Archive for December, 2013

The high spot of 2013

December 31, 2013

One event stands out above all others and that’s the birth of our granddaughter who arrived in September. Both of our children have now made us grandparents and so the new granddaughter joins our three and a bit years older grandson.

And here’s granddaughter, who surely wishes one and all a Happy New Year.

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Ten Years Ago

December 29, 2013

Ten Years Ago

December 29th 2003. We spent the day with sister in law and family.

I can tell you from photos that this was the year of juggling balls as Christmas presents. Earlier that year I had been at a computer show where a set of juggling balls had been offered to anyone who learnt to juggle them. I’m not sure why! I tried and sent the three orbs flying everywhere. But later, I returned, picked up the balls and just started juggling. What a eureka moment! On that day everybody else seemed to be trying!

Sister in law and family live in South West London and in the evening we went to Hampton Court.

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Ah yes – a glorious (for me) red brick building!

The semi-wild life was lovely in the failing light too.

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Mute swans are such elegant creatures.

Canada geese may be less elegant but they are still delightful.

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The really wild life was enjoying itself on the skating rink.

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Happy memories, but scary to think it was ten years ago!

What I got for Christmas (so far)

December 29, 2013

A few days ago I wrote that I didn’t really want anything for Christmas. I wanted time with my family. Well I got that and still have more of it to come. But as for getting nothing – no chance of that.

I reckon my family have problems knowing what to buy for a happy chappy who has what he needs. But it seems I’m wrong. So many perfect gifts arrived – it is almost unbelievable!

Here is one of my gifts. In my family, we all get a stocking from Santa and this was in my stocking. Santa clearly does not read my blog in which I said I was NOT a collector of perpetual calendars. Or maybe he thought he’d get round it, for this calendar is not perpetual. It’s a 50 year calendar and was obviously new for 2009 for it will run out in 2058.

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This one is a heavy silver coloured metal disc. It is reflective and quite hard to read. To use it requires a bit of alteration every now and again. It is December 2013 so a user must turn the dial so that 2013 lines up with December.

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When this is done a calendar for the month appears in the bottom half of the disc.

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So there we are. Today is a Sunday.

Happy Sunday 29th December everybody.

A bit of French Fancy

December 28, 2013

Not long before Christmas my sister in law and husband celebrated their Ruby Wedding anniversary with a trip to Paris. They came back with a French post-Christmas delicacy.

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A well-known chain of shops was selling Galette des rois which translates roughly as cake of the kings. Apparently they should be eaten for the feats of epiphany, the day the three ‘kings’ arrived in Bethlehem. They are then, in season until Shrove Tuesday. We helped eat this one early, actually on Boxing Day.

The box spoke of 14 models to collect. We didn’t know what to expect.

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They appeared to be figures that might appear in a Christmas nativity scene – but we found nothing.

But, like sixpences of old in UK Christmas Puddings, they are actually baked in the galette. I was the lucky winner who had the little model in my bit of cake. When I found this hard item in my mouth, I thought a huge molar tooth must have broken off entirely. Reason, perhaps, suggested otherwise. I had won the model – and here it is – about the size of a large molar tooth.

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It’s a sheep. Finding I had this made me king for the day – a role which gave me some rights. The one I took up was the right to wear the gold (cardboard) crown that was in the pack with the cake.

But it also seems I have responsibilities for it is my job, now, to provide the galette des rois for the next feast. Maybe it can become a family Christmas tradition. I’m sure my wife will be happy when I tell her we have to go to France at the start of December!

There must be differences between health and safety laws in our two countries – or maybe in eating habits. I don’t think we’d have commercial edible products with non-edible items in the UK because of the risk such items might represent. Or maybe the French eat such items politely, with a pastry fork so a little model would be found before it went in the mouth.

It was certainly an added bit of fun for us.

Mull of Kintyre

December 27, 2013

Hey-ho! Half the readership will now be singing Paul McCartney’s song about this Scottish headland. I’m looking back to 2001 when it wasn’t just mist that rolled in from the sea. It was rain which lashed down. A hugely heavy and severely soaking storm caught us out and turned us into saturated squelches.

But let’s start before the rain did. We were camping near Tarbett towards the top end of the Kintyre peninsula and about 50 miles from the Mull. The weather was iffy as we drove down to the Mull – well, you had to, didn’t you.

We left the car in the car park and walked down the winding path.

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The scenery was quite pleasant as we headed off down to the lighthouse but we were happy to accept a bit of rolling mist.

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It was only a short walk to the lighthouse – and ther4e it was.

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We had paid our homage to the place and we set off back. The heavens just opened. I think it was Spike Milligan who wrote,

‘There are holes in the sky where the rain gets in.

The holes are small. That’s why rain is thin!’

Not so this time. The rain was really quite thick. Our waterproofs were no more than a quarter of a mile away. That was far too far for staying dry.

