Monday, 31 August 2015

The lull - Sunday 30th August 2015

The fish had been fed and the water level was high but sometime along the last fortnight the greenery in the pool had taken to multiplying to the point that the fish must have been lost in an underwater forest. So that was job number one and I got on with it. I spent longer than usual on pond maintenance, and even thought about mowing the back lawn, but Pauline hung out two lines of washing, so that put paid to that.

I checked my in-box and all the mail that had come in, then put it all on one side. Today, I decided, would be the day I finished the book I've been reading and put all of the photos from France onto my computer. September will be a very hectic month so one more day of relaxation should stand me in good stead.

I had taken about 240 pictures whilst away and one day I'll have the time to do something with them, especially after Wednesday when I learn how to handle Photoshop a bit better. However, Pauline fetched Rita round for the day, we sat and chatted or pithered, enjoyed a really nice roast chicken, got an early night and thought that tomorrow probably would be another day.

a walk at Delettes

Hotel Normandie

Arromanches les Bains sunset
 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Traffic - Saturday 29th August 2015

There was no rush and because we were going to be travelling for much of the day, the sun shone. We had a reasonable breakfast, settled our bill and set off at 9am. Our crossing wasn't due until 12.30 but we decided to see if that could be improved. The sign said that because of the number of bookings being handled today there could be no changes to schedules. I checked in at the automatic reception and it offered us a crossing 90 minutes early!

The journey seemed over before it had started. We got on to the M20 and it was moving. That was a novel experience for us. However, when we got to the Dartford Crossing it all went haywire. We crawled the last three miles and then simply stopped. Eventually the lights all turned green and we could see no reason for the delay.

The next problem was the M1. That was also stationary for quite a time so when we got the chance we came off at Dunstable and came home using the A5. That was helpful because we found an Aldi just outside Hinckley and bought fruit and vegetables for the weekend.

The 220 mile journey took a total of six hours in all and we were happy to get home, especially to find the lawn had been mowed and the fish had been fed. What it is to have good neighbours.The post box was crammed full but with nothing exciting. Pauline did the unpacking, I cooked a prawn risotto and that was it. One more day of relaxing ahead and then I really have to start to motor.

Dartford Crossing. Southbound uses the bridge,
northbound uses the tunnel.
 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Wimereux - Friday 28th August 2015

Our crossing on Saturday is at 12.30pm. The journey from Arromanches takes four full hours. The bridge at Hornfleur was a nightmare on the way down, so we decided to play safe and book out this morning and travel up to Calais under no pressure.

Of course, the sun was shining. Doesn't it always on the last day?

We had breakfast, packed (mostly Pauline, but I did do my camera case) and we were off at 10am. We stopped on the way for fuel, then a fifteen minute break and then side tracked into Wimereux. Here we parked up and wandered up and down the promenade, but it wasn't what we were remembering.

The sky was blue, the sea was animated, but the wind off it had an edge and the promenade now sports bathing huts all along the front, but not pretty or bright as we get in Britain. These were dowdy and monotonous and took the edge off what we think is a lovely French town.

From Wimereux we carried on to Calais, stopping at Franglais to fill the boot to capacity. We won't need to buy bubbles or wine until well into next year. Then it was down into the town to the local Camponile. I have no problem with this chain because you know exactly what you are going to get. The rooms are always clean, there is a bath (first in a fortnight - though 14 showers in case you think otherwise) and the food is reliable.

And the pressure was off.

Wimereux



Thursday, 27 August 2015

Pointe du Hoc - Thursday 27th August 2015

There was a good five minutes of hope that the forecasters had got it wrong, then down came the rain. We had breakfast and watched the coaches arrive and the passengers disembark and race for the shops.

We decided to go for a drive until it settled. We headed back east but you could see nothing out to sea so I followed some minor roads into the countryside. We passed through La Guerre, Asnelles, Graye-sur-Mer, Crépon, Ryes, Sommervieu and finally on to Bayeux, just to find Carrefour.

All week, when it has rained, Pauline has suggested a supermarket and when we came out each time the sun was shining. We went in with drizzle and came out to find it hammering down. But it wasn't a waste, especially with gin and rum so favourable priced, as well as some special wine. We spent a fair bit, but if you take out the drink we spent almost nothing.

I have missed the sunshine on this holiday but on return home I will miss this countryside. I will be 74 later this year and am aware that I will not live forever and that there are large parts of the world I have never seen, so it is unlikely we will return to Normandy, but I would say to anyone that this is a beautiful place - when the sun shines!

Asnelles

St Medard & St Gildred - Crépon

Ryes

After a while the rain eased to a bearable drizzle and we decided on a last walk on this beautiful beach, but not before we visited the Disembarkment Museum. This turned out to be a real eye opener.

I found my knowledge of the D Day landings was incomplete, and quite awry. I knew that 165,000 troops landed on Day One and I hadn't been able to understand why the Americans lost so many tanks at Omaha during that exercise. Today I found out.

The Mulberry Harbour and the incredible landing 'roads' couldn't be built until the Germans had been driven back from the sea and the cliff edges. That took 3 days. The landings at Sword, Juno and Gold went quite well but Omaha and Utah took quite a pounding.

The Germans lost 1,000 troops that day but the Allies lost 4,400 killed and 6,000 wounded. By the third day another 160,000 troops were landed and these reinforcements were enough to turn the tide. By the end of June some 850,000 troops were in Normandy and by the end of August the Germans had been driven back to Germany.

