Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Half way there

Back in the days when it was incumbent upon me to earn my living, the days between Boxing Day and New Year's Day were among the busiest of my year.  There was none of this "twelve days of Christmas" business for me; Christmas Day and Boxing Day were my Christmas.

Somehow, over the years, decades or even centuries, we seem to have got ourselves - or our lives - out of synch.  The Christmas celebrations should take place from 25th December until 5th January - Twelfth Night.  That is the liturgical period of Christmas and that is when, in days of yore, people conducted their celebrations.  Houses were decorated with greenery on Christmas Eve, not on the 1st December or even a week before Christmas.  That made the day itself more special.

Of course, plans had to be made in advance.  Christmas puddings were made on stir-up Sunday - the last Sunday before Advent when the collect for the day begins, "Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people."  There would have been none of the frantic shopping during the weeks before the festival, with Christmas carols being blared out in every shop and streets hung with expensive baubles.  No office Christmas parties, no school nativity plays.

Christmas must have been a lot simpler then - and probably all the more special because of it.

And the title of this piece - Half way there?  Well, today is the seventh day of Christmas so we are half way through. 

Tuesday, 30 December 2014


After the plane was lost in the Java Sea and a serious fire aboard a ferry between Greece and Italy, it was a relief to learn that Virgin Atlantic's jumbo jet landed safely.  The plane had taken off from London's Gatwick airport bound for Las Vegas but a hydraulic fault was discovered in the landing gear.  The pilot flew around for four hours, jettisoning fuel, before returning to Gatwick with one of the four sets of landing wheels stuck despite all attempts to shake it down.

Copyright Rex Features

Video by London Aircraft.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Two coffees, please.

I've just read the Old Air Force Sarge on coffee and it reminded me that I do like French coffee. Ask for a coffee in a French bar or restaurant and what is automatically brought to you is an espresso; small, dark, strong and (one hopes) hot. There is one bar we used to stop at regularly where I became aware of a bit of a scam over coffee and Englishmen. I ordered a coffee in exactly the same way as every Frenchman does - "Un café, s'il vous plait" - expecting the usual espresso. What came was un double, a large (double-size) espresso at twice the price. This happened several times before I twigged and insisted on being served a normal café.

The Old Bat likes her coffee white - which leads to several different complications. The first doesn't really matter, but we do find it amusing when her request for café au lait (coffee with milk) is repeated by the waiter or waitress as café crême (coffee with cream). She actually prefers milk to cream in her coffee but this doesn't matter as she is invariably served with milk. We have never fathomed why it is that in some bars, white coffee is café au lait while in others it is café crême.

The next question isn't always asked: does she want her milk hot or cold? It is always brought in a separate jug to be added as she wishes, but sometimes it is brought hot and sometimes cold - and sometimes, albeit rarely, she is given the choice. In our favourite restaurant the proprietor remembers that she prefers her milk cold, but he always makes a point of checking that is what she wants - especially in cold weather when she does sometimes ask for hot milk.

The really awkward complication arises in our village restaurant. What size cup does she want? In most places the answer is accepted readily: small. A standard espresso is served with its accompanying jug of milk. Except at Le Fourneau. Nicholas, bless him, complicates matters by asking is the size is normal, medium or large. The problem is that sometimes his 'normal' is the standard espresso but sometimes it is un double. A request for a 'small' rather throws him, even if the request is spoken in French.

Which reminds me of another complication that arose one time while we were in the Auvergne. It was while we were on our way to the source of the Loire and we decided to stop at a roadside bar for a coffee. There was a man behind the bar of about my age (ie getting on a bit) to whom I posed my request for two coffees, one white, one black. I spoke in French, as usual, in the expectation that my request would be understood despite my English accent.

[Going off at a tangent: I am told that the French consider French spoken with an English accent to be sexy, just as we think of English spoken with a French accent.]

So, I expected to be understood - but I wasn't. So I repeated the order. Still the Gallic shrug and a puzzled expression. I tried using slightly different words. 'Two drinks,' (waving two fingers), 'one black coffee,' (waving one finger), 'and one coffee with milk,' (waving one finger again). At this, the barman disappeared and returned with a lady (his daughter?). I repeated my request for two coffees, one white, one black, in my very best French with a sexy English accent. The lady turned to the man and said exactly the same as I had (but without the sexy English accent) and, wonder of wonders, he understood!

That is the only time I have had difficulty in making myself understood when ordering coffee.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Dumbing down

We have heard a lot over the past few years of things being 'dumbed down', usually with reference to GCSE and A level exams.  having no personal experience of this, I can offer little by way of argument to either side.  But there is another area where people have been dumbing down and where I do have an opinion.  It is (increasingly) common to see references to sporting heroes.  A footballer who scores a winning goal is a hero.  A cricketer who takes five wickets in an innings in a test match is a hero.

Nonsense!  There is nothing remotely heroic about either of those achievements.

I recently read of a true hero, Sergeant Norman Jackson.  I quote from The London Gazette of 26th October 1945:

"Raid on Schweinfurt, Germany, 26 April 1944, Sergeant Norman Jackson, 106 Squadron, RAFVR.

