LOOK YOU ~ a rolling scrapbook of life, the universe and nearly everything...
THOUGHT FOR LIFE: every day is a day at school [School motto: Gwell helpu na hindro ~ "If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain."]

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POSTCARDS FROM
MY SQUARE MILE
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Updated: 12/06/2011

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for a taste of life on the wild side of my square mile, click...

400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 03/04/2011

VIEWING NOTE: Prepared on screen resolution 1280 by 720 pixels
BEYOND THE BLUE HORIZON ~ 1 July 2011
                           
♫♫♫ Happy birthday to Look You... ♫♫♫
Yes, 365 entries later, and still smiling, whether at, or with, something old, something new, something borrowed - and just occasionally, something blue ... in fact, my Smile of the Day has taken on a life of its own - see 30 June 2011
!
     It
s been great fun along the way, but over the coming months I shall be working on a little project, so time will be at a premium. During that spell I will mostly be smiling at moments which have consistently amused me over the past year, namely the delightfully doolally quotes, whether celebrity or otherwise, that daily tumble out of the media machine.
     So here we go, Year Two...
                                                                          
Everyday a Smile of the Day
 

Wednesday, June 29
New balls-up, please

“I’M sorry I’m a bit sweaty.” Scotsman Andy Murray’s apology to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when meeting them after his Wimbledon triumph over Richard Gasquet.
He later claimed he would have shaved had he known he was going to meet William and Kate, which is a remarkable statement, and probably offers up a clue as to why he tends to trip up along the home stretch.

I’ve gone with tennis today because there is much complaining about the endless blather spouted by TV commentators – something common to all sports – indeed as many viewers increasingly ask, why does the BBC and other broadcasters not use the red button to provide a commentary-less option, with just the officials and the crowd noise as background? Hear, hear
!
     I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of letters in The Telegraph...

Famous for being unknown
SIR – The BBC’s Wimbledon coverage should have subtitles to identify those the camera lingers on during breaks in play.
I can understand filming the players’ families and coaches, but the rest must be famous in a way unknown to me. Perhaps they are soap actors, or pop stars, or relatives of the cameraman.
Steve Duckworth, Frimley Green, Surrey.


Quiet, please
SIR – Television commentators should heed this advice: “A wise man speaks when he has something to say, a fool because he has to say something.”
Guy Attfield, Dursley, Gloucestershire


Most of all I smiled at this response in the ‘Comment’ column, from Phrancofile: Television commentators should heed this advice: “A wise man speaks when he has something to say; a fool because he has to say something.”  No comment.
     I’m trying to figure out where precisely I fit into that slice of ‘wise speak’
! Meanwhile, still on the subject of sport...

“Art at the Olympics? What little gem may we expect from Tracey Emin: an unraked sandpit perhaps?” Laurence Stevens, of Wilmslow, Cheshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

A return service at Wimbledon...
Today it was the turn of the fragrant Pippa to grace the place and turn both heads and camera lenses: I am reliably told that “following big sister Kate’s example of recycling outfits in public, the 27-year-old arrived at Centre Court in a bright red linen, above-the-knee, £143 Hobbs NW3 Wyldes dress she was also seen in on Tuesday.”.

My day would have been incomplete without that bonus smile. Incidentally, without such crucial information I would have presumed that the “NW3” reference was actually the Centre Court postcode. An address code, as opposed to a dress code.
     Actually, I see that the Wimbledon postcode is SW19, so if I’d gone with NW3 I’d have found myself shouting “Sorry, Love
!” - as opposed to “40, Love!” - on Hampstead Heath.
     Incidentally, Pippa arrived at Wimbledon with her boyfriend, “former cricketer, City trader and Eton-educated” Alex Loudon, quashing rumours over recent months that the pair had split up. So a former cricketer as opposed to a former boyfriend, then.
     Good for you, Pippa. Keep ’em guessing and retain that magic and mystery. Just ask Prince Philip.

One final smile: last Saturday, June 25, I compared and contrasted the instant world-wide fame of Pippa with that of Amy Johnson, the first woman aviator to fly solo from Britain to Australia, back in 1930.
     What has been kindly pointed out is that Pippa has a little way to go to catch Amy because the famous aviator had a rather wonderful popular song of the time written about her.
     Indeed so, it’s a classic period-piece, and well worth a listen, if only to underscore how famous she became after her exploits ... it also generates a smile if you substitute the name Amy with Pippa in the song, which rather puts both girls’ claim to fame into context...
                                           http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dsiZgRKh2k&feature=related

 

Tuesday, June 28
Nature’s magic bag of tricks

TODAY I experience the real joy of living where I do.

I leave the cottage at half-five, the sun rising on a beautiful morning. Just as I leave I’m overwhelmed with the seductive aroma of a lime tree – the flowers are now open, and the yellowish-white blooms pour down a heady scent from the branches.
     There’s a bonus because on my way into town to collect the morning paper I cross Dinefwr Park & Castle Estate, where I encounter a host of gloriously mature lime trees – it’s a walk through a scented forest.
     Also, the entrance to Penlan Park, in the town itself, has an avenue of 10 lime trees, but these are youngish trees and they haven’t yet come into flower. Another week or so and that walk too will be all eau de heaven.

After collecting the paper I then set off for home along a different route, through the Towy Valley itself. As I cross a large field, but before I reach the songbirds I’ve befriended, I freeze...
     Some 50-60 yards ahead, just alongside a woodland, I spot a couple of young foxes playing in the morning sun. I have nowhere to hide, but they don’t spot me. Unlike urban foxes the rural variety are incredibly shy of human beings. In fact there are three of them.
     Two play a kind of hide-and-seek game around, and on, a fallen tree – as captured below...
 


The third, also in playful mood, suddenly decides to run in my direction – a beautiful little creature, all shinny in the morning sun – and of course it spots me. It too freezes for a few seconds – captured above in all its glory - then bolts in a cloud of panic and a hearty Hi-ho Silver, taking the other two with it.
     A delightful interlude nevertheless.

Further on I pass by a couple of oxbow lakes. As is the norm, there are flies and insects aplenty, especially in the early morning as the sun climbs. But this year, like the fruit on the trees, they are in profusion – the two hard winters we’ve just experienced really do seem to have rebalanced nature in some curious way.
     Also in attendance at the lakes are hundreds of sand martins, swallows and I don’t know what else. It is nature’s version of a lottery rollover jackpot for the birds. It is a time of plenty.
     As I look towards the climbing sun, there is an elevated woodland, which acts as a dark background, and against this the sun highlights the rather slow moving flies and insects like glow worms.
     I focus on one particular fly – whoosh
! – a bird sweeps it up. I select another insect – and on and on. The birds are hoovering up what appears to be an endless supply of flies and insects with astonishing precision and efficiency.
     It would be wonderful to take a picture, but you would need sophisticated and professional high-speed equipment to do so. Just occasionally a bird will fail to properly gather up a goody, and the insect lives to fly again for another second or so.
     But what is most astonishing is that these birds are flying all over the shop, in all directions, and it’s truly amazing, given that they have to target and concentrate on the insects, that they never crash into each other.
     They fly so close to me as they swoop that I could reach out and touch them. It is a most memorable experience.

As I near the end of my walk, I stroll along some half-a-mile or so of country lane, and the hedgerows are a mass of honeysuckle, now coming into their prime.
     My walk began with the sweet scent of the lime tree – and it ends with the fragrant scent of honeysuckle. Magic. Truly captivating smiles of the day.
 

Monday, June 27
Pleased as Punch

THE Crazy Horsepower’s Chief Wise Owl (CWO), aware that I hardly ever read The Times newspaper these days, will occasionally cut out and keep a letter he spots, and which he thinks will make me smile and perhaps qualify for inclusion here.
     He also tells me that he enjoys my take on quotations, letters and such like. So no pressure then.
     A letter just handed me by CWO involved reaction to a cricketing incident earlier in the month at Lord’s Cricket Ground, the “Home of Cricket”, when Matt Prior, the England wicketkeeper, had unfortunately been run out due to a bad call by his partner at the wicket.
     He then allegedly smashed a dressing room window in frustration. Glass had showered down on some members sat outside, one lady suffering a superficial injury from flying glass. Prior duly apologised, insisting it had all been an accident. Well, he would say that – wouldn’t he?
     Anyway, here’s the letter CWO gifted me...

That’s the way to do it
!
Sir, On a tour of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, I saw in the home dressing room a punchbag suspended from the ceiling. To enable disgruntled batsmen to work off their anger might this be useful at Lord’s?
MICHAEL H. PERKINS, Solihull, W Midlands


Yes, that definitely has mileage, a champion idea. So why not expand the initiative throughout society? For example, BBC Director-General Mark Thompson could do with one in his office...
                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                            ...then perhaps he wouldn’t be so obsessed with turning the Corporation into such a foul-mouthed mouthpiece. After all, it is only aggressive bullies who use obscenities as their everyday currency of communication.
     Even better, imagine if at 10 Downing Street there had been a punchbag with the face of Saddam Hussein imprinted on it when Tony Blair decided to take the nation to war on the back of that infamous sexed-up dossier; and David Cameron had been in possession of an effigy of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi when his brain was commandeered by his warmongering gene.
     Ponder the precious lives and the money the nation would have saved. And Royal Wootton Bassett would still be called Wootton Bassett – and quietly getting on with life, and minding its own business out there in the Wiltshire countryside.
 
Sunday, June 26
Wind me up before you go-go ga-ga

“THESE people at Glastonbury, some of them, they really seem to smell not good.” Nancy Dell’Olio, born probably
23 August 1961, Italian-American property lawyer, who was carted across a muddy field in a wheelbarrow to protect her cream white boots.


Dear Nancy transports me back a couple of weeks to a smile I was going to share, but somehow got diverted – story of my life – however, the above quote offers up a perfect excuse to revisit it.
     The Sunday Times Magazine does a regular A Life in the Day feature, where slebs offer us an insight into a typical day. We were introduced to Nancy Dell'Olio (Sven-Göran Eriksson’s ex and Trevor Nunn’s current squeeze) as someone kind, charismatic, privileged and always looking fabulous. Random extracts coming up. The piece was headed...

I’m special, so special
I wake up early, despite the fact that I function much better at night. I’m gifted to not need a lot of sleep ... Since I was a little child in Italy, people have looked at me, and not just because I’m beautiful; it’s something else that comes from inside me. I know I’m fascinating. But I prefer the word charisma to beauty.
     I’ve endured jealousy since I was small, but I don’t care. I’m blessed ... I’m privileged to have good skin ... I love to look 30, like I look now. And it’s my goal to look 30 at 70 ... I don’t know anyone who does as much as I do.
     I’m a very loved person. Women and men, they both love me, and this is because I’m the kindest person I know. I’m never rude, which is important, but the characteristic I’m most proud of is that I do love to spoil my man. And you can’t spoil your man if you don’t know how to spoil yourself, which I do ... I’m like a mother to my man. I shower him with attention, physical, material, psychological. And I require attention back – I know how good I am  ...
     I’m special, you know, so you’re going to have a very unique and intense experience with me ... He [Nunn] said already I’m the most intelligent person he’s ever met ... Maybe people think I have everything. Nobody has everything, but I’m very privileged.


It was a very private smile first time round, mostly because I just couldn’t decide whether she was being serious or simply winding me up. Better safe than sorry, I concluded, and drew a veil over it.
     To be honest, I still can’t decide, even after the wheelbarrow incident. She could still be winding us all up – with a curious kind of style.
     Anyway, I wasn’t sure whether to seek out a picture of Nancy to see if she really does look 30 at 50 – but I decided eventually to go with a picture that was all over the media last Wednesday and Thursday, as torrential rain greeted revellers descending on Glastonbury.

“We manage to survive in the most adverse conditions. We are survivors.” Michael Eavis, Glastonbury’s Chief Sitting Hippopotamus on the mud, mud, glorious mud...
♫ ♫ ...nothing quite like it for cooling the blood...

I did dip into the BBC’s coverage, mostly to enjoy the wit and observations of presenter Mark Radcliffe.
     In contrary biblical fashion, the Saturday and the Sunday

Here's mud in your eye: Tom Wilder, 17,
from Kent, samples that glorious feeling

turned out to be glorious - as it was in my little corner of the
world – but it did prompt me to submit a letter to the Telegraph...

A roof over our heads
SIR – Back in the late-Nineties, the Welsh Rugby Union were overtaken by a random act of wisdom, when they decided to put a retractable roof over the Millennium Stadium – perfect for an indoor mini-Glastonbury – although that original wisdom is negated by the fact that when they actually play rugby there, the visiting team can veto whether the elements should be kept at bay.
     (Politicians and sports administrators share the same strand of DNA you know; it ensures that they experience zero empathy with those they serve.)
     Rather late in the day Wimbledon decided to protect its valuable shop window with a roof over its Centre Court.
     Surely the time has now arrived for Michael Eavis to put a roof over his 900-acre Worthy Farm to ensure a mud-free Glastonbury
!
HB, Llandampness

Well, the image of Glasto held in a shed made me smile – but sadly, the letter didn’t make the cut though.
 

Saturday, June 25
Flying high

“LIST individuals who achieved instant global fame” I typed into Google. Meaning, I was looking for the individual who has achieved immediate world-wide fame, in the fastest possible time.
     Perhaps I was phrasing the question wrongly – I tried many different formats – but I didn’t get what I was after. It is quite possible that the answer isn’t out there in Google-land anyway.
     It all came about when I noticed this quote:
“I don’t think there’s a more beautiful, more stunning, more talked-about woman in the world at the moment. I’m sure everybody is trying to sign her up. She won’t be cheap.” The reigning King of R & B, Usher, 32, who has a new lingerie line, on Pippa Middleton.

Intrigued by this fellow Usher, I Googled him, and discovered that, although born in Dallas, Texas, he spent his formative years in Chattanooga. Well, if your psyche has to be shaped by any place on the planet, then Chattanooga is as good a place as any. But what does Chattanooga mean?
     Unsurprisingly, there’s some uncertainty, but Cherokee Chief John Ross (1790-1866), “a man with the legend touch, walked tall upon the earth and cast a long shadow”, whose first language was English and whose family moved to the area in the 19th century, was said to have stated that Chattanooga was Cherokee for “The Big Catch”, all down to the good fishing on the Tennessee River.
     That sounds just right to me. And what about the above - “a man with the legend touch, etc” - for a character reference?

But back with Pippa: I found myself wondering about - I was going to say the rise and rise of Pippa – but that would be wrong, for she arrived on the scene in a flash, bang, wallop, what a picture, what a photograph.
     I mean, has there ever been anything quite like the Pippa phenomenon in the history of celebrity?

At 10:59 on the 29th April 2011, most of us Brits knew that Kate Middleton, as she then was, had an attractive younger sister, so much so we rustic types had already labelled her a “morning seller”, which is high praise indeed.
     Yes, we had seen the occasional picture of her with her sister – but to all intents and purposes, at 11:00 on April 29, the world had no idea who or what Pippa Middleton was.
     However, just 75 minutes later, two billion people were more than aware of the fragrant Pippa – and within the next 24 hours a couple billion more were on yellow alert, for the world-wide media had taken a shine to our Pippa and duly propelled her onto their front pages.
     I don’t suppose there has been any other person on the planet who has been so exposed to so much limelight in such a brief flash of time. So as Usher hints at above, the world really is at her feet.
     Mind you, what I really like about her is that she has kept a relatively low profile since fame beckoned, which adds to her magic and mystery. There again, my heart sank a little when I read this in The Sunday Times...

Pippa Middleton was recently spotted driving into the London car park of HarperCollins, returning two hours later to zoom away. The publisher says it knows of no meeting with her.
     So, no book on pert bums or her recent break-up with her broker beau. Maybe she was visiting the TV company Mentorn, which shares the same building? The other office is the London HQ of the Bill Clinton Foundation. The mind boggles.


My only advice, remember the Green Cross Code, Pippa: look left, look right – and don’t forget straight ahead. Still, the Middleton family do not look particularly green around the gills when it comes to the rotten ways of the world, so I’m sure she’ll sail serenely ahead.
     Be that as it may, back with my original Google query on the theme of instant fame and celebrity, what did come up was this...

In 1930, pioneer English aviator Amy Johnson achieved world fame overnight, when she became the first woman aviator to fly solo from Britain to Australia, which she achieved at the age of 26. (Mind you, the word “instant” in 1930 would have meant something slightly different to “instant” in 2011.)
     Amy’s remarkable accomplishments were well recognised at the time. Not only was she formally acknowledged by dignitaries, but also received much public interest, becoming a celebrity of the day, and also awarded the CBE for her flying achievements.
     A truly fascinating woman, who died in 1941, aged just 38, during a ferry flight. She was part of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), essential to the war effort. Her death occurred on the 5th January 1941.
     She was lost over the Thames estuary after baling out during a mission to deliver an Airspeed Oxford aeroplane. Ironically, after so many years of flying achievement, she was the first member of the ATA to be killed.
     Her body was never recovered, although her flying bag was picked up. How sad is that?
 

Wonderful Amy

Wondrous Pippa


And how curious that both Amy and Pippa achieved world fame at the same age. But how different their flight paths.
 

Friday, June 24
Dog Star

“THERE is a great intelligence behind the Tory Party that says let’s appear slightly bumbling and slightly buffoonish, while they are as lethal as a laser underneath it all. Clegg and Cameron are savage and evil people.” The writer Russell T Davies, 48, creator of the modern Doctor Who (and a man who therefore should know a thing or two about evil).
Either Russell T has been spending too much time in the Tardis, or he’s had his crotch mugged by a Dalek’s plunger.

I have my reservations about the savage and evil bit, but the Tories are determined to be as incompetent and as inept as the previous Labour administration, all of them to a W a load of proper J. Arthur Ranks
! Indeed, the Tories are not just slightly bumbling and slightly buffoonish, they have first-class honours in Bumbling Buffoonery.
     Ponder this: Air Chief Marshal Sir Simon Bryant expressed a natural concern that fighting simultaneous conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East was placing ‘huge’ demands on airmen and aircraft, a point of view most of us, given the sweeping cuts imposed on the Armed Services and all other public services, consider fairly obvious.
     And David Cameron’s much publicised response to the military? “You do the fighting, I’ll do the talking.”

What a doolally thing to say. I mean, you couldn't make it up. Blair is already half a bubble off plumb, and Cameron is rapidly heading down the slippery slope.
     As many have pointed out, Cameron omits three crucial points. What he meant to say was this: “You do the fighting and the dying, I’ll do the talking.” Or perhaps: “You do the fighting, I’ll do the funding.” Also, Cameron never made it clear who should be responsible for the thinking.
     His extraordinary put-down of the military explains perfectly why members of our Armed Forces are held in the highest esteem, whilst politicians are dismissed as just arrogant and ignorant clowns.

Talk of politicians brings me quite naturally to political correctness. I see that Stephen Fry is writing the script for the remake of the famous Dambusters film featuring the RAF’s 617 Squadron.
     In the original film, Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s dog, a black labrador, which was also the unit’s mascot, was called “Nigger” – but Fry intends to change the name to “Digger”, to avoid giving offence (a more recent censored American version of the film dubbed the dog “Trigger”).
     However, it seems that “Digger” is also a derogatory racial epithet for members of various tribes of California Native American Indians, including the hot-headed Western Shoshone – so called from their practice of digging roots for food.
     Journalist Rod Liddle suggests that if Fry goes with “Digger” it would be most intriguing to see what a national treasure looks like without a scalp.
     Whatever, I rather enjoyed Liddle’s suggestion that the black labrador be rechristened “Dog of Colour”.
     On a fleetingly serious note, it strikes me that the answer lies in history. It seems that in the real world, Guy Gibson often called his dog “Nigsy”.
     Problem solved - as long as it is not confused with Giggsy, and ends up having many a boot up its arse.
 

Thursday, June 23
Magic and mystery

BACK with the ever so handy iPlayer to catch up with BBC Radio 2’s latest instalment of the Sounds of the 20th Century, a fifty-part audio journey through the years 1951 to 2000.
     I have mentioned this marvellous series before. There’s no commentary, analysis or hindsight. Just the news clips from the time, the people, the programmes that were heard or seen – and all glued together by the music of the year under review.
     Today it was 1961: the year of Checkpoint Charlie and Chubby Checker (the Berlin Wall sprung up, which would divide East and West Germany for the next 30 years – and Chubby was seducing us to “Come on let’s twist again, as we did last summer...”); the year of Beyond the Fringe and Ban the Bomb.
     Britain gets its first legal betting shops and Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space; there’s a rare British triumph at Wimbledon (Angela Mortimer Barrett, her partner for the first dance at the party at championship end being Australian Rod Laver - some things never change); schoolgirl Helen Shapiro storms the charts while Walking Back To Happiness  – and it’s the year Neil Sedaka’s Calendar Girl announces her arrival.
     Best of all, this is the year that Jaguar introduced us to the most beautiful car in the world, the E-Type. Sigh.

This year also gave us one of history’s more famous quotations: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” JFK at his inauguration.

But every week as I listen to this exceedingly entertaining series, there is always something which makes me smile XL. This time it was hearing this memorable Radio Luxembourg advertisement...

Good evening friends, this is Horace Batchelor at the microphone, the inventor of the famous infra-draw method for the treble chance (a system to win money by predicting the results of football matches).
     I have myself, with my own coupon entries, won 1,012 first treble-chance top dividends, and my ingenious method can help you to win also. Don’t send any money, just your name and address.
     Send now to Horace Batchelor, Department One, Keynsham, spelt K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M, Keynsham, Bristol.


What wonderful memories. He always voiced his own ads – he was in possession of a rather reassuring, comforting, wrap-around sort of voice, but I never did send away for his method, even though I did occasionally do the football pools.
     Oh yes, he always spelt the name Keynsham (for it was pronounced cane-sham) and as a result the town became a legend in its own High Street.

PS. Above, I mentioned Helen Shapiro, who became a pop sensation with her powerful voice at the tender age of 14, back in 1961. Now the Beatles did not explode onto the scene until the following year, and they embarked on their first national tour of Britain in the late winter/early spring of 1963 – as Helen Shapiro’s supporting act
!
     Yes indeed, life is one magical, mystery tour.

PPS. Coming up, a link to a very clever and smiley 1967 song...
     I include it because Horace Batchelor is actually mentioned in dispatches, as is J. Arthur Rank, the one-time famous British film-making company with the even more famous gong...
                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                                ...J. Arthur Rank was of course Cockney rhyming slang for something rather naughty. And this is why everyone who now receives a Gong from the Queen is known as a J. Arthur Ranker. Quite right, too.
     Many funny moments coming up: watch out for a very relaxed Adolf Hitler on vibes - nice; digging General de Gaulle on accordion - really wild, General - thank you, Sir; Roy Rogers on Trigger ... and the slap across the face coming out of the computer...
                          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Bxv_HLwT7U

 

Wednesday, June 22
O Mio Babbino Caro
CAUGHT up with Owen Money’s weekend radio shows on iPlayer. It was, apparently, a weekend celebrating something called Father’s Day – another commercial initiative, I guess – which fell on the Sunday, as they do. Listeners kept sending in their best wishes for fathers everywhere, naturally.

A couple of messages brightened up my Wednesday no end. The first was from a Calvin:
“I’d like to leave a message to all my children. I’ve still got the same mobile number – and I still live in the same house. Thanks. Calvin, New Tredegar.”
     Owen responds: “Calv, happy Father’s Day, from me, butt. How’s that?” It was a very funny moment amongst all the meaningful but threateningly over-emotional stuff.
     I presume that Calvin was having a laugh.

And then this one: “Hi Owen. My little granddaughter has just been in to see me for Father’s Day. ‘Grampy,’ she said, ‘there’s a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, how about a Kid’s Day? There’s no Kid’s Day for us.’ Yes there is, I said. It’s called Christmas Day.” David Pitney, Newport.

I was going to call it a Smiley Day there and then - but tonight I happened upon a repeated Have I Got News For You on Dave TV. Jo Brand was in the chair – and surprise upon surprise, this episode contained no obscenities, indeed no bleeps to cover up said expletives.
     Probably all that stuff had been totally edited out because the show was broadcast before the nine o'clock watershed. Yet the programme was none the worse for that. At least to my ear.
     Jo Brand baffles me. She is a funny lady; she makes me smile and laugh, but whenever she hosts HIGNFY she has to pepper the programme with some obscenities. Why? She is humorous enough without having to resort to all that nonsense.
     I am left with the impression that before she comes on the programme, the Director-General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, calls her in and says: “Look, Jo, my mission is to dumb down the BBC to extreme, to drag it down to my level – everything is going well so far – but I need you to eff and blind a bit on HIGNFY to bring the tone of the programme right down. Thanks.”
     What other explanation can there possibly be? Whatever, on this particular expletive-free episode, she said this:

“I went to a friend’s funeral recently – and they played Return To Sender.”

Much laughter all round, including from the panellists, especially so Ian Hislop who slapped the desk enthusiastically and declared: “That’s very good.”
     And indeed it was. Hope it was true, for the idea is good enough to be considered for one’s own journey to the beyond.
 

Tuesday, June 21
Discovering a good old-fashioned f-word

SOME ‘Will you walk into my parlour?’ moments...

Tabloid newspaper’s Giggs obsession: Daily Star readers could have been forgiven for thinking it was Groundhog Day this morning when they saw the tabloid newspaper’s 13th consecutive front page story about Ryan Giggs.
    
The above was the opening paragraph on yesterday’s Yahoo
! Sport web site, which rather took me by surprise. Every morning I briefly peruse the front pages in the newsagent – but I hadn’t noticed that the Star had Giggs splashed all over, every morning.
     Now the Giggs story has featured a few times on here, mostly because the whole affair posed the curious question as to why he had taken out the super-injunction in the first place.
     But the Star has indeed taken its obsession to extremes, publishing a succession of stories about the footballer, four weeks after his identity was revealed. (Shades of the Daily Express and its obsession with Princess Diana.)

     So it was with more than a certain inquisitiveness I called at the newsagent this morning – and there it was, front page number 14 – yesterday’s, eyes left, today’s, eyes right.
     Imagine, 14 such front pages on the trot. (I write this on the Wednesday - guess what? - no Giggs front page today
!)
     Incidentally, as it became clear why Ryan Giggs had gone to so much trouble to keep that original affair hidden - obviously not wishing to open up a box of Pandora’s worms
! - I now find myself wondering about banker Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin and his still unnamed fancy woman.
     Given the lengths The Shred and his lady friend have gone to with their super-injunctions to keep the affair and its implications secret, what do you suppose they are desperate to hide from the rest of us?


Now for something completely different. When I spotted this headline...
                                                                  
 Government plan to halve sentences
Well, my mind went walkies ... Usually, David Cameron would visit a school, walk into class and say: “Good morning, children, my name is David Cameron and I’m the prime minister of this country.”
     But, if the coalition’s plans to halve sentences come to pass, he would instead say: “Hi kids, I’m Dave and I’m the boss.” Sixteen words become eight. Sentence halved. Brilliant. But then I read on...
                                             
Ken Clarke: decision to scrap jail sentences plan is not a U-turn
Ken Clarke insists the move to drop plans to halve sentences of criminals who plead guilty is merely part of ‘radical reform’ of the justice system.
    
Wel-i-jiw-jiw, that’s what comes of reading just the ‘Will you walk into my parlour?’ headline without bothering to click the link.
     Mind you: ‘Government plan to halve sentences.’ I still think my interpretation was best. Oh, and I enjoyed this:
“Soft is the perfect way to enjoy French cheese, but not how we should approach punishing criminals.” Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, 47, British journalist, Conservative Party politician and the elected Mayor of London.
     (Incidentally, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson should get it together with Helena de Chair – see yesterday’s lead smile – imagine all those little de Pfeffel de Chairs running amok.)

However, here are a couple of stories where I stuck to my policy of headline only.

Eight million gallons of water had to be drained from a reservoir in Oregon after a man urinated in it and was caught on a security camera relieving himself in the pristine lake.
I found myself wondering about all the birds that poo in the lake – not to mention the oft-repeated amusing anecdote about WC Fields, who once claimed he never drank water “because fish fornicate in it” – but then I decided to move on...
     However, I did catch myself repeating the word “fornicate”:  now there’s a classy f-word if ever I heard one.

Ugly invade ‘beautiful only’ dating site: A ‘beautiful only’ dating site apologised to 30,000 ‘ugly’ people who were let in by mistake ... hackers used a Shrek virus...

Honestly, it really is best to let your imagination wander and wonder at moments like this. Trust me...
 

Monday, June 20
Lettuce laugh

“SPENT much of yesterday re-editing my Wikipedia entry. Some troublesome fool had altered it to say I was a world authority on lettuce.” Jacob Rees-Mogg, 42, Tory MP for North East Somerset, famous/infamous for his rather “posh” accent, or Received Pronunciation as they call it down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. He is married to the heiress Helena de Chair, with whom he has three children.

I find the lettuce bit endlessly amusing. Imagine coming across that entry ... what would you think? Well, you would think it was something to do with his salad days, obviously.
Salad days: yet another phrase coined by one William Shakespeare, from Antony and Cleopatra, where the naughty lady of shady lane regrets her youthful dalliance with Julius Caesar: “My salad days, when I was green in judgment, cold in blood...”
     In short, it is a time of youth, innocence and inexperience, so perhaps the Jacob Rees-Mogg Wikipedia alteration was the work of someone who knows him rather too well.
     Incidentally, his wife has a most wonderful name. Helena de Chair. I could spend hours ensconced in the comfort of her designation.

“In bed with ... how I wish I was typing Brad Pitt. But no, a virus, which is a Latin medical term for ‘your guess is as good as mine’.” A Tweet from writer Kathy Lette, 52.

And talking of Tweets...
“I am told by my learned friend, who is quite a bit younger than I am, that ‘lol’ means ‘laugh out loud’, not ‘lots of love’.” Solicitor General Edward Garnier, QC, MP, (58), explaining some online comments in the High Court.

It must be a year or so since I read of a daughter relating a tale about her middle-age-plus mother, who had not long started using a computer, and had now ventured online.
     The mother of a friend had suddenly died, so she sent a brief e-mail of sympathy: “So sorry to hear about your mum. Thinking about you. Lol.” Thinking of course that it meant ‘lots of love’.

Oh dear, the embarrassment. It’s the sort of typical mistake I would make. Which is why I’ve learnt to smile with people, rather than at them. Although I am often hard-pressed not to laugh at the doolallyness of we humans.
 

Sunday, June 19
My fair lady

FASHION passed me by – I must have been over on the shaded (shady?) side of the street when that particular gene was handed out – but I do enjoy leaning on the fence surrounding the parade ring and studying form as the fillies glide past.
     I mean, even I appreciated that Kate Middleton looked something special on her wedding day. And of course, mustn’t forget Pippa – I bet she sighed with relief when she missed out on that recent Rear of the Year award.
     What was it broadcaster Fiona Bruce said just the other day, voicing her regrets at accepting the Rear of the Year award last year? “Utter, utter hypocrisy. I did think it was the most hypocritical, ridiculous, ludicrous thing I’ve ever done, and I knew intellectually I shouldn’t be doing it, because it’s demeaning.”
     Now did she reach that conclusion before she was chosen to interview the Duke of Edinburgh – or just after?
     Incidentally, I saw some photographs of Fiona in one of the weekend newspaper magazines the other day – my God
! Talk about stick insect thin. Indeed, I would guess that her brain is now bigger than her bum.
 

Anyway, over the past week the media has been awash with pictures from Royal Ascot. Plenty of sighs and sights for sore eyes.
     I’ve already featured Princess Beatrice and her ‘from the ridiculous to the sublime’ Ascot hat, which of course contrasted perfectly with her delightfully doolally royal wedding spectacular.

But the lady who caught my eye was singing star Katherine Jenkins, captured perfectly, alongside. Being Welsh and wearing red – well, she had a head start anyway – but I have to say she looked top-ho.
     Indeed, all the experts saw it that way too, most of them describing Katherine’s fashion show as a one-horse race, ho, ho, ho
!
     Incidentally, a straw poll down the Crazy Horsepower confirmed that while they would rather have Katherine on their arm at Royal Ascot, they would prefer the company of Charlotte Church for the party after. Hm, rings a bell, that.


Many moons ago, when Princess Diana and Prince Charles were divorcing, a similar poll at the Crazy Horse decreed that they would rather have Diana on their arm at a film premier, but Camilla for the knees-up after.
     Now what does that say about us men? More importantly, what does it say about those four ladies?

Whatever, my favourite image of the week, spotted in the Western Mail, also features Katherine, pictured cheering on Strong Suit in the Jersey Stakes on day two of Royal Ascot. And of course there is only one caption, compliments of the film My Fair Lady, that does her unbridled enthusiasm justice...
 

“C’mon Strong Suit, move yer bloomin’ arse!


How about the range of expressions on parade up there? Memorable. Mind you, if My Fair Lady was filmed today, we can take it as read that “blooming” would be replaced by the f-word. But it wouldn’t improve on the original though.

Incidentally, Ladies Day was overshadowed by a mass brawl as male racegoers from the lower orders indulged in a bit of kung fu fighting with punches traded, kicks exchanged, bottles smashed and tables broken – and ambush upon ambush, one brawler was spotted wearing a blue suit with brown shoes.
     Not so much the Ascot Gavotte, more the Ascot Garrotte.
 

Saturday, June 18
The jukebox of my musical walk through time
IT WILL take a generation before we fully appreciate what harm, if any, modern technology – from the mobile to the internet – does to the human brain, whether it be physical or psychological.
     Take the internet: it is a quite wonderful tool, but it also has ‘ambush’ scrawled large all over it. The thing is to identify the pluses and the minuses – and to proceed accordingly, looking left, right and dead ahead. So let’s go with a plus. Coming up, a marvellously smiley online journey I went on today, which all began with a visit to the Telegraph online site...

            
‘The pornification of pop makes me yearn for songs without any S&M’ says Bryony Gordon

The above ‘Will you walk into my parlour?’ headline seduced me to click. Here’s an extract - oh, in the opening sentence, Bryony, 30-ish, is referring to Mike Stock, 59, English songwriter and record producer, best known for being a member of the song writing and record production trio Stock Aitken Waterman:

His songs were about falling in love and crying yourself to sleep. Fast forward 15 years and Katy Perry is on prime-time TV squirting whipped cream out of her breasts, while the uniform of the world’s most famous pop star, Lady Gaga, seems to be her birthday suit.
     Now, I’m no prude, but I do find it depressing that the charts are dominated by women such as Nicole Scherzinger, whose latest single has her singing “me like the way that he push up on me” (and as for the grammar ... well that’s another column entirely).

Bryony is obviously taking issue with what youngsters listen to and watch today. But wasn’t it ever thus? When Bill Haley, Elvis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones arrived on the scene, parents were predicting the end of the world as we knew it.
     Even long before rock’n’roll arrived on the scene there were bawdy songs aplenty, especially from pre-Victorian times – but the Victorians were so afraid of the power of sexuality that they felt obliged to cover up the legs of their pianos so as not to frighten the horses. Neat rumour – but it is just that, sadly, a rumour. Bugger.
     Anyway, I’ve just read an online comment which claims that ‘rock and roll’ is simply a Black American euphemism for sexual intercourse. Good grief. Talk about every day being a day at school.
     Bryony rounds off her piece thus:

The recently published Bailey review suggested that music videos be given movie-style ratings, so I went on to Google to watch the Rihanna one.
     My first click took me to a porn site. The second one took me to the proper video, though it was no less outrageous. Rihanna was wearing a latex dress emblazoned with the words “daddy issues” and “slut”. There was whipping and gagging and all sorts of other things you don’t want to read about in a family paper.
     And it occurred to me that you can slap as many ratings on videos as you want, but it still won’t stop kids finding them on YouTube.
     What do people seem shocked by in 2011? The success of Adele, a normal bird from Tottenham, who only takes her clothes off in the privacy of her own home?
     Let’s hope she’s the start of a new teenage rebellion.


Hm, even I’m familiar with the agreeable sound of Adele. But here’s the online comment that grabbed my attention:
Lady Gaga is popular around the world, including countries like the Philippines. Bad Romance is up to 389,167,645 views on YouTube.

I blinked at that figure. Now I’m aware of Lady Gaga, obviously – she has even been mentioned in these ‘ere dispatches – but I can’t say I have ever knowingly listened to her songs. Now mother never bread a jibber, so Bad Romance, here I come...

I found myself smiling. If the UK entered such a song in the Eurovision Song Contest – well, no contest. As for the video – don’t ask, I was baffled – but the production values were amazing. Truth to tell, I quite enjoyed it, at least it was certainly something different – I’ll put a link at the bottom – along with some other links, as explored below.
     I decided to go on a journey: I would cruise YouTube to view the things that have recently made me smile XL – YouTube is now the jukebox of my musical walk through time...

After Lady Gaga I visited the ‘Hallelujah flash mob food court’ video, which currently has an astonishing 33,378,453 views, and that only from just before last Christmas. I mean, a piece of classical music? With 33 million hits?
     But it is five minutes of magic captured in a Canadian shopping mall. Wonderful singing – but best of all the surprised look of pleasure on the faces of the public who thought they were there just for something to eat. Also, the delight on the faces of young people is a joy.
     I can only link the performance to the Last Night of the Proms, where the chorus sing the Hallelujah Chorus whilst mingling with the audience on the floor of the Albert Hall.

Then I visited The Jungle Book’s The Bear Necessities, which has clocked up 11,248,080 views. Always a delightfully smiley experience.

And finally, I looked in on Laurel and Hardy Music, a musical compilation of three clips from their films, 312,860 views: Trail of the Lonesome Pine (Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia) – astonishingly this was a major UK hit in 1975, and only kept from the top spot by Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, apparently; then comes Harvest Moon; finally, Bed Harp (The world is waiting for the sunrise), a quite wonderful homage to the harp-playing talents of Harpo Marx.
 

Watch out for the following exchange from Bed Harp:
Ollie: Here’s a nice pickle we’re in - shot at sunrise.
Stan: I hope it’s cloudy tomorrow ... say, Ollie, do you still want to come back as a horse?
(And he goes on to play The world is waiting for the sunrise. Priceless.)
     The Laurel and Hardy video makes me smile XXL. It is an exceedingly wonderful slice of classic entertainment. Apart from their natural humour, with those magical facial expressions to match, they can sing and dance – indeed, you can see where Morecambe and Wise got their inspiration.
     Incidentally, if you decide to click on the final link below, be sure to watch the Way Out West Dance, which tees up immediately behind the linked clip.


Lady Gaga – Bad Romance: 400,000 additional clicks in one day
                                                   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrO4YZeyl0I

Christmas Food Court Flash Mob, Hallelujah Chorus: 17,000 additional clicks in one day
                                                   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXh7JR9oKVE

Bare Necessities: 10,000 additional clicks in one day
                                                   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ogQ0uge06o

Laurel and Hardy Music: 500 additional clicks in one day
                                                    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOXYWEB7LgA

Of the above, it’s Laurel and Hardy I’d take with me to my Desert Island – with the Hallelujah Chorus a close second.
 

Friday, June 17
Live for ever and die suddenly

“I RECKON I’ve done my bit. It’s better to get out before you reach the sell-by date.” The Duke of Edinburgh, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, tells interviewer Fiona Bruce that he is winding down his charity commitments.
Far be it for me to challenge the formidable Prince Philip, but what he means, surely, is his ‘use-by’ date. The ‘sell-by’ date for a British male is 78, which is the current life expectancy (for a British female it’s 82).
     Once a male crosses the 78 hurdle, then he is in bonus territory and by definition approaching his ‘use-by’ date (fortunately for all of us, we can never quite make out the date on the label).
     Incidentally, in 2009 the average age of the population was 39.5 years, up from 37.3 in 1999. Which proves rather conclusively that middle-age is 40.

Time to revisit one of my favourite quotes, compliments of a local character, Ted Bwlch-y-Ffin (Bwlch-y-Ffin being the name of his farm), who, sadly, is no longer with us: “May you live for ever and die suddenly.”
     Meaning, of course, may you enjoy good health and live to a grand old age, and when the time comes to drop off your perch, you do so without any fuss or bother to those around you. It is the only way to go.
     That is why, in human terms, our ‘sell-by’ date is firmly established in statistical form, but our ‘use-by’ date is in the laps of the Gods.

“A stag night? I’ve been having a stag night every night for the past 50 years.” Hugh Hefner, 85, won’t be hitting the town before marrying Playboy Playmate Crystal Harris, 25.
I have to say, the thought of a stag night every night made me smile beyond. Hefner and his Playmate were due to tie the knot in front of more than 300 guests at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles tomorrow, Saturday.
     “The wedding is off. Crystal has had a change of heart,” Hefner suddenly wrote on Twitter. Perhaps Crystal should respond: “At 85 perhaps it is Hugh who needs a change of heart. And I mean a transplant.” Well, he is 85.

I am reminded of the legendary George Melly, famous for his exceedingly active sex life, whether it be AC, DC, Three Phase or Whichever Way Is Up, who, when his sex drive went AWOL at the age of 70, declared that losing his sexual drive was like “being unchained from a lunatic”.
     Or, as someone else said about something or other: “I can’t keep it up, so I’ll just take what comes my way.”

I put this bulletin together the morning after the smile of the day before, so on the Saturday morning I read the following in Carolyn Hitt’s Western Mail column...
ACCORDING to Welsh psychologist Cliff Arnall, yesterday (which is today, Friday, really) was the happiest day of the year.
     Mr Arnall based that supposition on a formula for June 17 that calculated the effect of being outdoors in hot weather, enjoying the glories of nature and the joys of social interaction.
     Having spent the day indoors, alone, with the heating on, I suggest we look in future to Derek the Weatherman for accurate predictions of the happiest day of the year.

Personally, I find plenty to smile at every day, whatever the weather, so by definition every day is the happiest day of the year. Mind you, I’d have thought that Christmas Day would be the day when most people are at their happiest, despite what the meeja says.
     Whatever, I guess Prince Philip is happy because he can now get on with his life without the media hounding him to death about reaching 90. Oh, and Tony Blair (see yesterday) is happy because, between you, me and the Stargate, he appears to be becoming more doolally by the day, and doolally people are always happy people.
     Hugh Hefner and Crystal Harris are happy, but for very different reasons: Hugh doesn’t need an athletic young man hiding under the bed with a pair of jump leads attached – while Crystal can cut out the middle-man, throw away the jump leads, and go straight to the well.
     Carolyn, despite being alone and cold, gives the impression of being reasonably happy with her lot. Oh, George Melly and Ted Bwlch-y-Ffin will doubtless be happy up there looking down at me mentioning them in dispatches.
 

Thursday, June 16
If you didn’t smile you’d have to frown

“MINE is the first generation able to contemplate the possibility that we may live our entire lives without going to war or sending our children to war.” Tony Blair manages to fool most of the people most of the time in May 1997, less than four weeks after coming into power. 

I quote the above to put the following into context...

“I was a very different prime minister at the beginning to the one I was at the end. The irony is I was probably best at the job at the end, but least popular in doing it.” Tony Blair, still attempting to fool most of the people most of the time, June 2011.

Blair, despite his snake oil salesman* words in 1997, conveniently forgets that he committed British forces to five wars in six years: ‘Desert Fox’ against Iraq (1998), Serbia (1999), Sierra Leone (2000), Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq, again, this time the sexed-up dossier version (2003).
* The term snake oil salesman refers to a person that is pushing a product or policy that is deemed to be overhyped at best, and fraudulent at worst. The snake oil salesman” will usually utilize planted accomplices who will claim that the product or policy actually work. Now why do I suddenly think Alastair Campbell?

In the years ahead it is doubtful that Tony Blair will be remembered for the Good Friday Agreement, the historic agreement that brought an end to the Northern Ireland problem (sort of), but rather a small market town and civil parish in Wiltshire, southern England, called Wootton Bassett: “Da-ad
! Why is this place called Royal Wootton Bassett?”

“It’s great, and as long as no-one finds out the truth, I’m delighted.” English actor Dominic West, 41, on being regarded as a sex symbol.
Well, Tony Blair got away with being regarded as a prime minister for 10 years.

“Take advantage of chambermaid.” Sign spotted in a Tokyo hotel.
For one horrible moment there I had visions that former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is awaiting trial on attempted-rape charges involving a hotel maid, was actually in Tokyo rather than New York.

As I said, if you didn’t smile you would have to frown.
 

Wednesday, June 15
Love and marriage

EARLY-MORNING on the wireless and Vanessa Feltz is reviewing the front pages ... she queries the extraordinary Sun front page headline, alongside...
     Yep, the Giggs ‘marry’-go-round is still going strong – but I see what Vanessa meant by the seemingly clumsy headline.
     Very un-Sun-like, if you get my drift. The small-print blurb reads:
RYAN GIGGS’ brother Rhodri is a love rat just like the soccer superstar, The Sun can reveal...
     True, use of the name Giggs at the beginning and at the end of the headline does balance the extravagance of the statement quite neatly. But what would I come up with?
     Well, what instantly came to mind was The Magic Roundabout: I see Ryan as Zebedee, the Jack-in-the-box, except with Ryan it’s a Jack-in-his-box.
     So here’s the headline and opening shot I came up with...
          
The Giggs Magic Roundabout goes round and around
And the blurb?
TIME for bed,” insisted Zebedee with unabashed enthusiasm, Look You can exclusively reveal. So off he bounced with a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi Ho Silver, time to have it away: Boink
! Boink! Boink!...


The above all put me in the mood for another visit to The Onion, “America’s Finest News Source”. The Newswire headline that greeted me on the home page was...

            
MAN SPENDS SEVEN TERRIFYING MINUTES NEITHER INGESTING NOR EXCRETING

There was no ‘MORE’ link to click onto, so no more information available – well, those nine words say it all, really. The following headline also caught my eye and drew me into The Onion  parlour, and this time there was a ‘MORE’ link (only the time limits have been marginally amended to make it current, something The Onion  would be fully supportive of, I’m sure).

                         
PRINCE WILLIAM DIVORCES KATE MIDDLETON AFTER SIX WEEKS
                                            
‘I Made A Terrible Mistake’ Says Heir To British Throne
LONDON – Just over a month after marrying 29-year-old Kate Middleton in a royal wedding ceremony watched by an estimated 2 billion people worldwide, Prince William announced Tuesday that he and Middleton have divorced and that the entire marriage was “a tremendous mistake in every possible regard”.
     “I really don’t know what I was thinking – we’re a terrible match. I don’t love her and never have, and, to be honest, I never really had any interest in being married in the first place,” announced the now unattached Prince William to a dead-silent British Press Corps.
     “People thought our wedding was some sort of fairy tale, but I assure you it was all just some ghastly ceremonial farce that got out of hand. I’m just relieved it’s over, frankly, and I’m glad I’ll never have to see that awful woman again.”
     Prince William then told the assembled reporters, “Well, see you all later,” smiled and walked back into Buckingham Palace.

The above all made perfect sense when I saw a picture of Princess Beatrice at Royal Ascot, yesterday, wearing a hat so prim and proper and schoolmarmish that it suggested the royal wedding, not to mention the infamous hat worn by Beatrice to said wedding, was all a sort of Wizard of Oz dream...
                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                                     ...be that as it may, I am reliably informed by those who understand these things that the colour of the hat is “au naturel nude”.
     I mean, you have to love the girl. She’s a star.
 

Tuesday, June 14
Sounds familiar

“Music that doesn’t have a link to the past sounds awful.” Remark heard on the wireless in a discussion regarding what I believe was about the roots of popular music.

I found the quote noted on a pad I keep by the radio – but unfortunately I hadn’t written down what the actual programme was, and bugger, I couldn’t remember what to check out on the iPlayer. That’ll learn me.
     However, the moment I heard the remark I jotted it down because it registered. I’ve mentioned something similar in previous dispatches. When Elvis Presley first burst onto the scene with his rather startling brand of singing and performance, it took the world by storm.
     With hindsight, what I began to notice about those early Elvis songs was the nod and the wink to the popular music genre that immediately preceded his style.
     Think of the harmony generated by, say, the Mills Brothers or the Andrews Sisters. What I then began to appreciate about those Elvis songs was the extraordinary harmony of his backing group, The Jordanaires.
     As the man said: Music that doesn’t have a link to the past sounds awful. Never a truer word spoken, whoever it was that said it.

Coming up, a couple of links. The first is a live TV performance by the Mills Brothers singing Glow Worm, worth a stand, stare and listen if only to enjoy those wonderfully clever and smiley lyrics (how could you not smile at this line: “When you gotta glow, you gotta glow!”).
     Secondly comes Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog – and if the blurb on the link is correct, and I have no reason to doubt it, this is the first appearance on record of that Elvis backing group, The Jordanaires.
     The link between the captivating harmony of the two performances is remarkable, thus ensuring that those who enjoyed the Mills Brothers et al would be irresistibly attracted to the Elvis sound. And of course, it worked a treat.

                                                             http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xGCnPAxfIM

                                                             http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJsQSb9RFo0
 

Monday, June 13
Tales of the unexpected

CAUGHT up with Owen Money’s Radio Wales weekend wireless shows on iPlayer. It’s not so much the great music – from the 50s through to the mid-80s – but he has what I call a working knowledge of the music and most of the artists themselves, and is full of relevant tales about much of the music he plays. Well, he is a performer himself, so he has the inside track.
     But it’s not only his musical knowledge; he is awash with amusing stories, some true, some just great tales.

Owen recently turned 64 (born 1947), and he told this story going back to the 60s when he was a young man about town; a time when nightclubs began to appear outside of the major towns and cities such as Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Llanelli.
     Certain pubs could often be rough places to find yourself in around closing time, particularly so on Friday and Saturday nights, when the male of the species would tend to end up rather drunk and disorderly with a habit of getting into shemozzles, often leading to fights: “Who you lookin’ at?” sort of thing.
     Of course as soon as clubs began opening up this trouble bubble moved to those places. So much so clubs started having bouncers to control those who entered the clubs, and of course to sort out any trouble or fights inside.

Owen told the tale of turning up at this particular nightclub in his home town of Merthyr Tydfil, which had a bit of a reputation for trouble. When he arrived at the door his path was blocked by a bouncer, a local fellow he knew by sight: “Are you carrying any weapons?” the bouncer asked.
     “No
!” responded Owen.
     “Right,” said the bouncer, “here’s a flick-knife – come in.”

I laughed out loud at that one – I enjoy tales of the unexpected with funny twists in the tail – so it effortlessly earns my smile of the day award.
 

Sunday, June 12
Tits are back in town

THE BIRDS are back on patrol. This time, with their young in tow. For many a week now they’ve been missing in action, presumed doing what comes naturally.
     It all began a few months ago with endless chat-up lines filling the air i.e. seductive bird song ... followed by a bout of courting: a meal for two, with the normally dominant male now being submissive and feeding little titbits to the female in return for the promise of a favour or two further down the line ... build a little home for two, or three, or four, or five, or maybe more ... a quick Giggsy behind the bike shed ... then the female goes to work on her egg(s) i.e. the incubation ... bingo: delivery time – and the early-morning through until late-evening feeds start ... finally, the young fly the nest – but they still need to be fed for a while longer…

Which is where I arrive back on the scene. The chirping of the fledglings as they call out from the trees and branches to their parents for food is a delight. Being that the adults still recognise me as their Candy Man, they come to hand and I can follow them back to their tweeting young. It’s a very smiley affair.
     However, I notice something odd at this stage, something which I also registered around this time last year. A few of the adult birds look unbelievably scruffy, especially a couple of blue-tits. Coming up, some pictures taken over recent days – remember, I am not a photographer, just someone who always carries a little camera to capture the passing parade, so when the conditions are not ideal, as in the first couple of shots, they are never as sharp as I would like.
     However, the image is everything – I leave the technical stuff to the geeks – so the shots below tell a fascinating tale. I mean, have you ever seen such delightfully scruffy little blue-tits in your life? Especially the one directly below...
 

   


You have to smile. Above, a picture of a “normal” blue-tit, taken in November last year, just as the cold weather was kicking in. Alongside, a great tit captured precisely a year ago: again, note the loss of feathers around and on top of the head, as with the blue-tits. Incidentally, all the scruffy birds appear quite active, alert and superficially in good health.
     I was puzzled, so I Googled the problem...
     Apparently it is a recognised phenomenon. The consensus of opinion seems to be that it is purely the demands of the breeding season, in particular feeding the young – the stresses and strains of looking after a brood take their physical toll.
     I’m not sure I believe that absolutely. I shall continue my research
!

For a quick flash of a fledgling doing its thing, click ...  smile
 

Saturday, June 11
I smell a rat

YESTERDAY I looked back at a letter I had published in The Daily Telegraph, oh, about 12 months or so ago, a missive which revolved around some enjoyable bar work I did mega moons ago down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon – back then we all affectionately knew it as the Crazy Horse, but that was before the regulars morphed into petrolheads.

So, to continue the Crazy Horse theme: glancing through my off-line diary, I came across this from a recent Sunday Times  Weird but Wonderful column. I quote...

Eau de stench
Living in the city - but a country bumpkin at heart? A German company has just the thing for you – authentic rural smells in a can. Just peel back the lid and enjoy that familiar odour of cow manure.
     According to the “Countryside Air to Go” website (stallduft.de/english), the tins – which sell for £5 each – are filled with fumes sucked from a wooden stable filled with flatulent cattle.
     Daniela Dorrer, the can’s creator, who lives in a Bavarian village, says: “We’re planning other smells, such as horse, straw, pigs and manure. But most people miss the smell of the cows.”


That story has a delightful doolallyness oozing from every pore - and it wasn’t published on April Fool’s Day. However, listen to this tale...
During my stay behind bars, one of the Crazy Horse regulars worked for a major civil engineering company, and he operated alongside a married Casanova (the Ryan Giggs of the hard shoulder), who always carried a phial of diesel in the glove box.
     When he’d been out a-hanky-pankying, which was quite often, on his journey home he would dab a drop of diesel behind each ear, plus anywhere else the lady had left a tell-tale trail of eau de cologne (those Germans have a lot to answer for
!).
     Diesel, as anyone familiar with handling the horrible stuff will know, kills 99.9% of all known scents.
 

Well now, just the other day, while walking in town, a shinny, silvery package on the pavement caught my eye. The magpie gene within made me pick it up and inspect...
     I blinked: it was an empty box marked “Masculine eau de toilette” – with pictures of cows on it – and called Diesel PlusPlus. So the answer really does lie in the soil, I remember thinking.

I should point out that a good few years ago I was smooching with a lady at a party when she said “Mm, you’ve splashed a bit of Old Spice all over
!”.
     To which I responded: “Gosh, it must be old then ‘cause I haven’t shaved for 20 years.”
     As you may gather, I am not well up on these products – I tend to stick with water, soap and clean, fresh, aired clothes (those who suffer BO, excepting rare medical problems, pong not so much because they haven’t had a shower or a bath – the body, I am told, has a remarkable ability to cleanse itself – but rather they are not wearing clean, fresh clothes).
     Sweaty clothes develop a whiff all of their own in no time at all. Be that as it may, I was still rather taken aback by the name Diesel PlusPlus.
     I have the box alongside me now – I was going to photograph it, but I visited the web site of the company, Marbert Cosmetics, and managed to get a proper image of the product, pictured.


I was doubly amused by the cow on the above box - which links back directly to that smell in a can mentioned at the top.
     I tell you what, I am daily spoilt for choice when it comes down to which smile I decide to wear for this on-line diary.
 
Friday, June 10
A different class of pub regular

THE other day (June 2) I shared with you the letter I’d had published in The Daily Telegraph (about Fifa and Sepp Blatter). It was in fact the second I’d had published in the Telegraph, so being that I never got round to including that original one on Look You, I decided to fish it out.
     It was back on May 29, last year. As I recall, there’d been some articles and follow-up letters regarding the middle class now drinking more than manual workers, and also how the class structure in the UK is changing, something which the media is forever preoccupied with.
     So here’s that letter, together with a delightful period photograph the paper used to illustrate my letter...

Money and the behaviour of the drinking classes
SIR - Many moons ago, just as the old working, middle and upper

classes were morphing into something completely different, I did a spell behind the bar of a typical small market town pub.
     When I began, at one end of the bar a JCB operator and a 747 captain would be discussing how they dug themselves out of a recent hole, while in the opposite corner the county coroner and the local gravedigger would be discussing the circumstances surrounding a different sort of hole – in other words a cross-section of society.
     In front of my eyes, society divided into four distinct groups.
Old Money: never demanding, always courteous and discreetly handing over a generous tip.
New Money: loud, brash and boastful: “Drinks all round – oh, and don’t forget yourself, chief.”
Tight Money: relatively well off, but always the last to buy a round. Would never buy a round on impulse.
No Money: always persuasively trying to add to the slate, which was invariably on stop. This was easily the most entertaining group, though it could be a nuisance when well lubricated, a trait forgiven by the landlord, staff and fellow regulars.
HB, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire.

Welcome home: one in a comic series
by the London Stereoscopic, 1868


Yep, life behind bars was never, ever dull.
 

Thursday, June 9
Warm hand, cold heart – oh, and tedious Titanic sex

“HELLO
!” said the dad of the future queen of England. “Your hand is nice and warm.” He had shaken mine by way of greeting. “Would you mind if you kept it there for a moment? It’s quite cold out here.” And then he was gone, my heart with him. Pippa’s bottom has been usurped, by Michael Middleton’s hands.
     Daily Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon, 30ish, confides that stumbling upon a mass of Middletons was almost too much excitement to bear on a Tuesday night out.
Now one or two of you might have thought to yourself after reading that “dad of the future queen of England” bit: curious, but I was sure Major Bruce Shand, father of Camilla Parker-Bowles, had died back in 2006?
     But of course you were put back on course by the name Pippa, the lady who, unbelievably, didn’t win the Rear of the Year award last night. Actually, that’s probably good news; I mean, Pippa’s derrière is a tad above that sort of thing.
     Anyway, the above quote makes it on the strength of the line “Your hand is nice and warm - would you mind if you kept it there for a moment?”. What a cracking opening line. No wonder the Middleton offspring displayed a touch of class on their big family day out. Unlike this fellow...

“A tedious little place.”  The comedian John Cleese, 71, on his birthplace, Weston-super-Mare.
Who does he think he is? Prince Philip? What on earth makes someone who has enjoyed so much success, excepting with women of course, say such ungrateful things about a place that those who live there will rightly regard as a corner of God’s country?

“The average person thinks about sex quite a bit during the day – but for me, multiply that by five.”
   
 Pamela Stephenson, 61, Strictly Come dancing finalist, sex therapist and wife of comedian Billy Connolly.

This threw me a bit. Is she trying to tell us that she’s a nymphomaniac? Time to visit a sex therapist methinks, Pamela.

“It’s rude to the child inside to display one’s stomach like that. It’s like Sting’s sex life. I’m glad he’s having a nice time, but I don’t want to hear about it.”
     Actress Maureen Lipman, 65, who lists “exposed pregnant belly buttons” as one of her pet hates.

It’s the Sting, 59, sex thing that generates a smile. He once claimed to have Titanic sex with his wife, which lasted for hours on end – or at least until the ship sunk without trace. What? Oh, sorry, it should read “tantric” sex (I must go and lie down in a darkened room – as soon as I’ve come to my senses).
     Sting also said: “I don’t think pedestrian sex is very interesting.” Quite, it’s those bloody idiots parking their bicycles between the cheeks of your bum when you’re adopting the missionary position down there on the pavement that becomes a bit of a bore.

Anyway, I think Maureen Lipman should put Sting in touch with Pamela Stephenson.
 

Wednesday, June 8
Out of this world ~ 2011: A Space Oddity

PRIDE of place today goes to an unprecedented NASA photo of the space shuttle Endeavour linked to the International Space Station (ISS). Or...
                                            
Hail and farewell: a first and last view of the space station
                                                                                                                                                                       ...as The Times front page perfectly announced.
     My joy at watching the ISS pass directly overhead, around twilight, is well documented – it’s a biblical thing, what with all that bright light zooming across the sky at quantum speed – especially so the rare occasions when I’ve watched both the ISS and shuttle motoring in tandem,  either just prior to docking or just after release.
     There have been extraordinary photographs of the ISS and shuttle taken from earth – somewhat grainy images as you can imagine, but awesome nevertheless.
    
Astronomy enthusiast and amateur photographer Rob Bullen completed an incredible feat of capturing the space shuttle Discovery 45 minutes away from docking - the first image below...

...astonishingly, using just a mid-range digital camera and a 20-year-old telescope, and all from his back garden in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.
     Also, another
amateur astronomer, Martin Lewis, took a webcam image of the space shuttle Atlantis docking with the station, alongside, right.
     He used an 8in reflecting telescope in his garden in St Albans. Clever fellows, both.


However, never before has another spacecraft i.e. a Russian Soyuz, approached or departed the ISS while a shuttle was docked – until the penultimate shuttle mission just the other day. I guess the Americans and the Russians had planned it that way; I mean, they needed to capture this incredible image for posterity...
 


The ISS and shuttle Endeavour were photographed at an altitude of around 220 miles, in a perfect echo of 2001: A Space Odyssey. “It is the first ever image of a space shuttle docked to the ISS,” NASA said of the picture, which shows the white shuttle attached to the now fully assembled and sprawling station it helped to build over the past 10 years. “It will also be the last ever image.”

Before I come to the last word, you may have noticed above that I used the curious expression “quantum speed” to describe the ISS shoot across the sky (an abrupt change of speed from everything else crossing the sky, I guess).
     Whatever, there was a little method in my madness: yesterday, I repeated this from Alex Lester’s early morning wireless show: “If a general layman says that something isn’t rocket science, what does a rocket scientist say?”
     My intuitive response was that, probably, a rocket scientist says: “You don’t need to be a brain surgeon, you know.”
     Well, a response from a listener suggested this: “It’s not quantum physics, you know.” Neat one.

Finally, back with the space shuttle programme: if you fancy seeing some quite awesome pictures and video footage of the ISS and shuttle in space, and captured from earth – watch out for the amazing sequence of the whole caboodle slowly revolving as it zooms along – click the link below...
                                                                                   
 
http://legault.perso.sfr.fr/STS-133.html
 

Tuesday, June 7
As God is my witness

MY first smile surfaced as soon as I awoke and turned on the wireless: Radio 2’s Alex Lester on his Best Time of the Day Show was having a dialogue with his listeners about the apprenticeships that youngsters served in days gone by. In particular the tricks that seasoned workers played on new recruits.
     Lads were sent to fetch sky hooks, tartan paint, glass nails, short circuits, cordless extension, elbow grease, left-handed hammer – the usual suspects most of us had heard of. But there were a couple that were new to me.
     One youngster, near the end of the working day, was sent for a bucket of steam – but never returned before the workers had all clocked off. Next morning they asked where he had disappeared to? “I kept spilling it and had to go back for more.” It seems the apprentice was one step ahead of the workers. I do so hope that story was true.
     The other I enjoyed was the tale of a probationary police officer who was sent to investigate a vehicle seen parked up in the high street with totally bald tyres. When he got there he found a steam roller. Apparently it’s an old favourite played on new recruits – but I have to admit it really appeals to my sense of fun that one.
     In fact, one of the locals at the Crazy Horsepower operates/drives what is today called a road roller – we know him as Fred Flat Out, Fred FO for short – so next time I happen to catch him on the job I’ll stop and ask how the hell he got it through its MOT. Hopefully he won’t have heard of the bald tyre joke - or someone from the pub doesn’t tell him (I’m pretty sure that Fred FO himself doesn’t read this smile diary, fingers crossed).
     As it happens, someone in the Crazy Horsepower mentioned this evil old trick: cup some loose water in your hands, creep up behind a victim, pretend to sneeze while throwing the water over him or her – then walk away cursing to yourself and holding your hands over your mouth and nose. As I said, evil beyond, ho, ho, ho
!

