Prepared on screen resolution 1280 by 720 pixels
29th June 2010
Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from
Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher, 600BC-531BC
HOW strange that a bulletin posted a couple of months ago over on
400 Smiles A Day
suddenly has relevance, albeit a badly-behaved fox running amok in
London Town. Indeed, that fox attack, together with the dreadful mass
shootings in Cumbria, unsurprisingly dominated the news headlines and
radio phone-ins for a while thereafter.
Following the fox incident involving twin baby girls while asleep at
their home in Hackney, east London, ‘experts’ such as Simon King and
Chris Packham of Springwatch fame planted subliminal doubts over the
cause of the attack, mostly because in all the years they had studied
foxes neither had ever witnessed or heard of such a thing. Whilst I
accept absolutely their vast and entertaining knowledge of wildlife, you
cannot be an expert on everything.
If you need to understand fox behaviour
you ask those at the sharp end, people who live alongside such
To briefly repeat what I wrote over on
seasoned sheep farmers tend to admit that the fox has an unjust
reputation as a mass killer. If a fox is seen with a lamb in its
jaws witnesses conclude that it has attacked it, whereas in
truth foxes mostly hoover up the dead and dying.
Indeed I show photographs of a wild fox (as opposed to
a domesticated urban model) wandering through sheep and lambs -
seen here, posing cheekily for the camera - and whilst the flock
keeps a sharp eye on the fox as it moves through, none make a
move to escape – if the fox had been a small dog, a poodle say,
the flock would have instantly dispersed.
To reiterate briefly, farmers will also confirm that, just as with
humans and domestic pets, there are rogue individuals which are killing
machines. Unlike a domestic dog though, which can be fairly easily
identified, isolated and shot, an awful lot of foxes need to be taken
out in the hope that the killer dog fox is one of them.
Whilst we know there are quite a few unbalanced people
bearing knives, guns and bombs lurking out there – the murderous Derrick
Birds of Cumbria the most recent example – it is also true that beyond
the patio doors prowls a Basil with a nasty twist in its Brush, just
waiting to pounce.
Mention of the Cumbria killings, there's been many a debate regarding
stricter gun control, that guns should only be held by those who are
professionally licensed to kill foxes and the like. However, the
unsurprising consensus among those who already hold a gun licence is
that controls are tight enough as things are, indeed such killings are
so rare that if it had been their child, grandchild, parent,
grandparent, brother, sister, friend, colleague or hero shot by Derrick
Bird, then that is the ultimate price they are prepared to pay to
continue ownership of a gun as a plaything.
Or at least that’s the way I read their acceptance of
the status quo. Crazy world, crazy people.
prefer temperance hotels – although they sell worse kinds of liquor than
any other kind of hotels
Artemus Ward (Charles Farrar Browne), 1834-1867
WHEN I stumbled upon the above rather wonderful quote, the first thing
that came to mind was substituting ‘temperance hotels’ for ‘political
parties’. As it happens my previous bulletin here was posted just as yet
another new political dawn was breaking over this old broken country of
ours – no, it’s not that my glass is half empty, it’s just the growing
doom and gloom warnings from our coalition government regarding the hard
times ahead. The message is not even subliminal – it’s full frontal.
And just as we prepare to batten down the hatches, news
breaks that Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin – yes of course, you remember him,
one of the many architects of the financial crisis, the shamed ex-boss
of the Royal Bank of Scotland who cost the taxpayer £80billion and
robbed thousands of workers of their jobs, yet walked away with a huge
payout and a super-duper pension – anyway, 'The Shred' has just
purchased one of Edinburgh’s most expensive properties (probably with
moat, electrified fence and armed guards) for a cool £3.5million. Roll
on the revolution.
Be that as it may, shortly after the coalition got
their show on the road, a couple of images caught my eye. The first is
of PM David Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg holding their first joint
press conference on a sunshiny spring day in the garden of 10 Downing
second is of Olympic mascot Wenlock and the Paralympic mascot Mandeville
– mascots for London 2012, obviously. But
the juxtaposition of the two images is perfectly wonderful.
Of the mascots, one has orange (going on yellow) as the
'flash' colour, the other has blue. In the
Downing Street image, one wears a yellow (going on
orange) tie, the other a blue one.
Also, the mascots have children
in attendance; the politicians have kids going “Sir! Sir! Sir!”
Either that or they want to go to the toilet.
Back with the mascots – no, I had no idea either. My immediate
reaction was of a couple of mobile phones, which means they are
set to become increasingly annoying as the Olympics get closer.
But no, I read that both
are based on a short story by children's author Michael
Morpurgo, which tells how they were fashioned from droplets of
the steel used to build the Olympic stadium. Wel-i-jiw-jiw!
Meanwhile, the Labour leadership is under way, with curiously
the two Miliband brothers fighting it out - no, just like the
Olympic mascots, I don't get that, either.
Anyway, what better way to celebrate this doolallyness
than with a brilliant Matt cartoon from the Daily Telegraph.
Cowboys ‘R’ Us
THEN there’s the dreadful environmental catastrophe in America, the
Deepwater Horizon explosion, which continues to
pour tens of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. One thing that has
rattled more than a few cages here in the
UK is Obama’s take on
George Bush, in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, declared
“We’re gonna get Bin Laden dead or alive, it doesn’t matter to me” – all
American Presidents are reckless cowboys at heart – and of course that
led directly to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now Barack Obama wants
to “kick someone’s ass”, starting with Tony Hayward, the chief executive
of BP – or British Petroleum as he and the White House keep calling it,
12 years after it dropped the name. Ah yes, the power of the subliminal
What are of interest are the revealing little nuggets
of information that keep surfacing in the media, for example…
Amoco ("American Oil Company") Cadiz disaster in 1978, when 220,000 tons
(1.6 million barrels) of oil were deposited on the French coast in one
fell swoop, the costs of which were estimated to be $250 million in
damage to fisheries and tourist amenities. It took the French 12 years
to get any money from the Americans – yet they received only $120
Eight officials of the American company Union Carbide have just been
convicted by an Indian court of causing "death by negligence" in the
toxic gas leak at Bhopal in 1984, the world’s worst industrial
catastrophe. Estimates vary on the death toll, but some 8,000 died
within the first weeks, and another 8,000 have since died from
gas-related diseases. Some 26 years after the gas leak, 390 tons of
toxic chemicals abandoned at the UCIL plant continue to leak and pollute
in the region and affect thousands of Bhopal residents who depend on it,
though there is some dispute as to whether the chemicals still stored at
the site pose any continuing health hazard.
1988, 167 workers died when the Piper Alpha rig exploded in the North
Sea. The main operator was the American firm Occidental. The £2 billion
insured loss was paid largely by the Lloyd's of London insurance market.
Barack Obama, in accusing British Petroleum and, by implication,
Britain, follows a “Machiavellian dictum
that, if a ruler has problems, he should start a war to unify his people
against a common enemy … his is a war of words … with falling
popularity, a failure to implement his election promises, a resurgence
by the Republicans, and a messianic style of oratory beginning to grate,
Mr Obama is merely buying time”.
It is the Americans who issued the licences to drill in the Gulf, who
use the oil, who claim taxes from the oil giants, who made the equipment
that failed – and of course who own 40 per cent of BP.
And this letter in the Telegraph, together with the image
alongside, both of which concentrate the mind alarmingly:
SIR – Americans want oil. They use more than any other country.
They have grown rich on it. They pay less for it than most other
countries. BP has bent over backwards to contain the spill, and
has stated that it will pay in full all costs.
Mr Obama has done nothing except criticise what he
continues to call "British" Petroleum. BP is not British. It is
Anglo-American (40 per cent British, 39 per cent American,
employing 10,000 British employees and 25,000 American workers).
Is it not time President Obama did something more constructive?
Sam Hall, Dorking, Surrey
A bird is mired in
oil on the beach at
East Grand Terre Island on the Louisiana coast
“It's awful - why did nobody see it coming?”
The Queen, back in November 2008, gives her verdict on the global credit
IT WAS a question which resonated with us common or garden surfs,
baffled at why politicians, bankers and City experts – the so called
‘professionals’ paid huge salaries because if you want the best then
only the best rewards will do – all failed to spot the financial ambush
just over the horizon.
Probably life's most
depressing feature is the lack of inherent wisdom exhibited by the
principal movers and shakers of our world. From Presidents and Prime
Ministers, via bankers, CEOs, scientists and engineers, to journalists
and columnists who sit in judgment on the aforementioned, nobody appears
to be able to sense the inevitable ambush.
Let’s return to the Deepwater Horizon disaster (and what an apt
name that is): deep-sea oil drilling deploys the most advanced
science imaginable, indeed there
is no complex human activity where disaster, and often tragedy,
does not lie in wait.
However, some of the time humanity has an astonishing
capability to recover (Apollo 13), but more often than not it
doesn't (Challenger and Columbia shuttle tragedies).
Given the high-risk technology in use it is
mind-boggling that BP did not have in place instant emergency
procedures to cope with a blow-out. Even more unbelievable that
Obama’s administration issued licences without insisting such
belt-and-braces procedures were in place.
Stable doors and bolting horsepower spring to mind.
Challenger explodes shortly after launch
For all his perceived intelligence and ability to talk the talk, Obama
appears unable to walk the walk. The warning signs were there during his
inauguration, when he had to be sworn-in a second time, in private. 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 to know where one paused and the other
took over. As any comedian will endorse, timing is everything. That
Obama’s lack of wisdom failed to warn him was a warning writ large.
As I learnt early in life, be sure to ignore the grand,
sweeping, self-important statements that people make, it’s those
spontaneous, throwaway lines that indicate the character of the
individual (in Obama’s case, “I know whose arse to kick” joins up the
dots rather perfectly).
My take now is that Obama is just typical of those who rule over us. He
is totally lacking inherent wisdom, something which will cost humanity
dear. Even worst, he attempts to cover his weaknesses by becoming a
bully - witness the way he publicly berates BP.
Smiles of the World Cup
The footie arrived with predictable fanfare. Adrian Chiles wittily
introduced ITV’s coverage of the whole shebang thus: “Hello folks. It’s
arrived. It feels like Christmas morning when you’re a kid doesn’t it.”
Which he followed up with: “If you’re a kid who’s bunked off school to
watch this we can’t condone it … but we fully understand.”
The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics is fresh enough in
the memory to stand comparison with football’s effort.
Both were a riot of movement and colour, but whereas
the Olympic affair was all precision the World Cup was, well,
all over the shop, all very African – and that’s not a
criticism, in fact I think I prefer the freedom of the football
However, watching the opening ceremony on ITV, I was
astonished that they went for an ad break, especially given the
ceremony was not particularly long. I switched to the BBC’s news
channel, but was again amazed that the bottom quarter of the
picture was covered by a thick red band telling me what I was
Not all that long ago I recall reading a report claiming that aliens are
already among us, disguised as humans. Personally I think they are all
in television, softening us up with their subliminal dumbing-down, ready
for the final push.
Back with Chiles and his “It feels like Christmas morning”: for England
fans Christmas morning arrived with the game against the USA - but the
gorgeous BMX they’d written to Santa about turned out to be an exercise
bike clearly going nowhere (not helped by the ‘Hand of Clod’ headlines
when goalkeeper Robert Green dropped the ball and watched it roll over
However, the typical England fan didn’t burst into
tears because Santa, probably just like his or her dad, is a rotten old
tease, and the BMX is obviously hidden in the next room i.e. the next
game against Algeria.
As we now know that particularly
dreadful game was made memorable by the bird which perched
itself atop the Algeria goal, confident that this was the safest
place in South Africa. I enjoyed a couple of bits from the
papers. The first from
Midway through the first half an African Speckled Pigeon
(Columba guinea), searching for a suitably quiet spot to settle
down and maybe raise some kids, found the ideal place on top of
the net in Algeria’s goal. They are not stupid, pigeons – and
this one had taken a look at Heskey and Rooney and come to the
same conclusion you probably reached: never in a month of
was still there, quite unruffled, at half-time, possibly asleep.
This was as witless, passionless and Shambolic a display from England as
I have seen in a couple of decades; bereft of imagination, torpid and
threatless. It’s a shame the enraged England fan who tried to break into
the dressing room didn't reach his target but was stopped by David
Beckham, with whom he “exchanged verbals”; it is time a blast of
reality, in the shape of an ordinary person, intruded into these
people’s gilded and cosseted lives.
Wayne Rooney, a hulk of staggering ineptitude for 90 minutes,
incapable of passing or trapping a ball, let alone scoring,
seemed to believe the fans were wrong to boo at the end. Perhaps
he thought they had played well, done their best. They take the
adulation for granted; they believe they deserve it, no matter
Now there’s telling it as it is.
Then this letter in
of Southampton, and headed
Simon Barnes says that the bird on the Algerian goal net was a
“laughing dove”. I thought it was a mocking bird.
Leading up to England's critical and final group game against
Slovenia ... spotted at the entrance to our local bookmaker -
see alongside - I was much taken with the Angelic Holistic
Living bit ... it made me want to "contact Layla Lewis" and
tell her to get in touch with Wayne Rooney, pronto.
Be that as it may, clever bookie, for there
would have been plenty of locals prepared to punt a few pounds,
if only for old time’s sake. I did think ‘more in hope than
anticipation’, but strange things happen when England is all at
Come blow your horn
IN THE meantime, a musical interlude. The 2010 World Cup will
undoubtedly be remembered for the vuvuzela - in chorus they really do
sound like a squadron of bees doing aerobatics inside your head - at
least the sound coming out of the television sounds just like that. What
it must be like sitting next to one going full blast really doesn't bear
I enjoyed the two images above (sound muted, of course). I'm also amused
that England and the Union Jack are inexplicably linked - neat picture
Before leaving the vuvuzela, France performed
more abysmally than England, even failed to make it out of the group
stage. Clearly France's va-va-voom was hijacked and castrated by the
England, however, sneaked a slovenly win against
Slovenia and crawled into the last 16...
