Look you ~ every day a day at school ~ a rolling scrapbook of life, the universe and everything...
Previously: January to December 2009

1st January 2010 - Addendum
Twas the morning after New Year's Eve...

31st December 2009
A Looney/Lunar Tunes special

Once in a blue moon


I see the moon, the moon sees me...
CROSSING Llandeilo's iconic old bridge early this very morning I notice two local characters we affectionately refer to as Silly Billy and Simple Simon seemingly having an argument. At least there's a lot of arm waving going on - and pointing skywards. My heart sinks. When the moon is in the wrong phase it is best to avoid these two.
     "Morning Hubie," says Silly Billy, "you're just the man to settle this - I say that's the moon up there - "
     "And I say it's the sun, stupid," Simple Simon rather furiously cuts across. "Tell Silly Billy he's wrong. Again!"
     A bit of nifty footwork is called for because one of them is going to be disappointed. And both Silly Billy and Simple Simon are not individuals to cross when they are stalked by the moon. "Sorry, lads, as you know I moved out of town back in the summer, so I'm not familiar with what's what in these 'ere parts any more - so I've lost touch with which is the sun and which is the moon. Bugger. Anyway, happy new year - when it arrives." And I swiftly motor along my merry way.

There’s something rather agreeable in the thought that the last day of the year – indeed, of the decade – is a “once in a blue moon” experience. No, it's not an observation on my sex life - but yes, there is an extra-special full moon up there today (tonight?).

So what is a Blue Moon?

A BLUE MOON is the second full moon in a calendar month. The first of the full moons must appear at or near the beginning of the month (this month the first occurred on December 2), so that the second will fall within the same month (the average span between two moons is 29.5 days, hence today, December 31).
     Alongside, the full moon from December 2.
     Now the wonderful thing about the internet is that you tend to crash-land in the most unlikely of places ... and you wonder, how the hell did I end up here? And so it was that I set down on a fascinating site intriguingly called www.die.net - in particular the site shows the daily phases of the moon - where the image, alongside, comes from.
     It is quite mesmerising. Yes, I could go outside the door and look up ... trouble is, here in the
UK, Wales especially, there’s always cloud about – and anyway, you can never see the moon this clear.
     Give it a shot at
www.die.net/moon/

     Whatever, back with a blue moon. Most years have twelve full moons, but in addition to those twelve full lunar cycles, each solar calendar year contains an excess of roughly eleven days compared to the lunar year. The extra days accumulate, so that every two or three years (on average about every 2.7), there is an extra full moon. This extra moon is called a "blue moon."


So why is it called a Blue Moon?
WELL, as with these things, there is no definitive answer. According to Wikipedia, the earliest recorded English usage of the term "blue moon" was in a 1528 pamphlet violently attacking the English clergy, entitled "Rede Me and Be Not Wrothe" (Read me and be not angry):
"Yf they say the mone is belewe,
We must believe that it is true."
[If they say the moon is blue,
We must believe that it is true.]
     Clearly Richard Dawkins’ ancestors were banging the drum even back then.
     Some interpret this "blue moon" as relating to absurdities and impossibilities, and a similar moon-related adage was first recorded in the following year:
"They would make men belewe ...
That þe Moone is made of grene chese."
[They would make men believe ...
That the moon is made of green cheese.]
     The most literal meaning of blue moon is when the moon (not necessarily a full moon) appears to a casual observer to be unusually bluish, which is a rare event. Such an effect can be caused by smoke or dust particles in the atmosphere, as happened after forest fires in Sweden and Canada in 1950 and, notably, after the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, which, by a trick of wavelength light, caused the moon to appear blue for a period of nearly two years.

And the next blue moons?
2012: August 2, August 31
2015: July 2, July 31

Note that, unlike the astronomical seasonal definition, these dates are dependent on the Roman calendar and time zones, for example the full moon here in the UK, today, will occur early tomorrow in eastern countries (Australia and most of Asia), where the calendar blue moon will not occur until late January 2010.

Twice in a Blue Moon
NOW THIS certainly could be a comment on my sex life. The rare phenomenon of two blue moons occurring in the same year happens approximately once every 19 years ... 1999 was the last time a blue moon appeared twice, in January and March.
     The months of the double blue moons are almost always January and March. That is because the short month that falls in between – February – is a key ingredient in this once-every-19-year phenomenon. For January and March to each have two full moons, it's necessary for February to have none at all. Since February is usually 28 days long, and the average span between full moons is 29.5 days, if a full moon occurs at the end of January, it's possible for the next full moon to take a rain check in February and make its appearance in the beginning of March.
     Finally, saying the moon was blue was equivalent to saying the moon was made of green (or cream) cheese; it indicated an obvious absurdity. In the 19th century, the phrase “until a blue moon” became established, meaning "never." Today the phrase “once in a blue moon” has come to mean "every now and then" or "rarely" — whether it gained that meaning through association with the lunar event remains uncertain.

Smiles of the full moon
BACK IN October, over on 400 Smiles A Day, I did a feature on a battered and storm tossed old tree that, from a certain angle, looks like a stag rearing up. Well, during the full moon at the beginning of December, I’d set off early on my morning walk and as I crossed the field

where the “stag tree” lurks, I happened to look back - and noticed that the moon was setting and hovering over it. I positioned myself – and captured the stag "antlering" the moon for goal (alongside).
     Well it made me smile. And the stag felt "over the moon".
    
Oh yes, the following also conjured up a smile: in myth and folklore the full moon of each month is given a name. There are many variations. The following list gives the neopagan names – a list which I have to admit I empathise with hugely (must be the near-pagan in me):

If you have already visited www.die.net/moon/ - also, click on www.die.net/earth/ - just as intriguing.

I shall look out for a shot at that olde blue moon. Hopefully a picture of said moon will follow over the next day or so. If not, a review of 2009 coming up as the moon begins to wane. In the meantime, a Happy Blue Moon to one and all...

2009 slides into 2010
Knocking on the moonlit door

On New Year's Eve morning, this was the only shot I managed of the blue moon setting - loads of cloud about, sadly...
 


However, by five in the afternoon the moon was back (phew!) and slowly climbing. The cloud had cleared, more or less. Some wispy high cloud about, which gave the final few hours of the fully blown blue moon a curious glow. I opted to capture it peeping from behind a tree in the grounds...
 


And alongside, captured first thing New Year's morning - no cloud about - and there lies a remarkable experience...

HAVING now given up partying on New Year's Eve - hindsight suggests an overrated pastime anyway - I was up bright and early new year's morning and ready for my walk, just after seven - but as I was about to switch the radio off, Johnnie Walker on his Radio 2 show played Paul McCartney's Let 'Em In. I feel no affection for the man, but I enjoy his music. So I sat down and listened - all five minutes of it.
     What a great song to greet in the new year: "Someone's knockin' at the door ... Sister Suzie, brother John ... do me a favour, open the door and let 'em in..." Actually, it was Mother Nature.
     I closed the door behind me and set off up the path heading for the fields ahead - and stopped dead in my tracks. It was perfectly still and quiet - but freezing. To my right, dawn was breaking over the Black Mountain and all the trees were silhouetted beautifully against the slowly brightening sky. To my left the moon, at around 20 degrees elevation, was bright and crystal clear in the cloudless and starry sky. I noticed my shadow on the ground, such was its brightness.
     I stood and stared. I really did. I duly captured the photograph alongside of a tree against the moon - and was going to delete it as not a particularly good image when I realised that it captures perfectly the sheer brightness of the full moon reflecting off the frozen branches of the tree.
    I was mesmerised by the extraordinary experience. Never have I experienced such stillness. And absolute quiet. Normally, no matter how early in the morning I set out, there's the drone of traffic in the distance, usually heavy traffic, the noise carrying in the morning air.
     Or indeed the sound of a quad bike or tractor in the distance as a farmer sets about the milking or whatever. Or even a dog barking.
     But this New Year's Day morning - not a sound. Nothing.


Twas the morning after New Year's Eve, when all through the land
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse...
The people were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Alka-Seltzer danced in their heads...
 
What a unique experience the stillness was. That's why I previously mentioned that it was Mother Nature knocking on the door of my cottage: Please, come out and join me and enjoy this rare phenomenon.
     And boyoboyo, am I glad I did. It must have been about 20 minutes later when I fully realised how spooky it all was. Suddenly, the sound of an airliner at 35,000 feet, clear as a bell. That's what had thrown me. The sound of aircraft is always in the background as they traverse their air lanes. And then, just like the buses, three passed over in quick succession. But it was a quite magical morning which deserves its place in my scrapbook - with festive bells on.
     Then followed a bright and sunny and cold winter's day...

Smile of New Year's Day
GIVEN normal circumstances the honour would go to The Italian Job, shown on Channel 4: quite a few blue moons have passed since I last saw it, but it pretty much generated my personal target of 400 smiles a day in one sitting. It really is a clever and witty film - loved Charlie's coming-out present on leaving prison, a room full of beautiful women. But the film is rightly remembered for this sequence:
"Five - four - three - two - one - go!" There's a massive explosion inside a van ... a pregnant pause ... "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"
     It's the one line in film and TV that overwhelmingly proves that you don't need obscene language to generate "realism". In real life Charlie wouldn't have used "bloody" - go back and insert the f-word ... that's right, it doesn't improve the line in anyway whatsoever. In fact if the film had used an obscenity we wouldn't have been regularly reminded of it down the years, indeed many blue moons would have passed without us being reminded of its blue language. No, bad language is a sure signpost that the script is an absolute turkey. In truth, sex, violence and salty language are the refuge of the media scoundrel who has mislaid his or her imagination and talent.
     Oh yes, musn't forget the ending, which has Gordon Brown written all over it: "Nobody move ... we're balancing right on the edge ... hang on a minute, lads, I've got a great idea..."

However, The Italian Job doesn't make my smile of the day. Following a beautiful winter's day, towards dusk cloud moves in. And yes, t
o top it all off, like icing on a cake, by early evening snow is falling. Perfect...
     Snow brings out the child in me. I can watch and walk in it for hours and hours. Down the years most of my girlfriends have always alluded, in some way or other, that it is time I decided what precisely I want to be when I grow up.
     But I am happy with the child which lurks within. You see, not only was a female ancestor on one side of the family seduced by Chief Sitting Bull, but a female on another branch of the family tree was seduced by the Viking God Loki (pictured below). He was half god half fire spirit and caused the other gods loads of trouble. And that's why I have a special empathy with snow.



Well, that's my story and I'm sticking with it. In fact I shall finish by returning to Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) and his Twas the Night before Christmas poem, which I slightly paraphrased above!


The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below...

 

As mentioned above, a review of 2009 coming up before too long, fingers crossed. Here's lookin' at 2010!


Countdown to the 2009 Festive Season


”At Christmas play and make good cheer;
For Christmas comes but once a year”

                                                    
Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry / Thomas Tusser (1524-1580)
 

GIVEN my enthusiastic ‘affair’ with the birds, which all began by chance back at the beginning of the year – all the best affairs happen by chance, no? (see 400 Smiles A Day) – there could be no other way to kick off a brief festive bulletin than by invitation, from one of my extra-special feathered friends, to “Come fly with me”.
 


A couple of recent letters in the Telegraph newspaper caught my eye. The first from William Esplen of Harleston in Norfolk, followed by one from David Negus of Balsall Common, West Midlands...

Christmas isn’t Christm&s
SIR – How should the Church market Christmas to secular Britain? Aled Jones’s BBC Radio 2 show on Sunday morning (13/12/2009) had a good idea. “If you take Christ out of Christmas,” he said, “all you are left with is M&S.”
SIR – My fourth granddaughter, Gigi, was fizzing with excitement this week at the prospect of her third Christmas and innocently produced a word that will delight the politically correct everywhere. I do hope that “Presmas” has no chance of entering the vernacular.

     Both the above letters were floating about inside my brain box when, one recent early evening, I happened to pass Llandeilo’s lit-up Christmas tree at Bradford Square – a rather smart effort this year, probably because it has featured in a local TV production Seren Bethlehem (of which more coming up).
     Not only that, but the tree has Xmas ‘gifts’ hanging from it, which really does give it a festive presence (sic).
     As I stood and stared, through its branches I could see, in the background, the brightly lit cross atop Llandeilo Church.
     I was irresistibly drawn towards a combination of Christmas, M&S and “Presmas” – and came up with the image alongside ... "For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly grateful..."
     This neatly brings me to yet another Telegraph letter which neatly joins up all the dots to paint a picture of Christmas. This one from Cdr Bill Nimmo-Scott of Pewsey, Wiltshire...


Away in a card game
SIR – A few years ago at this time of year, I went into a local gift shop that sold china ornaments and asked the girl if she had any “crib figures”. Without a moment’s hesitation she said that they did not sell card games. I left without pursuing the matter.

By a curious coincidence, at around the same time as the above was published I too had submitted a letter to the Western Mail – which was published on December 17th. Coming up is the complete letter, but as often happens, letters are edited, whether it’s down to a lack of space, too much waffling, or perhaps the paper is not happy to publish a particular point of view. I have no problems with any of this, indeed hopefully I learn a little each time it happens. Anyway, I show the letter in full because one specific part was totally cut - see if you can guess. First though, just a little background info...
     The subject matter concerns the delightfully named village of Bethlehem, just a few miles from Llandeilo.
     Just a few years back I’d set off on my daily early-morning walk. On this particular occasion I went via Penlan Park, and as I got to the bandstand I looked up the valley, as I always do ... in the hour surrounding sunrise the light often plays spellbinding tricks, and I noticed a particularly eye-catching view: there was a patch of light mist in the valley, and the brightness of the approaching sunrise was reflecting off the clouds and lighting up the mist in a magical and mysterious way.
     Only later when I looked at the images did I realise that the shimmering mist was over the village of Bethlehem and the surrounding area. Ever since I’ve wondered how I could use this rather startling image...
 


Anyway, back with the letter. Incidentally, I’d headed the letter simply Seren Bethlehem (the title of the S4C television series) and subtitled it Take 1 – but the clever sub-editors at the Western Mail came up with the one below – especially apt given the “crib figures” letter above...

Off the crib sheet
I am not a watcher of reality-style television programmes, but I was recently drawn to S4C’s Seren Bethlehem, for no other reason than it features the square mile I am hefted to. Residents of Bethlehem, Llangadog and Llandeilo are invited to take part in a festive challenge to celebrate the origins of Christmas. A nativity play with a difference. The series is hosted by the enthusiastic Heledd Cynwal, a rather agreeable TV celebrity, who lives locally, and hasn’t forgotten who she is and where she comes from.
     During preparations and rehearsals for the big show, much spontaneous humour surfaces and a lot of it is worthy of sharing with those who do not “speak the two spokes”.

     Heledd has been searching for a newborn baby, around whom the show revolves, obviously. She finds a pregnant Donna Morgan, due to give birth at the end of November. Heledd tells her she would be perfect. Donna is hugely enthusiastic.
     Now all the exchanges happen in Welsh, but as is the way in these ‘ere parts, English words and expression litter our conversations, which are highlighted here inside quotation marks.
     Heledd, a mother of three young children herself, is concerned that Donna will be okay exposing her young baby to proceedings. Donna reassures her that she’ll be fine, nods enthusiastically and utters an oft heard expression of confirmation: “Honest to God!”
     Now how delightful is that? A rather common or garden expression, but wonderfully smiley remembering who it is her baby will play in the nativity.
     Next, three farmers play shepherds. During the first script reading, Eilir, one of the shepherds, is asked what his wife Doris does, and he is supposed to reply rather disparagingly that she’s a “stand-up comedienne” – but actually says a “stand-by comedian.” Much laughter and someone says that that is much better than the script.
     This set me thinking. We should all have a stand-by comic in our lives – not necessarily someone who tells funny stories, pulls a funny face or does a funny walk, but those magical people who make us smile the moment we clap eyes on them.

     Indeed, if I were God and ruled the Universe, after inadvertently directing all the troublemakers of the world – warmongers, politicians, bankers, CEOs, lawyers, Richard Dawkins, the usual suspects – to the nearest black hole, I would ensure that everyone left would have both a guardian angel and a stand-by comic hovering near by.

Entering into the spirit of things at
Yr Hen Vic Pub & Restaurant, Llandeilo


So there you have it. Oh yes, what the paper decided to skip was the tale surrounding the “Honest to God!” episode. Honestly.

To confirm that natural humour is best, especially out of the mouths of babes (or, to be precise ...
Matthew 21:16: And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?), a couple more letters spotted in the newspapers. The first from a Bill Gladstone of Solihull, West Midlands, and headed...

The modern Nativity
SIR – I was amused when I heard recently that my granddaughter had been cast as a chicken in the school Nativity play. When I related this anecdote to an acquaintance, she replied that her son came home from school to tell her that he had been cast as a book. This puzzled my friend, who contacted the school for clarification as to how to dress him. The teacher confirmed that her son was in fact a page.

The second from Brian Simpson of Burbage in Leicestershire...
SIR – My daughter-in-law confessed this week that, some years ago, her daughter came home from school to announce that she was a cornflake in the school nativity play. This puzzled my daughter-in-law, but the child insisted, so she went ahead and dressed her in flowing yellow robes, only to find out that on the night she was the only yellow snowflake on stage. The other snowflakes were quite envious.
 

Smiles of the Festive Season

IT IS said that the popularity of watching sex in films and on television is a sort of substitute for the real thing. If the same is true of cooking, then no wonder we are breeding a generation of people who really can’t cook. Perusing the television schedules on Monday 21st

December, I couldn’t help but notice how many food and cooking programmes were on. It all kicked off in the morning on the S4C analogue Welsh/English channel, soon to disappear when the digital switchover is complete.  Cop this little lot...

10.40am (60 mins - S4C Welsh/English) Jamie’s Family Christmas
06.00pm (60 mins- BBC2) The Hairy Bikers Celebrate Twelve Days of Christmas
07.30pm (30 mins - BBC1) Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen
08.00pm (60 mins - Channel 4) Come Dine with Me at Christmas
08.25pm (35 mins - S4C) Byw yn yr Ardd (a Welsh language gardening show but featuring a demonstration on how to make a centrepiece for the Christmas dinner table!)
10.00pm (55 mins - BBC2) Victoria Wood with All the Trimmings (a sort of inter-course, a break for laughs - see sex on TV, above!)
11.00pm (65 mins - Channel 4) Gordon Ramsay’s F Word
11.30pm (60 mins - S4C Welsh/English) Heston’s Christmas Feast

Seven hours of pigging out – and that’s just what was on the four main channels (five if you include the two S4C versions). Astonishing. The whole thing made me join my spud and smile in wonderment.

A smiley spud spotted at my place ...
the sum total of my delight in cooking


NEXT, a few online images which really tickled my ulnar nerve, resulting in the usual sharp tingling sensations...



Above, the UK's largest growing Christmas tree. It is the 113-foot giant redwood at Wakehurst Place, Kew's country garden at Ardingly, West Sussex.
Festooned with 1,800 lights - which have to be rigged up by specialist tree climbers - the tree can be seen for miles around. Gatwick pilots say it is also clearly visible from the air. Impressive.

Alongside, the Christmas tree in Sacriston, County Durham - which has been branded the worst in the country. A living tree was planted in November, with the intention that it would grow bigger over the years, but a recent storm ripped approximately two foot off the poor thing.
     Personally, this is the tree I'd have on point duty at Downing Street. It would perfectly reflect the way our politicians have ripped the top off both our economy and our standing around the globe.

     However, not everyone is seduced by Father Christmas. The Freyung Christkindlmarkt - or Christmas market - in Vienna's city centre has banned Santa Claus, red caps and carols because they are too commercial and not traditional enough.
 


And alongside Old No-Go, so distraught were these Santas - they hung themselves! Actually, that final one I captured in Llandeilo last Christmas. Someone had decorated the shop window of a vacant property with loads and loads of Santas. All shapes and sizes. Very smiley. I cropped the image to zoom in on the ones hanging from the ceiling. It seemed to hang comfortably alongside the Santa-free zone in Vienna.

Finally, a letter from a Paul Darley of Whyteleafe, Surrey (a most unusual place name, but I did find it in my RAC road atlas - between Croydon and Reigate - every day a day at school, look you) which appeared in The Times on Boxing Day last year. I thought I'd keep it for this year's Christmas scrapbook...

Crackers to cherish
Sir, On the reverse of the joke inside the cracker I pulled was written: "These crackers contain items not suitable for children under 36 months due to small parts. Do not pull snap outside the cracker. Please retain this information for future reference."
     Where should I file this, and why?

As I am rounding off this bulletin, TOTP2 Xmas 2009 is on the telly in the background - and Bob Dylan's Must be Santa is playing. I stop and stare. What a jolly little song and video. Ending as these things do with someone jumping through a window. Made me smile though.

Here's lookin' at you ... and 2010 - if spared.


NOVEMBER 2009 IN REVIEW
Pen pals, hundred lines, bullocks and a hole-in-one

First, as usual, the weather
GIVEN the spirited and rather teasing nature of the British weather, I’ve begun each of my recent bulletins with a picture which attempts to capture my own square mile’s weather for the month under review. Well, November was a doddle. It rained a lot. Only a handful of days without rain. On the radio someone said that Wales as a whole experienced just the one completely dry day. Mind you, we had nothing like the rain that fell in the Cumbria area with its resultant tragedy.
     However, even the Towy Valley was occasionally under water, and I did capture some eye-catching photos. In fact I submitted one to Derek Brockway, the Wales Today weatherman, who did show it on screen...
 


The above was captured on a bright, late afternoon, just as the sun was setting – that’s the Golden Grove bridge just about visible through the golden glare of the sun.

Wel-i-jiw-jiw moment of the month
The butcher’s pen is mightier than the Queen’s sword
BACK at the beginning of November, butcher William Lloyd Williams, a larger than life character in his home town of Machynlleth in Powys, and known to everyone as Will, collected his MBE from the Queen for services to the meat industry. Prior to the ceremony all the recipients mingled. The cheery butcher was approached by Royle Family star Sue Johnston, who was collecting an OBE: “Excuse me, but do you know you’ve got a biro behind

your ear?"
     ”Yes,” he replied. “I’m a butcher and I thought the Queen might want a turkey for Christmas and I might have to take an order.” Unsurprisingly Sue Johnston had to pick herself up, dust herself off...
     Rather than cause offence, Will had cleared it with a Palace official, who advised him that if he thought the ‘pen-behind-ear’ was part of his personality, then it would be okay.
     “When I got through the gates my wife said to me: ‘Will, take the pen off,’ so I did, but while I was queuing up to go into the hall I put it back on again." (Should he not now be rechristened Willie-Won’t He?)
     "The Queen did look ... and she smiled.”

     In these troubled times, what with Afghanistan, global warning, the recession and the floods, thank goodness there are variations on the theme of butcher Lance-Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army still around, making us smile.

Bonus Wel-i-jiw-jiw ‘Letter to the Editor' of the month
SPOTTED in The Daily Telegraph, submitted by a Robert Stephenson of Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.
Secret loans
SIR – Some advice, please. Our boys, Hal and Scot, have a history of reckless spending. I have just discovered that my wife, not normally secretive, lent them £62,000 a year ago. To help cover rising commitments, I had arranged to borrow £175,000 and was planning a 10-year repayment. However, the Old Lady argues that we need to repay much faster. How can I trust her again or be sure she hasn’t lent other large amounts?

Accepting that the Telegraph, just like the Times, checks out the authenticity of letters submitted - and presuming the above is not a draft script for a Monty Python sketch - wasn’t it a certain Mr Stephenson who, in 1829, together with his boy Robert, invented a multi-tubular boiler for the famous locomotive "Rocket"?
     It strikes me that this Mr Robert Stephenson should stick another type of rocket somewhere rather private, rather sharpish. My local Spar shop had just the thing in the lead up to this year's Guy Fawkes night.


And still they don’t get it

THE moment I first clapped eyes on the new Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow – pictured here with wife Sally – my instincts went on yellow alert.
     You know how it works: pussycat or polecat? dolphin or shark? Meaning, should I step forward and embrace (metaphorically speaking) or step back and remain wary. There was something about the cut of his jib. I decided the prudent thing was to stand back and stare.
     Following the MPs’ expenses scandal he repaid almost £8,000, something to do with avoidance of capital gains tax following the sale of two properties.
     And this is the new keeper of the gate?

     November threw up two interesting statistics. Bercow had his grace and favour Westminster apartment refurbished at a cost of £45,000 to the taxpayer. The original estimate was £23,400. His wife blamed the escalating cost on their children, detailing some reason I didn’t quite understand. Also, his personal “entertainment” expenses over his first three months in office totalled £13,000.
     And still these Westminster clowns don’t get it.
     Oh yes, Mr Bercow said this about his wife’s decision to contest a Tory-held seat on Westminster City Council: “My wife isn’t my chattel, she’s my wife. She is a private citizen who has her own views and is an independent person. And it has long been known that my wife is a supporter of the Labour Party, so I don’t think there’s anything odd, embarrassing, and certainly there’s nothing underhand about it.”
     But obviously not independent enough to pay for all that additional work to the apartment herself.

Up that lazy river for the final time
BACK on the 16th of November veteran actor Edward Woodward died aged 79. Woodward’s thoughtful and understated acting style was particularly suited to television, though he also appeared regularly in the theatre, where his work ranged from Shakespeare to pantomime, and he made several films.

 His pleasant tenor singing voice was heard in stage musicals, on television variety shows and on more than a dozen records.
     But it’s as a singer that I fondly remember him, especially his ultra friendly, wrap-around voice, together with his treatment and delivery of those memorable old classics. The wonderful tributes paid to him following his death, not only as a performer but also as an individual, confirm that his voice did indeed reflect his character.
     Kenny Everett, on his unforgettable and much-missed Saturday morning show on BBC radio, often played his songs, and I vividly recall Kenny saying this: “Now what was it Noel Coward said? ‘Edward Woodward? Sounds like someone farting in the bath.’” Superb when delivered in the Coward voice.
     In fact, reading the obituaries, the story appears to be that it was Laurence Olivier who turned to Noel Coward back in the Sixties and said:
“That young chap in your play, his name sounds like a fart in a bath, doesn’t it? Edwub wub wub.” I prefer the Kenny version.
     And of course: “Why are there so many Ds in Edward Woodward?” the popular joke went. “Because otherwise he’d be Ewar Woowar.”

Being that my humble abode overlooks the Towy Valley, and that I walk the banks of the River Towy most days – cue a relaxing picture of the Towy, alongside, as captured along one of my morning walks – a particular Desert Island Disc favourite of mine is his, ‘(Up a) Lazy River’, even if the Towy has been anything but lazy over recent weeks (see the picture at the very top!).
     I’ve come across a clip of Woodward appearing on the Morecambe & Wise show and singing The Way You Look Tonight. As I watched I sort of expected the set to suddenly spring into life and engulf him, the way things usually happened on the Morecambe & Wise show.
     Just type Edward Woodward sings into a search engine and the YouTube clip will appear. If you enjoy

laid-back, middle-of-the-road style music, it's a perfect example of the genre.
     Finally, and remembering that
his widow is Michele Dotrice, best known for her role as Betty Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, I liked this two-word online tribute from someone called Wazza: “...oh Betty!”

Also during November, Professor Jerry Morris, respected epidemiologist, died aged 99½. Who? Quite. The name meant nothing until I heard it featured on Last Word, Radio 4's weekly obituary programme, a series which recounts the life stories of those who have recently died.
     Professor Morris
laid the scientific groundwork for the modern aerobics movement, the man who established the connection between health and physical exercise by studying London bus crews. The belief that exercise and health are related had no data to prove it until Morris published in 1953 the rigorously tested results of several years’ research into the heart attack rates of London Transport employees: the bus drivers, sitting for most of the day, had more than twice the number of heart attacks suffered by the conductors, who were running up and down up to 750 stairs a day.
     I am so impressed with the man for coming up with such a study. It’s one of those things that when you hear about it, it all sounds so bloody obvious. Yet very few people are blessed with the wisdom to spot the obvious.
     However, what I particularly enjoyed hearing was his daughter, Julie Zalewska, talking about her father.
“He died aged 99½ ... he always insisted on adding the ½. He also disliked intensely the thought of having to attend parties – any sort of party. But do you know, he was always the last to leave.’’
     At that point I instantly bonded with the good Professor, for I too hate parties. But, if you've gotta go, you've gotta go - so have a ball while you're there. All I need is a drink in hand and I'm all fired up. If there really is something or somewhere beyond the grave, I shall certainly seek out Professor Jerry Morris, aged 99½.

“Believe it or don’t” tale of the month revisited
LAST month’s “Believe it or don’t” was AA Gill shooting that baboon, a cold-blooded killing, executed merely to satisfy his “curiosity” about what it felt like to kill a human being, being that the primates are our closest relatives. I finished what I had to say about Gill last month, but there is an interesting addendum.
     During the month I happened upon
BBC2’s Natural World, which explored the vital bond between mothers and their babies. I maintain that if you want to understand human beings you must first study the natural world. All the clues are out there; indeed, two examples from the aforementioned Natural World, which I put forward as Exhibits A and B.
     We watched a new Lion King move in on a pride of female lions, having seen off the current Chief Roaring Cat. In fact, just before that, we witnessed the lionesses, with many young between them, actually attack and drive off a male suitor because they knew what lay in store. Eventually though a new male moved in and the first thing he did was kill all the young already within the pride - which meant the females would then reluctantly mate again, with him, because they are programmed to breed, period. But to watch the females helplessly watch the male kill their young was moving in the extreme.
     What came to mind was the sad death of Baby P – and many other stepchildren besides. What is puzzling though is why the mother appears to accept what the man is doing, indeed the women seemingly play a part in such death and destruction. Well, humans are programmed exactly the same as lions.
      But of course in the case of humans there are many ways step-parents can destroy children without causing them actual physical harm. Mental cruelty is as destructive as sticking a knife into someone.
     Then we observed an extended family of ring tailed lemurs. The troop moves off, as is their wont, but one

of the females has a sick baby which simply doesn’t have the strength to cling on to its mother. The mother is faced with a dreadful dilemma. If she doesn’t keep up with the troop she faces isolation and certain death.
     But how can she leave her baby? Five times she walks away. Five times she returns, cajoling her baby to follow.
     She drags herself away for the sixth time, clearly displaying what is termed affective consciousness – an awareness of her intuitive feelings, something we now know is shared by all mammals.
     To watch her walk away from her baby on that sixth occasion was heartbreaking. If ever you have a chance to see the programme, watch it and weep.
     I do hope AA Gill watched it. I did look out for a comment in his TV review - nothing. One parting thought on AA Gill and his killing of the baboon...
     I saw part of a Johnny Cash documentary during the month, in particular his controversial hit Folsom Prison Blues – and I thought of AA Gill...
When I was just a baby my mama told me Son,
Always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns.
But I shot a man in Rino, just to watch him die –
Now every time I hear that whistle I hang my head and cry.


Blair watch
ANOTHER letter in The Daily Telegraph, from a Peter Barlow of London W2...
Blair irony on a plate: Last Saturday, I was passing Tony Blair’s house (the one in Connaught Square) on my way to buy your newspaper when I saw – not for the first time – a red Ferrari parked opposite with the registration number 1 RAQ.
     On the assumption that it does not belong to the Blairs, I was wondering which of their neighbours had such a sense of irony.

Which leads me perfectly to...

Images of the month
Warrant Officer Darren Chant, 40, was the Regimental Sergeant-Major of the Grenadier Guards, with a long and distinguished military career, one of the Army’s most respected non-commissioned officers. He was a revered figure within his regiment and to the generations of junior officers that he taught at the Sandhurst Military Academy.
     His funeral took place at the Guards Chapel, Central London, before his widow, Nausheen, who is pregnant with their son. His first wife, Connie, and their three children Connor, 16, Adam, 11, and Victoria, 9, also attended. The 700 mourners included the Duke of Edinburgh.
     Warrant Officer Chant was killed on November 3 in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was shot with four other British soldiers by an Afghan policeman they had been training for several weeks.
 

