Evelyn Wood's Blog

May 20, 2022

The Short Sleeve Curse

It never fails. After warm weather, we decide to put away our long sleeved winter clothes and take out the short-sleeved ones. Result? It turned cold. It does not matter when we transition, the result is the same. Years ago I often used to travel to South America. I recall getting a phone call from a friend in Uruguay. “Can you come please, we have a problem”. I was puzzled, it was outside the fruit season and we had no outstanding contracts. “What's the problem”, I asked. “We need rain. Every time you come here it rains, you are our best hope.” What a reputation!

We have apples forming on our newly planted apple trees as well as plums. Exciting does not do justice to the prospect of easting apples straight from the tree. Such a wonderful taste. I was lucky to have worked in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable business for many years. I visited out of the way places that tourists never saw. I also got to eat all sorts of fruit picked from the tree. The taste is different. So different to fruit that is shipped and stored for sale in shops. Vegetables too. I recall a beach barbecue in what used to be Yugoslavia. I enjoyed most of all the barbecued long yellow peppers. They were so sweet and delicious that years later I can still taste them. I was always looking for new suppliers and bought a truck of tomatoes from one of the people at the beach. “I think they will stay green”, he told me, “it's not a good idea. Let me ship ripe”. Well they definitely would be rotten on arrival in London and I wanted to test the possibility of the ripening on the journey. They did not. He was right and I was wrong. In the end it had a happy ending. I sent the tomatoes to a market that had mainly Asian buyers. I told the salesman to explain that these were Green Chutney Tomatoes. The sold quickly and we made a small profit. Despite occasional requests for my ‘Green Chutney Tomatoes' I never repeated the process.

Life here is slowly getting back to normal. Well, normal is difficult with high prices for so many things. Fuel and energy especially. There is also a lively debate about the price of food. One member of parliament said he thought a major part of the problem is that people don't know how to cook any more. A sad aspect of modern life is that so-called Liberals, ignoring the meaning of the word, attack anyone with whom they disagree. By attack I mean hurl abuse and usually finish up calling them NAZIs or similar. So it was with the poor man and his, actually accurate, observation. I am the family cook. Apart from a rare lunch at our local pub and an even rarer takeaway I cook from scratch. We eat well and per portion it's really not expensive when compared with Supermarket junk food.

For the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations we have an extra holiday. The usual Spring Bank Holiday has been moved to June 2nd and an extra holiday declared for the 3rd, so a four-day celebration of an amazing lady. She has provided stability and continuity in a world that has changed so much in 70 years. There are events organised locally and we will be celebrating with everyone else.
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Published on May 20, 2022 07:16 Tags: cooking, platinum-jubilee, travel

March 1, 2022

Springtime and memories of Chez Michel

As a child I looked forward to Autumn, the poet Keats ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness',

There were probably two, maybe three reason. Firstly, it was scrumping time. I was the local champion and had a love of apples that remains to this day. Apart from scrumping there were hedgerows with blackberries and cob nuts.

Secondly Guy Fawkes day in early November meant a busy time from mid October. With friends we would beg for old clothes and newspaper. With them we made our guy, sewing the clothes together after stuffing them with crumpled paper. The finishing touches were a face painted on brown paper, sewn on a ball shaped stuffed pillowcase and a paper hat. Whoever had a pram or pushchair in their family would gain permission for its use and, with guy sitting in it, off we went crying, “Penny for the Guy”. If people liked our efforts we would get a penny, sometimes more. Sixpence was, I think, the biggest donation. We saved the money to buy fireworks. We also collected wood for our bonfire. On November the 5th we gathered in the evening, put guy on the bonfire and recited “Remember, Remember the fifth of November Gunpowder, Treason and Plot. Then, we lit the fire, burnt the guy and set off our fireworks. As the fire died down we put potatoes into the embers. Nothing beats a potato baked in a fire and eaten, skin and all, on a cold evening. Sadly this tradition seems to have died out, to be replaced by Halloween, which requires no imagination or effort for the rewards handed out. Halloween was not much of an event years ago. We made a lantern from a Swede. Ate Cinnamon toast and played ‘Bob Apple', which could be hilarious.

Thirdly, after Guy Fawkes day, Christmas approached. And how agonisingly slowly those days passed. Somehow it was always magical.

