Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas

Hello there. It's shattered, sickly and slightly sloshed of Shoreham here wishing you a very merry Christmas.

Shattered because I've just completed 8 days of 4.30am starts and a night-shift. Sickly because I've just completed 8 days of 4.30am starts and a night-shift, sloshed because I've just completed 8 days of........... And anyway Lemsip and champagne aren't that lethal a cocktail.

Sorry I didn't check in last week. I wanted to, but M&S food hall has driven the equivalent of a Juggernaut through my creativity. Last week I even asked my ever imaginative 4-year old what I should write my blog on. His reply "Paper, or perhaps card." At which point I decided to throw in the towel and go to bed.

So have a very merry Christmas. I hope it brings everything you wish for and a wonderful New Year.

I'll be back on the 5th January, refreshed and raring to go.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Thoughts for Today

Hello and welcome to my blog. I hope you're keeping as well as you can.

Here in the Independent Republic of Shoreham Beach, Christmas lights are re-appearing and it's all looking very festive. We put ours up last weekend and have invited House and Garden to come and have a look. They are taking an unexpectedly long time to respond, which is fine for the moment as I can add bits and bobs to our flashing Santa, snowman and train. I've already got a title for the feature "Sparkles from Shoreham." They won't be able to resist.

Now, my eagle-eyed regulars will have noticed that I've recently got a job stacking shelves. Whilst this involves getting up at half past ridiculous and spending 4 hours with my hands in a chiller cabinet, it's apparently nothing compared to what awaits. Hannibal, his elephants and the mighty armies of Carthage, are due anyday now and will besiege Holmbush for a couple of weeks. Us fearless black clad warriors are on a war- footing. Local reinforcements are arriving every day; peace-loving regulars are stocking up and heading for the hills and we're being hardened by tactics such as sleep deprivation as the carrot of extra hours at time and a half is dangled in front of us. And why? Because it's Christmas. Some think it's a Christian festival celebrating the birth of Christ. Poppycock; it's a battle and I'm in the front line. Skirmishing is expected near the sausage rolls, hit and runs down the aisles and explosions near the till points. Christmas is not a season of joy and goodwill to all mankind, it's a terrifying ordeal only the toughest can survive. So please do your bit to ease the tension, apply the wafer thin mint test before you balance that extra pack of mince pies on your food mountain.

But should Christmas be terrifying? Just imagine this text is going all wavy now and we're transported into a dreamworld. What's your ideal Christmas? Relaxed, peaceful, exciting, romantic, spiritual, an oasis of calm and contentment? Whatever you'd love it to be, put it down on a postcard, and stick it on the fridge. Oh, and at the risk of being a party pooper, I want to whisper in your ear, manage your expectations. People that don't get on 365 days a year, don't get on at Christmas; there is only a half time break between arrival and the Queen's Speech. However, if you've been inspired by the real meaning of Christmas, then all bets are off.

So, what's my ideal Christmas?

1. A lie in - chances of being achieved - 0/10
2. Relaxed - chances of being achieved - varies from 0/10 to 10/10.
3. Fun - chances of being achieved - ditto.
4. Spiritual - chances of being achieved - ditto.
5. Satisfying - chances of being achieved - ditto.

At the risk of making this blog sound like thought for today, I've also been mulling over this idea that we're all in a terrible rush. No time to draw breath let alone read or get to know a neighbour. I wonder whether this is really true or whether we've simply forgotten how to prioritise? The more mobile forms of communication we have, the more chances there are to create the illusion that all tasks are equally important. If we buy into that, we are condemned to spend our lives chasing our tails. My advice? Get a list and prioritise, prioritise, prioritise. These are mine at this second;

1. Publish this blog - top priority
2. Going to bed - unless fall asleep at the keyboard, then move it up the list.

So in the spirit of leading the way, I'm going to publish now and toddle off. Doesn't matter that it's day time, it's night-night from me. Thanks for making time to drop in and see you in a week.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

"Where's the chocolate Mummy?"

Hello there and welcome to my blog. If you're a regular, I hope you've had a good week. If you're a newcomer, wonderful to see you. Come on in, put the kettle on and pull up a chair.

Here in the Independent Republic of .. it's been another quiet week, unless of course, you count nature. Nature has been anything but quiet, having spent the last fortnight partying hard. Whilst we've been trying to sleep, the sea's alternated between fighting and caressing the shore whilst the wind's been providing mood music. In the face of such passion, us poor residents could only hunker down hoping the party would blow itself out. Thankfully it did and now all is calm again, particularly at 5.30am.

I know this because I've just joined an army of early morning shelf stackers. Thus after a 30 year absence, I'm back in uniform but don't have to worry about shooting things this time. Instead, I have to worry about the nuclear impact of getting up at 4.30am most mornings. Previously that ungodly hour was reserved for excited trips to the airport, now it's 4 hours with my hands in a chiller cabinet. I tell you, thermals don't come close. However, it's not all bad because I've discovered the joys of Farming Today.

As I'm pootling along the A27, I learn all about the latest food scares and farming techniques. What marvellous preparation for my morning in the food hall. Admittedly I've not yet been asked whether any of our foods contain Spanish eggs products, but I've perfected my response, just in case. Also I'm seeking out which of our farmers uses robots should a customer want to know whether they or Farmer Giles milked the cows that morning.

As informative as it is, Farming Today unfortunately cannot help me with questions arising from another quarter. As you know Advent kicked off last Sunday, so my Mum kindly gave our 4 year old a religious Advent calendar. Wonderful but problematic. Whereas once the only question was, "can I have the chocolate now?" it's now,

1. "How did Jesus get in Mary's tummy?"
2. "Why did the Archangel put him there?"
3. "What's a miracle?"
4. "Where's the chocolate?"

Any attempt to explain that there was no chocolate in Jesus's day, is met with incredulity, distain and suspicion. The rest is met with acceptance unless he's in a "but why?" mood, in which case all bets are off.

Talking of questions, do you know anyone who was involved in the little ship evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940?