The harbour was an unimaginable feat. Over 5,000 ships brought all the men, equipment, and the harbour over 100 miles of rough sea, and it took about 8 days to properly construct it all, after some was badly damaged by a 3 day storm that almost ruined everything.

What intrigued me, however, was what went on at Pointe du Hoc.

Here a large emplacement of big guns was situated on the cliff tops. The guns had to be destroyed for the harbour to be built. The American Rangers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Earl Rudder, landed with just 225 men who had orders to climb both sides of the cliff and take the emplacement. Some 90 died on the first assault, but they succeeded in driving German soldiers away from the guns, which gave them time to start destroying them. However, reinforcements were two days late in arriving and the venture was almost a disaster. They did prevail, blowing up the ammunition dump and finishing the three days of solid fighting with just 90 men left standing.


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Omaha Beach landings remembered - Wednesday 26th August 2015

Today we went west, keeping as close to the coast line as we could. We called in at every little village and remarked on every little church. I stopped to take one photo which left Pauline bemused. The landscape was quite flat at that point, though it had been hilly and varied for the most part. What I wanted to record was just how flat it was at that point and that tucked in the corner of the picture behind the village church are the three spires of Notre Dames de Bayeau.

The landings at Arromanches were mainly by the British and the artificial Mulberry Harbours no doubt eased their way considerably, but today was all about Omaha and the different experience endured by the Americans.

Where the beach was flat it was littered with bombs, booby traps and obstacles. There were also big guns trained on the area. The first tanks that were supposed to land all ended up stuck in the sea, but eventually some got through and diminished the resistance dramatically.

However, further along to the west is Pointe du Hoc and here were steep cliffs with dozens of big gun encampments all trained on the sea below. This was the area tackled by the American Rangers and first they had to scale the cliffs and then come sideways at the enemy. This they did, successfully, but lost two thirds of the original assault crew in the process.

There is a large memorial presentation at Pointe du Hoc with a marker rising above a gun emplacement, but down on the flat there is a triple memorial entitled Les Braves. The three sections are labelled The Wings of Hope, Rise Freedom, and the Wings of Fraternity.

From there we drove along to Grandcamp Maisie, but the time spent at Omaha filled the mind, so we made our way back for lunch, thankful that the rain that had been forecast didn't dampen our day.

spot the cathedral

Les Braves

Sea Horses!

bunkered

not forgotten

Eventually the forecasters were proved right, and a few more buckets full came down, hopefully meaning Robert was dry to the east and Daniel still soaking up the sun in the south west. Only Helen is back in England, keeping everything tidy.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

D Day remembered - Monday 24th August 2015

Arromanches les Bains is a seafront village with golden sands. It saw the day in with heavy rain, which doesn't help the tourist industry. However, from quite early and right through the day a stream of coaches arrive, discharging 40 tourists each regardless of the weather, and all the shops and attractions can do is hope they want to come out of the rain.

By the time we had breakfast the sun was back and we went for a walk. To the west are the higher cliffs and we walked to the top to get the views that German troops would have had when the Allies came calling (a little unexpectedly) on 6th June 1944. Some 25,000 troops landed on the beach right in front of our hotel, and many of them never got past the surf.

As we walked back, now along the sand, the tide was out and around 44 of the Mulberry Dock relics were exposed. We heard a lot of American accents but one tourist who asked if we would take his picture in front of a rusting hulk turned out to be from Calgary in Canada. He was on a 12 day cruise around Britain and this was the last day. He had heard that 5,000 Canadian troops died on this beach but I was fresh from getting the numbers and told him I think that's how many died in the 100 days of the Battle of Normandy.

Of the 156,000 who landed on Day One, 4,400 died (if the dates on the graves all around this area are anything to go by). Of that number 2,500 were American, 1,300 British and 600 Canadian.

We stopped for a coffee than walked up the steep hill on the eastern side of town to the Cinema in the Round where you can watch 360 degrees of D Day action. It is only €5 to go in and is well worth it. We carried on from there back down the side streets that lead to the centre of the village and the pretty Eglise Saint Pierre.

We were able to go in and soak up the peace. We could barely see when we walked in but as our eyes adjusted we could make out the spectacular stained glass windows. Sadly my photos of them don't do them justice. There was a church near the site from the 13th century but as the village grew it bacame far too small and so start on this new church began in 1857.

The stained glass windows weren't put in until after the German occupation had been repelled and peace returned to this hard pressed region. The three main windows in the east feature Saint André and Saint Nicolas, with the Virgin Mary in the centre. All are looking down on Allied troops and two soldiers presenting the Virgin Mary with a sail boat.

We wound our way back to the sea front, had a snack for lunch, kept well out of the next rain storm (with a bit of thunder) and write this blog and processed a few pictures. During all this time the coaches still kept coming.

the western cliff

Arromanches from the west



and from the east


Eglise Saint Pierre

We went to the same restaurant for tonight's meal. Maybe it was because it's Monday, certainly the rain hammering down didn't help, but this was not to the standard of last night. But I'm a butcher's boy. I'm particular about how you should cook meat. I don't believe in rare, it's not good for your stomach.


Thursday, 20 August 2015

Visitors - Wednesday 19th August 2015

The early cloud looked thin. Our first sign of real hope so far this week. Rob and
Sheri went off to Auchan to shop for the BBQ. The sun came out and I contemplated
taking Daisy and Harper for a walk, but they settled down with crayons and a
colouring project that absorbed them for an hour, then we played with the frisbee.

The shoppers returned and it finally got hot, especially in the sheltered swimming
pool area. It was a treat to sit and read whilst Daisy honed her diving (dressed as
a mermaid) and Harper worked on swimming unaided, which he can clearly do but hasn't
convinced himself yet.

