Look you
Previously: Mar to May '07



QUOTE OF THE DAY: “No smokin’, no drinkin’, no cursin’!” Memorable words from John Evans of Swansea who died in 1990 aged 112, the longest-lived man in the UK according to authenticated records. As the grand old boy became a record holder the media would doorstep him every birthday and ask the same old question year in, year out: “And to what do you put down your longevity?” He remained compos mentis to the end, but he would increasingly, and quite naturally, have to concentrate on his answers. I can see him now, eyes shut tight: “No smokin’, no drinkin’, no cursin’!” Well, smokin’ kills for sure, yet we all know individuals who have smoked throughout most of their lives, albeit not like chimney stacks, and have lived to a ripe old age – especially that dying breed (oops, pun unintended) called pipe smokers. On the radio the other day motorists were asked about a proposed ban on smoking while driving. When I was in insurance I knew my clients so well they’d pretty much always tell me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth regarding their accidents, and then invite me to sort out the words in the most agreeable way on the claim forms; I was always surprised how many had shunts while fiddling with the radio or cassette/CD player – and, crucially, dropping a lighted cigarette.

Meanwhile back with the radio interviews, one chap had been told by his driving instructor to always avoid drivers who smoked a pipe – oh, and Volvo cars. Even I remember being told to avoid having accidents with Volvos and Saabs because they were built like tanks, and I would come off worst in any collision. As for pipe smokers – well, I’ve never observed a pipe smoker who’s not wholly contented behind his pipe, at peace with the world, so I guess you avoid pipe smoking drivers because they operate in a little world of their own… So what about drinkin’? Again, moderation is everything. At my local White Hart, a regular is Dai Collins, who recently celebrated his 101st. Sharp as a button, and whenever he visits the pub he partakes of a schooner of sherry, two at a push. But the real killer is John Evans’s crucial “no cursin’” addendum: those who curse, excepting hitting your thumb with a hammer, are the victims of stress in all its myriad manifestations. Yes, stress is the one that’ll get you in the end. Unless, of course, you smoke a pipe.

Anyway, let’s stick with smokin’: with the ban now firmly established here in Wales, but not yet in England, it’s amusing observing the reactions of smokers when confronted by the ban. A local chap working in England recently came home for the weekend, strode into the pub and lit up, much to everyone’s amusement – until someone pointed out with glee that, er, it’s banned. Also, visitors from the other side of Offa’s Dyke often light up without thinking, but when it’s pointed out it’s never a problem. As no one seems to notice the official signs provided by the government, I decided to come up with a special No Smokin’ card to help draw attention to the ban – as above, see a larger version over on 400 smiles a day. In fact I’m reminded of an incident from many moons ago when a hearse climbing up Rhosmaen Street in Llandeilo had the back door suddenly spring open, the coffin crash out onto the road and begin to slide back down the street; as it passed the Co-op chemist shop the lid of the coffin opened, a “body” climbed out, walked into the chemist shop and approached a rather surprised Bethan behind the counter: “Can you suggest something appropriate to stop me coffin!” 

Still making headlines is little Madeleine McCann, missing out in Portugal; I recently read the following by Mathew Parris, award-winning columnist of The Times newspaper, and I quote verbatim: “Yellow ribbons for Maddy in the Commons chamber. Yuk. What disgusting, mawkish, creepy behaviour by pathetic MPs hoping to tap in to the emotions of the mob, to live like the common people, feel what the common people feel. ‘Look, I’m blubbing too, just like you: vote for me.’ One secretary of state was even seen to arrive without a ribbon, notice them spreading like weeds backwards from the front bench, exit and return with her own ribbon. Were the whips dishing them out? Is this how people get sucked in to waves of shallow public sentiment? First you copy the ribbons, then the tears and finally you think you’re feeling it too. Poor parents of Madeleine McCann. Why doesn’t everyone just leave them alone?” Yes Mathew, 125 opening words in your column which ensures that neither you nor your readers will leave them alone. Crazy world, crazy people. Incidentally, am I the only one who thinks that there’s something rather odd about this whole episode? Actually no, because only tonight I spoke to a mum of two who shares my troubled thoughts…

Ah yes, the rhythm of nature: the delicate snowdrop came and went; as did the beautiful and buttonholeish primrose; the gorgeous bluebell is making its last stand; now the naughty but visually nice rhododendron is demanding that I stop and stare; and this early morning along my regularly walk, the seductive fragrance of heaven, the honeysuckle. The hedgerows at this particular spot will shortly be a paradise of riotous honeysuckle; the early morning scent hanging in the still air is allure and temptation writ large. Summer has arrived.


SMILE OF THE DAY: I hardly ever watch TV these days; indeed, I get my fix from simply reading “last night’s TV” reports in the papers. I’ve only just read a review of Paul Merton in China; he visits a novelty/traditional restaurant where he is offered a donkey penis dish, as well as buffalo, bull and goat penis too. What would he have made of the horse penis shown above? (I've a quite touching tale to tell of this randy stallion, and I’ll return to it in my next dispatch, promise.) Anyway, back with Merton, after being confronted by all the aforementioned penises (or penes, but that sounds like a flower, and whatever a Willy Wanka looks like, it certainly ain’t a flower): “Too many cocks spoil the broth,” quipped Merton, although I read that he hadn’t put enough of them in his mouth to earn the joke. Nice one, but I think I’d have munched on it a goodly while before thoughtfully declaring: “Hm, it sort of grows on you.” Goodnight Fanny. Goodnight Hubie.


MONDAY, MAY 14, 2007
SOLITAIRE (a gem, especially a bluebell, set alone in a ring of anemones)

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Hello, hello, is that the Almighty?” This opening shot from one of my favourite quotes came to mind while perusing yet another of Professor Richard Dawkins’ alarmingly humourless “The God, the Bad and the Ugly” articles. Picture the scene: a traditional nonconformist preacher of note in a chapel in the heartland of Welsh Wales, and he's well into another memorable fire and brimstone sermon, a grab-your-attention delivery somewhere between Billy Graham and Ian Paisley. He has a penchant for dramatic use of a telephone during his sermons, so he suddenly picks up an imaginary phone off the pulpit and holds it to his ear: “Hello, hello, is that the Almighty?” There’s a dramatic pause. “Got you at last!” He instantly has a smiley congregation in the palm of his phone-free hand. And what really tickled the person who relates this tale is that, while the service was entirely in Welsh, the preacher man’s entertaining conversation with God took place totally in English. The language of heaven is clearly Anglo-Saxon.

The question “Is that the Almighty?” certainly tickled my fancy; so much so that whenever I now observe yet another person deep in an all-consuming conversation on a mobile – out of context, that is, and clearly a prisoner of modern technology: on the street, in the supermarket, on the train, down the pub, especially when in a group – I make a signal to interrupt the call and ask “Is that God on the line?” It momentarily throws people; most then smile, and those that don’t invariably come back with a witty riposte. The most memorable was the chap who said “Yes – here, have a word.” And he handed me his mobile. Like most people I tend to think of a clever answer five seconds too late, but I had in my mind anticipated all sorts of responses to my interruption, which I’d duly run past my imagination – and this was one of them. But what made it doubly funny was that the person on the end of the line was a lady. “So tell me God, do you believe in Richard Dawkins?” She laughed, as did the chap whose mobile it was. Mind you, my 20/20 instinct is fully switched on as to what sort of person I actually approach and interrupt. Look, I’m not as daft as I look, look you. Anyway, I’m dying for the day when someone responds: “Actually, it’s Richard Dawkins on the other end.” And yes, I have a question ready – and no, I’m not letting on, except that it’s nothing to do with God.

It’s been a very good year for the bluebell; not that there are more of them about, just that they’ve had the field to themselves in 2007. Normally bluebells are much too quickly overwhelmed by fern, nettle, thistle, and in open spaces, grass, but this year the exceptionally dry spring held all the “bad guys” in check. The UK’s bluebell display is as visually potent as the New England fall, and it’s baffling that our various Tourist Boards don’t promote it as such. Here in west Wales most of our rural attractions are surrounded by bluebell woods. As a bonus the UK’s most loved flower has two things going for it. Firstly, the bouquet: a few years ago, on a still, sunny and picture-perfect mid-May afternoon, I was walking along a path through an extravagant bluebell wood near Dinefwr Castle, when I came upon a group of excited Americans, over for a wedding. Slightly ahead of the main group, and floating towards me through the ocean of blue, a female: “Gee, be real careful you’re not overwhelmed by the fragrance.” She and her party were totally captivated. Her reaction had seduction writ large all over, a moment to be bottled by the Wales Tourist Board. Truly a postcard from Wales.

