Friday, 31 October 2014

All Hallows' Eve . . .

. . . and it's unseasonably warm.  With the car thermometer reading 19 and even 20 degrees, I had no need of a coat when I did the regular Friday shopping trip this morning.  Neither did I wear a coat this afternoon when Fern and I walked over the Downs.  Imagine that - walking the hills in shirtsleeves - and on the last day of October!  It actually felt almost spring-like; indeed, this picture looks as though it could have been taken in spring but it was this afternoon.

After about half a mile, one can look down into a valley where there is a small copse - but quite what takes place in the clearing there is a puzzlement to me.

It was about here that I am convinced I caught the sound of a distant skylark.  It was a calm afternoon so sound carried considerable distances and I only caught snatches of his song; he was too far distant for me to see him.  But a skylark singing in October?  Perhaps it really is spring!

The old wooden fence posts beside this gate attracted me.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Plus ca change etc

"As far as I can judge, children were more robust and healthy, and less sensitive to external influences than they are at present, but I doubt if there mental faculties were so acute, which might be due to the less exciting lives they led, to the less early educational pressure and to the more wholesome and plain food.  Especially the bread, which, being made at home, of pure wheat flour, much less white and finely ground, was far more nutritious and sustaining; in fact, men could almost live on it alone.  There were none of those "prepared" foods, whose value as food has generally been impaired or destroyed by the preparation they have undergone."

One hears those same, or similar, views expressed today but that paragraph is copied from a book originally published in 1906 about "Sussex in Bygone Days".  The author, Nathaniel Paine Blaker,  was reminiscing about his childhood.  He was born in 1835 and became Consulting Surgeon at the Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, dying in 1920.  I have been lent a copy of the "New Edition, extended and largely re-written" which was published in 1919.  It makes interesting reading.

I wonder what the author would say about the food we buy these days with all the E numbers and additives?

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

This morning . . .

. . . there was no hope of counting the sheep.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Get a life!

I rather think I should act on my own advice and get a life.  I spend far too long either gazing out of the bedroom window, watching the birds on our neighbour's feeder or simply observing the shadows cast over the fields as clouds pass across the sun.  And every day I seem to find another blog to follow.  It's getting to the point of there being no time left for the things that really matter.  But the I remember those lines by William Henry Davies:
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
Talking of staring at sheep, it's the time of year when our local farmer brings in hundreds of the critters.  I have yet to determine if he simply lets out some of his fields or if he buys in the sheep, but if he were to install floodlighting in this field, it could solve a lot of people's insomnia.  Just enlarge the picture taken from the bedroom this morning and try counting them!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Gasping for a fag

It's more than three years since I last smoked a cigarette - or anything else, for that matter.  The date of my last cigarette is engraved on my memory as that was the day I was introduced to my Macmillan nurse.  Fortunately, the shadow on my lung turned out to be a plug of mucus and not a tumour.  All the same, I found it surprisingly easy to quit, even when others around me were smoking.  I simply found that i didn't want to smoke.  Previous attempts to stop smoking had lasted four months and six months, so I was expecting to feel the urge again in a short while.  But it has rarely happened - for which I am truly thankful.

But this morning I have felt the pull.  Twice. 

I had finished my oats - porridge oats, not wild ones.  At my age? - and was sitting at the breakfast table (it's also the lunch table and the dinner table and the supper table.  Very versatile.) with a cup of coffee when it struck.  Although, strangely perhaps, it wasn't the act of puffing that I wanted as I felt that would choke me.  It was the whole rigmarole of taking a cigarette out of the packet, lighting it and holding it in my fingers.  Anyway, the thought was soon displaced.

And then, while walking the dog in the park, I saw another dog walker with a cigarette and it reminded me how good a cigarette in the open air used to taste.

But it's alright - I'm over it again.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Juigné Forest

Compared with English woods, the Forêt de Juigné is enormous, although it is not exactly huge compared with areas of woodland in America or even France.  It stretches roughly five miles by about two and a half, and for most of the length - at least four miles - there is a road running straight as a die.

The forest road in spring . . .
. . . and in the autumn.

One of the side lanes.

This is in the part of France that was occupied during the Second World War and, not all that many miles away there was a prison camp, Choisel, at the edge of Châteaubriant, where were interred Frenchmen that the Germans didn't like such as Communists.   In December 1941, it was decreed that 100 Jewish or Communist hostages should be shot (in reprisal for something I have not managed to discover), nine of them coming from the Choisel camp.  They were driven into the forest for their execution.

For many years, their only monument was a hand-painted, wooden board, but about two years ago this was replaced by a smart, brick pillar with a stainless steel panel.  Somehow, the old monument seemed more personal and more evocative, but I do agree that the newer memorial is more fitting.

Apparently, there is another memorial in the forest, on private land, where one tree that was used as an execution post is still standing, complete with bullet holes.

(Photo Patrice MOREL)

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Big Saturday

Just seems to be one of those days.  I started the day with a big breakfast.  Well, bigger than usual.  I had decided yesterday when shopping that I would have porridge for breakfast instead of the usual cold cereal and as I had finished the muesli yesterday, today was the day to start.  Because I have never before done porridge, I was uncertain of just what quantity to use and ended up with rather more in my bowl than I really expected.  All the same, I thoroughly enjoyed it - even if it did mean having to wash up a saucepan.