The other enjoyable aspect of the Alex Lester show is when people get in touch listing those things in life which leave us thoroughly puzzled. For example: “How do ‘Keep off the grass’ signs actually get there?” “Why do people in camouflage jackets stand out like sore thumbs?” “If a general layman says that something isn’t rocket science, what does a rocket scientist say?” “Is Santa always so happy and jolly because he knows where all the bad girls live?”
     I enjoy silly things like that. Incidentally, I believe a rocket scientist says that you don’t need to be a brain surgeon.

So that was a good smile starter for ten. But here’s the real smile of today.
     Just last Friday I told the tale of the motionless clock at Llandeilo church – which has been keeping the same time for what must seem like a year or more now, although obviously it’s correct twice a day – and my suggestion that in the meantime they at least should move the hands on the clock face to 10:10 to make it look a smiley face. Well...
 

Dateline Llandeilo Church, 06:27
As I passed I glanced up at the clock – and did a double take. The time? It was actually correct.
     I stopped and stared. The big hand was moving. “I don’t believe it,” a voice spluttered inside my head. The clock had been repaired. And all within four days of my story.
     Yes I know, that’s what I really call a coincidence – and as God is my witness, I had no idea that the clock was obviously in the process of being repaired when I wrote about it.
     But it didn’t half make me smile.


This also gives me the excuse to show a few letters I recently spotted in The Daily Telegraph and which I’d posted into my real diary for possible future use online. Well, the opportunity has arrived.
     They were a series of letters apropos those who visit churches and what they write in the church visitors’ book ...

Visiting raptor
SIR – A carefully written entry in our church visitors’ book reads: “A Nice Church to Prey in”.
Pauline Hall, Arkholme, Lancashire

SIR – I recall with fondness visiting a church in the Yorkshire Wolds, famous for its beautiful stained glass, with my sister and her granddaughter, who wrote in the visitors’ book: “This church is wicked!
Audrey Buxton, Greetham, Rutland

Received with thanks
SIR – Some years ago, one of my Suffolk rural churches was burgled. Altar cross and candles were taken, and the offertory box emptied.
     The thieves were soon apprehended for they had signed the visitors’ book, leaving their home address.
Canon John Simpson, Publow, Somerset

That last one earned a special smile, especially so given the Good Canon’s surname. D’oh! 
 

Monday, June 6
Never give a sucker an even break

SARAH FERGUSON: “No wonder no-one loves me. I am disgusting.”
The above ‘will you walk into my parlour’ nod-and-a-wink-link-headline was spotted online in the Daily Telegraph’s  ‘Most Viewed’ top spot. No flies on me, so I flew on by.

Which all leads me to some joining up of dots. I noted a Nick Newman cartoon in yesterday’s Sunday Times, which, as always, made me smile, which in turn made me think of MATT, the Telegraph’s master cartoonist. So here’s another of those delightful coincidences I endlessly ramble on about.

A week last Friday, May 27, Matt Pritchett, for that is his full name, spoke in front of a packed audience at the Hay Festival. I read about it at the time, and I watched a clip of him telling his audience that occasionally he draws somewhat risqué cartoons that are not really suitable for publication, but the newspaper sticks them up on the notice board.
     He told the tale of one such cartoon: Fergie, the aforementioned “unloved” Sarah Ferguson, was having an affair with her then financial adviser, John Bryan, who was pictured sucking her toe – yes, I remember that, back in 1992, Uncle Google tells me – so Matt did them lying on a sun lounger together, and the financial adviser was saying:
                                    “I must warn you that things can go down as well as up”
Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, heard about the cartoon and he duly used it on the magazine’s cover – and Matt got paid for it.
     When, on May 28, I read a report about Matt’s appearance at Hay, it said this...
And yet he still manages to hit the nail on the head every single day. “What’s bad for the country is fantastic for cartoons,” he said, recalling such favourite topics as bankers, swine flu and mad cow disease. “I long for a good food scare.”

Just a few days after he said that, what surfaced but the lethal E.coli outbreak, which all began with cucumbers, but the baton has since been passed on to tomatoes ... lettuce ... and currently it’s with beansprouts. Unbelievable, Mr Bean sprouts up in the most unlikely of places.
     Anyway, today I decided to have a look at what he’d come up with – but guess what? All it said was: MATT is on holiday.

His last cartoon was on May 29 – now that’s what I call a bit of rotten timing.
     So I thought I would feature MATT’S final pre-holiday cartoon – which was relevant to yesterday’s ‘super-injunction or super-injection?’ dilemma – as well as Nick Newman’s cartoon, which did feature the E.coli food scare.

A final Matt point of order. I have previously referred to the delightful gormlessness of his cartoon characters, especially the couple who feature regularly reacting to the day’s news: “They are a real couple,” he told his audience, “who have no idea they appear in the paper – although I think my wife and I might be changing into them.”
     How wonderful. I shall enjoy his cartoons even more in future.


Oh yes, I began with Sarah Ferguson’s ‘will you walk into my parlour’ link on the Telegraph’s  ‘Most Viewed’ spot. Also in attendance was the following link, but I again made my excuses and left...
                                                               Bob Geldof: “I was detestable ... until love saved me...”
 

Sunday, June 5
Which came first? Super-injunction or super-injection?

I HAD casually glanced at a Sun newspaper front page headline one morning last week...
                                                         
Robbie: I inject sex hormone twice a week
No, I remember thinking, I honestly would rather be kept in the dark.

Today, as per usual, I perused Roland White’s amusing Tabloid Week column in The Sunday Times; it’s wonderfully handy when someone reads this stuff on your behalf and then posts a neat review in the paper. It is always well worth the delay – so over to you, Mr Starter...

You might care to sit down because the singer Robbie Williams has something to announce, something that’s a bit personal. It all began, according to The Sun, when a doctor in Los Angeles told him that he had “the sex drive of a 100-year-old man”.
     That’s the sort of news to send anybody’s head spinning. For a start, who is this 100-year-old man and how did Robbie end up with his sex drive?
     As it turned out, Robbie had very low levels of testosterone (I warned you this was a bit personal). Now, as The Sun  bellowed in large letters on its front page, Robbie is injecting himself with sex hormone twice a week. “It was a kind of an epiphany that day,” said Robbie, who was speaking originally to Esquire magazine. “Everything made sense.”
     In a tip to randy celebrities who rely on super-injunctions to cover their tracks, Robbie said he was grateful for prying newspapers. “I’m pleased there is a media waiting for me to f*** up because it keeps me on the straight and narrow.”
     It was left to Carol Cooper, the Sun doctor, to spoil the party by warning about the use of testosterone jabs. “The injection can be pretty dangerous,” she said. “True, they boost muscles, but they shrink the testicles.”

There, doesn’t all that put a smile on your face? I mean, what sort of a life can a man look forward to if he hasn’t any bollocks left to be grabbed by as he escapes through the bedroom window?
     Incidentally: epiphany? Is that something like takingthepissany?

Talking of which, yesterday I wrote this...
Whatever, like the Ryan Giggs affair(s) – note the sudden plural: no wonder he took out a super-injunction to keep his jiggery-pokery under wraps...

While I was aware that a few other ladies were popping their heads above the duvet - or cashing in, depending on your point of view - even I was somewhat taken aback at today’s News of the World revelation that the Manchester United star embarked on an eight-year relationship with his 28-year-old sister-in-law.
     Wel-i-jiw-jiw, super-injecting your brother’s wife. That’s taking more than your bollocks in your hands, sunshine. Ryan Giggs is now beginning to make even Tiger Woods look like an amateur.
     Oh yes, that super-injunction he took out now definitely makes total sense. He knew that once his affair with Imogen was out in the open, then the sky would fall on his head.
     Now my appreciation of clever word play is well established, so I was overtaken by a generous smile when I read this online comment about Giggs on the website Caught Offside, and submitted by “Anonymous”: What a prick
!

So which did come first, the chicken (super-injunction) or the egg (super-injection)?
 

Saturday, June 4
Fi-fa
! Foe! Fum!
“WHY are there no women in Fifa? After all, men treat women just like footballs – play footsie, make a pass, then drop you once they’ve scored.” Writer Kathy Lette.
I’m becoming a big fan of Lette; she’s a very witty lady. Let’s be honest, 99.9% of all known men will have had a private smile at the truth of the above.

Whatever, like the Ryan Giggs affair(s) – note the sudden plural: no wonder he took out a super-injunction to keep his jiggery-pokery under wraps – the Fifa corruption scandal rumbles on apace.
     As you would expect, Ian Hislop, editor of the magazine Private Eye, hit the back of the net on tonight’s Have I Got a Bit More News for You. You need to bear in mind that it was The Times group of newspapers, as well as the BBC, who first brought to our attention the corruption within Fifa.
     As Hislop said: “Fifa, pointing to the English and accusing them of having a free press – I mean, how awful is that?” Spot on, Ian. And it’s to the shame of the Football Association of Wales that they voted in support of Blatter. Unbelievable.
     Sepp Blatter – or Bung Blatter as he is now known in many circles – is Swiss, which puts into context the item about a Swiss newspaper publishing the results of a survey it had carried out indicating that 86% of the population believed him to be corrupt – although in the interest of balance, 93% said he was only “a bit corrupt”.
     On the show they also brought up the Sun front page I featured here last Wednesday, the pictures of Sepp Blatter and Colonel Gaddafi together, over the headline “Despot the difference” – “Which is pretty harsh on Sepp,” surprisingly remarked panellist Richard Madeley.
     “I think it’s pretty harsh on Gaddafi,” corrected Ian Hislop, “as elections go, I think Libya is pretty free and fair compared to Fifa.”
     It was also pointed out on the show that, like Gaddafi, Blatter has many unusual titles. In 1971 he was elected President of the World Society of the Friends of Suspenders – in protest at the introduction and spread of tights, apparently. A title he took to heart, obviously, because he has been suspending the process of democracy ever since.
     The show also shared with us a joke by ex-Man United manager Tommy Docherty: “I’m never surprised at anything that happens in the game today. I mean, Fifa: it’s a fee for this and a fee for that...”

At this point I felt my own joke coming on. The whole Fifa pantomime reminds me of Jack and the Beanstalk. Up there in the sky there’s a land of make believe called Blatter Land, where there’s a hen that lays lots and lots of golden eggs.
     But whenever Jack, in the form of the free press, climbs up the beanstalk to investigate, the giant licks his lips...
 

                                                                                                                                        Fi-fa! Foe! Fum!
                                                                                                                                        I smell the blood of an Englishman.
                                                                                                                                        Be he on-side, or be he off-side,
                                                                                                                                        I’ll grind his gold to earn my bribe.
 

Friday, June 3
God watch

LAST Tuesday, May 31, I wrote about how your face is a clock to those who stand and stare; a feature, with examples, of how watch and clock adverts always show the time at around ten-past-ten or ten-to-two, times of day that register subliminally as rather pleasing and therefore make us more amenable to what is on offer in front of us.
 

For many moons now the St Teilo’s Church clock at Llandeilo, an unusually large clock for the size of the tower, has lost its way. Or more correctly, it has become bogged down at 2:13, a nothing time of day – captured alongside...
     I have presumed that it is either a mechanical problem, or they have no one who will climb the stairway to heaven with a huge key in tow, although I find the latter difficult to believe because Llandeilo is awash with wind-up merchants.

This morning, as I passed the church, I thought I should offer up a slice of advice: I respectfully suggest that the hands are moved to a friendlier time zone i.e. 10:10, so that anyone passing by will subliminally take on board that Llandeilo Church really is a smiley House of God.


PS: A little bird has just told me that the clock has a mechanical problem, but there has been much discussion as to who is actually responsible for said clock, hence why time at Llandeilo Church has stood still for a while now.
     Apparently it turns out that, surprise, surprise, it’s the local council that is accountable for maintaining the clock. Well now, who would have thought of God as being quite so cunning – but there again, he has to keep one step ahead of the devil.

As a matter of curiosity, I did a quick Google, and came up with this...
South of the centre of Llandeilo, the main road to Swansea cuts through St Teilo’s churchyard (which is why, down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, that stretch of road is known affectionately as Boot Hill).
     The re-routing of the road in the middle of the 19th Century, to meet a new bridge across the Towy between Llandeilo and Ffairfach, meant it was necessary to demolish an earlier 13th Century church that was on the site. Dismantling the old church started in 1848, and the new building was consecrated in October 1850.
     Due to lack of funds, a 100ft spire, intended to replace the church tower, was not built, and St Teilo retains the 13th Century tower, which has an unusually large clock.


Apropos the clock itself: When Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1887, David Pugh, a local man and one-time MP for Carmarthenshire, commemorated the event by providing a clock for Llandeilo Church. The cost of this was said to be in the region of £500; this being the equivalent of over £25,000 in today’s money.

Crucially, the above article was not dated, but it would have been penned over recent years, presumably. (Now there’s a moral for those who post things online: always date it.)

But I am still none the wiser as to why the church itself is not responsible for maintenance of its giant timepiece.
 

Thursday, June 2
‘Honest’ as the pay is long

HALLELUJAH
! Had my second letter published in The Telegraph newspaper today. Over recent years I’ve had many printed in various sections of The Times, including in the main Letters page, but some 18 months ago I switched my weekday allegiance to The Telegraph, although I still buy The Sunday Times.

Anyway, I submit letters regularly to The Telegraph, probably a couple a week – my first letter was published just over a year ago. They are mostly brief letters, for it’s a way to keep a record of something which has tickled my fancy, otherwise, unless I commit it to record, it’s gone.

I’ve read on the Telegraph web site that, like The Times, the letters desk receives about 700 emails, letters and faxes every day - but has space to publish just 20.
     At times, the volume of correspondence can become a labour for those who have to speed-read it. Two writers were banned from featuring on the page after their repeated appearances became tiresome (I occasionally feel like that about some columnists who merely say the same things over and over, but dressed in a different suit of clothes for each outing).
     Another person got into hot water after his letter, which was supposed to be exclusive – you agree not to submit the same letter to any other paper – was published in all four quality newspapers on the same day. (Now I would have thought the newspapers would have been delighted with that because it proved rather spectacularly that those who read the letters as they arrive were doing their jobs, with bells on).
     Christopher Howse, the letters editor at the Telegraph, tries not to let anyone contribute more than once a month.

So, once a year should be no problem. Hang on: 700 x 6 days (the Sunday edition excluded) x 52 = 218, 400 letters received, less those printed 20 x 6 x 52 = 6,240. So that leaves a pile on the floor of 212,160 letters from which to pluck my single-sentence letter.
     Not quite lottery jackpot odds, but hey, I’d be delighted with a return of £212,160 on a £104 bet.

Whatever, my letter today was to do with the on-going shemozzle over Fifa president Sepp Blatter and his unopposed re-election - yet again - as president for a further four years, at the age of 75 (only 17 of the 203 voting members failed to cast their ballot for the incumbent after his only opponent pulled out amid an alleged vote-buying scandal – now there’s a surprise, look you).
     Which made me ponder why all these people who represent what is generally regarded as one of the most corrupt organisations in the world, were so desperately keen to vote this man back into power.
     But this is what really made me smile, his response after having his presidency ratified: “I’m happy today we were once again able to bring solidarity and unity into Fifa.”
     In a reference to proposed reforms to clean up world football, Blatter added: “We shall move forward, we will put Fifa’s ship back on the right course in clear, transparent waters. We need some time, we cannot do it overnight, but we will do it.”

Now unless I am much mistaken, he is admitting that Fifa has been a ship of dastardly fools paddling in murky waters, or more correctly, a bunch of pirates you shouldn’t trust further than the length of the plank.
     Anyway, here’s the letter I had published in The Telegraph...

Booting out Blatter
SIR – The more Sepp Blatter hangs on to his job the more I am reminded of the employee who never takes a holiday, just in case the person covering discovers something nasty lurking in the boot room.

I must dig out that first letter I had published in The Telegraph, which was quite a smiley affair, if memory serves.
     To be continued...
 

Wednesday, June 1
Lesbian forces and Ryan Giggs – oops! – Libyan forces and Ryan Giggs

AS mentioned sometime previously, I could do a daily smile based purely on my early-morning walks, even if I only focused on the front pages of the tabloids. This morning, a couple of them winked at me – and I returned a smile.
 

The first headline that caught my eye was the Daily Star’s effort alongside, left. The Ryan Giggs affair drags on – but that front page pulled me up with a bit of a start. But hang about, here’s what the blurb says: EXCLUSIVE: SEXY Imogen Thomas told last night how her affair with football love cheat Ryan Giggs has put her off blokes for good. She admitted: “I may turn lesbian.”
                          FULL STORY: PAGE 3

I mean, c’mon, you’ve just got to laugh. There’s all the difference in the world between “Sex with Giggs turned me lesbian” and “I may turn lesbian”.

And then the Sun’s effort, right, featuring a couple of current black hats. Despot the difference. Superb.

Here’s what the accompanying blurb informs us: PIG-headed FIFA boss Sepp Blatter clung to power yesterday as his rotten regime collapsed around him – just like Libyan tyrant Colonel Gaddafi.
     The bungs-shame soccer chief refused to go as Gaddafi, also pictured yesterday, emerged from his lair to declare he was staying too.
                                                                    WAR ON SEPTIC BLATTER: PAGES 4 & 5

Totally wonderful. Two-timing men creep away from their love nests, while power despots emerge from their lair. Oh yes, before we leave Imogen, hoping she does a U-turn, two fellows are chatting in a pub: “My mother made me a homosexual,” says one. “Do you suppose,” said the other, “if I gave her the wool she’d make one for me too?”

So that was my smiley day set up good and proper. Or was it? Well, truth to tell, a generous smile had kicked in even earlier this morning ... see here...
                               FULL STORY: POSTCARDS FROM MY SQUARE MILE ...
smile
 

Tuesday, May 31
Your face will always tell the time of day

IN A sit-and-stare moment you will have registered, either consciously or subconsciously, that an advertisement for a watch or a clock will always show the time at approximately ten-to-two or ten-past-ten. Those particular times of day will subliminally plant a smile in your mind - much like this ‘ere smiley feature...
                                                                                                                              

                                                                                                                                                      ...see how the corners of the smile point to ten-to-two – and that time of day on the face of a timepiece makes us more susceptible, or indeed more amenable, to the message the advert is selling: now is the time to rush out and buy this magnificent timepiece that has caught your eye.
     Now move the
hands to around twenty-past-seven – and you have a nasty frown...
                                                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                                                     
 ...unusually, I register all the above despite hardly ever wearing a watch, except when I go on my morning walks – I still haven’t learnt to tell the time compliments of the sun, when it’s available to view, that is – otherwise, no matter where I am, the time is always on view somewhere, whether at home, car, pub, shops, the person I'm with...

     Truth to tell, the time is actually in the camera I always carry anyway, but it’s just too much of a hassle to check that out if ever I need to.

Having said all that, the advert alongside caught my eye ... there goes my theory, I quietly cursed. Seven-minutes-to-seven. Bugger.
     But then I looked again. In this advert it’s the minute-hand and the second-hand which generate a smiley time of day – so the subliminal message there is even more subtle.
     Clever stuff. Give Oris a big hand.

I mention all of the above because I have just seen a picture in the paper of a brace of the new high-speed, 140mph Hitachi-built 395 trains at London’s St Pancras International Station ... and I found myself putting on a frown as I mirrored the unfortunate frown as displayed on the front

ORIS: Swiss made watches since 1904
~ real watches for real people
!

of these trains.


What a huge shame. These trains – fashioned on Japan’s bullet trains – can apparently slice the time of many a train journey in half. Impressive. But the picture still made me frown.

It’s always the little things that matter in the end. Indeed, the above cleverly confirms why, when we meet someone for the first time, our instinct tells us in a flash whether we should step forward and embrace, or step back and be wary.
     Yes, it’s all written into the face. Such is the subliminal power of a natural-born smile to captivate, embrace and seduce.
 

Monday, May 30
Man overhead
!
I’M A rugby man – but I quite enjoy a good game of footie. So this afternoon I stretched myself out on the sofa in front of the box and watched Swansea City (the Swans) take on Reading in the Championship Play-off Final for the honour of gaining promotion into the Premiership next season.
     The Swans won 4-2, so that in itself is worthy of an XL smile. For a Welsh team to mix it with the giants of the English football game is a pretty impressive achievement as well. But there’s only one image that can possibly claim today’s smile of the day...

Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers is thrown in the air by his players after their win.
The above wonderfully smiley image captured by Dean Mouhtaropoulos, Getty Images.


I’m not an aficionado of the game, but I like to think I can recognise an entertaining team (or player) when I see one.
     The Swans have been labelled the “Little Barcelona” of the Championship, which is down to their style of play. Like the Spanish and European champions, the Swans are not particularly large men, but mostly they pass the ball about a great deal, which frustrates the opposition no end as they struggle to get hold of the ball.

As it happens, last Saturday evening I watched Barcelona confirm their billing as the world’s best club side by lifting the European Cup for the third time in five years after sweeping aside Manchester United in a thrilling final, which was also played at Wembley. The Catalans reminded me of those great Brazilian sides of yore.
     I was particularly taken by the following select paragraphs from that well known pundit of life, the universe and everything, Boris Johnson, penned with his usual style, and headed...
                           
Champions League final: The beautiful game is not for us, after all – anyone for rugby?
The Catalan team achieved a grace and symmetry unlike anything I have ever seen. They completed 667 passes, compared to 301 for United, toying with them, taking the tempo up and down as they pleased.
     You could sense the frustration of the bulkier English players as they tried to play in that Homeric, individualistic English style – kicking, surging, chasing, charging – only to be comprehensively outfoxed by the Spanish; and whenever there was the slightest shove or knock, the Spanish player would go down and the English player would be penalised.
     That, for so many of us, is the basic problem with the cultural dominance of Association Football. Rooney and Co are mind-bogglingly skilful, but if they can be made to look so galumphingly inferior by Barça, then think of the physical frustration of millions of kids who have only a tiny fraction of their talent.

Boris went on to argue that English children would be better suited to playing rugby.

Then I read this on Yahoo, from Early Doors...
“People started calling us Swanselona because of the number of passes we make in matches,” said manager Brendan Rodgers prior to the win over Reading.
     “With my education as a young coach I spent a lot of time in Spain, and the Barcelona model was a great influence and inspiration. At Swansea our average this season has been 526 passes over 90 minutes and our average possession is 61%.
     “Nine times out of 10, if we make a certain number of passes we will win the game.”

Interesting that about the number of passes per game, bearing in mind that Barcelona must be the template. Anyway, being that Boris mentioned rugby, the same mantra should apply to any rugby coach: teach your boys to pass and hang on to the ball, and then you will be well and truly on your way to being tossed in the air à la Brendan Rodgers.

PS: While Swansea and Reading were battling it out at Wembley, defiant FIFA president Sepp Blatter was preparing to defend his and FIFA’s reputation over continued claims of corruption.
     Asked if football was in crisis, he said: “Crisis? What is a crisis? We are not in a crisis, we are only in some difficulties, and those difficulties will be solved, in our family.”
     I would have expected him to pronounce “solved” much as Inspector Clouseau would i.e. “solv-ed”. But more than that, he mentioned “family”. Isn’t that the term the Mafia use to sort out their internal problems?
 

Sunday, May 29
Gone fishin’

FIRST THING I do on returning from my early-morning walk is fish out The Sunday Times from my rucksack and sort it into its component parts: the section of least/nil interest at the bottom, and then all the way up the ladder.
     As I’ve mentioned before, it often takes me a week to actually get through everything, but on the Sunday morning I flick the sections that are of most interest, with a quick peruse of the columns that are likely to raise a smile.
     I make a coffee ... my first visit is the Culture magazine, which is home to the newspaper’s generously detailed TV and radio listings. However, I turn to the penultimate page, for there resides Paul Donovan’s Radio Waves, a column of interest to radio listeners. Nothing of particular note today.
     On the page alongside are lists of Top 10 TV programmes, audience figures in millions for the week ending May 15. There are six lists: BBC1, BBC2, ITV, C4, C5 and Satellite. I always peruse these listings because I am endlessly fascinated by how few television programmes grab my attention enough to watch. Clearly I do not follow the herd.
     Most watched telly programme is BBC1’s Eurovision Song Contest (9.68m): I saw the first hour or so – I am gobsmacked at the inability of modern pop songwriters to come up with instantly catchy songs that grab the attention, essential I would have thought in this kind of competition.
     The sixth most watched programme on BBC1 is Countryfile (6.11m) – saw that – as I did Have I Got News For You at number nine (5.35m).  I also saw the Two Ronnies on BBC2 (2.44m), number four on that list. Then nothing at all on the other four lists. So that’s 4/50, which rather neatly explains why I read the radio column first.

Anyway, back with The Sunday Times. I peruse the News Review section, especially the top right quarter of the back page. There I find People of the Week, which is a smiley affair, as well as the tail-end of Winner’s Dinners, Michael Winner’s weekly restaurant column. I go straight to the end of his column where he regularly parades a Jewish joke or two. This week’s effort is a true classic. Over to Michael...

Here’s one of my favourites: Hymie decides it’s time his son Jacob got married. So he and his wife, Becky, call in the yentl. A yentl is a Jewish lady who makes introductions with a view to marriage.
     “I vant you should find for my boy Jacob the most marvellous example of Jewish womanhood,” explains Hymie.
     The yentl went off and returned three weeks later. “Have I got a girl for your Jacob,” she announces. “This girl runs a kosher house, she goes to synagogue three times a week; not only that, she knows all the prayers by heart. This girl is the perfect example of Jewish womanhood at its finest. And on top of all that, not only is this girl a lovely person, she is a real beauty. She’s beautiful.”
     Hymie says: “Excuse me, could I ask something?”
     “Sure,” says the yentl.
     “Is she good in bed?” asks Hymie.
     “Vell,” replies the yentl. “Some say yes, some say no.”

Delightful. Laughed out loud.

Alongside Michael’s column, top billing in the People of the Week feature is a wedding photograph of Opposition and Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, and his new wife. Enjoyed the caption...

Ed Miliband went into coalition on Friday by marrying his long-term girlfriend, Justine Thornton. The couple were together for six years before Ed finally said “I do” (although he ticked “I don’t” as his second preference).
     Ho, ho, ho
!

Also on the back page of the News Review is Nick Newman’s Week, a collection of his cartoons which sum up the week just gone by. Last Friday I mentioned in passing that a sign of a good cartoon is one which can be perfectly explained without having to see the cartoon itself. Try this one, remembering that goldfish supposedly have a memory span of just 3 seconds...
A couple of goldfish in a bowl, going round and round ... one says to the other:
    “The only thing I can remember is Ryan Giggs.”

Every day a day at a school of fish corner: contrary to popular belief, tests prove that goldfish have a memory-span of at least three months and can distinguish between different shapes, colours and sounds.
     Whatever, Sunday got of to an exceptionally smiley start.
 

Saturday, May 28
B
lack and white and in the pink
FOLLOWING last Thursday’s funeral service I called at the Crazy Horsepower for a spot of refreshments, and while there Chief Wise Owl handed me a piece of paper: “When you have a moment take a look at this; it’s a recent letter I spotted in The Times – and I thought of you and your web site.”
     I’d meant to read it at the time but I was distracted, so slipped it into my pocket – and promptly forgot about it.
     Today I suddenly remembered, and fetched it from my jacket ... I could see why Chief Wise Owl thought of this smile of the day feature.

There’s a famously amusing sports commentary blooper from a televised snooker match from mega moons ago, which is oft repeated in the media. Here’s the letter...
Ted Lowe was no careless whisperer
Sir, You perpetuate the myth that “Whispering Ted” Lowe uttered a gaffe when in his snooker commentary he said: “For those of you watching in black and white, the pink is behind the green” (Sport, May 2).
     He was in fact accommodating those, like me, who could not afford a colour set in the early 1970s. Watching snooker in black and white was difficult but some of the non-red “coloured balls” could be identified by their shade.
     The pink could be identified but the green could not, as it was too close to the shade of the reds. Thus, Ted’s information allowed us to identify that the ball in front of the pink was the green ball and not a red.
KEITH BRYAN, Wolverhampton

Now how wonderful is that? Down the years many of us have shared a gentle smile at Ted’s blooper, but all the while he was a man on top of his game.
     Magnificent. Definitely makes my smile of the day.
 

Friday, May 27
A quick flash and a blow job

TODAY’S smile takes me back to yesterday; more correctly, it originally goes back to last weekend’s Sunday Times, when I laughed out loud at one of Nick Newman’s wonderful cartoons. However, I try to spread my smiles around, so I tend to ration Newman’s memorable efforts.
 

The cartoon that captured my imagination, alongside, was all to do with the tale of the government’s Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, who is facing a police probe into claims that back in 2003 he ducked and dived a camera speeding ticket by asking his now ex-wife Vicky Pryce (Huhne traded her in last year for a spanking new model), to take the points on his behalf.

This story is perfectly believable because over recent years I know of a few regulars at the Crazy Horsepower who have done just that (allegedly
!).
     It isn’t just to do with building up points on a driving licence, which can eventually lead to a suspension, but insurance premiums jump dramatically after the first 3 points – and you have to declare them to your insurer otherwise if you make a claim and they ask to see your driving licence (which they now regularly do), and they see points you haven’t told them about, you are in shit street because you will not be covered.
     Anyway, yesterday, along the drive to the funeral I attended, I passed speed cameras on eight occasions (there and back), and every time I saw a camera I smiled as I thought about this cartoon.
     Not only does that fact alone make it worth a spot here, but it’s a cartoon you can explain to people without them needing to actually see it – and they roar with laughter. And this is precisely what happened in the car yesterday.
     You have to admit, it is a truly clever and funny image, and as long as speed cameras remain, I will never forget it.


Talking of never forgetting things, I must also mention in passing this hilariously amusing
headline spotted online today...

Carole Caplin: I didn’t sleep with Tony Blair
Carole Caplin, the “Lifestyle Guru”, denied having sex with Tony Blair after giving him a massage, the High Court was told yesterday. Miss Caplin, a long-standing friend of Cherie Blair, insisted that she was not “some sort of sexpot or randy masseuse” and had not engaged in any “hanky-panky” when she gave massages to the former prime minister.
     Miss Caplin made her extraordinary denials during libel proceedings against a newspaper in the High Court in London. She is taking legal action over an article that questioned whether she was planning to “blow the lid on Tony and Cherie Blair’s sex secrets”. Miss Caplin was a “lifestyle adviser” and fitness trainer to Cherie Blair throughout her time at Downing Street.
     She attracted controversy in November 2002 when Peter Foster, a convicted Australian fraudster and her then boyfriend, negotiated a £69,000 discount on the purchase of two flats in Bristol on behalf of Mrs Blair.

I remember the shemozzle surrounding that curious incident at the time. You have to admit, the Blairs and their friends are a most peculiar bunch of people, not the sort you would want to find one fine day moving in next door.
     Now bearing in mind that Carole Caplin is an attractive lady, do we honestly believe that if she gave Tony Blair a massage in the privacy of her private parlour ... then nothing happened?
     It goes against all the known laws of nature. A man, especially a powerful and rich one, would never look a poke in the eye and say: “Not tonight dear, I have this dreadful headache - all this warmongering, you understand.” (I seem to remember that John F. Kennedy complained of a permanent headache if he didn't have sex every day.)
     Whatever, I thoroughly enjoyed the bit where it says that Caplin was planning to, quote, “blow the lid on Tony and Cherie Blair’s sex secrets”.
     I know, I know, I will probably be awarded the “Cynic of the Year 2011” award, but I would be very surprised if a different sort of blow job didn’t happen.
     I rest my case.

PS: I needed to check out the facts on the Caplin/Blair story, so I typed this into the Telegraph's own search engine: I did not have affair with Blair. And this is what the search engine suggested instead: I did not have affair with Flair.
     Not many of us do, darling.

 

Thursday, May 26
God gently closes one file – but opens several others

AS it says on the tin, smiles of the day come in all shapes and sizes. Today’s was a gentle, all-embracing smile generated during a funeral service.

It was the funeral of a relative, a good and kindly man blessed with a ready smile and nature, who had died somewhat suddenly, following a brief illness, at the age of 83. In the UK, the average age of death for men is currently 78 (81 years for women) so he had beaten the system, at least.
     All things being equal, I would not have attended the private service before the funeral proper, but I was driving a couple of close relatives, so I was present at Bethel Chapel of Rest in Llandeilo.
     The Reverend Chancellor Desmond Price was officiating, one of our local characters who, I have to say, is well past the aforementioned average use-by age – but still going strong, and with much style.
     Desmond, for that is how we all know him, is always top drawer when officiating at funerals, especially so where the deceased is personally known to him (but not necessarily one of his flock - or anyone else’s flock come to that - which always earns the Good Reverend Chancellor bonus points).
     As he spoke at the private service, up in the roof space of the old chapel, young songbirds were chirping away like crazy. They were not particularly obtrusive, but once you became aware of them it was impossible to divert the background “music” as Desmond spoke.
     Out there in nature, bambino birds have either just fledged, or are about to, and of course they make quite a noise as they call out to their parents. There was something both magical and moving about it.
     In the midst of death, up above our heads new life was furiously getting on with the business of survival.

After the funeral service at Llanelli Crematorium, I mentioned the birds urgently tweeting away to Desmond, but he hadn’t noticed – rather obviously he was concentrating on the task at hand – but he agreed with my take that it was quite a touching thing to have registered and appreciated.
 
Probably my “Candy Man” relationship with the local songbirds also added a certain something different to the day’s smile.
 
Wednesday, May 25
Derriere on a G-string

PIPPA MIDDLETON revealed the secret of her bottom this week, wrote Carolyn Hitt in the Western Mail under the headline ‘Pippa’s bottom line is revealed’.

     Carolyn continues: Given that her pert posterior has its own Twitter account, 20 Facebook sites, has boosted cosmetic surgery on backsides by 60% and is 4/9 favourite to win Rear of the Year, the revelation has been given a significance as epoch-changing as the splitting of the atom.
     So what is the riddle of the minx? How does that butt kick ass? Pippa owes her shapely buttocks to Pilates...


And I came to a sudden stop there. Pilates? I have never heard or seen that word before. Yesterday it was
Paddy McGuinness, today it’s Pilates.

Would that be Pilates as in Pilates of the Caribbean? I mean, is it the equivalent of wearing an eye patch over the bum? Indeed, Pippa’s walk up the red carpet was the equivalent of walking the plank – but she did it with such aplomb she was spared to walk the plank another day.
     Or perhaps even the Pilates of Penzance, or, as it is also called, The Slave of Duty? Now there’s an irony.
     There again, it could be Pilates as in Pontius Pilate? Meaning, if you become overly obsessed with the shape of your bum it will eventually betray you, turn round and bite you – indeed even crucify you. Always look on the bright side, etc, etc...


Anyway, ‘Every day a day at school’ corner: Wikipedia here I come...
Pilates ... pi-la-tes (so much for my thinking that it would sound similar to pirates – thankfully I got my smart-Alec jokes in first): a system of exercise using special apparatus, designed to improve physical strength, flexibility, posture – not to mention a pert ass – and enhance mental awareness.
     So that’s why everyone is obsessed with Pippa’s derriere. It’s a mental awareness thingy apropos the world about us.

Also, why is Pilates always written with a capital P? Well, it’s a system developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates in Germany. Ve have vays of making your bum look cute and become ze rear of ze year.

Tail-gunner word to Carolyn Hitt, who got me going on this in the first place: If anyone wants to know the secret of my own bum shape, it’s even more simple.
     I sit on it. Quite a lot.

♫♥♫ Bum, Bum, Bum, Bum, Esso-teric Blue! ♫♥♫ Goodness gracious me, now that takes me back.
 

Tuesday, May 24
Gagging for a Giggsy

06:00hrs: IT’S THE morning after the exploding super-injunction before. I enter the newsagent with just the hint of a smile, unsure what to expect on the front pages...
     The newspapers were, quite obviously, awash with it. Somewhat surprisingly, the Daily Star and the Sun, usually the most in-yer-face of the tabloids, play it straight (Sun: IT’S RYAN GIGGS) while the more serious Independent announces “Revealed: Britain’s best known secret” – but the gold goes to the Daily Mirror, captured alongside...
     Exceptionally clever word play.

An article on Yahoo by the punnily named Early Doors was headed “No more heroes left in football”, a reference to the previously untainted (sort of) Ryan Giggs track record. I was rather taken with a couple of paragraphs...

Early Doors does not subscribe to the theory that if you earn your living in the public eye then you immediately waive any kind of right to a private life. Moral qualms aside, no laws have been broken.
     In a perfect world, no one would care about such matters which have nothing to do with them. Then again, in a perfect world there would be no extra-marital misdemeanours, train tickets would cost half as much and no one would ever have heard of Paddy McGuinness...


I have suspected for a while now that I live in as perfect a world as is possible in this imperfect world – at least in as much that I have never heard of Paddy McGuiness.
     The first thing that came to mind was Paddy McGinty’s Goat – but Wikipedia informs me that Paddy McGuinness, 37, is an English stand-up comedian, comedy actor, television personality and presenter; he is best known for his performances alongside comedian Peter Kay, and as the host of dating programme Take Me Out.
     I remain none the wiser. Neither the programme nor the two presenters mean a thing to me.
     I really must stay home more.

One bonus Ryan Giggs smile, namely the Matt cartoon in the Telegraph: two ladies are in conversation at the Chelsea Flower Show. One, who is clearly the proud owner of some award-winning roses, is whispering to the other lady: “This rose is called Ryan Giggs, but don’t tell anyone I told you.”

PS: I am writing this up on the Wednesday morning, and I am sort of happy to report that the Daily Star has recovered its equilibrium. The Wednesday front page shouts: WIFE SHOWS GIGGSY BED CARD – EXCLUSIVE...
LOVE-CHEAT football star Ryan Giggs was battling to save his marriage last night after his heartbroken wife tore off her wedding ring. Stacey has ditched the diamond sparkler she proudly wore just 48 hours earlier.
     Full story Pages 4-5... At this point I made my excuses and left...

But it did leave me wondering: if wife Stacey was wearing the ring 48 hours earlier, then she clearly had no idea that it was her husband who was at the centre of the love-rat, super-injunction row. Scarcely believe. There again, perhaps that explains the catastrophic decision to take out the super-injunction in the first place.
     Could all this be a classic case of lawyers putting profit before wisdom?
 
 

Monday, May 23
Lost chord found – but what of that missing apostrophe?

“MY NAME is Barack Obama of the Moneygall Obamas, and I’ve come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way.” The US President delights his Irish audience.

Listening to Vanessa Feltz on the wireless this very early morning, she mentioned a conversation she’d had with Mayor of London Boris Johnson last Friday on her BBC London radio show.
     With Barack Obama due in London Tuesday through Wednesday – having spent today in Ireland in search of the family’s errant punctuation, that missing apostrophe i.e. O’Bama – she asked Boris if he would be squiring Obama around London Town this week.
     No, but Boris would be encountering him at a banquet. “What will you say to him?” asked Vanessa. “I will say you owe us £5.5 million in the unpaid congestion charge,” replied Boris.
     “And at which juncture will you say that, Mr Mayor? Will you say it during the volovants? During the hors d’oeuvre? After the soup? Somewhere through the middle of the entrée?” (I hugely enjoy Vanessa’s turn of phrase and command of the language.) Boris replied: “I will leave a bill on his plate after pudding.”
     “That’s what he said,” confirmed Vanessa this morning. “I wouldn’t put it past him either, he might do it.”

I wouldn’t put it past him either. And I do so hope he does leave the bill on Obama’s plate after pudding.

It was Lord Acton (1834-1902) who said that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Well, power does all sorts of other things as well. That powerful people in general – and politicians in particular – deem themselves above the world about them is not just down to Obama, for he is merely endorsing the behaviour of those who have passed along the power point path before him.
     What is it that makes people who hold absolute power think that as soon as they set foot on foreign soil they have carte blanche to treat that country, its people and its laws with utter contempt, as if everything they encounter were a lump of doggy doo-dah on the pavement?
     Mind you, the UK probably returns the compliment, with bells on. So if ever you wonder why we in turn also view politicians with such contempt, there’s your answer.

Boris still earned my smile of the day though. I hope Vanessa follows up to see what happened after pudding. The thought of Barack O’Bama handing Boris a blank signed cheque while nibbling on the After Eights is too delicious to contemplate.
 

Sunday, May 22

HALF of my brain works in the public interest; I mean, I simply wouldn’t survive if it wasn’t for the world about me and it’s support system, so it really is important that everything works as well as possible. The other half of my brain sorts out what is of interest to the public i.e. me. Or more correctly, the selfish me.

Which brings me to the world of the super-injunction: half of my brain instructs me to rise above all the silly, meaningless tittle-tattle, while the other half is desperate to drag itself up to date with all the delicious goss doing the rounds.
     So when the super-injunction rumpus surfaced over this mysterious footballer who’s been a Nogood Boyo, allegedly, I made a conscious decision not to go out of my way to find out who the individual is – but I would try to figure it out from the coded information freely available in the media (but without visiting Twitter).

     So when this morning I saw a cartoon, alongside, in The Sunday Times, compliments of Nick Newman, I had to laugh ... yep, that’s me, folks.
     I also enjoyed the comment that the footballer at the centre of the rumpus must think he’s the regular in the bar at Cheers
! – yes, you know, the one from the theme song, the bar where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came – oops! – I don’t think it was meant to be quite like that.
     Anyway, as I smiled at the cartoon, I honestly and truly didn’t know who the mysterious footballer was.
     However, my brain was putting two and two together at a suspiciously efficient pace. Let’s study the facts. Now the lady involved is former Miss Wales, Imogen Thomas, so bearing in mind our inherent tribalism, could he be Welsh?
     But why all this super-injunction fuss anyway? Would he be attempting to protect a carefully cultivated, clean cut, whiter-than-white image, which is critically important when it comes to marketing and advertising?

     Then at the newsagent this morning, I caught sight of a red top front-page headline along the lines of MAN UP. Oh dear, it looked as if I was definitely not offside with my conclusion.

Whatever, I later called at the Crazy Horsepower for a lunchtime drink. So, there I was, minding my own business with a pint of Dark Mild in front of me, when in walks Young Shagwell – and the place erupts in one big cheer...
     “What’s this we hear?” asks one of the regulars, with a certain glee, “Shagwell caught with his jiggsy down around his ankles?” At least I think it was “jiggsy” the chap said because the statement was drowned out by much raucous laughter.
     It seems that, like our footballing hero, Young Shagwell had been caught in flagrante delicto – or something like that, but anyway, caught with his trousers – or his jiggsy – firmly grounded.

The clues were now coming in so thick and fast – bugger, I thought, I’d better call it a day before I have my collar felt.

PS: As I prepare to post this bulletin, late Monday afternoon, I hear on the radio that the name Ryan Giggs has been outed by MP John Hemming, using parliamentary privilege. (So it was “Giggsy” they said at the Crazy Horsepower, not “jiggsy”.)
     We really should not be surprised at the palaver surrounding this super-injunction business: I mean, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales is Lord Justice Judge ... well, it does sound like something straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance.
 


Saturday, May 21
The first hour of the rest of my life

WELL, life as we know it is coming to an end today – at six tonight, to be precise. At first I wasn’t sure which time zone that referred to, but apparently it applies to whatever time zone you happen to find yourself in.
     Tsk, I should have smelt a rat there and then.

Whatever, I thought I’d better tidy up my affairs. Anyone I need to apologise to? No. Or make up to? No again. Anyone I owe money to? Definitely not. Anyone owe me money? Nope. Last will and testament, along with the funeral arrangements, are irrelevant, obviously, because there’ll be very few people left, if any, to clear up the mess.
     So my Saturday will unfold as per normal. Except I’ll write up my Smile of the Day today, rather than tomorrow...

Just as I return from my morning walk, Owen Money’s Saturday morning show on Radio Wales was starting. Owen also refers to the end of the world, and the first song is – ta-rah!The End of the World, sung by Skeeter Davis. Mind you, I don’t think he was taking the threat very seriously. But it made me smile.
     Then he asked what we would like to do if it really is the end of the world. He shared the wish of one of his backroom staff, who would spend all his money buying lots and lots of complete sets of clothes, and then spread them around Cardiff to make it look as if someone was walking along – and suddenly that person wasn’t there, just the clothes left behind on the pavement. Now that is very funny.

Perusing the day’s news I found it curiously satisfying that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – William and Kate to you and me – had arrived home from their honeymoon ahead of any photographs of their 10-day break. Perhaps there is some justice, super-injunctions excepted, left in the world after all.

Oh yes, the famous Princess Beatrice hat – any excuse to show it again...
                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                                                    ...the hat had, by today, attracted a bid of more than £75,000 on eBay, with all proceeds going to Little Bee Initiative, a campaign set up by the princess to raise money for Children in Crisis and Unicef. Good for her. Beatrice sounds a character: “I hope whoever wins the auction has as much fun with the hat as I have.” [The hat is eventually sold for £81,100.01.]
     On reflection, perhaps that hat is the black hole that we will all disappear down tonight, at six sharp.

Anyway, as the dreaded hour approached I decided to have my last meal, at four – a sort of high tea, which is what I normally have anyway. Mine is a very sweet tooth, so a jumbo, eyes-bigger-than-stomach portion of cheesecake. Yum. Washed the dishes – force of habit – then put my feet up in front of the TV.

At five, rugby’s European Cup Final was due to start, the game being played at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, between England’s Northampton Saints and Ireland’s Leinster, the Irish side being favourites. I was supporting the Irish province, for no other reason than they are Celtic cousins. Tribalism rules, OK?
     On paper it looked a cracker of a game – but as we all know, it is actually played on grass, which always tends to bugger things up a bit, especially in the predictions column.
     At least we would all get to see the first half before the end of life as we know it, Jim.

So much for Leinster being favourites. A supercharged Saints team, especially their pack of mighty forwards, pulverised Leinster, scoring three tries and reaching half-time 22-6 ahead, which in a supposedly close game is one hell of a lead.
    
When a side goes in at half-time, having dominated the flow of the game and three clear scores ahead (15 points plus), and the elements are not a factor i.e. no wind, no rain, the game being played under a closed roof in front of 72,456 fans, rarely does the opposition battle back.
     It was a most extraordinary first-half, as if Leinster had accepted the news that the world was going to end at 6pm sharp on Saturday night, so what was the point of putting their bodies on the line if, come half-time, they were all going to be bodies anyway.
     And then something truly amazing happened. Truth to tell, I had taken my eye off the real ball i.e. the clock. However, as the second-half got under way, someone in the Leinster team – it seems it was young Jonny Sexton at fly-half – must have pointed to the clock and said: “Why do we always allow a tiny number of nutters to have such influence on the way we think and behave? Let’s restore a bit of proper pride and order to our world.”

(By a curious coincidence, the Queen, during her historic visit to Ireland over the past week, said something very similar to the Irish and British peoples.)

Anyway, for the side initially under the cosh to then go on and score 27 unanswered points to win the game is astonishing in the extreme. Top flight rugby, including international rugby, had shown us nothing like it for mega moons.
     We witnessed one of the greatest matches, one of the greatest comebacks, one of the greatest individual performances – from the aforementioned Jonny Sexton, the star of the show – and at the end, Leinster had won the Heineken European Cup for the second time in three years.

And the first hour of the rest of my life had got away to a smiley flyer.
 

Friday, May 20
‘Ere, ‘ere, what ‘ave you ‘ad in yer ‘and?
‘Ave yer? Phorr
!!
THIS web site’s sister site (does that make sense?) is called
400 Smiles A Day, a smile target which, along with the health guru’s recommendation of five-a-day, is what we should all aim to achieve in our daily adult lives for the benefit of our all-round wellbeing and happiness.
     Well, today I had my 400 smiles in less than an hour by just visiting one web site.

I had cause to enter “words for penis” into Google’s search engine – the reason will become clear in a little while. The first site that came up was “QBN – 400 words for penis” – so I clicked ... and I couldn’t stop myself smiling.
     Somewhat surprisingly there were hardly any what I would term obscene or ultra-rude words, but the endless flash of words on show is a tribute to the magical and mysterious workings of the human imagination.
     Some were familiar, obviously, but many were not, and I can only describe them as totally weird and wonderful.

The first up was Hose – I wasn’t sure whether this was hose as in hose pipe (probably), or Hose as in the Spanish variant of the Hebrew Joseph, ‘God will multiply’ (we’ll give the benefit of the doubt and say it was a clever play on the Spanish name).
     Anyway, name after smiley name after hilarious name – and suddenly I stumbled upon George W. Bush – and I burst out laughing. Yup, that sure is one big penis, dead or alive.
     There was Mojo (shades of last Wednesday), and Mein Kampf, to which the webmaster observed: “That’s more a pet name.” Next came Napoleon Bonerparte (as opposed to the proper Bonaparte, which would have made me think of “Bona”, as in Julian and Sandy from Round the Horne).
     I also liked USB: there was no explanation – so I took it to mean any old port in a storm, yes?

But this was the master stroke, not so much the word, but what follows ... someone called Stem - I think that was his actual name -suggested the word Dinkle, but added this: “Ninia Benjamin’s views on Big Brother are so outdated that I delved into the Old Testament, went and found David and Goliath, stood in front of Goliath’s army, dropped my trousers and pants, pulled out my dinkle and said: “Lads, lads! Pick on someone your own size!
     Wonderful, that one certainly grew on me.
 
But why did I need to find out different words for penis?
     Well, alongside are two front pages from this morning’s red tops. We know now why Fred Goodwin (Fred the Shred) took out his super-injunction, for he has been sticking his USB into ports where he shouldn’t, and obviously the Sun has had that smiley headline waiting in the wings until such time as the injunction was withdrawn.
     (Oh yes, one of the 400 words for a penis was The Gavel: “for when you perform the famous order in the court room.”) How perfectly apt.
     And then there’s the news that Arnold Schwarzenegger has been flashing his old Mein Kampf about left, right and centre.


Over there, down the right-hand margin, I parade a Flower Power Gallery, so I was thinking ... with so many of us men behaving as if there’s no blood left in our brains – which there isn’t, obviously, when we’re confronted with the prospect of off-limits sex – I thought I should start a Rogue’s Penis Gallery – but that didn’t sound right, hence looking for other, better suited words online...
     I eventually came up with this: Justice Dick Gallery (Members only).

What I’m unsure of at the moment is whether to start a separate gallery for all these silly, dishonourable members - it is astonishing how many of our movers and shakers can’t keep their rockets in their pockets. To be continued...
 

Thursday, May 19
Pardon me boys, is that the Shanks’s Pony Choo-Choo?

FAR and away the smiliest story to hit the headlines today was the fellow who attempted to board the Holyhead Choo-Choo with a pony in train. Last Saturday evening, the man, believed to be a traveller known as Joe Purcell, 69, tried to get on the train at Wrexham in North Wales and journey to Holyhead on the west coast of Anglesey.
     My first reaction was to smile, but the more I look at the CCTV images released by the railway company, as well as pictures coming in from other places visited by My Little Pony & Me, the more I find myself going “Ahhhhh
! Bless!
 


What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare? Wouldn’t you just adore to know what that lady on the platform is thinking as she watched the episode unfold? If I were part of the meeja I would seek her out.
     Anyway, a railway spokesman said: “Apart from dogs, all other animals have to be in a basket or a cage. Obviously it’s common sense that we don’t allow horses or ponies on the train. He then tried to buy a ticket and was refused and then left the station.” (That’s the image of him attempting to buy said ticket, above, right.)

Next, Joe took the pony, apparently named Ruby, to the accident and emergency department at Wrexham Maelor Hospital – the first image, below – where a nurse said: “Say ahhhhhhhh!” No she didn’t, but a spokesman did say: “We can confirm that a man did turn up with a horse in A&E, but we were unable to treat the horse.”
     Obviously he thought he had turned up at the Ass & Equine department of a Horsepital.

 


Joe then visited a Wrexham town centre bar, the curiously named Elihu Yale – the two images directly above – where he was said to have caused “uproar” (I take that observation with a pinch of salt - I do not detect “uproar”!).
     However, a regular expressed surprise that the Lone Ranger had downsized quite so dramatically following the sub prime credit crunch. (He must have been thinking Loan Arranger, boom-boom
! – or perhaps that should read boom-bust-boom!)
     As it happens, that very same pub regular also remarked that the pony seemed relaxed and “undistracted” by the fuss.

When the story originally surfaced I found myself wondering if someone was pulling a bit of a prank, knowing that the whole episode would be captured on CCTV and would become an instant hit on the internet. Which it has. “Pony Express” and “Ticket to ride” were oft repeated headlines online.
     But as hinted at the top, the man appears to be well known locally – Joe, it seems, is banned from the Elihu Yale for turning up on numerous occasions with “horses”.
     Animal welfare officers are now looking for a ‘confused’ man. Ahhh, again.

Looking at the images, the pony appears, at least superficially, to be in excellent condition, and incredibly well behaved. Indeed both man and beast clearly have a close horse-and-cart sort of relationship.
     His daughter Violet, 40, later added: “He takes his pony wherever he goes – to the pub, the shops, everywhere – but the train station was a new one. The whole family couldn’t stop laughing.”
     So, far from being ‘confused’, he and Ruby appear to be local characters. Joe has to be one of those individuals who brighten up the passing parade no end. By tonight the smashing little pony had almost 2,000 fans on a Facebook page.

I thought I’d sign off with a couple of stories I hadn’t seen elsewhere ... So, this pony walks into a bar and the barman says: “Why the long face?” “Don’t talk,” said Ruby, “boss man said it was Shanks’s pony night tonight and I could let my mane down – but guess who’s in the driving seat, again? Make mine a large trough of water.”

So, Joe walks into a bar, with Ruby in tow. “Long time no see?” says the barman. “I know,” says Joe, “but she’s always nagging me to take her out for a drink.”

And on that note I will head for the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, and hopefully it will choo-choo me all the way home. I enjoyed compiling this little smile of the day as much as any I have done. So much so I decided to sign off watching a really smiley choo-choo routine...
                                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNiL86ENwpU&feature=watch_response

 

Wednesday, May 18
Getting my mojo into gear

“ED is really getting into his stride and discovering his mojo.” Shadow Minister Tessa Jowell praises Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.
Mojo
! It’s a word one hears now and again – but I’m not sure I know what it actually means. So I click on Urban Dictionary. Amazingly, there are 54 different explanations listed, most of them variations on a theme it has to be said.

I definitely smiled at this one: a small bag worn under the clothing in which magical spirits reside.
     “Put your mojo back in your trousers, man.” No wonder Ed discovered his mojo while getting into his stride.

Also: someone or something of total awesomeness and indifference.
     “Dude, you’re sooo mojo
!

It seems the word originally meant a charm or a spell, but these days it’s more commonly used when meaning sex appeal or talent: “Thank you God, I’ve rediscovered my mojo.”

Another definition: the ability to bounce back from a debilitating trauma and negative attitude.
     “Ed got his mojo back in full working order now.”

Mojo can also be that quality, often elusive, that sets a person apart from everyone else. The word “magic” could, almost without exception, replace “mojo” in all of its contexts, sentences and/or applications.
     “Just saw Ed Miliband take David Cameron to the cleaners on Prime Minister’s Question Time ... now that’s mojo
!

After completing the original draft of today’s smile, by one of those delightful coincidences that endlessly wander across my flight path, this letter appeared in the Telegraph newspaper:
Is my mojo working?
SIR – Tessa Jowell remarks that Ed Miliband is “discovering his mojo” (Features, May 17).
     Could someone please enlighten me as to what a “mojo” is? I think it unlikely that I have one.
Diana Crook, Seaford, East Sussex

So I responded thus, based on my first example, above – and it’s probably worth a repeat anyway...
Ed’s mojo coming on apace
SIR – Like Diana Crook, I too was slightly confused with this “mojo” business, so I clicked on Urban Dictionary: amazingly, there are 54 explanations listed. You pays your mojo and you takes your choice.
     I definitely smiled at this one: a small bag worn under the clothing in which magical spirits reside. “Put your mojo back in your trousers, man.” No wonder Ed discovered his mojo while getting into his stride.

Sadly though, this whole mojo business is undone by this quote from Nick Hewer, Alan Sugar’s sidekick on The Apprentice television series: “I med Ed Miliband recently. Oh dear, oh dear. He has the weakest handshake in western Europe.”

Mojo, mojo on the wall, does pride come before a fall?

“This [visit] puts the seal on a relationship that was sour and is no longer sour. It puts a seal on the past and builds for the future. I can’t think of anything of equivalent significance in the last few decades.” Former prime minister Sir John Major speaks to BBC2 about the Queen’s visit to Ireland.

These days, whenever I hear or see anything to do with John Major, the famous “grey man” of politics, I inevitably think of him with his underpants worn over his trousers while getting in the mood to shag Edwina Currie. I then have to go and lie down in a darkened room until my mojo re-establishes its equilibrium.
     Who can ever forget a seriously doolally Edwina Currie informing a cringing public about John Major’s large blue underpants (well, he is a Tory: big prick, big underpants), oh, and their shared baths. How embarrassing it all was.
     I can only surmise that she’d been scoffing too many dodgy eggs.

(Cartoonist Steve Bell had previously devised an enduring image of Major “as a crap Superman” wearing his underpants over his trousers – alongside – although it was witch doctor – oops
! – spin doctor Alastair Campbell who revealed that Major did actually tuck his shirt into his underpants. How did he know?)

Anyway, yet another definition of mojo is “personal magnetism”: Mojo will make one seem and feel sexy, virile, appealing, invincible and in control, etc...
   Alcohol or love [or power?] awakens the mojo. When one’s mojo is working, it often results in flirting and heavy socializing with the opposite sex (or whatever one’s preferred choice is).
 
 “I got my mojo firing on all six cylinders when you’re around.”


John Mojo Major and Edwina Hot Currie. Magic. Pass the jump leads.
 

Tuesday, May 17
A measure of trust

“THE rich man is he who has enough; the honourable man is he who honours others; the wise man is he who learns from all men.” An east European proverb.

With two-thirds of us claiming we are not religious, A. C. Grayling, 62, a British philosopher and author, recently launched an alternative bible, a ‘good book’ of secular thinking.
     As someone who never gets around to reading books, I had to make do with a review of his work which was headed “Ten new commandments – and no vengeful God”.
     Grayling has drawn together texts from all the traditions of thought in the world, East and West, that shed light upon the big question of how to make sense of life and how to live it.
     I was particularly drawn to the proverb quoted above: “The rich man is he who has enough...” What is so noteworthy about today’s Rich List is that none of them ever appear to have quite enough. Enough, after all, is always just a little bit more.
     This of course explains why they come across as so desperately unlikable, the sort of individuals who are loved only by their mothers, and the kind of people you would never, ever want to find moving in next door.
     In the review of Grayling’s book I smiled at this humanist version of the Ten Commandments: “Love well; seek the good in all things; harm no others; help the needy; think for yourself; take responsibility; respect nature; do your utmost; be informed; be courageous.”
     Truth to tell it’s all rather obvious and, dare one say it, superficial stuff. And meaningless, for here’s a constant I’ve noticed about humanity, which I guess is a really rotten trick that nature has played upon us...
     About 10% of people are inherently as bent as boomerangs, always returning to the trough for more. About 10% of people are as straight as thumb sticks, and despite the rumours put about by the aforementioned 10%, they cannot be bought. The other 80% of us are there to be influenced by those two bookends, one moral, the other immoral.
     In the period immediately following the Second World War, 90% of the population were essentially honest, a time when back doors really were left unlocked, and people often handed over blank, signed cheques to settle an outstanding account (I have actually experienced this myself, when someone wanted to pay, but I wasn’t sure what precisely they owed).
     I guess it’s what we would call “a measure of trust”.

Bringing it bang up to date, those boomerangs in our society have now become the nation’s movers and shakers, whether they be politicians, bankers, entrepreneurs, media wheelers and dealers, judges and lawyers... As a consequence, their dodgy ethics, morals and honesty have influenced that crucial middle ground, and alarmingly, approaching 90% of the population is now probably bent – to some degree or other. Sad but true.

I’ll finish with another of Grayling’s texts, followed by one I’ve worked out for myself...
“Whoever would be free, let him not wish too earnestly for what depends on others.” That particular aphorism from Epictetus, a 2nd-century Greek Stoic* philosopher.
* Every day a day at school spot, compliments of Wikipedia: The Stoics believed that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage or person of “moral and intellectual perfection”, would not suffer such emotions.
     Stoics presented their philosophy as a way of life, and believed that the best indication of an individual’s philosophy was not what a person said but how he behaved.


Well, I would say that an individual’s character is not so much given away by how he or she behaves, or indeed their grand, sweeping actions and statements, but rather those spontaneous, throwaway little things they say and do.

Finally, this slice of philosophy from Hubie Baby, a 21st-century Welshman who has simply stood and stared and learnt the hard way. “Treat everyone you encounter as if you are conducting business with yourself.”
     Well, would you knowingly screw yourself? Whether it be ethically, morally, financially...
 

Monday, May 16
Depressingly funny news

SOMEWHERE around mid-evening I watched on Dave TV an edition from a while back of the topical quiz Have I Got News For You. Discussing politics, as they invariably do in the opening round, Paul Merton explained away the collapse of the Green vote thus: “Plenty of people voted for the Greens – but they kept putting their voting slips in the shredder.”

Early-evening on the Comedy Channel, I caught up with an episode of M*A*S*H from 1981, the one where the 4077th place an order for 5,000 tongue depressors, but 500,000 are delivered. Hawkeye decides to use the surplus depressors to erect a tower, a monument to Army stupidity, dedicated to all the brave men and women who have passed through the unit, with each depressor bearing the name of those individuals. Truly a labour of love.
     Max Klinger is now the company clerk, having abandoned his women’s clothing in his attempt to get a Section 8 discharge – but is continually working on money-making schemes and has decided to produce a daily news sheet at a dollar or so a copy.
     Klinger’s newspaper report on Hawkeye’s tongue depressor monument generates interest from the Army’s top brass. Klinger is so chuffed with his new-found fame that he skips away announcing to everyone in general but no one in particular: “Oh boy, this could win me the Wurlitzer Prize.” [The Pulitzer Prize is a US award for achievements in journalism, literature and musical competition. So who’s to say that Klinger’s organ did not deserve a special award?]

