John Owen Smith’s log for 2007

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Christmas, 2007

A Happy Christmas to all my readers!

17th December 2007

To be fair, it's actually the 18th today as I write this – I've just been reminded that I didn't do it yesterday. In my defence, it was one of those running-around days, up the road, down the road, hin and yon!

Last week I received a card telling me my regular dental check-up was due, and within 24 hours a large filling fell out. Uncanny. Even more uncanny is that something similar happened last time they sent me a card. Do they know something I don't? Probably not, because they can't actually see me until mid-February!! Luckily it's not hurting – yet. Let's hope it stands up to all the misuse over Christmas.

Apart from that, life goes on in the usual pre-Christmas way. Presents half bought and half wrapped, and decorations half retrieved from the various obscure places in the house where they were stored last year. Pantomime rehearsals will wind down for the Festive break – long enough for everyone to forget the lines the've learnt! – and start again in earnest in the New Year. Book your tickets now. It will be alright on the night.

10th December 2007

Once upon a time, back in the Spring of 2001 when you and I were young my dear, a group of friends had planned to go to France to visit our twin-town down by the Loire. Then foot-and-mouth hit Britain, and the French made it clear that we wouldn't be welcome guests that year!

So, with days already booked off work, the group of friends decided to hire a large house in Devon and go there for a long weekend instead. France's loss was Devon's gain, and so started a ritual among this group of friends of hiring a house in England instead of ferrying off to France.

This weekend just gone, it was the turn of Affpuddle in Dorset to receive us. The weather forecast was horrific, but we stocked up with food and drink and determined that neither hell nor high water would dampen our spirits.

As it turned out, the worst of the weather stayed to the west of us and, apart from a decidedly damp day's shopping in Poole, we enjoyed a vigorous walk from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door where the seas were hammering in through the gap as if it would all fall down. It didn't.

Back at the ranch, supper was punctuated by intercourse breaks for sardines. If you were there, you'll know what I mean – if you weren't, think on! And John, how did you get in that fireplace?

3rd December 2007

It's that time of year again. Flora Thompson said that in her youth (the 1880s) the first tea of the season by lamplight was called "The Little Festival of the Toasting-fork." This was ours in 2007.

And since our friends don't have a chimney, we invited them round and sent their children's messages up to Santa Claus in the traditional way. Now we wait to see whose chimney the presents come down!

There have been a couple of instances in the past week which made me think of the changing influence of time on our language. The first was from the same Flora Thompson when she wrote, in the 1920s, of people who would 'fly to the mountains'.

She didn't mean taking an aeroplane, as we would assume if we read it today. Even though aeroplanes were around at that time, the phrase still didn't have that connotation in those days. She simply meant 'escape to' or 'get away to'.

The second was at a meeting I attended, where the speaker was said to need a power point. The room naturally assumed he meant he was going to use the computer software called PowerPoint for his presentation. He didn't – he just wanted to be able to put an electric plug in a wall socket!

26th November 2007

Good news! I've finally received permission to publish Flora Thompson's Peverel Papers in full. Just as well, because I've already put a lot of work into the transcription (using voice-recognition software as regular readers will know). So now we'll press ahead for a publication early in 2008.

With luck this will coincide with the 10-part series of Lark Rise to Candleford which the BBC is broadcasting on TV, and which should raise the profile of Flora Thompson (Flora who?) with the general public.

So, forgive me, I must get on with talking to my computer…

19th November 2007

Modern thoughts from 84 years ago —

"The climate [in Hampshire] is everything by turns, and nothing long. It is the same throughout the south. Hard, cold winters and blazing summers are no more. Such winter as there is sets in later, and, when it comes, is less wintry than in the days when our forefathers thought nothing of roasting a Christmas ox whole upon the ice of the Thames." Flora Thompson in her Peverel Paper for December 1923.

"WRISTLET GRAMOPHONES — The first timepieces were huge. Now they go on your wrist. The same thing has happened to the gramophone. A Hungarian mechanic has invented a gramophone no larger than a watch, and his slogan is: 'Carry your orchestra in your vest pocket.' The invention is described as a practical instrument, capable of producing jazz, waltzes and one-steps. The Mikiphone, as it has been christened, winds like a watch, and has a speed regulator. There is room inside for ten plates, giving a repertoire of twenty selections. In the other vest pocket one can carry enough music for an all-night session. By placing the instrument on a champagne glass the sound is amplified sufficiently for an ordinary-sized ballroom." From the Catholic Fireside Magazine of the same date.

If you want to know more about The Mikiphone have a look at this website.

12th November 2007

Reasons to be cheerful (as my old mate the late Ian Dury would say) – lots really. So in a world of near-perfection it's small things which irritate you.

Ever since I bought my laser printer, the right-hand edge of each page has printed badly – no problem usually when I'm printing the written word, but if I'm printing pictures (or posters in this case) to the edge of the page, it shows. Obviously something has always been wrong with the printer, but did I complain and send it back? I did not. I work around the problem (in this case, sending it to someone else to print).

Likewise, our BT answerphone records messages with such a lack of clarity that it's almost impossible to hear what's been said – and always has done since we bought it X years ago. So we should have taken it back, right? Well we didn't and we haven't, and I doubt now if we will. After all, we can usually make out the messages, just.

I guess it's a combination: of laziness in putting up with things which could be fixed but we never quite get around tuit, and a British reserve about not making a fuss.

So we soldier on, irritated in our comfortable way. Life could be worse. Amen.

5th November 2007

Apologies for a missed week's entry – two reasons: first, my ISP Demon decided to screw up my security code and it took a week to fix (did I ever recommend you to use Demon? – see also 6th August!); and second: we were on holiday in North Devon for a week.

We spent an enjoyable week with friends in a National Trust property, West Challacombe Manor, near to Combe Martin. The weather was unseasonably mild and sunny – only the wretched clock going back chopped an hour off useful touring time each day!

I won't burden you with the details of each day – just leave you with a parade of shots taken during the week:

Slug on a gorse twig – comfy?

Q1: Can you identify this fruit?

I didn't try any!!

Heron met near Watersmeet

A bat resting on our doorstep in daylight

Oyster Catcher at Ilfracombe

Inquisitive gull at Ilfracombe

Only problem was, the clock had stopped!!

Fill in the blank thought bubbles

Monarch of the Glen – near Lynmouth

Our friend the Robin

Q2: Do you know what this berry is?

Tarr Steps in Exmoor

22nd October 2007

Isn't it strange how one day you read about someone or something you've never heard of before, and suddenly it's everywhere.

In transcribing one of Flora Thompson's Peverel Papers the other day I came across a description of: "those pretty red and green moss-balls upon the wild rose briar that children call 'birds' nests' or Robin's Pincushions. These mossy balls are neither flower nor fruit, but partly animal and partly vegetable in origin. Months ago, a tiny gall-fly crawled up the branch where the Robin's Pincushion now appears to pierce the rind and lay its eggs beneath, and when the grubs were hatched out the acid fluid thrown off by them caused structural changes in the vegetable cells, which resulted in the pretty flower-like ball of green and red."

