Run Forrest Goat! Run!

We had to get a few signatures witnessed today, so we asked Neighbour Dave if he’d obliged us with his moniker. He was more than happy to (his words) and turned up at 3:30 on the dot to do the job. Whenever we have to get signatures witnessed, I often wish I was ambidextrous. That way, I could sign as someone else, which would save us a lot of problems. Mind you, I don’t think Mirinda would approve.

Not that it’s really a problem asking Dave. He’s always happy to help.

While he was here, he told us his goat story. Actually he asked “Would you like to hear my goat story?” Obviously, we said yes. I can’t remember what prompted it.

He worked in Saudi Arabia for a while. He was teaching the Saudis…I don’t know what because he didn’t say. He lived in a compound with a bunch of other people, which is where and how he met Gail. She was out there teaching midwifery.

He treated the Saudis like normal people, while other English ‘trainers’ were treating them like illiterate fools who didn’t know anything. It’s that old colonialist attitude of teaching the ignorant natives to be as ignorant as the people teaching them, shtick.

Dave’s attitude went down rather well with the locals and, in return for his excellent work and manners, they invited him and his workmate for a special meal in the desert.

Out they went on the particularly day, stopping between a couple of dunes where a poor, quivering goat was tethered to a pole. It was clearly going to be their meal. One of the Saudis produced a huge knife and held it aloft. He was blessing the goat and offering it as sacrifice to a god that still liked that kind of thing.

At this point, Dave was a bit concerned for the poor goat. He was also not keen on the man slicing the animals throat and sending great gushes of blood everywhere. All in all, he didn’t like the idea one bit.

The guy lowers the knife and turns towards the goat, the blood-lust in his eyes,” He continued. “I looked at the poor goat only to see it running away into the desert! It was a blessed relief for both the goat and us.

I can only assume the goat chewed through whatever inadequate rope was tethering it to the stick. As we all know, goats will (and can) eat anything.

Mirinda asked him what they had for dinner instead of goat. He said they had chicken, but it was already dead, so they were spared the ritual slaughter.

And, of course, I have a goat story as well. It is here.

We didn’t have goat for dinner. It was one of our two veggie nights so I dipped once more into the Ottolenghi book and made two small dishes: braised kale with crispy shallots and seared fennel with capers and olives. They were both delicious.

It was all very fiddly but worth it. I didn’t get the shallots crispy enough, so I’m obviously going to have to give it another shot. For anyone wondering, the white blob in the fennel dish is ricotta. I was surprised but delighted with its use. It cut through the kecap manis brilliantly.

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Tickets to a field in Chester

While I’m not happy with the way Australia has reacted to the pandemic, it’s nice to see that they don’t toady to the rich the way Britain does. The whole thing with Novak Djokovic proves that it doesn’t matter how much money or influence you have, if you don’t follow the rules, you are treated the same as everyone else. That’s what Australia should be about.

And then, this morning, the French were saying he wouldn’t be able to play there either because of their rules. Of course, he’ll be more than welcome to come to Britain exactly because he’s wealthy and, therefore, influential. A Tory JD.

In the meanwhilst, tonight we had Persian roast chicken for dinner. Odd for a Monday, perhaps.

I try and plan my meals a few days ahead. Apart from anything else, it helps with the shopping. Sometimes the plan goes a bit awry. For instance, this week my menu was to be: Friday, Salmon with dill and walnut crust, Saturday, Lamb chops and salad for Mirinda and, Sunday, Persian roast chicken.

Then, unexpectedly (and pleasantly) we went to Bel and the Dragon, Churt on Friday. Then, of course, everything had to change.

The considerations were tempered by the use by dates of the various things. Because we try and only eat things organic and drug free, they don’t always last that long. I reckon you can stretch a couple of lamb chops an extra day or two, but I wasn’t sure about the salmon.

One option was to freeze the chops and make Mirinda the salmon on Saturday. Then Mirinda asked about the use by on the chicken. It was fine if she didn’t mind having a roast on a Monday. And so, that was the new plan.

Of course, it meant a lot more work for me than I’m used to on a Monday but, still, it was delicious and well worth it.

As worth it as it seems that the rain was earlier in the year. It feels like we went through the deluge in order to have glorious days, one after the other. As the man who lately learned to walk, remarked to me in the park “It’s a cracker!” after I said Good Morning.

