Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Deep and Crisp and Even

Good morning to all in the Land of Blog, the Land of Shimp, the Land of the Walking Man, Shadow's Land, the BeeKeepers Land (aka BeekersLand) and everyone who inhabits the Blogosphere.

You can see how wintry it is in these parts; beautiful vistas and just wonderful for all the youngsters building snowmen, playing snowballs or just skidding along on their toboggans and sleds. Been there, done all that and the tee-shirt needs renewing - but heigh-ho - it's snow great problem!

Haven't used my mini-camcorder for a while so hope it comes through on here today. All our best wishes to everybody. Take good care of yourselves - and that's an order!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Brief Encounter

My apologies for lack of postings and for not visiting my favourite bloggers.

Health problems in the Croydon Boy cottage have been the cause. My wife and I have both had some time in hospital. Pat was in Edinburgh Royal and I was in Borders General. My problem was heart damage of a few years ago which gave me some reminders recently! Pat has a vascular problem and this is worrying but is being treated well enough.

I don't want to dwell on the health side of things as life's too short for all that. We shall be more concerned with the weather at present. Plenty of snow and a radio warning today said that Lothian and Borders (my area of course) can expect heavy and prolonged snow - lasting until after Christmas Day.

So, a white Christmas this year. Lovely for the youngsters; not too sure about those in isolated areas who are easily cut off in snow storms. This happened to us about five or six years ago when we lost power for five days and all roads were totally impassable for three days. Memories of cooking eggs and bacon on a fry pan over the coal fire. Slowly boiling water for coffee and tea on a gaz camping stove. Romantic? Not very. ;-}

We wish everybody a very Merry Xmas and a Happier and Healthier New Year. If winter comes can Spring be far away...

Sunday, 22 November 2009

A Beautiful Woman - How to be one

A friend in Australia sent me this recently. I think it's worth more than just a look.
Audrey Hepburn wrote the following when asked to share her 'beauty tips .'

It was read at her funeral years later.

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.

For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.

For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.

For beautiful hair, let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day.

For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.

People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.

Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.

As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others.

If you share this with another person you will boost her self esteem, and she will know that you care about her.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A quiz for you...

There's something odd about the following extract from a 50,000-plus word novel. Can you say what it is?

If youth, throughout all history, had had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn’t constantly run across folks today who claim that “a child don’t know anything.”A child’s brain starts functioning at birth; and has, amongst its many infant convolutions, thousands of dormant atoms, into which God has put a mystic possibility for noticing an adult’s act, and figuring out its purport.

Up to about its primary school days a child thinks, naturally, only of play. But many a form of play contains disciplinary factors. “You can’t do this,” or “that puts you out,” shows a child that it must think, practically or fail. Now, if, throughout childhood, a brain has no opposition, it is plain that it will attain a position of “status quo,” as with our ordinary animals. Man knows not why a cow, dog or lion was not born with a brain on a par with ours; why such animals cannot add, subtract, or obtain from books and schooling, that paramount position which Man holds today.

But a human brain is not in that class. Constantly throbbing and pulsating, it rapidly forms opinions; attaining an ability of its own; a fact which is startlingly shown by an occasional child “prodigy” in music or school work. And as, with our dumb animals, a child’s inability convincingly to impart its thoughts to us, should not class it as ignorant.

The complete novel has the same unique 'peculiarity' - and is thus quite a remarkable achievement by Mr. Gadsby, the author, who died at age 66 just as his amazing book was published. He never even saw it as a publised book!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Search for Madeleine Continues


The heartache of the parents goes on, and on ... they will never give up their search for the daughter who was snatched from their lives over two years ago.

I can think of nothing worse than not knowing where one's child is. What has happened to her. Is she well, or being abused. Or has she been murdered.

You might say otherwise. You may say that the death of a child is far worse. But at least you know what has happened.

Not knowing must be a constant nightmare. A terrible thing to have to live with. So I hope more blogs will include this video - it is available on youtube and the more widespread it becomes the more chance there is that SOMEBODY will give the parents the lead they pray for.

I hope so. I sincerely hope so.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Floors Castle (Kelso)

Floors Castle in Kelso is the home of the 10th Duke of Roxburghe and family.

This is a large estate with extensive grounds, cottages, stables and other properties including the Roxburgh Hotel and a new golf course.

The Duke and Duchess are fond of horses and have bred some very good race horses. Currently they have Elation, a two-year-old bay filly in training at the Mark Johnston racing stables; one of the most successful trainers in the UK.

I like strolling around the pasture areas of Floors Castle and sometimes see quite a number of beautiful horses grazing. However, today I could find only a couple in the area I was walking in. One of the two looked as though she might be in foal. I'm no expert but I thought she looked a tad 'plumpish'.

I've not been around the blog scene for a few days as my wife, Pat, has been spending a couple of days in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where she had a minor operation called an angioplasty. It went very well; Pat was able to see this procedure on the monitor as the surgeon went about her job! She is now safely back home I'm pleased to say.

Short video:


Saturday, 24 October 2009

A Question: Could You Live Without ...?

