Wednesday, 31 December 2008
I have no crystal ball so will leave the forecast to others. Likewise I will leave to others more eloquent than I the musings about world affairs, such as the continuing problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli/Arab situation, the American presidential election result, the financial crisis, climate change, the abysmal record of the British Government, Zimbabwe, the Congo, Darfur. There is such a lot of suffering right across the world.
I'm not sure that anything momentous has happened in our household or family this year; most of it happened in 2007. One thing that has happened is that we have gone back to having our milk delivered. Towards the end of November we had a salesman call to tell us that his dairy was starting a new delivery round. Although the milk was going to be more expensive than in a supermarket, we signed up and we now have milk delivered to our kitchen door on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. And it's in the old fashioned one-pint glass bottles. That means that there is a bit on the top which, while not exactly cream, is markedly thicker than the rest and this bit certainly tastes good on my morning cereal.
And I suppose that just about sums up 2008!
Tuesday, 30 December 2008
No-one with common sense need apply
A care home for elderly Christians has had its council funding withdrawn after residents refused to disclose whether they were homosexual or bisexual.
The pensioners claimed that the questionnaire from Brighton & Hove city council - as part of its "fair access and diversity" policy - was intrusive. After they refused to disclose their sexuality, the council accused the charity that runs the home of being closed to homosexuals and cut its £13,000 grant.
Pilgrim Homes, which runs 10 projects for elderly Christians across Britain, is suing the coucil for religious discrimination. [Name], the charity's chief executive, said: "The council has taken overzealousness to the extreme. People in their nineties are very vulnerable and shouldn't be treated in this way."
Last year, the council introduced new rules to comply with the Equality Act 2006 and Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. Under the rules, it issued the questionnaire to the [home], where 39 Christians aged over 80 live.
A spokesman for the council said: "We have never expected any residents to answer questions about their sexuality if they preferred not to do so. The Government specifically states the home must be open to the gay and lesbian community and that it must demonstrate this to qualify for funding. In the absence of any willingness to do this, the funding has been withdrawn."I actually like living in Brighton, but I do wish my local council and its officials would use a modicum of common sense.
Another bright, crisp day, slightly warmer than yesterday. This afternoon I walked up through Stanmer woods and across the fields towards Ditchling Beacon. Absolutely beautiful. I managed to spend half an hour in the garden during the morning, pruning the passion flower and ... Botheration!! Another senior moment. The name of that plant is on the tip of my tongue. I know it starts with a T - at least, I think it does. Oh well, no matter, I suppose.
Got it! Tamerisk.
Monday, 29 December 2008
But I can't be bothered. I expect somebody else will put him right.
Sunday, 28 December 2008
Saturday, 27 December 2008
I do remember being very scared on one occasion. Two of my uncles are only ten or twelve years older than me and they loved to play tricks on their nephews and nieces. The year I have in mind was the one when they decided we would play aeroplanes. This involved each child being blindfolded in turn and led into the morning room where the uncles were waiting. The child would be seated on a chair, which the uncles proceeded to lift into the air and wobble about slightly. When our heads hit the ‘ceiling' we were told the plane was crashing and we had to jump. Of course, we were only about three inches from the floor really, but we thought we really had hit the ceiling. On another occasion we were allowed to feel ‘Nelson's eye'. The story was that an ancestor was serving with Nelson when he lost one of his eyes. Our ancestor picked it up and kept it. It had to be kept in complete darkness in a bag to prevent it from rotting, but as a treat we could put our hands into the bag and feel the eye - a peeled grape!
Friday, 26 December 2008
I didn't make a note that earlier this week I dropped off a disc with the text of ‘Lavenders Blue' at a vanity publisher's. I hope to get the books in mid-January. Of course, as soon as I got home I thought of some alterations I would have liked to make, but by then it was too late. I have always thought it rather infra dig to use a vanity publisher, but so many people seem to have enjoyed the first few chapters of the book that I thought ‘What the heck. If I'm being vain, that's just tough.'
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
‘No,' the lady tells me, ‘because it's a bank holiday.'
‘In that case, we'll just have the ad in the Argus on the Friday.'
‘You want me to take out the Leader?'
‘If you're not printing the Leader, I can't advertise in it.'
‘That will be £24.05.'
‘But we normally pay £16.08.'
‘Yes, but that's for a package in both the Leader and the Argus.'
‘You mean it's cheaper to buy two ads than just one?'
‘Yes, because that's a package which includes the Leader.'
‘But if you are not printing the Leader, I can't advertise in it.'
She goes away to make a phone call. Two minutes later:
‘There is a Leader next week and it's been printed in it.'
‘You mean you've printed our ad in next week's Leader?'
‘No, the deadline for ads was brought forward and that was printed in the Leader.'
I refrain from pointing out again that no Leader has been delivered to us for several weeks. The loose inserts have been, but not the paper itself.
‘I tell you what,' I say, ‘let's compromise. I'll book the ad in next week's Leader even though you can't print it because we've past the deadline.'
‘That'll be £10.65.'
I don't argue, but when I get home I see on the receipt that our ad will be in the Argus on 2 January and the Leader on 8 January.
Pass me that bottle of Scotch – I need a drink!
Yesterday evening I noticed an odd thing. The dishwasher has changed colour, and the washing machine is starting to do the same. They were both white when we bought them, and the top of the dishwasher still is white, but the sides and door (apart from the control panel at the top, which is still as white as when we bought the machine) have turned cream, a definite cream. And it's not a trick of the light or a reflection of the very pale yellow walls. What's more, the sides and front of the washing machine have started to go the same colour. Weird.
Monday, 22 December 2008
I now have a date for my driving test – 5th January – so I must keep up the good habits for another couple of weeks.
