An Alphabet Of Things I Don’t Like: N

Navigation Aids.

In the UK, they are known as Satnavs, short for ‘Satellite Navigation’. There are many types, including the removable ones like the one above. These have to be taken away with you when you stop, or someone will soon be smashing the car window to steal it.

Some more expensive cars offer ones built into the car dashboard, often part of the car’s ‘Entertainment System’. Some add-ons include warning of speed cameras, traffic delays due to roadworks, and international maps for driving in Europe. All very nice, when it works.

They require constant updating to stay accurate, and the removable ones have to be connected to a computer to allow this.

My experience with them has not been good. Using one I bought for Julie, it constantly told us to ‘Turn Right’ when we were on a long bridge crossing a river. I have also been instructed to ‘Take the next exit’ where there was no exit. One issue seems to be that they need to receive a strong signal at all times. In some country districts and remote areas, this is just not possible.

Then there is the safety aspect. Almost all involve taking your eyes off the road briefly, to check on your progress. Yes, they talk to you and tell you where to go, but the desire to look at them is overwhelming.

These days, Google Maps on any smartphone offers the option of a free Satvav. Once again, signal strength is crucial, so I wouldn’t want to rely on it. It also uses up your phone battery very quickly as it has to update every few seconds.

I use a map. A big book of maps of Great Britain, buying an up to date one every couple of years. I look at it before I leave, and picture the journey in my head. For example. ‘A47 to A11, then all the way to junction 23’. Put the map away, and just do that, with nobody telling me to deviate. If I encounter any problems, I pull off the road into a lay-by or service area, and check the map again.

I have been driving for fifty-one years, and maps have never let me down once.

The Homestead: Part Twenty-One

This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 832 words.

The new arrivals soon proved their worth. Daddy had not only promised them a free house to live in, but also a fair share of any crops, and cash payment to Walter for any work he took on. And they had some good ideas too. Goats for milk and meat, and a few pigs to fatten up for eating. Mary and Susan were good with a needle and thread, and could make waistcoats from skins to keep us warm, as well as mittens and bedcovers too. They worked hard, and it seemed to me and Henry that daddy had made a right good choice in Walter.

I was given the job of working with Walter to build their cabin. It weren’t to be nothing fancy, just one big room with a curtain across the back to separate the sleeping area. Walter fetched the mud from the creek to make the chimney bricks, and the women helped fashion them as I concentrated on the wood working. Daddy brought planks from town for the floor, and Walter chopped trees for the log walls. Mary was in a fine mood, so happy to be settling down. Susan didn’t say much, but she smiled whenever I showed up to help.

Walter worked like nobody I had ever seen before. Out at first light digging the clearing to make ready for planting next year, and shifting the hard earth like it was flour. Daddy made good shelters for the pigs and goats, and went into town to arrange the purchase of them. He came back with news.

Shawn Ryan had sold his place next to ours, as his pig farm had never took off. Ryan’s negroes were in town looking for work, and one had offered to work for us raising the pigs. But daddy told him we didn’t need him, as we were only getting a few. Rumour was it had been bought up by a cattleman for keeping steers, and that same man was buying any adjacent land he could find. The railroad was heading south from Topeka, and once that arrived, the town was sure to grow real big.

Once their cabin was finished, and the tent put away, Walter and the women settled in well. They still cooked and cleaned for us, as well as washing our clothes. Nobody had ever told them to do that, and they seemed happy to help. Most evenings, we all ate together in our house, and they went to their cabin after dinner. Mary was real nice to Henry too. Seemed she thought a lot of people who were slow in the head, something to do with her background, daddy said. In a strange way, it started to feel like family, although we couldn’t have been more different.

Our homestead was feeling smaller by the time winter came around. With the plots prepared for crops, Walter’s house, and the new pens for goats and pigs, the only spare land was the woodland to the north. That was going to keep us in firewood though, so we had no intention of clearing it. With less work in town now, daddy set to building a barn next to our cabin. It took me and Henry to help of course, and even Walter was needed once the roof went on. We were going to need it to store next year’s crops, and it would come in right handy for storage too.

