Look you
Previously: June to Aug '07



QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The Prince of Wales is not a murderer.” Ken Wharfe, Princess Diana’s former bodyguard, discussing her death. "’Twas the media wot done it, killed the poor girl." The nation’s newspapers and magazines, to be precise. If Diana, Princess of Wales, had not been permanently hounded by the paparazzi then she would not have been the foxy lady running from the hounds that fateful night. The print media dangle huge sums of money in front of the paparazzi, for whenever they print sensational photos, sales shoot up – so it’s entirely my fault - well, you and me together - because the papers are only giving us jerks what we demand. The truth is that we, the Great British Public, will gobble up any old rubbish thrown at us – the more sensational the better. And isn't it a poor show that the papers have to rely on sensationalism to sell.

But hang about. For as long as I can remember public opinion, to the tune of some 70 per cent, has demanded the return of the death penalty. Given that those who serve in Parliament are wholly unrepresentative of those they represent, when did you last see a newspaper banging on about bringing back hanging because it’s what a whopping SEVENTY PER CENT of the populous actually want. That’s right; newspapers only feed us what THEY think we should have, not what WE think we should have. Hey, and let’s bring back public executions. A trawl through history tells us that we love a whopping street party, especially if there’s someone to stick in the stocks at half-time – with a good old hanging at party’s end.

For some time there’s been a call in the States to televise live an execution. It hasn’t happened, obviously, and doubtful if it will in the near future. But I tell you this: if the hanging of Saddam Hussein had been carried live on TV it would have drawn the largest audience in the history of television. I doubt if it would have topped the record 31.5 million people across Britain who watched Diana’s funeral, but world-wide it would surely have broken all records. So let’s get it straight, the media give us what THEY think we should have. Incidentally, and for the record, I belong in the 30 per cent camp: I sleep easy in my bed of an evening, but the thought of executing the wrong person would doubtless change all that ......

What the modern media is all about was best summed up in a recent court case where a photographer, Jay Kaycappa, 32, was spared a jail term and sentenced to a 140-hour community order for assaulting Heather Mills-McCartney in a subway as he tried to take her picture. The magistrate told him: “You demonstrated persistence that in fact we consider to be beyond an acceptable level. However your actions have not caused injury.” The court heard that the photographer has a total of 132 criminal convictions for dishonesty offences. Andrea Watts, prosecuting, said Kaycappa was a photographer who had been “particularly persistent in making it difficult for Ms Mills-McCartney to have a private life outside her home”. Shades of Diana back then, and Kate Middleton right now. The Western Mail, fair play, carried a substantial article about the case, but The Times, intriguingly, just a tiny little piece tucked away on Page 22, with no mention of Kaycappa’s criminal record. So I submitted the following to The Times: ‘Sir, It would be fascinating to know how many organisations in this country openly and freely do business with an individual who has a total of 132 criminal convictions, especially given that the profession under scrutiny involves digital photography (Photographer assault, News, Aug 17).’ Sadly it wasn’t deemed worthy of publication. Pity, I’d love to know the answer.

In today’s Western Mail, royal biographer Brian Hoey reflects on how Wales lost its very own Princess. A few days after the funeral of Diana, I recall Hoey being interviewed on Radio Wales and commenting that that remarkable eulogy by Earl Spencer could not possibly have been written by the Earl himself. Setting aside the rights and wrongs of what he said, I remember thinking: does Hoey understand anything about genetic inheritance? We now know that Spencer did write it – okay, he didn’t have Winston’s delivery, but hey, let’s not nitpick – and Prince Harry wrote the tribute he delivered today - but the episode set me wondering about who and what we are. This ties in perfectly with my previous dispatch where I told you about my letter to The Times which did make it - and won a prize - entitled ‘Prisoners of our genes?’. Let’s explore this further.

It's presumed that we pass on our personal and individualistic genetic package to the next generation. Having always lived in a community I’m aware from both my own observations and the wisdom of the ages passed on by the elders, that dominant genetic blueprints – with minuscule evolutionary amendments – are handed down like a baton in a relay race, perfectly endorsed by this curious business of skipping a generation, where grandchildren are often carbon copies of their grandparents. As mentioned last time out, even though our social environment has changed out of all recognition, individuals retain precisely the same traits in respect of health, ethics, honesty, work, humour, interests – and so on. We also know from our genes that we are all descended from just a thousand people – following some calamity, probably a nuclear winter in the wake of a volcanic explosion, only the fittest survived – so each and every one of us conforms to the ‘one-thousandth rule of genetics’. Yes, there are obvious superficial changes, such as the way we look, but deep inside we follow a strict blueprint. If you doubt, ever wondered why a poll of just a thousand carefully selected individuals reflects precisely the thinking of a nation i.e. during a general election? Yes it occasionally backfires, but that is the exception which tests the rule, probably down to poor selection of individuals.

For many a year I was on the panel which provides television audience figures. Again an unbelievably small sample, yet the results satisfy two opposing forces: TV companies who want high ratings, and advertisers who demand accuracy. Accepting that there are some fifty thousand in the UK who share my genetic blueprint, I figure that every time I switch on the telly to a certain channel, change stations, use the video to record or playback, switch off – somewhere between five and eight thousand people are doing precisely the same thing at precisely the same time.

And you think you’re unique, eh?

A couple of final thoughts on the Diana memorial service. "To us, just two loving children," Prince Harry says in his tribute, "she was quite simply the best mother in the world; we would say that wouldn't we." Who'd have thought that Mandy Rice-Davies's cutting words during the Profumo trial would become part of a nation's handy sayings. Secondly, I’ve always rated social kissing - “Mwaaah! Mwaaah!” - akin to Homer Simpson’s “D’oh!”, and nowhere was this more evident than at the end of the service where poor Harry and William had to dive under those huge hats to do the necessary. It was all very "D'oh!". I decided long ago that, if it's up to me to lead, then I only extend my hand to express sympathy or to share extreme celebration – and only offer my lips to those I want to go to bed with. Works like a dream.


"Short back and sides, please Chief"

The "Hey Wayne!"

No sunrise photo this time, just making lots of hay while the sun shines. Last time I remarked that during my youth on the farm, the sort of weather we had a week ago would have had them cutting hay. And this is precisely what happened around these 'ere parts. The photo on the left shows a field of newly mown hay at Dinefwr Park, Paxton's Tower at Llanarthne in the background. With the hay safely baled, the photo on the right confirms harvest nearly home – with Dinefwr Castle in the background. Now that’s what I call a field with a view. Oh yes, The "Hey Wayne!" is a modern version of The Hay Wain.

SMILE OF THE DAY: In the Carmarthen Journal the editor Robert Lloyd recalls a conversation with local journalist, author and broadcaster Byron Rogers, who’s just received one of the oldest and most prestigious of British literary awards – the £10,000 James Tait Black Memorial Prize. The book which took the title was a biography of the poet R S Thomas, The Man Who Went Into The West. (If Byron called at my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon he’d find a stagecoach full of such characters.) Anyway, in the chat between Lloyd and Rogers, Byron recalls that his first published article was a story in the old Carmarthen Times newspaper: “It was about the Picton monument in Carmarthen and described it as ‘sober, anonymous, vaguely phallic…’ My cousin later took me to task in the pub: ‘What on earth did you mean by describing it as vaguely phallic? It’s either phallic or not!’ That’s how it goes – my first published sentence turned out to be a load of total nonsense!” I’m on Byron’s side here. Phallicism, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. Where I see phalluses others see fallacy. Trouble is I have a dirty mind. Anyway, Byron added that his all-time favourite joke was a Bob Monkhouse classic: “When I told people I was going to be a comedian, everyone laughed. They’re not laughing now…” Goodnight, you’ve been a smashing audience. Goodnight Hubie.


Howdy doody – or Shwmae (as we say way out west here in Dodgy City),
If my late Mam has been reading these dispatches from way up there, she’ll be appalled that right from the off, the 1st of March this year, I've never once said “Well hello, nice to see you – and how are you are, everything okay in Glocca Morra? Is that little brook still leaping there? And that willow tree still weeping there?” Or words to that effect. Where’s your manners, Hubie, she'd insist – and of course she’d be right. This struck me when I read a letter in The Times from a Martin Penton of Portsmouth: “Sir, I have difficulty writing to organisations. I was taught to write ‘Dear Sir’ if we did not know anyone, and ‘Dear Madam’ if we knew the recipient to be a lady. However, in our day ‘Dear Sir’ may not be acceptable. Is there a modern neutral option? And why do we say ‘Dear’ to people we do not know?” Eugene Rembor of London reckons we address someone we don’t know as ‘dear’ because in this context ‘dear’ stands for ‘valued’, and is a simple matter of courtesy. Other varied responses were to do with casual forms of greetings, but did not address the question posed regarding organisations (although I like the letter from Dr Robert M. Bruce-Chwatt of Richmond who pointed out that the omission of ‘dear’ in front of the ‘Sir’ when writing to newspapers is, perhaps, in anticipation of the letter not being published).