Sunday, 21 December 2008
Chris asked me last night if there are any jobs in France that he can help me with. He understands that there is now no way I can go over with him for a week, leaving Sheila at home on her own, but there is a chance that Chris and Mrs Chris could come over with both of us in March. The problem with that would be getting all the tools in the car as well as clothes, bedding etc. But I'm sure we will manage it when the time comes. And there are a couple of jobs I have in mind - but more about those later.
Saturday, 20 December 2008
I had got to know Chris and his wife Gill through Scouts and had become very friendly with them. Gill unfortunately fell down the stairs and died of her injuries, leaving Chris with four children to bring up, ranging in age from 16 or so down to about 9.
Sheila had been at school and in the Guides and was running a cub pack with another Sheila. The ‘other' Sheila's husband had gone off with another woman and she was by then divorced with two children. In time, Chris persuaded me to arrange for him to meet Sheila – and the rest is history. In fact, we all had a riotous time on their honeymoon. There were Chris and Sheila and the four youngest children, Sheila and I and our three, plus another couple and their only son. We almost took over the holiday camp for the week.
Now Mrs Chris (it's less to type that "the ‘other' Sheila"), having been an infant-school teacher, can play the piano, a friend (another teacher) plays both flute and guitar, and another friend plays the cello. The three form a trio and invite other friends round one evening just before Christmas. Chris prints off copies of the words of carols and Christmas songs and we all have a jolly evening with mince pies, sausage rolls, mulled wine etc.
Friday, 19 December 2008
Thursday, 18 December 2008
And if no-one would claim Princess Row as the best street in town, likewise no-one would claim number 2 as the best house in Princess Row. It was virtually indistinguishable from its neighbours, number 1 on the left and number 3 on the right. Of course, mused its current owner and sole occupier, whether number 1 was on the left and number 3 on the right or vice versa depended entirely upon one's point of view. If one stood in the street and looked towards the houses, number 3 was on the left. On the other hand, if one stood in the house and looked towards the street, number 3 was on the right.
This was a deeply philosophical thought for Tom Finch. Tom was not a man given to much philosophical thought, or indeed much thought of any sort. Ask any person to describe the average man and the description would fit Tom to a T. He was perhaps fifty-something, of average height and average build. His hair, which was starting to thin a little on the top, was a mid-brown, and his eyes were an indeterminate colour, sometimes grey, sometimes blue, sometimes even seeming to be almost but not quite brown.
Tom had lived at number 2 Princess Row all his life. Well, nearly all his life, he would say. The first week of his life had been spent in the old maternity hospital in Buckingham Place, but after his mother had been discharged and had proudly brought him back to Princess Row he had lived nowhere else. If he thought about it, which he never did, he would realise that he had no wish to live anywhere else. Princess Row suited him very well. What need did he have of more than two bedrooms, a front room and a kitchen? Most people would find it inconvenient to have the bathroom situated on the ground floor beyond the kitchen, but this didn't bother Tom at all; he was used to it, and had been for all his fifty-something years. If he cast his mind back, he had vague memories of baths with a clockwork submarine and his mother wrapping him in a large towel before he could get cold.
His mother had always been very proud of Tom. At least, she had always said she was, although she often felt there was something niggling away at the back of her mind telling her that her pride was possibly just a little misplaced. She always felt, when reading Tom's school reports, that he could do better if only he could be bothered to use his mind. She felt, when he received the very mediocre results of his GCE examinations, that those results could have been better. She felt, when he found a job in the caretakers' department of the Polytechnic, that perhaps, if she had encouraged him to use his mind a little more while at school, he could have done better for himself.
But Tom was, if not happy, at least not unhappy with his life as it was. To tell the truth, he never bothered to wonder if he was happy or not. Life was as it was and there was no point bothering about being happy or unhappy. He rose at six o'clock every morning, had a cup of tea and walked down the hill to St Peter's church, buying his daily paper on the way. He had always read the Daily Mirror because that was the paper his father had bought, and which his mother had continued to buy after her husband's death. At St Peter's, he caught a bus along the Lewes Road to the poly, as he had done now for more than thirty years. Here he performed his duties methodically, even conscientiously, but never imaginatively. Tom was not blessed, or cursed, with much imagination.
On the same day that Tom had his deeply philosophical thought about whether number 3 Princess Row was to the left or right of number 2, his neighbour at number 3 was thinking about Tom.
On the other hand, maybe if I start with a paragraph or two the storyline will just take over and lead me on. It might be worth trying.
Of course, I could get on with the work in garden, or put up the Christmas decorations, or ...
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
We went out this morning to look for the new flooring for the bathroom, something which I expected to take all morning without any particular success at the end. Our intention was to order a vinyl flooring and, expecting it to come in four-metre widths, I was hoping to find one that would suit both the bathroom and the toilet, both floors needing pieces just under two metres by one.
As we walked across to the vinyl flooring section of the first showroom, we saw exactly what we wanted for the shower room, the very top sample in the folder. Unfortunately, this would not do for the toilet, but there was another in the same pattern but a different colour which would do for the toilet and would be OK in the bathroom. Then I noticed that it came in two-metre, three-metre and four-metre widths. We ordered one metre of each in two-metre widths. It can't be delivered until the New Year, but at least we are on our way.
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
I started musing along these lines when I read a report in the paper (repeated on the late night weather forecast) that this year has seen the coldest start to a winter since 1977. Apparently, meteorologists count 1st December as the first day of winter, and the average temperature over the first ten days of this month was lower than it has been for 31 years. But how is that average calculated? Do ‘they' (whoever ‘they' are) add up the ten highest and ten lowest temperatures and divide by 20? Or do they take the average temperature for each day, add those and divide by ten? Would the answer be any different anyway?
And where is the temperature measured? Is it in just one place, or is an average (that word again!) calculated from measurements from several places?
But does it matter anyway? OK, so it's been cold, we know that.
