Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Brexitleaks - the Article 50 letter - yo ho ho!

At 6.30am this morning there was a rap on my caravan door. It was one of my many spies. He had an official-looking envelope. Eagerly we steamed it open.

What a coup! We had the very letter that Mrs Theresa May, our Prime Minister, signed yesterday for delivery by Sir Tim Barrow, the British Ambassador to the EU, to Mr Donald Tusk, the European Council president, at 12.30pm today. This was the letter invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the article that says how a country should give formal notice of its withdrawal from the European Union. The letter was that formal notice.

Quickly taking a copy, I handed it back so that it could be returned to the diplomat entrusted with its safe delivery into Mr Tusk's hands. I re-read the letter over breakfast. It was a strange missive, all said. It wasn't quite in the ordinary way of such letters. I had doubts as to whether it would really strike the right note. Well, let it speak for itself.

Dear Mr Tusk

It is with no regret at all that I tell you, on behalf of Her Britannic Majesty, that we are off. Expect to hear a very loud hoot from Dover Harbour at 2.00pm precisely. This will signify that the Island Nation of Great Britain is casting off, and will sail south westwards into the Atlantic. Once more Britannia will rule the waves, as you will see. This plan of action has been forced on us. Clearly the European Union will be extracting a stiff exit tax. We must raise the money somehow. So, for a while, we will resort to piracy on the High Seas - although we ourselves assert that this will be simply licensed privateering in the highest traditions of Sir Francis Drake and similar swashbuckling heroes. 

Great Britain's destination and base of operations during this period will be kept a secret. But it will be somewhere with a romantic name and reputation, like Port Royal or Tortuga. We will leap out and pounce on passing galleons, taking possession of treasure ships and generally having a jolly good time until we have enough cash - or the rum runs out.

Naturally, during this money-raising period, we will temporarily put away the Union Jack and fly the Skull and Crossbones instead. It is only right that, in proper deference to International Law, we assume an alternative and unmistakable flag of convenience that all will recognise.

It is of course perfectly possible that what is intended at the moment to be only a temporary measure, may become a permanent way of life. Let events unfold. Come what may, we will always act in the best interests of the British People - and for all the British people. I have my trusty crew, gunpowder, cutlasses, and maps showing the position of buried treasure. I am absolutely confident of success.

Naturally the interests of European Union citizens presently living in Great Britain will be protected. We in Great Britain respect the Pirates' Code, which of course must never be broken. So no European Citizen who happens to be board will be stripped of their silks, jewels and doubloons, and forced to walk the plank. They will be well-treated and regarded as national assets. We utterly deplore the term 'valuable hostages', but we will of course consider exchanging some of them for preferential economic advantages, properly and rapidly negotiated. Indeed, we anticipate that you will ask for Parlay within the next few days.

Yours sincerely

Theresa May

So, the good ship Great Britain - how that harks back to the pioneering days of Brunel! - will criss-cross the Seven Seas in search of pillage and plunder! How thrilling! This is much more than I expected from voting for Brexit last year.

I wonder if it will become the fashion to wear a sword and cocked hat? (But I draw the line at having a parrot on my shoulder)

Monday, 27 March 2017

Fiona bursts through the 100,000 mile barrier

What a good girl she is. Fiona has clocked up a big achievement: she has now travelled 100,000 miles. In six years and ten months. That's not a record, far from it, and especially not for a Volvo; but few private cars cover such a high mileage so quickly, and in the hands of a retired person too. You don't expect doddery old pensioners to drive much further than the local Waitrose, do you?

100,000 miles, though! It's a definite distinction. It says something about how much I love driving, despite being so notably ancient, and how much I like driving Fiona in particular. After the Achievement yesterday (I'm now in Cornwall) I gave her a special brush-out and wash as a reward - she had got somewhat mud-spattered since the start of my West Country Tour. Now she looks almost as good as new.

Fiona is not the first car of mine to be taken through the 100,000 mile barrier. She has three august predecessors, all of which have Places of Honour in the Melford Hall of Fame:

# My very first car, a pale yellow manual Renault 12TL (JYF 844K) bought from Dad in July 1975. It had done 43,000 miles at that point. It went on to cover 146,000 miles up to its death in January 1981, slain by a stupid young man in a Ford Capri, who pulled out from a minor road in front of me, stalled, and forced a broadside collision. I and my passenger were all right. But JYF was a write-off. Still, keen mathematicians will have calculated that I personally drove 103,000 miles in that car. It took me only five years and six months.

# My fourth car, a blue/grey automatic Nissan Micra (F807 FGT) bought second-hand from a Nissan dealer in July 1989, when only a year old. It had 3,000 on the clock then, and went on to cover 169,000 miles up to its death in August 1999. It went out triumphantly but scarily, its auto gearbox failing just as it was overtaking at seventy on the open road. I did 166,000 miles in that faithful Nissan, in ten years and one month.