Apparently another similar gall-fly gives 'oak apples' – but although I was familiar with those, I'd never seen or heard of Robin's Pincushions before. But walking through the nature reserve at Stodmarsh in Kent over the weekend, what should I spy but ther very thing Flora had described! I would have passed it by thinking it was a piece of fluff caught on a briar if I hadn't read the book.

A 'Robin's Pincushion'

Later that day we walked along the coast near Reculver. I'm sure the warning signs are meant with serious intent, but you can't help wondering about the devilish glee which went through the designer's head as he or she decided what kind of disaster to depict. Looks like this one is about to kill two bods with one stone!

15th October 2007

Have you ever tried to buy an IRC?

"What's an IRC?" I hear you cry – and so did the counter staff at our local post offices. It's the equivalent of sending a 'stamped addressed envelope' to someone living overseas – obviously you can't stamp the envelope with their stamps, so you send an International Reply Coupon (IRC, see?) which they can use to buy their own stamps.

It's there on the Post Office website, cost 95p, from 'most large Post Office branches'. Trouble is, of course, that by the time you've travelled to the nearest large Post Office, you've spent considerably more than 95p on the thing. An option to buy on-line might be a nice touch for things like this which aren't in every post office – but the PO hasn't got around to it yet. So, if any PO marketeers are reading this …

Strangely, when you finally get your hands on one, it says it's from the United States! Perhaps we've become the 52nd State without anyone telling us?

We were walking on Saturday to complete another section for the new book, and came across arrows on the path which someone had marked out in corn. Presumably part of some tracking game. But what were the trackers supposed to do when the arrows went off in two directions at once? If anyone familiar with the woods between Hambledon and Chiddingfold in Surrey can enlighten me, I'd be happy to know.

This week we run the auditions for the annual village pantomime. It's Sleeping Beauty, the panto with an interval of 100 years! Mark your diary now to come and see performances 11/12 & 18/19 January 2008 – not to be missed!

8th October 2007

About this time last year I regaled you with the sight of me singing on stage dressed as a soldier. Guess what? I've been at it again – this time singing Goodbye Dolly Grey in an Old Time Music Hall. I really don't make a lifetime habit of military dressing, you know – just so happens…
The following day, I was out leading one of my monthly 'Walks to Health' over about 7 miles around Ludshott Common. There were nineteen of us, which was a good turn-out. Naturally we ended at a pub, so that was 'good health' too!

I told you last week that I was in for a 'significant' birthday. I can tell you now that I was given a 'significant' present in the form of a bass guitar, with tuition books. So I really shouldn't be sitting here wasting my time blogging to you – I'm off to the other room now, to practice my 12-bar riff!

1st October 2007

This week as I reach a 'significant' birthday it's interesting to reflect on how you don't really become cleverer as you get older. There have been several simple examples of this come to me recently.

Take looking at microfiche for example. I recently bought some information from the local record office and it arrived on fiche – not my favourite medium but that's the way it came and, as I have a microfiche reader, no problem I thought. Well, no problem with one of the sets which was photographed in 'portrait', but the other was photographed in 'landscape' and initially I thought I'd have to read it with my head tilted 90° to one side – not a comfortable position to work in.

I'd been putting off looking at it for weeks – then someone suggested putting the fiche in sideways! Hmmm – and it works. Now why didn't I think of that?

It was the same when I was transcribing pages of old parish notes a few years back – writing them by hand in a notebook. Then someone (it might even have been the same someone) asked if I didn't have a digital camera. I did – it was a new toy, but I hadn't put brain in gear sufficiently to realise that by taking pictures of the pages it could do the transcribing for me.

Speaking of transcribing – literally speaking! – I'm still plodding on with voice recognition. I think I've said to you before that I wouldn't use it if I were a good copy typist – but you have to laugh at some of the things it comes up with. I'm transcribing some of Flora Thompson's nature notes and although you might expect the software to make another sense of 'the scarlet of hips and haws', you do wonder why 'strong green virility' comes out as 'strong green gorilla tea'.

The software also seems to have some strange inbuilt name recognition features: so 'and in between' came out as 'Andy McLean' (who's he?) and, perhaps more obviously, 'bare and brown' came out as 'Blair and Brown'!

The trouble is that you either laugh out loud or swear when they appear, and of course the software simply adds that to the transcribed line, compounding the problem!!

Being a bit of a thespian, perhaps my biggest laugh was when 'adder' came out as 'actor' – many a true word…

24th September 2007

Last year I was banging on about 'electronic paper'. You remember me saying that when it arrives the whole publishing industry will change. I was reminded about it twice last week, once when I saw an 'Ebook Reader' reviewed in a magazine, and then again when I read about the use of 'QR codes' in paper books.

In my opinion this Ebook reader isn't yet the one which will rock the publishing industry – it will need to be made of something like a plastic sheet which you can roll or fold up and put in your pocket, and it will have to be a lot cheaper or even free first – but we're getting closer.

Meanwhile the idea of printing QR codes at various points in a book, which you can then scan with your mobile phone to bring down extra information, is a half-way house between an old-fashioned paper-based book and a dynamic website.

Example of a QR code

Dil and I have started to learn Greek! It's all due to our holiday coming up in Crete next year. I always think it's nice to be able to say Hello and Thank you in the local language.

I'd no idea of the Greek language, although I thought I knew most of the alpabet from its use in the symbols in science. But it turns out that beta isn't pronounced beta but veta, and so on… So I felt myself floundering. Strangely, I also found myself remembering words in Finnish – lots of words beginning in 'k' – and that confused me too. Tonight's the second week of the course. I'm sure we'll crack it in the end!

17th September 2007

For three days last week a TV crew visited Headley to film for Meridian's Village Voices. I was interviewed twice: once after I'd got myself plastered in ooze while digging out mud from the village pond; the second time after I'd managed to get home for a change of clothes!

The main attraction for them was the Village Fete on Saturday – the sun smiled on us, and here on the right are our dramatic ladies all dressed up for the parade.

We're not quite sure when we may expect to see ourselves on the small screen – some time next year I think. But some of us may not see it at all, as our TV aerials point the wrong way!

So, after the success of Saturday what better treat on Sunday than to go shopping at Ikea? Well, I can think of several, but that's by-the-by. As the old music hall song says:"By clinging to the chimbley you could see across to Wembley, if it wasn't for the houses in-between" In this case it's a big blue and yellow warehouse in-between.

Ikea at Wembley

What's worse than queuing to get into Ikea? Queuing along the North Circiular Road after you've managed to get out!


Never mind, we made it to Chiswick for a late lunch at the Bell and Crown by the River Thames – the tide was out, as you can see from this view downstream past Oliver's Island, but the food was good.

The River Thames at low tide,
Strand on the Green, Chiswick

10th September 2007

Yesterday was the annual Treasure Hunt of our local Am Drammers, and this time we again decided to do it on foot rather than in cars. Very Green, you might think, except that we all had to get to Chichester by car first. Last year we went by train to Portsmouth, so I think we're regressing in the carbon footprint stakes. And since the people who won this year live in Spain, and the tradition is that the winners organise next year's trail, we could blow it even more next year!

The gay Bishop's Garden at Chichester

The team which included yours truly came second – a result which pleased us as it means we don't have to organise the next one.

