Friday, 2 October 2009

Nearly A Year Gone By

Good grief, it's been a while. Somehow 2009 has just whooshed by. A lot has happened, and I'm wondering whether to go back over it all or just move on. A bit of both, I think. A few memorable things have happened this year, one or two achievements of which I'm very proud, and a momentous shift in domestic arrangements which I can now look back at with the calmness of hindsight.

In due course, I'll talk about them. Just for now, though, I wanted to say I was back out of a 9-month hibernation!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Christmas Greetings

DECEMBER must have been a busy month, as I look back and see I've managed no posts at all so far. Wrist slapped, will endeavour to do better. I was dreaming of the traditional white Christmas, but as it failed to appear, here's a picture of the park near my house, taken in February 2005.

I'm even late with the festive good wishes, though it's hard to be overly joyous when so much of what we'd come to take for granted seems to be crumbling around us. With the collapse of Woolworths, Whittards, Zavvi and so many other casualties of this economic 'downturn', thoughts must turn to the casualties of other institutions' reckless lust for profit.

I hope the new year brings better news, but I'm not holding my breath. I wonder if there are any bankers or hedge fund managers donating any of their holiday time to working in the soup kitchens this Christmas. No, probably not.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Dambusters Anniversary

THIS WAS the view above the Derwent Dam in Derbyshire on Friday 16 May, 2008, as an Avro Lancaster from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight swept over the dam wall to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the 'Dambusters' mission.

The main access to the dam was closed for the ceremony, with only veterans and other ticket-holding guests allowed in. However, those of us prepared to walk over the hills were rewarded with this view of the flypast. Squeezing every ounce of occasion out of the morning, the Lancaster took five passes of the dam before being succeeded by two Tornados, a Dakota DC3 and the Memorial Flight's fighting double act, the Hurricane and Spitfire.

It was a wonderful experience, the sort that gets the hair standing on the back of your neck and brings a tear to the eye.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Cross or What?

I'VE BEEN doing a lot of waving recently, mostly from the side of the road. It's the traffic, you see, and it just won't stop.

There's a zebra crossing near our house, taking us to the park where the children play and the dog does some serious cavorting. It's a proper zebra crossing: flashing Belisha beacons, none of this Pelican traffic light nonsense.

But that's the trouble; no-one takes the slightest bit of notice anymore. Unless it's a red light forcing drivers to stop, nothing happens. We've waited at the side of the road and watched car after car sweep past us in blissful ignorance. Or perhaps wilful disregard, it's difficult to tell when they go that fast.

Once, we thought we were in luck - cars approaching from both directions stopped to let us cross. All would have been well had an impatient woman in the queue not decided that she'd waited too long and pulled out of the line, onto the other side of the road, and roared past the queue, missing us by a hair's breadth.

So now I stand at the zebra crossing, waving in exaggerated greeting to the people who whizz past. Some of them even wave back.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Money Grabbing Tightwads!

I'VE JUST been charged a fee for retrieving my own money!

When I signed up for a cashback credit card with the Halifax, my understanding of the deal was that a (very) small percentage of the value of my purchases would be credited back to me each year. As expected, my card statement last month showed that I had received the grand sum of £30 in cashback payments. Now, as the balance on my card was zero, this showed up as £30 in credit.

Ha ha, I thought, I'm in the money! And so I hastened to the nearest Halifax ATM, withdrew my £30 and sallied forth to spend it on good, wholesome, tasty beer.

And now I've discovered that, for the privilege of recovering my own money, Halifax have charged me £3! Now that's a pretty mean trick. I can understand them charging a fee when you borrow their money on a card, but my own money? I think not, matey. Especially when I can draw cash out from my Halifax bank account, using the same ATM, and it costs me not a single penny.

I'm going to start a bank. After all, how hard can it be? You give me all your money, and I'll look after it for you. Then I'll lend it to you, as long as you pay it back, together with a large amount of interest. And when you finally want to take your original money out, I'll charge you for that as well. That is, assuming I haven't lost it all after gambling every penny on the stock market for huge profits.

