Friday, 28 November 2014

Nursery rhymes

The Old Bat forbade me telling the grandchildren nursery rhymes even though I knew all the words!

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and Jill did too
And now they've got a daughter.

Little Boy Blue come blow up your horn,
The sheep's in the meadow, the cow's in the corn.
Where is the boy who looks after the sheep?
He's up in the haystack with Little Bo-Peep.

Hickory dickory dock,
Two mice ran up the Clock.
The clock struck one,
And the poor little bugger fell down dead.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Salt water

I have mentioned before (I think) that have always lived almost within spitting distance of the sea or, if not the sea, then at least the tidal estuary of a river.  I probably see the sea pretty much every day, although it doesn't always register with me that I have seen it.  It's not exactly a matter of familiarity breeding contempt - although familiarity certainly comes into the equation.  But take me away from the sea for any length of time and my feet start to itch.  I love looking at and watching the sea in all its guises:

The Seven Sisters from Seaford Head

The Palace Pier, Brighton - now officially called Brighton Pier

The beach at Brighton is pebbly but that means the waves make a very satisfactory whoosh as they recede

The Undercliff Walk runs from Brighton to Rottingdean

A grey winter's sea at Lancing

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Brighton Trunk Murders

Most people, if asked to name something connected with Brighton, would suggest the Prince Regent's seaside palace (the Royal Pavilion) or the Lanes or Graham Greene's book, Brighton Rock, or illicit assignations (dirty weekends - also started by the Prince Regent). But back in the mid-1930s Brighton was known for something much more grisly, the Brighton Trunk Murders.

Would you, I wonder, buy a secondhand car from this man?  He was Cecil Lois England, aka Tony Mancini, and it will soon be the 80th anniversary of his trial on a charge of murder.

In 1934, the 41-year-old Violet Saunders aka Violet Kaye, a former dancer, was living with Mancini at Park Crescent, Brighton.  Mancini was working at the Skylark Café on Brighton seafront while Saunders worked as a prostitute.  She had a drink and drugs problem and was, by some accounts, an insecure person.  It seems she accused Mancini of flirting with a waitress at work, after which she vanished, Mancini telling people she had gone to Paris to work.

In June 1934, a cloakroom attendant at Brighton railway station noticed a nasty smell which he traced to a locked trunk.  When the police opened the trunk, they discovered the torso and arms of a woman.  Only two days earlier, or as some versions have it, a day later, another trunk at Kings Cross station, London, was found to contain the legs of a woman.  Police were unable to identify either woman (assuming that they were two different people) but Violet Saunders' absence had been noticed and was brought to the attention of the police.  Mancini was brought in for questioning and released, but his new lodgings, a basement flat in Kemp Street, Brighton, were searched.

A large trunk, which he was using as a table, contained the rotting and malodorous body.

Mancini had disappeared but was arrested in south London and charged with the murder of Violet Saunders.  Rather surprisingly, he was acquitted - although many years later he confessed to the News of the World newspaper that he had committed the murder, a confession he later retracted.

And the woman in the trunk at the stations?  She was never identified.

Kemp Street nowadays.  Picture courtesy Rightmove.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Ghost hunting

For some time now - certainly months and maybe even years - I have read a technology question and answer column in my Saturday paper, a sort of technological agony aunt.  Most of the time the questions have been beyond my understanding so you can imagine what my feelings were about the answers.  But a question - or, more accurately, an answer - in this last column had me thinking.  It was about anonymity on the net.

I have always been fairly good about protecting my personal data.  I use different passwords for different sites and change them from time to time, even if not as often as is recommended.  I don't write the passwords down or record them anywhere.  (It does occur to me that if anything happened to me, people trying to sort out my financial affairs might have a bit of a problem and I must give that matter some thought.)  On social media sites such as this, I try to restrict the amount of personal information I divulge.  All in all, I was pretty complacent.

One thing that has never troubled me, despite the views of some folk, is the way store loyalty cards collect information about my shopping habits.  I really could not care less if some oick in Cleckheaton or Cowdenbeath or even Dusseldorf gets to know that I buy white potatoes and So-and-so's toothpaste.  I would say which toothpaste but I can't remember!  BUT with all the kerfuffle there has been over the past year or so, I am just a little concerned that some Government agency might be spying on my surfing habits.  It's not that I take part in any dubious electronic conversations or download child porn (or even adult porn); it's just that I see no reason for any Tom, Dick or Harry to invade my space.

So the answer I read in Saturday's paper interested me.  The expert (for I assume he is such) recommended testing a free app.  I have now installed it - and I have been amazed at how many research cookies or such are sent at me when I visit different sites.  I've so far blocked Gomez, Audience Science, Scorecard Research, Webtrends, Unanimis and others - and feel much better for doing so.  The app was simple to install but I have to say it is not very good on intuitive tweeking, although I seem to have managed to some extent.

The app is called Ghostery if you are interested.  I don't know about other browsers, but in Firefox one goes to Tools>Add-Ons and type Ghostery in the search box.  But I accept no liability if you do decide to try it.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Plum crumble

Dessert yesterday was plum crumble . . .  No, I lie!  It was greengage crumble.  Anyway, I almost broke a tooth on the first spoonful as it contained a plum greengage stone.