Now, as I approach 80, I look forward to spring. I love the way nature wakes up and flowers appear. We have a primrose that started flowering at the beginning of January, it's still blooming. A hundred yards down the lane there's a field. A few weeks ago I was walking past on a warm springlike day and did a double take. The field looked as if it has snowed. On closer inspection I realised it was covered in Snow Drops. I've seen fields of daffodils and woodlands filled with bluebells, but a carpet of snowdrops! Just amazing.

We are both loving having a garden, but have to be careful what we do. It will take a year to experience all the seasons and note the plants and flowers we have. An example is a cluster of deep yellow Croci that have sprung up on the lawn. Yes, I know that the modern plural for Crocus is Crocuses, but I prefer the correct Latin Croci (Actually, the word Crocus is probably derived from Sanskrit!).

All Covid restrictions have been lifted, although most people are still being cautious and sensible. Trust the people is never bad idea.

I just bought myself a blue enamel sign for the dining room door. It's the type one sees in France. In white lettering it says “Chez Michel”. The room is small and the door rustic. The sign looks good. Years ago. On a New Year's Eve we were driving through France to Luxembourg. We could find nowhere to eat. At a village in the Ardennes we saw the light of a Café - Chez Michel. Our disappointment must have been obvious when we entered to find a dingy bar with a couple of stale looking sandwiches. The barman pointed at a door with a heavy net curtain. He smiled and pointed again. We pushed open the door to Oz. Well it was like that in the sense of the transformation to a stunning restaurant. Michel greeted us and we enjoyed a memorable lunch that lasted hours. We had no languages in common, but making animal noises and pointing at the menu sorted that out.

Some months later, we were passing that way again and were greeted by Michel as old friends. The food was wonderful and he was the closest I've ever met to a waiting genius. He had no help, but without fuss kept the twenty odd tables happy. A year later we discovered he'd retired and sold the restaurant. It was not the same. I'm the family cook and my sign is a tribute to a great restaurateur and the happy memories he has given us.
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Published on March 01, 2022 09:28 Tags: guy-fawkes, snowdrops, spring

December 23, 2021

Christmas, Teddy Bear and Hope

Christmas comes, but once a year and I hope it will bring good cheer. There is a strange disconnect here. According to most of the media, shops, restaurants, pubs, theatres, street, trains et al. are empty. Everyone has taken fright (so the story goes) and we are living on Planet Ghost Town. Scientist are demanding that the media story be not only true, but enforced in law too. There is a problem however. It's not true, at least in my experience. Could it be that the media are living on Planet Scientist Lockdown?

In the last two weeks I have been to two major London hospitals. No panic, no queues of ambulances, no patients on trolleys waiting in corridors. To get there I had to travel on trains - full, but seats available and the Tube (London Underground) very full and once with only standing room. Shops had customers and most Pubs had business. I did notice that the ones with lots of people were the down to earth ones that don't pretend to serve fancy food. Everyone was taking precautions and wearing masks and it's now being confirmed that Omicron is a milder type.

This impression was confirmed on Saturday. Aselle and I took daughter Katherine, two grandsons and their girlfriends to the Theatre in Windsor. Katy treated us to a great pre-Theatre Chinese dinner. She had tried booking other venues, but they were full! The Theatre was busy with a great audience determined to enjoy themselves, despite having to wear face masks. We did too.

I love Pantomime. It's just wonderful to enjoy being silly. Everyone cheered the hero, booed the villain shouted "He's behind you", and "Oh yes you can", at appropriate moments. Panto is a very British tradition and with so much of our culture and traditions being attacked these days it's great to know it's survived. Cross dressing, telling rude jokes and generally being silly to amuse others have a long history and can be traced back to the 13th century. Originally Mummers and Guisers wore masks and put on short plays and music. The plays had the Pantomime ingredients of Hero and Villain. The modern English word 'Geezer' is (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) a variant of obsolete Cockney guiser "mummer, one wearing a mask or costume as part of a performance". I often wondered where it came from.

When I do the weekly ironing I like to watch a film. John Wayne is a favourite! Yesterday, I was flicking through the TV channels (waiting for the iron to heat) when I came upon 'Scooby-Doo! and the Loch Ness Monster'. I love cartoons and Scooby is a favourite. Tremendous fun and made the ironing chore, almost, enjoyable. It was shown on a commercial channel and was interrupted by adverts for toys. Everything from Barbie to a gruesome monster. There was so much that it got me thinking. When I was young we had very little. What we had was a wonder to be treasured all year. Indeed, I still have treasured childhood books. A surfeit of anything, in my view, dulls the appetite.