Football is a game in which 22 men run around for 90 minutes – and then
the Germans win
Pundit Gary Lineker on the state of English football
Yes, predictably, England got thumped by the Germans. Monday morning’s
headlines were also predictable and witty...
Great front pages by both Daily Mirror and Daily Star - but The Sun
abandoned its usual wit and came over all serious and righteous. It
doesn't look right, somehow. Oh, what's missing is the Daily Mail's
front page headline, compliments of Richard Littlejohn wonderfully OTT
view: "if The Few had defended as badly as England we'd all be
speaking German now"
What most of us will remember of that game though was the
extraordinary disallowed goal. It really is astonishing that
just one man, the President of FIFA, Joseph S (Sepp) Blatter -
pictured alongside - can block the use of modern technology in
the game, something which other sports have enthusiastically
embraced, indeed it adds to the excitement and tension of the
Mind you, I do appreciate that football is a game of
continuity, so where do you draw the line at what can be
referred to the video ref?
However, I’m sure I remember something that in certain
European competitions FIFA has been experimenting with two
additional officials, one behind each goal line – so that should
sort out whether the ball is over the line. Fingers crossed.
A couple of final thoughts on the footie, as well as the players and
management: the first, a letter which appeared in
submitted by a
of Morecambe in Lancashire:
Syed writes that the England national football team members are getting
bored sitting around in their hotel, owing in no small part to Fabio
Capello’s rigid training regimen. He quotes Wayne Rooney as stating that
a typical day at the England HQ in Rustenburg consists of “breakfast,
train, lunch, bed, dinner, bed”. Has Rooney (and other national team
members for that matter) thought of reading a good book? But then again
that’s a silly idea, isn’t it?
remembering that back in 2006 Wayne Rooney signed the biggest sports
book deal in publishing history, when the
then 20-year-old agreed a 12-year contract with HarperCollins to write a
minimum of five books for an advance of £5m plus royalties - yes I know,
crazy world, crazy people - it prompted me to submit this response to
Sit right down and write: Sir, Why should
Wayne Rooney read a book? He has done what most contributors to this
Letters page have never done, write a book. Indeed if the amount of
money bandied about is anything to go by it has to be a tome awash with
wit, wisdom and fellow footballers dribbling all over the place.
I am reminded of one of my favourite exchanges
from American sitcom
Cheers! Coach, the dopey but hugely loveable bartender, turns
to bar owner Sam: “Tonight, after years of hard work, I hope to finish
old devil,” responds a surprised Sam, “you never let on you were writing
“I’m not writing a book,” says a startled
Coach, “I’m just reading one.”
Sadly, it didn't make the cut. Oh yes, Rooney’s books are ghosted by
writer Hunter Davies – in common or garden speak that means that the
footballer won’t actually be writing a word himself. To repeat myself,
crazy world, crazy people.
And secondly, on the England manager, Fabio Capello, a letter in the
T D Neville
of London Town:
SIR – "We trained hard; but every time we were beginning to form teams
we would be reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to
meet any new situation by reorganising; and a wonderful method it can be
for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion,
inefficiency and demoralisation," said Petronius, in the first century
Perhaps Fabio Capello should have studied the writing
of his countryman.
Get your kit off, love - you're booked
HOWEVER, my favourite smile thus far surrounds the Dutch fans ejected
for wearing mini-dresses...
FIFA ejected 36 female
fans from their World Cup match with
for wearing an orange mini-dress designed by a beer company. The dresses
were made by
and despite the outfits containing no branding, except tiny
tabs near the hemline, the organisers said it was against their rules on
What a wonderful expression: ambush marketing.
Especially as life is one big ambush anyway – see England footballers.
"It's a nice dress, very fashionable,” Peter Swinkels, from
beer, told South African newspaper, The Star. “In my opinion, people
should have the right to wear whatever they want. We launched the orange
item on April 30 on the Queen's birthday, which we call Queen's Day. The
Dutch people are a little crazy about orange and we wear it on public
holidays and events like the World Cup."
Barbara Kastein, who was wearing the dress, explained
what happened: "We were sitting near the front, making a lot of noise,
and the cameras kept focusing on us. We were singing songs and having a
good time. In the second half, about 40 stewards surrounded us and
forced us to leave the stadium. They pushed us up the stairs, and one of
the girls fell. The police came and kept on asking us the same questions
over and over, asking if we worked for
They said we were ambush-marketing and it was against the law in South
Africa. They said we would be arrested and would stay in jail for six
months. Girls were crying. It was bad."
After a few hours questioning all the girls were
released although Kastein said that the police took a copy of her
passport and told her they would investigate the matter further. A few
flags were also confiscated during the Group E match at Soccer City as
part of FIFA's plan to protect its World Cup brands.
Oh yes, ITV football pundit Robbie Earle was sacked
because some of the girls were found to have tickets in their possession
which were believed to be part of Earle's allocation for friends and
family that had been passed to a "third party". Earle, an ITV pundit
since 2002, said: "Call me naive but I didn't think I was doing anything
wrong." All I can say is, poor bugger, especially given the pleasure the
incident gave so many people, me included.
think that Sepp Blatter would spend a little more time protecting the
brand of football itself - see above re disallowed goal - than being
obsessed with ambush marketing. I mean, the thing is
beer has enjoyed the sort of publicity that money really can't buy. And
just to add my halfpennyworth...
jubbly, or whatever the appropriate expression is for
In future we can look forward to ever more ingenious
methods of ambush marketing as brands grasp the enormity of the
publicity to be gained. Cheers! Here's lookin' at you,
Just as I'm about to post this bulletin, news that Sepp Blatter has
apologised to England for the AWOR goal (absent without reason but
without intending to look stupid) - oh, and Mexico regarding an
outrageous off-side goal that should never have been allowed against
them - and he also announced that FIFA will after all now explore
further the use of goal-line technology. Hallelujah!
With the shamed England squad now back on a level playing field in dear
old Blighty, I couldn't resist this to round things off...
No, you really
couldn't make it up. Perhaps it should read that they were just along
for the "ride and gory".
Election Day, 6th May 2010
– and counting...
Good Day for a Hanging
We must indeed all hang together, or,
most assuredly, we shall all hang separately
Benjamin Franklin: Remark at signing of Declaration of Independence, 4
A FEW moons back, around the time the Tory party’s unassailable
lead in the polls had curiously and mysteriously ebbed away, I
chuckled at a Heath cartoon in The Sunday Times.
It duly registered as my ‘Smile of the Day’ – and just
for the record, I took a picture of it. On election night, just
as the exit poll indicated a hung Parliament, that image came
floating back into my mind's eye ... and here it is,
going to hang out the politicians on the Westminster Line,
Have you any dirty politicos, mother dear?
We're gonna hang out the politicians on the Westminster Line,
'Cause the hanging day is here.
With apologies to Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy
paraphrase the above World War 2 song because, over the May Day bank
holiday weekend preceding Election Day, BBC2 had a Dad’s Army
weekend. It featured the first ever episode, broadcast in 1968, in black
and white, followed by the Dad’s Army 1971 feature film, and all
rounded off with the documentary Don’t Panic: The Dad’s Army Story.
It’s an astonishing 33 years since the squad hung up
their uniforms – and the humour hasn’t dated to this day. Repeats still
feature in BBC2’s list of Top Ten rated shows. Truly remarkable.
As I watched the Dad’s Army tributes I was struck by
the notion of life
imitating art – imitating life i.e. Home Guard at Westminster-on-Thames.
So much so I submitted a letter for publication – but unfortunately the
editor did not share my off-beat view of the political world. I show the
letter here, as submitted, prior to the election – and I
highlight that because hindsight is a wonderful tool. Anyway, here goes
– but first, a reminder of the TV series’ central characters, seen here
as chess pieces...
SO WHO do you think you are kidding, Mr Politician? Not since World War
2 has Britain found itself in such a mess, whether financial, spiritual
or moral – but sadly our politicians appear more Dad’s Army than Battle
of Britain heroes.
The pompous but essentially brave Captain Mainwaring is
Gordon Brown (“Mr Brown goes off to town on the 8.21 / But he comes home
each evening and he’s ready with his gun”): “The economic crisis had
nothing to do with me, Wilson – but I did save the world, you know.”
The too-smooth-by-half Sergeant Wilson is of course Lord
Mandelson of “I’m here, I’m there, I’m everywhere – so beware!”.
Young Pike is David Miliband, resplendent with banana
and scarf (knitted by his dotting mum, Hilary Clinton).
Mention of Pike brings to mind the captured U-boat
captain, perfectly portrayed by David Cameron, ominously
scribbling names in his little black book.
The Reverend Timothy Farthing, whose passion is bell
ringing, is Nick Clegg: we appreciate that Clegg’s “The EU
President is God” message is central to his credo, but most of
us remain disbelievers, which is why we tend not to partake in
communion with the Lib Dems. If you recall, the Good Reverend,
along with the Warden (Vince Cable) and Verger (Lembit Opik),
combined to make Mainwaring’s life more difficult than the Nazis
ever did. So Brown and Cameron, beware the Nones of May – the
day after the 6th.
Private Cheeseman (the Welshman played by Talfryn
Thomas) is of course the much missed Rhodri Morgan (during the
making of Dad’s Army it seems the other cast members were most
unhappy because “Taffy” was getting too many of the laughs!).
See what I mean by life imitating art?
And of course there’s Private Joe Walker, the local
wide-boy. Well, who else could possibly play the spiv but Tony
Dai Miliband, the next Labour leader(?), resplendent
with banana but no scarf: Slip-a-dee-doo-da...
You'll remain as hostage here.
Should wit and wisdom disappear,
They will hang you never fear,
Most politely, most politely, most politely!
With apologies to Gilbert & Sullivan’s Princess Ida
to that infamous 10 o’clock exit poll on election night, the
pundits expressed disbelief – not that it showed the predicted
hung election result, but at the collapse of the Lib Dem vote
... When every one is somebodee / Then no
one's anybody! It's fascinating to compare the exit poll
with the actual result:
Lib Dems: 59
Lib Dems: 57
The extraordinary accuracy of a poll of 18,000 voters
across the UK is startling. Even more astonishing, the political
colours of the country after the election.
Looking back at the letter above, what makes me smile is my take
about most of us remaining disbelievers regarding Clegg’s
Europe. Who would have guessed that my
tongue-in-cheek remark would be so near the mark. More by luck
than judgment, for sure. Oh yes, I said the Warden was Vince
Cable and the Verger Lembit Opik – for no other reason than
those were the only two Lib Dem names that meant anything to me
(excepting, with that hindsight, Paddy Ashdown and David Steel,
of course). And now even Lembit Opik has been kicked out.
“Nick: I'll just be hanging round the mistletoe,
hoping to be kissed.”
Paraphrased from Love Actually
RIGHT, confession time:
I was one of
the 35% of the electorate who did not vote. In fact I can’t remember
when I voted in a General Election – which brings me to a letter in one
of the newspapers the morning after David Cameron became PM:
SIR – The Tories are reported to have lost key
marginal seats by just 16,000 votes. What do we have to say about the
million eligible people who did not care enough to so much as
cast a vote?
Peter Sheppard, Bleary, Co Armagh
So here's a
response from someone who clearly does not care quite enough...
vote or not to vote: I am one of the 16 million or so who did not
vote on May 6, so I guess those who did deserve an insight into the mind
of a non-voter.
In a democracy an election is a time when I am allowed,
indeed encouraged, to be totally selfish. I need think only of myself –
all you lot out there have your own crosses to bear. Given my modest but
contended station in life, and having pondered the options – mostly what
I could hear were three cuckoos discussing how they were hoping to lay
jumbo sized eggs in our cosy little nests – I concluded that it would
make not a jot of difference to me which party occupied No 10. I
certainly never considered that a coalition would be on the cards.
Indeed, as someone who does not even boast an honours degree in
hindsight, let alone foresight, I am still not sure what I would have
Be that as it may, and with a glorious rainbow over
London Town as Cameron entered the Palace to meet the Queen, I certainly
threw some metaphorical confetti over the coalition.
As usual, and for better or for worse, Shakespeare has
a useful expression to hand: Many a good hanging prevents a bad
Finally, a reference to that wonderful
picture captured during the final televised election debate, of
Brown and Clegg with legs in the air, as per the famous
Morecambe and Wise “Bring me sunshine” routine.
Anyone who enjoyed the Morecambe and Wise shows will
recall the marvellous Janet Webb, pushing the duo aside at the
end of every show with her “I love you all!” routine.
Even better, harmonica player Lembit Opik – oops!,
Arthur Tolcher, kept appearing on stage in evening wear and
would play a few bars of his mouth organ only to be told “Not
now, Arthur!”. And he’d slink away, tail between legs.
So my abiding memory of this election is of Brown
and Clegg telling Cameron: “Not now, David!” And then, blow me, Dave and
Nick end up in bed together – just like Eric and Ern. You really
couldn’t make it up.
There is an addendum: paradoxically,
I tend to vote in local elections, for no other reason than the
candidates are more often than not personally known to me, so I can
therefore decide which person will do the best for me.
Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying: 'Make me
Never forget this message when working with people.
Mary Kay Ash
letters caught the eye during the public hanging. This from Richard
Longthorp of Howden in East Yorkshire:
note that all three major party leaders say that what we need now is a
government that will govern in the "national interest", almost as though
this is a novel concept. Who else's interest would they govern for? Not
their own surely?
This delightful one from Richard Nash of London E1:
I see that David Barnes, the Independent English
Delegate candidate for the Hertford and Stortford seat, polled no votes.
Truly independent – he appears not to have voted for himself.
And of course, a taste of the arguments ahead apropos proportional
representation. This from Jeremy Goldsmith of Newark-on-Trent,
Nottinghamshire: If parliamentary seats were
allocated to parties on the basis of votes cast across the country, the
Liberal Democrats would be delighted with their total of 150 seats.
