Friday, 24 July 2015

Peter Sellers

Sometimes called the greatest comedian of all time, Peter Sellers died 35 years ago today at the age of 54.  I remember nearly splitting my sides with laughter at The Goon Show, a zany radio programme in which he appeared with Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine and Harry Secombe.  He is often remembered for his role in the film The Millionairess in which he starred with Sophia Loren.  The song they recorded, Goodness Gracious Me, doesn't feature in the film and it was released as a single simply to promote the film.  Back in 1960 it didn't bother anybody, but I wonder what the politically correct brigade would make of it now?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Swan Upping

Picture: Heathcliff O'Malley
The third week in July each year sees a centuries-old tradition enacted - swan upping.

Swan upping is the annual census of the swan population on stretches of the Thames in the counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. This historic ceremony dates from the twelfth century, when the Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans. At that time swans were regarded as a delicious dish at banquets and feasts.

Today, the Crown retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but The Queen only exercises her ownership on certain stretches of the Thames and its surrounding tributaries.

This ownership is shared with the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers, who were granted rights of ownership by the Crown in the fifteenth century. Nowadays, of course, the swans are no longer eaten.

In the Swan Upping ceremony, The Queen's Swan Marker, the Royal Swan Uppers and the Swan Uppers of the Vintners' and Dyers' livery companies use six traditional Thames rowing skiffs in their five-day journey up-river.  The Queen's Swan Uppers wear traditional scarlet uniforms and each boat flies appropriate flags and pennants.

When a brood of cygnets is sighted, a cry of "All up!" is given to signal that the boats should get into position. On passing Windsor Castle, the rowers stand to attention in their boat with oars raised and salute "Her Majesty The Queen, Seigneur of the Swans".  The cygnets are weighed and measured to obtain estimates of growth rates and the birds are examined for any sign of injury (commonly caused by fishing hooks and line).

The swans are also given a health check and ringed with individual identification numbers by The Queen's Swan Warden, a Professor of Ornithology at the University of Oxford's Department of Zoology. The swans are then set free again.

Most words lifted straight from the web site.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A record?

Or maybe it just proves that I need to get a life!

This is post number 2500 on this blog.

Now I'm packing the car ready to go wineracking.  And I have just discovered this promotional video I made some years ago when we were still renting the cottage as a gite:

Monday, 20 July 2015

Avian ASBO kids

I have long had my doubts concerning the efficacy of ASBOs - Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.  Wikiwot defines ASBOs thus:
An Anti-Social Behaviour Order is an Order of the Court which tells an individual over 10 years old how they must not behave.
An Order can contain only negative prohibitions. It cannot contain a positive obligation. To obtain an ASBO, a two-stage test must be satisfied by the applicant authority (see s.1(1) Crime and Disorder Act 1998). The first is that the defendant has committed acts causing or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress within six months of the date of issue of the summons. The second is that an order is necessary to protect persons from further anti-social behaviour.
They have always seemed to me to be little more than somebody saying, "You've been a bad boy.  Don't do it again."   I understand that in some areas, teenagers consider an ASBO a badge of honour, proof that they are at one with the rest of the gang.

But where, you might ask, does the avian reference in the heading come in?  Quite simply, it was how one newspaper described the herring gull.

The herring gull grows to or just over 2 feet long and has a wingspan of about 4 feet.  It is possibly the most common gull around the shores of this country - and, indeed, inland.  And at this time of the year it can be particularly badly behaved.

The species has become almost immune to the presence of people.  In fact, it seems to be drawn to them, especially if they have food.  Here in Brighton they will swoop to seize chips or other food from the hand - and not just singly; usually they operate in gangs.  They have been know to attack and kill small dogs, and even a tortoise was flipped over so that its soft underside could be attacked.

The gulls often nest on buildings and when they have young, they become especially aggressive, attacking people who are judged to have approached too close to the nest.

But the herring gull is a protected species and it is an offence to disturb the nests or to kill the birds without first obtaining a special license.  Even with a license, it is difficult for local authorities to know just how to control the herring gull population.  The most usual way is, I believe, to smash the eggs - presumably the smashing being done by men wearing full protective clothing!

A few years ago our neighbours fed the herring gulls by throwing bread onto their garage roof.  One particular gull would wait on the corner of the garage, calling impatiently until food was provided.  He or she even brought the youngster along for a meal.  Thankfully, I can say that our neighbours no longer feed the critters.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

In the public interest?