In that case, you'll just have to wait for the government to give it to me so I can pass it on to you.

For a nominal fee.

Update 20 November: Those kind people at the Halifax have refunded my £3 'as a gesture of goodwill'. They seemed to understand I might be a bit miffed, but hastened to point out that their terms and conditions clearly state their intention to charge for cash withdrawn on a credit card whether it's your money or not. Hmm.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Squadron Leader 'Gandi' Drobinski DFC

THIS is my Dad, the photograph taken in the early 1940s, somewhere in England. He'd followed his country's orders: to leave his native Poland when the Germans invaded and to find his way to England to make himself useful to the war effort. He'd been caught and interned in Romania, escaped and made his way to England via false documents, passports and a kindly guard at the French border. Although he survived the war, this Remembrance Day seems a good time to say a few words about him.

Dad flew planes. A young officer in the Polish Air Force, he came to England a trained fighter pilot. He flew Hurricanes and then Spitfires, fighting in the Battle of Britain with 65 Squadron. He went on to become Squadron Leader of 303 Polish Squadron, was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and was classed as an 'Ace'. He flew alongside V1 flying bombs to tip their wings, confusing their gyros and sending them back where they came from. He flew fighter escort for bombers on their historic raid on Hitler's 'Eagle's Nest' at Berchtesgaden. In later life, he was one of the technical advisers for the 1969 film, Battle of Britain. He is one of the 24 pilots featured in '...So Few', a beautifully and painstakingly prepared limited edition book produced to raise money for the RAF Benevolent Fund.

But that really isn't what I wanted to say. That went on well before I was born, and formed the man before I got to him.

The Dad I remember was the one who used to drive me six miles to school in our red Mini in the 1960s, making me laugh by pretending the oncoming traffic were enemy aircraft and shouting 'Dakakakakaka' while firing imaginary tracers at them. He'd let me sit on the rear wheel arch of our tractor while we towed the hay-baler up and down our farm's meadows, making me feel so grown up.

My Dad was the man full of alleged Polish proverbs and sayings which, like the fictional Banacek, he'd quote at you. 'He's lying like a cheap watch' was one of his favourites.

While driving, he was someone who would approach roundabouts cautiously, and then, when he felt he'd waited an appropriate amount of time, drive into the melee, regardless of whether he had right of way or not. I think he just lost patience.

But of all these memories, the strongest one I have is this: the two of us sitting on the floor in front of the telly, watching Rowan and Martin's Laugh In, laughing like drains at Arte Johnson, playing the German soldier, with traditional tin helmet, whose running gag was to appear from behind a pot plant and say: 'Very interesting. But stupid.'

An American playing a German, and my Dad laughing at the joke. And me sitting next to him.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Seal Stones

THESE BEAUTIFUL, weather-worn stones are to be found on Seal Edge, on the rim of Kinder Scout. There's something wonderful about the way that the wind and rain, swirling small pieces of dust and grit around, can make such unique testaments to the capricious nature of, well, Nature.

Unlikely as it seems, this was a warm day in November 2007, when my friend Neil and I had become fearless enough to venture onto the famous Kinder Scout, the high and expansive plateau that, for us at least, is the heart of the Peak District.

From a layby near the Snake Inn, we ventured across the river and up alongside Fair Brook to Fairbrook Naze, an imposing peak that juts out from Kinder like an upturned battleship, presenting its seemingly forbidding ascent to travellers on the Snake Road.

From the top of Fairbrook, the edge walk takes us past several crops of weathered stones, each cluster an attraction to best the last, until reaching the Seal Stones themselves, unmistakeably seal-like, yet formed by the random whiles of time.

We did this walk on a weekday, and met no-one else on the journey. To look around such a vast expanse of space, and feel as if we were the only ones there, made us feel so privileged to live where we do.