Daddy sat me down one night and talked about the future. He was real grey now, even his beard, and the sides of his hair were turning silver. “This town’s gonna grow much bigger, Phin. There are a lot more men working now, so we are not gonna get so much work. We have to think more about what we grow, and the animals we keep for food. I reckon there’s still plenty of game further south, so we should think about a hunting trip this winter too. You’re coming up eighteen next year, and I want to be sure you’re happy to stick with your old daddy. If you want to strike out on your own, you know that’s fine with me”.

I told him I was just fine there, and had no notions to move on anywhere.

That winter weren’t too bad at all, though we lost some of the barn roof in the strong winds that came from time to time. Mary asked daddy to get some buffalo hides in town, and she made us all fine heavy coats to wear in the cold. They didn’t smell so good, but boy, were they warm. Susan made me a hat that came down over my ears, and she lined it with some old cotton too. When I walked around trying it on, everyone laughed.

One chilly afternoon, two men rode in. They were smartly dressed, and quite old. One had a big moustache, hanging right off his jaw.

They said they had come to see Henry.

An Alphabet Of Things I Don’t Like: M

Mice.

Unlike wild field and harvest mice, or the mice kept in cages as pets, feral mice living inside your home is not a good thing at all.

‘While the common house mouse is not as dangerous to your health as a deer mouse, they can still spread disease, such as hantavirus, salmonellosis and listeria through their urine, droppings, saliva and nesting materials’.

As well as stealing your food and leaving disease and droppings around, they also chew electical wires, and damage conduits and plastic piping in their efforts to get around inside your house.

I have been lucky since moving to Norfolk, but when I lived in London, I had a big problem with mice in various places I lived over the years.

I tried going down the poisoning route, but that never seemed to be effective, and I certainly never found any dead mice that might have taken that blue granular bait. So I went ‘old school’, and bought a job lot of retro spring mouse-traps. The shop advised using chocolate to attract them, rather than the old fashioned lure of cheese. So I baited half a dozen traps with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, and put them in the places I had previously know them to frequent.

Less than ten minutes later, I heard the first ‘Snap!’ This was followed by a series of snaps in quick succession as three more traps were sprung. I waited a little longer, then investigated. Sure enough, four dead mice, one in each of the four traps. They had all been killed instantly by the thin metal bar that had dropped across their neck or body. I re-baited with chocolate, and put them back.

During the evening there were more snaps, and I found five more dead mice before bedtime. Within a week, I had no more mouse activity at all.

So if you get mice in the house, use the old-style traps. They really work.

The Homestead: Part Twenty

This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 832 words.

I was polite as I could be to Elizabeth Ryan, and wished her a good trip to Europe. She folded her arms, still smirking. “I doubt you will see me again, Phin Fuller. My life is in New York City now”. I nodded to her and her sister. “I’d best get on now. Good to see you both”. As I rode away from the house, I considered that after all was said and done, I had just had a lucky escape. But there was no denying that red hair looked so damn pretty.

Between daddy’s work and that of the other carpenters, the town was taking shape along the riverbank, with houses now appearing even past the old cemetery that had been there since the start of the settlement. Men were working over in Delano, and it was easy to see the tent encampments slowly giving way to wooden structures over there. With Ben long gone, I worked with Henry and daddy, now, leaving the small jobs until the winter.

When I turned seventeen, it was the fall of eighteen-seventy, and five years since we had left Virginia. There was a petition raised in Wichita to have it declared a city. Most men signed it, including daddy and Henry. Someone made the trip to Topeka to submit the request to the Federal authorities there.

After leaving me fixing rails while they went in for supplies one Saturday, daddy got back early. As he passed by, I could see he had people in the back of the wagon. A big negro jumped down, then turned and helped two women onto the ground. Daddy waved to me from the house, as Henry drove off to settle the horses. I wiped my hands on a rag, and walked over.

