The Great British Summer

too hot

What is happening with our weather?

I cannot remember the last time we had such a prolonged, sustained spell of hot, dry and sunny weather in the UK, especially up here in the North West. It hasn’t rained since Saturday! Apparently it is hotter here than in the Bahamas and Hawaii…..and that’s probably where that analogy ends.

Being British we have welcomed the sun. We love nothing better than to complain about all things meteorological. In fact, we like to complain about everything but about the weather in particular. “It’s too hot for me!” “It’s so hot I couldn’t sleep”.

south bankAnd the weather is newsworthy. Our morning news sofas are full of experts dispensing hints and tips about keeping cool – especially about keeping our pets cool – while Susanna Reid and Charlotte Hawkins raise some temperatures even further by broadcasting outside in short, clingy dresses. What’s not to like….?

And while hotter countries encourage their people to cover up, seek the shade, and slip, slap, slop, the average Brit knows better. We strip off. We strip off irrespective of our body shape or location. Topless men parade their six packs and beer bellies throughout our fair land – a practise I would personally ban and restrict to the immediate vicinity of beaches and swimming pools. And muffin tops similarly perambulate the streets showing their tan lines, tattoos, and other bits I’d rather not have seen.

tan-lines

We don knotted hankies, shorts and flip-flops (or socks and sandals if over sixty) and shun the shade. We challenge ourselves to stay as long as possible under the midday sun without adequate UV protection and only a pint or three of lager or strong cider to keep us hydrated. And we turn red.

The night sky turns slightly pink as Brits everywhere radiate after their sunbathing escapades during the day.

The air fills with the unmistakable scent of BBQs – singed flesh, and burnt meat mixed with lighter fuel. And, our Accident and Emergency departments fill with people who have succumbed to the heat, sunburn, lighter fuel, food poisoning, and too much lager.

Embrace the sun – it might have gone by the weekend. But if it has we will still have the droughts and hose-pipe bans to look forward to while we are barbecuing our sausages under an umbrella in the rain….

I feel for all my fellow rosacea sufferers doomed to pinkness at times like these. Factor fifty and proud! On the plus side, at least the gingas have been driven into hiding.

forget-the-rain-and-bbq-on

July 24, 2014 at 5:14 pm Leave a comment

Shame on you Russia….

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In an earlier post I compared Vladimir Putin’s de facto annexation of the Crimea to Hitler’s absorption of the Sudetenland as a prelude to the Second World War.

Now I find myself bound to compare Russia’s undoubted provision and training of Ukrainian separatists in the use of surface-to-air missiles with the sinking of the cruise ship Lusitania in 1915.

Shame on you Putin!

Many historians and political commentators have compared the current situation with that immediately prior to the Great War one hundred years ago, prompted by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Indeed, the sinking of RMS Lusitania – an innocent commercial ocean liner, much like the Malaysian airline flight MH17 – was in large part responsible for the entry of the United States of America into the First World War.

Unfortunately, and hopefully, the cowardly, mistaken, long-range shooting down and killing of 298 innocent souls on board a tourist flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and beyond by Russian-backed separatists will not trigger the downfall of President Putin or the commencement of military intervention by the USA and the West.

In times gone by it might have. But, the lack of an effective NATO deterrent and the non-existence of a viable conventional and nuclear military or political response to counter the threat of Russian aggression and military might means that it is unlikely that Western forces will mobilise against the Russian leader who seems intent on reforming the Soviet Union. If ever there was a just cause….

I think this is a damning indictment on the failure of the USA, the UK, and the West to stand strong against the aggression of failed dictators. But, above all, it is a damning indictment of Vladimir Putin and Russian politics which remains focused on a Western and ideological threat which no longer exists.

Shame on you Putin.

RIP the innocent souls of MH17.

RIP former Shell colleagues.

 

July 19, 2014 at 10:51 am 2 comments

Stressful Times…

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So is this how it is all going to end?

Either I am going to fall prey to some rogue “loose cannon” bearded teenage Jihadist from Cardiff returning from the Caliphate. Or, I am destined to be forcefully taken down at gunpoint by a SWAT team at some airport and serve out my time at Guantanamo…….because my iPhone battery ran out.

