So very sorry to disappoint you….

I have been watching a lot of The Crown on Netflix recently, but it seems to be a never completed task as no sooner do I get to the end of one series, another comes out. Like painting the Forth bridge. You no sooner finish than you have to start again.

Forth bridge

For those not from the UK, the Forth bridge is a steel railway bridge across the Forth of Forth in Scotland that is renowned for its need for continuous maintenance!

Although The Crown is intended to be fictional in terms of detailed content, the fact that the characters are real people, and the political and social events portrayed also match historical fact, it’s of course quite hard to believe that much of what is presented does not match reality. There have been many eyebrow raising revelations already. For most a quick Google search validates at least the rumour, if not the truth. So quite a number of revised opinions about various political and royal figures is now the state of things.

So why am I sorry to dissapoint? I am not considering writing memoirs at this stage in my life , and no, this is not a deluded rhetorical protest of ‘but surely you are not old enough’ nor is it the reverse. Actually age perception is a funny thing in my family and particularly in late departed mother who lived well past her eighties . From about the age of 60 when having the suggestion of replacing an item of furniture or investing in a new appliance would always say…’ no need for that, it will see me out’. I am glad to say she was very wrong and outlived most of these things as we knew she would.

No, quite simply nothing I could put in memoirs, or even a daily diary. I have no exciting revelations…not a single forgotten romance with a princess, no hidden trips to visit foreign leaders of state and no newspaper headline splashes of a hedonistic lifestyle.

But don’t despair…a recent chance family conversation about a Wallace & Gromit train track game played many years ago by our then school age children gave rise to a throw away comment of ‘would you have liked to be a train driver Dad?’ . Much to everyone’s surprise, I revealed that at age 13 I had actually driven a train! Back then, before I discovered girls I had discovered trains and on a spotting visit to local railway yards to get train numbers I was invited by a friendly train driver to have a go at driving a locomotive. Back in the early 1970’s it seems that Health & Safety , or indeed protection of children from adults hadn’t really been at the top of the agenda.

For the avoidance of doubt I neither crashed the locomotive nor was I subject to anything inappropriate!

The kindly driver will have long since retired and will be driving trains in the sky, but anyway I will maintain a degree of anonymity about when and where.

Brian – a very intelligent squirrel

We have a resident squirrel or two in our garden. One of them in particular is remarkably intelligent.

I can’t really give too much provenance to his early education although I am told he played on 2012 University Challenge Cambridge University team some years ago (but possibly as mascot) and more recently has been a successful contestant in some TV quizzes. His skills are however not confined to the subjects of biochemistry, early English literature and nano physics, but also to how to open a bird feeder that has a spring clip and then to be able to remove nuts out of reach of his legs by swinging said feeder vigorously.

We have actually become very fond of Brian, and although the natural next step might be to just leave the peanuts in a more accessible place, there are downsides to this. Firstly the mental challenges are probably good for him – current restrictions will be limiting his social interaction and there are of course no pub quizzes for him to enter at the moment and a local gymnastics competition that I know he has been considering training for and participating in has just been deferred for some months. The other reason of course is that Brian has a wide circle of friends and providing dinner party facilities for such a group would probably require stocks of peanuts that we just don’t have readily to hand at the moment.

Squirrels are relatively new to our garden….our resident garden guardian Geoffrey also felt it his duty to ‘see them off the premises’ but alas Geoffrey is not with us anymore, but probably looking down from doggy heaven with slight bemusement at the new residents.

Our kindly vet who looked after Geoffrey in his later years would often comment, ‘if Geoffrey could talk, I am sure he would be a very polite dog’ , I think based on the dogs stoicism and acceptance of prods, examinations and the odd injection. Praise indeed , and proof that we always have had only the best in our garden.

The wheels on the bus …..etc.

Those familiar with the children’s song will know that the lyrics do a fine job of stating the obvious…the wheels on the bus go round and round, the ladies on the bus go chatter, chatter, chatter, the babies on the bus go waaa, waaa, waaa, (this line far better sung than written), the wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish and so on.

There are probably also regional variations on this to meet local needs. For example, If you travel on the bus in Bermuda it is expected practice that you greet each and every other passenger individually. Joining the bus at busy times means most of your journey is occupied just by this!

Anyway, back to this meaningful set of lyrics….although not having the classicism of a Lennon and McCartney Beatles ballad or an Elton John anthem, you get the feeling of that everyone on board knows what is happening, who is doing what and generally feels safe and secure on the bus.

This wasn’t the case outside my home today. We live in a semi rural area and although we have the luxury of one public transport a few times a day, these are mini buses , not much bigger than a large family’s people mover!