Unsurprisingly, Hawkeye is upset at the Army using his original idea to actually promote the war, so in a dramatic finish, and before the official photographer can capture a picture for posterity, he blows the monument to bits.
     But, unbeknown to Hawkeye, Colonel Potter has been quietly painting a picture of his monument to folly and senselessness, which he unveils after the brass have gone – and is greatly appreciated by Hawkeye.


It was a wonderfully uplifting episode, as all comedy is supposed to be, especially when done with love and care.

Then this morning, Radio Wales had an interview with one of our true great Welsh characters, Victor Spinetti.
     Coincidentally, on her early morning Radio2 show today, Vanessa Feltz had underlined the difference between being a celebrity and a real star i.e. Victor Spinetti is a proper star.
     He is such a talented raconteur that he really could read out the telephone directory and make you smile. Amongst all the hilarity there were little gems. As a talented director he emphasised how important it was to turn the cast into ‘Family’. A family, he informed us, is a collection of “Remember whens?”
     “Remember when the pit closed?” “Remember when we went to see Wales play?” “Remember when dad died?”
     I thought that was so spot on. It defines a community rather well. When we gather down at the Crazy Horsepower it would be fascinating to know how many conversations start with “Remember when...?”
     But here’s the exchange I really liked. Host Jamie Owen asked what the highlights of his career were. He pondered: “Directing. I wrote a play with John [Lennon] – I’d never directed in my life before and Laurence Olivier said to me: ‘You must come and direct it for us my dear baby because none of us understand it.”
 

Sunday, May 15
Nothing new under the sun

“IF IT ain’t broke – and it patently ain’t – then don’t fix it. Or as we conservatives put it, if it is not necessary to change, then it is necessary not to change.” London Mayor Boris Johnson endorses global affirmation of the nation’s constitutional peculiarities, even those of his “Lefty friends”, who have concluded that the British monarchy will endure.
     If it is not necessary to change, then it is necessary not to change. Only Boris could deliver such a plummy observation with such aplomb. Bless.

The ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again’ fallout from ‘The Wedding’ continues apace. Princess Beatrice is selling her ‘And now for something completely different’ titfer on eBay.
     Entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne opened the bidding at £5,000. Going ... going ... gone over the top. And why not?

“But the veil? Looked like cheesecloth. Or mosquito netting. Also, such fuss over the gown. Nice but not to die over.” Top New York columnist Cindy Adams, suggesting that Kate Middleton’s wedding dress might have been embroidered by blind Belgian nuns.
     You’ve just gotta laugh. Perhaps it should read ‘Over The Top New York columnist...’. I get the impression that our Cindy sat down and thought, hm, now how can I say something completely different? Shades of the Princess Beatrice hat.

Most of those who understand these things linked Kate’s wedding dress to that of Grace Kelly, but just the other day I saw that some claimed it to be a copy-cat effort linked to that of another princess: Isabella Orsini, who wed her Belgian beau Prince Edouard de Ligne, two years ago.
     I venture in here – where fools fear to tread? – because it bears out what I have said before: there is no such thing as original thinking. Every idea we have springs from someone else’s thought processes, even though we may well eventually land up somewhere completely different.
     In other words, there is nothing new under the sun.

But I think my favourite doolally quote of ‘The Wedding’ was this, tweeted in the lead-up to the event: “Dear Queen, thanks for invite to royal wedding but we’re a bit busy killing peaceful protesters here. Love, Crown Prince of Bahrain, xx” Spoof Tweet posted by Sally Bercow, wife of Commons Speaker John Bercow.

Yes, we are left with the disheartening thought that the country really is in dodgy hands. It was bad enough that during the Blair/Brown reign, we came within an assassination or a heart attack of having as Deputy Prime Minister a former ship’s steward with a fondness for drinking a pint on its head and thumping anyone who crossed his path – shoot first, ask questions after...
                                
                                                                                ...with his finger on the nuclear button. I know, what can you do but smile?

Yesterday I shared a sly smile apropos the ineptitude of those who run the UK Division of the Eurovision Song Contest. Just seen this: “It was a sad night for the band because they have gone from being a ‘massive boy band who sold 14 million records’ to the ‘band who flopped at Eurovision’.” Blue’s former manager Daniel Glatman.

The Blues, as a band, mean absolutely nothing to me, but I really do feel for them that they should be given such a nothing song to perform.
 

Saturday, May 14
Spice up the Eurovision

HOW about that? I skipped Friday the 13th. I had it down as the 12th. In fact it goes back to last Tuesday (the 10th) when I did a Groundhog day and relived the 9th – except nothing was the same.
     When I awake of a morning it takes me a few moments to collect my thoughts and work out what day it actually is, and I do sometimes get confused. My life is not run on a ‘day-to-day’ routine, so it’s no surprise that I’d been running with the wrong date – but it had registered somewhere in my subconscious that it was Friday the 13th yesterday. Correction done.

Anyway, decided to watch the start of the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s not a show I would go out of my way to watch, but when I do it always raises a smile, but I ration myself to just 60 minutes or so of chuckles.
     As it happens I’d heard Blue’s UK entry for the first time earlier in the week – and found myself wondering: who the hell decides on these wholly unmemorable songs?
     The UK’s Eurovision performances over recent years probably reflect the BBC’s dumbing down policy, especially under the stewardship of Mark Thompson, Director-General of the Corporation. Pretty much everything it churns out these days is aimed at a 12-year-old.
     What has always puzzled me is this: the Spice Girls were never my kind of musical entertainment, yet whenever they released a new song it would annoy me intensely because it would lodge itself inside my head.
     They churned out exceedingly catchy little songs – nine Number Ones I believe – which were by definition somewhat ephemeral, precisely what the Eurovision Song Contest is all about. To be in with a chance in the Eurovision, it’s pretty essential to have a song that is instantly catchy.
     Is it beyond the wit of the BBC to commission those who wrote such songs for the Spice Girls, and come up with perfect fodder for the contest?
     And here’s another curious thing about the nation’s ever-changing taste in popular music. Last year I caught a bit of one of the Proms in the Park concerts on TV, and the orchestra played a medley of James Bond themes.
     Listening to the performance I suddenly realised how catchy those songs were – but the ones they featured were from the first half of the Bond franchise only. The later Bond themes are simply bland wallpaper music, completely forgettable.
     So what has happened to the nation’s ability to come up with those catchy and memorable songs for the important occasions?
     No surprise then that Blue were also-rans...

Oh yes, I’m writing this on the Sunday morning, and there is much discussion online regarding what constitutes European, especially so the winning country, Azerbaijan. I enjoyed this comment from archie_tp: I’m waiting for the Chinese entry.

At nine o’clock I zapped over to watch Have I Got a Bit More News for You, co-hosted by John Torode and Gregg Wallace. Who? Never heard of them.
     I empathised with the exceedingly witty Paul Merton who admitted to having done some research, and then turned to the pair: “I watched your show the other day, to find out who you were.”
     It turns out they are something to do with a cookery programme. As they discussed the recent referendum and local elections, this led one of the hosts to say: “Poor old Nick Clegg; he is actually a regular at my restaurant.”
     To which Merton responded: “Is that why he is poor old Nick Clegg?”

And then they were discussing puns, and Paul Merton said this: “I saw a memorable pun in the wake of Osama Bin Laden – I think it was in the Sun – that the Irish SAS stormed into a department store because they’d heard that on the fifth floor they would find Summer Bed Linen ... and it stuck in my head.” Loud groans and laughter from the audience, so he turned to them: “And now it’s stuck in yours.”

Suddenly, everything about the Eurovision Song Contest was but a fleeting memory.
 

Friday, May 13
Back to the craic, Barack (after that shot in the dark)

JUST heard on the radio that Barack Obama is due to visit Ireland shortly – and believe it or don’t, the Irish have already laid claim to the man.
     “There’s No One As Irish As Barack O’Bama” is a humorous folk song written in 2008 by the Irish band Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys (who later morphed into The Corrigan Brothers), and set to a tune derived from a traditional air.
     The song celebrates the Irish ancestry of Obama, whose roots have been traced to Moneygall in County Offaly, and apparently dating back to the 19th century. Moneygall – the place really has hit the jackpot with a name like that – has a population of 298 people.
     Obama had previously remarked: “There’s a little village in Ireland where my great-great-great grandfather came from and I’m looking forward to going there and having a pint.”
     There are some exceedingly smiley lyrics to the aforementioned song, but I have slightly paraphrased part of it to turn it into a limerick, perhaps more suitable when reading it off the page...
 

O’Leary, O’Reilly, O’Hare and O’Hara,
There’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama;
From the old Blarney Stone,
To the green hills of Tyrone,
There’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama.

                    


In the original it goes:
                                     O’Leary, O’Reilly, O’Hare and O’Hara,
                                     There’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama;
                                     From the old Blarney Stone to the green hills of Tara
                                     There’s no one as Irish as Barack Obama.

Now Tara is quite a famous place in the history of Ireland, but I thought in order to get the limerick rhyme in place I’d connect Blarney from the deep south with Tyrone in the north. And why not?

This presents a good opportunity to update The Obama X Files. Now I have my doubts about Barack Obama as president of such a powerful and influential country. I have nothing against the man – he seems a decent human being – but as a president he is all fur coat and no knickers, sort of thing.
     The first point of order, as I have previously listed somewhere on this web site, was his speech in Chicago after winning the race for the White House, when he referred to his daughters Sasha and Malia, who had “earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the new White House”.
     Oh dear, I remember thinking, much too much information. Where’s the Presidential Beef? Can you imagine Churchill or JFK saying such a thing?
     And then, disastrously, at the inauguration ceremony, it was Obama who began the cock-up over the Presidential oath by interrupting the Chief Justice before he had finished the first sentence...
                                                                                                                                  
From that moment it was all down (Capitol) hill, and he had to be sworn in a second time, in private. And all down to having not bothered to do a few trial runs. He thought he knew it all. Bad boy, Barack.
     Ponder the recent royal wedding. Look how many rehearsals they had – which is why it all went flawlessly on the day. Okay, the little problem with the ring is excused because, as I understand it, when we become stressed and/or overly-excited, our blood vessels expand alarmingly – or something like that.
     And now we have the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Now if Obama had been woken in the middle of the night with “Mr President, Mr President – wake up, we’ve killed Bin Laden.”, then you would understand the confused messages that followed the killing.
     But it was a spectacularly well planned and executed operation - oops, no pun intended - with the whole event followed closely by Obama and all the other leading White House figures; after all, who will forget the crowd of them in the war room in their Princess Beatrice hats?
     Now you’d think that they would all have got together to make sure that the detail of every statement issued was spot on. Did no one spot the ambush as they headed for the pass? The facts, Mr President, the facts.
     With every official US statement about the death of Bin Laden contradicting the previous claims, the ineptitude was quite unforgivable. All Obama needed to say initially, surely, was that the world’s most wanted man (dead or alive, as I recall) had been killed and buried (with due reverence, and within the required 24 hours) – and that all the dots would eventually be joined up to provide the full picture.
     The whole aftermath of the operation was a  Carry On Mr President film script.

Oh yes, a postscript to the above ... this registered in my cerebral something-or-other in the aftermath of Bin Laden’s death. An online observation from someone called Heinz: “Don’t you just love the Facebook comment that it is hoped that the 50 virgins awaiting Bin Laden are all men?”
     Yes, I smiled when I read that, but it crossed my mind, given that the name of the individual who posted it is Heinz, he should have made a subtle change to “57 virgins”.
     Oh dear, I need to get out a bit more. And buy a “I shamrock Barack Obama” T-shirt.
 

Thursday, May 12
The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la

HOW could I not share with you perhaps the most effortless smile of all, the one Mother Nature generates, free of charge.
     Indeed, it is time I revisited the Iris Murdoch quote alongside, atop the Flower Power Gallery: “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”
     Well, over the past month or so the woods and the fields have come alive with the colour and the bouquet of the wild flowers.
     Most prominent over recent weeks have been the bluebells. It is a magical sight. But not just on the eye; walking through the woods on a sunny, still, warm day, one is overwhelmed with the exquisite fragrance.
     Then there’s the occasional flash of white bluebells dotted amongst the blue, which so catches the eye. But here’s a terrible thing. Over the past 10 years or so, where the public at large have access to our local woods, I’ve noticed the disappearance of clumps of the white variety. I know from my regular walks precisely where they should be – and now so many are missing, just solitary ones left behind.
     Someone is systematically lifting them, working their way through the woods. We really are a shocking species. There are some terrible examples of humanity out there – made worse by the glaring fact that the white variety seen in huge clumps look nothing as beautiful as seeing them randomly distributed throughout the woods.
     I’ve noticed in Llandeilo’s Penlan Park that the local council has planted a substantial plot of white bluebells – they appear to be the less charismatic Spanish variety – and they really are not anywhere as beautiful when viewed together in a large display.
     Fortunately, in the woods where the public do not visit, the white bluebells survive – at least for the time being.

The other aspect of the bluebell I particularly enjoy is its Welsh name, clychau’r gog, literally “the cuckoo bells”, which is a delightful description of the flower – dare I say, much superior to the English version.
     Below, a perfect example of a white amongst the blue, captured at the edge of a wood near base camp...
 


The other picture is a magical shot of blodau’r gog (a direct Welsh translation of the English cuckoo flower, which is occasionally called lady’s smock), sharing centre stage with the bluebells. For us Welsh, the cuckoo flower and the cuckoo bells deserve to share the limelight.
     This is quite an unusual sight because the pretty and delicate-looking little cuckoo flowers are plastered all over the open fields, but rarely spotted in or near the woods where the bluebells hang out.
     So quite a serendipitous discovery. I felt quite chuffed to have spotted it.

Indeed, it makes me smile quite effortlessly just looking at the above pictures of these glorious gifts from Mother Nature.
  
 
Wednesday, May 11
Woof-woof
! Who’s there? Woof! Woof who? Correct, Woofoo the talking dog!
“IN THE FUTURE, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Andy Warhol (1928-1987), American painter, printmaker, filmmaker, and a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art.

Warhol made that observation back in 1968, long before YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, the mobile phone and yes, even the PC – but the computer had arrived.
     In 1961 the IBM704 became the first computer to sing, delivering its memorable rendition of Daisy Bell (Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do – probably the second most famous sing-along song in the history of music).
     When I first heard of Warhol’s prediction I really didn’t appreciate what he was getting at. It never quite made sense. But here we are, 43 years on, and it’s rapidly becoming true. Not just everyone, mind, but everything. And all thanks to YouTube, mostly.
     I’ve become alarmingly bored with the traditional media, whether it’s broadcasting or the printed message. Basically, it’s the same old people fronting and parading the same old messages day in and day out. But the internet gives anyone and everyone the opportunity to parade their talent for – well, 15 minutes, I guess, as Warhol predicted.

That everyone will be famous for 15 minutes came spectacularly
to mind today when I stumbled upon Clark, the ‘talking’ dog.

     But first: by another of those coincidences, I stumbled upon a couple of dog quotes – in the meantime, alongside, a picture of Spot the Ball, the working sheepdog on the family farm, who, like pretty much every other dog in creation, goes doolally whenever a ball is thrown in his direction, in this case the smaller American Gridiron ball, rather that the larger rugby ball...
     Anyway, to paraphrase a Will Rogers quote: “I love my dog. He does nothing for financial or political reasons.”
I added “financial” because we now live in a world where our movers and shakers are slaves to the greed gene in their back pockets that is constantly bawling for attention.
     And the following notice spotted outside Madison Avenue Baptist Church, New York, where the Rev Susan G. Sparks officiates in obviously a very touchy-feely sort of way:

Wide receiver Spot the Ball celebrates a
touchdown for the Llandampness Hound Dogs

“LORD, help me be the person my dog thinks I am...”

Back with the bow-wow. This is one of the funniest things I have seen in a long, long time, where a ‘talking’ dog is teased by its owner about food, indeed the sequence has been labelled the ‘ultimate dog tease’. (The last dog I heard ‘talk’ was Prince, who repeated the word “Sausages!”, and appeared with Esther Rantzen on her That's Life! show, as I recall.)
     Anyway, the dog, a Dutch Shepherd named Clark, has a human superimposing a Scooby-Doo-type voice on the canine as it reacts – watch out for those wonderful eyes and ears – creating the perfect lip-sync.
     This 81 seconds of delightful doolallyness is attracting a million and more hits a day, which isn’t surprising. It really is laugh out loud stuff.
     Probably though it should also carry the following reassurance: No dog was starved in the making of this sequence...


                                                                   
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGeKSiCQkPw
 

Tuesday, May 10
Headline foot fault

CONTINUED my perusal of the weekend’s Sunday Times ... landed on Tabloid Week by Roland White, an amusing tongue-in-cheek look at the news as seen through the smiley eyes of the more ‘common or garden’ newspapers. This caught my eye...

Headline writing is an underrated art, but no longer. In an occasional series, Tabloid Review will pay tribute to the skill of the writers who produce headlines that are eye-catching or just so daft they make you chuckle (“Headless body in topless bar”).
     So let’s start with the Daily Mirror’s report about the Turner prize nominee Karla Black, who uses lipstick, among other things, in her work. The headline? Lippycasso. Which works, of course, in so Manet different ways.

I’m still smiling at the “Headless body” one. Anyway, I was mildly chuffed with my own effort from last Saturday when I caught up with the latest on the Princess Beatrice hat that has grabbed a watching world by the long and curlies. Especially so having discovered that titfer is a slang word for hat.
     So I thought I should contribute to Tabloid Review’s search, perhaps by submitting my effort to the newspaper...

Dear The Sunday Times
Enthused by Roland White’s piece about the art of headline writing (Tabloid Week, last week), I delight in sitting at the feet of the tabloid sub-editors, the unchallenged experts, and hopefully picking up tips for my daily ‘Smile of the day’ website along the way. Mostly I am useless at the art, but occasionally I high-five myself, as on May 7 when I did a piece on the world-wide reaction to Princess Beatrice’s splendid hat as worn at ‘the wedding’.
     My headline? Titfer tat.


In the end I decided not to submit - self-praise is no recommendation - not to mention the rather obvious reason that it probably wasn’t good enough to make the cut anyway. But there again, its rejection would have give me the perfect excuse to print another of the splendid letters I spotted, compliments of The Onion.
     Oh bugger, here it is anyway – and I really, really like this one:

Dear The Onion,
After the carefully thought-out letter I sent last week, I can
t believe you published another paper this week as if nothing happened.
Kendra Surach, Ewa Beach, Hawaii

I round off with a link spotted on today’s Telegraph website:
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge go on honeymoon: Ten days after the royal wedding, the couple are seen leaving their Anglesey home with large amounts of luggage, heading for an undisclosed destination.

I am delighted to report that I resisted the temptation to click on this one – but I was intrigued as to why they didn’t send the “large amounts of luggage” on ahead, hidden away in the back of a “common or garden” White Van.
 

Monday, May 9
For whom the bell tolls

“NO MAN is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main ... Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne (1572-1631).
In this famous quote, Donne seems to be saying, whatever affects one, affects all, hence his ‘no man is an island’. It is a testament to his insight that his words contains much that strikes deep chords with people today, both living and dying.

As I have mentioned before, smiles come in all shapes and sizes, from funny ha-ha to funny peculiar. Today was a case in point, when I watched Wootton Bassett: The Town That Remembers. Flicking through The Sunday Times TV Guide, I was drawn to its Pick of the day, which began thus:
“People do usually come in smart dress,” a council official tells a member of the public who has phoned to inquire about the repatriation of a fallen soldier, Aaron McCormick, 22, killed on Remembrance Sunday, whose coffin is due to pass through the Wiltshire town.
     This exchange is indicative of the respect felt there for the corteges, and one reason why the place has become a world-wide media focus whenever hundreds of people line the streets as hearses from RAF Lyneham drive past.

 

What a moving and respectful programme it was. Awash with dignity and compassion, beautifully filmed, perhaps made more poignant by the fact that just the one soldier passed through on that November day.
     I have always been moved by the sight of the funeral director who leads the cortege – a previous repatriation captured, alongside – from church to the war memorial, where the procession halts to observe a moment’s silence and flowers are placed lovingly on the roof of the hearses.
     I am also struck by the one empty hearse that always takes up the rear, presumably there to cover the eventuality of a breakdown, burst tyre...


The Wootton Bassett phenomenon began just four years ago, in April 2007, when members of the local Royal British Legion saw a repatriation hearse pass through the town, without ceremony. The branch decided that the return of the nation’s fallen service people should be solemnly marked – and the rest really is history.

Two moments linger. The policeman, who observed that, it is not just in the town, where the cameras are, that people gather: “On fly-overs, lay-bys, junctions – 46 miles of so much dignity and respect by ordinary people.” A discreet camera run along the route confirms the number of people who line the road to pay their respects.

What is also burnt onto my hard drive is something the usual news reports never truly convey. From the moment the first bell tolled to announce the approach of the cortege, it was the five minutes or so of absolute silence that descended upon the town. All you could hear was the tolling of the bell and the footsteps of the funeral director walking in front of the hearse.
     On my comfy sofa I felt obliged not to move a muscle while watching this extraordinary segment of the programme.

This also from The Sunday Times: The American director Henry Singer makes a dignified film, but perhaps his nationality made him unwilling to scratch the British veneer and tackle the politics that took service personnel to their deaths. Many with their heads bowed are ex-military, devastated at the loss of young lives; it would have been fascinating to push them a little on duty to Queen and country.

Interesting point, and to be fair, touched upon briefly by some of the participants. Indeed I have always wondered about Tony Blair and his approach to the repatriation.
     Does he make a point of watching whenever he is in the country? If he happens to be watching the news and suddenly a repatriation appears, does he automatically flick channel the way I do when something upsetting appears?
     Or does The Office of Tony Blair – yes, there really is such a ludicrously named and pompous sounding organisation – text to warn him not to watch television or the internet when a repatriation is scheduled, just in case be becomes overly upset?
     I wonder.

However, the programme earns my smile of the day because – and despite the fact that all the world’s problems are caused by just 10% of the population (10% of politicians are warmongers, 10% of bankers are crooks, 10% of judges and lawyers are dishonest, 10% of media owners and operators should never be trusted further than you could throw them, etc, etc) - the other 90% reaffirm my trust in humanity.
     And, as the programme itself informed us, Wootton Bassett: The Town That Remembers, was a story of what a community can do, and what a community really means.

Wootton Bassett’s tributes will end in September 2011, when RAF Lyneham closes and repatriation flights are transferred to RAF Brize Norton.

As a mark of gratitude, the Queen has bestowed upon Wootton Bassett the title “Royal”, the first such honour in more than one hundred years.
 

Sunday, May 8
Chicks love to chat

LISTENING to The Best of Radio Wales this morning, a clip from the past week’s Roy Noble show was included.

Roy interviewed plumber and poultry owner Andy Clamp regarding his special relationship with Korma, one of the chickens on the smallholding near Llandyssul, Ceredigion – some halfway between Carmarthen and New Quay as seen on the map up there at reception – where he and his wife Kate also run a Bed & Breakfast business.
     They keep the hens fenced off from the house, but Andy had become surprised at the behaviour of the small brown hen, which would fly over the fence and follow him around all over the place.
     Korma, named after the popular Indian dish, is a Warren, a bog standard Isa Brown breed, and had not been hand-reared, nor was it a pet, but simply seemed obsessed with him. So much so he could not believe his eyes when he found her stowed away in his van when out on a plumbing job. She had also decided to award him with an egg during her stay in the van.
     During Roy Noble’s radio interview with Andy Clamp, Korma could clearly be heard “chatting” away in the background. It was an exceedingly smiley exchange and fully deserving to be included in the week’s highlights.
     Andy added that his other 29 hens move away when he approaches, but Korma appears to welcome a cuddle, indeed he regularly cradles her in his arms like a baby.
     Edward Page of the Poultry Club of Wales said chickens did not as a rule form close relationships with people: “We keep show chickens and we had some Brahmas [a breed] and they would come into the house, but it depends what sort of person you are. If you have a caring nature then animals will respond to that.”
     “In this case,” he added, “it’s very unusual for one chicken out of a group of 30 from a commercial breed to be so affectionate.”

Well, I have previously written about next door’s four hens -

Warrens, standard brown, egg-laying chickens, just like Korma – and how, whenever they spot me, come rushing towards me, obviously because they know I am The Candy Man come to put out food for the little songbirds, and they get a small share, which they find exceedingly more-ish.
     More than that, they regularly flash mob outside my door – which is why I call them the Chickadee Quartet – see the picture, alongside. If I turn my back and leave the door open, they are in the cottage like a shot.
     Heather, owner of said hens, recently joked that one day, I’ll leave the door ajar and when I return the hens and the dog will have their feet up watching television. Many a true word spoken in jest.
     But here’s the really funny thing. When I first heard the piece on the radio, I thought the hen was called Comma.
     It was only later, when I checked on the iPlayer to make

Flash Mob at my kitchen door:
The Chickadee Quartet and Pussycat the dog

sure of my facts, that I realised that she was actually called
Korma, as in Chicken Korma, obviously.

Now I quite like the names Chickadee, Chiquita and Chickaboo (occasionally called the Welsh Cwennen, meaning a young chick), while Henrietta is the one that talks posh - there she is, standing on one leg, and looking rather elegant, as you would expect of someone called Henrietta.

But I tell you what: my misheard Comma would be a totally brilliant name for a chicken that always follows you about!
 
Saturday, May 7
Titfer tat

♫ ♫
WHERE did you get that hat?
Where did you get that tile?
Isn’t it a nobby one,
And just the proper style.
I should like to have one,
Just the same as that;
Where’er I go they’d shout “Hello
!
Where did you get that hat?”
                                          
♫ ♫

“How a hat makes you feel is what a hat is all about. A hat gives you confidence. When you’re wearing something that makes you feel like a million dollars, you behave in a different way.”
Milliner Philip Treacy on his elaborate creation for Princess Beatrice.
Well, the hat has taken on a life of its own, and gone viral to boot. Or at least it has gone way a-head. And as a consequence, the titfer has generated much tittering around the globe.


I’m really pleased I’d noticed and mentioned the hat in my ‘smile of the wedding day’ piece a week or so back. I liked the titfer (great slang word for a hat), for no other reason that it made me – well, smile. Yes okay, it made me think of a lavatory seat – unforgivably left in the up position, and that by a woman.
     But hang about, it is a man who fashioned it, so that explains that.

All over the web imaginative souls have been adding their particular take, and very funny they are, too. But perhaps most coincidental of all is that in my take on the wedding itself, it struck me that I had just witnessed Kate enter a Royal Stargate – as a commoner – and come out the other side as a Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
     Imagine then my delight at seeing this splendid example...
 


Also rather superb, Obama and the White House crew as they sat in the war room watching the unfolding raid on the base of Osama Bin Lyin’ Low. As a bonus, that sight is just the sort of thing you would expect to see having just stepped through the Stargate portal into another world. Magic.

     But I have to say, I enjoyed the couple of examples alongside. Now it wasn’t just me who spotted the lavatory seat – I stumbled upon several variations on the theme online, perhaps the one over there being somewhat classier than the bog-standard efforts.
     But my favourite is the cat flap. That, is so funny.

This sort of thing is where the internet comes into its own. There are so many imaginative people out there, and the web offers them the platform to share their skills and humour with the world at large, something previously controlled by the traditional media.

My favourite verbal description of the hat appeared online, compliments of the wonderfully titled girldog: “I liked the outfit in total – however, I have to agree, the hat alone looked like an octopus on crack.


I also enjoyed this from the Telegraph’s Jenny McCartney:
As outfits [and hats] grow ever more strident, I finally find myself understanding the meaning of Robert Evans, the veteran Hollywood producer, when he remarked that if eight different people complimented him on a tie, he put it in the shredder: “Screw the tie
! I’m not there to make the tie look good. The tie is there to make me look good.”
     Mr Evans might be such an egomaniac that he resents sharing the limelight with his own clothes, but he does have a point.

Finally, a point that exercised much greater minds than mine during and since the wedding i.e. David Beckham wearing his Blue Peter badge on the right lapel instead of the left.
     On tonight’s Have I Got A Bit More News For You, Alexander Armstrong pointed out that before Beckham left home for the wedding he had indeed checked in the mirror ... and the medal was on the left side.
     Priceless.
 
Friday, May 6
Then and now: elegant prose and indelicate twittering

THE Western Mail features a regular Retro Report column, where it revisits news stories from yesteryear. Today’s was from May 1960, the marriage of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones, 300 words which not only make fascinating reading, but invite an intriguing juxtaposition of then and now, bearing in mind the events from just a week ago, especially so as both weddings involved ‘commoners’. Note the prose in this piece...

The Princess says ‘I will’
TELEVISION sets stood squarely at the feet of statues of the great, and the mellow gloom was banished by powerful lighting when Princess Margaret, descendant of kings, was married to Mr Anthony Armstrong-Jones before the high altar
in Westminster Abbey.
     In less than an hour the most eligible princess in the world became the most famous Mrs Jones. She was a dainty, vital, dazzling bride in a dress as white as May blossom. In the rich historic setting where her sister had been crowned she promised to “love, cherish and obey” the ex-photographer from Wales.
     Her tones were clear as a brook in a still forest – much louder than his – and only once did she hesitate slightly, to be helped by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher.
     This was the fairy tale, 1960 version, written with old splendour, retold with new techniques, from the story book, the lively, lovely, younger daughter of the King who dared to marry the humble suitor from the 20th century, the princess who dared to go through her wedding ceremony seen by millions.
     Around the couple as they stood at the top of the sanctuary steps, all was royal and richness. To their right stood the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the Royal Family in three rows.
     The gold and silver plate set out on the high altar, the tombs of kings – from the Princess’s world were these. From the bridegroom’s were the 13 TV cameras trained on them from every lofty cranny.

     But contrasts melted and blurred at the sanctuary steps as they were led through the simple timeless marriage vows by the grave archbishop. At the rose damask kneeling desks they seemed apart from all around them.

What a fascinating piece. It’s the sheer elegance of the prose that struck me initially. The author’s name is not shown, so I presume it was penned by a ‘common or garden’ journalist. Those were the days, eh?

A few points of interest. I see Princess Margaret promised to “love, cherish and obey”, while Catherine Elizabeth vowed to “love, comfort, honour and keep”. Next, “this was the fairy tale, 1960 version” – well, nothing has changed in the 2011 view of events.
     Intriguingly, back in 1960 it was a “ceremony seen by millions”, but 51 years on it was a “ceremony seen by billions”. Oh yes, there were 13 TV cameras in the Abbey in 1960, this time around, there were 60. “All the better to see you with,” said the voracious Media Wolf as it stood there watching her with a smile and thinking, I’m going to eat this Princess.

Now what would contrast the above 1960 piece perfectly would be a report of this year’s wedding. But what? And by whom?
     Well, I do not do Facebook or Twitter, not that I have anything against them, just that I’ve come to realise that the internet is a drug, a bit of a black hole. I pop online for a few minutes to do a bit of research – and bugger me, I’m still there a couple of hours later. I’ll stick to appreciating memorable tweets compliments of the ‘Quotes of the Day’ columns.
     So, what best to juxtapose? Well, why not reproduce a report of the wedding from the Twitter point of view? Brilliant idea, even if I say so myself. This, then, from The Sunday Times...

India Knight finds everyone atwitter about Pippa’s rear
The great, glorious goodness of Twitter is that it offers an alternative commentary to everything. The stuff nobody can report, the stuff everyone’s thinking but nobody would dream of saying on camera or to a radio mike; all of it was tweeted in real time.
     Twitter was impossible to monitor constantly as everything moved at breakneck speed. But three strands emerged. The first was concerned, naturally, with the extreme hotness of Pippa Middleton.
     While it was pretty much universally acknowledged that Kate looked exceptionally beautiful (and, crucially, relaxed and happy), her younger sister elicited much breathless commentary of the “Cor, ding dong, don’t mind if I do” kind. My colleague Caitlin Moran tweeted: “This wedding has mainly been about Pippa Middleton’s amazing arse, hasn’t it?”
     The Fug Girls, who write a successful and bitchy fashion blog, tweeted from America: “Odds Kate sat down Pippa and Harry separately and ordered them not to hook up tonight: 5-1. Odds they will anyway: even money.”
(Hm. See pic, below!)

Speaking of physical charms, Kate’s sex appeal was another big topic. The bride may not yet be a queen, but the idea of a royal consort as an object of sexual desire was being discussed in the fruity language of the porn industry.
     I don’t suppose she would be especially delighted to be tweeted about in such terms but it is telling proof that, regardless of the notion that only old people and die-hard monarchists are interested in royal weddings, cool young people were watching, too, and loving it (if not for the purest reasons).
     Even grumpy naysayers had to concede that the bride’s poise and grace were impressive (in my own sitting room, an unenthusiastic Irish friend muttered, “She’s the best thing to have happened to the monarchy in 300 years”).

The main hashtag, though, was #proudtobebritish. Whether they were standing outside Westminster Abbey or tweeting from Singapore, locals and expats were united in their delight, showing that, when push comes to shove, cynicism tends to fall by the wayside.
     In among the tears and the crude jokes, the non-republican Twitterers just felt proud and happy. Joy pretty much unconfined then, even from the cynics.
     As ever, some of the best tweets were uncategorisable, such as this piece of dry wit from @TomHarrisMP. “If you see any anti-royalist demonstrators being set upon by the crowds, alert the police immediately – by 1st class mail if possible.”

Compare and contrast: the prose of 1960, the twitterings of 2011. Truly fascinating tales of now and then.

PS: All this talk of Pippas derrière, I have just read this quote...
We used to call her Panface, because her face was so flat. A schoolgirl contemporary of Pippa Middleton at Marlborough.
     Wel-i-jiw-jiw, now that she mentions it, I see what she means. BUT, Mother Nature is very clever, for she always balances her books: Pippa
s face may be a tad flat - but her arse is just purrrrrfect. Remember yesterdays smile?
 

Thursday, May 5
Quote of the day? ... the week? ... the month? … the year? … the century?

THERE I was, minding my own business, uploading some pictures from camera to computer, the television was on ... and a new series on BBC1 was just starting up...
     Inside The Human Body: Dr Michael Mosley explores the workings of the human body, beginning with the moment of conception and the sequence of events leading to birth.

Now I always have put my plus-plus contentment factor down to this: out of a hundred million sperm, I was the one that made it. And if that doesn’t make me a happy bunny, then nothing ever will.
     Imagine my surprise then when I learn that I was the one that made it out of 250 million of the little blighters – and what an obstacle course it was. Henceforth I declare myself super-plus-plus-contented.

Michael Mosley then goes on to explain how it works from the female point of view: “Most animals make it obvious when they are on heat. They do a little dance, give off an enticing smell – or send out blatant signals.”
     At this point we see film of those baboons and macaques whose nether regions light up like a red balloon, as displayed alongside – note the heart shape of the receptive area:

                      
My is like a red, red rose...

Anyway, the Good Doctor then delivers this classic:
“A cat on heat will stick her bottom in the air and go ‘Meow
’. Now most women obviously don’t do this.”

How totally wonderful is that? It’s the word “most” that elevates it above your usual run-of-the-mill quote.
     All of a sudden, something made sense: that is why, obviously, when I am really attracted to a woman, I invariably

My funny valentine, Pippa "Little Monkey" Middleton:
"Does my bum look hot in this?"

end up calling her “Pussycat”.
     Wel-i-jiw-jiw, as they say down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon.

But there was one other fascinating fact. As the years drift on by I have noticed how many individuals in the community are clones of their grandparents. Not necessarily in their physical appearance, but in their character traits, from honesty and dependability to generosity and humour.
     I was once told the same about me and my grandfather, on my mother’s side (he had died a few years before I was born). Rarely though do children appear to be clones of their parents, it’s nearly always the grandparents. Why so? Well, here’s the eureka moment...
     Michael Mosley goes on to explain how miraculous it is that one of my father’s sperm even managed to make it to fertilise my mother’s egg – that’s me, folks the 250,000,000 to 1 outsider. Just like all of you lot.
     Even more extraordinary, that my mother’s eggs all developed when she was a foetus. The egg that led to me started life inside my grandmother; part of me started life before my mother was even born. So a direct link to my grandmother is established – which neatly proves why character traits i.e. our brains, are passed on down the evolutionary path, by skipping a generation, with obviously no genetic amendments – or none of any note, anyway.
     This perfectly explains why every generation makes the same mistakes over and over and over.

Fascinating stuff – but I’ll you what, a woman wiggling her bottom in front of me will never, ever seem quite the same again. Especially so if she also starts to purr.
 

Wednesday, May 4
A smile and a heartache

“IF YOU worship today in a chapel up north, be aware that the windows, pews and roof ... well, to be blunt, they’re mine.” Jeremy Clarkson, while researching his family tree for the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? TV programme, was amazed – “and a bit distressed” – to discover that his great-grandfather had given away millions of pounds to the Methodist church.
     In his weekly column, Clarkson wondered aloud, in his usual amusing fashion, what has happened to the spirit of philanthropy in our society; he also lamented the fact that the attractive combination of personal prudence and public generosity seems to have gone out of fashion. He continues:
I think it’s because in the days of my great-grandfather there really wasn’t much you could actually buy. In the 1930s there was no Sunseeker yachts or Ferraris or time-share opportunities in Portugal.
     He continues to list the possessions people spend extraordinary sums of money on. He even has a go at himself:
In many ways I am one of those people. I recently bought a farm. I didn’t need a farm and I don’t know anything about farming, a point made very clear by the vast swathes of red ink in the accounts book.
     The only pleasure I get from it is walking through the big wood thinking: “This is my tree.” I really am a tragic, pitiable waste of blood and organs. And so are you if you’ve got an iPad. Or a whirlpool bath. Or anything you don’t really need. Which is pretty much everything you own...
     I know a man of fairly modest means who funds two schools in Africa  and the Philippines. Then there’s the footballer Didier Drogba, who, it seems, runs what’s left of Ivory Coast’s education department single-handedly. They are philanthropists, and I would suggest that ultimately their investment is going to make them a damn sight happier than the man who spent his cash on a new pair of breasts for his wife.


Very thought-provoking. Mind you, I think Jeremy should have said “the Hundred Acre Wood”, rather than just “the big wood”, given the make-believe world he moves around in.
     Be that as it may, back to the point at issue, moral and financial generosity. True philanthropy is in the DNA. In Jeremy’s great-grandfather’s day, those who didn’t have things to spend their money on, and were not into benevolence, kept it in a bank and watched it grow and grow and grow.
     It is instructive to ponder on the high-profile philanthropists of our age, people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. It is an irresistible truth that those who are in possession of more money than sense slowly come to realise that they are deeply unloved individuals. I mean, have you ever wondered why Philip Green, the billionaire Top Shop boss, has to annually throw those extraordinary birthday parties to hang on to his “closest” friends?
     Mega rich people become wealthy not because they are sweet, kindly folk, but rather because they are prepared to trample on, even destroy, anyone who gets in their way, which explains why they are the sort of people that only a mother can truly love without the need of a grand party.
     Much as they would like to take their wealth with them to the grave, you don’t need a degree to work out that by morphing into philanthropists they honestly believe that they can buy back the love of the masses. But they can’t change their own genetic inheritance, so they remain people impossible to empathise with and love.
     It makes you wonder how much Gates and Buffett helped other people when they were worth just a million? A hundred million? One measly billion?

Oh yes, Jeremy Clarkson mentioned his venture into farming, and being the owner of that tree. Well, although I am from farming stock I don’t own any land, but I have been allowed to plant trees on the family farm, as well as the property where I rent my cottage.
     So I guess I am fully entitled to wrap my arms around a friendly neighbourhood tree and say: “This is my tree.” But I tell you what, there is nothing more satisfying than growing trees from seed. You take a tiny little seed, watch it grow and grow and grow ... and ponder that one day, long after I’ve gone, it will grow into a massive thing that will hopefully give pleasure.
     I have just transferred a handful of the fruit of two local Wych Elm trees into a couple of seed-trays, hoping that one or two will germinate, which would be par for the course. This year there’s a fantastic crop – the fruit precedes the leaf, as you will see in the flower gallery alongside – strictly not a flower, but this year the fruit are so plentiful and colourful I couldn’t resist it.

Finally, it’s worth reiterating that farming isn’t all smiles. And I’m not referring to its profitability. This morning along my morning walk I came upon a dead sheep. It hadn’t been mauled or attacked by dogs or anything like that; it was in a good physical condition – it seemed as if it had gone to sleep last night and had just not woken up.
     But what made it unbearable was that it had a couple of young lambs – also in tip-top condition – but there they stood, “guarding” their mum...
 

Unexpectedly orphaned lambs wait and wonder...

A mother refuses to desert her dead lamb


And by a curious juxtaposition, just a couple of weeks or so ago I came upon a dead lamb – again, it hadn’t been savaged or attacked in any way, even the crows hadn’t got to it, and once more in perfect superficial condition. Like the dead sheep it appeared simply not to have woken up. But this time it was the mother standing over the body.
     Seeing all this was bad enough for me, but when the farmer rounded the flock a little later, apart from the knot in the stomach that such losses generate, you begin to understand what Clarkson meant when he referred to the “vast swathes of red ink in the accounts book”.
     These things do upset my default state of mind – at least until I am distracted by something else which hopefully rather tickles my funny bone...
 

Tuesday, May 3
The rabbit has a charming face;
Its private life is a disgrace.

                                                           Anonymous

“THE likely scenario if we get rid of the House of Windsor is Tony and Cherie as president and presidentess – at which point the most thorough-going republican becomes a diehard monarchy supporter.” David Starkey, 66, English constitutional historian, a radio and television presenter cum celebrity, and a specialist in the Tudor dynasty and Tudor period.

No, the royal wedding refuses to let go. The above caught my eye because most “experts” and commentators believe that not inviting Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to the wedding was “a great blunder in an otherwise brilliantly conceived piece of national pageantry”, and “a cold, calculating act of high establishment spite against Labour”.
     It is most intriguing, especially when you read that “It has long been speculated that the curious delay in the announcement of William and Kate’s engagement might have something to do with the Queen’s low opinion of Mr Brown, which may have led her to feel unable to tolerate the thought of her grandson marrying while the Scot still occupied Downing Street”.

Honestly, sometimes I feel as if I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and landed at a very curious party...
     Whatever, I was rather taken with this explanation, spotted in The Sunday Times, by Dominic Lawson:

Let’s – if only to explore the nature of royal revenge – try to guess the full reasons for the snub. Gordon Brown? Easy: he was the chancellor who scrapped the royal yacht Britannia. The only time the Queen has ever been seen to shed a tear in public was at Britannia’s decommissioning...
     And Blair? The former PM’s admirers have been protesting all week that Blair was the man who “saved the monarchy” when Buckingham Palace went into a dithering funk in the wake of Diana, Princess of Wales’s horribly violent death in Paris.
     That, I’m afraid, is precisely the reason for the royal hatred of Mr Blair: not that he saved the day with his good advice as the Queen’s first minister in that crisis for the House of Windsor, but that his spokesmen were so assiduous in telling the press that he had done so.
     They even let us know that it was Downing Street that came up with the idea that the Queen should address the traumatised nation with the words “Speaking to you as your Queen, and as a grandmother”. Again, this was brilliant advice.
     But the key to the survival of the monarchy down the ages – indeed, all monarchies – is that when the monarch does something well, it is entirely to her credit; and when something goes wrong, it is because she has been badly advised.
     New Labour thought it should be the other way round, an innovation that struck the royal family as constitutionally outrageous as well as shameless. Now it has returned the favour.

That certainly makes sense. It brings to mind the act of doing someone a generous favour, which is fully acknowledged and appreciated, which in turn makes us feel good. But you can’t beat the feeling of doing a good turn without anyone being aware of precisely what you have done. It is curious how satisfying that can be. Unless you’re a politician, obviously.

I also liked this from Mathew Parris in The Times:

PMs fall below the salt: “We had to draw the line somewhere” – a source, explaining Buckingham Palace’s decision not to invite Tony Blair or Gordon Brown to the royal wedding. My nomination for the next edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations.

So I shall draw a line here – well, one parting thought, as spotted in a Telegraph online comment section, from kinsman:
What a weekend: the British had a Wedding, the Vatican a Beatification, and the Americans an Assassination. Wonder what this Friday will bring...
 

May Day Monday, 2011
TW3

THAT Was The Wedding That Was, It’s Over, Let It Go – as the words of a famous song from the Sixties nearly said. Well, delightful anecdotes still trickle out following the big day, but today I decided to catch up with the pile of newspaper magazines on the table.

Just recently I reflected on this curious business of multitasking, something we men are totally useless at. Also, I previously speculated on how, when confronted by a pretty lady who suddenly gives us a come-hither look, we proceed to behave in an astonishingly stupid way.
     This brings me to Ask Dr Ozzy, the Ozzy Osbourne Q&A column in The Sunday Times  Magazine, where he dons his “Oh Doctor, I’m In Trouble ... Well, Goodness Gracious Me” persona. For example...

Dear Dr Ozzy ~ Why do men always want young girlfriends? Young people are boring: they don’t have interesting views to share or good stories to tell. Do men just think with their trousers?
Darla, Helsinki

The truth is, men have two brains: the one in their heads and the one in their Y-fronts. The one nearer the floor usually wins; that’s why you see these guys walking around in LA with bald spots and pigtails.
     In fact, a good friend of mine who’s 63 came to my house the other day in his sports car with some chick in the passenger seat who might as well have been his great-granddaughter. I said: “Where do you find these girls? Mothercare?”
     He just laughed it off. But I guarantee it won’t make him happy for long, ‘cos one day they’ll be lying in bed and he’ll want to discuss Colonel Gadaffi and she’ll think he’s talking about the guy who invented fried chicken.

Very smiley, Doc, or perhaps I should say “Er, what’s up, Doc?”. Well, I have my own theory...
     When nature evolved the male of the species – any species – after an instinct for survival, reproduction was everything. So rather cleverly, nature gave us men just enough blood to survive on a level playing field.
     Consequently, when we are confronted by someone like “Her Royal Hotness”, who then proceeds to give us the glad eye, there is never quite enough blood available to do the necessary, so the stuff has to be transferred from elsewhere.
     Nature decreed that it must come from the brain. Therefore when we men are on a promise, there’s no blood left in the brain to enable it to think straight. Reproduction assured.
     This explains the old proverb: A standing prick hath no conscience – and the word “hath” suggests the saying is as old as time, which is why so many men throughout history have lost their heads over a bit of hanky-panky.
     There are no exceptions to this rule of nature. This canon always makes me smile because even the cleverest of canons can be made to look exceedingly stupid.
 

Sunday, May 1
Miles and miles of smiles

TWO days of smiles have already been clocked up compliments of the Royal Wedding. Today I thought I’d take a leisurely stroll through The Sunday Times to see what made others smile. Indeed, was there any common ground?
     I thought I would go with AA Gill’s TV review of the occasion, someone I enjoy reading but would never, ever want to live next door to. His piece was headed: A warm cuddle of a broadcast.
     Having personally viewed Kate Middleton’s marriage as a journey through a Royal Stargate – she stepped into the gate as a commoner and out the other side as a wife, a princess, a duchess, a countess and a baroness – I was amused when Gill said this: Appropriately it all centred on Westminster Abbey, the Tardis of the nation.
     Yes, the place really does look so much bigger once inside. Next, I went snap, for he too had a view on the Beckhams.

There was a lot of millinery bitchery and someone pointed out that David Beckham was wearing his medal on the wrong side. Who knew medals dress to the left? It seemed less of a style faux pas than the tattooed wings that peered out of the back of his collar.

While I had my little joke about David Beckham’s medal, thinking it was a Blue Peter badge, I never noticed those wings – but more of that later. Next he mentioned something I had noticed but did not comment on.

Every official car was preceded by a bright yellow traffic cop on a flashing bike. What bit of health and safety decreed that to drive a Bentley at 15mph down an empty, straight, four-lane road you had to have a police escort?

What I’d noticed were the Range Rovers that followed closely behind every vehicle, particularly so when William and Kate went for a spin in the Aston Martin. But I guess they travel that close in case some nutter jumps out from the crowd and the protection officers can hopefully get there first. Back with Gill...

What the rest of us noticed, with a small yippee, was Kate’s nipples, which were showed off to great advantage, and as her sister Pippa (now also known as “her royal hotness”) lifted the train to walk into the abbey I received an urgent text from a fashion editor. It read simply: “Pippa, no knickers. Full wax.”

Now I sort of guessed the no knickers bit, but like Beckham’s tattooed wings, I never noticed the nipples. There’s a reason for this. My TV is still one of those that regularly asks “Does my bum look big in this?”.
     None of this HD, slimline stuff for me. It registered a while back that the decline in the quality of the programmes we watch is inversely proportional to the increase in the quality of the picture. They have managed to fool most of the viewers most of the time. But there is a downside. I never got to notice the nipples on my Stone Age set.
     Next we come to a what I guess is a borrowed little gem. I remember reading in yesterday’s paper the following Royal Wedding tweet from broadcaster Stephen Fry (choosing to watch the Snooker World Championship on BBC2 instead of the wedding): “Sh
! Frame 14 under way. You could cut the tension with a Black and Decker tension cutter.”
     Very witty, but Gill nicks the idea and takes it a step further...
And then there was the curtain call on the balcony, the kiss for the final credits. BBC2 was showing the snooker, Ding Junhui was playing Judd Trump and the commentator said quietly: “He’s trying to kiss the pink.” “Hold on,” I thought, “a peck on the lips’ll do it.”
    
Something borrowed, something blue ... but still, ten out of ten, Mr Gill.
 

Now it is well established that AA Gill has it in for us Welsh – something that never bothers me as you will find me in the sticks and stones camp – but he never misses a trick to stick the knife in...

As ever the BBC’s filmed coverage was pretty seamless, especially in the abbey, which is a particularly difficult thing to do. The slow, rhythmic movements of the shots counter-pointed the long elegance of the gothic building and, though there was concern that this would be the first royal event without a hereditary Dimbleby, gold microphone in waiting. Huw Edwards did a fine job, despite the handicap of a Welsh accent.

This generated my biggest smile of the day. I thought of the most impressive voice heard during the ceremony, that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Welshman Dr Rowan Williams, who conducted the marriage itself, and who sounded remarkably like the ghost of Richard Burton – the Good Archbishop features alongside in the smiley Nick Newman cartoon.

     Anyway, we’ll let Gill have his moment ... he finishes his review thus...

William and Kate emerged as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. In 1847 the last Duke of Cambridge married an actress, Sarah Fairbrother, the daughter of a servant; Queen Victoria never recognised her. He also famously said (in the military): “Brains? I don’t believe in brains.”

And do you know, I agree with the last Duke of Cambridge. All the world’s problems are caused by people with too much brains on their hands. As a starter for ten, I offer you J. Robert Oppenheimer, “father of the atomic bomb”.
     Whatever, a very entertaining piece by Gill, but finally, this, from The Sunday Times’  Tabloid week...

The Daily Star newspaper’s headline last Wednesday read...
                                                                                                     
Royal Baby On Way
I remember noticing it at the newsagent. Anyway, to continue...

“Royal bride Kate will soon be a mum, it was sensationally revealed last night. She and William will waste no time in breaking their ‘nappy’ news to the Queen and the rest of the royal family.”
     It’s only inside that the story begins to unravel. “Kate Middleton will be pregnant within a year, according to Princess Diana’s closest confidant,” the paper explains. “Andrew Morton, 57, reckons the newlywed will seal her regal status by planning a tot straight away.” So a more accurate front-page headline would have been:
There’s A Vague Possibility That Kate Might Be Pregnant Within The Year, Speculates Bloke Who Once Wrote Book About Her Late Mother-in-Law. Presumably that was too long for the space available.


Very funny piece by Roland White. But I tell you what, the other day I mentioned The Onion – now the above sounds just like the sort of headline that publication specialises in.
     So there you have it. As I’ve mentioned before, the great thing about doing this web site is that I can go back to delete, amend or add something which I feel is relevant. For example, last Friday I mentioned Princess Beatrice and her hat, which reminded me of a raised lavatory seat – as opposed to a common or garden toilet seat, that is – but I should have included a picture, which I now have (scroll down if you haven’t yet seen a close up of B’s Exhibit A).
     Also last Friday, when I included the picture of the “peck on the lips”, I did so because of cute little Grace van Cutsem blocking out the whole silly business. Anyway, “The Kiss” reminded me of something, and I wasn’t sure what. Then it came to me: echoes of Sixpence None The Richer - Kiss Me
     That has now been added to the caption, but check this out anyway...
                                                                                                                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5CWKxKMcLA

 

Saturday, April 30
Royal Stargate

JUST occasionally in life we meet someone who has real class. I’m not talking here about social class as per the traditional working/middle/upper divisions we are all familiar with, but rather class in the sense that such individuals behave differently from the herd, and we intuitively warm to them.
     We all recognise these rare creatures when we meet them: they smile gently when they greet us; they never speak in harsh tones; when they talk they look straight at us not at the person just behind who they would perhaps rather be talking to; they are always polite; they never talk in obscenities; they never speak unkindly of others; they never talk down to us; they will do anything within their powers to help us where they feel it is necessary...
     You get the picture, and as I am sure you will agree, they are somewhat uncommon, forever flirting with finding themselves on the endangered red list. Intriguingly, such a person is just as likely to be a “trolley dolly” – an air stewardess – as is the Lord of the Manor who lives somewhere just up the road. However, these classy people are much more likely to have their roots in the ruling classes of yesteryear.
     One presumes they reached their position in society because they too intuitively knew how to treat and handle people.

All this brings me back to yesterday and the Royal Wedding. Today the media has been awash with highlights and reflections, so I thought I would do the same.

The overriding impression was, that here is a girl born to be a Princess and, surprise, surprise, from a rather classy family who delivered solemnity and reverence as if to the manor born.
     My only knowledge of the Middletons up to yesterday came compliments of the media. This from Andrew Morton, the fellow who wrote a book about Princess Diana, exploring the early years of the William-Kate romance...

As Kate became more of a fixture in William’s life, her family began to take centre stage. With her younger sister Pippa now at Edinburgh University and dating “Turbo-charged toffs” – young men with titles and money – the girls were dubbed “the Wisteria sisters” in that, according to Tatler magazine, they were “Highly decorative, terribly fragrant and have a ferocious ability to climb”.

I certainly smiled at that colourful description. And then this about the mother, Carole Middleton...

When it later emerged that she used “non-U” English, referring to the lavatory as a “toilet”, for instance, and that William’s upper-class friends thought it amusing to shout, “Doors to manual
!” when speaking of the former air stewardess – a story denied by Clarence House – it reinforced some commentators’ view that Kate did not have the “breeding” to become Queen.

Well, only history can answer that one, but the one moment where life would change for ever came when the Archbishop of Canterbury asked: “Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?”
 


As Carolyn Hitt wrote in today’s Western Mail: One last squeeze of her father’s hand, above, and Kate Middleton was through the looking glass from commoner to royalty. That very same moment registered with me – but what I saw was a Royal Stargate.
     A Stargate, for those not familiar with the original film and subsequent TV series, is a portal device within the Stargate fictional universe that allows practical, rapid travel between two distant locations, all done by simply walking through what appears to be a vertical wall of water.
     When our fictional heroes walk through the Stargate they never know what’s the other side. But how would Kate cope?
 

The Royal Stargate Kate steps through...

...and out the other side: a real "Wow!" factor


Even though she appears to be fully prepared for what lies ahead, Kate, above, shows her astonishment at the size and enthusiasm of the crowd gathered outside Buckingham Palace.
     It was probably a watershed moment for both her and the Royal Family. She stepped into the Stargate as a commoner - and out the other side as a princess, a duchess, a countess, a baroness - oh, and a wife.

I have to say I was most impressed with the Middleton family yesterday. The first thing that became obvious was, and excepting the above moment, how totally in control Kate herself was. And then there was Pippa, the other star of the show.
     Like her sister, she seemed entirely comfortable in the spotlight. James, the brother, gave the reading and was remarkably accomplished, sounding much like a Shakespearean actor on top of his game.
     Papa Michael appeared to be the more nervous of the family, but mother Carole silenced the “doors to manual” crew who had mocked her former job as a stewardess. Well done her. Well done all of them - or “Poised Team Middleton” as one headline declared.

They say it’s the little things we say and do in life that give us away. Following William and Kate’s engagement, their first official appearance was to dedicate a new RNLI lifeboat at Trearddur Bay on Anglesey (where they now live), and in front of a largely Welsh audience she had taken the eminently sensible course of learning the Welsh national anthem – and according to those present, to a standard which impressed everyone, for Welsh is not the easiest language to grapple with. Clever girl: get your neighbours and the Welsh tribe onside.
     And then yesterday, as they travelled from the Abbey to the Palace, every time William saluted, she gracefully bowed her head in as elegant a fashion as I have ever seen. Yep, whatever it is, the girl’s got it.

And we’re back with that “class” factor, something Team Middleton certainly has. It is fascinating to look at the Middleton family tree, to try and spot where this comes from – after all the clues, as always, are all in the DNA.
     Indeed it is worth Googling because I would never describe their background as common or garden. It seems that sometimes certain genetic characteristics will lie dormant for a generation or two or even three. And unsurprisingly, the dominant genes eventually lead the way. Hence the expression “the survival of the fittest”. Yes, class will always out.

But, despite all the genetic hand-me-downs and the careful planning that goes into delivering a memorable day, luck plays a crucial part in all things. What I forgot to mention yesterday was the weather. The forecast had promised a high chance of heavy showers, even thunder, which would certainly have taken the gloss off the day.
     Shortly after the married couple arrived at the Palace, curiosity made me check the Met Office rainfall radar, which shows images at half-hourly intervals over the previous six hours. Well, the French did their best to spoil the party, hurling ominously threatening showers towards London.
     But they all missed. Only just though, for during the ceremony a substantial bundle of wetness trundled slowly westwards, just north of London, and that would certainly have dampened things. Now that is what I call luck. And it made me want to reach for the family longbow.

Finally, a parting thought: shouldn’t the Middletons now be called the Uppertons?
 

Friday, April 29
What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare

POMP and pageantry is the one thing this country does which still makes most of us stand and stare. Today though I reclined and stared. I plonked myself down on the sofa in front of the telly, just after nine, to watch “The Wedding”.
     I decided to make a conscious note of the things that made me smile ... I didn’t have long to wait:

9:10 Huw Edwards, guiding BBC viewers through the proceedings, announces with a straight face but mischievous tone: “I’m told the Beckhams have arrived.” Indeed, they had just entered the building. Victoria, wearing her very favourite pout, David wearing a nervous smile – along with what looked like a Blue Peter badge on his lapel.
     Later I note that sports broadcaster Clare Balding said this about Victoria Beckham: “Poor Posh – she is trying so hard not to smile because she doesn’t like her face when she does – but she desperately wants to.”
     So that’s why she wears that permanent pout. Incidentally, I hung my head in shame when I learnt that David’s “badge” was his OBE – but then I didn’t feel quite so bad when it was pointed out that he was wearing it on the wrong lapel. Caught offside again, David. But it had magically crossed over by the second half.

9:40 David Cameron interviewed at Number 10 ... nothing particularly smiley ... then back to Huw Edwards in the studio, who again adopts what I can only describe as his rascally tone of voice: “The Prime Minister, very smartly dressed – no lounge suit in sight.” (Incidentally, it seems that the dress code for the wedding was “Uniform, Morning Coat, or Lounge Suit”, but those in the posh seats were expected in their tails, hence the fuss over Cameron’s original choice.)
     The BBC immediately switches to the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who is generously complimented by the lady interviewer apropos his rather smart appearance, what we might call the Lesser Spotted Boris. He looked directly into the eye of the camera: “I am indebted to Pam in Fenchurch Street Moss Bros for her hard work.” Smiles all round. Boris also revealed that he had given William and Kate a tandem as their wedding gift. True or false? But what a memorable image.
     Back with Huw Edwards, who immediately comments over a shot inside the abbey: “Westminster Abbey has the highest Gothic nave in the country.” Of course it sounded like gothic knave. Obviously it was just me who immediately thought of Boris. Later in the day Boris is to observe: “A good dry run for the Olympics.” Fingers crossed, Boris, fingers crossed.

Sally Bercow, the Speaker’s wife, flashes much too much cleavage as she sashays her way into the Abbey, which draws this from an American commentator: “I suddenly felt like bawling very loudly, just as a very hungry baby would.”

Still in the Abbey, and I nearly fell off the sofa. What in God’s name was Mohammed Al Fayed doing there? I mean, the man who accused Prince Philip of murdering Diana? Then Huw Edwards announces the arrival of the King of Tonga.
     Phew, I climb back onto the sofa. Honestly, that first glance - he really did look like Al Fayed.

The lesser royals arrive in a fleet of buses – luxury buses, admittedly – but I am reminded of what Margaret Thatcher once said: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.” In fact, there is no official record of her having ever said such a thing. Phew again!

Princess Beatrice arrived with what looked like a contemporary toilet seat stuck on her head...
                                                                                                                                                                   
But surely the female of the species never leaves the toilet seat in the up position? Very smiley though.
     Oops, just realised that I should have described it as a lavatory seat.

The Queen arrived to a fanfare from the State Trumpeters of the Household Cavalry. What an astonishing sound. It sounded amazing on television, so what it must have sounded like in the Abbey I cannot begin to imagine.

10:51 The world catches its first sight of “the dress” as Kate stepped out from the exclusive  Goring Hotel with proud father Michael, and into the waiting Rolls Royce Phantom VI.
     As they set off on their journey to the Abbey, what came to mind was a curious set of odds I saw the other day:
66-1 for the car to break down on the route to Westminster Abbey. Which made me blink: it suggests that once every 67 journeys that Rolls Royce is expected to break down. I can’t believe that anyone would place such a silly bet.

11:00 Kate arrives on the dot. My goodness me, how elegant she and sister Pippa looked.
 


I understand nothing about the wedding dress, but I was hugely impressed how the train fitted perfectly the width of the red carpet within the Abbey. Measure twice, cut once.

And then the marriage service itself, performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Swansea-born Dr Rowan Williams. This is the first time I’d really registered what a wonderful Burtonesque voice he has, for it adds so much gravitas to the ceremony. Think Churchill and how his amazing voice adds to the impact of his words. And I was rather taken with that moment when the Archbishop fleetingly wrapped the happy pair’s hands in a golden fond of ecclesiastical vestment.

What I like about Kate though is her ready smile. After becoming Mrs Wales (one of her titles is now HRH Princess William of Wales), and they both sat down, her eyes scanned the Abbey. Every time her eyes met someone she knew she intuitively smiled, which really is a charming quality.