What isn’t a cracker is the Chesterfield Football Club website. A lot of us are going to watch the Aldershot game there on Saturday and, as usual, Nicktor was the one to buy the tickets. Seven tickets, to be precise. All the cricket fellows from ‘oop North’ are coming.

I had a sudden, plaintive email from him full of frustrated swearing, saying he was unable to make it work and could I try.

I did manage to do it, but not without a fair bit of swearing myself. The thing was that, in order to buy more than one ticket, I had to create an account for myself then add everyone as my ‘friends’ and/or ‘family’. It turns out that they all live in my house and have random birthdays. Then I could assign them to the seats I was ordering tickets for.

I really have no idea why these things need to be so complicated. I understand that they don’t want people buying more than one ticket (because of possible scalping?), but then they create a situation where I did just that. And it could be a lot more user-friendly. Who knew you had to go through the Home link rather than the Away one?

Anyway, I managed to do it all before bed and slept soundly in the knowledge that we will all be going and be sitting together. It’ll be just like the cricket.

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Wheels -v- blades

Today was another beautiful winter’s day with bright sunshine, a glorious blue sky and a temperature that never reached 10°. Mirinda went up to Crondall with the girls mid-afternoon and reported back that it was stunning.

Unusually, I took part in this morning’s Skype session. It was to congratulate Jason on his graduation. During the chat, it came out that he’s taken up roller-blading, which prompted me to tell the story of my one and only attempt at using roller skates.

It would have been early in the 1970’s. I was a bit of dab hand (or foot) at ice skating. I went with a group of friends to Homebush rink regularly and was one of the speedy boys. As I said to Jason, it was an excellent way of meeting girls.

Anyway, a few members of my giant family were rather keen on roller skating so a big family day was organised to head out to Richmond, (NSW not London) for a day of skating.

We caught the steam train from Blacktown to Richmond. I remember the journey vividly because I sat in the first carriage behind the engine and, by the time I reached the end, I was covered in soot. Suffice it to say that I sat back a few carriages on the return trip.

(The above photo is from a blog post by John Gadon from a blog called Steam Train Stories. He tells a fascinating tale about travelling on the Richmond steam train in the late 1960’s. The engine in the photo is the one I (and he) took to Richmond. He says it went from Seven Hills which is one stop beyond Blacktown, but I think it stopped at Blacktown on the way through.)

So we reached Richmond and, like a mob of excited bees, we descended on the skating rink.

From the moment I put the skates on, to the time I removed them, I spent far more time on my bum than on my feet. I found it ridiculously hard to remain standing with wheels attached. I just couldn’t get the hang of it. No matter what people advised, it made no difference. I’d move forwards and, clunk, I’d be on my butt.

It was very irritating and, consequently, my days on skates started and ended that day in Richmond. Obviously, I continued ice skating for a goodly while after.

I think the fact that the single, narrow steel blade doesn’t move independently might have had something to do with it. A few years later I had a go on a skate board and found it next to impossible to stay on it. The wheels defeated me.

Having provided a jolly good laugh, I went out to my office in order to freeze my fingers off, researching dead soldiers.

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Excitement for lunch

I had a very exciting meeting with Biggsy and Nicktor today in the 6 Bells. It was an unexpected lunch meeting. They were off to watch the Aldershot v Bromley game and Nicktor suggested I should join them. Given the pub is about five minutes up the lane, how could I refuse? I wasn’t going to the football though.

Of course, lunch was full of silly talk which was jotted down in Nicktor’s little notebook; fodder for his third Slab Life volume. One thing I contributed had Biggsy suddenly suggest it would make a great movie.

The movie idea soon turned into a four part series that we could pitch to Netflix. Apparently, Biggsy has ‘contacts’.

We threw lots of ideas around which, obviously, I’m not about to elucidate on, here. Anyway, as I said, it got me all excited. To the extent that when I returned home to an empty house (Mirinda had taken the girls to Thursley) I started researching the idea a bit more and laying some groundwork. I’ll have to find out what I have to do to create a treatment.

In the meanwhilst, we also talked a lot of very enjoyable nonsense and ate an equally enjoyable plate of ham, eggs and chips each. Oh, and I drank a few pints of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.

Later, as I searched out more gold nuggets for the series, I noticed that the Not Often Mighty Shots lost 0-2 to Bromley. Nicktor clarified it with a text to me late on: “We were shite today.” So, rather glad I missed it, to be honest.

