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

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POSTCARDS FROM
MY SQUARE MILE
click... smile
Updated: 01/03/2012

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

400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 15/06/2012

VIEWING NOTE: Prepared on screen resolution 1280 by 720 pixels
                                                                 ♫♫♫ TO SELF                            
It seems that the artist Leonardo da Vinci kept a notebook, Notes to Self, a list of “things to do today”: buy paper; charcoal; chalk ... describe tongue of woodpecker and jaw of crocodile...
     These are my Notes to Self, a daily record of the things that make me smile and brighten up my day no end, whether read in a newspaper, seen on TV, heard on the radio, told in the pub, spotted in the supermarket, a good joke, a great story, a funny cartoon, a film clip, an eye-catching picture, curiosities spotted along my walks through the Towy Valley...
     This is a snapshot of life beyond the blue horizon...

    
                                                                               ...and everyday a doolally smile of the day
PS: The shortest distance between two people is a smile ...
                                                                             
Contact Me
 
Saturday, June 30
Advantage Sharapova


CERTAINLY not now, not since I was doing it since I was four years old. It is definitely tough and impossible to do when you have played this sport for over 20 years.” Former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova, 25, known as the Queen of Screams, and currently ranked World No. 1, says she is now too old to stop grunting on court.

I was wondering what the hell she was rabbiting on about. Whatever, I happened to catch an earful of Maria’s Wimbledon grunts the other day – my goodness me, what an extraordinary noise she makes.
     I was thinking: that has to put opponents off in some way or other. I vividly remember John McEnroe and his infamous tantrums – and even back then I became aware that it was all rather clever behaviour of the dodgy kind.
     In any sport you often have what commentators call “a momentum shift”, when individuals, or indeed teams, that are clearly on top and in charge, slowly but surely begin to lose their clear advantage and grip on proceedings.
     Occasionally the momentum shift can be obvious: a player is sent off, say, in a football or rugby game; often though it can be quite subtle: perhaps a linesman in tennis or a referee in a team game gets an obvious decision wrong which unsettles the victim – and suddenly there really is a slow but sure momentum shift.
     I always believed that when McEnroe threw a tantrum, there had already been such a subtle momentum shift in the game, not obviously evident to the casual watcher. He would be more than aware that the game was ever so gently slipping away – and of course the explosion of fury really did unsettle the opposition, and he knew it.
     Well, it affected most of the opposition. Bjorn Borg, the “Ice Man”, was the exception that challenged the rule.

And so it is with Maria Sharapova. She knows that her screaming really does subliminally affect the opposition. Or at least most of those she plays against. It’s all clever stuff and fascinating to watch in action.

On a lighter note, imagine sleeping next door to Maria back at the hotel, especially when she’s returning serve...

“Tennis and love-making demand the same energy. And since one cannot make love all day, one must play tennis for some of it.” Maria Sharapova shares some intimate secrets –
     No she doesn’t. I can’t tell a lie. I paraphrased the following quote:

“Literature and love-making demand the same energy. And since one cannot make love all day, one must write for some of it.” A glimpse into the everyday life of Bernard-Henri Lévy, 63, the French philosopher and journalist.
 
Yep, it’s a mad world out there. Whatever, here’s a little something to smile away the day, spotted in a Telegraph  Picture Gallery. Now c’mon, have you ever seen anything quite so smile-inducing?
                                                                                        
A basket case

Baby snowy owl chicks born at Hanover Adventure Zoo, Germany         Pic: Action Press/Rex Features


It’s those amazing eyes you first notice ... then it’s the anthropomorphically ‘cheesed-off’ look – oh so delightful. It’s a quite wonderful image. But do you know, I think it’s the basket that sets it all off so magically.
 
Friday, June 29
Clowns, cowboys and crooks

BBC television is currently running a series about “the obesity epidemic”, The Men Who Made Us Fat. I haven’t seen it, says he, from a smug protective barrier labelled “Proper weight for your height”...
                                                                                                                                            
Perhaps, though, the next BBC series should be called The Men Who Made Us Piss-Poor. The first in the series could be about Bob Diamond, the Barclays Bank Chief Sitting Bull at the centre of this extraordinary row involving our crooked bankers, and sub-titled ‘Rough in the Diamond’.
     The last in the series could have the BBC inspecting its own navel and revealing how the Corporation made the nation piss-poor in intellect, wit and wisdom, and sub-titled ‘Dumb, Dumber and Dumber Still’.

Top dog

I have said this before, but it is worth repeating at such dodgy times in the nation’s credit rating history – oh, and another memorable cartoon from the Telegraph’s  one and only MATT...

The way any organisation conducts itself – neighbourhood pub, local government, high street giant, the BBC, International News, Barclays Bank, Parliament – is a precise reflection of the ethics, morality and honesty of the person at the very top, its Chief Sitting Bull (or, let’s not be sexist, its Chief Sitting Cow).
     Let’s go straight to the top to see how it works: Ponder how differently the Germans – a people genetically pretty much identical to the indigenous British – conducted themselves under Hitler, compared to how the Brits did under Churchill.

While “The love of money is the root of all evil” is without doubt the single greatest truth ever uttered, the observation above, pointing out that the way an organisation behaves reflects from the top down, must surely feature somewhere in the Top Ten.
     When Bob Diamond duly appears in front of Parliament’s Treasury Committee – unless in the meantime he is found strangled, by Royal Consent – I do so hope they ask him the truth of my opening remark.
     Fat chance though. He will blame underlings, as they always do.

Top hat
There were two old ladies sat in deckchairs, somewhere along the British coast, sometime between the downpours, and one old lady says to the other: “Do you know, Mary, when I’m down in the dumps I get myself another hat.”
     And the other old lady says: “Really
!? I often wondered where you got them.”

So far sofa
Just before five this morning, and Radio 2’s Alex Lester had been having a discussion with his listeners regarding the difference between a couch, a sofa and a settee.
     I just caught the tail end of it.
Alan, Somewhere on the M4: It’s easy to tell the difference between a sofa and a couch: when there’s an ad on telly the sofa will be the one that’s half-price.

But it would seem that it really is a class thing. According to
Sir Kim Size – what a brilliant name: you really have to look left, look right, and look left again, before opening mouth – anyway, according to Sir Kim Size:
                                                                                                                                                                  
I look up to him on his settee, and I look down on him on his sofa. I am happy on my couch.

 

Thursday, June 28
In the dog house


THIS rather contemplative letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph – which in turn led to some unexpected treats...

Don't brand all divorced women as a predatory danger

SIR – Katharine Lloyd (“The relentless rise of Smash ‘n’ Grab Woman”, Weekend, June 23) should consider how difficult life is as a single woman.
     I myself was “swapped” for a 10-year-younger model in 2009, after my partner of 25 years had what I term a “mid-life crisis”. After three years I am now happy with my life, which doesn’t include a man. I have learnt much and grown in confidence.
     I understand that happens to many single women. Perhaps it was one of these single, confident achievers that Katharine Lloyd’s husband was chatting to, rather than a single, desperate, lonely woman.
     I advise any women who are single and feel lonely to get a dog, or two. Much better company than a man.
S Crowther, Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire

I’m unsure why, but the above reminded me of this quote from Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988), American science fiction writer: Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”

Whatever, the letter brought some amusing responses on the Telegraph  Comment Board...


Phrancofile: “I advise any women who are single and feel lonely to get a dog, or two. Much better company than a man.”  This cuts both ways, I think.

  •  Dogs don’t want to be introduced to your parents
  •  Dogs don’t consider salad a meal
  •  Dogs don’t get phone calls at three in the morning

     [Mind you, if you have a bitch on heat in the dog house overnight and
      your friendly neighbourhood dog comes calling - more howl than owl...]
  •  Dogs don’t tell boring stories about their friends
  •  Dogs won’t throw away your old stuff
  •  Dogs won’t lock you out of any room
  •  Dogs won’t slap you for a sarcastic remark
  •  Dogs won’t ask you if you will get another dog when they die, and if
      they did, you could answer truthfully
  •  You can have more than one dog at a time
  •  Many dogs actually get better looking as they age
  •  Dogs never look for faults
  •  Dogs won’t ask: “Does this collar make me look fat?”
  •  You never have to find a job for a dog’s brother
  •  You can’t embarrass a dog
  •  Dogs will help you meet other people
  •  Dogs don’t ask you to stop and pick up the dry cleaning
  •  Dogs like it when you act silly in public
  •  Dogs don’t “forget” to take the pill
  •  Dogs only act pathetic when you have food
  •  Dogs won’t run up your credit cards

     and finally
 
•  If you smell like another dog, they just think it is interesting

Johnny Duke: Dogs are always happy to see you. If you don’t believe me try locking your wife and dog in the garage for a couple of hours while you go down the pub ... on your return release the pair of them and see which one is the most pleased to see you.


                                                    Picture: Ken Goff


Weefozziebear: But dogs will eat your sausages and poo on your rug ... I actually love dogs. In many cases, I like dogs more than people. Dogs are quite adorable and possibly the most loving creatures on the planet. I’m just a bit of a clean freak.

The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.” Andy Rooney (1919-2011), American radio and television writer, who became famous for his weekly spot on CBS News programme 60 Minutes.

“If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons.” James Thurber (1894-1961), American author, cartoonist and celebrated wit.


[I’d quite fancy being a wit – but a celebrated wit? I mean, folk would expect you to be witty whenever your lips move. As it happens, I don’t even possess the wit to risk signing-up with Twitter; after the first few “witty” comments I’d start to look a bit stupid – and there are more than enough stupid people Twittering on and on and on out there.]

Spikey: Treat life as a dog does: If you can’t eat it or hump it ... p*ss on it and walk away...

I’m not sure why, but Spikey’s observation really tickled my F-Bone. I shall leave you with a repeat of my favourite dog quote, the one spotted on the notice board outside a Baptist Church in New York:
    
Please Lord, make me the sort of person my dog thinks I am
 

Wednesday, June 27
A good reason to be cheerful


THERE is only one subject in the running for today’s smile of the day, and that is, of course, the much publicised meeting between the Queen and Martin McGuinness, the one-time leader of the IRA – and yes, their proposed handshake to forgive (but not necessarily forget) and move on.

Now whether we like it or not, McGuinness is one of life’s natural-born killers. As a commander of the IRA he would, by definition, have ordered the death and destruction of men, women and children – perhaps even family, friends and colleagues, if indeed they had crossed him – and all without a moment’s hesitation or contrition.
     That killer-instinct is written into his DNA – and as we know, our DNA, like a bottle blonde, can never escapes its roots, so he is a man that could revert to that default position at anytime without loosing a second’s sleep. That’s how such people are built. (His name is particularly apt: McGuinness – a rich, creamy head, very dark beneath.)

However, life has to move on, and if the peace process means drawing folk like Martin McGuinness into the fold, then that’s the way it has to be. We simply have to find reasons to be cheerful.
     There’s a wonderful Welsh proverb: “Gwell canmol ci drwg na rhoi cic iddo” - best to praise a bad dog rather than give it a good kicking.
     So the momentous day began with – who else but
MATT, the Daily Telegraph  cartoonist. I truly laughed out loud at this – talk about breaking the ice...
 


And of course by this afternoon, the official picture had been released. Now c’mon, you have to admit, the juxtaposition, just like the handshake itself, is beyond price. (And MATT  includes the Queen’s glove - attention to detail, eh?)

If one moment in time can sum up just how far Northern Ireland has come on the road to peace, this was surely it.

It is reported that at the charity event in Belfast, McGuinness appeared genuinely pleased to meet the Queen, even using the traditional Gaelic greeting of “Céad Míle Fáilte” – a hundred thousand welcomes.
     I pondered what that would be in Welsh: “Can mil o groeso”. Sounds something similar to the Gaelic version.

Nor was their handshake a perfunctory one; the Queen held the hand of Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister for several seconds as they shook hands for the cameras at the end of the event, when Mr McGuinness wished her goodbye with another Gaelic phrase, Slán Agus Beannacht, which he translated for her as “Goodbye and Godspeed”.
     In Welsh, I would say “Pob hwyl a bendith”, which strictly translates as “Best of luck and God bless”. Or perhaps “Best of luck and may your God go with you” – which brings to mind another famous Irishman, the late and popular comedian, Dave Allen (1936-2005)...
                                   
                                                                                       ...indeed, here’s looking at you, kid
!
 

Tuesday, June 26
♫♫♫ Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

OCCASIONALLY it’s important to revisit a smile, if only to balance the books, so to speak. Ten days ago I quoted this:
“I do wish everyone would stop calling Tracey Emin an artist. She is even beginning to believe it herself, now.”
Mrs M Bunney, of Bodmin, Cornwall, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
 
Mrs Bunney of Bodmin
s letter still tickles my T-Spot (T = Tee-hee). But, there are after all two corners to every mouth.

“She is rather good at little drawings. They often have some delicacy about them. They more often have some excruciating indelicacy about them, too. It is an astonishing achievement, to be both delicate and indelicate at the same time.” Brian Sewell, 80, English toff, media celebrity and Byzantine art expert, on Tracey Emin.

I
t is an astonishing achievement to talk both wisdom and bollocks at the same time – and get paid huge amounts of dosh for doing so. Mind you, I note that the Byzantine Empire was the medieval Roman empire (during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages), and centred on the capital of Constantinople. (Istanbullshit, not Constantinople?)
     Whatever, being that Brian himself is now into Late Antiquity, we forgive him his doolallyness. Good luck to him. And that goes for Tracey Emin, too.

Splash it all over

“Secretary of State, I think you will find it is my aftershave.” David Blunkett, 65, British Labour politician and MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, recalls what the Prince of Wales said to him after the blind politician commented: “Everywhere we have gone there has been a wonderful smell of lavender,” during a tour of the garden at Highgrove, the Prince of Wales’ family home.

Hague a bit vague with the actuality?

Right, a few dots to join up before the next brace of quotes...

The boasts of politicians are often greeted with scepticism, but William Hague, 51, current Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State (the post held by David Blunkett during his lavender moment with the Prince of Wales) stretched credulity to breaking point back in 2000 by claiming that he used to drink up to 14 pints of beer a day as a teenager in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.
     For a leader plagued by an image as a political “trainspotter”, his lengthy account of his non-political schoolboy activities offered the chance to persuade voters that he really is as down to earth as Tory spin doctors claim.
     Mr Hague claimed that he managed up to 14 pints - seven times the Government’s recommended daily limit, and a session that would put most of the regulars down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon under the table - when working as a delivery boy for his father’s firm, Hague’s Soft Drinks.

