Sunday, 31 January 2016


To Lewes yesterday evening where, together with Lions from Brighton and other clubs, we helped the members of Lewes Lions Club celebrate the 45th anniversary of the granting of their charter.  A good meal with excellent service from the young staff at the old White Hart Hotel.  This is an old coaching inn on the High Street, complete with an arch leading into what was the stable yard and is now a tiny and awkwardly-shaped car park.

Plaque on the wall of the White Hart
After the meal, and before the entertainment, there were the obligatory speeches.  My entries in the filibuster were for these to last about 30 to 33 minutes, with one optimistic guess at 23 minutes.  In the event, they took only 16 minutes - which must be something of a record!  The Mayor of Lewes said how impressed she was by the friendliness seen between the Lions of different clubs, something which we perhaps tend to take for granted but which can surprise non-members.

The Old Bat and I like Lewes and would happily live there.

By the way, 'Lewes' is pronounced as two syllables, almost Loo-ess but perhaps more like Lewis.

The River Ouse has cut its way through the South Downs and at the northern end of the cut stand the two towns of Lewes on one side of the river and Cliffe on the other, although Cliffe has long been subsumed.  The river is still tidal here and, centuries ago, was navigable as far upstream as Lewes.

The River Ouse just downstream from Cliffe

Because of the strategic importance of the town, the Normans built a castle here and it still dominated the skyline from some angles.

Lewes seen across the watermeadows

The narrow High Street has a delightful mix of architectural styles.

One of the joys, for me, is that there are still many independent shops, although national chains are gradually appearing.

There is so much else to say about Lewes: the battle of 1215 which was a precursor to the sealing of Magna Carta; the burning of Protestant martyrs which has led to the famous - almost infamous - bonfire societies and the celebration of the capture of Guy Fawkes; the Cluniac Priory of St Pancras, once one of the richest monasteries in England; Southover, with Anne of Cleeves House and one of the oldest mulberry trees in the country.

Maybe we'll come back one day.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Weather forecast

Many moons ago I added a widget to this blog, a widget forecasting the weather here in Brighton.  That's it, over there on the right, looking rather like this:

Now, I can't honestly say that I take much notice of it.  Which might be because
a) I rarely look at the blog as a blog;
b) I tend to distrust weather forecasts; and
c) if I want to know what the weather will be like in the next hour or so, I look out of the window.
(Side note, a digression.  Did you notice that I wrote 'out of the window', not 'out the window'?  Dropping the word 'of' seems to be creeping into use more and more and is, I think a ghastly Americanism!)

But to get back to the weather.

I'm reasonably sure that after the late news last night, both the local forecast and the national indicated that here in south-east England we were due to get rain today.  And then more rain.  And strong winds as well.

Well, there was a shower early on, but I have walked the dog twice today and stayed dry both times.  Mind you, it is windy!

But looking at that picture above (or over on the right if you are reading this today), there are yellow warnings for ice and rain, an amber warning of snow and a red warning of wind.  There is no warning of fog.

I had to go out a short while ago - just round the corner to a fellow Lions - and there was damp in the air but still no rain, the wind is blowing a hooley, and the fog is coming down.  The forecast scores just one out of five.

Thursday, 28 January 2016


My record as an investor on the Stock Exchange is quite possibly second to none.  Second to none as the world's worst.

It started out well enough, even though it was in a very small way.  I was working in a bank as what was then called a securities clerk.  Basically, the securities clerks in the branches were the ones who dealt with peoples stocks and shares, foreign transactions and safe custody and handled all the rigmarole of taking charges (mortgages) over property and other security for loans.

I was the junior of two in the securities department at the branch when I started investing on the Exchange - allow that is perhaps a slight misnomer.  It was my senior colleague who introduced me to stagging.  Stagging involves applying for and buying shares in a company just coming to market, ie the Stock exchange, and selling as soon as dealing in that company's shares opens.  Hopefully at a profit.

And we did.  Make profits, that is.  £20, £30 or so pounds here and there.  Not exactly a fortune, but this was back in the days when my annual salary was probably less than £1,000 so those profits were very useful.

