Saturday, 28 February 2015

Warning: strong language.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Normal is good


It was yesterday afternoon when I had my eyes tested and the optician told me, "everything is normal".  I told him that normal can be a depressing condition but he responded that as far as eyes are concerned, normal is good.  Anyway, I do need a new pair of glasses as my eyesight has changed deteriorated.  The Old Bat had her eyes tested as well and she too needs a new prescription.  Just as well that she was there as I had no means to pay having expected that I would pay when I collect the new specs.

Today is not a normal Friday.  A normal Friday involves the Old Bat having her hour in the diving bell while I wander through the old buffers and their memsahibs at Sainsbury's.  Today, however, she has an appointment with a new specialist at the local hospital.  The last two times she has been there we have had to ask for an ambulance with a two-man crew to be sent to get her up the drive.  I would have taken her in the car but the normal situation is that there is a 90 minute wait to get into the car park.  Today the appointment is in the cancer clinic so I can drop her off right outside the door and then go and find a parking place on the street somewhere.  She is to get the result of a scan taken a couple of weeks or so back at the request of the doctor at the Royal Marsden who found it difficult to believe how well she looked.  So I'm hoping and keeping everything crossed.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Noms de blog

You've heard of noms de plume and, possibly, noms de guerre, but has it occurred to you that many of us, especially bloggers, use pseudonyms?  I always think of these as noms de blog, or maybe it should be noms d'Internet.  I post under the name Brighton Pensioner although many people are well aware that my name is really Brian Slater.  That nom de blog came about courtesy of another Englishman, if a Lancastrian can be so called.  He called himself the Oldham Pirate for a reason I never did discover and, in one of those old message boards, he once referred to me as "that pensioner from Brighton".  From then on I was, of course, the Brighton Pensioner.

My better half is usually referred to as the Old Bat.  Some might think me rude in using that soubriquet but I assure you that it was she who used it first.  Many bloggers use initials as noms de blog and I amuse myself by trying to decode them.  Yes, I know: little things please little minds and all that.

The first is one I don't need to decode as I know very well that HO is Him Outdoors.  This is a reverse reference to Her Indoors, the wife of  Arthur Daley, a less-than-honest businessman in the television series Minder.

DD is a female (I think) and I always translate those initials as Daffy Duck.

Talking of ducks (a very cryptic reference), Skip mentions the PHG.  Particularly hairy goat, perhaps?  Or perfectly horrible ghost?

And what about SD?  Could this be semi-detached?  (Is he only half there?)  Or maybe it's slimy dipstick?

And on that note I think I had better go and hide!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Royal Pavilion

Brighton's museums have launched a new web site and,although I have had no more than a cursory look, I do feel that it is worth bringing to the attention of people.  There are magnificent pictures taken in the Royal Pavilion, like that one above, taken in the Music Room.  As I say, I think it well worth popping over here and spending a few minutes visiting my city.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The 30 shilling tailors

I bought a pair of trousers the other day.  Considering that I bought them in a supermarket, it was quite a thing to have been able to try them on in a changing room.  It was rather a spartan changing room although it was fitted out with a mirror and a peg on the wall, but nowhere to sit down while taking off my shoes.  It was, nonetheless, quite different from the "old" days when I would go to buy a suit.

I bought my first suit just before I started work in a bank.  Men were expected to wear suits from Monday to Friday, but sports coats were permitted on Saturday when the bank closed at lunch time.  And suits were the English style suits with the jacket and trousers (and waistcoat if worn) were made from the same material.

Back in those days no High Street in a large town would be without the men's outfitters.  Very few (if any) suits were sold off the peg.  The major clothing chain stores - Marks and Spencer, British Home Stores and Littlewoods - didn't sell suits, one had to go to the specialist shops.  For the working classes and lower middle classes these would be Burton's, Hepworth's and John Collier's.  The buyer would select the material for his suit from a book of samples, rather like a smaller version of the carpet samples we see nowadays.  Then the style of the suit would be chosen from another catalogue before the customer was measured - arm length, chest, waist and inside leg.

A week or two later the customer would return to try on the suit which had been made to his measurements.  I can't remember if, in the event that everything was satisfactory, the suit could be taken away that day or if it had to be finished off.

I seem to remember that most of my suits were made by Burton's, who had in days gone by been known as the thirty shilling tailors; no suit sold by them cost more than thirty shillings, £1.50 in today's currency.  Later, they were to be known as the fifty shilling tailors (there's inflation for you!).  What I have only just discovered is that >Montague Burton came to Britain from Lithuania, beginnning by peddling clothes, then working as an outfitter, selling shoes, hats, ties and shirts. He set up his first tailor's shop in Chesterfield, followed by one in Sheffield, and at his height had over 600 stores around the country. Measurements were taken for around 50,000 suits a week, all of which were rushed back to his Leeds factory in Hudson Road, to be made up and then sent back to the shops.