Which is apt because I unsuccessfully submitted a variation on the following to The Times: “Sir, Depending on the gravity (or otherwise) of the letter, I begin with one of the following: Good day, Hello, Greetings, Howdy doody! If however I’m being hassled and stressed to breaking point by that particular organisation my opening paragraph goes thus: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that the way any organisation conducts itself is a precise reflection of the person at the very top, its Chief Sitting Bull – or, let’s not be sexist, its Chief Sitting Cow.’ I continue by grabbing their goolies, figuratively speaking of course, but making absolutely sure that I don’t take the smile off my face, meaning never being abusive or overtly personal; after all, I’m only dealing with paid slaves. Such a letter always draws instant response, together with a comment that at least ‘we’ can smile about it, although I’m convinced that the speedy and good-natured resolution is to ensure that the CEO does not get to see my missive. Incidentally, whenever I write ‘Chief Sitting Cow’, dear old Maggie, bless, springs instantly to mind. I can’t think why.”

The Welsh word ‘Shwmae’ as used above (pronounced shoe-mai – mai as in mai tai) is an interesting one. You won’t find it in the dictionary, indeed you won’t find a word starting with ‘sh’ because in Welsh the English sound ‘sh’ is written ‘si’, for example the word ‘siarad’ (to speak) is pronounced sha-rad. The proper Welsh expression for ‘shwmae’ is ‘sut mae?’ – how are you? – but ‘shwmae’, normally used in a casual context, really means ‘Hello, how are you, are you well?’ – but unlike the English ‘how are you?’ which invites a reply, the Welsh ‘shwmae’ does not. It’s a grand little word.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “There is something about my mother that drives her critics slightly potty, so they resort to wild invention to get at her.” Carol Thatcher on the former Tory prime minister. This appeared in the Western Mail’s ‘They said what?’ column on August 21, the day after I had made the above reference in the letter submitted to The Times. Actually, I never hated or disliked Maggie, in fact I quite admired her positive frame of mind, but I guess Carol Thatcher could argue that ‘Chief Sitting Cow’ is a wild invention!

I reckon today has been the first day of summer proper. The weather has been settling down nicely since Monday, but this morning dawned bright with clean, clear air, and for the first time in I don’t know how long, there was a bright golden sunrise with no cloud, no haze (the above is not today’s sunrise); there was a brisk northerly wind which bordered on chilly – it really was a morning which took me back to when I was a lad on the farm, because this was the sort of day when the hay would be cut; the folk on the hill at Big Slopes knew that if the wind came from a particular northerly direction, and they could clearly hear the stone crushers of Llansawel Quarry, then it meant high pressure was steadily building from the Azores, a perfect indication of some settled weather. Yes, today’s been a picture perfect day, although some thin high cloud drifted in late afternoon, early evening. A smashing day though. Oh yes, a few dispatches back I did mention that I’d get round to the explosion of wild flowers this summer – coming up shortly, if spared.

Mention of letters to The Times, last Saturday, the 18th, I was awarded the Star Letter in the paper’s Body&Soul section – and £50 worth of organic products as a reward. Wonderful. On the previous Saturday, the 11th, Mark Henderson, Science Editor of The Times had written an intriguing article about Nature v Nurture, entitled ‘Prisoners of our genes?’. There’s growing evidence from the study of twins, both identical and fraternal, that nature plays a much bigger part in our lives than previously thought, indeed that the Jesuit maxim – ‘Give me the child for his first seven years, and I’ll give you the man’ – no longer holds good. Our genes allow us free range. As someone who's always lived in a community, I’ve become increasingly aware from both my own observations and the wisdom of the ages passed on by the elders, that behavioural traits, or genetic blueprints, are handed down like a baton in a relay race, especially this curious business of skipping a generation, where grandchildren are often carbon copies of their grandparents. What’s remarkable is that even though our social environment has changed out of all recognition over that period, individuals display precisely the same traits in respect of health, ethics, honesty, work, humour, interests – and on and on. So I submitted the following to Body&Soul: “Nature is our hard disk, carved in stone; nurture is our software, subject to amendment, overwrite, even deletion. My nephew and his wife have twin boys, physically similar but not identical, now aged 4. From the start they blossomed along the two distinctive character traits of both families. Even as babies, whenever they were lifted, one stiffened in silent objection, as if endorsing his natural-born independence, while the other handled like putty, endorsing the laid-back side. In a two-horse Grand National, Nurture always falls, usually as early as Beecher’s Brook; nature canters home because we really are prisoners of our genes, our handicaps determined at conception.” It’ll be fascinating to observe how Jac and Harri develop over the years. Doubly fascinating if the two photos below are anything to go by, especially the one where they're grabbing a bite and a gossip at the local watering hole.



SMILE OF THE DAY: Having been gallivanting all day I hadn’t seen or heard any news until tonight, and like everyone else I’ve been taken aback by this brutal shooting of 11-year-old Rhys Jones at Liverpool. Crazy world, crazy people – or crazy children, it seems. So what is there to smile about? Well, it’s fascinating that all this has taken place in Liverpool, a city where humour and tragedy sit uncomfortably side by side. And the truth is, earlier tonight, I did hear something which made me laugh out loud – so here goes. A good many moons back a particular fellow regularly called at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, a Dai Davies, window cleaner of Llandybie, just down the trail. Anyway, we Welsh have a penchant for giving people nicknames, either something which reflects a character trait, or perhaps a direct reference to their work. Old Dai, apparently, always had a cleaning cloth hanging out of his back pocket, so everyone knew him as Shammy Davies – or Chamois Davies if he worked up Kings Road (the posh part of Llandybie). Anyway, I hadn’t seen him for a while, and just tonight a crowd from Llandybie, out on a boozy safari, called in at the Crazy HP. We enquired after old Shammy. Sadly he died about a year ago – but his son has taken over the business. You’ll never guess what they call him: Shammy Davies Junior. Goodnight you Rat Pack. Goodnight Hubie.



QUOTE OF THE DAY: “That’s okay, no problems.” Rachel, one of the front line staff at BJP, local Estate Agents & Associated Thingamabobs. Passing through BJP’s front office, on my way to the photocopier, I can’t help but overhear the tail end of a telephone conversation. As I tell Rachel on my way out, “no problems” are two of my very favourite words. No need for explanations. They just help make the world a more agreeable place - and well worth a spot on QUOTE OF THE DAY. I also remind the girls in the office of something from a recent SMILE OF THE DAY, three words you certainly don’t want to hear when making mad, passionate love: no, not “I love you”, as Johnny Ringo down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon insists, but “Honey, I’m home!”. Definitely well worth a repeat.

Anyway, words are my thing today. I must spend more time in the dictionary than anywhere. I read that English has anything between 500,000 and 1,000,000 words at its beck and call (French and Welsh about 100,000, give or take), and I saw somewhere that The Sun newspaper uses a lexicon of just 7,000 words, but that The Times uses most of those available! Now I can’t say that I’ve ever picked up The Sun and not understood every single word, but I regularly come across words in The Times and The Independent of which I haven’t the faintest. Not only that, these days I also stumble upon words I certainly never hear in the Bible. The so-called quality papers did at one time discreetly disguise both the f- and c-word with asterisks, but nowadays they just let it all hang out. Now isn’t it odd that newspapers which regularly call on such a huge number of words still can’t express themselves without borrowing obscenities. Perhaps they’re nowhere near as clever as we think they are. And here’s another curiosity: I never see any of those no-no words in any Letters column. Which means one of two things: that either those who read up-market papers can express themselves much better than those who write them (possible) – or newspapers use double standards, the professional allowed to eff and blind to surfeit, but the plebs who buy the newspaper must be whipped into line (probable).

Over the weekend I’d read all about the annual Perseids meteor shower, peaking during the pre-dawn hours of this morning, between midnight and three. With Sunday evening bright and clear I thought, why not. Being typically middle-of-the-road I set the alarm for half-one. I woke about two – forgot to switch the bloody thing on – anyway, my subconscious had switched itself on, so up I get and out the back. The sky was indeed crystal clear. I peer … and peer – the shower’s particles, most only as large as a grain of rice, are the debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, and if you can’t love a comet called Swift-Tuttle then you have no soul and shouldn't be allowed to stare into the heavens – I peer … and peer - and then just like buses, two come along together. I'm reminded of that old Peggy Lee song Is that all there is? A few more meteors go “Cooee!” – quite nice, really, a bit like my sex life though, a flash in the pan and short-lived - but nothing like what the media had built it up to be. My neck begins to ache. Bugger it. I decide that the Perseids shall be renamed the Percies – as in Point Percy at the Porcelain. This is one of many slang phrases related to boozing and peeing and fornicating coined by the Australian comedian Barry Humphries during the 1970s onwards. Humphries' Barry McKenzie column in Private Eye contained a fictional account of the carryings-on of Bazza McKenzie - the role model for the later creation Crocodile Dundee. In 1972, the character was used as the lead in the film The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, which has McKenzie (Barry Crocker) coming out with this: "Now listen mate, I need to splash the boots?" (You know how the Aussies put a question mark at the end of every sentence? How the voice deflects upwards? Right, we'll start again?) "Now listen mate, I need to splash the boots? You know mate, strain the potatoes? Water the horses? You know, go where the big knobs hang out? Shake hands with the wife's best friend? Drain the dragon? Siphon the python? Ring the rattlesnake? You know, unbutton the mutton? Like, point Percy at the porcelain?" Yes, the Perseids are now the Percies, for I'm sure that someone, somewhere, has been taking the piss all along, and all they wanted was to get me out of bed for a quick flash.

