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THOUGHT FOR LIFE: every day is a day at school [School motto: Gwell helpu na hindro ~ "If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain."]

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POSTCARDS FROM
MY SQUARE MILE
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Updated: 01/03/2012

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400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 10/01/2012

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                             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 ...
                                                                                
Contact Me
 

Saturday, March 31
Cutting your cake and having it


THE OTHER day I recall discussing how two children should cut a cake to avoid arguments over who has the marginally bigger slice: one child divides the cake – the other has first choice. Wisdom beyond.
     As I have mentioned before, I thoroughly enjoy reading the tail-gunner letters in the newspapers – I am currently quite addicted to the Daily Telegraph  letters (in my humble opinion the Telegraph  has overtaken the Times  in the “Oh, by the way” chuckle department).
     Anyway, apropos cutting your cake and having it, this letter appeared in the Telegraph....

Time for cake
SIR – I have found a method of requesting a slice of cake or pie which removes the subjective opinion of the slicer or recipient.
     Instead of asking for “a small piece”, “not much” or “a generous helping”, I ask with reference to a clock face. Depending on the product on offer or my diet that day, I might ask for five minutes of cheesecake or half an hour of apple crumble.
Keith Edwards, Tattershall, Lincolnshire


Very smiley. I also enjoy hugely the wit and wisdom of some of the contributors to the Comments board. For example, the first one here was posted just a few minutes after the above letter appeared, and it really adds the double cream:

Chezz: Do you ever come back for seconds, Mr Edwards?

Tonytolle: Chezz, quick wit such as yours is reason enough to continue reading Telegraph comments; thank you for brightening my day.

I can only endorse Tonytolle’s compliment. Here are a couple more letters, this time about estate agents...

Bargain basement
SIR – I have long enjoyed estate agents’ descriptions. “Deceptively spacious” was a favourite, but now a local agent is offering a house “with obscured views”.
Diana Crook, Seaford, East Sussex

Detached from reality
SIR – Good friends have lived happily for many years in an end-of-terrace house which was described by the agent who sold it to them as being “essentially detached in character”.
John Dean, Preston, Lancashire


“Essentially detached in character
!” How wonderfully imaginative is that? I reproduce the above because they happen to go hand in hand with the impending fuel tanker drivers’ strike and attendant panic buying of fuel (oh, and bare in mind the recent drought orders as water becomes alarmingly scarce, especially in south-eastern parts of the UK).
 

Anyway, a brace of cartoons from the magical MATT contribute beautifully to all the above subject matter.

The Daily Telegraph’s  Matt is far and away my favourite cartoonist. He is most witty and wise in his observations – and of course, those drawings featuring such delightfully gormless-looking characters.
     I regularly reproduce his cartoons here because the more people who share a smile at his humour, then the more marginally bearable the doolallyness of our movers and shakers become.
     To paraphrase Tonytolle  from above: 
Matt brightens my day no end.

Talking of gormless-looking characters: that fellow to the left, holding the pipe, really could be me.


Staying with the fuel crisis, a couple of day’s back I pointed you in the direction of an amusing article by a Dan Hodges regarding the current fuel crisis, and how the government were inciting motorists to panic buy fuel. Here’s the opening paragraph as a reminder...

Don’t panic. That’s the official advice from the Government over the impending fuel strike. Or rather, do panic, but only a little bit. There’s nothing to be alarmed about, honestly. But take precautions; just in case. Though there’s really no need. But better to be safe than sorry.

If you remember, and as an aside, I said how I wished
publishers would stop showing those passport-style photos of the authors; I mean, the first thing I do is the old dolphin or shark/pussycat or polecat routine – and that detracts from my appreciation of the writing (it is called instinct)...
                                                                                    
                                                                                                                         ...I have to admit that, humorous as he is in print, I really would not want to step on Dan’s toes, accidentally or otherwise, on a country road on a dark and stormy night. He looks a bit scary does our Dan, and the very antonym of his writing style. There again, he could be a pussycat in heavy disguise.
     Be that as it may, I have to quote the closing paragraphs from his article, given how the fuel crisis has panned out...

There will be a flurry of drama, lots of demands for ministers to “get a grip”, and then everything will return to normal. The ordeal has yet to be devised that cannot be overcome by a stiff upper lip, a reference to Winston Churchill and an early-evening viewing of The Dam Busters.
     That’s how I intend to deal with the great fuel crisis of 2012. I shall keep calm, and carry on. Regardless of how much my Government may try to panic me.

And that is pretty much how the whole fiasco is petering out – or should that be spluttering to a halt. Oh happy days.
 

Friday, March 30
Raining cats and dogs and chickens


SOME 10 days ago I did a brief feature on what Daily Telegraph  readers name their pets. First, the dogs: there was a Jacob (he was crackers), and a Joseph (had a coat of many colours); then there was Taxi (but you do not repeatedly call after Taxi when out for a walk, especially so on the beach where you would draw some funny looks).
     Then the cats: the organ player and his magnificent Magnificat (the cleverness of that still makes me smile); and Ceremony (“Please come in, don’t stand on Ceremony
!”).
     Here are a couple more letters that have since caught the eye...

Robin Dogfellow

SIR – I had a wire-haired fox terrier that my daughter insisted I name Puck. I never called him when out in public.
Countess of Macclesfield, North Stoke, Oxfordshire

SIR – For several years I kept a chicken called Ozone. Needless to say it was a layer.
Bob Addison, Hartlepool, Co Durham

The dog named Puck is truly funny ha-ha. But the newspaper headline “Robin Dogfellow” threw me completely – so, compliments of Wikipedia:

Puck, also known as Robin Goodfellow, is found in William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a character that was based on the ancient figure in English mythology, also called Puck.
     Puck is a clever and mischievous elf and personifies the trickster or the wise knave. In the play, Shakespeare introduces Puck as the “shrewd and knavish sprite” and “that merry wanderer of the night” and jester to Oberon, the fairy king.

Every day is a day at school, as I never tire of emphasising, especially so for stupid individuals like me. And talking of stupid: I think I should join in the pets name game, no messing.
     Next door has a dog – oh, and some chickens, and they all come calling at my kitchen door quite often.
 

Firstly, the chickens: say hello to the Chickadee Quartet, pictured alongside. There’s Chickadee, obviously (the conductor clucker); Henrietta (she clucks posh); Chiquita (meaning small and cute, but sometimes referred to as Quack when delivering a curious cluck); and Chickaboo (also called Cwennen, the Welsh word for a young chick, whether feathered or otherwise).
     Sadly, since the photograph here was taken, three have gone to the great hen house in the sky – ask no questions and get told no lies – to be replaced by a couple of white hens (Gwen, a Welsh word meaning white, fair or blessed; and Hillary, as in Hillary Tenzing - she is always climbing things).
     So now we have The Three Clucketeers...

And of course there’s the dog, a Border Collie bitch. She was bought as a pup, and was then called “Twp”, a Welsh word meaning either stupid or odd/bizarre. Being a collie she certainly ain’t stupid – but she is truly eccentric.

Pussycat the Dog joins the Chickadee Quartet
to flash mob on my ‘Welcome’ mat

     Twp  duly morphed into Tuppy – clever – but I call her Pussycat,
simply because she has the most beautiful nature. It is quite amusing
talking to a dog I refer to as Pussycat. She doesn’t seem to mind though.
     But back to her eccentricity: like pretty much all farm dogs
she tends to bark at, and see off, anything on four wheels which visit the property, including resident vehicles.
     However, Pussycat also chases after low-flying aircraft. I kid you not. Military flying machines of all sorts regularly fly very low over the Towy Valley. To watch Pussycat race across the field in pursuit of a fighter jet is one of life’s more magical experiences.
     Also, when there’s a thunder clap she doesn’t run to hide like normal dogs, she races towards the guilty corner of the sky and barks furiously at that dreadful noise. And of course her hearing is so acute she reacts a second or so before I even hear the clap.
     Then I realised what generates this extraordinary behaviour. David, her master, flies hot air balloons, and I’d noticed that she works herself up into a highly excitable state whenever he is preparing for flight, as well as when he takes off and goes up, up and away in his beautiful balloon.
     So when you think about it, the sound of a jet engine is exactly the same as the burners on the balloon; also, a clap of thunder is very similar. So what Pussycat is hearing is her master’s voice. She thinks there’s a balloon up there somewhere, hence her undisguised enthusiasm at things that frighten normal dogs.
     Oh yes, she also goes bananas when I turn on the hoover. Again, that noise is very similar to the blower used to inflate the balloon before the burners are fired. You see, all the dots eventually join up.

Truly, for everything there is a reason, a time for every activity under heaven.
 

Thursday, March 29
Eyes right
!

“I AM to the right of Attila the Hun. People keep telling me I should go into politics, but my wife won’t even let me go on Question Time. She thinks I’m too radical.”
Sir Ian Botham, 56, former England Test cricketer and Test team captain, and current cricket commentator.

That really made me smile. Probably because it’s obviously spoken from the heart.

“Contemporary art has become this baggy old bag; you can dump any old thing in and people say it’s art.”
Grayson Perry, 52, award-winning, cross-dressing potter.

I recall seeing Grayson in cross-dressing mode as a panellist on Have I Got News For You – and I remember thinking:  who the hell is this baggy old bag?
     No I didn’t. Or did I? Anyway, that quote did leave him slightly exposed and knickerless (or should it be knackerless?).

“Not only is it not worth $17m, it isn’t worth a cent. Not because it isn’t great art, good art or even bad art, but because it isn’t art at all.” Julian Spalding, 64, British art critic, writer, broadcaster and former curator, delivers his verdict on Damien Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde...
                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                                                       ...The most telling thing about all this delightful doolallyness is that it is all about a shark captivating the heart and mind of a – well, a shark, perhaps? What more can one add?

I know what I can  add: talking of sharks, time to revisit this 20/20 instinct for survival of mine. You know how it works: the moment I meet a stranger – or see a photograph of someone – my brain involuntarily decides whether I am confronted by a dolphin or a shark, a pussycat or a polecat, a sparrow or a sparrow hawk, a lay-by or a roundabout.
     Well, just the other day, another of our banks announced huge bonus payments to its top staff. Here’s the headline and opening shot.
                                                            
Barclays duo enjoy £20m payday

Barclays’ top two investment bankers, Jerry del Missier and Rich Ricci (pronounced Richie, I hear), have each cashed in £10m of share awards as six other directors shared a £7.35m payday.
     Regulatory disclosures just released reveal that the eight directors cashed in a total of £28m of share awards, with only three deciding to hang on to any of the Barclays’ stock.


Right, it’s instinct time. Here are both Jerry del Missier (I wonder if that is pronounced Miser?) and Rich Ricci – so have a look which of the above profiles you think fit...
                                                                                
                                                                                                                                         As I have always said, good old Mother Nature provides all the clues we need to make sense of the world about us. Now what does “bankers” rhyme with?
     Meanwhile, back on the online Comments front, these gems caught my eye:

LightShaft: At least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask....
The one with the hat and dark glasses comes very close though.

Clump: Rich Ricci? Are you kidding me? There’s not another one out there named “Coiney Git” is there?

Cassandra99: Can I suggest that Rich Ricci changes his name to Robin Banks.

I still rather like my own invention for Britain’s bankers: Robbin’ Hoods.

Anyway, here’s something fascinating about having amusing names. This from someone called
“Improbulus”:

New Scientist magazine coined the terms “nominative determinism”, or “aptonyms”, to describe the phenomenon of people whose names reflect their jobs - or rather, who end up working in areas that reflect their names (hence the “determinism”).
     An example might be a plumber called Pipe. Real life instances abound. For example, the noise and vibrations engineer for the Queensland Electricity Commission, Australia used to be someone called Ron Rumble; a finance director called Stephen Purse; an RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) warden called Partridge; and David Dollar, a US national, worked for five years as the World Bank’s Country Director for China and Mongolia.

Here are some other wonderful examples: Simon Rattle is the principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonia – or Berliner Philharmoniker, as an online wit observed; Lord Judge (Igor Judge) is the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales; there’s a vet in Tampa, Florida called Dani McVety – honestly, check her out on Google: “Dani McVety on Talking Animals” – and a lovely thing she is, too...
                                        

Sometimes though it works in reverse, where a name is wholly unsuitable. This, compliments of Wikipedia:

Cardinal Sin (Jaime Lachia Sin, 1928-2005), was a Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila, known for his instrumental role in the People Power Revolution, which toppled the regime of Ferdinand Marcos and installed Corazon Aquino as president of the Philippines.
     His title and surname as Cardinal Sin (another term for a deadly sin) were a point of humour in the Philippines and for Philippine Catholics. Examples included “The greatest sin of all: Cardinal Sin”, and even his own pun of “Welcome to the house of Sin” that he said to guests at his official residence of Villa San Miguel.

Wonderful. However, if having a suitable name is called “aptonyms”, should having an unsuitable name be “oopsonyms”?

Finally...

“When I wrote up my own star sign, Aries, I always made sure there was a brilliant week in prospect.”
Selina Scott, 60, former TV newsreader and presenter, recalls the days when she wrote the horoscopes for the Sunday Post in Dundee.

Do you suppose that Selina’s career took a turn for the worst when she stopped writing her own horoscopes – and they then morphed into horror-scopes? Now there’s a thought.
 
 
Wednesday, March 28
A life in the day


AT 06:09 this morning, as dawn prepared to break over the Towy Valley, I popped outside to watch the International Space Station (ISS) pass pretty much directly overhead, clear as a bell in the cloudless sky.
     Just behind, at 06:11, came the ATV3 ‘Edouardo Amaldi’ (Automated Transfer Vehicle), Europe’s unmanned cargo re-supply spacecraft, gradually catching up with the ISS to dock and unload its payload of just over seven tonnes.
     The union of ISS and ATV will take place sometime overnight tonight. Oh yes, the ATV is named after the ‘famous’ Italian physicist and spaceflight pioneer, Edouardo Amaldi (?).
     I recall watching the Shuttle flying in tandem with the ISS as it prepared to dock, but there was something extra magical about watching the unmanned ATV chasing the ISS (to eventually join in holy docking, obviously), and all done on auto-pilot while whizzing along at 17,500mph.
     After all, the shuttle had a pilot to guide it into place, but the ATV docks with the station using just a computer and a back-up, back-seat driver at the ATV Control Centre based somewhere near Toulouse.
     Astonishing.

About an hour after watching the ISS and the ATV pass over, I was on my morning walk and I noticed ahead of me, high in the sky, a sight I have never before witnessed. A couple of commercial aircraft, at 30,000 ft or so, were flying east in perfect double-decker formation, obviously separated vertically by at least a thousand feet. Amazing sight.
     Suddenly, as they navigated the Brecon DVOR (aircraft navigation beacon atop the Brecon Beacons), which
is the primary beacon that marks the crossing point of the north-south air lane through Wales and the primary transatlantic route from London, they abruptly parted company, one banking left, the other right.

You take the high lane and I'll take the low lane


Do you take this horse - or go the whole hog, Mog?
TALKING of the “union” between the ISS and the ATV,
I have just tripped over a couple of online comment messages I’d saved and forgotten about. The above story reminded me and gave me an excuse to revisit.
     The posts surfaced during the brouhaha about gay couples demanding the right to properly marry à la man and woman.

cool_trousers: Like I asked yesterday, why shouldn’t I marry my horse if I love him/her? Bestialists and gay horses have rights too. If you’re going to make this insane world any more bonkers, why not go the whole hog?
What, and marry a castrated male pig?

thatlldo: The emperor Caligula didn’t exactly marry his horse, but he did introduce it to the senate as a consul and a god.
Yes, doolallyness is as old as the hills.

Adding fire to the fuel

Talking of “doolallyness”, as I was, above – I am being particularly seamless today – this online headline must have subliminally registered with me this morning:

                          
Only panic a little bit”, shrieks the Government calmly over fuel strike fears

Here is the opening paragraph by a Dan Hodges in the Telegraph, exploring the government inciting motorists to panic buy fuel...

Don’t panic. That’s the official advice from the Government over the impending fuel strike. Or rather, do panic, but only a little bit. There’s nothing to be alarmed about, honestly. But take precautions; just in case. Though there’s really no need. But better to be safe than sorry.

A rather amusing article it was, too (there’s a link to the full article coming up down below).

Whenever the car’s fuel gauge hits the halfway spot, I fill up. It is not so much because I live in a rural area and prefer to keep the fuel tank topped up, just in case, but rather I find it less painful to fork out £30-50 a time to top up rather than £60-100 to fill up.
     It’s a psychological thing. Fuel costs me exactly the same – in fact it probably costs a wee bit more because the car is forever hauling a tank mostly full of petrol. Mind you, a Saab 900 16V doesn’t exactly struggle to carry that extra weight.
     Anyway, I was in Llandampness this afternoon, and as I approached the town’s petrol station, I half-expected to see it crowded with drivers panic buying – absolutely empty, not a vehicle in sight.
     Blimey, I thought, everybody’s listened to government advice, they’ve panic-bought like crazy, and the garage has sold out. But no, all was well. So I decided to do my own bit of panic buying. But only a little bit, you understand.
     The petrol tank was not quite half-empty – normally I would say
just over half-full, but these are not normal times - so I topped up anyway.
     Yes, I’m as doolally as the rest of ‘em.

Picture perfect
Talking of living in a rural area, this afternoon was such a stunningly beautiful affair under a cloudless blue sky, with a gentle breeze and the temperature tickling 70, I decided to go for a walk through the fields surrounding the cottage.
     It was surreal beyond. If I had taken a picture and posted it here you would have observed, oh, what a beautiful winter’s day down there in the Towy Valley.
     Summertime, I thought to myself, and the living is easy – yet all the trees were totally bare of leaves. As I said: it was bizarre beyond.
     Yes of course, up close the hedges are just starting to burst into leaf, as indeed are some of the trees – but, from a distance, you just couldn’t tell. They appeared bare, as in winter.
     It was a most extraordinary day. And likely to be repeated tomorrow ... before temperatures return to normal – indeed, with the threat of snow in some parts over Easter.
     I never grow bored of the British weather. Which is why I probably never get bored of life.

PS: Latest headline on the fuel strike commentary:
                                                                                       
Don't panic message leads to panic

After the Government raised the alarm over a potential strike by fuel tanker drivers, telling drivers not to panic is next to useless, according to crowd psychology expert Dr John Drury.

Dr John goes on to make three “bleedin’ obvious” points:
    
1.  Don’t say “don’t panic”
    
2.  Belief that there is ‘panic’ make it logical to act individualistically
    
3.  ‘Panic buying’ is not panic

Right, here’s the link to the amusing Dan Hodges article – well worth a quick read. Incidentally, I do wish they wouldn’t show those passport-style photos of the authors. Poor old Dan doesn’t look like a fellow you would want to meet on a dark and stormy night, amusing as he might be in print...
    
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danhodges/100147568/only-panic-a-little-bit-shrieks-the-government-calmly-over-fuel-strike-fears/
 

Tuesday, March 27
Pilots’ tales of woe ... and a pilot’s tale of ho, ho, ho
!

LATE breaking news at 30,000 feet:
A JetBlue flight captain went berserk mid-flight today and had to be restrained by passengers as the plane made an emergency landing.
     Clayton Frederick Osbon, 49, reportedly screamed “Say your prayers, say your prayers
!
” at horrified passengers after running up and down the aisle shouting “Iraq, al-Qaeda, terrorism, we’re all going down!”.
     The captain of flight 191 from JFK to Las Vegas went “crazy” passengers said after he went to the toilet and returned to find that he had been locked out of the cockpit by his co-pilot who had concerns about his behaviour.
     An off-duty airline captain, who was a passenger on the flight, joined the co-pilot in the cockpit, locked the door and landed in Amarillo, Texas, the airline said in a statement.
     JetBlue Airways said the original pilot had been taken to hospital after suffering a “medical situation” on board.


Poor bugger. It will be fascinating to eventually discover what made the co-pilot lock him out of the cockpit in the first place. Quite a step to take.

EARLY breaking news at zero feet:
Here is a tale about overbooked flights, the curse of the economy traveller. This is the captain’s tale...

The flight I was piloting was overbooked – and when the airline overbook they come along looking for volunteers. The gate supervisor came on board with an offer in exchange for disembarking.
     Two volunteers would get a free hotel room, meal vouchers, tickets on the next morning flight, including compensation flight vouchers, which can be invitingly generous depending on the desperation of the situation.
     When no one of the increasingly impatient passengers volunteered I decided to try a little levity, happy in the knowledge that some humour often eases a fraught situation. “Ladies and gentlemen,” I said , “this is your captain speaking. If it helps, I’m not a very good pilot – oh, and my first officer has just whispered that he isn’t all that clever either.”
     At which point a loud voice from the back could clearly be heard: “You two get off then
!


I wonder if that pilot went on to captain 191 from JFK to Las Vegas on March 27, 2012? Staying in the air, I was rather captivated by this picture of the famous Red Arrows doing a turn...
                                                                                                                  
...which in turn led me into this headline and story:
                                                                                      
Red Arrows to fly as seven after deaths

The Red Arrows will fly in a new formation for the first time when they begin training for the coming season. The team is set to fly in a new seven formation for the first time when the crew begins annual training in Cyprus.
     The Royal Air Force team confirmed it would not be training in its traditional nine formation when it headed out for RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
     The move comes after the deaths of two pilots last year and the re-assignment to a ground-based role of Kirsty Stewart, the first female Red Arrows pilot.
     Flt Lt Jon Egging crashed near Bournemouth Airport on 20 August last year and fellow Red Arrows pilot Sean Cunningham died just three months later when his ejector seat malfunctioned while he was on the runway at RAF Scampton.
     Red Arrows squadron leader Jim Turner said that putting on flight suits this year would have “added significance for all of us . . . with everything that has happened to the team over the past few months”.


It is interesting to speculate that the sudden and unexpected troubles of the famous Red Arrows pretty much reflect the troubles of those at the very top of UK Limited.

Everything trickles down from the top. I mean, the way any organisation conducts itself - neighbourhood pub, local council, high-street giant, the BBC, the armed forces - is a precise reflection of those at the very top, the Chief Sitting Bull(s), or indeed let’s not be sexist, the Chief Sitting Cow.
     And those piloting UK Limited do not exactly instil confidence.
Say your prayers, say your prayers!
 

Monday, March 26
A drink with the Gods – real and false


THIS morning I was listening to Radio Cymru, the BBC’s Welsh language radio station, and heard this delightful tale of schooldays long gone, from about the Forties-Fifties, I would guess, at least from the age of the storyteller, a John Griffith Jones.
     It was a tale about a gentle and kindly Welshman, a teacher of English, but a man with a love of language, indeed he had inspired quite a few famous Welsh writers and poets to take up the pen. His name was Griffith Parry, a fellow who had heard and seen it all in his teaching days – and duly rose above it all. We shall simply call him “Sir”.

A fellow-pupil in the storyteller’s class was a Thomas Hughes, a mischievous lad – he would be the equivalent of the English Tommy Tucker. Every class has a Thomas Hughes. If anything was wrong or out of place, Thomas was the prime suspect. He would rather be anywhere else than in school (I know the feeling, I was the same, but I was a good little boy – ho-hum).
     At the end of every month, Sir would hold an oral test. During such a test, Sir noticed Thomas Hughes gazing out of the window, as was his wont, wrapped up in a little world of his own. “Now then Thomas Hughes,” asked Sir, “can you tell me what was the name of the drink of the Greek Gods?”
     No response from our Tommy Tucker, indeed he had no understanding of the question. So Sir repeats the question: “Thomas Hughes? Can you tell me the name of the actual drink of the Greek Gods?”
     A bit of a pregnant pause. “I think it could be Vimto, Sir.” Giggles from the rest of the class.
     Sir merely sighed a kindly sigh, with doubtless an inner smile for the answer would have appealed to his own sense of humour. “No, not quite, Thomas Hughes, not quite.”

Such a delightful story. And gosh, Vimto. That takes me back. But, much like Thomas Hughes, having paid no attention in school, I too had no idea what the actual drink of the Greek Gods was – so a quick Google ... hm, so nectar is the drink of the Gods; and ambrosia is the food of the Gods.
     Hang about, I’ve eaten Ambrosia Rice Pudding. Does that mean I have been an apprentice God all along?

Written on the wall
TALKING of teachers and learning lessons, this picture caught my eye...
                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                                                ...it is of Patrick Viera, Manchester City Football Club’s development executive, at the club’s training ground. It’s that poster on the wall that actually caught my eye: Work hard and be nice to people.
     Well, if you have to tell people to work hard and be nice, you’re going to get nowhere fast. Both those qualities are either written into your DNA – or not. And having it written on the wall, as opposed to your DNA, will never, ever change your default setting, I would suggest.

Headline act
“TWO hundred grand, £250,000 is Premier League. It will be awesome for your business.” Peter Cruddas, 58, English banker, businessman and Tory Party co-treasurer, filmed trying to sell secret and influential meetings with the Prime Minister in return for donations to the party.

EMBRACING my new found fame as an apprentice God, I spotted an online headline:
                                                             Cameron completes record dive
Oh God, I thought, more Tory sleaze with the latest cash for access scandal - see above quote. So Cameron’s record dive means, unsurprisingly, that his popularity has taken a massive hit in the polls.
     Intrigued, I clicked on the headline:
James Cameron becomes first solo diver to visit earth’s deepest point ... completes record dive but resurfaces six hours early.

Oops, wrong Cameron – but tell you what, both Camerons have plumbed the murky depths over the past few days.

In David Cameron’s case it’s confirmation that in Austerity Britain, his is a government of the extremely rich, by the filthy rich, for the dishonourably rich.
     Honestly, i
f you chopped a politician, of whatever persuasion, in half, then written through the creature, just like a stick of Blackpool Rock, would be two common DNA traces: an individual who finds it impossible to sleep straight in his or her bed of an evening; and a person who can only really, truly, be loved by his or her mother.
     Politics does indeed attract a peculiarly unattractive sort of human being.

 

Sunday, March 25
                             Day after day, day after day,
                             We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
                             As idle as a painted ship
                             Upon a painted ocean.

                            
Water, water, every where,
                             And all the boards did shrink;
                             Water, water, every where,
                             Nor any drop to drink.
                                                                
 The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

SUNDAY is as good a day as any to read about the Great Flood and Noah’s Ark. This thought-provoking letter in today’s Sunday Telegraph tickled my imagination no end:

Noah’s box
SIR – One feels a natural concern for Joanna Lumley’s safety on her proposed trip to Iran in search of Noah’s Ark.
     Something resembling “the ruins of a big ship” have been found. It would be more reassuring to read: “the ruins of a big box”. Noah, a resident of land-locked deserts, knew nothing of shipbuilding, and the Ark wouldn’t resemble the conventional idea of a ship because it didn’t have to go anywhere – only up and down.
Rev Dennis Donald, Gretna, Dumfriesshire


The tale of too much water is rather apt, given the current warm, dry spell as parts of the UK, especially so the south-east, are running short of water. And it isn’t even the end of March yet (that’ll learn me to smile at the suggestion that Australia is just an oversized sheet of sandpaper – see last Friday
!).
     Here are some letters that have appeared over recent weeks on the subject of drought, again from the Telegraph - along with a cartoon compliments of the Telegraph’s 
MATT, which actually surfaced during the recent London Fashion Week.

Empty cannon
SIR – You report that the police are to be given access to water cannon in the event of riots this summer.
     Have they not been informed that large parts of the country will shortly have a drought order in place?
Graham Fry, Etchingham, East Sussex

How to quench drought
SIR – In light of the hosepipe bans for the south-eastern corner of the country, it is dismaying to hear commentators stating that cost prohibits the construction of pipelines to move water from those parts of the country with adequate supplies. If water was accorded the same monetary value as oil, the response might be different.
Lovat Timbrell, Brighton, East Sussex

That’s a very apt letter, given that many now believe future wars will not be fought over oil and gas but the availability of water, particularly drinking water.

Water on tap
SIR – The Scots are prepared to send water to the drought-hit South, but at what cost?
     Staying at a Scottish guest house in the Seventies, and looking forward to a nice hot soak, I had already disrobed when I noticed the sign: “Bath 25p – ask for tap”.
Anna Anderson, Westcliff on Sea, Essex

Finally, and in the interest of balance (particularly so as David Cameron and his millionaire cabinet members keep reminding us that the economic crisis is affecting each and every one of us), this letter from The Times  (thanks to Chief Wise Owl, the eyes that never sleep, down there at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon):

Eat southern cake
Sir, As a northern citizen, I was struck by your report on the drought, which stated than Anglian water customers “will be forbidden from using hosepipes to water plants, wash the car or clean their yachts”.
     Truly, we are all in this together.
Nick Wallis, Darlington, Co Durham


Yes indeed, the haves and the have-yachts. I guess Noah would have been a have-yacht - or at least a have-portmanteau, as in: any portmanteau in a storm.
 

Saturday, March 24
Truffles and Louise


LOUISE owns The Bewitched and the Wardrobe in Llandampness, a ladies’ fashion shop specialising in sexy
lingerie (I guess describing lingerie as sexy is like describing grass as green; I mean, we don’t call it underwear, which is strictly what it is, do we?).
     Anyway, you walk through the door and you enter a fantasy world – at least for a man, and I know because I often had to call on Louise. Strictly business reasons, you understand. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
     Whatever, Louise was telling me that one day a presentable young man came in and asked for a job application form. Mindful of the minefield called ‘Employment Laws’ and that dreadful ambush thingy labelled ‘Sex Discrimination’, Louise fetched an application from the back-office. (And anyway, he could have been from the local council, just testing her.)
     She then engaged the young man in general conversation regarding the job. After he had asked a few questions about the business, Louise explained the rules for male employees: “You can only work behind the cash register or in the stockroom,” she said. “You can’t serve customers, or go into the changing areas.”
     The young man seemed somewhat deflated. “Oh, by the way,” Louise added, “most of our customers don’t look like the models in the ads, but more like your mum. And occasionally like your dad when the male of the species ventures in here to buy gifts for – well, we never presume to ask for whom the till tolls.”
     With that, the young man handed the application back to Louise and hurried out of the Wardrobe.

A hop, a step and a jump
AN unassuming Fife guinea pig has been confirmed as a Guinness World Record holder.

Truffles, lured only by the temptation of his favourite nibble, has smashed the record for the longest jump ever recorded by a guinea pig ... I found myself thinking: 30 seconds? A minute? A couple of minutes? Surely, a guinea pig would not have a bonk lasting that long? That would even put me to shame.
     Then I read on: Truffles has made his name vaulting 30cm (12in) between two boxes and breaking the existing record by nearly 10cm (4in).

That’s what comes of being in possession of a one-track mind. Mention a jump – and the last thing that crosses my mind is a “Lynn the Leap” type jump.
     If you want to see Truffles take a huge bite out of the world record, click on the Daily Mirror  link below ... yes, little things please little minds – and smaller minds look on, and all that jazz. But I plead guilty as charged.
     It’s all delightfully silly though...
                                                             http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/guinea-pig-truffles-in-longest-jump-766211

 
Friday, March 23
Here comes the sun ~ and say hello to the mother of all deck-chairs


I COULDN’T help but smile at the picture which has been all over the shop today – rather appropriate as the weather outside suggested not so much the third day of spring proper but rather the third day of summer proper.
     As soon as I saw the picture, the first thing that went through my mind was this: magic moment or imagined moment? Is it a genuine image, or the result of some clever digital manipulation? See what you think...
 

Gulliver carelessly leaves his deck-chair on the beach at Lilliput Pic: Chris Ison/PA
 

What a smiley image it is. And so very British. What is more, it is not an imagined moment – absolutely genuine, it seems. A couple on Bournemouth Beach sit on what is expected to be confirmed as the world’s largest deck-chair. It measures eight and a half metres tall by five and a half metres wide, and weighs almost six tonnes.
     (Being a natural-born imperialist, those metric figures baffled me: then someone said it was taller than a double-decker bus – ah, common sense at last. So I checked it out: actually, give or take, the deck-chair is twice the height of a London double-decker bus.)
     But weighing almost six tonnes? That’s one hell of a weight for what is essentially a skeleton, albeit a substantial and rather clever one.
     Mind you, I also enjoyed the lady on the sand carrying an actual deck-chair. Very clever contrast.
     It seems that the deck-chair has been commissioned by Pimm’s in celebration of the official start of British Summer Time (clocks spring forward this coming weekend).

Perusing Mail Online’s  Comments section on the giant deck-chair, those in sunnier climes were making fun of we Brits making a fuss over a little unexpected warm and sunny weather. A tbj, somewhere in Wales (obviously Old Wales rather than New South Wales), because he or she was responding to a certain Ben from Melbourne, Australia: “At least we have seasons and don’t live on an oversized sandpaper!
     Do you know, whenever I look at Australia on a map in future, what I will see is an

A modern bottle of
Pimm's No. 1 Cup

oversized sheet of sandpaper.
     Indeed, that must be why the Aussies have such a talent for rubbing people up the wrong way.
 
Thursday, March 22
Laugh, and the world laughs with you


“I AM a lucky woman because I was born with a priceless gift: the ability to laugh at the misfortune of others.” Barry Humphries, 78, Australian comedian, satirist, Dadaist, artist, author and character actor, in his persona of Dame Edna Everage who is to be “mothballed”.

What the heck is a ‘Dadaist’? Well, according to The Free Dictionary:
A European artistic and literary movement (1916-1923) that flouted conventional aesthetic and cultural values by producing works marked by nonsense, travesty, and incongruity. Ah, another word for a politician.
     Whatever,
I thoroughly enjoyed the notion of Dame Edna’s more private parts being “mothballed”, ho, ho, ho! What makes it even better is that just a couple of days I go I reflected on the Dylan Thomas line: He kissed her once when she wasn’t looking ... and never kissed her again although she was looking all the time.
     What, I supposed, if you substituted “kissed” with the f-word? How many of us men would nod and smile ruefully, remembering what we did after a few drinks too many ... when Marilyn Monroe at sunset morphed into Dame Edna Everage at sunrise?
     Or in a woman’s case, she goes to bed with Cary Grant and wakes up with Sir Les Patterson? She kissed him once when he wasn’t looking ... and never kissed him again although he was looking all the time...
     Incidentally, Barry Humphries mentions the ability to laugh at the misfortune of others. But the Germans, of all people, have been doing this for so long they have a glorious word for it: schadenfreude.
     Talking of which:

Cry, and you cry alone
“Now I am not an MP I can express my creative side. No longer do I have to present the image of a politician with dandruff on the shoulders of his boring old suit.” Lembit Opik, 47, former Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire in Wales, who was dumped by the electorate at the 2010 election.
Lembit mentions expressing his creative side. He should start with the above statement. When I first read it, this is how I saw it: “Now I am not an MP...”
     How true, I thought to myself, but what he meant, of course, was this: “Now that I am no longer an MP...”

Where sheep may safely shop 'til they drop
“What is the Middleton effect? Is it that everyone wants to dress like her? Everyone has always wanted to dress the same as each other – they are like sheep.” Pam Hogg, Scots-born musician and fashion designer to the stars and the Moon, on the Duchess of Cambridge.
Well of course we all behave like sheep. We are herd animals. Those who flock together fock together - or something like that. Not only that, there are only a thousand human blueprints (we are talking about the mind here, mind, not superficial things like colour, height, fingerprints...). So does Pam Hogg really expect us to believe that every dress she designs is specifically aimed at just the one person?
     Scarcely believe...

Talking of acting like sheep.

“The world today is not going to tolerate any ludicrous and archaic commitment to colonialist ideology.” Sean Penn, 51, American actor, known for his left-wing political and social activism, who supports Argentina in the row with Britain over the Falklands.
     Penn continued:
“It’s unthinkable that the United Kingdom can make a conscious decision to deploy a prince within the military to the Malvinas, knowing the great emotional sensitivity both of mothers and fathers in the United Kingdom and in Argentina who lost sons and daughters in a war over islands with a population of so few.
     “There are many places to deploy a prince. It’s not necessary when the deployment of a prince is generally accompanied by a warship, to send them into seas of such spilled blood.”


Sean Penn is fully entitled to express his view. Interesting though how he notes that because there are so few islanders, they must therefore be of little consequence to the rest of us.
     Now note the sheep effect. Within a week or so, this surfaced:

“We all know the Malvinas are Argentina’s.” Morrissey, 52, English singer and lyricist, formerly of the Smiths and now the man least likely to be asked to sing at the Parachute Regiment’s annual dinner and dance.
 

Sean Penn serenades the sheep into his anti-shorn pen

Morrissey's flock wear their hatred on their hearts


The above is a classic example of the flock effect. But what on earth happens to these slebs when they cross 50? Is this what the media means by a midlife crisis? And what makes adult men wear the word hate on their chests with such disturbing pride?
     I see there’s a line in the comedy
Team America: World Police - spoken by a puppet, Janeane Garofalo - that goes:
“As actors, it is our responsibility to read the newspapers, and then say what we read on television like it’s our own opinion.”
 

Wednesday, March 21
Five-a-day – and counting


“IF THEY present me with a clock, I’ve already warned them they’ll have it back.” A laughing Clive Blackshaw,
65-minus-one-day-and-counting,
Bridgend Town Council’s street lighting manager, who is retiring today after 43 years service, and remarkably has never had a day’s sick leave throughout his career.


Mr Blackshaw joined the authority as a “stop gap between jobs”, working first as an electrician. He became a supervisor and then the manager of the electrical unit. Clive attributes his perfect attendance to the discipline he was raised with, a healthy lifestyle and being lucky.
     Yes, there goes that word again: luck. As my mother insisted: better to be born lucky rather than rich.

It must have been that healthy lifestyle reference, but I was reminded to tuck into my five-a-day smile routine ... so here are five things that made me smile today. Starting with three more letters from the Telegraph...

Last supper
SIR – You report that “red meat is blamed for one in 10 early deaths”. I will die of something one day, but I prefer to be happy with a stomach full of steak than miserable with one full of lettuce.
John Castley, Peterborough

A carnivorous diet
SIR – John Castley prefers steak to lettuce. He can take heart from the recommendation of my GP, who said to me after my troubling bout of indigestion: “You are not a rabbit. There is no requirement to eat rabbit food.”
Geoff Cooper, Bournemouth, Dorset
Hm, does that requirement apply to bonking like a bunny as well?

For ever and a day
SIR – You can live on three lettuce leaves, a tomato, a small helping of muesli and a glass of water every day. You still won’t live for ever, though it will seem like it.
Peter Williams, Woolton Hill, Hampshire

And now, a little something from the Daily Mail...

Are you sitting comfortably?
WHILE waiting at some traffic lights, my attention was drawn to a Chinese restaurant/takeaway to my left. Marked in foot-high lettering across the window was the announcement: ‘Chinese meals to take away or sit in.’
Judith Windsor, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire.
Hey, I think I know Judiths sister, Elizabeth.

And finally, one heard along the radio airwaves...

Mouth to mouth
“Never eat anything that a good vet could revive.” Mark, bound for Exeter, while listening to the Vanessa Feltz wireless show, warns of the pitfalls of eating uncooked things, such as sushi, sashimi or other raw dishes (including meat).

Mention of sushi and all things fishy brings me neatly to David Carradine (1936-2009), American actor, martial artist and author of The Kill Bill Diary – I say “brings me neatly to Dai Carradine”, but I have no idea how I landed on this...