“Phin, this here’s Walter. He’s gonna come work for us, grow some stuff on the land and watch over the homestead. That’s his woman Mary, and her daughter. Walter extended a hand, and I shook it. It was the first time I had ever touched a negro. The woman was a squaw, plain to see. She was wearing a dress, and her hair was all long and twisted, but there was no mistaking an injun. The younger one looked at her shoes, then up at me. I could tell she was a half-breed, but not Walter’s. I nodded to Mary, and politely said “Ma’am”. The girl smiled. Reckon nobody had ever been so respectful to her ma.

“Let’s get the tent from the store, and get them set up, Phin. Next week, we can start on building them a house before the weather sets in”.

I followed daddy to get the tent, and Walter helped us put it up within sight of the house. Mary and her daughter were in the house fixing dinner for later, and Henry went over to finish the last few rails on the fence. We left Walter unloading their few things from the wagon, and as we walked to the house, daddy told me their story.

“Walter was a slave down in Georgia. He was born here, and soon showed he could raise things real natural like. They put him to work in the market garden, and he stayed working with the vegetables and such. When he heard that Abe Lincoln had freed the slaves, he took off. He tried heading west, where he was fixing to get to the Kansas abolitionist towns. But he had a hard time keeping away from people who would have tried to take him back, and eventually joined the Union Army by hooking up with some of Sherman’s men. After the peace, he took off west again, working where he could and walking most of the way. Then he met Mary and her daughter and decided to protect them. Mary’s an Osage. Ain’t her real name of course, but it’s what she goes by. Her daughter is from a white man who took advantage of her in Missouri fifteen years ago. She’s called Susan”.

We ate a fine dinner that night. Mary and Susan did a great job with making our regular victuals taste great, and they even cleaned up the house while dinner was cooking. They both spoke good English too, and Walter could read and write a little bit, so he was teaching them from an old bible he carried. Daddy offered my help, in between puffs on his pipe. “Phin reads real good. Maybe he could teach the girl”. Susan looked up at me and blushed when he said that.

The next morning when we left for work in Wichita, daddy handed Walter a scattergun and a handful of cartridges. “You been in the army, so I reckon you know how to handle this. Anyone comes on this property giving you trouble, don’t be afeared to use it”.

As we drove out along the creek, Henry shook his head. “Mister Jessie, don’t reckon you should be giving no gun to a negro”.

Targeted Following

All of us know that we get followers who are not really followers. They are trying to sell stuff.

This is getting worse, at least as far as my blog is concerned. Here are a few examples. I have not included links to their blogs, as I refuse to give them any publicity.

1) I write a post about acne in old age. It was a reblog from years ago, and I don’t have it any longer.

Next thing I know, I have two new followers. Neither of the blog names suggest anything remotely concerning selling, so I check them out.
One is selling ‘remedies’ for acne, and the other selling miracle cures for any skin complaint. These are 21st century snake oil salesmen.

2) I write a post about my wife having tests to see if she has breast cancer. I get an email from a new follower urging me to check out his site. It concerns the sale of some magical formula made from something like mushrooms. You can bet I spammed the blog comment they tried to leave too.

3) In my alphabet series, I wrote about how much I am disgusted by most forms of hunting, especially trophy hunting.
Tonight, I get a new ‘follower’ whose site is advertising the latest in telescopic sights for hunting rifles, slings to carry them with, and cases to keep them in.

This is the bad side of blogging, and I really don’t like it.

I won’t put ‘Followers’ on my list of things I don’t like though, as most of you are wonderful of course!

An Alphabet Of Things I Don’t Like: L

Leggings.

The first time I saw a young woman wearing leggings, I wrongly assumed she was about to take part in a sporting event. But I was wrong, she was simply walking around the shops. At first, all the leggings I saw were grey marl, much like these.

It wasn’t long before black became the most ubiquitous colour, and could be seen worn by many women instead of jeans or trousers.

I didn’t really get it. They were not tights, (pantyhose) and not track-suit trousers. Rarely worn with anything covering them, the fact they had no feet section seemed to change the idea of the girls and women wearing them about what was acceptable everyday wear.

