Thursday, 30 April 2015


I've complained about it often enough, having to prune it almost every time we are over there in France, but this time we actually saw it in bloom, the first time since it was planted way back in 2003!  It's bloomed every year but this was the first time when our visit coincided.  We knew it the moment we opened the car doors on arrival, late in the evening.  The scent was almost overpowering.

It was planted in the hope that it - and a jasmine at the other end - would climb over a pergola to provide a shady spot for al fresco meals.  Another wisteria - this one with white blooms - climbs up and around the upstairs bedroom window.  These blooms come out a few days later than the purple wisteria and are a little smaller but the scent wafts into the bedroom when the window is open.

And lastly, the clematis we planted to grow through the chain link fence to provide a little more privacy was also in full bloom.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Gunner Harris

French cemeteries are not exactly the most inspiring places to visit, but from time to time when in France I try to pop into the communal cemetery at Pouancé simply to pay my respects to Gunner Albert Harris.  He is, as far as I know, the only Englishman buried here and his headstone is a standard Commonwealth War Graves Commission stone.

I have tried to discover something about him but, apart from what is inscribed on the headstone, I have found out very little.  I know his Christian name was Albert and he came from Staffordshire.  He served in 30/46 Battery, 10 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, but what he was doing in this part of France in 1939 I have failed to discover.

Aged only 24 at his death, he left a widow, Sarah Harris, living in Portobello, Staffordshire.

It would seem that somebody visits the grave on a fairly regular basis, presumably a family member.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Today is . . .

St George's Day.

Cry God For Harry, England and St George.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015


Blackthorn in Stanmer Woods.

And many happy returns, ma'am.  There was a time when the Beeb would play the National Anthem before the news on this day but those times are long gone.

Monday, 20 April 2015

70 years ago today

From the BBC:

Russian troops have captured some outlying suburbs of Berlin at the beginning of what promises to be a bitter battle for control of the city.

The Red Army approached the German capital from three directions, north, east and south-east. The northeastern suburb of Weissensee is the closest to the centre being only three miles away.

The Nazi minister of propaganda, Josef Goebbels, has issued a statement saying Berlin will be defended to the last. He said anyone who showed cowardice, hoisted the white flag or attempted sabotage would be treated as outlaws.

Hitler ordered a counter attack. But the Wehrmacht's 9th Army was cut off by Marshall Konev's forces in the forest south of Berlin, near the small town of Halbe.

Over 50,000 soldiers and civilians died. Their bodies were left piled high beside the narrow paths in the forest.

The Red Army meanwhile pressed on into the heart of Berlin. Zhukov's and Konev's troops were still racing to be first to capture the city and in their haste many lives appear to have been needlessly lost.

Figures vary but one source says the battle for Berlin cost the Red Army some 70,000 troops.

They used tanks to force their way into the city but these were very vulnerable to Germans firing bazookas from destroyed buildings. Ultimately, however, the German forces, mostly made up of old people and members of Hitler Youth were no match for the Soviet forces.

As the Red Army took control it also wreaked revenge on the people of Berlin. Hospital records suggest some 100,000 women were raped in Berlin in the last six months of the war. 
Germany then, Syria today?

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Near la Prévière

Great swathes of yellow oil seed rape are to be seen in France as in England.  This field is on the edge of the village in France where we have our getaway cottage, which we will be visiting very soon.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

My favourite things

It wasn't very long ago, a couple of weeks or so, that I saw a photograph in the paper of Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews.  It was published to mark the 50th anniversary of the film - and if you need to ask, "what film?", then you are a lot younger than 50!

One of the songs that Julie Andrews sand in the film listed her favourite things:
Whiskers on roses and warm woollen kittens
Raindrops on kettles and bright copper mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things.
I got to wondering what I would list as my favourite things but I didn't get any farther than a nice cup of tea!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Spring greens

At this time of the year it is always a pleasure to see the elm trees in bloom.  And yesterday morning, as I walked through Hollingbury Woods, I managed to watch a green woodpecker drumming, the first time I have ever seen that although I hear it frequently enough.  I usually only see these magnificent birds as they fly between trees.

