Thursday, December 30, 2010


Listening to Richard Ingrams' excellent guest editorship of the Today programme this morning, I was amused to hear Dr Thomas Stuttaford's account of his haunted house in Norwich where he and his family often hear people walking up the stairs or in the bedrooms above. It reminded me of a ghost story told by my friend George in East Anglia.

George claimed to have a poltergeist in his house. He said that when he and his family were downstairs they would regularly hear somebody rushing through all the rooms upstairs, slamming all the doors. The children's toys would frequently be rearranged. One night he was in bed and heard a noise downstairs. He put on his dressing gown and ventured down to investigate. The radio was on, tuned in to a German station. His wife assured him that she had not left it on, nor would she listen to a German channel. George investigated the history of that house and discovered that a German POW had escaped and taken refuge there during the war. He may have died there.

One night George asked his wife if she could go and get him a cold drink from the fridge. She went downstairs, into the kitchen and let out a blood-curdling scream: when she opened the fridge there was one of her son's teddy bears sitting on the shelf. George had put it there as a joke.

They have now moved house.
Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas carols

Flopping in front of the television after our Christmas goose, my father said, "There are some carols on. I think they're from Canterbury." I switched on BBC2 and saw some familiar faces. "That's not Canterbury - it's Winchester!" I replied.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Festive pudding

Reading Hello magazine in the hairdresser's as one does, I came across a wonderful pudding recipe which I'm going to try out on New Year's Eve. It consists of three (or 4 or 5 depending on how many people & how stunning you want it to be) tiers of meringue in diminishing size. Sandwiched between them are layers of cream (spiked with Grand Marnier in my case) and winter fruits which have been heated in a sugar syrup and allowed to cool. A few physalis, aka cape gooseberries, were dotted around the cream on the outside and it looked fabulous. This is not a photo of it, obviously, but it gives the same impression.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Grace Cathedral

It was a surprise and joy to hear the Very Reverend Alan Jones, erstwhile Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, preach in Winchester Cathedral on Sunday. When I lived in San Francisco, 10 years ago, I used to walk down Russian Hill and up Nob Hill to attend the services at Grace Cathedral. The 11am service was always absolutely packed with a congregation of around 1000 people, so I preferred to go to the more intimate 8am service in one of the side chapels. I loved that walk in the early morning sunshine, particularly when the acacia trees were in blossom, looking down the precipitous steets to the shimmering blue water of the Bay beyond.

In earlier days, 1849 to be precise, Grace was a humble church, founded during the Gold Rush. Rebuilt a couple of times, it was destroyed by fire after the 1906 earthquake and then the building today was begun with funds from the Crocker family, of railroad and banking fame. I did a double-take when I first saw the Cathedral's doors: they are copies of the Ghiberti doors on the Baptistry in Florence. So beautiful!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bravo Colonel Harland Sanders!

Just as well we don't live in Japan. I see in today's FT that in the early 70s when Kentucky Fried Chicken had first started operations in Japan, a representative of a Christian mission school, not being able to find any turkeys, instead ordered chicken at a Tokyo KFC. A KFC employee then suggested that they should do an advertising campaign based around this.
The ads were so successful that KFC Christmas chicken meals have become a national custom. Christmas Party Barrels can be ordered two months in advance and are usually eaten on Christmas Eve. According to businessman, Yoshiaki Hirose, "It's like a Christmas standard. You want to have a party with your family, save your wife from having to cook, and you can pick it up from your local shopping street on your way home from work."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Photo of the day

This photo, taken by Richard Costin, is in today's Telegraph. It shows a Golden Eagle and a White Tailed Eagle fighting over a dead fox. Mr Costin spent 5 days in freezing Norway to take pictures of eagles in the snow.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Birmingham blot out

My father went to stay with his sister-in-law while we were in Brazil. He was coming back by train from York, leaving at 2.30pm, changing at Birmingham and arriving in Winchester at 7.30pm. My aunt had arranged for Passenger Assistance to meet him at Birmingham and to help him on to the next train. That was the theory, anyway.

In fact, the York train was delayed by snow so he missed the connection. He doesn't have a mobile phone but I gathered this fact from the National Rail website. Of course I went to Winchester station anyway, just in case the computer was fallible. No sign of him so I returned an hour later. That train was 30 minutes late, the evening freezing. It arrived at 9pm. I waited on the platform whilst around 20 people disembarked. I couldn't see him. The guard was just about to give the signal to move on when I caught sight of a walking stick emerging from a carriage right at the end of the train. "Hello!" I cried and rushed to help him with his suitcase.