"In recognition of most conspicuous bravery. This airman was the flight engineer in a Lancaster bomber detailed to attack Schweinfurt on the night of 26th April 1944. Bombs were dropped successfully and the aircraft was climbing out of the target area. Suddenly it was attacked by a fighter at about 20,000 feet. The captain took evading action at once but the enemy secured many hits. A fire started near a petrol tank on the upper surface of the starboard wing, between the fuselage and the inner engine. Sergeant Jackson was thrown to the floor during the engagement. Wounds which he received from shell splinters in the right leg and shoulder were probably sustained at that time. Recovering himself, he remarked that he could deal with the fire on the wing and obtained his captain's permission to try to put out the flames. Pushing a hand fire-extinguisher into the top of his life-saving jacket and slipping on his parachute pack, Sergeant Jackson jettisoned the escape hatch above the pilot's head. He then started to climb out of the cockpit and back along the top of the fuselage to the starboard wing. Before he could leave the fuselage his parachute pack opened and the whole canopy and rigging lines spilled into the cockpit. Undeterred, Sergeant Jackson continued. The pilot, bomb aimer and navigator gathered the parachute together and held on to the rigging lines, paying them out as the airman crawled aft. Eventually he slipped and, falling from the fuselage to the starboard wing, grasped an air intake on the leading edge of the wing. He succeeded in clinging on but lost the extinguisher, which was blown away.
"By this time, the fire had spread rapidly and Sergeant Jackson was involved. His face, hands and clothing were severely burnt. Unable to retain his hold, he was swept through the flames and over the trailing edge of the wing, dragging his parachute behind. When last seen it was only partly inflated and was burning in a number of places.
"Realising that the fire could not be controlled, the captain gave the order to abandon aircraft. Four of the remaining members of the crew landed safely. The captain and rear gunner have not been accounted for. Sergeant Jackson was unable to control his descent and landed heavily. He sustained a broken ankle, his right eye was closed through burns and his hands were useless. These injuries, together with the wounds received earlier, reduced him to a pitiable state. At daybreak he crawled to the nearest village, where he was taken prisoner. He bore the intense pain and discomfort of the journey to Dulag Luft with magnificent fortitude. After 10 months in hospital he made a good recovery, though his hands required further treatment and are only of limited use. This airman's attempt to extinguish the fire and save the aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands was an act of outstanding gallantry. To venture outside, when travelling at 200 miles an hour, at a great height and in intense cold, was an almost incredible feat. Had he succeeded in subduing the flames, there was little or no prospect of his regaining the cockpit. The spilling of his parachute and the risk of grave damage to its canopy reduced his chances of survival to a minimum. By his ready willingness to face these dangers he set an example of self-sacrifice which will ever be remembered"

Norman Jackson was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest gallantry award in Britain for bravery in the face of the enemy.  Now that is heroism.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Odds and ends

I was given an Aston Martin for Christmas!  Not the latest model, the Rapide, but the DB5, as driven by James Bond in Skyfall.  Need I tell you that it was a model?

And in other news. We still have that hole in the pavement.  (I first wrote about it here.)  Every day, a gas company van has arrived.  And I mean every day: even on Christmas Day!  There was one day when two vans arrived.  The usual procedure is that the man driving the van (and his colleague if there is one) sits in his van for ten minutes or so, just watching the hole.  Then he gets out and looks into the hole.  Sometimes he will stick a tube between a couple of paving stones and pump it, drawing a little yellow circle around the hole afterwards.  He might move to several spots to do this before he gets back into the van again, sitting there for a while keeping an eye on the hole (to make sure it doesn't fill up of its own accord, I suppose).  He usually makes a phone call before driving off again.

You will have gathered by now that nothing very exciting is happening around here.  For which I am extremely thankful.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Boxing Day

I feel sorry for those poor, benighted countries where St Stephen's Day is simply another working day.  The great feast of Christmas is over, done and dusted in just one day.  All that build up, all that excitement - and, whoosh, it's over.  What a let down!

Here, in what really should be considered as the cradle of modern civilisation, we spread Christmas over at least two days.  Of course, Christmas really starts for many (if not most) people on 24th December, Christmas Eve.  Most offices seem to close down at lunch time and by 7.00pm practically all trains across the country have stopped running.  This is to give people the chance to get suitably lubricated before the day itself.

On Christmas Day itself, one of the secular happenings that has become a tradition is the Queen's Christmas broadcast.   It started in 1932 when the Queen's grandfather, King George V, first broadcast a Christmas message on the radio.  There have, since then, been just three years when no broadcast was made by the sovereign - 1936, 1938 and 1969.

I wonder if the Queen decorated the tree herself?

There are traditions associated with 26th December as well. St Stephen's Day is more commonly known in this country as Boxing Day.  The generally accepted source of the name is that it was the day on which the domestic staff in large houses were given their Christmas gifts - Christmas boxes - by their employers.  It has long been considered a day for sporting activities, although the old tradition of the Boxing Day meet of fox hunts has given way since the banning of fox hunting.  There is still a full fixture list of professional football, although there is an effort made to avoid long distance travel given the continued absence of public transport.

