Sunday, 19 February 2017

Morocco and starry skies

Ah, Morocco! A fairly run-of-the-mill package holiday destination now, but years ago the very name of this North African country conjured up lurid images of Arab-French exoticism and danger. I have long said that the 1942 film Casablanca (starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and a host of other memorable actors) is my firm all-time favourite, with stirring romantic scenes that have become legendary - not to mention a song, As Time Goes By, and a defiant, lump-in-throat rendition of La Marseillaise that closes down Rick's Café Américain. And some older readers may recall Crosby, Stills & Nash's 1969 hit, Marrakesh Express. Or maybe it's only couscous on the plate that nowadays brings Morocco especially to mind.

For me, my first awareness of Morocco as an exotic and dangerous place was a TV series of the early 1960s. Vague memories of it popped into my mind just the other day. I'd found it enthralling, but I could never watch the whole hour of it, and in those long-gone days there was no way of recording any TV programme - unless, I suppose, you could somehow film the TV screen with a cine camera and a tape recorder. But that needed professional expertise and equipment. I had to miss half the programme because Mum and Dad had packed me off to an evening kid's club, and by the time I got home again, the first half was already over.

There was background. Mum had an old friend, and her young son and I were supposed to be great friends. Well, we sort of got on, but he was in every way a brighter spark than me, and I was comprehensively outshone. I found this irritating, but not so much as to make me say anything. I ought to have. But I was a compliant child, and didn't like to go against whatever the grown-ups had arranged. I was only ten, after all. Anyway, Mum's friend wanted her son to attend this kid's club, and I was there to join it with him and keep him company. Imagine how reluctant I was! But there was nothing to say, and I did as I was told. I felt like a fish out of water. It wasn't for me at all.

I wasn't happy or at ease in other children's company - I had put a stop to having birthday parties from age eight onward, much to Mum's social embarrassment, but my tearful pleadings had prevailed. Within a couple of years, however, Mum and Dad had reasserted their 'We know best' ascendancy, even though it must have been very obvious that I wasn't going to enjoy being made to attend a club that had Rules and Organised Activities, and Strict Persons In Charge. But I was unable to stop it.

I endured an hour and a half every week of that nonsense until Dad's promotion (and transfer) meant moving far away to Southampton. This was Deliverance for me. I quit that club with an inward glee and relish that would have offended if visible.

There was just one consolation. Actually two. I set off in daylight, but came home in darkness, under a starry sky. Light pollution was minimal in Barry in the early 1960s. You could see thousands of stars. And, because I was walking on my own, I could dawdle a bit, and stare upwards at the constellations until my neck ached or I was giddy. A child of 2017 doesn't normally have this privilege. They would never be allowed to go off alone in the evening, to walk deserted streets in the dark. But then I could, and I loved it. I dawdled mostly going to the club, not wanting to get there. It got to be a habit, and I was reprimanded more than once. I didn't care - how nice it would be if one evening I was told they'd had enough, and I was not to come again! So I worked on it. No success, though.

The other consolation was the chance to use one or other of my battery torches. I was fascinated by torches, and usually got a new one every Christmas. They didn't last long. The Ever-Ready batteries used then tended to leak, which quickly corroded the metal bits inside the torch, so that after a time the torch wouldn't light up. I had no idea how to put that right, nor what the scientific principles were that made torches work at all. If the battery didn't leak, it would run out of power after a few nights, growing dim, until all you had was an orange glow. On some homeward journeys it was a race against time to reach the back door of the house, and unlatch it, before all power went. The back door was in a narrow and utterly dark back lane - very creepy - and, being a timid child, I hated being caught without light in such a place. I didn't fear murderers. I was afraid of prowling savage dogs. I'd read plenty of stuff about phantom beasts too.

Dad's promotion and our moving to Southampton also meant I was able to quit another heartily-disliked institution that I had been signed up for against my will - the local baptist church's Sunday morning children's service. What had Mum and Dad been thinking of? I wasn't religious in any shape, manner or form - however quiet and reserved (and even fey) I may have seemed at the time. I wondered why my parents had believed I could ever enjoy the dull church services. What were they thinking about? It felt like a punishment. Besides, even at age ten I saw clearly that the world had flaws, that people made threats, and stole things, and could be cruel and very nasty. Adults and children both. And some of them were professed believers in God. I was already disillusioned, and couldn't take it on trust that all church-going people were saints with the highest motives.