However, the public may be surprised to discover that the British
National Party would have received 12 seats, and the UK Independence
Party 20, even though in no single contest did either party rank higher
than third. Plaid Cymru, on the other hand, would have no seats – it
currently holds three. Thus, proportional representation would reward
parties which hold extreme and unrealistic political views, when no
constituency would be happy to have such a party representing it in
And finally, this from Mandy Sivers from Munich, Bavaria,
Germany: Is it too much to hope that there will be
discussion about the various versions of PR before it becomes an icon in
the minds of the public, which is either accepted or rejected without
discussion? Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London by one version –
Germany uses another. There are worlds between. We need to know before
we can decide.
Change is the only constant. Hanging on is the only sin.
WAS inevitable that Gordon Brown would have to let go the reins sooner
rather than later. Following his resignation as PM, it was fascinating
to hear Peter Hain describe his statement as one of dignity and courage.
Elaine Morgan, who writes ‘The Pensioner’ column in the Western Mail,
described him as a leader who won respect by “his transparent decency,
intelligence, hard work and public spirit”.
As is obvious from my non-vote, I am not a political
animal, but as I’ve pointed out previously, I never rated Brown because
of how he shafted our pensions. When he first came to power he knew the
country was sitting on a pensions timebomb: people living ever longer
and putting intense pressure on funds to pay the nation’s old age
pensions; the intolerable burden being transferred onto the next
generation by index-linked public pensions; and private individuals
simply not pumping enough money into their own private pension funds to
secure a reasonable old age.
Yet, the first thing he did was siphon a staggering £5
billion a year from our private pension funds (something akin to what
crook Robert Maxwell did to his staff pension funds) – and then the
following year Brown increased his and other MPs’ pensions by nearly
25%. Elaine Morgan and Peter Hain may kiss Brown's feet, but personally,
Brown is the very last person in the world I'd hand over a blank, signed
cheque to. When it comes to power, he is a man without ethics.
Oh yes, dignity and courage? Hm, dignity, of course,
how else would he have behaved? But courage? Now is that courage as
displayed by our troops in Afghanistan fighting on his behalf? Or
courage as when he smiled and was all sweetness and light to Gillian
Duffy’s face – but ruthlessly rubbishing her with his "bigoted" comment
as soon as her back was turned?
To my sense of what is right and what is wrong he is simply
being two-faced - but you decide.
Now what was it Samuel Johnson wrote?
“Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows
he is to be hanged in a few hours, it concentrates his mind
Or something like that.
Whatever, the best picture I stumbled upon to sum
things up was this sign spotted by a Marilyn Ambroziak on
the door of a snack bar at Twickenham Station, London.
And there I shall close the book on Gordon Brown. Amen.
Smiles of the Hanging
on helicopter shots of David Cameron's motorcade:
"Don't you just love pictures of cars. Cars driving along motorways.
the morning after E-Day: “The British people
have spoken, but we don’t know what they’ve said yet.”
confronted by a journalist after losing his ‘safe’ seat:
“Commiserations.” “Thank you, I deserve them.”
Mind you, I did admire Opik for going on Have I Got
News For You the night after being dumped, knowing he would be
mercilessly pilloried. And as it happens, he also gave us a brief burst
of mouth organ music during the show – hence the aforementioned
reference to Arthur Tolcher of Morecambe and Wise fame.
a smiley scribbler of London Town, asked by a ‘small, round Spanish
woman’ in St James’s Park to “tell me way to Daveeed Cameron
please?”: “Turn right, keep on turning right, and
then do a U-turn left, cuddling lots of trees as you go.”
Sadly she only just thought about it ... she was afraid the woman
wouldn’t get the joke. Good one though.
invites the audience on the BBC’s election night programme to respond:
“Nice to see you... ...”
Which they did - exceedingly half-heartedly. I wasn’t sure whether
to laugh or cry – which is why at that point I turned off the telly and
scuttled off to bed.
And of course there’s that wonderful exchange between
Adam Boulton of Sky News and Alastair Campbell, Labour's head
witch doctor - oops! - spin doctor. Watch it on You Tube:
Adam Boulton (Sky News) v Alastair Campbell
Wonderful stuff. Also, take a look at this spoof...
Adam Boulton to Alastair Campbell "I'm
as mad as hell"
I commend it to the house. I'm
still laughing. A contributor on the site sums it up thus:
"F****** brilliant!" Can't fault it.
So there we have it. A new political dawn. Just a couple of
images to round off the election section of this bulletin.
The media is now awash with people on the sidelines
asking: "What do you think of the show so far?" And plenty out
there shouting back: "Rubbish!"
See, there's no getting away from Morecambe and Wise.
An impressive litany of letters surfaced in the
Telegraph under the teasing headline:
David slays Goliath Brown and wins the love of a fellow warrior
- at least until the tragic dénouement...
What I did enjoy was the image that accompanied
the various letters, namely this wonderful Cima de Conegliano
painting, photo compliments of The Bridgeman Art Library...
Biblical coalition: Jonathan with David carrying off Goliath’s
Oh yes, to paraphrase one individual’s take on things:
many commentators and activists approach the
coalition in the vein of a Scotsman being forced to say nice things
about an Englishman. Something which Gordon Brown had to do all
the time - which perhaps explains his duplicity. Damn. I had closed the
book on Brown.
Finally, just today, something on the notice board of a local
supermarket caught my eye. It’s publicizing a concert by a group called
The Men They Couldn’t Hang, and I do believe one of the group hails
from this 'ere Dodgy City…
The gig was arranged way back, obviously, and the event has been
advertised around town from way before Election Day. With that in mind,
and remembering that the theme of this bulletin has been Good Day for
a Hanging, take a moment to peruse the notice in its entirety.
SHALL round off this bulletin with an XXL smile, something which relates
to the previous bulletin, as discussed directly below – namely the
dreadful to-do over the ongoing volcanic eruption in Iceland. It’s a
letter from The Times...
An easy way to remember the name of the Icelandic volcano
Sir, The continued problems of
atmospheric ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano make it
increasingly important to be able to remember the name. May I suggest a
somewhat bucolic “Hey, a fella’ yokel”.
Dr Robert Bruce-Chwatt, Richmond,
I did enjoy that – but I loved this online response even better...
Thank you indeed Dr Robert, now all we need is a similar device for the
latter part of your surname.
May 10, 2010 6:40 PM BST on community.timesonline.co.uk
2010: Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!
COUPLE of stories have dominated the news since my last Look You
bulletin, both having “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!”
writ large all over them. One was something dark and brooding and
menacing - cold on the outside, boiling on the inside -
National and international distress 'events'
which decided to blow its top without warning and throw life as
we know it into total confusion. The other was, of course,
a volcano in Iceland.
Let’s begin then with Gordon Brown who, on Wednesday April 28th,
had what is euphemistically called a ‘car crash event’, or
indeed a ‘Mayday event’.
But first, a couple of proper car crash events which happened on
consecutive days around the middle of April. When I saw the
first picture, coming up below, I remember thinking to myself:
parking a car in the middle of a quarry is asking for trouble
... but then I noticed that the Yaris is parked on a roadside
Joan Hall of Hayfield in Derbyshire had just popped to
the Post Office when this huge rock toppled off a passing lorry
and onto her parked car. Thankfully there was no one in the car
– but it makes you realise just how fine the margin between life
and death really is, especially with boulders that size on the
The picture was captured by neighbour Adam Chatterton,
while Joan Hall herself summed up the event thus: "I've had a
lot of things happen in my life and this is actually a minor one. I’m
going to write a book one of these days.” The mind boggles; oh, and the
sooner she puts pen to paper the better, I'd suggest.
The second involves a learner driver, 24-year-old Krisztina Jaksa, who
ended her second driving lesson by crawling out of an upside down car at
Headington, near Oxford. Crossing a junction, she inadvertently hit the
accelerator hard, collided with a gatepost, and the car – a British
School of Motoring Fiat 500 – flipped onto its roof. Both driver and
instructor suffered only minor superficial cuts.
I show these images because car crash events come in
threes ... to be continued...
Everyone called Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be world-infamous
for 16 minutes
10.30 on 28/4/10
“I used to make him lay the table too until I
realised one day, once all the guests were already seated, that the
reason I didn’t recognise the tablecloth was because he’d laid all the
places on top of a checked duvet cover.”
Sarah Brown on her husband the Prime Minister.
Perusing the Western Mail while enjoying a
cup of coffee after returning from my morning walk, I see the above
quote in the newspaper’s They said what?
column – and it makes me smile. All I know of Sarah Brown is what I see
in the shop window, the media – and I have to say I don’t object to what
I see. Similarly Samantha Cameron and Miriam Clegg, all agreeably modern
women. Unlike Cherie Booth, QC. Now I don’t hate Mrs Blair, I can’t even
say I dislike her – she has never personally stepped on my toes – but
much to my chagrin I feel no affection whatsoever for the woman. I have
no excuses except my instinct for survival.
Anyway, back with Sarah Brown ... after briefly
contemplating a Mrs Merton sort of question: "So, what first attracted
you to the prime minister-in-waiting, Sarah?" – and failing to come up
with an answer – what happens next could best be described as…
Brown’s Barmy Barney
Gordon Brown, while on a common-or-garden walkabout, meets an ordinary
woman living on an ordinary street going about her ordinary business of
buying a loaf for lunch. Her name is Gillian Duffy. She could be
anyone’s much loved mum or grandmum. Gillian Duffy and Gordon Brown
have, what appears to those who stand and stare, to be a perfectly
civilised conversation, even including the dodgy bit about immigration.
Gordon Brown gets back in his official car and concludes, confusingly,
that the encounter was a total disaster. A radio mike records his
conversation with his communications director Justin Forsyth – and for
the next hour he should begin to feel like Chicken Licken as the Sky* starts to fall on his head.
Even though it was a pooled mike – the captured conversation available
to all broadcasters – it just happens that the actual equipment belonged
to Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News. Hence the Sky falling on his head.
Oh yes, if you recall, Chicken Licken and friends meet
up with Foxy Loxy – who gobbles them all up and they never get to see
the King to tell him that the sky had fallen. By another coincidence,
Fox News also belongs to Rupert Murdoch. Say nothing is best.
[When I first heard of Brown using the word ‘bigoted’, I wasn’t all that
sure what it meant – I had an idea, obviously, but it’s a word I can’t
say I’ve ever used; as if by magic, the following day this helpful
letter, from a Vic Parkes of Witney in Oxfordshire, appeared in the
Daily Telegraph: SIR – My dictionary tells
me that a bigot is "a person blindly and obstinately devoted to a set of
ideas, creed or political party, and dismissive towards others". Why is
it that the words "pot" and "kettle" spring to mind?]
What happens next will enter political infamy (Brown: “Infamy, infamy,
God’s got it in for me.”). The series of events are well captured by the
Daily Mail’s online newspaper, where each twist and turn is captured,
with the time shown thereon. The two most memorable images are those
below. The first, the precise moment when Gillian Duffy learns what
Gordon Brown has said about her, behind her back - with an expression to
die for - which is precisely what happens...
...16 minutes later, when Gordon Brown hears the tape on Jeremy Vine’s
Radio 2 show, and realises that his conversation is out there for all to
hear. For those 16 minutes Gordon Brown was in free fall, without
realising it, but from the moment he recognised the mess he was in, it
“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” – and he and his
party begin the impossible task of repatriating the sky (pun intended).
Quite how well they succeeded will only be confirmed on election day.
One comment from the Western Mail’s political
journalist, Tomos Livingstone, summed up how cleverly one individual
handled it: "But the most well-judged
contribution of all came from the man with the most to gain. David
Cameron said nothing at all." Say nothing is best.
But it’s what happens next that gets up my nose. Labour politicians and
supporters defending Gordon Brown’s gaffe kept insisting that we all
make such embarrassing remarks when off-guard. Even a phone-in on Radio
Wales perpetuated the myth. Presenter Jason Mohammad kept saying that we
all do such things. Even a teacher and a headmaster rang and confirmed
that they said unkind, even nasty, remarks about their students in the
privacy of the staff rooms.
Pardon me you lot, but we don’t all bloody well do
Of course we all talk behind people’s backs – good,
bad, indifferent – but not everyone does what Gordon Brown did: say
pleasant things to someone’s face, but as soon as that person's back is
turned, stick the knife in. For example, I hardly ever listen to Jason
Mohammad on his phone-in because I just don’t like the aggressive way he
talks down to listeners who phone his show. If ever I meet him I
certainly won’t be telling him what a great broadcaster he is and what a
credit he is to his profession, rather, I’ll tell him exactly what I’ve
If what Jason Mohammad and the two teachers say is
true, that both the media and the teaching professions are full of
ignorant, two-faced people who say one thing to our faces - and then the
direct opposite behind our backs - then it’s no wonder that our world is
in such a mess.
Thankfully, I know plenty of people who are not cursed
with such duplicity – they may well think dark thoughts, but those words
never pass their lips. Perhaps this is what separates politicians and
the media from ‘ordinary’ people like Gillian Duffy.
Oh yes, the two car accidents above. As mentioned, the
media labelled Gordon Brown’s gaffe a ‘car crash event’. Well, and as
stated, these things come in threes. I caught on the news an item about
Labour launching their final range of posters: all the top cats were
present, including Brown and Mandelson, and as the Good Lord spoke, in
the background ... CRASH!
Unbelievably, and much to the benefit of gleeful journalists present, a
car had crashed into a bus shelter while apparently attempting to avoid
a refuse truck whose driver was shouting abuse at Gordon Brown and his
crew. Now you really couldn’t make that up. It's what's called a
knock-for-knock car crash event.
Before leaving politics, the other fascinating aspect
of this election has been the televised debates. I watched parts of the
first and the second - a bit of rugby on the box diverted me from the
Anyway, I am
no political animal, but I was mesmerised by the Pavlovian behaviour
exhibited by the participants: look directly at the questioner for some
10 seconds, then look down the eye of the camera for 20 seconds or so
... brief eye-contact with the questioner again – back to the camera
lens… The party leaders reminded me of a farmer acquiring a sheepdog
trained by someone else.
In the first debate David Cameron rushed straight
through the flock, dividing them, his eyes all over the place. By the
second encounter he had listened to his master’s voice and rounded up
the flock with aplomb. Nick Clegg performed perfectly first time out,
but like an inexperienced collie, come the second debate he had
forgotten what he did first time out, and this time his eyes were
all over the shop.