# My sixth car - the one that came immediately before Fiona - was a blue automatic 4WD Honda CR-V (S591 ATX) bought second-hand from a Honda dealer in February 2002, when three years old: it was ex-lease. It had already covered 30,000 miles when I purchased it. When traded-in under the government's Scrappage Scheme in May 2010, it had covered 140,000 miles - that's 110,000 miles in eight years and three months.

I have a spreadsheet that tells me that in my solo driving career - I passed my Driving Test on 31st August 1973 - I have till now driven, altogether, 565,000 miles. That's spread over forty-four years, so really it's a modest 12,000-odd per year. But it's still a lot. We won't dwell on how much the fuel and maintenance costs came to in that period. I will however assert that learning to drive, and using my cars to reach all kinds of places, in all kinds of circumstances, has hugely enriched my life. I can't imagine how it would have been if I'd not had personal transport, for the most part in a succession of decent vehicles, some of which stole my heart. I'd say that my motoring experience has, on the whole, been a very good one. It has never been a cheap passtime; but it has always given me freedom, independence, and the possibility of adventure.

So, back to Fiona and the Great Event. Where did it happen? On the A30, travelling westwards to Cornwall from Lyme Regis, between Okehampton and Launceston, south-east of Roadford Lake, with the caravan in tow. Not quite into Cornwall - but not far off! I'd really like to report that as the display changed to '100,000' there was a monstrous clap of thunder, and the sun dimmed, sudden winds from nowhere howled and moaned, jagged lightning flashed and crashed across the sky, a celestial chorus sang, the sky was rent, and a finger came down to give a divine blessing, and a loud Olympian voice said 'WELL DONE, FIONA!'. But strange to say, it was not so. It was actually myself who said 'Well done, Fiona,' as I affectionately patted her dashboard. No drama at all. Did I take a picture of the mileage changing from 99,999 to 100,000? You betcha:

In fact I took shots at 99,999 miles, and at 100,001 miles:

Yes, yes, I know that the 99,999 and 100,000 mile shots show that I was bowling along at 62mph. But it was sunny and dry, there were no crosswinds, the dual-carriageway road was straight and (at that point) almost empty of traffic, and I was holding the wheel firmly with my left hand. I had really wanted to reach 100,000 miles and then pull into a lay-by within a mile, so that I could photograph the amazing mileage when parked. But there wasn't one quite so close. (100,001 miles is still a noble palindrome, however)

The next 100,000 miles now lie ahead. I do feel that Fiona has entered a new phase of her life, and, while up for many more adventures with me, deserves a whole lot of extra TLC to keep her going. She will get it.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

It belonged to a Venetian Doge

It didn't last long, that liking for the new bracelet (or bangle - I'm not completely sure what the difference is - bangles are always solid, I suppose). Within days, I was struggling to love it and bond with it, because, if I were honest with myself, I really didn't like anything on my wrists, and never had since childhood. Of course, I'd wanted my first watch badly. But I hated the feeling of it against my skin, and of having a tight band around my wrist all the time. This love-hate relationship with wrist-worn items lasted for decades. It was one of the reasons why I didn't wear a watch much after retirement, except - for a couple of years - an expensive one bought chiefly as a piece of jewellery. And after that, a cheap but practical one. And then I gave up wearing one at all.

Such items might look arrestingly decorative; they might even have a huge WOW factor. But I always found the feel of them irritating. Or they stopped me doing rough or mucky things, like garden work. Or they were in constant danger of getting damaged in one way or another. Whatever the reason - and the sensation of having a torniquet on my wrist was reason enough - it was no good. I'd sooner or later have to admit that wrist things and myself simply did not mix well. And that, despite having an ongoing interest in jewellery generally, it would save me money - and disappointment - to stay away from jeweller's shops.

But clearly the lesson has not yet been learned. I still let myself be seduced. So now another £280 wasted. That would buy twenty-three nights' pitching at the farm I've been staying on for the last four days. Or fifty gallons of diesel, enough to fuel Fiona for 1,150 miles of towing dutes. I've been silly.

My local Sussex friends will sigh over this one, and try to persuade me that I haven't given the latest acquisition enough of a chance. They will say a woman needs something on her wrist. Both wrists. More than one item, at that. Multiple bangles, like Jo wears. Plus everything else - on one or more fingers, around the neck, and hooked into ear lobes. But I will stand fast on putting comfort and practicality before decoration. There is nothing wrong in having a down-to-earth farmer's wife attitude to glitter.

And although the right stuff most definitely looks good, if not fabulous, nice pieces of jewellery are no substitute for a kind and caring nature, or an attractive liveliness, or a confident self-assurance. It's great if you have all those qualities and can successfully show off glitter to die for; but bling doesn't trump personality.