“Is that not the perfect visual image of life and death? A fish flapping on the carpet, and a fish not flapping on the carpet. So powerful even a five-year old child with no concept of life and death knew what it meant. Not only did she know Emilio was dead, she knew she had killed him.
     “So she comes running into my room, holding Emilio in both of her little hands - it was so cute - and she wanted me to make Emilio better. And I asked her, why did she step on Emilio? And she said, she didn’t know. But I knew why. You didn’t mean to hurt Emilio, you just wanted to see what would happen if you stepped on him, right?”


Yes, sometimes even the sad things make me smile...
 

Tuesday, March 20
‘Old it ~ flash bang wallop, what a picture, what a photograph


THERE are three sorts of photographs: the magic moment; the imagined moment; and the timeless moment.

The magic moment: the picture that instantly catches your eye – but crucially, what you see is what the camera saw, excepting some pretty basic editing to tidy up the picture where necessary. The magic moment is an honest moment.

The imagined moment: it starts with a common or garden photograph, and then the photographer sets about altering the image on a computer to produce an imagined picture – which is in effect a work of art.
     The imagined moment is perfectly acceptable, but it should always carry a health warning that it is indeed a make-believe picture, otherwise photography becomes a big lie.
     These days though it is becoming just that. True, back on March the 5th I did a feature titled Ye olde photoshoppe: altered images, showing that photographic jiggery-pokery has been going on since the invention of photography.
     As I say, these days it is increasingly difficult to tell what is a magic moment or an imagined one. So sophisticated are today’s altered images that even picture editors can’t always tell, and have to rely on the honesty of photographers.
     And there’s the rub: there are as many crooks carrying cameras as there are politicians carrying expenses claim forms and bankers carrying loaded guns called employment rollover-jackpot contracts...

Oh yes, the timeless moment: these are pictures that capture a moment in time, or as I tend to call it, the passing parade. Nowadays these tend to register because they are older photographs, invariably sepia or black and white; rarely are they technically perfect, at least not in the modern sense – but they unfailingly draw the eye.

Some examples of all the genres coming up. The first, of the eagle, is a picture I spotted in the Telegraph, oh a good many months ago. Alongside it, the picture of the two high-flying aircraft, appeared just the other day – but it instantly reminded me of the eagle.
     Have a look at both photographs first ... side by side, below ... and do you notice anything that is – how shall I put it - not quite right?

Anyway, here is the blurb that accompanied the first photograph. And remember, this is from the Telegraph, so they believe the story behind the photograph – obviously:

This bald eagle may look like it’s jet propelled as vapour trails seem to streak across the sky from the bird’s talons. The extraordinary moment was captured on camera by Pam Mullins close to her home in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada.
     She said: “The eagle was just gliding through the sky and I was panning with my camera trying to get a good shot. As I took the photo I just thought I had taken a normal picture...”

 

Bomb's away! But is it a bit of a con trail?

Jumbo angels at 30,000 feet


“...but when I looked back I realised how extraordinary it looked. I thought my photo had been ruined by the jet trails! I don’t know if I would have been able to take the photo if I had tried.”
     In the second photograph, Dan Kitwood captures two commercial airliners, which appear so close together as they pass at some 30,000 feet over London, that they look as if they are on a collision course – but in fact they are separated by at least a thousand vertical feet (the one on the left is clearly significantly higher...).
     Now look closely at the contrails, which freeze pretty much as soon as they exit the engines. Now look at the eagle ... where’s the plane? Or at least the tail of the aircraft, which should be visible? The impression is that the aircraft – and it’s a huge 747: note the four contrails before they quickly merge into just two - has been photoshopped out.
     And if that’s so, what else has been altered? Has the eagle been added? If I had to put money on it, I suspect an imagined moment. But what do I understand? It’s your call.

Anyway, let’s finish with a couple of classic timeless moments, and both have already featured here on
Look You. The first, taken during World War II, when 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.
     It’s a marvellous photograph, especially with that one lady standing in the cockpit.

 

Just 30 of the ATA's famous female pilots

Just a magical moment from life's passing parade


The second – well, I think of it, without being disrespectful, as the Jesus Swings Low at Twickers image, subtitled: Always look on the bright side of life. This, compliments of Wikipedia:
Ian Bradshaw is an American freelance photographer and picture editor. His most famous image is The Twickenham Streaker, taken in February 1974 of Michael O’Brien being led away by police after streaking at an England-France rugby match at Twickenham.
     Crucial to the image’s success was that it was taken when a policeman’s helmet was positioned at the exact spot on O’Brien’s body to allow the photograph to be published in the mainstream media without alteration.
     The image won LIFE magazine’s “Picture of the Year” award, People Magazine’s “Picture of The Decade” and a “World Press Photo Award”.
     Famous war photographer Don McCullin said in 2006 that it is the one image that he wished he’d taken.


Apart from the policeman’s helmet, there’s that hint of a smile on the faces of the
handle with care attitude of the policemen – oh how times have changed – and of course the fellow in the background rushing up with that overcoat.
     Now that’s what I really call a Magic Moment In Time. And I didn’t need Don McCullin to tell me that.

PS: Yesterday I wrote about the names we give our pets. If you have already perused that bulletin, do a quick scroll down a couple of paragraphs, for I’ve added another marvellous example, which I only noted after putting yesterday’s smile to bed.

 
Monday, March 19
Hello pet
!

YESTERDAY I smiled at the nicknames we give certain individuals, in particular a couple of rugby players, as well as one of the regulars down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. What morphed me into a Cheshire cat today was casting an eye over the names we bless our pets with.

The Daily Telegraph  has just published a series of letters apropos pet names. Starting off with
David Heley of Frenchay in Gloucestershire: “My friend had two dogs. One was called Jacob, because he was crackers. The other was named Joseph: he had a coat of many colours.

Next,
Paul Sugden of Ramsbury in Wiltshire Hails a black lab: My son, who lives near Cape Town, has a black labrador called Taxi. I always feel foolish standing on a remote beach trying to get her attention.

Meanwhile,
Geoffrey Heath of Hogshaw in Buckinghamshire travels a different road entirely and is Driven to distraction:
Driving along the A413 the other day, I saw a sign that read “Cat’s Eyes Removed”. I could not help wondering what impression this might make on a foreign tourist whose grasp of English motoring vocabulary is less than perfect.


Incidentally, for those in far away places with strange sounding names who may, or may not, quite grasp the meaning of “cat’s eyes”, the inventor was a Percy Shaw of Boothtown in Halifax, West Yorkshire.
     When the tram lines were removed in the nearby suburb of Ambler
Thorn, he realised that he had been using the polished strips of steel to navigate. The name “cat’s eye” comes from Shaw’s inspiration for the device: the eyeshine reflecting from the eyes of a cat.
     In 1934, he patented his invention, and on 15 March 1935, founded Reflecting Roadstuds Limited in Halifax to manufacture the items. The name Catseye was their trademark. The reflective lens had been invented six years earlier for use in advertising signs by Richard Hollins Murray, an accountant from Herefordshire, and, as Shaw acknowledged, they had contributed to his idea.
     Here is the invention at work on the M9 motorway in Carlow, Ireland...
                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                                                                    ...with cat’s eyes on the road surface and retro-reflectors on barriers.
     Last year the Telegraph  released their Sign Language book, a selection of nearly 200 of the best worst signs from the last three years – see book cover, alongside.
     I have occasionally featured some of these signs because they are – well, smiley beyond.
     In fact, when I first saw that cover photograph, clearly there was more to it than met the eye, so to speak, in particular
The Blue Cross emblazoned on the building(?).
     It meant nothing to me, so I looked it up ... ah, now I get the proper joke.
    
The Blue Cross is a UK animal welfare charity with animal hospitals and adoption services. Hence the significance of the cover photograph.
     Very clever.
 

Now let’s be really catty
                                                    
Small change
SIR – My grandmother, when she was young, had a cat called Penny. When Penny died, she named the next one Tuppence.
     Over her long life she went through to Sixpence and then jumped directly to Shilling, which proved to be her last cat.
Peter Whincup, Holton-le-Clay, Lincolnshire
That’s somewhat fortunate because her next cat would have probably been Two Bob Bit – a hot cat on a tin roof?

Organ Morgan
SIR – A former organist of Lincoln Cathedral had a feline friend called Magnificat.
Derek Wellman, Lincoln


Manners makyth mog
SIR – My daughter had a cat called Ceremony. When visitors called she would say: “Come in, don’t stand on Ceremony.”
Maggie Pogmore, Downham Market, Norfolk

“Come in, don’t stand on Ceremony.”  Brilliant. Incidentally, I was intrigued by that headline “Manners makyth mog”. This, compliments of Wikipedia:

The motto for New College, Oxford, created by William of Wykeham, is “Manners Makyth Man”. The motto was in many respects fairly revolutionary. Firstly, it was written in English, rather than Latin, which makes it very unusual in Oxford, and is especially revolutionary considering the College’s age; even St Catherine’s College, founded in 1962, has a Latin motto (Nova et Vetera : “the new and the old”).
     Secondly, the motto makes a social statement. While it might initially seem to be suggesting that it is beneficial to have good manners, this does not really capture its full scope. What it really means is that it is not by birth, money, or property that an individual is defined, but by how he (or she) behaves towards other people.


How true that last sentence is. Anyway, back with those pet names:
I guess, for sheer wit, Magnificat gets my vote. Mind you, I do so hope the organists name was not Morgan but Luke 1: 46-55. Now that really is Gospel.
 
Sunday, March 18
Nobody’s somebody


YESTERDAY I celebrated the Wales rugby team winning the sport’s Grand Slam, claiming their third such title inside eight years with a 16-9 victory over France. Only today did I fully appreciate what a fine achievement that really is.
     As mentioned in Saturday’s dispatch, the memory of Mervyn Davies - Merv the Swerve - was suitably endorsed.

This set me thinking: what a wonderfully memorable nickname Merv the Swerve really is. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that Merv has to settle for second place in the ‘best rugby nickname’ category.
     That goes to John Eales, 41, a former player and the most successful captain in the history of Australian rugby. This from a Telegraph  piece...
 
They say nobody’s perfect, but John Eales wasn’t far off. His Australian team-mates were so convinced of this that they gave him the nickname ‘Nobody’. Eales had pretty much every skill the modern-day rugby player requires, and was a born winner.
     A sporting legend in Australia – and they have a few to choose from – Eales was mobile, had fantastic handling ability and work rate and he even kicked goals, hence his impressive 173 international points.
     He was a leader of men also, able to delegate and tactically aware. It comes as no surprise that the Wallabies’ best era coincided with the Eales years.
     The Brisbane-born lock made his international debut in 1991 –
[if you are Welsh and of a sensitive nature, look away now] – Eales made his international debut in 1991 in a 63-3 thrashing of Wales, before heading off to England for the

John ‘Nobody’ Eales, sporting his trademark headband,
much like Mervyn ‘Merv the Swerve’ Davies in his day

1991 World Cup.
     He had a stunning tournament, particularly at such a tender age of 21, playing a pivotal role in Nick Farr-Jones’s Wallaby side that edged out England 12-9 in the final.
     Eales joined Farr-Jones as a World Cup-winning captain in 1999 at Cardiff, when his Wallabies side lifted the Webb Ellis trophy to cap a superb tournament of defensive brilliance and clinical play.
     He retired in 2001 as the most capped lock in history, although that record has been surpassed since by a number of players.


Yes, John ‘Nobody’ Eales – because Nobody’s perfect. Nicknames don’t come much better than that.

I saw you
AWAY from the sporting arena, I am particularly fond of the nickname Dai Aphanous, regular down at my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Poor old Dai, we can see straight through him at 40 paces, but he gets away with it because he is one of life’s real characters.
     The other day I quoted Dylan Thomas on a visit to the States, when he was asked why he kept coming back to America: 
“Because of my eternal search for naked women in diaphanous mackintoshes.”

The other Dylan Thomas line I enjoy is from Under Milk Wood (just imagine the voice of Richard Burton reading this):
 
FIRST VOICE: Alone until she dies, Bessie Bighead, hired help, born in the workhouse, smelling of the cowshed, snores bass and gruff on a couch of straw in a loft in Salt Lake Farm and picks a posy of daisies in Sunday Meadow to put on the grave of Gomer Owen who kissed her once by the pigsty when she wasn’t looking and never kissed her again although she was looking all the time.

He kissed her once when she wasn’t looking ... and never kissed her again although she was looking all the time.

What a line that is. I often wonder: if you substitute “kissed” with the f-word, how many of us men would nod, remembering what we did after a few drinks too many ... when Marilyn

Dylan Thomas's famous boathouse on the "heron priested
shore" at Laugharne in Carmarthenshire    
Photo: Alamy

Monroe at sunset morphed into Dame Edna Everage at sunrise.

Indeed, in these days of equality and women drinking to excess, much like we men, how many of today’s females have gone to bed with Cary Grant and woken up with Sir Les Patterson? She kissed him once when he wasn’t looking ... and never kissed him again although he was looking all the time...
 
Saturday, March 17
Go the whool hog, Mog
!

AS I composed myself to watch Wales battle for the Six Nations Grand Slam Championship against France, what came to mind was the above line from Grand Slam, a television comedy drama from a previous golden age of Welsh rugby.
   Grand Slam is a 1978 sports comedy film produced by BBC Wales. The film starred Oscar-winning actor Hugh Griffith, Windsor Davies, Dewi “Pws” Morris and Sion Probert.
    Four men, members of a
Welsh rugby union club, fly to Paris as part of a weekend outing to see Wales play France in what was then the Five Nations Championship, a match that will decide the Grand Slam title.
     Grand Slam is a film written by the Welsh, acted, produced and filmed by the Welsh, and about the Welsh. The iconic film captures the Welsh to a W. Grand Slam is to Wales what Casablanca is to Hollywood. It’s that good.
     There are lots of memorable scenes and lines...

Mog [Windsor Davies], starts a mock striptease, and the exceedingly camp boutique owner Maldwyn Pugh [Sion Probert] claps his hands in excitement: “Oooh
! Go the whool hog, Mog!
     And he does say “whool” rather than “whole” – it’s the way he says it.

And then there’s this memorable exchange...

Glyn Lloyd-Evans [a lovable Nogood Boyo, played by Dewi Morris]: [referring to the bidet in a Paris hotel] “So, what’s this then, Maldwyn?”
   Maldwyn Pugh: “Well, it’s em... er... well-”
   Glyn Lloyd-Evans: “Well?”
   Maldwyn Pugh: “It’s where you... wash your... small things and... stuff
!

Anyway, back to the game: Wales achieve their third Grand Slam inside eight years with a 16-9 victory over France. A wonderful return. The memory of Merv the Swerve was suitably endorsed.
 
Perusing the online comment boards, I found this from Ian on the Eurosport rugby website...

Fantastic result against France (and, according to R. Collins, David Peter, etc) the “best team in the Northern Hemisphere.” Fantastic that this young squad (with a few old heads) has shrugged off the World Cup disappointments so easily, and go on to win this year’s Six Nations, let alone do it with a Grand Slam [defeating Ireland, Scotland, England, Italy and France]. Brilliant. Going to be great to watch these players develop further, which will be good for the Lions and also for the other home union teams - you need to play the best to be the best.
     Well done England. I thought they were our hardest game, and thus deserved to come 2nd. Quite funny really, Brian Moore asked the question: “Where were England when Lancaster [stop-gap coach following Martin Johnson’s resignation] took over?” I think they were Six Nations Champions and got knocked out of the World Cup by one of the finalists
! The “rock bottom” tag and all the general

Wales coach Warren Gatland poses with the Six Nations
and Triple Crown silverware after the France game.
                                                                  
Photo: Getty Images

panic was press-instigated. They still have more players to pick from
than the rest of us put together.
     Anyway, it’s our Championship and, despite what a few wind-up
merchant dickheads on here might think (and you know who you are),
it was thoroughly well deserved. Well done the whole squad and coaching team.


You know how it is when you read something – and it immediately rings a bell? Well, I watched the England-Ireland encounter, which followed the Wales game, and I remember Brian Moore asking that question: “Where were England when Lancaster took over?”
     Ian’s response is something that hadn’t clicked with me. Leading up to the World Cup England were indeed the top Northern Hemisphere side. There’s no doubt that during the World Cup they were diverted by all the off-field activities involving dwarves, busty blondes and... stuff - stuff that made front page headlines.

Whatever, all in all, a very smiley day for we Welsh fans.

 
Friday, March 16
It’s the dash in the middle that counts


CASUALLY listening to the Roy Noble show on the wireless earlier in the week, two of his guests were a couple of fellows who had done something quite remarkable to raise money for charity.
My ears pricked up.
     As Team Atlantic Dash, John Haskell, 36, and Jamie Windsor, 35, both fire-fighters from Cardiff, had just taken part and completed one of the world’s toughest races, rowing 3000 miles of pain and suffering, across the Atlantic Ocean.
 
     Team Atlantic Dash
     4 Charities
     3000 Miles
     3 Months at sea
     2 Men
     1 Boat
     0 Items of clothing


Their goal: to raise awareness and
over £100,000 for The Fire Fighters Charity, Help for Heroes, WRVS (Women’s Royal Voluntary Service) and Breast Cancer Care.
     Incidentally, if you are wondering about that
“O Items of clothing”, it seems they rowed naked most of the way in order to avoid chaffing and blistering; also, the best way to treat blisters and sores, and to continue rowing, is to expose the infected parts to natures own remedy, sun and air.
     Anyway, as they spoke about their adventure, one of them mentioned the “dash”, as in the Team Atlantic Dash. There was of course the literal “dash” across the Atlantic – but more than that, a poem about how we all live our own personal “dash” through time. Roy was puzzled. As was I.
     The lads explained that when we die, it is recorded in a particular way. For example, the news today here in Wales has been dominated by the death of a famous rugby player: Thomas Mervyn “Merv the Swerve” Davies (1946 – 2012).
     They explained that the dates are, in the final analysis, irrelevant. It’s the dash in between that counts. It is of no consequence what particular talent you have been generously blessed with, or indeed how famous, rich or powerful you become, it is what you have done with your own dash between birth and death is all that really matters.
     I was captivated by this notion, especially as they quoted a few line from the poem:
                                                                                                                For it matter not how much we own;
                                                                                                                the cars ... the house ... the cash.
                                                                                                                What matters is how we live and love ...
                                                                                                                and how we spend our dash.

When I have moment, I thought, I must seek it out – which I did, and it’s rather wonderful.
     So when best to write about it? Well now, today came that news of the death of Mervyn Davies, one of the great Welsh rugby players. Indeed one of the true greats of rugby, full stop.

     Tall and slight of frame, he grew a Mexican moustache and sideburns to make himself appear more aggressive on the rugby field (or so it is said). He was also instantly recognisable with his trademark white headband.
     He was nicknamed “Merv the Swerve” because he was regularly spotted shimmying while on the run, although he denied that he ever swerved. Mind you, the famous image alongside suggests otherwise
!
     He is considered by those who understand these things to be the greatest Number 8 that Wales has ever produced, indeed one of its greatest in any position.
     His career was ended by a brain haemorrhage suffered when captaining club side Swansea against Pontypool in 1976.
     He had collapsed during a game on another occasion, four years earlier, and had been wrongly diagnosed with meningitis.

Merv, with trademark headband and moustache,
definitely executes a quick swerve
[playing for the Lions - Gareth Edwards in tow]

     In a poll of Welsh rugby fans in 2002, Davies was voted both
Greatest Ever Welsh Captain and Greatest Ever Welsh Number 8.
In 2001 he was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
     Tremendous tributes have been paid, not least by Phil Bennett, another famous Welsh player: “Like everyone I am guilty sometimes of over-using the word legend, but let me tell you now, Mervyn Davies was a legend, a true legend and an icon of the game.”
     Off the field he was admired as a humble and modest gentleman. Indeed, John Dawes, his Lions captain on the famous winning tour of New Zealand, said this: “He was totally, completely reliable.”
     We can say with confidence that Merv the Swerve’s dash bears much style. So here is that poem mentioned above, which I have to say was new to me, but sums up Thomas Mervyn Davies (1946-2012), rather well...
 

How Do You Live Your Dash
by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
from the beginning ... to the end.


He noted that first came the date of her birth
and spoke of the following date with tears.
But he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that she spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved her
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not how much we own;
the cars ... the house ... the cash.
What matters is how we live and love ...
and how we spend our dash.


So think about this long and hard;
are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real ...
And always try to understand
the way other people feel.


And be less quick to anger,
and show appreciation more.
And love the people in our lives ...
like we've never loved before


If we treat each other with respect,
and more often wear a smile ...
Remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy’s being read ...
With your life’s actions to rehash ...
Would you be proud of the things they say ...
About how you spent your dash?

Thursday, March 15
Welcome to The Mad Hatter’s 10/6 club


Tweetie Pie Corner
  “SINCE Steve Jobs died I cannot bear to see anyone use an iPhone irreverently, what I did was a tribute to his memory.” Russell Brand, 36, English, and a prime-number doolallyist, tweets his response after substituting the toys in his pram for a photographer’s iPhone – which he promptly threw through a window.

I am very fond of using the term doolally – see the opening sentiment in the Look You shop window at the top – it’s a word I deploy with a kind of affection, a nod and a wink if you like, to the extraordinary pressures modern celebrities succumb to. However, when I look at this photograph of Brand...
                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                                                                          ...I sadly detect more than just doolallyness – even more than half-a-bubble off plumb, truth to tell – which would explain his increasingly erratic behaviour of late.
     He is currently filming in New Orleans, and a misdemeanour warrant (criminal damage to property), has been issued for his arrest following the iPhone incident.

The other day I quoted this online comment...
Prettyboyguy: In view of his recent great success in Brazil, perhaps Prince Harry should pay a visit to Argentina. He can spread a message of friendship, and then show off his Apache helicopter-piloting skills.
Well now, last Monday, the following quote appeared in the meeja...

“Hardly has our young princeling arrived on a tour of the Caribbean than Nancy Dell’Olio shows up, hanging like a hungry fruit bat from the nearest palm tree.” Author Frederick Forsyth, 73, on Prince Harry’s  travels.

Hello and welcome back to the Darling Bud of Doolallyness, dear old Nancy Dool’Allio herself. I miss the delights of her column in The Sunday Times Magazine:
You’re special, too ~ Let Nancy Dell’Olio put the sparkle back into your life...
     Sadly, it was but a short and sweet sparkle, and she has been missing in action for a goodly while now. But here she is, hanging like a hungry fruit bat from the nearest palm tree. What an entrance.
     Well blow me, today, this quote appeared...

“I would say Harry is more naughty than William, which is what I prefer. William is perhaps too safe. I think a lot of Harry. He can carry himself, he is very mischievous but also has a bit of rough about him.” Yes, dear Nancy Dool’Allio is down from the palm tree and marks the two princelings out of 6.

Nancy’s quote underlines why I have a soft spot for the lady. Full marks though to Frederick Forsyth for anticipating Nancy’s re-emergence on the doolally quotes of the day circuit.
     Anyway, according to Nancy, William gets 6 out of 6 – but Harry gets 10 out of 6 – which takes me back to March 5, in particular, this image...
                                      

                                                                                               ...of
The Mad Hatter’s top hat, which, according to Lewis Carroll, was of the 10/6 style.  I declared that I had no idea what 10/6 meant, guessing that anyone who deems it necessary to tell us that they are “open and honest” – a weeping Vladimir Putin was the fellow in the spotlight that day after winning the election through “openness and honesty” – will always mark themselves 10 out of 6.
     Well, Chris Norton got in touch and enlightened me that the 10/6 label on the hat is in fact “the price, in shillings and pence, which is equivalent to fifty-two and a half pence”. D’oh
! Of course it is, ten shillings and six pence; once it’s pointed out it’s all rather obvious!
    
There again, as it says on the tin: every day is a day at school. Thanks, Chris.

As a matter of interest, and using the web site Measuring Worth, I learn that £0 10s 6d in 1865 (when Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published as a novel) is today worth £39.10, using the retail price index – but an astonishing £308.00 using average earnings, which spectacularly proves how much better off financially we are today.

“Everyone thinks I am mad. But I still believe you should only make a record for one reason, and that is because you are going to go crazy if you don’t.” Sinead O’Connor, 45, Irish singer-songwriter, earns her Doolally Mad Hatter’s Club membership – with jingle bells on.
 

Wednesday, March 14
Say cheese
!

AH YES, contemporary paranoia. Probably the mother of all conspiracy theories is the assassination of JFK. If Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots from the book depository, then who told him to do so? The CIA? The KGB? The Israelites? The Mafia? J. Edgar Hoover? Frank Sinatra? The Acme Corporation? Wily E. Coyote?
* A voice inside his head? And on and on...
     Polls show that 75% of Americans do not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, and 66% think there was a conspiracy to kill the president.
     Short of someone exiting the undercover with a shoot and tell tale, it is something which is impossible to prove one way or the other. And of course there are so many genuine suspects that could have been behind it all ... a truly understandable conspiracy theory then.
     This all brings me neatly to a headline I spotted today, and which grabbed my undivided attention:

                                                        
Russia to finally send man to the Moon

Russia will send a team of cosmonauts to the Moon, 60 years after Neil Armstrong’s Apollo mission effectively ended the US-Soviet space race.

The
Flat Earth Society used the famous earthrise photo captured by the Apollo astronauts as they emerged from behind the moon as evidence of a faked moon landing back in 1969, since it shows a spherical earth...
                                                                                                                                                    
Now c’mon, you have to acknowledge the wonderful logic of that rebuttal.
     Anyway, the Russian news brings to mind a recent article by
Jeremy Clarkson. I quote...

Many years ago I interviewed a conspiracy theorist who maintained that Neil Armstrong could not possibly have walked on the moon. He was extremely convincing. First, he said America was lagging far behind Russia in the space race at the time and, as a result, it needed a public relations coup.
     And then, with the motive covered, he became technical, explaining that whoever took the famous photograph of Armstrong, on what he maintained was a soundstage in Nevada, must have been at least 8ft tall, and the cameras couldn’t have worked because there was too much radiation, and all the shadows were wrong. He laid all the evidence before me and, I’ll admit, I began to think he might have a point.
     Of course I pointed out to him that the whole world had watched the astronauts climbing down the ladder and onto the lunar surface but he smiled the patronising smile of a man who is winning and said that, actually, we’d only seen it on TV. We hadn’t been there. And neither had they.
     All I could do was say, rather hysterically, “B-b-b-ut, they had...”, and that’s no use as an argument when your opponent is talking about how they’d have been killed by the Van Allen radiation belt.
     This is the key to any great conspiracy theory: have plenty of science at your fingertips and keep calm. Make yourself look reasonable and well read, and make your adversary look ill-informed and mad.  Do that well and you could convince half the world no one ever walked on the moon because it’s made of cheese...


Clarkson then goes on to discuss the endless conspiracy theories surrounding the disappearance of Lord Lucan. Why are there no photographs of him since he went on the run?
     He explained how he himself can no longer move anywhere on the planet without being photographed: “I’ve been snapped, Facebooked and tweeted. My family never bother to text to see where I am: they just go online.”
     Now we begin to understand why such fame eventually drives slebs doolally. Anyway, back with Clarkson’s moon landing conspiracy...

We know that Armstrong walked on the moon because 400,000 people were involved in the mission and, if it had been faked, it’s inconceivable that one of them wouldn’t have put on an electronic veil and gone online to say it was all done with smoke and mirrors, just outside Las Vegas.
     There’s another reason, too. The Van Allen radiation belt ... it’s a band of radiation around the Earth that can affect an astronaut’s eyesight. So, if Armstrong really had been to the moon, it’s reasonable to say his vision would have been damaged.
     Well, now let me leave you, calmly, with this little nugget. After returning from space, 33 of the 36 Apollo astronauts who went to the moon developed cataracts.


As someone who is never sure whether Clarkson is telling the truth, the whole untruth, and nothing but a wind up, I checked out that cataract story – and it is true. At least it says so on Wikipedia.
     Anyway, forget all those conspiracy theories, Wikipedia, WikiLeaks or indeed the Welsh version, WickedLeeks (based at my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon), this is the way I see it...

The Americans and the Russians are locked into a race to get to the moon first. National prestige and all that. The world is also living dangerously, the cold war is at its most refrigerated. It goes without saying that each country knows precisely at what stage the other is at any given moment in the moon race. America rapidly overtakes Russia – and the Moon receives its first cold callers.
     The Ruskies, by definition, are furious.

So let’s assume that America never got further than that soundstage in Nevada. Do we seriously believe that a relaxed Leonid Brezhnev would have called his Politburo together in front of the television on that evening in July 1969 and said: “Just look at those rascally Yanks – fooling the world that they’ve actually landed on the moon. Honestly, you’ve got to hand it to them. They’ve made fools of us all. Crack open another crate of vodka, comrade.”
     God, if had been a fake the Russians would have been in their element.

There again, a conspiracy theorist would say that the Americans and the Russians were in cahoots all along. The Russians would keep quiet that the moon landing never actually happened – as long as the Americans returned the favour when the Russians eventually got round to “landing on the moon”.

I think that’s what we call a win-lose situation. Good fun though. Now will the person or persons who really put Lee Harvey Oswald up to it please come clean and own up. Just for the record, you understand.

*
Wile E. Coyote often obtains complex and ludicrous devices from a mail-order company, Acme Corporation, which he hopes will help him catch the Road Runner...
                                                              
                                                                                                                              ...how the coyote acquires these products without money is not explained until the 2003 movie
Looney Tunes: Back in Action, in which he is shown to be an employee of Acme.

There: every day really is a day at school. Beep-beep
!

 

Tuesday, March 13
Irony of life in the fast lane


“MY WIFE huffs that I can’t hear orders to feed the dogs but can hear ‘Fancy a glass of wine?’ from three miles away.” Regular contributor and wandering black or white minstrel (but never grey), one Jeremy Clarkson, 51.

With Mr Clarkson clearly showing signs of growing old ahead of schedule – an increasing sense of doolallyness is a perfect barometer – I was hugely tickled by this tale of what it must be like to suddenly hear the bell to signify the final lap...

School days revisited
Have you ever been guilty of looking at someone of your own age and thinking – bloody ‘ell, surely, I can’t be that  old?
Well ... you will love this tale of the unexpected.

My name is Sandra Jones and I was sitting in the waiting room for my first appointment with my new dentist, having just moved back to my home town of Llandeilo after a lifetime spent in far away places with strange sounding names.
     My eyes wandered nervously about the room, the way they do before coming face to face with the dreaded dentist and his drill ... I noticed his dental diploma on the wall; I looked closely, for it bore his full name.
     Suddenly, I remembered a tall, handsome, dark haired boy with the same name who had been in my grammar school class some 40-odd years ago.
     Could he be the same gorgeous hunk? The one I had a secret crush on all those years back? Surely not? Life doesn’t work quite like that. Or does it?
     When I was called and came face to face with my new dentist, I quickly discarded all previous thoughts. This balding, grey-haired man with the deeply lined face was far too old to have been my classmate – but what a coincidence with that name.
     After he had examined and attended to my teeth, in a most professional and reassuring way I might add, I asked him if he had attended Llandeilo Grammar School.
     “Yes, yes I did,” he beamed with pride. “I’m one of the last of the pure Llandeilo Gram pupils – before it amalgamated with Llandybie Secondary Modern to become Tregib Comprehensive.”
     “When did you leave to go to university?” I asked.
     “In 1968,” he answered. “Why do you ask?”
     “You were in my class
!” I excitedly exclaimed.
    
He paused, looked at me closely ... then that old, ugly, balding, grey-haired, wrinkled, decrepit, fat-arsed wombat of a bastard asked...

     “WHAT DID YOU TEACH?”

Oh dear, how wonderful is that? My apologies to a lady called Sally Scott, for it is her name that appears in the original tale, which I have tweaked somewhat to add local flavour. In fact, reading the original it is obviously an American story – but very funny though. I enjoy tales of the unexpected.

Finally, a headline from today’s news...

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp warned to mind his language after controversial Arab remark

Harry Redknapp has been warned to take more care in his public utterances if he becomes England football manager after sparking controversy with a remark about Arabs.
     Responding to a question about foreign investment in the Premier League, Redknapp replied: “Where they find some owners now, I don’t know. I remember the first guy they brought in at Portsmouth from Saudi Arabia somewhere. He looked like they pulled him off the stall outside. He looked like the only Arab who didn’t have oil in his garden.”
     Redknapp appears to have been referring to the former Portsmouth shareholder Sulaiman Al Fahim, who had to relinquish his stake in the club in 2010 after failing to deliver on a £50 million investment the club said they were promised.


Unsurprisingly, there’s been a bit of a fuss – but it is typical Harry Redknapp speak. I have to admit that it made me smile. I mean, it is rather funny. And like all the best stories – see the tale of the dentist, above – it has a whiff of truth about it.

 

Monday, March 12
Naked women in diaphanous mackintoshes


I HAVE been catching up on a few Sundays’ worth of Mrs Mills, she from The Sunday Times 
Style Magazine who solves all your problems of a personal nature.

SHE’S DESPERATE
My line manager has started swearing regularly at work and she loves flirting with male colleagues (inviting one to look at her clothed breasts to see how big they are), which I find quite inappropriate. Any suggestions how I should deal with the situation? I don’t want to find another job, as it’s not far from home.
     She is a very touchy person. It’s a small company, with only three of us, and if I say anything to the general manager it will be obvious it was me and she would see it as back-stabbing. She never used to swear or be this flirtatious when there were other senior staff in our office.
LZ, BY EMAIL
It is quite clear what has happened here. This woman has reached panic point – that moment in a single woman’s life when she suddenly thinks: “OMG, I’m never going to find a man and will die alone surrounded by cats.”
   One of two things will happen: either her boisterous “out there” behaviour will snare a man, or she will be reconciled to the celibate life. You can expedite this process by introducing her to likely men and/or giving her a cat-care manual.
   (Top tip: choose one with a recommendation from the RSPCA on the cover. I mistakenly thought the most comprehensive would be The Big Book of Pussy. This did turn out to be surprisingly instructive, but there wasn’t much in it about cats.)


I purred with delight at that one – and I found myself wondering if there’s The Big Pop Up Book of Pussy out there?

SHOPPING FOR ADVENTURE
I asked my friend how she was always able to get her man to go shopping with her. Her secret is that, in summer, she wears a dress with no underwear, and in winter, she wears a fawn mac with sexy undies underneath and nothing else. I proposed this to my husband, who was horrified.
     Any other ideas how I can get him away from the football on a Saturday afternoon and down to Tesco with me?
GGH, BY EMAIL
Your husband sounds a complete loss. I would give up on him and take yourself off shopping dressed like your friend and see what happens.

I mentioned the other day that I pass my time in the supermarket queue quietly classifying people according to their code of dress, speech and purchases. Now I will look much closer at ladies in fawn mackintoshes unloading their trolleys.
     What was it Dylan Thomas said when asked, on his final visit to America before he died, why he kept coming back to America? 
“Because of my eternal search for naked women in diaphanous mackintoshes.”
     Note the elegance of the word mackintosh against the common or garden mac. And for some reason, I found myself thinking about Dai Aphanous down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon.
     Whatever, alongside is a delightfully relevant work of art spotted on display at our local Fountain Fine Art Gallery, back in 2006. 

Beth Marsden: Diaphanous Mac
[unfortunately, woman not naked!]

     Some things never date. As with the next question...

WHAT LIES BENEATH
I’ve been teasing the lads next door by hanging out the raciest undies imaginable on the washing line. Now I’ve started going out with one of them and disrobing is imminent. I’m no prude, but I find a G-string too uncomfortable, and I’ve clearly raised his expectations unfairly. How do I get out of this, as I am keen on him?
KIM, SHEFFIELD
Don’t worry about such underwear being uncomfortable: it is not meant to be worn for any great period of time. Otherwise it’s not working properly.

See Dylan Thomas and his unrequited search...

BALL GAMES
Is it true that a lady might play pool, but should never play snooker?
PT, DENHAM
No, that’s billiards.


Billiards: a game played on a rectangular cloth-covered table (with cushioned edges) in which a long tapering cue stick is used to propel balls.
     Or something like that.

Oh Mrs Mills, you are awful – but I like you! Incidentally, I am sort of convinced that Mrs Mills is actually a man – apart from the feel of the answers, note the use of the word undies in two separate questions - and if she really is a fella, please ignore the Dick Emery-ism.
     While continuing to ponder the various topics raised by Mrs Mills, this letter in The Daily Telegraph  seemed apropos:

Road-rage recovery
SIR – I am currently recovering from carpal tunnel surgery on my hand. The patient information sheet states: “You should not drive until you are able to make a firm fist.”
     Now what might that be for I wonder?
Garry Norman, Bristol, Somerset

Just watch you dont go blind, Mr Norman. Finally, the online Comment of the day:

Prettyboyguy: In view of his recent great success in Brazil, perhaps Prince Harry should pay a visit to Argentina. He can spread a message of friendship, and then show off his Apache helicopter-piloting skills.
 

Sunday, March 11
Say trees
!

SUNDAY seemed a perfect day to trip over a couple of marvellously smiley images.

In the first picture coming up, Rickey Navarre of Hathaway in Louisiana spotted that the roadside public utility pole bears a striking resemblance to Jesus on the cross. The similarity was reported by many drivers on Highway 26 in rural Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana.
     Navarre told US television station KPLC: “It just caught my eye. I said to myself, that sure as hell looks like an image of Jesus hanging from that pole.”
 

Always look on the bright side of life

Its bark is worst than its bite


Meanwhile, in the parish of Alby, Norfolk, England, a 35ft ash tree that looks like a dinosaur was spotted by amateur photographer Spike Malin and his wife Debbie while out walking.
     The tree, nicknamed “Tree-Rex” is covered in ivy – giving it the appearance of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Keep your eyes peeled. You never know what will grab your attention - and perchance give me a reason to smile. Not that I need much encouragement.

 

Saturday, March 10
A Hollywood tale

HOLLYWOOD c1950: A cheery, polite and strikingly handsome young man walked into the office of Hollywood agent Myron Selznick, resume and portfolio in hand.
     Selznick reviewed the fellow’s slim resume and slender portfolio with the care that was deserving of this fine-looking young specimen: “You have the very obvious good looks and excellent demeanour of an actor. Tell me, have you had any roles that I might be aware of?”
     “Other than the requisite high school and college plays, no sir,” replied the courteous young man.
     “I dare say I know the reason why, with a name like yours,” said Myron Selznick.
     “Sir?”
     “Your name: Penus Van Lesbian. That’s not a name that will go far in Hollywood. I’d love to represent you, but you’ll have to change your name.”
     “Sir,” the good-looking young chap protested, “the Van Lesbian name was my father’s, my grandfather’s and my great-grandfather’s before that. We have carried this proud Dutch name for generations and I will not change it for Hollywood, or indeed for any other reason.”
     “If you won’t change your name, then sadly I cannot represent you, young man.”
     “Then I bid you farewell - my name will not change.” With that, Penus Van Lesbian left Selznick’s office, never to return.

Many Years Later...

Agent Myron Selznick returned to his office following a fine lunch with some producer friends, and duly rifled through his mail ... mostly trade journals and the like. There was, however, one personal letter. He opened it and removed the contents...
     As he unfolded the fine linen paper, a cheque dropped from the folds and onto his desk. He picked up the cheque and studied it – and blinked in astonishment. It was for 50,000 dollars, made out to ... Myron Selznick. He read the letter:

Dear Sir
Several years ago, I entered your office determined to become an actor. You refused to represent me unless I changed my name. I objected, saying that the Penus Van Lesbian name had been carried down the family line for generations, and left your office.
     However, upon leaving, I chanced to reconsider my hastiness and, after considerable reflection, I decided to heed your advice and endeavoured to change my name. Now I am a famous actor with many roles and known to millions worldwide.
     Having achieved this fame and fortune, I often think back to my meeting with your goodself and your insistence that I change my name. I owe you a debt of gratitude, so please accept this cheque with my humble thanks, for it was your idea which has brought me to such wealth and fame.
Very Sincerely Yours,
Dick Van Dyke


The last public sighting of this joke, excepting online appearances, was on a 1990 David Letterman talk show, and related by Mary Tyler Moore, now 75, Van Dyke’s co-star on television’s The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966).

