Monday, 20 March 2017

100 today

Dame Vera Lynn, the nation's sweetheart. Difficult to decide which Y/t clip to use to mark her birthday.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

A Saturday rant

Although why it should be a "Saturday" rant I have no idea. There really is nothing special about Saturdays that makes me rant. Any day will do!

The local council (Brighton & Hove City Council - just in case you are interested, which you probably aren't) seems determined to make life difficult for the motorist. It was two or three years ago that parking charges on the sea front were increased to £20 a day. At that time, each individual parking bay had its own meter that had to be fed with coins. No coin of a denomination greater than £1 was accepted, so any visitor wanting to park for the day on the sea front (always assuming he could find a space) was faced with the problem of having to insert twenty £1 coins. No councillor or official seemed to question whether or not a visitor would come armed with £20 in pound coins!

There have been several other things done to make life difficult for drivers: taking one lane of a two-lane carriageway for a cycle lane which is rarely used by cyclists; marking bus lanes that are operational 24 hours a day (not simply in rush hours); imposing an almost city-wide 20mph speed limit - which is ignored by nearly every driver, including police drivers.

OK, I have learned to live with most of those problems - all of them, in fact. But this week I came across another.

"Residents only" parking areas have slowly spread outwards from the centre but there are always a few spaces that residents can use but non-residents as well, so long as they pay at the nearby meter. Many of these meters have been replaced by new ones that do not take money. To park in those areas drivers must first download an app onto their phones and then pay br credit or debit card when they park. Which is OK if you have a suitable phone. I don't. To make matters worse, the council imposes a handling charge for payment by card. So, to pay for a hour's parking, which costs £1, the driver has to pay a surcharge of 15p. That represents an increase in the cost of no less than 15%!


But the council did promise that, in each street subject to paying, there would be a machine accepting cash.

On one afternoon each week I collect my granddaughter from school. Parking is usually easier in the street at the back of the school, so that is where I head. This street suns roughly north-south, and on the west side of the street parking is restricted to residents only. The back entrance to the school is halfway along the east side. Parking on this side is available for non-residents but on one side of the entrance drivers must pay by card only. So it has been my practice to find a space the other side of the entrance where there is a machine accepting coins. Or there was such a machine. This week I arrived to find a completely new machine, a machine that accepts credit cards. But not cash. I ahd taken coins to pay for parking - but I had no card with me, so I was unable to pay. Luckily, I was not ticketed by a warden. If I had been, I would have gone to court if necessary.

I have to wonder how the council expects to receive payment from people who, for one reason or another, have no credit or debit card. And can they arbitrarily decide not to accept coins of the realm, coins which are legal tender? I wish I knew how to find out.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Storm in a teacup

The OB always likes to watch the cookery programmes of that National treasure, Aunty Mary. Mary Berry, that is. Only her cookery programmes, not the GBBO.  Anyway, all hell broke loose in social media (and then into the national press) after her programme last week.  She was making her version of spag bol, only she doesn't use spaghetti, preferring instead pappardelle, which she claims goes much better than the boot laces. But it wasn't her change of pasta that infuriated people; it was the use of two unexpected ingredients - white wine and double cream. Some viewers were so incensed that they had to change channels or switch off!

Well, really! What is it with some people that they get so upset about such little things? Mind you, there were some Italians who responded that in their home areas it was normal to add wine or cream, so there!!

Although I am no cook and have no aspiration to improve my ability to any great extent, I usually watch those programmes - and salivate over the results MB achieves! And that spag bol - all right, pappardelle bolognese - looked really delicious. the OB cooked spag bol the other evening - and she did use spaghetti and she didn't use wine or cream. But it was still pretty good.

I seem to remember that the National Treasure did something unorthodox again this week, but I'm blowed if I can remember what it was. Perhaps it's because we watched Broadchurch afterwards - and blow me down if there wasn't a cookery hiatus (or something) in that. The leading actor made a cup of tea in a microwave. And if there is one thing guaranteed to stir up the English, it is the age-old argument about how to make the best cup of tea.

For a start, there is the little matter of where the tea comes from. In the 'good old days'. society hostesses would always have two pots of tea on the table and guests would be asked, "China or Indian?" (Note: China, not Chinese.) i don't suppose for one moment that such a question would be asked these days as tea is pretty much a mixture of various varieties. Except that some people prefer Earl Grey with its hint of bergamot.

But discussions (perhaps I should say 'arguments') continue whether tea bags are as good as loose tea, whether or not the tea bags are placed in a teapot or just dropped into the cups. And if one uses a teapot, is it really necessary to warm the pot with hot water before putting the tea leaves in?

Some people claim that they can taste a difference depending on whether the milk was put in the cup before or after the tea. I'm not sure I can believe that - but some people...

The temperature of the water is another moot point. Some say it should be just off the boil, although I have not heard it specified whether just before the boil or a little after. others swear that the water should be just boiling as the bubbles in boiling water enhance the aroma (or the flavour) of the tea.