And being near to the coast (Chichester is the only British cathedral spire visible from the sea, someone told me) we had our own curious observers …

Chichester Cathedral

3rd September 2007

The answer to the question I posed at the end of the last entry is – 'us'. We had thought the boys would be keen to work locks, but a stack of DVDs inside the boat seemed to be generally more attractive. Perhaps it was also because we insisted they should wear life-jackets outside the boat – and this wasn't 'kool'. Hey, ho – we enjoyed ourselves anyway, and at least nobody fell in (the water) or fell out (with each other).

We thought long and hard before trying to get through this lock
– in the event, the weeds were floating and we pulled them aside with a boathook

There is light at the end of the tunnel!!


One mistake we did make was to moor in the middle of Birmingham on the first Sunday night right outside a night-club. Actually, this night-club wasn't the problem but another establishment just 50 yards along the towpath kept going all night with loud thumping music till 7 in the morning. We'd forgotten it was Bank Holiday the next day and had thought things would quieten down on a Sunday night.

So, it was back home on Friday night after completing the 'Stourport ring' to find around 3,000 e-mails waiting to be downloaded. It's not that I'm popular – I just seem to attract Spam. Fortunately all but 50 or so got rejected by my computer, and of those only a handful were of any real value to me. Perhaps it's time we started paying to send e-mails – that might stop it.


Gas Street Basin in the heart of Birmingham
– not the quietest place to moor for the night!

Up in the allotment we found the courgettes had gone mad. We reckon we've planted about twice as many plants as we need – memo for next year. The same with cabbage and celery, which are also having a good year with us. We threw away the useless tomato plants and planted other things in their place. Then we picked lots of blackberries from the nearby hedges – good free food. Pity I was wearing a white T-shirt though – now a purple-and-white T-shirt.

20th August 2007

I've been entering lots of text using voice recognition software (Dragon Natually Speaking 9.5, for the technically-minded) and I'm less impressed than I was.

Perhaps it's a more of a problem with the particular sort of thing I'm doing (copying precisely someone else's verbatim text rather than speaking my own mind) but I find I have to go back over it and correct quite a few errors. There are the obvious things like horse/hoarse, might/mite, sight/site, would/wood, wrapped/rapt, ours/hours, groan/grown, etc where you can't really expect more than a best-guess by the software, but in addition to that it seems to have a mind of its own. For example, it tends to assume that anything which might be a surname should be capitalised – so we get Bush rather than bush, Moss rather than moss, etc, and I can't see anything in the Options to turn this off – if any of you out there know better, please do let me know.

To sum up, if I were a good copy typist there is no way I'd be wanting to use this software. However, I'm not a good typist and I'm suffering from a wrist problem (probably because I'm not a good typist!) and it is a way if getting the information in without making the wrist worse – so I'm persisting with it.

By the way, the text is Flora Thompson's Peverel Papers. Although some edited highlights of these have been published in the past, nobody has ever published the complete works since they appeared in the Catholic Fireside magazine in the 1920s. We intend to put this right, and of course living close by as I do, I'm able to go up on Weaver's Down (her Peverel) and see it through the seasons she describes – and also see how it has changed or not in the 80 years since she wrote about it.

In August 1927 she wrote: "The chief glory of this, as of all other moorland districts at this time of the year, is the heather. Mile upon mile it stretches, a pale, purple bloom upon hill and valley, until, far away, it merges into the blue of purple distance. " I have to report that the heather is still there in 2007.

<i>Heather on Weaver's Down, August 2007</i>

Heather on Weaver's Down, August 2007

Advance warning (not 'advanced' warning, as some traffic signs would have it) that there will be no blog next Monday – Dil and I with my sister are taking three 10-year-old grandchildren on a canal boat for a week. We reckon there are about 100 locks to work on the circuit, so we'll see who tires first, us or them. I'll let you know in a fortnight!

13th August 2007

Yes, Dil and I did 'do' London on Wednesday – one of the hottest days for a while and also in the school holidays, it seemed to have enticed the world out to travel – so we had to stand on the 10.30am train from Haslemere to Waterloo. Brought back memories of my commuting days.

We'd booked a special 'champagne flight' on the London Eye, so fortunately we were able to join a shorter queue along with our 'air hostess' carrying a basket of bottles for a small group of us. Some people must have spent all morning queuing, first for a ticket and then to get on the thing. And was it worth it, and would I do it again? Yes to the first and probably no to the second. We had excellent visibility, but I guess the view will look the same next time. I pitied the lady carrying our champagne who has to do this trip several times a day (and never gets to drink a sip) – she said it didn't get boring, but I don't believe her.

From the Eye we walked to the British Museum because I hadn't yet seen the covered atrium there. It's worth a look. We also discovered they have very interesting shops, so the credit card took another pounding.

From the Museum along Oxford Street to Marble Arch by means of a No.73 bus – sadly you can't hop on a Routemaster at traffic lights these days, so we had to wait in an orderly manner at a proper bus stop for a 'bendy bus' to arrive and open its doors. London isn't the fun as it used to be!

I had no intention of
leaning against the doors in the London Eye!

The covered atrium at the British Museum, which had not lost its charm though it had seemingly gained retail outlets!  
The Albert Hall, from the rear as I was used to seeing it in my days at Imperial College. How did we get the Mini up those steps?

We walked in a diagonal line from Marble Arch across Hyde Park to the Albert Hall – well, as diagonal as you can go with the Serpentine in the way – and arrived in time for a spot of supper in the Consort Cafe before the Prom began. As I said to Dil, it's amazing that all the staid grey-haired clientelle were presumably jazz fans.

We had good seats in the Hall, almost within touching distance of the band, and the concert was a classic. Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine are both in their 80th year, but don't show it – I hope I'm in as fine a condition when I'm that old. A good time was had by all.

6th August 2007

Sorry for the delay – the dreaded Demon was having problems which stopped me changing anything on my website for a few days.

So, how does your garden grow? This is the year of the slugs in ours, and pretty well anything edible has been eaten by them and their sibling snails. The only things they don't seem to touch are geraniums and begonias – so I think next year we'll just plant the whole garden up with those and then sit back and watch the slugs starve. Some hope!

I've noticed that this Weblog has been running for over a year now – time flies when you're enjoying yourself – so I took a trip down memory lane and flipped through it. Amazing what you forget and what you remember. For instance, the new-look bathroom seems to have been with us forever now but I was reporting the converting of it as a big issue at one stage. Dil will read this and tell me it still isn't finished!!

This week we're going to the Proms for the first time – although purists may tell me that Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Lane can't really be classed as Proms material. It's in the Albert Hall, of course, and although I was a student at nearby Imperial College for three years I've still never been in it.(I did once help leave a mini car on the steps there, but that's another matter!)

We're also going on the London Eye, hoping for clear weather. I'll report on it all next week, Demons permitting!

30th July 2007

Have you heard of Lilliput Lane model cottages? Neither had I until I was asked to go round and see a house in Headley recently which was apparently the original inspiration.

I'm told the inventor of Lilliput Lane was living there when he first got the idea. Here are: his first model, and my photo of the house it was based on –

What do you think?