Then lunch, which was simply a couple of slices of bread with jam.  The jam was some raspberry given to me yesterday by a fellow Lion made from the autumn fruiting raspberries in his garden.  He calls them "my" raspberries as they were canes from my garden when I dug some up to split.  But what jam!  Really zinging with a big flavour.

And this afternoon, as Fern and I walked around the ramparts of the Roman Camp, there rose from the middle the biggest charm of goldfinches I have ever seen.  There must have been getting on for three dozen of them.

And glancing out to sea, I spotted what looked like a floating island going down Channel.  Having checked since I got home ( I see that it is a ship called Euphrates Highway, a 59,000 ton, 200 metre long vehicle carrier en route from Bremerhaven to Southampton.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Low cloud over Patcham

Just back from a walk in Stanmer woods - wet, muddy, leaves and twigs sticking to her.  i just love having a dog in weather like this!  It wasn't really raining when we left home, but it changed.  Boy, did it change!

We have had low cloud all day.  Sometimes I have been able to see the downs, sometimes not.  This was the view from the bedroom first thing.  Well, just a bit after first thing.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Watching all the birds go by

For reasons I won't bother to explain, I find myself standing at the bedroom window far more these last few weeks than ever before.  As a result, I have had more time to watch the birds at our neighbour's feeder.  This hangs from a plum tree and is enclosed in a supposedly squirrel-proof cage, although I have watched a squirrel struggle to get in - and struggle even harder to get out.

The most frequent visitors of an avian variety are (in alphabetical order) blue tits, great tits, greenfinches and house sparrows.  From time to time we also see chaffinches and goldfinches.  I find it interesting to compare the behaviour of the different varieties.  The sparrows, which are the largest of the four and by far the greatest in number, are the pushiest.  Once one of them gets to the feeder, it stays there stuffing for quite a while, unless another bird - usually another sparrow but occasionally one of the finches - decides that it is its turn and taps the sparrow on the shoulder.  Or, more precisely, pecks it on the rump.  The greenfinches tend to stick at it as well, but usually for shorter periods of time than the sparrows.

While the sparrows are congregating in the tree, chattering and - occasionally - squabbling, the tits are bouncing around the periphery prior to sneaking through the crowd.  They will then wait to dash into the feeder the moment it becomes free, only to grab something and fly off with it.  Whatever they have grabbed, seed or not, is then held down on the branch while the bird bites bits off in a very dainty fashion.  Once the seed is eaten, the process starts all over again.

The attractive blue tit - by John Williams

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Toad in the Hole

And that, I assume, is what most people would think of as toad in the hole - sausages cooked in a Yorkshire pudding batter. Very tasty it is, too, provided the sausages are proper butcher's sausages and not the mass produced splodge sold in supermarkets.  It is always thought of as a traditional British dish although, according to Wikiwotsit, the earlier recipes simply call for odds and ends of meat, or the remains of stewed meat, to be used rather than sausages.

But here in Silly Sussex, toad in the hole has a different meaning.  Here, toad in the hole is an pub game.   The game involves throwing brass discs ("toads") from a distance of about seven feet (I don't know the actual distance according to the rules) towards a stool with a lead top, at the centre of which is a hole only slightly, very slightly, larger than the toads.  The game can be played between two individuals or between teams, just as in darts.  Again as in darts, scoring starts from 31 with the object of decreasing this to nil.  A toad going down the hole scores two points and a toad landing cleanly on the top of the stool scores one.  A toad falling off or hitting the back board scores zero.

A toad stool
Anyway, on Monday this week several local Lions Clubs took part in a competition - the first event in our annual Olympics.  My club entered two teams with mixed results.  Each team played four games with one team losing all four and the other, winning two and losing two.  A convivial evening, with fish and chips served halfway through.

The better of our two teams came joint third - out of seven - but who cares?  There's plenty of time to catch up.  The next event: a quiz, then a beetle drive (or Scalextric), more pubs games like shove ha'penny, darts and snooker, shuffleboard, kurling and skittles.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

England expects

It was on 4th November 1805 that a naval schooner reached Falmouth, a small town in Cornwall, with the news that would bring elation and grief in almost equal measure.  Some two weeks earlier, a British fleet had defeated the combined French and Spanish fleets in a battle off Cape Trafalgar in Spain.  But the charismatic British admiral, Horatio Nelson, had been killed in the course of the action by a French sharpshooter.

It was on the morning of 21st October 1805 that Nelson ordered the famous signal to be flown:

"England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty"

Some historians contend that Trafalgar was the start of the end for Napoleon, although it would be another ten years before his final defeat at Waterloo.  He - Napoleon - had intended to invade England but his fleet had been unable to gain control of the English Channel and his armies had been turned eastwards towards Austro-Hungary.  Nevertheless, the resounding defeat inflicted on the French and Spanish navies by Nelson meant that any dreams of invasion that Napoleon might have still had were now hopeless.

But even if Trafalgar was not the tipping point in the Napoleonic Wars, it could be said to be the one event that led to the establishment of the British Empire.  For the rest of the 19th century, the Royal Navy was supreme and it was because of this power over the seas that Britain was able to contain French ambitions in the Indian sub-continent and gradually exert control over much of southern Africa and substantial parts of west Africa. It was also British naval might that led to the cessation of the slave trade from Africa to the West Indies.