Thursday, 16 April 2015


I am pretty confident that I have said before how the OB and I never buy meat from a supermarket.  We are lucky enough to have two very good butchers' shops within easy reach, one in Brighton's Open Market (which isn't open to the sky as one might assume) and the other in a village just the other side of the Downs.  The shop in the village - Standean Farm Butchers - was set up by a local farmer to sell meat from his and other local farms, as well as local eggs and honey and so on.  The Brighton shop also sells local meat as well as meat from other sources.  Many a time we have been told exactly which Sussex farm was the source of our lamb especially.

We went to the Brighton shop this week and bought, among other things, a leg of lamb.  Coincidentally, the board outside announced: "Our local lamb supplier this week - Standean Farm".

Standean Farm

What is perhaps even more of a coincidence is that I quite often walk the fields of Standean Farm when taking the dog out.  Furthermore, it's those fields I look out on when I open the bedroom curtains.

That lamb in our freezer certainly hasn't travelled very far!

The view from the bedroom yesterday with High Park Wood on the horizon.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Yesterday, upon the stair,

I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today,
I wish, I wish he'd go away...

It was a bit like that for me the last couple or three days.  I told you how, the other day, I looked across to the sea only to find it had disappeared under a cotton-wool blanket.  It happened again yesterday.  And the weather girl last night promised that there would be fog along the coast today, while inland people would swelter under sunny skies and temperatures of possibly 24 Celsius.

Right, thought I.  I'm ready for it today; I'll remember to take the camera when I walk the dog on the Roman Camp.  But  although there was fog up Channel to the east, and no sign of Worthing just a few miles to the west, the sea in front of Brighton was sparkling dewy grey!  But having taken the camera, I was determined to use it!

And the temperature reading in the car this afternoon was 25 degrees! Wonderful feeling.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Sea fret

This morning dawned bright and sunny and I decided that a stroll across 39 Acres and round the Roman Camp would be in order.  Yes, it was bright, but the breeze was still cool and I really didn't think that t-shirts and short-sleeved blouses were quite the right clothing.  After all, the temperature was still only 11 Celsius, and that without taking wind chill into account.  All the same, it was glorious walking across the field, hearing two skylarks and watching one of them as he spiraled higher and higher.

But what a surprise as I climbed up onto the ramparts of the Roman Camp and glanced over the city to the sea.  What sea?  Lying like a duvet on the English Channel was a thick (200 foot) layer of sea mist, which stretched into the city for about half a mile.  All around me was the bright green of the golf course and the yellow blooms of the gorse bushes in the centre of the Camp, while further across the Downs there was a faint greenish tinge to Stanmer Woods and the early yellow of the oil seed rape just coming into flower.  Give it a week or two and it should look like this:

Monday, 13 April 2015

Sunday lunch

Photo: Tripadvisor

Last October the Old Bat and I celebrated our golden wedding anniversary.  No, wait - we didn't celebrate as the OB was unwell.  A celebration was planned - a grand family lunch party one Sunday which was to be attended not only by our three children plus one partner and the three grandchildren and son's partner's daughter but my brother and his wife planned to drive all the way from Cornwall.

But the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley (to quote the Scottish bard) and all plans were aborted.  Until recently.  And the result - a long, lazy lunch in our local Italian where we are always made most welcome and where the food is truly superb without being over-priced.

Three hours of eating, drinking, talking and laughing with all the children a joy to have with us they were so well behaved.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

"Turn round when possible"

Followed, sometimes fairly swiftly, sometimes not, by, "recalculating route".  Here's to the good old sat-nav!

There is a built-in sat-nav in my present car, the one I bought a year ago almost to the day, and I'm really only just about getting to grips with it.  All my life I have been a map and compass-type person, never happier than when translating what is printed on the sheet of an Ordnance Survey map and matching it to what I could see on the ground.  Even today, with satellite navigation so readily available, I much prefer the old fashioned way and I will happily follow my nose (as it were) between towns, relying on signposts and instinct with the occasional glance at a map.

But there are times when I am more than grateful for the lady hiding behind my dashboard.  Trying to locate a particular street in a strange city is so much easier when somebody warns me, "In 300 yards, turn left", then very soon after, "Take the next left".  Of course, what so many people seem to overlook is that the men and women actually writing out the computer-generated directions (if indeed there are men and women and not just computers) are calculating routes by looking at street plans.  This means that sometimes the driver is told to turn left or right when the road markings really indicate to go straight ahead.  (It's not easy to describe what I mean in words; I should really draw a diagram but that would probably only confuse matters even more!)