Whatever happened to global warming?
Monday, 15 December 2008
It reminds me of one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given. It was the manager of one of the bank branches at which I worked who told me that if he received a letter from a customer which really wound him up, he would dictate his reply and have it typed up, but would then put it in his desk drawer until the following day. If he still felt the same then, he would sign it, but otherwise he had a chance to rethink.
Sunday, 14 December 2008
Given the better weather, I really should crawl into the loft to retrieve the outside decorations, but I think I might get away with it for a few more days. I have a strong dislike of climbing ladders and always put off hanging the outside lights as long as I can.
Saturday, 13 December 2008
Friday, 12 December 2008
I drove over to Westdene this morning to post off a packet for Pam and Graham. The queue was so long that I waited twenty minutes to be served, but despite the pressure, the lady behind the counter kept smiling and chatting to the customers. What a difference from our local post office. This is just round the corner and I can walk there and back in less than five minutes, but instead I get the car out and drive for five minutes to Westdene. The reason is that I have been banned from the local post office. No, that's not quite right: I have banned myself. I am an usually even-tempered person, but the last time I was in the shop I came within an ace of punching the obnoxious little twit who owns it.
For nearly forty years we had our newspapers delivered from that shop. It was OK for nearly all those forty years, but about two years ago, the then owners sold up. We thought little of it, but after a while our paper delivery became less and less reliable, reaching the stage where at least once a week the paper was not delivered and I would have to go round to collect it. No great deal, perhaps, but (a) I like to look at the paper while I eat my breakfast and (b) we were paying for delivery and weren't being credited for the days when I collected the paper. The last time this happened the newsagent more or less blamed me, in very rude terms, for the fact that the paper hadn't been delivered and told me he was losing money by supplying me. Backed up by his wife, he went on to say that he would be happy if I got my newspapers elsewhere.
I quickly made alternative arrangements and have never been in the shop since.
And if, as has happened on rare occasions, the new shop fails to deliver, we ring them up and they bring a paper round.
Thursday, 11 December 2008
It has also been reported that a 70-year-old woman in India has given birth after IVF treatment. Is she selfish or just plain mad?
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Yah boo, sucks to you!
Rather late posting today, partly because I was out to lunch and partly because it has taken so long to write it!
One evening during our week in France turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. We had gone to our favourite restaurant for a meal. This restaurant has a distinctly dismal appearance from the outside, a sort of downcast look which is not helped by its situation at possibly the busiest crossroads, next to one of only three sets of traffic lights in town. One opens the door and is immediately pitched headlong down three steep steps into the bar. French bars are completely different from English pubs. There is no warm, welcoming feeling to them; they are plasticy and usually have rectangular, formica topped tables lined up in neat rows, with hard chairs to sit on. Granted, this bar is not quite as bad as that, but an English country pub it is not. The restaurant is through a narrow arch and down another step.
Once in the restaurant, one could be forgiven for thinking that one had passed through a time warp and was back in the 1970s - or even 1950s. At first glance, the floor appears to be tiled, but it is actually covered in lino. The bottom half of the walls is covered in wainscotting stained a deep brown, the upper half of the walls having been painted in what is now a rather dirty-looking cream. Or is it magnolia? The window frames and a door into the street are painted dark brown. (That door, by the way, is permanently locked and duct tape has been placed over the edges to prevent draughts coming through.) The windows have net curtains at the bottom half, and I'm not at all sure those curtains have been washed in the six years or so that I have been eating there. The ceiling has beams - also stained a dark brown. Hanging from the walls and some of the beams is a collection of ancient woodworking tools and, somewhat incongruously, a wooden coffee grinder. Also decorating the walls are a number of pictures, including a rather dark landscape, an old photo of somebody's great grandparents, a pin-and-cotton spider's web on black felt and a mock horse's collar complete with plastic flowers. There are pots of artificial flowers on each windowsill and a five-foot tall artificial laburnum in full flower. Goodness knows how they all get dusted – or even if they ever do. Standing against one wall is an ornate upright piano, and just beside the entrance is a large charcoal grill on which the meat and fish is cooked.
The tablecloths are bright yellow with bright blue tulips – a garish combination – and the napkins are a pale blue, a colour that manages to clash with both the yellow and the blue of the tablecloths. None of the colours actually seems right in this setting. And on each table is another pot of artificial flowers.
The restaurant is owned and run by two very nice gentlemen who would be quite at home in Brighton. One is in charge of the front of house, while the other is in charge of the kitchen and cooks the meat. They both greet us effusively when we arrive, with kisses for Mrs S and handshakes for me. The first time the kisses started I backed up against a handy pillar, but I needn't have worried: I'm obviously not their type. All joking aside, they are always very pleasant and we usually manage to crack a feeble joke somewhere in the conversation. It has to be a feeble joke as neither of them speak as much English as I do French, which is little enough.
Despite the ambience, we always enjoy eating there as the meat is the best we have ever had in France. Starters will usually be tartar of crab or ham, warm goat's cheese salad or terrine of scallops in lobster sauce. Snails are also on the menu but I avoid these as this restaurant only serves six whereas I get a dozen at the village restaurant. The main course might be a thick steak or a thinner one served with shallots, or turkey escalope served with a mushroom sauce, or salmon, or a fish called panga which I have never seen anywhere else. As I said, the meat and fish is cooked on the charcoal grill and is served just the way I like it cooked. With the fish one gets a serving of rice but there is a portion of chips with the meat. With all dishes one is served seasonal vegetables and a jacket potato. This potato is the restaurant's signature dish and is prepared in a way that nobody who has eaten there with us has been able to work out. One day we might be bold enough to ask how they do it! Desserts include creme caramel, a chocolate cake, ice cream etc. With wine and coffee this costs just over fifty euros and in my opinion represents very good value.