I am a great believer in the freedom of the press.  In my opinion, any democracy needs the beast to look after the public interest.  On the whole, the British press acts responsibly, not abusing its freedom, although the phone hacking scandal brought much of the industry into disrepute.  But this week the Sun was described as 'having 'reached a new low'.

The newspaper - although I hesitate to use the word as 'comic' would seem to me to be a more accurate description of the publication - somehow obtained a published - on its front page, no less - a picture of the Queen giving a Nazi salute.

That said, the picture was a frame from a home video shot in 1933 when the then Princess Elizabeth was just 7 years old.  The movie, thought to have been taken by the Queen's late father, also shows her sister, the later Princess Margaret, and their mother, the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and the Princesses' uncle, then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor, giving the salute.  Quite why the paper's managing editor thinks the picture is a matter of historical significance is beyond me.

The Queen is said to be livid and Buckingham Palace has been reported as considering legal action.

Frankly, I would have thought that the least said or done, the sooner this discourtesy would be forgotten.  Nobody in their right mind would think that a seven-year-old girl would appreciate the significance of that gesture, especially as Hitler had been in power only a few months when the film was shot.

And which of us has not, at one time or another, given the Nazi salute in an act of mockery?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

When you've nothing to say . . .

Although I do have plenty to say.  It's just that what I have to say would be of interest to very few people, so I won't bother.  Instead, here is a picture of an English summer morning on the South Downs.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Silver threads among the gold

Darling, I am growing old,  
Silver threads among the gold.
I really don't think I could be described as a vain man.  Granted, for the last few years I have used a small dab of gel on my hair to stop that annoying flop over the forehead but that's more a matter of comfort than for appearance sake.  It didn't bother me when my hair started to go grey, although I am still surprised that when I look in the mirror there appears to be some colour left.  But in photographs, my hair looks white or even silver.  And I'm going thin on top as well.  This was brought home to me about two or three years ago by my granddaughter, then aged about 5 or 6.

"Grandad," she said, "I can see your head through your hair."

My maternal grandfather had a full head of white hair right up until his death in his mid-80s and I had always hoped that I might have inherited that gene through my mother.  (Yes, all right; call me vain if you must.)  Instead, it seems I have my paternal grandfather's hair.  Or rather, I don't have.  He didn't either.  Have hair, I mean.  But OK, I can live with that.  Well, I shall have to, won't I?

But this morning...


I looked in the mirror - and saw white hairs in my eyebrows!

I'm not just GROWING old, I've GROWN old!! 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Cherry ripe, ripe I cry!

When I was but a wee bitty laddie, my family lived on the edge of the cherry-growing area of Kent.  We didn't have far to walk before we reached the Darland Banks, as the nearest part of the North Downs was called, from where we had views across the hop fields and cherry orchards.  most of the hops and cherries are now gone, but back in those days this was part of the Garden of England.  In those days, too, whenever my brother and I were sent out to play, our mother would - in the season - give us each a handful of cherries to take with us.

We had our own cherry tree in the garden although the fruit was only good for cooking.  But the cherry pies Mum made were delicious.

Not all that long after we moved into this house some 45 years ago, I planted a cherry tree in the garden.  Yesterday morning, when I looked out of the bedroom window, I noticed that the fruit was just about ready for picking.  By the evening, the crop had been harvested, the tree stripped bare.  But not by any human hands.  It was wood pigeons, jackdaws and blackbirds that enjoyed our cherries this year.  As last year.  And the year before that.

I shall just have to buy some cherries in the shops.

Talking of which, I wanted to buy strawberries the other day.  I have to buy them from the shop although I would much prefer to pick my own but the back and knees won't take it.  So I went to the soft fruit area in the supermarket where I saw tray after tray of Dutch strawberries.  Dutch strawberries in the heart of the English season!  To make matters worse, they were all of the Elsanta variety, a variety I will not buy as the fruit simply does not have the right flavour.  I suppose it looks good and has a longer shelf-life than the varieties I prefer, like Sonata or Driscoll's Jubilee.  Fortunately, I did eventually find some Scottish-grown Sonata.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Counting my blessings


There are times when I am brought up short.  Yesterday evening was one of them.