"Oh!" exclaimed her ladyship.  "Sorry! I thought I had counted them all."

For some reason (who knows how those links occur) I was immediately transported back to 1982.  In April that year, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory some 8,000 miles from Britain in the South Atlantic.  A task force was sent to drive out the invaders and it was accompanied by BBC correspondent Brian Hanrahan.  His words about an air strike launched from the carrier HMS Hermes became the journalistic quote of the war.  He was not allowed to say how many Harrier jump jets had taken part, but his words got round that problem and reassured the British public:

"I'm not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back."

 Although that was more than 30 years ago, the Argentine government has still not accepted that the population of the Falklands is British and intends to remain British.  In a referendum last year, Falkland Islanders voted by 1,513 to 3 to remain British but only this week, the Argentine congress passed a law under which all vehicles used for public transport on road, rail, by water or in the air - and all stations - must display signs saying, "The Falklands are Argentina".

I do so hope that we are not going to see a repeat of 1982 but I have no doubt that if necessary, we will despatch a handful of troops and, maybe, even a warship.  If it does happen, it will demonstrate just how ill-advised have been the government's cuts in our armed forces.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Scrooge within

I'm not poor, but on the other hand, although I do not consider myself rich, many people might contend that I am well off.  I am certainly comfortable financially; indeed, I'm more comfortable that way than I have ever been in my life .  Which I find moderately surprising.  When I retired from work, which was five years before I could receive the old age pension - sorry, the state pension - my income immediately fell dramatically, although I was in receipt of a pension from my one-time employer.  When the government kindly paid me more money, wow!  I was in the lap of luxury.

There had been a time when I was paying off one credit card each month by drawing on another, but those days are now long gone.  I did have to take myself well in hand in order to repay those debts and I suppose the habit of parsimony has stuck  And so I get irritated when I find the Old Bat has used the call back feature on the telephone at the vast expense of 20p.  But I am quite content to shrug my shoulders at something else and say, "Well, it's only a couple of pounds, and what's that in the grand scheme of things?"

I am quite happy to pay the tolls on French motorways - which are not always particularly cheap - rather than drive an extra ten minutes on toll-free roads, and yet when I look at the menu in a restaurant I go for the cheaper dishes, saying to myself, "I might prefer that dish but it's 50p more than this one.  I'll go with this one."

This switching from miser to spendthrift and back is something I just don't understand.  Surely I should be one or the other?  I'm so tight careful that I will put just one item into a bag on its own at the supermarket so I can truthfully say I've used four of my own bags - and thereby get another point on my Nectar card, a point which is worth (I think) half a penny!  And yet I'll buy a chocolate bar for 50p or 60p and sit in the car to eat it before I drive home.

Oh well.  As they say oop North, there's nowt so queer as folk.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Crime and punishment

And I'm not talking about Преступлéние и наказáние, the book by Dostoevsky.  Or Dostoyevsky.  I've seen his name spelled both ways.  No, my subject is a bit closer to home and actually refers to a professional footballer who has recently been in the news.

The background story is that this gentleman (and I use the word in the loosest sense) was convicted of rape and sentenced to five years' imprisonment.  He was released about three months ago, having served just half the sentence.  Now I am not concerned here whether or not five years is an appropriate sentence for the crime, nor am I concerned that only half the sentence was served.  The length of the sentence and the time actually served are not germane to my particular problem.

As I said, the man concerned is a professional footballer and he was very recently allowed back into training with the club where he was previously employed, possibly - or even presumably - with a view to him once again becoming part of the team in which he was the star striker (goal scorer).  This led to a storm of complaints from members of the general public and from patrons of the club, including one woman who won a gold medal at the London Olympics and after whom a stand has been named.  She announced that she would ask for her name to be removed if the footballer continued to train with the club.

The general view was that he should not be allowed back with the club because:
  • he had been found guilty of raping a woman;
  • he had never shown any remorse for his crime; and
  • footballers are deemed to be role models for boys, a role for which he was patently unsuited.
Well, yes, I understand all that, but, on the other hand:
  • he never showed remorse as he still claims he was innocent of rape and the sex was consensual;
  • he has served the time in prison to which he was sentenced so, although the slate has not been wiped clean, a line has officially been drawn under the incident;
  • he has as much entitlement to earn a living as anybody else.
Would there be any fuss if the person concerned was a lorry driver or a bank clerk?  I think not.  Nor would there be much complaint if the crime was dangerous driving, and possibly a lot less than we have seen if it was dealing in marijuana.  

He has now been told that he is not welcome at the club's training sessions.  But is it fair or just that his punishment should be increased in this way?  Is this not one little step along the road to mob rule?  If we wish to have a justice system that decides guilt or innocence and sentences the guilty according to the law of the land, should we simply stand back and say nothing in his defence?

I confess I do not know.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Now why did I do that?

I'm not at all sure quite why I foisted yesterday's post on my regular readers - all two of you - as I really know next door to nothing about the pepper Pot.  I know whereabouts in Brighton it is - roughly - but I rarely drive past it.  Or, indeed, anywhere close to it.  What put it into my mind was the fact that I had seen the top of it from a block of flats I was visiting on Monday afternoon.

