Monday, 31 December 2018


I suppose that in a stable, unchanging world with no need to consider events in faraway places, personal affairs must predominate, and it becomes important and necessary to wonder what might be in store.

The same old-fashioned questions to do with betterment and personal fulfilment. Will I meet someone nice, and marry? Will I have a home of my own, and have children? Will I prosper and live a long time? And so forth.

It was once commonplace to 'have one's fortune told' at various points in one's life. There were palmists to consult, some of them most respectable. Horoscopes to be drawn up - not the vague ones in newspapers but proper ones, with the precise position of the planets determined by ephemeris tables, revealing surprising conjunctions and oppositions indicative of character and likely fate. Tarot cards to deal out and interpret. Old ladies read the tea leaves in their cups and made exciting but confidential pronouncements to their friends. There was Old Moore's Almanack. And, of course, there were the gypsies, who were the most skilled in the art of fortune-telling.

What happened? Where has all this gone to?

I don't say that nobody bothers with fortune-telling any more. A residual demand clearly still exists. But the reputation of fortune-tellers, and the old methods of seeing into the future, have declined. Where now Mystic Meg on TV? And although it may be fun to ask which star sign someone fanciable was born under, who takes any serious notice of a potential incompatibility? We have become 'scientific' and 'sceptical' and shy away from being thought naïve and gullible. Belief in fortune-telling, or a conviction that somebody is gifted with psychic or magical powers, smacks of being simple-minded. (Although, to be frank, a blind belief in anything that can't be backed up with proper evidence seems also to be an unsound proposition. The world is full of theories that 'explain everything', and full of charlatans who dream up the theories. It was ever thus)

I do think that after the disillusionment of the Second World War, and the explosion of the first and second nuclear bombs, people learned to fear the future and lost interest in knowing what lay ahead. I grew up with the threat of a nuclear holocaust ever-present. It was always there in the background, with Russia and America rattling their rockets in snarling unison. Annihilation, deliberate or accidental, was going to come from one or the other. It was just a matter of time.

You could try to ignore it all. I'm sure that we all grew up hoping for a better world, a peaceful world, that we couldn't quite believe in. But the decades passed, and belligerent leaders were replaced by new people who were tired of the military competition, the mental strain of walking a tightrope, and indeed the fantastic cost of staying up front in a perpetual arms race. I like to think, also, that there was a growing awareness in their minds that much bigger things (such as growing world shortages of vital but scarce mineral resources) had to be faced up to, nudging them into more conciliatory positions.

But this long period of fear for the future had its effect. Who really wanted to know about their future, if the answer might be a horrible death in a searing nuclear blast, just three months ahead? Forward plans still had to be made; but who ever felt assured that they would live to see old age? A few built bunkers for themselves, determined to survive whatever happened. The rest of us carried on, lulling ourselves with sex and TV and the trivia of the moment.

Still, momentous events gave hope. For instance, the fall of Communist Rule in Europe, or at least its mutation, after a whiff of true popular democracy, into a motley collection of money-driven oligarchies. No global attack could come from any country run by fat-cat criminals intent on amassing gross personal fortunes. So it felt like a safer world, for a while.

But by then the notion of 'having one's fortune told' had become thoroughly odd, a part of the Old World, the pre-nuclear world, and at best rather a joke. Nobody thought you could really see the future revealed in a crystal ball anymore.

And what now, on the last day of 2018? Are we hopeful for the future? Would we like to consult a fortune-teller about it?

For myself, no. I believe that you make your own future by what you do in the present. I am investing in personal health and fitness, and planning my spending and general lifestyle, in order to ensure - so far as I can - that I shall have a comfortable and interesting life twenty or even thirty years hence. Who knows whether that effort will pay off. I expect that some of it will unravel, or be thwarted by European or global events.

I have a feeling though, that we will continue to 'enjoy' a kind of peace. Russia recently-announced hypersonic missile system is, I suspect, intended not so much to impress America, but to cow smaller, upstart regimes on its far borders. In my view, the real killer will be global warming: something I shall see the effects of, if I really do live to my nineties. It will be tiresome, coping with very hot summer weather and very severe winters.

But there are the Lessons of History. And those are: that nothing stays the same - all things must change; and that there is always a tomorrow, come what may.

Bugger Bognor

It's rather sad when the main thing people generally know about a place is that a King swore at it in 1929.

It was King George V, who was convalescent after a lung operation. He was the severe-looking bearded gent who appeared on many of the older coins in my young life up to February 1971, when the old coinage (pounds, shillings and pence) was replaced by decimal coinage (pounds and pence) - and coins bearing the heads of a long line of kings and queens, all the way back to Queen Victoria on the oldest coins in circulation, suddenly disappeared.