Apple must be very scared at the moment. iPhones are not renowned for their battery life and face the prospect of being used by the more litigious amongst us who might fall prey to the new anti-terror security checks. The checks require that laptops, tablets and phones, in fact ALL electrical equipment (cameras, irons, shavers, hair curlers, etc.) in carry-on luggage be powered up. Otherwise, the passengers will not be allowed to travel, or the equipment will be confiscated – it can be collected upon return or couriered to an alternative address.

What? I would not like to work in the left-luggage department at Manchester airport. It is going to be full of suspect explosive devices. And, the risk profile of your average courier driver has just got significantly worse.

I mostly travel on business. When I travel on business I try to avoid having to check anything into the hold. That means that all of my electrical equipment joins me on board. I typically travel with two laptops, one iPad, and an iPhone. None are particularly impressive when it comes to batteries. And my beard trimmer’s battery dies if you just look at it…..

So, the future looks bleak. Long queues at airport security with the potential for missing flights, regular trips to collect confiscated equipment, or death by Jihadist……

Stressful times. Travel safe everyone.

July 9, 2014 at 6:34 pm 2 comments

Sleep well our friend.

image

We have just laid Maslow, the furball baby, to rest in a nice shady spot under the big oak tree in the garden. So, he has a view of the house and we have a view of him. He has the squirrels to keep him company. And, he will be near us when we sit with friends and neighbours, as he ever was.

We had to put “the baba” to sleep after he stopped eating. He had a problem with his liver and had been poorly for several months. He was getting a little irritated by the regular visits to the vets and really didn’t enjoy taking his medicine. But, right up to the end he remained the happy furry bundle of joy that he had always been since he first appeared at our door nearly twelve years ago.

Putting him to sleep was one of the hardest and easiest decisions C and I have ever taken. We did not want him to suffer. We would do it for each other and could do no less for him. We were both holding him and he was purring when he fell asleep in our arms.

We named him Maslow after the Hierarchy of Needs. He came to us helpless, flea ridden, blind and starving. He left us (both him and us) , fulfilled. He had a happy, good life in a beautiful home. And, he was a blessing to us. A friend. Confidant. Comforter. Entertainer. We have many a happy memory.

The kitten who played fetch with his toy mice and who terrified us by jumping up the chimneys before falling asleep on your chest.

The infrequent hunter who brought us birds, shrews and mice as presents. They were never dead (apart from the one I sat on after it took refuge in my trousers) but some were more difficult to catch and rescue than others.

The diplomat who strategically positioned himself midway between the two of us and who would leave the room when voices were raised.

The companion who slept at your side during an afternoon snooze, or kept your lap warm during morning coffees or a last drink before bed. Or, who just sat on the back of the sofa, snoozing and snoring, running and chasing squirrels in his sleep or simply watching the world go by in those rare periods of being awake.

The “welcome back” tail straight in the air (well, a little less than straight after he broke it falling off the dining room table!) and the squeak “hello” as he greeted you in the car park or at the door.

The attention seeker, lying on his back, legs akimbo doing “gorgeous”. Or “mad cat” galloping into the room, staring up at imaginary monsters in the ceiling corners.

Bright eyes appearing over the rim of the bath. Smuggling his friend Henry (a neighbour’s cat) in while we were out. Banging on the bathroom door, wanting to come in. Terrifying gymnastics on the landing bannister. Drinking from puddles or the neighbour’s pond. The comedy running on the spot as he tried to get traction on the laminate floor. Walking across desktops and keyboards. Hiding from the lawnmower behind the sofa. Sleeping in sun spots. Scratches on the furniture and the bottom stair. Escaping through open bedroom windows. Running up and down the stairs playing with his squeaky mouse. Play fights. His favourite bush in the flower bed in front of the lounge window. Being brushed and groomed. Cuddles at the front door looking out at the garden to the place he now rests. The unconditional love and affection.

The house seems very empty without him. He is a shadow just out of sight behind every opening door, up on the landing, and every return home.