Of all the modern wonders I wonder which, if any, you would like to get shot of?

1. The infernal combustion engine, i.e. the motor car.
2. The internet.
3. Television.
4. The mobile (cell) phone.
5. The microwave oven.
6. The aeroplane.

Me? No.3 - the TV would be dumped if I was allowed to. What a time-waster it generally is.

Also, the mobile or cellphone. OK, they're handy on a long car journey if you break down, but I managed without one extremely well for 50 years! Now it seems millions of people, especially kids and teens, have one welded to their ears or fingers. 'Texting', with its own micro language, seems to be replacing conversation! Still, everyone to their own likes.

I'd even go so far as to say the aeroplane has caused a heck of a lot of heartache, death and destruction that it might have been better never to have been invented.

Argue amongst yourselves - if you are interested!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Earl Interview on Hundy Mundy

This is a video of a few years ago when Lord Haddington was interviewed by the local Scottish Borders TV about Hundy Mundy.

His farm manager, Richard, did a lot of the preparatory work and is also on the video.

Obviously this is not one of my Flipping videos but one day ... I might get there.

Monday, 12 October 2009

A Bus Ride and a Rush Hour in Scotland :-}

Today we had to go to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary as my wife, Patricia, has to see the lady doctor who will perform the angioplasty in a few weeks.

We drove five miles to Earlston and then took the bus to Edinburgh. Main reason is that I detest trying to navigate around a large 'roundabout' a few miles from the hospital.

I took a few short video shots of the bus ride into the hospital. The interview went well. We set off for the bus back to Earlston where we had parked our little Ford Ka car.

About half a mile from Mellerstain and our cottage I had to pull up. It was the typical rush hour in this neck of the woods....

Billy May's orchestra blares out 'Autumn Leaves' in the background!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

A Sunday Stroll in October 2009

October this year is beautiful in the Scottish Borders. Breezy at times but the blue skies and sunshine suits me perfectly. Love it like this.

I enjoy wandering around churchyards and suchlike. Some of the gravestones are touching to read. We have some beautiful abbeys, cathedrals and churches in the UK. I've visited many of them over the years. Chester, Salisbury, Canterbury, Lincoln, Norwich, St. Pauls, and Liverpool to name a few cathedrals. Liverpool has a relatively new Roman Catholic cathedral. Unusual in shape, rather like a large tent. Locally and irreverently called 'Paddy's Wigwam'. Inside the colours are breathtaking as the sun illuminates the multi-coloured leaded light windows. Fabulous. Virtually all these buildings are now charging casual visitors before they enter. The upkeep is expensive of course and most people do not object to paying. However, there is no 'enforced' payment - strictly speaking. There is a notice requesting a 'donation' of, say, £5 but this is a ploy to escape the dreaded value added tax (VAT) which would be payable by the church if they were charging a fixed entrance fee. A 'donation' is not liable to VAT. Just thought I'd explain that (the old VAT instruction book still resides in my head!).

Robert the Bruce and Melrose Abbey.

There is a well known story about Robert the Bruce, one time king of Scotland. It probably gave rise to the old exhortation: If at first you don't succeed try, try and try again. Robert the Bruce was in despair, resting in a cave. All seemed hopeless. It was at this time while secluded in this cave that he noticed a spider continually remaking its web. Every time a strand broke, the spider repared it. This was the moment at which he vowed to keep trying to free Scotland from the English.

On his deathbed in 1329, Robert the Bruce asked that his heart should be carried into battle against the "Infidels" because he himself had not been able to go on a Crusade. (Removing internal organs after death was a common practice in those days). His dying wish was said to have been carried out and his heart, in a casket, was taken on the Crusades.

When he passed away he was buried at Dunfermline - minus his heart.

His heart was taken on the Crusades by Sir James Douglas (aka Black Douglas), who, just before he was killed in Spain, hurled it at the enemy. The heart was recovered and taken back to Melrose Abbey where the then new king, David II (Bruce's son), had asked for it to be buried.

"Black Douglas" was a sort of 'bogey man' in England. English mothers would threaten their children when they were being naughty. "If you dont behave and do as you're told the wicked Black Douglas will come and get you".

Background music today is J.S. Bach's well known piece "Air on the G-String".


Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Lara Fabian - Sings 'Caruso' (Live)- Love Personified


Our lives are too short to find every thing of beauty on this earth. If we lived a thousand years I guess we would still say something similar.

I've now found another thing of beauty; my newest love. She has ripped my heart out. Caused my eyes to flood with tears. I am totally smitten, never to recover normality after hearing this heavenly voice singing such a heart-rending song.

Lara Fabian - I love you, love you, love you.

And you don't even know my name. Life is beautifully cruel, is it not? I wonder how many other hearts she holds captive today? Millions I guess.

She's so talented. I'd never heard of her before but found out on the web that she was born in Belgium on 9th January 1970 (she's Capricorn - same as I). She sings in French, Italian and Spanish - also Portugese and German, plus a little Flemish. Sold over 12million records.