Secondly, it’s quite an extended season. In the weeks leading up to the bluebell fest the decaying leaf litter of autumn metamorphoses into a thick carpet of green foliage – as stunning in its richness as the bluebells themselves. Next the anemones appear, pretty little bridesmaids eagerly awaiting the arrival of the star turn. Along my early morning walk there’s a secluded and sheltered south-facing spot, a real suntrap, a parade ground where bluebell reveille unfolds. Suddenly one morning, there she is, Solitaire (definitely female – elegant, stylish and proud), always at the same spot, probably the same bluebell, but delicately veiled at this stage – see above. But just like my first kiss it’ll be a one-off that day. By next morning she’ll have been joined by her best friend. A few days later the girls are everywhere. Over recent years, 2001 excepted (the year of the foot and mouth crisis), Solitaire has made her grand entrance on dates ranging from March 23 to March 30, except last year with its cold and late spring, when she delayed her appearance, the tease, until April 8. This year, with the exceptionally mild, dry and warm spring, it’s the very opposite; just as the sun is rising on March 18, there she is: “Hi Hubie, missed me?” Spring has sprung in Castle Woods. Yes, truly a star turn is Solitaire, the bluebell girl. (Oh yes, there’s a bit of a downside: in a local park some Spanish bluebells – boo! hiss! – were out on March 5.) As the weeks drift by, and I move around the compass, the bluebells appear later and later; indeed on north-facing, open ground they’re still in their glory (yes, why is it that I regularly see bluebells on open, north-facing fields – where once there was woodland, obviously – but never on open, south-facing fields? I think I shall fire off a question to The Times). The photo below was taken just a week or so ago on a north-facing field. In the shot is Spot, my brother’s working sheepdog, who not only rounds up sheep but footballs as well.

Over on www.400smilesaday.co.uk I’ve penned a bluebell parody of Max Bygraves’ memorable “You’re a pink toothbrush”, a little tribute to the beautiful white bluebells which dot our bluebell woods. And here’s some really sad news: in one of the woods I visit pretty much daily, I’m as convinced as convinced can be that someone is systematically lifting all the white ones – which is truly dispiriting. As a white mass they probably loose their impact, whereas dotted among the blue they look fabulous. We are a horrible little species, and we deserve the ambush Mother Nature is preparing for us.

SMILE OF THE DAY: This afternoon, Lynne, a very, very nice insurance lady, called to sort out a bunch of policies for a mutual client. After finishing she starts hunting through her generous handbag for the car keys. You know how it is, you suddenly sense that you’ve mislaid the things and you sort of panic and rush the search thus ensuring that you miss the blasted things every time. Suddenly she finds them in a pocket at the front of the bag. It all reminds me of Chicken George down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Old CG is a bit of a ladies’ man, and reputed to be well blessed in the “Lloyd George knew my father” department, so much so that rumour has it that when he goes for a pee he has to use both hands. Anyway, just the other night he approached a gang of females in the bar: “Do you want to see a photo of my cock?” “Oh go away Chicken George, go flash it at someone else.” Then CG whips out his mobile and shows them a photo of the farmyard cockerel back on the ranch. Laughter all round. But I digress; a good many moons back, there’s a girl in the bar furiously hunting something in her handbag. “I have this brilliant invention,” says Chicken George, “which I should patent, really. It’s a handbag with an additional zip at the bottom. I’ve noticed that whenever a woman is looking for something she always finds it right at the bottom of the bag. So with my handbag, all she does is turn the bag upside down, open the ‘bottom’ zip - hey presto! – there it is on top.”
Goodnight Top Shop. Goodnight Hubie.



QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We haven’t had any irony here since about ’83, when I was the only practitioner of it; and I stopped because I was tired of being stared at.” Steve Martin, as C D Bates in the film Roxanne. This was quoted in a letter to The Times in response to a missive from a Rachel Thompson who advised the nation that when Sainsbury’s offered the limited edition Anya Hindmarch “I’m not a plastic bag” bag for sale, she was down there, first in line to ensure satisfaction – but the lady at the checkout, showing neither grasp of the concept nor of the irony of her actions, placed said bag in a Sainsbury’s plastic carrier bag and wished her a good day (I hope Rachel didn’t drive home with her must-have bag in a gas-guzzling Chelsea tractor, after first gathering some Moss clothes plus the new anti-ageing No7 Protect & Perfect beauty cream along the way). Anyway, Helen Dean responded with the above quote, and quite reasonably pointed out that surely, irony is beyond the call of duty for a checkout operator at a supermarket. Hear, hear, say I, sod irony for a bundle of laughs. It’s only those with GSOH who use irony as a weapon; those with GSOF (great sense of fun) tell it as it is. The trouble with humour is that one person’s delight is another person’s poison: “You’ll love old Clerk Withany*, a super sense of humour” – and you sit there under starter’s orders wondering what all the fuss is about. But a sense of fun is international: a Chinaman blessed with GSOF meeting an Eskimo favoured with GSOF will instantly smile at each other without having to indulge in some sort of song-and-dance routine. Yes, I’m with C D Bates and Helen Dean on this one. We all know what happened to the iron horse; hoarse irony should go the same way. Oh yes, the above photo: I came upon the two lambs, fast asleep, snuggled up against a stile, obviously their stepmother, ho, ho, ho! Anyway, I call the snap “Style corner at Top Shop’s Kate counter”, subtitled “Lambs to the slaughter”. Amen.

* A letter in The Times from a Delia Ives of Brighton: Sir, A friend of mine, who once gave his name over the telephone as "Clarke with an 'e'", subsequently received correspondence addressed to "Mr Clerk Withany". Apologies to Delia Ives, but I couldn't resist borrowing her friend's posh new name.

Right. On the Seventh Day God sighed and decided it was time to put His feet up, so He grabbed a banana, His pièce de résistance, His all-purpose, all-singing, all-dancing herb-cum-fruit, that would go on to delight all of humanity for ever more and a day. Just think about it: the colour is pure, bright and sunny; easy to harvest and transport; grows all year round; ripens best off the plant; no need to wash hands or fruit before eating; no messy peeling, just a quick zip-adee-doo-dah; tastes great; easy to eat, even for those with no teeth; even easier to digest; full of goodness, contains 3 natural sugars – sucrose, fructose and glucose – and combines with fibre to generate instant, sustained and substantial energy boost; can be eaten even as it begins to go off, when it turns all gooey and browny; a sure way to cure a hangover i.e. a banana milkshake sweetened with honey; the skin is a cure for warts and mosquito bites (allegedly); a natural remedy for a host of ills; slipping on a banana skin is the perfect allegory for modern life, which by a coincidence drives us bananas; oh yes, we share 60% of our DNA with a banana - I've heard said that either the Bible or Nostradamus confidently predict that the Yellow Race will eventually rule the world (there again it could have been Doc Holliday down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon who told me) - but I'm saying nowt, except that for the double helix read the slipped helix, or as they say down the Crazy HP, the double banana split.

As a super duper bonus the wonderful banana can be used as an emergency Post-it. Just a year ago, on the 3rd of May, I decided to put its Postcard-it qualities to the test, by posting a banana to a local watering-hole (at this point you may well think I'm definitely bananas, that I wasn’t pushed far enough into the oven following conception, or indeed that I was pulled out before I’d properly risen – which probably explains why I’ve two birthdays, meaning I was returned to the oven for another couple of days, just to be sure, to be sure. Anyway, I bought three near-perfect bananas: one to use as a rough guide to establish what I could actually write on it, one as a warm-up act, and the third as the all-purpose, all-dancing missive addressed thus: THE WHITE HART @ LLANDEILO SA19 6RS ... AMIGOS, CELTS, YEOMANS (the manager is one Mike Yeomans) ... MAY THE 4TH BE WITH YOU ... FROM: THE PICK OF THE BUNCH.

This is where the fun started. What would the postage be? I decided it wasn’t a bright idea to walk into the local Post Office and plonk a banana on the scale, so I shoved it into an envelope. Once I’d established the cost and stuck on the stamps (at home!), what should I now do with it? Pop it into a post box – would it survive? – or hand it over the counter at the Post Office? Now Llandeilo's a one-horse town – the pub would know straight away of my slippery deed if I used the Post Office. If I posted it, the postman would surely see it when clearing the box – and pull it one side for special treatment – so I gambled on the post box. Again, posting a banana in the main street of town is not something you do every day, so I hid it under a bigger envelope as I surreptitiously slid it into the box.

The next day I casually wander into the pub, as I do, but strangely no mention of any banana. Normally when anything untoward happens the management are straight into the bar. Nothing. Had they received it? Then I hear Sara the agreeable barmaid mention something about a banana to one of the other staff. “What's all that about a banana?” I matter-of-factly enquire. “Oh, the postman delivered a banana here this morning; it had been squashed and put into a plastic bag – there was something about ‘May the fourth be with you’ written on it. Most odd.” And that was the last I heard. Could it be that “Bananas” is the default position at the White Hart? Hm.


So I thought I’d try again this year, but this time I’d post just a photo of last year’s effort, and address it thus: SLAVE OWNERS & SLAVES (Paid & Unpaid) ...... I was going to sign it Hubie-Wan Kenobi – but decided to go with Obi=Wan Kenobi to hopefully extend the mystery, by a day or so anyway (Thinks: I could add Hubie-Wan Kenobi to my personal list of names – for they do say that, as a rule of thumb, the more monikers, the more interesting the individual, ho, ho, ho! - but what a cracker of an opening line though: I’ll show you my light-sabre if you’ll show me your bedside lamp). I called at the pub early evening – but again no mention. Hm! Perhaps the place is indeed a banana re-pub-lic......

Oh yes, before leaving the banana, we shouldn't forget Andy Warhol's contribution, namely his iconic album cover for The Velvet Underground, regarded as one of the most influential albums ever, and often referred to as The Banana LP (not my kind of music, but hey, listen and let listen say I - but I did read this smiley tribute: "Hardly anybody bought it, as the saying goes, but everyone who did formed a band.").