Things were much the same 40 or 50 years ago.  Not that sat-nav existed in people's cars back then, but we did have the AA and the RAC and they acted as our sat-navs.  Having said that, I'm not so sure about the Royal Automobile Club; that was for the posh people.  The hoi-polloi like us joined the Automobile Association.  Both the AA and the RAC were, essentially, breakdown insurance services with mobile mechanics riding motorcycle and sidecar combinations.  But the AA, at least, provided a bit more than just breakdown cover.  On request, they would produce written route instructions covering the journey from A to B, via C if wanted.

These route instructions would come as a number of octavo sheets stapled together, each sheet covering part of the requested route.  They must have had hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of these pre-printed sheets from which they would select the ones needed to cover the route requested.  And they were almost exactly the same as the computer generated instructions we can print off our computers from Google maps, Viamichelin etc.

"After 13 miles, turn left at the Dog and Duck onto the B5761, signposted Cheltenham" or suchlike.  Sat-nav?  Huh, been there, done that, got the t-shirt.  The main difference is that the Old Bat never said, "Turn round when possible".  She would say, "Take that road on the left we've just passed".

Saturday, 11 April 2015

So that was Friday

I must make more of an effort to pace myself properly, bearing in mind that I am no longer as young as lissome as once I was.  The trouble is that I don't feel that way in my mind so I do have a tendency to overdo things - like this past week.

It's now two weeks since the Old bat was generous enough to pass on her cold.  Not that the cold itself was any problem - I shrugged that off in about 48 hours - but it seems to have morphed into something else entirely.  For a start, the arthritis came back with a vengeance.  Now, my arthritis is a bit funny-peculiar in that it moves around, so for the past couple of weeks I have been chasing the demon.  One day it could be that a knee and the opposing elbow refuse to work, then the next day the knee is better, but the opposite ankle has frozen and the elbow problem as shifted slightly to the shoulder.  Thursday I felt fine and spent just over an hour standing to mark up the scores at a skittles match between Brighton Lions and another local club.  Yesterday I needed a walking stick to get around.

We made such a sorry sight, the Old Bat and me.  She was using a stick and hanging onto me for extra support, while it was all I could do to stay on my feet!  Fortunately, things are better today.

And we won the skittles match.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Misty morning

Looking across the South Downs from the Roman Camp the other morning.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Signs of spring?

It was the morning of Easter Monday that I decided I had recovered enough strength to walk the dog across 39 Acres and up round the Roman Camp.  To my astonishment, a whole host of signs had appeared.  Every sign indicating a public footpath had been replaced.  Each lichen-covered, weather-beaten signpost like this
 and this

have been replaced with new, raw-looking signposts:

I know they will weather in time, but I have to wonder how much those new signs cost - and how many people actually need them?

As one approaches the place where the path leads over the golf course and up to the Roman Camp, this used to be the sign.
It has now been removed and replaced with a plethora of signs like these:

Presumably the golf course operators are trying to protect themselves from malicious litigation and the the name of Elf 'n' Dafty.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


For most - if not all - the 1970s, among the most popular of British entertainers were the comedy duo Morcambe and Wise.  Their television shows attracted millions of viewers, although of course there were far fewer channels available forty years ago.  Many world-famous entertainers were persuaded to appear on their shows, usually to have the mickey taken quite mercilessly. Yesterday evening, the Beeb broadcast an hour-long compilation of some of their sketches and song and dance routines, including this one featuring Andre Previn.  Sit back and enjoy vintage, classic, English humour.

Monday, 6 April 2015


Gateways, bends in the road, brows of hills all seem to draw me in, egging me on to discover what lies beyond.  This is the garden gate at my cousin's farm in Somerset - where I should be today!

Sunday, 5 April 2015

White rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits

Yes, I know.  I should have said that last Thursday.  Well, I didn't and I am doing so now.

As you know very well, here in England we have pubs with all sorts of glorious names such as Bull's Head, Shepherd and Crook - and White Horses and White Stags aplenty.  But I have never come across a pub called the White Rabbit.  Another of the common names is the Red Lion.  According to one source, the reasons behind the popularity of this name are twofold: this was the emblem of John of Gaunt, at one time the most powerful man in England, and it was also the emblem of King James I of England, who was already King James VI of Scotland.  Publicans knew which side their bread was buttered!