Talking of much loved toys. I still have my Teddy Bear. It belonged to my Aunt Hazel and was given to me on my sixth birthday. Hazel was born in 1920 and so 'Teddy' is approaching his 100th birthday (I'm assuming she was given him around two years old. He (or is it she?) has sewn eyes and nose and leather pads for hands and feet. I made him replacement ears. I was often ill as a child and my mother encouraged me to draw, paint, knit, embroider and sew. Teddy only had one ear, falling off, and I made two new ones from scraps of leather I stuffed with cotton wool. I still have my attempt at making a scarf using 'Spider Stitch'. My favourite knitting was 'French Knitting'. I made the tool myself from a wooden cotton reel. Very satisfying seeing the sausage emerging and of course the different colours.

The Yew tree now has no berries left. The Squirrels joined the Blackbirds and stripped it bare.

I hope next year we can all use the Panto phrase about Covid and shout "It's behind us". Merry Christmas and a healthy New Year.
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Published on December 23, 2021 03:43 Tags: christmas, covid, panto

December 2, 2021

Squirrels Triumphant!

We had been looking forward to October and sweet chestnuts opening their seed pods. We have two large trees and imagined a Christmas of our own roast chestnuts, not to mention the delicious stuffing. Most of the nuts were small, a condition due to poor fertilisation according to the experts. The few large nutss were grabbed by the Squirrels, before we could get to them. Not content with that they are the most terrible litter bugs. We found empty shells far away from the trees. I suppose they wanted to enjoy them in private! I watched one peeling a nut. Firstly, the red-brown shell. Then, the inner skin - the one I find irritatingly difficult. Not so the Squirrel, perched on a post it made short work of both skins and then, two-handed, enjoyed the nut.

New visitors are a pair of Magpies. They are much bigger than their City dwelling cousins. I'm not sure if they eat Chestnuts, although they only appeared when the nuts started to fall. There is just so much to eat for the animals and birds that it's unsurprising that they all look healthy and well-fed. We are taking the precaution of locking away valuables, especially shiny ones. It's not unheard of for a magpie to enter a house and make off with a shiny bauble.

Recently we had dinner at our local pub. On the way home (a ten minute walk) we heard an Owl. It reminded me of the time I managed a long conversation with one. As a boy I was good at imitations and hearing an Owl call, I replied. The conversation lasted for 20 minutes. I've no idea what it was about, but the Owl obviously knew! I also used to talk to sheep. Try it, it's an interesting experience. However, one must be careful. One Ewe I was talking to suddenly stamped her feet and was obviously annoyed. I have no idea why, except perhaps my Baaas were a little enthusiastic.

The other visitors are a Badger Aselle saw walking through the garden at night as she was drawing the curtains, and Blackbirds. The birds are a great help. Our Yew tree is covered in red berries. Yews are extremely toxic and there is no antidote. The red berry pulp surrounding the seed is the only part that is not poisonous. It is supposed to be sweet and taste good. The Blackbirds feast on them all day and then pass the seeds without digesting them. Nature is clever!

It's fun exploring our new area. Last weekend we visited Chatham’s Historic Dockyard. Chatham is a town on the River Medway and was first mentioned in 880. It has a strategic position and was established as a Royal Dockyard by Queen Elizabeth I in 1568. HMS Victory, Nelson's Flagship was built at the yard. It's a fascinating place. We went on a tour of a Submarine (many were built at Chatham) and came away wondering how Submariners survived the claustrophobic cramped quarters.

Rope was first made in Chatham in 1608. The Ropery is fascinating. A quarter of a mile long and it still has some original equipment. Rope is still produced commercially on the site. The original buildings were rebuilt from 1729 and have also been used as film sets. Chatham was also home to Charles Dickens between the ages of four and eleven. He enjoyed it and returned to a nearby village as an adult.

