Evelyn Wood's Blog

April 5, 2019

Not Quite One Hundred

I have often written about my aunt Hazel. We all expected to celebrate her 100th birthday on 30th July 2020, but sadly it is not to be. She became ill, was admitted to hospital and was diagnosed with an inoperable condition. She spent her last days in a Hospice and passed away last Sunday.

I knew her all my life, although my first clear recollection is from about five years old or so. She was halfway up a ladder dressed in light brown dungarees, blond hair ruffled by the breeze. I remember her blue eyes smiling down; the trowel she was holding. I was smitten and remained smitten from then on. Like my grandmother, Hazel combined being a strong capable woman with femininity. In an age when the two attributes are at times considered mutually exclusive she was a beacon of common sense. She had strong opinions, but I never recall her criticising, despite my many mistakes. Indeed, she was that rare person; always genuinely interested in what one was doing.

Hazel was the youngest of three siblings, my father being the eldest. Christened Hazel Evelyn (I share my name with her and my grandmother). In 1940 she married Eric Williams shortly after his evacuation from Dunkirk. Eric, typical of that generation never mentioned his experience and I only learned of it a few years ago. I was very fond of Eric, a gentle, kind man who seemed always to have a smile and word of encouragement.

During the war Hazel worked as a Land Girl and kept in touch with her fellows “Girls” well into her nineties. She had many stories of her wartime service helping feed the nation. She took time off to have my cousin Neil her only child. But, she did have three grandchildren and five Great Grandchildren.

She was always active a keen gardner and National trust guide. Her main hobby was reading. She devoured books and until a few years ago drove herself to a weekly literary circle. Sadly, Hazel was left a widow after Eric died. After many years alone, she found happiness again at the age of 72 when she married John Shelley. They had many happy years together. John was a great storyteller and we spent entertaining afternoons in their company. Once a month Aselle and I visited Hazel for lunch. I contributed one of her favourite meals, a curry, and she a trifle. Hers were wonderful and reminded me of those my father made. She lived in the house she and Eric had built. The one I remember as a small child.

We visited her in the Hospice. I did not know what to expect, but it was bright and cheerful. Hazel's room was bright too. She had family photographs and cards from her great grandchildren. She was very much together and we talked for a while. I'm glad she did not suffer and rejoice in her long fulfilling life, but I miss her very much.

Historical foot note:
Eric was evacuated from Dunkirk on the MV Royal Daffodil. She rescued 9,500 men in seven trips. On 2 June 1940, a bomb passed straight through her and exploded under her. The explosion caused a hole in the starboard side, and the Master ordered everyone to port side, which raised the hole out of the water and enabled a temporary patch of mattresses and wood to be applied. Royal Daffodil made it safely to Ramsgate, Kent and disembarked the evacuees. Later she was sailed to Deptford under her own power and repaired. As well as the bomb, Royal Daffodil also survived machine gun and torpedo attacks.
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Published on April 05, 2019 10:24 Tags: aunt-hazel

February 21, 2019

Theatrical Genius and How to Stop a Shouting Man

We've been to the theatre twice in the last couple of weeks. The first play was ‘Rough Crossing' at the Theatre Royal Windsor. It is an adaptation by Tom Stoppard of Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár's 1926 ‘The play at the Castle.’ Set on an Ocean Liner, it's great fun. The dysfunctional cabin steward Dvornichek not only holds the plot together, but manages to offer better endings too. Charlie Stemp an actor we’d never seen before, but hope too again, brilliantly played the part.

The second was Arthur Miller's ‘The Price' at London's Wyndham's Theatre. It's an exploration of human nature, greed, sacrifice (assumed and real) and the price we all pay for our decisions. Two estranged brothers meet after many years because the contents of their late father's home have to be sold. Eighty-nine year old Gregory Solomon played by David Suchet is happy to have another lease of life in the house clearance business. The brothers beat each other up (mentally) with the help of the younger ones wife. Most actors play themselves, but David Suchet becomes the person he is portraying. No disrespect to the other cast members, but he has a stage presence that is awesome. We have seen him on stage three times before and each was memorable. I'm lucky to have seen many of our great actors including Olivier and Burton. They were undoubtedly brilliantly gifted, but for me Suchet is on a different plane. I'm hugely grateful to have had the opportunity to watch a true genius at work.

