Wednesday, 31 December 2008

New year's eve, and the killing goes on

New Year’s Eve and a white hoar frost over all. I had hoped to get a decent photograph of the Kestrel that I saw hovering about 20 feet above the ground yesterday; it then swooped but did not, I think, make a kill and settled in the field to preen itself. Anyway, with the cold, it was not in evidence.

In fact, the mist and hoar frost was caused by a lack of the biting North wind of yesterday, so: no wind = no wind chill. I didn’t feel nearly as cold today.

The fields around are achingly beautiful at this time of year. There is a lonely, sparse feeling about everything. The only sound was the farmer behind in his tractor bringing bedding to the beasts. None of the local blue tits were around and the wrens kept themselves hidden. Lots of sparrows (house and hedge varieties) and the starlings, like death and taxes, are always there.

I came back to the news on the radio that Israel had refused an attempt to set up a truce to enable humanitarian aid into Gaza. This blog is not intended to be political, but I can no longer resist saying; when did murdering innocent people (or even executing without trial guilty people) become internationally acceptable? Was it us in Iraq, or Dresden, or Hiroshima, or did it happen before that? Anyway, isn’t it time we just stopped killing each other? Isn’t it time to say to governments “Just stop fighting each other and who knows what good might happen?” Can anyone who believes in God tell me why, when all good men and women pray constantly for Peace, doesn’t he/she just say “Yes”?

Monday, 29 December 2008

More on the wedding of the century (last century)...

That newspaper article continues...


After a reception at the bride’s parents’ home in Market Harborough, the couple left for a honeymoon in Paris.

The bride was educated at Market Harborough Grammar School and is now a beauty consultant for a London cosmetic house.

Mr. Roberts was educated at the Thomas a Becket Grammar School, West Bridgford, Nottingham and is now assistant display manager at Marshall and Snelgrove, Leicester.

Mr. and Mrs. Roberts will live at Brandywine Cottage, Thorpe Langton.”

It all sounds a bit grand, but the truth was that we were quite impoverished and wouldn’t have considered having the reception anywhere we had to pay, either for accommodation or catering. We never actually moved into Brandywine Cottage because, in spite of our (and our friends') efforts in decorating the place, when we returned from Paris, the wallpaper was falling off the wall with the damp and the place was cold as charity.

This is Marea with my sister in her “white broderie anglaise mid-calf length dress, gathered into a pink sash at the waist, and ankle length pantaloons, trimmed with frills. She also wore a white satin poke bonnet and carried a posy of pink flowers...” They both look frozen, but at least we had a warm and comfortable, not to mention silent, drive through the snowy Leicestershire countryside to Market Harborough.

And just to show that we didn’t actually get married in black and white –

And a final, yellowing, newspaper article...

Saturday, 27 December 2008

40 years ago today...

Miss Marea Lynn Tailby of 14 Barrington Road, Stoneygate, elder daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Tailby, of 12 Nithsdale Avenue, Market Harborough, and Mr. James Michael John Roberts, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. E. Roberts, of 207 Mere Road, Leicester, were married at Holy Cross Priory Church, New Walk, Leicester.

The ceremony was conducted by Father Mulvey. The bride, who was given away by her father, wore a full length white Empire line dress in pure silk choffon, with full peasant sleeves gathered into armbands at the elbow.

The armbands were made of velvet and decorated with pink and white flowers. Her hair was decorated with pink and white flowers.

She carried a bouquet of mixed white spring flowers.

The bridesmaid was Miss Julie Roberts (bridegroom's sister), who wore a white broderie anglaise mid-calf length dress, gathered into a pink sash at the waist, and ankle length pantaloons, trimmed with frills.

She also wore a white satin poke bonnet and carried a posy of pink flowers....

Forty years ago today, Marea and I were married, so today is our ruby wedding anniversary, and yes, I have bought her rubies.

Christmas 1968 was cold and bright; snow had fallen and there was a cold wind.

Getting married at Christmas wasn't easy; we had great difficulty getting flowers and a wedding car was almost impossible. I did a deal with Mann Egerton (high end car dealer on London Road, Leicester) to dress their Christmas window, which was to have the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in it, in return for a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow and driver to take us from Leicester to the reception at Market Harborough.

I created a huge shocking pink melinex parcel with a gigantic bow from which the car spilled out onto the sales floor. A couple of days before Christmas there was no confirmation that we would get car and driver, so I rang the Managing Director and said I would send him a bill for 20 guineas (£21) for dressing his window. This was enough of a threat, and he confirmed that we would have car and driver for the 27th December. (£21 may not seem a large amount of money, but I was earning about £10.50 a week in those days.)