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Cemetery of accidental deaths

I slept in this morning. It’s something I rarely do and, generally, I have no idea why. There’s no real consistently to it. Normally I wake up at around 6am regardless of when I went to bed the night before. Then, there’s the occasional 07:30.

The difference with this morning is I think I know why.

I was in the middle of a dream. In the dream I was a DCI investigating a very important crime. I don’t remember what it was. In fact, apart from the preceding sentence, I know nothing about it, except, perhaps, the reason why I slept in.

I figure it was because I wanted to see the end of the investigation, and the only way I could do that was to stay asleep. Maybe it was a duty thing; maybe it was my brains way of getting me a bit more sleep; maybe it was a prescient message from another dimension for what was waiting for me in my inbox.

I had a message from a fellow in France on this blog. His name is Jeremy, and he asked if I knew anything about three soldiers buried in Houlle graveyard, his local village churchyard. He’d read my blog entry of 17 November 2019 regarding Robert John Waters Ross, who blew himself up trying to catch fish, and Jeremy wondered about the other three graves situated next to his.

I did a quick trawl across my various research assets and came up with a surprising fact. All four Commonwealth Graves in the graveyard at Houlle were for soldiers who died accidentally.

There was Walter Slater of Brighton who was found drowned, Dolphis Thivierge of Quebec who was killed accidentally and Thomas Chapman who drowned.

At first I thought that, maybe, they all died at the same time, possibly from Robert’s defective hand grenade but, no. The four men had nothing connecting them except for the fact that they were soldiers, they were buried in the same place, and they all died accidentally during the Great War.

The dates they died, for instance, were miles apart.

  • Slater: 11 December 1915
  • Ross: 23 June 1916
  • Thivierge: 3 September 1916
  • Chapman: 29 October 1917

It would appear that the soldiers all died in Houlle while their battalions were resting between marches. I’ve discovered this by reading the war diaries for three of them. Slater still evades me because I can’t find a digitised version of the Sussex Regiment for the day in question. I’m going to email someone at the records office and see if they can send me the entry for the day he died.

Meanwhile, the war diary for Thivierge’s battalion has this entry for the day of his death: “Sunday – Church parade. Preparing to move. Rain. 417015 Thivierge, Delphis [sic] died of accident.” But that’s it. Apparently, Houlle was used by quite a few regiments for billeting of soldiers on the move. Perhaps that’s what links them.

Robert Ross has an entry for the day of his fishing escapade. It merely states that “Ross was accidentally killed by a bomb.

Looking up the village of Houlle gave me nothing of any substantive, investigative value. Mind you, it sounds like a lovely little French village which I’d love to visit one day. In fact, it’s only five miles from St Omer, a regular Weasel visiting spot which I’ve managed to miss out on visiting a number of times over the years.

Houlle is possibly best known for the gin it distils. Apart from simply being drunk, the gin is also used in the preparation of Maroilles cheese. Maroilles is particularly pungent and would definitely be a lure for a Weasel.

Not that any of that helped me in my search for what these soldiers shared.

One thing they do share is a burial plot. Here’s the Commonwealth Graves Commission photograph of the four graves in that plot.

HOULLE CHURCHYARD - CWGC

I don’t know what connects them (apart from dying accidentally). Maybe one day, like Jeremy, someone will reach out and comment on this post. Until then, this will remain an unsolved mystery.

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Is this the Gary Truman show?

I had to go into Farnham today because I didn’t yesterday. It’s unusual for me to go on a Thursday these days. Gone are the days of every day shopping for me. That all changed with the advent of Covid19 and the use of my wicker trolley. And, given my love of schedules, I see no reason to change things back.

The thing is, and the reason I’m bringing it up, is that it doesn’t matter what day I go shopping during the week, each one is the same. I see and greet the same people either taking their kids to school or walking their dogs. Or both. Depending on the time, the traffic in Castle Street is either heavy or light. Likewise, the customer density in Waitrose.

But it was mostly the people in the park. I had a sudden thought that I might be in my own version of The Truman Show. In fact, I kept looking behind me to make sure the people weren’t rushing off to their next station, preparing for our next interaction. Or wondering what Christof is up to somewhere above my head.

When I explained this to Mirinda, upon my return from the shops, she wasn’t convinced. She reckons it’s the same every day whether I’m there or not. My answer to that harks back to the old tree in a forest not making a noise if no-one’s there to hear it.

It also reminds me of a theory I had many years ago that I’m the only person to exist in a vast experiment by non-humans and everything and everyone else, is not real. It occurs to me now that this is what religion must be like.