I think it was in 1927 that Helen Keller attended a Lions Clubs convention and it was at that convention that she called upon Lions across the world to be 'Knights of the Blind'.  And Lions Clubs across the world have, since then, frequently had service to blind members of the community in their programmes.  It is now almost two weeks since I was given a tour of a school just outside Munich, a school for blind and partially sighted children.  I and the rest of my party were humbled by the dedication of the teaching staff - and amazed at the results of their patience.  We all fumbled our way across messages written in braille; we learned just how difficult it is to recognise the model of a well-known object just by touch.  We were awestruck.

Then yesterday I was one of the duty drivers for a club for blind and partially-sighted people.  After a short woodland walk - I'm uncertain how much that was appreciated - we had a pub meal.  I had a partially-sighted woman on my right, but the woman on my left is completely blind.  I have met her before and I think she told me that she has not been blind from birth.  I watched - surreptitiously, in case she realised - as she ate her cod and chips with mushy peas.  She carefully prodded food with her fork before cutting it.  But how did she know where on the plate her food was for her to prod it?  Could she tell the difference between the fish and the chips before she tasted which it was?

Life for her and blind people is a never-ending struggle just to do things to do which I and many of us take our ability for granted.

And I should add that Julie's husband Michael lost his job as a school caretaker because of his failing eyesight.

Need I say more?

Tuesday, 14 July 2015


This is the Neuen Schloss (New Palace) in Oberschleissheim and it was the venue for the highlight of our recent trip to visit Schleissheim Lions Club in Bavaria.

Every year, the Schleissheim Lions hire the palace to put on a concert they call Schlossfest, one of their two biggest fund-raising events each year..

The ground floor of the palace has one large room in the central part of the picture above with an equally large room on the floor above.  Outside is a terrace with a flight of steps leading down to the garden.  It is on that terrace that a band played for an hour before the concert itself began.  I pictures them rehearsing during the afternoon.

Concert-goers entered the palace from the front and made their way into the large reception room where they were presented with a programme and a glass of bubbly (or orange juice).  Tombola prizes had been scrounged by the Lions - several hundred of them - and these were displayed on banks of tables.

An impressive staircase led to the first floor where the room had been set up as a concert hall, seating some 400 or more.  (Tucked away at the far end of a corridor was a lift for the less mobile.)

For an hour we were entertained by very talented young musicians ranging in age from 10 to 19.  Each had been in the top three of national competitions and each was from the local area.  During the concert, four groups of youngsters were presented with prizes of €1,000 in recognition of community service they provided. The prizes were donated by a local bank.

After the concert, drinks and a two-course dinner could be collected in the ground floor reception room and tables and benches had been set up in the garden.

I won four prizes in the tombola: a large lavender plant at least 18 inches across - imagine trying to take that on Easyjet!; a pass for 10 free sessions at a local gym; a voucher for a meal at a local restaurant; and a bottle of wine, which I couldn't bring home as we had no hold luggage.  All four found good homes among our hosts.

Monday, 13 July 2015

It's the little things...

...that get me.

The totally unimportant things.

The flight back from Munich, a late night flight, is delayed by an hour.  On arrival at Gatwick, the air-bridge is faulty and we have another fairly lengthy wait for an engineer to fix it.  As a result, we get home at 2.00am - and I have an 8.30 appointment so precious little sleep.  Oh well, that's just one of those things.

A driver in the nearside lane cuts across the roundabout, nearly taking me with him.  These things happen.

I'm stationary in my car, waiting to turn, when somebody ploughs into the back of me.  As a result the car is in the bodyshop for a month, but, again, that's life.

BUT WHY WON'T BLOGGER SEND ME EMAILS FOR EVERY COMMENT ON THIS BLOG!  I get some, but it seems that some bloggers (including you, Skip) are considered to be persona non grata (or whatever the Latin should be).  And that irritates me no end!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Acknowledging The Few

I was gobsmacked to read in Friday's paper that a survey conducted for (I think) the RAF Benevolent Fund - though it beats me why they should spend money conducting such a survey - showed that only 1 in 4 young people (however they define 'young') knows anything about the Battle of Britain.  Well, just in case any of those young people happen across this blog, it was the first aerial battle and was fought between the Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe between July and September 1940, the first day of the battle being 10th July so Friday was the 75th anniversary.

Hitler was massing his troops on the other side of the Channel ready to launch Operation Sealion, the invasion of Great Britain.  But he needed to gain control of the skies before he could start.  The pilots of the RAF, flying Spitfires and Hurricanes, managed to prevent the Luftwaffe gaining control and Hitler switched his attention to the invasion of Russia.  It seems highly likely that if Operation Sealion had been launched, the whole of Britain would have been occupied and the outcome of World War II might have been very different.

As Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared, "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few".  Those RAF pilots, many of whom were still in their teens, have ever since been known as The Few.

The Battle of Britain Memorial is sited high on the clifftop between Dover and Folkestone, at the heart of Hellfire Corner, as this part of England was known, right where the battle was fiercest.  It features an airman sitting and watching over the Channel, waiting for the call to "scramble".

Saturday, 11 July 2015

I've been busy

Indeed I have!  Frantically so.  I have not even found the time to do the usual blog rounds during the last few days, let alone post anything myself.  But - I hope - that is over and I can get back to what passes as normal in my little world.

Meanwhile, meet Herman, the lederhosen-clad duck who greeted us in the shower room in our hotel in Bavaria last weekend.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Annual health check

The nurse assures me that I am still alive as my pulse and blood pressure are just what they should be.  My weight is very good for my height and my alcohol and salt consumption are both within limits.  I now await the results of the blood and urine tests.  At least the nurse didn't utter those damning - some might say patronising - words. "for your age".

Meanwhile, there is too much calling for my attention for me to write any more.

Monday, 6 July 2015

And here we are, home again

Last Wednesday, I and several other members of Brighton Lions Club flew to Germany to meet up with the Schleissheim Lions Club with which we are slowly forming a close relationship.  We flew back last night after a most interesting and enjoyable few days in and around Munich.  We left Munich in temperatures about 35 Celsius, only to land at Gatwick where the temperature was 20 degrees lower.  It felt almost freezing!

I can't say I am over-keen on Bavarian food and I'm unable to drink their beer, but visits to beer
gardens and the famous Hofbrauhaus in Munich were musts.

The oompah band was playing when we went into the Hofbrauhaus, as shown left.  The beer hall is enormous with dozens of large tables, some of which are reserved on regular and/or at regular times for regular guests.  Regular guests are also able to keep their own beer steins in special locked cages - but there are only 550 of these and the right to keep one's own stein here can be passed on as an inheritance!

When I - and many others - hear the name 'Dachau' there is only one thing that springs to mind.  Or there was only one thing.  That has changed a little now as we visited the town yesterday for the church fete.  We arrived just before the open-air service had finished and were amused to see that as the congregation stood for the final hymn, some men swiftly removed the benches acting as pews.  These were then placed beside the tables already set up under the chestnut trees in readiness for the midday meal - and drinks - to be served.  We spent most of the afternoon relaxing in the shade of the trees while the temperature soared to nearly 40 C - 104F, eating, drinking and chatting with our German friends.

So now its back to earth again.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Fake antiques

It was reported in yesterday's newspaper that the Great Wall of China is now the Not So Great Wall of China.  It seems that locals have helped themselves to some of the stones in order to build houses for themselves - although that was probably not within living memory.  Some parts of the Wall - presumably smaller stones - are being sold to tourists, although I beg leave to be just a tad sceptical of the origin of those stones.  Some of the towers are crumbling because nobody is quite sure just who is responsible for their upkeep.  Other parts of the Wall are simply wearing away as a result of too many tourists.  A bit like constant dripping wears away a stone.

Reading that news story made me wonder; just how much of the Wall really is the genuine, original thing?

"This is my grandfather's axe.  My father gave it a new head and I have replaced the haft."

It happens all around us.  Take some of the old cathedrals of England, such as Canterbury.  Parts of the building, especially statues and other fiddly bits, have eroded badly over the centuries and stonemasons are busy making replacement parts.  Just how much of the building must be original for it truly to be called a 14th (or whatever) century cathedral?

And what about HMS Victory, Lord nelson's flagship from the Battle of Trafalgar?  It has been sitting in Portsmouth dockyard for many a long year and I am reasonably sure that bits of decking, rigging etc have been replaced over time.

Or a really old house such as the Clergy House at Alfriston.  This has a thatched roof which has certainly been replaced several times since the house was constructed in the 14th century.
The Clergy House, Alfriston.                                            © John Miller

And is that glass in the window really 700 years old?

Mention of the Victory reminds me of the story of the guide who told a party of tourists, "This brass plate is the spot where Admiral Lord Nelson Fell".

Said a tourist, "I'm not surprised,  I nearly tripped on it myself!"