SMILE OF THE DAY: Okay, okay, self-praise is no recommendation – but what the hell. Over recent years I’ve often contributed to The Times “Questions Answered” column – and can boast a fair old strike rate; so much so I guess I could list my answers – published or otherwise – on a separate page. Anyway, I never respond to questions where there’s a definitive answer, just those which pose questions of a more philosophical nature. For example, last Friday, Phillip Shacklewell of Lytham St Anne asked: “How did elephants acquire their reputation for memory, and is there any truth in it?” Now, until we learn elephant-speak there’s no way anyone can answer this. However, today’s Times had a response from a Martin Hasseck of London Town pointing out that elephant memory has been endorsed scientifically – and that they can signal to the rest of the herd whether an outsider is a “friendly” face or otherwise. My rural experiences suggest that many creatures possess this ability. Still, in an effort to put a smile on the face of The Times, I submitted the following answer – without success. “When I was knee-high to a tall story (about 17, I think), I vividly remember asking one of the workers on the family farm - a fellow who always called me Goofy for some reason - this very question: ‘The gestation period for an elephant is 22 months, the longest of any mammal – and now that you’re into girls, if henceforth you go through life having sex only once every couple of years or so, you’ll end up with a bloody good memory too.’ And of course he was right.” Goodnight Dumbo. Goodnight Hubie.



QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Not to be used for drying hair” Warning notice on a blow-torch. You couldn’t, as they say, make it up; my growing collection of doolallyness grows exponentially (I love using that word since I found out what it means, though I keep getting funny looks down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, especially from The Cisco Kid). “Do not use as an ice-cream topping” Warning notice attached to a bottle of hair dye. “If swallowed, contact poison control” Warning on a tube of toothpaste. “Don’t drive standing up through the sunroof while closing it” Advice in a car-owner’s manual. There’s little doubt that since Health & Safety came into existence, thousands of lives have been saved, not to mention serious injuries avoided; I only have to think back to growing up as a lad on the farm and I come over all cold remembering how regularly we came within an inch of disaster due to lack of appreciation of safety, especially when handling dangerous machinery, particularly on dodgy slopes (remember, I was brought up at a place called Big Slopes). Tight regulation has to be a good thing. However, having done the obvious, there’s now an army of officials out there who have to come up with brand new regulations every day – or quite simply they’re all out of a job. I mean, has anyone really died or been injured while drying their hair with a blow-torch? Scarcely believe. Or truly used hair dye as an ice-cream topping? Or needed an antidote serum after swallowing some toothpaste? And we’re not talking young children here because they wouldn’t read the warning anyway. Mind you, whoever came up with that sunroof cracker has definitely been out in the sun too long. We were discussing this Health and Safety business at the White Hart this very evening, when someone said “It's all common sense, surely?” I expressed doubts: “Perhaps – but I guess familiarity does breed contempt and we need to be protected from ourselves.” “The trouble with you, Hubie,” came the sharp and smiley response, “you’re always right.” My instinct registered the smile on the face of the tiger – but if there’s a bit of a discussion/argument developing I can’t resist playing devil’s advocate. “You’re a bloody stirrer, Hubie,” as I was once told. In my defence I always plead Cupid Stunt's memorable amendment: “It’s all done in the best possible taste, Michael.”

 On this day three years ago, Mark, my 36-year-old nephew was killed in a road accident. It was the first time along my walk through time that tragedy had struck so close to home; yes, down the years there have been tragic deaths on the periphery of family, friends and colleagues, but nothing within touching distance. Indeed, following Mark’s death, with endless people visiting the family, I vividly remember registering just how many families in the community have been touched by untimely death, and I’m not necessarily thinking just road accidents. What I also noticed was how ready those who’ve been visited by tragedy were to talk about their experiences, even years after the event. It has something to do with empathy, I guess. Mark was a larger than life character, and had packed more into his 36 years than most pack into their whole lives. Following the accident, all the usual suspects were rounded up – reckless speed, dangerous driving, drink, drugs, mobile phone use, etc – and all were released without charge. No reason was established for the accident. If Mark knew I was doing "Something in black" as a tribute, he’d be annoyed. He’d have preferred “Something in red”. However, I thought a black cat, given its ambiguity, was a suitable symbol: depending on your line of work, or the country you live in, you may well see a black cat as bad luck – or there again, it could be good luck. There are many things in life that don’t quite make sense, just like Mark’s accident.

A couple of years or so back I registered on my regular morning walk a black rabbit. At that time there were loads of bunnies about, but in all my years, even on the farm, I’d never seen a black one in the wild before. This one had probably been released as a pet, or escaped even; anyway, I got quite fond of the thing as it regularly scampered away into the undergrowth. Then suddenly, no black rabbit. Just a year ago myxomatosis swept the area: every few years, as the numbers of rabbits increase exponentially (there goes that word again), myxo returns – but it never quite wipes them all out. A few survive, and clearly build up a resistance to the disease, much as rats build up a resistance to warfarin poison. So either myxo or Mr Foxy-Woxy had got it – or indeed a fellow I see walking his terrier and who regularly and suspiciously dives in and out of the woods, had nabbed it. Then, just a few days ago, about half-a-mile from where it hung out, three leverets scuttled across my path – one of them a little black thing. Over the next few days I creep up to the spot – then suddenly, click! Magic. I could only capture it on maximum zoom, and that’s it above. It really made my day.

At Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo, there’s a herd of the famous White Park cattle. They’re a great draw, and very photogenic with it. There are two schools of thought as to where they originate from: either the herd is directly descended from the wild cattle of Britain, the cattle that inhabited the park in the days of Hywel Dda, the 10th-century King of Wales who resided hereabouts – or they could well be the remnants of herds brought over by the Romans and left to run wild when the occupation ended. Whatever, they’re handsome creatures: white, often with black ears, nose, occasional spotty black socks, and sporting glorious wide-brim horns (see a young “Catherine Zeta-White” over on 400smilesaday, Page 1). Occasionally, a totally black calf will be born into the carefully controlled herd (as above). Although the White Park cattle are indeed white, go right up close and many have black pigmentation dotted about the skin. Some think this is a throwback to the wild ox of Europe, the Auroch, and that the equally famous Welsh Black cattle, as well as the White Park, are descended from them. The last Auroch died in a Polish park in 1627, but the species is thought to be the ancestors of most present breeds of cattle – and of course they were pure black. Occasionally there will be more than just the one black calf on the scene, which could be down to the particular bull running with the herd: last year, out of a batch of 7 calves, 3 were black. While the more suitable white calves are kept for breeding, the National Trust, which owns the Dinefwr Park herd, regularly reassure that the black calves go to a “good home”. This always makes me smile inside – which neatly brings me, not so much this time around to SMILE OF THE DAY, but…

WIT OF THE DAY: One of the Trust’s work force is leaning on a gate watching the aforementioned 7 calves feeding, and we get into conversation: “So what happens to these black ones?” I casually enquire, “Where do they end up?” “Oh,” responds this individual, quick as a flash and without a trace of a smile, and pointing to each of the black calves in turn, “You mean Sausage, T-Bone and Mince.” Goodnight Delia. Goodnight Hubie.



QUOTE OF THE DAY: “He was an exemplary Combat Leader, soldier, father, husband, friend and Briton, dedicated to his family, his men, his mission and his country. In the finest traditions of the Army and his Regiment, he was utterly selfless, never shirking danger, effort or hard service in the pursuit of his mission. His loss is tragic, and keenly felt by all, but his example to others will be sure to endure and inspire us all for years to come. Our thoughts now are with his family and his comrades.” That was the brief but telling eulogy released by the Ministry of Defence following the death of Colour Sergeant Mark Powell, the 37-year-old SAS soldier from Porthcawl, killed in the twin helicopter crash in Iraq. It brought to mind a late and local character, well into his nineties when he died, who, when a respected and treasured member of the community passed away, would say “Trueni fod pobl dda yn gorfod marw” – pity that good people have to die. How ironic then that on the same day the above eulogy reaches out and touches us, we learn of the 23-year-old student at Virginia Tech university who unleashed his hatred on 32 classmates and staff.


Along my morning walk I now briefly journey along a narrow country road before turning into a field which leads me down onto the Towy Valley floor. A farmer who has land in the valley sometimes uses this field as access, and now with no stock in attendance leaves the gates open for ease of passage. One morning I notice a stray sheep in the field, so I close the gate to stop it wandering onto the road. Over the following days, and then weeks, the sheep remains in the field, all on its ownsome. It has a ear tag, but no distinctive stamp on its back or sides, the sort of identification which enables owners to quickly distinguish their own sheep from their neighbours' should they mix. None of the local farmers claim the lonely sheep, indeed one labels it a stray from God knows where – and calls it’s a “broker”, meaning its best years are behind it. Anyway, when the sheep first arrives on the scene, each time I enter the field its eyes follow my every movement. Eventually, and as I become increasingly familiar, it only occasionally looks up. I develop a certain empathy with the poor thing, and feel quite sad because sheep are natural herd animals and it would not have been a happy bunny away from its flock. Then one morning I notice something unusual: it’s lying by the hedge, as if asleep. Is it dead? Now dead sheep tend to roll over onto their side with their legs sticking out as rigor mortis kicks in, but this one doesn’t look like that, far from it. As I get nearer it remains motionless – yes, it’s clearly dead. It is as if it has dropped off to sleep – and not bothered to wake up – see above photos, both taken just days apart.