It seemed (to my simple mind) that if all the people who were meant to be Wonderful Human Beings - but were actually very unpleasant - could end up in heaven just by saying the right things, or pledging themselves to the right beliefs, then Heaven must be full of horrible people. And you'd be meeting them again Up There for eternity, without escape! This made Going To Heaven a truly fearful prospect. I never articulated any of these thoughts, but they put me in a frame of mind where church-going felt like a waste of time at best, and at worst the gradual closing of a prison door. And yet there was no getting out of it. I went only to please my parents - taking along my little brother, who kept his own thoughts to himself. I guessed that my parents wanted us out of the house. Quite why was only dimly perceived.

Back to that TV programme that I could only catch the last half-hour of. Here I was, in February 2017, trying to recall it in better detail. Particularly the name. Fifty-five years afterwards.

I remembered only that it was exciting, dealt with smuggling or something like that, and had a one-word title that began with C. And that watching the programme came to an end when we moved to Southampton in the summer of 1963.

The dates might help. The winter of 1962/63 was a severe one, and I would never have been allowed out in the dark on slippery pavements. So I must have been watching it in spring 1963. An adventure series whose name began with C. Set in Morocco, and about smuggling. I quickly found what I was trying to recall in Wikipedia. It was Crane. Somebody must have done an extraordinary amount of research, to put together the article - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crane_(TV_series). Astonishingly, there were even some photos to be found on the Internet, though how and why taken defies conjecture:


There's more information at http://www.cherishedtelevision.co.uk/crane.html, and a brief end-of-story YouTube clip too, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n59MFdTu8jw.

Well, I'm glad that I tracked all this down. Another piece of ancient personal history disinterred.

A pity that there are no box sets to watch, as with another contemporary TV series, Danger Man...

Friday, 17 February 2017

Microsoft's price increases

From the middle of 2012 Microsoft began selling its own computer equipment, not just software, under the 'Surface' brand. Over the last four or five years these offerings have been refined. They are all meant to be high-end devices, to show off in an exemplary fashion what Windows 10 can achieve. They are aimed primarily at business and creative professionals, but any ordinary mortals who feel they can justify the cost are also welcome to buy. And I suspect that these stylish devices have been selling well.

I bought one ten months ago - MS's Surface Book - which is their first version of a 'two-in-one' laptop design, meaning that you can use it as an ordinary laptop, but the screen detaches and can be used on its own, like a tablet. I only wanted to use my surface Book as a laptop, and to this day I have never yet separated the screen from the keyboard. But the facility is there if ever needed.

This is what my Surface Book looked like back in April 2016:


It was slim. It was minimalist and understated. It was a magnesium metal design classic. It was 'different'.

I was very pleased, and continued to be pleased, because setup proved easy and it has since given me faithful service with only minor glitches. Only two of those need be mentioned. I couldn't get it to update the Windows 10 OS automatically until I went into Settings and told my Surface Book a fib - that I was on an 'unlimited' Broadband at home, so that MS would download and install their updates overnight. The other glitch, ongoing but infrequent, is that when using the touchscreen and keyboard together, the screen may after a while become unresponsive. It's only an intermittent problem, and is instantly 'cured' by a restart.

These matters apart, I have only praise. My Surface Book - which (of course!) I have named Verity - has been a hardworking servant, fired up throughout the day, at home or away. Despite this intensive use, Verity continues to function perfectly and look pristine. There are no signs at all of any wear and tear. The keyboard, for instance, has not become grubby. And the screen still blows me away. The screen is - because of Verity's vital photo-editing duties - the number one feature so far as I am concerned. It surely remains the gold standard among laptop screens in this market sector. In TV terms it is a '3K' screen. I'm sure that will soon be bettered with true '4K', but that's a game of almost pointless oneupmanship on a thirteen-inch screen - a bit like the Pixel Wars that used to go on with digital cameras - and I won't be upgrading simply to have a slightly more pixel-dense display. The one I have is bright and vibrant, with correct colour rendition, and just right for my well-defined purposes.