Everything I've ever heard about King George V tells me that he was in later life a touchy chap, not very patient. He would have hated being ill. He would have hated the court physicians telling him that a spot of sea air at Bognor on the Sussex coast would be beneficial, and having to comply with their orders as a matter of court protocol. He had to stay there for several months, and must have been fed up with the place by the end. So he would have despised the subsequent obsequious request from the town council at Bognor that 'Regis' (Latin for 'of the King') be added to the town's name, to mark 'his' gracious choice of holiday destination. In future it would be 'The King's Bognor', in mutual association for all time to come. Great for the town. Irksome for His Majesty.

In short, he had genuine cause to feel grumpy about Bognor, and although there is no proof that he ever did mutter the words 'Bugger Bognor!' whenever the town (and the vacation there) was mentioned, I am personally quite satisfied that he did.

Well, Bognor got its change of name, and has proudly used it ever since. It really was quite a privilege. This has been the only modern example of a place being honoured with a 'Regis' tacked on. There weren't in fact many UK placenames that sported that 'Regis' element. Only fifteen. The West Country accounted for seven of that fifteen: Bere Regis, Brompton Regis, Kingsbury Regis, Lyme Regis, Melcombe Regis, Salcombe Regis and Wyke Regis. Half the national supply. Odd that.

Nowadays towns that aspire to a royal connection push to have 'Royal' put in front of the name, as happened not long ago with Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire. Before that, there were only two towns that were Royal-something: Royal Leamington Spa and Royal Tunbridge Wells. (If you are seriously interested in pursuing this subject, see

And yet Bognor Regis might have been called something quite different: Hothamton ('Hoth' as in 'moth'). Originally a fishing village, the place was developed by enterprising Sir Richard Hotham in the late eighteenth century as a fashionable resort for the titled and wealthy, copying the success of Brighton and Eastbourne. But it never really took off as a posh haven for toffs, and the 'Hothamton' name didn't last. Instead, Bognor settled down into a Sussex beach town existence, with all the usual amenities, but no especial cachet. Sir Richard is still remembered: there is a Hotham Park. And no doubt, as Bognor gradually redevelops itself, more and more will be made of its historical aspirations and royal connections. I predict the George V CineCenta, and the Hotham Arena.

So what is Bognor Regis really like? Imagine a flat part of the coast - no cliffs - with a sloping shingle beach, and sand only at low tide. Imagine a tatty cut-down pier, a tired promenade, nondescript gardens, mundane car parks, a theatre that badly needs an upgrade, and an uninspiring town centre full of bargain outlets, mobile phone stores, nail bars and vaping shops. Imagine the best place in town, the neatly-maintained station with its frequent trains to other places, London included. Imagine also, beyond all this, a sprawl of admittedly decent residential housing in mostly quiet streets; and, on the main road in (the A29) a couple of retail parks with the usual superstores. Oh, and Butlin's for somewhere to stay on the weekend.

I sound a bit dismissive, but really (just like King George V, and who better to take my cue from?) I don't rate Bognor highly, and don't go there very often. It's not rewarding enough for a casual visit. For similar sea coast, but with a nice riverside, and plenty of sandy beach thrown in, nearby Littlehampton wins every time. Neither is however on my A list of Sussex seaside destinations. I will admit that Bognor has more holiday amenities than, say, Seaford.

All this said, I do go to Bognor now and then. It pays to see it in the summer - when it's lively - or in the winter, whenever a good sunset is expected. I went for the sunset option the other day.

The setting sun cast a magical warmth on everything, and - at least if you stood back a bit - it made the seafront buildings look almost attractive. Some spray-painted hoardings caught my eye.

I'm guessing that glum green face was a stylised moon, rather then a stylised holidaymaker.

Amazing what you could do with spray cans. But where was Banksy?

The sun did its best with the 'traditional' but nevertheless insalubrious rock shop, ice cream parlours and amusement arcades.

I didn't enquire which of those diet-busting dishes was the Old Age Pensioner Special. Even though, as you know, I easily qualify for one.

The sunset made the truncated pier look pretty good. It was in fact just a platform for a nightclub called Sheiks (as in Rudolf Valentino on a fine Arab charger). But one could ignore that conceit.

I took shots on the pier, and underneath it. Thankfully, nobody was there, curled up in a sleeping bag.

Further along the promenade was an old bandstand, tarted up somewhat, but clearly a little-used relic from decades ago. I hung around, waiting for the right combination of silhouetted figures to walk past.

Not as good as a shot I took back in 2000:

Actually, I've taken much better shots of Bognor's seafront in the past. Such as these from 2003 and 2006, which show that Bognor can look quite interesting:

The sun suddenly lost its intensity. It sank behind a bank of low cloud. I began to walk back to where I'd parked Fiona in a back street. On the way, I saw this blue plaque:

Wow. The Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti worked in there for a year or so! I wonder how they knew? It isn't in Wikipedia. He wasn't in the best of health by the later 1870s, and perhaps he too came to Bognor for some invigorating sea air.