Is this existence the invention of some god with a Playstation?

Who knows. Not me. Though perhaps when the god reaches a high score, he’ll let me know. Or I’ll just disappear.

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Changing dog walking, one coffee at a time

There’s an enterprising man around these parts called Jamie Karitzis. He struck on an excellent idea. A pop-up van selling coffee, tea and various other hot drinks, sitting by a park entrance where you know lots of dog walkers frequent. For an ex-dancer and then stuntman, making coffee for dog walkers is a bit of a leap but what a brilliant idea.

I happened to be passing today, on my way to Kate’s for the dogs haircuts. And the day was perfect, with a chill in the air and the sun in the sky. As long as you stuck to the all-weather path, you would avoid getting stuck in the mud.

On the way there, I wasn’t too bothered about the girls going off-piste but, walking back with them looking all beautiful and bouffant-ed, I was constantly urging them to “Stay on the path!” Something they seem to actually understand, although they think it only lasts for about 30 seconds.

Actually, they were complimented on their obedience on the way to Kate. A squalling baby was behind us at one stage, and I stepped beside a bench to let it by. As I did, I pointed at the bench and both of my girls hopped up, sat down and watched as the stroller and two women went by.

One woman had a cockerpoo, and she was full of delight and praise for how well-behaved Emma and Freya were. We then discussed how they were small for cockerpoos (hers was bigger) something I usually get. In fact, on the way home, having grabbed a wonderful coffee from Jamie, a couple with a baby asked if they were cockerpoos and when I said yes, they said “They’re a lot smaller than ones I’ve seen before.

I reckon they are the perfect size. Any bigger and I couldn’t fit both of them on my lap. And it would make it harder for Kate to pick them up, one under each arm, in order to get them into her dog cutting parlour.

As usual, they were very reluctant to follow her through her back gate. Also as usual, they were more than happy once they realised where they were, leaping onto her table and waiting for attention.

All in all, I had a lot of walking though, in order to reduce it by one trip, I caught the bus back after dropping them off. I also had to buy a couple of things for dinner so the fact that Tesco is about five minutes from Kate’s new house and that there’s a bus stop right outside Tesco, it was a no-brainer.

Obviously, the fact that I have my free bus pass, had nothing to do with it.

Actually, next to the bus stop is a small church I’d never seen before. It’s St Marks, Alma Lane, Upper Hale and was built in 1883. It’s Grade II listed and, apparently, there are some impressive frescos inside dating from the early 20th century and painted by Kitty Milroy. Sadly, the church wasn’t open, so I didn’t get to see them. You can view them on Google Maps by clicking here.

Oh, and there’s a monthly craft market the third Saturday of every month.

And that took care of most of my day – the walking back and forth and back again to Kate. At least the weather was beautiful and, naturally, I wasn’t the only person enjoying the park. There were quite a few other people and almost all of them were happy and smiling and ready with a ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’ as I walked by them.

One odd thing I spotted on my final trip was a network of spider webs sprawled across the grass for as far as the eye could see. It was only visible when the sun was directly behind it and only because the sun was so low on the horizon but, when it was visible, it was incredible.

I took a photo then had to crop it to see the webs. The photo isn’t that good, but it gives an impression of what it looked like.

It’s something I’ve never seen before, and they covered the entire area. Amazing.

Oh, and you can follow Jamie on Instagram (@StableAndGround) and Facebook. Obviously, given I don’t like Facebook, I won’t link to them. But I’m sure anyone who really wants to, will be able to find Jamie.

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History from the mind of the author

I attended a WFA webinar last night regarding the Second Battles of Arras, principally, the bit that occurred on 2 September 1918. It mostly featured Canadian soldiers and is variously reported in three histories. In his lecture, historian, Bill Stewart, presented his version of events, based on war diaries and other extant information.

According to Bill, the main problem with the written histories, is they are wrong. In fact, Bill’s lecture was titled ‘Official history gone wrong’.

It was my second Bill Stewart lecture, having watched him with Tim Cook back in September, and, again, it was excellent. And it was made even better by the fact that we could see snow through Bill’s windows, it being daytime on Vancouver Island, from where he was speaking. In fact, one of the people who asked a question commented on the fact that he was in another part of Vancouver Island and his snow had all gone.

