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May 2014

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidLast Sunday there was a break in what appears to have become in recent years the accustomed pattern of weather for the English month of May – chill, damp and unremittingly grey! The cricketing gods clearly smiled on me, however, for the day marked my first (and quite possibly only – though who can tell?) appearance in whites this season. The match was to be played on the downs above Guildford.

Long-time scholars of these humble scribblings might sense at this point that they can distinguish the sounding of some distant carillon – and they would be right so to do. Two years ago – almost to the day – I posted a screed entitled ‘Perfect Day’ in which – amongst other things – I extolled the simple pleasures obtained from the equivalent fixture then – the which was played on the self-same spot.

To quote myself (odious practice though that might be):

“The match was played in a suitably amiable spirit, I scored a few runs and the right side won. It was, all in all, a most satisfactory result and I rolled home close to 9pm tired but happy.”

I am delighted to report that I can repeat that sentiment word for word this year, even though – on this occasion – the spoils went to the opposition. The match had gone to the final over, was close and satisfying, and everyone was content.

The substance of my posting two years ago – however – concerned less the Arcadian charms of the occasion itself, but more the fact that such pleasures counted for little if one happened to be – as I was then – separated from one’s significant other. The Kickass Canada Girl was at the time but a few months into her sojourn in Victoria and I was missing her badly.

How different are things now! Not only was the Girl waiting to greet me when I stumbled back home after the match, but she had earlier driven over to Guildford to watch a little of the game – in spite of knowing that I would be in the field at the time and thus unable to speak to her beyond the odd snatched exchange. She strolled instead around the boundary – looking particularly windswept and gorgeous in the sunshine – and I found myself accruing serious kudos from my fellow flanneled fools for having snared what the tabloid press would most certainly term ‘a stunna!’ (defined by the Urban Dictionary as – “Someone who is always fly with gear, cars, jewelry.” – whatever that means!).

I am minded of a comment made by Oldest Friend (of whom I have written previously in these annals) concerning his wife. “A day not spent in her company” – he opined – “is a day wasted”.

He’s not wrong…

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Photo from Wikimedia CommonsIn my previous post I posited the question:

Which advance in automotive engineering – had it come into widespread use sooner than it actually did – might well have completely changed the course of twentieth century history?

The answer – as I’m sure many of you knew – is… reverse gear!

Though the first production car to be fitted with a reverse gear – Ford’s ubiquitous Model T – made its appearance in 1908, it was some years before the application of this innovation became established practice throughout the world.

On 24th June 1914 the Austrian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophia paid their ill-advised visit to Sarajevo in the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina, unaware that a group of seven young assassins – their bombs and pistols provided indirectly by neighbouring Serbia’s military intelligence service – lay in wait for them along the route that their motorcade was to follow.

Though several of the would-be assassins lost their nerve at the vital moment, one – Nedjelko Cabrinovic – did throw his bomb as the Archduke’s car passed. The missile bounced off the canopy of the car and exploded under the following vehicle, injuring several of those on board. The remainder of the motorcade continued to City Hall where the furious Archduke rounded on the Mayor of Sarajevo. It was decided that the visit should be cut short.

Franz Ferdinand – however – insisted on first visiting the hospital to which those injured in the explosion had been taken. The motorcade accordingly retraced its passage back along the Appel Quay – the route that the motorcade had already come but also part of the originally scheduled onward journey. Unfortunately the change of plan had not been communicated to the drivers and on reaching Franz Joseph Street, where one of the conspirators – Gavrilo Princip – was still stationed, the cars slowed and made the turn. On being alerted to this mistake the driver of the Archduke’s car braked the vehicle with a view to rejoining the chosen route. The car came to rest a short distance from Princip’s position.

Unfortunately, the car had no reverse gear – and thus had to be pushed backwards onto the Appel Quay. Princip had time to reach the vehicle and to fire the two shots that killed the Archduke and his wife.