As I walked back through the town streets, I was confronted by a young woman. 'Excuse me...' Our eyes met. I gave her a frank and very direct look. This plainly disconcerted her. I wanted my eyes to say that I wasn't a cold and nasty person, but I absolutely wasn't going to give her anything, and she ought to believe it and not waste her time. But she must have seen something else, something that confused her. So all she said next was 'Ummm...' 

Seizing the moment, I walked away, before she could get back on track with her usual spiel. It was puzzling: street beggars are usually quicker-witted and much more persistent. I haven't forgotten the kind I met in Plymouth when last there, who made me feel very uncomfortable, one man in particular. I have become hyper-defensive where such people are concerned, yet continue to be approached. I must still look a soft touch.

Here's one last image that helps to sum up Bognor. It was in a bus shelter. A poster advertising a vaping brand.

Sigh. These adverts ought to be banned. You can say what you like, vaping is addictive. It's another form of smoking, and there will be unhealthy medical consequences down the line - even if a case can presently be made for vaping being negligibly injurious to the lungs and mouth, compared to tobacco-smoking. I noticed which shops were listed as suppliers: they were the shops where people with not much money tended to go. So the ad was targeted at the poor. 

Would I be a snob if I guessed that the kind of person who might react to such an ad wouldn't have a clear idea what the word 'exceptional' meant? Yes, I decided that it was snobbish (and elitist) to assume a lack of education. I shouldn't consider myself in any way better-informed. Or too astute to become a victim of advertising hype. Or above populist tastes.

But the approach from the girl for 'loose change', and this ad, and a number of other things I'd seen in my walk around the town and seafront, such as the seedy amusement arcades, gave me a bleak feeling inside. I didn't belong here. Bognor wasn't the town for me. It was time to go back to my own world in Mid Sussex. 

Bugger Bognor.  

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Dail-a-Disc and Dr John Bodkin Adams

That last post got me thinking about BT's telephone services in the past, and my memory drifted to 'Dial-a-Disc', which was something BT offered back in the 1970s and a while afterwards, although it disappeared many years ago. You phoned a short two- or three- digit number - the cost of this was small - and heard the Disc of the Day, which was always something lively from the Top Ten.

It was really rather cool to dial up a current pop song and listen to it on one's phone. It was even cooler to do it in the office, at the office expense, dialling '9' first to get an outside line. If anyone senior came near, you could pretend you were taking a regular phone call. All very naughty, of course; but I admit to listening to Dial-a-Disc in the office right at the beginning of my Inland Revenue career, when I was still in my late teens, and silly, and very intoxicated with the wicked new freedoms of adult life.

The chief opportunity to use Dial a Disc came on overtime. Anyone who was part of the 'clerical staff' - meaning (in ascending order of seniority) a Clerical Assistant, a Tax Officer, or a Tax Officer (Higher Grade) - I was a trainee TO(HG) at the time - was entitled to work overtime and be paid for it. It was useful money, and if your social life was barely off the ground, you had time to spare, and there was nothing on the telly that evening, a spot of easy overtime was just the ticket.

We were supervised by a trusted older officer, but working overtime was relaxed way of passing a few hours for the merry band of young reprobates who regularly did it. Honestly, we mucked about if we could, chatting and no doubt giggling. Dialling pop songs was the least of it. But I will add that we would always have something to show next day for the time put in, and there was absolutely no hanky-panky. Moreover, the records kept of the time put in were meticulous. They had to be good - on pain of disciplinary action from the stern and no-nonsense Management Inspector, an ex-CPO.

'Meticulous?' you scoff. Well, I can back up what I say. I still have all my old overtime records for 1971 to 1975. Yes, I've kept them safe for over forty-five years. Indeed, I still have many old service records up in my attic. I have an idea that some of them might be regarded as documents that are subject to the Official Secrets Acts, so I'll be careful here! But I am pretty sure that personal handwritten records, on which my official payment and allowances claims were based, are probably outside the scope of the Acts. The claim forms themselves might not be. One day, certainly if I ever do move house, I will have to burn all these items.

So, in my attic are a collection of thick orange folders, set up some thirty years ago to hold various records together. One of them deals with 'Office Matters'...

...with a subfolder for 'Overtime'...

...and in that subfolder is a complete record of my overtime in Southampton 3 Tax Office, from 1st February 1971 right through to 14th March 1973, with additional stints in 1974 and 1975. I stopped doing overtime after 18th May 1975. I had just been selected for Technical Training, and would join the 'technical staff', who might well work unusually long hours on occasion, but could not claim extra payment for it. 

Here's the first page of eight:

That kind of lined paper (called '174D paper') was the original 'spreadsheet'. The storerooms of all tax offices had tons of it. I suspect it was very useful for keeping accounts at home, as well as for making year-by-year analyses in the office. Believe me, handwritten (or typed) spreadsheets were the thing long before Microsoft ever existed, or dreamed up Excel. In a pre-computer age, which in a local tax office meant pre-1990s, this is what you used. 

