Friday, 26 May 2017

Negative thoughts

Picture credit: The Sun/PA Press Association
This, frankly, is not a picture one associates with the United Kingdom - except during 'the troubles' in Northern Ireland. but following the decision this week to raise the threat level in this country from 'severe' to 'critical' we now have armed police supported by troops on patrol at key sites such as government buildings, railway stations, shopping centres and the like. We even have armed police on trains!

I don't ask why; I know why. But I do have to ask, Is it necessary? What good will be served by having all these armed men in our towns and cities?

Those whose brains are wired wrongly or who have been brainwashed into acting as suicide bombers won't be stopped by a few soldiers or armed policemen. Picture a mainline railway terminus in the rush hour - especially those in London such as Waterloo or Victoria. Ten, twenty or even a hundred police or troops will never spot a determined bomber. The same goes for shopping malls.

Seeing those men around the town doesn't make me feel any more secure because I know that if a madman plans to commit an atrocity, he very likely will - unless he can be caught before he sets off to blow himself to what he hopes will be paradise.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Positive thoughts

I'm not ashamed to admit that I have shed tears at the thought on Monday evening's horror in Manchester. Our television screens and newspapers have been full of the results of that obscene act of evil and I do not propose to dwell on that side of things. It is - perhaps strangely - pleasing that all sections of the media have also highlighted positive matters.

How taxi drivers switched off their meters and offered free rides home.

How off-duty doctors, nurses, hospital porters all went back to work without having to be asked.

How so many people queued to donate blood that the blood transfusion people were unable to cop

How a Muslim man escorted his elderly Jewish neighbour to pay their respects.

How a man and woman who just happened to be passing collected 50 girls as they escaped, took them to a hotel and stayed with them until every one had been collected by parents.

How people took food and drink to hospital staff.

How a local cafe offered free food and drinks to emergency service staff.

I am sure there were many other examples that I just don't know about.

When so many people are not prepared to pass by on the other side when others are in need, there is hope for us all. Evil will be defeated.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The nun's prayer

It was only the other day that I posted about language - and I find myself doing so once again!

I acknowledge that I am in increasing danger of being a pedantic old bore on the subject and have to bite my tongue on more and more occasions when people say 'lay' when they mean 'lie'; 'less' when they mean 'fewer' and 'hopefully' when they mean 'I hope'.  It irritates me even more when I hear somebody (quite often my younger son!) ask in a café or restaurant, 'Can I get' instead of 'May I have'. I always want to say, 'No, you can't get it. The waiter will do it for you.' Another irritant is the response to the question, 'How are you?'  The reply should, of course, be 'Very well, thank you', not 'I'm good'.

These thoughts have been rattling around in my brain for a few days and it was a complete coincidence that a report was published yesterday telling how a so-called expert on the English language had pointed out that a lot of words we think are irritating Americanisms can be found in the works of Shakespeare. For example, he used 'gotten' quite a lot and spelt 'honour' as 'honor' more than he did with the 'u'.

But controlling my tetchiness reminded me of the (supposedly) 17th century nun's prayer. I'm sure many will remember these gist, but just in case, here it is:
LORD, Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and will someday be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody, helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends in the end. Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is growing sweeter as the days go by. I dare not ask for grace to enjoy the tales of others’ pains, but help me to endure them with patience. I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and less cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken. Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be saint — some of them are so hard to live with — but a sour person is one of the crowning works of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people. And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.
Wise words indeed, whether they date from the 17th century or not.

Monday, 15 May 2017

The common tongue

I stopped watching the annual Eurovision Song Contest many years ago. I seem to remember that it started in quite a small way with the (national) television broadcasters from a number of western European countries. Or maybe the eastern bloc countries were involved as well. It became a little tedious, with voting tending to become more and more political and the entries becoming , well, let's say just weaker and weaker. It seemed a little strange to me when countries outside Europe were allowed to enter: Israel, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Australia even!

With 42 counties entering this year's competition, there had to be two or three rounds (I don't know how they organised it!) before the grand final on Saturday. I understand that of the 42 entries, 35 were sung in English, and even the French entry broke into English from time to time.

Earlier this month, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission (who seems to think that because his initial are JC he has some sort of divine right) delivered a speech in French, claiming that, "Slowly but surely English is losing importance".

I am reminded of the theme tune to Dad's Army: "Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hitler."

Sunday, 14 May 2017

I don't understand

There are many things I don't understand, and many of those things are matters that (probably) seem so very simple to cleverer people. Like why is it that electricity flows along a wire, into a light bulb, and then out along another wire - but we can't use that electricity again. And if we used the electricity to light up the bulb, how come it flows out again?

See what I mean? The answers are quite obvious to at least one of my regular readers. (I kid myself that I have some!)

What's bothering me as I type is my sleeping pattern.

Time was when I was a morning person. Up with the lark, and happy to be so. It bothered me not one whit getting up at 4.00am to set off on holiday before the rush. And for several years I was up at 5.00am to get to my desk in London just after 8.00.

