Wednesday, 8 December 2010

More on the snow

Despite all the complaints about the snow, I witnessed a very encouraging example of good neighbourliness in the street where I live; two people who live further down cleared the pavement of snow along one side of the road, from one end of the street to the other. They were helped by the young son of one them, who put a bag of grit on his sled, happily scattering it along the way.

There has been a lot of debate about what the Tory policy of the 'Big Society' might mean, but it strikes me this is a perfect example of it; an unrequested, altruistic act of practical help.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A second year of snow

Just when you thought it was safe to put away the thermals, we get a second year of freezing, snowy weather. This one seems to have taken public transport more by surprise than last year, with trains badly disrupted, although to be fair Brighton got their buses back on the streets quicker than before.

Temperatures in this normally mild coastal city dropped to a chilly -8.7C before a rapid thaw last weekend, although the mercury has dropped well below freezing again today.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Moving home...

Regular followers will have noticed something of an interruption to this blog, for which many apologies. But we have been moving house. Now, this is something I hadn't done properly for 17 years, (not counting moving into my other half's flat last winter when most of my stuff went into storage).

They say that moving home is one of the most stressful things you can do, up there with losing your job, getting divorced and even bereavement. But I confess that I'd never found it that difficult - until now. Perhaps it's an age thing. When I last moved I was still in my early 30s and had the enthusiasm of fresh starts and all that (not to mention lots of energy, unproblematic knees and no bad back).

I am now firmly in middle age, and one of the things I am slowly finding out is how my tolerance of disturbance (of any kind) is diminishing. Perhaps I really am turning into my father...

It didn't help that on our first morning, when still surrounded by boxes up to chest height in just about every room, my partner had a shower, only for a good portion of the water to cascade into the lounge which I had spent the best part of the previous week painting. It turns out the seal around the bath was failing, and the bath itself sinking gradually into floorboards softened by being periodically soaked.

On the positive side, my Vicar recommended a good plumber who came to the rescue that day. (Definitely a prayer answered). After a lot of huffing and puffing, he and his mate built a new platform to support the bath, replaced the seal, and split the tiled bath panel in half so that, in future, getting access under the bath will not require removing the washbasin and shower screen.

After a start like that, it's hardly suprising the next few weeks were stressful. My other half took one day off work, leaving me to sort out the house, as I'd cleared my work diary for most of August in the anticipation that I'd not get much work done anyway. That turned out to be much truer than I had thought possible, thanks - or rather, no thanks - to BT.

All we had requested was our old number and account to be switched to our new address - a simple and regular enough task, you would have thought?

Oh no. No - no, no, no, no.

It has taken two months, and 14 phone calls to 11 different staff to sort out the total mess that was created: no line at all for a week after we moved in; a grand total of 4 other numbers allocated to us before we got the one we wanted; two separate accounts and a byzantine puzzle of payments (that I am still not sure are finally correct, although we now have approaching £100 of repayments, corrections and compensation on various of the 8 bills we have been sent); and, to cap it all, no broadband for 6 weeks. (Hence no blog).

And that's the short version: one of the biggest problems has been trying to explain the ever worsening situation to a succession of hapless staff who, despite their best efforts, have usually managed to take me two steps forward and one (or two) steps back, so at each turn something else has gone wrong and the tale has become yet more complicated. Theseus had an easier time negotiating the Cretan Labyrinth. Unbelievable.

Still, 2 months on, we're now almost settled; we have broadband; just 4 more boxes to unpack, some minor building work timetabled before Christmas; and we're looking forward to our first Christmas in our new home.

Watch this space...

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Devil's Dyke

The other weekend I did a wonderful walk starting out from Devil's Dyke, situated on the South Downs, north of Brighton.

Although this time I walked down and away from the Dyke, it makes for a great afternoon out in its own right: superb views, good walks, and (the least good bit) a pub. It’s a great place to fly a kite as it’s almost always windy (though sometimes too windy for flimsy modern kites…), although you’ll be competing for air-space with hang-gliders and micro-light aircraft. The whole hilltop is classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Dyke itself is a natural geological feature, formed by melt water at the end of the last Ice Age: it’s a short, very steeply sided V-shaped valley, which cuts into the north face of the South Downs, above the village of Poynings. The Dyke is only 1km long and narrows from 400m to a blind point, but is over 200m deep, making it the deepest true dry valley in Britain (ie, with no waterway) and, some say, in the world.