I speak for myself, obviously. But I left the new bracelet at home, and yet was still a hit with complete strangers at the Slimming World meeting a few evenings ago in Axminster. So whatever they found interesting about me, it didn't depend on a silver bangle on my wrist.

All this sounds like heresy, doesn't it? Surely It's essential for a woman to wear distinctive, eye-catching jewellery? Well, I'm not asking anybody to copy me. I do however think it's a sound principle to 'keep things very simple', and the now-hackneyed phrase 'less is more' still seems very apt here.

That said, I'm certain that at some point in the future I will again succomb to temptation and buy something new. I will steer away from bracelets. Clearly that would be wasting my money. But, even though I'm constant and faithful to my core collection of silver rings and my silver necklace, I do hanker after one or two things that, if they ever come within my reach, I will yearn for. One is an antique ring, with a large stone or cameo. I recall watching an early episode of the 1990 TV series Portrait of a Marriage, about the life of Vita Sackville-West. In that, someone - I think it is her lesbian girlfriend Violet Keppel, but it is possibly a man - notices the large and interesting ring on her finger, and asks her about it. She replies: 'It's very old, and once belonged to a Venetian Doge'. Gosh, that stuck in my mind. I'd love to own such a ring, wear it often, and be able to say that! Well then, that's what I should really be aspiring to.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Amazing success at Axminster

Wow, what a great way to begin my West Country Holiday!

I arrived at my usual farm near Lyme Regis just before 4.00pm yesterday - in strong sunshine. It's still March, but it actually felt warm. Quite a contrast to my Sussex getaway a few hours before, when I had to contend with rain that soaked into my clothes and such a chill breeze that it my made my fingers go numb.

After set-up, it was highly pleasant to sit back inside the caravan with the sun streaming in, a steaming cup of tea to drink, sheep bleating in the field just a few yards away, and no heater on - because it just wasn't needed. Goodbye winter! Hello spring!

But by 5.30pm I could see that while it would be an almost cloudless sunset, the night ahead would be chilly. So I left the electric heater on, on its lowest setting, while I went off for a short while to Axminster. I had a local Slimming World meeting to go to.

While pursuing your personal weight-loss plan with SW, there is a weekly fee. You can pay on each visit, or (more cheaply) buy a six- or twelve-week block of weigh-in visits to your local group. I have bought two twelve-week blocks so far. But you don't necessarily have to attend the local group every week of the year. Everyone has a plastic card and a book in which their progress is recorded, and provided you take those on holiday with you, then you can go to any group in the country. This is what I am doing while on my three-week holiday. It was Axminster last night. Next week it'll be an evening group at Carnon Downs, near Truro in Cornwall. The week after that, probably an evening group in Great Torrington in North Devon - although it may ne a morning group in Northam, if my friend Jayne, who lives close by in Appledore, wants to come with me and see what it's all about. And the week after that, I'll be back again at the group in Sussex.

The Axminster group met at 6.30pm, and it was only a ten-minute journey from the farm to the town. I had time to pop into Tesco, get some more fuel for Fiona, and top-up with fruit, before parking in the town centre. A lady in the car park told me where to go.

The group met in the Masonic Hall. SW makes use of whatever suitable accommodation there might be. It might for instance be a village hall, a church hall, or (very commonly) the local rugby club. I have no idea why rugby clubs should come into it so much. Perhaps it's to attract men to these groups! Men do sign up to SW, and do attend group meetings - but only to whizz in, have a quick weigh, then push off. The social side of group meetings isn't for them. That's understandable. All the same, they still seem to get very good results. So, chaps, do not be put off!

The Axminster group served a wide area and was very well-attended indeed. At a guess, it was twice the size of my local village group. I was met on the door by a lively, very friendly, slender and fit-looking fortyish lady named Angela, who turned out to be something of a star: she had lost nine stones with SW, and was clearly keeping it off. A figure to envy! I explained that I was visiting from Sussex. That evening there were three newcomers to SW wanting to begin a weight-loss plan, but I was the only visitor from another group. That made me a bit of a star too. I loved the experience, especially as this wasn't the only thing that made me a focus for group celebration. Angela explained where to check in with my plastic card, at the desk with the lady with the card reader and laptop (Madeline); where the the lady in charge of the weighing-in process was; and she pointed out the Scottish lady who ran the group, Helen. All very helpful, and although it was a roomful of complete strangers, I felt absolutely at ease.

I joined the check-in queue and soon started chatting. Everyone was so friendly, and clearly intrigued to see a new face. I particularly chatted to Christabel, who had originally come from my part of Sussex, and knew my village well - gosh, what a small world it is! There was also Tracey, a recent incomer from Buckinghamshire, who had moved to Devon with her son two years before; and Sarah Jane, who described herself as a farmer's wife, and turned out to be just that: she was astonished when I told her where I was pitched, at Curlew Farm, because she was at Green Lane Farm just a mile away. In fact the two farms could see each other, and to cap it all, she knew Jackie and Colin at Curlew Farm well. Dear me, how small-world is that? She let on that Jackie was a local celebrity where weight-loss was concerned - her magnificent efforts having got into the local paper. Really? I had no idea. She had modestly kept quiet about it. Definitely something to ask her about!

