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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Updated: 15/08/2011

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400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 10/01/2012

VIEWING NOTE: Prepared on screen resolution 1280 by 720 pixels
                             BEYOND THE BLUE HORIZON
“But I don’t want to go among doolally people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all doolally here. I’m doolally. You’re doolally.”
“How do you know I’m doolally?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
With apologies to the ghost of Lewis Carroll                                                    EVERYDAY A DOOLALLY SMILE OF THE DAY
The shortest distance between two people is a smile ...
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Saturday, December 31, 2011
Pick of the year

SO WHAT caught my eye during the year – as opposed to my ear, that is – and made me smile? If it were possible for me to search out the phrase most often used on this web site – it probably is, but I wouldn’t have a clue how – what would undoubtedly pop up is this one: Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see.

Kiss and make up
AS IF to order, the year threw up an image which perfectly highlights the great truth of “believe nothing you hear and only half what you see” – and memorably captioned thus:
Some made love, not war

My initial reaction was a smile disguised as a huge question mark. The curious lovers caught in the middle of this extraordinary scene, who happen to be boyfriend and girlfriend, are Aussie bartender Scott Jones and Canadian college student Alex Thomas.
     Clearly there has to be more going on than is obvious to the eye. It seems that both had attended a major ice hockey cup final, which the hometown Vancouver Canucks dramatically lost 4-0 to the Boston Bruins, and following the game, major riots broke out – honestly, there’s nothing new under the sun, or the moon and stars, come to that.
     Anyway, later that evening in downtown Vancouver, the couple somehow found themselves caught between the angry rioters and charging riot police. As the police were actually charging forward, Alex got knocked by a police shield and fell heavily to the ground, injured.
     The now famous aftermath was captured by Getty Images photographer Rich Lam. Many thought the photograph a fake, or that the couple had intentionally staged the photo opportunity.
     However, subsequent enquiries, together with photographs taken from alternate angles, confirmed the image to be genuine, showing bystanders attempting to help the couple.
     In fact, Scott did what comes naturally and got down next to her to comfort her. She was crying and he just kissed her to calm her down – and that was the moment the camera went click.
     Fortunately, she was not seriously injured, and I guess shock would have had as significant an effect on her emotional state at that moment as anything.
     As I say, believe nothing you hear and only half what you see – at least until you have made some discreet enquiries to establish the truth.

Crazy fencing
SO THAT’S my favourite expression out of the way - but what would be the most used word hereabouts over the year?
     It would have to be “doolally”. And nothing highlights its repeated use better than this sports story, headlined thus:

Dozy council workers erect fence through goalposts

This, from an online report, I think it was Yahoo!:

Dozy workers near York have become a laughing stock after putting up a fence straight through the middle of a football goal. The six-foot metal fence, in Heworth, was erected as part of a £37,000 initiative by the local parish council to improve the play areas.
     But when the workers turned up to erect the £6,000 fence they managed to ruin the pitch completely by running the fence straight through one of the goalmouths. “It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time,” said local man Steve Barber, whose team use the pitch.
     “Common sense would have gone a long way. But it’s one way to defend the goals, I suppose
!” Council chiefs have already owned up to the blunder [that’s big of them], with the goalposts set to be moved and the pitch repositioned.
     “We recognise that failure to relocate the goalposts is a real own goal,” said Dave Meigh, City of York Council’s head of parks and open spaces. “We have asked the contractors to resolve the issue as a matter of urgency. We can only apologise for the error.”

It really doesn’t get any better than that. Mind you, if we have clowns at the very top of the Establishment – politicians, bankers, big business, the law, the media, the civil service and God knows what else – well, the court jester effect is going to trickle all the way down to the lower orders of society.

His & Her Awards
AS FOR individuals that made me smile, well, it would have to be Gareth Malone and Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge.

I’ve mentioned Gareth Malone many times recently. It’s not just his obvious musical talent that impresses me so, but his Winston Churchill gene, the ability to bring out the best in all those around him. That is a gift from the Gods, which he uses to great effect.

And who would have guessed just a year ago the effect Kate Middleton would have, not just on the Royal Family itself, but the country as a whole. It would seem that here is the girl born to be Queen.
     With hindsight, it was obvious from that wedding day: there she was, completely in charge of her day, showing remarkable poise, elegance and good humour – and of course, add that winning smile - hey, she can’t go wrong.
     But the thing which alerted me to her natural-born ability on that day was this: during the carriage drive following the wedding ceremony, whenever the national anthem was struck up – which was quite a few times – William would salute, and Kate would bow her head in such a spontaneous and elegant way that she appeared to have spent her whole life preparing for such a moment.

So many agreeable smiles generated along my walk through 2011.
Look You will be delighted for more of the same come 2012.

Friday, December 30
Wall to Wall smiles as 2011 slips through our fingers

: Spotted in the Western Mail’s  
THEY SAID WHAT? column...
“Just because we don’t flaunt our relationship doesn’t mean there is something wrong with it. Privacy is our luxury.” Katy Perry, 27, on why she and her husband Russell Brand, 36, spent Christmas 7,000 miles apart.

10:00pm: Spotted on the Telegraph’s  online home page...
Katy Perry and Russell Brand to divorce
Brand filed for divorce from pop singer Perry after just a year of marriage.

I didn’t click – but you are welcome to if you so wish. Whenever I set eyes on Russell Brand, he appears to be the very model of a man who is half a bubble off plumb, so I tend to treat him as a roundabout – and I keep my wits about me.

Alongside the above, also on the Telegraph’s  home page, was the following
MOST VIEWED story...

1:   99-year-old divorces wife after he discovered 1940s affair

Neither did I click on that one – for the simple reason that it sounds like one of the saddest headlines of the year. However, the juxtaposition with the Perry-Brand-X story is irresistible.

Meanwhile, back in the real world (sic)...
WITH much enthusiasm, Chief Wise Owl of Crazy Horsepower Saloon fame, pointed me in the direction of yesterday’s Times  newspaper...
     Hm, there’s been much local talk of late about a substantial development not a million Great Wall miles from Llandeilo, a tourist park to specifically attract Chinese tourists. As you can probably imagine, opinion hereabouts is divided.
     First though, the opening shots of a
News feature in The Times...

It’s a welcome in the hillsides, to thousands of Chinese tourists

It is the land of the red dragon, of poets, singers and brave warriors who shed their blood for freedom, but many Chinese have never even heard of it. That could soon start to change, though, with the opening of a £50 million Welsh holiday village catering for tourists from the People’s Republic.
     The village planned for a former country estate near Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire will include 80 holiday homes and a 92-bed hotel built around the ruins of a country house. Signs at the holiday park will be in Mandarin and English, and the 70 locally recruited staff will be expected to be familiar with Chinese customs...

Well, we locals speak the two spokes anyway – Welsh and English – so in future we will speak the three spokes. And I hope nobody lets it out that Llandeilo is affectionately known in these ‘ere parts as Llandampness (let alone Dodgy City).

An artist's impression of the tourist park intended for Chinese tourists

But let’s now return to a lead article in the
Comment section of The Times – and this is  rather good...

                                                                         The Great Wales
A village in Carmarthenshire is marketing itself as a Chinese tourist destination
Dear Chinese Tourist
Have you ever thought about visiting Wales? It’s a small principality to the west of England which, like a lot of other places, is the size of Wales. The people here have a strong separatist tradition, but are overwhelmingly content to be part of a greater whole. Sort of like Tibet.
     Here, it’s the Year of the Dragon every year. And ours is even red, like yours used to be. In fact, Wales and China have a lot in common. You know how you only rarely beat England at rugby? We also have the remains of a vast structure called Offa’s Dyke, which is basically the same thing as the Great Wall of China. Some people reckon it might once have been as much as 150 miles long. In fact, we like to think it can be seen from space. Although it can’t. Not even nearly.
     Carmarthenshire, where you will be staying, is quite rural but Cardiff is a city just down the road with almost as many people in it as, well, your street, probably. Perhaps you’ve heard of Cardiff? Doctor Who is filmed there. He’s a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. Not to be confused with Mr Hu, who is in charge of your country.
[10 out of 10, with bells on, there.]
Of course, being from China, you might be worried about alien Welsh cuisine. Relax. Welsh rarebit is nothing weird. It’s just bread, covered in melted cheese. Which is a protein mousse, from the nipple of a cow.
     Your home will be our new resort in Llanfynydd. Don’t bother trying to pronounce that. It’s all in the intonation. Here, you’ll find a complex with a hotel, 80 houses and a 200-space multi-storey car park, from which you’ll  enjoy the best views in the area by virtue of having your back to them. We look forward to seeing you.
A Welsh Travel Agent

Hm, I thought, do we need the Editor of the English Times, and an Englishman to boot, to teach we Welsh how to laugh at ourselves? So I thought I’d put my own Look You spin on it...

Thar she blows!
Dear Chinese Tourist
Have you ever thought about visiting Wales? We are a country the size of a whale. A bloody big whale, admittedly. And we spout a lot. The English point, snigger and take lots of pictures when we surface and spout. We humour them.
     We respect our women hugely, so much so some unkindly so and so has suggested that the default Welsh woman is featured on our national flag. But she never breaths fire over such cheap talk. Well, not much...
The nearest town, Llandeilo, is affectionately known as Llandampness, ideal for growing rice. We also have our very own Great Wall, which sells an awful lot of the stuff...
                                                                                                                                       ...incidentally, these days a Welsh rarebit is local slang for a virgin.
     Dr Who may be filmed in Cardiff, but here in Llandampness we have our very own Time Lord, mine host at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, who simply never believed in calling
“Time! – even before all-day opening, thank the Lord.
     I certainly wouldn’t worry unduly about pronouncing Llanfynydd – back in 2004, in protest over plans to erect a wind farm nearby, the village adopted the new name of:
(Llan hyfryd a well, le hynafol y barcud prin dan fygythiad truenus y llafnau o le)
[In English: a quiet, beautiful village, a historic place with rare kite under threat from wretched blades. So: “En Garde
!” you rotten English incomers and natural-born wind bags. We are ready with our very own blades.]
     Down the years we have made the English incomer rather welcome – well, some of them, some of the time – but I’m sure we will welcome you, the Chinese, with open arms and lots of hwyl (the Welsh version of the Irish craic, with added four-part harmony).
     After all, didn’t mother tell me that someday soon you will rule the world. Which is why I always acknowledge and smile ever so sweetly at those very, very nice folk who run the Great Wall.
     Croeso i Gymru. Welcome to Wales. Huan ying lai dao Weiershi (but that is work in progress - bang zhu
! - help!).
A laid-back native (as opposed to the restless kind)
Thursday, December 29
It is never all quiet on the western smile front

WITH Prince Philip now safely back in the bosom of his family following that heart scare, I enjoyed this online observation from the splendidly named
HowDoYouDo: “It must have been a novelty for the Queen to visit a hospital that does not smell of fresh paint.”

In yesterday’s smile of the day, I laughed along with the humour of World War II, compliments of Dad’s Army. So I particularly recall with fondness this contribution from a little while back, from Anonymous of Anytown, citing a glorious example of services humour during the war...
“My dad, who’s 97, laughs at the message chalked up by the bar steward at one RAF station during the Battle of Britain: ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so few for so many.’! Classic stuff.

It’s behind you!
YOU know me and my troublesome brain – the eye-part of my brain registers things a split-second before the make-sense-part catches up.
     For example, the other day I walked into my local Co-op supermarket - and my eye was instantly drawn to a sales pitch which shouted:

£5 Cashmere White Toilet Tissue

What on earth is the world coming to, I sniggered quietly to myself. £5 a roll for cashmere toilet paper? Then my brain caught up...
     Of course, it actually reads “Cushelle” – and £5 for 16 rolls. Honestly, I often wonder what my brain gets up to behind my back.
     And just to add essence, coming up a letter spotted in The Times  on Boxing Day - no Western Mail  or Telegraph  even delivered to my local

Toilet humour with the soft touch

Spar that day - I worry when newspapers tell us how to run our lives yet can’t
get their own show on the road. That’s life. Nevertheless, bad show, chaps...

Taking the waters
Sir, In my days in the Civil Service, you had really arrived if you were issued with a desk bottle and glass for drinking water (letter, Dec 23).
     When I subsequently went into the stockbrokerage industry and found myself after the 1987 crash taking up a job offer in Taiwan, Republic Of China, imagine my surprise when, after all the usual introductions, I was handed my personal roll of toilet paper.
VINCENT SHANAHAN, Northwood, Middlesex

I do so hope it was Cashmere White toilet paper. Talk about getting things not quite right, this from The Times
 Feedback column, as compiled by one Rose Wild...

Where eagles dare
MORE gems from the mouths of babes, if not sucklings, in church. Frank Robinson, of Nottingham, heard the Lord’s Prayer rendered as “Forgive us our Christmasses”, Pat Brooke’s brother recited “Our Father was shot in Heaven”, and Shirley Blackford, who lived in Santiago, Chile, when her children were small, heard her elder son praying “Deliver us from eagles”.
     Jane Gordon-Clark, of Guildford, recalls a young relative singing “Away in a manger, no crisps for a bed”, which is a lovely image.
     Brian Johnson, of Battle, used to sing “Dick the horse with boughs of holly” and Janet Baldock, of Over Wallop, shows why including a word such as sufficient in your lyrics is fraught with hazards: “The grace of the Lord like a fathomless sea, some fishes for you and some fishes for me.”

Religious training
ROBIN BIRCH writes: “You reminded me of my father’s favourite from 100 years ago in Coventry: ‘Sing choirs of angels/Sing in Exhall Station.’ When I was a boy in the 1940s he took me to the sad remains of this station, on the Coventry-to-Nuneaton line of what in his boyhood was still the London & North Western Railway. In his honour I sing it to this day.”
     Richard Guise remembers: “Lead us not into Trent Station.” Simon Cave conjures up a happy image with his recollection of a friend at his Benedictine school reciting the Hail Mary: “Blessed art thou, a monk swimming.”

That Hail Mary contribution stumped me, so I had to Google it ... “Blessed art thou among women.”

Going off the rails
I DIDN’T think anyone could cap the lovely railway prayers from last week, but full marks to Neil Bennett. Inspired by “Lead us not into Trent Station”, he writes: “I wonder if the children of South Derbyshire sing ‘all meanly wrapped in Swadlincote’?”

For rather obvious reasons – see Cashmere toilet rolls, above – I laughed along with all those slips, as opposed to at them.
     Whisper it, but for more moons than I care to admit here, I really did think that when Mama Cass Elliot sang Dream A Little Dream Of Me, she really did warble: “Say ninety-nine and kiss me/Just hold me tight and tell me you’ll miss me.”
     On reflection, I still prefer my brain’s personalised version.

Wednesday, December 28
Ride a cockhorse to BBC Television Centre

LAST evening I caught just a bit of a television documentary titled You Have Been Watching... David Croft. Today I caught up with the rest of it on iPlayer.

David Croft, who died in September, was one of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in the history of British television comedy, having co-written, produced and directed a raft of the nation’s most popular and much loved sitcoms:
Dad’s Army ... Hi-di-Hi
! ... ‘Allo ‘Allo! ... It Ain’t Half Hot Mum ... Are You Being Served?...
     The hour-long documentary celebrated his glorious work – and included more than a few riotously funny clips from the above shows. What a talented man he was.

The List
From Dad’s Army comes the memorable “What is your name?” sketch. Even now, seeing it written down in script form, makes me smile XL.

Captain Mainwaring: [Discussing with his Sergeant, Arthur Wilson, what to do with a captured U-boat crew ] I tell you Wilson, they’re a nation of automatons, led by a lunatic who looks like Charlie Chaplin.

German U-boat Captain: How dare you compare our glorious leader to that non-Arian clown. I am making notes, Captain, and your name will go on the list; and when we win the war you will be brought to account.

Captain Mainwaring: You can write what you like, you’re not going to win this war.

U-boat Captain: Oh yes we are.

Mainwaring: Oh no you’re not.

U-boat Captain: Oh yes we are!

Private Pike: [Singing atop a step-ladder while holding a gun and guarding the German prisoners ] ♫♫♫ Whistle while you work, Hitler is a twerp, he’s half-barmy, so’s his army, whistle while you - !

U-boat Captain: Your name will also go on the list! What is it?

Mainwaring: Don’t tell him Pike!

U-boat Captain: Pike!

Will Dad's Army last for a thousand years?

Whenever I see, hear or read the above sketch, I am overwhelmed with a need to start my own list, ready for the day when someone lights the blue touch paper, stands well back and shouts: “Revolution

Anyone seen my favourite pussy?
NEXT came the glorious double entendres dished up in Are You Being Served?, undoubtedly the most memorable being a favourite of Mrs Slocombe, head of the ladies’ department, famous for her ever-changing hair colour and endless chit-chats about her cat, which she always refers to as her pussy.

Mrs Slocombe: “I never have any trouble getting up in the morning. My pussy’s just like an alarm clock.”

If you are pure of thought, the above makes purr-fect sense. However, if like me you are forever finding yourself on life’s dirt-track – well, you can’t stop giggling.

Ride a cockhorse to Maplins Holiday Camp,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes

MY MOMENT of the whole programme though is probably one of the best sight gags you are ever likely to see – and that includes memorable stuff from the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise...
     It comes from Hi-di-Hi
! – the scene where a real horse, a stunning white creature, meets up with the pantomime horse (the rear taken up by the delightfully doolally chalet maid, Peggy).
     The initial meeting between the real horse and the pantomime version is itself a thing of wonder – but the shortcut across the sand dunes – well, click below for 4:15 of pure pantomime heaven (and beneath, another link, a bonus smile, 1:48 of the “What is your name?” sketch).

Tuesday, December 27
Hello children ... everywhere

TODAY I listened on iPlayer to the Christmas Day edition of Junior Choice, presented by Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart. A sack full of nostalgic goodies dropped down the chimney for us lucky, lucky, LUCKY listeners. You probably detected the irony there.
     I am puzzled as to how the BBC thinks, although nothing new there. For example, Radio 2, unless I am very much mistaken, is aimed at the middle-age-plus market – whilst Radio 1 is aimed at the 40 and under. A perfectly civilised format.
     Yet, from the day Radio 2 became the swinging parent of Radio 1 – like watching your father dance at a family wedding, or worst, tell jokes at the reception when he isn’t quite up to being a stand-up comedian - things took a strange turn.
     Ponder Junior Choice – or Children’s Favourites with Uncle Mac, as it was before Stewpot and his “Hello darlin’” arrived on the scene – for there has to be millions of people in the country who have fond memories of those old favourites which so many of us grew up with.
     I consider myself rather fortunate to have had one foot in the camp of the Mills Brothers, Pete Seeger, Patti Page, The Kingston Trio, Jo Stafford, Perry Como – curiously I was never a fan of Frank Sinatra until I navigated middle-age – with the other foot firmly planted in the trench marked Rock ‘n’ Roll: Bill Haley and his Comets, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis – and then here in the UK the arrival of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones et al...
     Nestling between both camps were of course those wonderful Junior Choice songs: The Laughing Policeman, The Runaway Train, I’m A Pink Toothbrush, Davy Crockett, Robin Hood – and on and on...
     It’s not only a rather marvellous thing to have experienced all those genres of music, but quite extraordinary to have them all burnt onto my brain’s hard drive. Now That's What I Call Eclectic Music.
     Listening to the Christmas morning edition of Junior Choice, the song that made me smile the most was Mandy Miller and her Nellie The Elephant: “off she rode with a trumpety-trump, trump, trump, trump...”
                                                                                                                                                           Magic. But here’s my point. I was fascinated to read that Junior Choice attracted 17 million listeners and more at its peak – and most of those listeners are clearly still alive – yet Radio 2, the station that should cater for those needs, only sees fit to deliver a couple of hours on Christmas Day morning.
     That’s what happens when you put people under 40 in charge of a station aimed at those over 40. Funny old world.

What also made me smile near the very end of Junior Choice was a request for Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris (nothing wrong with that), but it came from a Steve McAdam of Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire – but before I get there, a letter spotted in The Daily Telegraph...

The name game
SIR – I was aware that a few years ago there was a serving officer called Major Cocup. While wishing him every success in his career, there must be some concern should he reach the highest levels in the Service when he would assume the rank of General Cocup.
Peter Gore, Tenterden, Kent

At my local doctor’s surgery, one of the partners is a Dr Gillian Tarr. Now Tarr is her maiden name, and although married, she obviously retains her maiden name, at least in a professional capacity. Imagine: if she had met the aforementioned Steve McAdam, she would now be known as Dr Gillian Tarr-McAdam.
     Now there’s a road less travelled, so perhaps best not go down that track.

Yes indeed, just like Nellie The Elephant, it’s those silly little things in life that delight me no end.

Boxing Day, 2011
A bird or two in the hand – and a head for hats

YESTERDAY, I included a picture of the weather on Christmas Day morning down in the valley, with one of the resident songbirds in attendance – and I detailed how different the weather was to precisely a year ago.

Today I trawled through last year’s photographs to find one to reflect the cold and snowy weather as it then was. Fortunately, there’s hardly a day that passes when I don’t take a few pictures of the birds.
     Over the past couple of years or so I’ve taken thousands: 90 per cent are rubbish mind, and are instantly deleted; of the remaining 10 per cent, 90 per cent of those are sort of okay but not worth keeping, so in truth only one out of every 100 should really be on the computer.
     I say should  be on the computer. These days I retain many more for the simple reason that just occasionally a picture which isn’t particularly eye-catching in isolation is just perfect to illustrate some point or other. Whatever, the search goes on for that truly magic moment. I’ve come quite close a few times.
     In fact I went back to Christmas Day 2009, the first Christmas I would have been taking pictures of the birds – and there, at 08:51 on 25/12/2009, was the one coming up below – and I particularly remember a family of bluetits that had taken a shine to me as their Candy Man.
     I then went to my diary to check the weather for that day: “A clear-ish, slightly frosty start – black ice about – some valley mist; then a sunny am into pm – very pleasant day. Rain by late-pm/early-evening...”

So first up, the 2009 Christmas Day picture (with Welsh translation) which perfectly reflects the weather just after sunrise, as noted in my diary. Also, I repeat again the photo captured yesterday, which would have been taken around sunrise, if it hadn’t been for the gloom, obviously.
     Sandwiched between the 2009 and 2011 pictures, both taken from roughly the same spot, is last year’s effort, which was taken at sunset. When the weather gets really cold, as has been the case over the last two winters, I tend to feed the birds both early in the morning and late afternoon.
     No wonder they’re such an obliging bevy of birds, especially the tubby little bluetit coming up. Anyway, here are the three pictures to compare and contrast the past three Christmas Days...



Warning: When I Am A Young Woman I Shall Wear Purple
ALSO, yesterday I included the picture of Gareth Malone and the Military Wives in celebration mode on reaching number one in the charts – and I referred to the rather photogenic lady in the group photo.
     Well, today the media has been awash with pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton joining the Royal Family for their traditional Christmas morning service at Sandringham – and it really is astonishing how photogenic she too is.
     She does stand out in a crowd. Have a look at these…

Yes okay, the camera would have specifically focussed on her, and the picture editors would have hunted down the best, but she does draw the eye. Apart from being fairly tall, she obviously has an eye-catching sense of style, which the camera loves.
     She also has that winning smile, which reflects her grace and reputed good manners to a T. (“To a T” comes from the expression “to a tittle”, meaning “to the smallest detail”. The word “tittle” itself comes from the Latin word for a diacritical mark (the way a word is pronounced or stressed) and is related to the word “title”, surprise, surprise.)
     And what about that hat? God, I could imagine wearing that – in a rather fetching but macho Sherwood Forest green, mind. Come to think of it, I do possess a hat something vaguely similar
! Oh yes, I empathise with Charles and the lads sporting hands-in-pockets. That’s definitely me to a T.

Anyway, nice one, Kate. You do make me smile, which is the whole point of this scrapbook. And today, it was all about a bevy of beautiful birds.

“IF THE three wise men had been three wise women they would have asked directions, got there in time, helped deliver the Baby Jesus, cleared up afterwards, made a casserole and given Mary some practical gifts.”
A text message to BBC Radio 2.

Christmas Day is a perfect point of reference because it has a different routine to any other day. Things that happen stick in the mind. Just the other day I smiled at the different weather conditions that prevailed on the shortest day of this year compared with last year.
     Probably today was even more dramatic. As ever, I still went down to the valley for a quick visit to feed the little songbirds I’ve befriended there.
     Last Christmas Day was like walking onto the set of a Christmas card photo shoot: snow everywhere, perfectly still with clear blue skies – and unbelievably cold at -20˚. A brilliantly picturesque day.
     Today couldn’t have been more different. It was overcast, drizzly, quite a stiff breeze, and unbelievably mild boasting a temperature not a million degrees short of 15˚C - the record maximum of 15.6˚C for a Christmas Day, set in 1896 and repeated in 1920, missed by just 1˚.
     I must capture an image, I thought – and a great tit handily obliged to add a little something extra to the passing parade.
     Here it is ... it captures the gloom and mizzle of the morning rather splendidly.
     However, it was still a truly smiley morning - just great to be alive and kicking.

Be that as it may, the smile of the day goes to Gareth Malone and his Military Wives Choir for gaining that coveted Number One spot with their single Wherever You Are.

1 for the album: my eye was drawn to the photogenic lady, top right

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a great fan of Gareth Malone, not so much his obvious musical talent, but the way he brings out the best in all those around him. That’s a gift from the Gods. So well done him and the girls. Richly deserved.

Finally, a quote to balance the one at the top about the three wise women.
“The recession is the immaculate recession. It came as a complete surprise, and no-one is claiming parentage.” Kay Brock, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s new secretary for public affairs, ho, ho, ho.
Christmas Eve
Here’s lookin’ right through you

FOR MANY moons now, following the ever improving examination results from our schools, endless discussions and arguments have bounced back and fore apropos why this is so (there goes my suppressed poetic gene again).
     The doubters claim there is much dumbing-down going on, and that exams are simply getting easier and easier each and every year. However, those who trust are convinced that our children are becoming ever brighter and cleverer, and the future of our nation is dazzlingly bright in the hands of this new generation of super-kids.
     Employers suggest that the doubters are correct; young people they take on do not possess the basic skills (reading, writing and arithmetic) of the previous generation.
     I tend to agree with the doubters, for the rather obvious reason that our genetic fingerprint, our DNA, doesn’t change over a few generations; thus it is impossible for us to become more intelligent in the blink of an evolutionary eye.
     So could it be then that teaching methods have improved beyond recognition? Certainly possible, but unlikely to such a positive degree.
     Now we learn, following a Daily Telegraph  investigation, where undercover Telegraph  reporters attended 13 seminars run by exam boards, that teachers were given information about upcoming questions and areas of the syllabus that teachers should focus on (nudge-nudge, wink-wink, know what I mean, Sir/Miss?).
     Wow, so teachers were pointed in the right direction, thus enabling their students to concentrate on specific areas. You have to smile. No wonder our kids are getting smarter.
     As ever, it is the Telegraph’s  own brilliant cartoonist,
Matt, who sums it all up to great effect...

What you see is what you get
BY THE magic of yet another coincidence, just surfaced on the internet, a marvellous picture, above, compliments of a Nick Veasey from Maidstone in Kent, who has used an X-Ray machine to show what’s really behind all the fancy Christmas packaging.
     It’s a rather fabulous image – I take it as black and white that it really is a genuine picture – indeed, I would suggest that our education system needs an X-Ray machine to show what’s really behind all the fancy results.

Merry Christmas – oh, and here’s lookin’ at you, but not with X-Ray eyes, Santa.
Friday, December 23
Hair today, gone tomorrow

COINCIDENCE and me are bosom pals. I think it was last Monday I smiled at this headline, spotted on Mail Online...

                          One’s run out of room! Queen invites a record 27 royals to stay
                                      (...so who will end up in the servant’s quarters?)

From Friday afternoon, more than two dozen royals will descend on the picturesque Norfolk estate of Sandringham...

I was happy with just the above headline and starter for ten: it’s the
‘One’s run out of room’ that’s the funny-bone, feather-boa tickler.

Meanwhile, back with the Top Ten of this and that
All week the newspapers and the online web sites have been awash with the top images of the year, and many of them, sad to say, I never actually caught first time around.
     The picture that made me smile the most was the one featured alongside, spotted on Yahoo
! News...

Michelle Obama grew an afro

How did I miss this back in the spring?
The USA’s First Lady unintentionally caused a lot of smiles from this photo after she stood in front of a rather large plant.
     At first glance, it appears that Michelle Obama grew an afro as she watched Queen Elizabeth II sign a guest book during their trip to the UK in May.

Smashing image. I’ve given it my own caption > > > > > > > >

Prince Philip: "I say, old gel, how long has
one been signing one’s name like that?"

Heir today, gone tomorrow
Now we come to the coincidence – or co-ink-e-denk-ee, as Dai Aphanous at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon says ... Dai Aphanous because we all see through him straight away ... great character though, and you can’t miss him.

Late breaking news this evening was all about the Duke of Edinburgh, now 90, bless, having had heart surgery after being airlifted to hospital, where he was treated for a blocked coronary artery, and a successful “invasive procedure of coronary stenting” was performed.
     I have no idea what that means in common or garden lingo, but a handy Telegraph  journalist enlightened me: it seems that “the Duke was likely to have suffered a heart attack which was halted by emergency surgery to unblock a blood vessel”.
     Now why couldn’t they have said that in the first place?

Anyway, it seems that he’s okay – but I was astonished how much information instantly flooded the online world about our Phil. There again, perhaps I shouldn’t be because, given the ages of both the Queen and the Duke, media outlets must be prepared for the inevitable, whenever that happens.

One article which did catch my eye, again in the Telegraph, was headed:

The Duke of Edinburgh is an incredibly active man, who has enjoyed good health for much of his life.

The piece went on to detail every little minor thing Philip has suffered; however, most of his ailments and injuries have been sports-related. I thoroughly enjoyed this particular episode in his eventful life:

He suffered arthritis in his right wrist from playing polo and tried to dull the pain with Butazolodin, a drug more usually given to lame horses and recommended by his head groom.
     It was reported he later stopped taking it because of the side effects.

A little bird down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, who has a direct link to the horsey world of the royals, tells me that, following the equine drug scare, the Duke then went to see his own doctor about those alarming side effects.
     The doc duly filled out one of those per-, tsk, oh you know, one of those form thingies the doctor gives you when you’re feeling unwell – per -
     No, no, a permit to shit on the road.

Back with that news headline at the top:
                                                         One’s run out of room! Queen invites a record 27 royals to stay
                                                                      (...so who will end up in the servant’s quarters?)

Now who would have thought that it was Prince Philip who would end up in the outside ward?

Thursday, December 22
In the bleak midwinter ~ or not, as the case may be

NORMALLY, the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, falls on December the 21st, but this year it’s today, the 22nd. This is because the year is marginally longer than 365 days, hence why we have a leap year every four years, to balance the books, so to speak. So occasionally the December solstice trips over to the 22nd, as this year.
     It happened at 5:30 this morning, as I was listening to the Vanessa Feltz show on the wireless – and the moment was captured for posterity by Vanessa.

This leads me to the weather, in particular why it’s the main topic of conversation here in the UK. It is so varied. We have no idea what to expect, not just from one year to another, but from one day to the next. For example, the most noticeable thing right now is how unbelievably mild it is – especially so compared to the snows and bitter cold of precisely a year ago.
     Last year, these words rang so true:
                                                                    In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
                                                                    Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
                                                                    Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
                                                                    In the bleak midwinter, [a year] ago.

However, this very morning, along my daily walk through the Towy Valley, at around half-eight/nine o’clock, I actually took my coat off and wrapped it around by waist ... I was strolling through the valley in shirtsleeves, and even though it was overcast and dull, I was feeling perfectly comfortable. It was like a spring morning.
     Last year, the temperature down in the valley was about -20° (along part of my walk I am pretty much at the level of the River Towy, and it’s always that much colder nearer the river when frosty winds make moan).
     So I thought: must take a compare and contrast picture against last year’s snowy images. And here’s the result...

The glorious doolallyness of the British weather: from the frozen winter solstice of 2010 to the balmy 2011 version

As you will see from last year, the fence was covered in snow and hoarfrost; however, if you look closely at this year’s fence, you will also spot, at low level, bits of white. Well, those are strands of wool: the sheep are forever rubbing against the fence to relieve those annoying little itches – shades of Baloo the Bear having a good old scratch in the Bare Necessities.
     Also, note how lush the grass looks. Astonishing for mid-winter.

Dear Santa
A magic moment caught on the Jamie Owen & Louise Elliott show on Radio Wales ... here is Louise, talking about her young daughter...

Took Elizabeth to see Santa Clause over the weekend – he was in very good spirits indeed. He asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she said: “Marbles!” That’s all she ever wants. She’s obsessed with marbles – but quite specific: all different coloured marbles and different sized marbles.
     And then Father Christmas, unexpectedly, turned to me: “And what would Mummy like for Christmas?” Ooh, I thought, what would I like? Oh, nail varnish, I’d like some nail varnish, please –
     And then he turned to Daddy: “And Daddy, what would you like for Christmas?” And Tim pipes up: “Oh, Santa. I’d like a fresh start in a new country.”
[Much laughter in the studio...] Louise continues: There was a bit of a pause – and Father Christmas said: “Oh, okay Daddy, I’ll see what I can do.”

Very funny little story that. But what I liked about it was that Santa asked Mummy and Daddy what they would like. I mean, if either Mummy or Daddy were still struggling what to get their other halves - well, Santa had rather cleverly opened his sack of tricks.
     Mind you, I’m not sure what Louise is going to do about husband Tim’s request.

PS: Yesterday - just below, actually - I perused the newspaper headlines as they all attempted to come up with something punchy to express the Military Wives push for the Christmas top spot in the charts. Today, I spotted this neat effort, compliments of Mail Online:
Its beginning to look a lot like a Christmas Number One

Wednesday, December 21
History is made by those who turn up

WITH the Military Wives now pretty much guaranteed to make the No 1 spot on Christmas Day, I was grabbed by the headlines the papers went with today, all struggling to incorporate military terms and expressions...

Daily Express:  Military Wives march to Christmas No 1
     The Times:  Military Wives storm the charts
     London Evening Standard:  Wives march to victory
     Daily Mail:  VICTORY
! Taxman retreats in battle to charge VAT on Military Wives’ Christmas No 1
     This Is Devon
[Where the wives and their partners are based]:  Military Wives conquer all in Christmas chart battle 
     Western Mail:  Wives quick march towards No 1 as single breaks record

I particularly liked my own local newspaper, the Western Mail, for that clever play on the word record.

Back with This Is Devon : I borrowed today's headline from the paper’s Comments section. As with every Comment message board, about 10 per cent of all missives posted are dedicated to rubbishing everything and everybody. So I enjoyed this response directed at someone who was trashing the Military Wives...

Ominvore23: It has been said that history is made by those who turn up (thus not, by implication, internet trolls).

I like that. I’d never heard the saying before ... I duly Googled it ... yes, it’s all over the web, but no clues as to its origins. I’ll take another peep when I have a few more moments.