Nelson had gambled by adopting new tactics when the two fleets met.  Traditionally, battles at sea were fought between fleets sailing parallel to each other, thereby ensuring that all the guns on one side of each ship could be fired in broadsides.  Nelson, however, split his fleet into two columns and sailed directly at the French and Spanish ships.  Each column was to drive through the enemy fleet.  This meant that as the British ships approached, they would be under sustained fire but, having no forward pointing guns, would be unable to fire themselves.  Until they cut through the enemy fleet.  Then they would fire through the bows or sterns of the enemy ships, an action known as raking, causing considerable damage the length of each enemy ship before turning to fire broadsides at the weakened enemy.

Nelson's body was brought back to England and he was afforded a state funeral.  In January 1806, he was buried in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral in London, after five days of ceremonies, a demonstration of the widespread affection in which the dead hero was held.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Blood swept lands and seas of red

It started back on 4th August - the anniversary of Britain declaring war on Germany - and will continue until 11th November, "it" being an evolving installation at the Tower of London.  Gradually, volunteers are "planting" ceramic poppies in the moat, one for every Commonwealth serviceman killed during that conflict, all 888,246 of them.  The installation is entitled "Blood swept lands and seas of red", the first line of a poem written by an unknown World War I poet.

Photo: Paul Cummins

Every evening, at about sunset, the Last Post is sounded and names from the Roll of Honour are read.  The names are submitted by members of the public so I have today submitted the name of a distant cousin, just one day before the anniversary of his death in 1916.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Spending a penny

I was amused to read in yesterday's paper that President Obama experienced a potentially humiliating episode recently when eating in a New York restaurant.  It was reported that when he came to pay the bill, his credit card company refused the transaction!  Luckily, the First Lady had her handbag with her - and her card was accepted.  This is a problem that can happen to any of us - it happened to me one time - but I was surprised by two things in this story.  First, that the President of the USA was expected to pay for his meal when he was in New York on official business.  I would have thought the US government would have picked up the tab.  And secondly, I was just a little surprised that the restaurant expected to be paid, despite having the privilege of feeding the most powerful man on earth.  Or maybe he is only the second most powerful these days; I just don't keep up with these things the way I ought.

As I said, I once had my card rejected.  The Old Bat and I had been staying on the farm and we had taken my cousin and her husband to a local pub for a meal.  When I went to the bar to settle, the girl received a message on the card terminal to telephone the card company.  When she did, they asked to speak to me.  After going through a rigmarole to prove that I was me, we got down to the matter in hand.  Had I, the voice on the other end asked, spent a penny lately?  I very nearly replied that my personal toilet arrangements were just that - personal - and it was no business of theirs.   But before I could do so, the voice explained that a transaction for one penny had been attempted and had been flagged as the forerunner of a fraudulent transaction, somebody just trying to see if they could get something small through before attempting something considerably larger.  I managed to convince the voice that this was a transaction that should be allowed but I was warned in no uncertain terms that I needed to telephone the credit card company's security department post haste.

Another time, I checked my credit card entries on line only to see three that had nothing to do with me, two charges from Madrid (one for airline tickets) and a refund of the flight charge for a slightly different amount.  I assumed that the transactions had been levied in euros and the difference was due to exchange rate changes.  Anyway, the card company immediately refunded the charges - but they never did reclaim the credit.

I now check my credit card and bank statements quite frequently.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Memories unlocked

While visiting Youtube yesterday to find Val Doonican's Walk Tall, I stumbled across another song from the 60s which unlocked memories of things I haven't thought about for many a year.

Elusive Butterfly was a song sung by quite a few people other than the original Bob Lind, who reached number 5 with it in 1966 (or so I have learned).  Val Doonican, Petula Clark and even Dolly Parton got in on the act.  And I tried to as well.  I really don't know quite what made me think I might be able to play the guitar, but I decided I would like to.  I don't remember if the electric guitar was being used back then, but that wasn't what I wanted.  I simply wanted one of those ordinary guitars that singers strummed to provide a musical background to their singing.  Mind you, I couldn't sing any better than I could play the guitar!  Anyway, the Old Bat bought me a guitar and one of the songs for which I bought the music was Elusive Butterfly.

I didn't bother with lessons, thinking I could teach myself to play the instrument.  Of course, I failed - apart from managing to pick out a few simple tunes.  I don't remember what happened to that instrument but it must have been thrown out at some time.

Almost twenty years before the aborted attempt to learn the guitar, when I was about 9, my mother signed me up with a piano teacher.  I don't know if she had dreams of me becoming a famous pianist - like Semprini.  Remember him?  Or Liberace?  If she did have such dreams, they faded pretty quickly.  She must have acquired a piano from somewhere so that I could practise between lessons and I can still remember the smell of the paraffin heater that was lit in the front room to provide (imaginary) warmth for me while I thumped the keys.  What a horrible smell that was!  Anyway, the lessons stopped when I was sent away to school - and by the time I came home again several months later, the piano had disappeared.

Mind you, I would love to be able to play like this:

Friday, 17 October 2014

Walk Tall

I don't know when it happened - I just didn't notice at first - but those television adverts for magic potions and such like have changed.  They used to feature a sentence along the lines of "89% of women agree".  It was always women - it still is - possibly because men just couldn't care a tuppenny damn about having softly illuminating skin (or whatever it is) but there is a small difference nowadays in that sentence.  Small, but significant.  Well, it's significant to me.  Have you noticed, they now state the number of women quizzed and the sentence now reads "89% of 154 women agree".  I can't claim to have made a deep study of those adverts but it seems to me that they always, always, mention a surprisingly low number of women.  I think 216 is the highest number I've seen.  Why is that, I wonder?  Do the snake oil salesmen have difficulty in finding women who will admit to have used their product?  Or is it that they just can't be bothered to do the research?