What also came through during the ceremony is the media’s obsession with celebrity. Never mind that Peter Hain tweeted: “Loads of TV coverage of Cameron and Clegg at wedding but none of Ed. BBC airbrushing Labour like the palace!” Silly man.
     The camera repeatedly kept training on the Beckhams as well as Elton John and David Furnish (two Queens is company, three’s a crowd). At the end of the service I was disappointed not to hear a variation on one of the most famous lines ever: The Beckhams have left the building.

And then the Abbey is left behind. As the couple departed for Buckingham Palace, the witty words on a banner among the cheering crowds generated a smile: “Checkmate Kate – you’ve taken the King!”

And then “the kiss”, or, as a newspaper headline was to announce:
                                                      You wait years for a Royal kiss then two come along at once
Also very smiley, this:
                                                                                      So good they did it twice

But the smile of the day came compliments of...
 

Echoes of Sixpence None The Richer: Kiss Me
Three-year-old bridesmaid Grace van Cutsem –
William’s god-daughter – is overwhelmed by the hysteria


Around the time Grace was doing her nut, someone suggested that, when William and Kate leave Buckingham Palace after the wedding reception and return to Clarence House, they would do so in a rather novel way. No, surely not ... on Boris’s tandem, a bicycle built for two? Now that’s what I would call a wow factor.
     In fact the Aston Martin was nearly as good.

Other curiosities which made me smile. How clumsily Harry appears to walk ... the peculiar experience of the camera focusing on the Queen when God Save The Queen was sung, especially so the Duke of Edinburgh, on the cusp of his 90th birthday, singing the national anthem while standing next to her ... the wonderful shots from the camera high up in the roof of the Abbey ... a horse called Royal Wedding winning the 5:30 at Fontwell at 4-1 ... and who could not smile at the verger who cartwheels along the red carpet...
                                                          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ir7GuJQ_IFA&feature=related

Ah, but is he a real verger or an impostor verging on the ridiculous? Whatever, today I clocked up my 400 smiles a day prescription, no problem.
 

Thursday, April 28
Talk about a walkabout

THE news today has been dominated by the build up to the Royal Wedding. A couple of images generated some XL smiles.
     The other day there was much talk about David Cameron’s decision to break with convention and wear a workday suit to Westminster Abbey, as opposed to a conventional morning suit. Indeed there was a real brouhaha over his decision, perhaps best summed up by this comment: “If you’re going to a wedding, you show some respect and turn up suitably dressed, because it’s not about you but the people getting hitched.”
     Cameron, unsurprisingly, had that morning after feeling and changed his mind. I guess I can only repeat the final sentence in the comment section of the New Statesman, as repeated at the end of yesterday’s smile following Dave’s “Calm down, dear
!” remark in the Commons: Can’t we accept that Cameron is just a bit of a dick generally?

Anyway, flicking through last weekend’s Sunday Times, I stumbled upon the following cartoon from Nick Newman’s Week...
 


And alongside, a cartoon from the Telegraph’s Matt. Delightful. As I’ve said before, the wonderful aspect of Matt’s cartoons is the look of absolute  gormlessness displayed by the characters. Smashing.

But my favourite image of the day was caught on television when Prince William did his unexpected mid-evening walkabout outside Clarence House. There was a young girl, about age 10 I guess, and her astonished look and subsequent smile when, out of the blue – or perhaps out of the blue blood – came the Prince to greet her.
     The look on her face was, as they say, worth the admission price alone.
 

Wednesday, April 27
Good line, good line: Winnergate or Tossergate?

CAUGHT the tail-end of The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on the wireless. Chris introduced Bishop Joe Aldred from Churches Together in England who was in the studio to do the Pause For Thought spot, but they had a little chat first. “I know you have a special appointment later on today,” said Chris.
     “Yes, I’m going to Number 10 Downing Street – 5:30 this evening – a reception for church leaders, with Easter in mind, of course.”
     “So when you wrote that appointment in your diary,” said Chris, “did you write 5:30 PM?”
     Bishop Aldred laughed heartily. “I like that.” As did I, for it was a delightfully clever slice of repartee by Mr Evans.

Today I also listened to Owen Money’s weekend music shows via iPlayer. He mentioned in passing that he had earlier driven past a painter and decorator’s van bearing the name Vincent Van Gloss. Now how memorable is that?
     Mind you, you’re never sure with Owen whether it’s true or a wind up, but he did seem to be genuine about it. I hope so, although as a matter of curiosity I did Google Mr Vincent Van Gloss ... nothing. So I now have my doubts – but it deserves to be true.
     Owen also reminded us of a similar tale from a few years back. A van bearing the name: Patel & Patel & Sons, Building Contractors – and the slogan? “You’ve tried the cowboys – now try the Indians
! Now I think that is a joke.

Finally...
Winnergate or Tossergate?
Caught some of the news tonight, in particular the “Calm down, dear
!” uttered by David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Question Time in the Commons, and directed at Shadow Treasury chief secretary Angela Eagle.
     What made me smile though was the look on the faces of the opposition, especially the subsequent cries of “sexist”. What is it about politics that once these people become the opposition – and this applies to all parties – they instantly have a humour lobotomy?
     What is fascinating about Cameron’s “Calm down, dear” is not so much that it came across as a “joke”, which suggests a conscious thought process, but that it came out spontaneously – which underscores the power of the subliminal message (“Calm down, dear!”, is a catchphrase made famous by Michael Winner in a series of TV insurance ads).
                                                                                                                                                                                  
When the power of the media in general, and television in particular, is properly understood, what will surprise many, but not everyone, is the devastating influence of the mass media to plant the subliminal message, even in the cleverest of brains.
     From innocent catchphrases and dodgy language, via suspect political philosophies, to thoroughly evil mantras (think of the sort of people who own and run our media institutions: when the Murdoch empire mentions anything to do with Royalty or the BBC, I instantly change channel from Sky News or turn the page in The Sunday Times), then you realise what a gullible species we are.
     You also begin to understand how Hitler managed to effortlessly seduce 90 per cent of the German people to his way of thinking.
     Be that as it may, one of the best responses to the Cameron remark came from Adam on a New Statesman blog:
Why do we think Cameron’s “Calm down, dear” remark was sexist? Apparently he’s been known to use the same remark with men ... [Dec 2007: Cameron said “Calm down, dear
!” to David Miliband when Gordon Brown was trying to make a statement on Afghanistan.]
     Do we really have to see sexism in everything? Can’t we accept that Cameron is just a bit of a dick generally?


Amen to that.
 

Tuesday, April 26
Climb every mountain, ford every stream

PERUSING The Sunday Times, three days behind schedule – typical
! – this headline caught my eye:
                                                          
Viagra to get us up Everest hard way
GETTING to the top of the world’s highest mountain has always demanded a special form of staying power. But now a team of climbers on Everest will be given doses of Viagra to help perk up flagging performance during their final push for the summit. (Double-check date: no, not April First.)
     The doctor who will administer the drug believes it will help exhausted members of the expedition to increase their oxygen intake from the thin air by expanding blood vessels in their lungs. Viagra uses the same mechanism to tackle erectile dysfunction ... The team who will test the Viagra, led by the explorer David Hempleman-Adams, is currently at Everest base camp preparing for a bid for that 29,035ft summit after May 17.

At my base camp all I could think of was – phew! – I’m exhausted just reading about it. How apropos then that the team leader has a double-barrel surname: I mean, all the better to fire his double-entendres after gulping down his Viagra.
     Also, I’m unsure whether in future I will view Everest as simply a phallic symbol, or indeed see every woman who turns my head as an Everest to climb (just because she’s there, sort of thing).
     I’ll have to sleep on that one. Anyway, back with the article...

Some on the team have been concerned about the potential for inconvenient side effects from taking the Viagra. “We are a lot of alpha males and we are worried about what will happen, but the doctor has assured us that as long as we are not having sexual thoughts there shouldn’t be a problem,” said Hempleman-Adams. “And those kind of thoughts won’t exactly be top of our list when we are at 28,000ft.”

Mind you, a delightful pussycat once told me she felt as if she was floating at 35,000ft – but we were in a jumbo jet at the time. Anyway, sticking with the bluebell of the tablet world, and staying with The Sunday Times, another little problem from Ask Dr Ozzy, Ozzy Osbourne’s Q&A medical column in the paper’s magazine, and this is particularly apt given how very cold it will be up there on top of the world...

Shrinking violet
Do men really suffer shrinkage of their private parts after going swimming – especially in cold water? If so, what sort of percentage reduction is normal? Fifty per cent? More?
Felicity, Muswell Hill
Yes, shrinkage is very real and very frightening. I don’t know about the percentage: I’ve never thought to get out my tape measure and calculator when it’s happened to me. By the way, in case you’re wondering, hot water doesn’t have the reverse effect – otherwise you’d see blokes walking around with steaming kettles swinging from their underpants.

And finally, a Q&A from Mrs Mills, she who solves all your personal problems...

The modern way
You mentioned a couple of weeks back that fortysomething women should not be called “girls”. A pet peeve of mine is the similar boyfriend/girlfriend tag for people past a certain age. I expect it survives because there is no better word. If the relationship is too new for them to be called “partner”, can you suggest a pleasing alternative?
CH, by email
“Have you met my father’s latest shag?” is always an ice-breaker, I find.

Over and out.
 

Monday, April 25
The lady who comes down at the end

YOU have probably noticed that over the past couple of weeks I’ve been rounding off each day’s smile with a quick “Thanks for reading”, or a variation on the theme. Well, I’ll let you in on a curious little episode.

I was listening to a discussion between a couple of fellows on the wireless – I forget now what it was all about – but they mentioned in passing an American web site called The Onion, which apparently generates “these fabulously mythical, satirical stories – with great headlines”, for example...
     ‘I Am Under 18’ Button Clicked For First Time In History Of Internet, or...
     Commas, Turning Up, Everywhere, or...
     Study Reveals: Babies Are Stupid ... enough already.

The chap who brought up The Onion was full of enthusiasm, probably akin to the fellow who one day had a loaf in front of him and decided what a wheeze it would be to design a machine to slice the blasted thing for him – while the other person was also familiar with the web site but sounded like someone who would much prefer an old-fashioned, unsliced loaf.

So I Thought I’d Give The Website A Whirl ... today, the first headline to catch my eye was this:
Autistic Reporter: Train Thankfully Unharmed In Crash That Killed One Man
Autistic reporter Michael Faulk says the stainless steel CometLiner 2 car was lucky enough to escape unharmed from its collision with a man
... I then clicked on a video report, which was quite amusing in its way.

My reaction to the site was, yes, such stories viewed in isolation do indeed make one smile – who will forget an alleged competition within The Times newspaper from many years back to devise the most accurate yet boring headline:
                                                           Small Earthquake in Chile, Not many Dead
However, this is apocryphal as no copy of The Times featuring this headline has ever been located. Shame.
     Anyway, headlines and stories in The Onion, while amusing in isolation, become slightly boring and unfunny when everything is in the same vein.
     Be that as it may, as usual I am attracted to the Letters section – you get a wonderful snapshot of the wit and wisdom of life, the universe and nearly everything in a Letters page, something you do not necessarily find in the endless columns churned out – the same old people parading the same old prejudices day in day out – and The Onion is no different to The Western Times and Telegraph Mirror.
     Here’s the letter that instantly captured my imagination...

Dear The Onion,
I don’t like your tone these days. Would it kill you to end a few articles with “Thanks for reading
!”?
Charlie Pauls, Durham, North Carolina

Like all the best letters it not only generates an instant smile, but it makes a rather wonderful point. Those who write professionally often take for granted those who read their work, something they do at their peril. So I thought I’d round off a run of my daily smiles with a “Thanks for reading”, or similar.
     Even though I write these smiles purely to entertain myself, I should never forget that there are visitors who hopefully share the occasional smile, and I should appreciate you all.
     What surprised me though was how difficult it has been to come up with something different but similar to “Thanks for reading” each and every day, without repeating myself too often.
     Anyway, it was a bit of fun while it lasted. I shall return to The Onion Letters page sometime soon. In the meantime, here’s another to be getting on with...

Dear The Onion,
I know your etiquette column said 20% is an appropriate amount to tip for good service, but I’ve realized that even if you don’t leave anything, there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Hope this helps
!
Earl Decker, Marietta, Georgia

As for finishing with a flourish, well, there’s no beating the “lady who came down at the end” of the Morecambe and Wise show, the wonderful Janet Webb. Despite having no involvement in the programme itself, she would stride onto the stage at the very end of the show, push the duo aside and take a bow before sitting down on her throne and delivering the following speech (here amended to suit this bulletin):

“Thank you, thank you everybody, thank you. I’d like to thank all of you for visiting me and my little web site here today; if you’ve enjoyed it, then it’s all been worthwhile. So, until we meet again, goodbye – and I love you all!

And to finish on the right note, so to speak, click below to watch one of the wittiest and most entertaining TV sketches ever broadcast – and be sure to stick around to the very end...
                                                                                                    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mDTn-QvO9I

 

Sunday, April 24
Give me land lots of land, but don’t fence me in

ONLY yesterday I highlighted how I encounter regular smiles along my morning walk. Well, here we are again today. It was a beautiful morning, a bit of a mist lingering in the valley, as happens early morning during fine weather. Crossing one of the larger fields I noticed a sheep over by a fence, all on its own, so I guessed a problem.
     I altered course to investigate ... it had stuck its head

through the netting wire to get at the tasty young leaves – things are always greener the other side of the fence to all of God’s creatures – but then couldn’t get its head back out.
     It’s something I encounter now and again. You wouldn’t credit that they could force their heads through such a small space, but they do - the wire is quite pliable - and the reason they can’t then get it out, as you will see from the picture, alongside, is that they automatically pull the head upwards to reverse, so the wire catches the back of their heads and traps them. Seeing it stuck there ... you have to smile.
     If they had the sense to drop their heads and then pull back – after all, they got their heads through in the first place, so they should obviously be able to get it back out.

     But life doesn’t work quite like that...

As I near, it struggles, but it has no chance of freeing itself. Now the farmer visits the flock every day and would come across it – a sheep will actually survive in that position for quite a while, although thirst would eventually do for it.
     Whatever, I do my little bit. As I take pictures, she decides to have a quick pee, which sheep do when they get nervous or frightened. I guess it’s a way of marking their territory and shouting “Go away
!.
 


Anyway, getting its head back out is not so much difficult as a struggle because the sheep resists all efforts to push the head down, naturally – but eventually force does the trick, and a combination of me pushing its head downwards and the sheep pulling backwards, does the trick.
     Then off she goes at a pace, without as much as a “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid
!”, in search of her lambs, hopefully. In fact I was surprised her lamb(s) hadn’t stayed nearby, but they were probably playing with the other lambs. As kids tend to do.

On a happier note, I also captured a captivating and very smiley shot of a mother and her twin lambs – see over on Postcard Corner ... smile

Thanks for popping in.
 

Saturday, April 23
Jesses and a Basil Brush

JUST last Thursday I began thus: Truth to tell I could relate a daily ‘smile of the day’ just from my morning walk. There are so many things which delight, amuse and please, especially at this time of year.
     Well blow me, this morning was a case in point – in fact, a couple of ‘em. I left the house just after six, the sun was rising over the Carmarthenshire Vans (commonly known as the Black Mountain range which form the western reaches of the Brecon Beacons), and I was crossing the second field when suddenly a bird flew out from some nearby trees.
     “Bloody ‘ell
!” I thought to myself, “I’ve never seen a buzzard that size before.” However, its tail quickly confirmed that it was no buzzard but a red kite – yet hang on, it was twice the size of a kite.
     By the time I’d slipped my camera off my shoulder, taken off the lens cap, switched on, brought it up to eye level, zoomed in and waited for the camera to focus – the routine normally takes about eight seconds, which is an eternity in wildlife terms – and yes, the bird had disappeared behind some trees. What on earth was it?
     Honestly, I often feel like the frustrated fisherman holding his hands wide apart: you should have seen the one that got away. I’ve missed so many great shots simply because it’s impossible to be fast enough with the camera. Mind you, I have captured one or two beauties along the way.
     Having cursed missing the bird, suddenly, there it was again. It did one sweep before turning back once more toward the trees – but I managed to get just the one picture.

     Now my camera isn’t designed to capture shots like this, but I was quite pleased, especially as the light wasn’t all that clever as some wispy clouds had obscured the rising sun.
     Anyway, I’ve magnified the shot – and here it is...

Of course the first thing I noticed was ... well, whatever it was trailing behind it, something I’ve since discovered, compliments of Google, are thingamajigs called “jesses”.
     All captive raptors wear jesses which are thin leather straps attached to the birds’ legs; they allow a falconer to keep control of a bird while it is on the glove or in training, or

indeed allow a bird to be secured on a perch outside its aviary.

So no wonder I perceived the bird larger than our common or garden birds of prey for it was, presumably, an escaped raptor, even some sort of eagle given its size, although it is difficult to accurately judge the size of something in the air.
     It had also been perched alongside a field where the farmer had just recently turned in a flock of sheep with some very young lambs. Would it go for a small lamb? I returned to the field a few times during the day, but apart from one brief sighting behind some trees, nothing.
     Funnily enough I remember a little while back something on the news about a large, escaped bird of prey spotted not very far from here. I wonder if it is still on the loose...

So that was the one smiley experience under my belt. Anyway, about 30 minutes later, just as I was approaching Llandeilo, I stopped and watched a fox sniffing about at the far end of the field.
     When you are out and about bright and early of a morning you see all sorts of wildlife – suddenly though, Mr Brush crossed in front of me and over the brow of a rise in the field.
     Again, it was a bit far for my little camera to cope with and capture a decently sharp shot, but what made me include it here was its surprisingly mangy appearance.
     More a down-and-out bum-bum rather than a traditional up-and-at-'em boom-boom
!


Incidentally, yesterday I wrote about multitasking and included that marvellously amusing picture of the multitasking toilet. Well, just today I came across what was a wonderful postscript to the picture ... if you have already read yesterday’s piece, do a quick scroll down to the tail end, but if you haven’t, just carry on down...

Thanks for reading.
 

Friday, April 22 ~ Addendum April 23
A task too manifold

MULTITASKING is something the female of the species is famous for, while we men are infamously useless at it. As a man who lives on his own I’m reasonably good at it. I have one traditionally cooked meal a day, which is lunch. Once I’ve done the basic preparation I can then do a bit of this and a touch of that while overseeing the cooking process: some hoovering, or a sweep of ironing, perhaps reading the paper – and all the while listening to the radio, or whisper it, simply daydreaming.
     I’m multitasking as if there’s no tomorrow, and truth to tell, it’s a bit of a doddle. Probably because I’m on auto pilot and all these things are done without thinking.
     However, if the phone goes and the chap I do work for wants an official order or estimate dispatched urgently – which is invariably always the case
! – and if I have to do a bit of research first, then multitasking goes out the window.
     I will have to gobble down the food first, or if the day-job task is urgent, urgent, then I’ll have to switch everything off in the kitchen because I will quickly forget I’ve got food on the go.

I mentioned doing things on auto pilot. Mega moons ago, when I trained

for my pilot’s licence, one of the tasks that took a lot of mental effort was practising sudden engine failure.
     There were set routines to run through, for example: minimise the rate of descent to ensure more time to do things like making sure that the fuel tanks are not empty; attempt to get the engine restarted; look for a suitable field to land and look for ground smoke to confirm the wind direction; ensure any passengers are fully aware what is happening and how they have to prepare for a forced landing, etc, etc ... and all the while having to give a running commentary to air traffic control so that they knew what was happening and where precisely the aircraft was likely to come down so that they could get the emergency services there in case it turned into a crash landing.
     It was giving this running commentary, much like talking on the phone, while doing all the other checks, that took so much concentration.

It always makes me smile when people claim they can drive and talk on the mobile, whether hand-held or otherwise, with no safety concerns whatsoever. They always quote pilots and police drivers. But all these professions have been specifically trained to do so, as I mention above.
     Who will forget that frightening statistic from the American insurance and risk assessment industry: if you own a mobile you are 500 times more likely to be involved in a road accident. Not simply if you use a mobile phone while driving, mind, but simply if you own a mobile.

Multitasking: derived from the first sense, the
term for simultaneous handling of multiple tasks


Anyway, all this leads me on to something I heard Roy Noble mention on his radio show: no matter how good you are at multitasking, it is impossible to perform any other task, let alone multiple tasks, while waiting for milk to boil.
     I laughed. Everyone must have been caught out with milk boiling over. It is a task that requires undivided attention.
Someone in the studio suggested that perhaps you could hold a conversation on a mobile while watching it come to the boil.
     Somehow I doubt even that – I mean, have you noticed how much in a world of their own folk are when on the mobile.

As I said yesterday, spring, with all that power under its backside, will never look quite the same again. Neither will watching milk boil.

PS: From Ask Dr Ozzy in The Sunday Times magazine (Ozzy Osbourne, he of the ‘Prince of Darkness’ fame, does a medical Q&A page – I know, I know, but it is a hoot). For example...

My boss has an unpleasant habit of calling me on his mobile phone from the loo. Am I being overly sensitive, or is this disgusting?
Fiona, Sussex

It depends if he’s telling you where he is – or if you can tell just based on the soundtrack. Either way, you ain’t being too sensitive. It also ain’t very considerate to the bloke in the next stall, who probably wants some peace and quiet while he does his crossword.

And I thought the marvellous picture above was a joke. Thanks for dropping in - over and out!
 

Thursday, April 21
Sing for your supper and you’ll get breakfast

TRUTH to tell I could relate a daily ‘smile of the day’ just from my morning walk. There are so many things which delight, amuse and please, especially at this time of year.
     Just the other day I visited the family farm to inspect the trees I planted earlier in the year. With me was Dai R& B (David Root and Branch: he ran a tree nursery before retiring). As we checked out the young trees, Dai paused: “You know this dreadful force of nature that recently hit Japan ... I was thinking: look around you ... flowers popping up everywhere, the bluebell wood over there in all its glory, the hedges and trees bursting into leaf, the fields becoming ever greener as the grass reaches for the sky ... think of the force that nature is exerting just beneath our feet – not just here, but all over the northern hemisphere – at this moment in time there’s this extraordinary power pushing everything up...”
     I looked about me ... and smiled. Spring will never look quite the same again.

The little songbirds are of course an endless source of pleasure and smiles. One of the things I’ve been experimenting with since the beginning of the year is to photograph them in my hand alongside the various flowers as they burst into life.
     Not the easiest of tasks. True, I’ve mastered the art of sticking out a hand, a quick wolf-whistle, and then waiting for a bird to land - but with the flowers, apart from tree flowers, I have to go down to ground level and the birds are a wee bit reluctant because suddenly I am looming over them.
     However, it has been a surprising success thus far, although the quality of the pictures are not all that brilliant due to the circumstances. I will have to do a feature over on 400 Smiles.
     Anyway, one field I navigate along my walk has a couple of mature wild cherry trees, which have burst into life over the past week. Both are along the woodland edge, so they look fantastic against the still grey/brown tone of the woods as the typical woodland trees were not quite ready to burst into leaf.
     One of the trees I knew to be a basic wild cherry, but the other baffled me. Its flower has something of the horse chestnut “candle” about it – and it boasts a captivating scent.
     Whilst I know my common or garden trees, I’m not into the more exotic varieties, so I did a bit of research and discovered that the mystery tree is, as far as I can tell, a bird cherry. Wow, I thought, must get a bird to land in my hand alongside this intriguingly named blossom.
     But, a problem: the tree is located about halfway between a couple of spots where I’ve been feeding the birds, meaning I have to entice them to come to the tree, which takes some time, and all made particularly difficult at this time of year as the birds coming to greet me are getting fewer and fewer. As soon as the mating season and the prospect of sex became an issue – well, see the Bill Clinton cartoon featured yesterday.

As it happens, only yesterday I met and had a brief chat with Sarah, the owner of said field, and I concluded that, what with the cherry blossom being so ephemeral, I would have to leave it until next year, if spared.
     However, this morning, I again went to the tree – and I noticed that one of the great tits had come to greet me, which occasionally happens. There’s something magical in seeing a bird land on a branch next to me and tweet its enthusiasm in not more that 140 chirps. So I tried my luck – bingo
!
 

A great tit in the hand next to a bird cherry tree on hand


The picture is not one of my best. The flowers on the sunny side of the tree had already withered and died, so the only place was in the shaded area, near the ground, so my little camera struggled to capture a reasonably sharp image.
     Still, I was dead chuffed to capture the above. A bird in the hand next to the blossom of the bird cheery tree.

Smiles don’t come much more satisfying. Thanks for calling in.
 

Wednesday, April 20
Heads you win, tails I lose

COINCIDENCE has been at work yet again. Yesterday my smile featured the extraordinary artistry of street painter Edgar Müeller. Today while listening to the iPlayer I happened to catch a Pause For Thought, on this occasion presented by the Rev. John A. D’Elia, Senior Minister of the American Church in London. This is how he began:

“I went to a church service some years ago and saw something amazing. As the pastor started his message an artist began to create a piece of art behind him. The artist was responding to the narrative of the sermon and the painting expressed in images what the preacher was saying in words.
     It was a beautiful, memorable experience, powerful in so many ways and it reminded me of how essential creativity is to the life of faith...”

I lost the Good Reverend right there because I was captivated  by those opening remarks. I thought of Rolf Harries and his “Can you see what it is yet?”, a line I used yesterday as it happens, with tongue firmly in cheek.
     Imagine though if every time a politician got up to make a speech, or stood at the dispatch box in the House of Commons, Rolf Harris, Matt the cartoonist, Banksy, or any other artist, stood there behind him or her and responded to the narrative of the usual political bullshit with a piece of fine art...

Imagine ... when Tony Blair delivered that sexed-up report to Parliament and the nation about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, an artist behind him began to paint images of body bags returning home – the sight of repatriations via Wootton Bassett lay in the future and hadn’t subliminally invaded our subconscious back then.
     Or David Cameron and Nick Clegg in the garden of Number 10 immediately following the formation of the coalition, an artist behind them draws a hangman leading his victim up the steps to the gallows, but they are fighting each other as to which one of them will be hung, drawn and quartered – indeed we can’t quite make out which one of them is the hangman and which the condemned man.
     Currently Clegg is the one who has just gorged on his favourite and final
meal – but things change fast in politics. Note how quickly Cameron

changed his mind about the attire he will wear to the royal wedding when he realised public opinion had turned against his original choice.
     So no lounge lizard look to make him appear a man of the people, rather it’s the “flip-flopping Fauntleroy” look his genetic inheritance demands. Do these politicians have any idea how stupid they look? Obviously not.

But the best example I can think of is a cartoon I recently chuckled at online, and features Bill Clinton back in 1998. Remember the speech?
“Now, I have to go back to work on my State of the Union speech. And I worked on it until pretty late last night. But I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false. And I need to go back to work for the American people. Thank you.”

Just imagine if behind him a cartoonist was busily sketching the cartoon I show here. Wouldn’t that be totally brilliant? Ah well, I have a dream...

Bill Clinton and his sole mate


Thanks for calling by and sharing the dream.
 

Tuesday, April 19
Heading for a fall

YESTERDAY, all my troubles seemed so far away – oops
! – yesterday, I mentioned that it is rare for just one single smile of the day to stand on its own, without supplementary chuckles embracing the moment. Yesterday was a stand alone smile.
     Well, it happened again, today. It began with one of those curious letters so beloved of newspaper editors. This from today’s Telegraph...

Decorators should be more careful when transporting paint: SIR – Judging from the increasingly colourful state of our roads, is it time for painters and decorators to master two new techniques when transporting materials?
     First, they ought to learn how to put the lids back on their tins of paint. Secondly, it would be helpful if they shut the back doors of their vans.
Paul Mackrell, Dorking, Surrey

Nothing particularly ho, ho, ho-ish there – well, given the name of the letter writer it did strike me as to whether he had perhaps spotted a mackerel sky reflected on the road – but there was one well received online comment from a jdavidj: What we need is a spill of bitumen and grit, carefully placed into each pot-hole.

But what took the letter into the smile zone was the accompanying picture...
 

Can you see what it is yet? Edgar Müeller's "Waterfall", River St., Moose Jaw, Canada


Talk about generating a smile. It is a 3D-street-painting “Turning River Street into a river”.
     In 2007 it was the largest such painting ever done. If one looks from the right spot – as the camera does here – its three-dimensional effect creates the perfect illusion.
     There are some truly talented people wandering this planet. There really are - Banksy magically springs to mind. The above master street artist is one Edgar Müeller, 42, born and bred in Germany. To see more of his work simply Google the name ... look out for the Daily Mail link where you will find a few easy to peruse examples of his extraordinary work.

Thanks for dropping in!
 

Monday, April 18
But will it stand up to scrutiny?

HARDLY ever do I write a smile of the day where there is just the one subject matter, full stop. Usually one thing blends with, or morphs into, another, especially so when I trawl through those delightfully doolally sleb quotes.
     However, today something made me smile which really does stand alone (having said that, I do introduce another subject which is necessary because I need to add a picture to compliment the tale).
     Anyway, there I was, flicking through The Sunday Times News Review, and I come upon the Weird but wonderful column – last week this deliciously smiley corner explained all that I needed to know about “The gay caveman”.
     So here goes – oh, the paper also provides the smiliest of headlines, one that would do justice to its stable mate, The Sun:

Last willy and testament
A pickled human penis is at long last to be the central attraction at Iceland’s Phallological Museum.
(At this point I checked the date just to make sure it wasn’t April 1, or that I wasn’t already suffering withdrawal symptoms after abandoning Vanessa Felt’s Friday Philological Challenge. To continue...)
     The museum, which opened 15 years ago, has a large collection of male members from whales, seals and bears, and an impressive example from a Canadian walrus. Now Pall Arason, a 95-year-old former tourism worker who died in January, has given the museum its first human exhibit.
     “I’ve been waiting for this guy for 15 years,” said the curator, Sigurdur Hjartarson. “People are always donating organs after they die. It’s no more remarkable to donate a penis than it is to donate an organ like a kidney.”


Weird but wonderful indeed, and how about that headline? Last willy and testament.
     My own thoughts were, if you are going to donate your most troublesome organ then you have to pull out all the stops. And yes, the one question that really matters - and what size is Sir? - bearing in mind that the museum already has a sperm whale penis coming in at 67 inches, gulp.
     Hjartarson was coy when asked about the size of his newest acquisition: “I can’t tell you that. You will just have to come and see it.”
     Be that as it may, he understands too well that sex sells – and size really does matter, so I guess it’s only a matter of time before it comes out. So to speak.


So what picture to display? Well, in the same column was the story of a Devon sheep farmer’s anti-theft device: dyeing his flock orange.
     John Heard (shame his surname wasn’t Flocke or some such like) had lost 200 sheep over the past few years from the Dartmoor grazing around his farm, but hadn’t lost a single one since the paint job.
     Then I remember a picture I took of a ram with his darling flock during the tupping season a couple of years back.
     The old boy is horny as hell, but the object of his affection wasn’t quite up to speed yet, so he kept gently butting her backside, as if saying: “C’mon girl, get your kit off, I’m already ahead of the game and I haven’t got all day...”

Would Rambo measure up in the phallological department?


Thanks for coming.
 

Sunday, April 17
Great songs, respected politicians, dutiful young Queen - must be 1952

CAUGHT up via the BBC’s iPlayer with the second part of Radio 2’s Sounds of the 20th Century, “an audio journey through five decades of triumph, tragedy and trivia in 50 hour-long episodes”. I remember something similar on television reflecting on those Rock'n'Roll Years. That was most enjoyable.
     Each radio programme is dedicated to one complete year, from 1951 to 2000, in chronological order, and features nothing that wasn’t heard, seen or read at the time.
     There is no explanation, no hindsight, no “I-
-the-60s”-style reminiscences; just the music, the news, the radio, the TV and the movies as they were first experienced.
     We are left with our own thoughts as to what the passage of time has given and taken away.

Today it was 1952: it features the death of George VI and the accession of a new queen; America elects a new president, London’s Great Smog kills thousands and Lynmouth is nearly destroyed by floods. As the Korean war intensifies Britain tests its first atomic bomb, and the big movie of the year is High Noon with Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain coming up fast on the rails. Emil Zatopek stars at the Helsinki Olympics, Wimbledon welcomes “Little Mo” Connolly – and the NME launches Britain’s first ever pop chart and number one single (Al Martino’s Here in My Heart).

A smiley hour well spent. Apart from the wonderful music - last week I caught up with Patti Page and Mockin' Bird Hill, a song that could well be about the place I fondly refer to as base camp - there were a couple of clips that stood out.
     The first, by Winston Churchill following the death of George VI at the age of 56, peacefully in his sleep having previously had a lung removed after developing cancer: “During these last months the King walked with death, as if death were a companion, an acquaintance whom he recognised and did not fear. In the end, death came as a friend...”
     Just 32 words, but what words, and delivered in that unique style of his. I am reminded of a Mark Twain quote: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

The second clip of note came near the end of the year, as the Queen addressed the nation...
“At my Coronation next June I shall dedicate myself anew to your service. You will be keeping it as a holiday, but I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day, to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you all the days of my life.”

I found myself wondering how many of the words of the modern worlds movers and shakers will have people in another 60 years nodding their heads in admiration.
     Let
s see now ... There was Margaret Thatcher entering Number 10 for the first time: Where there is discord, may we bring harmony; where there is error, may we bring truth; where there is doubt, may we bring faith; and where there is despair, may we bring hope.
     And Tony Blair on becoming Prime Minister:
Mine is the first generation able to contemplate the possibility that we may live our entire lives without going to war or sending our children to war.

Thanks for calling ... Im off to listen to Mockin' Bird Hill - perhaps I should sing about Blackbird Hill - see the blackbird story over on 400 Smiles A Day.
     Anyway, Patti Page, here I come...
                                                              
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHRpbiG_ruk&feature=fvwrel

PS. Try one from 1952: Les Paul and Mary Ford I'm Confessing (that I love you) ... beautiful...
                                                                                                                                    
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDIJpT-iIkk
 

Saturday, April 16
RSVP

ONE of the more curious news bulletins doing the rounds features the bizarre collection of items enclosed with the completed 2011 census forms returned to the Office for National Statistics: passports, cheques, death certificates – even a drawing of the Queen. Curious indeed.
     But what made me smile was a letter from Roderick Hunt of Abingdon, Oxon.

Feeling chipper: Sir, As a census enumerator in the 1981 Census we received in my area this response to Q12-Occupation? The reply: “I am a sculptor of stone lions.”
     To the next question: Please describe the nature of the work done. The responder wrote: “I chip away all the bits of stone that are not lion.”

How I wish I could come up with a glorious line like that. This set me thinking. As someone who has yet to decide what I want to be when I grow up, indeed I am ever so slightly handicapped by the fact that there is no particular line of work that has ever appealed, I am unsure how I should answer. Off the top of my head it would have to be something like this...
     Occupation? To leave my square mile in as good a condition as when I stumbled upon it. Please describe the nature of the work done: To hopefully put Davy Crockett, Indian Scout at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, out of work i.e. to cover my tracks, or in modern parlance, my carbon footprint.

I am still working on what questions should be asked to determine the happiness quotient of the nation, so I’ll add that occupation and nature of work to the list.

There has also been much in the media about “petty” council bureaucrats strangling Royal Wedding street party celebrations with unnecessary red tape. Another newspaper letter, this from a Patrick Wallace of Ridge, Herts, hit the spot.

A confetti of red tape: SIR – Your readers’ frustration at council red tape brings to mind the advice that Sister Benedict gave me as a boy in Tipperary: “Patrick, much better than asking permission is to beg forgiveness.”
     To which stevewalker responded online with this: The equivalent of Patrick’s phrase that I grew up with was: “If you don’t ask, they can’t say no.”

My response to Sister Benedict’s splendid advice: No wonder confession boxes are such busy junctions with so many people seeking forgiveness. Indeed, last year a Roman Catholic church confession box was sponsored by betting firm Paddy Power to the tune of £10,000, so it now has its name on display at Our Lady & St Etheldreda church in the horse racing town of Newmarket, Suffolk.
     Do you suppose they talk in accumulators, naps and spread bets – and sinners are referred to as punters?

Anyway, Sister Benedict must also have proffered the same advice to Tony Blair. Six months after leaving office he caused controversy by converting to Roman Catholicism. After all, much better than being truthful is to beg forgiveness.

And finally, a shot in the dark... “I’d take him out and shoot him.” Scottish actor John Hannah, 48, when asked whether he would like to take Tony Blair out to dinner.

Thanks for looking in.
 

Friday, April 15
Au revoir, Vanessa

AT LEAST, until the autumn. This is my final Vanessa’s philological challenge. Vanessa is away on holiday until after Easter, and what with the days now lengthening by a cockerel’s hop, step and a jump, my morning walk to coincide with sunrise means I will, over the coming months, be starting out from the cottage earlier and earlier.

So, for the last time, a reminder of Vanessa’s Words of the Week:
   “Plangent”: having a loud deep sound; resonant and mournful.
   “Picaresque”
: clever rogues, rascals and adventurers, à la Don Quixote.
   “Pachyderm”: a large thick-skinned mammal.
   “Proclivity”: a tendency or inclination.
And my special word from the song Cry Me A River...
   “Plebeian”: common or vulgar.
So, to conclude the sentence that I have added to on a daily basis – amended slightly to taste since last Monday – and featuring the only politician who makes me smile...

Like a blue whale emerging from the deep, Boris’s plangent tones reinforced the picaresque nature of his genetic footprint, which readily explained why he become established as London Town’s friendly neighbourhood political pachyderm – truth to tell there is nothing plebeian about the man, although he does have certain proclivities that are best left to the imagination and the red tops...

Quote of the day: “My dad used to always say there are 12 billion people lying in cemeteries that thought they were indispensable. The world goes on for God’s sake.” Director of Rugby Scott Johnson at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea, speaks out on the string of top players departing the Ospreys regional team, specially that of Mike Phillips, Wales and British Lions scrum-half, who will depart under a bit of a silver cloud but with a dark lining.

I remember my father saying pretty much the same thing. In the grand pattern of things Universal, as individuals we are an irrelevance. Indeed, if I play the “What if?” game, I believe that if neither Adolf Hitler nor Winston Churchill had been born, the world would still be more or less where it is today, in precisely the same sort of mess.
     Back in Thirties Germany, another fearsome leader intent on giving the world a bloody nose would have emerged, perhaps even more ruthless and efficient than Hitler. Indeed the UK may well have been invaded, but America had the A-bomb, so that would have been that.
     But what if Germany or Japan – or indeed Russia – had come up with the A-bomb first? They were all working on it. Now there’s a “What if?” thought.

Talking of Hitler, back on April 6 I featured the Jerry-built Swansea house that is a spitting image of Mr Hitler. The media was full of the story, and, compliments of the internet, it became a world-wide hit.
     Much interest suddenly focussed on a web site that

features cats which look like Hitler. I know, every day really is a day at school.
     It is a remarkable sight, thousands of cats that, to some degree or other, make you stand to attention and sing “Who do you think you are kidding der Kater (Mr Pussycat)?”.
     So I picked the best cum worst looking cat – the most menacing, really – and pasted it here.
     Then I went in search of a Hitler image that would best compliment the moustachioed pussycat, not to mention those disturbing eyes and the disconcerting “hairstyle”.
     Eventually I found it, and with a bit of patient trimming was able to line up the eyes and the moustache – and come up with what I think is the most unsettling image posted here since I began the web site.
     Astonishing is the only word. I mean, meet a cat that you
certainly wouldn’t want to meet on a dark and stormy night.

         A sinister Mr Hitler from
         the archives
 

A sinister der Kitler from         
www.catsthatlooklikehitler.com   
 

     You wanna pee in my garden, der Kitler? Be my guest.

Oh yes, yesterday’s smile was all about the modern scouting movement, and I quoted the letter that duly led me to the
Tom Lehrer Be Prepared link ... worth another visit?  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSwjuz_-yao

Well, there was another letter in the Telegraph on the same subject, which I had meant to include – see, that’s what comes of not being properly prepared...

Scouts: be prepared ... just put your lips together and blow
SIR – Your headline, “Scouts: be prepared for sex” (report, April 5), encapsulates the sexual advice that the scout movement has always given its members.
For more sophisticated guidance, I refer young Scouts to Scouts Law, specifically number seven in the code: “A Scout smiles and whistles under all difficulties.”
Colin Bostock-Smith, St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex


And on that note I must do a quick scroll down to enjoy the marvellous and uplifting smile on the face of the young girl scout featured yesterday. Now that image should make any young male scout worth his salt smile, put his lips together and blow.

Thanks for sharing my smiles.
 

Thursday, April 14
Scouting for smiles: be prepared

HAD to visit Prince Phillip Hospital at Llanelli this morning, an appointment made by my local doctor who needed to check something out he wasn’t sure about. How does the saying go? Better safe than sorry – but be prepared.
     When I checked in, there was about an hour’s delay, which doesn’t do the old blood pressure any favours. There was no explanation given, except that there were two doctors who had to see 33 patients. All the staff and doctors were most agreeable people, but why no explanation about the delay?
     I mean, should there have been three doctors on duty and one hadn’t turned up due to illness? Had one of the doctors turned up late, caught in a traffic tail-back or some such like? Or what?
     It is so frustrating. We see this all the time at our airports. People generally accept that things will go wrong and that there will be delays, but what drives everyone mad is that no one explains the delay. I wasn’t particularly bothered, but it would have been so considerate to have been told why.
     Anyway, I’m a stand and stare individual, or rather today a sit and stare person ... as I sat there I looked at the door opposite, where I was eventually to go through. It read: Consultant Physician. Then another notice: Consulting Room 14. And yet another which hesitantly announced: Knock but do not      Nothing, zilch, blank ... presumably it should have read “enter”, but it had obviously fallen off. As is my wont, my imagination went walkies...
                                                                                                                                             “Knock but do not go ‘Knock-Knock
!’.”
For example...
                       “Knock-knock
!
                       “Who’s there?”
                       “Huw
!
                       “Huw who?”
                       “Tsk
! Can’t you say ‘Hello!’ like everyone else?”

Eventually, I was invited in, without having to knock ... I was prepared – but I guess no news is good news.
 

On the wireless this morning, Vanessa Feltz asked the listener to divulge the more camp side of their experiences. Well, I have never been camping, I wasn’t a boy scout even, in fact it’s only once I ever stayed in a caravan.
     Anyway, as listeners related their comic and curious tales under canvas, and news was revealed that for the first time more girls than boys are joining the scouts – last year 4,330 girl recruits and 3,796 boys – I was reminded of a letter spotted in The Telegraph just a few days ago which I had duly cut out and stuck in my Scrapbook...

SIR – About 50 years ago, when I was a Scout, Tom Lehrer wrote:
If you’re looking for adventure of a new and different kind,
And you come across a girl scout who is similarly inclined,
Don’t be nervous, don’t be flustered, don’t be scared.
Be prepared
!
     Admirable advice to this day.
Tony Loizou, Lower Swanwick, Hampshire

Be prepared to smile: a picture to brighten up anyone's day
- as spotted in the Daily Mail


And so onto Vanessa’s Thursday word of the day... “Proclivity”: a tendency or inclination.
Every word of the day this week has started with the letter P, and by a neat coincidence Vanessa plays Michael Bublé’s Cry Me A River, which boasts the immortal line “Told me love was too plebeian” – plebeian meaning common or vulgar.
     After supercalifragilistic, etc, etc, it is probably the most unexpected word to stumble out of a song lyric. One imagines that today’s song writers, unlike Tom Lehrer and Arthur Hamilton (who wrote Cry Me A River) would say something along the lines “Told me love was too much like shite”.

Right, so here’s the sentence, up to yesterday’s word...
Like a blue whale emerging from the deep, Boris’s plangent tones reinforced the picaresque nature of his genetic footprint, which readily explained why he become established as your friendly neighbourhood political pachyderm –

I will finish it off by Friday morning. Oh, one more thing: Vanessa had taken a picture on her mobile of a gloriously flowering peony in her garden, and remarked that everyone takes photos of their plants – don’t they?
     Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I certainly take pics of flowers that I have known – see the Flower Power Gallery, sliding down the right scroll-walk - over by there...
     And all my own work, except that one of the gorgeous Carey Mulligan, whose mum hails from Llandeilo.

Thanks for calling by – oh, and for a bonus smile, click on Tom Lehrer’s Be Prepared!
                                                                             
                           http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSwjuz_-yao
 

Wednesday, April 13
Two wheels on my Steinway and I’m still rolling along with a Gay Cave-alier

Lady Gaga falls off piano shouted the headline.
Now I’ve heard of people falling off the wagon – but off the piano? D’oh, a dear, a dear oh dear. Lady Gaga embarrassed herself by falling off her flaming piano live on stage while wearing stilettos, which probably explains why she slipped.
     So I click the video ... wow, she does come a cropper too – with a crash, bang, wallop – but the trouper that she is (I’ve had a soft spot for Lady G since she arrived at this year’s Grammy Awards inside that giant free range egg), she picked herself up, didn’t even bother to dust herself off – and continued with the song as if nothing had happened. I was most impressed.

Which brings me back to the headline of a few days back when I politely made my excuses and left without clicking:
First homosexual caveman found.
I decided to leave the tale firmly lodged inside my imagination, which had suggested the following: there he was in his cave with the love of his life, doing his thing, when the roof fell in and preserved him and his doings in aspic stone until he was found 50-80,000 years later.
     So I left the scene while still in the dark, together with the notion that what the archaeologists had probably found was the original homo erectus. Well, I thought it worth a repeat.
     But there was to be no escape. The meeja board has loved the story, for example, the Daily Mail headline:

                         
The oldest gay in the village: 5,000-year-old is ‘outed’ by the way he was buried

And then today, I was catching up with the Weird but wonderful column in The Sunday Times News Review, and like a fly zooming too close to the spider’s web...
                                                                  
The gay caveman
Archaeologists have unearthed what they believe to be a 5,000-year-old gay caveman in a Prague suburb. The body was buried pointing eastwards and surrounded by domestic crockery, rituals normally reserved for female graves (men were buried pointing west, surrounded by manly things such as weapons, hammers and flint knives).
     Couldn’t it just be a mix-up or a Copper Age practical joke? “It is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake,” says the lead archaeologist, Kamila Remisova Vesinova. “Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual orientation.”

Hang on, a 5,000-year-old caveman? That can’t be right. On doing some research I find that media outlets had jumped on Vesinova’s comments as proof that archaeologists had found a “gay caveman”, despite the fact that the term “caveman” typically refers to Neanderthals who lived 30,000 and more years ago, as I had originally suspected.
     So it looks as if it was all just a bit of a queer to-do. Not so much a gay caveman, or indeed a gay cavalier come to that – but more a gay cave-a-liar.
     So in the wake of this non-story, the gold medal goes to the headline in the Montreal Gazette Online...

                                  
‘Gay Caveman’ not definitely gay nor caveman, say archaeologists

Vanessa’s Wednesday word of the day... “Pachyderm”: any very large thick-skinned mammal, such as an elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, politician – oops! – I’m getting ahead of myself.
     So to resume the sentence started Monday and expanded yesterday...
Like a blue whale emerging from the deep, Boris’s plangent tones reinforced the picaresque nature of his genetic footprint, which readily explained why he became established as your friendly neighbourhood pachyderm...

Talking of words: “Cool it, honeybadgers. We are just friends.” American actress and model Olivia Wilde, 27, denying rumours of a romance with fellow American singer and actor Justin Timberlake, 30.
Honeybadgers? Had to check it out, thinking it was a new term of affection. Bloody ‘ell. What a fearless, vicious creature. Enough to turn any fellow into a gay caveman.
     If you have a strong stomach, watch the clip below – and check out a most amusing commentary compliments of what could well be the campest gay in the Sahara...
                                                                              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r7wHMg5Yjg

Thanks for visiting.
 

Tuesday, April 12
Stamp duty

ON Vanessa Felt’s radio show this morning, the challenge for the listener was this: whom or what would you most like to see featured on a Royal Mail stamp? There was a similar story featured in the newspapers over the weekend.
     The Sunday Times headed its article thus:

Stamps put Cherie in a sticky corner
To Cherie Blair and John Bercow it must have seemed like another opportunity to hobnob with the rich and revered. The wife of the former prime minister and the current Speaker of the House of Commons were among guests invited to an exclusive reception at London’s Grosvenor House hotel last week by an Indian billionaire. He was, his invitation boasted, being honoured by the Royal Mail with a special set of stamps bearing his image.
     To the embarrassment of all, it has now emerged such stamps have more to do with flattery that philately. The Royal Mail admits that anyone can order a sheet of 20 stamps in which their own photographs appear next to a genuine stamp – at a cost of £15.
     Blair and Bercow, however, appear to have thought they were among 60 of the great and the good invited to share in the Royal Mail’s public recognition of Subrata Roy, and industrialist said to be worth £5 billion...


Is it any wonder the UK is dumbing down at such a rate when two of our supposedly “cleverest” people get taken in so effortlessly. Will you walk into my parlour, etc, etc...

Anyway, listeners contacted Vanessa’s show to suggest what or whom they would like to see on their special sheets of stamps. Slebs in all shapes and sizes were a popular choice, but I liked the idea of stamps featuring a lower price, or Bogoff (buy one get one for free).
     But the best choice, to my eye anyway, was the famous Erica Roe, who lit up Twickenham with her memorable streak, and as it happens, featured on my daily smile back on August 12 last year.
     Vanessa thought Erica had streaked at a cricket match, but a listener corrected her that it was at the rugger, England playing Australia. Also she mentioned a strategically placed police helmet – true, but even more memorable is a handy helmet used during another famous streak, also at Twitters - oops
! - Twickers.

So here they are – compare and contrast, questions will be asked...
 

The Twickenham Streaker, February 1974

The Twickenham Streaker Mark 2, January 1982


The marvellous image of Michael O’Brien, above, and captured by Ian Bradshaw, won LIFE magazine’s Picture of the Year award, People Magazine Picture of the Decade and a World Press Photo Award.
     I mean, the surreal “Jesus Christ” style pose, the amused expressions on the faces of the police officers – note the gentle hold they have on him, no tasers needed back then – the strategically placed helmet, and that delightfully officious official with the coat rushing up. And just look at that smile on the face of the official in the Erica picture. Wonderful. All very classy and terribly British - before the nation became all common or garden, that is.
     And what of Erica? I instantly saw something of the matador with a slice of the flamenco dancer added to taste - let’s pretend that’s a rose in her mouth. Incidentally, the streak happened at half-time - in those days the players didn't leave the field - and suddenly there was a huge roar as Erica announced her presence.
     Delivering his half-time team-talk, burly England captain Bill Beaumont noticed the attention of his troops wander...
Hey Bill, shouted scrum-half Steve Smith above the roar, there’s a bird just run on with your bum on her chest. Ah, those were the days, my friends.
     And talking of friends, I remember watching the game and the streak down at the Crazy Horse Saloon:
I know her, announced Old Shaggy to a surprised pub, and I also know she’s got TB.
    
Really? said I, in utterly surprised mode.
     Old Shaggy smiled.
Two Beauties.
     Anyway, to put a final stamp on things, Michael O’Brien would have to feature on the flagship First Class Letter stamp – while Erica would be on a First Class Large Letter stamp.

     Oh yes, according to Wikipedia, Erica is now an organic sweet potato grower out in Portugal (I was getting quite warm with the matador and the flamenco dancer connection), so I guess looking back at her brush with fame, Erica is fully entitled to say
I am what I yam”. Boom-boom!

Vanessa’s Tuesday word of the day... “Picaresque”: clever rogues, rascals and adventurers, à la Don Quixote.

So to resume the sentence started yesterday...
Like a blue whale emerging from the deep, Boris’s plangent tones reinforced the picaresque nature of his genetic footprint...
     To be continued...

Thanks for reading.
 

Monday, April 11
Front row seats

THE media has been awash with the curious tale of Nick Clegg (leader of the Lib Dems and Deputy Prime Minister), who has been appealing for more social mobility (on yer bike) and less nepotism (no riding tandem when job hunting). So less of that ‘who you know’ and more ‘what you know’.

     Oh yes, then it emerged that his millionaire father had secured him the internship that launched his career, but even more revealing was the fact that his first leg up the greasy pole came compliments of next-door neighbour and family friend, Lord Carrington. Ho-hum!
     The more I hear Clegg’s name – did he not reveal the other day that his top lip quivers at the drop of a quaver? – the more I am reminded of the Parkinson Principle which states something along the lines that ‘everyone is eventually promoted above their level of competence’.

Anyway, I enjoyed this from today’s Western Mail, a tale from a That’s Typical column by a Martin Wells, a new name to me...
My oldest brother, the only jobbing accountant who’s always skint, likes to recall fondly how he got his break into the profession some 40 years ago.
     Having left school with little more than Maths and English O-levels, he was at a loss to know either what job he should do for the rest of his life or how to go about getting it.
     He spent some idyllic weeks practising to be an idle loafer before my father, then the smart but impecunious payroll manager of an equally struggling

The Telegraph's MATT who captures
the gormlessness of power to a T

manufacturing firm, spotted an advert in the local rag: ‘Company seeks
school-leaver to train as actuary’.
     The following day, after one phone call from the old man, my brother, then just shy of his 17th birthday, was poured into my dad’s threadbare demob suit and marched down to the company’s garret offices in town.
     At the interview, my father escorted my brother in and proceeded to do all the talking, the end result of which was a commandment from the firm’s senior partner to “start Monday, nine o’clock”.
     Imagine the scene that Monday morning when the senior partner saw my brother and said: “I’m sorry ... but we thought we were taking on your father
!

I do so hope the tale is true; I mean, it’s a cracker, but something tells me that it is not, or perhaps during the interview the firm’s senior partner probably and politely said something along the lines: “Thank you, Mr Wells, but I really would like to hear more from your son.” But why spoil a good story? Why indeed?

I’ve also today come across some quotes which fit in perfectly with the above. So here we are again...

Doolally Corner
“We had front-row seats at the Blair-Brown movie and we are not about to repeat it.” Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband referring to his Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls.
Oh how we were all misled by the critics. We were supposed to have been watching a feel-good movie starring Tone and Gordo, but as we found to our cost, it turned out to be a horror story. So let’s hope that two Eds are better than one.

“I think they’re stupid from A to Z.” Playwright Mike Leigh saying he has no sympathy with a government that cuts arts funding i.e. the Conservatives c2011.
As a leading playwright, wouldn’t it have been so much more effective if he’d said “I think they’re stupid from C to W”. I mean, much as I don’t rate politicians, there has to be one or two top-drawer individuals hiding in there somewhere (the law of average and all that). So if he’d said “I think they’re stupid from C – that’s Cameron and Clegg (PM and Deputy PM) – to W – that’s Baroness Warsi (Party Chairman).” Now that would have been worth a mega smile.

Thought for the Day: “Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment.” American writer Rita Mae Brown, 66.
I like that, a variation on the famous Catch-22 paradox.

Vanessa Felt’s Monday word of the day... “Plangent”: having a loud deep sound; resonant and mournful.
I though this week I’d try something different. I’d build a sentence immediately after each word is revealed, keeping all four in order. I’m not sure whether it’ll work. Anyway, here goes:
Like a blue whale emerging from the deep, Boris’s plangent tones ... to be continued...

Finally ... “Nobody is ever quite sure what Roman Abramovich is thinking, since his habitual expression is that of an empty dinner plate.” Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday football writer Patrick Collins on the Chelsea Football Club owner who has reportedly spent the best part of £1billion on the club in the quest to be the owner of the best and happiest club in the world.

How totally wonderful is that? For ever more and a day, whenever I catch sight of Abramovich, either in the Chelsea box or on the telly box, what I will see is a super-rich but empty dinner plate pleading: “Please, Sir, I want some more.”
 

Sunday, April 10
A singing rose, a whispering violet, a murmuring honeysuckle...
                                                                                                     ...a listening tulip?

WHEN I prepare the day’s bulletin I first peruse yesterday’s effort to make sure there are no obvious cock-ups that slipped through the inter-net, and indeed to check in case there’s something that just doesn’t sit right.
     Well, and talking of cock-ups, yesterday I featured the Chickadee Quartet, the four lovable chickens out the back, especially the one I call Cwennen, a Welsh word for a young chicken that is entering adulthood – a spring chicken, presuming of course that you haven’t yet decided to bite the pullet, ho, ho, ho
!
   
 What I didn’t make clear is that Cwennen is also a word often used by us Welshmen to describe a very desirable young lady, a sexy chick, so to speak, which perhaps makes more sense of the rhyming couplet I yesterday translated from the Welsh. I’ve also added this explanation down below.

Today, it’s the weather that generates the smile of the day. Summer weather in April. Marvellous. What was so striking along today’s walk was the woodland flowers now coming into their own. As the trees are only just coming into leaf the woodland floor, especially where the ground climbs away, is clear to see.
     The bluebells are springing up everywhere, and together with the wood anemones, primroses, some early purple orchids - and a whole host of beautiful little yellow flowers – it’s a treat for sore eyes. Sadly, it’s a sight I find impossible to capture a decent image of (with my little camera anyway). It’s only the panoramic depth of view of the human eye that does the scene justice.
     Be that as it may, I’ve decided to make a star of a handsome tulip growing not a million miles from my kitchen door, the two shots of the same flower, below, separated by a couple of perfectly sunshiny days – note that smashing blue sky... 
 

From a shy tulip...
 

...to an outgoing tulip to...
 

...turning over a new tulip
 

The third image is – ta-rah! – a tulip leaf. This is growing on a tree I re-planted here last year: it’s a Chinese tulip tree, and the leaves to a casual glance resemble tulips, obviously. It’s still a very young tree – a seven-year-old, some nine feet tall, and like its namesake the flower, very handsome.
     The leaves are just starting to pop out, and even if the leaf up there looks quite large, it is in fact just a tiny little thing emerging into a bright new world. Welcome aboard.
 

Saturday, April 9
Chicks I have known

BACK on August 28 last year, over on Postcards From My Square Mile (
smile), I featured a picture of one of the chickens I share the place I affectionately call base camp with (the place from where I daily set out to climb my little Everests – no extra oxygen or crampons required thus far, thank goodness).
     Anyway, the dolly bird featured over on Postcard Corner was Henrietta. Actually, there are four of them and I call them the Chickadee Quartet (they regularly flash mob outside my kitchen door). They are lovable little things – as a bonus they lay some eggs – and I tend to spoil them because when I return from my morning walk I throw what bird feed I have left to the songbirds out the back.

     The Quartet are not backwards in coming forwards, and they are rather partial to something in the bird mixture I prepare for the songbirds. They get quite excited when they spot me arriving on the scene.
     To prove the point, this very morning as I returned from my walk, there they were at the top of the drive, and as soon as they saw me - they came in a rush (pictured alongside)...
     Anyway, you need to meet them: Chickadee and Henrietta, obviously; then there’s Chiquita and Chickaboo (I occasionally call her Cwennen, a Welsh word for a young female chicken that is ready to start laying, a teenager, I suppose).

There’s one thing though that worries me in the above picture: there appears to be only three shadows. How does Chickaboo do that? Curiouser and curiouser.
     Anyway, they make me smile on a daily basis – but today I had an even bigger smile. We are due some elections early in May. On the day the UK as a whole votes on this strange new voting system called AV (Alpha Vankers?), we Welsh also have elections for the National Assembly for Wales.
     Alongside the local A40 road I spotted some election boards for the Tory candidate – and I couldn’t believe her name ... Henrietta Hensher?
     If I were a politically motivated individual, I would vote for Henrietta out of loyalty to the Chickadee Quartet. Come to think of it, I might still do. I mean, you can’t ignore a coincidence of that magnitude. She’s a double chick.
     I must repeat a couple of smiley gems, one English, one Welsh. First, a one-liner from the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, compliments of a Paddy Lennox:
"I was watching the London Marathon and saw one runner dressed as a chicken and another dressed as an egg. I thought, 'Hm, this could be interesting'."


Finally, a gem from 2005 for you Welsh speakers out there, as featured in a radio programme called Talwrn, where poets and bards compete, and features the aforementioned word Cwennen, the young chick, whether loved by cocks or Casanovas (Cwennen is also a word used by us Welshmen to describe a very desirable young lady, a spring chicken, a sexy chick
!).

Cwpled caeth ar yr odl "es": Nos Iau, na fwynhau a wnes / Cwennen a gwely cynnes. D. T. Lewis, Ffostrasol.

A strict rhyming couplet, which roughly translates as: Thursday night, oh what a joy / A chick, a warm bed, oh boy.
 
Friday, April 8
Up the Thames without a paddle

FRIDAY morning, so it has to be Vanessa’s Radio2 Philological Challenge. Last week I had my effort read out by Vanessa, so a little bit of lateral thinking suggests that however “good” my effort will be this week, it’s very doubtful that it would be read out for the rather obvious reason that they have to spread their favours around the listenership a bit.
     Anyway, I still did the challenge, because that’s what it is now: a challenge. And this week I was particularly inspired by the Boris Johnson word - anyway, let's remind ourselves of the four words...

   “Termagant”: a shrewish woman.
   “Scow”
: a flat-bottomed boat or barge, this being the word used by Mayor Boris Johnson as he announced next year’s Diamond Jubilee Flotilla to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession.
   “Amanuensis”: once it meant a slave, but now means more of a trusted PA.
   “Bucolic”: a country person.
So I sent in my effort – and with parenthesis in cheek – marked it “For your eyes only”. Whatever, when dear Boris announced the Diamond Jubilee Flotilla, he was mindful that he has a mayoral election before then, so added: “It is quite possible that come June 3 next year I will be in a coracle ... but I hope to be somewhere in the flotilla.”
     He obviously has no intention of missing the fun. So here’s my philological challenge to launch Boris down the Thames, and, incidentally, inspired by the serendipitous discovery online of the splendid Coracle Man painting by Paul Spilsbury, alongside...

“Avast there you bucolic landlubber,” shouted ex-Mayor Johnson at a suspicious termagant near the river bank as his amanuensis hurriedly launched him in his coracle from the family scow, little realising that he had just been addressing not just any old shrew but the new London Mayor – a Mr Livingstone, we presume? – or was it a Mr Opik, in drag? – then Boris awoke with a start, blimey, it had all been a horrible nightmare.

Well, it made me smile, probably because I can just picture Boris in that little coracle.
     While I’m thoroughly enjoying this word challenge thingy, the truth is that I am

Coracle Man by Paul Spilsbury
www.paintingsilove.com

unlikely though ever to use any of these words in proper conversation.
     Ah well. It’s the thought that counts.

Perusing the Telegraph web site today, I noticed that in second place on the “Most viewed” link was this:
First homosexual caveman found.
     I smiled – but resisted the urge to click on the link to find out more. For two reasons. A girlfriend once told me that I was the very model of an ancient minor caveman. She didn’t mean it offensively – she’s a very witty and amusing individual – and I never took it as such, probably because she was much nearer the truth than I would care to admit.
     Here are just a few of the points she made...