Another, probably more recent, tradition is that the sales start on Boxing Day so many shop workers are able to enjoy only one day off.  Mind you, these days there seem to be sales on all year.  As far as I am concerned, the Boxing Day sales are best left to others.  For me, this is another holiday.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christians, awake!

Salute the happy morn
Whereon the Saviour of the world was born.
Rise to adore the mystery of love
Which hosts of angels chanted from above.
I was in my teenage years when my father retired after 22 years service in the Royal Navy.  I say he retired, but in fact he retired only from the Navy; he was still a comparatively young man - well, in his 40s - and needed to continue earning a living - there were a wife and two teenage boys to support.  The job he found involved moving the family from the Medway towns in Kent to the Sussex coast area as Dad, although having to travel all over Sussex, would be working out of an office in Hove.  He found a suitable house in Hangleton, a suburb of Hove which in those days was still out on the South Downs.  Although we had not for many years been regular church-goers, we soon started attending St Helen's church, about half a mile from our house.

In those days, more than 50 years ago, St Helen's stood almost isolated amid fields.  To the west - fields.  To the north - another field and then a farm.  To the east - another field, but with a footpath running along the side from the main built-up part of Hangleton.  To the south - a large, triangular patch of grass - St Helen's park.  The made-up road from the south ended at the church, after which it was a heavily-rutted farm track.  Now, of course, all the fields have been built on, although the park is still an open space.  But the dewpond which used to be just outside the churchyard has been filled in.

St Helen's is the oldest building in the city of Brighton & Hove, dating from the later part of the 11th century with some parts being of Saxon origin.  The village it served was practically obliterated by the Black Death of the 14th century so the church escaped the attentions of the Victorian "restorers" and remains still much as it was in earlier centuries.

One of my most vivid Christmas memories is of my family returning from midnight mass along the footpath heartily singing, "Christians, awake!"

In the picture you can see, on the left, traces of a medieval wall painting.  The floor of the aisle slopes downhill from the chancel towards the back of the church.  A small church, seating 80 maximum. Quite plain, but to my mind all the more beautiful for that.

I do hope you have a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. 

Re-posted from two years ago.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

All I want for Christmas . . .

I've never hankered after a sports car - except for a model that the Kent police used back in the 1940s or 50s, the MG Midget Mk II.  Even now, 50 years later, I still think that is a little beauty, although at my age I prefer to drive something a little more comfortable and a little more technically advanced.

Nor has the out-of-this-world possibility of ever owning a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche or Rolls Royce ever appealed to me.  No, my preference is, and always has been, for something a little more, well, some might say pedestrian (although how a car could ever be called pedestrian is something I have yet to work out).  I think the highest I ever aspired to was probably a Volvo estate.

That said, I did - long ago - have a thing about Alvis cars.  There was never a chance that I could own
one, but there was something so suave about them, an understated refinement.  This was not your common or garden Rolls Royce, Daimler or Bentley - this was a gentleman's car, decidedly unflashy.  To be seen driving an Alvis was to announce to the world that one had arrived but one did not wish to be classed as nouveau riche.

James Bond, as you will know, drove an Aston Martin.  Those cars don't have quite the cachet of the Alvis, but the new Rapide would suit me down to the ground.

Just feast your eyes on that!  0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds, a top speed of 203mph.  Just one snag - it costs about £150,000!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Prinny's Seaside Palace

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, the classic view - of the back!
Way back in 1750, Doctor Russell, a medical practitioner in Lewes, Sussex, published his Dissertation on Use of Sea Water in the Diseases of the Glands, in which he lauded the medicinal benefits of bathing in sea water. Indeed, he was so impressed with sea water that he even encouraged people to drink it.  This was some years before the birth of a son to King George III and Queen Charlotte, a son who was also christened George.

The young George, Prince of Wales, grew to enjoy an extravagant lifestyle, filled with horse racing and gambling, eating and drinking, dancing and the theatre.  By the age of 21, in 1783, he was already starting to suffer ill-health, probably a result of his way of life, and he was recommended by his physician to take the waters at Brighton, which was fast becoming a very fashionable town. 

The banqueting room.  The chandelier is 30 feet high and weighs one ton.
George - or Prinny, as he is often called - fell in love.  With Brighton and its fashionable society, its horse racing on the Downs, the meeting rooms.  And with the twice-widowed Maria Fitzherbert, whom he married both secretly an illegally. Although Prinny and Maria considered themselves married, they lived in separate houses when in Brighton - which was much of the time.  Maria lived in Steine House overlooking the Steine, the area previously used by fishermen for drying their nets which had, by then, become a fashionable promenading place.  Prinny rented a farmhouse just to the north of the Steine.  Presumably he bought this house because when in 1787 the House of Commons agreed to clear his debts and increase his income, George began to transform his Brighton farmhouse into an elegant modest villa, the Marine Pavilion.
The music room with its lotus chandeliers.