The name comes from a wonderful (and more entertaining) legend. Apparently furious at the conversion of the peoples of the Weald to Christianity, the Devil decided to dig a dyke through the South Downs, so the sea could flow in and drown their villages. To ensure his efforts were not discovered until it was too late, he decided to dig it over a single night. However, his toils woke an old woman, who lit a candle: this then woke her cockerel, who began to crow. Seeing the light and hearing the cockerel, the Devil was fooled into thinking it was dawn, and rushed off with his work uncompleted, and the Weald was saved.

The adjacent hilltop was first settled by Iron Age fort builders, who found the natural spur formed by the Dyke to be a superb defensive site. The remains of their earth ramparts can still be traced, albeit with some difficulty. But the beauty of the place gradually attracted more visitors, and in 1887 a railway was built from Brighton to bring visitors up to the Dyke. This proved a runaway success – an astounding 30,000 of them visited the Dyke on Whit Monday in 1893, and over a million during 1897.

By the turn of the 19th century, the Dyke had a hotel, a 360m aerial cable-car across the Dyke, and a two-tracked funicular railway 250m down to Poynings. Alas, the short season and high costs forced the closure of these attractions by 1910, although the railway from Brighton survived until 1938. The faint remains of the cable-car and funicular can also be found at the site if you look closely. The hotel survived, later to be replaced by a refreshment room, the predecessor of to-day’s pub.

You can get there by road (it's well signposted off the A27) or by an open-topped bus service from Brighton (daily in the summer), or for the more energetic, via the South Downs Way.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Arlington Reservoir

I recently did a walk around Arlington reservoir, as part of a longer walk from Berwick station to Eastbourne. I am constantly surprised at what I find near Brighton - Berwick is less than half an hour away by train, and yet this is a lovely spot, with great views, lots of wildlife, and nice cooling breezes on a hot day. It's also easily accessible by car, with a good car park, picnic tables and toilets.

Strongly recommended for a good family day out.

Friday, 25 June 2010

An amazing tree

I came across this amazing tree when visiting the church at Birdham, south of Chichester. It was more interesting than the church - it's like a living sculpture.

It is a Macrocarpa, native to California, for anyone interested. Or an Ent, if you are a fan of 'Lord of the Rings'...

Monday, 21 June 2010

Nearly fledged

Well, with England's current performance at the World Cup a spectacle too painful to view, it's been back to watching the seagulls nesting instead. The two surviving chicks are now distinctly larger, and walking around.

Only a matter of a few weeks before they try their hand at flying, no doubt.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

What a difference a week makes... the seagull chicks. They've gone from very small balls of fluff to more independently minded chicks, and are already beginning to wander around the chimney top. This, of course, makes them more vulnerable on their exposed home to the rooks, magpies and other birds (not to mention other seagulls), so we'll have to wait and see what happens next.

In the meantime, I'm keeping a wary eye out for the mother when I leave our front door.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The seagulls are nesting...

...on top of the chimney of the house opposite.

There are two chicks that I can see, both being fed at frequent intervals by their parents.

For those interested in the technical details they are the ubiquitous Herring gulls, Larus argentatus.

Anyone walking along the street needs to watch out, as gulls can be very protective of their chicks - as I found out to my cost last year.

Friday, 28 May 2010

The best cities to live in?

Wednesday saw the publication of Mercer's 2010 Quality of Living survey, reported by many news sites as 'the best cities in which to live'.

The annual survey is prepared by Mercer Consulting in New York and ranks cities by a range of criteria, such as access to work, the availability of housing and services, the cost of living, the level of crime, and so on.

The results are very interesting, not to say controversial. Vienna retains the top spot from 2009 as the city with the world’s best quality of living, with Zurich and Geneva following in second and third position, while Vancouver and Auckland remain joint fourth in the rankings. Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich, Bern and Sydney make the up the remaining top 10.