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We got to the car and every item of clothing we wore was soaked.

The rain now stopped.

We decided there was nothing for it but to strip right off and put on whatever alternatives we had in the car.

We were not alone. A couple of cars away a pair of attractive young Dutch girls were stripping off as well. Between us and them a car had a few young lads in it. We could see them, quite goggle eyed as they looked at us stripping off and then looking at the Dutch girls. To be honest, I didn’t think much of their taste. I mean, why look at me when theses svelte young ladies were getting down to less than the bare essentials.

As I remember it, I ended up in a pair of shorts, a cagoule and welly boots. I fear I can’t remember what unlikely combo my wife managed to get into. But I do recall she wasn’t keen on stopping anywhere as we returned to the tent.

But for a dozen years now we have been able to laugh about the day we did a strip show for young lads, very ably assisted by those Dutch girls.

And all because the nerd was determined to see the lighthouse!

Boxing Day

December 26, 2013

In my family we don’t particularly celebrate Boxing Day. It ought to be the day on which we give and receive boxes. Like virtually all others we use December 25th and other days around then when we meet people.

But it got me thinking about one aspect of Christmas past – and that was the rubbish collection. Not that I am thinking just of Christmas – just of times long past when services were offered as just that – a service.

We used to get a weekly collection of refuse. The dustmen used to walk round to the back garden, empty the contents of our bin into their carrying bin and take it out to the lorry. Now what a fantastic service that was, so different from today’s fortnightly collection (alternating weeks are for the collection of recyclable materials). Big wheelie bins now have to be moved by householders out to the edge of the road where they are always unsightly and can be hazardous.

But the worst thing is that dustmen (refuse disposal operatives) no longer get to meet the people they serve. And even if they did, they’d have no time to get to know them properly. In my part of the world the young men who work the refuse lorries call themselves runners – a fair name because that seems to be the speed at which they have to work.

Now let’s return to those old days when we had a service worth calling the name. In the run up to Christmas, our friendly dustmen did expect what was always called a ‘Christmas Box’. What was expected was a small gift of cash for the work they did all year. You could expect an extra banging of bins in that last week, as the men made sure householders knew they were there. You might also expect that if no box was forthcoming, some rubbish would be accidentally dropped for you to have to pick up – a sort of reminder to remember them in a year’s time.

But we knew our dustmen. One of ours was a great tall chap called Johnson, always known as ‘Doc’ Johnson. I came across him in another capacity – cricket. I played, from time to time for a number of local teams when I was a teenager. One was an evening team known as ‘The Jolly Rogers’. Doc ran this team and awarded me my one and only cricket cap. It wasn’t new – it was an old one of his.  Gosh, I was proud of that.

So, Boxing day reminds me of dustmen, which leads me to cricket and a Jolly Rogers cap.

Christmas at Crosshill

December 25, 2013

Crosshill was the name of my childhood house. It was in Ifield, in Sussex. The house is still there but the name has changed.

In my childhood – I am looking back 60 years – Christmas was very different from the way it is now.

I may not have noticed that shops were trying to persuade people to part with money in the run up to Christmas.  I suppose I was aware that things were done before hand, but when it came to Christmas decorations, they went up on 24th December and they came down on Twelfth Night. We celebrated Christmas, rather than the anticipation of Christmas. These days people seem so pleased that Boxing Day is over and the decorations can vanish.

I am sure we didn’t spend much money – for in our family money was in short supply. Some decorations came out each year. My dad found a branch – we had no space for a tree – and a few pence was spent on those lick and stick paper chains and streamers. Holly and Ivy were found but we never found holly with berries. My dad made them from sealing wax. Christmas cards were displayed but I can’t remember how. The house looked suitably festive, and I loved it in a way I don’t now. I am quite tall (only ordinarily so) and I find things hanging from the ceiling rather oppressive these days. But greenery, on walls I loved and still love.

Back in the early fifties, in an impoverished household, we ate whatever we had. I know my sister hated our ‘luxury’ Christmas Dinner which my dad called ‘mock goose’. I’m told that before my age of memory we had a joint off Aunt Nellie’s pig. But for me, Christmas dinner was mock goose. This was actually a cow heart. I am sure we had the usual fixings with it which were, of course, the vegetables that were local and seasonable – sprouts, parsnips and potatoes. We had a Christmas pudding and the memory of the bomb like pressure cooker hissing away is one of the sounds of Christmas for me. My dad was never very keen on cooked milk puddings but I suspect we had custard. Later my dad took to making rum butter, but we’d have had no money for fripperies like that back in 1953.

At the end of the meal, nuts and nut crackers were put on the table and that was real luxury, and such fun.

But best of all, we had our grandparents staying.