So what headline would I go with for the Military Wives’ appearance in London to promote their song and march to No 1? Well, see below...

Gareth Malone and Military Wives on manoeuvres to capture top target

Finally, this letter in the Telegraph  rang a bell, as it did with most men. Probably.

House husbandry
SIR – My wife is away visiting her mother. Does anyone know how to find the end of a roll of cling film?
John Michael Beattie, Bledlow Ridge, Buckinghamshire

Nice one. As I say, most of us men empathise. However, I enjoyed this online response from
Surely it is not the ‘End’ that he needs, but the ‘Beginning’. The ‘End’ will manifest itself in due course – when he least expects, or requires, it
     I shall cling onto that thought.

Tuesday, December 20
“Welcome to life. First thing you learn, milk isn’t free”

Malcolm Pryce aka Louie Knight, private eye

EVERY morning this week, Radio Wales features a comedy drama called O Little Town Of Aberystwyth; the central character is Louie Knight, Aberystwyth’s famous private dick.
     My radio is on in the background, but the drama regularly catches the ear with some great lines. A couple of them coming up; I haven’t stopped smiling since hearing them.
     But first, this from Malcolm Pryce, the author of the book on which the series is based, and spotted on his web site...

A five part Louie Knight radio drama specially written for Christmas
The Story:
A department store Father Christmas is brutally murdered in Aberystwyth and the Queen of Denmark calls Louie. She gives him five days to solve the murder or she will cancel the visit of the real Father Christmas.
     Meanwhile, Myfanwy Montez [Louie’s girlfriend, “a beautiful nightclub singer from before the flood”] lies in a nursing home with a mystery illness that has robbed her of her singing voice.
     This is potentially catastrophic since it is a cherished tradition every Christmas in Aberystwyth that Myfanwy sings at the carol concert in a live satellite link-up with a choir of penguins in Patagonia.
     The doctors are baffled and decide to try a daring new medical intervention: they write to Father Christmas, asking him to bring Myfanwy’s voice back. So Louie and Calamity Jane [Louie’s partner] have two compelling reasons to find out who killed Santa.

Anyway, back on the radio, I hear a rather witty line which claims my exclusive smile of the day. Indeed, the tales of Louie are vaguely familiar – shades of Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files, and Myfanwy reminds me of the lovely Beth Davenport, Jim’s attorney and onetime girlfriend.
     Later I do a bit of online research about Louie Knight...

Melissa Katsoulis of The Daily Telegraph  reviews the novel Don’t Cry For Me Aberystwyth by Malcolm Pryce (from a good many moons ago), the book on which the radio drama is based. Here are some choice cuts from Melissa’s piece...

The last three novels in the Louie Knight detective series were called Aberystwyth Mon Amour, Last Tango in Aberystwyth and The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth, so no prizes for guessing where this latest one is set. For Louie, the down-at-heel gumshoe who relies on his enthusiastic Calamity to get him through the long, grey days, never needs to travel far to find unsolved cases of murder, espionage, kidnap, and now, war crimes.
     Like many a hometown, Aberystwyth is horrible to Louie but full of people he loves. There’s Myfanwy, Calamity, Dad and Sosban the philosophising ice-cream seller.
     And in December 1989, when this book opens, the old place is redolent with festive charm: “Aberystwyth at Christmas. The smell of pine drifts along the Prom, mingling with the reek of bladder wrack, toffee apple, vanilla and wet donkey fur ... From somewhere beyond the spires of the old college children sing ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ ... The ice man shivers behind his empty counter and in a filthy alley in Chinatown a man in a red-and-white coat with a long white beard lies dead in a pool of his own gore.”

     (Shame the thousands of starlings that roost nightly under Aberystwyth pier didn’t get a mention. I mean, the potential for a great line is there, for example: All the birds come home to roost in Aberystwyth.)

Back with the radio story: Santa is murdered, and private eye Louie Knight has just five days to solve the case or the town’s children won’t be getting any presents. Louie takes up the story:

My girlfriend, nightclub singer Myfanwy Montez, lies in a nursing home with a mystery illness, and on top of that she caught me giving a Christmas kiss to a nurse. There will be no peace for Louie Knight, Aberystwyth’s only private eye, this Christmas. “Oh for Pete’s sake, it was nothing,” I tell her, “just a little Christmas kiss, she asked me to ... it wasn’t what it seems.”
     “That’s what they all say,” says Myfanwy, sounding rather sorry for herself.
[Of course, it’s not only women who say things like that. Remember this quote from a few days ago? “Give me a kiss Boris, I promise I won’t tell anyone.” Journalist and author Lesley-Ann Jones pleads with London’s Mayor Boris Johnson at a party. His response: “They all say that...”]
     “Myfanwy,” pleads Louie, “how could you doubt me?”
     “What sort of man does that? Has a fling with a nurse right by the bedside of his dying girlfriend?”

Of course she isn’t dying ... Louie and Myfanwy kiss and make up – he’s a right old smoothie, shades of Old Shaggy down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon.
     “Have you bought my present yet?” whispers Myfanwy, coming over all seductive.
     “It’s on order.”
     A pregnant pause: “What is it?”
     “A white Christmas.”
     Huge sigh from Myfanwy. “How wonderful.”

How wonderful indeed. My o my, what a line. How could any woman resist? Now if he had said that in the run-up to last Christmas – well, all of Wales had a deep and crisp and even snow-covered festive holiday. However, this year looks like being of the palm-tree-fringed variety.
     Yup, timing is everything.

Okay, here’s the second unforgettable line – but before I go there, I’ve mentioned in previous bulletins about men who die unexpectedly while having sex. Dying on the job, so to speak.
     A doctor told me that we only hear of the high-profile deaths – happening in a massage parlour (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) or in the back of a car on top of Old Snowy, or the Black Mountain as it is generally known – but he assured me that it happens much more often than we would imagine, but for obvious reasons we don’t get to hear about it.

Right, in the course of his investigations, Louie visits a lady called Tadpole, and then gets into a conversation with her mother, Mrs Tonypandy, a woman who has Handle With Care writ large all over. Rounding off some uncomfortable small talk, Louie asks Mrs Tonypandy:
“Was that a grave I saw outside under the washing line?”
     “It was the lodger.”
     “Er, what did he die of?”

It really is a Wonderful Welsh World out there. And just a click away...

Monday, December 19
As different as chalk and talk

“THE irony is the world has changed and the Germans want to run Europe. They failed to do it by war, twice. What is it? Is this the Fourth Reich?” David Jason, 71, English award-winning actor, best known for his comic-actor role as the main character Derek “Del Boy” Trotter in the BBC sit-com Only Fools and Horses.
This curious observation makes it as my doolally smile of the day because of a little story that goes back many moons.

At that time I was familiar with David Jason as a comic actor, best known for the aforementioned Only Fools and Horses [as in ‘Why do only fools and horses work?’], Open All Hours and of course The Darling Buds of May (which propelled Catherine Zeta-Jones, 42, into the fast lane of fame and fortune).
     Now I’ve always had an interest in the life and times of dolphins, and there was a programme on the BBC about these delightful creatures, filmed out in America, and David Jason was the presenter/front man. Hm, I thought, I’ll learn a bit more about these extraordinary creatures, and he’ll keep me amused at the same time.
     The programme itself was interesting – but David Jason was a bit of a disappointment. He did his front man job perfectly adequately – but there were few smiles, little laughter. He played it with a straight bat. Which was fine - but I learnt a valuable lesson.
     Never confuse the media personality with the real person. David Jason is a fine comic actor, who works magic with lines that other people write for him. And there’s the rub. In real life he is quite a reserved, quiet and thoughtful man, who is clearly not the life and soul of the party.
     Indeed, going back to his quote about the Fourth Reich, it suggests he has some rather dark thoughts in his more private moments. Who’d have thought, eh? Every day a day at school.

But can you guess who this is yet?
Meanwhile, back with an individual who is very much the same off-screen as on-screen, with a most agreeable self-deprecating humour – at least, everyone who has ever met him says so, and quite a few people here in Wales have...

“I will never shave off my beard and moustache. I did once, for charity, but my wife said:
‘Good grief, how awful, you look like an American car with all the chrome removed.’.”
Rolf Harris, 81, Australian musician, composer, painter, in fact a man for all seasons.

Rolf was born in Perth, Western Australia, to Welsh parents who had emigrated from Cardiff. Here’s a story I like about a dog Rolf owned, called Buster Fleabags.
     When 12, Rolf and his best pal Ross Latham decided that his new puppy should have the longest name of any dog in the history of the world. So they came up with this:

                                           Buster Fleabags
                                           Aldi Boranto
                                           Fosco Fornio
                                           Poochie Acka Flipp Flop
                                           Pie Cruncher Biscuit Basher
                                           Bumble Puppy Pimple Head
                                           Hambone Harris

Rolf, in 2010, aged 80

So Buster Fleabags for short, but just “Buster
! Buster! Buster!” when called to his master.

My favourite memory though of Rolf is when he was guest host on Have I Got News For You – it was during the MPs’ expenses scandal, a truly funny episode, and listed in the Top Ten HIGNFY shows – but best of all, at the very end of the show, he got the panellists and the whole audience singing along to Two Little Boys. Memorable beyond.
     As someone mentioned at the time:
“It wasn’t even ironic – they were enjoying themselves, damn it. Now, that’s the beauty of Rolf.” Watch out for it on Dave TV.
     Anyone reading this outside the UK need to Google ‘Rolf Harris singing Two Little Boys on HIGNFY’ and they will be able to sing along
Sunday, December 18
Que Sera, Sera ~ from the film The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Global warming: Who or what is to blame? Who should we believe? Do we really care? Whatever will be, will be ...

Me? I never fret about things that are beyond my control; however, over recent years I have planted a good few trees to hopefully cover the modest carbon footprint created in my wake.
     Be that as it may, I enjoyed the following two contributors from the Telegraph’s  Comment section in response to a letter about global warming...

Ninetyninepercentape (I enjoy how you have to read these anonymous user names v-e-r-y slowly and deliberately to make out what they mean): To those who say that man is causing global warming and those that claim a conspiracy: I say a Plague on both your houses.
     Here are the facts: Electricity is essential for our way of life; oil is at its peak; our gas is coming from Russia [and Qatar]; coal is being imported. Windmills are a waste of space, so unless we build some PWRs [nuclear power reactors] we will all be sitting in the dark by the end of the decade.

Thatlldo: Agreed, rather like the Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries and other Thinking Persons in the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, who insist that the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything should NOT be determined, otherwise they would all be out of work...
     Douglas Adams RIP
! [The man who knew too much?]

Wonderful – miles ahead in the smiles handicap.
However, it all reminded me of the picture, alongside, of a bear with its head stuck inside a plastic container - a jumbo cookie jar? Which in turn brings me to another of The Sunday Times’  The Joy of Epic Failure...

Least successful disguise
In September 1999, police arrested a woman in Los Angeles who was stark naked with a bucket on her head. Asked to explain this state of affairs, she said that while undressed she had stepped briefly out onto the balcony and the door had locked behind her.
     Thinking laterally, she put the bucket on her head to hide

The bear necessities and the bare niceties

her identity, went for help and got lost.

Chronicling these smiles brightens up my already sunny day no end.
Saturday, December 17
Little Jyoti and Big Ben grab the day

NOTHING grabs an instant smile like a great picture. A couple of images made me smile XL today ... first, this headline in Mail Online...
                                  Big day for a little lady: 2ft tall Jyoti dreams of Bollywood
                                  acting career after being crowned world’s shortest woman

Jyoti Amge, 18, of Nagpur in India, has just been crowned the world’s shortest living woman at just over 2ft (62cm) tall.
     She took the Guinness World Record from 2ft 3in American Bridgette Jordan...

Images of Jyoti are all over the internet – but here’s the one that grabbed my attention...

Standing tall: Jyoti, 18-year-old, 24½in frame - and a natural-born smiler

It’s not so much her winning smile – which is evident in pretty much all the pictures of her – but it’s the marvellous look on the face of the man from Guinness, Rob Molloy. Delightful. He could be admiring his own daughter.
     Jyoti weighs only 12lbs – in my mind’s eye I always convert small parcels of weight to the traditional 2lb bag of sugar (1kg these days, marginally over 2lb), so Jyoti is the equivalent of holding six bags of sugar in your hands.
     Astonishingly, she weighs just 9lbs more than she did at birth. She measures 2¾ inches (7cm) less than the 22-year-old American Bridgette Jordan, who had held the title since September – Jyoti had to be aged 18 to claim the record.
     Mind you, I do find myself wondering what happens when she meets and fancies a boy – presumably her emotions are normal size – what then? Intriguing stuff.

And from the sublime to the ridiculous...

Yesterday, I explored the extraordinary new coat of arms of John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons. Now for something even more bizarre: this again from Mail Online...

                John Bercow orders “decorum” as his wife Sally raises one finger to photographers
                         after her controversial appearance in the Celebrity Big Brother house

Welcome to the House of Commons Speaker’s Christmas Card. While most senior politicians opt for traditional Christmas images or festive pictures of their family on their Christmas cards, Speaker Bercow and his wife have opted for a self-deprecating image in the style of an old-style saucy seaside postcard.
     The cartoon is the work of Sun newspaper cartoonist Andy Davey, which the Bercows purchased at a cost of around £300 ... shame the new coat of arms did not make an appearance

The Bercow Xmas Card: Hark! The Heraldic Angels Sing Something Simple

What can I say? Delightfully doolally, that
s what I can say. Britain’s First Doolally Couple. What I also learned from the Mail  article was that, in a recent magazine interview, Sally Bercow declared her favourite gadget to be a ‘vibrator’.
     You can tell how far off the pace of modern life I am: my favourite gadget is the zap-a-dee-doo-da thingy I use to change TV channels. Mind you, I guess Mrs B too (or not Mrs B too) could describe her vibrator as a zap-a-dee-doo-da thingy, although there must be the possibility that her choice of sex toy was very much tongue-in-cheek, ho, ho, ho
     Come to think of it – no pun intended – I remember
her extolling the aphrodisiac qualities of Big Ben’s chimes when in residence at the Palace of Westminster, humping in the shadow of love and the big clock, and all that business.
     Perhaps she calls her vibrator Big Ben: “Here, big boy: come to Mummy

Now there
s a thought to go to sleep on.
Friday, December 16
Be careful who you upset as you climb the ladder

LAST weekend’s Sunday Times  did a smiley feature headlined:
The Joy Of Epic Failure
In these grim economic times, what better to cheer us all up than a selection of those whose woes were truly wonderful...

There followed many examples of such heroic failures. The trouble with perusing such a list in just one sitting is that the whole thing tends to go over your head. Much like eating a box of chocolates in one sitting, rather than spreading the joy of endorphins out a bit.
     So for my smile of the day spot, I thought I would just occasionally dip into this box of Black Magic, starting today with just the one.

But before I go there, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John
Bercow, has just spent £37,000 of taxpayers’ money having his portrait painted – oh, and having a coat of arms drawn up.
     Along the corridors of power, Bercow is known as ‘ABH - Anyone But Happy’. Now Bercow is a titchy and tetchy little feller – pictured here with his delightful, charming and elegant wife, Sally – wotcha mean, “Go wash your mouth out with carbolic soap”?
     Anyway, a while back someone reversed into Bercow’s car. He was not best pleased. “I’m not happy,” he spat at the driver of the other vehicle, to which came the response: “Well which one are you then?”

Every day a day at school spot: Before Walt Disney settled on the final seven names to partner Snow White, the list included Jumpy, Deafy, Dizzy, Hickey, Wheezy, Baldy, Gabby, Nifty, Sniffy, Swifty, Lazy, Puffy, Stuffy, Tubby, Shorty and Burpy.

My personal, very modern choice for Bercow would be Doolally – yes, it’s one letter longer than the longest name – Bashful – but I guess we’d get away with that because Doolally not only trips off the tongue but is such a descriptive word, indeed it paints a thousand “Order
! Order!s.

Doolally with Slush Brown - oops! - Snow White

Whatever, there is something rather apt about a politician having a coat of many arms: “All the better to accommodate my many hands as I rifle through your pockets to finance my friends the rich, my dear.”
     So what to make of John ‘Doolally’ Bercow’s coat of arms, pictured below?

The first thing that came to mind was snakes and ladders. Doesn’t that perfectly sum up what our dreadful politicians are all about?
     The ladder is obvious ... but when I saw those cutlasses though, what I actually saw were snakes. And nestled between the rungs of the ladder are the pots of gold at the end of the rainbow – see the colours at the end of the scroll near the bottom.
     And the motto? All Are Equal, surely, is the motto of every spin doctor that has ever lived – in other words, the greatest lie of our times.

Anyway, here’s what Bercow wants you to believe about his coat of arms...

It tells the story of his journey from humble beginnings as the son of a taxi driver ... to become the most common or garden person in the land – or the most senior commoner in the land, as officialdom would have it.
     The coat of arms features a ladder to represent his journey upwards – but if we “read” a photograph from left to right, as the experts insist, then he had better be a bit nicer to those he meets on the way up because that ladder suggests that he will shortly be on his way down.
     It features four roundels to represent his interest in tennis. The curved notched blades of seaxes (not cutlasses, apparently, although he could have fooled me) represent Essex, where Bercow went to university.

Doolally's Coat of Many Arms

                                                                                          He boasts as his motto one of the great untruths of life: All Are Equal, the words punctuated by pink triangles to acknowledge his support for gay rights. The bitingly satirical words of George Orwell’s Animal Farm should be added: “And some are more equal than others.”
     Rainbow colours at the end of the scroll represent the flag of equality ... which is the perfect point at which to return to another exquisite example of epic failure. This from The Sunday Times...

The least successful branding campaign
The latest branding idea from Saatchi & Saatchi in New Zealand was its “Our Auckland Big A” campaign. The idea was to foster civic pride by encouraging residents to greet each other with a signal in the form of an “A” made by joining the thumbs and fingers of both hands.
     The campaign was abandoned when complaints were received from the Deaf Association of New Zealand and various women’s groups saying it was not only the internationally recognised sign for “vagina” but also very like the sign language for Aids.

And there, the circle is complete ... John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons’ Coat of Many Arms, is the internationally recognised symbol for a Doolally.

Thursday, December 15
Welcome to the Half A Bubble Off-Plumb Club

“Everyone I meet is gay, married or crackers.” Victoria Wood, 58, British comedienne, actress, singer-songwriter, screenwriter and director, calls it as she sees it.

Precisely, Victoria. That is why this is a bonkers cum loco cum wacky cum loopy cum crackers cum doolally corner. The married bit, though, passed me by while I was on the sunny side of the street, so no comment there.
     Mind you, a dear friend, who is many a moon older than I, always used to introduce me as a “gay bachelor” – this was around the time when it was just okay to be a “gay cavalier”, backed up by tales of dashing derring-do (I wish).
     But the world was already moving on to gay as in “as gay as a man-bag full of rainbows”. I always smiled at the thought of being a gay cavalier. A gay man-bag full of rainbows though went straight over my head.
     As to why there appears to have been an explosion in the number of people who are now seemingly gay, especially as spotted flouncing about in the meeja, the world Victoria Wood moves around in - well, I blame the Russians.
     I remain convinced that, at the height of the cold war back in the Fifties and Sixties, they poured something really nasty into our reservoirs. They hoped that the result would not be nuclear weapons at dawn, but rather handbags and man-bags at elevenses. And they nearly got away with it. Perhaps they still will.

“There’s a frivolous me, a serious me and an in-between me. Nobody is uni-faceted.” Ann Widdecombe, 64, former British Conservative Party politician and founder member of the Half A Bubble Off-Plumb Club.

Doolallyness of the very highest order, Ann. What on earth does all that mean? It’s like holding a pint of bitter up to the light and declaring: “This works on so many different levels.” Ann is a living, walking, dancing proof of what happens to people once they become public property. Especially public political property.

“The way Spitting Image lampooned the government mirrored perfectly her advance into total megalomania.” Richard Grant, 54, British actor, recalls his joy when Margaret Thatcher resigned.

Yep. I guess Thatcher did descend into doolallyness proper. But it happens to all leaders, whether of the democratic or dictatorship kind.
     No one will convince me that Tony Blair was quite the full shilling once he tasted power; Gordon Brown’s doolallyness is taken as read. David Cameron and Nick Clegg are both heading for the funny farm at a rate of knots.

Putin calls in the putty man

Yes, what about Putin? There are already accusations aplenty apropos the recent Russian elections being a fix – and now, the internet and the meeja are awash with rumours of him being a slave to the old Botox. Take a look at these two amazing photographs from The Telegraph...

Astonishing. Yes, you could question the effect of light - as in the before and after type images we see - but there is more than that going on.
     It has to be worth repeating my little Botox story from a few days ago, especially as context is everything.
     Roy Noble, on his afternoon Radio Wales  show, was talking about Botox, but for some reason he kept referring to it as Botex.

Botex-free zone ... 2000                       Mirror, mirror ... 2011

     Present with Roy in the studio was a lady news-
reader, who had just finished reading the bulletin, and they were having a little chat about the old Botex treatment. She gently corrected him: “I think you mean Botox, Roy.”
     Presumably Roy would have had Tipp-Ex in the back of his mind, hence the slip. After all, we use Tipp-Ex to hide the mistakes we ourselves make; we use Botox to hide the mistakes Mother Nature makes.
     So Botex sums up perfectly what Putin has been doing to himself. The other day I questioned why one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the world wanders about shirtless while hunting, shooting and fishing - now comes this “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most butch world leader of all?”.

Now what was it Twiggy said?
“I would never, ever use Botox. It’s poison. It’s basically botulism – why would you inject your face with that? I can’t understand it.”

You have to laugh at the doolallyness of it all. Trouble is, these megalomaniacs - Putin is a perfect example - hold the preciousness of our world in the palms of their sticky little hands.
Wednesday, December 14
A kiss on the lips may be quite Continental - but Boris is playing hard to get

“Give me a kiss Boris, I promise I won’t tell anyone.” Journalist and author Lesley-Ann Jones, 45, pleads with London’s Mayor Boris Johnson, 47, at a party. His response: “They all say that...”

Ahhh, Boris, what would the passing parade be without the blond bombshell strutting his stuff along the pussycat-walk.
     And talking of blonde bombshells along the catwalk ... this caught my eye on the MSN UK homepage - but keep your eye on the blond bombshell, far right...

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather ... it’s a fella. And I’m talking about the one on the left, not Boris (more of that 16-year-old model he’s knocking around with in a moment).
     A man modelling women’s underwear? Mind you, the more you stare at the face, the more, I guess, you see a man. Still, there’s little doubt that if we had met in a crowded, dimly-lit bar, I would have propositioned “her” thus: “Hello pussycat: you strike me as a lady who is an expert at reducing the size of a man’s problem.” D’oh
     It seems that Dutch fashion house HEMA is using androgynous 20-year-old Bosnian model Andrej Pejic in their new push-up bra advert.
     For starters, I wasn’t totally sure what androgynous meant ... hm, blending masculine and feminine: neither male nor female in appearance but having both conventional masculine and feminine traits and giving an impression of ambiguous sexual identity.
     So does that make Andrej hermaphrodite? If so, he can make love to him/herself. Imagine, Andrej could be an expert at reducing the size of his own problem. Wow.

Right, back with Boris and his 16-year-old model.
“As pale and wispy as the breath of an elderly monk doing physical jerks in the cloisters before Christmas lunch.” Boris describing the “perfectly acceptable” exhaust on his 16-year-old car. Yup, the model was of course his car.

Do you know, I remember reading the article where Boris spoke at loving length about his 16-year-old vehicle, and how it still gives him perfect, trouble-free motoring, at little cost. I empathised totally. I own a 21 going on 22-year-old Saab, which I can’t speak highly enough of. And as a bonus, it’s exceedingly comforting to drive.
     Mind you, I actually remember the above quote ... mostly because I didn’t have a clue what the hell he meant:
“As pale and wispy as the breath of an elderly monk doing physical jerks in the cloisters before Christmas lunch.”
     But it sounded great. QBB: Quality British Bullshit. Of the highest order.

Just to prove that dear Boris is not all jolly hockey-sticks, or whatever the male equivalent of that would be, here he is giving his verdict on the latest EU chaos, with Britain suggesting it is well into the rhythm method – withdrawing at the crucial moment.
“The reason our brother and sister Europeans are so chronically enraged with the British is that we have been proved completely right about the euro.” Whatever you say, Boris.

Okay class, pay attention...
Jolly hockey-sticks: describes a woman or girl of high social class who is enthusiastic in a way that annoys people who think they are much more important than they really are. Coined by British actress Beryl Reid back in the 1950s.  God, that enthusiastic jolly hockey-sticks woman is Boris in a push-up bra.

So what would be the comparable male expression? Perhaps Tally-ho
Tally-ho: a British phrase used in foxhunting, shouted when a rider spots a fox. It dates from 1772.
     It was also used during the Second World War by English-speaking fighter pilots to announce that an enemy aircraft had been sighted.
     And surprisingly, a term used by NASA astronauts in audio transmissions to signify sightings of other spacecraft, space stations, and unidentified objects.

Who would have believed it: from Androgynous Andrej to Barnstorming Boris; from jolly hockey-sticks to tally-ho.

Every day a day at school.
Tuesday, December 13
Bin there – and p-p-picked up a penguin

OVER recent weeks I’ve smiled along with some letters spotted in The Times  apropos the shortest poems ever penned, so here’s another cheery one along similar lines...

Throwaway lines
Sir, The last sentence of your obituary of Christopher Logue (Dec 5) quotes him as saying: “I have published some pretty bad stuff, but I hope I shall do no more of that.”
     This reminded me of one of his most endearing poetic offerings, London Airport:
                                                                                                                                                 Last night in London Airport
                                                                                                                                                 I saw a wooden bin
                                                                                                                                                 labelled UNWANTED LITERATURE
                                                                                                                                                 IS TO BE PLACED HEREIN.
                                                                                                                                                 So I wrote a poem
                                                                                                                                                 and popped it in.
RICHARD DAVIES, Tangmere, W Sussex

P-P-Pick up a Penguin at the Emperor Dating Agency

Photographs are a sure-fire way of generating a smile. These little songbirds which land in my hand to claim their titbits, and are featured all over this web site, never fail to make me beam.
     The media, too, is awash with glorious images. This headline caught my eye in Mail Online...

Love in a cold climate: Romantic penguins
‘hold hands’ to melt the iciest of hearts

Featured are a series of images captured at Port Lockroy, a natural harbour in the Antarctic Peninsula, by professional photographer Silviu Ghetie, where a couple of penguins appear to be holding hands.
     A link to the amusing Mail  feature coming up.

My favourite from a series of images is the one featured here ... it really does look as if they are getting married, with the vicar in attendance.
     However, in the background, on the horizon, are the two families, who are clearly not happy about the union and are not coming anywhere near until the party and the opportunity for a good fight to clear the air is upon them. Whatever...
I spy a little sweetie,
Penguin is its name;
                              Today it’s getting married -
     Im awful glad I came.

“Do you promise to love, honour, cherish, in sickness and in health, irrespective of Sir
David Attenborough sticking his nose in...?”

Oh dear, where’s the bin? Anyway, here’s the link to all the other rather jolly photographs...
Monday, December 12
Baby it’s cold outside

JUST some of the wonderful things people say...

Ironing bored
“Am I an Iron Lady? No, I’m an ironing lady.”
Meryl Streep, 62, jokes about her role as Margaret Thatcher in a new film.

I really enjoyed that quote, very witty. But I’ll tell you what: I always check the ages of these celebrities I quote – it puts things into context – but I was taken aback that Streep is 62...
                                                                                                                                                                ...now I’m no film fan, so I’m not really familiar with her work, but I am familiar with seeing her all over the meeja – but 62? Wow. She has  worn well. I don’t know what age she is in the picture up there – I believe it’s fairly recent. Whatever, it’s a wonderful photograph of her.

And by one of those marvellous coincidences, the very next quote that caught my eye was this one...

Not all its cracked up to be
“I would never, ever use Botox. It’s poison. It’s basically botulism – why would you inject your face with that? I can’t understand it.”
Twiggy, 62, acknowledges that Mother Nature knows best...

                                                                                                                                                           ...and this is  a recent picture. But how astonishing is that? Two quotes from two women, both aged 62, and both looking exceedingly well on it.

Twiggy’s Botox quote reminds me of a tale I have told hereabouts at least twice before, but it is worth repeating once more, especially in view of what Twiggy says.
     Roy Noble, on his afternoon Radio Wales  show, has a habit of getting the occasional word ever so slightly wrong, with great comic effect. He was talking about Botox, but for some reason kept referring to it as Botex.
     With him was a lady newsreader, who had just finished reading the bulletin, and they were having a little chat about this and that, including women having the Botex treatment. She gently corrected him: “I think you mean Botox, Roy.”
     It was such a wonderful slip of the tongue. Presumably Roy would have had Tipp-Ex in the back of his mind, hence the slip. I mean, we use Tipp-Ex to hide the mistakes we ourselves make; we use Botox to hide the mistakes Mother Nature makes.
     So Botex was a perfect halfway house to correct what we think we see in the mirror.

While on the nature trail of those who age well...

A natural-born star
“Any bloody fool can be uncomfortable. If I see a five-star hotel, I am not going to go on living in a tent.” Broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, 85, insisting he is a film-maker and not an explorer.

Mind you, Attenborough and the BBC are currently in a bit of bother because one or two of the more magical moments from the hit nature series Frozen Planet, in particular the polar bear tending to its newly born cubs - pictured, alongside - were filmed in a German wildlife park using fake snow, that curious fact only emerging on an extra video tucked away on the BBC website about the making of the show.

Here’s a favourite saying of mine, oft repeated hereabouts: believe nothing you hear and only half what you see.
     It’s just one of a raft of clever sayings, compliments of a local farmer, sadly no longer with us. He was of course

Frozen Planet's cute little baby polar bears

referring to the gossip we stumble upon in the pub, office,
corner shop, church, local rag...
     And he coined it long before digital cameras, computers, or indeed the BBC abandoning its Reithian principles of ethics, morality and honesty.
     Personally, I have no problems with the BBC’s Frozen Planet adding ‘fake’ shots to enhance the points being made – but hang about, at the end of each episode they had a 10 minute Freeze Frame segment, where they explained the techniques used in the filming.
     Surely, that would have been the perfect moment to show that just some of those magic moments were in fact imagined moments – and everybody, more or less, would have been happy. That’s rather naughty of them.

If my farmer neighbour was around today, he would doubtless declare: “Believe nothing you hear – or see

How very sad.
Sunday, December 11
The Pied Piper, his Welsh roots and breaking into a sweat

WHENEVER I see, hear or read anything about Gareth Malone and his Military Wives choir, I am overtaken by a smile of satisfaction at what we humans are capable of if we put our minds to it.
     It’s not so much how Malone unfailingly gets his unlikely band of singers skipping enthusiastically in his wake in grand Pied Piper fashion, but with the Military Wives pretty much the whole nation has joined the train. Even more impressive is how he brings the best out of those around him. A rare and precious talent is our Mr Malone.
     The more I watch him on television, the more I sense that there’s something rather Welsh about his way of doing things – perhaps it’s simply the name Gareth.
     Gareth is a Welsh name deriving from “gwaredd”, meaning “gentleness” or “mercy”. It’s a name that has featured throughout Welsh history and mythology, beginning with Sir Gareth – in Arthurian legend, Gareth was a modest and brave nephew of King Arthur, and he was a Knight Of The Round Table. The name Gareth continues to be in use throughout Great Britain and Ireland, though mainly featured in Wales..
     But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself ... This modern day Gareth is all over the media these days, especially so this past weekend. The following Mail Online  headline caught my eye...

                                 A most unlikely pin-up: No, he ISN’T gay. In fact, Gareth Malone
                                              says being in a choir makes you catnip for ladies

For a start I had no idea what “catnip” meant ... wel-i-jiw-jiw, it’s a flowering plant which contains an aromatic oil that acts as a mild hallucinogen - and turns cats into playful, purring pussycats. So I clicked the link...
     The Mail  piece was about Gareth and the choir visiting David Cameron at No 10. Here are just a few points of interest that caught my eye...
Gareth discovered, much to his surprise, that No 10 Downing Street does not have a piano, an astonishing revelation.
     We learn that compared to X Factor, where no expense is spared in the making of it, The Choir has a crew of just four. “We have an embarrassingly small budget,” said Gareth.
     He has another project in the pipeline, which will be “very different”, but he won’t say more. He is also off to America soon to film a pilot show for a US network.
     Intriguingly, I learnt that his favourite singer is Welshman Bryn Terfel, and it turns out – ta-rah
! – that his beloved grandmother, who was a huge influence, was Welsh, and she was imbued with the tradition of male-voice choirs.
     That one little throwaway line explained so much. I really

The Military Wives choir outside No 10 Downing Street

did sense that there was something very Welsh about him.
     As for suddenly becoming a gay icon, a noticeable quality is that, not only is he a woman’s man – witness how the wives and girlfriends in the choir react to him – but he is also a man’s man. Remember the huge, rather menacing marine in Army fatigues, nearly twice the size of Malone, pushing his way through the crowd, seizing his hand with a vice-like grip and telling him warmly: “I just wanted to shake your hand - my wife thinks you’re the dog’s bollocks.” Wonderful.
Back with that surprising bit of news about 10 Downing Street not having a piano, we shouldn’t really be surprised. For as long as I can remember, our political masters and the congregation they serve (that’s us), have been singing from a different hymn sheet – the war in Afghanistan and our membership of the EU just a couple of high profile examples.
     Do you know, I seem to recall a popular petition to install the increasingly troubled Jeremy Clarkson as PM. Right, all together now: Clarkson out, out, out – Malone in, in, in...

Finally, I am endlessly spellbound by the decline in our ability as a nation to express ourselves properly and accurately, particularly so in writing. Here’s a glorious example from the
‘Comments’ section of the Malone article... 

I think he is a sweaty pie, love this boy, so humble – Tammy, Brighton, UK, 10/12/2011 @ 15:21

Ha, your comment made me chuckle. Not sure whether Gareth Malone has a problem with sweat, but surely you meant sweetie pie! Sweaty pie, ha, ha, ha! – Matilda, Hampshire, UK, 10/12/2011 @ 18:44

Is the spell broken yet?
Saturday, December 10
Headline acts

HERE’S a selection of headlines that made me smile without the need to click on the link...

                                                      Vladimir Putin: the gremlin in the Kremlin
Russia’s ‘squeezed middle’ is disenchanted with Mr Putin, as his election humiliation shows – even his allies are getting nervous about his plans.
                                                                                                                 The above is the least surprising headline of the year as fury at what the electorate see as rigged elections spark the biggest protests in Russia since the Soviet Union unravelled.
     Radio and television reports confirm that protestors have been angered by mobile phone footage of apparent fraud, including marked ballots in boxes before voting began; officials falsifying voting slips; use of easily erased ink; and officials filling in ballot papers. Yup, nothing ever changes in this corrupt old world of ours.
     Putin is a fully paid-up member of the Half A Bubble Off-Plumb Club – I mean, why does one of the most powerful men in the world need to strut about shirtless, carrying a gun? Perhaps it’s a penis substitute thingy.
     Gareth Malone should start a choir for doolally world leaders. Not so much “Doe, a deer, a female deer”, more “D’oh, a doolally, a trigger-happy doolally”.

