Look you ~ every day a day at school ~ a rolling scrapbook of life, the universe and everything...
Previously: Jan to Dec '08

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OLD YEAR’S NIGHT, 2008
That was the year that was … it’s over let it go

First things first. I have been taken to task. Nothing new there. A couple of bulletins back I used the following headline...
The whole world is mad...
...except for thee and me – and I’m not too sure about thee

“I assure you, Hubie, I'm not mad,” was the reassuring message, “perhaps you should take a quick look in the mirror - just in case.” Perhaps indeed.
     Anyway, about the same time all over the media appeared this photo of Kevin Simpson, a lollipop man of Hedge End in Hampshire, who was ordered to remove the festive tinsel from his sign. He had decorated his lollipop stick to spread some Christmas cheer, but Hampshire County Council instructed him to take it off - in case it distracted motorists.
     Now hang about, I was under the impression that the whole point of a lollipop stick was to actually distract drivers because there are, um, children about.
     Right, I have now amended the headline as follows...

The whole world is mad...
...except for thee and me – and I’m not too sure about me

Back in the Swinging Sixties there was a weekly political satire TV show called TW3: That Was The Week That Was. I have vague recollections of a song which opened every show thus: “That was the week that was, it’s over let it go...” It was sung by Millicent Martin, and there followed on from that opening line a different set of lyrics reflecting the news of the week just gone. Oh yes, and Lance Percival also sang a topical calypso each week. What would they have made of the past year, eh? But before we let 2008 go, let’s rummage around for a smile or two – but first, let’s kick the bad news into touch.

     I mean, was there ever a T-shirt which summed up the whole shambles of 2008 better than this one alongside? At the beginning of the year the T-shirt...
            World’s Greatest Investment Banker
...would have looked perfect on American Bernard Madoff, he who ran an eye-poppingly successful hedge fund (a clue regarding the ambush ahead there, surely?).
     By year’s end, with £34billion having disappeared into a black hole, the T-shirt has been perfectly addressed, with just the one crucial letter crossed off and changed. All rather cunning.
     Oh yes, probably like many others, when I first encountered the name of Bernard Madoff in newspaper columns I pronounced it Mad-off. How interesting then that whenever I turn on the radio or TV these days it is Made-off.
     A subconscious shift of pronunciation, perhaps, which perfectly sums up the sharks, shysters and charlatans that brought us yet another fine mess?

Which all brings to mind a once overheard conversation, in Welsh, between two older men watching a game of rugby between Llandeilo and Penclawdd (a small village on the Gower, its literal translation being 'the end or top of a hedge or embankment' - keep that in mind). One of the watching men nods towards one of the younger players of Penclawdd.
     "
Bachgen o Benclawdd yw e?” - “Is he a lad from Penclawdd?"
     "Na, boi trwy’r berth yw e!” - “No, he’s come straight through the hedge!”
This is an old rural expression, said of someone of doubtful pedigree, character, parentage, etc – meaning perhaps, that the farmer next door had paid a sneak visit when the neighbour’s husband was away. Not a nice thing to say of someone. How ironic, then, that the world’s credit crunch has been largely activated by people involved in hedge funds?
     About a year ago we added a new expression to our vocabulary: sub-prime fiasco. It rapidly morphed into a credit crunch ... then a recession - and suddenly the problems really gathered momentum, here in the UK with the run on Northern Rock, and in America with the collapse of leading bankers Lehman Brothers. Suddenly a drama had turned into a crisis with a possible depression lying in wait. Lehman Brothers crashed to the tune of £51.5billion, a phenomenal amount of money, and roughly what Gordon 'Flash' Brown pillaged from our private pensions funds while Chancellor. Small world, eh?
     Methinks Brown deserves similar treatment to what the Americans dished out to Dick Fuld, the then chairman and chief executive of Lehman Brothers, below.
Here are two images which sum up the credit-crunch year perfectly. Oh, and the one thing you notice about Dick Fuld is that he really does look like a shark.

 


Mention of Madoff and mispronunciation of names,
what of Dick Fuld, pictured above, climbing into the car? A variation on a spoonerism lies in ambush: F*** Dild! Shame he wasn’t a Dick Fuldo, then we could all shout "Jump you F*** Dildo!".

Right, let's take a break from the serious stuff. Take a look at this. As she approaches 70, and much to many people's astonishment, a green-dress-code Tina Turner recycles the famous chain-mail dress that she wore opposite Mel Gibson in the 1985 film, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

 


Amazing character is Tina. Yet while I’ve always admired her as a performer, especially her showbiz longevity, I've never found her particularly sexy. Neither do I find Madonna – or Nigella Lawson come to that – sexy in the least. Talented, clearly. Sexy, not. I think they all try too hard to promote their sexiness - and it doesn’t quite work. Well, not for me anyway. But before we leave Tina, The Times ran a Pictureline competition where the reader was invited to submit a “speech bubble” to go with the picture, above left. What do you think? Stop a while and ponder. My effort coming up.

IF THE SHOE FITS
“It is the farewell kiss, you dog!” shouted Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi, who then threw his shoes at President Bush during a Baghdad press conference.

Mind you, I have to admire Bush’s immediate response to the incident: “I'm OK. All I can report is a size 10.” However, it generated a LETTER WOT I WROTE TO RUPERT – not published, sadly...
Sir, In the wake of the shoe throwing incident involving President Bush, together with the message such an action carries, I have been dismayed not to encounter a headline in the “man bites dog” tradition. Indeed, a quick google of the appropriate line brought more hits than you could shake an insult at, but not a single one which reported “Man puts mouth in foot”.
     Incidentally, the quick google of “man puts mouth in foot” generated 657,000 hits, but all featuring the traditional “man puts foot in mouth”. Googling just “puts mouth in foot” threw up 21,200,000 hits – but again all showing “puts foot in mouth”. I therefore claim the prize. A two-week holiday in Baghdad. Bugger!

And then there’s Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister. Russia’s oligarchs are reported to have already received billions in bailout cash as they all go cap in hand to the Kremlin as their vast empires begin to crumble. This brings to mind the legendary gold ring presented to King Solomon. Not just any old ring, mind, but one with magic powers: if a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy. To Solomon’s surprise, his most trusted minister delivered him the ring. When a smiling Solomon read an inscription on the ring, the smile vanished from his face. Written on the ring was “Gam zeh ya’avor”“This too shall pass”. At that moment Solomon realised that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day soon he would be nothing but dust.
     Given all the assets the oligarchs grabbed when Russia freed itself from communism, how ironic then that those billions are slowly but surely coming back under the control of the state.
     The picture below is of Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, talking to Roman Abramovich, oligarch of Chelsea parish, whose business interests are said to have already received a £1.2billion handout. Notice anything rather offbeat?

               

Well, it prompted another ... LETTER WOT I WROTE TO RUPERT ...
Oligarchs – To the point: Sir, In your picture of Vladimir Putin and Roman Abramovich (Business, Dec 23), there on the desk is an impressive collection of pencils. I am reminded of one of the Crazy Horsepower Saloon regulars telling us that, following his first year of self-employment, he took his neat and well-ordered set of books along to his accountant, a fellow he knew socially. When, just before Christmas, he duly revisited the accountant he was most alarmed at the amount of tax due, especially given that much of his business was traded in cash. His pal the accountant sympathised but shook his head and confirmed that he had to pay up. “Oh,” added the accountant, “before you leave I have a little Christmas present for you.” He reached into a drawer. “Now I never said this, but may I suggest you throw away your biro and complete your books using this.” And he handed him a well sharpened pencil with a rubber at the blunt end. Ho, ho, ho! But many a true Ho! uttered in jest.

PS: Given the tale of Solomon's gold ring, there's an interesting postscript to the scandal involving fallen investment guru Bernard Madoff. Thieves calling themselves "The Educators" have returned a statue stolen from him. The $10,000 copper sculpture of two lifeguards turned up near the Florida country club Madoff belonged to. A note attached read: Bernie the Swindler ... Lesson 1: Return stolen property to rightful owners. Signed by - The Educators." As it says at the very top of this tin: Every day a day at school.

NOT QUITE RIGHT HEADLINE OF THE YEAR
You want to fill our river with what? Welsh town incandescent over artist’s flashing, talking buoys

I quote from The Times: The idea of a large raft of 127 illuminated “talking buoys” that is intended to be Wales’s answer to The Angel of the North is being fought over fiercely in the town it is supposed to celebrate. More than half the 4,200-strong population of Cardigan in West Wales have signed a petition opposing the installation ... the river Teifi’s swift tidal currents are intended to trigger the large plastic buoys into random flashing, while loudspeakers inside them play messages left by locals and visitors...
     Both sides then put forward their arguments for and against – but what caught my eye was that the headline above needs a slight modification, to wit...
You want to fill our river with what? Welsh town incandescent over artist’s flashing, talking buoyos

Doctor, doctor! Please give me something for my Captionitis

Doctor: "Hm, now let me see ... Captionitis, eh? I think I know what this is ... the need to take a photograph of a scene where the patient has already formed a suitable caption in his or her head – similar problems arise when viewing images as seen in the media...
      "Here we are, take two of these immediately - both, as it happens, from the 2008 golfing season - then continue to take a further two daily until the problem goes away. Good luck!"

"Okay guys, I know I'm not the fastest round the course -
but I want my shell
back ... NOW!"

"I dunno about you, Padraig -
all this golf is giving my back gyp!"

   

A TOP POLITICAL BANANA BULLSHITS - SORRY, SPEAKS

As the UK media increasingly criticises the world in general, but Britain in particular, busily going about doing nothing apropos the horrendous goings-on in Zimbabwe, David Miliband, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, wrote a length letter to The Times, and under the headline British diplomacy on Mugabe is loud and clear, he delivered 500 words defending the Government's non-action, 500 words which went round and round in ever decreasing circles before disappearing up its own banana foreskin.
     But what made the whole episode so wonderfully memorable was a little letter, just 14 words long, submitted by Lindsay J Keith, Hurstpierpoint, W Sussex, and tucked in at the tail-end of Miliband’s letter:
     Sir, Zimbabwe will remain the shambles it is so long as the talking shop continues.
    
I dunno about you, but from the moment I saw the photograph of David Miliband, alongside, on his way to the Labour Party conference last September, where he said that the Conservatives are beatable, I just knew that there would be trouble ahead - but nothing particularly to worry Mugabe.


FAVOURITE LLANDEILO SHOP WINDOW CHRISTMAS DISPLAY

This, I captured at In Stitches, of Santa Claus perusing a letter for his sole attention, together with list of presents required - please! I am reminded of the Ray Conniff Singers version of Little Drummer Boy, which is led into by a wonderfully jolly jumping version of Jolly Old Saint Nicholas...

Jolly old Saint Nicholas, lean your ear this way,
Don't you tell a single soul what I'm going to say;
Christmas Eve is coming soon, now, you dear old man
Whisper what you'll bring to me, tell me if you can.

When the clock is striking twelve, when I'm fast asleep,
Down the chimney broad and black, with your pack you'll creep;
All the stockings you will find, hanging in a row,
Mine will be the shortest one - you'll be sure to know.

Bobby wants a pair of skates, Suzy wants a sled;
Nellie wants a picture book, yellow, blue, and red;
Now I think I'll leave to you what to give the rest,
But give little Ringo a drum this year...
‘Cause that’s what he likes best...


You can tell how far back this song goes by the modest presents requested. Ah yes, those were the days.

COCK-UP QUOTE OF THE YEAR
“We just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Briton Vince Acors, jailed in Dubai after opportunity knocked, and then getting caught-short, having sex on the beach. Surely he meant: “We just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time.” Ah well, from little Acors...

UP-COCK QUOTE OF THE YEAR
“I had a great appetite for the company of women, and for the sexual expression of friendship." Singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen, who wrote the hit song Hallelujah. I think he means that, once upon a time, he could make love to the ladies as fast as they could slide them under him.

THE TINA TURNER "SPEECH BUBBLE"

"He's behind you!"

"He's behind you!"

Yes, my effort of the crowd doing a pantomime turn was a winner. "Oh no it wasn't!" Bugger. The winner was Tina uttering "We don't need another hair-do!". Ah well, back to the bubble board. In the meantime, alongside Tina is an image I captured a couple of months ago during the tupping season. Old Snuff, the Magic Dragoon, patiently awaits the nod from one of his girls. And no, Snuff hasn't been digitally added or blackened, indeed I have some wonderful pictures of Snuff going about his business, especially one of him enticing a babe to get her kit off. I will, one of these days, do a feature on him over on 400 Smiles A Day. I promise.

SMILES OF THE YEAR

Loved this image of a chair which once belonged to the late comedian Spike Milligan, sold back in November for nearly £700 at an auction of some of his personal possessions, raising tens of thousands of pounds. And how the comic must have smiled from up there on high when his hand-written poem called Auction Stations was put up for sale...

With hand signals or polite cough
He bid 25 million
For a Vincent Van Gough
For that sort of money
I’d chop my ear off.

I have all the time in the world for those blessed with an exceedingly silly sense of fun. I really do.


“Flash – I love you – but we only have 14 hours to save the world!”
“We not only saved the world...” Gordon Brown, hereinafter called Flash Gordon, draws howls of derision from the Opposition during Prime Minister’s Questions, when what he meant to say was “banks”.
     I quote Hugo Rifkind in The Times: A Freudian slip, a wise man once said, is when you say one thing and mean your mother. It’s a great gag, but it’s not quite true. Actually with a Freudian slip you say exactly what you mean. You just don’t mean to say it. Consider Flash Gordon telling the House of Commons that he had “saved the world”. If he hadn't meant it, it would merely have been a gaffe. But he did mean it. He just didn’t mean to say it. It’s an entirely different thing. A gaffe is like going for a walk with your girlfriend, and falling over. A slip is like going for a walk with your girlfriend, and falling over because you have just seen your wife.
    
Now I think old Hugo has his slip and his gaffe mixed up – but what do I know? Anyway, he goes on to give some examples of slips and gaffes. John Prescott: “The green belt is a Labour achievement and we mean to build on it.” Huw Edwards on the BBC News referring to “Northern Wreck”. Jon Snow talking about the tribulations of “Amy Wineglass”. And I love Douglas Alexander on BBC TV’s Question Time discussing prostitution: “A man in that situation must think long and hard about a two-year jail sentence.” Sex on the mind, you see. And how about this classic from an American TV anchor: “Right after the break, we’re going to interview Eric, who climbed Mount Everest,” she says. “But ... he’s gay. I mean, excuse me. He’s blind. So we’ll, uh, hear about that.” It doesn’t bear thinking about what she was thinking about.

As for Flash Gordon, pictured below saving the world, he had probably been repeating to himself over and over: Don’t say “save the world”! Don’t say “save the world”! Aaaargh! Megalomania will out. And alongside, a perfect image to sum up what Flash Gordon and his ilk, not to mention all those Investment Wankers and their wedge funds, have done to the rest of us. But beware, boys and girls, the wheel always turns full circle. Always. Roll on the revolution.
 


However, it is the sworn duty of Look You to leave you with a smile. Now all the best Freudian slips are about sex – which takes me back many moons to the tale of newly qualified teacher Jennifer Franny turning up at her new school. The headmaster takes her along to meet her class, and as he nears the classroom repeats to himself: “Must say ‘Miss Franny’! ... Must say ‘Miss Franny’! – I really musn’t make a fool of myself.”
     All the children stand to attention and with one singy-songy voice say “Good morning, Sir!” – which just shows how far back this tale goes. “Good morning, children,” responds the headmaster, “I’d like you to meet your new teacher – say good morning Miss Crunt.”.
     And with one bound 2008 was free and floating into the space time continuum. Cheers! Here’s looking at you.

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2008
Where Eagles, Harlequins, Santa and Ivor the Engine Dare

Visiting my friendly neighbourhood corner shop a week ago today, Wednesday December 3, I am irresistibly drawn to the smiley front page of a newspaper...

Yes indeed, ‘tis The Sun, famous for its front page headlines. In truth it is nothing to laugh at, but you can’t stop yourself. All the papers followed up on the story, not only here in the UK, but a quick Google for some images came up with headlines from all over the world. Like millions of others around the globe we just couldn’t get enough coverage of the Christmas theme park called Lapland New Forest, which is now world-famous, of course, for being – now what was it Morecambe and Wise used to say: “What do you think of the show so far?” “Rubbish!”
     Apart from The Sun’s effort, the world-wide headlines were priceless: Beaten up in Lapland; I saw mummy hitting Sant Claus;
Lapland was bad for our elf; Well what did they expect of Crapland? And from New Zealand, a headline that summed it all up in 23 words: Angry parents have beaten up Santa and three of his elves after taking their children to visit a “rip-off” Christmas grotto in England. Meanwhile, on the telly a woman dressed as a particularly hefty elf stood outside Crapland shrieking: “Santa’s dead!”
Over a thousand parents complained to the consumer watchdog after forking out £30 a ticket to enter the grotty grotto, where they were promised a Christmas wonderland where “dreams really do come true”.
     Instead they saw a nativity scene painted on a billboard in an empty paddock, pictured alongside, husky dogs tied up outside their kennels in a muddy field, a broken ice rink and a Christmas market consisting of a tent with just a few stalls inside. It is particularly apt that the whole shebang is labelled a rip-off because, surprise, surprise, I saw the other day that Britain is now rated the rip-off capital of the world. If the Christmas hat, with jingle bells on, fits - wear it on your sleeve, ho, ho ho!

     But what really caught my eye was this: Organiser Henry Mears blamed “a few groups of professional troublemakers” for all the problems. Tell me about it, Henry. These professional troublemakers are everywhere, and in no particular order, except alphabetically: Bin Laden, Blair, Brown, Bush, Khamenei, Kim Jong II, Mugabe, Putin, Sarkozy... yes indeed, as Captain Louise Renault says in Casablanca: “Round up the usual suspects.”
     I started writing this bulletin last Saturday evening, having just put some facts and figures regarding the day just gone into my diary. One habit I have is noting the time of sunrise and sunset – as printed daily in the Western Mail – and while sunset isn’t all that relevant, I keep track of sunrise time as I tend to set off on my daily walk some 30 minutes before actual sunrise. I note that sunrise is 8.04 and sunset 4.08. Wellie juju* – a palindrome ... a word, phrase or figure which, when taken in reverse order, read the same: rotator, “Madam I’m Adam”, 20-02-2002, 8.04 – 4.08 ...  which makes me wonder why the word palindrome isn’t actually palinilap?
*Wellie juju: for newcomers, a Wenglish expression – Wenglish, a dialect, the language born out of the Welsh valleys, a curious mixture of Welsh and English – and the expression wellie juju encompasses everything from mild surprise, via shock, horror and ridicule, to schadenfreude**.
**Schadenfreude: a German word meaning the malicious enjoyment of another’s misfortune.
     Hang about, I could go on like this for ever. Anyway, talking of palindrome, or palinilap, one neat example is “party booby trap”, which brings me to the strange goings on regarding the arrest of Tory frontbencher Damian Green and the police raid on his Parliamentary office, in particular the part played in the whole Carry On episode by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin. The last Serjeant at Arms – just a mo, what's a Serjeant at Arms? And why is it spelt like that? In reverse order, it is just an eccentric variation of sergeant, and a quick look below confirms the eccentric bit. Oh, and a Serjeant at Arms is an officer of a legislative or fraternal body responsible for maintaining internal order. Wellie juju, again!. Anyway, Parliament’s previous Serjeant at Arms, Peter Grant Peterkin – do you suppose his mum called him Peterkin when feeling jolly but Peter when doing her nut? – left the job after finding it impossible to work with the

current Speaker. Now it seems Jill Pay, the current Serjeant at Arms, pictured alongside with Mr Speaker behind her, might be heading the same way after Mr Martin blamed her for sanctioning the police raid on Parliament after he made it clear to MPs he was shocked that Mrs Pay had consented to the raid without a warrant. The little shit that he is, blaming a subordinate.
     I have come to believe that one of the great lies of life is that anyone in a democracy can rise to the highest office in the land: Prime Minister, President, or whatever. While it is clearly a statement of fact, unfortunately people are born to lead, and only a tiny, tiny number are thus born – and they pretty much never actually get there. It is a lie that education and talent prepare you for leadership. Look at the absolute rubbish who make it to the top all around the world (see list of professional troublemakers, above). That's why the world is in such a mess. Ponder Mr Speaker, Michael Martin...
     The Scotsman comes from a rather common or garden background – nothing wrong with that, I come from a common or garden background too – but when things go wrong those not born to lead let not only themselves down badly, but those around them. Someone born to lead would never publicly blame a subordinate. Never, ever.

Truth to tell Martin is not only common or garden, but common as muck, indeed look at the problems that have followed him around while in office: £700,000 for a house makeover; £50,000 free air travel for his wife; £100,000 as a starter for ten when he turned to the High Court to shield MPs’ expenses details from scrutiny...

     It was J M Barrie who said: “There are few more impressive sights than a Scotsman on the make.” (Are you listening, Gordon?) And this, from Barrie’s What Every Woman Knows: “You’ve forgotten the grandest moral attribute of a Scotsman, Maggie, that he’ll do nothing which might damage his career.”
     Incidentally, one line in a newspaper caught my eye: Jill Pay (soon to be Jill “suspended on full” Pay)... All I can come up with is “Jill Pay, Serjeant at Arms Length”. Ah, poor thing. Mind you, looking at her photo, I have to say she looks hard as nails. Come to that, both of them look shifty beyond.
     But the final word goes to the marvellous Times cartoonist Peter Brookes... Truth to tell, I didn’t get that “old joke” bit – so I looked up Ordure: excrement, dung.
     But of course. Ten out of ten. Especially as I previously referred to Martin as a little shit.

     Actually, the final word is not Peter Brookes, for this was also in The Times: The Serjeant at Arms is taking no chances after Greengate. Jill Pay has placed a message in inHouse, the staff magazine for Parliament. It reads: “WE ADVISE YOU TO LOCK YOUR OFFICE, CLOSE ALL WINDOWS AND SECURE ALL VALUABLES BEFORE YOU LEAVE FOR THE CHRISTMAS RECESS.” You poor buggers, I don’t care how careful you Parliamentarians are with your valuables, someone will still have your balls for breakfast.

Talk of being born to lead, I had great hopes for Barrack Obama – then in his victory speech at Chicago, when he brought his family onto the stage, he mentioned the dog his girls had deserved and would get when they reached the White House.
     Nothing wrong with that, but it should have remained a strictly inWhiteHouse affair. Just look at the millions of meaningless words that have already been written about the poor mutt – and it hasn’t even been selected yet.
     Mark my words, the media will now focus on this bloody dog for ever more and a day. That’s all we need, a celebrity pooch. Bad judgment, BO.
     I hope it is just the one little slip. But I’m not holding out much hope. As my old Mam always said: Ignore the grand, sweeping things that people say and do, it's the spontaneous, seemingly throwaway little things that actually join up all the dots. But we're allowed one minor mistake. I guess.

The Times / December 5, 2008 / Letters page
Peruse and ponder on the two photographs coming up, both as seen in The Times on Wednesday December 3. See if you notice something. The first is of the body of Leibish Teitelbaum, 38, one of six people killed in the Mumbai Jewish centre attack, and is surrounded by throngs of mourners as it is carried through the Mea Shearim district of Jerusalem.
 


The second is compliments of The Times Archive, a collection of gloriously historic pictures. This is London Bridge taken in 1909, a mixture of horse-drawn traffic and a few motor vehicles, and a motor bus is compelled to follow patiently behind drays and carriages. No road rage in those days, then.
 


Clearly something is happening on the river below judging from the crowds peering from the bridge parapet, but quite what we don’t know. Right, here comes a curious coincidence. In my previous bulletin I started a LETTERS WOT I WROTE TO RUPERT section, a nod and a wink to the regular letters I submit to The Times, overwhelmingly dumped, although an occasional one does creep under the wire. Which is all I ask. I mean, if they printed any more they'd have to offer me a column (which would be grand, as long as I don't have to provide a mug shot - no zoo for me, thanks). So I submitted a letter regarding the above photographs – and blow me, it appeared in the December 5 edition. Do you suppose they read ... no, surely not, not those wise and witty and wonderful people at ... anyway, here it is...

Nothing changes
... Sir, Your photographs of the funeral procession of Leibish Teitelbaum, together with the archive image of London Bridge (Dec 3), provide an extraordinary juxtaposition. Despite the 99 years that separate the pictures, every person is wearing something on their head; they also appear to be all male, bar possibly one. But most curious is the absence of older people in the funeral procession. Yours, HB.

In truth the “all male, bar possibly one” refers to the funeral image, because I do spot a handful of female hats in the archive picture, but the all-male point is made here too. But back with the funeral picture, look to the far left, near the top, and I can’t decide whether that individual is male or female, although he’s probably male because I did read sometime after that the body is “accompanied and carried by ultra-Orthodox Jewish men”. Now quite why this should be, and why there are no older people present, remains a mystery because no reply appeared in The Times. Oh yes, the one other thing I've noticed in the funeral image is the number wearing glasses - and remember, these are all young-ish men. Odd or what?

A GRAND OLD SING-SONG REVISITED
Back on September 10 2008, over on
400 Smiles A Day, I did a piece on Only Men Aloud winning Last Choir Standing. Well now, yesterday I read this extraordinary piece in the paper, written by one Neil Fisher...
     Call this the BBC at its brilliant best and its infuriating worst. Yesterday morning (Monday December 8) the newly crowned BBC Choir of the Year, the Scunthorpe Co-operative Junior Choir, must have woken up on top of the world. So why didn’t the BBC manage to acknowledge them on TV, radio or online? More shame on Auntie, as this finals show was a winner and the kids from Scunthorpe beat the competition of BBC One’s recent Last Choir Standing, the featherweight Only Men Aloud, into a cocked hat. “You are the best advert for the joy of singing I have seen,” said the panel judge Mary King about the eventual victors, and she was absolutely right.
    
Wellie juju, stick that up your pipe organ and suck on it, BBC, especially given the publicity and audience figures Last Choir Standing attracted. One can only presume that the BBC remained shtoom as the show is to be broadcast on BBC Four this coming Friday, which would sort of make sense. And talking of choirs...

THE CHILD IN ALL OF US - OKAY, SOME OF US MORE THAN OTHERS

“...Not very long ago, in the top left-hand corner of Wales, there was a railway. It wasn’t a very long railway or a very important railway, but it was called The Meirioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Company Limited – and it was all there was. And in a shed, in a siding at the end of the railway, lives the Locomotive of the Meirioneth and Llantisilly Rail Traction Company Limited, which was a long name for a little engine, so his friends just called him Ivor ... Ivor had one ambition, to sing in a choir...”
     As I put the finishing touches to this bulletin I hear on the radio that Oliver Postgate, creator of Bagpuss, The Clangers, Noggin the Nog, and of course Ivor the Engine, has died, age 83. Apart from his gift of storytelling, it was perhaps his comforting voice, one of the crucial things by which we intuitively judge people, that made him so popular. And his Welsh accents never irritated, as many do.
     His passing reminds me of some Llandampness characters - for Llandampness and Llantisilly go together like a train and carriage: there was Jones the Steam, always in a furious mood and letting off loads of steam; Dai Station, which was actually short for Dai Stationary; Idris the Dragon, who in Llandampness was actually Iris the Dragon, and worked behind the bar at the Crazy Horse Saloon - you didn't mess with Iris the Dragon, no sir; and of course a character called Ivor, a fairly common Welsh name a generation

or two back. But do you know, I can't for the life of me remember what his surname was.
     Anyway, Ivor was a tall, rangy character, and always seen walking his black Labrador around town. But what you noticed about Ivor was the furious speed at which his long legs carried him along, which is why we all knew him as, yes of course, Ivor the Engine - which is why I can't remember his actual surname. When he came to a main road he would shoot across without seeming to look, but I guess he had a sort of peripheral vision and knew when it was safe to step in front of the traffic without endangering himself or his dog.
     RIP, Ivor the Engine and Oliver Postgate.

SMILE OF THE DAY
While memories of Ivor the Engine, both human and animated, would normally make my Smile of the Day corner, this time it goes to Stade de France and all who sailed in her last Saturday...

     Saturday afternoon and I settle down to watch some European Cup rugby on Sky. The red button offers a choice of three live matches, one involving a Welsh team, the Dragons of Newport.
     However, a mixture of instinct and curiosity prompts me towards the fourth option, to the pre-match party at a packed Stade de France for the encounter between Stade Français and Harlequins in front of a record 76,569 crowd.
     What a flamboyant, eccentric, surreal and wholly delightful experience: can-can girls; 30 male gymnasts who, in their own little way were as good to watch as 3,000 at Beijing; medieval jousting teams and a Black Knight crucifying everything in sight; and as a bonus what I’m sure was Jonathan Ross being burnt at the stake. Oh, and the

match ball arrived carried by a huge eagle. Incidentally, isn't that a Welsh Dragon on the head of the jouster, above?
     All the while both teams went through their warm-up routines surrounded by all this chaos and We Will Rock You blaring away. Memorable stuff. Below, the highly watchable gymnasts, and alongside - no, not quite the match ball carried in by the eagle...

 

Do you suppose Paris was telling the world what a terrible mistake had been made awarding the 2012 Olympic Games to London? Paris must be laughing all the way to the bank because it is now on-message to admit (Tessa Jowell, the Olympics Minister, has said as much) that spending £9.3billion on a here today, gone tomorrow festival in the middle of a financial crisis is calamitous.
     But what I did learn from events in the Stade de France is this: it is possible to put on a marvellously entertaining show with a modest bank balance, but plenty of imagination and a sense of fun. Nearly forgot, Harlequins were the ungrateful guests and won a most enthralling match. An idle afternoon productively spent. And most of my targeted 400 smiles a day clocked up in just one hour of razzmatazz. Bloody marvellous.

     Oh yes, a parting thought: why is it that I never meet girls who lift their skirts at me as soon as they clap eyes on me? Bad choice of word there, perhaps! But hang on, there was that girl in school, sat at the back of the glass, opposite me, who ... but that's another story for another time.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2008
The whole world is mad...
...except for thee and me – and I’m not too sure about me

But first, ponder yesterday’s dramatic events at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, and Television Centre, London...
 

The New Zealand All Blacks dance the cha-cha-cha...
BBC2: 16:55 > 19:10

V

John & Kristina perform the Haka
BBC1: 18:20 > 19:25


Or was it the other way round? Anyway, I shall return to the dramatic and show-stopping events at Cardiff later - but first, a warning as we enter uncharted H2Os...
 

There’s a fine Latin proverb: Quos Deus vult perdere, prium dementat. Now I am no Latin scholar, and if I had to guess what it means I'd say ‘Tis written in the cards, Father, that you are becoming doolally and the vultures are circling. Actually, it says this: Whom God wishes to destroy, he first makes mad. Same thing, I guess.

     Still, you don’t need to stand and stare much these days to notice that the world is going absolutely doolally at a rate of knots – knots being rather apt, for who would have thought that in 2008 a crowd of Blackbeard-style pirates would be holding the world to ransom, and crazily the world would simply stand and stare as if castrated. Mind you, looking at Blackbeard, alongside, especially those eyes, and you can understand why. (Osama Bin Laden under the guise of hero?)
     Then there’s the Strictly Come Dancing saga (Saga?), especially following John Sergeant’s decision to cut and run. Now I’ve never watched the series, but that means nothing for no one can escape the Carry on Sergeant palaver. I have just perused in The Sunday Times Culture Magazine a Top 10 list of the most watched programmes on BBC1, BBC2, ITV, C4, Five and Satellite, for week ending Nov 2, measured in millions. Of the 60 programmes listed – most watched was The X Factor on ITV (11.65), least watched something called Never Dies on Satellite (0.91) – I only watched Autumnwatch on BBC2 (3.92), although I did catch bits of Top Gear, BBC2 again (7.75) and Fry in US on BBC1 (6.34). Whatever, Strictly Dance on BBC1 was watched by 9.79, so if you ponder that the population of Great Britain is around 60 million, it puts the audience numbers into context.

     Hence the doolallyness of the media as underwritten by the extravagance of its coverage. Why, even The Times newspaper on Thursday 20th, the day after Sergeant walked, covered it on six pages. SIX? How wonderful is that? Anyway, as is my wont, I submitted a letter. It didn’t make the cut, but I reproduce below what the Letters page carried the following day about the show. I will show you mine after I've shown you theirs!
The Times / November 21, 2008 / Letters page
Strictly a contest? (Should he stay or should he go: Sergeant’s Departure from Strictly provokes a mixed reaction.)

Sir, Commentators have got it wrong about John Sergeant and Strictly Come Dancing (reports, Nov 20). It is precisely the tension between the show’s two roles – as a dance contest on the one hand and light entertainment on the other – that is at the root of its popularity. Although every series so far has seen at least one celebrity contender kept in by public votes despite appalling dancing, and better contestants knocked out in favour of the underdog, so far the winners have been truly worthy. Nor are the judges to blame for their trenchant comments and low marks; it is their role to judge dancing ability alone, and the clarity and indeed rudeness of their remarks are fundamental to the show. In previous series ability has triumphed eventually, when the public finally gave up on underdog support and started to vote for the good dancers. This might have happened this year, too, but there was a different feel about this contest. Light entertainment was beginning to overwhelm the dance contest, and both elements of the show are essential.
Val Horsler,
Deal, Kent.
Sir, The blame for the John Sergeant saga lies squarely with the producers of the programme. A 64-year-old novice in no great state of physical fitness could have been included in a dancing competition only for his comedy value. It can’t then be a surprise when he attracts votes for precisely that reason. Any competition has to make up its mind whether it is serious or not. Hedging your bets leads only to ill-feeling and hurt in the end.
Bob Yule,
London E14.

And finally: Sir, John Sergeant was entertaining and now by, in effect, stipulating that this competition can be won only by someone who is young, beautiful and drama school trained the BBC has killed the show. If we wanted to simply watch technically gifted dancers then Come Dancing would still be on the television.
Steven J Scates,
London W4.