It was a large block of flats; actually three interconnected blocks, each of seven storeys, a total of 108 flats of sheltered accommodation.  I was there to deliver an invitation to the residents of each flat to a pre-Christmas party the Lions are organising for some of the city's senior citizens.  This was not the first sheltered accommodation that I have visited recently, most with the same object in mind, but this was by far the largest.  It really brought home to me how little I would want to live in any sort of "retirement" complex.  I know that in many of them there are leisure activities organised: bingo (horror!) or art classes and so on, but I sincerely hope that I will never be reduced to having to enjoy endure such activities organised for me.

And just imagine being surrounded only by other old cronies!  I might not want to have screaming children ion the same room as me - well, not all the time - but I do enjoy living in a community of different ages, from toddlers to geriatrics, and seeing and hearing children at play.

If it ever gets to the old folks' home stage, just bring on the immobilon!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Pepper Pot

There are quite a large number of towers around Brighton, usually clock towers, and this one is something of an oddity.  Commonly known as the Pepper Pot, many long-time locals insist that it should be called the Pepper Box although it is sometimes known simply as the Tower.  It is now a listed building but nobody is quite certain what its original purpose was.

We do know that it was built in 1830 and that the architect was Charles Barry, he who was also the architect for the Houses of Parliament.  It was built for Thomas Attree, a property developer, who had Charles Barry design a villa for him as well.  Some say that the tower housed a water pump and supplied water to the villa from a tank in the top of the tower.  Another suggestion is that it was intended as a vent for sewers, or maybe it was simply a folly.  A nice story is that it was used by Mr Attree to watch for his ships coming up the Channel.

Whatever its original purpose, the tower has been put to a variety of uses.  During the 1860s, the new owner used it to print his newspaper, the Brighton Daily Mail, while in World war II it was used by the military as an observation post.  After that it became the headquarters for a Scout group and an artist's studio before public toilets were built in an extension.  It fell into disuse and disrepair before the Council, into whose ownership it had passed in Victorian times, managed to find funds to restore the building.  But I have no idea what it is used for nowadays; if, that is, it is used at all.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Time warp

I don't know quite what has happened today.  here we are, just before six o'clock, and I'm only just getting to grips with email and the blog round.  That's six o'clock in the evening, by the way.  I wasn't late getting up, well, not very late, but somehow there seems to have been no time to think.

For once, we have had a dry day.  No rain!  I'm probably mistaken, but there doesn't seem to have been a dry day for weeks.  Dry bits of days, perhaps, but not one of those crisp, autumn days with a brilliant blue sky.  We have been warned that there is a distinct possibility that 2014 will turn out to be the wettest year since records began.  Just when records began is something quite beyond my ken, but I suspect it was well before 2009.  The odd thing is that, although the early part of the year was very wet indeed with much flooding, the summer was great.  Perhaps this wet autumn is the pay off.  But at least it's not cold with temperatures usually maxing out at about 10 or 11, and not falling below freezing at night.

There was a bit of a treat when I opened the curtains this morning.  A bit of blue sky!

Monday, 17 November 2014

British is best!

And that's according to a Frenchman!  His comment even made the front page of my newspaper yesterday.  But I need to explain.  Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec,who has been described as France's most famous butcher (I didn't realise that any butcher is famous) has made a documentary in which he travelled the world to find the world's best sirloin.  And he declared that British grass-fed Aberdeen Angus, Galloway, Hereford or Longhorn cattle are the tops, far better than the 'food porn' (his words) that is the beef from the French cereal-fed cattle.

I have to say that I fully agree that British beef is far and away superior to French, especially when grilled or roasted.  The Old Bat narrows it still further, saying that she thinks the best beef is Scotch.  Whichever, the important thing, to my mind, is that the animals are grass-fed and brought to maturity slowly, not pumped full of hormones or whatever unnatural things are put into the food.  They should be kept calm before slaughter and the carcases should be properly hung for three weeks minimum.

We are lucky in our butchers, there being two from whom we buy our meat locally.  We enjoyed a leg of lamb yesterday although, unusually, the butcher failed to tell us the farm on which the animal had been raised.  Generally he does tell us, and it is always only a few miles away.

The other butcher from whom we buy is my cousin - but that is only when we are staying on the farm with him in Somerset.  His beef is from Dexter cows crossed with Highland, grass-fed and properly hung.  His mutton - from Hebridean sheep, a sort of cross-Soay breed - tastes better than most lamb and is just as tender.  But his main line is venison, and much as I like that, I do prefer beef.  Just not French beef.

Sunday, 16 November 2014


No thanks!

I have been lucky enough to visit cities and towns the length and breadth of England, sometimes at my own expense, sometimes on business of one sort or another.  In fact, I think I have visited a town or city in every English county - except for Shropshire.  A visit to that county is long overdue and, who knows, maybe I will be able to cross it off the list at sometime or another.

Many of my visits to those towns and cities have been fairly brief affairs and, given that I was quite frequently on business, my opportunity to do the tourist thing was often limited, more often (perhaps) non-existent.  Some of those places I would be happy to revisit, about most I am ambivalent.  There is one town, though, that I have determined never to set foot in again.  And it is the town in which I have spent more time than in any other, apart from the towns in which I have lived.