Victoria Chant weeps as the coffin of her father, Darren Chant,
 is carried out of the Guard's Chapel following his funeral


This powerful image was seen on the front pages of at least a couple of our more ‘serious’ newspapers. There’s little doubt that they would have thought long and hard as to whether they should use it. Personally, I think they were probably right, which is why I consider it right to include it in my scrapbook.
     It speaks volumes about what our politicians in general and Blair in particular led the nation into.

DURING November we also became aware of the death of Staff Sgt Olaf Schmid, 30, in Afghanistan. He died on October 31 – a day before he was due to return to the UK – while trying to disarm an improvised explosive device (IED) in the Sangin region of Helmand province. Probably the most dangerous job in the world.

     We also became aware of his widow, Christina Schmid, especially every word she has uttered since the death of her husband. Who will forget that break with formality when, with a wistful smile, she applauded his homecoming as his coffin passed through Wootton Bassett?
     A woman of profound strength, independence and extraordinary fortitude. Speaking at his funeral at Truro Cathedral, she said this:
     “In past conflicts, where there was an immediate threat to our shores and our existence, soldiers were never plagued with self-doubt about the value of their role in society, and people and their soldiers were once close in unity.”


Staff Sgt Olaf Schmid

     She called on politicians to show that the work of British forces in Afghanistan did not go “unnoticed”. She urged them to work as hard as her husband had to “preserve life ... to push themselves and serve us like never before”. Were they listening? We should not hold our breath. Unlike our brave soldiers who increasingly have to hold their breath for ever more and a day.
 

Christina Schmid at Wootton Bassett awaiting the repatriation of
her husband, Staff Sgt Olaf Schmid
 

THE FALLOUT over Afghanistan also threw up another conundrum, the throwaway use of powerfully expressive words. On a ridiculous level, the everyday use of obscene language has now removed forceful words as a weapon to express extreme displeasure. There is now no yellow alert. Straight from argument to violence.
     On a more sublime level, PC Bill Barker, a Cumbrian policeman, drowned when a bridge on which he was stopping traffic collapsed. Leading politicians responded to his death using the vocabulary of extraordinary heroism. Gordon Brown said the constable had given his life saving others.
     From what we hear,  PC Barker was a good and brave man who might well have given his life to save others if the moment ever arrived. But if he had known there was a real risk of the bridge collapsing he would have moved away. Obviously. But heroism in its proper context is knowingly laying down your life for others, a conscious sacrifice, something which deserves the term “hero”.
      By coincidence, during the month of November this tale surfaced.
The first woman in the Royal Navy to be awarded the Military Cross spoke yesterday of her proudest moment as she collected her medal from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace (below).
    
Able Seaman and medic Kate Nesbitt – just 5ft tall and 21 years-of-age – defied a hail of Taliban fire to

race across open ground and save the life of a comrade shot in the neck and jaw in Afghanistan in March. As bullets and rockets flew overhead she stemmed a massive flow of blood from Lance Corporal Jon List, 22, who had been choking to death on his own blood after a bullet shattered his jaw.
     She was pictured minutes after the rescue with the serviceman’s blood still on her face. Yesterday she said simply: “I just did what I’m sure everyone else would have done for me. When it all happened we were in the middle of an operation but I wouldn’t in a million years have thought anyone would follow it up. It was the biggest shock when I got the news. It made it all seem real being here today. It has been so special. When I looked over and saw my mum and dad in the audience, it was the proudest day of my life.”

Kate, who hails from Plymouth, is only the second woman across all the armed forces to receive the Military Cross. Her citation reads: “Under fire and under pressure her commitment and courage were inspirational and made the difference between life and death.”
     To return to PC Bill Barker, this is what his widow, Hazel, said: “I have the comfort of knowing that Bill died doing the job he loved, and the fact that he was helping others is just typical of Bill.” To quote Mathew Parris in The Times: “It is often those closest to a sorrow who choose words with the most careful accuracy ... Hazel Barker pays a tribute that surely has the inestimable virtue of being the unadorned truth.”

A hundred lines, Prime Minister

Back with Gordon Brown, there was that dreadful fuss when he sent a letter of condolence to the mother of a killed soldier – and got the surname wrong, not to mention all the spelling mistakes.
     And of course just recently he sent a letter of condolence to a soldier killed a couple of years ago.
     Whilst we must believe that his heart is in the right place, you do wonder if Brown is doing this on auto-pilot.
     Okay, call me a cynic, but shouldn’t there be someone close to him, standing over him, checking all these things before they are sent to ensure that everything makes absolute sense.
     Is Brown so aloof that no member of even his closest staff would dare cough gently and whisper: “Would you like a fresh sheet of paper, Prime Minister?”
      Oh yes, talk of Brown’s dreadful writing and his poor spelling, the following letter appeared in The Times, from a David Housden of Elton, Cambs...
Regarding legible handwriting, I once had a school report that said: “As David’s handwriting improves his lamentable spelling becomes more evident.”

From The Sunday Times


50 practical tips to save you half a lifetime
(headline from a column by Mathew Parris in The Times)

I have taken years – often decades – to acquire practical knowledge that, if only someone had told me earlier, could have saved half a lifetime of inconvenience, frustration and wasted time. The wisdom that, in The Graduate, the young Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) received from his father’s friend – that he should go into plastics - deserves better consideration.
     So I’ve been composing the letter from my 60-year-old self that would have been of some real use at 16: things I wish I’d known earlier. “Dear Me . . .”

Here’s just a random selection...

Socks: buy ten pairs of black cotton socks and ten woollen; and stick to black for the rest of your life, saving hundreds of hours trying to match odd socks.
If the first nail won’t hammer into a wall, the second won’t either. Never accuse someone of stealing unless you’re absolutely sure. Never return a gift. Never rescind an invitation. Never think that someone who might have expected to be included won’t notice they haven’t been.
By acting bravely we become brave; not the other way round. Never melt wax in a saucepan you hope to use again.
Port can cause a ghastly hangover. Charged by a bullock, lunge: he’ll back off. But not a bull. Learn to distinguish. Bullocks have no balls...

Eh? Let’s forget why anyone would want to melt wax in a saucepan, but that business about the bullock is a load of old bollocks. I mean, there are loads of exceedingly stupid people out there who hang on the words of celebrity columnists such as Parris. So...

A letter wot I wrote to Rupert at The Times

Sir - Here's a cautionary tale of interest to those who have bought into the Mathew Parris tip that a bullock is just a pussycat at heart. Last year, crossing a field along my regular morning walk, I would encounter some 60 friendly bullocks. They would amble towards me; even follow me across the field.
     Then one morning I heard an aggressive snort just to my right. One of the bullocks had dropped its head, was pawing the ground and bellowing alarmingly, the classic signs of a bull about to charge. My heart raced. To my left ran an electrified fence. I backed towards it and leapt over (one of the advantages of having longish legs). In truth the fence would not have stopped the bullock – but then something extraordinary happened.

     All the other bullocks, now alerted, moved towards – no, not me, but the ‘enraged’ bullock. Suddenly, one of them engaged said bullock in a head to head. Then, as if a collective switch had been flicked, they all began fighting amongst themselves. A remarkable and frightening sight – but I hurriedly made my excuses and left. The following day, normal service had been resumed, so to speak.
     As David Dimbleby found to his cost when he was laid low by an overly aggressive bullock, never dabble in things you do not fully understand. While bullocks may have been robbed of their balls, just occasionally their genetic inheritance will out.
     Incidentally, when I was but a boy a local farmer was killed by his bull. “Never, ever turn your back on any bull,” my farmer father insisted, “no matter how friendly it appears.” As a matter of interest beef bulls are generally

Autumn's 'Hay Festival' in the Towy Valley
(this year's bullocks play pussycats)

regarded to be pussycats, while dairy bulls are polecats. Why should that be?
     Well, from where I stand and stare, beef bulls run with the herd – so satisfaction guaranteed – while dairy bulls are penned and perform only to order, the animal equivalent of a male chastity belt. So I guess I’d have it in for the farmer too.
     Incidentally, there was this one response to the Parris bullock advice online.
Rob Bain wrote: How do you know a bullock when it's charging you? The balls are at the blunt end. I have been run over by a bullock, not a bull, hm, useful that one.

Mathew Parris is a strange cove anyway, not the sort I would want within a million miles of my fondly imagined South Sea island paradise. I mean, why would you want a list of things you learn along your walk through time anyway? I mean, just 50? God, there must be a million, at least. (But every day is a day at school, as I recall.) Whatever, ponder this from a recent article of his...

My kingdom for a bolting horse
I wonder if Her Majesty secretly hoped for some drama on her way to that speech
Do you ever watch an aeroplane flying seemingly rather low along the horizon, and shock yourself by a little voice in your head that says: “Crash! Crash!”?
     Yesterday on television I watched the royal procession on its way from Buckingham Palace to Westminster for the State Opening of Parliament. The beautifully groomed black horses were becoming increasingly agitated (as horses are) by the high-gusting wind. One or two were rearing and bridling, their riders struggling to keep control. And then that little voice in my head: “Bolt! Bolt!”
  This was a terrible thought. Some of the horses were drawing the Queen’s carriage. But it did just strike me that even Her Majesty, as she waved dutifully from inside her gilded and claustrophobia-inducing cage, borne inexorably towards her ghastly duty at the Palace of Westminster, might have heard her own little interior demon too: “Bolt!”
     But no such excitement. No escape from the dreadful ceremonials as she rose to recite her grim script. Poor Queen. She sounded not so much bored by what she had to read, as defeated.

Well, have you ever watched a low-flying aircraft – and we have plenty of them in this part of the world – and wished it to crash? Or watched a horse and rider pass and hoped the horse would bolt?
     I honestly think that Mathew Parris, along with his Murdoch stable mate AA Gill, are both heading for Doolally Tap, that outpost of the Great British Madhouse.

Quote of the month
“According to some climate change people, if we all stopped breathing the world would be a better place.” Terry Wogan on his Wake Up To Wogan radio show, said with tongue-in-cheek, a putdown to the doom and gloom climate change merchants.
The truth is, Sir Terence, never was a truer word spoken, especially given the way we have pillaged, raped, burnt and poisoned the planet. I remember reading a year or so back a report on what would happen to the planet if man suddenly didn’t exist. The changes were listed up to a million years hence, but major changes would happen from day one. For example, animal life would immediately recover, for there would be no killing of animals, whether for food, or through hunting, shooting and fishing, or crucially all the creatures that are killed accidentally, say by motor vehicles.
     Food for thought, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Bits...
WATCHING a repeat of Have I Got News For You the other evening, they had much fun at the expense of Michael Ball regarding something he had said on his radio show: “Someone has written in," Ball says. "This is from Helvetica Bold. What a great name.” But he was then informed that it was, in fact, a font name.
     Well, yes it is. But it turned out that it was the user name of a real person on the Ashes To Ashes and Life On Mars fan site The Railway Arms. And Helvetica Bold was the name they used by way of a signature when sending an email to Michael Ball’s programme. A fact that appears to have escaped the producers of Have I Got News For You.
     Oh dear, she who laughs last - for I presume Helvetica is a she – laughs loudest. So I was wondering who Helvetica’s perfect partner would be. So up to the font list I go ... oh yes, definitely:
Felix Titling.
     This is great news for Helvetica, for as the actual font shown here indicates, Felix titling only appears in upper case. You could say that Felix has a permanent erection – but I wouldn’t dare suggest such a thing.
     So then, if Helvetica and
Felix had a girl, she would obviously be called Georgia Helvetica-Bold-Titling. 

...and Pieces
THE ABOVE brings me neatly to the late Hilda Baker, mistress of the malapropism. I heard these two glorious examples during the month...
     I can say that without fear of contraception. (We’re back with
FELIX again.)
     She can’t talk properly, you know – she needs an electrocution lesson.

SMILES OF THE MONTH
TOWARDS the end of the month, breaking news on the radio told us that Tiger Woods had been involved in a serious road accident and was in hospital, badly injured. It quickly transpired that he wasn’t seriously injured, indeed, the story immediately took on a life of its own as hanky-panky became the password. All the papers, both tabloid and serious, went to town on the story. And the jokes started flying down the fairway. Golf

appears to be a sport made for the dodgy joke.
     Also during the month The Sun celebrated its 40th birthday. The spirit of The Sun is best reflected in its memorable headlines. Remember when North Korea shocked the world with its first nuclear weapons test: “How do you solve a problem like Korea?” The more problematic “Gotcha” from the Falklands war. “Freddie Starr ate my hamster” was a bit tasty. And of course poor Paddy Ashdown following an affair with his secretary: “Paddy Pantsdown”.
     Each morning when I collect my paper I always have a peep to see what the Sun’s front page headline is ... and it invariably makes me smile.
     And then, at the beginning of December, following Tiger Woods’ public apology, they came up with the one pictured alongside, tee-he!
     Whatever you think of the Sun and all who sail in her, they are a very clever crowd of buccaneers.
     I have to admit that I too entered the spirit of things and tried hard to think of something different to do with, um, a hole-in-one.
     I also found myself wondering what on earth it will

be like when Woods returns to the golf course and tees up his first shot. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Anyway, with all this in mind – and I Googled my 'jokes' first just to make sure nobody else had thought along the same lines – so here’s...

Another letter wot I wrote to Rupert
Tiger! Tiger! burning bright...
Sir, My interest in golf is merely fly-by – until the last few days, that is. As the balls keep bouncing out of the rough, do you suppose golf’s much vaunted hole-in-one will henceforth be known simply as ‘a tiger’? And let’s be honest, from here on in none of us will see the Woods for the tease.
     Hm, I really could grow to like this silly game…
Sadly, it didn’t make the cut (ho-ho!) - but it made me smile.

FINALLY, unless you’ve already seen it, seek out Surprised kitty (original) on YouTube. If you're running short on your 400 smiles a day target, this 17 second burst of pussycat heaven will do the trick...
 


OCTOBER 2009 IN REVIEW
Viz-a-viz ghoulies, shotgun weddings and naturists

But first, the weather
“WHEN TWO Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather.” So wrote Samuel Johnson in seventeen-something-or-other. For “two Englishmen” read “two Brits”. It really is true. Okay, mostly it is just a conversation starter for ten, but the truth is our weather is so weird and wonderful that we can’t stop ourselves.
     This is why my two previous monthly reviews began with, surprise, surprise, the weather, mostly brought about by the much publicised “barbeque summer” that never was. But as I pointed out a month ago, if October turned out to be a reasonable month then the Met Office prediction should have read “barbeque autumn”. And that’s precisely what we had through September and October.
     As a bonus, the perfect autumn weather meant that as we approached the end of October the leaves took on a special beauty. As the shots coming up, and captured in my square mile, testify...
     First up, the avenue of lime trees as you enter Penlan Park, Llandeilo, with a special splash of red as I am putting this together over Remembrance Weekend (I was particularly moved by the playing of the Last Post by a solo trumpeter prior to the Wales-New Zealand rugby international at the Millennium Stadium - I think it had much to do with the echo generated within the huge stadium with its roof shut).
 


And just a few days before the end of October, on a rather dull early morning, the trees surrounding Dinefwr Castle head for a glorious finale – another few weeks, fingers crossed ... bingo!
     I say “fingers crossed” because here in Old Wales we cannot compete with New England, and of course it’s all down to the weather. Just a storm or two sweeping in off the Atlantic ... bye-bye leaves. And that’s precisely what happened on the very last day of October. On that Saturday night into Sunday, a rotten depression duly swept in – and our wide-screen, Technicolor autumn mostly flew away.

     On the early Sunday morning so wild was the weather I drove into town to pick up the paper, only the third time I’ve had to do that since I reinvented myself as a country boy back in June. I’d taken my camera with me because I wanted to capture a particular shop window display in town, always best in darkness, together with a quick flash (that result coming up later).
     Along my journey into town I couldn’t help but notice that the county road was a wall-to-wall carpet of fallen leaves. I stopped, and in the wind and rain with the car headlights as my flash, took a picture of the road ahead ... it’s not the best of photographs - the conditions didn't help - but it captures something I’d never observed before.
     When I travelled the same road some six hours later, with the sun now shinning, just the limited traffic on that stretch of road had already swept the leaves away, which is why it was something which so captured my attention.


Wel-i-jiw-jiw moment of the month

“From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!”

RICHARD BRUNSTROM!
     "Who?" I hear you ask. See, you’ve forgotten already. No you haven’t. None of us are likely to forget Richard Brunstrom in a hurry. The Mad Mullah of the Traffic Taliban, the Chief Constable of North Wales,

known to one and all as "the godfather of the speed camera".
    
Well, he retired a few months back: “Right,” he said at the time, “that’s it, you lot won’t hear any more from me, I’m off to sail ‘round the world, or somewhere.” Or words to that effect. But you know these police, you can’t believe a word they say!
     So I kept thinking, we’re bound to see him pop up somewhere, sometime soon, like a bad copper penny – but not a peep.
     Let’s refresh the parts that speed cameras don’t reach: back in July I did a piece on Brunstrom, in particular a feature on him taking his place, along with other robe-wearing new recruits, at the National Eisteddfod here in Wales as he joined an order of Welsh poets, the Gorsedd of Bards. Membership is the highest honour bestowed by the annual Welsh language festival, granted only to those deemed to have made a significant contribution to Wales’s language and culture (he learnt to speak Welsh, with distinction it has to be said).
     Gorsedd members wear green, blue or white to denote their standing. As a member of the highest rank Mr Brunstrom wore a white robe, pictured alongside.

Well now, on the very last day of October, I was walking down Carmarthen Street in Llandeilo, and ahead of me a father and young son. Suddenly the father stopped, called his son back, and pointed to a shop window. Both stared and smiled before moving on.
     Intrigued, I stopped, and looked into the window of a recently opened flower shop ... Wel-i-jiw-jiw, it's the Mad Mullah himself, I remember thinking.
     Quite a shock it was ... I mean, I hadn’t heard that he had passed on to that great speed trap in the sky.
     Actually, as you will have guessed, the clue was the date, October 31st – Halloween – and an eye-catching shop window at
Blodau Teilo (Flowers of Llandeilo).
     And here's the shot I referred to above – taken in darkness, with flash, to avoid the glass reflection that you get in daylight - which turned out okay, considering!
     Anyway, the sight of the Mad Mullah, dressed in bardic robe, on his way to heaven – "I shall not be flashed" – was a real wel-i-jiw-jiw moment.
     Oh, as far as I know, Richard Brunstrom is still alive

and well and saying "'Ello, 'ello, 'ello!". As for the second figure in the picture, it could be a case of "me and my shadow" - or more likely it's the grim reaper, aka Tony Blair, doing what comes naturally - which leads to...

Blair Watch
AROUND the middle of October, a clever Peter Brookes cartoon (below) in The Times captured my attention. As Wootton Bassett continues to do its duty, Blair continues to ply his dodgy trade and pile up his wealth. A recent Sunday Times article listed his and Cherie’s current properties...

     A seven-bedroom mansion, South Pavilion, Buckinghamshire, bought in 2008, purchase price £4m.
     A five-storey grade II listed Georgian townhouse, Connaught Square, London, bought in 2004, purchase price £3.65m.
     A mews house, Archery Close,
London, bought in February 2007, purchase price £800,000 (estimated).
     A four-bedroom house, Myrobella, Co Durham, bought in 1983 for £30,000, now for sale at £300,000.
     A mews townhouse (three bathrooms and a sun terrace), London, bought in September this year, purchase price £1.13m.
     And finally, the infamous brace of flats at The Panoramic, Bristol, bought in 2002, purchase price £525,000. Peter Foster, a conman, helped with the purchase.


MENTION of Blair, a while back I touched briefly on those who call on the families of service men and women when a soldier has been killed in action. There was a recent discussion on the radio about this. Given the extremely stressful nature of this onerous task, those who have to visit and deliver the bad news are only on call for two weeks in the year – and they all hope that they are not called upon during their tour of duty.
     Also, a local repertory company is part of their training, where the actors take the parts of the bereaved families so that the officers are as prepared as prepared can be for the differing reactions they encounter.
     As I have said before, we don’t know the half of it.

A quick throwaway quote
“WE NEED someone who, when he or she lands in Beijing, Washington or Moscow, the traffic does need to stop.” Foreign Secretary David Miliband, rooting for Tony Blair, the man who warrants “a large motorcade”, as President of Europe.
    
Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

A natural-born pack leader
TALKING of politics, in the wake of autumn’s political conferences, the front page of the Western Mail posed an interesting question: A great husband – but is Cameron a great leader?

     Also, there was a front page picture of conservative leader David Cameron and singer Katherine Jenkins, who were both guests on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.
     The picture, alongside, also appeared on BBC1’s The One Show, and they invited viewers to submit an appropriate caption. I can’t say I was impressed, so I put on my thinking cap ... result beneath the picture.
     All this 'what makes a great leader' business took me back a month or so when I sat transfixed in front of the TV as the preternaturally youthful choirmaster Gareth Malone, 34, turned the no-go London housing estate of South Oxhey into a sea of song. Yes, even hauling a group of lads from the pub and turning them into a kind of Only Real Men Allowed.
     As the series The Choir unfolded on TV, comedian Eddie Izzard, 47, completed an astonishing 43

“Tonight, Katherine, and for the next 10 years,
I am going to be Tony Blair.”

marathons in 51 days – I grow tired just thinking about it – and in the process raised much money for charity.
     Now that commands respect, but Izzard, just like everyone who does such things, was shouting “Look at me!”. Which is fine. Malone, on the other hand, while instructing his choirs to “Look at me!”, kept telling us, the viewers, “Look at them!”. To watch the self-esteem blossom at South Oxhey bordered on the miraculous.

    The youthful Gareth Malone, pictured alongside, and his virtuoso performance reminded me of Winston Churchill who, during the dark days of the war kept insisting “Look at you!”, and made the people of Britain feel good about themselves and worth fighting for survival.
     It is a rare gift.
Something which Rhodri Morgan, our First Minister here in Wales, who announced his retirement last month, is also touched with.
     In truth New Labour made Britain feel good about itself – until Tony Blair’s ego exploded into “Look at me!” and he spun the mother of all whoppers to drag us kicking and screaming into a war hardly any of us wanted. Underneath it all Blair is just a common or garden war lord, and as a consequence Britain has again lost its self-esteem.
     Is there a politician out there capable of saying “Look at you!” to make us feel good about ourselves once more?
     Perhaps William Hague. And as an outsider who has surprised everyone with the ease he has settled into his seat of power, London Mayor Boris Johnson.*
    
Otherwise the cupboard is not so much bare as full of skeletons we’d rather not know about.
     I propose Gareth Malone for PM.

* “He was my knight on a shining bicycle.” Film-maker Franny Armstrong who was rescued by passing cyclist Boris Johnson after being attacked by a group of hoodie-wearing, iron bar brandishing girls.
     I enjoyed this little addendum: “He stopped and chased the girls down the street, calling them ‘oiks’,” according to Ms Armstrong, who praised the Mayor’s intervention.
     Wonderful. “Oik” from the mouth of Boris sounds as insulting as the c-word from the mouths of others.
     Oh yes, I liked a cartoon of a girl at an Emergency Services call centre: "Fire, ambulance or Boris Johnson?"

“Believe it or don’t” tale of the month
“I SHOT a baboon in Africa, last Wednesday, just after lunch. Shot it dead.” Thus wrote AA Gill in The Sunday Times a couple of weekends back. It was a cold-blooded killing, executed merely to satisfy his “curiosity” about what it felt like to kill a human being, being that the primates are our closest relatives.

     “So there was this big bloke leaning against a rock, picking his fingernails, a hairy geezer sitting in the sun with his shirt off. I took him just below the armpit. He slumped and slid sideways. I’m told they can be tricky to shoot: they run up trees, hang on for grim life. They die hard, baboons. But not this one. A soft-nosed .357 blew his lungs out. We paced the ground. The air was filled with a furious keening of his tribe. Two hundred and fifty yards. Not a bad shot. I know perfectly well there is absolutely no excuse for this. There is no mitigation. Baboon isn’t good to eat, unless you’re a leopard.”
     The online sky duly fell in on him. “A self-indulgent fool with no moral compass,” was one brief pot shot which rather hit the mark.
     As always, many found humour the best way of handling it. One online contributor wrote: “So AA Gill shot a balloon. So f****** what.” Another suggested he had shot a buffoon (committed suicide, perhaps?), and another read: “I woke up really excited about the AA Gill scandal. Then I realised I’d misread baboon as Bono.”
     Doolally is a word that springs to my mind. I think Gill should volunteer for Afghanistan, where he can really experience what it feels like to kill a human being.

     Anyway, looking at the picture above, I mean, would you buy a hot dog from this man?
     This all leads me to my...

Image of the month
Farwell to Dorothy, the champion chimp.
I QUOTE Picture Story of the Week from The Sunday Times: A curious family of chimpanzees watch workers carrying the body of one of their number who died of a heart attack at Cameroon’s Sanaga-Yong chimpanzee rescue centre in October. Dorothy spent eight years at the centre, having been rescued from an amusement park to which she had been sold as a baby. For 25 years she was kept in the park, tethered by a chain, and taught to drink beer and smoke cigarettes. At the centre, however, her kindness surfaced. She mothered an orphaned chimp and befriended many others.
 


Volunteer Monica Szczupider photographed Dorothy’s last farewell. She said: “The management at Sanaga-Yong opted to let Dorothy’s chimpanzee family witness her burial. Some chimps barked in frustration, but perhaps the most stunning reaction was a recurring, almost tangible silence. If one knows chimpanzees, then one knows that they are not usually silent creatures.”
     The photograph supports growing evidence which suggests that “higher” emotions, such as an understanding of death, may not be the preserve of man alone. The photo can be seen in the November issue of National Geographic magazine.


This photograph, together with the AA Gill incident, prompted me to submit the following letter to The Sunday Times:
Last week’s Picture Story of the Week, showed the moving image of the burial of Dorothy the chimp, watched by her extended chimpanzee family. Now that we know that primates share our “higher” emotions, such as an understanding of death, what if it had been AA Gill in that wheelbarrow? I guess his nearest and dearest would respond no differently from Dorothy’s – or indeed the baboon family Gill decided to tear asunder simply for his personal gratification.

I am so pleased that The Sunday Times did indeed publish it on the 8th of November. Nothing more to add.

Quote of the month
“NOT ONLY were his shoes always polished, but so were his sentences.” Heard on a radio tribute to Michael Shea, press spokesman for the Queen from 1978 to 1987, who died in October aged 71.
   
Shea was in charge of Buckingham Palace’s relations with the media during Michael Fagan’s Hold the Front Page incursion into the royal apartments in July 1982, which got him as far as the Queen’s bedside. If ever I get to meet the Queen I will ask her what precisely went through her mind when she woke up to find this fellow sitting there on her bed. Whatever, a delightful quote.

Put downs of the month
“I ALWAYS thought I’d love Lexi to have a brother or sister. But to have children, you have to have sex.” Amanda Holden, actress, punctures whatever air is left in her husband’s manhood.

“Yes, I have a lover. He knows where his kennel is. And he comes when I require his services. Sometimes I throw him a bone.” Singer Paloma Faith, who always has someone standing by with a bucket of cold water to throw over her and beau-wow following a little upstairs, downstairs...

Bits
FIRST we had Hurricane Bill – a man’s man of a name for a tour de force of destruction. Then came tropical storm Danny – a much less fearsome handle – and then, around the middle of October, Hurricane Rick strengthened off the Pacific coast of Mexico with dangerous winds nearing 115mph. I dunno. Rick? It sort of reminds me of Casablanca’s Rick: hard as a polecat on the outside, but a bit of a pussycat on the inside. But there we go, the beauty of the name of a hurricane lies in the eye of the storm.

...and Pieces
I HAVE always wondered about double-barrelled name. Mr Lloyd marries Miss George; their son marries a Vaughan-Williams, and they have a son Ralph who marries Helena Darling – who then becomes Helena Lloyd-George-Vaughan-Williams-Darling. You think I jest? The surname of the extinct family of the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos was the quintuple-barrelled Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville. So at what point, precisely, do you decide to release the anchor and bring the whole double-barrelled shotgun weddings to a stop? I mean, ponder this little gem...
From The Daily Telegraph’s letters page, which has also been considering the pros and cons of double-barrelled names. “My wife’s father had a triple-barrelled surname and went with a double-barrelled friend to stay at a hotel in Jersey, where he had booked rooms,” writes Philip Dawson of Shifnal, Shropshire. “On arrival, they found that they had five rooms allocated to them.”

Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see
IN MY special bulletin of the 25th October (just a quick scroll down), I did a question and answer session reflecting an article by columnist Carolyn Hitt of the Western Mail. If you recall, in one answer I labelled Cardiff all fur coat by day - and no knickers by night. And then I stumbled upon the picture of a supposedly drunk young lady in the centre of Cardiff with her knickers around her ankles – although it transpires that it wasn’t quite what we all thought. Yes, she did have her knickers around her ankles, but a pair of joke-knickers, and, according to her father, she wasn’t drunk – and anyway, it was all done for a laugh. I sort of buy into that.
     Anyway, listening one morning to Sarah Kennedy’s Dawn Patrol on Radio 2, she played Perry Como’s The Father of Girls. After the song Sarah remarked: “Now there’s a song written from the heart.” And I thought of the father of the no-knickers girl in
Cardiff, even accepting that it was really just a joke.
     As I said at the time, believe nothing you hear and only half what you see. Blow me, in The Times letters page of October 30th - we were in the middle of a postal strike, remember - this appeared...

UNATTENDED PACKAGES: NEVER TRUST A JOURNALIST
Sir, During the General Strike of 1926 my late father was in charge of the running of Mount Pleasant sorting office. The undelivered mail there became piled to the ceiling, so he put a man on guard to protect it. Later a journalist or photographer came and asked if he could photograph this scene. After permission was given he then asked the guard if he would mind stepping aside in order for him to take the photograph and he duly obliged. When the early evening newspaper came out the boards in the streets announced “Royal Mail left unattended”.
Moira Shepherd, Barnwell, Cambs

Size really matters
CONTINUING on the questions and answers bulletin from a couple of weeks back, one of Carolyn’s questions asked why Wales is a standard of measurement for everything from asteroids to the state of Massachusetts.

     “We’re told that an area of rainforest the size of Wales, or the Albert Hall, is cut down every day, and that may be true. But this pointless and unpleasant wood still goes on for thousand of miles in every direction. Frankly, I’d napalm the lot.” Jeremy Clarkson, following a visit to Bolivia, concludes that, “as soon as possible we must turn this insect-filled forest of death, rain and misery into something more like Hong Kong”.
     Ah well, that’s our Jeremy, but what threw me was the bit “rainforest the size of Wales, or the Albert Hall”. Now could it be that he’s aware that Wales is known as the land of song, but that in his humble opinion everyone in Wales who can really sing could be fitted into the Albert Hall? Probably.
     There has also been a thread in The Times letters page regarding the size of Weetabix biscuits, readers suggesting that they’ve been getting smaller of late.
     Anyway, Sally Abbott, Marketing Director of The Weetabix Food Company, put the record straight:

     "Since production started in 1932, Weetabix biscuits have been made in the same moulds at the factory in Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire. As a baked food product there could naturally be some variation in thickness. However, consumers can rest assured that the same amount of wheat flake is present in each one and has remained unchanged for decades.”
     Richard Channon of Colchester responded: “If Weetabix have not changed in size, weight or density since 1932 they must surely represent one of the most stable “currencies” available, and their cost year by year should provide an unimpeachable measure of inflation. May we look forward to experts assessing economic movements against the Weetabix scale?"
     Then Peter Sergeant of Hathern Loughborough stated "that it may be useful to know that a Routemaster London bus is exactly 88 Wx long, 46 Wx high and 25½ Wx wide" – and yes, someone asked how many Weetabix would it take to cover Wales. Back came Kenneth Williams, Richmond, with this...
BIG BRECWAST: A rough calculation reveals that it would take 1,784 thousand million Weetabix to cover an area the size of Wales.
     Nothing like walking to work on a full breakfast. Talking of Weetabix...

Harvest thanksgiving
A LOCAL farmer, Alex Jamieson from Carmarthen, won the Welsh section of the Weetabix Wheat Art competition with this eye-catching hay sculpture of a honey bee.
 