When I surface for the second time, and set off on my early morning walkies, cloud has drifted in, hence the rather spectacular dawn sky above. Shades of Turner.

Talk of the Percies coming on like buses, I come up behind the above parked omnibus – and apart from the Welsh Connection i.e. the image of your typical Welsh woman (only joking, girls), and the photo of the Brecon Beacons, I'm much taken by the 'Climate Control' notice up there. Yes, I'm familiar with talk of climate change, carbon footprints, and all that jazz – but do you suppose that this bus is leaving heaven for heaven (via the Brecon Beacons, hence all that jazz), and it does so without leaving any tracks in its wake. Keep me a seat for whenever.

Then I stumble upon the above parked-up farm feeds delivery truck. “Bloody 'ell,” I say to myself, for I often talk to myself, “now that’s what I call a load of old bollocks.” But in a split second my brain has caught up and of course what I’d initially read as Sweetbreads actually says Sweetblends. A load of old bollocks indeed – and yes, I do know that sweetbreads are not testicles but the pancreas or the thymus gland of an animal, but hey, my brain doesn't allow my brain to get in the way of a perfect "Doh!" moment. Back with the misreading, do you know, my brain does this all the time. At first glance I regularly scan things wrongly, but the grey matter corrects it in an instant. I suppose it could be some form of dyslexia, but the smart money says I'm just cockeyed. And folk wonder why I  wander about with a silly grin on mug.

SMILE OF THE DAY: It’s said that you should never laugh at your own jokes. This morning as I near the end of my walk, going up Bridge Street, a huge artic truck thunders by, on its trailer a container, one of those dry cargo jobs you see aboard ships transporting goods about the globe. As it flashes past I'm sure I register the word “Seacells” written on the side of the container. I smile and wonder if I'm being cockeyed again. When I get home I google the word – hey presto, it really is a rather wonderful trade name – Seacells - says it all in just eight letters. Now then, remember a while back the ship that floundered off the south coast, and all those containers washed ashore, to be duly looted? My abiding memory is the chap pushing a brand new, gleaming BMW motor cycle up the beach. Well, just imagine if some of those containers bore the word Seacells, which I guess they must have, then I should have picked up The Sun and read Seacells, Seacells, on the sea shore. Goodnight Cap'n. Goodnight Hubie.



QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Personally, I’ve always liked being talked down to by people I look up to. It’s being talked down to by people I look down on that’s annoying.” AA Gill, writer, television and restaurant critic, and professional hater of all things Welsh. Old Royal Armoured Corpse (or RAC for short, as I call old AA) is a rather good writer, an agreeable read. However, anyone who scribbles regularly, whether it’s a column for a newspaper or magazine – or indeed a blog, which is in effect a column – slowly but surely reveal little things about themselves: their loves, hates, prejudices, ethics, honesty, dishonesty, humour – or lack of it – and on and on. It’s much like watching a Rolf Harris painting come to life: can you see what it is yet? It’s the subliminal projection of the writer's genetic legacy. One of the first things you register about old RAC is that, while he does appear to have been blessed with that curious thing we call a sense of humour, he was definitely at the back of the queue when a sense of fun was handed out. It’s intriguing that the more talented and respected an individual is as a writer, the more obnoxious that person comes across as a human being. It’s virtually impossible to think of a ‘respected’ writer that you would want to sit next to on a flight to the other side of the globe. Take old RAC: through his work runs a thread of unpleasantness, a reflection of what makes him tick. He’s what a characterful old lady, a friend of my late mam, would describe as a “nasty bit o’ work” – a wonderfully precise turn of phrase that – and the more I read old RAC, the more dots are joined up, and the more I stand well back and mind the doors. God, I’d hate to accidentally step on his toes. In the Dolphin or Shark pool, he’s a Great White. Caveat emptor. Reader beware.

His hatred of the Welsh is well documented: “We all know they (the Welsh) are loquacious dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls…” Now I belong in the sticks-and-stones camp – as for words, well, between you, me and the mouse, I haven’t a clue what “loquacious dissemblers” is – are – and I think it’s best to keep it that way. What I enjoy about that Welsh business is the writing-off of a whole nation. My modest travels about the globe confirm that people are the same the world over: there are good, bad and indifferent. Yes okay, when a race of people get together and circle the wagons to form a tribe – the Jews and the English are perfect examples, after all the English football supporter is recognised around the world as being quintessentially English – something odd happens to the collective. They yearn to become like the Borg of Star Trek fame – resistance is futile, you will be assimilated. But it never quite comes off. As far as I'm aware, old RAC is not English, yet everything about him suggests that he is - the thinking person's travelling England supporter.

Truth to tell it's all rather worrying that an individual should have such an unhealthy obsession about a tribe of people when probably ninety-odd per cent of them have never heard of AA Gill - and care even less. A suitable case for treatment? If I had to put money on it I’d say old RAC had a bad experience with a Welsh lass: she either told him he had a Wee Willie Winkle, or disastrously, perhaps he failed to get it up and she then made fun of his shortcomings – and he’s been taking it out on the rest of us ever since. Wonderful, makes the whole diatribe great value for money. Every time I see him all I see is a droopy Wee Willie Winkle. As to his quote at the top, personally, I can't think of anyone I look up to. Yes, there are those I respect and admire hugely, but I recognise that all they have is a specific gift, a talent, which they use to full advantage. I have my gift, my 20/20 instinct, and that in its own little way is as precious a talent as anything else on view. Equally, I hope that I never look down on anyone.

Before I leave the world of the professional writer, I mentioned that I had no idea what “loquacious dissemblers” meant – yes okay, I couldn’t resist: loquacious means 'characterised by or showing a tendency to talk a great deal'; dissembler means 'to conceal (one’s real motives, emotions, etc) by pretence; to pretend, simulate'. Hm, is he calling us Welsh a bunch of loud-mouthed wankers? Anyway, I was reading someone called Dominic Maxwell in The Times, and he had this to say about Ricky Gervais, who featured in the sitcom The Office (which I never got round to): “Gervais is certainly in danger of believing his own bank balance. Fame has him crowing about his success in a manner that’s hard to love no matter how many layers of irony it’s wrapped in. And, yes, his podcasts are onanistic…” Eh? Off to the dictionary again: 'the withdrawal of the penis from the vagina before ejaculation; masturbation.' Is he calling him a loud-mouthed wanker? Old RAC and Maxwell clearly share a dodgy degree in something or other. So there you have it, and as it says on the Look You tin: every day a day at school.

Some wonderful weather at last; shades of a classic British summer – warm and sunny, but not uncomfortably hot. I’ve been catching up on sunrises, the occasional misty morn, for sure – as illustrated above - but it's without doubt one of the strangest of summers. I noted a few bulletins back the premature shedding of the fruit of the sycamore trees – well now, the leaves of the sycamore are already turning colour and beginning to fall. Someone mentioned this on the radio the other day: apparently it’s down to stress caused by the wonky summer – yes, even the trees are experiencing that most human of emotions. On the positive side there’s been a veritable explosion of wild flowers along our ditches and riverbanks – I’ll return to this stunning phenomenon next time, albeit there’s a little something to wet the appetite in SMILE OF THE DAY below. And to add to this upside down summer, this morning I experienced my first alfresco breakfast of the year: blackberries are already ripe for picking and I pigged out on them. Wonderful, but it does seem unnaturally early. Along my walk I also encounter a couple of apple trees – again the apples (cooking variety) are falling – so I take a few home, remove the core and fill with brown sugar and dried currants, stick in the oven: yum-yum.

The terrible news is the reappearance of the dreaded foot and mouth disease. Following the Shambo shemozzle – the sacred bullock of the Skanda Vale Hindu worshippers of Carmarthenshire (peruse July 2007 over on 400 Smiles A Day) - I submitted a letter to the Western Mail on July 24 (about a week or so before the foot and mouth outbreak), but sadly it did not make the cut, so it’s worth reiterating what I wrote: “It’s unbelievable that in an age of genetically modified Frankenstein foods, where we’re assured there will be no catastrophe a few generations down the line, our so called experts cannot come up with a simple and accurate test for bovine TB. And why did no one think to ask what would have happened if, God forbid, foot and mouth or mad cow disease had been the point at issue.” Setting aside my increasingly worrying ability to sense the ambush lurking around the next corner, the question now needs to be addressed with some urgency. I mention mad cow because those at Skanda Vale can properly argue that foot and mouth can in fact be vaccinated against, but mad cow is a slow and painful death sentence. Would any animal at SV not be put down to avoid such a lingering death? Philosophically intriguing, yes?

SMILE OF THE DAY: The appearance of the wild flowers means an extravagance of bees – all sorts of bees, which I’ve been photographing like mad in search of that one magical shot. The above snap reminds me of the now extinct Rairie Bee (rhymes with prairie). They were doomed from the day they developed a reluctance to fly - pretty serious for a bee you have to admit. Anyway, there was just the one Rairie bee left, and there it was, perched on a petal, just as above, and shit scared to jump off. Behind it lands a jumbo, rather impatient bumble bee: "Shoo, go on, away with you – or I’ll tip you over the edge." The Rairie peers nervously down – then back again, gulps, and with great trepidation and alarm in its voice pleads with its tormentor: “Please Mr Bumble, don't ... It’s a long way to tip a Rairie.” Goodnight Wing Commander. Goodnight Huw Bee.