I'm writing a radio drama set on a ficticious little ship and would love to hear from any of the crews or people who knew them so I can get a first hand picture of what it was like. If you can help, please leave a comment on the end of this blog and I'll get back to you.

Finally, I hope those of you who saw my article in the Beach News enjoyed it. If it sounded familiar, it was, having first appeared here, under the title "Eyes Along the Coast." I'll be contributing to the Spring issue too, so please keep an eye out for it.

Got to sign off now. I have to go to bed early nowadays as I don't want to miss Farming Today. Have a good week and I'll see you next Wednesday.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Reporting for blog Sir

Hello there and welcome to my blog. If you're new, lovely to see you. Do come in and have a browse. If you're a regular, howdee. Wonderful to see you again and look, it's Wednesday!

Well here in the Independent Republic of.. it's been a bit blowy and a bit rainy. The plants are a tad more horizontal than normal, but the rainbows have been marvellous.

Now you know I'm not a gossip, but have you heard that "Chris Evan's" house has been valued at £3.2 million? Apparently Shoreham Beach has been tipped as the next Sandbanks, without the sand. If a house on the Foreshore can go for £3 million, I reckon ours must be worth a million. If you're interested, I'll knock a tenner off for the blocked soakaway.

You may think my blog has taken on a somewhat military flavour in the last few months, but don't be alarmed, I've no hankering to join up. Whilst I have a weakness for men in uniform, I'm not too good at wearing one myself, as I discovered in my teens.

The RAF appealed to me because it always seemed so romantic. All those young handsome Battle of Britain pilots fighting to save us from imminent invasion. Whilst I didn't have a burning ambition to fly, I did, to join the Air Training Corp. I rocked up to Hove 176 in the certain knowledge that this was the beginning of a glorious military career. The thought lasted as long as it took to explain the rules of membership. The problem? You had to ask permission if you wanted to take a week off. I translated that as, "permission to skive Sir?" and the potential response perplexed me. However, whilst I pondered over that, more immediate problems surfaced.

I could not, (and still cannot), tell my left from my right. Whilst this is not normally a major handicap, it is when you are being drilled. It wasn't the done thing to stare blankly at one's hands in response to an order to,"right turn," so I turned sharply to whichever side took my fancy. To say it occasionally worked would probably be over-stating it, but anyway, my incompetence on the Parade Ground was shortly to be trumped by that on the rifle range.

I squinted down the sights of my .22 rifle like the best of them, but was never too sure which eye to shut to improve the aim. In hindsight this should have been obvious, but to an eager beaver like me, it was not. So I decided to take it in turns, closing one eye and then the other as I tried to focus on the target. I was delighted with my 30% hit rate, unlike the rather sour officer in charge.

Now it wasn't all Dad's Army for me. I excelled at the 10 mile sponsored march along Hove Prom. My regimental shoes were half a size too small but did I complain? No. I kept up, took charge and boosted morale. Officer material written all over me, I thought, right up until the moment I saluted the Commanding Officer. As he sat comfortably behind his desk, I marched up, and snapped to attention. With a ram-rod back I gave him my best Top Gun salute. At that moment I had forgotten that our salute was more Benny Hill than Tom Cruise. Unfortunately the CO had not, and took an obscenely short time to remind me.

Well, as I nursed my bloody heels that night, I started to reflect on my time in the ATC. Not wanting to hurry the process, I skivved off a couple of weeks to reflect some more. It was with a heavy heart that I concluded that the RAF may not be the right place for my unique set of talents. So I returned with my uniform in a plastic bag and they tried to entice me to stay with promises of night time orienteering. Clearly they had forgotten my track record on the Parade Ground sooner than I had. Thus my romantic dream of becoming a much loved and respected RAF Officer was dashed and I became a lawyer instead. C'est la vie.

I'm afraid this blog shall be blogless next week as I'm on an advanced radio writing course with the wonderful Gordon House. I've got behind in my homework so need to catch up. I'll definately pop in if I have time, otherwise take care everyone and have a good fortnight.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Remembrance Day

Hello and welcome to my blog. If you're new, welcome, it's nice to see you. If you're one of my regulars, wonderful to see you again.

Well, here in the Independent Republic of.., it's wet, cold and chilly. We've even lost our kite-surfers but we did see a hardy surfer out on Sunday. We stayed to watch, but he seemed content just to paddle about waiting for the super wave. We watched him watching the waves and we all waited, and waited, and waited. Our noses were running by the time we ambled off, disappointed.

I felt much the same way after attending the town's Remembrance Day service.

On the upside, it was well attended and those coming to pay their respects took it seriously. Us spectators were also there in plenty of time. However, at 11 o'clock over half of St Mary's congregation were still filing out of the church. The bugler had to cut across the graves to play the Last Post, late. It sounded pretty ropey but then again he'd hardly had the best of starts. Then the wreath laying commenced. The MC announced representatives who weren't there, and some that were, didn't know whether to nod or salute so made a weak show of respect and shuffled back to their places. The fireman who chewed gum throughout and stood with his legs astride and arms folded, summed it up for me. Apart from a few notable exceptions, it was all half-arsed. Surely it can't be beyond us to get it absolutely right for just 30 minutes once a year? Someone needs to shake the whole thing up and knock a few heads together. Let's start with a whip round for the Vicar. He can spend the money on a new watch.

As a timely reminder of what it's all about, I want to introduce you to William Bushrod. He's 86, has lived in Shoreham for over 50 years and was a wireless operator in the Second World War.

1945. William, leading wireless operator.

In 1942 Bill was working in Southdowns Bus Company in Portslade. He was already in the Home Guard and Sea Cadets so it felt natural to enlist to join the Royal Navy. Thus on 13th March he joined around 20 other 17 years olds from all over the country to train as a wireless operator.

It was a happy time as the men got on well, despite their varied backgrounds, accents and attitudes. Sadly for Bill though, it was short-lived. He suffered from tonsillitis between the final exams and being drafted, so whilst his classmates left for their ships, he was stuck in hospital and lost contact with them. In October Bill was finally drafted to HMS Europa, but it was on HMS British that he spent most of his naval career.