Okay? Right...

“If Foreign Secretary William Hague wants to send troops into Syria, he must be back on 14 pints a day.”
John McCluskeym, of Seaton, Cumbria, in a letter to the Daily Mail.


That definitely tickled my T-Spot. The next quote however, touched my A-Spot (my Alfie-Spot, as in “What’s it all about, Alfie?” or “Answers on a postcard, please...”.

“The obsession of some folk with what they call real ale ... most of it is tasteless and nearly all ought to be put back into the horse where it belongs.” Nigel Hague, 83, father of aforementioned Foreign Secretary William Hague.

So that’s why blokes who drink real ale are blessed like stallions. Honestly, the things you casually spot while standing in the firing line in the gents down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Very funny though, Nigel Hague. Anyway, here we are, William and dad Nigel, and a 50 year gap...
                                                                                          

Incidentally, that mysterious little hand coming in to give baby William a slap? That’s his sister’s. Obviously the clout wasn’t anywhere near hard enough. Only joking, it seems Sis was about to give little Bro a gentle caress, rather obvious in the full picture.
     However, intrigued by Papa Hague, I Googled him – and this Mail Online  headline came up:
 

He drinks three pints and a glass of red wine every night, hates the Welsh (apart from Ffion, William’s wife) and wants to shoot the Lib Dems: Watch out, Mr Hague, your Dad’s flying off message!


There followed a picture of Hague Senior, at 83, doing a wing-walk for charity...
                                                                                                                                         

The “hates the Welsh” bit though made me smile, so I read on...

“When he [William] was made Minister for Wales he said: ‘Father, I don’t want you to refer to them as those Welsh bastards any more’,” said Nigel.
     And did he manage it? “Well, I had to because William’s father-in-law and mother-in-law are Welsh. And his wife, too. But they’re not like the others.”

Hm, so that suggests he has actually met all the other 3,006,397 people living in Wales (no, hang on: while some 20% of us are Welsh speakers, nearly 90% of us claim Welsh ethnic identity, so Hague Senior has met 2,700,000 of us).
     Personally, I honestly can
t remember bumping into him. Still, you meet so many visitors at the Crazy Horsepower.

A magically doolally interlude that. You can see where William gets his political bullshitting gene from. Still, Papa Hague sounds like one of life’s real characters, so he gets my vote.
 

Monday, June 25
Sofa so red


THIS headline and photograph drew my undivided attention...
                                                                                                            
BT Artbox: Red telephone boxes with a twist

                                         
'Box Lounger' by Benjamin Shine

A leather bound and studded sofa - find it and take a breather, pay homage to great British styling
                                                                                                  
Picture: Steven Dray / BT Artbox

Artists and designers including Sir Peter Blake, Zaha Hadid and Giles Deacon have re-designed the iconic red telephone box as part of BT Artbox, a new exhibition celebrating the 25th anniversary of charity ChildLine. The Boxes will be exhibited in separate locations across London until July 16. See www.BTArtbox.com for further details.

Mind you, I think Benjamin Shine has missed a trick with the sofa. On the right, as you look at it, on the arm that is the side of the roof, I would have placed an old-fashioned telephone...
                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                                            ...which could have been pushed down out of sight when “not in use” or not needed for added character. Still, it’s truly novel, and I’d enjoy having a sit on it.
     Here are two more that caught my eye...
 

'Stop The Pigeon' by Howoco

'Kiss' by Willie Christie

                        Picture: Steven Dray / BT Artbox

                        Picture: Steven Dray / BT Artbox

Actually, when I saw the jumbo pigeon, I immediately thought – no, not “Where’s the poo?” – rather, I thought of a grouse, in particular the bird that fronts the ads for The Famous Grouse Blended Whisky (or Low Flyer as they wittily call the whisky down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon).
     Yes, those wonderfully clever and entertaining Famous Grouse television adverts featuring Gilbert the Grouse. You know how they go, Gilbert carries out a specific action and an amusing whisky-related punchline appears...
     Gilbert falls from the sky: A splendid drop; he does a repeat drop: Same again
     Gilbert skates: On ice
     Gilbert scores a goal: A quality finish

There’s a link below to 28 of these smiley adverts – each ad lasts just 20 seconds and the whole clip lasts some nine minutes. Highly entertaining. Going back to the kiosk with the ‘grouse’ on top, I see Gilbert coming in to land wearing an old-fashioned flying helmet and goggles ... the strapline going something like this:
     Press Button A for a Low Flyer
     Press Button B for another

I’ve included the ‘Kiss’ kiosk because my favourite Gilbert ad is the one where he is unexpectedly covered in a mass of  kisses: Loved by everyone
     Click on the link and, to paraphrase an online comment, discover a simply great way to smile...
                                                                                           
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcMeTFHT78Q&feature=related
 

Sunday, June 24
Turning over a new pageant


IT WOULD appear that public opinion is generally agreed that the BBC, following its dire coverage of the Diamond Jubilee Thames pageant, was back to its best when broadcasting last weekend’s Trooping the Colour. I agree.

Hay for the donkeys
Recently at the Hay Festival, AA Gill, the TV and restaurant critic, lambasted the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, with some added sly kicking of the BBC, not to mention his usual cowardly bullying of Claire Balding.
     “There is a belief,” said Gill, “that we (as a nation) do these things really well. We are rubbish at them, pageants and celebrations. The real shame of the Royal Family is that we ‘keep them’. We breed them like dogs. We have such low expectations of what they can do. Can we have a republic, please?”

Hang about: a billion people are expected to watch live the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, yet we are reliably told that two billion people watched live last year’s Royal Wedding. Hm. What’s a billion between enemies?
     What many don’t seem to grasp is that AA Gill is employed by The Sunday Times, which in turn is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a dedicated republican who, as it happens, also wants the BBC to disappear up its own very private orifice in order to satisfy his own personal ambitions and greed.
     Gill, by definition, is Murdoch’s spokesman, his lap dog, ipso facto, you ignore everything Gill says about both the Royal Family and the BBC - and quickly make your excuses and move on.
     Mind you, given how far the BBC has dumbed-down over recent years, I do find myself wondering how many of the BBC’s top brass are actually also on Murdoch’s payroll? And I mean the very top people. Now there’s a thought.
     Anyway, back with the BBC’s coverage of state events, this letter appeared in today’s Sunday Telegraph...

Give the lady a medal

SIR – In the pictures of the Royal family attending Trooping the Colour in the Sunday Telegraph (report, June 17), the Duke of Edinburgh is wearing about 20 medals and insignia, whereas the Queen is only wearing a broach [sic].
     Is it not time the Queen was awarded at least one medal for all that she has had to put up with over the last 60 years?
A G Gumbs, Glendale Heights, Illinois, United States of America


It’s what follows on the comment board that brought a smile to my face. I am astonished that many who post messages, and who clearly have something interesting to say, never appear to run a quick check of what they’ve actually typed, to correct obvious spelling mistakes, indeed to make the whole thing readable.
     Now I’m no expert on English and its usage, but I often blink at what people put their names to. Here’s a perfect example, and I reproduce it as posted:

ConwayCaptain: HMQ has medals. She served in the ATS duwing WW2 and is entilted to several medals. Lokk at ohotos of her friding to the Trooping of the Colour when she wore the unifor, of the Regt whose Colours were being Trooped.

I blinked at that, a sort of Online Pidgin English – but it brought the following response...

Toots: ConwayCaptain - You’ve got me stumped there. I’ve just spent the past hour lokking closely at ohotos of Her Majesty’s unifor, and do you know what? I can neither see her Regt medals nor can I see her friding anything!

Mind you, I have a sneaky suspicion that the ConwayCaptain post is a bit of a wind-up, the errors are too obvious, too silly. Still, the
Toots response was worth it. Meanwhile, on with the show...

DrNickleBockle: A G Gumbs says the Queen was wearing a ‘broach’. I watched the ceremony and she was definitely wearing a brooch, not a church spire or a roasting-spit.

Mgcocasal: He
[A G Gumbs] couldn’t help it- he’s American.
Chezz: Perhaps somebody could brooch the subject to Her Majesty.
Heinz: Perhaps somebody could broach the subject with Her Majesty.

Johnny Norfolk: A G Gumbs – HM The Queen is not in uniform so no, she should not be wearing any. Anyway she awards them and you can hardly award one to oneself can you, it’s just not well, British.

JDavidJ: It would be like a sea-lion applauding itself.
Mre: A seal of approval, I guess.
 
Remittance Man: Mr Gumbs – As noted above, HM was not wearing medals as she no longer attends her Birthday Parade in uniform.
     Here however is a photo from the same event in 1952, at which she wore all the medals she was entitled to at that time as Colonel in Chief of the Scots Guards.


And alongside is said picture, and looking rather dashing she is too. Mind you, I’m not convinced about all those medals. Does it not devalue the worth of real medals awarded for acts of true heroism? Just a thought.

The aforementioned
Johnny Norfolk also posted this on a different board, in response to a comment about the European Union:
Germany will achieve what it failed through war. Germany just cannot stop itself bossing people about. We need to be out of the EU as soon as possible as I do not like the German way of life.  (council flat and a big car)


It’s not the post itself that tickled my fancy, but rather the rider about the
council flat and big car. Six words that paint a thousand words.

England pay the penalty
Old Johnny Norfolk must be mightily relieved that he doesn’t have to go through the agony of watching England play Germany in the semi-final of Euro 2012 next Thursday, England having lost tonight 4-2 on penalties against Italy.
     Possession, I am told, is nine-tenths of the law. Now I am no football expert, but how come a Premiership team like Swansea, with no real stars, is noted for retaining possession of the ball for significant periods of time, even against the top teams – yet England appear to have an honours degree in how to pass the ball on the end of a silver boot to the opposition?
     I smiled at this perfect Times  headline:
                                                                         
A beginning, a muddle and an end: an ordinary team bows out
     And the Sun :
                          
 Anyone for tennis?

Poor old Andy Murray. He now has the expectations of a nation riding on his shoulders. And not helped by this headline...

            
Wimbledon 2012: Centre Court 'meditation' gives Andy Murray mental edge over his rivals

Oh dear: Love - 40
!
 
Saturday, June 23
A joy to behold


TODAY has been one of those most satisfying of days. Excepting of course that Wales lost narrowly yet again in the rugby out in Australia, 20-19 this time, would you believe - actually, I don’t believe
!
     What was it a John O’Hara said on hearing of the death of popular American pianist and composer George Gershwin? I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.
    Anyway, I have smiled and smiled at a vast collection of marvellous photographs, all compliments of Royal Ascot 2012. The race meeting brings out the snappers in their droves, and my goodness me, they do come up with the goods. Some quite memorable shots spotted in various online galleries (and I’m not talking about the horses, just the racegoers).
     This year the weather helped: the first two days were picture perfect; the final three days were an obstacle course of wind and rain, which of course present perfect conditions for eye-catching images.
     Here I select the five photographs that have caught my eye over the past five days – well, six pictures really, because I used one a couple of days ago, the image of the Rolls Royce with the Union flag proudly flying alongside the Spirit of Ecstasy (The Flying Lady) on the motor’s  bonnet, a truly atmospheric picture.

Coming up on the rails
My first choice is a picture of Micky Sasse, 21, from Brighton (she is the only identified individual in my gallery). I really enjoyed the ‘jockey’ outfit, and although I am not a racing fan, I note that she is wearing the silks worn by the jockey who rode Frankel, popular winner of the Queen Anne Stakes on the opening day...
 

                              Picture: Geoff Pugh

                                                                                                              Picture: Alastair Grant

What I really like is how Micky’s silks blend with the flowers (foxgloves?) in the foreground, not to mention the Union flags in the background. Very eye-catching, as is the peacock feather hat worn by this wonderfully handsome lady.
     Mind you, the peacock hat set me thinking: here we have a human hen wearing a pea cock hat. As a proper reflection of nature, the man should be wearing the peacock feather hat, while the female wears the dull top hat.
     No wonder we’ve gone wrong and lost our way as a species. We’re doing things back to front. Food for thought. Quality photograph though.

Class will always out

                                                                                                                                    Picture: David Davies

The above has class pixelated all over, even the Union flag bench. What an elegant looking lady – but I am dying to know what she is communicating, and to whom. I have a feeling though that a true class lady would not be seen communicating thus in public – it is much like seeing someone eating a pasty while walking down the street. Very common or garden.
     Actually, I cheated with the above photograph, in as much that in the top right corner of the published photo there was part of another bench with just the leg of a person...
                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                                                       ...it was very distracting and took the eye away from the lady, so I Photoshopped it away. I think that is allowed because its absence adds to the elegance of the image. Scroll back up and have another look. I hope photographer David Davies would approve. He sounds Welsh, so fingers crossed.

Mary Poppins just went thataway

                                                                                                                              Picture: Stefan Wermuth

This is a marvellous picture. It captures the inclement weather over Ascot 2012 to a T.

And finally, perhaps my favourite...

I’m shy, Hubie Baby, I’m shy

                                                                                                                   Picture: Stefan Wermuth, again!

A racegoer battles to keep her hat on in strong winds on day four. I really like this. I mean, we can only see a corner of her face and mouth – yet the picture instantly made me smile. Smashing picture. Five stars.

So, all in all, one of the most pleasurable experiences since I began this ‘smile of the day’ online diary – oh, nearly two years ago, now. My God, where has the time flown? Gone with the wind, I guess.
 
Friday, June 22
Let’s jazz it up a bit


LAST Tuesday I told the tale of hearing on the wireless the traditional jazz classic Midnight in Moscow by Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen – and programme presenter Alex Lester went on to relate the tale of the band appearing at a venue where the MC marched onto the stage and announced: “Ladies and gentlemen – will you please put your hands together and welcome to the stage Kenny Jazzmen and his – oh
!

Well, today on the Roy Noble show – actually, Mal Pope was sitting in for Roy – he interviewed another traditional jazz legend, Acker Bilk, now 83 and astonishingly, still doing the occasional gig (appearing on June 28, with Kenny Ball, in a festival at Usk in central Monmouthshire).
     Mal played the classic Stranger on the Shore, what Acker calls his “Private Pension Plan”.