It really is on no consequence.  But on the matter of research, I gave up counting the number of articles in today's newspaper reporting the results of research undertaken.  There were just two where the headline caught my eye.  The first concerned pasta.  Now I do enjoy eating pasta dishes and, now that I seem to be always the duty chef, I cook pasta at least once a week.  The Old Bat enjoys pasta dishes as well and I'm trying to get some weight back onto her bones so this seems a good idea.  But what I will not be doing is leaving the pasta to go cold and then re-heating it.

The first article I read reported that, for some reason I really didn't grasp, research was undertaken into how pasta affects people.  As far as I understand it, pasta, when served hot, is a carbohydrate and, if the calories are not burned off by exercise, weight will increase as a result of eating it.  For some reason, eating the pasta cold has less of an effect.  But re-heated pasta is not a carbohydrate; it is fibre, so doesn't lead to weight gain.

Did you really want to know that?  I'm sure I couldn't care less.  But now for that other research.

People who are down in the dumps tend to walk slouched, hands in pockets.  Sort of scuffing along.  Happy people walk with heads up, shoulders back and arms swinging gently.  Yes, I knew that from my own experience - and I'm sure plenty of other people have spotted it as well.  But, and here's the rub, research shows that how we walk affects our mood.  if we slouch along, scuffing the ground, with our hands in our pockets, we experience negative feelings, increasing the down in the dumps mood.  But even if we start off feeling that way but hold our heads up, walk tall, shoulders back - we experience more positive thoughts and feelings.  And it's quite true.  But why it needed a university (or whoever) to conduct that research is beyond me.

And just to prove that it's old hat, an Irishman named Val Doonican sing a song about it way back in the 60s.  Here he is:

Thursday, 16 October 2014

You STILL can't fix stupid

At our regular Lions meeting last night we agreed to spend some £2,000 or so, all on very worthwhile projects.  Such as buying a specially built tricycle for a child suffering cerebral palsy and epilepsy (£1300), paying for books and equipment needed by a student vet from a disadvantaged background (I think that was it) - £300+, and giving our secretary authority to spend up to £200 on Christmas decorations for the wards at the children's hospital if necessary.  And we agreed to keep the van on the road for another year, paying road tax, MOT and servicing, possibly about a thousand all told.  But we need the van for preparations for our fireworks display.  Not that we are holding one this year, which means that last night we spent a good 10% of the money we currently have available with no plans for bringing in further substantial amounts until November next year!  We shall just have to come up with another brilliant wheeze to squeeze money out of people.

The local paper ran a piece about us looking for a new venue for our fireworks display this year as the usual venue - the county cricket ground - is unavailable due to relaying the outfield.   Several people added comments on the paper's website - some vaguely witty, some intended to be helpful (but weren't) and some just plain stupid.  The article had mentioned that we spend £10,000 on fireworks and that the profit we make from the display is usually in the region of £15,000.  It also mentioned that we needed a venue where the spectators could be 100 yards from the fireworks for pretty obvious reasons.  So, the suggestions:
  • Have it at the Race Course - then everyone can see the fireworks.
  • Have it on the beach - you could pass the hat round.
  • Why spend £10,000 on fireworks?  Far better to give it to charity.
If you happen to pass by and see me banging my head on the wall, you will know why.  Meanwhile, here is a video of our display from a few years ago.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

At last!

Here we are, nearly four o'clock in the afternoon, and I'm only just posting.  I would have done so about ten minutes ago but Tony rang to offer me a lift to Lions tonight.  OK, so we didn't stay chatting - there will be time for that later - but any incoming call cuts off my internet connection for several minutes afterwards.  It never used to and I think it probably went on for some time before I noticed it.  My ISP is, apparently, known to be just about the least reliable as far as connections go.  But it's cheap, and internet connectivity is not exactly vital.  Or, rather, reliably continuous internet connectivity is not vital.  So I put up with it, especially as it means I pay for almost no phone calls - even to international destinations.

I was way behind schedule (we pronounce that shed you'll, not than sked Yule) anyway.  I had several things to do that had been hanging around for some time and they were becoming increasingly urgent.  So, I wrote a little list and, hey presto!, all but two of the jobs are done and dusted.

"Walk the dog" was not one of the jobs I listed, it being so much a matter of routine.  Anyway, walk the dog I did and this afternoon we headed for 39 Acres and the Roman Camp.  I was astonished to see quite a sizeable flock of swallows.  I don't recall ever having seen swallows here in mid October; I would have expected them to have gone a fortnight or so ago.  And there is - or was a couple of days ago - a pair of warblers in the garden.  I know that there are a few warblers that stay here over the winter, but I didn't think chiffchaffs and willow warblers were among them.  This pair is one or the other - but I can't tell the two breeds apart except by their song - and they aren't singing at this time of the year.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

I blame apples

So, according to this morning's business section, said Alexander Stubb.  Alexander Stubb?  He's the prime minister of Finland.  But when I looked more closely at the article I saw that it wasn't apples he was blaming for the parlous state of his country's economy, it is Apple.

It seems to me that the Finnish economy is based on two things: mobile phones and paper.  Nokia is one of the leading manufacturers of mobile phones but, according to Mr Stubb, has been badly hit by Apple's iPhone.   Finland having vast expanses of trees, soft wood trees, they have a great newsprint industry, although I'm not entirely sure that they actually make paper.  I think they simply export the timber for other countries' paper mills.  But Mr Stubb asserts that this industry has been hit by Apple's iPad.