HMS British was the senior vessel in a group of four minesweepers on patrol between Cromer and Flamborough Head when Bill was there. The minesweepers were responsible for clearing mines dropped in the shipping lanes. They did this by trailing gear behind them which severed the wires connecting the mines to the seabed. As the mines floated to the surface, they were sunk or exploded.

Bill, as wireless operator on the senior vessel, was responsible for organising the watch for the entire group. Nine out of ten orders were for a silent watch because their patrols were at the top end of E-boat alley. The E stood for enemy and the boats were the German equivalent of allied Patrol or Motor Torpedo Boats. Their official name was Schnellboot, (fast boat), and they had a formidable reputation in the Royal Navy. They dominated night warfare in our coastal waters. Elusive, stealthy and fast, they silently sought out allied vessels and ambushed them. Bill witnessed their effectiveness first hand when an E-Boat ambushed one of their minesweepers. Only the nameplate was left, HMS Cap D'antifer.

After being briefly drafted to a Drifter, Bill returned to shore and at HMS Mercury trained to become a leading telegraphist (wireless operator). In September 1944 he returned to sea, joining HMS Barcley Castle on convoy escort and anti-submarine patrol. She patrolled the western approaches, picking up the convoys in the Atlantic and escorting them back to England. With customary understatement, Bill says, "it wasn't so dangerous then as things had quietened down."

It was whilst HMS Barcley Castle was close to the Channel Islands, that Bill picked up the broadcast to the Germans telling them to prepare to capitulate. He took down every word and sent the message up to the Skipper. War had ended and the ship's company were jubilant. At the end of their escort they were ordered to go to a Loch in Scotland. When they arrived they joined 14 other naval vessels escorting 8 German submarines down to Belfast. It was an impressive sight.

Bill had several postings to Germany between the end of the war, and being demobbed on 17th May 1946. When he returned home, he went straight to the pub to see if his mates were back. After taking in the human cost of the war, he had to find a job. After a brief stint as a jobbing builder, he re-joined Southdowns Bus Company in 1948. He was offered a post in his original department and was gradually promoted, eventually becoming the departmental head. After 38 years service he took voluntary redundancy. He was 62.

Bill married the daughter of a navy man and they have been together for over 58 years. They have 2 children, 4 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. He and his wife lead a full life and he has the honour of being the oldest auxiliary watchman at the N.C.I.

He says of his war experience, "it taught me alot in so many different ways. How to get on with people of different backgrounds, ways, outlooks and opinions. I enjoyed it to a great extent and I appreciated the service part. I gained promotion. I learnt how to act in charge of other people." He wasn't to be drawn on the sadness of friends and comrades lost and at 86, why should he be?

Bill was at Shoreham's Memorial service on Remembrance Sunday, smart as a new pin in his N.C.I uniform and service medals. He attends every year to pay his respects to his former comrades.

Thank you Bill for sharing your experiences with me and for your service during World War Two.

Have a good week everyone and see you next Wednesday.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Guerrilla Blog

This is a guerilla blog, so straight in and out, no messing.

Hi Everyone, hope you're feeling cool and groovy.

I've not forgotten you, I'm just thinking.

See you soon.


PS. Missed ya.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Shoreham Fort

Hello and welcome to my blog. If you're a newcomer, come on in, pull up a chair and take a break for a few minutes. If you're one of the regulars, I hope you've had a good week and I really will sort this "weekly" thing out.
     Before I get started, I know you're dying to know how it went. Well, thanks to Jon Kay (director), Anita Gilson, Penelope Richards, Katie-Anna Whiting, Miranda Morris, Aidan Stephenson and Will Wolfe Hogan, the play went very well. The other five pieces were great, yet different, and the contrast was appreciated by the audience.
     To celebrate, my husband and I thought we'd treat ourselves to a glass of champagne, so that night the posh flutes were dusted off and Richard went to get the bottle. Now we knew we had mice in the garage. We were pretty relaxed about it until they nibbled at the Champagne cork. The next day, to the accompliment of shrieks and squeals, they were unceremoniously relocated; three to the great mouse house in the sky and four to the Old Fort.
     Talking of which, I met Gary Baines there a few weeks ago. He is a remarkable man who's taken a keen interest in the Old Fort since he was 4 years old. Here's just a snippet of what I've learnt from him.
     In the 1860s, Lord Palmerston ordered 70 forts to be built to defend the South Coast from the threat of a French invasion. Whilst Shoreham was not one of these, it could be described as a Palmerstonian Fort and is certainly Victorian. It was completed in 1857 at a cost of £11,685.10s.
     Shoreham Fort had six 68 pounder cannons; 2 underground magazines designed to take 126 barrels of gunpowder; a ditch and 2 foot thick Carnot wall out of which sprung 3 Caponiers from which the soldiers could open fire. The Fort was manned by the 1st Sussex Volunteer Artillery of the Eastern Division, Royal Artillery who were housed in the Fort's barracks. Although the threat never materialised, the Fort was manned until 1896.

Shoreham Fort looking along the Carnot wall towards the South Caponier.

    During the Second World War, a battery of 6 inch guns were erected, the walls modified and a searchlight tower built to the west of the site. The barracks were put to various uses until they were demolished in the 1960s. Around the same time the coastguard tower was built on the site of the western magazine, and remains there today.
     The Old Fort is owned by Shoreham Port Authority and has been designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument by English Heritage . This means they consider it one of the country's "most valued archaeological sites" creating a "unique sense of time and place in the landscape." To Gary Baines, though, it's much more important than that.
     He was 4 when his beloved Granddad, Gerry Baines, took him to the Old Fort. They played in the ditches and the Caponiers, dodging make-believe bullets and firing from walking sticks. Sadly that was the one and only visit because Granddad died later that year. After his death, Gary clung to the memory of that day. He searched for the place but all he could remember was an old fort near a white tower. Then when he was 15, he was travelling along the coast road and happened to glance towards the sea. There in front of him was the white tower and the Old Fort. After an 11 year search, he'd found it and spent the next six years researching the Fort itself. Gary gathered all the scattered information, ordered it and published it on his website on Shoreham Fort. He was 21 and on his way to creating his own memorial to his much loved Granddad; to restore the site to the condition it was in the 1970s when Fred Aldworth, the County Architect, had worked on it.
     That was eight years ago. Since then he's acted as a monitor for English Heritage; paid for a builder to assess the brickwork; worked with Shoreham Port Authority to tidy the site; and gathered together a group of volunteers (pictured below), to undertake basic gardening jobs until English Heritage allows them to do more.