Now sheep are curious and demanding animals. They require an awful lot of TLC and husbandry. They’re regarded as the big girls’ blouses of the animal world. A sheep, when it feels one degree under, succumbs straight away. If a woman has a cold, then a man will have the flu – but a sheep will have double-pneumonia. If a shepherd notices a sheep away from its flock, on its own in a corner of the field – baaaa’d news, the end is nigh. But to return to my sad little sheep: farmers confirm that occasionally sheep will just die in their sleep, without any obvious clues regarding the sudden fate that awaits them. A disease which takes them swiftly is Black Leg, where the body rapidly turns black, but that has a curious addendum: wildlife won’t touch the carcass. Normally when a sheep dies, wildlife will have picked the carcass clean within a few days, a week at most. These days farmers have to dispose of dead sheep immediately for incineration – so bang goes another useful source of food for wildlife without their having to kill something which is desperate to stay alive. You often wonder about the politicians who run our country: when the Welsh Assembly was first set up, a vegetarian was put in charge of agriculture: ponder awhile on that one; a veggie in charge of the butcher’s shop. Doolallyness on a grand scale.

Sheep demand more attention than probably any other domestic animal. Why? Well, here’s a warning to all GM enthusiasts. Scientists will tell you that genetic engineering has always gone on: in nature itself, and of course in farming. Cereal seeds have been crossed in the pursuit of improved crops since we abandoned being hunter-gatherers to concentrate on farming; animals similarly, and probably no more than sheep. Cross-breeding has produced bigger, better, faster maturing animals to feed the masses. But at what cost? Mountain sheep remain quite true to the way nature designed them, and remain tough as an imported T-bone. But lowland sheep, a criss-cross of different breeds, have lost something. Their immune systems appear to have been compromised. Have they also lost the will to live? Having been abandoned to its fate, had the above sheep simply lost the will to live, and just wished its life away? That crucial genetic hand-me-down blueprint, which demands the survival of the fittest, is everything. Has it been compromised? I’m reminded of that delightful story of young people discussing old age, and someone says “But who wants to live to be a hundred anyway?” To which the reply is: “Someone who’s ninety-nine.” So there’s the warning to all GM martyrs everywhere: mess around with our make up and we could, like the curious case of the seemingly healthy sheep that died in the night, lose the will to live, curl up – and die.

SMILE OF THE DAY: Following my last dispatch where I mentioned The Wizard of Oz, I’ve reminded myself of the tale of the Irishman, Scotsman, Welshman and Englishman journeying along the Yellow Brick Road, when they come to a magical cliff where all wishes come true. But they have to jump before making a wish. The Irishman, who believes in leprechauns and such things, jumps off and as he’s hurtling through space shouts “Feather cushions!” – and astonishingly, he lands safely in a huge pile of cushions; the Scotsman in his kilt (Is anything worn under the kilt? Och no, everything’s in perfect working order!), jumps and shouts “Trampoline!” – he lands on a giant trampoline before coming to a bouncy halt with his kilt around his ears, much to the delight of the watching females; the enthusiastic Welshman jumps and goes “Weeeeeeeeeee!” – and gets all wet; finally, the rather nervy Englishman jumps – and screams “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiit!” Goodnight Mr Wizard. Goodnight Hubie.



 QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I was once asked ‘What’s your idea of hell?’. I said ‘Bowling to a left-hander on a dead wicket’.” This made me go “Eh?”, until I saw who’d said it: astronomer Sir Patrick Moore – and then I smiled and smiled – it could easily have made SMILE OF THE DAY. If I were suddenly overwhelmed by a Dorothy and Toto moment, and whisked away by a tornado, somewhere over the rainbow into a magical land called Oz, where I had to surround myself by family, friends and colleagues other than those in my real life, then firstly, and sadly, Toto the bow-wow, the real star of The Wizard Of Oz, would have to go; I’d replace him with a butch collie sheepdog called Tonto who’d guard my back when I wasn’t looking or asleep. Deciding who I’d enjoy having as father, mother, brother, sister, best pal, favourite Morning Seller (the rural term for a pretty woman) – and so on, would be great fun. One thing for sure, Favourite Eccentric Uncle would have to be, yes, Patrick Moore. Can you imagine growing up with him as your uncle? Why ask for the moon when we can be greedy and have the stars as well. Strangely though, I still can’t quite figure out what my idea of hell is…

I see in today’s Western Mail that a local Lottery winner has died after blowing his £3.5m win on gifts and donations in just a year. D-day veteran and decorated soldier Bob Bradley, 84, spent the fortune on his family, friends, charities and good causes. He was, apparently, a generous, kind and loving man even before winning the Lottery, and will be remembered as a huge character and personality – and he’d enjoyed his year giving away all his winnings. Good for him. But what really caught my eye was that he “died from natural causes in hospital on Sunday with his family around him”. When did you last hear of someone actually dying from “natural causes”? Well, as it happens, back in 2005, when Rosa Parks died: she was the black American lady, who famously refused, on December 1, 1955, to obey bus driver James Blake’s demand that she relinquish her seat to a white man. She was 92 when she died – from “natural causes”. I remember that because nobody seems to die from natural things these days. It has to be something – or someone’s – fault. Oh to go back to an overheard conversation from many a moon ago: “Heard the news, Hubie? Old Twm Twice has died.” “Get away, what did he die of?” “Oh, nothing serious.”

When the ban on smoking in public places came into force here in Wales on April 2, the politicians were out in force, and I remember Rhodri Morgan, our First Minister, saying that the lives of 400 people a year would now be saved at a stroke – well, perhaps that’s my choice of ironic word. But I remember thinking, where are we going to keep all these people who are now going to live for ever and a day? And who’s going to pay their pensions? It’s a load of old nonsense of course. I have a theory about tobacco, because we all know people who’ve always smoked, yet live to a decent age, enjoying rude health. So why doesn’t the cigarette kill all smokers? Well, the age to which we live, and more importantly, the quality of that life, is down to our immune system. If there’s a weak link there, then smoking will ruthlessly seek it out and destroy. But – and it’s a big BUT – if you don’t smoke, or have given it up, there’s a myriad other deadly forces out there lining up to attack your immune system: artificial fertilisers, chemicals and pesticides used in food production; chemicals found in other everyday uses; pollution from endless sources, especially traffic… There’s no end to it.

Once upon a time in the wild west of Wales, when in need of some short-term employment, I did a short, sharp burst of bar work at the Crazy Horsepower; it’s always been a busy place, especially with its twin function rooms, both served by one central bar. I’d worked endless shifts and long hours behind this bar when, during one afternoon shift, a waitress enquired: “What are those spots on your face, Hubie?” The other girls gathered around, and with gleeful delight, given that I had then hit middle-age, the unanimous verdict was “Chickenpox!”. Chickenpox? Don’t be so silly. True, I’d never had any of those childhood and highly infectious things, so I suppose I was in the firing line. I vividly remember going for my first ever job interview, which included a medical in front of the company doctor. When he looked down my blank medical form he – well, he didn’t call me a liar, but his reaction was as good as. When I got home the first thing I did was check with my mother, who confirmed that, apart from some troublesome earache as a young child, I’d never had any of those usual things. In fact, the only dodgy moment I’d had was around the age of 4 when a farm trailer loaded with some hay went right over me – I’d been playing where I shouldn’t have been. I apparently picked myself up, had a good cry, dusted myself off – and started all over again, none the worst for wear. Anyway, my alleged chickenpox: off to the surgery I go, and within half-an-hour a doctor had seen me (those were the days, my friend). Yes, it was the dreaded viral disease, as the girls had rightly suspected, I’d be out of action for a couple of weeks, and given my age I would undoubtedly find it rather troublesome. Well, the next day it was itchy-fanny all over; the following day the itching had eased; by the third day the rash was disappearing fast; on the fourth day normal service had pretty much been resumed; come the sixth day and I was back at work, much to everyone’s astonishment.

Now clearly I have a very active immune system – I hardly ever have a cold, never had the flu – so I’ve no doubts whatsoever that, given the long hours I’d put in (that must have been the 96-hour week), my immune system had clearly been compromised, and all that second-hand nicotine endlessly breathed in had made me highly vulnerable to picking up the chickenpox virus from a carrier; and obviously, as soon as I was clear of the cigarette smoke, my immune system returned to full working order. So there we have it, proof positive of the detrimental effect of smoking, whether active or passive.

Incidentally, since the no-smoking ban came in, I’ve not been aware of any problems enforcing the ban; in fact I think the whole thing is self-regulating. In the past I’ve never objected to having smokers around me – but if I saw someone lighting up now, excepting early day motions of confusion as smokers cope with sudden stress, I’d probably say something like “I didn’t realise you’d had special dispensation to lay down a nicotine footprint!” – especially now that “footprint” is the “in” smoke-signal. Anyway, all available spaces outside pubs have been chock-a-block, not only with smokers, but also non-smokers. You see, we’ve had glorious weather since the ban came in. Every day! Smokers have been lulled into a false sense of security. Someday soon, we’ll all be reminded of the words of Jane Morgan’s catchy song from c1960: The day that the rains came down.