  FRIDAY, AUGUST 03, 2007

Stop press, hold the front page, bang the drums, hallelujah - whatever - I witness a sunrise
on Wednesday, the 1st August. Some 4 minutes and 40 seconds of pure wonder and delight. Imagine: the whole of July without a single sunrise on parade – 52 days in total since last observed. The weather settled over the last weekend, and Monday morning dawned bright, still, clear but surprisingly coldish. I set off a good half-hour or so before sunrise – but rather than catch the sun I’m confronted by a glorious full moon setting over Dynevor Castle. I’ve no time to move about to capture the best angle as the moon is going down at a fair old pace, but fortunately I capture a few shots with part of the castle silhouetted against the moon – see above. I really like this one, very atmospheric. It was taken at 05.18. (What with the settled weather, I look in the paper to see what time the moon sets the next morning so that I can be sure to be in the right place at the right time – but I’m astonished to discover that the moon sets at 07.07, indeed moonset happens around 1 hour and 25 minutes later each morning. So the above take was truly a shot in the dark-ish.

After the moon shot I hurry over the brow of the hill to capture the sunrise at the opposite end of the compass. Bugger me, there’s that cloud on the horizon again, blocking out the sunrise. It’s similar the following morning; and there’s an additional hurdle: as the nights are now quite cold, and the ground still very damp, around 30 minutes before sunrise thick mist forms in the valley, and climbs skywards at astonishing speed, again blocking out the sunrise – captured in the first photo above. By Wednesday, although there’s some wispy horizon cloud, with the mist remaining grounded in the valley, I actually witness the sunrise, as captured in the middle photo.

By Thursday, cloud and rain again, and this morning it was overcast, although the cloud cleared some couple of hours after sunrise to give a delightfully sunny and warm morning – but dampness was back by late afternoon. I’ve just read that “June and July were not just wet, they were also gloomy; across the UK, the hours of sunshine averaged significantly below normal for both months, and together with the rain, these were depressing conditions.” Even though over recent years I’ve captured endless glorious sunrises, I’m wondering, allowing for horizon cloud and/or mist, do I actually witness an actual sunrise as often as I think I do. In future, and for as long as I’m spared, I shall record every clear sunrise in my diary, just to see if I’ve been lulled into a sense of ‘things are not like what they used to be!’.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s nourishment from the inside.” Debbie Harry, on the growth hormones she injects to stay young. Blimey, I dunno about you, but that sent a shiver through my inside. I reckon she’s more likely to explode. Personally I believe we’re all born young, middle age or old – and that’s how we go through life: we all know kids that behave like grown-ups and grown-ups that behave like kids. If I had to wear a lapel badge I think it would read middle age. Be that as it may, life is awash with coincidences. I’d decided on today’s headline ‘There’s the Sun, the Moon, and Debbie Harry’ before I’d read her quote – and here’s why. One of my favourite songs is Catherine Howe’s Harry:

There's the sun, the moon, and Harry,
Harry makes me smile;
There is sad and there is happy,
It will be happy this time ……

The headline ‘There’s the Sun, the Moon, and Hubie’ flashed briefly in front of my mind’s eye, but I instantly deleted it – after all, that’s not my call, for rather obvious reasons. Mind you, given my parallel universe web site ‘400 Smiles A Day’, the song would make a perfect theme tune. Still, my headline of choice would have been ‘There’s the Sun, the Moon, and Grace Kelly’ (my definition of a classy lady), but I thought I should stick as close as possible to Harry – so Debbie came to mind. Now Debbie Harry is far from being my ideal woman, although I wouldn’t kick her out of bed, as they say down the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Mind you, after reading the above quote of hers, perhaps I would, just in case she did explode with all those growth hormones swimming around inside her inside. 

Mention of one of my favourite songs brings to mind a recently read piece about the secret life of cars and their owners, and in particular how “car owners identify with the ‘cocoon-like security’ of the car as the reason why they prefer to drive, even when public transport is cheaper”. I sense that people will only be coaxed out of their cars when it becomes impossibly expensive to own one; after personal freedom, the freedom the car offers comes a very close runner-up. However, what particularly grabbed my attention was the research which revealed that “drivers sing in far greater numbers – up to four times as many – in the morning rush hour than the evening one”. No explanation was offered, and it stumped the writer, Richard Morrison, who was adamant that we should be told why. After all, it does make more sense for drivers to sing-along on the way home from work rather than on the way there.

Well, listen up then: I see that Radio 2 is now the UK’s favourite station, and the music played on Sarah Kennedy and Terry Wogan in the morning is hugely more sing-alongish than that heard on Steve Wright and Chris Evans in the afternoon and early evening. On Radio Wales the most listened to programme is String of Pearls, popular music from the thirties through to the fifties, indeed it attracts a world-wide audience via the internet. Oh that someone on digital radio would come up with a station that played only the great middle-of-the-road classics of all our lives, the kind of music heard regularly on Radio 2 before it became the swinging parent of Radio 1. They could call it Melody Radio.

SMILE OF THE DAY: Heard down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon tonight, three words you definitely don’t want to hear when you’re making mad, passionate love: “Honey, I’m home!” Goodnight love. Goodnight Hubie.



QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Getting dressed in the morning is something that should never take more than 20 seconds and putting on a pair of stockings and suspenders can take anything up to 3 hours. Actually this is only a guess, based on how long it takes me to undo a suspender belt. Even when I’m armed with a head torch and a pair of scissors.” Jeremy Clarkson, writer and presenter of Top Gear, bemoaning the modern female’s bottom gear as she abandons stockings and suspender belts. Setting aside the rather surprising initial perception that Mr Clarkson wears a pair of stockings and suspenders – yes, okay he was referring to the female of the species, but you take nothing for granted these days – he also adds: “If you flash your stocking tops at a man you can get him to do anything you want.” Too true. This all takes me back to the first 5 years of my working life, when I was a paid slave for Lloyds Bank. My final year in the bank was spent at Tregaron, a one-horse town in the middle of Wales. I dreaded my transfer there – what a dreadful hole-in-the-wall sort of a place for an apprentice buck-about-town to be marooned at. But do you know I spent a delightfully memorable twelve months there. When you find yourself in the middle of a hole you stop digging and make your own fun – which everyone at Tregaron and its environs seemingly had a degree in. I recall this one character – I can’t for the life of me remember his name (I have shocking recall of names and faces, though I can instantly remember every silly and amusing and embarrassing situation I ever experienced) – and this particular fellow was quite obviously a bit of a ladies’ man. He presumably had experience of that period in wild Wales when women still wore bloomers the size of wool sacks and climbing inside them was like getting into a four-poster bed, before moving on to knickers, panties and finally briefs or scanties – or as the Tregaron character called them, push-asides. When the urge was upon both him and his woman, with no time for any of that delicate foreplay nonsense, all he had to do was push the flimsy little things aside. The phrase 'push-asides' is burnt onto my hard drive!

This brings me right up to date. Down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, The PM (Brian the Preacher Man) is holding court. The PM runs the territory’s Chinese laundry (he’s known within the trade as Mr Wong, not forgetting his most agreeable partner Mrs Wight: that’s right, when you collect your washing you instantly know what’s Wong and what’s Wight), and he’s been known to regale us with tales of the modern woman’s range of appealing thongs (or appalling, depending on taste) that regularly pass through his fingers, professionally speaking, of course (what would my Tregaron character have made of the thong?). Suddenly The PM enquires of young Sera, the delightful serving wench behind the bar (fresh out of university with a degree in psychology), what on earth the female members of his staff were on about when they discussed going ‘commando’ on a night out. Sera duly enlightens him (and the rest of us) that it’s going on manoeuvres minus all underwear. Once we’d picked The PM up off the floor, who vowed to immediately join the SAS (it should have been the RMC, Royal Marine Corps, whence the commandos come), the rest of us concluded that we’d all been born a generation too soon. Clearly Jeremy Clarkson, who urged the girls to “Get back in your stockings”, knows less about the modern woman than even we all-fingers-and-thumbs rustics do.

Forty-five days and counting. The search for the missing sunrise goes on. Most mornings are now hopelessly overcast, but yesterday, the 24th, I came within a whisker. A quiet, beautiful daybreak, blue sky overhead, some delightful mist in the valley – but yet again there’s that damn cloud on the horizon. The sun appears about five minutes or so after sunrise proper, and then quickly disappears behind more cloud – but I capture some quite dramatic snaps as the sun reflects off the mist in the valley. Magic. Much better than having a battery charger shoved up your arse to give you a kick-start of a morning.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been captivated by a couple of TV ads. I’m not a great TV watcher, but I regularly have the telly on, usually tuned to Classic FM TV as background music as I catch up with and peruse the newspapers. One of the ads is for the new Ford Mondeo – the one where all those cars disappear into the sky tied to balloons. I particularly like the car caught up in the tree as it floats heavenwards. And I love the music: It sounds suspiciously like Philip Glass's Metamorphosis 2 (perfect music to launch the reinvented Mondeo by), which I've seen magically performed by a lady called Branka Parlic on Classic FM TV. Quite delightful. And very relaxing. Come to think of it, it's probably Metamorphosis 1. The other is the Powergen ad (also featured in newspapers and magazines), where everyone is showered with the two-winged fruits of the Maple family of trees, which float to the ground like helicopter blades: “Let the power of nature into your home.” Well blow me, and presumably due to the awfully wet and windy weather of the summer, I’ve noticed the ground littered with the fruits of sycamore trees, shed a good three months or so before they normally glide to the floor – as captured below. Blow me, indeed - or is Mother Nature trying to tell us something? A carbon footprint up our backsides, perhaps?