So I love my MS laptop! But my goodness, I'm very glad that I spent half my savings on it last year, and not this. Because MS has just increased its UK prices, giving the fall in the value of the pound as their reason.

The price hike is significant. In late April 2016 I was buying the 256GB-memory Surface Book with an Intel Skylake i5 processor. The online cost for that version was £1,599. The price now is £1,849. That's £250 more. Phew! I don't think I would be willing to find £1,849 now. That would be all but £50 of my current savings balance gone in a flash! I'd have to strike a heavy compromise on cost, and look at a lower-spec model from another maker. And I dare say many other people would be in the same position.

That said, MS must have done their figuring, and they must reckon that despite a number of wannabe purchasers being put off, their product will still sell well. And I suppose another £250 won't be a brick wall to a successful professional, just an annoyance to be lived with.

I should add that the current Surface Book is the same machine that I bought in 2016, and the same as the one first launched in the US in 2015. The design is nearly two years old, and should by now be getting obsolete as a piece of top-end hardware. That it still isn't, that a Surface Book 2 hasn't yet appeared, says much about the original concept. It's amazing that it remains current, and that MS have not only not gradually reduced the asking price, but are now asking even more. Greed? Maybe. MS have always had that reputation for being overly pricey. But times are tough, and I don't believe they would risk a price hike unless they felt assured of maintaining both sales volume and sales value.

One's thing is certain. Had I not taken the plunge last year, and chosen a Surface Book then, I could not aspire to one now. I feel as if I've got something I shouldn't be able to afford. Rather like my car. Indeed, rather like my house. I've been very, very lucky.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

OCD


'Being OCD' has become a shorthand way if saying that someone is being over-meticulous with some minor thing that really doesn't matter, to the point of obsession, and deserves a little ridicule. Such as being very neat, or placing things just so, or getting fixated on something that 'normal' people don't as a rule worry about.

This isn't of course the clinical definition. True Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, also known as OCD, is a distracting condition that badly affects the everyday lives of a small minority. NHS Choices describes it succinctly at http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Obsessive-compulsive-disorder/Pages/Introduction.aspx. The text also draws the distinction between true, clinical OCD and its popular image. Another useful reference to look up is Wikipedia, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsessive%E2%80%93compulsive_disorder. It's absolutely clear that to suffer from proper OCD is no laughing matter, and that nobody should treat a clinically compulsive person with ridicule and contempt. Especially as anyone can develop the problem.

In this post I'm going to discuss the erroneously-named 'popular' notion of 'being OCD'. That is, the expression of personality traits or habits that seem mildly odd or eccentric, enough to provoke a bit of humorously-intended comment. In the last few years it's become something of a social phenomenon, to point out odd behaviours and pull someone's leg about them. Why this happens is a subject on its own. But first I'm going to put myself under the microscope, to measure whether I really qualify for a 'popular' diagnosis (or accusation) that I am 'OCD'. Bearing in mind all the time that I can't really have clinical OCD, because there is no anxiety driving the examples I shall give. NHS Choices says  - concerning persons suffering from clinical OCD - that:

Neat, meticulous, methodical people with high personal standards may be more likely to develop OCD, as may those who are generally quite anxious or have a very strong sense of responsibility for themselves and others

Well, I may be neat and methodical, but none of the rest!

So. What evidence might there be around my home, say, to give me away? Does a generally high standard of cleanliness and tidiness count? Surely that can be taken as normal for someone living alone, without pets, and with a paid cleaner to help. I do not personally dust my ornaments, polish my woodwork, sweep away cobwebs, hoover my carpets, wash my floors, or clean my basins and toilet pan. No scope for obsession there. You won't find me on my knees three times a day, in my pinny, polishing the brasswork to a mirror-like sheen.

What about cooking, washing up, and wiping kitchen tops? Well, I do heed hygiene in the kitchen, and will be careful to wash up knife, chopping board and hands, and wipe any surface I may have touched, immediately after handling raw meat and fish, and before I handle anything else. I can easily imagine bacteria spreading everywhere. But this is a taking no more than a standard, recommended degree of care, and in no way goes into obsessive territory.