SMILE OF THE DAY: At the White Hart someone mentions that there’s a rather popular Chinese restaurant in Lampeter run by a local, possibly a Welsh individual, but with all Chinese staff – and the place is called Ling-Di-Long, a wonderfully clever play on words, from the Welsh lincyn-loncyn, meaning, in this context, leisurely – but it sounds wonderfully Chinese. Someone asks who the owner is: “Don’t know – but I know he’s related to Lici over there.” Lici and his wife are about halfway through the business end of a passionate evening (she’s about 4-5 months pregnant). Everyone looks puzzled regarding the connection between Ling-Di-Long and Lici, especially Lici, and he looks for an answer: “Tool-in, Too-long.” Goodnight Confucius. Goodnight Hubie.



QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Tobacco is a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and the black, stinking fumes given off closely resemble the horrible Stygian smoke of the bottomless pit.” Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, as someone nearly once said. Over the past month – I don’t believe it, a month already? – I’ve rounded off each post with a SMILE OF THE DAY, something I do every night before I drift off, somewhere over the rainbow – so from here on in I’ll start with a QUOTE OF THE DAY as well. There are so many doolally quotes floating around these days, but being that today is the last day before smoking-in-enclosed-public-places is outlawed here in Wales, I thought I’d begin with a serious one. Now who do you suppose said the above? I had to look up Stygian for a start: it relates to the Styx, a river in Hades, the underworld abode of the souls of the dead, a dark, gloomy, or hellish place – in other words, welcome to Hell, please light up carefully. Unless you’re vaguely familiar with the quote you’ve got no chance. Now I don’t smoke (but I steam a little when I get excited), and others smoking around me don’t really bother me, although no more stench of cigarette smoke on clothes will be a refreshing change. Still, it’s interesting to trace the crucial points of reference in the history of smoking.

Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595), the first English slave trader, who made three expeditions from Africa to the Caribbean in the 1560s and is most likely candidate for being the first to bring tobacco to England. Sir Francis Drake (1541-1596), the first sea captain to sail around the world, may have been the man to introduce tobacco to England. Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618), erroneously thought to have introduced it, but he did though popularise it in the court of Elizabeth 1 of England (1553-1603). First shipment of tobacco reaches Britain in 1565. King James 1 of England (1566-1625) “nationalised” the burgeoning tobacco industry in England, and even reduced tobacco taxes. That, briefly, is the very early history of smoking. Incidentally, the repeated use of the word “England” is there, in the book, the official history of tobacco – so there’s another peg on which to hang Welsh suspicions of all things English. No wonder we had a go at burning down their cottages a few decades ago: “Come home to a real fire – buy a cottage in Wales”. Where we slipped up, according to The PM, regular at the Crazy Horsepower, is that we didn’t let the air out of the fire brigade’s tyres before starting the fires. But I digress. The next significant date in the history of smoking is 1858, when fears about the effect of smoking on health, was first raised in The Lancet. Thereafter, we’re all pretty familiar with the arguments for and against.

Oh yes, the above quote. The actual wording goes thus: “A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.” Of course, you’re now saying to yourself, it’s that rascal King James 1 of England, he who famously published his treatise “A Counterblast to Tobacco” in 1604. Yes, 1604 – and remember he’s the aforementioned fellow who subsequently had a change of heart when he “nationalised” the industry. Doesn’t he remind you of a modern day politician? Someone we could call Gordon Bennett. But what is astonishing about the James 1 treatise is that the detrimental effect of tobacco became crystal clear within a few short years of it being introduced into the country. Why do you suppose that happened? Well, it can only be that its effects on health were immediately obvious, yet it took 403 years for politicians to do something about it. No wonder the world is desperate to roll out the towels over the sun loungers down there on the banks of the Styx when we have clowns like Tone and Gordon Bennett running the show.

The photo at the top was taken a couple of months ago at the Crazy H. I walked in one late-afternoon, there were eight people in the bar, and one of them was smoking. Being quiet, a corner of the bar was deserted with the air undisturbed. I noticed how the smoke had drifted over and was hanging there, highlighted by the afternoon sunlight streaming in through the window. Showing the image around the bar, all were astonished how one smoker could leave such a nicotinic footprint. And that we breathe it in as we walk through it. Even the smoker was taken aback; in fact, he was sort of looking forward to the ban because as a strictly social smoker – didn’t smoke at work or at home – he saw it as a perfect incentive to give up once and for all. Incidentally, King James 1, before he saw tobacco as a nice little earner, described the plant as “an invention of Satan” and banned it from London’s alehouses. Talk about the wheel turning full circle.

SMILE OF THE DAY: On my first post, the first person I named was a Gaynor Davies, the lady host of a very early morning show on Radio Cymru, the BBC’s Welsh language radio station. A cheery person is Gaynor, who sets my day off on a smiley journey. Well blow me, her stint came to an end at the end of March – she’s off into something back room and creative or some such like – so this very lunchtime I was telling Little Willy Wee down at the Crazy Horsepower about her final day and how someone had asked her what her fondest memory of presenting the programme was. This concerned another bubbly female personality on Welsh radio, Eleri Sion, who’s a sports reporter/presenter. Eleri often gives the early sports report, and Gaynor recalled the Monday morning after a rugby international in Dublin: Eleri reported that the Welsh captain, Gareth Thomas, would miss at least the next game because of a badly injured tongue. “Tongue?” queried a surprised Gaynor, “are you sure? I thought he’d broken his thumb.” “Oh hell,” says Eleri, “you’re probably right because I only heard it late last night on Irish radio.” Here you need to remember that the Irish pronounce the letters th as a hard t – thumb becomes tum – so Eleri hurriedly adds: “The fellow on the radio had obviously said he’d broken his tum – and all along I though he’d said tongue! How embarrassing.” For ever more and a day, Eleri Sion will be All Fingers and Tongue. Goodnight Gaynor, I shall miss you in the mornings. Goodnight Hubie.



I am neither a Luddite nor a technophobe; if I were, I wouldn’t be right here, right now. However, and despite all the positive things the internet scatters across my path, I retain a sort of Green Cross Code caution when it comes to going online: look left, look right, look left again – and always tiptoe across the keyboard under the flashing amber light. In today’s Times newspaper, Libby Purves writes a compelling piece about the dangers of the internet – especially given the strange case of the fellow who hung himself “live” on air, allegedly goaded on by those he shared a chat room with. I particularly took to this part of her piece: “The internet is not evil. We who use it daily – for everything from news and banking to cinema listings and tracing quotations from forgotten poets – quickly learn how to navigate around the piles of rubbish, the lurking fraudsters, the lies and malice and vapidity and perversion. It is a vast teeming city, and you can choose whether to frequent cathedrals, theatres and Parliament or just the brothels and public hangings.”

Well, I like to think that this tiny corner of the internet is a theatre, populated by the extraordinary characters, human or otherwise, who cross my path every day, every week, every month, every year… As mentioned previously, my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon is Under Milk Wood meets Fawlty Towers meets How The West Was Won. Oh yes, you can also throw in the American sitcom Cheers – yes, I’ve personally socialised with every character in that brilliantly written series. Anyway, all who cross my path give me great pleasure, and I hope, in my own little way, that I share that enjoyment with you.

Following my encounter with the horse-dung, on the Friday after, in The Times “Questions Answered” column, a reader had asked if the British ever ate horse meat. The answer of course is yes. I mention this down at the Crazy Horsepower, and Second Voice relates a fascinating story: when working in the agricultural sector he knew of an old boy and his wife who lived in a really out-of-the-way farm; he’d lived there all of his 70 years, his wife 45 of her 65. In fact the farm lane was well over a mile long, and the farmer himself often told the tale of a first-time lorry driver delivering a load of animal feed, and his first comment on arriving on the farmyard was “Bloody ‘ell, there’s a long lane up to this place.”. After a while, the driver added “I don’t think I’ve ever been up a lane this long before.” When he said a third time, “I can’t get over how long the lane is!”, the farmer had had enough and said “Look, if the lane wasn’t as long as it is, then it wouldn’t reach the farm.” When the local chapel minister got to hear of this, he though it so good he began to use it in his sermons. The allegory was perfect: folk suddenly stop going to chapel or church for a variety of reasons, and they can’t seem to find a way back. The road they now travel is never quite long enough. Indeed, if we take out the religious connotation, how many who lead a secular life also discover that the road is never quite long enough. Think of that unfortunate fellow who decided to hang himself online. His road certainly came to an abrupt end.

Anyway, back with the question regarding the eating of horseflesh. Second Voice continues the tale of the long-lane farmer: he’d become seriously constipated, hadn’t been for over a week, and his wife had eventually convinced him to go and see the doctor: “Well Mr Jones,” says the doc, “if all my patients were like you I’d have been made redundant long ago – so what brings you here?” The doc listens, and decides to give him a quick MOT and ask relevant questions along the way. What was his diet like? Well, said the farmer, since the war and the shortage of food the family started eating horse meat, and he’d developed a taste for it – yes, it could be strong and a bit tough, but if cooked properly, no problem – there was one drawback though, the wife now slept alone because she complained that he would kick out in the middle of the night like a frisky stallion… There’s a momentary pause before they both laugh at the joke. Truth to tell, continued the farmer, he’d grown to love horseflesh and would eat it pretty much every meal. “There’s your problem,” says the doctor. “Now that you’re getting older, your system is starting to object; what you need is a subtle change of diet – say a little cereal for breakfast, stick with the horse for lunch, and then some rhubarb tart and custard for supper – or whatever takes your fancy – and see how it goes. In the meantime you need some medicine to get the old bowels going – but remember, you’ll have to be ready to drop your pants at a moment’s notice when the medicine, um, kicks in.” Second voice continues: the doctor then reaches for a pad and begins to write out a p – p – “God,” says Second Voice, “the trouble with age is you begin to lose your vocabulary – p – p – “ “A prescription,” I say, walking straight into a carefully laid ambush. “No mun,” says Second Voice, slapping his forehead, “a permit to shit on the road.”