Hang about people. Why take these things so seriously? In an attempt to lighten the gloom, coming up shortly the letter I submitted. Incidentally, given all the letters I submit to The Times – I do it because there is so much doolallyness to react to, and fair play, the paper does print one every now and again – I thought I’d kick off a new section in my scrapbook...

LETTERS WOT I WROTE TO RUPERT
Let’s start with a quote from media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Times stable: “Too many journalists seem to take a perverse pleasure in ruminating on their pending demise. Unlike the doom gloomers, I believe that newspapers will reach new heights.” My initial reaction was: “That’s a bit Mandy Rice-Davies there, Rupert.” But he’s probably right. I enjoy picking up my local Western Mail as well as The Times, just to flick through. Now I hardly ever read the News section, after all news is everywhere - on the radio, TV, street corner, Crazy Horsepower Saloon - and I never, ever read anything to do with either Royalty or the BBC in The Times, simply because we know that Rupert wishes to see both buried without trace ... I skip most columnists – same old people saying the same old things (variation on the Emperor’s new suit of clothes) – and anyway there are many I simply don’t read because I just don’t like the cut of their jib from the photographs (see the Dolphins and Sharks piece further down the line) – so I just browse and treat as another day at school. Something you simply can’t do online. One thing about The Times though, it clearly has first refusal on the best photographs, which draw me into a piece. So yes, papers and magazines will survive, but in an evolving format, I guess.

     Oh, one other thing, some may not be aware who Victor Silvester is – pictured alongside - or Victor Marlborough Silvester, OBE, to be precise. He served in the First World War (having joined when he was 15 after he lied about his age in order to get in). During his time in the army, Silvester was ordered to take part in the execution by firing squad of five British soldiers for desertion, a task he, unsurprisingly, found deeply distressing. God, I can imagine ... but I seem to remember my father saying something that not all the soldiers were given live rounds, thus they couldn’t be sure whether they had fired a fatal shot.
     Silvester went on to become a dancer, composer and dance band

leader whose records sold 75 million copies from the 1930s through to the 1980s, and a significant figure in the development of ballroom dance, as well as influencing the forerunners of Strictly Come Dancing, namely Dancing Club and Come Dancing – or, as Deadwood Dick down at the Crazy HP would say, Come, Dancing – and therein lies a very naughty joke, which I can’t quite remember. I’ll have to put my thinking cap on and come back to you. Oops! Anyway, the letter I sent The Times...
That’s all, folks – Sergeant waltzes off / Strictly Ballroom
Sir, Well now, what will I do without my fix of Strictly Come Dancing – and I’ve never watched a single slow, slow, quick-quick-slow in the history of the series. There is something delightfully doolally about a light entertainment show watched only by 15% of the population yet impossible to escape the Sergeant’s mess as the media finally morphs into Strictly Show Biz (The Times, Nov 20, all over the shop: front page; page 2; News, 4, 5; Letters, Online; times2, 5 … the telephone rang at this point, and I lost my rhythm).
     Still, it all takes me back mega moons to the bar of my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon – or the Crazy Horse as it was then affectionately known – when one of the more dapper regulars we knew as Chief (Chief Looking Glass, to the observant) waltzed into the bar wearing what we presumed was the latest fashion statement, a rather baggy pair of trousers. In the corner, witty old Deadwood Dick peered over his glasses: “Love the Victor Silvester trousers, Chief.” We all adopted a puzzled look. “Bags of ballroom.”

THE JEREMY CLARKSON CORNER
A couple of weeks back our modern day hero was in trouble when he sparked fresh BBC controversy by joking on Top Gear about murdering prostitutes. As he completed a lorry-driving task, he said: “This is a hard job. Change gear, change gear, change gear, check mirror, murder a prostitute, change gear, change gear, murder… That’s a lot of effort in a day.”
     So the following Sunday he began his Sunday Times column thus: “Greetings from the bunker. As I write, the MP for Ipswich is running around the country calling through his beard for me to be sacked. And the English Collective of Prostitutes is out for blood as well. But let’s be honest, shall we? There are more important things to worry about than what some balding and irrelevant middle-aged man might have said on a crappy BBC2 motoring show. Such as the war in Congo, the dramatic interest rate cut, the second coming in America and – most important of all – the gradual transformation of Scotland from a country full of deer and inventors into an enormous golf course.” That last reference to Donald Trump, developing what appears to be all of Aberdeenshire into a golf course.
     The one flaw in Jeremy’s self-deprecating description as a “balding and irrelevant middle-aged man” who hosts “a crappy BBC2 motoring show” is that millions of people hang on his every word – as if he is the second coming; indeed watch the faces of the audience around him on Top Gear. I expect them to bow or curtsey whenever he looks in their direction. And if I am not much mistaken, didn’t millions vote him as our next Prime Minister. Of course one or two did so as a joke. But overwhelmingly they all took it rather seriously. No, you couldn't make it up.
     Jeremy Clarkson, John Sergeant, et al, not to mention all those who run the media, prove how hooked the nation – the world – is on celebrity. A local girl done good, Amanda Protheroe-Thomas, was recently speaking on the radio as an ambassador for The Prince's Trust-Cymru, and doing a grand job.

     Then the subject of celebrity came up. “I don’t think of myself as a celebrity,” she said, “anyway, what is celebrity?” I think there’s a clue in the grand photo of you, alongside, Amanda (picture from Friends of Autism Cymru). But the question is easy to answer. If you are recognised and acknowledged by people you have no idea who they are, and have no reason to know, then you are, by definition, a celebrity. And as I’ve said before, celebrity is now a zoo.
     Once you are behind those invisible bars, the public then stop, stare, point, interrupt, shout and – at least if Wake up to Wogan on Radio2 and Jamie Owen and Louise Elliott on Radio Wales are anything to go by – actually throw food at you. What happens next is that most zoo celebrities go loopy, slowly parading around inside their cage in ever decreasing circles – think Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross – before finally swinging their heads from side to side like that poor Polar Bear they show now and again on TV, driven mad by its imprisonment.
     Remember the message Ringo Starr posted on his web site announcing that he wants no more adulation? “I’m warning you, with peace and love, but I have too much to do, so no more fan mail, thank you, thank you, and no objects to be signed – nothing! Nothing will be signed after the 20th of October ... if that is the date on the envelope, it’s gonna be tossed. Peace and love, peace and love.”
     All celebrities, by definition, are forced to parade round and round inside their prison. And slowly but surely, most go doolally. To some degree or other.

Incidentally, I’ve told Dai Version down at the Crazy HP, who has a habit of stepping on folks’ toes – in the best possible taste when sober, but in the worst possible taste when pissed – that he should, like Ringo, continually insert “Peace and love, peace and love!” into the conversation - and then he might get away with it. 

SMILES OF THE WEEK

Last Tuesday I read about Kerplunk, or B of the Bang, or Doolally, as I call it, a £1.47 million sculpture, alongside, with giant spikes that began falling off soon after it was completed and installed outside Eastlands, formerly the City of Manchester Stadium. Blimey! The 180-tonne structure, a swaying starburst of metal spikes designed to reflect the explosion of energy at the starter’s pistol – or immediately after the Big Bang as I prefer to think – became a danger to passers-by. Imagine one of those spikes tickling your fancy.
     The artist responsible for the dangerous sculpture, Thomas Heatherwick, has agreed with subcontractors to pay £1.7 million in damages to Manchester City Council over the failure of what was supposed to be one of the country’s most exciting pieces of public art.
     Then the following day I saw pictures of a £15 million work featuring multicoloured stalactites that cover the 16,000 sq ft ceiling of the United Nations building in Geneva. The Spanish abstract artist Miguel Barceló took more than a year to complete the project, using a strong aluminium for the domed ceiling, and applying more than 100 tons of paint.
     Study carefully the two photographs, below, of the project ... and see what you think.

 


Bearing in mind the disintegrating sculpture at Manchester, what’s the betting on this headline: Top United Nations official killed by falling stalactite. As I say, it is all so mad it’s hilarious.
     Then, yesterday morning, Saturday, I turned on BBC TV’s Breakfast to check out the weather to see if a walk on the wild side was on the cards. Waiting for it to appear I was captivated by a piece about how to "make do and mend" in these credit crunch times: a friendly granny with her grandchildren – a girl about five or six, and her brother a year or so older. So she was showing the kids the art of sewing and fixing a hole in something like a sock. The little girl was transfixed watching Gran’s needle and thread doing the business - while the boy was totally bored and his eyes continually flicked towards the camera crew or whoever it was standing behind the camera. All he wanted was a toy gun and wide, open spaces to play Cowboys and Indians and prepare himself for life as a grown up at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon Bar.
     Totally and wonderfully smiley it was. No matter how much people prattle on about nature v nurture, when push comes to shove, it’s actually just a one-horse race and nature sprints home by a country mile every time. Peace and love, peace and love. An expression that would have gone down well at the Millennium Stadium yesterday evening...
 


Following the New Zealand Haka the Welsh team accepted the challenge and did something unseen before - and which was quite within the spirit of the gentlemanly code of the game - they stood their ground in a face-off and waited for the All Blacks to move away first. Which they didn’t, so referee Jonathan Kaplan approached both teams in turn, and after a great deal of pleading and instructing, had to order the All Blacks to move. It was theatre of the highest order... In fact, it prompted a...
LETTER WOT I WROTE TO RUPERT

“Time-out: Sir, Given the dramatic and show-stopping events surrounding the Haka prior to the Wales-New Zealand rugby international last Saturday, together with the increasing theatrics which threaten to overwhelm the war chant, I sort of expect that come next Saturday at Twickenham the All Blacks may well call a drinks interlude half way through the shouting and prancing and tongue wagging. Indeed, while the Welsh face-off worked spectacularly for the opening 40 minutes, perhaps England should draft in John Sergeant and Kristina Rihanoff – which could well undermine the All Blacks for the whole 80 minutes.”
     Sadly, Wales lost 29-9, but the whole carry-on did leave me smiling as I drifted off, somewhere over the rainbow...

     However, it did take me longer than usual to drop off because that memorable response to the Haka set me thinking what will happen next time. It is something that has exercised every team who have faced the mighty All Blacks. So where do we go next? I think the International Rugby Board will quickly step in and rule that the All Blacks must move away as soon as they have finished their theatrics. To be continued, definitely...

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2008
Do not walk/drive/fly/sail through time without leaving worthy evidence of your passage

                                                                                                                                                                                               With apologies to Pope John XXIII

Watching the QE2 depart Southampton for the final time the other evening – I have a soft spot for Soton, especially the docks with the comings and goings of its great ocean liners; you see, I lived and worked there for a couple of years when but an innocent pup ... oh, and enjoyed the pleasures of probably the sexiest woman in the whole wide world – but that’s another story.
     Anyway, the departure of the QE2 made me reflect on what a special window I was lucky enough to be born behind. Along my walk through time I have shared the pleasures of a nation blessed with wit, style and natural-born class: Winston Churchill and Humphrey Lyttelton; the Mini and the E-Type; Spitfire and Concorde; and of course the sheer elegance of the QE2.
     Sadly, the departure of this grand ship appears to have drawn an invisible line under British wit, style, elegance and class. We are now being dragged kicking and screaming into an age of dullness, stupidity, harshness, derangement, superficiality and dumbing-down, all driven by the media and the dreadful celebrity class.

Let me do a little appreciation of the things that have passed by outside my window. I did not witness Churchill in his pomp, but I do remember the country paying its respects at his funeral, in particular the journey along The Thames. I quote...
    
The River Thames was at high water, the floating pontoons almost level with the banks. A 19 gun salute boomed from

the Tower of London as the coffin was transferred to the Port of London Authority launch Havengore. A Royal Navy bosun piped the coffin aboard, the mooring ropes were cast off, rule Britannia was played and the cranes of Hay’s Wharf dipped in salute. The moment was caught by David Hurn who had cycled to the funeral route from his Bayswater flat and had been wandering among the crowds since 4:00am.
     "Hurn recalls: ‘I saw the cranes begin to bow without realising the significance, I’m not sure if many photographers caught it. It was a wonderful gesture. We were mourning the passing of a major figure, this was British history. A photographer doesn’t get many days like that in their life,’ says Hurn who believes he would produce better images were he to cover a similar event today. ‘With photography you gain a little more experience every time you take a photograph.’” Indeed.

     I recall reading that the dockers lowered their crane jibs as a spontaneous salute, perhaps the only thing that had not been meticulously planned during this memorable state occasion. I hope that’s true. Of course we are all now familiar with Churchill’s great speeches, but a lingering memory is film of him in America speaking in the Library of Congress on December 26, 1941, just a few weeks after Pearl Harbour, when he warns Congress and the American people: "The forces ranged against us are enormous; they are bitter; they are ruthless ... We have, therefore, without doubt, a time of tribulation before us."
     The eloquent prime minister began his address on a light note. He observed: "If my father had been an American, and my mother British, instead of the other way around, I might have gotten here on my own. In that case, this would not have been the first time you would have heard my voice." He then grimly predicted that Allied forces would require at least 18 months to turn the tide of war and warned that "many disappointments and unpleasant surprises await us."

Regarding the Japanese aggressors, he asked: "What kind of a people do they think we are? Is it possible that they do not realize that we shall never cease to persevere against them until they have been taught a lesson which they and the world will never forget?" (How ironic that particular promise would turn out to be.)
     As for the German forces: "With proper weapons and proper organisation, we can beat the life out of the savage Nazi. These wicked men who have brought evil forces into play must know they will be called to terrible account if they cannot beat down by force of arms the peoples they have assailed.” When Churchill concluded his 30-minute address, he flashed a "V" for victory sign and departed to thunderous applause.
     One journalist described this historic address as "full of bubbling humour, biting denunciation of totalitarian enemies, stern courage - and hard facts." What I register when watching film of his address, alongside, is how those around Churchill hardly take their eyes off him.

Speaking just four days later in the Canadian Parliament, Ottawa, he delivered this memorable quote: "When I warned [the French] that Britain would fight on alone, whatever they did, their Generals told their Prime Minister and his divided cabinet: 'In three weeks, England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.'" He then pauses for effect, the way great orators do. "Some chicken ... Some neck!"
     And then there’s Humphrey Lyttelton. I have never wanted to be someone else, not that there are those whom I admire hugely their contribution to life, the universe and everything, but I know what goes on inside my head and I can just about keep a lid on it. We have little idea of what goes on inside other people’s minds, indeed we now know that even Churchill had alarmingly dark moments, and I’m not at all sure I could have coped. And what, for example, drove Churchill to continue in politics after the war, for history highlights that he was not a very clever peacetime Prime Minister? But that’s what power does to your mind. They can’t give it up. Just imagine how differently Maggie Thatcher would be revered if she had called it a day immediately after her historic third win.

     Anyway, Lyttelton. If I’d had my arm twisted, then Humph would have been the person I would be. I liked everything about him. Indeed, after his death, at age 86, he was spoken of even more highly by those who knew him best. Yet, I think it was his producer on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue - alongside, Humph pictured with the show's panellists - who hinted that he would be alive today if he hadn’t burnt himself out, doing too much, not being able to say no. See what I mean by having a peep inside someone’s head. I prefer to stand and stare a bit along the way.
     Oh yes, in 1995 Humph was reported to have been offered a knighthood by John Major’s Government, but turned down the honour. That’s my man, and why I would have Humph on my Desert Island Paradise anytime.

     Next, the material things. Has there ever been a more beautiful car than the E-Type Jag? At the other end of the scale, the loveable Mini. Even before becoming iconic, compliments of the film The Italian Job, the Mini had cracked it because no one was afraid of being seen either driving, or being carted about in, a Mini. That’s some reference.
 


I love the promotional shot, above, of the E-Type. It's the horse and cart in the background that does it, I think. And what of those pillars shielding the Minis? Clever stuff.
     Then comes Concorde, and just like the E-Type, unbelievably stylish and good looking. I was fortunate to fly in Concorde to America, compliments of a really expensive holiday package I won in a competition. Great experience.
     Below, Concorde with the Red Arrows and the QE2...
 


And the Spitfire? Whenever I’ve seen the Spitfire what I’ve registered is not so much the classic lines of the aircraft, but the incredible and distinctive throaty roar of that Merlin engine. The Merlin and Churchill go together like a horse and carriage. And of course the QE2 ... the sheer elegance of the lady. Quite stunning.

     I was going to submit a letter to The Times, something along the lines of what I said above: “Along my walk through time I have looked out over a nation blessed with much wit, style and natural-born class: Winston Churchill and Humphrey Lyttelton; the Mini and the E-Type Jag; Spitfire and Concorde; and of course the sheer elegance of the QE2. Sadly, we are now being dragged kicking and screaming into an age of dullness, stupidity, harshness, derangement, superficiality and dumbing-down, all driven by the media and the dreadful celebrity class. I wonder what my counterpart will find to admire and write to The Times about in 50, 60, 70 years’ time?”
     I didn’t send the letter – I may well do so sometime soon.

     But I did submit a letter to The Times regarding Prince Charles and his 60th birthday. Let’s join up the dots first. I’ve always had plenty of time for Charles. Firstly, he’s a nice man, a dolphin. And while his ideas ... well, you know how they all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round? They all laughed at Prince Charles when he warned about the environment, and architecture, and organic food, and village planning... But they’re not laughing now, indeed many around the world are asking if his model village at Poundbury in Dorset could be a beacon of urban expansion.
     Charlie has an instinct for what’s right and what’s wrong. Okay, love and marriage might be a blind spot, but how many of us have peripheral vision when it comes to that thorny subject? Certainly not I. Oh yes, he talks to the trees, but I tell you what, on my regular country walks I’m always talking to the animals I pass along the way – but they never answer back – so I’d be the last person to call him a crank.

     Anyway, last Friday (Nov 14) the papers were full of his 60th birthday celebrations, and all featured his birthday photograph. I quote a piece from The Times...
     “Relaxed and informal, the Prince of Wales cuts a dashing figure in his uniform as Colonel of the Welsh Guards in his official birthday photograph released today – almost, but not quite, as relaxed as the 19th-century Army officer whose louche portrait inspired today’s picture. He was Captain
Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, below, an officer in the Household Cavalry who was, variously, a balloonist, adventurer, Times correspondent, bestselling author and, reputedly, the strongest man in the British Army. Legend has it that he once carried a pony under one arm.
     "In the celebrated 1870 portrait by James Jacques Tissot, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, Burnaby is depicted sprawled on a divan, smoking a cigarette and generally being about as horizontal as is decently possible for a Captain of the Royal Horse Guards. In his birthday photograph by Hugo Burnand, Prince Charles is not quite so horizontal, nor indeed smoking, but the resemblance is plain to see; the casual pose, the red stripe of his trousers, the left arm draped over the back of the chair...”
     Cracking portrait, although I'm unsure about all those medals. My

father won a Military Medal, yet I never remember seeing him wear it - or even talk about the deed that earned it.

Whatever, this was the letter I submitted to The Times: “Sir, Captain Frederick Burnaby (news, Nov 14) sounds like a man I would have enjoyed sharing a pint and a chat with down at my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon, especially as he reputedly once carried a pony under one arm. You see, I once carried a steer under one arm – but it was only a few days old. Prince Charles is also someone I would he happy to share a pint and a pie with, especially so given his stance on GM foods when he recently emphasised that someone has to “stand up for nature”. Hear, hear!
     "Indeed, who would you rather entrust your genetic inheritance to: nature, with a forever and a day track record, or a bunch of here today gone tomorrow scientists who have as much empathy with nature as a shark has with a dolphin?”

My letter didn’t appear, but this did, from Alan Tritton of Chelmsford: “Sir, I was delighted to see the portrait of my great-great-uncle Colonel Fred Burnaby. I feel I will have to put you right on the story of the ponies, however — it was not a legend. Queen Victoria, who had a penchant for small ponies, had ordered a dealer to show her two ponies of a rare Icelandic breed. This dealer was talking to two of his fellow officers, who decided to play a joke on Uncle Fred, as he was known in my family. They took the two ponies upstairs and deposited them in his bedroom, where they decided to stay. Panic set in as the dealer’s appointment with the Queen drew near, whereupon Uncle Fred picked up the two ponies, one under each arm, took them downstairs and deposited them in the courtyard. The dealer just made his appointment with the Queen.”
     Well, well, so my story about the steer hits the button. What is more, the tale, like Uncle Fred's, is rooted in a curious fact. When I do the next bulletin over on 400 Smiles A Day I will show you a wonderful photograph from a good many moons back which will bear out my story.

THE JEREMY CLARKSON CORNER
Talk of Churchill brings to mind the 100 Greatest Britons poll the BBC ran a few years ago, where Churchill and Isambard Kingdom Brunel vied for the nation’s top spot. I remember Clarkson championed Brunel’s corner with some style, and a wonderful job he did. Below, Canadian Yousef Karsh's famous and mesmerising portrait of Churchill, taken during a wartime visit to Canada, and apparently Karsh, understandably, was only allowed the briefest of time to accomplish this stunning image. If you ever doubted that a picture paints a thousand words, well, take a look...
 


The other portrait of Brunel is just as mesmerising, captured at Millwall during the building of the Great Eastern. Although I didn’t actually vote for the 100 Greatest Britons, mine would have gone to Churchill. Not long after the result, I had a discussion with one of the Crazy Horsepower Saloon regulars, a Brunel fan. I explained my choice thus.
     If neither Churchill nor Brunel had been born, would my agreeable walk through time have changed in any way at all? Brilliant an engineer as Brunel was, if he hadn’t existed, two or three or four other talented engineers would have come along and done pretty much what Brunel had achieved, so the world would not be that different today. Now if Churchill had never been born it is a fairly safe bet that the recent history of this country, Europe, the World, would be significantly different. And I have to presume that life would have been nowhere near as agreeable. Hence Churchill was my man. And the nation agreed with my simplistic view.

        

Incidentally, how fascinating to stand and stare and wonder at what it is that oozes out from these two faces...

SMILES ALONG MY WALK THROUGH TIME
As is now clear, I'm attracted to people and things that make me smile. The other evening I was zap-a-dee-doing through the TV channels when I came upon Boomerang, where Tom & Jerry and Looney Tunes were running amok. I laughed and laughed. And out loud at that. Indeed, Road Runner (Accellerati Incredibus, aka Super-sonicus-tastius) and Wile E Coyote (Carnivorous Vulgaris) were furiously doing their thing. Quite wonderful. The Eighth rule of Beep, Beep states that ‘
Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote's greatest enemy’; and rule ten, ‘The audience's sympathy must remain with the Coyote’. And do you know, I always want to step in and help poor old Wile E Coyote out.
 


And there’s another thing that has lost its wit, style, elegance and class: cartoons. Okay, the aforementioned are American, but even over there they don’t make ‘em anything like they used to. And the wonderful thing about Tom, Jerry, Road Runner, Wile E Coyote and all the other Looney Tuners, no matter whether you're eight or 80, they make you laugh.
     Mind you, the ACME Corporation reminds me of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown: they regularly come up with ideas and devices and war games which invariably fail in improbable and spectacular ways.
     So the wheel has turned full circle: Do not walk through time without leaving worthy evidence of your passage. But what would Pope John XXIII have made of it all?


REMEMBRANCE WEEKEND, 2008
RIP

Regular visitors to this scrapbook will be aware that I round off each bulletin on Look You with a Smile of the Day/Week/Year - or indeed any particular event that has captured my imagination, such as the recent World Sheepdog Trials held at Llandeilo. This is purely a reflection of the way I see the world. In my diary I make a daily note of that which made me smile the most that day. Just occasionally though something unfolds which really does wipe the smile off my face - and such an event deserves just as much attention as my light-hearted view of life, the universe and everything. Indeed, this time around it deserves a whole bulletin, just to itself...

SADNESS OF THE DAY (04/11/08)

This is the funeral of the Statham family from Llandudno, who all died in a motorway crash: David and Michelle Statham and their four children, Reece, 13; Jay, nine; Mason, 20 months; and 10-week-old Ellouise. That they were a generous and much-loved family within their community is really an irrelevance to the magnitude of the tragedy. When I saw images of the funeral I was struck by the stark sight of just four coffins - and wondered why? Jay's coffin was shaped like a Doctor Who Tardis, Reece's painted in the colours of his favourite football team, Aston Villa. But where were the other two? Well, little Ellouise and young Mason had been placed in the coffins of their father and mother respectively. Now if that doesn't stop you in your tracks, nothing ever will. Desperate stuff.
     But ponder, and pause a thought for, Paulo Jorge Nogueira da Silva, the Portuguese HGV driver who has been charged with causing the deaths of the family. When he set out on just another day's work that fateful morning the last thing on his mind was that by the end of his working day he would be held responsible for not just the death of one person but a whole family. I feel so sad and sorry for him. I really do.
     In truth, anyone of us could be victim or perpetrator here. We could be driving along minding our own business ... or we could just as easily be the driver of the vehicle responsible for the crash. All it takes is just a couple of seconds distraction ... take no comfort that you do not drive a heavy vehicle and therefore not capable of inflicting such carnage. The Statham's people carrier, remember, caught fire...
     Whenever I see people driving and speaking on a mobile - whether hand-held or otherwise - I wonder what on earth is going on inside their heads to makes them do such a crazy thing. Just consider this startling statistic from the American risk assessment business: if you own a mobile you are 500 - that's five hundred - times more likely to be involved in a road accident. Not, if you use a mobile while driving, mind, just that you own a mobile, period. The mobile is having a devastating effect on our psyche and lifestyle - and no one knows for sure just yet what long-term damage its constant use is doing to our brains. My instinct is that it's huge.
     That the Statham family tragedy coincides with our annual remembrance of those who died while serving their country gives added poignancy to the disaster. At the very top I show the special Poppy Man, a focus for this year's Royal British Legion appeal, and a symbol of the support given to those helped by the British Legion. Whenever I see Poppy Man what I see is that warmonger Tony Blair. He took us to war on the back of a lie - and now he gallivants about the world sporting his trademark grin and raking in the money - 12 million was recently quoted as his earnings since giving up the Premiership - in the meantime the British Legion has to struggle to raise money to support those injured, as well as the families of those who have lost loved ones. I am not a political animal, but I find Blair beyond contempt.
     Another coincidence at this time of year is Guy Fawkes. Watching Llandeilo's annual display at the local rugby club ground on Friday evening I was struck by the flashes and the noise. Just imagine, those who served in the trenches of the Great War were exposed to such things all day, every day. How did they not all go mad?

Curiously, above is one of the images I captured on Friday night, and by a coincidence the exploding fireworks remind me of the poppies... Remembrance all around.


SUNDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2008
Swimming with dolphins and sharks

Sant pen palmant / Diafol pen pentan. A grand old Welsh saying this, meaning, a person who appears as a saint on his/her doorstep, but morphs into the devil on the hearth. We all know people like this, but often only appreciate their two-facedness when it’s too late, after we’ve been caught, and often to our cost.
 


Here I need to quote a paragraph from First time here? (click More if you haven’t paid a visit yet): The only real talent I have is a 20/20 instinct for survival, meaning the instant I meet a stranger I know whether I’m confronted by a dolphin or a shark, whether to step forward and embrace, or step back and be wary (it’s nature’s very own Anti-Virus system). I have never been let down by a fellow human being – correction, I have, but never been taken by surprise (occasionally you just have to take a chance in life, living in hope that the good gen[i]e will out for once). Everyone has this instinctive gift, so perhaps along the way I can help convert yours from dormant to active. After all, it is people who make our journey through life a delight or a disaster; after good health, instinct is the golden key to contentment and a stress-free existence.
     Right, let’s define what precisely I mean by dolphin and shark. Dolphin speaks for itself: a dolphin is a dolphin is a dolphin, the most loved creature on the planet. I'm not aware of a dolphin having ever fatally attacked a human, which does make you wonder, to shoot off a tangential line, who or what we are descended from? You will be astonished at the clues coming up.
     Then there’s the shark, one of the most feared creatures on the planet.

When I say shark I do not necessarily mean that a person I label as such will pull a gun, rape your woman, burn your house, rob your bank account or poison your water supply. Sharks, by definition, vary from the benign to the deadly, but like people, when you first bump into a shark you must be ultra wary of what’s in front of you. Look, we all occasionally step on people’s toes. Sometimes we know precisely what we are doing, but overwhelmingly it happens without thinking, something we instantly regret. But what is critical is how those stepped-on toes react. There are basically three types of response.
     Those who realise that you didn’t really mean it, shrug and carry on as if nothing untoward had ever happened. These are ultra-friendly dolphins. Then there are those who sort of take offence, blow a fuse, but as soon as they’ve got it out of their system, that’s it, you’ll never hear anymore about it – dolphins which flap their tails alarmingly on the water, then swiftly move on, but you know exactly where you stand with them. Then there are those who take offence and never let you forget – sharks that take a chunk out of your leg but always come back for afters. These are the people who never let go, never miss an opportunity to blackguard and remind you of the time you let them down. They can make your life a total misery. These are the people you must, not so much avoid, but treat with great caution.



Down the years I have done business with sharks, and so far, touch wood and all that, experienced no real problems. What I often encounter are variations on the theme of Dusky Smooth-hound sharks, above, harmless to humans but capable of giving a nasty bite, and cunningly able to change colour to blend with their environment, a clever trick which you have to be aware of. Now and again my instinct forewarned me I was swimming with really dangerous sharks - Tigers, Bulls, Great Whites - so I was prepared: forewarned is forearmed, rather than forearm-less. I always strive to be careful in my business dealings anyway: measure twice, trim once, sort of thing. But with sharks I measure three or four times, just to be sure, to be sure. Treat them as a dangerous roundabout. Oh, and make sure that any money due is well up front. And it works. Sharks also have a built-in instinct, and if they sense that you are on the ball and aware of what’s what, they will treat you with a curious kind of respect. But you must never lose track of what you are dealing with, and should things go horribly wrong then that one hiccup, that one loss, must never, ever put your business or savings at risk.
     When I hit middle-age at 35 I became aware that, compared to many of those around me, I’d enjoyed a remarkably easy walk through time – mind you it helps that I’ve never been driven by the urge to accumulate wealth, position and power, all of which generate envy and jealousy in others. But I quickly realised that my easy ride was down to being able to instantly read those I mix with. When I grasped that I had this astonishing computer inside my head I began to figure out precisely how my brain does it. I've since concluded that we are what we wear on our sleeves: 60% of a person’s character is written into the face, 30% into the voice, and 10% is body language. This time out I will concentrate on the face, the best signpost in the world. Nature is unbelievably clever and helpful.
     First though, a little thought process for you. Think of the kindest, nicest, sweetest person you know – not a superficial celebrity off the telly, but someone you know personally. Now picture that person’s face. Repeat the process, but think of the nastiest, most aggressive and dangerous person you know. Again picture that individual’s face. Now hold both images in your mind’s eye.
     Following the Olympics I promised to return to gold medal swimmers Michael Phelps and Rebecca Adlington, and attempt to give an insight into what I mean when I talk of people coming across as either dolphins or sharks. Who better to illustrate the point that those who spend much of their lives in water. And of course the advantage here is that, because of their fame, they are now in the media zoo, so we already know a great deal about them and what sort of people they are.

Rebecca Adlington is, without any shadow of a doubt, a dolphin. Simply study the two pictures below...
 


Spooky or what? Words are superfluous. And what we know of Rebecca, at arm's length, anyway, confirms what the brain tells us. Michael Phelps on the other hand is a kind of shark. Now I’m not suggesting that Phelps is a devil in disguise, or indeed an individual who will burn, pillage, rape and poison - of course not, but he has the face that suggests a person who is not the easiest individual in the world to get along with.
 


This doesn’t distract one iota from his astonishing achievements in the swimming pool, or that he isn’t a kind and considerate son to his mum, simply that he strikes me as a person you should treat his toes as a roundabout. Keep off! If you accidentally step on them you sense that he would never forget, that he has the memory of an elephant - which is why alongside, above, is a picture of the remarkable looking elephant shark, a benign creature - unless provoked, so don't step on its fin. Hopefully now you begin to grasp the subtle distinctions of a dolphin person and a shark person.
     Tell you what, let’s move away from the water. Now here’s a fascinating quote: “I am tired of being seen as The Grumpy Atheist. I’m going to be smiling from now on.” Richard Dawkins. The good Professor may well be right when he states that to disagree with him regarding Evolution v God, then you must “either be ignorant, stupid or insane”. But what I’ve noticed about Dawkins is the sheer aggression that contorts his face when he comes face to face with someone who actually challenges his beliefs. When a neighbour of my mother popped in to see her and spoke about some individual she didn’t particularly like she would say that he/she was “a nasty bit of work” – and whenever I see Dawkins doing his nut, that description comes flooding back. In short, Dawkins is a shark, and no amount of smiling will turn him into a dolphin.
 


And the Hammerhead shark is a mirror reflection. As atheism’s high profile poster boy, Dawkins is apparently a major contributor to the group who devised a slogan to be displayed on London buses: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” This will be seen around London Town from next January. Now you don’t need to be a rocket surgeon – or is it a brain scientist? - I can never remember – to note that the word “probably” opens up a whole new can of devil worms. It is said that Dawkins favoured the phrase “almost certainly”, but in science I’m told that nothing has certainty, only statistical probability. And inserting the word "probably" helped to avoid breaching Health and Safety – no, hang about, the Advertising Standards Authority rules. Now listen up, Dick: how am I supposed to enjoy myself if all you can come up with is that there is “probably”, or even “almost certainly”, no God. Are we not back to that famous square one? The split-second before the Big Bang?

THE JEREMY CLARKSON CORNER
Ah, Clarkson. Dolphin or Shark? Hm. Actually Jeremy, along with his bestest pal Piers ap Pugh up Yours-Morgan, below, both remind me of the Goblin shark, alongside. Little is known of this creature because it is always found in deep water - but is believed to be benign towards humans - as long as you don't go giving it a mouthful. Mind you, it would take a very brave man indeed to approach a Goblin shark to find out if its bite is worse than its chat-up line, ho, ho, ho!
 