I'm sure you can see that if - following a deathbed confession, bragging in a pub, or the injudicious publication of a former Revenue officer's memoirs - it ever came to light that false claims to overtime had been rife in one or more of the six tax offices located in Southampton in the 1970s, all staff serving in them would immediately come under investigation. A criminal investigation. So I have kept hold of all my pay and allowances records, and hours-worked records - and especially records of expenses claimed - all this time. Just in case. Paranoid? Read on.

The Revenue always took a severe line with any dishonest member of staff who had, for instance, set up fake taxpayer files and claimed tax repayments payable to themselves, an alias, or a tame nominee. It was no different if it were 'only' filching notes and coin from in the office petty cash tin, or occasionally making use of the office postage stamp money. False claims to expenses were never laughed off: you'd be sacked. But you'd go through an ordeal first.

Officers from the Board's Investigation Office would come down from their citadel in London. They would be forthright and barely courteous in their enquiries. Anyone suspected would have a very testing experience. These inquisitors enjoyed their work. They used threat and fear to get a result. The guilty disappeared into an oubliette. Their associates, if found complicit but not actually guilty, were broken characters henceforth, never to achieve another promotion. If someone had already resigned, they were tracked down and prosecuted without mercy and without exception. Escape abroad was but a temporary reprieve: the BIO would wait, and hound them if they ever returned.  

Proving innocence might depend on what you could show and say in your defence. There had to be credible, contemporary, detailed written records. If you had them, and they looked believable, and you survived the appallingly cold and fierce interview without making an inconsistent remark, then all might be well. If not, well...

This is why I never accepted any out-of-office position that involved handling money. And still wouldn't. A serving Revenue officer had to be stainless, and beyond any possibility of stain. I am absolutely sure this is true of a retired officer also, with a pension to lose.

Not that I would worry if the entire staff serving in Southampton in the early 1970s came under suspicion. I still have those records. I can mount a convincing defence. And wouldn't the BIO (or whatever their current name is, now that the Inland Revenue is that hybrid monster, the HMRC) be surprised at their production?

This is what happened with Dr John Bodkin Adams. He was a medical practitioner in Eastbourne from the early 1930s until well into the 1950s. He inspired confidence, and was very popular with older patients in nursing homes and the like. Several wills were altered in his favour, and he accepted gifts from grateful patients. He sometimes seemed to seek these things. The patients died, and some said he had hastened their deaths with lethal overdoses of drugs like morphine. There were rumours, and the police heard of them, and mounted a murder investigation. In due course, Dr Adams faced trial. It was a celebrated case. 

I first heard of it when reading the book on the left in my photo below.

Later, I got hold of the book on the right. Lord Devlin was the judge in the case and heard all the evidence. On the back of the cover is this shot of the doctor himself, after the trial. He had an avuncular manner, apparently.

Dr Adams' defence hinged on proving that he prescribed and administered only moderate and medically-justifiable amounts of painkillers and other such drugs to the elderly patients in his care. The witnesses for the prosecution included a renowned medical expert and nurses of impeccable character and experience, who had actually looked after the patients under Dr Adams' instructions. Their evidence was damning. Basically, it was that Dr Adams had made sure that drugs were administered in such amounts that death was certain. And the expert asserted that such amounts could never be appropriate. The accusation was that he had hastened these deaths for personal gain - the money willed to him.

But Dr Adams was acquitted. For his defence team discovered the old records of what had been administered, written by these very nurses, lying forgotten in a surgery cupboard. Nobody guessed these records still existed. It caused a sensation when they were produced in court. The barrister for the defence used them to tear apart the nurses' recollection of the amounts given to the patients, proving that Dr Adams hadn't acted murderously. And he skilfully neutralised the expert opinion.

So: old records matter!

And Dial-a-Disc? I don't know when it stopped being available. But I listened to it for only a couple of years: 1971 and 1972. The sound quality was awful. It was much better to hear the Top Ten on the radio - or once a week on TV, on Top of the Pops. And in between, cassette tapes. I fancy that BT withdrew it sometime in the early 1980s. Probably as the Sony Walkman took off. An early example of modern 'new tech' ousting an outmoded service.  

The Phone Book

I have before me BT's local Phone Book, which covers not only my village but in fact a big chunk of Sussex, from Shoreham-by-Sea in the west to Pevensey Bay in the east, and quite a way inland. It includes all of Brighton, and all of Eastbourne, big places both. And yet all the the landline numbers for public eyes in this rather populous area have been fitted into a slim volume. And it is slim!

What has happened over the years? Surely there was a time, and not so very long ago, when a telephone directory like this would be at least an inch thick? Wasn't it always impossible and something of a Great Feat to tear one in half?

Not so hard nowadays!

And the Phone Book's companion volume, Yellow Pages, is now also a shadow of its former self:

At least those 'walking fingers' still enliven the cover.