Had Princip not been able to fire – or had his shots missed or only wounded the Archduke – Austria-Hungary would not have had a casus belli on which to go to war with Serbia. Had a fresh Balkan war not broken out the Russians would not have mobilised in support of the Serbs. Had the Russians not mobilised, the Germans – who had offered Austria unconditional support – would probably not have launched an attack on Russia’s close ally – France – aiming to remove them from contention before turning attention to the Russians themselves. Had Germany not violated Belgian neutrality to attack France the British would most probably not have become involved in what rapidly turned into the Great War.

Had there been no Great War it is highly likely that the subsequent rise of fascism would have taken a very different course and there may well not have been a second conflagration. Had there been no World War II the course of European history would have been very different. There might have been no impetus to develop nuclear weapons and the standoff between East and West that overshadowed much of the latter part of the century might never have occurred.

Who can tell? What is clear is that none of the European nations that allowed themselves to slide into the war in 1914 had set out with this objective in mind.

If you have not previously done so but now feel impelled – in this centenary year of the start of that lamentable conflict – to gain a clearer understanding as to how this unfortunate sequence of events unfolded, I strongly recommend Christopher Clark’s excellent ‘The Sleepwalkers’. Comprehensive, well argued and splendidly written, this volume cuts through much of the fog that surrounds the causes of this most terrible calamity.

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Image by Damián Navas on Flickr

A little teaser for you…

Which advance in automotive engineering – had it come into widespread use sooner than it actually did – might well have completely changed the course of twentieth century history?

Answer to follow… Let’s see if someone gets there before I post it!

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidLast Saturday afternoon found me – somewhat reluctantly – sharing the unlovely plaza that is the arrival hall of the prematurely senescent Terminal 4 at Heathrow with a heaving Babelian mass of humanity. Alternating increasingly irritable pacing with lounging louchely against a pillar I awaited the arrival from Paris of a brace of Canadian girls. In spite of the fact that the marginally more kickass of the pair is in proud possession of British Citizenship, they were still forced to negotiate – at considerable length – the bureaucratic inefficiencies of the UK Border Agency – along with the effusion of seven continents.

When the pair finally made it landside they were hungry. They demanded curry!

Now – my mother (bless her soul!) was a woman possessed of an extremely limited culinary repertoire. She maintained an even more restrictive diet herself, eating like a sparrow and having no truck with herbs, spices and other such fancy distillations. As a result I reached the age of majority equipped with what can only be described as a totally untutored palate.

This state of affairs was not to change until my early twenties – the point at which I got married and left home. My former wife sighed, tutted inwardly and took in hand my belated education in the cuisines of the world. Latterly – of course – the Kickass Canada Girl has generously taken up the baton with regard to this noble task (along with that of all of my other foibles and eccentricities) and has matured me into a dedicated epicurean. There really is now very little that I do not eat, appreciate and enjoy.

Or rather – there was

In the middle of the night subsequent to our culinary expedition to the sub-continent I became what – for fear of distressing those of a sensitive disposition – can only be described as – unwell! Of itself this would mean little, except that something similar has now occurred on the last few occasions on which I have dined thus. It is difficult to avoid the implication that I am no longer able to stomach curry. Worse – this follows previous reluctant recognition that the consumption of duck eggs now also seems to leave me internally incapacitated.

What we are talking about here is – of course – an acknowledgement of the fact that I am getting old! My formerly robust constitution is beginning to creak a little – my once indomitable digestion is showing signs of becoming somewhat more finickity.

This is only to be expected, of course, but I certainly don’t intend to go quietly. Though I will at least try to be sensible, when it comes to the foods that I love… all bets may currently be off.

Needless to say – this does leave me somewhat apprehensive for the future…

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photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/trawets/523630550/">trawets1</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>On re-reading my recent post – ‘Blue remembered hills‘ – I realised that I had not expressed to my satisfaction that which was on my mind when I composed same. This is a not infrequent occurrence for me as it happens, but on occasion – this being one such – I feel moved to revisit a topic… to give it a second shot, as it were.