And for all you lucky Canadians - she adopted your country and became a Canadian citizen in 1994.

Forgive me Lara Fabian for not finding you until now. I watched a film called 'One More Kiss' last night, about a girl returning to the UK as she was dying from cancer. One of the musical clips in the film was 'Caruso' sung by a good tenor. I searched for this song and found Lara!

I've heard Pavarotti sing it, Il Divo sing it and others - but none, in my mind, can touch the beauty and feeling she imparts in this version. I felt much the same when I first found Jacques Brel singing Ne Me Quitte Pas for the first time. Wonderful - and he was Belgique too!

Monday, 5 October 2009

A Gentleman's Gentleman - Alan Parkes.

I may be breaking some rules (again) by posting this short video because it was produced not by me but by the British Broadcasting Corporation - around 16 or so years ago.

Shortly before we decided to move to Scotland I read a piece in The Times about Alan Parkes. It told how this 65 year old man had left South Africa where he had lived for twenty or more years.

Alan had set up a flower shop business in S.Africa and was successful. However, when he reached 65 he wanted to return to England and retire. The plan was good, except that the ruling government then banned him from taking the money from the sale of his business out of the country!

He arrived in London virtually penniless. He was a well-educated man, a student of architecture amongst other things and an ex-army officer during WW2. He decided to put an advert in a London newspaper offering his services as a butler! He had no experience as one although when he was a child his family had their own butler - so he knew what the job entailed.

He was offered three positions. He took one of them and remained as butler in that same house until his death, aged 84 a few years ago. The 'Times' diary article gave this brief outline of his return to London for 'retirement'.

I was most impressed by the article and wrote to Alan, via The Times newspaper, and told him of my impending plans to decamp from England and go to work for an Earl in Scotland. He wrote back and we became friends via the telephone and letters.

After my arrival in Scotland, having settled in OK, I invited Alan to spend a week or so with us in the east wing of Mellerstain. He was 80-ish at the time. He said he'd love to come for a few days as he had never been to this area of Scotland.

He arrived at Berwick railway station and we picked him up in the car for the 30 mile trip back to Mellerstain. His stay was really enjoyable for all of us. He was one of nature's real gentlemen.

During his stay he told us of his various experiences and employers as a butler. He also had a video tape of a short article on BBC television which I managed to copy onto a blank tape. I have now been able to rip that video onto my hard drive and this is shown below.

The BBC had heard of Alan Parkes being butler at a lovely old house on the banks of the river Thames. The house was being sold, and one of the conditions of the seller was that the new owner would employ Alan as butler. And so they did.

I was greatly saddened when Alan's daughter rang me one evening to say that Alan had been ill for a week or so and had died suddenly. She said that her Dad had often told her of his visit to Mellerstain and of our brief friendship. Pancreatic cancer killed this lovely old chap. Thankfully he had only a short period of illness before he passed away.

I hope you enjoy this little item, and hope also that the BBC doesn't object to my sharing it.


Friday, 2 October 2009

A Walk to the Mausoleum (and back!)

It's Thursday, October 1st 2009 and the weather is fine. Beautiful in fact. So I'm off for a stroll to another part of Mellerstain. Neglected by many, mainly because it is unknown to most visitors, and quite a few others.

Part of Rachmaninov's 2nd Piano Concerto plays gently in the background. This music, like so many other pieces, always relaxes me. As you know, it was used in that old romantic film "Brief Encounter".

I count this film as a classic now. I must have seen it at least ten times and never tire of it. Why is this? Yes, I heard you ask that question; a very good question. Well, Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson are just superb in this old 1945 black and white movie. And I just love old railway stations! Especially this old-fashioned railway buffet, complete with a haughty-ish barmaid and cafeteria assistant; Stanley Holloway as the protective railway porter. It's all so nostalgic for me and many others.

In 1945 David Lean filmed this romantic classic at Carnforth railway station. Filming took place at night between 10pm and 6am to avoid interfering with daytime trains. Carnforth was later reduced to a branch station and gradually crumbled into disrepair.

A project started in 2000, jointly with Railtrack, and about three years later the Brief Encounter Refreshment Room and Visitor Centre opened in late 2003. One fine day I shall make it to this place. Have a cup of tea, or maybe a beer (if they're licensed) and just imagine Trevor and Celia being at a nearby table.

Trevor Howard was not too pleased however. He made many other films of course but he was reputed to be annoyed that Brief Encounter was the film he is always associated with. He's one of my top ten actors, along with James Mason (whose voice is immediately recognised), Richard Burton - especially his rendition of Dylan Thomas's excrutiatingly wonderful "Under Milk Wood".

However, 'Brief Encounter' will grow in stature, imo, as the years go by and movies become ever more car-chase, car-crash, special effects and all the other modern methods of movie making with acting slipping into the background in so many films today.


A Conversation with some Cattle

Taking a stroll in the gentle October weather I met some friends.

Some sheep, some cattle and some mushrooms. Or maybe they were toadstools?

Anyway, the day was sublimely calm and autumnly; a lovely day for a stroll. And to have a chat with some of my 'neighbours'.