Live performances can be magical even when one least expects them. The other day a man got on the bus and started shouting. He was making a phone call, but at a volume that made one question why he didn't just stick his head out of the window. It was becoming unbearable when suddenly the lady behind me started singing. “Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah.” I've always loved that song, especially the Peter Paul and Mary version, but this rendition was superb. The loud man tried to compete, failed and got off at the next stop. Hallelujah!

The Windsor theatre visit was a matinee. We chose it because we'd decided to have a night away. Hungerford is a small town in Berkshire an hour's drive from Windsor. We stayed the night in (for the size of the town) a large hotel. The next day we did some exploring in the area as we had never been before. Our day ended in Wantage famous as the birthplace of King Alfred the Great. He's the only English monarch to have earned the title “Great.” He was an extraordinary man who, in a 28-year reign, defeated and then made peace with the Vikings. He reorganised the military and the navy and created a taxation system to pay for it. He created 33 burhs (modern Boroughs) as defensive towns able to withstand attack and give assistance to others. He reformed the law, encouraged education and insisted his officials could read and write - English. A devout man, he also translated parts of the Bible into English.

The town has a large statute of Alfred by Count Gleichen whose mother, Princess Feodora of Leiningen, was Queen Victoria's half-sister. The Count served in the British Navy and was made an Admiral after he retired. He was a gifted sculpture and bore a resemblance to his cousin Edward V11. I confess that I had always imagined Victoria growing up alone and unloved. In fact, she and her half-brother and sister lived together with their mother after Victoria's fathers death. They had a common ‘Enemy' in the shape of their controlling mother. Despite the age gap Fedora and Victoria had a close relationship all their lives. One surprising fact is that Victoria's eldest grandson, Kaiser William II, married Feodora's granddaughter Auguste Viktoria of Schleswig-Holstein, who became the last German Empress. Would less intermarriage have made a difference to history? I wonder.

It is unusually warm in London. Lots of spring flowers and the days are getting longer. I just hope that the snow forecasters keep promising fails to materialise, until Christmas.
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Published on February 21, 2019 11:33 Tags: david-suchet, king-alfred, shouting, wantage

January 16, 2019

A Merry Town and a Bath Singing City

We spent three days, before Christmas in Wimborne Dorset. It's a charming place that is too small to be a town, but is too big for a village. The Minster, dedicated to St Cuthburga sister of King Ina of Wessex, dominates the town. She founded a Benedictine Nunnery there around 705 A.D. Nuns from Wimborne joined St Boniface's Anglo Saxon mission to the German parts of the Frankish Empire. As a result, Wimborne still has links with the Bavarian town of Ochsenfuhrt and its Benedictine nunnery.

On our first evening we joined hundreds to listen to a local amateur band. They played seasonal tunes and anything they lacked in professionalism they more than made up for in exuberance. Following them, Radio Wimborne put on a sound and light show. The first half was a mix of Santa and his reindeer plus some much loved Disney characters. These images, accompanied by suitable music, were projected onto the Minster. The second half was surreal. Star Wars! Well I suppose Santa would be more productive in a space ship,

The next day we caught a bus into the local seaside town of Poole. Every town planner on the planet should be forced to spend 48 hours in the 1970s shopping precinct. It's truly awful. Depressing is inadequate to describe the empty shops and air of gloom. We ploughed on into the high street and were encouraged by signs to ‘Old Town.' When we finally reached it. It was a delight, its high street leading to the quay.

Back in Wimborne, we went to the evening carol service. The Minster was packed and the congregation in good voice. All the old favourites featured with the original music. It's a beautiful church and we will be back to explore it.

Often London seems like a foreign, un-English place. Once outside the metropolis people greet each other cheerfully and display the trust that I recall used to be seen in London. In 1960s London it was common to see news stands with saucers of change. If the seller was not there you took a newspaper and either put the correct money in the saucer or a larger coin and took the change.

Sadly, it's not just trust that's changed. With the advent of ‘Smart phones' (how long before they are as big as bricks?) human contact and communication have too.

Shakespeare's lines,
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.

Appear to have, for many, a new meaning. A world stage is replaced with a few square inches of phone screen on which its owner lives a digital life. Mainly, the life is that of a consumer or more properly a spectator. I think this is a waste. Those alive today have a better opportunity than ever to fit more than one life in the one they have. Life is too short and precious to waste on introspection

The spectator phenomenon was ably demonstrated on New Year's Eve in London.

