Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The calendar again

This is the picture She Who Must Be Obeyed chose for February next year. It is the village of Blesle, in the Auvergne,France. It is listed as one of France's most beautiful villages - along with several hundred others making the same claim. Personally, I think it looks a bit run down.
(Pardon my cynicism.)

Monday, 29 August 2016

Fruit salad

I rather think that this week will see the first blackberry ripe enough, in my opinion, for me to pick. There are already some - quite a few- that many folks would consider ripe. But my standards are higher. Granted, it helps that I pick blackberries in our own garden, which means I can leave them until they reach perfection. I suppose I am a bit fussy, but I do like my blackberries. They are possibly the best fruit for baked Alaska - which reminds me, the Old Bat hasn't done that for ages. I must remind her.

I'm not sure which is my favourite fruit. Probably either blackberries or raspberries. I particularly like both of them - but I do wish their pips would keep out of my teeth!

Blackberries and raspberries might be my favourites, but I do like plenty of other fruit as well.  That said, I am a bit choosy. For example, I do not like one particular variety of strawberry, and of course it's the one that the supermarkets prefer, probably as it has a longer shelf life than other varieties. I'm referring to Elsanta, a variety that lacks flavour. I much prefer Favorit or Driscall's and there was another variety beginning with C that I found a year or two ago but haven't seen since. That was particularly good.

I'm fussy about apple varieties as well. My first choice will always be a Cox's Orange Pippin or that newer variety, Braeburn, but I can't stand Golden Delicious and am not keen on Gala or Jazz. I know many apples are grown in France, but the climate/weather in that country is not the best for this fruit. English apples are far superior, although I realise that is just my opinion. Actually, it's not; the Old Bat agrees with me.

I know of no different varieties of banana, although I am sure there are several. They are sold simply as bananas so that is how I think of them. My preference is for fruit just a little on the unripe side, firm and full of flavour. Just a couple of days after buying they tend to be too soft for me.

Oranges, pineapple, grapes - all good by me, but I am not very keen on kiwi fruit or lychees and I actually dislike mangoes which have too slimy a consistency for me. And as for custard apples - they should never be grown!

I have never subscribed to the idea that peaches are great. They're OK, but - and many people will be incredulous at this - the best peaches come out of tins! Tinned sliced peaches with evaporated milk - a special tea-time treat when I was a boy, and still the best way to eat them!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Gone racing

Perhaps I was just a little hasty yesterday when I suggested that summer was coming to an end - the temperature did hit 27 again!

Actually, it wasn't yesterday that I wrote that, it was today - although by the time you read this it will be yesterday, or tomorrow, or last week. I'm starting this post late at night as I plan to go racing tomorrow (or today, or last week). Donkey racing - and pig racing. A nearby Lions club is running a donkey derby and my club is to take our pig racing stall. The weather forecast a few days ago was decidedly iffy but I think it might have changed since then, despite this being a bank holiday weekend.

Summer's going

It certainly seems a little cooler this morning.  We have had something of a heatwave this week - a heatwave for us Brits, anyway, with temperatures peaking at 30 or so.  30 Celsius, that is - mid to upper 80s Fahrenheit.  Even here along the coast where it's generally a little cooler we have reached 27 or 28.  That has felt oppressive with the high humidity and I have taken to walking Fern in the woods after breakfast and then not again until the evening.  Which meant that I had all afternoon free yesterday to order our kitchen calendar for next year.

Which, perhaps, deserves a little explanation.

For the past ten years or so I have had a calendar specially printed using photographs taken by myself. It's not really as extravagant as might be expected and, for the first few years at least, it was a reminder of places we had been to during the previous year. I have been very lax in my photography for the last year and so for our 2017 calendar we have had to trawl through the years.  Well, I had to trawl through the years to produce a selection of a couple of dozen for the Old Bat to choose from. It took me the better part of yesterday afternoon to upload the selection to the printers' web site.

Which reminds me.  Last Monday morning I uploaded the artwork for a poster to be printed A4 size (250 copies) and different artwork for 5,000 flyers in A5 size.  Total price £89.  They were delivered on Thursday, having been printed in Holland!