It was in 1815 that Prinny employed the architect John Nash to extend and transform the Marine Pavilion.  It took eight years to bring the work to an end but Prinny, or King George IV as he was by then, only visited twice more before his death in 1830.

It was Queen Victoria who succeeded George but she disliked Brighton and especially the lack of privacy afforded by the Royal Pavilion.  In 1850 there were plans to demolish it but the Brighton Commissioners were successful in persuading the government to sell it for £53,000 and so bought the building for the town.  The purchase included the nearby royal stables which had been built to a design complementary to the Pavilion.

The Dome, one-time stables, now a concert hall.
The town used the building as assembly rooms. Many of the Pavilion's original fixtures and fittings were removed on the order of the royal household at the time of the sale, most ending up either in Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle.  In 1914-1915, both the Pavilion and the Dome were used as a hospital for Indian soldiers wounded in France and Flanders.  When in 1916 the Indian troops were redeployed to the Middle East, the hospitals were used for British troops.

After the war, the southern gate to the Pavilion grounds was erected as a gift from the people of India in gratitude to Brighton for the way their soldiers had been treated.

The Indian Gate.

It seems quite crazy now, but there was a suggestion back in the 1980s or thereabouts that the Pavilion be demolished - to make way for a bus station!  Fortunately, that never happened and, instead, the council spent huge sums of money restoring the building.  Much of the original furniture has been loaned by the Queen so that visitors see the building as it was almost two hundred years ago.  Even the gardens have been relaid and replanted in accordance with the original plans.

Some photos are my own.  Others have been shamelessly borrowed from various sources.

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Gas Man Came to Call

I wrote (on Saturday) that the gas company have dug up the pavement and that occasionally one or two vans arrive although the men in them seem to do nothing but sit in the vans and look at the hole.  But that changed yesterday!  When I got home with the dog there was another gas van parked outside the house with the man sitting inside.  The Old Bat told me he had called at both our house and our next-door neighbour's and confirmed that neither of us had a leak (which we were pretty sure of anyway).  Straight away I thought of that old Flanders and Swann song, The Gasman Cometh.  As today is Monday it seems quite appropriate.  I love the animation in this.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Winter sun

We had a glorious day yesterday, weatherwise - sun, blue sky and a stiffish breeze.  Just the job for a tramp across the fields with the dog and the camera.

Just head this way
Keep going towards those trees.
A distant view of Firle Beacon
Heading down into the valley
We need to keep clear of the sheep!
Heading for home

Saturday, 20 December 2014

British workmen

It was a few evenings ago - Wednesday - that I heard noises outside.  I thought it sounded as though the road was being dug up, despite it being dark at the time.  And I was proved almost right; it was, in fact, the pavement being dug up outside the house next door.  The gas supply company had two vans outside as I went out to a Lions meeting but they were gone when I came back home.  There was a hole surrounded by plastic fencing and notices reading, "No Smoking".  On Thursday and again yesterday, men arrived at odd intervals but never stayed long and didn't actually seem to do anything while they were here.  No, that's not quite true.  I came home from shopping yesterday to find the top of the drive partly blocked by a wheelbarrow and a heavy pointed tool that I think is used for checking for gas leaks. This morning, another van arrived not very long before I went out with the dog.  The driver stayed in his seat - and he was still sitting there when I returned almost an hour later!

Our other next-door neighbour has been having work done to the dormer window projecting from his roof.  The cladding has been replaced and tiles are being hung on the sides.  But the workmen appear at various times, hang a few tiles - and go away again.

I had cause last week to telephone a local company as agents working for me had been unable to get any action from them.  The girl I needed to speak to was on another line so I asked that she call me back as soon as she was free.  I had heard that she never returned calls so was not unduly surprised that I didn't hear from her.  I called again - and she told me that the problem had been referred to her only the week before.  I knew that to be untrue as I had seen a copy of an email she sent in early November.  No action had been taken by Thursday last week, and my agents had heard nothing further, so I wrote a letter to the chief director and dropped in to the office myself.  I asked for his early comments.  I am still waiting.

What is it with these people?  Maybe I'm old fashioned, but when I was at work every letter was answered - or at least acknowledged - on the day it was received.  Certainly no later than the following day.

Frustration is the name of the game!

Friday, 19 December 2014

What did the turkey do?

A young man named Alistair received a parrot as a gift.  The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary; every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity.  Alistair tried and tried to change the bird's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to clean up the bird's act.  Finally, Alistair was so fed up he yelled at the bird.  The parrot yelled back.  Alistair shook the parrot but the parrot got angrier and even ruder.  In desperation, Alistair grabbed the bird and stuffed him in the freezer.  For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed.  Then, suddenly, there was total quiet.  Not a peep was heard for several minutes.  Fearing that he had hurt the parrot, Alistair opened the freezer door.  The parrot calmly stepped out onto Alistair's outstretched arm and said, "I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions.  I'm sincerely remorseful for my transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behaviour."  Alistair was astonished at the change in the bird's attitude.  He was about to ask what had caused such a dramatic change when the parrot continued.