But whatever our different views on how to make a cup of tea, most English people are united in one thing: you can't get a nice cup of tea in any other country. oh, and the American iced tea just doesn't count as tea!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Beware the Ides of March

No, the Ides of March is tomorrow, not today. Or should the verb be 'are' instead of 'is'? Is 'ides' plural or singular? Well, it really doesn't matter at all in the context of this blog post. Nor does it matter at all why March 15th should be called the ides.

Ever since Julius Geyser was killed on the day - and Shakespeare famously had a soothsayer warn him to beware the Ides of March - the day has assumed the same sort of doom potency as Friday 13th. And that is why Prime Minister Theresa May was warned against triggering Article 50 tomorrow. I confess that I had hoped she would do so today. The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill 2016-17 was passed yesterday by both Houses of Parliament and ix expected to receive Royal Assent - and thereby pass into law - this morning. But it has been announced that the PM is unlikely to trigger Article 50 before next week.

You might gather that I voted in the referendum last June to leave the European Union as I was - and remain - convinced that the United Kingdom will be better outside that body. I celebration of the passing of that Bill, I give you a video of part of the Last Night of the Proms, including a rather quirky setting of the National Anthem. I was taken aback the first time I heard this particular setting; I wasn't at all sure that I approved or liked it, but it has rather grown on me. See what you think.

Saturday, 11 March 2017


I've nearly done it again, haven't I?  Tomorrow it will be a week since I last dipped my toe in the blogwater.  As mt good friend Skip commented, life has a habit of getting in the way.

I have, for as much of my life as I can remember, enjoyed reading.  Some people might look down their noses at my choice of reading matter as none of it is serious, factual staff. I say 'none' when I should, really, say 'very little' as I have been known to take in a bit of history at times.  But biography, for the most part (especially autobiography), leaves me cold.  I might glance at the occasional travel book, but my first love remains fiction.  Even when a pre-teenager, I was a regular visitor at the public library children's section.  Jennings and Biggles were great favourites, along with the Swallows and Amazons books.

Despite my love of books, I have never been one for buying a lot of them.  It was a little different when a standard paperback cost just a shilling, with a book containing more pages costing as much as one and sixpence!  That was a bit rich for my teenage pocket.  I still own remarkably few books, mainly titles that I am happy to read again.  And again.  And again.  There are people who have managed to buy books for decades - and still have every one on shelves that appear in every room in the house.  My attitude has been that borrowing the books I want from the library (at no cost - after all I am careful with my money!) saves me from buying books I think I might like but which I put aside after only a couple of chapters.

Much as I like the feel of a book in my hands - and the smell of a brand new book, although this doesn't comer with library books - there are downsides to my practice.  Nowadays libraries seem much better at weeding out the more battered volumes that I used to come across from time to time, but the books are frequently "well loved" with turned down corners and the (very) occasional comment pencilled in the margin.  But more to the point, there are books written in series.  Not just trilogies, but (for example) Susan Hill's Serailler books and others where the characters are developed little by little throughout the series, even though each book is whole and entire to itself. By starting with, for instance, the fourth book in the series, the reader misses all the nuances of the back story even though the vital parts are covered by the author.

That is a problem I have recently eradicated.  I bought a Kindle.  I do miss the feel of the book in my hands - occasionally - and I do have to pay for my books - for the most part, although many classics can be downloaded free - but the Kindle version is generally much cheaper than even a paperback.  And I don't have the storage problem either.  What it does mean is that I can read a series in the correct order.  I'm currently going through Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series and thoroughly enjoying doing so IN ORDER!

Yes, I'm a convert.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Sixth sense

The last carnival organised by Brighton Lions Club was 15 years ago but I still remember the reaction of some people when we were selling programmes from door to door.

"We always support Brighton Lions. You spend so much of your money locally." We still do. In fact, more than 90% of our charitable expenditure is for the benefit of people in Brighton & Hove.

"Brighton Lions are careful how you spend money."

It was that second comment that came back to me this week. A local group asked us for financial support (I don't propose to go into detail - you will see why in a moment) but for some reason my antennae started twitching. A sixth sense was warning me that we should be careful.

Another memory came back.

(That's one of the things about getting old; life gets interrupted by memories!)

It must have been 40+ years ago that my wife and I and our two young sons spent a few days with my brother, his wife and their son. My brother was then a policeman living on the edge of the New Forest. He and I drove into the forest to walk the dogs. As we set off, he commented on a car parked some two or three hundred yards away, just outside the car park. He felt there was something wrong. When we returned some time later, his hackles rose again so we walked across. It was only as we got much closer that we were able to see the hosepipe from the exhaust into a window. An example of the sixth sense that so many policemen develop.

Anyway, the more I dug into this application for money, the more questions needed to be answered. In my opinion, anyway.

I am probably being over-cautious. I hope so. But we do need to be mindful of our duty of care to those who have trusted us with their money.

Friday, 3 March 2017

In which I provide a recipe

We - by whom I mean the Old Bat and I - were planning on eating out on Wednesday evening. Indeed, I had already booked a table at our local Italian and had been salivating for a day or two as I considered what I would like to eat. They do a good selection of meat and fish dishes, including hot stone steak, as well as pizzas and pasta meals.