Then my grandmother died and left me a useful sum of money.  I decided that I would use half to gamble, to buy speculative shares, and the other half i would invest in a blue chip company, a solid company representing no (or very little) risk.  I chose Rolls Royce as the blue chip.

All, or very nearly all, the gambles paid off, although none was a spectacular success, but I didn't lose any money.  Rolls Royce, on the other hand, went bust and I lost all that investment.

So I decided to leave the Stock Exchange alone and invest elsewhere.

When sterling went decimal, I anticipated that the 'new' halfpenny coin would be around for only a few years before it was withdrawn.  Anyone with a few mint specimens might expect to see them increase in value.  Eventually.  So I acquired - quite legitimately - a £20 box straight from the Bank of England.  The coins inside were straight from the Royal Mint in their original packaging.  Perfect.

I still have that box today.  And, I suspect, it is still worth no more than £20!

Warren Buffet is in no danger from me!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Ice fishing

My Californian friend was telling how his PHG, who is now his one-time PHG or O-TPHG, had a yearning to go ice fishing.  Frankly, I think she must need her head examining.  I have never been ordinary fishing (as opposed to the frozen variety) but it always looks to me just about as boring as watching the grass grow.  Throw into the mixture the ice and snow, and... well, you can keep it!  The idea of just sitting on the ice for hours on end in the hope that some passing fish will show an interest in the poor worm one is drowning simply appalls me.

Anyway, it reminded me of a story about a blonde who fancied the idea of ice fishing.  She placed her little stool on the ice, assembled her rod, poured a cup of coffee from her flask, and was just about to start cutting a hole in the ice when a voice boomed out,

There are no fish under the ice!

Startled, she looked around her but could see nobody.  All the same, she threw away the undrunk coffee, dismantled her rod, picked up her little stool, and moved away.

Further down the ice she set up her little stool, reassembled her rod and poured another cup of coffee from her flask.  Then, just as she was about to start cutting a hole in the ice, the voice boomed out again,

There are no fish under the ice!

Startled again, she looked round but still could see nobody.  But reminding herself that discretion is
 the better part of valour, she once again threw away the undrunk coffee, dismantled her rod, picked up her little stool, and moved away.

Not to be beaten, once she had moved farther along the ice she set up her little stool, reassembled her rod and poured the dregs of coffee from her flask.  Then, just as she was about to start cutting a hole in the ice, the voice boomed out yet again,

There are no fish under the ice!

Still there was nobody in sight, and in a small voice she all but whispered, "Is that you, God?"

replied the voice.

"It's the manager of the ice rink."

Monday, 25 January 2016

Road trip to Bosnia, part 3

I was telling how I travelled to Bosnia with an aid convoy organised by Lions Clubs in south-east England not long after the end of the war in the 1990s.  On my return I wrote an article which was published in a national newspaper.  This finishes the piece which I started two days ago.


Vitez, Bosnia – Monday

Here for another night in the guarded compound, and now on the homeward journey. We are all tired, but exhilarated.

This morning, the lorry guards started work at six o’clock, moving supplies from the larger to the smaller lorry. The idea was to speed up delivery when we returned to the camp. The smaller, 16-ton lorry can be driven into the camp but the articulated truck is too big, and had to be left almost blocking the road. By nine o’clock we were all at the camp, with the smaller lorry being unloaded. The remainder was later trans-shipped in three or four loads.

Unloading . . .

Most of the work was done by the women and young people. It seems that in this culture the men just stand and watch. Most of the children should have been at school. We all spent time talking with the refugees as best we could. Fortunately, there are four children who speak some English. Otherwise sign language suffices.

. . . while the men stand around and watch

As well as more coffee, we were given walnuts and corn on the cob roasted in the ashes under a still. Some of the older men asked us to take their photographs. By dint of crossing themselves and then holding their index fingers in the form of a cross, they indicated that the photographs were wanted for the headstones on their graves.

Distilling slivovitz - plum brandy, or firewater!

One man was so overcome with emotion that he spent five minutes shaking hands, completely speechless, while tears ran down his cheeks.  