I learn that the single became a phenomenal UK success, topping the NME singles chart and spending nearly a year on the Record Retailer Top 50. It was the UK’s biggest-selling single of 1962, the biggest-selling instrumental single of all time, and appears fifty-eighth in the official UK list of best-selling singles dated 2002.
     But here’s the surprising bit: On May 26, 1962, Stranger on the Shore became
the first ever British recording to reach number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
     Fancy that. And here’s a further bit of amazing trivia: the crew of Apollo 10 took a cassette recording of the song on their mission around the moon, the journey that paved the way for the Apollo 11 moon landing.
     Anyway, Mal asked Acker this: “When did you first begin to play the clarinet?”
     “Oh God,” replied Acker, “it was well before the old King died.” Yep, 83 and still going strong.

Now Acker Bilk was known for his trademark goatee, bowler hat, waistcoat (usually striped) and his breathy, vibrato-rich, lower register clarinet style. Bear the dress style in mind as Mal Pope went on to relate this tale:

“I meant to tell Acker about my friend John Gower, who, when he was a little boy, had asked his jazz-loving parents for a ‘dressing up’ suit for Christmas – he’d hoped for a cowboy outfit, or a soldier’s outfit, or some such like.
     “So when he opened up the package on Christmas Day, there was a clarinet, a bowler hat, a striped waistcoat – and I think a goatee beard and a couple of trademark moles as well. Not so much a Jack in the box, but a young Acker in the box – but John never got round to playing the clarinet.”

Acker in traditional mode


Oh dear, what a let-down for a young child. Great story though.

Jogging a sexual memory
Again going back a few days, I smiled at the fact that the
‘MOST VIEWED’ story on Telegraph Online  that day was this teasing link:
                     
Wildlife camera catches Austrian politician having sex in forest

As I said then, I really didn’t want to click and read further as I preferred to allow my imagination to wallow.

Well blow me: I have now noticed this ‘MOST VIEWED’ story, again on Telegraph Online – this time though only climbing to No. 4 in the chart:
                              
Jogging in forest twice as good as trip to gym for mental health

I could see the logic in that without needing to click – but I did find my mind wandering down a dodgy back alley and wondering if “jogging” is the Austrian code for sex? You know, the way “dogging” in the UK has become code for something unspeakable but not involving canines.
                                                                
Wildlife camera catches Austrian politician jogging in forest – twice!

Time to grow up
Sticking with Radio Wales, this morning Louise Elliott had wife and broadcaster Myfanwy Alexander as a guest on her show, and they were discussing the news item about 50 things that prove you’re a grown-up...

Getting a mortgage, having kids and paying into a pension are all signs you’ve finally hit adulthood. But for many people, it’s the little things in life that show you’re really a grown-up – like knowing how to bleed a radiator, washing up straight after dinner, “pottering” at the weekend and listening to Radio 2 (or Radio Wales).
     Other strong signs in the top 10 include conducting a weekly food shop (presumably rather than grabbing a bottle of wine and a take-away), writing a Last Will and Testament, and having kids.
     Also, budgeting every month, being able to cook an evening meal from scratch, getting hitched and having life insurance all make the top of the poll conducted by Skipton Building Society.


Here in Wales we’ve had to add “carrying spare shopping bags, plastic or otherwise” to the list, now that shops charge 5p for every plastic bag. It’s not the 5p but the guilt at the checkout:
“Tell me about it,” said Myfanwy. “I leave the house in the morning and I do a quick KTLS check: Keys ... teeth ... life-support ... shopping bags...”

Oh, and in my case, perusing the Letters pages in the newspapers. Like this one from The Times  newspaper:

Water, water
Sir, As one outdoor event after the other gets washed out, we have surely learnt two things over the past few weeks: firstly, that Britain will never, ever, be truly short of water; and secondly, that the imposition of a hosepipe ban is far more effective than a rain dance.
ALAN STARR, Huddersfield, W Yorks

Final track
Returning to Acker Bilk, I am not a particular jazz fan, but I enjoy listening to any melodic and/or catchy music, so I shall repeat a previous link to a Bilk track – Maria Elena.
     It’s not so much the music itself, beautiful as it is, but the sumptuous video of stunning flowers that accompanies the track (now there’s a sign of being boringly grown-up). Oh, and I can feel my blood pressure drop as I watch and listen.
     Below that, another link to an Acker Bilk track, simply titled 1982. It’s a live performance of “Don’t roll those bloodshot eyes at me” – a really bouncy, jolly and smiley performance by Acker and his Paramount Jazz Band.

                              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDo45q-6xb0
                                                                                                                            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uZLXxl0tdc

Thursday, June 21
God rest you merry, gentlemen


TODAY’S perfect gent is tieless, eats muesli and loves “Matt” the cartoonist, beckoned a newspaper headline with a nod and a wink (one guess as to which newspaper carried said headline). I quote...

The pursuits and attributes that summarise the “perfect” British gentlemen have been disclosed in a new book. Such a creature once sported a moustache, wore a white tie with pride, ate Kedgeree for breakfast and was never seen without a cigarette in his mouth.
     But times have changed and the gentleman of today has given up cigarettes for Nicorette gum, eats muesli with blueberries, is clean shaven and is happy to go out without a tie, according to a new book.
     The book, titled Gentlemen’s Pursuits, examines the pages of Country Life magazine (first published in 1897), over the last century to see how the archetypal upper class man changed.
     According to the list, a gentleman who lived in 1912 loved attending the Proms, rode in a Rolls Royce, went shooting at Elveden, Suffolk, drank claret and went tobogganing in St Moritz in Switzerland.
     But today’s gentleman attends Glastonbury, has a Land Rover Discovery, drinks Pinot Noir from New Zealand, embarks on shooting at Alnwick, Northumberland and goes skiing in the French resort of Val d’Isère.
     Instead of playing whist, the card game, today’s gentleman prefers to watch the BBC’s 10 O’Clock news, has a house in Fulham, west London, and not a few miles east in Belgravia, and has scrapped his “manservant”.

A Union flag flies on a Rolls Royce at Royal Ascot 2012
                                                    Picture: Eddie Mulholland

     He also enjoys The Daily Telegraph’s award-winning cartoonist Matt’s
view of the world, while those 100 years ago enjoyed HM Bateman’s work.
     The magazine also named David Beckham, the former England football captain, as one of its five gentlemen of the year, who was chosen for his “good manners”. The fact that Beckham had decorated his body with a mass of tattoos did not disqualify him from gentleman status, Country Life said.
     “Tattoos were all the rage among gentlemen, including royalty, so Beckham’s passion is bang on trend,” stated the magazine. Although the Royal Enclosure at Ascot may take a different view.


[Hm, my take on tattoos equals a lack of self-esteem. That doesn’t mean if you’re a tattoo wearer you’re a bad person, on the contrary, it simply confirms a gentle lack of confidence in your own merit as an individual. Observe supremely confident people, and note how ‘plain’ they are in appearance, dress, behaviour, possessions, etc.]

Also on the list were Colin Firth, the actor, for “self-deprecation”, the Duke of Edinburgh for a “stiff upper lip”, Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, for his “quiet dignity”, while rounding out the list was Boris Johnson, the London mayor, for his “quiet apologies”
[whatever that means, probably the opposite of Jimmy Carr’s apologies].
     The book lists five things a “gentlemen would never do” including holiday in Florida, own a yacht without sails, wear pink socks, order Cristal champagne and plant a hanging basket.
     Mark Hedges, the magazine’s editor, said the book recorded the “full and bewildering variety of activities, enthusiasms and sports at which a British gentleman might proudly excel, from shooting to after-dinner speaking and from beekeeping to ferreting”.
     He added: “Oscar Wilde once described ‘The English country gentleman galloping after a fox – the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable’, but he failed to recognise the genius of the idea in the first place.
     “This book celebrates what he missed.”
 
 
Well, I fall down on every count – except, I am as happy as a pig in shite to go without a tie – oh, and as regular visitors to my little web site will have noted, I am a fully paid-up member of the MATT  fan-club.
     And here we are, alongside, the wonderful
MATT’S take on today’s strike by doctors. As I’ve said before, it’s the gormless look that renders them perfect.
     On the common or garden front, I have holidayed in Florida (I won a 5-star Concorde holiday to America in a slogan-writing competition), I do not own a yacht with sails (but I did once own a sailboard – with sail, obviously – again won in a competition), I actually own a pink pair of socks (discovered in a job lot of socks going cheap in a sale), I can’t even remember when I last ordered champagne, but I will happily drink any old bubbly shoved into my hand.
     However, I have never planted a hanging basket – imagine, someone called Mark Hedges rubbishing a hanging basket – but, and it’s a great but, I have planted many trees to compensate for the carbon footprint trailing in my wake along my modest flight through time.
     Back with the gentlemen named above, especially so David Beckham. I agree that he is always very polite and scores on the “good manners” front.
     However, I remember my mother’s advice: ignore the grand, seemingly important and sweeping statements folk make – it’s those spontaneous little throwaway and seemingly unimportant things that a person does and says which is the perfect measure of character.

     Let me take you back to that infamous World Cup incident in 1998, in the game against Argentina, where David Beckham kicked out at an opponent and promptly got himself sent off.
     Juxtapose that with the equally memorable John Prescott incident, where he lashed out at a protestor who had thrown an egg at him. Now you would have put money on the inevitability that the sky would have come crashing down on Prescott – but the British public instantly forgave him.
     Yet, when Beckham kicked out, not only did the sky come crashing down, but the whole universe as well. It took many a moon for him to recover his status. So why did the nation react the way it did when a politician would have made a much more obvious target?
     Well, Prescott’s was a totally instinctive, instant thing – he was cowardly attacked when he least expected it – and we all know deep down that we would have reacted in the same way. But the Beckham incident is different, in as much there’s a significant gap between the offence against him and his retaliation – watch it on YouTube and count the seconds – so that makes it premeditated. And that’s a whole different ball game, so to speak.
     You are left with the impression that, in a previous era, in a pistols-at-dawn confrontation, you have a sneaky feeling that Beckham would turn to shoot a split second before the rules allow.

Finally, I smiled at this online comment about the aforementioned gentlemen by a
Jeff Goebbels: Balderdash I tell you! Beckham’s a chav; Phil’s a Greek; you can’t have a barnet like Boris and be a gentleman; Firth’s an actor, he imitates gentlemen, don’t you see?

Jeff Goebbels  – memorable name – ignores Mandela; and quite right, too. After all, how can he be a British “gentleman”? Incidentally, do we believe that Mandela wasn’t aware that his then-wife Winnie was busily endorsing (and presumably actively encouraging) necklacing while he was in prison?
     Feed that into your thinking, and your take on Mandela will probably begin to change, ever so slightly...
 

Wednesday, June 20
Carr crash


I PAY what I have to and not a penny more.” Jimmy Carr, 39, English comedian and humorist (sic ), defending his high-profile offshore tax avoidance scheme, and which brought the sky crashing down on his head.

I am not overly familiar with this fellow Carr, but I was intrigued when I saw that today
’s allegations of tax avoidance isn’t the first time he has courted controversy, in particular a list of his five most notorious jokes, both on-stage and off. It’s a round up of the usual suspects: Down’s syndrome, amputee veterans, gypsies, a family feud – and this extraordinary tweet...

  “A couple married for 66 years died within 3 days of each other. That’s nothing. My grandparents died on exactly the same day – car crash.” It was tweeted less that 48 hours after seven people lost their lives in last November’s horrendous M5 fireball crash.

Unsurprisingly, Carr apologised for his poor form, removing the joke and tweeting: “Very bad timing by me apologies.”

Correction: Jimmy Carr, 39, English comedian and humorist (sick). As Andrew Bloch tweeted: Maybe he should also hide his jokes offshore.
     However, it is never too late, Jimmy, to be very cross with oneself: “Forgive me Father of HM Customs and Excise, for I have sinned...”

What really intrigued me though was the reaction of politicians...

We know who you are and where you live
“People who dodge the tax system are the moral equivalent of benefit cheats and we are coming to get them.”
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury.


Oh how quickly these politicians forget the expenses scandal when an awful lot of them were milking the system for all it
s worth. Most of it legal, yes. But morally? Cmon. Meanwhile, back at the sharp end...

And now a word from our Dear Leader, our Head Con Man
“Jimmy Carr’s tax avoidance is quite frankly morally wrong.”
Prime Minister David Cameron lambasts Carr’s involvement in the tax avoidance scheme, saying such arrangements were ethically suspect.


Where has Cameron been until now? I happened to catch this Carr tax avoidance item on the TV news – and the funniest thing for ages was watching clips from a comedy sketch show where Jimmy Carr has a central role in lambasting bankers for doing precisely the same thing.
     Talk about a Carr Crash waiting in ambush – and yes, I did slow down to take a look once it had happened.


Not wishing to labour the point
“We need fairness not morality lectures from politicians.”
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader acknowledges tax avoidance is wrong but says politicians should be changing the law to prevent it rather than judging the morality of people who do it.

Hear, hear, at least the bit regarding changing the law. However, if morality, ethics and honesty do not come from our leaders, where does it come from (excepting our parents, obviously)? Whatever, I was intrigued by the fine detail of what all the fuss is about. Here’s a brief summary of how the tax avoidance scam works...

A Jersey cash cow with lots of double cream
An investigation by the Times alleges that comedian Jimmy Carr has been using the “K2” tax scheme.
[Sounds like something out of Star Wars – very apt - or indeed a mountain that
s just too irresistible not to climb.]
     Under the system, the beneficiary transfers income to a trust based in Jersey, which then loans him or her the money back. Since the loan could theoretically be recalled, it is not liable for income tax.
     It is alleged he saves £3.3 million a year through the K2 scheme. The paper reported that the total lost to the taxman from the 1,100 individuals employing this arrangement could be as much as £168 million.
     Mr Miliband said: “I think we need responsibility right across our society from the richest in our society to the poorest in our society. I don’t think it is for politicians to lecture people about morality though.
     “What the government needs to do is change the law if people are avoiding tax. That’s the best answer. What the government is doing is not changing the law on tax avoidance but cutting tax for millionaires.”


You’ve got to smile, otherwise we’d all go as doolally as the rest of them. But, for a proper smile – and nothing to do with politicians or celebrities – this letter in today’s Telegraph:

Automated etiquette
SIR – Having bought some cards in WH Smith, where the transaction was carried out without the shop assistant interrupting her conversation with a colleague, I prefer self-service checkouts (Letters, June 19). At least the computer attempts to interact with you, even if it is just to declare that you have an “unexpected item in the bagging area”.
Jo King, Forest Row, East Sussex

But now comes a slice of proper humour and wit, compliments of the Telegraph  Comment board:

Chezz: Ignore the lady writing about buying cards in WH Smith.
        She’s only JoKing
.