But back to the calendar.  This was the choice for January's illustration, the farm next door to our French cottage.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Thursday, 25 August 2016

As sure as a couple of eggs

I haven't heard that expression used for ages.  Over 60 years, to be a little more exact.  I wasn't sure then - and I'm not sure even now - quite whether that wording is what the man meant to say or whether he really meant 'as sure as eggs is eggs'. My considered opinion, refined over these past 60+ years, is that he was trying to be clever and paraphrase the well-known saying.  It would have been in character, or as near as I can tell, my pre-teenage self not being into character reading to any great extent.  (I'm not saying that I'm pre-teenage now, you understand, but that I was when I heard those words.)

It was at school, back in the days when the teachers (we called them masters in those days) always wore jackets, ties and GOWNS, although mortar boards had been put aside.  This particular gentleman was the deputy headmaster and was standing in for our regular master (I have a feeling it might have been a history less) who was sick or attending a funeral or something.  Anyway, this deputy headmaster, by name of Parsons, was Welsh.  I'm not sure that his place of birth really has any bearing on the matter, but then again, it might.

Because Mr P was unfamiliar with the names of the boys in my form (we weren't called students back then) he had fallen into the habit of making up names. Well, not so much making up names, as using objects as names.

"You, Tomato," he would say, pointing to a pupil. (Just an example, you understand.)

One of the pupils had what turned out to be the unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on your sense of humour) name of Gammon.

You, there, Bacon. What's your name?" demanded Mr P.

He took some convincing that the answer was not a leg-pull and threatened the whole class with a visit to the headmaster.  "I'll have you trotting along as sure as a couple of eggs!" he exclaimed.

I've never heard the phrase since, and I can find no trace of it on Google so I think he must have been making it up.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Mad dogs and Englishmen

I have recently re-read a book by possibly the most anglophile American. Although I did from time to time find myself becoming a tad irritated, it did remind me why I am very happy to have been born a native of these islands.  Mr Bryson - for he was the author - waxed lyrical about the whimsical nature of England and Englishmen.  It took an Englishman - Noel Coward - to put us on a par with mad dogs.

That, to Mr B, is one of our endearing traits, the ability always to see ourselves as not as good as other races (or nationalities).  We frequently sell ourselves short.  Mind you, many of us like to see that as eccentricity rather than madness, and eccentricity is something we admire.  It is something we do rather well.  Take place names, for example.  Many of them are pronounced completely differently to the way they are spelled.  Gloucester, Worcester and Leicester are pronounced Gloster, Wooster and Lester.  Belvoir is Beaver and - wait for it! - Woolfardisworthy (an eccentricity if ever I saw one!) is Woolsery.  And in Norfolk there are two neighbouring villages called Tivetshall.  So as to distinguish one from t'other, the names of their parish churches' patron saints are added to give Tivetshall St Mary and Tivetshall St Margaret.  Some names almost invite sniggers, names such as Nether Wallop and Parsons End.  And to think that we consider Kalamazoo odd!

But it's not only place names that are endearingly eccentric.  We have an innate need to apologise. We apologise to people who bump into us because they are not looking where they are going. We apologise when asking for something.  "I'm sorry, could you move your bag off the seat so I can sit down?"  "I'm sorry, can you tell me what time you serve breakfast?" It could be described as a sorry state of affairs.

Our people invent things and we let other nations reap the benefits. Football was 'invented' in this country - and now almost every other country plays it better than we do.  We have won the World Cup once - 50 years ago!  We invented cricket and our national team is frequently beaten by others. Mind you, cricket qualifies as an eccentricity itself!

I mentioned that the names of places are sometimes (often?) not pronounced as written but this quirkiness goes further. We spell the noun for the place where plays are staged the French way - theatre - albeit without the little hat over the 'a' but we say it almost in the American way - theater - although the emphasis is on the first syllable rather than the second. Then there is the habit we have, probably irritating to some, of adding a silent 'w' to words starting with the sound 'r' and sometimes 'h' - write, wring, who. But the 'wh' at the start of whistle, when and where is pronounced as a 'w'!  And perhaps it would be better not to get entangled with the 'ough' ending of words!