     There's much to be done. English Heritage describes the condition of the Fort as poor. It's in slow decay, vulnerable to vandalism and the elements. Parts of the Carnot wall which were once 2 foot deep, are now only 10 inches thick with a maximum lifespan of 24 months.

Gary at one of the weak points in the Carnot wall.

However, restoration work cannot commence until English Heritage have received their own engineer's report, decided what should be done and whether funding is available. In the meantime, Gary will be back there in his free time, keeping an eye on the site until he can start the gardening works again in the spring.
     His is a labour of love. Once it was purely focused on his Granddad but that's changed over time as the site's become more unstable. With the threat of closure should the Old Fort become too dangerous, his focus is on preserving free and constant access so that visitors can continue to walk around the ditches and play fight on the Caponiers. He wants the restoration and preservation of the Old Fort to become a community project now and he's looking for help.
     If you would like to get involved please contact him on his website. He needs volunteers - there's a job for everyone, not just the able-bodied; donations of gardening tools; free legal advice on how to set up and run a charity for the Old Fort; and comments from Beach Residents on what we'd like to do with our ancient monument.
     I'll be back next week with another blog from the Independent Republic of .. and in the meantime have a great week. Many thanks to Gary and his team for working so hard and giving your time so freely. It was a real pleasure meeting you all.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

You are cordially invited to attend a feast.

Welcome to my blog. Nice to see you and I hope you're well. I'm fine and dandy, just a tad bit frazzled, but thanks for asking.

As you may have guessed from an earlier blog, I'm one of the six Sussex playwrights whose work is being performed this Saturday as part of Adur Arts Live '09. Preparations are reaching fever pitch, so before I head back down the tunnel, I wanted to send you an invitation.

Just because this is a blog, doesn't mean standards have to slip, so just image that it's been delivered to you on a silver platter by a liveried footman. You give him the once over, open the invitation and read with breathless excitement;

"You are cordially invited to attend a lunchtime feast of comedy and drama at the Shoreham Methodist Church on Saturday 17th October 2009 at 12.00pm."

You call for pen and paper and reply immediately.

"Thank you for inviting me to attend a lunchtime feast of comedy and drama at the Shoreham Methodist Church on Saturday 17th October 2009 at 12.00pm. I will be delighted to attend.

PS Can I bring a packed-lunch?"

Right, pit helmet back on, light on and down I go.

Hope you have a wonderful week and fingers crossed you can come on Saturday. If you're seized with hunger pangs, I've got a small packet of raisins I can dust off and pass around.

See you next Monday.

Monday, 5 October 2009

I'm not one to gossip, but..

Let's not mention it at all. Just forget that it ever happened. Let's imagine that we can step into a time machine, re-appear last Monday and this blog is coming out as promised. So, welcome to my blog. I hope you had a good (a-hem) week, and have enjoyed the wonderful weather. I did, abandoning Old Fort Road for a stroll along the beach where I was reminded of the year round holiday atmosphere. A perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life, particularly if you're a celebrity.
     Talking of which, have you heard the latest? I'm not one to gossip, but Chris Evans from Radio Two, was due to fly out of Shoreham Airport last April. Unfortunately it was on the day of the freak snowfall so all the planes were grounded. So off he goes for a bit of a wander and ends up on Shoreham Beach. He instantly falls in love with the place and orders a team of crack Estate Agents to find a bolt hole for him and his wife. A house was eventually found, demolished and a swanky new one built in it's place. Mr and Mrs Evans now live there happily ever after.

So what should we think? Let's bring in an expert.

"So, Holmes, what d'you make of it?"

"Well Watson, first we must examine the facts:
1. it snowed last April
2. Shoreham has an airport
3. Shoreham Beach is within walking distance of said airport
4. people of a certain arty disposition fall in love with Shoreham Beach
5. a house was demolished and another erected in its place.
6. said house has unusual amount of privacy, witness the gate."

"So, Holmes a private person of significant means has arrived on the beach. A celebrity would certainly fit the bill and Mr Evans is of an arty persuasion."

"Not so fast Watson, we must be careful to consider the case against."

"Which is?"

"No-one has ever seen him"

"A-ha! But no-one has seen Jesus for a while, doesn't mean he's not there."

     One celebrity who definitely was in Shoreham last week was Jonathan Miller. He was performing his, "An Audience with.." at the Ropetackle Centre. I first came across him as a child when he presented a great show on the human body and then later when he directed a controversial version of Rigoletto at the English National Opera. Although Sir Jonathan hates being described as such, he is a polymath, for whom no concept seems too hard to grasp. Despite his fearsome intellect, he talked to us as equals and was interested in listening to our views on his theories. For a few hours, we glimpsed the world from his point of view. It's one in which one is perpetually curious, and looking for the deeper meaning of things. Fascinating and strangely similar to that of our four year old.
     At the moment he's curious about wood chips. This curiosity leads him to stuff them in his pockets and bring them home. There they are put in the washing machine, spotted, sworn at and smuggled back into school, yet they mysteriously re-appear. I've decided to channel this curiosity in the direction of pebbles. The Victoria and Albert Museum are running a World Beach Project. It's a "global art project open to anybody, anywhere, of any age." The beauty of it is that the pebbles have to remain on the beach. Simple. Note to self, contact V&A to see if they're interested in a World Wood Chip Project.

Have a good week and see you next Monday - ish.