PS: “Forgive me Father of HM Customs and Excise, for I have sinned...”
I am actually tidying up this bulletin on the Thursday morning ... news has just broken that Jimmy Carr has tweeted this about his K2-B4 moment of doolallyness:
                                                                    
Tweetie Pie Corner
                                                       
 “I’m no longer involved in it and will in future conduct my financial affairs much more responsibly. Apologies to everyone.”

At least he’s got the word “apologies” off to fine art. In fact, the statement has Max Clifford written all over it: apologise quickly, do so sincerely, admit what a foolish prat you are - and promise it will not happen again.
     And as long as you haven’t murdered, raped, abused children or burnt someone at the stake, we are a most forgiving species.
 

Tuesday, June 19
New balls, please


JUST before five, I switch on the radio: Alex Lester is playing Midnight in Moscow by Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen:
“Fabulous stuff,” says Alex after the music stops. “Just shows that a good tune doesn’t age, no matter how old it is. That’s 50 years old now, and it sold a million.
     “There’s a wonderfully apocryphal story about Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen, that the MC at some place where they were appearing marched onto the stage: 'Ladies and gentlemen – will you please put your hands together and welcome to the stage Kenny Jazzmen and his – oh
!'”


A noble tale
Last Sunday I caught up with a Vanessa Feltz smile from the previous Friday (the soup of the day tale), compliments of iPlayer. Well, today I caught up with a Roy Noble story from yesterday.
     On his show as a guest was Penarth-based author Catherine Jones, there to talk about her new novel, Wonder Girls. It’s an exploration of ambitions and dreams inspired by the achievements of some of the most extraordinary women of the 20th century.
     Anyway, Catherine told of being inspired while out walking the dog, when she saw an old woman clearing up after a hedge had been cut and trimmed – a job she would have expected the husband to do – but obviously she was on her own and she was toiling away and just getting on with it.
     She watched her for a little while ... it was a poignant image. That little vignette spoke of another era, when people just got on with it and put up with any inconvenience or whatever. “Imagine the sort of life she might have had,” said Catherine, “living through the war, perhaps, finding the house next door shot to pieces...”

Yes indeed. Another time, another world. And then Roy told this tale:

Sunday I was out to lunch – it was Father’s Day – the place was packed. Then somebody said to me: “See that lady in the corner, over there? She’s 92. She was in a Tiger Moth day before yesterday – goggles on, the works – and when she went to church this morning, they showed a video of her adventure, in goggles and helmet – the old fashioned headgear to go with the Tiger Moth – and they started playing the theme to the Dam Busters on the organ...”

A memorable tale, to which Catherine responded: “These extraordinary people are all around us, and they don’t have a voice. It’s so important that they have a voice. It’s important that we know what went before...”

At that point I found myself thinking about the BBC’s disastrous and much-criticised coverage of the Jubilee weekend, what with its dumbing-down and its obsession with everything young, or at least youngish.
     The BBC really does stand accused of no longer properly recording the life of the nation.

Wellie good
In this wild, wet and very un-summery weather we’re experiencing, not just here in Llandampness but all over the shop it seems, it’s important to take advantage of every opportunity. Spotted in the ‘For Sale’ columns of the local rag:
Pair of farm wellies, worn only once, from 2nd February 2009 to 18th June 2012.

Wonderful. Never removed, separated from owner by local anaesthetic.
 

Monday, June 18
                           “To the woods, to the woods –”
                           “No, no, I’ll tell the vicar.”
                           “But I am  the vicar.”


THE
‘MOST VIEWED’ story on Telegraph Online  today was this teasing link:

                                               
Wildlife camera catches Austrian politician having sex in forest

I’ve mentioned before that, just occasionally, I really do not want to read further than the headline. I’d rather allow my imagination to run riot and wallow – although I guess with this story, the politician was probably caught out by one of these modern cameras that wildlife film people set up in the woods and which are triggered by any movement in the view line.
     What would David Attenborough make of it all? Perhaps we’d eventually discover that the whole episode was filmed in a bordello made out to look like a forest (now, now Hubie, sarcasm is the lowest form of wit).
     Even better, why couldn’t it have been a British politician called Blair – I shall resist the temptation to repeat his ‘Bad Sex in Fiction’ contribution – oh bollocks, why should I resist repeating something so delightfully doolally:

“That night she cradled me in her arms and soothed me; told me what I needed to be told; strengthened me,” he wrote in his autobiography, A Journey. “On that night of 12 May 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct...”

Anyway, to the woods, to the woods – all that business takes me back to school days and delightful childish humour. And as I recall, the full exchange of today’s headline went something like this...

     To the woods, to the woods, with the rubber goods...!
     But I’m only thirteen
!
     This is no time for superstition.
     I’ll tell the Vicar-
     I am  the Vicar
!
     My mother’s not going to like this-
     Your mother’s not going to get it.
     Besides, Mummy said I mustn’t, the grass is wet and a two bob bit isn’t enough.

And I remember this variation on the theme:

     To the woods, to the woods-
     No, no, not the woods, anything  but the woods.
     ANYTHING
!?
     To the woods, to the woods...


I always thought that rather clever – as is this one:

     To the woods, to the woods.
     Oh no ... not the woods
!
     To the woods.
     No, I’ll scream
!
     Go ahead, scream.
     eeeeeeek
     TO THE WOODS
!

Ah, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

Behind every tree, beneath every bush
“The bigger the rock on your finger, the better the marriage? I don’t think so.” Mark, a London birder, on observing the “rubbish” vegetation used by a pair of grebes in the middle of their awesomely exotic courtship dance.

Talk of all that “to the woods” business, tonight I just happened upon a BBC2 documentary Natural World: Unnatural history of London.

Here’s a media preview:

London zoo
Two grebes perform the most elegant cotillion* on Hackney Marshes, a courtship dance that, like the grebes themselves, is both colourful and exotic.
     Back in the city’s centre, a woman wriggles along grubby pavements, clutching her camera, as she takes photos of her beloved feral pigeons. One of the pigeons she has called Brian, and he even has his own online diary.
     However, ‘look away now’ as a pelican gulps down an unsuspecting pigeon. [Oh, and let’s not forget the pigeons that have learnt to ride the Tube.]

This lovely, lyrical film scavenges through the undergrowth of London to root out some extraordinary sights like these to paint a brash, vivid picture of the capital’s wildlife. Not just urban foxes – we see a lady in a tower block feeding sausages to a fox family that politely begs for goodies beneath her window – but also the stray seal thrown fish scraps by Billingsgate fish market workers.
     Then there are the bird-watchers who have a monthly “meeting” atop a skyscraper to observe glorious peregrines as they swoop and plummet. It’s a delightful portrait of London’s wild spaces, and the film morphs into a touching account of how and why one species needs to connect with another.

* Cotillion: a type of patterned social dance that originated in France in the 18th century.


This could have been a straightforward natural-history programme about London’s fauna, the world’s greenest capital city, but instead of just filming the surprising number of animals who make their home among the greenery and the concrete and glass, it seeks out the people who watch and empathise with them.

Pick of the Pops

My favourite moments included the pigeons that seek titbits of food underground on the Tube, and have learnt to hop onboard the next train along to speed them on their way to the next station to seek out more food. An extraordinary sequence.
     Oh, and having watched Brian the pigeon having his way with his lady friend, I was disappointed that his blog is not called The Wife of Brian (as opposed to Pigeon Blog).
     The courtship dance of the grebes was wonderful to behold, helped by marvellous photography and some perfect background music. A 300-second magical moment.
     But what left me gawping was the lady living just a few floors up a tower block, and in the green space she overlooked, a family of foxes had learnt to wait beneath her balcony for food.
     Most amazing of all was hearing and watching her shout “Sit
! at the foxes, and just like a pet dog, they did just that. Having trained birds to come to hand to feed, I found myself intrigued as to how she had set about it, and how long it had taken her.

Anyway, it was a marvellous film. If you’ve seen my piece about the

The slow, slow, quick-quick slow courtship dance
of the grebes 
         Pic: Monte Stinnett (photo.net)

great tits over on 400 Smiles A Day, then you can probably appreciate
why I believe that connecting with another species is an amazing thing which brings extraordinary joy.

If you did not see last night’s film, and you are able to access iPlayer (before June 25), simply search for Natural World. Highly commended to the house. The wonderful sequence with the grebes comes at about the 19 minute mark.

I’ve also provided a link...
                                          
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01k784h/Natural_World_20112012_Unnatural_History_of_London/ 
 

Sunday, June 17
Soup of the Day morphs into Thought for the Day

LISTENING to Vanessa Feltz on the wireless early last Friday morning, I heard in passing just a slice of a tale she related regarding something that had happened the evening before while out for a meal with her cousin Beverley. Must listen to it again on iPlayer to get he story right, I thought – and today, I got around to it.
     Before I go there, Vanessa’s tale juxtaposed neatly with a letter spotted in the Telegraph  just a few days previous...

Disappearing plates
SIR – I too have been struck by the diverse alternatives to plates at various restaurants (Letters, June 12). Slate, brick, wooden planks, banana leaves and bamboo are among them, obviously associated with the ethnic origins of the cuisine.
     My advice is to enjoy the experience, but don’t order the soup.
Alex Smith, Orford, Suffolk


Right, this is a digest of what Vanessa said...

Last night I went out for dinner with cousin Beverley. You know how it is, you ask the waiter or waitress: “What is  the soup of the day?” So the very nice waitress on our table said: “It’s parsnip and apple.”
     Guess what my cousin Beverley said? “I don’t know if I’ll like it – could you bring me a small taste, please?”
     I’m not kidding. I’ve never heard anyone do that. And the charming waitress arrived with a very small ramekin and a teaspoon. Beverley had a taste, and she really liked it – and we both had it. It was really nice. But, I would never dare to do that.
     Then I thought, imagine asking: “Could I try a small lamb chop first, please, then I’ll decide whether I’ll have the lamb chops or the chicken...”


That’s a really smiley little story, especially given the letter about not ordering the soup. I’m with Vanessa though, it would never cross my mind to ask for a taste of the soup – but it does make sense, and as Vanessa said, the waitress did it without fuss or bother, as if it was par for the soup course.

A most worthy smile of the day, that.
 

Saturday, June 16
Blood, toil, tears and sweat


IT’S THE fact that ink flows and typewritten stuff doesn’t. It feels like the extension of your own blood when you write in ink.” Martin Amis, 62, a British novelist, on writing.

What a load of old bollocks. Still, it’s a great quote though.

“The hype is unbelievably interesting. It’s complete balls.” The Right Honourable Professor The Lord Winston – Baron Winston of Hammersmith to the world at large, Robert to his friends – 71, surgeon, scientist, television presenter and politician, on the benefits of the sequencing of the human genome.

I give Rob his full title because he only used the word “balls”, whereas common or garden dudes like me get to say “bollocks”. Oh, and I think he’s saying that Mother Nature is still very much in charge.

Meanwhile, back with
Martin Amis: It wouldn’t have occurred to anyone 30 years ago that sex wasn’t connected with reproduction. But now, the chasm between the two is huge.”

Now that’s an interesting pause for a cigarette, to be sure. Once upon a time it all started with a kiss; now it starts with the pill.

“If I say to her: ‘I am going to Mexico next week to do a speech.’ She will say: ‘Why? Who the hell in Mexico wants to know what you think?’.” Alastair Campbell, 55, British journalist, broadcaster, political aide and author, best known for his spin doctoring for and on behalf of Tony Blair, commenting on his 86-year-old mother.

He doesn’t say though what his response to mum was. Shame.

“I do wish everyone would stop calling Tracey Emin an artist. She is even beginning to believe it herself, now.”
Mrs M Bunney, of Bodmin, Cornwall, in a letter to the Daily Mail.


Very funny Mrs Bunney of Bodmin. However, my quote of the day – nay, my quote of the year thus far – goes to this...

“No. It is in the control of four families.” The response of a Naples policewoman, when asked by broadcaster Jeremy Vine, whether crime in that city was completely out of control.

Delightful five-star stuff. And presumably true.
 

Friday, June 15
A bird in the hand


FOLLOWING a short but fascinating piece about great tits in the Telegraph  (the feathered variety that is), I’ve done a special, a personal view of the charismatic little songbirds, over on my related web site, together with some smashing pictures (even if I say so myself) in support of my observations. Here’s the link..
                                                                                                                                             
400 Smiles A Day

Thursday, June 14
Keeping a foot in the door

“IT IS an ill wind that blows nobody good” is one of life’s great truths.

Springwatch (BBC2) is both informative and agreeable to look at. Over the last weekend however its production unit and wildlife were caught up in the vicious storm and flooding that hit the mid-Wales coast – so after struggling to get the programme back on air on the Monday evening, it made the subsequent insight perhaps the most interesting so far.
     As with humans, there were losers and there were winners. Surprisingly few losers, it seems. Ah, Mother Nature, the great survivor.
     However, my one problem with Springwatch in particular (and the BBC in general) is that the presenters talk strictly in metric, so most middle-age-plus folk, like me, who do not use metric measurement as a tool of everyday life, simply do not know what the hell they are talking about.
     When I watch rugby on telly they now only give the height and weight of players in metric – and again I have no idea what they are on about.
     Curiously enough, sometime last year, I recall Vanessa Feltz (who recently celebrated her 50th birthday) on her early morning wireless show relating the tale of going to buy a bed: she went armed with imperial measurement, but the “youngish people” in the shop spoke only in metric – and there followed a seemingly unbridgeable gap in the discussions.
     Vanessa felt like screaming. I know the feeling.
     I am an imperial man: mention inch, foot, mile, pound, hundredweight, ton, pint, gallon – and a picture of said measurement comes instantly to mind. They are burnt onto my hard drive. Now mention any metric measurement – I haven’t a clue. Well, apart from a metre, which is roughly a yard, give or take.
     I have nothing against the switch to metric – I mean, it makes sense because of its simplicity – but it should have been written in law that for one generation every public utterance should be in metric (with imperial added thus).
     It says so much about modern Britain that both the government and the BBC think it perfectly okay to write off a whole generation as an irrelevance.