Now well in to The Third Eye, passed the bits I can't remember and into the
sectioned that influenced me. Lobsang Rampa says that Tibetan Lamas do not believe
in hell. I do, and I think that is where we are now.

Anyone living a relatively easy life could dismiss that statement out of hand, but
look at the rest of the world and what it is going through. Billions living in
terror and deprivation. I think the expression Hell on Earth is well justified.

I remember that part of my reasoning for that as a teenager was that Hell could not
have existed at one time. Satan is said to be a fallen angel, so, if he was cast out
of Heaven, what better place to wreak havoc than amongst God's chosen people?

I do believe in life after death. I believe our time on Earth is a schoolroom
(school of hard knocks, maybe) and that your body is the vehicle that carries your
soul from birth to death. I have watched people die and seen the change that is
immediate. You sense something has left the body. Bon voyage. So the thought of
dying doesn't disturb me (I'm almost excited to know what comes next), but I am disturbed by the thought of leaving my loved ones.

Sheri and Rob's friends, Dave Newhouse, Jo and family, arrived,on their way home after
17 days camping all over France. They were a charming group. Easy, relaxed and
friendly. We had the BBQ and there was still time after our guests left for a couple
of games.

Delettes

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Windy Hill - Tuesday 18th August 2015

My memories of Delettes are all sunny. Pauline says I am deluded, but that suits me. What didn't suit was the steady rain that fell all morning.

Everyone took it well, all finding things to do, some educational but mostly recreational. For my part I worked on the agenda for next week's Lions meeting, sending it to John Whitehouse for distribution and then tried to work on the photos I have taken, only to find I've left a lead at home.

After lunch it dried up enough for us to go for a walk up on what we have christened Windy Hill. This involves turning left outside the fortress gates that guard our farmhouse, walking uphill, turning left again and continuing to rise till you get gorgeous panoramic views of this very well utilised countryside.

After the morning 'rush' hour, when those that work in nearby towns have left for the day, one in three vehicles that you see in Delettes is a tractor. Not a field is unused and the farmers are always busy. Last time we were here they were still bringing in the crops but this time they are all rolled up in neat rows of coiled bales.

It is the walks here that attract me. Having been born to farmwork in the 1940s, I reminisce frequently about the simplicity of our lives and the country lanes empty of traffic. To me, being here is like turning the clock back more than sixty years.

One day I will retire and spend my days looking for country lanes to travel and explore.

Delettes

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Auchans - Monday 17th August 2015

What is palpable is how tired we all are. Some sunshine might help, but it hasn't arrived just yet. So we decided to make this our shopping day. There is a big shopping complex at Longueness, just outside St Omer, and we all piled into Sheri's double decker and headed the ten miles or so north.

First stop was Decathlon, which is a must for anyone interested in hunting, shooting, fishing, camping or any sporting activity. The quality looked good and the prices were enticing. Sheri and Rob filled two baskets with gear for Daisy and Harper and their eventual return to school. I bought a nice warm top, Pauline had a swimming costume (hopeful of the weather) and a pair of trainers, all for about £16.

From there we ambled over to Flunch for lunch. Heaving with customers, not surprising given the quality of the food and the reasonable prices - about a third of those back home. Then it was into Auchun for the main food shop of the week, including two bottles of Chateau Neuf du Pape for £8. Compare that with £16 a bottle back home.


Back at the farm, Harper worked on his riding skills, Daisy 'helped' him, and the ladies cooked a really lovely meal. No Qwirkle tonight, you can only take so much of a hammering.

tomorrow's view

Monday, 17 August 2015

Harper's day - Sunday 16th August 2015

Everyone seemed tired. I hadn't realised how shattered I was until I stopped doing things. Pauline said I was very quiet all day. It didn't help that my hands are bad again. I had a full week of no afflictions, then it came back with a vengeance.

It remained grey all day and about 20C. The kids played outside, putting on a gymnastic 'show' for us (this involved bouncing on the trampoline and singing). Later Daisy worked on her diving ( and got quite good) but the highlights were Harper doing his first few strokes without swimming aids, and then riding his bike properly for the first time.


Robert went for a run, we enjoyed two fulsome meals,and then resorted to coming also-rans at Qwirkle.

part of our walk

Sunday, 16 August 2015

French France - Saturday 15th August 2015

It was a wise decision coming down last night. It took all the pressure off. We were
booked for breakfast at 9am. We ate full and hearty, not knowing if we would get any
lunch. We left the hotel at 10am and went to the Chunnel terminal. It was heaving,
and there were signs advising of schedule disruptions.

Robert, Sheri, Daisy and Harper arrived less than five minutes after us. We went for
coffee and the loo. We had been allocated a train an hour earlier than booked, which
put us on the same train as Robert. That wasn't to be. Robert was second on, but we
were held back by a technical hitch and followed half an hour later.

Whilst the others went straight to the farm, we went to Carrefour at Cité Europe to
get food for the next few days. This is a huge shop and not necessarily logically
laid out so it took two hours in all. Then we were on our way.

Leave the bustling Calais and three miles out you are almost alone on the road.
Delettes is a village just 32 miles south of Calais, with St Omer it's nearest big
town. I love it at the farm because I am a country bumpkin, but Pauline is a city
girl so it's a little too remote for her.

We settled in, fed the kids (actually I had no part in this), fed ourselves and then
played Qwirkle, a game I've never won, but Pauline was tired and gifted me high
scores, so I recorded my maiden victory.