I was told on more than one occasion (by different people) that they found they needed less sleep as they got older. Not unnaturally, I assumed that would apply to me as well. I also assumed that my habit of rising at 5.00 would continue after I retired. Only this week, I was told by a friend that he had been so accustomed to rising at 6.30 when he was working, that the habit was still with him.

So this is what I don't understand. As I get older, I find that I need more sleep, not less. And whereas I was wont to be early to bed, early to rise, I am becoming transmogrified into a night owl! I happily sit reading until 11.30 when I force myself to go to bed. And then I struggle to get up as early as 7.30 - because I'm sure the dog will need to go down the garden!

As the King of Siam said to Anna, is a puzzlement.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

OK - the pigeons

This is going to be about as scintillating as my conversation with the D of E with which I regaled you yesterday.

The sound of wood pigeons cooing first thing on a sunny morning always takes me back more than 60 years to my first summer camp with the Scouts. Twenty-plus Scouts with our one solitary Scoutmaster entrained at Gillingham (the one in Kent) whence we travelled to Charing Cross (a mainline terminus in London). Lugging our personal baggage - all the camping gear had already been sent on as one could in those days - we crossed London by the Underground (it wasn't called the tune then as far as I remember) to Paddington. There we caught a train to Bath.

That journey seemed to me as though we were heading into a foreign country. I was accustomed to building constructed of red brick, but here the railway stations were made of stone. All the stations in Kent and the signs on them were painted green; here they were maroon. At Bath we changed trains again to travel on to Freshford and from there we walked to the farm where we were to camp.

If the buildings seemed foreign, at least the language spoken by the locals was English. Well, a kind of English. This was the first time that I - or, as far as I am aware, any of the other Scouts - had come into contact with the Somerset accent.

"Be Ee goin' to zee Gillingham (with a hard G in place of our soft G) play this zeazon?" I was asked by one.

It was all quite an eye-opener for this young Man of Kent.

I would wake up in the morning, wrapped in my two blankets (no sleeping bags in those days) pinned together with what looked like large nappy pins, just like the ones Scotsmen use on their kilts, to a sort of greenish light as the sun shone through the canvas. And every morning, the wood pigeons would be calling from the trees at the side of the field.

I heard a couple of wood pigeons the other day. They weren't calling; indeed, they weren't in the trees. They were on the flat roof of our kitchen extension. And, boy, were they enjoying themselves! They were boffing like mad - and making a heck of a lot of noise as they thrashed around.  Fortunately, Fern (the spaniel) was not feeling her best. She takes a great dislike to birds on the kitchen roof and they would have felt the rough edge of her tongue had she been 100%.

The next day I was in the bedroom when I heard a tremendous bother going on outside. yes, you've guessed it. It was those wood pigeons on the kitchen roof again! I opened the window to suggest they might like to be a little more discreet. Since then they have taken to using our neighbour's fir tree, which thrashes around as though the wind were blowing a gale when there's absolutely still air!

Perhaps this will be a good year for pigeon pie?

Friday, 5 May 2017

Pigeons can wait

I was planning on commenting about the wood-pigeons, but that will have to wait. The Duke of Edinburgh takes priority.

To look at the newspaper coverage this morning, you might think he had died. Honestly, seven pages - and those the first seven pages - of my daily fish wrap were devoted to his retirement, announced yesterday. And he deserves it. Retirement, that is. After all, he is 95 - 96 next month.

I think he's a great guy. Some people say they don't like him, he upsets some people occasionally with slightly off-the-mark (non PC) comments, but I think he's a real life WYSIWYG. It was a good few years ago that, for some reason long forgotten, I drew up a list of the 6 or 7 people I would like to get together for dinner. Philip was top of my list.

The one and only time I was featured in the society gossip column of a national Sunday paper was because of him. I spent the last diddely-dum years of my career in the newspaper industry and somehow found my way onto the board of the employers' body. It was because of this that I received an invitation to a reception at Windsor Castle. I was standing near the door of one room, chatting to three or four others I knew, when the Duke entered and tripped over the carpet. A couple of days later, I received a phone call from said Sunday paper.

"Where you at the reception at Windsor on Tuesday?"

I confirmed that I had been.

"Did the Duke of Edinburgh speak to you?"

Again, I replied in the affirmative.

"What did he say?"

I told the questioner, thinking that this would be of no interest whatsoever to anybody. It was very much to my surprise to see my name in print the following Sunday, with the conversation quote.

"Do you know how old this carpet is?" asked the Duke.

"No, sir."

"It was made a hundred and fifty years ago in an Indian prison."

Now, tell me: is there really anything remotely interesting to the average newspaper reader in that innocuous conversation?

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

May Day gone

A rather dreary bank holiday weatherwise. But this afternoon I was delighted to smell the cow parsley for the first time this year. A distinctive smell, and perhaps not to everyone's taste, but I like it.

Cow parsley against a setting sun
It's also good to see the apple blossom - including the crab apple which I shall be harvesting later!