My weigh-in was a sublime moment. Despite noshing and drinking at friend Sue's birthday lunch only the previous day, I had lost another two and a half pounds - with important consequences! One: I had now lost, since 3rd November last year, and despite Christmas and a synful record, a total of twenty-one and a half pounds - one stone seven and a half pounds - and got a certificate for losing one and a half stones!


But not only that. I got another certificate for losing 10% of my body weight!

I stayed for two hours. The larger group meant that the weight awards and celebrations were many, and the raffle prizes numerous. The two major prizes were a giant box of vegetables - Sarah Jane won that - and a heavy box of syn-free tins, fruit and vegetables. I had remembered to bring something along (a tin of chopped tomatoes), which went down well. Helen also had the bright idea of raffling off some unsold recipe booklets, so the raffle went on for some time, and at least half of us got a little prize like that. Me too.

Angela, Christabel, Sarah Jane, Tracey and myself had all sat together, and it seemed to me that, given the chance, I could easily make fast friends of all of them. They all hoped I would come to the Axminster group meeting next time I was in the area, which will be in the autumn. I promised. I shall look forward to it.

This is a 'first', publishing a post from my mobile phone that includes photos. I had them on my laptop, copied them, resized the copies to 10% of the original file size, bluetoothed them to the phone, and then inserted them into the text in the ordinary way. Well, it works on a weak 4G signal...

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Seaside gifts

No British seaside resort is complete without its retinue of gift shops, all selling tat of one kind or another to people wanting 'something for the mantelpiece'. I say 'tat', but that doesn't necessarily imply cheapness. You can pay purse-denting amounts for some of the stuff these shops sell. But mostly it won't break the bank. Of course not: the shop owners want the people who come in - whether holidaymakers or day visitors - to buy several items, without feeling robbed. These things will be 'souvenirs'. They may well have the name of the resort on them. They will be for the homes of the buyers and their nearest and dearest.

I have to say it's a very old-fashioned notion, to buy some object as a 'souvenir' that will probably be both useless and impractical. The kind of souvenir I personally find most meaningful is a set of photographs that I've taken myself, and definitely not some manufactured thing in dubious taste - such as the plastic seagull in the photo above, perched on top of a shell with ILFRACOMBE painted across it. And yet I bought that, in November 1994. I knew it was awful; but that was the point. It was a joke gift, intended to make my then quite-new friend M--- smile. I also presented her with a T-shirt, which she liked better.

She couldn't take the seagull seriously, and (setting a precedent for several later gifts of mine) handed it back to me. But I didn't mind. I kept it. Which is why it's still in my possession. I took that photo only this morning. Here's another view, further away and from a lower angle, so that you can properly savour this very typical souvenir of Ilfracombe:

I know my tone is just a little mocking. It's hard to take this stuff seriously, even as an indicator of lowbrow British taste, your particular field of study if you were (say) a sociology student. And yet most children go through a stage of loving seagulls on shells, and little mermaids, especially if given to them as a present by Mum and Dad, or a favourite aunt or uncle. I'm not chortling at them. And I confess that over the years I've developed a soft spot for this seagull, and wouldn't now part with him. He represents a tradition of nostalgic seaside Britishness that I value more and more. This plastic seagull, on his ridiculous shell, speaks of simple tastes and simple, uncomplicated, unsophisticated pleasures - the sort a young child would have, or used to have when I was young. And somehow a souvenir like this taps into the essence of down-to-earth, hearty family life.

In my own case, the seagull stands for all those bucket-and-spade days in a lost childhood. My seagull is of no value, and no consequence, but he's still a bit of fun, still worth cherishing, and I have space for him in my home.

My Mum liked seaside souvenirs too. Her speciality was tea-towels. At one time she had quite a few of them. But they have all gone. Still, because she liked them, I rate and respect tea towels.

My own strange appreciation for slightly tacky seaside gifts began when young. Here are two from the early 1960s. First, one I bought for myself, in 1962, when I was ten:

Ah, that's just the container I put it in, because the little thing I bought was so fragile. Taking the top off:

Yes, it's a little seahorse, whom I immediately named Sandy:

Again, these are all photos from this morning. Sandy the Seahorse has lasted well. He's now fifty-five years old. I bought him with my pocket money at Westward Ho! - it was during a family coach trip from Ilfracombe. Which shows you how long my connection with North Devon goes back to. Twice as long as my connection with Sussex.

This next gift, bought in 1963, came from Barry Island. We lived in Barry, but The Island - which had the sand, the funfair, and better facilities for day trippers from Cardiff and the Valleys, was only a short bus or train ride away.