Poor Gordon Brown confirmed the old adage that you
simply can’t teach an old Border collie new tricks.
As I say, I never saw the final trial, but what I did enjoy on
the Friday morning after that debate was calling at the local
newsagent for my paper, and noticing the Sun and the Daily
Mirror lying next to each other on the shelf.
It is worth remembering that on the previous morning,
the day after the 'bigot' affair, the Sun’s front page read
Brown Toast. Next morning
the Sun's headline, alongside, is easy to read (except
"But Cameron's full of beans"),
while the Mirror adds a sparkle to the Cameron smile, plus:
"More fibs and froth than ever! Guaranteed! Price: £6bn in
Easy to tell then that the Sun supports the Tories,
while the Mirror is shouting "La-bour, La-bour, La-bour...!"
Ashes to ashes...
THE OTHER recent event of note was the grounding of all aircraft
following the volcanic eruption in Iceland. Now this was
a proper “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” reaction because the only
previous experience of such a dastardly event was back in 1982
when a British Airways 747 flew into a cloud of
ash thrown up by the eruption of
Galunggung, south-east of Jakarta, Indonesia,
resulting in the failure of all four engines – alongside, an
illustration of the 747 without power, in the ash cloud.
The reason for the failure was not immediately apparent
to the crew or ground control. The aircraft was diverted to
in the hope that enough engines could be restarted to allow it
to land there. The aircraft was able to glide far enough to exit
the ash cloud, and all engines were restarted (although one
failed again soon after), allowing the aircraft to land safely.
So the blanket ban was wholly understandable.
What happened over the next six days, with all airspace closed, is well
documented. One letter I saw from a D G Dudley of St Asaph in North
Wales noted all those jumbo jets lifeless on the ground – and wondered
if we were seeing a second mass extinction of dinosaurs?
Anyway, come Saturday the 24th and all the
grounded planes are flying high once more, catching up with all the
grounded passengers dotted about the globe, but as a direct consequence
I experience a remarkable ‘weather’ phenomenon.
The Saturday forecast had promised one of those
picture-perfect days: blue skies and a gentle southerly breeze
generating a splendid spring-like day – with cloud moving in during the
evening and overnight to give a dampish Sunday.
Now I leave home on my early-morning walk about 30
minutes or so before sunrise – it’s the best time of day to catch life
on the wild side – see
400 Smiles A Day
for some prime examples - however, that morning, the moment I set off
there was something not quite right. Why all the cloud cover?
Here in Llandeilo we lie directly under the Green air lane which handles
traffic between the UK, Ireland and all points west. From first thing
that Saturday morning, I couldn’t help but notice the intense volume of
aircraft coming in from the west. What drew my attention were the
contrails which, due to the prevailing air temperature up there at
around 30,000 feet, were not disappearing into thin air as per usual,
but merely dispersing gently in a northerly direction. The effect was
disturbingly spectacular, giving a hazy, ‘white cloud’ cover –
there was clear blue sky to the south of the air lane, just as the
forecast had promised.
Here's an image from that morning, confirming the
effect of the contrails...
If you look
from the sun towards the horizon, what you see is not cloud cover, but
condensation (you can just about still make out the dominant grid lines
of all the vapour trails as they converge on the directional beacon atop
the Brecon Beacons). Now that's what I call the white elephant of our
extravagant addiction to air travel. (There's also a photograph over on
At first I thought the increased traffic was down to
extra flights laid on to bring stranded people home, but as the aircraft
kept coming and coming I concluded that all traffic from the busier
route over Northern England, Scotland and the north Atlantic must have
been diverted south because of volcanic ash.
There are always plenty of aircraft coming in from the
west from about six o’clock every morning as they head mostly for
Heathrow and Gatwick. But this was different.
Though rules of separation vary depending on the airspace in which a
jetliner is flying, in general, air traffic controllers and pilots are
required to maintain a horizontal distance of five nautical miles
between two aircraft flying at the same altitude. For altitudes at and
below 29,000 feet, vertical separation must be maintained at a minimum
1,000 feet. For altitudes above 29,000 feet vertical separation must be
maintained at a minimum of 2,000 feet.
Anyway, over a period of some three hours, and what seemed like a few
hundred aircraft occupying every allocated space available, I watched in
astonishment as clouds appeared to form out of the condensation trails.
These two photographs coming up show how the contrails
the same contrails ... just four minutes separate the two photographs,
which gives some idea of the devastating effect so many aircraft vapour
trails can have in blocking out the sun.
The image alongside actually shows a couple of clouds – these
are the ones I watched forming out of the condensation. A quick
Google did indeed confirm that this does happen when there is
intense vapour cover. Astonishing.
But what effect is all this pollution having on our
finely balanced environment? It doesn't bear thinking about.
Following on from the resumption of flights, the inquest starts,
in particular, were the restrictions much too cautious?
Given the current election and the debate about whether
we should be ruled so dominantly by
Europe, I read that a
branch of the European Aviation Safety Agency made it law that
single-seat gliders of over 500 kg must be insured against
hijack - absolute doolallyness writ large - so were such severe
If you recall, BA sent up a 747 to fly through the ash clouds to
determine what effect it had on the aircraft. Of course the
ironic thing is that the Met Office was unable to establish a
complete picture of the volcanic ash cloud over Britain until
almost a week into the crisis because its very own specialist
monitoring jet - a BAe 146, with laser measuring equipment,
pictured alongside - was out of action due to a refit. Can you
believe that? You can’t blame the Met Office if the aircraft had
been due for a refit – but ponder that ... it was out of action
at the only time its services had been required in a real
situation. Now that’s what I call a ‘plane crash event’.
Smile of the Day
"WELL, you can't have come far."
Prince Philip adapted the traditional royal greeting -
"Have you come far?"
when the planes were grounded.
I prepare this bulletin, the Jamie Owen & Louise Elliott show on
Radio Wales is on in the background. I pause to listen because they’ve
just launched a ‘Grow your own marrow’ challenge, and invited
listeners to join in, obviously. They have, of course, called it a
Marrowthon, ho, ho, ho! Listeners are already climbing onto their
beds and planting away, one lady has even christened her potential
winner Fia Marrow. Marrow-vellous.
Then they play a song dredged up from the BBC’s archives: The
Marrow Song, by Billy Cotton & His Band. Talk about a
trip down memory lane. It makes me smile because not only is it
a catchy little tune, but it is one of the many songs from the
first half of last century which is riddled with delightful
innuendo. They don’t play it all, sadly, but Louise decides it
would make a perfect theme song for the challenge.
Hearing it made me smile so much that I took a trip
down You Tube for a listen.
I highly recommend the journey. Look out for ‘The
Marrow Song (Oh what a beauty) – Billy Cotton’ ... which
will then take you onto ‘Oh What A Beauty’ by Truro
Old-time Music Hall – which is truly smiley. This in turn
took me onto ‘The Pheasant Plucking Song … Gone Wrong’,
as well as ‘Lost My Little Yoyo’ – and on and on – a most
entertaining break from rounding off this bulletin.
What I love about all these old songs is how they used
innuendo to get round the strict censorship of the time.
Great fun – and highly recommended, if a bit of light-hearted
entertainment fits your bill, that is.
Isn’t it truly astonishing what is hiding away out
there on the internet?
Easter Weekend 2010
In like a lamb, out like a lion – with some cock-a-doodle-do along the
07.54, Easter Monday - Solitaire, bell of the ball, makes her grand
appearance (see Smiles of the Day)
BUT, FIRST THINGS FIRST: Every day is a day at school, just
as it promises on the tin, right? Right, so...
Spot the deliberate errors
(or rather, spot the Antonym Charles Lynton Blair)
first became PM, this was the size of my truths.
I then invited Honest Alastair Campbell into my life...
when I resigned as PM,
this was the size of my truths."
Before leaving the mucky world of politics, I enjoyed this letter in the
Telegraph, from a
Phil Holbrook of Cardiff:
All elected bodies are like socks. If they are not changed regularly
they become unpleasant.
Yes, and if Tony Blair is anything to go by, they also become
ANYWAY, back to business: coming up shortly is a link to last
November, a piece titled “Birth ... Passage ... Death” (life and
death – including the journey in-between – as captured in the Towy
Valley), in particular, the curious case of the handsome little pied
wagtail that kept attacking my car, all tweets blazing.
Before we go there, the feature I did back then came
back to me just last week while listening to Radio 2’s Dawn Patrol
with Sarah Kennedy. She
Hampshire couple who had contacted her regarding some house sparrows
that had taken up hostilities against their two cars, or more correctly,
the cars’ side mirrors and windscreens, and in the process leaving lots
of unwelcome deposits all over the vehicles. So bad has the problem
become they now have to cover the mirrors to stop the birds attacking
them. However, the wee things have countered and taken to landing on the
mirrors as they motor up the short drive to their house.
But here’s the thing: the birds totally ignore their
neighbours’ vehicles. Why should this be? Sarah concluded that while the
birds were obviously attacking their own reflections - the expression
bird-brained springs to mind - she had no idea why
should ignore next door's. She invited answers...
Having experienced precisely the same problems with the
aforementioned pied wagtail, I believe I have the answer, so
decided to e-mail the show. However, I was listening on iPlayer,
and experience confirms that if you contact any radio show
outside its broadcast parameters, communications tend to get
dumped without anyone looking at them, which sadly is the way of
the modern media.
I shall give it another early morning shot following
the holidays, when Sarah is back on point duty.
Be that as it may, for those unfamiliar with my close
encounter of the bird kind – with added pictures, sample shot
alongside – click
"Who dat say who dat?"
Still on the subject of birds, another letter in the Telegraph caught my
eye, from S A Ford, Pontycymer,
I have a large bird table and some
hanging feeders outside my kitchen window. In sunny conditions,
birds had a tendency to fly into it, seeing the reflection of
the garden. To solve this I covered the window with a screen of
black plastic mesh, available in any garden centre. It only
affects my view a little, and any careless fliers merely bounce
off without harm.
The birds seem oblivious to my face at the window, and
I am able to study great spotted woodpeckers, nuthatches and
finches as closely as if they were perched on my finger.
Well, I think I appreciate what S A Ford is saying, but once
you've had a totally wild songbird trust you enough to perch on
your finger and look straight into your eyes - see the little
bluetit, above, recently befriended in the Towy Valley - anything else
might as well be a mile away; see also further up, on the right, and at
the very top - be sure to click
400 Smiles A Day
to witness a pair of musical tits doing their thing.
Easter eggs and chicks...
RIGHT, I'm back on course, but still with the birds, surprise,
surprise: Easter Sunday, lunchtime, and there’s a face at the
kitchen door. It’s Heather, my landlady, from the big house.
I beckon her in: “Happy Easter, Huw.” And she presents
me with a neat little Easter egg.
I’m quite taken aback – not at Heather’s kindness,
which is a default characteristic, but rather, I haven’t been
the recipient of an Easter egg since, oh, I dunno, since I was
knee-high to an April Fool’s prank. Lovely.
This is all delightfully relevant because along my
early morning walks through Llandampness, what with Easter
looming on the horizon, a couple of shop window displays had
caught my eye.
The first, seen at a hair salon, Cutting Edge,
with always an appropriate window display, whatever the time of
year; this holiday period is no exception, the centre feature
being a jumbo Easter chick, as captured alongside.
Well, it made me smile.
The second window, which regularly features displays that make me
stand and stare, is Fountain Fine Art. Although I’m not a
natural-born collector of works of art - or a collector of
anything, really, except fond memories, that is - I invariably
admire what’s on view.
This time, what catches my eye is a painting by a
Beth Marsden, titled Confetti.
Unless I am much mistaken, isn't Easter a window into
the wedding season? In which case the painting is rather apt.
Unfortunately, I was unable to take a picture of the
painting in situ, which I prefer, due to a window frame
spoiling the view of the painting – it’s a quite large piece at
35” x 43” – but I eventually found it on Fountain Fine Art’s
own website, and it's featured alongside.
However, the photographic image doesn’t quite do
justice to the real thing, which is much more vibrant; a quality
I guess which applies to every painting when viewed “live”.
Whatever, I thought the real thing incredibly
eye-catching - I felt like throwing some rice over it - and
wasn’t all that surprised that it was only on show for a few
days, at least in the main window display.
A snip at £890 for Mr & Mrs Right, I’d have thought.
Every Which Way
MY PREVIOUS bulletin was posted on St Patrick’s Day, but in the bulletin
before that, I’d included the letter I’d had published
in The Times newspaper headlined Radio My Way, where I pointed
out that, as a fan of popular, middle-of-the-road music, I’ve been able
to shape my own personalised radio station compliments of the BBC’s
iPlayer, and that one of my favourite shows is Radio Ulster’s Sunday
Club. Imagine my surprise then when I heard my name mentioned on the
Sunday Club: a regular listener, Bill Green, had sent Club president and
show host, John Bennett, the Letters page from The Times, so I dropped
Sunday Club a few lines to introduce myself – which John duly
acknowledged on his show, even gave this web site a mention. Thanks,
One of the songs John played on that particular show
was Max Bygraves’ Toothbrush song
(I’m a pink toothbrush, you’re a blue toothbrush).
My goodness, my Guinness, whenever I hear these old treasures it whisks
me back to childhood and Children’s Favourites on the wireless. Ah yes,
Uncle Mac on the old Light Programme (the forerunner to Radio 2).
With a smile on my face I typed Uncle Mac
into Google ... and duly landed on Whirligig, where it lists many of the
songs featured on the show: The Laughing Policeman, Twenty Tiny Fingers,
Little Red Monkey, Hoots Mon (more of which later), and on and on … I
commend to the house a quick scroll/stroll down memory lane. So many
treasures, songs specifically aimed at my generation’s delightful
innocence – and still enjoyed by those who loved them back then.