Far less common is the name White Lion.  Basically, the design is the same as for the Red Lion but the colours are changed to (obviously) white for the lion and blue instead of yellow for the background.

But this is just taking us away from those white rabbits I was going on about.

During the week, I accompanied Leo to the Children's Hospital to deliver a load of soft toys.  These were mainly rabbits, but there were no white ones.  There were pink and blue, purple and green rabbits - and Gayle - the nurse cuddling Leo - promised that she would see one was put on the bed of each child so that they would have a surprise when they woke this morning.

Leo then went on to create his own particular brand of chaos in the outpatients' department.

Saturday, 4 April 2015


Well, we all know what heralds are, don't we?

"Hark, the herald angels sing" and all that.

Mind you, I've never understood how those angels actually managed to sing while they were so busy blowing their trumpets.

And then there was that little sporty car, the Triumph Herald, introduced in 1959 and sold throughout the 60s.

I very nearly bought one just like that - white, convertible - but the independent mechanic's report I had done wasn't over-enthusiastic so I didn't bother.

But it's a different sort of herald that has been in my mind a bit recently.  It all started while I was re-reading Bernard Cornwell's book Azincourt, a fictitious account of the campaign leading up to and the battle of Agincourt in 1415.  An excellent read, by the way.  At one point, the author mentions the heralds from both the English and the French sides meeting at the edge of the field of battle, halfway between the opposing armies. 

The idea just hovered at the back of my mind for several days until, a day or two after the re-interment of King Richard III in Leicester, a letter appeared in the paper asking why no heralds had been at the service.  Garter King of Arms - yes, that is a real title - responded that two heralds had been there, but out of uniform.

Windsor Castle Garter Day 2009 - the heralds by garethr1
Just who, I puzzled, are these heralds?  And what are their duties?

It was only then that I learned that the College of Arms, the existence of which I have known about for donkeys' years, was actually founded under Royal charter dated 2 March 1484 - by none other than Richard III!  (I will confess here that what follows is but a very brief summary of a very long Wikipedia article.)

There are, I have learned, 13 heralds who are members of the College of Arms.  There are three ranks of heralds.  First in seniority are the Kings of Arms, comprising Garter King of Arms, the principal King of Arms; Clarenceux King of Arms, whose "province" is the part of England south of the River Trent. Clarenceux is the senior of the provincial King of Arms; and Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, whose "province" is the part of England north of the River Trent (Norroy) and Northern Ireland (Ulster).  Ranking below the Kings of Arms are the six Heralds of Arms in Ordinary, whose titles are references to places or peerage titles historically associated with the monarchy.  There are Chester, Lancaster, Windsor, Somerset, Richmond and York Heralds.  And, lastly, the third rank comprises the Pursuivants of Arms in Ordinary, of whom there are four: Portcullis, Rouge Croix, Rouge Dragon and Bluemantle

In addition, there are a number of other heralds who are not members of the College of Arms.

But what do these heralds actually do?  They are seen twice a year in public; at Windsor for the Garter Day parade and in London at the State Opening of Parliament.  Otherwise they appear at state funerals and coronations.  And for these duties they receive an annual salary.  Garter King receives £49.07 and the other two Kings £20.25 each.  Heralds are paid £17.70 and Pursuivants £13.95.  Hardly enough to keep them in beer and fags, so they earn more money in other ways.  The granting of coats of arms within the United Kingdom is the sole prerogative of the British monarch. However, she has delegated this power to two authorities; the Lord Lyon, with jurisdiction over Scotland, and the College of Arms over England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Under the latter's jurisdiction, the right to arms is acquired exclusively either by proving descent in an unbroken male-line from someone registered as so entitled or by a new grant from the King of Arms.  The fees for a personal grant of arms, including a crest is £4,400, a grant to a non-profit body is £9,600 and to a commercial company is £14,300. This grant however does not include a grant of a badge, supporters or a standard, their inclusion into the grant requires extra fees. The fees mainly go towards commissioning the artwork and calligraphy on the vellum Letters Patent, which must be done by hand and in a sense is a work of art in itself, plus other administrative costs borne by the heralds and for the upkeep of the College.