Cor blimey, guv’nor
THE instant I saw Bert, that most famous of chimney sweeps in the history of the whole wide world – you know, he who boasted the most memorable Cockney accent in the history of said whole wide world – I smiled. Well, he has that sort of face which invites you to smile anyway.
     I had just switched on the computer and the BT Yahoo
! home page came up, as usual – and the first image I saw was of Bert. I am of course talking about...

Penus Van Lesbian aka Dick Van Dyke, 86, who married his 40-year-old make-up artist, Arlene Silver, on Leap Day. The actor said the decision was “spur of the moment” and that February 29 felt like the best day to tie the knot...
     The moment I read “86”, “married”, “40”, “Silver” and “spur”, the first thing that came to mind was “Hi-yo Silver, away
!”.
Good luck to the both of them. Here are a couple of images that span the 48 years between Mary Poppins and Hi-yo Silver
!

 

                    


I tell you what, he looks amazing for 86, full of the joys of spring, so to speak - and he still has that cheery, striking appearance about him. I certainly hope I look like that when I’m 86, presuming I get there, of course.
     I’m reminded of that catchy song from Mary Poppins, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, in particular this exchange from the song:
♫♥♫♥♫ “One night I said it to me girl – and now me girl’s me wife. Oh, and a lovely thing she is, too ... she’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious...
    
And fair play, Arlene too looks rather supercalifragilisticexpialidocious...

Birds in the hand
Navigating one of life’s curious full circles, and given mention of Dick Van Dyke, Julie Andrews and Mary Poppins, it brings to mind that hauntingly beautiful song Feed the Birds – I should adopt it as my theme song, really, given how I spend some time every morning feeding the songbirds, deep in the heart of the Towy Valley.
     Anyway, the lyrics of Feed the Birds belong to Robert Sherman, who wrote it with his brother, and by one of those strange coincidences, Robert Sherman died at his home in England last Monday – aged 86
!
     Dick Van Dyke marries at 86 – Robert Sherman dies at 86. What a remarkable journey our walk through time is.

Here’s a link to the marvellous Feed the Birds:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHrRxQVUFN4

Feeding my friendly Towy Valley bluetits, on a snowy day
[note the bluetit on the ground, awaiting its turn]

 
Friday, March 9
A shedload of delightful British eccentricity


“EVERY invention that has ever mattered in the whole of human history has come from a man in a shed in Britain.”
Now who said that? It’s someone who features pretty regularly hereabouts, although of late he appears to have slipped half-a-bubble off plumb - but still as entertaining as ever, in his own particular way. Answer coming up...

Who would have thought that a garden shed could so effortlessly make my smile of the day spot. Truth to tell, a whole retreat of garden sheds could have claimed the top spot.
     I smiled the moment I happened upon a Telegraph  Picture Gallery featuring entrants to Shed of the Year 2012.
I quote...

Garden sheds which have been converted into pubs, churches and museums are among the entries in a nationwide competition to find the Shed of the Year 2012, sponsored by Cuprinol.
     The contest has received shedloads of entries. We publish a few of our favourites here, but you can see all of the sheds that have been entered so far - and submit your own shed - at www.readersheds.co.uk.


Anyway, here is the one that made me smile ear to year – the Clarkson Mk1...
 

                                     readersheds.co.uk


It is not so much the shed itself, delightful as it is, but the story behind the shed. Chris Crowley, owner of Clarkson Mk1 in Ickenham, Middlesex, writes: The Clarkson is my first shed and was conceived on my computer and constructed with materials reclaimed from demolishing the house. It is fully insulated and double glazed.
     It was Jeremy Clarkson who said: “Every invention that has ever mattered in the whole of human history has come from a man in a shed in Britain.” As it resembles a classic shape of caravan, it was christened in honour of the great man.
     It was in this shed I made my most successful contraption, a remote controlled rotating bird table. It does no worse than create entertainment plus a little indignity to marauding squirrels and wood pigeon.


Absolutely delightful. And reassuring that we Brits retain this eccentricity which sets us slightly apart from the herd.
     As it says above, all you need do is visit the site – alternatively, at the bottom of today’s bulletin you will find a link to the Telegraph Gallery  where the newspaper has lined up some eye-catching examples – and picture editors have a head start over the rest of us when it comes to selecting eye-catching images...
 
“Overcrowded, filthy, insanitary houses with dirty, broken-down sheds in what were once their back gardens, have brought the Third World into England. Once we took our standards into the Third World, now the flow has been reversed.” Tory peer Lord (Norman) Tebbit, 80, on the return of the slums.

Oh dear, we already know about the haves and the have-yachts, now we have the sheds and the shedloads.

Infamy, infamy...
While this web site cum diary cum scrapbook is dedicated to the things that make me smile, it would be remiss not to acknowledge those things that, in the final analysis, make us such a dreadful species when handed power beyond our natural-born station in life.
     How could I not be affected by the double-whammy of the six soldiers killed in the Afghan blast plus the two hostages killed as British and Nigerian forces attempted to rescue them.
     As it happens, I had a letter published in today’s Daily Telegraph, which sums up my feelings about what is happening out in Afghanistan.

Respect
SIR – Since repatriation moved from Royal Wootton Bassett to some nondescript roundabout seemingly in the middle of nowhere, this moving ceremony has slid quietly out of the nation’s consciousness — which is precisely what Messrs Blair, Brown, Cameron and Clegg were working towards all along.
HB, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire

I feel quite passionate about what our politicians have done as they try to brush the consequences of their warmongering under the carpet. That apart, I have never quite understood what we were doing out in Afghanistan in the first place.
     Just a cursory glance at history, which never lies, shouts and shouts that wars out there are unwinnable; but more than that, the morning after occupying forces withdraw, the Taliban are back in control.
     What makes it even worst is that Tony Blair, who kicked it all off with his “sexed up” dossier on Iraq, is currently tramping around the world earning millions on the back of his “Infamy, infamy, I’m getting rich on the back of my infamy”.
I despair of our leaders.

But to finish on a positive, here’s the shed link...
                        
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/gardeningpicturegalleries/9131061/Shed-of-the-Year-2012-entrants.html
 

Thursday, March 8
Indicators for a life in the cruising lane


“YOU ARE fun and we got on, but I want to see my wife and child again.” Sophie Winkleman, 31, English actress, on what her driving instructor in Los Angeles told her when he insisted on driving her home after a lesson.
I enjoyed the “You are fun and we got on” opening – meaning, “unfortunately, we are not going to have the chance to get on in future”. I guess you have to be pretty clueless at driving to frighten an instructor to that extent, so full marks to Sophie Winkleman for smiling at her own motoring incompetence.

“I saw this vulnerable little boy who didn’t trust anyone. I thought: ‘I am going to wait for him to trust me and love me.’ Stupid, stupid woman.” Jenny Seagrove, 54, English actress, on her relationship with English film director Michael Winner, 76, who recently married for the first time, the seemingly “stupid” woman on his arm being one Geraldine Lynton-Edwards, 70.
While Sophie Winkleman achieved full marks, Jenny Seagrove gets low marks for not smiling at her own emotional incompetence. Incidentally, not long back, Winner admitted he once tried to sleep with every girl he saw. Well, what’s new? Show me a man who hasn’t tried to sleep with every girl he ever saw – in his dreams, at least.
     But, if you are not in possession of immense wealth, power, good looks – or indeed if you were not blessed with the gift of good humour at the moment of conception – then it’s a bit of an uphill struggle, to say the least.
     Still, all in all I’d have thought that Jenny Seagrove had a lucky escape and should thank God for her incompetence while navigating the crossroads of her life.

Oh doctor, I’m in trouble ~ Well, goodness gracious me...
THIS letter in The Daily Telegraph  tickled my funny bone...

All in the mind
SIR – I have just visited my doctor’s surgery. The background music in the waiting room was the Verve’s The Drugs Don’t Work. Very reassuring.
Jane Alexander, Chesterfield, Derbyshire


By a coincidence:
just last Monday I attended my friendly neighbourhood doctors’ practice for my annual MOT. I checked in, sat down and picked up Country Life, a ‘West Wales lifestyle magazine’. The first thing I did was look at the date, which traditionally is always music to my eyes. I am still smiling, this time in delightful surprise: it read March 2012.
     Is this a record?

Along similar lines, this from Ask Dr Ozzy (Caution: Ozzy Osbourne is not a qualified medical professional.)!

Dear Dr Ozzy
I’ve been asked if I want to read my doctor’s private notes about me as part of a local open healthcare trial. Should I say yes? Or are we better off not knowing some things?
Trev, Bolton

Doctors have seen this one coming for a long time. That’s why they communicate in a secret language called “doctor’s handwriting”. My doc could write “OIAA”, meaning “Ossie is an asshole”, on his pad and I wouldn’t know any better. I’d think he was telling me to take an aspirin or two.


A couple of months ago I smiled at some letters in The Times on the very subject of doctors’ private notes. A quick revisit...

 
Darkest Essex
Sir, When I was a junior doctor in Southend Hospital in 1975, I admitted a patient from a local GP who had put in his letter the abbreviation AEFCI.
      When I asked my consultant what this meant he replied: “Abnormal, even for Canvey Island.”
DR
BEN TIMMIS, London N2

Dim diagnosis
Sir, Reading the letter from Dr Timmis, I was reminded that when our daughter was a junior house officer at King’s Lynn, they frequently used NFW and NFN – “Normal for Wisbech” and “Normal for Norfolk”.
      I also like the abbreviation DMITO, reportedly used by vets, meaning “Dog more intelligent than owner”.
KEITH VIRGO, Newmarket, Suffolk

Say aah
Sir, My favourite abbreviation used in patients’ notes is by a doctor working in a Whitechapel hospital between the wars: OAK – ‘orrible ‘acking korf.
ELIZABETH HENNESSY, Abingdon, Oxon


There, you should be feeling better already. Incidentally, OAK -
‘orrible ‘acking korf ... imagine seeing FK on your doctors notes: F*** korf?
 
Wednesday, March 7
Viagra and the button-down collar revisited

BACK on February 23, my smile of the day kicked off thus...

Horses for intercourses
Spotted in my Inbox: GO-BIG-NOW – Penile enlargement pills ...
gain 3 inches – GUARANTEED

     God, I thought, at my age they want to turn me from a carthorse into a stallion. And just to rub liniment into my sore spots, a few days later my Inbox was flooded with Viagra ads.
     No so much a horse and cart, more a stallion and chariot (loaded with oats, obviously).
     As it happens, I was reminded of a rather jolly little tale from the late Irish  comedian, Frank Carson...

A man goes into Boots and says: “Have you got Viagra?”
      “Do you have a prescription?” asks the chemist.
      “No,” he replies, “but I’ve got a photograph of the wife.”

GO-BIG-NOW + Viagra
[and] Ben-Hur  =  Ben-Hymn
(Why Hymns and not Hurs? It's Amen not Awomen)

Well now, Mrs Mills, she who solves all our problems (on the back page
of The Sunday Times’ 
Style Magazine), featured this question and answer...

DOES IT STAND UP?
“Viagra perks up plants” was the headline in a downmarket newspaper I happened to see recently. Can it really be the case that the impotence drug will revive drooping blooms?
TD, BY EMAIL
I suspect this is not entirely true, and is really just another elaborate excuse for men to be able to request the drug without having to admit the real reason they want it. Anyway, even if Viagra does make the stalk stay rigid for days, it doesn’t mean that the petals won’t still shower down prematurely all over the table. And an empty stalk is no good to anyone, though I fear some minimalists might beg to differ.


I was rather taken with the “headline in a downmarket newspaper”. Apart from that: “No comment
!” Then, just last Wednesday I featured this Telegraph  letter, along with my then response...

Tie me shirt collar down, sport
SIR – Men’s shirts are designed to be worn with a tie. If being tieless is now the norm, would shirt manufacturers redesign the collar so it does not look an untidy mess?
Cyril Burton, Abbots Morton, Worcestershire


As someone who only wears a tie when attending a funeral, wedding or christening – or when it is made obvious on the invitation, of course – I can answer the query about collars looking a mess when a tie is not worn: button-down collars?
     Well blow me, n
ow Mrs Mills shares the following with her readers...

STYLE COUNSEL
As an arbiter of style and etiquette, could you please help me with a dilemma. I’ve accepted that these days it’s okay to wear brown shoes with blue trousers. I’ve reluctantly conceded that you can wear a business suit with a collared shirt, without a tie, open at the neck. But surely this can’t extend to button-down collars? It just looks and feels wrong.
GE, HASTINGS
Button-down collars were originally worn as sportswear, particularly by polo players. Nothing was worse, apparently, than the points of the collar flapping as the player charged for the ball. Standards of dress have relaxed somewhat since those days, and you can pretty much wear what you want, unless the Queen or golf is involved.

As it says on the tin: every day a day at school.
 
 

Tuesday, March 6
Sofa so cheeky

HERE’S a memorable little gem, which I originally picked up in The Sunday Times’  Weird but wonderful column...

Springs offensive
The Advertising Standards Authority has ordered a company called Sofa King to stop using a slogan to advertise low prices. After nine years and one police investigation, cheeky Northampton retailer The Sofa King has been told by the
advertising watchdog that it must ditch its catchphrase: “Where the Prices are Sofa King Low!


The advertising authority noted that “Sofa King Low” suggested a swear word that might be regarded as offensive. The Sofa King, which advertises its location in Northampton as “next to the cafe with the car on the roof”, said it has been using the slogan on its shop front, vehicles and advertising since it launched nine years ago.
     It is not the first time the company has been in hot water over its risqué advertising. The Sofa King admitted that the Northamptonshire police had received complaints in 2004, but that they had not been pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Yes, it’s all in the mind. The Sofa King Low is dead. Long live the Sofa King Low. Most of all though, I’m intrigued by the line “next to the café with the car on the roof”? So a quick Google ...... voilà!
                                                                                                                           
Car on the Roof – Super Sausage Café, Towcester Road, Northampton, UK
I quote:
The striking, purple colour of this car attracts your attention immediately ... and then you notice it is on the roof. From ground zero the car is hidden from view and the Super Sausage resumes its normal appearance of an ordinary cafe.
     On close inspection, there is a man peering out of the driver’s window, smartly dressed and taking an interest in the goings-on on the busy Towcester Road. Perhaps he is taking a break for his lunch at Super Sausage?


Incidentally, the car is a 1970 Chevrolet Nova X-Body. X-Body? The story gets better with every twist and turn and skid.
 
What a wonderfully smiley world we live in when we bother to stop and stand and stare ... both stories truly from beyond the blue horizon, where awaits another beautiful day...
                                                                                          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_e1yMZLkII
 

Monday, March 5
Prime doolallyness and fakery to the fore


CESAR MILLAN is the Mexican-born, American-based dog whisperer. Since 2004, he has made 199 hour-long episodes of his show, called, unsurprisingly, Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan.
     I have watched quite a few. They are forever mesmerising, mostly because he rehabilitates dogs and trains people. Yes, it is the owners of dogs who cause dogs to behave badly.
     However, what I really enjoyed is reading the Wisdom of the whisperer – and first on his list is this classic great truth:
Humans are the only animals who will follow unstable pack leaders.
     That is a very telling observation. If you look at the UK’s current movers and shakers – bankers, media chiefs, business and trade union leaders, the law, the civil service, etc – it is quite obvious that they are all quite, quite doolally, driven mad by their addiction to personal greed and power.
     Nowhere is this more obvious than in politics. From Harold Wilson to the present, it is impossible to think of any prime minister that we would not describe as being at least half-a-bubble off plumb. Seriously. And it’s not just in this country.
     Russia’s Vladimir Putin has been all over the news today, in
particular the startling picture featured here. I quote...

On Sunday, addressing a rally outside the Kremlin, an alarmingly emotional Mr Putin, tears rolling down his cheeks, claimed victory in Russia’s presidential election.
     He emphasised that he had won an “open and honest battle” and secured “clear victory” over his four rivals.
[Open and honest people never, ever claim that they are open and honest – only other people can sit in judgment on that one.]
    
Early results suggested he had won more than 63 per cent of the vote, enough to avoid a run-off against another of the candidates and deliver him an unprecedented third term.

     He claimed it as an historical turning point that had prevented the country falling into the hands of enemies trying to usurp power: “I promised you we would win. We have won. Glory to Russia! The Russian people have shown today that such scenarios will not succeed in our land ... They shall not pass!"
     Opponents claimed there had been widespread fraud in Sunday’s election. They refused to recognise the results and vowed to press on with the biggest protests since Putin rose to power 12 years ago.


My humble observation is this: anyone who bursts into tears in public, excepting bereavement, extreme shock and stress, and perhaps watching your house and all your personal belongings go up in smoke, has to be ever so slightly unstable.
     That Putin – an ex-KGB man you really would not want to accidentally bump into on a country road on a dark and stormy night – should burst into tears because he claims to be open and honest, hints at a man who is seriously unbalanced. I mean, we have watched him ponce about shirtless while shooting, fishing and hunting – and that for one of the most powerful men in the world is a sign of a fully paid up member of The Mad Hatter’s Club.
                                                                                                                            

                                                                                                                                                                                     The Mad Hatter’s top hat, according to Lewis Carroll, was of the 10/6 style.  I have no idea what that means, but I guess anyone who tells us that they are “open and honest” will always mark themselves 10 out of 6.
     In one of my “what if” moments, I always wondered, what if Tony Blair had suffered a fatal heart attack while prime minister and John Prescott – a man who shoots first and asks questions after - had his finger on the nuclear button?
     Alarmingly, Vladimir Putin does  have his finger on the nuclear button.


Ye olde photoshoppe: The first ever altered images...
Mention of fraud and dishonesty, the above headline caught my eye in Mail Online. There followed astonishing evidence that photo fakery is nothing new.
     These days magazine ‘artists’ can indulge every whim of the vainest covergirls; however, pictures involving celebrities and powerful people have been modified for many a long year.
     Digital forensics expert Dr Hany Farid said: “Although we may have the impression that photographic tampering is something relatively new - a product of the digital age - the reality is that history is riddled with photographic fakes.”
     There followed amazing examples of photographic trickery, dating from the very beginning of photography. Coming up is the one that caught my eye.
     The main picture, on the left, is a montage of the other three – and bear in mind we are talking 1865 here. It appears to be of General Ulysses S Grant in front of his troops at City Point, Virginia, during the American Civil War.
 


But, as researchers at the Library of Congress revealed, it is actually three different photographs merged together: the background is of Confederate prisoners captured at the battle of Fisher’s Hill, Virginia; the horse and body are those of Major General Alexander M McCook; and the head is taken from a portrait of Grant himself.
     Today, computers make fakery easy, but historical examples of photographic fakes show how specialised a trade it was. Time-consuming and cumbersome darkroom techniques were required to create them. It really was an art form.

Be that as it may, my smile of the day links me back to yesterday’s image of
The Blue Boy, his pose suggesting that he was “awaiting delivery of a roll of lino”. Well bugger me, look again at the portrait of Grant, extreme right ... and what is he doing?
     Awaiting delivery of a roll of lino.

Game, set and matching floor covering, methinks.

 
Sunday, March 4
Pull the other one
~ it's got a mind of its own

“I FOUND out you can only dance on so many table tops.” Anne Hathaway – no, not the wife of William Shakespeare, but Anne Hathaway, 29, the American actress, recalling her youthful escapades.

Yes, I know what she means; in fact her quote brought to mind Angelina Jolie’s bare right limb, unveiled at the Oscars from behind a black Atelier Versace dress (so I read), and sporting a daring slit, which quickly became the most interesting thing about last weekend’s ceremony. Jolie made headlines with her somewhat over-the-top pose on both the red carpet and the presenting stage...
                               
                                                                                  ...so much so the leg become an Internet celebrity in its own right (as opposed to its own left, I guess).
     A Twitter account dedicated to users “legbombing” i.e. uploading a picture and then pasting a cut-out of Jolie’s leg onto it - became a huge hit.
     I was greatly amused with images of her leg appearing in all sorts of smiley locations. There are some highly imaginative people out there.
     Here are just three eye-catching efforts...
 


My favourite though has to be the one featured alongside, Thomas Gainsborough’s
The Blue Boy, oil on canvas, 1770.
     That really is rather witty and fully deserving of today
s smile of the day. I think its the pose, with the bent arm, as if awaiting delivery of a roll of lino, which sets the whole thing off rather splendidly.

I can hear your mind ticking over: “As if awaiting delivery of a roll of lino?” Well, more moons ago than I care to remember, I spent a couple of years working in Southampton, and one of my colleagues was a Tony O’Donoghue, a cockney character with matching wit.
     One day I was waiting for him outside the local Kardomah Café, and I happened to be standing in that rather poncy pose, with the bent arm, just like The Blue Boy. “You awaiting delivery of a roll of lino?” he said.
     Meaning: Was I waiting for someone to come along and deliver a roll of linoleum, which would fit neatly inside my arm posture? [I also believe it had some hidden meaning - but I was but an innocent pup at that time, and I have remained so.]
     I laughed out loud at the time – and now I chuckle whenever I see someone standing in that sort of pose. And it’s such a default human posture that I find myself chuckling quite often.

Final leg over quote: “Angelina Jolie flashed a leg, thus reminding all the overdressed women present that part of the point about wearing fine clothes is that somebody else might get excited at the prospect of taking them off.” TV’s Clive James discussing the Academy Awards ceremony and its flash point.
 

Saturday, March 3
Horsegate: “If Raisa could only talk, imagine what she’d neigh”

                                                                                                                            
compliments of the Independent newspaper
Tweetie Pie Corner
“NOW they are complaining about R Brooks saving an old horse from the glue factory! Rupert Murdoch tweets his support for former News International boss Rebekah Brooks following the news she was loaned a horse called Raisa by the Metropolitan Police.
And R Murdoch proves that even the rich and powerful make exceedingly grand fools of themselves via Twitter.


Out of the shadows
It seems the pantomime season never ends in British politics. Eventually, straight from the horse’s mouth no less, the truth emerged yesterday about David Cameron and the ageing police horse, Raisa, loaned to Rebekah Brooks, the then chief executive of News International (NI).
     For days Downing Street had prevaricated over whether the Prime Minister had ever ridden the animal which has come to symbolise the dubious links between the Metropolitan Police, Dirty Digger’s dodgy empire and David Cameron (not long ago we learnt that prior to the phone hacking scandal, Cameron chose to meet top executives of NI an astonishing 26 times in 15 months).
     But let’s rewind to yesterday morning...
“I can categorically state that David Cameron never rode that horse. It’s all rubbish.” Jeremy Clarkson, a member and resident court jester of the Chipping Norton Set, claims on BBC Radio 2 that the Prime Minister had never ridden Raisa.
     Incidentally, “the Chipping Norton Set” is a reference to a square mile of Oxfordshire where David Cameron, Rebekah Brooks and Jeremy Clarkson live, and where they regularly hold dinner parties – or at least, once upon a time, on dark

            Photo: Independent

and stormy nights, they often did hold social get-togethers (and perhaps chuck car
keys into the middle of the room?).

     Jeremy Clarkson, who writes newspaper columns for The Sunday Times and the Sun, both part of NI, added: “I saw that horse and it wasn’t badly treated as some people were saying, it was beautifully treated, it was only there for a very short time and David Cameron never rode it.”
     London Mayor Boris Johnson, a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, said he had not ridden the horse: “I count myself proudly as a non-member of any kind of Chipping Norton Set,” he told BBC London with a typical Boris flourish.


Let’s replay Jeremy Clarkson’s quote – and ponder who it reminds us of?
“I can categorically state that David Cameron never rode that horse...”
     Yes of course:
“I did not ... have ... sexual relations ... with that woman ... Monica Lewinsky.”

Right, cast your mind back to yesterday’s smile of the day and, coincidentally, this
Jeremy Clarkson quote: “Today it is impossible to do anything anywhere without being found out.” Talk about twice bitten never shy...
     By last night it emerged, compliments of Downing Street, that David Cameron knew more than two years ago that former tabloid editor Rebekah Brooks had been loaned an ex-police horse by the Metropolitan Police.
     The news will raise further questions about how much the Prime Minister knew about the links between Brooks, who quit as chief executive of NI at the height of the phone hacking scandal last summer, and senior Scotland Yard detectives.
     Anyway, David Cameron also finally admitted, after three days of speculation and assurances that he did not know “that horse” (red alert
!), that he had indeed ridden the retired police mount when it was looked after by Rebekah Brooks between 2008 and 2010.
     He apologised for allowing a “confusing picture” to emerge about his personal connection to the horse, which he rode before the election with Mrs Brooks’ husband Charlie, a friend from their Eton school days. It is something of a surprise Cameron didn’t say that it was his wife who was riding the horse at the time.
     Whatever, this from the Independent’s  A N Wilson:
Raisa too, we believe, is now dead, buried, I hope, with full News International honours, rather than being made into pots of glue and tins of pet food. She was entrusted on a long loan, or so we understand, to Rebekah Brooks in 2008.
     In all the murky tale of what News International journalists have done for the police, and what the police have done for the hacks, perhaps no favour seems more bizarre than this. After all, Rebekah was married to Charlie Brooks, old chum of the Prime Minister, and a trainer with lots of gee-gees at his disposal, a figure out of Dick Francis.
     Surely Raisa was coals to Newcastle?


It is a most curiously amusing tale involving people I wouldn’t trust further than I could throw them. Truth to tell though, I believe we should forgive Cameron his confusion because I have little doubt that Raisa was an undercover horse.
     Here are two sets of pictures which appeared on the Telegraph  web site home page yesterday. The first at the crack of dawn, the second just before nightfall. Spot the difference...
 

 
Incidentally, Raisa is a Russian name meaning “a rose” – a rose between two thorns? As I said, Raisa was clearly into undercover work and was a mistress of disguise.
     To reiterate: Downing Street confirmed last night that Mr Cameron was aware that Raisa was a former police horse when he mounted her: “He knew that he was on an ex-police horse when he rode it.”
     The aide also said he rode her “more than once”, while Mrs Brooks’ spokesman said she rode her on just the one occasion.

If you are anything like me, you must be getting rather confused about who was actually riding who over the jumps at Chipping Norton. And those car keys on the floor in the middle of the room may very well not be a figment of my vivid imagination after all. Sex has a lot to answer for.
     Wel-i-jiw-jiw, as my mother was apt to say at moments like this.

PS: I was rather taken aback to learn that Sir Robert Peel, one of the finest 19th-century prime ministers, died after falling from his horse. Accidents in the saddle also accounted for William the Conqueror, William III and Genghis Khan (a gentleman who would have been all for those car keys chucked into the middle of the room).
     Amusingly, I was also reminded that history shows horses can play a valuable part in political debate. The best-known example is the legend of Lady Godiva, who daringly rode naked through the streets of Coventry to persuade her husband to cut taxes.
     Do you suppose Rebekah Brooks has a hidden agenda?
 
Friday, March 2
I spy, with my little eye...


“WHEN I appeared naked in a TV drama, my mother said, ‘I’ll never be able to go into the post office again’.”
Sue Johnston, 68, English actress, best known for playing Barbara Royle in the BBC comedy The Royle Family.

That’s a marvellous quote. Do you know, I can actually hear her mother up there in Prescot, eight miles to the east of Liverpool city centre, population 11,184 (at the last count), saying that. I really can.

“Today it is impossible to do anything anywhere without being found out.”
Jeremy Clarkson, 51, resident Nogood Rascal of the English Establishment.

I vividly remember, all those many moons ago, the very first time I met Chief Wise Owl down at the then Crazy Horse pub, and he told me this: “Don’t do anything in a field to embarrass your mother.” Perfect advice. And as Jeremy Clarkson has recently found out to his cost, all the world is now one huge open-plan field – without any cover to hedge your bits.

Mention of Jeremy Clarkson brings to mind Top Gear, and by definition, cars: today’s news has been awash with headlines about fuel prices hitting a record high, mostly due to the political instability in Iran.
     Well, here are the answers to all our fuel and parking problems...
 

Top gear shoe-in: Well bless my sole

Holy orders shoo-out: Well bless your soul


How about that? The brogue for the rogue about town. Yes, it really is a real car, if an agreeably crazy one, and made in China. The driver is the spitting image of the son of our local Great Wall takeaway, but you know how it is with the Chinese, they all look the same to we westerners!
     Anyway, the shoe car is an electrically powered one-off that can hoof it at up to 20mph and covers 250 miles on a single charge of the light brigade. That’s better than many modern electric vehicles that aren’t based on a fashionable shoe.
     The second picture is another in the Telegraph’s  Sign Language series, where readers are invited to submit smiley signs and delightfully doolally translations spotted anywhere around the world.
     The church sign was captured by Ian Geddes in Campbell, California.

As usual, humorous images are a source of many smiles to the gallon.
 

St David’s Day 2012
A heavenly laugh, a daffodil and a bluebell


THE Peter Principle states that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”, meaning that
employees tend to be promoted until they reach a position in which they cannot work competently.
     And that is precisely why the UK is in a mess. Every single mover and shaker in the land, whether in politics, banking, big business, trade unionism, media, law, etc, has been promoted one level beyond his or her level of competence.
     Think ex-prime minister Gordon Brown. Come to think of it, he had already been promoted beyond his level of competence as chancellor of the exchequer: the first thing he did was raid our pension funds, the equivalent of taking money from your children’s piggy-banks to go down the pub to buy drinks all round in order to gain popularity.
     Whatever, I operate the Hubie Principle, which states that “I always listen, watch and read things in the media which are marginally beyond my level of intelligence and absolute grasp
– in the hope that I pick up something which will really help expand my thought processes.
     This is why, on Wednesday afternoons, I tend to listen to Thinking Allowed on BBC Radio 4, hosted by Laurie Taylor. However, yesterday he began with something so simple to grasp that even little old me was heard to laugh out loud.
     So this morning I listened again on iPlayer to make sure that I got the details right. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we will begin: over to Laurie...

Cheery religious pragmatism
Hello
I’ve been thinking about the minister from Tooting Beck Methodist Church, who performed my first marriage. I wanted to wed in a registry office, really, but my future wife, although not distinctly religious, fancied a less austere setting.
     Anyway, before the wedding could take place we both had to meet the minister to discuss details of the service: “I take it you both believe in God?” he said.
     My bride-to-be nodded uncertainly – and he turned to me: “Well, not – not really,” I said.
     “So you’re an agnostic?”
     “Not reeeelly,” I said.
     “You simply don’t believe?”
     “That’s right.”
     A sharp intake of breath. “I am sooo  sorry,” he said. “I’m afraid I can’t marry you in a House of God.”
     There was silence. I glanced across the room and caught my partner’s anguished expression. I’d become the villain of the peace. “There’s no way I suppose you could make an exception?” I said.
     “Look,” said the minister, “suppose the door over there opened now and in came Jesus Christ, would that be enough to convince you?”
     I mean, I could sense the logical absurdity of his question, but I also recognised that it was my very last chance. I hesitated. “I, I suppose so –”
     “Excellent
!” said the minister. “Now would you prefer piano or organ?”

What a cracking story. And do you know, already now when I see a door suddenly open I find myself wondering ... what would I do if Jesus Christ strode into the room?
     And St David’s Day is as good a day as any to contemplate the logical absurdity of the possibility.
 

The daffodil and the bluebell
I should  be concentrating on the daffodil today, our national flower, on our national day – but happily, and by a smashing coincidence, Catherine Duchess of Cambridge rides to the rescue while visiting London foodie haven, Fortnum and Mason – and endorses St David's Day with some style, as is her wont. Flower power rules.
     And truth to tell, if anyone deserves to feature in my Flower Power Gallery, alongside, it’s Kate.

Whisper it, but today, as spotted in my square mile, the bluebell has ousted the daffodil in my affections...
 
Over the past 13 years I’ve kept a record of the first bluebell of the season, a true harbinger of spring – excepting 2001, the year when Foot & Mouth struck and the countryside was out of bounds – and there’s one particular spot in Castle Woods, Llandeilo, where it always but always appears ahead of the chasing pack.
     As a rule of thumb its appearance varies between March 18 and March 30 - apart from the occasional year.
     Spring 2006 was really cold and late, and the bluebell didn’t make an appearance until April 8; in 2010, following an exceptionally cold start to the year, it was April 5.
     Last year it appeared on March 20, very rule of thumb – and this year?
     Well, who would have thought it: the bluebell on St David’s Day trumps our national flower.
     We hardly ever see pictures of the flower as it first appears, so here’s the very bluebell I spotted today - which I call Solitaire – and as you will see, it’s a really elegant and handsome little thing. Very Duchess of Cambridge.

 

Anyway, it is St David’s Day, so I really should share a proper picture of some daffodils, along with one of my songbird pals, over on  Postcards from my Square Mile ... so you’re welcome to click smile......
 

Wednesday, February 29
One for the road


TODAY, Leap Year Day, is one of humanity’s little jokes, one that it plays on itself. April Fool’s Day in disguise, really. Last year, entrepreneurs, business leaders and bosses in general complained bitterly about that extra Bank Holiday when Kate and William got married – for heaven’s sake, all that lost production in these straightened times.
     Not only that, they were already getting their complaints in about this year. I believe there’s another extra holiday coming up apropos the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
     But here’s the joke: have you heard of any boss empathising with his or her employees and feeling desperately sorry for them because, in a leap year, they have to work an extra day to help boost production and things?

Hung out to dry
Back on January 22, I was entertained by a knot of letters spotted in The Daily Telegraph, all to do with tie wearing. A few days later, some more missives appeared, but I decided to keep them until today – the reason will become clear in a moment.
     In the meantime, let’s do an action replay of those early letters – together with my observations back then – but first, the quote that lit the fire...

The ties that bind
“The sad thing for me is that nobody seems to wear a tie in London any longer – only the security guards.” German academic and curator Professor Martin Roth, 56, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in central London.
The above prompted the following letters...

Everyday neckwear
SIR – Well done to Prof Martin Roth, the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, for extolling the virtues of ties (report, January 19). I have 31 ties: one for each day of the month. I will continue to wear them.
Ron Kirby, Dorchester
Which led to this riposte...

Conservative dresser at heart
SIR – I, too, have a tie for every day of the month (Letters, January 20). It’s a blue one.
Dick Woodhead, Tiverton, Devon


Tie me shirt collar down, sport
SIR – Men’s shirts are designed to be worn with a tie. If being tieless is now the norm, would shirt manufacturers redesign the collar so it does not look an untidy mess?
Cyril Burton, Abbots Morton, Worcestershire
As someone who only wears a tie when attending a funeral, wedding or christening – or when it is made obvious on the invitation, of course – I can answer the query about collars looking a mess when a tie is not worn: button-down collars?

Right, here are the follow-up letters I held back until today...

Look into my ties
SIR – Many of my husband’s ties offer subliminal messages to the observant, such as baubles at Christmas and camels at Epiphany.
     During the week, he selects ties according to the meetings he will attend: hot air balloons for wafflers, a clock motif for a lengthy conference, or clowns, which he reserves for council meetings.
Delia Hearmon, Grantham, Lincolnshire

A delightfully amusing missive that. Looking at the handful of ties I possess, they are all plain – which proves, I guess, that I am a person who stands and stares rather than someone who wants to be stared at. Meanwhile, back at the tie rack...

SIR – I wear one tie for morning court and another for afternoon court, yet my wife has more than 100 pairs of shoes.
Richard Spoors JP, Eardisland, Herefordshire

The above left me totally baffled. A morning tie and an afternoon tie? Do you suppose he has too much time and ties on his hands?
     Anyway, it generated this online comment from
Radders:
Never could see the sense in tying a noose around your own neck...

Incidentally, the wife who owns more than 100 pairs of shoes takes me back to last Thursday, February 23, and this end piece...

Horace Walpole's wondrous wooden necktie, a cravat
wrought from limewood by sculptor Grinling Gibbons

Soleomaniac
MADONNA speaks: “I prefer high heels to sex. They last longer.”
Do you suppose that this is an admittance that women who are addicted to shoes are actually useless at sex – rather than it always being the man’s fault, that is?

Right, here’s the actual letter that prompted me to leave this last lot until today...

SIR – I have a collection of 365 ties. I am at a loss as to what to wear on February 29.
Martin Wigram, Bristol

It drew this gem of an online response from
Peteh:
Martin Wigram - Treat yourself to a day off once every 4 years.

Perfect advice. And as it happens, I’ll be taking tomorrow, St David’s Day, off...
 

Tuesday, February 28
Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see


YES, one of my favourite sayings makes a return visit. The thing about the internet and all the comments and tweets published thereon is, that we have no real idea whether we are being told the truth, a pack of lies – or if someone is simply winding us up à la Jeremy Clarkson, bless.

True class
There is much in the media these days about class distinction. Indeed culture guru Lord (Melvyn) Bragg, 72, currently has a series on BBC television exploring the subject – and here’s a quote of his, which also offers up the chance to show again that classy photograph of The Three TW3 Amigos doing their thing back in 1966...

“In 1911, men could be ranked in descending order by top hats, bowler hats, trilbies or cloth caps. Now we have the equality of the naked head.”

So is class something we can aspire to, or is it firmly entrenched in our DNA, irrespective of how clever, rich or powerful we become through education or a particular high-profile, high-earning talent (sport, the arts, the media, entrepreneurialism, politics, etc)?
     The only delight in standing in a supermarket queue, is the opportunity to stare at, and observe, the classes brought together in a mix and match congregation, and the joy of effortlessly pigeonholing those who catch the eye. And it really is easy to spot the DNA con trails within a few seconds.

Cleese, Barker and Corbett: a class act


Anyway, I was rather captivated by this brief online exchange apropos class distinction...

Lordmuck: I was the son of an itinerant coal-miner and my father was a tramp. Nevertheless, I obtained a place at Oxford despite having no formal qualifications whatsoever.
     I recollect that on my first dinner in ‘Big Hall’, the Chancellor congratulated me on my Table Manners which I had learned from the ‘Boys Book of Being A Gentleman’. There was hardly any prejudice from the toffs who had attended Public Schools. I made plenty of pals and later represented the University Athletics Team under the pseudonyms of Alf Tupper and The Incredible Wilson.

Toots: Lordmuck ... a tale to gladden the heart.  But you say: “I was the son of an itinerant coal-miner and my father was a tramp”.
     Didn’t your mum object to going down the mines?  :0)


Smart observation by Toots. It had passed me by, I’m sorry to say. Anyway, back came His Lordship...

Lordmuck: She worked in the mines and that is where I was born. (She was a Bevin Girl).  I didn’t see daylight until her shift ended 48 hours later.

Suddenly you really smell the bounder attempting to climb the greasy class pole. Notice that he refers to his mother as “she”. Go stand in the corner, Your Windupness. Then this from...

Grizzly: Now I know you’re jivin’ me. No self-respecting miner worked “in the mines”, they worked “down t’pit”.