I think Mum bought it for me, as we were soon to leave Barry for Southampton, and some kind of (useful) souvenir would be a nicely sentimental momento. This one had an upper part that you flipped over each morning to show the new date. You also twirled knobs on the base to change the month and day. You had to be the sort to do this without fail every day, and never forget to, but I was that kind of child.

I used it for years. But while I wanted to remember Barry (where we had lived), I wasn't so keen on recalling Barry Island (where I had gone to school). So at some point I scratched out the 'Island'.

So much for souvenirs from long ago. What can one buy nowadays?

Well, some truly dreadful things. I was on Eastbourne pier a week ago with my surfing friend Rheya and her Mum. We climbed right up to the top of the dome at the end of the pier:

Next, we stopped at one of the souvenir shops on the pier. While Rheya and her Mum went in to look at tea towels, I studied the gifts on display in the shop window. Yuk. Things to make you cringe:

OK, I own Sandy the Seahorse - that doesn't mean I'd love to possess a seahorse-themed mug. Don't even think of presenting this kind of thing to me. I mean it.

At least that was something with a potential real-world use. But these...

I suppose they must sell this sort of plastic rubbish in fair quantities, or else they wouldn't waste window space on them. Although why anyone would want (for instance) a plastic crouching unicorn beats me. The collection of figures and creatures in the picture just above had digital displays, and they were perhaps meant to be bedside or kitchen clocks. They were endlessly in motion, cutely bobbing around in a way that would enthrall babies and the utterly mindless. Nevertheless, harmless enough. But these things seemed very sinister indeed:

For goodness sake. Skulls. What kind of gift would these make? And who for? I can just about see the 'point' of a Union Jack skull mug, ugly and unattractive though it is. Some man might like it. But who would want that vile little 'tattooed' skull with menacing blue eyes? It's loathsome. Perhaps it has a battery inside, and functions as a nightlight for an infant Hell's Angel? How reassuring it must be, to see that glowing in the dark. I can't understand who would ever think it suitable for a gift, and who would ever want to receive it. It doesn't even have 'A Present from Eastbourne' engraved on it. It's utterly nasty and pointless, and takes you into a malevolent world of fear and violent death.

Rheya's Mum got her tea towels all right. They were colourful, but in the best tradition of these things, and my own Mum would have bought exactly the same. (I wonder, however, what she would have thought of those ghastly skulls)

Afterwards we had an early evening meal at Harry Ramsden's. It was pretty jolly. Rheya and her Mum are very good company.

I can't remember why we were making a thing out of putting a finger on the vinegar bottle, but I'm sure the reason was a perfectly hilarious one. Harry Ramden's is basically a superior fish-and-chip restaurant, but has much else on its menu, with daily specials too. I had Chicken Caesar, and enjoyed it very much. Rheya had sausages in batter with chips, and got rather more than she bargained for:

By the time we finished, and were walking along the seafront back to Fiona, the light was fading fast. The pier looked pretty, and with the sea so calm its lights made a good reflection:

Eastbourne has good seafront lights to show the way. No need to buy plastic skulls with blue laser beams in the eye sockets.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Death of an old habit

Everything has its day.

For a very long time - over seven years - if I'm home on Tuesday evenings and have nothing else to do, I've been driving into Brighton and having a drink from about 5.30pm with the people who gather at The Marlborough, the theatre pub I mentioned in connection with Germaine Greer's visit to the city a few posts back. It's a recognised place to drop into, to see who's there, to stay a while, and then perhaps push off somewhere else to have a pizza. Or just go home.

At one time, especially if the Brighton Fringe Festival were on, it would be the gathering-place for friends to meet up and then go off to watch an event somewhere else. For some it still is. But I decided years ago that such things as...

# stand-up, aggressive, in-your-face, gaping-vagina comedy;
# open-air, tattooed fire-swallowers;
# super-loud, mike-busting, post-punk tattooed musicians;
# stand-up, staccato, contemporary poetry about how awful and unfair life is;
# informal skits upstairs in pubs on why life as an unemployed tenant on the verge of eviction is 'true' and 'amazing' and 'better' than any other existence, despite all the booze and the vomiting;
# vaginal monologues on Being a Woman;
# penile monologues on Being a Man;
# sour monologues on Being a Tenant with no job, no money, nothing to smoke, and rent to pay;
# sly and knowing performances on what's fun about smoking spliffs and Not Trying To Succeed;
# potty-mouthed contemporary plays about tattooed, lesbian/gay/bisexual depressives and addicts with bizarre body piercings, and babies on the way;
# bitter diatribes not about Male Privilege, nor about Female Privilege, nor any gender-based privilege whatever, but about the Privilege Granted In Life To Those Who Don't Have To Live On Benefits; and
# the Ladyboys of Bangkok

...just weren't my thing - however cheap the tickets.