The Mayor decided to use the annual fireworks display to promote his own political view. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his politics is not the point. London taxpayers of all persuasions pay for the fireworks as a community effort. It is above politics – or should be.

To cap it all the entertainment was what I call ‘Bath singing.' I guess everyone has at some point lain in a bath and pretended to be a famous orchestra or choir. Blowing bubbles at appropriate moments adds tympanic genius to the performance. It's huge fun adding ones own interpretation, but it's personal. Some who should know better have decided that they will reinterpret music and that others WILL listen. Traditionally we welcome the New Year by linking hands and singing Auld Lang Syne. The tune is known to all and because of that we can all join in. This year some bath signer employed by the mayor warbled his or her version of the tune. An event that should bring folk together turned into a display where participants were forced to be spectators.

I don't make New Year's resolutions, but if I did it would be the hope that in 2019 we can rediscover community, participation and trust.

Happy New Year
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Published on January 16, 2019 04:19 Tags: bath, shakespeare, smart-phones, wimborne

December 19, 2018

The Parrot has it!

Almost Christmas and I have been busy. Mince pies made and eaten – my favourite way is with blue cheese. I made the marzipan last week and on Friday I'll ice and decorate the cake. All things I learned from my mother. I'm going to try a recipe for Marmalade ham this year. We like it cold for Boxing Day together with cold goose, stuffing and of course bubble & squeak. I like to keep the old traditions alive as I have such vivid memories from childhood.

Christmas starts in October these days, which is a shame. I recall the anticipation that started late November as we rehearsed for the Nativity Play and Carol concert. Then, Christmas Eve and excitement reached fever pitch. Mother was superstitious and would not allow decorations until the 24th and we had to watch neighbours having fun with theirs. Now it was our turn as we helped my father with decorations. He festooned the house with paper chains, multi-coloured paper bells and balloons. Mother complained he was overdoing it – he was, and we loved it. There was always Mistletoe and Holly too. The Holly was important because a sprig was kept to prick the first pancake on Shrove Tuesday thus ensuring good luck for the year.

Before going to bed, we always placed a mince pie and glass of Sherry by the hearth. Convinced Santa would accept our gifts; we were blissfully unaware that if he drank all the Sherry left out for him he would quickly end in a merry stupor. It was pretty impossible to sleep and in the early hours I would wake up, light my smuggled candle and explore the stocking Santa had left on my bed. Apple, Orange, Tangerine, Nuts and some wrapped sweets plus a diary and small toy like a car. What joy, sitting in bed by candlelight, eating sweets and a tangerine while reading interesting facts in my Boys-own diary.

New Year is becoming more important these days. When I was young, New Years Day was not a holiday in England. Christmas day was not a holiday in Scotland until 1958. In 1974, Scotland adopted Boxing Day (26th December) as a public holiday and England New Years Day. I gave up on New Year's resolutions as a child. I always made the same one, to write every day in my diary. I think February 1st was the best I managed. It's a balance. There is a lot to be said for Socrates statement that, "An unexamined life is not worth living” Tempered by the observation that. A self-obsessed life denies the possibility of living.

The year has been marked by further inroads by unintelligent artificial intelligence. In fairness it's still true that “Rubbish in = Rubbish out.” As I was taught when I learned my first programming language. I'm not sure, but I think answering questions one did not ask is actually the new corporate wheeze to stop consumers complaining or even just asking questions.

My 2018 award for fighting against machine domination goes to Rocco the parrot. Rocco discovered that Google's Alexa not only talks to him and plays his music, but takes orders too. So far, he's put in orders for watermelons, raisins and broccoli – ice cream, a lightbulb, kite and a butter knife. His owner had cleverly “locked” Alexa so that the orders could not be paid for. Just wait until Rocco learns to program! I'm convinced that sooner or later someone will wake up to the value of pen and paper. Until then I wish Rocco a successful 2019 shopping year.