Weetabix ran the competition across the UK in conjunction with the National Farmers’
Union to encourage farmers to have some fun and use their artistic flair to celebrate the harvest. There were 10 winners across the UK with winning sculptures including the Loch Ness monster and a lion. The winning sculpture was of mammoths. Google 'Weetabix Wheat Art competition' to fully appreciate that there is more to farming than meets the hay.

Addendum:
I really should read all of The Sunday Times before putting any bulletin to bed (normally there's so much to read that this doesn't happen until the following Saturday). Browsing through the Culture magazine I perused a review of Sue Townsend's latest Adrian Mole at 39¼ book: The Prostrate Years. He now suffers wife and health problems (as the title hints), but this caught my eye at the tail end of the review. It is impossible not to love a character who, exhausted, bald, manhandled, and cuckolded, can still ponder over his breakfast cereal: "Ate one Weetabix - or should that be Weetabi?"

SMILES OF THE MONTH
A COUPLE of gems from Owen Money’s Money for Nothing music shows on Radio Wales (featuring popular hits from the fifties to the seventies).
     A lady contacts the show and says that her husband has just returned home from hospital following a hip replacement operation – so could he please play him some hip-op music! (The best effort Owen could come up with was Plastic Man by The Kinks.)
     Then a fellow celebrating many years of marriage requested a song especially for his wife – and he would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank her over the radio for “standing by me all those years ‘cause we only have the one chair!”.
     There’s a whole lot of amusing people out there.

Viz magazine — still flirty and dirty at 30
THE ABOVE headline caught my eye in The Times. I've never been a reader of Viz, for no other reason than I never got round to it. But I did read the article ... here are some choice cuts...
It was November 1979 when a 19-year-old DHSS clerk from Newcastle, Chris Donald, along with his schoolmate John Brownlow and 15-year-old brother Simon, published 150 copies of their anarchic comic/fanzine in a “Bumper Monster Christmas Edition” (ie, 12 pages) priced 20p — 30p to students — and swiftly sold the lot in a local pub. The sporadic publication built up a local following until, in 1985, they signed a deal with Virgin to publish nationally every two months. Two years later Virgin’s publishing executive John Brown set up on his own and took the Viz crew with him. By the early 1990s they were selling more than a million copies.
     Defying all expectations, the Viz cast of daft, eccentric and blatantly obscene characters is still going strong: the Fat Slags and Sid the Sexist, Biffa Bacon, Spoilt Bastard, Johnny Fartpants, the Pathetic Sharks, Mrs Brady Old Lady, Black Bag the faithful border bin-liner, Roger Mellie the Man on the Telly, Finbarr Saunders and his double entendres, Buster Gonad and his unfeasibly large testicles and many more.
     These days the magazine is published ten times a year by Felix Dennis and sells 80,000-odd an issue, far fewer than at its heady peak but still healthy in the turmoil of the magazine world today. Favourite characters include the Bottom Inspectors, uniformed prodnoses with the power to strip-search and imprison members of the public for wearing women’s underwear or having piles or “third-degree skid marks”, a pointed and very funny reference to the increased police powers to pry (with echoes of the paedophile panics in which innocent parents were accused of abusing their children by real-life bottom inspectors).
     The hardback annual “best of” collection always does well — the new edition, The Council Gritter, is just out along with the Magna Fartlet, a pocket-sized collection of “10,000 rude words and phrases to suit every occasion”.

     But what caught my eye was this cover – in particular the "Mills" reference.
 


Regular visitors to my scrapbook will know that I have already had a Mrs Mills v Mrs Mills shoot out. The Piano playing Mrs Mills versus the personal problems Mrs Mills from the Sunday Times' Style magazine. It was a draw, if I recall. Anyway, in celebration of the Mrs Mills missing off the Viz cover, here are just a couple of smiley examples from October.

LIFE’S ONLY CERTAINTY
I have been prescribed a drug for bipolar disorder. One possible side effect is “sudden, unexplained death”. Should I be concerned?
GB, CO DURHAM

This is a common side effect: it can also be caused by fish, peanuts, certain sanitary products and being found in bed with the next-door neighbour. That’s life, I’m afraid.

BACK TO NATURISTS
When walking on a coastal path recently, I was passed by a man – naked except for his rucksack and boots – coming the other way. What is the correct greeting in such circumstances? My “good morning” sounded rather limp.
IT,
Milton Keynes
My grandfather claimed to have had a similar experience in the Harz mountains in Germany, when a young lady naturist appeared coming down the narrow path before him. “I didn’t know whether to block her passage or toss myself off,” he said. I never did discover which course of action he pursued, as my grandmother inadvertently dropped the gravy boat she happened to be carrying into his lap. Generally speaking, it is always best to pretend everything is normal, so pleasantries about the weather would suffice, such as “gosh, it must be cold” (avoiding reference to brass monkeys, obviously).
     And talking of weather ... isn’t this where I came in?


25 OCTOBER 2009 SPECIAL
Why, why, why no knickers, Delilah?

I RECENTLY read columnist Carolyn Hitt in the Western Mail, where she pondered a recent poll which lists the “50 most confusing things in life today”. Okay then, here’s a taste of just some of life’s puzzles.

     At No 1, pop pickers, ‘Foreign call centres’, a choice which certainly engages the emotions. Puzzlingly, ‘What women see in Russell Brand’ is at No 3, while ‘Stephen Hawking’s theories’ comes in at a respectable No 18. Perhaps Brand really is from a parallel universe rather than the one we and Stephen Hawking know and love.
     ‘Kerry Katona’ figures at No 20, while ‘Donnie Darko’ is in at No 30 ... neither name means anything to me, which obviously explains why they do not confuse me in the least. As for 'Predictive text' at No 23 - no idea what that's all about.
     It’s No 2 wot confused one of the Gallagher brothers, alongside - Liam, I do believe. Oh, No 2? It’s ‘Algebra’ – a branch of mathematics in which arithmetical operations and relationships are generalised by using symbols to represent numbers. And hey, symbols don’t come better than Liam's understanding of algebra. A desert in an Oasis.
     ‘Men' is at No 17, while 'Women' loiters at No 29. This suggests that we men are less confused by women than the other way round. Wel-i-jiw-jiw, who'd have thought?
     At No 48, it’s the ‘Magic Roundabout at Swindon’. What on earth would Zebedee, Ermintrude, Dylan et al make of such confusion.

     To peruse the complete list, simply Google “50 most confusing things in life today”.
     But back with Carolyn Hitt – I quote: "But then I started to consider my own Top 10 Most Confusing Things in Welsh Life Today and realised there are questions that not even Witgenstein could answer."
    
Talk about confusion before we even get going. Who the hell is this Witgenstein fellow?
Back to Google: Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951), an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. Described by Bertrand Russell as "the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived, passionate, profound, intense, and dominating," Wittgenstein is considered by many to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century.
     Phew! Now philosophers baffle me for I never know what they’re on about. Try this Wittgenstein for size.
"Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in the way in which our visual field has no limits."
     See what I mean? I’d rather go with what they say down the Crazy Horsepower Saloon: May you live forever and die suddenly. Straight to the point, nothing to philosophise about there. Next?
    
"I am not interested in erecting a building, but in [...] presenting to myself the foundations of all possible buildings." I think then that the answer to life, the universe and everything, as I suspected, lies in the soil.
     Anyway, here are Carolyn’s puzzles, with my modest attempts to Wittgenstein 'em.
1     Cardiff After Dark. By day it’s a sophisticated capital that even has a John Lewis and al fresco latte-supping. By night, it’s absolute carnage. Not even Hieronymus Bosch could have imagined the hellish moral degradation of St Mary Street at 2am.
     Bugger, here we go again: who’s this Hieronymus Bosch? Hieronymus Bosch (1450 – 1516) was an Early Netherlandish (sic) painter of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The artist's work is well known for the use of fantastic imagery to illustrate moral and religious concepts and narratives - God, for a Valley Girl Carolyn really loves her philosophers and stuff - and here to prove the point is The Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch’s most widely known triptych.
 


See, there’s Cardiff Castle ... and the Bay ... the Welsh Senedd where all our politicos hang out ... the Millennium Stadium, as well as the Grand Slam trophy ... St Mary Street at 2am – and if you look very, very closely, the girl from Tiger Bay. Anyway, what is wrong with Cardiff After Dark?
     As the Crazy Horsepower Saloon’s resident Casanova once enlightened me the morning after he’d experienced an evening of wine, women and song: “I’ve never been to bed with an ugly woman, Hubie, but I’ve woken up with a few.” Meaning, when alcohol strolls in through the door, quality control flies out the window. As Wittgenstein might well have said: Cardiff is all fur coat by day - and no knickers by night...
     Addendum: About an hour after putting this bulletin to bed I was perusing The Sunday Times - and I stumbled upon this picture, alongside.
     Wel-i-jiw-jiw, it's a picture of a young Welsh woman, who featured in the London press last week after being photographed on a boozy night out in - yes, CARDIFF!
     I couldn't believe it, so I had to hunt down the picture. As God is my witness, when I wrote that Cardiff is all fur coat and no knickers, I had no idea about this astonishing image. Incidentally, I love the 'One Way' sign...
     However, just for the record, there is growing belief that she was not drunk, and that it was a stunt done for a laugh. Oh, and those are not her actual knickers.
     Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see.

2     The lane management of the Coldra roundabout, not to mention the Gabalfa flyover. How come you always enter them in the right lane but 90 degrees later you always leave them in the wrong one?
     Now c’mon, Carolyn, you’re a female driver, silly.
3     The Size of Wales. Why are we a standard of measurement for everything from asteroids to the state of Massachusetts?
    
As long as we are not compared to the size of haemorrhoids, it sits comfortably. And anyway, Wales is easier to spell than Massachusetts.
4      Cross-border ignorance. No-one the other side of Offa’s Dyke has any idea of our geographical diversity. Why does everyone outside Wales believe that everyone inside Wales lives in “The Valleys”?
    
When did you last see a T-shirt proclaiming “Mountain Goat”, as opposed to “Valley Girl”? And I say that as a natural-born caveman down from the hills for the day.
5      Geek Chic. The member for Montgomeryshire (pictured alongside, with a Cheeky Girl) is rarely seen without some young hot-panted lovely on his arm. He says he’s only interested in their minds but what do they see in him? Will we ever know the secret of Lembit Opik’s incredible pulling power?
    
Well, Lembit’s a celebrity, so Geek’s Law demands that every door he leans against is already off the latch. So I guess when he spots a pretty young thing staring at him from across a crowded room he saunters on over: “You strike me as a lady who possesses a remarkable talent for reducing the size of a man’s troubles.” Even I would strike gold with an opening line like that. What am I talking about? I have!
6      Media ageism. Why are there hardly any women over 40 on English language Welsh television?
    
Because the media in general and television in particular is run by nincompoops who have as much empathy with the people they serve as a polecat has with a pussycat. But best of all, ponder this quote from actress Emma Thompson: “Old is very sexy. It must be awful for women who are in denial and insist on looking 20 years younger. How are we going to produce beautiful older women if we don’t allow ourselves to be older?”
7      Poetic injustice. Why do Americans get far more excited about Dylan Thomas than Welsh people?
    
On his final and fatal journey to the States, Thomas was asked at a welcoming press call what the purpose of his current visit was: "To seek out beautiful naked women

in diaphanous mackintoshes.” The Americans, brought up on comedy along the lines of MASH, Cheers and The Simpsons, lapped it all up. We Welsh, on the other hand, wondered what the hell he was talking about. At least, I had to look up diaphanous to see through the joke.
8      Severn Bridge toll booths. When the rest of the country is a cheque-free zone, why don’t they accept credit cards?
    
Anyone who has stood and stared and quietly whistled a grim, unmelodic tune as just one person in a supermarket queue faffs about while attempting to pay with a card, will realise how quickly chaos and anarchy would build up along the M4. And one must presume that the system has been tried elsewhere, without success – although, on the news this very day, I hear that the Severn Bridge crossing is now contemplating allowing payment by card. Now that's what I call clout. Take a bow, Carolyn.
9     Joe Calzaghe’s footwork. How come he could dance in the ring but only clod-hop under the glitter ball?
    
I understand nothing about boxing, but down at the Crazy Horsepower, The PM (Brian the Preacher Man), does. He even did a little boxing in his younger days so I guess he knows what he's talking about. Now he never rated Calzaghe as a boxer because he assures me he hardly ever fought any boxer of note. As Roy Noble tends to say at moments like this: I shall leave that with you. However, in the dancing stakes he was surrounded by professionals that really can can-can. He sort of floated like a bee and stung like a butterfly. Anyway, he should have worn his Victor Silvester trousers: bags of ballroom.

10  The position of James Hook. Surely he can play outside half somewhere in Wales. If the Ospreys don't want him at 10, why can't the Blues have him?
     Pass. That’s my one and only joke ... oh okay, the one about Carolyn being a girlie driver was also a joke.
     For those not familiar with the game of rugby, the outside half is the one who shapes the game, the one who pulls the strings. He's the Zebedee of rugby's Magic Roundabout, the one who says: "Right, time to put this game to bed." When the No 10 receives the ball he has to instantly decide whether he should kick ahead to gain position, run at the opposition to hopefully make a break and draw the defence in – or smartly pass the ball along the back line. The best outside halves intuitively press the right button because they have what is called peripheral vision. They register precisely what is happening out of the corner of their eye, as well as straight ahead.
     Those who run Welsh rugby, whether it be the union itself or the regions, do not possess peripheral vision.
     Okay, another joke. A contestant on Mastermind, whose chosen subject is 'English words and their proliferation', is asked: “What is the word most heard on Mastermind?” The contestant looks puzzled and shakes his head: “Pass.”
     ”Correct!”

So there we have it, Carolyn. I hope that life is now just a little less confusing.

Smile of the day
Back with the “50 most confusing things in life today”, at No 33, 'Clocks going back / forward’, which is totally apt because earlier this very day, the clocks did indeed go back. A pal of mine, who once owned a motor garage and sold cars for a living, loved the last Sunday in October. He would pop into work extra early on that Sunday because it was the only day in the year he was allowed to turn all the clocks back.


SEPTEMBER SONG (2009) IN REVIEW
Fairies, cows, Sunlight and
“That’s all, folks!”

I KICKED off last month’s review with a snapshot of a typically bleak 2009 summer sunrise in the Towy Valley – the barbecue summer that wasn’t – but lo and behold, September arrives and it’s sunshine all the way. Well, nearly all the way: here in West Wales, the month came to a dry but cloudy end.
     If October also turns out to be a reasonably dry and sunny month - quite possible - then it’s intriguing to speculate that the Met Office was right in its prediction of a barbecue window, except that it was two months premature. A wayward prediction probably caused by that infuriatingly wayward jet stream way above going “Nah, nah, nah-na, nah!”, and deciding to do things its own way.
     Anyway, in celebration of a wonderfully sunny September, here’s a beautiful dawn over the
Towy Valley, captured somewhere between first light and sunrise.
 


One of the great positives of September’s clear skies was watching the International Space Station (ISS) passing over in all its sparkly glory. It was visible pretty much throughout the month, with a special view on the 9th when both the ISS and the Shuttle were seen in close tandem, the Shuttle having just separated following completion of its ISS part of the mission. A dream sighting would be either when the Shuttle is about to dock or having just separated – imagine watching them pass over side by side. God! I’m turning into a space-twitcher, a big-silver-bird-in-sky twitcher whose idea of heaven is spotting as many human space flight sightings as possible. My next residence may well be Doolally Tap...
     Incidentally, just heard on the grapevine that sometime in August the Met Office received a sunshiny postcard from a disgruntled Brit who had decided to opt for a late break somewhere around the Med: “Weather is here, wish you were lovely.” I do hope it’s true. After all, a good joke can always take an appropriate repeat.

Wel-i-jiw-jiw moment of the month
Fairies at the bottom of the garden 

TOWARDS the end of the month I submitted to the Western Mail’s A Postcard from Wales the picture shown here. It features local butcher Dewi Roberts flying his single seater cloudhopper, and coming in to land close to Paxton’s Tower at Llanarthne. As Dewi’s cloudhopper carries the famous Fairy soap logo, I couldn’t help but come up with the caption as shown.
     And it set me thinking: I sort of knew about the famous tale of the “fairies at the bottom of the garden”, but decided to google it anyway. What a wonderful story it is: 1917, the year of the hoax fairies, the spoof that fooled a nation, including many distinguished folk.
     Sixteen-year
-old Elsie Wright takes one of the most famous snaps ever taken, a remarkable photograph of her ten-year-old cousin, Frances Griffiths, playing with 'fairies' on the banks of a stream which ran behind the garden of Elsie's house.
     The episode gathers momentum when the girls flick through a copy of Princess Mary's Gift Book, published in 1914 to raise funds for charity. They look for suitable fairy pictures and find them in the illustrations for a poem by Alfred Noyes called A Spell For A Fairy.

A Fairy lands at the bottom
of Paxton Tower's garden

     They cut them out and paste them on to cardboard. With a few long hatpins on which to mount their 'fairies', together with a roll of zinc oxide bandage tape, they are ready. Arthur Wright willingly agrees to lend his daughter his camera when she says that she wants to take a photograph of Frances by the stream.
The girls set off, blissfully unaware that they are about to create one of the most reproduced photographs in history.
     What flabbergasted me was that one of the many famous names who believed in the photograph was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the man who wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories. Now Holmes was a clever man, and by definition so must be the man who wrote the tales.
     How strange then that less than a 100 years ago people believed in fairies. Which is why I’ve become wary of the expression ‘common sense’: I mean, to ask of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle where, precisely, was his common sense, really pushes things.
     But what fascinates me is why so many were actually taken in by the photograph.

Well, I believe you need look no further than the face of Frances Griffiths. It is so delightfully innocent. I mean, how could you not believe in the honesty of that face? It is a tale well worth reading, and there’s a particularly good write up in the Daily Mail. Click here for a smiley interlude:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1077709/Sherlock-Holmes-curious-case-garden-fairies.html

     Or, simply google ‘Sherlock Holmes and the case of the garden fairies’.
     A wel-i-jiw-jiw moment if ever there was one.
                                                                          I believe in angels,
                                                                          Something good in everything I see.
                                                                          I believe in angels,
                                                                          When I know the time is right for me,
                                                                          I'll cross the stream - I have a dream.
                                                                                                                           Abba

Quotes of the month
“RIGOR mortis.” Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood’s description of boxer Joe Calzaghe’s performance on the show.
    
I never watch these shows - but there’s no escaping them because they’re forever all over the media. From what I saw, poor old Calzaghe looked terrified, typical of that bunny rabbit caught in the car headlights. However, looking on the bright side, there’s talk of a romance between Calzaghe and his dance partner, Kristina Rihanoff. Allegedly! So a bit of rigor mortis should come in handy. As I say, always look on the bright side, eh?

“MOST male lecturers know that most years there will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration and who asks for advice on her essays. What to do? Enjoy her! She’s a perk.” Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of Buckingham University, writing in the Times Higher Education magazine, who added: “Sow your oats while you are young but enjoy the view – and only the view – when you are older; as in Stringfellows, you should look but not touch.”
    
This reminded me of a survey earlier in the month when it was revealed that it is good for men to eye young women in short skirts because – ta-rah! – it makes men’s brains grow. Hm. Now I know it’s accepted wisdom that when a man is confronted by a pretty young thing in a short skirt, especially so if she flashes her eyes in his direction, all the blood rushes from his brain to his penis, which is why he will then proceed to behave as if his brain has stopped working. Which it has. No blood in the brain means “D’oh!” is the default position. Possibly the survey had actually concluded that, eying girls in short skirts makes men’s organs grow – but someone slipped up and thought that "organ" in this context meant "brain". Double d'oh!

WHICH neatly brings me to the Italian prime minister, the one and only Silvio Berlusconi, who, at seventy-something can still entertain the ladies as fast as they can slide ‘em under him. Allegedly! I was rather taken with these two pictures...
 

Ciao, bella ... come to papa!

Castration is the answer, Silvio


The "I am not amused" expression on Obama’s face reminds me of the tale of Speedy Gonzales. An American couple holiday in Mexico and they stop off in a small town. They book into a hotel and while having a drink with the locals the husband is warned, being that his wife is exceedingly beautiful, to watch out for the manager of the hotel, Speedy Gonzales, for he has a way with the women, the fastest lover in all of Mexico - or Mechico, as we say down the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. If husbands and boyfriends take their eyes off the ball for just a
second, Speedy will be in there, wham-bam, thank you ma’am – or thank you señora, more like.
     “Guard your wife’s honour with care,” the locals warn, “especially overnight because the manager has a master key and could sneak in while you are asleep”.
     The couple go to bed, but it is such a hot evening they push all the bed covers off. A troubled husband decides to gently place his open hand in a strategic place to guard his wife’s honour, just in case Speedy sneaks in during the night. Anyway, they settle down and the wife asks her husband to turn off the bedside lamp, which is on his side of the bed.
     Without thinking, he lifts his protective hand and uses it to turn off the light. He then returns his hand to its previous place – but is startled to hear a male voice say: “Hey, señor, take your hand off of my arse.”
     And what did Mrs Sarkozy and Mrs Obama say when they saw the image, alongside? "Hey, guys, take your eyes off of her arse."

     Incidentally, and just for the record, the "arse" in question belongs to a 17-year-old junior delegate at this year's G-8 conference held in Italy.

Adieu and au revoir
“I’D RATHER leave while we’re in love, as the song says, while the programme is the most popular on British radio, while we still delight in each other’s company.” Terry Wogan announces live on air that he is leaving his Radio 2 breakfast show, but not leaving the world of broadcasting.
     I happened to hear that particular Monday morning show and I have to say that his farewell announcement was an object lesson to anyone who has to give a “thanks and cheerio” speech. Or any sort of speech, come to that.
     He acknowledged in full the contributions of his talented and funny listeners who feed him such wonderful stuff, which he duly delivers with that seductive Limerick charm of his.
     His announcement was brief, moving and to the point – I am reminded of Churchill who once apologised for the length of the speech he was delivering, but he hadn’t had time to make it shorter.

There’s a wonderful moment I remember from a previous Wake up to Wogan, where a thread has developed involving Scotsman William McGonagall, alongside, the man commonly recognised as “the world’s worst poet”.
     Isn’t it strange how we remember the best – from Jesus Christ via Muhammad Ali and Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe – and we also remember the worst – from Judas Iscariot via Eddie the Eagle and the aforementioned William McGonagall to Gordon Brown...!
     A listener e-mailed the show with a two-line poem. I was unsure whether it was McGonagall’s work, or one the listener had written. Anyway, the poem – coming up shortly - revolves around a cow on a hill. Now I knew I had a grand and suitable picture of a cow on a hill, but what I also wanted was a picture taken at the same spot, without the cow. I knew roughly where I’d taken the original photo; also the image provided some background info to pinpoint the exact spot - but what a palaver to find that spot.
     To begin with it wasn’t in the field where I thought I’d taken it ... or my second choice field ... but as soon as I entered the final choice field – bingo! It all came back.
     Anyway, here are the two pictures – and beneath, the funny little stanza submitted to Wogan which so tickled my imagination.

 


Once upon a hill there stood a cow;
If you look she’s not there now.

 

Another appeal of Wogan’s radio show is the noms de plume the listeners use. I’m not sure whether the actual name coming up was attached to the message as received by Wogan, but that doesn’t matter. A couple of weeks after Wogan had announced his departure – and if you recall the news had been all over the media like a rash - Terry read out this message: “What’s all this about you leaving?” writes Claus – that’s Claus Shave. “You kept that pretty quiet didn’t you?”. Magic.
     Terry also plays an Amy Winehouse track, but announces her as Amy Whitehouse. “Hang on,” he says, “isn’t she the one who trained dogs?”
     This brings me to a letter I sent the Western Mail, all to do with the zoo that is modern celebrity, something which I have previously mentioned in passing. Anyway, spot the deliberate error...

Please don’t feed the celebrities: SIR – The other evening I did what most men tend to do when idling on the sofa, namely grab the television remote control and go zap-a-dee-doo-da. I duly happened upon BBC TV’s news channel and its live coverage of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo’s extraordinary initiation ceremony at a packed Bernabeu stadium – and sat there mesmerised.
     The following evening I also catch part of the Michael Jackson memorial concert – and found myself speculating on the nature of modern celebrity. If you are recognised and acknowledged by someone you have no reason to know, then you are central to the celebrity culture.
     Celebrity is now a zoo: we stop, stand, stare, cajole, applaud, worship, abuse, condemn, poke with a stick – and if Radio Two’s Wake Up to Wogan and Radio Wales’ Jamie Owen & Louise Elliott shows are anything to go by, we throw shed loads of food at them too. And just as happens in a zoo, celebrities begin to traipse round and round inside their cage – Gasgoine, Madonna, Brand, Ross, Whitehouse, Ramsay, Jackson – many increasingly swinging their heads from side to side as if their life imprisonment is driving them doolally.
     The hilarious Ronaldo circus in front of 80,000 drooling fans reminded me of the film The Life of Brian, where the masses mistake Brian for their saviour and blindly follow him – but Ronaldo, just like Brian, is not the Messiah, just a naughty little boy who spends much too much time playing with his balls.

It was duly published, with minor editing I seem to remember, especially the bit about playing with his balls. Whatever, it prompted a follow-up letter from me...
 

Oops: SIR – Further to my letter regarding our celebrity culture, there’s an addendum – with a twist in its tail. In listing a few choice celebrities whose behaviour is, at best eccentric, at worst doolally, I’d inexplicably placed Whitehouse between Ross and Ramsay.
     What I’d meant to write was Winehouse, as in Amy Winehouse, the talented but much troubled singer, pictured alongside. After eight months recuperating in St Lucia she recently returned and the media was there to record her first words back on British soil; asked if she was happy to be back, she said: “I don’t give a f***!”.
     Remembering the endless warnings by a certain Mary Whitehouse about the subliminal effect on society of sex, bad language and violence on the box, I guess my error is what you’d call a right proper Freudian slip.
     Coincidentally, talk of Mrs Whitehouse brings me to They said what? (July 15): “I think that sometimes you need to offend people. We fought Mary Whitehouse throughout the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, and now we have turned into Mary Whitehouse. It’s ridiculous.” Actress Amanda Redman denying that there is too much bad language on TV.
     No, Amanda Redman, we haven’t turned into Mary Whitehouse. We have turned into what Mary Whitehouse warned against: a foul-mouthed and aggressive society obsessed with hit-and-run sex in all its vainglory.
     Incidentally, perhaps the most telling endorsement yet of what Mary Whitehouse stood against is recent news that a regular voice in the Welsh media, who always insisted that if we didn’t like what we saw or heard on TV, we should turn over or switch off, now finds himself on the Sex Offenders’ Register.


The above was not published. Oh yes, the fellow put on the Sex Offenders’ Register is one of the nation’s leading film directors, 66-year-old Karl Francis, who had been charged with downloading child pornography. His defence was that it was all done in the name of research for a film. Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?
 

Duck!
ANOTHER man who said "That's all, folks!" was Rhodri Morgan, our First Minister here in Wales, who decided to go out at the top, while in full control and with a high approval rating. His farewell speech was the culmination of a remarkable journey for the firebrand MP who, in his own words, was “shafted” by Tony Blair (who refused to support him), but went on to spend nearly 10 years at the helm of the Assembly Government.
     Like Wogan, his “it’s been nice to know you, to know you it’s been nice” announcement was short and to the point: “There’s never a right time to go ... you can wait until others push you. I have seen it happen to leaders – Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and so forth – and I don’t want it to happen to me.”
     Yes, imagine how different Thatcher would now be remembered if, after her record-breaking election victory she had said: “There you are boys, it’s all yours.”
     Rhodri Morgan is fondly remembered for his turn of phrase and celebrated metaphor. Perhaps his most famous bon mot, which became his leitmotif, surfaced when Jeremy Paxman of Newsnight fame asked him if he was standing for the Labour leadership here in Wales: “Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle?”
     I was intrigued to discover that “Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?” was actually borrowed from a Cardiff rugby prop who used the line when asked was he pleased to get his Welsh cap. This rather bears out my belief that there is no such thing as original thinking. Every bright idea begins with something borrowed, or indeed something blue, which might eventually end up as something unrecognisable from the original idea.
     But I tell you what, I rate his best as what will be one of his last in office. Speaking on TV after announcing that he was standing down, the interviewer asked him: “Was the job what you expected?”
     Rhodri paused. “Yes – and more.”
     That’s right, I expected him to say “Yes – and no.” Very clever, especially the cunning rhyme.

Image of the month
HERE is an image where I really did have to do a double-take...

Barry Delaney keeps the bet he made with his fellow soldier Private Kevin Elliott, 24, to wear a dress at the funeral of whichever died first.
     Mr Delaney is seen weeping as the coffin of Pte Elliott, of the Black Watch, killed while on foot patrol in Afghanistan on August 31, arrives at Barnhill Cemetery, Dundee.
     I go along with Denise Robertson writing in the Western Mail: It could have been crude and garish, a lime-green mini-dress and cerise pop socks on a lanky, boyish frame. In fact, the spectacle of a loyalty that transcended fear of ridicule was unbelievably moving. I wish I could convince myself the young men and women we mourn are not dying for something unattainable.
     I couldn’t agree more, Denise. What adds poignancy to the whole sad event is the rose firmly clasped by a fellow mourner.

All brought into sharp focus by this headline and opening paragraph on the front page of The Sunday Times...

A photo with Tony Blair? £180, please...
Admirers of Tony Blair have paid £180 a time to have their photographs taken with him. It is the latest gimmick to boost the former prime minister’s earning potential on lecture tours. As many as a 100 people will be whisked through in a one-hour session in which they will meet, but barely greet, Blair while the cameras flash.
     Ponder ... and weep along with Barry Delaney.
     There is an addendum, in the form of a response letter to the newspaper, from a Jim Osler, Brighton...
You've been framed: £180 for a photo with Blair? He'd have to pay me a lot more than that.

Bits
PART of a speech by President George W Bush has been named the most nonsensical political quote. The president won the accolade in a survey of 4,000 people for the following speech: “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful – and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people – and neither do we.”
     Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of
California, came second with: “I think a gay marriage should be between a man and a woman.”

...and Pieces
A centenarian from Malaysia is hoping to marry for the 23rd time to overcome her loneliness after her currant husband was admitted into a drug rehabilitation programme. Mek Wok Kundor, 107, married her most recent husband Mohamad Noor Che Musa, 37, in 2005. They separated in July when he was admitted to a rehabilitation programme in the capital Kuala Lumpur. She said she was lonely and added: “Lately, there is this kind of insecurity in me.
     I am reminded of Zsa Zsa Gabor, who married nine times, divorced seven husbands with one annulled. When challenged by some bitchy columnist about why she had found it necessary to marry so many times, she replied: “At least I married everyone I went to bed with.”
     Incidentally, that one annulled marriage: there’s a local fellow – let’s call him Mr X – who has married three times, and there was much mystery surrounding the fate of the first marriage. One of the Crazy Horsepower Saloon’s great characters, the Sundance Kid, told us that he had read a short report in a local rag, that the marriage in question had been annulled because it hadn’t been consumed. Well, how we laughed – but do you know, I think that's a quite delightful Freudian slip. Mr X had decided not to make a meal of his first marriage.

Exit stage left
“I’VE NOT felt this well in ages.” Keith Floyd, TV chef, after enjoying a meal of champagne, oysters and partridge. Hours later, just before his televised documentary-cum-chat with Keith Allen was broadcast on Channel 4, he was dead.

     I never saw the programme myself. I think I was put off by the photographs showing how poorly he looked following his collapse in a pub two years ago - which is why I've chosen a portrait as I last remember seeing him on the box.
     In fact I hadn’t watched any of his food shows over recent years. I’m no foodie, but I enjoyed watching those early TV shows of his. So entertaining.
     I’m not sure whether it was on a Floyd show that I heard a wonderful slice of wisdom. A restaurant owner confided that all the bread used was baked in-house.
     "Actually," he added, "we pay as much attention to preparing and baking the bread as we do everything else in the place. You see," he explained, "when people come for a meal, the very first thing they are likely to taste is the bread. So if that is as perfect as perfect can be, you’ve got the diner seduced immediately."
     That’s wonderful. I'm always reminded of it when I attend a function and greeted at the door by a free drink. I've learnt that the TLC that has gone into making sure that that drink tastes heavenly will be reflected in everything else that happens from there on in.