23rd July 2007

The deed is done – the beard is off – the face is back to normal. But not before it was plastered across the front page of the Haslemere Herald in all its glory. I was demonstrating paper-making to a local school during an 'enrichment day' (whatever that is) a couple of weeks ago when a press photographer arrived – she must have taken countless shots of the school that day, but 'scruffy' made it to the front page! (see left)

Went walking along the Sussex/Hampshire border the other day and got thoroughly lost. The map said the border path went left; the sign said it went right. We decided to go left because it looked more interesting. Isn't there something in the Bible about not choosing the path which looks easier? The dashed green line on the map seemed a doddle to follow – but it wasn't backed up by signs on the ground, or if it was, we missed them.

Now sadly I hadn't taken a full map along with me (there's misplaced confidence!), just a copy of the part of it we were intending to walk. Needless to say our involuntary detour took us off the edge of my small piece of paper and into the unknown – yea, deep into deepest impenetrable Sussex. Then suddenly and surprisingly I found myself walking along a path I thought I recognised from a previous walk – so all was well in the end. We headed back towards known territory, and no search party had to be sent for.

I've been told that there are some errors put in OS maps on purpose, to catch counterfeiters – I wonder if showing paths going the wrong way is one of them? Well, that's my excuse!

16th July 2007

The party's over, the play is done. Over the six performances in six different locations we played to around 220 people in total – not massive audiences, but it's the quality that counts! and the feed-back has been good.

One difference in doing a local historical play like this rather than a more conventional stage drama is that you can suddenly find you have someone in the audience who knows more about a certain aspect of the story than you do. It happened during this tour more than once – but fortunately they all thought we had got it right!

For those who missed the play, there should be a DVD available before long.

I'd said confidently that the scruffy beard would come off as soon as the show had finished – but so far we've been too busy for me to find the time to attack it, so I'm still scruffy as I type this. I come from a generation (possibly the first) which has never needed to learn how to do a wet shave – I've always used an electric razor – so I'm sitting here, scratching my beard, and wondering how best to do the deed.

Yours still hirsutely, Jo.

9th July 2007

Flora's Peverel is up and running – three performances down and three to go! Here on the right is a cast photograph taken in the garden at Haslemere Museum just before our show there on Saturday afternoon.

Have a look at to this site for details.

Next day we were at the Rural Life Centre at Tilford – and here on the left is yours truly in full flow, describing the different types of hawkweed to Flora (left) and my stage wife Maggie (right). Needless to say, in real life I hardly know one plant from another!

Not much else to tell you this week – the last stages of putting on the show have rather pushed other things to one side – but I thought regular readers might like to know that I did manage to complete the wretched arbour during the spell of good weather over the weekend. This (on the right) is what all the fuss was about.

2nd July 2007

Just as we were going to bed, Emma rang to say that my name had been mentioned on BBC2. Something to do with Sweet Fanny Adams on the Balderdash & Piffle show. Then I remembered a phone call I'd received back in February asking if they could quote from the last verse of a poem I once wrote about the sad story. You, my lucky readers, may have the full six stanzas!

On the home technology front, we're finding the laptop useful as a means of me and Dil doing computerish things at the same time, but (there's always a BUT isn't there) the screen forms an almost perfect mirror when taken into bright light making it impossible to see much on the screen – so bang goes my idea of working outside when the good weather arrives. (Will it arrive?) Anyone else had this problem and come up with a solution? Do let me know.

Oh, and we now have a voice recognition software on the computer – on the desktop computer that is, because we found that the laptop didn't have a fast enough processor for it to work. But it works very well on the desktop and this whole paragraph has been read in without the use of the keyboard or any post-editing. We bought it because we have a large copy typing job coming up and it will save our fingers.

Meanwhile, we still have a play to perform. It starts on Friday. If you've still not bought your ticket for Flora's Peverel, contact me, or rush numerous to this site.

25th June 2007

We decided to buy a new wooden rose arbour to replace the foundering construction in our back garden, and trotted along to the local garden centre to choose one. It was duly delivered last week. A large wooden crate arrived on the front drive which contained almost as much wood in the 'wrapping' as in the contents. I spent a joyous half hour opening it, then heaved the pieces into the back garden and began to read the instructions. Unusually, they were in proper English – but sadly the information they contained was sparse. Undeterred, I started to put the bits together.

(You know this isn't going to end well, don't you – otherwise I wouldn't be bothering to tell you!)

When I say bits, I mean stonking great bits that I could hardly lift. The first two bits were to be fitted together with three large coach bolts (supplied) through pre-drilled holes – that was good and I made a secure joint. All the rest were to be screwed together. Now bear in mind that we're talking about a structure made primarily of 4-inch diameter round poles, and the screws supplied to fit these together were about 5 inches long, with no pre-drilled holes. Not much scope for a strong fixture if they weren't driven through at 90 degrees – and of course I failed to do that. So there I was with this heavy edifice flat on its back on the lawn, held together tenuously by the fag-ends of screws, needing to be pulled upright and moved into place.

Three of us did it. Well, when I say 'did it' I mean we got it standing up in the correct place. But when we left to do something else – it fell over, or rather it collapsed sideways. Of course, we hadn't got round to putting any cross-bracing on it as yet – the plans hadn't told us to. Perhaps the authors had been better drivers of screws than I am. Or perhaps I should have torn up the instructions and used my own common sense from the start.

Anyway, I'm now back to square one (apparently a metaphor from old football commentating days on radio) and I will, like old Michael Finnegan, begin again. But not till it stops raining, and that doesn't seem to be likely until the end of this week if you believe the current weather forecast.

Well with Glastonbury on and Wimbledon about to start, what do you expect but rain?

20th June 2007

So, late as predicted, I log you welcome to tell you about the trip to Spain on the good ship Pride of Bilbao.

All went well – we saw dolphins, we had a beautifully sunny three hours in Castro-Urdiales (and have the T-shirts to prove it), we indulged in a massage (immediately losing several pounds to pay for it), we swam in a bath-sized pool in the bowels of the ship (interesting when there's a bit of a swell going on outside), we ate and drank and were merry but not as merry as some! However I think it's fair to say that a car ferry, even a large car ferry, is not quite a cruise liner and it's an experience we probably won't repeat just for the fun of it.

Having seen the intricacies of the docking system at Portsmouth it was fascinating to see how little they needed by way of equipment at the Bilbao end to dock a fairly large ship. By contrast, Portsmouth was very busy when we returned. We followed the aircraft carrier Ark Royal into port and it was still tying up as we passed it, wedged by four tugs into a space only marginally greater than its length in front of its sister ship Illustrious. As we passed, the Brittanny Ferries Normandie emerged from the dock we were headed for and things looked quite congested for a time.

Scruffily to Spain!

From Deck 8 of the Pride of Bilbao: Normandie emerging from dock; Ark Royal being held to the wall by four tugs; Illustrious behind her

Arriving home we found a large wooden crate in our drive containing the wooden garden seat cum rose arbour which we'd ordered. We'd told them to leave it round the back, but hadn't realised it would be so bulky. So no prizes for guessing what my next job is!