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year.
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Published on December 19, 2018 03:41 Tags: christmas, mince-pies, new-year, parrot

November 21, 2018

The End of the World

Well at least the end of the world I knew and have cherished since childhood. On Sunday we were meeting a friend at Stansted airport, one of London's four airports. The flight was delayed by five hours and so we decided to explore the surrounding countryside. Only an hour drive from London, the countryside is a delight. Small villages, many thatched roof cottages and country pubs. We had lunch in Rickling Green, a pretty village whose pub The Cricketers Arms overlooks the village green. With time to spare we went on to visit towns and villages in the surrounding area.

Our first stop was Bishop’s Stortford. The name is Saxon in origin and, probably uniquely, the river Stort is named after the town. As we wandered the streets we came to a sweet shop. I cannot pass an old fashioned sweet shop without buying two of my favourites. Violet creams and Newberry fruits. Newberry fruits are sugar coated jellies with a liquid centre and were first made in 1931.”Sorry,” said the shop owner, “we've just been told they have stopped making them.” Horror! Part of my life swept away with the stroke of an accountants pen.

The day’s last discovery was by far the best. Saffron Walden is a picturesque market town that has many medieval buildings. Saffron was added to the name because in the 15th and 16th centuries it was widely cultivated. Together with wool, the Saffron trade made the town an important place. Now it's a quiet backwater.

My paternal Grandmother introduced me to Newberry fruits. I was delighted to discover them sprinkled on my breakfast cereal when I was about five. Other children's grandparents bought them comics or books; mine gave me sweets for breakfast!

On a recent visit my 98-year-old aunt told me that her mother did not much care for children, her own included. I'm old enough not to be traumatised by this knowledge. Indeed, unless she had an evil plot to kill me with sugar, she seemed interesting to me. She was always busy spinning, weaving, knitting, embroidering or crocheting. When not so engaged she collected antiques, helped my Grandfather (he was a civil engineer) and bottled things. Fruit and vegetable preserves plus homemade jam; made her pantry a place of joyous wonder. She was an active member of the Women's institute and made cakes too. She made fruit cake for Sir Winston Churchill whose Chartwell home was only a few miles away.

I have many happy memories and I'm grateful to her for being busy. She hated not doing things. When we went for a walk we would always be given a bag to collect wool from fences. Or berries from the hedgerows in the autumn. Idleness was not tolerated, but she made being busy fun. It's a lesson that has stood me in good stead.

When we lived in Bishkek I used to buy my razor blades in the market. “Schick have gone out of business,” the stallholder told me in answer to my request for two packets of blades. I checked elsewhere in the city and there was not a Schick blade to be had. Of course they had not gone out of business it’s just there was no local supply. I am hoping against hope that the Newberry fruits story is Schick revisited. I have looked on the web and the signs are not encouraging. It's possible to buy them on Amazon, but – antique candy?

Guy Fawkes day has gone by with its customary bang and fizz. At least that's part of my childhood that lives on. This year there were wonderful rockets that shot multicoloured balls high in the sky. At their zenith they seemed to pause and then splinter into a myriad of twinkling stars falling gently to earth.
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Published on November 21, 2018 06:27 Tags: guy-fawkes, newberry-fruits, saffron-walden

October 25, 2018

Captain Cook, Robin Hood, Stealing Apples and the Trouser Mouse.

A few weeks ago we had a short holiday on the Yorkshire coast, a part of the country we had never visited. It's one of those areas that's so wonderful one cannot imagine why not.

The coastal villages are full of quaint cottages, steep streets and history. Our favourite is Robin Hood bay. It nestles between two cliffs and is reached by a steep road that leads to the slipway for boats. Although it has always been a fishing village its most lucrative trade was smuggling. There were many fights between the smugglers and excise men in the 19th century. The first record of the name is in the early 14th century. Robin Hood is the outlaw of Sherwood Forest, which is 130 miles south of Robin Hood Bay. Was he a Yorkshire man? There is a record that Robert Hod, a fugitive, had his chattels (value 32s 6d = £1.62) seized at York assize in 1225. Maybe he fled south.

James Cook is a famous man about whom there is no doubt. He came from a poor family, had only five years education, but went on to become one of the world's greatest navigators and cartographers. Age 16, he was apprenticed to a grocer in Staithes a pretty fishing village. His heart was not set on shop keeping and after 18 months he was released from the contract. His erstwhile employer introduced him to ship owning friends in Whitby. They apprenticed him as a merchant navy seaman. The James Cook museum in Whitby has fascinating exhibits. It's housed in the 17th century house in Grape Lane where the young apprentice lodged. For me, the highlight were some candle stumps. The cook gave these to young James so that he could study at night. They tell such a wonderful story. Following a career in the merchant marine, he joined the Royal Navy and eventually became a captain. He was so renowned in his own lifetime that countries at war with Great Britain ordered their forces to let Cook pass without hindrance. Quite an accolade.