                                          Thrill of the chaste: the truth about Gandhi’s sex life
With religious chastity under scrutiny, a new book throws light on Gandhi’s famed chastity, which embraced sleeping naked next to nubile, nude women to test his restraint. In fact, he was sex-mad, writes biographer Jad Adams...
It was no secret that Mohandas Gandhi had an unusual sex life. He spoke constantly of sex and gave detailed, often provocative, instructions to his followers as to how they might best observe chastity...

I tend to go with the sex-mad view – I mean, I’ve often wondered about that bed sheet he was always seen in?
     Little Nubile Young Lady was surprised to find the bedroom door standing open: “Oh
! Mr Gandhi,” she said, “what a big bed sheet you have wrapped around you!
     “All the better to tuck you in for the night, my dear,” was his reply. At least, I think he said tuck.

                                                             Don’t touch that cucumber!
Islamic cleric bans women from touching ‘penis-shaped’ foods in case it arouses them...
The unnamed sheikh [rattle and no roll in the hay] said that women should not be close to bananas or cucumbers, in order to avoid any ‘sexual thoughts’...
                                                                       Note: I have deliberately used a tiny image to avoid those naughty thoughts. Mind you, it gives a whole new meaning to ensuring that you have your ‘five a day’: cucumbers, carrots, parsnips, courgettes and of course, bananas. Which all brings me neatly to the fruitiest quote of the week...

“Everyone is really frisky on the show, everybody is horny. The year I was a contestant, everyone was just really gagging for it.” Alesha Dixon, 33, English singer-songwriter, dancer, model and a judge on Strictly Come Dancing, reveals more than strictly necessary.
Clearly they were all on their ‘five a day’. Which reminds me: I must get my old Victor Sylvester trousers out ... bags of ballroom. But I must avert my eyes from melons and the like.

Friday, December 9
For “Robin Hood” read “Robbin’ Hood”

“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does  anything about it.” A witty quote commonly misattributed to Mark Twain (1835-1910), but is in fact the work of his good friend Charles Dudley Warner (1829-1900), American essayist and novelist.

“We can’t change the weather, the international economic weather.” A witless quote attributed to Francis Maude, 58, Conservative politician, Cabinet Office Minister and Paymaster General.

The Warner quote above about the weather is rather splendid because, here we are, a hundred years and more further on, and still we can’t do anything about it – and doubtless never likely to – although we are now very good at forecasting what ambush lies just around the nearest meteorological corner.
     The Maude quote though is typical political bull-shite. The international economic weather is something we – or rather our politicians – could and should do something about. We have been through these boom and bust situations many times before, but our politicians refuse to acknowledge the ambush nature of their decisions and as a consequence do nothing about it.
     People with huge power and financial clout are driven by their greed gene – this we know from history and personal experience – yet rather than impose stricter controls over what they get up to, politicians have inexplicably relaxed their grip.
     And here we are – if you’ll pardon my further slide into the vernacular – in deep shite while our EU politicians, at yet another crucial summit in Brussels, fiddle furiously while Europe and its Euro burn.
     Never mind where’s Robin Hood, where’s The Lone Arranger and Tonto when you need them? The problem is, shite-houses like Blair, Brown, Cameron and Clegg are just a bunch of Robbin’ Hoods, taking from the poor and handing it to the rich.
     If you didn’t laugh at these clowns you’d have to cry.

A cold front
Anyway, back with the weather proper ... here in the UK we are, as a rule, rather fortunate with our climate, in as much that we rarely suffer extreme stuff. Yesterday was that exception which tests the rule.
     The country was hit by a ‘weather bomb’, an explosive

development where the air pressure drops dramatically in a very short time. Exposed northern parts of Britain were hit by hurricane force winds of 100mph going on 150mph (even 80mph across populous areas); gales gusting at 165mph were recorded on the summit of the Cairngorms in the Scottish Highlands.

The media has been awash with pictures of our storm-battered nation. I particularly liked the one alongside, spotted on the Yahoo! web site. So simple, yet so dramatic: the wind sock at full stretch, the threatening sky, the shifting sands – but most of all, the spots of rain on the lens. Very smiley and wonderfully atmospheric.
     Here in west Wales we came off lightly.

A wind sock reflects stormy weather on some unnamed beach

However, the most eye-catching picture though was the one below, featured in Mail Online...


One lady and her dog in Scargill, County Durham, northern England

A proper smile of the day image. If you want to see a larger image of the above, where the lady and her pooch really stand out, along with some dramatic pictures of the storm and the damage it left in its wake – in particular a couple of images of that extraordinary exploding wind turbine – click on the link below.
     However, before going there, this smiley letter just spotted in The Daily Telegraph...

Burning wind turbine
SIR – The report of a wind turbine exploding in the severe weather was most apposite during the EU summit. One is an almost useless human invention, about which a lot of hot air is generated, and which explodes under stress. The other is a wind turbine.
R. Scott-Watson, Stanford in the Vale, Oxfordshire

To peruse the eye-catching storm and snow pictures, along with a couple of video clips, one very smiley, click here...

Thursday, December 8
Hot Gossip show us their BALLS

IT’S well established hereabouts that I find the doolallyness of our celebrity culture mesmerising in the extreme; all fuelled by slebs themselves who mostly appear to be fully paid-up members of the Half A Bubble Off Plumb Club.
     But it’s not only me who thinks that.

This from BBC Radio 2  broadcaster
Chris Evans, 45: “Celebrities are, by and large, nutcases.”

I remember when Chris Evans took over from Terry Wogan on the breakfast show, and I thought, ah well, I’ll have to find myself a new radio station for company. In truth, all I knew about Evans back then was his high-profile media image of public drinking bouts and curiously eccentric behaviour.
     However, a few years ago he appears to have reached a fork in the road – and taken the highway less travelled by the doolally. These days I find him very down to earth and rather entertaining on his morning show.
     I’m not surprised he attracts UK radio’s largest audience. He certainly adds to the gaiety of the passing parade, and he compliments the style set by Vanessa Feltz who precedes him on the wireless.
     I read somewhere that those who surround Chris Evans, even in his riotous days, are exceptionally loyal – which I suspect is a reflection of his own dominant character traits.

Talking of adding to the gaiety of the passing parade, I guess my favourite radio presenter of all time was the late Kenny Everett, or Cuddly Ken as he was affectionately known. It was his extravagant style and inventive humour which appealed.
     I particularly enjoyed his Saturday morning show on Radio 2 – indeed I have loads of clips from his shows tucked away on several cassette tapes, which I occasionally listen to. I never tire of them.
     It wasn’t just his unique sense of fun and presentation, but he played such an eclectic selection of music: from disco fodder, via popular hits of today and yesterday, to bits and pieces of memorable classical music. I never encountered another show or presenter that did - or does - this.
     Just recently, Everett’s larger-than-life presence was all brought back to life on Radio 2’s Sounds of the 20th Century – the year was 1983 – and there was Margaret Thatcher, handbagging everyone in sight, with David Dimbleby addressing her as “Mrs Finchley – I’m sorry, Mrs Thatcher, of Finchley
!” (Finchley in north London was, from 1959 to 1992, Mrs Thatcher’s Parliamentary constituency).

     Then there was Kenny Everett at an official Young Conservative party gathering, with Mrs T in attendance, and Cuddly Ken shouting: “Let’s bomb Russia! and “Let’s kick Michael Foot’s stick away!
     The moment I heard the “Let’s bomb Russia” chestnut recalled, an image shot into my head: Kenny as Brother Lee Love, gospel singer, with those enormously oversized foam rubber hands – alongside - which he was sporting at that Conservative conference.
     I remember so well the predictable fuss – shades of Jeremy Clarkson and the shemozzle over shooting those pesky strikers - but all these years later, Kenny’s image on that Conservative stage, with those huge hands, is burnt onto my brain’s hard drive.

So I went searching for it on YouTube – the link to the incident and the controversy that followed, is below ... commenting on the hullabaloo is one Michael Winner – and below that link, there’s a further one to a

Brother Lee Love gets a big hand - or two

brief Kenny sketch where he is Dick Thrust, occupation: Winner!
    That little sketch explains the headline: Hot Gossip show us their BALLS. Very funny – the problem is though, the world is full of Dick Thrusts, who really do act like the character Cuddly Ken portrays.
     Marvellous entertainment - worth a click or 2:


Wednesday, December 7
Smiling is infectious;
You can catch it like the flu.
Someone smiled at me today,
And I started smiling too.
I MENTIONED in a previous bulletin the tale of the older lady who had just mastered the world of the computer, including the sending of e-mails; one day she learnt that an old friend had died, so she sent a brief e-mail of condolence to her daughter, and signed off with ... lol
! ... thinking it meant ‘lots of love’.
     No matter how hard you bite on your lip, you just can’t stop yourself smiling.

Now as someone who doesn’t text or tweet, I too am equally baffled by lots of these modern expressions – but I do like lol, which obviously morphed from the kiss (xx) we put at the end of a card, note or whatever.
     I have now thought up my own xx; a little something that comes before a lol: sol – smile out loud
     Sol is more than a smile. In Welsh we have the word ‘cwtch’, which means a cuddle, but 50 per cent more. Well, a sol is a smile, but 50 per cent more. I mean, we all know people who, as soon as they smile, we also start to smile.

All this set me thinking about modern forms of communication, in particular the ’SMS Revolution’ - Short Message Service.
     And of course there’s the ever growing roll call of people who find themselves in embarrassing trouble having sent a message without sleeping on it first - something we tended to do as a matter of course when sending traditional letters – but these days, rush into SMS without thinking, and before you know it the whole thing has gone around the world.
     So I found myself wondering: if Shakespeare were alive today, what would he make of this thing called SMS, which I also call AMBUSH (Alternate Message Bombshell U Silly Halfwit)...

              Neither an e-mailer nor a texter be;
              For message oft loses both itself and friend,
             And SMS dulls the edge of expression.
             This above all – to thine own imagination be true,
             And it must follow, as the night the day,
             Thou canst not then be cruel to any recipient.

With apologies to the ghost of Will Shake, Rattle & Roll
A shoe-in
YESTERDAY’S smile mentioned how Vanessa Feltz had been mesmerised by the news that Cheryl Cole owns 2,000 pairs of shoes – and I observed that, while the name Cheryl Cole was vaguely familiar, I was not at all sure what she did for a living; a pop singer, I thought, perhaps a modern day antidote to the barefoot pop princess of the 1960s, Sandie Shaw?
     Well now, this in today’s paper, compliments of
Cheryl Cole herself...

“I hoard them all over the house, in cupboards in the kitchen, in the bathroom – every room. There is a big chance when you open the fridge in my house there will be a pair of shoes in the bottom.”

Curiosity made me Google this shoe faddist ... Cheryl Cole, 28, English pop and R&B recording artist, songwriter, dancer, actress, model - oh, and now also a shoe designer. D’oh
! As a matter of interest, here’s a typical CCC (Cheryl Cole Clog) I spotted along the way...
                                                                               ...suddenly, the curious case of the 2,000 pairs of shoes stacked ceiling high at Cole Towers made absolute sense. The lady has just kicked off a new career as a clog designer. Double D’oh

What do I always say? Believe nothing you hear and only half what they show you.
Tuesday, December 6
Be still my slumbering heart

I’M NOT sure how it came to pass, but in a conversation at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon a little while back, someone asked, if we had to fly to the other side of the world, which celebrity would we be delighted to find ourselves sitting alongside? An interesting conundrum for me because I am not a celebrity worshiper.
     So I nominated Vanessa Feltz. Every weekday morning I wake up with Vanessa, and every morning she makes me smile. I have no doubt that my journey would be a laugh a minute, sometimes two. And you can’t wish for better than that.
     Anyway, on this morning’s five o’clock radio news, Alan Dedicoat read an item about a memorial to the late poet Ted Hughes, which was being unveiled today in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner.
     Vanessa mentioned that she had learnt some Ted Hughes poetry when young, in particular, The Horses, and she remembered the expression “Megalith-still” – as in “ten horses, megalith-still … making no sound” - and she pondered aloud what the difference was between megalith and monolith...
     In no time, her show producer, Mark, had come up with the answer:
Megalith: a man-made monument of stone, carved by hand.
Monolith: a naturally occurring hunk of stone, a geological feature.

Megalith-still apart, which I shall return to in a monument – sorry, moment - in today’s show Vanessa was inspired by the news that Cheryl Cole has 2,000 pairs of shoes – the name is vaguely familiar, but I’m not at all sure what she does; a pop singer, methinks? Perhaps she’s a modern day antidote to the barefoot pop princess of the 1960s, Sandie Shaw.
     Anyway, Vanessa asked us listeners what we had acquired or collected down the years. A glut of...? A surfeit of...? An obsession of...?
     Vanessa herself has books filling every nook and cranny of her castle; producer Mark has “every record ever made in the history of the world”; Alan Dedicoat collects miniatures of post boxes and phone boxes (the ones with the little windows) – oh, and every Christmas issue of the Radio Times over the past 20 years or so, some of which are already worth 30, 40, even 50 quid each.

Megalith-still: Andrew Lacey's Ted Hughes-
inspired sculpture at Dartington Hall, Devon

     It slowly dawned on me ... I don’t have a collection of anything...

Later in the day I went “D’oh
!. What is this little web site of mine? Fog? Yes of course, I collect a smile a day, and I have done so for years and years ... so I decided to drop Lady Vee a belated e-mail.

Hello Vanessa and team
Listening to your Tuesday show I felt a bit left out because I have never acquired or collected anything in my life. However, later in the day I realised that I collect smiles.
     For years I’ve kept a diary (I have a shocking memory): just a brief note of where I’ve been and who I’ve met, along with anything of particular interest that happened along the way. I also make a note of the weather – a habit that goes back to my flying days – and most importantly I note the one thing that made me smile the most that day.
     It could be something off the Vanessa Feltz show – always a front-runner, as regular readers of my Look You Smileometer will testify to – or a joke, something heard in the pub, seen off the telly, witnessed along my morning walk ... it could be anything.
     In July 2010 I decided to start an online ‘Everyday a smile of the day’ scrapbook, and I haven’t missed a single day. Much more work than a personal diary, obviously, where just a sentence, a few words, even a single word is enough.
     When I pick up an old diary ... wow, it all comes flooding back. It offers up so much pleasure for so little effort. I recommend your listeners buy themselves an A5 diary this Christmas and start the habit. It will give immense pleasure looking back over the years.
     Incidentally, I post my online smile a day in arrears, so when I post the Tuesday one on the Wednesday evening, you will feature, and it will show something quite remarkable to do with the Ted Hughes megalith-still ‘Horses’ poem you mentioned at the beginning of the show...

[Being that I do not write this until the Wednesday, I was gobsmacked cum delighted to hear Vanessa read out my ‘message in an e-mail’ on the wireless.]
     Right, the megalith-still moment...

Back in May 2009, over on
400 Smiles A Day, I wrote about an experience involving three horses I encountered along my morning walk through the Towy Valley. Whenever I chanced upon them they would come to greet me. It was all rather sweet. I would chat to them, but they never said anything back; they would just look at me with those long faces of theirs.
     On the particular morning in question – overcast, grey, still, silent, dank – they just stood there, motionless, some distance away ... and ignored me completely. Intrigued, I moved slowly towards them ... and realised they were asleep.
Now I have read that horses can indeed sleep on their feet - when standing their joints lock to stop them falling over, as would happen, say, when a human falls asleep in an upright position - but it’s a rule of the herd that one horse remains awake and alert.
     (Their genetic inheritance warns them to be ever alert of predators. Just as a sparrow never has to see a sparrow hawk to learn the danger – the silhouette of a bird of prey is imprinted within its DNA, as it is with every bird - and so it is with horses when it comes to wolves and the like.)

     As you will see in my photograph, alongside, the two at the front are clearly fast asleep (note the closed eyes), but the one behind - a perfect place to guard against a surprise predator attack - is clearly dozing or taking a sly forty winks, hence why it never registered my presence.
     Truly sleeping on the job…

Here’s a snatch of Hughes’s poem, The Horses:

- - - - And I saw the horses:
Huge in the dense grey – ten together -
Megalith-still. They breathed, making no move,
With draped manes and tilted hind-hooves,
Making no sound.
I passed: not one snorted or jerked its head.
Grey silent fragments
Of a grey silent world.

(To read the complete poem simply Google ‘Ted Hughes: The Horses’.)

Spooky or what? However, the camera click seemed to bring the security guard out of its slumber with a bang – huge alarm and all three horses exploded into life and charged away – before coming to a halt several hundred yards away, slowly gathering their senses as I called out to them ... and then cautiously returning to greet me as per usual.

Yet another of those delightful experiences I serendipitously stumble upon along my morning walk on the wild side. And you can take it from me, those three horses really were megalith-still in that early-morning gloom. It’s a perfect image to accompany the Ted Hughes poem.

I smile every time I think of those sleeping horses. But I also find myself wondering how a solitary horse copes when it needs to sleep, especially when out in the fields, all on its own.
Monday, December 5
Doolally Old Friends Revisited

“I DO not have time for love this Christmas. I am too busy with work. Who needs a man when 12 million people love you?” Who else but Strictly Come Dancing reject, the Darling Bud of Doolallyness, Nancy Dell’Olio.

Nancy’s quote sent me rushing to The Sunday Times  Magazine ... and - - -

                              You’re special, too Let Nancy Dell’Olio put the sparkle back into your life...
My boyfriend has finally said he loves me, but it was during sex and I haven’t heard it since. I’d like to tell him that I love him too. But perhaps I should just pretend it never happened...

Daphna, London
  Everyone wants to hear their man say “I love you”. But it has to come naturally. I hate men saying “I love you” when they don’t mean it. We can always tell if it’s genuine.
     If he says it while you’re making love – and Daphna, you’re not having sex, you are making love – this is a very special moment. If you love him you should be able to say it back. Why try to hold on to your emotions? Emotions cannot be held.
     I don’t understand this mentality. Usually, of course, men tell me they love me first. But if you feel it, you should say it. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s the right time.

Apart from wondering if the name Daphna is a misprint, do you suppose Nancy actually hears voices inside her head? Such as 12 million people whispering “I love you”?
     (I am reminded of the Borg Queen, who, as the Borg’s collective consciousness, can hear the voices of all her drones inside her head. I can hear Nancy now: “We are the Nancy Dool’Allio. Existence, as you know it, is over. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile.”)

As always, Nancy prompted me towards The Sunday Times 
STYLE magazine and the very naughty MRS MILLS, she who solves all your problems, and who is  more my style...

As we approach winter and the evenings are darker, when out for my walks I regularly meet oncoming cars with no headlights on. I wonder how to make the driver aware of this. Is flashing the driver, as other drivers might, a good idea, or could this confuse them? Your insight would be greatly appreciated.
  Flashing is a remarkably effective way to attract attention, but as the cars have their headlights off, you will need to shine a light on yourself, too. I doubt drivers would be dangerously disorientated, but it’s probably best if you don’t look as if you are out there professionally.

Talking of flashing, dear old Nancy Dool’Allio herself is a bit of a flasher – in the personality cum lack of self-esteem sense, that is. And here’s another flasher...


“I did consider remaining at my post, but my new colleagues said that if I did they would set me on fire.”
Jeremy ‘One strike and your dead’ Clarkson, recalling an industrial dispute when he worked on the Rotherham Advertiser, and now desperately covering his tracks in the wake of his One Show star turn.

In the meantime, Jeremy and his Top Gear co-host, James May, have wisely disappeared to China. Or have they? Here’s a headline that’s been all over the web today - this from Mail Online...

                 The £2.5 million motorway smash involving 8 Ferraris, 3 Mercedes, a Lamborghini,
               a Skyline and a humble Toyota Prius (which was in the wrong place at the wrong time)


No personal injuries in Top Drawer carnage in Japan - except pride, which goes before a crash

Thirteen high-end sports car owners – and one driver of a common or garden Toyota Prius – were probably close to tears last night after a £2.5million motorway pile-up.
     A single miscalculation from a Ferrari driver leading a convoy of sports car connoisseurs [thought to be having a race on their way to a supercar gathering of superior motors in Hiroshima] left a trail of twisted Italian and German metal trailing across this motorway in Japan.
     Ten people were rushed to hospital after the smash on the Chugoku Expressway in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, yesterday afternoon, but none of their injuries were said to be serious.

All this quite naturally brings me back to Jeremy Clarkson...

We know that Jeremy ‘One strike and you’re dead’ Clarkson delighted half a nation with his clever BBC-style balanced view of last week’s pensions strike. The other half, who never got the joke, let loose their dogs of war.
     Clarkson, along with fellow Top Gear presenter James May, disappeared with tail-between-legs to that far away place with a strange sounding name, somewhere in China, as we believed.
     However, reading the above about that schadenfreude-laden
motorway sandwich in Japan, it strikes me that it has Top Gear ‘stunt’ written all over it, so Clarkson was not in China but in Japan all the time. The clue was the Toyota Prius, which would have had James ‘Captain Slow’ May at the wheel.
     Simples, as the stay-at-home third presenter of Top Gear, Richard ‘Hamster’ Hammond, would say. No, hang on, that’s another cuddly little television sleb. It’s all so very confusing.
     Back with the Clarkson shemozzle, I see the number of complaints received by the BBC is currently up to about 30,000. Hm, as I’ve mentioned before, that’s less than half of one per cent of the One Show’s audience figures. So I was wrong with my ‘half-a-nation
being amused.
     It seems some 99 per cent of the audience smiled at Clarkson’s comedic observations, while the remaining one per cent of the nation’s Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, etc, had a field day snarling and cocking their legs.

Funny old world.

Sunday, December 4
“Will you walk into my honeytrap?” said a pussycat to a teddy bear

“MY darling Teddy Bear. I so want to see you, to feel you with all my naked body. Let the moment of our next meeting come the soonest possible. I love you, my King Louie
Russian researcher Ekaterina Zatuliveter, 26, who was cleared of spying for Moscow, writing of her feelings for Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock, 65.

Now then, now then, I quietly thought to myself, how wonderful it would have been to bump into Ekaterina at my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon: “Hello honey bun, my name is Baloo; you strike me as a pussycat blessed with the God-given gift of being able to reduce the size of a man’s problem at a stroke.”
     She would smile ever so sweetly and say: “Hi Baloo, you great big sloth bear you – I am Ekaterina, and I am delighted to help reduce the size of your problem. Let’s just get down and bare.” I’m telling you, just hearing that name of hers would have reduced me to a wobbling jelly.

Anyway, meet the central characters of this doolally playlet...

Louie, King of the swingers

Ekaterina, the honeytrap?

Mike Hancock, the honey bee?

It seems that our Ekaterina – known as Katia, but I will have none of that nonsense, what with a proper I-spy name like Ekaterina; I mean, you can see her as a Russian seductress in a Bond film – anyway, it seems that Ekaterina had an affair with the Liberal Democrat MP in 2006 while working as his parliamentary aide, and was accused by MI5 of soliciting confidential information for Moscow, hence the court case.
     Intimate details of the affair between the pair was exposed as she was cleared of spying for the Russians. Details from her diary proved crucial in convincing the tribunal that she was not a honeytrap sent to access defence secrets while working in the Portsmouth MP’s Parliamentary office, as MI5 claimed.
     The Special Immigration Appeals Commission described the diary as “compelling” evidence of her innocence and concluded the pair’s four-year liaison was “enduring and genuine on both sides”.
     The journal emerged at the start of the tribunal – despite Ekaterina’s claim in her first witness statement that she had never kept a diary.

Now come on. You are in charge of a Russian spy ring of beautiful women who are trained honeytraps. So you teach them to keep a detailed but make-believe diary declaring their underlying love for the man they have targeted: “Will you climb into my bed?”, said a black widow spider to a hapless member (of Parliament).
     Reacting to the ruling, Hancock said: “I think it shows the security services to be a pretty inept bunch. I’m amazed that the judgment came out in the way it did. I couldn’t believe the Establishment would allow her to win. But I’m delighted she has.”

But what about that surname of his? I was thinking: our surnames reflect what our ancestors were up to. Mr Butcher would have been the hunter; Mr Farmer would have been the gatherer; and Mr Hancock would have been that useless tosser of a thing that rhymes with banker... no, surely not? Surely yes, is my guess.
Saturday, December 3
Well, a quick rhyme followed by some sex in a stairwell

WEEK ago yesterday, my smile of the day featured the shortest poem ever written. Remember this letter from The Times?

Poor Eve
Sir, Surely there was room in your list of classic poems (Weekend, Nov 19) for what Ogden Nash (its author) claimed to be the shortest poem ever. Entitled Fleas, it reads: “Adam / Had  ‘em.”
 David Tatham, London SW6

Well, Chief Wise Owl has since passed me a follow-up letter...

Caring and sharing
Sir, David Tatham says that the shortest poem was Ogden Nash’s “Adam / Had ‘em”.
     It is of course the case that the second shortest poem was also about fleas: “Also Eve / I believe.”
Peter Thorner, London SW6

I presume the above was Peter Thorner’s own witty composition. As a matter of interest, I Googled ‘second shortest poem’ - and up came...
I was surprised that there were no letters challenging what was claimed to be the shortest poem, citing the example I found online a week or so ago and so memorably delivered by Muhammad Ali:
“Me / We.”
     Mind you, I couldn’t help but notice that when I Googled the second shortest poem, the following came up, claiming to be the shortest:
“I, why?”
     Again, author unknown, but I don’t think it challenges “Me / We” as the best. But that’s just me. Or may I presume we?

Ride a clothes horse to the University of Derby
OVER the past week, pictures and video clips of 18-year-old student Danielle Morgan were all over the shop. She’s the one who had to be cut free by the fire brigade after accidentally falling over and getting herself trapped in a clothes horse.
     As someone observed:
Never look a clothes horse in the mouth.

Being a natural-born cynic, I do find myself wondering how many of these clips are cleverly manipulated stunts to get the whole thing to go viral? Good luck to them, say I.
     However, here’s one that definitely wasn’t planned, and spotted in The Sunday Times’ 
Weird but wonderful column...

Ride a cock horse to a Tenerife stairwell...
Fallen woman
A naked woman had to be rescued by a fire crew after she was left dangling from a staircase by her ankle. The 49-year-old British holidaymaker, who has not been named, was having sex with her husband in a stairwell at a Tenerife hotel when the couple got rather carried away.
     She tumbled over the handrail, and could have dropped head first onto the marble floor below had her ankle not become trapped between two bars of the staircase. “While the couple do not face any charges,” said the police, “they have been warned to think about safe sex in future.”

     Ho, ho, ho
! This one I do believe to be genuine because there are no pictures or video clips. Mind you, I suspect that one of the fire crew must have quietly captured a furtive image - which may well surface in due course.

Isn’t it extraordinary what we all get up to when we’ve had a few drinks too many? And I speak from experience - not that I have ever had to be freed by the emergency services..
Friday, December 2
Gwell cynorthwyo na rhwystro ~ best help rather than hinder

THE above is an old Welsh saying, a variation on the school motto at the top of this page: If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain.

Chris Evans on his BBC Radio 2  Breakfast Show has been promoting the Military Wives Choir with huge enthusiasm in his efforts to get their song Wherever You Are to the Christmas number one spot – and quite right, too.
     As everyone connected with the Military Wives choir keep insisting, it is not so much getting the song to the top – which would be a most agreeable achievement anyway – but rather raising money for the Royal British Legion and SSAFA Forces Help, which work tirelessly to help and support those who serve in our Armed Forces, as well as those who used to serve – even if it is only for a single day. And their families too, of course.
     It says so much about what our politicians are all about when they leave it to charity to look after the soldiers and their families they so ruthlessly exploit by sending them to fight rotten battles in faraway places with strange sounding names.
     What was it David Cameron said to the armed forces when he was cutting back on financial support?
“You do the fighting [and the dying] and I’ll do the talking.”
     Dreadful people those politicians.

However, let’s not drag ourselves down to their level. On this morning’s show, Chris Evans had 20 of the 100-strong Military Wives Choir in the studio, together with their inspirational leader, Gareth Malone, as well as Paul Wealor, who composed Wherever You Are. Wonderful they all were, too.

Paul Wealor (Navy), Gareth Malone (Army), Chris Evans (Air Force) and the Military Wives

Towards the end of the show, the Pause For Thought spot was delivered by Nick Baines, 54, the Bishop of Bradford, also known as The Blogging Bishop. It turns out that he himself was in the military, a Russian linguist at GHQ in Cheltenham.
     He also worked with the Army, Air Force and Navy in the research branch. When he decided to leave the forces and go to theological college to train to be a vicar, the Air Force handed him a giant card, and when he opened it, it just said...
Give ‘em hell!
                                   Both clever and smiley.

For whom the Church bell tolls
AS THE week wound down and the Leveson enquiry into media ethics, in particular the phone-hacking scandal, trundled on, one witness made me smile in a curious shock-horror way; the way I tend to smile at jokes which come in the wake of a tragedy, what psychologists explain as a way to combat being driven mad by the things that go on in this doolally world.
     It was the extraordinary claim made by Charlotte Church, the Welsh singer-songwriter, actress and television presenter.
Charlotte explained that she waived a £1000,000 fee to sing at Rupert Murdoch’s wedding (to Wendi Deng) when she was 13 in exchange for a promise of favourable publicity from Murdoch’s newspapers.
     She said she remembered wondering “why on earth would anybody take a favour over £100,000?” but was urged by her management to take the favour from a “powerful man”.
     The inquiry heard that News International denied this had happened, something rather odd because they could so easily have refuted the claim i.e. “We just don’t deny it, we can prove that it’s not true – here’s the evidence that Mr Murdoch paid her £100,000 for performing at his wedding.” But silence followed the denial. Say no more.
     Anyway, Charlotte continued her unsettling evidence ... As she approached 16, Murdoch’s papers began to target her in an adverse way. She told the hearing of the paparazzi taking pictures up her skirt; there were photographers outside her house on most days, and her manager had even found evidence of a camera hidden in a shrub outside her home.
     Charlotte said she had been “totally appalled” by a clock on the Sun  newspaper’s website which counted down to her  16th birthday, an “innuendo” highlighting the fact she was reaching the age of sexual consent, she said. “It was just horrible, I was a 16 year-old-girl and was uncomfortable with it,” she said.

You do find yourself wondering why it is that media people who have children of their own can do this to other people’s children? Especially that clock on the Sun’s  website. I can only think the papers had somehow established that Charlotte was possibly sexually active before she reached the age of 16, and they were determined to cash in.

What really makes me smile, in a reassuring sort of way, is that, for every Rupert Murdoch prowling the planet, there is a Gareth Malone out there doing wonderful things for the wellbeing of his fellow human beings.
     Here’s lookin’ at you, Mr Malone.
Thursday, December 1
Strike offensive

“IF YOU have any thoughts or opinions on what you’ve seen in the last 10 weeks, do please keep them to yourselves.” Jeremy Clarkson offers up some classic “do as I say not as I do” advice at the end of a Top Gear series.
And of course, Jeremy does the very opposite of keeping his thoughts and opinions to himself.

Yesterday I observed that the then newly hatched One Show Clarkson shemozzle, where our Jeremy suggested on a live TV show that all those who had gone on strike that day should be executed, was a bit of a fracas that could run and run...
     Wow, I underestimated the fuss big time. Tonight’s headline...

Jeremy Clarkson shifts into reverse after TV outburst over strike

“I didn’t for a moment intend these remarks to be taken seriously – as I believe is clear if they’re seen in context. If the BBC and I have caused any offence, I’m quite happy to apologise alongside them.” Jeremy Clarkson does indeed engage reverse gear as he flew off to China, probably the safest place in the world to hide from the mob.

I believe the above is what you call a qualified apology, although I appreciate fully what he is actually saying. As I write, the BBC confirmed that they had received 4,769 complaints about Clarkson’s comments.
“I’m amazed 4,769 people actually watch The One Show,” was ‘Comment’ number 8,341, by someone called Ian, as spotted on the YAHOO! NEWS web site, and tops the Smileometer reading at the moment. 

Earlier, David Cameron, who is apparently a near-neighbour of Clarkson somewhere in Middle England, and counts him as a personal friend, attempted to brush it off:
“It was obviously a silly thing to say and I am sure he didn’t mean that.”

I certainly hope not. I also enjoyed this reaction in response to the outburst: trade union Unison  called for Clarkson’s dismissal and said that they are taking “urgent” legal advice.
“Clarkson’s comments on the One Show were totally outrageous, and they cannot be tolerated,” said Unison general secretary Dave Prentis. “Public sector workers and their families are utterly shocked by Jeremy Clarkson’s revolting comments. An apology is not enough – we are calling on the BBC to sack Jeremy Clarkson immediately. Such disgusting comments have no place on our TV screens.”
     In a rant worthy of Clarkson himself, Mr Prentis – or perhaps it should be Mr Apprentis – then went on to suggest that children watching the programme
“could have been scared and upset by his aggressive statements”.
     While stopping short of accusing Mr Prentis of a sense of humour failure, Downing Street’s official take on Clarkson’s comment suggested it was not taking the row entirely seriously.
“Execution is not government policy and we have no plans to make it government policy,” said a spokesman.
     Shame David Cameron didn’t have the wit and wisdom to speak to the above spokesman before making his “silly” remark.

Yesterday, I likened Clarkson to The Road Runner, and how he has to continually outwit the pack of Wile E. Coyotes out there hunting him down. My thinking has moved on a tad since then.
Dear old Jeremy is morphing from The Road Runner into the nation’s court jester. However, he is treading a fine line. It is not so much that there are more and more Wily E. Coyotes out there with handfuls of salt at the ready to sprinkle over his tail, but more worrying is the moment the Queen decides to shake her head and declare “Orf with his head!.
     China seems the safest place on earth to be hiding away in at the moment. Incidentally, what has thunder, lightning, wind and rain, but only happens in – well, where Jeremy is hiding right now? A storm in a teacup. Boom-boom

PS: Just before putting this piece to bed, I see that the number of complaints received by the BBC about Clarkson now stand at 21,000. But hang about, the show attracts an audience of around 5 million, which means less than half of one per cent of the audience saw fit to complain.
     And it would be fascinating to know how many of those 21,000 actually saw the show, especially as the complaints have shot up following all the media fuss. Just the cynic in me, wondering.

At least the doolallyness of a nation has generated a proper smile of the day.
Wednesday, November 30

WELL, November departs with a bombshell. The cynical smile of the day goes to Jeremy Clarkson, who quite predictably, upset the nation during his appearance on BBC television’s One Show to promote his new DVD, Clarkson: Powered Up.
     I happened to catch the show – and the moment I saw him sitting there on the sofa, it had AMBUSH writ large all over it. I moved to the edge of my own sofa in a kind of nervous, smiley anticipation.
     And I wasn’t disappointed. In the wake of the show, here’s a typical online headline...

Jeremy Clarkson: ‘execute’ public sector workers, says BBC Top Gear host
The BBC has apologised after Jeremy Clarkson, the Top Gear presenter, called for public sector workers to be “executed”, during a live television interview.