Anyway, with Springwatch ending it’s current run tonight – I was struck by a most curious thought. You know how dog owners are supposed to grow to look like their dogs (or is it that people subconsciously select dogs in their own image?); well, I was going to do a wee feature on it – but at the end of this piece you will find a link to a web site that does it much better than I ever could – and as a bonus, it is one of the smiliest sites I’ve stumbled upon for a while.
     In the meantime, what struck me was that Springwatch presenter Chris Packham’s favourite bird is the sparrow hawk – and I thought, my goodness me, he actually has the facial characteristics of a sparrow hawk.
     Now Packham is a first class wildlife presenter – I mean, he is enthusiastic, he knows his stuff and he is good at putting it across. And in the current series he dropped his worryingly child-like attempt at humour.
     But I wouldn’t like to step on his toes. He strikes me as a bit of a roundabout, someone you navigate with great care, with your wits about you – at least that’s the impression I have.
     Stick him alongside a sparrow hawk – well, what do you think?

                                                                                                        

There’s something about that nose and surround that shouts “Raptor!”.

Anyway, dogs that look like their owners – or owners that look like their dogs. At the bottom of this amazing sequence, you will find a link to a web site: Do dogs look like their owners? Amazing PowerPoint slide show
     Be sure to watch the slide show – and there are some wonderful quotes about dogs. I commend the site to the house.

                                                                                                                                                
                                                                             
      
                                                                         http://www.guy-sports.com/humor/videos/powerpoint_presentation_dogs.htm
 

Wednesday, June 13
Lost and found


WITH the tale of David Cameron’s mislaid daughter Nancy still being mentioned in dispatches – or more correctly, people telling tales of having lost their own children – I’m going to repeat a tale I told hereabouts back on the 3rd of May.
     A good story can always stand retelling anyway, but this has a special significance to what’s coming up in a moment...

Busy, busy, busy...

I needed to telephone Fly By Night, one of the regulars down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, and who is, incidentally, a fisherman of note, hence the name, ho, ho, ho: “Hello,” says a gentle, rather quiet young voice at the other end of the phone.
     “Hello,” says I. “Who’s that?”
     “David.”
     “Hello David.” Wee Dai, Dai, Diddle-i-Dai-Dai is Fly By Night’s very young and somewhat mischievous son (his mum is Scottish, hence the Wee Dai): “Is your dad there?”
     “Yes.”
     “Can I speak to him?”
     “He’s very busy right now - he can’t come to the phone.”
     “Oh, is mum there?”
     “Yes – but she’s busy too – she can’t come to the phone either.”
     Hm, that all sounds rather strange, I remember thinking. Now I know Dai-Dai has older siblings: “Can I speak to either your brother or sister then?”
     David’s voice goes even quieter and reaches whispering proportions. “They’re busy too - can’t come to the phone.”
     “Is there anyone else I could speak to?”
     “There’s a policeman.”
     I become somewhat startled. “There’s a policeman in the house?”
     “Yes.”
     My startled state morphs into concern. A long shot: “Is it possible for me to speak to the policeman then?”
     There’s a pause... “No,” says David really, really quietly. “Nobody can come to the phone – they’re all busy looking for me.”

Now that’s a delightful little joke, all the better because you can tell it either as a stand-up comic at the Edinburgh Festival, or while enjoying a cucumber sandwich at the local vicar’s tea party – but as we all know, truth can be stranger than fiction.

Mum Says is a weekly column in the Western Mail, tales of the trials and tribulations of family life. It is not the sort of column I would normally be attracted to, but the author, Abbie Wightwick, delivers a most agreeably smiley read.
     Today, she tells her own tale of losing a child

Losing your child in the pub is easy
David Cameron paints himself as a family man, but here is proof that he does parenting by halves. Losing
your child in a pub is easy, the stuff of rank amateurs.
     Only the battle hardened parent can lose a child in their own home. And we’re not talking mansions here. In a family sadly lacking in wealthy baronets and stock brokers, we’re talking Victorian terrace.
     Like the Camerons we think of ourselves as responsible parents. So when at 8pm on a dark winter’s night we couldn’t find our two-year-old daughter anywhere, the blood ran cold.
     Busy cooking we suddenly realised we hadn’t seen her for 10 minutes. We called her name, hunted every room ... but the house was eerily silent.
     Nervously, I opened the back and front doors to see if she’d slipped out. All was dark and quiet.
     Just as I was panicking, a spooky giggle came from above. Two tiny feet were just visible beneath the folds of the floor to ceiling curtains in her room.
     It was her idea of hide and seek, and hilarious to hear the increasingly desperate shouts of her parents.


A pause here … so the joke, above, about
Wee Dai, Dai, Diddle-i-Dai-Dai, is not so much a joke after all. Perhaps that story really is based on fact. Anyway, Abbie continues…

Fast forward 10 years and she got lost again, this time in her grandparents’ house, a 1960s semi.
     Like the Camerons, every adult present thought she was with someone else before they locked the house, got into separate cars and drove to a restaurant half an hour away.
     The daughter, still doing her hair, suddenly realised she was alone. Racing to the door she tried to open it only to set off the burglar alarm. Locked in the house with the deafening ringing of bells she ran to the phone and dialled 999.
     We never found out exactly what she told police, but it ran along the lines of: “My dad and my grandparents have gone out and left me locked in the house, hungry and scared.”
     Even worse, the house was in Scotland and she explained she was from Wales, where her mother was at work while she was on holiday.
     Few things can be as heart-stopping as receiving a phone call to say police have picked up your child far away. “I thought that with three adults looking after her she would be fine,” I yelled at my husband down the phone once all was resolved.
     Years later we can all laugh and my daughter still dines out on the story.
     Sitting between two police officers at the next door neighbour’s house, she was sipping squash when her dad finally arrived to fetch her.
     “Is this man your father?” asked the police officer. “Are you happy to go home with him?”
     At least if you’re Prime Minister they know who you are when you collect your lost child.


Very good. Here’s a picture of Abbie...
                                                                 
                                                                                     ...at arm’s length, a dolphin/pussycat/sparrow, I would say. Anyway, following Abbie’s final sentence -
At least if you’re Prime Minister they know who you are - I was reminded of this quote...

“It’s not as difficult as it might seem. I don’t have to introduce myself, they all seem to know who I am.”
 The Queen, when asked how she coped with meeting so many people.

And then this letter in today’s Telegraph...

Home alone
SIR – Like the Camerons, our family also suffered a heart-stopping moment (report, June 10). We were half-way down the M3, bound for Gatwick Airport, when one of our three children uttered in a tremulous voice: “Where’s Alice?”
     We rushed home to retrieve Alice – my six-year-old daughter’s rag doll.
Anne Saunders, Alresford, Hampshire

I note that the Telegraph  resisted the headline: Where the F*** is Alice? Gosh, I havent heard Smokie and their Living Next Door To Alice since I cant remember when - great link coming up at the bottom.

A few days back I featured an amusing piece from someone called Peckham Street Girl – and a SeptimusBrobe had responded with “England for the English. Peckham for the peckish.”

Well, today I spotted this wee online gem – the context is not really important...

Anneallan: Essex coast. God’s waiting room for the rich.Have you not heard the quote? Harwich for the Continent, Frinton for the incontinent.  

Anyway, back with Smokie and Living Next Door To Alice: the link here is to a live session of the song, with the audience doing the naughty bits – and I have to say, it’s a wonderfully smiley version. Anyway, caution, you are entering the musical equivalent of the Asterisk Bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon...
                                                                                                                            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48jvcIrlNEI

 
Tuesday, June 12
Lost and found


OUR politicians – correction, our political leaders – have been in the news for all sorts of strange reasons. First,
Prime Minister David Cameron left his daughter behind in a country pub called The Plough (and Harrowing?) after a Sunday lunch with friends following a mix-up over which car she was meant to be going home in.
     Cameron was swiftly reunited with 8-year-old Nancy, one of his three young children, but the incident will add fuel to critics who accuse him of being overly fond of relaxing, or “chillaxing” as he has called it, when not dealing with affairs of state.
     (I fondly recall someone called Old Goat leaving this online message: “Chillaxing? I think he needs pole-axing.”)

As it happens, most people were pretty laid-back and forgiving about the whole daughter episode, given that Nancy was being looked after by the pub’s staff – and anyway, pretty much every parent had a story to tell, to some degree or other, about the panic that envelops them when they briefly or absent-mindedly “lose” one or more of their children.
     Down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, Ivor the Engine remarked that he had often sneaked out of the pub in the hope of loosing the kids – but they forever ran after him and always turned up like bad pennies. Very ho, ho, ho, Ivor.
     Far worse, confided a Doug Humphreys in the papers, was “my experience of having my kids leave me in the pub”.
     And a John Barrie pointed out that
David and Samantha Cameron leaving their daughter behind would not have been the first couple to make such an omission: “Our Lord Jesus was left behind in the temple at Jerusalem for three days, when Joseph and Mary returned home after the feast of Passover (Luke 2:5).” Bless.

But as usual, Telegraph  cartoonist
MATT  gave the whole episode a perfect and unexpected twist.
 

Paperback writer
I can’t imagine anything worse than doing politics all day, then reading about it all night.” Nick Clegg, 45, Deputy Prime Minister, who says he “chillaxes” by “religiously” reading a few pages of fiction every night before he goes to sleep.

In fact, Clegg also revealed
 that as a young man he embarked on a novel under the influence of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 85, a Colombian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist.
    Clegg wrote 120 pages before abandoning it because it was, he says, “shockingly bad”. However, he would still “love” to write a novel – and why not? Perhaps he will do so once the Coalition is history.

And today I caught up with this short piece in the Telegraph...

Disgrace Came to Tea

Nick Clegg is hoping to write a novel. Two of his favourites are Disgrace by J M Coetzee and The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. A ‘draft’ of his novel has come into our possession. It begins:

For a man of his age, 45, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of politics rather well. Punctually, at 2pm, he presses the buzzer at the entrance to the Cabinet Office and speaks his name. “Who?” asks Soraya, the receptionist.
     “Mick. Mick Legg,” he replies, clutching more tightly his folder with “Communications Skils” typed on a sticky label. The other “l” is added in ballpoint.
     “Who could that possibly be?” thinks Soraya, who is tall and slim with long black hair and dark, liquid eyes. “It can’t be the milkman as he came this morning.” She opens the door.
     At last, he thinks. Unusually, a big, furry, stripy tiger is sitting outside Dave’s office and swallows Mick in one big mouthful.


Now that did make me smile. And just right for me at some 120 words - as opposed to 120 pages that is. I particularly enjoyed the “Communications Skils” bit obviously, and I really liked Soraya: “Tall and slim with long black hair and dark, liquid eyes”. She reminded me of Mrs Ivor the Engine, Gwladys - or Glad Eyes, as we fondly know her.
     And: “It can’t be the milkman as he came this morning.” No, hang on, my Nogood Boyo mind is getting ahead of itself; there is no such person these days as a “milkman”, doing naughty things in return for unpaid weekly accounts.
     The only shame is that the Telegraph  hadn’t included a bit of rumpy-pumpy; I mean, a bodice ripper would have enabled the author to slip in a sentence or two to qualify for the annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award.
     However, all this offers up another opportunity to share the famous Blair Bitch effort. If you recall,
Tony Blair had been short-listed for the award for writing the following in his autobiography (the first non-fiction nomination, apparently):

“That night she cradled me in her arms and soothed me; told me what I needed to be told; strengthened me,” he wrote in A Journey. “On that night of 12 May 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct...”

[Just there I found myself thinking: perhaps the autobiography should have been titled A Journey Into Space? No wonder Blair took the nation to war on the back of a sexed-up dossier. Talk about half-a-bubble off plumb.]

Anyway, back with the Clegg novel: Nick is, of course, a ladies’ man – been. Back in 2008, the Lib Dem leader, as he then was before climbing the greasy pole, over-revealed his pre-marriage tally as “no more than 30” to interviewer Piers Morgan.
     I remember that, for it’s a typical politician’s answer: “No more than 30”? That could mean just one.

A little bit of sugar helps to keep it up
Mind you, Cleggy and the rest of us men have a long way to go to catch up with Fidel Castro, the most hornily active Nogood Boyo since Genghis Khan (personal motto: Yes, Khan do).
    
Fidel Castro – the illegitimate son of a successful Creole sugar plantation owner – is alleged to have slept with 35,000 women. It’s claimed the Cuban dictator, now 85, “slept with at least two women a day for more than four decades - one for lunch and one for supper,” or sex twice a day for almost 48 years.

Now that gives a whole new meaning to a relaxing cigar after lunch and a tasty After Eight after supper.
 

Monday, June 11
A soft top


I HEARD this line on the wireless today, broadcast off a good old-fashioned vinyl gramophone record, and delivered by the late Victor Borge (1909-2000), a Danish and American comedian, conductor and pianist, affectionately known as the Clown Prince of Denmark:
“I don’t know if you are aware that there are three sexes in Denmark - Male, Female and Convertible!"

Many a true word spoken in jest. He also said this: “Today, we celebrate my uncle’s 103rd birthday.” A ripple of applause from the audience. “How amazing is that?” The crowd up the response. “Unfortunately...” He pauses, as all great comedians do, and the audience senses that all is not what it seems. “Unfortunately, he can’t be here ... he died when he was 29.”

Well, it made me smile.

Cat hits the headlines
My smile of the day though goes to this astonishing picture of Rupert, probably the world’s mightiest moggy. The mammoth cat being held aloft, much like a boxing champ holds a much-prized Lonsdale Belt above his head, weighs in at 20lb – and he’s still growing...

Larger than life and twice as cuddly (and the cat)

Natalie Chettle holds her mother’s giant cat Rupert over her head   Pic: Chris Scott

Now that’s  what I call a pussycat. What a wonderfully eye-catching picture it is. Mind you, Natalie is holding Rupert – a Main Coon – dangerously close to his crown jewels; I mean, I wouldn’t like to accidentally squash Rupert’s balls.
     Anyway, this amazing tom-tom lives with his owner Kyra Foster in Australia, is only half its possible size at nearly three years old, and is three times the size of the average cat.
     But the super-sized feline, who at 20lbs (9kg) could claim to be one of the world’s biggest cats, is only half grown and set to gain more weight.
     My goodness, you’d need a big cat flap to accommodate Rupert.

As is my won’t, and intrigued by this breed of cat I’d never heard of, I went walkies online ... I discover, unsurprisingly, that a Maine Coon is a breed of domestic cat with a distinctive physical appearance and valuable hunting skills.
     It is one of the oldest natural breeds in North America, specifically native to the state of Maine – hence the name, obviously – where it is the official State Cat.
     Although the Maine Coon’s exact origins and date of introduction to the United States are unknown, theories abound.
     The breed was popular in cat shows in the late 19th century, but its existence became threatened when long-haired breeds from overseas were introduced in the early 20th century. Here is Cosey, a Maine Coon and the winner of the very first cat show in the United States, May 8, 1895...
                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                              ...however, the Maine Coon has made a comeback and is now one of the most popular cat breeds in the world. The breed is noted for its large bone structure, rectangular body shape, and long, flowing coat. The breed can be seen in a variety of colours and is known for its intelligence and gentle personality.

