Monday, March 02, 2015


My Australian son-in-law recently emailed me on the subject of pipe smoking. He is not a frequent smoker, liking a good cigar about once a month for relaxation. Perhaps he relates to Kipling's view of the subject, "A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke". He thought he would try a pipe and knowing that I once smoked them he asked advice about keeping the things alight. (The difference between a cold filling and a furnace which burnt the tongue).

I never smoked them to excess (and never smoked cigarettes), but enjoyed the relaxation and meditation of an occasional smoke. Gold Block tobacco was my preferred filling and the smoke's fragrance still brings back memories. (not often smelt these days though). About 35 years ago, one Christmas, I found I had run out of tobacco and never bought any more. Thus I gave up with no withdrawal symptoms, but preserved my pipes and paraphernalia as a memory (see image above - my favourite pipe being the one at the "south west" position). It was one reason for using the "Gandalf" self - image at my blog head.

I have no regrets. An old work colleague of mine smoked a pipe incessantly, it was seldom out of his mouth. He used to say that it was a marvellous ploy, when confronted with a difficult question, to gain thinking time by filling/ lighting/smoking the pipe, looking ruminative and sagacious. He died at 70, painfully, with cancer of the tongue after suffering operations to cut away most of his cancerous stomach - all caused by the lethal "dottle" which he imbibed over a lifetime.

Churchill smoked 8-10 large Cuban cigars a day throughout his life, but seldom smoked them more than half way (a good habit since the stubs through which the smoke has filtered contained concentrated carcinogens), giving the stubs to his gardener.  He lived to over 90 - his gardener died of lung cancer, but Churchill's constitution was not as other men's.

My advice is "never take it up".

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

WINSTON CHURCHILL. 50th Anniversary of his death.

I was born in 1938, my father went off to war in 1939. For the first two years of that war England stood alone against the Nazi hordes which had swept through, conquering all Europe. The one reason we stood? Churchill. Without his bulldog spirit, standing up against many of our lesser politicians who wanted an accommodation with Hitler, we might well have become like the Channel Islands, a Nazi province, shipping unwanted minorities off to Germany, the concentration camps  and the gas chambers. (whose liberation, we are also remembering at this time)

So he is a man I deeply respect. He had his foibles and made mistakes, but he was the man for the hour. He remarked at the time, “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial...”.

 When he died he lay in state for 3 days at Westminster Hall, London. Thousands queued to pay their respects and thanks, my wife and I included. It was a unique moment of history which we shall always remember for our participation. I borrowed a car from a work friend (a mini - quite new at the time), we drove some 30 miles up to London, parked on the outskirts and got the underground into the centre. The queue wound back from Westminster Hall, where he lay in state, over the bridge for about 3 miles. The weather was bitter. But there was almost a "blitz spirit" amongst everyone. All wanted to be there, all venerated the greatest English prime minister. As we entered the Hall where his coffin stood it became deathly quiet, men took off their hats (a lot more wore them in those days) and many people were crying as they walked by.

It was as if the nation had lost a dearly beloved and respected grandfather.

A profound memory.

I owe this Youtube clip to my daughter in Australia. The commentary is by his former bodyguard H.Thompson. Who knows, my wife and I might be in that view of people filing past his coffin.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


My personal circumstances (and the weather) do no permit me to roam abroad at present and I have been mulling over some memories.

On the windowsill lives a plate containing a collection of pottery, stones and bits of road surface – all collected from  places and times – all open up a memory for me.

I won’t bore you with a full inventory but the following will give you some idea. Anyone who has ever read my full profile will know of my interest in archaeology and Roman Britain. This first is the rim of a Roman mortaria, like the complete one at the rear of the picture which follows it.

 Walking in Roman Caerleon one day I looked in a trench where they were renewing gas mains. Underground in such places is always a mass of history. This fragment I plucked from the trench. You can see where the potter’s finger fashioned the rim, ending with the “pinch” which was the spout. My own finger fits this exactly, connecting me to someone who lived nearly 2000 years ago.
Next is a fragment of Roman masonry, covered in melted green glass. I picked this from the ruins of Regulbium, a Roman fort of the “Saxon Shore” on the north Kent coast. It completely symbolises the end of Rome in Britain. Ruin, burning and destruction when the fort was finally sacked.
Roman roads, both extant and lost are a particular fascination for me. In the 1950’s the course of the Roman road through Ashdown Forest was discovered and excavated, wheel ruts still observable.
Being the area of Roman ironworks it was surfaced with the iron slag from the local furnaces - this is a fragment of that road.

Lastly we move forward to the “recent” past. I joined the army in 1956 (since I was not 18 for a further 3 months for a short period I had the “distinction” of being the youngest solder in the British Army). Our days were spent continuously drilling on the parade ground. Pictured here is my platoon marching off from that ground after our passing out parade.
40 years to the day I returned on my motorcycle to the derelict camp – now being built over by an industrial estate.
The parade ground once extended away to the left of the picture and my platoon’s barracks would have been to the right of the motorcycle. I picked up a fragment of the old parade ground. Here it is. With light in the correct direction the indentations of hobnailed boots can still be picked out.


Tuesday, January 06, 2015


It is now 15 days since my stroke and I have the leisure to observe how my body is coping and my brain is re-wiring. I think of my great grand - daughters, how they crawl, pull themselves up, take first tottering steps and then get confidence to run around. This is happening to me.

Small things, leading to bigger, I hope. For instance, I can now use both hands to type this (going over it to correct the mistakes is quicker than pecking it out with one hand). I can now reach my left thumb across my palm to pinch my little finger – albeit not much strength yet in that pinch. Easy, you say? Last week I could not get within a centimetre of closure. Stairs – with bannister assistance I climb one foot to each tread (not hauling up both feet onto one tread at a time).

