Sunday, 29 April 2012

Foreign Parts

You realise the effect of age and disability when you cannot catch the snail which your plump and lovely French chef has deposited, with two others, on your dinner plate. And is it etiquette for your neighbour at the table to scoop it up and eat it if it clambers onto his plate, having made it's escape from your territory? Anyway, I feel snails are a much over-rated source of protein!
  Which may convey to you the fact that your liberation from my blog for two weeks is not due to the family embargo, but to the excursion we have recently made to La Belle France, by train and River Cruise. Our ship carried us from Avignon to Challons sur Saone in great comfort, together with a hundred and more citizens of the U.S.A. and a few others, the balance being from the U.K. We moved around from table to table, and found that the British embargo on certain dinner table topics, was completely and refreshingly ignored by our friends from "across the pond." One evening we had an extensive discussion about the historicity of the Gospel narratives, and the implications. As we alternated between British and U.S. guests, one had to be quite intellectually on one's toes!
   It was only my second ever real visit to France. Previously I had just passed through on the way to somewhere else. My viewpoint about our Gallic neighbours was, I think, derived from my father and his experiences in the trenches in the First World War. When the French army mutinied in 1917, the British had to take over their trenches as well as manning their own, and out thinly held line suffered appalling casualties as a result. As we were defending France at the time, it was an event that was hard to forgive and forget.
  However, back to the present, and I believe I made a discovery. Those of you who have seen me in the flesh, will know from my figure that I enjoy my food. The more flesh you have seen, the stronger will be your conviction! And you will also know, perhaps only by hearsay, that I am served by a ravishing and most expert personal chef.
   Now the food on our good ship Neptune was good, don't get me wrong. And every evening Madame Chef appeared to describe for us the Dinner menu. Exclamations such as "Ah", "Ou la la" "Magnifique" "Yum yum" and many others of a crooning and lip smacking nature abounded. We salivated accordingly, and there was a stampede when the dining room doors were flung open.  But, and here I will utter a blasphemy, the cooking was not as good or as imaginative as good English cooking, and there was a particular lack of vegetables with many dishes.
  But what about the visits to vinyards, and the wine tastings, so greatly talked up in the brochures? Well, I freely confess I am not a wine buff. I do drink wine, and I can tell the taste of one wine from another. I can tell which seems to go best with a particular food. I came to the conclusion that French wines are no better than wines from other parts of the world, including Britain, (We have an excellent vinyard at Bruisyard just up the road) and that a great deal of it is just "talking up" to try and impress the tourist. Wines were described as nutty, like a biscuit, fruity, earthy, apple flavoured, honey flavoured, cheeky, and so on, but to a mere wine drinker they all tasted much the same. The "ordinary" red and white wine supplied to us free with our evening dinner was to me just as good as any of the much more expensive varieties on offer.
   It is, I know, a terrible blasphemy, for which I deserve to be guillotined, but I reckon that our British cuisine, in both food and wine, is the equal of any to be found elsewhere in the world, and just because we do not make it a national obsession, and talk about it all the time, it should not be underrated. After all, food is better eaten than talked about!
   On our ship there was a splendid description of the history of France in the 20th Century. It stated
"France was much involved in both the 1st and 2nd World wars. The country was occupied by Germany between 1940 and 1944. France is famous for the great Invasion of Normandy in 1944, when the country was liberated."
  I suppose all countries tend to re-write their own histories when they get the chance! Now, as per family direction, you will be spared a Blog for at least a week!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

A weakly blog!