     Finally, another memorable Floyd quote, which rather sums up a larger than life but troubled character: “Today we remember the effervescence of your philosophy towards life, the lobster-catching, the love of France that we both share, and that beautiful white Bentley we’ll now probably have to auction to pay for the funeral.”
Poppy Floyd pays tribute to her father.

SMILES OF THE MONTH
I'M RETURNING to my Wogan story at the top, in particular the world’s worst poet, William McGonagall. As usual, I googled the poet to find out more – it’s a wonderful thing this internet thingummy...
     Born in Edinburgh (1825 or 1830, take your pick), of Irish parentage, McGonagall was working as a handloom weaver in Dundee, Scotland when an event occurred that was to change his life. As he was later to write: "The most startling incident in my life was the time I discovered myself to be a poet, which was in the year 1877." (Do you suppose that it was he who first penned "I'm a poet / And I don't know it!"?)
     Anyway, with this new-found confidence he wrote his first poem, An Address to the Rev. George Gilfillan, which showed all the hallmarks that would characterise his later work. Gilfillan commented: "Shakespeare never wrote anything like this."
     McGonagall has been widely acclaimed as the worst poet in British history. The chief criticisms of his poetry are that he is deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. In the hands of lesser artists, this might simply generate dull, uninspiring verse. However, McGonagall's fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings generate. The inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most spontaneously amusing comic poetry in the English language.
     McGonagall's best-paid piece of work was his "Ode to Sunlight Soap", for which he was paid two guineas. Here's an extract from the aforementioned masterpiece...

"You can use it with great pleasure and ease
Without wasting any elbow grease:
And when washing the most dirty clothes
The sweat won't be dripping from your nose
And I tell you once again without any joke
There's no soap can surpass Sunlight Soap."

He died penniless in 1902 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh. A grave-slab installed to his memory in 1999 is inscribed:

William McGonagall
Poet and Tragedian
"I am your gracious Majesty
ever faithful to Thee,
William McGonagall, the Poor Poet,
That lives in Dundee."


Finally, the indefatigable
MRS MILLS SOLVES YOUR PROBLEMS from The Sunday Times Style magazine, who sent me off to sleep with a smile on my face after reading this...

GOING TONTO
As a woman d’un certain âge, I find it difficult to sleep through the night. However, I have discovered that wearing an airline-style eye mask helps considerably. Unfortunately, my husband is not happy, saying it’s like sleeping next to the Lone Ranger. What should I say to him?
KB, by e-mail
“Stick ‘em up.” Then, “Hi-ho, Silver, away!”


AUGUST 2009 IN REVIEW
That was the barbecue summer that was, it’s over let it go...

ON AUGUST 14, at precisely 6.17am, at the height of what should have been Britain’s summer, I capture a snapshot of a typical 2009 sunrise – June excepted – over the Towy Valley...
 


If a picture paints a thousand words ... anyway, back to business...

Wel-i-jiw-jiw moment of the month
A class above

THE headline at the very top of this bulletin - "That was the barbecue summer that was, it’s over let it go..." - is paraphrased from the swinging sixties TV series, TW3 (that was the week that was). The show also boasted one of the more iconic images of British comedy, the “I know my place” sketch featuring John Cleese and the Two Ronnies.
     It has the upper class John Cleese (6ft 5in) looking down on the middle class Ronnie Barker (5ft 8in), who looks up to Cleese but down on the working class Ronnie Corbett (5ft 1in). Each ‘statement of fact’ delivered by Cleese and Barker has Corbett simply admitting “I know my place”. Or to quote breakdown man AA Gill: "I am highbrow, I look down on him." "I am middlebrow, I look up to him but down at him." "I am lowbrow, I know my place."
     It's a sketch both witty and wise because, as in all the best comedy, it is awash with irresistible truths.
     Well now, part of my early morning walk takes me into Llandampness to pick up a morning paper, where I invariably witness hundreds of crows – jackdaws or possibly rooks – wheeling rowdily like an exaggeration of Jeremy Clarksons above the town.
     The other day, a bit of a commotion made me look up, and there, perched on some temporary scaffolding...

     I slide the camera off my shoulder, hurriedly switch on and remove the lens cap, point, zoom, wait for the auto focus to beep – click! – just an instant before one of the birds takes wing. I hold my breath and peep at the screen ... and was duly rewarded with the image below, which instantly made me think “I know my place”.
 


Talk about luck. The one that didn’t get away. The Cleese crow really does look all superior up there at the top, while the Barker one is peering up with an anxious mixture of jealousy and envy – and what of the classic “I know my place” pose of the Corbett bird?
     Come to think of it, it has Top Gear written all over it: that’s Jeremy “if-I-ruled-the-world” Clarkson on top, James “middle-class-keen-to-upgrade” May in the middle, and Richard “I-know-my-place” Hammond down below. A magic, wel-i-jiw-jiw moment, for sure.
Home

Quotes of the month
THESE days I pick up just the one daily paper, the Western Mail, which is of course the ‘national newspaper of Wales’, and it delivers a flavour of life as it unfolds in the Principality. Mind you, if I anticipate a spare hour of feet-up time I’ll also buy The Times – but that happens just occasionally now.
     My favourite column in the Western Mail is They said what?, a daily dose of celebrity quotes. There's the occasional gem, but mostly it underlines our blind obsession with celebrity, something the media fuels with unbridled enthusiasm. It is all delightfully doolally and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. For example, football violence returned with a vengeance the other day...
     “Millwall-WestHam, stop fighting, my Jaime is there. If anything happens to her... I don’t know, just stop it!” Singer Lilly Allen makes a desperate plea on Twitter relating to her brother Alfie’s girlfriend, actress Jaime Winstone.
    
Don’t you just love it that Miss Lilly truly believes that the thugs involved in the shocking episode of violence between the two sets of supporters will actually stop - on her say so. See what I mean by doolally? Just a couple of days later this quote appeared...
     “My boyfriend gets really, really angry with me because he’s just like ‘I just want to spend some time with you, do we have to have one and a half million people in the room with us at one time?’.” Lilly Allen on her boyfriend’s dislike of the amount of time she spends on Twitter.
     It’s another world out there, folks. Truth to tell I’m invariably prompted to respond to most of these quotes. In fact the other day I did just that, and I sent the following letter to the Western Mail...

Mix ‘n’ match
SIR – From ‘They said what?’, August 14: “The problem is finding the time. And how? How? How?” Former page three girl and lesbian Samantha Fox, who is getting married, on having children.
     Tell you what, Samantha, I’ve definitely got the time, and I think I know how - but I’ve mislaid the girl, somewhere along the way. Perhaps we could, um, mix ‘n’ match, for old time's sake.
     Indeed, many moons ago I won a Sun newspaper competition where the prize was a night out with a handful of Page 3 girls – but the least said about that the better. Mum's the word, so to speak.
     Anyway Samantha, back to the task at hand, after all, if James Bond could convince Pussy Galore, pictured alongside, what with that phalanx of gorgeous girl pilots at her beck and call, to perform a U-turn – or should that be a loop the loop? – then there has to be hope for all of us.
     Yours, etc...
Sadly, my letter didn’t make the cut, which wasn’t a big surprise, really, as it would have probably frightened the horses.

But as I say, some grand quotes do find their way into the column. I like this one...

     “I am 5ft 6in and weigh about 11 stone – about a stone overweight, but that’s because of my brain.” Magician Paul Daniels.
     I've always had a soft spot and a smile for Paul Daniels and his good lady Debbie McGee, ever since Caroline Aherne, aka Mrs Merton, memorably asked on her show: “But what first, Debbie, attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?” Magic.
     More smiley quotes...
     “Hedgehogs: why can’t they just share the hedge?” Stand-up comedian Dan Antopolski, delivering the winning joke at the
Edinburgh Festival.

     No comments about hedgehogs and pricks, please. On with the quotes...
     “Why do they call you beautiful?" Victoria Beckham’s reported response to Naomi Campbell’s question: ‘Why do they call you Posh?’
   
Now who’d have though it? Good old Posh.
And just to prove the absolute doolallyness of these quotes...
     “Mushrooms are f****** boring!” Pixie Geldof sees no fun in the fungi. Next week, an unprovoked attack on courgettes.
   
Imagine, the above made fifth best quote of the week in The Sunday Times of August 23. Rescued, perhaps, by the newspaper’s own observation. And to round off, I especially like this one...
     “There are many times when even I, at certain points in the evening, cannot pronounce my own surname.” Supermodel turned actress Milla Jovovich.
   
I wonder if weatherman Tomasz Schafernaker has a similar problem. It’s only the other day I caught up with his infamous forecast delivered during the Glastonbury festival, on Radio 4: “There’ll be thundery showers which will lead to a muddy shite in Glastonbury – sorry – a muddy site...” That’s why we call him Twm Schadenfreude down at the Crazy Horsepower.
     All this leads me neatly to...

Cock-up of the month
LAURA Tobin, that chirpy, cheery and attractive BBC weather girl, reminds me, surprise, surprise, of the weather forecast: Warm sunshine in sheltered parts (©Stuart Hall, radio presenter and wordsmith).
 


Laura was delivering the forecast on telly the other day when she too, just like the aforementioned Twm Schadenfreude, warned of showers: “And pretty pokey showers at that...” Now there’s a word I’d never heard on the weather forecast before – and it brought to mind a famous Welsh radio and TV personality from yesteryear, now sadly dead.
     I’d personally met this particular fellow, a real character and a multi-talented individual, who could commentate on anything and everything. He hosted music and request shows on the wireless, in fact he was an entertainer in his own right. He also had more than a passing eye for the ladies.
     Having a drink with him one day in a bar in a faraway place with a strange sounding name, he told me that when he presented his music or request shows he would include words or phrases that would signal to certain female ears that he was thinking about them. “If ever you hear me say ‘Well, here we go again’, then certain women out there will – “... I won’t repeat what he actually said because I don’t want to upset the ladies or frighten the horses, and anyway, this is a family-friendly scrapbook, sort of. Suffice it to say that, when he did say “Here we go again!”, a few ladies out there would come over all hot and bothered. Apparently.
     This brings me back to Laura and her pokey showers. Perhaps it’s my one-track mind, but I couldn’t help thinking if she'd slipped in the word “pokey” as a bet, or perhaps it was directed at some individual out there – nudge-nudge, wink-wink, know what I mean, sort of thing. I’ll have to listen out to see if it surfaces again.

My boy Bill
WHILE ON the subject of weather, towards the end of August, Britain was drenched by the tail-end of Hurricane Bill, which had passed by the east coast of America earlier in the month, before heading back out over the Atlantic towards the UK. What struck me was the enthusiasm with which forecasters, news readers and radio presenters kept announcing the forthcoming “Hurricane Bill”, always with a bit of a hop and a skip and a jump in the delivery. Just as newspapers delighted in “Hurricane Bill” headlines.
     It seems that Bill is as perfect a name for a hurricane as it is possible to get – when I first heard about Hurricane Bill, I have to admit that what came to mind was old Wild Bill Hurricane from Way Out West.
     Then, just a few days ago we experienced the tail-end of tropical storm Danny. See, it’s not quite the same, is it? The name definitely has to be a little bit pokey to leave its mark.

Obituary
EDWARD Kennedy died in August. Talk about all the glowing tributes. I was reminded of two retired miners attending the funeral of a much-loved colleague and drinking pal, at the local crematorium, where the bodies arrive every 30 minutes, on the dot.
     As the minister delivers his eulogy, Dai pokes his friend Jack in the ribs: “Hey, we’re in the wrong funeral – he’s not talking about the Tom you and me know.” My sympathies always extend to the minister who has to deliver such words because he or she has to paint a generous picture, for obvious reasons. Mind you, some Men of God are totally brilliant at painting a multi-layered picture without saying anything bad at all.
     Personally, when someone dies I always ask myself what this person was like as a human being. More importantly, how did he or she treat his or her fellow human beings along the way? To my simple mind, that is the only measurement that counts.
     This brings me full circle, and back with Edward Kennedy. I quote from an article by Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times on August 30.
As Edward Kennedy was laid to rest yesterday, accompanied by a further fusillade of eulogies, we were forcibly made aware, once again, of the American fixation with the idea of personal redemption ... While even the right-wing US press skated around the late senator’s appalling personal behaviour over many years, in this country newspapers concentrated on the incident 40 years ago when the then 37-year-old Ted Kennedy abandoned Mary Jo Kopechne to die alone in a car he had driven off a small bridge linking Chappaquiddick to Martha’s Vineyard.
     It was only in a British newspaper that the American author Joyce Carol Oates was able last week to publish the following (factually accurate) account: “Kennedy chose to flee the scene leaving the young woman to die an agonising death, not of drowning, but of suffocation over a period of hours. It was over 10 hours before Kennedy reported the accident, by which time he’d consulted a family lawyer. The senator’s explanation for this unconscionable, despicable, unmanly behaviour was never convincing.”
     Here in the UK it was rather illuminating to hear the fulsome tributes from terrorists, freedom fighters and politicians, tributes from those who historically experienced no problems in setting off bombs to kill innocent men, women and children, and eulogies from politicians who send off brave soldiers to die in some faraway place in order to satisfy their egocentricity and lust for power. And indeed those who send them off to wage war on the back of a lie, shocking individuals such as Tony Blair.
     If you must admire Edward Kennedy, the man, be my guest, but I shall make my excuses and look the other way.

Pause for thought
“THEY should get off their backsides and see what it’s like for our boys out there.” Hazel Hunt, the mother of Private Richard Hunt, 21, the Welsh serviceman who became the 200th British soldier killed in Afghanistan, tells government ministers to visit the front line in Afghanistan.
     I can do no more than repeat what I said to round off my last bulletin, quoting the words of Rt Rev Peter Maurice, Bishop of Taunton, as he said prayers at the funeral service of Harry Patch: "Let us pray for a just and sustainable world where all may live in peace..." As the camera panned over the congregation it was clear that the Bishop’s words were having a significant effect on everyone – and for once you wanted the camera to land on a certain Tony Blair, sat contemplatively right at the very back of the Cathedral – well, as we all know, those who send brave people off to suffer the death and destruction and horror of war are never themselves found at the Front.

The final full-stop
BEFORE leaving the subject of war and Afghanistan, I've always registered that when the media announce the death of yet another soldier, it is always confirmed that “next of kin have been informed”, which obviously avoids the parents of every soldier going through hell. I read the other day what happens.
     As soon as a death occurs the alert sets in motion at the Ministry of Defence a rapid and sensitive operation that has evolved since the start of the conflict – to break the news to the family, with a dreaded knock at the door, before it hits the media or is posted on Facebook. It is imperative that the families first hear the dreadful news from the services. “We are in a straight race," said an MoD spokesman, "with the media, the internet and mobile phones.”
     We don’t know the half of it.

Blair Witch Project
ONE PARTING thought about Tony Blair: I partly caught on the radio a little poem...
    
I met a man who wasn’t there,
     He said his name was Tony Blair
... the next two lines escaped me, except the last few words which went something like “his name was God”.
     Now I guess the poem would have been based on The Psychoed by Hughes Mearns, 1875-1965...
    
As I was going up the stair
     I met a man who wasn’t there.
     He wasn’t there again today.
     I wish, I wish he’d stay away.

So I put on my very small thinking cap to finish that partly heard poem the best I could...
    
I met a man who wasn’t there,
     He said his name was Tony Blair.
     But it all turned curiously odd,
     Cherie arrived and called him God.

Image of the month
THE INSTANT I turned the newspaper page my eye was drawn into this picture. I think it’s the sheer regimentation of the image, no pun intended.
 


No surprise then that in this photo, released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, China’s soldiers, sailors and airmen are in full voice as they sing for their supper at a patriotic concert in Beijing. I think they’re all male, but I can’t be sure.

‘Believe nothing you see’ image of the month

THIS IS the tale of the memorable Microsoft photo, as published in the US: Asian man, black man and a white woman.
     In
Poland, though, somebody photoshopped away the black man’s head, and put a white man’s head in its place. Clearly Microsoft were ultra wary of frightening the Polish horses.
     Strangely, they left his hand intact, which was greeted with glee by everyone - who does not work for Microsoft, that is.
     As was reported in the media, it raises two key issues. Is Poland really that uncomfortable with minorities? And why is Microsoft so unbelievably bad at using Photoshop?
     But we shouldn’t laugh. During August Jeremy Clarkson did a review of the Argo Avenger 700 8x8 for The Sunday Times. The paper included a two-page spread photo of the machine - see below - including Jeremy, covered in mud, as if he’d had a ball playing around with the thing.
     But look at his hands and his trousers ... not a spot of dirt in sight... Oh dear. Did he really test-drive it?

 


The curious case of the substituted black man, above, and Jeremy's clean hands, alongside, prove that you probably can fool most of the people most of the time, which all came to mind when news surfaced that dozens of quangos and taxpayer-funded organisations have ordered a purge of common words and phrases so as not to cause offence.

     “Whiter than white” is to be replaced with “purer than pure” or “cleaner than clean”; “gentleman’s agreement” with “unwritten agreement” or “an agreement based on trust”; “black day” with “miserable day”; and “right-hand man” by “second in command”.
     Marie Clair, spokeswoman for the Plain English Campaign, said: “Political correctness has good intentions but things can be taken to an extreme. What is really needed is a bit of common sense.” Ah yes, common sense, I remember it well. (see Smile of the month, coming up...)

Bits
“I’VE ALWAYS kind of done exactly what my instincts said. I have a good brain on me but I’ve never really used it when it came to making decisions about love, which has been a blessing and a curse.” Actress Sienna Miller.

...and Pieces
“I love cigarettes. Love them. I think the more positive approach you have to smoking, the less harmful it is.” Sienna Miller outlines a radical new theory on smoking and health (which clearly does not involve using that "good brain" of hers).
     For what it’s worth, I believe that what smoking does to the body is attack the immune system, or more correctly, if there’s just the hint of a weak link in the immune system, the carcinogenic agents present in tobacco will ruthlessly seek out that weakness to attack the body.

Smiles of the month
AS MENTIONED in previous dispatches, one of the joys of an online scrapbook such as this is the ability to go back to correct an error, or even add something relevant which comes to mind after posting a bulletin.
     It happened over on
400 Smiles A Day just a few days ago. I was reporting on all the wonderful little songbirds I’ve befriended along my walk in the Towy Valley: Well, the breeding season has now finished and the birds are increasingly at a loose end and returning in numbers to feed at my special "Rrrrrrrrt!" tree: robins, obviously, great tits, blue tits, coal tits, chaffinch, hedge accentors, nuthatches...
    
And that’s how I posted it. By the following day I thought I should add this...
     “ - but mostly tits, tits and yet more tits. I feel like the picture editor of Page 3.”
    
Which is sort of relevant following the aforementioned disclosure regarding my brush with Page 3 girls out there in the real world.
     This scrapbook also offers the chance to update a Smile of the Day previously posted. Here’s one that I've recalled for a bit of modification cum addendum...

And on this farm...
A LOCAL farmer was looking for a farm manager, and he’d narrowed the shortlist down to three applicants: an Australian, an American, and a Welshman. Now the farmer was a grand old boy, if a bit eccentric, and one of the tests he gave the three was to complete the following statement: Old MacDonald had a – what? And with so much form filling and paperwork now attached to farming, they also had to spell the missing word.
     The Australian was first: Old MacDonald had a - ? “Spread – spelt s-p-r-e-a-d.”
     The American next: Old MacDonald had a - ? “Ranch – r-a-n-c-h.”
     Finally the Welshman: Old MacDonald had a - ? "Farm!" "Very good, now spell it." "E-i-e-i-o!"
That evening the farmer called at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, and who should be there enjoying a pint but one of Dodgy City’s doctors, so the farmer relates his experiences with the Welsh applicant. “Ah yes,” says the doctor, “I recognise the Welshman’s symptoms. He is clearly suffering irritable vowel syndrome.”
     E-i-e-i-o indeed.


The family tree of lost sheep

THE CARTOON here, from The Sunday Times, which accompanied the article mentioned above (Quangos blackball ... oops, sorry ... veto ‘racist’ everyday phrases), takes me back to the time I helped out behind the bar at what was then just the Crazy Horse Saloon.
     A group of farmers were gathered at one corner of the bar. Now the one thing that always amused me when working behind a bar was that those who crowd round the bar in a tight group and talk in whispers so that others can't here them, forget that the person behind the bar, if it's reasonably quiet, can hear everything that is said.
     It is a well of delicious gossip which never runs dry.
     Anyway, I overheard one of the group ask another who I was. One of the fellows who knew me explained I was from a local farming family, not actually farming, but I was the brother of Wild Bill Hickok who farmed Big Slopes Farm.
     “Well, well, I didn’t even know he had a brother.”
     “Yes, you don’t hear much about this chap,” said the one who knew me. “You see, this one’s the white sheep of the family.”
     I’ve been dining out on that one ever since.


Mid-August, 2009
A week of carry-ons, funerals, heroes and men of God: a personal view

MANY moons ago, in the wilds of West Wales, on a dark and stormy but romantic St David’s Day night*, 300 million little spermatozoa set off on the journey of a lifetime. Only one made it to port. And that one was me.
     Now if that isn’t a good enough reason to always look on the bright side of life I really don’t know what is.
     When I was 18, 19, or thereabouts, I overheard my mother tell a visitor to the house that she reckoned I had been born lucky. So taken was I with this news that off I toddled to the local Post Office, bought a few Premium Bonds, sat back, and waited ... and waited ... for the generous cheque from Uncle Ernie to land on the mat. Nothing came – well, that’s not strictly true, for a £25 cheque did eventually arrive, but not the life-enhancing amount I thought my natural-born “luck” entitled me to.
     Slowly but surely it dawned on me that the luck my mother spoke of had nothing whatsoever to do with money and/or material things, but rather with events surrounding and influencing my actual walk through time. When God slams shut one door, sort of thing, he leaves quite a few others off the latch, so you quickly learn to lean ever so gently against every likely door.
     It all somehow reaffirmed my inner belief that life would be a rather joyous experience, a journey made to stand and stare and cheer. Perhaps even more significantly, it should be a journey where I would try hard, really hard, never to deliberately hurt anyone, whether physically, mentally or spiritually.
     And the journey so far? Well, as to the first part of the deal, life has been, excepting a few unavoidably sad diversions along the way, a laugh a minute. Often two laughs a minute. As for the second part – only others can pass judgment on that one, but I’m reasonably confident that wherever I’ve been in this old world I can return there again. True, there are one or two places where I must remember to first look right, left and right again, just in case there’s a speeding omnibus...
     One of the more intriguing observations along my walk suggests that humanity appears to possess a powerful will to live, counterbalanced by an equally destructive wish to die. By this I mean a subconscious destiny with fate.
     Ponder road accident deaths in the UK, a statistical source of much fascination. Between 1967 and 1987, deaths halved from around 8,000 a year to about 4,000. But then, from 1987 to 2007, and that despite vast improvements in vehicle and road safety, including a concentrated drive against speeding, drink-drive and such like, the figure has only fallen to 3,000 deaths a year. It is as if 3,000 people a year have a death wish, mindful of course that many of those who die are innocents (third parties, passengers, etc).
     I also observe that cancer often appears to be a sophisticated and subconscious form of suicide, where sufferers see it as a way out of a desperate and hopeless personal situation – but that throws up such a complex web of human behaviour it demands a whole future bulletin to itself.
     At the other end of the scale is that powerful will to live – which brings me to the remarkable Harry Patch. However, before we get there, my week starts on Sunday August 2nd, sat in front of the TV.

* "on a dark and stormy but romantic St David’s Day night" - Editor's note: poetic licence applied for...

Carry on up the Clarksons


 

ZAPPING through the channels I settle upon Top Gear ... Jeremy Clarkson, with James May as his straight man, set out to produce a TV commercial for the Volkswagen Scirroco TDI. Quite hilarious, all explosions and fire, above, and all very JC – Clarkson really is an accomplished comic actor – all coming to the boil with an ad based in Poland where something dramatic is happening, a state of emergency is declared, people abandoning everything and escaping in all directions from an unseen but invading aggressor, nudge-nudge, wink-wink, etc, etc.
     Finally up pops a picture of the VW, with the strapline: From
Berlin to Warsaw in one tank.
     As you can probably imagine there’s been a frightful fuss. Why, I’m not quite sure, because Clarkson has a go at everyone and everything: today the Germans, the Poles, World War II,  his fellow presenters - oh, and Goodyear, Stickleback & Bunsen Burner, the ad agency - tomorrow the Americans, the day after the Chinese ... If we are all in the firing line it really doesn’t matter who he shoots at first.

Anyway, before arriving at that final ad, many outrageous attempts are made. To confuse matters even more they are told in no uncertain fashion by Sybil and Basil from the ad agency that car ads must not, by decree, promote speed or aggressive driving, so James May decides to go in the opposite direction and film a funeral sequence.
     After much blue-sky-thinking it all culminates in the VW trundling down the road with the tailgate up and a coffin sticking inelegantly out the back.
     But along the way Clarkson interferes, as is his wont, and, after sending May off in search of a crow ("Well, have you ever seen any filmed funeral scene without a crow?"), he approaches one of the mourners, a smart blond girl dressed in a "sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack" outfit.
     “You should be in a bikini, I think,” he tells the blonde. But he hesitates, and appears to have second thoughts. “No, hang on, this is a funeral ... it should be a black bikini.”
     (Talk of bikini takes me back to the July bulletin, just a scroll down, which features a piece on the birth of the bikini. Spooky or what?)
     Anyway, what follows is most memorable. The coffin is carried out of the church on the shoulders of pallbearers, all dressed to death – but at one corner of the coffin is the blonde in the bible-black bikini (as featured alongside ... the bikini, that is!).
     Oh yes, no crow, but there is a close-up of a pigeon going “Corrr!”.
     It is all so clever because Clarkson pays witty homage to the advertising industry’s obsession with using pretty girls to sell anything and everything.
     Ten out of ten to Jeremy Clarkson. I am not surprised that Top Gear is now the third most watched TV programme in the UK (week ending July26).

Be that as it may, so impressed was I with the vision of the bikini clad pallbearer that I decided there and then that I, too, want to be buried this way, please.
     For a moment I did think four blondes in bikinis – but that is a bit over the top, I guess...

Forward to the past

WHILE the blonde in the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack bikini was capturing my undivided attention on BBC Two, over on Welsh language channel S4C, coverage of the National Eisteddfod in Bala, North Wales had begun. Now I am not a natural-born fan of the traditional stuff dished out by the Eisteddfod, but by Monday morning S4C’s second channel was covering Y Babell Lên (literally The Literary Tent).
     A
part from the music, dance and poetry of the main circus ring there are many fringe competitions and events unfolding in the literary tent, so I tend to leave the television tuned to that channel all day, waiting for something to seduce my attention. And there are many of them.
     One such involved writing a job application letter, in a humorous vein. During the adjudication the high standard of the letters was commented upon, with brief extracts from the best read out.
     One certainly deserves to be shared with those who do not speak the two spokes, a letter from a Tony Blair to the Labour Party, asking for his old job back, and I presume written in a rather sloppy style, but in particular the closing line: Yours sincerely, sincerely, sincerely...
     Then on the Thursday, I happen upon a lecture, in Welsh obviously, by the Reverend Emlyn Richards. Now I had never heard of this gent, but he delivered one of the funniest and most enjoyable hours I have enjoyed since I can’t remember when.
     His lecture was entitled Mae ddoe wedi mynd, meaning a look back over the years – not so much ‘Back to the future’ but ‘Forward to the past’. As soon as he appeared – a senior, somewhat portly gent – but boasting the sort of face that tends to make you smile the moment you clap eyes on it. He had a delivery style which flirted with the old fire-and-brimstone preachers of yore, in as much that when he wanted to emphasise a point you were never sure whether he was about to burst into song or tears.
     He began by emphasising how careful he now had to be with his opening remarks, and recalled not long back being invited to preach at Walton Jail in Liverpool. Unfortunately he won’t be asked back because he made two fundamental mistakes.
     First, he said how pleased he was to see so many present. And secondly, he promised not to keep them long.
     As the laughter died he told us that, due to live TV coverage, the organisers had emphasised that he should not be too long and overrun his scheduled spot. "I preach every Sunday," he informs us in solemn voice, "and nobody in the congregation has ever said that to me - but they all think it."
     Some folk make up lists of ‘Things to do before I die’. I commend to the house that they include experiencing a sermon or lecture by Emlyn Richards. A delightful performer, satisfaction guaranteed.
     Following immediately after Emlyn Richards, at midday, the daily reading of the short story, adventures revolving around, again, the minister of a chapel in a small Welsh community – and again truly funny – brilliantly read by actor John Ogwen, and written by a gentleman called Harry Parry – which of course leads me directly back to Harry Patch.

HARRY PATCH
An ordinary man ... an extra-ordinary walk through time

WHAT caught my eye reading about the life of Harry Patch was the pact he made on the killing fields of Passchendaele with the other four members of the gun crew he was attached to. They would not deliberately kill an enemy soldier, but rather aim for the legs simply to disable, something Harry Patch was later to put to the test, and was not found wanting. It is a remarkable achievement in what was the horror of the trenches of the First World War.
     Then, on
22nd September 1917, his battalion was returning to the support line when one of them stopped to “spend a penny”. As his mates waited, a German shell exploded among them. Patch was knocked out.

     “The only thing I remember was a flash,” he recalled. When he regained consciousness, he felt blood on his tunic and applied a field dressing, then passed out again. He was found, and taken to a casualty clearing station, where he lay in agony for 36 hours. Finally, a doctor came, and with four men holding Harry down, removed a 2in piece of jagged shrapnel from his groin, without anaesthetic.
     To my mind, only an exceptional will to live made him such a powerful survivor against all the odds.
     Incidentally, he later discovered that three of his friends had been killed by the explosion. Their remains were never found, which is why his Remembrance Day was always September 22.

     I am also intrigued that Patch, aged 111, was the last British soldier to have fought in the trenches of the great war, and was also briefly Britain’s oldest man after Henry Allingham, 113, another veteran, who died just seven days earlier. Was this further proof of Harry’s extraordinary will to out-survive the survivors? I tend towards that view. Oh yes, I have no doubt that he had  been born lucky.

     The service for Mr Patch at Wells Cathedral, in Somerset, was happening at the very time I was laughing along with Harry Parry up at Bala. I took a chance that, as is now usual with significant events such as the Harry Patch funeral service, it would be available later via the TV news channels’ red button – and so it turned out to be.
     Later that evening my first port of call was the BBC news channel, but it carried but brief highlights. Fortunately, Sky’s red button provided a continuous loop of the complete service.
     What a moving tribute it was, but also laced with smiles. Just as I was laughing at the words of Harry Parry in real time up in Bala, so the congregation at

Wells Cathedral was smiling and laughing along with Mr Patch’s good friend Jim Ross's tribute. He spoke with much affection and humour about his friend.
     I particularly liked the story of Mr Patch’s habit of using his index finger to underline a point – and in particular, at his care home in Wells, when he would use his index finger to beckon the female employees to him when he needed something. And such was his charm that they would respond without complaint. “Gentlemen,” said Jim Ross, pointing to the congregation with his index finger, “do not try this at home.”

     Another memorable sequence was the singing of the anti-war song Where Have all the Flowers Gone?, sung to astonishing effect by Folasade-Nelleke Lapido, head chorister at Wells Cathedral, aged just 15.
     I watched this particular part of the service with the time approaching nine in the evening, and as the song echoed out of the TV I noticed the evening light reflecting off the open window of my cottage.
     I looked out ... the sun was setting in a glorious sky. I grabbed a camera and captured the image, seen here, alongside.
     The sun set just as Folasade-Nelleke came to the end of the song. It was both moving and ironic.
     But the most moving moment came during prayers by the Rt Rev Peter Maurice, Bishop of Taunton: "In the

silence and beauty of this holy place we give thanks for the long life of an ordinary man of Somerset ... we gather round his coffin to give thanks for this gentle, modest and dignified man...”
     The Bishop delivered an exceedingly touching prayer, awash with words of wisdom against the folly and fury of war: "We thank Harry Patch for his truthfulness in naming war as ugly, murderous and destructive." And all delivered in a captivating voice that wrapped itself reassuringly around our shoulders.
     "Let us pray for a just and sustainable world where all may live in peace..." As the camera panned over the congregation it was clear that the Bishop’s words were having a significant effect on everyone – and for once you wanted the camera to land on a certain Tony Blair, sat contemplatively right at the very back of the Cathedral – well, as we all know, those who send brave people off to suffer the death and destruction and horror of war are never themselves found at the Front.
     Amen, Amen, Amen.