"What was it that the turkey did to offend you?"

Thursday, 18 December 2014


busy busy today, so just a quickie.  As in many towns across the country, there is a temporary ice rink set up in Brighton.  But not many can match the backdrop that we have.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Pica pica

It's quite a while since I regaled you with some nature notes, so here goes once again.

The magpie (pica pica) is not the most popular bird in the country.  Although scientific research does not back up the claim, many people assert that the decline in song birds over the last couple of decades is due, in no small part, to an increase in the magpie population.  The magpie is a member of the crow family and, like all crows, is an omnivore, quite happy to raid other birds' nests to take eggs and chicks.  Far more than most birds, and certainly more than any other crow, the magpie has customs and tales associated with it.  In some parts of the country - or maybe across the whole of the country - there are people who insist that a magpie should be greeted with a respectful, "Good morning, colonel".

Then there are the rhymes, with at least two slightly different versions of this none:
1 for sorrow
2 for joy
3 for a girl and
4 for a boy
5 for silver
6 for gold
7 is a secret never to be told
8 is a wish and
9 is a kiss
10 is a bird you must not miss. 
In Scotland the magpie was once believed to carry a drop of the Devil’s blood under its tongue which perhaps stems from another belief that the magpie was the only bird not to wear full mourning at the crucifixion. One seen flying or croaking around a house or sitting alone symbolizes that misfortune is present.  If one is seen on the way to church it signifies that death is present, and some folks believe that it is best to cross yourself to ward off evil or negative energies whilst saying, 'Devil, Devil, I defy thee’.  Then there is the old English tradition that if one magpie flies by, you should take your hat off and bow, saying the Devil, Devil bit.

But what really got me going on about magpies is the fact that as I was leaving the park, I counted no fewer than 24 of them sitting in one elm tree, with others close by.  What, I wondered, is the collective noun for a group of magpies?  I know of a charm of goldfinches and a parliament of rooks, but apparently the collective noun for magpies can be a tittering, a murder or a tiding.

So there you have the trivia for Tuesday.  Except that today is Wednesday, so I'm a day late.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Tidings of . . .

. . . well, whatever.  It is at Christmas that many people write down what has been happening to them and theirs and send out the missive with the cards.  I do miss the round robin that my mother received every Christmas from a cousin of mine far away.  I always enjoyed seeing what he and, more usually, his children had been doing through the year.  I smiled and sometimes laughed out loud at the boasting absurdities but, as I said, I always enjoyed reading those two or three pages.

Some, possible many, people sneer at those round robins.  Yes, of course they need to read with a man-sized pinch of salt, but I always think it's flattering that the sender thinks the person who receives the news is interested enough to read it.  I see it as a sign that the writer thinks well of the addressee.  Yeah, I know, I'm being a bit - well, as if I've swallowed the milk of human kindness or some other noxious substance.

But are we not all, each and every one of us, just a little bit interested in what our friends and relatives are up to?  And not only friends and family; some people (not me, I hasten to add) pour over the gossip columns in the newspapers.  And some of us - heaven help us - read of the activities of people we have never met and who are known to us only electronically while we write about our own lives for others to read!  A sort of every day round robin.

So you can stop your sneering right now!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Ready to go

Well, that's it.  I'm ready for Christmas.  I put the decorations up, brought the tree in, and checked the lights.  Wonder of wonders, they worked!  I strung them on the tree - and they looked lost.  I had bought the smallest tree I could find, but even so, it is bigger than we usually have and that string of lights is, well, just a little on the short side.  We do have a second string, but the Old Bat has vetoed their use for the last umpty years, that second string being multi-coloured.  She has insisted that the lights be all white.  Personally, I prefer the coloured lights, but who am I, a mere male, to argue?  Anyway, She Who Must (usually) Be Obeyed agreed: the string of white lights was just not enough.  So I got to test the coloured lights as well - and they worked, too!  Then I was even allowed to put the decorations on the tree - but only as the Old Bat handed them to me with instructions about their placement.

I don't know if it's a Mars and Venus thing - I've seen that suggested - but the Old Bat decides on a colour theme for the tree.  It might be red and gold or, as this year, silver and green.  That's why she prefers the white lights.  Me, I'm all for bunging on glass baubles of all colours, along with the coloured lights.  But perhaps I've just got no taste.

I even written all my cards (all four of them) and posted ours as well as mine.  (You will gather that I feel it necessary to send cards to some people that the OB has crossed off her list, plus a couple where she doesn't have the addresses.)  And I have ALL the presents bought.  I'm just waiting for my granddaughter's to arrive.  The nearest shop to have what she wanted in stock was 53 miles away so I went online.  I just hope it arrives in time.