That there was no food or drink that I ever refused or disliked. P (Survival instinct.)
My footwear was the first thing I removed on entering the house and the last thing I put on when leaving – and that despite having no foot problems.
P (I can feel my ancestral feet running along a warm, soft beach somewhere on the coast of Africa.)
She had never known me without a beard.
P (That’s how nature designed me.)
I needed very little sleep in summer, but could stay in bed all day in midwinter – meaning I was fused with daylight.
P (Let there be light and let the dog see the rabbit.)
I hate to be tied down, preferring to remain a moving target, something essential in caveman days.
P (Um, no comment.)

That’s enough for now – so I’m a caveman, and perhaps the least I know about my dominant gene the better.
     The second reason for not clicking on the homosexual caveman link was – well, unlike the poor caveman, let’s preserve the mystery. I really don’t want to find out more. Indeed, with such headlines, less is often more.
     For example, my imagination runs riot at those four words, “First homosexual caveman found”. I mean, how did they discover this fact? Was this man in his cave with the love of his life, doing what loves-of-life do in caves, when the roof fell in on his world and preserved him and his doings in aspic stone until he was found 50-80,000 years later, still doing his thing?
     So I would rather leave now while I’m still in the dark, together with the rather smiley notion that what they probably found was the original homo erectus, ho, ho, ho.
 

Thursday, April 7
The Daily Doolally
“IF ROONEY had behaved like that in Wolverhampton on Saturday night, I would have expected my officers to lock him up.” Superintendent Mark Payne, responsible for managing responses to crime and operations in Wolverhampton, condemns famous footballer Wayne Rooney’s infamous foul-mouthed outburst after scoring (with a football for a change), which duly earned him a two-match suspension.

The smile quotient this week has been boosted by a couple of slebs, namely journalist Jeremy Clarkson and of course Rooney. Clarkson dominated last Monday’s smile of the day, so we’ll push him onto the back burner for now. So first up...

Rooney the Asterisk
Wayne Rooney has just had his two-match ban for his four-letter outburst on TV upheld by the Football Association. Rooney protests that he has been unfairly treated: “I am not the first player to have sworn on TV and I won’t be the last. Unlike others who have been caught swearing on camera, I apologised immediately. And yet I am the only person banned for swearing. That doesn’t seem right.”
     What happened was this ... he has not been playing well over the past year, indeed until this game he had been suffering a bit of a goal drought – then suddenly, like buses, three come at once. After scoring his third goal he rushes to a camera and shouts – and I repeat it asterisk free, so if you are likely to be offended, jump to the next paragraph: “Fuckin’ what? ... Fuck off!” Or it could be “Fuck you!” It’s not too clear. But the f-words are.

Now there are a couple of things that set his outburst apart: it’s his aggressive delivery, the sheer rage of his rant, something which always goes hand in hand with use of the f-word anyway; and he looks directly into the eye of the camera - so he is not caught swearing on camera but into the camera - which means he is telling everyone the other end of the camera “Hey you, get off of my cloud”, but sadly it wasn’t set to music, just asterisks.
     Now would he have said it directly to someone’s face, away from the safety of the football arena? The same thing happens online, where contributors to “Comment” boards say the most horrible things to others while hiding behind pseudonyms.
     It is the equivalent of a conscientious objector from the last war shouting at Hitler to “eff off”. Thank goodness that, overwhelmingly, our fathers and grandfathers didn’t act in such a cowardly way, otherwise we would now be speaking German and living in a country shorn of Jews, gypsies, black people – and God knows who else.
 

Right, that’s the Rooney dots joined up; we already know the Clarkson tale. So here’s a little something I call...

Juxtaposers: As mentioned in previous smiles, when I pick up the morning paper I always peruse the front pages of the red tops for inspiration to fuel my daily ‘Smile of the day’. This morning, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Star were sitting there alongside each other, captured alongside.
     One announces “Hero to Coke Zero”, about Rooney losing his lucrative contract with Coca-Cola, whilst alongside, another shouted “Top Gear Clarkson £1m love cheat deal”.
     I smiled.


One of the slebs – what a wonderfully derogatory expression that is – has lost a £600,000 a year deal because he transgressed basic decency values, while the other is offered a £1m deal to front an adultery website because he transgressed basic decency values.
     Crazy world, crazy people – which all goes to prove that we really are the most apropos species ever to have crawled out of the swamp.
     But, as the fellow living near the Hitler house at Swansea said: You have to see the funny side of life sometimes. Oh yes, at the top of the Mirror front page they continue to run with the Clarkson story: Clarkson & lover ‘like newlyweds’ – shock new claim over his affair.
     But alongside they are still promoting the ‘Free book’ deal: Little Miss Trouble and the Mermaid. Perhaps it should be Little Miss Trouble and the Mormon – well, Mormons are into polygamy, or plural marriage as they so delightfully call it.


Vanessa Felt’s Thursday word of the day... “Termagant”: a quarrelsome, scolding woman, or a shrew.
 

Wednesday, April 6
Stand up and be counted

“I AM the most accused man in the universe and in history.” Silvio Berlusconi, 74, the Italian Prime Minister.
Today, the Silvio Berlusconi ‘Ruby’ sex extravaganza opened – and was then adjourned. I know the feeling. I’ve a few adjournments under my belt.
     Seriously though, the trial of the prime minister on charges of paying for sex with an under-age prostitute opened in Milan. Neither he nor the alleged prostitute were in court, so

they are all going to have another go on May 31.
     That opening quote made me smile though. The most accused man in the universe and in history? I thought of Adolf Hitler – and the house that’s only got one hall.
     We’ve all seen the image in the papers, on TV or online, but here it is again, alongside...
     It’s that unusual slanted roof, reminiscent of the Nazi leader’s hairline, which makes anyone who passes the house go “Sieg Heil
!”, apparently. I wonder if it has a bunker?
     But who would have thought that an ordinary end-of-terrace house in Swansea could become a celebrity in its own Reich – oops, I’m getting ahead of the jokes. Okay, one more: what’s that suspicious pole in front of the house doing there?

     I was fascinated with the history of the property. The house, more than a century old, was originally an outfitter’s store; it has also been a newsagent, a florist’s shop and a TV repair shop before being converted into flats in the 1980s. It stands just a few hundred yards from Swansea docks, which were seriously targeted by Hitler’s Luftwaffe. But it remained untouched. Did the house know something others didn’t?
     Curiouser and curiouser. A near neighbour said: “People are joking that the house is the third on the Reich and that we live on the Western Front. You have to see the funny side of life sometimes.”
     But my favourite quote came from a Donald Payne, who lives near the house: “If it starts attracting the wrong sort of people, I might speak to the owner and see if he’ll let me paint the front door another colour – or give the roof a centre parting instead.”
     Meanwhile, back with Silvio Berlusconi, as he yet again shrugs off sex allegations made against him, with a certain style, I have to admit: “When asked if they would like to have sex with me, 30% of women said, ‘Yes’, while the other 70% replied, ‘What, again?’.” I mean, you have to laugh.

     Anyway, all this talk of Berlusconi’s exceedingly active sex life – not to mention Jeremy Clarkson’s undercover up-and-at-‘em sex manoeuvres in the dark (allegedly), which are all over the media this week – I thought I would show you a most curious tree growing on Dinefwr Park, pictured alongside, as captured in last December’s snow (and here given just a gentle short-back-and-sides!).
     The tree always reminds me not only of Berlusconi, Clarkson and good old Boris Johnson, but also Old Shaggy and young Shagwell, resident Casanovas down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. I’m not sure why.

Vanessa Felt’s Wednesday word of the day... “Scow”: a flat-bottomed boat or barge ... a word used by Mayor Boris Johnson as he announced the Diamond Jubilee Flotilla, with plans for a pageant of 1,000 boats down the Thames in June next year to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession.
     The Queen, who by then will be 86, will ride down the river from Putney to Tower Bridge in a Thames sailing barge temporarily converted to look like an ornate 18th-century royal galley of the sort used to convey her Hanoverian ancestors.
     It was described by Boris as a royal quinquereme (an ancient Roman galley with five banks of oars), “probably rowed by oiled and manacled MPs”.
     Mindful that he has a mayoral election before then, Johnson added: “It is

quite possible that come June 3 next year I will be in a coracle ... but I hope to
be somewhere in the flotilla.” He obviously has no intention of missing the fun.

I already feel Friday’s philological challenge coming on...
 

Tuesday, April 5
Around the world in 80 minutes plus VAT (more or less)

YES, mañana is here. Yesterday I wondered where precisely above the planet the International  Space Station (ISS) is when I first spot it coming out of the western sky in the morning – and where exactly it is in the evening when it disappears in the eastern sky.
     Just recently I found this perfect web site which not only shows on a world map where the ISS is at any given moment, but also shows what the astronauts are seeing at that very same moment, in the form of a map of the ground beneath.
     Astonishingly the site is updated every second. Ponder: the whole caboodle is hurtling along at nearly 18,000mph - true, that in itself means nothing, except that it’s exceedingly fast. But break it down to distances you can relate to; for example, from Llandeilo to the family farm is precisely five miles, which takes me anywhere between seven and ten minutes to complete along a typically winding and busy country B-road. The ISS covers that in a second. Yes, ONE SECOND.
     Now you understand why the site is updated every second – and a crosshair on the map confirms how dramatically fast it covers the ground.
     This morning it was scheduled to be visible from 6:04 to 6:09, due pretty much directly overhead at 6:07. It was a damp, miserable start, so an ideal opportunity to follow its course on screen.
     So here is that astonishing trail around the planet: I first pick it up at...

5:55  Passes just south of Bermuda
6:04  Approaches the south-west of Ireland
6:05  Off the tip of Ireland, then south of Cork
6.07  Overhead Swansea (and Llandeilo, more or less, so I normally wave to it at this moment
!) – passes north of Cardiff
6:08  Directly overhead London
6:09  Just north of Maastricht in the Netherlands ... then Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania...
6:13  Leaves Romania and out over the Black Sea
6:15  Over northern Turkey, skirts northern Iraq, then across Iran from NW to SE - never realised Iran was so large
6:21  Crosses the Iran coast and out over the Gulf of Oman and then the India Ocean

From here it is all sea, sea, sea: travels south as it skirts the west coast of India, past Sri Lanka – and then sweeps around and under the south-west coast of Australia...

6:53 At this point the ISS is at the direct opposite end of the planet to my home, just off the southern tip of New Zealand as it passes between the sub-Antarctic Auckland Island and Campbell Island.

6:55 Crosses the Dateline and then out over the South Pacific Ocean
7:15 Crosses the Equator and heads for Mexico

For nearly an hour it crosses no land, so that’s some 17,000 miles over just the seas -the circumference of the earth at the equator is just under 25,000 miles, about 26,000 miles at 200 miles high (I guess) where the ISS orbits

7:20 Crosses into Mexico at Acapulco, departs Mexico just north of Veracruz, then the Gulf of Mexico and on to America
7:26 Crosses into America at Pensacola and then heads north east
7:30 Passes south of New York and flirts with the coast
7:33 Crosses the south of the Island of Newfoundland
7:34 Now out over the North Atlantic Ocean once more
7.39 At this point it has completed an orbit (92 minutes) from the time it passed over my home; heading for the Celtic Sea
7:41 Flirts with the south west tip of Ireland and then over the Celtic Sea
7:42 South west of Land’s End
7:43 Crosses the French coast, just north of Brest...

The ISS does the precise same orbit every time, but of course the earth is slowly rotating beneath, hence every orbit being different and why a completed orbit at 7.39 above, is still out over the Atlantic.
     Back at Llandeilo, when its orbit and the viewing conditions are perfect, I am able to follow it for five minutes; during that time it will have covered about 1,500 miles, so on the above orbit, I would have first spotted the bright light in the sky out over the Atlantic, just west of Ireland – and I would lose it over the Netherlands. Astonishing.

The fascinating web site that tracks the ISS can be found at...
                                                                                                                     http://iss.astroviewer.net/

Also, if you want to know when the ISS is visible where you are, follow the links on this site to your particular location...
                                                                                                                     http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/

Vanessa Felt’s Tuesday word of the day... “Amanuensis”: once upon a time it meant a slave, but now means more of a trusted PA, or indeed a secretary, a person employed to take dictation or copy manuscripts.
 

Monday, April 4
Mirror, Mirror on the news stand.....

YOU know me and the International Space Station (ISS); yep, I enjoy watching it zoom across the sky – it’s the biblical aspect, I think: follow that star.
     For the next 10 days it’s the early morning watch. Today, after a still, clear and coldish night, it was a perfect early morning to view. And there it was, at 5:39 precisely, as promised, and incredibly bright, indeed as bright as I have every seen it – it must have something to do with the angle of the rising sun (official sunrise here at 6:45), and how crystal clear the air is during the pass over, obviously.
     I often wonder where precisely over the planet the ISS is when I first spot it coming out of the western sky in the morning – and where it is in the evening when I lose it in the eastern sky. Well, mañana will hold all the answers, if spared.
 

Right, back to basics: yesterday morning at the newsagent, I spotted the Sunday Mirror front page, alongside, left.
     God, I remember thinking as I caught the moment for posterity, that's asking for trouble, dating pixelated women.
     By this morning the Mirror had moved on a click. There she was, unpixelated.
     The first thing that struck me was the Free book offer at the top of the page, Mr. Bump and the Knight: should it not be Mr. Hump and the Night?
   
Today, Mr. Strong and the Ogre: why not Mr. Wrong and the Ogre?
  
(Whether the Ogre is the wife or the mistress depends very much where your sympathies lie, I guess.)


Do you know, I honestly believe that the perfectly wonderful German word schadenfreude – pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others – was fashioned with Jeremy in mind. He spends his whole life sitting in judgment on everyone and everything, handing out bollockings left, right and centre, so when he then steps out of line - well, let’s grab some rotten fruit. He is a walking, talking coc-o-nut shy.
     I have no problem with his seemingly arrogant attitude. Yes okay, he has always rubbished us Welsh – but he rubbishes everything that passes in front of him. In fact if he said nothing at all, that would be a much greater insult. Imagine, you are so inconsequential and boring that you don’t even warrant a quick flash of abuse. Now that really would hurt.
     Jeremy and his wife were in the news last week when a long-running dispute over a footpath at their holiday home took a nasty twist with the uprooting of a long stretch of a cliff-top fence which was then thrown into the sea.
     Their cottage among a lighthouse complex at Langness in the Isle of Man was meant to provide Jeremy and wife Francie with a quiet retreat - but, they are what the locals would label White Settlers. And isn’t Clarkson’s Retreat an oxymoron?
     However, the incident had made Francie “feel sick” and pushed her to “the end of her tether”. Which invites the question: why is Jeremy keeping her all tied up? Well, compliments of the Mirror, we now know.
     See what I mean? Make fun of others and those others will cash in their chips sooner rather than later.

Two of Clarkson’s favourite topics are Piers Morgan and caravan owners. I was rather taken with these observations, as spotted on the Autotrader web site.

Hack attack
... Jeremy Clarkson v Piers Morgan: “That talentless fool Jeremy Clarkson has been rubbishing me to the media again. Just let it go, Jeremy. Face it, you’re never going to be as famous as me.”
     Former Mirror editor Morgan entered into a long-running feud with Clarkson after he alleged the Top Gear star was having an extra-marital affair. Outraged at the accusations, Clarkson punched Morgan three times at the 2004 British Press Awards.
[Oh dear, and Jeremy still won’t keep his rocket in his pocket.]

Caravan of love ... Jeremy Clarkson v Caravan owners: Clarkson regularly destroys caravans on Top Gear. Last year, the Caravan Society protested outside a show at the Birmingham NEC, handing out stickers saying ‘Hate Clarkson Love Caravans’. Jezza’s response: “What have the caravanners got against Kelly Clarkson?”

My favourite quote about Clarkson has already made a guest appearance here on Look You. From September 14 last...
     Dave Chapman from Caravan Club Wales was a guest on Radio Wales – Wales
having just been named as the top UK destination for touring caravans, beating high-profile places like Scotland and the Lake District.
     “There are plenty of people who don’t like caravans,” suggested interviewer Jamie Owen. “Dear Jeremy Clarkson has blown up a caravan or two in his time. Is he good for business? Or is he bad for business?” Jamie was clearly working on the theory that all publicity is good publicity.
     To which
Dave Chapman gave this priceless response: “I don’t think Jeremy Clarkson is very good for any business other than Jeremy Clarkson.”

Vanessa Felt’s Monday word of the day... “Bucolic”: idyllic rural life; bucolics: country persons - farmers, shepherds or other persons from the country.
     I guess that makes me one of those bucolics.
 

Sunday, April 3
Leapfrog to glory

BACK on March 22, I expressed much delight at having my picture of the supermoon hiding behind a very Welsh daffodil (see Postcard Corner -
smile) featured in the Daily Telegraph’s online Pictures of the day.
     Well, I’ve had another, under Animal pictures of the week – 1 April 2010. My chuffedness overfloweth. As you may have guessed, there it is, up there at reception, which I’ve swapped with this one by ‘ere...
 


As with all my bird photographs, they happen just by chance - you simply can’t direct nature to act on cue. Yes okay, I’ve walked many a mile in my moccasins to reach this point, in particular for the birds to accept me as their Candy Man (the more miles I put in the luckier I get?).
     Anyway, I’ll put a link at the bottom, because there are some great pictures featured in the Telegraph Animal gallery...

That my picture found its way onto the Telegraph gallery came about by chance. By a curious coincidence – there’s that funny c-word yet again – I decided to update my 400 Smiles A Day web site after a six month break (this particular site now takes up quite a bit of my relaxevous time, look you), and what I had formulated in my mind was the extraordinary gathering of birds outside the cottage during the cold weather back at the beginning of winter.
     And of course, the RSPB has just announced its annual bird count. I quote...

Small garden birds which were hit by the long harsh winter a year ago appear to have bounced back this year, the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch has revealed. Goldcrests (numbers more than doubled), long-tailed tits (increased by a third) and coal tits (up by almost a quarter) were just some of the more significant numbers in the latest survey of birds seen in people’s gardens, which took place at the end of January.
     According to the RSPB, small birds can be particularly badly hit by harsh winters but a good breeding season can help turn around their fortunes, and the results from the poll suggest this may have been the case in 2010.
     More than 600,000 people took part in this year’s Birdwatch which saw house sparrows top the list of commonly seen birds for the eighth year running. But while sparrow numbers were up 10% on last year, they were far lower than they were when the first Birdwatch took place in 1979.

My own personal observations suggest that the little bluetit is the most common, with the chaffinch a close second. Oh, and a worrying increase in how often the dreaded sparrowhawk is spotted on the prowl. (By the way, I have just added a PS to that 400 Smiles A Day  piece, all to do with a sparrowhawk incident I overlooked when putting it together yesterday.)

Anyway, linking the RSPB report and my own winter observations, I submitted the following letter to the Telegraph, which is really a summary of what I’ve been regularly reporting here on Look You...

Birds in the hand:  SIR – Some two years ago I decided to find out how easy – or indeed how difficult – it would be to “train” totally wild songbirds to take feed from my hand, with spectacular results, especially as they come when I wolf-whistle. I was undoubtedly helped by two of the coldest winters for years and as a consequence observed some most unusual behaviour.
     I worked four spots along a two mile stretch of the Towy Valley, attracting small groups of birds at each location, but during the cold weather the numbers would increase dramatically – yet as soon as the cold weather broke the additional numbers disappeared.
     So why would these missing birds, which all saw me as their Candy Man, turn down a free breakfast? Now we know about the territorial ruthlessness of the robin, but it seems all birds protect their territories vigorously, except during cold weather, when the need for food trumps their aggressiveness, including it has to be said, that of the robin.
     What is interesting though about the weekend of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, 29-30 January, with its increased numbers of birds counted, was that after a mild week, it was a really cold weekend with severe frost, and I saw a marked jump in the numbers of birds.
     It would be interesting to know how the RSPB factors such conditions into their results.

Rather than attach my picture of the leapfrogging great tit to the letter, which might get the whole missive rejected, I sent it separately to the Picture section.
     Sadly, the letter wasn’t worthy of publication – rather like ‘the bomb’ I had to learn to live with back at the height of the cold war, I handle rejection much the same – but David Sim, the Daily Telegraph’s Online Picture Editor, liked the picture.

So here’s the link to the gallery - mwynhewch (enjoy)...  

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthpicturegalleries/8421812/Animal-pictures-of-the-week-1-April-2011.html
 

Saturday, April 2
A quick ho, ho, ho! – and over to 400 Smiles A Day

IT’S A quickie smile today. I landed on the iPlayer to check out the April Fools’ Day Ken Bruce show, which was hosted by comedian Rob Brydon, pretending to be Ken Bruce.
     It really is a masterclass in how to pull off an April Fool stunt with much style and wit. Very enjoyable. If I had been listening live I’m not sure I would have twigged it to be honest. I am a sucker for this type of joke. Ten out of ten.

A series of letters in the Telegraph discuss the secrets of making a Bloody Mary. I enjoyed this particular letter coming up, but more so the online responses in the Comment section...

A Bloody Mary – hold the curse: SIR – My husband and I partake of (non-alcoholic) Bloody Marys every weekday on our return from work. A shake each of Worcester and Tabasco sauces sets the spirits soaring after a day’s toil. Our secret ingredient is a small quantity of celery seeds stirred into the juice just before serving. And unlike Prince William, I’m happy to share my recipe.
Michele Platman, Birmingham.

phrancofile: “My husband and I partake of (non-alcoholic) Bloody Marys every weekday on our return from work.”
     No such thing. This is known as a “Virgin Mary”.

stevecasey: Or the Aussie term for it, a “Bloody Shame”.


Having spent a spell behind bars down at the Crazy Horse, I knew of the “Virgin Mary” – but the “Bloody Shame” is a new one. Ho, ho, ho!

Right, over the past six months I have neglected the 400 Smiles A Day site, much to my chagrin. It’s the lack of a 25-hour day, I guess. My walks on the wild side give me so much pleasure, so today I have done a feature on how the birds outside the cottage coped with the cold and snowy conditions we experienced at the end of 2010.

Check it out – I have some intriguing images to back up the tale ...
400 Smiles A Day
 

Friday, April 1
You could have knocked me down with a feather

UP AT five, quick splash to rid the cobwebs out of the eyes, get dressed in my walk-on-the-wild-side outfit, arrive in the kitchen, switch on the radio – and Vanessa’s in full flow. I set about preparing some breakfast before setting off on my regular walk (I can hear rain belting down outside – bugger
! – but I believe it’s supposed to clear quite quickly).

Half-five arrives, a news summary, and newsreader Deadly Dedicoat launches into his Vanessa’s Friday Philological Challenge effort – bugger, bugger!! – I’d forgotten all about that. Well, I say forgotten, I duly completed my challenge yesterday afternoon and e-mailed it off to the show, more in hope than anticipation, you understand.
     Anyway, let’s remind ourselves of the words.

Picayune: something of little value or importance and easy to overlook; an unimportant person or thing.
Numismatist: a collector and student of money (and coins in particular).
Atavistic: showing a tendency to behave like your ancestors; the tendency to revert to ancestral type.
Châtelaine: the mistress of a castle or a large, fashionable household; a clasp or chain worn at the waist for holding keys, a purse, or a watch; a song called Miss Châtelaine (as agreeably delivered by k. d. lang).

So this was newsreader Alan Dedicoat’s sentence: Once upon a time whilst out walking, pretty young V chanced upon a shinny new farthing, picayune in many ways but none the less attractive to a numismatist, because like her mother and her mother before her, she was atavistic to a fault; she was attracted to all things shinny and new and decided not to ignore the coin but to attach it to her châtelaine instead, in the manner of a good luck charm.

Hey, now that, Deadly, is rather good. Vanessa plays a record ... then back to the philological challenge: “And Huw Beynon, well you are a talented and most imaginative gentleman” – at which point I fall off my chair ... so I quickly pick myself up, dust myself off and listen to Vanessa read my limerick - on the wireless.
     When I submitted it yesterday I was – and I wasn’t – happy with it … anyway, here it is, remembering of course that during the week someone had decided to call the good Vanessa “Ness”, which she wasn’t particularly happy about ...
 

There once was an ardent numismatist called Ness,
Whose atavistic genes were a bit of a mess;
Her coins were just so picayune,
Like Miss Châtelaine sung out of tune,
Ah but it is All Fools’ Day Your Royal High-Ness.


Now I was happy with the first four lines – but not particularly the last. I couldn’t really get it to flow as I would have liked. I did try a line something like this: So she got the hump and disappeared into Loch Ness - but time was not a luxury, so as the day of reckoning cum deadline was April Fools’ Day, and Vanessa was relatively happy with the Your Royal High-Ness tag, I thought I’d go with that.

After reading the limerick, Vanessa remarked: “Magnificent, really.” What came to mind at that point was the famous Ferrero Rocher chocolate advert featuring the Ambassador, so I felt like saying: “Vanessa, you spoil me.”
     Thank you anyway, Vanessa. Made my day. If you have access to the iPlayer, seek out Vanessa’s April 1 broadcast, and listen out for the philological challenge at about 32 minutes into the programme.

So that was my smile of the day, done and dusted, just 45 minutes into my day. However, I must mention in passing the two April Fool tales I thoroughly enjoyed.
     One was a simple story of a man who had been extra careful to have lived his life as near as possible to the guidelines set down by the Ten Commandments – shades of Moses and the tablets from last Wednesday – but he dreaded dying on April 1, and turning up at the Pearly Gates full of himself having lived a worthy life, only to be told by Saint Peter that the Ten Commandments were really just one big April Fool joke played by that rascal everyone calls God.
     Now that really tickled my imagination. Secondly, hearing about this: Listeners were left baffled by the erratic behaviour of Radio 2 presenter Ken Bruce – until it emerged the show was being hosted by Welsh comedian Rob Brydon, a master of mimicry. Brydon managed to get through almost the entire 2½ hour show before eventually dropping hints that it was an April 1 wind-up.
     Now that’s what I call talented and imaginative, what an April Fools
stunt should sound like. I didn’t hear the show so can’t comment on his performance, but I shall head for the iPlayer at the earliest opportunity, probably tomorrow.
 

Thursday, March 31
Just a smile, just a smile ... hold me captive just a while

WELL, it’s the last day of March, and there’s this English proverb which describes typical March weather: March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Here in Wales this proverb was historically applied more often than not to the month of April, especially in the borders.
     In the 19th century it was used as a conditional prediction of March weather: If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb – or indeed, If March comes in like a lamb, it will go out like a lion – but it was recognized to not work so well.
     However, this year has been perfect. It came in like a lamb – the driest March since 1944, and sunny too – and remained a lamb until the final couple of days when rain and gale-force winds rushed in off the Atlantic.

The most striking aspect of the month, and all down to the agreeable weather, was the blossom. There are a couple of blossom trees in the grounds of the cottage, and they have been a real treat, especially in the brilliant sunshine.
     So here’s a picture of said cherry blossom, alongside, with a bee in attendance – and up there in the flower gallery, another shot of the eye-catching blossom.
     I mentioned the bee: that was the most striking thing, the number of bees in attendance. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Standing directly under the trees, I found myself wondering how best to describe it. Well ...
     I guess it was much like standing in the middle of the Albert Hall with a thousand violinists seducing their instruments into fine tune for the First Night of the Proms.
     Magical and truly smiley.


A bit of catch up: I have mentioned before that reading the “Comments” section on web sites is now becoming hard work. All contributors should have a little sub-editor beavering away inside their brains to make their stuff readable. It’s the lack of punctuation, etc – but I make no comment about the content: who am I to sit in judgment?
     Ponder this example in the Telegraph Letters page: a missive from Alan Johnson MP (Labour). He makes some political points, something to do with the role of elected mayors, such as London’s Boris Johnson – but the content is unimportant, just that it is a load of political spiel. But look at this comment in response – reproduced as on the web site...

peteh: Alan Johnson – You are an idiot. If I wanted your opinion on anything – Which I don’t – I would read the mirror! Know your place, you are an over promoted postman, nothing more.

Now why would peteh want to read his own mirror? Unless his opinions reflect those of Alan Johnson, which of course they don’t. What he obviously means is the Mirror newspaper. Perhaps it’s not a very good example, but it does show how not using something simple like a capital letter can often light-heartedly, occasionally seriously, lead the reader down the wrong track.

Vanessa Felt’s Thursday word of the day... “Châtelaine”: the mistress of a castle or a large, fashionable household; a clasp or chain worn at the waist for holding keys, a purse, or a watch; a magazine; a French-Canadian singer; and a song called Miss Châtelaine (and as sung by k. d. lang, has one of the best musical intros ever to a popular song; as a bonus the lyrics feature the line: “Just a smile, just a smile; hold me captive just a while...”).

That line suddenly took me back to yesterday and Ceri, the pleasant young lady I encountered at the Co-op checkout: Just a smile, just a smile; hold me captive just a while. Twelve words that captured the moment perfectly.

Right, I have Vanessa’s four words – picayune, numismatist, atavistic and châtelaine – to include in a sentence. Truth to tell, I feel a limerick coming on...

PS: A couple more Blossom Dearie images over on Postcard corner -
smile.
 

Wednesday, March 30
Wel-i-jiw-jiw, I am introduced to my screen persona

TODAY I begin with what I normally leave till last:
Vanessa Felt’s Wednesday word of the day... “Atavistic”: showing a tendency to behave like your ancestors; the tendency to revert to ancestral type.
     Yup, I can identify with that. My caveman gene is alive and well and kicking.

Also on her show, Vanessa had a very special session on the casting couch, so to speak: who plays you in the film of your life?
This week’s newsreader on the show is Alan Dedicoat, announcer on various programmes on BBC One and Radio 2, but probably best known as the “Voice of the Balls” on the BBC’s Lottery show.
    
Anyway, he suggested that Tom Cruise in high heels would be just

perfect to play him, but much to Vanessa’s chagrin, he suggested that Dora Bryan would be ideal to portray her.
     While Vanessa longed for someone - a listener - to suggest Marilyn Monroe, names suggested were Peggy Mount, and given that Vanessa has a well-documented on-going weight challenge thingy, even Tessie O’Shea, who capitalised on her bulk and girth by adopting “Two Ton Tessie from Tennessee” as her theme song. Given Vanessa’s new nickname of Ness, dare one suggest “Two Ton Ness from Tennessee”? Perhaps not.

Me? Who else but Charlton Heston as Moses, majestically coming down Mount Sinai with those tablets of wisdom. Yes, that’s me to a T. Fits my profile just perfectly.
     I mentioned this to a good friend, who shall remain nameless, just to protect the guilty you understand, should she suddenly go missing, that is: “Who are you kidding, Mr Hubie?” she laughed. “Charlton Heston? Huh
! Charles Hawtrey, more like.”
     Talk about having Heston’s rug pulled from under my feet. At that moment I knew what Vanessa felt when confronted by the name Ness – but I quickly came to terms with it. Indeed, from what I remember of

Charlton Heston as Moses commands
us all to keep taking the tablets

Hawtrey in those Carry On films, he always made me chuckle.
     So I went Googledee-Woogledee ... Hawtrey seems to have been a very odd bod indeed in his private life, so I looked away, quick. However, I shall go with the Carry On role...
                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                                                                   ...indeed, he seems to have captured my “Wel-i-jiw-jiw!” shock-horror look quite perfectly up there. It also seems that BBC’s  Radio 4 did a programme titled
“Charles Hawtrey: That Funny Fella with the Glasses”.
     Being that I started wearing glasses when I hit the 35 middle-age speed limit, I ‘d be absolutely delighted to be called “That funny fella with the glasses”. Hawtrey would have to have grown a beard though.

I finish today with something different. Early evening, and I call at the local Co-op supermarket. Whenever I call there I always peruse the reduced items bin. As there is no type of food that I actively dislike - what did I say earlier about my dominant caveman gene? - I often end up buying something I have never tasted before.
     So I buy a few cheapie things, but the item that caught my eye was this:
The co-operative truly irresistible finely sliced Scottish Aberdeen Angus silverside beef – minimum 5 slices ... 98% beef.
   
 Where’s the other 2% beef gone then? Best not to ask. Anyway, the going rate was £3.22 – which I would never have bought at that price – but at 90p it seemed like great value. Mind you (and I’m actually writing this on the Thursday afternoon) whilst it was very tasty, I was taken aback at how “finely” thin the slices were! It was obviously an anorexic Aberdeen Angus.
     But back to the Co-op. There was quite a queue at all the checkouts. I eventually arrived with a young lady, about 18, tallish. “Sorry for the delay,” she said with a captivating smile.
     “That’s okay, I’m in no particular hurry.”
     “That’s good – but there are people on their way home from work and I don’t suppose they like having to hang about in here.” I was truly enchanted by ... look at name tag - Ceri. She had one of those natural smiles that invites you to smile along with. As a bonus she was blessed with a most pleasant singy-songy voice. It was a most agreeable exchange. A smashing young lady.
     As I drive home I keep thinking that if I had a business and wanted someone to be a public face, Ceri would be on my head-hunting list.

It really does lift the spirits when you encounter inherently pleasant human beings.
 

Tuesday, March 29
Say aah ... ha-ha-ha!

VISITED the local doctor’s practice to complete my health MOT. After checking in and finding a seat I perused the magazines on offer. The first I picked up was The Garden.
     Although I enjoy planting trees, I am not a gardening enthusiast, but I flicked through anyway ... some eye-catching photographs. I then noticed that it was dated January 2003. Wel-i-jiw-jiw
! I thought these things only happened in television sketches and comedy routines - but being a garden magazine, I guess the date isn’t really relevant.

     I next picked up a SAGA magazine: October 2010 ... getting warmer. I flicked through and landed on a cartoon which made me chuckle out loud.
     I engaged in a quick philosophical discussion with self as to whether it was okay to gently and carefully tear it out for my diary – and the man from Del Conscience said “Yes
!” – nobody seemed to notice me quietly do the dirty, and there it is, alongside.
     Now there is a little twist to this: I had the finger-up-bum routine, something I had never experienced before. I wasn’t sure what to expect – although I’ve always enjoyed good health, touch wood and all that, I’m one of those individuals that inexplicably suffers white coat syndrome when confronted by a dentist, doctor or nurse – but it went okay.
     Mind you, the slap of glove on hand wasn’t reassuring, but I was probably helped by the thought of the doctor – a rather agreeable individual, I should add – thinking to himself: “Oh, stuff it – chuck a stock cube in.”
     And that’s why the cartoon makes my smile of the day.
Smiles come in all shapes and sizes and should never be sniffed at.
 

A quote from last Saturday, revisited:
“Looking at the insipid contemporary film-star likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, for whom eating half a cupcake seems a walk on the wild side, this cursing, drinking, swashbuckling goddess is a reminder of when hell-raisers didn’t automatically have to be as mad, bad and sad as Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson.” Julie Burchill, 51, English writer and columnist known for her somewhat bitchy view of humanity, on Elizabeth Taylor.

Well now, in today’s newspaper:
“It was a disaster. It took me so long to get my fingers to do what my brain wanted them to do.” Aforementioned American actress Gwyneth Paltrow after pulling a muscle in her armpit.

How splendid; you really couldn’t make it up.
And then, this quote from Kathy Lette, 52, Australian author noted for her Miss Quiplash turn of phrase, on twitter:
“Off to Berkshire on Kate Middleton tour to learn how to nab a Prince and go from pleb to celeb, yob to snob. Am wearing tiara with tweed.”

How perfect a description of our celebrity culture and doolallyness. From pleb to sleb, from yob to snob. Yup, could sit comfortably on the shoulders of pretty much anyone in the celebrity spotlight.
     I think I’ll start a daily sleb/snob doolally quote corner.

Vanessa Felt’s Tuesday word of the day... “Numismatist”: a collector and student of money (and coins in particular).

Oh yes, Vanessa read out a message from a listener who referred to her as Ness – which she hated. As soon as she announced it she knew she had made a mistake. So everyone started addressing her as Ness. Mind you, I’m unsure whether she was as annoyed as she made out. All part of the entertainment?
     She didn’t mind too much though being addressed as Your Royal High-Ness.

Food for thought there when it comes to composing a sentence which must include this week’s four new words of the day.
 

Monday, March 28
It’s there in black and white

AS MENTIONED the other day, I am not a photographer, merely someone who always carries a little camera to capture the oohs and aahs of the passing parade. More often than not it is the passing parade on the wild side of the Towy Valley.
     This is why you will hardly ever see people in my photographs, unless they are a group of workmen peering into a hole in the ground or a TV aerial erector atop a chimney attempting to capture a signal.
     However, I am a great admirer of those professional photographers who set out to properly capture the moment. I have just read in the Western Mail a piece about Bruce Davidson, the American photographer behind some of the most poignant images of the South Wales coalfields ever committed to film.
     Back in 1965, Davidson, who made his name with respected global images agency Magnum, was commissioned by a holiday magazine to shoot images of Caernarfon Castle that would appeal to tourists.
     After finishing his shots up North, he decided to journey to the South Wales coalfields, places scarred by the dirt and squalor of the mining industry.
     The pictures he compiled during 10 days in the region are now seen by some as among the defining images of Wales in the 20th century. The National Library of Wales and the National Museums and Galleries of Wales are now in talks about whether to bid when copies of the images go on sale at Sotheby’s early next month.
     They are wonderful photographs, but the one that really captured my imagination is the one featured here. It is one of just a couple or so that are clearly engineered, but none the worst for that. I mean, a miner coming home from the pit would never hold a baby dressed in pristine white – or if he did it would be the last time because his wife would be doing her nut, so to speak - I mean, she is unlikely to have had a washing machine to make light work of the mess.
     Also, I note that his vest is surprisingly clean
! But, as an image, it is mighty powerful. Ebony and Ivory indeed.

One of the 'Welsh Miners' photographs, a portfolio of 10
photographs, each signed, and expected to reach $10,000

     The above picture also clicked with me because I am
always on the lookout for such images in nature...
 

A few years back I took some pictures of a White Park cow with calf, her little baby. Calves, like their mothers, are normally white, obviously (excepting the black nose, ears and socks), but occasionally there is a genetic throwback where there is much black, indeed sometimes a totally black calf appears, as captured here, alongside. It is quite surreal.
     White Park Cattle are thought to date from the time of the Romans, who would have introduced the breed to this country. The black comes from cross breeding with the native Welsh Black cattle. And there it is, in black and white.


Both images, in their own special way, make my smile XL.

Vanessa Felt’s Monday word of the day... “Picayune”: no, not the city in Pearl River County, Mississippi – but, with  a small “p”, it means something of little value or importance and easy to overlook; an unimportant person or thing.
     I think it’s pronounced pica-une, to rhyme with tune. Also, picayunish. The word derives from the French picaillon.
 


Sunday, March 27
Census and Sensibility

IT’S THAT time of the decade: “Here, Miss, present and correct
!” Yes, I’ve just perused the census questionnaire before putting tick to paper...

Q15: How would you describe your national identity?
(Tick all that apply)

Welsh/English/Scottish/Northern Irish/British/Other, write in...
I ticked Welsh and British, which is what my DNA footprint suggests. However, given the on-going shemozzle over our membership of the European Union, in particular the refusal of our political masters to offer us Brits a referendum (I nearly said refund) regarding membership, as they had promised, wouldn’t it have been totally wonderful if European had been included in the choices.
     In a historical contest, how intriguing the percentages from each of the home nations would look, especially against the various age brackets, showing who precisely, in 2011, thought of themselves as European, if only an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny bit.
     And, with tongue in cheek, how about including “The West” and “The Rest”. It would make fascinating reading to establish just how tribal people admit to being. (As a point of order, I wouldn’t have ticked European - but I may well have been tempted to tick “The West”. Like every other human being ever invented, I am tribal down to my last gene.)

Q20: What is your religion?
(This question is voluntary)
No religion/ Christian (all denominations)/Buddhist/Hindu/Jewish/Muslim/Sikh/Any other religion, write in…

In 2001, 70% answered Christian, which must have surprised our men and women of the cloth, but delighted our courts of law (“I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...”).
     Also, in 2001 the snapshot was further blurred by the Star Wars internet campaign that resulted in 390,000 UK residents being recorded as Jedi Knights. So until the current statistics are collated, Jedi remains Britain’s fourth largest religion.
     And with apologies to Carolyn Hitt in the Western Mail: “May the farce be with you”.

I also read this in Carolyn’s column...
Prying eyes in Whitehall could collect more data on the average British citizen from a Facebook page, Tesco card and Google Earth than a 32-page booklet ... the criminal possibilities of Google Earth were revealed this month as one of Britain’s most prolific copper theft rings was jailed. The gang used 4,000 Google Earth maps to pinpoint the best places to steal, costing the railways almost £1m.
     Wel-i-jiw-jiw
!

But here’s the story that made me smile...
Twins see census of their birth: The world’s oldest twins have been shown a century-old census in which their mother entered their names. Few people ever see their own names on the census record because they are kept confidential for 100 years.
     But farmer’s daughters Ena Pugh and Lily Millward, who live near Brecon, mid Wales, have been allowed to look at a questionnaire completed in 1911, when they were just a year old. Their names are alongside their parents and brothers, Cyril and Gwyn.
     The sisters were shown the documents at Brecon Library as the Office for National Statistics urged households to complete their census. Mrs Pugh said: “I think it’s mum’s [writing], I don’t think dad used to write a lot.”
     The sisters were named the oldest twins in the world by Guinness World Records in November.

Before bidding farewell to the census, here’s a fascinating fact: In 2001 only 1,500 people out of a population of 59 million failed to complete the form. Interestingly, of the 1,500 people who did not comply only 37 were successfully prosecuted with fines ranging from £35 to £200, according to the Census Compliance Report.
     But that 1,500 obviously didn’t include all those in the country without permission. Now that figure would be intriguing.
 

Saturday, March 26
Gone fishin’

“WE WERE both beautiful, high-achieving, talented, foul-mouthed, alcoholic, over-eating artistic fag-hag sirens.” Molly Parkin (born Molly Thomas, 1932, in Pontycymer, South Wales), painter, novelist, journalist and larger-than-life character, compares herself to Elizabeth Taylor.
In light of my remarks yesterday about ET and her 15 minute departure lounge delay (ET: Phone home, urgent
!), good old Molly’s observation made me smile XL.

And here’s a brace of follow-ups on the same subject...
“Exercise
! Painful, horrible, long exercise. I know from experience that there are no free rides in this world.” Gwyneth Paltrow, 38, American actress and fully paid up member of the sleb club, who has to endorse exercise to combat her love for pasta and “the odd tipple”.
“Looking at the insipid contemporary film-star likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, for whom eating half a cupcake seems a walk on the wild side, this cursing, drinking, swashbuckling goddess is a reminder of when hell-raisers didn’t automatically have to be as mad, bad and sad as Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson.” Julie Burchill, 51, English writer and columnist known for her somewhat bitchy view of humanity, on Elizabeth Taylor.

Talking of yesterday, in particular my attempt at Vanessa Felt’s Friday Philological Challenge...
“I am nearly 75. Even if I am a bit of a rascal, 33 girls in two months seems too many.” Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister of Italy, laughs off the sex scandal that just won’t go away.

Whenever I see Berlusconi I am reminded of a clip I saw on Have I Got News For You. It showed Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel waiting to greet the Italian prime minister before joining NATO’s other 27 leaders for a group photo.
     Berlusconi got out of his limousine, talking on his mobile, and instead of greeting Merkel, waved to her and then wandered off in the opposite direction, still talking into his phone. Left standing alone on the red carpet, Merkel smiled weakly at the Italian and proceeded to greet half a dozen other leaders including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as they arrived in their motorcades.
     It was rather smiley, but an astonishing act of ignorance by Berlusconi – and to treat the Germans of all people like that. No wonder the world is in a mess.

“I can’t believe I used to have sex 20 times a week. But now I’m a bloody good gardener.” Russell Brand, 35, English comedian, famous for leaving a message on Andrew Sachs’ answerphone boasting that he had shagged his granddaughter, reflects on life after marriage.
Hm, always remember your three a day, twice on Sunday (space for confessions?). So he has morphed from greedy fingers to green fingers. And if you believe that you will believe anything.

And now for something completely different:
“Tom Stoppard is the flesh and blood of intellectual eroticism.” Barbara Amiel, 70, British-Canadian journalist, writer and socialite, and wife of former media baron and convicted felon Conrad Black, says brain power makes her “jump like a trout”.
All of a sudden I know what Old Shaggy down at the Crazy Horsepower means when he puts his success with women down to this: “Just spin ‘em a line – and the longer the line the more they love it.”
     I have also heard Old Shaggy talk of trout tickling, the art of rubbing the underbelly of a trout using fingers, and if done properly, the trout will go into a trance-like state after a minute or so, and can then easily be thrown onto the nearest bed – oops
! – the nearest bit of dry land.
     But I have never heard him use the expression “she jumps like a trout”. Every day a day at school.

“I am quietly thrilled, naturally.” Michael Buerk, 65, a BBC journalist and newsreader, on being photographed with Katie Price, 32, (aka Jordan, former glamour model famous for her XXL boobs), describing her as The Most Famous Living Englishwoman Who Isn’t The Queen.

I laughed out loud at that. If you’re going to send someone up, do it with a bit of style. And a perfect end-of-day smile.
 

Friday, March 25
I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date

MY FIRST somewhat hesitant smile of the day came compliments of an early-morning news bulletin: the private funeral of Elizabeth Taylor had taken place, but the service started 15 minutes late, at the star’s request.
     “Miss Taylor had left instructions that it was to begin at least 15 minutes later than publicly scheduled, with the announcement: ‘She even wanted to be late for her own funeral’, said a statement from her publicist.

The more I thought about that final 15 minute curtain call, the more I realised that my funny bone had been stroked under false pretences. I mean, you can’t be late for your own funeral if you have decreed that it must be so.
     We all personally know individuals who are hopeless at doing anything, or arriving anywhere, on time. No matter how much we try to help them (arrange to meet 15 minutes earlier than you intend to), or they even try to help themselves (get up 15 minutes earlier every morning), they find it impossible to keep to time.
     You suspect that they will indeed be late for their own funeral, not as the result of a private practical joke, but rather the hearse breaks down, or the whole cortege is held up by a serious road accident along the route.
     So good try, Miss Taylor, but hindered by the fact that it was her “publicist” who announced it. Surely, nothing at all should have been said, and the media allowed to have some innocent fun that, honestly, she was even late for her own funeral. Now that would have been worth a smile, not least from the ghost of Miss Taylor herself.
     Curious lady, Elizabeth Taylor. Beautiful beyond, for sure – but I was intrigued by the gushing tributes paid by an endless parade of stars from around the world, all dazzled like bunnies caught in her headlights. She was, apparently, such an incredible human being that she must have been a personal gift to humanity from the Gods.
     Yet in announcing her death, the front page of the Western Mail carried in bold print this quote from Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra, where the two first met: “She was the most sullen, uncommunicative and beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
     Our exceedingly clever brains make an instant judgment when we meet someone – and the brain never, ever gets it wrong.
My impression of Elizabeth Taylor was that she was Trouble with a capital T, and I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t have wanted her within a million miles of my fondly imagined South Sea Island Paradise.
     But I still smile at the thinking behind the “15 minutes late for own funeral” ploy.

And so to Vanessa Felt’s Friday Philological Challenge...

To recap, these are the four words to be deployed in a sentence:
Palanquin: Indian word, used to describe a particular type of covered litter – or sedan chair – carried high on four poles by bearers.
Sybaritic: loving luxury or sensuous pleasure; a devotee of luxury and the sensual vices.
Concupiscence: an ardent longing or lust.
Mendacious: someone who is given to or characterized by deception or falsehood or divergence from absolute truth.

The standard routine on Vanessa’s early morning radio show is that the newsreader of the week is charged with the task of composing a sentence, and today it’s a Tom Sandars:
Sly, stylish and mendacious, Fernando was known for his sybaritic nature, not to mention his near uncontrollable concupiscence, but the fact that he forced his cousins to transport him to family events on a palanquin gave him a notoriety among the fox dens of Fermanagh.
     Good, that, but I’m trying to figure out the connection between someone called Fernando and the fox dens of Northern Ireland?

Vanessa then reads out a couple of efforts submitted by the listener. First, Chris Fairhead, who was inspired by a Byronic connection:

A sybaritic loose young milord,
With concupiscence turned full toward;
The shy girl within
His deluxe palanquin,
And with mendacious affection he scored.


And then a Cliff from Carmarthenshire, my corner of the world:
The mendacious merchant in the Indian market had promised that the video contained scenes of such concupiscence as to satisfy the most sybaritic soul; however, it only showed a scantily clad lady reclining on a palanquin.
Cliff had also added that it represented “The story of my life: sex, lies and video tapes”.


Well, I did submit my little effort to the show, but as you will see, I did not attain the aforementioned standard, which is fair enough. Rejection should have been my middle name – no I shouldn’t say that because it really isn’t true.
     Anyway, I was originally inspired by the word palanquin,
with particular reference to this quote...

“You are not f****** royalty, Mr Speaker.” A reported comment by Tory MP Mark Pritchard during an angry row with Speaker John Bercow in a Commons corridor.
     Bercow had infuriated Pritchard, the mild-mannered deputy chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, with an imperious demand to get out of his way as he and his entourage made their way through Parliament.
     To give an idea of the poncing around these self-important politicians do, here’s a shot, alongside, of the previous Speaker, Michael Martin, going about his day job. Hence my being inspired by the word palanquin.

So here’s my effort...
He entered Parliament to serve but was effortlessly seduced by the concupiscence of absolute power, so much so he saw himself as a future Mr Speaker – but none of that ceremonial parading about the House, no Sir, he would be transported by palanquin on the shoulders of four Junoesque beauties personally recommended by his good friend the sybaritic Silvio Berlusconi – however, the party had convinced him to run for leader for they all

Previous Mr Speaker Michael Martin appears to have spotted
Tory MP Mark Pritchard as nowhere near subservient enough

knew that his middle name was Mendacious.

And if at this point you suddenly thought: Hm, Anthony Mendacious Blair – shame on you. Not!

Incidentally, when the row between Speaker John Bercow and Mark Pritchard erupted in Parliament, before even the asterisks were dry on Hansard (a daily record of House of Commons Debates and Shemozzles), enterprising souls were already churning out T-shirts in celebration of the kerfuffle...
                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                                               ...I am so impressed that I shall keep this as a template: simply delete Mr Speaker – and substitute to taste. For example, yesterday I quoted an example of Michael Cain floating way above his natural station in life, so I would have inserted Mr Cain. Sounds like good fun.
     I am looking forward already to deploying said T-shirt at the first opportunity.

Finally, it is worth reminding ourselves of another tale surrounding our diminutive Speaker, Mr Royalty. Towards the end of last year, Conservative MP and junior health minister, Simon Burns, referred to Bercow as a “stupid, sanctimonious dwarf”. He was later forced to apologise.
     However, shortly after, Simon Burn’s driver reversed into the Speaker’s car in a Parliament courtyard. Bercow did his nut and stomped about all over the shop shouting: “I’m not happy
!
     To which Burns replied: “Well, which one are you then?”
 



Thursday, March 24
Goofy quotes

“THERE’S no such thing as a pure-bred English person, no matter how we’re packaged.” Janet Street-Porter, 64, British media sleb, journalist, television presenter and producer, famous for her delightfully doolally opinions, her prominent teeth, her eccentric fashion sense and a tongue weighed down with asterisks.
What she says is patently true – we’re all mongrels in genes, some of us more so than others. But what is this “we” business Kemo Sabre-toothed Street-Porter? She has a Welsh mother, a mother she famously hated, with asterisks on, so with Celtic blood she falls at the first “we English” hurdle.
     And anyway, whisper it, all females turn into their mothers, some sooner than others, so Street-Porter ends up hating herself. Funny old world.

“I do not mind something clever being attributed to me, but I do mind something stupid that I did not say or do.” English actor Sir Michael Caine, 78, disavowing the phrase “not a lot of people know that” attributed to him.
You’ve got to laugh; another of life’s delightful mongrels who dined out on the phrase as he climbed the greasy pole, but now that he’s got some self-important “Sir” stuck in front of his name he thinks he’s Lord Muck.
     Every day a day at school spot: Most Caine impressions include the catchphrase “Not a lot of people know that
!”. Peter Sellers initiated this when he appeared on BBC1’s Parkinson show in October 1972 and said: “Not many people know that. This is my Michael Caine impression. You see, Mike’s always quoting from the Guinness Book of Records. At the drop of a hat he’ll trot one out. ‘Did you know that it takes a man in a tweed suit five-and-a-half seconds to fall from the top of Big Ben to the ground?” Now there’s not many people who know that!

There’s always much talk about class in society, but really you either have class or you don’t, and we instantly recognise those who have it. Neither Street-Porter nor Cain were standing near the front of the queue when true class was handed out.

Anyway, by another of those delightful coincidences, whilst catching up with the newspaper magazines, I came across this magical old black and white picture. It was used during the Crufts dog show earlier this month. And talking of pure-breds and mongrels and things – it’s the caption I warmed to...
                                                                                               

                                                                                                                  One day, eh?

Right, Vanessa Felt’s morning word today is “mendacious”: someone who is given to or characterized by deception or falsehood or divergence from absolute truth.
     So I’ve got to make up a sentence with all four words included - palanquin, sybaritic, concupiscence and mendacious - and all before the morning...

Very finally, this morning Solitaire had been joined by a further three bluebells – so this is the last bulletin apropos Solitaire’s brief period of solitude.
     I shall return when Solitaire has been joined by family, friends, acquaintances, Uncle Tom Cobley and all – and the woodland is awash with the blue of spring.
 

Wednesday, March 23
When we’re out together, dancing cheek to cheek

THIS morning Vanessa Feltz featured on her wireless show a game, set and match tale from the day’s newspapers:
                         “I was that cheeky tennis girl,” says 52-year-old mother of three.


That cheeky tennis girl was of course the famous Athena pin-up of two million posters and more. Fiona Walker, aged 52 and married to a wealthy businessman, has no regrets about her moment in the spotlight – even though she has never earned a penny from it. She is not even a tennis fan, confessing to never liking the game.
     Mrs Walker was an 18-year-old art student called Fiona Butler when she agreed to pose for her then boyfriend, an ambitious young photographer called Martin Elliott (who died last year, aged 63).
     With a borrowed sports dress and racket and wearing her father’s white plimsolls (and of course very little else) she and Elliott created one of the most iconic and top selling images of the 1970s.
     Indeed, judging from the picture alongside, she looks as wonderfully cheeky as ever.

Back with Vanessa, she then invited listeners to get in touch and let her know what were the posters that adorned the collective teenage bedroom walls. How fascinating......

......as far as I could tell all the female listeners had male pictures on their walls, either as individuals or as a group (pop, of course).
     Of the male response, there was the odd Sam Fox or Linda Lusardi, both famous Page 3 girls, and of course the Athena girl herself – oh, and Ursula Andress walking out of the sea in that bikini – but mostly men had posters of ships and boats and planes and cars and motor bikes and sports stars...
     So there you have it, confirmation of nature’s unwritten law: blue for a boy, pink for a girl.

Me? I never had any posters on my bedroom wall – or anywhere else. I have never bought into this celebrity culture business. However, it is interesting to note what I have on my computer screen – well, there it is, alongside.

A somewhat surreal but emblematic dragon, the national flag emblem of Wales. No, I am not a nationalist, but I am a patriot.
     Also, it is worth noting that the Welsh flag with its dragon certainly sits comfortably in the Top Ten of distinctive and easy-to-remember national flags. Mind you, there are some 240 in keen competition.


Finally, Vanessa’s morning word is “concupiscence”: an ardent longing or lust.

PS. Checked out the bluebell wood. Solitaire has at last been joined by another. So that’s – well, when I saw her and took the picture last Sunday she had obviously made her appearance the day before, or even the day before that (I didn’t visit the wood on the Saturday morning), so that’s four, perhaps five days she was out on her own.
     I find that quite intriguing, in as much that it happens every year. Solitaire always leads the bluebell beauty parade. Oh yes, what I haven’t mentioned about the arrival of the bluebells are the masses of stunning little wood anemones dotted all over the shop, like excitable little bridesmaids awaiting the arrival of the bride. That’s Solitaire, of course.
 

Tuesday, March 22
“An oak was once a nut that held its ground”

                                                                                      Anonymous
TODAY I planted another couple of trees: a traditional English oak (currently standing about seven feet) and a copper beech (standing a little short of five feet). It was Confucius (probably) who said that the best time to plant a tree was 200 years ago, but the next best time is now (modern quotes have reduced that to 20 years – everyone in a rush, you see).
     I only started planting trees about six years ago (there is a particular reason but that will take up a whole chapter in the book when I eventually get down to it
!), but it is a rewarding thing to do, especially watching them grow, and indeed making sure that they have as good a start as possible. After all, for those first 20 years they are but babes in arms.
     Normally the tree planting would claim my smile of the day, especially as it took place on such a beautiful spring day.

However, yesterday I read a Telegraph article about the Supermoon phenomenon we had over the weekend:
Supermoon blamed for stranding five ships in Solent ... Speculation that the “supermoon” may have caused the Japanese earthquake was dismissed by NASA – but now British coastguards say it could be behind the stranding of several ships...

Anyway, at the end of the article it said this: Did you capture the supermoon on camera? Send your photos to mypic@telegraph.co.uk.
     Well, I really liked the picture of the supermoon I posted on my Postcard spot, so I thought, hm, why not?

Well blow me, today I visited the Telegraph web site...
                                                                                              Pictures of the day: 22 March 2011
And there it was...
                              
Telegraph reader Huw Beynon sent us this photograph of the moon on Friday evening shortly after moonrise, behind a daffodil outside his cottage in Llandeilo, West Wales. If you have a photograph you'd like us to consider for a picture gallery, please email it to mypic@telegraph.co.uk, supplying a little info on where and how the picture was taken.
Picture: Huw Beynon

If you haven’t seen that very same picture on my Postcard spot, click here: smile

To say I was chuffed would be an understatement. What really tickled me was that little note at the bottom:
Picture: Huw Beynon
                         My smile doth overflow.

As I have mentioned in previous dispatches, I am not a photographer – a camera to me is just like a car: I switch on, start up, point in the right direction and off I go. However, I always carry a little camera, but I do so simply to capture the passing parade as I stand and stare.
     In celebration I’ve changed the picture at reception, above ... I’ve pulled down the robin and relocated it here...
 


...and replaced it with one of the regular little bluetit stars that take feed from my hand down in the valley – oh, and spot the full moon in the background; well, it’s a waning moon, but it does the job and will remind me of my “Supermoon” moment.

Oh yes, Vanessa Feltz on her morning radio show offers up a daily word to tease the listener’s brain box – well, she does so Monday to Thursday, and then on the Friday the listener is invited to compose a sentence including the four words. I thought I’d give it a try this week.
     On Monday the word was “palanquin”: Indian word, used to describe a particular type of covered litter – or sedan chair – carried on four poles on the shoulders of four people.
     Today, “sybaritic”: loving luxury or sensuous pleasure; a devotee of luxury and the sensual vices.

I'm unsure whether my brain box will be up to it. But hey, mother never bread a jibber.
 

Monday, March 21
Life imitating art

FOLLOWING the Wales-Ireland rugby union game of the previous weekend, when Wales defeated Ireland compliments of a dodgy try when the Nogood Boyos used the “wrong” ball, I wrote about it the Sunday after the game, and composed a little poem (sic) in celebration of the incident.
     I rounded off the piece by telling a story about a post-match altercation between the referee and the touch-judge (who was the one who should really have spotted the wrong ball being used).
     Well, they do say that truth is stranger than fiction. We now learn that two of the Wales coaching team were not in Paris for the Wales game last Saturday having been suspended following – ta-rah
! – an altercation after the game against Ireland.
     We are told that Wales national team defence coach Shaun Edwards (an Englishman born in Wigan, Lancashire) and Welsh Rugby Union sports science co-ordinator Fergus Connolly (who hails from Scotstown, County Monaghan in Ireland) were both banned for seven days by the Wales team management, having been involved in an alleged scuffle in the wake of Wales’ 19-13 victory at the Millennium Stadium.
     When the story broke last Saturday, just prior to the game against France, the Wales management kept saying “No comment, it’s an internal matter
!”. What silly-billies. It now makes the whole incident a thousand times worse as everyone is determined to find out what all the excitement was about.
     As I write it is understood that Connolly’s impromptu rendition of an Irish folk song, as well as the songs chosen by the Wales squad while on the team bus travelling back from the post-match dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Cardiff, had given rise to a verbal disagreement between Edwards and Connolly. However, when the bus arrived back at the team’s headquarters at the Vale of Glamorgan complex, the two men carried on their shemozzle inside the hotel.
     Well, you do not need to be a Mastermind contestant (specialist subject: Irish History) to conclude that if an Irish folk song was involved it is odds-on that there would be anti-English themes flowing freely within the lyrics.
     The whole incident makes me smile so much, I feel obliged to repeat the original tale – and a cracking tale is always worth a retelling – with the names now amended to taste...

Anyway, after they got off the bus at the Vale of Glamorgan, all the coaching staff went to the bar for a drink; in fact a few drinks too many. Shaun Edwards is still seething following the altercation on the bus. As the drinks flow the defence coach gets increasingly more agitated and aggressive towards the younger sports science co-ordinator, and starts to insult him. “I’ve slept with your mother! he announces in a loud voice.
     Well now, the bar goes quiet and a startled audience gaze towards the two men, waiting with baited breath to see how the younger man would react, indeed wondering if someone should break up the exchange and show some red cards.
     The defence coach now shouts at the sports whiz-kid: “I’VE SLEPT WITH YOUR MOTHER
!
     At which point the young man sighs and responds calmly: “Go to bed Dad, you’re drunk.”

Still makes me smile, even though I knew the shout and twist at the end. 
 

Sunday, March 20
Spring awakening

“TODAY is the vernal or spring equinox, when day and night are of almost equal length. Some think of this as the true start of spring, although I’m sure newly opened leaves and blossoms are as good an indication for many.” Isobel Lang, Sky News forecaster, writing in today’s Sunday Times.

Well, I can certainly confirm that today, day and night are indeed of almost equal length: in my little square mile, sunrise happens around 6:30, and sunset happens around - 6:30.
     More importantly, at t
his time of year I take great delight in spotting the first bluebell of the season, which, along with the primrose, is a true harbinger of spring.
     As regularly reported hereabouts, there is one particular spot where I keep a sharp eye open for a particular bluebell, which is always first off the mark. I fondly call “her” Solitaire. She resides in a secluded and sheltered south-facing woodland spot, a real suntrap.
     Over the past 10 years and more (excepting 2001, the year of the Foot & Mouth outbreak), the bluebell’s appearance has varied between March 18 and March 30 - excepting the following years: spring 2006 was really cold and late, and Solitaire didn’t make her appearance until April 8; and in 2008, with its unusually mild winter and spring, she appeared, astonishingly, on February 28 - I even had a letter in The Times about it (makes a change from hearing the cuckoo); last year, the coldest winter for years, Solitaire appeared on April 5.

