Wednesday, 19 November 2014

By Appointment

We have seen a shift in shopping habits since the financial crash. The stagnation of income coupled with the increase in spare time has resulted in shoppers forsaking the weekly bonanza at the hypermarket in favour of more frequent and smaller shopping trips.  The winners in the high street have been Lidl and Aldi at the budget end of the market and Waitrose at the other end. All the major supermarkets are losing market share to these three companies who  never subscribed to the giant out-of-town craze.
We have noticed on our travels around the country that two retail businesses have survived the supermarket invasion - pharmacies and small hardware shops . An example of this is A H Hale, the pharmacy in Argyle Street  in Bath.. In addition to offering all the modern services, this shop has retained a range of products which my grandparents would remember. The hand-sawn combs of  Kent and the marvellous hair brushes of Mason Pearson are on display in their ever popular window.
Waitrose is well known for its Royal Warrant as grocer to the queen.  This system of royal patronage has been around for centuries and is awarded to companies who have provided an exceptional level of service to the queen, Prince Philip or Prince Charles for at least five years.  The Queen Mother, for whom that title was created, also awarded her Royal Warrant, notably for gin and ham. There are about 800 warrant holders at present and they cover every conceivable area of commerce.  When the Queen Mother died  a warrant holder I know was reminded that he could only use the "By appointment to..." for a further five years when the privilege would lapse. I assume this time limit applies to the other  royal warrant givers.
A H Hale displays a crest over the shop and below the window is the statement
by appointment to Queen Charlotte
Whatever the rules 300 years ago I can't help wondering how valid this claim is today.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Christmas Spirit?

I received my first Christmas card of the season last week.
It is from a hospital trust asking for money.
Christmas is regarded by many as a season of giving but does it have to be a season of begging?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Catching Up

Much has happened since my post of Sept 19, both in our life and the wider world
  • The ex Idle Woman - Sonia Rolt died aged 95. I only met her once, about ten years ago but she impressed me with her knowledge and understanding of waterways matters.
  • I had a birthday
  • Our younger son announced that they are expecting twins in the new year which will bring our complement of grandchildren up to six
  • We put our house in Bath up for sale. It has been very successful as a holiday let but we feel we need a land base we can call our own. Unfortunately Bath is too expensive for us so we will be heading north 
  • We came into Aylesbury for the winter at the end of August, two months early, as we had so many commitments the logistics were becoming unwieldy. Whenever we have to leave Gecko for a week or more we  need to leave it somewhere both safe and accessible. This is not always simple
  • The number of boats sink in locks seems to contiue unabated with the deep lock in Bath probably top of the list.
  • At the end of August we organised a walk along the Wendover Arm with a guided talk provided by Wendover Arm Trust.  The ladies of WAT provided refreshments and C&RT opened up the Tringford pumping station for us
  • We spent three weeks in Murvi shepherding some American friends around. We met them in Holyhead and progressed via Pont Cysylte to Wasdale in The Lakes. After hiking there we next visited Oxford and Bath before establishing a base in Chipping Campden from where they could hike the Cotswold Way. After depositing them at Fishguard we spent a couple of days in S.Wales before heading for Brixham
  • In Brixham we had a week with the grandchildren which.was great fun
  • About a week ago we managed a visit to The Travellers' Club in Pall Mall followed by our first ever lunch with friends at Simpsons in the Strand
  • Whilst in London we took a trip up The Shard for the phenomenal views
  • In between times we have moved Gecko three times as the winter moorers have arrived.
  • And finally, my twenty-year-old hip has now given up to I shall be going into hospital sometime soon for a revision.
Now we need to do some catching up

Sonia Rolt born 15 Apr 1919, died 22 Oct 2014

Sonia Rolt is known for being the widow of Tom, or LTC Rolt, the writer and engineer whose book 'Narrow Boat' is widely credited for saving the inland waterway network. She was also, however, a remarkable woman in her own right: a former Vice-President of the IWA, an author, campaigner and recipient of the OBE in 2010 for services to industrial archaeology and heritage.
Sonia Rolt was born Sonia South in New York. When World War 2 was declared, she abandoned her acting career and went to work in the Hoover factory installing electrical wiring in Lancaster bombers,  Whilst there she answered a Ministry of Transport advert in The Times seeking women volunteers of robust constitution and good health  to work on the waterways  replacing men  who had gone to war.  With her two flat-mates she was accepted . In 1944 they were given new badges to wear with the initials IW  (for Inland Waterways) This was soon changed to Idle Women by the men they came into contact with on the canals.The Idle Women took on the back-breaking labour of transporting essential cargoes by canal, when the boatmen who usually did this work were conscripted. When Sonia joined the Idle Women she had no knowledge of the canals, but her new venture led to a life-long love affair with our inland waterways.
Sonia married a working boatman, George Smith, and stayed on the canals after the war. She became increasingly politically active – campaigning for better conditions for the boat people – and eventually met Tom at a screening of Painted Boats in 1945.
Sonia and Tom spent much of their time campaigning for the future of the British canal system, and their efforts directly contributed to the formation of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) in 1946. They were actively involved with the IWA for many years, with Sonia going on to become Vice President. Her marriage to George Smith broke down in 1950 due to this relationship with Tom Rolt and the couple married.  When Sir John Smith founded the Landmark Trust in 1965 to preserve small buildings of historical or architectural importance Sonia worked for 20 years sourcing books and furniture . Later, she fulfilled a similar role for the National Trust, She was an active member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) for many years.
Through the publication of Narrow Boat, Sonia’s second husband Tom deservedly became the oft-quoted saviour of the inland waterways. However, it is clear that our treasured canals and rivers are better places thanks to the tireless efforts and dedication of Sonia Rolt herself.


Since returning to Gecko after our travels around UK we have been watching the first two series of Endeavour which we borrowed from friends here in Circus Field. These stories recount the early life of PC Morse, the fictional character created by Colin Dexter. They are set in Oxford in the mid-1960s. Whilst the tales build a back story for the eminent Chief Inspector they tend to wrap up all the loose ends, in the last three minutes of the show somewhat in the style of Miss Marple or Midsummer Murders. I have also noticed a few inconsistencies . For instance one character purchased a ten shilling postal order for ten shillings. He did not pay the poundage on it which I recall as either three or six pence. In another episode a neighbour asks him for a tanner for the gas.  My gas meter in the 1960s took only shilling pieces and I don't remember any working on tanners. When I was in hospital around that time nurses all had to change out of their uniforms before leaving the hospital to avoid spreading infection. Perhaps that was only in London.. Notwithstanding the above I found the series entertaining.

Boating with Grandchildren

I recently had a birthday and received this card from fellow boaters 

Aldi Maths

Aldi announced yesterday that they will be opening 500 stores in the next few years, creating 35,000 jobs. This represents an average of 70 jobs per store.  I have shopped at many Aldi stores around the country but never found one with a staff of 70: most appear to have more like seven staff. Presumably some additional staff will be required in the distribution channel but if Aldi need 35,000 additional staff to open 500 stores there is something seriously wrong with their business model. Furthermore, unless the store openings are accompanied by an upsurge in demand for groceries, the new customers must transfer their patronage from a competitor who will need to downsize to accommodate the reduction in sales. So how does Aldi arrive at this figure of 35,00 additional jobs?