Aside from the weather, Bill explained that 2 September 1918 features in histories written by Brigadier-General Raymond Brutinel, Colonel Archer Fortescue Duguid (“more interested in heraldry than history“) and Colonel Gerald William Lingen Nicholson. Actually, the one written by Nicholson, relied heavily on the previous two, so, to some extent, serves to amplify the errors.

As well as referencing the other two books, Nicholson took narrative comments from Andrew McNaughton (photo below) who was the Canadian Corps’ Counter-Battery Staff Officer in 1918. Which is obviously quite good given he was there however, the Nicholson history didn’t come out until 1961, and you wonder how much McNaughton truly remembered. As Bill said: “Beware the seductive tyranny of amenity and novelty.

I’m not going to go into the intricacies of Bill’s lecture but his over-arching argument would appear to be that you can’t always trust military history. For me, it’s a good lesson in the need to verify information rather than taking it on face value, even when it’s from a seemingly reputable source.

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How is your phone more important than your dog?

I saw something quite unusual this morning. I was walking back from the shops when I spotted a woman in a bright coat with clashing trousers looking intently at her phone while standing at the entrance to the lane into the park. There was a small dog at her feet that was just waiting.

A car then came up the road, towards the woman and the dog. The dog decided to approach the car and was met by a loud toot of the car horn. The dog froze, the car stopped, and the woman continued staring at her phone. Eventually, she noticed what was going on and looked at the dog crossly and ordered him to return, which he did, reluctantly.

By the time I reached them, the woman had set off up the lane towards the park. The dog, however, remained standing, staring down the road. Now, rather than the car, he was staring at me. By the time I reached him, the woman had realised that he wasn’t behind her and had started back down the lane.

I stopped and patted him, told him I was pulling a trolley (I assumed this is what had him entranced) and basically waited for the woman to reach us. I noticed she was wearing open toes sandals (odd Winter wear) with her toenails painted in a colour quite close to that of a yellow highlighter pen. The yellow clashed with her other bright colours. I was tempted to say something about how bright she looked but decided against it.

I did say how the dog was probably inquisitive about the trolley – it happens a lot – and she agreed. I moved on, up towards the park. I assumed they’d be just behind me. When I reached the park, I turned and looked down the lane. She had put the dog on his lead and was standing on the other side of the road talking to another dog walker.

Now, I suppose she could have been doing someone a favour by walking their dog but, if so, she could do with some training in how to do it properly. Standing at the entrance to a park looking at your phone and ignoring the dog, does not equate going for a walk in the park. If, on the other hand, it was her dog, then she can’t like him very much.

Today’s weather report: Following yesterday’s brilliance, today saw another return to grey and gloomy…but at least it didn’t rain.

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Deleting the tree

When I started walking in to Farnham, back when we first moved here, I would walk up to, and pass, various old men whose mobility was somewhat impaired. I would be thankful I was not so slow. Now, I am the old man with limited mobility who walks very slowly, holding up everyone else on the all weather path.

It’s a sobering thought, and one that occurred to me today when I had an unexpected trip into Farnham to buy some cream for Mirinda’s coffee. The reason I thought about my lack of speed was because of the number of people out and about.

I guess it could have been the weather.

Still, whatever the reason, it was more people than I think I’ve ever seen walking into town. And back. Then, when Mirinda took the girls to Frensham, she said it was also crowded. She was very lucky to find a parking space. It all makes me wish for the delightful desolation we had in Sweden.

Back at home, having managed to acquire the much required cream, I started the annual task of tree removal. Of course, the first thing I had to do was strip the decorations off and out of the tree. This always takes ages and fills the dining table. Not that I’m complaining.

Mirinda dresses the tree and reacquaints herself with the various memories of years past, while I get to do the same thing at the other end of the trees life in our house. I also quite like stripping the branches off with the big loppers.

A big surprise was the amount of leaf drop surrounding the base. Clearly our tree wasn’t of the non-drop variety this year but, I think, the main reason for the amount of pine needles was the lack of water in the holder. Mea culpa.

Here’s a close up of the mound, just because I think it’s quite impressive.

Not that it really mattered. I soon had everything stripped and dropped on the stick pile behind the garden tool shed up the back.

I then started packing away the decorations. This is a rather long and involved process which is never the same one year to the next. Still, eventually I had the three plastic boxes packed and the extension had returned to normal. We suddenly had a lot of room again.

And I just want to include this photo of the girls. This is how they see me off in the mornings.

This is Emma’s spot, where she greets everyone that passes the house.

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