JULY 2009 IN REVIEW
Vibrations in the memory

REGULAR followers of this scrapbook will know that I round off each bulletin with Smiles of the Month, amusements based on my diary entries where, at day's end, I record what made me smile the most that day. It can be something I hear on the radio, see on TV, read in the papers, witness or experience down the pub, a memorable joke, a happening, and yes, even something that may have happened to me. So, why not also start each bulletin with a smiley memory from the month under review – a wel-i-jiw-jiw moment (which, incidentally, roughly translates as “well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs”, except more so). Here goes then...

Wel-i-jiw-jiw moment of the month
Mr Reginald Molehusband through the rear-view mirror
TO those of a certain age I warrant the above name generates an instant smile. In the 60s and 70s there was a somewhat patronising but memorable public information film shown on TV about the art of reversing a vehicle into a roadside parking space, in particular a slot between two cars next to the kerb. Reginald Molehusband turns up in his Austin 1300, and makes a total horlicks* of it. As he manoeuvres back and fore a crowd quickly gathers. Then a voiceover explains how it should be done and - hey presto - Reginald manages it with some style. The gathered crowd burst into spontaneous applause. It’s one of those little films, much like great ads, that linger forever in the memory.
    
The film was commissioned by the Central Office of Information, so I thought I’d google it to see if my memory was playing tricks. Unbelievably no copy of the film is known to still exist. The BBC had the only copy and they’ve gone and lost it. (Wouldn’t it be better if the Chief Sitting Bulls and Chief Sitting Cows at the BBC looked after things like this, rather than milk the system for ludicrous salaries, bonuses and expenses?).
     However, the script survives: This is the story of Reginald Molehusband, married, two children, whose reverse parking was a public danger. People came from miles just to see it. Bets were laid on his performance. What he managed to miss at the back, he was sure to make up for at the front. Bus drivers and taxis changed their routes to avoid him. Until the day that Reginald Molehusband did it right. Not too close, far enough forward ... come on Reginald ... and reverse in slowly ... come on ... and watching traffic ... and park perfectly! Well done Reginald Molehusband, the safest parker in town.
     Yep, just as I remember it all those years ago. Amazing. But whatever happened to Reginald Molehusband? Well, he married his childhood sweetheart and they had a further four kids – bang, bang-bang (twins), bang – in quick succession, making it six in total. Clearly there were some spaces he needed no coaching on how to enter, even with his eyes closed. However, due to the infamy surrounding Reginald’s reversing, the children grew up with a bit of a thing about it, a chip on their reversing shoulder, so to speak.
     In July I stumbled upon a family photo of the Molehusband children – now grown up – but as you will see, they have yet to exorcise the ghosts of reversing into a tight space...
 


Now come on, if that doesn’t make you smile out loud, nothing ever will. I came across the image while looking for something completely different – I forget precisely what – but as soon as I saw it the name Reginald Molehusband sprang effortlessly to mind.
     Actually, they are members of the modern dance company PILOBOLUS in flesh-coloured suits, performing in
Sydney. I have no idea exactly what they are performing - the mind boggles - nor who the snapper is, otherwise I’d credit him or her. It’s a great image.
* Etymology note from the 1960s: horlicks – playful euphemistic substitute for bollocks. One lump or two?
 

Slow down, comma ahead...
LAST month I told the tale of the lady who hated writing letters, so much so that when she did hurriedly scribble one she would do so without punctuation – but at the end of her letter include a list of symbols used in punctuation, and then invite the recipient to insert as appropriate. Neat trick, that.
     But it made me think, for it’s a dangerous game; I mean, inserting say a comma in the wrong place changes the whole meaning of a sentence. For example...
     What is this thing called love?
     What is this thing called, love?
Or...
     “You can’t legislate love.” The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, in a July message to Gay Pride march organisers.
     “You can’t legislate, love.”
     “You, can’t legislate love.”
     “You, can’t legislate, love.”

Yup, I think "help" is the operative word.


The greatest organ player in the world
OH, and I have to return to Mrs Mills – no, not the piano player, but she who solves all your problems of a personal nature, hence the subtle change from piano to organ – and I quote verbatim from The Sunday Times’ Style magazine of July 26.

OFFICE WALLFLOWER
I like this guy I work with, but have never managed to talk to him. He is very good-looking, and I haven’t even said hello because I’m worried about embarrassing myself. I have worked with him for a year. What do you think would be the most appropriate thing to say, or should I just casually walk into him by accident?
KH, Bristol
“Walking into him” would probably constitute some form of assault and not convey the full depth of your feelings for him in the most eloquent way. Much better would be to start in a low-key way. “May I borrow your stapler?”, for example, then move on to something along the lines of “Do you have any of those green paperclips? They’re my favourite”, which would give him the opportunity to open up the conversation. A couple of weeks of this work-related office banter, then you can say “Fancy a shag?” without taking him entirely by surprise.

Apart from the smiley catch-you-on-the-hop punch line, what made me ponder was use of the word “shag”. I’ve noted over the past year or so that the word is now deployed quite freely in the media, and that without bleeps or asterisks, including, obviously, papers such as The Sunday Times.
     It has become an acceptable word, a superficially naughty word which neatly treads the tightrope between the expression “making love” and the f-word, so I guess it serves a useful purpose.
     This brings me to Welsh, which many argue is a decidedly unsuitable language for coitus interrtwinus. A Hampshire rose once enlightened me that English is the only language in the world which would allow me to espy across a well-oiled party a morning seller, approach her and say: “I am overcome with the desire that we two should make mad, passionate love forthwith”. Or words to that effect.
     Whilst she may well huff and puff and mutter “in your dreams”, she would have no reason to slap me or complain to the host about my offensive language. In any other language, my lady friend assured me, such a direct approach would sound obscene, absurd, medical or, pardon the expression, gobbledegookish.
     You certainly can’t say something naughty but nice like “let’s make love” in Welsh. However, there is a wonderfully colloquial and colourful word, “shelffo” – pronounced simply shelf-o. Now don’t ask me where it comes from, but everyone at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon on hearing it will go nudge-nudge, wink-wink, know what it means. It’s a smiley word, unlike traditional hardcore sex words – whether English or Welsh - which are decidedly frowney; while “shelffo” may not be particularly sophisticated, it is certainly not obscene. Very similar now, I guess, to the English "shag".
     My little English rose also assured me that even the French language, with which she was on intimate terms, does not offer the free-range seductive expressiveness of the English approach. As English increasingly becomes the language songsters world-wide prefer to sing for their supper in, then perhaps English is also the natural language of the bedroom.
     Wel-i-jiw-jiw, as Mrs Mills would doubtless say, if she was familiar with the expression, that is.
     An interesting postscript to this tale: I googled the word "shelffo" – and up came 2,450 hits in 0.25 seconds (probably the average time it takes us men to "shelffo"?), a few in Welsh, but most in English because, surprise, surprise, Shelffo is a busy little surname out there.
     I was intrigued by Jeffrey Shelffo on Twitter – and wondered if Jeffrey Archer had changed his name by twitter poll. But my favourite – which Welsh speakers will enjoy – is an American web site headed The Shelffo Family: “This is our family website; a gathering of all things Shelffo.” They must move to Welsh Wales - forthwith!
PS. The Welsh "shelffo" is defined in Y Rhegiadur Cymraeg (The Welsh Cursetionary) as...
     1) having sex (√); 2) assembling shelves in a DIY fashion (um?).
This neatly brings me on to that other naughty English word which rhymes with banker, but I shall leave that for another time...
PPS. As I write this the sky has fallen in on Tory leader David Cameron because he used the word "twat" in a live radio interview; he also used the phrase "pissed off" later in the same interview, shock, horror. I have just read this: "Cameron passed off a mild four-letter expletive with as much aplomb as a duchess operating a tin opener." Remind me next time out to tell a wonderful true story which revolves around the word "twat".

Glorious Memories
That’s one small “a” for Neil

The headline at the very top of this month’s bulletin reads Vibrations in the memory, and surely there are no greater vibrations than recalling man stepping out on the moon.

     Incidentally, I am tickled by those who think it all happened in a hangar in the middle of the Arizona desert, or wherever. Apart from the impossible fact that everyone has held on to the secret for  40 years, more importantly we were at the height of the cold war, with both Russia and America competing like fury to get to the moon first. What we now appreciate is that the Americans knew, more or less, how far down the line the Russians were – and vice versa.
     So do we really believe that those pesky Reds under our beds would have sighed hugely and said: “Tsk! Those Yanks, honestly, fooling the whole world that they’ve reached the moon. Anyway, good luck to ‘em.” And if you believe that you really will believe anything.

     So what do I remember about that magical moment all those years ago?  Well, I recall listening to the actual “Eagle has landed!” bit on the radio – it was around half-eight on a Sunday evening, in my then girlfriend’s flat – and several hours later on TV, now back at her family home, watching Neil Armstrong jump onto the moon’s surface and utter one of the most famous one-liners in history: “That’s one small step for a man ... one giant leap for mankind.”
     It is still debated whether he does include that critical ”a”, or does he get it wrong and say “That’s one small step for man – “, which of course subtly changes the meaning of the statement (see above regarding punctuation). Recent analysis of his voice patterns suggest that he does include a curiously truncated “a”.

     Anyway, what I also vividly remember about that Apollo 11 adventure, as well as all the other Apollo missions come to that, has to be the TV coverage on the BBC, which always began with that spine-tingling music from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
     And then there was that wonderful NASA launch-countdown routine, done with an all-American voice straight out of casting...

T minus 20 seconds and counting ... minus 15 seconds – guidance is internal
(yes, what did that mean?) – 12 – 11 – 10 – 9 - ignition sequence starts (the engines on the Saturn V rocket burst into life and the whole caboodle heaves violently against the massive restraining bolts as the engines build up towards maximum thrust) – 3 – 2 – 1 – zero – all engines running ... lift-off ... we have lift-off – 32 minutes past the hour, lift-off on Apollo 11 ... tower cleared ... she’s lifting beautifully into the sky ... a typically beautiful Saturn V launch!
     A magical and memorable experience, even if only watching it on the box – but best of all, the Apollo moon adventure leads neatly into...

Revisited images of the month
CHRISTMAS 1968, and Apollo 8 is the first manned voyage to orbit the moon. As it emerges from behind the moon the astronauts are confronted by what is, arguably, the most famous view ever seen – Earthrise – and of course they capture a picture of that breathtaking moment.
     It is said that this photograph concentrated the minds of we earthlings, in as much that it made us realise just how fragile and precious and beautiful our home planet is. Well, it did that for a few people, for sure, but mostly we are still burning, pillaging, raping and poisoning the planet as if there is no tomorrow.
 


By a curious coincidence I come upon another memorable image from history: the first ever atom bomb detonation on July 16, 1945, and known as the Trinity Site Explosion. The above picture was taken 0.016 seconds after explosion. I place both images alongside each other just to highlight the folly of man.
     J Robert Oppenheimer, “The Father of the Atomic Bomb”, later recalled that, while witnessing the explosion, he thought of a verse from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad-Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the mighty one.”; also, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”.
     He realised immediately that his brilliance had made it possible, somewhere down the line, for just one deranged leader to destroy humanity and much else on the planet – and as we all know, there have been quite a few doolally leaders dotted about the globe since 1945. And much nearer home than we care to admit. Fingers firmly crossed then.
     Which all neatly leads me to a...

Bonus Image of the month
IT IS 1946, the Americans have just been in the news for testing their rapidly expanding atomic weapons arsenal off Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. Meanwhile, in France, designer Louis Réard has just devised an exciting new garment for women, so he called his explosive invention the “bikini”. In fact he experienced great difficulty in finding a young woman who was bold enough to model it in public.
     Step forward one Micheline Bernardini, an “exotic dancer” who regularly wears little more than a cheeky smile at the Casino de Paris nightspot. She slips the bikini on at a swimming pool in
Paris – and the rest, as they say, is definitely history.

 


Réard gave Bernardini’s bikini a pattern of newspaper type, for he was certain it would make “Hold the Front Page” news all around the world. And that it most certainly did.
     The greatest surprise in this story is that the bikini wasn’t “invented” until 1946. So does that mean the Americans lied and that Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. was a fake? And does it also mean I should go back and take a closer look at that “One small step for a man...”? Sacrebleu. My God! Myn uffern i.

Disturbing images of the month
“WHEN I started out as Prime Minister I wanted to please all the people all the time. By the end I was wondering if I pleased any of the people any of the time.” Former premier Tony Blair

I’ve always had my doubts about the mental state of Tony Blair. I was first alerted during the funeral of Princess Diana, when he did a reading, and he put on a strange sort of voice. I remember thinking: he sounds just like Peter Sellers’ memorable delivery of the Beatles’ “It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog...” All delivered in the style of Laurence Olivier as Richard III – hilarious – both Sellers and Blair.
     Then there were those disturbing quotes during the build-up to the Iraq war. Next he swans off round the world cashing in on his warmongering, and Gordon Brown has to explain the coffins passing through Wootton Bassett, alongside...

     Then with a cloud of dust and a hearty "Hi ho Gordon!" he suddenly appears in an article in The Sunday Times under the heading I’m a planet-saving kinda guy. Blair has a new green masterplan: it won’t mean giving up our energy-rich lifestyle but it will cost us billions, blah, blah, blah. But it was the image that accompanied the piece which captured my undivided attention...
 


The above disturbing picture convinces me that the camera has perfectly captured his state of mind, especially given the growing roll call of death and destruction coming out of Afghanistan (he must have been mad in the first place to believe he could achieve what the might of the Russian army could not).
     Incidentally, do you suppose he will start saving the planet after he has finished harvesting as much as possible of the world’s precious resources – for that’s what money is – for himself and his family?
     Oh yes, Blair’s grand plan to save the world from climate change is a big spender’s dream. From The Sunday Times: First, he proposes, we pay the developing world an undisclosed – and potentially unlimited – sum to stop chopping down forests. Then we build hundreds of carbon sequestration plants that strip out CO2 from power station emissions and bury it underground. Fast breeder nuclear plants are next on the wishlist, then research into biofuels, plus vehicles powered by hydrogen and electricity. Price: uncertain. Finally, the West gives all its lovely new green technology away to China, India and the rest ... with lashings of ginger beer – oops! – with lashings of cash to ensure the kit works. Cost? A mere £98 billion per year.

Take another look at that troubled face above. And this is the man they are touting as the President of Europe. May the Lord forgive us our stupidity.

Bits (which confuse)
“PETER Stringfellow seems a little confused. He is under the impression that I can secure a papal knighthood for him.“
Father Michael Seed, who helped convert Tony Blair to Roman Catholicism, on the night-club supremo
Which brings to mind a Blair tale of the unexpected.
The Pope’s ghost appears to Tony Blair in a dream. The Pope introduces him to God. Blair asks God for his help in deciding whether to wage war against Saddam in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. “Go forth and completely destroy those wicked people who annoy you so," says God, quoting a standard passage from the book of Samuel. "And while you are at it, the Bible also prescribes death by stoning as the penalty for non-violent infractions, including blasphemy, homosexuality, disrespecting one's parents and picking up sticks on the Sabbath. You have my permission to sign all documents God per pro Tony Blair. Yes, you may well find yourself in time – and to borrow a famous earthly line – rushing about shouting ‘Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me,’ but you and Cherie will die very rich – oh, and be sure to paint the inside of No 10 blue.”
     “Blue? Why blue?” Blair asks. “Ha,” replies God. “I knew you wouldn’t ask me about the first part.”

...and Pieces (which don’t confuse)
“JOGGING is for people who are not intelligent enough to watch breakfast television.”
Kenneth Clarke, Shadow Business Secretary
A deliciously witty quote, that.

“Only in the privacy of my own home.”
Tory leader David Cameron when asked whether he ever wore pink
Said with tongue in cheek - one hopes, especially in view of the aforementioned "twat" shemozzle – but on a wider issue, whenever I hear people defend the privacy of what they get up to in their own homes I find myself preoccupied with what precisely folk actually do get up to in their own homes that would make them totally ashamed if the rest of us found out.

“I’ve done elephant-riding in a loincloth, and let me tell you, it’s like straddling a barbecue brush.”
Hollywood actor Brendan Fraser
Hands up all of you out there who know what it’s like to straddle a barbecue brush or similar? Hm, so that’s what you get up to (ouch!) in the privacy of your own homes.

And finally, my favourite quote of the year thus far, simply because it is so beautifully rhythmic...
“I am stretched out on the bed like a swastika and I like Germany. And why not? I am half-Byronic, half-moronic; part-shaman, part-showman; half-Nazi, half-Liberace.”
Artist and so-called “dotty dandy” Sebastian Horsley, who was deported from America last year on grounds of “moral turpitude”.
No, I've never heard of him either, but I enjoyed the delightful silliness of the quote.

Wisdom of the month
SUBMITTED by a listener to radio’s Wake up to Wogan:
I realised my daughter was growing up when she stopped asking me where she came from and also stopped telling me where she was going.

Best practice advice of the month
RICHARD Brookes writes in The Sunday Times: I’ve only once been to an Ikea store, and swore I’d never go again. It took me nearly an hour to escape. So the Southampton branch must realise it has a captive audience when, tomorrow evening (July 20), the furniture chain stages its first-ever jazz gig. Do the saxes come in flatpack?

Nice one, Richard – but a word of advice, my friend: everything in life comes in a flatpack, including the environment, trees, animals – oh, and people. And those tantalising flatpacks come in all shapes and sizes.
     Ponder this when you next meet a stranger ... he or she is a flatpack, and how that individual responds and reacts to you depends absolutely and totally on how you construct that person from the flatpack in front of you.
     Carefully construct, with lots of TLC, and you will, surprise, surprise, serendipitously discover that that person will return the compliment.
     Convert that flatpack in a slapdash manner and you should not be surprised to find that you are treated badly in return.
     It is called mirror imaging and is present throughout nature. If you disbelieve, try it out on animals: cats, dogs, cattle, horses – you will be astonished how positively they respond.
     Good unpacking.

 

Close shave of the month
I WAS intrigued by the news of French president Nicolas Sarkozy's sudden collapse with health problems. My first response, on hearing just the bare headlines, was, oh dear, wife Carla Bruni – both pictured below leaving hospital after his all clear – has seen him off already. And I have my reasons for such dark thoughts.

     A good many moons back, not all that far from Llandampness, there was shame and scandal when a well-known local dignitary had a massive heart attack - on top of a mountain, in the back of his car, with a lady who was not his better-half. Then, just a few years ago a Welsh politician met his end in a Cardiff massage parlour (nudge-nudge, wink-wink, etc, etc).
     I recall a chat with a Llandampness doctor down at the Crazy Horsepower saloon, and somehow the tale of the mountain-top seducer found itself on the agenda, and I said, whilst it was a wonderful way for a man to go, presuming his final boarding call has been called, what a dreadfully embarrassing thing for the woman to experience, and worse, how to explain it away?

The doc smiled a knowing smile. “You’d be surprised how many men actually die on the job. You only hear of the unusual circumstance deaths, but we doctors get to know about them all.”
     Ever since, whenever I hear of a seemingly health man, of any age but especially the more mature variety, suddenly and unexpectedly expiring, particularly if on holiday or a weekend break, a little voice inside my head goes nudge-nudge, wink-wink, etc, etc...
     However, it appears that Sarkozy was out jogging. I read he's a fitness freak, which at 54-years-of-age strikes me as a form of Russian roulette and decidedly unhealthy. Indeed he jogs so often, and so publicly (and is also so pro-American) that French satirists have taken to calling him “Nike-olas”.
     Given though that the lads down at the Crazy Horsepower rate Carla Bruni “a bit of a goer”, I do wonder how much she is taking out of him. After all, my guess is that a bit of “shelffo” refreshes those parts of the body that jogging does not reach. Watch this space.

SMILES OF THE MONTH
Marx out of ten?

"AS soon as I find out what they are, I will look into banning them."
Alan Johnson, the home secretary, asked whether he might ban mosquito devices and acne lights, designed to deter teenagers from congregating
Pessimism is the bedfellow of wisdom. Yes, an unusual sentence to find in the Smiles of the Month segment, for sure. Those who know me best will doubtless confirm that my glass is always half-full; yet my mantra belongs to either Alan Johnson of the Marx Brothers: whatever it is, I’m against it.
     Look, every scientific breakthrough adds yet another paragraph to humanity’s mass suicide note (remember the aforementioned atomic bomb?). Every medical discovery weakens our immune system. We know we are descended from just a thousand people who survived some sort of natural holocaust; those who survive the next, whether it be something akin to swine flu or whatever, will never have received any sort of medical attention, neither will their ancestors.
     Indeed, experts now say there's a positive power to negative thinking, so it should come as no surprise that my roots lie firmly inside that cave somewhere up there on the Welsh hillside (yes, I'm a caveman, something I will return to in a special bulletin in a couple of weeks).
    
Anyway, I was unsure of the precise source of that line “whatever it is, I’m against it”, although I had a feeling it had a Marx Brothers ring about it. And yes indeed, it belongs in a song from the 1932 film Horse Feathers – but while checking it out on the internet I stumbled upon yet another image, this time of the Marx Brothers.


Now have you ever seen a photograph which conveys so brilliantly the character of the characters the brothers always portray in their films? It’s wonderfully smiley and deserves a place in my scrapbook.

Wogan titbits
AT THIS time of year, with sunrise still early doors - or should that be early dawns? - I'm back home from my morning walk in time to listen to most of Wake up to Wogan on the radio, and I have to say Terry’s listeners submit some pure gems for him to share with the nation (and he does prove in his mode of delivery that the messenger is just as important as the message – think Richard Burton in Under Milk Wood, War of the Worlds...). So here are just a couple which made me smile out loud...

A lady, not totally au fait with e-mails, texting and the curious lingo used in such communications, always thought that “lol” meant lots of love, as opposed to the correct laugh out loud. I sympathise because for years I thought that what it said in those personal ads was GOSH, meaning great on sexual horseplay, whereas someone eventually pointed out to me that it actually reads GSOH, meaning, of course, great sense of humour (mind you, GSOH is imperative when experiencing GOSH with me). Anyway, the lady shoots off an e-mail to a friend whose mother has died: Sorry to hear about your mum - lol.

Then Terry reads out this one: "Ah yes, those condom days – no Willie Won’t E – it’s quondam days!". Very funny, but I wasn’t sure what quondam actually meant – it’s not a word bandied about down the Crazy Horsepower. Now I had problems finding it in the dictionary because I thought it was spelt “quantum” – which didn’t quite make sense, although one meaning read “of or designating a major breakthrough or sudden advance”, which does have a condom ring about it. So I put it through the computer: the spell-check comes up with “quondam”, meaning, “of an earlier time; former”. Hm, condom, quondam, quantum – same difference.

Oh, and to finish, a little gem from Sarah Kennedy, who precedes Wogan on the Wireless: A man is incomplete until he is married – then he is finished.

I thank you.


JUNE 2009 IN REVIEW
A sunshiny month
(with some dark clouds about)

Welcome to Dafydd’s world ... won't you come on up



IN MY May review I report that I'd returned to my rural roots, having morphed back into my natural persona of simple country boy. In fact the farm where I have set anchor is where all the local hot air balloons shoot up,

up and away from.
    
Pictured alongside, Dewi Roberts, quality butcher of this parish, appears to crash his cloudhopper (just a single seat plus fuel cylinder and burner) into David Smith's 'Ruby' balloon – but it’s just the camera throwing a knowing wink.
     No diggery-pokery, just that Dewi had previously taken off and is the other side of Ruby as she climbs. I manoeuvre myself into position and, for a change, manage to click at just about the right instant for a teasing shot.
     Then, just the other weekend, seeing some balloons being set up in the field, I wander lonely as a grounded cloud, and was duly invited for a flight by Dewi and young son, Dafydd (above, enjoying the evening view over the Towy Valley), in their traditional balloon.
     It was indeed a beautiful evening, quite breezy, not far off what I guess would be the maximum wind speed for an agreeable flight; in fact, following a settled period of warm, hazy conditions, the quality of the air was clearing fast as a rain front creeps in from the west.

     The flight takes us north of Llandeilo, which enables me to take this eye-catching picture of the old town...
 


So say hello to Llandeilo ... aka Llandampness ... aka Dodgy City – oh, and down there, the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. I’ve mentioned before that Llandeilo is affectionately referred to as a one-horse town – look carefully and you'll observe that the town is, curiously, shaped like a horseshoe. See, and you thought I was taking the Pawnee Bill. Incidentally, I love the shadow effect of all those trees.

Anyway, back to business.


Full stop ahead
DAI Version and Kit Carson so named because he’s always dressed to kill are enjoying a drink at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon suddenly out of a cloudless blue sky Dai tells Kit I think Im going to divorce my wife eh responds a somewhat startled Kit she hasn’t spoken to me in over three months Kit considers and says youd better think it over Dai women like that are hard to find
(  “  .  :  ,  -  ;  ...  ?  ‘  !  ”  )

Listening to Roy Noble on Radio Wales he reads out an e-mail from a lady who says that her mother hated writing letters, so much so that when she did put pen to paper she did so without punctuation – but she'd add at the very end of her letter a row of symbols used in punctuation, and invited the recipient to insert as appropriate. I have no idea whether it’s true, but it’s a grand tale and it made me smile out loud.
     I’m reminded of The PM himself – that’s Brian the Preacher Man, regular at the Crazy Horsepower – who occasionally gets his words all mixed up and out of order. “I’ll throw you the words,” he informs his sometimes puzzled audience, “you sort ‘em out.”
     Anyway, back with punctuation: if the style of modern communication via text and the like is anything to go by, then someday soon all communications will be sent this way. So I thought I’d try out this punctuation-less style of writing, as above – but just in case you struggled, here’s the story with punctuation added to taste...

DAI Version and Kit Carson (so named because he’s always dressed to kill) are enjoying a drink at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Suddenly, out of a cloudless blue sky, Dai tells Kit, “I think I’m going to divorce my wife.”.
     "Eh?” responds a somewhat startled Kit.
     “She hasn’t spoken to me in over three months.”
     Kit considers, and says: “You’d better think it over, Dai. Women like that are hard to find!”

“HOLD THE FRONT PAGE” OF THE MONTH
Jackson dead
RIP Michael: your passing has shown the power of Twitter

THE RIP Michael headline above is from India Knight’s column in The Sunday Times. One paragraph in particular caught my eye: “Back on Twitter – I very nearly wrote ‘back in the real world’, because that is what Twitter now feels like – people were doing what twitterers do best: engaging with each other and passing on news, thoughts and information.”

     Hm, exactly what real people do in a real community then, India, except of course we call it chatting – okay, gossiping. Mind you, I am impressed that no one on Twitter passes on malicious gossip, nonsense and misinformation. Respect, or whatever it is twitterers say at moments like this.
     As for Jackson, one radio headline truly grabbed my attention: “The sudden death of Michael Jackson leaves the world in shock…” Well, sadness, for sure – but shock?
     If, last New Year’s Eve, we had all drawn up a list of the famous and infamous we thought would not see out 2009 due to premature death, whether through assassination or ill health, then surely Jackson would have made most people's list, especially given the continuing and alarming decline in his wellbeing.
     Twittering rather sums up the whole surreal episode perfectly.
     At this point I’m reminded of someone – I think it was Aristotle – who insisted that, for a tale to grab you by the lapels, it needs a beginning, a middle and an end.

     This was much improved on by Philip Larkin’s observation that life itself is actually a beginning, a muddle and an end. Which rather sums up the life and times and death of Michael Jackson, an individual blessed with immense talent but not the wherewithal to handle it. Sad beyond.

The unlikely lads
IT WAS on radio’s Wake up to Wogan I first heard about Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi and his three day official visit to Rome – arriving in town trailing a 300-strong entourage. As you can imagine it generated much Woganesque hilarity. But was it true? A quick Google confirmed its authenticity. At moments like this I find myself wondering if these world leaders ever stop and think how the doolallyness of their behaviour is perceived around the globe? Probably not because they possess no self-awareness. Especially so when they throw up a photo opportunity such as this...
 


Now be honest, it could be a still from a Monty Python sketch. The Times reported it thus: At the start of an historic visit to Libya's former colonial masters, Gaddafi met Silvio Berlusconi in Rome with an archive photograph provocatively pinned to his chest showing the arrest of an anti-Italy guerrilla fighter dubbed "The Lion of the Desert".
     The photograph shows the arrest in 1931 by colonial Italian troops of the Libyan guerrilla leader Omar al Mukhtar. Al Mukhtar's frail elderly son, who descended the aircraft steps with difficulty just behind Gaddafi, in traditional white Arab robes, is part of the delegation accompanying the Libyan leader.
     Officials from both Libya and Italy insist that despite the anti-colonial gesture, the colonel's three day trip - his first since gaining power in a coup 40 years ago - is a "visit of reconciliation". Wearing full colonel's uniform with gold epaulettes, numerous medals, sunglasses and straggly long black hair beneath a military cap, the Libyan leader said "a page of the past has been turned, thanks to the courage of Italy", as he embraced Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister.

     As I am wont to say, you really couldn't make it up.
     Berlusconi himself is, allegedly, familiar with the act of embracing, especially if recent tales of the women in his life are anything to go by. I enjoyed the story of Berlusconi showing
French President Nicolas Sarkozy around his villa and, pointing to a bidet, casually commenting that many a pretty buttock had graced it – but the Frenchman shook his head and said “We are not amused.”. Oops, wrong royal family.
     Then there was this quote from Nicolo Ghedini, the Italian prime minister’s lawyer:
“To think that Silvio Berlusconi needs to pay 2,000 euros a girl for her to go with him, seems to me a bit much. I think he could have great quantities of them for free.”
     Now here’s a funny thing: isn't it astonishing the celebrities who seemingly have everything going for them – power, position, possessions – yet have to revert to the wallet to satisfy that most basic of animal urges.

The greatest piano player in the world
PERUSING The Sunday Times’ Style magazine a couple of Sundays back, I stumble upon a column headed ...
MRS MILLS SOLVES YOUR PROBLEMS

     Wel-i-jiw-jiw, Gladys Mills, nee Gladys Jordan, better known as Mrs Mills, a pianist popular in the 1960s and 1970s, who released a battalion of records - singles, EPs and LPs.
    
Her oeuvre* straddles sing-along standards (British and international), plus cover versions of contemporary hits. Rather jolly, cheerful, happy-go-lucky style of delivery, as I recall, not the sort you sit down and listen to, but perfect as a background sound to the trials and tribulations of day to day life.
     Why, I hear that Mrs Mills is still frequently heard on Australian radio station 8CCC-FM's long running Sunday programme 'Get Out Those Old Records', where the host, Rufl, can often be heard to label Mrs Mills as "the greatest piano player in the world". Wonderful.
     Anyway, if dear Mrs Mills is going to solve my problem I had better compose myself ready. So here’s my question:
When I was a young lad, mother insisted on my having piano lessons, but I never generated any enthusiasm because I was sort of forced to – made

worst by the fact that Saturday morning piano lessons clashed with Uncle Mac and Children’s Favourites on the wireless. Surprise, surprise, I now regret my bolshyness. So, dear Mrs Mills, is it too late to recover that bum note and start tickling the ivories* all over again?
     However, as I begin to study Mrs Mills’ column I am somewhat distracted by this tag line.
..
MRS MILLS SAYS: A voluminous black gown means you can wear whatever you like underneath, if it is really hot, go naked (I usually do).
   
Eh, what’s nakedness got to do with the price of piano lessons? I cautiously read on ... this Mrs Mills solves all problems of a personal nature, more to do with tickling the ovaries* rather than the ivories*. For example...