Personal appearance? Sorry, no obsessions with a style, or wearing elaborate make-up - just the plain minimum.

Toilet habits, then? As needed. Not according to a ritual.

But I do consider myself vulnerable to gentle mockery where self-organisation and neatness is concerned. I took some photos around the house yesterday, with this post in mind. I touched nothing before the shot. I'm afraid it isn't good news. Look for instance at how these maps in my study have been arranged, with nothing out of place, and in perfect sequential map number order:


Only map obsessives might do that. And look at how I've stacked my DVDs in the lounge. Higgledy-piggledy? I think not:


And in the kitchen. Opening a cupboard near the cooker. Chaos, or properly-graded and positioned bottles, jars and packets? It's OCD I'm afraid, with nearly all the labels facing the same way:


And the midday washing up, already rinsed for easy finishing, and laid out neatly - not just piled in a heap:


Oh dear. And it gets worse. I've just taken some more shots today, to see if the above were flukes. They weren't. The interior of my car just now, which hasn't been brushed out for nearly three weeks:


Fiona is almost seven years old, and has done 98,000 miles, but always looks like that inside. The shopping bag always in the offside rear footwell. The umbrella always on the back seat in that position. The red water bottle is always in that spot at the front. No stickers, no soft toys, no old parking tickets, no clutter whatever. And kept that way. OCD.

Back indoors, there are further telling signs aplenty. In the bathroom, all is tidy and freshly-wiped:


Look how I've arranged things in the picture above. I always have it like that. If Theresa has disturbed the arrangement a little bit when cleaning, then I put it right. I can't help it.


In the lounge, my bag is always in this place on the orange ottoman, and my bobble hat and gloves rest on it just so. The Slimming World book always goes there on Wednesdays, so that I will see it (and pop it in my bag) before the following evening's group meeting. I suppose I could say that by having a definite habit about placing things, like keys, I can lay my hands on them when it matters. But it's not a reason that many people would find compelling.

Back in the kitchen, I look around and see only unnatural order. A kitchen top from a stage set:


And in the bedroom, my clothes neatly arranged on the radiator, warming up for me:


And finally in the study again, the table on which I am typing this post. All symmetry and clutter-free:


And these are not the things that most uphold the OCD reputation I have among my friends! That chiefly rests on my spreadsheets. Which is odd, because although I sometimes consult them in company - to look up some detail - I have really never shown anybody a single spreadsheet at any length. And most of the 980-odd items up in the cloud on Dropbox are not Excel spreadsheets at all, but Word documents. I'm guessing it's the way I organise them all, and the ease with which I can get at whatever I want to look up. Anyone looking at the screen as I fire up Dropbox on my laptop sees this:


Numbered subject categories! That's nerdy. Let's click on '0 Health and personal care':


What, detailed doctor notes back to 2000, and dentist notes going back to 1983? That's pushing it.

Now let's click on '1 Money'. This really is Spreadsheet City:


A spreadsheet for every analysis, and then more. Going back to the 1990s too. The knockout spreadsheets are the MD series, meaning 'Money Diary', my daily record of money transactions. Here's a recent week from the 'MD 2017' spreadsheet:


Colour-coded to death. Otiose, prolix and obsessive transaction detail, in strict order of occurrence. If the police, pursuing their urgent enquiries into the East Grinstead Hairpin Murder, ever asked me to state where I was on the morning of the 4th February 2017, I could look it up and say to them, 'Officers! I was lunching at the Café Paradiso in Chichester!' and they would have to retire in utter confusion. Or utter boredom. Whatever.

In a million similar ways, keeping a record like this clearly and obviously helps me to keep track not only of pennies spent, but where I have been. Which is handy if I should ever completely lose my memory, and need to reconstruct my life. You know, like Jason Bourne - but without the assassin background and the CIA making difficulties. Well, who knows; it could happen. It just needs a bump on the head. Or a hole in the head. You know.

Anyway, I rest my case. I may show a few signs of nerdiness - who doesn't - but I'm hardly OCD.