I don't suppose there are many men now who have their suits made to measure.  I haven't done that for many a long year.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Queen of the Dippers

I'm probably wrong, but in the back of my mind I have an idea that a dipper is a pickpocket.  This may well be Cockney slang, or slang from some other source.  Of course, the dipper is also a bird, one that dips down to run along the bottom of rivers and streams.  Then there are the big dippers as seen at Blackpool's South Beach amusement park.  But the Queen of the Dippers has no relationship with any of the above.

Martha Gunn is another of the residents in St Nicolas' churchyard here in Brighton.  I wrote about her neighbour Phoebe Hessel a few days ago.

Despite what it says on the headstone, Martha was not a bather; she was a dipper, although both bathers and dippers performed the same functions.

Back in the late 1700s, people didn't disrobe on the beach and run into the sea.  They got into bathing huts on wheels which were then pushed into the sea.  From there, the men and women were helped out, men by bathers and women by dippers.  The bathers and dippers then pushed their clients vigourously through the waves.  It took some strength to push those machines across the pebbles and back up the slope from the sea and some sources state that horses were used, others that the bathers and dippers did the work.  Either way, it helped to be strong - and to have a good layer of blabber to insulate against the cold of the sea as the dippers would spend many hours in the water.

Martha Gunn, artist unknown.

According to the Encyclopedia of Brighton, "By 1790 there were about twenty dippers and bathers at Brighton and they continued in business until about the 1850s. The 'queen' of the Brighton dippers was the famous Martha Gunn. Born in 1726, she was a large, rotund woman and dipped from around 1750 until she was forced to retire through ill health in about 1814.  She was a great favourite of the Prince of Wales who granted her free access to his kitchens; an amusing story relates how she was given some butter on one of her visits, but was cornered by the Prince who continued talking to her while edging her nearer the fire until the butter was running out of the poor lady's clothes."

This caricature of Martha by the cartoonist Robert Dighton dates from 1801.

Martha's house at 36 East Street is now an Italian restaurant.


Sunday, 22 February 2015

Just published

I did promise (threaten?) to let people know when my book would be available as an eBook.  Well, not only do Amazon have it as an eBook, but it has also been published in paperback.

The blurb on the back reads:

Newly retired and with money in his bank account just waiting to be spent, Brian Slater and his wife set off for France, determined to buy their dream cottage.  But it wasn’t to prove as easy as they hoped.

In this amusing – at times farcical – account of the trials and tribulations of buying and renovating an old house, the author, tongue in cheek, manages to poke fun at both the French and the English – but most of all, at himself.

All royalties go to Brighton Lions Charity Trust Fund, a charity registered in England, number 1060832.

 Granted, this is something of an ego trip but I do hope that I can raise a few pounds (or even dollars) for my favourite charity.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Continuation rant

Going on from yesterday, I have been trying to decide just which irritates the most.  The nominations are:
  1. People who park their trolleys side by side in supermarket aisles and then stand either side of them to catch up on 20 years of news, thereby completely blocking all other shoppers.
  2. Cyclists who will insist on riding on the road when there is a perfectly goo - and very expensive - cycle path alongside the road.  And they are probably the same morons who insist that the rule of the road and traffic lights don't apply to them.
  3. Spam phone calls from the technical department or the computer services department, those asking me to confirm that I or somebody in my house have been involved in an accident in the last three years, and those telling me I might be eligible to claim money back from my bank if it has sold me PPI insurance.
I think, on balance, that number 3 is the greatest irritant.  I had the first of those calls at a quarter to nine this morning.  It was Stephen from the technical department.  Later, a young lady called Anna rang, also from the tech dept.  She got most upset when I told her that hers was the second call today from the tech dept and insisted most indignantly that this was the first time she had called.  I put the phone down in disgust.

What makes those calls even more annoying is that they break the contact with my Internet connection and it takes up to five minutes to get it re-established.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Raining morons

It's raining again - and has been pretty much all day, although I only got damp when I walked the dog after breakfast.  But today is Friday, and Friday has its associated rituals and routines.  Having walked the dog, I have just enough time to swallow most of a cup of coffee before we head off for the MS Treatment centre for the Old Bat to enjoy her hyperbaric oxygen therapy.  While she is in the chamber I try to dodge the doddery old fools who insist on blocking the aisles in the nearest but one supermarket.