Just how much truth there is in those assertions is something I couldn't say, but the whole thing reminded me of the last ten or so years of my working life.  I had been employed to act as general manager of a newspaper company.  It was just a small company which published only the one title, a religious newspaper for a church of which I was not (and still am not) a member.  But, as the chairman who employed me said, they wanted professionalism before piety.  The entire board of directors, bar one, was non-executive, the one exception being the paper's editor.  He and I more or less ran the company as a partnership, the editor's role being to see that the white spaces in between the advertisements were filled and to hire and fire the editorial staff.  All other aspects of the business - advertising, distribution, printing, accounts, staff management, premises management, company secretarial duties - all fell to me.  This did have the advantage of giving me a varied job which, for most of the time, prevented the onset of boredom.

My first chairman - and, indeed, his successor - were keen on the Newspaper Society, of which our company was a member, the NS being the trade association of the local newspaper industry.  I duly stood for and was elected to the council of said society, which opened for me several interesting doors such as access to invitations to royal garden parties and, on one occasion, a reception at Windsor Castle.  It also meant that I would be included in the annual lunch just before Christmas each year hosted by one of Finland's leading wood pulp companies.  And I can still remember the story of the Finnish snowbird as related by the chairman of that company at one lunch.

The snowbird lives deep in the vast forests of Finland and during the long winter months, can suffer hunger because food is scarce.  One particular snowbird had found itself having to fly further and further each day in the search for food and one day simply fell from the sky, completely exhausted.

A wolf saw the bird fall and was on its way to enjoy a snack but it so happened that a Finnish ox-cart driver also saw the bird fall and, being a kindly soul, stopped to see if he could help.  He realised that the bird was hungry and cold, so he scooped up a handful of warm, steaming ox dung and wrapped it round the bird.  He placed the bundle back on the ground and went on his way.  The wolf smelled the ox dung and went on its way as well, not wanting to eat that.

Later, the bird regained consciousness but was unable to fight its way out of the ox dung, which had by then hardened into a shell, but the ox cart driver returned, broke open the shell and released the revived bird.

And the moral of the story is that your friends not only dig you out of the shit, but they drop you in it in the first place.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Early mornings

At this time of the year I quite often watch the dawn - provided I am in France.  From the kitchen window we get a good view of the sun coming up and an even better view if we step out into the courtyard.  Like this:

I tend not to see the dawn here in England as other houses block the view. But there was a time when I did see it quite often.

It seems a lifetime away now, but during the last few years of my working life I would leave the house at six in the morning so as to be at my desk at about five past eight, thereby beating the worst of the rush hour.   I had pretty much forgotten what it feels like to be one of the few on the streets before full daylight, what it is to watch lights coming on house by house as people get up and get ready for another busy day.  Or boring day, as the case may be.  But today I was reminded of all that.

The Old Bat had a hospital appointment for more tests - the doctors think they know what the problem is but they want to be sure - and was due at the hospital for 11.00.  Parking at the County Hospital here in Brighton is abysmal and the Old Bat needs a wheelchair to get about the hospital so we had arranged for Patient Transport Services - part of the NHS - to send an ambulance.  That means being ready two hours before the appointment time.  In any case, the Old Bat was to have neither food nor drink after seven o'clock.  So I was up just after six, serving her breakfast in bed by a quarter to seven, then out with the dog by half past.

I must be a bit peculiar in the head or something because there's something I like about being out and about before the world has woken up.  Not that I plan to make a habit of it.  Just the once will see me through for another three or four years.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Battered raspberries

Sometime I might explain the reason for my unnecessary and almost hysterical outburst yesterday but now it's time to get back to what passes for normal in this part of the woods.

That title - Battered raspberries - has nothing whatsoever to do with the favourite fast food (or so I am unreliably informed) of Glaswegians, deep-fried Mars bars.

Picture: AS10 - the top ten nastiest foods in the world

Whether or not deep-fried Mars bars really are nasty I couldn't say.  I've never even seen one, let alone eaten one.  But no, battered raspberries are not the fruits of my garden smothered in batter and . . .  Yuck!

We have been subjected to some pretty strong winds on and off this past week but worse than that has been the rain.  I suppose in true meteorological terms I should say showers, for that is what they have been for the most part.  But what showers!  the other morning I set out with the dog under blue skies.  Five minutes later, the rain started and within a hundred yards both the dog and I looked like drowned rats.  That has been the pattern: beautiful blue skies, then suddenly we are experiencing monsoon-like rain with spatters of hail.

Friday I was duty bingo caller.  The venue is a block of retirement flats about 4 miles away.  I usually allow 25 minutes to drive there so as to be ready to start at the appointed hour of 7.30.  But the city was gridlocked due to flash floods, so I simply turned round and came back home.

It is at this time of the year that my raspberries should be in peak production and I should be picking at least every other day.  Not this week.  I did go down there this morning to see what was left and did manage to salvage a few fruits, enough to serve as a dressing with the cheesecake we shall be having tonight for dessert.  But several canes have been knocked to the ground, and much of the fruit that should have been picked has been simply battered into nothing by the rain.

Although it seems calmer today, we are promised more rain for tomorrow.  What larks, Pip, what larks! as Charles Dickens had it.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Knocked for six

Been rocked back on my heels and just can't get my head around blogging right now.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Post boxes

Most people pass straight by street furniture with scarcely a glance but I happened to notice a rarity which, for a short time, got me looking more closely for other examples of post boxes.