FERTILE FRIEND
A female friend in her mid-thirties sent me an e-mail saying: “I’m pregnant!!!” Should I reply “Hurrah” or “Whoops”, as I don’t know whether to offer congratulations or sympathy?
DT, Penn, Bucks
Those three exclamation marks suggest that she might have something else on her mind other than spreading the news. Therefore, the correct response is: “It wasn’t me”, so that you can be eliminated from her inquiries.
MEDICAL OVERATTENTION
What should a 34-year-old woman who kissed her doctor on the lips for more than 20 seconds while he was attending to her stiff knee from a charity run do?
Margo, by e-mail
Try him on groin strain.

Clearly, I really have hit a bum note here. This isn’t the Mrs Mills of fond memory. An impostor, albeit a funny and entertaining one. A quick Google. Oh dear, my Mrs Mills died in 1978. Anyway, I peruse some facts and figures about the piano playing Mrs Mills and I’m duly staggered by the sheer number of records that she actually did release. Three titles tickle my imagination...
Any Time’s Party Time with Mrs Mills
Let’s Have Another Party
Another Flippin’ Party
Yep, life is indeed a beginning, a muddle and an end.

Anyway, back with Google, I learn that the identity of the ovarian Mrs Mills is unknown, although some seem to think that it could be journalist AA Gill. Now that does make sense because he does strike me as being unnaturally effeminate in his manner and speech. In other words, he always comes across as a bit of a bitch – as opposed to butch.
PS  * Oeuvre / ivory / ovary ... do you suppose I managed to include those three words in the one story, just for a bet? Mum's the word.

Image of the month
IT HAS to be this extraordinary view captured from space of Sarychev volcano, on the uninhabited Russian-administered Matua island, exploding into life. The photo, taken by the crew of the International Space Station, 220 miles above the island, shows a round hole in the clouds, thought to have been punched by the shock waves of the initial explosion, with the mushroom plume of brown ash and white steam billowing five miles skywards...
 


I recommend you Google ‘Sarychev volcano’ and click on a high-definition image. The detail astonishes, not least the pyroclastic flow – a deadly mix of hot gas and ash – tumbling down the volcano’s sides. This mix of hot gas and ash can reach temperatures of 600C and rush across land at 130mph, obliterating all in its path.

Clever caption(s) of the month
THE picture coming up (down below!) goes back to 2007, when the Mad Mullah of the Traffic Taliban (Chief Constable of North Wales, Richard Brunstrom, known as “the godfather of the speed camera”) was inaugurated as a druid and became Prifgopyn the Druid.
     Brunstrom took his place along with other robe-wearing new recruits at the National Eisteddfod as he joined an order of Welsh poets, the Gorsedd of Bards. Membership is the highest honour bestowed by the annual Welsh language festival, granted only to those deemed to have made a significant contribution to Wales’s language and culture (he learnt to speak Welsh, with distinction it has to be said). Gorsedd members wear green, blue or white to denote their standing (shame they don’t have brown to denote the real little shits of Welsh life – but I digress). As a member of the highest rank Mr Brunstrom wore a white robe.
     Eisteddfod-goers now address him as "Spider", after he took the Welsh translation Prif Copyn as his bardic title. It is a pun on the Welsh phrase for chief constable - prif gwnstabl - but I have to report here that my spell-check suggests 'genital' for 'gwnstabl', which is very suggestive indeed. Say nothing is best, but if you're a Welsh speaker, stick with it.

     However, those Welsh speakers of a delicate disposition should look away now, quick like ... in some circles, Richard Brunstrom is known as a prif cwnt-stabl. Genital indeed.
     Okay, safe to look back … anyway, he made the news in June because he has just donated £3,450 to a bardic poetry festival for a special wooden chair - why not wooden spoon? - upon which is engraved a spider, which takes us back to Brunstrom’s druidic emblem. And it goes without saying that he did not pay for the chair himself – that comes out of police funds (ie, our pockets).
     Even in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal, they still don’t get it, do they?
     Be that as it may, the story is worth recording in my scrapbook, if only for the captions shown alongside, compliments of The Sunday Times. Mind you, I don’t think he needs cameras to catch speeding motorists – he clearly has a nose for it.

GOOD COP, BARD COP

BOYO IN THE HOOD

GREENSHOOTS WATCH
Green shoots found – and lost

"There are a few green shoots to be spotted up and down the land - but the big unanswered question is: do they have roots?" Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI on the recession.
     The Independent’s
Jeremy Warner was one of several media commentators in June who insisted that the recession is coming to an end: “According to estimates published by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (a leading think tank), March marked the trough of the recession. Alistair Darling’s forecast that the economy would be growing by the end of the year – condemned as delusional at the time – now looks correct.”
     Um, hang about, let’s not get too excited, insisted Julia Finch in The Guardian. “It’s not time to start thinking about rebuilding that buy-to-let fortune just yet.” Businesses are weighed down with debt, unemployment continues to rise and Joe Public is still not spending. “Any end-of-recession celebrations should be cancelled ... we are far from out of the mire,” she concluded.
     And she’s right. Take a look at this picture I've captured. The first hay crop has been cleared off the field – and green shoots are to be spotted...
 

A green shoot of recovery? Sadly, it's a dock leaf, a weed
Where's Bill & Ben, the Flowerpot men, when you need them?


Bits (which confuse)...
“I AM a great believer in the dream life. If I can carry without spilling whatever it is that drips into my head in the night to my desk, then that’s valuable – “
Poet Laureate Andrew Motion
Answers, on a postcard , please...

“Observe the hands of your enemies. There are hungry wolves ambushing us and removing the diplomatic cover from the faces. They are showing their real faces. And the most evil of them all is the British Government.”
Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran
Answers, on a voting card, please...

...and Pieces (which don’t confuse)
“I felt it would be like wearing a suit every day of your life.”
Playwright Alan Bennett on why he refused a knighthood
.
Smashing quote, nothing less than you’d expect from Bennett.

“Every time we dig a hole, looking for water, we strike oil.”
Amr Al Dabbagh, governor and chairman of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority.
Which do you want first? The good news or the bad news?

Doolallyness of the month
“HIS crimes were extraordinarily evil. This kind of manipulation of the system is not just a bloodless crime that takes place on paper, but one instead that takes a staggering toll.”
Judge Denny Chinn, sentencing Wall Street Bernard Madoff to 150 years in prison.
How ludicrous is that? Not Judge Chinn’s observations on what Madoff did – that’s spot on – but the 150 years in prison. I mean, the fellow is 70 years of age already. No, the sentence is meaningless. Imagine how much more impactful it would have been if Judge Chinn had said: “You will go to prison for the rest of your life. Full stop.”
     In the UK we read that rapists and murderers are now, subject to good behaviour, let out on parole after just 10 years - and some of them disappear, never to be seen again. We really do live in an upside-down world awash with doolallyness.

Reach for the sky

ON JUNE 12 the new café atop Snowdon was officially opened (it replaced what Price Charles memorably described as the highest slum in England and Wales), and looks rather neat.
     It has been named Hafod Eryri. Eryri means Snowdonia, but Hafod, which is an old Welsh term for a shepherd’s summer residence on high land, has no direct translation. I prefer to think it translates as ‘a ray of sunshine on the roof of Wales’ – but what do I understand?

     However, I do know that Hafod Eryri is a difficult name to pronounce, for non-Welsh speakers that is, indeed on the night of the opening, on one Welsh news programme, I heard a correspondent refer to it as Hafod Eleri, which I thought rather neat.
     Concern was also expressed at the problem of erosion, something which the huge numbers of visitors cause - which suggests a notice, a yellow alert, at the foot of the mountain...
     ATAL ERYDU AR ERYRI – stop eroding Snowdonia.

SMILES OF THE MONTH

Independence Day
I AM putting this bulletin together on the 4th of July, so even though I’m reviewing June here, I’m going to include an image from July. June has been a month of beautiful sunrises. Not spectacular, just rather eye-catching. June has been a perfect month for beautiful morning skies: mostly settled but lots of cloud floating about. Just as you need rain before you can have a rainbow, so you must have clouds for a glorious sky. So here’s one just captured, over the Cambrian Mountains...
 


No, not particularly stunning, but it made me think of the film Independence Day – and I half expected to see a space ship suddenly appear. Well, it made me smile, and all on the 4th of July.

Just one more tinkle on the ivories
TALKING of Mrs Mills – the ivory tinkler, that is – very many moons ago ... I walk into a Rio bar near the spot where you take the cable car for Sugar Loaf, and I get chatting to a fellow, Tom, at the bar. As I do.

     All the while bar staff and regulars keep asking Tom when Footie’s going to entertain them. He smiles: “In a moment.” I’m puzzled: Footie? This is Brazil, Rio, the land of magical football, how intriguing...
     Eventually he lifts a container off the floor, a box akin to a dog basket. He opens it and out strides a little man, just a foot high, dressed in a natty tuxedo.
     To say I’m startled is an understatement. Tom introduces the ‘dwarf’ as Footie, his closest friend. We get chatting. “That doesn’t sound a local accent,” says Footie with a smile. I explain that I’m Welsh, a visitor off one of the boats in the harbour...
     Eventually Tom carries him over to the piano in the corner of the bar – and Footie proceeds to wow not

only me but everyone else in the place with his extraordinary talent. Tom looks at me: “I know, I know, you want the story behind my alter ego..." I nod enthusiastically. "Well, one evening, I’m strolling along Copacabana beach, just over there, and there in the sand is what looks like a lamp ... I pick it up, study it ... and yes, I can’t resist, I rub it...

"Blow me, out pops the genie. Amazing. Astonishing. That’s right, three wishes – and I’ll tell you something for nothing, Hubie, and much as I love Footie, my third and final wish wasn’t for a 12-inch pianist."



JUNE 2009 – a mid-month peep from behind net curtains
Britain at war: it’s a blackout

ONE OF the joys of morphing from a traditional paper scrapbook of life, the universe and everything, to an online digital one, is playing subeditor ... no, I don’t mean checking and editing my own copy – I should be so clever – but coming up with headlines for each section. I can only dream of reaching the standards of newspapers such as The Sun, but I do have fun playing the game, indeed sometimes I’m quite chuffed with my efforts.
     For example, let’s rewind to my May review, just a quick scroll down if you missed it, a month where no expense was spared. Well, along that journey through the month of May I did an appreciation of the Rolf Harris edition of Have I Got News for You, a show dominated by Parliament’s expenses and allowances scandal. So I came up with this headline...
Can you see what it is I'm claiming for yet?

Even at the time I was quite proud of that little effort, but nowhere near as delighted as last Thursday, 18th June 2009, when the House of Commons finally made public its secret files on MPs’ expenses – but somehow managed to generate even more doolallyness and fury by censoring much of the key information.
     How stupid can our parliamentarians be? The image, alongside, was the extraordinary front page of The Times on the following Friday.
     And when you actually peruse an example of the censored expenses - see below - you can appreciate why I smiled and smiled at...
       Can you see what it is I’m claiming for yet?



 

You couldn’t, as I keep saying, make it all up. You really, really couldn’t. I mean, Lembit Opik claiming £19.99 for the "mother of all wigs" and £9.99 for a "film star wig", both needed for a charitable event, and Tony Blair claiming £7,000 of roof repairs on his designated second home just two days before stepping down. They just don’t get it, do they?
     Model Kamila Klimczak entered into the spirit of things though, and paid tribute to the ingenuity of MPs’ greed with this extravagant hat at
Ascot on Ladies’ Day.
     Look, there’s the infamous duck house.
     Oh, and a receipt.
     But best of all, I love the plug dangling from the hat.
     Quite wonderful, that. I mean, let's be honest, they would even put in a claim for the kitchen sink if they thought no one was looking.
     Oh yes, Kamila insists that this is her designated flipping hat, the one she feels most at home under.


Memorable flipping quotes
"I want to apologise on behalf of politicians, on behalf of all parties, for what has happened in the events of recent days.” Prime Minister Gordon Brown on expenses. Do you suppose he was being sincere?

“Small earthquake. Not many dead.” Labour Minister Lord Mandelson’s summing-up of recent political events. Yes, but many holed fatally below the water line.

“Special rates for former Cabinet ministers and ex-MPs: dodgy receipts provided.” Notice seen in a restaurant in Kensington, west
London.

“Only two MPs allowed in shop at the same time.” Notice seen in the window of a corner shop in Machynlleth, Wales.

Pssst! A tangential quote
“I’ve had my mum on the phone this morning. When your mum rings you and it’s a bollocking down the telephone, you start to get the picture.” Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay as he apologised for comments he made about much admired Australian TV presenter Tracey Grimshaw – he called her a lesbian and compared her to a pig - which led the Australian prime minister to describe him as a ‘new form of lowlife’.

When Ramsay states that he starts to get the picture, much of the bother involved a picture, one showing Grimshaw as a pig. But I tell you what, all this blacking out business is catching. When I went in search of said offensive picture, this is what I found online...

 

Words like pigs, troughs, guzzling and blacking-out spring effortlessly to mind. See how both tales of the unspeakable meld quite seamlessly.

Smile of the expenses shemozzle
All the bother has thrown up a new word, redaction, which is just another confusing word for censorship, or blacking things out. Redaction can make even the most innocent cover-up appear suggestive and one-track minded. Ponder what a crowd of wicked young ladies did once upon a time by composing the following redacted version of lyrics from the musical My Fair Lady:
 

I could have danced all night! I could have danced all night!
And still have begged for more.
I could have spread my wings
And done a thousand things I’ve never done before...

All together, now...


MAY 2009 IN REVIEW (
as seen from mid-June)
A month with no expense spared

Back to square roots
With my sudden re-morph from swinging townie back to simple country boy now complete, I still walk the same early morning walk, more or less, except that these days I start at my previously farthest point, and do the whole thing in reverse.
     Anyway, you know how it is, you’re doing something unusual – not necessarily illegal, immoral or fattening – and your sixth sense suddenly warns you that you are possibly being watched. Well, along my first reverse walk I’m floating across a field carpeted with buttercups and cowslips when I happen to look down at the ground and notice my wellies covered in petals. I decide this will make an unusual picture, so I stop and click away, using flash as it’s rather overcast...

Suddenly I sense a pair of eyes ... I look up, and there in the middle distance, a female deer staring intently at me. D'oh! I freeze – they’re creatures that spook pretty easily around these ‘ere parts – slowly bring my camera up, quickly focus – and fire. Unfortunately the flash is still on, so I only get the one shot before the deer is frightened off by the flash.

Fortunately my one and only shot is okay, given the unhelpful conditions, that is. It’s at moments like this I find myself wondering what the doe was thinking as she watched me snapping away at my feet in the middle of a field plastered with buttercups.

Right then, back to my move. I am just about recovered from collecting together 20 years of stuff. This is the longest I have ever set my caravan down at one spot, not helped by the fact that for the first half of my life I collected nothing, but for the second half I have been a bit of a hoarder. Where does all this paraphernalia come from? As I began to go through the clobber - I do have a sort of once-in-a-blue-moon clear out, and then a week after chucking an item I realise I desperately need it. Bugger, bugger, bugger! But I pacify myself with reassurance that if I hadn’t gone through all my stuff in the first place I wouldn’t have remembered it was there anyway. So a censorious curse avoided with a shrug.
     Anyway, with the moving home deadline looming at a rate of knots I begin going through everything: throw ... throw ... keep ... throw ... keep ... keep – but the whole process becomes desperately time consuming. Trouble is I am drawn into inspecting and perusing everything – so the decision is made to chuck all the stuff into endless boxes, which now occupy every corner of my new abode. I decide that, after settling in, I will go through each box at a leisurely pace - and crucially sleep on everything before chucking it out.

Not in my backyard
When I started to go through stuff prior to my move, one of the first items I came across was a file full of letters I’d had published in various newspapers, covering a whole range of subjects. One in particular caught my eye, published in The Times of 6th June 2003, on a page headlined Debate the issues of the day as they happen, and join in the discussion with other Times readers (six years down the line this sort of thing is now done online and not in the printed newspaper). Anyway, this was the burning issue back in 2003: The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors says that GM crops may blight house prices. Should we be worried?
     A
major worry back then was that properties backing on to fields of GM crops were seen as a bad buy, the main hazard being that such crops attract crop-destroying, attention-seeking bio-terrorists. Well, bearing in mind that I have suddenly moved back to the countryside, this was my contribution to the debate, published under the headline...

Natural warnings
MOTHER Nature always fires a warning shot when she is not a happy bunny. Along my journey from country boy to agricultural market townie (and now back to country boy), the single most alarming environmental change has been the dreadful stench of farmyard manure, or slurry as it is now called. As a lad on the West Wales family farm, spreading the compost heap of sweetly-smelling manure was no big deal. Today, even the farmers complain. The obnoxious, overpowering smell permeates everything. And it kills all known worms and insects.
     What has caused this? The past 60 years have seen the proliferation of pesticides and chemicals, DDT being the most infamous; next came man-made fertilisers which replaced natural phosphates, slag and lime; and now we have GM crops.
     Transplanting the genes of a fish into a tomato is putting a gun to the head of Mother Nature. Of course she will roll over and comply – until we have turned our backs. Is there really anyone out there who seriously believes that a few generations down the line she will not be laying in ambush?
     I have smelt the future – and it stinks.

How astonishing then that nothing really changes. GM crops are still concentrating our minds. “We’ve had GM stuff in the food chain now for 12 years or so,” say the pro-GM experts, “and no one has died or fallen ill.” How do they know? And anyway, if messing around with our foods will do anything it will affect our immune systems – and that damage will take a few generations to work through. And how do we know that what is currently wiping out our bee population is not connected to GM crops? In short, we don’t.
     Oh yes, an interesting postscript to the slurry story. Shortly after my contribution in The Times, a local farmer told me he was taking out a tanker full of slurry for spreading on his fields, but as he was negotiating a bit of a slope a concentrated stream of slurry accidentally poured out across the field. When he happened to pass that spot some hours later a carpet of worms had surfaced and lay dead in the field. Now if that isn’t a dung-ho warning shot across our bows I don’t know what is.

Ordure, ordure
Talking of things excremental, last month I had a letter and photographed published in the local Carmarthen Journal. When submitted the letter had been written in the style I indulge here, so unsurprisingly, and clearly due to lack of space, the paper had edited it back to its bare bones. I’d headlined it Walk on the wild side: Poop deck, but the Journal went with Outrage over dog’s mess. So here goes, as submitted...

MY MOTHER was charmed by a lark, as opposed to an owl. Meaning, I’m awake at first light, but ready for bed at dusk. During the early years of my life, mornings meant simply turning over and going back to sleep - until duty called; over later years I promptly arise with a flourish, which pretty much explains why most mornings, before sunrise, with my little camera slung over my shoulder, I set off on an extended walk on the “wild” side of the Towy Valley ... just me and the birds and the bees – not to mention all the rest of nature of course.
     As I return towards Llandeilo, I regularly meet people setting out, invariably walking their dogs. “Where’s your dog?” one elderly gent asked rather abruptly one morning, but with a twinkle in his eye and a tinkle in his voice. Well, I responded, my Laika (the first space dog) is a Leica (a posh make of camera), except, I pointed out, my Leica is actually a Sony - which rather spoils the joke. He and his good lady laughed generously, and we ended up having a good old chat.
     Be that as it may, the point of my letter is that over recent times there has been a transformation. Dog walkers now mostly use their little poop bags (cwdyn pwps, in Welsh) to clear up the dreadful mess. Astonishingly though, I now increasingly observe these little bags left all over the shop, left for other folk to clear up. However, the other morning while walking along part of a recognised but remote National Trust path, a good mile or two from ’civilisation’, someone had actually hung a poop bag on a field/woodland fence. Unbelievable.

Putting on my Inspector Clouseau hat, I conclude, Hercule, that the guilty party clearly dresses and lives a colour coordinated life. Well, the poop bag does match the bluebells.
     Seriously though, the moral of the tale is that, as with every other aspect of life, 10 per cent of humanity spoils it for all the rest.

Following publication of the letter I had a somewhat unexpected and overwhelming response, folk agreeing because they, too, had noticed the disgusting phenomenon. Indeed, one of the local managers at the National Trust told me that they find them stuffed down rabbit and fox holes. It really is quite staggering.

A rubber for the weekend?
Before leaving tales of the brown stuff totally, and with the sky continuing to fall in on Gordon Brown, I enjoyed the tale of he and Alistair Darling travelling in the back of a ministerial car, both doing their crosswords. Darling notices Brown behaving rather fretfully over his crossword. “Problems, Gordon?” asks Darling.
“This clue has me somewhat stumped, Alistair, other words don't fit around it ... ‘always found in the bottom of bird cages: four letters, ends in i-t’.”
“Grit?” volunteers Darling.
“Drat!” says Gordon, “pass me the rubber.”

Image of the month
It has to be this wonderful picture released by NASA of Space Shuttle Atlantis, captured in silhouette during solar transit on its way to the Hubble Space Telescope to carry out what will be the final repairs to this remarkable bit of I-spy kit.
 


The picture was taken by a Thierry Legault using rather sophisticated equipment. At a height of a couple of hundred miles Atlantis zipped across the sun in just a second. Just as amazing is the image of the astronauts actually working on the telescope. It's another world up there.

Clarkson Corner
On TV station Dave I stumble upon an episode of Top Gear from 2007. Jeremy is testing a couple of estate cars: a BMW M5 and a Mercedes Something Or Other. He's bombing along the runway at Manchester Airport in the BMW and hits 175mph. Next it’s the Mercedes, and suddenly, in his exaggerated style of delivery, he begins eulogising the rampant power of the Merc: “More powerful than a Ferrari F40 ... more powerful even than Mexico…” D’oh! How the passage of time can make the simplest of throwaway lines sound really stupid.
     More powerful than
Mexico, eh Jeremy? Now isn’t it Mexico that presented the world with an unforgettable present, all gift wrapped in a neat little A-tishoo! - and labelled Pandemic? Yes of course, swine flu! Now that’s what I call real power.

A big hand
On another Dave show Clarkson had Helen Mirren as the star in a reasonably priced motor. He introduced her thus: “She and her husband set the alarm an hour earlier than they need to so that they can make love before going to work ... just like James May, except of course he lives alone.” Now that’s what I call a banker joke.

On your marks...
Before leaving cars and speed and things, I watched some of the Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. What baffled me was a huge banner stretching across the track just above the start line. It said: PEACE & SPORT
Whatever did it mean? So I Googled...
 

Monaco, 21 May 2009

The starting line of the 67th Monaco Grand Prix is displaying unusual colours for the first time this year: they are the colours of “Peace and Sport, L’Organisation pour la Paix par le Sport", an international initiative that promotes sport as an instrument of peace and social stability throughout the world.
      Based in the Principality of Monaco under the High Patronage of HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, Peace and Sport strives to unite divided communities by bringing together stakeholders involved in peace and in sport.
     The organization intervenes in areas suffering the consequences of post-conflict, extreme poverty or lack of social cohesion...
     So there you go, every day a day at school, just as it says on the tin.


Madame Tussauds
Last month I highlighted the wax figure of Jonathan Ross. It didn’t look right, somehow, as if they’d plumped for the way he looked before a foul word had ever passed his lips. Well, in May it was the unveiling of Boris Johnson, Mayor of London...

How perfectly wonderful is that. And as always, it’s the little things ... just look at how the knots on both ties are slightly askew. Magic.

Bits...
Watching the weather forecast one May lunchtime on BBC One, the duty weatherman is Thomas Schadenfreude, or similar. He has a curious delivery - using two words instead of one - which doesn’t quite hit the button, to my ear anyway, for example, he made this curious statement: “Today will be the least pleasant day of the week.” I think he meant: “Today will be the worst day of the week.”

...and Pieces
Stumbled upon this image released by Julien’s Auctions, which shows a Marilyn Monroe photograph taken in 1953 by Andre De Dienes. A sale featuring memorabilia from Monroe and Elvis Presley will take place in Las Vegas on June 26 and 27.

I don’t know about you but I find the picture strangely over-sexed. If one person in the world didn’t need to be hyped sexually then it was Monroe. It’s not the bare leg but the foot taking up that exaggerated pose. To my eye the foot should not only be flat but hidden under the sheet, with just the leg showing. That would definitely hit my button.

Can you see what it is I'm claiming for yet?
One of the most delightfully entertaining Have I Got News for You shows I’ve seen for a while went out in May: Rolf Harris asked the questions, with panellists Andy Hamilton and Julia Hartley-Brewer (never heard of her but she was a hoot) joining regulars Ian Hislop and Paul Merton. Rolf was wonderful, bless.

The show was, of course, dominated by the Westminster MPs' expenses and allowances scandal: 79 pence for biscuits; £312 for a new toilet seat; £2,000 for cleaning a moat; the slightly surreal claim of £268 for Xmas decorations by Labour MP Vera Baird; and of course, occasional host of HIGNFY, the aforementioned Boris himself, having "mistakenly added" a receipt for £16.50 for a Remembrance Day wreath to his claims. (The crazy duck house claim hadn’t even surfaced then.) You could, as they say, make it up, as long as it's an expenses claim.
     Oh yes, that dreadful Speaker person resigning. Hislop summed him up perfectly: “Speaker Martin was once a sheet metal worker – not much better as a Speaker, either.” (Sounds better spoken out loud rather than read.)
     What struck me watching the show though was how often the Daily Telegraph was mentioned. And why not? I mean, has there ever been a scoop quite like this. All newspapers and TV stations have their scoops – probably the most famous being Watergate – but the thing about every other scoop is, once it hits the news stands, then all the papers join in. But here the Telegraph retained total control over the story – which went on for pretty much a whole month. Now that’s what I call a scoop.
     On the same show there was the tale of the dog that swallowed a whole alphabet of fridge magnets – and it kept leaving little messages around the house. Also, it had to be operated on, so the owners sent the vet a letter – hope they washed it first.
     But best of all, after the final credits had rolled, Rolf leads the panellists and the audience in a rendition of Two Little Boys. Just thinking about it now makes me smile, probably because everyone joined in with such unbridled enthusiasm. Wonderful. The stuff of proper entertainment.
PS: One final story about Rolf. He is approached by a fan: “Will you paint my wife in the nude?” “Of course,” confirms Rolf, “but I’ll have to keep my socks on as I need somewhere to keep my paint brushes.”

In like a Lion…
The British and Irish Lions rugby team is currently touring South Africa. Just before they set off I read a piece about all the kit each individual player would be given for the tour. The touring party of playing staff and management were provided with more than 7,500 pieces of clothing and accessories – 80 bits of kit each.
     It includes two full kits for every game, that’s 20 kits per player, and goes right down to items like boxer shorts, messenger bags, swimming trunks and swim shoes. Indeed, there was a full list of every item. As I perused the full list I came across this...
                                                1 x shoe bag
                                                      1 x wash kit
                                                            2 x caps
                                                                   1 x woolly hat
                                                                         1 x water bottle
                                                                               1 x wallet...
                                                                                                 Eh? What on earth are these big, butch rugby players doing with a hot water bottle each? So I rewound. D’oh! It’s a basic drinking water bottle. See how the mind can be lulled into reading something wrongly. Having read woolly hat my little brain automatically read the next item as a 'hot' water bottle.
     Well, it made me feel warm all over.


SMILES OF THE MONTH
And they lived happily ever after

Harry approaches Sally’s father, and ever so politely asks for her hand in marriage. Father is quite overwhelmed and charmed by this old world chivalry.
     “So where do you plan to live?” asks Pop, “after all, Harry, you and Sally are both only 10 years of age.”
     “Well, Sir, Sally’s bedroom is bigger than mine, so I thought we could live there.”
     “And how are you going to support her, Harry?”
     “I receive £10 a week pocket money, Sally £5 a week – that’s £60 a month, which will give us a really firm base to start married life.”
     Father is most impressed. “But what about when the little ones come along?”
     There’s a pregnant pause. “Well,” says Harry, “we’ve been lucky so far.”

And you are?
Finally, and on much the same subject, this quote from writer Howard Jacobson: “I have never done anything to get laid. If you are a writer, you can’t help it. Women just come at you wanting sex, sex, sex...”

My current card reads: Hubie the Handyman (I also mend broken hearts and administer the kiss of life where deemed appropriate)
    
I shall change it immediately: Hubie the Writer (oh, I also take pictures, know what I mean...)


If that doesn’t have me fighting off the women then I shall head forthwith for the monastery at Caldey Island...


MAY
, 2009
A gap fortnight, give or take
The dogs bark and the caravan moves on

I'm in the process of moving my caravan along, so my ‘May in review’ may be delayed for a couple of weeks or so. However, just to keep my eye in, some correspondence in The Times grabbed my attention, in particular that rooks have a high degree of innate intelligence - most apt when you ponder the picture directly above with its link to 400 Smiles A Day  and its tale of clever crows collecting nest building material.
    Back with The Times, one correspondent had observed a rook using snow as a ski slope – not just the once, as if it had happened by chance, but experiencing the joy over and over. Another letter writer spent 20 minutes watching a rook repeatedly sliding down the windscreen of a parked car. And a third regularly observes one that visits his garden, in particular the birdbath to repeatedly soak the bread left out until it considers it soft enough to eat; it will not do this, however, if the water is dirty.
     Best of all though, a Tony Phillips remarked how unfortunate that one of the collective nouns for such a smart bird should be a “parliament”.

All this brought to mind some photographs I’d taken of a few local crows – not rooks, I’m fairly sure, but jackdaws. Here, seen partaking of a quick takeaway – but I don’t think the cigarette butts are theirs.

Above though, they really are being a "parliament", clearly discussing whether this is a legitimate expense and whether they should submit it to the Fees Office. Gives a whole new meaning to enjoying a quick takeaway.

But not only are Llandeilo jackdaws rather clever, they never forget their Crow Cross Code: look left ... look right ... look left again...
     And they also play a rather dangerous game when crossing the road: now you see me ... now you don’t ... now you see me...

See you shortly.



APRIL 2009 IN REVIEW
A month awash with showers, both literal and metaphorical

Image of the month
Sadly, life is not all smiles. So what does one make of the image below? This horrific X-ray of a man, Chen Liu, executed by being shot 34 times with a nailgun, was released towards the end of the month by Australian police

hunting his killers. The 34 nails were found during a post-mortem examination of the 27-year-old’s body and located mainly in his skull.
     I’ve always maintained that if you want to make sense of humanity you must first study nature. Some wondrous things happen out there on the wild side of nature; also some pretty horrific stuff. Ditto humanity.
     Basic observation of human nature suggests that, probably, around ten per cent of humanity is capable of carrying out the horrendous execution shown here - and that without loosing any sleep over it.
     Ponder Nazi Germany: it took no more than some ten per cent of the population to instigate and carry out the dreadful crimes perpetrated in Hitler’s name.

     And we Brits have nothing to feel smug about. You don’t get to rule over a vast global Empire without committing some unsavoury things along the way. And anyway, genetically speaking, we and the Germans are peas from the same pod. We should never, ever presume that such crimes will not be committed again. You can be sure that the next Hitler – and not necessarily Austrian or German – is already out there awaiting his (or her) chance.

Run, rabbit, run
     On the very morning I see the above image, along my usual walk I stumble upon a rabbit, directly ahead of me, in a field. As soon as I spot it I realise it can’t see or sense me – it makes no attempt to run away, as rabbit’s always do - and it is clearly suffering myxomatosis, a fatal viral disease characterised by swelling of the mucous membranes and formation of skin tumours. I take a picture of the poor thing.

There's been a recent explosion in the number of rabbits, and whenever this happens, myxomatosis kicks in to keep the population in check.
     It is a quite horrendous punishment handed out by nature - just look, alongside, how the eye becomes useless. The poor rabbit suffers terribly for a couple of weeks before death offers blessed relief.
     On reflection I guess I should have put it out of its misery; I remember from my upbringing on the farm how to kill a rabbit in a split second without it ever knowing what is happening – without using a gun, that is - but there again, out on the field it is a sitting target for the kites and buzzards floating overhead, not to mention the ever prowling foxes. That is the way of nature, including the nailgun execution above, sadly.