Today however a strange scenario…it seems that the nearby small town to us had its link road to larger neighbour blocked for most of today and the regular ‘big grown up’ service featuring a full size double decker bus was being routed along our narrow country roads.

Fortunately not many passengers on the bus being a Sunday, but a quick look at them said that they had not been told of this foray into rural Yorkshire…the faces gave an impression of a range of feelings from kidnap victim to horror story….calling for a quick rendition of the final and least known verse of the above song…the people on the bus screamed help, help, help……

It’s all about communication..!

Happiness is a sharp axe….

For anyone alarmed by this title …please don’t be. I may have considered many mid life career changes, but being an axe waving terror figure has never made it to the list.

My axe activities are solely directed towards chopping logs into kindling for my wood burning stove. I actually (no pun intended…) own three axes..one being a real hand-me-down from my parents home. It’s worryingly  quite lethal and although it’s blade is not sharp, having probably last been sharpened in 1967 and chopped a lot of firewood since then, the axe head does have a tendency to detach mid-chop and fly off the handle (literally) at an unexpected trajectory. No amount of gloves and  safety goggles has been proved to be sufficient PPE when using this lethal weapon, so it’s had to be retired.

The remaining two are both young entrants to the world of domestic tools…the first being one I purchased myself and it’s near twin, arriving only a few weeks later, a kindly but unexpected gift from my father in law when we had just moved into our current house and became proud owners of a wood burning stove.

This though was some years ago. When we bought our house it was the very opposite story to some of the horror tales one hears where the previous owners remove every last thing they can. Our predecessors were very generous and left large amounts of logs, chopped and bagged kindling and much more.

They did however leave us a few mysteries as well…a confusing lighting system, numerous electronic gadgets and control systems, but with a bit of detective work we have probably got to grips with most of these.

Anyway we have finally finished the bequeathed kindling and are now making our own.

I think I have found a new vocation…it’s cold, damp, still some snow on the ground but a few hours chopping logs into kindling has been surprisingly very gratifying. Who needs visits to stately homes, gift shops or tea and cake in tea  rooms on a winter Sunday anymore?

Look out for next week’s blog where I make myself clothing from animal skins and build a cave house.

New dogs required?

Driving along one of our local motorways a few days ago, I was a bit perturbed to see numerous overhead gantry signs with the message ‘ The UK leaves the EU on 31 December, new dogs required’ . I knew things were changing but not that every pet owner had to replace their four legged friends. With the average price for any pedigree puppy being around GBP£2000, it could be an expensive business.

Who wouldn’t like a new dog?

The displays certainly aren’t clear……as my mother in law,  on a separate journey actually read it as New Docks required and was left wondering why Dover, Southampton, Hull etc. were all being consigned to the history books.

It took an eagle eyed family member in the car who could focus on the signs and not the road ahead …..to note that the message is actually all about ‘docs’ as in documents ..not dogs or seaports.

Another sign I spotted a junction or so later helpfully asked the question ‘Travelling to France? Covid Test required’.  Very helpful info you may say, but this road junction in Yorkshire, Northern England and is some 4 hours drive (about 250 miles) from the nearest seaport from where you can take the ferry to France! In reality the majority of cars who use this particular exit are either travelling to the local Ikea or Lidl and really not much further!

As a nation, in the UK we are actually quite used to unusual signage..in the early 1990’s we had the Traffic Cones hotline promoted all along our motorways  complete with a freephone 0800 number. The only problem being nobody had a clue why it was there?

Some people thought it was to report stray or lost traffic cones, others a counselling service for those to report and get advice on an unhealthy romantic attraction to these plastic hat impersonators, some assumed it was to complain about there being too many of them and so on. In fact it was actually an information line you could ring to find out where there were roadworks on the country’s motorway network, presumably to avoid them…or if you had a strange interest in them, so that you could plan a Happy weekend of contra-flow driving complete with other features including those family favourites…’raised man hole covers’ and ‘temporary road service’.

Anyway, such signs are now just history.

But despair not, visit Scotland’s motorways and you will still find signage to delight. In Scotland, people just generally say it as it is and this is the tone of the signage there too. My favourites are the signs displayed on many stretches of motorway with helpful motoring advice…’Watch your speed’. Yes for sure many a driver will be prodded by this reminder and ease off the accelerator pedal a bit; another is , ‘Check your fuel’..likewise a quick glance at the fuel gauge makes sense….but the ‘icing on the cake’ goes to ‘Check your tyres’….really??? At 70 miles per hour in the fast lane!!!