Some women who would never have been seen dead in public without wearing a skirt over tights suddenly thought it was acceptable to commute to work dressed like this. (She is wearing some. Look just above her shoes and you can see the bottoms of them.)

It wasn’t long before it caught on with the older age groups, though they sometimes wore a longer top to accompany the leggings.
(And yes, that includes my own wife. Though this is not her in the photo.)

I am sure that many girls and women find this clothing item exceedingly comfortable. But for my taste it lacks the class of either trousers, or skirt or dress worn with nylons. As I have said before, I am old fashioned. I accept that women should be free to dress as they please, and that my opinion doesn’t matter in the slightest.

But that said, I really wouldn’t be happy if my wife or girlfriend was walking around dressed like this.

Sorry, female readers. I don’t like them.

The Homestead: Part Nineteen

This is the nineteenth part of a fiction serial, in 827 words.

I unsaddled Lizzie and settled her in the shelter with her feed. Inside the house, the men had been busy. Everything was either thrown around or just broke. Only the table and benches were as they had been. They had tried lifting some floorboards on one side, probably using the big knife. But there was no space under there to hide anything, as they soon found out. They had rooted around up in the chimney too, so there was soot everywhere. I waited a good time to make sure they hadn’t sneaked back, and went to check in the outhouse. The seat box was intact, and the cash box still in its spot inside.

That afternoon, I spent the time cleaning up, and repairing what I could. The smashed chair was past mending, though I was able to fix the beds, put back the floorboards, and make my toolbox good too. Once it got dark, I had some cold meat to eat, and sat in the dark with no fire. If them fellas were coming back, I wanted to be ready for them. I fell asleep in my own chair, still holding the forty-four.

Come sunup, I wasn’t about to leave, convinced they would come back to get me. I kept busy making a new chair from the good wood daddy kept in the bedroom. It took all day, and wasn’t as good as the one they had broken, but passable enough for Henry to sit on. I stayed around the house for five more days, with my nerves never settling. Then on the sixth day, I relaxed a little and started work on extending the horse-shelter into a stable of sorts. Later on, not long after dark, I heard the wagon drive up outside, and my daddy’s voice talking to the horses. I ran out straight away, babbling on about what happened, and how stupid I was to believe the story they told me. Daddy calmed me down, and took me inside to talk to me while Henry unhitched the mares.

Smoking his pipe and sipping whisky, daddy listened patiently, moving his hand up and down to slow me up when I talked too fast. When Henry came in, he related the story to him, in an easy way that Henry could understand. Then he turned to me, and I swallowed hard, wondering what he would say.

“Phin, you did well son. You were right to shoot that Luke when he came at you with a knife. If he died because of it, he only has himself to blame. Though if he recovered, reckon we will see those two again. I’m gonna get us a couple of scatterguns to keep handy, just in case. And you have to tell us both what they looked like, as much as you can recall. I need to know if they are hanging around in town. But all we lost was that old chair, and you are safe, which is the main thing”. I was mighty relieved, and went to get the fire going under the dinner pot.

After we had eaten, daddy rubbed his beard for a while. “I’m gonna have to go and see if I can find Ben. Seems to me he might have steered those two in our direction. No hurry though, that Portugee will show up soon enough. Doubt he’ll be able to keep away from whisky and women for long”. Then he showed me the papers that proved Henry owned the claim, and I was the only beneficiary. It hadn’t occurred to daddy that if anything happened to me, he would have no rights to the homestead.

A week went by, and life returned to normal. I rode around doing the small jobs, and daddy and Henry found Ben as he waited for a rowboat to Delano one evening. Daddy told me he looked sheepish and shifty, and when it was suggested he leave town and head west, he just looked at his shoes and nodded. The next morning as I rode near the Ryan house, Maggie appeared. She was running down to the fence, waving at me. It would have been too rude not to stop.

