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Previously: January to June 2010

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29th June 2010
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Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides
                                                                                                                                 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 creatures.
     To briefly repeat what I wrote over on
400 Smiles, 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.
 

I 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 Street...
 


The 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 the situation.
     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 message.
     What are of interest are the revealing little nuggets of information that keep surfacing in the media, for example…

The 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 million.

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 the groundwater 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.

In 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.

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.

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”.
 

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 crunch
 

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 version.
     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 watching.

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 the line).
     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 Rod Liddle writing in The Sunday Times:
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

Sundays. It 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 what.
     Now there’s telling it as it is.
     Then this letter in
The Times, from a Charles Cuff of Southampton, and headed Unruffled feathers:
Sir, 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 sea.

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 thinking about.
 

 
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 though.
     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 vu-vu-zela.
     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 occasion.
     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
The Times, submitted by a Roger Marsh of Morecambe in Lancashire:
Sir, Mathew 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?

Hm, 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 The Times...
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 my book.”
     “Coach, you old devil,” responds a surprised Sam, “you never let on you were writing a book.”
     “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 Telegraph, from 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 AD.
     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 Netherlands fans from their World Cup match with Denmark for wearing an orange mini-dress designed by a beer company. The dresses were made by Bavaria Beer and despite the outfits containing no branding, except tiny ‘Bavaria’ tabs near the hemline, the organisers said it was against their rules on "ambush marketing".
     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 Bavaria 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
Bavaria. 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.

Now you'd 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 Bavaria beer has enjoyed the sort of publicity that money really can't buy. And just to add my halfpennyworth...

Lovely jubbly, or whatever the appropriate expression is for Bavaria Beer.
     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,
Bavaria.

PS. 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!

PPS. 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...

Early doors
 


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 July 1776
 

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, alongside...

We're 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
 

I 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 l
ife 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 Blair?

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

 

RETURNING 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:
     Exit Poll          Tory: 307       Labour: 255   Lib Dems: 59
     Actual             Tory: 306       Labour: 258   Lib Dems: 57   Others: 28
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 enthusiasm for 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
16 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...

To 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 done.
     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 marriage.

     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 feel important.'
Never forget this message when working with people.

                                                                                                                                 Mary Kay Ash

SOME OTHER letters caught the eye during the public hanging. This from Richard Longthorp of Howden in East Yorkshire:
I 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 Parliament.

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.
                                                                                                                  Denise McCluggage
 

IT 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 wonderfully.”
     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

David Dimbleby on helicopter shots of David Cameron's motorcade: "Don't you just love pictures of cars. Cars driving along motorways. It's wonderful."
Paddy Ashdown the morning after E-Day: “The British people have spoken, but we don’t know what they’ve said yet.”
Lembit Opik, 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.
Bryony Gordon, 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.
Bruce Forsyth 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 (Labour).

     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 head

     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. Wel-i-jiw-jiw.

I 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...

ASH TIP: 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, Surrey

I did enjoy that – but I loved this online response even better...

Cane Blake wrote:
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!
National and international distress 'events'

A 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 -

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 verge.
     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 loose.
     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
11.40 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.

11.45 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 was “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 that.
     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 said here.
     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 third.
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 cuts."
     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 volcanic ash thrown up by the eruption of Mount 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 Jakarta 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 Postcard Corner.)
     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 spread out…
 


These are 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 restrictions necessary?

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." How Prince Philip adapted the traditional royal greeting - "Have you come far?" - when the planes were grounded.

AS 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 way

STOP PRESS: 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)
 

"When I first became PM, this was the size of my truths.
I then invited Honest Alastair Campbell into my life...

...and 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 exceedingly 'holey'.

Crash course
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
mentioned a 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

they 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 bird attack...

"Who dat?"
"Who dat say who dat?"


Still on the subject of birds, another letter in the Telegraph caught my eye, from S A Ford, Pontycymer, South Wales:
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.


Counting my 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 Radio


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, John.
     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 song.
     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, eh?
     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. 
 

Just 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 Crockett.
     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.

Fess Parker, 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 the rails...
 

You’re a white bluebell, I’m a blue bluebell,
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 words]


"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”.

On Easter 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 Bruce Springsteen.
     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 space.
     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 Reed: 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 standard poodle.
     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?"

Bluebell girl

Finally, the stop press "Solitaire" news at the top. As annually 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 years.
     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 stage.

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 highlighted 17th.
     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 ...
The clue 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 warthog”.
     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, alongside).
     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 fashion.
     His
catchphrase 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 buggers!”
  
To 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 trash eventually.