Writing this piece Saturday pm, the TV is on in the background and the Bond film Live and Let Die is unfolding. Towards the end of the film we come to that speedboat chase and the memorable appearance of Sheriff JW Pepper, in particular when the boat crashes into JW’s patrol car, and this exchange follows from inside the first police car on the scene...
Young Louisiana Policeman: "That looks like a boat stuck in the Sheriff's car there, Eddie?"
Older
Louisiana Policeman: "Boy, where have you been all your life? That there is one of them new car boats."
Sheriff JW Pepper (approaches the two officers): "By the powers innn-ves-ted-innn-me by this badge, I here-by do commandeer this vee-he-cle and all those persons within. And that means you, smart ass." As he spits his chewy baccy at the floor I think of Jeremy and Piers because they too also have all the answers to life, the universe and everything.
     Oh yes, and at the end of the chase, when JW finally catches up with Bond...
Sheriff JW Pepper: "What are you? Some kind of doomsday machine, boy? (At this point I definitely think Clarkson.) “Well we gotta cage strong enough to hold an animal like you here!”
Felix Leiter (
CIA): "Captain, would you enlighten the Sheriff, please."
Captain: "Yes Sir ... JW, let me have a word with you ... JW, this fella here is from London, England, he's an English man working in co-operation with our boys, sort of secret agent."
A gobsmacked Sheriff JW Pepper: "See-crate eye-gent?!! On who's side??!"
     Remembering the recent campaign to make Clarkson Prime Minister, can you imagine what JW would have to say about JC as PM during this credit crunch crisis: “Prime Min-ist-errrr?!! On who’s side??!”
     Anyway, by now you should have some idea how this dolphin and shark business works. So from now on, whenever you meet a stranger the first thing you ask yourself is ... hm, dolphin or shark? You must make an instant decision. Put your faith in your instinct. You will slowly learn that your instinct will never, ever let you down. In the meantime, here's a little test - homework, if you like ... dolphins or sharks, below?
 


SMILE OF THE DAY: In the meantime, back with a rather obvious dolphin. This is Derek Brockway, below, our friendly BBC weatherman here in Wales.

Whenever I see Derek he always makes me smile. And there you have a simple definition of a dolphin. Talking of a weatherman, I just read this tale, of a North American Red Indian Chief – or Native American as we must now call him – instructing the men on the reservation to go out and collect firewood as he feels in his bones a cold winter coming on. Now this is a relatively modern tale, and proper weather forecasting is already well established, so the Chief decides to telephone the local weather centre. Yes, they confirm, early signs do indeed indicate a colder than usual winter – but to check back after the next full moon as they will then have a better idea. In the meantime the Chief tells his tribe to gather even more firewood. The Chief again checks with the weather folk, and yes, the answer is more definite about a hard winter, but to call back in a couple of weeks as they will then have a final and firm prediction for the winter. The Chief now instructs his braves to collect every piece of wood they can lay their hands on in anticipation of a cruel winter. Two weeks pass and he’s again on the phone to the weather station. Yes, this will be the harshest winter of recent times. “But how can you be so sure?” enquires the Chief. There’s a slight pause. “Well,” says the weatherman, “between you and me, all reports indicate that the injuns are out there collecting firewood like crazy.”
     Good dolphin hunting. And watch out for those sharks.


SUNDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2008
Over my shoulder

Having spent a bit too much time of late in Dai Version’s company, there are things I need to catch up on – the World Sheepdog Trials, not to mention World Smile Day, were the diversions – but putting together a scrapbook of things which amuse, delight and flabbergast allows me to backtrack, and as a bonus, add little postscripts to events and happenings.
     Many images from the recent Paralympics made me whistle in sharply in wonderment – but before I get there, a nod and a wink to where we are right now, world financial meltdown and all that, so a couple of smiley images for posterity.

     First, as captured off The Times, is of a demonstrator making his feelings clear in Wall Street over the mega-billion dollar lifebelt thrown by the US government to its banks. It’s The Times itself that cleaned up the message with asterisks – but as I’ve said afore, asterisks force you to say the word out loud inside your head so making it much more powerful. Be that as it may, the idea that someone actually jumped from a window ledge during the 1929 stock market crash is, apparently, a bit of a factoid, something of a myth which has gained credibility down the years.
    
Still, you can’t help but shout along with the demonstrator at those rats lining the rails of their sinking ship. I would suggest they spend more time with their families, but that would mean them breeding even more rats.
     Allied to the "Jump!" instruction is a glorious image from inside Capitol Hill, where Henry Paulson, below, left, the US Treasury Secretary, and Ben Bernanke, right, the Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, face rigorous questioning.


NO BLANK CHECKS! How clever is that? The fellow holding it up has fully earned his cheeky smile. Mind you, if spelling is to become irelavant, then future generations will never again get such a witty joke. Now there’s a thought.

Anyway, back to the Paralympics and those astonishing opening and closing ceremonies put on by the Chinese.
 


Just look at the stunning precision of those female performers, and indeed their beauty – mind you, I never thought that poking a light stick up a girl’s dress could make her smile so. But do you know, however good you’ve prepared – and the Chinese must have practised and practised and practised – technology will let you down eventually. As the Paralympic flame entered the stadium it was passed from disabled athlete to disabled athlete, and just prior to the final handover, it was a blind lady athlete with her guide dog.

However, as the handover athlete dipped his flame to ignite the blind lady’s, it just wouldn’t light. Can you believe that? And it failed with the one person who couldn’t see what was not happening. Clearly this eventuality had been covered because the poor fellow attempting to spark the lady’s flame speaks to her – and then hands over his own flame holder – and she and her dog continue on their elegant way.
     Finally, the flame is taken up to the roof by another disabled athlete who hauls himself physically aloft. Halfway up he pauses, looking slightly knackered, and I have to say I thought that that was for effect. But apparently not. He was suffering with his hands, rather than his strength. But he got there and lit the big flame! Astonishing. Impressive.
     I particularly enjoyed the image of Team GB's wheelchair athletes, the union Jack built into the wheels (below). If I ruled the world I'd
probably keep the Union Jack as my World Flag. It must be one of the most distinctive and easily recognisable of flags – and I’d have the Russian anthem. Every time I hear it I understand fully why the Russians are such a bolshie lot. Their anthem does that to you. Very stirring. The German anthem has a similar effect, which again offers an insight into history.
 


But perhaps the most astonishing sight was the football, where a special ball is used which makes a noise as it moves, and the blind and partially sighted players wear masks to ensure they compete on equal terms. Gives a whole new meaning to Spot the Ball. Great Britain's team lost their opening match 5-0 to Brazil. At least it wasn't the Germans.

As for all the disabled athletes, what can one say? As it happens, I did a piece over on 400 Smiles about Eleanor Simmonds, the 13-year-old who became GB's youngest individual Paralympic gold medal-winner with a surprise victory in the 100 metres freestyle. I did the appreciation of Eleanor just after that win, for I intuitively felt there was something special about her. By the time she’d won her main event, the 400 metres, the media had caught up, and now she’s a real star. Mind you, from a 13-going-on-35 during the games, on her return to school, transported there with her friends in a special limousine, when she climbed out of the car she refused to enjoy the limelight without her friends. Suddenly she was a 13-year-old again. Wonderful moment.
    
But I truly admire Liz Johnson, right, from Newport, who held back the tears and held on for gold in a pulsating women’s 100 metres breaststroke. Her mum, after a year of fighting cancer, passed away just as Liz, bless, was transferring to Beijing. But she stayed on to compete as that is what her mother would have wanted. Now that’s what I call courage. Then came the colourful closing ceremony...

 


Enjoyed the cleverness of the performers metamorphosing into a love letter to the world - at least I think it was a love letter. Must have been, what with all those petals raining down on their parade.
 


Next, the “Where did you get that hat?” routine, with all the hats cleverly passed along the line of girls with wonderfully natural precision. Oh, and the sheer elegance of the girls in red... see also Smile of the Day, below...
 


And of course the young girl ballerina who had lost a leg in the earthquake, and who was central to the extinguishing of the Paralympic flame. As a bonus, around her were those amazing dancers with the astonishing hand movements - as covered on the August 10 bulletin, just a scroll down the line.
     Finally, I return to my...
Star of the Beijing Games

On a weekend I normally watch a bit of rugby on the box, but a couple of Saturday’s ago, having been seduced during the Olympics by Nicole Cooke’s wholesome smile and Emma Pooley’s wondrous team ethic, I watched the Women’s World Road Championship – and was duly rewarded with spirit, tactics, constant lead changes and a desperately exciting finish. Chess on wheels. Were you watching Formula 1?
    
As in the Olympics, Nicole's team mates, especially Pooley, were crucial in setting up the win, but in the end it all came down to a sprint finish. The obvious winner looked to be Marianne Vos of the Netherlands, but with just a few metres to go Vos visibly relaxes thinking she has made it – and Nicole flashes past, right, just before the line. Cooke put down her astonishing finish to it being all in her mind.

     The late Carwyn James, one of rugby union's more famous coaches, insisted that in any contest between two reasonably matched opponents, the battle is won or lost before they even leave the changing room. Meaning, that it is all in the mind, all in the application. The Vos look of disbelief, above, says it all, really.
     Immediately after winning the race, Nicole grabs a Welsh flag, and as each of her fellow team members crosses the line she shouts excitedly “We did it, we did it we did it!”. Yes, we did it. Not I did it.  As always, it’s those spontaneous, throwaway lines that say so much. And in the interview after the race, she gave a fluent interview in Italian (at least, I think it was Italian, and it sounded fluent!). She really is a fantastic ambassador for her sport, family and country.
     All this cycle racing brings me neatly to...
THE JEREMY CLARKSON CORNER: The one worrying aspect of such racing is the ever increasing number of vehicles - motor cycles and cars - weaving between the cyclists. Not so much a serious accident waiting in ambush, but do we know what long-term health damage is being done to the athletes by the vehicle pollution they are forced to inhale?

SMILE OF THE POST GAMES

Again off The Times, the paper’s motoring editor, Arion McNicoll, snapped Boris Johnson humping a rather large express delivery box around London Town, so the paper invited suggestions as to what was in the box. A Jason Hunter apparently got it right: “Our fireworks for 2012 - the leftovers from Beijing.” I saw it too late, otherwise I would have suggested one of the girls, as captured below, being given a thumbs-up sign, and perhaps a quick “It’s all arranged, petal.”? Good old Bo-Jo.
 


In my first Olympic bulletin I promised to return to gold medal swimmers Michael Phelps and Rebecca Adlington, and attempt to give an insight into what I mean when I talk of people coming across as either dolphins or sharks. Coming up next time out...

WORLD SMILE DAY
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2008
SMILE, AND THE WORLD SMILES WITH YOU

Today, being the first Friday in October, is World Smile Day - I made this serendipitous discovery last year, did a little feature on it, put a note in my diary for 2008 - and here I am, ear to ear job. I can't believe a year has passed. Mind you, as regular visitors will know, I keep a daily record of what made me smile the most that day - and the cut is always a difficult call. Anyway, the theme for World Smile Day - a day dedicated to good cheer and good works - is: “Do an act of kindness. Help one person smile.” The act of kindness itself is up to the doer. It's limited only by the imagination. It can be the smallest thing. And the person helped doesn't even have to know who provided the help. It doesn’t have to cost anything to celebrate the day - or any day come to that - for a smile is one of the few things left on the planet that comes free of charge. This is actually the tenth World Smile Day, and the symbol for this day is Smiley, that most recognizable image of cheeriness...
 


Wondering what should go with Smiley, above - strawberries and cream, sort of thing - who should walk along the street but Sharon. I smile. Sharon smiles. Click! Smile and the world smiles with you. Mission accomplished. Incidentally, is that the shadow of your head, just behind you on the road, Sharon?

SMILEY IMAGE OF THE DAY (Sweet & Sour variety): Weeeeeeel-barrow boys and girls
 

Young orang-utans at the Nyaru Menteng Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in Indonesian Borneo, enjoy the ride. Sadly, the apes have mostly been orphaned by illegal logging, poaching, forest fires and oil palm plantations. It takes £12,000 and eight years to raise these orphans to the stage where they can be reintroduced to the wild, to boost the population of one of the world's most endangered species. As I said, an image both smiley and sad.
     We are indeed a terrible species to inflict such evil. There is not one species on the planet whose very existence we have not compromised in some way or other. Well, excepting the rat, but that is nature's little joke. Does the rat remind you of anything or anyone?


My own World Smile Day began by reading about the reaction to David Cameron's speech following his address to the Tory conference at Birmingham, where he'd declared ... well, actually, the first I'd heard about it was on radio's Wake up to Wogan, when someone e-mailed Terry and complimented Cameron on being 'a man with a van'. How splendid, I remember thinking, just what the country needs, a man in a white van. And as we all know, white van man gets things done in the time it takes the rest of us to ask "Is this the way to Amarillo?". However, such a thought was quickly quashed when Terry said "No, no, no, no - he didn't say 'I'm a man with a van, and I don't need a pedicure!' but 'I'm a man with a plan, not a miracle cure!'." Bugger. Meanwhile, in the papers, I enjoyed the letter in The Times from Terry Cottrell, Bristol, who said that Cameron's words were reminiscent of Baldrick (of Blackadder fame) and his catchphrase that "I have a cunning plan" which always turned out never to materialise.
     Anyway, at my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon our Dave is now known as Dai Amateur - something to do with Gordon Brown having declared that the last thing the country needs in its hour of need is a novice in charge, hence Dai Amateur. Obviously, once Dave is made PM and becomes a properly rounded person, he will be duly knighted, and as if by magic, he will henceforth be known as Sir Cumference. Boom boom!
     Whatever, along my regular early morning walks I come across a dirty old van. Not just any dirty old van mind, but an incredibly dirty old white van. Imagine my surprise and delight then that someone had seen fit to paraphrase a well known phrase or saying along its side - which becomes my...

SMILE OF THE YEAR

If there ever was a metaphor for the messy and filthy times we now live in, including what we are doing to the poor, defenceless creatures of the world, the above is it. The only shame is that the message hasn't been signed... George Bush.
     Be sure to check out
400 Smiles A Day ... also the What a gas page thereon - but a warning, those of a sensitive nature should not venture down the What a gas tributary ... you have been warned!
     In the meantime, here's smiling at you ... Hubie


TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2008
Raindrops on sheepdogs and dewdrops on cobwebs...


When the dog bites,
When the bee stings,
When I'm feeling mad,
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don't feel so bad.

(with apologies to Julie Andrews)


It is without doubt the eccentric British weather that gives us Celts our most inherent characteristic. Our weather gloriously defines what we are, all very www: wacky, weird and wondrous. Probably the best weather in the world. Which helps explain why there is no Welsh word for boring. If we didn’t have this essentially dampish climate our Welsh countryside wouldn’t look so green and lush and welcoming. This is why we are so obsessed with it and talk about it all the time. We ebb and flow with the seasons. As I mentioned last time out, we don’t have a climate, just a rush and a rash of weather determined by the jet stream, the
Atlantic and those incorrigible Pacific twins, El Niño and La Niña. We don’t suffer extreme weather – well, some 20 years ago we flirted with a hurricane and we still to this day talk about it and Michael Fish (the weatherman who said something along the lines "Don't panic, don't panic - there is no hurricane coming our way!"). What is more, dump an inch of snow on us and we hit the H-spot. Help! The whole country grinds to a halt through gritted teeth. The unpredictability of our weather is most predictable. It is glorious. It is eccentric. It is us.
     From September 11 to 14, Dinefwr Park and Castle, Llandeilo (aka Llandampness) welcomed the World Sheepdog Trials, hosting a total of 242 competitors from 22 countries as varied as Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Portugal. Over the four days - five if we include Wednesday the 10th when the competitors and their dogs paraded through Llandeilo à la the Olympics opening ceremony – I've attempted to capture a few offbeat images of the event. So this is an introductory piece highlighting the extraordinary range of weather experienced over those five days.
     Wednesday,
a day of sunshine with a brisk breeze, perfect for the fast-drying fields of Dinefwr Park. Then, around six that evening the rain arrives with a vengeance, just as folk begin to gather for the parade. Despite the downpour, thousands turn out to welcome our guests, and they in turn came out en bloc for the parade. I’ve never seen so many beautiful collies in one place. A wonderful show all round. In fact, scroll down to the opening of my previous bulletin and you will see the depression that brought all the rain Wednesday night, lurking there in the North Atlantic, just off the coast of America. Anyway, I start with a picture that not only captures the Wednesday evening weather, but also sums up the British summer of 2008, a messy and frustrating experience shared with most of Northern Europe.

 

Thursday morning and the persistent rain has cleared but there follows a day of heavy showers and rainbows – with the promise of muddy and squelchy trials. Fortunately, Dinefwr Park is a perfect location if dodgy weather prevails because hard roads service every field. Friday though dawns perfectly still with mist – illustrated by the stillness of the competing nations' flags.
 


Alongside, one Swiss man and his dog patiently wait for the mist to lift. However, the mist quickly intensifies, taking a goodly while to clear to enable competitions to get under way. Once it did clear the day turns out well with just the occasional light shower threatening.
     Come Saturday, we are well and truly under a high pressure area – and the mist/fog returns with a vengeance, this time more stubborn to clear which delays the start by nearly two hours. While waiting for things to happen I notice cobwebs everywhere – a sure sign of mellow fruitfulness knocking on heaven's door – one especially where the sheep used in the trials are waiting to be rounded up and penned ready for the competition to start: “Will you walk into my parlour?” said a collie to a sheep...
Typically, by Saturday afternoon it is so warm that visitors have to shield themselves from the sun. See what I mean by wacky, weird and wondrous.

 


A point of order. On the Saturday morning, while waiting for the mist/fog to clear, I find myself in conversation with a South African lady who says: “I call this mist, but many people around here call it fog. Can you tell me the difference?” Well, I can't, although I agree with her mist call. Today I access the BBC’s weather web site and it's another day at school: “Fog and mist are both made of tiny water droplets suspended in air. The difference between them is the density. Fog is denser so contains more water droplets than mist. For pilots, if you cannot see further than 1000 meters, then it is called fog. For most people including motorists though, visibility has to be less than 200 metres before it is classed as fog.” So to sum up, at Dinefwr Park it starts off as mist, becomes fog, and then returns to mist as it slowly clears.
     Sunday, finals day, dawns with a light mist which quickly clears as the sun climbs. Pretty much a perfect day for sheepdog trialling: a slight breeze, the sun screened by some wispy high cloud.
 


Below, a young lady awaits the start of proceedings and looks out over the course - Capability Brown's delightfully conceived Penlan beech trees in the middle distance, right, with the Black Mountain on the distant horizon.
 


At six o’clock on Sunday evening, as the crowds stream out of the Park, the final photo of this sequence is taken, looking towards the west, the source of the UK’s “weather” – and there’s that ominous dark cloud. Yep, overnight into Monday, the rain arrives and turns Dinefwr Park into a sticky, yucky place. Phew! That was a close call.
     As the sheepdog trials unfold in Llandeilo, the other side of the Atlantic Hurricane Ike devastates the south coast of America, bringing 100mph winds, 16in of rain and leaving at least 30 dead. And we complain about our weather? Here are a couple of dramatic pictures - just look at the power in those cloud fronts. Scroll down to the previous bulletin and you will see where Hurricane Ike was on September 4.
 


SMILES OF THE TRIALS:
All this talk of climate reminds me that when I was just knee-high to a tall story I wanted to be a forecaster because I vividly remember overhearing my father tell a certain eye-catching lady that a meteorologist is a man who can look into a girl's eyes and tell weather.

     I also have a vague recollection when young of seeing a cartoon of Nelson holding up a telescope to his eye and declaring: “I see no ships – only hardships!”
     So on the Friday morning in the fog I capture the image of a lady competitor peering into the gloom, waiting for the fog to lift (taken as it happens from the very same spot as yesterday's rainbow, above, but looking in a slightly different direction). Bearing in mind that competitors had already reflected on the sheep being not the easiest to handle – not really a complaint because they were behaving badly for everyone – and also remembering that so many foreign people speak English with a delightfully smiley accent, I imagine her saying...
"I see no sheeps – only hard sheeps!"

World Sheepdog Trials continue over on 400 Smiles A Day


SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2008
Postscript to the Olympics … preface to the Paralympics

Before waving cheerio to the Olympics, I was rather struck by some of the images I stumbled upon in the wake of the XXIX Games. For example...
Nature imitating art
First up these two images: I was captivated by this picture of a policeman watching the fireworks exploding over the closing ceremony, even more so when I happened upon this other startling image, taken last Thursday the 4th September, of tropical storms swirling around the Atlantic, three of them queuing up to batter the far side of the pond. Nature’s version of a fireworks display, although those in its path won’t be thinking that.

 


Working from left to right, Hurricane Gustav missed New Orleans by a whisker, and was not quite the destructive force feared – apparently wind shear castrated the power of the storm – and although now much weaker is creating havoc inland in the
US by dropping phenomenal amounts of rain. Tropical storm Hannah has already hit the Americas, at least 500 have died in Haiti, and it is currently assaulting the East Coast of the US. Tropical Storm Ike is following in its wake and steering towards the Bahamas and Cuba as it gathers force. Behind that is Tropical Storm Josephine far out in the Atlantic. These storms begin their lethal life over Africa; indeed it looks as if another is forming just on the coast.
     Look to the top right and you will see the mass of cloud that dumped all that storm rain over western parts of Britain last Friday, and then moved up through the country over Saturday and Sunday. And I don’t like the look of that fierce looking white blob in mid-Atlantic and heading our way. Tuesday, perhaps? Six people have died thus far here in Britain, but compared to the 500-plus in Haiti, it should makes us thankful that we hardly ever experience such extreme weather, just an unreliable and somewhat annoying climate. The families of those who died won’t be looking at it quite like that though.

Courage beyond

No, this is not a participant in the 13th staging of the Paralympics, but South African Natalie du Toit taking part in perhaps the most dramatic and demanding event in the Olympics, the new 10K open-water swimming event - around six miles of largely unregulated, lane-free, argy-bargy in rubber suits – which I covered in my last bulletin, paying particular attention to Team GB’s Cassie Patten (Bronze) who sorted out German Angela Maurer for giving her a hard time during the race. But here, alongside, is endeavour, strength of character and the will to win. When she walked out with 24 other swimmers to be introduced for the groundbreaking event, it was quickly apparent she wasn't like any of them.

     Du Toit was an up-and-coming swimmer who just missed qualifying for the Sydney Games when her life took a tragic turn in 2001. Returning to school on a motorbike after a training session, she collided with a car and sustained massive injuries to her left leg. Doctors tried for a week to save it but finally had to amputate at the knee. Instead of giving up on her athletic career, du Toit was back in the water six months later.

     Swimming made her feel whole again, though she wasn't competitive with able-bodied athletes in the pool, where the legs are vital for starts and turns. Then along came the 10K open-water, which was added to events in Beijing. There are no flip turns to negotiate in marathon swimming, which is usually held in lakes and oceans, and the upper body is more important than the legs. She had found her new calling. Du Toit qualified for the Olympics with a fourth-place finish at the world championships in Spain this year. "I find it hard, and I'm a completely able-bodied person," said Cassie Patten.

Du Toit finished 16th – which left her mad, convinced that she should have done much, much better. She was given the honour of carrying the South African flag in the opening ceremony. Not only that, she also carried her country’s flag in yesterday’s Paralympic Opening Ceremony - above - where she will be competing again. Some lady.

Determination beyond
I particularly remember Shanaze Reade on her BMX bike, who had silver in the bag, but wasn’t interested in second best and went for broke and crashed out of the race. Silver and bronze are probably irrelevant to the ultimate competitor because only gold matters, only being the best.
     “They used to say I was freaky being obsessed by gold. But there’s no point being the plucky underdog. When you are at the Olympics, mixing with thousands of top athletes, you realise that you are nothing unless you are a champion” No, that’s not Shanaze, but Rebecca Romero, perhaps our most athletic athlete.

A rowing silver in 2004 - pictured above - but she gave up paddling, convinced that she couldn’t progress any further. So she took up cycling because she thought the idea of pedalling at 45 degrees looked “challenging”. And of course she would not be dependant on anyone else. She would be on her own. The result was gold in the cycling individual pursuit. After 2012 she says she’s thinking of taking up windsurfing. In the meantime she’s going nude (albeit with her undergarments airbrushed out) in an advertising campaign, pictured alongside.

Celebration and Remembrance

Two contrasting images which caught my eye. Russia’s Dmitry Klokov, alongside, celebrates after a 230kg lift that won him silver.
     Below, Germany’s Matthias Steiner, overcome with emotion after winning gold, holding in his hand a photograph of his late wife, Susann, who died in a car accident in 2007. Very moving.
 


THE JEREMY CLARKSON “LET’S
ALL BE FRIENDS” AWARD:
Bradley Wiggins, gold in the cycling individual pursuit, last seen rolling over the bonnet of a taxi at Beijing’s London House, shouting “peace to the world”.

THE MARY WHITEHOUSE "ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DA" AWARD: Bryony Shaw, bronze in the sailing, RS:X windsurfing, for wailing to a startled nation already hiding behind their sofas, “I’m so f****** happy!”. Given the RS:X tag, perhaps Bryony should have had a Jeremy Clarkson award instead.

THE BORIS JOHNSON INAUGURAL "MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY" AWARD... goes to ... Boris Johnson, a prototype human dolphin, born to make us smile – see Exhibit A below – and that despite displeasing Establishments everywhere, especially the Chinese, with his refusal to button up his jacket at the Olympics Closing Ceremony.

     Incidentally, when he later delivered his memorable speech about wiff-waff, aka ping-pong, coming home – oh yes, I believe it should be whiff-whaff, as per the sound made by the bat as it hits the ball – his comments have drawn indignation from games makers and historians because he didn't get his facts quite right: apparently, it was called gossima and ping-pong first, whiff-whaff later. So there! But I guess Boreese Yonsong will survive this little bat and ball shemozzle.

     By the way, see Boris give the thumbs-up signal above? Well now, I noticed during the Paralympics Opening Ceremony that those beautiful Chinese girls dotted all over the place were continually giving thumbs-up signals. Surely not? All down to our Boris?

SMILE OF THE POSTSCRIPT
After the Closing Ceremony in Beijing, there was that special concert in London, the one outside Buck House, and after that was over, and the Red Arrows had done their party piece, I happened to switch to the BBC’s News channel, which was broadcasting live from Beijing’s London House – where Boris made his speech about whiff-whaff. Anyway, before he delivered that particular speech the media were interviewing celebrities in the grounds of London House – and there in the background were two large TV screens...

     They had obviously been watching the concert in London on a direct feed because following that on BBC One was an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo! – and yes, there, babbling away in a corner of Beijing that will now be forever GB, were René, Yvette, Michelle, Edith, et al. It was memorably surreal.
     Let us pray that the opening ceremonies in 2012 will be more Red Arrows (Top of the morning!) as opposed to ‘Allo ‘Allo! (Good moaning!). The cast of 'Allo 'Allo!, alongside, appear to be hoping for the same.


SMILE OF THE PREFACE
Incidentally, I was going to cover the Paralympics Opening Ceremony here, but it was such a knockout of a show I shall do a separate bulletin, which will be coming up shortly. In the meantime, below, the Red Arrows performing at the London party, and alongside, a taste of the opening act at the Paralympics, those hilarious Cartoon Marathon Athletes, all dressed up in their multicoloured rubber suits and looking like a rainbow on heat.
 


Stay focussed ... to be continued...
 

TUESDAY, AUGUST 26, 2008
Previously at the Olympics…

I can still hear the above words, as delivered nightly by top pundit Michael Johnson at the start of the highlights programme hosted by Gabby Logan on BBC One – that wonderfully deep, rich, American drawl made the statement resonate out of the TV. Marvellous. Mind you, the problem is that if those blessed with such a bottomless pit of a voice have nothing particularly attention-grabbing to say it tends to drift the listener off to sleep. Anyway, which of the Olympic Games images linger longer?

Time out

First out of the blocks is this one. So how best to remember Usain Bolt’s record time of 9.69 in the men’s 100 metres? Well, speaking as someone who has a shocking memory, not only for names and faces but also facts and figures, I will never forget those magical 9.69 seconds because, in my rather offbeat and rampant little imagination, his record time equals nine-minutes-past-ten – start with 9.60, which can also be read as nine hours and sixty minutes, which equals ten o’clock ... plus 9 minutes – and nine-minutes-past-ten is the most aesthetically pleasing time on the face of a clock. See, 9.69 is now burnt onto my hard drive, never to be forgotten. Before taking a picture of that precise time, I decided to have a quick look on the internet – and found the one above. What is so perfect about it is that the big hand seems to be in motion between the nine and the ten minutes past the hour. How cool is that. Nine minutes past ten – 9.69 – it is, then.
     As for his record time of 19.30 in the 200 metres - well, that's easy-peasy to remember, half-past-seven. Now whether Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt is the real star of the show ... well, Phelps’ record speaks for itself – incidentally, I shall say no more here about either Phelps or the marvellous Rebecca Adlington because I shall do a separate feature on these two, where I shall attempt to give an insight into what I mean when I talk of people coming across as either dolphins or sharks (and being that they are both swimmers, how apt is that?) - but it’s Bolt’s index finger that beckons you closer to share in his joy. For example...

Bolt the stable door

Prior to coming under starter’s orders for the 200 metres final, I noticed the young Chinese girl standing directly behind Usain Bolt, she who was charged with looking after his personal things, regularly smile, indeed her lips were also moving. Was she chatting to the girl in the next lane? Indeed not, for it did appear that the Jamaican was having a casual chat with her. How extraordinary and wonderful is that. In fact, in a subsequent interview he confirmed that he doesn’t think about the race until the “On your marks!” is announced, otherwise the more he thinks about it, the more the demons threaten to invade his thoughts. Makes sense to me. As for his behaviour, it’s a fine line between being a show-off and a showman, but Usain Bolt appears to have cracked it.


Bang! You’re dead (if the men have anything to do with it)!

Two smiling women, one Russian, one Georgian, Olympic medals around their necks, embrace warmly. Natalia Paderina, a Russian soldier, and Nino Salukvadze, a Georgian sports psychologist, ignored the sudden war that erupted two days earlier between their nations when they joyfully celebrated their achievements in the women's 10 metre air pistol. Russian tanks may be swarming over Georgia, the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, might have flown to the border of the conflict, the world may be expressing alarm at the attacks on Tbilisi and the thousands of casualties and refugees, but at the Beijing shooting hall there was a simple acknowledgement of friends who had once competed together under the Soviet banner.
     "It's a small victory for my people but when it comes to sports we'll always remain friends. Nothing else will affect our friendship," said Salukvadze, after a sleepless night because of uncertainty whether the Georgian team would remain at the Olympics.
     What makes it doubly ironic is how alike their official outfits are. And the troubles are down to all-powerful leaders who never played Cowboys and Indians as kids but are determined to do so now as grown ups.

Spot the 14-year-old

Blake Aldridge, here seen phoning his mammy during the diving competition – what a big girl’s blouse – and then blaming a perplexed Tom Daley for their exit. Young Tom duly goes on to perform with agreeable distinction all on his own.

Moving picture images of the Games

This comes from Christine Ohuruogu’s Gold in the 400m, in particular as she comes into the home straight where she is trailing well behind the leaders – and then she powers through the field to win (opposite).
     When replays are shown, always included are images along the home straight from the trackside camera which keeps pace with the leader – and there you see a most memorable sequence as Ohuruogu overtakes the rest to take the gold. A most impressive few seconds of footage.

     This seems as good a time as any to raise the hope that she really is clean, especially after having been banned for a year following some missed tests. Being a natural-born cynic, I found myself wondering, what with all the records being broken by such significant margins, about that BBC commentary from a previous Olympics: “This is the Olympic Games. You’re not supposed to win by that much.” And if I recall, the athlete referred to subsequently lost her medal and was banned. I mean, have they discovered some clever new drug which can't be traced? I really hope not.
     Dick Pound, the former Canadian Olympic swimmer and IOC vice-president, who set up the World Anti-Doping Agency, explained in a radio interview, in graphic detail, the armoury of ruses by which many, if not most, top athletes evade the detection of their performance-enhancing drug regimes. These range from using artificial penises (known as ‘wizzalators’), and balloon inserts for false urine samples, to injections of other people’s blood. The authorities know this is rife, particularly in cycling, apparently, but they don’t seem to be too bothered about it. It’s a case of the bandits, armed with ever more clever chemical weaponry, always being one step ahead of the slow-footed sheriff. Best to quickly move on, eh?

Boys will be boys corner
Where would any red-blooded male be without Women’s Beachball? I was rather taken with these shots, especially the signal one - which instantly made me think of the male and female symbols. It's all in the mind.

 


Girls, girls, girls … and all doing their nut!
Perhaps the most dramatic event of all in these Olympic Games was the new 10K open-water swimming event - around six miles of largely unregulated, lane-free, argy-bargy in rubber suits. Attempting to drown any swimmer getting in your way is all part of the game – however it appears you do pick up a yellow card for one drowning. Two though and you’re history.

     British girls Keri-Anne Payne, 20, (Silver) and Cassie Patten, 21, (Bronze) nearly pulled off an astonishing one-two, Cassie rather grounding herself by swimming into a thumping great yellow buoy and nearly trapping herself in its trailing rope – and to add insult to injury, having her leg physically pulled back - and I quote one of our newspapers - by “some hatchet-faced German hag who tries to drown you”.
     Here, Angela Maurer (No 18), the aforementioned hag, is taken to task by Cassie – or Cassandra Patten as I shall now call her after studying this photo. As the bold Brit made clear after: “I’m not going to slag someone off, but at the end of the day, I’m the one sitting here with the medal.” You go, girl.


PS: There's still something endlessly satisfying about watching a put-upon Brit sorting out a German aggressor.
 