The background music is part of Rimsky Korsakov's 'Sheherazade' - one of my favourite light classical pieces.
I remember taking my 12 year old son, Graham, to the Royal Albert Hall in 1973 to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Sheherazade waspart of the programme played that evening.
On leaving the concert my boy castigated me: "Why did you never tell me about this sort of music before!?" I could see he had been weeping. The music had really penetrated his young soul.
He had albums by the pop groups of those days, like Alice (banal) Cooper, T.Rex and Marc Bolam (quite decent stuff there) and plenty of others. But no classical music.
He's now in his late 40s and has a roomful of LPs and CDs of virtually every classical piece under the sun. Should have spent more time with him when he was a schoolboy. Like most fathers I was far to occupied with earning a living; he's a very forgiving chap, thank goodness. He and his lovely wife have blessed us with a beautiful (now 18 years young) granddaughter!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Wwoof-ing in Canada

Do you know any Wwoofers? Anywhere?

Neither did I until my neighbour, just 4 cottages away from ours decided to become one in April 2009. She is now in Canada and in a month or two will be going on to New Zealand.

Why should a 43 year old midwife decide to up sticks and leave her lovely Flossie doggy with another neighbour for a whole year?

We don't really know of course; her motives could have been many. We think it might be due to stress. Midwifery may well be a rewarding occupation but can, I imagine, also be quite stressful. Maybe she just needed a break; a complete change, doing something new.

And what, I hear you yell, is wwoofing all about? Good question. The simple answer is that it's a voluntary scheme whereby anybody can go and work on organic farms, as an unpaid helper, advisor, worker. All the host farm has to do is supply board and lodgings.

Welcome to the WWOOF program in Canada - World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Canada is just one of many countries welcoming wwoofers. In Canada there are some 600 farms that are hosting this scheme.

Would you like to take a year off and start wwoofing? Charlotte did (not her real name) and a girlfriend of hers from Ireland plans to join her in a few weeks from now. I'm sure it will re-charge Charlotte's batteries by the time she returns to her demanding midwifery job in about six months time. We look forward to hearing of her adventures. Her beautiful border collie, Flossie, will also be so happy to see her again.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Wanna Buy a House? Or Hear a Poem?


I have a bit of a lower back problem today. Every so often something 'clicks' at the end of my spine. It is something I just have to let take its course and heal itself. Tried chiropractors and osteopaths in the past but they have not helped speed this pain away.

So today I took a slow stroll along a track to a much neglected area of the estate. The first stop was at the old bothy. A neighbour nearby says it was once 'the Lodge', but that must have been 40 or more years ago by the looks of the place.

Almost next to it is a large walled garden. It is about the size of two football pitches and was once tended by half a dozen gardeners of varying grades. I have a photo of this walled garden as it was in the days of the 12th Earl of Haddington. I shall have to try to dig it out.

Today it is massively overgrown. Nature hates a vacuum so she has filled this space with trees and bushes; almost impenetrable now.

Whilst standing there in that now overgrown jungle I thought I'd mention William Henry Davies who wrote the poem 'Leisure'. Many will know the first two lines at least which, today, are still as meaningful as when he wrote them in the 20th century.

I met my neighbour, Alice from the east lodge cottage on my way back. She had 'Flossie' with her, an elderly border collie. Flossie's owner is a midwife who lives in a cottage a few doors from me but has gone to Canada for a year and had to leave Flossie with Alice. I am sometimes allowed to take Flossie for a walk. As she is about as old as me, in doggy years, our walkies are gentle strolls; she doesn't pull when on the lead and she doesn't dash off when the lead is taken off. A lovely old gal, but I think she misses her 'mum' who's in Canada for another 6 months at least.


Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Kelso Abbey and an ex-Prime Minister


Very sorry about the noisy traffic but that's life nowadays, wherever you live!

Kelso Abbey would have been ab fab in days of yore. Started in 1128 Kelso Abbey was one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture. Finally finishedin 1243 , it was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St John. It was one of the largest Abbeys in Scotland.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Abbot of Kelso was granted the right to wear a mitre, which gave him a precedence higher than any other Scottish abbot.

Two kings, James III and James IV, were crowned in the Abbey, and Prince Henry, son of David I, was buried there in 1152.

There's another Abbey in Melrose, about 12 miles from where we live in Mellerstain. I may try some videos there one day. The heart of Robert the Bruce, brought back from the crusades, is buried in the precincts of Melrose Abbey. Melrose Abbey is about 500 years older than Kelso Abbey. Built to last, were they not!

The video below is just a short look at the recent statue of Lord Alec Douglas Home (pronounced Hume), one time prime minister of England. He was the 14th Earl of Home and his estate is The Hirsel, in Coldstream. He renounced his peerage to become PM for about one year, (October 1963-October 1964). He died in October 1995, aged 92.

Coldstream is the home of the Coldstream Guards, formed in 1650 and is the oldest regiment in the regular British army. Coldstream is a true 'Border town', separated from England by the river Tweed, with England on the south side of the river and Coldstream on the north. It has been 'in the wars' over the years, having been twice demolished during the 'border wars'. However, it is still going strong - and very peacefully now, thank goodness!