That bit about not seeing daylight for 48 hours is very Monty Python. And anyway, there were no Bevin Girls – and I did check to make sure. But I definitely doff my cloth cap for that observation from Toots about Lordmuck’s mum going down the mines.
     Mind you, Lordmuck could have deployed a bit of superior footwork and said that yes, his father was a tramp, but that he was adopted and then became the son of an itinerant coal miner. D’oh
!
     Whatever, I thoroughly enjoyed the exchange and it certainly put a smile on my face.

Come in, Sir Cliff, your time is nearly up
“I would quickly arrange a dinner with Maggie Thatcher, Billy Graham, Elvis and Churchill.” Sir Cliff Richard, 71, British singer, and his response when asked how he would like to spend his last day on earth.

I tell you what, I wouldn’t mind being the person waiting on that table. It really does sound a fascinating mix and match selection – mind you, imagine though if Cliff had added Richard Dawkins, 70, who is regarded as the most famous atheist in the whole wide world, who just the other day admitted he could not be sure that God does not exist.
     The thing about Richard Dawkins is this: he always looks the sort that would frighten the horses – take a quick peep at this passport-style picture of him and ponder: dolphin or shark, pussycat or polecat, sparrow or sparrow hawk, lay-by or roundabout?
                     

We are gathered here today...
While on the subject of spending your last day on earth - or indeed in mid-air - how could I not finish with this classic:
“I am thrilled to death.” American stuntman and high wire artist Nik Wallenda, 33, on being granted permission to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
                                                
SPLASH! Hold the front page and the last writes...!

Monday, February 27
“You lookin’ at me?” ~ Part One


FOLLOWING an extraordinary mother of all punch-ups in a bar at the Mother of all Parliaments, this from yesterday’s Sunday Times...
                                                                
As an exit from high promise it’s a belter
The MP and former army major [Eric Joyce] was once seen as a rising Labour star - but a bust-up in a Commons bar highlights how far he has fallen
At one time the Strangers’ bar in the House of Commons had a “way out” sign fixed to the wall, three or four inches off the ground – put there, according to legend, to guide those leaving the MPs’ favourite drinking club on their hands and knees.
     Eric Joyce, 51, the Labour member for Falkirk, left the Strangers’ last Wednesday evening in an even less dignified fashion: led away in handcuffs. He was accompanied by at least five police officers, who had been called to a fracas in which three Tory MPs were allegedly punched, throttled or headbutted and a glass door was smashed.
     The scene left behind was testament to the mayhem unleashed when Joyce, a former army officer, allegedly “flipped”. One witness said there were tables overturned, drinks smashed and blood everywhere...
     The trouble began when an army friend of Joyce, who was drinking with him in Westminster, began singing opera at the top of his voice shortly after 10.30pm. When some Tories sitting nearby asked him to be quiet, Joyce became angry.
     When Andrew Percy, 34, a Tory MP, returned from the bar with a packet of cheese and onion crisps and asked if he could get to his seat, Joyce allegedly replied in most unparliamentary language: “No you fuc - - - ”


Yes, fine, that’s enough of that – a bit of nifty footwork and we’ll move on to find out a little bit more about Mr Joyce...

His experience as an army officer meant he was one of the few on the Labour benches who had experience of life in the “real world” and could speak about military issues with authority. “It is fair to say that Eric was one of those high-flyers and was expected to go places,” one MP said.
     Another summed up his rise thus: “He gets elected in a 2000 by-election fighting a very tricky seat against the SNP, comes into the House, is very popular and was probably unlucky not to get a slot as a junior minister.”


Do you know, I just knew that no good would come from banning Top Totty beer from the Strangers’ bar (take a bow Kate Green, the Labour party’s equalities lecturer - see February 2).
     And I was struck by The Sunday Times'  prose, with little smiley words thrown in, such as “it’s a belter” and “fighting a very tricky seat” – oh, and “allegedly” is deployed three times in the brief newspaper excerpt, above.
     Like me, The Sunday Times  couldn’t quite make up its mind whether to smile or sob. Personally, I think being continually referred to as a “Mr Joyce”, but not wearing a skirt to match, finally knocked his bubble a wee bit off plumb.
     Incidentally, he has now been charged with three counts of common assault in the Commons, and is currently suspended from the Labour Party - but not from the highest rafter.
     Then today, a couple of letters in The Daily Telegraph...

Commons brawlers
SIR – Fighting in the House of Commons bar (report, February 24) is greatly to be regretted. But before we become downcast at the appalling drop in standards of behaviour, it is salutary to open Sir Henry “Chips” Channon’s diaries at
March 14, 1951, wherein a vivid account is offered describing how the “socialists” organised “some rough tactics in the tea-room where, led by extremists, most of whom seemed drunk, they shouted and sang at every Tory who came in sight.”
     The following day was more ugly. A woman at the bar was moved to tears: “I never thought that I should see Members of Parliament come to this.”
     In mitigation, considerable ill-feeling was engendered among the opposition by the all-night sittings which at that time were commonplace. Winston Churchill was barracked in the smoking room with a lack of respect that now seems scandalous, but he rose above it. It probably even stimulated him in his old age.
Dr Matthew Down, Newcastle upon Tyne

SIR – The Government should make both Houses of Parliament and the working part of Downing Street alcohol-free zones.
The bars in the Commons should be turned into coffee bars and breathalysers installed at the entrances to the voting chambers.
     It is a criminal offence to be drunk in charge of a vehicle. How much worse to be drunk in charge of the country.
Marjorie Titchen, Bournemouth, Dorset

The second letter, in particular the very last sentence, truly is a belter. And so true. That “way out” sign fixed to the wall at the Strangers’ bar, three or four inches off the ground, has obviously been there a long, long time. Politicians really are a particularly obnoxious tribe.

“You lookin’ at me?” ~ Part Two
“Nothing can take the sting out of the world economic problems better than millionaires handing out gold statues to each other.” Comic actor Billy Crystal, 63, hosting the Oscars.

When the Academy Awards warned Sacha Baron Cohen to behave himself at the Oscars – well, you wondered what the morning newspaper headlines would reveal. And he didn’t disappoint ... he duly appeared on the red carpet as his latest character, The Dictator - with a couple of Top Totty bodyguards in tow...
 


The Dictator then proceeded to throw “the ashes of the late and dear North Korean leader Kim Jong-il” over a decidedly unamused American Idol presenter Ryan Seacrest. Asked about his outfit on the red carpet – and what about all those eye-catching ribbons then? – he said:
“I’m wearing John Galliano but the socks are from K-Mart. As Saddam Hussein once said to me ‘socks are socks – don’t waste money’.”

I find Sacha Baron Cohen very curate’s egg: parts of him are excellent. Most of the time though I find him curiously unfunny – but he does come out with some very smiley lines. The above, about socks, obviously – very funny – and here are a couple more I rather liked:

As Ali G: “Sex can lead to nasty things like herpes, gonorrhoea, and something called relationships.” [When he tipped those ashes over Ryan Seacrest I thought he was a gonorrthere – but he was apparently immaculately behaved thereafter having duly changed into a tux for the show proper.]

As Bruno: “Look at the evil people in the world: Saddam Hussein, Hitler, Stalin. What do they all have in common? Moustaches! [Intriguingly, he doesn’t appear to sport a moustache as The Dictator.]

 
Sunday, February 26
With the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Your Honour
!

TWO unrelated tales of the unexpected have caught my eye...

We’re a couple of swell spares
Former energy secretary Chris Huhne and his former wife appeared alongside each other in a court room the other day, accused of perverting the course of justice. The 57-year-old Liberal Democrat MP, and economist Vicky Pryce, 59, did not exchange glances or speak during a six-minute hearing at Westminster magistrates court.
     Huhne is alleged to have asked Pryce to take his penalty points for a speeding offence almost a decade ago. The case was sent to Southwark crown court for trial. Both were remanded on unconditional bail and ordered to attend Southwark crown court on March 2.
     His car was allegedly caught by a speed camera on the motorway between Stansted airport in Essex and London back in March 2003, but accusations of impropriety did not emerge until after the MP’s 26-year marriage ended in 2010 as a result of his affair with PR adviser Carina Trimingham.
     And it seems Vicky Price decided to take her revenge by reporting the incident – the irony being that she herself has also been charged with perverting the course of justice.
     Whoever it was that said revenge is a dish best served cold had clearly forgotten to turn the oven off.

Talking of speed limits and camera traps...

Which way did they go?
Albert Einstein proposed 100 years ago that nothing could travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. It underpinned the Standard Model of physics, which explains the way the universe and everything in it works. (Or so I’m told.)
     But in September 2011 workers at CERN, the world’s largest physics lab, buried somewhere deep underground in central Europe, announced they had recorded subatomic particles travelling faster than the speed of light, firm evidence for the existence of the elusive Higgs Boson or God Particle. It was hold-the-front-page stuff. It meant...
                                                     For Albert Einstein   .........   read   .........  Albert Steptoe  .......
                                                                                    

Well, it seems that the Higgs Boson faster-than-light neutrinos that caused such a stir last autumn may have a mundane explanation – a faulty cable connection – comes as little surprise.
     ‘Experts’ insisted that there had never been a convincing physical explanation for the result.
 

Hm, do you suppose that the LARGE HADRON COLLIDER should now be rechristened the Small Hadron Colander?

Anyway,
MATT, that gem of a Telegraph  cartoonist, harnessed both the Huhne Price/Higgs Boson numpties/neutrinos affairs with a flash of inspiration, as featured alongside...

The curious case of the Higgs Boson streaker-that-wasn’t generated this online Comment from
Artispoverty:
Of course the neutrinos broke the speed of light. But since that would mean throwing away all the hooey that they have been peddling, then this discovery was suppressed. See the thing about our universe is that all things are possible and any fool who tells you otherwise should be hung by the neck till he be dead, dead, dead.
     The hanging of fools by the neck till they “be dead, dead, dead” was included for the sake of artistry. I am not advocating the hanging of fools till they be dead, dead, dead. Got to watch what you say these days because someone in charge could read it the wrong way – and hang you by the neck till you be dead, dead, dead.


Well, I thought that was dead smiley.

Saturday, February 25
Rewards and Fairies*


TODAY’S smile was a shoe-in. Eventually. Perhaps that should read shoo-in. Wales played England at Twickenham in a rugby game. And Wales won the Triple Crown, having previously defeated the other two home nations, Ireland and Scotland.
     I have said it before, and I will doubtless say it again – and again... I really don’t know why I follow rugby, what with all its unbearable tension, not to mention coming face to face with those two impostors made famous by Mr Kipling, the man who wrote exceedingly good poetry.
     Take a peep at the second verse of his majestic poem,
If—*
                                                                                                           
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
                                                                                                            If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
                                                                                                            If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
                                                                                                            And treat those two impostors just the same;
                                                                                                            If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
                                                                                                            Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
                                                                                                            Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
                                                                                                            And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools...

Wales were favourites for the game, but the bookies, who understand these things because it’s always their money that’s actually at stake, made it very close, suggesting a one-score difference – and so it turned out, Wales winning 19-12, the sides separated by a try and conversion at the final whistle.
     It was a game of unrelenting intensity and passion – England were surprisingly competitive – but, as someone said, the most satisfying victories are the ones that come from a refusal to be beaten.

Mike Catt, ex-England international, gave the England performance the once-over. However, he finished his article thus...

Wales
have strike runners all over the place – they are like a southern hemisphere side in that respect – but England have shown that they can organise a disciplined aggressive defence under huge pressure.
     So much for England, but it would be very remiss not to acknowledge how well Wales did to dig themselves out of a hole. This was a huge win for them – they are still a young, growing side and will look on a Triple Crown as an important stepping stone to a possible Grand Slam [Italy and France await].
     In the end it came after a stunning individual try from replacement Scott Williams – Wales seem to have special players in abundance at present. Williams did it all himself, stripping [the strapping] Courtney Lawes of the ball in contact, sprinting down field and getting his chip and chase right before diving over [pictured alongside]. You can only doff your cap.
     I will remember that and Sam Warburton’s try-saving tackle on Tuilagi for a long time, along with Strettle’s ankle tap on George North, but more than anything it was the match itself which left me buzzing and our first glimpse of Farrell in an England No10 shirt. Remember the date.

Welsh Wizard: Scott Williams dives in for the match-winning try


We will, Mike, we will ... it was the day Wales won the Triple Crown on a beautiful spring-like, late-afternoon in February. A day made to put a smile on the face of a Welshman. And, as quoted above, the most satisfying victories are the ones that come from a refusal to be beaten.
     Incidentally, I was not suggesting from my headline Rewards and Fairies that, while Wales had the rewards, Englands players were “fairies”...

* If— is a poem written in 1895 by British Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling. It was first published in the Brother Square Toes chapter of Rewards and Fairies, Kipling’s 1910 collection of short stories and poems.
     I find it rather smiley that If— made its first official appearance in a book titled Rewards and Fairies.
 

PS: Just below, Friday 24, I tell the tale of dozens of Australian men having applied for a £50,000-a-year job testing brothels. And that includes testing the girls as well, obviously.
     Today, I read about badly behaved luminaries having perfected the art of making excuses – remember Bill Clinton and his “but I didn’t inhale” excuse when it was revealed that he had smoked cannabis as a student at Oxford. Imagine, the man who had his finger on the nuclear button didn’t know he was supposed to inhale.

Whatever [this from the Telegraph]:
Opinion is divided as to whether Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMF, has come up with the best excuse ever made, or the worst. When asked about his alleged participation in a series of orgies with prostitutes in Brussels, Paris and Washington, he said he didn’t know they were prostitutes “because they were naked”.
     On the face of it, this remark might seem rather insulting to prostitutes. It’s the equivalent of saying that all prostitutes dress like, well, prostitutes.
     But perhaps his point is more esoteric (he is French, after all). Perhaps he means that without clothes we are all the same, even if some of us do have more tattoos and navel piercings than others.
     In his long and colourful career, Clinton went on to turn excuse-making into an art form. “I did not ... have ... sexual relations ... with that woman ... Monica Lewinsky,” he said, slowly and haltingly, so that there could be no ambiguity. Being a lawyer, what he meant was that oral sex is not the same as sex-sex.
     When asked “What is your definition of sex?”, he answered: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

Doolallyness at its most exquisite.
 

Friday, February 24
A private dick goes public


JUST yesterday, I began my smile of the day thus:
A starter for 10 – spotted in my Inbox: GO-BIG-NOW – Penile enlargement pills ... gain 3 inches – GUARANTEED. God, I remember thinking, now they tell me. Not so much after the horse has bolted, but these days it prefers a gentle lie-in rather than a quick hurtle over the jumps.

Would you believe it? Today I read these three connected tales of the unexpected, compliments of
Weird but wonderful:

Is there on-the-job training?
Dozens of Australian men have applied for a £50,000-a-year job
testing brothels. Lyonswood Investigations, a private detective
agency, is advertising for single men to expose illegal prostitution.
     “Some jobs require the offering of sexual services,” said Lachlan Jarvis of Lyonswood. “Some actually require the partaking of sexual services and favours ... because it is considered the most convincing evidence. We have dozens, if not more than that, apply. It was certainly a popular job.”

I was rather disappointed that “Lyonswood Investigations, a private detective agency”, given the context, that is, was not described as “a private dick agency”.
     And imagine the agency’s motto: The Lyon shall lie down with the little lambsy divey

It brings to mind that famous line from News of the World  (NOW) reporters of yore when they investigated this sort of thing – you know, brothels pretending to be simple massage parlours – and just when the reporters had actually been offered sex and things were heading for a tense and breathless finish, they always withdrew with an anticlimactic: “We made our excuses and left.”
     With the late NOW’s replacement, the Sun on Sunday, launching this weekend, I wonder how many of the NOW’s readership will make their  excuses and leave?

Are these spent condoms outside the offices of Lyonswood Investigations, a private dick agency?

No... An egg clutch of Chikilidae – a new species
of legless amphibian found in north-eastern India
(funny how legless and condoms go together)


Story No. 2
‘Evidence’ laid bare

A rape suspect stunned a courtroom by pulling down his trousers and claiming he was too poorly endowed to be guilty. Officials cleared the court in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where Joel Ndebele, 34 – accused of attacking an ex-girlfriend – said he had an illness that was shrinking his genitals.
     The Herald newspaper reported: “Prison wardens who examined him told the magistrate that his male member was, indeed, small.” Ndebele was remanded in custody.

If only I knew Ndebele’s e-mail address, I’d gladly pass on the “GO-BIG-NOW – Penile enlargement pills ... gain 3 inches – GUARANTEED” message.
     Be that as it may, I am reminded of what Pearl of Joy, barmaid extraordinaire down at the Crazy Horse Saloon, was fond of saying: It isn’t the length of the barrel, lads, but the power of the shot.

Finally: Story No. 3
Bitten down under

Jackson Scott, a British tourist, was bitten in the testicles by a potentially deadly tiger snake as he answered a call of nature in the Australian outback.
     Scott, 29, from Glasgow, said: “I went into the garden at four in the morning to save flushing the toilet, because water is precious in the bush. Just as I finished and was about to tuck everything safely away, it bit me.”
     His flatmate, Roddy Andrews, drove him to hospital in Hobart, Tasmania, where he was given an antidote. “Needless to say,” Scott said, “Rod was not of a mind to suck out the poison.”


Now you really couldn’t make up three such glorious stories to knit together so perfectly - not to mention that wonderful photograph of the spent and legless condoms, above. Yes indeed, three tales of some very private dicks gone public.

 

Thursday, February 23
Horses for intercourses


A STARTER for 10 – spotted in my Inbox: GO-BIG-NOW – Penile enlargement pills ... gain 3 inches – GUARANTEED

God, I thought, now they tell me. Not so much after the horse has bolted, but these days it prefers a gentle lie-in rather than a quick hurtle over the jumps. I mean, where were they when even half-an-inch was somehow important? (On my passport, that is: 6ft would have done the job, but when I first had a passport it read 6ft ½in – which was of course strictly true.)
     Anyway, GO-BIG-NOW: those 3 inches would be wasted on me these days. And just to rub salt in the wound, a few days later my Inbox was flooded with Viagra ads.
     No so much a horse and cart, more a stallion and chariot (loaded with oats).

Going back to my Junk Inbox, when I now click, I feel I should wear the online equivalent of a cricketer’s abdo box (that reinforced box male batsmen and wicket-keepers wear to protect their balls from the ball).

Whatever, the above reminds me of a Frank Carson joke – the rather jolly Irish comedian who has just died, aged 85...

A man goes into Boots and says: “Have you got Viagra?”
     “Do you have a prescription?” asks the chemist.
     “No,” he replies, “but I’ve got a photograph of the wife.”

A few more Frank Carson jokes:

My mother-in-law just died and the undertaker asked if I want her embalmed, buried or cremated. I said take no chances, give her the lot.

When I was in the army the sergeant major shouted at me: “Carson
!
     “Sir?”
     “I didn’t see you at camouflage practice.”
     “Thank you, Sir.”

A fellow goes into B&Q and says: “I’d like some nails, please.”
     “How long would you like them?”
     “I want to keep them.”

A traffic policeman stops Sister Bridget for speeding. She pulls into the side of the road and winds down her window. The officer walks round and starts undoing his fly ... “Oh dear,” she says, “not the breathalyser again.”

I was in a restaurant in the Far East and ordered the octopus, but the waiter said it would take four hours. Why’s that, I asked? It keeps turning the gas off, he says.


Spike Milligan: “What’s the difference between Frank Cason and the M1? You can turn off the M1.”

I also read this online, penned by a Roger Lewis (Telegraph):
Carson always amused me, particularly when he recited Irish jokes, which you probably can’t laugh at any more, such as: “Have you heard about the Irishman who reversed into a car boot sale and sold the engine?”
     He also inherited Les Dawson’s antique routines about battleaxe wives and mothers-in-law, always maintaining that when he had a heart attack in 1976, instead of phoning, his wife “wrote for an ambulance”.
     For appearing in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and donating huge sums to charity, Carson met the Pope, who made him a Knight of the Order of St Gregory.
     The Pope asked Carson if he’d ever met Elvis. “No, but it won’t be long now,” he replied.


Definition corner
LISTENING to the Jamie Owen and Louise Elliott show on Radio Wales this morning, a discussion ensued following a weather forecast as to what precisely “murky” meant, as in: “Tonight, upland areas will remain murky.”
     Did it mean damp? Misty? Gloomy? Just generally miserable? Everybody agreed to disagree. It was definitely murky outside the window as I listened.
     A little later a Pete from Cwmbran texted the show to reveal that “murky” is in fact French for “thank you”. Murky
!

Soleomaniac
MADONNA speaks: “I prefer high heels to sex. They last longer.”
Do you suppose that this is an admittance that women who are addicted to shoes are actually useless at sex – rather than it always being the man’s fault, that is?
 
Wednesday, February 22
Milk of human kindness


“I WENT for a film festival. They served horse. Who knows about its udders? I wouldn’t drink that milk.” Michelle Rodriguez, 33, American actress known for “tough-chick roles and living proof that there is a cross between beauty and brawn”.
Er, someone forgot the brains bit. In fact, Ms Rodriguez brings to mind a jape that could be straight off the Vine:
“Cow’s milk? Mm, okay. Goat’s milk? Bit of an acquired taste. Horse milk? Now that delivers a kick.”

Whatever, the above brings me neatly to this Sunday Times headline:
                                                                                                                      
Jordan story ‘not true’ shock

Even though I live the lifestyle of a caveman – by choice – I am aware of someone called Jordan. And if I’m right, she’s famed because She Has Big Boobs, surgically enhanced as I understand tit – anyway, I quote:

Internet pranksters sparked a rumour on Thursday that the “glamour” model Katie “Jordan” Price had been arrested and was behind bars. She issued an instant denial, and it all turned out to be a misprint. She was, of course, behind bras.

A colourful life
MUCH as I smiled at the above models of doolallyness, my top smile of the day is down to colour i.e. the beauty of...

Wednesday evening, and I happen upon the final of three television programmes called  Bees, Butterflies And Blooms.
     Sarah Raven concludes her crusade for more flower meadows, whether in rural or urban locations. Our bees and butterflies – essential pollinators – are in trouble, dying off species by species.
     So Raven is off to seduce the head of Birmingham’s parks department to switch from the ranks of brightly-coloured, high maintenance plants which offer nothing to bees and pollinators – to traditional flower beds rich in species that attract pollinators. With astonishing success.
     As part of the programme, we were whisked around the country to view rare flower meadows ... which took the breath away with their beauty, not least the meadow-style planting near London’s Olympic Park, which should be in all its glory come the Games.
     Sadly, only some 2% of the nation’s fields are now classified as flower meadows, which speaks volumes for the decline in our wildlife.
     A flower meadow is a field vegetated primarily by grass and other non-woody plants (such as wild flowers). The term is from Old English mædwe.
     In agriculture a wild meadow is grassland which is not grazed by domestic livestock but rather allowed to grow unchecked in order to make hay. It may be naturally occurring or artificially created from cleared woodland. It provides a fundamental life-support system for birds and other wild animals.
     The majority of the surviving flower meadows are widely scattered, tiny fields separated by large areas of intensively managed wildflower-poor grasslands or cultivated land. Many are attached to smallholdings or residential properties, and are not part of a commercial farm.
     My local Dinefwr Park and Castle Estate, owned and run by the National Trust, is currently in the process of converting a few substantial fields into flower meadows.
     But it takes years because the ground has to be drained of all traces of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and the like – the land was previously part of a commercial farm – and only time and Mother Nature can do that.
     I hope I am still around to see the fields in all their glory, such as here......

A wildflower meadow in the Western Isles


Request stop
FINALLY, startling imagery of a different kind. Today I was captivated by what is a sensational picture, at least to my eye. The Telegraph  newspaper runs a weekly Big Picture photography competition, based on readers’ best holiday snaps, although I think ‘holiday snaps’ is a very loose definition. But that is by the by.
     Below is the winner of Round 192 – but can you guess what has caused this astonishing effect?
 


Oliver Dixon of East Horsley, Surrey, wins this week’s competition – for this image of a double-decker bus crossing Waterloo Bridge in London. Honestly, you wait for ages ... and along comes a double-take.

Now that’s what I call eye-catching. And if that doesn’t put a smile on your face ... well, I’d go and see about it if I were you.

 
Pancake Day, 2012
You throw it in the air and I’ll catch it

They shall sit every man under the Vine and under his joke tree...

“I HAD a dream last night. I was stuck driving around a roundabout. My right hand was steering. My left hand was making pancakes. I spent all night tossing and turning.”
English actor, writer and comedian Tim Vine, 44 - pictured alongside - fresh from winning the 2012 Lafta Joke of the Year Award (“Conjunctivitis.com – that’s a site for sore eyes”), recounts his Shrove Tuesday joke.

More japes straight off the Vine
I saw this advert in a window that said: “Television for sale, £1, volume stuck on full.” I thought: “I can’t turn that down.”

Did you hear about the agnostic, neurotic, dyslexic insomniac? He lay awake all night worrying about the existence of Dog...

I swallowed some Tipp-Ex last night. Woke up with a massive correction

Tim Vine: For a man in proud possession of the last two
Joke of the Year awards - where are the Lafta lines?


Bungee Jumping: £25-per-person, politicians free – no strings attached – coach parties welcome.


I am basically like any other woman who is working and has lots of children – it’s tough.” – Just testing. No, not a one-liner, but Victoria Beckham, 37, who, with her husband David, 36, is worth £156 million.
Yes, celebrities live in The Hitchhiker’s Parallel Galaxy.

Empathy time...

“I did put up a shelf once. It fell down.” – English actor Bill Nighy, 62, on his shortcomings as a DIY man.

“Men couldn’t care less - they generally just want women to have a wash, bring some beer, show up and strip off.” Julie Burchill, 52, English writer and journalist, pooh-poohs women who pamper themselves with beauty treatments.

“You get a hell of a lot of sex before you get bored with each other, then you start rowing, then you split up, then you go crazy until you find something else. I am too immature to live with anybody.” - Veteran English actor Dudley Sutton, 78.


This is getting too close to home – I shall quit while I’ve still got a head...
 

Monday, February 20
The shortest distance between two people is a smile

                                                                                                          Anonymous

TODAY’S headline repeats what it says in the
Beyond the blue horizon intro, above. The reason will quickly become clear... But first, a short but sweet Daily Telegraph  leader column in today’s newspaper...

                                                                         
Nearly stand-up comics
Telegraph View: Research proves what we already knew – that babies are often devoted to the pursuit of laughter.

Have you heard the one about the infants who play jokes? It goes like this. Researchers in Australia strapped miniature cameras to the heads of children aged six months and upwards so that they could get a baby-eyed view of the world. To their utter amazement, the youngsters “interacted with each other through making eye contact, subtle gestures, reaching out, and even using humour”.
     If that wasn’t exciting enough, it seems that one little chap under a year old handed a toy to another child then snatched it back and repeated this several times in a playful manner before finally handing it over.
     Such behaviour will come as a surprise only to someone who has never played with a one-year old child – whose existence tends to be devoted to the pursuit of laughter and the great cause of cheering us all up.
     The joke here is on earnest researchers.


Miles of smiles
OVER on
400 Smiles A Day  I quote that children smile 400 times a day, adults just a miserable 14. The statistic comes from an American study that analyzed children and their relationship to smiling. It appears that adults, as we grow older, seem to forget how to smile.
     I know what they mean, but I keep my end up by smiling regularly throughout the day – mind you, I am fortunate in as much that I am not distracted by the misery of having to garner possessions, position and power. As a consequence I seem to spend much of my life smiling – which is precisely why I started this scrapbook.
     After all, there are so many things to smile at in this crazy old world of ours. Even at the most unexpected of times. For example, I’m standing in a queue, say at the supermarket, and in front of me there’s a harassed mum with a young child: the child will look at me and I will pull a bit of a face – not the sort that frightens the horses, obviously – and without exception, the child will smile back.
     Depending on the circumstance, I may well then exaggerate the ‘funny face’, and the child will often start laughing.

When walking along the pavement I will often pull a gentle smile at adults walking towards me, especially so if it’s a pretty woman – and again people will unfailingly smile back.
     Strangely, I have only to mention that I live in a place I affectionately call Llandampness – and folk will instantly smile.

But this isn’t about me generating smiles. Rather it’s about what makes me smile when confronted by the world at large. This afternoon, I was catching up with my part-time day-job ... Radio Wales was on in the background, the Roy Noble show.
     It’s a music-based magazine show. Now Roy is one of life’s amiable fellows, the sort you would be happy to share a pint or six with down at the Crazy Horsepower. He is a dolphin, a pussycat, a sparrow – in other words, a lay-by, the sort of person you don’t mind pulling in and stopping to have a chat with. And he is full of smiley little throwaway stories. For example...

Roy is an ex-headmaster, and this afternoon he told the tale of a schools inspector paying a visit to an infants school.
     “What do you do?” a very young girl asked him, the way children do.
     “I’m a school inspector.”
     “Do you do anything else?”
     “Yes, I’m a writer.”
     “You’re a writer?” queried the little girl again. The inspector nodded. There was a momentary pause: “Can you do a W?”

How smiley is that? Being able to write a W was the priority for this young child.

Later, Roy was talking to some guests about famous Welsh rugby players from the past. With Wales being such a small country, everyone seemingly knows everyone else. And when we don’t, we claim familiarity through association.
     Roy himself gave a perfect example concerning Dewi Bebb, a great try-scoring machine of a winger who played in the golden age of Welsh rugby (he won his Welsh caps during 1959-1967). A popular fellow was Dewi. Sadly though, he died in 1996, aged 57. Anyway, this is Roy being typically Welsh...

“Here’s my association with Dewi Bebb: Dewi Bebb’s brother is married to the sister of the fellow who was in college with me – and I was best man in his wedding.”

That truly is so memorably Welsh. What with tales of the unexpected such as that all around me all of the day, how could I not spend my life smiling? So I looked for a smiley picture to round of this piece.
     Coming up is a photo that has been all over the media over the past few days.

                           
Every day is Bring Your Child To Work Day at the European Parliament

And no one takes advantage of the family-friendly rules more than member of the European Parliament Licia Ronzulli - who has been taking along her 18-month-old daughter Victoria since she was a baby.
 


Judging by this hilarious picture from a debating session in Strasbourg, Victoria is no longer content with playing quietly and likes to take an active part in proceedings.
     I presume mum has put her hand up because she has a debating point to make. But what I enjoyed was the way the men around the two of them are just causally going about their business. Just another day at the office.
     And what a picture for young Victoria to look back on in later life.

 
Sunday, February 19
Cleanliness is definitely next to Godliness


WHAT never fails to exercise my chuckle muscle is stumbling upon two totally diverse bits of news and finding a link which draws them together under the one umbrella.
     For example, I happened upon the following in the Ottawa Citizen – amazing tool this internet thingy...

Space cleans up its act
Is there any surprise that the first people to clean up space may be the Swiss? Cleanliness is next to rocket science for the little nation, even though it has very few satellites of its own.
     The Swiss Space Centre in Lausanne has designed a satellite that will grab dangerous space junk before plunging into Earth’s atmosphere, burning up faster than you can say Toblerone.
     The small satellite – an artist’s impression alongside – could launch by 2015. It is nearly the smallest and cheapest satellite one can make – about $11 million worth, counting a ride on a launch rocket that can carry many small satellites together.
     CleanSpace One isn’t designed to last long. Its job is to sneak up on a piece of orbiting space junk, at which point four flexible claws unfold like a new attachment on a Swiss Army knife. These wrap around the junk and lock it up.
     Then CleanSpace One fires its engine forward, in effect
hitting the brakes. It loses speed and falls with its junk

Satellite junkie: but are its claws bigger than its stomach?

cargo into the atmosphere and burns up. All this lends a new
meaning to the phrase “vacuum cleaner”.
     NASA is working on a much larger cleanup satellite too but hasn’t launched one yet...

The “vacuum cleaner” reference generated this response from one cynic named
Salford Dave: If only there was a vacuum in space. Ho, ho, ho!

Die all, die merrily
Talk of “vacuum cleaner” - this being the link between two stories, so pay attention - brings me to today’s Sunday Times, where Jeremy Clarkson is reflecting on the curious circumstances surrounding Whitney Houston’s death, the troubled 48-year-old singer, who was actually buried today following yesterday’s service, having apparently drowned in the bath.
     I quote an intriguing few paragraphs:

We know from Jim Morrison that taking a bath when you are the worse for wear is jolly dangerous ... I have in front of me a chart showing some recent figures of how those who died unexpectedly in America went to meet their maker, and it’s surprising.

[
Yellow alert: At this point I began to wonder because you shouldn’t really believe anything Clarkson says – that’s his writing style – but the figures he quotes do sort of make sense. Anyway, back to the business  of dying...]

You might imagine that since the soundtrack of American life is gunfire, that many people die in a hail of bullets, and you’d be right: 230 people were shot by baddies and 270 by the police in the same year. Then there were 55 who were pushed, fell or jumped from a tall building, 185 who died while jogging and 36 who went west as a result of a foreign body entering their being through a “natural orifice”.
     In other words, 36 people died with a vacuum cleaner up their bottom
[Red alert: warning, suspect stat – but very funny; actually, 36 people died probably choking on something, a piece of meat, say].
     A predictable 26 were killed by dogs, 395 were electrocuted (not by the state), nine were killed because their nightclothes melted, and 55 by coming into contact with hot tap water.
     As you might imagine, the list is long and amusing, but there is one sobering fact: 341 people died in the bath.


Clarkson refers to gunfire as “the soundtrack of American life”, which is rather ironic given that his article would have been written before yesterday’s funeral service in Newark, New Jersey. I now read that Whitney Houston inspired a rare outbreak of peaceful intent among the gangster factions who have sent Newark’s murder rate spiralling.
     A former leader of the Sex Money Murder Sect of the local Bloods gang (come again?) called for citywide peace during the funeral service.
“No shootings, no robbing, no carjacking, basically no crazy,” Hykine Johnson wrote on Facebook. “Whitney helped a lot of people in New Jersey, let’s show some luv.”

Doolally world. Doolally people. In fact, the above reminds me of a television interview from many years ago with a John Evans of Swansea, who was then the oldest living British man (he died in 1990, aged 112). I think it was on his 111th birthday, and the interviewer asked him the predictable question as to what he attributed his grand age and good health to.
     He pondered and closed his eyes, undoubtedly sighing quietly within as it was probably the 111th time that day he’d been asked the very same question:
“No drinkin’. No smokin’. No cursin’.”
     I remember smiling and thinking, hm, that last one about no cursing was probably the most crucial one of all. Very old people are very laid back; and very laid back people never swear or lose their cool.

Anyway, 23 years later and the world has moved on: “No shootings, no robbing, no carjacking, basically no crazy.”

A parting thought on the Whitney Houston affair:
“Tony Bennett demands the legalisation of drugs after Whitney Houston’s death. Did he leave his brain, as well as his heart, in San Francisco?” - David McLaren of Dunmow, Essex, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
 
Saturday, February 18 – Part One (5:00am > 5:00pm)
It’s a dogs life

BACK on January 25, I featured a MATT cartoon reflecting the ups and downs in the life of Harry Redknapp, the characterful and charismatic manager of Spurs Football Club, who was then on trial accused of being in receipt of tax-avoiding offshore payments totalling £189,000, all deposited in a Monaco bank account named Rosie 47 after one of his pet dogs.
     Harry was duly found not guilty, unsurprisingly so given how the trial had unfolded, but I repeat the cartoon – not so much because it’s very funny, but all down to a letter that has just appeared in the Telegraph  regarding one of Manchester City’s high-profile football players who is desperately unhappy with his lot at that particular kennel club.

Man City’s best friend
SIR – Carlos Tévez, the Manchester City striker, has complained that his manager treated him like a dog (Sport, February 14).
     Does this mean that a bank account has been opened for him in Monaco?
David E. Owen, Eldwick, West Yorkshire


Top drawer wit, Mr Owen – but as ever it was topped by this online comment:
jaycee58: This must make him the only dog in the world that doesn’t chase a ball.

Incidentally, the MATT cartoon of the naughty dog opening a bank account brings to mind the amusing tales from a couple of days ago of those parrots doing extraordinary things to brighten up the lives of their owners.

Catch the last post
WHILE on the subject of Letters, there has been much correspondence of late regarding the apparent deplorable state of the nation’s distinctive red post boxes, or letter boxes, which it seems are in desperate need of a coat of paint. In one letter, something called
The Letter Box Study Group was mentioned.
     The Letter Box Study Group? So, A-Googling I did go...
 
The Group is the recognised definitive authority on the British letter box. The main aims of the Group are to encourage research, preservation, restoration and awareness of letter boxes and the definitive description and documentation of their types and locations.
     The
Letter Box Study Group has the enviable position of being the only organisation in existence to have a comprehensive system for defining and numbering British letter boxes - and it is for this reason that the Group is recognised as the definitive authority on the subject, acknowledged by Royal Mail and the British Postal Museum & Archive.
     It seems the Group “i
s embarked on the publication of the comprehensive, full colour, Guide to British Letter Boxes” [?].

Who would have thought such a thing existed? More alarming is the thought that our letter boxes are in a bit of a state because

Little & Large: Iconic British red letter box and telephone
kiosk in the Highlands of Scotland
             Photo: art.co.uk

they are owned by a bit of a state (which I guess is a fair
description of our fair country right now).
 

Saturday, February 18 – Part Two (5:00pm > 10:00pm)
The Last Post

NORMALLY I tend to write up my smile of the day the morning after the day before, but I had done today’s by late afternoon. At around five I decided to switch on the telly to see if there was some rugby on – but the TV was tuned in to a news channel.

One moment in time

By chance I had happened upon the funeral service for Whitney Houston ... and sat there mesmerised for the next four hours.
     The juxtaposition of the funerals of Diana Princess of Wales and Whitney Houston was as dramatic a contrast between two distinct cultures as you could ever expect to witness – which probably explains why Kevin Costner’s “expressions” at today’s funeral registered so powerfully in the mind.
     I thought the insistence on just the one camera at the service was inspirational, if only to stop the relentless focussing on Houston’s nearest and dearest. But most of all it reminded me of being a child past bedtime, peeping through a slightly ajar door and listening to adults discussing things a child is not really meant to hear.
     It was quite an insight into what was clearly not a concert of thanksgiving but an intimate and distinctive Pentecostal funeral service. And I was struck by how much rousing gospel music and natural humour was woven into the exuberant tribute.
     But perhaps the most startling revelation came towards the end when Pastor Marvin Winans delivering the eulogy said that in the days leading up to the funeral he had been telephoned by a lawyer who asked if he wanted the property rights on what he was about to say – to which he replied: “It won’t be a speech. I’m going to preach.”


As always, it’s the little things that say so much about the world we live in.
 

Friday, February 17
I never forget a face

BANKSY, [?], England-based graffiti artist and political activist, has become an agreeable feature of our urban landscape. Then I saw this gallery headline in the Telegraph...

         The Living Wall: Russian street artist Nikita Nomerz turns derelict buildings into faces

           
The Big Brother, in Nizhniy Novgorod

Exploring the intriguing notion that Russia has come up with its own high-flying Bankartsky, I duly read this in the Huffington Post...