Torquay is Basil Fawlty's town - not that the television programme has anything to do with my dislike of Torquay.  Indeed, I don't actually dislike Torquay.  I have fairly pleasant memories of the month I spent there when recuperating from pleurisy.  Or perhaps it was pneumonia.  I had both pretty severely as a child.  It was when I was 12 that I had an attack of one of those lurgies and our doctor recommended that my mother should take me to the south of France for a month to recuperate.  Back then, for suggesting that my family should spend any time in the south of France, let alone a month, was tantamount to suggesting that we should travel to the moon.  OK, said the doctor, the English Riviera then.  Torquay.  And so it was that my mother, my younger brother and i spent a month in a guest house high above the harbour. 

As I said, I have memories of pleasant times on Torr Sands, in Torr Abbey Gardens, Babbacombe, Cockington and Kent's Cavern.  Somewhat less pleasant are the memories of the gulls snatching the ducklings in the Gardens - and me falling in the pond and having to walk back to the guesthouse about a mile away in dripping wet clothes.  But that didn't deter me from returning to Torquay shortly after the Old Bat and I were married.

I hired a car for our honeymoon and we drove to the small village of Exford, deep in the wilds of Exmoor, where we stayed in the village pub.  The White Horse, was it?  It must have been on either the Wednesday or Thursday of our week that the weather in north Somerset was grotty so I suggested that we drive to the south Devon coast in the hope of some sun.  We headed for Torquay, then made our way to Dartmouth, intending to swing north across Dartmoor and back to Exford that way.  Shortly after leaving Dartmouth, driving along a narrow lane, we met a lorry coming in the opposite direction.  The lorry driver pulled hard over to give us room to pass, but somehow the back of the lorry hit the bank and swung across the road.  I could see it coming but was powerless to stop in time to prevent it smashing into the front of the car.  We left the car there and hitchhiked back to the pub, travelling back to Brighton by train.

Fast forward a few years.  We have three children, the eldest 10, the youngest 4, and are on holiday on a farm in south Devon, not far from Ottery St Mary but really in the depths of the country.  One day we decide to visit Torquay instead of spending time on the beach at Sidmouth.  On our way back to the farm, as we were on the Exeter bypass, the gearbox seized.  The car was towed into a garage in Exeter - but we still had several miles to go with three children and all the paraphernalia that entails.  Fortunately, I was able to use my contacts to get a lift back to the farm and I hired a car the next day  But I still had to use the hire car to get home to Brighton and back down to Exeter to collect my own car when it was repaired.

As a side note, that car was almost brand new, just a few months old and with only 3,000 miles on the clock.  I was advised that the pre-delivery inspection must have been skimped and so I asked the garage where I bought the car to reimburse my expenses.  I ended up taking them to court and eventually got my money back.

And since then I have avoided Torquay at all costs!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

That's another thing to go wrong

My new car - well, it was new to me just before Easter this year and so it still counts as new even though it is more than a year old - has three things I have never had in any previous car:  built-in sat-nav (I've never had any sort of sat-nav before), a beeper that sounds as I get close to anything when reversing (do they call that parking assistance?) and a rear-pointing camera that shows a picture on the screen when I engage reverse gear.  And, rather to my surprise, I have found all three gizmos useful at one time or another.

But then, this week, I saw an ad for a car that few would consider a luxury or top of the range model, and that car had a self-parking system.  The ad also said, I am reasonably certain, that the car would also find a parking place - but I might have imagined that bit.  I don't consider myself any less than average - all right, above average - when it comes to parking, but I would love to give that gizmo a try.

I have quite often been heard to say that the more gizmos there are in a car, the more there is to go wrong, but I was thinking about the changes there have been in cars over the 50+ years since I learned to drive.  Back then, people sitting in the back seats were quite often asked by the driver to wipe the rear window, there being no such thing as a heated rear screen.  There were no such things as self-cancelling direction indicators.  Most cars had a clunking great switch just under the centre of the windscreen; the driver rotated this switch according to which indicator arm was to be turned out.  Then flashing indicators were invented and cars had one at each corner.  Later, a timer was inserted so that the indicators were cancelled after about 30 seconds.

Cars back in those days came equipped with just one mirror - the internal one.  Many drivers - myself included - bought wing mirrors at car accessory shops and carefully drilled holes in the front wings.  After that, one really needed an assistant so that the mirrors could be correctly aligned before being screwed tightly into place.  The next refinement was mirrors on the two front doors, with little knobs protruding into the car to realign the mirrors.  Now, there is a multidirectional button to do the job electronically.

And thinking of electronics, we used to have to wind a window down with a crank handle.

There's that, too.  Cars came equipped with crank handles that would be inserted into slots under the radiator grills to turn the crankshaft if by some chance the self-starter failed or the battery was flat.  And, of course, we had to pull out the choke before trying to start the car when cold - and remember to push it in as the engine warmed up!

Now we have windscreen wipers that come on when it rains, lights that come on when it gets dark, cruise control, electronic parking brakes that come on when the engine is turned off and release themselves when the accelerator is pressed . . .

Things have certainly changed - and yes, there is more to go wrong.  But would I go back to those cars of the late 1950s and early 60s?  No thank you!