But we were disappointed last week. To start with, our favourite waitress no longer works there. Aged about nineteen or twenty, she is a sweetie – not especially good-looking but with a delightful smile. She had got to know us and was not beyond having the occasional dig at an English couple in a most charming way. Then it was Michel's night off, Michel being the chef, and neither Max (front of house who was meat chef for the night) nor the waiter nor the woman who cooks the vegetables could get the charcoal to light. Out meat ended up being cooked in the oven and it was just not the same. But we ate there again a few days later and all was back to normal, except that mademoiselle had not returned.
What did make the first evening memorable was the sight of a wild boar on the verge as we drove back through the lanes, the first either of us had ever seen.
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
Christmas trees are much cheaper in France, so we brought one back with us, although I suspect it will have shed most of its needles before Christmas.
I managed a lot of reading: The Unknown Soldier (Gerald Seymour), Atonement (Ian McEwan), A Spot of Bother (Mark Haddon) – all for the first time – and I re-read Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks). It was a long time since I had first read this and I had forgotten just what a harrowing read it is. Having finished that lot, I've started re-reading Playing for Pizza (John Grisham). It really is so different from his usual setting: no courtrooms, only one lawyer, and American football – in Italy!
Skip has posted a comment on his blog saying that somebody should buy a laptop and take it wherever they go. I hope I'm not being big-headed when I suggest that might be a dig at me. In case it is, I would reply that one of the benefits of being incommunicado for a week is that the batteries can be recharged (my batteries, that is) ready to post some more!
Sunday, 30 November 2008
For many years I have done the cryptic crossword in the Daily Telegraph. I say done, but I don't always (for 'always' read 'often') manage to get it completely done. I used to, but I suppose my mind has become less agile with age. My father started me off on it and we would compare notes on a weekly basis.
Another of my mental exercises is a fairly recent craze – sudoku. And on Sundays, over our morning coffee, the Old Bat and I work on the target in the paper. This involves finding as many words as possible from the nine letters given. Each word must contain the specified letter and must be four or more letters long. There is always one nine-letter word and it irritates the Old Bat immensely when, as happens occasionally (it did this morning) I am able to glance at the letters and have the nine-letter word just leap out at me.
I am being called to go Christmas shopping and am off to France first thing tomorrow, so that's probably it for a week or so.
Saturday, 29 November 2008
Yesterday I had another of my ‘observed drives' from the Institute of Advanced Motorists. This was to get a second opinion on whether I was ready to apply for the test. It seems I am, so the application form has now gone off.
I have had no opportunity to get into the garden this week and I had hoped to do so today, there being plenty of work to be done, but the weather has turned bad again. I hope I might get a chance after we are back from France on Monday week, but if the worst comes to the worst, I shall just have to get wet.
Friday, 28 November 2008
"Woofs and wags, Olly"
We English (perhaps I should rather say ‘we British', since I assume the Welsh and Scots are just the same) are a strange lot. The previous paragraph is the message printed on the front of a book of raffle tickets by (you've guessed it) Dogs Trust, a national charity providing care for unwanted dogs. When I read those words, I squirmed. I'm not sure whether I find them irritating, patronising or just mildly insulting. On reflection, I don't really find them any of those. Puerile would be a better word. But do the people who wrote that rubbish really think it will fool the great British public? I suppose they must do: either that or they don't care just so long as people buy the tickets, whether because of or despite that message.
Thursday, 27 November 2008
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Governments embarrassed? That will be the day!
I have just spent 23 minutes on the phone to my credit card company. Back in September last year, I bought a batch of ten tickets from Speedferries at what was even then an advantageous rate, thinking to use them gradually when we cross to France. Unfortunately, their sailings have since proved to be increasingly unreliable, although they were excellent when we first started using them about three years ago, and we have switched to using the tunnel. Speedferries has now gone into liquidation and I am hoping that I can get a refund from MBNA on the unused tickets. Things look hopeful, but we must wait and see.
Talking of waiting, I am still waiting for the hearing loop installation company to get back to me about the rescheduled appointment.
A meeting I had this morning was most productive. At the meeting last week of the Lions Housing Society management committee, I and two others were tasked with reviewing the Society's complete salary structure and making recommendations. There are just six employees, but with caretakers living in rent-free flats and other staff with highly individual responsibilities, we needed to give considerable thought to the whole matter. In just an hour and a half we had come up with our proposals. All I have to do now is to type up our report!
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Yesterday afternoon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alastair Darling, presented his Pre-Budget Report to the House of Commons. Somehow, over the last few years, this seems to have become a mini-Budget in addition to the Budget traditionally presented in March. Anyway, the main priority at the moment is to tackle the recession in which the UK, along with pretty much the rest of the developed world, is suffering. Perhaps the main headline grabber is the reduction in Value Added Tax from 17.5% to 15%, which we are told will cost the Government £20 million during the thirteen months that this reduction will last. It seems that the idea is to stimulate consumer spending in the High Street. I remain sceptical. An item which has cost £117.50, ie £100 plus VAT, will now cost £115. I really can't see that a reduction of that much will encourage more people to buy. In any case, I thought (in my naivety) that the underlying cause of the recession was (a) people borrowing too much, and (b) spending what they had borrowed and couldn't afford to repay. This smacks to me of pouring oil on a fire in the hope of putting it out – but then, I'm not an economist. Another measure is to bring forward Government funded capital projects such as road building and the cross-London rail link. The cynic in me wonders how much of that money will end up going outside the British economy since I expect the companies which get the contracts will be French or German, and the majority of the workers will be eastern Europeans scrimping and saving to send the bulk of their wages back to Hungary or Romania. Perhaps it's just as well that I'm not Chancellor.