Talking of Dickens. The nearby Town of Rochester lays claim to him and has two festival a year devoted to the great man. Not to be left out, our village was one of his favourites. He often walked from Rochester to his favourite Ale House here. As that is over four miles each way it must have been good. He also, reportedly, got many character's names from walking around the local church yard.
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Published on December 02, 2021 09:44 Tags: chestnuts, dickens, rope, squirrels

October 20, 2021

Gardens, Poison, Music and the BBC

We attended a fascinating talk about herbs last week. Arranged by our local Gardeners' Society in the Village Hall. The expert described herbs for culinary, health and textile dyeing uses. All illustrated by slides and accompanied by useful tips on growing and using them. One side of our drive has poor soil and we had thought of improving it. However, now we know it is ideal for herbs like rosemary and thyme.

There is always an interval between the talk and questions. Tea coffee and biscuits to lubricate what Poirot called 'The little Grey Cells.' At the start of the talk, Susan had said she would sit for the evening because her course of chemotherapy was tiring. I had chemotherapy ten years ago and shared my experience with her. So many are still frightened by cancer and its treatment that I think it's useful to put the survivor side too. She has just started a new course of a drug derived from Yew leaves. She is such a lovely person and determined to get well. We had a most interesting conversation. I'm looking forward to seeing her next year.

We have a yew tree in the garden. It's about 30 feet tall and must predate the cottage (built 1921) by a few hundred years. Yews grow very slowly and live to a great age. My Hen Nain (Great Grandmother) came from Llangernyw a village in North Wales. It has an ancient yew with a girth of over 35 feet. Experts say it's over 4,000 years old and even the doubters admit to it being at least 1,500 years old. Yew is a letter of the Runic alphabet 'Eihwaz' shortened to Eoh in the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc (Alphabet). Yew has been an important contributor to English history as the raw material for long bows. It was so important that in 1472 a law required merchants to bring four bow-staves for every ton of cargo, increased by Richard 111 to ten. Despite its usefulness, it's toxic and even a small amount fatal. The only part not toxic is the jelly like red casing of the seed. Apparently, it's sweet and appreciate by birds. I'm quite adventurous, but I'll leave that to them.

We finally have all our embroideries, paintings and photos on the walls. Apart from sorting out the books, put on shelves in no order, we are organised. Well, except the kitchen. Whoever designed it was not a cook. Unless you count a couple of breakfast bars and numerous points for microwave ovens as a cooks dream. At the end of the month an installer will fit the missing units.

It has been and still is mild, and we have planted more shrubs. It's amazing how plants respond to a little TLC. A rose we thought dead is covered in beautiful red blooms. The rose that had been eaten by saw fly larva, is growing back and the mint, which had been stripped of its leaves is covered in fresh new ones. All we did was a little pruning and pest control.

Last Saturday was fun. Two of Aselle's golf friends came to lunch before they headed off for a round of golf. Somehow, the talk came around to music. I said I missed the tunes of old. The two friends disagreed. "OK" I challenged "Hum a tune from one of today's pop stars". Silence, then." We will if you tell a joke". I did. Silence. Just think about Elvis, Simon and Garfunkel the Everly Brothers, Diana Ross, Cliff Richard, Dusty Springfield, Sandy Shaw, Baccara, Don McClean, the Carpenters, John Denver, Dolly Parton - I could go on and on. All produced foot tapping music. Music everyone could whistle, hum or sing. "Oh boy" as the late great Buddy Holly sang.

All of my love, all of my kissin'
You don't know what you've been a-missin'

Well I know, and I'm sad about it.

I have such fond memories of sitting by the radio listening to 'Top of the Pops'. Who was up, or down. What new entry would excite. A new tune to whistle or sing. The lack of tunes has been puzzling me for ages. Maybe it's an extension of a problem the Buggles sang about in 1979, 'Video killed the radio star' laments Television destroying radio (wrong as it happens), but thinking about it. We listened to the radio and unless the tune and lyrics were good the song flopped. The only way to see performers were a concert or movie. Even when TV started hosting pop programs, the artists just sang as if it were a concert. Now, there is a video 'story' and, it seems to me the music is secondary. Instead of listening, it seems people watch ever more elaborate mini worlds on a tiny screen. The myopism of the 21st century drives me crazy at times. One of the local pubs has music events. The volume is so loud we can hear it 800 yards away, but all one can hear is a throbbing base. Maybe talking drums are back! I wish music was.