Personally, I am quite happy to live in a land of oddities.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016


There are some things I do from time to time that really do come into that category of 'stupidity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results'. Almost every day I check out the website of the local newspaper. Now, I'm not saying that is a stupid thing to do, although the paper is not exactly renowned for cutting edge journalism. No, the stupid thing is scrolling down to the readers' comments and hoping to read something that is correct in both grammar and spelling and not blaming either the Tories or the Greens for everything while at the same time insulting just about everybody else who has commented with a different point of view. And it is mainly a dozen or so people  whose noms de plume appear every time. Every time I look I resolve never to do it again. But I still do.

At least that is consistent, unlike that site which encourages travellers to write reviews of hotels and restaurants. I go there occasionally out of some masochistic tendency just to see what other people are saying about restaurants I know.  It is always restaurants that I check as I almost never stay in hotels.  But how is it that one reviewer raves about a restaurant while the next advises us never to cross its threshold?  I know that each is stating his (or her) own opinion and that one man's meat etc - but I am still staggered by the wildly different comments..  Having said (written/typed) all that, I have just checked the reviews of our local Italian - where we shall be eating tomorrow - and find that of 121 reviews, 88 rate the restaurant excellent and 27 very good.  Just goes to prove me wrong!

But another review site that provides reviews of tradespeople also puzzles me. The reviews seem to be consistently good, very good or excellent.  But every time I try to use one of the highly-rated tradesmen, I find them almost but not quite disastrous.

Is it any wonder I'm confused?

Monday, 22 August 2016

Match of this Day

Just a few days ago some 9 million people in this country alone watched the women's hockey final in the Olympic Games.  What a contrast to the 22nd August 1964 when a mere twenty thousand watched the BBC's first Match of the Day between Liverpool and Arsenal.

(For the non cognoscenti that was a football [soccer] game.)

The match was played at Anfield, Liverpool's home ground, and was won 3-2 by Liverpool.

This was, apparently, a trial run by the BBC in preparation for their coverage of the 1966 World Cup.The programme was aired during the evening on BBC2, a channel broadcast only in London and that could be watched only on the new-fangled 625 line television sets.  three years later, despite moves by several football clubs to prevent it, the programme was moved to BBC1.

Match of the Day is now recognised as the longest-running football television programme in the world.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

It never rains but what it pours

That really doesn't sound grammatically correct but it is how I remember the saying from my childhood, although I grant that quite a lot of rain has fallen since those days.

Anyway, the other day I was saying how we came home from France to a water problem - specifically water from the shower pouring through the kitchen ceiling. Now we have problems with water in France! Our son, his partner and three children arrived there on Thursday only to find that the boiler was not working so they had no hot water.

So, in between all the usual running around shopping, walking the dog, taking the Old Bat for her weekly treatment and so on, I seem to have spent hours phoning and texting (in French, even!) attempting to suggest solutions and even more hours searching the internet for suitable tradesmen to call out.

Just to rub salt in the wound (as it were), I went to feed the various animals my son has (cats, chicken and a rabbit) on a reasonably warm and fairly sunny afternoon.  As I walked down the garden, the heavens opened.  When I got back home, the only clothes I didn't change were my socks!

Thursday, 18 August 2016


I sometimes wonder if companies really want business.  Or maybe it's the staff who just can't be bothered.  Either way, it causes potential customers enormous frustration.

With the annual fireworks display getting ever closer, it is becoming more important to get all the ducks in a row.  In past years there have been several aspects of the arrangements that have been managed by, for want of a better description, partners of Brighton Lions.  This year, pretty much everything is down to us.  As the treasurer, it is down to me to deal with the money handling.  One of the more vital jobs that has to be outsourced is the secure collection, weekend storage and eventual banking of the cash takings on the day.  No way am I prepared to carry that sort of sum to my car, keep it at home for a couple of days and then take it to the bank!  When I explain that in past years the figure has been as high as £30,000 you will see what I mean.  Not that I anticipate it being anywhere near that sum this year.