Monday, 24 November 2008
Sunday, 23 November 2008
Sheila doesn't make her puddings on Stir-Up Sunday but rather earlier so that they have time to mature. In fact, she makes puddings only every second year, one to be eaten that year and the other to keep for the following year.
A cold, wet morning and I certainly didn't feel much like walking the dog. Still, it had to be done and at least I benefited from an hour's exercise and fresh air. And it's cheaper than going to a gym.
I've no idea who wrote this or where I found it, but it's been sitting on my computer for absolutely ages:
If a dog was the teacher you would learn stuff like:
- When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
- Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
- Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
- When it's in your best interest, practice obedience.
- Let others know when they've invaded your territory.
- Take naps.
- Stretch before rising.
- Run, romp and play daily.
- Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
- Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
- On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
- On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
- When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
- No matter how often you're scolded, don't buy into the guilt thing and pout - run right back and make friends.
- Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
- Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. Stop when you have had enough.
- Be loyal.
- Never pretend to be something you're not.
- If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
- When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.
Saturday, 22 November 2008
It is, I suppose, a typical English anomaly that we buy our petrol and diesel in litres, but still insist on calculating our cars' fuel consumption in miles per gallon. Car advertisements in the newspapers also carry what is, I assume, the continental way of quoting fuel consumption, which is the number of litres required to drive 100 kilometres.
Still on motoring matters, I had my fourth ‘observed drive' for the Institute of Advanced Motorists yesterday and my observer had just three minor quibbles in an hour and quarter's driving. I hope to get a second opinion next week, after which (all being well) I shall apply for the test.
I walked round the Roman camp again this afternoon, despite the bitterly cold north wind, and came back past the dew pond, hoping that Fern would not decide to go for a paddle. Fortunately, she didn't go anywhere near the edge. The car thermometer gave the temperature as 5 C but the wind chill factor probably brought the ‘feel' down closer to zero.
Dew ponds are a long-standing feature of the South Downs in Sussex: in fact, one at Chantonbury Ring has been dated back to prehistoric times. The one near us is considerably more recent, having been made only about ten years ago. The traditional way of making dew ponds on the South Downs was to dig a shallow, saucer-shaped hole, which was then lined with chalk. The chalk was crushed by having oxen trample it or by driving a horse and cart round and round. Crushing the chalk made it watertight, and the pond subsequently filled with rain, thereby providing sheep and cattle with water in an otherwise dry area.
Friday, 21 November 2008
I say diagnosed, but that is perhaps slightly too strong a word. The consultant that she had been seeing locally and the consultants she saw at King's College Hospital in London were unable to say for sure what the condition is. They believe that it is one of two - either corticobasal degeneration (CBD), a Parkinson's disease variant, or primary lateral sclerosis (PLS), a variant of motor neuron disease. Apparently the two conditions exhibit very similar symptoms but are caused by the deterioration of cells in different parts of the brain. Sheila, bless her, presents most of the symptoms common to both conditions, together with some which are indicative of CBD but not PLS and vice versa. Plus she doesn't present some of the usual symptoms for either! The consultant, when we saw him in the summer, said that he was 70% sure it was CBD. It is actually almost an academic matter as the treatment (there is none) and the prognosis (it won't get any better and will slowly get worse) are the same for both conditions.
Although both the consultant and the physio have told Sheila that they have seen signs of improvement, the cynic in me thinks they are either trying to boost her morale, which would be foolish, or they are mistaken. I incline to the latter. I am confident that over the last six to nine months I have actually seen a deterioration, but maybe that's just me being pessimistic. One good thing is that Sheila seems to have come to terms with the problem and she remains remarkably cheerful despite not being able to do a lot of things that she would dearly love to do.
On a more cheerful note: one of the first Christmas cards we receive each year is from Gary and Wendy Dempsey in France. This year, Gary has really got ahead of himself as we received their card yesterday!
The sunset yesterday was one of the most glorious I have ever seen. The red and gold covered nearly a quarter of the sky, the red being a really deep, rich colour - very intense. Unfortunately, it was on the way back from the hospital that we saw it and there was no way I could take a picture. The late evening local news programme on BBC did show a couple of viewers' shots, so magnificent was it.
Thursday, 20 November 2008
Of course, Murphy's law has kicked in and I picked up so many bits and pieces last night that I now need more than half a page to fit it all in. So, it's back to the drawing board.
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
In the five years that I drove the old car I covered 84,000 miles at an average of 45.36 mpg. Over the first two thousand miles, the new car has averaged 45.05.
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
We never seem to hear of RSI now - and I bet all those gizmos have been thrown out of the window. Maybe it was all just a fashion statement.
Monday, 17 November 2008
Our meat is bought at one of two local butchers. We are lucky that there are still a few local shops such as these as most of them have disappeared, unable to compete with the supermarkets. One of the butcher's shops only opened fairly recently, say a couple of years ago. It was opened by a local farmer to sell meat from his farm and, I think, three or four other nearby farms. The meat is excellent, even when they have had to buy it in from elsewhere. They fully deserve to do well and we will continue to give them our custom.
The other butcher makes some of the best sausages I have ever eaten. No, not some of the best - the very best. His Lincolnshire sausages really are superb. He has from time to time tried a new recipe, such as pork and Stilton, and has asked us to give him our opinion, to which he has listened and acted on. His shop is another we shall continue to support.
The leg of lamb we ate yesterday came from our third butcher - my cousin's husband.
Sunday, 16 November 2008
She must have had a very good memory or filing system to remember all their names - I have enough trouble with three grandchildren.
The girls are much of an age, and one year while we were staying on the farm, they spent much of their time in the cow shed with the young calves that were too small to be let out to join the herd. The girls would sit on the barrier separating the stalls and dream up names for the calves. Among them were Chainsaw (it had an odd moo) and Beefburger.
