Friday, 20 July 2018

Dunroamin...or Dunelmin

Something is amiss with the weather down here in Sussex. It's been sunny. Very sunny. And hot. According to my diary the last time we had rain was on the 23rd June. Every morning since then has dawned bright and clear with the promise of yet another beautiful day. It's not always possible to take advantage of this meteorological largesse. Something called work gets in the way. But even work doesn't seem so bad when the sun is shining. Being a part-timer there's still plenty of time when I get home for a stroll on the beach.

And it's not always work that gets in the way. Sometime it's Dunelm, formerly called Dunelm Mill. I wonder why they dropped the 'Mill' bit of their nomenclature. Perhaps the company thought 'Mill' conjured up the image of those Dark Satanic Thingies mention in Blake's poem, or the thought of small children gathering up scraps of cotton from underneath dangerous and unguarded looms whilst stern overseers looked on. Or I might be overthinking it. It may just be that removing the word 'Mill' from their fascia boards and their stationery saved a tidy sum in plastic letters and printing ink. And it was to the Emporium Formerly Known As Dunelm Mill that Mrs H and I betook ourselves a couple of days ago. The main reason for our visit was to check out the considerable selection of curtain poles, temptingly displayed on the shop floor. The old curtain tracks in our bedroom had seen better days, and, with the impending erection of some shiny new shutters, Mrs H thought poles would be just the ticket to finish the room off nicely.

But it didn't end there. And I should have realised that it wasn't going to end there. After all, what's the point of poles without curtains? Mrs H thought that blackout curtains would be most suitable, and set off to look for some. Now, I'm not sure if I had a death wish on that particular day, or just a touch of the sun, perhaps. I should have donned the solar topee (erroneously referred to by some as a Pith Helmet) my work colleagues bought me for my last birthday. But I foolishly piped up and said, 'But we're having shutters. Why do we need blackout curtains?' Mrs H gave me a look that was half puzzlement and half amusement. You know, the sort of look a parent gives when their small child asks, 'Why are clouds?' I should have stopped at that point, but I was hot and tired and wanted a cup of tea. 'Why not just get a blackout duvet?' I said. 'An extra large duvet that you can pull right up to cover your head. No need for blackout curtains then.' Mrs H said she had never heard such rubbish since the last time I ventured an opinion on pretty much anything.

We never did buy poles or curtains on that particular day. Instead we had a cup of tea and then a general wander round the shop. It being high summer, the management had rather helpfully set out a small area of seasonal products. There were a number of boxes of umbrella grapes; realistic looking plastic ones that light up and can be festooned around one's sun umbrella. Always supposing that one could be bothered to drape the things from a garden parasol. I remarked to Mrs H that 'umbrella grapes' sounded like a bit of a euphemism. I also noticed a toucan solar stake light. This had a long spike that could be shoved into the ground, and topped with a fake branch upon which was sat a plastic replica of ramphastos toco albogularis. 'Nothing,' I said to Mrs H; 'Nothing says summer like a toucan solar stake light'.

Mrs H said she thought I should get out more. So we're off to Homebase next week. Let joy be unconfined. Oh, and it's started raining for the first time in almost a month.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

My Sustainable Life

The report of my death was an exaggeration. Or would have been, if anyone had ventured to ask, 'Remember that Middenshire bloke? You know, the one with the blog full of stream of consciousness drivel. Is he still alive?' In answer to that unasked question, I can confidently say that I am undead. Now, some will argue that 'undead' is a term that can properly only be ascribed to that popular, but mythical creature, the zombie. But I disagree. What's the opposite of 'washed'? 'Unwashed'. And how about 'eaten'? That would be 'uneaten'. So why should the antithesis of 'dead' be any different? However you wish to describe me, I am still above ground, and ready to start committing my inconsequential thoughts to the blogosphere.