But it was raining this morning.  Just what is it about rain that brings out the hidden moron in so many drivers?  And not only drivers; pedestrians are fifty times more likely to step into the road without looking  on mornings like today.

Added to that, it's half-term, so not only were there elderly and doddery trolley pushers in the supermarket, but also deranged mothers with fractious children.

But such is life.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Brians of the World, Unite!

Just what is it about the name that makes people think of bimbos and wimps?  First we had Brian the Snail in that children's television shoe, The Magic Roundabout.  Then, as if that wasn't enough, We got this advert blasted at us through our TVs:

Then another television ad:

And then, earlier this week,there was a report in the paper that a police force wanted to give a horse a new name.  Brian, they said, was too wimpish and they wanted a stronger name like Hercules.

Now we learn that Brian can't be a police horse; he is frighted on urban noises!

Added to which, it is an Old French derogatory byname derived from the Old Occitan word brian, meaning "maggot."

I prefer:  The meaning of this name is not known for certain but it is possibly related to the old Celtic element bre meaning "hill", or by extension "high, noble". It was borne by the semi-legendary Irish king Brian Boru, who thwarted Viking attempts to conquer Ireland in the 11th century.

Or there's always the Urban Dictionary:
The name Brian is of Celtic origin and means; Strength and Honor. He is a very intelligent guy, who keeps his priorities straight and is extremely well rounded. Not only is he smart, but he is athletic, handsome, sexy, funny, and a great guy to hang out around. Trust me his somewhat klutzy personality can be funny when he plays the role. He can often be very dramatic, in the good way. He is one of those guys that you can just share about anything with. He instantly just gains your trust. He is very reliable. Brian will always be there for a friend, no matter what the conditions. Brian is very creative and loves to contribute ideas. He has dreams of changing the world, and making it a better place for all to live. He is always true to who he is. He is a natural born leader, who can lead a group of people yet still have time for each individual. Only the lucky girls will get to be in a relationship with this guy, but anyone can be his friend. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015


Wouldn't you just know it?  This morning dawned bright and clear with a frost, but as there was almost no wind, it really didn't feel at all cold.  In fact, it felt good to be out with the dog immediately after breakfast.  For much of the remainder of the morning I was busy trying to get the paperback version of Lavender for My Lady into a fit state to press the 'publish' button, the eBook already being on sale on Amazon.  (I won't provide a link as it would be different for US and UK readers.)  It is my small attempt to raise funds for Brighton Lions Club.

Anyway, as the Old Bat and I were sitting at the kitchen table eating lunch, I glanced out of the window and saw that the sun was still shining.  I know that the farmer has no cattle or sheep in the fields on Scare Hill and up to the Chattri so I decided on that as being the venue for the afternoon walk.  But by the time the washing up was done and I was ready to set off, the sky was completely clouded over.  So I changed my mind and went across 39 Acres and round the Roman Camp.  Unfortunately, I managed to slip and fall heavily so I now have a badly bruised wrist.  Luckily, it's my left wrist and I am right-handed.

So, when I've done with the ice pack I'll get started on the paperwork for tonight's Lions meeting.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015


The book I'm currently reading is proving rather mind-blowing.  It's a simple enough roman policier, as the French would say (I think).  In other words, it can be found under "Crime" on the library shelves.  What makes it a bit weird is that so many of the characters have names from my family.  There are my (late) mother, my elder son's ex-mother-in-law, my younger son's first wife, my daughter and her partner, a cousin's husband, another cousin's daughter.  Even our one-time cat gets a name check, even though he has metamorphosed into a human being!

Monday, 16 February 2015


Sometimes it is the simplest things that can trigger hosts of memories. Like yesterday.  We had roast chicken for dinner and it called to mind the fact that, for both the Old Bat and me, chicken was a luxury food in our childhood and was usually eaten only at Christmas.mind you, the OB' family was a step ahead of mine.  They had friends in the country who would send them a capon for Christmas - through the post!  I somehow have difficulty in imagining sending a chicken through the post these days.  But that led me to another memory.

When I was, I think, seven years old I contracted pleurisy.  Just how it got to the stage it did I really don't know but my mother assured me many years later that I was judged to be too weak to be taken to hospital, which is where I really should have been.  Somehow a portable x-ray machine was brought to our house and manouevred upstairs to the bedroom I shared with my brother.

It must have been at about this time of the year as I can remember my mother digging up a crocus and planting it in a pot; it seems I had expressed disappointment that I was missing the early spring.  I remember that as I got better I would look out of the window and count the laburnum trees in full bloom in our and our neighbours' gardens.  Great was my mother's joy on the day I asked for a ham sandwich.  Great was her joy - and also great her consternation.