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is a heritage steam railway operated by volunteers. Planned by George Stephenson, it opened in 1836. It runs through the stunning scenery of the North York Moors National Park. The train still uses the 120 yard Grosmont tunnel, the oldest railway tunnel in the world. It was great fun, and the smell whisked me back decades.

The most breathtaking visit was to Fountain Abbey a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Abbey was founded in 1132 and is Britain's largest monastic ruin. Its founders, Cistercian monks, were seeking a simple life. Despite that, they finished owning vast areas of land across western Yorkshire. Although a ruin, what's left is awesome. Set in 650 acres of parkland it's truly breathtaking. One can easily imagine the splendour and wealth of the abbey.

I think that I have previously confessed my criminal past. I cannot pass an apple tree without picking at least one fruit. I've been doing this (we call it scrumping) since I was a boy and I'm afraid I'm incorrigibly set in my ways. You can imagine my delight when we entered a small orchard. Helpfully, each tree had a small plaque giving the varieties name. One, called ‘Forty Shillings,' was well worth the risk of prosecution. It's a rare species now and first recorded in 1800. The ones I picked, yellow green and streaked with red, had four distinct flat sides. They were delicious. Among the things I miss when away from the UK are the variety of apples, we have hundreds of different types. Oddly, perhaps, also the variety of potatoes. We have ones for roasting, baking, sautéing, mashing, ones that stay firm in stews. Some are for salads, others just plain boiled and some that make perfect topping for old favourites like Lancashire Hot Pot. When I lived in Germany I was shocked that there were only two types of apple – yellow/green or red and one type of potato.

It's getting colder. At this time of year, I check our mouse proofing. They are a pest and seek warmth. We bought a ‘Sonic' mouse deterrent system at the week end. It is supposed to emit sonic waves that are so unpleasant for mice that they pack their bags and leave. I heard of a similar system for moles. One user reported that far from deterring, it encouraged them to dance on the lawn! We shall see.

All this reminded me of the mouse that ran up my father's trousers. I was about six. We were going out when a mouse ran in and dashed for the nearest hole – my father's trouser leg. He started hopping up and down. The cats fled. Grip, my dog, thought it was a game and jumped up and down too. Out of options, my father took off his trousers and started jumping on them. We laughed, which made the trouser jumper even angrier. We were left in helpless hysterics.
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Published on October 25, 2018 11:29 Tags: captain-cook, forty-shilling-apples, smuggling, whitby-robin-hood

September 25, 2018

Bulls, Dogs, Sheep and a Shilling for the Boy

We always had a dog and cats when I was a child. I did not much care for cats. They never understood boys, or tomboys! Dogs are different. Grip, my childhood pet, was a great friend. Always ready for adventures or to eat the stuff I hated. Above all he accepted me the way I was and I loved him and he loved me.

My early working life was in farming. I especially enjoyed working with dogs. On most farms there were terriers, to control rodents, and border collies. Borders are amazingly intelligent and, in my view, unsurpassed as sheep dogs. They are born to the task. I've seen a bitch train her puppies by using puppy size hens. They are a joy to work with, partly because they seem to have such fun. I usually worked with two - shouting to one and whistling the other. It is exhilarating to watch the white tip of a dog’s tail as it races through bracken before turning, on command, to collect a flock.

These happy memories came back last Sunday. Countryfile, a BBC TV program, featured the final of ‘One Man and His Dog.’ It was a delight. The competition is between teams, junior and senior, from each of the UK’s four countries. For me, the star was Scotland’s 11-year-old Murray Common and his dog Queen. He's been training her since he was eight and says they are really good friends. Together they took the junior lead with a score of 90%. The senior event involved using two dogs and the winner was England with 121 points. But, points are combined and Murray's 90 added to his senior partner’s 104 saw Scotland winning by just one point!