     As forecast last Wednesday when I included a picture of the first wild primrose of spring, the bluebell would not be far behind, especially as the lush green carpet that precedes the nation’s favourite wild flower was already in place.
     This morning, a dull, overcast and quite coldish start – there she was - and revealed in all her glory, alongside.
     What will be so striking over the next few days, if nature is true to form, is that Solitaire will be the only bluebell on show.
     However, within a week they will be popping up all over the place, and in another week it will begin to resemble a traditional bluebell wood.
 

Talking of flowers, over the weekend we had a Supermoon,
the closest the moon has been to the earth for nearly 20 years.
     So I though I’d capture it in a different way. Click...
smile
 

Saturday, March 19
Try, try and try again

TODAY is a Super Saturday Rugby Union fest, with three internationals bringing the season’s Six Nation’s tournament to a conclusion. It’s always a bad sign when the growing pile of weekend newspaper magazines on the coffee table get perused at a rate of knots while also watching the rugby.
     Not so much multi-tasking as becoming ever so slightly bored with the game. Whilst I enjoy American Football, I can’t see why those who run and coach rugby union want to turn it into gridiron without the body protection.

However, one of today’s games grabbed my undivided attention, that between Ireland and England out in Dublin, with the English going for a grand slam.
     It is important to acknowledge here and now that Irishman Brian O’Driscoll (aka BOD) reaffirms my faith in rugby as it should be played. Every intervention by the Irishman is infused with three-phase electricity.
     (Every day a day at school spot: Three-phase electricity is by its very nature a much smoother form of electricity than single-phase or two-phase power; it is a way of supplying three times as much electricity along three wires as can be supplied through two, without having to increase the thickness of the wires. It is usually used in industry to drive motors and other devices. For industry read sport – and there you have a perfect definition of Brian Three-Phase O’Driscoll the rugby player.)

With Ireland depriving England of a 100% record (24-8 to the Irish), O’Driscoll, also the Irish captain, set the all-time Five/Six Nations try scoring record when he scored against England making it his 25th since he made his tournament debut in 2000. Well done, Brian, thoroughly deserved. If you were an Englishman you’d already be Baron O’Driscoll of All Ireland.
     The 32-year-old centre broke the 78-year-old record set by Scotland’s Ian Smith when the tournament was just the Five Nations (before Italy were invited on board).
     So half my ‘smile of the day’ comes compliments of the Irishman. “It’s great and a real honour,” said O’Driscoll. “I didn’t know Ian Smith myself
! But 78 years is a very long time for a record to stand. Hopefully there is still more rugby left in me and I can extend it.”
     O’Driscoll, winning his 112th cap for his country, scored his first Six Nations try against Scotland on February 19, 2000.

Brian O’Driscoll is robbed of a full smile because of something I heard on the radio just as I toddled off to bed. The Radio Wales pundits were having a phone-in following the game out in Paris, where France defeated Wales 28-9, the Welsh, sadly, merely there to make up the numbers.
     Anyway, a caller from North Wales came on – I didn’t catch his name – but he wanted to discuss the nonsense that has become the scrum, in particular the pantomime routine that is “Crouch ... touch ... pause … engage”, which has castrated the manhood of the scrum. In other words, the whole thing is one big cock-up.
                                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                                                              The caller reckoned that the “pause” is not for repeating out loud, as all referees do, but rather an instruction in the edict, namely that the referee should pause between saying touch and engage. Hm, many a true word spoken in jest.
     Whatever, even though Wales got thumped out in Gay Paree , I drifted off to sleep with a smile on my face.

Incidentally, apropos the T-shirt above, as you can probably imagine, there’s a naughty version for sale out there in that big bad world: simply Google “Crouch touch pause engage t-shirt”. I shall look away now.


Friday, March 18
Peaches and sex

“IN
FACT, both Miliband brothers, and David Cameron for that matter, are quite fit. British politics has a suave thing going on.” Socialite Peaches Honeyblossom Geldof, sister to Pixie and Fifi Trixibelle, and half-sister to Heavenly Hiraami Tiger Lily, offers up her thoughts on the state of a hill o’ beans, otherwise known as the Mother of Parliaments.

Hm, perhaps it was “sauv blanc” she had on her mind when she said that. As it happens, Peaches featured back on March 4 when the following quote of hers was smiled upon from a great height...

“There have always been periods that have been a struggle, but I feel like everything has definitely been fated. Sometimes it’s difficult because I feel like a vampire.”

When I collected my newspaper this morning I couldn’t help but notice the Sun’s front page splash – see alongside...
     The blurb reads:
PARTY-MAD Peaches Geldof has been pictured taking part in an outrageous five-in-a-bed orgy.
     The shocking image shows the 22-year-old telly host – daughter of Live Aid [and Band Aid] icon Sir Bob – squeezed between two girls’ naked bodies.
     It is one of a series of photos exposing her wild lifestyle during a bender in Los Angeles. A source said: “She was swept along in a scene of shameless behaviour.”
                            Full Story – Page Five

 

As always, I didn’t bother reading the full story; I’d rather be left suspended in midair, with my own words and images, added to taste.
     Now I have no thoughts on what Peaches gets up to when she’s been on the sauce, but I am endlessly amused that the media hangs on her every thought and action, and that her utterances become regular quotes of the day.

What bothers me though is this: I have never been part of a sex romp, let alone an orgy. I have never bedded down in a love nest. I have never known a Saucy Sarah – yes, I have known a Very Nice and Sexy Sarah, but for some reason it has always been “hold the sauce”. It’s sad to report that at no time have I led a debauched lifestyle. Bugger! Bugger, bugger!
     Doubtless there is a female out there somewhere who would describe me as a love cheat, even a love rat, but God forbid not a dirty love rat (I’m not sure what the difference is, but I think it’s important).
     Now I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve led a sheltered sex life – mind you, I am fairly adamant that I have never had my fair share, and when I meet the bloke who has nicked my delights, I’ll stick one on him.
     Trouble is, I personally know two of them down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon: Old Shaggy and Shagwell. But far from sticking one on them, I enjoy their company and I’m reasonably happy for them to do the business, on my behalf, with those ladies who slipped through my chat-up lines.
     What was it the late poet John Betjeman said about sex? When asked whether he had any regrets in life, the wheelchair-bound poet responded: “Yes, I wish I’d had more sex.”
     Now I remember seeing that documentary, and I think he had a bit of a twinkle in his eye, as if he was winding us all up. If not, the Dallying Don was not as compellingly a Don Juan as he liked to believe.
     Whatever, I don't think I'd say I wish I’d had more sex. Mind you, I certainly wish I’d heard more rattling good jokes. You see, a rollicking good joke can be smilingly lived over and over in your mind – unlike sex, where you’ve got to go through the whole rigmarole over and over.

Oh yes, Peaches has since insisted that she led a “normal, boring life”. Well, if that’s what a normal, boring life amounts to, the words to describe mine haven’t yet been invented.
     Back on March 5, I suggested that Peaches deploy a different kind of band aid, over her mouth...
                                                                                                                                                                        
Perhaps she should put it somewhere more private as well.
 

Thursday, March 17
Life, a work in progress

WITH yesterday’s ever so sad image from Japan still fresh in the mind, I decided it was time for another magical and mysterious musical journey. YouTube’s eclectic jukebox, here I come...

Somehow or other I landed on The Brothers Four singing a 1965 song, Try To Remember. It’s a song famous for its simple but perfectly delightful rhyming, especially its internal rhymes. I’ve put a link below to take you to this song – but bare with me a little while...

After listening and watching this particular version, what caught my eye was a contribution in the “Top comments”. I quote: In these troubled times ... it’s nice to hear songs like this and remember how much more simple life was back then, compared to today. In those days people seemed more innocent and were taught to use their talent and allowed to be creative. Today our schools do not teach proper etiquette and good morals. Creativity is not allowed. Individualism is a thing of the past. Kids today are being dumbed down and conditioned out of creativity. It is very sad that we allow this to happen.

In the opening sentence of the above comment I left a little gap. There it refers to the country under scrutiny by the contributor. Now what country do you suppose is being written about?
     I’ll come back to that shortly. Above, I mentioned the song’s simple but effective rhyming, especially that internal rhyming thingy, which is something very Welsh. We have a word for it – cynghanedd, which literally translates as harmony, very apt while listening to this song.
     So it came as no surprise then that the lyrics belong to Tom Jones – no, not that one: this Tom Jones was born in 1928 in Littlefield, Texas, a lyricist (and often librettist) of musical theatre. He must have Welsh roots though, especially with a name like that.
     A particularly beautiful version of the song is a duet featuring Nana Mouskouri and Harry Belafonte. While there I smiled at the following comment by 3kingcool: I love this song. The poetry always takes me somewhere between midnight and dawn, between fire and ice, between laughter and tears, between what is now and what has been. A place where I am always me and life is a work in progress.

Oh yes, what country does the comment above refer to? Well, if I said the person who wrote is a Loreli Wagner, that gives a clue. Now I would have guessed it was written by someone from the UK about the UK, but Loreli is talking about America.
     Who would have believed it, eh? Dumbing down as a global phenomenon. What on earth does that say about the current state of humanity?

Below is a link to The Brothers Four version – well worth a visit if only to admire the accompanying video with its beautiful photographs of a Canadian autumn.
                                                               http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jV-fnarDho

While there, be sure to have a look at the Nana Mouskouri and Harry Belafonte version – link below – with more eye-catching photographs. Incidentally, you will probably get a better idea of the rhyming in this song if you Google the lyrics and simply read them.
                                       http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwTlZts1Fqs&feature=related

Finally, have a look at Richard Clayderman – Love Story (it has 5 million-plus hits). Again a stunning video – this time though it’s the mesmerising way the pictures blend into each other.
                                                                                                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITswHbJPHhQ

All truly smiley stuff. Enjoy!
 

Wednesday, March 16
World’s apart

THIS is a dedicated smile of the day spot, so I excuse myself from delving into the serious stuff of life. True, I speculate regularly on the extreme doolallyness of the movers and shakers of this world, specially politicians, and politics, I guess, is a serious business because of the mess they’ve made of our beautiful but imperilled planet.

Occasionally though, something so horrendous happens that it demands more than just a passing comment, namely events in Japan. We know nothing about such things here in the UK. Back in 1987 we had a bit of a furious storm, which really took the nation by surprise and claimed some 18 lives.
     We still talk about it, not so much because of the loss of life and property damage, but rather that infamous forecast by BBC weatherman Michael Fish: “Earlier on today apparently a lady rang the BBC and said she heard that there was a hurricane on the way. Well don’t worry, there isn’t.” There, you smiled, as we all tend to do when reminded of it.

The other day I awoke to discover no water on tap. A main

had burst and knocked out supplies over quite a wide rural area. It was off for some 12 hours or so.
     It was no big deal, but it makes you realise just how much we take for granted having water always available. Similarly with electricity, gas, food...

This morning along my walk through the woods I saw my first primroses – pictured alongside. They are such beautiful little flowers, and the primrose colour is so delicate, in fact quite hard to capture accurately on camera.
     I always accept my first view of the primrose as the arrival of spring proper. Bluebells won’t be far behind, indeed the lush green carpet that precedes them is already in place.


When I arrived home I perused the newspaper, much dominated by events in Japan. I then went online. There I stumble upon this one photograph that puts everything into perspective, particularly the juxtaposition of the little primroses, above.
     It is a Reuters image of a woman crying while sitting on a road amid the destroyed city of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture.
 

Mourning the loss of her family? ... her friends? ... her colleagues? ... her possessions? ... all of them?


If a picture is worth a thousand words, then here it is. It is one of the most powerfully moving images I have yet seen from the tragedy, much more powerful than any video footage. One is overwhelmed with the need to sit alongside her, slide an arm around her shoulders and go: “There, there, you have a good cry.”
     And we get ourselves in a tizzy if we have a power cut or a bit of snow which delays food getting to the supermarkets. We really have no idea.

Additionally they now have the nuclear fiasco. If there is one nation on earth that should have fought shy of anything nuclear then surely it had to be Japan.
     If Hiroshima was not enough to frighten the lives out of them, they then go and build nuclear plants in an earthquake zone. It is already been questioned as to why they sited a nuclear plant on the east coast where most of Japan’s earthquakes occur, rather than the west side where the potential for damage from quakes and tsunamis would be less.

But the damage is now done. Poor bloody souls.
 

Tuesday, March 15
A sobering thought

OVER recent years the ever-rising cost of a trip to the Crazy Horsepower Saloon has tended to wipe the smile off my face. But is booze really as expensive as it seems? A couple of intriguing letters spotted in The Telegraph...

Fill her up: SIR – Petrol is now £6 a gallon, while beer works out at around £24 a gallon. Is petrol cheap or beer expensive?
Philip Walshaw, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Petrol cheaper than beer: SIR – At the time of decimalisation [1971], it was possible to get a pint of beer for 10p, or a gallon for 80p; a gallon of petrol was 33.3p. Compared with today’s prices of £24 and £6, beer now costs 30 times more, but petrol only 18 times more.
     Average earnings have gone up 20 times since 1971. So it appears petrol is not all that expensive, while beer certainly is.
Malcolm Watson, Welford, Berkshire


I knew it. And I bet most of that is made up of tax. So I did a bit of research – I can’t guarantee the precision of these figures, but they are reasonable ballpark percentages: it seems that about 30% of the cost of a pint of beer goes in taxes, while a staggering 65% of a gallon of petrol goes in taxes. Which makes the expensive cost of a pint even more perplexing.

A couple more letters to plant a smile...

Almond teeth?: SIR – At Christmas, I was given a pretty jewelled hair comb in a fitted box. A label on the bottom of the box read: “Warning, this product may contain nuts.”
The Countess of Harewood, Harewood House, West Yorkshire

Can we be sure the label didn’t read: “Warning, this product may be corrupted by nuts.”

Bin there, done that, got the name plate: SIR – I contacted our local council to have our wheelie bins changed to a smaller size. I received a letter back from them agreeing to this change, signed by the “Executive Director of Wheelie-Bins”.
Les Black, South Shields, Tyne & Wear
That sounds a really rubbish job to me – but I bet it pays a pretty penny; after all, where there’s muck there’s a brass name plate.

Ah yes, the delightful doolallyness of the world about us, all present and incorrect.
 

Monday, March 14
The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names

                                                                                                                           Chinese proverb

I AM a great admirer of businesses which have innovative, witty and memorable names. One of my favourites is here in Wales, a fish and chip shop in Ton Pentre in the Valleys: A Fish Called Rhondda. Brilliantly catchy.
Here are a few more I've enjoyed...
     Mobile snack caravan in Dartmoor: The Hound of the Basket Meals
     Fish and chip shop in Weston-Super-Mare: The Star Chip Enterprise
     Shop in Croydon which sells second-hand records: The Vinyl Frontier – or even The Vinyl Resting Place.
     Bakery in Sutton: Agatha Crustie. (Unsure whether this one is still going.)
     Driving school in Merseyside (plus several other locations): L Paso
     But best of all I like this from Queensland, Australia, an electrical contracting business called Electricity Bill – and yes, run by a bloke called Bill.

(If I were to change my name by deed poll, I would go for Bill Payer – as in, “Before calling check with the bill payer first”. I’m sure it would generate many smiles - and not easily forgotten.)

Finally, apparently all over Germany you will find flower shops called Blumen Ecke – which translates as “flower corner”. I did a quick Google - and it’s true, but it does actually read as Blumenecke.

So along this morning’s walk, I enter Llandeilo and I notice some temporary road works with traffic lights. Nothing unusual there – but something is not quite right, and it takes me a while to realise what it is. There is no noise. Absolute silence.

     Temporary traffic lights always have a little generator beavering away to power the lights. If these lights happen to be outside your bedroom window the generator can be a bit annoying, but it is only there for a few days so you just bury your head in the pillow.
     These traffic lights however are clearly battery powered, a rather obvious ploy in a built-up area.
     Then I notice the name of the company which supplies them – and I smile and I click - see alongside ... it’s not so much the name, which is catchy, but the way it has been incorporated into that organisation’s logo, a set of traffic lights.
     That is so clever. Whenever I approach a set of traffic lights in future I will think Amberon. Brilliant.


It really would be intriguing to know how people come up with these names, especially the endless lists of clever shop names. What about A Fish Called Rhondda? Did the idea just explode into the owner’s head, or was he or she down the pub one evening and discussing it with their friends and someone sort of came up with it?
     I’m sure those thought processes would be as smiley as the names themselves.

Can’t beat a bit of clever humour, especially when you call things by their rightful names, as Confucius realised ages ago while patiently waiting for the lights to change.
 

Sunday, March 13
The butterfly ball

YESTERDAY’S smile involving the late Spike Milligan began by mentioning that Wales had beaten Ireland in rugby (whisper it, by foul means rather than fair). A technical foul compliments of an obscure rugby law; Wales scored a try using a ball they shouldn’t have, the naughty boyos. I also mentioned that if Spike Milligan, a keen rugby fan, was still alive and kicking, he would surely have conjured up a funny piece or poem about the incident.

Now I am no poet, and boy do I know it, but since yesterday my mind has been wondering and wandering, if only as a little tribute to dear old Spike. Before I come to my effort, let’s clear up what led to the Wales try. The incident has become known as...
The throw-in controversy: Mike Phillips scored a try for Wales after a quick throw-in that breached law 19.2 (d) because a different ball from the one that went out was used for the throw-in.
Law 19.2 (d) states: For a quick throw-in, the player must use the ball that went into touch. A quick throw-in is not permitted if another person has touched the ball.

Following the Mike Phillips touchdown, the Irish protested vigorously, so the referee specifically asked his touch-judge if Wales had used the same ball. The man from Del Touchline said yes. And so Balls-Gate was born.

     Rugby has something called Law 19.2 (d),
     And the Irish are livid, fiddle-dee-dee;
     That rotten old ref took his eye off the ball,
     Frankly my dear I don’t care at all, at all.

I know, I know, but as I said, I’m no poet.

Anyway, after the game the referee and the two touch-judges enjoy a few drinks; in fact a few drinks too many. The referee, unsurprisingly, is somewhat irritated about his error – although to be fair it was his younger touch-judge who cocked-up. But, the buck stops with the ref.
     So as the drinks flow the ref gets increasingly more obstreperous towards his touch-judge, and starts to insult him. “I’ve slept with your mother
!he says in a loud voice.
     The room goes quiet and a startled audience looks towards the two men, waiting with baited breath to see how the touch-judge would react, indeed wondering if someone should break up the exchange and show some cards.
     The referee now shouts at the touch-judge: “I’VE SLEPT WITH YOUR MOTHER
!
     The young touch-judge sighs and respond calmly: “Go to bed Dad, you’re drunk.”

(With apologies to a joke seen online and originally featuring a couple of American Football referees. Very funny though, and I particularly enjoy jokes with a surprise twist.)

Right, you know how one thing leads to another, what some call the butterfly effect, or the chaos theory: a butterfly flapping its wings in the jungles of Brazil could give rise to a tornado in the southern states of America.
     Well, when I pondered that a balls-up in the Millennium Stadium at Cardiff could cause a ripple effect all around the rugby world, I thought of that heading I duly put at the top, The butterfly ball.
     Well, this in turn brought to mind something I haven’t seen or heard for years and years and years...

Back in the Seventies I vividly recall what was probably the first properly memorable music video I ever saw, perhaps the first I ever saw, The Butterfly Ball. It was regularly used as a gap filler by our local ITV station here in Wales, HTV.
     I was mesmerised by it. A really catchy song against a colourful and smiley animated background. So a quick visit to YouTube – and there it is, Roger Glover and The Butterfly Ball – Love is all...
     God, the memories come flooding back – All you need is love and understanding, ring the bell and let the people know - just as I remember it. It has been added to my YouTube jukebox.
     Well worth a visit...
                                         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sn1UqbbbqQ

 

Saturday, March 12
Spike Milligna, that well-known typing error

WALES just about held on to win against Ireland in the rugby, compliments of that well-known scoring error 19.2 (d) – scrum-half Mike Phillips got his paws on a ball that should not have been his, and duly scored.
     It’s all very complicated, Law 19.2 (d) and all that jazz, but I’m sure Spike Milligan, a great rugby fan, God rest his soul, would have delivered a funny poem on the incident.

And by a curious coincidence, following the game I went zap-a-dee-doo-da through the channels, and landed on BBC Two:
Spike – I Told You I Was Ill, a 60-minute special programme celebrating the life and delightfully zany times of comedian Spike Milligan. Very entertaining and smiley it was too, a mixture of Spike himself, compliments of the archives, together with a cast of today’s stars reliving some of his more crazy humour and entertainingly silly poetry.
     But the best smile of all came near the end of the programme, when we saw again that unforgettable clip of Spike at the British Comedy Awards 1994 being presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Comedy. He is given an enthusiastic standing ovation on his way to the stage, whereupon he opens with: “I was going to say ... about bloody time.” Wonderful response from the audience. “I’m not going to thank anybody – because I did it allonmyown.” Great stuff.
     As Spike is about to leave the stage, host Jonathan Ross says: “Before you go Spike, I have a letter to read from His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, who unfortunately can’t be here tonight.”
     To which Spike responds: “Do I kneel down for this?”
     Ross opens a rather grand looking presentation album and starts to read the Prince’s letter: “As someone who grew up to the sounds of the Goon Show on the steam-driven wireless I must confess that I have been a lifelong fan of the participants in the show – and particularly of Spike Milligan -”
     “The little grovelling bastard,” Spike interjects. Well, he brings the house down, a memorably enthusiastic reaction from the audience.
     Jonathan Ross attempts to continue reading the letter – but the now jovial situation gets the better of him, although he handles it rather well. He closes the album some halfway through reading the letter - and hands it to Spike: “He loves ya. Spike Milligan, ladies and gentlemen.” It is a wonderfully smiley interlude.

Spike was one of those people in life who could get away with saying outrageous things without giving offence – or more correctly, people never took offence. Prince Charles and he were friends anyway, and as far as I am aware he took it all in good part.
     I guess we all know individuals like Spike. They can say the most outrageous things to people, things which should make you cringe as you listen, but the recipient of said ‘insult’ smiles and says something like: “What am I going to do with you?”
     Then others can say something relatively innocent – and the recipient blows his or her top. It is much like men wolf-whistling. Women nowadays seem to take great offence, yet some men can do it and all they get in return is a cheeky smile.
     Ponder Jonathan Ross himself. We all remember that infamous incident together with his pal  Russell Brand, which saw them both exit the BBC. Ross and Brand said much the same sort of thing as Spike, and probably both thought they were being really witty and entertaining. But Spike got away with it, Ross and Brand didn’t.

If you haven’t seen the Spike Milligan magic moment, then it’s well worth a visit, if only to prove how some people can’t give offence, no matter how hard they try.
                                                                       http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkOAUht3G5o

 

Friday, March 11
Fred the *anker is a bankster

MOST days I buy just one daily newspaper, the Western Mail, our national paper here in the land where there be dragons - mostly hanging out on flutters and flutters of flags, thank goodness. Occasionally, when  I anticipate a bit of ‘stand and stare’ time, I’ll buy a second paper. Over recent years it was The Times. On those days I didn’t buy the paper I would catch up online. Then the paper went subscription only online. Sadly, to gain access to the online content I would have to enter into a contract to buy the newspaper version every day. So buy, bye Times – although I still buy The Sunday Times most weeks.
     I then switched to The Telegraph, where I can still keep up to date online (for the moment, anyway).

Today though was a day for planting some trees – my way of hopefully leaving my little corner of the planet in as good a condition, perhaps even better, than when I arrived on earth. And that in itself merits a smile of the day spot. So no time then for a second paper.

     However, on the newspaper stand my eye was drawn to the front page of the Sun newspaper, in particular the picture of banker Fred the Shred with the headline – well, see alongside.

What a doolally tale. Fred the Shred was one of the founder members of the band of brothers that brought the financial markets to their knees awhile back. I quote the text...

Bank bungler Fred “The Shred” Goodwin was yesterday revealed to have won a legal gag – on being referred to as a banker.
     A “super-injunction” was granted to the knighted ex-boss of Royal Bank of Scotland – bailed out by £20billion from tax payers.
     It was exposed in the Commons when a Lib Dem MP shopped Sir Fred, 52, over his “secret hearing”.


Late afternoon, after my tree planting and a bite to eat - and learning of that shocking earthquake and tsunami - I ventured online. I arrived on the Telegraph site, with Shreddie Freddie the banker on my mind ... but I couldn’t see any link to said story, so I typed this into the Telegraph’s own internal search engine... “fred the shred goodwin” ... and something quite extraordinary unfolded.
     I shall come back to that; in the meantime, let’s fill in the blanks about this fellow Goodwin. He gained the moniker “Fred the Shred” from City of London financiers, reflecting a reputation for ruthlessly generating cost savings and efficiencies – whilst all the time he was hurtling towards a black hole of corporate debt (see £20billion, above).
     And of course, like all his fellow band of incompetent brothers, he left the scene of the grime with a massive pay-off and pension, which is why he is public enema number one.
     Anyway, the existence of the super-injunction – which is supposed to remain secret anyway – was revealed by John Hemming, a back-bench Liberal Democrat MP, during a business debate in the House of Commons. His comments are protected by parliamentary privilege, which means he cannot face court proceedings for revealing the injunction’s existence.
     The media would have been forbidden from even mentioning that a super-injunction existed, let alone that Shreddie Freddie is a banker. (I wonder if the super-injunction also forbids Shreddie Freddie being described as a wanker, which he undoubtedly is. We should be told.)
     The MP’s question raised speculation about the nature of the information which Goodwin is attempting to protect. But while the media is grounded, the internet though is awash with rumours, the favourite being that he has been caught with trousers down, which will cost him an arm and a leg of the arms and legs he deployed to run away from said black hole.
     Here is my favourite online comment, as spotted in the Independent, submitted by Jeremy Poynton, I think: Some people were talking about some bloke who might have had an affair with a colleague in the same firm after some sort of worldwide problem in some sort of sector of industry which some bloke might have been some part of the cause. So I gather...
     Ten out of ten.

What I am intrigued by now is how the media will describe Fred Goodwin, remembering that they are not allowed to call him a banker. Whilst I enjoy the popular online term “bankster” - perfect combination of banker and gangster - why not perhaps Fred “The Shred” Goodwin, *anker? Well, he is a bit of an ass-terisk. The headline would have to be *ANKERS AWAY.

Anyway, back to the Telegraph search engine. As mentioned, I typed in “fred the shred goodwin” – and up came the following...
                     Did you mean: fred the shroud goodwin
                                                                               
Honestly! The above is the actual copy of the query and link.

Will we perhaps sometime in the future be looking at the image of a crucified man? Or simply someone desperate to go undercover? Wow, now that is indeed irony from beyond. Oh, and being inherently inquisitive, I also clicked on that link...
 

Thursday, March 10
The answer to life could be an invisible card

“FROGS, we are told, will not leap out of the water in which they are being cooked, just so long as the temperature is increased very gradually. British governments have long applied the same principle to public taxation, and especially fuel taxes.” Columnists Dominic Lawson’s opening paragraph under the headline ‘The bloated state gets its fuel-duty fix’.

As opening paragraphs go, that is up there. I simply didn’t want to read any more. It was all there, in – ta-rah
! – 42 words.

In the first novel and radio series of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a group of hyper-intelligent, pan-dimensional beings demand to learn the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose.
     It takes Deep – oops
! nearly said Deep Throat – it takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be – ta-rah! – 42.
     Unfortunately, The Ultimate Question itself is unknown.

In the meantime, ponder this penultimate question: can it possibly be true about those poor frogs? Well, compliments of Wikipedia...
The boiling frog story is a widespread anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.
     The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually. According to contemporary biologists the premise of the story is not literally true; an actual frog submerged and gradually heated will jump out. However, some 19th century research experiments suggested that the underlying premise is true, provided the heating is gradual enough.

Now  I go with those 19th century research experiments. Think of people caught out in horrendously cold weather or older people trapped in homes without heating. Hypothermia slowly sets in...
     A symptom of mild hypothermia is grogginess and muddled thinking; moderate hypothermia brings on an inability to think and pay attention; severe hypothermia leads to loss of consciousness and death.
     It is reasonable therefore to presume that a similar process happens with increased heat i.e. the frogs simply lose the strength and will to jump out.

Be that as it may, I know a British football referee who perhaps should be put in the water with the frog. I have just seen a really amusing slice of online video, compliments of Eurosport. Referee Peter Walton was left red-faced during Everton’s 1-1 draw with Birmingham City last night when he tried to book Birmingham’s Jordan Mutch in the 40th minute.
     The referee fiddles around in his pockets for his cards before quickly realising that he’s pulled and locked the front door behind him with the keys left inside – yep, his cards are in the dressing room. He thinks on his feet though and does the only thing he could do – he brandishes an invisible yellow card to Jordan Mutch (Mutch ado about nuthin’?). It is very funny.
     Walton deserves nul points for wisdom in forgetting his cards (nul points is the lowest score awarded to performers in the Eurovision Song Contest; the term is also a jokey judgement on a hopelessly inept performance, indeed this is sometimes accompanied by the raising of imaginary cards showing zero, in a mock simulation of the scoring in ice-skating competitions). How ironic is that?
     However, he deserves near full marks for wit in the form of improvisation. In fact he also seems to pop the invisible card back in his pocket. Bonus mark there.

The best laugh though came in the Comments section, where someone called Leah suggests the ref should in future do an Austin Powers checklist to remember his stuff: Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch.

If you Google or YouTube ‘Ref brandishes invisible yellow card’ it should provide a laugh – but I also felt a wee bit sorry for the ref, poor bugger. Imagine such a thing happening in full view of the world.
 

Wednesday, March 9
Don’t say too much because people can hear you

A WEEK ago I reflected on the death of Jane Russell, in particular a judicious Bob Hope line describing her on-screen character, a sexy saloon performer with big boobs but boasting the masculine name of Mike ‘The Torch’ Delroy, in the film Son of Paleface: “Whatever she’s got, if we could bottle it we could make a fortune.”

The truth of that line has since been endorsed by the astonishing amount written about her since her death, in particular how she epitomised 1950s Hollywood glamour. Her spectacular physical attributes, statuesque bearing and sultry mood on screen made her a male sexual fantasy figure during her heyday – or perhaps that should be hay-day, given all the rolling about she did in The Outlaw.
     Curiously, Howard Hughes, who produced and directed The Outlaw and talent-spotted her for the role, designed a special bra for her, but she apparently never wore it: “One look at me in that and the men would drop off to sleep,” she claimed. “They would think it was a hammock.” No she didn’t say that – that’s my little joke.
     I must have been inspired by the thought of former MP Ann Widdecombe who, when asked on radio who manufactured her bras, memorably responded: “Isambard Kingdom Brunel.”
     However, what many pointed out about Russell was that she retained an air of mystery because she kept most of her opinions to herself – unlike today’s celebrities who endlessly volunteer personal information and opinions and end up sounding like Katie Price on heat.
     Think Helen Mirren, a smart, talented actress, who comes out with some delightfully doolally quotes: “Hollywood continues to worship at the altar of the 18-to-25-year-old male and his penis. Quite small, I always think.”

Now read this piece, compliments of columnist India Knight...
Jane Russell had the right idea – and when she did speak, people’s ears pricked up, not least because she said things such as: “These days I am a teetotal, mean-spirited, right-wing, narrow-minded conservative Christian bigot – but not a racist.”
     That seems startling enough for it to be worth opening your mouth for, unlike the banalities we’re subjected to today. Plus, imagine any sane, much-admired film star jauntily coming out with that line in the 21st century; it simply wouldn’t happen. To invert Gloria Swanson’s fantastic line in Sunset Boulevard: the pictures are still big; it’s the stars that got small.

Very apt, that, remembering Helen Mirren’s 18-to-25-year-old male and his penis, quite small. And just to make the point, with bells on, here are four celebrity quotes poached from today’s newspaper...

“I would like to be the skinniest, mini-est person in the world, but I know I can’t do that without being unhappy. I like my food.” Lily Allen, 25, English recording artist, talk show host and actress.

“I like having dance parties at my house and being super-goofy with my girlfriends.” Gwyneth Paltrow, 38, American actress.

“My ultimate ambition just now is to be able to go out without any child’s vomit on my shoulder.” Former British TV newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky, 38, mother of two small children.

“Prince Andrew says I make the best cup of tea for an American, ever.” Courtney Love, 46, singer and actress.

Ah yes, nothing like a quick trip down Doolally Boulevard. [Don’t say too much because people can hear you.] So welcome back Jane Russell, if only to allow me to enjoy another Bob Hope quote I had never heard before:
     “Culture is the ability to describe Jane Russell without moving your hands.”

How wonderful is that? Every man will know what Bob Hope meant. Mind you, I would substitute the word culture for class. Not class as in the traditional working, middle and upper class definitions – but ... well, you know sometimes you meet someone and you find yourself thinking: hm, now this person is blessed with real class.
     It is very rare and all to do with a certain presence that garners respect: their bearing, tone of voice, what they say, the way they treat those around them... Even more telling, when you encounter such an individual it never enters your head that you should say anything horrid or vulgar about them behind their back.
     It is quite possible for the driver of your local rubbish truck to have a bit of class – everything is relative – but you are obviously more likely to meet real class from the remains of the old ruling classes, the lord and lady of the manor, sort of thing. Those people really did have something which set them apart. They certainly earned respect from all those around them, including their employees. Especially their employees.
     And they would always describe Jane Russell without moving their hands. Definitely a touch of class.

Now if we could only bottle class, we would all end up considerably richer.
 

Tuesday, March 8
Me and my shadow

LISTENING to Vanessa Feltz’ early morning show on the wireless, she arrived at the daily Pause For Thought, today delivered by Canon Garth Hewitt, Guild Vicar of All Hallows on the Wall, City of London. (Mightily impressive title and address, that.)
     Anyway, this week’s Pause For Thought theme is self-denial – well, it is Lent after all. I quote the good Canon...

There is a story told of a Himalayan expedition; after several days of non-stop walking, the Sherpas simply sat down and wouldn’t go on. The whole day they sat ... and eventually the explanation came: they had been going too long, they said, their souls had not been able to keep up, and now they were waiting for their souls to catch up again.
     I like this story – I think it is a story that gives us a clue as to how to approach Lent and the busyness of life. There is a period, whether it is Lent or Ramadan, that says – pause, do something different, and let there be some aspect of self-denial – let your soul catch up...

Like Canon Garth Hewitt, I too enjoyed the story. Fascinating to

ponder that not all that long ago Sunday was a day off, irrespective of whether you believed in Lent, Ramadan or whatever.
     It was a day when the soul was allowed to catch up, which is presumably why life had a more agreeable pace about it back then.
     Today everyone is going flat out, seven days a week, 364 days a year (most people though do appear to allow the soul to catch up on Christmas Day). Social pressures now demand that we cram ever more into each and every day. Oops, there goes the mobile again...
     Mind you, I’m never quite sure what soul actually means. I’ve just clicked on the computer’s dictionary ... 12 variations on a confusing theme came up. Personally, I tend to think of my soul as my shadow.
     Occasionally it is in front of me, and I follow; sometimes it is behind me, stalking me as if it’s my conscience; but most of the time, thankfully, it’s beside me, like a reassuring friend. (With apologies to one Albert Camus.)

So there you have it. Today, a rather philosophical smile. Weeeell, it

Me and my shadow and acquaintance, captured
in last December
s Towy Valley snow

does the soul good to catch up now and again.
 

Monday, March 7
Smoke and mirrors

I OPEN page 2 of this morning’s Western Mail – and am greeted thus:
                                                                                                                      
Mums-to-be could be paid to stop smoking
To say I smiled would be an understatement. The headline is self-explanatory, but the newspaper’s leader column also had its say. I quote...

Thinking outside the cigarette box...
IT is astonishing that any pregnant woman would even contemplate smoking. Unfortunately, many prospective mothers continue to smoke despite the massive dangers such actions pose to their unborn child...
     Even more astonishing is the revelation that some mothers smoke in pregnancy in the belief it makes their child smaller and therefore gives an easier birth...
     So we have to start thinking with originality about ways to stop those women who smoke while pregnant. Among the ideas floated at a conference of experts is to pay women not to smoke during those precious nine months before they give birth ... If this means we have to pay mothers not to smoke during their pregnancy then so be it. Early evidence suggests that such intervention does bring down smoking rates among pregnant women, that these incentives could actually work...
     It is something that should be looked at seriously. Because an unborn child deserves better than to have to consume the second-hand smoke of a parent.

There you have it. You certainly can’t argue with that final paragraph – but pay women not to smoke? How do you police it? And anyway, if pregnant women stop smoking they then pay themselves, compliments of the money saved. As soon as I read that “a conference of experts” had spoken on the subject, I retired to a darkened room to lie down.
     (Mind you, I am rather taken with that expression as a collective noun: a conference of experts. Much better than the standard panel of experts.)
     Now any news story such as the above, and my brain is off on a tangent. A superficially novel idea like this has to be worked to its logical – or illogical – conclusion. So tonight I duly submitted the following letter to the newspaper...

A bit of thieving on the side: SIR – I was intrigued by your story “mums-to-be could be paid to stop smoking”. I checked the date: darn, March 7, not April 1.
     In 1995, a £100,000 fund would buy an annual pension of £11,090 for a 65-year-old man. In 2010 it was down to £6,555. Next year, compliments of the EU [it has decreed that men have a duty to live longer to ensure their brand new, smaller pension will stretch further], it will probably be down to £6,000.
     When Labour came to power the first thing Gordon Brown did as chancellor was raid private pensions to the tune of a staggering £5 billion a year – an action comparable to a parent raiding the children’s piggy banks. The next thing he did was increase the already protected and index-linked pensions of politicians by nearly 25%.
     And that’s why I never vote for anything to do with politics. However, I do carry a generous length of rope in the boot of the car, just to make sure I am fully equipped and ready for action when the revolution arrives.
     Incidentally, given how our pensions have been shafted by these despicable politicians, I am seriously considering taking up crime, politics or banking in order to boost my earnings by illegal and/or unethical means. However, Carwyn Jones [First Minister of Wales] might like to make me a cash offer I can’t refuse to stop me becoming a crook.

Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. After all, that is the logical conclusion of paying somebody not to do something they shouldn’t be doing in the first place. Crazy world, crazy people. But you have to smile, otherwise you'd go mad.
 

Sunday, March 6
If I said you had a bit of a neck ... would you wrap it around me?

IT IS one of my favourite lessons, as learnt along my walk through time: if you are fascinated by the behaviour of humans, study the behaviour of the creatures in the world about you. All the clues, indeed all the answers, are there.

This morning, after a dry but cold week with lots of quite hard overnight frosts – hard for the beginning of March anyway – it was quite spring-like. The overnight cloud, meaning no frost, had cleared and it was a sunny, quiet and pleasant start. The birds were exceedingly frisky and flighty.
     They are not mating yet, obviously, but they are chatting-up, and being chatted-up, left, right and centre, the Nogood Boyos doing their darndest to impress the pretty girls. And the not so pretty girls too. Needs must.
     For some ten months of the year the male birds, especially the alpha boyos, dominate and bully everything in sight, including the girls. But for a couple of months or so at this time of year the tables are spectacularly turned.
     It’s the laydeez who call the tune and the boyos know their place – presuming that they are desperate for a bit of sex, which they all are, of course.
     On the couple of lakes I pass along my morning walk, the water birds are becoming frisky as hell. Well, apart from the birds that have already bonded from last year, or indeed from previous years. Given that February was so mild, some of the regular breeding residents are already there: a pair of Graylags, just patiently hanging around waiting for spring proper to arrive, looking much like a long-married couple sitting in deck chairs on the beach, not saying much to each other, simply happy in each other’s company, just waiting for that once-a-year moment.
     But a disturbance on the smaller lake drew my attention. Three Canada geese were going through their courting routine. At first I couldn’t make out whether they were two males and a female, or two females and a male. Actually, they were a couple of males and a female, as you will shortly see.
     What was fascinating was the sudden arrival of a couple more Canada geese, males presumably, on the pull, for both tried to invade the cosy threesome. Much fractious excitement and chasing away. Particularly interesting was watching all three residents continually chasing away the two intruders – which rather surprised me.
     As the female was obviously in the market for a mate, I would have thought the more the merrier, so to speak. But the female was clearly happy with the brace she had in front of her. Decisions, decisions
! There again, perhaps her behaviour was all to do with territory. This is now hopefully her patch, so the fewer infiltrators the better.
     Watching the three geese doing what comes naturally reminded me of young Shagwell and Old Shaggy down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Observing the pair of them chatting up the girls is an education in itself, and in its way, a mirror image of the three birds you are about to see.
     Coming up, the two boyos are chatting up the female the way Canada geese do, seemingly in a most civilised and gracious manner – but I love the hint of contempt oozing out of the female’s general bearing...
 

Is that a stiff neck you've got there - or are you just glad to see me?
 

Given that I only carry a smallish camera, it struggles somewhat at a distance, but I was quite pleased with the result. Now I’d noticed those pink bits in their mouths – their tongues I guessed – and wondered what all that was about.
     It made me think of the Polynesians in general and the Maori in particular, especially the way they use their tongues as part of their language, specifically during the war haka (“You step on my toes, sunshine, and I will eat you – yum-yum
!”). So Mr Google, here I come...
                                           How fascinating: in courting mode, when the male Canada goose is trying hard to impress the female and insisting “I’m the one to waft you up there on to Cloud Nine, sweetheart”, it will stick its tongue out to show its length (Female: “Hello handsome
!”) and colour (Female: “Hello fit, healthy and  handsome!”); the male will also lay its head and neck along the ground or water to emphasize the size and strength of its neck (Female: “Wow! Hello Big Boy!” or even “You call that a weapon of mass seduction? Put it away, I don't even want to know where it's been!”) – and then the male will start hissing and shaking its head.
     Or, as Old Shaggy once told me: “Spin her a line, and the longer the line the more she will love it.” Honestly, watching Old Shaggy and Shagwell chatting up the birds is watching those two Canada geese attempting to seduce that female.
     Indeed, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Old Shaggy whip out his willy on to the table for the female to judge its size and strength. There again, perhaps we did that once upon a time - but have since grown out of it.

Every day a day at school, look you.
 

Saturday, March 5
It’s a banana folks – but not as we know it
THERE’S something terribly smiley about the expression “It’s bananas”. I use it myself – and I should know better because the banana is something to worship, a work of art, compliments of God.
     Back on Saint David’s Day, I was listening to Vanessa Feltz on her very early morning Radio 2 show, and she mentioned something about a headline from the morning’s paper...
                                                                                          
 It’s bananas – fruit gets a second skin
                                                                                                                                                                            It turns out that The Almighty – other Gods are available – may have thought that he had come up with the perfect packaging for the banana, but the man from Del Monte has other ideas. The company has taken the view that the yellow skin is not quite enough, and it now intends to sell individually-wrapped bananas at petrol stations, convenience stores, leisure centres and gyms. The Del Monte banana will be marketed under the slogan “Natural Energy Snack on the Go”. (Check date: yes, March 1 not April 1.)
     I smiled, naturally, and decided I must listen again on iPlayer to Vanessa’s – well, not so much her dulcet tones but more her elegant command of English – to make sure I’d heard right, and to grasp the whole story. Today was the first chance I’d had to revisit the scene of the crime.
     Before going there, somewhere on this website I have mentioned in despatches a little device that sums up rather perfectly the absolute doolallyness of the world we live in. You know how it is, you peel a banana and honestly, a whole banana is just too much and you can only cope with the half of it, perhaps the other half tomorrow - ta-rah! – here is the perfect little something you never knew you wanted...
                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                                ...a device to keep the other half of the banana nice and fresh. Now that’s what I call bananas.

Right, back with Vanessa: indeed I had heard right. With so much pressure to reduce packaging waste, Del Monte insists the addition of a clear plastic bag is actually a green measure – the bag contains ‘Controlled Ripening Technology’, which extends the shelf-life of a green banana by up to six days. The product is also being trialled in America where the wrapped banana is selling for one dollar each – around 62p (typically a loose banana at a supermarket in the UK will cost around 15p).
     Intriguingly, Vanessa recalled a competition from a few years back when she had invited her listeners to come up with a slogan to sell bananas – but before I come to the winning slogan, the banana was one of the first things I wrote about on this web site back in 2007; indeed I revisited the subject last October over on 400 Smiles A Day, and here is what I said...

On the Seventh Day, God – or Mother Nature as I call Her – poured Herself a large wine, put Her feet up and contemplated what She had learnt over the past six days of intense evolution. Could She come up with the perfect creation?
   Well, in the morning She fashioned the banana,
Her all-purpose, all-singing, all-dancing herb-cum-fruit: 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-a-dee-doo-dah.
   Also, tastes great; easy to eat, even for those with no teeth; even easier to digest; full of goodness, contains three natural sugars – sucrose, fructose and glucose – which combines with fibre to generate instant, sustained and substantial energy boost; can be safely 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; and as a super duper bonus the magical banana can be used as an emergency Post-it note.

     Indeed, at a push it can be used as a Postcard-it – and this I have actually put to the test.
    
A banana was duly posted - the very one used is pictured alongside, before dispatch - to a local watering-hole, as a bit of a joke you understand, unsure what would happen.
     It was duly delivered, the following day, but in a plastic bag – do you suppose the man from Del Monte heard about it? – the plastic bag needed because the banana had become somewhat squashed on its journey through the postal system.
     Now isn’t that rather splendid? Astonishing to think that it really did make it through the system.

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana
                                                            Groucho Marx


Oh yes, Vanessa Feltz and her competition to find the perfect slogan to sell bananas - and the result is wonderfully ironic.
     To quote Vanessa: “The slogan was so elegant and so beautifully crafted...

                                                                                                                                       
Bananas – wrapped by God
 

Friday, March 4
X marks the spot

FIRST it was conkers...

“Children at a school in Huyton, Liverpool, have been forbidden to play football in the playground because a pupil was ‘nearly hurt’,” wrote Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times. “In future the kids must play with a ball made of sponge, or a balloon. I do not know what ‘nearly hurt’ means; sort of ‘not hurt’, I assume.”

Well Rod, I think “nearly hurt” is something like “nearly having sex”. I speak from experience. Everything is going great guns, and suddenly, the BIG-E decides to morph into a
little-e. Apparently it is much like having a bit of dirt in the petrol, which makes the car miss-fire and lose power at the most critical of moments – but a quick blow job through the fuel pipes and the carburettor quickly clears the impediment and it’s nought to 60 in a blink.
     So “nearly hurt” in football is probably running full pelt, tripping and taking a dive, much as kids’ role models on professional football pitches do. Of course there’s nothing wrong with the kids as they roll about in agony, but the teachers, like referees, fall for it every time. If you’ll pardon the pun.

I shall let Liddle have the penultimate word: “The school authorities in Huyton are very competitive and wish their children to become the fattest in England. A few years ago the local borough, Knowsley, was England’s second-fattest area, behind Hull. This latest edict should help, though.”

Still, to be fair, at the end of the day football is a funny old game.

“My main dream is to go into prison and interview serial killers, rapists, murderers, psychopaths. I’m so interested in the brain!Katie Price, 32 (born Katrina Amy Alexandria Alexis Infield, previously known under the pseudonym Jordan during her Page 3 days), British television sleb, occasional singer, wife and former glamour model (sic).

My guess is that Katie Price has quite a bit of muck in her petrol, for she is misfiring badly, on all fronts, ho-ho-ho
! Even worse, she is undoubtedly “nearly doolally”. Archetypal member of the sleb club.
 

“There have always been periods that have been a struggle, but I feel like everything has definitely been fated. Sometimes it’s difficult because I feel like a vampire.” Peaches Honeyblossom Geldof, 21, model and celebutante daughter of Irish singer Robert Frederick Zenon “Bob” Geldof, 59, co-founder of the charity super-group Band Aid.

Peaches is sister to Fifi Trixibelle Geldof and Pixie Geldof, and half-sister to Heavenly Hiraami Tiger Lily Hutchence Geldof. (At this point you probably have a bit of a smile on your face, which I certainly did when I read that little lot ... these slebs are such rich material for the smile of the day spot.)
     Mention of dirt in the petrol, I think some rotten sod has poured a packet of sugar into poor Peaches’ fuel tank. Either that, or father Bob needs to put a lower case band aid over her mouth. Bless.

But, lest you believe it’s ‘mock the fair sex’ day...

A different kind of band aid for Peaches Geldof


“It’s nonsense. Someone who has a nanny, a housekeeper and a PA isn’t really Superwoman.” Businesswoman Nicola Horlick, 50, a British investment fund manager, on her nickname.

Nicola was christened Superwoman in the media for balancing her high-flying, high-earning finance career with bringing up five children. So well done her for exploding that ridiculous myth. It is not about whether women can or cannot multi-task – although I doubt that such a thing is possible under stress, which is where it counts – but it puts unbearable pressures on ordinary, decent women trying to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay while also bringing up children.

So I guess Nicola deserves as much of a smile as Katie, Peaches and the way off-side teachers at Huyton, Liverpool.
 

Thursday, March 3
One for the road

YESTERDAY I caught a little bit of Laurie Taylor’s Thinking Allowed on Radio 4. He mentioned the death of his father, and what I heard made me smile; a sort of inner smile that calms the soul. So today I listened again on iPlayer. I quote:

There wasn’t much left to distribute among the children after my father died. My elder sister bagged the picture of Bluebell Wood and a set of Waterford Crystal glasses ... while my brother had to be content with dad’s collection of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.
     I went home after the cremation service with nothing more than dad’s diary and a bundle of his old letters – but in that bundle I found my most prized memory of him. A brief page on which, in his meticulous scientist’s hand, he itemised his death wishes...
     Number 1)     No funeral service.
     Number 2)     No priests or hymns.
     Number 3)     No flowers.
     Number 4)     If there is a family gathering, on no account invite Auntie Florence.
     Number 5)  –  and this is my particular favourite  –  No unnecessary grief.
Well, it was a list which perfectly captured my father’s wholesale rejection of organised religion and gratuitous emotion.
     It was the true sound of his voice.


There is something both moving and smiley about that. Incidentally, it is Laurie Taylor’s own voice that says “and this is my particular favourite” – but I found myself nodding. There is indeed much too much unnecessary grief all about us.
     However, I was intrigued as to whether his father’s wishes were carried out. After all, Laurie says that he went home with his father’s “death wishes” (in that presumably unopened bundle) after the cremation “service”. Indeed, thereby hangs the final lesson: we should make our death wishes very obvious, perhaps in a will or a codicil. After all, not many people are fortunate enough to make that final journey precisely as they would wish.
     A couple of months back I was a pallbearer at the funeral of a good friend and a regular at my local, and John’s “death wishes” were carried out to the letter – indeed, they bore a striking resemblance to the above list.
     John also did not want a traditional funeral service, the “service” at the crematorium undertaken by the funeral director. I was most impressed with the lady’s handling of the service, for it’s quite a step up from being a funeral director, however competent, to conducting the service itself, however informal.
     John had however selected a couple of hymns. I’m on the side of Richard Dawkins here: although against religion, I remember Dawkins saying that he enjoys listening to Christmas carols, for no other reason than they are exceedingly pleasing pieces of music.
     You can say the same of the great hymns, specially the Welsh ones. They are splendid tunes. It is impossible not to sing or hum along with them. Just like the classic pop songs of popular culture.

All this talk of funerals takes me back a few years, when I was told of a character, not from this particular area, who’d had a few months warning of his imminent death, so one Sunday lunchtime at the pub, with the clock ticking away in the background, he told his pals that he had already made arrangements for money to be left behind the bar for a proper wake – but on the strict understanding that the funeral cortege would leave 45 minutes early and stop along the way to the crematorium, at the pub, for a quick drink. “Don’t you worry,” assured one his pals, “we’ll make sure we have those drinks on the way back.”
     “No bloody fear,” he objected. “On the way back I won’t be with you.” I am reliably told that the hearse did indeed stop directly outside the pub for everyone to have a drink and raise their glasses to the deceased.
     That’s rather impressive. And I do so hope the tale is true. Indeed I would quite like to do the same when I have lived for ever – and died suddenly
!

Which all makes me think: I really do need to go back to the drawing board, or square one, or whatever it is you do when you want to amend the details of that final journey.
     I am rather taken with the thought of a horse-drawn hearse pulling up outside the Crazy Horsepower Saloon...
 

Wednesday, March 2
The two and only Miss Jane Russell

ACTRESS Jane Russell, who has died aged 89, starred in the Bob Hope 1952 Western comedy Son of Paleface. In one memorable scene she shimmies on to the stage in a wild cowpoke’s bar (shades of my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon), all fishnet tights, hourglass figure and legs up to her armpits, and starts to sing a song called Wing Ding.
     “She’s really got it
!” says an awestruck Hope to a sidekick. “She’s got what?” the sidekick replies. “I don’t know,” says Hope, “but if we could bottle it, we could make a fortune.”
     As a summary of Jane Russell’s relatively brief but spectacular film career, that’s pretty succinct.

I certainly smiled XL at that now oft-repeated line – “if we could only bottle it...” – and wondered if that is where it originally comes from. So I Googled it – and guess what? You know what they say about buses: you wait for ages ... and then three come along all at once. Well now...
     In the 1951 film Love Nest, this line surfaces: “I don’t know what old Charlie’s got, but I wish I could bottle it. We’d make a fortune.”
     Then in 1952 came the Bob Hope version, above.
     Also in 1952, in the film The Bad and the Beautiful, it appears thus: “Jonathan is more than a man, he’s an experience; and he’s habit forming. If they could ever bottle him, he’d outsell ginger ale.”
     I really enjoyed that last one. Goodness, imagine someone saying that about you behind your back.

Back with Jane Russell: it seems she and Bob Hope became lifelong friends. Indeed it was he who cracked the famous joke about the good lady, introducing her as “the two and only Miss Russell”.
     By yet another of those curious coincidences, Jane Russell featured in my smile of the day back on January 20 – where I stumble upon a list of the ten films that have generated most controversy following their release. Here’s a brief recap...
     In the list was the film that made Jane Russell famous, The Outlaw. Howard Hughes’ western was pure B-movie schlock. So why was it one of the most notorious movies of the 1940s?

Realising that his female star Jane Russell had, er, ample assets, Hughes made sure the camera lingered on her chest at every opportunity, and that all the publicity focused on her rolling about in the hay.
     The result? A three-year battle with the censors ensued before the film gained release. In a March 1941 inter-office memo from the Production Code Administration (the censors), its director Joseph I. Breen said this: “...in my more than ten years of critical examination of motion pictures, I have never seen anything quite so unacceptable as the shots of the breasts of the character Rio ... throughout almost half the picture the girl’s breasts, which are quite large and prominent, are shockingly emphasized...”
Anyway, a US judge delivered this memorable quote, and it's definitely worth a repeat...

“Jane Russell’s cleavage hangs over the picture like a summer thunderstorm spread out over a landscape.”

As I said back in January, I’m not too sure what the judge actually meant, but these days, whenever I am caught in a downpour and I happen to see a lady sporting a pair of JRs, I am overwhelmed with a need to seek shelter beneath them.
 

St David’s Day, March 1
The green, green grass of Rome

TODAY is the day when Saint David, Patron Saint of Wales, comes marching in. Today is the day when meteorological spring sneaks in the tradesman’s entrance.
     Today I also captured a rather wonderful image; wonderful in as much that I can’t remember seeing both snowdrops and daffodils together – out in the wild, that is, or at least, the semi-wild. The snowdrops were on their last legs (stamens?), wilting fast – but they were still clearly snowdrops – and the daffs are fast marching up the drive towards the cottage...

                                     
Last of the winter snowdrops...

                                                                                                                   ...first of the spring daffodils

Sticking with a Welsh theme, I was reading Carolyn Hitt in the Western Mail, who was reporting on her weekend trip to Rome to watch Italy play Wales in the rugby. As usual, an entertaining little read, but I was captivated by the following, where Carolyn is writing about the colourful characters on tour, and the party atmosphere leading directly up to the game...

The crowd included 30 cartoon characters from the Rhondda, ranging from Popeye to Catwoman. The latter – aka Sue Lewis from Tonypandy – smoothed down her PVC miniskirt and admitted she was more “Ness from Gavin & Stacey” than Michelle Pfeiffer.
     The previous night, every female member of her tour party was wearing T-shits inscribed with...
 

I come from a land where the grass is green,
The greenest grass you’ve ever seen.
I tell no lies, I tell no tales;
I am a BAD GIRL from SOUTH WALES.


Hm. Adam the Nogood Mountain Boyo meets and falls in love with Eve the Very Bad Valley Girl. A marriage made on tour.

Meanwhile, you are very welcome to go on tour here ...  smile
 

Monday, February 28
Coming out - with a leg over

EARLY this morning on Radio 2’s Chris Evans Breakfast Show, our host ran through the main news headlines. In the sports section he announced that England wicketkeeper Steven Davies had become the first professional cricketer to announce that he is gay. To which Chris added: “So he becomes the first cricketer in history to announce that he is pleased to be out.” Or words to that effect.
     Very droll. (For those not familiar with the game, the whole point of cricket is not to be out.)

Cricket has always been a great game for euphemisms – there’s probably no other sport to touch it – and statements like this from Steven Davies only adds to the gaiety of the passing parade: “It was a huge relief to finally come clean and be honest with the wider public.”
     Anyway, back to the game ... ponder these genuine cricket expressions cum euphemisms, especially so given the above news – if your mind is so inclined, obviously.
     Caught in the slips ... wielding the willow ... outswinger ... bringing up third man ... leg before … reverse swing ... batting for the other side ... plays a straight drive ... holed out down at long leg ... attacking the tail ... exposed tail ... a good length ... nice line and length ... full length ... full toss ... short fine leg ... a little tickle … and on and on and on...
     Cricket boasts quite an extraordinary lexicon of smiley words and expressions. Indeed, cricket has given us a slice of commentary which has been voted by British listeners as the “greatest piece of sporting commentary ever”. It involves commentators Brian Johnston and Jonathan Agnew (“Aggers”).

     During the summary of a day’s play at the Oval in 1991, Aggers suggested that Ian Botham, in losing his balance had tried, but failed, to step over his stumps - see alongside - and was consequently given out “hit wicket”. Aggers then went on to comment: “He just couldn’t quite get his leg over.”
     Brian fought the giggles manfully for almost half a minute and then dissolved, wheezing helplessly into his handkerchief.
     The incident is made even more memorable because the unfortunate cricketer, Ian Botham, had a reputation for being exceedingly good at actually “getting his leg over” (a rather splendid British euphemism for sexual intercourse).
     It is well worth clicking below for a listen to this most smiliest of interludes...

1991 at the Oval: Ian Botham famously
fails to get his leg over


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRDTh9t51KA&feature=related
 

Sunday, February 27
Gender bender

YESTERDAY, in my 10 A DAY piece, I quoted this sentence:
A varied, balanced diet is the cornerstone of healthy living for everyone, yet healthy eating can sometimes mean different things depending on your gender.

By another of those curious coincidences, I have just read this letter in the Telegraph...

His and hers parking: SIR – A questionnaire for residents about parking in Lewes, East Sussex, leaves no stone unturned. One question asks: “Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were assigned at birth?”
     Is the council perhaps going to allot special bays for those who answer no?
Diana Crook, Seaford, East Sussex

Which was worth a generous smile in itself – I really enjoyed that bit about leaving no stone unturned - and then I read this response...

Dalekdave: “Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were assigned at birth?” Very hard to answer, as one’s gender often changes.
     I know masculine women, I know feminine men; I myself can go from being masculine whilst talking football and women and cars when I am in the Pub on a Friday Night, to being feminine when laying with my wife as we watch a soppy chick flick.
One’s gender seems not to be the problem. The problem is the PC brigade who seem to disavow the correct terminology, Sex.
     Sex is not gender, sex is male or female, whereas gender is masculine of feminine. Perhaps these people should learn English before sticking their noses into areas of people’s lives that are personal, private and no business of theirs.

I was somewhat confused with someone called Dalekdave “being feminine when laying with my wife as we watch a soppy chick flick”. I somehow can’t imagine a Dalek watching a soppy chick flick. Incidentally, what sex – or gender – is a Dalek?

     The physiology suggests a hermaphrodite – or more correctly, pseudohermaphroditism (or pseudo-hermaphroditism), which is the condition in which an organism is born with secondary sex characteristics (and as far as I am aware, underneath those skirts the Daleks are organisms).
     Looking at the Daleks, the first thing you notice are those skirts – so they must be female, or perhaps somewhere along their timeline they were frightened by Rob Roy, and what they are actually wearing are a form of Dalek kilts.
     Then there’s that very Ann Summers-looking thingy which appears suspiciously like a male organ, a man-ipulator. Normally it’s the thing that carries out the instruction to “Exterminate
! Exterminate! – perhaps in a more private moment a Dalek goes “Copulate! Copulate!, even “Inseminate! Inseminate!.
     And that smaller protrusion, an energy weapon of sorts, looks suspiciously like a Dalek clitoris. And I guess the thing on the Dalek’s forehead is where a visitor hangs his or hat – there again, perhaps not, for it could be what it deploys to deliver a Dalek kiss (a French kiss but strictly no tongues).


Hang on, where were we now? Oh yes...
     Visitor from the planet Skaro, are you sex or are you gender?
     Is what’s good for the Dalek goose also good for the Dalek gander?

I guess we will know the answer to that when a Dalek arrives on the scene carrying a man bag. Heaven (and Dr Who) forbid.
 

Saturday, February 26
5 A DAY – live well; 10 A DAY – live forever

THE following headline and article caught my eye on the Yahoo
! Lifestyle website:

Top 10 foods every man should eat...
A varied, balanced diet is the cornerstone of healthy living for everyone, yet healthy eating can sometimes mean different things depending on your gender. While there are some foods we should all be eating more of, men and women also have their own set of dietary requirements as well as their own unique health concerns. Here’s our pick of ten specific foods that men should include in their diet to keep them healthy...
     Blueberries, whole grains, Brazil nuts, broccoli, oysters, tomatoes, eggs, pomegranate juice, garlic and salmon.

Each of the foods listed above had a little write up, the usual stuff – but I’m never sure about lists like this. If all we men ate all the above for breakfast, lunch and supper, would we all really live forever and die suddenly? Mind you, the thought of suddenly getting more than my fair share of oysters - I could well live forever but die suddenly on the job.
     In fact a couple of responses in the Comment section summed the whole thing up rather well.

Geoff: [According to that list] I should last forever. I always have a splash of tomato juice in my vodka, and never a day goes by when I don’t have a few packets of dry roasted nuts (one nut is much like another) and all washed down with a few pints of best bitter. I eat a nice broccoli mornay sauce with my deep fried chicken breast and always have at least three fried eggs for breakfast ... along with bacon, sausage and black pudding. As for fish ... regular as clockwork, I have a nice fried haddock and chips every Friday – so you see, I’ve cracked it. I’m gonna live forever.