I've been engaged in a long correspondence with the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). It is funded by a licence fee. The fee has to be paid whether you watch their programs or not. Non payment is a criminal offence. In a nutshell, my complaint was that a section of people over 75 have to report they are moving on the day they do. Everyone else can do so three months in advance. To me that is discrimination. In a flurry of excuses that would have had Joseph Goebells cheering they have twisted and turned. Firstly, it was a system requirement. Then, it was helping the group. Finally, according to them if a cohort are all treated in the same way there is no discrimination. So, you ban all red-headed people from your business and it's not discrimination because you banned them all. If you just banned ones with green eyes would it would be discrimination - or not? I guess red heads with green eyes are a cohort, or sub cohort. Of course there are more extreme examples of this immoral opinion. A great get-out for war criminals. I just cannot believe this and have complained to my member of parliament. Problem is, politicians want publicity so I'm not holding my breath.
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Published on October 20, 2021 08:56 Tags: bbc, pop-music, yew-trees

September 9, 2021

Moved Out of the Window

We moved. Out of the window. Well, our furniture and household goods did. We lived in a second floor flat with four flights of stairs, each progressively narrower. The moving company quickly accepted our idea of a 'Cherry picker' hoist. These are common in most European countries where removers have them permanently mounted on their trucks. In the UK, I have never seen one and a separate hoist was hired. The sash window came out easily and the hoist platform soon made its first, laden, descent. It was exciting and fast. Soon two small trucks were loaded. The window replaced, and a dab of paint restored it to its original state. The movers were fast, efficient and not having to carry furniture and boxes down stairs, were also not exhausted. I wonder if they will now offer 'Window ' removal as a standard.

Everything was finished by 11 am and we set off, separately, not in convoy to drive the 35 odd miles to our new home. It could be on a different planet. Turning off the motorway one is immediately driving on country lanes bordered by orchards and fields. As we entered the village our car radio played the hallelujah chorus, a good omen if ever there was one!

We have vowed to buy nothing that does not replace an item thrown out or given away. We had two large walk-in cupboards in London. In our new home there are none. We are coping by doing some DIY. We should be straight by Christmas!

We had lived in London for 11 years. We have now been in our country cottage for five weeks. It's on the edge of a small village that has a school, a church, a shop and three pubs! In that short time we now know more people than we did in London. Indeed, London can be one of the loneliest places on earth. Yes, there is a lot to do, theatre, concerts, amazing restaurants and so on. But, community? Sadly lacking in my experience.

We have a garden and two sweet chestnut trees that are laden with nuts. Roast chestnuts for Christmas are certain. Apart from the trees, the garden is a blank canvas and we plan on adding to our first plantings of honeysuckle and Japanese quince. Actually it's not quite blank. There are some roses that need serious pruning and four fuchsia bushes. We have joined the village gardeners society and attended our first meeting yesterday. Luckily the talk was given by a leading expert on fuchsias. So now we know! We are keen to plant some fruit trees. Cherry, plum and apple. We are going to look into a heritage apple variety. There are 2,500 varieties of apple grown in the UK, many on the point of extinction because supermarkets are such stick in the muds!

Another striking difference are the stars, stars in the sky. London is full of light and only the moon is bright enough to compete. Here, we can look up and enjoy being a small part of the universe.
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Published on September 09, 2021 09:57 Tags: london, village-life-gardens

June 25, 2021

Hugs Return and Overpriced Bags.

We have had a very hot week, followed by a mini winter. I exaggerate, but that is what it feels like. According to the weather forecasters, we are about to roast in July.

We went away for the weekend at the tail end of the good June weather. Torquay, where we stayed, is a wonderful town in Devon and well worth a visit (it was our first). From the neighbouring town of Paignton we took the steam train to Dartmouth. Actually, it goes to Kingswear a sleepy town opposite Dartmouth, from there it's a short ferry ride. Dartmouth boasts a Railway Station built by the great Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He had intended to build a rail bridge across the river Dart, but local opposition foiled his plan. The train station that never saw a train, is now a bar. Kingswear is quiet, except for the ferry queues. Dartmouth bustles. It's a wonderful town and we intend returning to explore more.

The roads were crowded, shops, restaurants and cafes too. Everybody seemed to be out and about respecting the rules, but having a good time. The hotel we stayed at was full. Getting a table at a restaurant proved difficult. One evening we were offered a table at 11:30 pm. The next day we were luckier and had dinner with friends Sheila and Peter in Cockington a village near Torquay. Ask someone to describe an English village with thatched roofed houses and, even if they'd never been there, they'd describe Cockington. Magical place!