Honest.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Sosban fach

More domestic nirvana. It just keeps coming. This one's about cooking pans. But it does have a happy ending.

The intelligent reader will easily guess that the title of this post, Sosban fach, is Welsh for 'something saucepan', and they would be right. In fact it means 'little saucepan' and these words come from a very well-known traditional Welsh folk song that I learned a version of when young and in school. For I am of course Welsh, and I had to learn the language until aged eleven. It was, in my time - the 1950s and 1960s - already a compulsory subject in the infant and junior schools, and had I stayed in Wales I'd have had to study it up to O-level standard. And I imagine that nowadays, in even more nationalistic times, all children throughout Wales have to be passably fluent in Welsh before they can go to University.

I mean, Wales can't aspire to true nationhood without all its citizens being competent in the national tongue. I hear that the Welsh Assembly - that is, the devolved National Parliament in Cardiff - enforce compliance using the Heddlu, the official Language Police, whose cars are seen racing everywhere with flashing blue lights, striving to intercept persons who are not speaking Welsh, and then hauling them off to places of correction. Which for women means a brainwashing process at Castell Goch (the 'Blood-Red Castle') that involves lace-making, playing the harp, cooking faggots, and sitting around wearing a shawl and a very tall pointed black hat with a frilly lace lining. And for men - poor things - a spell down Pwll Mawr (the 'Big Pit'), hewing at the coalface. Mind you, it would be good Welsh anthracite - some consolation, I suppose.

I tell you, boyo, it's been a close thing many a time. There I would be, openly walking the streets of some Welsh town, sans shawl and pointed hat, when something about my appearance or way of speaking would get shocked locals fumbling feverishly for their phones, and dialling the Heddlu Helpline. Next thing, the Language Police would be screaming into town, eager to ask questions and if necessary make an arrest. Thank goodness I always carry a fake passport in the name of Lwsi Melffordd, and can say 'Sosban fach, boyo!' convincingly and well.

Truth to tell, I'd be in the stew good and proper if the Heddlu asked me to recite every line of the folk song, because I can only remember one line from my early schooldays: Sosban fach, yn berwi ar y tân, which means 'Little saucepan, boiling on the fire'. There are of course many more lines, and verses, and a chorus. Here's the Wikipedia article on the whole thing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sosban_Fach. And here is one folk singer's full version:

Sospan Fach - Little Saucepan - a Welsh Folk Song. Singer: Hanna Morgan.

(Note: Artists often sing their own versions of this song,
sometimes with verses and choruses played in a different order)

Verses
Mae bys Meri-Ann wedi brifo, Mary-Ann has hurt her finger,
A Dafydd y gwas ddim yn iach. And David the servant is not well.
Mae'r baban yn y crud yn crio, The baby in the cradle is crying,
A'r gath wedi sgrapo Joni bach. And the cat has scratched little Johnny.
Sosban fach yn berwi ar y tân, A little saucepan is boiling on the fire,
Sosban fawr yn berwi ar y llawr, A big saucepan is boiling on the floor,
A'r gath wedi sgrapo Joni bach. And the cat has scratched little Johnny.
   
Mae bys Meri-Ann wedi brifo, Mary-Ann has hurt her finger,
A Dafydd y gwas ddim yn iach. And David the servant is not well.
Mae'r baban yn y crud yn crio, The baby in the cradle is crying,
A'r gath wedi sgrapo Joni bach. And the cat has scratched little Johnny.
Sosban fach yn berwi ar y tân, A little saucepan is boiling on the fire,
Sosban fawr yn berwi ar y llawr, A big saucepan is boiling on the floor,
A'r gath wedi sgrapo Joni bach. And the cat has scratched little Johnny.
   
Mae bys Meri-Ann wedi gwella, Mary-Ann's finger has got better,
A Dafydd y gwas yn ei fedd; And David the servant is in his grave;
Mae'r baban yn y crud wedi tyfu, The baby in the cradle has grown up,
A'r gath wedi huno mewn hedd. And the cat is 'asleep in peace'.
Sosban fach yn berwi ar y tân A little saucepan is boiling on the fire,
Sosban fawr yn berwi ar y llawr A big saucepan is boiling on the floor,
A'r gath wedi sgrapo Joni bach. And the cat has scratched little Johnny.