One of the motivational factors involved in bringing me back to this blog is the fact that I have a new computer. Until recently I was using a laptop that I had inherited from my father. Now, bearing in mind it was already a couple of years old then it became mine in 2009, it has been in use for eleven years. Processor speeds, it would seem, increase exponentially year on year, a bit like multiplying Dog Years by seven so they can be measured in human terms. So on this basis, the old lap top is probably long overdue a telegram from The Queen. My new machine is up and running within fifteen seconds, whilst the old one is still putting on its glasses and looking for its zimmer frame. But I haven't pensioned it off yet. Like an elderly aunt, I shall allow it to occupy an unused corner of the room, burbling quietly to itself during its thirty minute startup, until one day it slips quietly away during an attempt to stream a kitten video on YouTube.

An awful lot of water has gurgled through our downpipe since I was last here. Hale Towers has had yet more work done, most recently the installation of sustainable sandstone paving to replace the (never 100 per cent) lawn I created some years ago. A lawn that always seemed to be on the verge of suicide. So it went, and in came the sustainable stone. I'm very partial to the word 'sustainable'. It's a bit like claiming Diplomatic Immunity, or waving your 'Get Out of Jail Free' card during a game of Monopoly. Imagine: you decide to build a massive New Brutalist extension to your late Georgian stable conversion. All the neighbours are up in arms. Questions are raised at the Parish Council. And a Planning Officer turns up on your doorstep to demand an explanation. 'But it's sustainable,' you say, and instantly the situation is resolved. 'Ah, that's ok then,' says the Planning Officer, 'your approval notice is on its way'. I have also used this on Mrs H, when she asked When Was I Going To Clear All That Clutter From The Top Loft. 'It's fine,' I told her, 'It's sustainable'. Mrs H. said she hadn't the faintest idea what I was talking about.

Mrs H. not understanding me is what makes our relationship sustainable.

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Town Stentor

A couple of weeks back - the date doesn't matter much - I was browsing the books in one of the half dozen or so charity shops in town. It was unusually empty; the only other folk were a shop assistant and an elderly lady with a youngish man in tow. I know assumptions can be wrong, but I took him to be either a carer or solicitous nephew. The two of them were sorting quietly through the quite large selection of music CDs on offer when, without warning, the elderly lady, with a voice like a foghorn, asked the question:


I think the shop assistant was as taken aback as me.

'Erm, not unless it's there on the shelf.'


'I don't know. Only if they're there on the shelf.'

Solicitous nephew, in an attempt perhaps to curtail these stentorian interrogations, said,

'They've got The Batchelors.'


'It's a compilation album.'


This attempt at engagement didn't last long.


But the elderly lady didn't wait for the answer. She had decided to change tack. She asked solicitous nephew,


'Yes, I have.'


'It might not be the same Alvin...I don't remember him being armed.'

I could happily have listened to this all day, but I had things to do.

A couple of days later I was in the bank, and there they were again; elderly lady and solicitous nephew. I arrived to witness the tail end of her transaction.


Solicitous nephew: 'Here it is, look.'

The long suffering counter clerk put on her best smile.

'Thank you, madam,' she said.


I haven't seen either of them since. I'm hoping they're no longer stalking me.


Stop press: I encountered stentorian lady and solicitous nephew again in Sainsbury's on Thursday. Mrs H was with me. Now she knows that this blog post isn't a work of fiction.

Stop stop press: I found a CD of Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture in a different charity shop today.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Hamingjusamur Nýtt Ár

A happy new year to you from East Sussex, where it's blowing a gale and the rain is coming down like stair rods. All in all, the weather has been pretty awful all over the holiday period, with high winds and torrential rain, with only a brief respite on Christmas Day. Nothing else for it but to batten down the hatches and open another bottle of Buckfast Tonic Wine.

This year sees the end of all the work at Hale Villas. Over the last five years we've had walls and ceilings plastered, the kitchen gutted and refitted, installed new doors, windows and a fire escape, had new fireplaces installed and old fireplaces (circa 1907, found behind some boxing-in) moved. I've decorated twelve rooms, some of them twice or three times, and laid a lawn in what used to be a concrete garden. During the last month the whole place has been oak-floored and carpeted, which has had the effect of making the house feel much warmer and cosier. I've only got a couple of small jobs left to do.