Also on the farm were two very pretty Jersey calves named Crocus and Splodge. Some time later we returned to the farm to find that only Crocus was still in the field. We enjoyed some delicious beef and the other (older) children were sworn to silence about the source of the meat in case it should upset my daughter, who was aged about eight. We brought some of the beef home with us and were enjoying a Sunday roast a few weeks later when daughter held up her fork with a piece of beef on it.
"Is this Splodge we are eating?" she asked.
Hesitantly, we confirmed that it was.
"Tastes good, doesn't it?" was the response.
Saturday, 15 November 2008
My favourite wine is probably cabernet sauvignon. The mind boggles at the thought of what breed of dog would suit a name like that. Or Heineken? Port and Lemon? Perhaps St Emilion?
Our last dog was a golden retriever named Bramble at the suggestion of the children. At first we thought it a slightly odd name for a dog, but strangely we discovered that it was actually quite popular and we met several other Brambles during the course of her life. When we got ourselves a springer spaniel I thought that Fern would be a suitable name - easy to call out without sounding stupid and appropriate for a breed that loves scurrying through long grass and the undergrowth. So Fern she is.
Friday, 14 November 2008
Steve writes an internet blog and I wanted permission to use one of his pieces in Jungle Jottings, the monthly newsletter I produce for Brighton Lions Club. He was kind enough to agree.
Thursday, 13 November 2008
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
The OB was due to go for another physiotherapy session this morning and I was planning to spend the hour sitting in the car starting the latest John Grisham novel. That didn't happen as, when I got back from the park, the OB told me her session had been cancelled as the physio was off sick. The book will just have to wait - probably until next week.
At last night's blind club social meeting there was entertainment from a chap who played an electronic piano, sang and also performed as a stand-up comedian. Quite an all-rounder - and pretty good at it. He told what was for me a new Irish joke.
An Englishman walked into a shop in Dublin.
"Do you sell newspapers?"
"Yes indeed, sorr."
"But do you sell English newspapers?"
"Oh, yes, sorr."
"How about the Telegraph?"
"Indeed we do, sorr."
"Ah, good. I'll take a Telegraph then."
"Would that be yesterday's or today's, sorr?"
"Well, I think I'd prefer today's."
"In that case, you'd better come back tomorrow."
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Monday, 10 November 2008
What religion can demand such action? What god condone?
Sunday, 9 November 2008
I see that Skip is reading World Without End by Ken Follett, a book I thoroughly enjoyed.
It did occur to me that a blog could be an ideal place for a journal - but then I decided that I really don't want too much personal detail being available to all and sundry. Besides, if I just start a journal now, it would take a lot of explanation to give any reader sufficient knowledge of the background to appreciate some of the comments. I think that means that if (a big 'if') I decided to start a journal for the sake of my descendants, I would really have to make it autobiographical, at least to start with.Something along these lines:
The beginning for me was in Canada House, a Royal Navy maternity home in Barnsole Road, Gillingham, Kent, in May 1942. World War II was two and a half years old and still had rather more than another three years to run. My father was serving in the Royal Navy and he and my mother were renting a house in Holmside, Gillingham, next door to my paternal grandparents. 73 Holmside was a three-bedroomed terrace house on two floors, with a large back garden and a reasonable size front garden, and I was to live there for the first fifteen years of my life.
On the ground floor were two reception rooms (known simply enough as the front room and the back room. None of this parlour and dining room nonsense!) and a kitchen. Beyond the kitchen was a small, square lobby with the back door and also the toilet leading off. Upstairs, the main bedroom was in the front, with the second and very small third bedrooms at the back. Beside the main bedroom at the front of the house was the bathroom. This contained just a bath with a large water cylinder in which the water for the bath was heated by gas. There might have been a hand basin, but I don't recall one and I rather doubt that there was one as we always washed at the kitchen sink. It was quite a palaver to light the geyser, as the gas boiler was called, to have a bath and we only used it once a week.
The kitchen was quite small and had two doors - one from the hall and the other to the back lobby - but, as well as the sink and draining board, there was a cooker, a fitted dresser, a ‘copper' and a drop-down table which was fitted to one long wall. The copper was a large tub with a wooden lid which would be filled with water for the weekly laundry. The water would be heated by gas burners underneath. While the laundry was immersed in the near-boiling water, it would be stirred around with a stick about a yard long. After the laundry had been washed, it would be put through the mangle before being hung on the line to finish drying. A mangle was a machine with two rollers, one above the other, one of which could be turned by a handle at the side. The laundry would be fed in between the rollers with one hand while the other was turning the handle. As the rollers turned, they squeezed water out of the washing, the water being collected in a bucket for re-use in the copper.
As was the norm for families of our class in the 1940s and ‘50s, the front room was used only for special occasions and the back room was a combined dining and living room. Both these rooms, and indeed the two main bedrooms, were fitted with fireplaces and were heated when necessary by coal fires. It was very rare for a fire to be lit in the bedrooms and I can remember this being done on only one occasion when I was seriously ill.
I was only three years old when the war ended, so I am uncertain whether what I think of as war-time memories are real or imagined. They are few enough, in all conscience. I have vague memories of searchlights crisscrossing the sky as seen from the bedroom window, and large pits dug along the top of the Darland Banks (part of the North Downs) to act as tank traps in the event of a German invasion.
It was in 1947 that Dad came home from the war. I doubt if I recognised him, and my brother Graham certainly did not know him as he had been but a babe in arms when Dad had last seen him some three years before. During the latter stages of the war Dad had been serving on HMS Bonaventure, a depot ship for midget submarines which had been in the Far East and in Australian waters. He arrived in a taxi and had brought with him one of his ratings to help carry indoors a large, wooden chest which was filled with things he had bought while abroad, things which were unobtainable in England. There were toys for Graham and me, and a dinner and tea set, some pieces of which my mother still had when she died nearly sixty years later.