I do apologise to those who may have looked for a blog in vain, - heavily outnumbered, I suspect, by those who breathed a sigh of relief at not finding any more outpourings! The fact is that after Easter was safely past, certain influential members of my family, notably spouse and children, sat down in judgement on me and my blog!
   "How many people read your blog now?" I confessed to about nine, on a good day!
 "Do you really expect people to wade through that piffle every day?" I thought about it slowly, and admitted that people have much better things to do! So now I have taken a solemn oath, before the dog who monitors all my doings, that I will only blog once a week, unless there be some momentous happening that will not keep, in which case I may be obliged, in the interests of sanity, to spill the beans at once!
   I have had one lady, who I admit with shame was quite unknown to me, who asked very early on "Don't you have anything better to do with your time?" I answered with a sense of the forlorn "I don't have time" means "I am not interested enough to give priority."
  I have had several other responses, including a very interesting and positive one from the Solomon Islands. I also had a reply yesterday on the subject of Skylarks. A warm, interesting, positive and encouraging reply. So I shall continue, but weekly.
  Many years ago I sat with a notable and very positive friend, as he died of Cancer. One day, after some thought, he said "I have come to the conclusion that there are two sorts of people in life. Those who fill other peoples buckets, and those who empty them." I think those two responses I got are perfect examples of Mike's philosophy. Thank God for the bucket fillers, of whom Mike was himself a notable example.
   Talking of bucket fillers, we in the Far East of East Anglia have had just over an inch of blessed rain so far this month, following two inches in March. Last year the whole of March, April and May yielded one inch of rain in total! Our gardens look beautiful, and we shall shortly be planting out the first early potatoes. We can even cock a snook at the hosepipe ban!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


It was the perfect Spring morning. Sunshine, very gentle breeze, some rain the night before to freshen everything up; and the Skylarks up over every field I passed on my morning walk. In many parts of the country you won't hear them at all now, because they are very vulnerable at breeding time. I believe there are two reasons for this.
  Skylarks like to nest out in the open, preferably in an area of uncut grass, or a cornfield. The parent birds will alight in the field some yards from their nest, and then run along the ground in a very secretive manner to reach the nest. If the grass or corn is a few inches high, the birds are invisible from ground level. But if a predator has the cunning to sit at the top of a nearby tree and watch from there, it is easy for it to pinpoint the site of the nest and then to swoop down. Being much larger than the lark, the result will always be the loss of eggs or babies. We control this particular predator in our area, and this helps the Skylarks a lot, I am convinced.
   Our local farmer also has established conservation strips of land round some of his fields, which could be a help to the birds of several species. That is if people did not regard this as a suitable place to walk their dogs, which are not kept on the lead, to make it worse. So the second problem for our Skylarks are selfish and/or ignorant people who also disturb or destroy their nests. If you point out to people what they are doing, and politely ask them to leave and stay away, you will get every kind of reaction from total dumb insolence to a stream of obscene language.
  And then we get articles from the R.S.P.B. castigating our farmers for destroying the habitat our songbirds need, and laying all the blame on them, while we all demand that they increase productivity and make our food even cheaper! Meanwhile, I look forward to hearing the wonderful songs again tomorrow morning! Oh! May I thank those of you who have dared to read my writings, and have kindly responded.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