SMILE OF THE DAY: It’s always particularly pleasing when the beginning and end of a dispatch finds a perfect balance. I began with talk of women and stockings and suspenders – before swiftly moving on to The PM’s female staff going ‘commando’ on a night out – so it was particularly pleasing to be reminded of Mark Twain, the great American writer, and his thoughts on Puritans: “I haven’t a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices.” But best of all, The Crazy Horsepower Saloon put me in mind of Mr Twain’s early years, which were the product of a very Presbyterian, very church-going background, so when he visited Virginia, Nevada for the first time he found drinking and gambling and womanising: “This was no place for a Presbyterian and I did not long remain one.” Only in a place called Virginia.  Goodnight Commander. Goodnight Hubie.


TUESDAY, JULY 17, 2007

When Gordon Brown was made Prime Minister he announced that his old school motto would become his mission statement: ‘I will try my utmost.’ Well now, when he was Chancellor he did his utmost to shaft our pensions: £5billion a year he chose to surreptitiously siphon from our private pension funds; £50billion thus far, but in real terms a grand total, I read, of £100billion. Our pension funds are the equivalent of handing the Chancellor a blank, signed cheque. Only then do you begin to grasp the duplicity of his action. Robert Maxwell met a watery end for much the same thing. Brown had better beware the revolution. Still, I have a real problem making sense of these huge sums of money bandied about by government, big business and the city; for example, the recent Saga-AA link-up is reputedly worth £6.2billion. It’s only when you stack that up against Brown’s £5billion a year pension heist that you begin to grasp the enormity of the Chancellor’s greed. £100billion is a stunningly massive amount of money to rob us of. And what makes it worst, he channels some of it to ring-fence his own, already guaranteed, super 5-star, pension scheme. With the UK now established as the rip-off capital of the world, how apt that the Labour party sees Brown as the perfect figurehead for this increasingly corrupt little nation. I wouldn’t trust the fellow further than I could throw him.

Anyway, back to the school motto. I’ve not the slightest idea what my old school one was; I hated school, only fantasising about the girls made it sort of bearable – so I was thinking ... as I refer to this blog as ‘every day a day at school’ (I was a late convert to learning, and as we know, better late than never), then I really should have a ‘school’ motto. And there it is, atop the page, in Welsh: Gwell helpu na hindro. It’s self-explanatory, in as much that the key Welsh words are similar to the English: better to help than to hinder. However, I decided that the English translation would be the words of a song my mam would sing as she bounced me up and down on her knees when I was – oh, about 18 or so! And they truly are great words: ‘If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain.’ So is my motto my mission statement? Well, yes and no. Whilst I can publicly claim, without fear of contradiction, to have never hindered anyone in my life, I do seem to be cursed with a somewhat selfish gene; I really have to apply myself in the helping department. A few of my friends, not to mention others within the community, put me to shame. I vow to put more effort into it. Honest!

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The first Bessie Smith song I heard was Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer and, to this middle-class suburban Liverpudlian, it offered the possibility of escape to a place where people drank and swore and fell about and screwed each other. How very wonderful that all sounded.” George Melly, jazz singer, critic and author, who died on July 5, 2007, aged 80. How odd then that an age goes by before I read an Obituary in The Times, then like those buses, two come along together. First there was Bernard Manning, and just the other day, George Melly. I don’t know why I should be attracted to reading about such characters, but I guess they reflect the sort of larger-than-life souls I regularly mix with at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. One of Melly’s lesser-known hobbies included riding a moped around London, which led him to write occasional articles for Practical Moped, and to be a judge in the 1979 finals of Miss Moped Wales. Bet that was a nice ride. Old Good Time George lived at the cutting edge of physical, sexual and alcoholic extravagance. Melly's libido was legendary. "He would f*** anything that moved: animal, vegetable, mineral," a friend of the family is quoted as saying. The Melly sex drive was laid low only by old age: “It’s like being unchained from a lunatic,“ he was to confirm. I empathised. When I hit that first middle-age hurdle at age 35, I became aware that I was now a markedly more selective titcher (no, not a twitcher, a titcher – that’s a human bird watcher), even actually turning down an offer I shouldn’t really have refused (yes, I was sober, and it came as a shock). I put it all down to quality control. So far so okay. When a 'morning seller' (the agreeable rural expression for a pretty woman) drifts across my flight path, I throttle back, extend flaps and drop my wheels - anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Despite Melly's alcoholic extravagance, even when performing, he usually, but not always, managed to complete his act. On one occasion he arrived on stage, grabbed the mike and instantly slid to the floor. John Chilton, the trumpeter and bandleader, apologised to the audience: “I’m sorry, but the captain is no longer in command of the ship.”

Thirty-seven (yes, 37) mid-summer mornings without witnessing a sunrise – and counting. Extraordinary. On Wednesday 11th July I came within a whisker: blue sky overhead, but that damn stubborn cloud keeps hanging about on the horizon – as captured above - though this time it did clear fairly quickly, but not quick enough, the sun only appearing some ten minutes after actual sunrise. The wait goes on.

Incidentally, a couple of dispatches back I mentioned a letter I’d had published in Winner’s Letters in The Sunday Times. To recap, a reader had complained about the condition of the toilets at the Pump House restaurant, and I’d responded advising that the first port of call when visiting any unfamiliar hotel, pub, eatery, should always be the toilets. That will tell you the state of everything else within that property, including the people. Well, a Richard Evans of Somerset followed up with this: “I’d like to join the debate on toilets, and not just in hotels and eateries. When chairman of a large group of companies, my first port of call when visiting one of them was the toilet. Invariably the state of it had a direct correlation to that company’s balance sheet.” As I'd previously mentioned, an early port of call at any unfamiliar property, including a private house, should be the toilet; I bet that the next time you visit an alien bog you'll view the whole thing in a different light.

Mention of obituaries, last week I attended the funeral of a local lady, Beryl Collier, who died following the briefest of illnesses, at the age of 63. She and husband Roy hadn't long retired to Llandeilo, having now settled in to their new community. Really sad. At the funeral, the officiating minister, a Reverend Den Thomas, began his service thus: "For the purpose of what I am about to say, I shall split the congregation into two groups: those who believe - and those who disbelieve..." If this had been a traditional sermon I'd have been overwhelmed by the need to stick my hand up and say: "What about me? I'm an ambivalent. My soul says yes, my spirit says no. All things considered I go with my soul. If my spirit is correct, and there is no God, well, no harm done - and hopefully my apprenticing soul will insist that I  help somebody as I pass along. However, if my soul is right and there is a God, then I should be ahead of the game. Currently though, I'm still an ambivalent. Your call, minister."

SMILE OF THE DAY: Before I finally allow Bernard Manning to pass along, I’ve just read a review of a Channel 4 programme Bernard Manning from Beyond the Grave, where he presented his own obituary. The following made me laugh. The comedian watched his coffin – bearing the number plate I LAF – lifted out of the hearse. “I hope they don’t f***in' drop me ... when they carried Houdini’s coffin, a bearer remarked, ‘The c***’s not in there, you know.’” Goodnight St Peter. Goodnight Hubie.



As I was going to St Ives, I met a man with seven wives;
Seven wives with seven sacks, Seven sacks with seven cats,
Seven cats with seven kits: kits, cats, sacks, wives;
How many were going to St Ives?

From Japan’s 7 Deities of Good Fortune* – to God’s 7 Days of Creation – the number has been bestowed down the ages with talismanic powers. Some suggest it might derive from the ancient belief that there were only 7 planets: the pre-Copernicus model of 7 planets and 7 heavens and the sense that everything was brought to order in 7 days. Well, this very morning I sit down to watch the Australia v South Africa Tri-Nations rugby international. The Aussies are hot favourites as South Africa rest all their leading players. However, just six minutes into the game South Africa score a try. Following a successful conversion, one of the commentators points out: “Just look at that – 7 points on the board, 7 minutes into the game, on the 7th day of the 7th month of the 7th year – now that’s what I call an omen.” 7/7/7/7/7. Against all expectations, South Africa shoot into a 17-0 lead – but still lose the game. Thank goodness I’ve not been seduced by magical or protective powers - touch wood. (*The 7 Gods of good fortune in the Shintō religion are Candour, Fortune, Amiability, Magnanimity, Popularity, Longevity, and Dignity.)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I love you Hugh Grant. He put my two kids through school and gave us the chance of a better life. Thanks to him we bought a new house, Rolex watches, a Rolls-Royce, a Mercedes and diamonds.” Divine Brown, the Hollywood call-girl, whose brief encounter with the British actor brought her fame and fortune. It’s always been a puzzle why a celebrity, someone like Hugh Grant, would ever need to use a call-girl. Many moons back I won a 5-star Concorde holiday to America. Sat at the bar of the Hilton in Miami, I struck up a conversation with a rather attractive American girl. “You’re Welsh,” she said, which came as a huge surprise because wherever I’ve travelled in the world folk have always been puzzled by my accent – but it turned out that she’d spent a few years as a student in Cardiff. We got on famously. Out of the blue she said: “You don’t know what I am, do you?” As she said this, I suddenly had a “Doh!” moment – I have an affinity with Homer Simpson, my life is awash with “Doh!” moments – for I’d registered a girlfriend of hers regularly sliding up and whispering something before sliding away again. Yes, that’s right, she was a hooker, albeit a high-class hooker. Now I’ve never paid for sex in my life, and saw no reason to start there and then, especially when she said how much she charged: a good few hundred dollars, a thousand for an all-night stand. And that was back then. I politely declined. But here’s a funny thing – and my life is not only awash with “Dohs!” but also “Wel-i-jiw-jiws!” – she said she’d enjoyed my company so much, what with the Welsh connection, she'd love to fix up a date on her night off. I smiled, remembered what my old Welsh mam had told me about these very naughty ladies, made my excuses - and left. And I was left wondering if her night off coincided with the arrival of her period. Period! As I say, I’m just a simple country boy…