The most hard done by competitor was Sarah Stevenson, a taekwondo fighter from Doncaster, who won a bronze, but only after a protest over some extraordinary dodgy judging, when she was denied two rather obvious winning points for a kick to the head of her opponent.
     At the end of a day in which some dubious judging led to the expulsion of a Cuban fighter and his coach after they attacked a referee and judge, the World Taekwondo Federation secretary general Jin Suk Yang declared that all was well that ended well. Well, well, I think they should all give up the sport and embrace the 10,000-metre open-water event.

 

There were two girls I found myself overwhelmed with a need to slide my arm around their shoulders: firstly, Kath Grainger of the quadruple scull crew, who found herself winning silver for the third Olympics in a row! That must be nearly as bad as coming fourth all the time.
     And then there was Lisa Dobriskey, the 1500m runner. She came across as a really sweet person, a character reference confirmed by all who spoke of her; what is more, the experts reckoned her a good outside bet for a medal – and then she plays a tactically disastrous hand. Even I know that if you're recognised as a fast finisher then the last thing you need to do is box yourself in for the final lap – which is precisely what she did. As she slumped to the floor at the end of the race (alongside), knowing better than anyone that she had cocked-up big time, I really wanted to rush on, embrace her and whisper “There, there!”.


Einstein gets it wrong!
The Sprint is the race where two cyclists play cat and mouse, hardly moving – then suddenly one makes a break and it’s all systems go. It was Einstein who compared life itself to cycling since, in both, in order “to keep your balance you must keep moving”. Clearly he hadn’t seen the sprint because these riders can keep their balance without moving. In fact, there is now a 30-second limit on standing still on a bike. If they exceed that they have to start the whole race all over again. Now who would have thought that Albert Einstein ever got anything wrong? Another nail in the coffin of experts?

How didn’t they do that?
As I watched the rowing I became increasingly hypnotised by all those bikes on the far bank keeping pace with the boats. These cyclists were the backup staff shouting instructions and/or encouragement to the rowers. Bearing in mind that they were continually looking out over the water I was astonished that there wasn’t once the mother of all pile-ups where they all crashed into each other. Next time, perhaps.

Jeremy Clarkson Corner
Yes, he even gets in on the Olympics, although it is through the boot. We now arrive at the closing ceremony and the handing over of the Olympic flag to
London and Boris Johnson – or, as the French announcer in the Bird’s Nest introduced him, “Boreese Yonsong”. Incidentally, in my last bulletin I wondered why French was being used as one of the three languages in the stadium. Well, the founder of the modern Olympic Games was one Baron Pierre de Coubertin; hence French is the official Olympic language. So why does every race begin with "On your marks! ... Set! ... Bang!"? Anyway, back with Boris – or Bo-Jo as the charismatic politician is now also known...
    
On Top Gear the presenters have a Cool Wall where they stick photographs of cars depending on how Seriously Uncool, Uncool, Cool or Sub Zero they perceive them to be, and I recall one show where Jeremy Clarkson thought a particular car so cool he went to the end of the wall, and there stood a small fridge, into which he reverently placed the photograph. Watching Boris Johnson on Sunday I was convinced that he had just strolled out of that fridge. Boris is ultra cool because he has no concept of rule books, especially the cool rule book of fashion. As soon as he made his entrance in the Bird’s Nest Stadium you just knew that he would be criticised and lampooned for not buttoning up his jacket. And yes, even male journalists had a sly go at him. How uncool is that?

Good old Boris, who went on to stamp his character all over the 2012 Olympics at a party for British athletes and London Games organisers after the closing ceremony, and in the process delivered one ultra-smiley speech. He claimed that ping-pong, in which the Chinese had again excelled, was a British sport. It had been invented on the dining tables of England, where it was known as wiff-waff. When the French saw a dining table, they thought about eating; the English thought about wiff-waff. “Ping-pong is coming home,” said Boris. “Athletics is coming home. We will give all these sports the Olympic Games that Britain and the world will be proud of.” Gordon Brown then congratulated Boris on his untangling and subsequent waving of the Olympic flag, a feat which was itself worthy of a medal. Oh yes, his words about ping-pong would do much to further British-Chinese relations. What is there not to like about Boreese Yonsong?

Smile Of The Games

I covered Nicole Cooke’s gold medal, Team GB’s first medal at the Games, last time out, but I have to return to the lovely Nicole. I happened to catch on live TV the press conference when the athletes arrived at Heathrow, and I have to say that from the moment Nicole entered the room to the moment she left she didn’t stop smiling. It was wonderful. In fact she started smiling immediately after winning her gold.
     Here she's with Emma Pooley, her team mate, who won Silver in the time-trial. It's worth noting that Nicole made a point of thanking Emma immediately after winning her gold because she had provided the crucial early pace which made the win possible. Also, when Emma won her silver, just after the race Nicole was being interviewed on TV when out of the corner of her eye she saw Emma approach, and she immediately broke off to rush to Emma to congratulate her.
     The feature of these Games just finished has been the wonderful GB team spirit within each sport, something which would be lost if each of the home countries entered individually. Certainly the smaller Celtic nations would lose out big time, perhaps winning gold once every thirty, forty years or so. Bad news for our athletes, for sure.

Smile Of The Day
And so to the final memorable image of these Olympics, from that eight-minute presentation by London...

     Those dancers struck me as if they had got together that morning, and, over a few cans of lager, decided what to do. Wonderful. Then, when Leona Lewis shot skywards out of that bus – clearly they have no concept of health and safety in Beijing – I remember thinking, what a perfect metaphor for the unexpected success of our athletes. No, not so much the phoenix rising out of the ashes, but more a smiley Union Jack-in-the-box.
     And finally, somewhere along the internet highway I tripped over the picture alongside, of Leona Lewis up there, reaching for the stars, but at ground level a few male performers look as if they’ve been caught short on the bus and are having a pee against the hedge. It's a most memorable image – and so terribly British.
     Regarding the girls, who appear to be doing the same thing, I’m reminded of a cartoon I was given mega moons ago - I'll have to hunt it down - of a gent’s toilet at an RAF base, where two people in uniform are standing in front of the urinal basins. On the wall above it says Senior NCOs Only. Peeing into the nearest basin is a man; in the next, a woman, who has lifted her skirt, thrust her pelvis forward – and is peeing into the bowl. Delightfully funny. I can still see the man’s hat shoot into the air as he glances down in astonishment.

Goodnight XXIX, Hello XXX.              


SUNDAY, AUGUST 10, 2008
There are Nine Million and One Bicycles in Beijing – but first...
The yellow race shall inherit the eclipsed earth


Out of the darkness: total eclipse of the sun in Gaotai, northern China, August 1

“The Lord will raise up a distant nation against you, one from the other side of the earth as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, a nation of stern appearance that will have no regard for the elderly or pity for the young. They will devour the offspring of your livestock and the produce of your soil until you are destroyed. They will not leave you with any grain, new wine, olive oil, calves of your herds or lambs of your flocks until they have destroyed you.”
     There, that’s telling you, you're all doomed, at least according to
Deuteronomy 28:49-51 – or Dai Duw, as we call him down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon (Duw pronounced as the Deu in Deuteronomy), and of course Duw means God in Welsh.
     Somewhere along the timeline this rather fierce, distant nation, metamorphosed into China, or Red China as was muttered darkly around the camp fires of my youth – and Red China, confusingly, was also known as the Yellow Race
. Now I'm reliably told that the Bible does not state in plain English that the Yellow Race shall inherit the earth. Yet the word on the street suggests that that is indeed so (not so much reading between the lines, but the Chinese characters, I guess). However, there is a school of thought that the China connection comes compliments of Nostradamus, which, as far as I can tell (in very scornful tone), can mean just what Nostra wants it to mean – neither more nor less.
     Be that as it may, it’s best to be safe, which is why I’m always ultra friendly and pleasant when I visit the local Great Wall Takeaway. Let’s face it, when those Chinese tanks roll into town, where will they go first? That’s right. And they’ll want to know who’s been naughty - and just as importantly, who’s been nice. So, in one neat hop, skip and a jump, this brings me neatly to the Olympic Games, in particular, the opening ceremony ... and from the darkness of the eclipse...

Into the light ... at 08.00pm on 08/08/08

Flash, bang, wallop at the Bird's Nest Stadium

Right, let’s shake a tail feather at this little lot…
If my scrapbook bulletin should include anything, then there has to be a generous nod and a wink towards the Olympics. Actually, it’s odds on that I’ll watch hardly anything sports wise – unless it’s something startling like a Welsh girl winning Beijing's first Gold medal for Team GB – but I wasn’t going to miss the opening ceremony because it’s most enjoyable observing nations wear their soul on their sleeves (although it was rather confusing in 1988 watching Seoul wear its soul, etc., etc…).
     The Senior Team GB does state occasions like no other – funerals, weddings, trooping the colour – it’s not that we do them with the sort of wellie-juju precision of the Chinese, but there’s something rather seductive about the grand aura that surrounds the whole shebang. To the Chinese the opening ceremony was their state occasion, the sort of thing they do with eyes shut. And as we saw, they conquered.
     But my appetite was whetted a week ago while doing what comes naturally when I decide to put my feet up, namely zap-a-dee-doing in front of the box. I quite enjoy going through the range of foreign news channels on TV, just to see how they see the world. Precisely seven days ago I landed on CCTV 9, China’s English language station, in particular a show called Centre Stage, an arts programme specialising in stage acts. It grabbed my undivided attention, in particular a group of some 20 dancers using mostly their hands and arms to create unbelievable patterns of precision and dance.
 

I tuned in again this weekend (the show can be seen weekends, afternoon, 3.30 & 6.30, Channel 510 on the Sky platform), and there they were once more, so I recorded their performance.
     When I first saw them I wondered about the ladies in the wings, waving their hands about. I’ve now established that the group is called the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe – yes, they are all deaf. Extraordinary. You can catch them on the internet - just Google this address:
 www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgHmSdpjEIk

Watch it; you will be truly gobsmacked, especially now you appreciate that they are all deaf. And if you have a chance, watch some of the other clips.


Incidentally, the above headline, “Let’s shake a tail feather at this”, is compliments of the show’s host, Michele Lean, used by her to introduce an item. Loved the statement, especially as there is a Welsh expression 'Siglo’i chwt', meaning, 'shaking her tail feathers', and is used when a woman makes it obvious through body language that she doesn’t ‘alf fancy the fellow in font of her. It comes, as always, from the animal world, where farmyard birds are seen to squat and wiggle their tail feathers furiously when ready for the cock. Come to think of it, the agreeable Michele Lean herself made me shake a tail feather.

Whatever, back with the opening ceremony: it was being hailed as China’s coming out party, which made me wonder just how can a country be described as gay? But as China is coming out of a dark tunnel, then gay must obviously be taken in its many previous meanings: carefree and merry (a gay temperament), brightly coloured and brilliant (a gay hat), characterised by cheerfulness or pleasure, especially in social entertainment (a gay bachelor). So if you had to describe that opening ceremony then all those interpretations could be sprinkled liberally over the whole shebang. Yes, it was definitely a coming out party.

So what were the unusual and offbeat things that drew my attention? Well, the first thing that struck me was the regular announcements inside the Bird’s Nest Stadium. Whilst I expected to hear Mandarin and English, I found it odd that French was used, my curiosity confirmed in a rather revealing way. As the announcements became more involved and longer, I noticed something rather odd.
     After the announcement in French, which always came first, there was no noticeable crowd reaction; yet following the English version – the Mandarin came last - the crowd as a whole reacted. Clearly most of those present understood the message. Now I gathered from the build-up to the event that tickets were not cheap (surprise, surprise), which suggests that it would have been the more educated (the middle classes?) that would have been able to afford the tickets, and by definition they appreciate more than anyone that the key to conquering the world, other than by force, is to be understood.
     So when the yellow race roll into Llandampness, whether on a camel or in a tank,
and speak a “language you will not understand”, you can be sure that they “will understand you”. I did fleetingly ponder that speaking Welsh is a distinct advantage, but I’ve just realised that the teenage granddaughter of our local takeaway Chinese family does indeed speak Welsh. There will be no escape.
 

What other memories from the Bird’s Nest?
     Well, Confucius also joined the coming out party after having been so long out of favour, indeed vilified by Mao Zedong, but now cultivated by the Politburo as a role model for the masses.
     Into the stadium came 3,000 men in flowing robes of the Warring States period (alongside), representing the students of Confucius. They chanted over and over again one of the most famous sayings of the ancient sage that every Chinese schoolchild learns: “Friends have come from afar, how happy we are”.


When Confucius was out of favour in
China, here in Wales he was alive and well and kicking, especially during my youth, for sure. I particularly remember a couple of his famous sayings: Confucius say rape impossible because woman with skirt up can run faster than man with trousers down. But my favourite: Confucius say man who shits on weighbridge does business on very large scale.

And so it came to pass before our very eyes that China gave the world four significant inventions. In the land that invented gunpowder, 29 huge “footprints of fire” lit up the night sky as they marched thunderously above the city towards the stadium (below). Impressive, to say the least.

 


Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see corner: Now I don't want to be a party pooper, but it turns out that most of those 29 footprints were faked, in as much that they did not involve exploding fireworks but much diggery-pokery. Do you know, just as when I saw that picture of Helen Mirren in The Times, instinct warned me that something was not quite right - and I'll tell you why. As the aerial camera followed the footprints along the "dragon's vein" that defines Beijing's north-south axis - once the foundation of imperial power - I couldn't help but notice the volume of traffic down there. Now why aren't they watching the opening ceremony, I asked myself. Now we know. That sequence had been filmed previously in order to digitally add the footprints. Still, those near the stadium were genuine, so we'll forgive them that, eh?
 

Next, the inventions of paper and printing – which go together much like a horse and carriage when you think about it - most dramatically enacted when hundreds of performers hidden away in grey boxes etched with stylised Chinese characters rose and fell in unison as they spelled out various characters.
     A huge scroll - a symbol of the unfurling of Chinese history - rolled open across the floor of the stadium (below). Dancers writhed and wriggled and marched across it in bewildering patterns of chaos - but choreographic chaos. Ponder the precision of those lines of dancers as they weave their pretty patterns.




JEREMY CLARKSON CORNER: Yes, even Jeremy came to mind when the last of the inventions was rolled out, namely the compass – no, nothing to do with TomTom – its arrival accompanied by dancers holding huge painted paddles that they held together to create illustrations of ancient ships.
 


So why did Clarkson spring to mind, I hear you ask? Well, if Jeremy had been around back then he would undoubtedly be hosting a show called Top Sail, featuring Stars in Reasonably Priced Sailing Ships Having Three or More Masts ... yes, you're ahead of me already: And how many miles to the galleon?
 

And just to provide a change of tack, I did wonder how the only obvious "foreigner" taking centre stage in the ceremony, Sarah Brightman, who, along with Chinese pop star Lin Huan, sang the theme song for the Games, You and Me, managed to get in on the act. I know, it's one of life's great truths that it ain’t what you know that counts, but who you know – but hey! Respect.
     Mind you, hearing in the background the strains of Scotland the Brave, compliments of those brave Dundee bagpipe players in full rigout in that heat, was another wonder of the opening ceremony. Other backing groups and bands from around the world were also present to entertain. Please drink responsibly.


Then came the athletes marching into the stadium. We were told that the traditional alphabetical letter system had given way to the Chinese character system, but I was dying for someone to visually explain quite how. Following Greece, who traditionally launch the parade, Guinea was the first team into the stadium (as opposed to Afghanistan under the letter format). And Australia was pushed from an early entrance to the penultimate spot; something to do with needing only two strokes to write the first character of Guinea, but 15 strokes the first character of Australia. I wanted to see someone physically explain it on screen. Mind you, I was impressed that the final entrance, excepting the host nation, was Zambia. Under our letter format they would only have been beaten into last place by Zimbabwe (144th under the character system). Now wouldn’t you want to see that curiosity explained?

And so the games proper got under way. What a bugger for China, having put so much effort into going for that first gold in the women’s 10m air-rifle final, they have to watch a pesky Czech, Katerina Emmons, take the honours. But that's what makes sport so intriguing. There are very few givens, unless, of course, you happen to be an American swimmer by the name of Michael Phelps, I guess.
 

And then our very own Welsh lass, Nicole Cooke, today wins Team GB’s first medal - and gold at that - in the women’s cycling road race. After 75½ miles and 3hr, 32min and 23sec of lung-bursting, thigh-burning toil it comes down to that very last second as she approaches the line - and chasing a very different sort of pack, all with cameras primed.


Immediately after the win, as is always the case, she was asked that impossible question, how does it feel? "Something words can't explain. Incredible." However, in an interview a few hours later, we learn that she's been presented with a bottle of champagne, but as she has a further race on Wednesday, the interviewer suggests that she will have to put off her champagne and celebrations until after that race. She smiles broadly: "I'm already celebrating inside."
     What a brilliant response. Do you know, I really do think that that sexy pussycat Katie Melua should now re-record her catchy song and rename it Nine Million and One Bicycles in Beijing. Boom, boom! At least it gives me an excuse to shake a tail feather at the Melua view...


 

MONKEY BUSINESS
Speaking of catchy songs. how come the BBC can commission such a tuneful and memorable theme song for its Olympic coverage when, year after year after year it delivers the most dreadful and tuneless rubbish for the annual Eurovision Song Contest? Answers, on a postcard, please, to anyone at the BBC.
     Oh yes, given Nicole Cooke's desperate Athens disappointment in the last Olympics, you could say that she's now brushed that monkey off her back, ho, ho, ho!


SMILES OF THE DAY


 

Back to the opening ceremony, and what really made me smile were those wonderful cheerleaders decked out in white who lined the track and kept jiving and hopping and waving and smiling for the duration of the parade of athletes – something that really did seem to go on for ever and a day. Their unbridled enthusiasm was in stark contrast to the elegance of the ladies in flowing red dresses leading each nation into the arena.
     Incidentally, Australia took the gold for the team sporting the most cameras and camcorders. Very smiley. Anyway, back with the boppers in white, given the humidity in the stadium, those girls deserved a medal. Yes, they wilted towards the end, but burst into full flow when China entered.

 

As the teams enter the stadium, there by the side of the track is a girl with headphones, who regularly moves onto the track to relay instructions to the athletes: speed up, slow down, stop ... clearly a kind of floor manager. Then China enters. First the girl in the red dress ... then a suitable gap before the 7’6” Yao Ming carrying his country’s flag ... another gap, and the athletes appear. Then something wonderfully smiley unfolds. The floor manager notices that Lin Hao, the nine-year-old survivor of the Schenau earthquake, is with the athletes, whereas he should be with Yao Ming, the flag bearer. So she runs on, grabs the young lad by the hand and rushes him to join Yao Ming at the front. A magic moment.


As my mother always warned, never be diverted by the grand, sweeping, seemingly important things that people and nations say and do, but rather be fully aware of the spontaneous, throwaway little things that tumble out, for that will tell you everything you need to know. And there we were, despite all the planning and meticulous delivery, someone had cocked-up and that little boy was not where he was supposed to be. So, at the end of the longest day, it’s not how grand the parade is, but how quickly and effortlessly you react when something goes awry. That little episode really made me smile. Goodnight Little and Large. Goodnight Hubie.

TUESDAY, JULY 22, 2008
Seeing is not always believing

The Times features a regular weekday page called Young times, aimed at younger readers - oh, and folk like me who have still to decide what they want to be when they grow up. For example, it has Words of the day, words you never hear in the Bible or down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, followed by their meanings. I particularly like this one: quiddity ... well now, pulling off a good deal, making loads of money, being quids in, sort of thing? Actually, it means the inherent nature of a person or thing – which I really like, for I’ve been blessed with this 20/20 instinct for survival, meaning, when confronted by a stranger I know instantly whether I have in front of me a dolphin (embrace), or a shark (proceed with caution), meaning, I can read the inherent nature of a person or thing. Quiddity. Perfect. I am indeed quids in – in human terms, that is.

     Another section is Daily dingbat. A word (or words) written down in unusual form, and you have to guess which word or phrase it represents. Say what you see. Here's an example...

B   A   N   A   N   A      you could well have seen - ta-rah - a      Banana split

Have a think on these three (the first should be simple - see above! - answers below)
1)   B   O   N   E   S      2)  H I J K L M N O      3) 
ecabt

DINGBATS 'R' US
 

Now the Daily dingbat was definitely dreamt up with me in mind. When I take photographs I suffer Captionitis: the first thing that goes through my mind when I see a picture worth capturing is the hopefully smiley caption that should accompany it. Last Saturday, I’m flicking though The Times and there's an interview with the Chancellor, Alistair Darling. Accompanying the article is a full page picture of him, sat in his office, and behind him on the wall is a large painting. What on earth is it? I search the article for a clue ... it mentions that he has a picture called Death’s Head on his office wall ... no, surely not. I look again at the painting. I reproduce it here, as seen in the paper. Now what do you see? Say what you see. I’ll tell you what I see at journey’s end.


Here are the answers to the Daily dingbats...
1) B   O   N   E   S      2)  H I J K L M N O      3) 
ecabt
 
 Broken bones                  Water (H20)                          Cabinet (so cunning I'd never have got it)

I counted them out…

Around the 10th July, the media published a photograph issued by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards – on behalf of the Iranian government, obviously – of four missiles being fired (bottom picture), confirming Iran’s strike capability, thus putting Israel within easy reach of the nuclear weapons it nearly has. As Mr Speaker down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon suggests, shouldn’t we just stand back and let Israel and Iran slug it out until one or neither remains standing – Mr Speaker’s considered proposal to get rid of two of the world’s Tommy Tuckers, in one fell swoop - except of course the nuclear winter which follows will wipe the rest of us out too. Back to the drawing board.

     Anyway, back with the missiles, it has now been discovered that the day before the picture of the four missiles being fired was released, a picture released by the Iranian daily Jamejam shows just three missiles rising into the air (top picture), the fourth still sitting on its launcher. A closer look at the diggery-pokery picture, alongside, shows the dust cloud from the missile on the right replicated under the misfired rocket.

     Not so Jammyjam after all – thus proving, if proof were needed, the law of ‘Believe nothing you hear, only half what you see’.


Is that a gun up your sleeve or are you just glad to see me?
 

Even better is the above picture of Gordon Brown’s recent meeting with Russian President Medvedev. It was used to highlight the current rather tense relationship between this country and Russia in the wake of that alleged assassination business. Yes, you remember ... former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, whose image was used as a shooting target at a Russian training centre, prior to his being poisoned in this country? The bad mood is perfectly captured. Except of course the image is actually quite innocent. Medvedev sticks out his hand, and Brown does what we all do, he momentarily looks down at the hand before quickly extending his own in a reflex action. But the camera captures the looking-down moment. Believe nothing you hear, only half what you see.


On the other hand...

"I want to be loved and carried around in someone's pocket." ... "I spend a lot of my time wondering why my life is so complicated; today, at one point, at the kitchen table, I thought I was going to spontaneously combust." Artist Tracey Emin.
     A recent feature in The Times was headlined Tracey island: “Every gallery wants her work and she is invited to all the best parties. So why, wonders Tracey Emin, does no man want to give her babies?” Hmmm. Emin has, apparently, been on the pill and the pull since the age of 14 – she is now 45 - all her clocks are ticking, and she fears being childless.
     “A lot of men would swap their wives and their children for my success” said one of those little highlighted quotes deployed to grab attention. Here are a few more: “I got scared of dying alone. Not many people do – they have families.” Which is rather touching.

 
“There’s no other level of fecundity coming out of me except this.” This threw me. The word fecundity is another of those not bandied about much down at the Crazy Horsepower – it sounds faintly naughty, so I had to look it up. It means fertile, or intellectually productive. I’ll definitely have to use that at the Crazy HP.
     Alongside, one of her most controversial pieces, My Bed, at the Turner Prize exhibition in 1999.
     And then finally: “Once women pass 55 they’re not sexy any more. I’m sorry, they’re not!”

The first phrase that came to mind following that last quote, in grand dingbat fashion, was ‘Dutch auction’. I think Tracey Emin is right; in fact, cruelly, women stop being sexy much younger than that. Nature plays a rotten trick on the female of the species. As women approach their most invitingly fertile period, they often explode into sexiness. This is why men, in particular older fellows, are attracted to the younger woman, and of course the famous, the rich and the powerful - not forgetting the natural born seducer - have a head start and cash in big time. Sadly for women, once they pass over the brow of the hill, their peak fertility window of opportunity, Mother Nature ruthlessly withdraws her favours. It probably has something to do with her Number One Rule: The survival of the fittest. Ponder two high profile women, Madonna and Helen Mirren: smart, subversive, vibrant, talented, intelligent, fit, trim, handsome - in fact both exceedingly good looking, beautiful even - but sexy they ain't, period!

     As for Tracey Emin, I don't think My Bed helps much. Oh, then there was her famous tent, the inside of which was plastered with names, and duly titled Everyone I Ever Slept With. If I understand anything about the male psyche, I'd say ambush territory, Tracey.

     This brings me back to Mirren, who has just hit the headlines for looking shapely in a bikini at the age of 62, pictured while holidaying in Puglia, Italy (see below). The Times, under Is it so shocking to be sexy at 60? trots out seven of its feature writers - three men, four women - to decide if this is so. Intriguingly, while they all pretty much use the words I've deployed above, only one, a man, even mentions the word sexy. Game, set and subconscious match, methinks. Perhaps the headline should have been revisited: Handsome yes, sexy no. For the record, Robert Crampton declares that "she's not sexy for 62, but sexy, full stop". But hang about...
 


What's interesting, The Times, in their picture spread (above left, lifted from the page), has removed from the image her husband (as appeared in the original Daily Mail picture, above right), which gives the impression that the good lady is looking at the paparazzi and not displeased to be snapped - "Hello boys!", sort of thing - something endorsed by The Times writers. Actually, she's looking at husband, Taylor Hackford, who is taking her picture, and she is clearly unaware of the paparazzi.

     Not all that many moons back, The Times' picture editor said this, and I quote: "I have a strict policy of allowing no digital manipulation of images outside of what is reasonably possible to make the image look better. This would include minor colour cast alterations, contrast and of course cropping. No image that appears in The Times has been altered in any way as to affect the editorial content of the image ... The issue is something I feel incredibly strongly about and under no circumstances would I compromise my stance on this matter." Well, I would say that their alteration of the Mirren picture has affected the editorial content of the image quite dramatically. Naughty, naughty. At the risk of boring you, believe nothing you hear, only half what you see.

Er, what's up, doc?

A little light relief. Hairy-pie magnate Hugh Hefner, old Bugs Bunny himself, in a coming-soon book, is revealed as having apparently almost died back in 1977, when an “unspecified oral love-toy” became lodged in his windpipe during a “love romp” in his “love nest” with the Playmate of the Year. My innocent mind boggles.
     Whatever could it be? Obviously the Playmate’s subsequent 'Heimlick' Manoeuvre, presumably wrapping her supple legs around him, worked a treat to enable old Bugs Bunny to be risen from the dead again - and again - and again...


JEREMY CLARKSON CORNER:
In a recent piece headlined Now we’re for it: we’ve stopped behaving badly, Jeremy launched himself thus. “There have been many very different reactions to Max Mosley’s basement bunk-up. Some have been offended and some unmoved, but most people, since it’s so Carry On Up the Khyber, have read the reports and sniggered. Hmmm. I wonder if I’m alone in having a bit of respect for the man. I mean, there he is, a 68-year-old pensioner getting it on with five girls in the middle of the afternoon. Fair play to you, fella.” (See my view of things over on 400 Smiles A Day).
 
Further on in the piece, Jeremy says this: “I look sometimes at the microcosm that is my own life and it’s terrifying. Because in recent years I have been criticised for bumping into a horse chestnut tree; I’ve been called a berk, on the front page of a national newspaper, for using an iPod while driving...”
     Well, here’s the picture again. So what do you think? How does that old adage go? When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging (please note, Mr Hefner). Unless you’re looking for oil, obviously.

 

Be that as it may, Jeremy never fails to make me smile. In last week’s Top Gear, he began the show by asking if a car can be art. “Well, take the Alfa Romeo 8C,” says Jeremy, “the best looking car ever made. It was Francis Bacon who said that there is no beauty that hath not some strangeness about its proportions – and he’s right, whoever he is. Look at Keira Knightley: just an ironing board with a face – and she works.”
     Now all things being equal, I wouldn’t have a clue who Keira Knightley is – I keep away from the zoo called celebrity, remember – but because of the recently released film about Dylan Thomas, The Edge of Love, Keira has been all over the Welsh media like a rash, which I’m not complaining about. I would not, as Old Shaggy down at the Crazy HP says, kick her out of bed.
     However, after Jeremy’s description, whenever I next see Keira, I will be overwhelmed with a desire to take off my shirt and drape it all over her. I’m not sure about the iron, but I’ll certainly be steaming.
     Oh yes, Jeremy wonders who Francis Bacon is. Me too, so off to my Dictionary of Famous Quotations...


Francis Bacon, 1st Baron Verulam, 1561-1626:
My oh my, what a shed load of quotations. My favourite, bearing in mind Jeremy’s views on the world, the universe and everything, comes from the memorably titled Of Simulation and Dissimulation: He that talketh what he knoweth, will also talk what he knoweth not.

SMILES OF THE WEEK: It is quite right that the police should clamp down on unnecessary 999 calls, after all, another emergency response could be at risk, but clearly some calls are a wind-up and the police should not bite the handcuff that feeds them. However, whilst they did not reveal the identity of the person who made the following call, except to say he was from the South Wales Valleys, they bared all. The recording runs as follows.
 

999 Control Room: South Wales Police, what’s your emergency?
Caller: It’s not really. I just need to inform you that across the mountain there’s a bright stationary object.
Control: Right
Caller: If you’ve got a couple of minutes perhaps you could find out what it is? It’s been there at least half an hour and it’s still there.
Control: It’s been there for half an hour. Right. Is it actually on the mountain or in the sky?
Caller: It’s in the air.
Control: I will send someone up there now to check it out.
Caller: OK.
A few minutes later, all became clear in the following exchange between the control room and the police officer at the scene.
Control: Alpha Zulu 20, this object in the sky, did anyone have a look at it?
Officer: Yes, it’s the moon. Over.
 


Reflecting on this extraordinary exchange, a few full moons back (excuse pun) there was indeed a curious moon, odd in as much that the full moon remained close to the horizon throughout the night, and as we’ve all noticed, when the moon is near the horizon an optical illusion makes it look much bigger than it actually is. But hey, not to recognise it as the moon? Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see.

     Actually, here’s one I captured just a couple of mornings ago, hanging in the air above Llandeilo and district. I wonder if there was a significant birth in Ffairfach that day? Mind you, I never heard of any Wise Men passing this way. Anyway, where’s the phone?

Twinkle, twinkle little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

Whistle a happy tune

Continuing with the police theme, officers at Herne Bay were called to investigate reports of a man, wolf-whistling at girls and groups of young children, from his balcony. After hours of visiting houses in the area, the search narrowed when he whistled at one of the female officers. Police Community Support Officer Delia Newman said: “We had this anonymous letter reporting antisocial behaviour from a large man of stocky build. My sergeant said, ‘We don’t know what we’re dealing with here so don’t go on your own’.” Police were surprised when they found the culprit, a 10-year-old African grey parrot called Charlie, pictured below.
 

This takes me back to April 28th, when I shared a smile with you about Barney, the blue and gold macaw, who, during an important civic visit to a wildlife sanctuary in Nuneaton, told the local mayoress to “f*** off”. Not content with mortifying his keepers with merely one outburst, he then turned on two police officers and a vicar and added: “You can f*** off too, wankers.” Barney had apparently been taught to swear by his previous owner, but what I really like is that he has been sharing his home with a pair of African greys, Sam and Charlie, and they have now picked up his language. Geoff Grewcock, owner of the Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary, said: “They just sit there swearing at each other now. It sounds like a night out at the Asterisk Bar at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon." No he didn't, he said: "It sounds like a builders’ yard.”

     Parrots are clearly born to be right Charlies. The wolf-whistling Charlie belongs to retired couple, Terry and Phyllis Burgoine. Mr Burgoine, 69, said that Charlie’s repertoire was not limited to wolf-whistling – he could bark like a dog and sing nursery rhymes as well.


Astonishingly, there's another parrot story in today's papers, about the Hall family who have their African grey to thank for saving their lives in a fire at their house in Eastleigh, Hampshire. As the blaze spread from the kitchen to the lounge, the parrot's squawking became more frantic, alerting the family. They fled, with the parrot. The family suffered smoke inhalation, but the African grey was unscathed. And the parrot's name? Bob! Well,
if he'd been named Charlie he'd probably have just stared at the smoke and yelled "What the f***?".

BONUS SMILE:
Right, remember the painting at the top of the bulletin? So what did you see? Me? Well, being a walking Daily dingbat, what I see is this...
 

A jumbo office stapler,
skiing,
during the Christmas festivities
– and going
“Weeeeeeeee….!”.


And no, I haven't been out on the piste. Goodnight Rexel. Goodnight Hubie.

SUNDAY, JULY 6, 2008

Skylark,
Have you seen a valley green with Spring
 Where my heart can go a-journeying,
 Over the shadows in the rain
 To a blossom covered lane?


Back on the 31st May, I wrote a piece entitled Gallivanting with angels, about my first ever balloon trip, where I said this: “I have just experienced one of the Top Ten Best Experiences Of My Life ... by this evening I am consciously aware that I have experienced one of the Top Five Best Experiences Of My Life … eventually I have little doubt that it will come up on the rails to make it into the frame...” Well, it was a comment straight off the top of my head, without too much thought - my mam always said I should sleep on everything before committing it to print - so on reflection it’s something I wish to revise. Not that the balloon trip is not up there, heaven forbid, it’s just that I had never truly thought about what precisely are my Top Ten Experiences, my most treasured and personal Magic Moments. So since then I’ve been trying to get a bit of order into my somewhat disorderly and random thought processes. Mind you, the only magic moment I’ve settled on thus far is my Number One Magic Moment – and this one is set in stone.