A pleasant, middle aged female physiotherapist calls each couple of days with exercises for balance. Standing to attention on a dense, thick foam rubber mat for extended periods does wonders for brain training in balance! I get along fine with her since she is a fellow German Shepherd Dog enthusiast (on her third – a white one). One day I may get another, if one finds me.

A fine morning tempted me to walk slowly down the garden path to the garage to see how my “toys” were faring. I reassured them that they both would get out for some exercise soon. (A blessing that in winter they do not get extended use anyway)
So hopefully that summit is in sight. In the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Let us go forth together to the Spring”.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


It was an "interesting" Christmas. In the early morning of 22nd I arose to visit the loo. My left leg had a mind of its own & I had trouble with walking.  Previous experience said "stroke" So off I went to hospital courtesy of a gentleman driving an ambulance with "blues & twos"(as they say in the police) operating. What followed is really a re-run of my previous post  in 2012. (Since I cannot use my left arm/hand & typing is laboriously slow, I shall not enlarge on that post).

They  chucked me out of hospital after one night's stay with the usual bag of pills - they wanted to clear the beds over Christmas & I was happy to co-operate! A little more severe than the last, little use in left arm, hand & leg, but I am (staggeringly) ambulant & can see to myself - speech is slurred this time.

So my time is spent reading & I really must most thoroughly recommend "Do No Harm" by Henry Marsh, an eminent brain surgeon. Absolutely enthralling,  if not, perhaps, ideal to be reading after a brain misfunction! Marsh has great humility, humanity & supreme skills in his profession. It is a "must read".

Henry Marsh: Interview

So, apologies for failing to wish  blog readers a Happy Christmas (really was too engrossed elsewhere!) but a healthy, prosperous & peaceful 2015 to all.

Friday, December 05, 2014

When Dad was sworn Apprentice (but not in Lincolnshire!)

I was looking through some of my late father's old envelopes the other day and came across his apprenticeship correspondence. The actual deed of apprenticeship is far too long and flowery to show , but here is the initial letter (dated 10th January 1931) sent to his father, my grandfather, to kick off his employment. The rates of pay look laughable by today's standards, but today apprenticeships are few and far between. Many of today's youngsters who pay to spend 3 years at university and come out with a degree which is useless to them and the business world would be better off and more happy to have learnt a useful and remunerative craft or trade instead.
(Says he, who spent 3 years learning the blacksmith's trade)

My grandfather - my dad's father was a Rolls Royce chauffeur to a consultant surgeon (he was the first to drive a Rolls in Westmoreland in the early 1900's. He continued driving the surgeon's widow, long after his retirement age and was rewarded when she died with a car (Austin - not Rolls!) and the house he occupied.
Dad said he always wanted to do the same, but the old man insisted that he learn a useful trade first. He became a very skilled carpenter/joiner - a trade he followed all his life (he was still making furniture as a hobby the day before a heart attack carried him off). He spent the years of World War II in the Royal Engineers, re-building bridges, never saw an enemy combatant and never fired a shot in anger!

Ironically he never learnt to drive and rode a bicycle all his life. His day often consisted of cycling seven miles to the above employer's to arrive by 7.30am (in all weathers). If he was employed on a job away from the works, then he was expected to cycle on to that, too. He usually arrived home about 6.30pm in the evening. This was his working life until he retired about 1980.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


A couple of years ago I converted one of my bicycles by adding an electric conversion kit (see my post of 17th November 2012). A stroke the following year left me with a slightly weaker left leg, so it was confirmation of that earlier decision, since it meant I could still cycle 50 mile days around my "Little Corner of the Earth".

This original Claud Butler still does the job, but the battery is 2 years old and they will only accept about 1000 recharges. A new battery costs £400 - £500 (who said electric bikes are cheap to run? Although, compared to cars..............), so rather than replace it and finally about to retire for the second time, I decided that I would celebrate my freedom by splashing out on a "proper" (i.e. purpose built) e-bike. I had recently sold one of my two remaining motorcycles for £2,600. The e-bike's price was £1,500 so you could say I have made a "profit", although its price was more than many of the fifty motorcycles I have owned since 1957 (my first motorcycle, a BSA Bantam, cost me a whole £95, second hand - 20 week's army pay at the time).

So, off to the nearest distributor some 20 miles away in the Weald of Sussex, near ancient Bodiam. To slightly amend Julius Caesar's aphorism, "I came, I tried, I bought" and the chosen one can be seen here.

Whilst its performance is a little better than the kit bike the real improvement is in comfort since it has telescopically sprung front forks and a sprung saddle post (The by-roads of Kent are not noted for their smoothness). However, a few "old faithfuls" had to be transferred over from the Claud Butler:
  • Pedals and toeclips - essential to a life-long club cyclist.
  • Brooks leather saddle - still the most comfortable - you can keep your plush, padded items where your essential bits sink in rather than are supported free as air on hard, smooth leather. (Freudian fetish? No - rather superb practicality).
  • Gearing - the new bike had a 52 tooth front chainring - far and away too high - I have substituted a 40 tooth item (you can read about the mysteries of cycle gearing in an earlier blog-post )
We have cycled about 100 miles together so far and all seems well. Yesterday we managed 35 miles through the autumn, leaf-strewn lanes of the Kentish Weald. My recent affliction of an inner ear infection (mentioned in an earlier post below) does not seem to have affected my balance either, as I was afraid it might do.