This was back in, probably, 1951, when people in this country were still having to endure rationing. Rationing of canned and dried fruit, chocolate biscuits, treacle, syrup, jellies and mincemeat had ended only in May 1950 and soap had been rationed until September that year.  Tea would stay rationed until late 1952, sugar until 1953, and meat would not come “off the ration” until 1954.  Ham, when it was available which was rarely, came in tins produced (I think) in Canada.

Neither my mother nor my grandmother, who lived next door, had any ham in the house and there was none to be bought - always assuming that there were any meat coupons left.  None of our neighbours had any ham, but one lady had a chicken which she was generous enough to give to my mother.  So instead of a ham sandwich, I had chicken.

Chicken has been one of my favourte meats ever since.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Unlikely Valentines

OK, so i should have posted this yesterday - or even last year!

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Looking back

I must have one of the worst memories in Christendom - or anywhere else for that matter - as I can rarely recall what the weather was like last summer or winter.  People talk about what a great summer we had, only for the next person to whom I speak to complain about how bad the weather was - so maybe it's not just me!  Anyway, things had been improving a bit this past week.  The footpaths through the woods had become less muddy, partly because we have had no rain and partly because of temperatures below freezing during several nights.  I even managed without wellies one afternoon! That had all changed this morning.  It rained quite heavily at times yesterday afternoon and evening and this morning the paths were slippery and muddy once again.  But then I looked back to see what was happening on Valentine's Day last year:

That was the view through the car windscreen in the supermarket car park! Others had it much worse with large expanses of the Somerset Levels being under feet of water.  And to think I had all but forgotten.

Friday, 13 February 2015

James Rooke

I mentioned in my post about Phoebe Hessel (yesterday) that she had given evidence in the trial of the highwayman James Rooke.

Now, I don't know about you, but whenever I hear of a highwayman I picture a man on a horse, wearing a tricorn hat and a mask, and waving a couple of long-barrelled pistols in the air.  A Dick Turpin-like figure who would waylay stage coaches and relieve the travellers of their valuables.  That, after all, is what highwaymen did, isn't it?  So having had the bait dangled in front of me (as it were), I went hunting.  But I came up with very little - and what I did discover is a little bit disappointing.  James Rooke, it seems, did not fit my picture of the "ideal" highwayman.  Not that there is a wealth of information readily available, and what there is raises almost as many questions as it provides answers.

What I did learn is that on 30 October 1792, a crook by the name of Edward Howell undertook the robbery of the mail coach at the Goldstone Bottom, (now in Hove but then a lonely crossroads on the South Downs) with his accomplice, James Rooke. Rooke gave away his involvement at the Red Lion, Shoreham, and the two highwaymen were arrested for the robbery from John Stephenson (the boy delivering the mail) of half a sovereign. They were tried and found guilty at the Spring Assizes at Horsham and sentenced to death. The hangings took place on 26 April 1793 before a crowd, alleged to be 14,000-strong, at the Goldstone. After the two guilty men were hanged, the bodies were saturated in tar and enclosed in a gibbet, an iron frame with the chains fastened to the bodies. To make the story yet more grisly, after stormy nights Rooke’s mother would climb to the Downs and remove pieces of dislodged corpse for interment in Old Shoreham churchyard – burying her boy one piece at a time.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Phoebe Hessel

This rather sharp-eyed lady is the late Mrs Hessel, one of the "characters" of Brighton.

Phoebe Hessel was born Phoebe Smith, in Stepney, on 13 April 1713.  She disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the 5th Regiment of Foot to serve alongside her lover, Samuel Golding, and served as a soldier in the West Indies and Gibraltar. Both remained in the British Army, and fought and were wounded in the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. Finally, she revealed her position to the wife of the Regiment's colonel, and they were both discharged and married. According to a sergeant of the regiment, her sex was revealed when she was undressed to be whipped, upon which she only commented: "Strike and be damned!" She was given no punishment, but had her salary paid out as any other soldier.
They later lived in Plymouth, where they had nine children, of whom eight died in infancy, and the survivor died at sea. After Golding died, she moved to Brighton to marry fisherman Thomas Hessel. He died when she was aged 80. She supported herself by selling fish in and around Brighton, and her evidence was instrumental in securing the conviction and execution of highwayman James Rooke.
In old age, she sold small items, such as oranges and gingerbread, on a street corner near the Brighton Pavilion. She became well known in Brighton, due to her great age and unusual experiences. She was forced into the workhouse, but was granted a pension of half a guinea a week by the Prince Regent in 1808. She attended his coronation parade in Brighton in 1820. She was 108 when she died and was buried in the graveyard of the Church of St. Nicholas, Brighton.
She was sometimes referred to as the 'Stepney Amazon'; Amazon Street and Hessel Street (both named in her honour) still exist today in Stepney (now part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets).