It was cloudy when we arrived but reasonably warm. Robert fed us figs straight off
the tree and I've never tasted them so nice. Later a cloud sat over the village and
emptied itself. We didn't mind that. Get it out of its system.

home for a week

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Making a start - Friday 14th August 2015

The torrential rain that had been forecast arrived with a whimper and stayed as drizzle all day. Meanwhile, there were loose ends to tie up. Pauline got on with the packing and I processed the 8 new listeners that had come in last night. I raised the records, made the address labels, packaged 8 media players and had kept enough memory sticks for each.

I took programmes for the next two weeks to the studio, went into town to buy enough sherbons for a fortnight, banked a couple of cheques and took four very full sacks to the Post Office.

We had some lunch and then got on the road. Our Chunnel crossing is not until tomorrow but problems in France have been such that I didn't want to risk Saturday traffic, so we over nighted at Ashford.

The 180 mile joirney is easily doable in 3 hours, nut not on a Friday. The satnav twice took us off the designated track, saying it would save us 15 minutes because it was reading the traffic. We were at our Premier Inn by 5pm, the journey taking four hours. I drive the easy bit, Pauline had the test, then I finished with an even easier bit.

Planning.

The journey was unremarkable, mostly in drizzle, but as we approached London the rain stopped and the temperature started to rise. By arrival it was 9 degrees warmer than at home, and it wa still only 24. But as we drove down a new road for me and saw a bunch of oast houses, I knew we were in Kent and I knew thr holiday had started.

oast houses - but no hops
When Israeli Prime Minister Menacham Begin and his wife first made love, they began the Begins.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Bill Reid RIP - Thursday 13th August 2015

So, it was Thursday. I did a lot and then recorded the Stevenage Talking News.

I did the Live at Home Scheme, met John Cassie to sign Lions paperwork, then John Whitehouse for him to process it, visited Caterina at her new home in the Beacon Park Village, and got to the studio before 5.30pm. There was no Wilf this week but Keith was there for 6.30 to help me finish off Gwent. It's August so we were two readers short. Ben came and processed Lichfield, I did the recording, Keith filled in as a reader and Peter put the finished article on the website for people to hear.

Whilst I was there I heard of the passing of our friend Bill Reid.

We didn't get off to the best of starts. Pauline and I were going through a purple patch back in 1991, we weren't ostentatious but we were able to enjoy a few of the finer things in life. Bill was Vice District Governor for MD105D and I was VDG for MD105BS. On our first training weekend, Bill and Mavis shared a table with Ron and Christine plus Pauline and me. Ron told me to order the wine, so I chose Chateau Neuf du Pape for the red and a premiere cru Chablis for the white. Bill tasted the white, spat it out and ordered a Liebfraumilch.

It could have been worse, it could have been Blue Nun.

Bill regarded me suspiciously for a while after that but gradually we began to make inroads with each other and a cordial friendship developed. Then, a few years ago, Mavis died. We drive close to 200 miles in foul conditions to attend the funeral, and we were the only ones from our year that were there.

Bill was astounded and never forgot that. We would often get phone calls out of the blue and he avidly attended all our reunions. He had his eccentricities but at heart he was a true Lion.

We will miss him at Reunion.

Bill Reid - RIP
 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Third Eye - Wednesday 12th August 2015

This was a well packed day. For much of it the sun was as warm as it has yet been this year. I wanted desperately to be outside but I had two hours of paperwork before that could happen.

Pauline made an early lunch and then took Rita to Ventura Park. I made my way back up to Stoke on Trent for another meeting with the University Hospital North Midlands. For once I was there before John Morgan. We had hoped for a good turn out but only two others showed up.

John was clearly upset about this, with good reason, but I always think it is unfair to take frustrations out on the ones who are there. I suggested we change the way we approach these meetings. We are to pose our questions two weeks before the meeting date and they are to provide the answers on the day, sending them if they can't turn up in person.

From my point of view, I don't think they understand our questions and we certainly don't grasp their answers, when they eventually arrive. So clarity on both sides would be welcomed, as would focus.

Back home I collected the returns  for the Talking News and Pauline and I sat on the patio and processed them. Pauline cooked a lovely salmon dinner and then I went to the studio with everything I had downloaded. It was enough for the three readers but Peter O'Brien couldn't get there so I handled the recording. We managed a few laughs, which isn't easy given the gravity of some of the Welsh news items.

It wasn't all go. The 74 mile journey took an hour each way, so that gave me time for reflection. When we were very young there wasn't much money about so any books we had tended to be hand me downs, mainly from Cousin Les. The laws had changed and youngsters were no longer sent down the pit when barely able to toddle, but Linforth's Newsagents took pity on me and let me do three paper rounds well before I was old enough legally. This gave me some buying power.

The first new book I ever bought was The Ant World, and I've just reordered it from Amazon, available for just 49p. Then I reached sixteen and bought two more books, Zoo Quest for a Dragon by David Attenborough and The Third Eye by Lobsang Rampa.

More about Zoo Quest on another day.

At sixteen I was questioning everything, especially religion. I couldn't equate the actions of the church with the teachings of the Bible. I couldn't work out whether God truly existed and why, if he did, would he look anything like us. I was on a merry-go-round of confusions. Then I found The Third Eye.

This is supposedly the life and recollections of the Tibetan Lama Lobsang Rampa. I read it avidly and it changed my life. I began to believe not so much in God himself but in godliness. It wasn't what I believed that was important, it was the way I lived my life that mattered, and the way I treated every one and every thing.