Oh, there's just one present I have yet to buy - for the Old Bat.  But I know what I'm buying her.  It occurred to me as I was washing up yesterday evening.  Or, more specifically, as I emptied the washing up bowl.  That was when I spotted the split in the bottom of the bowl.  So I shall buy her a new one for Christmas.  And a matching draining rack as well.  Asda might be the cheapest place to get them.  I'll have a look when I do the shopping tomorrow.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Getting up

I really did not want to get up this morning. The pink in the sky was scant consolation, especially when all it did was to light up the frost!

But get up I did, and I walked the dog after breakfast. There is an old wives' tale - or maybe it's an ancient mariner's tale - that the wind gets up with the tide. Well, I have no idea of the times of the tides - this is something that is of no concern to me so I take no interest - but by the time I left the park the wind had definitely got up and the previously clear sky was practically 10/10 cloud cover.

And now I must think about getting up into the loft.  The Old Bat says she wants the Christmas tree brought in today and I have to get the decorations down - and then up!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Everything stops for tea

I actually made it on time yesterday evening so I suppose it was a case of third time lucky.

Today I have a touch of luxury in my life.  For a start, I will not be walking the dog this afternoon.  Not that I have any objection to a little gentle exercise like that.  Indeed, I approve of it most heartily; I find that gentle exercise like walking eases the muscles and gets rid of arthritic twinges.  If only the wind would drop and the temperature rise a little!

The real luxury is that I will be having afternoon tea.  Afternoon tea does not usually feature in my life, except as a mug of the nectar somewhere between three and half past.  Today, though, I shall enjoy sitting down to sandwiches and cake - along with the essential liquid, of course.  The occasion is the annual pre-Christmas party organised by the Lions for some of the old folk of the city.

[OK, that's enough of the sarky comments, thank you very much!  I'm one of the organisers, not one of the invited guests!]

That, of course, means that I will be enjoying my tea in the company of a whole load of old codgers, several of whom will be younger than me.  We have an entertainer booked so tea will be accompanied by a host of corny jokes.

'Afternoon tea' generally conjures up images of dainty, triangular sandwiches - cucumber or egg and cress - with the crusts cut off and one of those two- or three-tier cake plates (which I understand have come back into vogue).  There will, of course, be a silver tea pot and milk jug.  In the really posh places there will be two tea pots - one with China tea, one with India.  There will also be a few slices of lemon along with the milk and sugar lumps in another silver bowl, together with silver sugar tongs.

But should the milk be put in the cup before or after the tea?  That can be the subject of prolonged debate, although it doesn't make any difference as far as I can tell.

Friday, 12 December 2014

A rough night

As King Lear had it, a naughty night to swim in.  You might gather that I'm not referring to the amount of alcohol consumed but to the weather.  We were promised winds of 70mph at exposed headlands along the south coast.  I don't really think our house would generally be thought of as being on a headland, exposed or otherwise, but it certainly sounded as though the wind was pretty near that speed.  Shoreham port recorded 55.8 knots - about 63mph - so perhaps it wasn't far short of the predicted speed up here.  There was plenty of rain as well.  When I was up the Waterhall valley on Sunday afternoon I noticed that the dew pond was about as full as I have ever seen it and the one at the top of the Wild Park, which I passed this afternoon, is close to overflowing.  The sky appears to be darkening as I type - which doesn't augur too well for this evening's bingo.

I am, once again, on bingo duty at a block of retirement flats just over three miles away.  When I am on duty I try to leave home 20 or 25 minutes before the session is due to start.  That has, in the past, always proved to be enough time for me to drive there and set up the bingo in good time for the 7.30 start.

Not last time.  I left, as usual, at 7.05 - and it took me 35 minutes to drive the three miles!  That time it was simply the volume of traffic.  I started by taking my regular route, which involves driving into the city centre and then heading east parallel to the sea front.  As I was heading down the hill to the city, I tagged onto the end of a queue - which I could see stretched a mile.  I turned rtound and took the alternative route.  But I had forgotten that the council, in its wisdom, is making "improvements" to a large gyratory system - which no member of the general public wants or expects to make for safer driving and cycling.  However, the roadworks only made my journey longer, hence the 35-40 minutes to drive three miles.

The time before that I gave up all together.  That evening I sat in a queue and after ten minutes realised that the only reason I was slowly edging forward was because other drivers were turning round and coming back!  I did the same - and tried the alternative route, which was just as bad, so I gave up and came back home.  That time there had been flash flooding down in the centre as a result of heavy rain.

So, will I or won't I?

Thursday, 11 December 2014

An unhappy Christmas

Events yesterday afternoon - which I need not trouble you with - reminded me of the worst Christmas I can remember.  At the time, I was working as the general manager ( a sort of downmarket description of CEO) of a newspaper company.  I realise now that I was probably a bit of a soft touch when it came to staff management but it paid off in many ways.  Most of the time, anyway.  Not that being a soft touch really has anything much to do with what caused my miserable Christmas.

It must have been either Christmas Eve or the day before, 23rd December, when I discovered that the advertisement manager, who reported to me, had lied to me about something he claimed to have done and had lied to a regular advertiser about the same matter.  In my opinion at the time - an opinion I have not had cause to change - this warranted instant dismissal.  But my soft touch came into play.  I told him he had a choice: either his letter of resignation would be on my desk immediately after Christmas - in which case I would allow him to take gardening leave, pay him during his notice period and give him a very anodyne reference - or I would sack him with no notice pay and no reference.  Of course, I realised all the time that he really had no choice.  But that wasn't what caused my unhappy Christmas.