Dover – Friday

Back in England almost 12 days to the minute since we left the country. More than 3,000 miles have been covered, with only 120 to go.

On the ferry, we took the opportunity to assess our reaction to the trip. The poverty and destruction had been far worse than we had expected. On the other hand, the people, including the refugees, had seemed reasonably well-nourished. Perhaps there is a magic ingredient in the coffee.

Oliver had told us that our supplies would see Visegrad through the winter, which was a comforting thought. We remembered, too, the gratitude of the refugees, not just for the food and clothes but also for the fact that somebody, somewhere had cared enough to do something.

We reminded ourselves how we had to show the children how to unwrap sweets and to teach then to use skipping ropes, and how the sheets of hardboard used in the packing were prized almost as greatly as the aid itself.

Learning to skip
Even hardboard is valuable

There was no doubt in our minds that this had been a very worthwhile exercise.

With smiles at the memory of one little girl fiercely clutching her new teddy bear, we started on the last lap for home.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Road trip to Bosnia, part 2

I was telling how I travelled to Bosnia with an aid convoy organised by Lions Clubs in south-east England not long after the end of the war in the 1990s.  On my return I wrote an article which was published in a national newspaper.  This continues from yesterday.


Visegrad, Bosnia – Sunday

This morning we discovered that last night’s disturbance was just a high-spirited wedding party.  We all hoped that the next weddings we attend will be a little calmer!

We met Oliver, the project manager for Children’s Aid. He has three refugee collecting centres that are in need of aid such as ours, but he recommended that we visit just the one outside Visegrad, near the eastern border of Bosnia. This is the one which is best organised, which means that there is less chance of our aid ending up on the black market. Furthermore, because we are so far behind schedule, there is little time to see the country.

Visegrad is a five-hour drive from Vitez. Our route took us through many villages and towns, including Sarajevo. Nowhere has been spared the destruction of war. In Sarajevo, high-rise blocks of flats look like ruins – then one spots just one or two flats with washing hanging on the balconies. In some places, wooden huts not much larger than garden sheds have been built at the roadside and serve as shops. There are bailey bridges over rivers and across bomb craters in the roads. Bridges and important road junctions are guarded by soldiers from the UK, Canada, Italy, Portugal and Malaysia with tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

We stopped for coffee at one of the canvas-roofed cafés that have sprung up amid the ruins where the convoys for Gorazde were assembled in less peaceful times. These cafés were opened to serve the troops of the Portuguese battalion now guarding this most important of road junctions.

Coffee stop

We had passed through Visegrad and travelled for some miles along a lane when we saw, on top of a bank beside the road, a couple of transport containers. A second glance showed that these containers were different. They have windows and chimneys and are being used as dwellings.

A second glance

The main part of the collecting centre is in a large building that was once a school. At first sight it appears almost pleasant as one looks down the drive through the trees. Then one sees the extra plywood shacks, the mud, and the women doing the laundry in a stream beside the drive.

There are about 350 people living here. We have qualms about their ability to store 30 tons of aid, but the medical supplies will be taken to a hospital and the refugees’ eagerness to take what we offer dispels our doubts.

Today there was time to unload only the smaller lorry before dusk fell. When the work was done we were invited inside for refreshment, including small cups of thick coffee.

Cooking for 84?
The refreshments were taken in one of the dormitories, a classroom that is now home to 84 people. They live and sleep in bunks not much larger than double beds, three to a bunk, with the bunks stacked two high. The only place to hang clothes is on the side of the bunks. An ancient wood-burning stove provides cooking facilities. We would consider it barely large enough for a family of five or six, so we have no idea how 84 people manage.

We eventually tore ourselves away with promises to return early tomorrow.

The vehicles are now parked outside a hotel some five miles from the camp. We wanted hot showers and a good meal. This, we were told, is the best hotel in the area. We shudder to think what the rest are like.