Music: Avé Maria


Monday, 21 September 2009

My Scruffy Cottage Garden

This is a short stroll through my untidy little back garden and to the east gates of Mellerstain House.

Their gardens are much better kept than mine. But they have a couple of chaps to do theirs; I'm chief cook, bottle washer and grass cutter in my bit of Mellerstain.

Background music: Pavane (Fauré)


Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Cheeky Gardener,Bumbles and Ginger Ice Cream

videoIt is such a glorious day today I decided to wander around Mellerstain.

Gordon Low, the gardener, was making out he was working. Ha!

The Bumble Bees were bumbling happily.

A few visitors were enjoying a visit.

And I went in search of my favourite ice cream: Doddington Double Ginger. Believe yew mee, thart ther is a dee-lish-ushhh flavour.

BTW: The background music is part of Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Bernard Miles Monologue and Miles of Walls!


This is a monologue by the late, great Lord Bernard Miles. He was a much-loved actor and all-round jolly good chap. I was lucky enough to hear him give talks in St. Olave's Church in London where I sometimes spent my lunch hour when I was a civil servant.

Bernard Miles was a great raconteur. His anecdotes and monologues were unique. I wanted to let you hear one of them and the only way I could work out how to do this was to treat a recording of his as 'music' on a video!

Now I'm probably doing it the 'hard' way. That's not untypical of me. However, as I was driving home via Kelso I thought I'd show you how long part of the wall of Floors Castle is. So, my wife held the Flip video gizmo whilst I drove past part of the wall. I then chose to add this Bernard Miles monologue and cut out the sound of the video itself (which was mainly the sound of the car engine!). Towards the end of the video the monologue begins again; I don't think it's posssible for me to stop it, but never mind.

This extensive castle wall was said, by some, to have been built by Napoleonic prisoners of war, in the early 1800s. There were some 100,000 French POWs in the UK at one time and it would not have surprised me if some of them were made to do such building works - but I think this is a myth as far as Floors Castle wall is concerned. What the video shows is probably only half of the wall!

It's certainly a well built affair and it is still as solid as when it was was first constructed.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Murder, Violence, Treachery, Arson - and More!

The river Tweed runs through the Scottish Borders down to Berwick on Tweed. Once the most disputed border town in the UK. Berwick on Tweed is, officially, and English town. Its football team is, however, in the Scottish league!

The Tweed is a favourite river for anglers. They pay a licence fee to fish for salmon in this majestic river which meanders, and sometimes rushes, through the Borders including the town of Kelso.

Six miles from Kelso is the small village of Smailholm. Today I left my car and climbed to where 'The Tower House' of Smailholm still guards the surrounding area.

It's a steep climb and by the time I enter the tower I needed a short rest.

I did not fancy the further climb up the steep winding stone staircases to the very top. I've been there, done that - but still haven't got the tee-shirt!

For 300 years Scottish and English borderers endured violence, treachery, murder, arson, raiding and robbery. They lived in constant fear and often misery and squalor. The stories of the 'REIVERS' are many and varied. Bloody reminders of those fearful days.

Built in the 1500s this stone fortress in Smailholm housed people who were always vigilant and ready to repel the dreaded Reivers.

Smailholm Tower originally housed the Pringles and later the Scotts, two well established Scottish family names. Today it is a well-restored attraction and owned by Scottish Borders Council; open all the year round.

There were many of these tall tower houses in those violent and lawless days. Most of them have been demolished over the years but a number remain and tourists and visitors seek out those that still survive.


Friday, 11 September 2009

Another Castle - I've Got So Many, Ho Hum...

videoYou know, of course, that the film director, Alfie Hitchcock, liked to appear at some point in his movies. So why not me? I am the producer, director, sound engineer, camera operator and narrator. This, however, is not likely to catch on in my case. I don't do mysteries. Not deliberately anyway! This little Flip Ultra video thing is so cheap and cheerful. It is easy to use and edit. OK, the definition is way below ideal - but good enough for the occasional amateur user. The novelty will wear off I suppose. Being a bloke, I'm a bit of a mug for gadgets and gizmos. Keeps me happy, as my missus would say, for about nine days. Perhaps I should call this blog The Chronicles of a Nine Day Wonder Bloke. What'dya think.

This short video is part of the extensive garden centre at Floors.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Lunch in a London Church - Try It

It's the late 1970s. I am travelling daily from Southend-on-Sea, Essex, to Fenchurch Street rail station and then walking to Custom House in Lower Thames Street. I had just been promoted to HEO and was leading a team of EO's (Executive Officers) known then as the Export Enquiry Unit.

Custom House is located twixt London Bridge and Tower Bridge. One of the most interesting and historic parts of dear old London town. This particular Custom House has one of the largest unsupported ceilings in the land. A huge room. Called 'The Long Room' which is the name given to all such rooms where duties are paid. It is here that all the importers and their agents come to present their documents and pay import duties and other taxes before they have their goods released by HM Customs & Excise.