During both Christmas Day and Boxing day, I kept thinking of him and his wife trying to make it a happy Christmas for their two young daughters, knowing all the time that he was out of a job.  I knew full well that I had acted not just correctly but even generously - but that didn's do much to assuage the guilty feeling.

I told you I was a soft touch.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Bah, humbug!

Old Henry Cole really started something back in 1843 when he produced the world's first Christmas card.  I rather suppose that there were no greetings cards of any description before then - birthday cards, mothers' day cards, Easter cards, get well cards, the whole gamut of the multi-million pound industry that has grown up.  To my mind, grown up too far.

This was the card produced by Sir Henry Cole
Now, I have nothing against sending Christmas greetings to other people; I'm not quite that much of an old curmudgeon.  Frankly, I don't even mind the cost of Christmas cards.  I saw some on sale in Asda yesterday at 10 for a pound.  Not exactly elegant cards, but at 10p each, what can one expect?  Even Henry Cole's card sold at a shilling each, which is 5p in our new-fangled decimal currency.  Blooming expensive back then!  But then, postage was (I think) only one penny.  That's 1d, not 1p (which is 2 1/2d).  Today, it costs 63p to send a card.  That's 12/6 in "real" money!  Twelve shillings and sixpence!  It's daylight robbery!  All the same, I am, if not happy, at least prepared to pay that to send cards to Aunty Fanny in Birkenhead and cousin George in Melton Mowbray - well, I would be if I had an Aunty Fanny and a cousin George.  But friends and relatives in other parts of the country.

What I do find quite inexplicable is the need felt by most people to give cards to everybody they have ever met.  Well, maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but it always puzzles me why we feel we must give cards to people we see frequently.  You know what it's like; you go to a do of some sort and start handing Christmas cards to everybody you know while they are busy doing the same thing.  Why can't we just shake each other by the hand and say that we wish them a Merry Christmas?

Bah, humbug!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Some Trivial Trickery for Tuesday

  1. While sitting, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles with it.
  2. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand.
  3. Your foot will change direction - and there is nothing you can do about it!
And now for something completely different - a couple of pictures taken yesterday afternoon in Stanmer Park.  First, winter sunshine on the church:

I always think it a little surprising that the church dates only from Victorian times. Stanmer House, which faces the church, is about a hundred years older. And, looking in the opposite direction, bare trees which have a stark beauty of their own.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Desert Island Discs

I'm sure Adam was still in short trousers when the BBC first broadcast this programme on the radio.  Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, but it has been around as long as I can remember and it is still going strong.  I have no doubt that other countries have programmes with a similar format, but in case you are unaware of it, the basic idea is very simple.

A celebrity (and I use the word in its loosest possible sense) is invited to imagine being cast ashore on a desert island.  Somehow, a gramophone (that shows how old then programme is!) is also washed up.  The celebrity names eight records that can be washed up along with the gramophone - although how one could play them without electricity is never explained.  And, of course, when the programme started out there were no such things as LPs and record albums so the selection has to be of singles.  During the 30 minutes of the programme, the celebrity chats with the presenter and the choice of music is played.

I was cogitating (as one does when walking the dog) about the records I would choose were I to be invited to take part.  I found it quite difficult to make a reasonably diverse selection.  I would not want eight records of the same type of music - that would be too boring.  Nor would i want to include too many simple tunes; I would want records that needed listening to.  At least, some of them should be like that.  So, for what it's worth (and that ain't a lot!) here's my choice:
  • On the Quarter Deck, played by the Band of the Royal Marines.  This march has a sort of swagger about it that, for me, exemplifies the Bootnecks;
  • What a Wonderful World, sung by Louis Armstrong.  Just to remind me;
  • the 2nd movement of Mozart's clarinet concerto.  This piece is sublime and would calm me in times of frustration.
  • Petite Fleur, with Monty Sunshine on clarinet in Chris Barber's jazz band, to remind me of many wonderful holidays, including the one in the Hague where we chanced upon Chris barber and his band playing quite informally in a shopping mall on a Sunday morning while all the shops were closed.
  • Jeremiah Clarke's Trumpet Voluntary.  I always think this so very English, despite its alternative name, The Prince of Denmark's March.
  • Mr Wonderful, sung by Peggy Lee.  No-one has ever said that to me but I can dream, can't I?
  • the 2nd movement of Dvorak's 9th symphony, From the New World.  Just like the Mozart.
  • Fanlight Fanny, sung by Clinton Ford with The George Chisholm All Stars.  I smile every time I hear this one, it's so cheerful.

And as celebrities are allowed one luxury, I don't see why I should be any different.  I could, perhaps, ask for an Aston Martin DB5, but there would be little point as there would be no roads or even petrol, so I will ask for an album of all my favourite photographs.