PS. Chris, if you're reading this, love the plants.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Observatory Science Centre Herstmonceux

I know, I know, this isn't even close! But you don't want to hear about my trapped nerve, my dodgy back or my wonderful play. You want to hear about the Independant Republic of Shoreham Beach. Well, the top road is exciting, now we've got the slalom and the lower road has lost the magic since it was re-surfaced. I enjoyed the shake, rattle and roll. It added a bit of the Wild West to a small part of Shoreham Beach.

Anyway, welcome to my blog. If you're a regular, sorry. If you're a newcomer, I'm apologising for being three days late.

Talking of which, I've only just realised that 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, so I thought I'd better mention The Observatory, Herstmonceux.

If you haven't been yet, it's fabulous. It's owned by Queen's University of Ontario and operated by Science Projects, a charity specialising in promoting learning through interactive exhibits. There are hundreds of these at the Observatory and a Discovery Park where you can roll a ball up a giant Archimedes screw, balance on a wobbly "boat" or race wheels down a ramp. My favourite is the giant pipe tower where you have to guess where the sound will come out and my son likes the whispering cone, (which he shouts into), and the DNA "climbing frame". It also has workshops, discovery days, seasonal activities and even kids parties.

The Observatory is set in 380 acres of Sussex countryside and lies next to a 15th century castle. That, however, does not mean it's easy to find. If you whizz along the A27 and miss the turning for Wartling, you can end up in Pevensey. Pevensey is nice but it doesn't have an Equatorial Group of Telescopes. When you find your way back to the right road, the first sight of the Observatory is startling. Six massive copper clad domes rise above the gently sloping woodland. How on earth the local planning committee thought that copper cladding would help them blend in is beyond me!

Despite being called the "Observatory," the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) at Herstmonceux left in 1990. Nevertheless, their brief stay has been described as "a sort of golden age for the RGO, when the best and most innovative work was done."

The Royal Observatory was founded in 1675, in a country village called Greenwich. As London grew, so did the sprawl and pollution and by the end of World War II had reached such proportions, that the Observatory had to be relocated. A suitable site was eventually found at Herstmonceux, where the air and skies were clearer. Significant building work began there in 1953, but the architect, Brian O'Rorke, had a difficult brief. He had to produce something that was elegant and attractive in design. He succeeded, but the ornamental lily pond was too much for one astronomer, who fell in. The buildings were completed in 1956 and the following year the staff left Greenwich, the scattered departments were re-united and the Royal Observatory was renamed the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Herstmonceux. It was 1957 and Herstmonceux was open for business.

The move had taken 10 years but, within a decade, it had started to decline. Arguably it began when the powerful Issac Newton Telescope was opened by the Queen in 1967. Intended to compete with it's counterparts in the USA and Russia, it was quickly realised that it was in the wrong place. Inclement weather meant that it could only be used 33% of the time. In 1979 it was moved to La Palma in the Canaries where it could be put to better use. A combination of that and factors such as technological advances, policy decisions and budget cuts, made the RGO's presence at Herstmonceux difficult to justify. In 1990 the RGO left Herstmonceux and moved to Cambridge. Then in October 1998, the Royal Greenwich Observatory was shut down completely.

In it's heyday, the RGO at Herstmonceux had over 200 staff. The castle provided accommodation for astronomers and visitors, a library, the Director's residence and offices. Within it's grounds, the cricket pitch, tennis courts, swimming pool and clubhouse buzzed with activity. Then at night, the sound of nightingales and music floated around the Telescopes. It must have been idyllic.

Today, some of the Telescopes are still open and the Observatory is a hive of activity with parties of school children racing from one exhibit to another. I haven't got the foggiest idea how most of them work, but I still have a go and accept my son's distain when he realises I know nothing. It's a wonderful place to lose yourself and Herstmonceux always makes me smile, from the moment I see those copper domes, to the moment I leave.

My thanks to Chas Parker for his fascinating story of the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Herstmonceux and whose words have appeared in quotes.

Have a good week and see you next Monday - promise.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Dancing Sheep

Welcome to my blog. Nice to see you. If you are new, welcome, welcome, welcome. If you are a regular, great to see you again. I hope you've had a good week.

For those of you who get this emailed, I apologise for the delay. It should have been with you yesterday. However, last night over a glass of wine and a diminishing supply of crisps, I thought, why should my blog get a knackered writer's thoughts last thing on a Sunday night? Not good enough. So I've decided that from now on, the blog shall go out on a Monday instead. Can't say fairer than that.

Well, here in the Independant Republic of.. things are beginning to slow down. The water no longer has the allure it once had, and eyes turn towards the few crooked trees that brave the salt air and blustery wind. Not for us the vibrant displays of Autumn colours; the laden blackberry bushes, and dew dusted meadows. Nope, we have concrete, and cars, and bare-bottoms at the back of kite-surfer's vans.

Well, is it just me, or do all women have a gremlin in the form of a bossy great grandmother who lies in wait ready to spring out the moment you want to put your feet up? I do, and the combined forces of my star sign and said gremlin ransacked my week. Instead of relaxing with a play or two, pretending to understand The Economist, and reading about Teddy Kennedy, I cleaned the house. I scrubbed, polished, dusted, hoovered, sorted out my wardrobe and, for a bit of light relief, went foraging in the hedgerows for pudding. After making a blackberry crumble, I started the washing. Madness. By the end of the week, I could not face another duster, so gave the gremlin the heave ho and, with just the slightest twinge of guilt, set off to the Findon Sheep Fair. So incidentally, did thousands of others.

The Sheep Fair started in 1261 when Henry 111 granted a Royal Charter to the Lord of the Manor of Findon, Walter de Clifford. Today the Fair is a much smaller affair and the sheep are more of a side-show to the stalls, Fairground, and entertainments. Nevertheless there were sheep pens, a sheep competition, and a display of sheep and shearing by a charismatic New Zealand shepherd. He introduced us to the different breeds of sheep displayed on the podium; told us about maggots (deadly); sheared a sheep and sold it in a mock auction. He was very entertaining but not entertaining enough to explain the growing crowd as his performance built. Sheep are interesting, but c'mon? Then a friend enlightened me, "the sheep dance at the end. Just wait."