Jeremy Clarkson provoked outrage last night after he said that those striking [over pensions reform] should be shot. Speaking on the BBC’s One Show, he said: “Frankly, I would have them all shot. I would take them all outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean, how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt edged pensions that are being guaranteed while the rest have to work.”

Later in the programme, Clarkson went on to complain about train delays caused by people committing suicide on the railways. “You just think, why have we stopped because we’ve hit somebody? What’s the point of stopping? It won’t make them better.”
     I sort of fidgeted a bit on the sofa at that point.

Clarkson has a track record with this sort of wind-up thingy.
     He previously caused outrage when, back in 2009, he described the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who lost his sight in one eye in an accident suffered while playing rugby as a teenager, thus: “We have this one-eyed Scottish idiot, he keeps telling us everything is fine and he’s saved the world and we know he’s lying.” But we just smiled, knowingly.
     One Show presenters Matt Baker and Alex Jones looked uneasy during their exchanges with Clarkson. Matt stressed to viewers that the comments were just “Jeremy’s views”.
     He later added: “Although we enjoy Jeremy’s views, which he sometimes exaggerates for comical effect, we are seriously sorry if his comments about deaths on the railway has upset anyone.”
     A BBC spokesman later said: “The One Show apologised at the end of the show to viewers who may have been offended by Jeremy Clarkson’s comments.”

Presenters Matt Baker and Alex Jones look less than composed
as Clarkson drops his bombshells ... Alex's bosom-pal dog
appears to have the measure of the Top Gear presenter though

The most predictable reaction came from two of Clarkson’s sworn enemies, Piers Morgan, the former Daily Mirror editor (who was sacked for publishing fake pictures of British soldiers abusing an Iraqi), and is now a CNN  chat show host – and Baron Prescott of Kingston-upon-Hull, the former deputy Prime Minister (aka Two Jags, Two Jabs, Two Shags, Two Shacks and very nearly Two Big Bangs).
     Piers Morgan tweeted:
“Public sector workers should be executed in front of their families” – Jeremy Clarkson, paid millions by public sector/taxpayer #OneShow.”
     John Prescott added:
“I know Jeremy Clarkson likes winding people up but it’s worth pointing out he gets £1m a year from the license fee/public sector.”

So, from the safety of my sofa, here’s my take on the shemozzle, a bit of a fracas that could run and run...

And on that bombshell
Inviting Clarkson onto the show to promote his latest nice little earner was much like inviting The Road Runner (Accellerati Incredibus) to present prizes at the ACME Corporation Annual Innovative Awards ceremony. And here he is, below, our very own Road Runner, Clarkson himself ... and alongside, Wile E. Coyote (Carnivorous Vulgaris), who never learns...


Clarkson aka Skidpanicus Topgearipus

Prescott aka Shagitomcati Vulgaris

Even more entertaining than Clarkson’s rant was Barron ‘Two Jags’ Prescott and Captain Piers ‘Titanic’ Morgan tweeting and sitting in judgment on a fellow human being; just a couple of frustrated Wile E. Coyotes who have never quite got their hands on The Road Runner and are fed up with hearing him continually going “Beep-beep
! behind them.
     On a more serious note, family and colleagues of Clarkson should be concerned that he is beginning to look decidedly half-a-bubble off plumb in his old age. Indeed, as Matt Baker issued yet another apology on behalf of the BBC, Jeremy, with wings suitably clipped, looked as if someone had at last managed to throw a handful of salt over his tail.
     Indeed, he reminded me of Quentin Crisp closing down an interview:
“I am so sorry. We have to stop here. I have just come to the end of my personality.”
Tuesday, November 29
Egrets doing it their way

CLEVER newspaper and online headlines always guarantee a smile hereabouts.

Yesterday, a few Nancy Dool’Allio quotes in the wake of her departure from Strictly Come Dancing  raised the spirits no end. Even though I have never watched the programme, I do occasionally catch glimpses of the show as I zap through the channels if there’s no Saturday night rugby on the box.
     And of course there’s no escaping hearing about the show and its slebs, compliments of the media, as per yesterday’s delightful Nancy quotes.
     In the wake of Nancy being hoofed off the show, the next to go was Russell Grant, another of those larger-than-life slebs the meeja delight in writing about – so I was instantly taken with this online headline...

A forest was felled to mark the departure of Russell Grant from Strictly Come Dancing

Clever stuff. It tells you everything you need to know without having to click ‘more’ or read any further. I suppose sub-editors can sometimes be too clever for their own good.

But here’s an even better example of the craft of headline writing. This one, however, wasn’t splashed across the front page – or indeed splashed anywhere else, either. It was quietly nestling above a letter in The Daily Telegraph.
     First though, here’s the letter, minus its headline – it will come up as a ‘bottomline’. Feel free to have a guess what they came up with...

- - - - - -
SIR – John Lister-Kaye (News Review, November 6) says egrets in Devon are “here to stay”. Fifty years ago, my father pointed out egrets to me in Devon. So they are here to stay, and have been for half a century.
Andrew Rennie, Plymouth, Devon

Before I come to the clever headline – there’s a clue in my own headline at the top of today’s smile bulletin – I am myself vaguely familiar with egrets, at least little egrets, even in my part of the world, but only over recent years.
     Herons, of any variety, are a nightmare to photograph,
especially for an amateur like me who has no patience to hide
away and wait. They are terribly edgy and will takeoff as soon
as they sense a human presence.
     (I have often wondered why a little bluetit, as featured at the top of this home page, is so fearless, yet a big bird like the heron is a right wimp.)
     I remember well the moment I caught the pair featured here, alongside. The bluebells were in full bloom, and as always, I regularly walk through the woods to take in the sights and the fragrance.
     One of my routes exited near a backwater. The two birds had not seen or sensed me as I reached the edge of the wood – and I was most surprised to see a heron and an egret in close proximity, which I believe is quite unusual anyway.
     I managed a few shots before they either sensed me or heard the click of the camera – and off they shot...
     Anyway, all that gives the above letter a special flavour – oh, and the brilliant headline that captured my imagination?

A little egret and a grey heron in the Towy Valley

                                                                     Egrets, I’ve seen a few
Monday, November 28
Lights ... Soundbites ... Action

“NOW the show is like a Christmas tree without the lights. They lost a bit of sparkle when they lost me. Everybody says so.” Nancy Dell’Olio’s overview of Strictly Come Dancing since she was voted off the show.
     Ah, poor Nancy – and please note, I resisted the call of nature to call her Nancy Dool’Allio as she comes to terms with the curse of modern slebdom, the Upside Down Christmas Tree Syndrome...


Nancy herself reminds me of a Christmas tree, what with all those baubles, bangles and bright, shiny beads - compare and contrast, above.  However, one thing we can be sure of: she may still be feeling a bit upside down in the wake of the nation voting her off the dance floor, but her lights certainly haven’t gone out ... I spotted this online headline in Independent.ie:

Nancy Dell’Olio ‘to write sex guide’ complete with pictures in lingerie
NANCY DELL’OLIO is planning to write a lovers’ guide, including tips on lingerie, sex and amorous evenings, it has been reported ... She is planning to send the first copy of the guide to former Prime Minister Tony Blair – after she claimed at the weekend that ex-lover and former England football manager Sven-Göran Eriksson was jealous of her friendship with the politician.

I do so hope it’s the sexed-up version, Nancy.

However, the above story was quickly followed by this denial from Nancy:
“I am not writing an instruction book on how to have sex. I don’t like talking about it. I like having it.” So Nancy goes nah, nah, nah-nah, nah!

Her quote sent me scurrying to yesterday’s Sunday Times  Magazine, in particular her column
You’re special, tooLet Nancy Dell’Olio put the sparkle back into your life.
     It’s not essential reading hereabouts, but I like to keep my finger on the nation’s D-spot (Dool’Allio-spot?). Here’s the first letter in her column...

Every time I go to a dinner party, I get the same question: “Is there anyone new in your life?” The answer is always the same – no. I don’t need a man to validate my life. How do I get people to understand this and back off?
Mel B
, Brixton
[Hang on, Mel B? Isn’t she one of the Spice Girls? Anyway, back to nosy business...]
The best way to deal with this is to answer without an answer. You should tell them you’re not short of requests, but you are keeping your options open. That, in fact, you have so many lovers you can’t make up your mind. Keep them all wondering.

Hm, ‘to answer without an answer’: not so much a slow, slow, quick-quick slow, but more a slow, slow, slow, slow, slow – a smooch to the relaxing rhythm of time on our hands.
     Mind you, my funny bone is suitably tickled with the news that
Nancy reckons she is not writing an instruction book on sex, especially so given her weekly column. I smell a polecat.

But Nancy has her sights on better things:
“I love politics. I might even get involved one day. I quite fancy being Italy’s foreign minister. But I love living in London right now. If they need me, they will have to call me.”

Damn, just as old After Eight steps down from the plate (After Eight is what I call Silvio Berlusconi following the revelation that he boasted about having sex with eight women following one particular New Year’s Eve party.).
     However, I’m sure After Eight can still pull a few g-strings in his retirement.
     All this talk of After Eight and his sexual shenanigans gives me the opportunity to show the picture, alongside, captured at the recent G20 summit, where the euro crisis dominated proceedings.
     But more importantly, it gives me the chance to share with you the memorable caption provided by The Sunday Times  in the paper’s People of the week spot at that time. It’s the juxtaposition of those expressions. Priceless.

Yup, Argentina is still keeping her Exocets dry and primed. Prince

“Hello, young lady. What’s a pretty little thing like
 you doing here?”
“I’m President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of
Argentina, that’s what I’m doing here.”

William had better keep his wits about him and his eyes peeled when
he shortly does a tour of duty down there in the Falklands.
Sunday, November 27
From vulgarity to elegance

“MY CARD is an example of extreme vulgarity. This year it is so crass it plumbs depths not even I have descended to before.” Food critic and Sunday Times  columnist Michael Winner, 76, whose latest Christmas card depicts the cover of his new book.

Michael Winner makes no pretence that, at the moment of conception, he was nowhere near the front of the queue marked ‘Natural-born class’ – in other words, he doesn’t pretend to be anything but common or garden.

Winner’s quote brought to mind a thread of letters in The Sunday Telegraph  concerning class, manners and what makes a gentleman - which kicked off back on October 30, with this rather classy missive...

Recovering the tradition of gentle manners
Aspiring to be a gentleman
SIR – William Leith describes the rising level of uneasiness in Britain’s middle class (Seven, October 23). I have an interesting vantage point from which to observe this problem, as headmaster of a boarding school whose intake is composed essentially of middle-class English boys and aristocratic Frenchmen.
     My diagnosis is that we should be preoccupied not so much by the demise of the middle class as by the demise of the gentleman. It is an English ideal to which the French remain strongly attracted but which the English themselves have all but abandoned.
     The revival of the ideal of the gentleman – something to which anyone may aspire, regardless of financial status – would be a real tonic for the malaise of our bourgeoisie.
     It might also help repair the damaged moral fabric of a nation internationally humiliated in the recent riots.
Ferdi McDermott, Headmaster, Chavagnes International College, Chavagnes-en-Paillers, Vendée, France

Letters published weekly since the above have thrown up some interesting signposts. For example, the following week, a letter from
James Lonsdale points us in the direction of Samuel Smiles, a Victorian writer:
“The True Gentleman is one whose nature has been fashioned after the highest models. His qualities depend not on fashion or manners but upon moral worth – not on personal possessions, but on personal qualities. The Psalmists describe him as one ‘that walketh uprightly and worketh righteousness and speaketh the truth in his heart’.”
David Bourne informs us that his mother taught him “that a lady was a lady if she gave a man the opportunity to be a gentleman – thus adding the necessary civilising influence to an otherwise uncivilised world”. I enjoyed that.
Robin Dow directs us to an Edwardian volume on etiquette which, though acknowledging that a gentleman is expected to offer his seat to a lady when necessary, adds that he should not do so “while it is still warm from his person”.
Geoffrey Johnson recalls Fred Trueman, the Yorkshire and England fast bowler, telling Michael Parkinson that “a gentleman is someone who gets out of the bath to use the lavatory”. Very common or garden, even vulgar, Fred.
David James believes simply that “a gentleman is someone who is treated as such”.
Chris James suggests “a gentleman never gives offence unintentionally”.
Elizabeth Cox thinks that “a gentleman is someone who uses the butter knife even when he is dining alone”.
Michelle Varney believes that Mark Twain said it best: “A gentleman is a man who knows how to play the banjo, but chooses not to.” And then today, this...

Accident of birth
SIR – To be born a gentleman is an accident. To die a gentleman is an achievement.
Jonathan Baldwin, Church Minshull, Cheshire

Which set me thinking ... Perusing the above has been an interesting walk through times of “dear hearts and gentle people”, as Jim Reeves sang. Yet it is very difficult to pinpoint your friendly neighbourhood gentleman from the above.
     Perhaps the letter from the headmaster is correct. We are witnessing the demise of the gentleman. However, our DNA doesn’t change over a few generations, so the genetic code that throws up a gentleman – or indeed a lady – remains constant. There is no demise of the gentleman.
     But the context has certainly changed. The ethics, morality and honesty of modern power, wealth and celebrity do not attract those of the gentlemanly persuasion.
     Out here in the real world, what I have observed is this: we all know individuals of whom we never hear anybody speak ill. Not just when they are present, but behind their backs, which is the real measure of who we regard as gentlemen.
     And I’m not talking here about anodyne characters who say and do nothing of any consequence, and as a result don’t upset anyone. I am thinking important figures in the community, including the occasional larger-than-life character who lights up a room when he or she enters.
     If I had to name a current celebrity figure who fits the bill of a very modern gentleman, it would have to be Gareth Malone of The Choir fame...
                                                                                                     ...and a national treasure as well, if we must have such a person. It is not so much that Gareth Malone is exceptionally good at what he does, but more his natural ability to bring out the best in those around him, a prominent feature of those we regard as a gentleman (or indeed a lady).
     A ‘Military Wife’ from the choir speaking on the radio the other day said this of him: “He is an inspiration and so good to be around.” A perfect definition of a gentleman, I would say.

Saturday, November 26
Treasure Island GB

WHENEVER I see or hear the expression “national treasure”, I am overwhelmed with a need to go and lie down in a darkened room. There’s something gloriously cringeworthy about a living person – and a celebrity to boot – being nominated a national treasure.
     National treasures used to be exclusively inanimate objects of great historical worth: Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Stonehenge, Magna Carta – dead-but-worthy historical figures like Shakespeare and Winston Churchill at a push, for sure, perhaps even Robin Hood.
     So imagine my surprise when I saw that more than 4,000 people were asked to select Britain’s Greatest Living National Treasure in a survey to celebrate Camelot’s EuroMillions’ Millionaires Month lottery. But from a shortlist, though, which rather spoils the spontaneous feel of the quest.
     Still, my D-Spot – my doolally spot – was coming over all anticipatory. Brits were asked to vote for the person they believed would best represent the nation on a make-believe Christmas £1 million banknote.
     David Attenborough, unsurprisingly, made top spot, while Tom Jones has been named as Wales’ Greatest Living National Treasure, and Sean Connery took the honours for Scotland.
     Many wondered why the Queen wasn’t included on Camelot’s list. Well, the Queen is the nation’s default treasure anyway, so she disqualifies herself. But what about Prince Philip? This from the Telegraph’s  Mathew Norman...

Her husband, on the other hand, is an absurd omission. Any Graeco-Danish-Germanic princeling who can spend more than six decades travelling the globe to cause offence in Britain’s name strikes me as the living paradigm of national treasuredom.

Hear, hear. A link to Mathew Norman’s enjoyable piece coming up...

In the meantime, while the nationwide poll was, to be fair, a bit of innocent fun, what greatly amused me was the £1million notes issued to celebrate all those who should, in truth, have been locked in a box and buried on some godforsaken island somewhere, the spot marked with an x (with love?). Take a look at this...

Do you suppose Mark Thompson, Chief Sitting Bull at the BBC, has succeeded with his crusade to dumb down the entire nation to his common denominator?
     Look, the note carries the word
SPECIMEN. I mean, could it be mistaken for a real note? There again, perhaps we are now so dim as a nation that we believe that Mervyn King, of Bank of England infamy, has actually issued £1million notes for use by his bankers, his small band of rotten men who are feared by the good and loved by the bad.

♫♫♫ Robbin’ Hoods, Robbin’ Hoods, riding through the glen...

As mentioned above, there’s a really entertaining Telegraph  article about our Greatest Living National Treasures by Mathew Norman, well worth a click here...

Friday, November 25
Scratching the surface

I ROUNDED off yesterday’s smile with a letter from the Telegraph, so, in the interests of balance, here’s a delightful one from The Times...

Poor Eve
Sir, Surely there was room in your list of classic poems (Weekend, Nov 19) for what Ogden Nash (its author) claimed to be the shortest poem ever. Entitled Fleas, it reads: “Adam / Had  ‘em.”
David Tatham, London SW6

As is my wont, I Googled “shortest poem” ... and up came Anon, Ogden Nash, Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes – and Muhammad Ali.

I have no information on Anonymous, age currently unknown.

Ogden Nash (1902-1971) was an American poet, well known for his light verse and silly rhymes. One verse, entitled Common Sense, asks...
Why did the Lord give us agility,
                      If not to evade responsibility?

Meanwhile, on the silly front,
The Panther...
If called by a panther / Don’t anther.

However, Google throws up the shortest couplet that forms a poem as
“Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes” by Strickland Gillilan (1869-1954), yet another American poet...
Adam / Had ‘em.

So which came first? Anon, Gillilan or Nash? I would prefer it to be Gillilan, simply because of his clever title.

This online, from a gent called
Eric Shackle: But we’d still like to learn the name of the genius who amended the title from Gillilan’s rather ponderous Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes to what, to my mind, is Nash’s much funnier Fleas.
     My esteemed friend and colleague, webmaster Barry Downs, says: “I prefer the original verbose title, which contrasts nicely with the terse verse.”

I think I would have gone with something like:
                                                                               I much prefer the original verbose otiose,
                                                                               Which contrasts exquisitely with the terse verse.

Now we come to Muhammad Ali. Giving a talk to the Harvard senior class commencement, in front of a couple of thousand graduates, he is reported as giving a wonderful speech about how he never had the opportunity they had, and that they should use it to make the world a better place.
     It was, apparently, both moving and funny, and a great roar of appreciation went up at the end. Then someone shouted: “Give us a poem
     The place went quiet ... and Ali said simply:
“Me / We.”

As a gent called George observes: “It stands for something more than the poem itself.”
     Well, from where I stand, nature’s prime directive is the survival of the fittest. And to survive you first have to ensure your own survival: Me
! And pretty much in tandem comes the survival of the tribe: We!
     One without the other is much like a marriage without love, a carriage without a horse. You can’t have one without the other, you certainly can’t have Me without We.
     Two clever words, when uttered in tandem. As the aforementioned George says: “It stands for something more than the poem itself. What a fighter he was. And what a man he is.”
     Me / We.

Click onto the following link to watch 1:22 of George relate the Me/We story much better than I can – well, George was there...

Thursday, November 24
Bright periods and showers

“Anyone who calls his children Lara Lettice, Milo Arthur, Cassia Peaches and Theodore Apollo, must be a bit odd! Spamshredder offers up an intriguing online ‘Comment’ about Boris Johnson, 47, Mayor of London.

Could that be right? A quick visit to Wikipedia ... Yes indeed, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is papa of aforementioned offspring. Something else about the man also made me smile...
                                                                                                                                                      Appearing in 2003 in BBC television’s Room 101 – a place where slebs consign their pet hates to a fate worse than having politicians, bankers and media owners as your best friends – Boris nominated boiled eggs, Lynda Lee Potter (a columnist for the Daily Mail, who died in 2004), smoking bans, Richard Clayderman and people who shout things like “you Tory tosser” at him whilst he’s cycling, as his selections to dump into Room 101, with only the last of the five being rejected.
     He claimed that his refusal to eat eggs from the age of 6-months was his “first major policy decision”.

As I have doubtless mentioned hereabouts before, old Boris de Pfeffel adds hugely to the gaiety of the passing parade, and is guaranteed to make me smile. He falls firmly in the dolphin, pussycat and sparrow camp. So anything Boris does and says is okay by me.

Oh, and this letter in the Telegraph also earned top marks...

Scattered showers
SIR – Your report (November 22), “Stick to a bath: having a power shower is twice as expensive”, mentions that the length of time an average 12-year-old boy spends in the shower is 9.41 minutes.
     Is that an annual figure?
Edward Donne, Ebbesbourne Wake, Wiltshire


Wednesday, November 23
When I use a word...

TODAY I caught up with the Vanessa Feltz early morning Radio 2  show from Thursday of last week. I’d listened to the programme live before setting off on my morning walk, but I’d been particularly intrigued by her “word of the day” feature.
     Each morning, Monday to Thursday, Vanessa offers up a word of the day, a generally unfamiliar word, and then on the Friday, the duty newsreader, usually Alan Dedicoat, has to come up with a sentence which must include all the words.
     He is rather good at the task. Vanessa also invites listeners to submit their efforts, and she will read out one or two. I used to exercise my grey matter, indeed sent in the occasional attempt – and yes, I had an effort read out one Friday.

However, Friday of last week was Children In Need Day, so Vanessa did her word of the day sentence on the Thursday. This time around the words were familiar, but none of them meant what we generally take them to mean. I was fascinated, which is why I wanted to listen again on iPlayer, before the show disappeared off the record.
     Anyway, here are the words...
Decimate: surprisingly, it does not mean to totally destroy, to completely obliterate something, but rather, to inflict some  damage. Literally it means to reduce by a tenth. In the ancient Roman army, it meant to kill every tenth man of a mutinous section. Well, well. How grand it would be to decimate our politicians, bankers et al for what they have done to our fair country.

Enormity: it just doesn’t mean big, huge, an extreme greatness of size – it actually means an act of great wickedness, an atrocity, a dreadful  and terribly heinous crime. For the enormity of the crime, see just above.

Fulsome: as in a fulsome apology. It doesn’t mean a full and contrite apology, but rather an excessive, insincere and over-the-top regret, especially so when delivered in an offensive or distasteful way. We should all be suitably embarrassed by someone’s fulsome praise.

Refute: It is not merely to deny something, but it means to prove that it’s wrong. Politicians refute things all the time. Okay, prove it then, sunshine, let’s see the evidence: “I don’t just deny it, I can prove that it’s not true.”

Probably like most, I took all the above words to mean the first meanings listed, rather than the actual meaning. Probably decimate is the one that

“When I  use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in
a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I
choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

took me most by surprise. To reduce by a tenth. Well, well.
     Alan Dedicoat then delivered his delightfully crafted sentence...

On Monday, a consignment of 10 gingerbread Pudsey bears destined for some local children in need, was decimated and Mr D. was blamed for eating the missing item, something he refuted but offered an embarrassingly fulsome apology anyway, something pretty young Vee, shocked at the enormity of the crime, refused to accept – until an uneaten bear was produced...

And he apparently produced said bear in the studio, much to ‘young Vee’s’ delight – so he had properly refuted the allegation.

As always, every day a day at school.
Tuesday, November 22
Daisy, Daisy ... spotted on a motorbike built for two

BEFORE leaving the cottage on my early-morning walk, I paid a quick visit to Mail Online, the Daily Mail’s  much-visited web site ... and I stumbled upon the following headline and picture...

                                   We’re birdwatchers ... honest! Twitchers searching for
                               rare warbler stumble upon outdoor glamour modelling shoot


The bird-watchers had settled on a bleak headland near Redcar in Cleveland after reports that an exotic Hume’s Leaf Warbler had been in the area. But the excited hobbyists had not expected it to be a semi-naked blonde on a motorbike who would get their hearts fluttering when they headed to the seaside town.

! What a smashing bike, I said to myself. I can imagine every red-blooded man wanting a quick ride on that. I mean, that’s worth a smile all on its own, in anyone’s language.
     What really made me smile XL though was the thought that the sub-editors would have had their knickers in a twist simply dying to flash the following headline...

                                     We’re birdwatchers ... honest! Twitchers searching
                                      for rare warbles stumble upon a couple of great tits

And I enjoyed the sight of the photographer. He is a photo-kit vision of what I would expect a person who takes pictures of eye-catching tits to look like, whether they be of the blue, marsh, great, long-tailed or long-legged variety.
     But why didn’t he clean those tyres? Still, I suppose he can Photoshop them back to pristine condition. As for the online comments…
Peter Gunn, Little Paxton: I’ve searched the Observer Book of Birds, but couldn’t find a picture of a Double Red-Breasted Mattress Thrasher. Ho, ho, ho!
Iaci of Essex put the kibosh on things: This is news because...???? Well, because ... because ... it makes me smile.

The last word
This, spotted in the Telegraph...

Swearing at police is not a crime, judge rules ... officers
hear foul language “too frequently” to be offended

The decision by the High Court to overturn the public order conviction of a young suspect who repeatedly said the “F” word while being searched for drugs was last night condemned as “unacceptable”.
     Policing unions said the ruling would undermine respect for officers. Overturning Denzel Cassius Harvey’s conviction, Mr Justice Bean said officers were so regularly on the receiving end of the “rather commonplace” expletive that it was unlikely to cause them “harassment, alarm or distress”.

The following examples were among those cited...

When the search revealed no drugs, he [Denzel Cassius Harvey] continued: “Told you, you wouldn’t find f*** all.”
     Asked whether he had a middle name, he replied: “No, I’ve already f****** told you so.”

Now I’m not surprised he disowned his middle name: Cassius. This must invite lines like “I bet you float like a bee and sting like a butterfly”. And let’s be honest, you couldn’t make the judge’s name up, now could you? Mr Justice Bean.
     Oh, and you know how I enjoy trawling the online ‘Comments’ section at the bottom of articles – well, you won’t be surprised that there was no ‘Comments’ section. Such a course of action is known as acknowledging the ambush before you enter the pass.
     But as always, what really made me laugh out loud was the Telegraph’s  cartoonist,
MATT, and his take on the incident – alongside...

My oh my, I’d give nearly anything to hear that in real life...



Monday, November 21
Why do we say “Amen” and not “Awomen”?

LAST Saturday’s smile flirted with Houses of God, in the shape of the anti-capitalist protestors camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral. Today, I noted the quote coming up, below, which perfectly complements this
Ian Hislop quote from last Saturday: “So far they have managed to get three quite well-meaning priests removed, and no bankers at all.”

“Look around the green here ... where are the financial institutions? This is pure copycat. They have been outside one cathedral and now they are outside another.” The Bishop of Exeter, Dr Michael Langrish, on the anti-capitalist encampment outside his cathedral.

How true. We really are a copycat species. As it happens, the Bishop magically transports me to the subject of churches, and a perfect link to another Times  letter saved for my daily smile bulletin by the Crazy Horsepower’s
Chief Wise Owl...

Blessed thirst
Sir, Hugo Rifkind (Opinion, Oct 29) asks “What are churches for?” My first law of country walking states: “Where there’s a church, there’s a pub.”
     It’s one of the few laws which has never let me down.
BOB GARTSIDE, Llanberis, Gwynedd, North Wales

As we always say here in Wales: Every day a day at school. Actually, we could add: Where there’s a way, and you find a handy place to pray, right next door you may well spot a dray.
     Whatever, the trouble is that pubs are calling last orders, literally – and whilst I don’t know about the closure rates of churches, I believe chapels are calling last prayers faster than the patrons can kneel. Intriguing correlation, though.

Hold the headline
I’M A great fan of throwing a nod and a wink at memorable news headlines, especially so the online variety – and then leaving the rest to my imagination. So today, I caught up with my favourites from the past few days...

                                                      When sport stars’ tweets backfire
A cricket chief [Hugh Morris] has claimed that giving sports stars access to Twitter is like ‘giving a machine gun to Liam Gallagher’...

Now that really made me smile ... what? Hugh Morris didn’t say that? Hang on, let me double check ... you’re right, it should read
‘like giving a machine gun to a monkey’. A hundred thousand apologies, Liam.
     That’s what comes of tracing my ancestry through the Gallagher family tree – which I’ve been doing over recent days – and now I’m starting to see things which aren’t there.

            Saudi women with attractive eyes may be forced to cover them up, if resolution is passed
The ultra-conservative Islamic state has said it has the right to stop women revealing ‘tempting’ eyes in public, and is set to enshrine it in law...

                                                                                                                        ...the above headline truly made me blink, whereas those eyes up there made me want to wink. Does it mean that Saudi women will have to wear sunglasses all the time?
     The whole world is doolally, except for thee and me – and I’m not too sure about thee. Or me, come to that.

Finally, this online news headline...

                          Rebekah Brooks ‘overjoyed’ she is to have a baby girl through surrogate
Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International [and former editor of the torpedoed News of the World], is expecting a baby girl through a surrogate mother...

In an idle moment - as rare as hen’s teeth around here, those idle moments - I found myself speculating what headline a typical red top should go with. Given the endlessly differing possibilities the story throws up, what about
     However, given how Brooks claimed to “know nothing” about the phone-hacking business that is still rumbling on and on – I decided to go with:
                                                                   Mum’s the word
Oh yes...
Why do we say “Amen” and not “Awomen”? Well, we call them “Hymns”, not “Hers”.
Sunday, November 20
Upside down autumn

IT HAS been an astonishing autumn. Back on September 22, I included the picture, below, captured along my morning walk through the Towy Valley, the rising sun reflecting beautifully off the trees in Dinefwr Park, catching perfectly the early changing colours as autumn began to kick in...

How could anyone not smile at nature’s ever changing wallpaper, I remarked. Well, here I am, on November 20 ... below, a close-up picture of that very same area in Dinefwr Park, taken this very morning. Astonishing.

Traditionally, the changing colours of autumn tend to last just a few brief weeks in these ‘ere parts, mostly down, not so much to the passing frosts, but rather the regular winds cum storms that sweep in off the Atlantic and dislodge the leaves after the frosts.
     But this year has been nothing short of astonishing – autumn leaves for two whole months, and counting – undoubtedly down to the fact that we haven’t experienced any significant frosts which duly loosen the leaves and make them vulnerable to those winds; they’ve simply hung around, ready to welcome winter.
     But here we are, nearing the end of November, and many trees still retain lots of their leaves. It is quite unnatural.
And just to add to the confusion of the season, just a few minutes from the autumn scene, above, I came across some young lambs. Talk about a surprise.
     I can’t say that I have ever noticed lambs in the autumn before. Present and correct were a handful of sheep, together with their lambs. Truly remarkable. I’m unsure whether it’s a deliberate breeding policy.
     There again, perhaps a randy Rambo had paid a visit to the sheep when the back gate was open and no one was looking.
     After all, given the last couple of hard winters, I’d have thought no farmer would have been particularly keen to have young lambs leading into winter – unless, of course, the farmer who owns said sheep has some inside information regarding the winter we’re about to experience.

First lambs of the season arrive before even Father Christmas

Watch this space.
Saturday, November 19
Not to be trusted further than you can throw ‘em with a pitchfork

“I THINK the job of the church is not just to comfort the afflicted but to afflict the comfortable.” Douglas Alexander, 44, Shadow Foreign Secretary, on the anti-capitalist protestors camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral.

A clever quote; or at least, a clever play on words. But here’s probably the wisest quote I’ve spotted on the protestors...

“So far they have managed to get three quite well-meaning priests removed, and no bankers at all.” Ian Hislop, 51, satirist, broadcaster and editor of Private Eye, on the “achievements” of those camping outside St Paul’s.

Ten out of ten, Mr Hislop, and summed up perfectly in 20 words or less.

Full time
FOLLOWING some European rugby on the television, I happened to zap upon Dad’s Army: The Miser’s Hoard (1977), and as always, I put down my zap-a-dee-doo-da thingy. Dad’s Army is perfect pantomime for grown ups. But also enjoyed by children, so parents tell me.
     Some years ago someone on the radio said this: “It is one of the few programmes on the box where the whole family sit down to enjoy it together. My parents love it because they can just about identify with those wonderful characters of yesteryear; me and the wife enjoy it for the clever writing and perfectly drawn characters; my children think it’s ever so cool because ‘It is so silly, Daddy.’.”
     And of course Dad’s Army is that: very silly. But magically, the series is
loaded with great truths about we humans and the human condition.
Anyway, back with The Miser’s Hoard: Capt. Mainwaring, the platoon leader and the local bank manager, plots to get Pte. Frazer, Walmington-on-Sea’s purveyor of doom and gloom, and the town’s miserly undertaker, to transfer his savings, his substantial hoard of gold sovereigns, into a bank.
     Mainwaring’s bank, preferably. For safe keeping, obviously. But Frazer isn’t having any of it.
     He enters Mainwaring’s office, and in front of other members of the platoon, who are in on the plot, says, in a very calm and measured voice, to the bank manager: “I’ve only got one thing to say to you. If you think you’re getting your hands on my gold you can think again. I don’t trust banks, I don’t trust bankers and I don’t trust you. That’s all I wanted to say. Thank you.”
     It was such a potent delivery, underlined by the normally excitable Frazer’s cool, calm delivery.

Nothing has changed since Karabo, the recently discovered missing link between man and ape, wandered the planet (see yesterday’s smile); we have an inherent distrust of bankers and their pound of flesh demands. As the saying goes: they offer us an umbrella when it’s fine - but want it back when it rains.
     Indeed, those few heart-felt words of Frazer’s said so much more than all

Frazer ponders whether to tell
Mainwaring to "Pitchfork off!"

the anti-capitalist protestors campaigning around the globe put together.

And Frazer’s words certainly left me with a smile on my face.
Friday, November 18
Capturing my genetic inheritance

IF I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thous- ... my walk through time is a series of delightful coincidences – one smiley thing leads to another, often with tintinnabulation (with jingle bells on).
     As I mentioned at the beginning of yesterday’s smile, Baroness Trumpington of Sandwich really started something with her V-sign directed at Lord King of Bridgwater (see last Tuesday).
     It opened up all sorts of worm holes inside my brain: Wednesday, it was Liam Gallagher of Oasis (and Son) with their aggressive V-signs; yesterday, it was John Prescott and Victoria Beckham with their child-like V-signs.
     At this point I need to revisit Wednesday’s Oasis feature to refresh the parts other web sites don’t reach. To recap...

Whenever I catch sight of the Gallagher Brothers, I smile, for they are a constant reminder of my celebrated mega-great-ancestor, the one who first jumped down from that African tree and decided it would be a jolly interesting to-do to go for a walk through the savannah.
     The Gallaghers effortlessly bridge that gap between me and my ancestor. Whenever I see them, they always remind me where my default setting lies. And I reach for another banana.

Yes, okay, it was said somewhat tongue-in-cheek, obviously. And yet, and yet, and yet...

Now I buy the Western Mail  newspaper ever day, except on the Lord’s Day, when it’s The Sunday Times; I occasionally buy The Daily Telegraph, or visit its online edition when I don’t; now and again I visit the Daily Mail’s online version.
     As I think I’ve mentioned before, Mail Online is the second most visited English-language newspaper web site in the world, second only to The New York Times. Astonishing that.
     But I’m not surprised. Whenever I visit Mail Online I always find something which tickles my funny bone. For example, today, the following headline caught my eye...