The hotel seems to be in use as a psychiatric clinic, but we have taken two rooms just the same. Three of us will stay with the vehicles, but there is no reason why the rest of the party cannot have a little more comfort. Unfortunately, the hot water runs only fitfully, and when it does run it is only just the tepid side of cold. The meal, when it was eventually served, was of the same standard. But at least the beds are clean.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Road trip to Bosnia, part 1

Yesterday, I was telling how I travelled to Bosnia with an aid convoy organised by Lions Clubs in south-east England not long after the end of the war in the 1990s.  On my return I wrote an article which was published in a national newspaper.  Here is the first part.


Vitez, Bosnia - Saturday

Late at night, a convoy of cars comes down the road from the mountains, lights blazing and horns blaring. They disappear somewhere in the town.Twenty minutes later we hear a burst of automatic rifle fire. Then the convoy, now twice the size, returns into the mountains, still with lights blazing and horns blaring. We settle for the night in our motor caravan, secure in the knowledge that we are in a locked compound protected by an armed guard.

Our party of seven had left Dover the previous Monday in our own convoy of two lorries and the motor caravan. The lorries were loaded with 30 tons of foodstuff, clothing, medical supplies and toys, all donated by people and companies throughout south-east England and bound for refugee camps in Bosnia. The motor caravan was to act as a support vehicle, providing facilities for both cooking and sleeping.

The journey through France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Slovenia had been fairly uneventful.With the lorries fully laden, we had plodded down the autobahns at a maximum 56mph, slowing to less than 25mph on the steeper hills.There had been delays of two and a half hours at the Austria-Slovenia border and three and a half hours at the Slovenia-Croatia border.But worse was to come.

We travelled down the Dalmatian coastline, through rugged, inhospitable mountains and past seemingly endless islands basking in bright sun in the blue Adriatic Sea.  Before reaching Split, we turned inland to head for the border crossing into Bosnia at Kamensko.  From here on we saw almost constant signs of the conflict – burnt-out cars, buses and lorries beside the road and deserted villages with every house in ruins.  In the towns, complete factories had been destroyed, their fleets of lorries standing blackened and useless after the fires.  Churches and mosques alike were without roofs or windows.

Overnight stop in Croatia

In 50 miles, perhaps one per cent of the dwellings had signs of people living in them and many of those were of questionable habitability.  Fields were untended, many of them marked as uncleared minefields.  For mile after mile we passed through ghost towns.

We reached the Croatia-Bosnia border just after 6pm yesterday, Friday.  The evening was spent in fruitless argument with customs officials in an attempt to untangle red tape.  The problem seemed to be that the Croatian officials were loath to let us leave the country because our paperwork, which was clearly marked “Humanitarian Aid”, stated that we carried coffee.  Unfortunately we were quite unable to tell them how much or where it was because we had hundreds of shoe-boxes packed by many different people.

After passing the night under the watchful eyes of the Royal Military Police and the ambulance section of 23 Para, who maintain a guard post on the border, proper hot showers this morning were a real and unexpected luxury.  We were even able to obtain an up-to-date map of Bosnia showing the IFOR (Peace Implementation Force) road markings.

Croatia - rugged, inhospitable countryside

We were starting to despair of ever entering Bosnia when, at 11.00 this morning, a British couple working for Children’s Aid Direct, the charity with which we have contacts, passed through the border from Bosnia into Croatia.  They were able to convince the officials that we carried only humanitarian aid, and by 11.15 we were on the road again.  We had spent 18 hours at the border and were now 24 hours behind schedule.

Croatia had seemed bad, but Bosnia was even worse.  Burnt out vehicles – including a tank – were more frequent.  Piles of rubble beside the road marked cleared road blocks.  Minefields were more extensive.  The IFOR presence is very heavy.

If one could ignore the signs of war, the scenery is magnificent.  Travnik must have been a beautiful town, but now every building is pock-marked by bullets and most of the doors and window frames have gone for firewood.

We finally reached Vitez late this afternoon where we made contact with Stuart.  He is the resident Children’s Aid Direct worker and an ardent St Johnstone fan!


Friday, 22 January 2016


Time went past in somewhat of a blur yesterday.  I had recently rediscovered an old photograph taken on the occasion of the official opening of the first project undertaken by Brighton Lions Housing Society.  I posted it, with a brief explanation, on the Lions Facebook page (you can see it here).  Then I had a brainwave!