My walk through time... In other words, simply to have been born, to have beaten those odds of a hundred-million-to-one at conception (or whatever they were), and then go on to enjoy the pleasures of this delightful planet of ours. You see, I firmly belong in the camp of the North American Red Indian – or Native American, as PC protocol now dictates we must say - or Apache, as I personally identify with – who acknowledge that we are all just passing through, and that we should hand on to the next generation our precious planet in as near the same condition as we were handed it by the previous generation. Well, from the Apache standpoint, that all went horribly wrong when the White Man arrived on the scene and began to pillage, burn, rape and poison the good earth ... just think of the state of the planet we are handing on to the next generation. There isn't one species whose very existence we haven't jeopardised. Not one. Well, perhaps the rat, but I guess nature twinned the rat with ourselves as a warning as to what we are evolving into. Heartbreaking.

I really empathise with the Apache, including all the other tribes, because like them, I have never been driven by position, power and wealth. I am just passing through, and I registered early in life that I can take none of them with me. I am certainly not driven by the love of money, which is unquestionably the root of all evil, and there certainly is no greater evil than the garnering of obscene amounts of money because, after all, money is the world’s precious resources turned into gold, and worst, commandeered by a relatively small number of people who do with it as they see fit. And from where I stand and stare, what they are doing with it is certainly not fit for purpose i.e. the quality of life, indeed the survival, of future generations.

 
Which brings me back to my Top Ten Magic Moments.

So what comes next? The remaining nine are rather malleable, subject to change as time and experiences drift by. Indications have already been signposted along this particular web page. Where a bulletin covers just the one subject, then there’s a clue. For example, on the 6th March, I did a special after seeing my first bluebell of the season, which had appeared an extraordinary full month earlier than usual. This meant the bluebell season was extended by a whole month. Real heaven. Relaxing on a tree stump in the middle of a bluebell wood in its full glory, or indeed sitting in an open field that once upon a time was woodland, is one of life’s great experiences. How often will you see an open field of bluebells with the moon visible in the afternoon sky? Amazing sight, as captured above, at Big Slopes, the family farm.

The sight, the fragrance – oh, and the sound of honey bees feeding on the nectar. Suddenly you understand why, in classical myth, nectar was the drink of the gods.

Magic moments indeed.


 


 

Then there was the balloon experience shared on the 31st May. The image alongside encapsulates the event, especially because way above the balloon is an aircraft’s con trail, and this brings to mind my pilot’s licence. In particular my very first solo flight: after a series of circuits - an endless loop of take-offs and landings - the instructor suddenly announced that I was now ready to go on my own. "Just do what you've being doing..." And there I was, at the end of the runway, cleared to roll -and off I go. The first thing I notice is what the instructor had warned me: with less weight on board, the aircraft demands to become airborne that much sooner - it bounces gently on the runway, and I'm off. Out of the corner of my eye I notice the seat belt alongside folded neatly over ... nothing. I am really on my own. The circuit was a most memorable - and magical - moment. I'll have to write it up properly at a future date.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve experienced many astonishing moments along my regular walks: the bullock that crashed into the river when the bank gave way under it, the little fledgling bird that got itself trapped in a stock fence - and encountering Seven of Nine relaxing on a west Wales field! These events coming up shortly over on 400 Smiles A Day


And then, last Wednesday morning, the 2nd July – at half-six, to be precise – I was walking along the banks of the River Towy, when I register a most voluble and distinctive bird song. Now I am neither a twitcher nor a bird man – don’t get me wrong, I love the birds, and I clearly recognise all the obvious ones, by sight and sound, but the smaller songbirds – well, I just enjoy their singing, especially the dawn chorus, without really experiencing the need to establish what they are. Growing up on the farm I never took any particular interest in, or notice of, nature. Nature was all around, I was part of it, and so I just got on with it. Much like walking into my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon Bar. As soon as I enter and approach “the well”, I look around for “my” gang. I don’t stand at the bar and merely watch and observe and wonder – I’m a part of them, so I join in. And so it is with nature, including the birds and the bees. But last Wednesday, somewhere above me, this extraordinary burst of bird song. I look up...
 

...and there it is, high in the sky, hovering and singing its little heart away in a most delightfully furious fashion. For the very first time in my life I'm experiencing both the song and the hovering routine of the skylark. I am instantly hypnotised. Yes, I’d heard its song on tape, even watched and listened to it on film – but never, ever witnessed it in the flesh. The thing is, growing up on the farm, I must have experienced it, but never registered it for the reasons given above. Anyway, it is worth waiting for. It is stunning. I guess it must have been hovering at some 400 feet, give or take – but the volume and power of its song is extraordinary. As I enjoy it I realise I must take a photo of it – and here it is, alongside.

 

Sadly, my camera isn’t equipped to take pictures at that distance – but I just had to capture it for posterity ... alongside though, a picture found on the internet. What surprised me most of all was how long the virtuoso performance went on for – I dunno, four minutes, perhaps more – indeed, for a small bird, the physical effort required to hover there and belt out that showstopper must be demanding in the extreme. Beautiful. Then it stops ... and perhaps the most astonishing sight of all. Just like one of those German Stuka dive bombers from the last war, it heads for the ground at great speed, pulling out at the very last moment – and then I lose it against the background.


Sadly I do not know who to credit for the stunning image above, although the one at the top of the piece is by one David Tipling. Perfect. Curiously, back on the 5th October 2007, under World Smile Day, I quoted the complete lyrics of the Skylark as it's one of my favourite songs. The wheel has turned full circle. I have now experienced one of the great Magic Moments, a most uplifting experience, and the jolly fat lady will have one hell of a job to beat that when she decides to pronounce that it’s all over.

SMILE OF THE WEEK: By a jolly coincidence, having been talking about a bird, albeit a very special little bird, here’s a picture of another bird off the internet, and it so grabbed my attention that I had to share it with you.

Bloody ‘ell! Yes that was my first reaction. Poor little thing. But of course you quickly realise that there's something not quite right. Has there been some diggery pokery involved? Believe nothing you hear, only half what you see? And never has that view of the world been truer than with this image. The bird is real, the rest isn’t. A gosling looks for food in front of a plastic coyote posted as a scarecrow on a lawn in Tewksbury, Mass, USA. The plastic coyote is designed to scare away geese and keep them off the lawn. However, it appears to have zero effect on this young bird. Goodnight all you little birds. Goodnight Hubie.

 

SUNDAY, MAY 22, 2008
Okay, hands up ... I shot the sheriff



And we’re not just talking any old sheriff, mind ... oh no, this is the High Sheriff of Dodgy City, along with the Badlands west of the Peccadilloes (that's the Black Mountain to all ye not familiar with the finer points of the compass way out in the west of Wales). Oh, and that wonderful hat would sit comfortably in the Crazy Horsepower Saloon Bar.

On Saturday 14th June 2008, Llandeilo held a Party in the Park, when Llandeilo Fawr Town Council, along with its Mayor, welcomed the good folk of Dodgy City (aka Llandampness, aka Llandeilo, aka Llandilo – yes, it eventually became e-i, e-i, e-i-l-o), to a buckshee Edwardian party to mark the centenary of the town’s historic Penlan Park (which is why the above photo has been captured in sepia – see, this isn’t just thrown together any which way, you know). But hey, isn’t life one delightful ambush of coincidences? The Mayor hosts an Edwardian party – and the Mayor’s name? Edward Thomas. Anyway, I shall do an extended piece sometime soon, probably over on the Pipeline tributary, where I’ve already covered the recent extensive road works in the old town. Suffice it to say at this brief stagecoach pit stop that the Gods smiled on our Edwardian experience. The sun shone and shone. If it had been yesterday, just a week later, it would have been a washout, and let’s be honest, a Party in the Park relies absolutely and totally on the sunshine of the Gods’ smile.

Meanwhile, here's another image that tickled my imagination: a shuttle bus service between town centre and Park, was provided by local coach operator, Jones International – I  like this blast from the past parked up outside the town's Travel House. Llandeilo’s answer to a Time Machine?

Apropos the Party in the Park, I really haven’t a clue who’s who and what’s what in Llandeilo. Yes, I’m reasonably au fait with all the gossip – whoops, news, or more correctly, all the news that ain’t fit to print – but I’ve no idea who stalks the corridors of power, but more importantly, who precisely sits where at the territory's top table. When I first shot the lady above, I kept wondering who this handsome woman was – and that’s just not me saying so, it’s my camera. The lens is irresistibly drawn to photogenic individuals. So I made enquiries. It turns out that the object of my camera’s attention is one Claire Mansel Lewis, High Sheriff of Dyfed. What does it say at the very top of the page? That’s right, every day a day at school. And I was surprised that we still use Dyfed, the name for the once combined shires of Carmarthen, Cardigan and Pembroke. Shows how much I know.

Photogenically speaking, I recently had a bit of a discussion regarding what makes certain people so. Whilst having classic good looks, or a characterful face, definitely gives someone a head start, pardon the pun, but there’s much more to it than that. Individuals who can never be described as oil paintings often photograph wonderfully well. So what is it? I did google the phenomenon, but apart from lots of fascinating tips on how to make someone look good in front of the camera, I've found little thus far about why it occasionally happens naturally in nature, so to speak - apart from the clue that photogenic people are never fazed by the presence of the camera, always appearing relaxed and laid-back. And Claire Mansel Lewis certainly fits the bill there. Just imagine if the Sheriff of Nottingham had looked like this, then the life and times of Robin Hood would have taken a different turn, for sure.

Oh yes, intrigued by the classy Claire Mansel Lewis, and what precisely a High Sheriff does in this world, I went googling once more, and duly arrived at www.thePeerage.com - where I discovered a little click-box which announced Pop-up Pedigree. How delightful is that? We should all have Pop-up Pedigree boxes which disclose everything about us, including our annual tax returns. That would soon rid this country of its inherent secretiveness.

Anyway, back with photogenic people. The thing is, though, I am not a people photographer, but rather a Big Mac snapper. Harold Macmillan – Big Mac – famously observed that the greatest obstacle to political achievement was “Events, dear boy, events.”. And that’s what I like to photograph. All sorts of weird and wonderful events. Events which manifest themselves in front of me – and the next moment they’re gone. I was on my regular walk the other morning - one of those picture-perfect starts to the day, the sun slowly climbing, strolling through a dense and dark corner of Castle Woods - when I was suddenly confronted by a gloriously sunny glade. Click!
 


Then just round the corner, ahead of me, the wonderful jigsaw-like shadows of the leaves on the dirt track. Two pictures that provide a perfect balance to a perfectly sunshiny morning.

So what news stories have caught my eye since the last bulletin. Well, there was that extraordinary business of the Top Secret files simply forgotten on a train. Not once, but twice. Then there was the curious case of David Davis, MP, who took Westminster by surprise when he declared that he would step down, forcing a by-election which he intends to fight on a civil liberties platform. Both stories were perfectly summed up by the brilliant Peter Brookes in The Times.

Personally, the only thing that I have ever left on a train was my heart. At Neath Grand Central Station, to be precise. Many moons back, I was travelling back by train from Paddington to Swansea. The train was quite full and I managed to grab a seat near the back of the carriage, my back to the engine, but it gave me a view of everyone entering the carriage. I put my coat on the empty aisle seat alongside, as if someone was sitting there. People kept boarding and looking for empty seats. Then I saw this attractive female move up the aisle. At just the right moment I surreptitiously lifted my coat of the seat onto my lap, the lady asked if the seat was empty - and there she was. Will you walk into my parlour?

Actually, we got on really well, a laugh a minute journey, occasionally two laughs a minute, we even shared a bottle of wine. She was getting off at Neath, and as we neared I got the impression that, while she wasn't married, she was more than likely in a serious cum long-term relationship. I gave her my card, but sadly, I never heard anymore. Which was a shame as she had  really captured my heart.

Back with David Davis the politician, I recently likened fame and celebrity with being trapped in a zoo. There’s no doubt about it, when it’s impossible to move outside your own home without people staring, pointing, poking, talking loudly and often disparagingly about you as if you’re not there - and just treating you as some alien species - then this must by definition take a huge toll on your mental stability. Indeed, it’s very difficult to think of anyone in the public eye who’s not being driven a bit doolally by it all. And do you know, when I look at David Davis since his resignation, he reminds me of a polar bear pacing round and round inside its cage, wretchedly shaking its head from side to side, slowly but surely being driven mad. Poor buggers, the lot of ‘em.

And then there’s the curious case of the Top Secret files left on trains. I enjoyed this letter from a David Webb of Nottingham: “Sir, By the time I’ve read a copy of Metro and a few secret files, I must say that trips down to London seem to fairly fly by these days.” Wonderful. But let’s go back a wee bit, and recall when those sensitive discs began disappearing? Most notably, the loss of Revenue & Customs computer discs containing details of over 20 million people. When we then had several more instances of such sensitive discs disappearing, I remember thinking, such an ‘unfortunate loss’ is equivalent to winning a tidy windfall on the lottery. After all there are bandits out there queuing up to pay handsomely for such information. And if I wanted to profit from selling a slice of classified and/or sensitive information, well, I would niftily cover my tracks by behaving ‘stupidly’ and ‘forgetting’ the file on a train. Remember, we ape our masters, which is why we now live in the rip-off capital of the world. Call me a cynic, but to quote the wonderful Inspector Clouseau: I suspect no one. I suspect everyone.

Then there are all the questions regarding expenses claimed by politicians, not only here in the UK, but in the European Parliament as well. A letter caught my eye in The Times, from a Jane Gould of Shaftesbury: "Sir, Who among us has not made a mistake on an expenses claim form? We have the luxury of a quiet word with the accounts department and the opportunity to correct the claim...” Reflecting on this, I take it as read that the word mistake should have lain (lied?) inside inverted commas, no? I mean, compiling an expense claim is a conscious act because you have to collect receipts together. So how can anyone make a mistake? We really are the rip-off capital of the world, no question.

Oh yes, the other extraordinary piece of news was our dear Irish cousins signing the death warrant for that dodgy Lisbon Treaty the Euro politicians attempted to bamboozle the Community with. I was astonished to learn that when they revamped the original treaty, they increased its content by many thousands of words, but in order to make it look a more compact and trimmed version they churned it out in smaller print. You really couldn’t make it up. Here’s another cartoon from The Times, this time by Morland, which sums up the Lisbon Treaty perfectly.

Such a tiny iceberg to sink such a large ship. The trouble with the European Community now is that, like a huge modern ship, when it wants to quickly change course, or stop, even, it takes miles and miles to do so - and by then it's too late. Now we read that European leaders are looking for a way round this decisive rejection. So would you trust any of this lot to fill in an expenses claim form?

CURIOUS QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "It would be bizarrely arrogant to say that I was more important than Russia." Jonathan Dimbleby. I am bizarrely intrigued as to why Dimbleby found it necessary to issue this statement. I can't begin to think, unless of course it has something to do with all this doolallyness which affects zoo people.

JEREMY CLARKSON CORNER: Where would I be without a Jeremy quote, especially as Top Gear returns to our screens tonight. “If you asked me to design a car I wouldn’t have a clue where to start.” Thus Jeremy Clarkson was quoted at the recent Hay Festival. Given JC’s quixotic critique of all things on four wheels, couldn’t he simply tell a car designer what turns him on? What do you suppose his little baby would look like? But, more importantly, what to call the finished product? Well, we already have the Ford Focus...


Yes of course, what else but the Clarkson Focem. Actually, the above is the infamous Chevrolet Vega, generally regarded as one of the Top Ten Ugliest Cars in the world. It's the Vega bit I like. I harbour a dream that actually, Jeremy is a vegan. Well, have you ever seen him tackle a T-bone? All this laddish behaviour is all an act, and the above Focem is Clarkson to a T. I mean, those butch big wheelies at the back - those dainty little powder-puff wheels at the front. Yep. The Clarkson Focem says it all. And it has to be promoted in pink!
 

SMILES OF THE WEEK: You know how it is, all those dreadful zoo creatures we now stare and point at, especially those of a political nature, and there’s an overwhelming urge to shout very naughty and rude words at them. Well, I've just caught up with this delightful tale. A good many moons back, there was a caller to David Mellor’s Radio 5 phone-in show, who chatted agreeably about one of the weekend’s games – and then announced, apropos of nothing: “By the way, David – you’re a c***!” He was instantly taken off the air. The BBC then issued a memorable apology, the opening words of which went thus: “We are very sorry that your enjoyment of the programme was spoiled...” Hang about, our enjoyment spoilt? Steady on, Aunty.

Thinking about it, you just knew that the BBC was in trouble a few years back when it grandly announced that its target audience was too thick to understand pressure charts on their television weather forecasts, so they did away with them in favour of a big Mr Blue Blobby image that now represents rain. Oh dear. Anyway, whenever I catch sight of David Mellor these days, I smile and smile and smile – because he reminds me of something...

BONUS SMILE: I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before the framed million-pound cheque Spike Milligan had hanging on his office wall, underneath which was printed this legend: In case of emergency break glass. Well, I've just stumbled upon this Spike Milligan classic. He wrote to his fellow Goon, Harry Secombe, some years ago. “Dear Harry,” he wrote, “I have just been on a tour of HMS Victory. There is a plaque on the deck which reads, ‘Nelson fell here’. I’m not surprised. I fell over it myself.” Goodnight Spike, somewhere over the rainbow. Goodnight Hubie.

 

SATURDAY, MAY 31, 2008
Gallivanting with angels


4.30am: Awake, arise, pee, shower, dress, slice of toast with honey and mug of tea, brush teeth, check that two cameras are ready, willing and able (belt and braces job), jump in car, collect morning papers, head for the folk who live on the hill, jump in basket beneath big red balloon, take off... Always wanted to document the first couple of hours of my day thus... An hour or so later I subliminally register that I have just experienced one of the Top Ten Best Experiences Of My Life. By this evening I am consciously aware that I have experienced one of the Top Five Best Experiences Of My Life. Eventually I have little doubt that it will come up on the rails to make it into the frame...
 


No, that’s not me dangling up there ... but I did take the picture of one Dewi Roberts, Quality Butcher of This Parish, who owns a delightful balloon that you simply strap onto your back, throw a lighted match over your shoulder – and off you go, so to speak. Dewi took off at the same time as the Big Bird - oh, by the way, that's Carmarthenshire's Black Mountain as a backdrop. Now I reckon that my Guardian Angel had a quick look at her notes last night and concluded: “Hm, so Hubie’s off ballooning in the morning ... well, he hasn’t been a naughty boy now for so long he deserves a bit of a reward, so I’ll arrange for the weather to be straight out of the top drawer – and as a bonus I'll play Misty just for him.” Thank you, thank you, Angel. So stunningly beautiful was the early morning, mist and all, that over the coming days I’ll do a proper appreciation of the experience – over on
400 Smiles A Day , where else? In the meantime, I trawled the many images I captured for one that really tickled my imagination.

My friend Sue is a very talented lady – headmistress, written several books, handed on her clever genes to her daughters (not forgetting husband Gareth’s contribution, obviously) – who appreciates that I discovered a sort of talent for stringing words together well into my walk through time, and also, quite recently a knack for capturing offbeat images with my camera. Scrolling down my website the other day, Sue complimented me on some of my images, and I expressed delight that I appear to have been blessed with half-an-eye for a good shot. “Don’t put yourself down,” responds Sue, “you’ve been blessed with a full hundred-per-cent eye for a photograph.” Sue, remember, is a teacher, so she thrives on giving encouragement, but you don’t make headmistress unless you have a talent for encouraging individuals to pursue what’s right for them. So Sue’s words gave me a little boost. And so to my offbeat image with a story.

 
David, pilot of aforementioned big red balloon, had descended to help capture some photographs of Dryslwyn Castle – then as he began climbing to take us towards Paxton’s Tower, I happened to look directly down as we crossed the main road near Dryslwyn Fawr Farm (now home to the Fig Tree Restaurant), and I noticed the markings on the road: ARAF, which is SLOW in Welsh, passing underneath. I intuitively pointed my camera. I then forgot about it until going through the images earlier tonight – and I stopped and pondered. It's the SLOW, perfectly framed within the image of the shadow of the fence, which ticks the box.


Astonishing how simple things leave their mark on our thinking. Last Monday (Bank Holiday) was a horribly wet and windy affair. In the afternoon, as I caught up with the weekend’s papers, I switched on the telly, and The Sound of Music was on. Now why can’t the BBC, I pondered, find someone to write a catchy song similar to one of these for the Eurovision Song Contest? Anyway, my eye kept flicking back and fore between paper and TV. Then I registered this little gem. Towards the latter stages of the film, the von Trapp family is visited by Hans Zeller, the Austrian who becomes a Nazi and is now the party leader for the district, and he berates the Captain, in front of the whole family, for not flying the German flag. As he leaves, Gretl, the youngest of the children, turns to her dad. “Father, why was he so cross?” “Take no notice, dear,” responds the Captain, “everyone’s cross these days.”

God, I thought, some things never change. Everyone’s certainly very, very cross in 2008. A few nights later I happened to watch the beginning of Cutting Edge: Gridlock and Road Rage, which examined the adverse traffic conditions on Britain’s roads. Even the most mild-mannered individuals can be turned into foul-mouthed rage monsters. The language was shocking (but hugely instructive) as we watched motorists coming apart at the seams. Do you know, I sort of remember the first reported instance of road rage in this country, and being not so much shocked, but rather taken aback that such a thing was happening. Today, of course, rage is omnipresent in every aspect of our lives. Everyone’s exceedingly cross these days. And going mad. Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

So when I originally saw the image above, especially the SLOW framed within the image of the shadow of the fence, I subliminally registered a metaphor. Not only that, but the other side of the road is a fenced-off cattle pen with a crush for restraining individual animals. The car, personal freedom excepted, is the greatest freedom we enjoy. The ability, in theory, to go wherever we want whenever we want. But somewhere along the line we have been fenced off, penned in and crushed into madness. Trapped within by the very freedom we treasure so much. And of course, the sheer freedom of floating along in that balloon at the whim of Mother Nature made the whole thing even more thought provoking. Hence being hypnotised by this image. Please, don’t fence me in.
 

SMILES OF THE DAY:
Just before capturing the SLOW image, I’d remarked to David how unconcerned the cattle were with our presence. I recall my brother telling me many moons back, following a balloon jamboree in Llandovery, a few had landed on his farm, and driven the animals wild – which in turn had driven him bananas. It wasn’t so much the sight of the balloons descending that had stampeded the herd – cows don’t tend to stare up into the sky – but the sound of the burners. Yet these cattle were not bothered because David regularly flies his balloon this way, so they are simply familiar with the sound and the sight. Smiley image this, though, with the animal doing what a human does when a balloon passes over.


Before leaving you, to go back to gridlock and road rage, in the above Cutting Edge programme, one fellow driving a lorry swore at any offending vehicle, which he announced was clearly being driven either by a foreigner, a “coffin dodger” (elderly person), or a woman: “And, see, she’s old – and a woman!” This takes me back years and years when I was travelling in a car with a colleague, Tony O'Donoghue, an East Ender, and one blessed with the standard cockney wit. Following the erratic path of the car in front he said “I bet you anything it’s a woman driver.”. Eventually we saw that it was in fact a youngish man - but like a flash came this response: “Obviously taught to drive by his mother.” Goodnight Road Runner. Goodnight Hubie.


SUNDAY, MAY 18, 2008
Probably the best saloon bar know-all in the world
 
“Ever since the invention of the saloon bar know-all, we’ve been told that when it comes to things that float, fly or fornicate, it’s better to rent than buy.” Thus Jeremy Clarkson kicks off an article about, yes, renting as opposed to buying. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Jeremy must be the definitive saloon bar know-all. He has the answers to every problem thrown up by life, the universe and everything - albeit some highly entertaining solutions. Mind you, the other day, after finishing a Jeremy article, I realised that, not only had I not laughed, but I’m fairly sure I hadn’t even smiled – which set me sort of wondering.
     Now I enjoy reading his articles, although I do appreciate that he has only a handful of things that preoccupy him, but such is his talent he is the very opposite of the legendary Emperor and his magic suit of clothes. Jeremy’s gift is that his is not an invisible suit but the many suits of a media chameleon (this creature is a lizard of middle-Britain, often sporting a potbelly and long slender legs, a prehensile tale to tell with a huge tongue to deliver, and the ability to not only change colour but make those who stand and stare change colour as well). But of course there comes a time when you realise you’ve seen that particular suit before, which I guess is what happened above. Still, chameleons amuse me, so I’ll stick with Jeremy for the time being.


Which brings me to another Clarkson quote from his Sunday Times motoring column: “Just recently I was snapped by a member of the public while driving along the M40. He claimed the snap showed I was using my mobile. My phone records prove that I wasn’t but, no matter, he sold the picture to the Mirror. It ran on the front page and as a result the young man probably earned enough to buy himself and his girlfriend a slap-up meal at the local Harvester.” Jeremy then had a bit of a rant about all of us now having some sort of camera, which means he can’t move without hearing a clicking sound or someone shouting "Say cheese!". Which begs the question, why then, on the aforementioned motoring column, there is always a large picture of the vehicle under review, as well as an equally impressive photo of his lordship looking like an endangered species normally found in a zoo? Now Jeremy didn’t show the actual photograph of himself on the phone, allegedly saying, “I’m doing 70mph in a rare 1970s 6.3-litre left-hand-drive Grosser Mercedes on the M40 in Oxfordshire, and if you can think of something grosser...” – and I believe the snip-snap appeared under the typically tabloid front page headline “Berk in a Merc” – so here it is for you to decide.

Now for all I know he could be using his mobile to photograph inside his ear to find out what is making that strange noise inside his head. Anyway, it prompted me to write to the InGear section of the Sunday Times. No, not to wonder why celebs – knowing that Jo and Joe Public view them all as creatures in a zoo, there to be stared at and taken pictures of – bother breaking any rules when they’re out on the savannah, but ... anyway, here’s what the paper printed. Oh, before I come to that, whenever I submit a letter I always play subeditor - or is it copyeditor? - and put in my own headline ... hey ho, this time they went with my little effort:

'Ello, ’ello, ‘ello
Jeremy Clarkson tells us his phone records prove he wasn’t using his mobile when he was photographed apparently doing so behind the wheel (Catch me if you can, last week). A client was pulled over by two policemen who accused him – and charged him – with using his mobile while driving. “But I don’t have it with me,” he pleaded, and gave them his number to call. They declined. His Orange bill confirmed that he had not made a call during the time in question, but Orange informed him it couldn't confirm whether he had received any calls or not. He was convicted.

At this point I should make clear that I’m not talking about myself – honest, I still haven’t ventured into the mobile market, mainly because I can live quite comfortably without one (I’ve also observed that those who don’t possess a mobile have a much more relaxed and contented look about them than those who do; what is more, they don’t seem to have such dreadful memories). Anyway, when my client arrived home he told his mother. “But your mobile’s over there, on the charger,” she said. So off to court he goes, his mum as the star witness, and take it from me, a more honest lady you couldn’t wish to meet. Sadly, the courts seem to believe that the police never make mistakes – oh, and never, ever tell lies. Clearly they don't pay attention to the news.

More worrying, I’ve since been told that the police could, if they had wanted to, checked with Orange to see if he had received any calls. If that’s true, then we live in a shocking world, where the police can use such evidence to prosecute you, but you in turn cannot use that same evidence to defend yourself. Even worse, if Jeremy was able to check incoming calls, it means there is now one law for celebs and another for the common man. God, roll on the revolution – and I for one won’t be too fussy who I ask if they feel lucky.

                             

Just to remind you what the police get up to when you’re not looking, remember these shots shown above from a few moons ago when a policeman, while driving at 70mph in a 40mph zone, took his hands off the wheel to make thumbs-up gestures to a speed camera when responding to emergency calls. Well, driver David Mayes, who had already been banned from public duties by the police, has just been fined £400 and banned from driving for six months by Halifax Magistrates’ Court after he admitted two counts of careless driving. All two-fingers and thumbs, then.

To continue the motoring theme. The above clockwork toy racing car, christened the “Gordon Bennett coupe”, about a foot long with crouching driver and passenger figures, built around the turn of the last century, but now slightly rusting, sold a few days ago for £11,520. Banana, anyone? The toy was named after the media mogul who gave rise to the cry “Gordon Bennett!”. Incidentally, that must be the very same media mogul whose wife accused him over breakfast of being gay because he kept shouting “Gordon Bennett!” in his sleep.

On the very day Gordon Bennett was sold, I was walking down the street in Llandeilo when I came upon the incredible looking vehicle pictured below. An astonishing bit of kit, pardon the vernacular.
 


Stuck on the vehicle was this notice: www.usenergy.org.uk - This 1970s car runs on 100% CHIP FAT, soon to run on 70% WATER + 30% CHIP FAT. Look up: www.easywatercar.com / www.joshtickel.com / www.water4gas.com / www.water4disel.com
I haven't had time to indulge any of these sites yet ... Anyway, the following day, on another street in town, I snapped the car below, which had been clamped – the first time ever I saw a clamped motor in old Dodgy City...
 


A closer look revealed that the car didn’t have any road tax. Do you know, I think the sheer embarrassment of seeing your car clamped like this in front of the community, is infinitely more effective than seeing TV ads where your car is crumpled in front of your eyes.
 

Talking of clamping, Ian Taylor (alongside) was somewhat surprised when he returned home to find his Ford Fiesta had been impounded by the DVLA outside his front door. It was legally registered to be off the road but a clamper spotted that the rear of the car was sticking out a couple of inches over a footpath which adjoins his drive. The DVLA demanded £200 to release it – more than the car’s worth – but Taylor refused and used a disc cutter to slice it in half when the clampers returned two days later to remove the car. The officials removed their clamp and left both halves of the car with Mr Taylor. Another banana, vicar?


ASHES TO ASHES: Since my last bulletin, Humphrey Lyttelton, convivial jazz trumpeter and bandleader who was much loved as the deadpan chairman of I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue, died on April 25, 2008, aged 86. Lyttelton also won acclaim as a cartoonist and journalist. Philip Larkin, the poet and jazz lover, offered perhaps the most astute appraisal in a review of Humph’s “autobiographical scrapbook”, Take it from the Top: “One musn’t be misled by the amiable, bumbling persona ... He is a toughly intelligent man moving confidently in any kind of surroundings from Windsor Castle to Birdland.” Or, as mentioned previously of someone else, a person who could mix easily with Prince Harry or Harry Prince, the dustman. My kind of man was Humph.


A parting thought. Whenever the late and dear Roy Castle’s name is mentioned, you wait for the addendum, “a victim of passive smoking”, so I always invoke the Humphrey Lyttelton Clause and Effect. People argue that because Roy, a non-smoker, and by definition would always take deep breaths while playing his trumpet in horribly smoky environments, that this is what killed him. I really do challenge that theory. Humph spent even more time in such places (Roy died at age 62), regularly playing at gigs right up to the end. The truth is, and speaking as a non-smoker, if there’s a weak link in your immune system, then smoking will ruthlessly seek it out. However, what the experts don’t tell you is this: if you neither smoke nor suffer passive smoking, then there are a myriad other killers out there lying in ambush - pollution in the air we breathe, chemicals and pesticides in our food and water, lack of self-esteem, stress...

The beauty of Humph to everyone who appreciated his gifted walk through time was that he was blessed with a talent to reduce stress levels in those whom he touched. Perhaps I should now invoke my own favourite saying: may you live forever and die suddenly. Mind you, I think it was the producer of I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue, Jon Naismith, who said that Humph was mentally sharp to the very end, but had perhaps burnt himself out. Alongside, Humph performing at the Landmark Arts Centre in April 2006, when he was 84.

A lesson there for all of us, surely: make damn sure you stand and stare an awful lot more. I shall return to Humph again in a future bulletin.

 
 


Another person to die was Joy Page. Who she, you ask? In 1942 someone at Warner Bros suggested to the 17-year-old stepdaughter of studio head Jack Warner that she might like to read for a supporting role in a forthcoming film. Joy Page thought the script “corny and old-fashioned” and agreed to try out for the movie only because Ingrid Bergman might be in it. The film was called Casablanca. Warner was not enthusiastic about her participation, but in the event she was perfectly cast as the innocent refugee and newlywed who seeks advice from Rick (Humphrey Bogart) as to whether she should surrender her virtue to the corrupt but hugely charismatic Captain Renault (Claude Rains) in return for an exit visa. “You want my advice,” growls Rick. “Go back to Bulgaria.” He then allows the girl’s husband to win the price of the visa at roulette, a gesture to love that marks the start of his ascent from the cynical despair into which he has drifted. “I’ll forgive you this time,” says a wonderfully laid-back Renault, “but I’ll be in tomorrow with a breathtaking blonde. And it’ll make me very happy if she loses.” I recall Joy Page because I particularly remember that scene.
 

HEADLINE TO DIE FOR (so to speak): Lord Laidlaw seeks treatment for sex addiction after reports of sex games with four girls, one gigolo and a tri-lingual bisexual ... a top Tory paymaster is today exposed as a sex addict hooked on orgies with £3,000 a night hookers (alongside, Lord Laidlaw, 64, and wife Christine, with a really confused looking William Hague).
Yes, fine, okay – but what the hell is a
tri-lingual bisexual? Sounds like someone who can talk dirty in many tongues. But I guess Lord Laidlaw would probably say to said thingy something like “You’re talking my language, baby!”. Perhaps he should now be called Lord Laid-low!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I took away the whip from Lord Laidlaw. Obviously I should have taken the handcuffs, petticoat, suspenders and thong." David Cameron, Tory leader and highly promising saloon bar comedian.
I also liked this one:
"The nice decade is behind us." Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, warns of testing times ahead for the economy. Mind you, as for the very rich, and old Laid-low, he would probably say: "The Nice decade is behind us."
 

SMILE OF THE WEEK: The following appeared in The Time’s Questions Answered section last Friday: “Have any creatures ever developed ear ‘lids’ to keep out unwelcome sounds? It would be such a blessing.” It was submitted by Ellen Brown of Cumbria. Before I answer, it brings to mind a couple of recent images, the one above from an advertising promotion by Pioneer, the people who make television sets. Such a striking image. Suddenly, closing your hand gives a whole new meaning to see no evil, hear no evil ... But the one below is the image that made me blink.