The seed for that particular post was in the photograph that accompanied it – the which I took over the bank holiday weekend on the West Sussex/Surrey borders whence we had gone in search of azaleas. Whenever I find myself gazing at a vista comprising ever distant ranges of hills – each hued in an increasingly translucent azure – I am reminded of those lines from Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad‘ most commonly known as ‘The Land of Lost Content‘. There is to this – of course – no surprise and I feel sure that many another stargazer would float reflectively down a similar stream.

There has been a fair degree of conjecture as to the subject and meaning of Housman’s verse – this segment no less than any. Its enduring appeal may – quite naturally – be in fair measure attributed to its ambiguity. On one point – however – there can be no equivocation… this particular poem is concerned with Loss!

I suspect that my fascination of recent decades with Loss – which along with Longing and Love (as I have ventured previously) comprise the three great subjects of all art – is in no small way connected with my advancing years. Those of a similarly cogitative nature will quite probably also find themselves at some point thus contemplating the infinite.

Some read Housman’s lines as a lament for a passing pastoral idyll – the mythical ‘golden age’. ‘A Shropshire Lad‘ was published in 1896 but did not really catch the public’s attention until the turn of the century, by which time the second Boer war was well underway. The work’s depiction of the premature deaths of young men clearly struck a chord and its popularity only increased further with the outbreak of the Great War – many soldiers reputedly carrying a copy into battle with them. At a time of great change – the thinking runs – it is hardly surprising that those caught up in the maelstrom should needs cling to the certainties of the past. As the mechanised beast of the war machine devoured Europe, longing for a lost arcadian utopia made perfect sense.

Those critical of this view claim that such a paradise never actually existed – that this ‘chocolate box’ view of pastoral life was a myth and that in truth rural life for many really was – to quote Hobbes – ‘nasty, brutish and short‘.

An alternative reading of this ‘lost content‘ is that it refers to childhood – and more particularly to the blessed state of innocence with which those formative years are commonly associated. Denis Potter dealt this view an irrevocable blow in his 1979 BBC television drama for the title of which he ruthlessly appropriated Housman’s own phrase – ‘Blue Remembered Hills‘. This classic – if somewhat dyspectic – work required adult actors to take the roles of a group of children, demonstrating in the process that savagery and intolerance are by no means the exlusive preserve of those of us supposedly old enough to know better.

What does that leave us with?

Well – whenever I am brought up short by some breathtakingly beautiful vista of varigated cerulian and those lines of Housman’s insinuate their way into my brain – it is not the loss of childhood innocence that I lament (for though I have no complaints about my early years I certainly have no wish to revisit them) and nor is it a rose-tinted yearning for some mythical golden age – and that even though I grew up in the magical decade of the sixties! Rather it is that the distant azure horizon speaks to me of all of the choices not made, of all the opportunities let slip – and that however wonderful life actually is (and mine is particularly blessed) it is our human nature to regret that we can only select from the astonishing palette of life a limited number of possibilities… and all the rest must be forever lost as the flood tide sweeps them away into some far ocean.

Time to turn away from the view – to count one’s blessings – and to focus on that which is…


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Photo by Jane HoltWe flatter those we scarcely know
We please the fleeting guest
And deal full many a thoughtless blow
To those who love us best.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I recently made reference to our most welcome guest – our visitor from Canada. As far as is possible for me to discern she and the Kickass Canada Girl are having a whale of a time seeing the sights and catching up with each other. Our dear friend has not previously visited these shores so there is much to be covered in a short space of time. Tomorrow morning the two of them are off to Paris for a few days. Lucky things!

From this you will deduce that I am staying here and working.


We have – coincidentally – also found ourselves of late playing ‘host’ to an altogether different guest. Some months ago, now, we – in common with those who live in the surrounding apartments – could not help but notice that a rather splendid Pea Hen had taken to paying us irregular visits – popping up in the vicinity of the garage block. Finally – about a month ago – she moved in more permanently, taking up residence and becoming a fixture on our lawns.