Alex: All very good information and worth listening to, but always remember, we should not be aiming to be the healthiest corpses in the graveyard - enjoy the ride, you only pass this way once...

Too true, Alex – and it’s a very brief fly-past at that. Twice the reason to enjoy it.

Oh, by the way, as is my wont, I Googled 5 a day – and this came up...
                                                                                                                                         
5 a day = 5.78703704 × 10-5 hertz

...and then, my ‘follow the herd-tz’ mentality kicked in, so I Googled 10 a day...
                                                                                                                                        
10 a day = 0.000115740741 hertz
At this point I gave up and called it a day.

PS. On the Sunday, as I put this smile together, I note that Yahoo! lists the Top 10 foods all women should eat - so, in the interests of balance...
     Buttermilk squash, salmon, flax seeds, tomatoes, cranberries, spinach, figs, milk, oats and walnuts.

Heres lookin at you, Bright Eyes...
 

Friday, February 25
A right eyeful of happiness

“THE unhappiest are those whose lives fall furthest short of their expectations.” Dominic Lawson, 54, a British journalist.

A moon or so back I admitted that I really am one of those individuals who has yet to decide what I want to be when I grow up. At no time in my life have I ever wanted to be anything; I have never been ambitious for position, power, money – all the usual suspects that curiously make people very discontent (those with lots of money never, ever have quite enough).
     Having said that, I have always worked, and been happy doing so, if only to earn some money and meet people to establish connections (it isn’t what you know but who you know).
     Despite this total lack of ambition, I am a contended little soul, my glass is always half-full – well, this is a smile of the day feature after all, and I am spoilt for choice each and every day – so the above quote was tailor-made for this spot.
     So here’s a bit more of that Lawson quote...

It is always said that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all; but it certainly doesn’t follow that it is better to have been rich – or just well-off – and lost it all than never to have had it in the first place. The unhappiest people tend to be those  whose lives fall furthest short of their expectations (whether those expectations are reasonable or not); and once a person has attained a certain level in society, it is very difficult to become reconciled to something less.
     This is a universal human phenomenon that does not much seem to bother members of the current government, to judge from what they say – and do. David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg, constantly proclaim that their greatest concern (apart from reducing the deficit) is to increase social mobility [the movement of individuals from one social class to another]. No one ever seeks to challenge them on this. It is seen as self-evidently A Good Thing.
     Yet in terms of Cameron’s pet theory that governments should increase the nation’s aggregate happiness, rather than just our GDP, it is far from obvious that increasing social mobility will make a positive contribution.

As it happens, the government has just released details of a questionnaire about the nation’s happiness. UK households are to be asked how satisfied they are with their lives in a survey measuring happiness. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published questions it is adding to an existing nationwide poll from this April.
     People will be asked to rank from nought to 10 how “satisfied” they are, and how “anxious” they felt yesterday.
The ONS says the aim is to get a fuller picture of “how society is doing” than can be found simply by using economic indicators such as GDP. The first results are due to be published by the middle of next year.
     The ONS will add the subjective questions to its next annual Integrated Household Survey. The questions will include:

     Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
     Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
     Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?
     Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
 

There will also be broader questions which are designed to try to explain people’s feelings.

I dunno, overall, there is something all to cock with those questions – I’m not sure what at the moment ... I need a little time to think about it. My morning walk ‘thinking space’ for the next few days will be fully allocated pondering on this happiness business.
     I saw somewhere the government
’s happiness survey thingy described as a “Gross National Happiness Index”, which sounds a bit of an oxymoron: gross happiness? Perhaps thats a good place to start with my homework.
 

Whatever, here is the sort of thing that puts a smile on my face, and therefore by definition, makes me happy.
     Take the Sun newspaper’s Page 3 girl, Amii Grove. I quote:

Ms Grove began her hot career at the young (but legal) age of 18, by competing in beauty pageants across Britain.
     Her jaw-dropping 32D-25-36 figure quickly gained the attention of top modelling agencies across the country, and it wasn’t long before she was starring on Page 3.


Okay, that’s all the dots joined up ... so when Amii, 25, heard that the Queen was to visit
Ireland, her reaction was as thoughtful as you’d expect. “The work of the philosophical writer GK Chesterton instantly sprang to mind,” she said while parading her jaw-dropping but member-erecting 32D booby-prized possessions on Page 3. “He said: ‘We make our friends, we make our enemies, but God makes our next-door neighbour.’ It is so very true.”

Page 3 Babe of the Day - as seen from Page 4:
Amii, wonderful Amii, thoughtful Amii

 

Thursday, February 24
For hands that do dishes that feel as soft as your smacked bottom

“HAVEN’T they heard of dish-washing machines?” Balmoral’s Member of the Scottish Parliament Maureen Watt on the news that the Queen is advertising for a washer-upper.

My initial reaction was a smile. But then I pondered on all the functions and banquets the Queen must hold, and a washer-upper seemed eminently sensible, if only to supervise the whole kit and caboodle – and then I forgot about it.

By today a greasy sky had fallen on Maureen’s 10-Watt head. Reaction ranged from surprise that she would prefer the Queen buy an environmentally unfriendly machine as opposed to giving employment to someone – to the fact that not all Tupperware is suitable for machines (a reference from 2003, when a Daily Mirror reporter went undercover as a footman at Buckingham Palace and took pictures and revealed to a startled world that – ta-rah! – the cornflakes and porridge oats were present on the royal breakfast table in Tupperware containers).
 

Then in the Telegraph I saw the photograph featured here – and I quickly realised what a silly nanny Maureen Watt had been with her smart-Alex remark.
     As a J M Newton pointed out, antique and valuable china and glassware can be ruined by being washed in a dishwasher.
     China patterns, and gilding in particular, will fade, and glassware will go cloudy in reaction to the strong detergents and heat used in a dishwasher. Responsible conservation demands that such items be carefully washed by hand to avoid deterioration and damage.
     Maureen Watt may be bright by name but she is a dullard by nature. Typical politician, dabbling in things she knows nothing about.

Too good for the dishwasher: glasses for the
Prince of Wales's wedding reception in 2005


Still, adds hugely to the gaiety of the passing parade.
 

Wednesday, February 23
Kill two birds with one frying pan

NOT just a smile a day, but every day a day at school, look you. Another visit to the Telegraph letters page...

Unimagined hazards: SIR – My complimentary hotel shampoo bottle gave the warning: “Avoid eye contact”. Try as I might, I couldn’t help staring straight at it two or three times during my shower.
David Readman, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

SIR – Suzie Marwood was advised on the safe use of her cordless vacuum cleaner (Letters, February 19: “It’s instructions exhort me not to use it while I am ‘tired, or under the influence of drugs’; I am advised to ‘dress properly’, not to ‘wear loose clothing or jewellery’, and to ‘keep bystanders away’.).
     I recently acquired a non-stick frying pan, the instructions for which informed me that I would be ill-advised to keep caged birds in my kitchen.
Rick Merrall, Caistor, Lincolnshire

Well now, after I stopped smiling, I came upon the following ‘no fry zone’ in the Comments section...

Marquis: The instructions on Mr Rick Merrall’s frying pan are correct; it was found some years ago that toxic fumes from Teflon killed parrots and other domestic birds. 

Arthurnowr: How interesting, Marquis! I thought my pet canary died when my wife showed him the picture of a spatchcock in her cookery book while muttering “keep your noise down or else!” But you’ve now offered a more palatable explanation.

So I did what I always do – well, after looking up ‘spatchcock’: a chicken or game bird split down the back and grilled. Hm. Next, I Googled ‘Teflon pans and the birds’ – and up came ‘The danger of Teflon pans’.

Teflon kills birds: In two to five minutes on a conventional stovetop, cookware coated with Teflon and other non-stick surfaces can exceed temperatures at which the coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases linked to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pet bird deaths and an unknown number of human illnesses each year, according to tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG).
     Avian veterinarians have known for decades that Teflon-coated and other non-stick cookware can produce fumes that are highly toxic to birds and their sensitive respiratory systems. As early as 1986, a Chicago-area expert on Teflon toxicosis called the phenomenon a leading cause of death among birds, and estimated that hundreds of birds are killed by the fumes and particles emitted from Teflon-coated products each year. Although an accurate national accounting of deaths is not available, in a single year this Chicago veterinarian documented 296 bird deaths in 105 cases involving non-stick cookware.

How ironic then that the instructions on Rick Merrall’s non-stick frying pan informed him that he would be “ill-advised” to keep caged birds in his kitchen.

What is more, that “unknown number of human illnesses each year” prompts the question as to what sort of damage a grand fry-up is doing to our health? And of course I don’t mean a roundup of the usual suspects: sausage, bacon, egg, fried bread, hash browns, fried mushrooms...
 

Tuesday, February 22
Nice to see you - to see you nice

AS I have mentioned here before, I am not technically, or grammatically, a very proficient writer; I write by sight and sound. If something looks okay – I’m not the best speller in the world but I do tend to spot when something is amiss (I spend a fair bit of time double-checking in the dictionary) – and then if it all sounds reasonably okay on the ear as I peruse my masterpiece, I’m in business and off I go.

So I read this letter in the Telegraph...

How grammar was taught: SIR – I, too, had an excellent primary school teacher who banned the word nice (Leading article, February 18) on the grounds that it failed to convey anything of use to the reader.
     Its inclusion in a piece of work would lead to the humiliation of it being read out to the whole class in a mocking tone. Another method of assisting with our grammatical development was that if we made a punctuation error we had to stand on our chair and apologise to whichever symbol we had “offended”, models of which were suspended from the ceiling.
     I recall Halty the Full Stop and Pausey the Comma with affection, but dread to think how many laws this 1970s method of education would break were it used today.
Frances Williams, Swindon, Wiltshire


Now that really did make me smile. Not least because I too work hard to avoid using the word nice, not so much because it doesn’t convey anything of use, but it sounds a very www sort of word: wet, wimpish and woeful. Not the kind of word a real man should be seen in the company of.
     I also try to sidestep the word love, except in its purest form. For example, I would hate to hear myself saying “I loved the above letter” because, like nice, it fails to convey anything of use to the reader. Mind you, the occasional nice and love has undoubtedly slipped through the net when scribbling on auto pilot and not paying attention to the task at hand.

Turned out nice again, love.
 

Monday, February 21
May the force be with you

FINAL WORD from yesterday’s Comment page in The Sunday Times
The thin blue tag line
Picture the scene. You are driving along a country road, obeying the speed limit, when you are stopped by the police. “Are you the owner of this car?” asks the officer. “If so, are you getting the best deal in insurance?”
     Could this be the future of law enforcement? The chief executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency has suggested that forces be allowed to sell advertising on police cars. In Suffolk, for example, we might see slogans advertising the country’s tourist delights – “Welcome to Constable country”.
     Why stop at car advertising? Under imaginative sponsorship deals a suspect might be kept overnight in the Travelodge custody suite, where any planted evidence would be sponsored by Kwik-Fit (“You can’t get quicker that a Kwik-Fit fit-up”).
     But what marketing people really want is direct access to the customer. And what  better moment than the reading of a suspect’s rights: “You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your cholesterol levels if you don’t use new Benecol.”
     Which can be paid for, of course, using truncheon vouchers.

 

The above piece really tickled my i-spot – my imagination spot, that is.

I can see it now, a patrol car drives by, and along its side:
     Get your jam sandwich at Crumbs! the Bakers

A police officer’s hi-viz jacket boasts the following message:
     Let Tightwad Bank look after your coppers and your fines will look after themselves

A Black Maria would suggest:
     Are your cuffs frazzled? Visit menswear at your local S&M – oops! – M&S

Spotted in the rear of a police car:
     If invited to partake of a breathalyser test be sure your breath smells nice. Avoid a cover up. Use ProFresh

PS: Tightwad Bank is an actual bank. Tightwad being a village in Henry County, Missouri. Cheque it out (ouch
!).

Would you like to be Bobby's girl?
Visit the 'Ello, 'Ello, 'Ello Dating Agency


A bonus Monday smile: The Jamie Owen and Louise Elliott show on Radio Wales this morning had a male guest who had been a contestant on The Weakest Link – but had failed miserably, the weakest link in the chain and out first round, so he’d had Anne Robinson’s face tattooed on his bum.
     So the Jamie & Louise show got in touch with Anne Robinson for her comments. Robinson’s PA, a perfumed lady by the name of Sweet Pea, returned their call, and advised she would ask her boss when she saw her later on Monday.
     But nothing more was heard. No surprise there because I don’t think little Annie is particularly well blessed in the humour department. She enjoys dishing it out - but can’t take it. Typical sleb.
 

Anyway, Jamie and Louise speculated on the name Sweet Pea ... Was that her real name? If so, how did she get it? Was Pea actually her surname?
     Sadly, we listeners were left dangling in the airwaves. So I Googled the name – and found an article headed thus...

Sweetpea Slight is pa to Thelma Holt, independent theatre producer...

I was obviously on the right scent. This particular article was dated 1999, so logic suggests Sweetpea has blossomed and moved on. This was Sweetpea’s starter for ten in said article...

I used to be called Jane, but Thelma nicknamed me “Sweetpea” right from the start, and eventually I changed it to Sweetpea by deed poll. I was fresh from school, working unpaid for the marketing and press departments at the Theatre of Comedy, when Thelma stole me. I was 18 and planning to study drama; it took five minutes with Thelma for me to change my mind...

Marvellous tool this Google thingummy.

The only Sweetpea image I could find

 

Sunday, February 20
Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die

OR is it the day after? Whatever, I have just read this on Yahoo
!...

While we are generally allowed freedom of choice when it comes to what we eat, there are some foods that have been deemed so controversial they have been banned from sale. In fact, a surprising number of foods have been banned across the globe due to suspected negative effects on the health, safety and wellbeing of consumers...
     Following Britain’s BSE outbreak in 1989, haggis is still banned in the USA ... Japanese puffer fish – or fugu – is considered something of a delicacy in Japan and Korea and is available on the menus of many Japanese restaurants, as well as several licensed restaurants in the US. However, selling or consuming this notorious dish is completely banned in the European Union, due to the fact that most puffer fish contain lethal amounts of a poison called tetrodotoxin, which can paralyse the body and cause death by asphyxiation.

God! Time for a drink ... but hang about...

Absinthe – as in absinthe makes the heart grow fonder, or more correctly: I’ve never gone to bed with an ugly woman but I have woken up with a few – is often considered the drink of genius due to its reputation for inducing creativity. However, the potent spirit – nicknamed ‘the green fairy’ – is actually said to have harmful neurological effects due to its inclusion of controversial ingredient thujone ... it is banned in many corners of the globe.

So you could say that thujone is a sojourn too far – boom-boom
!

But here’s a curious thing: tobacco products here in the UK display clear warnings such as “Smoking can cause a slow and painful death”. When it comes to drink, it’s “Avoid alcohol if pregnant or trying to conceive” – although, “If trying to conceive an idea, alcohol is a good thing”. I also like this: “The consumption of alcohol may lead you to think people are laughing WITH you!
     All these warnings are an absolute waste of time, for no other reason than they do not address one of humanity’s greatest problems, self-control. Or lack of it.
     Ponder speed limits on our roads. Anyone who drives will intuitively know that when you enter a built-up area you will encounter children, elderly people, drunks, people crossing the road without looking, pets on the loose... Yet, not only do the authorities have to display speed restrictions to tell us to slow down, but the police can wait in ambush and catch endless drivers who couldn’t even slow down when there were dirty great big signs instructing them to do so.

So we have speed, cigarette and drink warnings - but hang on ... given that obesity is now deemed to be one of the nation’s most serious national health problems, perhaps certain high-risk stuff which attract sweet-toothers like me should display this warning: “Food kills! Now there’s a thought.

May you live for ever - and die suddenly.
 

Saturday, February 19
A perfectly wonderful M*I*S*H-M*A*S*H of laughs

HAD one of my smiliest hours for a while tonight. I’m a great fan of M*A*S*H, and whenever I have a lazy hour of an evening I will zap onto Comedy Central X on Sky 128.
     Tonight I happened upon an episode I don’t remember seeing before: Big Mac – the visit of General Douglas MacArthur, “the Head Man, the Chief Cheese, the Supreme Commander” of the United Nations Command in the Korean War from 1950 to 1951.
     MacArthur is due to visit the 4077th to commend them on being the most efficient medical unit in all of Korea, and everyone, bar Hawkeye and Trapper, is in a state of panic (Henry Blake, Commanding Officer: “This place is a shambles - we’ve got to ... deshambleise it.”).
     I say everyone’s in a state of panic - well, Hot Lips is in a state of orgasmic light-headedness, as she always is when about to meet someone really VIP-ish.
     Also, Klinger wants to greet “Big Mac” in his own unique way, with a special flower girl or geisha outfit just for the occasion, but Colonel Henry Blake refuses, having two MPs drag him out of sight of the impending visit.

Prior to the visit, MacArthur’s aide Colonel Whiteman arrives to brief the M*A*S*H team on what to expect. During this scene there unfolds one of the wittiest of exchanges. Major Frank Burns is being his usual sycophantic self, and in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the aide, says of his fancy, Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan: “I’m sure the Colonel would like to know that Major Houlihan’s father served under General MacArthur in the cavalry.”
     Hawkeye turns to pal Trapper: “I never knew Margaret’s father was a horse.”

Great writing, top marks. Anyway, as the visit gets ever nearer, Radar doubles for MacArthur during practice ceremonies – a sequence not to be missed – but while the camp is still in practice mode, MacArthur arrives early.
     However, due to the vagaries of war he doesn't have the time to stop and inspect, but simply rides through the camp in the back of a Jeep while studiously perusing battle plans. He throws a cursory salute to the gobsmacked gathering as he is driven past. But, as he leaves the camp, he notices Klinger, who has got away from the MPs and donned a Statue of Liberty costume, with sparklers for a torch...
                                                                        
                                                                                                                              Rather than finding Klinger offensive, or thinking him doolally enough for an immediate psychological discharge, MacArthur delivers a most emphatic salute – and continues on his merry way to make war not love.
     It was such a delightfully funny episode, I watched it again an hour later on Comedy Extra + 1. These + 1 channels really do have their uses.

What is so striking about M*A*S*H is its curious similarity to Dad’s Army. Both totally different, yet so much alike. I can watch both series over and over without ever getting bored, all probably down to the perfectly drawn characters we can so empathise with, and of course such splendidly written scripts.
     While it is probably fair to label Dad’s Army delightfully silly, M*A*S*H is endlessly witty.
     Yet here’s a funny thing: I also like that other great American import, Cheers
!  I have personally met and spent time in the company of every character in that series, either in the Crazy Horse or the Crazy Horsepower – yet when I see it now it seems ever so slightly dated, something neither M*A*S*H nor Dad’s Army suffer from.
     Could it be because both revolve around wars? Or rather, both take place in uniform, for even the surgical scenes in M*A*S*H happen in uniforms? Is that what renders them timeless?

M*A*S*H also highlights a subtle difference between British humour and American humor. In the States, the series had a laughter track, presumably to prompt the home audience where and when to laugh, yet when it was originally shown in the UK on the BBC the laughter track was removed.
     However, the current satellite repeats include the laughter tracks, which I guess reaffirms the general dumbing-down of the British audience. Such a shame.
 

Friday, February 18
Whistling in the dark with a fuchsia

YESTERDAY it was Roy Noble and Melvyn Bragg on Radio Wales. This morning it was the Jamie Owen and Louise Elliott show, with guest David Morris. Who?
     Well, Jamie and Louise wondered aloud – rather essential on a radio show – as to why we hardly ever hear people whistling anymore, especially so as they go about their daily routine. Historically, there’d be the milkman and the postman out on the street, with the builder, plumber, electrician or decorator working in the house.
     But these days not a peep, or rather, not a trill. On the show they played some songs featuring the art of whistling; the two that made me smile were Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy and Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from the Life of Brian, of course. Mind you, I was surprised they didn’t play snatches of Walt Disney’s Whistle While You Work and Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho (it’s home from work we go).
     Anyway, they introduced David Morris, Grand Master World Whistling Champion, crowned at a global event in the USA. He hails from Dobcross, Saddleworth in the Lancashire Pennines, although with a name like Morris it was no surprise to learn that he did indeed claim some Welsh blood, his granddad having hailed from the Principality.
     So he gave a demonstration of his talent. Honestly, his Flight of the Bumblebee is something astonishing. Truly smiley stuff. You’ll catch a bit of his extraordinary after-dinner whistling show if you YouTube “David Morris – World’s Top Whistler”.

But why does nobody whistle these days? Well, I have a theory: when I was but a pup, we lads would serve our whistling apprenticeships wolf-whistling as we watched the girls go by. These days though you’d be arrested and charged with upsetting the sense and sensibilities of the fairer sex - and put in the stocks.
     Mind you, what I have found, even today, is, if you’ve got something a girl wants, you can wolf-whistle as much as you like and she won’t call in the snitch and snatch squad.

Incidentally, before I put these daily smiles to bed, I always like to try before I buy, so over on YouTube I watched the Seven Dwarves’ Heigh-Ho routine ... and I had to smile when they leave the mine at the end of their shift, but the key to lock the shed where the diamonds are kept is hung up outside the door. Do you know, I just about remember as a lad when the farmhouse was hardly ever locked. Mind you, we didn’t have anything worth stealing.

Okay, one quickie before departing: this afternoon I again had the radio on as Roy Noble did his show: today, one of his guests was Shaun Powell from Newport City Council, who is a Spatial Data Manager (eh?) – well, he’s in charge of street names, house numbers/names... I know, I know, you couldn’t make it up ... um, well you could, because someone already has: spatial data manager indeed!
     Actually, he was a most interesting guest; who would have guessed how much thought goes into the naming of roads, streets, avenues, the odd cul-de-sac, mews, etc, etc. Even naming a house is fraught with pitfalls. For example, you can’t name something “The Cottage” if there’s another “The Cottage” a mile or so further down the road: the postman would know the difference, but the emergency services, where every second counts, could make the wrong call.

A couple of fascinating points emerged. Someone had complained that Newport City Council had spelt Fuschia Road incorrectly – but they hadn’t. Well, they had, but deliberately so on the advice of the developer who had previous experience of people adding a little bit of black paint in a certain place to make the correct spelling of Fuchsia look like a very rude word indeed.
     Who would have thought? But, every day a day at school. Oh, and fuchsia will never, ever look
the same again.
(Does ya love me? Course I loves ya, fuchsia don't I?)

Another day at school: Fuchsia is a plant named after a German botanist, Leonhard Fuchs...

Even more astonishing, Shaun Powell himself lives in a house called Llamedos - thus named by a previous occupant. The name sounds properly Welsh, although there is no such word - that in itself is not a problem when naming a house, apparently - however, read it backwards...
     Shades of Llareggub, from Under Milk Wood.
 

Thursday, February 17
Room at the top

A GUEST on Radio Wales’s Roy Noble show this afternoon was Melvyn Bragg, aka Baron Bragg of Wigton, FRSL FRTS FRS FBA*, 71, a British author, broadcaster, media personality – and obviously a man of letters.
     He was on the show to talk about a new 20-part BBC2 television series on the social life of Britain in the 20th century, The Reel History of Britain.
     I thoroughly enjoy it when celebrity meets celebrity, specially as the whole business has a strict hierarchy: there’s a great deal of walking backwards, tugging of the forelock, genuflecting ... it’s great fun. Anyway, Roy joins up the introductory dots before ploughing into the chat...

Roy Noble: The series will be presented by Lord Melvyn Bragg – Lord Bragg, good afternoon to you, you are very welcome indeed.
Melvyn Bragg: Good afternoon, Roy – I would like it very much if you’d call me Melvyn Bragg, which is my professional name and one I’ve recognised since I was about two. The ‘Lord’ title – I always put it on the coat hanger outside any room I ever go into.
Roy Noble: My second name is Noble – but you can call me Roy.
Melvyn Bragg: [hearty laughter] Touché
! That’s good...

As the conversation unfolded, I found myself wondering why someone would accept the title of Baron, and then go through life disowning it. Is that what you call inverted snobbery? Incidentally, I like the Baron of Wigton bit, particularly so as he has an especially fine head of hair.
     Whatever, he comes across as a down-to-earth, man-of-the-people sort of fellow, but you never can tell what goes on inside the heads of these slebs. Anyway, at the end of their interesting chat...

Melvyn Bragg: Well, thank you very much my Noble Roy.
Roy Noble: [more laughter] Lord Bragg – my pleasure – I’m allergic to ermine anyway – I know my place...

* I bet you were wondering about all those letters in the wake of Bragg’s title - by the way, F stands for Fellow of the...
     FRSL – Royal Society of Literature
     FRTS – Royal Television Society
     FRS – Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge
     FBA – British Academy

Where does he hang all of them? There can’t be enough room on that coat hanger.
 

Wednesday, February 16
This way to the Big Society

IT WAS Mrs Thatcher who declared that “There is no such thing as society” - which duly brought the sky crashing down upon her head. Yes, she did add something else, which put that bald, bold statement into context - but no matter how many times I hear it explained, I still can’t recall a word of it. So the snappy “no such thing as society” has stuck, full stop.
     And of course, the passing of time seems to prove that she was right, otherwise why would David Cameron want to invent something called “The Big Society”?
     I don’t really understand Cameron
s expression, except that by “society”, what he must mean is “community”. Those of us who really do still live in a community – where everyone pretty much knows everyone else, and by definition care for all those who live within (somewhere along a scale of one to five) – we really should count ourselves lucky.
     The best observation I stumbled upon apropos this Big Society nonsense was in the comment section of one of the online newspapers, where the contributor suggested something along these lines: “The word ‘BIG’ is something you use to encourage children because they love everything with ‘BIG’ in front of it i.e. BIG Dipper, BIG Mac...”
     Many a true word...

Anyway, let’s not be beastly to Mrs T, so I’ve done my homework: here is what she actually said...

“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand ‘I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” – or, ‘I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!’ – or, ‘I am homeless, the Government must house me! – and so they are casting their problems on society, and who is society?
     There is no such thing
! There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people, and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business...”

Unless I am very much mistaken, she is definitely talking about a community there, together with its inherent responsibilities, obviously. In other words, a Big Society.

While on the subject of politicians, I must share this letter, spotted in the Letters column of the Western Mail...

MPs’ expenses
SIR – Your listing of Welsh MP expenses made very interesting reading given the controversy regarding the claims system.
The average claim of the MPs listed was as follows:
     Conservative                                    (8 MPs)          £18,802.92
     Lib Dem                                            (3 MPs)           £12,180.84
     Plaid Cymru [Welsh Nationalists] (3 MPs)           £11,542.24
     Labour                                            (26 MPs)          £10,627.77
I make no comment other than to observe that access to the proverbial trough seems a great deal more beneficial to some than to others
!
G HENDERSON, Holyhead

Conservatives are obviously the Boomerang Party: no matter how far you throw ‘em, they always come back for more.
 

Tuesday, February 15
I Heart Milton Glaser

PROBABLY like me, you blinked at the above headline, and wondered, what’s it all about, Hubie?

Well, last Thursday, my eye was drawn to a radio Pick of the day in the listings...
I Heart Milton Glaser (R4, 11.30am)
Clunkily titled, it may be, but this promises to be a good listen. Milton Glaser is the 81-year-old graphic designer who, in 1977, created one of the world’s most familiar logos...

     So, today I got round to that “good listen”, compliments of the wonderful BBC tool, the iPlayer...

It was 1977, and New York State needed a new ad campaign. Crime was rampant and the city’s coffers were empty. Businesses (and their employees) were leaving the city in droves, and tourism was suffering. The State turned to Madison Avenue, who, in turn looked to a talented graphic designer, Milton Glaser.
     Expecting it to be just “a three-month campaign”, Glaser donated his back-of-a-taxi doodle for free: “It was like one of those things you bang out because it didn’t seem to merit any more attention.”
     Skip forward nearly 35 years, and the “I (Heart) NY” design remains one of the most recognizable pieces of design in the world...
                            
                                                                                         Still cited on licensed and unlicensed merchandise across the city and internationally, it has taken on a life of its own. In the Radio 4 programme,
the art critic Alastair Sooke headed to New York to meet Milton Glaser,

who is apparently the personification of American graphic design.
     As Alastair Sooke discovered, Glaser has designed everything from a 1967 Bob Dylan Greatest Hits Album cover, to the DC Bullet adorning every DC comic for nearly 25 years, yet he still finds himself remembered for the aching simplicity of the I
NY design.
     Although the design is tightly copyrighted with licences rarely given, there have been plenty of rip-offs. Of the licensed variations, the one that caught my eye is the one alongside, a “I love NY 3D Poster”, by Israeli typographer and graphic designer Oded Ezer, in 2008.

How astonishing that something as simple as that basic logo can generate so many miles of smiles. It is forever said that it’s the simplest ideas that work best (just as it’s the simplest quotes that stick in the mind).
     But the trouble is, and as Milton Glaser proves with his I
NY logo, it was so simple that even he didn’t grasp its power until it took off, otherwise he wouldn’t have given it away for free, obviously.
     So it’s no good saying “why can’t I think of simple ideas like that?” – truth is, you probably can and do, but you need that little bit of luck and a tail-wind to give even the cleverest of ideas a lift.

As my mother always said: better to be born lucky than privileged.

Oded Ezer's “I NY 3D Poster”

 

Monday, February 14
Go to bed with the lamb, and rise with the lark

BACK on January 18, I posted the year’s first “sping is a-coming” smile, which hinted that our extremely cold early-winter was perhaps now history, namely a picture of the year’s first snowdrops, as spotted along my morning walk.
     This morning, I came upon my second sign of spring ... slowly but surely beckoning – the season’s first lambs - and if this doesn’t make you smile...
 


Actually, I captured the above a few years ago – this morning was overcast and slightly damp, but more to the point, nothing offered itself up as a photo opportunity quite like the beddy-byes pair above.
     Funnily enough, I remember these two lambs so well: they were fast asleep, their mum was grazing and had wandered away from them, as sheep tend to do – and I was thinking, if I were a Basil Brush and happened upon the pair of them fast asleep there, I would have had one of them as a full Welsh breakfast faster than you could say “Iechyd da
!” (Cheers!).
     Mind you, it is very rare for a fox to take a live, healthy lamb, but sometimes opportunity beckons – with bells on. Smiley image though.

Oh yes, I must record one other little passing smile. Listening to Chris Evans on the wireless this morning, before leaving the cottage, just after seven, Moira Stuart was reading the news: “The Canadian band Arcade Fire have won ‘Album of the Year’ for their record ‘The Suburbs’ at the Grannies – Grammys, I should say...”
     Laughs all round: “You’ve just originated a brand new award ceremony there,” remarked a highly amused Chris Evans. “We’d love to see the Grannies every year...”
     How true, and the first winner will have to be Ann Timson, the 70-something granny who routed a gang of six would-be jewel thieves just the other day – see last Thursday, the 10th...
 

Sunday, February 13
App yours

THIS, from Rod Liddle’s column in The Sunday Times, shared top billing in today’s smile parade...

There’s a new app for the iPhone which allows Roman Catholics to confess their sins by text message. You tap in “jus shggd wifes mum lol” and within seconds the phone cleverly responds with the appropriate penitence – “OMG! 7 hlmrys.”
     The Pope has his misgivings, but I think it could catch on; I’m already using the Church of England’s equivalent app, which receives a list of my many and egregious sins and responds each time with: “Oh dear, oh dear. Well, no use crying over spilt milk, is it? I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t mind, if He existed. Just make sure you recycle your rubbish.”
     And then there is the new app for fundamentalist Muslims where you write in your supposed transgressions and immediately a scimitar materialises out of the key pad and lops off your right hand.

Many a true word spoken in jest – or something like that. Then, by a curious coincidence, today I caught up with Friday’s Western Mail, in particular, the newspaper’s daily Retro Report, this one from February 1987, and headed:
Court clears Madame Cyn
Cynthia Payne, nicknamed Madame Cyn because of her wild sex parties, was free to throw another celebration yesterday after being cleared of controlling prostitutes...
     Mrs Payne, 53, had denied nine charges of controlling, influencing or directing prostitutes at her home in Amblesdie Avenue, Streatham, south-west London, between December 1985 and May 1986.
     The prosecution claimed Mrs Payne organised parties and invited prostitutes and male guests, and then raked in £30 entrance fee from each guest. But the defence said although they were sex parties, Mrs Payne never charged for them, and threw them to entertain her friends.

I well remember this court case; Cynthia Payne became a cause célèbre, with some 10% of the population thinking it was a disgraceful carry on, while the other 90% couldn’t stop smiling.
     Madame Cyn was quite the celebrity following the case – the media loved her, especially the newspapers, in particular the red tops. As I remember, she was a likeable, larger-than-life character, which doesn’t really come as a surprise. Anyway, here is the paragraph from the report that really made me smile... 

During the 11-day trial, it was said her bedrooms were “as busy as Piccadilly Circus in the rush-hour” with couples eager for a sex romp. Some were so overcome with passion they could not wait for a bedroom to become free and had sex on the stairs.

How memorable is that? I love the expression “a sex romp”: can’t say I have ever had one of those, sadly. Incidentally, this, compliments of Wikipedia: The phrase “it’s like Piccadilly Circus” is commonly used in the UK to refer to a place or situation which is extremely busy with people. It has been said that a person who stays long enough at Piccadilly Circus will eventually bump into everyone they know.
     To paraphrase: The phrase “it’s like Madame Cyn’s” is commonly used in the UK to refer to a place or bedroom which is extremely busy with people. It has been said that a person who stays long enough at Madame Cyn’s in the rush hour will eventually make love with everyone they know.

Do you know, if the Madame Cyn case happened today, there would be an app on the market to cater for your every need – hence the headline at the top: App yours.
 

Saturday, February 12
Another peep from behind the mirror

PRECISELY a week ago, in the wake of Top Gear’s Mexican wave (which unsurprisingly morphed into a tsunami), I gave my own take on the motoring show and its presenters: it is Comic Cuts for grown ups – which is fine by me, all part of life’s rich pattern – but more importantly, the presenters are glorious cartoon characters.
     Jeremy Clarkson is Bugs Bunny (“That’s all folks
!”); Richard Hammond is The Road Runner (“Beep-beep!”); and James May is one of those laid-back vultures in The Jungle Book (“What we gonna do?”).
     Incidentally, last Sunday, old Bugs did his Star In A Reasonably Priced Car with Jonathan Ross, his first appearance back on the Beeb since departing with tail-between-legs – and the two of them managed to deliver what must be the most dumbed-down interview in the history of broadcasting. It was memorably awful.
     However, I’ve just read that during Ross's piece with Clarkson he was nursing a nasty head injury after losing control of the car during a trial lap, and had to be tended to by medics. Suddenly everything makes sense.

Anyway, back with slebs being cartoon characters in disguise ...

well, great minds obviously think alike! Here are a couple of letters that have just appeared in the Daily Telegraph...

Tiggers v Eeyores
SIR – In the Services, particularly the cavalry, we labelled officers either Tiggers (optimists), or Eeyores (pessimists).
     A good unit had a Tigger in command, with plenty of conscientious Eeyores to do all the work. A poor unit had an Eeyore in command with idle and unhappy Tiggers under him.
     In government circles, you need look no further than David Cameron (Tigger) and Gordon Brown (Eeyore) to see how this works.
     The jury is still out on Tony Blair, but I suspect he is a Tigger.
Tim Deane, Tisbury, Wiltshire


Pinning the tail on Tony Blair’s literary ego
SIR – Tigger sings: “The wonderful thing about Tiggers, is Tiggers are wonderful things.” Tony Blair is not wonderful and, therefore, he is not a Tigger (Letters, February 10).
     Mr Blair is more like Mr Toad from The Wind in the Willows. Mr Toad is charming, with a wide grin, but impulsive and conceited. Mr Toad is prone to obsessions, but then drops them on a whim.

Gordon Brown is like the Chief Weasel, who plots to take over Toad Hall. He and his band of weasels are, according to Ratty, “all right in a way ... but ... well, you can’t really trust them”.
     We now have Nick Clegg in the role of Mole and David Cameron as Ratty.
     Mole is mild-mannered and would prefer to be at home, but he slowly grows accustomed to the bustle of the riverbank.
     Ratty is a genial chap who is relaxed and comfortable in his surroundings. He takes Mole under his wing to help him come to terms with the riverbank lifestyle.
     Ratty and Mole spend much time trying to sort out the mess that Mr Toad has made and fighting off the Chief Weasel.
Andrew Holgate, Woodley, Cheshire

Jeremy Clarkson, given his reckless obsession with motor
cars, challenges Tony Blair for the position of Mr Toad


Allowing for the inherent right-wing bias of the above letter, it is still a very clever and witty effort. Ten out of ten.
 

Friday, February 11
No bums allowed

“A DETERMINATION manifested itself upon her face as if she’d taken it directly from her handbag and pinned it there.”
Yesterday’s smile about ladies and their handbags was headlined with the above quote, paraphrased to order. This is the actual quote: “A smile appeared upon her face as if she’d taken it directly from her handbag and pinned it there.”
     It is a quote by Loma Chandler. Who? Quite. Here’s another: “A laugh is a smile that bursts.” In fact, this could also be a quote by Mary H. Waldrip.
     Now here’s a funny thing: having never heard of either of these ladies (I presume that Loma is a female name), and being inherently inquisitive – or nosey, depending on your point of view – I tried to find out something about both Loma Chandler and Mary H Waldrip. The two names come up on Google, but only as a link to their quotes. Otherwise, not a peep. How odd is that? I must be missing a trick here. Perhaps Loma and Mary are one and the same anyway.

Right, back to business...
PERUSING the TV/Radio guide for today, my eye is drawn to one of those little “You say” columns in the corner of the page, where readers give their views on various programmes. Today the comments are about something called Michel Roux’s Service, a programme I’ve never even heard of, let alone seen, so a quick Google ... yet another cooking programme: Michel Roux sets out on a personal mission to train eight young people as front-of-house superstars.
So here are the two comments...

Michel Roux’s Service (BBC2) is a glowing example of the power of a positive approach, full of praise, in bringing out the best in young people.
Gillian Ashcroft

He gave his staff a pep talk while they perched on top of tables. In catering college this is a cardinal sin: no bottom is to come anywhere near a table.
Tricia Lock

I smiled broadly at the bottom line. Along my morning walk, after picking up the morning paper in town, there are three different ways I can then proceed towards the valley floor and my journey home. Occasionally I will pass a recently opened café, with quite a good reputation I hear.
     Anyway, whenever I pass I notice that all the chairs are stood on top of the tables, presumably put there while the floor is cleaned. I always think what a terrible thing to do.
     I take it that, at the end of the working day, the actual tables themselves are wiped clean and polished or whatever, so the chairs are then lifted off the floor for that too to be cleaned – and obviously the chairs are left on the tables until the following morning.
     The point being, any germs, bacteria or shit on the floor would be stuck to the feet of the chairs, which would then be deposited on the table tops.
     I give the café the benefit of the doubt, as is my wont, that the table tops are given another good going over in the morning, after the chairs are returned to the floor – but I have a feeling that that is more in hope than anticipation.

Whatever, I’d still have a coffee there, if circumstances dictated. Cheers
!
 

Thursday, February 10
“A determination manifested itself upon her face as if she’d taken it directly from her handbag and pinned it there”

                                                                                                                                                                
with apologies to Loma Chandler
“IN THE end it proved to be a more effective weapon than a truncheon or a baseball bat. A lady’s capacious handbag took centre stage – and emerged triumphant.” Esther Rantzen on Ann Timson, 70-something, the grandmother who routed a gang of six would-be jewel thieves in Northampton with her handbag.

Who has not smiled at the astonishing footage of Ann Timson wielding her handbag and putting the gang to flight. If you haven’t seen it...
                                             http://www.itv.com/anglia/armed-robbery-footage07521/
Quite memorable.

Mention of the word “handbag” ... I smile and instantly think of Ladies Bracknell and Thatcher. Lady Bracknell’s famous line “A hand-bag?” has been called one of the most malleable in English drama, lending itself to interpretations ranging from incredulous or scandalised to baffled.
     It comes from The Importance of Being Earnest: a Trivial Comedy for Serious People, a play by Oscar Wilde. The most memorable interpretation of “A hand-bag?” comes from Dame Edith Evans in the 1952 film of the play.
     It is certainly worth revisiting this most memorable of exchanges...

Jack (Worthing): The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I said I had lost my parents; it would perhaps be nearer the truth to say that my parents seem to have lost me. I don't really know who I am by birth. I was ... well, I was, found.
Lady Bracknell: Found?
Jack: The late Mr Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very kindly and charitable disposition, found me and gave me the name of Worthing because he happened to have a first class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It’s a seaside resort.
Lady Bracknell: Where did the charitable gentlemen who had a first class ticket for this seaside resort find you?
Jack: In a handbag.
Lady Bracknell: [closes eyes briefly] A hand-bag? [delivered loudly in a mixture of horror, incredulity and condescension]
Jack: Yes, Lady Bracknell, I was in a handbag. A somewhat large, black, leather handbag, with handles to it ... an ordinary handbag in fact.
Lady Bracknell: In what locality did this Mr – James – or Thomas Cardew, come across this ordinary handbag?
Jack: In the cloakroom at Victoria Station. It was given to him in mistake for his own - .
Lady Bracknell: [Shocked] The cloakroom at Victoria Station?
Jack: Yes, the Brighton line.
Lady Bracknell: The line is immaterial ... I confess that I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred, in a handbag, whether it has handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life, which reminds one of the worst excesses of the French revolution – and I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to?

Wonderful. And how those words simply flow off the page. All this of course brings us to Margaret Thatcher and her Exocet handbag, a potent symbol of her empowered femininity. Mrs T. and handbag remains one of the most memorable images of the UK in the 1980s. You didn’t mess around with the Iron Lady and her handbag – no ma’am! Ask the Argentinean junta.

So, from the historically handbag-wielding Mrs T. - to our current handbag-wielding Mrs T. Did you notice in the footage that other bystanders only jumped in to help once Ann Timson had put them all to flight.
     And I guess it’s only a matter of time before the police charge her with common assault – and the robbers sue.

Crazy world, crazy people. And while on the subject of grannies, watch this...
                                                                                                                                            
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...
Only in the world of Monty Python and his aeronautical troupe of performers.
 

Wednesday, February 9
The checkout’s in the post

JUST been catching up with the supermarket tittle-tattle, starting with Mrs Mills of The Sunday Times, she who solves all your personal problems and things.

SHOPPING TRAUMA
Why can I never find the eggs in Tesco? Why are they not next to the bacon?
PWS, COSSALL
Because pigs don’t lay eggs. Actually, all the main supermarkets are introducing a policy of moving all their produce around every three days, following a complex algorithm. Rather than quickly nipping in and out, shoppers will have to spend time mooching around the store to find what they want and will probably be tempted into buying a load of other stuff at the same time. Recognising how fantastically annoying this will be for those of us who don’t have time to waste like this, the supermarkets have developed a simple phone app that can be programmed to take you straight to the goods you want. Initially, this will cost £25 a month, but if it proves popular, then the price will go up.

SMILES BETTER
Help me out here. I am fast approaching 70 and not bad looking, I suppose. The thing is, I still seem to get lingering eye contact and nice smiles from young ladies on supermarket checkouts, especially those of an eastern European persuasion, and I’m confused. Do they think I’ve got money, or that I might help them with a visa? Are they just being friendly, or do they actually think it might be quite nice to cuddle up with a cup of Horlicks?
SD, OXFORD
I am sorry, but you will find that these smiles are nothing more than company policy, and if you examine your recent habits, you will be forced to admit it works, as I suspect that since the smiling began you have been popping into the supermarket at the slightest excuse – “Oh no, I’ve run out of shoelaces again”, “I’ll just get a tin of smoked oysters to keep at the back of the pantry for emergencies”. Pull yourself together and start hanging around ladies’ bowls tournaments if you’re looking for “action”.

The above puts the little jokes I’ve shared with the checkout chicks down the years into context. Bugger. Perhaps they thought I was Amber*, father of Ambam, the 21-year-old silverback gorilla, who stands upright and walks like a man. Last week the media was awash with pictures and videos of Ambam, the Kentish lad, strutting his stuff. Very smiley.

Just today, I caught up with tabloid reader Norman Powell from Bucknell, Shropshire, and his view of life in the supermarket lane...
“Standing in a queue at the supermarket to pay for my Daily Mail, I glanced at the front page and noticed the picture of the upright gorilla. I turned round and showed it to a starchy-looking lady and said: ‘Is that your husband?’ She peered at the picture, gave me an icy look, peered a little more closely and said: ‘No, my husband wears glasses.’.”

Nice one. My personal take on life in the supermarket queue is the old “blue for a boy, pink for a girl” endorsement, which confirms that nature always trumps nurture. I have observed that checkout chicks will pretty much always check the eggs to make sure they’re okay, whereas roosters never do so.
     Well, I say never: I did once have a young cock-of-the-walk who did, but there was something very AC/DC/Three Phase in his caring, sharing demeanour. This was fine because he made sure there were six brown eggs, standing perfectly to attention in two rows.
     Also, on those rare occasions when I have a trolley and have to go through a proper checkout rather than the in-and-out aisle, chicks will also ask, very kindly, whether I need help with the packing, which makes me smile – more Ambam/Amber*, the upright gorilla? - but a rooster has never asked me that.

All human life is there, in the checkout lane.

* Amber: Why are you called Amber? You cross me at your peril. Boom-boom!
 

Tuesday, February 8
The sound of silence

LISTENING to Roy Noble on Radio Wales yesterday afternoon, he did a live interview with a player involved with the Wales Deaf rugby union team. They had defeated England Deaf 21-9 over the weekend – the only Wales team to beat the English in a series of games at various levels over the international weekend.
     Now I am aware that the Wales Deaf team are quite an outfit, having defeated England eight times on the bounce; but more than that, they have even defeated New Zealand Deaf - out in Auckland. Did I hear right? Yep.
     So Roy proceeded to have his interview with one of the forwards, Alan Ratcliffe, who had played against England over the weekend. The chat was conducted over the telephone, and the conversation progressed at a pace – there were no pauses, as if someone, say, was providing sign language translations one end. And I found myself smiling...

When the deaf rugby piece got under starter’s orders, I was only half-listening, as one tends to do when the wireless is on, and I thought, I must have missed something. How could Alan be representing the deaf team?
     Today I listened to the first 30 minutes of the show on iPlayer, just to catch what I must have missed. But I hadn’t missed anything of note; at least, there was no explanation as to how Roy could carry on a normal telephone conversation with a deaf rugby player.
     So I Googled it ... and here are the opening remarks on the Wales Deaf Rugby Union web site...

Would you like to play international rugby for Wales?
Many people ask how deaf do you need to be to be eligible to play deaf rugby. Well, you don’t need to be profoundly or totally deaf to qualify.
You only need a combined average hearing loss of 25dB or more in both ears. This is approximately a minimum hearing loss in both ears or a moderate hearing loss in one ear but normal hearing in the other.


So there you have it, a simple explanation, which I guess Roy should have pointed out on his show to enlighten uninformed individuals like me. Alan, the deaf rugby player, could have been totally deaf in one ear, but have normal hearing in the other – which would make his telephone conversation quite natural.
     Indeed, as I perused the above definition of deaf rugby, I suddenly recovered from my brain’s hard drive a TV item from a few years back involving a profoundly deaf rugby player, and he was asked, through a translator, how he coped with hearing the referee’s whistle, a fairly essential part of the game: “Oh, you see everyone around you come to a sudden stop, so you realise that the ref must have blown.”

How smiley is that? The wonderful way humanity copes with disability and disadvantage.
 

Monday, February 7
Let’s play ball

TODAY is my Super Bowl day. Yes I know, the actual Super Bowl was yesterday, but I always watch the two hour highlights programme on the Monday after (it’s a major exercise to make sure I don’t inadvertently hear or see the result on the news or online). Anyway, the game doesn’t start until eleven on the Sunday night – and the whole shebang finishes about four hours later. And as I’ve said before, my mum was seduced by a lark rather than an owl...
     I enjoy watching American football, or gridiron as it is also called. The team I tend to empathise with is the Miami Dolphins, for no other reason than I spent two luxurious weeks in Florida and Miami many moons back, compliments of a spectacular competition win (with a Concorde flight to the States thrown in
!); oh yes, and I greatly admire the dolphin, although it does rattle my cage when the Americans call it a fish.
     Over recent years the Miami Dolphins have been pretty clueless, so my back-up team of choice is the Green Bay Packers, based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. What I love about the Packers is that they are the last vestige of “small town teams”, something I relate to living where I do.
     Typically an American football team is owned by one person, partnership or corporate entity – indeed as has happened in rugby union in the UK since the game turned professional, sad to say.
     The Packers though are the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States. The are also the “winningest” American football team, and having defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in this year’s final, in an exciting game with a cliff-hanger finish, they have now won the Super Bowl four times in its modern form.
     The nail-biting finish ensured that the game, attracting 111m viewers, became the most watched State-side TV programme of all time.

So a most enjoyable couple of hours. But it makes my smile of the day because of something I saw online, after watching the highlights on TV ... which really did make me blink ... why didn't my mother tell me about things like this?
 

Snatch and grab: Lingerie Bowl VIII is in the books and the Los Angeles Temptation
 took down the Philadelphia Passion 26-25 in the Thomas & Mack Centre in Las Vegas


I had never heard of the Lingerie Bowl, shame on me – so Google here I come ... The Lingerie Bowl is an annual Super Bowl halftime alternative special to the halftime show at the Super Bowl proper. It draws millions of viewers worldwide and is shown on pay-per-view TV, as I understand.
     It features a game of full-contact American football with female athletes playing seven-on-seven tackle football. It first aired during Super Bowl 38 back in 2004, with New York Euphoria losing to the Los Angeles Dream by a score of 6-0. I love those team names.
     The players wear helmets, shoulder pads, elbow pads,

knee pads, garters, bras and panties. Indeed to goodness!
     Given the choice I would have opted for the Lingerie Bowl rather than the halftime Super Bowl show featuring the Black Eyed Peas – they never really came out of their shells.
     Sad to say, but that sort of music, with no melody, just a frantic beat, doesn’t excite my hallelujah-spot.
     Mind you, I thought the galaxy of dancers with their LED suits - pictured alongside - dancing in unison below and around the stage, added some spectacular special effects to proceedings.
     They sort of reminded me of the magnificent murmuration of starlings that come home to roost under Aberystwyth pier of an evening, look you.

 

Sunday, February 6
Nature at its most captivating

TODAY I experienced a little more of the breathtaking natural events of the world about me. Let’s start with two of my favourite sounds when out on my early morning jaunts...
     I am walking the Towy Valley, it’s midsummer, just after five in the morning, perfectly still, the sun is rising, a gentle mist settling on the valley floor – it is probably what heaven looks like - and then I hear the sound: Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!...
     I instantly recognise it: swans flying up the valley. I turn to look...

They are such a beautiful sight in flight. It is quite rare to see just the one solitary swan; usually they are in a small group, anything from a couple up to half-a-dozen or so. Sometimes though they really will be ‘a flight of swans’, anything from a dozen upwards – around forty is the most I’ve seen in one flight. I tried to capture a picture but they were just a wee bit too far away, and they were quite low so the landscape background didn’t help.
     Swans make the most distinctive of sounds as their powerful wings push their not inconsiderable weight through the air.
 

A solitary swan captured against a beautiful sky on a December early morning


Another of my favourite sounds is a storm in full flight. The noise of the wind blowing through the trees is a quite magical experience. As long as it’s not raining heavily, I really enjoy being out in high winds. Oh, and make sure to keep clear of the trees themselves, obviously, although that is not always possible.
     Well, both yesterday and today were two quite stormy mornings. I say stormy – nothing to what they have just experienced in Australia, or indeed the hurricane season the other side of the Atlantic. Yesterday the wind was blowing around 50mph, gusting much higher; this morning, I guessed it was about 30-40mph, something confirmed by a later check of the weather forecast charts. I was out in both because, even though it was raining, it was but a drizzle, or slight rain, as the forecasters define it, which is no problem. It was very exhilarating.

Along my walk I pass a couple of oxbow lakes, the bigger one is home to the alpha pair of breeding swans I have written about through last year over on 400 Smiles A Day. But over the past few weeks anything up to about 30 swans have been ‘overnighting’ on the lake, and to my surprise the alpha pair don’t seem to mind. I guess the visitors are youngsters, past the ugly duckling stage but not yet pairing up to breed.
     However, every morning, around sunrise, they takeoff in groups, never all together. Sometimes they fly up the valley, sometimes they go down.
     This morning I happened to be in the right place, at the right time, and to my surprise, I watched some 20 takeoff into this stiff gale. They became airborne very quickly – but their progress thereafter was desperately slow.

To those not familiar with the mechanics of flying, here’s a brief lesson. Years ago I gained a private pilot’s licence, flying mostly little Pipers and Cessnas. Let’s say an aircraft becomes airborne at an air speed of around 70mph. By this I mean, the air must be travelling over the wings at 70 to generate lift.
     So if I’m taking off on a perfectly still morning, the propeller must drive the aircraft along the ground at 70 for the plane to takeoff. However, if there’s a headwind of, say 35, then the wind is already travelling over the wings at 35, so the ground speed then only needs to be 35, so 35 + 35 = 70 – and your off.
     Hence why you always takeoff and land into the wind. Also, why you will sometimes observe birds such as crows or seagulls face into a significant wind, simply extend their wings – and they’re off.

So the swans I was watching took off quite easily. But such was their struggle to gain speed into the wind I really thought they were going to abandon their flight. As they passed over the second, smaller lake, so low were they I felt sure they would land. But no, they kept going.
     They flew really, really low over the fields, rising over the hedges and rounding the trees. Even from a distance it was obvious the quite astonishing effort they were putting into that flight. They would also “wobble” quite dramatically as a gust of wind caught them. The power in those wings is quite extraordinary.
     I would have taken a picture but the camera would have pointed straight into the wind and the rain, plus they were flying down the valley, away from me. And anyway, it wouldn’t really have captured the sheer majesty of what they were doing.

It was a truly magical few minutes, and yet again I found myself appreciating how lucky I am to live where I do and be able to watch nature in close-up every morning. It more than compensates for my rather modest income.

For a picture postcard of a pair of swans coming in to land on a perfectly calm day, click
smile...
 

Saturday, February 5
You spoil us, Ambassador

THE WEEK has been awash with Top Gear doolallyness. This generated the mother of all Mexican waves, indeed a Mexican tsunami. So much so, the Mexican Ambassador to the UK complained to the BBC about comments made in last Sunday’s episode and demanded the show’s hosts, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, make a public apology.
     I never saw the episode, so I’m going by media reports. Apparently, they were discussing a Mexican sports car, the Mastretta. Hammond joked: “Why would you want a Mexican car? Because cars reflect national characteristics, don’t they? Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, [an] overweight oaf with a moustache, leaning against a fence asleep, looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat.”
     May described Mexican food as “like sick with cheese on it”, and Clarkson predicted they would not get any complaints about the show because “at the Mexican embassy, the ambassador is going to be sitting there with a remote control like this [snores...]. They won’t complain, it’s fine.”

As I write, the BBC has apologised, but the Top Gear team remain defiant. Indeed I read that in a forthcoming speech, Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, will say that while “the Top Gear Tendency” might appear to some as juvenile and vulgar, Clarkson and his fellow presenters are “brilliant” talents whose jokes entertain millions. Rather than suing Top Gear, the “PC lobby” should focus on the real causes of discrimination.
     Rather than endorse the howls of “racism” and “xenophobia”, Phillips ignored the demands for action by dismissing as “dinosaurs” those who become upset by the aforementioned “Top Gear Tendency”.

Hang about: you can't be juvenile and vulgar - and brilliant. I rather liked this comment on the Guardian website, from the splendidly named “tiredgiraffe”: Usually the Top Gear lot are far better at walking the line; here, it was very crassly overstepped. It wasn’t funny and it went on far too long ... the Mexican stuff was racist and unnecessary, and rather baffling to my kids (who wondered aloud why the presenters were being so nasty).
     And there you have it. The line between brilliance and juvenile vulgarity (or sheer nastiness), is a very fine one, and it does seem that the Top Gear team crossed it with their Mexican two-fingered wave.

My own take on Top Gear, which I occasionally watch and enjoy - excepting the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, which I believe to be an Unreasonable Con in a Common or Garden Car, with Clarkson putting up whatever time he thinks fits his agenda - anyway, my take on the show is that it is Comic Cuts for grown ups, and the hosts are simply amusing cartoon characters: Jeremy himself is Bugs Bunny, forever biting into something tasty, and insisting always on having the last word.
     Each show really should finish with him announcing: “That’s all, folks
!
 

Jeremy through the looking glass              Jeremy from behind the looking glass


Wee Dickie “Hamster” Hammond is the Road Runner, always rushing around shouting “Beep-beep
!” and escaping within an inch of his life (oh yes, Wile E. Coyote – we, the great unwashed – will get him one of these days); and James May – well, remember those wonderful vultures from The Jungle Book (“In fact, we’ve never met an animal we didn’t like!”, ho, ho, ho!)?
     James is definitely one of those vultures: “What we gonna do?” “I dunno, what do you want to do?

There, Top Gear will never look quite the same again. Enjoy.

Oh yes, for a gentle smile, and if you don’t speak Dutch, watch: “Jungle Book – That’s what friends are for (Dutch)”
     If you are not familiar with the Jungle Book’s vulture scenes, it is best to first familiarise yourself with the English version (“Vultures from the Jungle Book” and “That’s what friends are for – The Jungle Book”).
     It really is a most agreeable way to take five.

Before departing the Top Gear shemozzle, here are a few other comments which caught my eye on the Guardian website:

nutsch: What do you call a Mexican who’s had his car stolen?
Carlos (very, very sorry).

erasurehead: To follow nutsch, what do you call a Mexican lady with only a single tooth left?
Juanita.

Which reminds me: what do you call a Welshman with only a single tooth left in the front?
Dai Central-Eating.

And finally...
baerchen: A few years back, there was a TV dramatization of some ghastly Edwardian soft-porn lesbian bilge on the BBC, in which a scene depicted Anna Chancellor pleasuring her downstairs maid, er, downstairs, with what looked like a policeman’s truncheon.
The Guardian’s TV reviewer wrote: “It’s not every day you see a leather clad dildo on the BBC. Unless it’s Jeremy Clarkson.”

That image even knocks Bugs Bunny into a cocked hat.
 

Friday, February 4
The sheet hits the fan

“POLITICIANS as a breed aren’t particularly sexy but I think politics can be sexy because power is an aphrodisiac.” Sally Bercow, wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, bites on the ginseng bullet before getting her kit off.

It is ambush territory to navigate any day with a preconceived idea of what my smile of the day will be. This evening, Wales took on England at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, the first game of the season’s Six Nations rugby campaign. A Welsh win would of course generate a mile-wide-smile – but the bookies, who understand these things better than anyone because, unlike our bankers, it is their own money on the line, make England the favourites. So thoughts of a Welsh win brings words like count, chickens and hatch to mind.
     As it happens, Wales were fortunate to lose by just seven points.

     But as it also happens, my smile of the day was sealed late afternoon, well before the game, when I stumbled upon the extraordinary picture of Sally Bercow, alongside, posing in nothing but a bedsheet (not even a smile).
     I collapsed in a heap of smiles. What on earth possessed her to do such a thing? Doolallyness at its most succinct.
     So here’s the story as culled from various news outlets:
The photo was taken to accompany an Evening Standard interview, in which she described the aphrodisiac effect on the couple’s life at the Palace of Westminster, humping in the shadow of love and Big Ben and all that.
     She told the paper’s magazine section that she found living in a grace-and-favour apartment in the building “sexy”, and that both she and her husband had been “hit on” more and

“Why don’t you come up some time and see me?”

more since he was elevated from a Tory backbencher to the
Speaker’s role in June 2009.
     (Shades of one-time Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott who, shortly after a “steamy affair” with his Whitehall diary secretary, was pictured at his Buckinghamshire grace-and-favour home playing croquet on the lawns with flamingos for mallets – oops
! hang on, that was Alice in Wonderland – same difference though).
     Today, Sally Bercow went on Victoria Derbyshire’s BBC Radio 5 Live show and admitted she was “probably stupid” to do the interview and had been a “fool” to agree to be photographed in the bedsheet as part of the newspaper’s Valentine’s Day coverage. “It was just meant to be a bit of fun, but obviously it has completely backfired on me and I look a complete idiot. Since John became Speaker, the number of women who hit on him has gone up dramatically. I don’t get jealous because more men have hit on me, too ... I think it’s hilarious that I have been referred to as the Carla Bruni of British politics.”
     Gulp, or whatever it is you say when you find something hard to swallow.
     Apparently, she had no idea the Evening Standard wanted to take such a picture, so she was taken totally by surprise. I know she has form, having shocked many with her past of drink and casual sex (she has admitted that at one time she was a bicycle built for two, prepared to give anyone a ride without the promise that “we spend all our lives together, regardless of the weather”) – but hang on, she is now a married woman and a mother, so she must have learnt to say “No
!” to some things in her posh new life.

I feel a joke coming on: What has thunder, lightning, whirlwinds, precipitation and humidity – but only happens in a boudoir*? A storm in a bedsheet.
* Reference the Carla Bruni thingy: boudoir – from French, literally ‘a place to sulk in,’ from bouder ‘to pout or sulk’. Fancy.

Truth to tell though, the moment I saw the picture of Bercow in her bedsheet, the first thing that came to mind was Laurance Simon’s Pig in Red Shoes. I first saw this in our local Western Mail  back in December 2009, and I was so taken with the ceramic pig wearing the shiny footwear, along with the accompanying article and the headline, that I cut it out and filed it for future reference, knowing that somewhere along the line it would present a perfect juxtaposition – and as if by magic...

Complete the headline “As happy as a pig in...” in two words or less...


Hm, I'm hopeless at this sort of thing: As happy as a pig in a poke
!? And the correct answer? As happy as a pig in red shoes.
 

Thursday, February 3
I’m looking over a fore-leaved clover

BY A strange coincidence, last Monday I was greatly amused by the 3:10 To Yuma film listing in the newspaper. Well, yesterday I was attracted by a radio ‘Pick of the day’...

Four Thought (R4, 8.45pm)
Baroness Greenfield of Ot Moor, better known as the physiologist Susan Greenfield, gives the first of a new series of talks recorded at the Royal Society of Arts in London: perhaps she will bring us up to date on why the Royal Institution, of which she was the first full-time woman director, got rid of her last year, and what settlement has now been reached.
Paul Donovan

I was attracted by three things: firstly, the title ‘Four Thought’, a neat play on forethought, obviously, which in turn made me think of foreplay – that’s my one-track mind for you – and a quick little joke came to mind. Stick around...