This appeared in The Times on October 11 2007, so it must be true. I quote: A philosopher and performance artist announced that he has acquired an ear on his arm. It took Stelarc, 61, ten years to find a surgeon willing to perform the controversial operation. The ear was grown from cells in a laboratory and implanted on his left forearm in 2006. The Australian-based artist, real name Stelios Arcadiou, said that, once the ear has developed, he hoped to get a microphone implanted. “The last operation was in September 2006 and it’s only now that that I’m about ready for the next step,” he said. When the surgery is complete and the body has produced the necessary tissue, Stelarc hopes to have a recognisable ear on his arm. “Then I hope to have a tiny microphone implanted that will connect with a Bluetooth transmitter. That way you can listen to what my ear is hearing.” Listen! Can you hear the world going delightfully doolally?

Anyway, back to Ellen Brown’s question. Many moons back I vividly remember Old Shaggy down at the Crazy Horsepower telling me that the design of the human body was all wrong. If he were the Grand Designer, here are just a few obvious alterations to make the whole thing a bit more consumer friendly. The mouth he would place where the navel is. Imagine the energy we waste lifting food, whereas at navel height we could just shovel it in without fuss or bother. And the ears, he said, all rather ugly sticking out there either side of the head, so he’d put them in the armpits. If you’re listening to someone really interesting or funny you casually lean back in your chair and clasp your hands behind your head. If bored – pay attention Ellen Brown – you just fold your arms defensively across your chest and all the boring noises are blocked out. Magic. But let’s cut to the chase. The penis – ridiculous – he’d have it where the index finger is. I mean, you’re suddenly caught short, so you just casually slide your hand over a handy wall and pee away. As for the vagina, where else but on the female’s outer upper arm – medically I think they call that the H-spot, the ‘humerus’, ho, ho, ho. Imagine, across a crowded room, you see this beautiful, statuesque Nordic vision – the breathtaking blonde that Captain Renault above mentions perhaps – so you amble over, and using your index finger you ever so gently poke her on the humerus and say: “Excuse me, you lovely thing, but do you come here often?”
                                                                                                                                                                                                       
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PS SMILE OF THE WEEK:  Since penning the previous bulletin, 'Bananas to the left, bananas to the right' (see just below), and finding out that the Lucian Freud painting, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, has since been sold at Christie's in New York for $33.6million - rumour has it that the new owner is Roman Abramovich, the Russian tycoon and owner of Chelsea football club - I came across a little device that sums up the state of the world right now rather perfectly. You know how it is, you peel a banana and honestly, a whole banana is just too much and you only want the half of it - ta-rah, here's something you've always wanted but didn't quite realise - a device to keep the other half nice and fresh. Now if someone came up with something similar to keep our real 'other halves' nice and fresh in when not in use...

Goodnight King Louie, king of the swingers, the jungle VIP - and lover of bananas. Goodnight Hubie.
                                                                                                                                                          
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MONDAY, APRIL 28, 2008
Bananas to the left, bananas to the right…


One of the great things about compiling a scrapbook, especially an electronic one such as this, is that I can amend, add – delete even if it’s a cockup – anytime after I’ve put my initial thoughts to bedebyebyes. What I aim to capture here are those little things that linger in my mind’s eye way after the event: happenings that tickle my fancy, things that make me smile, laugh, stand back in astonishment, and yes, make me sad. Oh, perhaps most of all, those things that confirm that the whole world is going bananas.

It always amazes me how prudish we Welsh are, presuming of course that the media here in Wales does indeed reflect what it is the Welsh people are thinking. Here’s an example. A couple of weeks back there appeared in the London newspapers pictures of a life-size Lucian Freud painting, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping.

The Freud painting, which dates from 1995 and is appearing at auction for the first time, depicts a rotund civil servant from London, Sue Tilley, now 51, sleeping on a dilapidated sofa. At 20 stone she seemed an unlikely choice of muse for an artist, but Freud has spoken of his “predilection towards people of unusual or strange proportions.” Ms Tilley takes it all in good part. “I think he probably picked me because he got value for money,” she once joked. “He got a lot of flesh.” Freud gave her a print of the portrait, which she sold in 2005 at auction for £26,000. The painting itself though is expected to fetch at least $25 million when it goes on sale on May 13. There goes a banana already. [Update: the painting was sold at Christie's in New York for $33.6million, £17.2million in imperial lingo. And yes, we have lots of bananas, thank you very much.]
 


What tickled me though was the Peter Brookes cartoon in The Times (above) which shows Gordon Brown asleep on the sofa - the caption reads: Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (While the economy goes down the pan). Perfect. Then a few days later the second image just above appeared in the Western Mail, in a piece by columnist Hannah Jones, who appears to be having a running battle with something called a diet. Well done her for running with the painting, but I was rather surprised at the “Oops!” modesty. Are we Welsh really that sensitive? Was the Western Mail being ironic? Or, was it a Fraudian slip (as in "Oo-er, Mrs!": a narrow piece; strip), as opposed to a Freudian slip.  Hm.

By chance this leads me on to someone called Gok Wan. First though, a quick QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Being on a red carpet is like being an animal in the zoo.” French singing star Vanessa Paradis. That must rank as one of the best ever definitions of celebrity. Celebrity in general, and television in particular, is indeed a zoo, where live human beings are kept, studied, prodded and exhibited to the public. Formal term: zoological parade ring.

Rarely do I watch ‘popular’ or zoological TV – when I occasionally peruse the Top Twenty most watched lists, the world of television is a foreign country, unless a rugby game creeps in somewhere. Until recently I thought The Sopranos was a talent show. These days I tend to keep my eye on the ball via newspaper previews and reviews, so when my eye fell on a piece about How to Look Good Naked, and in particular its presenter, Gok Wan, I laughed out loud.

No, not his wacky appearance, but to a Welsh speaker, and in a certain light, his name translates as ‘Weak Penis’ (thesaurusise to taste: choices run from the rather scientific penis, via the medical member, to the smiley if  somewhat childish willy – loads of extraordinary terms along the way). So off to the zoo I toddle to “see all the monkeys scritch, scritch, scratchin’”.

Curiously, at the same time that How to Look Good Naked was peeping at me from behind bars at Channel 4, over on Five we had the full frontal Big, Bigger, Biggest. I am definitely getting older because I chose to watch the one about the longest suspension bridge in the world. As a character at my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon insists, age castrates us all eventually, so I guess I’d better shut up whilst I’m still just about ahead of the game – and, heaven forbid, invited along to the zoo to reveal all. Incidentally, before leaving Gok to his thing, I guess he must have been a carpenter in a previous life – I mean, what a brilliant place to keep your pencil. I wonder if he's got some lead in it? But more importantly, has he got someone to write to?


 

The Times, however, shows no modesty and insists that we all supp at the Cock and Fanny watering hole. In the paper’s Agony and Ecstasy column, where two sexperts dish out sex advice, someone asks: “Our six-year-old daughter walked in while my husband and I were having rough sex. She was shocked and I don’t know how to explain to her. Help!”
     Now I was totally distracted by this ‘rough sex’ business. Whatever does it mean? I have visions of the wife riding her husband like one of those rodeo bulls you stick a few quid into and off you go, so to speak. See alongside – but best not to wonder what precisely it is she's hanging on to.
     Odd business this sex thing. Despite eons of insistence that all the best sex lasts as long as Gone With the Wind, and to quote Caitlin Moran, “has both parties hammering away at each other’s nether regions like a pair of autistic woodpeckers” – priceless image, Caitlin – it seems that, according to a poll of 50 sex therapists, the most desirable sex lasts between three and 13 minutes. I have to come clean here. Into a headwind I might just about last the full 13 minutes - but with a tail wind and an orgasmic lady, three minutes would really be pushing my luck.


Oh yes, apropos the rough sex, a Barbara Aldridge of Feltham suggests that sometimes the child has the last word: “My great-granddaughter woke to find her parents in the middle of sexual intercourse. She admonished them by saying: 'You know you are not allowed to bounce on the bed...'” Perhaps I was closer than I thought with that rodeo bull above.

Before leaving the Agony and Ecstasy column, here’s this week’s conundrum: “My 27-year-old son’s penis points straight out and won’t come fully erect. I know that it’s affecting his confidence with girls. Anything to suggest?” As I have suggested before, sometimes you really don’t want to know any more because it will spoil your enjoyment of what it's all about. However, occasionally needs must. Is it his father or mother who is asking the question? And how many 27-year-olds do you know who would show such a thing to his mum or dad? As I say, you don’t want to know – but, all this came to mind when I saw the latest astonishing image from the Hubble Space Telescope, of two galaxies colliding in Ursa Major.

The scale of these collisions and mergers are so huge that they can take more than a billion years to complete. When I originally saw this image the first thing that came to mind was, um, a penis – I know, I know – but when you have just read the above about the son’s penis “pointing straight out”, well, you can see where I’m coming from.
     Clearly the two galaxies are making mad passionate love as they collide (we’re back with those woodpeckers again).


But I must quote you something from the response to the sticky-out penis problem: “Increasing age is the usual cause of a change in the angle of the penis during erection. In young men, the fully erect penis points upwards, while in middle age, it is at a right angle to the abdominal wall.” Sort of “check!” at this point – but let’s plough on: “In old age, even if a man has retained the ability to have a firm erection, the head of the penis points to the floor.” Hm, so back with the colliding galaxies, I think we can take it as read that the merger is about halfway done – at least the male galaxy suggests that it has hit middle age.
 

Talking of sex and things, I was rather taken by this image of actor Tony Curtis, 83, posing with Mohamed Al Fayed at Harrods, to unveil an art exhibition entitled The Tony Curtis Collection. Yes, I know, the Curtis trademark toupee has been ditched. But what on earth is the significance of that banana? Katharine Witty (challenging name to live up to), spokeswoman for Al Fayed, said this: “Mohamed noticed that his old friend was looking a bit glum in his wheelchair, so he chose the biggest banana he could find, to cheer him up and remind him of the good old days.” Whatever could he mean? Anyway, we’re back with Agony and Ecstasy again, but this time it's definitely old age with the banana pointing to the floor. I don't know about you, but Pinky & Perky rather unkindly spring to mind.


A recent quote from Tony Curtis: "I wouldn't be seen dead with a woman old enough to be my wife."
 

A Subaltern's Love Song

poem by John Betjeman
 

Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn,
Furnish'd
and burnish'd by Aldershot sun,
Wh
at strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tourn
ament - you against me!

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed
of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With c
arefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I
am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.


John Betjeman’s muse, who died this month, was long thought to be fictional, but the poet eventually confirmed that Hunter Dunn was real - but the poem was a fiction. “Joan Hunter Dunn was deputy catering manager at the Ministry of Information, where I worked during the war," Betjeman wrote to journalist Peter Crookston of The Sunday Times. "She was quite different from the mostly pale green intellectuals like yours truly. She wore a white coat and had a clean, clinical, motherly look which excited hundreds of us. She had bright cheeks, clear sun-burnt skin, darting brown eyes, a shock of dark curls and an open, riant face. Her figure was a dream of strength and beauty ... she raised our morales without ever lowering her morals.” What a magical line. And a splendid thing to say of someone.

Crookston goes on to say that “She went, unnoticed, to the memorial service for Betjeman, the poet laureate, at Westminster Abbey in 1984 and shed a few tears for the man she had described to me as a good character and a religious man: ‘They say that God has his agents on this planet and I am sure that John Betjeman is one of them.’ So were you, Joan Hunter Dunn. So were you.”

Incidentally, if you go back up to the portrait above, do you suppose the face of the man in the background is the artist? Intriguing, that.
 

Which brings me to something Betjeman said in one of his final interviews, when asked what the biggest single regret of his life was: “Not having enough sex,” he responded with a rather teasing look. I thought it then, and I think it even more now: he was winding us all up. He had a rather wicked face. In the best possible taste, of course.
     Oh yes, every day a day at school, as it says at the top. I had always thought that the word muse was a posh word for a mistress, but this wasn’t the case with Betjeman and Joan Hunter Dunn (apparently, but I have my doubts, given the times they lived in), so I looked it up: a goddess or woman who inspires a poet or other creative artist.
     Wellie Juju, as they say. The other thing, Joan Hunter Dunn is described as having an “open, riant face”. I hunted riant in my reference books, without success – but Google came up trumps: 'laughing, showing or feeling mirth or pleasure or happiness.' Lovely word, which perfectly sums up the face of Joan Hunter Dunn, alongside, furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun...
                                                                                                                                
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SMILES OF THE WEEK:
Firstly, the three parrots of Downing Street
 

BLAIR: Look, you'd feel a bit bananas too if you'd just discovered that Gordon is a Shapeshifter escaped from Deep Space Nine - and gosh, you can never be really sure whether John's about to throw a punch or throw up all over you


I am still smiling at Barney, the blue and gold macaw, who, during an important civic visit to a wildlife sanctuary in Nuneaton, told the local mayoress to “f*** off”. Not content with mortifying his keepers with merely one outburst, he then turned on two police officers and a vicar and added: “You can f*** off too, wankers.” No surprise then that the rejoinder made national news.

Now I hate the modern gratuitous use of the f-word and the c-word, but effin and blindin in the right place at the right time is a useful and powerful tool. All my naughty words are locked in a glass case inside my head, across which is printed In case of emergency break glass. When I do break the glass the sound really does make people sit up and take note. This is precisely what it says on the glass case. But there are exceptions, of course. If relating a tale or a joke where an obscenity is central to the story, then it’s perfectly acceptable. And this is why I find Barney’s outburst so just right. Timing and context is everything.

Barney had apparently been taught to swear by his previous owner, but what I really like is that he has been sharing his home with a pair of African greys, Sam and Charlie, and they have now picked up his language. Geoff Grewcock, owner of the Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary, said: “They just sit there swearing at each other now. It sounds like a builders’ yard. These birds can live until they are 70 so there are potentially another 60 years of this to contend with.” Don't you just love the look of them. So innocent and sweet. I'm amazed that some wicked employee at the Sanctuary has not yet taught the three Mucketeers to do something terrible with the boss’s name. I mean, Grewcock!  Goodnight you pretty naughty boys. Goodnight Hubie.
                                                                                  
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WEDNESDAY, APRIL 16, 2008

KNOCK, KNOCK
Who's there?
GOD
Um …… !?

Quite.  Not often am I lost for words – and this was not the time to come up with a smartarse response. (I hope you noticed, God doesn’t do exclamation marks.) Anyway, let’s start at the very beginning – but before moving on, just keep this quotation in the back of your mind: “I am leaving the rest to God to get my revenge.” Harrods owner Mohammed al Fayed, announcing he has ended his campaign to prove that Diana and Dodi were murdered.

Knock, knock: I open the door, and there stands a lady, middle-age-plus (in my book, middle-age kicks in at 35 – half the days of our years, which are threescore years and ten, plus index linking as seen fit by Mother Nature – which covers my total inability to accurately guess someone’s age). “Hello,” she says, and I go blank, although the face is vaguely familiar (not only am I hopeless at guessing age and remembering names, but I can’t even place faces). “Mary Davies.” She picks up my rather vacant expression. “I’m your new minister at Providence, Cwmdu.”

“Heavens, come in, come in,” say I, a fully paid-up member at the Cwmdu Baptist chapel where I have been a lifelong member - but haven’t attended for, oh, so many moons I have lost count. The good lady’s face is familiar because she officiated at a funeral I attended some months back, but not at Cwmdu, which is what probably threw me. Anyway, I pay my chapel dues every year, no quibble. I guess you could call it a coward’s way out: I don’t attend chapel, but I keep my options open, so to speak, just in case.
 

A brief Dai Version: later I google ‘lost sheep’: “This is a ministry to the lost sheep; it is my hope that those who have given up on the church will not give up on God, and find their way back to the flock.” Next morning along my early morning walk I stand and stare at a flock of sheep and reflect that we really are like sheep. There are alpha sheep which dominate the flock, climb onto everything and hunt out every little gap in the hedge or fence. There are followers which latch onto whatever the alpha sheep get up to, and duly follow through thick and thin, including the hole in the hedge. And there are spectators, those which hang about and stand and stare and wonder what all the fuss is about. I identify and empathise with the spectator. Here are three images that capture the hierarchy of man and beast perfectly......
 


Anyway, back with Minister Mary Davies - so we have a chat, and I confirm that I’m a non-attending member. “You are very welcome to come and join us – any time.” So why don’t I attend? Is there some specific reason? Has some individual or group stepped on my toes or upset me in some way? I assure her “no” on all counts, nothing like that at all – it’s just that, well, I have yet to feel a need, a desire, to attend. Not that I claim to be a perfect human being in way shape or form, God forbid. (Oops, sorry.) However, I have never harmed anyone in my life. I am very much a live and let live person. In fact I can put my hand on my heart and say that there is not one single person in the whole world I hate – take Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe: he’s done nothing to hurt me personally, indeed I only know of him through the media, and whilst it’s fair to conclude that he’s a thoroughly bad egg who’s inflicted all sorts of horrible things on all sorts of unfortunate people, I can’t find it within me to hate him. Indeed there is no one in the world I actively dislike – but much to my chagrin there are those I feel no affection for whatsoever. Something to do with this instinct of mine: whether to embrace or back off; will this person enrich me or hurt me, a dolphin or a shark? So I just treat them as I would a roundabout: approach with care, treat with respect, always signal purposefully and navigate with all senses on full alert.

Talking of Mugabe, last time out I ran one of his quotes: “Britain has failed to recognise my suffering and sacrifice." I also did a little feature on Gordon Brown and the amazing blob that transmogrified itself onto his forehead. Well, what does Mugabe go and say about Brown over the weekend? "If Brown is the world, sure, he will lose patience, but I know Brown is just a tiny dot on this planet." Yes, but an eye-catching orange one, Robo, boyo.

Whatever, I guess attending chapel or church is all about a belief in God. Now I flirt with the Richard Dawkins school of thought: that our extraordinary planet is all down to a trick of the Universe, and we are here compliments of evolution. But where Dawkins looses me is, if someone challenges him or actively disagrees with his theory, he morphs into an alarmingly aggressive and nasty-looking individual. As my old Mam would say: I wouldn’t like to step on his toes in a crowded room. Quite. We’re back with this dolphin/shark business again. And I trust my instincts absolutely. But it’s not just that.

If everything evolved following the big bang, fine, I can buy into that. But what caused or generated the big bang? Well, experts now seem to think that the bang exploded out of a black hole ... but how did that black hole get there? Some years ago I remember scientists claiming that it was possible to create something out of nothing – but if you are there, having created the experiment and observe it happen – well, it wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t set up the experiment in the first place. Back to square one. So where do we go from here?
 

Well, I go with Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), a Frenchman, was a theologian-mathematician, who delivered some great lines: The heart has its reasons which reason does not know. It is not certain that everything is uncertain. And how about this: Had Cleopatra’s nose been shorter, the whole history of the world would have been different. I know nothing about Cleopatra’s nose, but the reasoning sounds wonderful to me. Pascal is my sort of man.
But back to Pascal’s Wager. If you don’t believe in God and live a generally irreligious life and treat people like shite (probably the word they used c1650), and there really isn’t a God, well there we go. However, what if, following your death, you are suddenly confronted at the Pearly Gates by St Peter, ledger in hand ... boy-o-boyo, now you are the one that’s up to your you-know-where in shite.
On the other hand, if you decide to believe in God, and it turns out there is no God, well, so what, you’ve attempted to live a God-fearing life, and as a consequence you will have generated some goodwill in your wake.
But, just imagine that there is a God – well now, you are way ahead of the game, or as they say down the Crazy Horsepower, you are already quids in.

Pascal argued that if reason cannot be trusted, it is a better 'bet' to believe in God than not to do so


So there you have it, Pascal’s Wager. The sensible thing, then, is to believe in God. And as I understand it, it is not a condition of belief that I have to attend chapel to believe. However, as I mentioned to Mary Davies, things could change tonight, tomorrow, whenever – after all, none of us know what ambush lies around the next bend. Oh, and she reiterated that I really was very welcome. That's reassuring. And very nice.

Oh yes, the, Mohammed al Fayed quote: “I am leaving the rest to God to get my revenge.” Now it’s very easy to rubbish al Fayed, and he did come out with some very strange things at the inquest. But he lost a son, so we have to make adjustments accordingly. However, the great flaw in his quote is linking God with revenge. Unless I am very much mistaken, God doesn’t do revenge, only forgiveness. Revenge is the Devil's work.

SMILE OF THE WEEK: Despite the sadness above, we must take it as read that God also does humour. Here in Llandampness ap Llandeilo we have St David's Catholic Church, and as far as I can tell it appears to be a very popular place of worship, especially early mornings when I see folk popping in and out. At this point it’s worth sharing a letter from last weekend’s Sunday Times, a brief but telling effort from a Brian Christley, Abergele, North Wales, headed BLAIR’S ABSOLUTION: “Surely it is more than a coincidence that Tony Blair chose the one religion that allows you to confess and be forgiven for your sins in total privacy.” Do you know, I seem to recall Blair's administration insisting that "We don't do God!" - so that was a "misspoke" as well (see Hilary Clinton quote in the previous bulletin).

I only really became aware of the Catholic religion via things picked up in the media and light entertainment shows, such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, where they always banged on about something called a Hail Mary, what I now believe to be a prayer linked to confession. In a typical Monty Python sketch someone would enter the confession box and ask forgiveness for having got very drunk the night before and behaving abominably towards fellow human beings, and the priest would say something like: Three Hail Marys, two Bloody Marys and one Virgin Mary, ho, ho, ho. (I think a Virgin Mary is a "Bloody Mary, hold the vodka".)

There’s an expression in American Gridiron football called a Hail Mary, a very long, high pass into the end zone for a touchdown, made in the final seconds of a game. Curiously, rugby union has two similar expressions, both from Ireland: Garryowen, often called an up-and-under, a high kick forwards followed by a charge to the place where the ball lands; and a Kick Ahead, where the ball, usually in wet and muddy conditions, is kicked ahead along the floor rather than attempting to pick it up. There’s a famous quote (allegedly) from an international played out in Ireland where the captain is heard to shout: “Kick ahead, Ireland, kick any head, Ireland.” This gave rise to the T-shirt below, which caused such a stink when it was marketed alongside England football shirts.

So a rugby player or supporter attending confession would probably be given Three Hail Marys, two Garryowens and one Kick Ahead.

Anyway, back with the local church. Currently Llandampness is upside down with road works as the utility services replace all the pipes and cables in town. Just the other early morning I was walking up New Road and approaching temporary traffic lights, and I noticed that they were neatly framed in the door of the Catholic church. Well, my imagination went into overdrive, so below, I interpret what each particular light means...
 

Twelve points. Fortunately for you, God doesn't
do disqualification - but a retest is called for.
 

Nine points. You have clearly taken your eye
off the ball, so a refresher course is needed.
 

Three points. Dump the TomTom and get a GodGod.
Now is the time to avoid becoming a lost sheep

Well, well, a clean conscience.
Are you sure there's nothing you want to tell me?


May the Lord have mercy on my soul. Goodnight God. Goodnight Hubie.                                            
Home

TUESDAY, APRIL 8, 2008
It started with a kiss
It's just a baby now ... but one day it'll be a gas giant

This astonishing image of an embryonic planet still in the first stages of formation has been discovered in a "womb of gas" around a young star. It is likely to grow into a gas giant similar to Jupiter and Saturn. I show it, not just for its awesome beauty, but rather to confirm that what happens here on earth doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy old Universe.

Recently over on 400 Smiles A Day I did a piece on the “nudge-nudge, wink-wink, know what I mean?” image of the Bishop of St Davids, the Rt Rev Carl Cooper, and his chaplain and communications officer, the Rev Mandy Williams Potter, a dodgy situation made worse when both parties separated from their spouses at the same time.

Hot on the heels of that came news of the tragic death of Michael Todd, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, believed to have taken his life in Snowdonia because he was troubled by a series of affairs and was concerned that his tangled private life was unravelling.

A few weeks ago, itsy bitsy, teeny weenie Bernie Ecclestone, ringmaster of the Formula One motor racing circus, was asked by an interviewer what was wrong with the sport: “There aren’t enough sex scandals,” he replied. Well, Max Mosley, president of the sport’s governing body, came up trumps with his five-hour sadomasochistic orgy with five prostitutes in a basement flat in London – and all caught on film.

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Before last weekend’s race at Bahrain, the emirate’s crown prince declared: “I feel that under the current circumstances it would be inappropriate for Max Mosley to be in Bahrain at this time.”

Oh yes, Eliot Spitzer resigned as Governor of New York after a sex scandal put an abrupt end to the political career of a rising star. The look on his face, below, says everything. As does that of his wife, poor dab.
 

"People are shocked at all the money he spent. I think it's good that he spent money on good whores." Rene Ricard, artist and poet, on Eliot Spitzer, following his resignation as Governor of New York after the prostitution scandal was uncovered
Mr Spitzer, who earned $179,000 a year, reportedly spent as much as $80,000 on call girls on at least six or seven "dates", not only in Washington, but also in Dallas and Florida ... it is not often that words fail me.

"I am a public figure and if I walk out of a brothel with a hooker on my arm, then  I deserve what is coming to me" Actor George Clooney
Or what is coming to them, perhaps?


What on earth goes on in the minds of these fellows? Obviously, when a man is confronted by a delightful slice of crumpet (toasted, buttered and ready to nibble), whether it's because of his natural-born charm and wit – or compliments of money, power or celebrity – then it takes one hell of a man to make his excuses and leave. However, if you hold a high profile position – Eliot Spitzer was known as the Sheriff of Wall Street because of his crusade against the darker side of life – is it not astonishing how they allow themselves to be dragged under? Mind you, it is said that when a man has an erection, the instant rush of blood required to deliver lift off is diverted from his brain and he is thus unable to think straight. Sort of makes sense to me. And of course there is that old saying: a standing prick hath no conscience. And that's compliments of Shakespeare, I think (those of a sensitive nature should look away now ... hope he takes those socks off first).

All the aforementioned hanky panky brings to mind the adult version of Watership Down. Mummy rabbit had always told the kids never to go down near the river and the railway line because it was a very, VERY dangerous place. But Big Willie, the bunny equivalent of little Tommy Tucker, never listened to his mother and fate found him down by the railway along with a few pretty little bunny girls. He was showing off why he was called Big Willie, and in a fit of bravado slapped it on the rail to show it off at its best. Unfortunately, in the excitement he didn’t hear the trucks been pushed backwards along the line – and the wheel went over the end of his willy and sliced it off. In panic he runs home to mummy. His mum calms him down and says that they’ll go and see the clever Dr Warren next door, but first he’ll have to go back and retrieve the missing bit of willy – BUT BE CAREFUL OUT THERE! Big Willie rushes back to the spot, and he can see it under a sleeper, but he has to reach right down over the line and struggle a bit – and he again fails to hear the trucks being manoeuvred backwards. Bang. This time Big Willie is decapitated – and that’s the end of the tale.

Well, not quite. We must not forget the moral of the tale. Never loose your head over a bit of cock!

This neatly brings me onto the visit of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his wife, Carla Bruni. What caught my attention was something on the radio, when the morning papers reviewer mentioned an exclusive picture of Nicolas kissing Carla “on the pleasure boat”. I nearly chocked on my porridge. How on earth did the paper get hold of such a private picture? So I rushed to the newsagents – and there it was...

N kissing C on a Thames pleasure boat. Whatever else could it be? Which leads directly to...
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:  “When I have my photo taken, I don’t say ‘cheese’, I say 'sex'.” Carla Bruni, wife of French President Nicholas Sarkozy!

MISQUOTES OF THE WEEK
“I misspoke.” Hilary Clinton says a claim that she was under sniper fire in Bosnia was a slip of the tongue. What she meant to say was “I bespoke,” meaning it was a made-to-measure lie.

“Very clever and energetic people – like myself – are easily bored.” Lord (Jeffrey) Archer. It should of course read: “Very clever and energetic people – like myself – are easily boring.”

“Britain has failed to recognise my suffering and sacrifice.” Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. It should read: “Britain has failed to recognise how much suffering I generated and how many I have sacrificed.”

“Brush your dentist twice a day. Visit your toothbrush twice a year.” Jim Carrey, Hollywood star. That’s a trick quote. He really did say that, it’s his favourite motto. Neat.

GUILTY AS CHARGED

A police line-up of paparazzi taken into custody after the crash that killed the Princess of Wales, Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul in 1997. The inquest jury returned its verdict, blaming the deaths on the photographers who were following the car, and on Henri Paul, their driver. Surely, it is the editors of our newspapers and magazines who killed Diana, Fayed and Paul. It is the extraordinary premium they place on shock photographs which drive those dreadful people above to do what they do. I am reminded of photographer Jay Kaycappa found guilty last August of assaulting Heather Mills-McCartney while in pursuit of a saleable snap - and thinking, how many businesses in this country openly and freely do business with an individual (we learn from the court case) who has an astonishing 132 criminal convictions? Says it all, really.

The other lesson from the past six months is this: if you have more money than sense, then you can force the UK government to hold a special inquest, which in the end proved no more and no less than we knew already. The verdict will not have changed the mind of a single person. Probably the most bizarre episode was that involving the mystery white Fiat Uno said to have forced the Mercedes into that fateful pillar. Witnesses said there was a dog in the back, but the Fayed camp argued that it was driven by James Andanson, a freelance photographer and trained MI6 killer. "Can you explain," one of the lawyers asked, "why he took his dog on this mission? And why the might of the Royal Family could only afford a Fiat Uno, one of the world's most underpowered cars, for this murder plot?" Ah, said the Fayed side, he would have wanted to use his own car. They had no explanation for the dog.

"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT - A BROWN BLOB

Well, first, there’s the curious way Gordon Brown gulps in air when he speaks, which led me to speculate last time out that he is, in fact, a Changeling, a Shapeshifter. Last Saturday, the prime minister was pictured at a summit of world leaders in Hertfordshire with a bright orange blob on his forehead. And you thought I was joking. He is definitely shapeshifting. But here’s the really funny thing. When I first heard the story I wondered what he looked like, so I Googled it. And up came "Image result for 'Image of Gordon Brown and his orange blob'".

Honest, I kid you not - as they say down the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, "Cross my crotch and hope to die a thousand floppy dicks". I have no idea where that is, but there it is, Gordon Brown's orange blob in the middle. Do you suppose it's his space ship, his Tardis, something akin to Doctor Who's police box?

SMILE OF THE WEEK:
We’ve all heard those astonishing stories of people dialling 999 for less than life-threatening reasons. There's the fellow who wanted the police to come round "and take my mother-in-law away because she's been here for 18 days now". I also like the caller insisting that the police come quickly to investigate “a large owl sitting on a telegraph pole” outside the house. Wonderful. But how about this. A New
Zealand man from the South Island town of Motueka rang 999 to claim he’d been raped by a wombat and that the experience left him speaking with an Australian accent. Anyway, at this point I wondered what a wombat looks like, so I Googled again...

Now if I’d been raped by this, the experience would have left me speaking like a cross between AA Gill and Janet Street-Porter. Anyway, Arthur Cradock, 48, called police to inform them he was being molested by the aforementioned marsupial at his home and needed urgent assistance. Cradock, an orchard worker (rotten to the core?), later rang back to reassure the police operator that he was all right: “I’ll retract the rape complaint from the wombat, because he’s pulled out,” said Arthur. “Apart from speaking Australian now, I’m pretty all right you know. It didn’t hurt my bum at all.” Hm, a marsupial a day helps you work, rest and play around.

He later pleaded guilty in court to wasting police time. In his defence Cradock’s solicitor said that alcohol played a large role in his client’s life. To paraphrase Old Shaggy down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon: "I've never slept with an ugly marsupial - but by Christ I've woken up with a few?" Note the question mark at the end of that remark in line with the raised inflection as currently delivered by those from Down Under, Australian accent or not. Hic! Goodnight Osiffer. Goodnight Hubie.


SATURDAY, MARCH 22, 2008 (EASTER SATURDAY)
Okay, just seven days ago, Wales won rugby's Six Nation's Trophy - so, given how over-the-top we Welsh react to such things, I thought it best to step back, take a deep breath, and start counting...

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten - oh sod it -
TODAY: RUGBY'S GRAND SLAM ... TOMORROW: THE WORLD!

It's no good, it's totally pointless counting to ten before engaging emotions ... anything to do with rugby, and we Welsh go man, woman and child overboard. No matter whether it's those who play the game - chumps of the planet, booted out of the World Cup tournament at the pool stage last September by Fiji in what was probably the best game of the tournament (a clue there, perhaps), then, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and champs of Europe by the following March - or we the supporters - wholly depressed at our World Cup exit, and now, preparing ourselves for the undoubted coronation as champions of world rugby. Doolallyness at its most delightful. I guess when you're a small nation you must milk every bit of success when it comes along. Anyway, below some images from that Grand Slam game against France... 
 

A defensive Welsh scrum on its own line
 

Shane Williams celebrates a crucial try
 


Oh okay, the images were captured at Dinefwr Castle, but they did tickle my i-spot. The cluster of daffodils made me think of the Welsh pack going down for that crucial scrum on their own line, looking ever so slightly ragged around the edges - well, it was late in the game and they'd already given their all - and steamrollered the Frenchies clean off the ball. There's a word for it: Superceltie-fragilefrenchie-expialidocious. And the single, rather distinctive daffodil? Who else but Shane,  named the 2008 RBS player of the championship.
 

One of my favourite images from the Grand Slam Day was the late Ray Gravell's two young daughters, Gwenan, nine, and her 12-year-old sister Manon, carrying the Triple Crown trophy won the previous Saturday in Dublin, and leading the Welsh lads onto the pitch at the Millennium Stadium (behind Ian Gough, winning his 50th cap), for their clash with Les Blues. What I enjoyed best was young Gwenan regularly glancing up at her older sister for reassurance - and all the while Manon not taking any notice, the way siblings behave towards their younger brothers and sisters. Memorable.