We left that evening for London, dined at a 'Golden Egg' and took a coach down to Lymne and a D68 to Paris for a 4-day honeymoon. Paris was also frozen, but magical. We stayed just off Montmartre and had the time of our lives.

I'm now going off to get ready for dinner at Stapleford Hall so perhaps I will write more tomorrow.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Christmas, lights... and deaths

The shortest day has passed, we’ve had our ‘Christmas Starts Here!” party and now all I have to do is wrap a few presents, cook the ham and all is ready. Actually, the party was a bit thinner this year; a number of friends have gone down with flu, but I suppose that does mean they’ll probably be right by Christmas day.

One of our guests was Lord B, an old friend, who brought news of the death of an old comrade and adversary. JS, a past Lord Mayor (1984), (for a biography see and one of my predecessors as Chairman of the County Council, held absolute control of the City Labour Party for years and regarded people like me as dangerous lefties. For many years we wrangled and jousted to gain positions of power and I have to say I admire her assiduity in never letting an elected position go by without fighting for it; never allowing a policy decision to be made without her group’s input, and more, sticking with the fight until she could no longer get about and was struck down by serious illness culminating in her death aged 81. Maybe I’ve mellowed, or maybe all that political wrangling doesn’t seem so important since I left the Party behind, but I think my main feeling was that this was the end of an era.

Incidentally, I’ve been looking at people’s Christmas lights, wondering if the financial situation was causing people not to put up so many lights this year. I don’t think so! This one is on my way home through one of the council estates, but it’s by no means the only one... or the most extravagant.

Of course, OUR lights are very discreet and tasteful,

as are our decorations.

This little nativity we bought in in 1969 in Nassau, Bahamas from a group of nuns at a Christmas sale outside our little white church. We paid $1.


I really don’t have much use for ivy as a plant; it climbs all over everything weighing down trees and telegraph wires, but a few strands would about a chandelier seem to add something indefinable.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Crashes and crap weather

The weather so far this month - we're just a week in - has been, to say the least, interesting. At the end of November, we had persistent rain and floods. Springer Spaniels are usually water dogs, but Molly, our four-year- old is much too highly bred for all of that. Her grandfather won reserve best in breed a couple of years ago and her grandmother was the all time breed champion. She's very beautiful but a bit disdainful.

She's also bright enough to know when the weather is affecting the farm track. She gave it a very careful examination, then looked at me as if to say; "Shouldn't you be doing something about this?" "Like what?" I thought; "Make it stop raining?"
Anyway, with the roads being rather treacherous, there have been a number of shunts and crashes in the area recently. As I was coming home late down the turnpike one evening, I was suddenly faced with a road full of flashing blue lights and had to detour round three villages to get home, and the road into the next village has thrown at least three cars into the hedgerow in recent weeks. This one, however, was apparently caused by someone driving into the vehicle while it was parked just down the village road and shunting it into another parked vehicle in front. I 'm glad no-one was hurt, but I hope they've got good insurance.

This morning, we're all frozen again.

Wonderful scenes across the fields, but I don't think I'll be taking the car out with its windscreen like this.

"Grunting and swearing, the (verucca) gnome clambered out of another drainpipe. jammed its hat firmly on its head, threw its sack on to a snowdrift and jumped down after it. ' 's a good one,' he said.'Ha, take 'im weeks to get rid of that one!'

He took a crumpled piece of paper out of a pocket and examined it closely. Then he looked at an elderley figure working away quietly at the next house.

It was standing by a window, drawing with great concentration on the glass.

The gnome wandered up, interested, and watched critically.

'Why just fern patterns?' he said, after a while. 'Prett, yeah, but you wouldn't catch me puttin' a penny in your hat for fern patterns.'

The figure turned, brush in hand.

'I happen to like fern patterns,' sid Jack Frost coldly.

'It's just that people expect, you know, sad big-eyed kids, kittens looking out of boots, little doggies, that sort of thing.'

'I do ferns.'

'Or big pots of sunflowers, happy seaside scenes...'

'And ferns.'

'I mean, s'posing some big high priest wanted you to paint the temple ceiling with gods 'n' angels and suchlike, what'd you do then?'

'He could have as many gods and angels as he like, provided they -'

'- looked like ferns?'

'I resent the implication that I am solely fern-fixated,' said Jack Frost. 'I can also do a very nice paisley pattern.'

'What's that look like, then?'

'Well, it does, admittedly, have a certain ferny quality to the uninitiated eye.' Frost leaned forward. Who're you?'

The gnome told him.

'Really?' said Jack Frost. 'I thought they just turned up.'

'Well, come to that, I thought frost on the windows just happened all by itself,' said the gnome. ' 'ere, you don't half look spiky. I bet you go through a lot of bedsheets.'

