Monday, 21 November 2016

Thiepval coincidence

It was a week ago, Sunday 13th November, that saw the 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Somme which had begun on 1st July 1916 and therefore lasted 141 days. To mark the occasion, one of our television channels broadcast a programme about seven men who had fought in that battle and their grandchildren's efforts to find out more about it and the parts their ancestors played in it. It was hardly surprising that one of the families visited the Thiepval memorial.


The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme is a war memorial to 72,246 missing British Empire servicemen who died in the Battles of the Somme of the First World War between 1915 and 1918, with no known grave. I thought it austere almost to the point of grim when I visited.

Unable to watch the programme when it was broadcast last week, I recorded it and watched it on Saturday. By sheer coincidence, Saturday was the day on which I started re-reading Robert Goddard's In Pale Battalions, the opening of which takes place at Thiepval.

I had forgotten just how the author reels in his reader, drawing one ever onward. How, one wonders, is it that Leonora was born eleven months after her father was killed at the Somme? What about the unsolved murder that occurred before she was born? Just when you think you have solved one riddle and are working on the next, a new twist reveals that your answer to the first is wrong.

This really is one of those books that is difficult to put down and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

A rough night

I haven't listened to the shipping forecast for many a year. It used to be broadcast by the BBC just before the six o'clock news in the evenings, back in the days of steam radio when television was either non-existent or limited to fuzzy nine-inch screens. To non-seafarers like me, there was something vaguely soporific in the forecast - not so much the forecast itself, more the way in which it was read. The seas around these islands are divided into various areas: Viking, Faroes, Heligoland etc, and the forecast for each area was read in strict rotation. The forecast included, as I recall, succinct details of the general weather situation (rain, fog or whatever), visibility (so many miles), barometric pressure (and whether rising or falling), wind direction and speed, using the Beaufort scale.

Time was when I knew the Beaufort scale reasonably well, although I have now forgotten it. (Check the details here.)

Well, the met Office warned us that Storm Angus would be upon us last night.



You can just make out Ireland above the words 'Storm Angus' in that picture with the heaviest part of the storm moving along the south coast of England. "We are expecting severe gales with gusts of 70 - 80 mph possible across the coastal counties of southeast England and an amber warning in place overnight.," is how the Met Office put it.

They weren't wrong. It was not a night to be sleeping rough, and fern woke me several times as she barked at the wind. But - perhaps surprisingly - I have seen no sign of any damage either to buildings or the trees in the park.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Cryogenics

Along with probably more than 99 per cent of the population of England, I had never heard of cryogenics before this week. Now, however, it is more likely that just 1 per cent of the adults at least are unaware that it involves the freezing and storage of a body with the intention of thawing out and restoring to life of that person at some indeterminate future date.

I have great difficulty in even imagining what it would be like to be born again (as it were) even fifty years from now - let alone a hundred or worse, 200! That would be akin to a soldier killed at Waterloo seeing electric light, motor cars, television and so on.  Enough to blow the mind.

I now know about this because a judge ruled that a 14-year old girl with terminal cancer could have her body frozen, to be thawed when a cure has been found, maybe in 2000 years' time, so that she can live longer.

It has, we are told £37000!

Weird!

Friday, 18 November 2016

In the post

Quite possibly the most cliched excuse for late - or even non-payment: the cheque's in the post. But what is yanking my chain is not 'post' as in 'mail' or job or upright piece of wood. o, it's the post that gets tacked on to the start of a word. Like post-war. I know what that means: after the war - usually the Second World War.

But post-expressionist? Post-modernism? What the heck are they when they are up and dressed? (As my old granny used to say.) I haven't the foggiest All I know is that they refer to some style of art or architecture.

I heard a new one this morning. A fellow dog walker asked me if I had heard that the Oxford Dictionary's word for 2016 is 'post-truth'.