10th June 2007

Woah! We've bought ourselves a laptop and I'm trying to get to grips with the new keyboard and non-mouse. The idea is that Dil can be doing stuff at the same time as I am, and I can free myself from the confines of the office on a nice day and work outside. We'll see how it goes!

It also has an inbuilt camera, so I could show you a picture of myself sitting here typing – but I won't scare you. At the moment I'm growing stubble to produce the authentic face of an itinerant tinker for the play we're doing in July, and it's not a pretty sight (see above). How we suffer for our art! Anyway, the picture of me on the screen appears upside down – perhaps it's an Australian machine – so I'll need to find out how to fix that.

On the Flora'cating front, we hear that the BBC is thinking of dramatising Lark Rise to Candleford as a 10-part series on BBC1 – with Dawn French playing the lead role! Dearly as I love her Vicar of Dibley and so forth, I somehow can't see her as a gangly Victorian teenager. But no doubt the BBC have their reasons, and if it raises the profile of Flora Thompson generally I suppose we should be grateful. Even so … the mind boggles.

Next Monday we'll be on the high seas, so apologies in advance. We're sailing from Portsmouth for three nights on the ocean and four hours in Bilbao. Mad? I think so, but I'll let you know.

4th June 2007

No more excuses – the shoulder's a bit better, so on with the log! Actually on Saturday I thought it was completely cured, so I had to go and do something silly like construct raised beds in the allotment and barrow in loads of horse manure. Needless to say it set the problem off again.

Since I last wrote I've been flora`cating. In Liphook, then up to Buckingham and finally in Grayshott, commemorating the 60th anniversary of Flora Thompson's death. Here ares some pics:

In Liphook library with Brenda Adams and Anne Mallinson around the bust of Flora Thompson : the annnual pilgrimage
At the End House in Juniper Hill where Flora grew up, during an 'open garden' day there. A line-up of Flora's biographers, translaters and researchers. We were about to go and see the play 'Lark Rise' performed in a marquee nearby – the first time that 'Lark Rise'had been performed in Lark Rise!
At the unveiling of the blue plaque to Flora at 'The Ferns' in Grayshott. Mel, in costume in the centre, is playing Flora in my play 'Flora's Peverel' in July.

28th May 2007

Have patience. I've trapped a nerve in my shoulder, and keyboarding is not the easiest thing at the moment! Life will return when the pain's eased.

21st May 2007

You're a patient lot! While we've been enjoying ourselves in Brittany you've had to suffer the loss of a blog for a week – sorry. If it's any consolation, the weather was indifferent, but we enjoyed ourselves and in particular we enjoyed the eating.

For your delectation, here's a collection of fanciful photos taken while we were away.

Old Gaffers in St Malo.
Can anyone enlighten me?

The loo perched above the river in Pont Aven.
Where does the outflow flow to?

I absolutely refuse to comment on this one!

He's about to let a wild piano out!

We were in a land of standing stones
– so why not make a few more?

7th May 2007

Les français sont partis. People from our twin town in France came over for the Bank Holiday weekend, and although the weather decided to take a turn for the worse our spirits were high.

We had good fun showing them around, but now that they've gone we're back to living the way we normally live, instead of the way we like others to think that we live!

It was the second round of their presidential elections while they were here, and one of them said on Saturday that he might not go back if the wrong person was elected. His 'wrong' person was elected – they are not to have a Royal family yet – but I notice that he did go back!

So, to the motley – my task for the week is to make sure that I have a cast for our next play, Flora's Peverel. I think I have one, though I may have to rewrite some sections to fit the people available. That's one advantage of writing the script in the first place – I don't have to worry what the author might think.

The coach leaves Headley for Anjou

If I can give the cast their lines to learn, then I can go away on holiday next week with a relatively clear conscience – and where are we going? To France of course. I'm starting to dream in the language!

30th April 2007

So, nobody got the correct answer (or if they did they didn't tell me!) to last week's lock gate question.

The Wey & Arun Canal Trust, who are restoring the canal, had to get it under an existing road without raising the level of the road – so they lowered the level of the canal by 1.5 metres instead. The downstream lock now has a rise of only a few inches, but they kept the original bottom gates which are left to tower over the chamber. See their website for more info(or you could have come to a meeting of The Headley Society to hear the story).

I see the idea of 'printing' buildings which I mentioned on 12th Feb is back in the news again. They interviewed some labourers on the radio who said it would never happen. I think they're wrong – it will happen, and faster than we may think.

In a previous existence I looked into the design of two computer systems to manage warehouses. One firm decided to go for a fully-automated solution – no humans on the warehouse floor. The other, doing the same job, decided that was too expensive and went for a semi-automated version, where computers advised fork-lift drivers what to do next.

Guess whose warehouse worked better, and was probably the cheapest solution overall? No prizes.

The design of the latter was far more complex than the fully-automated solution. The reason? They had to build in checks to make sure the humans weren't trying to buck the system.

And so with building houses. Give a robot a plan and it will slavishly follow it. Give a man a plan and … you may get your windows in inches instead of centimetres.

23rd April 2007

By Jingo! – not only is it St George's Day today, but also supposedly Shakespeare's birthday (he was baptised on 26th April 1564) and deathday (in 1616).

Despite that triple whammy, there's very little goes on in the way of commemoration in England. A few of us were thinking about it as we enjoyed celebrating Burns Night in January this year, here in deepest Hampshire. Why?

So we have a cunning plan. Next year, on the nearest weekend to 23rd April, we will hold a Bard's Night in the village complete with Elizabethan food and recitation's from Shakespeare's best. Book early to avoid disappointment!

We would have started this year, but we'd thought about it too late to organise a public event – so a few of us will be having a trial run-through in private this coming weekend, just to see how it goes. However I'm told that stuffed swan is unlikely to be on the menu.

Now here's a teaser for canal buffs.

This photo, which I took on Saturday at Loxwood in West Sussex, shows the bottom gate of a lock on the Wey & Arun Canal, currently being restored. It's taken viewed from inside the lock chamber.

Those of you who have done any canalling will immediately see there is something peculiar about this.

Think on't, as they say, and I'll tell you the answer next week.

16th April 2007

Well, I didn't win on the Lottery (see last week's blog), or on the Grand National for that matter, but I did get a rare £50 win from my Premium Bonds this morning. Every little helps!

Last night we had our first barbecue of the season and we were still sitting outside in shirtsleeves and shorts at midnight. Some were heard to say "If this is Global Warming, bring it on." Others were gloomily predicting the rapid reintroduction of the hose-pipe ban, lifted only a few weeks ago.

Today I took advantage of the weather, and the availability of a couple of willing friends, to do a 9-mile circular walk from Rowlands Castle. (Yes, it is all part of the next book!)

We were glad to find The Victoria at West Marden open on Mondays, but not so glad to find that the return half of the walk was far less interesting than the outward half. I'll have to review this route before it goes into the book.

On the outward half we visited St Hubert's Chapel at Idsworth which contains some wall paintings said to be "the oldest in Christendom, dated c.1330".

It's also called "The Little Church in a Field" – and this photo which I took from a path on the other side of the valley shows why.

Well worth a visit if you're passing – if you can find it!