The photo above right was taken during the singing of the Welsh National Anthem, the girls standing in front of Welsh captain Ryan Jones. And therein lies a perfect link. In the Letters page of the Western Mail, Welsh centre Gavin Henson has come in for some terrible stick because he steadfastly refuses to join in the singing of the Anthem, probably made worse because his partner is Welsh warbler Charlotte Church, the voice of an angel. Well, I had a letter in today's paper...

But before getting on to the letter, a couple of quotes to paint a background canvas. The first from TV commentator Brian "Pitbull" Moore, during the game: "That's no laughing matter." (After TV cameras pictured Charlotte smiling as boyfriend Gavin was ordered to the sin bin for a dangerous high tackle.)

And this from the Western Mail the Monday after the big game: "The words 'unsung hero' are rarely associated with someone as notorious as Henson. But that's exactly what he has been for Wales this Six Nations and, while others have taken the glory, he has been happy to just quietly go about their work." (Do you suppose the WM fully appreciated the irony of that 'unsung hero' bit?)



Above, Charlotte celebrates the Grand Slam, and on her left, in the white coat, James Hook's girlfriend Siân. Anyway, the letter...

I never thought I’d find myself defending our Gav and Charl in the columns of the Western Mail, but readers regularly attack Gavin Henson for not singing the Anthem. Indeed it seems he is accused of being the only Welshman alive who doesn’t. Before the England-Ireland game, Jonny Wilkinson was not singing, but he had just cause having been demoted for the first time in his rugby life; Ireland captain Ronan O’Gara – and a proud Munsterman to boot - also did not sing along.

Yes, the Frenchmen sang with gusto, but look where that got them (note to all ye of misplaced faith: a sporting contest between two fairly evenly matched opponents is won or lost before the participants even leave the dressing room). What is more, Welsh captain Ryan Jones doesn’t sing the Anthem – caught beautifully above, behind the Gravell girls, while Ian Gough alongside gives it everything - yet Ryan is always hugely moved by the occasion though, so doesn’t need an anthem to express himself. As for Gavin, our very own Desperate Dan (it's that jutting jaw), half of me rejects him for his presumed arrogance - and half of me embraces him for his presumed arrogance (how much of it is an act?). But I back absolutely his right to be shaken and stirred simply by soaking up the Anthem rather than contributing (personally I’d ban anthems altogether, especially given the enthusiasm with which everyone sang it in Nazi Germany, but that’s another story).

As for Charlotte, she was criticised for smiling following Gavin’s yellow card. Let’s get one thing straight, Charl was smiling after catching herself on the big screen. Everybody acts stupidly when they see themselves on the big screen, which is why I am dumbfounded why TV people love to make their fellow country folk appear cretinous to a watching world. Does no one in the world of TV grasp that observing someone who doesn’t know they are being watched is infinitely more interesting that observing someone who knows? The image of Hook’s partner Siân, with head buried in hands as he took a kick, was wonderful. As for Charl, my guess is that her immediate reaction following Gav’s card was: “You wait till I get him home - I’ll give him yellow card.”

Oh yes, a PS moment from that Grand Slam Day, caught on the BBC's Six Nations Uncovered film: the Welsh fellow celebrating the Triple Crown by sporting headgear boasting three large crowns. He was wearing the traditional Welsh national dress of a woman in red cloak (rugby shirt, I think) and tall black hat (high crown, wide brim, lace fringe), with one 'royal' crown having been slid down over the hat's crown, the other two stuck on the side, like open gull-wing doors on a car - oh, with some daffodils on top for good measure.

Totally memorable. Shame I can't find a picture of it to share with you. The only 'Triple Crown Hat' image I could find was this one - honest! - but just as impressive in its own little way.

Before departing the rugby, over on a recent 400 Smiles A Day, I did a feature on the photograph of Danny Cipriani, the talented young England outside-half, caught leaving a nightclub and looking rather the worst for wear, mostly because he had forgotten to close his mouth. I speculated that clearly his mum had never told him to open his mouth only to speak or shove food into - oh, and kiss a lady he perceives as something pert and saucy i.e. a Cheeky girl. And, as someone subsequently pointed out, to stick his tongue out at people like me. Touché!

Anyway, my point about that mouth of his was perfectly made following his great performance in the England-Ireland game, when he spectacularly forgot his ps and qs - or rather his fs and cs - on live television, and said to Sonia McLoughlin that "The whole pack, from one to eight, should have been f****** men of the match!". To her credit she promptly pushed him away with the comment "Go away!".

Today, I watched him play in the Wasps-Leicester game on TV, and commentator Pitbull Moore (see above), with tongue in cheek, I think, referred to him as the new rugby Messiah. Then Cipriani went and missed a kick at goal, and Pitbull corrected himself: "Clearly, he is not the Messiah." And it shouted out for him to add: "He is just a naughty boy." A gloriously missed opportunity. But I know the feeling.

Which all leads me to a quote by TV presenter Vanessa Feltz: "So inured to swearing as part and parcel of pedestrian chit-chat have we become, many of us are incapable of switching it off, even in church or on live TV." I can hear the whole country endorse that with "Too f****** true!" Oh dear. When I've caught a bit of Billy Connolly on stage, I'm always amazed at the obscenities he has to use to make his audience laugh, yet when he appears on TV, say with Michael Parkinson, he is funny, witty, a wonderful raconteur, without a naughty word in sight. Clearly he knows his audience, but the modern generation - Cipriani is a perfect example - find it impossible to make that distinction.

Wellies they are swell,
'Cos they keep oot the water and they keep in the smell...
                                                                   Billy Connolly

BEFORE AND AFTER IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Over recent days the nation has been enthralled by the case of James Paul McCartney ("the husband") and Heather Anne Mills McCartney ("the missus"), in particular the episode where Heather Mills saw fit to douse McCartney's lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, with a jug of water.

Above, Miss Shackleton arrives in court, perfectly coiffured ... and leaves bedraggled following her drenching. I don't know about you, but the wet-look makes her appear much more 'missus' material to me. Mr Justice Bennett might well have inadvertently closed one door, but opened another.

Actually, this whole episode takes me back many a moon. I have never hit anyone in my life, and crucially, nobody has ever seen fit to hit me - schooldays excepted of course, when you simply weren't allowed to fight back - but I have thrown a pint of beer over someone. A few of us were drinking late at a local watering hole - we'll call it the Dodgy City Boutique Hotel, to protect the guilty, you understand - and a fellow behind the bar was just covering for the lady owner who had nipped out the back for something. Now we sort of knew that the chap behind the bar was carrying on with this lady. Be that as it may, I had however noticed that my pint seemed to be disappearing faster than I was drinking. I thought someone had mistaken my pint for their own, but then I caught sight of lover boy behind the bar surreptitiously tipping away some of a mate's pint while he was visiting the gents. "If you want a pint," I said to lover boy, grabbing someone's near full pint off the bar, "have this lot." And threw the contents of the mug into his mug. Well now, the word shemozzle springs to mind, but the lady owner returned at that moment - and threw the lot of us out, including lover boy. Discussing the incident after, we concluded that lover boy was desperate to get rid of us so that he could have his end away, so to speak, and that was why he was furtively tipping our drinks away. So we all lost out that night. Moral of the tale? If you're desperate for your oats, you must learn to count to ten...!

WELLIE-JUJU CORNER
Back on Friday August 31 2007, under a bulletin headed Tight Fitting Genes, I included this photo and caption - that's Wayne climbing into the tractor cab.

On Saturday March 15 2008, the wonderful cartoonist Peter Brookes, had this in The Times.

How wonderful. Great minds think alike, obviously.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "When Blair was advised about the difficulties (before committing British troops to the invasion of Iraq), he would respond: 'You are Neville Chamberlain, I am Winston Churchill and Saddam is Hitler'." Lord Owen, the doctor who became foreign secretary, examines Tony Blair's psyche and reaches worrying conclusions (as recounted in The Sunday Times). This additional quote also caught my eye: "He was starting to display excessive pride in his own judgments. Clinton's aides mocked Blair's Churchillian tone. One official who frequently saw him said: 'Tony is doing too much, he's overdoing it and he's overplaying his hand.' One of Clinton's aides suggested Blair 'was sprinkling too much adrenaline on his cornflakes'."

None of the above surprises me because I maintain that it's not the grand, sweeping things we say and do in life that give us away, but those little, throwaway things, often spontaneous, which inform an observant world what makes us tick. I will never forget Tony Blair at the funeral service for Princess Diana, when he did the reading - and sounded just like Peter Sellers doing that wonderful takeoff of the Beatles' It's been a hard day's night. Never, ever turn your back on this man, I remember thinking at the time, because he's trying to be something he wasn't born to be. Good old instinct, eh?

HOWL AT THE MOON CORNER

And so to Blair's successor. If Mark Twain were alive today, and had lived in Britain for the past 10 years or so, he might well have said this: "March is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to live in Britain because Gordon Brown does his budget and unashamedly siphons hard-earned cash from the nation's personal coffers and private pension plans. Others," he would have added, "are July, January, April, September, November, May, October, June, December, August and February."

Having become transfixed by the ever so curious way Prime Minister Gordon Brown breathes, or rather gulps in air, when he speaks, I have a nagging doubt that he may well have escaped from Deep Space Nine and that he is, in fact, a Changeling. Not only that, could it be that 10 Downing Street is a lake of Shapeshifters, and that every member of the Cabinet is actually Gordon Brown, including the women? In his recent budget, the Chancellor - AKA Gordon Brown - increased the tax on beer. A letter from a Jonathan Pearce duly appeared in The Times: "Sir, The Chancellor has certainly taken a tough stance against binge drinking. I can scarcely believe that, with beer up by 4p, my eight-pint bender is now going to set me back another 32p."

Jonathan Pearce is being hugely optimistic if he thinks his eight-pint bender is only going to set him back 32p extra. Past experience warns that a 4p a pint increase at the dispatch box will translate into anything from 10p upwards at the pump. I await with interest to see what the increase will be down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon when the additional tax works its way through to the bar. In the meantime, the drinks are on Jonathan.

SMILE OF THE WEEK: With snow and cold weather over the Easter break, the other morning, Rebecca Jones on her early morning Radio Cymru show, had Dafydd Jones of Llandeilo as her weather eye - or Dafydd R & B, as I know him (no, not Rhythm and Blues, but Root and Branch). Incidentally, Rebecca, I paid a visit to your official web site on Radio Cymru, and it's hopelessly out of date - not even a telephone number and e-mail address for your morning show. Oh dear, you'll have to join Iolo in the detention room to write out some lines!

Anyway, Dafydd recalled a tale from the great snows of 1963 when large parts of rural Wales were cut off for up to a couple of weeks. He told the story of two fellows employed by the Forestry Commission, Dai and Will, working in the Cambrian Mountains of Mid Wales, who were caught in the blizzard. They saw a cottage, and the door was answered by a very attractive, youngish lady. Could they stay? Well, yes, there were a couple of rooms, and being a single woman living in the back of beyond, she was reassured to have company in such dreadful conditions. So they made themselves useful in the survival stakes, cutting wood and the like. After a couple of weeks, rescue came.

Ten months later, Dai, carrying a large envelope, joins Will in the canteen. "You weren't completely honest with me when that young lady kindly put us up during the snow?" says Dai. Will throws Dai a quizzical look. "I've received this package from a solicitor in Tregaron, and it seems you must have crept into her bed without telling me." "You know me," protests Will, "I tend to sleepwalk a lot - so I can't be held responsible for my actions, let alone tell you about it." "But why did you use my name?" asks Dai. There's a telling pause and Dai can see Will's brain ticking over in a great panic as he dreads what's coming next.

"Anyway, not to worry," says Dai, "it's all rather sad because she was killed in a road accident several months ago, and apparently, she'd been left an awful lot of money by an American relative - and now it seems she does not have one single surviving relative. But it turns out she'd enjoyed our forced stay so much - and as it happens taken quite a shine to old Dai whispering sweet nuthins in her ear - that she decided to leave everything in her will to me..." And the moral of the tale? Where there's a Will there's a Dai. Oh yes, I always wondered where old Dai R & B got the money to start his Root & Branch business. Goodnight Dai - hope you gave Will a share, for old time's sake. Goodnight Hubie.


MONDAY, MARCH 10, 2008
EYE OF THE STORM

Given the storm warnings of last night, I had prepared myself to drive down to Nice Price News to collect the morning papers. I don’t mind rain, however heavy, I merely take an umbrella. I don’t mind wind, however strong, I merely button up tight. But wind and driving rain is a no-no because it’s pointless getting soaked to the skin for just a 10 minute walk - and get the papers wet as well. Remarkably, it’s only a couple or so mornings a year I have to drive to fetch the papers. Even more surprising, this morning wasn’t one of them. I stepped out of the house, just before six, and was taken aback at the perfect calm. Dawn was breaking over the Black Mountain, the sky was clear and I could still pick out the brighter stars. The birds were whistling a furiously sexy tune. It didn’t take much to work out that Llandeilo was right under the eye of the storm, a fact confirmed on Rebecca Jones’ early morning Radio Cymru show when a gent from Llanarthne, just down the road, confirmed similar conditions on the show’s regular weather spot; as did the lady doing the morning’s paper review from the Carmarthen studio.

The night had indeed been rather tempestuous, and the weather forecast warned that the rest of the day would also be stormy, so around seven I decided to take advantage of the lull and head towards Dinefwr Castle to enjoy the calm before The Storm, Part 2. As I cross a field sprinkled with sheep and young lambs, a solitary sheep, away from the flock, catches my eye, so I head in that direction.

The sheep also moves towards me, which isn’t surprising because farmers often feed them at this time of year and sometimes they will mistake me for the bearer of yum-yums – but there's something different this time. She stops, does an about turn and stares at the tree behind her.

Ah, I think, her lamb is sheltering there – animals, even the very young, have this clever instinct for survival and will seek out shelter. So I head for the tree – the sheep becomes surprisingly animated – but I don’t see a lamb. Then I take a closer look, and notice a deep 'hole' at the base of the tree – and tucked away in there is a lamb sheltering from the weather. The light is poor so I use the flash to capture the little thing.
 


I remember my parents telling me that on March 5, 1947, the country experienced the worst blizzard of the 20th century. The storm raged for 48 hours, with huge snowfalls and gale-force winds that piled snowdrifts up to 30ft (9m) high. As farmers they would have expected to lose many sheep buried and suffocated by the heavy snow, but unbelievably the losses were negligible because all the sheep had sought shelter in the ditches that surround the fields, and even though they were completely covered by snow, the fact that they were down in the ditch meant survival - presumably because the snow would not have packed around them so tightly. Nature with its instinct for survival never fails to impress.

Anyway, back to stormy Monday: around eight, the cloud cover thickens, the wind picks up and the rain returns. All animals hate rain and wind, sheep especially. They become ultra miserable, lambs doubly so.
 


As the rain becomes heavier I capture the image above (left) of a young lamb totally pissed off with its lot in the rotten conditions. The posture is typical: the back becomes hunched - and - well,  a picture paints a thousand words. By chance, just a few mornings ago I captured the other image above of a lamb on a crisp, coldish morning, but the sun is shining – and the difference in the state of mind is captured perfectly (note the ears!).
 

As the rain and the wind increase I head for home, but as I pass through Penlan Park I take shelter in the bandstand and just listen to the wind howling through the famous beech trees overlooking Llandeilo. Nature generates several of my favourite sounds. One of them often happens while walking along the Towy Valley on a perfect midsummer morning, around sunrise, and I hear it from a way off: the sound of swans in flight, whether it’s just a couple or a whole bunch of them.

The whoosh of those powerful wings driving their substantial bodies through the air is captivating. This must be what it’s like to be in heaven and listening to the herald Angels sing. At the other end of the scale, the sound of a storm whistling through the woods is both alarming and bewitching: it must be what it’s like to be in hell and wondering why the devil has so many good tunes (yes, and why is that pew over there marked 'Reserved for The Three Basketeers - Bush, Blair and Brown'?).

Incidentally, The Storm, Part 2 did not justify the x-rating the forecasters gave it. This morning's Western Mail  said this: "A near hurricane-force storm (an Atlantic 'cyclone' that equates to 11 on the Beaufort Scale) is expected to break coastline flood defences and cause a swathe of damage across Wales today." Have you noticed how the Met Office, having been caught out on so many occasions, continually over-egg the warnings these days. Yes, there's been a bit of a storm, over a fairly narrow band it has to be said, but nowhere near as bad as the apocalypse forecast, especially so the trailing edge of the storm. That grand old proverb, To cry 'Wolf', springs to mind.

WISDOM OF THE WEEK: I happened to catch the tail-end of a TV programme about e-mails, or more correctly how people are drowning in a sea of e-mails, and it proceeds to throw life belts as well as offering tips on how those addicted to such things can improve their lot. But what caught my attention was a slice of wisdom from one of the experts: There’s nothing in life that we can’t do better. Too true.

SMILE OF THE WEEK: The following caught my eye in The Times  of March 8 under the heading Sex in space: ‘Space may prove a frontier too far, cautions Russia’s chief of orbital sexology, Rostislav Beleda. He told Pravda this week that long space flights render men impotent in orbit, (and the problems can even persist back here on earth).’ Apart from the obvious ‘floating on the ceiling’ context, I was fascinated that there is such a thing as an orbital sexology wallah (what would the Kamasutra have made of that?). Oh yes, Rostislav Beleda is, worryingly, an anagram of Orbital Slaves, Ed (Could it be an in-joke at The Times? No, surely not.). Anyway, it all reminds me of the fellow who phones his financial adviser and instructs her to buy shares in both Wurlitzer and Xerox. When asked why, he says he’s heard on the grapevine that both organisations are about to amalgamate as they’ve pulled out all the stops and come up with a Reproductive Organ. Which will obviously make music all night long? Goodnight Mrs Organ Morgan. Goodnight Hubie.


FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 29, 2008
A WHEEL IN THE MIDST OF A WHEEL
Life is a wheel within a wheel within a wheel within the cosmos: everything in life goes round and round in a circle. Usually in an ever-decreasing circle. On a more minor loop, it's hard to believe that I've completed a whole circuit since I began this scrapbook: 366 days of smiles and laughter and delight - true, a moist eye or two along the way, but hey, that's life (and death - see SMILE OF THE DAY, coming up). Whether standing at the bar of the Crazy Horsepower Saloon on a dark and stormy night (supping a dark and stormy pint), or walking along the banks of the River Towy through a frosty, rime-encrusted landscape, I never fail to give thanks that on that St David's night (probably), all those moons ago, when my father went "Oops!", and a hundred million eager beaver little spermatozoa set off on their journey - mine was the one with the outboard motor that got there first and managed to open the Egg account. Which is why I always say, "Why, me!".

EARTHQUAKE: NOT MANY WOKEN IN LLANDEILO
The older I get the more I sense that I have a rather curious relationship with nature. As I explained in my very first entry, all things being equal, I’m in bed by ten of an evening, and I sleep like a log (and wake up in the fireplace, as Ken Dodd once memorably said), right through until five when I get up. However, over recent years, and if I've had a bit of a session down the Crazy HP, I'll wake around two and go for a pee. Last Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning, I awoke three times between twelve and one; the first two occasions I checked the time, turned over and went straight back to sleep. The third time was about ten-to-one, and I felt wide awake. I turned on the radio and I remember old Birley Shassey's Goldfinger playing. I decided to go for a pee anyway. A few moments later the earthquake hit, but curiously, I did not feel a thing. A few others in the street did though - not particularly strongly, but they did feel the crunch.

We know that animals sense these things way before they occur, dogs and birds especially, probably because their behaviour is easy to observe. Now the only real talent I boast is this 20/20 instinct for survival - something which animals possess (observe how dogs and cats approach some strangers without fear, while giving others a wide berth). Clearly I must share some peculiar affinity with nature – so was the wake-up something to do with pressure changes in the lead up to the earthquake? When you think about it, quite extraordinary forces are built up and released by an earthquake, and this must, by definition, have a huge impact on air pressure. Does some clever little mechanism somewhere inside the ear register these changes and warn us that we are heading for an ambush? I tend to think yes.

HEIDI HI ...... HEIDI KLUM


Last Tuesday morning, I was listening to Rebecca Jones on the 5 to 7 morning slot on Radio Cymru, the Welsh language station. By a curious coincidence, on my very first blog a year ago I spoke of the delightfully amusing what's-her-name who then hosted the show (God, how quickly we forget - and I really liked her ...... Gaynor Davies - I went back to have a look!), but Rebecca is very different from Gaynor. Rebecca's a typical girl-next-door type, all very "Jiw, jiw!", very cwtchie sounding. Anyway, Rebecca was doing the daily paper review spot, in Welsh, obviously, with a guest reviewer, and they were discussing the Oscars and accompanying photos decorating the morning papers; Rebecca referred to the dress worn by - "How do you say her name?" Rebecca pondered out loud, "Klum?" (she rhymed it with Plum). The fellow in the paper reviewer's seat burst out laughing, but a laugh-with-you kind, as opposed to the at-you variety. "I think it's Klooooom!" - (to rhyme with bloom). "There we are," added Rebecca, "what can you do with a girl from Cwmllynfell!" Bless.

But here's a funny thing. I make the same sort of pronunciation cock-ups. As does Roy Noble on Radio Wales, a one time headmaster no less, who regularly and amusingly trips over English words (I'm sure he said this on his February 21st show: "A lady has sent me a book on shags - " before instantly correcting it to "- sheds.").  Now I've mentioned before that I'm notorious at both misreading and mishearing, so I may well have got it wrong - but, if he really did say that, what would he have been thinking of leading up to the slip? While on the subject of glorious radio slips, be sure to read SMILE OF THE DAY on January 23, just a quick scroll below.

Anyway, Welsh is my first language, and curiously, I have no recollection of ever having to learn English, yet when I speak or write English, I think English,  when I speak or write Welsh, I think Welsh. But when I stumble upon English words I'm unfamiliar with, or words or expressions that do not trip off the tongue, Welsh, as my default pronunciation, kicks in. A couple of relevant stories. I must have been around six or seven years of age when I went on what must have been one of the last Cwmdu Sunday School seaside day trips - to New Quay, Cardiganshire, as it happens. Along the way I saw a road sign: NEW QUAY. "Is New Kway very far from New Key?" And the whole bus tittered and chortled. The experience is burnt onto my memory stick.

Then when I was about 20, a girlfriend wanted to go to the cinema, a Pink Panther film I think. Anyway, outside the cinema I look up at the big display posters, perused all the star names, including a very sexy-looking lady called Capucine. "So who's this Cap-u-cine?" I enquired, rhyming the name with Porcupine. My girlfriend laughed, and disastrously, I think she laughed at me. The relationship was doomed from that moment. So I empathise absolutely with Cwmllynfell and Rebecca.

DIDN'T WE HAVE A LOVELY DAY
Talking of going to the seaside, last week we heard of the hilarious case of the police officers forced to resign after "day trips to the seaside while on duty". It was claimed that the Gwent officers, dubbed the "seaside five" were taking part in a "dare" competition to see who could travel the furthest from their police station - but their game is said to have been uncovered when a patrol car broke down over the English border - believed to be heading  towards the Somerset seaside resort of Weston-super-Mare - leading senior officers to question why the car was in another force area.

Do you know, I could have imagined myself taking part in such a silly but risky game, after all you're not harming anyone. How many of us can say that we haven't been part of something so ridiculous, except mostly we don't get caught. But when you do you have to pay the price. Everyone I've spoken to about the escapade have smiled or laughed. Yes, yes, of course they should have been policing their territory, but there is something deliciously childlike about the whole escapade. Anyway, the thing that really made me smile while thinking about it was this: whenever police are seen marching in front of a crowd, say at a football venue, the crowd start whistling the Laurel & Hardy theme. A very smiley thing to observe it is too. And apparently the police do their nuts. However, from now on I think the crowd should sing: "Didn't we have a lovely time the day we went to Bangor......" Or better still: "Didn't we have a terrible time the day we went to Weston......"

When I get to choose my Desert Island Discs they will all be sing-along records - and I say records because you never hear modern sing-along songs. And Didn't we have a lovely day is one of those songs that dares you not to join in and sing along. It would certainly be on my Desert Island list. And here they are, Fiddler's Dram - don't they look like someone you'd love to share a pint with? Alongside, the song's chorus. Actually there are two lines further on in the song which stick in the mind: "Then on the sand we heard a brass band, that made a tiddly tum ta ra ra!" Wonderful. All very PC.
 

Didn't we have a lovely time,
The day we went to Bangor;
A beautiful day, we had lunch on the way,
And all for under a pound, you know.
That on the way back I cuddled with Jack,
And we opened a bottle of cider;
Singing a few of our favourite songs,
As the wheels went around.

 
WELLIE-JUJU CORNER (or 'Wel-i-jiw-jiw', if you speak the two spokes)
"I would describe him as polysexual: he has many sides" Actress Katy Carmichael on ex-boyfriend David Walliams of Little Britain fame
Me: I've never heard of the word polysexual before. Is it someone who stands in front of the mirror and goes "Who's a pretty boy then?"

"They are the new fakes for the new generation" Opera diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, on singers who become celebrities by crossing popular and classical music
When Hari-Kiri met Sali Mali (ok, Katherine Jenkins, Welsh babe): "I'll sing whatever she's singing."

"I am like every girl out there: I eat bad things in moderation" Actress Katie Holmes.
And if you come back to the house you'll see that the fridge is chock-a-block with moderation.

"It appears the madness of the compensation culture knows no bounds" Tory MP Ann Widdecombe, on the fellow who plans to sue a bookmakers for allowing him to bet.
Yes, but what's the odds against him winning?

"Every guy I've ever fallen in love with, I've fallen in love with the beauty of them, and then they turn weird" Melanie Brown, alias Scary Spice
See below......

"Mother Nature is like a beloved aunt who occasionally gets tipsy and does something outrageous to catch us off guard" Mark Hedges, editor of Country Life, on current climate patterns
I would say she is more of a Scary Spice, who's just realised what she's climbed into bed with.

NATIONAL THINKING DAY (March 22)
There's something in Welsh poetry called 'cynghanedd': a sound arrangement within one line using stress, alliteration and internal rhyme. It's much too complicated for me, except where it happens by chance. Much like most aspects of life, really. But 'cynghanedd' happens in English as well. When I realised that last Friday was National Thinking Day, the very first thing that came to mind was this: Think before you drink before you drive. For no other reason than it's awash with stress and internal rhymes. The slogan trips off the tongue. And I guess if you have to think about one thing on National Thinking Day, that slogan is as good as any.

THE QUEEN WAS IN A FURIOUS PASSION, AND WENT STAMPING ABOUT, AND SHOUTING TO PRINCE CHARLES "ORFF WITH HIS HEAD!" ABOUT ONCE IN A MINUTE

 

 




 


This is  Sir Ian McAllister, the chairman of Network Rail, at his Investiture on Thursday. He is head of the organisation dedicated to treating its customers like cattle - and who'll forget the chaos and misery caused over the Christmas and New Year holiday when all those repair plans came apart at the points. And he got made a Sir for all our troubles. If Lewis Carroll were alive today, and decided to write something called Alice's Adventures in Network Rail, he wouldn't need to use his imagination for the Establishment is awash with creatures that can only be described as curiouser and curiouser. They would make the whole thing come alive. And why oh why didn't Prince Charles listen to his mum?

SMILE OF THE WEEK:

Gin a body meet a body,
Coming through the rye;
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need a body cry?




A new shop has just opened in Llandeilo. It carries the eye-catching name onebody: 'Beauty, Fashion, Aromatherapy and Home Accessories + Organic Complementary Therapy.' And it boasts perhaps the prime shop location in town, dead opposite the well known Cawdor Hotel. The name of the shop has given me an idea as to what should be inscribed on my tombstone. There are three stages of life: When you are born you are One Body; as you go through life you become a Some Body (no matter whether you're Prince Harry or Harry Prince, the road sweeper); and when you die you become a No Body. Right then......
Here lies Hubie Baby: Onebody, Somebody, Nobody
Yeah, I can live with that. Goodnight St David. Goodnight Hubie.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2008
STOP PRESS: THE FIRST BLUEBELL

Unbelievably, at 8.30 this morning, I witnessed my first bluebell of spring. On the 28th of February!? In fact, I was a day or so late because there were four of them in this secluded, sheltered and south-facing spot where they always appear a couple of weeks or so before anywhere else. I should have visited the spot daily because the signs were there. About a month or so before the bluebell makes its grand appearance the woodland floor starts to turn into a lush green carpet, to my eye as beautiful as the bluebells themselves. Astonishingly, back at the beginning of February I'd noticed the green appear, and captured the image bellow...

What deflated my spirit then was the presence of the fern because where there is no generous canopy cover, the fern follows quickly on the heels of the bluebell and drowns out the ocean of blue - but here it is, the fern, from the word go. Mind you, the recent frosty weather did leave its mark.

Normally, the first bluebell appears at this spot anywhere between the 23rd and 30th of March - except for the cold, late spring of 2006 where it didn't appear until the 8th of April. But the 28th of February? What is happening out there? Oh, I mentioned four bluebells: two are in the first photo, the third coming up - as for the fourth ... I can't bear to tell you ... well, not yet, anyway. In the meantime, visit March to May '07, click on Solitaire.....

SMILE OF THE DAY: While casually listening to a Money Special programme on the radio, someone asked, in the light of the Northern Rock fiasco, how safe our money is with banks, building societies and the like. The lady caller was advised to visit a particular a web site to check out any organisation she fancied investing money in. "The web site is called SHIT," the money specialist said, "Safe Home......" Then I lost it because I was caught out by the googly bowled by the fellow - so I hurriedly googled it ...... and of course it was Safe Home Income Plans. Shit! I mean, SHIP! Time for forty winks. Bye for now, Hubie.


THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2008
LET'S REACH FOR THE MOON AND THE STARS

I see the moon the moon sees me,
Down through the leaves of the old oak tree;
Please let the light that shines on me,
Shine on the one I love.

God, the Stargazers and I see the moon. I heard this tonight for the first time in years and years and years: I kissed the rose the rose kissed me / Fragrant as only a rose can be / Please take the kiss that comforts me / Back to the one I love. They don't make deliciously silly songs like that any more. Even more sadly there isn't a radio station that specialises in playing all these classic records from yesteryear (both silly and serious), although to its credit Radio Wales does its little bit.

Anyway, singing of the moon, roses and love, last evening, and being the hapless romantic that I am, I pointed my camera at the moon - and was pleasantly surprised that the moon saw me and winked back. The camera I carry about with me on my walks is a simple, middle of the road Sony DSC-H2 - I'm in the process of updating to a H9 version, which retails at c£320. Truth to tell I own a posh SLR bit o' kit, but it's rather awkward to carry about so I hardly ever bother with it. You can see why I never dare call myself a photographer. Anyway, here's that moon shot - and alongside a rather intriguing image I captured along the way (yes, it is a genuine photo). So what do you suppose it is? A UFO? A wonky spermatozoon? As opposed to a swanky spermatozoom-zoom? The graphic answer coming up (excuse pun).
 


Right, before returning to things heavenly, and being that it's Valentine's Day, a quick question: Why did Young Shagwell cross the road? Professor Robin Dunbar, of Oxford University, observed 1,000 pedestrians at a crossroads in Liverpool - and discovered that men think about sex even when crossing the road. Males made more dangerous crossings when women were watching, which suggests risk-taking is a mating display. According to Science, women though, were far too sensible to risk life and limb to impress a male bystander. Whilst I can believe the male research absolutely, I do feel that the very modern model of the female of the species is evolving a splendidly peacockish tail at a rate of knots. But that's only me standing and staring. Oh yes, why did Young Shagwell cross the road? To get his leg over - over to the sunny side of the street, that is.

Being that we're gazing up at the moon, here's a couple of pictures that most certainly threw a wink in my direction. The first, rather closer to the ground, and definitely likely to fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars, metaphorically speaking.


The above is a luxury airship that has been likened to a flying whale, and is being described as the ecofriendly hotel of the future. The French designers of the 690ft Manned Cloud claim that it will enable passengers to visit exotic locations without the need for hotels. The airship will carry 40 passengers and be equipped with a restaurant, library, gym, bar room and terraces offering panoramic views - and will resemble "a whale that glides through the air". It will be able to travel 3,100 miles at its cruising height of 18,000ft before needing to refuel. It will have a cruising speed of 81mph and a top speed of 105mph. Extraordinary. Expect to see it overhead from around 2020.

Peering just a wee bit further into the night sky, alongside is one of the more remarkable images captured by the Hubble telescope. It has been christened the Ant Nebula, for rather obvious reasons, and is the remnants of a dying star - indeed it confirms what will happen to our very own square mile when the sun decides to call it a day - or night - and explode in all directions. Hold on to your hat.
 

Right, the mystery photo at the top: last Monday evening I was watching Wales Today on BBC TV, and as Derek Brockway was doing his weather forecast he announced that if we popped outside within the next couple of minutes we'd see the International Space Station pass over. Actually I have seen it before and it's a wonderful sight as it legs it across the night sky. So I grabbed my camera to see if I could capture some sort of image. Anyway, there it was, a bright light crossing from west to east, so I point my camera, allow it to focus - 'click!' - but as the camera was on auto-pilot the image took a couple of seconds or so to capture. And of course that image, reproduced again below, is a perfect trace of my hand 'shake' during that critical period of time the camera took to capture the light reflecting off the space station. I think it's delightfully weird and wonderful, although I have no idea what that purple outline is that's actually captured around the original image itself.
 

 
Anyway, a couple of nights later I was prepared, but the best image I got was the middle one above - love the colours though - which is no surprise considering the station can be anything between 190 and 250 miles high. But the magical image is the third along. An amateur astronomer, Martin Lewis, took a webcam image of the space shuttle Atlantis docking with the station. He used an 8in reflecting telescope in his garden in St Albans. Alongside, a NASA graphic of the station from a good number of moons back - for Columbia, read Atlantis. It's remarkable to compare the two images, and Martin Lewis should be congratulated for his effort.