My team investigated the other side of the coin: exports. Most of our time was spent out of the office, visiting various exporters and their agents for reasons I cannot divulge; official secrets and all that. (Taps right side of nose with forefinger...hush-hush){:-}

If working in the office, compiling reports etc., I would usually spend my lunch hour in church!

A very special church: St. Olaves in Hart Street. This is only a short walk from Custom House. An oasis in the busy concrete city of London. It is also the burial place of the renowned diarist Samuel Pepys. You've heard of Pepys, haven't you peeps? (Just a hint on pronunciation for non-Brits! ;-)

Why did I choose this place for my lunchtime break? Not to pray, nor to sing hymns. No, just to relax and perhaps have a bowl of spaghetti bolognese or shepherds pie.

Oh yes, this lovely church had some ladies who served some delicious lunches from a corner of the church for a price you decided to pay, as long as it was over 50p! Lovely grub, as we Londoner's would say. I wonder if they still do this? It was some sort of voluntary service and in aid of some charity I seem to recall. Anyway, one could collect your hot lunch and then take a pew. It was never crowded; frequently there might only be a dozen or so people there during the lunch break time.

But that was not all. Oh no! There were other delights in store for anybody who happened to wander into this delightful place at around 1 o'clock in the afternoon.

Free entertainment! And excellent entertainment too.

A professional string quartet on more than one occasion. A top-class piano recital on other days. Or poetry readings.

Or, (my favourite), a talk by none other than the late, great Bernard Miles! He was knighted in 1969, thus becoming Sir Bernard Miles. He was later elevated to the peerage (a Life Baron) and was thus Lord Bernard Miles was one of the few ever to be so honoured, (Laurence Olivier (Lord Olivier) was another notable peer).

Bernard Miles was a superb character actor and made many films. He also devoted a vast amount of his life, and money, in creating The Mermaid Theatre in London. Like many actors he was a devotee of Shakespeare and The Mermaid was created to be like a theatre in the Bard's day, with the audience seated around the stage, on three sides.

Bernard Miles was also a great story-teller. And this was where he excelled in my opinion. Peter Ustinov was another great raconteur and there are others, but Bernard Miles will always have top billing in my heart. He would spend around half-an-hour delighting the small audience with his tales. Some of them were quite risqué, especially when told in church! Here's just one of them (as best as I can remember it.)

"This old farmer had bought a brand new pair of boots. He was very proud of them, as being rather poor he seldom could afford new boots.

However, he was disappointed that his dear old wife had never commented on them. He was quite peeved at this. How could he make her notice them?

Then he had an idea! One evening he came into the sitting room stark naked, except for his shiny new boots. His wife was unconcerned.

"Well" says the farmer, "what do you think then?"

"About what?" asks his tired wife.

"Well look! Look where it's pointing..." he hints.

"Hmm.. pity you didn't buy a new hat then, aint it."

Of course, Bernard Miles told it with his wonderful rustic old 'farmer' voice and dialect. His style was unique. A truly great actor and a wonderful man.

If you are ever in the vicinity of St.Olave's church, do please look inside. You will love it, I'm sure.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Kelso: Town Fair 5 Sep 2009

videoToday, Saturday 5th September 2009, we drove to the nearby town of Kelso to do a spot of basic shopping. Forgot that the annual St. James'Fair weekend was on. Parking is restricted in Kelso this weekend but we were lucky to find a parking space at about midday, quite close to the town square. The St. Martin's Fair weekend is usually very busy and well attended, with all kinds of things on offer. Last year there were dozens of stalls with plenty of speciality foods and continental traders. Today, probably because of the heavy rains we have been having this week, there were none. A few hardy souls had risked the rain staying away today, which it did. Stayed for a short while and took a few snap videos and then drove back to Mellerstain. I've no idea what the programme is for tomorrow, Sunday, but somehow I doubt it will be very much at all. August and so far this September, the weather has been wet and windy.

PS. Just added a short clip of some younger Scottish dancers entertaining their mums, dads and everybody else with their energetic dancing. One girl has a little difficulty with the routine but she's anxious to do her best!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Hermes - Winged Messenger of the Gods


Poor old Hermes has stood here in Mellerstain for many decades, in all weathers, uncomplaining. Faithfully watching the southern aspect of the house, ready at a moment's notice to fly to Zeus with any important message. One day he may learn how to use one of these new-fangled mobile phones but for now he's content to stay with the old tried and trusted system.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Hundy Mundy