Saturday, 8 November 2008
Perhaps the trouble is that most diarists (except politicians, sportsmen etc who write their memoirs) are writing for themselves and don't give a thought to the fact that anybody reading their journals a hundred or more years later will want to know much more about things the writers took for granted: what their houses were like, how they were furnished, what food they ate, what their daily routine was, and so on. It would interesting as well to learn how national and international affairs impinged on their lives. As somebody who has become interested in my family history, that is what I would dearly love to know about my ancestors.
What would have made it difficult for any of my ancestors (on my father's side at least) to keep any sort of journal is that they were farm labourers in what was then a remote part of north-east Suffolk and that few of them, if any, could read or write. I have obtained facsimile birth, marriage and death certificates for many of my ancestors and even as late as the 1880s some were signing with a cross.
Perhaps I should take the trouble to write my own journal in which I would make sure that I include all the things I would like to know about my ancestors. I wonder if I can find the time - and the self-discipline?
Friday, 7 November 2008
Point 2: Yesterday the Bank of England announced a cut in its base rate from 4.5% to 3%. I was reminded of the time when I worked in a bank. Back in the 1960s the ledgers recording customers' accounts were all hand-written (in ink - never ball point pens). To calculate interest due on overdrafts or loans, we would multiply the overdraft by the number of days it had been at that level and note the result, known as 'points', in another column. Whenever the base rate changed we had to go through all the ledgers and calculate the total points to that day. This total would be checked against the charts in a thick book which enabled us to convert the points into pounds, shillings and pence. Given that the sort of hand-held calculators that are so common nowadays did not exist, our powers of mental arithmetic were quite extraordinary. Of course, there was much scribbling on scraps of paper as well. All in all it was quite a palaver - and we were not happy bunnies when the rate changed!
Thursday, 6 November 2008
I have been known to declare, in my usual cynical fashion, that politicians are in the business only for what they can get out of it. I still think that is true in many (if not most) cases, although I can name less than a handful of British politician who I have thought of as honourable men. (What a pompous-sounding, old fashioned word that is - 'honourable' - but we could do with hearing it more!) As for the new President-elect, I suppose I shall just have to wait and see, although I can say that I do have my hopes for this one.
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Today's note actually has no connection with Papistry, Protestant martyrs or plots of any kind, but I could hardly let the day go past without some acknowledgment. Mind you, I thought at one time yesterday afternoon that we had brought forward the bonfire celebrations by 24 hours. There seemed to be an awful lot of smoke coming from the kitchen, as well as a disagreeable smell. I was rather surprised, as the Old Bat is a pretty decent cook - in fact, she is a very good cook - and I have never known her produce smoke and smells quite like we had. It turned out that it was all to do with the new cooker we had delivered yesterday morning. It seems that the smell will disappear once the cooker has been run in, as it were.
While we were eating, the fan in the oven was whirring exuberantly, but the OB assured me that she had turned off the oven. In fact, she said, she hadn't even used the fan oven, just the top one. But, she explained, the top oven has a fan to cool things down.
Cool things down? And there was me thinking that ovens were supposed to heat things up. But I was forgetting. Not only did the cooker come with an Irish telephone number for the help line, but three of the OB's great grandparents were Irish, which makes her three-eighths Irish and it is bound to show sometimes.
Which reminds me: I haven't heard a new Irish joke for a long time. Could it be that the thought police have finally got to us?
I love the one about what they put at the top of ladders on Irish building sites.
Mind you, I bought a ladder in France, and three rungs from the top is a sticker which says in both French and English, "Do not climb any higher". So perhaps it's not just an Irish thing.
With apologies to any Irishman or person of Irish descent who might by chance stumble across this.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
I wondered for a moment just how the tv news presenters and newspaper editors would find anything to fill their time slots/pages, but then I realised that there will be speculation about who will fill the important posts, then facts about the post holders, then speculation about what they will do, and before we know where we are, the whole process will start all over again.
Monday, 3 November 2008
Sunday, 2 November 2008
Cuthbert was the Sussex saint and was, I believe, responsible for bringing Christianity to large stretches of the county. There is a delightful legend about how he outwitted the Devil, but before I can relate that, it will be necessary to have a short geography lesson.
Running approximately east-west almost all the way through Sussex, a little inland in the west, but culminating in the chalk cliffs between Seaford and Eastbourne in the east, is a range of low chalk hills known as the South Downs. The highest point is only 711 feet above sea level, so they certainly are not mountains! The Downs slope gently to the sea on their southern side, but the north side is a steep escarpment from which there are magnificent views over the Sussex Weald.
Back in the mists of time (I know - that's a cliche but I like it so I'll repeat it!) Back in the mists of time, an old lady (some say she was a nun) lived the life of a hermit in a small cottage on top of the Downs. Cuthbert was in the habit of visiting her to encourage her in her prayerful life and one day, on his way to visit the old lady, he stopped to rest a little way off. He was admiring the view over the Weald, particularly noting the number of churches that had sprung up, when the Devil appeared beside him.
The Devil was furious because at one time the people of the Weald had worshipped him. He blamed Cuthbert, and announced that he would dig a passage through the Downs so that the sea would rush in and drown all the Christians in the Weald. Cuthbert struck a bargain and it was agreed that if the Devil could dig his channel before sunrise the next morning, he could reclaim the Weald. If he failed, the Devil was to leave Sussex for ever.
Cuthbert left the Devil digging furiously and went to visit the old lady. He asked her to make sure that she rose at a very early hour and asked that she should place a lighted candle in the window facing west.
The old lady did this. The Devil saw the light to the east and thought it was the rising sun. He had only dug halfway through the Downs, so he flung away his shovel (you can still see the mark where it hit the ground) and left Sussex, never to be seen again. The steep-sided valley that he dug is known still as the Devil's Dyke and is a popular tourist attraction just north of Brighton.