Now I've seen Babe and Big Barn Farm, so I know what sheep can do, but I must say I was a tad bit skeptical. I waited, and true to his word, the disco music came on and the sheep were primed. The dreadlocked sheep shook it's head and hips and the little black face did a couple of kicks. I couldn't quite see the one that did the moon-walk but I didn't need to, the shepherd did a demo. It was worth going to the Sheep Fair just to see that. If he got them to sing, he could be on the X-factor. He'd certainly be better than the lady in the duo with the dog that didn't sing.

If you want to find out more about the origin of the Sheep Fair there's a great little history at, , but for me, it's time to sign off for another week.

I hope you have a good one, and see you next Monday.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Take Six! Adur Arts Live '09

Hello and welcome to my blog. If you're a newcomer, come on in. If you're a regular, nice to see you again.

Here in the Independent Republic of.., it's been a mixed bag of weather. Last week Mother Nature went off like a stroppy teenager, "don't like September, want do October". Someone clearly had a word because the temperature shot up and the shorts came out again.

This last fortnight has been dominated by two things; getting ready for school and celebrating my Birthday.

I had a lump in my throat when our bundle of joy started full-time school. I foolishly thought he too may stop to ponder this momentous step but no, out came the train set and off he shot like a whippet out the traps. Kids have no sense of occasion.

Adults, on the other hand, do, and my Birthday treat was dinner and a trip to see War Horse at the New London Theatre. It's a play adapted by Nick Stafford from a book by Michael Morpurgo. It's set in the 1910's and is about a boy, Albert, and his beloved horse, Joey. At the outbreak of war, Albert's father cruelly sells Joey to a cavalry officer. Albert's devastated and when he learns that the officer has died, joins up determined to find Joey and take care of him. Joey meantime is in the thick of the action, flanked by his friend, another horse, Topthorn. As Albert gets closer to finding his horse, poor Joey's being worked to death on the battlefield. I won't tell you the ending of this award-winning play, but it's worth the trip to London. As for the horses; all I can say is, puppetry's come a long way since Sooty and Sweep.

I said a fortnight ago that I was taking a week off, and those with sharply honed skills of observation may have noticed that I've pinched an extra day. See if you can guess why in this carefully constructed interview.

So Liz, nice to see you. Did you have a good journey?
Yep. Straight up the stairs, turned left. Dead easy.

What are you working on at the moment?
Apart from this interview, I'm writing a 10 minute play for Take Six! part of Adur Arts Live '09. It's one of six rehearsed readings of short plays from six established playwrights. It's on from 12.00-1.00pm on 17th October at Shoreham Methodist Church in Shoreham.

Who are your role models?
Any parents who can outwit their four year olds without making them cry.

What would you change about yourself?
My star sign. It's the bane of my life.

What's your next project?
Household tips for Virgos.

Did you spot it? It's subtly embedded in the second question, the bit about the six play readings on the 17th October between 12.00-1.00pm at Shoreham Methodist Church.

It would be great to see you there and if you do come, don't forget to pop by and say hello. Have a great week and see you next Sunday.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Their today's for our tomorrows

Hello and welcome to my blog. If you're a regular, I hope you had a marvellous week. If you're a newcomer, come in and make yourself at home.

It's been another glorious weekend here in the Independant Republic of Shoreham Beach. The sea was exhilarating, and the cloudless sky was the perfect backdrop to the weekend's aerobatics. If you've never been to Shoreham Airshow, go next year. It's a wonderful day out. This year was it's 20th anniversary so the Red Arrows did a quick flypast. Blink and you'd have missed it.

We went on the first day and were thrilled by the pilots' skill, winced at the sound of the fast jets, and were gently reminded of the human cost of aerial warfare. Of the many facts relayed to us, two stood out. World War 1 pilots only had 10 hours training on type before they were sent into battle, (Pilots today need about 50 hours on type just to get a Private Pilots Licence), and the Battle of Britain flypast is treated with great deference. All the aircraft have to be on the ground before it starts; the helicopters turn off their rotors, and the spectators are asked if they would like to stand. No other display has the same type of build-up; not the Blades, the Typhoon or the parachute team.

As we shlepted back to the car park, I was reminded of why we should treat that particular display with such solemnity. A gleaming 4 x 4 was clearing the road behind us. We stood to the side in anticipation of a courtesy car carrying celebrities. A mini-van from The Royal Star and Garter Homes glided past carrying elderly disabled ex-servicemen and women. As I watched them pass I thought, these aren't mere celebrities, these are ordinary people who rose to do extraordinary things. In that brief moment, they reminded me that the airshow is more than a wonderful day out; it's a tribute to those who gave their today's for our tomorrows.

Now, in case you're wondering if I managed to beat Rameses Revenge last week, well I did. It was a hands down victory - not a plea, not even a whisper to go on it. I wish I could claim that my cunning plan had worked, but no, it was down to the crowd of spectators watching the ride and playing, who's going to vomit first/have a fit/get off half way through? All I had to do was join in with my little darlings and let them watch. Words were unnecessary.

Unfortunately, what Rameses Revenge and all his might could not do, the same little darlings could, effortlessly. That gang of tireless, excitable, and determined 4,6 and 9 year olds have done me in. After a week spent visiting Chessington, Legoland and Hampton Court, I have been beaten. No victory wave this week, just a wobbly stagger to the nearest bed and a plea for mercy.

So I'm afraid this spot will be blogless next Sunday as I convalesce, but I promise to return reinvigorated in a fortnight with another post.

Have a great two weeks and see you on the 6th September.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Me v Rameses Revenge

Welcome to my blog. If you're a regular, how you doing? If you're a newcomer, lovely to see you.

Well here in the Independent Republic of.., it's been another lovely week. A couple of dips in the sea and rock-pooling with Friends of Shoreham Beach yesterday. The dead eel and poisonous jelly fish were tremendously popular with the boys. Ugh!