Last weekend we celebrated 'Hug' day (the first day we have been able to gather indoors and hug) with my daughters, son and grandsons. Katherine, whose birthday was the reason for our gathering had a severe back problem. Max, my Son in Law, stepped up to the plate and ensured a wonderful day including a barbecue. We have kept in touch by phone and occasionally Zoom. Better than nothing, but nothing beats a hug!

There is great pent up demand for buying stuff. Shoppers have been deprived and we saw many struggling along with bags full. I like shopping, but have learned to think carefully before acting. There are two reasons for this. One is the obvious money one. The second is space. I enjoy cooking, and have to confess that I have more pots and pans than I need. Another, note of caution is to do with where it comes from. We enjoy buying things made by artisans or old established businesses. Sometimes, however, all is not as it seems.

Years ago we were in Bond Street (London's premier shopping street) waiting to go to an exhibition. To pass the time we went into a luggage shop. It's a famous brand, French I think. Anyway, I picked up an Orange Wash Bag. It was made of canvas and simple. A shop assistant asked if she could help, relieving me of the bag. "How much is it?" I asked. "£300.00 ($420.00) she said. "You are joking" I said. She sniffed. We left. The incident made me write my one and only Flash Fiction story. Of course it's only partly fiction, which is probably why it never got published. However, better late than never here are the 433 words.

The Orange Bag
The Henderson family disgorged from their 4X4 at the President Hotel's parking bay. A handsome family, parents with matching tans, matching twins and luggage too. Three porters carried their luggage into the foyer. A fawning manager greeted them as royalty.

"Oh no," squealed a twin, pointing at a junior porter, "that person dropped my orange toilet bag on the road and it's ruined". "We will replace it immediately" soothed the manager. "It cost £300 in Bond Street," snapped Mrs. Henderson, visibly shaken by this affront to her matching world. "Three hundred quid," gasped the errant porter "you can buy stuff like that for a fiver down Petticoat Lane". Mr. Henderson stilled his wife's unspoken protest. "It takes quality to know quality" he smugly quipped. "Quality?" demanded the porter "quality? Quality ain't a Chav chariot and fake tan it comes from inside you, not out of your pocket".

Jobs come from employers who, whatever their private thoughts, earn money by pampering, nay, sucking up to guests with big pockets. The pampered feel special. Their feelings reinforced by the knowledge that those who have the temerity to question their status, will be dismissed and not trouble them again.

"Mamun! Mamun!" The eleven-year old Bangladeshi boy stiffened, hearing his name called. "Mamun: - there you are". Tarun Chowdhury, the factory owner, oiled his way over to Mamun's bench, where the boy was cleaning his sewing machine. At the end of his ten-hour shift, this was his last task before he could go to the company hostel. Tarun was now close enough to breathe garlic breath on the boy, who flinched. "Mamun, you are not in trouble, not at all in trouble. Indeed, you are complimented from our buyer in London. Those orange bags you sewed are verrry good quality, they have ordered more". Mamun flushed with pride, his eyes shone and his white teeth lit up his face. "Oh sir" he began. "No, no," Tarun held up a be-ringed finger, "don't deny it your work is excellent. As a reward there is extra evening rice." Overjoyed Mamun mumbled his thanks. He felt as if he was floating on air as he walked to the hostel, followed by the envious glances of his co-workers.

At supper that day, Mamun savoured every extra grain and wondered why it tasted so much better than yesterday. He had time to dream too. "One day," he thought, "when I'm older, I will own an orange bag and I will be able to put every single thing I own into it. That will be so verrry classy".

The End

Translation for non-Brits. Quid = Pound £. Fiver = £5.00. Petticoat Lane = a London Street Market. Chav = a vulgar flashy person or their props.
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Published on June 25, 2021 06:21

May 12, 2021

Bad Words and Creativity

I grew up in a non swearing family. I knew that people swore because I'd heard workmen doing so. Exclaiming, "Bugger" one day earned me a painful rebuke and fifteen minute rant on the evils of bad language. As an eight year old I was aggrieved, not just for the smack, but because I was convinced my parents swore in private. I had no proof for the assumption and found it increasingly frustrating that my father's reaction to even a major crisis was to mutter "Drat". One day, a mouse got into the hall and my father energetically sought to shoo it out into the garden. To my delight, and his horror, it ran up his trouser leg - on the inside. I waited with bated breath, surely now he would swear. 'Blast', he exclaimed taking off his trousers and jumping on therm. Obviously he was a lost cause.