The British post box is well known across the world.  Those red pillars have hardly altered in design for nigh on a century.  In fact, for more than a century.  But what many people outside Britain - and possibly quite a few in Britain - don't realise is that they can be used as very approximate measures of the time it takes a town to spread.  You see, each post box carries the royal insignia, the insignia of the sovereign on the throne at the time the box was installed.  The earliest carried the insignia (or is it monogram?) of Queen Victoria.  Then we have Edward VII, George V, George VI and, finally, Elizabeth II.  But, just for a few months in the 1930s, there was another - Edward VIII.  And it was a post box with his insignia that I had spotted.

And so, for a little while, I looked out for the different insignia in an attempt to photograph each one.  I never did find VR, but those are mainly in town centres and I rarely get there.  I got the rest, though - including this slightly unusual model:

Do you think this would qualify me for membership of the Dull Men's Club?

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Dull Men's Club

Yes, it really does exist, and to prove it, they have produced a calendar for 2015.  Featured in (or should that be on?) the calendar are:
  • the president of the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society, who spends his weekends travelling around the country photographing roundabouts and turning his pictures into books and calendars;
  • a man who has sent the same Valentine to his wife for the last 35 years. The novelist, who designed the card himself, first presented it to wife in 1979 and has reused it every year since;
  • drain spotter Archie Workman, from Cumbria, who works as a lengthsman maintaining verges and ditches and watches out for unusual drains;
  • a man who has spent 30 years collecting more than 20,000 milk bottles. Every April he likes to spring clean his bottles which he houses in an 80ft museum in his garden.
  • then there is the man who has the world's largest traffic cone collection.  He began collecting in 1986 and now has more than 500 around his house.

And so on and so on.

OK, so many of us (most of us?) might think it a little odd - to say the least - to collect milk bottles or traffic cones but I'm sure many or even most of us do something that the world at large would consider dull or boring.  I have almost religiously kept records of mileage and fuel put into my cars for years - yawn, yawn - and a friend of mine has for some time been collecting model buses - yawn again.

The Dull Men's Club has its own web site here.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014


I'm not sure that the root cause is really xenophobia, but we English have for many, many years seen ourselves as reserved and slow to anger.  And definitely rather superior to "foreigners".  We have tended to stereotype other nationalities in a patronising manner.  The Scots, for example, are tight-fisted, the French smarmy, the Germans bombastic, the Spanish greasy, the Italians cowardly, the Greeks duplicitous, the Japanese inscrutable, the Americans boastful, the Australians brash, the New Zealanders . . .  Remind me, just where is New Zealand?

Perhaps there is, or once was, a grain of truth in all that but we all know that there is an immense range of personalities in any nationality.  All the same, Kate Fox, a social anthropologist, has twice published a book about watching the English in which she attempts to define the English character.  Yes, I did write "twice published".  Her book, entitled Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour, was first published in 2005 and a new edition has just - or is just about to - hit the shelves.

Class is just one of the subjects covered by ms Fox.  To quote from one newspaper review: Here’s a good class-test: when talking to an English person, deliberately say something too ­quietly for them to hear you ­properly. A lower-middle or middle-middle person will say, ‘Pardon?’  An upper-middle will say ‘Sorry?’ (or perhaps ‘Sorry - what?’ or ‘What - sorry?’). But an upper-class and a working-class person will both say, ‘What?’ (The working-class person may drop the t - ‘Wha’?’ - but this will be the only difference.)

But to sum up the English in one word, just say "typical".  She claims the word is “quintessentially English”, and can be used in the event of all disasters ranging from “burnt toast to the outbreak of the Third World War”.
“But you have to be able to say it in a way that sounds simultaneously peeved, but also kind of stoically resigned, and at the same time smugly omniscient - almost pleased that your predictions have been fulfilled,” she said.  “Everything may have gone completely pear-shaped, but you weren’t taken unawares.”

So now we know.

By the way, would you qualify to be a British (not just English) citizen?  If you fancy your chances, just try one of the sample tests that applicants have to pass.  Here's the link:  The UK Test.

I'm not going to admit how many questions I got wrong.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Interview time

There was an intriguing email in this morning.  It was from a reporter at a television station of which I had never heard and she was asking me to call her as soon as possible to set up an interview about Brighton Lions' fireworks display.

After a little scratching around on the Internet, I learned that a license had been granted for a local television station in Brighton and it went on the air at the end of August.  Somehow this had completely slipped past me, although the fact that I don't buy the local newspaper may have some bearing on my ignorance.

Anyway, I duly called the young lady and fixed up for her to come round this afternoon at two - I didn't fancy the difficulty of parking anywhere near the television studios in the centre of the city.  Hiving done that, I went downstairs and turned on the television to see if I could find this unheard of channel - channel 8 on Freeview, I understood.  But that is BBC 3.

More research was called for.

Checking online, I find that there is no mention of Latest TV being broadcast through any of the local (-ish) transmitters.  We are tuned to one 50 miles away on the Isle of Wight, but the nearest transmitter (Patcham)  doesn't have this station on its list.  The other main Brighton transmitter (Whitehawk Hill) does have dozens more channels than the Patcham transmitter - but not Latest TV.  So I shan't be able to watch myself on the telly after all.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Why do they do it?