We’ve all done it. Confronted with a steamed up window or a scrap of paper, it’s almost instinctive. You draw a little face, normally no more than a couple of dots and a smile.
     But such idle doodles aren’t enough for artist Nikita Nomerz, who adds facial features to large man-made structures which are feeling the worst for wear.
     His work ranges from water towers painted to look like they’re laughing, to dilapidated buildings with broken window frames for eyes.
     Nomerz travels around various cities in his homeland to carry out his art, brightening up derelict corners of Russia with his signature faces.
     “I started in school with classic hip hop graffiti but became more interested in street art and began all sorts of experiments,” he explains. “Now basically I like to play with space and objects. I am inspired by the place itself. I love watching the city and finding an interesting point. Usually I do not spend so much time to create one work, sometimes less than an hour. But it all depends on the size of the object and my ideas.”
     Nomerz rejects the term ‘underground’ [in the sense that we tend to think of Banksy]. “I have been called an underground artist, but if you’re doing street art you’re not underground. You’re already on everyone’s mind, even if you paint on abandoned rubbish and only a couple of homeless people see your work. It is public art,” he insists.
     “It would be nice if people started paying more attention to what is around us.”

Is this my missing passport photo?
[The Tower Man, in Perm]


Fascinating stuff - a link to more of his faces coming up ... in the meantime, I had a quick search online for some Banksy signatures ... curiously, I came across a couple which are very much in line with Nikita Nomerz’s work.
     In the first, Banksy obviously saw the dilapidated wall – and did what came naturally...

 

Ride ‘em cowboy

              ...but you might want to contact air traffic control


Even better, in the second I stumbled upon a wonderful example of Banksy’s active imagination, especially the two eyes and the mouth – shades of Nomerz – oh, and I really enjoyed the footnote.

If you fancy a look at an identity parade of the Russian’s extraordinary range of faces, click on this Telegraph link...
    
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturepicturegalleries/9086702/The-Living-Wall-Russian-street-artist-Nikita-Nomerz-turns-derelict-buildings-into-faces.html
 
Thursday, February 16
And who’s so much more than a pretty boy then?

A FEW days ago the following couple of letters appeared in The Daily Telegraph, along with the photograph pasted below...

                                                 The peculiar sense of humour of parrots
                                                          Practical jokes by domestic birds

SIR – I used to own an African grey parrot called Charlie.
His favourite trick was to peer from his position in the
sitting room to the bottom of the garden and, when he saw our Jack Russell dog reach the very end of the garden, he would whistle loudly, in the manner in which I whistled the dog.
     The perplexed hound, abandoning its reason for running into the garden, then turned around and returned to the house thinking it had been hailed.
     Charlie would then emit the wheezy laugh which Muttley used when taunting Dick Dastardly.
Roy Williams, Aberporth, Cardiganshire

SIR – I was having brunch with the former owners at Amberley Castle, when a phone rang in the next room.
     No one moved. “Oh, its only the parrot,” they said. “He’ll stop ringing in a minute, then he’ll answer the phone and have a conversation.” 

Polly-maths: Timneh African Grey Parrots deep
 in psittacine conversation 
  
         Photo: Alamy

Moira G Maidment, West Clandon, Surrey

Now that’s what I call a brace of smiley letters. I was thinking: if I had known about Charlie the whistling parrot, and there was a north-westerly blowing, I’d have gone out into the garden and listened out for him.
     Incidentally, psittacine? Now there’s a word you never hear in the Bible, or in The Asterisk Bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Indeed, I have never written or used the word before, so off I go to see my pals Dic, Siôn and Harri ... well, no surprise, really: relating to, resembling, or characteristic of parrots.
     Anyway, the above letters deserved to be featured in this ‘ere scrapbook there and then – but these amusing letters always draw a response, so I thought I’d hold back for a few days ... and yes, the following missive duly appeared:

Parrot personals
SIR – Further to your letters about parrots (February 13), I once saw a small advertisement in a newspaper that read: “For sale. African Grey parrot. Would suit retired victualler or deaf clergyman.”
David Chapman, Worcester

That “retired victualler” reference tickled me no end (victualler: a licensed purveyor of spirits - how droll); as you may have noticed, I call the spit-and-sawdust bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon The ******** Bar – The Asterisk Bar.
     By 10 o’clock of a weekend evening you can’t move in the place for those little star-shaped characters hovering above the saloon’s gathered characters as their bellies fill with spirits and their brains empty of sanity. In a curious way it can be quite entertaining, as long as they don’t start fighting and I have to dive under the tables.

Finally, and also in today’s Telegraph, this little gem:

Fire and water
SIR – My grandfather, born in the 1860s, would relate how London omnibuses used to carry the sign: “Do not smoke – remember the Great Fire”. Once, beneath one of these signs, some wag scrawled: “Do not spit – remember the Great Flood”.
Douglas Linington, Ramsey, Cambridgeshire


As you gather, I enjoy hugely the wit and wisdom that serendipitously awaits in the Letters pages of our newspapers – with always a generous supply of comic, if metaphoric, confetti to hand.
 

Wednesday, February 15
Grit your teeth and smile

FOLLOWING the recent snows that hit much of England, the following letter appeared in The Daily Telegraph...

Grit expectations
SIR – Checking the Buckinghamshire county council gritting website, I find that they have named all their gritters. We have, among others, Alfred the Grit, Gritannia and, my favourite, Lamborgritti. They are providing an excellent service.
Geoffrey Aldridge, Wingrave, Buckinghamshire


This appealed to my sense of fun, so, with a spare moment to hand, I checked on the council’s gritting website. I quote:

Transport for Buckinghamshire (TfB), with the help of schools across the county, has named all their gritting vehicles. Each of the 25 gritters has a unique name and will be able to be tracked travelling around the county during the winter helping to keep the roads safe.
     TfB was overwhelmed with responses when they contacted schools in October to ask for ideas: 45 schools entered the competition and 416 names were suggested. From these, 25 names were chosen to christen each vehicle in TfB's fleet.


That’s marvellous, and it adds much to the Geoffrey Aldridge letter. The most popular name was Salty, nominated by ten schools – the gritters named in the above letter each had just the one nomination.
     As did my particular favourite: The Mighty Thor – nominated by Turnfurlong Infant School.

That is so clever – plus I enjoy a good pun – and dare I suggest, given the smart word play, that it has a whiff of one of the teachers about it. Which is fine by me, especially as it must make motorists smile as they encounter The Mighty Thor.
     However, while one section of the Civil Service is doing its best to keep the roads open and spirits high, others are proving the doolallyness of life as we know it in the fast lane. This letter in today’s Telegraph.

Jobseeker’s annoyance
SIR – I was recently made redundant and, though confident of getting another job, tried to sign on at my local Jobcentre.
     A few days after the initial interview I was contacted by phone to arrange a signing-on date and time. Unfortunately, this clashed with a job interview I had already arranged, so I asked if I could re-schedule.
     “No,” came the reply: “You have to forfeit the job interview and come in to sign on for eligibility for Jobseeker’s Allowance.” So much for the Government’s job creation scheme.
Don Anderson, Surbiton, Surrey


This response was spotted on the Comment board...
Aitch: He should have asked to speak to the Jobcentre’s Jobsworth Supervisor and got the appointment changed. Or phoned the helpline and got it changed.
     His letter is typical of the “it’s not my fault I did as they said” attitude which is destroying self reliance. In Northampton I have had to do this twice and the staff were really helpful.

But that isn’t the point. Don Anderson shouldn’t have to figure all that out by trial and error – the individual he spoke to on the phone should have pointed him in the right direction, then Don Anderson would have said: “Thank you for your help.” And the civil servant on the other end would have said: “You’re welcome.” [I resisted adding “Have a nice day”.]

Crazy world, crazy people – but how about this for a laugh...

Credit where it’s due
SIR – I have received a letter from our parish church’s bank signed by the Head of Servicing, Business and Corporate Banking Operations in the Business Banking arm of their Data Management Department, and with their reference: 945/COA/JM3/10004419416/090721/82433285.
     I had no idea that banking was so complex. Bankers clearly deserve their bonuses, although I’d knock a bit off for spelling my name incorrectly.
Ken Pocock, Lytham St Annes, Lancashire

What about that job title, eh? They should put suggestion boxes marked “Job Titles” in every school in Buckinghamshire.
For the above I would suggest Commander Data, Starfleet Banker.

Incidentally, the bank’s job title uses just over 100 characters – which brings me neatly to this Delightfully Doolally Tweet of the Day...
                       
Tweetie Pie Corner
                        
                                  “Yahoo, that’s the first bona fide hangover I have had in ages. Drinking water and waiting for the cement mixer in my head to stop.” - Stephen Fry after the Bafta awards ceremony.

I note that Fry has just short of four million followers. Well, I am off to lie down in a darkened room for a little while...

 

Tuesday, February 14
                                    My funny Valentine,
                                    Sweet comic Valentine,
                                    You make me smile with your heart...

                                                                                                                       My Funny Valentine: lyrics by Lorenz Hart

VALENTINE’S DAY tends to pass me by, much like my birthday(s)! Be that as it may, every weekday early morning, Vanessa Feltz keeps me company, compliments of her wireless show, and this morning was no different.
     Incidentally, how marvellous that the words to My Funny Valentine were written by someone called Hart. Anyway, and unsurprisingly, Vanessa was in VD mode – so she duly invited her listeners to let her know their romantic tales of the Day.
     And in they came...
Martin from London contacted the show:

Good morning, Lady Vee. Happy Valentine’s Day to you. I’ve booked a table for two tonight for me and the missus. It will all end in tears though – she can’t play snooker.

Vanessa burst out laughing – as did I. Priceless. That set me up for the day.

Along the way I have been much taken with a Telegraph Picture Gallery titled
Valentine’s Day: hearts in Nature. Here’s the composite image that initially caught my eye...
 

Yes, you make me smile with your heart


There are 30 pictures in the gallery, and well worth a peruse. A link to the gallery coming up down below...

Of the photos I’ve taken over recent years, there’s only one I can think of where I’ve captured a heart in nature – well, more or less a heart – and it’s the mesmeric way swans (like the flamingos, above) form that heart shape with their elegant necks when going through the foreplay routine prior to mating...
                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                                                                        ...it was nearly a magic moment (more I’m shy Mary Ellen, I’m shy, actually). Mind you, I’ve got a smashing photograph of a parent swan with a cygnet, as if teaching it about matters of the heart. It’s over on Postcards From My Square Mile:
smile

Here’s the link to the Telegraph 
Heart Gallery...
      
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/howaboutthat/9072129/Valentines-Day-hearts-in-Nature.html
 
Monday, February 13
Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative


BACK on January 21, British actor and comic John Cleese, 72, made a
double-yellow-line appearance hereabouts with a brace of quotes which suggest that, in the privacy of his own thoughts, he is not as comic as his legions of fans believe.
     He first upset millions of country and western fans by describing their music as “so relentlessly corny, it really curdles my blood”; and then he stamped on the toes of the 71,758 mostly good people of his home town of Weston-super-Mare by describing their much loved square smile as “a tedious little place”.
     Step forward
Weird but wonderful, compliments of The Sunday Times...
 
For you, ze floral display is over
A council has removed a flower display after it was left in the shape of a swastika.
     The flowerbed was on a roundabout in the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare, and greeted visitors near the railway station, pictured alongside.
     One local said: “I know Weston-super-Nightmare is twinned with Hildesheim in Germany, but this is just a [goose] step too far.”
     The council said plants had originally been arranged in a “random pattern”.
     The swastika was accidentally formed later by flowers left behind when summer bedding plants had been removed.

Positive thinking: The swastika symbol represents
eternity in East Asia culture and Buddhism


Here’s a delightfully naughty thought: John Cleese visits Weston-super-Mare on a dark and stormy night and plants some bulbs in a certain distinctive pattern...!
     Whatever, the notion that the swastika was “accidentally formed” when some of the summer bedding plants were removed is too deliciously doolally to contemplate (which is why I said “the 71,758 mostly good people” of Weston).
     And do you suppose that the local person who described the place as Weston-super-Nightmare is a close relative of John Cleese? Mind you, Weston-super-Nightmare – that really is very smiley.

However, just to add balance and show that I am not picking on John Cleese for picking on Weston-super-Mare, this tale reported in the East Anglian Daily Times...

Charles Dickens was no stranger to East Anglia. At about this time in 1835, the author was covering election meetings for the Morning Chronicle. In a letter to fellow journalist and friend Thomas Beard, he condemned Chelmsford as “the dullest and most stupid place on earth”.

What is it with these top writers and comics that they are such a relentlessly cruel and nasty bunch of individuals when left to their own devices?

Oops! quote of the current full moon
This, spotted in the Andover Advertiser:

“As we enter Tinnitus Awareness Week, I should like to urge any of your readers who suffer from this distressing condition not to suffer in silence.”
Vivienne Michael, Deafness Research UK


Aye-eye quote of the current full moon
English actor, writer and comedian Tim Vine, 44,  has cemented his reputation as king of the one-liners by winning the
2012 Lafta Joke of the Year Award.
     Last year he won with this little package deal:
                                                                   
I've just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I'll tell you what, never again.
     This year he won with this little nod and a wink:
                                                                   
Conjunctivitis.com – that’s a site for sore eyes.

Mind you, I’m not sure the 2012 winner is a joke, or even a one-liner come to that. It’s more of a pun I would have thought, albeit a really smart pun.
    
Henri Bergson (1859-1941), French philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, defined a pun as a sentence or utterance in which “two different sets of ideas are expressed, and we are confronted with only one series of words”.

Also, Bergson convinced many thinkers that immediate experience and
intuition are more significant than rationalism and science for understanding reality. Truth to tell, I agree - and Im not even a thinker. I just report what I see.
     Instinct rules, OK?
 
Sunday, February 12
Sometimes a word means much more than it appears to mean


IT IS now pretty well established that Twitter is adding hugely to the doolallyness of a world that is already half a bubble off plumb – and slip-sliding ever further off plumb with every passing day.
     I think it has something to do with people twittering the first thing that comes to mind ... without counting to ten and wondering if it’s a wise thing to do.
     Here’s another little gem spotted in Weird but wonderful, compliments of The Sunday Times.  But first, a point of order: for those not familiar with the UK’s television stations,
ITV is the largest commercial public service TV network in the country. The BBC with ads, I suppose. Anyway...

Tweetie Pie Corner


Putting the twit in Twitter
ITV’s Daybreak programme has again had to respond to complaints about its studio clock. When a viewer said on Twitter that the clock was an hour slow, a member of the Daybreak team politely pointed out that they were probably watching ITV’s sister station, ITV1+1, which repeats ITV’s schedule an hour later.
     “It’s a very common error,” a spokesman sighed.

 

When I say at the top that sometimes a word means much more than it appears to mean, the word I have in mind here is “sigh”, as used above in “a spokesman sighed”. The use of the word sigh in that context means so much, much more than a simple sigh.
     Yet more proof that Twitter is a laugh a minute – but not quite in the way contributors hope.

 

Try, try and try again
SETTLED down in front of the box this afternoon to watch Wales play Scotland at rugby. Scotland put up a spirited fight, but Wales went on to won 27-13, scoring three tries in the process.
     As is my wont, I had a quick look online at a certain comment board to wallow in the predictable boasting, and of course the mostly good natured abuse ... this little exchange brightened up my evening no end:

freewales: Wales by far the better side, and now top the Six Nations table.


oldcryptian: Lucky to win last week [against Ireland] and the scoreline today flattered them; Scotland certainly deserved better from the referee.

freewales: I believe you crept in the crypt and crapped.

Can’t beat a bit of alliteration, or as we say in Welsh, cynghanedd  (literally “harmony”), which is the basic concept of sound-arrangement within one line, using stress, alliteration and rhyme i.e. “I believe you crept in the crypt and crapped”. Neat.
     No surprise then that the contributor identifies himself (or herself) as
freewales. Where’s the army when you need it?
 

Saturday, February 11
Home is where I hang my bowler ... my hat ... my cap

AFTER putting yesterday’s smile to bed - the one featuring that memorable Lloyds Pharmacy image with the hats - it kept going round and round inside my brain. What did it remind me of? Then, along my morning walk ... bingo!
     Back in 1966, there was a famous and wonderfully amusing BBC television sketch on The Frost Report: it featured John Cleese as upper class (the tall one at 6ft 5in), Ronnie Barker as middle class (of average height at 5ft 8in) and Ronnie Corbett as lower class (the short one at 5ft 1in), standing in a graphic line and explaining the British class system to perfection.

Cleese (looks down on Barker): “I look down on him because I am upper class.”
Barker (looks up at Cleese): “I look up to him because he is upper class,” (then looks down at Corbett), “but I look down on him because he is lower class,” (then looks straight ahead)... “I am middle class.”
Corbett: “I know my place.”
Cleese (looks down on both): “I get a feeling of superiority over them.”
Barker (looks up): “I get a feeling of inferiority from him (he then looks down), but a feeling of superiority over him.”
Corbett (looks up at both): “I get a pain in the back of my neck.”

Cleese, Barker and Corbett: a class act

Below, I show again the Lloyds Pharmacy ad (about erectile dysfunction), which posses this question: Guess which one of these men got treatment from our online doctor?
  
What suddenly came to me along my morning walk was the Class sketch image. Just as above, it’s the way the three men reduce in height - but the “Corbett” figure, the one who knows his place, gets his own back. Not just a stiff neck, eh?
   

Home sweet home is where I hang my hat

Even lower class birds know their place


I couple the “hat stand” with a picture I’ve featured before, an image which captures nature’s take on the class sketch – and well worth a return visit. By chance I caught some crows minding their own business on a scaffolding.
     The Cleese crow really does look all superior up there at the top, while the Barker one is peering up with an anxious mixture of admiration and envy – and what of the classic hunched and crumpled “I know my place” pose of the Corbett bird?
     Perfect. Indeed, perhaps class distinction is present throughout nature.

 
Friday, February 10
If the hat fits...


PERUSING the Telegraph’s  online Picture Gallery, I stumbled upon another in their Sign Language collection (series number 190 already, which proves there are more strange signs and bizarre translations out there than Telegraph  readers can shake a pixel at).
     What made one of the pictures particularly smiley was that, just before, I had grinned at an eye-catching newspaper advert, with picture, from Lloyds Pharmacy, in particular the one about erectile dysfunction, which posses this question: Guess which one of these men got treatment from our online doctor?
     But first up, this sign spotted in California, by a James Brewer...
 

Your final check-up

Hat stand? Dead ahead, last on the right


I wonder if anyone arrives at the Health “Center” complaining of feeling a little stiff – which of course brings me to the illustration complementing the Lloyds Pharmacy ad. Fascinating to note that they appear to use a sort of composite image rather than a real-life picture!

Is your half half-full or half-empty?
REMAINING with the Telegraph, there has been a series of letters discussing how best to slice a piece of cake or tart for your children, or indeed for grown ups come to that, whilst ensuring that there are no ructions over who ends up with the smallest cut.
     The answer is of course well established. If the division is, say, between two individuals, you hand the knife to one – but the other gets first choice. Wisdom at its most profound. So simple, so clever. Shame nobody does the same with the nation’s wealth as the division between rich and poor grows ever wider by the hour. But who would we hand the knife to?
     Anyway, I enjoyed a couple of follow-up letters, which is a case of having your cake and eating it...

In the pudding club
SIR – My mother told how, on a ship from India, a jam roly-poly was served to a table of passengers. The man at the head of the table asked: “Who likes ends?” His companions showing no enthusiasm, he announced: “My son and I like ends,” then cut the pudding in two and gave half to his son and half to himself.
Hugh Davies, Cucklington, Somerset


Rich club
SIR – Billy Fury, a Sixties pop star, when asked if he thought it fair that he should earn more than the prime minister, said that it was fair. When pressed he replied “the prime minister can’t sing.”
Malcolm Parkin, Kinnesswood, Kinross-shire


Which invited this online Comment:

Percyvere: The letter from Malcolm Parkin about Billy Fury’s remark that “the prime minister can’t sing”, reminds me of the old story about a woman who had some minor surgery and was sent a bill by the surgeon for ₤2,000.  She thought this outrageous and demanded a breakdown of the bill. The reply was:
                                                                                                                
Anaesthetic:              ₤   200
                                                                                                                
Medicines:                       100
                                                                                                                
Hospital room:                 200
                                                                                                                
Knowing where to cut:     1,500
Yes indeed, the first cut is the deepest.
 

Thursday, February 9
Life in the “simples” lane

TODAY, I was mesmerised by images.
     I just happened to catch the latest Compare the Meerkat TV advert (promoting the Compare the Market motor insurance price-comparison site – really smiley ad), featuring Chief Sitting Meerkat Aleksandr Orlov...
     And I found myself wondering: I’ve never seen Aleksandr Orlov and Vladimir Putin pictured together.
     Have a look at this ... unsettling.

Just by chance, in the Telegraph Pictures of the day gallery, I spotted the eye-catching image, below...


A Presidium of Putins?
 

A dozen meerkats at Taman Safari Zoo, Indonesia, huddle together to stay warm
                                                                                                 Picture: Fajar Andriyanto


Going back to Putin ... have you noticed how he likes to strut about shirtless whenever he goes huntin’, shootin’ or fishin’ ? It really is most peculiar behaviour for a head of state – in future, whenever I see a picture of a little meerkat on lookout duty, like this one...
                                 
                                                                                      ...I will always think of Putin standing in the turret of a tank, peering out over the passing parade and furiously muttering to himself: “I see no ships ... only hardships...”

Final honour of the day:
“I am so disgusted by the awarding of honours to undeserving fat-cat bankers and politicians that I am seriously thinking of returning my ASBO [Anti-Social Behaviour Order].” - Bob Bailey, of Bristol, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
 

Wednesday, February 8
Halt
! Who goes there? Friend or foe?

A MEMORABLE Dad’s Army quote, from the one and only Captain Mainwaring, addressing his platoon: “If anyone approaches, you shout ‘halt, who goes there’ and take down their credentials.”

Right, a glorious February walk through the doolallyness of the modern world –
but first ... you know me and my 20/20 instinct for survival: the moment I meet a

stranger my little brain scans and sorts out whether I’m confronted by a dolphin or a shark ... a pussycat or a polecat ... a sparrow or a sparrow hawk...
     Now I can’t enlighten you whether the person in front of me will become the next Adolf Hitler, or indeed a Mother Teresa figure, but my instinct will tell me whether it’s safe to step forward and embrace – or hold my ground, even take a step back, and then proceed with great caution.
     In other words, is the person a lay-by or a roundabout? We all know lay-by people: whenever we meet them, whether in the street, the pub, the supermarket - we will spend a cheery interlude in their company. But roundabout people - well, we navigate with great care because we know they are Trouble, with a capital T.
     Instinct also works when looking at photographs of strangers. I have just stumbled upon the picture, alongside. I had no idea who he was – so here’s a little test, assuming you don’t recognise the face. Ponder on what you see...
     Dolphin or shark ... etc, etc... illumination will arrive further on.

A reassuring face? Trust your instinct.


Okay, back to business...

“I cannot see the Queen lying awake, fretting that some incompetent banker or disreputable dictator is walking around with a piece of ribbon pinned to them that ought not to be there.” - Constitutional historian Kenneth Rose, 87, saying that he thought the Queen regarded the bestowal of honours as “an inexact science”.
What an interesting observation.

“Congratulations this morning to Queen Elizabeth II. 60 years of scrounging benefits off the taxpayer without being caught.” - Labour Party researcher Matt Zarb-Cousin, who later apologised for his remarks.
Age of the author unknown, but clearly not yet reached the age of consent, throwing all his toys out of the pram. And shouldn’t he have been christened Matt Barb-Cousin?
     Incidentally, it looks like young Barb-Cousin has been caught in The Tender Twitter Trap i.e. forgot to engage brain before twittering.

“To the delight of the mob, Fred Goodwin [scalped Chief Sitting Bull at Royal Bank of Scotland] has lost his knighthood, and Stephen Hester [current Chief Sitting Bull at Royal Bank of Scotland] is to lose his bonus. No-one can say who will be next. Mobs are more easily egged on than calmed down. They do not usually stop at the first intended victim. Mr Cameron should beware.” - Tory peer Lord Tebbit, 80.
I think I know what he means. But there is a subtle difference between a mob and a revolution:
                                                                                                                                 Fee-fi-fo-fum
!
                                                                                                                                 I smell the blood of an Establishment man...

“In this present time of glaring, intrusive, nasty media, it is hard to imagine the proportions of the Queen’s achievement in serving 60 years, every one of them as the most prominent and publicised [of] people in the world, without one gaffe, one injudicious utterance or slip on a banana peel, literal or metaphoric.” - Lord (Conrad) Black, 67, pays his tribute from his Florida prison cell where he is serving  six and a half years for fraud.
Black is a Canadian-born member of the British House of Lords (and, whisper it, one time owner of The Daily Telegraph, which adds a certain frisson to his “in this present time of glaring, intrusive, nasty media”).
     So how come Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin can lose his knighthood when he only broke the Law of Gross Incompetence, but Conrad Black can pen personal references from his prison cell without any censure?

Oh yes: Dolphin or shark? Pussycat or polecat? Sparrow or sparrow hawk? Lay-by or roundabout?
     That is indeed jailbird Conrad Black up there in the gallery. Now what did your instinct tell you? Yes, you would be happy to see him move in next door? Or would you put your home on the market without delay?
 

Tuesday, February 7
Mrs Mills is a Boon


THE incorrigible Mrs Mills, she who solves all your problems of a personal nature, compliments of The Sunday Times, makes a return guest appearance, toot suite. Or tootsie sweetie, as The Cisco Kid down at the Crazy Horsepower would have it.
     Anyway, this from last Sunday...

HOT STUFF
My former toyboy visited last weekend and, as it was cold, I suggested we light a fire. Always one to help the young tackle and master new skills, I directed him to the coal, kindling, paper and matches and encouraged him to provide us with a fine blaze while trying to refrain from giving too much direction.
     The fire burst into flame, but fizzled out shortly after, as he neglected to give it any attention, not even giving it a few pokes, let alone following my advice to stoke it up further once it had got going.
     After he left on Sunday, I lit a fire for myself and it kept me warm all evening. I am tempted to see this as a metaphor for our relationship, and conclude that I should continue to light my own fires. What would you advise?
SS, CAMBRIDGE
I hate to pour cold water on your theory, so by all means stick to self-warming for the rest of winter, but I would look further afield come spring and perhaps try a man with a bit more experience in the fire-kindling department. Older chaps might be slower to get it started, but once it’s alight I bet they can keep it going all night.


Every morning along my morning walk through Llandampness, I pass Mr Pru’s Fruit & Veg Emporium – actually, it’s called Gerwyn’s Fresh Fruit & Veg (his name is Gerwyn, but once upon a time he worked for Prudential Insurance, so we locals still know his as Pru) – anyway, his Emporium occasionally has a sign outside which reads: “Logs and kindling for sale.”
     I will never be able to pass that sign again without thinking “Baby, it’ s cold outside - throw another log on the fire
!”.

Mrs Mills followed up with this...

MAY TO DECEMBER
I’m 22, slim, 5ft 10in with long, blonde hair and, to keep in shape, I work out at a local gym. Over the past month, I have noticed an older man in his fifties there. He looks very fit and has a rugged appearance and throws me the occasional smile.
     I must admit I’m attracted to him and would like to ask him out for a coffee, but would be hurt if he refused my offer. What’s the best approach?
JE, ALDERLEY EDGE, CHESHIRE
Make sure he’s sitting down and not holding anything that might cause an injury if dropped, because I suspect that most fifty-something men being asked out by a 22-year-old would find it hard not to faint.
     I know they all think they’ve “still got it”, and believe that women still look them up and down approvingly, but when it comes down to it, it will still come as a huge shock when it turns out to be true. Before you do ask him out, however, I would have yourself given the once-over by a psychiatrist.
     Men in their fifties are pretty boring: his idea of a wild night will be eating Danish pastries and drinking a Carlsberg while watching Borgen, rather than getting off his face and clubbing all night. And while he may know how to light a fire, you’ll probably have dropped off by the time it’s properly going. (See above.)


As I read the question, I was thinking ... is this 22-year-old, with long, blonde hair, male or female? I automatically thought female – but you never can tell these days. Anyway, Mrs Mills presumes, like me, that JE is female – but there’s no guarantee.
     Be that as it may, Mrs Mills’ conclusion to the question reminds me of a conversation I had with Old Shaggy down at the Crazy Horsepower, and it probably was indeed around the time I turned 50. The talk, as ever, revolved around the fairer sex (of the female persuasion, that is).
     I happened to mention that, once I turned middle-age, I noticed that I had become much more fussy about the kind of woman I was attracted to. I labelled it quality control.
     Old Shaggy laughed heartily and insisted it had nothing to do with quality control but everything to do with my sex drive beginning to go into reverse. I giggled nervously at the time – but the more I thought about it the more I realised that he was spot on.
     I am reminded of John Betjeman (1906-1984), poet and hack (self-description), and his wistful observation somewhat late in life. When asked whether he had any regrets, the wheelchair-bound poet paused a while – and responded: “Yes, I wish I’d had more sex.”
     While most people appeared to take his comment at face value – he was a bit of a ladies’ man by all accounts – I always thought he was winding us all up, the way he did with his poetry.
     As I grow older, and that euphemistic quality control thingy kicks in, I would guess that the last thing on your mind in old age, as you sit in a wheelchair, is having more sex. But what do I know?


By a jolly coincidence, I read this in The Sunday Times  Magazine, from the good Dr Ozzy
(Caution: Ozzy Osbourne is not a qualified medical professional). That ‘caution’ creases me up every time. I always imagine David Cameron and his beloved Sam Cam over breakfast of a Sunday morning.
     David: “Did you realise that Ozzy Osbourne is not a qualified medical professional?”
     Sam: “Gosh, isn’t he?”
Anyway, back to the latest Dr Ozzy consultation...

It’s a thinking game
Scientists now say men think about sex “only” 19 times a day, not once every seven seconds, as previously thought. What’s your opinion?
Andrew, Warwick
Depends where the bloke happens to be. If he’s alone in a hotel room, it’s probably 19 times a second. If he’s driving a tank into machine-gun fire in Afghanistan, I think he’d have better things to do than admire an imaginary pair of boob
s.

So there we have it ... back with quality control again. Despite that though, I’ll probably still be thinking sex as I pass Pru’s “Logs and kindling for sale” notice.
 

Monday, February 6
One for the road


DAI APHANOUS, one of the resident deacons down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, decided it was high time to do a pub bonding session with Son No. 2, affectionately known as Dai-Dai Diddle-ee-aye Dai-Dai – mum is a delightful Irish lass – just Dai-Dai for short.
     Dai the Dad bought two pints of real ale (sadly, Top Totty
* wasn’t on tap). Dai-Dai didn’t like the taste. Dad drank both. Dad then bought two pints of Guinness (a cunning ploy, remembering that Dai-Dai is half-Irish). Same result. Finally, Dai bought two large whiskeys (note the Irish spelling). Dai-Dai hated it, so Dad had to drink both.
     By now Dai Aphanous was not so much pissed as pissed off, so he put Dai-Dai back in the pushchair and took him home.

* A letter in The Daily Telegraph...
A pint of the other half please
Sir – The Strangers’ Bar in the House of Commons has banned Top Totty draught beer. My local pub sells a brew called
My Wife’s Bitter.
Richard Bonham Christie, Blandford Forum, Dorset
                                                                                         
And here’s a follow-up...
Order, order
SIR – MPs could ask for a pint of stout and bitter at the Commons bar, a mixture known affectionately as a “mother-in-law”.
Dr Robert Horton, Alrewas, Staffordshire


I had never heard the term “mother-in-law” for something stout and bitter-ish before. The drink is traditionally known as a Black & Tan, but I suppose that is politically incorrect these days.


Wearing a bit thin
“I read somewhere that women over 40 should never wear leggings. Seriously? I am sorry but I’ll wear whatever I want to wear and I couldn’t give a flying pair of Ferragamo culottes what anyone else thinks.” Pamela Stephenson, 62, clinical psychologist, writer, and wife of comedian Billy Connolly.
I’m sayin’ nuthin’. Just in case I get heckled. Which neatly brings me to this extraordinary recent headline in the paper:

                                     Billy Connolly heckled off stage for a second time in a week
After being voted the most influential comedian of all time earlier this week, Billy Connolly appeared to be unassailable...


I read on, and it seems that Billy Connolly had, unbelievably, allowed a few hecklers to get to him – and he blew a fuse and stormed off ... twice
!
     It regularly seems that the most amusing comedians on stage are the most troubled off. It’s a strange business, which is really odd. I then read an interesting article about the pitfalls of heckling by a Steve Punt, a comic I’d never even heard of. But that is by the by...
     As Punt observes, most comedians starting off in the business get heckled – it’s all part of the apprenticeship – but it’s most unusual for an established comic such as Connolly to be given the treatment.
     Steve Punt wrote this in Mail Online:

During my days at the Comedy Store in London – where Rob Brydon, Paul Merton, Jimmy Carr and Sandi Toksvig cut their teeth – there were two shows: one at 8pm and one at midnight. At 8pm, any heckling would be sharp, liable to wound and – importantly – composed of identifiable words. By midnight the heckling was not only  witless, but characterised by a slurred series of noises, which detracted from its effectiveness.
     Having said that, one of the most brutal heckles I ever heard was delivered at 1am, at the Fringe Club in Edinburgh. Some friends of mine were doing a sketch on stage when a voice shouted: “Get off
!
You’re crap and you know it!
     Not, on the face of it, very sophisticated, but there was something about the “and you know it” that was a killer. It plays heavily on the insecurity most performers feel. The only heckle that ever really hurts is the one you suspect might be true.
     Young comics still respond to incoherent shouts by smiling and saying: “Ah, I remember when I had my first beer...” – a line popularised by U.S. comedian Steve Martin in 1979, but  probably ancient even then.
     Jasper Carrott used to respond to hecklers with the words, “Sit back in your chair and I’ll plug it in”, which would shut up a shouter very effectively.
     Jack Dee would stare hard at the heckler in that sardonic way of his and then say deadpan to the rest of the audience: “Well, it’s a night out for him, isn’t it?” Once this had got a laugh, he would add the lethal punchline: “For his family, it’s a night off.”
     My favourite, though, was one  I heard in a small and rough-edged comedy club in South-East London where a persistent heckler was disposed of by Radio 4’s News Quiz panellist Jeremy Hardy with: “It’s all right. I don’t respond to hecklers. I just have them followed home and their houses burned down.”

I’m really not sure about that last one. If I were the heckler I’d have come back with: “Not only are you an arse – you’re an arsonist.” Mind you, whether I’d have delivered it within the strict repartee timeline is another thing entirely, though I did think of it as soon as I read Jeremy Hardy’s riposte.
     As Punt points out, once we’ve had a few drinks inside us we all think we’re the new Oscar Wilde on the block. Mind you, with a name like Steve Punt he’d be in the firing line after just one sip of that whiskey Dai-Dai Diddle-ee-aye Dai-Dai didn’t much like...

 
Sunday, February 5
Baby, it’s cold outside


WITH winter proper having arrived a little late this year, dear Mrs Mills, she who solves all your personal troubles, compliments of her Sunday Times  Style magazine column, has entered into the drift of things: this from a concerned reader...

SNOWED UNDER
Having seen the forecast for snow in Scotland, I e-mailed my friend in the Borders to see if she was all right. She first replied that she’d had six inches overnight, but now everything was very wet, although better than this time last year, when by now she was under two feet. Her next e-mail followed almost immediately, imploring me not to open the first as it was meant for someone else. I am very confused; what can she mean?
MG, LONDON
Basically, she’s fine, but I wouldn’t rely on her for weather reports, at least until the weather improves and she can pursue her various interests outside.


Here in Llandampness we have experienced much hardness down below, but no need to don the snowshoes – not yet, anyway.

A WARM FRONT
Behnaz Akhgar is a delightful “morning seller” of a weather presenter on BBC Wales. She delivers forecasts on both television and radio, together with Sue Charles, and acts as a relief presenter for chief meteorologist Derek Brockway.
     Behnaz, or Benny as she is known to her colleagues, moved from Iran to Wales when she was just 10, but she is now more Welsh than the Welsh.
    
She invariably makes me chuckle – all helped by being a particularly handsome creature, see alongside – but most of all she wears her very smiley character on her sleeve.
     She regularly shares with us, especially on her radio forecasts where she has more time to chit-chat with the programme presenters, throwaway facts about her personal life, as well as some off-beat things about her friends.
     As the frosts took hold over the past week, she enlightened us as to how she gets all dressed up for bed during the cold weather – but best of all she told a tale of a friend who, before she jumps into bed gets the hair dryer out and warms up the bed with a quick blow job (my expression, incidentally, not Benny’s – that’s what comes of spending too much time in the company of the naughty but nice Mrs Mills).
     Anyway, I was rather taken with the idea of using a hair dryer to warm the
bed ... I mean, unless you have an electric blanket, those first few minutes after

Just what the doctor ordered
during a cold snap

sliding into a bed on a really cold night is very shiver-me-timbers.

ANYTHING INTERESTING ON TELLY?
Every morning when I wake, Dear Lord, a little prayer I make ... no, hang on, let’s start again...
     Every morning I have a quick peruse of The Sunday Times  Culture Magazine’s TV & Radio guide, just to see if anything catches my imagination. At the bottom of each day’s main listings, the mag does a Critics’ choice, where it selects half-a-dozen or so of what it regards as the better programmes of the day, and gives them a little write-up. The sub-editors also give each choice selection a clever heading, as sub-editors do.
     For example, one recommended show on BBC3 tonight was Young Tailor Of The Year, where four tailors wield their needles before an audience of family and friends in order to prove mastery of their trade.
     And the ST headline?
    
                              It’s a stitch-up
                                                                           Very good, although it did not draw me in to watch the show. But here’s a headline coming up that really tickled my old funny bone.
     Call The Midwife is a drama series on BBC1. It is set in London’s East End during the 1950s, based on the best-selling memoirs of the late Jennifer Worth. It draws high viewing figures, indeed it was UK television’s second most watched programme for the week ending January 15, just behind EastEnders.
     As someone who never watches soap operas, dramas and the like, I have not watched Call The Midwife. However, I thoroughly appreciated the headline ST gave the piece...
                                                                                                
 Hatch of the day
                                                                                                                                     ...made even more memorable because the series under review was followed on BBC2 by football’s Match Of The Day.

Little things please little minds..
 
Saturday, February 4
Fame is pants


“I NEVER wanted to be famous; I only wanted to play football.” Celebrity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, says former England footballer David Beckham, 36. And as a bonus, he says this...

“I can’t really walk around the house naked any more now
that we have a daughter. I’m still OK in underwear, but not naked.”
     Dear old Becks, or “Goldenballs” as he became known following his famous Armani pants adverts, is the acceptable face of doolallyness.
     He brightens up the passing parade no end. You will have probably noticed the image alongside, a typical billboard advert featuring David and the Missus ... with David proving once and for all that he definitely, truly, honestly – “Cross my heart and hope to die” – didn’t want to be anything but a footballer.
     I mean, just look how miserable he looks, never mind Posh.

What a dull place it would be without our slebs testing our credulity to its very limits.

But why are Mr & Mrs Beckham half-naked in a bus shelter?


A regular stuffing
“THINGS may be bad but to have Jeremy Paxman finish Newsnight by saying things like, ‘We’re back to depress you with more news tomorrow night’  I find tiring.”  Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville, 48, finds it impossible to step out of his character and the troubles of World War One.