‘One man and his dog,’ was originally a series of eight programs televised by the BBC. It started in 1976. Each featured individual country’s trials to pick their champion. In the final, the champions went head-to-head to determine the UK champion. For a reason that escapes me the series was merged with the BBC’s Countryfile in 2013. Countryfile is a magazine program covering countryside, farming, rural crafts and food as well as wild life. It’s a great program, but when it comes to sheepdog trials it cannot do the same job as a dedicated program.

There is a working relationship between sheep and dogs. The sheep do as they are told and as they mature they do it more quickly. Once I was checking fences and noticed a small flock of our sheep trying to get through the fence onto the hills beyond. Worried they would get out, before I could get the dogs, I decided to experiment. Getting behind the flock I started whistling and shouting as if I had dogs. Amazingly the sheep did what my phantom dogs ordered. It was rough hill country and I was lucky that most of the journey was routed past dry stonewalls. At the danger point, open grassland, I was relieved to see the dogs racing to join me.

One farm I worked on had grazing rights over a huge area of hill land. Rough country, but from late spring to early autumn it supported sheep and cattle. Hill grass is poor and the stock had to be moved every other day to allow it to recover. I lived my childhood fantasy and became a cowboy! Horses, like dogs, enjoy their work and I quickly learned that I could let the reigns loose and allow the horse to ‘dance’ as he guided the cattle. When not moving stock, we chased wild ponies. I think he preferred the freedom of that game.

That farm had a bull, a handsome Hereford. He always sat on his haunches, like a dog, proudly surveying the cows gathered around. He loved cattle cake and would always come if I called and held out a handful. It smelt of malt and appealed to his Bovine sweet tooth.

Smaller farmers could not afford a bull and brought their in-season cows for service. As the youngest it was my job to open and close gates. I also made sure the dogs were out of sight. Bulls don’t like dogs at the best of times. After a successful visit, we returned to the yard. My reward was a shilling. I think it must have been a shilling for many years. It does not sound much (five pence in modern currency), but in those days it bought several chocolate bars. If no one was looking it also bought a pint of beer!
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Published on September 25, 2018 10:00 Tags: border-collies, hereford, horses, sheep

September 4, 2018

Alcohol, Experts, Strange Accents and the PC Police

Another bunch of health experts reported recently. This time they tell us that alcohol is bad, all of it and in any amount. No sneaky thimble fulls. Tip it all down the drain. This draconian advice followed hard on the heels of a study that 'proved' red wine is good for the heart. Yet another recently said a pint of beer a day keeps dementia away. All this conflicting evidence made me feel so demented that I was unable to check who paid for the studies. Usually I amuse myself checking out who paid the 'experts' for the study. It is quite amazing how many are released to coincide with an advertising campaign for this or that cure or device. No, in this case I poured myself a large whiskey and ignored them.

Without beer it's probable that humanity would not have survived. Well at least in the UK. Until safe drinking water became available everyone drank beer. Babies were weaned from mother's milk to ale. Alcohol kills germs. It is safe, beneficial and after years of study I swear by it. My 98-year-old aunt says her favourite time of day is 6 pm. That's when she has a glass of sherry and cocktail snacks. Great recipe for a long life!

One recent study did cheer me. It seems that computers don't understand accents. 79% of Brits in a recent study admitted to having to ditch their accents to talk to Siri and Alexa. For those that don't know, this small island has a bewildering number of accents. Those in the west cannot understand those from the northeast, just as an example. Years ago I was forced to demand that a particularly belligerent Scot produce someone who spoke English. He was a tax inspector, but I swear that was not reason I could not understand him.

Years ago, children were taught Standard English. So that everyone could understand each other whatever their regional accent. Then, along came diversity and political correctness and soon no one quite knew if they were being insulted or invited to tea. Last year, Aselle bought me Amazon Echo for my birthday. She woke me up and presented it to me, beautifully wrapped. Excitedly I opened my present and froze. I just cannot see myself talking to a machine and after a few minutes said so. She took it in good part and asked what I would prefer in its stead. "A pork pie and pint of beer." That evening she gave me my chosen, delicious present. Despite not wanting Echo, if it helps to restore spoken understanding I'm willing to concede it has its use.