After taking up my post as security-caretaker/tour-guide at Mellerstain many hours were spent learning and discovering everything I could about this fabulous place. Gazing out of the south-facing windows one morning something in the distance puzzled me. It looked like some sort of entrance to a building, except there was no building! Just this structure, standing 'twixt some trees about a couple of miles away. I soon discovered it was a part of the Mellerstain estate called Hundy Mundy. A Gothic folly built to draw the eye to the southern extent of Mellerstain House in the Scottish Borders. Built by William Adam circa 1726 it is just a tall archway between square towers, each topped by a stone pyramid. It was built with stone from an old tower house which had once guarded this area from marauding 'reivers' and other thieves. A Pictish Princess called Hunimundias was said to have lived in this tower. Because, so the story goes, the children of Mellerstain couldn't pronounce Hunimundias they called it Hundy Mundy. That name remains today and is on maps and documents concerning this area. There are quite a few of these old 'tower houses' in the Scottish Borders. There's one in the town of Gordon and another in the village of Smailholm, both close to Mellerstain. The Smailholm Tower is a most interesting place to visit. Perched on high ground it commands an extensive view for miles around. These towers were built to house and protect the locals from those who would invade the territory, thieving and murdering if they got half a chance. Using my basic video gadget, which has no optical zoom, it's not possible to show Mellerstain House - other than a smudgy light gap in the trees. The digital zoom feature is next to useless, but heigh-ho - you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear This old folly, Hundy Mundy, is now the centrepiece of a woodland or natural burial site, known as Hundy Mundy Wood, but still owned by Mellerstain Estate.
videoThe front of Mellerstain House looks north. An expanse of parkland and a good variety of old trees create a peaceful panorama when viewed from any window in the main house.

The east and west wings were designed by William Adam and building started in 1725. A corner stone in the east wing has the date carved into it. The west wing, the home of the 13th Earl of Haddington and his family, was originally used as stable blocks and home for staff.

Work on the main mansion house did not begin until some 45 years later. William Adam's plans for this were not implemented. His son, Robert Adam, was commissioned by George Baillie to build the main house; George had been on "the grand tour of Europe" and, as he'd inherited Mellerstain, thought Robert Adam was the guy to do it. There's a fuller bit of history here: http://tinyurl.com/kpmp4b

Friday, 28 August 2009

Hello, How Now, What Cheer - What's in a Word?

Stephen Fry had a thirty minute program on BBC Radio4 a few days ago, all about 'Hello'.

I like Mr. Fry; he's an entertaining erudite chap, both on TV and radio. He recently did a sort of tour of America.

Surprised that a small word like 'hello' could fill half an hour so well.

Is it just a greeting? Oh no. It can be an exclamation of surprise. Or a shout.

I was surprised to learn that one of the most used words, worldwide, has only been around since about 1830-something. Before then Shakespeare used the word Holla, a dog shout (holler?) or the greeting then was "How Now" and "What Cheer?" which turns into the cockney 'Wotcha'. My brother used to phone me and say "Wotcha", and I sometimes use it when meeting an old friend. I didn't know, until listening to Mr. Fry, that it was a sort of corruption of Shakespeare's 'what cheer'.

There's an old song which includes the verse:

"Wot cher!" all the neighbors cried
"Who yer gonna meet, Bill
Have yer bought the street, Bill"?
Laugh! I thought I should've died
Knocked 'em in the Old Kent Road

The last line above is the title of the song from the movie "The Little Princess" (1939) starring Shirley Temple!

I was surprised also to learn that 'hello' was probably first used in North America and imported into the UK by none other than Charles Dickens! It seems that in a play about Davy Crocket he says: "Hello, friend, don't forget that vote."

Dickens toured American around that time and in his "Christmas Carol" he uses the phrase "Hello, my fine fellow..." So, like the grey squirrel, we imported the word from the U.S.A. - according to Mr. Fry!

Then came the telephone. Bell invented it in around 1876. He apparently wanted the word "Ahoy" to be used when answering this amazing new invention. However, Edison, who also had wished he'd invented this before Bell, voted more for the word "Hello" to be used. And quite right too! Just imagine answering your phone "Ahoy there".

According to Mr. Fry, George Bernard Shaw once did a spell on a telephone exchange, as an operator and answered all calls with "Hello, what is wanted?" Well I never!

In 1913 a well-known song was written:

"Hello! Hello! Who's your lady friend?
Who's the little girl by your side?
I've seen you with a girl or two.
Oh! Oh! Oh! I'm (I AM) surprised at you."

Here the word "Hello" is used as a greeting, then as a word of surprise!

Then of course we have the famous "Hello, hello, hello.. what's going on 'ere then?" used by policemen! (in the UK I hasten to add)

A joke:

A policeman arrives home unexpectedly and finds his wife in bed with three strange men.

"Hello, hello, hello ..." says Mr. Policeman, whereupon his wife bursts into tears.

"Why are you crying, my love?" asks the husband.

"You never said hello to ME" sobs his wife! Boom, boom.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Formal Gardens at Mellerstain on a Windy Day.


Took a snap video of the formal gardens at Mellerstain. It is a blustery and dampish day and the noise of the wind in the mike is unavoidable with this little handheld gizmo.

It'll get better in due course (or so I kid myself!).

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A Walk on the Wild Side on a Wet August Day


I went for a walk around Mellerstain House this afternoon with my new toy, a Flip video thingy. After traipsing all round the main gardens, looking for Gordon Low, the gardener, I eventually found him in the old tea-cottage.