Indeed I distinctly remember Derek McCulloch (Uncle Mac) on one show
apologising profusely about the record he was about to play – but, he
added, music tastes were achanging and Children’s Favourites had to
reflect the times. I am as sure as sure can be that it was an Elvis
Sadly, childhood now appears to have been cancelled, so
no more Davy Crockett (Born on a mountain top in Tennessee), Robin Hood
(Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen), Three Wheels on My
Wagon (and I’m still rollin’ along!) – oh, and who could forget Charlie
Drake’s Please Mr Custer (shrieks and ‘Red Indian noises’ in the
background: "Please Mr Custer, I don’t wanna go..."). Boys will be boys,
It makes me realise just how lucky my generation was because our songs
of innocence effortlessly morphed into Bill Haley and His Comets, Elvis,
the Beatles, the Stones … Truly the best of both worlds.
as I am putting this together, and by a curious coincidence,
Owen Money’s Saturday morning Money for Nothing is on the
radio, and he mentions the recent death of Fess Parker, the
Hollywood actor who found fame in the Disney classic Davy
Owen goes on to play the famous Davy Crockett song. (He
later plays Jim Reeves’ Distant Drums – but that’s
another story.) What delightful memories though. And here’s an
oddity I spotted in ‘Davy Crockett’s’ obituary: Fess Parker
died yesterday (March 18) of natural causes. He was 85.
I say oddity: when did you last hear of someone dying
of natural causes? That news cheered me up no end – I mean,
thank the Lord, we don’t have to die from something truly
horrible which is entirely our own fault. Amen to that.
centre, wearing his trademark
racoon-skin hat in the role of Davy Crockett
Returning to Max Bygraves' Toothbrush song, it takes me back nearly
three years when, in the middle of the bluebell season, I’d come upon
some white bluebells, and the first thing that came to mind was “You’re
a pink toothbrush, I’m a blue toothbrush” – so I adapted the words to
match. I think it’s worth a repeat, with picture to match - the picture
is last year's mind, for this spring's bluebells are running way behind
schedule after our cold winter ... however, see
Smiles of the Day, below, for they are coming up smartly on
You’re a white bluebell, I’m a
Have we met somewhere before?
You’re a white bluebell and I think bluebell
That we met on the woodland floor.
Glad to meet
bluebell, such a sweet bluebell,
How you thrill me through and through.
Don’t be tough bluebell on a coy bluebell,
‘Cause I can’t help loving you.
Every time I sniff your bouquet …
It makes me go all way-hey …
You’re a white bluebell, I’m a blue bluebell
Will you marry me in haste?
I’ll be true bluebell, just to you bluebell,
And we both have no time to waste.
[with apologies to ? (Anonymous), who penned the original
"Don't knock the weather. If it didn't change once in a while,
nine out of ten people couldn't start a conversation."
Kin Hubbard (1868-1930)
AS A LAD on
the farm I recall a slice of weather lore: "If March comes in like a
lion, it’ll go out like a lamb" - or indeed, "If April comes in like a
lamb, it’ll go out like a lion". Statistics insist that we are more
likely to have a white Easter than a white Christmas – over the past 50
years, according to Paul Simons in The Times, it has snowed over the
Easter weekend 13 times. Indeed, in this part of the world, the Black
Mountain and the Carmarthenshire Fans were distinctly white on Good
Friday morning – but clear of snow by Saturday.
Anyway, back with that piece of weather lore regarding
the lamb and the lion. Here’s what the weather entry in my diary said on
March 1: Clear, moonlit and frosty first thing,
mist developing towards sunrise, a coldish and misty morning, sunny by
late morning – then a beautiful but chilly rest of day. All
very lamb-ish, then.
And the entry for March 31?
Very wet and windy start and morning, much colder with rain and sleet,
snow on higher ground. A really cold day with sleet and heavy snow
showers all day, but not sticking – much snow about on higher ground...
Indeed, this was the day when a 17 year-old Scottish schoolgirl was
killed in a bus crash due to the snow; widespread chaos and power cuts
in Northern Ireland; here in Wales we got away with just a few closed
roads over high ground, such as the Black Mountain. And it was the first
day of 2010 for the weather to cancel my morning walk.
There has probably never been a more clear-cut example
of “In like a lamb, out like a lion”.
Saturday I captured the picture coming up. With the hardest winter for
30-odd years, the noticeable difference this year is the grey, anaemic
look of the fields. Farmers have an ambivalence regarding a really cold
and frosty winter: the bitter weather and snow covering certainly gives
the ground a rest and kills off many unwelcome bugs; on the other hand,
farming becomes exceedingly difficult and a burden what with frozen
water pipes and stock having to be fed.
With temperatures slowly rising during March, nature
suddenly sprung into action. Fields which have been bare of stock take
on a lush, fresh look, while fields where stock, such as sheep, have
grazed all winter, retain their sickly hue.
In this photograph of land just across the valley from where I live, you
can see the field which hasn’t yet had a chance to recover due to
grazing stock - the sheep are still there - while the surrounding
fields, which have remained stock free (and, incidentally, not yet had
any fertiliser applied to give the grass a boost - too early and too
cold), are up and running.
The power of nature to recover, eh?
A memorable image
Today, April 5, space shuttle Discovery was launched to rendezvous with
the International Space Station (ISS). Only three such missions remain
before all the shuttles are retired, and quite what happens afterwards
nobody is quite sure because the Russian Soyuz spacecraft can only
deliver and retrieve tiny amounts of cargo compared to the shuttle.
Also, the shuttle carries seven astronauts, compared to only three on
Soyuz. On this mission there are three female astronauts, who will join
up with a fourth already on the ISS, which will make history as the
first mission with four women.
A couple of curious facts: a Soyuz Expedition was
launched last Friday, April 2, to dock with the ISS; secondly, the ISS
maintains a docked Soyuz spacecraft at all times to be used as
an escape craft in the event of an emergency.
Anyway, featured alongside, a fabulous image released
by NASA: the silhouette of the shuttle Endeavour photographed
against the earth’s horizon, as captured by an Expedition 22
crew member prior to docking.
I shall really miss the shuttle in orbit. When both
shuttle and station are docked the resultant view from earth is
just that little bit more spectacular.
But most of all I shall miss the shuttle riding tandem
with the ISS, when it's preparing to dock – as featured in the
picture alongside – or indeed just after separation.
Smiles of the Day
A loose moose
ALREADY mentioned in these despatches are a couple of letters from the
Telegraph newspaper, but here’s part of a piece by columnist
Bryony Gordon who,
“was enjoying a goblet of foul-tasting bitter in
her local when a DrinkAware poster on the wall ruined it”.
Apart from her article reminding me of my own local
Crazy Horse Saloon (before it morphed into the Crazy Horsepower Saloon),
something quite amusing came to pass as a consequence of what I read. I
quote from her article...
To the pub, where the air is thick with dust,
testosterone, and the lingering smell of carpet that was last cleaned in
1983. The pub has an in-house covers band, whose members are exclusively
middle-aged and male. They specialise in reinterpreting the work of
There are three types of fruit machine, and a computer
that allows you to play golf without actually playing golf. As
actually playing golf has always struck me as a peculiar way to pass
your time, this machine seems like an oddity, a massive metal waste of
There are guest ales. Oh how I love the idea of
guest ales, if not necessarily the taste. It's like a flagon of beer
turning up to stay for the weekend. And in the windows, a lovely touch:
some insects who have been dead so long that they have fossilised and
become one with the pub.
Yes, I like this place. I am happy here, with my goblet
of foul-tasting bitter, the sound of Born in the USA ringing in
my ears and the wings of dead moths on my coat. But there is just one
problem, and that problem is the poster on that wall over there.
It's not a big poster – it's no larger than a sheet of
A4 paper – but it's difficult to ignore, such is its message. On it is a
funny pair of spectacles and their case, which is inscribed with the
motto: "Cupid & Sons: distorting reality since 10,000BC." These
spectacles, you see, are beer goggles! Ho, ho. And under these beer
goggles are the words: "Afraid you'll pull a moose? Stay focused by
pacing your drinks."
Well, it took several members of the in-house band to
stop me tearing this poster from the wall ("No no! They'll spit in your
guest ale if they see you!"). The moose poster had been produced by
DrinkAware, the charity which promotes safer drinking and is funded by
the alcohol industry...
All the above made me smile - as I say, you'll find Bryony hanging out
in the Telegraph. Anyway, she goes on to rubbish linking a moose with
sexual hang-ups, and concludes thus:
In this campaign,
DrinkAware has failed to realise that the whole reason young people get
blind drunk is to pull indiscriminately – a moose, an elk, a reindeer...
anything at all, really. When you are young, you drink to get drunk and
you get drunk to get laid. There is no other way.
I particularly enjoyed this online response from Nick R:
Pulling a moose, would for me, be a step
in the right direction although one might like to take a few
more steps further from quadruped towards bipeds and the apes -
naked or otherwise. However, it is always best not to be too
ambitious - and suffer disappointment as a consequence of
failure, by trying to jump too far in one leap. I think I'll
stay sober and single, thank you all the same.
Whatever, I went online in search of a female moose (the only
spec being no antlers, but a beard) and came up with the one
alongside. Now I believe that to a frisky male moose, the sexy
lady here, beard and all, is Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Kim
Novak, Vanessa Williams and Doris Day, all rolled into one.
But here’s the funny thing, especially as I’ve been rabbiting on about
all those old songs transporting me down memory lane: the first thing
that came to mind reading Bryony Gordon's piece was "hoots mon,
there's a moose loose, aboot this hoose” – yes I know, a different
sort of “moose”, but let’s not quibble about such a small detail.
Back on Google and You Tube I serendipitously trip over Lord
Rockingham’s XI performing Hoots Mon. Talk about never being
properly dressed without a smile. A wonderfully cheery song, with just
two lines of lyrics: "Hoots mon, there’s a moose loose, aboot this
hoose" and "Hoots mon, it’s a bracht, bricht, moonlit nicht".
Right, here's the amusing bit I referred to at the top of this
particular segment: while searching the internet for a suitable image of
a female moose, I stumbled upon a web site selling - ta-rah! -
inflatable female moose – honest, I do not lie, and here she is, the
gorgeous creature. The mind boggles...
This all reminds me of burly British actor Oliver Reed, who juggled over
60 film roles in 40 years, including a full-blooded social life of
women, booze, and bar fights (“I have two ambitions in life: one is to
drink every pub dry, the other is to sleep with every woman on earth”);
in particular, his appearance on Desert Island Discs, especially
his Luxury request (in
addition to the eight records, the castaway can select a book and a
luxury item which must be inanimate and have no practical use), and he
of course chose a blow-up woman. Wonderful.
Mind you, if ever I have to lie down in a darkened
room, a blow-up doll, I’d have thought, would have some very practical
use. But back to the blow-up moose ... concentrate now...
Yes of course, it's perfectly obvious – they use them as decoys when
hunting – see above, the blow-up doll in action. Every day a day at
school. Hoots mon, there's a hot moose loose...
So the last word on the subject goes to this online piece about Oliver
Whether he was brawling with the Cardinal's guards as Athos in The
Three Musketeers or staggering his way through singing The Wild
One on a TV chat show, there can be little doubt that Oliver Reed
never did anything half-heartedly.
"Life should be lived and that's all there is to it",
he once remarked - and he certainly lived his life with a gusto that has
rarely been equalled.
Wake up call
When I first
heard the expression "labradoodle", I thought, hm, it must be someone
with an honours degree in chemistry who doodles Bunsen burners and test
tubes - but it turned out to be a dog, a cross Labrador retriever and
Listening to Owen Money over the weekend, he told the
tale of a couple from Merthyr who travelled to the West Country to buy a
labradoodle puppy. Sadly, all had been sold - but, with much enthusiasm
the breeder informed the disappointed couple that he had succeeded in
crossing a cocker spaniel with a poodle: "Will a cockerdoodle do?"
stop press "Solitaire" news at the top.
reported in these bulletins, I’ve developed a great interest in the
appearance of the first bluebell of the season, a true harbinger of
spring to my mind. There's one particular spot where I annually keep a
sharp eye out for a particular bluebell which is always first off the
mark. I fondly call her Solitaire.
She resides in a secluded and sheltered south-facing woodland
spot, a real suntrap.
Over the past 10 years or so (excepting 2001, the year
of the Foot & Mouth outbreak), the bluebell's appearance has
varied between March 18 and March 30 - apart from a couple of
Spring 2006 was really cold and late, and Solitaire
didn't make her appearance until April 8; and 2008, with its
unusually mild winter and spring, she appeared, astonishingly,
on February 28. I even had a letter in The Times about it.
So what would 2010, the coldest
winter for years, reveal? This very early morning, April 5, a
windy, chilly and overcast morning – there was little Solitaire,
all shy and curled up.
The bluebell is very difficult to spot at this stage,
hidden amongst the rich, green foliage, and I really have to
peer. I took a picture, with flash, and I think this highlights
rather well its incredible elegance and beauty, even at this
How long it
will take to open into the bluebell we know and love – well, the weather
will definitely decide that.
But I’ll tell you what, seeing Solitaire is definitely my favourite
smile of today.
Saint Patrick’s Day (17th March 2010)
“Holy, Holy, Holy! all the Saints adore Thee...”
IN MY PREVIOUS bulletin I pondered why the 1st of March, the
day we celebrate Wales’s patron saint, is not a public holiday – or a
bank holiday as we call such days – and if it were, would it raise the
nation’s profile. Well of course it would, silly.
This point was perfectly highlighted just the other day when I
glanced at the desk calendar squatting in front of me ... the
image is captured alongside. Yes, my eye was drawn to the
I’m a great believer in the power of the subliminal
message: how the things we are not consciously aware of register
in our subconscious, and as a consequence affect our behaviour.
I flicked through the rest of the calendar ... the only
highlighted dates are the traditional holidays – Easter,
Christmas, New Year, etc...
It struck me as odd that there are no public holidays
for any of our other home grown patron saints, not even one for
the Patron Saint of Great Britain – I know, I know, there is no
such creature, but you would have thought that somewhere along
their stalk through time our stupid politicians would have
realised just how high profile having such a public holiday is.
I mean, just look at the worldwide razzmatazz that surrounds St
Patrick’s Day, not to mention all the incredible publicity it generates
for the Emerald Isle. Publicity that money can't buy.