 Smile from 2m years ago: Revealed, the face of the ‘missing link’ between ape and man
                                         •  Paleo-artist bases painting on the well-preserved skeleton of a boy
•  Karabo is probably our earliest ancestor

A CURIOUS smile playing on his face, the eyes and mouth are unmistakably human while the cheekbones and jutting brow say wild animal.
     Meet Karabo, probably our earliest ancestor and the ‘missing link’ between man and ape – ‘seen’ for the first time thanks to this incredible portrait, below.
     Created by paleo-artist John Gurche, it is based on the remarkably well-preserved skeleton of a boy aged around 13, found in a cave in South Africa.

Karabo - my most enigmatic relative

Noel Gallagher - as enigmatic as Karabo

The portrait was released as the skeleton – and the incomplete skeleton of a woman in her 30s found with him, probably his mother – went on display at the National History Museum in London.
     Lee Berger, professor of evolutionary biology at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, said the picture was a ‘forensic reconstruction’ of how the boy would have looked, made possible because his skull was found intact.

Mail journalist Tamara Cohen informs us that Karabo – which means
the answer’ and is somewhat more catching than his official name of Australopithecus sediba – stood 4ft 4in and lived nearly two million years ago.
     When he was discovered in 2008, the greatest shock for researchers was his human-like hand.
     Karabo and his species walked upright on two legs. Their small teeth may indicate they had found ways to process food using implements or even by cooking
[do you suppose they found a guitar nearby?].
     Studies in September hailed him as the best candidate for being a direct ancestor of homo erectus, the earliest modern human.

So that was funny, given the link between me, the Gallaghers and Karabo.
“And I reach for another banana,” I innocently remarked last Wednesday when I revealed the link. Well blow me, included in the Mail article about Karabo was the cartoon, alongside...
     I really did write that line about reaching for the banana – and posted it online – before the cartoon appeared. Honestly, I couldn’t stop smiling.
     That’s me swinging up there, for sure, nibbling that banana. After all, I have always underlined that I am very much a caveman at heart, what with

PUGH captures that banana moment

my lifestyle and survival instincts...

You really can’t legislate for these coincidences.
Thursday, November 17
‘V for Victory’ parade continues

BARONESS Trumpington of Sandwich really started something with her V-sign to Lord King of Bridgwater (see last Tuesday). It opened up all sorts of worm holes inside my brain: yesterday, it was the Gallagher brothers of Oasis fame; today – well, walk awhile with me...
“He’s a miserable bastard, but he’s my miserable bastard.” Pauline Prescott, 72, wife of John Prescott, 73 [a former Deputy Prime Minister to Tony Blair], offers an insight compliments of Hello magazine.

Along my daily early-morning walk, my imagination often joins me on a parallel stroll. I occasionally find myself playing the “What if?” game. You know the sort of thing...

What if Winston Churchill had never been born? Well, Britain would probably have been invaded and occupied during World War II; but, America delivered ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ first, the only two atomic bombs ever dropped in anger, so they would have blitzed Germany as well as Japan. Back to square one.

What if Hitler had never been born? Would there have been a Second World War? Well, the German system would undoubtedly have thrown up another leader, perhaps someone much cleverer and even more ruthless than Hitler.

What if Germany had got to the atomic bomb first, ahead of America? It was a close run thing anyway. And remember, Germany had given the world all those brilliant rocket scientists. That last “What if?” doesn’t bear thinking about.

Let’s bring it up to date, and return to the
Pauline Prescott quote at the top...

What if Tony Blair, when Prime Minister, had suffered a fatal heart attack – I
seem to recall that he did flirt with a curious heart problem – and John Prescott had ended up with his finger on the nuclear button?
     Now that does make me sweat. A very aggressive character is our John. A rather ‘punch drunk’ persona. Thumps first, asks questions after.
     In the picture, alongside, Prescott rather underlined his common or garden genetic inheritance in his relationship with Britain’s press, giving journalists the V-sign as he arrived at Downing Street in 2003. And he was the Deputy PM.
     Anyway, along his political walk through time, John Prescott has attracted media sobriquets like flies to something nasty on the pavement. Originally, Prescott’s nickname was simply “Prezza”, but as various misfortunes befell him the nicknames became more colourful, leading to “Two Jags” (Prescott owned one Jaguar, and had the use of another as his official ministerial car).
     Later versions of this term are “Two Jabs” (following his punchy retaliation against a protester farmer in 2001); “Two Shags” (in reference to his affair with his diary secretary, Tracey Temple); and “Two Shacks” (referring to his former country house).
     If he had got his finger on that nuclear button, perhaps he would now be known as “Two Big Bangs”. Boom-boom

John “Two Fingers” Prescott


Enough already. This is a lay-by where you pull in to share a smile. So...

What if Kate Middleton had actually married David Beckham? What if Prince William had married Spice Girl Victoria?
     There, I bet you’re smiling already. My guess is that Kate and David would probably make a good pair. She would have kept him on a much tighter rein and stopped him doing the more doolally things in his life.
     And I bet you anything that David would be a tattoo-free zone.

But here’s the real “What if?” test: can you picture Posh Spice walking down the aisle at Westminster Abbey, sporting that memorable pout as she acknowledges the rows of slebs either side of her?
     And on that thought, I shall leave you and your imagination to explore that “What if?” teaser. And in particular, the photograph, alongside.
     Using a similar technique to “Two Fingers” Prescott, this behind-the-back “eff off” flash from Victoria was directed at paparazzi while attending a Los Angeles Lakers basketball match in 2008.

Queen “Two Strikes” Posh

Wednesday, November 16
A rose between two thorns

BACK on the 4th of November, I shared with you the surprise of receiving a series of letters from Iain Hollingshead, the Letters editor at The Daily Telegraph, and all to do with missives I’d submitted to the newspaper but hadn’t made the original cut.
     Here’s just a couple of paragraphs from Iain’s letter...

In 2009 I had the idea of collating and editing these unused letters into a book: Am I Alone in Thinking...? Unpublished letters to The Daily Telegraph. It proved to be a very popular Christmas gift. Last year we published a completely new, follow-up edition, I Could Go On.
     This year’s compilation, I Rest My Case, will be published at the end of October by Aurum...

When launching this year’s book, the Telegraph did a feature about it in the paper and shared with us a few of the letters as a starter for 500 (the number of letters in the book). Sadly, none of mine made that particular hit parade, but I did quote three of them back on the 4th of the month; however, I held one back for future use, and that moment has arrived...

Morning fury
SIR – What is Liam Gallagher doing in the Telegraph culture section?
Michael Rolfe, Rondebosch, Cape Town, South Africa

Oasis - and by implication the Gallagher brothers - would never find themselves on my Desert Island Discs list; but hey, millions of rock music fans love their stuff, so sing and let sing is my motto.
     Musical tastes aside, I actually have all the time in the world for their much publicised common or garden behaviour - typical tabloid fodder with sibling disputes, wild lifestyles and asterisk-laden language - because, whenever I catch sight in the media their curious behaviour, I smile, for they are a constant reminder of my celebrated mega-great-ancestor.
     Yes, you know, the one who first jumped down from the tree in Africa and decided it would be exceedingly interesting to go for a walk through the savannah.
     The Gallagher brothers are a continuing reminder of where we all come from. They effortlessly bridge that gap between me and my ancestor, the ape, the one who went for that spontaneous stroll on the sunny side of the savannah. Whenever I see them, they always remind me where my default setting lies. And I reach for another banana.
     Now who would have thought that the wonderful Baroness Trumpington of Sandwich and her “up-yours” gesture to a fellow peer, as featured in yesterday’s smile, would provide the link to bring us all together.

Star Sign: Liam, 1997

      :)Oh Lord: Trumpers trumps, 2011:)

Like father, like son: Gene, 2008

Yes indeed, the rose between two thorns. Liam Gallagher, the angry young man of rock, parades his customary aggressive trademark, and you intuitively find yourself stepping back – and the other side of Baroness Trumpington and her smiley version, is Gene Gallagher, son of Liam, getting his retaliation in while still a pup, and proving that it’s all in the genes.

As I ponder what sort of walk through time awaits young Gene, I am transported back to the savannah and my distant relative – and your relative too, of course...
Tuesday, November 15
Lord King well and truly Trumped

THE following online headline in the Mail caught my eye...

               Churchill would have been proud! Moment battling Bletchley Park baroness, 89, gave
               two-finger salute to fellow peer who said WW2 veterans like her looked “pretty old”


Here are some choice cuts from the Mail piece...

SHE proved a match for Nazi Germany when she broke Hitler’s codes at Bletchley Park, so Lord King of Bridgwater should have known better than to comment on the advancing years of Baroness Trumpington of Sandwich.
     The formidable 89-year-old Conservative life peer was unimpressed when her relatively junior colleague gestured towards her to illustrate his point about the extreme age of World war II veterans.
     Lady Trumpington hit back against his patronising reference with a distinctly unparliamentary gesture of her own – commonly known as the two-fingered salute and reminiscent of Winston Churchill’s famed ‘V for Victory’ sign.
     The extraordinary scene unfolded while Lord King was making a speech about the passing of the wartime generation during the Remembrance Day debate in the Lords on Thursday.
     Lady Trumpington appeared to be minding her own business, peering down over her spectacles at some papers, as the former Defence Secretary paid tribute to veterans of the first World War who had “gradually faded away”.
     Then turning towards Lady Trumpington, Lord King, 78, raised his arm towards her and continued: “And then the survivors of World War II started to look pretty old as well. As my noble friend, the Baroness, reminds me.”
     At this point, Lady Trumpington glared at him with disdain, raised two fingers at him to signal ‘up yours’, and then went back to studying her notes.


Winston Churchill's famed 'V for Victory' gesture
Blair had his Babes - - - Churchill had his Chicks?

Codebreaker: Baroness Trumpington, one of the clever
behind-the-scenes women so crucial to the war effort

The exchange instantly became an internet hit with viewers, describing the former chain-smoking Lady Trumpington – known by colleagues as ‘Trumpers’ – as a “heroine”.
     Lady Trumpington, formerly Jean Alys Barker, yesterday claimed that the gesture was not intentional and insisted her hand must have “flown up” accidentally.
[A cunning bit of codebreaking there, I’d say.]
     She told the Daily Mail: “I didn’t mean to make the gesture. My hand must have flown up. I have never been offended by Lord King. I don’t remember doing it.”
     A former 70-a-day smoker, Lady Trumpington is well-liked by colleagues for her wicked sense of humour and straight-talking. When she was a guest on Desert Island Discs, she chose the Crown jewels as her luxury item, in order to maximise her chances of being rescued.
     Lord King last night insisted that the pair were “old friends” and that Lady Trumpington had been joking with him when she made the gesture.
     He said: “We had been joking together before we went into the chamber. She is a wonderful person and was the only person in the chamber who had been in the Second World War and was taking part in the debate.”

Ah yes, Baroness Trumpington of Sandwich ... how could you not have a soft spot for someone bearing that splendid title? And known to her colleagues as Trumpers. Even better. (Remember Nellie the Elephant, who packed her trunk? Off she went with a trumpety-trump, trump, trump, trump
     So how could we not enjoy Trumpers’ memorably rude
two-finger salute to Lord King: trump, trump, trump! And forget the “up yours” bit.
     Imagine: you are a stenographer and you have to translate the gesture into precise words: “Lady Trumpington appears to eye Lord King with contempt before casually making a rude gesture meaning - - - and turning back to study her notes.”
     And be honest now, because it’s only between you and the page ... I mean, you’re not going to write “up yours” are you? You would of course intuitively note what the expression actually means – and that is what makes the exchange so memorable.

Pickle.P of Northampton gave her this online benefit of the doubt: No, you got it all wrong. Lord King asked if she was the only survivor from the Second World War still in the Lords, and she indicated that there was one more besides her, totalling two. Boom-boom!

But I’ll tell you what, the former 70-a-day smoker proves something I have long observed and suspected: smoking per se does not kill you. Look at her, 89 and still going trump, trump, trump
However, if there is a weak link in your immune system, smoking will ruthlessly seek it out. But the bad news is, even if you don’t smoke, or indeed given it up, there are endless other nasties out there queuing up to breach our immune systems, stress and lack of self-esteem being the front runners.

As a special treat, below is a link to an equally memorable Jeremy Paxman link to the King-Trumpington incident ... smiley beyond...
Monday, November 14
Time and motion waits for nobody

NOW that my brief flirtation with Britain in a Day is done and dusted and filed under “Er, interesting”, it’s now back to the day job where those smiles are hiding around every corner, handfuls of metaphorical confetti ready to toss all over me.
     For example, pride of place today goes to this headline...

Man who videoed himself having sex is cleared

I found the eye part of my brain reading “Man who videoed himself having sex is cleared for takeoff” – before the make sense part of my brain caught up and edited it as printed. To continue...

Time-and-motion expert not a voyeur

This from Carolyn Hitt in today’s Western Mail...

IN one of the more, ahem, surreal Welsh court cases of the year, time and motion expert Graham Gibbons has been cleared of voyeurism.
     Gibbons, of Maesteg, admitted making a 35-minute secret tape of himself and a woman making love but said it was to assess the “efficiency” of his bedroom prowess and not for a sexual thrill.
     Jurors heard that Gibbons had set up his mobile phone’s camera to record his activity between the sheets to see “what was going on during love-making”. He added “I was only doing my job as a time and motion expert”, giving a whole new meaning to bringing your work home and mixing business with pleasure.
     Gibbons may have been cleared – the judge reminded the jury he was “charged with voyeurism, not with being an oddball” – but he is guilty of the least romantic gesture in the history of human relations.
     The next time the 44-year-old applies such rigorous academic research methods in the bedroom he’d be better off remembering ladies tend to prefer time and emotion.

Carolyn earns top marks for those final words: time and emotion. Nice one. However, I found myself wondering how the discovery of the tape came about. Well, it seems that Gibbons, a video expert, had uploaded the film onto his laptop to give his professional judgment.
     The woman, his then girlfriend, found the video and, “worried that the tape would be passed around” – a natural reaction to be sure – dumped him and called the police.
     When interviewed by police he was instantly able to give police officers an accurate breakdown of time spent on different activities: “After studying the tape I gave her 20 minutes of sexual satisfaction, five minutes of intercourse and another nine minutes of sexual satisfaction.”
     His ready-answer appears to have swayed the jury away from the charge of voyeurism. After the verdict, Gibbons said: “I was only doing my job as a time and motion expert. I am currently unemployed but I would love to get back into it. It is a job I enjoy but there aren’t many manufacturing jobs out there.”
     Hm, so a kind of method in his time and motion madness. Mind you, the above on his CV will make a few human resources bosses blink.
     Yup, it’s a doolally world alright.

PS: That the Gibbons performance lasted just over 30 minutes took me back to Oban and the 30 minute firework display, which exploded in a 60 second premature tintinnabulation – a technical hitch as I recall – and I observed at the time that it all reminded me of my sex life. To quote...
     Down the years, many is the time I have planned a 30 minute extravaganza – Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve in my bedroom, sort of thing – but it is pretty much always over in 60 seconds flat, and it’s always a technical hitch (my excuse and I’m sticking to it).
     If anyone deserves a time and motion study, it is yours truly.

Every day a day at school spot: tintinnabulation ... the new Tintin film must have been on my mind – actually, it means “the jingling of bells”, as in “a 60 second premature jingling of bells” . Quite.
     Where is Big Ben metronomically striking twelve when you need him as a rhythm pendulum? After all, wasn’t it Sally Bercow, wife of Parliament speaker John Bercow, who said that “I never realised how sexy I would find living under Big Ben with the bells chiming
Sunday, November 13
Britain in a Day revisited

YESTERDAY, I mentioned filming my “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” sequence for the BBC’s Britain in a Day feature...
     Well, I spent today sorting out my clips, opening a YouTube account, uploading said clips and transferring them to the Britain in a Day channel. Phew
! I flirted with headache territory. Not that any of it was particularly difficult, but it’s the frustration of doing something new for the first time. It’s the unfamiliar words and expressions that create such a hurdle.
     Anyway, I actually completed the process in the early hours of Monday ... I also submitted a letter to the Telegraph because what I had just done followed on perfectly from a couple of letters I spotted last Saturday. Here they are...

Red kites mobbed by parakeets in the Chilterns
SIR – Jeremy Quinn notes that parakeets have colonised Bushy and Richmond parks (Letters, November 11). Now they have migrated from Surrey to the Chilterns.
     Last week, a beautiful red kite was innocently circling over our back field when it was mobbed and driven away by more than 12 green parakeets who now seem to believe it is their territory. In the past, the kite only had to contend with the crows guarding their domain but now they have allied with the green invaders.
     Over the past three years, parakeet numbers have grown from three to 15; when will they learn that they are unwelcome?
Andrew Scott-Priestley, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire

SIR – Lt Col Paul French (Letters, November 8) could only hear parakeets in Richmond Park. But there is no birdsong at this time of year, except for the robin practising for Christmas. Blackbirds, thrushes and so on stopped singing in July, as they do every year.
     Thank goodness I was a Brownie and learnt this important piece of natural history.
Jenny Hill, Haslemere, Surrey

My letter in response went something along these lines...

Birds in the hand
SIR – Unlike Andrew Scott-Priestley (Letters, November 12), I have never
observed raptors “innocently circling”; they are, after all, not called birds
of prey for nothing. Also, I assure Jenny Hill that birds still sing, albeit
muted – unless there’s a sparrow hawk about, when they all burst into high octave song to warn all the other songbirds.
     Some three years ago I wondered how easy – or difficult – it would be to train/seduce common or garden songbirds to feed from hand, but out in the wilds of the Towy Valley.
     It has been a journey of wonder and delight, so when I saw that the BBC was asking people to record their November 12 experiences for Britain in a Day, I thought “my” birds were unusual enough to make a smiley contribution.
     While I have taken hundreds of photographs of these birds (nay, thousands including those I have deleted) – one has even featured in the Telegraph’s online Gallery [the leapfrogging great tit at the top of this page, as it happens] – I had never before filmed them. A couple of days’ practice, and I was in business.
     I wolf-whistle to attract them, and to date not a single bird has slapped me across the face. I managed to capture one smashing sequence where a bird furiously answers my wolf-whistle, and when I pause, it responds with an impatient triple-wolfie. Very smiley, but it is of some

One of the stars of my little show

concern that I am, in turn, being seduced by a male chaffinch (I think).
     I have now uploaded these brief films onto YouTube:
Britaininaday: Birds No 1 - Intro.  So here’s to the birds.
HB, Llandampness

I list below the YouTube links that will take you to each of my four clips – they were not supposed to be edited in any way, so I had to upload them separately; also, once you land on the first link, the others should be on view – but just in case, I show all four links...




Saturday, November 12
Britain in a Day

OVER the past week or so there’s been a promotional video on the BBC regarding an ambitious project to capture, not so much a moment in time, but a day in time. Anyway, here’s the blurb from the BBC’s web site...

The definitive self-portrait of Britain today
Britain in a Day is an extraordinary project to create the definitive self-portrait of Britain today, filmed by you, inspired by Life In A Day [a people-sourced documentary film comprising a series of video clips selected from 80,000 clips submitted to the YouTube video sharing website, the clips showing occurrences from around the world on a single day, July the 24th, 2010].
     On Saturday the 12th of November, Ridley Scott and director Morgan Mathews invite you to capture the reality of your day and to upload it to YouTube.
     The resulting film and online archive will be a powerful and moving snapshot of the UK today, premiered in cinemas and broadcast on BBC Two for a general audience, ahead of the London Olympics.
     This is your chance to express yourself. From the ordinary to the extraordinary, your footage will feature in our online archive, and the more memorable your recording, the greater the chance of your material being included in the final film.
     Get involved – film your UK on one day – and be part of our nation’s story.

I got to thinking about it. The one thing I do which appears to be somewhat out of the ordinary, is this relationship I have built up with the songbirds down in the Towy Valley.
     In a nutshell, nearly three years ago, now, I wondered how easy, or how difficult, it would be to train/seduce our common or garden songbirds to feed from hand (I’ve always wanted to use common or garden in its proper context).
     It worked, with quite spectacular results – a typical image tends to sit at the very top of this page, but pictures are everywhere on this site. Here’s one I captured earlier...
     Now I have only ever taken pictures of the birds, never a film. So I thought, why not? I had a bit of practice over the past couple of days – and this morning caught some of the birds on film, all performing as if to the manor born.

It was a very smiley experience, and deserving of a feature on here, if not on Britain in a Day ... however, I have yet to upload the clips onto YouTube – remember, this is something totally new to me, so it’ll take me a couple of days, at least, to get myself sorted...

In the meantime, here’s lookin’ at my birds.
Friday, November 11
The Day Of The Doolally: Elevenses at my place?

IF YOU suffer arithmophobia – a fear of numbers – look away now ... So how best to mark today’s palindromic moment in time? Well, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in the 11th year was not a problem.
     I’m in the kitchen, enjoying a whisky-laced coffee topped with double cream while flicking through the morning paper, the wireless on in the background – and Big Ben begins to strike eleven.
     I share the two minutes’ Armistice Day tribute with the silent wireless, made just that little bit more poignant this year having watched last Monday evening the new BBC series The Choir – Military Wives; it brings it home, not so much what the soldiers are going through out in Afghanistan and other far away places with strange sounding names, but also what the children, wives and girlfriends are going through back home...

Some nine minutes later, the 11th second of the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in the 11th year arrives. Nothing particularly happens in my life - bit I smile. Numerologists were anxiously awaiting this precise moment, when the digital alignment of ones occurred at 11:11:11:11:11:11am, which some believe would lead to unusual events.
     Thousands of people were gathered around the world to perform ceremonial dances, indeed several pages have been devoted to the date on social networking website Facebook, apparently.
     Some attribute the number 11 to paranormal powers that provide a channel of communication with the subconscious; others see a mystical connection between number and disasters, like the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
     Egypt closed the Great Pyramid of Giza today to avoid any rituals by a group rumoured to have plans to mark the date of 11/11/11 at the site. The decision came “after much pressure” from Egyptian Internet users that strange rituals were going to be held “within the walls of the pyramid on November 11, 2011.” Strange but true.
     Others celebrate The Day Of The Doolally in weird and wonderful ways, such as The Date That Most Resembles Corduroy (11:11:11:11:11:11). As I say, The Day Of The Doolally. You are a one, honestly.
     Mind you, I rather enjoyed a comment spotted online from someone called Tipatina: “I can’t wait for ... 8/8/88: Bubble Jacket Day.”

Ten past ten revisited - and all’s well
EARLIER in the day, when I arrived home with the morning paper, a Reader’s Digest junk mail catalogue fell out of the paper onto the floor. Normally these things go straight into the recycle pile, but this time something made me flick through...
     Talk about coincidence. Having dedicated this bulletin to more serious matters to do with a particular moment in time, my eye landed on a wall clock which boasted this seductive sales pitch:
Enjoy birdsong every hour of the day
I smiled – a picture of said clock is featured, alongside. I quote the blurb...

Twelve of the most popular British birds sing to you on the hour throughout the day, to brighten your home with the sweet sounds of nature. In a smart green frame, the clock may be displayed freestanding or on your wall.
     A must for bird-watchers, all 12 delightful species are beautifully illustrated to add to the charm. At night, the birds sleep so you can too

While I am not a bird-watcher, given my relationship with the songbirds down in the valley – see the images dotted all over this web site of mine – in a moment of weakness I was nearly seduced into doing the unthinkable.
     Even though I have more than enough clocks about the cottage, I might still buy one – it’s the thought of all those

Sing for your supper and you'll get breakfast - - -
Dine with friends of choice.

birds going to sleep at night that tickles my imagination no end.

Thursday, November 10
There’s more than one way to enjoy an
After Eight
TODAY I caught up with last weekend’s Sunday Times  News Review supplement. Its front page – alongside – has a picture of a young Martin Amis with his father Kingsley.
     Above the headline,
OKAY, DAD, SO WHAT IS A PHILANDERER?, the blurb reads: Martin Amis grew up in a dissolute home – amid the parties and parental fights his father barely hid his womanising – but the boy took it in his stride, thinking every family lived this way, writes his biographer Richard Bradford.
     And there’s that little teaser in the top right corner of the photograph: Martin, aged 15, with his father Kingsley, who at one dinner party went into the garden three times to have sex with each of the women guests...
     I immediately thought of old After Eight himself, Silvio Berlusconi....
Remember when he boasted to a friend that he had bedded eight women overnight after one of his erotic “bunga-bunga” New Year’s Eve parties? God, I feel ejaculated - I mean exhausted - just thinking about it.

     Anyway, I was intrigued by the Kingsley Amis sex bit - I’ve dined out on legendary tales of Old Shaggy and Young Shagwell down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, remember - so I perused the article. Here are some choice cuts...

In the 1950s, The Amises were living in Swansea, where Kingsley was an assistant lecturer at University College. He caused a minor earthquake in the otherwise torpid zone of English domestic fiction with his first novel, Lucky Jim, in 1954...
     Kingsley and Hilly, his wife, held parties in which they seemed intent on reclaiming the opportunities for youthful irresponsibility which her teenage pregnancy had denied them at Oxford almost a decade earlier...
     Hilly had become aware that her husband lived in a manner that any good-looking lecherous bachelor would envy. Despite an extramarital affair of her own she never countenanced an open marriage, however.
     The dinner party at their Swansea house when Kingsley went into the garden three times to have sex with each of the women guests is a fact, yet the implication that the non-participating observers were indulgent debauchees-by-association is inaccurate...

I’m intrigued by the “fact” bit: by whose say so? Amis himself? Boastful liar? Or the women themselves? Scarcely believable in the Swansea of the 1950s. But it isn’t the After Eight factor that elevates this into the smile of the day, oh no.
     Read this...
While Kingsley wrote – “He was in his study. He was always in his study” – Hilly would take the children to the beach or the cinema during summer evenings and weekends.
     Martin recalls her driving them back from the beach on the roof rack of her Morris 1000 Traveller – Martin and Philip, his elder brother, on either side of Sally, their little sister, who was “about four or five”.
     “The only light came from the full moon and the head-lamps. It felt as though we were flying. None of us felt nervous because at that age you don’t recognise danger – I suppose we had much in common with our mother despite the age difference.”

That is astonishing. Now I was brought up on a farm and I got up to all sorts of things, what with all those tractors and machinery to play with – health and safety would have had a fit – but can you imagine walking along Mumbles Road in the

The Amis family outside their Swansea home: just
picture those three children on that roof rack. Priceless.

Swansea of the 1950s, and this Morris 1000 Traveller toddles
past with three children sat on the roof rack?
     Obviously there would have been hardly any traffic back then, but still.

I smile and smile just thinking about it ... I even forgot about Kingsley, Berlusconi and all those After Eights not going to waste.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the – um -
Today, James Murdoch had a bruising second appearance before the House of Commons Culture Committee’s inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal. I didn’t see the pantomime myself, but this report caught my eye...

In a two-and-a-half-hour grilling, Mr Murdoch was accused by Labour MP and phone-hacking campaigner Tom Watson of acting like a “mafia boss” whose company operated an “omerta-style” code of silence to cover up criminal behaviour.
     After Mr Murdoch repeatedly denied being aware of wrongdoing within the company he has led since 2007, Mr Watson told him: “You must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise.”

Wow. But as always, it takes this wonderful “Summarise the Murdoch pantomime in 14 words or less” cartoon by The Daily Telegraph’s brilliant Matt, alongside, to make the point, with jingle bells on...
     Much more effective than the Mafia jibe. Indeed, is there any person on the planet who does not believe that Rupert Murdoch, clever and cunning individual that he is, was not fully aware of everything that was going on at the recently departed News of the World? And that includes all his lieutenants.
     Crazy world, crazy people.


Wednesday, November 9
Well, fancy that

JUST a few Q&As caught in the slips on Alex Lester’s overnight BBC Radio 2  The Best Time Of The Day Show...

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is one of those delightfully doolally thought experiments that raises questions regarding observation and knowledge of reality; something dreamt up by someone who had much too much time on his hands (I mean, it has to be a man).
     Anyway, let’s put the whole thing in perspective. Someone called Sir Not A Lot posed the following question of Alex’s listeners: “If a tree fell on my foot and nobody else was there, would I make a noise?”
     Sir Stan Milkman A Lot replied: “You certainly wood
!” Yes okay, you saw that coming and shouted “Timber!”.

Doug the Co-op Driver asks: “If mountains are nearer the sun why are they always covered in snow? Is it really snow or sun screen to stop them burning?” “That’s a very good point,” says Alex, “I’m sure a scientist could answer that.”
     I’m unsure whether a scientist actually did; personally, I think it should be left hanging up there. And anyway, the seed is now well and truly planted. Whenever I see a snow-covered mountain top in future, I will wonder what number sun screen it’s wearing.

Finally, someone whose name I missed, asked this: “How can I be sure the fridge light is out when I close the door?” Bugger, every time I now close the fridge door I find myself wondering if the light – yes, you’re ahead of the game.
     Enough already.

Listening on iPlayer to John Bennett’s Sunday Club on BBC Radio Ulster, he played Three Times A Lady by The Commodores.
     John told us that The Commodores originally called themselves The Mystics, but weren’t particularly happy with that so decided to change.
     To choose a new name, William King, one of the founder members of the group, opened a dictionary and randomly picked a word: “We lucked out,” he remarked with a laugh when telling this story to People Magazine. “It was just luck. We almost became The Commodes
     Like John Bennett, I too hope it’s a true story.

As is my wont, I got out my Collins Concise Dictionary. The next word down after commodore was Commodus: Lucius Aelius Aurelius AD 161-192;  Roman emperor from 180. He was a tyrant, spending lavishly on gladiatorial combats, confiscating the property of the wealthy, persecuting the Senate, and renaming Rome ‘Colonia Commodia’.
     He was strangled at the instigation of his mistress and advisors, who had discovered themselves on the emperor’s death list.
What a charming fella.
     Commodus was famous for being the first emperor “born in the purple” i.e. born during his father’s reign. Also, his name changed throughout his reign – now how ironic is that? Carry On Emperor. Nice new suit of clothes, by the way.
     However, the word that comes before commodore is “commodo”, which means, surprisingly, “in a convenient tempo”. How about that? The Commodos.

Various dictionaries include different words either side of commodore, depending on size and how modern they are. For example, my computer’s spellchecker shows “commodity-product spread” before commodore – a very modern expression, and certainly not suitable as a name for a singing group: “Let’s hear it, folks, for The Commodity-Product Spread
     They would doubtless be popular with bankers . The word that comes after commodore is ‘common’ – well, I guess you could have a group called ‘The Commons’, but they would be mistaken for a bunch of MPs. Disaster.

Tuesday, November 8
Come again?

YESTERDAY, I told the tale of choirmaster Gareth Malone being approached by a rather menacing individual in green Army fatigues: “I just wanted to shake your hand,” the marine says, thrusting out his own massive mitt towards Malone. “My wife thinks you’re the dog’s bollocks.”

It’s a very smiley exchange, and I fully appreciate that being labelled “the dog’s bollocks” is a high compliment – but along this morning’s walk I found myself wondering what precisely does it mean, and where does the expression come from? I presumed that it must have something to do with a dog’s delight in regularly grooming his crown jewels.
     Anyway, this from The Phrase Finder (www.phrases.org.uk)

The meaning and origin of the expression: dog’s bollocks
Excellent – the absolute apex. In other contexts the word bollocks (meaning testicles) has a negative connotation; for example:
                - ‘that’s bollocks’ -> ‘that’s rubbish’
                - ‘give him a bollocking’ -> ‘chastise him’
                - ‘he dropped a bollock’ -> ‘he made a mistake’
The reasons why the ‘dog’s bollocks’ are considered to be the top of the tree aren’t clear. It may be linked to an associated phrase – ‘stand out like a dog’s balls’, i.e. ‘outstanding’, although I can find no evidence to indicate that phrase as being earlier than the ‘dog’s bollocks’.
     Dogs do enjoy licking their genitals of course but again, there’s no evidence that links the coining of this phrase to that. It is most likely that this is just a nonsense phrase, coined because it sounds good. In that respect, it would join a long list of earlier nonsense phrases, e.g. ‘the cat’s pyjamas’, ‘the bee’s knees’, etc...

As it says on the tin: every day a day at school. Then there was the story under the following headline...

                                                                  Asteroid ‘close encounter’
Tonight, in a rare occurrence, a huge asteroid will pass closer to Earth than the moon...

What really tickled me was this online comment from the wonderfully named
John O’Sandy Bay – in Welsh that would translate as John From Sandy Bay – and this will make a British audience smile: Don’t worry – Michael Fish says it’s not going anywhere near us...

Finally, having done a Guy Fawkes feature on November the 5th – and indeed revisited it yesterday with my dolphin, pussycat and sparrow feature – I have just caught up with the video clip of – well, here’s a proper build up...

            Fireworks display costing £6,000 goes off all at once in 60 seconds after tech blunder
A town’s £6,000 firework display went up in smoke in just 60 seconds after a technical hitch. Locals had flocked to Mossfield Park in Oban for the west highland town’s annual spectacular which should have lasted around 30 minutes.
     However, a technical hitch saw all the fireworks, which were paid for by donations from spectators and Scottish Sea Farms, ignite and illuminate the night sky in just 60 seconds...

The crowd that had gathered only knew something was wrong

when Councillor Roddy McCuish told them over the PA system: “I have some terrible news – the fireworks have all gone off at once.”

After watching the video of said disaster, I rather liked the comment that reminded us of a great quote by Australian actress Catherine “Cate” Blanchett, 42:
“If you know you are going to fail, then fail gloriously.”

Watching this video reminded me of my sex life. Regularly I have planned a 30 minute extravaganza – Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve in my bedroom, sort of thing – but it is pretty much always over in 60 seconds flat, and it’s always a

          Typical fireworks in my bedroom. Not.

                                                                                                           technical bitch – sorry, hitch.
                                                                                                                 Mind you, everyone present at the Oban display will
                                                                                                           remember it for the rest of their lives – which is more than
                                                                                                           can be said of my sex life.

The link to this wonderful ‘one moment in time’ experience comes up below. Oh, and watch out for the lone exploding firework at the end, which hovers there like a huge exclamation mark over the whole proceedings.
     Marvellous and memorable...
Monday, November 7
                      I’d like to teach the world to sing (in perfect harmony)

PERUSING The Sunday Times’  TV & Radio Guide, I read this...

War Song: The Choir – Military Wives (BBC2, 9pm)
“This is the most intimidating place I’ve ever been in my entire life,” says the mild-mannered Gareth Malone as he enters the Chivenor military base in north Devon, where he hopes to spend the next few months distracting the wives and girlfriends from thinking too hard about what their husbands and boyfriends might be experiencing in Afghanistan, by making them sing in a choir.
     Malone is a lovely television presence: enthusiastic, kind, apparently short on ego and genuinely tickled by the impact that music can make on troubled hearts.

I was sold. Having watched Gareth Malone on his previous series, he is, as the saying goes, worth the TV licence fee all on his own. This also tickled me from a preview of the programme in the Telegraph...