Well, Rupert and Natalie captured my undivided attention for sure.
 

Sunday, June 10
Move over darling


OVER the weekend I enjoyed my first couple of early-morning walks on the wild side for some 10 days. As mentioned in a previous dispatch, I have just moved home.
     The past three years have been enjoyed in a cottage on a farm a couple of miles or so to the west of Llandeilo. Actually, it was a smallholding of some 10 acres, the rest of the land having been sold off many years ago by a previous owner.
     In fact, when I first moved in, owners Heather and David told me that they would probably sell the place in about a year’s time – downsizing – but as it happens I had the benefit of three wonderful years there before they eventually sold (subject to the usual survey, contracts and all that ambush stuff).
     Moving home is the one big drawback of renting, which I do out of choice: this time I’ve moved to a neat little bungalow on the outskirts of a village just outside the other end of Llandeilo. (Since moving I have so far once caught myself leaving Llandeilo and driving towards the cottage ... before a voice inside my head went “D’oh
!”.)
     As it happens, I was born and bred on a farm, and even though I had no interest in farming as a job of work, I lived there and helped out until I was 23; I discovered a natural affinity with handling all sorts of agricultural machinery, as most farm lads do.
     Then I changed jobs – nothing to do with tractors and the like, sadly – and moved away to spend a couple of years in Southampton, another two in Chester and a further year in North Wales, based in Colwyn Bay, all working for the same organisation. I enjoyed myself thoroughly in each place.
     Then another change of job brought me back to West Wales. Anyway, from the age of 23 I became a townie – that is until three years ago when I returned to my roots, so to speak. I would walk out of the cottage straight onto the fields of the surrounding farms. It was just like being back on the family farm.
     This time though I’ve landed somewhere between my roots and being a townie.

Now I look out the front window and the other side of a minor country road there’s a field full of sheep and lambs – they always stop and stare when I leave the bungalow – and out the back, at the bottom of the garden, there’s a high-rise bank of trees. There are lots of birds about though, which instantly makes me feel at home.

Where sheep may safely poo
Talking of sheep, they always bring a smile to my face – the photograph below is a perfect example, captured along one of my morning walks.

However, my smile of the day goes to this online exchange...

Welshwitch: The biggest row my parents ever had was when we were at the end of a holiday and my father saw some particularly attractive sheep droppings which he insisted on collecting to take home for use on his roses.
     He used as a scoop a plate from the picnic set, which was ever after incomplete  because of my mother’s insistence that nothing could ever disinfect the said plate sufficiently to make it usable again for food.

Then this amusing response from Peddytheviking: Two questions arise from your comment:-

     1. Did your mother ever put the roses on the dining table?

     2. Having deployed the plate from the picnic set as a scoop, what did your father use as a receptacle? The picnic basket?

As I write, Welshwitch hadn’t enlightened us...

Highway Code: Indicating a right turn in the Towy Valley
                                                                         
Picture: Me
!


Now the funny thing about the above tale is, when I was a very young child on the farm, I remember some visitors had called and I asked my mother if I could take a bowl to the farm’s impressive garden and orchard to collect some fruit: it was awash with gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, the usual suspects...
     I was missing for a while and eventually returned with a full bowl of what seemed to be blackcurrants. The happy-to-see-me smiles of parents and visitors quickly turned to laughter when they realised my bowl was full of sheep droppings – which look remarkably like blackcurrants, especially to a child.
     Of course I hadn’t been to the orchard at all; I’d just gone to the field to collect sheep droppings. Yes, I was up to no good even then.
     After my parents and visitors had picked themselves up off the floor, a look of horror spread across my mother’s face: “Have you eaten any of these?”
     A quick inspection of my mouth gave no clues. Mind you, in the years that followed, whenever my mother insisted it was time for another haircut, she would instruct me to “Go and get sheared
!”.

Medical opinion suggests that farm kids, curiously, remain free of allergies, something which has been noted all around the world; experts seem to believe it has something to do with close contact with animals, and that some sort of natural antibiotics are picked up by our immune systems, compliments of nature itself.
     If I had  partaken of any of those sheep droppings, no wonder I’ve remained free of allergies and illnesses – touch wood and all that.
     And probably explains why I always smile when I walk through a field full of sheep and lambs.
 
Saturday, June 9
John Smith’s No Nonsense Burial


THIS, spotted in the Telegraph’s  Picture Gallery of weird and wonderful signs spotted by readers on their travels...
 

No laughing matter ... captured in New Zealand by Eve Cohen ... Ho Ho!

Politicians’ pockets
SIR – I am surprised that correspondents (Letters, June 7) complain about politicians having their hands in their pockets during the Jubilee service at St Paul’s. It is better than them having their hands in ours.
John Llewellyn, Eastbourne, East Sussex

Trouble is, there’s nothing left worth nicking in my pockets.

Short arms, deep pockets
Scottish National Party leader and current First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond and his wife Moira walked past a new Edinburgh restaurant. “Did you smell that food?” she asked. “Incredible.”
     With the campaign for Scottish independence having just been launched, and being in a particularly good mood, he thought: “I know,  I’ll treat Moira.”
     So they walked past it again.
Anonymous, RU1 2AS


A little prick won’t hurt
No, I’m not still on about Alex Salmond ... rather, surprised midwife Keiley Tuck and her husband Lee found three abandoned baby hedgehogs in their garage in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset...
 


                                                                                                      Picture: Archant Syndication

The couple were moving their old washing machine when they discovered the tiny animals curled up in dead leaves trying to keep warm. When their mother didn’t return, the couple delivered the babies to Secret World Wildlife Rescue centre in Highbridge, Somerset. 

Ahhhhhhhh! Actually, they look like little Red Indian braves in fancy headdresses.
 

Friday, June 8
A totem pole to the doolallyness of celebrity


“If you ever hear me say, ‘The atmosphere here is wonderful’ - shoot me. Because I don’t think you need me to tell you that.” Claire Balding, BBC racing expert, jockey, sports presenter and one of the BBC’s much-criticised Jubilee River Pageant presenters, explaining that viewers look to broadcasters to tell them things they don’t already know.

My first thought was that Claire has been watching too much horse racing, where they shoot horses - don’t they? - if they fail to clear the jumps properly. Anyway, she was speaking at the Hay Festival and drew loud applause from the audience.
     She
became the first presenter involved in the coverage to admit its failings, which, as I write, has drawn nearly 5,000 complaints from viewers – and that’s not counting the tide of criticisms on Twitter and newspaper message boards.
     Claire, who presented from the royal rowbarge, Gloriana, was one of the few BBC names to emerge from the event with any credit.

So a good quote to kick off with. As you will have gathered, I enjoy my quotes – witness yesterday’s parade of quotation marks – probably because they pretty much, without exception, invite a smile and a comment.
     I spot most of these quotes in the Western Mail  newspaper, which has a column called
“They said what?”: it really is a totem pole to the doolallyness of modern celebrity; which is why I put on my make-love-not-war paint, grab a mouse (as opposed to a tomahawk) and whoop a bit while dancing around the Doolally Totem Pole.
     Mind you, there are always a few gems. With Tony Blair threatening to rain/reign on the nation’s parade once more, this from John Lydon, formerly Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, and these days a respectable 56:
“England is in trouble. What do I make of Labour now? That’s nothing I recognise. Tony Blair turned it into a shoddy lawyer’s office above a bookies on the high street.”

The one fault with “They said what?” is that it’s London-centric. There are hardly ever any Welsh quotes.
     Be that as it may, I tend not to listen to radio phone-ins because they give voice to the extremists of life: just recently, Cardiff City Football Club investors were frightened off by the platform and strident voice a minority of objectors were freely given to the proposed changes, compliments of Radio Wales.
     Mind you, those investors took five to contemplate ... and now they are back on board. Phone-ins, like online comment boards and Twitter, give voice to the trolls of life.

A fabulous eyesore
The other day though, the phone-in discussed how best to promote Wales and its attractions. A caller, a Jim from Torquay, was travelling from Tenby to West London and passing Port Talbot:
“It’s an eyesore,” he said of the vista. “But it’s a fabulous eyesore. Architecturally, there’s nothing like it in the world.”

To those who travel the M4 corridor across South Wales, Port Talbot is intimately familiar because the motorway is elevated and you look down on the massive steel works and the extensive petrochemical works alongside. At night it is a particularly astonishing sight. It is just like gazing up at the stars on a clear night.
     I mean, just have a look at these two extremely eye-catching images...
 

Port Talbot’s steel works

Next door’s sprawling petrochemical complex


Everyone in the studio agreed: “Fabulous eyesore” was a fabulous description (shades of Dylan Thomas’s ugly, lovely town).
     And it’s true. Whenever I drive “over” Port Talbot, my eye is forever drawn to that extraordinary sprawl of ugly beauty, as highlighted in those stunningly beautiful photographs, above (sadly, I know not whose pictures they are – I tripped over them online – otherwise I would gladly credit the photographers).

A fabulous eyesore. Remember those words. I’m sure you’ll hear them again.

Wales? That’s in England, yes?
Then the other day, Roy Noble interviewed Tom Jones on his afternoon radio show, and asked him about the difficulty he had establishing his Welsh identity when he first arrived in the States:
“Anthony Hopkins had the same problem,” said Tom. “He told the Americans: ‘I’m from the same place as Tom Jones.’ And I said I was from the same country as Richard Burton.

In fact, you can imagine Catherine Zeta-Jones having to say “I’m from the same country as Anthony Hopkins”; and current American favourite Katherine Jenkins saying “I’m from the same place as Catherine Zeta-Jones”.

Yes, Wales is awash with memorable quotes. I shall do my best to keep up.
 

Thursday, June 7
You can quote me on that


I’VE BEEN suffering what seems like withdrawal symptoms. Yes, the “Quotes of the Day”: where have they all been hiding with their random doolallyness?
     I’ve really missed them over recent days. Well:
♫♫♫ Here we go, here we go, here we go...

Heads I Winner, tails you Loser

“The best thing you could say about this restaurant is that you could hear yourself talk.” Michael Winner, 76, former film-maker, best known these days as a food critic for The Sunday Times, after a less than appetising meal.

Good line, Mr Winner. And I have to say, I enjoyed this quote of his, bearing in mind that he acknowledges he is £9m in debt, which he blames on a lavish lifestyle. Mind you, you have to be rich to be nine million in debt: he owns a 47-room mansion called Woodland House in Holland Park, West London, valued at £60m last time I looked.

“I’ve just got rid of my Rolls-Royce Phantom and replaced it with a Bentley. The Phantom was a glaring indication of wealth. The Bentley much less so.”

You have to admire his complete lack of empathy with the world about him. On the other hand, it could be a joke.

Multitasking

  “Kids in bed. Chicken in the oven. Was careful not to muddle the two up.” Michael Dugher, 37, British Labour Party politician, MP for Barnsley East since 2010, and currently Ed Miliband’s parliamentary aide.

Well now, could it be that all this multitasking the female of the species is so famous for – has been a bit of a joyride all along? After all, even I can keep an eye on the dinner cooking away, do a bit of ironing, a quick bit of hoovering around my feet, listen to the wireless – and all at the same time, sort of.
     Crucially, the dinner isn’t burnt and I can remember what was said or sung on the radio. Hm.

A few Diamond Jubilee quotes to round things off...
 
Like Coca-Cola, the Queen is authentic and consistent.” Stephen Bayley, 60, once described as “the second most intelligent man in Britain”, which is controversial and very possibly untrue, but he is indisputably one of the world’s best known commentators on modern culture. He is founding director of the Design Museum.

[Yes, but who is the most intelligent (living) person in Britain? Compliments of Google, I see that the world’s most intelligent person is not the world’s richest person such as Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helú with a net worth of $69 billion.
     Neither is it Microsoft founder Bill Gates with a $61 billion fortune, Berkshire Hathaway boss Warren Buffett with a net worth of $44 billion, France’s Bernard Arnault with a wealth of $41 billion or India’s Mukesh Ambani with a net worth of $23 billion.
     No, the world’s most intelligent person has been speculated to be Kim Ung Yonga of Korea.
     At the age of only four years, Kim Ung Yonga could solve integral calculus problems. Yonga’s mental scale had an IQ of 210 which he scored at the Stanford-Binet test. At age three, Kim Ung could speak Japanese, Korean, German, and English fluently.
     Britain’s front-runner would appear to be the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.
     Yes, but who is Britain’s wisest person? Now that’s much more important – for another time, perhaps?]

Meeting the Queen - well, it’s not like meeting a normal person. She is surrounded by this powerful aura, but it’s an aura that feels warm, good and nice. I have met some powerful people in my life and there is often a darkness that you get with power. Not with the Queen.”
Gary Barlow, 41, British songwriter, frontman and lead vocalist of the pop group Take That – and the mastermind behind the Jubilee concert and the Jubilee anthem Sing, which is set to top the charts. Arise, Sir Gary.


I think I know what Gary means: every time I see Vladimir Putin on the television, a corner of my heart sinks in despair at the ambush that lies in wait once we enter the pass.

“Is Piers Morgan as big a prat in real life as he seems on TV?” Piers Morgan, 47, British journalist, television presenter and former Fleet Street editor, recalls the question Prince Harry asked of Amanda Holden, 41, British actress and television presenter.

What I enjoyed about the above quote is that Piers Morgan appears to have no sense of what Prince Harry is talking about. Perhaps like so many celebrities he is completely lacking in self-awareness.
     So the quote below, again from Piers Morgan, on the curious incident when compere Lenny Henry, 53, British actor, writer, comedian and occasional television presenter, stopped Rolf Harris – an amazing 82 – in mid-song during Monday’s Diamond Jubilee concert is, um, interesting.

“Still seething about Lenny Henry wrecking Rolf Harris’s big moment like that. Who the hell does he think he is?”

Yes indeedy, who the hell does he think he is? Piers and Lenny, two little boys, fighting to get on the horse. Lol.

“All the black people in the house say ‘yeah’! Lenny Henry’s invitation to the audience at the concert. It was greeted by what has been described as “a baffled silence”.