St Hubert's, Idsworth from across the valley

9th April 2007

There always seemed to be an unwritten rule that the weather at Bank Holidays should be dull and dismal – but this Easter they got it wrong and the pubs ran out of beer during an 'unexpected' heat-wave.

In fact we were just across the channel in and around Cherbourg for most of le week-end, but the temps was equally agréable there. Comme d'habitude, un grand 'merci' à nos bons amis pour leur hospitalité.

We walked along some of the magnificent coastline of the western Cotentin peninsular, overlooking the Channel Islands – and of course the food was equally magnificent. If you want to see and taste the real France, you need travel no further than to this part of Normandy, less than 3 hours from Portsmouth.

Just out of sight on this photograph, we could see Jersey, Sark and Guernsey off-shore to the left. Alderney is tucked away around the corner ahead and to the right. One day we might even visit them!


The coast near to Carteret, Normandy on Easter Saturday

Disturbing news from a colleague who is also a self-publisher. She has been told that she can't sell her books at the Swindon Tourist Information Centre any longer unless she takes out public liability insurance of two million pounds. I thought she was pulling my leg, but no – the same tale was repeated in the Daily Mail about another author. A representative of Swindon Borough Council is reported (I kid you not) as saying: "We have to cover for every eventuality – even if that is an accident caused by pages falling out of the book. Nobody is denying it's a very small risk, but the risk is there."

I hope all my readers feel as I do, that it is a lunacy too far. If there is any risk at all from this, then I'll win the Lottery next week – and I don't even play the Lottery! Nor do I sell books through Swindon Tourist Information Centre – but if any of my outlets try the same line with me, I'm afraid they will just have to make a well-known phrase or saying from the words "off push"!

2nd April 2007

First, I have to apologise for misleading you in March when I said I thought that the 'man' in chairman and similar words came from the Latin 'manus' (and French 'main') meaning 'hand'. My learned friend Ian tells me that in this context 'English man is German Mann (nothing to do with Latin for "hand") but did, when it was adopted in old English, indeed mean simply "human being" so is sexless'.

So he's with me in thinking that such words as 'chairperson' are absurd. As he says, what then should we do with the word "woman"?

What do you do with your old shoes? Walking through the backwoods of Bordon on Sunday we spotted this sight of boots and shoes tied up high in a group of trees. OK, I know it was April 1st, but …

I've been to see the blue plaque prepared by Grayshott Pottery to mark the house in Grayshott where Flora Thompson lived for a couple of years – well, strictly speaking she was Flora Timms then as she hadn't married, but let's not confuse things. The plaque should be going up soon with an official 'unveiling' at noon on Sunday 27th May.

Pining for old boots …


I'll let you know more when I know more.

Meanwhile, we're looking forward to enjoying the longer hours of daylight – may even get up to the allotment this week. We've bought 12 metres of weed-suppressing material to cover the patch. If we put horse manure under it and then plant through it, we're hoping to get away without digging or weeding. We hope!

26th March 2007

So, the clocks sprang forward and so did we, doing the first walk for the proposed new book yesterday, and rounding it off with a plate of the famous soup at The Harrow at Steep.

The weather was dry – just as well, as we knew The Harrow doesn't allow children in and we had two in our party, so we sat in the garden for lunch.

The walk was nearly 7 miles in total and involved a sheer climb up the Shoulder of Mutton hill to Edward Thomas's stone.

There was also mud so deep and clinging that Zak left a Wellington boot behind not once but twice. Here dad retrieves it for the second time.

Not sure at the moment when the next walk will take place – the diary is a bit full for the next few weekends – but if you want to join in, let me know.

Start of the climb – some are way ahead!

Lost boot in a sea of mud!!

Now for something completely different …

Decades ago, friends of mine Dave & Ingrid got married in Denmark, and I was there.

Dave sent me a photo the other day of us enjoying ourselves, and dared me to show it – so here it is.

I'm the one on the right with the French navy T-shirt and a bottle of lager in my mouth. Dave's bottom left – I don't know what he's doing, but no doubt he'll tell me!

19th March 2007

The weather forecasters had given us scary warnings of arctic blizzards today, so it was a relief to wake up with only a dusting of snow on the roofs of the cars and nothing lying on the ground.

According to Wikipedia, today is regarded as the last day of winter in the northern hemisphere. I confess that's a new one on me. I'd always been brought up to think of winter as being the months of December, January and February. My Spring starts on 1st March, whatever the weather!

Thinking of the seasons brings to mind that the clocks spring forward next Sunday. Do you remember the experiment in the late 1960s when summer time stayed on throughout winter for a few years? I rather liked it but apparently the Scottish farmers didn't. It seems to me that if you ask most people when the middle of their day is, they'd most likely say around 1pm – and that's what summer time has as the middle of its day.

It was eastwards-ho to Kent this weekend. We stayed at a B&B called the Hobbit Hole above Herne Bay. On the wall by the breakfast table was an enormous map of the world according to the Mercator projection – that's the one where Greenland is as big as Africa, and Antarctica goes on for ever. Apparently this type of map was devised in 1569 as being good for sailors navigating the oceans – presumably they didn't get far into the arctic regions in those days.

Anyway, this particular map was covered in clusters of pins showing where previous residents had come from – and Greenland, Africa and Antarctica were not among the most popular. Germany, however, was overflowing with pins. What brings the Germans particularly to Herne Bay, I wonder? Your answers please …

12th March 2007

I heard that Bamber Gascoigne has started a new website called Timesearch which gives timelines on history, so I gave it a quick viewing this morning. Seems a bit sparse at the moment, and results come segmented into pages so that you can't keep browsing down the timeline, which I'd have thought was half the point of it. So, Bamber, if you're reading this – here's your "starter for 10" on British history at

Jack Straw (I think it was) has just said he wants to 'degenderise' words such as 'chairman'. He's not the first and won't be the last, but I have a feeling he's under a delusion. My erudite readers will no doubt tell me if I'm wrong, but I'd always thought that the 'man' in chairman and similar words came from the Latin 'manus' (and French 'main') meaning 'hand' – as in 'all hands on deck' – and we all have hands. [Since writing this I've been corrected – see 2nd April 2007].

'Spring has sprung and the grass is ris' – or it had until I did the first cut of the season on Saturday. I think I collected almost more cuttings from that one cut than I'd had throughout the season last year. It should give the worms in our 'dalek' compost bin something to chew on for the next few days. I've been amazed what a good job they do in reducing the volume in the bin – we've had it for two years now and only had to take stuff out once (and that was just out of interest, to see what it was like) – but this time it was a real squeeze to get the lid on. So, as I say, we'll see how they do.

The walking season has started (no sniggering from you all-year-round-walkers please!) and yesterday a group of 14 souls from our road drove to Frensham Great Pond car park and then hit the trail on foot for the Blue Bell at Batt's Corner near Dockenfield, about 2 miles away. Although still marked on Ordnance Survey maps, this pub had been closed for several years and only recently re-opened, so we though we'd go and have a look. The service was friendly and efficient and 'families welcome' which was just as well since we had youngsters with us. As someone said, it still looked a bit like a 'pub in progress' but no doubt that will change. Anyway, we all enjoyed sitting outside in the sun (extra chairs were provided for us!) and the only gripe was that there were no really cheap snacks on the menu.