Friday, 14 November 2014


It's bingo for me tonight.  Not playing it - I can think of little more boring than that - but calling for the old wrinklies.  Mind you, I've a feeling that some of those wrinklies are actually younger than me!  It's one of the Lions' service activities.  That being so, we charge the old ducks just 50p a game and pay out magnificent prizes - all of £3 for a line and (whisper it) £6 for a full house.  Then what ever they have paid is used for the prize money for the last, free game.  This can mean a payout of £30 or more for the house.

Which seems very small beer indeed when compared to the £1 million a couple I know have won on the lottery this week.  Even that sounds quite petty when you think that some people have won many millions, including one who scooped £108 million.  I think I could probably cope with a million, but a hundred million?  No thanks!

It might seem a little strange, but I would find it difficult to cope with that sort of money.  OK, so I would give some to each of my children - but not too much!  I would possibly splash out on a few things - but even after all that I'm sure there would still be more than £100 million left to give away.  And that's where the difficulty would come, deciding how to split that much money and which charities should receive how much.

As I was instrumental in setting up Leo House, which provides a hospice in the home service for children in Sussex, I should probably give them some.  Cancer research would also be a beneficiary, as would Macmillan nurses, but after that I start to get overload.  Still, as I never buy a lottery ticket, this is one problem I shall never have to face.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Bull's eye!

After travelling for 10 years and covering 4 billion miles,the probe named Philae has landed on comet 67P some 316 million miles away.  (BBC report here.) What a fantastic achievement.  It is quite beyond me to comprehend the detailed planning that had to go into that.

Space: the last frontier - or something like that.  but without wanting to inject any negative thoughts or to detract from this achievement - far from it! - it must be said that this exploration has nothing in it to compare with the courage of men like Columbus, Magellan or Frobisher.  So it took 25 years to plan, but from the safety of offices.

Understandably, there are plenty of people who will say that the money spent on this project - £1.1 billion - could have been better spent.  Just think how many cataract operations that would pay for in developing countries or how many children could have been inoculated against measles or what could have been achieved in researching a cure for cancer is what the critics will argue.

But on the other hand, who knows what will come of this?  Could it lead to the discovery of a new source of energy so that we no longer have to rely on fossil fuels?  Or some matter that could be the basis of a new wonder-drug?

Either way, it is a magnificent achievement.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Feeling itchy

I don't mean that I'm constantly scratching, as though I have fleas, but there's something niggling away at me.  It's not that I'm bored - or not really - but I'm itching to DO something.  The trouble is, I don't know what!

It's not as though I have nothing to do.  I have plenty, but nothing that I have waiting to be done appeals to me.  I want something different.

As I said, it's not boredom as such; more a general lassitude, ennui.  And when that feeling hits, there really is only one answer; plug on at those things that should be done and wait for the feeling to pass.

That was this morning.  Since then I have crossed a number of 'things that should be done' off the list, either having done them or decided they didn't really need doing anyway.  I felt the better for that.  This afternoon's walk helped clear the cobwebs as well.  A fresh breeze blowing off the Channel, clear views across the splendid South Downs and out to sea, big splodges of blue amid the clouds - the perfect elixir.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

They shall grow not old

I suppose it is natural for us in England to think almost exclusively of British servicemen killed in the trenches of Flanders and the Somme during the First World War, but it would be wrong for us to overlook those men from the colonies and dominions who came to fight for us.  Many of them were Indians and it so happens that the Royal Pavilion and the Dome in Brighton, those pastiche Indian constructions, were turned into hospitals for Indian soldiers who were wounded on the Western front.  The funeral pyres for those whose religion required that their bodies pass through the flames were built on the Downs north of the town.  After the war, a memorial, known as the Chattri, was built on the site of the funeral pyres.

Almost in the centre of the picture

It was only a few years ago that the names of those soldiers were discovered and engraved on a new memorial stone.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Wasn't that fun?

I've known for quite some time that it needed to be done but if prevarication was an Olympic event, I would be almost a permanent gold medal winner.  After all, age is no barrier when it comes to excelling at that!  My problem - and it is more of a problem than a challenge - is that I can always find something else more interesting to do.  And I can usually persuade myself that that something else is more urgent as well.

As I said, I have known for some time that it needed doing, but as I have been the only one to go to the freezer for at least two months, I thought that the Old Bat hadn't noticed that the ice had become more than an inch thick in some places and that two of the three moveable baskets were no longer moveable.  And then on Friday, she suddenly asked, "Shall we defrost the freezer on Monday?"

What could I do but agree?

And so, this morning, after I had walked the dog, helped the Old Bat get up and dressed and had another cup of coffee, She Who Must Be Obeyed gave me my instructions.  This, this and this was to be put in the cool box, along with that, that and that if there was room.  The rest would be put in the insulated bags which were in the cupboard under the stairs just beyond the wine rack, and the de-icer spray she had bought was in such and such a cupboard and the plastic spatula . . .  Well, you get the idea.