It is not going to be so easy to tackle the PC police and their censorship of the written word. There was an interesting article recently about interbreeding between Denisovans and Neanderthals, genetically distinct species of early man. The article said that there was now proof that their offspring had also reproduced. I asked how this was possible pointing out that the offspring of horses and donkeys cannot reproduce. I added that I knew the offspring Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens could reproduce because most of us have some Neanderthal genes. We are Homo Sapiens, well you might have thought we are. According to the PC police we are actually %*&$ Sapiens. The same happened when I dared to reveal that my favourite pudding is Spotted Dick. (Its made with suet, breadcrumbs, currants and sugar - steamed for hours and served with custard) You will not be surprised to learn that it's actually, Spotted *&%*. Which reminds me, what is *&%* Cheney doing these days? If this PC madness gets any worse we'll need curtains for chair and table legs, as they did in Victorian times.

Autumn is here and we have picked blackberries from hedgerows. I make blackberry jelly and vinegar and freeze some too. The frozen ones are for blackberry and apple pie. I've always enjoyed blackberrying. As a child we set off every year with baskets, although I'll admit I did more eating than basket filling. Usually we would go by train to a small village that my father claimed had the tastiest fruit. Apart from fruit picking we had a picnic. It was a great day out, and a fond memory now. Oddly, almost no one bothers to pick the free fruit that grows wild. It's a shame because it tastes so good.
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Published on September 04, 2018 10:23 Tags: accents, alcohol, blackberries, early-man, spotted-dick

August 13, 2018

Let there be Light, Horses and Rhubarb

Buried among other news last week was the announcement that the EU has decided to ban Halogen light bulbs and self-striking matches from the end of this month. We live in an age of protest against all sorts of ideas, comments, even thoughts. Oddly no one has uttered even a tiny peep that a few unelected people sitting in Brussels decided this without reference to those the people elect.

This action is excused, we are told because banning Halogen will help the environment and that LED bulbs, the only replacement allowed, are much better both economically and ecologically. The problem with this is that exactly the same reasons were given when the EU banned incandescent light bulbs and made Halogen bulbs the only source of light. I no longer trust experts. We have a diesel car bought when experts were warning about the dangers to health and the environment of petrol ones. Now we are told to buy electric cars. I have no doubt that once electric cars have taken over there will be research proving that they create unhealthy even life-threatening electric force fields. It seems the safest system of all is hydrogen power that only exhausts water.

The best light I have experienced was gaslight. Living miles away from electricity meant gas and Tilly lamps were the only options. There were gaslights in every room. The almost inaudible hiss was comforting and the light was both bright and soothing. I know that sounds contradictory, but it really was so. They were easy to read by, without glare or harshness. Tilly lamps were used outside and were wonderful early morning companions for milking or searching for newborn lambs. A generator provided the only electricity. On special occasions the tractor drove it so that we could enjoy that modern marvel - TV! A dynamo driven by contact with the rear wheel tyre powered bicycle lamps, the lights became brighter the faster one pedalled. Dynamos made a satisfying whirring noise.

The reason for banning self-striking matches is obscure. Unlike safety matches they will ignite when struck against any rough surface, helpful when fumbling around a cow shed at night. Safety matches usually had brown tips. The most famous brand of self-strikers, Swan Vestas, was red. There were regional variations with green, blue and yellow being popular in different areas. I have to admit that, aged about twelve, I was a heavy user of self-striking matches; for making ammunition. Between two friends and me, we owned an air rifle and an air pistol. We spent hours shooting at paper targets. One day we decided to make the test more complicated by replacing the paper with a matchstick. I was a good shot and managed to not only hit, but also ignite the matchstick. Well, that was an exciting event that could not be ignored; rather it resulted in many experiments resulting in exploding pellets. They were quite useless for target practice, but made a most satisfying 'thwack' sound when they hit a wall.

Returning to the subject of light. Unlike moths, mosquitoes will not buzz around a light and, according to some research they are repelled by yellow light. Mosquitoes are mankind's biggest killer and, having suffered from malaria, I'm always pleased to see progress in dealing with them. A team of scientists at Imperial College London are achieving striking results with gene techniques. If the present progress continues, mosquito spread disease could soon be a thing of the past and a child will no longer die every 90 seconds from malaria.