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

In a rut?

No, not really, but I have decided against making a career change.  No, I have not been planning on becoming an astronaut or a road sweeper, merely a best-selling author.  But I've changed my mind.

It all started some years ago.  Perhaps the simplest way of explaining it is to quote from another blog I used to maintain:
This was originally intended to be a sort of journal, a day-by-day and blow-by-blow account of buying a property in France. It was only after I started transcribing rough notes into a semi-readable account that I remembered just how much fun it had been for both Mrs S and me. From there it was but a small step to what follows.
I did consider sending the manuscript of my magnum opus to publishers but, quite honestly - and this is no false modesty, I didn't think in anything other than my wildest dreams that I might become another Peter Mayle.  What I did do was have ten copies printed by a local vanity publishing printer.  As I say, that was all some years ago.  Since then, the file has been sitting gathering dust on my hard drive.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was at a semi-posh Lions dinner (a black tie affair) when I was told how a member of another Lions Club had written a book which he had published as an e-book with all the royalties going to the Lions.  I have investigated since then and find that there is a company which does all the hard work and sells the book as well.  I say "all the hard work" but, of course, it is up to the putative (that's a good word!) author to do the writing, both of the manuscript and the sales blurb.  Amazon just do the rest.

So, I have dusted off the ms and printed it out.  Now I am a little way into the tedious bit - reading with a fresh eye, making alterations and corrections and generally polishing the work.

Being a best-selling author does sound a good idea.  After all, one works when one wishes to, all one has to do is write stories and there are the perks of travel for interviews and book signings...  But no, it's not all wine and roses.  I think I'll just stay in my comfortable little rut.

Meanwhile, though, I'll keep working on the manuscript.  I'll let you all know when it's ready to download onto your Kindles.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Keep calm and carry on...

I am pleased to say that I have - I hope - kicked the one and only addiction that I have had in my life.  In saying that I am not bragging, simply stating a fact.  I stopped smoking back in 2011 and I have to say I found it almost too easy.  That wasn't my first attempt to wean myself away from the weed in the 50+ years since I had first become addicted.  Other attempts had failed after various lengths of time and for a variety of reasons.  This time, though, I had a much greater incentive: I had been introduced to my Macmillan nurse after an x-ray revealed a shadow on my lung so it really was a no-brainer.

Now I read that in research undertaken by some heart disease related charity that giving up chocolate is harder than giving up smoking!  But why, I ask, would we want to give up chocolate?  Other research has shown that chocolate - specifically, dark chocolate - is good for us and wards off heart attacks!

Apart from the small matter of one lot of research "proving" one thing and another lot of research "proving" the opposite, I have to wonder why a charity is spending money on this sort of research.

Oh well...

Monday, 9 February 2015

Bedsocks and sparrow fart

I am puzzled.  Puzzled and a little bit perturbed about recent changes in me.  For a good many years, I would be up and out of bed at five o'clock (that's ante meridian, not post) , well, say quarter past five anyway, and off out of the house at six.  I was always at my best in the morning.  At the other end of the day I would get to bed at about eleven and six hours sleep was sufficient.

Now I find that I am changing from a lark to an owl.  It takes quite an effort to get me from under the duvet before half part seven and I would quite happily stay longer were it not for the dog needing to be let out.  On the other hand, I have to drag myself out of the armchair and away from my book at or even after eleven thirty at night.

I always thought that older people need less sleep.  Or at least, that is what a lot of older people told me when I wasn't an older person.  So how is it that I now need more than I ever have, at least since I was a babe in arms?

And back in the day, I would very rarely fail to complete the cryptic crossword, with 15 or 20 minutes being about the average time to complete.  Nowadays I often find that there are two or three clues that defeat me.  I even have trouble completing sudoku puzzles!  Maybe my brain is finally giving up on me.  What a ghastly thought.

Sunday, 8 February 2015


The observant among my regular readership - all three of them - will have noticed that I failed to post anything yesterday.  Don't worry; I haven't fallen off the cliffs (that's Beachy Head on the left - a favourite suicide spot along the coast from here) or under a bus.  Nor did I simply forget.  The day passed so quickly with other activities that there just wasn't time.  Having said that, I'm not sure just what I might have burbled on about if I had posted something.

I suppose I might have wittered on a bit about the names of pubs, a sort of follow up to Friday's post.  It just so happens that many of my ancestors, and those of the Old Bat, seem to have been involved in the licensed trade.  Their pubs were the Cabman's Rest, the Town Hall (an odd choice of name for a pub!), the Wheatsheaf, the Five Bells, the Vine, the White Horse and others I have forgotten.