Secondly, it’s that ludicrous title: Baroness Greenfield of Ot Moor. It brings to mind The Three Welsh Stooges, a Parliamentary vaudeville and comedy act: Baron Kinnock of Bedwellty, Baron Prescott of Kingston-upon-Hull and Baron Wigley of Caernarfon.
     When these politicians were in their glory days all they wanted to do was stick everyone who sat in the House of Lords up against a wall, so to speak. But here they are ... the addiction to power is a terrible thing to behold.
     I’d love to know what thoughts drift through the minds of these Barons when they retire of an evening, in particular those few seconds between the moment they lay their heads on the pillow – and quickly slide down the rainbow to land on that yellow brick road which leads to the Wizard of Doolallyland. Do they even know the meaning of shame?

Finally, I was intrigued by what Susan Greenfield’s talk would be about, so today I listened on iPlayer. Unsurprisingly, she was an exceptionally good speaker. Greenfield’s own research is focused on brain physiology, particularly the aetiology of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
     However, her talk was about a novel she intended to write, which would explore the way our brains can cleverly adapt and rewire itself to suit the world about us, especially in times fraught with peril.
     Apparently, scientists have uncovered evidence for an inbuilt ‘sat-nav’ system in the brains of London taxi drivers. Studies have shown that they have a larger hippocampus – a region of the brain that plays an important role in navigation.
     Taxi drivers’ brains even “grow on the job” as they build up detailed information needed to find their way around London’s labyrinth of streets – information famously referred to as ‘The Knowledge’.
     I enjoy fishing around the internet for images to insert in this scrapbook of mine – but coming up is perhaps the most intriguing yet, a map of a London taxi driver’s brain...
 

Peripheral vision: the next time you jump into your car, your brain also jumps into sat-nav modus operandi
My joke about my sat-nav being a God-God: "Keep on the straight and narrow until you come to a dead end
!"
is much nearer the mark than even I would ever have thought possible


Isn't the above astonishing? So if taxi drivers’ brains could adapt so dramatically over such a short period of time, Susan Greenfield was intrigued as to how all our brains will adapt to a dramatic change in our environment i.e. global warming.
     It was fascinating stuff, but to be honest, a wee bit over my head.

Oh yes, I was intrigued by that loss of her job stuff, mentioned at the top, so a quick Google revealed that the Royal Institution’s trustees had decided that the position of a full-time director (Susan Greenfield) was no longer affordable in the light of funding problems that had left it more than £3 million in the red. It’s chief executive, Chris Rofe, now heads the organisation. So there we have it.

Finally, back with forethought and my one-track mind. Here’s the story of my sex handicap (which is fore)...

Across a crowded room – fore-sight; hot under the collar – fore-flush; followed by a fore-letter word – love; which all leads to fore-play ... and then ... bugger, bugger - fore-closure – FORE
!

And there’s the story of my sex handicap: off the fairway and into the rough.
 

Wednesday, February 2
Just passing through

“GRAMMAR schools scooped up the brightest children and moved them on up.” Investigative journalist Richard Bilton’s observation on BBC2’s documentary Who Gets the Best Jobs? about social-mobility.

The TV happened to be on as I worked on the computer, so I had half-an-eye on this documentary. I quote from a Daily Telegraph preview...
Two weeks ago new statistics showed that one in five British people between the ages of 18 and 25 is unemployed. Alarming enough, you might think, but as this even-handed and quietly forceful one-off documentary shows, just as worrying is the way that many of the best jobs are being snapped up by an increasingly small gene pool of privileged, well-connected families. Obviously being able to pay for a first-class private education is a start. But knowing the right people to gain work experience, and being able to support your children through lengthy and unpaid apprenticeships is also important...*

Hm. One of my University of Life’s earliest lessons was this: It’s not what you know – it’s who you know! How true that is. And nothing ever changes.
     Anyway, about halfway through the programme, suddenly up popped my old school, Llandeilo Grammar, in particular the class of 1961, all having a get-together at the town’s Cawdor Hotel. Chats with said class highlighted how the old grammar schools did offer those from ordinary and less-privileged backgrounds the opportunities to climb all the ladders – but at a cost to the community at large.
     For every youngster that passed the old Eleven Plus, three were rejected. The comprehensive system was supposed to right that wrong, but of course it never did.
     Now the opening quote, above, came after the Llandeilo Gram sequence – and it made me smile big time.

I passed the 11-plus, more by luck than judgment, like most things in my life. Sadly though I never enjoyed my grammar school years, probably because I never developed an interest in any subject, apart from the girls. I just cruised through school; I would either just pass or just fail most exams – I sat nine O-levels, passed five.
     Probably my non-interest in academia stems from the simple fact that at no time in my life have I ever been ambitious. There is no job that I have ever yearned after. That I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up is spectacularly true in my case.
     I have worked all my life, and happily done so. After all, I needed an income, and perhaps more importantly, you need to meet people. We’re back with “It’s not what you know – it’s who you know
!”.
     Mind you, the fact that I have never been motivated by money, position or power gives the genetic game away as to why academia and ambition held no interest. But here’s an interesting aside: I personally know quite a few who failed the 11-plus, but went on to build successful and profitable businesses – oh, and most importantly, contributed hugely to the wellbeing of the community. And still do. Indeed, whether by passing the 11-plus I am “brighter” than them, well, that’s a moot point.
     But I’ve never been driven by the urge to build anything, even a business. Just passing through, me. And hopefully I will pass on my corner of the world as I found it, hopefully even a little better.
     Curiously though, when I hit middle-age I discovered by chance that I had a sort of ability to throw words together without too much effort (as Eric Morecambe might have said: the right words, but not necessarily in the right order).
     So I guess the one regret with my schooling is that no one picked out my writing ability – but having said that, in the lead-up to my 11-plus I remember being told that I wrote very good essays. Funny old world.
     So, the grammar school certainly didn’t scoop me up and move me on. That’s not a complaint, because I’ve enjoyed my journey and probably wouldn’t do it any differently again – well, I guess there are one or two jobs I would give a miss.

* In the programme Who Gets The Best Jobs? one person who played a starring role was fashion PR boss and director Julian Vogel, when his agency Modus Publicity was exposed as employing up to 20 unpaid interns. Vogel told reporter Richard Bilton that interns were “a really vital source”.
     But he admitted that by not paying them, “I do worry sometimes that it does favour the slightly better off”.

The slightly better off? You couldn’t make it up. Crazy world. Crazy people. But all well spoken and exquisitely attired.
 

Tuesday, February 1
The Lone Musketeer

“I AM perfectly happy with myself. I feel at peace. The world needs to be reformed.” No, not Osama bin Laden, 53, but WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 39.
In an interview with 60 Minutes (an American television news magazine on CBS), Assange compares his values to those of the Founding Fathers of the United States and argues that he is actually playing “inside the rules”. He defends his actions by leaning heavily on the First Amendment, stating that “our founding values (WikiLeaks) are those of the U.S. revolution”.
 

Applying my tried and tested face test – Dolphin or shark? Pussycat or polecat? Sparrow or sparrow hawk? – I always feel uncomfortable when I catch sight of Julian Assange, pictured alongside, on television.
     There is something about him that puts my instincts on yellow alert. Now the problem with this particular judgment is that when I first set eyes on him, I was already aware that he was wanted for questioning in Sweden regarding alleged sexual offences, indeed he is currently on bail and under house arrest here in the UK pending an extradition hearing next week.
     No matter how hard I try to override the prejudice such an accusation subliminally plants in my mind, I have to give the benefit of the doubt and override my instincts – but obviously remain en garde.
     Then Assange goes and utters the quote at the top – and my

instinct goes back on yellow alert. And, just today, the following,
which is Assange’s alleged response when interrupted by a caller:
“I am very busy sorting out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

And there you have it, my top smile of the first day of February. I mean, what can you do with those who, not so much want to personally change the world, but seriously believe that they are doing so?
     Individuals do not change the course of history, not even presidents or prime ministers or dictators; neither do governments. True, they may take the high road instead of sticking to the low road – or vice versa – but eventually everything comes back on track. It is people who determine the course of history over the medium to long haul – look at what is happening in Egypt right now.
     And remember, the world’s population is currently just under seven billion, and projected to reach nine billion by 2050. That’s an awfully powerful tsunami of humanity for some individual to play King Canute in front of.

But let’s smile-off with a much more gentle and agreeable touch of doolallyness...

“In the war, the Germans tried to beat us, the French did nothing and the Italians made good ice cream. Out of Europe
! British astronomer, writer and media star Sir Patrick Moore, 87, demonstrates his Eurosceptic views.

Smashing. Patrick Moore reminds me of The Stargazers - I See The Moon, which was on the wireless last Saturday am. Well worth a visit to YouTube for it’s one of those delightfully silly songs that you can’t stop yourself singing along with...

          
♫♥♫♥♫ “I see the moon, the moon sees me; down through the leaves of the old oak tree...” ♫♥♫♥♫
 

Monday, January 31
Last train to Yuma

SOME individuals go through life desperate to be made miserable, to be put upon by the world about them, to find something to complain and moan about, blah, blah, blah...
     I am rather fortunate, in as much that I go through life looking to be entertained, to be amused, to be encouraged to smile... It’s in my genes, obviously.
     Indeed, if something does not amuse me when I first encounter it, but feel that there is something inherently entertaining waiting to be discovered, then I will engage my own imagination to generate a smile.
     Now I watch very little television, hardly ever a film, so I tend to be highly selective. Every morning I will spend a few minutes flicking through the newspaper listings to see if anything catches my eye...
     I open The Sunday Times listings for today and peruse the Critics’ choice ... actually, the Film choice catches my eye...
 

3:10 To Yuma (Sky Movies Classics, 3.20pm/9pm)
High Noon is not the only classic western governed by a train timetable: in this later film (based on an Elmore Leonard story), we await the iron horse that is to take Glenn Ford’s outlaw to jail...

Now I abandoned the write-up at that point simply because I never watch films on Sky – I pay for their Sports channels, and that’s quite enough, thank you very much.
     But have you noticed anything yet? Peruse the actual listings, alongside...

Now you would have thought, given the money that all these media types earn, that there must be one person in Sky who would have said: “Hey, guys, 3:10 To Yuma is scheduled for 3:20
! C’mon, let’s do the obvious and move the schedules forward 10 minutes...”
     A quick look down those schedules confirms that all the films start at really peculiar times. Okay, so the nine o’clock evening film

Sky Movies Classics: listings for 31/01/11

must start at 9:00pm – so insert a 10 minute filler.

Perhaps it’s me, but seeing 3:10 To Yuma scheduled to whistle off at 3:10 prompt really would make me smile – and I guess amuse a good many other people besides.
     But there we are, these media executives are not paid to be imaginative. But at least my own imagination tickled my own funny bone. All aboard the Sky Lark...
 

Sunday, January 30
Who’s a pretty boy then?

GLAD ONE-EYE goes to buy a parrot at Sexy Sue’s Pet & Cwtch shop. Oh, Glad One-Eye: Mrs Gwladys Evans – surprisingly, she is in possession of two exceptionally keen eyes; neither is she particularly prejudiced in her opinions. No, Mrs Gwladys Evans is Glad One-Eye because she lives at No. 1 High Street.
     Anyway, she explains to Sexy Sue that she needs a bit of company around the house: the twins are about to depart for university, and husband Dai is never home, forever out gallivanting on some business or other. So she fancies a parrot in the house for company.
     Sexy Sue points to some likely birds: “These two parrots here are £300 each; this one’s just £30.”
     Glad ponders: “Like, what’s wrong with the £30 parrot then? Is it ill or something?”
     “No, nothing’s wrong, but home has been a massage parlour in Swansea, so Pretty Boy – oh, that’s his name – he won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.”
     “Oh jiw, I’ll have the £30 one, it’ll save me £270 – and we’re all broad-minded in our house.” So she takes the parrot with her to her lovely home at No. 1 High Street.
     “Blimey,” says the parrot, “home from home, another brothel.”
     Which takes Glad One-Eye by surprise, to say the least. “You give me much more of that and you won’t be a Pretty Boy much longer.”
     As she continuous to eye the parrot suspiciously, her twin daughters return from a bit of shopping. “Bugger me,” says the parrot, “a couple of prostitutes ready to lie back and think of Wales.”
     The girls and mum pick themselves up off the floor, dust themselves off, but just about with smiles on their faces. “Right my lad,” says Glad One-Eye, “I’m afraid it’s back to the shop with you first thing in the morning.”
     At that moment husband Dai comes in from work. “Wel-i-jiw-jiw
!” shouts the parrot in an excited voice, “Dai One-Eye, haven’t seen you for a couple of weeks.”

The above is sort of paraphrased, with apologies, from the Michael Winner column in The Sunday Times (in the original, Glad One-Eye was a Mrs Cohen - wel-i-jiw-jiw indeed).
 

Saturday, January 29
Keeping abreast of events

LOOKING back through my diaries at previous ‘smile of the day’ entries, it’s intriguing to note how the source of such smiles has changed over recent times. In the past, many of the things that made me smile originated in the pub – yesterday’s tale of the frozen herd of cows being a prime example – but these days most of my smiles come, not so much from the delightfully doolally things celebrities say, but rather the prominence the meeja gives their every utterance. I find it an endless source of amusement. For example...

“Closing libraries is child abuse.” Alan Bennett, 76, English playwright, screenwriter and author.

Bennett is an amusing old cove who always makes me smile when I catch sight of him on the box. I think it’s his laid-back eccentricity. I recall journalist Anne Robinson telling the tale of interviewing him, and the first thing she noticed was a big black stain on his shirt breast pocket. She could see a fountain pen in the pocket, which had obviously sprung a leak – the sort of thing that happens to children, much to the joy of other kids. But to see a grown man ... she wasn’t sure whether he knew about it or not, but understandably she couldn’t keep her eyes off the big black splodge throughout the interview.
     It’s a wonderful tale, which perfectly highlights how untouched by fame and celebrity he appears to be.
     Yet this witty and clever man can deliver the above quote. I find myself wondering if there was more to it; perhaps it was taken out of context (I did Google the quote, but couldn’t find anything further to help make sense of it).
     Let’s face it, after murder, child abuse is the worst crime; indeed, many would argue that it is the worst crime of all. I find it difficult to argue with that.
     Obviously I am not smiling at the quote itself, but rather that such a seemingly wise and witty individual should align closing a library with child abuse. It does appear that celebrity really does make people mislay their moral compass.

So let’s finish with some proper smiles. The fall and fall of Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys continues to rumble in the meeja jungle, and has prompted a flood of jokes and tweets. Here’s a couple...

“As a Celtic fan I’m appalled an official’s ability has been questioned because of their sex rather than their religion.” Frankie Boyle (Scottish comedian and writer?)

“I’m so glad those sexist pigs Andy Gray and Richard Keys are gone from Sky Sports. Now hopefully we can get two new female presenters in with massive tits.” oldacre84
 

Friday, January 28
Frozen in time

A FEW days back I mentioned how unbelievably cold it had been in this part of the world in the lead up to Christmas, with Christmas Day itself hitting well below the belt, the lowest temperature since records began, I learn.
     I mentioned this in the Crazy Horsepower today, and Dai Version said: “Yes, you heard about the White Park cattle over at Dinefwr?” I shook my head – now that I don’t regularly call at the pub I miss out on many of these gossipy titbits.

Anyway, Dinefwr Park and Castle is a magical place, and for the past 2,000 years has exercised power and influence, indeed one of the most illustrious places in Welsh history, once home to the medieval court of the great Welsh prince, Lord Rhys. The Park is now run by the National Trust, including the impressive Newton House.

     One of the many attractions which helps pull in the punters are the rare white cattle, a breed that dates back to ancient times. The White Park cattle are rather handsome and very distinctive: white, obviously, but with black nose, ears and socks – and of course some rather impressive horns.
     Alongside, a picture I took of one of the cows on a foggy early morning last August. Yep, as handsome as an adjective.
     Now these cattle are not housed over the winter months, having evolved to survive British winters outdoors.

Anyway, on a snow-covered Christmas Day morning, with the farm staff having the day off, Wyn Davies, the manager, did his duty feeding the stock and checking that everything was okay. But things weren’t.
     To his horror he discovered that it had been so desperately frosty overnight the herd had unbelievably frozen solid in the field – and being such a rare and valuable breed, historically speaking, it was disastrous news.

     As he went round inspecting them, unsure what to do next, a voice behind him interrupted his thoughts: “Excuse me, can I help?” There stood an elderly lady, dressed somewhat eccentrically in black, with a black labrador in tow – both stood out uneasily against the snow: the word “sorceress” flashed momentarily through his mind – Wyn had never seen her before.
     “Sadly, I don’t think so,” said a disheartened Wyn, “it looks as if the whole herd has frozen to death, literally. It’s a terrible loss.”
     “May I take a closer look at one of them?”
     “Be my guest,” said Wyn, thinking he had nothing to lose. He then watched her squat in front of one of the cows, gently blow up its nose before lightly rubbing it with her hands. This went on for a few minutes, Wyn shaking his head in disbelief ... but, astonishingly, the cow slowly but surely began to stir and shake itself into life.
     In no time at all the cow had awoken from its frozen slumber and climbed shakily back onto its feet. It was back from the dead. A Christmas Day Miracle.
     “Would you like me to check out the others?”
     “Yes please,” said a flabbergasted Wyn. And so she did ... lots of rubbing, caressing and blowing up nostrils ... and in no time the herd was back to a sort of normality.
     By now people out for a bracing walk in the wintry air had gathered, and with growing incredulity watched proceedings unfold. Wyn himself was busy on his mobile telling everyone about the extraordinary story unfolding in front of him. In fact, so caught up was he with events that he never noticed the lady and her dog quietly move off and disappear.
     “Where’d she go? And who the heck was she anyway?” enquired Wyn of a bystander, much in the manner of “Who was that masked man?” of Lone Ranger fame.
     “All I can tell you,” said the bystander, “is that she’s just moved into the area; she’s bought a cottage on the way out of town towards Llandovery – down near the Plough – and that she’s a retired veterinary surgeon. Apparently she’s the sister of the late actress Thora Hird – which now precisely explains why the lady you’ve had here working a miracle in your frozen field is known in veterinary circles as Thaw A. Herd.
 

Thursday, January 27
The spinning wheel

MY MOTHER always insisted that, whatever you do in life – good, bad, indifferent – the wheel always turns full circle, and the deed you have done will be revisited in some form or other. What I have observed along my own walk through time bears this out, with bells on. So hey, be careful out there.

“If scumbags want to bring back, shed is open – as they know having smashed it in. Both worth well into four figures but both have unique identifying features.” Former spin doctor Alastair Campbell in a message to those who stole his two bicycles.
I presume the above quote is a tweet; I had to read it a couple of times to make sense of it – but I fell about laughing at news of the foul deed (I’m ashamed to say, sort of). Still, I’m sure the bikes have gone to a deserving home.
     However, the crucial point at issue is this: what do you suppose are the bikes’ “unique identifying features”?
     Well, I reckon the wheels don’t turn – but the rider spins round and round, in ever decreasing cycles, before disappearing up his own back passage.
     Also, I was amused with Campbell boasting about the bikes’ value. Do you suppose he was filling in his insurance claim form at the time?

     What is it with our political parties that they employ spin doctors who come across as someone you would never, ever want to find living next door?
     The Labour party had Campbell – and of course the Tories have just lost Andy Coulson, editor at the News of the World when all that phone-hacking business was going on.
     I mean, c’mon, do you honestly, seriously believe that Coulson didn’t know what was happening? Remember, he is a spin doctor, so you believe the opposite of what he says.
     But back with Campbell: next time you see him, try the all-telling face test. Dolphin or shark? Pussycat or polecat?
     Study the face, alongside ... the face tells you everything you ever need to know about a person’s character.
     Only a mother could possibly love that menacing mug.

Sweet & Sour Spin
A picture that really does paint a thousand librettos

 

Wednesday, January 26
The Tender Offside Trap

“PHEW, am exhausted. Just read about something called ‘the offside rule’. Too much for my tiny brain. Must be damaged from nail polish fumes.” Former Sky Sports News presenter Kelly Cates, daughter of Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, in a tweet after Sky commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keys were stretchered off for questioning the ability of female assistant-referee Siân Massey, as well as a rash of other sexist remarks, including some about sporting executive Karren Brady.

Schadenfreude – the malicious enjoyment of another’s misfortunes – is, I have to admit, one of my favourite words. It is German, obviously, and it has that “For you, Tommy, the war is over” ring about it – which came to pass today for poor old Andy Gray and Richard Keys.
     I say, “poor old”, which I don’t really mean. After all, the story has schadenfreude oozing from every pore. I hardly ever watch or listen to sports pundits anymore because they spend their whole lives sitting in judgment on their fellow human beings, and more often than not, they are the people least suited to play judge and jury.
     Yes okay, we all sit in judgment at some time or other, but the thing with pundits, critics and columnists is, suddenly they say “For goodness sake, he/she should do this or that”, and then a week or so later, when the person under scrutiny may well have done “this or that”, without success, the pundits then say, with a straight face, “They shouldn’t be doing it like that at all
!”, and all without even a hint of irony.
     It is also evident that they are totally bereft of inherent wisdom, unable to sense the ambush. Imagine, in a TV studio, with all those cameras and recording equipment all over the shop, Gray invites another female presenter (Charlotte Jackson) to tuck a microphone down his trouser front (shame it wasn’t one of those great big hairy things). How can people who earn so much money be so spectacularly stupid?

But what caught my eye was the introduction into the sexist equation of West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady, of whom Keys said this in the wake of the shemozzle:
“I tried to ring Karren twice on Sunday night. She didn't answer the phone. There is no answerphone on Karren's mobile. That may be a sign of the times at West Ham, I don't know. So I texted her in case she saw a number she was unfamiliar with and did not want to answer. I said, ‘Karren, it is Richard Keys. I very much need to talk to you. Could you please take my call or ring me back.’ She chose not to. I do not know why. A by-product of all of this is, of course, it took her and West Ham out of the press. She knows, and so does everybody else, what a mess they made of trying to appoint Martin O'Neill, and she was getting it in the neck. Now she claimed that was because she is a woman. That is her view. It is not necessarily mine. It might be that others do not share that either. She played that card, rightly or wrongly.”

What fascinates me though is that bit about Karren Brady not answering her mobile in what was (is) such a fast-moving story, indeed involving her as a central character.

So then, a little stand and stare tale of our times...
The mobile provides a revelatory insight into human character; indeed it is a joy to observe how many mobile users simply do not appreciate its offside rule. Having spent much too much time at the Crazy Horsepower, sipping and staring, I can now endorse the following law of the mobile jungle...
     When there’s a call, most users look to see who it is that’s calling – then selectively answer, assuming of course that they are in a position to answer, which in a bar most people are. Living in a community has taught me that those who look but do not answer are the people I should, as a general rule, be wary of and not trust further than I could throw them.
     On the other hand, a few users never look to see who it is that’s calling; they simply excuse themselves, head towards a quiet space and answer immediately. These are the people I would hand over a blank, signed cheque to without a moment’s hesitation.
     It is interesting that Richard Keys claims to have rung Karren Brady twice and texted her once on the Sunday night - something easy to prove - but no call was answered or returned. That little incident says more about Brady than Keys.

But now it is your call.
 

Tuesday, January 25
Would you care to dance?

HOLD on tight, for you are about to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight...

“I feel sexier, of course I do, and Billy is thrilled with the new me. He loves it. He definitely fancies me more, and says it’s like being with a new woman.” Pamela Stephenson, 61, talks about her comedian husband Billy Connolly after her experience on Strictly Come Dancing.

I am reminded of something Old Shaggy down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon once told me when I asked him the secret of his undisputed success with women: “I spin ‘em a line – and the longer the line the more they love it.” It is my firm belief that Pamela, clinical psychologist of some parish or other, should have a quick chat with Old Shaggy, just to put her right.

“I feel sexier now, in my sixties, than I ever did – and why not? Age is much more a state of mind these days. Like lots of women my age, I’m having better sex than ever. Just because I’m in my sixties doesn’t mean that part of my life is over.” Actress Lynda Bellingham, 62, Britain’s favourite mum following her famous and long-running Oxo TV adverts, and also a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing.

I am detecting a theme here: Slow, slow, quick-quick slow, sort of thing, and lots of “I feel sexier...”. I also enjoyed this quote from Lynda...

“When I asked my mother what an orgasm was, she smiled and said: ‘Oh, don’t worry, Lynda, you’ll just know when you are having one. It is very lovely when you are married.’ I’d heard her utter that last sentence once before – when we were watching the bull on my parents’ farm service the heifers.”

A husband and wife, a couple of townies as it happens, spend a holiday weekend on a farm. They join the farmer, who is leaning on a fence, watching one of the farm workers ushering a bull into a field to join a large herd of cows. “Can just the one bull service all those cows?” the wife not unreasonably asked.
     “Oh yes,” said the farmer, “no problem – in fact he could service a dozen of them over one night if that unlikely scenario ever came about.”
     Out of the corner of his eye the farmer saw the wife dig her husband in the ribs and jokingly whisper: “Hear that? Twelve times a night
!
     “Mind you,” said a smiling farmer, turning to the couple, “he has a different girl every time.”

“I belong to a generation who have no intention of sitting around waiting for the end. There are more years behind me than in front of me for doing outrageous things. Life is for living and we should all aspire to grow old disgracefully.” TV’s Angela Rippon, 66, after being knocked out of TV's Dancing On Ice.

Here comes that dancing theme again. Clearly the rhythm of the dance has some startling effect on a woman’s psyche and sex life, never mind her G-spot. Mind you, I can understand Angela’s comment, above, after reading what Jason Gardiner, 45, one of Dancing On Ice’s judges (I learn), said about her after she was voted off...

“It’s good she’s gone. She’s so prim and proper and perfect in every way it leaves you cold – and she won’t listen to criticism. Angela only hears what she wants to hear. Good riddance to old rubbish.”

Miaw
! Shall I hold him while you Morecambe and Wise* him in the bollocks, Angela?

* For a demonstration of a ‘Morecambe and Wise’ see ‘Angela Rippon’ on YouTube, and a very female interpretation of a high-five. I'm not sure what it will do to Jason Gardiner - but it will make you smile. Oh yes, after enjoying Angela’s high-five, be sure to take in Morecambe and Wise: Singing in the Rain. Such a clever and funny routine - and it’ll take your mind off sex.
 

Monday, January 24
“A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke” ~
Rudyard Kipling, The Betrothed

TRUTH to tell, I’ve never really understood the above – but it always makes me smile because I instantly think of Bill Clinton and his Har-Monica moment (harmonica being of course a mouth organ).
     During this month – the 11th and 21st to be precise – Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky featured in my smile of the day moments, and all down to Doris Day and her Secret Love, as heard and seen on Vintage TV.
     Well, Clinton’s famous quote, “I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky”, kept teasing away at my imagination, so when I Googled the affair, some wonderful images came up. A couple have already appeared here, but one in particular, Clinton’s appearance on Esquire magazine’s cover towards the tail end of his administration in December 2000, lingered in my mind’s eye.
     The image reminded me of something – but what? Then this very morning, along my morning walk – bingo! It was of course that famous iconic shot of Chairwoman Christine Keeler, a former model and showgirl caught up in the Profumo Affair when her involvement with a British government minister discredited the Conservative government in 1963.

So here are the two pictures – ‘diptyched’, I guess – with my little take, below...
 

That's great, Bill ... hold the pose
Now take all your clothes off

That's great, Christine ... hold the pose
Now say hello to Wee Willie Winkle


Platon Antoniou’s cover shot of Clinton was intended to evoke the Lincoln Memorial. Instead it came to be seen as fraught with sexual significance following the scandal with Monica Lewinsky.

At the height of the Profumo affair, Christine Keeler sat for a portrait that became truly famous. Keeler had signed a contract which required her to pose nude for publicity photos for a proposed film, The Keeler Affair, but she was reluctant. The film producers insisted so photographer Lewis Morley persuaded Keeler to sit astride a plywood chair – so whilst technically she would be nude, the back of the chair would obscure most of her body. Brilliant.
     At the time, both Morley and Keeler were already famous, but the photo propelled the Arne Jacobsen 3107 chair to stardom. However, the actual chair used was an imitation, with a hand-hold aperture cut out of the back to avoid making it an exact and so infringing any copyright.

Oh yes, the quote at the top: A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke. It is from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, and based upon this quote from a breach of promise case, circa 1885...
     “You must choose between me and your cigar...”

Now doesn’t that add something magical and mysterious to the quote. To read the whole poem, Google...
     Rudyard Kipling’s poem: The Betrothed
 

Sunday, January 23
Expensive at half the price

Heard this one down at the Crazy Horsepower this lunchtime...

One of our Welsh Members of Parliament is travelling up to London by train on the Swansea-Paddington line. Someone said it was Newport MP Paul Flynn, but I don’t believe that for a moment. Whatever, the honourable gentleman sits next to a gorgeous young lady, she too on her way to London. They engage in effortless conversation ... the politician slowly senses that she is not quite as innocent as she first appeared – which makes two of them.
     He quickly becomes besotted with her ... the blood slowly drains from his cleverest organ to his dumbest. She agrees that he can spend the whole night with her for a thousand pounds. (If the MP in question had  been Paul Flynn then the sum would have to be a million quid - hey
! - there's a film in there somewhere!)
     Whatever, the following morning he confirms what he had told her the night before, that he did not have any cash on him, but he would have his secretary write a cheque and forward it to her, and that he would mark the payment ‘Rent for Flat’, which, given the recent brouhaha over Parliamentary expenses apropos second homes, would not arouse suspicion.
     She had agreed because she could see a future income stream beckoning.
     On his way to Westminster, he realises he has been a very foolish member, and that the whole experience hadn’t been worth the price. So he had his secretary draw up a cheque for £500, with the following explanatory letter:

Dear Madam,
Please find enclosed cheque for £500 in respect of rent due on flat. I am not forwarding the amount originally agreed upon, because when I rented the place, I was under the impression that ...
     1)   It had never been occupied;
     2)  There was plenty of heat; and,
     3)   It was small enough to make me feel cosy and snug – a little home from home.
However, I discovered that ...
     1)   It had been previously occupied;
     2)  There wasn’t any heat; and,
     3)  It was entirely too large for my needs.
I trust that you now appreciate where I am coming from.
Yours etc,


Upon receipt of the letter, the young lady immediately returned the cheque for £500, with the following explanation...

Dear Sir,
I was disappointed with your letter, in particular that you should dishonour a verbal contract, and I would respond as follows to your observations ...
     1)   I cannot understand how you could expect such a beautiful flat to remain unoccupied indefinitely.
     2)  As for the heat, there is plenty of it, if you had only known how to turn it on.
     3)  Regarding the space, the flat is indeed of regular size, but if you do not have enough furniture to fill the place, please do not blame the management.
In conclusion, please forward the full rent as agreed, or we shall have no alternative but to contact your present landlady...
Yours expectantly,

Excellent. In fact, seeing the word ‘indefinitely’ deployed above, I am reminded of the definition of ‘indefinitely’ – if you are of a sensitive nature, I must recommend that you abandon today’s smile at this point ... thank you for calling, please come again, soon...

Anyway, the definition of ‘indefinitely’: when your balls smack against her arse then you know that you are ‘indefinitely’.
 

Saturday, January 22
Present tense

HAD a quick flick through last weekend’s Sunday Times magazines before transferring them to the recycling pile ... with the Style magazine I tend to open it at the final page, where Mrs Mills, she who solves all your personal problems, hangs out.
     Dear old Mrs Mills has made many an appearance on my smileometer, but not for quite a while now. Disappointingly, she hasn’t provided any mega-smile material of late – I have been wondering if a new Mrs Mills is at the tiller (there’s even been some debate in the media whether, oh dear, Mrs Mills is in fact a He).

Whatever, her first problem today hit my h-spot (h follows g, therefore it’s the hallelujah-spot)...

PRESENT DILEMMA
However vulgar you may consider prolonging a dead-in-the-water relationship to see what kind of Christmas offerings might turn up, I surrendered to its allure. The sting in the tail is that at my boyfriend’s house on Christmas Day, I opened a present from an ardent but wholly inappropriate admirer that turned out to be bright red lingerie – a huge embarrassment in front of the boyfriend.
     Meanwhile, Mr Right Now had bought me an assortment of unromantic gifts including an electric blanket and a guinea-pig calendar that baffled me. I am tempted to ditch both of them. Your thoughts?
SV, NORWICH
You are missing the real message of these presents. The man who gave you the red underwear is thinking only of himself, whereas the giver of the electric blanket has your best interests at heart. Also, there is the subliminal message of the rodent calendar, which I don’t think I need to spell out... So, slip into the new lingerie, uncoil yourself across the warming electric blanket and whistle Mr Right Now up to your bedroom right now.

Ho, ho, ho! indeed. I enjoyed the subliminal message of the rodent calendar – yes, we all know what those pesky little rodents get up to behind our backs whenever they have a spare couple of seconds.
     What is more, I knew that women have always been on the lookout for Mr Right, a man who was their superior in status, education and wealth – but Mr Right Now? So the female of the species has finally caught up with the male. Food for thought indeed...
     Miss Right Now to Mr Right Now: “I’m a woman of very few words – do you or don’t you?”
     Mr Right Now: “As a matter of fact, yes I do – my place or yours?”
     Miss Right Now: “Look, if you’re going to argue – forget about it.”

PS:
Do you suppose the above Mrs Mills response was written by a Mr rather than a Mrs?
 

Friday, January 21
Clinton’s Hamlet cigar moment revisited

“I WANT you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” President Bill Clinton.

The above brings to mind the Piers Morgan quote mentioned in dispatches just the other day:
“Madonna’s publicist once said to me, ‘Listen to me, Madonna is not pregnant,’ when I was running a newspaper. And I said, ‘Are you sure?’ She said, ‘Listen to me, Piers. Madonna is not pregnant’. The next day, they announced (the news) on a rival newspaper’s website.”

Now listen to me, they are all as doolally as each other.
 

Be that as it may, last night on Vintage TV I happened upon more songs from the Fifties and Sixties, and again some of the accompanying videos were delightfully smiley. As I touched on recently, I really do commend the video that accompanies Guy Mitchell’s She Wears Red Feathers, what with all those hula moments.
     And I again caught Doris Day’s Secret Love – so today I decided to Google “Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky” ...
     Back on Tuesday 11th of January, I did a piece on Clinton’s wayward sexual shenanigans, and featured the memorable DNA zippergate cartoon, repeated here.
     I landed on a site called about.com – ‘political humor’ ... funny Bill Clinton pictures and cartoons: view a titillating collection of funny Bill Clinton pictures and political cartoons chronicling the Monica Lewinsky scandal and other memorable moments from the Clinton years.

Bill Clinton's double helix confirms there's
no cigar smoke without a fire down below


Yes indeedy, many memorable images (simply Google ‘Funny Bill Clinton Pictures & Cartoons’).

Now I never rated Clinton. Yes, he is clearly very charming, has a
way with words, and those who do meet him become mesmerised

by his presence and his ability to make them feel like the only other person in the room.
     But I recall him giving the BBC's Richard Dimbleby Lecture back in 2001: The Struggle for the Soul of the 21st Century.
     The BBC paid him £50,000 of licence payers’ cash, earning him £1,250 a minute for 40 minutes of twaddle. I can’t remember a thing he said. Can anyone else, I wonder?
     He might be intelligent as hell, but he is cursed with zero inherent wisdom – as opposed to learned wisdom, that is.
     Inherent wisdom, something incredibly rare, is the ability to sense the ambush before you enter the pass.
     Ponder: he was the most powerful person in the world when he engaged in those sexual indiscretions, especially the Hamlet cigar moment with Monica Lewinsky. Yes okay, there’s nothing he could have done about his genetic disposition to drop his zip at the slightest urge. Inherent wisdom though would have warned him to be ultra careful about his escapades.
     But, just like any of us common or garden pricks, once his nose twitched, all the blood in his brain was immediately drained to power his penis.

I rate him a twat, and so it was with great pleasure I stumbled upon the image here – such a hoot...

Clinton's famous nose for a bit of fanny business

 

Thursday, January 20
The booby prize

“THERE was a lot of network talk about my ‘offensive cleavage’, which I found interesting.” Burlesque star Dita Von Teese, who was asked by US TV to cover up more.

The above raised a wry smile - I mean, especially with a name like Teese (pronounced tease?) - but all things considered, it would not have made my smile of the day. However, a little later I perused something fascinating, namely a list of the ten films that have generated most controversy following their release.
     From canny movie bosses invoking shock-inducing tactics via copycat crimes after the film’s release to images that caused public outcry and whipped sections of the public into frenzied reactions.

Top spot, unsurprisingly, goes to Monty Python’s Life of Brian. What the Python team argued at the time was that they were not making fun of religion itself – I mean, how could anyone ridicule the Ten Commandments, which after all is what the Bible is all about – but rather the fanatics who use religion to their own ends.
     Religion is like every other section of the community – politics, banking, big business, the media, whatever – about 10% of those involved are doolally, half a bubble off plumb (see Tony Blair), and religion is no different. The trouble is, those that are most unbalanced are the most driven. They get to the top and make a real mess of the world (again, see Tony Blair).
     Most of us have now come round to the Pythons’ view of the film, indeed ponder that in just 30 years it has gone from being the most controversial of films – it’s the upbeat song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life during the mass crucifixion which upset people most – to be one of the nation’s favourite funny films.
     I mean, how could you not smile at a line like “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy
!, spoken by Brian’s mother Mandy to the crowd assembled outside her house, and voted one of the funniest lines in film history. After all, which one of us boys has not been called a naughty boy by his mother, even a very naughty boy?

Anyway, to get back to the quote at the very top. A real surprise was the film at Number 10: The Outlaw. I quote...
 

Howard Hughes’ western was pure B-movie schlock. So why was it one of the most notorious movies of the 1940s?
     Realising that his female star Jane Russell had, er, ample assets, Hughes made sure the camera lingered on her chest at every opportunity, and that the publicity focused on her rolling about in the hay. The result?

Before coming to that, I will round off this smile bulletin with a quote – I’m not too sure what it means, but it makes me smile – but more than that, it juxtaposes perfectly against the opening quote. Just remember, the two quotes are separated by 68 years.

So, back with The Outlaw. A three-year battle with the censors ensued before the film gained release. In a March 1941 inter-office memo from the Production Code Administration (the censors), its director Joseph I. Breen said this: “...in my more than ten years of critical examination of motion pictures, I have never seen anything quite so unacceptable as the shots of the breasts of the character Rio ... throughout almost half the picture the girl’s breasts, which are quite large and prominent, are shockingly emphasized...”

(Note to self: must catch the film next time it’s on TV.)

Jane Russell in The Outlaw - a typical publicity
shot guaranteed to turn every man into a naughty boy


Anyway, a US judge delivered this memorable quote, and I feel drenched just thinking about it...
     “Jane Russell’s cleavage hangs over the picture like a summer thunderstorm spread out over a landscape.”
 

Wednesday, January 19
Over the top and out

WHENEVER I go into parochial mode I have to remind myself that it is quite possible for this to be read by someone outside of the UK.
     For example, take Paul Daniels, 72, an instantly recognisable British magician and television performer. He achieved international fame through his television series, The Paul Daniels Magic Show, which ran on the BBC from 1979 to 1994. He was awarded the prestigious “Magician of the Year” award by the Hollywood Academy of Magical Arts in 1983, and was the first magician from outside the US to receive it. An Easter special of The Paul Daniels Magic Show won the Golden Rose of Montreux award at the International TV Festival in Switzerland in 1985. All very impressive.
     He has always been a source of great fun to the British media, much of it surrounding his glamorous younger wife, Debbie McGee, 52: “So Debbie, what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?” Mrs Merton (Caroline Aherne) once memorably asked her on The Mrs Merton Show; also, that he began losing his hair from an early age (which he claimed to be an act of “magic”) and then sported a wig for much of his television career. He later abandoned the pretence.
     He took all the ribbing in good part, indeed he has always been rather self-deprecating regarding his achievements, which I guess has endeared him to the British public.

     Here are a couple of his familiar catchphrases: “You’ll like it, not a lot, but you’ll like it! uttered before doing a magic trick, followed by “Now that’s magic! after performing said trick.
     Important to keep that last one in mind.

So I walk into the newsagent this morning, and as always peruse all the papers on display, especially the red tops, just to see if there’s something of interest. The Daily Sport grabs my attention, pictured alongside...
     Now you understand the significance of “That’s magic
!”. I caught myself laughing out loud. So corny – but funny. Incidentally, that’s not a customer passing in front of me, sadly – but part of the Sport’s front page.
     Anyway, the magician has brought joy to fans by putting props from his magic shows up for sale online following a warehouse clear-out, sparking a bidding war, especially for one of his old wigs, as featured in the front page picture alongside.
     In a somewhat bizarre question and answer session online, Paul responds to fans’ queries about his wig. This from a fan generated a smile: “Is it Wifi enabled? I only ask because the last wig I bought was dial-up only, thus rendering it useless in hotel rooms.”

     Daniels answered: “Sadly, Wifi had not been invented when this wig was created, BUT, can I warn you that flipping your wig in a hotel room can put a girl off.”

I liked it, not a lot, but I liked it
!
 

Tuesday, January 18
Where have all the flowers gone?

NOW what does it say over there atop the Flower Power Gallery? “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” Iris Murdoch.
 

So what better way can there be to generate a smile than seeing your first snowdrops of the year.
    Over recent days I had noticed the tell-tale green shoots in a local wood along my morning walk, specifically those distinctive little white tips as they cautiously crept out of hibernation – and there they were this morning, just starting to burst into bloom, pictured alongside.
     What a wonderful sight. Although slightly frosty in some pockets early morning, it has been unnaturally mild, wet and windy over the past week, especially so following the extreme frosts of December.
     Just the other morning on the radio I heard an item with the manager of Gelli Aur (Golden Grove) College Farm, which is just the other side of the River Towy along my regular walk,

and he said that the temperature on Christmas morning was -20˚ - which is truly astonishing for this corner of the world. Everything on the farm was frozen solid, which is a nightmare when there’s stock to water and look after...

Whatever, while my picture of the snowdrops is not a work of art, I recently stumbled upon a musical video over on YouTube, which really is a work of art, namely: Maria Elena – Acker Bilk.
     It is not so much the song, which is delightfully melodic anyway, but the accompanying video: it is made up of pictures and paintings of vases of beautifully eye-catching flowers. It really, truly is stunning to look at – at least to my eyes – and is well worth a visit. It’s a Polish site, with an unexpected visual twist at the end of the video.
     Here’s the link...
                                       http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDo45q-6xb0

While there, take a peep at another well put together video of the same song, simply titled MARIA-ELENA – it’s the one that has attracted a quarter-of-a-million hits, in fact, it follows the above in sequence.

So where have all the flowers gone? Well, they’re back, if only teasingly so out there in the real world of west Wales – but online they are all present and correct, and in all their glory. Which would have undoubtedly pleased the late Iris Murdoch.
 

Monday, January 17
Mad, bad and dangerous to kowtow to

“TONY BLAIR said they had to be slightly mad to cope.” Alastair Campbell, spin doctor to Tony Blair during his reign as Labour leader and Prime Minister, recalls in his diary how the Blairs survived at Number Ten.
Well, it takes one to recognise one, I guess. No, madness is not something to smile about – but yes, I did smile at the delightful doolallyness of the above.

As I have mentioned before, and doubtless will again, my one 20/20 talent is the ability to read a person at 40 paces: Dolphin or shark? Pussycat or polecat? Twit or twat? Mad or bad? Yes, mad people can be bad, but they should be locked up for everyone’s sake, especially when they are directly responsible for nearly 200,000 armed services personnel, and indirectly the other 60 million people of these islands.
     Back in July 2009, The Sunday Times did a piece on Tony Blair – he hadn’t long handed over the reins to Gordon Brown, and he was pushing to become the first President of Europe. But it was the picture that accompanied the piece that stopped me dead in my tracks. Here it is again...
 


This disturbing image perfectly captures his state of mind. It is the troubled face of a man who is clearly half a bubble off plumb.
     I have often wondered how Blair reacts when the coffins pass through Wootton Bassett. Does he make a point of not watching the news when repatriation comes to pass? Or if it unexpectedly appears on the TV, does he hurriedly change channel, the way I do when something on the telly suddenly disturbs my sense and sensibilities. It would be fascinating to know.
     As to whether he is a disturbed individual or not, coming up is an extract from In Sickness and in Power: Illness in Heads of Government During the Last 100 Years, a book by David Owen, in which Lord Owen, the doctor who became Foreign Secretary, examines Tony Blair’s psyche when he committed British troops to the invasion of Iraq.
     In the book he reaches a worrying conclusion that Blair was suffering from hubris syndrome (extreme haughtiness or arrogance; hubris often indicates being out of touch with reality and overestimating one’s own competence or capabilities, especially for people in positions of power). I quote...

We now know from leaked papers that Blair seems to have ignored the concerns of his officials over the planning for the war in Iraq, particularly for the aftermath.
     A senior official recalls that when Blair was advised about the difficulties ahead, he would respond: “You are Neville Chamberlain, I am Winston Churchill and Saddam is Hitler.” It is difficult to conduct a serious dialogue with a leader who is thinking in this emotional and simplistic way.

Doubtless Alastair Campbell’s observation was meant rather tongue-in-cheek, to raise a smile. But, one look at that picture above ... many a true word spoken in jest.

PS: After writing this, I happened upon an article written by Mathew Parris, back in 2003. Google: Are we witnessing the madness of Tony Blair? A fascinating insight into the minds of individuals who are heading for a derailment.
 

Sunday, January 16
Bitter-sweet: the perfect gin and tonic

CALLED at the Crazy Horsepower for a lunchtime drink. My default thirst quencher is something very Welsh, a pint of Dark Mild. It lies somewhere between bitter (a pale ale) and Guinness (a dry stout). I enjoy Guinness, indeed it becomes my default drink outside of the Dark Mild strongholds of west Wales and the Valleys.
     However, as I get older I drink less and less beer, and my default short is a gin and tonic, with ice and a slice of lemon.
So we discussed a Daily Telegraph piece headed...

Victoria Moore shows how to mix ... the very best G&T...
It seems impertinent to instruct Daily Telegraph readers in the art of making a G&T, but just in case there is room for improvement, and because I have suffered too many bad ones, here are my four cardinal rules.
     1  Do not stint on the ice. Four or even five large cubes is ideal.
     2  The lemon (or lime) must be fresh.
     3  For maximum fizz, tonic should come either from a freshly opened mini-can (Schweppes non-diet) or a bottle (Fever-Tree works well with lighter gins such as Sipsmith).
     4  Do not stint on the gin.

Then, a classic follow-up letter from a Telegraph reader...

There’s more than one way to mix a perfect G&T: SIR – Victoria Moore’s recipe for the perfect gin and tonic (Features, December 21) will never achieve more than seven out of ten because her first rule, “do not stint on the ice”, will result in every sip tasting differently. As the ice melts, the original blend of gin and tonic will be diluted and with her recommendation to add four or five large cubes, the final mouthful will be predominately water.
     Instead, I would recommend storing the gin in the freezer, and the tonic and tumblers in the coldest section of the fridge. My wife says that lime (which she grows in our garden) results in a superior and longer-lasting flavour than lemon.
John Latter, Tetbury, Gloucestershire

I enjoyed John Latter’s logic, but obviously aimed at the home drinker. However, when he says that the gin is stored in the freezer, then it becomes frozen, surely? Still, gives a whole new meaning to going cold turkey. Unless, of course, you have previously poured the gin into an ice tray – then the gin becomes the ‘ice’.
     That sounds wonderful, except that the very opposite of using normal ice cubes will happen. As the gin melts, the blend of gin and tonic becomes stronger and stronger. Methinks the gin should be stored in the coldest section of the fridge, along with the tonic - and the tumblers in the freezer.
     Now that system would also work in a pub, obviously. Interesting idea though. If I were a home drinker I’d experiment.

Oh yes, there was one other letter on the same subject...

SIR – I agree that a good G&T needs a big slug of gin. However, may I suggest that, instead of lemon or lime, readers might like to try a few slices of cucumber. Mellow, fragrant, subtle, sublime.
Kate Graeme-Cook, Tarrant Launceston, Dorset

I did try that cucumber slice a good few moons ago, and it was okay, although I definitely can’t remember exclaiming “Mmmmmmmellow, fragrant, subtle, sublime!

Every day a day at school corner
For the G&T we have to thank ... mostly ourselves. Or at least our ancestors. In 19th-century India, we Brits were searching for ways to get our loyal subjects to ingest quinine, which is used to treat malaria and has at times been thought to repel mosquitoes, which carry the disease. The amount of quinine in modern tonic water is a fraction of what’s needed for treatment (you would need about seven quarts of tonic water to even come close), but the drink’s popularity was established.
     Yet even gin and tonic lovers face an uphill battle to find a good one. Even when done right, it’s not an easy drink to love – tonic’s slightly bitter taste is a turnoff to sweet-drink lovers.

So there you go, confirmation that you really can’t please all of the people all of the time; or indeed some of the people some of the time. So here’s lookin’ at you. Cheers! Or, as we say in these ’ere parts: Iechyd da! (Good health!) 
 
Saturday, January 15
A ride on the Magic Mushroom Roundabout

“Lady Gaga is half her age, twice as good-looking, twice as talented, and twice as hot. I mean, why would I bother with Madonna, seriously?” Piers Morgan, twice as much of a twat as any of his fellow parishioners, who has banned Madonna from his new CNN TV show unless she apologises for being an annoyance to him.
 
Piers Morgan is the ‘definitive article’ of meeja doolallyness.
     Apparently, Morgan has never forgiven Madonna over a pregnancy lie. According to Morgan: “Madonna’s publicist once said to me, ‘Listen to me, Madonna is not pregnant,’ when I was running a newspaper. And I said, ‘Are you sure?’ She said, ‘Listen to me, Piers. Madonna is not pregnant’. The next day, they announced (the news) on a rival newspaper’s website.”
Ah diddums. In the dolphin or shark, pussycat or polecat test, there is another one: twit or twat? Twits are okay, they make us smile; twats are a vexation to the spirit and must at all times be treated as a roundabout – to be navigated with alertness and great care.
     And Piers Morgan is the equivalent of Swindon’s infamous white knuckle roundabout, nicknamed The Magic Roundabout, the world’s ultimate traffic control system that strikes terror into visiting motorists.
     Or rather, I see Morgan as a Magic Mushroom Roundabout. Magic mushrooms – see alongside – were once a legal alternative to LSD, but are now a classified Class A drug.
     In truth, and if you will pardon my slide into the vernacular, magic mushrooms look like little pricks, and of course that makes the connection with celebrity just irresistible.
     Yes indeedy, Piers Morgan is a Sleb A drug.

A handful of Magic Mushroom slebs:
Piers Morgan, Beckham, Sting, Henson...


“The other morning I looked across at David just after he’d woken up and thought, you look really crap. THANK GOD, because this is a man who always looked perfect.” Months after Victoria Beckham, the pop singer turned fashion designer turned professional pout, declared that her footballer husband was unfalteringly handsome, she now tells Vogue that she has had second thoughts.
Perhaps morning sickness had something to do with it. After all, no one looks particularly good when we ourselves are feeling one degree under.

“I don’t think pedestrian sex is very interesting. I like the theatre of sex. I like to look good. I like her to dress up. I like to dress her up.”  After almost 30 years together the pop star Sting, 59, and his wife Trudie Styler, 57, revealed in the latest edition of Harper’s Bazaar that they like their sex life to be tantric and “tawdry”.
     “Relationships aren’t easy, and I don’t think they’re particularly natural,” he continued, “but we’re lucky because we actually like each other – that’s a given – but Trudie lights my world up when she comes into a room. I don’t take her for granted.” You what? “Well, I could lose her. He’d have to be very rich and very handsome, but...”
Pedestrian sex, theatre sex, tantrum sex - oops! - tantric sex, tawdry sex... I had to look twice just to check that Sting and Trudie hadn’t been speaking to Harping On & Bizarre.

So what is it with all this doolallyness? In the wake of Charlotte Church having a go at the Queen in Esquire magazine, and her subsequent apology, the following quotes have also now surfaced...

In the home she shared with her former fiancé, Gavin Henson, the couple created their own bar: “I got fed up with people photographing me when I was down the pub, so I built a big log cabin in the garden. We kitted it out with a bar, lasers, smoke machine, disco balls and a fag machine. It was awesome, but sadly I couldn’t get it on a lorry when I moved.”
     However, she hasn’t managed to escape the downsides of fame completely: “A guy from France moved into a hotel down the road. He was causing a disturbance and when the police went to his room they found it was a shrine to me with photographs all over the wall.”


Ah yes, but was it a red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry...? The above gives an insight into why slebs behave in such a seemingly doolally way. After all, Charlotte is proud of her “solid working-class upbringing”, and one thing such a background does not prepare you for is the madness of the world about you. Which explains why so many slebs seemingly become mad themselves.

Yes folks, it’s one big Magic Mushroom Roundabout out there. And every sleb wants to be Dylan.
 

Friday, January 14
There's a joke hiding in here somewhere
LAST Tuesday I wrote of the pleasures of watching on Vintage TV an hour of popular music from the 1950s, in particular the amusing videos specially commissioned to accompany the featured songs. I quote briefly from that particular bulletin...

I also enjoyed Guy Mitchell’s She Wears Red Feathers (and a huly-huly skirt), the bizarre tale of an English banker's love for a hula-hula girl - obviously in the days before bankers fell head over heels in love with jumbo bonus payments. Anyway, in the video all sizes and shapes of girls do the hula, alternating with a gloriously dated black and white cartoon character doing her thing – oh, and some children also doing a few astonishing things with Hula-Hoops. Amazing.
     Funnily enough, it reminded me of the loopiest name ever given to a child: Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii. It belonged to a nine-year-old girl in New Zealand, before a judge had her renamed during a custody battle: “It makes a fool of the child,” he said.


I revisit the above because of a letter in today's Telegraph newspaper...

 

Nutty children’s names: SIR – When our first child was baptised as a Catholic in 1961, there were two other babies also present (report, January 11). The priest inquired the name of one little girl and the godmother replied “Hazel”.
     The priest lifted up his gaze and said: “All the saints in heaven and you are going to call her after a nut?”
Peter Davis, Porthcawl, Mid Glamorgan

The story has to be true because the letter writer provides his name and location, indeed I believe newspapers check out such letters to make sure they are not a hoax.
     I can only repeat an online comment: What a mean spirited comment to make at what should have been a joyful occasion for the parents, family and friends. Exactly. And anyway, Hazel is a perfectly ‘normal’ name I’d have thought.

As it happens there has been much in the media over recent days about the Christian names children are blessed – or cursed – with. A rather good one I heard a few years ago was a middle-aged gent called James Bond. His father, with the surname Bond, obviously, had gone along to his local cinema back in 1962 to watch Dr No, the original 007, thoroughly enjoyed the film, and as his wife was expecting any day, decided that if it was a boy he would name him James.
     Of course at that time he had no reason to think that Dr No and James Bond was nothing more than a one-off film, a passing fancy. But he liked the sound of the name.
     When the Bond franchise celebrated it’s 40th anniversary I heard the now 40-year-old James Bond interviewed on the radio (originally from Bristol, I seem to remember), and he gave examples of the fun and pleasure he’d had with the name.
     He was once in a restaurant where Pierce Brosnan was dining with some friends – so he asked a waiter to take his card over to the 007 actor. Unsurprisingly the film star was quite taken aback, and invited him to join him for a chat – and Brosnan made a point of keeping the proper James Bond’s card. Smashing story.

As a matter of interest I did a Google trawl, and found this out about the name James Bond in America…

There are 5,178,106 people in the U.S. with the first name James.
There are 58,808 people in the U.S. with the last name Bond.
There are 979 people in the U.S. named James Bond.

So here are a few other names mentioned in the media over recent days – and all made me smile...

Jo King is a production assistant on BBC Radio 4’s Gardner’s Question Time.
Joe Kinnear is of course a well known football manager and former player.
But here’s my favourite: someone said they were once in school with a Wayne Bowe. I do hope that’s true. Such a smiley name – unless of course Wayne found it difficult to roll his Rs
!

So what's in a name? A great deal it seems
!
 

Thursday, January 13
“He stood there talking affable and anodyne balls...”
I WAS irresistibly drawn to the above jumbo headline in last weekend’s Sunday Times.

Normally politics does not draw my eye, so today’s by-election at Oldham East and Saddleworth (ride ‘em cowboy?) would hold no interest whatsoever. But the above eye-catching headline was a starter-for-ten to an article by Rod Liddle, who has been following the Deputy Prime Minister, Lib Dem Nick Clegg, around the hustings. So I perused the piece...

I quote:
Nick Clegg turned up at the Saddleworth Museum to do a spot of meet-the-public shtick, answering questions with his usual faux modernist, ugly and clichéd syntax (“I would like to see us hard-wire fairness into the nation’s DNA.” Oh, give it a rest).

What hope is there for the world in general and the UK in particular when a journalist uses words and expressions I never hear in the Crazy Horsepower Saloon (shtick? faux modernist? clichéd syntax?), but worst, one of our leaders talks about “hard-wiring fairness into the nation’s DNA”.
     It is totally and utterly meaningless bullshit (perhaps that’s what ‘shtick’, ‘faux modernist’ and ‘clichéd syntax’ mean in common or garden parlance?). And, as someone intriguingly pointed out, the Deputy Prime Minister is increasingly becoming similar in appearance and bearing to the Prime Minister himself, David Cameron, indeed Nick Clegg is even beginning to sound like him.
     With that alarming thought in mind, back with Rod Liddle, who is still following Nick Clegg at Saddleworth Museum...

He stood there, surrounded by prettily embroidered rugs and quilts, talking affable and anodyne balls, a deputy head boy invited to address the lower sixth rabble.
   Earlier, at a shake-hands-with-the-peasants thing at the local Asda, there was trouble when some screeching lefties called Nick
Tory scum
! and attempted to break through the meagre police lines. One protester claimed she had been manhandled, whining to anyone who would listen. Get a grip, love; Lenin never whined about being manhandled.
   And then, very quickly, Clegg got the hell out after a brief spot of door-knocking in the semi-rural village of Diggle, having avoided being tied to a tree and instructed to squeal like a piggy. He was there, in the constituency, for three hours tops.


Memorable. And if we ever stop smiling at the madness of our politicians, we really will be done for.
 
Wednesday, January 12
A smile around every corner

I HAVE no problems finding things to smile at in this crazy world of ours - it is written in my genes, I guess. However, I am also easily baffled by some of the things I see, hear and experience. Be all that as it may, perhaps one of the more satisfying smiles is that of watching others smile.
     Today, three quotes, which perfectly highlight each of the above categories.

“Economists were only created to make weather forecasters look good. Broadcaster Sandi Toksvig.
I enjoyed that. Very witty - with a slice of wisdom added to taste.

I’ve got some really amazing boots going on at the moment, to the point where it makes me feel slightly sick when I wear them. I am so spoilt. Singer Cheryl Cole.
No, I give up, haven
t a clue as to what is going on there. There must be a misprint. But it still makes me smile in its absolute and glorious doolallyness.
 

“I know you can’t frighten the horses, you have to look presentable – but I do not believe that youth has to be key to keeping your job.” Former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly speaks to the media after winning her ageism tribunal against the BBC.
I smile at her smile – alongside, and I love those laughter lines, Miriam – especially so after the awful things that were said to her by the Countryfile production team in the lead up to her being ousted from her job. And I admire her courage for standing up for herself.
    Yes okay, perhaps I am also influenced by the fact that she is the spitting image of a girlfriend of mine from many blue

moons* ago.
     What was interesting during the tribunal, and afterwards, was that while various commentators and columnists took differing views about the case, I never once heard anyone say that she was anything but a very professional presenter. So good for her. All’s swell that ends swell.

* A blue moon happens once every two-and-a-half years or so...
 

Tuesday, 11/1/11
My secret love’s no secret anymore

I SPENT as smiley an hour today as I have for many a moon. There I was doing my usual zap-a-dee-doo-da through the channels ... and I land on Vintage TV, the 24/7 music channel available on Sky 369 and Freesat 515.
     It’s a station launched last summer, and it specialises in sounds from the rock and roll years; it plays music from the Fifties through to the Eighties, much as heard on Radio Wales’ Money For Nothing at the weekends. Anyway, today I stumbled upon an hour’s worth of The 1950s – Those were the decades...
     What distinctive music that period threw up; the birth of popular music as we know it, those memorable rock ‘n’ roll years. As Vintage is a TV channel it needs videos, but as no such things exist for most of those Fifties classics, the station has specially commissioned made-to-measure videos using news footage and photographs of the times, as well as clips of old black and white films. Mostly the videos are compiled in a humorous light, so I tend to hear the words differently, simply because the accompanying images have been put together from a different point of view. Very entertaining though.
     For example, Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock: we see images of the Keystone Cops alternating with familiar slebs on a slippery slope – O J Simpson, George Michael, Amy Winehouse, Hugh Grant, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful – all on their way to or from court, and again alternating with old footage of fingerprinting, mug shots and cell doors clanging shut. Very smiley.
     I also enjoyed Guy Mitchell’s She Wears Red Feathers (and a huly-huly skirt), the bizarre tale of an English banker's love for a hula-hula girl - obviously in the days before bankers fell head over heels in love with jumbo bonus payments. Anyway, in the video all sizes and shapes of girls do the hula, alternating with a gloriously dated black and white cartoon character doing her thing – oh, and some children also doing a few astonishing things with Hula-Hoops. Amazing.
     Funnily enough, it reminded me of the loopiest name ever given to a child: Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii. It belonged to a nine-year-old girl in New Zealand, before a judge had her renamed during a custody battle: “It makes a fool of the child,” he said.
Anyway, back with the music...
 

My favourite today was Doris Day’s Secret Love, with loads and loads of perfect images...
     Bill “I have never had sexual relations with that woman” Clinton, Hilary and Monica Lewinsky - the clever cartoon alongside hits the button
! - John F Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, Wayne Rooney on his own poor dab (the tosser?), John Major and Edwina Currie, Prince Charles, Diana, James Hewitt and Will Carling, Boris Becker and a broom cupboard (only joking) – and many, many more, but finishing with Hugh Grant, Liz Hurley and Shane Warne...
     And of course the song finishes with these immortal lines...
                   
At last my heart’s an open door,
                   
And my secret love’s no secret anymore.
And, as Cupid Stunt was wont to say, the video was all done in the best possible taste.

Bill Clinton's double helix confirms there's
no cigar smoke without a fire down below


It really was quite the smiliest few minutes I’ve had for a while. It is remarkable how differently you perceive the lyrics when heard against all the above images. Magic.
     Sadly, you won’t see this particular video on YouTube – but, if you keep an eye open for an hour’s worth of 1950s music on Vintage TV – check the programme schedules online – you will not be disappointed, especially so with Secret Love. A highly entertaining 3:38 minutes’ worth of smiles.

There’s a curious PS to today’s smile: I have just read that a £20 million mini-series about the Kennedys has been shelved by the History Channel in