Now – I really like peacocks. There is something about the shameless splendour of the bird that just looks right in the grounds of a country house. I personally also love their plaintive and melancholy call – though I do realise that I am in a serious minority in this regard. As is often the way with… ‘other‘… animals the female of the species pales by comparison with the male – but in this case I considered our unexpected visitor to be a welcome (if somewhat messy!) addition to the estate.

The question remained – however. Whence came this unlooked for lodger that had of late adopted us?

One of our neighbours did some digging. It turns out that the Pea Hen had belonged to a lady who lived in a nearby residence. She had moved away – leaving the Pea Hen behind – and the house was in the process of being demolished for redevelopment. The Pea Hen – very sensibly – had located a new safe haven.

Sadly not all of our neighbours feel the way that I do about these magnificent birds. Apparently they object to the increased car cleaning costs that seem to have become a necessity. Moves were made to find our new friend an alternative home and on Saturday last we received this email circular:

“We are sure you will be delighted to know that the Pea Hen has moved on. She was humanely caught this morning by the people at Tri Lakes*. They need to cage her for a few weeks otherwise the home sick bird will return to us. She will be introduced to a number of other peacocks so should have a happy and contented life with lots of friends. She will be happy to receive visitors any time you are passing.”

I miss her already!


* a nearby country park!

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I am one of those people for whom a vista – a distant prospect – is of considerable import, whether I be in my own home or off traveling. For as long as has been possible – in other words, ever since I could afford so to do – I have chosen to live in a domicile with a view.

I feel sure that someone, somewhere, has written a learned treatise on just why human instinct seems – for most of us at any rate – to be thus inclined. I would be surprised if this disquisition did not posit the survival instinct as probable cause – the desire to live on a hilltop that one might better recognise approaching danger.

The poet’s cynosure might lie elsewhere – perhaps on the notion that gazing upon a distant panorama is in fact emblematic of our longing for the unobtainable – for that which is beyond our reach – and that the resultant wistful longing tugs at our heart-strings in a manner that we find strangely gratifying.

As I say – I am sure that there have been studies of this phenomenon. I – however – could not find one and you will have to make do instead with one of my favourite poets…

Into my heart an air that kills,
From yon far country blows.
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain.
The happy highways where I went,
And cannot come again.

A. E. Housman

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid


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A year has passed in a flash and it is May again. The first of the UK’s two May Bank Holidays has already been and gone. The azaleas are early this year – it would seem – and it was time once again to unearth some gardens in which to celebrate the nascent summer.

Naturally, where I go the Fuji x10 goes also…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidThe gardens that we chose – at Hollycombe on the West Sussex/Surrey border – encompass some additional attractions:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidBeing in a marriage that spans continents inevitably results in a slightly uncomfortable disjoint, by which those involved effectively lead two different lives – one on either side of the divide. Two distinct groups of family and friends – two strands of shared history and experience – two evolving tapestries documenting unfolding life stories.

Every so often – however – the delicate tracery of a bridge emerges, spanning the gulf between these two worlds – crossing the oceans.

At Christmas the Kickass Canada Girl and I packed up our daily existence and took a stride across the Altantic to immerse ourselves into the richly flowing river that is life in British Columbia. We have – of course – been making such pilgrimages together at irregular but frequent intervals for the last eight years, and we are – also of course – intending ultimately to turn that stride into a giant leap – transporting our ongoing history to the other side of the ocean. Subsequent to that event our transits will be in the opposite direction – revisiting friends and family on this side of the pond.

On occasion others also assist with the weaving of this trans-Atlantic skein. Such is the case now, as one of the Girl’s best girl-friends from Victoria flies in tomorrow to spend a few weeks with us. We are very much looking forward to entertaining her and showing off the countryside as it awakens in the emerging English spring.

Welcome to the UK!

Spare a thought for me, though. Two kickass girls under the same roof might prove too much even for me!

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