One other that I remember is the Plough in the Suffolk village of Blundeston where my great-grandfather was once the publican.  The pub was the place from which Barkis started on his journeys in Charles Dickens' book, David Copperfield.  My g-g-f is supposed to have charged visitors sixpence to sit in what he claimed was the author's chair.  Another story is that he - my g-g-f - drank himself blind, although he did eventually recover his sight.  I have managed to prove neither of these stories!

Friday, 6 February 2015

A rose by any other name...

... as old Will said.  Or, "What's in a name?"

My thoughts today have been inspired (if that's the word...) by a report that a pub chain (Ember Inns?) is considering re-opening a pub (after renovations have been completed) under a different name.  The pub has, apparently, been in existence for a mere 150 years or so with the name "Labour in Vain".  What the original inn sign displayed, if anything, has not been mentioned, but at one time the sign showed a black boy in a tin bath being scrubbed by a white woman.  In what i call an excess of political correctness, people complained about the sign and the local authority instructed that it be removed.  This was done, but years later, the then licensee found the old sign and placed it in the pub garden.  It seems that the local authority once again required it to be removed from view, but nothing was ever done and no action taken.  But all that is really by the bye as my point is that the locals don't want the name of "their" pub changed.

Pub names and their associated signs are, in some cases, indications of local history.  It always seems a great shame to me when I hear of a pub's name being changed.  One pub I used to know (although I don't think I ever had a drink there on more than one occasion) was for many years called the Friar's Oak.  Whether or not there was ever an oak tree there under which a wandering friar preached, I have no idea.  But that could have been how the pub gained its name.  Anyway, new owners changed the name to the Pilgrim Goose, which had nothing whatever to do with the area.  I see that it is once again called the Friar's Oak.

It was in Victorian times that many pubs were built near to railway stations and I dread to think how
many pubs there are now called the Railway Inn.  And any that have those artistically painted signs will almost certainly feature Stephenson's Rocket or a very similar engine.  Which reminds me of another pub which has a very peculiar name, the Spyglass and Kettle.  I have wondered in the past how a pub could come by such a name and only discovered the answer today!

"When the Lord Nelson in Wood Street, Brompton and the Steam Engine in Arden Street, Gillingham, closed in the late 1930s their licences were combined into one for a new pub in the newly developed area of Wigmore. A public competition was held to name the pub and was won by a suggestion of a 'Spyglass' for Lord Nelson and a 'Kettle' for the Steam Engine (James Watt's discovery of steam propulsion being inspired by a boiling kettle.) This also explains the pub's somewhat unusual sign."  (Kent History Forum.)

 The sign of the Army and Navy shows a Royal Marine in the uniform dating from about 1745.  "Local history says that this inn on the reaches of the River Medway, and thus a rendezvous of fighting men, was held by a former Sergeant of Marines.  Its name was his ingenious way of making sure neither service was offended."  (Copied from the back of the miniature inn sign.)

But many pubs have what might be described as common names: the Red Lion, the Royal Oak, the Bull, the Plough, the King's Head and so on.  Many more are named after local bigwigs and given names such as the Duke of Wherever or the Clarendon Arms.  All this dates back to the days when most men were unable to read and so they might have been told to meet at "the sign of the swan" or whatever sign the inn had hanging outside.  Not for us the common or garden Joe's Bar and suchlike.

The observant reader will have noticed that all the illustrations are of signs of Whitbread pubs.  This, I must confess, is because in my youth I collected the miniature inn signs given away to drinkers at certain pubs owned by Whitbread's brewery.  Not, I hasten to add, that I was an underage drinker at these establishments (I was only 10 or so at the time) but because collecting these was a common hobby for boys in the Medway towns.  I have mentioned this on at least one occasion - here - and further mentioned three pubs in the village of Wateringbury here.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Island in the Sun

No, don't worry!  I'm not going to force that old Harry Belafonte hit song down your throats!  Mind you, if you are not old enough to remember it - or if you really want to hear it again after all these years - you can find it right here on Youtube.

With my old mucker Skip currently idling his life away in Hawaii (to be more exact, on Maui) and fellow Lion (and, as Buck would have said, blog-buddy) John in the Atlantic Ocean on Madeira, my thoughts have been turning to islands that have featured in my life.