End of Easter and Bank Holidays. Do you too think the Romans invented Holidays? A day off for the circus, and the 3-way "Football" contests, with Gladiators, Christians and Lions. Winner takes all, or at least the one at the end not eaten is the champion. And of course the Romans invented Formula 1 racing, with their 4 horsepower racing vehicles, as shown in the climactic race in "Ben Hur!"
  Anyway, Roman or Ipswichian, it was back to work today! In my case a morning shift at the Hospital Cancer Information Centre, which was the vision and crowning work of one of our doctors, John LeVay, who himself died soon after opening the centre, of cancer. The statistic is that now 43% of us will contract some form of cancer during our lives. Which must make cancer about the biggest business in the UK. I was recruited as a volunteer by the nurse who has supervised my care when I had my first session of cancer in 2004, - rather a nasty one, as it turned out, and which occupied most of that year.
   Working as a volunteer in the centre has been the most fulfilling thing I have done in my life, I think. We are a "drop in" centre, situated at the entrance to the Oncology wing of the hospital, and every day hundreds of patients pass our doors. Many do call in, to look for booklets and information, to ask questions, to tell us how they are getting on, and to sample our tea and coffee. We are able to give patients time in a relaxing environment, and we also are constantly learning from them, as they go through their treatment. Probably more of that anon.
   A nice sunny breezy sort of day, and the lawn suitable for its first cut of the year, so that great moment when first you try to remember where you finally put the mower for the winter, and then hopefully pull away sacks and a swimming pool cover to reveal it. Will it start? My old petrol one was an absolute devil, and you could waste a whole days mowing time swapping sparking plugs over, and trying to re-knot a bit of frayed starting cord. Having it serviced didn't seem to make any difference, it just looked more smug when it wouldn't start. Finally it would start when you were not expecting it at all, the clutch would slip into gear, and it would run over your foot and then career across the lawn, through a flower bed, and end up in the pond.
  Happy days, and lots more mowing to come. Alas my present machine is just an electric one. You have to push it all the way, but sometimes it contrives to drive over its own electric cable!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Easter Bank Holiday and rain!

Well, no hope of any more blogging. More food, a four hour game of Monopoly, two sessions of Happy Families, (I'll tell you how to play that in a day or two, best game ever for a larger number) then the Easter episode of "The Vicar of Dibley," wonderfully funny with all those competing Easter Bunnies, and finally the Masters Golf for those interested, though I have to admit that I did not stay up for the bitter end!
  Easter Monday now, and guess what? Yes, it's raining. Feel very sorry for all those who have arranged outside activities. It's not raining very well, but Jess got pretty damp when I took her out for her morning walk, and we desperately need every drop we can get, what with hosepipe bans and all. I can stay indoors and play more games, cut a wooden jigsaw puzzle, read a bit more of Kipling and stuff myself with all the delicious leftovers from yesterday. Sadly one contingent of the family have to set off for home today, so we shall be a smaller household, and not enough people to play Happy Families.
   I am a great one for lists, as what is left of my brain after two lots of Chemotherapy can never remember what I have got to do, so it never gets done. Make a list, and as long as you can find it, you don't have to make the effort to remember what has to be done. You then have a little brainage left over to tackle the intellectual jobs and challenges, like writing a blog! Next Sunday we set off on a weeks river cruise, so there is a special list of "Things to be done before we go on Holiday." This sort of list is the most demanding because it naturally has a time limit. Most lists work on the basis of "if it doesn't get done today there is always tomorrow." But the lawn must have it's first cut of the year, whatever the weather does. I have flushed out the very "bush" water garden before I made the list, but I put that task on the list so I could have the satisfaction of ticking it off at once. Is that cheating, I ask myself?
   This is the "House of Clutter!" Many years of happy marriage, children and grandchildren, and twenty years running a variety of little businesses  from home have contributed to the amount of stuff secreted round the house. In addition I have an apparently incurable "Collector's Bug" and have never grown out of my childhood, so a lot of old and playworn models and toys are tucked away in different places. Every now and then the wife organises a tidy up, or even a pretty major purge, and some long forgotten treasures come to light, to my great surprise. Some of these then end up on eBay, and provide quite a lot of excitement! We have a large and pretty accessible roof space, and this provides invaluable storage. Unfortunately "out of sight is out of mind" and since I have not been so agile, and able to tackle the loft ladder, the mice have often had the loft to themselves, felling and eating the trees on my model railway layout. I could swear I have heard them in the night running the trains and going for rides through the tunnel and across the viaduct!
   Enough for one day, and a game of "Careers" is starting shortly!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Easter Day pastimes.