So I drafted a piece that seemed about the right length and sent it, together with a copy of the old photo and pictures of the current properties owned by BLHS to the editor of the lion magazine (the British edition).  Her response was:
Thank you so much for this, what a wonderful story, and one I’ll be delighted to share within the magazine!
Would Brighton Lions Club be interested in doing a club profile as well as this article to go alongside it? 

Commissioned to write a magazine article! How could I refuse such an offer?  So that's what I was doing yesterday.  But it's not right, so this afternoon I must start again.

It's not the first time I have been commissioned to write for publication (he says, bragging again).  But last time I was paid.  Well, I was given an extra week of leave to travel to Bosnia with a Lions relief convoy, not long after the end of the Bosnian War.  In return for that extra week, I was to provide an article about the trip for publication in a national newspaper.

Maybe I could post it here?  It would be best spread over two or three days, but I'll put the first part up tomorrow.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Feeling guilty

For the last week or more I have spent far too much time indulging myself  I have played silly games on the computer - various forms of solitaire and sudoku - and on 'work' for the Lions.  What I have not done is give the Old Bat much of my attention.

I am conscious that she has very limited mobility and spends most of the day in an armchair reading - books, magazines, newspapers - and attempting the crossword.  Meanwhile, I have been upstairs in what passes for my 'office'.

Today, however, we went out for lunch.  This is a monthly affair for people with Scouting or Guiding connections, mainly in Brighton.  The OB was, for many years, a cub pack leader and she likes to go along to these things.  Frankly, I was decidedly ambivalent (if that is possible) about going today as I still have much to do for the Lions.

Unfortunately, the pub chosen for today's venue was not up to the standard it set when we went there last year.  Then it offered a carvery as well as a reasonably varied menu of standard pub grub.  Toady there was no carvery (only on Sundays now) and the rest of the menu was very restricted.  The food was fine, but the portions were no more than adequate, especially for the price.  I don't think i shall be returning in a hurry.  In fact, I suspect it won't be open too much longer, a continuation of its very chequered career.

Now I am behind on the Lions work so I feel guilty about that.

I'm in a no win situation!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Winter on the Downs

I have to say that I wasn't best pleased when I opened the curtains this morning to find that everywhere was covered in a light dusting of snow.  Winter has finally arrived!

Granted, it's nice to look at - on calendars - but I dislike snow.  It takes surprisingly little of it to make both our drive and the road impassable.  I think our drive has a slope of about 1 in 4 up to the road, and then the road runs steeply downhill.  Even if I do manage to get the car up the drive, getting back up the hill is often impossible after snow.

Yes, I can walk - even if it is more than a mile to the shop - but the Old Bat needs to go in the car if she goes anywhere, such as her weekly visit to the MS Treatment Centre.

And while the dog quite likes the snow at first, she quickly finds that it has got in between the pads on her paws and solidified into lumps of ice, making walking very painful.

But it does seem to be melting, albeit very slowly.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Rant warning!

I know that suppliers of goods and services sometimes find it necessary to offer incentives to attract new customers.  "Take out a new annual subscription to our magazine and we'll send you a £25 Marks and Spencer voucher."  That sort of thing.  You see it frequently enough and it doesn't usually bother me.  I understand why it's done.  Heck, I used to do it myself when I was running a newspaper company!

As I say, it doesn't usually bother me - provided it's all up front and obvious to all.  But what does get my goat is the sort of thing that happened to me today.

Yesterday, or maybe it was the day before but it doesn't matter either way, I received the renewal notice for my car breakdown cover.  I've been with this company for several years now and have had occasion to call them out twice; once when I couldn't start the Old Bat's car in the garage at home, and once when my car broke down on a French motorway.  The service they provided on both occasions was good, and they still allowed me a no call out discount on renewal.

But I noticed that the renewal premium had gone up from £122 this time last year to £132 this year, a fairly substantial increase in percentage terms.  So I went onto one of those price comparison web sites.  There were companies offering me the same cover for lower premiums, but I had never heard of any of them.  But my current insurer was still the cheapest of the better-known providers.  But they were quoting a premium of only £115 for the same cover!