My childhood was spent, for the most part, in the Medway towns in north Kent.  There are a number of islands to be found within the Thames/Medway estuary system but the first island that really came into my life was further east in the north-eastern corner of the county; the Isle of Thanet.  Thanet is really no longer an island, although I understand that when the waters subsided to leave Great Britain separate from the European mainland, the Wantsum Channel, which separated Thant from the new mainland, was two miles wide.  Over the course of time, the channel has silted up and now, I suspect, is no more than a narrow ditch - if it even exists at all.

There are several suggestions as to how the name Thanet came about but one I have only recently heard is that it means the Isle of the Dead.  According to Greek legend, Britain itself was the home to the dead, and that the bodies were rowed across the sea in un-manned boats in the middle of the night and returned empty before dawn. This mysterious place was called "Ynys Thanatos" - the Isle of the Dead.  Not that death every intruded into my young mind when we had holidays at Broadstairs, a seaside town which was, I suppose, typical of 1940s holiday resorts.

More obviously an island is Sheppey, a low-lying, marshy place which in my youth was linked to the mainland by a bridge wide enough for a road with one lane in each direction.  And a railway line.  Quite why the small town of Sheerness, a one-time Naval dockyard town on the Isle of Sheppey, should have exerted such a pull on my father I never did discover.  Actually, I suppose that it never occurred to me as a child that such a pull even existed.  My father only learned to drive in about 1950 or 51, his peripatetic lifestyle having precluded that until he was based in the Naval barracks at Chatham for a stretch.  It would have been in those very early 50s that he bought his first car, an Austin of considerable vintage.  I think it dated from 1929.  On summer evenings he would take us all (my mother, my brother and me) for a drive.  We did venture into the Kent countryside beyond the North Downs, but our trips seem in memory to have often involved driving across the Sheppey marshes to Sheerness where we would walk along the river front.  Incidentally, Nelson's body was brought ashore in a barrel of brandy after he died at Trafalgar.  It was from here, too, that the Fighting Temeraire, a heroine of that battle, left on her final journey to the breakers’ yard further up the Thames — a moment so gloriously depicted in the oil painting by J.M.W. Turner.

I don't think I have been to Sheerness since 1952 because it was in 1953 that my life became centred upon another island, the Isle of Wight.  This island site just off the south coast of England, opposite the major Naval port of Portsmouth.  It was in January 1953 that my brother and I were despatched to Ventnor on the southern coast of the island where we were to stay for several months at a home/school run by nuns for "delicate" children.  Both of us suffered quite badly from asthma and the doctor considered that the air on the Isle of Wight would be beneficial to our health.

After our return to the Medway towns, I started at the local grammar school and it was there that I became interested in bird watching.  This led me to yet another island in the Thames/Medway estuary, the Isle of Grain.


I spent many a winter's day walking around these marshes in wind, rain and even snow!

Nowadays Grain is dominated by the oil refinery but back in the 19th century this was the setting for the opening scenes of Great Expectations.  More recently, or so I have been led to believe, a mock army camp was constructed from plyboard or suchlike to fool German bomber pilots during World War II.  Now what remains of the peace of island is threatened by the possible construction of a new London airport, either on the island itself or in the Thames estuary.  Mind you, that could cause a problem as, not long after D Day, the SS Richard Montgomery sank with 7,000 tons of wartime bombs  .It’s estimated that anything from 1,400 to 3,000 tons of explosives are still packed in its water-logged hull, and it has been said that their detonation would cause one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions ever.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Looking for a window

Well, it makes a change to be looking FOR a window rather than through one.  Anyway, I really would like to fir in a week in France.  Apart from anything else, it would give the Old Bat a chance to look at a different set of walls.  She really has been under the weather for the last few months - since the back end of August, in fact.  In bed at home for three weeks, then a short stay in hospital, followed by a seemingly endless train of hospital appointments, this afternoon's being merely the latest with another booked in the pipeline for two or three weeks hence.  So far we have visited three different hospitals and she has been in the care of consultants in four different departments.  The next visit will be to yet another consultant, albeit still in the same department as the last.

This is where I would rather like to be heading, which is nothing like as exotic as places two people I know are in at present!  Mind you, I would prefer it not to look like this.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Can't think of a title

Well, here we are in the late mid-afternoon and I'm only just getting round to writing the daily splurge.  Although I'm pretty sure the temperature had dropped two or three degrees below freezing during the night, the day started with only a slight frost, quite a lot less than we had yesterday.  All the same, it was a pleasure to walk down through the woods on firm ground instead of sloshing through the mud that has been the norm most mornings recently.  It kept trying to snow and a lady I met in the park told me that there had been a blizzard on the M25.

(For those unfamiliar with our English roads, the M25 is London's orbital motorway, the English equivalent of the Washington Beltway and the Paris Periperique.)