He was a gift that will be sorely missed. Rest in peace Maslow, our little furry bundle of love.

 

July 5, 2014 at 5:18 pm 1 comment

Happy 4th July America!

july

 

This is for my American friends. It is not original and I am not the author. I do, however, agree with the sentiment ;)

I am drafting a similar entry for my Scottish friends…….

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

In light of your failure to financially manage yourselves and inability to effectively govern yourselves responsibly, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look up ‘revocation’ in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas, which she does not fancy).

Your new Prime Minister, David William Donald Cameron, will appoint a Governor for the former United States of America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated sometime next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

  1. You will learn that the suffix ˜burgh” is pronounced “burra”; you may elect to spell Pittsburgh as ˜Pittsberg” if you find you simply can’t cope with correct pronunciation. Then look up “aluminum” and check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it.
  2. The letter “U” will be reinstated in words such as ˜colour”, “favour” and “neighbour”. Likewise, you will learn to spell “doughnut” without skipping half the letters.
  3. Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels (look up “vocabulary”). Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as “like” and “you know” is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication.
  4. There is no such thing as “US English”. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter “u”.
  5. You will relearn your original national anthem, “God Save The Queen”, but only after fully carrying out Task #1 (see above).
  6. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.
  7. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you’re not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults and then used solely for shooting grouse. If you’re not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, then you’re not ready to handle a gun, let alone shoot grouse.
  8. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. A permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
  9. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and this is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean.
  10. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
  11. The former United States of America will adopt the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland prices on petrol (which you have been calling “gasoline”) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.
  12. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French Fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with malt vinegar.
  13. Waiters and waitresses will be trained to be more aggressive with customers.
  14. The cold, tasteless stuff you insist on calling “beer” is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion. The product of the American Budweiser company which will be called “Weak Near-Frozen Gnat’s Urine.” This will allow true Budweiser (as manufactured for the last 1000 years in Pilsen, Czech Republic) to be sold without risk of confusion. You will cease playing “American” Football. There are only two kinds of proper football; one you call soccer, and rugby. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American Football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full Kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies or Jessies – English slangs for effeminate males and blouses for big girls respectively).
  15. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the “World Series” for a game which is not played outside of the United States of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket.
  16. You must tell us who killed JFK. It’s been driving us mad.
  17. An inland revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty’s Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).

Thank you for your cooperation.

God Save the Queen!

 

July 3, 2014 at 11:47 am Leave a comment

Devonian Adventures

priests

We set off for our week’s holiday at the Priest’s House (Landmark Trust) in Devon in good time. We were in the brand new, shiny, and wonderfully showroom smelly Q5. After a couple of years on the “orange side” (BMW drivers all seem to have bad fake tans) I have returned to my Audi roots. Much classier, sleeker and streamlined. Not unlike my better half.

Our journey, which in childhoods before the M5 would have taken several days, took just over four hours, despite the roadworks, the now ubiquitous motorway speed cameras, and a lunch break at Strensham services.

I know I was perhaps a little less blasé or confident driving a new car and especially after my brother-in-law’s recent near death experience when he was sideswiped by a Polish HGV (Eastern European that is rather than the cleaning product) at 60 mph on the M42. In any case, it seemed that many an HGV and coach driver were intent on forcing me off the road or into the crash barrier in the narrow lanes of the M5 roadworks. C, never a relaxed passenger, was chewing her arm, sobbing quietly and calling upon Jesus more loudly for long periods……

Those same coaches followed us into the motorway services and spewed forth some of the lumpiest, most genetically challenged tattooed people of dubious sexuality, many wielding walking sticks, with some of the least attractive causing considerable confusion/panic when they turned into the ladies toilets. They might have been Eastern European shot putters but I suspect they were more likely Brummies heading to Weston Super-Mare, Burnham-on-Sea or the Butlins at Minehead. We took our MacDonalds outside while the hordes queued for the loos, chain-smoked, took their diabetes shots and piled on as many calories as possible in their brief stopover, whilst still finding time to play the slot machines.