Incidentally, for those outside the .co.uk border fence, Jeremy
Paxman is a British journalist, author and television presenter,
noted for his forthright and abrasive interviewing style,

particularly when interrogating politicians – which explains his nickname, Paxo (also the name of the famous Sage & Onion Stuffing, the perfect accompaniment to a kill).
     All this transports me back to 2008, when Paxman did a rather foolish Fred & Ginger (a song and dance routine, but unfortunately not on Strictly Come Dancing) about his Marks and Spencer underpants, which sadly wasn’t up to the job.
     The Sunday Times, with its tongue gloriously in its cheeks, produced a composite picture of Paxman - alongside - as he might look if he had invested in Emporio Armani pants á la David ‘Goldenballs’ Beckham, rather than a bog-standard pair of Marks & Sparks y-fronts...
     Now that is so smiley. God, I bet Paxo must curse the day he unzipped his big fly and let it all hang out.


Is that a stallion in your pocket...?
THE above briefs encounter takes me back many moons when Pearl of Joy, barmaid at the Crazy Horse – this was before the upgrade to Crazy Horsepower – with gentle cough and wicked twinkle, whispered that I had “left the stable door ajar”.
     A quick zip-up - and I remember thinking afterwards ... yes, a stable is much like a pair of underpants: it should be roomy enough to allow the stallion to lie down and stretch freely; big enough to allow it to jump into life; and if feeling coltish, kick out without risk of injury – oh, and the stable door should be generous enough for it to effortlessly stick its head over the parapet for a breath of fresh air or whatever.
     Mind you, it’s easy enough for me to say when all I
’ve ever had to stable is a frisky little Sheltie.
 
Friday, February 3
                               The words seemed to ring in her ear - -
                               Until the next morning, she woke up in bed,
                               With a smile on her lips, an ache in her head;
                               And a beard in her earhole that tickled and said:
                               “Have some Madeira, m'Dear
!
                                                                                                              Flanders & Swann

 
“IN ENGLAND, we obviously like spanking.” Keira Knightley, 26, English rose, actress and model, reveals that she nearly refused her part in ‘A Dangerous Method’ because of its erotic nature, where her character’s greatest desire is to be tied up and spanked and spanked and spanked...
     In the “celebrated spanking scene”, Keira, pictured alongside, admits to having two shots of vodka with co-star Michael Fassbender, before shooting – and a glass of champagne after.
     The key word up there is where she “nearly” refused the part. A Miss is as good as a Mistress. So perhaps she’s a regular little goer on the quiet: “I’ll thcream and thcream ‘till you thpank me
!”’
     For all I know she might be known as Often Knightley. But I’m sure she’s not and she’s a lovely girl, and that actually, she’s Nearly Knightley.

A man by any other name
TALK of Mistress brings be neatly to Mister, as in Mister Fred Goodwin.
     Yes, Mr Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin, the disgraced banker responsible for the largest annual loss in UK corporate history, has been soundly spanked, metaphorically speaking.
     It has been observed that the City bonus culture is the financial

What? Spank me? You Nogood Boyo you!"

world’s version of “Mine’s bigger than yours!”, and Sir Fred Goodwin was
the King Willy Waver. And now he has been stripped of his knighthood.
     It is a humiliation described by one wag as a Sircumcision...


A Sircumstantial Sircumcision
SIRCUMCISION has to be one of the wittiest words I’ve stumbled upon in a while. Sadly, I have no idea who the author is, but he or she deserves to be credited. A quick Google confirms that the word has been around for many moons, so the author has to go down as Anonymous.
     Sircumcision
! The country needs a full-frontal attack of the Sircumcisions. It’s ludicrous the sort of people we see prancing about the nation demanding we bow, Oriental-style, while walking backwards and tugging at our forelocks.
     Mr Goodwin now joins people like Robert Mugabe and jockey Lester Piggott who have been stripped of their honours, Piggott for merely fiddling his tax returns.
     I suppose Goodwin brought it upon himself when he refused to voluntary give back some of his massive £16.9 million pension pot, which would have entitled him to a staggering £693,000-a-year pension. After much harrumphing, he eventually agreed to give up part of his entitlement, but still walked away with a £342,000-a-year pension. Phew
! A neat Dick Turpin trick, if you can get away with it.
     Some folk thought, quite reasonably, that he should have quietly returned his knighthood in the post, not waited to be stripped of it. But if he wasn’t prepared to return some of his pension pot he sure as hell wasn’t going to return his Sircumference.
     I note that he is a chartered accountant by profession. It is reasonable to presume that chartered accountants have caused more grief to the nation’s industries and economy than any other profession, even politicians and trade unionists.
     One thing puzzles me though. Lester Piggott lost his honour because of a tax fiddle, yet a few
members of the House of Lords have been jailed: for example, Lord Archer for perjury, and Lord Watson for fire-raising, when he started a fire which endangered lives at an Edinburgh hotel back in 2004.
     Yet, they sit in the upper house of the nation
s legislature, but they havent had their titles removed for a serious breach of the law.
     After all, a knighthood is just a title, a one-night-stand, but a life peerage confers a seat in the legislature, for life. Surely something should be done to remove these men from the House of Lords. And women, too: for example, Baroness Uddin for her part in the parliamentary expenses scandal (£125,349), springs to mind.
     Everything about today’s Establishment stinks.

Be that as it may, I enjoyed this letter in The Daily Telegraph..
.

Once I had a secret love
SIR – It is high time that Sir Lancelot was stripped of his knighthood, following his disgraceful affair with Queen Guinevere.
Nicholas Debenham, Twickenham, Middlesex

 
Thursday, February 2
A pint of your breast bitter please, sweetheart – I mean, a pint of your best

OCCASIONALLY, a simple story typifies everything that is doolally about this old world of ours. This headline pointed me in the right direction...
                                   
Top Totty beer deemed far too fruity for House of Commons bar

It was John Major, when prime minister (and furiously making eyes across Parliament’s crowded Hello Stranger Bar at Edwina Currie), who said that the British would forever be defined by their love of “warm beer”. Clearly Major was pondering what best to drink after his “Hot Currie”.
 
Be that as it may, a rather flavoursome, full-bodied ale has proven too fruity for the House of Commons. Top Totty, a blonde beer brewed in Stafford, and with a name to really make it stand out from the crowd, was yesterday banned from Parliament’s memorably named Strangers’ Bar – sorry, not the Hello Stranger Bar as I thought – on the grounds that it was “offensive” to women.
     Kate Green, 51, the Labour party’s equalities lecturer, who led the charge of the light-headed brigade, said she found the beer offensive (she should stick to Babycham then), adding that it “demeans women”.
     Female members of the House were said to have been “disturbed” by the sight of the refreshment on offer, in particular the pump plate, pictured alongside.
     Despite never having even seen the pump in question – and the bar not receiving a single complaint – Miss Green yesterday stood up in the Commons chamber to demand it be removed from sale.
     Last night, however, her stance provoked a backlash from men and women alike, who branded her “humourless” and criticised her “knee-jerk puritanism”.
     Slater’s Ales, meanwhile, said the outcry had seen its orders double. Of course it has. You cannot buy this sort of high-profile, smile-a-second publicity. (It’s at moments like this I envy the giraffe: imagine having a

Stunningly seductive! The beer ain't bad either

neck like that to appreciate the blonde Top Totty all the way down.)
     The £2.70-a-pint beer (£2.70-a-pint? In the heart of London?) was banned from the Strangers’ Bar, where MPs can take guests, within an hour of Miss Green’s complaint. Leader of the House, Sir George Young, 70, with nothing better to do, intervened to rid Parliament of what he called “offensive pictures”.

Tweetie Pie Corner

“Cannot *believe* that there’s a beer called Top Totty on sale in the Commons! Outrageous - does Mr B know?” Sally Bercow, 42, Commons Speaker John Bercow’s wife, on Twitter.
Clearly upset is our very own Super Silly Sally – remember that hilarious photo of her draped only in a bed sheet, with Parliament as a backdrop? Anyway, here’s a quick flash...
                                                                                                  

                                                                                                                                             ...perhaps she should have married a
Mr Barecow. And of course, Super Silly Sally Down Our Alley was the one who announced to the world that her favourite gadget is a sex toy, a vibrator called Big Ben. Or was it Big Ben Bong? Hm: Super Silly Sally meets Big Ben Bong.
     Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the decision to ban the beer quickly led to allegations of a sense of humour bypass.
Claire Fox, 51, the director of the Institute of Ideas and a regular panellist on the Radio 4’s Moral Maze, wrote on Twitter: “What really demeans women: idea we’ve no sense of humour and MPs acting as sanctimonious killjoys in our name.”
    
Tracey Crouch, 36, the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford, added: “Why is a beer called Top Totty offensive & now banned from Commons? Not as if it is called Middle-Ranking Totty?”

My question is this: how many people have the use of a bar at their place of work? Hang on, I did, once – but that was when I worked at the Crazy Horse Saloon. Seriously though, these are the people who make decisions that effect every aspect of our daily lives – and they spend their working days drinking. And in a subsidised  bar at that.
     Personally, I think they should have had The Dog’s Bollocks beer sat alongside Top Totty – and yes, there really is such a beer, produced by the famous Wychwood Brewery of Witney, Oxfordshire...
                                                                                                                                    
Incidentally, today was Groundhog Day, when Pennsylvania’s famous Punxsutawney Phil delivers his famous weather forecast. The groundhog made his annual “prediction” on Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill in Punxsutawney, about 65 miles north-east of Pittsburgh.
     Imagine the joy of a beer called Gobbler’s Knob making an appearance at the Strangers’ Bar ... Where’s that giraffe when you need him?
     Yes, we do indeed live in hysterical times.
 

Wednesday, February 1
Never pee in the same place twice

                                                                       A gipsy proverb

“WHEN Sharon gave birth to Kelly, I thought I was trapped in a scene from The Exorcist. I don’t care if they play you Bridge Over Troubled Water on infinite loop: an all-natural birth will hurt. You’re a brave woman ... best of luck.”
Rocker Ozzy Osbourne’s advice to Lisa of Bath, who asked about music for natural childbirth (no drugs).


The above was spotted in today’s WM
They said what? column – and I guessed it was from Ask Dr Ozzy, compliments of The Sunday Times Magazine. Indeed it was. But the lead question was this one...

Dear Dr Ozzy
If I take a bath in saltwater a few hours before a party, will it help me fit into my little black dress? (I’ve read it works like reverse osmosis, removing water from the body.)
Jennifer, Kent

[Now you understand why the Ask Dr Ozzy column in The Sunday Times Magazine, the paper read by the crème de la crème of British society, carries this notice ...
Caution: Ozzy Osbourne is not a qualified medical professional.]
     Anyway, back to business: Ozzy osmoses...
I wouldn’t know. I don’t wear many little black dresses. I used to wear a chainmail suit on stage, though, and I had the opposite problem. It would fit perfectly well when I put it on, but when I worked up a sweat, it would shrink. By the end of the night I felt I’d been strung up with piano wire. So count yourself lucky.

The above Q&A takes me back many moons to a fascinating letter I read in a gardening column, where a lady had enquired about a problem she was having with a garden tree, an Acer, one of those small but handsome Japanese maples, if memory serves.
     Anyway, this one-time healthy tree was inexplicably shrivelling and dying. The only clue the lady offered up was that her dog would always run under the tree to pee.
     Problem instantly solved by the gardening expert. The dog’s pee, like every other creature’s pee, contains salt. Not a lot, true, and the occasional wee would be of no consequence.
     However, with the dog regularly peeing under the maple, a concentration of salt would have built up in the ground  - and the reverse osmosis that Jennifer of Kent mentioned in her question to Dr Ozzy, was taking place, with a vengeance.
     Instead of the tree roots drawing water out of the soil, the concentration of salt in the soil meant that all the water was being drained out of the tree – hence the poor thing dying.
     There, now isn’t that fascinating? As it says on the tin at the top: every day a day at school. More than that, it offers up an intriguing third dimension to that gipsy quote above: never pee in the same place twice.

Never eat three peas at the same time
“When I eat three peas, I’m pregnant. When I visit a city, I’m buying a house. In the winter I separate, in the summer I marry.” Vanessa Paradis, 39, singer, model and actress, makes an early claim for this year’s Eric Cantona award for most elliptical remark from a French person.

Ah, Mon-sewer Cantona (to paraphrase John Wayne addressing Mon-sewer Paul Regret in The Comancheros). A star in every sense of the word. I’m a fan of the Mon-sewer, probably because I am rather taken with individuals who behave in eccentric and mysterious ways.
     Back in 1995, Eric Cantona, a Manchester United player, was involved in an incident which attracted headlines and controversy worldwide.
     In an away match against Crystal Palace, Cantona was sent off by the referee for a kick on a Palace defender. As he was walking towards the tunnel, a Crystal Palace fan, Mathew Simmons, rushed up to the barrier to taunt and abuse him – whereupon Cantona launched a ‘kung-fu’ style kick at Simmons, followed by a series of punches.
     At a press conference called later, Cantona gave what is perhaps his most famous quotation. Cantona said, in a slow and deliberate manner:
“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.”

Eric Cantona launches his Kung-Fu Fighting Club

     He then got up from his seat and left, leaving most of the
assembled hacks bemused.

     Cantona was arrested and convicted of assault, resulting in a two week prison sentence. This was overturned in the appeal court and instead he was sentenced to 120 hours of community service. He was also suspended from playing for eight months. FIFA then confirmed the suspension as worldwide.
     In 2011, Cantona admitted that the infamous attack on the Crystal Palace supporter was “a great feeling” and a memory he is happy for fans to treasure.
     Mon-sewer ... I am more than happy to treasure that memory.
     Following the incident, the Football Association Chief Executive at the time, Graham Kelly, described Cantona’s attack as “a stain on our game” that brought shame on football.
     Typical Establishment bullshit. It was a stain on a type of supporter who follows all high-profile sports, where a coward abuses a public figure from the ‘safety’ of the crowd. The look of incredulity on the face of the Crystal Palace fan as Cantona retaliated is something burnt onto my brain’s hard drive.
     Curiously, we now see the same kind of abuse online. Of those who tweet and leave remarks on comment boards, there is a significant percentage who direct truly horrible things at people. They do so anonymously, and what they post are nothing but poison pen posts.
     Back with Cantona: his “sardines” quote remains one of my favourites; what is more, I know exactly what he means. Incidentally, when last year he expressed his “a great feeling” thoughts, he also added this...
     “I don’t care about the past,” Cantona said. “It was a great memory but I don’t want to think about it. I want to look forward. I don’t know where my medals are. No shirts, nothing. I played for France 45 times and I had two shirts every game. That’s 90 shirts. I don’t even have one now.
     “You can feel very quickly as a prisoner of your past, of the memories. I prefer to be free and think about tomorrow.”

That’s why I have plenty of time for the man. PS: Must remember not to upset him.

 

Tuesday, January 31
Great balls of fire

JUST occasionally, as I flick through the newspaper pages, whether in print or online, two totally separate news stories demand to be featured in tandem, just as that horse and carriage of love and marriage fame.

“Ideal male birth control found,” whispered and teased the headline.
                      
“Testicle blast is perfect birth control,” it started to insist.
                                             
“ULTRA SONIC ‘SPERM ZAP’ TESTS HAILED,” it suddenly yelled.

It sounds like one of the more extreme examples of birth control – but blasting a fellow’s most vulnerable area with ultra sound could be a perfect form of male contraception, say scientists.
     Goodness, it’s enough to give a man a headache and force him to go and lie down in a darkened room for a while. It seems that sperm zapping, which involves blasting testicles with ultra sound, is being hailed as a breakthrough discovery.
     Once upon a time in the West it was deemed cool for a man to carry a ghetto blaster on his shoulder – now it’s a testicle blaster in his underpants. Times have indeed changed.
     Anyway, to continue: Scientists conducted experiments which showed that ultrasonic sound waves effectively cut sperm count in rats.
     I dunno, we’ve already got clowns and cowboys running the country – now the rats are being given a clear run at all our women.
     ‘Twas ever thus.

 

Egg and Sperm race: Singing the blues after a good zapping

Raining the blues in Dorset - or are these jelly babies?


Hail and farewell
“The day it rained blue balls of jelly! was the next headline, compliments of Mail Online, to grab me by the – er – lapels. You can, perhaps, already sense the horse and carriage connection between the two stories and the pictures above.

“Homeowner stunned as hailstorm showers his garden with weird goo,” it continued. Allow me to quote...

When it comes to the weather, the British have proudly come to expect the unexpected. But blue jelly-like balls descending from the heavens is perhaps pushing it.
     That is what Steve Hornsby, 61, saw when he was caught in a freak 20-second hail storm. He sheltered beneath the eaves of his garage amid the downpour, which turned the sky over Bournemouth a peculiar dark yellow. After the storm stopped he realised that, in addition to the hailstones, the cloud had also deposited the transparent, marble-sized objects on the lawn.
     To preserve the evidence from last Thursday’s storm, Mr Hornsby, an aircraft engineer, scooped some into a jar for a closer look: “It looked like broken glass. They were definitely not there before the storm. There must be about 20 complete spheres. I’ve been an aircraft engineer for many years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
     Mr Hornsby suspects the spheres were possibly the result of atmospheric pollution which had been sucked into a storm cloud and solidified before being released in droplets among the hail stones.
     Josie Pegg, a science research assistant at Bournemouth University, suggested the phenomena might be “marine invertebrate eggs”, adding: “These have been implicated in previous ‘strange goo’ incidents.”


I enjoyed this follow-up on a Guardian  Comments page, if only for the individual
s memorable user name...

sillysally: Mystery? Look like slug eggs to me. Probably already there (unnoticed) before the hail shower.

The above claim was duly challenged in later comments. Tsk
! Silly Sally. Some thought they must be an alien visitation - after all, we have no idea what visitors from a far away place we don’t even know about yet, will look like.
     My explanation? Look at those two photographs again ... yes of course, the zapped sperm have turned blue from the experience – and what colour is the blob? I reckon the poor put-upon sperm said: “Enough is enough. Okay brothers, everybody out. Let’s get the hell away from here
!” – and duly crash-landed on Steve Hornsby’s lawn.
     So they must be jelly babies. Simples.

I also smiled at this comment, attached to the same story...

ammypam: My dad recently found a strange alien machine in the cellar and was about to take it to the police when my mum asked if anyone had seen the hoover.

Finally...

“Disgusting. They should pay us to eat here.” Tory MP Nadine Dorries, 54, after spotting mice in the Commons cafeteria.

Well, mice always gather where rats are already in residence. Let’s hope politicians get the blue bayou treatment with that zapping machine thingy. That’s one way to nip the horrible things in the bud.

 

Monday, January 30
Sex and the good sport - but enough is enough


DAI APHANOUS reasonably enquires if I find posting this daily online scrapbook hard work, or indeed a bit of a bind – oh, and have I ever suffered writer’s block?
     No, no and no. Let’s start with writer’s block: you could throw any word in the English language at me, and given a few hours to think on it, perhaps do a bit of research if I’ve never heard of the word – and I’m reasonably confident I’d come back with a few hundred words on the subject.
     Expressing myself through words, whether in written or spoken form, comes naturally. Now whether the end result is any good is something else entirely, and only other people can sit in judgment on that one.
     Professional writers who complain about writer’s block make me smile. If a plumber turned up at your home at eight in the morning to do a job – but at nine he tells you he’s got to go home because he’s suffering plumber’s block – well, you’d pull the plug on him pretty darn quick.
     As for it being hard work and a bind – well, just look at the material that’s all around us, no matter which way we turn. I have just read this in The Sunday Times 
Weird but wonderful column – a column I call ‘the well’ because I only have to chuck the bucket down and pretty much every time I haul it back up it’s full – for example, this priceless gem...

Too many home games
A footballer’s girlfriend has revealed why he is so injury prone – they have too much sex. Kevin-Prince Boateng, who plays for AC Milan, is currently suffering from a thigh strain. His girlfriend, the television presenter Melissa Satta, said: “He’s always injured because we have sex seven to 10 times a week. I’m afraid that’s the reason for the strain...”
              

                                                                  ...I’m experiencing all sorts of strains and stiffness all over just looking at her picture. Sated by Satta.

With rugby union’s Six Nations tournament starting next weekend, and, as I write, Wales’s talented outside-half Rhys Priestland is doubtful for the opening game against Ireland due to injury – Welsh rugby aficionados will of course be more than aware that Rhys crucially missed the Rugby World Cup semi-final last autumn because of injury – so I thought a letter to the Western Mail  was called for...

Playing at home

SIR – In the Sunday papers there was the intriguing tale of footballer Kevin-Prince Boateng, who plays for AC Milan, and is currently sidelined with a thigh strain. His girlfriend, the television presenter Melissa Satta, said: “He’s always injured because we have sex seven to 10 times a week. I’m afraid that’s the reason for the strain.”
     Dare one suggest that in the lead up to the international season, Wales coach Warren Gatland should have a quiet word with Rhys Priestland’s girlfriend?
HB, Llandampness


As it happens, I submitted another letter a week or so ago, which I rather enjoyed composing, but sadly didn’t make the cut. The paper’s resident pensioner columnist, Elaine Morgan, 91, finished off her weekly column, where she had expressed concerns about the gloomy economic outlook, thus...

On Growth, the NEF [a think-tank called the New Economics Foundation – I always think that think-tanks should be called thick-tanks], the NEF questions the assumption that salvation lies in persuading everyone to consume ever more and more goods and services, whether they can afford them or not, speeding up every year the rate at which products move from factory to shop to consumer to scrap heap.
     They recommend a book by Robert Skidelsky entitled “How Much is Enough?”. I’ve just ordered a copy. I’ll come back to you when I’ve read it.


My response - but I should first point out to those who read this outside the .co.uk territorial limits, that Philip Green is a British businessman, born into a Jewish family in 1952, beginning as a businessman at the age of 15...

Enough already

SIR – Sadly I am too late to save Elaine Morgan time and money because it seems she has already ordered the book by Robert Skidelsky entitled “How Much is Enough?” (January 20). I could have told her that “enough” is just a little bit more.
     Back in 2010, businessman Philip Green (Top Shop to BHS), already worth a reputed £4.3billion, avoided paying UK taxes of £285million on a £1.2billion profit by paying the whole lot as a tax-free dividend to his wife, a Monaco resident.
     Is it not delightfully ironic that one of the most familiar Yiddish sayings is “Enough already”?
HB, Llandampness

A parting thought...

The Grim Daleks behind you, Patrick

“I get up, drink my usual four coffees, have a look at the obituaries in The Times and, if I’m not in there, I’ll get on with the day’s work.” Sir Patrick Moore, 88,  astronomer, and probably the nation’s favourite eccentric, describes his morning routine. (Pictured alongside)

There is something rather jolly in the notion that when you toddle off to bed of an evening, your final thought before you drop off is that, should you not wake up, at least you have absolute confidence that those who read The Times  – and every other British newspaper come to that – will have the opportunity to read your obituary and reflect on a life colourfully lived.

Exterminate! Exterminate! Obituarate! Obituarate!

 
Sunday, January 29
♫♫♫  By the sleepy lagoon...  ♫♫♫
TODAY was Desert Island Discs Day. The first ever show was broadcast 70 years ago this very day, and the BBC duly celebrated the moment.

“I don’t want my children to be happy ... just to be content and have a sense of self-worth.” The broadcaster Kirsty Young, 43, and current presenter of Desert Island Discs, prompts a debate about parenting values with a curiously celebrity-induced wish.
Call me a natural-born cynic - come to think of it, I call myself that - I guess the above statement has something to do with generating publicity for the 70th anniversary show. That’s how the media and all those who sail in her think.
     Kirsty Young’s argument appears to be that, happiness is fleeting and rather meaningless, while contentment and self-worth are a state of mind and of a more permanent nature. Now I would have thought that
contentment and happiness go together much like a horse and carriage. You can’t have one without the other.
     As for self-worth ... well, yes, a state of mind for sure, but that would have been determined at conception, surely, when her children were handed their genetic hard drive.
     True, from the moment we are born behavioural software is continually added – by parents, family, community, school, employer, police, parliament, society...
     Unfortunately, when the human mind is subjected to life’s extreme stresses and strains – increasingly so these days it seems – the hard drive always reverts to the default position. Just as on your computer, human software can be effortlessly overwritten, even deleted.
     Ever observed people getting drunk? With every drink consumed a layer of learned behaviour (software) is removed – much like peeling an onion. A few lucky people become touchy-feely, silly, witty and wise – great company.
     But overwhelmingly we become difficult, argumentative, depressed, obstreperous, quarrelsome – violent even – indeed as with that onion, most people make us cry as drink reduces them to their base animal instincts.
 

Let’s hope Kirsty Young’s children chose the right parents. Incidentally, is it me or does she look alarmingly thin, pictured alongside? What is it about media women and their need to look so emaciated, with those big heads stuck atop waif-like bodies?
     Indeed I have previously expressed concern at Fiona Bruce, whose XL brain is now bigger than her bum. What does it say about their  contentment and self-worth?

The Daily Telegraph (DT) did a brief report apropos Kirsty’s views on happiness, contentment and self-worth. The following day they did a dedicated follow-up article on her remarks. On the Comments section, this striking contribution, from
Auric:

So let’s get this straight: Modestly intelligent, probably rather pushy but fairly good-looking woman, becomes TV presenter. She is in the media and the media reports on her. The DT decides to run an article about her, and she says something. The DT follows up with an article - this one - reporting on its own article.
     Media reporting on media. In humans, rather than the media, this self-pleasuring would be called masturbation.

I found myself wondering if Auric and Pheasantplucker (from a couple of days ago, where twitter was defined as electronic intercourse between a multitude of mutually retarded strangers) are one and the same person? Both comments have a similar feel and rhythm to them.

Anyway, be all that as it may, I certainly listened to today’s celebratory Desert Island Discs (DID), even if I do have a certain ambivalence about the show. What surprised me though was that the 70th anniversary castaway was David Attenborough.
     Nothing at all against Attenborough, but
I take it as read that those castaways who accept a return visit to DID are in possession of an ego that has to be carted around behind them on a low-loader. So I found myself wondering what sort of escort David Attenborough was given for his journey to the studio to make his fourth appearance.
     Yes, fourth
! Isn’t that being a tad greedy and self-important, Sir David? No lack of self-worth there.

At midday, immediately following the
Attenborough show, DID celebrated its 70th birthday with 44 different versions of the radio programme, across the BBC’s entire UK network. Here in Wales, Jamie Owen talked to people from around Wales, including a few slebs who had featured as castaways, about the one record they would take with them to a desert island.
     Then something really smiley happened. Around half-twelve, I was sat at the kitchen table in the cottage, looking out over the rolling countryside, with the birds of the air wafting about all over the shop, and a lady called Joan Rees was reminiscing about the Fifties, and how her husband, who was then in the forces, had been posted to the Suez Canal where the crisis of 1956 had erupted.
     Her concerns were reminiscent of today’s wives and girlfriends as their men risk life and limb out in Afghanistan.
     For her DID moment she chose Pat Boone’s I’ll be Home – and it instantly took me back to the Sundays of my youth and hearing this on the wireless...

“The time in Britain is twelve noon, in Germany it’s one o’clock, but home and away it’s time for Two-Way Family Favourites.”

I can remember, as a youngster on the farm, Sundays around half-twelve, sat at the table with the family, having dinner (as we called it back then), the wireless on in the background – and Pat Boone’s I’ll be Home would regularly feature because of its suitability as a song between husband and wife parted by the demands of the forces.
     I really can’t recall when hearing a piece of music over the airwaves so magically transported me back to yesteryear. And just to add authenticity, presenter Jamie Owen did not talk over the beginning and end of the song. Which they never did back then, when Pat Boone was a regular in the charts.

It was truly a smiley and magical moment in time. And there was me, sat at the kitchen table, taking in the open countryside outside the window ... it really was the rural equivalent of relaxing by a sleepy lagoon.
     Watch and listen ... Britain really is an elegantly beautiful country...
                                                                                                                        
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plr72QiIxeQ
 

Saturday, January 28
A spoonful of Sugar does not necessarily help the medicine go down


AFTER perusing the Western Mail – a couple of
They said what? gems coming up – I decided to catch up with various sections of Sunday Times  supplements and magazines lying about the place ... this from last Sunday’s Quotes of the week:

“I treat opinion polls with a pinch of sugar.” The Labour leader Ed Miliband, 42 (who quickly corrected himself to “salt”).
I always sensed that inviting Alan Sugar to join Labour’s Round Table Condiments was an ambush-in-waiting. Miliband is also wrong about opinion polls. They are incredibly accurate barometers of public opinion – as long as the selection process at the sharp end is accurate.
     There are only a thousand human blueprints: forget superficial things like colour, height, features, fingerprints, eyes, hair, etc, etc – we are talking about what goes on inside the mind. Pollsters only need to interview a thousand properly selected individuals to accurately reflect what a nation is thinking; to overcome the problem of not consulting a proper cross-section of the population, they will sample the opinions of 1,500 (belt), even 2,000 (braces).
     In other words, we humans are unbelievably predictable. Sugar or no sugar.

The Winner doesn’t take it all
This letter from the beginning of the month, spotted in The Sunday Times  Michael Winner column – just bear in mind that Winner is forever writing about his bestest friends, indeed he is always pictured with them: Sir Michael Caine, Sir David Frost, Sir Roger Moore, Sir Loin of Pork, Sir Ver of Table – Michael always dines at “a table”, not at “a restaurant” – if he doesn’t get his favourite table he walks out in a huff. Anyway, you get the picture without my having to roll out the barrel.
     Here’s the missive...

I felt so sad a few weeks ago when I saw the photo of you with your friends and noticed you were the only one without a knighthood. I resolved to do something about it and start a petition on the government website. But my proposed petition was turned down! I think it’s a conspiracy.
Simon Rigby, Dorset


By one of those delightful coincidences, this has just appeared in the Western Mail’s 
They said what?:

“I do not require an honour to tell me I am a marvellous person.” Yes, film-maker Michael Winner, 76, who once turned down the offer of an OBE.
Now that did make me smile. Very Michael Winner. As is my wont, I Googled that OBE bit ... Wikipedia duly told me this...

In 2006, it emerged that Winner had been offered an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for his part in campaigning for the Police Memorial Trust. Winner declined the honour, remarking: “An OBE is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King’s Cross Station.” Winner has subsequently claimed on his Twitter page that he has also turned down a knighthood.

All that stuff is so Winner Takes No Prisoners, and precisely why he is so readable.

Who’s a snitch?
Meanwhile, back at the
They said what? ranch...

“My body is a temple and my temple needs redecorating.” US comedienne Joan Rivers, 78, who has undergone yet more plastic surgery. She also said this not long back: I want to get cloned so that I can see what I look like without all the plastic surgery.” Very ho, ho, ho!

Say cheese!
“I’m a peasant. I could eat bread and cheese all my life. My husband Michael takes me to a beautiful restaurant, and I’ll eat a whole loaf and not touch my meal. He can’t believe it.” Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, 42.
I obviously come from the same gene pool as Catherine – well, her square-mile is just down the road from my square-mile. I have always maintained that my caveman cum peasant gene is dominant, and food is a perfect barometer. Like Catherine, stick a loaf, butter and some cheese in front of me – oh, and a banana – and I’ll happily tuck in.
     What is more, there is no type of food or drink that I dislike. Yes of course, plonk me in front of a groaning buffet table and there are delights I prefer – but there really is nothing which I will turn up my nose at and say “I don’t like this” or “I’m allergic to that”.
     It all proves that my caveman gene is alive and well and feasting all over the place, which is of course all to do with survival. As long as it doesn’t poison me – down the years a few dodgy mushrooms have given me some runs for my money, so I do treat them with caution – apart from that, bring it on and I’ll tuck in.
     And yes, I’d gladly join Catherine Zeta-Jones over a loaf and some cheese.

Count your blessings
Finally, I have just stumbled upon this epic Twitpic on PhilB@peejaybe ...
Dear Waitrose Abingdon: why you should check a poster containing the word ‘count’ from outside as well...
                                                                                                             

 

Friday, January 27
To twit, to woe is me


“I CAN’T think of anything worse than Twitter, people knowing what I’m doing all the time. I try to be the opposite, I really don’t want people to know anything that I’m doing.” Supermodel Kate Moss, 38, in an interview with The Times  newspaper, reveals that she avoids Twitter like the plague, preferring to keep a low profile. Er?

There is something rather delightful in the thought that a high-profile supermodel, known for her waifish figure and popularising the heroin chic look in the 1990s, prefers to keep a low profile – but I know what she means though.
     It is a curious fact that more and more celebrities twitter, not just their every thought, but their every move and deed. More astonishing, they have legions of followers who hang on to their every thought, move and deed.

My favourite corner of the Western Mail  newspaper is the
They said what? column, where the ‘top quotes’ of the day are listed; indeed these days most of them appear to be tweets, chronicled by a web site that hoovers them up on a daily basis.
     Today’s column was a particularly fine example of the doolallyness of power and celebrity. There were five quotes, presumably the five most significant statements uttered yesterday. So here we go...

“I do so wish that every reference to Downton Abbey did not make me want to puke?” Writer Stephen Fry, 54, tweets his latest allergy.
For a person regarded as one of the nation’s wits – true, many think him the poor man’s Oscar Wilde – that is a very common or garden quote. I’ve never watched Downton Abbey, but millions do, making it one of the most viewed shows during its run.
     But where’s the humour, Stephen? Puke is a very unfunny word. What about: “I do so wish that every reference to Downton Abbey did not make me think Downtown Abbey?” Now I’m fairly sure that would have made me smile.

“I had become Skeletal Spice.” Former Spice Girls member Victoria Beckham, 37, recalls her figure after giving birth to her first child.
Utterly delightful that this was the No. 2 rated quote of the day. Mind you, it does have a touch of humour about it.
     Intrigued by the context, I Googled it ... and saw that “Skeletal Spice” goes back to a newspaper headline from 1999, after Victoria gave birth to her first child.
     Presumably she paid a visit to the recycle bin. And why not? I do it all the time.

“Forgot it was Chinese New Year. Kids didn’t – insisted on eating their tomato soup with chopsticks.” Tweet from Sally Bercow, 42, wife of Commons Speaker John Bercow.
Now that did make me smile.

“We have betrayed the poorest and most vulnerable by merely throwing money at them, be it income support or housing benefit, with no strings attached.” Lord Carey, 76, former Archbishop of Canterbury, criticising the bishops who oppose the Government’s plans for welfare reform.
Some words of wisdom among the doolallyness – but I did find myself wondering why nobody has ever betrayed me by throwing lots of money in my direction.

“There is no reason to despair. All crises come to an end.” Sir Mervyn King, 63, governor of the Bank of England, on the economy.
No wonder the country’s financial state is in such a mess when the Chief Sitting Bull of the Daddy Piggy Bank makes such doolally statements. Of course all crises come to an end. World War II came to an end – but look at the personal tragedies and national destruction left in its wake, not to mention the financial costs.
     It is an extraordinary thing to say. He has to be as far removed from reality as it is possible to be. After all, he failed to notice the JCB (Jam-Cake-Bonus morphed into Jeopardy-Calamity-Blunders which morphed into Jerks-Cowboys-Buffoons) the banks were using to dig a hole for themselves in the lead up to the 2008 crash (all began with those nasty sub prime losses in 2007 – bet you’d forgotten about the dreaded sub prime ambush already
!).

Anyway, back with this need to constantly tweet your life away. I came across the following on a
Comment board, which perfectly sums up the need people have to share their every thought with the world in general but no one in particular ... mind you, it helps when the person who posts the comment has a memorable name...

Pheasantplucker: Sexual intercourse with a multitude of strangers is called promiscuity and can give you a nasty disease. Electronic intercourse between a multitude of mutually retarded strangers is called twittering and can cause further brain damage to that already existing.
     The main difference between the two afflictions is that the former is probably curable...

Amen.
 
Thursday, January 26
The one that got away


SWITCHED on the radio mid-afternoon, and happened upon the Roy Noble show on BBC Radio Wales. His guest in the studio was Goff Morgan, a man of literary talents and light-hearted poetry, indeed he is known as the Newport Town Poet: “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez
! You have the time, I have the rhyme. Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!” - sort of thing.
     As I came up to speed, the two were having a conversation about fishing and the fisherman’s propensity to exaggerate the size of his catch (do fisherwomen share this tendency towards exaggeration, I wonder?).
     Anyway, Goff had penned a poem about the catching of a fish, and with a nod and a wink towards the fisherman whose hands grow ever further apart, the poetic tale grew within the telling.

                                                     
A Fish Tale
                 It took one of us to haul it in, though it was soaking wet,
                 Two of us to grab it and to put it in the net;
                 Three of us to wrestle it and get it round the neck,
                 Four of us to sit on it and hold it on the deck;
                 Five of us to drag it off and put it on the scale,
                 Six of us to prop it up again upon the rail;
                 Seven were in the photograph, all holding it, and then ---
                 Eight of us to chuck it back into the sea again.
                 Now please don’t think this sort of thing just happens every day ---
                 But Dear God – you should have seen the one that got away.


Great stuff, Goff. Rather clever and very smiley. Speaking personally, and as someone who always carries a camera about his person, don’t let me start about the glorious photograph that got away.
     Strolling along, minding my own business, I happen to spy with my little eye ... a truly magic moment – I freeze – but in the seven seconds or so it takes to slip the camera off my shoulder, remove the lens cap, switch on, bring it up to eye level, point, zoom and focus – bugger – the moment has escaped.
     Honestly, you really should have seen the one that got away...

And the birds of the air didn’t fall a-sighing and a-sobbing
MENTION of the one that got away, this evening I sat down to watch
Earthflight, the BBC’s latest natural history series, a five-part voyage of discovery, narrated by actor David Tennant, that captures some of the world’s most extraordinary natural wonders through the eyes of birds. A wildlife series about the birds of the air as they go about their day-to-day business.
     It is simply breathtaking, indeed I rate it ahead of David Attenborough’s ultimately controversial Frozen Planet. This is what The Sunday Times  TV guide said about tonight’s Earthflight episode...

Watch the budgie
Anybody whose grandmother owned a budgerigar should tune
in for tonight’s episode of this stunning wildlife series to see
what a million of them look like as they buzz and whirl in a huge fizzing ball of budgie above Australia’s Northern Territory.
     It is the largest flock ever seen, and acts like a super-organism to pool the information seen by 2m darting eyes, find the best food and avoid the comparatively lumbering falcons who would dearly like to catch just one of them for dinner.


And that was the most revealing part. We have all seen birds mass together in these huge balls – starlings, for example – and it seems that when birds of prey fly into these spinning balls of feathers, they think all their Christmases have come at once - but curiously the hunters become confused and disorientated by the whirling mass ... as a pilot would flying into cloud or fog. Ignore your instruments and you’re dead.

Two by two they came to Noah into the ark...
          Budgerigars over Uluru (Ayers Rock) 
Picture: BBC

     But the little budgies had one brilliant party trick. Once a bird of prey had managed to isolate one from the flock, just as the falcon goes to grab it – the budgie would suddenly drop like a stone, and of course the big nasty bird couldn’t compensate to follow.
     It was astonishing to watch a whirling mass of these budgerigars being set upon – and a pair of falcons having to go without dinner.
     Even in my corner of the world I appreciate how clever our little songbirds are as they fly to greet their Candy Man every morning, deep in the heart of the Towy Valley.
     I’ve done a bit of a tribute to their wondrous cleverness and beauty, over on
Postcards from my square mile ... smile

 
Wednesday, January 25
Poop scoop


HARRY REDKNAPP, 64, is the current manager of Tottenham Hotspur [Spurs] Football Club – or Totting-Ham Football Club, as Ossie Ardiles, the magical little Argentinean footballer insisted on calling it when he played with distinction for the club (1978-1988).
    Anyway, Totting-Ham’s characterful and charismatic manager is currently on trial accused of taking tax-free offshore bungs (Brit slang meaning to pass a tip, bonus or bribe, usually in cash to avoid tax) totalling £189,000, and all deposited in a Monaco bank account named Rosie 47 after one of his pet dogs.
     Incidentally, I don’t believe the Monaco bank involved has 46 other Rosies on its books - but I do note that Harry Redknapp’s year of birth is 1947. Honestly, we can read you like a birth certificate, Harry.
 