The explanation for the malnourished Phone Book lies, of course, in the fact that many residential numbers are now ex-directory. But it hadn't struck me before just how many must have opted not to be listed there. The slimline Yellow Pages is more of a mystery - wouldn't every business (and the number of small businesses has reportedly snowballed) want to appear in the classified and alphabetical business listings? Or have a lot of businesses decided that there is no advantage in paying for space in either the Phone Book or Yellow Pages?

The relentless rise of the Internet and the triumph of the mobile phone, especially the smartphone, have undoubtedly changed the way people connect with other people. The old-fashioned landline telephone handset was - still is - simple to use, but is no-tech, and all you can do is push the number keys and talk. A barren experience.

If searching for a shop or a dealer or a restaurant, it's a slow way of checking out who might be suitable. Yellow Pages (and similar directories) used to be a help, but you still had to work your way through a printed list with hard-to-read print, and phone them up. Whereas nowadays a phone, laptop or tablet screen lets you conduct a rapid search of your area with (say) Google Maps. The map pinpoints where the results are, when they are open, and where to park. Hyperlinks let you look at their websites, and there might well be photos and user comments, which give you a good idea what the set-up is like and whether it's worth making personal contact. You might also gain some preliminary knowledge about the product or service being looked for - a little information like that, before making a personal approach, might make all the difference. Dealers will treat a customer who knows exactly what they want a lot more seriously.

I vastly prefer this modern approach. When the time comes to upgrade my bathroom with new fittings, I shall conduct much careful online research into dealers, products and prices before I ever take the plunge and speak to anyone. The same for the venue for my 70th birthday, just three and a half years off now.

And the last place I shall look will be Yellow Pages. Or indeed one of those extraordinarily expensive Directory Enquiries numbers, such as 118 118. (What a rip-off)

So much for businesses, services, and places to eat. Why have so many private residents gone ex-directory?

I'm guessing it's mainly a matter of personal security - not wanting to be a target of crime. An entry in the Phone Book advertises where a potential victim might be found. I realised that years ago, and joined the ex-directory club as soon as I could. Once upon a time, I remember feeling proud to be listed in the Phone Book. I felt it gave me some status, as a solid, respectable woman of property. But when this spurious euphoria wore off, I saw (with some horror) that my line in the Phone Book was actually saying 'Hey, burglars and stalkers! Here's a lady living on her own! Come and check her out for criminal potential! Here's the address and landline number!'

So I stopped being in the Phone Book. No Melfords here. See for yourself:

Later on still - half a dozen years ago now - I got fed up with cold callers on my landline. How did they find out my number? It made me suspect that my landline number wasn't as well-hidden as I thought. Perhaps they had looked in some old Phone Books and discovered it there. Whatever the case, I resented the intrusion. I didn't like the jangling landline ringtone anyway. But what was the remedy?

I decided to simply unplug the landline handset, and put it away in a cupboard. The landline became Broadband-only. If I wanted to make or receive voice calls, I still had my mobile phone. In truth this was nicer, and I could never miss a call because the mobile phone was always with me, and always switched on. And the change seemed to inconvenience nobody. It certainly stopped those cold callers in their tracks. I've never reverted.

Once in a while after this, I might still get the odd call on my mobile phone from somebody I didn't know - somebody whose name did not come up in the display. I suspected that I'd been phoned using some random procedure, the purpose of the call being to find out whether my number was 'live' - and therefore a number belonging to a potential customer. So it wasn't wise to answer the call, because I'd immediately go onto a Sucker List, and I could expect to be pestered with a lot more calls.

No, the savvy way was to ignore the call, but check it out afterwards on the Internet. There were several websites that could tell you who it might have been, and what they were after. Generally, I blocked them for the future. It's so easy to do on a mobile phone.

Forty years ago it would have been thought antisocial and irresponsible to block any calls. That was a hangover from when not many people had a phone in the house, and calls were generally a welcome novelty, or at least likely to be important. Everybody eventually got into the habit of calling everyone else, sometimes about really trivial things. That didn't matter. It was 'good to talk'. If you didn't join in, if you stood aloof from the babble, or for whatever reason disliked speaking to a disembodied voice, you were judged odd, and a social misfit. At the very least, it was a direct contravention of telephone etiquette.

But the mood has changed. The rise of persistent telephone cold-calling - mostly from companies wanting to hook you into money-making schemes (high-risk investments, PPI and so on) -  have made a lot of people back off from answering a phone call from someone other than a friend or a family member. Going ex-directory is a first line of defence.

And yet there are clearly a lot of people who BT thinks still want a Phone Book, and a copy of Yellow Pages. Who are they?

The prominent ad on the back cover of the Phone Book gives a clue:

Also the inserts in the Yellow Pages book:

They think old people want these directories, because it's old people who are still using their landline phones. This looks like ingrained Ageism, but I suspect there is truth in the commercial judgement that the oldest generations do cling to their landline phones, and don't feel at all happy with modern tech.