Chorus
Dai bach y sowldiwr, Little Dai the soldier,
Dai bach y sowldiwr, Little Dai the soldier,
Dai bach y sowldiwr, Little Dai the soldier,
A gwt ei grys e mas. And his shirt tail hanging out.

As you can see, there is a temporal progression, people growing up and dying as the song proceeds, though all the while the little saucepan is boiling away on the fire. Meaning, I suppose, that the little things at home never change. I don't remember anything about a 'sosban fawr' - a big saucepan - but I put that down to frivolity and inattention to my studies when young.

This is - look you - a clean version. I'm told that at games of rugby the crowd uses other words. (Really? Rugby words perhaps? No, I can't believe it. That sounds as unlikely as anything you might have read above)

But back to reality.

In late March and early April 2014 I bought two new frying pans while on holiday - a small one from Wroes in Bude...


...and a few days later, a larger one from Goulds in Dorchester. Here they both are, in action in the caravan:


They were both on offer at irresistible prices - £14.99 and £18.00 respectively - and I didn't resist. They weren't traditional teflon non-stick pans. They were 'ceramic'. Hence their very light-coloured cooking surface. And both were quite deep, rather like very wide saucepans. The brand was Naturepan, a new one to me. I was swayed a bit by a comment made at the till, in Wroes I think, by another customer. She told me that Naturepans were very good. She swore by them. Well! Say no more.

And these new pans not only looked great, and suited the gas hobs at home and in my caravan, but they cooked really well.

But within months a minor defect in the larger pan became evident, a small crack in that smooth cooking surface. It didn't bother me at first. But the cracks proliferated, particularly during 2016. So that nearly three years on, by late 2016, the larger pan was beginning to look rather shabby.

This was unreasonable, because I do look after my cooking stuff, always using silicone spoons and spatulas, and washing them up carefully, never abusing them in any way. I found myself in the market again for a new set pans, or at least a new larger pan.

Sussex is well-endowed with cookshops, but I'd discovered that Horsham (only half an hour away) now had a big new Waitrose and John Lewis At Home. John Lewis! The obvious first place to look. Parking was easy, and cheap. (Well, I call £2 for two hours 'quite cheap' nowadays) And the store did have a nice selection of good-quality pans, ranging from mid-range to pretty expensive. I looked at the normally good-value Tefal range, but thought them unexpectedly pricey. And another thing: the shape and feel of those Tefal handles was wrong. This matters an awful lot to me. If the pan doesn't feel right, then for me it's a no-no. I know that many would dismiss this as being over-pernickety, but I won't sacrifice comfort in the hand for prestige looks. For this reason I don't favour metal handles, such as you find on very expensive stainless steel or copper or cast iron pans. They get hot, and impossible to touch without oven gloves on, which introduces the possibility of one's grip slipping, with potentially dire results.

John Lewis's own ranges had much to recommend them, and I especially liked these silicon-handled pans, one small, one large, which would exactly match the handle-style of the small John Lewis wok I used in the caravan (I would take wok and both frying pans away with me on holiday):


But they were not cheap. The smaller one would cost £18. The larger one £32. A £50 investment to buy both. Hmmm! I walked away - keeping them in mind, but wanting to see what else was available in Horsham that afternoon.

I went next to Robert Dyas in Horsham's West Street, and saw some less expensive Tefal pans on offer there, in a two-pan set at only £20-odd:


Now this was good value. But the feel of the Tefal handles wasn't quite right. It was OK, but plasticky, and not a patch on the sure-grip silicone feel of the two John Lewis pans. Designed for larger hands too, I'd say. Robert Dyas also had a neat range of their own:


Ah, one could put together a two-pan set for just £19! I thought these were more attractive than the Tefal pans, but I still hesitated. This time it was about weight. They were slightly too lightweight. Oh dear. Was that a fatal flaw? I pondered the cooking issues involved. Well, there was a Steamer Trading Cookshop up the road, in East Street. They'd have as much on display as John Lewis, although it might all be more expensive still. Worth a look, though. And I'd have to pass Robert Dyas again on my way back to John Lewis...