My mother, a red-headed Welsh woman had a fiery temperament. Indeed, a veritable human volcano at times. You may, therefore, imagine my excitement when, on dropping a plate, my mother shouted "Duwannwyl". I could speak a little welsh, but this was not a word I knew. In fact, I'd never heard it before. Obviously it was swearing. This view was reinforced some days later, when I asked her what it meant. Smack! "Don't you dare use that word". I was thrilled. It must be a really bad word. On our next visit to Wales I asked my cousin if he knew what it meant. "Dear God" he translated. "Really?" I was incredulous, but should not have been. My mother was alarmingly religious. Going to the pictures (Movies) on Sunday was a sin. Playing cards on Sunday was a guaranteed ticket to hell. Taking the lord's name in vain was not quite a hell ticket, but pretty close. My father never talked about religion. When my mother over excitedly lectured us he smiled, a patient smile. My cousin and I dared each other to break the taboos, scared that the ground would open and we would be gobbled up by worms for our sins. For a time it was more exciting than scrumping (Stealing fruit from neighbours trees).

I'm relating these early experiences because of my increasing frustration with modern comedy and drama. Up till, I think, the 1980s swearing was rare in public and I just do not recall it in movies and drama. Comedians were hysterically funny without four letter words. Now, it's impossible to listen to a comedian or watch a film without a swear word in almost every sentence. I'm not a prude, but what on earth is the problem? Are writers now so pathetically devoid of talent and descriptive ability that only four letter words will do? Time for them to grow up.

Incidentally, using foreign words without understanding them can lead to trouble. Years ago, I was in Hamburg and late for a meeting. My German colleague was lost. "I can't find a street name," he complained. We got out of the car and searched for street names. Excitedly I reported I'd found one. "What is it?" "Einbahnstraße," I reported. "Dummkopf, that means one way street!" We finally got to the meeting and I vowed to learn German, which I did many years later.

The Mayor of London has been re-elected. He is a disaster, but obviously there are enough people who imagine that is good. During his tenure knife crime has become an almost daily occurrence. Whilst, seemingly ignoring that, he has taken time to ban lingerie adverts on the underground because they offend his religion. He has also introduced a £15 ($ 20.00) charge to drive into the centre seven days a week - only Christmas day is exempt. Worse, from our point of view, is his low emission zone. It covers a huge area including outer boroughs. Our beloved SAAB motor car had to go. From 1st October it would have cost us £12.50 ($17.50) a day, every day, to keep it. We used to have terrible smogs before the government banned burning coal domestically. I remember how bad they were and the relief when we no longer experienced them. I hope the Low Emission Zone will be similarly beneficial and not turn out to be a tax raising gimmick.
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Published on May 12, 2021 10:21 Tags: car-tax, mayor-of-london, swearing

April 13, 2021

Unlocking and a Sad Event

It was a relief to get in the car and drive to the seaside at the beginning of April. Nothing open, but we did buy a takeaway sandwich and hot drink. Sitting on a bench looking at the sea was a real treat. In several places there was graffiti that proclaimed, "Covid does not exist" it reminded me of a man who appeared every weekend at London's Hyde Park's Speakers Corner in the early 60s. "The moon does not exist," he cried. Explaining that it was simply a cardboard disc painted florescent yellow and suspended half a mile above London by a balloon. When challenged to explain why it was visible all over the world, he brushed the question aside, angrily responding to his hecklers, "I'm a scientist and you are incapable of understanding". Speakers Corner was always fun. An extraordinary collection of religious, political and other fanatics standing on boxes and, mostly, engaging in good natured banter with the crowd.

Speakers corner started in a macabre way. It is adjacent to Tyburn Gallows. The gallows were installed in 1196 and in use for public executions until 1783. Those condemned to die had the right to make a speech before their execution. It's recorded that execution days drew large crowds and were rowdy affairs. The area continued as an unofficial place to meet and air views. The Reform League called a meeting in 1866. The government tried to stop them and an angry mob tore up the parks railings. In 1872 regulations were enacted giving people the right to meet and speak freely at Speakers corner. Amongst the many who have enjoyed the corner are, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell.