Gareth Malone: Keeping the home fires burning with The Choir
In the gloomy Officers’ Mess of a rain-swept Royal Marines
base on a miserable October morning, choirmaster Gareth
Malone is chatting animatedly about the importance of encouraging people to sing, when he is interrupted by a very large, rather menacing individual in green Army fatigues.
     “I just wanted to shake your hand,” the marine says, thrusting out his own massive mitt towards Malone. “My wife thinks you’re the dog’s bollocks.”
     The contrast between the fresh-faced, bespectacled, slightly fogey-ish choirmaster and this gruff giant of British military manhood borders on the comical.
     Yet the encounter illustrates the degree to which Malone, while making his latest TV project The Choir: Military Wives, has charmed his way into the trust of the soldiers – and, more crucially, the soldiers’ wives – of RMB Chivenor in remote north Devon.

Gareth Malone at RMB Chivenor to
teach military wives and girlfriends to sing

     As a result, there’s a sense of immense emotional uplift and
generosity about this series, in which Malone assembles a choir
from the women left behind when a detachment from Chivenor
heads out to Afghanistan for a six-month tour of duty.

The programme didn’t disappoint. I can only reiterate a Den Bray comment online: Bloomin’ bloody brilliant. So much so, I decided to submit a letter to The Daily Telegraph  along a slightly different tack, which went something like this...

Born to lead
SIR – Not long ago someone started a popular petition ‘Jeremy Clarkson for PM’. We can take it as read that it was not so much tongue-in-cheek as utter despair at the sort of people who have featured as our political masters over the past quarter century or so.
     May I propose ‘Gareth Malone for PM’? Watching the first episode of his insightful, inspirational and emotional new series The Choir – Military Wives, it was intriguing how this gentle, nice-natured character managed to have all those around him – from the stars of the show, the wives and girlfriends, to the top brass – standing to attention and eager to please.
     He is clearly a chip off the old Winston Churchill block, in as much that he is blessed with the gift of getting the best out of all those around him.
     While it is unlikely that we will ever see Gareth Malone as PM, why do you suppose that politics, banking and big business no longer attracts this kind of inspirational character, those individuals who put people first, second and third? (Who can forget the colourful and genial Sir John Harvey-Jones of ICI fame and popular Troubleshooter television series?).
     Indeed, can you imagine Gareth Malone ever saying something as soul-destroying as David Cameron did to his troops back in June: “You do the fighting [and the dying], I’ll do the talking.”
Perhaps we could start with someone who looks perfectly at ease while wearing a combo of beat-up jeans and bow tie, something even Jeremy Clarkson would struggle to get away with. (Again, remember the Sir John Harvey-Jones rather wild and wind-swept look? Oh, and dont forget the pipe.)
HB, Llandampness

I’ll tell you what: last Saturday, Guy Fawkes Day, I reproduced a Fawkers gallery of sharks, polecats and sparrow hawks from the Edenbridge Bonfire Society’s Annual Celebrity Burn.

Well, here’s the antidote...

                                 Winston Churchill

    John Harvey-Jones

              Gareth Malone





Sunday, November 6
                      By the light of the silvery moon,
                      I want to spoon, to my honey I’ll croon love’s tune...

“HE DREW himself close to me and whispered: ‘Would you like to have dinner? I said: ‘Yes, sir, where?’ Nothing came of it, but I didn’t mind because his hands were like big sausages. He then dated Susan George. I think he must have got frustrated.” Francoise Pascal, 62, the actress and model reminisces about being propositioned by Prince Charles at a Polo match.

Do you suppose it was  his hand she was holding? Anyway, whenever I turn on the telly these days I can never escape Stephen Fry - so, a variation on an old joke: Whenever I turn on the telly these days I feel like Prince Charles’ fingers:
! It’s Fry, Fry and Fry again.”
Sausage and  eggs
“DON’T worry Rory, you won’t see anything that somebody much more famous than you hasn’t already seen.”
What Edwina Currie said to Rory Bremner, who accidentally walked in on her changing costumes in the run-up to Strictly Come Dancing.

I presume Mrs Currie was not referring to Prince Charles, but rather a four-year affair she had with former Prime Minister John Major back in 1984.
     Mrs Hot Currie became notorious when as a health minister in 1988 – we were still in the dark about the Major affair back then – she remarked that most of Britain’s egg production was infected with salmonella.
     A huge storm followed as egg sales plummeted and she was eventually forced to resign. Yes, it simply wasn’t true.

What I remember about the disclosure in 2002 of the Major-Hot Currie affair was the comment from Lady Archer, the wife of disgraced Tory peer Lord Archer: “I am a little surprised, not at Mrs Currie’s indiscretion but at a temporary lapse in John Major’s taste.”

Very good, Lady Archer, which in turn reminded me of this little gem from Charles Buxton (1823-1871), an English brewer, philanthropist, writer and Member of Parliament: “The rule in carving holds good as to criticism; never cut with a knife what you can cut with a spoon.”

                      By the light of the silvery moon,
                      I want to spoon, to my honey I’ll croon love’s tune...


Remember, remember, the 5th of November...
What a greedy load of Fawkers


OFTEN I spot a headline online, and I really don’t want to click for “more” because that would spoil the picture already magically conjured up in my mind – and I quickly move on. Occasionally though I simply have to click: this link spotted on the BT/Yahoo! home page this morning...

Cleaner Scrubs Away £690,000 Work Of Art

A German museum is counting the cost after a cleaning woman mistook a valuable sculpture for an unsightly mess – and damaged it beyond repair.
     The Martin Kippenberger installation entitled When It Starts Dripping From The Ceiling, pictured alongside, was on display at the Ostwall Museum in Dortmund. The late modern master had created a tower of wooden slats under which a rubber trough was placed with a thin beige layer of paint representing dried rain water.
     Taking it for a stain, the cleaner scrubbed the surface until it gleamed. “It is now impossible to return it to its original state,” a city spokesman said.
     She added that the work, valued by insurers at 800,000 euros (£690,000), had been loaned to the museum by a private collector...

As you can imagine, the online responses were pretty much exclusively drop-down-dead hilarity, with most voicing the opinion that the whole “work of art” thing was doolally beyond. However, I smiled XL at this response to the

ho-ho-ho! online comments from someone identified simply as S...

Mmmmm philistines, get back to yer dogs playing cards. I kinda like it, think they should just include the cleaner’s actions as part of a ongoing generative process evolving the works to new challenging levels, engaging the observer in a dialogue that encompasses dirty past and its shiny new modern future, juxtaposed within Marxist symbolism, the humble worker makes the rich man’s mud shine. Discuss...

When I read the above, some contributors were already discussing it – much too seriously – which elevated the whole thing to an XXL smile. (I also enjoyed a subsequent comment from geniusloci: “I wish she’d make Tracey Emin’s bed.”

Now I have a couple of thoughts on this. Being a natural-born cynic, there’s something not quite right about it all. I mean, why did the cleaner go into the trough to clean it? If the stain had been on the floor - well, that would be different. And hang about: dried rain water is invisible!
     I reckon the aforementioned private collector has bought a pig in a poke and he or she can’t shift it, and is perhaps desperate for the cash. Right, so what would I do in that situation? I would make the cleaner an offer impossible to refuse, to “accidentally” scrub it clean, and – bingo
! – £690,000 insurance money.
     Brilliant. Nice work if you can get it. But you have to tip your hat to the ingenuity of the scam. But, that's just me trying to make sense of the whole unbelievable incident.
     My second thought: if the sculpture really was recognised as a “work of art” prior to the “Whoops
!” incident, and if it is now worthless, it would look just perfect at this year’s Edenbridge Bonfire Society’s Annual Celebrity Burn.

Burn, baby, burn
EACH year the Edenbridge Bonfire picks a celebrity who has been in the news for all the wrong reasons – and whose identity is kept a closely-guarded secret until a few days before November the 5th. Here’s a roll call of recent effigies...
     In 2008, BBC presenter Jonathan Ross and his sidekick, comedian Russell Brand, caused outrage after they left lewd messages on the voice mail of Fawlty Towers star Andrew Sachs, including horrid comments about Sachs’ granddaughter and bragging that one of them had slept with her (and I seem to remember something about Ross on his television show asking David Cameron whether he masturbated over pictures of Lady Thatcher - class, eh?).
     Brand resigned from the BBC and Ross was suspended from his reported £18 million three-year golden egg contract. When Ross originally signed the mega-deal in 2006, it was described in the media as “obscene” – and would you believe it, the Catherine Wheel turned full circle as he behaved in a suitably “obscene” manner on both the wireless and the television.
     Yup, Ross and Brand are a couple of perfectly stupid and greedy Fawkers (first effigy, below):

In 2007, Cherie Blair signed a lucrative book deal exposing secrets from her time as the PM’s wife at Number 10. It was a clever nod to her natural-born greed, something which she curiously acknowledges – there she is, with book and loads of money - but she blames it on her underprivileged and impoverished upbringing. A proper little greedy Fawker, if you ask me.
     And last year it was footballer Wayne Rooney after he made front-page news following his poor performance in the World Cup, his loyalty to Manchester United (while all the while demanding even more money), and allegations about his private life. The effigy is clutching a five-year contract in one hand, with a holdall of cash in the other. He completes the line up of greedy little Fawkers (that word has a perfect ring about it, just like those German World War II planes).
     Anyway, this year the celebrity guy is Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli after the City forward, rather appropriately, saw his house set on fire when his friends let off fireworks in the bathroom of his Cheshire mansion. So just a silly Fawker then.

Sadly, Balotelli trumps my sculpture nomination as a worthy “burnt at the stake” contender.

Ah well, I wonder who next year’s Fawker will be?
Friday, November 4

BACK at the beginning of August, I received the following letter from Iain Hollingshead, the Letters editor at The Daily Telegraph...

I hope you don’t mind my writing to tell you about a new Telegraph  book called I Rest My Case, a follow-up to Am I Alone in Thinking...? and I Could Go On, which is coming out in time for Christmas.
     As you might be aware, we receive a huge volume of Letters to the Editor at The Daily Telegraph. Most days our post bag – which includes emails, letters and faxes – averages 800. Given that we can publish only around 20 of these letters each day, a large amount of interesting material goes to waste.
     Often, some of the best letters never make the page as they arrive too late and the news agenda has moved on, or they address an interesting topic which doesn’t fit with the rest of the day’s selection. We could easily make two or three interesting Letters pages each day.

In 2009 I had the idea of collating and editing these unused letters into a book: Am I Alone in Thinking...? Unpublished letters to The Daily Telegraph. It proved to be a very popular Christmas gift. Last year we published a completely new, follow-up edition, I Could Go On.
     This year’s compilation, I Rest My Case, will be published at the end of October by Aurum, its cover illustration provided by our cartoonist Matt. It will be available via the Telegraph’s  bookshop, as well as in all good bookshops and on Amazon.
     I Rest My Case  consists of approximately 500 letters in 12 chapters, including ones on politics, sport, the royals, anti-social media, travel, language, television and radio.
     I’m delighted to say that we are intending to include one of your letters – in the same format and abbreviated method of identification (Name, town, county) as it would have appeared on the Letters page. The book is currently undergoing its final edit so there is a small chance that one or two letters may have to be removed, but this is unlikely.
     If, for any reason, you would prefer that your letter did not appear, or for it to be used anonymously, please do contact me by post or by email by 22nd August. Otherwise, there is no need to reply to this letter and I do hope you enjoy the book.
Yours sincerely,
Iain Hollingshead

Hm, the thing is, I received three of these letters from Mr Hollingshead, which suggests that I may have three letters included. What intrigues me is this: which letters have made it?
     I’ve submitted regular missives over the past year, with a few published anyway. I’ll have to pay a visit to a ‘good bookshop’ – I don’t buy anything online (it’s my dominant caveman gene, don’t you know).
     Funnily enough, I received similar letters from The Times  a few years back, and the number of my letters that appeared in The Times’ book reflected the number of letters I received from the newspaper.
     The difference though was that The Times  book was of letters that had  appeared in the paper. I think I prefer The Daily Telegraph  approach.
     Whatever, an article has just appeared in The Daily Telegraph...

Readers’ letters: pearls from our postbag

Iain Hollingshead writes about the book; I particularly liked this paragraph...

This has been the year of riots, Nick Clegg’s tears, bunga-bunga and super-injunctions. England turned out to be surprisingly good at cricket and unsurprisingly bad at rugby. The eurozone has threatened to collapse, as did half the Middle East. We waved goodbye to bin Laden and Gaddafi, and an enthusiastic hello to Pippa Middleton’s bottom.

A few letters from the book are included as a starter for ten. Sadly, I’m not
included in that little lot. However, here are just a few examples I enjoyed...

SIR – While agreeing that hacking into other people’s telephones is totally despicable and should be severely punished, my wife and I – a couple who can barely manage to text – have a certain admiration for those who have the ability to achieve such things.
John Ewington, Bletchingley, Surrey

The above caught my eye because of the news that a former fling of Hugh Grant’s, Tinglan Hong (great name), had given birth five weeks ago to the actor’s first child, a little girl.
     Grant’s publicist said: “I can confirm that Hugh Grant is the delighted father of a baby girl. He and the mother had a fleeting affair and while this was not planned, Hugh could not be happier or more supportive. He and the mother have discussed everything and are on very friendly terms.”
     A couple of things struck me. What exactly was that “fleeting affair”? A one-night stand? A quick jump in a broom cupboard à la Boris Becker? We should be told.
     The other weird thing was that the announcement of the happy event came compliments of Grant’s publicist – five weeks after the birth. Well, that’s proof, I guess, that the media are no longer phone-hacking, otherwise we would have known about this a while back.
     Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Royal Wedding
SIR – All these years I have lived under the impression that Middleton Bottom was a rural west-country village.
Keith White, Conford, Hampshire

SIR – While I enjoyed the Royal wedding, I did miss the BBC failing to interview William and Kate on their way back down the aisle asking, “How does it feel?”.
Bruce Ridge, Cleveden, Somerset

I enjoyed this online response to the above...
thatlldo: I have to admit, after a recent wedding, I asked the bride “How does it feel?”. She said “Same as before”.

thatlldo also added this, which rather amused me: When

What an asset. And how elegant.

asked what the lyrics to his chart-topping song actually meant,
Don McLean said: “They mean I never have to work again in my
life.” And indeed, true to his word, he only released two chart-
topping songs (to date).

Back with that Middleton Bottom “west-country village” thingy. I Googled Middleton Bottom – and was overwhelmed with pages and pages about Pippa’s derrière. (If she currently lives in the capital, perhaps she is now The London Derrière?
Oh Danny Boy, that’s a terrible suggestion.)
     So I got out my RAC Road Atlas Britain 1998 ... sadly, no Middleton Bottom – but, amazingly ... 26 Middletons, one of them just down the road, on the Gower, near Worms Head ... there are also 18 Middletons with addendums, such as Middleton Hall and Middleton-on-Sea. My favourites were...
     Middleton on the Hill, Herefordshire – well, Kate and Pippa are certainly now up there on the Hill.
     Middleton Bank Top, Northumberland – well, Kate and Pippa have certainly had their bank accounts topped up.
     Middleton One Row, Darlington – apropos Pippa, shame it wasn’t Middleton Two Rows.
And my favourite...
     Middleton-on-the-Wolds, East Riding of Yorkshire - “Wold” as in “An upland area of open country or a hilly or rolling region. It is no longer in common use but remains as part of the names of some geographic areas in England, “the Yorkshire Wolds” for example.
     I don’t know about you, but I think there should be a place called The Middleton Wolds, in celebration of Pippa’s rolling regions. I mean, she clearly rolls her rssss...

I remain, Sir, your very obedient servant,
Hubie Baby, Llandampness
Thursday, November 3
A shilling for your thoughts

YESTERDAY I featured that exceedingly smiley “children’s portions” letter from The Times. Truth to tell, the Crazy Horsepower’s Chief Wise Owl had also given me another letter, which I’ve just remembered about, and it, too, is certainly
SS material (Smile Spot, that is).

First, some dots that perhaps need to be joined up for the benefit of those who live outside the .co.uk borders...

The ‘bob-a-job week’, where boy scouts lend a helping hand to friends and neighbours in exchange for a small payment, was first introduced as a ‘good turn day’ way back in 1914 by scout movement founder Lord Baden-Powell, and officially started as a  ‘bob-a-job week’ during Easter week in 1949.
     However, it ended in 1992 after concerns were raised over health and safety and child protection issues. The scheme had previously seen youngsters across the UK carry out jobs including car washing, gardening and helping elderly people with their shopping.
     After nearly two decades, ‘bob-a-job week’ – or Scout Job Week as it is now officially known – is back, but this time modern scouts won’t expect to receive a penny for their voluntary work. The new community week will see scouts offering help to hospitals, care homes or volunteer groups.
     The original scheme got its nickname from the five pence piece – roughly the old shilling before decimal coinage was introduced in 1971, and colloquially known as a ‘bob’, hence ‘bob-a-job week’ – that the youngsters were paid for completing their good turn...
                                                                   ...as a matter of interest, the one shilling of 1914 was worth, in 2009,  £3.72, according to the retail price index. Intriguingly, according to something called the GDP deflator – a measure of the level of prices of all new, domestically produced, final goods in an economy – a shilling from 1914 was £4.88 in 2009.
     However, if that one shilling is increased in line with how much earnings have gone up since 1914, then in 2009 it was worth, roughly, depending which particular index is used, an astonishing £26.00. Gulp.

So, as you recover from that – amazing how wages have outstripped the value of goods and services, and why we are so much wealthier a hundred years on – here’s that letter I mentioned, above...

Coining it
Sir, My late sister-in-law, a Girl Guide commissioner, was just in time to persuade a group of the unwisdom of their proposed effort to compete with the local Scouts. The title they had in mind was “willing for a shilling”.
GEORGE REID, Edinburgh.

Finally, I see that Nancy Dool’Allio, as I affectionately think of her, has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing, with these words from judge Len Goodman ringing in her ears: “There were moments of Mills and Boon, but also moments of meals-on-wheels.”
     Oh dear, that’s very funny, if cruel – so we’ll leave the final word to dear Nancy herself, who was responding when reminded that she had been described as sexy: “Well, everyone knows that, it’s quite evident.”
Wednesday, November 2
Higgity, haggity, hoggety, high

THE Jeremy Clarkson wagon keeps rolling along: “Them Cherokees are after me, flaming spears, burn my ears – but I’m still singin’ a happy song...”

“She says I was a slob and that I reeked of an old ashtray. Still am and still do.” Mr Clarkson gets his retaliation in first as his former wife, Alexandra Hall, prepares to launch her book where she will share with us the news Clarkson attempted to suppress with an injunction, that he had an affair with her after he married his current wife.

Today I actually got round to reading his latest road test in The Sunday Times  In Gear motoring section...

Bling, brains and brawn: Clarkson drives the car that’s got it all

It’s the Range Rover Evoque Prestige SD4 auto, a snip at £39,000. He begins thus...

Douglas Adams said the answer was 42. He was wrong, though. It doesn’t matter what the question you are posing; the answer is always a diesel-powered Range Rover Vogue SE.
     What’s the best car for taking the children to school? What’s the best car for a day’s shooting? What’s the best car for a drive to Scotland? What’s the best car for a quiet drive home after work? What’s the best car for crossing Africa?
     What looks best in a field? Or in Knightsbridge? Or outside your ex-wife’s pad while you’re having a quick shag for old time’s sake? Range Rover. Range Rover. Range Rover.

Yes, okay, I made up that line “What looks best in a field?” No I didn’t. I made up the one about being parked outside his ex-wife’s pad while having etc, etc...
     I couldn’t resist it. That’s what happens when you’re not the Messiah, just a very naughty boy – and those damn Cherokees are catching up with you, irrespective of whether you’re driving a Range Rover Vogue SE.

And talking of naughty boys, Chief Wise Owl of Crazy Horsepower Saloon fame has cut out another letter from The Times for my delectation. And this has a special resonance to things Crazy Horsepower.
     The Sundance Kid is a regular. I say ‘Kid’; he is now into his 70s, and over recent years has suffered some ill health, although he’s okay these days. Also, his wife suffers rheumatism and a back problem, and she, bless, does have to put up with a great deal of pain.
     Now Mr and Mrs Sundance are traditionalists, in as much that they enjoy a good old-fashioned Sunday lunch; however, cooking a fine meal for just the two of them has now become something of a bind.
     Riding to the rescue is the Crazy Horsepower, which boasts a couple of popular restaurants. They specialise in function meals – weddings, parties, Mother’s Day, etc – and they have a top reputation. So Sunday lunch at the Crazy Horsepower is just like wot mum used to make.
     For the regulars in the bar they will do a main course only, at a reasonable cost, which is popular. They will also do a takeaway for Sundance and his wife, who live near the pub.
     What makes it amusing is that Sundance orders a couple of children’s portions. Not because that’s cheaper again, but neither he nor his wife are big eaters. In fact Sundance never has been; he’s a little-bit-often man.
     Right, with all those dots joined up, here’s the Times  letter handed me by a smiling Chief Wise Owl...

Sir, My parents were out to eat with friends and decided to downsize portions as suggested by Anne Rowley (Times2, Oct 24). They asked if they could order two standard portions and two children’s portions.
     “No problem,” said the waitress. When she returned with the meals she said of the two standard portions: “Be very careful, the plates are very hot”; and to the others: “Your plates are burny-burny”.
ANDREW M. CUBIE, Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire


Tuesday, November 1
God’ll Fix It

FOND memories of Jimmy Savile keep popping up all over the place. This from Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail...

Now then, now then
My favourite Jim’ll Fix It story was the time Jimmy Savile turned up at a Status Quo concert with a 14-year-old wannabe rock star in toe. “This is David,” Jim said to the band. “He wants to play rhythm guitar with Status Quo.”
     Francis Rossi took one look at him and said: “Anyone can play rhythm guitar with Status Quo.”

Wonderful, especially as Status Quo remain one of the nation’s more characterful bands. Which reminds me. It’s Nearly Christmas Time. And time to dig out those lovingly cobbled together cassette tapes of Christmas music from yesteryear, and dust ‘em off ready to welcome Rudolph and his Red Nose.
     Yes, I still play cassette tapes. Not that I am anti-technology – I do this daily smile thingy for goodness’ sake – but the trouble with electronic stuff is, once the gate crashes you lose everything locked away behind that gate.
     Frustrating beyond. However, with a cassette tape, if it becomes mangled or broken you just cut and mend – and off you go. Don’t talk to me about progress.

Last Sunday, I told the tale about changing all the clocks in the home and beyond, and how our politicians are thinking of keeping to British Summer Time. Well, this fascinating letter in today’s Telegraph...

What to do about Greenwich Mean Time and British Summer Time
SIR – In 1884, 25 nations met to regularise the muddle of dates and times that had existed until then. They voted 22-1 (with San Domingo voting against, and Brazil and France abstaining) that a leafy area of London would have a line drawn through it which would become zero degrees longitude.
     This would be the central point from which the whole world (and now space stations, too) would measure dates and time. Thus was born the Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time.
     I am immensely proud of this remnant of our influential past and I think it would be tragic never actually to be on GMT, but always to be GMT+1 or + 2.
     So let’s keep GMT. It gets dark, it gets light. For goodness’ sake, just drive carefully, put children in reflective waistcoats and teach them not to walk into the road without looking, and crush all bicycles which do not have working front and rear lights.
Fran Godfrey, London W1

Would this be Fran Godfrey the BBC Radio 2 newsreader? Famous for her appearances on Wake Up To Wogan, where she became known as the thinking man’s alarm clock? How ironic.
     Anyway, the above, interesting as it is, does not in itself qualify to claim a smile spot – but, as often happens, it’s the follow-up contributions which make one smile XL. For example...
   This appeared on line, from Sosraboc: The French abstained in 1884 because their preferred alternative was the Paris meridian. That would have given us all PMT, and who wants that?

Nice one. But this was the letter that made me chuckle...

SIR – Time for a true compromise that will annoy everyone. Let’s put the clocks back half an hour and forget the whole thing.
Rod Andrews, Southampton

Late evening, Jimmy Savile is back in the news, and I really did smile when I read this...

Ow’s about that, then!
Jimmy Savile to ‘lie in state’ – at the Queen’s Hotel Leeds

It seems the marking of Sir Jimmy Savile’s death will be as extraordinary as his colourful life. The coffin, containing the DJ’s body, will be put on public display in the manner of a dead monarch lying in state...

Delightful British eccentricity at its most doolally. Clearly, God Fixed It For Jim.
Monday, October 31
To believe, or not to believe: that is the question
~ No. 2

THIS letter in today’s Telegraph, along with a follow-up online comment, tickled my fancy no end...

Signs of early snow
SIR – Last autumn, we watched the squirrels frenetically storing acorns and were therefore not surprised by snow in November. This year, the activity is even more desperate.
! When it comes to predicting bad weather, a squirrel is better than a fish.
Peter le Feuvre, Chichester, West Sussex

This online response from Nickr: I imagine that Peter le Feuvre in Chichester is watching grey squirrels. I wonder if they are busy predicting the severity of a North American winter?

That’s rather good, bearing in mind that greys were introduced to this country from North America. And what did we see on the news today? “Snow hits New York before Halloween for only the fourth time since the Civil War [1861-1865] as East Coast hunkers down for a VERY chilly and snowy weekend.”
     My own guess would be that the squirrels in Chichester learnt a hard lesson over the last two severe winters and are not going to be caught short again this year. There again...
     Time and Jack Frost will tell. In the meantime, Nickr is ahead.

Last Saturday it was Time Magazine’s  Top 10 Unfortunate Political
One-liners.  Curiously, today I tripped over lists of famous quotes that were never said – or that were never quite said as quoted.
     Given the bunch of liars that featured in the political one-liners, this is a great place to start...

“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This misquote hearkens back to Lord Acton, a 19th century English historian who was commenting about tyrannical monarchs (Caesar, Henry VIII, Napoleon, various Russian Tsars, etc).
     Lord Acton actually wrote: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Yes, what is it about power that morphs gentlemen into sharks, polecats and sparrow hawks? The past 20 years are littered with them: politicians, bankers, business leaders, media chiefs, lawyers – and on and on...

Here’s another famous epitaph misquote. “On the whole, I would rather be in Philadelphia.” Attributed to the witty W. C. Fields, alongside. The actual quote goes: “Here lies W. C. Fields: I would rather be living in Philadelphia.” Presented as one of “A group of artists [writing] their own epitaphs in a 1925 issue of Vanity Fair” – which may or may not have been written by the figures whose names appear with the epitaphs.

W C Fields: "Always carry a flagon of
whiskey in case of snakebite, and
furthermore, always carry a small snake."

But I rather like the famous quotes that were never actually said. The one that made me smile most was this from the great Groucho Marx...

The “Cigar” quote
One of the most frequently quoted Groucho-isms is one he never spoke. Legend has it that one night on his popular radio quiz programme, You Bet Your Life, Groucho had an exchange with a woman contestant – the mother of nine kids – that showed just how clever he could be on the fly.
     When asked why she had so many children, the woman (allegedly) said, “I love my husband,” to which Marx is supposed to have responded: “I love my cigar, too, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.” He never said it.

Life Magazine  has a Photo Gallery listing 32 such quotes, from the serious to the light-hearted. Fascinating stuff. The link is here...
Sunday, October 30
Wakey Wa-a-a-key
THE alarm goes off ... I reach to switch off ... then I turn on the bedside radio...

Good morning. Yes, it’s Gareth Gwynn here on BBC Radio Wales, the time is 5am – that’s right, 5am, the clocks went back this morning – so tell you what, why not spend a few moments dashing about your house right now sorting out all the clocks ... go on, off you go... [some relaxing background music wafts out of the speakers]...
     There’s the bedside clock; the kitchen clock; the one in the hall; the one in the spare bedroom, the one in the other spare bedroom – you can keep doing spare rooms depending on your socio-economic standing...
     The carriage clock that you normally forget; the one on the oven; the one on the microwave; the one on the frid – hang on, I don’t think fridges have a clock, do they?
     Your radio-controlled atomic clock that you have to switch back when you remember that it’s radio controlled and it should have changed itself automatically; the one in your phone – if it didn’t change automatically – and your laptop.
     Your VHS video recorder; your Betamax player, your valve-driven TV set, your gramophone; your watch; your spare watch; the town hall clock; all the clocks and watches in the shop if you are a clock or watch shop owner ... is that all of them?
     So that’s that job out of the way – on with the show...

That was a smiley way to be greeted first thing of a Sunday morning. Mind you, he did miss the clock on the central heating, the children’s bedrooms (if applicable), the car clock, the church clock - oh, and all the clocks on the vehicles if you sell cars for a living – it’s the only day of the year when a motor trader is allowed by law to turn all the clocks back, boom-boom

Anyway, now that I have personally got to grips with all this changing of the clocks routine, the government is now thinking of having British Summer Time all year round. Bugger. And after all this careful planning. For example...
     Before going to bed last night I changed the time on the central heating clock. Even though we are currently in the middle of an exceptionally mild spell, I have the central heating on some 30 minutes before I get up, just to dissipate the early morning chill – and then I switch the heating off, dependant of course on the ambient temperature.
     These days, what with it being so unnaturally warm, the central heating
is only on first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
     Then, as I got into bed last night, I turned the bedside clock back – so this morning the alarm and central heating were in sync. During the day I changed all the other clocks as and when I noticed or remembered.
     One point of issue with Gareth Gwynn’s excellent piece: the person who sells clocks and watches wouldn’t have to change a single one because every timepiece for sale should be set at either 10.10am or 1.50pm.
     A while back I did a piece about the clock in the tower at Llandeilo Church, which had been on stop for about a year or so, stuck at 02:13, which is a rather ugly-looking time to be stranded on.
     I’d suggested that the hands should be reset at 10 past 10 or 10 to 2, which is what you see in adverts for watches and clocks because both times are pleasing on the eye – it generates a subliminal smile in the eye of the beholder, apparently. Very cunning.
     Anyway, the church clock is now in working order. However, there’s a current eye-catching Barclays Bank ad which shows a whole multitude of clocks, all set at different times, the tag line being: Speak to us anytime, day or night – see picture, alongside...

Barclays Premier Banking

But the advertisement set me wondering: where on earth is the ad man’s time? Then I looked closely – and there it is, hidden away right down at the bottom, on the floor...
                                                                                                                    ...10 past 10 (tick) - and it’s an alarm clock (tock). Clever.

By a curious coincidence, a few Sundays ago, Mrs Mills of Sunday Times  Style magazine fame, she who solves all your problems, had the following question submitted...

Why do photographers always photograph watches at 10 past 10 or 10 to 2? What are they doing the rest of the day?
These times mark the beginning and end of the working day for most photographers. In between they are trying to seduce the models.

By one of those delightful coincidences, which forever mark my walk through time, there was a follow-up letter, today. But before we get there, I reckon there’s a new Mrs Mills on the block, and it’s probably a fella because the letters of late are awash with innuendo and double entendres. Anyway, take a little time to peruse...

As an avid reader and photographer, I was disappointed that you suggested that photographers only work from 10.10am till 1.50pm (Style, October 9). In fact, we are busy exposing, flashing, shooting and touching up all day long.
Really? I thought that now everything was digital, you had even less to do and that exposing was a thing of the past. (I am not entirely clear on photographer’s terms, but would I be right in thinking that digital manipulation counts as touching up?)

Many 10 past 10s and 10 to 2s today...
Saturday, October 29
To believe, or not to believe: that is the question

YESTERDAY I quoted Jimmy Carter’s contribution to Time Magazine’s  Top 10 Unfortunate Political One-liners, a list which proves that 90 per cent of politicians are as bent as boomerangs, always returning to their default position of natural-born liars.
     If you are unfamiliar with Time Magazine’s  memorable list, it really is worth a quick peruse...
 1  “I am not a crook.” President Richard Nixon’s defence when the Watergate scandal broke. As we subsequently discovered, he was.
 2  “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” President Bill Clinton regarding his “alleged” affair with Monica Lewinsky, conveniently forgetting that his trousers was still down around his ankles.
 3  “Read my lips: no new taxes.” George H. W. Bush at the 1988 Republican National Convention. Yep, as president, he introduced new taxes.
 4  “The fundamentals of the economy are strong.” Senator John McCain, just prior to the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers, which in turn lead to the banking crisis world wide. His opponent, Barack Obama, cashed in on the statement – and the rest, as they say...
 5  “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”
Jimmy Carter, as featured in yesterday’s smile of the day. This is the 10 per cent honesty input, although subsequently labelled “too much information” by the media.
 6  “It’s vile. It’s more sad than anything else, to see someone with such potential throw it all down the drain because of a sexual addiction.”

Richard Nixon: dolphin or shark?
pussycat or polecat?
 sparrow or sparrow hawk?

Republican Mark Foley at the height of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, before he
too was brought down by an addiction to sexually explicit text messages to male
congressional pages. It’s like rain on your wedding day, observed Time Magazine.
 7  “We still seek no wider war.” President Lyndon B Johnson, in the lead up
to the destructive Vietnam war.
 8  “That depends on what the meaning of 'is', is.” President Bill Clinton gives a parsable impression of someone who is not keen to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, during his testimony in front of a grand jury.
 9  “The fundamental business of the country, that is, production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis.” President Herbert Hoover, four days before the stock market crash leading to the great depression of the Thirties. John McCain, up there at No. 4, hadn’t been paying attention to the lessons of history, clearly.
 10  “You know, I always wondered about that taping equipment, but I’m damn glad we have it, aren’t you?”
President Richard Nixon actually said this to Watergate co-conspirator H R Haldeman weeks before the US Senate began its televised hearings.

Honestly, what a dreadful bunch these politicians are. I did look for the equivalent British list, but surprisingly, no luck yet.

At the end of the day
FINALLY, Jimmy Savile said his last “Goodbye, guys and gals” at the age of 84. A proper English eccentric who added hugely to the gaiety of the passing parade, and who raised millions for charity.
     He once commented that the secret of his success was that he “made everyone feel a bit superior”. Underneath it all, Savile seemed modest. “I’m not actually a social person in the glitterati sense,” said the man who raised more than £40m for charity.
     “I’m not that type because I was never actually in showbiz. I’m a service industry. When I play records, I’m playing other people’s talent. My talent is maybe picking the right records to play. So red carpets and stuff like that don’t apply to service industry people.”
     Jimmy Savile was a man you never heard anyone speak ill of.
Friday, October 28
Mum’s the word

YESTERDAY’S smile ended with the tale of the harassed mum on the bus, with child in tow who is endlessly pleading with her: “Mum
! ... Mum! ... Mum! To which the exasperated mother eventually responds: “I can’t believe how happy I was when I first heard you say that.”  It gets better...

“When I told my mother I was running for president, she said ‘President of what?’.” James Earl “Jimmy” Carter Jr, 87, American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States (1977-1981).

Smashing quote, and deserving of a grown man who was christened “Junior”. However, perhaps Carter’s most memorable quote ... well, this spotted online, compliments of Time Magazine's  Top Ten Unfortunate Political One-Liners...