This crazy weather goes on. Twenty-seven days since I last watched the sun rise! Unbelievable. Of course it hasn’t been wet all the time, or even cloudy, but when we’re into an Atlantic flow of air there’s always cloud on the horizon. About an hour after sunrise, sometimes sooner, the sun will make an appearance, indeed today has been a wonderful summer’s day, but I did not see the sun rise. The above photo, a struggling sunrise as a backdrop to Dinefwr Castle, highlights the phenomenon perfectly. But those depressions just keep on coming: cats and dogs, tacks and pitchforks, stair rods – or as we say in Welsh, “Yn piso lawr!”. I love the Afrikaans version: “Ou vrouens met knopkieries reen,” – it’s raining old women with knobkerries. But, as Dolly Parton so succinctly put it: “The way I see it, you wanna rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” Incidentally, a rainbow is made up of the two things essential for life: light and water. So here’s a rainbow I slid down earlier.

SMILE OF THE DAY: “Drink makes you feel sophisticated – but unable to say it…” Wasn’t it W C Fields who said: “I drink only moderately; in fact, if you come back to the house I’ve got an unopened case of moderately.” It was definitely W C Fields who said this: “Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and, furthermore, always carry a small snake.” Goodnight – hick! Goodnight Hubie.



QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I was forced to share a bed with all my five siblings, some of whom regularly wet the bed. One night, my mother asked me ‘Where do you want to sleep?’ I replied: ‘At the shallow end.’.” Comedian Bernard Manning in his own obituary written shortly before he died of kidney trouble on June 18, 2007, aged 76. I rarely read the obituaries in The Times – time and tide, sadly – but I was drawn to Manning’s. As a comedian, I could take him or leave him. He was seen as the epitome of the raw, no-nonsense Northern comic, often finding dark comedy in life’s cruelties: “My mother was 95 when she died; I used to carry her down the stairs to make my breakfast.” He became notorious for his race gags. In 1995 World in Action clandestinely recorded him entertaining police officers with racist jokes. Three years later his attempt to enliven the audience of the Mrs Merton Show with racist content fell rather flat. (At this point I find myself wondering if the audience had been specifically selected for the purpose, especially as we now know about the phone-in cons that the TV companies regularly indulged in – well, do you trust anything you see on TV these days? Believe nothing you hear, half what you see, but everything your instinct tells you.) Manning also took swipes at his fellow comics. He told Jim Bowen that he looked like “a trainee corpse” who would “never live to be as old as you look” (now why did Anne Robinson spring to mind just then?). Stan Boardman, he said, was “the unfunniest man to come out of Liverpool since the slave traders”. The only minority he thought beyond the pale to mock were the disabled. Asked who his hero was, he always cited Mother Teresa. Occasionally, there are some conversations where it would be quite wonderful to be a fly on the wall. Just imagine: When Bernard met Teresa. Finally, I loved this, again from his own obituary: "I was glad I managed to make it into my seventies. I had an uncle  who was still having sex at 74. Which was lucky, as he lived at number 72."

Having decided to share a sunrise with you for each of my dispatches from the front line, I suddenly realised what a dramatic change there’s been in the weather. I keep a daily diary – not a Dear Jane type, just a record of where I go and who I meet, along with a note of the one thing that made me smile/laugh the most that day – so I decided to look back, being that I also keep a superficial record of the day’s weather. Following the gloriously sunny, dry and warm spring, the whole shebang turned awkward around the May Day holiday of May 7 – and it’s been unsettled ever since. Now we haven’t had much rain here in west Wales, at least compared with other parts of the UK, but it’s been enough to disrupt the farmers with their harvest, and of course it certainly hasn’t enchanted itself to the holidaymaker. In fact, a staggering 17 mid-summer days have passed since I witnessed a clear sunrise; yes, there've been a couple or so where the sun darts in and out between rolling cloud, but no proper sunrise, just day after day of overcast conditions. Here in the UK we don’t have a climate, just weather, which probably explains why we’re always talking about it.

Wel-i-jiw-jiw, I’ve had a couple of letters published. The first was in The Times, to do with the proposed decrease in the alcohol limit while driving. This was published on June 20: “Sir, Drink-drive road deaths account for some 10-15 per cent of the annual figure – the other 85 per cent is down to those drivers who are as ‘sober as a judge’. Neither politicians nor the police have the slightest idea what to do about our disastrous driving skills. The answer is simple: a driving licence should be as cherished as a pilot’s licence, with all its attendant regular checks and medicals.” Two other points strike me. How do we know that what actually makes the drink-drive motorist crash is not precisely the same lack of judgment as the sober one? And of course we know that young men between 17 and 25 make up a disproportionate percentage of the 3,200-plus killed annually on UK roads. I owned a series of sports cars in my twenties, the age at which a man should have a sports car, and more by luck than judgment, I guess, I avoided accidents. I also gained a pilot’s licence in my twenties. Exciting as driving a sports car along the highways and byways of the land is the adrenalin rush doesn’t compare with throwing an aircraft about the sky. Yet as far as I’m aware, the death of young pilots in aviation is not disproportionate to any other age group. That tells us something, surely?

The other letter was in the Michael Winner column of The Sunday Times. The following had first appeared there: “…We had a similar experience at the Pump House restaurant in London. When we politely mentioned to the owner that the toilets needed cleaning, he inspected, did nothing and continued to serve the customers. Then he instructed a waiter to clear our table and asked us to leave. He was abusive to one of our guests and told us he didn’t care as he’d sold the restaurant. Has it become a trend? I hope not. L. Berkman, London” I responded with this, which was published last Sunday, June 24: “Further to L Berkman’s letter last week regarding the state of the toilets at the Pump House, the first port of call when visiting any unfamiliar hotel, pub, eatery, should always be the toilets. That will tell you the state of everything else within that property, including the people.” I suppose I should add that your first port of call at any unfamiliar property, including a private house, should be the toilet; moreover, when you ponder the filthy state of so many things in this country it does make you wonder about the state of mind of the nation’s movers and shakers.

In my previous dispatch I related my “Doh!” moment when I mistook a cooing dove for a couple making the old mad, passionate, love-making thing. You’ll never guess, but the bird is back. This morning I managed to grab a photo. It eyed me suspiciously, then flew down from its roof top perch to a lower level to investigate – and it strutted right up to the edge of a bay window with its chest blown out as if determined to chat me up. What is it with me and my walks on the wild side? First there was that amorous stallion I reported a little while back; now this dove…

SMILE OF THE DAY: I stumble across the following in The Times: Bill Bryson, the endlessly amusing travel writer, was awash with helpful travel advice at a recent travel industry meeting, in particular ways of avoiding a grizzly bear attack. The best idea, apparently, is to wear little bells on clothing to warn bears that visitors are approaching. He also recommends that walkers look out for bear scat (dung – or shit as we call it way out west in Llandeilo). Then he helpfully adds: “If you want to know how to recognise bear scat, it’s the one with the little bells in it.” Goodnight Quasimodo. Goodnight Hubie.


TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 2007

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Can anyone explain to me why the commonest three words in the English language are now: ‘Made in China’? I don’t think I’ve seen ‘Made in UK’ on anything for years.” Best-selling writer Frederick Forsyth. He’s right you know; in fact I’m totally baffled how the UK survives by not producing anything – or nothing of much consequence, anyway. From the home of the industrial revolution - to the land of the call centre – and the decline happened over just one generation. Worst of all, we’re rapidly reaching the time when we’ll be importing most of our food. Have we learnt nothing from history? All we need is a really significant world-wide disaster – history does not repeat itself, but the events that shape history certainly do, and everything points to a long-overdue cataclysm – and the first thing to go will be all this cheapo food (in more senses that one) journeying across the world. That’s when our stomachs will really start to rumble. Obesity will be the last thing on our minds.