My thoughts are moving towards producing a third book of local walks. This time I'm planning 'Walks from the Railway' and plotting routes that can be walked from stations between Guildford and Portsmouth. Some areas I know better than others, but all look potentially interesting. Only problem, as ever, is that I now have to find the time to walk them! On Sunday 25th March we may do one from Petersfield, including one of our favourite pubs, The Harrow at Steep – anyone interested?

5th March 2007

dreaming spires in Oxford

Dreaming spires from our hotel window

We only live 2 hours from Oxford by road, but neither I nor Dil had ever visited the place properly – so we decided to celebrate our wedding anniversary by going there for a long weekend.

The weather was kind enough and we certainly got foot-sore tramping the streets. We started by looking for the canal basin – not the most obvious location when you think of Oxford, but to canal enthusiasts it's one of those places on the watery inland map where the British Waterways Board (if it's still called that) domain breaks out into the outside world – in this case the Thames.

I did the transit once in a narrow boat, and I remember now the surge of acceleration as we slipped out of the muddy, shallow, 7-foot ditch which is the Oxford Canal and into the bottomless abyss which is the Thames. Well, that's what it seemed like anyway.

After a spell of gongoozling along the moorings, we headed back into town and discovered Oxford Castle. I didn't even know that Oxford had a castle. It seems to have suffered badly at the hands of everyone, not least the recent 'makeover' trend.

There were the colleges of course – and the colleges – and the colleges … but since we seemed to have arrived in the middle of graduation ceremonies, none of them were open to visiting. Anyway, I've always been a Cambridge man myself! I even tried to qualify there once – no twice – but to no avail and Imperial College London had to put up with me instead. (I even took my old IC scarf to Oxford, but no-one noticed – or if they did they were too polite to mention it.)

We visited a few pubs, of course, including the Turf Tavern where we are reliably informed that Bill Clinton did not inhale. It was persistently raining when we were there – but the 'garden' is covered and there were coke braziers (no, not that sort of coke!) to warm us – we even dried out Dil's jeans by them.

Our hotel was the Old Bank in the High Street – and our room overlooked some of the dreaming spires. We were there for the jazz, among other things, and our package included Sunday supper with jazz entertainment – and it was good.

Dil, not inhaling at The Turf

So there – we've 'done' Oxford and enjoyed it, and perhaps we'll make a habit of doing a town visit each year. Where next? Any suggestions?

26th February 2007

Sorry, sorry, sorry – late again! And after I'd promised to do better too.

Fact is, what's going on at the moment is pretty mundane stuff, and it's difficult to identify what might be interesting in it to you, the reading public.

Having said that, I remember being told on a creative writing course that anything can be made to be interesting – it's just the way you tell it. They pointed out that a mundane day in the life of an eskimo, say, would be of interest to someone in Surbiton (sorry Surbitonites and eskimos, it was their choice of example not mine) and vice versa because it would be so different to them.

That's all very well, but right now I've a deadline to meet for typesetting the annual parish report – and I'm late. Well, to be fair, it's the information that's late, but that doesn't move the deadline – so I'd better get on with it.

Oh, by the way – I'd known about Google Maps as a source of seeing where people live world-wide, but it doesn't have a very good resolution image of our part of the UK. Now someone has told me about Live Search maps, and it's far better from our point of view. Try typing GU35 8AH into each and see what I mean.

19th February 2007

Mid-February is, traditionally, a slack time in the year; Christmas far behind us and Spring not yet sprung. It's why mid-February was chosen when we went decimal back in (can you remember when?) 1971 – it was the period in the year of minimum financial transactions.

And so, when I sat down to write this I thought I'd have nothing much to say because, in the Smith household too, certain projects seem to have finished and others haven't really begun yet. OK, this weekend Dil did some reorganising in what goes for the utility room (the part of the garage that I didn't take over as office space) which I suppose is the start of early Spring cleaning, which can be a project in itself – but life still seems to have an odd 'on hold' notice on it at the moment.

So I looked to my diary for inspiration – surely something interesting must have happened last week? – and realised that my diary in itself might be of interest.

It's more of a 'day book' really, and I keep it on the computer. I only record past events on it – future appointments live in a proper paper diary in my pocket – but it has been a life-saver (or more accurately an embarrassment-saver) at times when I've wanted to remember a conversation or perhaps a phone call that I had with – who was it now? And when? And about what?

So, I can tell you that: on this day last year, I was having an e-mail correspondence with a member of an American pop group (Clover) which had recorded in Headley Grange in the late 1970s; in 2005, we were walking with friends in Derbyshire over the weekend (and it was cold, I remember); in 2004, I had a meeting with Hampshire Libraries about doing interviews with people to record their WW2 memories (to do with the BBC website); in 2003 I was corresponding with Q Magazine about Headley Grange [again!] and the pop recordings there in the 1970s, and also getting involved in production details for Bugsy Malone which we put on in the village hall later that year; in 2002, I talked to a full meeting of Liphook U3A about local history; in 2001, I was involved in publishing a Village Appraisal report that I'd got involved in; in 2000, we had a 'working supper' in our house to discuss what we should do for the Millennium Pageant (remember the Millennium?) … do you want to go further back? – I can take you to 1991 if necessary, but I see you're yawning already!

I'll try to do better next week – honest.

12th February 2007

So, we survived my 5-year-old grandson's birthday party. But things have changed since I last organised one of these – in those dim-distant days, parents would drop their children off and beat a hasty retreat; now they seem to stay and drink wine at one end of the room while the kids play at the other. Needless to say, I was at the kids' end!

On the way home we stopped for petrol and I was reminded of another change in our customs. I'd picked a 2p coin off the floor and gave it to the young lady at the till saying "Here's tuppence for you." She looked at me a little strangely, and I realised she may not have heard anyone saying 'tuppence' before. Or thruppence either come to that. Why have we all changed to saying two-pence and three-pence? (or pee!) Actually it's worse than that – I even heard, on Radio 4 of all bastions, someone saying one-pence. Seems that Penny's lost her singular form now.

Still on the subject of changing times, I read yesterday that an engineer called Behrokh Khoshnevis, at the University of Southern California says that in a year's time he will be able to build houses in a day using a laptop computer and a very large peripheral based on an ink-jet printer!! He calls it contour crafter technology, where a nozzle mounted on a gantry pumps out toothpaste-like strips of semi-solid concrete or plaster.

I think I heard some time ago of medical technicians predicting the use of similar equipment on a micro-scale to build up body material to create replacement organs. Building bodies at a distance, eh?

Sounds like we're on the way to creating matter-transfer machines. The only difference is that the matter doesn't actually get transferred – yet.

Monday 5th February 2007

I suppose it was inevitable, renting a cottage on the Isle of Wight when I'm 64. It wasn't too dear and we didn't have to scrimp and save, but then it wasn't summer. Nor did we have grandchildren on our knee.

We spent a long weekend there and, for February, the weather was superb – sunny and unseasonably mild – I even went out for a 40-minute walk before breakfast on Sunday without having to put a jacket on. OK, so we were in Ventnor which faces south and is noted for its balmy climate rather than for 'fresh air and fun', but even so – in February…

No pictures, I'm afraid, as I forgot to take the camera. Tut! Pity, because the 'cottage' was a bit different, having been built in 1970 to a 'modern' design and now owned by the National Trust. Some of you may know it.