I rang the company and pointed out to the young lady I spoke to that the renewal premium sent to me by post included 4 years' no call out discount but was still considerably higher than the internet quote.  She agreed to match the internet price, provided her team leader agreed.  After a minute or so of me holding on, she came back to offer an even lower premium, albeit only a pound lower, so I renewed at £114.

As I wrote earlier, I understand the need to offer incentives to attract new customers - but I do think the price of the product should be the same for everybody, new or continuing customers.

End of rant.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Cadbury's creme eggs did a Humpty Dumpty

News is that last year sales of these fell by £6 million against the year before.  Six million pounds!  That's one heck of a lot of creme eggs!

And it wasn't because people were suddenly concerned about the amount of sugar they were ingesting.  no, it was simply because the chocolate recipe had been changed - and the new recipe was not to people's liking.

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries there were three principal chocolate manufacturing companies in England - Cadbury's in Birmingham, Fry's in Bristol and Rowntree's in York.  Coincidentally, all three companies had Quaker origins.  Fry's was merged into Cadbury's in 1919.  Rowntree's is now part of Nestlé while Cadbury's was bought by Kraft Foods and subsequently became part of Mondelēz International, so now all British chocolate manufacturers are owned by foreign companies.

There was concern that, after the takeover by Kraft, Cadbury's chocolate would be made to different recipes, be they the American of continental European types, both of which differ from the English.  Many people put the change in the creme eggs down to the influence of the American parent company, although Cadbury's have said that they have merely reverted to the original creme egg chocolate rather than the Dairy Milk that was used latterly.

Perhaps if they wish to build up sales again they will switch back, although it is obviously too late for this year!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

So that's that.

I've got something terribly important to share with you all today.  At least, it seemed important when I first thought of it - but now I've completely forgotten what it was.

It's a bit like Cyril.  I thought of him last week sometime, though goodness knows why.  But could I remember his surname?  Of course I couldn't.  Not that it mattered anyway.  What I could remember was that he appeared on a television programme where he recited poetry.  His own atrocious poetry.  I kept thinking Cyril Pretlove, but he was a member of Brighton Lions Club and never appeared on television.  What made matters worse was that I could picture the Cyril whose name I couldn't remember, and even hear him!

Then yesterday we had sausages for dinner and that reminded me.

They were good sausages, too.  Lincolnshire sausages made by a local butcher.  None of those bread and goodness-knows-what filled things sold in supermarkets.

Anyway, I suddenly remembered that Cyril appeared in a programme hosted by Esther Rantzen called That's Life!  It wason that programme that they showed a clip of a dog which seemed to say, "Sausages", although of course it didn't really.

(You see the link now?)

And, flash bag wallop!  Cyril's surname came to me!  Fletcher!

"Cyril Fletcher was an English comedian, actor and businessman. His catchphrase was 'Pin back your lugholes'. He was best-known for his "Odd Odes", which later formed a section of the television show That's Life!" (w)

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Did I miss something?

As is my wont, I switched on the television yesterday evening intending to watch the late news, which both the Beeb and ITV broadcast at 10.00pm.  My preference is for the BBC, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with today's drivel.  In both cases, the programme is scheduled to run for 30 minutes.

Yesterday, the Beeb spent the first 15 minutes of the news programme on the death of David Bowie.  This morning, pages 2 to 6 and page 27 of my morning broadsheet were devoted to him.

Now, I'm not quite like those judges who would ask, "David Bowie; who is he?"  I have heard of him, even though my knowledge of recent pop music is almost nil and there is no way I could name any of his songs or albums.

But I have to wonder; was he really so important that so much "news" has to be devoted to him?  He wasn't exactly a 21st century Winston Churchill.

(Which just goes to show what an old curmudgeon I am becoming!)

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Stolen pictures

I was wondering what i could drone on about this morning.  The weather, I wondered?  (Showers, heavy - very heavy - at times, strong winds in the night have eased slightly now, thunder in the night).  Then I looked at Facebook and found that my son's partner (common-law daughter-in-law) had posted pictures taken yesterday as the children were skating.  The lawn behind the Royal Pavilion is turned into an ice rink each winter, and this is one of her pictures, taken (obviously) when the ice was empty.