Smile of the day: This completes the poo circle, honest. At the White Hart, Geoff comes in with his little terrier dog, a cute, friendly and lovable little thing, all the girls go “Ahhh!”. “Isn’t this dog similar to the one George has?” someone asks. “Same litter,” says Geoff. And then someone else reminds us of the time George - another of our local, larger-than-life characters, 70 going on 17 – brought his dog into the bar. It was a young pup then, and hadn’t been properly potty trained. Behind the bar was either manageress Thérèse or barmaid Linda – whichever, they both treat us, probably correctly, as lost little lambs who have lost our way. “Oh George, look!” yells one of the girls from behind the bar, pointing to the pup which had shat in the corner, much to the amusement of the regulars. The barmaid then hands George some kitchen towels. So George takes the towels, picks up the dog, lifts its tail – and wipes its arse. Honestly, never a dull moment. Goodnight Mother Thérèse and Sister Linda, Goodnight Hubie.




Smile of the day: If someone had said back on March 1 that just 3 weeks later I’d feature a load of poo as the headline photo – and under the smile-of-the-day banner of all things – I’d have pooh-poohed. Today, the weather forecast had promised a picture-perfect day, so just after six, around half-hour before sunrise, I set off into a frosty, cloudless, still and gin-clear daybreak. A perfect day for the spring equinox, 12 hours of sunshine all around the world. Ten minutes, and Llandeilo is out of sight; 30 minutes, and I’m in cowboy country. It could be another world; however, the vapour trails at 30,000 feet are a reminder that we’re living in a sort of oven where someone has sneakily turned the heat up, slammed the door shut and quietly walked away – probably the Devil, who’s singing “There’s a bright golden haze on the planet…”. About a half-mile or so of this morning’s walk will take me along a public road: a narrow lane which services just the farms and properties along its crescent. About 50 yards along the lane I stop and ponder what on earth that is on the road in front of me – which is majestically steaming in the crisp morning air. I rapidly conclude that it’s a pile of newly deposited horse-dung – and look, another one over there. I cock my ear. It is so quiet and still – the only sound is bird song, certainly no clip-clop. I check my watch: quarter-to-seven. Now I know some folk along the lane own horses, so have they been out on a very-early morning ride? I smile hugely as I think of something.

One of Llandeilo’s characters is ZX – or Lynn Tyres – or Lynn Tyres & Exhausts – or Lynn Griffiths to his late mam – or L M Griffiths Esq to his investment manager. ZX is the one who always calls me Schubert. He has just sold his garage and tyre business and retreated to Blackberry Farm to concentrate on looking for the answer, which he hopes lies in the soil. Now his late dad, Dai John Rock, as he was known, was one of those individuals who tempted one into pondering “Where have all those great characters from yesteryear gone?” – the truth being of course that characters are alive and well and performing everywhere, but as the times they are achanging, so does the nature of the beast. Anyway, Dai John Rock was a natural born entertainer, and when the wine was flowing one of his party pieces was to quietly take out his dentures, pocket them, and climb onto a chair. A brief round of cheers from a packed pub before the place fell silent. It’s a 5-star piece of nonsense verse, in Welsh, but I’ll translate after – you’ll have to excuse the slide into the vernacular…

Cachu ci a cachu cath, beth sy’n waeth?
Cachu mochyn; Cachu buwch fel bara lawr,
Cachu eliffant – ‘na chi gachu mawr!

Translating, sadly, nearly always means losing the rhyme and the rhythm of the original – but it remains agreeably memorable, even in direct translation…

Dog shit, cat shit, what’s worse?
Pig shit;
Cow shit like laver bread,
Elephant shit – now there’s big shit!

No matter how many times I hear it, I smile XXL; in Welsh it has a wonderful rhythm, it really does. Hey-ho, I continue on my merry way. Who’d have thought that a lump of horse shit in the middle of a deserted road at seven in the morning could generate so many smiles? As I’m about to turn off the lane back into a field, ambling towards me a couple of horses. I recognise them; they’ve clearly wandered away from a farm just down the lane. As I contemplate whether to turn them into the field, they move off down the lane anyway. Oh yes, if someone had seen me prostrate on the road, desperately trying to capture a pile of horse-manure with my camera, I’d now be in a straitjacket. At least the photo is somewhat artistic with Dinefwr Castle as a distant backdrop.

One final, final smile.  It has been Gordon Brown’s budget today – and he cuts the basic rate of income tax. Honestly, never give a sucker an even break: 2p or not 2p? Always knew Gordon was a pee-artist. And whatever you may think, he’s still a rat, definitely not a hamster. Goodnight Manuel. Goodnight Hubie.

SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 2007

An e-mail has crashed my Inbox enquiring when I’m going to give an insight into the 20/20 instinct for survival as mentioned in c.99 seconds walking in my moccasins. Well, it’s most certainly on the agenda, but I was going to wait until the blog had settled down – but there’s no time like the present, the green light is on. Mind you, it’s not a one-off, straightforward lesson, abracadabra, and off we go. There are many stages before you end up with absolute confidence in your own instinct, so it really is going to be a case of every day a day at school.

Imagine jumping into a sea awash with dolphins and sharks. Now the first thing you notice is how superficially alike they are: similar shape and size; same colour; and of course, that fin which can strike terror or delight. As you get closer you begin to notice crucial differences: the shark’s tail fin is vertical, the dolphin’s horizontal; the shark is a fish and has gills, the dolphin a mammal with a blow hole; but the most telling facet is the head or face. A couple of moons back the Letters page of The Times newspaper had a run of correspondence initiated by Richard Dawkins, Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, rubbishing those who believe in the existence of God, or a Grand Designer – as is his wont. God was duly defended with gusto (I particularly enjoyed Dr Helen Grote of Clare College, Cambridge, suggesting that “Perhaps Dawkins should be retitled ‘Professor of the Public Misunderstanding of God’”? As for me, ambivalence is my middle name. A similarly confused individual from history once said that, all in all, he thought it best to believe in a God: if he was wrong, no harm done; but, if there really is a God, well, he’d be quids in – or words to that effect. I’ll go with that. I haven’t found it necessary to visit a place of Christian worship (at least in the traditional sense) for more moons than I care to remember, but I remain a member, and happily pay my annual dues. I guess you could call it keeping my options open, just in case; after all, if you gently lean against a closed door you’ll be surprise how often it swings open. Anyway, I submitted the following letter to The Times: "Sir, Somewhere along my walk through time my mum impressed upon me never to get worked up over something I cannot change or resolve i.e. God or evolution; indeed, the subliminal aggression always present in The Life of Richard could tempt his mother to reaffirm that 'He’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy' – but that is probably down to my 20/20 instinct for survival kicking in. One thing, however, would enlighten my thinking: the oceans are home to a couple of superficially similar species, so why has humanity’s most loved creature, the dolphin, been blessed with a smile which perfectly reflects its relationship with people, yet one of the most feared, the shark, has been cursed with a truly aggressive frown?" Sadly, The Times didn’t think my query worthy of note – but the intriguing observation has not gone away.

Character wise, people are the same. Walk into a room full of strangers and you’re confronted by human dolphins and sharks. Superficially we are all similar. Just occasionally, though, you’ll sense that a person is blessed with such dolphinesque qualities that you’d hand over a blank, signed cheque without a moment’s hesitation. Paradoxically, it could well be a person with SHARK writ large all over, so much so that any deal would be strictly cash up front, with careful examination of every note. But these are exceptions which test the rule. Overwhelmingly we are somewhere between the two extremes: a bit good, a bit bad, a whole lot neutral – and what your clever instinct will tell you is where everyone is on the agreeability register. Now the beauty of a sharp instinct is that, should you sense a shark, you don’t reject or rubbish that person, far from it, it could be an important business contact – but the fact that you know what you’re dealing with makes life a bit of a doddle. The aforementioned Richard Dawkins is a perfect case in point. He has a sort of neutral face – except when he’s rubbishing those who do not accept his point of view, and it suddenly takes on an alarmingly aggressive jib. I have often thought, God, I wouldn’t like to accidentally step on this fellow’s toes, no matter how much I apologised. Now that doesn’t mean I think less of what he stands for, it simply means I’ll never, ever invade his personal space – or crucially, allow him a chance to invade mine.

So your first lesson is this: whenever you encounter people you don’t know, or perhaps don’t know very well, ask yourself, dolphin or shark? Don’t dwell on it, make a snap decision! But at this stage do nothing with what your instinct tells you, other than keep the information in back pocket for future reference. And here endeth the First Lesson. Good swimming.