There has been something niggling away at the back of my mind for quite some time now.  Over the weekend, and more especially today, events have conspired to force it to the front.  Today, in particular, it was reading Sarah's blog that did it for me.  Then there was a report in the newspaper about an on-line troll.

I quite frequently drop by the web site of our local newspaper and occasionally scan through the comments left by readers.  What has both puzzled me and saddened me is the number of times people leaving comments find it necessary to resort to insulting others who hold different views.  Why can they not say simply, "I disagree with you" and then go on to explain why they disagree.  Instead, we are treated to comments (and I shall moderate the language in the presence of ladies) along the lines of, "Of course you can't do that, you blithering idiot!" with no explanation.

It is now more than seven years since Madeleine McCann disappeared from her family's holiday apartment in Portugal.  Quite why anybody would want to post abusive tweets about Madeleine's parents is something I cannot begin to understand.  Tweets from the @sweepyface account had said that the McCanns should suffer “for the rest of their miserable, evil, conniving lives”.  A newspaper reporter managed to find out just who was so twisted and this morning's papers report her death in an hotel.  Reading between the lines, it looks as though she committed suicide.

And talking of suicide, what about those sick people who goad teenagers into killing themselves?

Can anybody really find pleasure in acting in this way (or these ways)?  I can, at a pinch, almost excuse some of the newspaper commenters on the basis that their education is sadly lacking.  They simply do not have the vocabulary or the linguistic skills to put together a rational argument.  But to send abusive messages to the parents of a missing child or to encourage a vulnerable youngster to commit suicide, that really is beyond the pale as far as I am concerned.

And to think that this is going on in our own free, liberal, democratic country while we condemn the barbaric acts of Islamic State . . .  Words just fail me.  I really do worry about the world my grandchildren are growing into.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

You can't fix stupid

I have been known, from time to time, to complain about the misuse of our magnificent language.  For some reason, many of the practices to which I object seem to have originated across the pond - not that I am blaming any Americans that I know for their deplorable habits.  My latest gripe, coincidentally, comes courtesy of an American company.

Many employers have, over the last few years at least, been known to deplore the falling educational standards of prospective employees.  Complaints have been made, primarily, about numeracy and literacy.  It seems a pity, then, that a multi-national company such as Coca Cola should display an equally low standard of literacy in its choice of slogan in the current advertising campaign in the national press.

More choice, less calories

The phrase should read, "More choice, fewer calories".  The word "less", to indicate a reduction in quantity, should be used only for something that cannot be quantified numerically or that does not have a plural, such as milk, sand or oxygen.  In the case of items that can be counted, such as apples, trees or cars, the word to indicate a reduction in quantity is "fewer".

I'm tempted to write to the company.

I mentioned yesterday that our local paper had run a piece about the Lions having difficulty in finding a venue for our biggest fund-raiser, the annual fireworks display.  The paper's web site has received several comments and suggestions, such as use the beach so that people can see the display free of charge, or give the money we would have spent on fireworks to charity.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

A tale of two

The other day - Wednesday, it was - I telephoned one of my fellow Lions only to hear a recorded message telling me to redial, inserting the area code 01273 before the number.  The next day it happened again, with a different local number.  Then I learned the reason.  Brighton, along with three other towns, is running out of telephone numbers and likely to be out completely sometime between next year and the year after.  Or maybe the year after that; not that the exact date is germane to this.  Apparently, by adding the 01273 when we all make local calls from other numbers on that exchange, the number of numbers available is increased.

Now that seems quite illogical to me.  Let's take a very simple example.  The series from zero to nine (0 to 9) comprises just 10 numbers.  OK so far?  Now lets add a prefix.  Say, 33.  We now have a range from 330 to 339.  But that's still just ten numbers.  By extension, if telephone numbers range from 200000 to 999999 (I know they don't, but i don't know the lowest and highest phone numbers on the Brighton exchange), simply adding the area code 01273 at the front of them makes no difference to the total numbers available.

Or is there something I'm missing?

The second tale concerns Facebook, Brighton Lions Club and our local newspaper, The Argus.  I have confessed to using F/b for the Lions and I posted a piece a few days ago about not being able to use our regular venue for our annual fireworks display.  To my surprise, I received a phone call yesterday from a reporter on the local paper asking me a few questions - just out of interest, it seemed.  Later, he called again asking even more questions.  He had, he told me, mentioned this to the editor and they proposed to run a story.

Given that we have always found it extremely difficult to get the local paper to publish anything, I was astonished and delighted to receive an email this morning from somebody who had read the article - which appeared today.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Confession time

I announced yesterday that I am a bumbling DIYer.  Actually, it's often worse than that.  Rather than simply bumbling, I am frequently incompetent.  I console myself with the thought that nobody can be good at everything.  Well, almost nobody, as there are maybe one or two exceptions around.  But yesterday counted as a success.  For me.  I was doing electrical work and I neither blew the whole fuse board nor electrocuted myself.  And when I had finished, the new outside light really did work!

Consider this.  I attempted to change a washer on a kitchen tap.  On a Sunday afternoon.  I ended up calling out a 24-hour plumber at enormous expense - and the bottom of the cupboard under the sink is still badly warped as a result of the flood.  I had to throw away the shelf and cobble together something new.

I screwed down a squeaky floorboard on the landing, and screwed straight into a water pipe for the heating system.  That was on a Saturday evening and the heating was on.  The emergency plumber had no microbore piping in the van so the heating - and the water - had to be switched off until Monday.