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Here we all are, around the dining table enjoying fruit, nuts and a game of cards. From the left we have Granny, Dad, me, my sister and brother, Mum, and Grandad. I say ‘enjoying’ but I was living through a moment of terror. I worry big time about fire and my dad had deliberately lit one in the room. It was part of his shutter delay mechanism on the camera. It relied on a piece of cotton stopping the shutter from going down and a spring trying to pull it down. A short length of cotton dangled from the main one and this was ignited at the bottom. The slow smouldering fire worked up the cotton until it reached the main piece and as that burnt it broke. The spring won its fight and pulled the shutter. It was ingenious, it worked and we never burnt the house down. But by heck it terrified me.

Later in the day my dad took a photo of Granny and Grandad relaxing in the front room – seldom used because it meant heating it.

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My wife and I are about the age that Granny and Grandad were then. I know I thought they were ancient so I daresay that’s what our grandchildren think of us.

However, if you read this on Christmas Day, we are enjoying family time with them.

The Good Life

December 24, 2013

Hands up if you remember ‘The Good Life’.  The whole premise of the TV programme was a little bit absurd but never mind that. It was great fun and we all willed Barbara and Tom to win out against the odds and against the middle class snobbery of next door neighbour Margo.

We were planning to live the good life before the TV programme hit the air waves. But it beat us, for the first episode was broadcast in 1975 and by the time all our legal niceties had been sorted out and we began our stint at the good life, it was spring 1976. But I still say we were there first.

When we did move in to our bit of a wreck of a home, but with about 4 acres of land, we had all sorts of plans. Some proved successful and others did not.

But in that first year, we planned to grow all our own vegetables as soon as possible.

Do you remember 1976? It was the year of the drought. But we overcame that by not wasting a drop. No water was allowed to go down the plug hole; it was all collected and used. And we grew a fine crop of marrows.

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That was me pondering over the marrows. I may have been trying to decide what to enter in the flower show.

One enterprise we tried with hopeless results was growing Christmas Trees. They were to be a cash crop. The outlay was small – just a packet of seeds. We prepared an area for our plantation and when our pot grown seedling trees were big enough we planted them out. They looked good. Well our livestock – sheep and goats – certainly thought so. They forced the fences and turned potential trees into mis-shapen shrubs. None were ever going to be fit for us to use, let alone for selling. That enterprise ended almost before it had begun.

Later I tried bee keeping which was something my dad had done.

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There’s Dad and my sister at what must be an empty hive.

I couldn’t match him on that one. I’m afraid that no amount of protection could enable me to overcome my terror. Bees just scared me. But for a little while, I tried and that’s me opening a hive.

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That was back in 1976. Eventually, a friend took on our hive.

The good life had to come to an end for us. We couldn’t sustain it with children and paid jobs. But it was fun.

What do I want for Christmas?

December 23, 2013

Yes, the big event is just a couple of days away and yes, I look forward to the giving and receiving of presents.

But what do I want? For me, that is a secondary question which should come after, ‘what do I need?’

I am old enough to know of a time when you gave people things they needed, but couldn’t afford as a Christmas present. For most of us those times are long past. We have all the things we need and most of us, even we poor old pensioners, can afford to buy things if we feel we really do need things.

So I need nothing.

And now to that second question of ‘what do I want?’ Well really the answer is not so very different. I’d rather people didn’t spend their money on things for me but I do like things which may have had some love and time put into them.

However, it may be clear from this blog that I have a thirst for knowledge and silly facts. Reading matter that can provide some of that is appreciated. But it doesn’t need to be new or expensively bought. In fact I can be more pleased with a sought out second hand book.  And of course, I like to show off my knowledge – where I am in good competition with other members of the family – so a quiz book is also appreciated

I like word trickery and optical illusions so books of them are appreciated. And here’s a little favourite from a few years ago.

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Lid off a daffodil is a palindrome. It reads the same backwards as it does forwards. The strange picture of the bandsman is reversible as well. Try turning it over. No! OK, the back cover of the book has done it for you.

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Aha, it’s a vase of flowers.

Now that was an enjoyable little gift.

But, essentially I want very little. A happy time with family and friends will please me.

A very nice glass bottle

December 22, 2013

I seem to comment quite regularly about things I just do not collect. But even so, I seem to have quite a lot of glass bottles and I do rather like them, although I really don’t need any more.

Here is one I like.

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Perhaps the choice of background was wrong for translucent material. The bottle is actually green in colour.

It is embossed with the name of the firm of Cater, Stoffell and Fortt of Bath. It is boldly and strongly embossed in the moulding process which is, perhaps, why I like this one.

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Cater Stoffell and Fortt were traders in Bath – I think we might have called them high class grocers. They produced and sold goods to cover every facet of the market. I think this was probably a beer bottle, but they also bottled and sold Bath Spa Water so it just could have contained that.

The company traded until 1970. Having no particular expertise, I can’t date this bottle but I expect it dates from before World War II. Now of course, I hope somebody out there can tell me more.