This tiny two-roomed cottage was built in circa 1840 and at one point housed one of the house-keeping ladies!

The Flip Ultra video is cheap and cheerful. It is very, very simple to use. Just a big red button to push when you want to start and stop. Plugs directly into a USB port to transfer clips onto the laptop/pc. Basic editing stuff included.

I may be trying to upload a few more clips later on. OK, OK, you don't have to watch! It's not compulsory. ;-)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Jacques Brel: Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don't Leave Me)


This is my favourite song. I discovered it just a few years ago. Jacques Brel puts so much pure emotion into this version it really gets to me.

I don't speak French. Yet I love this video. I think it cannot be bettered by any other recording. The Brel lyrics are superbly poetic. The French language is so beautiful, even to a muppet such as I, who cannot speak it.

Brel was born in Belgium but lived half his life in Paris. He died in a Paris suburb of lung cancer; he was a very heavy smoker, giving up near the end of his life - far too late.

Jacques Brel died in 1978 aged only 49. His death was widely mourned in both France and Belgium. He is buried close to the painter, Paul Gauguin, on the Island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands.

I have most of his recordings; he sings with such passion. His recordings of "Amsterdam" and "Jef" are great, but Ne Me Quitte Pas is superlative, in my opinion.

There have been hundreds of different recordings of Brel's works. The English version of Ne Me Quitte Pas is "If You Go Away", recorded by numerous singers such as Dusty Springfield and Shirley Bassey. This version is very good, but you just cannot beat the original French version, especially the Jacques Brel rendition above.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Freedom of the Town of Echt, Holland

Click on the above photos to enlarge.

I took the above two snapshots on a beautiful Sunday in August 1955. All the RAF personnel at Bruggen, W.Germany, had been given the freedom of the town of Echt, a lovely small town on the Dutch/German borders.

One evening, some weeks earlier, the Mayor of Echt arranged for a concert to be given by the Echt town orchestra in the RAF Bruggen camp cinema/theatre. It was a great evening and introduced me to some lovely light classical music.

Our commanding officer was asked by the Mayor if the pipes and drum camp band would return the compliment and entertain the people of Echt. Now, some of you might well consider that a bagpipe band is not in the same league, entertainment-wise, as an orchestra. And I would agree with you.

However, many others will say that the bagpipes stirs the emotions, especially if you are a Scot, (which I am not). Our commanding officer was a keen bagpipe man - and he was not a Scotsman either! He was only too pleased to arrange for our band to play in the town square of Echt and the Mayor then said that all the RAF chaps who attended would be given the 'freedom' of the town.

Saturday came and the C.O. was upset to learn that one of the bagpipes had been damaged. He immediately ordered that one of our jet fighters fly from Germany to Scotland to pick up either a new set or a replacement part; I cannot remember exactly which. This was speedily carried out. All was now well.

The parade through Echt was a great success. It seemed that the whole town turned out to watch and applaud the pipe band. We were all treated with great friendliness; I've never yet met a Netherlander who was unpleasant. Many speak excellent English, putting most Brits to shame.

The Mayor gave a 'thank you' speech that day, during which he said how grateful the town was to the RAF during world war 2. Not one brick was damaged throughout the war. No person was killed or injured by our bombers as they roared over the town, seeking out enemy targets day and night. It was a genuinely emotional speech by a man who had been through those terrible years.

A day in my life that remains vidid. I wonder what's happened to all the bag-pipers?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Tree Planting at Mellerstain

Mellerstain house

Planting a Hornbeam tree.

Planting a tree in recognition of the work of volunteers working for Guide Dogs of the Blind in the east paddock at Mellerstain. This was one of the charities supported by Lord and Lady Haddington.

These snapshots I took show Lady Jane Haddington shovelling compost into the hole dug by Gordon Low, the gardener at Mellerstain. The picture below right shows Lord John Haddington watching the ceremony of the planting in readiness to take a photograph when he feels the time is just right!

The smallish lady in the centre is Miss Kay Brownlie. She was president of the local branch of the Guide Dogs for the Blind at Mellerstain for many years and has now retired from that post.

John Haddington is, in fact, a first class photographer and used to run a business as a pro photographer when he was Lord Binning, before acceding to the title of the 13th Earl of Haddington.
The first son of the Earl is always given the title of Lord Binning. The present Lord Binning is George Edmund Baldred Baillie-Hamilton, the only son. He is now 23 years of age; I've known him since he was about 9 years old. He is a great lad, now at Glasgow University after being at Eton.
We went to his 21st birthday party a couple of years ago and it was a truly happy affair. One of the tenant farmers gave a little speech as he gave young Georgie a new fishing rod. Tom S., the farmer said: "Young George, I wish you a very happy birthday and many, many happy hours of sitting in the wind and rain on the banks of the Tweed with this rod..."
What next in the chain of events? Well, hopefully in the not too distant future we shall hear the whisper that Georgie has popped the question to some nice young lady. Then the wedding. Then, with fingers firmly crossed, Lord and Lady H will have a lovely little grandchild. What a wonderful event that will be. Mellerstain