants for all that!  How come they were not all horribly obese?

It's many years since I last attended a garden party - and that was a somewhat posher affair than yesterday's, albeit no more pleasant.  For that one, the OB bought a hat and we travelled from Brighton to London by train - first class, of course.  I felt quite somebody as we climbed into a taxi at Victoria and I told the driver, "Buckingham Palace".  He (the driver) didn't bat an eyelid and I quite understood when I saw how many other taxis were dropping people off outside the gates.  We didn't get to be introduced to the Queen or the Duke of Edinburgh - and I can't remember which other royals were there.  And the food wasn't exactly five star - fish paste sandwiches and battenberg cake.  But we went to possibly the best Italian restaurant in London for dinner afterwards.  You won't see me in this video:

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Summer visitors

They would arrive round about Easter each year.  Possibly, even probably, the same ones that we had seen the previous year, and they possibly used the same nests, even if they did need a bit of sprucing up.  If Easter was early, we knew that we had no chance of seeing them during our visit to my cousin on the farm.  In years when Easter was late, they were probably well settled.  But most years we simply kept an eye open for them to arrive.  The first person to see one would come into the house and announce, quite casually, "The house martins are back".

Their nests were under the eaves at the back of the house and, despite the mess they made on the windows and window sills, they were always welcome.  usually the first sighting would be of just one or two.  Then they would disappear for two or three days, returning in greater numbers to work on renovating the accommodation.  It was almost as though outriders were sent on ahead of the main party to check that all was well.  Only when the all clear had been sounded would the main party arrive.  It was always a delight to watch them swooping through the air and up into a nest.  Occasionally we would spot the head of a chick watching out for a parent to bring more tasty morsels.

Then about three years ago the local sparrows took exception to the martins and drove them off before they could lay their eggs.  They have not nested at the farm since.

Another summer visitor that always delights me is the swift.  the Old Bat and I love to sit in the main square in Chateaubriant over our evening meal and watch these graceful birds as they sweep and scream around the church tower in flocks of several dozen.  I seldom see swifts, swallows or house martins around Brighton; it seems that the Downs - and the city itself - are inhospitable as far as these migrants are concerned.  But one afternoon this week I deviated from my regular walk across 39 Acres and up to the Roman Camp.  Instead, I went on to the dew pond at the top of the Wild Park - and there, swooping around and over the pond, was a pair of swifts.  It was a special treat to stand and watch them for a few minutes.

Friday, 1 August 2014


Is it really only the first of August today?  I ask, because the farmers over the Downs are already well into harvesting the barley and yesterday, when it was still only July, I picked a whole load of luscious, juicy blackberries.  I have, in the past, seen the odd one or two blackberries in July with more appearing during the first half of August, but generally speaking, we don't get the fat ones until well into this month.  I suppose it must be a result of all the unusually warm weather we have had.

Back in 2011 (pictured)the harvest was three weeks later.  And this year the grass in those fields is almost brown.

This day 100 years ago:
  • the First World War started with Germany declaring war on Russia, although the UK did not declare war on Germany until 4th August 1914;
  • my father was born, thereby very nearly becoming a war baby.