As you can imagine, the newspapers have had a field day with this, the story splashed all over the front pages.
     My favourite from yesterday was the Daily Mirror...

      
THEY THINK IT’S ALL ROVER ... IT IS BOW WOW

Priceless. Okay, I added the
‘IT IS BOW WOW’ bit – sorry, couldn’t resist – but it was memorable in its original form. The Sun came up with...

                        
HARRY ‘GAVE THE DOG A BUNG

However, the Bitch of the Match award goes – surprise, surprise – to...

                
MATT, The Daily Telegraph’s  splendid cartoonist

I have laughed and laughed at this cartoon. Each and every time I look at it. It’s not so much the punchline, clever as it is, but the expressions, especially so the dog.
     That is precisely what they look like when you give them a bollocking.


It’s at moments like this I wish human evolution had not only given women the ability to purr (they already have the claws), but us men a tail with which to express our emotions in full without having to do the usual panting, slobbering, drooling and growling.
     I mean, in the wake of
MATT's  cartoon, I would now be – well, you get the picture...
                                                                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                                                                                             
www.brianhayes.com
 
Tuesday, January 24
Zoological garden of celebrity


“When I was younger, I had such awful, poisonous things written about me: male critics likening me to unattractive animals, and suggesting I should be in a zoo.”
Caroline Quentin, 51, actress and comedienne, pictured, on the early days...

                                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                                                                      ...I found this passport-style photograph of Caroline, obviously from those “early days”. Perhaps it’s me, but I don’t see anything which makes me think “unattractive animal”. Critics are the unattractive creatures, I would have thought.

Funnily enough I have previously likened the institution of celebrity to a zoo. We, the great unwashed, the common or garden, the herd, or whatever it is we should call ourselves, behave in a curious way when confronted by celebrities. Think rabbit caught in headlights.
     If you are recognised and acknowledged by someone you have no reason to know, then you are central to the celebrity culture. The pay-off is that we who worship stop, stand and stare, and then either cajole, holer, hoop, applaud, worship – or indeed condemn, boo, hiss, abuse, poke with a stick and throw loads of rotten food at.
     As happens in a real zoo, celebrities are driven doolally by this unrelenting attention, and, just like that dreadful film of a captive polar bear imprisoned in its enclosure, slebs start to traipse round and round inside their ‘cage’, swinging their heads from side to side as their life imprisonment slowly but surely drives them doolally.
     From where I stand,
Jeremy Clarkson appears to be entering this phase in his zoological evolution. It is all rather worrying because the very first signs of him circling his cage and just beginning to shake his head from side to side are unmistakably there. I wouldn’t wish such a fate on anyone. Honestly.
     But I am still taken aback that celebrities can do what they do to each other – such as the quote above from Caroline Quentin.

Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin

After reading that Caroline Quentin quote, I happened upon this Larry Busacca portrait of Liv Tyler, alongside, as she posed at the Sundance Film Festival, 2012, to promote the film Robot and Frank.
     Now that’s what I call smiley. Also rather clever and witty.

Not being a film fan, Liv Taylor meant absolutely nothing to me ... a quick Google ... and I discover that she’s a 34-year-old American actress and model, the daughter of Aerosmith’s lead singer, Steven Tyler, and Bebe Buell, model and singer.

Anyway, I thought it would be rather grand to see what she looks like without the beard...

     Hm, and not a trace of a five o’clock shadow.
 
Monday, January 23
A bit of effin’ and blindin’ out on a wing and a prayer


THE SCRUM in rugby union is now a source of much frustration and ridicule. For those not familiar with the dark arts of forward play, a scrum is a means of restarting play after a minor infringement.
     It involves up to eight players from each team, known as the pack or forward pack, binding together in three rows and interlocking with the opposing team’s forwards. At this point the ball is fed into the gap between the two forward packs and they both compete for the ball to win possession.
     In 2007 the scrum law was amended to the current four step “crouch ... touch ... pause ... engage
! routine. Prior to this there was no obligation for each prop to touch the opposing prop’s shoulder, indeed the distance between the two front rows was often larger. The new rule fixed the distance between the front rows and as a result cut the force of impact from the engagement.
     The reason for the rule change was to reduce the number of serious neck injuries to front rowers as they charged at each other like rutting stags...
                                                  
                                                                                                                  ...but the new rule is a total farce - and there are endless jokes of a sexual nature surrounding this routine. Let’s face it, it is an open invitation. However, let’s keep the party clean.

David Michael Smiedt, 43, is a South Africa-born, Sydney-based journalist, author and comedian. He recently announced his appreciation of the England rugby team’s newfound association with cult romance novels Mills & Boon – that really was hold-the-back-page news to me; no wonder then that the English lads have been coming up short of late. Anyway, Smiedt has proposed a number of suitable book titles for the England team.
     These include Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage; Ruck Me Like You Mean It; The Hooker and the Eight Man; oh, and Pulled Off At Half Time. He’s yet to hear back from
the publishers
.

This all set me thinking: There has to be a sequel: Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage, Marry, Divorce – well, it is Mills & Boon. And of course the prequel: Loosehead Prop Pulled By Blindside Flanker (remember, women now play rugby as well, which keeps every option open; but I guess that final idea of mine does sound more like a tabloid headline that the title of a novel).
     Anyway, back with the Smiedt titles: should it not be The Hooker and the Eight Man Shove? And remembering what happened in New Zealand last autumn: The Hooker and the Seven Dwarves?

Incidentally, someone has suggested that when the instruction was originally issued by the International Rugby Board back in 2007, it was written thus: Crouch ... Touch ... [Pause] ... Engage. In other words, the ‘Pause’ was an instruction to the referee, not the players – but the rest, as they say, is historic. Or perhaps histrionic.

Use it or lose it
THE above is also another curious rule of rugby. In broken play, when a group of forwards have been drawn together, with the ball hidden somewhere within that group, it is called a maul. Opposing forwards try their darndest to stop them. If the maul then stops moving forward, the referee will shout “Use it or lose it” to the team in possession of the ball.
     This means they must release and pass the ball within a five-second time period. If they do not, the referee will call a scrum and the team not in possession at the beginning of the maul will be given the ball and the feed into the scrum - and all that leads me directly to the quote of the day...

“Sex operates on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis. You already know the answer. Keep practising.” Sex therapist Pamela Stephenson, 62, wife of comedian Billy Connolly, 69.

Quite right too. If you don’t use it the advantage goes to the opposition. Old Shaggy down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon operates on the ‘use it or lose it’ rule all the time.
  
Also, ponder on the fact that Pamela is a New Zealand-born, Australian psychologist now living in the land of the fee: I mean, can you imagine what foreplay must be like in the Stephenson household, what with Pamela doing the haka before each and every “Crouch, touch, pause, engage – yes, YES, YES
!” routine?
     No wonder poor Billy seems to spend his life in a permanent haze of effin’ and blindin’. (Whilst the meaning of “effing” is obvious, did you know that “blinding” is a euphemism for “blimey”, as in “God blind me
!”? Every day a day at school.)

All this effin’ and blindin’ brings me back to rugby. Because the referee is miked up to enable us all to hear what decisions he is making on the field in this quite complex sport, we occasionally hear the players effin’ and blindin’ in the background, a reaction which is quite understandable given the stresses and strains of the modern game.
     But here’s the thing. The commentators always apologise profusely for this upsetting of the rugby viewer’s sense and sensibilities. Which is a laugh in itself.
     But the point is, just because the commentators make such a song and dance about it, I now sit on the edge of the sofa, waiting to be upset by the language of these Nogood Boyos risking life and limb for my entertainment. Not.

Continuing with the effin’ and blindin’ theme, tonight on BBC2 I happened to catch The Real Magnificent Men In their Flying Machines. This, from The Sunday Times  TV & Radio, guide drew me in...

A chain saw attached to a deck chair is how Anthony Woodward describes flimsy microlight aircraft, but that does not mean he is any less obsessed with flying his - and he is not the only one.
     For these latter-day Icaruses, the exhilaration of feeling as free as a bird easily outweighs the routine brushes with death that accompany this dangerous sport. As we follow the fanatics competing in the Round Britain Air Rally, this film turns out to be a tender and moving account of fear, friendship and love.


And a delightful film it was for sure. But I haven
t heard so much effin and blindin in a while. Not on a rugby field. Not even down in the Crazy Horsepower Asterisk bar. But these fliers really were dicing with disaster up there among the clouds. I would have been swearing as well.
     I can
t stand all this obscene language on todays so called comedy and chat shows - or films either, come to that -because its all done for false effect. But when you hear those under extreme pressure, whether on a rugby field or up in a flimsy microlight - well, it all sounds so perfectly natural.
     Clearly strong language serves a purpose in its proper context.

 

Sunday, January 22
Whom the gods wish to make doolally they first make ‘em paint double yellow lines all over the shop


TODAY I actually feature a story that appeared in TODAY’S Sunday Times. This must be some sort of record because more often than not such tales appear several days after publication, indeed occasionally a few weeks later.
     I always have a quick peruse of the paper when I return from my morning walk, but because there are so many sections to The Sunday Times, the whole lot gets put one side ... then I pick up a section as and when I have a few minutes.
     So, in today’s
Weird but wonderful column, appeared this little gem:

Crossed lines
Patrick McCrystal was furious to find he’d been given a £70 parking ticket – after workers painted double yellows under his car while it was parked.
     “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” says McCrystal, 49. “They had extended the existing set of lines, then a warden had slapped a ticket on the car.”
     Derby city council has cancelled the ticket and apologised.

To add insult to injury, flecks of yellow paint were even sprayed on the Ford Fiesta’s bumper. Double yellow
“D’ohs!.

The story reminded me of one that appeared shortly before Christmas – so off I sped along the yellow-line-free internet superhighway in hot pursuit of said tale ... this snatch, compliments of a BBC web site...

“World’s shortest” double yellow lines on Norwich street
Double yellow lines measuring 17in (41cm) on a Norwich street are laying claim to be the shortest ever painted.
    
The lines were laid down in the city’s Stafford Street to distinguish a permit parking zone from a two-hour limit bay which all drivers can use.
     The lines were measured by the landlord of the nearby Alexandra Tavern, who said he did not know why they were painted.
     Bert Bremner, from Norwich City Council, said that in hindsight the short lines had perhaps “gone too far”.
     Landlord ‘Tiny’ Little said his customers thought the lines might claim to be the shortest in the world.
     “We came out and measured them - and they’re 17 inches long.”

4 toy cars X £70 each = £280. Fine work if you can get it


Doolallyness at its most majestic. I should make it clear that I am certainly not labelling the workers doolally. Workers are workers because they do what they are told. No, the fault for this nonsense lies somewhere up the greasy pole, for such decisions are made by those dreaded managers. People in suits.
     If I were Jeremy Clarkson - I
m surprised he hasnt already given us his verdict on these wayward yellow lines - anyway, if I were Clarkson, I would demand that these idiot managers be taken outside and shot. But not in front of the children.

Do you know, I will never run out of material to satisfy my daily smile regime.
 

Saturday, January 21
Cooking up a farce (as opposed to a soap opera)


YESTERDAY I highlighted how photographs can generate miles and miles of smiles – loads of laughs from the hearty to the hesitant. Today, another favourite: the daily avalanche of celebrity quotes – from the doolally to the delightful.
     First up, some quotes where slebs have disappeared up their own worm hole ... and reappeared in a parallel universe...

“I don’t think I’ve ever cooked a meal entirely by myself. I have a cook, my daughter likes to cook. My nannies cook, my housekeeper cooks, the drivers cook, everybody cooks.” Pop star and alpha female Madonna, 53.

In the animal kingdom – and we humans are animals the last time I stopped, stood and stared – the alpha is the highest ranking member of a tight, social group. As a result of being the group leader, they eat first and they mate first.
     Now I can’t speak of Madonna’s alpha mating habits – stick around though – but the fact that she eats first comes out of her own mouth, so to speak. As for the mating angle:

“I stepped into a soap opera, and I lived it for quite a long time.” Film director Guy Ritchie, 43, one-time Mr Madonna, muses on his failed marriage to the pop star.

However, this is how The Sunday Times, with tongue firmly in cheek, I think, perceives our alpha female...

Time for a few Homer truths
Madonna has been giving interviews to publicise her new film about the relationship between Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson: “She made a great sacrifice,” said the singer and director. “Especially leaving behind her family - Bart, Lisa and little Maggie.”

Sing a country and Weston song
“It is so relentlessly corny. It really curdles my blood.” Entertainer John Cleese, 72, on country and western music.

“A tedious little place.” John Cleese, again, describing his home town, Weston-super-Mare.


It is a source of huge amusement to me as to why John Cleese would deliberately upset the millions of fans of country and western music, not to mention the good people of Weston-super-Mare – all 71,758 of them, the last time I looked.
     Perhaps deep down Cleese knows that the life he has led, with an ambush around every corner, would make a relentlessly corny and heart-warming country and Weston-super-Mare ditty.

The ties that bind
“The sad thing for me is that nobody seems to wear a tie in London any longer – only the security guards.” German academic and curator Professor Martin Roth, 56, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in central London.

I enjoyed the joke about the security guards. However, the quote let directly to another favourite source of smiles, the
Letters pages in the newspapers, this time The Daily Telegraph...

Everyday neckwear
SIR – Well done to Prof Martin Roth, the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, for extolling the virtues of ties (report, January 19). I have 31 ties: one for each day of the month. I will continue to wear them.
Ron Kirby, Dorchester

Which led to this riposte...

Conservative dresser at heart
SIR – I, too, have a tie for every day of the month (Letters, January 20). It’s a blue one.
Dick Woodhead, Tiverton, Devon


Tie me shirt collar down, sport
SIR – Men’s shirts are designed to be worn with a tie. If being tieless is now the norm, would shirt manufacturers redesign the collar so it does not look an untidy mess?
Cyril Burton , Abbots Morton, Worcestershire


As someone who only wears a tie when attending a funeral, wedding or christening – and unless otherwise stated on the invitation of course – I can answer the query about collars looking a mess when a tie is not worn: button-down collars?

Not too many moons back, I attended the funeral of a local lady, who had expressly wished that dress for the service was casual, with no black. It was a pretty memorable if somewhat surreal event, but suited the character of the lady to a T. I commend this funeral dress code to the house.
     I attended the service dressed as if I were off into town to do some shopping – the one conscious decision was to remember not to slip-on a pair of black shoes, the default footwear for a funeral.

 
Friday, January 20
Windmills of your mind

‘WHAT do you hang on the walls of your mind?” the American photographer Eve Arnold, who has just died aged 99, once memorably asked in a note to her grandson...
     It could well have been his grandmother’s eye-catching picture of Marilyn Monroe...
                                                                                                                                        
Diary of a Journeyman
WHEN, all those moons ago, I began keeping a daily record of my movements, meetings and various magic moments experienced along the way, I would never have guessed that all these years later my diary would have evolved into an online scrapbook.
     Due to my inability to remember the mundane and the routine, it began as a straightforward diary of where I had been, who of note or interest I had met, along with a record of anything noteworthy that had happened along the journey.
     Somewhere along the way I also began recording the weather for the day – probably something to do with my gaining a private pilot’s licence, where weather was a hugely significant element. Next I started noting the time of sunrise and sunset – something born of my early morning walks through the Towy Valley.
     Perhaps the most significant step though was the decision to scribble down the one thing that had made me smile the most that day – something of an arbitrary choice I admit, for no other reason than so many different kinds of things make me smile, so it tends to come down to what remains freshest in the mind.
     When I began recording my daily smiles, it was pretty much exclusively in written form. Yes, I would occasionally cut out a picture from a newspaper or magazine, sometimes a complete article, and stick it in my diary – or rather my scrapbook, as it then became.
     However, these days photographs play as big a part in my scrapbook as the written/spoken word. This is probably down to the digital camera, which has made photography so accessible; and of course the internet, where we all can post the pictures we take, often to significant or amusing effect.
     I only have to think of the photographs I have taken and are littered all over this web site – and I am not even a photographer, merely someone who always carries a little camera to capture the passing parade.
     Today I came upon a couple of online photographs, both of which highlight perfectly the ability of the millions upon millions of cameras out there to capture everything that moves – or indeed doesn’t move.
     As with the written word, photographs can make me smile in all sorts of different ways, from the hearty “Ho, ho, ho
!” which makes the body shake all over – to the wry, rather nervous smile where you worry about what happens next...
     Which is precisely what this astonishing picture, spotted in the Telegraph’s 
Online Gallery of Images of the Day, captures...
                                                        
This way to the Health & Safety Conference
 

                                                                                                                                                  Picture: REUTERS/Beawiharta
Children hold on to the side bars of a collapsed bridge as they cross a river to get to school at Sanghiang Tanjung village in Indonesia. The flooded Ciberang river broke a pillar supporting the suspension bridge, which was built in 2004.
     Sofiah, a student crossing the bridge, says she would need to walk for an extra 30 minutes if she were to take a detour via another bridge.


There is now also a video of these children making the perilous crossing, which is a concerted effort to put pressure on the Indonesian authorities to repair the bridge.
     Looking at that amazing image, I think I’d prefer to get up 30 minutes earlier to do the detour. Yet ... yet, if I were a youngster confronted by the adventure of crossing the damaged bridge – I would probably spend 30 minutes extra in bed.

From the sublime to the ridiculous...
Telegraph Online do a regular
Sign Language Gallery – a selection of strange and hilarious signs sent in by readers as spotted on their travels around the globe.
                                                                               
Parting the watershed
 

                                              The second coming as seen at New Mexico, spotted by Ron Simpson

I only have to see anything to do with God or Jesus, and I am reminded of the sign I mentioned just the other day, spotted outside a Baptist church in New York...
                                                                  
Please Lord, make me the sort of person my dog thinks I am

However, I’m still working on what sort of things I hang on the walls of my mind. What a thought provoking question that is.
 

Thursday, January 19
Lost and found

 
AFTER going AWOL for 24 hours, Wikipedia is back online. Like all things we take for granted, we didn’t miss it until suddenly it wasn’t there.
     Anyway, the Daily Telegraph’s  celebrated cartoonist
MATT had me laughing out loud first thing this morning – see alongside.
     It reminded me of the Crazy Horsepower’s Chief Wise Owl. And just over there, on the ledge, that really does look like me approaching him in his corner seat, where he dispenses all his vast wisdom...

Acting on a hunch – but mind the bull poo
“I AM just a blond actor. I am not someone who should be venturing their opinion about Wall Street.” Englishman Paul Bettany, 40, when asked about the issues which his films address.

“We are vagabonds and rogues and we are not part of the authorities and Establishment, really. If you mix the two together, things get very blurry.” English actor Jim Broadbent, 62, who once rejected the offer of an OBE, condemns honours for actors.

“Cameron, as they say in Texas, is all hat and no cattle. Ed Miliband seems to be all cattle and no hat. The hat bit, I suppose, is about the

 
swagger and identifiability of him with the public.” Englishman and Labour
Party politician Alan Johnson, 61, former Home Secretary, on his party leader.


“In politics, division carries the death penalty.” Welshman and former Labour leader Lord Kinnock, 69, denouncing critics of Ed Miliband, the aforementioned Labour party leader, as “cowards”.

Right, where do I start? First, I am much taken with the expression “vagabonds and rogues”. Vs & Rs sound just like the sort of rascals I mix with down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon; indeed the one and only character from the world of fiction that I would love to have been in real life is Prefect of Police, Captain Louis Renault of Casablanca, a vagabond and a rascal if ever there was one (see January 3 to peruse all the small print).
     Anyway, I enjoyed the honesty of the two quotes from the acting profession – Jim Broadbent sounds the kind of fellow I would be quite happy to share a pint or six with down at the Crazy Horsepower.
     Yes, but what of the politicians? Well, it’s the usual bullshit. Come to think of it:
Texas, hats, cattle, bullshit – they all go together like a horse and carriage, Labour and Tories...
     Apropos the Neil Kinnock quote: I remember when I first read that he had been made a life peer, and introduced to the House of Lords on the 31st of January 2005 as Baron Kinnock of Bedwellty in the County of Gwent.
     I always thought he should have been Baron Kinnock of Bed-wettie – well, he had been made a life peer.

Kinnock uses the word “cowards” – which is a terrible misuse of the word. The word has also cropped up in the wake of the sad and curious business of the Italian cruise ship disaster, where the captain has been accused of cowardice. Some of the headlines today...
                                                     Costa Concordia: Flee? I just tripped into a lifeboat
     
Captain Francesco Schettino claims he left ship only because he fell into lifeboat while helping with evacuation
                                                               
Should a captain go down with his ship?
                  
Captain Schettino abandoned ship, but who’s to say how we would behave in a similar situation?

An online contribution in the Telegraph’s  Comments section caught my eye, from the appropriately named
The Jolly Roger: My unpublished letter (My Captain, My Captain) on the Costa Concordia incident...
SIR - May I propose Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino to take over from Herman van Rompuy as EU President?
     He seems even more eminently qualified for the task of guiding the EU onto the rocks.
Yours sincerely,


As it happens, my unpublished letter went something like this...
What’s in a name?
SIR – First there was Concordski crashing at the Paris Air Show in 1973. Then there was Concorde crashing after leaving Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2000. And now we have Concordia. Give a dog a bad name and he’ll strangle himself.
HB, Llandampness

 
PS:
Matt makes a welcome return, specially in view of the growing row over the massive bonuses being paid to bankers as the world struggles to survive the financial crisis. Jeremy Paxman (or similar) is interviewing one such greedy banker, under a banner Responsible Capitalism (David Cameron’s latest wheeze to make insatiable corporate chiefs feel guilty, ho, ho, ho
!)...

                             
Banker: “I didn’t intend to accept a bonus, but I tripped and fell into it.”
 

Wednesday, January 18
Women are from Venus, Men are from Chocolate Bars

ACTUALLY, Men are from Chocolate Bars, Yum
! – as in A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play. Yup, that sums up we men to T.
     Yesterday, I stumbled upon a bevy of what many believe to be the most beautiful women in the world. Today, it’s the turn of the male of the species to strut his stuff along the tomcat walk.
     As a bonus, it offers up the perfect opportunity to meet some of the regulars down at my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon. But first, this Mail Online  headline beckoned...

                             Meet the grandparents: Researchers use forensics to rebuild
                              27 faces  of man’s ancestors, stretching back 7 million years

Models built from forensic reconstruction of fossil skulls when humans and chimps shared common ancestry ... ancestors from when ‘hominids’ first emerged in Africa.

An exhibition in Dresden, Germany has used forensic technology to recreate distant members of the human ‘family’ - including faces from when human beings and chimps had one ancestor.

And here’s a roundup of the usual suspects...
 

They include (top row, left to right): Sahelanthropus tchadensis, lived seven million years ago; Plesianthropus transvaalensis, two million years ago; Homo rudolfensis, two million years ago (would he have had a red nose?); Paranthropus boisei, two million years ago, also known as Nutcracker man (initially believed to have been a fruit and nut case/eater);
     And (bottom row):
Australopithecus africanus, two million years ago, thought to be one of our direct ancestors – hello cousin; Homo erectus, one million years ago; Homo neanderthalensis, 60,000 years ago, probably our closest relatives –
uh-oh, the boys are back in town; and
Homo ergaster, 1.5 million years ago, ergaster from the Greek word ‘workman’ (did they find him leaning on a shovel?).

The missing link

JUST a week ago I mentioned that I quite enjoy the occasional pint of Guinness – and I shared a tale from the days of the old Crazy Horse Saloon of mega moons ago.
     There I was, sat at the bar: on one side of me was Old Shaggy – and on the other, Ivor the Engine.
     I took a sip from my pint. “They say,” said Old Shaggy, “that Guinness puts lead in your pencil.”
     Laughter, especially from Pearl Of Joy, the jolly barmaid.
      Like a flash though, Ivor, with his hangdog expression, responded: “True – but what’s the use if you’ve got no one to write to.”

What I didn’t know back then was that – ta-rah
! – that particular moment of great truth had been captured for posterity, and here it is, alongside.
     If you call at what is now the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, we’re still there – and you can’t miss us...

Left to right: Old Shaggy, Yours Truly, Ivor the Engine
[The Three Neanderthal Musketeers, as spotted in Dresden]


Designs on Life

YESTERDAY, I also mentioned designer babies, and I decided to sleep on the vexed question of what specific genetic engineering tricks I would personally bless upon a designer baby? Well...

Good health – the ‘live for ever and die suddenly’ gene; health is the greatest gift of all that Mother Nature can confer upon us. It is way out in front of every other genetic nod and a wink.
Luck – not the sort of luck that guarantees a lottery rollover jackpot, but the inherent luck that some people have which ensures that when God closes one door, he leaves one or two nearby doors just off the latch to handily lean against.
A sense of fun – as opposed to a sense of humour, which is a highly subjective thing (one person’s humour is often another person’s poison). An individual blessed with a genuine sense of fun though makes us smile without the need to tell a joke, pull a face, do a funny walk, say something cruel...
Average looks – the kind of middle-ground looks that don’t automatically draw attention. But of course the previous sense of fun, or the ability to make others smile, will automatically draw the eye. Now that’s a real gift from the Gods.
♫♫♫ – not so much a musical talent to perform, but more the ability to write music. Performers come and go. However, the very best music, whether classical, popular, religious, Christmas, whatever – these works will last as long as humanity. And of course, music offers immense pleasure, in some form or other, to every human being. What a gift to be blessed with.

Now I contend that a baby blessed with those five genetic wonders will stroll through time with a hop, a skip and a jump - oh, and a wide smile of appreciation. And what more could you possibly need to wish upon your designer baby?

 

Tuesday, January 17
Perfect Woman through the looking glass


YESTERDAY I pondered on the vexed question of why the cleverest person on Earth, Professor Stephen Hawking, finds women such a complete mystery. Probably, I sort of concluded, because they are so totally different to us men, and rather surprisingly, that would appear to be beyond his towering intellect to come to terms with.
     Well, today I stumbled upon a
Yahoo! Lifestyle piece by one Bianca Ffolkes – do you suppose she is one of the Ffolkes who live on the hill? – where an online beauty retailer, Feelunique, claims to have created the world’s most beautiful woman.
     They asked 9,350 shoppers to vote for which parts of female slebs they most admired and desired, and then mocked up a profile of what the perfect woman would look like. [The survey does not give the male/female breakdown of the shoppers asked, which would be quite relevant to the end result, I would have thought.]
     Anyway, I quote...

She has Angelina Jolie’s pillow lips, Megan Fox’s perfectly shaped eyebrows and The Duchess of Cambridge’s long glossy hair.
   Cheryl Cole’s chocolate brown eyes, along with Kate Beckinsale’s nose, Keira Knightley’s model cheekbones and Kelly Brook’s chest complete her look.
   Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, whose chin was voted the best, is the only blonde to feature...

 

The definitive G-woman – Genetically woven? – which
proves that Mother Nature still knows best

Kim Kardashian – now if she had the
Duchess of Cambridge’s hair...


A spokeswoman for the website said: “We had great fun putting together our Ultimate Woman. She is uncannily beautiful and looks a bit like one of the Kardashian sisters or Sandra Bullock, although Angelina’s pout is unmistakable.”
     However, we think the resemblance to
Kim Kardashian is surprising since none of her features made the list.

Now what do I think? Uncannily beautiful? Thanks, but no thanks. I have no doubts that the parts are much more desirable than the whole. I really would feel more comfortable with any of the eight women pictured on my arm, nine including Kim Kardashian, rather than the computer generated image deemed the most beautiful woman in the world. (I’ll stick with Grace Kelly as my idea of perfection.)
     Observations on the Comment board included “mutant”, “creepy” and “a bloke in drag”, which made me smile for sure.

I am reminded of what The PM (Brian the Preacher Man) once told Young Shagwell when he was eyeing a blonde across a crowded saloon bar down at the Crazy Horsepower: “Shagwell, put her down - personally, I wouldn’t even if you leant me yours for the night.”
     I was pretty sure that The PM was winding him up because she certainly didn’t look the kind either he or I would kick out of bed, given half an opportunity, that is.
     It also reminded me of the night Young Shagwell spotted another delightful young lady across the crowded bar: their eyes met - and the chase was on. Now Young Shagwell doesn’t hang about, the way I would, so Tally ho
! He reached behind for his bottle of Bud off the bar and began to move across the floor, through the crowd, towards her...
     About halfway, with their eyes still dancing in fleeting slow, slow, quick-quick slow glances, he stopped, the way you suspect George Clooney would, and casually brought his bottle of Bud up to his lips – except that he had mistakenly picked up a bottle of tomato sauce off the bar.
     But if memory serves, he still managed a hole in one.

A parting thought: with designer babies fast becoming reality, the ultimate woman, above, posts a real warning that we truly are playing around with something we don’t fully understand.
     And talking of designer babies, we place superficial things like beauty, intelligence and a high-profile, high-earning talent (sport, music, entrepreneurialism) at the top of the list – but what qualities would I personally bless upon a designer baby?
     Hm, I’ll have to sleep on that one.

 

Monday, January 16
Through the looking glass


“REMEMBER to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist.” Professor Stephen Hawking, who is in possession of the key to life, the universe and everything [apparently], in a 70th birthday message.

Hang about though...

“Women are a complete mystery.” Professor Stephen Hawking reveals the one thing in the universe that still baffles him.

Now what did he say in that first quote?
“Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist.” But half of human life here on earth is of the female variety – so does he not wonder what makes them exist?
     And isn’t it ever so slightly more important to understand what’s happening directly in front of your nose rather than a billion light years away? Hm. This suggests that the Good Professor is only half as clever as we all thought he was.
     Clearly he has been too busy looking up at the stars to listen to
“How to handle a woman” from Camelot. I quote: “There’s a way,” said the Wise Old Man, “and that is to love her ... simply love her ... merely love her ... love her ... love her...”
     I know, I know, most men reading that will now be sharing a quiet little smile with themselves.

My advice to Professor Stephen Hawking would be that women simply have to have a little moan about something or other all the time. And I don’t mean that they do so in a  particularly objectionable way – well, some do, obviously – but it is rare to encounter a woman who is delightfully happy with her lot in life: if it’s not the size of her bum or her breasts, then it’s the folk next door.
 
This is how women are built. Indeed, this is how all the female creatures of the earth are built. Watching the birds and the bees going about their business, and you wonder how the male keeps his sanity – but he keeps his head down and gets on with it.
     I recall my mother: she had a great sense of fun, but always found something to distract her from the absolute delights of the world about her. Unlike we men, who tend to accept our lot in life and get on with it.
     Which can often be disadvantageous, specially if we ignore the warning signals our bodies are tweeting us. The happy medium lies somewhere in between the two. Learn to complain, but only when you have real cause to, and then only when your instincts tell you that having a moan is likely to bring results.
     When I began to frequent the Crazy Horse Saloon all those moons ago, there’d be the fellow in the corner, a pint of real ale in front of him (always a glass with a handle), smoking a pipe, wearing a cardigan – with a pair of slippers on his feet, having forgotten to put shoes on before leaving the house - but absolutely contented in his world.
     I still spot the occasional one. They are the ones who always say to the Missus: “Yes dear ... No dear ... Three bags full dear...” And they’re happy as punch. They’ve cracked it because women are not a mystery – let alone a complete mystery, as per the good professor.
     You just have to accept these things and get on with it, then life becomes a cruise (but avoid Italian ships).

Alice through the looking glass:
"I see the stars, the stars see me..."

     However, I would guess that the women in Professor Hawking’s life
also go round saying: “He’s a complete mystery.” Life is a looking glass.
     But perhaps actress
Joan Collins, 78, offers him the definitive advice on successful relationships and how to help solve the mystery of women: “Respect each other and give each other space. And have separate bathrooms.”
     Sadly though, I think Joan and Stephen are talking about a different kind of space. Bugger.


How to handle a Briton
MENTION of the Wise Old Man from Camelot - and Chief Wise Owl from the Crazy Horsepower Saloon springs effortlessly to mind. He mentioned to me that The Times  newspaper had named Alex Salmond, the current First Minister of Scotland, and who is desperate to cut Scotland adrift from the United Kingdom, as their Briton of the Year 2011.
     A letter then appeared in the newspaper...

Sir, How bizarre to make Alex Salmond your Briton of the Year, when his main aim is to break up Britain as a political entity.
   It’s like naming George Washington as Briton of the Year for 1776.
NIGEL HAWKINS,
Warminster, Wilts


Ho, ho, ho
! - with bells on. So I said to Chief Wise Owl: “That’s nothing. The Daily Telegraph  named The Duke of Edinburgh as their Briton of the Year. Nothing against Prince Philip, but this is the man who memorably told Fiona Bruce in that televised 90th birthday interview that she should get herself a proper job.”
     So The Telegraph  named as their Briton of the Year the man who would, in a perfect world, put everyone who works for the newspaper, out of a job.
     Life doesn’t get more doolally than that. And if both The Times  and The Daily Telegraph, guardians of the portal into a slightly less doolally universe, think this way ... well, I should definitely keep my head down and get on with it – and sod space, the stars and those ominous black holes.
 
Sunday, January 15
Stormy weather

AH, good old Mrs Mills, she who solves all your problems, compliments of The Sunday Times’ 
Style Magazine: a typically smiley piece which this time involves the Shipping Forecast – but first, for those who live in faraway places with strange sounding names, a few dots joined up to paint a picture...

The Shipping Forecast is something terribly British. As British as Stonehenge, Big Ben, Winston Churchill, Vera Lynn, Gareth Malone...
     This is how Wikipedia explains the curiosity:

The Shipping Forecast is a four-times-daily BBC Radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the coasts of the British Isles. It is produced by the Met Office and broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
     The forecasts sent over the
Navtex system use a similar format and the same sea areas. The unique and distinctive sound of these broadcasts has led to their attracting an audience much wider than that directly interested in maritime weather conditions.
     The waters around the
British Isles are divided into sea areas, also known as weather areas (see map, alongside) and many listeners find the well-known repetition of the names of the sea areas almost hypnotic, particularly during the bedtime (for Britain) broadcast at 00:48 UK time (GMT or BST depending on the time of year).
     It is regarded with affection by many listeners, and in the UK often arises in
general knowledge quizzes and is the butt of many affectionate jokes [which come in all shapes and sizes, much like the weather areas, really].

Right, back with Mrs Mills...

PUMP UP THE VOLUME
My parents listen to the radio in bed at night. Occasionally, they turn up the volume and this disturbs my sleep. I can’t imagine why they would want the Shipping Forecast or the World Service blaring away at such a high level. The next time it happens, should I just barge into their room and ask them to turn it down?
RC, BRIERLY HILL
They are turning up the radio to protect you from a greater trauma than lack of sleep, so you should be best advised to put up with the noise. It’s not as if it lasts that long, anyway. I am impressed that your parents do not appear to be put off their stroke by the steady intonation of: “North Utsire, South Utsire, Fisher, German Bight, rising sharply. Severe gale force nine veering southerly imminent.” Or perhaps it gets them going – you never know. (I think we’d all be enchanted if they dropped me a line and filled us in.)


That last line left me wondering: If RC’s parents actually read the above, do you suppose that RC is now becalmed in a sea of tranquillity? Incidentally: German Bight? Perhaps it should have been German Bite.

Anyway, for those not familiar with the shipping forecast, especially that aforementioned affection with which it is held, click on the link below – but be sure to listen carefully... Also, below that, a link which delivers the forecast a cappella, sung as an Anglican chant. Interesting...
                                                            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnKWo9kvSyo&feature=related

                                                            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7GOMK50zbg
 

Saturday, January 14
                                            Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin,
                                           
Get six pretty maidens to bear up my pall.
                                           
Put bunches of roses all over my coffin,
                                           
Roses to deaden the clods as they fall.
                                                                                                                           The Cowboy’s Lament (sometimes: Streets of Laredo)

PERHAPS the above should read the “Streets of Dodgy City”. Anyway, just a quick scroll down, back on the 5th and the 6th of January, I smiled at the subtle art of making a direct connection between the addiction to smoking and the world of the undertaker (together with thoughts on a suitable coffin to be seen off in).
     Well now, this in The Telegraph, caught my eye...

                                                                
Boxed: Fabulous Coffins from UK and Ghana
A collection of bizarre bespoke coffins from the famous Paa Joe workshop in Ghana and Crazy Coffins in Nottingham

When you think about coffins - if, indeed, you think about them at all - you probably picture a polished mahogany casket lined with purple satin. But a free exhibition at the Southbank Centre in London shows that death needn’t be depressing.
     In Ghana, there is a tradition of burying the dead in a vibrant customised coffin that reflects the deceased’s interests. This tradition was started in the 1950s by Seth Kane Kwei, who made his first-ever coffin the shape of an aeroplane so that his gran could take her “first flight” after she died.
     His expertise is carried on by Paa Joe, a 66-year-old master craftsman based at the Kane Kwei Carpentry Works in Accra. Among the bizarre coffins he has made in the past include ones made to look like mobile phones, sharks, Coke bottles, beer bottles, chickens, cars and aeroplanes.
     There has been a big increase in demand in the UK for customised caskets, and Vic Fearn and Company have come up with what they call Crazy Coffins. Their designs including a ballet shoe, a guitar and a skateboard.


Here are just a few eye-catching examples to die for...
 


Crazy Coffins’ trademark skip is rather wonderful. Think of those who would lie comfortably in theirs. There’s been much talk of late – no pun intended – that Margaret Thatcher will have a state funeral. Quite why has passed me by. Whatever, picture the turnout if she made that last journey in a skip. And what about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown?
     I am quite taken with that pineapple-shaped casket. Something rather elegant about it – it’s the hairstyle, I think. Oh, and it looks like a bomb that’s about to be dropped from a great height. After the reading of the will, perhaps?
     As for the plane, it can’t be Kwei’s gran because that particular aircraft hadn’t even taken wings back in the 1950s.
     The final coffin is based on Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North statue - albeit without the wings, which would need a much larger plot. But a lack of wings rather spoils the effect, presuming of course that you really would want to take flight with the angels. And who wouldn’t?
     Some of the coffins in the exhibition were produced as demonstrations of the maker’s skills, some were chosen by the families of the deceased, while others were chosen for themselves by people who are still very much alive.

This set me thinking: what sort of coffins would be suitable for the regulars down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon?
     Ivor the Engine would have to be in the shape of a train carriage, obviously; Dai Aphanous a bog-standard casket – but in Perspex. Chief Wise Owl – what else but an owl, but he’d have to be buried upright.
     And what about Old Shaggy? Well, what else but a coffin in the shape of a condom, with his head stuck into that bulbous bit at the working end – much like The Angel of the North coffin, really...
     Enough, already. I think I shall donate my body to medical research, rather than run the risk...

To Tweet, To Woo
An afterthought: I’ve just read a collection of what are rated as the most memorable tweets of 2011.
     Unsurprisingly, there’s the one from IT Consultant Sohaib Athar when he breaks the news of the raid on his neighbour Osama Bin Laden@ReallyVirtual:
“Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).”