Having started badly, summer arrived with such a vengeance that we roasted. Our green and pleasant land turned a drab faded brown and apart from grape growers farmers were miserable. Dire warnings of winter food shortages abound. As I said, the wine industry (it's getting bigger every year) are the only ones pleased with the non-stop sunshine claiming they will have a bumper crop of exceptional quality. Just imagine, a bottle of excellent wine cheaper than a pound of tomatoes. Sadly that's probably a dream. Horses are a dream, but not a nightmare. The first vehicle I ever drove was a horse drawn mowing machine. The horse was a quiet friend who enjoyed fresh grass and oats and did not need filling up with TVO (Tractor vaporising oil) every day. He was also pleased to see me each morning and enjoyed having his ears rubbed. He had another use too. His manure, so I was assured, was essential if one wanted a decent crop of rhubarb. I like rhubarb and horses; surely the answer to vehicle pollution is obvious - horses!
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Published on August 13, 2018 10:12 Tags: gaslight, horses, light-bulbs, mosquitoes, rhubarb

July 16, 2018

In the Doldrums and Being Bitten Too.

It has been unusually hot for weeks, and more unusually there has been very little wind. Wind goes with living on an Island, but in this hot weather, when a gentle breeze would be welcome, we are experiencing the doldrums. Sailors called calm windless days in the tropics 'Doldrums' because in that region of the equator a sailing ship could remain motionless for days, or more. It was a gloomy frustrating experience and gave rise to the general meaning now attached to the word. The word, which originated in the 18th century, has its origin in the old English 'Dol' that meant 'Foolish or dull.'

Houses in the UK are designed to keep heat in. Carpets, insulation, curtains all trap heat and make the cooling down process difficult even when temperatures fall. Of course some love the heat and it's noticeable that bus drivers from certain ethnicities don't bother to turn on the air-conditioning. Presumably the intense heat reminds them of home. Being British we just sit and slowly melt rather than complain.

Some of the problems associated with the intense heat are pollen and insects. There has been a high pollen count for ages and for those, like me, who are allergic the result can be difficult. A couple of weeks ago I woke up with a severe nosebleed. To cut a long story short, I had to spend three days in hospital. The treatment was to 'ram' sticks up each nostril. The sticks gradually swell as they catch the blood. It was not nice. Since then I've discovered that severe nosebleeds are common when pollen is high.

Biting insects have reached plague proportions in some areas, especially mosquitoes and horseflies. I have scars on my forearms from horsefly bites I got as a boy. I recall they planned their attacks to that moment when one lifted a bale of hay or straw and had no means of swatting them. I was rather proud of my pitchfork ability. I could, in one sweep, thrust the fork into a bale and then lift it above my head, balancing the pole in the palm of my hand. Of course the other arm was required for balance and distraction, to swat, was not possible. Looking back on it, I think my party trick probably caused the back problems I suffer from now. Mosquitoes are a different matter. My earliest recollection of them is at a Scout summer camp. I was a cub and looked forward to an activity holiday under canvas. So did the mosquitoes. In the end, as children always do (or is that 'did'?) we turned our torment into a game counting the bites with each vying for the prize of 'Most bitten boy.'

In later years, working in Africa, I learned the unpleasant side and contracted malignant malaria, despite the precautions. I suppose the worst thing about mosquitoes is that one can hear them, but not see them until it's too late. They bite ankles and wrists and in colonial times people protected themselves by wearing long boots and long sleeved shirts. Much of what the Victorians deemed sensible is now dismissed, perhaps to our detriment. I was lucky, when I first lived in Africa, that an old man who insisted on ironing every item of clothing, socks, underwear the lot, looked after me. When I questioned this, he patiently explained that tumbu flies lay their eggs on wet clothes. The clothes dry, you put them on and sweat - the eggs hatch and the worm burrows into your flesh. It can only be removed when grown to full size it pupates. Only ironing kills the eggs. I knew a young lady who refused to have her bras 'ruined' and learned a painful lesson. I learned, years ago that faced with a conflict between local knowledge and science - local knowledge wins every time.

The government has issued warnings that any standing water should be drained as the biting insects breed in it. This reminded me that long after independence, an official would turn up at my house in Apapa demanding access to inspect standing water. He always carried a large book of British colonial regulations relating to disease control. Standing water was high on the list. He was an interesting man and lamented the fact that, according to him, in Colonial times malarial mosquitoes had been largely eliminated from Lagos and its surroundings.
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Published on July 16, 2018 04:42 Tags: heat, horseflies, mosquitoes, sailing