The further south we travelled the easier the motorway became and soon we found ourselves at junction 27 and the turnoff for Holcome Rogus. After a brief diversion to Tiverton to procure provisions we returned to Holcombe, retrieved the key and moved ourselves into the dark, smoky, tranquility (more of that later) of our home away from home for the next week.

In the evening we headed out for the five minute walk to the Prince of Wales pub, much lauded in the Log Book by previous residents of the Priest’s House. It wasn’t bad but was not as good as advertised. It needed a good tidy up and I was slightly put off by the fact that one local had thrown his pruning shears and secateurs down on the bar by way of a challenge. We ordered steak, pie, a Sheppy’s cider and a cleansing local ale and retired to the slightly tatty beer garden. Those shears might prove useful after all…..cider

We people watched. We were entertained by an overloud local and his tales from last year’s Glastonbury including all too vociferous denials of chemical consumption, and by a collapsing bench. I think the collapse was more likely the result of poor maintenance rather than the size of the poor embarrassed girls arses. At least their throwing of cider over themselves was more convincing than that of Graham Taylor in the current Aldi advert. Our food was fine but soon the draw of a glass or three of red wine and soft sofa before bed proved too much for us.

We enjoyed several forays into the surrounding environs during the week. Bampton had the air of an old people’s commune. The only people we saw who were under 50 served us our lunch in the pub, or sported vests specked with white paint and the whiff of weed, or were shouting like a fisher woman in the middle of the street. It wasn’t quite the foodie heaven we had been promised – although the burgers we had at the Quarryman’s’ Rest were excellent. On the way back home we stopped off at the Gothic revival Knightshayes house. Clearly designed with the aid of opium, it looked like an English country home from the mind of Walt Disney.

Our Bampton burgers has been good but they were not as good as the pork pie and scotch eggs in the Bridge Inn at Dulverton, where we found alara warm welcome, a lovely ambience and free wi-fi. Civilisation. Dulverton was much more what we had been looking for – a fistful of decent pubs, a little supermarket where we topped up our wine cellar (the rather cheeky cashier wished us a happy evening), a deli, butchers, grocers, gift and book shops, and National Trust shop where we purchased a map of walks in the area. And so we did. Walk. Up the hill from Tarr Steps, so reminiscent of Dovedale, and across the moor, accompanied by a couple of very healthy looking herds of Exmoor ponies to the Caratacus Stone, which was of dubious origin and spelling and reminiscent of Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge in scale. The walk seemed much longer than the five point three miles that were advertised but it was very pleasant, especially as C was looking sexy as the spit of Lara Croft in her shorts, walking boots and tight top…..stone

Thursday’s weather fooled us. Quite why we were fooled I am not sure as it is Glastonbury and Wimbledon fortnight. What were we thinking? It was bright and sunny when we awoke so we donned suntan cream, swimming gear, shorts, shades and beach towels and headed for the Victorian splendour of Lyme Regis. The Cobb, beach and coastline were spectacular. We enjoyed our promenade past grand villas, art galleries and an array of pubs, fish and chip shops, purveyors of ice cream and many restaurants acclaiming fresh local seafood. We stopped to chat and take photos of people sitting in their beach huts. Beach huts seem so quintessentially British so it was a bit of a shock when the lady therein spoke in a broad American accent. The invasion continues….

And we also watched the darkness descend. We made it into the welcoming haven of the Harbour Inn just as the heavens opened. We nursed our pints of St Austells and Rattler cider and relished our fish‘n chips and a fish soup (which was meant to have been a pie!) watching the umbrellas go up outside and the waterproof hoods come down. And still one lone, brave heart remained stand-up paddle boarding in the very choppy sea….

cobb

We donned our own waterproofs and headed out to replicate the famous scene from the French Lieutenant’s Woman on the Cobb. We didn’t make it. The weather worsened. Rapidly. A monsoon descended upon us, driven almost horizontally by a gale. Meryl Streep and I sheltered briefly between a couple of shops before heading back to the car. We got drenched. Sodden. Shorts and flip flops were not the best choice of attire. I struggled back up the hill feet slipping, sliding and squeaking all the way. At least the beach towels came in useful – to sponge us down once in the car.