“Phin, you’ll never guess. Elizabeth is home with our aunt. Why don’t you come in and say hello?” I didn’t get into the house, as Elizabeth was stood at the open door. I took my hat off and smoothed my hair, standing on the porch feeling like a little boy. She was sure pretty; all gussied-up, with her hair piled high, and an expensive looking-necklace around her chalky-white throat. “Why Phineas Fuller, my how you have grown”. She was talking real fancy, almost like some foreigner. Smirking at me a little when she noticed the attention I was paying her, she lowered her voice.

“Take a good look, country boy. I will be leaving for Europe with my aunt soon. She is going to show me the world”.

Film Review: Journey’s End (2017)

Journey’s End is a stage play written by R.C. Sherrif, and first performed in 1928, ten years after the period in which it was set. An anti-war play, it focuses on a few days around the German offensive in the Spring of 1918, during WW1.

It was first filmed in 1930, starring Colin Clive, but I have never seen that version. However, it was also filmed for television by the BBC in 1988, starring Jeremy Northam in the lead as Captain Stanhope. That remained the definitive version for me, with a superb cast sticking to the spirit of the original play. In this version, some of the action sequences were shown on film, something the play avoided due to theatrical constraints.

Most of what makes the play effective is the claustrophobic atmosphere of life in dugouts and trenches, viewed from the perspective of the officers, and their cooks and servants. The 1988 version deviated from this slightly, but remained powerful and compelling to watch.

So now we have the new version, with Samuel Clafin as Stanhope, Asa Butterfield as the young and impressionable Raleigh, and Paul Bettany excellent as the older experienced lieutenant known to all as ‘Uncle’. Add Toby Jones as the cook, and Stephen Graham as Lieutenant Trotter, and the casting is about as good as it gets these days.

The stresses and strains of trench warfare are all there. Men reaching breaking point, officers living on whisky to get through each day, and senior commanders issuing seemingly pointless orders from comfortable accommodation behind the lines. Social class is maintained in the mud and deprivation, and we have the added complication that Stanhope is the boyfriend of Raleigh’s sister back home, so idolised by the new arrival.

Tension builds as the expected German attack comes ever closer, exacerbated by last-minute orders to attack a German trench to capture a prisoner. We have a cowardly officer unwilling to play his part, and other stiff-upper lip officers pretending all is well, in order to maintain the morale of the men.

As a film, it is beautifully photographed in widescreen; with muted colours suiting the mood, and dingy scenes in the candlelit dugouts nicely done too. It never feels less than completely authentic, not for one moment. If you had never heard of the play, or seen the earlier BBC film, you would no doubt have thought it was a wonderfully moving production. Paul Bettany is quietly outstanding as ‘Uncle’, and young Butterfield looks as if he is actually living in 1918, with his wide-eyed enthusiasm concealing inner fears.

But I have seen the BBC film, and Jeremey Northam is magnificent as Stanhope in that. Tim Spall wipes the floor with Stephen Graham in the role of Trotter, and Edward Petherbridge is even better than Bettany as ‘Uncle’. So my advice is to try to watch the 1988 version. If you can access it, here it is on You Tube. It is not a great print, unfortunately.

But if for some reason you can’t watch this, the new film is still very good indeed.
Here’s a trailer.

An Alphabet Of Things I Don’t Like: K

Kilometres.

Luckily, we still have road signs in miles here. If a place is twelve miles away, I can picture how long that will take. I have driven in Europe, and never settled easily on things like speed limits and distance signs in kilometres. They always seemed so much further away for one thing, and a speed limit shown at ’80’ could confuse me into thinking I could drive at 80 mph.

For many years, the speedometer gauges in cars have shown speed markings in both miles and kilometres, but constantly checking the smaller figures didn’t come naturally.

Then they started to estimate a car’s fuel consumption in kilometres per litre of fuel. How was I supposed to work that out? Tell me it did 45 to the gallon, and I had a fair idea that was reasonably economical. But Kms to a litre? The metric method was starting to creep in, and I suspected that one day we might lose our familiar signs in miles.

I used to try to imagine just how much work it would take to change every traffic sign in Great Britain. And what that would cost.

I still don’t know whether or not Brexit will put an end to the eventual total acceptance of metrics where miles are concerned.

But if it does, that okay with me.