Of course, tomorrow my selection of music and my choice of luxury would probably be completely different!

Sunday, 7 December 2014


I ask myself, why do I do it?  What on earth is the point?  Indeed, is there any point?

That last question is, possibly, the easiest to answer.  And it's a one word answer: no.  No, there is no point.

Which makes it pointless to attempt to answer the earlier question, what is the point?

So we are left with the first question: why do I do it?

By now - if you have not been driven completely crazy (or decided that I am) and drifted off to a saner world - you might be wondering what it is that I do that is so pointless.  Could it be avoiding stepping on the cracks between the paving stones so that the bears don't jump out and bite me?  Could it be stuffing my ears with Stilton cheese so I can't hear the cats yowling or the vixen howling?  Well, I'm pretty sure some people would put it on a par with both those activities.

I'm talking about researching family history.

This is something that I have left aside for quite some time but, coincidentally, three people sent messages about my family tree while I was in France, all three providing snippets on information.  And so I have started up again, firstly following downwards from my wife's 3 x great grandfather who was a farmer in Devon back in the 1840s.  But I get hooked on the chase and end up with a list of names, dates and places for 4th cousins twice removed and even more distant relatives.

It really is quite pointless but strangely addictive.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Tempus has definitely fugitted

Here I am, just sitting down at the computer, at half past tea-time - and I haven't even checked my emails yet, let along down the round of the blogs I like to follow.  It has just been one of those always-on-the-go sort of days.  By the time I had done the usual morning chores and walked the dog, it was coffee time, even though I should perhaps have been at the Lions book fair by then.  Not that it mattered me being a little adrift as I wasn't scheduled on the duty rota.  Once that was over and we had cleared books off the tables, we got a couple of production lines going, wrapping the soft toy lions, lambs and bears that we will be delivering to the children in hospital over Christmas.  Home again, an hour after lunch time, and by the time that was cleared away and the washing up done, the dog was getting anxious.  Had I, perhaps, forgotten that she usually has an afternoon walk?

And that has been my day so far.

One for our Facebook page.

Friday, 5 December 2014

I'm so ignorant

It is, I suppose, not entirely surprising that a citizen of one country - in this case, England (or the United Kingdom as it still is for the time being) - should know little about the political minutiae of another country - in this case, France.  Yes, I know the broad brush outlines like the name of the President and that he is left of centre.  Politically, I mean; I have no idea of his sexual leanings and I really don't care.  But when it comes down to the name of political parties across the Channel, I have to admit to almost total ignorance.  I know there is the Front national, the far-right party led by Marine le Pen in succession to her father, and I rather suspect that there is a French Communist party.  The rest, however, is a blank sheet of paper.  This dawned on me while we were sojourning (there's that word again!) en France recently and I have today done a little research.  I almost wish I hadn't bothered.  There seem to be literally dozens of different parties and the government always consists of a coalition of several.

Yesterday evening, at dinner, I admitted my ignorance of German politics to a German Lion and his English wife who were at the same table as the Old Bat and me.  He confirmed my rather hesitant guess that Germany is a federation of states - but even he was unable to tell me exactly how many states although he did reel off there names so he wasn't totally ignorant.

But, reverting to the subject of blank sheets of paper (well, I did use that phrase earlier in this post), I did make another confession last night.  The subject of conversation at the time was chemistry, something about which I am almost as ignorant as I am about French politics.  I confessed that at one time in senior school I, along with the rest of my classmates, sat an end-of-year chemistry exam.  I think I was probably bottom of the table when the marks were announced.  I had just 2% - one mark out of 50.  And that mark was for spelling my name correctly at the top of an otherwise completely blank sheet of paper.  I had not understood one word of the questions!

There was no argument when I announced my decision to give up the subject the following academic year.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Back again

I thought I might be able to sneak away without being missed.  I had, after all, scheduled a couple of innocuous posts to come up while I was away and I did think that they might be enough to hold the fort.  But I was wrong; good old Uncle Skip spotted my absence - yesterday, the day we came back.  The wine cellar (the cupboard under the stairs) is now stocked very satisfactorily for Christmas.  Although I did manage some gardening/maintenance while we were sojourning (now that's a great word!) at the other place, I am almost but not quite ashamed to say that I left with plenty undone.  But it was good just to leave everything behind for a few days, to spend time - possibly too much time - reading and to sleep late.  Now, of course, I have come back down to earth with a thump.  Today is just a catch-up day with emails, blogs, and some personal paperwork before heading out to the Lions' Christmas dinner this evening.  This is to be in the restaurant attached to the technical college with the cooking and waiting all done by students of the catering school.  Just to make your mouths water, here is my choice of dishes:
Glamorgan croquettes with red onion and chilli chutney
Roast turkey with sausage and bacon, cranberry stuffing, bread sauce and roasting jus
Christmas pudding with brandy sauce
Coffee with mincemeat and custard tart.

If last year's experience is anything to go by, this should be great.

Over the course of the last week . .   Nah, I won't bore you with the driving trivia.