Highlight of the trip: looking down over The Needles from the old rocket testing site – quite spectacular.

This was our "rounding off Christmas, New Year and pantomime season" holiday – so now I suppose there's no excuse but to get back to all those long-term projects that we've been putting aside for the past two or three months. Hey-ho!

29th January 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the combination of the moment – blue cheese on plain chocolate digestive biscuits! You don't believe it's delicious? Then try it – I guarantee you'll be surprised (one way or the other).

How did I come to it? Well, round at our friends' last night there was this cheese but no cheese biscuits – however there were plenty of McVitie's plain chocolate digestives so, flushed with watching men doing mad things on Top Gear (and OK, I'll admit we'd had a couple of beers too) the combination seemed the most obvious thing in the world. And it worked.

The future, they tell us, offers snow-free winters – so we ought to make the most of every flake we see from now on. On Wednesday last week we woke up to snow – I measured an inch on open ground, and I thought our antipodean fern looked rather pretty.

It was enough to encourage Dil to walk to work rather than slide down the hill in the car and, being a gentleman, of course I walked with her. It was interesting to see how many footprints had already been down the paths through the wood – and we thought we'd been early risers for once.

As I say, it was only an inch, but it was enough to stop the dustmen (they're not called that any more, are they?) from coming round. Must have been the wrong sort of snow.

Next day it had gone. That's it – could be the last snow we'll ever see. Keep the photos.

22nd January 2007

Technology moves faster than my brain can cope with. Debbi had taken some photos at the Last Night performance of our pantomime (it went well, thanks!) and I wanted to download them to my computer.

So I hitched the thing up, and found there were nearly 900 (that's nine hundred) shots on it!

About a third of them were actually of the panto.

It took me a joyous three hours to sift through them, finding the good shots and then putting them up on the web.

The classic shot of my performance has to be the one where I nearly missed my cue and, rushing too fast up onto the stage, tripped over the top step and went sprawling across the stage with a custard pie in my hand!

Of course the audience loved it and thought I'd meant to do it all along. There's the joy of panto for you.

Now, perhaps next week I can talk of something other than pantos and geese, which seem to have been a preoccupation of recent entries.

Action shot of the moment!

15th January 2007

So, the show is on the road (metaphorically speaking, as we don't actually move the village pantomime to any other location these days) and Gertie is strutting his/her stuff in Jack & the Beanstalk! Just next weekend to do, and then it's all over for another year.

Except that it isn't, because Headley Theatre Club will be straight into auditions for the next show – it's the Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild production of Macbeth.

Not sure how involved I'll be with that one, but I'll be very involved with the next which is my Flora's Peverel – this will certainly go 'on the road' as we're touring it to six different locations in early July.

And having thought that I'd run out of ideas for a new local historical play, one was suggested to me by the local National Trust group who want to mark the centenary next year (2008) of the Trust obtaining Ludshott Common. I was lent a copy of the old records of Ludshott Manor from 1400 to the 17th century to give me some food for thought. Hum….

Now I'm trying to remind myself of all the good advice I readily give to others when they're starting a new project. Choose a manageable time period (don't try to cover the whole 400 years!), and choose an interesting set of characters with a story to tell. The setting will certainly be rural if not downright rustic. Sounds like I'd better start listening to The Archers again for ideas on evergreen rural plot-lines!

Is it a bird?…

Oh, by the way, the new Walks book is now at the printers – please form an orderly queue when it arrives in the shops in about a fortnight.

8th January 2007

I get many requests for information on local history round these parts, but the one from Tom Layton of Oregon was a bit different. He's using Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as his avatar in Second Life and wants to construct 'a computerized replica' of Undershaw, which is the house that Doyle had built for himself at Hindhead, Surrey in 1896/7. Could I give him any information on the plan of the house?

Now it so happens that Undershaw (the real bricks and mortar version, not the computerized replica) is going through a bit of a crisis at the moment. Having been used as a restaurant and hotel for many years, but never really paying its way, it finally closed its doors a couple of years ago. Sadly, the doors obviously weren't closed firmly enough because the place has subsequently been vandalised while the current owner tries to get planning permission to develop the site.

Suddenly everyone is outraged – letter in The Times, etc., and the local council has just rejected the current plans. But what next? Can anyone make the building pay its way?

It's always surprised me how little is made of Doyle's time in Hindhead in the learnèd works that I've read about him. He moved here for the health of his first wife 'Touie' who was suffering from TB.

Hindhead was claimed to have air 'as pure as that of the Alps' by an eminent scientist who built the first house there for himself in 1884, and the area became known as England's 'Little Switzerland' – so, not surprisingly, many people with means flocked to join him and the place changed in character within a few years from open heathland to a semi-urban blot on the London to Portsmouth road.

Undershaw, Hindhead
photographed in the early 20th century

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

However, it seemed to give Doyle fresh inspiration as it was here that he 'resurrected' Sherlock Holmes after his character's premature death at the end of his previous series of stories. Doyle was also active in local life, and debated hotly in public on topical matters with George Bernard Shaw who lived just down the road for a time – the arch Tory and the arch Socialist of the day in dignified confrontation!

Incidentally, the pun was all the rage at the time, and so it has been said by some that Doyle named Undershaw after the fact that he was living below Shaw. In fact this is wrong on two counts: for one thing Doyle moved there first, and for another his house was actually at a higher level than Shaw's.


Sadly the pure air of the English Switzerland did not cure Doyle's wife – she died on 4th July 1906 and is buried in the churchyard of St Luke's, Grayshott in whose parish Undershaw stands. A year later Doyle moved to Crowborough in Sussex.

However when Doyle's son Kingsley died of wounds in the first World War he was buried next to his mother in Grayshott. Perhaps more surprisingly, Doyle's mother is also buried next to them although she didn't die until 1920, years after Doyle had left the area. Do you think she had a last wish to be with her daughter-in-law?

By the way, for those like me who haven't been drawn in yet, Second Life is a 'virtual world' which users can visit almost as if it were a real place. Currently, according to their website, this world has 2.5 million 'residents' and is growing fast. There they 'explore, meet new people and participate in individual and group activities'.

Personally I think I'd need a parallel real life to get involved in this, as I don't have enough time to do all the things I want to do in my First Life – but I'm sure you'll all pile in and tell me what I'm missing!

1st January 2007

I'm not sure in what manner I expected to be bringing in the new year, but I don't think that pheasant plucking would have come into it – and indeed it didn't, because Steve who gave me the birds showed me how to prepare them the way gamekeepers do – no plucking involved! Now all Dil has to work out is how best to cook them.

For Dil, the year has started as all years start – by getting deluged in making costumes for the village pantomime. I seem to have avoided too much involvement in the scenery this time – but come 12th of this month, I'll be up there strutting my stuff as Gertie the Goose. I just hope that no-one tries doing to me what I've just done to the pheasants!

Our regular pub in the village has introduced a smoking ban as from today – joy!

Continued …

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