The book really impacted and  was one of the influences that took away my teenage blues (my mate Charlie did most of that work). I quickly assimilated everything it told me. Then
 
I read the follow up book and my feeling were reinforced. Then I read the third book in the series and grim realisation dropped on me like a ton weight.

It was all a fabrication. They were novels, not diaries. For a whole day I was devastated.

Then I began to think. It didn't matter that the books were works of fiction. They had influenced me and given me a code of conduct to follow. Something had intervened with my life and given me redirection. I still try to live by that code almost sixty years later.

So, I've also bought The Third Eye to reread on holiday. I hope the message still shines through.



True story. A shopper in Prestatyn left Next and was followed by Security. In front of a crowd he was asked to reveal what was under his jumper. It was his colostomy bag. Talk about taking the ....


Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The annual flypast - Tuesday 11th August 2015

We only said on Sunday that we hadn't been bothered by ants this year. For many years now we've had ants nests alongside the kitchen wall. They are no bother if they stay outside but every August they have swarmed into the kitchen, and Pauline doesn't like that. This is the first year there hasn't been a solitary ant come in from the heat (nor any wasps either, and that's another surprise).

This afternoon the patio was bustling with activity. The ant colonies in the patio itself and another alongside the garden pool suddenly swarmed out to the surface in big numbers, all as if at a given signal. Then the fertile males came out, made frantic efforts to fly and after landing on their backs an average of five times they finally got airborne. They swept up into the wind, chasing the queens for a moment of bliss before almost immediate annihilation.

From what I could see there were two types of ant involved. I'm not positive on British ant identification, apart from the formicidae, or wood ant. If I'm right then we had three colonies of yellow meadow ant and one of the very tiny Roger's ant.

I became fascinated by ants when, in 1953 as an inquisitive 12 year old, I bought one of my first books ever. It was called The Ant World by Derek Wragge Morley. I was fascinated by his descriptions of the sanguinea slave taking ants. This was a description of collective intelligence, cooperation and clever planning, no matter what anybody tries to tell me.

The book had such an impact I still remember whole pages. The only other book that had that effect on me was The Kon Tiki Expedition by Thor Heyerdahl, which I read for my O Levels. Ever since that time, whenever I have seen ants at work I have thought of Morley. Not so long ago I Googled him, and found that his work is still regarded as the most important of all books about ants, more than 60 years later.

Wish I still had that book.

This morning was all about getting the minutes done from last night. I've got to keep the impetus going and timely and fulsome minutes are part of my plan. I put on Facebook that I'd enjoyed the meeting and could only remember the laughter. The reaction has been heart warming.

I went off and bought a rubber mallet, posted three letters following last night's meeting, filled the tank and checked the tyres for the weekend.

John Whitehouse came round and took over the Treasurer's box of tricks. He stayed and chatted for an hour and it felt like a return to the old days of the club when we were more sociable and spent time in each others houses.


Ah, the Good Old Days. May they never be forgotten.

You'll never get me up in one of those

alcohol may not be the answer but it can help you forget the question.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Up the Downs - Monday 10th August 2015


Son Robert was living just outside Guildford. Son Daniel was at Hove, Actually. One had the North Downs and the other the South Downs. One had the Devil's Punchbowl and the other had Devil's Dyke. Both went up the Downs, and I wondered why. Now I know. In Old English they were dūn, not Down, and dūn means hill.
It was haircut morning and Lisa was very busy. Not only did she cater for Pauline, Rita and me, she also tackled Gill and Paul. In between sitting still and talking about holidays (it's mandatory at the hairdresser's) I cleaned wallets for the Talking News and paperwork for everything. Only a couple of days left for shifting the important stuff.

Tonight was my second full meeting as President of Lichfield Lions under the new format. I'd issued 3 pages of agenda. We went through everything and I gave every individual a chance to add more, which they did. We had District Officer Kate Barlow to talk about Young Ambassadors. She got a full hearing, and the whole meeting was over in 63 minutes.

So we all retired to the bar and had chats and jokes for an hour. We haven't had a night like that in over ten years. I hope I can keep this going. All that stands out for me was the laughter.
 
South Downs
 
I bought the DVD set to 'Lost'. Can't find it anywhere.

Monday, 10 August 2015

General Sherman - Sunday 9th August 2015

If every day was like today - I don't know if I'd be delighted or bored. For today, however, I was muchly pleased.

We still can't get above 23 degrees Celsius and the sun is rarely with us for more than an hour at a time, but it didn't rain and we were outside most of the day.

I did some last minute organising for tomorrow's meeting and sent out invitations to District Officers to attend Lichfield Lions club meetings, I had a little go in the garden, Pauline brought Rita round for the day, we ate two lovely meals, and that was it.

We sat on the patio and read, or chatted. I'd got half a dozen disparate magazines to read, so I got on with them. There was history, travel, gardens, the National Geographic and wildlife. By dinner time I had finished the lot.

The number of butterflies in the garden is low again this year. Today it was mostly white variations. It suddenly crossed my mind that I hadn't seen a cabbage white for ages. Then I found out why. The butterfly I grew up calling the cabbage white is officially known as the green-veined white. Well, cabbages are green.
 
When I was young we used to take the caterpillars, feed them and then gradually watch them go through the stages of chrysalis to butterfly. It was easy, you would simply go to the nearest clump of stinging nettles and take your pick. I look at all the nettles around us every year but I can't remember the last time I saw caterpillars.
 
What are we doing to the world?