'I don't sleep,' said Frost icily, turning away. 'And, now, if you'll excuse me, I have a large number of windows to do. Ferns aren't easy. You need a steady hand.'

Terry Pratchett

Rugby stars and domestic demons

One of the things I do in my ‘spare time’ is trying to learn Italian. I love Italy and the Italian language, but I’m not sure one class a week is enough. Last week, our tutor brought along Martin Castrogiovanni (Who he? I hear you say, and I’m tempted to reply with the words of Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge; “If you don’t know that, you shouldn’t be here.” But, instead, I’ll tell you.) Martin plays for Leicester Tigers Rugby Team. For a great picture of Castro, see

Castro with some of the Italian class

Here’s Wikipedia’s bit on Castro; “Martín Leandro Castrogiovanni (born October 21, 1981) is an Italo-Argentine rugby union footballer. He played for Ghial Calvisano, with whom he won the Italian championship in 2005. He has since signed a new contract with Leicester Tigers, and after a successful 2006/07 season with them was named Guinness Premiership player of the season. He wears the name "Castro" on his shirt rather than "Castrogiovanni" A native of Paraná, Argentina, Castrogiovanni made his international debut for the Italian national team on June 8, 2002, during the tour against the All Blacks, and since, has become a regular in the national side. He played every game of Italy's 2004 Six Nations campaign and was a reliable member of their forward pack, being elected man of the match in the victory against Scotland. One of his most famous moments came in 2004, when during the summer tour against Japan he scored a hat-trick, a rarity for a prop forward,”

I think most of us were a bit overawed with a guy who grew up speaking Spanish, then learned Italian and English and still manages to be a world class international. He was really friendly and understanding of our attempts to have a reasonable, if basic, Italian conversation. Over the last few weeks, we've rather ripped through the tenses - passato prossimo, passato imperfetto, and I found it difficult to keep up, having missed the week before last due to a bug (stomach, not computer). Anyway, I am encouraged by the beauty of the Italian language and by its idiomatic foibles - as with all languages; each has its own. I think the word that stays in my mind from the last few weeks' classes is that for vacuum cleaner - aspirapolvere - the sucker of dust. Sounds like a domestic demon. After I'd vacuumed and shampooed the bedroom carpet, Mrs R said; "I thought you were the sucker...." Cruel, I thought.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Hard Drives, Viruses and a German Printer

Having managed to thoroughly screw up the hard drive on my computer, I was forced, last week, to put in a new one. Of course, this meant re-installing Windows XP (I’ve had this computer for about 4 years). Oh, joy!

Having done the reinstallation, taking hours to let it download all the security updates (about 25 including Service Pack 3) I reloaded most of my software: Pagemaker, Freehand, Photoshop, Filemaker, etc., etc., and then found I had no sound.

If you’ve ever visited any of the online Windows advice forums – my favourite is Tech Support Guy where there are real people helping, and they will stick with you until you solve your problem – anyway, as I was saying, if you’ve visited these forums, you’ll see a lot of queries with titles like ‘I’ve lost my sound!!!’ (the triple exclamation marks seem to be de rigeur) and people saying that after reinstalling Windows, they no longer have any sound device installed. Well, having done this (reinstallation) before, I knew what to do – go to the motherboard producer’s website and update the chipset. If this is all Greek to you, don’t worry, it is to me also, but my motherboard manufacturer is MSI Global and they have an automatic scan and update feature on their website.

So, I went to the website and updated the chipset. Sophos, my Virus Control - free from the University and updated every hour - went mad. Kept saying all sorts of terrible things were going to happen. These I cheerfully ignored, but after updating the chipset and rebooting, still no sound. I repaired to Tech Support Guy, and they advised shutting down the virus control and trying again so that it would not prevent some updates from happening. This I did, in spite of my worries about letting in a virus, and all seemed well… but still no sound. Oh, well, I thought; I can probably sort that out by putting in a new, better, sound card. The installation should overwrite any problems. Having done this, still no sound. In fact the drives for the new card didn’t seem to install properly at all.

Then, while I was trying to figure out what to do next, something began to install itself on my computer – something calling itself Virus Control 2000. And although I cancelled it, Popup windows kept appearing saying My computer was infected with all sorts of things. I tried deleting the files, clearing the HKEYs, etc, but each time I rebooted, it reappeared. Seemed like my worst fears had been realised; I had indeed got a virus – a Trojan.

B*****r this! I thought. I’m going to start again from scratch. So I did a reformatting job on the HD and reinstalled Windows and all the updates, then quickly turned off the virus control again with my fingers crossed, updated the chipset, turned the virus control back on again, rebooted and, TA-DAHHHH, lots of lively sound.