Having read, or tried to read, numerous learned articles and simplified explanations I have to confess - I'm no nearer understanding what it is!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

In which a memory is stirred

Way, way back in what my grandchildren would probably consider pre-history, I was a collector of cigarette cards. No, belay that. Calling myself a collector might give the wrong impression, implying that I had knowledge of the subject and was specific in my collecting. Truer, perhaps, to say simply that I collected cigarette cards, any and all that came my way. Cigarette manufacturers produced these little inserts in series, usually of 50, on a wide variety of subjects. There were butterflies, army insignia, cricketers and so on.

It was a picture in the newspaper that brought all this to mind - although I am at a complete loss as to just how and why the train of thought moved. The picture was of two men in the march past at the Cenotaph. Bill Speakman VC, a Chelsea Pensioner aged 89, was being pushed in his wheelchair by Lance Sergeant Johnson Beharry VC. Bill Speakman won his Victoria Cross in Korea, Johnson Beharry in Iraq.

Having looked at the picture, my mind followed some circuitous route to remind me of the only two cigarette cards that have truly stuck in my memory. One showed HMS Rawalpindi, the other HMS Jervis Bay. Both were what was laughing called armed merchant vessels having been taken over by the Royal Navy in the Second World War and having a gun or two bolted onto the deck. Both were sunk in action against vastly superior enemy vessels. But that was the extent of my knowledge of these vessels. I decided that it was time I learned more.

I had intended to write about the Jervis Bay myself, but this video does the job so much better than I could ever hope to.


Monday, 14 November 2016

November days

What a dank, drear morning it is in this corner of England - although, as far as I know, the weather may well be the same right across the country. This is what many people think of as typical English weather for November, But, as with all stereotypes, that is not strictly - or even particularly - accurate. Yesterday, Remembrance Day, was bright and sunny.

Yesterday's parade in Brighton. Photo: The Argus/Simon Dack

As far as I can recall, that is the norm for Remembrance Day. However, the first Sunday in November can have very different weather.

The first Sunday in November is Old Crocks day, more correctly known as the Veteran Car Run. That is the day when some 400 or so cars made before 1905 are driven from London to Brighton to commemorate the day when the 4 miles per hour speed limit on horseless carriages was scrapped. The weather that day can be almost anything but usually comprises two or three of the following features: bitterly cold; pouring with rain; blowing a gale; bright and sunny.

Old Crocks arriving at Brighton last weekend. Photo: The News.co.uk

November is also, of course, the month in which we celebrate the capture of Guy Fawkes before he could blow up the King at the opening of Parliament. Brighton Lions Club has organised a fireworks display to mark this event every year since 1952. My involvement goes back only as far as the 1987 display, but I can say that in all those years the display has been cancelled only once because of rain. It rained last year after we had started the display, and there was one year when fog descended part way through and ruined everyone's enjoyment - but for the most part the weather has been reasonably kind to us.

So that typically dank and drear November weather is not so typical after all.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Things that go bump in the night

I was woken in the early hours of yesterday (Saturday) morning by a dog barking. Our dog, Fern. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about that; it happens not infrequently as Fern gets quite upset by foxes invading her territory - or yowling from a little farther away. She did continue barking for a little longer than usual, but I was too snug to get out of bed and call to her to be quiet.

It was not until later in the day that I had occasion to go down the garden so it was some time before I discovered that the gate between the decorative part of the garden and the vegetable garden had been opened and left open. Now, this gate could not have come open of its own accord, notr could it have been forced by any animal short of battering it down. The catch is far too stiff for that to happen. Human intervention must have taken place. I assume that somebody had come through the garden of the neighbour at the back of us. crossed the boundary (where a fence had been taken down by that neighbour in the summer which he has never got round to replacing) and come up the garden. Only to hear the dog barking - and so to beat a retreat.

Fern had earned her breakfast.

And as we continue to remember, this is the headstone of a distant cousin, 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Waldegrave Nops,  9th Kite Balloon Section, Royal Flying Corps, killed on active service, at Trois Arbres Cemetery, northern France.