Certainly, touchscreen smartphones must be a nightmare for shaky or arthritic fingers; and in any case such devices demand quite a high level of tech knowledge in order to use them properly. My parents wouldn't have seen the advantages and full possibilities of a modern smartphone, and wouldn't have found them physically easy to use. Simple, bare-bones telephones, with easy buttons to press, were much more their line.

But I often come across younger folk who, for various reasons, declare that the smartphone is not for them. Some tell me that it doesn't chime with their uncomplicated, contemplative lifestyle. That it smacks too much of the rat race. Others that they they just aren't clever enough, or don't understand 'that tech stuff'. They leave it to their kids.

I don't think the 'complication' argument holds water. I find knitting patterns baffling, but they are probably dead simple in reality.

As for the Phone Book and Yellow Pages, I think one day soon they will go wholly online and the printed version will no longer be distributed to every home in the country. No doubt the stalwart users of the printed directories will complain. But a lot of paper will be saved.

Would that the other printed junk that comes through the front door disappear also!

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Printer resurgent

Well, with a couple more letters typed, my Epson Stylus Photo 1400 printer of 2007 vintage has regained its former performance, and its retirement is no longer imminent. I thought it was on its last legs, but evidently not so. All I need to do, clearly, is use it regularly, and it will soldier on indefinitely.

This is of course good news. It's still a very good photo printer, capable of printing larger than A3, and I had been contemplating its demise with sorrow, even though I very rarely print any photos nowadays, certainly not for myself. But it's nice to have a machine that can do it, and do it excellently. Astonishingly, the printer works very well indeed with my Microsoft Surface Book laptop (which runs the very latest version of Windows 10). So long as it continues to work without issues, there is no point in buying a replacement. 

And yet, being an inkjet printer that uses six non-refillable Epson cartridges (one black, the rest various shades of yellow, blue and magenta, which together produce all the colours when mixed), its operating costs are high.

When I last bought all six cartridges, in January 2017, it cost me just under £90. They all need replacing soon. What will it cost? I looked at my usual online source - - and they wanted £15.99 per cartridge. So replacing all six would now cost about £96. Ouch.

It has naturally crossed my mind that for £96 I could get a new laser printer, albeit a small one that wouldn't produce photo-quality prints.

Well, let's see how my ancient Epson printer survives. If it isn't yet in terminal decline, then I will most likely stay with it, and just bear the extraordinary cost of the printing ink.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Back to pen and paper?

I've got a growing collection of Christmas cards, all of which must have been sent to me in the knowledge that I gave up sending them myself last year.

Readers may remember my utter relief at letting myself off the hook, allowing myself to avoid the needless pressure of working my way through a long Christmas card list.

I felt rather apologetic, even guilty, at the time. It must have seemed very 'Bah, humbug!' to some; evidence of laziness to others - ignoring, or running-away, from a social duty.

It wasn't hard to rationalise the whole thing - personal concern over the colossal waste of high-quality paper; the extra burden on the Post Office when more vital stuff needed to be delivered; and wanting to help along the extinction of a commercial ritual that just imposed an extra task on everyone, at a time when many more useful things might be done to promote the proper spirit of goodwill and good cheer.

All good reasons for not sending cards. But actually, none of them generally thought important. A lot of people wanted to exchange cards, wanted the ritual, wanted to be 'traditional', even though the custom (at least in its modern form) hardly goes back very far in history. Bottom line: sending or giving Christmas cards remains 'part of Christmas', as much as giving Christmas presents does. And although surely everybody can name people (like me) who have stopped the show, and broken the mould, most are going to do the usual thing, the proper thing.

I just hope the people posting all these cards to me, or handing them to me when we meet, fully understand that I'm not going to reciprocate. It's nothing personal; they most certainly have my best and heartiest seasonal wishes; but I'm not going to scribble something brief on a pre-printed piece of paper, and send it to them, just to conform.

What I will do, in certain cases, is send them an email, composed with them especially in mind, decorated with one or more of my own Christmas-themed photos. Putting such a thing together will take a lot longer, and require a lot more thought, than writing a card. My way of being genuine.

But if I need to enclose anything, I can't send an email. It'll have to be an old-fashioned letter in an envelope, with a stamp on it. I had one of these to do earlier today. I enjoyed typing it on my laptop and inserting a picture of a jolly snowman into the text. All I had to do then was plug my photo-printer into the laptop, and print the letter off.

The printer started up fine. The window on the laptop screen said ready to print. The paper was drawn into the printer, the usual whirring noises happened, and out came the result.

Oh dear, that wouldn't do. The print was blurred. I went into diagnostic mode, and got the printer to clean the print nozzles and so on (it was an Epson Stylus Photo 1400 inkjet printer, a top printer in 2007 when I bought it). Hmm, a better result, but still not good enough. More cleaning. This time, an acceptable result, though by no means up to the usual standard. I got out my best pen, signed it 'Lucy XXX' at the bottom, enveloped it with the item to be enclosed, bunged on a first-class stamp, and posted it within the hour.