There must be something seriously wrong with me not to embrace all that. But most of the time - as indeed with many modern Hollywood films - I don't share nor understand the assumed knowledge base and culture. So the allusions pass me by. I don't have the necessary wry, streetwise sense of humour. And an awful lot - way too much - of the cool-sounding streetwise language just whizzes straight over my head. In short, I completely miss the message and the joke, can't laugh, can't see what there is to applause, and quickly end up feeling odd and embarrassed.

And none of this twaddle has ever chimed well with my own cheerful, middle-class, well-organised, home-owning, caravanning-holiday persona - even though I too have a vagina.

At one time, those weekly visits to the pub (and where they might lead) represented almost my entire social life. Its one major regular focus. That was of course years ago, when life was different and was undergoing a forced reconstruction. I was so glad to have such a friendly spot to visit. But my life moved on. Gradually the world I was building for myself took shape, and began to edge away. I still liked to meet up with some of the Brighton people I'd see there, but my weekly visits to The Marlborough became less essential; and now, in early 2017, they have become only a small part of my social life.

There's plenty of other things going on nowadays. Here's a screenshot (off my phone) of how my diary has looked over the eight days ending yesterday, and it's only low-key stuff:

The blue colour coding means 'at my house, or 'starts at my house'. Red means 'away from home'. Green means 'significant travel time'. Purple means 'something unmissable to see on TV or hear on the radio'. I don't show the time allocated to routine household chores, gardening, food shopping, and personal care. But of course it's all there, in the blank parts of my diary. Sleeping, too. 

What I'm attempting to convey is that the last eight days have been pretty busy. I'm not complaining about the quality and variety of my social life, not one bit. But, my goodness, I have been somewhat pushed for quiet moments for photo work, and blogging, and general chilling. 

And although there's nothing on today, this is how the next eight days look, at least at the moment (details can change rapidly!):

That's right, I go off to the West Country in only a week's time. And all the preparatory work for a three-week jaunt has to be fitted in, with only today (Wednesday) and next Sunday as completely uncommitted. Yikes! There's so much to do, to get ready for the off. It's not simply about flinging a few clothes in the caravan, and checking tyre pressures. And all the ordinary household stuff still has to be done. 

In theory I can walk it. In practice - and I do know myself in this respect - I will be breathless and panicky. So I am now refusing any more social engagements. Point blank. 

I feel squeezed. Where are all those quiet hours for me? I need an awful lot of them. I always have. Deprive me of serene, no-pressure, no-commitment, no-time-limit moments of solitude, and I start to come apart. As much as I can revel in the company of my like-minded friends, I need my own space like a drug, and can be ruthless if need be to reserve enough of it. The first half of my holiday, the seeing-nobody half, mostly in Cornwall, will be a very necessary restorative. But then the gregarious side of me will reassert itself, and I'll want some company again. That's how it goes, in cycles.   

I shouldn't moan, nor even imply that I'm moaning. There are plenty of mid-sixties women living on their own who have achingly lonely or humdrum lives; who find it very, very hard to make friends; who may well have heavy caring responsibilities, and not a lot of money. They might be very wistful, if told how I fill up my days and evenings. I am really very lucky; and I'm tempting the gods by making out that sometimes I find my life a bit too crowded for comfort. 

Back to that regular Tuesday-evening visit to The Marlborough, just for a drink, and whatever company might turn up. This week it felt like something I would rather not do. I wanted an evening by myself, with the leisure to read a book, or to get on with some ironing because I wanted to, and not because I was pushed for time and had to. And to cook and eat early, not late. 

But habit took over. I got ready and went out. Perhaps I felt that, as I wasn't going to be around for the next three weeks, I ought to make the effort. But that's not really the best reason for going anywhere. And, as it turned out, the company wasn't as lively as usual. I go chiefly for the company, not the opportunity to have a drink. I had one glass of wine, then left. I had used up two and a half hours of my evening for not much of a return. I wondered why I had bothered. It certainly wasn't because I'd been nowhere else that week!

On occasion, I'd felt like this for the last three or four years. And yet had rarely tried to break the old routine. But the time had come to kill the habit off, to let it die. 

I'm still not going to entirely abandon my visits to Brighton on Tuesday evenings. But I will, for the future, try not to go simply because it's a long-standing habit. These visits are a hangover from a different phase of my life, from conditions that applied years ago but not now. There are friends who come to that pub whom I enjoy seeing, but can see at other times. I don't need to say farewell to them, just because I might not make it to the pub. My absences may be noticed, but will hurt nobody. And I certainly don't need to have a drink. 

Besides, with my mower man gone, I might have to make each Tuesday evening my mowing and clipping evening!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Another year, another new silver bangle

Yesterday was pretty good. After pilates in the morning, Jo, Valerie, Sue and myself (Jackie was away with her husband Kevin, somewhere in the Midlands, on their narrow boat) had lunch in Ditchling at a newish place called The Green Welly. We tried it out last month, and it was just as enjoyable this time, and clearly very popular. Just as well that we had booked a table! Val and Sue departed first. Jo and I had more coffee, and played some rummy with her little pack of cards. It was all very relaxing.