Yes, it baffled me, for sure. I thought he was perhaps referring to the lack of black people in the audience. However, I am reminded of this line from Prince Charles’ well-received brief speech following the concert:
“Thanks to the performers, the musicians, the comedians - who made such jolly good jokes....!” 

He hates pop music anyway, so it is probably a ruse on his part - anything to get out of a pop concert – but I hope he’s OK.” Sir Elton John, 65, on the Duke of Edinburgh’s illness which prevented him from attending the concert.

I empathise with the Duke: I will do anything to get out of attending a party – any party – but annoyingly, I will enjoy myself if I do end up at said party.

And finally, perhaps the most baffling tweet in the history of Twitter:
                                                                                                                         
Tweetie Pie Corner
                                                                                                                          
 “Underwhelmed by flotilla, detested bunting, despaired at mindless flag-waving loons. But otherwise all good.” Sally Bercow, 42, the delightfully doolally wife of Commons Speaker John Bercow, tweets before going to the Diamond Jubilee service on Tuesday, but spectacularly fails to get into the mood.

Good old Sally, loopy as a hangman’s noose.
 
Wednesday, June 6
Gateway to heaven


WELL, I never saw the Transit of Venus – cloud and all that stuff. Bugger. It would have been just perfect for me, visible for about an hour or so following sunrise – I’m always out and about when the sun is rising, whether it’s half-eight on a mid-winter morning or five on a mid-summer morning. Now whether I actually see the sun rising is something else entirely.
     Anyway, with all this dodgy weather currently doing the rounds, here’s a sunrise I captured earlier – oh, a couple of years earlier, as it happens...


I’m not sure why, but the moment I approached this gateway in the middle of nowhere – I stopped and ‘clicked!’. At least it gives an idea of what might have been this morning if the sky had been as clear as it was back then. Oh well...

Reasons to be cheerful
However, I may have missed the Transit of Venus – but I watched instead a rerun of the Transit of Grace Jones across my screen, just to make sure it wasn’t all a dream from Monday night, you understand. And no, it wasn’t.

I duly found Grace on YouTube, hula-hooping the night away and keeping it up with awesome effortlessness.
     If you haven’t seen our Amazing Grace, 64, doing her thing, here’s a link – oh, and bear in mind Vanessa Feltz’ memorable quote: “Grace Jones looked like an intergalactic visitor carved out of burnished marble.”
     Enjoy, as they say the other side of the pond...
                                                                                     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdwEgzDNb2w

 

Tuesday, June 5
Diamond Jubilee: Loose ends


TODAY, the extravagance and fun of the previous three days gave way to more formal celebrations. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, proving once again that if you have something worth saying, it helps to be blessed with a voice to match. Think Churchill, Richard Burton – and of course Boris Johnson, who certainly has a voice and accent that demands you at least listen.

So time to reflect on a few of those little things wot made me smile over the past four days. Actually, today, on the way to St Paul’s, the Queen’s very posh Bentley was closely followed by a Range Rover (shades of Top Gear) and, whisper it, a van
!Yes, it was a very, very nice van. But it was still a van.
     Oh, and along the way, the Queen passed a huge, flashing road sign which shouted:
                                                                                                                                  
PLEASE PLAN YOUR JOURNEY HOME
On Monday, these letters appeared in The Daily Telegraph...

By the left, quick march
SIR – For The Andrew Marr Show yesterday morning the BBC typically invited the Left-wing journalist Polly Toynbee to review the papers and cast her sourly republican views upon the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
     For me the occasion was brilliantly saved by Rory Bremner remarking that she must feel a bit like Richard Dawkins on Christmas Day.
Ted Shorter, Hildenborough, Kent

Work in progress
SIR – I assume all republicans will be back at work on Tuesday.
Mary Jones, Cashmoor, Dorset

Slightly flagging
SIR – The best part was that there was not a single EU flag to be seen.
John Frankel, Kingsclere, Berkshire

LOL!
SIR – 6T YRS. OMG. LLTQ.
W J Dowding, Cambridge

 

♫♫♫  Happy birthday to One  ♫♫♫
SIR – My young son, who hasn’t yet learned the term “congratulatory message”, would like to know who will send the Queen a telegram on her 100th birthday.
Lizzy Costain, Matfield, Kent

Tellingly, that was delivered as a joke by one of the comedians during the Monday concert.

I name this Queen...
There have also been suggestions that “the time has now come when we can dispense with referring to our present monarch as Elizabeth II in favour of Elizabeth the Great”.
     Someone suggested Elizabeth the Faithful. But I liked this online suggestion best, from a Nickr: With regard a memorable name for the Queen, I suggest with today’s argot she might be termed Liz The Biz.

Every day a day at school spot: the word “argot” is one you never hear in the Bible or the Crazy Horsepower Saloon – meaning, I’m not all that sure what it means: jargon used by a particular group. Tick.

And what about this MATT cartoon, alongside, from the Telegraph? Very funny – and the character really does remind me of Private Joe Walker, the black market spiv (or Wholesale Supplier, as he politely puts it) from Dad’s Army

And I really smiled at this brief online exchange...

peckham_street_girl: My granny says this Duchess of Anne the horse lady dawter of Her Madgesty the queen invented this wurd ‘naff’. She told a photo man to naff orf or somfink and it got into tha dick shonary. Is this a true state ment plese?


BrainDirt
: peckham_street_girl has been around on other threads with similar tosh. Ignore it. It’s obviously a ruse.

SeptimusBrobe: England for the English. Peckham for the peckish
!

   Angels at two o'clock

And then, the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the Red Arrows provided a grand final salute to the Queen on her 60th anniversary as a monarch.


The Flypast included a Dakota flanked by two King Air aircraft flown by 45 (Reserve) Squadron which is part of Number 3 Flying Training School based at RAF Cranwell; a Lancaster, Spitfires and a Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, ahead of the Red Arrows that made their entrance seconds later.

          Over and out


                                                                                                                           Picture: Sang Tan

A wonderful image – but here’s a strange thing: as a one-time flying man, I’ve noticed during recent fly pasts that the Red Arrows do not appear to fly directly overhead the Mall to approach the palace at 12 o’clock precisely – head-on, that is – always at a slight angle, something the smoke trails highlight.
     Given the precision of their flying, there has to be some curious explanation for this. Google doesn’t help. Anyone?

Finally, this little gem from Elizabeth Grice in the Telegraph, following Monday night’s pop party...

If Prince Philip had ever been in any doubt about his eldest son’s ability to take charge of the situation, to gauge public feeling, to look after his mother and to carry the warmth of the Jubilee spirit into every damp street and home, this was a defining moment of reassurance.
     The Prince of Wales’s tribute to the Queen at the end of a tumultuous night was a perfectly judged homage – witty, spontaneous and crowd-pleasing in the best possible way – but it was also an inspiring, rallying message to his absent father.
     “The only sad thing about this evening,” he said, “is that my father could not be here with us because unfortunately he was [and here there was an interesting pause]... taken unwell.”
     His famously rugged and stoical parent, almost 91 years old, does not fall ill. He is “taken unwell”. It was a nice choice of phrase in a speech that was full of unexpected felicities and filial feeling.
     “But, ladies and gentlemen,” continued the Prince like a Forsythian master of ceremonies, “if we shout loud enough, he might just hear us in hospital and get better.” Then the crowd seemed to crack the sky with cheers for the belatedly loved, plain-speaking Duke.


I think my abiding memory of the weekend - excepting the memorable Grace Jones and her hula hoop - is the thought that Prince Philip does not fall ill. He is simply “taken unwell”. It really does sound just right.

 

Monday, June 4
The Diamond Jubilee Concert


WITH my fondness for all things eccentric and doolally, instinct hinted that tonight’s concert had “Bonanza
!” written all over it. And so it turned out. Memorable beyond.
     Prior to the concert getting under way, with the TV in the corner of the room switched on ready, I fiddled about online – as is my wont – and suddenly on the computer screen, up came this picture, remembering all the while that the live television images were showing a beautiful day in London Town, with clear blue skies holding court...
 

A rainbow forms over crowds gathering for the Diamond Jubilee
concert in front of Buckingham Palace    
Pic: David Bebber

Smashing picture. But hang about, I thought ... rainbows mean rain, indeed the dark clouds indicated rain. Curiosity took me to the Met Office rainfall radar web site, which shows rainfall over the previous six hours. Blow me, trundling from north to south were substantial clumps of heavy showers, passing just either side of London, as the picture, above, confirms.
     I guess that’s what you call a close call. Anyway, the party gets going...

Hula-hooping the Knight away with Delilah
Talk about keeping up with the Joneses: Grace and Tom set the bar rather high.
     Well, the talk of the concert has to be - and is - the wonderfully eccentric performance by Jamaican style queen Grace Jones, 64, who performed her entire hit Slave To the Rhythm with a hula hoop in perpetual emotion about her waist – no obvious rhyme or reason or explanation for the hoop, but that is by the by – and performed to perfection for four minutes before letting it fall to the floor at the end of the song and bellowing: “We love you - happy birthday, our Queen.” Now that’s what I call multitasking.
     The best description came from
Vanessa Feltz: “Grace Jones looked like an intergalactic visitor carved out of burnished marble.” Spot on, Vanessa. I can’t better that.
     Poor old Russell Harty, who was smacked by Grace Jones on a live chat show back in 1980, when he turned away from her to talk to another guest, must be smiling, somewhere up there.

And Tom Jones, just a few days away from 72, showing that he’s still got it - with bells and balls on. Whenever I now hear Delilah, I’m reminded of that letter from a Andrea Ritchie in The Times...
My, my, my: “We recently took part in a ‘sail away singsong’ on a British cruise ship. When the Welsh national anthem was announced we were treated to Delilah  by Tom Jones.”

Grace Jones: ♫♫♫ She wears red feathers
and a huly-huly skirt...

     “It is a fantastic feeling being up here tonight for the Queen’s
Diamond Jubilee,” said Sir Tom. As he performed Delilah, Prince Harry and
the Countess of Wessex were spotted singing along while waving their Union flags.
     After all, it is a jolly singalong song, as long as we ignore the lyrics.

Then there was Madness performing Our House atop Buckingham Palace, finishing with the line “in the middle of one’s street”, ho, ho, ho
!
     Mind you, those light show projections of “all our streets” onto Buck House were really rather clever and amusing, especially with those buses and taxis whizzing past, not to mention the houses opening up like a doll’s house.
     According to the Telegraph,
Tracey Thorn from Everything But The Girl  tweeted this: “I remember going to early Madness gigs and they’d be broken up by skinheads fighting, and from that to the roof of Buckingham Palace.”
 
As for the rest ... well, bearing in mind that the Duke of Edinburgh was watching from his hospital bed, did Annie Lennox and her backing group have to wear those feathered angel wings?
     And did Paul McCartney have to belt out Live And Let Die? The Duke must have spotted A Complete Dictionary of Prince Philip Quotations flash by in front of his eyes.

Oh, and I enjoyed the Prince Charles tribute to “Mummy”, plus his list of appreciations: “Thanks to the performers, the musicians, the comedians - who made such jolly good jokes....
!” 
     And all rounded off with a jolly good fireworks display, alongside.

Finally, the BBC coverage went some way to retrieving its reputation following the Sunday debacle on the Thames – had I accidentally pressed the red button to block out the vacuous celebrity observations? – and then they throw all the good work away by having the credits obscuring the splendid fireworks and Huw Edwards talking over the music … and they immediately go on to show promo film?
     Now Sunday’s disastrous television coverage of the pageant would have been a committee decision, so responsibility lies at the door of Director-General Mark Thompson – but the fireworks cock-up would have been an individual’s call.
     It would be wonderful to meet this person. He or she will surely provide a clue as to where the BBC has lost its way over recent years.


PS: Yesterday, following the wet and windy Thames Pageant, I said this:
And fair play to the Duke, 90, who [like the Queen]  also stood throughout; I mean, only last Christmas he had that heart scare.
    
Talk about tempting fate...
 

Sunday, June 3
Pageant-ing in the Rain


THE Thames Pageant was all going so well – and then the traditional British weather struck. But, it was all good fun, excepting the BBC coverage, which is coming in for much stick. I must admit, I watched much of the pageant on Sky, which concentrated on the river and the boats rather than those meaningless celebrities.
     Whatever, the whole point of this web site is to seek out the things that make me smile. So here we go...

Like a red, red rose

When Kate arrived in her scarlet outfit, my first thought was: Lady in Red – so whose Big Day Out is this anyway? But it was all very clever stuff as she blended in discreetly with the eye-catching upholstery on the Spirit of Chartwell royal barge.
     And the other point of this web site is the bit about “every day is a day at school”. How intriguing then to learn that the Thames Flood Barrier was closed for the entire day at 9.30 in the morning to slow the river from its usual 5mph to just a tenth of that speed and calm the tidal surge that normally makes the Thames rise by 21ft every six hours.
     How about that? The great river tamed and “locked”.
     How far away are we, do you suppose, from having a Britain Weather Barrier, when some sort of invisible force around our coast will shoot up to several thousand feet to divert bad weather around our coast – and dump it all on France?
     Mind you, I guess the Irish will have first refusal on what’s streaming in off the Atlantic.

The River Queen

I learnt very early in adult life that you reserve judgment on people and organisations when things go like clockwork – albeit a good starter for ten, obviously – but rather, you judge when things start to go amiss, or Mother Nature decides it is the wrong time of the month (think News International and how it allowed the phone hacking scandal to drag it down into the gutter).
     So full marks to the Queen for a bit of superior footwork when, despite the worsening conditions, she refused to sit.

“The Queen stood throughout the whole of it which was extraordinary and we did not expect that.” Adrian Evans, the Pageant Master, remarking on the Queen’s refusal, at age 86, to lounge on a purpose-built “throne” under the glass canopy of the royal barge.
And fair play to the Duke, 90, who also stood throughout; I mean, only last Christmas he had that heart scare.

My favourite picture of the day though, bearing in mind the weather, was this one...

                                                                                   
Dressed to impress

As the rain fell, this oversized hat on one of the boats in the thousand strong
flotilla, came in rather handy to shelter from the weather
    Pic: David Parker


With a nod and a wink to all the hats on display on the day, obviously.

I also enjoyed this, from Gordon Rayner, the Daily Telegraph’s  Chief Reporter...