It's Easter Day, and after a bit of Churchgoing, it's time for a traditional festive pastime, "Drain Sluicing." It is strange that at Christmas, after the arrival of lots of young visitors, we again indulged ourselves in a spasm of this merry pastime! It is a splendid way of getting the neighbours together for a seasonal chat, and a laugh - we found several half bricks lodged in the bottom of the drain, and the lady next door remarked "Someone has been in a very bad way passing those!" Other neighbours will have wondered what we were all cheering about as the obstruction was removed, and all flowed away as it should. Very Cathartic.
  There is something very appealing in being reunited with an old friend you last passed several days ago. It must be linked to the little bags of dog poo which I find hung on the bushes around the lovely countryside where I have the privilege to walk with my dog. Do the people who do this weird and disgusting thing think that their pet pooches take delight in seeing their past handiwork hung up for public inspection? The owners may enjoy the idea, but I sense, as a dog lover of 70+ years, that their pets would also regard it as a disgusting habit!
  Incidentally, someone has already asked me my age. That, of course, is classified information, but I have given a clue above, and I will just give you one more. When Adolf Hitler heard through his Intelligence network that I had been born, he declared war!
   Thinking of the major players in our Drain Sluicing adventures, reminds me of the two artists I was on about yesterday, for some strange reason.  Some art critic coined a succinct verse which ran:
     "Of the two artists Emin and Hurst, I am not sure quite which is the worst;
               When I look at their "art" I just find I must f**t,
             And a blood vessel threatens to burst."
    Now "The Lady in the Kitchen" is threatening me with being deprived of my Easter Feast, Easter Egg, and hinting at libel suits and much else, so I will close, and let you know later, if still sober, how I have fared during the rest of this joyful festival!

Saturday, 7 April 2012


I have to confess I find all this a bit confusing. I am rather old, and modern technology frightens the living daylights out of me! Some of the time I drive a 1946 Tourer car, which involves double de-clutching most of the gears. I can just about manage this, by using my teeth as necessary. But as usual I digress. I am typing this at a new "computer station" which turns into a double bed when you pull a handle. I suspect that if only I could find the correct knob it would turn into a bath or shower, with low level cistern. I fear it will suddenly become a transformer and swallow me into its cavernous inside region. I have some rather bizarre hobbies like doing jigsaw puzzles, picking up other peoples litter, and supporting Ipswich Town! I have a wonderful wife who ministers to all my needs, - more anon! When no-one is looking I sneak in here and write my memoirs, which like those of some other people are completely without drama, excitement or interest of any kind. I think that one day people will read them instead of Shakespeare. Though I don't think people do read Shakespeare much do they? It's easier to get some footballers memoirs downloaded onto your Kindle, perhaps.
   I try to resist starting sentences with "Now when I was a boy...." or "I remember watching the Queens Coronation procession in 1953 from a shop window in Regent Street...." though for the life of me I can't remember how I got there or quite why. I do find modern art above my head, or else propped up on the floor at Tate Modern. I was taken round there on a lead by my family, to introduce me to modern culture. There was a video being projected on a large wall, depicting a naked man cavorting and swinging his todger around in circles, - very artistic if you can do it. I remarked out loud that I hoped that the radiator in the picture was on and working, as otherwise he risked frostbite. The family dragged me away before I could make other inappropriate remarks, but I noticed that a lot of the people around me fell about laughing!
  If modern art, like untidy soiled beds and pickled sharks and cows, makes people laugh, then I am all for it!
  I think I am going to have to stop soon. My absence has been detected, and a search party is just being organised the check "that I am not up to mischief!" As the house, which is in fact quite a small bungalow, is full of six lively grandchildren, they can fan out and find me in no time. Unless I can hide in this computer station thingy.
  If you have read this far, you are very kind and patient, and I shall hope to meet you when I come back again. I hugely enjoyed the Boat Race, - haven't laughed so much for ages! I do hope the swimmer man got reunited with some clothes at some point! Now I must pretend I have just been writing another pointless page of my boring memoirs, and perhaps I shall get away with having let myself go and posted this, or whatever I have to do with it. Au Revoir! (That's your actual French, as Kenneth Williams would have said if he'd been spared.)