Having been beaten by the rain, we returned to the Priest’s House only for the “Chinese water torture” to begin. In our absence someone had fixed the bells in the church next door. They rang on the hour. They rang on the hour every hour. They rang on the hour every hour throughout the night and for every night thereafter. At best we slept for fifty nine minutes at a time. At worst we didn’t. This went on for the remainder of our stay. Every day we surfaced a little more ragged and bleary eyed, with thoughts of breaking into the church, sabotage on our mind….

On Friday we found civilisation in Wellington – a Waitrose, where we replenished our wine supplies; a deli, where we purchased local cheese; and a bakers which claimed to be the holders of the oldest recipe for Cornish pasties. In Devon! And we partook of good food in the very quaint Globe Inn at Appley. It was so good that we returned for lunch on Sunday.

On Saturday, bell ringers arrived to ring the changes at some ridiculously early hour, driving us out with our waterproofs and boots for a gentle meander along the towpath of the Grand Western Canal. It rained. We got wet. Again. We took refuge in the Prince of Wales, again, with cider, again, Doom Bar, cheese and onion crisps, free wi-fi and Trivial Pursuit. And, it was in this self-same hostelry that we ate our last meal on Sunday evening. The pub was quiet despite the football and much improved evening weather. Besides C and I there was but a small smattering of regulars in situ. And, I mean regulars. After a whole weekend of drinking they seemed to mellow towards us and tried to engage us in conversation. They tried. A west country accent is hard enough to understand at the best of times, but when it has been further “softened” by three nights and two days of hard-drinking, comprehension is nigh on impossible. We smiled politely, laughed when it seemed appropriate and adopted the same approach we would have taken abroad. We talked a little slower and louder. No one seemed offended. We got out alive.  And, quite how the pub remains in business I am not sure. The only customers we really saw while we were there were these locals. They all had tabs. We seemed to be the only ones actually paying for anything….I hope it does survive if only for the sake of the regulars. They have nowhere else to go. And, we might just want to go back….

The journey home was uneventful despite the emptying of the Glastonbury Festival. We made good time and rewarded ourselves with a good meal and a drink in the Old Hall at Sandbach, OUR regular. Now there’s a proper pub….

July 1, 2014 at 5:07 pm Leave a comment

Time Travel…..

time

Well, I am home.

I have survived another visit to Manila, where every hotel, mall and office block is guarded by men with big guns and dogs sniffing for explosives. We had earthquake drills and our attention was drawn to the handy checklist next to every telephone in the office, pointing out what to do if someone phones in with a bomb threat. The Philippines is a country where Her Majesty’s Foreign Office warns that the risks of crime, kidnap and terrorism are high. Strangely they did not warn me about the food, which is what nearly got me in the end (see here).

I survived despite much sleep deprivation, a result of jet-lag, stress, and poisoning. I survived despite flying through airspace where planes simply disappear. I survived in spite of a growing regional tension which saw China threatening Japan and Vietnam over disputed oil-rich territories, and a military coup in Thailand, seemingly the result of Manchester City winning the English Premier League (tenuous I know but the link is there if you look for it….).

But, in three weeks away, little seems to have changed. People are still desperately trying to sell their Rolf Harris paintings. MH370 is still lost without trace. The Nigerian school girls are still being held captive by Boko Haram. The Nigerian military remains inept. Assad is still using poison gas in Syria. Putin is still threatening to invade Ukraine, deterred only by a concern that he will make Prince Charles look wise. And, unfortunately, Maslow, our furball baby, remains very poorly.

I missed the British summer. At least I won’t have to clean the BBQ.

I landed on Friday lunchtime, feasted on pork pie and Lancashire hot pot,  and slept most of the weekend only to awake in a newly fascist and racist Europe run by a bearded Austrian lady while the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz is threatening to win the UK general election next year….

scarecrowfarage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I must still be asleep and having a bad dream….

May 27, 2014 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

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These are the sometimes irreverent ramblings and observations of an English middle-aged man and middle manager.....

These are the sometimes irreverent ramblings and observations of an English middle-aged man and middle manager.....

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