I muttered under my breath about the original suggestion being that WE should defrost the freezer.  Was this, I grumbled to myself, the extent of the OB's involvement, the issuing of instruction?  Well, not quite.  When I had managed to extract those baskets from the ice - a task only slightly less arduous than freeing the Endeavour from the Antarctic ice - the OB washed them.  And dried them.  I, meanwhile, removed three tons of ice (well, it felt like it) and cleared up the stray blackberries, peas and sweetcorn from the floor of the freezer, along with three of those twisty closure thingies and several labels that had fallen off bags.  Fortunately, I was able to keep one foot on the floor as I dealt with the rubbish at the bottom.

Surprisingly, it only took a couple or three hours.  But the Old Bat's happy on two fronts: we did something together (even if it was mainly me doing something while she watched or read the paper) and we now have an ice-free freezer.

We must do it again sometime - but not for several months!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Remembrance Sunday

Every year, on the evening before Remembrance Sunday, the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance is held in the Royal Albert Hall.  This video is from the 2009 Festival as broadcast by the BBC.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Royal Tournament

"Come on, Chatham!"

My father's yell almost made me squirm with embarrassment.  People in all the seats around us were turning to see who was making all the noise and I was at the age when I hated having attention drawn to me like that.

We - my parents, my brother and I - were at Earl's Court, the big exhibition hall in London, to watch the Royal Tournament.  I think that somewhere along the line my memory must be playing up because i thought we had gone on a coach trip organised by the sailors at Chatham for themselves and their families.  But in that case, surely most of the nearby seats would have been taken up by others yelling "Come on, Chatham!"  But memory false or true, we were most certainly watching the navy field gun crews, a regular feature of the Tournament.

The Royal Tournament was a great institution with numerous static displays for people to wander around before taking their seats.  There were competitions in the arena featuring horse riders with lances or swords; not jousting or anything like that, but picking up hoops or tent pegs and so on.

Then came the best part - the show.  There were military bands, drill displays, the White Helmets motorcycle display team of the Royal Signals, RAF police dogs, the musical drive of the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery - and the Royal Navy field gun crews.  I thought it a great shame that cuts in the defence budget meant that this show had to be cancelled in (I think) 1999 but it has been re-invented as the British Military Tournament, although that runs for just a couple of days instead of two weeks.

I have managed to find this video showing the field gun crews.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Politically incorrect thinking

But I prefer to call it grown-up thinking, joined-up thinking, realistic thinking.

It all started when I saw this photo in the weekend papers:

That, in case you don't know him, is a man who has hopes of becoming the Prime Minister of this country after the election next May, Ed Miliband,the leader of the Labour Party.  He and other prominent politicians and entertainers - who were presumably given the t-shirts - seemed happy to pose wearing them.  The t-shirts, it is alleged, are on sale for as much as £45.

Now, my thoughts are not really about the cost of the t-shirts (£45?  They must be joking - and anybody paying that much needs their bumps felt!) or the fact that people have been happy to be pictured wearing them (Ed Miliband?  Nick Clegg?).  Nor does it much bother me that those so-called prominent men (and women) are seemingly happy to proclaim themselves feminists - although I am not entirely sure that I would want to see a feminist running the country.  But that leads me to the first of my non-PC thoughts.

I consider feminism to be wrong.

And age-ism.

Feminism - and ageism - is discriminatory.  At least, my understanding of feminism is so.  As I understand it, feminists want to push women into more of the "top" jobs.  Regardless of whether or not the women so appointed are the best people for the jobs.  It's like the political party that stipulated 50% of their candidates for election should be women.  That's all very fine and dandy in theory.  I repeat, in theory.  But what happens is, say, ten people apply to stand and only one is a woman?  And she is the least able of the prospective candidates? 

It was also reported that the women making those t-shirts are paid 62p an hour and sleep 16 to a room.  Shock! Horror!!

OK, so in this instance maybe the workers are underpaid; my newspaper failed to elaborate - or maybe I just didn't read enough, although I was under the impression that I did read all of the article.  But so often we hear that "workers are paid £50 a week" or something like that.  And we are expected to gasp in shock that somebody could earn such a pittance in this day and age.  What we are rarely told is what that £50 (or whatever) will buy.  If a loaf of bread costs just a couple of pence, £50 will buy a lot of bread!  We need to be told the whole truth, not odd facts taken completely out of context.

And as for sleeping 16 to a room, well, our soldiers, sailors and airmen do that.  Again, we need more information.

I am all for boycotting those companies that buy in clothes made in sweatshops, or unsafe factories like the one that collapsed (last year?) in Pakistan.  But at the same time, we must remember that factories employing people in conditions that we would consider poor are sometimes actually better than any others and the wages they pay may well be above average for that area.

Part of the problem is that so many of us act hypocritically.  We moan about stores buying clothing made in sweatshops or by child labourers - and then moan because we don't like the price of clothing made in better conditions and where the workers are paid adequately.