(Hot stone steak: steak served on a hot stone for the customer to cook as he/she likes it. The pic is NOT from our local Italian. This is what our local says: "The stone is made of some of the natures finest materials. We heat the stone in our oven to about 600 degrees Fahrenheit and this will allow you to cook your food exactly as you like and the last bite will be as hot and delicious as the first.  The high temperature of the steak stone method sears the steak faster and cooks in the natural juices and nutrients, enhancing the full flavour and tenderness of food. This unique dry cooking method uses no oil or added fat. It ensures a clean and completely natural flavour that is not achievable with other cooking methods.")

I had pretty much made up my mind not to eat my habitual dish - penne alla matriciana - but to try something different. However, I didn't have the option. The OB was unwell and I had to cancel! Luckily, she was feeling a lot better by Thursday, although still not well enough to eat out, and she cooked her interpretation of my version of the matriciana sauce.

My reputation as a culinary expert is decidedly naff. Indeed, for many years, the OB thought I was unable even to burn toast (although I could burn a boiled egg!) but I have proved her wrong on more than one occasion. It was when she took to her bed a couple of years ago that I really came into my own. Left to my own devices at fairly short notice, I decided to experiment with whatever i could find in the kitchen, and my matriciana (perhaps it should be called patriciana) was born. It really is a very simple recipe, quick to cook but extremely tasty. I simply took a handful of pasta (penne, rigatoni or fusili are best) and, while it was cooking, I fried a couple of chopped bulbs of garlic and half an onion, sliced, together with 100 grams of pancetta, and heated half a tin of chopped tomatoes. When cooked, mix it all together and serve with grated parmesan.


Thursday, 2 March 2017

Market research

Somehow, earlier this week I managed to get myself involved in undertaking an MR survey online. it brought back a few memories because, a good many years ago, I signed up as a market researcher. it seemed a relatively harmless and even simple way of earning some extra money at a time when my self-employed status was actually costing me money instead of bringing it in.

Surveys were conducted, mainly, in one of two ways; either one stood on the street to ask passers-by to spare a few minutes or one knocked at doors to find interviewees. Apart from the fact that most people declined to waste their time, the main challenge was to find the right people to interview. One was always given a brief stating how many people were to be interviewed and the demographic make-up of the number, broken down into age groups, gender and socioeconomic bands. And once one had found a suitable candidate who was willing to answer the questions, people in certain occupations had to be excluded. it might have been a harmless way to earn money, but it certainly wasn't as simple as I had expected.

Then one had to ignore (as best one could) the apparent inanity of the questions. take an example from the survey i have just completed. I was asked to indicate which coffee brands represented value for money. Since I had never bought more than three-quarters of the brands and hadn't the vaguest notion of the different prices, I was quite unable to express a definite opinion - but there was no 'don't know' option and i couldn't go on the the next question until I had marked each brand! I am sure that most people will have been in the same situation over one or more of the questions - which, I suggest, makes a mockery of the results,

But that's market research!

A much more interesting way of conducting research was as a mystery shopper. I only managed to get two of these assignments. One was to make appointments to view retirement properties for a fictitious relative and report how my enquiries were handled. For the second assignment, I was employed to visit a number of pubs, at each of which I had to buy a pint of lager. the brewers had recently installed a device on the pumps which the bar staff were supposed to use once the pint had been poured, and I was to check that this was being done. Now that's a much better way of conducting research!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Weather forecasts

It is now some years since the Old Bat and I crossed the pond for a leaf-peeping trip in New England. While there, we must have suffered a joint momentary lapse in common sense or scepticism (that's the English spelling) or something. Anyway, we bought a weather stick.

These weather sticks were apparently invented by the Abenalki Indians of Maine.  the lumpy bit at the top in the picture is fastened to a vertical surface and the whippy stick points up if it is going to be dry or down if there is rain coming. They work in much the same way as a water diviner's stick or those man and woman weather houses Or so it is alleged.

I wonder if the professional weather forecasters of the BBC should use one of these - or a length of seaweed! - instead of the "sophisticated" computer programs on which they rely.

On Sunday evening I was relieved to see that although the forecast for Monday was rain for most of the day (and it did), Tuesday should turn out quite well. I was relieved because Brighton Lions had an outdoor activity planned for Tuesday afternoon.  yes, I know that planning an outdoor activity on 28th February sounds a little bonkers, but we were planting a tree and this is the best time of year to do it. The tree is in memory of one of our long-serving members and it was to be planted in a local park, the park where he had frequently watched his sons running and where the Lions had, for many, many years, held the annual carnival.

But on Monday evening the forecast had changed! There would be rain for most of Tuesday morning with a dry interlude just before lunch time, with heavy rain returning in the early afternoon. And our tree-planting was scheduled for two o'clock!

Yesterday morning I wondered why i could hear no rain as I drew back the curtains, only to see a brilliant blue sky, a brilliant blue sky that was completely cloud free! Some clouds did come across during the morning - but no rain. Thankfully, the forecast proved wrong and it stayed dry for us to plant the tree.

Mind you, just as set off to walk the dog a little later the heavens opened!