So there we have it, a quite extraordinary matter for the 21st century, harking back as it does to medieval times.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Neither here nor there

I wasn't here yesterday.  Well, I was here in that I was at home in Brighton, but I wasn't posting.  And, in actual fact, I shouldn't have been here anyway.  I had a date for lunch with my one-time long lost cousin at a Wiltshire pub.  This has become an annual event over the past four years (or maybe it's five years) as the OB and I drive down to Somerset on Maundy Thursday.  And that is indeed where I should by tradition be today, on the farm in Somerset.

We have spent Easter on my cousin's farm each year for about 30 years and were due to do so again this year.  But health issues have got in the way.  The Old Bat came back from France (nearly two weeks ago now) with a cold from which she seemed to have largely recovered.  Unfortunately, it seems to have morphed into something else as she became quite unwell yesterday.  Meanwhile, she generously allowed me to share her cold - something I rarely take advantage of - and that seems to have provoked a whole flood of arthritic stiffness and pains and, for a day or two, I completely lost the will to eat.

It seems as though, for the last ten days or thereabouts, we have been like the man and woman in the weather house only with us, instead of there being one in and one out, it has been one up and one down!

Now, what can we do with that 11-pound turkey sitting in the freezer?

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A tall story

"Long Man of Wilmington" by Cupcakekid at en.wikipedia. 

The Long Man is to be found reclining on the north-facing scarp slope of the South Downs a few miles to the east of Brighton. Europe's largest representation of the human form, he stands (or lies) 226 feet tall (or long).  But the Long Man's origins are lost in not just the mists of time but the fog of human ignorance.  And that presented itself to me as a challenge.

A party of American Lions were to visit Brighton and we had arranged a programme of trips.  One of the early trips was to be to the Devil's Dyke and I was all geared up to tell our guests the legend of how the Dyke was formed.  I'm not going to repeat it here, but if you are curious, just pop over here for a minute or two.  Don't worry, we'll wait.

OK?  I'll carry on.  I fully expected that one of the trips would take our guests past the Long Man.  They would, I felt sure, ask about his origin so I started my research.  And what did I discover?  Zilch, a big round zero.  Nothing at all romantic or legendary.  And so, I was forced to invent the Legend of the Long Man.

Long, long ago, before even our great-grandfathers' great-grandfathers were born, there were two giants living in Sussex, one on each of two hills on the South Downs. No-one knows what names the hills had in those distant days, but nowadays they are called Mount Harry and Firle Beacon, probably because the giants who lived on those hills were called Harry and Firle.

Every morning, Harry would look towards the east as the sun came up. On seeing Firle, he would call out and the two of them would discuss their plans for the day, the prospects for the weather and so on. In the evening, Firle would look westwards towards the setting sun and would call out to Harry. They would tell each other about how their plans for the day had turned out and chat generally as the sky darkened from the east.

Now it came about that the two quarrelled. What the quarrel was about, nobody knows, but neighbours being neighbours, it was probably over something quite petty. Harry and Firle no longer told each other their plans, nor did they discuss how their crops were doing, nor about the chances of rain in the morning. Instead, they hurled insults at each other. Then one day, Firle throw a lump of earth at Harry. Harry responded by throwing a large lump of chalk. This hit Firle on the temple and he fell down, dead on the instant.

Harry was immediately full of remorse and rushed across the valley. There was nothing he could do: even giants can't be brought back from the dead. Harry decided he would have to bury Firle. But Firle had been standing on Windover Hill at the time and Harry couldn't face carrying him back to Firle Beacon, so he decided to bury him where he lay. He thought of erecting a headstone, but chalk - the local rock - is quite unsuitable for headstones. Instead, Harry dug round the outline of Firle's body, his two staffs included, through the shallow topsoil to the white chalk beneath so that all who passed by could see and remember the giant Firle. Harry left Sussex after that, never to be seen again, but his memorial to Firle can be seen to this day on the slope of the Downs above the village of Wilmington.  

Now comes the slightly worrying bit.  Some time later, I was idly surfing the net when I came across a page telling the story of . . .  The Long Man of Wilmington!  And it was my story!  Now, had somebody told somebody else who told somebody else who wrote it up - or did somebody else dream up a legend identical to mine?

All I can say is that there is absolutely no truth at all in my story.

At least, I don't think there is.