Smile of the day: Sunday lunchtime at the White Hart, standing at the bar is owner Paul, and he relates a tale from his Fleet Air Arm days (I think), about someone who had baked a pie made with tinned dog food, which he then served to his unsuspecting mates, who duly, excuse pun, wolfed it down, without any side-effects – except that when they visited the toilet they didn’t bother to lift the lid, they just cocked a leg and peed all over it (okay, hands up, that last bit I made up). Anyway, the tale reminded me of a fellow from a village not a million miles from Llandeilo, who was know as Georgie Pie (as in Georgie Porgie Puddin’ and Pie, bucked the girls and made them smile). He suddenly went missing, so friends went round to the house to investigate – and found him dead, collapsed on the mat in front of the fireplace. The police were called, but no foul play, no goodbye letter, no pills – nothing odd was found, except that when the police searched the house they found tins and tins of dog food – which appeared, unbelievably, to be his main source of nourishment. As always happens amidst tragedy, friends remember the good times and make little jokes: true, he did have a hangdog look about him; and yes, he was so good at satisfying the ladies that they often had to throw a bucket of cold water over him and his woman to separate them. Anyway, the inquest arrived, and this is what the coroner said: “He appears to have had a bath, put on his dressing gown, eaten a whole tin of dog food (confirmed by post-mortem examination), laid down in front of the fire, and as he was found in the foetal position, we must presume that he bent down to lick his arse - snapped his neck and died instantly.” Goodnight PAL. Goodnight Hubie.



Just time for a smile at bedtime, which curiously is linked to last night’s smiley moment. Last Sunday I bought both The Sunday Times and The Independent (the reason for the latter will surface at a later date). It takes forever to plough through the weekend papers, so it’s only today I catch up with The Sunday Times’ News Review, in particular Winner’s Dinners on the back page. Michael Winner is akin to a motorway accident: on the one hand I can’t stop myself slowing down and rubbernecking, while with the other I want to slap him (and that from someone who has never found it necessary to slap anyone). However, I enjoy Winner’s Letters, especially this week’s witty little gem from a Dr John Paul Beaumont of Manchester: “Having observed your photos for years I’ve no idea what your teeth look like. I trust they’re not in a state of disrepair. As a dentist, I offer my services. I’d consider it tantamount to being gynaecologist to the Queen.” Hm, looking into one must be akin to looking – no, mustn’t go there. Goodnight dentists, everywhere. Goodnight Hubie.




I leave the house around half-six for my early morning walk. Two hours or so later I enter the last field before I hit the town boundary. It’s a big field, next to the River Towy. Last week it was awash with flood water, today it’s awash with a few hundred sheep and young lambs. With no dog in tow they hardly move as I stroll among them. I can pass within a few feet, even of the lambs, and they just stare and follow my every step. Today I’m quickly aware that there’s something different. How odd: all are lying down; some of the lambs are out to the world, they look dead – but they’re just fast asleep. I’m intrigued by the sight. It’s a perfectly still, quiet, mild, slightly overcast, spring morning. I sit on a washed-up branch. It’s a drop-dead gorgeous morning. The leaves are starting to appear, I’ve even seen some bluebells, but they steadfastly refuse to open – do you suppose they know something we don’t? And the birds are furiously serenading the loves of their lives. True, somewhere I detect the hum of the world going about its business, but I blank that out. I’ve experienced stillness like this before, but this time the serenity of the sheep make it different. I know, a photo – but the sheep are spread all over the field, so I settle for one small corner with the decommissioned Llandyfeisant Church as a backdrop. Tranquillity beyond. I look at the watch I only wear when I go walking. It’s precisely nine. A glorious moment in time.

This makes me think. Back in October last year, the National Trust, under the banner History Matters, invited us as individuals to blog them a snapshot of modern life that would, hopefully, fascinate future historians. All we had to do was record what we had done, or what had happened to us, on a particular day. While I admit to being both curious and observant – some would say nosey – at that time I hadn’t realised that I was, perhaps, a potential blogger, so I never accepted the invitation. However, aware of the social experiment, I wrote a piece detailing the minutiae of fifteen wel-i-jiw-jiw minutes in Ammanford town centre around half-ten on the morning of Wednesday, October 25, 2006, the History Matters Day. Now that I am a blogger, I guess it’s worth properly recording it for posterity. I call it “Nearly singin’ in the rain…”

As part of my bookkeeping work for a client, I have to visit LloydsTSB bank to pay in some cheques. Hurrying along, sheltered under my umbrella, I notice coming towards me through the now pedestrianised town centre, in the pouring rain, one of those little motorised bikes we increasingly see the infirm and the elderly zooming about on. Piloting it is an elderly lady, probably nearer eighty than seventy, suitably dressed against the elements; I become aware of some curious, boy-racer-like, thump-thump music. As we pass, I smile – which I tend to do anyway when I pass females, whether they’re eight or eighty, and invariably they smile back – and dear old Ma Schumacher doesn’t disappoint. But best of all the music is emanating from her bike – and it’s Queen’s It’s A Kind Of Magic. My smile becomes perpetual emotion. If it had been Bat Out Of Hell I’d have seriously considered becoming her toy boy. She is probably listening to local Radio Ga Ga. (Incidentally, I did smile at a lady in a veil the other day, but her eyes remained dead, which did make me wonder whether I’d smiled at a male shoplifter in drag on his way to do a turn on the shop floor.)

I enter the bank. My smile melts and my heart sinks at the sight of the lengthy queue. Annoyingly not every counter position is open. Why? I ponder how many years of our lives we waste queuing in banks, post offices, supermarkets, traffic jams and call centre stacking – just so that a few fat cats on short-term, rollover contracts can boost their share options and bonuses at our expense. To my right are a couple of interview rooms where bank staff discuss business with clients. If I really concentrate I can just about follow the conversations. This time though I’m distracted by a fellow at the front of the queue who’s on his mobile, conversing loudly. It seems he has problems hearing the caller, so he ups the ante: “Sorry Wills,” he shouts, “you’re breaking up.” I sense that many present would like to break him up. Future generations, if there’ll be any, will surely wonder why we allowed mobiles to microwave our brains and our reproductive organs. Sometimes when a long queue builds up a bank chappie will walk up and down the queue asking if anyone’s just paying in, if so he’ll sort it – wouldn’t it be better if he just opened up an extra counter position? But what do I understand about Life, the Universe and Everything – well, now that you’ve mentioned it ... As I shuffle towards the front of the queue, like something from Metropolis (Queen and Radio Ga Ga again), a bank employee squeezes past leading a customer towards an interview room. “We’re always busy on Wednesday mornings,” she apologises to her client, “we don’t open till ten.” I’m overwhelmed by a desire to shout “Well bloody well open at nine then, as you do other mornings!” – but my mam taught me never to be a silly-billy, but rather count to ten as that is the emotional equivalent of kissing something better: “One, two, three …“

Eventually I’m called to the well – and I will register my frustrations. However, I’m confronted by a handsome young lady who smiles and welcomes me with a friendly “Shwmai!”. It’s the Welsh equivalent of “Hello, how nice to see you and how are you”, with no insistent question mark latched on. However, I indulge the question. “Bendigedig!”, meaning blessed, as characterised by happiness or good fortune. She responds with a grin as wide as a Cheshire pussycat. Bugger. I’m such a sucker for a pretty face and a cheery demeanour that I’ve already dumped my complaint. I slide her the paying-in book. As I watch I’m convinced that she’s actually purring, so I spend the next minute or so fantasising what sort of magic we could conjure up – and whether I should slide her my special-occasion visiting card: Hubie the Handy Man (I also mend broken hearts and administer the kiss of life where deemed appropriate). My sister-in-law reckons I’m a Mr Breaker, as opposed to a Mr Mender – a charge I actively refute. “There we go,” chirps my little pussycat all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, “anything else I can do for you?” Um, no, not today – and I’m back out in the pouring rain. Bugger, bugger. No wonder women slip through my fingers – yet I’m still overwhelmed by a desire to do a Gene Kelly in Ammanford town centre. Sadly though my genetic inheritance kicks in: “… eight, nine, ten.”

Smiley moment of the day: I missed how the conversation started, but a lady on Jamie Owen’s show on Radio Wales is relating a tale about a Prince Charles visit to Australia, and while attending a function during a bank holiday there, engages a senior member of the church in small talk, as he does: “We have far too many bank holidays,” says Charles. “Actually,” replies the clergyman, straight of face and spirit, “we call it the Queen’s birthday.” I hope it’s true. Goodnight Your Maj. Goodnight Hubie.



Anthropomorphism! How could I forget? They speak of nothing else at the Crazy Horsepower (see 400 smiles a day, First time here?). Goodness, if I slipped the word anthropomorphism into the chat at the Crazy H someone would soon put me right: “Hey! We’ll have none of that talk by ‘ere, right. If you’re gonna use words that need a low-loader to cart ‘em about you’d better go drink at the Cawdor Hotel.” I hate to think what The Cisco Kid would make of it, probably something to do with a combination of a type of hard coal (anthracite), and a virus disease found in sheep (orfe). As Brian the Preacher Man would say, “I’ll throw you the words, you sort ‘em out.”.

This is more a “Testing, testing!” blog. It’s taken me a week or so to get the whole shooting match up and running. I tend to fluff around a bit, just like an old woman, really (nothing against old women, I love some of you very much – and if I don’t make that perfectly clear the ghost of May Plough will haunt me); mind you, I also love some younger women very much – although there are occasionally the wrong sort of women on the line who hinder my journey; just as women often find the wrong sort of men on the line to delay and derail them. Together we’ll learn how to avoid all these obstructions on the line.