The Green Welly is at the crossroads in the centre of Ditchling, a place well-known for its serious arts and crafts - in fact a centre of excellence in that respect for well over a hundred years. The village has a modern, state-of-the-art museum devoted entirely to printing and artworks, with an emphasis on devotional subjects. This was originally all about finding Christian salvation through art and design.

Diagonally opposite our lunchtime venue was a posh jewellers called Pruden and Smith (see Jo had asked them to give some of her earrings and a damaged bangle a redesign, and wanted to pop in during the afternoon to see the results. This we did.

I was keen to see the inside of this shop, because I was in the market for a new hinged silver bracelet or bangle. It had to be hinged, because the size of my hands ruled out getting a regular bracelet or bangle over the width of my palm.

I did in fact already have a well-loved hinged silver bangle, bought from Hi Ho Silver in Dorchester in September 2009 for £120. It had been my usual daytime right-wrist adornment for nearly five years up to August 2014, when the spring that kept it closed on my wrist got so weak with use that it was unsafe to wear it any further until repaired. Here it is, in its last days before being put away. Look carefully (click on the pictures to enlarge them) and you can see it in these 2014 pictures of me, sitting with casual strangers at Exbury Gardens in Hampshire, and at a friend's in Brighton, delighted with a surprise birthday cake:

Jo had recommended Pruden and Smith for the repair work. Yesterday's visit was a chance to assess their suitability. I was convinced.

But I still wanted another piece to wear on one of my wrists, having worn nothing at all for over two years. I felt I was lacking an important accessory! So while Jo was examining the results of the redesign with Anton Pruden, and then settling up, I cast my eye around. And I saw a most attractive set of modern hinged bangles in highly-polished sterling silver. You wouldn't guess at a casual glance that they were hinged. The fact was quite well disguised. Two of them were straightforward ovals, but one - more substantial than the other two, and clearly unusual  - was designed to look like a band with a twist in it. Jo urged me to try it on.

Oh yes. It looked lovely! The price was £280. Should I?

Well, it was a quality piece with a 'different' but graceful design. The intriguing twist reminded me of a Möbius Strip. (See It wasn't really any such thing but, nevertheless, was definitely inspired by one. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking that I'd got a single-surfaced topological curiosity on my wrist.

I'd not seen anything quite like this before. It looked fabulous, and the craftsmanship was beyond reproach. I found the thing most appealing.

Well, cutting to the chase, did I whip out my credit card? I did. I'd already decided to look around for something distinctive in the way of jewellery while on my West Country Tour. Now I had it in the bag before departure, and could wow all of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset with it. Or at least the ladies at the Slimming World group meetings I'd be attending down there.

Back home that evening, I took some photos. here they are.

The piece wasn't held closed by mere spring pressure. There was a proper catch, working by pressing down on this button:

The bangle then hinged apart:

I liked the look of that hinge: it seemed well-designed, well-made, and likely to last:

Now was that some sort of hallmark on the inside of the bangle (two o'clock from the hinge in the shot just above)? I put my camera on macro and got in as close as possible, trusting the auto focus to give me a sharp rendition, subject to the risk of slight camera-shake from hand-holding the camera in subdued indoor evening light. This was the best of the shots taken:

I tried again next morning:

These were cropped shots, effectively giving me a lot more magnification than my 4x or 7x jeweller's loups could.

It seemed to be LUM 925, with some kind of indistinct other mark, a logo or similar. LUM? The maker, certainly. Then it struck me that this bangle had my name on it. LU was LUcy. And the M was Melford. Well, how about that?

I slept with the bangle on last night. It remained comfortable. In principle I'd like to keep it on 24/7, as I do with my rings. It's ended up on my left wrist, where I would wear a wrist watch. It's common female practice to wear a single bangle on the right wrist, but it felt better and more natural on my left wrist. (Oddly enough, the other, older bangle had always been worn on my right wrist)

I hope we get on well. I want this new bangle to become as loved and cherished as the other pieces I wear either all the time, or at least every day, all of them silver. Such things can with time become essential companions - part of one's personal and recognisable 'look'. It doesn't always work out, of course. Last year I bought a silver bracelet that seemed an exact match for the beloved thick silver necklace that is my standard wear outside the house, the one that looks like a slow-worm. Even down to the hooked catch. They seemed absolutely made for each other - or so I thought. But the bracelet never felt quite right. It was too heavy. I gave it to Jo in the end, who loves it to bits. So it's found its proper home.