This week we're off to Chessington World of Adventure and, determined not to have a repeat of the Cobra incident,* I decided to do some research.

Bless their hearts, Chessington's website gives a ride guide; mini, junior, family and experienced. Knowing my little darling all too well, I decided to look at the section on completely inappropriate rides for anyone except a lunatic.  It didn't take long to find it. Rameses Revenge. "This monster of a machine turns you upside down and spins you round and round - only to end up in a deadlock upside down, lowering you head first over water fountains... definitely not for the faint hearted." Come again? Which genius at Scary Rides Inc. thought that one up? Bet it wasn't the accountant.

If I was a kid, I'd be heading straight for that ride so I've decided that Rameses Revenge is my enemy, a determined monster that will stop at nothing to attract riders. It'll fail with Tom. He'll need a responsible adult to take him on and I'm ruling myself out, but what of his 6 and 9 year old cousins? These guys have Merlin passes and they can read. Fobbing them off with, "no look it says ten years old" won't wash.

Returning to the Chessington website, I searched under "convincing excuses," and "closed for maintenance." Alas, the cupboard was bare. I broadened my search to Legoland's website, on the basis that they just sounded more sensible. They didn't let me down. Under a description of the Laser Raiders Ride, the lawyers had clearly pinched the pen and run a muck: "not recommended for guests with back and neck problems, heart conditions, high blood pressure, broken limbs, pregnant." But why stop there I thought? Why not help us emotionally blackmailed parents and extend it to cover invisible paper cuts, bruises, inexplicable sneezes, phantom tummy aches, and itchy backs? Surely, that's what they really meant to say about Rameses Revenge, not just "not for the faint hearted?"

I have decided that this is an understandable oversight, and one which I will selflessly correct. When we arrive at Chessington, I will take an inventory of all the illnesses, injuries, old and new, imaginary or real of the 4, 6 and 9 year old. These will be carefully noted and mentally added to the imaginary list of "not recommended if..". When Rameses Revenge beckons and three excited little ones ask breathily "can I? oh please oh please oh please," I will refer to my list, sigh mournfully, and explain that they cannot go on the ride because they had hiccups, an itchy back or a bruised shin, etc. As I steer them towards the nearest ice-cream shop, I shall slowly turn back and give Rameses Revenge a victory wave. Not this time matey!

I'll let you know if it works. See you next Sunday.

*see very first blog. Footnotes to a blog !

Sunday, 9 August 2009

The Minstrel's guitar

Hello and welcome. If you are a regular, I hope you enjoyed last week's "infoview". If you're a newcomer, c'mon in, we'll make space.

Well here in the Independent Republic of.., it's been a glorious weekend. Lots of people lounging on the beach and messing around. A few were put off by the seaweed. Admittedly it was like wading through porridge, but once you were through, the water was great. Come and chill on the shingle.

Having learnt from Paultons Park, we avoided the fast and furious this time, and opted for historic houses. Lots of them in fact, at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.

"And that will never be," a play by Suzi Hopkins, was being performed the day we went. It was about two women, centuries apart, who put duty before love. The story unfolded as the actors wove their way through the museum. The cast was limited to the dutiful woman; her lover; two village yobs; two children and Minstrel with a guitar.

We adults wanted to see the play, but it was a high risk strategy with our four year-old, after all;

1. Dr Who wasn't in it,
2. nor was a bear, a gruffalo, Sportecus, Boogie Pete etc
3. loos were miles away,
4. 90 minutes running time
5. no interval,
6. we'd run out of sweets.

Throwing caution to the wind, we got tickets and only missed the first couple of scenes trying to persuade our pre-schooler to get down from a tree.

We joined the back of the audience just as a Puritan preacher was trying to persuade his sweetheart to marry him and move to America. Our beloved was gripped. At the end of the scene we moved on at a sedate pace whilst he barged ahead and skipped happily beside the Minstrel. Fantastic, we thought, our gamble had paid off. (Incidentally, she said no).

An hour into the play and it was building to a climax. Imagine; an American arrives in town. He offers to help the schoolmistress carry a pail of water. There's a spark. It's seen by the yobs. They decide to teach him a lesson. They pounce, goading the American until he snaps. There's a fight, two against one. The schoolmistress pleads for calm. The yobs back off, noisily. Then peace. The victims exchange a look. The spark's been ignited. They leave.

The audience is transfixed. Suddenly a clear, high pitched voice pierces the silence,

" I like your guitar," says our pride and joy to the Minstrel.

"Thank you" he replies.

As we cringe, our lad trots merrily after the Minstrel, refusing to leave his side until the final bow.

It was a great day out.

Back to Shoreham Beach, the roadworks are due to start this week. Time to pump up the bike tyres I reckon.

Have a good week and see you next Sunday.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Eyes along the coast

Welcome to my blog. If you're a newcomer, nice to see you. If you're a regular, lovely to have you back.

I've decided to change the format this week and focus completely on one building, the Shoreham watchstation. For those not familiar with the beach, it's at the far end, by the Old Fort.

The building was originally a World War Two searchlight base manned by the Home Guard. In 1958 it unceremoniously 'swapped sides', and became a German look-out post in "Battle of the V1". The film starred a young Christopher Lee immediately prior to his run-away success in horror movies. After that, the building was bricked up. Then in 2008, the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) started renovation work. Six months later, on 24th October, it opened as a watchstation.

The National Coastwatch Institution grew out of an incident at Bass Point on the Lizard. Two fishermen drowned below a Coastguard visual watchstation which had been closed as part of a rationalisation process. Touched by the loss, local volunteers and fund-raisers restored the watchstation and the National Coastwatch Institution was born. It's a charity with a simple aim; the protection and preservation of life at sea and around the coastline, or "eyes along the coast".

That was back in 1994. Since then, the NCI have opened 44 watchstations. The most recent was at Daddyhole Plain in Torbay in July. Last year they were involved in 703 incidents and will soon have 2,000 volunteers. They work closely with the Coastguard and have assumed an important link in the rescue chain.