Just above, I referred to our “home grown patron saints”, but
intriguingly, of the four patron saints of Great Britain and Ireland,
only St David of Wales was born and bred in the land he is said to
protect. St Patrick did spend his adult life in Ireland, but the other
two – St George and St Andrew – lived in the Middle East and Asia Minor,
and never set foot in the British Isles.
ALL THIS talk of the power of the subliminal message neatly leads me
towards last weekend’s rugby international between Ireland and Wales at
Croke Park in Dublin. Ireland were the clear favourites, what with Wales
having not played particularly well all season – especially so given the
interception tries they have thrown away (and discussed in the previous
bulletin). But, as always, Wales is the land of magic and mystery and
dragons, so write off the nation at your peril.
As it happened Wales were never in the game. But why? I
have a theory ...
came during the week leading up to the game, when the usual insults were
exchanged and Wales coach Warren Gatland was described as a “menopausal
Clearly Ireland has both Blackadder and Baldrick in its
backroom team, for apart from the aforementioned and typical Blackadder
insult, they came up with an exceedingly cunning plan to ambush Wales.
As soon as the band struck up the Wales anthem our boys
set off with one voice, at the usual brisk pace – but the band had other
ideas. The lads were quickly reined in and they had to sing the anthem
at probably the most laboured pace I have ever heard. It was all very
funereal. The subliminal effect worked wonders, for Wales never got up
to speed again.
Paradoxically, the Irish anthems were sung at a
cracking pace, which duly reflected in their play.
Oh how Welsh rugby in general and the WRU in particular need a
few Squadron Commander The Lord Flashhearts at its heart:
Lord Flashheart of Blackadder, if you
recall, is boisterous, arrogant and appears very attractive to
all the women he comes in contact with (that's the fellow,
He is extremely popular among his peers, and
immediately becomes the centre of attention whenever he enters a
room, usually by bursting through a wall in a spectacular
is to shout "Woof!" or "Let's dooooooo it!" very
loudly, while thrusting his pelvis suggestively. He commonly
uses sexual innuendoes in ordinary conversation: "Am I pleased
to see you, or did I just put a canoe in my pocket?"
What Welsh rugger desperately needs are not those who
fret about their sexuality nor go trundling along the hard
shoulder of the M4 in the early hours of the morning in a golf
buggy, but rather players who come bursting through a lineout or
a loose maul in spectacular fashion shouting: “Let’s get the
rewind a little, if you doubt the subliminal observation about
the affect of anthems – okay, it was said somewhat
tongue-in-cheek – ponder the New Zealand haka, the war dance
which the All Blacks perform before every international.
Many believe it gives the All Blacks an unfair
advantage. Yet most teams have an excellent opening quarter
against New Zealand, and that’s because the adrenalin that
surges through the All Blacks also triggers the opposition.
It’s invariably in the final quarter, after they have
worn down the opposition, that the Blacks twist the knife.
"I've got a plan - and
it's as hot as my pants."
On a more
general level, in the not too distant future, the devastating subliminal
effect of endless television and radio broadcasts coming into our homes
and vehicles as background wallpaper will become apparent.
After all, when you have trash people churning out
endlessly trashy stuff it should come as no surprise that we all become
Smile of St
KEEPING with things Irish and the game of rugby, just heard this
delightful tale about the legendary Irishman Tony O’Reilly,
international businessman and former international rugby union player
(capped between 1955 and 1970), and generally regarded as one of
humanity’s genuinely larger-than-life characters – but
first things first:
SIR ANTHONY JOSEPH FRANCIS O'REILLY, (born 7 May 1936, Dublin,
He is known for his dominance of the
Independent News &
which he led from 1973 to 2009, and as former
and Chairman of the
H.J. Heinz Company.
He was the leading shareholder of
Perhaps Ireland's first billionaire, he remains one of Ireland's richest
As a rugby player he represented Ireland, the British and
Irish Lions, as well as the Barbarians. With six children and 19
grandchildren, and married for the second time, to a Greek shipping
heiress and horse breeder, he lives primarily in Lyford Cay in the
Bahamas, and Kilcullen in Ireland, with frequent stays at Glandore.
Known for his typically Irish charm, wit and turn of
phrase, this tale from his rugby days ... Having not played a game for a
while and consequently a bit out of shape, just before leaving the
changing room and running onto the field one of his team-mates
registers the strong smell of liniment and remarks rather jocularly
that O'Reilly smells like a hospital's accident and emergency
“I always use an excess of embrocation,” O’Reilly
responds, “working on the theory that if you’re not fit, then you should
As it says on the tin:
“Holy, Holy, Holy! all the Saints adore Thee...”
2010: Saith diwrnod ym mis Mawrth (Seven days in the month of March)
Dechrau gyda Dydd Gŵyl Dewi (Starting with Saint David’s Day)
Back to square one
THIS IS where I came in, the first day of March, all of three years
I’ve had a look back to see what my musings were on that first
outing ... hm, a standard blog, charting my wide-awake day,
kicking-off at five in the morning – and underlined via the
smiley Gail Porter painting, alongside, which she presented to
charity Paint4Poverty for auction to
raise money – so my typical day went thus: red ... amber ...
green ... green + amber ... red – which took me right up to ten
in the evening and bedebyes.
Life in 2010 unfolds much the same as in
2007, except now of course I’ve moved out of town and returned
to my country roots, so my routine has changed slightly. Oh, and
these days I only occasionally visit the Crazy Horsepower
Saloon, again due to my move. Talk about missing the gossip and
the smiles. No wonder pubs are closing at such a rate if my
changing lifestyle is anything to go by.
Headline of the day from the Western Mail
for St David’s Day holiday
A CALL to declare St David’s Day a public holiday has received
all-party support in the National Assembly. Politicians across the four
parties yesterday agreed that the Assembly should take the lead in
campaigning for March 1 to be made a national holiday. Assembly Member
for South Wales Central, Owen John Thomas, said that a public holiday on
March 1 would raise
Wales’s profile as a nation...
No, that wasn’t from the St David’s Day Western Mail – well,
actually, yes it was, but it was lurking in the newspaper’s daily
Retro Report, and dated – ta-rah! – March 2000.
So here we are, ten years on, and still no public
Being self-employed and working from home
has its advantages. Most days when I awake I have no idea what
day of the week it is, mostly because it has no relevance to my
I work 363 days of the year, taking just a couple of
bank holidays, two days when I suspend being a sort of paid
slave: Christmas Day and St David’s Day. True, and as reported
above, the Welsh nation doesn’t recognise the first day of March
as a public holiday – but I do.
The phone is ignored, but I do leave the answering
machine on, just in case some emergency crops up.
Oh yes, I say "work 363 days a year”: what I mean is,
I’m available to work 363 days a year, which is slightly
different. I try hard to avoid work on Saturdays and Sundays.
Yes okay, Fridays and Mondays too, wherever possible. However,
the key word is “available”.
If duty calls, excepting my two bank holidays, or if
I’ve made other arrangements, then I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll
if a real emergency cropped up, even on my two bank holidays, I’d
still jump to attention. Truth to tell it’s a rather civilised way of
working – but you don’t make much money, just about enough to live on
and put a little bit aside, not so much for a rainy day, more a showery
one - which rather suits me and my modest needs.
After all, it’s the actual journey through time that
counts, not the mode of transport, or how many possessions you have
piled up in the trailer behind. And anyway, you can’t take your wealth
with you, all you can do is hand it on for someone else to piss it up
against the wall.
“Meddle not in the affairs of the dragon; for you are crunchy and taste
good with ketchup.”
VISITING the Telegraph newspaper's online web site, this caught my
Vote for your favourite Union flag
I clicked and perused ... I was surprised to note that the article
was dated December 2007, so why it should suddenly appear in its
Most Viewed section on St David's Day
is a curious mystery. Whatever...
The Union Jack should be redesigned and
the Welsh flag to represent Wales's "true place in
the Union", according to one Labour MP ... The
Welsh dragon does not appear on the Union Jack because when the
first Union Flag was created in 1606, the Principality of Wales
by that time was already united with England and was no longer a
Following an invitation from the Telegraph to its readers to
submit appropriate designs, a
broad range of
fascinating suggestions were submitted. A couple
caught my eye: the one above, delightfully dragon's
tongue-in-cheek - and the one alongside. (Sadly, I know not who
What I like about this second one is that it retains
the Union Jack format, something which makes it one of the most
distinctive flags in the world, along with the USA, Canada,
China, Japan and probably Brazil (not forgetting the Welsh flag,
obviously). But here the dragon doesn't dominate. It does just
enough for the viewer to wonder what it is that lurks at the
centre of the flag - and then hopefully proceed to investigate
and enquire precisely what the significance of the dragon is.
That way an awful lot of people who know nothing about
Wales would, fingers crossed, be intrigued by the answer.
To view the other designs – they're all worth a peep – click below ...
incidentally, if you’re puzzled by the gold bands included in some of
the flags you'll see, that colour represents the Flag of St David - or
St David's Cross - which many regard as an alternative Welsh flag,
Oh yes, be sure to read some of the comments, especially those from
readers who are, um, not Welsh...
Remembering that "everyday is a day at
school", the following from the Letters
column of the Western Mail, March 6...
Daffs v Leeks:
SIR – As far as I know Wales is the only
country in the world with a different
national emblem for each gender, making the
tradition of a leek for males and a daffodil
for females unique. It is with
disappointment that I’ve noticed in recent
years how both men and women increasingly
wear the daffodil (real or artificial) thus
eroding the custom of differentiation
between the genders.
I understand that it is still a surviving tradition
that soldiers in the Welsh regiments eat a
raw leek on St David’s Day. So let’s keep
Cool Cymru and continue to wear both the
Cenhinen (Leek) and the Cenhinen Bedr
HAYDN WILLIAMS, Llangain
Wel-i-jiw-jiw, I never knew that.
not the size of the dreamer, it's the size of the dream"
While on the subject of Wales, this was an amusing letter
in the Telegraph...
One eighth of a Wales
SIR – As a Welshman, I object to this new and untried
unit of measurement: an iceberg “the size of Luxembourg”
(report, Feb 27).
Arnold, Barry, Glamorgan
Which drew this response a few days later...
The size of Wales
SIR – I would like to reassure Ivor Arnold (Letters,
March 1) that the BBC’s preferred unit of measurement is
still a “Wales”.
The recent BBC programme Great Rift Valley stated: “It
is estimated that over the last 30 million years the
Rift’s volcanoes have poured enough molten rock to bury
an area the size of Wales to a depth of 15 miles.”
Perhaps in these circumstances Mr Arnold would prefer
it if it were a “Luxembourg”.
Drummond, Midhurst, Surrey
So I thought I’d submit the following...
Take the National Express when your size is a mess
SIR - Back in 1998, Divine Comedy had a well-deserved
hit with the jaunty and smiley National Express, a song
boasting a glorious line which offers the perfect
solution to size related matters: But it’s hard to
get by when your arse is the size of a small country.
So that’s the size of Whales then.
Oh yes, I stumbled upon the wel-i-jiw-jiw image
There are plenty more exceedingly smiley images
Sex, drugs and Perry Como
Also on St David’s Day, a letter in The Times, from a Joan Horton of
Slough, and headed
BBC Radio Oldies,
captured my attention...
Sir, Is there any hope that with its revamp of radio services the BBC
will at last consider the music needs of the older listener? The 50-plus
age group represents a huge and growing section of society, with many of
us at home during the day. However, most broadcasters sideline us. If
one is not a classics fan, weekday daytime radio music consists mainly
of wailing or thumping pop. Apart from Radio 2’s Saturday morning Sounds
of the Sixties, melodic mid-20th-century music appears to be relegated
mostly to Sundays, late nights and occasional weekday evenings.
A dedicated national station serving the older listener
is desperately needed. Music from the Twenties to the Seventies would
appeal to just about everyone over 50 and, I suspect, to a great many
young people, too.
As someone who enjoys classic, middle-of-the-road music, oh how I
Yes, I was there: sex (invented in 1963, I seem to
recall, but some
lucky sod nicked my fair share), drugs (still a virgin) and rock ‘n’
(very nearly like the curate’s egg*,
great in parts: Bill Haley, Elvis, the Beatles, the
Many early Elvis records are fantastic. What I love
about them is the wonderful harmony of his backing
group, The Jordanaires. Those early songs cleverly
bridged the gap between the music of the Forties and
Fifties, and what Elvis went on to become famous for.
The expression, "like the curate's egg; good in parts"
originated with a Punch cartoon published on November 9,
1895. It shows the curate, Mr Jones, straining to finish
his boiled egg while rather nervously breakfasting with
the Bishop and his wife.
The Bishop says: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr
The curate anxiously replies: "Oh no, my Lord, I assure
you, parts of it are excellent."
A good yoke - sorry, joke - one with great legs -
still going strong.
"True Humility" by
originally published in
Take Six: I’ve just taken a short break over on You
Tube to catch up with some of those early Elvis songs: All
Shook Up, Teddy Bear and Don't be Cruel (with a recently
discovered atmospheric video clip to accompany the song).
The Jordanaires, pictured with Elvis, alongside,
feature heavily on all of them. What an astonishing performer
Elvis was though, remembering of course that nothing like that
had been seen or heard before. He certainly had that magical and
Oh, Take Six: the songs mentioned above only
last a couple of minutes each. Wonderful stuff. Leaves you
wanting to play them again. And again.
Whilst I certainly enjoyed certain stuff from the rock
‘n’ roll brigade, what really caught my ear was the sort of
music produced by the likes of Perry Como, Jim Reeves, Ray
Conniff, Andy Williams, Abba, the Carpenters – so the above
letter in The Times really struck a chord. Which prompted me to
Radio Me: Sir, I abandoned Radio 2 as my default station when it
became the swinging parent of Radio 1. However, a dedicated national
music station serving the older listener already exists. It is called
iPlayer. A gentle trawl of national radio makes it possible to fashion
your very own station, based on the sounds you enjoy.