I took the information about the blizzard with a healthy pinch of salt, knowing full well how the slightest flurry can quickly be transformed into a blizzard of Arctic proportions.  However, given that the M25 is a bare 30 or so miles north of us and the continued attempts to cover us in the white stuff, I decided to play things safely.  I had various errands to run, including a visit to the supermarket, and I decided it would be sensible to get them done in good time.  Of course, that meant that the threat of snow vanished completely!

Then I got sidetracked.  At a Lions dinner on Saturday I was introduced to a member of a neighbouring club who has written a book which he has published as an e-book with the sales providing an income to his club.  The suggestion was that I should think of doing the same with Lavenders Blue.  But when I looked for the Word version of the manuscript, I found it damaged almost beyond repair so I have been busy copying the various blog posts into which I had divided it and pasting into a new document.

I was also prompted to update the video I had produced some years ago telling what Brighton Lions do.  Calling it a video is, perhaps, a trifle over the top as it really was little more than a series of slides with background music and commentary.  So I started thinking about that as well, and discovered that I no longer had any software to deal with the audio.  That, quite understandably, led me to search the web and fiddle around generally.

Ah well, there's always tomorrow.  Except that tomorrow looks... Well, not exactly hectic, but the Old Bat is to have another CT scan in an attempt to discover what really is wrong with her - or rather, if what was wrong with her really is a lot better than it should be by now.  So maybe I won't get round to posting much tomorrow either.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Good news... no news.  Or so the old saw has it.  But just occasionally the media allow some good news to seep through the dross of C list celebs love lives, war, famine and disasters both natural and man-made.  There have been two such instances in the last few days, the first of which brought back some long buried memories.

A man on a long distance train journey must have felt his heart sink when a young lady with a stud in her nose, accompanied by a toddler, took a seat near him.  He must have had thoughts of screams and tantrums disturbing his journey.  But his experience was the opposite.  The young mother played quiet games with her son and gently corrected him when his manners let him down.  The man left the train with the young mother still aboard and, as he left, he passed her a brief note congratulating her.  With the note was a £5 note with which he suggested she should have a drink on him. The mother took to social network sites to try to find her benefactor to thank him, in which she proved successful.  And rather than have a drink with the £5, she used the money to open a savings account for her son.

It reminded me of the time we took a ferry across the North Sea with our two young sons, the younger still only two years old.  The ferry crossing took several hours during which time the Old Bat valiantly attempted to keep a lively toddler quiet.  As we disembarked another passenger - an elderly ex-Army officer type - congratulated her.  It made her day.

And the second piece of good news, which made the television last night as well as yesterday's newspapers, concerns a partially-sighted disabled man, only 4' 6" tall, who had been attacked outside his home and left on the ground with a broken collar bone.  He was too frightened to return to his home after treatment, although we were not told what he did about that.  A young lady heard about this and set up a web site to collect funds to help him, thinking she might raise £500.  She ended up raising £250,000.

But, being the cynic - or sceptic - that I am, I have to wonder if the law of unintended consequences won't come into play.  Now that he has a quarter of a million pounds, will it mean that he can't claim disability living allowance?

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Drink, drink, drink.

I didn't bother with a dry January, just as I didn't bother to grow any facial hair during Movember.  Not that there would have been any point to me joining in with Movember as I already have both moustache and beard.  I suppose I could have shaved them off in October - or maybe just the 'tache - but I'm quite attached to my facial camouflage which I have had since the three-day week.  (Here comes the history lesson.)

It was back in 1974 that the miners went on strike.  Electricity was in short supply as the coal needed to fuel the power stations wasn't getting through.  Heck, it wasn't even being mined!  The result was scheduled power cuts with shops and offices all being lit by tilley lamps and the like when the power was off.  It did make matters difficult when relying on electric adding machines and tills and the like.  It also meant that I was quite often unable to use my electric shaver at my accustomed time.  Besides, we were all exhorted to use less electricity.  So I gave up shaving, and have had the facial hair ever since.

And as for dry January, I really couldn't see the point.  Was I supposed to get people to sponsor me for NOT doing something, ie drinking alcohol?  In any case, red wine is supposed to be good for one's health.  Or was that only in December?  The latest thinking on wine and health seems to change as often as the wind so I have stuck to my usual routine.  I haven't yet reached the stage of drinking three glasses of red wine a day.  One glass is supposed to help prevent heart attacks, one glass stops dementia, and one glass does something else but I can't remember what it is.

One of my favourite songs has long been the drinking song from the Student Prince.  I saw this on stage in Brighton with a girl friend way, way back.  John Hanson was the lead tenor and here he is:

Sorry it's not much of a picture.