A few days earlier, she had taken a picture of the West Pier.

I thought they are both worth sharing.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

A short note on fashion

British men are not, as far as I am aware, in general noted for their fashion sense.

(I nearly wrote English men, but I suspect that Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish men are just as bad.)

There are, of course exceptions, as there are to any rule.  But - let's face it - have we men really moved on very far from the trousers (with braces on show) rolled to mid-calf and knotted handkerchief on the head that was once de rigeur on the beach?  Nowadays it's more likely to be a lurid Hawaiian shirt straining over a bulging stomach, shorts, and sandals - with socks, of course.  But that isn't usual away from Spanish beach resorts and in the gloom of an English (or Welsh or Scots or Northern Irish) January.  Well, not all of it.

Photo: The Guardian
It must have been three, or maybe four or even more, years ago that postmen in one English town set themselves a challenge.  They wanted to see how long in the winter months they could wear their summer uniform shorts.  Now it is standard practice for posties to wear shorts all year round.

And the practice has spread.  Only the other day I met a man walking his dog, dressed (the man, not the dog) in fur-lined hat with ear flaps, a thick anorak, walking boots (with thick socks) - and shorts!

When the Old Bat remarked that it was a crazy thing to do, I pointed out that when I was a lad, boys wore short trousers all year round until the age of 13 or so.  Teenagers in those days would never wear shorts except when playing football.  But fashions are bound to change over half a century!

Friday, 8 January 2016

What the xxx?

I remember that when I was a Brussels Sprout, my scoutmaster remonstrated with another lad over his use of what the television people euphemistically call strong language.

"What," he asked, "will you say when you get really angry if you use all your swear words all the time?"

Most of my working life was spent in mixed company and in the type of environment where swearing would have been unacceptable, mixed company or not.  However, I have served on board warships and worked on building sites so my ears have not been wrapped in cotton wool.  I don't consciously make an effort to avoid swearing, but I do so only rarely - and then usually under my breath.  Or almost.  But I don't consider myself overly prudish where language is concerned.

All the same, I do get irritated when authors, in what they consider attempts at realism, sprinkle their books liberally with the F word.  I am reading one such book now, Pray for the Dying by Quintin Jardine.  It's basically a good yarn, but it would be no worse if it were a few dozen words shorter!

Thursday, 7 January 2016

I used to like beer

Yes, there was indeed a time when I drank beer.  Proper beer, not that nasty chemical stuff the brew on the continent which seems nowadays to be all the rage but good old English ale.  Unfortunately I developed a sort of allergic reaction to it.  Just half a pint would give me a splitting headache, so I switched to Scotch and now I tend to drink wine.

But whether I'm drinking wine or, on a hot day, a bitter shandy, I do like an English pub, especially a village pub.

The Old Bat and I were in just such a one last night.  Not that one in the picture; I haven't been in that one for quite a while and it does tend to be a bit touristy for my liking; the ratio of visitors to locals is too high for it to really qualify as a village pub in my opinion. No, we had a meal in the Abergavenny Arms in the village of Rodmell.  Like all good village pubs, there were a fair number of locals drinking.  Both the staff and the locals were friendly and chatty, quite happy to include us in their conversations.  And also like all good village pubs, dogs were welcome.

If I were asked to list things things that I like about living in England, village pubs would be high on the list.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Vulpes vulpes

That - vulpes vulpes - is an animal I do not like.

That's right - it's the fox.  Granted, it can be a handsome beast, and the sight of fox cubs playing on the lawn is a delight.  But - too often a lamb that was in the field one day has been gone the next.  And closer to home the local (urban) dog foxes and vixens have been responsible for disturbing my sleep.  It only takes a dog to bark or a vixen to yowl - and what a horrible noise that is - for our dog to start barking and wake me up.  Last night it was three times!