Oh yes, the toilet seat correspondence in The Times continues apace. Some years ago a David Harris from Didcot attended a reception at what was then a ladies-only Oxford college; he eventually found a gents toilet, and as he lifted the seat he noticed that someone had written underneath it: “Thank God, a man at last.” Imagine though if he’d been forced to use a ladies-only toilet – and then found that message. Peter Dean from Cheshire says that, when a Latin student at Birmingham, in deference to the occasional female visitor to the all-male flat, the lavatory had pinned to the wall the legend “Viri sedem tollite”. Having no idea what that meant, I Googled it, but could only come up with something like “Pee into this bog before your brethren”. Hot or cold? And then today, Peter Lamberton of Sheffield tells us that he knows someone who always puts down the lid – but only to prevent access by his two Labradors. I still think my rats have it by a nose.

So what made me smile loudest today? Tonight on BBC2 England I caught up with the repeat of last Sunday’s Top Gear. What a smiley bonanza. Billie Piper was good value, although when she gave one of her reasons for giving up Dr Who as having spent 2 years in Cardiff, well, it gave Jeremy Clarkson another reason to endorse the suspicion that we Welsh really are piss artists who call each other Flower. However, sticks and stones may draw blood but insults will merely bruise me. I just ride the wave. But Top Gear’s item on the home-build stretch limos was exceedingly comic. The first segment was okay, the middle one, with all those tasks on the runway, a bit iffy, but the final part driving around London was delightfully silly. Clarkson really is a fine comic actor. I must have racked up 150 smiles at least during the programme (the human face breaks into rapid-fire smiles rather than a permanent one, which is why children smile so much; cultivate the right company and 400 smiles a day is a doddle, trust me). Oh yes, a bit of homework for thee and me. If you study the three birdies pulled from the river as featured over on 400smilesaday, which do you suppose would make the perfect soul mates for Clarkson, May and Thingamabob? Now there’s a smiley bit of lateral thinking. Goodnight imagination. Goodnight Hubie.


THURSDAY, MARCH 01, 2007, ST DAVID’S DAY (Dydd Gŵyl Dewi)


And so to life. The red light in my brain is joined by amber. Proceed with caution. This really is the first day of the rest of my blog. My left hand shoots out from under the duvet to switch off the bedside clock before it explodes into life; how odd that even for a sound sleeper, that gentle click the alarm makes, just seconds before the bell, brings me to life most mornings. I have no reason to rise at five; I just do – unless of course I’ve had a night on the tiles. Clearly my mother was startled by a lark, rather than an owl. I switch on both the bedside light and the radio. Gaynor Davies joins me in bed. Between five and seven she hosts a Welsh music-based magazine show on Radio Cymru, the BBC’s Welsh language station. I like Gaynor. She has an infectious sense of fun. “I hope you’ve got a daffodil pinned to your pyjamas,” she chirps (the daffodil, together with the leek, being national emblems of Wales – which doesn’t add up to a nation of piss artists who call each other Flower, although, now that I think about it). I smile at the thought of daffs pinned to a nation’s jimjams. One smile down, 399 to go. At half-five, having performed one’s ablutions (or absolutions as The Cisco Kid down at the Crazy Horsepower would have it), I stroll down to the newsagent for the Western Mail, the “national newspaper of Wales”. I also buy The Times occasionally. As I return a clear sky reveals a near-full moon, low in the western sky. I smile, rather than bellow a quick howl (I leave that to The Cisco Kid). Back in the house I now get my oats – Jordans as opposed to Jordan’s. I top off my porridge oats with honey and a banana. I peruse the paper and listen to Gaynor – and prove conclusively that I would not be able to talk on a mobile and drive safely in testing conditions without compromising life and limb. And who wants to be on call 24/7/52 anyway? I again put off getting a mobile.

As I flick through the “national newspaper of Wales” I’m astonished how little there is to do with St David’s Day; nothing in Welsh, just a 2-page spread, most of which is taken up by a photo competition to capture the Spirit of Modern Wales – the winning photo though, of a young lad playing football on a beech, at sunset, is a worthy winner. Well done Chris Mole. For once I’m disappointed that my latest letter to The Times didn’t make it. Times journalist Mathew Parris, AC, had posed a rather dated conundrum: why do women leave lavatory seats in the “down” position? First things first; Parris is openly AC, that’s AC as in AC/DC, meaning DC is direct current, heterosexuality, AC is alternating current, homosexuality, and AC/DC is – well, like grabbing something hot from the Indian takeaway with half-and-half, half chips, half rice. The Hole in the Head Gang down the Crazy Horsepower have different words for AC/DC, which I won’t repeat as the print here would blush bright red. However, they’ve invented a new grouping, Three-phase, meaning AC/DC with options, from blow-up doll to the prettiest sheep in the flock. As to the business about the lav seat, Angela O’Shaughnessy from Bath replies that when the lav is flushed with the lid up, “germs spread around the room by the aerosol effect … inviting them to be inhaled”. Pooh-pooh. Then a Barry Bond from Leigh on Sea says that a favourite line used by his boss to describe a volatile situation is: “Up and down like a toilet seat at a mixed party.” My effort was this: “My eminently sensible Welsh mam taught me from a young age that everything which comes with a lid should have it put back on immediately after use; moreover, given the explosion in the rat population, a builder recently assured me that the desperately cunning little devils have now worked out how to navigate the toilet S-bend to enter a property – and if that doesn’t make Mathew Parris spend as little time as possible on the throne and slam the lid down tight after use, then he should not be surprised if someday soon something really nasty bites him on the bum.” Perhaps the word “bum” offended. Now if this blog does precisely what it says on the tin i.e. every day is a day at school, then the sound of lavatory lids being slammed tight after use will echo across the nation.

Just before 0700hrs the red light goes out and green joins amber. I’m now more aware of what’s going on around me. I’m sort of switched-on. I get dressed for a walk on the wild side, grab two cameras, a middle of the range Sony which I sling over shoulder, and a smaller one which goes into coat pocket. When you’ve trained as a pilot you always have Plan B in back of mind. If battery runs flat, or suddenly no memory space, the smaller camera is there just in case a wel-i-jiw-jiw moment manifests itself in front of me. For a welcome change the morning is bright and clear, but there’s a really fresh north-westerly blowing. I take no photos of note, and I arrive back just before ten. I switch on Radio Wales and Shân Cothi is filling-in for Roy Noble who is Stateside for St David’s Day. I’ve never met Shân, but I fondly remember her grandmother, May Plough, who was a family friend and a regular visitor to the house. May Plough was one of the first characters I remember from my youth who made me aware that older people could be great fun and endlessly entertaining. On her radio show Shân has a telephone conversation with someone she apparently knows, called Dai (get away), who’s in Beijing. “Have you got a daffodil on, Dai?” “No, but I’ve got a small leek.” “I know that,” she responds with that naughty-but-nice trademark chuckle, “but have you got a daffodil on?” I laugh, as does a colleague of Shân’s in the studio. Sadly the joke appears to go over Dai’s head, probably because of the slight delay on the line. But I’ll tell you what; May Plough will never die as long as Shân’s around.

At around 10a.m. the amber light goes out and now it’s just green. I need to concentrate fully on earning a living. I do the books for a local business, which fortunately I do from home. It keeps the wolf from the door, although I hear it barking somewhere out the back some evenings. But hey, this is St David's Day, which I treat as a Bank Holiday, so I put my feet up and peruse further the morning papers. For the next few hours smiles are thin on the ground.

At four in the afternoon the amber light joins the green. My brain now also puts its feet up and I wander down to the Crazy Horsepower. The hours between four and seven are a delight; regulars pop in for a drink or two on the way home from work. It’s an interlude of fun, leg-pulling, gossip and wel-i-jiw-jiw moments. There’s a seat in the corner I call the Dylan Thomas; whenever I sit there I’m convinced I’ve got a bit part in a Dylan Thomas play, somewhere between Under Milk Wood, Fawlty Towers and How The West Was Won (some characters effortlessly cross over, for Polly Sherman read Polly Garter). My smileometer shoots up. One of the saloon’s great characters, The PM (Brian the Preacher Man), goes on about a potential ambush in his life. “Pup-pup!” advises Wild Bill Hickok from the corner, “don’t go lookin’ for trouble.” “You’re right,” responds The PM, “don’t trouble trouble unless trouble troubles you.” I smile XL; I’ve never heard that before; it burns brightly onto my hard drive.

I’m home just before seven. The green light goes out and now it’s just amber. I switch on the telly but the screen could be blank. I finish off the day's papers. Somewhere along the line, red joins the amber. As I need seven hours sleep, I flop into bed just before ten. The last thing I do is recall the smiliest thing I’ve encountered today. It was at the Crazy Horsepower; I tell Little Willy Wee about the AC/DC contribution on my blog, and he says he recently watched the Simpsons, where Homer has a part-time job as a minister of the gospel, and one day finds himself marrying a gay couple, so he begins: “Queerly beloved, we are gathered together…” Now that tickles my F-Spot (F for fun). Word foreplay equals orgasmic smiles. Say goodnight World. Goodnight Hubie. The amber goes out. Red rules......



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MARCH 01, 2007