I don't know why I got the giant sequoia in my mind, but once there I had to do some digging. There are trees that are taller, others that are wider, a few that are older, but General Sherman is the biggest living object on Earth. There was a bigger, older tree but someone cut it down in 1940, so it wasn't me.

The General Sherman is 83.8m or 275ft high, it has a diameter of 7.7m (25ft) and is somewhere between 2300 and 2700 years old. The Hyperion Tree (a redwood on the west coast of the USA) is taller, many cypress and baobab trees have a bigger girth, and the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine is even older, but despite those shortcomings, with everything combined it is the largest living thing on Earth. I find that impressive.

General Sherman (some of it)

Twitter are banning the recycling of old jokes. That's me finished then.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

From Aaardvark to Armadillo - Saturday 8th August 2015

Pauline granted me an hour this morning to get my life in order. I can feel the pressure coming off. I spent most of that hour composing a begging letter for funding for the Talking News. Funds are getting desperately low and we keep getting at least five new listeners a week. We also lose one a week but it's rare we get our equipment back. Most of our listeners are quite elderly and many live alone. When they die the executors come in and throw away everything that doesn't look to be of value. That means us!

Pauline went off to arrange the flowers for church, so that was most of her morning. I started to tackle the outside jobs. First the pond and then another effort to get the line post deep into the granite hard lawn. I ended up filling the hole I'd made with water and letting it sink slowly in so that I could burrow through mud instead of concrete.

I cooked again tonight and my molly coddling is paying off because Pauline is beginning to look less tired and gaunt. The holiday that is in the offing can't come soon enough.

Work done, I had time to think (there's nothing on TV at this time of the year). I-pads and computers are great and unimaginable when I was a youngster. We had to rely on books and libraries to glean answers to vexing, or even inane, questions. Now you just look up Wikipedia and hope that what you read is accurate.

I don't know when my love of books started. Shirley Blyth taught me to read long before I went to school, and I started at Coleshill Primary at four. I soon grew out of Enid Blyton and preferred the Children's Chronicle. I wasn't precocious but I was interested in more than baby talk. When Mom married Phil Scrimshire and we moved up to 61 High Street, Coleshill, we found it best to keep out of the way of the old man. He had married our mother, not us!

The one solace was an unused bedroom that hadn't been opened since the late 1890s. In it were three bookcases of dust ridden but fascinating books, including a full set of encyclopaedias. I was still not a teenager when I went down with something like measles, or some other common complaint that kept you in bed and away from school. Mom left me with Volume One and went off to work. I thought I would read every page and master every subject. I soon found out all about the aardvark (an African mammal with no other creatures in its family) and the aardwolf (an insect eating member of the hyena family) but had only got as far as armadillo when I was declared fit enough to go back to school.

So off I went and I'm still waiting for the chance to read the rest of the alphabet. (though I know all about the abacus).

Aardvark

I asked for a martini but they gave me a single. There's no kick in a martinus.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

A home at last - Friday 7th August 2015

I was craving a day of normality, if not domesticity. The weather was kind at times and it would have been nice to spend the whole day outside, but there was a job to do first.

The year 2012 was very good to me. I got the all clear from cancer, had a trip to Buckingham Palace and carried the Olympic Torch through the heart of Lichfield.

I took the torch to every school and every child at school on that day got to hold it. Then it went into the loft. Pauline decided that was a waste so for Christmas she bought me a display cabinet. I got so excited I dropped it and damaged a corner. So that also went into the loft.

I decided to do something, the torch deserved a better resting place. I repaired the damage as best I could and then drilled holes in the wall over the stairway. I screwed the base into place and we discovered a problem. The base was too close to the wall to allow the cover to slot in. We needed transparent spacers, and they proved difficult to find.

Pauline also needed normality so Gill came and took her off to Boundary Mill for half a day. I took a load to the tip, the postings to the Sorting Office (another four sacks) and then toured the DIY emporiums until I found what I was looking for. Back home I took great care and eventually got everything in place, and it looks good, better than the picture suggests.

 


Where we've placed it isn't ostentatious. It's not in the face of anyone who walks around downstairs, so mostly family will see it or the occasional overnight guest,but it would have been a sin to leave it in the loft.

This afternoon I went to Burntwood and visited three ladies to either set up their Talking News or to replace broken media players. That was three happy ladies. Back home I started on dinner when the ladies got back. Five hours in the shop and they need to go back to do the other half!
 
I went to a meeting of Kleptomaniacs Anonymous, but all the seats were taken.

Friday, 7 August 2015

A day without learning - Thursday 6th August 2015

A day without learning is a day that is lost. I try to abide by that, but it isn't easy on a typical Thursday. Which is why I do The Times crossword.

My mother left school when she was barely fifteen and found work as a window dresser. As I was growing up she was helpless to guide me when it came to homework and such. She was really fairly uneducated, but that wasn't unusual for girls born before the Second World War.

When Mom retired she started doing crossword puzzles. Not cryptic but general knowledge, and it was amazing what she learned. She, like me, didn't just look at the answers to questions she couldn't puzzle. She had books and dictionaries and when she got the answer she went a stage further and read about the subject.

After a while she could not only tell you the names of all the Greek and Roman Gods, and all the Greek Myths, she could also tell you the full story.

So that's something I got from her.

I did the usual Thursday stuff. Got up and recorded the Stevenage Talking News, did the Live at Home Run, got to the studio at 5.30pm and finished off Gwent and Scotland and then helped Jan and the girls plus Wilf, Peter, Keith and Ben to process and finish everything.

Pauline met with Margaret and they spent the afternoon with Rita sorting out a new shower room arrangement for her.