I probably won't have to print off another letter like that this Christmas. Just as well! I'm now wondering whether my 2007-vintage printer is about to throw in the towel. The problem is surely not so much its age - eleven years - but the fact that it is used so little nowadays. I don't print any photographs with it, only the very occasional letter - just five or six in the last twelve months. It's suffering from lack of use. And in my personal bid to become all-electronic and paperless, it will remain seriously underused. Indeed, I could scrap it now and not notice the difference. And if I did that, and then bought a small, modern, economical printer to replace it, that new printer would also suffer from not being used enough. In the Digital Age, mechanical things gather dust, then gum up and die.

It's all made me think that, if I can't send an email, should I return to pen and paper? To handwritten letters?

It's an idea, isn't it? My handwriting isn't bad. I could justify buying myself a really nice pen, and luxurious stationery. If I needed to take a copy of what I had written, then I would simply photograph the letter with my phone, and file it away on my laptop, in the same way as a typed letter.

A handwritten letter always was somehow more personal than a typed letter, or an email. And in 2018, any letter (as opposed to an email or a phone call) to a commercial organisation, local council or government department needs special handling when received, and probably gets special attention, as if an MP or the Palace had written to one. A pity I can't sign myself Baroness Melford or some such...but hey, you can see how an 'old-fashioned' but impressively-written missive might merit the attention of a manager rather than a minion.

I think the notion of polishing up my pen skills is rather pleasing. Imagine what my shopping lists could look like...

Saturday, 8 December 2018

A magical evening at Arne

By the start of October I had shifted from North Devon to East Dorset, staying at the peaceful and pleasant Club site in the forest north west of Wareham.

Poole Harbour wasn't far away. I decided to go and see.

This map shows how Poole Harbour relates to Bournemouth, Poole and the Isle of Purbeck (as ever, click on these maps to see the detail clearly):

The land mass between Wareham and Swanage is the Isle of Purbeck, a rather strange place if you venture off the main A351 road. Much of it is lonely heathland, more especially the land north of the A351. But all of the Isle of Purbeck has an other-worldly feel, apart from the tourist oasis of Corfe Castle, the attractive Victorian resort of Swanage, and the long sandy beach at Studland. 

The heathland on the south fringe of Poole Harbour is particularly quiet and remote, and it's not easy to get to: mostly it's a matter of parking followed by a long walk. There's plenty to see if you are into nature - birds, deer or trees - or wish to take a peek at the small oil wells scattered about. 

There's also an industrial past to explore. The clay quarries inland (mostly long gone now, except at Furzebrook) used narrow-gauge tramways, a system quite independent of the ordinary railway line (which is still there, and marked on the map), to transport the clay in wagons to quays at Ridge, Middlebere and Goathorn on Poole Harbour, first to be loaded into barges, and then transferred to ships waiting at Poole. 

There were nearly twenty miles of these tramways at the peak of clay quarrying activity. A book I have describes how in the early 1950s 'holiday motorists on the Wareham-Swanage road were delighted to give way to  a train - or in the evening to a jury car freewheeling with a load of workmen for Ridge - on the level crossing.' I would have loved to witness the freewheeling jury car! I'm imagining twenty-odd rough workmen with clothes clay-splattered after a long day in the quarry, relaxing as the heathland slips by in the setting sun, all looking forward to a bath, tea, and a hot meal ready for them, at their cottage homes at Ridge. But nearly all the tramway system had closed by the late 1950s. 

Here are some old large-scale Ordnance Survey maps. First, the set-up at Furzebrook in 1925: 

You can see how the single-track tramway passed underneath the main railway line, then headed north, crossing the Wareham-Swanage road on the level. I'm pretty certain that when I drove that way in 1973 or 1974 (on one of my first solo trips from home in Southampton, having passed my driving test in August 1973) the disused metal tracks were still embedded in the tarmac, and made a distinct bump in the road that could be felt. I've an idea that even in the late 1970s, visiting the Isle of Purbeck with friends, those tracks were in place. And surely they persisted for years after that. But when they eventually resurfaced the A351, the tracks were torn up and another bit of history binned.

This was Ridge quay (or wharf) in 1950:

It must have been very slow and labour-intensive to shovel the clay into those barges floating next to the quay on the River Frome, only to shovel it again into ships at Poole. (Hard, dirty work for the bargemen and wharf workers) I like to think that the buildings in the bottom left corner were the quarry workmen's homes, where their wives would have been busy heating up water for a bath, and making the evening meal while the children played.

Ridge must have been the last surviving quay to be served by a tramway. Middlebere and Goathorn quays were disconnected from the system rather earlier - probably by 1920 in the case of Middlebere, and in 1936 for Goathorn. Middlebere is on the bottom edge of this 1902 map, in a very lonely spot, up a muddy creek south of Arne (the prime subject of this post, which we will get to soon, I promise):

Goathorn was on the end of a long finger of land, thrust out into Poole Harbour. The map dates from 1925.