Well, let's hope this new bangle settles in better! Time will tell. Readers can ponder future photographs, and see whether or not we have bonded.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Channel 4 and Castle Drogo

This was Castle Drogo in Devon on a sunny day in July 1994. In fact, on my forty-second birthday. It looks in a very good state. But all was not well with the fabric of the building. On rainy days the rain came in. And had done for decades.

This is a 'modern' castle, built early in the twentieth century by the architect Lutyens for a private client who had particular ideas about what a castle should look like. The client had money and the will to insist on having exactly what he wanted. For instance, he wanted a flat roof so that he could walk around up there and survey the marvellous views to be had, for Castle Drogo overlooked the gorge of the River Teign, and had the northern edge of Dartmoor on its doorstep. So he forced Lutyens to design a flat roof, even though that was a bad idea in a rainy country. I'm sure the architect advised against it, but bowed to his client's wishes. Lutyens was obliged to look for a weatherproofing solution - and his best idea, mistaken as it turned out, was to seal the roof with a layer of asphalt. It inevitably cracked, and within a few years began to let the water in, which percolated downwards, eventually making it necessary to set up buckets around the castle on wet days to catch all the water dripping from ceiling cracks.

It wasn't just the roof. Water came in sideways too. Medieval castles had had massively thick walls, so that rain could never penetrate. But Castle Drogo's walls, though entirely made of fine masonry, were of ordinary thickness and the rain came in horizontally, along the line of the mortar between the stone blocks. So residents and visitors would eventually observe severe water-staining at every window:

An unwelcome effect.

Over the course of several decades, a variety of remedies were tried, each one attempting to make the castle leakproof. But nothing completely fixed the problem. Finally the castle's contents were in danger of destruction by damp, and the Trust decided that comprehensive re-roofing and mortar-repointing were needed to save not just the fabric of the building, but all the interior decoration and furnishings. This work began some years back, and is due to finish soon, possibly before the end of 2018.

I went to see the castle twice in 2015, in March and September. I took a large number of photographs. One (of the water-staining) is just above. Here's a few more:

All the most interesting shots were published on my Flickr pages. I did a blog post in the weeks after each visit, and that was that for a long while.

Until 1st March this year, when a lady called Emma Love, who works for Chocolate Media, a TV production company, approached me for permission to use my Castle Drogo shots on Flickr in a Channel 4 documentary series entitled Restoration of the Year. I'm guessing they wanted to use a succession of still snapshots in between talking heads in the video footage, tracking the progress of the restoration work. No doubt, of course, the National Trust had been taking its own pictures of every possible aspect of the restoration at Castle Drogo, from inception to the present time. But the NT wouldn't be providing those free to a TV production company. They'd want some money. Hence Emma Love's approach to me - and no doubt several other amateur shooters who had also published their work on Flickr.

I could have said 'Yes, please go ahead, use whatever pictures you like.' But it's not so simple. I own the copyright to all my shots, and in fact I assert it with a copyright notice embedded in every digital photo file. If somebody wants to use a picture of mine, they have to ask me for a licence - and be prepared to pay for it, or else knowingly steal the shot from me - a fact that would show up if they then tried to sell the picture on to a third party, because of the embedded copyright notice. A bona fide production company would never of course stoop to theft. They'd expect to negotiate, if I insisted on a fee.

I regularly get approached like this. The big commercial picture libraries (Getty, for example) charge whopping amounts to use the shots in their high-quality stock collections, so Flickr (an amateur photo-hosting site) has become a recognised cheap (or free) alternative source for companies looking for off-the-peg shots. And although there is a lot of dross on Flickr, there are nevertheless millions of very good photographs of publishable quality. There are thousands of people like me who go to places, and take the kind of shots, that commercial companies might well be looking for.

Actually, I don't often ask for a fee. If, for instance, a museum or historical society requests a licence to use a shot or two of mine, I generally grant one for no payment - just a credit naming me as the photographer - on the basis that they will use it primarily for a public-education purpose. But if it will be used for revenue-generation, then on principle I will ask for a fee. Chocolate Media's aim was clearly to sell their production to Channel 4. So I wanted my proper cut, albeit a small one.

And in this case, the fee would indeed be small. My pictures could hardly be unique. I wouldn't expect much per shot. The exact terms would be arrived at through negotiation, if Emma Love were authorised to do a deal. I suspected that she had a brief to source shots at nil cost. But I was bound to make a charge, and I explained my position to her in an exchange of emails.

I'm not a professional photographer, and I don't take photos with the aim of making money from them. So if she were unable to proceed - because the production budget did not allow for paying for any still shots used - then I would suffer no loss. But they wouldn't be able to use my pictures.

She soon emailed me back to say that she had found another source. I'm quite sure that would be easy to do. She probably had dozens of other sources up her sleeve, and anybody wanting to charge a fee, like myself, would be out of the running and not missed. That's perfectly OK, exactly what you would expect to happen. I'm mildly flattered that she thought my shots good enough to consider!