Talking of ‘Made in China’, have you noticed how the Chinese, with their restaurants and takeaways, have infiltrated every corner of our land, yet significantly, keep themselves to themselves. They bother no one outside of their own tribe, and no one bothers them – except the awkwards and drunks who give them a hard time over the takeaway counter, mostly at weekends. Someone once told me the Bible states that ‘the yellow race will one day rule the world’. I dunno if that is so, but I’ll tell you what, I’m always extra pleasant to our local Chinese connection, for you can be sure that when the Chinese tanks roll into town, their first port of call at Llandeilo will be the Great Wall in Carmarthen Street – and they’ll want a list of everyone who’s nasty and everyone who's nice. The nice will be suitably rewarded – the nasty will be up against the Great Wall. Oh yes, what has lightning, thunder and torrential downpours, but happens only in china? A storm in a teacup.

Far be it for me to challenge Frederick Forsyth, but I’d say the following are the commonest three words in the English language: “You are joking?” Which I heard again today following the tale of clown Barney Baloney, who has had to cut his 'I’m forever blowing bubbles' routine from the act because insurers say it’s just too dangerous – anything could happen once those nasty, slippery bubbles fall to the floor. You couldn’t, as they say, make it up. It’s those Health & Safety bods at it again, as discussed on April 26, 2007: Something In Black…

I was clicking through some of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photos I’ve taken since I decided to carry a camera on my early morning walks, and it struck me how many sunrises I’ve captured – in all shapes and sizes and colours. It’s quite astonishing how beautiful and varied the sky can be, especially given that extraordinary quality of light present for a brief time around sunrise. It’s only when you view a series of photos taken over a period of time, of roughly the same view, at roughly the same time of day – in relation to sunrise, that is – that you truly appreciate the kaleidoscopic range of the early morning light. I think I shall share a sunrise with you on each of my little walks through time and place, and I start with the one above – which is a particularly startling example: it’s that shaft of light shooting up from the rising sun. There’s probably a simple explanation for the phenomenon - I've e-mailed the photo to BBC Wales weather man Derek Brockway for a verdict - but I’ve never seen anything like it before. I shall keep you posted.

The idea of including a sunrise came to me while reading Caitlin Moran in yesterday’s Times newspaper. She spoke about her favourite “public artist”, whatever that means, someone called Martin Firrell. I quote Caitlin: “I first came across his work printed on cinema tickets at the Curzon in Soho. ‘Ageing is a privilege, not a predicament,’ ran the slogan (across the ticket). Ageing – not being murdered, or dying of cancer, or being run over, or drinking dirty water and then shitting yourself to death – really is a privilege … Firrell apparently came up with the slogan after watching a whole generation of his friends die from Aids, and he’s right. Every extra day we live should make us ecstatic. Every breakfast is a victory feast.” Wonderful words, from both Martin and Caitlin. This is why, from now on, I’ll treat every sunrise as a victory feast of the senses: nice to see you, to see you nice. And hopefully, if I’m spared, I’ll share a good few with you.

Caitlin quotes another couple of Firrell slogans: “When the world is run by fools, it’s your duty to disobey.” “Hero: The future of gods, icons and heroes.” That last one baffles me. Caitlin goes on to discuss how we must look for modern heroes to guide us through this crazy world: Jamie Oliver, Richard Dawkins, Al Gore, Ray Mears, Paul Newman, David Attenborough – no women, intriguingly. At this point I made my excuses and left. Nothing against her idea of heroes, but I’ve never had a single hero in my life, so I’m not qualified to comment. Yes, there are plenty of individuals I’ve admired hugely, especially within the community, but I’ve no conception what the word hero means. Anyway, here’s a variation on that curious sunrise…

As I returned home this morning from my walk, up Bridge Street, I was passed by a white van. On the back was the omnipresent invite seen on commercial vehicles these days: How is my driving? Hot on its heels was a telephone number. If that was my van, I’d change the question to a statement: Howe is my driver! And leave it at that. Just moments after the van had disappeared I was passed by a truck bearing the legend: SOD IT & SEEDYpurveyors of quality turf, plants and trees. Actually, I may have made that company title up – but the word ‘purveyor’ certainly registered. It was quite a common word not so long ago, and you always noticed it outside the legion of small shops that sold commodities, especially foodstuffs. It’s a wonderful sounding word, which has a delightfully dubious ring about it. I think it should be revived, with a thoroughly modern twist: purveyor – a person in a dirty mac who searches the internet for dodgy material to view. 

SMILE OF THE DAY: A few weeks back, at around eight on a Saturday morning, again returning from my walk, I’d navigated Bridge Street, then up Carmarthen Street, and as I passed the Great Wall takeaway (must give my friends another mention), I heard this curiously throaty, moaning kind of a sound. Hello, I thought, someone’s having a good time; I instinctively glanced towards the upstairs window where I though the sound was coming from. It wasn’t the loud, hanging-from-the-chandeliers kind of sexual gratification noise, more the nice-and-easy-does-it kind of moan. I continued past, bearing an envious smile. Blow me, on Sunday morning, the same again. And on several mornings thereafter. Now I was fairly sure I knew which house the sound of satisfaction was coming from, and I’d recently noticed a removal van outside as new people moved in. Don’t ask why, but I couldn’t wait to see what they looked like. Anyway, this very morning, walking up Carmarthen Street, some sixty yards or so from the M-spot, I again hear ‘the’ sound – well, not quite the same, but near enough – so taken somewhat by surprise I look up at a roof ahead of me, a property the other side of the road to the aforementioned house – and there it is – a dove! I don’t believe it. I’m familiar with a dove’s calling card, but this sound is somewhat different – but as soon as I register the dove, it rings a bell. As I pass the suspect house, the dove is still at it, and now, probably because of the echo between the buildings, it was the precise sound I’d been smiling at all along. Blow me, indeed. Confusing the cooing of a bloody dove with a couple taking the high road to heaven. Doh! Goodnight Homer. Goodnight Hubie.


SUNDAY, JUNE 10, 2007

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Fast and loose.” A Radio Wales presenter describes himself in three little words. Listening to Roy Noble on Radio Wales the other morning, and as is his wont, he threw out a challenge to his listeners to describe themselves in just three words. As a starter for three, a few BBC presenters gave it their best shots – I missed who it was that delivered the above, but it made me smile, as it did those in the studio given their reactions. So I pondered on coming up with a couple of responses: a ‘fast and loose’, jitterbug sort of an effort, as well as a ‘slow, slow, quick-quick, slow’, more thoughtful approach. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more bogged down I got - I mean, you have to see yourself as you think others see you: Self-awareness-R-Us. What helped is that I have two calling cards: one a sort of ‘serious’ business card, the other for the ‘you strike me as a lady who’s blessed with the ability to reduce the size of a man’s problem at a stroke’ moments of life. The light-hearted card announces ‘Hubie the Handyman’, which I guess neatly sums me up as a ‘Jack of all trades, master of one’ (that one being my 20/20 instinct for survival as explained under the First time here? thread at the cave entrance; just beneath ‘Hubie the Handyman’ it reads ‘I also mend broken hearts and administer the kiss of life where deemed appropriate’. Well, if nothing else, it makes recipients smile.

Right then, Hubie in three 'fast and loose' words: Handy and horny. Why horny, I sense you wonder. Well, I live alone, so I mostly wake up on my own – and historically, in an advance state of horniness. Now my trouble is that I can never remember who or what it is I’ve dreamt about – so I’m just dying to find out who the hell this lady is who occupies my dreams to such an inflated degree. All I know is that she must live in Abilene, that glorious place made famous by George Hamilton IV in his song of the same name… 

Abilene, Abilene
Prettiest town I’ve ever seen;
Women there don’t treat you mean
In Abilene, my Abilene.

I love it when George’s harmonious and seductive all-female backing group join in with ‘Women there don’t treat you mean!’... Yes sir, Abilene is my kinda town; in fact, twinned with my other dream town, Imagination.

Right, now for those three words from the business end of my life: well, how does the world perceive me? Probably the greeting I’ve heard most in my life is: “What are you smiling at?” At conception I guess I must have been blessed with a smiley gene – actually, I’ve got a grand tale to tell about this, which follows under ‘Smile of the day’ – I mean, it’s either that, or it's down to the fact that I was simply born on the sunny side of a Welsh hillside, the rural equivalent of the sunny side of the street. The second tick-box is that 20/20 instinct mentioned above. As for the third word, I was going to say dependable: if I agree to meet you at noon, I’ll be there five minutes before time, and should something crop up to stop me being there, then all things being equal, you’ll know well before the big hand arrives at the spot (and I don't wear a watch, whatever that says about me). I was discussing this with one of the regulars at the White Hart, an individual who, in another time, in another place, would have been one of those who drove the iron horse west across the prairies and mountain ranges of the wild west. At the Crazy Horsepower he’s a Welsh variation of one of the driving forces of the industrial revolution, Isambard Kingdom Brunel – except he’d be Caradog Tywysogaeth Brunel – Caractacus Principality Brunel (mention of Caractacus reminds me of the Court of King Caractacus, as made famous by Rolf Harris: ‘Now if you want to take some pictures of the fascinating witches who put the scintillating stitches in the britches of the boys who put the powder on the noses on the faces of the ladies of the harem of the court of King Caractacus – you’re too late – because they’ve just… passed… by!’). Anyway, we sort of concluded that, really, I’m a happy-as-a-pig-in-shit sort of person, never jealous of wealth, power, position, talent, celebrity... and whilst I may occasionally be envious of someone who can jump in his or her helicopter to skip over a 5-hour traffic jam of a journey, the thought passes as quickly as it arrives. So I suppose the three words that best describe me are: Smiley, instinctive, contented. Yes, I can look myself in the mirror with those Three Musketeers behind me.