If you haven't seen it passing overhead yet, I commend the experience to the house. To the naked eye the space station rises in the west and appears as an astonishingly bright light moving quite quickly across the sky. It takes just 5 minutes to cross the entire night sky. It is only visible after the sun has set, for it's the sun reflecting off it against the dark sky that makes it visible. As it disappears into the earth's shadow it slowly fades and dies. The sooner after sunset it passes overhead, certainly within an hour or so, the longer it remains in view. It travels at 18,000 mph, 30 times faster than the commercial jets flying below it - and completes just under 16 orbits in a day. To find the times at which it can be seen - we've been lucky this week because of the settled weather and the clear skies - simply click on www.nmm.ac.uk/rog/

SMILE OF ST VALENTINE'S DAY: I've just stumbled upon the following romantic couplets submitted to The Washington Post competition. Just one simple rule to reflect one of the most fundamental rules of life: it must have a romantic opening line - but the least romantic closing line......
 

I thought that I could love no other;
Until, that is, I met your brother.

My darling, my lover, my beautiful wife,
Marrying you really screwed up my life.

I see your face when I am dreaming;
That’s why I always wake up screaming.

What inspired this amorous rhyme?
Two parts vodka, one part lime.

Love may be beautiful, love may be bliss,
But I only slept with you 'cause I was pissed.

Not huffy, or stuffy, nor tiny or tall,
But fluffy, just fluffy, with no brains at all.


That last couplet, I Like them Fluffy, did not appear in The Washington Post competition. I stumbled upon it a few moons back (penned by Sir Alan Patrick Herbert, 1890-1971) and I was so taken that it registered in my subconscious, so when I started reading the above it jumped out and demanded to be included as a marker. Oh yes, the repeated reference to drink reminds me of Old Shaggy down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, who once told me: "I've never slept with an ugly bird - but by Christ I've woken up with a few."  Goodnight all you stargazers out there. Goodnight Hubie.


THURSDAY, JANUARY 31, 2008
TISH'S TRIBUTE
AND PAXO’S PANTS

Last Monday I attended the funeral of a local character, a most agreeable friend and pal, but mostly a smashing human being. Iwan – pronounced You-Ann, Evan in English – but we all knew him as Tish (born and bred on a farm called Tyisha, pronounced Tee-sha, meaning Lower House). One of the joys of being born and bred into a rural area is that you mix with all different types of people, of all ages, and crucially, no matter what people go on to achieve, or not as the case may be, as long as they don’t move away from the area, the crowd that migrate together over the formative years of life will pretty much always remain a crowd (although for the latter part of his life Tish had moved down the road some 15 miles, so we never saw him as often after that). A visit to my local pub will show an astonishing cross section of occupations and backgrounds, but more remarkable you are quite likely to see three generations together in the same bar, just occasionally four, a quite wonderful thing to behold in today’s alarmingly mobile and fragmented society. (Not long ago, a lady who, throughout most of her working life had been regularly moved around the country by her company, assured me that I would never quite appreciate how lucky I was to have retained the same friends, pals and acquaintances throughout my life, especially as it takes pretty much a lifetime to really get to know people.)

Tish never took up farming, but became a HGV driver instead. Sadly, from about the time Tish retired at 65 he was struck by Parkinson’s, something his father had suffered from. It got progressively worse and just before Christmas he developed pneumonia, from which he never recovered. He died aged 72, much too young these days, but tragically without being able to enjoy the retirement he had worked so hard to earn.

By coincidence, this was the week we learnt of a former bingo caller winning the £19 million Triple Rollover Jackpot on the Lotto, who said he would return every penny if he could have better health. Stephen Smith, 58, said the windfall was overshadowed by the diagnosis 3 years ago of an aortic aneurism – a swelling of the artery – which could burst at any time: “There are no shops in the cemetery, are there?” he is quoted as saying. This all brings me to the proper Lottery – the one to do with Life itself.

Definition of Life’s Triple Roller Jackpot: To live forever and die suddenly – meaning, to enjoy good health along your long walk through time ... and then when the final boarding call comes, to drop like a stone, no fuss, no bother, just a swift Amen!

And so to lighter things. Right, meet Paxo the Stallion – or more correctly it should probably be Paxo the Colt, for he’s a young son of a gun. I encounter Paxo on my walks, and what has probably grabbed your attention is what always grabs my attention whenever I encounter stallions along my walks. I’ve written about it before, and I honestly don’t know what I possess that excites them so. Anyway, Paxo the dark horse leads me compliments of a jolly coincidence to that other Paxo, and what is without doubt the smiliest image of the week following Jeremy Paxman’s rather foolish song and dance brouhaha about his Marks and Sparks underpants not being up to the job.

The Sunday Times, with its tongue wonderfully, firmly in its cheeks, produced the above composite picture of Paxman as he might look if he invested in Emporio Armani pants á la David ‘Goldenballs’ Beckham. God, I bet Paxo (the celeb, that is), must curse the day he unzipped his big fly and let it all hang out. By a strange turn I was looking for something on The Times website when I stumbled upon the image The Sunday Times had used for its online edition, and as I’ve noticed before, the images newspapers use on their web sites are much cropped compared to what we see in newspapers. The above I picked up direct off the newspaper, but as you will note below, for the online image Paxo has been cropped to within an inch of his pride and joy – and for what it’s worth, to my casual eye the image suffers considerably.

Incidentally, this briefs encounter takes me back many moons when a barmaid at the Crazy Horse – this was before the upgrade to Crazy Horsepower – with gentle cough and wicked twinkle, whispered that I had “left the stable door ajar”, and I remember thinking afterwards, yes, a stable is much like a pair of underpants: it should be roomy enough to allow the stallion to lie down and stretch freely, big enough to allow it to jump into life and if feeling coltish kick out without risk of injury – oh, and the stable door should be generous enough for it to effortlessly stick its head over the parapet for a breath of fresh air and things. Mind you, it’s easy enough for me to say when all I have to stable is a frisky little Sheltie.

Well now, the bit of kit above is anything but a Sheltie. I think they call it a penis extension (for those who had too many toys as boys - at least Old Shaggy at the Crazy Horsepower tells us that he is well blessed in the Paxo department because he didn't have any toys to play with as a child). Last weekend’s Sunday Times carried a full, two-page, eye-catching ad for the Alfa Romeo 8C – which must have cost not so much an arm and a leg but a shoulder and a hindquarter. To quote the blurb: The 8C. The ultimate expression of all that is Alfa. Carbon fibre body, exquisite interior styling and 4.7 V8 engine delivering 450 bhp. No wonder all 500 have been sold. To see the rest of the Alfa range visit www.alfaromeo.co.uk

Hm. Further on in the paper I stumble upon a special supplement: Clarkson’s Greatest Hits: Vol One – The 25 best cars I’ve driven. Jeremy Clarkson, in the lead article, says this: "But the prize for swivel-eyed lunacy goes to Alfa Romeo, which has just started to build its new £100,000 8C. What this is, most of all, is a public-relations exercise. Only 500 will be made, and the idea is that we all gasp with admiration at Alfa’s genius. You’d imagine, then, that it would be keen for the likes of me to have a go, so that I can tell the world just what a marvellous car it’s created. Sadly not ... This could be one of the great cars. Designed by enthusiasts and styled by gods. It’s only a shame I’ll probably never find out because it’s being marketed by absolute morons."

Meow. Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a celeb motoring journalist scorned.

Watch Clarkson rubbish everything about Alfa Romeo here on in. But back with the two-page ad: who is the more stupid? Alfa Romeo handing over a fortune to The Sunday Times for the privilege of having the paper rubbish the organisation? Or Clarkson for sewing up the backside of the Golden Goose that lays his salary?

Crazy world, crazy people.

The above is a landslip on the London to South Wales train line, at Chipping Sodbury, South Gloucestershire, that predictably caused much rail misery for commuters and travellers. The disruption continued for a few days. However, I really liked the image below, where King Canute, in his high visibility jacket is obviously shouting: "Enough, already! Back!"

SMILE OF THE WEEK: Mention of Jeremy Clarkson's "Meow!" above brings to mind a guest on Roy Noble's radio show this week, a professional story teller who regaled us with the following wonderful tale. An Alsatian dog wanders into a room where he spots a cat stretched out with half-a-dozen fluffy little kittens in attendance. The dog growls fiercely at the cat: "Grrrrr-woof!"  The cat jumps to its feet, extends its body fully skywards on all fours, the hair all down its back shoots up to attention, and it exposes its teeth aggressively: "Grrrrr-woof!!" The dog is so taken aback and shocked by the cat's response it turns tail and rushes yelping out of the room. The cat slowly returns to its previous position where the cowering kittens rapidly cuddle up to mum and start to suckle again. "There we are kids," says mummy pussycat, "see how useful it is to learn a second language." Nos da, bawb. Nos da Hubie. 


WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 23, 2008
THAT CELEBRATED, CULTIVATED, UNDERRATED, NOBLEMAN,
THE ARISTOCAT OF RADIO WALES
(with apologies to the Duke of Plaza-Toro!)

This afternoon I was listening to the agreeable Roy Noble on Radio Wales when he posed a couple of questions: 1) With the cost of fuel rocketing, and impossible to put a comparative value on today’s cost in historical terms, he pondered what the price of a good old fashioned gallon would be today? 2) Where does the word gallivanting come from? Unfortunately I had to leave the house at half-two and didn’t return until just before four. Perhaps both were answered, but they also deserve to be tackled in my little digital scrapbook.

The petrol is easy. Since metrication became the norm I hang on to the old imperial measures in order to retain my sanity. Now I have nothing against going metric – the simplicity does make sense – but where I lost our politicians is that they should have had it enshrined in law that for one generation every public use of a metric measure should have the imperial measurement added as well. The problem I have with metric is that I cannot picture the measurement in my mind’s eye. When I watch rugby on TV they show height and weight in metric – and I have no idea what they're on about. Now if you mention inch, foot, yard, mile, pound, hundredweight, ton, acre, pint, gallon – I can instantly picture it in my mind for all are burnt onto my brain’s hard disk, but the only metric measure I can visualise is a metre, simply because it’s marginally longer than a yard. The politicians have written off a whole generation, and that sums up perfectly why we rate them the trash of society. Rubbish, the lot of ‘em.

Oh yes, a gallon of petrol. Because I claim a part of my motoring expenses against my business, I keep accurate records, so when a gallon of petrol converted to litres, I made a note of the conversation factor, which I carry forward annually in my diary: 4.547 – my last purchase was 102.9 a litre which equals £4.68 a gallon. I tell you, when it reaches £5.00 a gallon ... if spared I shall go on buying the bloody stuff as usual.

Gallivanting: I love that word, and I’ve been regularly accused of it down the years. It means “to go about in search of pleasure, etc.; gad about”. It’s from the 19th Century, whimsical from “gallant”. Gallant has many meanings, but I like “a dashing or fashionable young man, especially one who pursues women” or “a brave, high-spirited, or adventurous man”, from the 15th Century, from Old French, from galer to make merry, from gale enjoyment, of Germanic origin.

Before I go any further, the undoubted image of the day, confirmation that there really are little green men living on Mars. It’s a gloriously bizarre photo captured by Nasa’s Mars Explorer Spirit, the revealing blown-up image below compliments of Barcroft Media. But, do you notice something wonderful and weird about it, apart from the obvious? Answer below......

I missed most of Roy’s show because I had to go to the clinic at the local doctor’s surgery. As someone who walks a lot, I’d suddenly and inexplicably developed a pain in my heel. Well, to call it 'pain' is an insult to those who suffer real pain, more a discomfort, but it has made me limp (and before you say anything, it’s not some new fangled male contraceptive thrown at us males by Mummy Nature). So the doctor had a look: “At least you haven’t got an arthritic problem,” which really both took the spring out of my step and put it back. Apparently there’s a problem with the ligaments of the arch where they join the heel, some sort of inflammation, as I understand it. Something similar to tennis elbow! Today, rather than have an injection to try and clear it, the doc decided to apply some ultrasonic type thingy around the heel. Watch this limp, as they say. Oh yes, I’ve been thinking of an expression to replace “similar to tennis elbow” … how about a gallivanting heel?

Talking of doctors, a series of intriguing letters appeared in The Times recently. Dr George Cook of Liverpool said this: “Sir, I am a GP and out of 16 appointments made in advance for me this morning, only seven turned up. Is it time to charge?” Stephen Lee from Longniddry, East Lothian responded: “Sir, So Dr Cook would like to charge patients for missing their appointments? Fine, as long as patients who turn up the allotted ten minutes before appointment time and are then kept waiting 30 minutes or more without apology or explanation can charge for wasted time. I have been a member of three surgeries over four years and, despite often having the first appointment of the day, have never been seen on time.” Followed by a missive from Frank Doyle of Exmouth: “Sir, I remember our old family doctor standing by the front door of his surgery (his front room) to welcome patients at ten shillings a visit. He was happy to make home visits on his bicycle for twelve and six and that included out of hours. Try not to worry, Dr Cook – do the crossword. You’ll still knock off at five o’clock and pick up your £100k.”

Now I find the doctors, nurses and staff at my local surgery most agreeable; I have no complaints, although I do empathise Stephen Lee’s frustration regarding the first appointments, so I too submitted a letter to The Times. Sadly it didn’t make the cut (that’s not really a complaint as I guess I’ve had my fair share published in the paper’s various sections). Anyway, here it is: “Sir, Doctors need to adopt a stick and carrot approach: a fixed charge, say £10, should be levied whenever an appointment is made, refunded when the appointment is honoured or cancelled with fair warning; also, for the first appointment of every session, a delay of more than a minute in being called to see the doctor results in a £100 bonus being paid to the patient. I believe it’s what’s known as a win-win situation.”

The news today has been awash with the sad death at 28 of someone called Heath Ledger, an Australian actor. I say 'someone' because I had never heard the name before. As previously established, I never read books - except in a strictly reference sense - neither do I watch films - except when I happen to zap-adee-doo-da upon one on TV yonks after its release. It's not all that many moons ago since I first saw Casablanca - and was totally captivated. Proof positive that a good film will always survive without obscenity, sex and violence - apart from a couple of people being shot (one at the start of the film, the other at the end) and both those were central to the story. Oh, but it must have a cracking good script, preferably witty, which is not a lot to ask for, surely?

Right, the Mars photo above: no, clearly there never were little green men on Mars. But, there were mermaids and they did visit our planet. How else do you explain away the statue of the mermaid at Copenhagen?

Just climb back up to contrast and compare. Astonishing. And there clearly was water on Mars. Game, set and splash, I think.

SMILE OF THE DAY: Being that this bulletin was inspired by broadcaster Roy Noble, today I just happened to read again the following by Paul Donovan of The Sunday Times (I think), a column called Radio Waves carrying the headline Foot in mouth: More recently, a Radio Scotland presenter asked a bemused Joshua Rozenberg, in a discussion concerning Lady McCartney’s reported plans for litigation against certain newspapers, “Who is Heather Mills shagging?”, before hastily correcting that to “suing”. In March, the presenter Sadie Nine, of BBC Radio Essex, in a conversation about the large number of green parakeets in Greater London, observed that she did like a “cockatoo”; some mistook this for three words rather than one, and the BBC wheeled out an apologetic statement. My favourite, both for its sheer simplicity and for Nicky Campbell’s adroit handling of it, occurred in 2004. Radio 5 Live’s breakfast co-host was interviewing a huntsman in Kent, a county whose name proved tricky. The conversation went like this: NC: “Georgie Worsley is Master of the Old Surrey and Burstow and West C*** Hunt, and is out hunting this morning in Lingfield. Good morning!” GW: “Good morning to you. That was a bit of a slip, wasn’t it?” NC: “It was. I do apologise for that. It’s very early in the morning, and these things do happen, and I feel exceptionally embarrassed...” Goodnight Dai Version and all at the Asterisk Bar at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Goodnight Hubie.


SUNDAY, JANUARY 20, 2008
HANDS UP
ALL THOSE PRESENT AND CORRECT

Someone recently enquired how many visitors pass through my parlour. Truth to tell, I haven’t a clue. And therein lurks a tale. Last March when I set up this little project I asked the computer folk who hold my hand regarding all things technical about having a counter. Andrew drew a sharp breath, the sort motor mechanics do when studying the engine of your car: “I advise against,” he cautiously said, “at least initially, because you may well find that you’ll only be getting a couple or so visitors a week and perhaps that won’t do your confidence any favours – but if you insist, no problems.” That turned out to be a wonderful slice of advice, and probably explains why most bloggers fall by the wayside rather quickly. For all I know nobody visits the sites – well, no, that’s not true because I know I have one regular visitor! Since the word go I kept telling those I know of my adventure, and of course most were already familiar with my style of writing and photography from my varied correspondence with various newspapers. But what did become quickly apparent was that without media exposure it’s all a bit of a lottery. Also, whereas newspaper buyers regularly buy and get into the habit of flicking through and looking for what they’re familiar with, clicking onto a web site is a whole different routine which does not come naturally. So I decided from the off that I would simple write about the things that please and delight me – oh, and occasionally leave me gobsmacked (what a wonderfully horrid and perfect sounding word that is for the awful things of life). In other words I would write simply for my own pleasure, full stop.

When I began this particular site it started off as a straightforward blog, but gradually I started adding photographs. Then I changed tack. I’ve kept a diary for many a year: not a personal, Dear Hubie, sort of thing, but a straightforward record of where I’ve been, who I’ve met and if anything of particular note happened – just a few brief words. And of course I record the one thing that made me smile the most that day. Not only that but I cut out anything from newspapers or magazines that really catch my eye or tickle my fancy. In fact, it isn’t really a diary at all but a scrapbook with added comments. And of course this has now turned into an electronic diary, an online scrapbook, which means that instead of printing off snaps or cutting items out of newspapers, I now paste them in here.

The beauty of having an electronic scrapbook is that if I suddenly discover I’ve made a cock-up I go back and correct it. Also, I can amend or add little things to a tale I’ve already committed to record. For example, the above photo relates to my tale of the pipeline over on 400 Smiles A Day. My most recent bulletin told the amazing story of how the gas actually gets from Qatar to Quoditch, and in making the point of how addicted we are to energy I used a snap of the central heating timer in my house. Okay, it’s a cliché, and I don’t like using that c-word anyway. It later came to me that I should think up something more suitable, after all, a cliché is a word, expression, idea, action or habit that has become trite from overuse – nothing there about an image. And then I thought “click!”, the sound associated with taking a photograph – so the obvious word for a visual cliché must be clické – so I popped back and simply added that little idea. Oh yes, while on about my pipeline project, the local Carmarthen Journal kindly published a letter of mine regarding it and also mentioned my web addresses, which really pleased me, and of course that has meant new visitors, who’ve been very kind about my little effort. A hundred thousand thanks all round. Much appreciated.

Then over on 400 Smiles A Day itself I’ve just done a piece on clowns, especially given the news that a survey has announced that all children dislike clowns as part of hospital décor, and by definition this hindered their recovery. I found this quite extraordinary, and expressed my doubts. After posting the item I discovered that there’s a word for it: coulrophobia, an abnormal or exaggerated fear of clowns, not only among some children, but also the occasional teenager and adult. Well, well, so in the interest of balance I went back and added that gem.

Talk of going back, last time out I remarked on the knighthood for the chairman of Network Rail, Ian McAllister, for “services to transport”, and given that the rail network shut down for 58 hours over Christmas, as well as the disruption and unprecedented incompetence his company displayed over the engineering overruns during the holiday period and beyond, he should fall upon Her Majesty's sword in front of an appreciative nation. As an afterthought I remember thinking, if as the reports say that more people shopped on-line on Christmas Day than went to Church, then surely they should be offering more services rather than stopping them completely. Well, Network Rail’s chief executive, Ian Coucher, has now promised a network that operates 7 days a week and 365 days a year. As for a lack of train services on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, apparently an alleged lack of demand, he said this: “We’re in a Catch-22 situation. There’s no [apparent] demand for it because we don’t run trains.” Correct, you couldn’t make it up. 

I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes reply to the Questions Answered column in The Times. L. H. Rashbrook of High Wycombe asked the following: “When did men, and boys, cease whistling, and why? Are the current tunes not suitable?” Well, The Times published my response last Friday, 18 January: “Perhaps the general answer lies within the question. Perusing the UK’s bestselling singles by decade (an item recently done by The Times), from Rock Around the Clock (1955) to That’s My Goal (2005), it is noticeable that it is not easy to whistle these songs. While modern tunes are often catchy they are anything but melodic. Also, music is now available all around us, 24/7, so perhaps there’s simply no need for us to entertain ourselves.” John Grant of Cambridge added this: “I think building workers etc stopped whistling when they started taking portable (transistor) radios to work.” That perfectly endorses my final point.

One of the bright and handsome barmaids at my local recently gained a degree in psychology and is currently debating whether to further her education, but what sets her apart is that she regularly whistles while she works - if not conversing with a customer, that is. A point of order: young Sarah whistling a happy tune is a very smiley thing to watch and listen to, especially as she appears to whistle only while breathing in. She’s currently working on why she does it. Watch this space. Sol-fa, so good.

While taking advantage of any excuse to show a photograph of a pretty woman, if I go back to my previous posting I went on about how I’d been seduced by the song Rockstar by Nickelback, in particular the thread of stunning women running through the video. So I googly-wooglied the video, and came up with a fairly comprehensive list of the celebrities who appear - but not, obviously, those members of the public who put on a grand show. I was particularly taken by some celeb called Eliza Dushku – so here she is - excuse me while I ogle and drool and things......

However, towards the end of the video there’s a gorgeous looking female in a white bikini on a beach somewhere, and she’s lip synching “we’ll all stay skinny” – love to know who she is.

SMILES OF THE WEEK: Down at the Crazy Horsepower the other late afternoon, I notice Dai Version busily doing something with a ‘box’ on a table in the corner. Suddenly, wafting under my nose is the seductive smell of toast. I peer across the bar ... Dai Version has plugged in a toaster and is busily toasting away. I don’t believe it. How many pubs in the land would have one of the locals busy making toast while the rain pours outside. My smile is cinemascopic. He eventually comes round with a plateful and offers the crowd some – I accept a piece – I could live on toast if crunch came to crumbs – then Dai Version quietly tucks in to a feast at the bar. Intrigued, I discover that he's had some problems with the toaster (or perhaps it could be the electrics in the tepee), so he's brought it with him to the pub for a bit of testing, testing, the Crazy HP having kindly provided the bread and the butter and the power as part of the service.

I'm reminded of a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon, where a couple of pieces of thick-sliced bread are standing near a gate leading to a property and having an animated conversation (they are clearly meant to be adventurous young children), but one is nervously saying to the other: "I dunno, Andy ... Mom said we were never to go near the old Sutter place." As our eyes go through the gate and up the path, there stands a caravan - which is unmistakably a rather large toaster. Very funny - yet truth is infinitely more entertaining than fiction.

Finally, another tailpiece from Chris Campling’s Radio column in The Times. He’s writing about some drama series called, rather cleverly, Clare in the Community (hm, I wonder if our Claire at the White Hart is reading this?). Anyway, Campling’s column finishes thus: It was plain sailing from then on, ending with Clare and Brian making love and then, when Brian showed signs of going to sleep, Clare telling him: “No you don’t. You must understand, love-making isn’t over when the sex finishes. I still need things from you.” Brian: “I’m sorry. What do you want?” Clare: “I quite fancy an omelette.” Now if she’d fancied some toast I could have introduced her to Dai Version.

Which reminds me of a variation on an old one ... Brian: "So how would you like your egg in the morning?" Clare: "Fertilised." Goodnight, little bird. Goodnight Hubie.


FRIDAY, JANUARY 11, 2008
I'M LATE, I'M LATE, FOR A VERY IMPORTANT DATE


A hundred thousand apologies. My first bulletin of 2008 was duly delivered over on 400 Smiles A Day, just a few days ago - and I never wished my reader a Happy New Year. Damo! (That's a Welsh variation on the theme of D'oh!) Anyway, here I am, my lovely, better late than never. Below, a simple little Welsh ditty I used to sing when a knee-high-to-a-tall-tale young lad on doorsteps on New Year's Day early morning while doing the rounds of the rural area that was the reservation. Householder's would then answer the door and hopefully hand over a little monetary reward - what was a very Welsh tradition called 'calenning' - New Year's Gift. I say was called calenning: I don't think it happens any more, which is a shame, I guess. Another nail in the coffin of community. Anyway, here I go - let's clear my throat - especially for you......

                                                      

Blwyddyn Newydd dda i ti,
Ac i bawb sydd yn y tŷ;
Mae'r hen flwyddyn wedi mynd,
Blwyddyn Newydd dda i ti!

My attention since the beginning of the year has been drawn to various newspaper headlines, such as the following from the Western Mail of January 2: ‘Police are wrongly banning taking photos in the street’ The article begun thus: ‘Photographers are being wrongly prevented from taking pictures in public places by police who do not understand the law, a trade body said yesterday.’ It went on to detail how a member of a Suffolk photographic society had been told he needed a “licence” to take pictures of town centre Christmas lights being switched on, Vale of Glamorgan council officers recently proposing to ban the use of cameras in all park’s without the authority’s written permission (rejected by councillors as unworkable), and police pointing out that taking pictures of other people’s children was an offence. A photographer told of sending the BBC a photo of a group of children taking part in Criccieth in Bloom, but BBC policy prevented the photo being used on its websites. “Those kids were really proud of what they’d done, and yet they’re denied any recognition,” the photographer reasonably pointed out. Having recently posted some photographs of Christmas decorations and a couple of youngsters at Llandeilo’s Boxing Day’s Hunt meeting, it does make you think. Stewart Gibson of the Bureau of Freelance Photographers said this: “There seems to be a feeling that people have some right of privacy in law that mean’s they can’t have their picture taken. They don’t. Basically photographers can photograph what can be seen. If you can see me standing at a bus stop you can photograph me. Even when pictures are taken of people on private property – that’s not a matter for the police.” Doolally world, doolally people. Imagine, rather than seeing that delightful photo above of youngsters rightly proud of their efforts, you’ll only be able to see something vague such as the one below – although, actually, I think it’s quite an atmospheric snap.

Next a headline in last Sunday’s Wales on Sunday: ‘He moved next to me, put his arms around me and whispered in my ear that if I ever wanted sex, then he was always available’ This involves a Welsh Assembly Government boss who is facing sensational (sic) sex claims from a work colleague who has accused him of assaulting her in a pub toilet. The court case got under way at Cardiff County Court last week and the above is one of the more ‘sensational’ titbits that escaped into the media. The word ‘sensational’ features heavily in the newspaper article. It’s one of those words or expressions we always read in sex related stories, for example, ‘love rat’, ‘steamy sex’ – goodness, I should be so lucky, or, to paraphrase the memorable Mae West, goodness will have nuthin’ to do with it – ‘romp’, ‘love nest’ – and on and on, words and expression you never hear in the Bible, certainly not out there on the street, and curiously I’m unable to find any of them in that essential companion to the socialising animal, The Crazy Horsepower Saloon’s Style Guide. But I digress already.

The quote brings to mind a tale from last summer, when the dilapidated house next door was eventually bought and stripped right back to its four walls. In the process an old building at the back was demolished, which temporarily opened up the rear of our properties to the beer garden of the pub next door. If I peeped over my quite high boundary wall I could see part of the beer garden, and if I was at the back of my property I could clearly hear people talking, and Llandeilo being the sort of community place it is, even if I could not see who was talking I invariably recognised their voices. Now this renovation work coincided with the arrival of the ‘no smoking’ ban, which meant there were always plenty of people wandering about out the back. Anyway, one evening I could hear this fellow and a female having a quite personal cum intimate conversation. My ears pricked up, as they do. They were obviously well clear of the general area of the beer garden, but behind another wall, so I couldn’t see them. Even though I could hear them clearly in the still evening air I just couldn’t place the voices. Anyway, the female was clearly unhappy with her current sex life. And the male, in grand ‘agony uncle’ mode, was very sympathetic. Anyway, the conversation rounded off with the male uttering the following memorable and most laid-back invitation: “There we are then, if ever you come over a bit, you know, and you fancy some sex, gimme a bell.” Wonderful. Did I eventually see who they were? Ah, now that’s classified information.

The following is not a headline, but the tail gunner piece of a Radio column in The Times by a Chris Campling: “Finally, the week’s finest verbal faux pas came, as so often, from a footballer, Paul Jewell, the manager of struggling Derby County, showed his inability to cope with the simplest of clichés by telling Radio 5 Live that ‘you don’t have to be a rock star’ to work out why his team is in last place. And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what he meant to say.” Well, who am I to challenge journalists from The Times, but here’s my take. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a typical male TV watcher: I’m a zip-a-dee-doo-dah operator, and I’m all over the shop. Now this has its advantages because I land on TV and radio stations that I’d never deliberately search out. For example, when I’m zap-adee-doing along the Sky satellite stations I tend to have a look at what’s on VH1 Classic, Magic and Omusic TV (what used to be Classic FM TV, I think), then the other day I landed on Fizz, and I was instantly captivated by a couple of songs that came on in quick succession: Kiss on the lips, by The Dualers – great song, grand video – and Rockstar by a group called Nickelback – another wonderful song with a totally brilliant video. You don’t actually get to see the group until the final shot of the video because each line of the song is mimed by a host of celebs (actually, I only recognised the fellow from ZZ Top), as well as many common or garden folk, who come in all shapes and sizes, from all sorts of backgrounds, from all over the world, both sexes, and all ages – but through the whole video runs a thread of stunning looking women miming along and gyrating seductively. But what I particularly enjoy are the lyrics of the song – and I think that Paul Jewell was being rather clever when he said “you don’t have to be a rock star”. Just a taste below...
 

'Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars and
Live in hilltop houses driving fifteen cars
The girls come easy and the drugs come cheap
We'll all stay skinny 'cause we just won't eat
And we'll hang out in the coolest bars
In the VIP with the movie stars
Every good gold digger's
Gonna wind up there
Every Playboy bunny
With her bleach blonde hair
And we'll hide out in the private rooms
With the latest dictionary of
Today's who's who
They'll get you anything
with that evil smile
Everybody's got a
Drug dealer on speed dial, well
Hey, hey, I wanna be a rockstar
 

Finally, another headline from the Western Mail, January 10. To join the dots first, last week there was much foreboding in the City as retail giant Marks & Spencer were due to give their quarterly results covering the Christmas period – and here’s the brilliant headline…

These aren’t just any sales figures … they’re Marks & Spencer’s Christmas sales figures

And of course the results reported M&S’s worst quarterly trading for more than 2 years as it revealed a 2.2% drop in Christmas sales. To me that doesn’t sound a lot, but it resulted in an astonishing 21% drop in its share price, to 398p a share at one stage, wiping an astonishing £1.5bn off the group’s stock market value. Do you know, I have a soft spot for M&S. When I was younger and needed a suit, in an ideal world I always needed a pair of trousers that was one size smaller than the jacket, but also with the leg extended. It was no huge problem – a little nip and tuck here and there and I’d be in business. But M&S changed all that because of their mix ‘n’ match policy. Great. And of course you could return an item without fear of being drawn into a Fred & Ginger song and dance routine in the shop. Whilst I never want to see any business go bust (we all lose in some way or other), if however I learnt that Tesco had gone belly up I really wouldn’t shed a tear, but if Marks & Spencer did – well, I’d feel a real pang of sadness.

FROWN OF THE WEEK: When Gordon Brown inherited power he said we should honour members of the public who show bravery during terrorist attacks. Heroes such as Tim Coulson, a teacher who, on 7/7, smashed his way into a bombed Tube carriage, administered first aid, had a man die in his arms and was so badly affected by his experience that he had to retire early. So when it came to the New Year Honours - yes, he was snubbed, as was every member of the public who displayed bravery. Instead, awards were made to civil servants sitting at their desks co-ordinating the work of others (and best not to dwell on the Victoria medals awarded to the Prince of Wales’s chauffeur, the royal flower arranger, the Prince’s tractor driver, the yo-man – sorry, sarcasm, etc, etc…).

To add insult to injury, a knighthood for the chairman of Network Rail for “services to transport”. Oh yes, the UK was the only country in Europe to shut down its rail system for 58 hours over Christmas. And let’s not go near all that unbelievable disruption because of those extraordinary delays in maintenance work over the holiday period......  Clearly I must have been a very naughty boy somewhere along the line because one morning I woke up in a parallel universe where doolallyness reigns supreme.

SMILE OF THE WEEK:  George MacDonald Fraser - chronicler of the life of Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman, VC, outstanding Victorian soldier, coward, bully, womaniser, cad, bounder and hugely admired all-round bad egg – recently died at the age of 82 after losing a battle with cancer, but winning a substantial literary reputation and a worldwide army of devotees. Now I can’t claim to be one of them for the simple reason that I never read books anyway – I know, I know, I’m a philistine, but I don’t have the mental wherewithal to escape into someone else’s world, there’s more than enough unfolding in my own for me to handle. Anyway, back with Flashman – do you know, I’m on nodding terms with at least a couple of fellows who fit perfectly the above description of Flashman, I really do. Be that as it may, I loved the paragraph below from a smiley Times  tribute, a “memorandum from Henri Blowitz, Your esteemed Paris correspondent”, regarding an encounter with Harry Flashman.

“I first met the blighter hiding under a barrel during the Siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. That night, during a splendid party at the palace, he won my admiration by tupping, in a broom cupboard, no less a beauty than the Empress Consort of France, Maria Eugenia Ignacia Agustina Guzmán y Montijo, the wife of Napoleon III. He proclaimed her ‘a fine filly for a gallop’. We drank an immoderate quantity of champagne. You may recall the expenses claim.” Yes, not only do I know a Harry Flashman or two, I think I know a Henri Blowitz as well. Goodnight you rascals. Goodnight Hubie.


Lest we forget
 

(especially Mr Tony Blair)
see Remembrance Weekend, below

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