Headlines of the month
As April draws to its conclusion the world is consumed by another little trick of nature, swine flu. Through one ear I can hear Lance-Corporal Jones shouting “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” Through the other, Private Frazer insisting that “We’re doooomed, I say! Doooomed!” Perhaps the best headline was in The Times of April 28...
                      Fear spreads round the globe like a Mexican wave
Not only does it have that clever Sun newspaper feel about it, but the Mexican wave analogy is brilliant. Such a wave starts with just one person standing up, throwing his or her arms in the air, then sitting down – and before you can say hocus-pocus, shmocus-focus, pretty much the whole crowd will be up in arms – yes, just like sheep.
     The swine flu panic, generated by the media, desperate to fill its rolling news service, has also made everyone behave like sheep. Ponder this headline in the Sun: Whole of humanity under threat. But in fairness the Sun was just reporting a red alert issued across the planet – as the boss of the World Health Organisation warned chillingly: “The whole of humanity is under threat in a pandemic.” Don’t pandemic, Mr Mainwaring, don’t pandemic.” Truth to tell, it should be renamed the Mexican Pig Might Fly Pandemic.
     Remember the bird fly panic from 2005? Sir Liam Donaldson, chief medical officer, estimated that 50,000 British people could die, but he did not rule out the death toll being as high as 750,000. Hm, do you recall people falling like flies? Of course you don't because not one person died from avian flu in the UK.
     I heard the tail end of a discussion on such threats, and in a nutshell an expert insisted that there was no way to nullify a pandemic, all they - we - could do was cope with it best we could. "You have to take it on the chin," he said. I'd have thought we have to take it on the nose...
                                                                               Ring-a-ring o' roses,
                                                                               A pocket full of posies,
                                                                               A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
                                                                               We all fall down.

To flit from the sublime to the ridiculous, another headline caught my eye: I see that supermodel Kate Moss is now regarded as “fat” because she has put on a stone or so of weight. Wel-i-jiw-jiw indeed! But the headline was great.
                                        Kate Moss gathers a stone

Idiots of the month
clown@clotmail.bigtop
James Kettle, a horticulture student at Pershore College, was on a hiding to nothing when applying by e-mail for a gardening post in Wales. First, he meant to apply to the National Botanic Garden of Wales, just down the road from Dodgy City where I rest my spurs, but managed to send his application in error to Aberglasney Gardens, also just down the road, where a manager advised: “It may be prudent to change your e-mail address. It could have a detrimental effect on any aspirations to work in Wales.” And his e-mail address?
                                                                             atleastimnotwelsh@...
“I feel a right fool,” said Kettle, 21. “I set up the e-mail at school because several Welsh kids were in my year. I simply forgot about it...”

crazypeople@crazyworld.crash
But nowhere near as much of a fool as crop-duster pilot Andrew Wilde, 38, who crashed into trees and died after being distracted by texting and making calls on his mobile phone. He had made 14 calls during the flight and had been text-messaging a woman friend when the accident happened on New Zealand’s North Island. Even more remarkable, he had been warned by his employer not to talk on the phone while low flying after previously hitting a sheep during takeoff.
     We now know from an American risk assessment and insurance liability study that merely owning a mobile phone makes the user 500 times more likely to be involved in a road accident than a nonuser – yes, five hundred times, look you! Mind you, the odds for such an outcome as overtook the crop-duster pilot have to be about the same as the odds against me winning a lottery jackpot
.

And how clever has Madame Tussauds* been with its wax figure of Jonathan Ross?

They have clearly gone for a younger model, before he became an over-inflated celebrity convinced that it was his duty along his walk through time to hurl obscenities at people, and all in the name of entertainment. Looking at the image, above, clearly not a foul word has passed his lips - yet...
* When I ran a spell-check on this bulletin, the computer ground to a halt at Tussauds ... and the first alternative it came up with? Tossup. Wise beyond, these computers.


Magic suit of clothes

I definitely went “Wel-i-jiw-jiw!” when I read about the world’s most expensive suit, pictured alongside, made from “the world’s most expensive wool”, having just been delivered to a customer in London. The £70,000 suit, made from rare wools (it takes a lama over three years working overtime to deliver the goods) and then blended with pashmina, took 80 hours to complete, involved 5,000 individual stitches (at £14 per stitch) and rounded off with nine 18-carat gold and diamond buttons.
     It reminds me of the King’s magic suit of clothes. If you recall, the Queen is called to inspect the King’s new suit, and the good lady, not wanting to appear a fool, says: “Wel-i-jiw-jiw, isn’t it oh! Isn’t it rich! Look at the charm of every stitch!” Later comes the innocent young boy watching from the crowd, and no, in this case he wouldn’t shout “Look at the Fool! Look at the Fool! Look at the Fool, the Fool, the Fool! The Fool is in the all together ... He’s all together as naked as the day that he was born.” The little boy simply wouldn’t even register that the Fool was wearing some exotic and expensive suit of clothes worth seventy-thousand grand – which is seventy-thousand times worse, really.


What a mouth, what a mouth, what a north and south
All this talk of expensive clothes and makeovers brings me neatly to Susan Boyle, she of the magical tonsils, and found under a stone on Britain’s Got Talent. I’ve never seen the show, haven’t even watched Susan Boyle – but I caught up with her via endless TV news programmes and the like. I was struck by two things. First, the judges appeared to be taken totally by surprise by her talent, as if they had no idea what was coming up. This is television, folks, a medium that has an honours degree in being economical with the actuality, and only a King wearing a magic suit of clothes would believe that the judges’ reactions were wholly spontaneous.
     Second, this business about her having never been kissed. If she’d admitted to having never had sex, yes, okay, I could buy that. But c’mon, when we are children, and looks and personality and style are meaningless, I can’t believe that a boy (or girl even) would not have stolen a little kiss somewhere along the line.
     I leave the final word to AA Gill’s TV review in The Sunday Times, who does the whole episode classic justice, with a delicious twist in the tail: “I must say it was a bizarre thing. There’s this terrible, lumpy, misbegotten, blinking, tongue-tied creature, who is also a starstruck show-off, with a barnet like Queen Kong’s pubic hair and a horribly embarrassing flirtatiousness. And just as I was sniggering, the mouth opens and out comes this noise – and it still sounds just like the same old Piers Morgan.”

Tits...*
”A great pair of knickers should be taken off with more joy than they were put on.” Elle Macpherson, model and pioneer in the emerging field of underwear philosophy. Lovely quote, though.
    While on the subject of models, last weekend, while flicking through The Sunday Times’ Style magazine – I always peruse Mrs Mills solves all your problems, it’s a hoot – I stumble upon the image below.

I have never seen something so unattractive in my life ... it’s the pose, I think. The girl is okay, but she looks like, I dunno, a female version of Squadron Commander the Lord Flashheart, of Blackadder fame. If you recall, his catchphrase on seeing a bit of ooh-la-la is shout "Woof!" or "Let's doooooooo it!", very loudly, whilst thrusting his pelvis suggestively. Oh, and there's the sexual innuendo in ordinary conversation, such as: "Am I pleased to see you, or did I just put a canoe in my pocket?"
     I think the model alongside has a lifeboat in her pocket. Anyway, out of interest, the blurb on the photo says: Nude body, £1,725; Silver shirt £690; Gold lame pants, £345; Legging-shoes (not for sale).
    At this point I went to lie down in a darkened room.

“The brains were just bouncing off the tables and flying around the walls.” TV property presenter Kirstie Allsopp waxes lyrical after having dinner with Shadow Chancellor George Osborne.
     Hm, this is the man who, last October, displayed poor judgment in his dealings with Peter Mandelson and Nat Rothschild, especially on his return after a stay at the Rothschild villa in Corfu. There was quite a stink, if you recall, and it was generally agreed that he had made two cock-ups: to involve himself too closely in a discussion about a donation from a Russian billionaire, Oleg Deripaska, nudge-nudge, wink-wink, know what I mean, chief; and to brief The Sunday Times that Mandelson had “dripped poison” about Gordon Brown into his ear.

     In other words, an absolute fool to leak the comments from Mandelson. You see, Kirstie, when you encounter brains bouncing off tables and flying around walls, remember that handy old adage: Too clever by ‘alf. Meaning, such people have zero empathy with reality.

...and Faeces*
”I would love to ask George Bush: ‘Why were you born, you horrible little man?’” Yes, Piers Morgan, aforementioned judge on Britain’s Got Talent, really did pose that philosophical little gem. Words like pot, kettle and black spring magically to mind.

“I am not a man. I am Cantona.” Eric Cantona, Frenchman and former Manchester United footballer. Shame he wasn’t called Eric Cantoman: I am not a man. I am Cantoman. Ideally though I would like to think he was winding us all up. Actually, I've always had a soft spot for Cantona, ever since his infamous "kung fu" attack on a spectator who was abusing him from the safety of the spectator enclosure. Oh yes, then there was that quote about the seagulls (the media) always following the trawler in the hope of some discarded sardines. But best of all, sometimes, and I quote, "after scoring one of his more spectacular goals, he would stand motionless, his chest pushed out, his chin tilted to the heavens, regally soaking up the acclamation".

“Just one question will be allowed and it cannot be about James Bond, Scottish independence or any of the women in his life.” Warning issued by Sir Sean Connery’s publicist to a writer wanting an interview. Bugger, that rather pulls the rug out, etc, etc. Now what would you ask? I’ll have to think on that one ... nope, I can’t think of anything else to ask him.

“I take full responsibility for what happened. That’s why the person who was responsible went immediately.” Gordon Brown on the “smeargate” e-mails row involving the Conservatives. Now isn’t that the greatest political quote ever? And explains perfectly why I headed this little section Faeces.

* Well, Tits ... and Faeces makes a change from Bits … and Pieces.

The joy of sex
The smiliest political tale from April involved Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, who was embroiled in two controversies: claiming that her sister’s house was her main residence; but best of all, claiming the cost of those two infamous films watched by her husband. I use the word ‘infamous’ because I was particularly seduced by the way the films were described in the media as the tale unfolded – the very first reference, ‘adult movies’, made me smile, which is why I registered the subtle change of wording as the story progressed, and highlighted here as we descend the stairway to Purgatory, that other little place just down the trail from Dodgy City...
       Adult movies
               X-Rated films
                      Naughty movies
                                    Blue movies
                                              Sex films
                                                  Pornography

Along similar lines, I was watching live rugby on TV – European Cup: Leicester v Bath – and of course the ref in rugby is miked-up, so we not only hear everything he says, but the mike also picks up what the players around him say. Suddenly, in the heat of battle, there’s a short, sharp obscenity from a player. “Apologies for the industrial language,” pardons the commentator.
     Well, it made me smile.

Every dog has its day (while taking the biscuit)
“Check the obituary columns before then.” What Sir Clement Freud, celebrated writer, versatile wit, broadcaster and former Liberal MP, who died aged 84, wrote on the invitations to what would have been his forthcoming 85th birthday celebration. He was buried on his 85th birthday.
     Mention of Clement Freud and what comes to mind are those wonderful Minced Morsels dog food adverts he did with Henry, his dog (Bloodhound or basset hound? Answers on a dog lead, please.).

     I think it was then I began to see subtle connections between man and dog. Or rather, similarities between man and dog. It isn’t so much that owners begin to look like their dogs, but rather owners choose dogs that reflect their own characters. I mean, you must remain extra wary of those who choose an Alsatian, a Rottweiler or a pit bull as a pet because they will, when cornered, behave like their dogs. Those who choose lap dogs tend to be all noise but no harm, although they are more than capable of delivering a nasty little nip around the ankle. And then of course there are those who own dogs such as Labradors, collies, or indeed the Freud bloodhound. They, just like their dogs, are pussycats.
     Incidentally, Freud was also a trained chef and food writer, but he never noticed that the fish fork in the ad alongside should have been on the outside. Now that's what I call a real faux paw!

Mention of bow-wows, sales of dog food shot up after Hollywood star Jennifer Aniston ate some on a German TV show. Yes, honestly, study the evidence, alongside. Why, I know not.
     Two reports surfaced in the wake of this strange episode. One, that the following morning she was found dead, curled up in a foetal ball on the floor of her hotel room, having apparently broken her back as she bent down to lick her arse.
     The second report confirmed that she had suffered no ill effects, although she now has a wondrous sheen to her hair, as well as a healthy and shinny wet nose.
     Okay, I made the first report up.
Final dog note: Loved the tale of the pet dog washed overboard from her owners’ boat off the coast of Australia, and found after surviving for four months on a desert island. What I liked though, was the dog’s name: Sophie Tucker, named after the late music hall star. With a name like Sophie Tucker you can be sure that God willingly parts the seas as you roll along on the crest of a wave.


Green shoots of recovery corner
On the 9th of April, the FTSE 100 Share Index broke a significant four-day loosing streak after US bank Wells Fargo produced forecast-beating trends. Speaking as someone who fondly remembers Wells Fargo and The Pony Express from childhood days - the mail always got through - there's something reassuring in the fact that it is still getting through.

Smiles of the month
To recall last month’s ...and Pieces piece...
There was much in the media throughout March about the curious tale of the Royal Mail and its red elastic bands. It’s been revealed that the post office has been buying 872m elastic bands each year – at a cost of about £1m – because posties keep dropping them on the ground when delivering mail. Now here’s a funny thing: a good few moons back there was a letter in The Times in response to a piece about the red elastic bands that litter our streets. The letter writer advised – I think it was a he – that he picked them up and then posted them as and when he passed a postbox. This made me smile.
      So every time I then saw a red elastic band I picked it up, and when I had a handful I posted them into a walled letter box just round the corner from where I live. I smiled to myself because Llandeilo is a community and I know most of the posties anyway – and a grand bunch of boys and girls they are. Blow me, the next day I pass the postbox, and there on the ground, a neat pile of elastic bands. Touché! So I recovered them – I still pick up bands when I see them discarded on the streets – and I now use them to tie up the blue recycle bags I put out for the council.
    
Well now, on the morning of Monday the 27th April, I return from my morning walk, open the front door, and there on the mat, the morning’s mail – but much more importantly, three red elastic bands. Truth to tell, I haven’t stopped smiling since.

Wear it with pride
Throughout April Radio Wales has been running an ad promoting itself and urging us to listen in. Which strikes me as strange. Why urge someone who is already a listener to become a listener? But it's the opening line in the promotion, spoken by a man, which makes me smile: "I tend to put the radio on as I'm dressing." Hm, do you suppose he puts it on under his shirt, or over it? There again, perhaps he just pops it on his head.

How we covered ... Sir Winston announces his resignation
Finally, a Retro Report from April 1955, as seen in the Western Mail.
“The Rt Hon Sir Winston Churchill had an audience with the Queen this evening and tendered his resignation as Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury, which her Majesty was graciously pleased to accept.” These 35 words from Buckingham Palace last night marked the end of a Premiership without parallel in modern times.
     But this is what made me smile: Sir Winston Churchill, Knight of the Garter, Privy Counsellor, holder of the Order of Merit, a Companion of Honour, mighty statesman, great politician, soldier, author, orator, painter – and bricklayer – had withdrawn to the wings from the centre of the world’s stage which he had dominated for so many of his 80 years.
     What a CV. In my 
First time here? intro piece at the top, I say this: I can turn my hand to most things, but should you need something done expertly i.e. building a rocket or opening up your brain, I am not your man. Along my sunny-side-of-the-street walk through time I’ve done a bit of this, just a tad of that - never been promoted, never been sacked, always been left alone to get on with it - but done nowhere near enough of the other. (More)
    
Now the difference between me and Churchill is that while the great man could also turn his hand to most things, he was an expert at pretty much everything he touched. He could probably have also built a rocket and peered inside your brain. That’s why he is our Greatest Briton.



MARCH, 2009
An exceedingly “Wel-i-jiw-jiw!” month

Probably the best chat up line in the world
Truth to tell I have a lot in common with Pooh Bear. I too am a Bear of Very Little Brain. It works okay, most of the time anyway, more or less, so few complaints there. Trouble is it’s chock-a-block with facts and figures from this information-overload age we live in, and much of it pretty useless stuff at that; so much so my brain struggles to expand to find extra space to load in new info, and as a consequence it has pushed out most of the hair on my head. Including the roots. This is a roundabout way of saying that visiting a hairdresser for a short-back-and-sides is pretty low on my list of Things to do today.

     Whatever, every few months or so I pop into Headlines in Llandeilo, and the delightful ladies there look after me a treat. They don’t feed me honey though.
     Now I was aware that a posh new hairdresser was opening shortly in town, so it was no surprise to find a promotion leaflet popped through my letterbox. Normally I would discard such things, but something made me scan it. My eyes flicked down the list of services on offer – leaflet pictured alongside - and when I reached the penultimate one ... I blinked ... Vibraxis Inchloss.
     “Wel-i-jiw-jiw!” was my instant reaction, “there must be a cosy little room upstairs where they engage in, er, exceedingly naughty things."
     Vibraxis Inchloss? And clearly it will be staffed by lay-dees of the night. (I know, I know, I’m always told that I have a one-track mind – and a dirt track at that.) Still, whatever can it all mean?
     Being a Bear of Very Little Brain, such confusing words Bother me – so I do a quick Google ... Hm!

”Guaranteed six inch loss" - wow! - "futuristic exercise with fabulous feel good factor ... amazing inch loss concept ... tone and tighten muscle, reduce body fat, balance hormone production, increase metabolic rate, extra flexibility, speed recovery from injury, improve bone mass density, reduction of cellulite” – bloody ‘ell, I'm exhausted already – ”vibration training using Vibraxis has incredible results on the body”. But here’s the clincher: ”The effects of ten minutes is equal to a whole hour of resistance training.”
    
Now don’t talk to me about a whole hour of resistance training. I was brought up on resistance training, especially when I first became interested and attracted to girls: “No!” Oh come on, I'd plead. “NO!” I won’t tell anyone, honest - I said, no... I graduated with honours in resistance training, honest.
     This is why I duly fashioned what is probably the best chat up line in the whole world, paraphrased from the film Beau Brummell starring Stewart Granger: “You strike me as a lady blessed with a wonderful gift for reducing the size of a man’s troubles.”
   
Every response began with a smile. True, I had many a “In your dreams, sweetheart!”, but always with a smile. And that smile meant her response line was more a dangle than a tangle. My follow-up line was most important, but I did often fall down badly on the job when all that was needed was a cool head.
     See what happens when I read an innocent line like Vibraxis Inchloss. But it is all about sex - or making love as they say down at the Crazy Horsepower's cocktail bar. But it's making love to a machine - or more correctly, the machine makes love to you. All this leads me neatly onto...


Every day really is a day at school
I have just read that some American hotel bedrooms now boast two double beds in order that one can be used for “wet” activities and one for “dry” activities. Wel-i-jiw-jiw, with bells on. But how do you decide which bed is for which activity? Do you suppose the “wet” bed has a lifebelt or a snorkel hanging above the bed? Oh yes, it gives a whole new meaning to how many fathoms you are able to notch up on your bedpost.

Follow that star
In my February bulletin – just a quick scroll down – I did a feature on the space shuttle Discovery launch, all following publication of one of my letters in The Sunday Times’  In Gear section. Well, here’s a funny thing ... I always enjoy watching the International Space Station (ISS) pass overhead – in fact I did a piece on it just over a year ago, which included a couple of intriguing pictures I captured at the time – click Thursday, February 14

Pictured above, the now famous $100 billion photograph, taken near the end of March. After 10 years in orbit and a budget-busting spend of up to $100 billion, the ISS has had its final big component fitted, a pair of solar wings, bringing the station up to full power for the first time. Compare it with the picture from a year ago - again click Thursday, February 14. Oh yes, while up there the Discovery crew also repaired the ISS device that converts urine to drinking water. Talk about taking the piss. Cheers!

Now you may well say, when you’ve seen the ISS streak across the sky the once, what is there to see again? True, but there’s something rather spiritual and cosmic about the whole experience, biblical even. It’s the brightness, the speed – and there really is something very hypnotic as it slowly fades and vanishes overhead as it looses sight of the sun and disappears below the shadow of the earth. Anyway, on Thursday evening, the 26th March, I was watching Derek Brockway doing the forecast on the evening’s Welsh TV news, and as is his wont, he mentions when the space station is passing over and visible, weather permitting. Having just got into the house I knew that it was an incredibly crystal clear evening, so just before eight I decide to go up to Penlan Park to take in the view. Despite the background lights of Llandeilo and Ffairfach, the stars are incredibly clear.
     And bang on time, over the beech trees of Penlan Park, there it is, bright as a button and twice as fast ... but hang on, what’s that behind it? Another space station? There are two bright lights streaking across the sky in tandem. A mirage? But I quickly realise what it is. The shuttle Discovery has been up there since lift-off on March 15th, and is scheduled to vacate the station to make room for the Soyuz spacecraft carrying a new crew, due to blast off the following day. Discovery has clearly undocked and separated from the space station and is preparing to land. The second object was clearly the station as it was the brightest.
 

Discovery blasts off

Discovery inspects the ISS after separation


But what an astonishing sight the space station and Discovery made, two stars streaking across the sky in tandem - an experience shared by many people if the reaction on the radio the following day was anything to go by.

Bits...
Study the face below, remembering all the while what I have said about dividing people into dolphins (step forward, embrace) and sharks (step back, beware), simply by studying the face.

Around the middle of March, Penelope Fillon, above, wife of the French Prime Minister, was invited to launch a new cross-Channel ferry. Given that we are now moving into an age of austerity, she planned her journey from Paris to the coast with great care: a couple of public trains and a bendy bus. Unfortunately, hubby found out and made her take a chauffeur-driven car instead. Boo, hiss!
     This tale finds its way into my scrapbook because you may well believe that the good lady’s way of travelling was typical French style – but Madam Fillon is Welsh. Wel-i-jiw-jiw indeed. “I’m just a country peasant, this is not my natural habitat,” laughed Penelope in what seemed an unlikely claim when she first moved into Hotel Matignon, the 18th-century official residence of the French Prime Minister. The good lady was raised Penelope Kathryn Clarke, in a large and close-knit family in Abergavenny. Yep, she’ll always have Paris.
     Oh, and her face reveals all, it really does.

...and Pieces
There was much in the media throughout March about the curious tale of the Royal Mail and its red elastic bands. It’s been revealed that the post office has been buying 872m elastic bands each year – at a cost of about £1m – because posties keep dropping them on the ground when delivering mail. Now here’s a funny thing: a good few moons back there was a letter in The Times in response to a piece about the red elastic bands that litter our streets. The letter writer advised – I think it was a he – that he picked them up and posted them as and when he passed a postbox. This made me smile.
     So every time I then saw a red elastic band I picked it up, and when I had a handful I posted them into a walled letter box just round the corner from where I live. I smiled to myself because Llandeilo is a community and I know most of the posties anyway – and a grand bunch of boys and girls they are. Blow me, the next day I pass the postbox, and there on the ground, a neat pile of elastic bands. Touché! So I recovered them – I still pick up bands when I see them discarded on the streets – and I now use them to tie up the blue recycle bags I put out for the council.

Image of the month

During March crooked financier Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty to a $50bn investment fraud. This is nearly as much money as Gordon Brown surreptitiously siphoned from our private pension investments when he was Chancellor. But what caught my eye was Judge Denny Chin revoking Madoff’s bail, and then warning the fraudster of a possible jail sentence of 150 years. It is now highly likely, I read in a newspaper, that he will live out the rest of his years in jail. Highly likely?
     Hang about. He is currently 70-years-of-age – so that will make him ... um, 70 plus 150 ... 220 when he finishes his likely sentence. Fiddling while the economy burns clearly offers longevity on a scale unimagined before.
     Yep, he should have done the right thing and jumped.

Talking of Madoff, I recently perused a letter sent out by Lloyds TSB to its shareholders. It is signed by Sir Victor Blank, the bank’s chairman. It's worth recalling that before its disastrous take-over of HBOS, Lloyds TSB was rated perhaps our safest bank. Anyway, the letter opens thus: Dear Shareholder ... I am pleased to let you know that the acquisition of HBOS plc has now been completed and as you will be aware Lloyds TSB Group plc has now changed its name to Lloyds Banking Group plc. The combination will drive significant synergy benefits...
     I came to halt there because synergy is not a word that is bandied about much by all we Bears down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Anyway, it means “the potential ability of individual organisations or groups to be more successful or productive as a result of a merger”. Oh dear, pull the other one.
     Actually, given the sharks, shysters and charlatans that have brought the world to its knees, perhaps the highlighted sentence above should read: The combination will drive significant sinergy benefits...”

Mothering Sunday
Loved the cartoon of a teenage schoolgirl talking to what looks like her grandmother, and the girl is reading a card marked Happy Mother’s Day: “It’s not for my mum,” she informs her grandma, “it’s from my daughter.”

Smiles of the month
Near the end of the month contractors working for BT turned up to plant a huge telegraph pole in the pavement outside the house. While I had no objection to its presence I was irritated that no notice had been given. A senior manager turned up and apologised, for there should have been. The fellow was perfectly agreeable and pleasant – but what a strange place to put the pole, I remarked. “Come out here,” he said, “look up and down the street ... telegraph and street lighting poles all over the shop – and many bang in the middle of pavements - nowhere else to put them, see.” And he was right. How astonishing that we never notice these things until something draws our attention to them. But why such an incredibly tall pole? Well, the telephone lines crossing the street now have to be much higher to avoid high vehicles bringing them down. Last year, apparently, a BT engineer was killed when a

lorry caught some wires and brought the poor fellow crashing down onto the road. All very sad.
     A neighbour also asked why this was a wooden pole whilst most of the others were metal. Well, whenever a pole is placed alongside a wall or a fence it is always metal in order to stop fellows climbing onto the wall and clambering up the pole. Every day a day at school.
     Anyway, the following morning, with the pole safely planted, there was a bit of a commotion outside, with lots of barking dogs, both literally and metaphorically. I eventually went to investigate, but too late.
     A neighbour advised that a pack of excited dogs had gathered around the pole, keen to witness its baptism by the leader of the pack – see alongside - and beneath my photograph, a translation by a passer-by of what was said by old Sit Stay Fetch - the most confused dog in the whole universe - as he cocked his leg... 

I name this Pole Katarzyna - may God bless
her and all who sniff around her


incorporating ‘Letter wot I wrote to Rupert’ and the ‘Jeremy Clarkson Corner’
Jeremy Clarkson - or Cock-a-doodle-doo as I have deed polled him - has a style of writing which depends on exaggeration and outrageousness. This is why he is such a smiley read. But of course there’s an inherent ambush

because in order to hold our attention he has to be more outrageous with every utterance.
     Back in February he apologised for calling Gordon Brown a one-eyed Scottish idiot during a Top Gear tour of Australia. Clarkson was responding to Aussie Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who had just given a speech on the global financial crisis.
     Clarkson said: “It’s the first time I’ve seen a world leader admit we really are in deep shit. In England we have this one-eyed Scottish idiot. He keeps telling us everything’s fine and he’s saved the world and we know he’s lying.” Mr Brown, who lost the sight of one eye in a rugby accident, wisely declined to be drawn.
     Alongside, the BBC believes it has come up with the answer to ensure no more cock-ups.

     In the meantime, Jeremy merrily ploughs on in his entertaining way. During March he advised us via his Sunday Times column that, having argued all along that football is a stupid game played by a bunch of overpaid nancies, he has experienced a road to Damascus conversion - or more correctly a road to Stamford Bridge conversion. Due to his son’s sudden interest in supporting Chelsea Football Club, the two of them had gone along to watch a game – and our Jeremy has become hooked. Then, in his usual throwaway manner, he says this: After the game I was taken to the Chelsea dressing room so that I could admire all the players’ penises – many were very enormous indeed. I talked to Roman Abramovich (oligarch of said Stamford Bridge parish), who was charming, and Frank Lampard (a high profile Chelsea and England footballer), who, having just run around for 90 minutes, still found the energy to get the entire team to sign my boy’s Chelsea shirt ... So there we are, then, I am now a football fan. I know this because in one afternoon I learnt I’m not a football fan at all. I’m a fan of Chelsea. Chelsea are the only team that can play. Chelsea players have by far the most impressive reproductive organs. Stanford Bridge is my church. The men who play there are my Gods.
     So I submitted this to The Sunday Times under the heading Never mind the quality, feel the width: Jeremy Clarkson’s obsession with the size of the Chelsea players’ penises (last week) rather confirms, at arm’s length anyway, that he must have been near the back of the queue when Mother Nature was handing out her manhoods. At my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon (yes, the name has been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty), years of saloon bar regulars visiting the gents and lining up as if about to face a firing squad, has thrown up the intriguing observation that the largeness of a fellow’s penis is inversely proportional to the smallness of his wit, wisdom and empathy with the world about him. Be that as it may, I am regularly troubled when one of the regulars, Dai Version, always introduces me to visitors and newcomers as probably the wisest regular at the pub. Perhaps like Groucho Marx I should not want to join the Jeremy Clarkson club, assuming he would welcome me as a member, of course.
     Sadly the letter didn’t rise to the occasion and missed the cut.
     Oh yes, I rather enjoyed Jeremy’s observations that Abramovich was charming, and Lampard endlessly helpful and considerate – both absolute pussycats, obviously – but he fails to grasp that as he himself is one of the nation’s top celebrities, both Abramovich and Lampard were kissing his feet because they are both desperate for an invitation to be a Star in a Reasonably Priced Car on his show.
     C’mon now Jeremy, get that head out of your backside. Must do better next time.

Now then, now then, all this talk of massive penises reminds me of the three Welsh brothers deciding to join the army, all at the same time. First things first, they have to take a medical. The youngest brother goes first. He passes with flying colours, but the doctor notices that he is exceptionally well blessed in the rocket department. Nothing untoward, that’s the way of nature. The second brother goes next, passes – and again the doc registers the impressive reproductive organ. Unusual to have two on the trot. Then the eldest brother, who again passes – but the doctor is now puzzled by yet another jumbo Willy. If they’d been identical triplets, fair enough, but this was most unusual.
     Curiosity got the better of the doctor, so he tackles the eldest brother: “I hope you don’t mind my being nosy, but I note that all three of you are, um, incredibly well blessed in the manhood department. Any particular reason for this?”
     “No, you’re not being nosy at all,” responds the brother, “in fact the answer is very simple. You see, sir, our mother only had one arm and when we were young that’s how she used to lift us out of the bath.”



FEBRUARY, 2009
A delayed peep through the rear view mirror
First things first: apologies for the temporary disappearance of Look You. Hadn’t paid my dues, you see – I blame a missing e-mail, so wasn’t aware that the web hosting fee was due until a visitor to the site kindly asked if I’d relocated. That’ll learn me to make a note in my diary! Anyway, normal service now resumed, so back to business...

A bit of common sense
Regular followers of this scrapbook will have noted that I try not to get too involved with the serious things of life. I mean, I’m just a common-or-gardenologist and bar-room philosopher, so by definition there are many out there much better qualified than I to comment and resolve. However, as the world slowly unravels about us I increasingly keep hearing the expression “For God’s sake, where’s their common sense?”. Indeed I occasionally hear myself saying it. But I now pinch myself if I feel a “common sense” observation about to trip off the tongue. Perusing a couple of things recently brought me to my senses, so to speak.

     Talking of tripping off the tongue, there’s Albert Einstein, alongside, and his definition of common sense: “A deposit of prejudices laid down in the mind before you reach 18.”
     Now that struck a chord. There’s something about the notion of a whole collection of prejudices cemented into place well before we have to face the big wide world and the survival of the fittest, or more correctly, the survival of those who find it easiest to adapt to our ever changing environment.
     Following on from the Einstein quote I read about the first human beings, our mega-ancestors, who back then presumed the world was flat – a perfectly reasonable conclusion. Not only that, but they believed that the sun went round the Earth. Again, a natural observation. Then people began to sail the seas – imagine, gathered round the camp fire, and you hear the very first person ever suggest that, in fact, the Earth is round. Well now, you can hear yourself laugh and chortle “Where’s his common sense?”. Similarly, the notion that the earth was not the centre of the universe, but just another planet orbiting a sun...