Horsham's branch of Steamer Trading Cookshop was very large, very well stocked, and many of the pans on display were clearly upmarket. In fact there were expensively-dressed and booted ladies and gentlemen in the shop who were clearly the very kind of customer who had money and wanted impressive pots, pans and other gadgets for their stylish homes. Not that I was obviously Miss Dowdy in their company. But I wasn't going to spend £100 or more. For, as expected, STC didn't have any budget pans. I was impressed with what they did have, but it wasn't what I wanted.

Back to Robert Dyas. No, the pans there didn't scream 'Lucy! Buy me!' - or if they did, I was deaf to them. They were great value for money, and might well prove enduring, but they wouldn't engender pride of possession.

So ten minutes later I was back at John Lewis, wondering whether to buy both their own-brand pans, or just the large one. Did I spend a painful £50 or an easier-to-bear £32? In the end I bought both, partly because they had only one of the small own-brand pans left. I thought they might easily have none at all by the end of the afternoon. So if I wanted one, to make up a set of two (or three, including the wok when caravanning), then I'd best snap up that last remaining small pan now.

£50, though...

Once home, I was a bit more convinced that I'd done the right thing. With their wrapping torn off, my two new saucepans looked the business - ready to set boiling on the tân:


And what a good match with the older wok:


They'd be replacing this motley pair of pans, the small Naturepan from 2014, and a pan I inherited from Mum in 2009, which I was now using instead of the shabby larger Naturepan:


But there was a fatal snag with the smaller John Lewis pan I'd just bought. I hadn't understood that pans nowadays were designed primarily with flat induction hobs in mind. They would also be fine on many gas hobs, provided the metal supports underneath held them steady enough. That wasn't so on my gas hob in the kitchen. Nor on the gas hob in the caravan. Bugger. And I'd ripped the packaging to smithereens. I couldn't really take the small pan back as unsuitable - or at least I didn't have the nerve to.

The larger pan was fine. But I now had to think of what to do with the useless smaller pan. The happy outcome was that I offered it to next-door neighbour Jackie that evening. She and Jo and Clive had come over for a meal, with cards to follow. Jackie leapt at it, delighted:


So that's the promised Happy Ending. I like finding good new homes for my cast-offs. And Jackie got a brand-new unused cast-off. Naturally I had something for Jo, too. She got the heavy silver bracelet I bought a year ago, which had never felt quite comfortable on my wrist. But she loves bracelets, and it's always Bracelet City on both her wrists:


Poor Clive got nothing except my general hospitality. I hope he didn't mind. But really I own nothing he might covet, except possibly my Panasonic LX100 camera, and that is not going to be given away!

It was a jolly good fun evening. We shrieked our heads off after every triumph or disaster at cards. Well, Clive didn't: only girlies shriek. But we love making a noise.

And guess who trounced everyone at cards? The gods smile on those who give away new pans and hardly-worn bracelets.

And here's a thought to end on. I never pronounce 'saucepan' as SAWS-PAN. I say - and have always said - SOSS-PAN, like my Mum did. Now it's perfectly clear that I learned this at my mother's knee, or while asking her why her hands were so soft at washing-up time; and despite fifty-four years of living in England I've never lost that particular 'Welsh' pronunciation.

So how do you say it?

Strange fact
Do a Google search on 'Lwsi Melffordd'. I did it just now (12,40am on 16th February) and saw something I'd never seen before. A search result that turned up just one item - this post. Amazing.

Mark 5 strap

I know there are people out there who like hearing about my favourite orange Italian bag. Well, there's something new. A further development of the homemade cross-body strap I fitted in 2013.

When first bought in Florence in 2009, the bag had a short shoulder-strap. Let's call that Mark 1. Here it is in early 2013, just after I had decided to use the bag myself (it had been a rejected gift, that lay in my wardrobe, pristine in its cotton bag, for four long years):


I loved the bag, and was glad I had resurrected it, but I couldn't get on with that strap - it continually slid off my shoulder. So I decided to fit a homemade cross-body strap, made out of a man's leather belt, and using brass fittings cannibalised from an unwanted bag in my attic:


This Mark 2 strap made my bag practical. And the substitute brass bits that connected the strap to the bag worked well for several months. But brass wears fast, and late in 2013 one end of the strap came free, and that was that.