SMILE OF THE DAY: Just after my birth, when the midwife grabbed me by the ankles and dangled me in order to slap my bottom, or whatever it is they do at such moments, she was rather surprised that I didn’t scream and yell as babies normally do. Not only that, she registered a sort of smile floating about my face. She then noticed something rather unusual about one of my hands, in at much that it appeared to be clenched rather tightly. She gently tried to prise it open – which is when I began to giggle, apparently - and the more she tried to open my clenched fist, the more and louder I giggled and chortled and laughed. Everyone gathered around. At this point the midwife became a bit concerned that perhaps my hand was slightly deformed or something – but before calling for a doctor, she tried one more time to force open my little hand. By this time I was in a fit of giggles – she had never seen anything like it – but eventually, success, she managed to open my hand – and everyone stared in disbelief. There in my little hand was a condom. Goodnight Abilene. Goodnight Hubie.


FRIDAY, JUNE 01, 2007

 QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Masturbation, don’t knock it. It’s sex with someone you love.” Woody Allen comes straight to the point. Now I’ve always believed that you meet a much better class of bird that way: in fact, the perfect girl next door, oozing natural born class, blessed with tits that are not too large, not too small – oops, thank goodness this isn’t my 'Smile of the day', those final agreeable recollections of another brilliant day at school, parting thoughts just before I drop off, somewhere over the rainbow... Which all reminds me of an incident from my youth, when my mam caught me masturbating – and took me along to see our doctor, the agreeable Dr Morgan, bless him, a kind, considerate and generous human being, and as a bonus, a good friend of the family. Anyway, my mam must have briefed him before hand because when he sat me down in front of him he began: “Now look Hubert, I understand fully why you can’t stop yourself doing this, this - playing with yourself thing – but it’s not good for your health, you know.” He leant forward as if about to impart the very secret of life itself, the meaning of the number 42. “Truth to tell, if you keep on doing it you’ll eventually go blind.” This is not a very nice thing for an impressionable young lad to hear, so rapidly collecting my thoughts – clearly my ancestors didn’t come up the Irish Sea on pogo sticks – I bravely countered: “Will it be okay, doctor, if I wank just a little and wear glasses?” The following probably comes under ‘too much information’, but at age 35 I started wearing glasses…

Talking of sex and things, in my last dispatch (May 23: Smile of the day), I promised to relate the tale of the randy stallion featured there in full-blown, if slightly hazy, Technicolor. To start at the beginning: I love those first four hours or so of daylight, my sojourn into nature, my walk on the wild side; albeit that I pretty much cover the same territory each and every morning, every ramble is different. I find myself on nodding terms, not only with the changing face of nature through the seasons, but also the farm animals I bump into along the way - not to mention all the birds, bees and creatures of the forest I come into contact with. Just the other day I enter a big field, large for this part of the world for sure, 50-odd acres I guess. I soon notice a lamb lying on the ground ahead of me – yet the flock is at the far end of this field. Is it dead? No, for I can now see that it’s simply lying down. Where’s its mother? As I approach I notice it has a problem; for starters it would never stay there on its own anyway, far from its mother and the rest of the flock, unless it was suffering something nasty. As I get nearer still I register that it looks okay, except that it seems to be trying to get to its feet. My heart sinks. I’ve come across this before. There’s a disease called ‘joint ill’ which, surprise, affects the joints of lambs: it strikes young lambs anywhere between 5 days and 5 weeks of age. The lamb picks up a bacterium called Streptococcus Dysgalactiae, either off the dam’s teats or through its milk. The joints become inflamed and useless; the lamb can’t stand up or walk, and it rapidly looses the will to live. If the disease is caught instantly it can be treated with high doses of antibiotics, but as it's pretty much impossible for a farmer to notice a troubled lamb in such a large flock (except in the circumstances I experience here), the disease is terminal. When I get to the lamb it has abandoned its struggle to stand up – so I gently lift it onto its feet. It hovers momentarily, like someone walking a tightrope – before collapsing back onto the ground. Oh dear, for you Tommy the Lammy, the war is over. And then something totally extraordinary happens.

I suddenly hear a sort of rumbling sound. I look up, and from about 200 yards away, a horse is trotting determinedly and rather menacingly towards me. The farmer, whose field this is, occasionally keeps horses here, anything from one to five in number, and usually they’re youngish. Horses are just like people: some are ultra friendly, most are wary but okay, and a few are very nervous and won’t come within many hands, even when they become familiar with my regular treks across the field. This particular horse is a stallion, not a youngster, far from it, and when he first appeared on the field a few weeks back I’d walk past him and he’d occasionally stroll towards me, even allow me to stroke his face – but I was a bit unsure of him, a little nervous that he’d bite me, and this uncertainty would transmit itself to the stallion – so he then became a bit unsure of me. Anyway, we sort of get on. But here he is, speeding towards me, rather aggressively at that. Instinct is a curious thing, and I begin to back away rapidly from the lamb. As I do so I watch him coming straight for the lamb, and I’m thinking, bloody ‘ell, he’s going to trample all over the little thing. But now for something completely different: he pulls up just in front of the lamb, walks slowly around it and parks himself between me and the lamb. Well blow me. It’s protecting the helpless mite.


I start to talk to the stallion, as I always do when I pass him, as I do all the animals I encounter – and I can sense him relax - trust is slowly and crucially regained. I too now feel relieved, so much so I slide the camera off my shoulder. But he’s between me and the lamb – so I begin to edge slowly around so as to get both the horse and lamb in shot – and that’s the photo above. Unbelievable, really. The stallion then slowly walks around the lamb. Now I know I’m okay – he’s having an erection (look closely above, right, as he looks back at the lamb, and you'll see old Willy Wanka primed for action!). Well, a stallion doesn’t have an erection as we men do because it, er, hangs down, only occasionally slapping itself against its proud owner's underbelly – or when he performs, obviously. I guess you’d call a stallion’s erection simply ‘having a hard on’, period! Now here’s a funny thing: from the very first day I became acquainted with this stallion, he’d have a hard on. I remember telling his owner that either, he’s a gay boyo, or I give off some very strange pheromones which turn on stallions. Then I cracked it. Farmers don’t talk to animals the way we townies do (yes, I know I’m a farmer’s boy, but I’m really a townie these days, and I tend to act as one). So the only time the farmer would talk to this stallion, or more correctly call out to him, would be when a visitor comes a calling with a mare to cover – and the farmer calls out for him to come – quick! – therefore he associates human conversation with a whole lot of rumpy-pumpy. So every time I spoke to the stallion, he was thinking, uh-oh, I’m in for a good time here. However, these days, he rarely has a hard on when we have a chat – I mean, you can only handle so many false Dawns.


Back with the lamb, more strange things unfold: all the commotion has alerted the cattle in the field, and as is their wont, being an unbelievably nosey lot, they come over, and I observe an older, breeding cow (nearer the camera, above), as well as a young bullock, approach the lamb and investigate. They sniff it ever so curiously and gently, as if prescribing the last rites. Clearly, not only does the stallion know that the lamb is in trouble, but the astonishing affection shown by the cattle confirms that they too are in on the inevitable. Nature, red raw in tooth and claw, never fails to amaze. I then carry on my walk, but out of curiosity I return an hour or so later. By now the lamb’s mother has returned and stands there, rather forlornly. An even later visit suggests that the end is near as both mother and offspring gaze wretchedly into the lens (below). Death follows swiftly.


The mother wanders off. Crows land nearby and approach warily. The eyes are always the first to go, a delicacy, or perhaps the easiest to peck and gobble; a greedy gull plops down to investigate; birds of prey - buzzards and red kites - hover. Foxes quickly spot a snack presented on a green platter - and jump the queue. The feast continues apace. Those of a sensitive disposition should look away now...

In no time all - often before the farmer or anyone else even knows what's happening - all that remains are traces of its woolly coat. Mother Nature slams shut one door, but opens another. You’d have to be a pretty cold fish not to be touched by this astonishing episode of nature at work. But, the sheepdogs joyously wag their tails as they gather the flock - and the caravan moves on...

Territory folks should stick together,
Territory folks should all be pals;
Cowboys dance with farmer’s daughters,
Farmers lance the ranchers’ gals…

Talking of cowboys, a local farmer was looking for a farm manager, and he’d narrowed the shortlist down to three applicants: an Australian, an American, and a Welshman. Now the farmer was a grand old boy, if a bit eccentric, and one of the tests he gave the three was to complete the following statement: Old MacDonald had a – what? And with so much form filling and paperwork now attached to farming, they also had to spell the missing word. The Australian was first: Old MacDonald had a - ? “Spread – spelt s-p-r-e-a-d.” The American was next: Old MacDonald had a - ? “Ranch – r-a-n-c-h.” Last, the Welshman: Old MacDonald had a - ? "Farm!" "Very good, now spell it." "E-i-e-i-o!" Goodnight Pardner. Goodnight Hubie.


400 Smiles A Day

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