Smile of St Patrick’s Day
IN 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, Ireland). He is known for his dominance of the Independent News & Media Group, which he led from 1973 to 2009, and as former CEO and Chairman of the H.J. Heinz Company. He was the leading shareholder of Waterford Wedgwood. Perhaps Ireland's first billionaire, he remains one of Ireland's richest citizens.
    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 department:
     “I always use an excess of embrocation,” O’Reilly responds, “working on the theory that if you’re not fit, then you should smell fit.”
     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 ago...

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 the 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
Unanimous call 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 holiday. However...

     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 lifestyle.
     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 anytime. Actually,

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 eye: 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 2010 is a curious mystery. Whatever...
The Union Jack should be redesigned and combined with 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 separate principality.

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 designed them.)
     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, below...



Oh yes, be sure to read some of the comments, especially those from readers who are, um, not Welsh...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3644508/Vote-for-your-favourite-Union-flag.html

PS. 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 (Daffodil).
HAYDN WILLIAMS, Llangain

Wel-i-jiw-jiw, I never knew that.

"It's 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).
Ivor 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”.
Ian 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 alongside on... www.lifeisajoke.com
    
There are plenty more exceedingly smiley images lurking there.


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 empathised.
     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’ roll

(very nearly like the curate’s egg*, great in parts: Bill Haley, Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones...).
     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 Jones."
     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 George du Maurier,
originally published in Punch, 1895

 

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 mysterious X-factor.
     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 respond...


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 Wales-England border:
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 Boeing 737.
     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 happy.
     Whatever, I thought combining the two tales in the form of a Letter to the Editor made some sort of sense.
 

A toll storey
I 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 of tollbooth?
     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 “Shut that

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 Rioja* 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 bolted.
* 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 Alastair 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.
 


I quote: 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.
    
Marvelling 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 Blair.
     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 they?").
     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!

When Blair, 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 any man..."
    
Also, the Letters columns are wonderful character references; a couple from the Telegraph appeared under the headline...

Senior officers 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.
Joe Goodhart, 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, Welwyn, Hertfordshire

Double ouch! 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 programme.
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).
PS.
The 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

THE HOTSHOT condoms, which cost £4.70 for a packet of six, have been created by Lamprecht AG, a leading condom manufacturer based in Switzerland.
     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 being screwed.
     And over there, David Miliband struggles to get at his jumbo condom - well, he is a jumbo member, so to speak.


17th February 2010
Ancient fortifications

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.
 

 
With rain 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, quite atmospheric.
     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 presence.  

     Talking of brooding presence, over on Postcard Corner there's a similar view - but different... smile


Saint Valentine’s Day 2010
SMILE OF THE DAY (incorporating 'A Postcard From My Square Mile')


POOR OLD 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 smile 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.
    
At 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 alongside...
     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 alongside.
     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 within (*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 Chief
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?
 

Wot no snow?

Wot no hands?


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
the winner of Wildlife 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?")

Louise 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. Not!).
     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 bulletin.
     What is most surprising is that he thought no one would notice.
 

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 the birds.

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 experience though.

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 bluetit...
 


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 field (alongside).
     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 long?


Reception

You are here, way out west,
at Llandeilo

aka Llandampness
aka Dodgy City

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"People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole
time to have such things about us"
 Iris Murdoch

 

Dan the Flowerpot Snowman
spotted in Bridge Street
Llansnowness

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FIRST TIME HERE?

c.99 seconds walking in my moccasins:
  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......
 More

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Previously on LOOK YOU......

2009
2008
Sep to Dec '07

June to Aug '07
March to May '07

As it was in the beginning:
ST DAVID'S DAY, 2007

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Here's lookin' at you @
400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 02/10/2010


What A Gas @
400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 17/05/2009

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Contact Me


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Flower Power Gallery

the handsome hawthorn blossom
[featured a quick scroll down]
has now completed nature's circle -
admired by both me and the great tit


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it seems perfectly natural
to wear a remembrance
poppy on my web site's lapel

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the Himalayan Balsam ~
to learn all about this
naughty-but-nice plant, click
400 Smiles A Day  (02/10/2010)

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the dense flower head
of the red clover
attracts a grateful visitor

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the perfectly handsome
hawthorn blossom -
shame it remains in all its
glory for just a few days

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Red eye - or more correctly,
red campion, all over the
shop with its rich pink flowers
and hairy leaves - very eye-catching

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A blooming Carey Mulligan is welcome
in my flower bed anytime - the square
mile connection being that her mum,
Nano Booth, hails from Llandeilo

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A honey bee embraces the
stylish but antonymously named
'primula vulgaris' - the wild primrose

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A perfect buttonhole for the
Welshman who may vote Lib Dem -
but is a Labourite at heart

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Male flower cluster - the hazel catkin,
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

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The year's first celebrity visitor,
the beautiful snowdrop

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