However, I'd kept the original short strap. Now I sacrificed it, in order to use its quite substantial brass fittings on my homemade cross-body belt. The strap leather had to be carefully cut away to accommodate the new brasswork - I used the original strap as a template:


The result seemed pretty good:


This improved Mark 3 strap now gave me excellent service for three years, lasting until the end of 2016. But once again the brass failed because of wear, and I had to find - urgently of course - another way of attaching the cross-body strap to the bag. This time I used brass rings, which I just happened to have in the house (see A bag strap solution, 5th December 2016):


It was a makeshift solution, but the Mark 4 strap looked OK, and certainly worked fine as a strong and secure way of attaching the cross-body strap.

There was, however, a minor issue. The strap, with its new chrome rings, was now shorter. The difference wasn't a serious matter, but nevertheless it bothered me. When I mentioned it the other day to my friend Jackie she suggested that I simply add two more rings, which would effectively lengthen the strap. I mulled this over, thinking that it might look odd; but yesterday I went out to buy those extra rings. And I have to say they seem to do the job:


So Jackie was right. The bag strap is now a more comfortable length, and fits better against my hips, whether worn on one shoulder (as above) or across the body. And the rings don't jangle as I walk along, which I thought they might do.

How long the Mark 5 strap will last is anybody's guess, but the chrome rings are substantial and easily-replaced.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Charity collections

Back to an old theme - charities. Grrr. One of modern life's banes. I wish they would all go away.

Yet another plastic envelope has been shoved through my front door - the fourth this week! - asking me to fill up a collection bag inside the envelope with 'good quality clothing and paired shoes, bedding, handbags, belts, soft toys, perfumes, and cosmetics' - I quote from the Leukemia Care envelope. Another one, from Marie Curie Nurses, is less particular and merely asks me for 'unwanted clothing, books, linens and bric-a-brac'.

Neither will get anything. I have nothing that I want to discard. Their envelopes have gone in the bin. As a stream of others before them have.

I'm highly annoyed to be plagued with these much-too-regular demands. It's on par with all the leaflets that come through one's front door, advertising services you don't want.

Presumably they make their approaches quite independently of each other, implying a wasteful division of effort - and unnecessary air pollution in the case of the later van collections.

And it's actually insulting, this assumption that most people are spendthrifts, materialistic air-heads, who rapidly build up a mountain of excess possessions - enough to fill large collection bags over and over and over again.

I certainly do spend money on clothes, but I can't afford to make many ill-judged purchases. So I don't find myself having to throw away a lot of unworn stuff, simply in order to create wardrobe space. There are - indeed there are - people around whose main hobby is spending cash on things they will never wear. And not just clothes. But I am not one of them, and I resent having the 'crass consumer' label fixed on me.

Plus, I dare say, earning a secret sneer from the people who organise these collections. Surely they must see their targets as sad people with a pathological spending problem. So there is an ethical issue here: shark-like collection firms preying on consumer addicts. That's wrong.

Perhaps national statistics 'prove' that Sussex residents in detached houses - with decent cars outside - are overwhelmingly likely to be good sources of posh clobber and other baubles.

And then there's the industrialised nature of the approach - dropping off a bag to fill, telling me when a driver will call to collect it, just as if this were a routine refuse collection. It's a million miles away from my own concept of spontaneous personal charity, giving something to alleviate a pressing need right there in front of my face.

I know; the charities will say that no amount of haphazard impulsive responses by individuals - who just happen to be there at the right time, and who just happen to feel momentarily altruistic - can ever accomplish nearly as much as an organised, continuous effort to raise funds by a body dedicated to the task, and willing to apply all the techniques of persuasion.

So far as effectiveness goes, they are surely right. I suppose my irritations highlight the main problem for people raising cash for good causes - human nature. You have to bombard the better-off for alms, otherwise they will just walk on by. You can't rely on the odd generous impulse.