But I will end by repeating myself.  When sensationalist newspapers tell us the low wages that are paid to some workers, they need to give us the full facts.  It is only when we are in possession of  the whole story that we can decide what action to take - if any.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Times change

And how!  Last Friday I was walking across the Downs in shirtsleeves, the temperature 20+.  At Gravesend, about 45 miles away, the temperature reached 25.  Yesterday I dug out my winter coat, cap and gloves to walk the dog. with the temperature down to 6 or 7.  I put the winter duvet on the bed and was thankful I had done so.  This morning there was frost on the lawns, cars and shed roofs and the sky was a clear blue when I opened the curtains.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

My first car

OK, so Buck started it, and Skip (you will need to scroll down a bit) followed.  Compare their first cars with mine:

Bonfire Night

Remember, remember 
The fifth of November;
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
We see no reason 
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Back in the early days of the 17th century, religious intolerance was rife in Merrie England.  James I of England (James VI of Scotland) was on the throne, the first of the Stuart dynasty to rule this faire countrie.  Catholicism had been subject to repression for decades but James, despite being a protestant, relaxed some of the more repressive laws.  Until he discovered that his wife had been sent a rosary by the Pope.  He denounced the Catholic church and ordered all Catholic priests to leave the country.  Catholics who refused to take an oath of loyalty to him as head of the church were to be fined heavily.  And so, in 1605, a group of Catholics under the leadership of Robert Catesby planned to smuggle into the cellars under the House of Lords 36 barrels of gunpowder, to be exploded on 5th November when the King was at the state opening of Parliament.

But the plot was revealed and Guido (Guy) Fawkes was discovered in the cellars, where he was to have ignited the gunpowder before escaping across the river Thames.

Since then, there have been bonfires and fireworks every year to commemorate the fact that this terrorist plot - for that is what it really was - came to nought.  I say since then, but the first recorded celebration was in 1607, at Canterbury.

It was in 1952 that the members of Brighton Lions Club agreed to pool their fireworks and put on a display at the Brighton Girls' Orphanage.  The practice continued for some years until it was decided to mount a large, public display to raise funds.  And that has continued ever since.  The surprising thing is that since I have been involved, some 27 years, there has been just one year when the display had to be cancelled because of rain.

Unfortunately, we will not be having a display this year as the outfield at the county cricket ground is being returfed and the work has proved more extensive than was at first thought.  When this became apparent it was too late for us to find an alternative venue, so for once, I shall be at home on the evening of Bonfire Night.  But it's about £15,000 that Brighton Lions won't have, so we shall have to be careful how we spend money for the next year.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

A domestic enigma

That's her: the Old Bat.  A domestic enigma.  Actually, she's not just an enigma domestically, but medically as well.  In fact, I'm sure that somebody someday will write a paper about her.  I'm writing this in preparation for another enthralling visit to the Royal Sussex County Hospital and will schedule it to appear while I am sitting there twiddling my thumbs.  The OB has an outpatient appointment - but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Rewind seven years or so.  After having been in denial for too long, the OB visits her GP and is referred to the neurological department at the hospital.  After numerous visits to the Royal Sussex County in Brighton, the Princess Royal in Haywards Heath and even two to Kings College hospital in London, the specialists come to the conclusion that they don't really know what is wrong.  Although that is, perhaps, being a little unfair.  They are puzzled because the OB is presenting (that's the official term although most laymen like me would say displaying) a mix of symptoms.  The difficulty comes about because there are two possible diagnoses, corticobasal degeneration (CBD) or primary lateral sclerosis (PLS).  These conditions share some symptoms but each has its own discrete symptoms.  the OB manages to present some of each type of symptom.  In the end, the consultant tells her it's 60:40 in favour of CBD.  Actually, it doesn't really matter whether her condition is CBD or PLS as both are progressive conditions with neither treatment nor cure.  And so we have enigma number one.

Enigma number two is more recent.  So recent, in fact, that it is still causing difficulty.  For two months now, the OB has been under the weather.  After receiving the result of a blood test, our GP referred her to the hospital and she was given an outpatient appointment as a result of which she was admitted immediately as an emergency.  During a three-day stay she had a scan.  This showed lesions on her liver, so she was called in for an appointment in a different department.  This doctor arranged for a biopsy.  The results were inconclusive, so more tests were requested.  These also proved inconclusive and Kings College Hospital are being asked to see if they can come up with an answer.  Meanwhile, the OB has another appointment at the first department today and will have yet another blood test tomorrow.  I just hope that somewhere down the line somebody will be able to come up with an answer!

During the least couple of months my culinary skills have improved enormously but I am pleased to say that She Who Must be Obeyed is now back in her habitual position of chef de cuisine.  Which leads to enigma number three, the domestic enigma.  While I was doing the cooking, I tried to use kitchen tools and utensils sparingly and in a common sense sort of way.  By this I mean that if, for instance, a measuring jug has been used simply to measure a quantity of water, that jug needs no washing in hot water; it can simply be dried and put away; a knife used to cut potatoes after peeling can also be used to test if the potatoes are done when boiling.  Simple.  But the OB seems determined not only to use each and every kitchen tool and utensil, but to expect me to wash them all so that she can use them again almost immediately.  I am very pleased that her health has improved sufficiently for her to return to cooking, but why must she use everything in the kitchen, every day?

Monday, 3 November 2014

Dog people

I have been doing some research.  Despite there being so much money seemingly available for universities do undertake research, I have failed dismally to tap into any of those funds so my research has been entirely at my own expense.  Which, I may say, I consider to be very public spirited of me.  My research has been conducted over some years and has involved many people.  But I have no regrets at having spent so much of my time on Extending the Frontiers of Science.  Some people might call it pushing the envelope, but that really is too plebeian, too commonplace a description for such an important piece of work, a piece of work which will, I have no doubt, be published very soon in an abundance of scientific journals.  I would hesitate to go so far as suggesting that a Nobel Prize might . . .  No, that really would be a little presumptuous of me.