"What an awful journey, you've had! How did you manage?" I asked. "I'm so confused and in such a daze that I can't remember what's happened today," he replied. "Were you met at Birmingham?" I asked. He looked at me blankly.

When we got home I phoned my aunt to tell her he'd arrived safely. "Was he met at Birmingham?" she asked. "I don't know for certain but at least he's here!" I had to say.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Letter of the day

Sir, As a resident of the environs of Newmarket, a course member, regular racegoer, and sometime rider of the gallops there, I was amused by the comments of the pensions regulator David Norgrove. "We have to ensure that they are not putting all their money on the 2:30 at Newmarket," he says, in relation to pension funds being prevented from investing in risky assets.
The 2:30 is often a maiden race for unraced or lightly raced horses, and in the betting ring "the money talks" so favourites have a good record.
Even at such short odds of 3/1, that is a 33% return in the space of one and a bit minutes for, say, a six furlong race.
No management fee or any other spurious charges, one can pay tax on the stake and get paid out instantly in cash!

Nicky Samengo-Turner

(Yesterday's FT)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Alpha to Omega

Having had a very jolly (cup of) tea with the charming Ellee Seymour ( on Friday afternoon in Cambridge, I went on to a Feast where I saw a familiar classicist: Professor James Diggle. He is retiring next year but will continue to work on his monumentum aere perennius: a new Greek-English lexicon.

In my day, the standard reference book was Liddell & Scott, first published in 1843, and I asked Prof Diggle how he was improving on that. He said that he and his team are able to write a new lexicon from first principles because every single Ancient Greek text is now available online and so they have access to far more material than the Liddell & Scott team. "Which letter have you got up to?" I enquired. "We're not doing it alphabetically," he said. "We've done Omega, we're half-way through Alpha, I'm currently working on Pi and we haven't started the largest entry, Epsilon."

He thinks the lexicon will be finished in about three years' time and it will be published by Cambridge University Press, much to the chagrin of Oxford University Press, the publisher of Liddell & Scott. Hurrah for the light blues! (Shame about the Varsity match though.)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Happy Birthday (for yesterday) Horace!

O fons Bandusiae, splendidior vitro,
dulci digne mero non sine floribus,
cras donaberis haedo,
cui frons turgida cornibus

primis et venerem et proelia destinat;
frustra: nam gelidos inficiet tibi
rubro sanguine riuos,
lascivi suboles gregis.

Te flagrantis atrox hora Caniculae
nescit tangere, tu frigus amabile
fessis vomere tauris
praebes et pecori vago.

Fies nobilium tu quoque fontium,
me dicente cavis impositam ilicem
saxis unde loquaces
lymphae desiliunt tuae.

O Bandusian fountain, brighter than crystal,
worthy of sweet wine, not lacking in flowers,
tomorrow we’ll honour you
with a kid, whose brow is budding

with those horns that are destined for love and battle.
All in vain: since this child of the playful herd will
darken your ice-cool waters,
with the stain of its crimson blood.

The implacable hour of the blazing dog-star
knows no way to touch you, you offer your lovely
coolness to bullocks, weary
of ploughing, and to wandering flocks.

And you too will be one of the famous fountains,
now I write of the holm oak that’s rooted above
the cave in the rock where your
clear babbling waters run down.
Horace (8 Dec 65 - 27 Nov 8BC)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Don't bank on it

When asked by the Treasury select committee whether Lloyds' customers knew what charges they were paying on their current accounts, Helen Weir, head of Lloyds' retail banking operations, replied that most of them had a good idea of the fee structure. She was then asked what charges she paid on her own bank account and had to admit she had no idea. After the meeting, she was overheard confiding to close colleagues that she "should have just made something up."

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


It's rather a shock to the system to return from the tropical rainforest of Brazil to this freezing cold. It was my first expedition to South America and I must say, I'm hooked! We spent our time in the Serra do Mar State Park which is on the coast, half way between Rio and Sao Paolo. I cannot recommend it highly enough: deserted golden beaches with turquoise sea, crystal clear natural swimming pools at the bottom of stunning waterfalls in the rainforest, a botanist's honeypot of amazing plants and a twitcher's paradise of colourful birds. Absolutely fabulous!