And what of Darwin and his origin of species? I bet when his notion that we had evolved from the apes first surfaced it must have generated endless “Where's his common sense?” observations. See what I mean by being too ready with our prejudices. This is why these days I count to ten before engaging mouth. Mind you, now that we know that we share many of our genes with a banana it does make absolute sense why we love saying that the whole world has gone bananas. We are clearly returning to our roots. Noitulove - evolution, in reverse.

Hush my mouth
“I myself have told him that he really should do something about his hair as he looks like a golliwog.” Derek Laud, a black would-be Tory MP, commenting on the French tennis player Gael Monfils, who is believed to be the person Carol Thatcher was referring to in the “golliwog” saga.
    
I myself was also rather taken with all the fuss surrounding the “golliwog” saga. Now here’s a funny thing regarding instinct. Whenever I catch Adrian Chiles, the BBC’s celebrity chat show host and sports anchor man, on TV, I find him amusing, and I guess reasonably good at his job. Yet I have never taken to him, never warmed to his personality. He’s one of those people I wouldn’t want within a million miles of my fondly imagined South Sea island paradise. And as it is with instinct, you occasionally can’t quite work out why the yellow alert.
     Then came the Carol Thatcher incident. Surely the reasonable thing for Chiles to have done, especially as the incident happened in private, was to have taken Thatcher aside, tell her that he didn’t much care for the word, and would she please refrain from using it again – or else. Instead, he ran to the media, and in one fell swoop he managed to drag a word most of us had consigned to the recycle bin, back into full public glare. Not only did we suddenly find ourselves using it again, but disastrously, a whole new generation has now been presented with an unacceptable word which they will gleefully hurl as an insult, compliments of Chiles’ sense of self-importance.

     The word "golliwog" is a most interesting one. As the row simmered, it came to mind following the snows of early February, when I stumbled upon a snowman, or perhaps a snowwoman, hanging on for dear life as the thaw set in.
     Here she is, alongside. For some reason the first word that came to mind was “golliwog”, rapidly followed by Thatcher. The “hairstyle” reminded me of both Carol and her mother. However, I decided to christen the snowwoman Twiggy.
     Now here’s an interesting thought. Golliwog, to my ear anyway, doesn’t sound offensive. Yet if I say Twiggywog – well now, that does sound offensive. It emphasises those three last letters, the way golliwog does not.

Suddenly you begin to understand why some folk find it offensive. So there you go, and as it says up there at the very top of Look You, every day a day at school.
    
Oh yes, I’ve stopped watching Chiles on the BBC’s The One Show. My protest at his childishness.
     And talking of Thatcher: “She said to me: ‘Don’t you want to be in charge a little bit more?’ I said: ‘No. I have had enough.’” Michael Gorbachev recalls a conversation with Margaret Thatcher shortly before he quit as leader of the
Soviet Union.
     Fascinating, this drug called power. Just imagine if Thatcher, after winning that epoch-making final election, had turned to her cabinet and said: “There we are boys, I’m calling it a day, the whole show is now yours.” Imagine how differently she would be remembered today.

Look at Tony Blair. He quit while still squatting on what we thought was a golden egg – but as we now know the egg was addled, rotten to the core. Gordon Brown, bless, has to pay the price, while Blair swans around the globe grinning madly, earning millions and blessing the world's trouble spots with lots of “Peace and love!”.
 

Grim Reaper dozes off in the heat

Just over a year ago, over on 400 Smiles A Day ... Follow the pipeline, where I have faithfully recorded the tale of the laying of the giant gas pipeline which crosses Wales, and as it happens, circumnavigates my home town of Llandeilo, I wrote this:   The other day I was asked what I thought had been the biggest single improvement to

our lifestyle in my lifetime, and I have to say that I believe it's central heating. The huge jump, from sitting in front of a fire, albeit a roaring one, in a single communal room - to relaxing in any room of the house, at any time of the year, in shirtsleeves, is extraordinary. And as is now well established, cold is a ruthless killer.
     Well, in February I read the following...
Mathew Parris, writing in The Times, recalled a visit made several years ago, when he was the Tory MP for
West Derbyshire, to a cottage hospital in his constituency.
     “The flinty matron gave me a sherry,” he recalled. “She and I stared bleakly out over a sad room of desperately fragile, often confused old people, too weak to leave, staring blankly at a screen. ‘I blame central heating,’ she said grimly. ‘Time was when a good Derbyshire winter would have cut through this lot like a hot knife through butter.’.”


Letters wot I wrote to Rupert
The following news item in The Sunday Times caught my eye. The Isle of Man is home to some of the sexiest people in the British Isles, according to the Ann Summers chain. Its shop in Douglas was named top-achieving store in January. “I’m so proud,” said manager Emma Cook. “We think it shows just how sexy a population the Isle of Man people really are.” As published in Isle of Man Today. So I sent this missive to The Sunday Times:
    
"If the Isle of Man is home to some of the sexiest people in the British Isles (Little Britain, last week), what a shame that the Virgin Islands are so far away."
   
 Sadly, it didn’t make the cut. However, the following did. Perusing the In Gear section of The Sunday Times, I was captivated by a picture of the giant space shuttle Discovery slowly crawling towards its launch pad. So I submitted the following letter, and it was duly published on February 8:

     "Your picture of the space shuttle Discovery trundling towards liftoff (Big crawl, January 28) brings to mind a startling statistic. As this 2,250-ton megaloomph clears the launch pad, it is already travelling at 100mph. Ponder, 0-100 within its own length. Rather puts the exploits of Captain Slow, Hamster and Cock-a-doodle-doo into perspective."
     I’d headlined the letter Standing start, which I thought rather good, but the paper used Shuttle speed. I know I’m biased, but I thought mine much better!
     Oh yes, here’s another of those startling statistics to do with the space shuttle launch. At the instant of liftoff the whole shebang has to generate thrust roughly 150 per cent of its total weight. So at launch there's a force of not far off 3,500-ton pushing against the ground. Wow! It does 0-100mph in seven seconds,
0-1,000mph in one minute. Double wow!!
     The image to the right shows the shuttle as it clears the tower, about seven seconds into the flight. Notice the steam created by water from the sound suppression system, and the smoke from the solid rocket boosters. The three main engines of the orbiter itself do not produce any smoke.


Lack of class in our leaders
“Why should I have that guy running down the country? Who the f*** is he?” Peter Mandelson reacts somewhat defensively to the suggestion by the owner of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, that the British economy was “in a spiral”.
    
“People always come to you, and they’ve got a problem ... but sometimes you just want to say, am I bovvered?” The truth about politicians, by Tony Blair.
    
There’s little doubt that our ineffectual leaders are spending too much time in the company of celebrities, and are slowly beginning to morph into those superficial characters they mingle with. Even over in America folk are watching with dismay at the endless trail of celebrities invited to attend the White House by the Obamas. Oh dear, I did warn when Obama made all that fuss over the dog he was going to present to his girls.

Bits...
Zap-a-dee-doodling through the zillions of satellite channels, I stumbled upon a channel called G2Family, where a film curiously titled Love Laughs At Andy Hardy, starring Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy, was unfolding. Andy returns from the military after serving in World War II, with love and marriage on his mind – but a series of mistakes, high jinks and misfortunes stack up against the well-intentioned romancer. I can’t really tell you what the film is like as I saw but a brief part, but the one segment I did catch grabbed my attention, where Andy dances with his mother. Nothing untoward in the episode, but as you can see from the picture here...

...he is shorter than him mother. So, I hear you ask? Well, I was once told that, excepting deformity, a son is never shorter than his mother. Now I have never had this curious observation confirmed, even by googling it, but all I can say is ... I’ve never seen the claim disproved. Keep your eyes peeled – and let me know if you do.

...and Pieces
As the filthy rich keep letting the rest of us down big time in these troubled times, the story of February was that of Texan Allen Stanford, who promised millions of “prize money” pledged for the first in a series of

Twenty20 cricket matches between his own West Indian Stanford Superstars and England, for a million dollars a man to the winners – and in the wake of that game, which England lost by a country mile, a startling newspaper headline Hunt for Stanford and his billions detailed his alleged $8 billion fraud. Par for the course in these jiggery-pokery times.
     A couple of pictures caught my eye. Alongside, Stanford, third from left front row, pushes his chest out, both financially and physically, showing off the $20 million chest that, we now learn, may in fact have contained just $100,000.
     Even Ian Botham, left, who has done so much tremendous work raising money for charity, can’t keep his hands off the chest. But perhaps the most telling picture is the close up of Stanford, below.


It takes me back to my piece on we humans being either dolphins or sharks. You step forward and embrace a dolphin; you step back and remain wary of a shark. And most of the clues are in the face. Study and note...

Image of the month

In my piece at the top of the bulletin about common sense, I mention our ancestors believing that the world was flat. Well, we've come a long way since, so much so that in February, high over Siberia, two satellites were destroyed in a 17,000mph crash.
     Imagine, there was no space junk before the launch of Sputnik in 1957, but there are now more than 300,000 objects whizzing dangerously around the globe.
     Alongside, an artist's impression shows about 4 per cent of those objects.
     Which makes me wonder why, in all the Star Trek series - which I enjoy watching - and set a few hundreds hence, they never crash into any of the zillions of space debris that must be floating about the universe.


SMILES OF THE MONTH
Henry Higgins, Mahatma Gandhi and Groucho Marx hit the button in February. Watching the Marx Brothers in the film Go West, I enjoy these two lines from the wittily entertaining Groucho. In the first he is wandering around the saloon bar when he happens upon one of the attractive, good-time saloon bar girls: “Oh, I didn’t recognise you standing up.” And from the ridiculous to the sublime, his put-down of a baddie: “Time wounds all heels.”
     Next, Mahatma Gandhi, and reading about a question from a newspaper correspondent in the 1930s drew from him one of his pithiest responses. Asked, during his visit to
Britain, what he thought of Western civilisation, he replied: “It would be a very good idea.”
     Incidentally, were Groucho Marx and Mahatma Gandhi ever seen in the same room? At the same time? I mean, I am truly seduced by the similarity between the two men...

       

And finally... a few Welsh individuals take great offence when folk like Jeremy Clarkson, Anne Robinson, AA Gill et al have a go at the Welsh in order to raise a cheap laugh. Me? I belong in the ‘sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ camp, as do most of my fellow countrymen and women. But I did enjoy this apparent quote from Henry Higgins, slightly paraphrased to taste: “The Welsh don’t care what you call them, as long as you pronounce it properly.” How delightful is that? And spot on.



JANUARY, 2009 – A month in view
”Paris unrest will spread round the world, unions warn”

What in God's name, I remember thinking as I kick off my recollections of January with the above headline from the 29th, has Paris Hilton been up to now again? Just a couple of days earlier I’d read the following quote as Paris was cruelly asked to name Britain's Prime Minister: “It’s Gordon ... Gordon Ramsay?” However, the following day, and the day before the above headline, she apparently got her story straight on GMTV. “I know exactly who Gordon Ramsay is, I know exactly who Gordon Brown is,” she assured viewers after initially confusing the two. “I was just eating in Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant so I know that he’s, like, a chef.”
     Clever girl, Paris! Gordon Brown is the one who cooks the books.
     The point of this little story is how effortlessly we are subliminally influenced by the endless celebrity tittle-tattle which floods the media pages and airwaves. So much so I found myself wondering what it would be like to be friends with Paris Hilton; you see, I'd read somewhere that there’s a TV series called Paris Hilton’s British Best Friend, where the usual suspects are rounded up and asked to compete to be the hotel heiress’s new bestest pal here in the UK. For sure, whom the Gods wish to destroy...

     Of course, the headline at the very top - and as featured on The Times front page, above, quickly corrected itself in front of my very eyes ... it lay just above the picture of French steel workers protesting – as only the French do – against the financial turmoil around the world and that it would inevitably lead to deepening civil unrest and soaring crime across the globe. A conclusion, it strikes me, as obvious as night follows day. The revolution is closer than we think.

“Brown bounce falls flat as public anxiety rises”

Talking of financial turmoil and things Gordon Brown, or Flash Gordon as we should now call him after he claimed to have saved the world within the allotted 14 hours (see previous but one bulletin), yet, as the next January headline shown just above confirms, things are going from bad to worse to recession to depression.
     As indeed the picture, alongside, shows, of Gordon Brown, listening to questions at the “jobs summit” at the Science Museum in West London back around the middle of January. He appears to be taking 40 winks - oops, nearly said a naught word there which rhymes with bank. Phew!
     As for the photo itself, it’s now nearly a full pregnancy term since Brown recruited a former television producer with a brief to prevent accidentally embarrassing photographs. As Eric of Morecambe and Wise fame was apt to say:
“What do you think of the show so far, Prime Minister?”
“Rubbish!”.
     To compound Brown's misery, it's Tony Blair who has just won the race to be the first statesman to meet Barack Obama. Blair apparently warned Obama: "The public eye is not always a congenial place." "Really?", The Sunday Times queries. "If the public eye is so tough, how come the former PM seems so reluctant to escape its gaze?".

We did it – but count God out

Undoubtedly the big news of January was the inauguration of Barack Obama. But how could he, with the world watching so intently, cock-up so badly with that swearing-in ceremony? Both Obama and the Chief Justice would have known the oath backwards, but they clearly hadn’t done their homework – or more correctly, hadn't done a basic but essential trial run.
     This was obvious when Obama started to repeat the opening sentence before the Chief Justice had completed the sentence. From that moment the ambush was laid. And he had to be sworn in twice. With hand on the Bible (the one used to swear in Lincoln in 1861, no less), God was, for whatever reason, looking the other way. Bad omen.

Don’t want to say “told you so”, but in my recent December 10 bulletin, I questioned his judgment when he made public that too-much-information bit about getting a dog for his girls, something that should have remained strictly inWhiteHouse.
     I quote from my bulletin: 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.
   
 So that’s two little mistakes. We’ll be kind and call it nerves, eh?

But I’ll tell you what has tickled me, it’s this business about him being the first black President and all that. From the moment he first entered my consciousness, some 12 months or so ago, I never thought of him as black – coloured, of course, but not black. Then we learnt that he was from mixed parents (white mother), so that sort of explained it. But there was something else about him which didn’t quite shout “black!” ... then, on the night of the inauguration, BBC Two did a profile, Obama: His Story, with access to some of his closest friends and political confidants. Fascinating viewing.
     His story starts in Hawaii, where Obama’s father left home when his son was 2 years old, and he was then brought up by his grandparents. And that explained why his mannerisms and way of talking are more white than black - which is why I never saw the black, just someone with a darkish skin.
     But what was more interesting was his rise through the political ranks. Someone in the party had spotted that, even though his colour was a handicap, while white voters did not naturally gravitate towards him, they did not reject him, and importantly, they liked what they heard. He was on his way. What it all reminded me of was the rise to power of Hitler.
     We tend to think Hitler got there via the bullet. But he didn’t. Hitler preached a message similar to Obama ... a disenchanted people definitely liked what they heard, and Hitler quickly worked himself up the greasy poll via the ballot box - to the very top. Only then did he convert to the bullet.
     So both Obama and Hitler got there pretty much singing from the same hymn sheet, but Hitler decided to take the low road – and hopefully Obama will continue along the high road.

Letter wot I wrote to Rupert

In the wake of the inauguration, we got to learn about the latest hot phone, the BarackBerry. The President of the United States is to become the proud owner of a secure, souped-up, high-tech personal digital assistant (PDA). It comes fully loaded with encryption devised by the National Security Agency, which gathers intelligence from cyberspace.
     At the touch of a button it can switch from an ordinary PDA to a secure communications device. The search for a secure BlackBerry-style phone came after Obama told his advisers that he was determined to hang on to his lifeline to people outside the White House bubble. The buzz about Obama’s BlackBerry replacement is “almost as exciting as the presidential dog”, reported Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, a few days after the inauguration. There had been security fears about terrorist hackers being able to pinpoint the president’s location, but Obama has overridden these concerns. By law, all but the most personal e-mails will be stored in the National Archives.

     So I submitted the following to The Sunday Times – and had it published under Leaky BarackBerry: What are the various odds as to how soon we will be privy to a message from, or to, the president of the United States on his BarackBerry? Me, a natural-born cynic? Perish the thought.

While on the subject of politics, some Tony Blair quotes grabbed my attention back in January. “Of course I reflect on it and am troubled by it.” On taking Britain into war with Iraq, and on the soldiers and civilians who have died there. Me? I am overwhelmed with a Mandy Rice-Daviesism: He would say that, wouldn’t he?
     And: “People always come to you, and they’ve got a problem ... but sometimes you just want to say, am I bovvered?” Blair gives us an insight into how a politician’s mind works. And confirmation how even a Prime Minister can be subliminally swamped with celebrity talk (bovvered?), when a Spin Doctor isn’t in attendance.
     Finally: “I don’t actually like the business of politics – the campaigning. I’m interested in solving problems.” Which is why Blair introduced us to the term "Spin Doctor". Oh, and he also specialised in creating problems – see Iraq.

Tony Hart & Morph


 

January saw the death, at age 83, of Tony Hart, above, a much loved artist and television presenter. I am no artist, but always found him entertaining and enjoyed watching him, as well as Morph, alongside, a Plasticine character who lived in a pencil box and spoke gibberish in answer to Hart. So much like real life, you see.
     But here’s an interesting observation. Back on December 10, I also said this: 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.
    
Hart, like Postgate, was much liked, and of course what both had in common was that wonderfully warm, friendly, comforting and wrap-around voice. The opposite of a harsh, rat-tat-tat, threatening voice. Fascinating too that they both died at age 83.
     In a previous bulletin I claimed that I had learnt from experience, harnessed with the basic gift of instinct, that people's facial features give us a crucial insight into their character. Are they dolphin or are they shark?
     So it is with the voice. The voice tells you nearly as much about the person as the face. And for both Hart and Postgate, the voice gave the crucial insight. RIP.


Things I didn't know last year

If I mention the name Thomas Crapper, you would probably say, ah yes, the fellow who invented the flushing toilet. And I would have agreed with you. However, in January I learnt that he did not. Yes, he did have a successful career in the plumbing industry - see the venerable name plate alongside - and he did indeed invent many things we today take for granted within the plumbing world.
     But with a name like Crapper he must, surely, have something memorable attached to it? Well, yes, for he invented the manhole cover and the ball cock.
     You really couldn’t, as they say, make it up.


Bits...
Radio Wales presenter Owen Money has, on his Saturday morning show Money for Nothing, a phone-a-bride spot, where he telephones an unsuspecting bride. It can be very amusing. On January 10 he rang a 17-year-old girl, the youngest he had spoken to on his show, for later that day she was marrying a 19-year-old soldier. “Have you been married before?” he hilariously asked her. After the live conversation was over he explained to his audience that he had asked her if she had been married before because he was once driving along the Heads of the Valleys road and saw this banner hanging from a bridge: Happy 29th Nana.
     Oh yes, on his show of January 24 he read out a request from a couple who lived at a house called Loggerheads. What a wonderful name for a house. You just hope that it’s true.

...and Pieces



Towards the end of the month, I was idly zapping through the TV channels, as I do, when I landed on BBC Four, and there, in glorious black and white, was a Peter, Paul and Mary special. Yes, you know, Puff the Magic Dragon and Blowing in the Wind, and all that. What really overwhelmed me was what an incredibly handsome and sexy creature Mary, above, was back then. Probably still is. But even more than that, how passionately she delivered her songs. It was a thoroughly enjoyable 30 minutes. And all the better for being so unexpected. One of those magic moments.
     Then, on the last day of January, I was watching Click! on the
BBC TV News channel. Now you've doubtless noticed how interviewers on TV nod their heads when an interviewee responds – clearly a little trick to encourage the person along – but they now do it so enthusiastically it distracts. Anyway, someone called Richard Taylor had a lengthy interview with Stevie Wonder. Yes, you’re ahead of me already. As Stevie answered, Richard kept nodding like a demented dog on the back window ledge of the car in front. Truth to tell it was really amusing. However, and despite generating a generous smile, it did not quite make the regular...

Smile of the month
"We’re going to be in the Hudson” ... “I’m sorry, say again”

This month it is something totally different, namely the extraordinary tale of the aircraft that crashed on the Hudson. Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger’s splash landing saved the lives of all 155 people aboard. After his copybook landing, the former US Air Force pilot walked through the aircraft (twice) to check that all passengers had got out before he abandoned the aircraft, in a feat dubbed “The Miracle on the Hudson”.
     The headline above was the final exchange between the Captain and a disbelieving air traffic controller. There was no answer from the aircraft......

     The most astonishing thing about the whole episode is that no one captured the splash landing on camera. Yes, we have CCTV footage of the aircraft touching down and slowly coming to a stop, but when you ponder the cameras that pretty much everybody now have about their person, and especially so in the middle of New York, where were they?
     Well, the answer, I guess, is that the aircraft had lost all power and it would have been gliding silently in, so it would have drawn no attention to itself. But isn’t it amazing that no one with a camera in that crowded city happened to be looking in the direction the aircraft was descending from.
     Nevertheless, smiley moments don’t come much more satisfying than this.



SUNDAY, JANUARY 11, 2009

An exceedingly smiley start to the year

As is now well established, I round off each scrapbook segment with a ‘smile of the day/week/year/whatever’, based on my diary entries apropos of whatever made me smile the most on any particular day. Well now, the Friday just past, the 9th, was a truly smiley day. So many things made me smile I’ve dedicated the whole bulletin to the experience.
     The day starts as usual: popped downtown to collect the papers and then perused them over breakfast. What first caught my eye was a front page photograph and headline...

"Ronaldo crashes the Ferrari, but his other car’s a...?"

Fortunately the Manchester United footballer was unhurt after writing off his new £200,000 car in a tunnel near Manchester airport on his way to training. His Ferrari clipped a metal handrail and smacked into a barrier, ripping one of its front wheels off and crushing it beyond economical repair. Travelling just behind was Edwin van der Sar, the United goalkeeper, in his Bentley Continental GT, who then picked Ronaldo up, dusted him off and gave him a lift in a car in which Ronaldo would have felt perfectly at home because the 23-year-old has one of his own – a Continental GT Speed, no less – as well as a Porsche, a BMW and a Rolls Royce Phantom – which offers up a whole new meaning to that famous bumper sticker: “My other motor’s a...”. It’s another world out there.

Incidentally, is that a gun in the copper's holster, above, or is he just glad to see Ronaldo safe and well? You see, Ronaldo appears to be a bit of a crashing bore: March 2005, loses control of his Porsche Cayenne; December 2007, loses control of his Audi R8; January 2009, loses control of his Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano (above). He walks away from all three. Now he regularly complains about career-threatening tackles, so should he stop looking in mirrors, especially rear-view ones?
     I say that because what is interesting about this latest Ronaldo crash is that his team mate was right behind him. Now I remember exactly what I and my pals were like at that age. We were always chasing each other along the highways and byways of our square mile. That we avoided serious accidents is more luck than judgment. So if I had to put a punt on it, I would say that the two Man U players were – how shall we put it? – having a little chariot race, and young Ben-Hur pushed his horsepower just a little bit too far.
 


 

Pictured alongside, Ronaldo departs training in one of his other cars, the Bentley, a car favoured by Premiership footballers - eight at Man U alone - but intriguingly, David Bentley of Spurs, as far as I know, does not own one.
     But the best bits of all are the jokes that followed in the wake of the accident. For those not familiar with football in general and Ronaldo in particular, the Portuguese forward is noted for his penchant to play a U-boat captain – “Dive! Dive! Dive!” - especially in the penalty area, and then roll about as if desperately hurt in order to gain a penalty. He is also noted for winding-up opponents, most famously getting his Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney sent off in a World Cup game between Portugal and England.

     This particular report of the accident made me smile big time: Witnesses confirmed that Ronaldo was unhurt ... rumours that he spent a fair amount of time rolling around on the ground pretending to be injured are probably the work of mischief makers. The jokes came fast and furious...
Witnesses say Ronaldo’s vehicle was only lightly tapped but the car flipped and rolled ten times.
Witnesses confirmed that he was unhurt but rolled out of the car clutching his head and then approached the wall and hurled abuse at it – then winked mischievously at the witnesses as he walked away.
Ronaldo told police that the wall was not ten yards back.
His manager, Alex Ferguson, later made Ronaldo practice taking corners at training.
Ferguson also made him improve his free-kick technique as he kept driving the ball straight into the wall.
And finally: Why did the chicken cross the road? Because Ronaldo mounted the pavement.

As I peruse the papers I also have the radio on: the Welsh language station Radio Cymru first off, in the company of the station's girl-next-door presenter, Rebecca Jones; then at 7.00 I switch to Radio Two for half-an-hour in the company of the amusing Sarah Kennedy, followed by the better-heard-than-seen Terry Wogan. And here, Terry quotes his favourite Hilda Baker joke. She looks at her watch: “It’s quarter past ... ohhhh, I really must get a small hand.” Wonderful. But what makes it so especially smiley for me is that I know people like this, individuals who have no concept of time and tide – two of them belong to my own tribe. Oh, and talk of Hilda Baker (“She knows you know!”) brings to mind her and Arthur Mullard murdering You’re The One That I Want. Makes me smile just thinking about it.

     So with a smile on my face, and just before eight - sunrise about 45 minutes away - I venture out into the cold morning for my regular walk on the wild side. Sadly, it’s overcast and dull, which spoils the crisp, frosty, sunshiny feel of recent weather.
     As I approach Newton House I notice flitting ahead of me along the old-style oak fencing that is a feature at Dinefwr Park, a little robin. It appears ultra-friendly. I curse the poor light for a photo opportunity but plonk myself down on a handy bench seat and decide to try my luck using a flash. Trouble is I’m sure the flash will frighten it away. Not a bit of it. It gets even friendlier and actually lands alongside me,

on the bench. I get one reasonable shot, above, then it returns on to the fence in front of me - and I manage this delightful picture, alongside ... a golf ball springs to mind. I presume its friendliness is down to someone in the area, perhaps at Newton House itself, feeding it.
     Whatever, I am not a good photographer of birds - not enough patience, you see - but the little thing presents me with endless possibilities to come up trumps. Then, after about 5 minutes it gets bored, or more likely fed up that he/she hasn’t been fed up – and off it goes.
     It was one of the most delightful Take Five moments I’ve enjoyed in many a moon. A truly Magic Moment.
     As a curious addendum to the story, on the Saturday morning after, returning from my walk

through Castle Woods I meet another local, Martin Ralph, whose hobbies include bird and wildlife photography – and he tells me he's been watching some squabbling squirrels and has managed to capture a squirrel jumping between trees (must make a note to ask Martin how good an image he got). As we chat, Martin mentions an incredible little robin he’d photographed over at Newton House, and it wasn’t much more than an arm’s length away ... I tell him my story. Obviously our beautiful little robin is a bit of a star turn. And people friendly.

The day meanders along its way. Later that Friday morning I have the radio on and I hear some people discussing the merits of these new-fangled energy-saving bulbs. One lady celebrity (no idea who she was) says she agrees with the idea - but finds it really frustrating that it can take up to 30 seconds for the bulbs to light up properly! As mentioned above, I lack patience - but 30 seconds? No wonder we live in a world increasingly torn apart by rage in all its manifestations.

In the afternoon, before going down the pub, I watch a bit of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
 


There’s a segment where Data, confused by human behaviour - and who isn't (see above) - starts to recite to Captain Picard what he perceives as a rather curious poem...
"There was a young lady from Venus,
Whose body was shaped like a – "
     “Yes, Mr Data,” interrupts Picard,
quickly moving along...
     This sent me googling:
There was a young lady from Venus,
Whose body was shaped like a penis;
When First Contact was made,
The crew were dismayed,
When she told them her species and genus.
And I must say I was taken rather by surprise
with this particular one...
There was a young lady from Venus,
Whose body was shaped like a penis;
A fellow named Hunt,
Was shaped like a –
    
Yes, well, that’s enough of that, suffice it to
say that the last line goes...
So it all works out fine, just between us.
    
Made me smile, though.


Next, a quick visit to the Crazy Horsepower, and in the Saloon Bar there’s a discussion that here in Wales, not to mention the UK as a whole, we are not terribly tourist and visitor friendly. Of course there are places and individuals that do us proud, but overall we are not consumer friendly.
     By coincidence, a good many moons back I had a letter published in The Sunday Times, in Michael Winner’s column under Michael’s missives (or Winner’s Letters as I think it was then called), where I question why so many people who go into public service industries – pubs, restaurants, takeaways, hotels – do so when quite obviously they hate serving the public. It is an anomaly which has always bemused me. Anyway, the Crazy Horsepower discussion pedals along furiously, and then Doc Holliday comes out with this gem: “The trouble with this country is that our service and tourism industries spend 50p to make a £1 – but in those countries we all think of as tourist friendly, they spend a £1 to make 50p.” Now isn’t that a perfect description – and very smiley to boot.

After returning home from the pub and watching some rugby on the box, I go zap-a-dee-doo-da, and stumble upon a series called QI on BBC One, hosted by the affable Stephen Fry, where he awards points not for correct answers, but for the ones he finds the most interesting. Anyway, the subject of boredom comes up – and here I have to declare an interest because I have never felt bored in my life. Dorothy Parker is quoted: “Curiosity is a cure for boredom – but there is no cure for curiosity.” So that’s why I am never bored? Curiously, I have no curiosity about how invented things work: I couldn’t care less how the computer I am working on does its thing, the electricity that runs it, the internet that serves it ... it’s all just there, much like the combustion engine, etc, etc... But I’m endlessly curious about the world about me: people, mostly, closely followed by the birds and the bees and all the other creatures I come into contact with. Incidentally, I think it was panellist Alan Davies who added “Curiosity killed the cat – and I am being held for questioning!”.

     Alan Davies then moves on to tell the tale of David Walliams, alongside, he of Little Britain fame who, back in 2007 surprised us with a new talent when he swam the channel, from England to France, in under 11 hours. A hugely credible achievement.
     Anyway, he and his mum were duly invited along to meet the Queen and the Duke ... At this point, and as I am writing this on the Sunday after the Friday, I am diverted because news has broken that the sky has fallen in yet again on poor Prince Harry because he was filmed a few years back calling out to one of his Asian Army colleagues: “Ah, our little Paki friend, Ahmed.” It seems that that is what those in the regiment call him.
     Now I don’t get all this fuss about using such a nickname.
Along my walk through time I have occasionally been called Taff or Taffy, always by Englishmen, as it happens. No one bothered to tell me that I should have been deeply offended. Even when I hear the song “Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief…”, all I can think of is that line from the film A Day at the Races, where someone enquires of a certain jockey: “Can I trust him?” To which one of the Marx Brothers responds: “He’s honest ... but you gotta watch him a little.”

     Anyway, back with David Walliams and his mum at the palace. The Queen meets and greets, and says all the right things, as the Queen does. Behind comes Price Philip, who then meets Walliams’ mother, and his opening shot is this: “Are there any more nutters in the family?” How can you not like Prince Philip? Indeed it seems Price Harry is a chip off that old block.

Talk of Prince Philip, last year I came across this amusing portrait of himself, below, by Stuart Pearson Wright. The Duke apparently stormed out of his sitting because the artist had given him an enormous nose. “Gadzooks!” Prince Philip is reported to have said. “Why have you given me a great shnuk? As long as I don’t have to have it on my wall.” And then by chance I stumble upon this other portrait: Quinten Massys’ portrait of An Old Woman, also known as The Ugly Duchess. Hypnotic, to say the least. And that's both portraits.
 


Oh yes, the blue bottle on the Duke's shoulder represents his mortality (search me), while the four strands of cress represent his sins (search me again - not his sins but why cress?). As for The Ugly Duchess, medical research on the subject of the painting found she was suffering from an extremely rare form of Paget's disease - a chronic disorder which enlarges and deforms the bones. The investigation into the 1513 creation found not only why the woman looked like she did, but also that the portrait was a truthful representation. She suffered from an advanced form of osteitis deformans, which left her with an extended upper lip, a pushed up nose and enlarged jaw bones. Her hands, eye sockets, forehead, chin and collarbones were also affected by the condition. It is believed that the subject was 'a very powerful woman and may even have been a real duchess'. The portrait was later to be used in illustrations for Alice in Wonderland.
     But what strikes me is how much alike the two subjects are to the casual glance. Curiouser and curiouser indeed...


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