Another time I attempted to change the light fitting in the toilet.  And had to call out an acquaintance (not really a friend) to turn the electricity back on.

See what I mean about incompetent?  And that's just the bit of the iceberg above the water.  My poor. late father-in-law would be turning in his grave if he hadn't been cremated.  He was a stickler for accuracy and perfection in DIY.  Everything, but everything had to be just so.  Exactly vertical or horizontal.  No brush strokes showing in paintwork.  And as for hairs of the paint brush being left behind!!!  He tried to tell me that preparation is 90% of redecoration.  I know that.  I accept that.  But I'm too impatient.

Anyway, yesterday.  It seems like eons ago that I installed a light beside the front door to illuminate the steep drive and steps down from the road.  We never used it often, just when we were expecting guests to arrive or leave after dark.  If that light was switched on six times in the course of a year I would be surprised.  I switched it on last week for the ambulance crew who were bringing the Old Bat back from the hospital.  But by the time they arrived, it had gone out.  Presumably the bulb had blown.

I eventually dug out some old bulbs - that lamp was so old that I still had spare bulbs from pre-history - and attempted to remove the lamp cover to change the bulb.  I started with fingers, moved on to a medium size screwdriver, and ended with the largest screwdriver whose blade would fit in the slot.  Nothing, absolutely nothing would budge.  In the end, I decided that the lamp was really pretty decrepit - all those years of salt in the rain had done it no good - and I might as well buy a new one.  So that's what I did on Wednesday.  It had to be Wednesday because that's the day the DIY store gives 10% discount to old gits and even if I was buying the cheapest outside lamp in the store - and I was - I still wanted my discount.  All £1 of it!  Oh, and I had to buy a bulb as well, so the discount came to £1.20.

I have to confess here that removing the old lamp was a matter of brute force and ignorance.  I couldn't wait for the rust-eating oil to work.  Naturally, the screws fixing the new lamp to the wall had to be in different places to the old one.  I marked the spots with a pencil, only to find that there was a particularly hard bit of brick at one point so the drill moved up and to the right.  Luckily, it was still close enough for me to fix the back plate to the wall, even if one side is a little higher than the other.  But, as my mother would have said, a blind man would be pleased to see it.

When I finished the job and switched on, it was like the lighting of Blackpool illuminations or the Oxford Street Christmas lights!

But, boy!  Was my shoulder playing up by the time I went to bed.  Arthritis is the curse of old age.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Confessions of a bumbling DIYer

I have heard it said that confession is good for the soul.  I'm not entirely sure I agree with the idea but, well, it might just amuse a bear with very little brain.  But before I do bare my soul (this is starting to get confusing) I really should clear up what seems to be a misunderstanding arising from my burblings yesterday.  Perhaps I should also go on to finish what I started.

I did not mean to imply (as some people might have inferred) that neither Mr Clooney nor his marriage are unromantic.  Nor was I saying that I am unromantic - although that is true.  I failed to make clear that it was the city of Venice that I found unromantic, despite the assertion of a friend that it is the most romantic city in the world.  Not for me, it isn't.  But then, nor is Paris, which many people would rate highly for romance.  I have strolled the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in both daylight and lamplight.  I have wandered along the bank of the Seine, visited the Place de Théatre in Montmartre and done all the usual things - or most of them - but none struck me as being any more romantic than London or New York.  And even Detroit has its river walk!

Venice, I think, is a city of crumbling palazzos with rip-'em-off restaurants along the Grand Canal.. Paris has grand, imposing architecture.  But Amsterdam . . .  Wander along the tree-lined canals by lamplight, canals crossed sometimes by narrow bridges, the merchants' houses neither crumbling nor grandiose but built on a much more intimate scale than the buildings of either Venice or Paris.  Amsterdam, a city much more romantic then either Venice or Paris.

And now I haven't got time to start on my confessions.  I've got to go and do some DIY while there are still several hours of daylight - just in case, you understand.  Maybe I'll tell you about it tomorrow, assuming I haven't electrocuted myself by then.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Romantic? I don't think so.

It may not have escaped your notice that a certain Mr Clooney got married this week.  Heck, even my relatively staid morning broadsheet has printed picture after picture the last three days so if this world-shattering (ha!) event has passed you by, you must be living in a cave.  Frankly, the whole circus - for that is what it seems to have been - is of no interest to me whatsoever.  Quite why such a large proportion of the female population has been oohing and aahing is way beyond my understanding.  After all, what has the said Mr Clooney got that I haven't?  Apart from a few millions, that is.  But I suppose there are those who might think him a little better looking than me. . .

His wedding was a far cry from my own, fifty years ago this coming Friday.  (And yes, I have bought her a card, possibly the first time I have ever done that for a wedding anniversary.)  We were married in the red-brick church almost opposite the Young Bat's family home, the reception was in a room over a pub, and our honeymoon was in Somerset.

The Grand Canal
I did take to Old Bat to Venice once.  In conversation with a fellow Lion before we went, he told us that Venice is the most romantic city in the world.  I'm sure he hasn't visited all of them just to check, but in any case I disagree.  I didn't really find the city that romantic.  Granted, the Grand Canal has a certain charm and the fact that there are no roads makes the place interesting, but I thought it run down, almost falling into the water, and there was way too much graffiti.

A little less romantic!
 It perhaps didn't help that St Mark's square was flooded when we got there.  This was part of the queu to go into the cathedral.  We didn't bother but went for a coffee in Café Florian.