As I say, I have no doubt that the results of my research will appear in many scientific journals, but you can read it here first.  I have discovered that the human race can be divided into two main types of people: dog people; and the rest.

Now, you might think that is too simplistic.  Why not, you suggest, say that humankind can be split into cat people and the rest, or fish-eaters and the rest?  To which I would respond, that there are distinct differences between dog people and the rest that are not displayed by any other possible definition.  So bear with me, bear with me.  All will be revealed.

First, I should explain that by 'dog people' I do not necessarily mean people who own dogs.  Nor even people who merely like dogs but don't own one.  No, my dog people do not have to be dog owners or even dog lovers.  Indeed, I would go so far as to admit the possibility that some dog people actually dislike dogs!

I did sat that I have been conducting this research over some years.  Indeed, the basic groundwork was established, ooh, fifty years ago or thereabouts, but it is only in the last ten years or so that the results have become clearer, sufficiently clear for them to be published.  And my research has been conducted the length and breadth of England, although most of it has been concentrated in and around Brighton.

But perhaps I have titivated your senses enough and should now reveal those results.

When people - strangers - pass each other while out walking, whether it be with or without dogs, dog people will greet each other, possibly with a simple "Good morning", possibly stopping to pass the time of day.  the rest, on the other hand, walk past as though the other person doesn't exists; there is not even any eye contact.  I did say that it is not necessary for a dog or dogs to be present but it is noticeable that people with dogs are far more likely to greet strangers than those without dogs, which is why I divide the human race into dog people and the rest.  regrettably, the lack of funding available for my research has prevented me from producing numbers to back up my assertion, but let me just say that while walking in Stanmer Great Wood yesterday afternoon, I passed four individuals and a group of three or four.  Three of the individuals had dogs with them and, without exception, each of them greeted me.  The fourth individual was running and passed me with merely a glance, while the group seemed to be oblivious to my presence.

Dog people are much more sociable.

Dog walkers in Withdean Park, Brighton

I can't leave you without mentioned the death yesterday of Acker Bilk, aged 85.  What a superb jazz clarinetist, best remembered perhaps for Stranger on the Shore.

Sunday, 2 November 2014


Genevieve was the name of a classic British comedy film made in 1953.  It was a story set around the veteran car run from London to Brighton which is held on the first Sunday in November every year.  To quote from the official web site, it "commemorates the Emancipation Run of 14 November 1896 which celebrated the passing into law of the Locomotives on the Highway Act, which raised the speed limit for 'light locomotives' from 4 mph to 14 mph and abolished the requirement for these vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot. The early law required the man on foot to carry a red flag but that requirement was abolished in 1878. The Locomotive Act was still widely known as the 'Red Flag Act' and a red flag was symbolically destroyed at the start of the Emancipation Run as it is today just before the start in Hyde Park."

I don't know when Genevieve was filmed,  but if you look at the only clips on Youtube, it would appear to have been on a day when the weather was much kinder than it usually is on the first Sunday in November.  I certainly would baulk at spending four or more hours driving from London to Brighton in a roofless, windowless, horseless carriage.

This video shows cars taking part last year. I hope John Hilton will forgive for stealing it!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Hallowe'en - reprise

It is a well-known fact chez nous: I have become a grumpy old git, a right curmudgeon.  If I were to write to the newspapers, I would almost feel obliged to sign myself, "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells", although quite why the spa town should have become the residence de rigeur of all such petty-minded killjoys as Disgusted is something I am still trying to work out.  Why not Harrogate or Leamington Spa?

But to get back to the point.

Every year, the Old Bat (appropriate name for someone featured in a post about Hallowe'en) has insisted on buying a pumpkin along with bags of treat-size chocolate bars such as Milky Way.  Having scooped out the inedible innards, she carves eyes, nose and mouth out and places a nightlight inside the pumpkin - which I am then obliged to place beside the front door at dusk, having burnt several fingers while trying to get the nightlight alight.  I also have to switch on the outside light in case the poor little darlings trip on the steps when they come calling to beg sweets.  And it's me who is expected to answer the door and hand out said sweets.

This excuse for begging - trick or treat - is something I have never been happy with.  (OK - something with which I have never been happy, if you insist on being grammatically pernickety.)  It's another of those horrible American inventions, like iced tea, Oreos and Fathers' Day.  Anyway, this year, as it's me doing the shopping on my own now, I looked in the superwotsits for bags of sweets of the right size and price for giving out on Hallowe'en.  There weren't any.  That was on three visits to two different superwotsits.  Then yesterday, I found just what I had been looking for.  But there were no pumpkins!

So this year, for the first time for many a long year, we were spared.  No lighted steps.  No pumpkin rather clumsily carved to look vaguely like a face.  No little brats demanding sweets with menaces.

But I looked out of the window and saw a house across the street with the outside light on and a grinning pumpkin beside the door.  And I remembered little George who lives there.  And I felt mean.

But I still don't approve of trick or treat.