So much for vanished tramways, except to say that the trackbeds can still be traced, and walked on. I should think that for many years the quays were perfectly usable by ordinary boats and yachts, but no doubt they did slowly decay and may nowadays be in a sad state indeed. Still, it's one of my ambitions to follow one or more of these old tramway routes and see for myself what lies at the end. Something for next summer, I would say. 

Let's now talk about Arne and what I saw there on the evening of 1st October, with sunset approaching. The Arne peninsula is in the care of the RSPB, who manage the heathland and farmland, and have a good range of designated paths for visitors to take.

You can really make a day of it here. There are discreet car parks, and a proper visitor centre with refreshments. The centre was closed, of course, by the time I arrived. But my aim was to get my walking boots on and head straight for the beach at Shipstal Point. I'd never done that before, despite many previous visits to the Isle of Purbeck over the years. Nor had I ever seen the south shore of Poole Harbour close up. I wondered what the islands in the harbour would look like. 

I must have looked purposeful, as if I were a woman who knew the place well, because as I was putting my boots on a girl arrived in her car and then immediately came over to me, asking if I could tell her which were the best paths. It was her last evening in the area before going home next day, and she meant to make the most of the remaining daylight. She was friendly, with a Northern accent, and her car had a registration which suggested that she might live in Cheshire. I had to admit that this was my own first visit, and that I couldn't advise on which were the best paths. I think she looked at the RSPB map above and then set off on the red route eastwards to the beach - whereas I was going to take the green route. 

Here are two modern location maps of Arne, which show where I was heading:

We couldn't have been the only people wandering about, but I saw nobody else, and it was a solitary business walking the mile to Shipstal Point. I didn't personally mind being alone one bit. It wasn't creepy or anything. But I never think it's a good idea for a woman to be walking on her own in lonely countryside too late in the day, and I had a stick with me. 

The shadows were getting long, and it might be dusk before I got back to Fiona.

The route was easy to follow. The light was golden and the passing heathland very nice to look at.

The stick wasn't only for self-defence. I'd hurt a ligament in my left knee not long before - walking downhill between Lynton and Lynmouth in North Devon - and although not limping I could certainly feel an ache. (It persists to the present time, and might take months to ease off) I thought I might be glad of a little support from a stick before this jaunt was over. 

Ah, Shipstal Point was close. And then I spied the beach.

Plenty of footmarks on the soft sand, but no sign of anybody. Just me, a light breeze, the gently-lapping water of Poole Harbour, some offshore islands lit up by the sun, and a white yacht floating serenely. The peacefulness of it all was intoxicating. Peace, and a sense of wonderful freedom. It felt so remote from the everyday world. And yet there was Poole, just across the Harbour, with its big-town skyline. But the sight had no reality. It might as well have been an illusion. I walked along the shoreline. The water was crystal clear. I ran the tip of my stick through it.

The light was extraordinary, and it all just got better and better.

The white yacht and the islands immediately beyond it - Long Island and Round Island - grew more distinct and ever more intriguing. Did anybody live there? In the summer, at least? 

By now I had an almost overwhelming sensation of well-being and inner peace, and I didn't want to leave. It really shows in this shot:

The shoreline curved round, and the land to the south came into view. 

Somewhere in the distance was Middlebere quay, or whatever was left of it. If you click on the picture above, to magnify it, and peer at its right-hand end, you can see a figure watching something, with her reflection in the water. That was the girl I'd met in the car park. She disappeared from view soon after. I assumed she'd gone back to her car. Well, sunset was nearly upon us. Best not to linger too long. To my right was a low cliff. Could I scramble up? My knee made it slightly painful, but I managed it. 

The extra height brought me up into the sunshine again. It was even more golden now, making colours seem very intense. And the view of the yacht and the islands even more stunning.

There were animals grazing on that orange spit of land - deer, I thought. I was very close to the official lookout point on Shipstal Hill, so I walked over to it and compared a board showing what to see with the actual view.

The light then subtly changed. It was not so golden. Time to head back to the car park. I'd nearly reached Arne (which was really only a farm, a church, and a couple of houses) when I saw a figure coming towards me in the shadowy light. It was the girl with the Northern accent. We greeted each other, and discussed the distant animals we'd both seen off to the south. We agreed they had been deer. 

'Well, I'm going back to my car now,' I said. 
'Oh, I'm going round again,' she replied. 
'What? The light's fading. You're very confident!'
'I do want to see as much as I can!'
'Well, take care. I get a bit nervous in the dusk. Hence the stick, in case I need to prod any man with ideas in the goolies. Or at least threaten to!'

I do admire her pluck. I expect she wanted to watch the stars appear, back at that serene beach, and never mind being alone in the dark. A last memory of magical Dorset before humdrum reality kicked in next day.