Now the house is just about done, I may well have more time on my hands to indulge in other pursuits. Do a bit of writing, perhaps. Finish the script for the sitcom 'Pardon my Jaguar'. Finally learn to play the melodeon. Teach myself to speak Icelandic. Only time will tell.

Happy new year.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Don't drink and trombone

We cracked open a bottle of co-op wine today. It carried a cautionary note on the label: 'If you drink, do not drive, operate machinery or play sports.' But curiously, there was nothing on the label advising you not to play the trombone. Who writes these warnings?

Life goes on pretty well as normal here at Hale Villas. Walls have been painted, floorboards replaced and redundant garden plants have been uprooted. There seems to be a never-ending round of tasks that need completing. When we viewed the house in 2008, I somehow managed to convince Mrs H that 'it's just cosmetic; a lick of paint here and there will do the trick.' Four years and a twenty gallon lick of paint later, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And this time it's not an oncoming train.

Fatsia Japonica. Sometimes called the false castor oil plant, it has big, glossy leaves not unlike a fig, and a tendency to grow into a monster. And this is what it did, very quietly, in an unregarded bit of the front garden. By the time we decided it ought to go, it had grown almost out of control, with a trunk that would have done justice to a reasonably sized tree. So, I set to work, snipping, sawing and digging. And during the course of these activities, it seems I grazed my leg on the plant. I thought nothing of it until, a couple of days later, I found my leg had started to blister. And over the next couple of weeks, the blisters got bigger and nastier, eventually necessitating a trip to the local 'NHS Walk In Centre'.

Now, I don't know if you've ever been to a Walk In Centre. It does what it says on the tin. You walk in, you give the reception your name, you sit down and you wait. And wait. And wait. And after four and a half hours of waiting I was ushered into the doctor's surgery. The doctor wasn't particularly chatty. I think he'd been probably been planning a day on the golf course, but received a phone call at 7am, telling him to get into work sharpish as his colleague had gone sick. So you can understand his unwillingness to engage with yet another time wasting patient too hopeless to self medicate and too bone idle to look up the symptoms on the internet. He poked and prodded at my leg a couple of times, then said, 'And what do you want to happen?' I was rather surprised by this question. I thought for a minute, then replied, 'Actually, I'd quite like this dodgy leg thing to go away.' Eventually the doc wrote me a prescription and I toddled off. Not the best encounter I've had with the health service.

That was a few weeks ago. I'm still taking the tablets, but the scars are still there and I'm pretty sure they will be there for good. But at least I can dance again (albeit some of my fellow dancers might disagree). And I do my level best to keep a healthy distance between me and the nearest Fatsia Japonica.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Bampton Bells

Yesterday was Whit Monday. My generation and older still remember it as Whit Monday. Sadly, this old, traditional name has been quietly shelved, replaced with a corporate-sounding Late May Bank Holiday. Historically, Whitsuntide was a time for celebration, when feasting, ale drinking and games took place on the village green. And, fortunately for all of us, there is a place in the Cotswolds where Whitsuntide still means something.

Bampton is an impossibly pretty Oxfordshire village, just a few miles from Brize Norton RAF station. Lockheed TriStars and VC10s scream overhead, competing with the robins and blackbirds that proclaim their territories in the old churchyard. The houses are of honey coloured stone with neat gardens and stone troughs overflowing with cottage flowers. Business is brisk in the four pubs (there used to be sixteen) in the village centre. And if you listen carefully, you can just hear the jingle of morris bells. For it's Whitsun in Bampton, and Whitsun means The Morris.

By all accounts, they've been dancing in Bampton for four hundred years, albeit the first mention was in 1847, when the Reverend Giles complained that the quality of dancing wasn't what it used to be. Back in those early days there was only one morris 'side'; now there are three, and all of them dance the distinctive 'Bampton' tradition. I got chatting to a couple of local youngsters, who told me there had been a 'falling out' many years ago which resulted in the original side splitting in two and going their separate ways. They likened the event to the Monty Python film, The Life of Brian, where a previously homogenous group of freedom fighters split into The Judean People's Front and The People's Front of Judea. Whatever, happened, the (now) three sides happily coexist.