Often, visits to the seaside are spoiled by seagulls. They are so bold that recently one walked into a grocery store, took a bag of crisps (potatoe chips) and calmly walked out. They strut in front of picnickers and frequently take food from people's hands. Just in time, I had listened to an ornithologist on the radio. "Just stare at them" he advised."they hate it and will walk away". It does work, but the ones that swoop down and grab food on the wing are altogether different. Aselle lost a piece of fudge once to a swooper, exchanging her sweet for sore fingers.

We are finally emerging from lockdown. On Sunday, we met my daughter Katherine and her husband Max to see the tulips at Hampton Court. It was cold except when sunshine made us feel the advent of spring. We had a picnic, carriage ride (pulled by two wonderful Shire Horses) and finished with hot drinks from the café, take away only for now.

Hampton Court is a wonderful Palace on the banks of the river Thames. I don't understand why no one lives in it. Cardinal Wolsey started building it in 1514, but gave it to King Henry V111 in 1528 in the hope of keeping his head. Since then various Monarchs have extended and refashioned the buildings. George 11 was the last King to live there , he died in 1760. The park and gardens are as magnificent as the palace and seeing the display of spring flowers was cheering.

The death of Prince Philip at 99 is a loss. He had an eventful life including becoming homeless at 18 months. He once wrote in a visitors book under address. 'No fixed abode' After school, the Royal Navy was his home and he served throughout WW2. Not everyone plays the cards they are dealt well. He did superbly. Managing to combine unswerving support for the Queen with active encouragement of young people. In 1956 he started the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme for young people. Since than 8 million have participated and the scheme is active in 140 countries. He described it as a "do-it-yourself growing up kit". An environmentalist before the word was invented. He was full of fun and inquisitive, willing to try anything once. He had a lifelong interest in UFOs. In a way, despite being the nation's grandfather and setting an example of service and modesty, he never grew up. I can think of no better epitaph for a great man.
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Published on April 13, 2021 08:05 Tags: prince-philip, spring, unlocking

March 18, 2021


During the pandemic I have become increasingly aware of nostrils. Of course, we all have them and indeed noses are a defining feature of many. Cyrano de Bergerac, Jimmy (Schnozzle) Durante, Barbara Streisand, Kenneth Williams are examples. Ol' Ski Nose Bob Hope's nose was a cartoonists dream.

So why nostrils? Well, I do not recall looking up so many in my life. During the pandemic, camera angles have changed. Instead of seeing a person face-on, we are increasingly viewing them from below. In other words, commentators and journalists are distracting us with a nose hole view. I hope it does not become a fashion.

Talking about journalists, there is an odd thing happening at the BBC. On a daily basis, they lose commentators or interviewees. Some one in the studio asks a question, and waits, and waits. "Oh dear, we seem to have lost (George or Fred or Mabel) We will try to get them back later in the program." Hilariously, the other day, they announced, "We've got him on the telephone now". Wow, a telephone! Perhaps they should drop whatever they are using and, on the 'if it aint broke don't fix it principle', only use the telephone.

An interesting side-effect of the Pandemic is that I don't know anyone who has had a cold. About the only positive of a cold, is that glorious moment that one can smell things again.

Unless it's pouring with rain I go for a walk every day. The other day I passed a shoe shop. They had recently reorganised their window display. In pride of place was a Cobblers Shoe Last. It took me back to my post war childhood. Clothing, including shoes and boots were rationed. From 1945 until its abolition in 1949, each person had 24 coupon points for clothing. To buy a pair of shoes one needed cash, plus seven points. Make do and mend was a necessity. My father had a cobblers last and would use it to hammer Segs into the soles of new shoes. Segs (Segments of Metal) were invented by John Blakely in 1880. They are still made today. Segs added life to shoes, and, I recall, made sliding more fun too. We also had football studs that would replace segs when needed.

The etymology of the word 'Last' in this context is interesting. It's old English and originally meant footprint. It's from the same root as learn. Follow in my footprints (steps)?

Make do and mend extended to clothing. Black out curtains became coats and balaclava helmets. I hated my balaclava! The sound part of worn sheets became underpants. It may sound strange, but there was a sense of achievement and 'togetherness' engendered by shortages that's missing today. Perhaps it was because we were all genuinely in it together. And, together we all hated the Spivs and Wide Boy Black Marketeers.
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Published on March 18, 2021 09:03 Tags: coupons, pandemic, rationing