Saturday, 1 November 2008
The house seems very quiet at the moment with just the OB and daughter here. Number 1 son arrived earlier this afternoon and left the two grandsons with us, Barry arriving almost simultaneously, then number 2 son and number 2 d-in-l arrived with g-daughter, and then daughter arrived. She usually manages to wind up her nephews but didn't do so today for some reason. Her mere arrival winds up the dog though, so it was mayhem for a few minutes. Then just after number 2 son and number 2 d-in-l had left (with g-daughter), number 1 d-in-l arrived to collect the boys. Now peace has descended with daughter reading the newspaper and the OB getting dinner ready.
I found what I hope will be a couple of interesting books at the library this morning: one about the first exploration of what was then known as Louisiana just after the US had bought the land from Spain. Apparently this included all the Mississippi/Missouri drainage basin right up to the Rockies. The other is about the old British queen Boudicca (or Bodicea) and her unsuccessful struggle against the Roman invaders. All I need now is the time to read them!
Friday, 31 October 2008
Drove home yesterday through snow between Laval and Le Mans - in October! There was enough for the snow ploughs to be out. Barry had obviously been working hard on the bathroom while we were away, but last night was just a quick wash at the kitchen sink. With luck he will have the shower fitted today so we will be able to try it tomorrow, but there will still be the hand basin to install.
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
I did manage to cut the grass yesterday as well. It was really too wet, but if I had left it much longer I would have needed a combine harvester instead of a lawn mower.
We are off to France tomorrow, so the dog will have to be taken to kennels this afternoon and I will have to pack the car with tool boxes and decorating materials - I want to repaint one of the bedrooms. While we are away we have a builder coming in to work in the bathroom. The bath is to be taken out and a walk-in shower installed. This means all the tiles coming off the walls, so at least we will be away for the messiest part of the job. It also means I have to remove the bathroom cabinet, towel rail etc. As they have been there for, oh, twenty years or so the screws are bound to have rusted in. So I had better get on with things instead of sitting here blathering.
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
We also visited Trois Arbres cemetery and found the grave of one of my distant cousins.
Although of course we never knew these men, somehow it pleases me to be able to pay my respects to them. As far as I am concerned, they were all heroes.
Trois Arbres cemetery
I find the rows of white headstones (they are all made from Portland stone) in their unfussy shape, all in sight of the cross of sacrifice, intensely moving. And it is strange: I have visited quite a few of these cemeteries over the years and rarely have I been in one without somebody else stopping, perhaps just for a few minutes.
They are not forgotten.
Monday, 20 October 2008
From the back of our house we have a magnificent view across a valley of houses to the hills and fields of the South Downs, with a distant view of the Chattri. This is a memorial garden which has been created at the spot where Indian soldiers who died in Brighton during the first World War after service on the Western Front passed through the fire.
During the last week it has been one of the sites used in the World Festival of Sacred Music which is held in Brighton each year. To quote from their web site:
Environmental arts group Red Earth is creating Nada/Mantra, a unique installation of sacred sound, spirit and space at the Chattri Memorial on the South Downs, which commemorates the Hindu and Sikh Commonwealth soldiers cremated there during World War I.
This is a week-long, free-access collaboration between international artists, involving public participation and live sound - with performances each day at 5pm.
Drop by any time to watch – and take part in – the creation of gateways and avenues that will extend the sacred Chattri space into a living temple. Or come at 5pm to experience live sound improvisations between musicians and artists of different faiths and traditions, which culminate in a final celebration of sound, spectacle and performance on Sunday 19 October.
Somehow it doesn't seem quite ‘the thing' to me - using what is effectively a war cemetery in this way. I would most certainly not like to think that any of the war cemeteries in France and Belgium where my ancestors are buried would be treated in this way. However, this morning I'm glad to see that the flag poles and banners which had been erected on the site have been removed and that the Chattri is being returned to what I think it should be - a place of peace and tranquillity in the middle of the fields.
Sunday, 19 October 2008
But we retained our equally quirky system of weights with eight ounces to the pound, fourteen pounds in a stone, eight stone in a hundredweight and twenty hundredweight in a ton. The arithmetic did become a little complicated, but we all learned our tables at school and generally had no problems.
Then the Government decided that our weights should go metric - 1000 grams in a kilogram, and however many kilos to a metric ton. If we had been allowed to acclimatise ourselves to this gradually it might not have been too bad. But no. We had to switch over all of a sudden. And worse, it became a criminal offence to sell food such as apples and bananas by the pound. So the little old lady who was accustomed to buying half a pound of butter, two pounds of apples and four ounces of tea suddenly didn't know what she wanted.
Some traders, particularly market traders, were quite happy to accommodate there customers by selling in the old weights. Then along came The Law in the shape of local authority jobsworths and one market trader was taken to court and fined for selling somebody a pound of bananas. Not surprisingly, many people contributed towards a defence fund to pay for his appeal (which was turned down). Steve Thoburn died this year of a heart attack at the age of 39. There has been speculation that the heart attack was brought on by the stress of the original conviction and subsequent, unsuccessful appeals, even the European Court of Human Rights having turned him down this year.
When all this was brought in, we were told it was being imposed on us by Brussels. Whether or not that was the original position I don't know, but I do know that Brussels, in the form of one of its commissioners, this year stated that there was no reason why Britain should not keep using its pounds and ounces.
All the same, Janet Devers was ordered to pay costs of £5000 this month when she was given a discharge on various charges relating to the sale of goods on her market stall. (See the story here)
Now it seems that somebody in Whitehall has had an attack of common sense The Government is to produce new guidelines to prevent local authorities taking market traders to court for selling goods in imperial weights.
Could this be the dawn of a new age? I somehow doubt it!