For example: Radio Wales has A String of Pearls
(popular music from the start of radio broadcasting to the Fifties), one
of the station’s most listened-to programmes, and Money for Nothing
(music from the Fifties to the early Eighties). Even Radio Cymru and
Radio nan Gaidheal play easy-listening music that transcends the
language barrier; Radio Ulster has Sunday Club (classic
middle-of-the-road stuff). There really is an Aladdin’s cave of period
music hiding out there.
It is curious that the Celts are in touch with the
music of the older listeners’ formative years while network radio is
not. But the tragedy is that those who have missed out most on the move
to contemporary music, driven by personality presenters, are the
elderly, most of whom have decided to bypass computers. There again,
what do the spotty kids who run Radio 2 care about them?
And it was published. But here’s the best bit: I’ve mentioned
before how I enjoy playing sub-editor, creating snappy little headlines
for each change of tack – which I’m not very good at, but hopefully
learning as I go along. Anyway, I’d headed the above letter Radio Me,
which I thought quite good – but The Times changed it to Radio My Way.
Brilliant. Leave it to the professionals.
The dragon queen
SO WHAT else infiltrated my thoughts during the first week of March?
Well, Wales duly lost against France in the rugby after gifting them a
20-point start, compliments of a couple of interception tries. Made all
the worst because in the fight-back against England a few weeks
previous, the boys again threw an interception pass which pushed the
game beyond them. So...
Important to be earnest
Oh dear, French Exocets on an intercept course... To paraphrase Lady
Bracknell: To throw one interception pass in a Six Nations series, Mr
Gatland (Wales’ rugby coach), may be regarded as a misfortune; to throw
two looks like carelessness; to throw three indicates an eye on the ball
but not the opposition; to throw any more will suggest that the other
nations have already read the book I was about to write: The Human
Condition: Creatures of Habit (or how to head ‘em off at the pass).
Also, on the 2nd of March the Western Mail carried a
full page feature about a huge Welsh dragon that would dwarf the
Angel of the North, and which could soon be built on the
The bright red bronze dragon – called Waking the Dragon,
pictured alongside – would stand at 210ft, incorporate a culture
complex and raise money for a cancer charity. The piece would be
the tallest public artwork in the UK. Already nicknamed “The
Dragon of the North”, it will sit on a gleaming 130ft concrete
and glass tower and have a wingspan of 170ft – bigger that a
Well now, there have been some extraordinary rumours doing the
rounds of late regarding the sexuality of several Welsh rugby
players – this following Gareth Thomas, Wales’ most-capped rugby
union player, announcing he was gay (he should have been a
wing-forward, then he could have switched from blind-side to
open-side, ho, ho, ho!).
Anyway, I have no problems with all of this – as I've
always maintained, the more the merrier, for it means all
heterosexuals have to try that much harder to keep the girls
Whatever, I thought combining the two tales in the form
of a Letter to the Editor made some sort of sense.
really am unsure what to make of this proposed giant dragon perched atop
a launch-pad tower up there in Chirk, North Wales. Will it be some sort
Anyway, I duly cut out Page 3 of the Western Mail dated
April 1 – oops! – March 2, and pinned it on the wall. Makes a nice
change having a proper dragon pouting at me from Page 3 – but I tell you
what, it strikes me as a bit effeminate, a limp-wristed dragon: more
door” than “Burn, baby, burn”.
Still, if Pussycat the Dragon is facing Offa’s Dyke
then perhaps “shut that door” is apt. On the other hand, Simon
Wingett, who is behind the project, may well have captured the
changing sexuality of a nation.
If the Campo Viejo Crianza
of gossip currently tumbling off the grapevine regarding the
confused sexuality of our frontline rugby players is only partly
true, the WRU must be thinking hard about adopting a new slogan:
Girls are okay but you can’t beat the real thing.
But hey, love and let love is my motto.
Personally, I blame the Russians. Back in the Sixties,
when the cold war was at its most intense, and JFK sent Russia
packing from Cuba with its tail between its legs, I believe
those rotten Ruskies got their revenge by pouring something
truly nasty into the West’s reservoirs.
But too late now to shut that door: the gelding has
* A fruity, medium-bodied red.
The truth, the
whole truth, and nothing but the – um?
ON FRIDAY, Gordon Brown appeared before the Iraq inquiry. Back in
January it was
Campbell: if he did not “beef up” the WMD dossier as many allege, he
certainly cooked up a bit of a stroganoff which gave the nation a nasty
bout of diarrhoea.
Blair then made his
appearance – and astonishingly admitted that he wouldn’t have done
anything different. Now c’mon, is there any other person on earth who
can, with the aid of that wonderful thing called hindsight, look back
over their last ten years and say with a straight face that there's not
a single decision they made that they would not have approached from a
slightly differently direction, if not the very opposite?
In the same week as Blair made his appearance, a remarkable series of
photographs appeared in the media. Michel Denis-Huot, a French
photographer, was observing a family of cheetahs in Kenya’s Masai Mara.
They were walking quickly but stopping sometimes to play together. At
one point, they met a group of impala who ran away. But one youngster
was not quick enough and the cheetahs caught it easily. For more than 15
minutes the cats toyed with the young antelope, licking it and resting
their paws heavily on its head. Usually such an encounter could only end
one way – but after a moment when one cheetah appeared about to bite the
impala’s neck, the animal collected its wits and bounded to safety. It
survived probably because the cheetahs had already sated their hunger
earlier in the day.
at this truly astonishing picture I found myself speculating
whether it's a perfect allegory apropos the inquiry into the Iraq war.
The pair of cheetahs are Sir John Chilcot and Sir Roderic Lyne,
while the impala being patted on the head is, of course, Tony
And with one bound, Bambi was free...
Oh yes, there was a serendipitous moment of schadenfreude when I
stumbled upon The Andrew Marr Show on TV and watched Alastair
Campbell, a perceived bully of the highest order, snivelling
pathetically because someone had said horrid things about him
and Tony Blair and their handling of the Iraq war.
Yes, modern life is a sob a minute; occasionally two
sobs a minute.
And then Brown in his appearance also confirmed that
the three of them had made no mistakes whatsoever. I really do
believe that the Chilcot enquiry should be quickly renamed the
Mandy Rice-Davies enquiry (as in, “They would say that, wouldn’t
No matter whether it’s Blair, Brown or Campbell, I
don’t think there’s one person in the country who wouldn’t have
been able to script their responses to a T.
As usual, the cartoonist comes up trumps, as The Sunday
Times' Nick Newman proves, alongside. Ouch!
Brown and Campbell appear on Desert Island Discs, one record they will
never take with them to the Island is Curtis Stigers' You're all that
matters to me. Well, the opening line goes: "I make mistakes like
Also, the Letters columns are wonderful character references; a couple
from the Telegraph appeared under the headline...
called the Prime Minister's remarks disingenuous
SIR – Gordon Brown's evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry was "disingenuous",
according to senior military officers. Surely he should be asked to
return and answer the points made.
Kirby Underdale, East Yorkshire
SIR – I was a little unsure of the precise meaning of disingenuous,
but my thesaurus helped me out. Choose from the following: "crafty,
deceitful, designing, dishonest, double-dealing, duplicitous,
fallacious, false, fraudulent, hypocritical, insincere, treacherous,
tricky, two-faced, underhand, untrustworthy".
Keith G. Donnison,
Anyway, talking of schadenfreude...
Schadenfreude moment of the
year (thus far)
Rod Liddle is a columnist who really does have all the answers to life,
the universe and everything ... well, according to him, anyway. Now pay
attention to a slice of wit and wisdom from his column...
Liddle and Large it
Errant MPs named by the Legg inquiry have, after appeal, paid back
£1.12m worth of expenses to the public exchequer. Meanwhile, the Legg
inquiry itself cost the taxpayer £1.16m. Maybe we should have just let
them carry on. You can get a hell of a lot of moats cleaned, duck houses
and porno vids for £400,000.
A week later this letter appeared in the newspaper -
and I admit that I never noticed...
A Liddle slip-up
It is fortunate for the ongoing credibility of our democracy that Rod
Liddle remains a media commentator and not a legislator (Comment, last
week). As any honest MP will tell you, £1.16m less £1.12m is £40,000,
not £400,000. I hope you are checking his expenses claims carefully.
Huw Thomas, Warrington Cheshire.
Rod Liddle writes for The Sunday Times and is a former
speechwriter for the Labour Party and editor of the BBC's Today
And you thought the media was awash with people you could rely
on to look after your interests. Mind you, one look at that
mugshot alongside and you have to admit that he does look a bit
of a twat (as David Cameron would have it).
Liddle and Large it
above his piece was my work. As mentioned previously, hindsight
is a wonderful tool.
Smile of the week
Newspaper headline, March 3: Extra small condoms for 12-year-old boys go
on sale in Switzerland
HOTSHOT condoms, which cost £4.70 for a packet of six, have been
created by Lamprecht AG, a leading condom manufacturer based in
A Lamprecht spokesman said: “The UK would definitely be
top priority if we market abroad.”
I dunno, don't you find that every day now has the feel
of an April Fool’s Day about it?
March 7, Stop press:
Gordon Brown today announced that he is changing the Labour
party's emblem from a red rose to a condom because it more
accurately reflects the government's political stance.
A condom stands up to inflation, halts production,
destroys the next generation, protects every dishonourable
member - and gives you a sense of security while you're actually
And over there, David Miliband struggles to get at his
jumbo condom - well, he is a jumbo member, so to speak.
Here's a great example of why, given certain conditions, an online
postcard trumps a newspaper version. Returning from my morning walk
along a country road, I notice in the field alongside someone admiring
and taking pictures of Dinefwr Castle, nestling there in the swirling
mist. It's a striking image, so I stop and capture it, but also include
the photographer who is admiring the view.
and cloudy conditions the order of the early morning, plus mist
churning about, it's very difficult to capture the moody,
threatening atmosphere of the castle, yet show a clear image of
the individual looking at the castle - or at least it is with my
rather simplistic camera. But here, it's what the camera sees,
Yet what I've noticed with newspaper photographs - and
similarly when making a print - is that an essentially dark
picture such as this has to be lightened quite dramatically,
otherwise the dark figure is lost.
I took another picture to make the watcher more
prominent - the result, alongside - and as you see, the person
is much more detailed, but the castle looses its dark, brooding
brooding presence, over on Postcard Corner there's a similar view - but
Saint Valentine’s Day 2010
SMILE OF THE DAY (incorporating 'A Postcard From My Square Mile')
Wilma Webb Ellis, aka Pussycat the dog and her blossoming theatrical
career, relegated from centre stage to Postcard Corner after just a
couple of days – click
to catch up with her adventures.
The problem is that Valentine’s Day has thrown up
something quite wel-i-jiw-jiw-ish. In fact, a couple of 'em.
BEING A reasonably cloudless dawn I
decide to set off extra-early on my walk because the International Space
Station, with the Shuttle in mating mode, are due to pass over at 6.39.
When I depart the cottage on my walk I climb a few fields before the
landscape plateaus at one of the highest points within the
Towy Valley itself, at roughly the same elevation as Dinefwr Castle
which sits about a mile or so across the valley. I then begin a gradual
descent towards Llandeilo.
the highest point I have to jump a fence as there’s
no stile or gate because it’s the boundary between two farms.
As I lever
myself over the fence I automatically look back in the direction
I’ve come from – and in the still dim, dawn light, something
catches my eye in the hedge. This is near the spot where I
recently came upon the trapped
deer, which I featured over on 400 Smiles towards the
end of last year.
My heart sinks as I see flashes of brownish, reddish
colours. It suggests that there’s something trapped in the
fence, and given the colours my first thoughts are that it’s a
bird, perhaps a pheasant.
However, as I move closer I register that it’s a
balloon of some sort, caught up against the fence and fluttering
in the gentle breeze. I grab it and study – a photograph
I presume it was used the previous night at a party or
some such like, has been released or escaped, caught the breeze
and come to a halt against this fence.
On the other hand it could be that Mother Nature has
specifically directed it my way: "From the Towy Valley birds and
bees - xx!"
Well, I can always live in hope, so I register what may well
turn out to be my smile of the day already - and wonder what use
I can make of it. I gently stuff it into my rucksack – it is
still slightly inflated.
I duly collect my paper at Dodgy City, but as I leave
town I hurry past a public phone kiosk ... but something stuck
to the window catches my eye. I stop and retrace my steps to
investigate. I smile again – and the reason why is shown
I have no idea who Mr Snellgrove is, or obviously who
the person is who loves him so.
But what a perfectly wonderful spot – I nearly said
lady, for it could be a gent – to announce your love for Mr
Snellgrove. I mean, on a telephone kiosk where those who both
use it and pass by can’t help but notice it. And in a way that
BT logo just above the declaration is perfect – two figures
merging into one. It made me smile XL.
I reach the valley: as I approach the spot where I feed
the birds I begin to formulate an idea as to what I should do
with my Valentine’s balloon. I prop it up against a fork in a
tree ... hold out my loaded hand in front of the balloon, with
camera in other hand ... and hope.
Normally a few of the birds will instantly land to grab
some feed, but this time they’re playing hard to get. This is no
surprise because the bright red balloon fluttering in the breeze
of a beautiful day must be slightly off-putting ... but a few do
make it and I manage to catch one or two in frame and in focus
... so here is...
A VALENTINE POSTCARD FROM
MY SQUARE MILE
My funny valentine: looking for
love and affection in the Towy Valley
That's it for this bulletin. See you soon.
Oh, lots of love and kisses!
24th January 2010
S’no business like sno' business
AH YES, the best laid schemes
o’ mice an’ men … how fortuitous then that I should round off my
previous bulletin quoting a wee bit of "Twas the Night before
Christmas", in particular: “Not a creature was stirring, not
even a mouse...”
I had planned to do a review of 2009 this time out, but I signed-off
last time on New Year’s Day evening, just as the snow was beginning to
carpet the landscape. Little did I guess then that the snow would remain
for a couple of weeks, with some near-record low temperatures thrown in
for good measure.