The decision to do an interview with Playboy magazine was possibly not the best call of President Carter’s tenure. Yet, it was all going pretty well until he started talking about the Bible and adultery.
     “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” Now, Carter’s not actually admitting anything shocking. Most men would probably say, “Yep, been there”.
     But presidents rarely (and for good reason) venture into the land of “too much information”. Ideally, they should exist on a higher plane than the rest of us. It was

1976: Jimmy Carter...
a nice man, a very, very nice man

                                                                     an uncomfortable moment for America.

Uncomfortable, indeed. As for presidents existing on a higher plane, well, Bill Clinton crashed to earth, with a bang, on that front - but that’s another quote, another story. However, back with Jimmy Carter Jr, something better lurks in ambush...

“Sometimes, when I look at my children, I say to myself, ‘Lilian, you should have remained a virgin’.” Lillian Carter (1898-1983), mother of wee Jimmy Junior, gloriously crossing that “too much information” line.
It’s in the genes, clearly.

Just to keep things presidential, and a reminder that there are some bits of information which are worth sharing, for example, this from Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945: “I had a rose named after me and I was flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: ‘No good in a bed, but fine against a wall.’.”

A very wise lady was Eleanor Roosevelt: “Friendship with oneself is all-important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.”

Amen to that.
Thursday, October 27
Poles apart

“I AM going to be on a nuclear submarine and I will be on it for a very long time, so you won’t find me. It is a good way of getting away from the paparazzi.” Jeremy Clarkson.
     A reminder of yesterday’s smile, apropos the latest in the Carry On Clarkson series of situation comedies: Jeremy Clarkson is in hiding after allegations, which he denies, that he had an affair with his former wife, Alexandra Hall, after he remarried.
     In the letter I submitted to the Telegraph - which didn
t make the cut (boo, hiss), I said this:
The latest Carry On Clarkson revelations bring to mind that infamous film of the polar bear parading round and round inside its cage, shaking its head from side to side, driven mad by its human captors.
     So, j
ust another day at the office then for Clarkson and his seemingly troublesome love life. And revisited today because, last night, I watched BBC One’s The Frozen Planet, an endless kaleidoscope of stunning scenes from the polar regions.

By a huge coincidence, the online world has since been awash with images from The Frozen World, in particular the courtship sequence of a pair of polar bears.
     In the picture, alongside, the male follows the female, showing his battle scars. The size difference is clearly illustrated – the male weighs twice as much as she does.
     The moment I saw this image, I thought to myself, that's poor old Jeremy, there. Down in his nuclear submarine, Clarkson must feel as battered and bruised as Mr Polar Bear. If not physically, then probably emotionally as he starts to shake his head from side to side.
     Back with the polar bears: the courtship and mating routine lasted over a fortnight – so no wham, bam, thank you ma’am, here, then. Indeed, the male had to defend his

Jeremy, sporting bloody battle scars, follows Alexandra,
nose in the air: "Leave her, Jezza - she ain't worth it!"

interests by fighting off at least ten rival males. But, a bit of
hanky-panky was the reward following each battle.
     The female polar bear is clearly high maintenance. She clearly retains the ability to supersede (no pun intended) her previous mating if a more likely lad comes along. The fights between the competing males were fierce; in fact much like the stags a couple of fields away in nearby Dinefwr Park at this time of year, which I can hear continually calling out their mating calls.
     By the end of the mating period, the pair parted company, she with a little hop, skip and a smug look with nose in the air - and he, splattered in blood as he limped away into the distance.
     His fierce protection of his conjugal rights would guarantee that the cubs that she would give birth to in nine months would be his. After a quick visit to Polar A&E, he returns to his solitary ways out on the sea ice, and will perhaps never see his mate again, or indeed his offspring.

Talking of mating and offspring, I heard this marvellous story today, compliments of Irish funny man Ed Byrne. He was expanding on the frustrations of overhearing young children endlessly repeating “Mum
! ... Mum! ... Mum! ... Mum!”, without getting a response.
     Ed observed that such kids sound like an annoying alarm clock going off. Then the mother will respond with “What?
! – and it’s like pressing the snooze button for a brief break from the verbal assault.
     Then he told the following overheard exchange between mother and child on a bus, which he assured us was true – and I believe him because only a harassed mum would come out with this line. So, mum and child are on the bus:
! ... Mum! ... Mum!” To which the exasperated mum responds: “I can’t believe how happy I was when I first heard you say that...”
Wednesday, October 26
Pause for thought

LAST Monday, I observed that celebrity is now a zoocus – a cross between a zoo and a circus. Anyway, I have since spotted the following quote...

“Dressing up and prattling around. We are all monkeys in a zoo.” Martin Clunes, 49, English actor, on his craft and its attendant celebrity.
Great minds think alike, obviously
!! Two exclamation marks there, just in case! And then this quote...

“Most people writing witless spite on the net never imagine that the subjects of their bile, protected by the glittering winding sheet of fame, might even read it; surprisingly, often they do, and it can be very hurtful.” Derren Brown, 40, British illusionist, mentalist, painter, writer and sceptic, best known for his television specials.
The ‘mentalist’ bit threw me ... it’s the belief that all objects of knowledge, including the physical universe, ultimately have no existence except as creations of the mind.

How about that? In moments of speculation I have toyed with the notion that everything that goes on around me happens only inside my head. And if you are reading this, then everything is happening only inside your head. In other words, I am a figment of your imagination.
     It’s an idea very hard to disprove. But if true, you know what that means, don’t you? You are God. Now there’s a thought.

Whatever, back with celebrities feeling the pain. Well, they do not help themselves. Today, the curious affairs of Jeremy Clarkson have hit the headlines yet again. This, from Telegraph Online...

     Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson abandons gag order on ex-wife who says they had an affair
Jeremy Clarkson, the Top Gear presenter, took out a far-reaching injunction to prevent the publication of allegations that he had an affair with his first wife while married to his second, it has emerged.
THE television presenter and newspaper columnist has built a career around expressing his forthright and uncompromising opinions and refusing to be silenced.
     He has now decided to drop the injunction against his former wife, who claims he carried on sleeping with her after he married his current wife, Frances. Clarkson was granted the privacy injunction last September, when he was referred to in court only as AMM, while his ex-wife, Alexandra Hall, was referred to as HXW.
     His case was also weakened by the claim earlier this year that he had a long-term affair with Philippa Sage, a producer on Top Gear.
     The alleged affair with Miss Sage led to accusations of hypocrisy, as Clarkson has used his newspaper columns to condemn other high-profile figures who have had affairs, including Max Mosley, the former motor sport chief, and David Mellor, the former Tory minister
[who famously hanky-pankied while wearing a Chelsea football shirt, before being caught in the offside trap].
     Clarkson has added that the gagging order became “pointless” when his name was linked with the allegations on websites including Twitter. He said he was moved to lift the order after his mother and three children were affected by the online rumour.

Clarkson is said to be spending the rest of the week 300 metres under the ocean on a nuclear submarine. He told The Sun: “My wife and I decided to let it go. My ex-wife is now free to tell her story and people can either believe it or not, it’s up to them. I will be on a nuclear submarine...”
Funny that: a nuclear explosion looks much like something vaguely familiar...

So on that ironic fireball, I thought I would drop a letter to the Telegraph...

And on that bombshell
SIR – Celebrity is a zoocus,
a cross between a zoo and a circus: we, the great unwashed, stop, stand and stare; we hoop, holler and applaud – or boo, hurl insults and/or rotten fruit; we poke through the bars with a long stick, hoping to provoke; despite notices telling us “Please do not feed the slebs”, we still throw food – note the obsession with grubby things on both telly and radio; and finally, we encourage them to walk the tight rope, without a safety net – and then laugh and cheer when they fall off.
     The latest Carry On Clarkson revelations bring to mind that infamous film of the polar bear parading round and round inside its cage, shaking its head from side to side, driven mad by its human captors.
     I fear that if Jeremy is not quickly returned to the wild, he too will start that head shaking business, driven doolally by the demands of the ringmasters and the webmistresses (“Will you walk into my parlour…?”).
HB, Llandampness

This all brings me back to Derren Brown’s quote, above, which in turn reminds me of a Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) witticism from Thoughts on Various Subjects (1727):
     “Few are qualified to shine in company; but it is in most men’s power to be agreeable.”

Sadly, both Brown and Clarkson are correct, in that Twitter and the like do seem to attract those at the margins. Two of the most telling features of online ‘Comment’ sections are these... “The comments below have been moderated in advance”, and, as spotted alongside every post: “Report abuse”, or variations on the theme.
     It is a terrible breeding ground for those of a doolally nature. Yet, despite all the “witless spite”, you do find little gems, such as a reminder of this wonderful Mark Twain quote:
     “Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”

Now there’s yet another intriguing thought. Carry on, Jeremy.

Tuesday, October 25
The urge to get laid

THIS, spotted in The Sunday Times’  Weird but wonderful column...

Road leads straight to bed
Women have ended a three-and-a-half month sex strike after officials agreed to pave a road into their town. It began on June 22 when the women of Barbacoas, Colombia, complained their menfolk weren’t doing enough to get the road laid.
     After the strike was lifted, Luz Marina Castillo, the leader of the protest, said: “That night we devoted to our husbands. The desire was great and we took advantage of it.”

Sounds like a good deal: you get the road laid and you get laid. Mind you, I do find myself wondering if the sex strike applied to lay-byes; you know, those women who were, perhaps, getting just a little bit laid on the side.
     The startling thing is that William Shakespeare nearly wrote about these 100-plus no-sex days and nights in a play called: A Hundred And Twelfth Night...
Come away, come away, wench;
                                                         And in happy cypress let me be laid...

Talking of which, the tale immediately following the above in the newspaper was this one...

“He’s mine” brawl at bedside
Three women, two of them pregnant, were involved in a bedside brawl while visiting the same man in hospital, said police in Upland, Pennsylvania.
     Police said that one of the women slashed the other two with a blade. The man was recovering in hospital from gunshot wounds.

Guns and roses, indeed. And what a perfect place name for such infamy: Upland. Although it does sound like the sort of place where the women should be complaining about the state of the local roads.  

Monday, October 24
The things they say

“BECOMING famous has taken the place of going to heaven.” Jarvis Cocker, 48, English musician and lead singer of Pulp, muses on the nature of celebrity. Hm, I like that.

I’ve always thought of celebrity as a cross between a zoo and a circus: we stop, stand and stare; we hoop, holler and applaud – or boo, throw insults and/or rotten fruit; we poke through the bars with a long stick hoping to provoke; despite notices telling us “Please do not feed the slebs”, we still throw food – note the obsession with food on both telly and radio; and finally, we encourage them to walk the tight rope, without a safety net – and then laugh and cheer when they fall off.
     No wonder so many slebs go doolally.

“At my college reunion, the women were dancing with urns.” Joan Rivers, 78, American comedian, complains that all her contemporaries are dying. What would Eric Morecambe say? “If they’re dancing with Ern’s, did they notice the join?”
     It also brings to mind Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s A Psalm of Life:
                                                                                                                                Life is real
! Life is earnest!
                                                                                                                                And the grave is not its goal;
                                                                                                                                Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
                                                                                                                                Was not spoken of the soul.

Perhaps that first line should read:
                                                            Life is unreal
! Life is urn-est!

“Sometimes I think I am a gay man trapped in a woman’s body.” Kathy Lette, 52, Australian author (“deranged”, according to herself), but one witty lady.
I know the feeling, Kathy. I sometimes think I am one sexy lady trapped in a man’s body. God, I’d give the lads a good time.

“I don’t see why gay people shouldn’t be married. We recognise marriage as a man and woman and having babies. That is neither here nor there for me.” Sir Cliff Richard, OBE, 71, etc...
Do you suppose Cliff is preparing the groundwork for some sort of ‘hold the inside page’ announcement? Shock, horror

“Streakers at the 2012 Olympics could face a £20,000 fine. I’m not surprised; imagine the confusion they could cause during the 4 x 100 relay.”
Jimmy Carr, 39, English-Irish comedian and humorist, tweets from the inside lane.

Hm, grabbing the baton with both hands there, Jimmy. Show off. But the image does grow on me.

And finally, good old Nancy Dell’Olio – or Dool’Allio as I now fondly call her – keeps churning out the gems, even though a whole day’s smiles was dedicated to her delightful doolallyness last Monday: “Dancing, it puts you in touch with your unconscious. I mean, some people say that I look like 15, but I say no, not 15 but much younger. Like seven.”
     Now you understand what
Pamela Stephenson meant when she said: “Please, please vote for Nancy Dell’Olio. I know she is on her own special planet but she is funnier than a Chihuahua on speed.”

Sunday, October 23
The best years of their lives

LAST night, as often happens when I’m zap-a-dee-dooing through the television channels, I caught just a snatch of a programme on BBC Two called Spitfire Women. I was hooked: it was the story of the 168 female pilots who served in Britain’s Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War, risking their lives to transport aircraft from factory to aerodrome and the front line.
     So today I watched the whole programme, which was itself a repeat, on iPlayer. First, a few of the dots joined up...

During World War II, a remarkable band of female pilots fought against all the odds for the right to aid the war effort. Without these Spitfire Women, the war may never have been won. These 168 trailblazers were part of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), a thousand-strong organisation that delivered 300,000 aircraft to the front line RAF during Britain’s darkest hour.

     Every day, responsibility fell on their shoulders to get the planes to the front line fighters, which often pushed them into dangerous and even deadly situations.
     Using interviews with the last few surviving veterans, an elite group of elegant women now well into their 80s, as well as archive footage and dramatic reconstruction, this documentary brought to life the forgotten story of the ATA.
     The resilience of these women in the face of open discrimination is one of the most inspiring and overlooked milestones in women’s rights. Their story is one of courage, sexism and patriotism, but above all a story about women who want to break the confines of the world they live in and reach

Just a few of the ATA's female pilots

for the skies.
     It seems that these women are the first examples of equal pay for equal work. Initially they were paid 20 per cent less than the men, but their influential leader, Pauline Gower, an establishment figure with connections in Parliament, brought it all about in what is believed to be the first example of equal pay for equal work in British history.

     Astonishingly inspirational women, sounding wonderful even in old age. I was particularly taken with one of the ladies, Mary Wilkins-Ellis.
     There were 143 different types of aircraft, and the girls, as they then would have been, never knew what they would fly until given their delivery chits in the morning. Even more remarkable, they were given no specific training on any of the planes; all they had were 30 minutes to familiarise themselves with their personal bible, the handbook Ferry Pilots Notes.
     “You’d get out of a Tiger Moth,” said Mary Wilkins-Ellis, “and into a Wellington bomber and then into a Spitfire.”
     As someone who has held a pilot’s licence, I appreciate that once you’ve mastered the art of flying, then every aircraft is pretty much the same to fly. Think of the 9/11 hijackers who had actually trained on small, single engine aircraft; crucially they had not shown any interest in learning how to takeoff and land, which should, with hindsight, have given the game away.
     However, it was the complexity of the controls, especially with the larger aircraft, that must have been a challenge in that initial 30 minute flick through the handbook – as the picture, alongside, suggests.
     As with all pilots, male and female, the Spitfire was the favourite. “It was a plane that you wore,” said an enthusiastic lady. “It really did fit as well as your favourite dress ... you could go up and play with the clouds ... it was like riding a good horse.”
     Mary Wilkins-Ellis then flicked through her log sheets ... she had personally flown 76 types of aeroplanes, as she called them.

But this is the story I liked, again from Mary Wilkins-Ellis...

“I had just delivered  a heavy Wellington bomber. As I stepped down from the
aeroplane I was greeted by the RAF, with a car, and they were looking around.
‘Are you taking me to the Control?’ I asked. ‘No, we’re waiting for the pilot,’

they replied. ‘I am the pilot,’ I said. And do you know, they didn’t believe me. They went inside the aeroplane and searched it to find the pilot. I was eventually driven to Control, where quite a crowd gathered. They were all flabbergasted that a little girl like me would fly these big aeroplanes, all by oneself.”
     How delightful is that. However, flying in the ATA, whether you were a man or a woman, was one of the most high-risk activities in the whole war – its death rate was higher even than in RAF Fighter Command. Most casualties were down to bad weather. Flying into cloud had serious consequences, pilots regularly crashing into mountains, hillsides, even church spires.
     Yet, as one of the ladies admitted, with a hint of sadness: “It was the best part of my life, I’m sure.”
     Amazing stuff. And very smiley in a very moving way. There is one image from the documentary that is imprinted on my mind, and after much searching online, I found it, and it is shown here, alongside...

The caption printed on the photograph says: Flight Capt. Miss Joan Hughes [good old Welsh name, that
!]. At the age of 22 had 600 hours flying time, ferried four engined bombers, and was the only woman instructor on all types of aircraft.
     At 17, Joan Hughes had been the youngest female flyer in Great Britain, having started at 15, before age restrictions were introduced. She was described as ‘petite’ but a highly accomplished flyer. I mean, just look at her

“They were all flabbergasted that a little girl
 like me would fly these big aeroplanes, all
by oneself...” Mary Wilkins-Ellis

standing next to that wheel.
     Flight Capt. Miss Joan Hughes made me think of John Betjeman’s A Subaltern’s Love Song:
                                                                                                                                        Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn,
                                                                                                                                        Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun...

There’s this one verse...
                                        The Hillman is waiting, the light’s in the hall,
                                        The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,
                                        My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair
                                        And there on the landing’s the light on your hair.

So, if the ghost of John Betjeman will forgive me...
                                                 The Spitfire is waiting, the light’s in the hall,
                                                 The pictures of aeroplanes bright on the wall,
                                                 My sweet, you will shortly takeoff in the air
                                                 And there on the runway’s the light on your hair.


Saturday, October 22
Yet he is oft led by the nose with gold

Clown in The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare
YET another intriguing headline draws my undivided attention...

Man who tried to turn poo into gold failed

Hm, this, I thought to myself, has to be another story from good old China Town, so I clicked on the link...

Arson charge man jailed after trying to turn faeces into gold

A man has been jailed after a bizarre experiment went wrong and started a fire in a block of flats. It is thought that as part of a wacky experiment, Paul Moran, 30, of Northern Ireland [a hundred thousand apologies, China] left his faeces, along with other waste products such as fertiliser, on an electric heater – then whoosh
     The experiment caused around £3,000 worth of damage to his Housing Executive home in a block of flats in Derrin Park, Enniskillen, in July.
     Upon his release he will spend a further 12 months on licence. Moran admitted arson and endangering the lives of others. His Honour Judge McFarland
[shame it wasn’t Judge McFartland] told him: “Rather bizarrely you were attempting to make gold from human faeces and waste products. It was an interesting experiment to fulfil the alchemist’s dream, but wasn’t going to succeed.”

An interesting experiment? Honestly, you couldn’t make these things up; and anyway, you simply wouldn’t be believed.
     Personally, I think Moran would have been much better off going out on the town and seeking a man to sell him some magic beans. The following morning he could then have climbed up the gigantic beanstalk ... and stolen the giant’s pet hen – you know, the one which lays those golden eggs...
                                                                                                                     ...Life is so simple when you do it right. As the following online comment from Claire confirms: I find it’s safer and easier to poo in an envelope and post it to Cash4Gold.

Friday, October 21
s a bitch (or so I read on TV)
A COUPLE of days back I mentioned that I had watched Ian Hislop guest on the One Show. Today I caught up with last weekend’s return of the new series of Have I Got News For You on iPlayer. Actually I watched the extended Have I Got A Bit More News For You.
     The main point of discussion was the then defence secretary, Liam Fox (who resigned the day after the show was recorded, something Hislop correctly predicted), in particular Fox’s curious relationship with his wedding day best man and self-styled adviser, Adam Werritty.
     Talk about senior people and their lack of inherent wisdom. What on earth was the man thinking? It seems though that Fox has a habit of acting and saying dumb things. On the show we heard that some years ago Fox had to apologise for describing The Spice Girls as “three dogs and a blackbird”.
     Now that would go down well at The Old Bull and Bush pub, even The Old Bullshit and Basil Brush Saloon – but from the mouth of a politician?

Anyway, what tickled me on the show was a feature on the mangled subtitling for the hard of hearing as occasionally spotted on live BBC television programmes. For example, the ultra serious Jeremy Paxman saying “Hello and welcome to Newsnight”, coming up on screen as “Hello and welcome to Nosenight”.

Because the subtitling happens on the hoof it is quite naturally a breeding ground for slips of the fingertips. The show quoted further glorious examples...

Former politician Ann Widecombe was talking about something being “an analogy”, and it came up as “anal glory” – to which the ever witty Paul Merton observed: “Yes, it flowers once a year, doesn’t it?”
     Then a report on BBC Breakfast mentioned pigs on a farm nibbling on “wellies”, and it became something exceedingly school playground-ish – see alongside...
     Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, appeared on screen as “Ed Miller Band”.

A pig in a poke: this became an internet hit when an
eagle-eyed viewer posted the shot, describing pigs

     And the hard of hearing became alarmed that the sale of millions
of puppies in Britain might have been about the trade in live dogs to
take-away outlets, but it was actually a story about people wearing poppies for Remembrance Day.
     And how about this during the Queen Mother’s funeral, a solemn call for silence became: “We will now have a moment’s violence.”
     But perhaps the most memorable example was Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, subtitled as “the arch bitch of Canterbury”. Priceless.

Intriguingly, the BBC is the only broadcaster in the world that subtitles all of its programmes. So we forgive them their slips in what must be a most demanding job which requires absolute concentration.
     The blunders are caused during live events when either a stenographer types words phonetically, or by speech recognition. The latter has an observer repeating into a microphone as he or she listens to the broadcast, and a computer then changes what is being said to subtitles.
     Ah, now that explains how the Archbishop became “the arch bitch”, a mistake a stenographer would clearly not make.
Very smiley though.

Thursday, October 20
Putting one’s best foot forward

THIS was the online headline that caught my eye today...

Man orders size 14.5 slipper and gets size 1,450 after ‘mistranslation in China’

As I’ve mentioned before, I often resist the temptation to click to find out more because the full story leaves me disappointed. But this time, curiosity got the better of me – and up came this unforgettable picture...

Laugh out loud moment: "And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass..."

Oh dear, has there ever been anything so funny? Tom Boddingham – and doesn’t he have the sort of cheeky face that fits the story just perfectly – has a size 13 right foot while his left is slightly bigger measuring a size 14½. So he has to place special orders for his footwear. When he found himself in need of a pair of slippers he turned to Monster Slippers.
     Somewhere between the order being placed in the UK and the manufacturer receiving the specifications out in China, a decimal point went missing. The factory didn’t think too much about it because they thought it was “a sample for a shop window display”. That makes sense.
     Yet we smell a rat because things don’t quite add up. Or rather, we suspect a clever publicity stunt. Unsurprisingly, Monster Slippers’ monster slip up has been all over the media today. And that’s the sort of publicity you just can’t buy.
     Surely, folk point out, the factory wouldn’t expect to make that size slipper for £15.50. True, but all the factory would have received would be the actual specification order, with no idea about the “front office” price to the customer.
     But what about the shipping costs? And wouldn’t there have been some sort of hefty import surcharge for Tom Boddingham to pay when the package arrived in this country? That certainly sounds like a good point, to which I don’t know the answer.
     The size quoted in the article also doesn’t make sense. Surely, if a decimal point went missing it would be size 145. Size 1,450 would make the slipper about 30 feet long.
     Oh yes, someone noticed the door in the picture. It’s an office door, rather than one you’d find in a home. Hm, that’s well spotted. So I think we can take it as read that it’s a publicity stunt – albeit a brilliant one. And definitely XL smile of the day material. Big Foot lives.

PS: Late in the day it has now been revealed that Boddingham bares a striking resemblance to Monster Slippers website manager Joe Jennings, leading to further speculation that the story must be a PR stunt.
     Monster Slippers were unavailable for comment. Of course not, they were all tucked up in their comfy 145 beds. Big Foot sleeps.

PPS: I am reminded of a story from mega moons ago. Living in my square mile was a wonderful character from yesteryear, Hardy McHardy, a World War II pilot of note. Typical of that breed of person he had a language and a way with words that were unique.
     As a young lad I recall him once describe a local lady of note, who had clearly been placed on this earth to put life into all the men in her life: “They tell me,” whispered Hardy, “that she has more fingerprints on her derrière than they have at New Scotland Yard.”
     Also, he was sometimes short of ready cash, but when he called at the Crazy Horse he would never take advantage of the locals. I fondly remember a pal of his saying that if Hardy was asked what his poison was, and he replied “Just a foot-bath” – which translated as half-a-bitter – he knew that he was short of cash.
     Funny how one story triggers another...

Wednesday, October 19
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses

IAN HISLOP, team captain on Have I Got News For You and editor of Private Eye, was on last night’s One Show on BBC One. For 50 years The Eye has mocked pseuds, lampooned the powerful and exposed crooks. Three cheers for Private Eye...
     Have a read of this, The Eye’s withering assessment of Gordon Brown when he was first elected as an MP in 1983...

THE new Labour Member for Dunfermline East, Dr Gordon Brown, is typical of the new brand of mediocre, middle-class careerists who make up an increasing proportion of the undistinguished lobby-fodder which Labour habitually returns from Scotland, though he has greater academic pretensions than most...

Wow, written nearly 30 years ago. How come that the handful of staff who make up Private Eye can be so wise, yet the Labour MPs who elected Gordon Brown as prime minister – unopposed – could be so singularly lacking in similar wisdom?
     However, all that is by the by. As Hislop was on the One Show, I stuck with it. Thank goodness. Towards the end of the show, Ian and the two presenters, Alex Jones and Matt Baker, were outside the studio, and they were confronted by a horse.
     You know how it is: you see a photograph of something and, unless it’s an eye-catching or startling image, your eye moves on. Well, I have seen pictures of the “puppet” horse that is the star of The National Theatre production of War Horse, a hit West End play about World War One, a war in which eight million horses died, but the image never held my attention.
     Well, there it was, the puppet horse. I was mesmerised. Not only is it the size of a real horse, but with its incredibly subtle movements it was like watching a real horse. Unbelievable puppetry.
     Yet all the while you were aware of the men inside the horse operating it. Indeed, you could understand why those present were overtaken by a need to stroke and pat it.
     It was an image I  couldn’t get out of my mind, so today I hunted down some information online. Here’s a photograph of a couple of the horses from the stage show...

Mesmerising puppet horses from War Horse

Surreal Towy Valley image from last winter's snow

The above image brought to mind the horses I meet each morning along my walk through the Towy Valley – and the photograph that came to mind was a slightly dreamlike one from last winter’s snows, when the two horses came up behind me. It looks as if I’m holding them. In fact I am holding my camera to take the picture, and the horses are just standing there, watching me. Smiley image though.
     Anyway, here is an outline of the tale of War Horse...

At the outbreak of World War One, Joey, young Albert’s beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. He’s soon caught up in enemy fire and fate takes him on an extraordinary odyssey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in no man’s land. But Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.

Soon it will become a film by Steven Spielberg. And a huge success I would guess. In the meantime, the Broadway production of War Horse won five Tony awards. Now on at the New London Theatre, it has already been seen by more than one million people.
     Extraordinary. One in 60 people in the UK have already seen it. That is worthy of a stand-alone smile.

PS: If you have iPlayer access, and can do so before October 25, click onto the One Show, October 18, the War Horse feature comes up at about the 20 minute mark. Have a look. I commend it to the house.
Tuesday, October 18
My father had a profound influence on me ~ he was a lunatic

                                                                                                                          Spike Milligan

YESTERDAY, I caught the tail-end of a radio conversation between Roy Noble and a Norma Farnes on Wireless Wales; today I had a proper listen, compliments of iPlayer.
     Roy’s guest was indeed Norma Farnes, who was Spike Milligan’s agent, manager, confidante and whipping post for 36 years, up until his death in 2002 at the age of 83.
     Norma was there to discuss Milligan’s Meaning Of Life by Spike Milligan, edited by Norma – an autobiographical assemblage culled from his many memoirs, television scripts, sketches, novels and letters. Part showbiz memoir, part personal exorcism...

Spike Milligan was born and raised in India. Once back in the UK, he worked as a clerk in an engineering firm, as a confectionery shop delivery boy, as a stockroom assistant, and as a drudge in the Chislehurst laundry (every day a day at school spot: drudge = somebody who does menial work; work that is both boring and strenuous).
     He was propelled out of this low-level existence by military call-up; or rather, by an invitation to join what he called “The Adolf Hitler Show, starting at seven shillings and sixpence a week”.
     These army wages Spike gave to his mother, who in turn gave the money to the Poor of the Parish. “I couldn’t understand it,” he said. “We were the poor of the parish.”
     In later life he was to suffer many a nervous collapse and was a manic depressive. As Norma explained, working for him could be a nightmare; he was up one day, down the next – but very focussed in everything he did, which explains the memorable quotes: “All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.”
     And many wonderfully silly but clever poems...
                                                                                  Said Hamlet to Ophelia,
                                                                                  I’ll draw a sketch of thee.
                                                                                  What kind of pencil shall I use?
                                                                                  2B or not 2B?

His saving grace, according to Norma, was that he was the most compassionate and generous man she knew, and she once told him “Don’t lose it”, which he didn’t (see Poor of the Parish reference, above ... it’s all in them thar genes).

I told you I was ill
Spike Milligan's headstone with the
famous inscription in Gaelic

It really was the case that everyone in Milligan’s military family was eccentric.
     One of his uncles, for instance, tried to see “how far he could walk without opening his eyes”. He kept going across an Indian plain and got sunstroke. He tried again in London and “was knocked down by a tram in Catford”.
     He also had an aunt who filled her socks with sulphur “to ward off arthritis”. You could always find her by following the yellow trail.
     Again, it’s all in the genes.

However, this was the tail-end story that had captured my attention yesterday, and which made me listen to the conversation in full. Norma tells us that he sent her flowers all the time, the one part of his eccentric behaviour she missed terribly after his death. A bunch of flowers arrived one day with the message: “My love is like a red, red rose – but my underwear is off-white.”
     They regularly had arguments and rows; then one day they had a terrible to-do and she walked out. This time she really meant it, determined not to return. She kept away for three days. Then came a call from the receptionist who pleaded with her to come back because everything was complete chaos. But she held her ground.
     Then suddenly she was overwhelmed with flowers, enough blooms to fill her flat, with just a little note saying:
“Mayday, mayday! Love, Spike”
“And that,” Norma added, “is why I miss him.”
Monday, October 17
Dancing on the ceiling

ANNUNZIATA DELL’OLIO, better known as Nancy Dell’Olio, 50, is an Italian-American property lawyer who fist came to our notice as the girlfriend of Sven-Göran Eriksson, former manager of the England national football team.
A good few months ago, folk sat and stared (with mouths slightly agape) when she wrote ‘A life in the day’ in The Sunday Times Magazine. It is generally agreed that it was probably the most precious and grandiose lifestyle yet published. It was a joy.
     She told us that she was a person in absolute charge of her life and her emotions. Truth to tell she reminded me of Janet Webb, the lady who appeared at the end of the Morecambe and Wise show and would gush in hilarious fashion: “I’d like to thank all of you for watching me and my little show here tonight. If you’ve enjoyed it, then it’s all been worthwhile. So, until we meet again, good night, and I love you all
     Except that Nancy seemed to say something along these lines: “I’d like to thank all of you for reading all about me and my wonderful life here today. If you’ve enjoyed it, then it’s all been worthwhile. So, until we meet again, goodbye, and I love you all. Oh, and always remember ... I am a very special person.”
     And that was the expression that stuck: “I am a very special person.” So much so, The Sunday Times then proceeded to give her a weekly column in the magazine:
You’re special too … Let Nancy Dell’Olio put the sparkle back into your life...

I’m really not sure who’s taking the piss out of whom – but I’ll come back to Nancy’s hilarious column in a little while. In the meantime, she is one of the slebs on Strictly Come Dancing (SCD). It’s a show I never watch, but there’s no escaping the meeja

Nancy, the special one

hype, in particular the quotes about our Nancy, especially as everyone appears to be
having some fun at her supercali special-ness.

“You say men are the most important thing in my life. They are not because the most important thing in my life is me.” Nancy lays down the ground rules and confirms that she is no shrinking violet in the “I am special” stakes.

“Champagne, champagne. You looked like you had two gallons.” SCD judge Bruno Tonioli asses Nancy’s performance.
I’m still trying to figure out whether she sparkled in extravagance – or danced as if she was half-cut.

“She is like a bottle of champagne waiting to pop, and it ain’t cheap champagne, either, believe me.” Fellow contestant and singer Jason Donavon on Nancy’s performance.
Well, I think it’s safe to say that Nancy certainly gets up people’s noses in all sorts of different ways.

“Please, please vote for Nancy Dell’Olio. I know she is on her own special planet but she is funnier than a Chihuahua on speed.” Pamela Stephenson, a finalist in last year’s SCD, comments on this year’s contest.

“A plodding mule being dragged through the mud.” STC judge Craig Revel Horwood on Nancy’s latest performance on the show.
Why do these slebs expose themselves to such bullying? I’m thinking it should be Craig Revel Horrible-Wood.
     Anyway, I’m with Pamela Stephenson. So, back with Nancy and her You’re special too column. Here’s an example of her advice – and pay close attention for she says something rather “unspecial” to my mind.

My fiancé has given me an engagement ring I’m supposed to love because it belonged to his mother. I hate it and now I have to wear it for the rest of my life. What can I do?
Anon, Lewes
It’s a very difficult situation, and I’m with you. I wouldn’t like to receive a ring that came from my boyfriend’s mother. If I were Kate Middleton, I’d be furious. That ring was never lucky, but this ring obviously means a lot to your boyfriend, though I do understand your feelings, because I’ve been in this situation myself.
     It’s difficult to seem crazy about something when you’re not. Try to understand  the reason he gave it to you. Maybe he loved his mother very much; maybe he can’t afford to buy you a new ring. So wear it for now and pretend to be appreciative, and then when the right moment comes let him know that you’re expecting another one.

Well, did you notice it? For a lady who insists that she is in complete charge of both her life and emotions, it comes as a surprise when she says this about Diana’s ring: “That ring was never lucky.”
     Now who would ever have thought that such a confident lady as Nancy Dell’Olio is overruled by superstition, for that is what luck is. Nothing more, nothing less.

As I never tire of saying, every day is a day at school. But keep on dancing, Nancy, and I may well tune in to have a peep...

Sunday, October 16
A good opening line

WITH Wales now out of rugby’s World Cup – true, they do play Australia next Friday for the Bronze medal spot, but that’s not quite the same – I’ve been flicking through the papers to see what I’ve missed while distracted by the rugby.

Now I enjoy clever word-play. Every Friday the Western Mail carries a Box Office supplement (arts and entertainment), which doesn’t normally grab my attention. However, last Friday’s front page headline did.
     First, some dots need joining up. In Welsh language poetry we have something called 'cynghanedd'  (literally ‘harmony’), which is the basic concept of sound-arrangement within one line, using stress, alliteration and rhyme, and which is peculiar to Welsh verse.
     However, there are also great examples of something similar in English, as in: ‘Around the rock the ragged rascal ran’; or perhaps most famously a series of public information films when seat belt wearing became compulsory: ‘Clunk click, every trip.’
     Infamously, not long back, one of the media’s major league bullies, AA Gill, wrote in his weekly Sunday Times television review about Britain by Bike, where Claire Balding explores various parts of the UK on her bike – and he referred to her as the “Dyke on a Bike”.
     As you can imagine, there was an awful stink and The Sunday Times was forced to offer a public apology, although Gill, as far as I know, kept shtoom.