Anyway, yesterday afternoon I got down to making the inquiries.  There are just two major companies of which I am aware and - for some inexplicable reason - I decided to phone them in reverse alphabetical order.

Having selected the option for new business (it was one of those dial 1 for sales, dial 2 for complaints type of thing) I was asked to provide brief details.  Which I did.  I was then told that the person who would deal with my inquiry would call me tomorrow morning (as it was then.  Today as it is now.) I'm still waiting.

So I called the second company.  This time I was asked to email brief details and the person who would deal with my inquiry would call me tomorrow morning.  Again, I am still waiting.

I wonder if either will try ringing this afternoon despite me having emphasised that I will not be available?

On the other hand, I rang the box office at our local concert hall to ask if they would sell tickets for us.  Of course, they said.  It would take just a couple of days to get everything set up, for which they would charge £25, and they would produce the tickets and sell them for 10% commission.

Nice to know some things work out well.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Nothing much else

so I simply leave you with this Quote for the Day from Robert Frost:

"The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work."

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Five-Ring Circus

While I have not actually been glued to the television, I have been watching some of the Olympics during the last few days.  I have, somewhat to my surprise, found the cycling diverting, but the swimming just doesn't cut the mustard for me. What does astound me is the dexterity, skill and sheer brute strength of the gymnasts.  And I must confess to a certain pride when I see the Union Jack hoisted to the gold medal position.  But what a shame that the recording of our national anthem is such a poor one!  Somebody described the bit between the two parts as sounding as if it was played on kazoos - and they are not far out.

It is quite staggering to see Great Britain second in the medal table, ahead of both China and Russia - and with our medal tally almost exactly equal the combined figures for France and Germany.  Of course, it is only to be expected that the countries with the largest populations and those rich enough to pour considerable funds into athletics training should win the greater number of medals. It has been reported that our national lottery has "invested" nearly £400 million, although whether that is in total or just for Rio 2016 or an annual figure, well, I have no idea.  What I have become aware of is that many members of Team GB receive funding enabling them to do nothing but train in their chosen sports.  That is what the lottery (and probably the Government) calls investment.  Which, to my mind, begs two questions.

Firstly, are Olympic medals and world titles really a sufficient return on that investment?  I suppose the winners will think so, and the general population does get a certain feel-good pay off as well.

And secondly, is it right that people should be funded by the population as a whole to pursue what most of us would describe as hobbies?  And if can be done for sportsmen and women, why not artists or poets or actors?  or train spotters or stamp collectors?  But I suspect that most people who buy a lottery ticket are quite happy with the arrangement.  As I have not bought a lottery ticket for many a year I have no grounds for complaint anyway.

Just one last thought.  The USA has (at the last count) won 26 gold medals, which works out at 1 for every 12.2 million of the population.  If we were to use that as the measure of success, the Bahamas would be at the top of the table - they have just one gold medal - but their population is just 377,000 - followed by Fiji with one gold for a population of 881,000.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Playing catch up

I haven't been around for a while, partly because I was, quite literally, not here for a week. Yep, another trip to la belle france, which went very well until I had a tyre blow on the way home.  Let me assure you, 300 miles on motorways at 50 mph gets b o r i n g.  We were even overtaken by a horse and cart!  Well, not really, but being passed by a convoy of articulated heavy goods vehicles can be quite scary.

Back home, there was trouble with the shower leaking through the kitchen ceiling.

Plumber the first: I'm 95% certain it's the drain.  Either remove the whole shower or cut a hole in the kitchen ceiling to get to it.  I'll have my mate call you.

I chased after 24 hours and gave up after 48.

Plumber number two: My mate will be with you Saturday morning.  Next week.

9 days?

To a letting agency I know.  Do you have a good plumber?

Of course.  I'll ring Sue in the office.

Sue:  He'll be with you between 1 and 3 tomorrow.

Next day, 12.40, unloading the shopping when the plumber apologises for being early. Twenty minutes later, job done.  How much?

Oh, forget it.

I'll you them another time.