Read the message boards across the media and there is a hot debate as to how places like Bern and Luxembourg manage to rate more highly than Barcelona or Paris, or why no city from the USA features in the top 30 and - even more controversially - only two Asian cities feature in the top 40. The preponderance of European and German-speaking cities has led to accusations of Eurocentricism, and a preference for the 'clean but dull' over the 'messy but interesting'. In the UK, London is the highest-ranking city at 39, followed by newcomer to the list Aberdeen (53), Birmingham (55), Glasgow (57) and Belfast (63), but many will be surprised at the absence of Edinburgh or Bristol.

The great difficulty of such surveys is that different people would use different criteria for what constitutes 'Quality of Life'. Although Mercer have gone to great lengths to try to be objective (and claim that it is objective), the very choice and weighting of criteria is, of itself, a very subjective business.

Perhaps the Mercer project might equally be entitled 'the best governed cities', since items like public services, crime and public transportation rank so highly. Had 'governance' been chosen in the title, I suspect many commentators would have been less worried. Issues such as the ethnic diversity of the city and the climate are critical factors for many people's quality of life (for good or bad), but the former doesn't feature at all, and the latter is but part of the 'natural environment' criterion. And if you are a soccer fan or a water-sports enthusiast, access to a UEFA league club or the coast might be completely essential.

Of course, the Index is designed to be used by global organisations and governments posting people around the world. Even so, the idea that the average person would prefer to be posted to Bern or Dusseldorf over Paris, New York, Hong Kong or London, will seem to many as a little odd.

And, alas, Brighton doesn't even get a mention...

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Getting the message across on civic responsibility

No, this is not an April fool.

We came across this wonderful leaflet recently while in Catalonia, just south of Barcelona. It's all about keeping your neighbourhood clean. It actually covers all forms of litter and rubbish, but I loved the direct but humorous approach adopted in the picture, which shows a group of happily dancing dog turds!

You couldn't imagine that approach being adopted in the UK...

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Do you know what you are wearing?

Escaping the cold of the UK for a little warmth (relatively speaking) in off-season Spain, we came across several examples of a rather puzzling Spanish phenomenon which you don’t normally see in busy resorts: clothing with bizarrely inappropriate English phrases on them.

In a rather cosmopolitan bar, the owner had a T-shirt proudly suggesting, “Kill the yuppie bastards”; in a busy shopping street, a rather conservative-looking middle-aged man proudly sports a pullover emblazoned, “Doggy Style”; and, most bizarrely of all, a handsome father, young son in hand, who walked towards us on the beach wearing a sweat-shirt boldly proclaiming, “I take it up the bum”.

Now, said father may or may not indulge in this particular practice, but it strikes me as bizarre that it wouldn’t cross his mind to check the meaning of the words proclaimed across his torso to the world. Perplexed, we asked a Spanish friend to explain what we had observed, and he confirmed what we suspected: that English of any kind on clothing is regarded by some as fashionable; that they trust the manufacturers not to play games at their expense; and that they don't have a clue what the words on the garment actually mean.

Which prompts us to consider the motives of those who design such products? Do they really intend to humiliate their customers, or do they regard it as some sort of huge sartorial joke? Is it the revenge of a slighted designer upon a monolingual wholesaler, or a bored youth in the Far East wondering what he can get away with? Whatever the answer, some of the said customers are going to get a nasty shock one day but, until then, are hopefully walking around in contented, ignorant bliss.

Which reminds me: some years back, I brought my other half a gift from Japan in the form of a light cotton day-kimono, or yakuta. It is emblazoned with Japanese characters, the meaning of which, of course, I am ignorant. Perhaps I should check them out…

Monday, 4 January 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

One thing I did not expect in moving to the sunny South Coast was to find myself housebound by snow. But the week-end before Christmas, that is exactly what happened. We had around 5 inches of snow on Thursday night, which then thawed slightly, and re-froze.

I managed to get out happily enough on the Friday, thanks to a good pair of boots, as I had to go to London. For once the railways had got their preparations right, and the trains ran almost on time, albeit with a slightly reduced service frequency. But over the weekend, the lack of preparation in Brighton itself showed with a lamentable lack of snow-clearing from the roads and pavements except for those in the centre. As a result, our street was a veritable ice rink, and remained so until Monday afternoon.

Still, for a while, it made the town look very festive in the run-up to Christmas...