Two things puzzle me about this: Athar only broke the news in hindsight. Until the world had been told what had happened, which was sometime later, then his tweet meant nothing out of the ordinary. Secondly, Athar says that the helicopter overhead “is a rare event” – not “a unique event” mind, which suggests that helicopters had been spotted previously.
     Very odd, that.
 

Friday, January 13
When Sally met Big Ben, ag-en


“Lying in bed I can hear Big Ben, which I find ridiculously thrilling.” The comedian and actor Frank Skinner, 54, who lives overlooking the River Thames.

Do you suppose Frank is on intimate terms with Mrs Speaker, Sally Bercow? If you recall a previous smile of the day, she admitted that when in residence at Westminster, with hubby Mr Speaker of course, she finds the chimes and strokes of Big Ben orgasmic in the extreme.
     So much so I speculated that when she declared her favourite gadget to be her vibrator, then it was a bit of a no-brainer that she must have christened her favourite tool her Big Ben: “Here Big Ben – here boy – come to Mummy.”

“What I love is the attitude shoes give you. Putting on a great shoe is like having a fairy touch you with magic dust. It starts with the foot, but it doesn’t stop there. It makes the whole body glow.” Designer of the world’s most coveted shoes, Christian Louboutin, 47, on the magical effect of a pair of high heels.

I recall my mother telling me to make sure I was always in possession of both a snug pair of shoes and a comfortable bed – because if I wasn’t in one I would be in the other.
     Can’t fault her advice. However, I think Christian Louboutin is going slightly over the top with the bit about a perfect pair of shoes making the whole body glow – although I would expect him to say that, wouldn’t I?
     No, the whole body glows if everything is a perfect fit deep inside your head. If that pinches and squeaks, then no matter how good the shoes you’ve got on already are, you’ll need to buy another pair - ASAP.

Talking of ASAP, Chief Wise Owl has just passed me a couple of recent letters from The Times...

Darkest Essex
Sir, When I was a junior doctor in Southend Hospital in 1975, I admitted a patient from a local GP who had put in his letter the abbreviation AEFCI.
     When I asked my consultant what this meant he replied: “Abnormal, even for Canvey Island.”
DR BEN TIMMIS, London N2

Dim diagnosis
Sir, Reading the letter from Dr Timmis, I was reminded that when our daughter was a junior house officer at King’s Lynn, they frequently used NFW and NFN – “Normal for Wisbech” and “Normal for Norfolk”.
     I also like the abbreviation DMITO, reportedly used by vets, meaning “Dog more intelligent than owner”.
KEITH VIRGO, Newmarket, Suffolk


The above offers the opportunity to repeat that legendary prayer spotted on a notice board outside a Baptist church in New York, New York...  
                                         
Please Lord, make me the sort of person my dog thinks I am

Woof
! and Woof! (Priceless and truthful.) Also, The Times  heading for the second letter “Dim diagnosis” made me smile because “dim” is also a Welsh word – pronounced exactly the same as in English – and it can mean any of the following:
anything, nothing, nil.
     Sounds to me like a perfect word for a doctor to jot on a patient’s notes.
 

Thursday, January 12
It’s all in the mind

JUST occasionally, the smile of the day radiates from the most unlikely of sources – invariably triggered by the humour of a mystery member of the public. For example, a rather innocent letter, illustrated by an interesting photograph, spotted in The Telegraph  newspaper...
                                                      
Norfolk should exhibit its reed from the rooftops
                                                                          
Thatching roofs with Norfolk reed

SIR – Norfolk reed is one of the finest thatching materials in the world and demand for it has always outstripped supply (“Lack of reed cutters threatens thatches”, Nature Notes, January 10).
     Thatch is the most efficient form of roofing and should be seen not as a relic but as a modern material. Not only does it come with its own insulation built in, but a thatched roof is beautiful as well.
     North Norfolk council could easily help reed cutters by insisting that a small number of new homes are thatched. It would be fantastic if the home county of Norfolk reed reflected this wonderful natural resource in its buildings.
Catherine Lewis
Ware, Hertfordshire

Thatchers lay the roof of a cottage with reeds, using a
leggett, or bat, to position the thatch
  Photo: Corbis

Reflecting on how wonderfully eye-catching a thatched roof really is – expensive to maintain, mind – my eye slid down to the Comment section, as it always does ... this, from Cool Trousers (the mind boggles):
Why is the Iranian leader on top of a house in Norfolk messing with the thatch (see pic)? Is there uranium in reeds, and is that a blob of it on his tool?

Don’t ask me why, but that shot up to Number 1 in the day’s smile hit parade. I can only think that I was quietly impressed that
Cool Trousers had noticed something in the picture I hadn’t.
     And to make the whole shebang even more smiley, when I returned later in the day to check if there were any further comments, I was taken aback to notice that
“Is there uranium in reeds, and is that a blob of it on his tool?” had been deleted and replaced with (Edited by a moderator).
     Why? Was the Telegraph  concerned that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would glow in the dark if he read that thingy about his tool? (If that is  so, then surely the complete message should have been deleted, no?)
     Or was the paper simply offended on behalf of that reader somewhere in deepest Middle Britain who might conclude that the “blob on the end of his tool” was just a flash too far.

It’s all in the mind indeed.

PS: Yesterday, I told the tale of the young artist who surreptitiously hung his own work in an art gallery when no one was looking - I’ve since found a picture of said painting of Acacia leaf, which has now been added, just a scroll down, under Wednesday’s smile...
 

Wednesday, January 11
“So what do you think of the invention convention so far?” ... “Rubbish!”

                                                                                                 
                                             The ghost of Eric Morecambe
JUST spotted this in last weekend’s Sunday Times 
Weird but wonderful corner...

Good for nothing
An unsuccessful inventor has won a £400,000 grant to develop his museum of unsuccessful inventions. The exhibits at Fritz Gall’s Museum of Nonsense in Herrnbaumgarten, Austria, include: pencils with no lead, invented for cautious civil servants; a portable hole; a padded rolling pin designed to meet tough health and safety rules; a bristle-free toothbrush, for those with no teeth; and a portable hand stand.
     “We held our first fair for rubbish inventions and thought we’d get 20 or 30 visitors - but more than 5,000 came and so we knew we were obviously on to something,” said Gall.


I thoroughly appreciated that little tale, for the simple reason that my smile grew and grew as I continued to read. We could all do with a bit more nonsense like that in our lives.

Those pencils with no lead remind me of a marvellous exchange at the Crazy Horse some many moons ago now. I enjoy the occasional pint of Guinness; on one side of me at the bar was Old Shaggy – he was probably Middle-Aged Shaggy back then – and on the other side was Ivor the Engine.
     I took a sip from my pint. “They say,” said Old Shaggy, “that Guinness puts lead in your pencil.” Laughter, especially from Pearl Of Joy, the jolly barmaid, who sadly is no longer of this world.
     But like a flash, Ivor, with his hangdog expression, responded: “True – but what’s the use if you’ve got no one to write to.”

Recalling yesterday’s smile adds an extra bit of meat to the above bone. Then, there was this other story, which compliments the
Good for nothing tale above to a T...

Gallery’s hang-it-yourself wing
Andrzej Sobiepan couldn’t wait until galleries were competing to hang his work. So the art student took matters into his own hands. As a guard at the National Gallery in Wroclaw, Poland, looked the other way, Sobiepan added one of his own works to an exhibition. It was three days before anybody noticed.
     “I decided that I will not wait 30 or 40 years for my works to appear at a place like this,” said Sobiepan, whose painting of an acacia leaf was moved to the gallery café and will be auctioned for charity.

                                               


What a delightful story – and an art gallery with a sense of humour. Above, in the
café, a mother points to the painting. Brilliant.

I was thinking, if Andrzej Sobiepan was a regular at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, he’d probably be called Sobby Sosban.
 
Tuesday, January 10
How was it for you?


IVOR the Engine, regular down at the old Crazy Horsepower Saloon, was bemoaning to his wife Gwladys – or Glad Eyes as we know her – that as the years drift on by, a sense of emasculation was depressing him: “I can’t even remember the last time you said you had enjoyed sex,” he sighed.
     Taking his hand gently, Glad Eyes responded: “Ivor, why would you remember? You weren’t even there.”

Short and sweet today as I’ve done a piece over on
400 Smiles A Day about the shortest day of the year and a cockerel...
 
Monday, January 9
                              
Here’s to the maiden of bashful fifteen;
                                    Here’s to the widow of fifty;
                               Here’s to the flaunting extravagant queen,
                                    And here’s to the housewife that’s thrifty.
                                         Let the toast pass,-
                                         Drink to the lass,
                               I’ll warrant she’ll prove an excuse for a glass.


ALL I did was fetch my Dictionary of Famous Quotations down from the shelf and look up ‘toast’ – purpose coming up – and the above gem by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1752-1816, revealed itself in all its glory.
     It was the only entry under ‘toast’ – and not the sort of toast I was actually looking for - but what a serendipitous jewel. It is totally, absolutely wonderful, and it  alone is a perfect excuse for doing this Smile of the day scrapbook.
     I can just hear Old Shaggy down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon reciting it while downing a large Low Flyer (the pub catchphrase for Famous Grouse, Scotland’s favourite whisky).
     And just to add an extra star, the above poem is spoken by a character called Sir Harry Bumper, from a play called The School for Scandal, written by the aforementioned  Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Crumbs
OKAY ... I have just caught up with this pre-Christmas story – that’s the thing about the internet; unlike a newspaper, which tends to get thrown after a few days, along with all the news that you missed while flicking through, the internet can lead you to a tale that is hopelessly out of date but still a delight.
     As it happened, it was in The Sunday Times on the 1st of 2012, but today I did a bit of Googling – so here’s a joint presentation, compliments of The Sunday Times’ 
Weird but wonderful column and ABC (America) News Blogs.

Make the toast, praise the Lord
How do you like your toast: with butter, jam or the face of Christ on each slice? An American company has created the Jesus Toaster, which burns the image onto the bread. Its creator said he had the idea after reports of people seeing apparitions in toast.
     So if there’s a Christian with a sense of humor on your holiday gift list, consider the Jesus Toaster, which contains a specially designed metal plate that leaves an image of Jesus - with halo and rays of light - on every slice.
     The Jesus Toaster - featured alongside - is sold by Burnt Impressions, purveyor of
“Religious & Other Simulacra on Toast at Cheap Prices
!, according to its website. It is a three-person company in Danville, Vermont, USA, in the remote Northeast Kingdom area of the state.
     Galen Dively, 46, the company’s founder and head, said he had pulled two all-nighters over the past three days, and had enlisted friends and family, to keep up with orders.
     “We were getting two or three thousand orders a day for a couple days there,” he said. Jesus is “by far” the top seller of his four stock toasters; second is the Virgin Mary, followed by the peace sign and a marijuana leaf.
     “Obama has taken off recently,” he added. “That, and Elvis. People always want Elvis.”


Honestly, it restores my faith in humanity. There really are people out there dedicated to putting a smile on our faces. Ah, but who would I want to see looking up at me from my toast every morning?
     Well, taking the memorable poem by Sheridan as my inspiration, it would have to be my idea of the perfect face to wake up alongside each and every

Give us this day our daily bread

morning ... for ever more and a day...
                                                                                                                   Hey, did you happen to see...
                Here’s to the maiden of bashful fifteen;
                     Here’s to the widow of fifty;
                Here’s to the flaunting extravagant queen,
                     And here’s to the housewife that’s thrifty.
                          Let the toast pass,-
                          Drink to the lass,
                I’ll warrant she’ll prove an excuse for a glass.


    PS:      Here
s to the ghost of the exquisite Grace Kelly;
      
             Here’s to looking at you, kid...
 

...the most beautiful girl in the world

 

Sunday, January 8
In at the deep end


I ROUNDED off yesterday’s smile thus...

PS: Spotted on the Telegraph’s  home page tonight:
                                                                                       
Clarkson slammed for Chinese cockle-picker joke

I resisted the temptation to click, but did wonder if it had anything to do with bad sex? And I smiled at the thought that Clarkson had stuck his Size 20 Plaster Foot award in his ear yet again. Bless.


Well, as the Borg insist: resistance is futile. So today, curiosity did get the better of me...

In a column for a tabloid newspaper, Clarkson mocked the sport of synchronised swimming as “Chinese women in hats, upside down, in a bit of water”, adding: “You can see that sort of thing on Morecambe Beach. For free.”

Unsurprisingly, those who spend their lives searching for black holes in the neighbourhood presumed he was mocking the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle-pickers, back in 2004, after they were trapped by the rising tide.
     But, as many point out, cockle-pickers can still be spotted on Morecambe Beach, so that could have been his point of reference (I know, I know, pigs might fly and all that, but benefit of the doubt, etc. etc...).
     Whatever, this on a Comment board, from a Bob Landy, summed it up rather succinctly:
How do Clarkson’s comments in any way relate to the tragedy of the death of 23 Chinese cockle-pickers? Anybody who thinks there’s a link should be taken out and shot [in front of their families, yes?].

A rolling Moss gathers a face pack of oil
ALL THIS talk of Jeremy Clarkson leads me to Top Gear, which in turns leads me to the world of motor racing.

“If Lewis Hamilton wins something, he has to go and talk to his sponsors ... I would go off to pull some crumpet.” Formula One was more fun in my day, says Sir Stirling Moss, 82, whose success in a variety of categories placed him among the world’s elite – he is often called the greatest driver never to win the World Championship.
(For those who live in faraway places with strange sounding names, and happen upon this web site, “crumpet” is British slang for a female who is regarded as an object of sexual desire. For example, many would rate Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, as a classy crumpet - with extra thick double cream on top.)

Anyway, what a wonderful quote from Stirling Moss. Not only does the modern Formula One driver have to kowtow to sponsors, he has to be dragged in front of a camera and microphone to be asked the most unimaginative and cringeworthy of questions.
     But just as wonderful as the quote is the picture I happened upon online, alongside. I’ve never seen this image before – and with all that oil from the engine splattered across his face, it sums up perfectly what motor racing would have been like in the 1950s. Truly a man’s sport.
     He retired in 1962 following a crash which left him in a coma for a month; afterwards he felt unable to continue driving at a professional level. In spite of this early retirement he has remained a well known figure.
                 
For decades after, if a police “jam sandwich” patrol, above, pulled you over for speeding or doing something silly, the copper’s opening remark would be: “And who do we think we are, Sir - Stirling Moss?”

Sir Stirling Moss: a real man's man
(of The Black & White Lone Ranger Minstrel Show?)

     But, as long as you hadn’t done anything reckless, and remained polite
throughout the verbal exchanges, you were invariably let off with a
caution, a verbal clip about the ear.

Ah, those were the days, my friend, long before members of Her Majesty’s Constabulary really could fly like those pigs - and take pictures of you for being a marginal Nogood Boyo, with no human contact involved.
     And we wonder why we
re all going backwards at a rate of knots?
 

Saturday, January 7
Adding hugely to the gaiety of the nation


UNFORGIVABLY, only today did I catch up with the 2011 Literary Review’s Bad Sex In Fiction award. I was much taken with the 2010 nomination of Tony Blair’s effort, in particular this cracking excerpt from his autobiography, A Journey:
“On that night of 12th May 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct...”

Many enquired what that “it” was he was greedily devouring to give him strength; most were agreed he was making a meal of that sexed-up dossier which directly led to Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war.
     Sadly, Blair’s effort was disqualified because his was an autobiography and not a work of fiction. What? Tony Blair’s autobiography not a work of fiction? Who are you kidding, Nancy Sladek (editor of Literary Review)?
     By the way, if Louise Mensch in her night job is a “chick lit” author, do you suppose that Tony Blair is a – now hang on ... chick is short for chicken, the male equivalent being a cockerel – so Tony Blair could very well be a frustrated “cock lit” author? Or perhaps even a “prick lit” author. Hm, yes, that last one sounds more Tony Blair...
                                                                                                                                                              

Anyway, back to the belatedly discovered Sunday Times  report about last year’s Bad Sex Award, supplemented by bits and pieces from an online Guardian  story.

Oedipus wrecks
Books The American author David Guterson was given the dubious honour of being awarded Literary Review’s Bad Sex prize. His over-reliance on terms such as “family jewels”, “back door” and “front parlour” during a sex scene between mother and son in his fifth novel Ed King, a modern re-imagining of the Oedipus myth, won judges over.
     Unable to accept his award of a plaster foot in person, Guterson took his triumph in good spirits, joking in response:
“Oedipus practically invented bad sex, so I’m not in the least bit surprised.”
    
Guterson edged out strong competition from Haruki Murakami’s long-awaited new novel 1Q84, which sees the Japanese writer pen the immortal line: “A freshly made ear and a freshly made vagina look very much alike, Tengo thought.”
     Chris Adrian’s The Great Night, in which an “impossibly eloquent cock” is wielded to great effect as it “poked her now from the front and now from the back and now from the side”, and Lee Child’s The Affair (“Then it was time. We started tenderly. Long and slow, long and slow. Deep and easy. She flushed and gasped. So did I. Long and slow.”) also provided stiff competition, said the Literary Review
. (Ho, ho, ho
! – no explanation deemed necessary)

Making a meal of it - something between a starter and a main course: an intercourse?
Ed King by David Guterson:

“In the shower, Ed stood with his hands at the back of his head, like someone just arrested, while she abused him with a bar of soap. After a while he shut his eyes, and Diane, wielding her fingernails now and staring at his face, helped him out with two practiced hands, one squeezing the family jewels, the other vigorous with the soap-and-warm-water treatment.
     It didn’t take long for the beautiful and perfect Ed King to ejaculate for the fifth time in twelve hours, while looking like Roman public-bath statuary. Then they rinsed, dried, dressed, and went to an expensive restaurant for lunch.”


I have to say, I am somewhat puzzled by Chris Adrian’s
“poked her now from the front and now from the back and now from the side”. When I next see Old Shaggy down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, I shall have to make discreet enquiries. In the meantime, I shall sleep on it.
     Personally, I would have awarded the prize to
Haruki Murakami’s memorable line: “A freshly made ear and a freshly made vagina look very much alike, Tengo thought.”
     Shame, for the award could then have been called The Ear of the Bad Sex...
                                                                                                                                          
PS: Spotted on the Telegraph’s  home page tonight:
                                                                                       
Clarkson slammed for Chinese cockle-picker joke

I resisted the temptation to click, but did wonder if it had anything to do with bad sex? And I smiled at the thought that Clarkson had stuck his Size 20 Plaster Foot award in his ear yet again. Bless.

PPS: If you are wondering about that ear up there - I wrote about it back in 2008 - well worth a peruse: click Ear...
!
 
Friday, January 6
Just a few
♫♫♫ of warning

“PLEASE, PLEASE, no more Gareth Malone. I don’t want to see him drive a car, cook or join a team to answer questions on sport or anything else. Neither do I want to watch him be shut in a house or parachuted into the jungle. Just let him bring us an occasional series of programmes about music that we can look forward to viewing.”
Maxene Meredith in The Sunday Times  Magazine
You say spot.


Brilliant: 64 words of precise wit and wisdom. Yes, in the lead-up to Christmas, Gareth was all over the media like a rash, but it was all to do with getting the Military Wives song to Number 1. But I haven’t seen or heard of him since.
     I’m sure he won’t walk into the ambush as outlined by Maxene. Mind you, if ever I catch him on Top Gear as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car – I will have to go and lie down in a darkened room for a goodly while.

Never mind the quality, feel the width
INCIDENTALLY, why do we see and hear the same old faces fronting new series on TV and radio? Is it that broadcasting’s A-listers are so greedy they grab everything that’s going? Or is it that broadcasters have so little faith in new programmes they rely on A-listers to bring their millions of devoted sleb-followers, irrespective of quality?
     That really does intrigue me – although I freely admit it doesn’t keep me awake at night.

Sorry to be a drag
AFTER posting yesterday’s smile about the marvellous Antismoke Pack – the cigarette packet shaped like a coffin (see Thursday’s image) – I suddenly remembered capturing a real-life picture of something vaguely similar a good many moons ago, so I went hunting through my files...
     Back in 2007, the no-smoking in public places became law. Establishments where the public visited and hung about for a while – pubs, restaurants, hotels, etc – made arrangements for smokers to have a cigarette outside the premises in designated areas, with seats, often covered against the elements.
     Shortly after the ban came in, I stumbled upon a wonderfully eye-catching ‘ashtray’, a clever home-made effort by a local welder, perfect for smokers to stub out and dispose of their cigarettes, rather than chuck them on the floor. And it worked to perfection.
     One day I noticed that the ashtray cum container had been well patronised – but more than that, it struck me that the whole receptacle looked much like a coffin with the lid open – so I went “click
!” – and later added my own comments to the image...


PS: Apropos the “No smokin’ ... No coffin! line, I applied my own little touch of irony, using the Jokerman font. Ashes to ashes...
 
Thursday, January 5
I don’t smoke – but I do steam a little when I get stressed


THE SUNDAY TIMES  does a
News Review of the Week, a roundup of the 20 or so news stories that didn’t quite warrant a full article or feature, each tale done and dusted in 200 words or less.
     So I read the following – and it rang a bell...

Packing a punch
Health  Young people would be less likely to smoke if cigarettes were sold in plain packaging, according to a new report.
The study by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) found almost 70% of young people said they considered cigarette packets to be a form of advertising, and more than a quarter of regular smokers aged 16-25 judged one cigarette brand to be less harmful than another – purely on the basis of packaging.
     Three-quarters of the 2,700 surveyed said plain packs – with no branding or logos and larger health warnings – would make it easier to smoke less or quit.
     The charity said the results reinforced the argument for plain packaging, a move that the government is to consult on in the new year.
     Betty McBride, director of policy at the BHF, said: “Glitzy packaging is an absurd loophole the tobacco industry takes full advantage of. We must close it if we want to protect younger generations from taking up the habit.”


I have a much better idea. Well, I say I
!
 
A few months back, while wandering along the internet highway, minding my own business, I was given a lift by Bored Panda – the only magazine for pandas (www.boredpanda.com) – a web sight awash with visionary examples of creative thinking and imagery...
     Lots of things caught my eye – in particular the Antismoke Pack featured alongside. How totally brilliant is that?
     It fits in perfectly with the above story. No branding or logos, not even a health warning: imagine, every time you flip open a packet of cigarettes you lift the lid on a coffin.
     Wow
!
– both literally and metaphorically.
     I suppose you could have The Last Rites printed on the backside of the packet.

However, I don’t want to be a spoil-sport for such a brilliant piece of creative thinking – but the cigarettes wouldn’t fit

No smokin’, no coffin: Ashes to ashes...

properly into the pack, unless you have some false packaging
as the pack widens near the top.
     Anyway, that’s not a problem because I can’t imagine a
cigarette manufacturer ever giving it the nod. Turkeys voting
for Christmas and all that.

Here’s a strange thing about cigarettes. I guess most of us have known someone who smoked liked a chimney but still enjoyed rude health and lived to a grand old age.
     But the thing about smoking is this: if you have a weak link in your immune system, then smoking will ruthlessly seek it out. Sadly though, even if you don’t smoke, and you have that genetic weak link, there are many other things out there queuing up to attack our immune systems: air pollution, chemicals in our food, GM crops, STDs, stress, lack of self-esteem...

You just have to smile, keep your head down - and hope for the best. Excuse my coughin’.
 
Wednesday, January 4
The Honourable and Fashionable Member for Doolally

(but dont Menschion the war)

LOUISE MENSCH, 40, is an English author of “chick lit” fiction and a Conservative MP for Corby since 2010. (Note that I put author before Member of Parliament: was it a subliminal slip-up?)

On 19 July 2011, Louise Mensch sat on the House of Commons Select Committee that took part in the questioning of James and Rupert Murdoch over the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
     As it happens, she was the one asking the questions when Rupert Murdoch met a pieman, going to the fair game. If you watch the brief live sequence on YouTube – link coming up down below – her reaction is different to the other politicians on the committee, which suggests that the incident left an indelible mark on her psyche.
     In other words, it appears to have knocked her bubble slightly off plumb. For example, spotted on the Telegraph’s  online home page...
                                    
Louise Mensch complains that female MPs are judged on looks                                                              

The Conservative MP has spoken of her frustration at being  overlooked for promotion claiming that female politicians were trivialised
In an interview accompanied by a glamorous photograph - alongside - the chick-lit author complained that discussion about her appearance had “obscured” her political statements.
     She told GQ magazine that it was sexist to “trivialise a woman politician based on her appearance”, noting the frequent references made to Home Secretary Theresa May’s distinctive shoes.
     And she complained about being overlooked for parliamentary private secretary roles, despite having only been elected in 2010 ... she added: “Everything I had said was washed away under the fluffy-bunny thing of looks. It is Theresa May’s kitten heels all over again.”
     The MP for Corby said she hoped one day to “have a crack at International Development”. But she admitted that given the choice between being made a Cabinet minister and having one of her books, written under her maiden name, Louise Bagshawe, turned into a Hollywood movie, she would choose the latter.


(Hm, that will impress her constituents back home in Corby – which is why I placed “chick lit” author before Member of Parliament. It’s all to do with her “Things to do today” list.)                      

Posing for a men's mag? Ambush territory!

                                               
                                                                                                   Well, that’s what I’d expect the heading/logo on a “chick-lit” author’s “Things to do today” list to look like – no? Oh yes, I also see that Louise has 44,000 Twitter followers.
      I believe that the very first person to attract “followers” was Jesus Christ, and as far as I know, he never stopped to count them. Obviously the message was more important than the messenger – indeed, 2,000 years later and the message is still going strong, and probably will until humanity dies out.
     Mind you, even 2,000 years ago they shot the messenger, so I wonder for how long the Mensch message will be mentioned after Louise gets shot, metaphorically speaking, of course.

The Mensch war: pussycat v polecat
WHAT a wonderfully doolally world we live in. And Louise Mensch is our perfect representative in Parliament. I mean, she complains about being perceived as a chick-lit pussycat rather than the political polecat she perceives herself to be – yet we are confronted by photographs of her purring like a pussycat on a hot tin hoof on the front of a men’s magazine, GQ (originally Gentlemen’s Quarterly, but times have changed  - I’m reliably informed it’s the male equivalent of Vogue).
     Unless I am very much mistaken, in the above photograph Louise is clearly inviting us to tickle her stomach to make her roll over onto her back and play. Where’s the polecat look to confirm that you don’t mess around with the Mensch women?
     Indeed, hindsight makes me ponder why, during the phone-hacking committee enquiry, she didn’t ask questions of a polecat nature? She would really have left her mark. After all, Margaret Thatcher, whatever else she was, was the very model of a modern polecat.
     No wonder the country is in a mess when our politicians, along with the nation’s other movers and shakers, are so devoid of any strands of inherent wisdom in their genetic code. They wouldn’t recognise an ambush if it hit them on the nose.

Right, here’s the link to the pie incident, which is rather revealing as to how all 13 committee members react – bar Louise, who looks around for help, along with a belated Tom Watson (I think). Truly fascinating...
                                                                                             
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJyqSGM-7oo&feature=related
 
Tuesday, January 3
My hero
~ and the beginning of a beautiful friendship



A MOON or so back, there was a bit of a lull in the conversation down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, and old Roy Rogers – best not to ask about that nickname – pondered aloud what character from fiction we would like to have been in real life. There followed what can only be described as a smiley interlude.

Ivor the Engine – he walks very fast does our Ivor, never looks left or right, and motors just like a train – wanted to be Indiana Jones. The thought of opening the Ark of the Covenant in front of a packed Parliament on Budget Day, with him the only one keeping his eyes shut tight, was too delicious for words.
     Yes, what a magical image that conjures up.

Dai Aphanous – we always see through Dai, but he’s one of life’s great characters, ever happy to introduce himself as the local DA – Dai went along the same track as Ivor and chose James Bond. Dai would welcome the opportunity to introduce himself as “Bond – James Bond!” rather that “Aphanous – Dai Aphanous!”.

Old Shaggy – been there, done all the women, got the T-shirt – somewhat surprisingly, plumped for Sherlock Holmes: “I find life so un-elementary it would be rather agreeable to be able to say ‘Elementary, my dear Hubie!’ for ever more and a day.”
     I did point out that he already found women exceedingly “elementary” – he just smiled, much as a man would while smoking a pipe stuffed to the brim with Old Shag Tobacco.

Young Shagwell – an apprentice Old Shaggy, who can already show the old dog new tricks – really made us laugh with his choice of The Road Runner: “The opportunity to sneak up behind all those who give me a hard time and go ‘Beep-Beep! is irresistible.”
     I like that, another magical image.

Chief Wise Owl (CWO) – name self-explanatory, indeed I want to be like Chief Wise Owl when I grow up – CWO, with a twinkle in that clever old eye of his, decided on Jesus Christ – or indeed Brian (from The Life of), along with his “Welsh tart” of a girlfriend, Judith, obviously. Obviously
!

And my choice? Well now, I’ve never had any real-life heroes – plenty of individuals I admire hugely, but no heroes. As a youngster it was a roundup of the usual fictional suspects: Santa Claus, Dan Dare, Batman, Robin Hood, Tonto and The Lone Ranger – as opposed to The Lone Ranger and Tonto – those kinds of heroes.
     In adult life I’ve never latched onto a fictional hero – well, except for one man.

It would have to be
Prefect of Police Captain Louis Renault of Casablanca fame.  The film was on television today, which is why it all came flooding back.
     “Oh, he’s just like any other man, only more so,” was Rick Blaine’s verdict on his sparring partner, Louis, in the film.
     “But hang on, wasn’t he a Nogood Boyo?” asked
Brian the Preacherman, the Crazy Horsepower’s PM (who wanted to be Twm Siôn Cati, the Welsh version of Robin Hood). “So why would you want to be a Nogood Boyo in your make-believe world as well?” Ho, ho, ho, very funny, Mr PM.
     Yes, Louis Renault was a Nogood Boyo, for sure: forever on the make and always chasing the girls, running with the fox and the hounds, not a man of strong conviction, but a friend to whoever was in power at the time...
     But, and it’s a huge BUT – when push came to shove he came down on the side of good, as depicted in the closing moments, pictured alongside - and you can’t ask for more than that.

Louis at life's crossroads: "Round up the usual suspects."


Also, I reckon Louis would have been the scriptwriters’ favourite character. While Rick himself has most of Casablanca’s memorable lines, the consistently best lines belong to Louis.
     When you next watch the film, it really is worth concentrating on his dialogue and matching facial expressions ... full of wit and humour, not to mention loads of wisdom. It all cascades out of his mouth like water from a favourite waterfall.
     I did once fantasize what it would have been like at the moment of conception to be first in the short and exclusive queue marked Wit and Wisdom, so Louis Renault as my fantasy hero fits the bill to perfection.
     And of course, that precious twinkle in the eye as a bonus.
 
In fact, my all-time favourite film line belongs to Louie: near
the beginning of the film, Rick has just sent his beautiful but drunk and troublesome girlfriend, Yvonne, packing, and he then joins Louie, who happens to be sitting at a table outside Rick’s Café Americain, enjoying a glass of something or other. Louie then utters a magical line, 14 words that every red-blooded man 40-plus will empathise with...

“How extravagant you are throwing away women like that. Someday they may be scarce.”

Just typing it in there now makes me smile. I would have been truly proud to have uttered a magical line like that.
     Yes indeed, me and Louis and Rick – it really could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Louis enlightens Rick about the imminent scarcity of women

 
Monday, January 2
Caught in the slips


IN CRICKET, a googly is the leg spinner’s prized weapon: bowled properly, a googly – or a “wrong’un” – is almost undetectable and catches the batsman by surprise. “'Ow’s that
!?” the bowler will invariably shout at the umpire following a perfect googly.
     Well, search engine Google does something similar. I can’t recall what I was actually looking for, but this online Googlie caught me out...
                                              
Tourist tat: what’s the tackiest holiday souvenir you’ve bought?
Followed by this headline...
                                                                                        
Don’t take the Pisa!
I just couldn’t resist – click
!
                                                        
Italian mayor launches crackdown on erotic tourist souvenirs
 

Officials in the historic Italian town of Pisa, home to the famous Leaning Tower, are cracking down on tourist souvenirs in a bid to clean up their image.
     Five stall holders have been fined €500 for offering dodgy underpants with the Tower resembling a penis, or aprons that show Michelangelo’s David in all his glory.


FIRST, EYES LEFT
!
What really caught my eye though is this one, alongside...
     Just occasionally, something is so bad it is totally wonderful.
                    NOW, EYES RIGHT
!
However, my eye was also drawn to the down-below department, something the frustrated Italian mayor is doing his nuts about – and I have to admit that this too made me smile...
     Now that’s what I call pants.

                Leering Tower of Pisa

              Is that all there is?


Lip service
PROBABLY the best bit of tourist tat I ever saw was a good many moons ago, at the then Crazy Horse, when one of the barmaids, having just returned from some faraway place with a strange sounding name, whipped out her lipstick, and as she screwed the bottom – no pun intended – out came the lipstick ... in the shape of a penis.
     The pub came over all ho, ho, ho
! It was the surprise element that worked so wonderfully well. As a matter of interest I Googled “penis lipstick” – and up popped some eye-catching offers.

Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?
I ALSO enjoyed this online comment from
eGraph: A friend gifted me a plastic mule from his holiday in Greece. I was ... unimpressed ... until he showed me how to use it. You load the basket on its back with cigarettes, and then pull its ears forward. Whereupon it politely proffers a cigarette from its arse. Class.

Top 10 of this and that
TALKING of an online Googlie, by coincidence, today I also saw “Top 10 UK searches of the year on Yahoo
!” By definition, Google’s searches would have to reveal something similar.
     Before I get there, I’ve just checked the Top 10 TV programmes for the five main channels, as well as the sixth, which is all the Satellite stations grouped together, for the week ending December 4 (source: Sunday Times  Culture Magazine).
     Of the Top 60 listed, I only watched five programmes, which is par for the course. Four on BBC1: Countryfile, Frozen Planet, Have I Got News For You, One Show (must have been the Jeremy Clarkson episode, which I did happen to catch) – and BBC2’s The Choir featuring Gareth Malone.
     BBC2’s Top 10 invariably features Dad’s Army – which I have to watch whenever I happen upon it – but it couldn’t have been on that weekend because it was missing in Top 10 action.
     Of course I watch a bit of rugby on Sky, but the audience figures for club games would be too low to feature in the Satellite Top 10.

Back with the top online searches, here’s the list, in reverse order, and I confirm whether I stand accused of having searched for them.
 10Kate Middleton (Guilty: I regularly peep for suitable images for this diary.)
 
9iPhones (Not guilty.) I don’t even own a mobile, but this does offer the opportunity to feature the image, alongside.
     Following the death of Apple co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs, 19-year-old Jonathan Mak, a student at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University School of Design, came up with the idea of incorporating Steve Jobs’ silhouette into the bite of the Apple logo, symbolising both Jobs’ departure and lingering presence at the core of the company.
     Clever stuff indeed: Jonathan Mak One, I’d say.
 
8Big Brother (Not guilty.)
 
7X Factor (Not guilty.)
 
6Eastenders (Not guilty.)
 
5Cheryl Cole (Not guilty.)
 
4 - Katie Price (Not guilty.)

Sadly, an Apple a day failed to keep
Steve Jobs’ doctor at bay

 3Job Centre (As opposed to Jobs’ Centre – not guilty.)
 
2National Lottery (Guilty: I check my numbers, hoping for 2nd prize – I recall the Scottish couple who picked up a record-breaking £161 million last July, but had to go into hiding because of the attention and the begging hordes. Thanks, but no thanks. Second prize will be fine by me, O Great Genie Of The Lamp...)
                                                                                                    
And finally, top of the clicks...
 
1FTSE – (Not guilty. But this was the surprise. The stock exchange marker was Yahoo!’s top searched term, which suggests that the global financial turmoil and economic meltdown had far-reaching effects.)

It is both a funny peculiar and a funny ha-ha world.
 
Sunday, January 1, 2012
Hello 2012
~ sorry I missed you when you called



I WAS out to the world at the moment the above picture announced the arrival of the New Year.

For many years now I’ve given the celebratory side of New Year’s Eve a miss. It’s a young person’s game. Been there, done it, claimed the kiss, sort of thing. Sadly, my T-shirt doesn’t boast sex to the chimes of Big Ben at midnight on New Year’s Eve. (I bet Mrs Speaker Sally Bercow does have Big Ben on her T-shirt.)
     Never say never though (but not with Mrs Speaker, thank you very much).

What’s up, Doc?
YESTERDAY morning, when I opened the last page in my 2011 ‘Day To A Page A4 Diary’, there sat a cutting, compliments of Ask Dr Ozzy from The Sunday Times  Magazine ... oh yes, and this notice, as always, made me smile:

       
 
(Warning: Ozzy Osbourne is not a qualified medical professional. Caution is advised, ho, ho, ho!)

The “ho, ho, ho
!” is mine, incidentally; I am forever tickled that the crème de la crème of British society, our movers and shakers – who clearly read The Sunday Times – have to be told that Dr Ozzy,  the “Godfather of Heavy Metal” and the “Prince of Darkness”, is not a doctor.
     No wonder the world in general and Britain in particular is in such a mess.
     Oh yes, Ozzy Osbourne, 63, has over 15 tattoos, the most famous of which are the letters O-Z-Z-Y across the knuckles of his left hand. This was his first tattoo, created by himself as a teenager with a sewing needle and pencil lead. Now that’s what I really call a prick and a half.
     Doolally as a daffodil on the shortest day of the year is our Ozzy. Bless.

Anyway, here’s what the “King of Doolally” had said – it must be from a year ago because I can’t remember reading it recently - and anyway, I’m always many moons in arrears with my magazines...

 + What are the most important New Year’s health resolutions that your readers should be putting into practice?
Cassie, York

No 1: always stand behind a gun, not in front of it. No 2: use a parachute when falling more than a few feet.
     Apart from all that, try to eat better-quality food, none of that artificial processed filth, and do some exercise, even if that means walking to the high street instead of driving.
     Walking to the pub doesn’t count, unless it’s a mile away and you only have a shandy when you get there.


I trust you were paying attention.

Intensive care
I WAS greatly amused by this quote, especially given the dodgy state of finances within the European Union:

“How about a minute’s silence?” An unnamed pensioner’s response to a French TV channel’s request to viewers on how their government should mark the 10th anniversary of the euro.

It’s somewhat reassuring that it’s not only we Brits who think the euro is in need of a priest to administer the last rites.
     Wasn’t it Stalin who said something along the lines of “No people. No problem.”? A rather obvious truth, even if Hitler confirmed his madness by instigating the dreadful “No Jews. No problems.” theory. What is it about the world’s leaders that they all – ALL – go mad sooner rather than later. Putin is the latest to succumb.
     Anyway, the opposite of no people, no problem is even a greater truth: Many people. Many problems. And I don’t think you need to be an expert to conclude that the European Union is now just too big and too complex to succeed.
     As the going gets tough, the tough tribes of Europe will simply pull their wagons into an ever tighter circle. Many tribes. Many problems.
     But, whatever happens,  you must stick to the sunny side of the street. Otherwise, you too will go doolally.

Finally, I must finish with an exquisite picture from down under. Australia always puts on a fabulous fireworks party, especially so on New Year’s Eve – but how about this?
 

Wow!
 
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Previously on LOOK YOU......

Smile of the day 2011 (Oct-Dec)
Smile of the Day 2011 (Jul-Sep)
Smile of the Day 2011 (Jan-Jun)

Smile of the Day 2010
2010 (Jan to Jun)
2009

2008
Sep to Dec '07

June to Aug '07
March to May '07

As it was in the beginning:
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400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 10/01/2012


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