On the other hand, going back almost a week, the year started on a positive note as far as wild life is concerned.  Walking the dog in the park, I stopped to listen to a song thrush.  That was a delight in itself, but as I was trying to catch sight of the songster, I was distracted by a flock of blue tits.  Well, there might have been grat tits with them, but I saw none.  What I did see, however, was a bird slightly smaller than the tits and with different plumage.  A goldcrest.  I hadn't seen one of those for years.

(Both the pictures have been 'borrowed'.)

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Rain, rain, go to...

Spain, California - anywhere but here!

Walking the dog has become a bit of a nightmare.  The paths in the woods are inches deep in squelchy mud, making any slope with more than a very gentle gradient a dangerous descent.  Meanwhile, the grass in the parks and fields has been trodden away - and the soil oozes water where there are not puddles lying on the surface.  And this is at the tops of hills where the underlying rock is permeable chalk!

And now:

The one consolation - well, there are more consolations than one but this is the main one -is that this part of the country has, so far, avoided the floods that folks in Cumbria, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Scotland have had to endure.

Monday, 4 January 2016

A conundrum

I realise that my puzzlement may well be down to my failure to understanding, but I have for many years wrestled with the apparent contradiction between the Old Testament's 'eye for an eye' and the exhortation in the New Testament to turn the other cheek.  I do tend towards the New Testament idea rather than the Old.  For instance, I find myself unable to agree with capital punishment, although that might be more because I accept the possibility of miscarriages of justice.  And anyway, are there really people who are so completely evil that they are incapable of ever repenting?

Yet I could not help but, not rejoice, but feel relief when I heard of the death of Mohammed Emwazi, dubbed Jihadi John by the media.

And now it seems that there is a 'new' Jihadi John.

There will, I fear, be many more deaths before this evil that is known as ISIL is purged from the world.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Here and there

Well, that's it for another year.  I ate the last slice of Christmas cake for lunch - after the cheese and biscuits.  The turkey is gone as well - days ago! - and there might be just a spoonful of brandy butter left in the fridge.

I was quite happy until I saw that my son and his partner/girl friend (who are using our French hideaway over the New Year) ate at our favourite restaurant last night.  And just to add insult to injury, I see from the photos Tam posted on F/b that they were sitting at 'our' table!

I looked through my photos and came up with what the restaurant looked like when we first knew it (that's 'our' table under the mirror):

It's been 'updated' since then:

While they are away, there animals are seen to by Tam's father and me on a rota.  There are one rabbit, two cats and three hens to be fed and watered.  I'm very glad that it's not me on duty today as it's absolutely pxxxing down out there!  Even the dog has decided she doesn't really want a walk this afternoon!!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

I can't get no inspiration

so you'll just have to put up with this:

Friday, 1 January 2016

Honours even

Except that they are not.  Which a rather obtuse reference to my objection to this country's honours system.

For any reader who is unaware, here in good old Blighty we still have a system for awarding people with honours twice a year: at the New Year and on the Queen's birthday.  Her official birthday, that is.

[Side note: Her Majesty has two birthdays each year: her true birthday (21st April) and her official birthday, which is somewhen in June.  I have no idea how this double-birthday wheeze started - or when - but I can tell you that the official birthday is marked by a parade known as Trooping the Colour.]

According to the Government's web site,

The honours system recognises people who have:

  • made achievements in public life
  • committed themselves to serving and helping Britain
They’ll usually have made life better for other people or be outstanding at what they do.

Most honours involve membership in one of the five classes of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.  OK, so there is no British Empire any longer, but the Order still exists!  The majority of awards are in the lowest class - the MBE - or Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.  Then comes the OBE - Officer of the Order, followed by CBE - Commander, and then the top two classes - Knight Commander (KBE) and Knight Grand Cross (GBE).  Holders of the top two awards are called Sir Thingummy, or Dame Thingummy if the holder is a lady.

And this is where I climb onto my soapbox.

Why is it that entertainers and sportsmen and women receive the higher awards - most often the OBE but sometimes a higher class - usually (but not always or exclusively) for being good at what they do while people who have given many, many hours of voluntary service to charities and the like receive only the MBE?

But hey ho, that's life.  It isn't going to affect me anyway!