The members of the Traditional Bampton Morris side are scattered to the four corners of the kingdom. But they regroup the night before Whit Monday to practice and revise their dances. On the Monday morning, dancing starts at nine sharp and follows a well worn route through the village, and includes the back gardens of some of the houses. I'm told that the deeds of some of these ancient houses require the owners to give access to the dancers, and, in at least one case, insist that the householder supplies the (always) thirsty dancers with ale. There seemed to be a great deal of support from the locals. In some places, to be dressed as a morris dancer is to attract sideways glances or ridicule. Indeed, to admit to membership of a side in those places would be akin to admitting a spell in a psychiatric hospital. But not so in Bampton. They take their morris dancing seriously. 'We have to do it,' I overheard one dancer say, 'It's the tradition'. And in a world where home grown Tradition is seen as an anachronism by people who would happily travel thousands of miles to watch Russian folk dancing or listen to a Balinese gamelan band, it's a tradition I'm happy to see continuing (judging by the number of young dancers I saw) into the next generation.

Dancing continues until 6pm, at which time other morris sides, which have travelled to Bampton by special invitation, join in the festivities. This year I and my associates of Long Man Morris were one of the sides fortunate to be invited, and we were pleased to dance our own Wilmington Tradition in the village square and outside the aptly-named Morris Clown public house.

Bampton's a long way from Seaford; around a hundred and forty miles and a six hour round trip.  So, why did I go? To be part, if only for a few hours, of a centuries old tradition. The world turns. Generations come and go. But in Bampton, there will always be The Morris.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Nuclear winter comes to Seaford

The woolly hats and scarves have been retrieved from their box on top of the wardrobe. The coal scuttle has been filled and the kindling wood carefully chopped. The hatches have been battened down and additional oil filled radiators bought. And why all the preparation for an apparent trip to the arctic? Sadly, I have to report that the central heating boiler is dead.

To have no central heating is to be plunged back into the middle ages. There's something truly medieval about waking to a freezing house; to go out into the cold streets to run whatever errand, and know you're returning to a fridge. It also puts me in mind of my childhood. Back in the 50s and 60s, no-one except the very wealthy had central heating, and we didn't think it that odd to be able to see our breath condensing indoors, or scrape ice off the inside of our old, wooden-framed, single-glazed windows. Back then the only warm place was under the bedcovers, and somehow we seemed to survive it all. But now we appear to be less able to cope with feeling cold. Modern life is all about control, so we think we should be able to control the temperature of our houses. Not being able to do so makes us feel terribly insecure.

But Christmas is just around the corner. In fact, it seems to have been just round the corner for months now. You can usually tell it's Christmas when the annual John Lewis TV ad appears. This year it features a snowman making a long and difficult trek across a snowy country landscape to a town, and returning with a hat, gloves and scarf for what I assume is supposed to be his snow-wife. The whole thing was shot in New Zealand and apparently cost millions. But I have some problems with it. If I leave aside the obvious issues (ie the fact that a snowman is made of snow and has no functioning body parts or organs that would permit locomotion), how does he manage to negotiate the inside of a department store, and then both choose and purchase a set of accessories? Are we to believe that, in his local town, there are shops that specialise in selling things to snowmen? How are negotiations conducted? How is payment made? Is there a Snow Dollar or Snow Pound somewhere in the economy?

And another thing. Is the bonfemme de neige meant to be his wife? Their facial expressions (if they can be thus termed) certainly seem to suggest it. But what if they were fashioned from snow from the same drift? Would that not mean that they were, if fact, blood (or water) relatives; more brother and sister than husband and wife? Y'see? A simple TV ad about a couple of anthropomorphic snowballs opens up a whole can of worms. Frozen ones.

I write this on Monday evening. A log is blazing cheerfully in the grate. There are two as yet unopened sacks of coal outside. The central heating engineer can't come until Wednesday. For the first time this week, for some reason, I'm not overly concerned...