Anyway, back to the Western Mail’s Box Office supplement. For the past five years, Cardiff has played host to Wales’ biggest music celebration, the Sŵn Festival (Sŵn meaning sound and pronounced soon).
     Next weekend, this year’s event will be the largest and most ambitious yet – 180 bands and hundreds of music fans will converge on Cardiff for a four day festival featuring emerging new music from Wales, the UK and abroad.
     Right, back to the Western Mail headline...
See you Sŵn
So simple, yet a brilliant play on words.

Joke of the day, heard at the Crazy Horsepower: How many bureaucrats does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to reassure us that lessons have been learnt, and that everything possible has been done to lessen the consequences. And a second to screw it into a water tap.

Listening to Owen Money on Radio Wales  this afternoon, he was playing music to lift our spirits in the wake of Wales loosing to France, and of course captain Sam Warburton shown the red card...
     The Drifters’ You’re more than a number in my little red book definitely made me smile; as did Guy Mitchell’s Singing the blues (“Well, I never felt more like singin’ the blues / ‘Cause I never thought that I’d ever lose...”). On second thoughts, perhaps it should be Singing Les Bleus...
     You have to laugh – after all, it’s only a game. And as a PS smile, I needed to check the spelling of Les Bleus, just to make sure I had it right, and what do you think came up on my spellchecker? Lesbian. Honest.

Talk about joining up all the dots. I’m not sure where I go from here......

Saturday, October 15
Cock of the walk

THE omens were  bad yesterday – which is why I never mentioned a thing. The folk who live on the hill, just next door, keep a few chickens, your basic brown variety. I’ve mentioned them before, The Chickadee Quartet: there’s Chickadee, obviously, Henrietta (who clucks posh), Chiquita (meaning small and cute) and Chickaboo – or Cwennen, as I also call her, which is Welsh for a young chick (or a sexy young chick if we’re talking humans).
     Anyway, everything was going well with The Chickadee Quartet until old Basil Brush took a fancy to Chiquita; at least we presume that’s what happened because she suddenly disappeared without trace, although it did seem odd at the time that foxy-woxy did not return for second, third and fourth helpings.
     So Heather and David decided to increase the flock by a couple of white feathered chickens. One I’ve christened Gwen, which is a Welsh, female Christian name meaning white, fair or blessed.
     The other I call Hillary, or Hillary Tenzing to be precise: she is always climbing onto things. As you will see in the first picture, below, she really fancies climbing up those steps...

Is this the stairway to heaven?

No, heaven is dreaming of a French rooster

Hillary chickened out at the last moment. However, yesterday morning, I looked out the kitchen window – and there she was, strutting her stuff all over my car. I’ve never seen any of them clamber onto my mean machine before.
     And I’m fairly sure Hillary was saying to the other girls: “This car belongs to the fellow who objected to Nia of
pinc having a cockerel in her shop window [see October 11], what with Wales playing France tomorrow morning. So come on girls, join me up here and let’s trample all over his pride and joy and show him that French cocks rule, ok? Not to mention their sexy cock-a-doodle-doo accents.”
     Talk about bad omens. At that moment I feared for this morning’s game. Well, I smiled – but bugger me, Wales have their inspirational captain, Sam Warburton, sent off after just 18 minutes for a ‘tip tackle’, a less serious variation on the dangerous spear tackle where a tackled player is driven into the ground, head first – so it was uphill all the way after that.
     Most pundits appeared to agree that young Sam should have drawn a penalty, perhaps a yellow card, but never a sending off. Even though they lost 8-9, Wales did have a chance to win with some kicks at the end. Sadly they didn’t quite measure up to the task. Ah well.

At least I did have Hillary Tenzing’s antics to look back on and help generate a smile in the wake of the Welsh defeat out in Auckland.

Friday, October 14
Anything France can do, Wales can do better...

WELL, historically, it’s the eve of Wales’s most important rugby game, the World Cup semi-final against France. The Western Mail  has entered into the spirit of the event with this front page splash, a parody of the famous “Uncle Sam” recruitment poster, featuring the popular Welsh captain, Sam Warburton...

Very smiley ... and of course, around 60,000 are expected at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium to watch the game on giant screens. Astonishing.
     On pages two and three, the paper has put together a marvellous set of images by its graphic designer, Marc White. I couldn’t find the images online, so I photographed the feature – pictured alongside...
     It says Anything France can do, Wales can do better... There’s the Eiffel Tower, marked ‘tall’, alongside the 6’ 9” Luke Charteris (a local boy, incidentally), marked ‘very tall’.
     The French bullet train marked ‘fast’, alongside winger George North, marked ‘very fast’.
     And finally, Roquefort cheese marked ‘strong’, alongside centre Jamie Roberts, marked ‘very strong’.

     Very witty.

What more can I add? Well, here's a funny thing: as mentioned above, I attempted to find those graphic images online, so I Googled anything france can do wales can do better – and up came this quite memorable option...
Did you mean: anything france can do whales can do better

For a split-second there I thought of New Zealand, Auckland harbour, Greenpeace, the blowing up of the Rainbow Warrior and the death of photographer Fernando Pereira – but I quickly moved on, thanking the Gods that we have pleasures such as sport to take our minds off these ruthlessly horrible people we call politicians and leaders.
     So, nine o’clock tomorrow morning, here we come, here we come, here we come...

I shall leave you with one of the most joyous images I’ve noticed during the World Cup thus far: a young Welsh fan wears her national colours and emblems with style and a smile...

Thursday, October 13
Memories are made of this

THE following ‘hold the front page’ headline grabbed my undivided attention, compliments of Mail Online...

A mind-blowing sex warning: Over-exertion between the sheets can wipe your memory
Scientists cite case of woman who had sex then lost recollection of past 24 hours

Sex can be mind-blowing – but not always in a good way, as scientists have found it can wipe your memory.
     They cite the case of a 54-year-old woman who arrived at a hospital in Washington DC in a state of panic because she’d just been intimate with her husband and immediately lost all recollection of the previous 24 hours.
     This rare condition is called ‘transient global amnesia’ and is always temporary, but because it’s so severe, it can be very distressing, say researchers.

After lying low in a darkened room for a while, I began to reflect...
     We must be getting more like computers every day. I mean, it’s that “wipe your memory” bit. But I’m unsure: are we talking hardware or software here?
     Also, it explains my smile headline from September 20: ‘Romping and yomping the night away with Silvio’. The headline from the previous weekend’s Sunday Times provided the clue...

11 women queued for romp with Silvio
The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, boasted to a friend that he had bedded eight women in one night after a New Year’s Eve party: “Yesterday evening there was a queue outside my room ... there were 11 of them ... I had only eight of them because I couldn’t manage more. But this morning I feel good, I’m pleased with the way I manage to resist the challenges of life...”

I christened those lady friends his After Eights – but now all is clear. Berlusconi obviously suffers ‘transient global amnesia’ (TGA) – what a memorable expression that is. I read that the onset of TGA is generally fairly rapid, and its duration varies but generally lasts between two and eight hours.
     Clearly Berlusconi instantly forgot that he had just bedded a lovely, so helped himself to another After Eight – and then another ... and another...
     Suddenly, everything makes sense. And I bet Boris Johnson suffers TGA too – not to mention Old Shaggy and Young Shagwell down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon.

And to slide from the ridiculous to the sublime, Chief Wise Owl at the Crazy Horsepower has handed me another letter from The Times...

Power corrupts
Sir, Jacob Williamson concludes his letter (Sept 30) with the sentence “What is the point of gaining power if the price is losing your soul?”.
     Quite so, but this must seem quaint and unacceptable to many politicians who seem to live by a different code: what is the point of retaining your soul if the price is losing power?
A J COLBERT, Walsall, West Midlands

The above juxtaposes perfectly with a recently heard definition of an honest politician: One who, once bought, stays bought.
     That earns a special kind of smile.

Wednesday, October 12
Too big for one’s boots?

“I SAID you can have the poem if you send me a pair of your boots. We made a deal. He’s had the bloody poem and I haven’t had the boots. It’s been six months. Can I have the boots by Christmas, please?”
Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, 55, who made a deal with David Beckham, asking for a pair of his football boots in return for his request for a handwritten copy of a poem she wrote about him.


Another of life’s curious quotes. But what’s the poem all about, Carol? So Googling I went ...

It turns out Beckham was injured in a game against Chievo Verona; he tore his left Achilles tendon while playing for AC Milan, and subsequently missed the 2010 World Cup.
     Duffy wrote the poem “Achilles”, referencing the Greek hero Achilles and David Beckham
s life.
     She described Beckham as “a mythical figure himself, in popular culture”, and was moved by the image of David Beckham in tears after his injury.
     Duffy, a football (soccer) fan herself, called it a moving moment because no money or private planes could fix it.

So here it is, alongside...

A bit too deep for me. Perhaps Beckham was turned on by the “sarongs” reference - I’m sure he used to wear them.
     Anyway, what surprised me was that, being the Poet Laureate, Duffy didn’t do her nut in verse, which would be a kind of poetic justice because Beckham certainly deserves another red card for his oversight in not sending her the boots as promised.
     Now I’m no poet, and yes I know it, but I would have come up
           Myth’s river – where his mother
           dipped him, fished him, a
           slippery golden boy flowed on,
           his name on its lips.

           Without him, it was prophesied,
           they would not take Troy.

           Women hid him, concealed him
           in girls’ sarongs; days of
           sweetmeats, spices, silver songs …

           But when Odysseus came, with an
           athlete’s build, a sword and a shield,
           he followed him to the battlefield,
           the crowd’s roar.

           And it was sport, not war,
           his charmed foot on the ball …

           But then his heel, his heel, his heel …
with something simple along these lines...

      Pardon me Becks, but we made a deal,
      So why are you being such a bloody heel?
      Six months now since I sent you Achilles,
      And if you don’t play ball I’ll chop off your willies...
      So fill my Christmas sock – or I’ll squeal and I’ll squeal and I’ll squeal...

As I said, I’m no poet - and I got a bit confused along the way ... I think I began in limerick form, but quickly lost my way. And it was a problem finding something to rhyme with Achilles, so I went with willies. Well, a supersleb like Becks must carry a spare willy around with him...
     Anyway, Carol Ann Duffy is a poet, so she would have come up with something quite striking, I guess. You could say she missed an open goal. Back to square one, Carol.
     As for David Beckham ... well, my mother always insisted: ignore the grand, sweeping, majestic and seemingly important things people say and do – it’s those spontaneous, ostensibly insignificant throwaway things, which join up all the dots and paint the proper portrait.
Tuesday, October 11

NOTE TO SELF: Must have a word with Nia, who owns
pinc at Llandeilo, the town’s friendly neighbourhood emporium specialising in flowers and outdoor living.
     With Wales taking on France this coming Saturday in Rugby World Cup’s first semi-final, I had to shield my eyes as I passed the shop window this morning – well, after I’d taken a photo of Exhibit A – a blue cockerel in the window.
     The Gallic rooster is an unofficial national symbol of France as a nation, especially so in sport, particularly rugby – and of course blue is the French colour: Les Bleus  and their famous crowing cockerel mascots.
     French fans have a reputation for smuggling live cockerels past security into games – and then releasing them, leading stewards a merry dance as they attempt to catch the birds, much to the amusement of the crowd...

Llandeilo's cockerel in the pinc, with lots of

France's crowing rooster on parade down under

Above, just part of Nia’s window display; and alongside, a rooster, in national colours, let loose on the field before the start of the New Zealand v France test at Wellington in June 2009. Wonderful shot.
     I’ll simply have to avoid walking past Nia’s window before Saturday to spare my sense and sensibilities. Eye-catching window display, though.

Being that Nia is a talented flower arranger, it gives me an excuse to revisit the YouTube jukebox, in particular the marvellous ‘Maria Elena – Acker Bilk’, and the stunning images of flower arrangements, both photographs and paintings, that feature in the video.
     The clever use of ‘accessories’ add something magical to so many of the images. Every time I watch this video I drift off into a parallel universe. Wonderful. I commend it to the house ... C’mon Wales...


Monday, October 10
Caution: England rugby woe, woe and thrice woe

MORE tales of the expected from Rugby World Cup. This headline caught my eye, compliments of Mail Online...

New rugby shame as England star is held by police for diving off a ferry and swimming to port

England’s disastrous rugby World Cup ended in more shame last night when star player Manu Tuilagi was detained by New Zealand police for diving off a ferry into the harbour and then swimming to a nearby pier, where he was met by the law.
     The 20-year-old, who came close to being deported from Britain last year for overstaying his visa, was held in Auckland after he jumped from a ferry as it was about to berth, apparently egged on by fellow players.
     His antics came after England were knocked out of the World Cup by France at the quarter-final stage and at the end of a team visit to Waiheke Island, which lies 35 minutes by ferry from Auckland, during which the players and management toured vineyards.

Just another – hic
! – hiccup along the way. He has been fined £3,000 by the Rugby Football Union, but let off with just a life jacket and a warning by Auckland police. Okay, I made up the life jacket bit.

And this from the Western Mail  letters page - clever headline...

Manu overboard
SIR – Who can blame Manu Tuilagi for jumping from the New Zealand ferry?
     One assumes that it was brought about by pier pressure.
TIM JOHNS, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire

The above led me to a letter spotted in
Ask Dr Ozzy (Ozzy Osbourne), in The Sunday Times Magazine...

What’s the best way to recover after a big night out?
England rugby squad, Auckland

Find a good lawyer, pay your bail, and release a statement to the press apologising to all concerned. Always worked for me.

Okay, the letter was actually from a
John of Edinburgh. But it seemed like a good substitution.
     Oh yes, it always states the following at the bottom of Osbourne’s entertaining column...
                   Caution: Ozzy Osbourne is not a qualified medical professional
And this in The Sunday Times, remember. Perhaps it should say this somewhere on England rugby shirts...
Caution: The person wearing this is not a qualified rugby professional
Sunday, October 9
Mutton dressed as ram

IN THE wake of Rugby World Cup’s quarter-finals, it’s been a perfect day to reflect on the success of New Zealand’s psychic sheep, Sonny Wool, or Shaun the Sheep, as the Irish christened him before the quarter-final against Wales.
     Leading up to this weekend Sonny Wool had grabbed himself a 100 per cent success rate – but suddenly it’s all downhill. He got his choices of Ireland, England and South Africa horribly wrong. Henceforth he is Shorn the Sheep. Mutton dressed up as ram (as in: “Mutton make no more predictions.”).
     However, he correctly plumped for New Zealand. Phew, off the hook
     As for the bookies, they too got Wales and France wrong, but were spot on with their choices of Australia and New Zealand, especially with their handicap betting.
     So with Ireland and England preparing to head for home, the jokes are flowing...

There was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Welshman on a plane – no, hang on ... There was an Irishman and an Englishman on a plane ... ho, ho, ho

What goes “Beep ... beep ... beep ... beep...”? The England team’s open-top bus being reversed back into the garage for another four years.

Well, it makes a change to have a smile at the expense of other countries because we Welsh have for years been the butt of jokes when eliminated early from World Cup tournaments. Yes, if you wait long enough, the wheel always turns full circle...

Before I leave the rugby, I need to go back to the England players and their off-field activities, in particular the dwarf-throwing contest and the curious case of the now royal Mike Tindall caught on camera burying his head in the welcoming bosom of a mysterious blonde. Okay, a quote...

“Excuse the language in the song. Don’t tell the Queen.” What actress Gwyneth Paltrow said to the Duke of Edinburgh after singing a racy song in his presence.

I also came across this curious picture, alongside, of the Duke in the seemingly towering company of Paltrow - must be those astonishing high heels of hers - at the aforementioned gig.
     It really is a most odd image. Anyway, here’s just a snatch of a piece about the occasion by Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times...

The actress Gwyneth Paltrow treated the Duke of Edinburgh to a spirited rendition of the song F*** You at some ghastly drinks reception in London last week. [In polite society the song is called Forget You.] To judge from Phil’s body language, he may have interpreted her version as the ghost of an invitation, rather than, as its writer Cee Lo Green intended, an imprecation.
[Every day a day at school spot: imprecation – the calling down of harm on somebody.]

Royal dwarf in new blonde scandal

There really is something truly doolally in the notion that Gwyneth Paltrow sings
to Prince Philip a song featuring the lyrics “eff off” – and people simply shrug
and accept that this is the way of modern Britain.
     If you didn’t laugh out loud you would end up having a quiet weep.

Saturday, October 8
If you smile when no one else is around, you really mean it
                                                                                                                     Andy Rooney, 92, American writer and humorist
: So much for the bookies and Shorn the Sheep: Wales play France in the semi-final, both the Welsh and the French winning somewhat easier than anyone expected.
      And I caught myself smiling - when no one else was around.

Yup, I have just repeated how I rounded off yesterday’s bulletin, which of course was actually written up this Saturday afternoon. And all because the Welsh win against the Irish out in New Zealand was worth it. One XL smile.

Mind you, watching these games live is something else. I really don’t know why I follow sport at all. The whole experience is so stressful. Even though Wales eventually won with a bit to spare, for most of the game it was desperately close.
     Anyway, the whole game was repeated Saturday evening on S4C, the Welsh language channel, so I put my feet up and enjoyed a bottle of wine in the process. Normally, and excepting a generous dollop of whisky in my coffee after returning from my morning walk, I hardly ever drink at home.
’s looking at you, Wales.

So no walk this morning because of the early-morning rugby: Wales-Ireland at six; France-England at half-eight. In fact I drove into town around noon to pick up the morning paper – taking the car to fetch the paper is something truly rare, for the weather has to be really wet and stormy for me to abandon my walk and take to the road.
     Flicking through today’s Western Mail, I came across the photograph I feature here – which really made me smile, again with no one else around, obviously.
     It’s a wonderful snap of an unnamed Welsh fan at the Wales-Namibia game during the pool stage. Incidentally, the bottom line says:
Wales for ever!!!. What else?
     I couldn’t find the image online, so I captured a picture off the page – and it came out surprisingly well.

"I mislaid my heart in New Zealand - but it
belongs to Wales." A fan down under

     So it’s the semi-final against France next Saturday morning.

Here we go, here we go, here we go...

Friday, October 7
Game, set and munch

AT SIX tomorrow morning, UK time, Wales take on Ireland in Rugby World Cup’s first quarter-final. Much like any game in any sport between two reasonably matched teams, the result is a guessing game.
     However, out in New Zealand they have a Mystic Meg of a sheep, except he’s a ram called Sonny Wool. Here’s a piece from the Telegraph, which explains it all rather well. But first, in order to make sense of the article, I should join up some dots and explain why the England players have been in all sorts of trouble with their off-field activities.
     First there was the dwarf-throwing contest; next came Mike Tindall, who recently married into the royal family, caught on camera burying his head in the welcoming bosom of a mysterious blonde; the team then went bungee jumping, which most thought not quite the way to prepare for a World Cup game; England’s ace kicker, Jonny Wilkinson, has been having trouble kicking the ball with his usual accuracy, and in one of their games the team was caught substituting the game ball for another Jonny had been practicing with; and finally, a few of the England players upset a female hotel worker with some lewd comments.
     Right, over to the intriguingly named journalist, Giles Mole (yes, honestly):

Sonny Wool the psychic sheep
With the likes of dwarfgate, blondegate, bungeegate, ballgate, hotelgate and any other gate you can think of having dominated the headlines,
England would be justified in thinking that the world is against them as they prepare to face Marc Lievremont’s men [France].

     However, hope is at hand from the most unlikely of sources. For those of you who don’t already know, Sonny Wool is Paul the Octopus reincarnated - a mystic beast who can foresee the results of sporting fixtures through the power of his belly.
     Two identical bowls of food are placed in front of Sonny, with a different country’s flag on either bowl. Whichever bowl Sonny eats out of, that’ll be the team who wins, and, remarkably, he’s been correct every single time … so far.

Sonny Wool backs Ireland, England, South Africa (against Australia) and New Zealand (against Argentina), much like the bookies, except they fancy Australia over South Africa.
     The bets I enjoy though are the handicap ones, where, for

Sonny Wool on his way to bleating the odds?

an even money bet, the underdog is given a points start.
     For this weekend’s quarter-finals, the bookies go like this: Wales given 2 points start (Ireland favourites); France 5 (England favs); South Africa 1 (Australia favs); Argentina 28 (New Zealand overwhelming favs).
     These bets have to be carefully crafted by the bookies because they don’t want to make any one side particularly attractive because all the cash will go on that team and perhaps lose them a great deal of money.
     So, with the exception of New Zealand-Argentina, they see the other games as incredibly close, especially Wales-Ireland and South Africa-Australia.
     By the time I post this online tomorrow, Saturday, I will know the first two results. So will Sonny Wool really be Shaun the Sheep? Or hopefully, Shorn the Sheep?
     Can’t wait.

If you smile when no one else is around, you really mean it
                                                                                                                    Andy Rooney, 92, American writer and humorist
SAT AM: So much for the bookies and Shorn the Sheep: Wales play France in the semi-final, both the Welsh and the French winning somewhat easier than anticipated.
     And I caught myself smiling - when no one else was around.

Thursday, October 6
Prayers and Pussies Galore

AWOKE just before five, as per usual, and turned on the wireless: Alan Dedicoat began reading the five o’clock news bulletin, which included this item...
     “The former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, has ended months of speculation by ruling herself out of the race to become the next President of the United States. She said that after much prayer she wouldn’t be seeking the Republican Party nomination in next year’s election.”
     At the end of the bulletin, Vanessa Feltz chirps in: “Thank you very much, Mr D. When you say Sarah Palin says after much prayer she has decided not to run for president, you wonder whether they were her prayers or other people’s prayers – I can’t help wondering that.”
     Much chuckling in the background. “You left that quite enigmatic,” teased Vanessa. “A lot was left unspoken there.”
     Some laughter. “You are very naughty,” says Mr D.

Yes, and very witty, too. That’s why Vanessa always wakes me up before I go-go on my morning walk - with a smile.

Puss, puss, puss...
THE morning story that caught my eye in the Telegraph also made me smile. Do you remember last Sunday, and my favourite headline from the previous week?
MP’s wife convicted of stealing husband’s lover’s cat

Emily Cox had Beauty, her little pussy, snatched by Christine Hemming in revenge for having her husband, John Hemming, snatched by – ta-rah
! – Emily Cox. It really was a curious tale. So, here’s the Telegraph story...

                                          Discovered, the real cat that made Tory fur fly
A cat did play a key role in the case of an illegal immigrant using human rights law to stay, after a judge suggested that separating him from the pet could cause “mental distress”, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, ridiculed a claim by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, earlier this week, that a Bolivian had been allowed to remain in Britain because of his cat. But in his 2008 ruling, seen by this newspaper, Judge James Devittie concluded that separating them could cause the man emotional trauma.
     The man, now 36, was arguing his rights to a family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights because he had been with his boyfriend for four years. The immigration judge said that their joint ownership of a pet named Maya reinforced the quality of that family life.

     He went on to discuss other countries’ “Increasing recognition of the significance” of pets.
     Following an appeal by the Home Office, a second judge ruled that the main reason that the Bolivian could stay was because of a technical error by officials.

Clearly the original judge had concluded that a little pussy should not be allowed to break up a relationship between a man and his boyfriend. Honestly, these pussycats have a lot to answer for...
     The smiliest cartoon I saw was this one, alongside, by Mac, compliments of Mail Online. The paper’s caption reads: “It’s your landlady – another reporter is here to ask you about being saved from deportation by your cat. Shall I send him up?”

I’ve added my own interpretation, alongside...

Big cats can be dangerous - but
a little pussy won’t hurt anyone

Wednesday, October 5
Joking apart

AWOKE with a start this early morning, around one o’clock, something really unusual because I wasn’t having a nightmare, neither was I dying for a pee – but I spent a penny anyway. Out of habit I switched on the wireless, which is always a mistake because I immediately drop off to sleep and the thing is then on all night.
     Anyway, Radio 2’s Janice Long show was on, and she was telling jokes sent in by her listeners – and quite funny they were too, which kept me awake for 30 minutes or so. Here’s just a selection that managed to burn themselves onto my hard drive...

Name a fish that starts with a K and ends with a k? I shall let you ponder on that for a moment.

So, how do you turn a duck into a soul singer? Put it in a microwave and tell it ... Bill Withers.

I went to see the doctor and I told him, oh, I feel as lifeless as a Welsh seaside resort in Winter – and he said: “Sounds like you’re Rhyl.”

A cheeseburger walks into a bar and the landlord says: “Sorry, we don’t serve food here.”

I was on the computer and the wife asked what I was doing and I said I was looking for cheap flights. She got all excited, which is strange, because she has never shown any interest in darts before.

Got the wife a new bag and belt for her birthday. Yup, the vacuum cleaner works a treat now.

How do you spot a modern-day Somali pirate? He’s the one with an iPatch. Very clever.

I met the fellow who invented crosswords today. The trouble is I can’t for the life of me remember his name – but it’s P something T something R...

Went to the zoo today and noticed some loaves in a pen, above which was a sign: Bread in captivity.

Oh yes: Name a fish that starts with a K and ends with a k? Kilmarnock. It’s a plaice in Scotland. Boom-boom

Yes, all very smiley, but I enjoy real life quips too, especially those of the self-deprecating kind...

“I’ve got the foxtrot. Looks like I’ve got the trots when I dance it. I’m hopeless.” Strictly Come Dancing contestant Robbie Savage, 36, a radio presenter and former Welsh professional footballer, admits that his next routine makes him look like he is desperate for the loo.

Robbie is now a popular football pundit, but he once held the UK’s Premier League record as the player who had received the most yellow cards for foul play, which explains why he was such a hate figure for opposition fans throughout his footballing career.
     Do you suppose he had a habit of treading on fellow footballers’ toes? Accidental, like.
     “I don’t dance,” he recently said. “I don’t dance sober. I don’t dance drunk. I don’t dance at weddings – well, I danced at my own, but that’s it.”

Robbie Savage and his glamorous dance partner,
Ola Jordan, 29. Ole, Ola
!    (Pic: BBC)

Wear your clogs, Ola.
Tuesday, October 4
Drawing to a satisfactory conclusion

FLICKING through a few weekends’ worth of Sunday Times  newspapers before placing them on the recycling pile, I came across a couple of features, both on the same page as it happens, and both juxtapose quite perfectly.
     First, a quote... “If people learnt to draw properly then we’d get some art. They’re all useless.” Dame Vivienne Westwood, 70, British fashion designer and businesswoman, dismisses modern British artists.

Normally, the above would not have drawn a second glance, let alone found itself on my smile bulletin – but just before I’d read it, I’d been suitably seduced and amused by the following brief article, which, shame on me, I hadn’t spotted first time around back in the middle of September...

The extra smile

Shopping   A disgruntled Marks & Spencer customer who was overcharged £1.10 for a salmon sandwich was appeased by being sent a “hand-drawn picture of a smiley dinosaur” (pictured, alongside).
     Bill Bennett demanded a refund after he was overcharged for the sandwich at a branch in Taunton, Somerset, and was promised a £5 voucher in compensation. But when the voucher failed to arrive he asked for a picture of a smiley dinosaur to compensate “for the inconvenience”. As you do.
     Steve Jones, an M&S customer adviser, sent the voucher along with the drawing in the post, and included a note that read: “Unfortunately art was never my strong point, but I hope you will appreciate it.”
     Bennett said: “I’m a bit of a prankster and write to companies asking weird, random questions. I can’t believe M&S came up with the goods. It’s awesome – the best customer service I’ve ever seen.”

I also think it’s awesome. Indeed, I went online and had a quick look at some news pages which had carried the feature at the time – and pretty much without exception it drew comments of appreciation,
not only for the smiley dinosaur drawing, but for the response to

Marks & Spencer @ Taunton: a Dino-store?
(i.e. boasting good old-fashioned service values

the complaint. Ten out of ten, Steve Jones.

Finally, I stumbled upon an online clip headlined...
First aiders’ comedy show: stretcher bearers add to player’s pain
Click below for 52 seconds that will rival anything you’ll see in a Charlie Chaplin movie, simply because the two stretcher bearers are attempting to do something really serious ... magic


Monday, October 3
It ain’t half hot, Mum

WE’VE enjoyed some glorious hot weather over recent days, indeed the
warmest September temperatures recorded for 116 years, followed by a
weekend of record-breaking October temperatures.
     It is called an Indian summer, although, officially, an Indian summer is “a warm, calm spell in autumn, especially in October and November”, so officially the heat had arrived a touch too early to be properly described as an Indian summer. But it did survive into October. So there!
     But why Indian summer? The traditional reasoning was that the North American Red Indians harvested their crops later than the settlers, and thus cashed in on bigger yields if and when the weather stayed warm.
     Others believe that it has something to do with the kind of “mad dogs and Englishmen” summers on the Indian subcontinent.
     Whatever, with our
glorious but brief Indian summer now in retreat, and given the nation’s unhealthy obsession with political correctness, perhaps it should be rechristened a Native American Summer.
     Indeed, if the origin of the expression is in dispute, perhaps a Colonial Summer? On second thoughts, perhaps not.

Perusing the front pages at the newsagent this morning, I was irresistibly drawn to The Times, in particular the picture alongside...

So a quick front page snap ... and it’s a picture of Sky, a French mastiff, soaking up the autumn sunshine on Bournemouth beach on Sunday.
     And particularly apt given that the Saturday before I featured those marvellous sleeping puppies.

I also enjoyed this letter in today’s Telegraph...

What can all this unseasonable weather mean?
SIR – Am I the only one who thinks it is not a coincidence that the current heat wave coincides with the [political] party conference season? 

Blue Sky thinking: enjoying the dog
days of summer, in October

     All that hot air must be a contributory factor.
Douglas Linington, Ramsey, Cambridgeshire

Yesterday, Wales beat Fiji 66-0 in their final pool stage game of Rugby World Cup out in New Zealand. Next Saturday, Wales play Ireland in the quarter-final. However, in this morning
s Western Mail, I enjoyed this clever headline...

         Stormin’ George [young George North] & Co race into quarter-final showdown via ROUTE 66

It seems the credit for that goes to journalist Carolyn Hitt, who began her piece on the game thus: What a scoreline
! Wales didn’t just get their kicks on Route 66, they got nine tries as well, rendering Fiji pointless, as their road trip to the World Cup quarter-finals hits top gear...

Route 66
! Six out of six for that little gem.

Sunday, October 2
The Devil’s in the detail

HEADLINE of the week...
MP’s wife convicted of stealing husband’s lover’s cat
AN MP’s wife was convicted of burglary yesterday after she was captured on CCTV snatching a kitten from the home of her husband’s long-term lover. Christine Hemming, 53, stole four-month-old Beauty a few days after separating from Liberal Democrat John Hemming last September.
     Cameras at the home of Mr Hemming’s mistress Emily Cox, filmed Mrs Hemming crawling on her hands and knees beneath a window before entering the property and emerging with the cat under her arm.

Talk about Beauty and the Beast: you somehow just knew that a story about a lady called Cox and her beautiful pussy would have AMBUSH writ large all over it.

Come again?
“I am feeling fitter and healthier. It is certainly pleasing my husband. He is a very happy bunny.” Former Tory MP Edwina Currie, 64, on her preparations for Strictly Come Dancing.
Now this quote rang a bell, so I hunted back through my smile file – and landed on January 25 ... I quote:

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.

Talk about the hokey-pokey. Do you suppose both Pamela and Edwina use the same twist and spin doctor?

And here’s another Edwina quote, this time on Nancy Dell’Olio, a fellow contestant on Strictly Come Dancing: “The only thing Nancy and I have in common is that we are both from sea ports. We are used to coping with whoever comes in and we know how to send the sailors home happy.”
Whatever does she mean? Could it be that Edwina’s favourite film is The Fleet’s In [Port Again] ?

Now I
’m no watcher of Strictly Come Dancing, but I was taken with this quote from judge Craig Revel on Nancy Dell’Olio’s  performance over the weekend: “It was like a curtain in a washing machine stuck on spin cycle. I have to draw a veil over that because, while it sounds good, I havent the faintest what it means.

Mention above of dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight, here’s the quote of the past week. It comes compliments of Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, who calls on football clubs to be given greater influence over TV companies to curb the influence wielded by broadcasters over fixture lists:
“You get some ridiculous situations when you’re playing on Wednesday night in Europe and then again at lunchtime the following Saturday. You ask any manager if they would pick that themselves and there’d be no chance. You need those 72 hours to prepare, to get into a reasonable condition after a European game. When you shake hands with the devil, you have to pay the price

So that’s what our movers and shakers – politicians, bankers, business chiefs, media owners, et al – were doing over recent years: shaking hands with the devil, but unfortunately all the rest of us have had to pay the price.

As I said, the Devil’s in the detail.
Saturday, October 1
Forty winks

A COUPLE of weekends ago I spotted in The Sunday Times’  “Picture Story of the Week”  a set of images under the heading “Let sleeping dogs lie”.
     Pictures of puppies in various dormant positions have been uploaded en masse to American website Uphaa, which collects unusual photographs.
     Today I got round to having a look online for the site and its images ...
here’s a glorious example, alongside. A puppy uses its paws to shield its eyes from the light. Extraordinarily eye-catching, if you’ll pardon the pun.
     Below, a corgi puppy enjoying a snooze, flat out on its back...

Marvellous. But here’s a funny thing. Look closely at the above corgi, and you can see its little willy sticking up, obviously enjoying a rather erotic dream. Weirdly, in The Sunday Times picture, the willy and its shadow had been photoshopped out.
     Now ponder on this curiosity...

The Sunday Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International, also owners of the News of the World, which is no longer with us due to that nasty business involving phone-hacking, which of course is still ongoing.
     Now every organisation, whether it be neighbourhood pub, local council, high street giant, the BBC – or indeed Murdoch’s media empire – is a precise reflection of the person at the very top, that individual’s ethics, morality and honesty, no matter how small or big the organisation.
     There isn’t a single person on the planet who doesn’t believe that Rupert Murdoch knew that phone-hacking was part and parcel of modern journalism. Probably. So here’s my point: how odd that an organisation that practised phone-hacking will surgically remove a puppy’s little willy, just in case it upsets the sense and sensibilities of its readership. Extraordinary.
     It could be that they were afraid someone like me would come along and use the headline at the top – Forty winks – but somehow manage to substitute the ‘i’ with an ‘a’.

If you fancy a peep at some marvellously smiley pictures of sleeping dogs and cats, such as the above examples, simply go to uphaa.com – and click on 10 Cute Animal Sleeping Positions (also, look out for 11 Cute Animal Sleeping Positions II) - or simply click on the following link...


                                  For previous 2011 smiles, click: Smile of the Day 2011 (Jan-Jun) ... Smile of the Day 2011 (Jul-Sep)

 Previously: Smile of the Day 2010


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