As I mentioned last time out, the snow really does bring out the child
(*see 'Quote of the snow', below).
All brought into sharp focus by the curious fact that my first winter
since abandoning life as a “townie”, took me straight back to the
winters I remember growing up with on the farm.
Perhaps the pleasure I get from being out in the snow
is a genetic thing: not only was a female ancestor allegedly seduced by
Sitting Bull (with those snowy North American winters), but
being tallish and fairish, a female along another branch of the
family tree was undoubtedly frightened by a Viking - which
probably explains why I’ve a special empathy with snow.
(Mostly the Celtic Welsh are shortish and darkish, the
result of the Iberian influence as our ancestors moved north
from warmer climes. Then those naughty Nordic invaders, the
Vikings, moved south doing their pillaging, burning and raping –
so rumour has it - hey presto, the short and dark Celts have a
sprinkling of tall and fair dotted here, there and everywhere.
My own family is a classic example. My brother falls into the
Iberian tribe – dark colouring, tans effortlessly - whereas I
burn furiously if I spend too long in the cooker.)
History lesson over, the media makes great play of that
wrong sort of snow regularly complained of by local authorities,
railways and power companies, but in fairness the stuff we
normally get, in this part of the world anyway, is the wet,
slushy stuff that freezes and builds up on power lines bringing
them crashing down.
The recent snow - highlighted perfectly in this
extraordinary NASA picture, alongside, which shows the whole
country covered in snow, something incredibly rare, apparently -
certainly built up on trees, but being the 'dry', powdery stuff
(coming down from the north rather than from the Atlantic), it
is much lighter and 'fluffier'.
It's also relatively easy to drive on, the sort of snow
that countries like Canada get, which explains why life there
keeps moving along. It’s the black ice that builds up on roads
and paths following a bit of a thaw after application of grit
and salt is what causes all the problems here in the UK.
The morning after the New Year’s Day snowfall was extraordinary. The sky
was cloudless, the air still and frosty. Snow had built up on the trees
and hedges to make the landscape picturesque beyond. However, I set out
on my walk just as dawn was breaking ... December’s blue moon - so
bright and clear some called it a bombers' moon - having now
effortlessly morphed into January’s blue moon (that’s blue as in the
purple tinge of flesh from cold or contusion), was bright as a button in
the sky, so I captured a couple of pictures showing how the snow was
clinging to both deciduous and evergreen trees...
Now that’s what I call real snow. Apart from seeing the kids enjoying
the prolonged snowy landscape on their toboggans – or variations on a
theme - the other omnipresent feature were snowmen of all shapes and
sizes. You're probably wondering about that hugely curious one at the
very top - with the giant proboscis and massive eyes - spotted at Penlan
Park, Llandeilo. First things first, do you remember the chads – the
graffiti of a man with little or no hair peering over a wall, based on
the American ‘Kilroy was here’ doodle?
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe in diggery-pokery (using
computer tools to alter significantly an image to make it look better or
different with the sole intention of fooling the viewer).
Nothing at all wrong with changing a picture – I mean, I did so
myself a few bulletins back with the ‘stag’ tree – but to my
mind you should always make it crystal clear that the image on
view is not the one the camera captured. Otherwise, the person
you are fooling most is yourself.
Well, as you’ve guessed, the above snowman is not what
it seems. And yes, alongside, the image as the camera saw it.
Now how does the saying go? Less is often more. When I
first saw this rather basic snowman it made me smile. It was of
course the carrot nose and the Brussels sprout eyes. When I
later viewed the pictures, the first thing that came to mind was
the chads – as highlighted in the image directly above - and I
was instantly overtaken with an urge to amend accordingly. Shame
about the missing hands though.
Little things please little minds.
TALKING of "believe nothing you hear and only half what you
see", did you catch news that
Photographer of the Year
has been stripped of first place after judges decided the animal
featured in the picture was likely to be a "model".
The image, capturing a wild wolf leaping over a gate,
received huge praise for its "fairytale quality" when it beat
competition from thousands of entries last autumn. Winning
photographer Joes Luis Rodriguez strongly denies the wolf is a
model, according to competition organisers. (The name Mandy
Rice-Davies springs to mind: "He would say that, wouldn't he?")
Emerson, from the competition office, said: "The judging panel
was reconvened and concluded that it was likely that the wolf
featured in the image was an animal model that can be hired for
photographic purposes and, as a result, that the image had been
entered in breach of Rule 10 of the competition."
As you can see, it is a most astonishing and stunning
shot, but I remember reading when I first saw the photograph how
Joes Luis Rodriguez had apparently gone to extreme lengths and
spent ages putting down meat to draw local wolves into a special
area, and then setting up complex photographic equipment with
trips to trigger the camera and flash as the wolf jumped the
gate - and all the time he was doing an Alastair Campbell (a
huge chunk of spin, that is: Come on, come on - spin a little
tighter / Come on, come on - and the world's a little brighter.
But however eye-catching the shot is -
and we have to be fair to all the other snappers who played by
the rules - there's all the difference in the world between
capturing a wild creature and capturing a wild creature that's
been house trained (as any woman who has attempted to throw salt
over the bushy tail of a fast moving Don Juan cum Speedy
Gonzales will doubtless corroborate!).
Shame though, for it's a fabulous photograph, made even
more dramatic by the black background I decided to use for this
What is most surprising is that he thought no one would
MEANWHILE, back with the snow and the frost... What I’ll remember most
though were those few days of intense cold. For the first time in my
life I contemplated buying a pair of long johns. As regularly mentioned
in previous bulletins, every early morning I set off along my walk on
the wild side, a circuit of probably about five miles, which takes in
Llandeilo – or Llawneira (meaning, “full of snow”), as I should now
perhaps call it – where I pick up a newspaper, along with any provisions
– before returning along the Towy Valley where I continue my affair with
Anyway, with the temperature at minus 12 at first light, I
dressed accordingly. Or at least I dressed properly against the
air temperature. What I hadn’t bargained for – and never
experienced before – was the intense cold coming up from
the frozen ground and the carpet of snow. I first felt it in my
legs before migrating through the rest of my body, especially
affecting my hands.
My hands are a perfect barometer of cold weather. They
will turn a shade of blue cum purple when exposed to cold,
something I’ve experienced since I was young. Women also remark
that I always have cold hands (adding something about a warm
heart!). I did ask my doctor about it once; he said it was
something to do with circulation – but he enquired if I suffered
physically from the problem? Well, no - so he said to leave well
alone, just to make sure I wear gloves in cold weather, and
rubber gloves if I have to place my hands in hot water (because
then they go red).
So that's what I’ve done, although I’ve noticed as I
grow older that I now reach for the gloves earlier in the autumn
and discard them later in the spring. Oh, and I now sometimes
have to get up in the middle of the night for a pee (be sure to
stick with this thread!).
Anyway, back with the extreme cold as experienced on
that particular morning, I found operating the camera, even with
gloves on, increasingly difficult. But here’s the funny thing:
along my walk, which can take anything up to four hours,
depending on what I decide to stand and stare at, I regularly
have a discreet pee in some secluded spot.
Hoofing away the Towy Valley
snow to grab a quick takeaway
I obviously double-check that there’s nobody else out for a walk
- oh, and I also observe the gypsy code which insists you should
never pee in the same place twice (while in the open air, that
is – or in bed, obviously, and thereby hangs another tale, which
will have to wait for the book!).
But do you know, my hands were so cold and my fingers
so numb I couldn’t actually grasp the zip and apply pressure to
pull it down. And disastrously, once you’ve decide you need a
pee ... the more you actually want a pee.
So I began to count: one, two, three ... and set off
for home, posthaste. I think I reached about 2,634 –
But here’s the thing: once back in the house it took a
while for my body and hands to warm up enough to enable me to
grasp and pull down that bloody zip. Talk about relief when I
eventually managed it.
A couple of ladies I told the story to said I was
desperately lucky I never had that pee otherwise I might still
have an icicle hanging from my willy!
Not so much a stalactite, more a frozenmite.
Seriously though, for the first time in my life I was
able to empathise with those unfortunate souls who suffer
arthritis, especially of the hands. What a terrible disability
it must be.
Incidentally, the following morning I got round the
long johns issue by wearing a summer jog pants under my
heavy-duty jeans, which pretty much did the trick. A strange
Anything a horse can do
the black sheep of the family can do even better
WHAT I also remember from that period of intense cold was the behaviour
of the wild songbirds I've been 'training' to feed from hand. The little
things were really starving. Approaching their corner of the world and
they'd come rushing to meet me way out in the field. I shall do a
separate bulletin over on
400 Smiles A Day
showing images of the birds and the snow – but here’s a taster: the
first up is one I had published in Times Online – a startled robin taken
by surprise at the cheeky hit-and-peck tactic of the starving little
Actually, as I write, the photo is still there (times online / photo
galleries / reader pictures of snow in the UK / slide show): "Songbirds
feeding from hand in the heart of the Towy Valley, near Llan." I must
have been undecided whether to put Llandeilo or Llandampness!
In the second picture above, a
bluetit perches expectantly on my delicate, glove-protected hand!
Quote of the snow: a fair cop
“THE snow has a habit of bringing out the child in all of us.” Supt
Andrew Murray of Thames Valley Police which reprimanded police officers
who used a riot shield as a makeshift sledge at Boars Hill in Oxford.
*Tell me about it, Super.
Now I see you ... now I don't
Perhaps though the most astonishing police picture (intended) of the
snow has to be the one below...
Police stopped an elderly lady motorist who was driving on a busy road
with her windscreen covered in snow. She had managed to move her
windscreen wipers just a few inches to clear a tiny peep hole as she
drove to pick up food in Tiverton, Devon. She was "spoken to" by
officers who then provided her with an ice scraper. "I don't think we're
asking a lot," said Inspector Matt Lawler, "just for some common sense
to avoid unnecessary accidents."
Perhaps Thames Valley Police should have provided her
with a riot shield.
BEFORE coming to my
‘Smile of the snow’,
this is a good moment to launch
‘A postcard from Llandeilo, Dinefwr and the Towy Valley’
– one of the places in Wales to visit before you die, according to a
recent book – or rather,
‘A postcard from my square mile’.
The Western Mail runs a daily ‘Postcard from Wales’ on
its Letters page, and I’m delighted to say I’ve had a few published -
but I was thinking: hardly a day goes by when I don’t capture something
which tickles my imagination, so why not share the experience. But not
only that, most of my pictures carry a little story, for example...
A POSTCARD FROM MY SQUARE MILE: the ghost who
went out in the cold
AS IT HAPPENS, I begin with one of the more startling images I’ve
captured since carrying a camera around with me on my daily walks. It’s
a photograph of Pat Bullen-Whatling’s striking willow stag creation at
Newton House. I've included pictures of this beautiful looking creature
before, but not a proper, full-on image – not the easiest of tasks
because it’s surrounded by trees and therefore doesn’t stand out due to
the 'not seeing the wood for the trees' background.
However, the snow came - and highlighted it
beautifully. I took a few shots from different angles ... the one coming
up was the first, and what I initially thought the least effective –
indeed I was about to delete it when I noticed something rather weird
and wonderful lurking in the snowy undergrowth...
And I always thought that the oft repeated tales of ghoulies and
ghosties and long-leggety beasties spotted wandering about Newton House
were just that – tales from around the camp fire. But here is one of
them, present and correct ... the ghost who laughs last...
Smile of the snow:
white sheep of the family
NORMALLY along my morning walks I carry a rucksack to cart home
my newspaper, any essential provisions, etc. Now I hadn’t
used my car since New Year’s Eve – you needed a 4x4 to travel
the country roads around here, although as any farmer will tell
you, even a 4x4 is of no advantage when black ice is involved,
but where it’s just snow they are a huge plus.
Anyway, not knowing how long the freeze would last I
decided to walk across the fields into town on a Sunday
afternoon to get some extra provisions. As I crossed the field
for home, carrying a couple of loaded carrier bags, I was struck
by the state of the field.
Earlier in the bulletin there's a photo of a black
sheep clearing away the snow to get at the grass, but I was
impressed how efficiently the flock had cleared away the snow.
So much so I put down my carrier bags to capture an image of the
However, behind my back the sheep must have decided I
was actually bringing them food and hurried towards me.
The sheep, above, must have thought this was her lucky day – but after
shooing her away she looks overwhelmed with dismay.
Anyway, the snow has now gone
and we're back with the usual run of sunshine and showers. But for how
You are here, way out west,
aka Dodgy City
"People from a planet without flowers would
think we must be mad with joy the whole
time to have such things about us"
Dan the Flowerpot Snowman
spotted in Bridge Street
FIRST TIME HERE?
c.99 seconds walking in my
I was born on the sunny side of a Welsh hillside, at a place I
affectionately call Big Slopes, on the 26th and the 28th
of November, in the Year of the Horse......
Previously on LOOK
Sep to Dec '07
June to Aug '07
March to May '07
As it was in
ST DAVID'S DAY, 2007
Here's lookin' at you
400 Smiles A Day
What A Gas
400 Smiles A Day
the handsome hawthorn blossom
[featured a quick scroll down]
has now completed nature's circle -
admired by both me and the great tit
it seems perfectly natural
to wear a remembrance
poppy on my web site's lapel
the Himalayan Balsam
to learn all about this
naughty-but-nice plant, click
400 Smiles A Day
the dense flower head
of the red clover
attracts a grateful visitor
the perfectly handsome
hawthorn blossom -
shame it remains in all its
glory for just a few days
Red eye - or more correctly,
red campion, all over the
shop with its rich pink flowers
and hairy leaves - very eye-catching
A blooming Carey Mulligan is
in my flower bed anytime - the square
mile connection being that her mum,
Nano Booth, hails from Llandeilo
A honey bee embraces the
stylish but antonymously named
'primula vulgaris' - the wild primrose
A perfect buttonhole for the
Welshman who may vote Lib Dem -
but is a Labourite at heart
Male flower cluster - the
also known as a lamb's tail -
being admired by a bluetit
"There are always
flowers for those
who wish to see them." Henri Matisse
The year's first celebrity
the beautiful snowdrop