We have two NCI watchstations in Sussex, one at Newhaven and one on Shoreham Beach. Our station was involved in the rescue of the Kittiwake as reported in the Shoreham Herald. In brief, the 49ft yacht reported difficulties when attempting passage from Newhaven to Cowes last November. Solent Coastguard tasked the station to keep a watch on the vessel as it waited for the lifeboat. Despite heavy seas and winds gusting at gale force 8, it successfully guided the lifeboat to the stricken vessel, helping to save three lives and the £140,000 yacht.

The watchstation welcomes visitors, so last Friday, I popped in and was greeted by two of it's volunteers, Max Ollerton, Watchman and Joint Deputy Manager, and Keith Ansell, Watchman.

It was a nice day. Swimmers, sailors, and jet-skiers were out and about. Max and Keith took me through their procedures and explained some of the particular problems they had at Shoreham.

In breach of a local by-law, a group of lads were jumping off the Eastern arm of the harbour. Earlier in the day they had been trying to swim from one arm to the other and back again, unperturbed by the commercial shipping lane. Max and Keith contacted Shoreham Port Authority to warn them. Their warning was overheard and as a vessel left the port, it gave a warning blast and the swimmers moved to safety. However, they don't have any means of communication with jet-skis. Whilst I was there, one raced out and back into the harbour whilst the lads swam near the eastern arm. Max explained that jet-skis are a constant threat to swimmers. They zoom into the harbour at five times the speed limit and can suddenly change direction. Most dangerously, they are blinded by their spray. Swimmers can see them, but have no chance of avoiding them.

There are 22 volunteer watchkeepers at Shoreham and between them they keep the station open from 09.00 - 17.00 hrs from Fridays to Mondays. They come from all walks of life and the age ranges from 24-86 years old. The NCI want to open full-time, but to do this they need an additional 20 volunteers. Anyone can volunteer as no experience is necessary. Successful volunteers are fully trained, and sessions are individually tailored to fit around their availability and knowledge.

Shoreham NCI also need donations. Speaking to local groups, attending coffee mornings, legacies and collections raises funds, but they need more and the wish-list is modest:

Flooring for the training room £100
Marine quality blinds to reduce glare £400
Automatic Identification System £400
Radar £1500
Outside walkway

If you'd like to volunteer or donate, please go on the Shoreham NCI website at Otherwise, visit the station. It's open to all, and all are welcome.

My thanks to Max and Keith of the NCI for your time, tea and biscuits.

See you next Sunday.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Down the plug hole!

Hello again and welcome back. If this is your first time, c'mon in.

Well, here in the Independent Republic of...., it's been a bit of a wash out, wind, rain, thunder and lightening. Too erratic for me to haul on my vacuum-packed beach shoes, but I know a group who would have been on the beach at the first glimpse of sunshine. The real Beachies; our Home Guard of stout men and women, 60+, tanned and armed with tightly rolled up towels tucked under their arms. Not for them the namby-pamby beach shoe, no, they hobble down to the water and don't even gasp as they reach the eye-watering height.

Beachies, I salute you. You are the ones that make Shoreham Beach great, not the summer BBQ's, the foreshore, or the key-swapping parties. It's you, every last one of you.

Now, I've a theory that young childrens' feelings are as strong as adults, and this week there was a eureka moment.


Bath time. Tom, our four year old, sits in the bath leaning miserably against the tiles. I bustle in and stop dead. Tom looks at me, pulls a glum face and holds up his finger.

Oh dear, have you hurt yourself?


What is it then?


I squint at his finger. Nothing. He points to a solitary human hair dangling off the end. 

It's a hair?!

All his friends are down the plug-hole.  He's very sad.

Come again?

You'll have to go and get them.

Erm.  When we pull the plug out, he can join them. Right, where's the soap?

No he can't. He's afraid of the dark. You have to go and get them.

Tom crosses his arms and stares at me. I recognise that look. It's called trouble.

Richard! Your turn to do bath time.

Parenting is all about learning. Today's lesson is on how to clean your bath.

And finally, according to the Beach News, the Highways Agency will be re-surfacing the top and bottom roads at almost the same time. It's going to be a scream. Good job we've got extra wide pavements.

Have a happy week and see you next Sunday.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Who's blog is it anyway?

Hello and welcome to my weekly blog.

The italics are there for my husband's benefit as he wants me to write about Shoreham Beach not Paultons Park. As he's my Technical Support,  I'll talk about Shoreham Beach.

Shoreham Beach, or the Independant Republic of Shoreham Beach is a great place. Come visit. Dogs welcome.

Paulton's Park, "the theme park for all the family,"  is the business. Rides, play areas, an aviary, more rides, diddy train, waterpark, still more rides, Wallabies, Emus and, you've guessed it.. a sandpit! Give yourself a full day, take a picnic, and a change of clothes, just in case.

One word of caution. The Cobra is not suitable for 4 year olds, even if they are 1.2 meters high, as ww found out.


Eager family unpack car. Turn in unison to sound of shrieks and screams behind them. It's the Cobra, a whopping great roller coaster. 


Can I go on that?

Of course you can.

Family scamper off in the direction of the Cobra. Twenty minutes later.


Car slows to a stop. Wails come from within. Small queue reacts sympathetically to crying child lifted out by sheepish parent.

I didn't like that.

Queue gives parents a collective, No s*** Sherlock stare.

So if you find yourself in such a situation and are tempted to put your precious,  (tall for age) pre-schooler, into a car decorated with a viper's jaw, just pause for one second and ask yourself, has my darling ever expressed a desire to:

1.  get hauled up a 45 degree slope and launched off the edge,
2.  get whipped around a sharp camber at breathtaking speed,
3.  get tossed up and down steep humps
4.  get hurled towards the roof of a wooden hut at breakneck speed, veering underneath at the last second?

If not, head towards the Ladybirds ride. Ice-cream bribe may be required.

Thanks for popping by and see you next week.