But back to the crossword. I go through the across clues, then the down, filling in all the answers I am sure of. That gives me about 60%. Then I go through again and tease those questions that seemed ambiguous or I wasn't so sure of, until I'm satisfied. That usually leaves me with one or two questions I simply don't know. So I Google them, but when I think I have the answer I go a step further to find out why I don't know.

Sometimes this is rewarding. Other times it is just something I now have heard about but won't progress any further. Today's clue was Spanish poet. The answer was Lorca.

Frederico Garcia Lorca

Lorca was born in 1898 and died in 1936. He wrote a number of plays as well as many poems and ballads. He was strongly influenced by the likes of Salvador Dali (of whom I know a lot). I did some reading of his work and didn't exactly like it, but I could see the wonder of his mind and realised that it could be the translation that I wasn't keen on. I don't have time to learn Spanish to the point that I could read his true works. Here is the start of one of his ballads.

Ballad of the Moon, Moon
The moon came to the forge
wearing a bustle of Spikenards.
The boy is looking at her.
The boy is looking hard.
In the troubled air,
the wind moves her arms,
showing lewd and pure,
her hard, tin breasts.
"Run, moon, moon, moon.
If the gypsies came,
they would make of your heart
necklaces and white rings."
"Child, let me dance.
When the gypsies come,
they will find you on the anvil
with your little eyes shut tight."
"Run, moon moon moon.
I can hear their horses.
Child, let me be, don't walk
on my starchy white."

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Pretty in Pink - Wednesday 5th August 2015

I woke at 4.14 and that was that. I'm so tired when I'm up that I could sleep standing, but here I was, lying down and wide awake. It took a long time for the rest of the house to join me.

We had a lovely breakfast together, chatted a while and then I went and got five bags of returns from the Sorting Office. It was nice enough this morning to work outside and Helen and the girls 'helped' me. The operation took as long as if only one person was doing it, but it was a lot of fun. I do like humour and there's plenty of that with all of our family.

It was the bin men that finally woke the late risers. I put next door's in place and then wheeled ours round the back, except Pauline said it wasn't ours. I said it was brown and so was theirs. She said their's is newer and cleaner. I said I'd mowed their lawn while they were away and that should count for something. She said put it back, so I did. Actually I couldn't tell the difference, but apparently that's because I am a man.

I processed two new listeners and filled a sack with media players. We had lunch and then Helen and the girls left us. All family visits are over too quickly. I finished off the paperwork for the Talking News, downloaded tonight's news for Wales and Scotland, took it all to the studio, sent out e-mails to Lions regarding next week's meeting, and then we grabbed an early night, but not before I noticed that our post box round the corner has been painted pink. I wonder if the Post a Office know?

for Valentines cards only

The only exercise I get these days is jumping to conclusions. Another way to do that is to take a book, read the first page and then read the last page.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Inventors required - Tuesday 4th August 2015

The first week or so of any school holiday is all about sleep, and that fact is reinforced when your work is in the spare bedroom now occupied by a somnolent young person. Still, the sun was shining so I could enjoy the garden and breakfast with Pauline and Helen whilst Jessica and Megan slowly emerged, Megan more willingly than Jess.

I had a lot to do today, firing off letters and cheques for the Lions and the Talking News. The ladies were on a shopping mission (youngster's feet grow quickest during school holidays - well known fact) and I had another trip up to Stoke on Trent.

There are five routes to choose from. The most direct is the slowest but with the road works that seem to be everywhere I chose that. The trip was pleasant and trouble free and I met John Morgan with ten minutes to spare.

It's a big chunk out of a busy day and we only met three people, but the intent to take the SNA aims seriously seems genuine and I learned a lot, mostly by listening. Lisa I have met several times and she seems very reliable. Amanda and Indra were new to me but equally reassuring.

We need inventors to seriously think about a problem. The National Health Service is creaking and causes too many problems for itself. If you don't treat neurological conditions (for example) properly and in the home, sufferers end up bed blocking. Pressures on patient care in hospitals is such that sometimes changes in vital readings go unnoticed and patients end up critical (or worse) when early intervention could see them on their way home.

What we need is a personal, wearable monitor linked by wifi to doctors or the health service. Anyone with a potential serious problem should be equipped with this monitor and told to go about their lives without cluttering up waiting rooms and A&E wards. When changes occur that might be causes for concern, the monitor would advise central control and appropriate and timely action taken.

I'm obviously not a scientist but if my idea for a car powered by water has come to be, I don't see why this simpler task can't be accomplished.

I was home by 3.15pm. The ladies were half an hour later. I fetched Rita round and we enjoyed a very nice meal followed by a fashion show. Pauline has a suitcase in the loft with dresses from yesteryear and they all came out and were paraded around the living room by Jess, Megan and even Helen.

Helen

Jessica

Megan

Someone stole my debit card. I haven't reported it because they're using it less than my wife does.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Two faced - Monday 3rd August 2015

We were promised a north/south divide today regarding the weather forecast, so we decided that we are in the south. It worked!

Pauline was desperate to get the house the way she likes it and I was very keen to get as much work done as I could before the next arrivals. I started two new listeners and parcelled up six media players for despatch. Another new listener came in a couple of hours later.

Helen, Jessica and Megan arrived just in time for a bacon sandwich lunch. I got the barbecue out for the first time in twelve months (yes, British summers) and gave it a good clean. I always say that all that grime just adds to the taste, but Pauline doesn't agree.