My only problem now is that the printer installation disk says my printer isn’t recognised (connected) though the plug and play recognises it instantly and gives me a choice of which drivers to install. I scrolled down the list and plumped (the only word – I had no real idea) for one and let it install. My printer is now German!

It’s impossible to change this and install the English versions because the installer knows it’s already installed (even if you uninstall it) without following a long and complex set of instructions kindly provided by the kind Mr Nathan at Epson.

This, also, I have had to do before (some people never learn!) Still, that should keep me inside in the warm, out of the snow over the weekend.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Curve Launch

Off last night to the launch of Curve, Leicester’s brand new theatre; all part of the cultural quarter.

A stunning evening of song, acrobatic performances and wonderful tricks by the lighting rig, the fly towers, and the auditoria, and a building so iconic and yet so flexible that it must restore Leicester’s reputation for world class theatre. During the time I was on the Board of Directors of the original Haymarket Theatre, the predecessor of Curve, we sent productions all round the world. Most of what we put on stage went on to London and Leicester was rightly proud of its reputation.

It was often said that the Haymarket only did musical revivals, and Iindeed, I remember lots of Sondheim productions, Wizard of Oz, Singin’ in the Rain, Rent, West Side Story, Joseph and the Amazing Coloured Dreamcoat, but there were also many, many superb straight plays, comedies and lots of experimental theatre. I remember O’Casey, Shakespeare. Strindberg, Wilde, Pinter and so many more. One day, I’ll go back through my accumulated programmes from the 24 years I was a Director and really wallow in the great memories.

Meanwhile, someone needs to write a history of the Leicester Haymarket Theatre.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Strawberries: a double pleasure

During the Summer, we had some wonderful strawberries from our hanging strawberry baskets. I should, by now, have taken them out and saved the runners for next year, but I haven't been able to find the time.

Now, the leaves are changing colour and I'm enjoying them all over again.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Putting the garden to bed

We spent the weekend putting the garden to bed. The early frosts had really devastated the Nasturtians and they turned to slime as we pulled them out, leaving plenty of fallen seed behind for next year. We planted a couple of new roses, swaddled the Olive Tree pot in bubble wrap and moved it nearer the warmth of the house. Needless to say, we filled the local authority's green composting bin and we can now take it a bit easier until early Spring.

Everything's not over yet, however. The Amelanchier we planted last year at the bottom of the garden is still showing its Autumn red, as is the Cotoneaster by the Kitchen wall.
(I find Cotoneaster boring for 90% of the year, but it really comes into its own in November.) The Silver Birch (Paper White) looks wonderful - a great shape and almost ethereal lightness as it gradually turns and starts to lose its leaves.
Anyway, lots of rain this week; the lawn's unwalkable on. Molly, the spaniel tiptoes around (she's very fastidious about getting her feet wet and muddy - yes, I KNOW, she's supposed to be a spaniel. Tell HER that!).
Cosby flooding. The worst is over.
Cosby, the next village - on my way to work- was flooded, though when the road was a ford, it could be up to 3 feet deep. I remember getting the Mini stuck and having to pull her out by putting her in gear and using the starter motor.
Cosby Ford
These days, it's a bit more civilised (I'm sure I've got some pics of the whole village centre under water, but I can't find them) though the culverts get blocked with weed and leaves, and there's always some idiot who thinks the way to get through is to drive as fast as possible, breaking down and making life difficult for all.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


Ah, November. Rain and wind and cold.

This is this morning's picture. The milk delivery truck coming round the corner - it looks early but was, in fact, about 7.45 am.

No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon -
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -
Thomas Hood, 1844

The practice jumps are out, but the view is anything but glorious. Molly, the Springer Spaniel and I got thoroughly soaked this morning on what was really a very short walk. Neither she nor I wanted to stay out. They say there's no such thing as bad weather - only inappropriate clothing. They know where they can stick that!

In contrast, this rather sunny picture has a much sadder reason for being here. It's the Beach Head War Cemetery in Anzio, and as we come up to Remembrance Day, this blog page is dedicated to the memory of Gunner James Roberts, 3913389, 90 Lt.A.A. Regt., Royal Artillery, son of William and Cathrine Roberts, who died age 27 on 17 March 1944 in Anzio.
They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The first signs of Winter

Winter arrived overnight with a hard frost.

The softer plants like the Nasturtians have collapsed because they're mostly water, but we had already brought in the Aeonium and lagged the pot the Olive tree sits in (too big to bring into the house). The poppy, Patty's Plum, which is such a favourite in our house, had one last flowering just in time to be caught by the overnight freeze.

Anyway, it's not all downside; there are some wonderful sights to be seen. I caught these nettles just before the sun melted the frost - magical.

Mind you, you do have to be careful with ice all over the pavement!