One of the clues in today's crossword was two-faced god. I took this to mean Janus, and so it proved. January is named after Janus as it sits in the year looking back on the close of the old one and forward to the rest of the new one. The Lion's emblem is two Lion heads, one looking back at our proud past and the other towards our bright future. Janus did the same for the Romans. Nothing much changes.

We had a lovely afternoon. The ladies went into town and I worked! Then it was the barbecue, a convivial meal and a favourite film of mine, IQ.



Don't you just hate plagiarism. Every serious piece of writing I've ever done has been copied by a chap called Shakespeare.

 

Monday, 3 August 2015

Joanna - Sunday 2nd August 2015

Well, I knew this would be my last mushroom omelette for breakfast for a while. Chrissy and Peter were all packed up, we shared breakfast and then it was over to the train station at Tamworth. I haven't made that journey for a few years. We were slightly late leaving Lichfield so I didn't have a lot of spare time, so it was a shock when I tried to turn right towards the station to find the road layout has changed and you can no longer turn right at that point. Fortunately this was Sunday morning and the road was empty, so I did a 40 yard naughty. I did point out that whilst it was a one way system, I was only going one way.

Everyone making their way up to Edinburgh for another memorial service was safely on the platform in time for the train, even if some of Kirsty's luggage was still back in Lichfield. I said my farewells and headed home, using the right side of the road all the way.

Pauline took Rita to church and I hovered the house and washed the kitchen floor in readiness for another influx. Rita came back for dinner. Pauline was clearly shattered so I elected to cook. We had mini rump steaks which I flash fried and coated in a rich mushroom sauce. I stir fried cabbage and did a potato and sweet potato mash flavoured with maple syrup.

Rita choked on a piece of meat and I thought, "Please get over it quickly. I don't want people saying my cooking saw my Mother-in-law off.

One thing that was missing at Shugborough yesterday was the iconic picture that Patrick Lichfield took of Joanna Lumley. There was a picture of her there in a classic pose, but it was widely assumed that Lichfield had a soft spot for Joanna (who still looks gorgeous 40 years later) and she was at Shugborough on quite a few occasions and this particular picture was taken in the grounds. I read somewhere that it took about 14 attempts to get it right. That's a long time to keep a big grin on your face and leap through the air.

Joanna Lumley

Nine sat down for dinner last night. Today there'll be just two. Question is, do I open the same number of bottles of wine?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Shugborough - Saturday 1st August 2015

There was another hearty breakfast and then we got ready for a gentle day. I'd Googled Gil Whale and was astonished to find only one photo on the internet. I wrote up my blog and put it out to Google +. Chrissy linked her Facebook page to my mention of Gil and the next thing we knew it had received 262,555 views. Totally staggering.

We took Peter and Chrissy over to Shugborough. They are members of the National Trust in Bermuda and wanted to try their cards out over here (they worked). We chose Shugborough because it is the nearest NT site to Lichfield.

We go fairly often and the nice thing about the place is that it's always different. Since Patrick, Lord Lichfield, died at the age of 66 in 2005, the National Trust has been gradually opening up his private accommodation, and some of it is fascinating.

Both Peter and Chrissy labelled the visit a success, but we needed to get back because we had invited Sue et al for a roast dinner tonight. We stopped and bought half a cow and a bottle of red for the sauce, then Peter and I left the ladies to preparing a feast whilst we drove over to Ventura Park. Peter said he was glad Chrissy hadn't been there because it is too American and would have spoiled her perception of Lichfield and its ancient quaintness.

Shugborough


The hills are alive


Chrissy

Peter


 

Sue and the others came over from Warren Close about 7.30pm. We may have had a drink and then sat down to the gorgeous meal that Pauline and Chrissy had prepared. Peter and I helped by keeping out of the way. Too soon it was all over. The party finished, we headed for bed knowing tomorrow we would get our old lives back - for a whole day!

Blame Dan May-Jones. Mother in Law = woman Hitler.



Saturday, 1 August 2015

Gil Whale - Friday 31st July 2015

Today was all about Gilbert Ronald Whale, a man for whom I had the highest regard. He was the most knowledgable person I knew, never ever forgot a friend, and I never heard an unkind utterance from his lips.

I took the Talking News to the Sorting Office. Then we all had breakfast.

We took Peter and Chrissy round to Sue and then took Sue's brother David to the church so that he could warm up his bagpipes. Being early meant we were sure of a seat. It also meant we were trapped in the car park afterwards.

The ceremony took and hour and there were four people giving a eulogy. Paul Lynch talked about Gil growing up in Scotland. David Frith talked about the Bermuda connection. Joe Cooper (somewhat emotional) talked about Gil and Lichfield, and Peter Rand talked about his work with the Catenians.

A few of the congregation were invited to the crematorium. We were among that number, which was humbling. There were many people closer to Gil and Sue than were are, but maybe it was because we were hosting family.

My definition of friendship is someone who can tell you to your face that you are wrong, but then forget it. Another measure to me is that you don't have to be in each other's pockets but can get together after a sometimes long break, yet nothing has changed. You can almost continue a conversation from yesteryear. Gil was like that. You always felt good in his company.

From the Fradley Crematorium we went to Mabel's Tea Rooms at Curborough. This was heaving with all the family, friends and acquaintances. We even met Des and Margaret Whitty, whom we haven't seen for about 20 years.

Back home, we shared a bottle of bubbles and then walked over to Sue's to help finish off the Indian take-away from last night. There were only nine of us there which made it a cosy gathering. Sue has endured the last few days stoically, but was clearly in need of a good night's sleep,so we were home by 10pm.

Gil Whale. RIP