After two and a half years of planning, the only thing the pageant organisers could not control was the weather, which only worsened as the day wore on and forced the cancellation of a planned fly-past of nine Naval helicopters.
     Nothing summed up the day better than the sight of the London Philharmonic’s choir, pausing opposite the Queen, belting out Land of Hope and Glory as rain plastered their hair to their faces.
     Not since the band kept playing on the Titanic has there been a more indomitable musical rendition in the face of so much water. If you could have bottled the droplets dripping from the choir’s chins, it could have been distilled and sold as Essence of Britishness.

Yes indeedy, the London Philharmonic’s choir seemingly singing “Rain, rain, go to Spain and fall on that blasted plain…”.
     In fact I was reminded of “Singin’ in the Rain”, the hugely smiley Morecambe and Wise version that is – with the shocking BBC coverage represented by that woman who throws a bucket of water out of the window over poor Eric.

I was also hugely impressed by a very man thing: how the
Spirit of Chartwell royal barge manoeuvred with such economy of space and time. It really did appear to be able to turn on a sixpence - as did every other barge.

My favourite moment though was the wholly unexpected sight of the full-sized horse puppet, Joey, from the hit West End play War Horse
, racing across the roof of the National Theatre and rearing up in salute.

                                                                                                  
Pal Joey

The National Theatre arranged its own special event to honour the Queen’s Jubilee


Magic. Or “Random awesomeness”, as Lordnanunanu2 observed online. The National Theatre has put out a brief video on YouTube. Well worth a quick visit and a smile...
                                                                                 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75blE32JgoU
 

Saturday, June 2
On your marks, get set – go
!

YESTERDAY the nation was ‘under starter’s orders’ apropos the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations – today, to the cheers of 150,000 race fans, the show got off to a galloping start at the Epsom Downs course.
     The Queen devoted the first of four days of Jubilee celebrations to one of her favourite pursuits: flat racing. In particular, the Investec Derby.
     There is something both delightfully doolally and wonderfully wise in the news that the Derby and all the other Epsom races, an industry which revolves around gambling, should be sponsored by Investec, an international banking group – boo, hiss, spit
! – specialising in asset, wealth and investment management!!
     It’s a rather glorious notion that the 150,000 punters at Epsom today were concerned with asset, wealth and investment management. Whenever I’ve been to a race meeting I go prepared to lose £x amount of cash without it upsetting my day; if I come out of it all in profit – well, that really is a bonus.
     The owners and trainers are wealthy for sure, but to them it’s all a hobby. Hang about though: the bookies
! Obviously Investec is there to look after their interests.

As yesterday, it’s a brace of images wot captured my imagination today. And talking of racing...

                                                             Every Union Jack has his Emily

Racegoers Emily Stables (left) and Tara McMeikan show off Jubilee-inspired outfits
during the Ladies’ Day of the Investec Derby Festival at Epsom Racecourse, Surrey.


Very eye-catching: it’s the horse that sets the whole thing off, really. And is she really called “Stables”?

Epsom apart, the four days of celebrations began in earnest with street parties and festivals staged in hundreds of villages, towns and cities across Britain. But I have to say, I was really captivated by this image...

                                               Oh you don’t get me I’m part of the Union Jack

A worker stands on a platform amongst hundreds of Union flags
in the rafters of Covent Garden in London
    Pic: Adrian Dennis


Now that’s what I call eye-catching. Wonderful picture.
 
Friday, June 1
Under starter’s orders


THE QUEEN’S Diamond Jubilee extended bank holiday weekend comes under starter’s orders today – so: on your marks...
     The media is already awash with words and pictures (both still and moving), but pride of place today goes to an image spotted in the Telegraph’s online Picture Gallery – and it stopped me in my tracks ... before a huge smile creased my face...
 

Pupils from Falkner House Girls School in South Kensington, London, enjoy a Jubilee street party,
                                   sitting next to one of their teachers dressed as the Queen
                  Picture: Wareen Allott

That is quite delightful. There are a couple of things that make it stand out from the run-of-the-mill stuff: the Queen’s face transplanted atop that outfit the teacher is wearing – plus the headscarf of course; but most of all, I am taken by the irreverent behaviour of the two girls.

Intrigued by the image, and as is my wont, I Googled the school ... this from the school’s home page:

Welcome

Falkner House, a school for girls between the ages of 4 and 11, is well known for its high academic standards and broad curriculum. Founded by Mrs Flavia Nunes in 1954 and run as a partnership, there is total commitment to retaining family ownership and direction. The Head teacher is Mrs Anita Griggs.

Falkner House is large enough to provide a full range of facilities and attract a loyal and highly capable staff but small enough to retain the intimacy and personal touch essential to a child’s development. Curiosity, self-confidence and independence of mind are fostered and each girl is encouraged to develop her own character and personality. Kindness, good manners and consideration of others are Falkner House essentials. Above all, in the midst of academic rigour, the girls have fun!

Girls quickly gain a love of learning and the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake. The latest technology is taken for granted but sophisticated systems and software will never replace inspired teachers. Falkner House blends the best of the old with the best of the new.

No wonder then, given that “the girls have fun”, I was so captivated by the smiley nature of the above image.
 
Thursday, May 31
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on old wives’ tales


HERE in Wales, our weather is a source of much amusement to those living the other side of Offa’s Dyke; our allegedly never-ending rain is a constant mine of gentle fun.
     After all, my home town has, somewhere along the line, acquired the affectionate sobriquet Llandampness. And anyway, if we want a green and pleasant land, with lashings of water to go round, we don’t want too much of that boring old sunshine.
     How delightful then that from the moment the Olympic Torch entered Wales – to the day it departed – the sun shone and shone, showing the country and its attractions off a real treat. So how doubly ironic then that the day after it crossed back into England (today), the rain returned.
     At least God/Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene (delete to taste) has a sense of fun.

This (and the picture alongside), from the Huffington Post...

Sir Chris Bonington holds the Olympic torch on the summit of Mount Snowdon on May 29, 2012 in Llanberis, United Kingdom.
     Legendary mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington, aged 77, was given the honour of carrying the torch to the summit of Wales’s highest mountain, the place his climbing career began 61 years ago.
     The Olympic Flame is now on day 11 [May 29] of a 70-day relay involving 8,000 torchbearers covering 8,000 miles.
                           (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
)


PS: Just a thought ... there’s the dragon on the Welsh flag, obviously - but is that a dragon masquerading as a flame? Magic.
 

Wednesday, May 30
You smell so nice I could eat you


JUST a quickie today; I am in the middle of moving home – from the west end of Dinefwr Park to the east end (perhaps I will now have to learn, and converse in, Llandampness rhyme).
     Anyway, moving is a bit time consuming, to say the least. So here’s something that tickled my funny bone no end in today’s Celebrity Quotes...

“The Queen never wears perfume when she visits the yard to see her horses as it can excite testosterone-fuelled young colts.” Clare Balding (born 1971), BBC racing expert, sports presenter, journalist and jockey.

Clare is openly gay; indeed, in September 2006, she formalised her relationship with the BBC Radio 4 continuity announcer and newsreader Alice Arnold by entering into a civil partnership.

Do I presume that perhaps Clare never did wear perfume when she was a young doe about town and as a consequence never excited those testosterone-fuelled young bucks about town?
     It’s an intriguing thought.
 
Tuesday, May 29
Keep taking the tabloids


JUST read this in The Sunday Times’ 
Tabloid Week by Roland White, and it tickled me no end...

There is an unspoken agreement between newspapers and people such as Kelly Brook, who might have films – or whatever – to promote. They pose for fruity pictures, and editors print these pictures to lighten all the stuff about economic gloom.
     In The Sun, Rod Liddle said he was “sick to death” of seeing pictures of Kelly. “There’s never much of a news story – just rubbish like she’s been shopping, or has eaten a spot of lunch, or gone for a swim.”
     His comment was illustrated, of course, by a picture of Brook.

Wonderful story that. Why does Liddle bother to write about her if he is “sick to death” of Kelly – and then go and show her picture — again.
     If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Mind you, to be honest, if she was standing next to me at the bar at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, I wouldn’t have a clue who she was. Anyway, here she is, obviously getting ready for a quick forty winks after having eaten that “spot of lunch” Liddle was going on about.
 

Kelly Brook, in the non-news again...
But what’s with all that hair on her breasty breast breast?

A bit of Old Vic gossip  
Roland White again...
Thursday’s Sun devoted half a page to the news that the vicar of St Helen’s church in Ipswich has run off with a parishioner. I can’t help wondering whether this story would have been so prominent if the Rev Michael Tillett hadn’t fallen in love with somebody called Mrs Alcock.

Shame he wasn’t called the Rev Michael Brown. Imagine the headline:
                                                                                                                    
Alcock and Brown fly their nests
Every day a day at school spot:
British aviators Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in June 1919. They flew a modified World War I Vickers Vimy bomber from St John’s, Newfoundland to Clifden, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland.
     Winston Churchill presented them with the Daily Mail prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in “less than 72 consecutive hours” and they were knighted at Windsor Castle by King George V.


Ah, those were the days, when Britain left its mark on history. And talking of leaving your mark on history...

Ve have vays of making you nice
“When Jonny Wilkinson kicked that last-minute drop goal to clinch the 2003 Rugby World Cup for England, I spent an hour ringing random numbers in the Sydney phone book and laughing fanatically. This means I’m not a good winner, either. I fear this may be a British disease.”
Jeremy Clarkson, 52, English journalist and broadcaster, explains that while he accepts that he is the world’s worst looser, he is also a poor winner, and craves the German sportsmanship which makes them probably the best losers in the world.
“I don’t crave their shorts or their jackets or their moustaches. But I do crave their sportsmanship. I crave their decency. I crave their niceness. I want to be a German.”

I know what he means. There is something astonishing about them. If they had not had a fellow sporting a silly moustache as their leader, they would probably have ruled over the largest empire the world has ever seen.
 
Monday, May 28
A free lunch


“Stick my name in Google and you will get 250 million hits. That level of fame is too crazy to comprehend.”
Selena Gomez, 19, American actress and singer.

I’d never heard of Selena, so that Google curiosity got the better of me: yep, 209,000,000 hits (0.16 seconds). I like that 0.16 seconds bit, whether it’s true or not, who knows.

All of which leads me to an amazing picture, one that gives an insight into why so many celebrities end up flirting with doolallyness, as indeed Selena hints at above.
     Last week saw the 65th Cannes Film Festival, with an endless parade of stars strutting their stuff along the red carpet.
Now what we normally see are said stars doing their thing in front of the cameras. This time around there were quite a few pictures of what the stars themselves were actually facing.
     For example, this mind-blowing image...
 

                       Nicole Kidman poses during a photocall for the film The Paperboy by director Lee Daniels       Pic: Eric Gaillard


My goodness, what a rabble. What on earth goes through the mind of an individual when confronted by something like that? Do they begin to believe that they really must be the most important person in the whole wide world? The Second Coming? That they only have to open their mouths and the world hangs on their every word, every syllable? Extraordinary.
     Or perhaps they think: Hang about, I’m going a bit mad here. I can’t get over that image. But do you know, the first thing that came to mind were ... vultures...

Vultures gather when they know there’s a bit of feasting to do. And the more vulnerable or unstable or doolally the subject matter, the greater the chance of a memorable meal, a photo to make the front page.
     And then the vultures gather in ever greater numbers...
 
Sunday, May 27
Necessity is the mother of invention


THE weather right now is as good as it gets in this part of the world. Picture perfect stuff. A clear blue sky with a brisk, cooling easterly keeping the temperature just about comfortable. So, being a Natural-Born Brit, now seems as good a time as any to think of rain.
     But before I look for shelter there, a few dots to join up.
 
I have just caught up with something from last month, when around a thousand inventions debuted at the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva.
     The power of human creation encapsulates the weird, the wonderful and the entertainingly silly. Coming up are two of my favourites.

The first is perfectly practical. A woman shows a South Korean invention to tie shoes with a single touch – see alongside – with a hook and a stop loop to control the tightness.
     Honestly, I think that is so wonderfully hand-on.

As for the second ... Weather does not normally stop my daily early morning walks on the wild side. Well, really heavy rain will; also, a combination of strong winds and driving rain will definitely halt my daily gallivant dead in its tracks.
     This year, believe it or don’t, only on three mornings have I been grounded. Mind you, if it’s really wet first thing, and the Met Office rainfall radar indicates that the rain will pass within an hour or two, I will delay my walk – but never more than that.

     Sometimes though I will get caught out: the radar indicates that the rain is about to pass, so I set off before it actually stops raining ... and an aggressive new depression will form along the passing front – and it rains and rains – and I get soaked.
     When the weather is a wee bit dampish I always take a compact, telescopic umbrella – a ladies’ umbrella I guess you call it. Now it isn’t that I mind getting wet, but because these days I wear glasses, it drives me nuts when they get all wet – and a small umbrella does the job of just covering my head and face. Works a treat.
     And now – ta-rah
! - Italy’s Marco Pagmini presents his invention, a hands-free umbrella - the perfect thing for the man who is a born multitasker. I know, I know, a rare beast indeed...
 


Now isn’t that as delightfully doolally as it gets? It helps, mind, that he looks a bit like a young Alan Whicker. Of course, the invention has to be very much a man thing – check out the fitting.
     Mind you, I’m just as mesmerised by that fellow on the right. He has a most distinctive look about him – you know how it is, some people have a look which makes you stand and stare.
     I’m not talking about a negative sort of appearance, say a disfigurement or simply someone you would never describe as an oil painting – nothing like that, but rather an idiosyncratic look. And that fellow up there on the right has that. I have no idea how best to describe it ... he just makes me smile.
     Whatever, I think I shall order one of those umbrellas, ready for when our weather breaks. Wearing that umbrella while walking though Llandampness as the commuters whiz by really would cause a stir...

PS: Alternatively, perhaps I should sit down and invent a pair of glasses with wipers – just as we have on our vehicles. Now that really would cause a stir.
 

Saturday, May 26
Spot the –spot (as opposed to the G-spot)

I HAD a pile of ironing to catch up with tonight – it’s a job I don’t mind doing, mostly because it gives me a chance to catch up with some radio listening, especially so programmes I’ve missed or want to listen to again, compliments of the iPlayer.
     However, I saw that the Eurovision Song Contest was on the telly. Doolallyness at its most delightful. In for a quaver, in for a demisemiquaver.
     And Engelbert Humperdink was on first. However, from the first note it didn’t look or sound good for Britain. Curiously, he seemed beset by nerves and his voice was all a quaver – or should that be ‘all a quiver’? And crucially, the song simply wasn’t strong enough to countermand that nervousness so obvious in his performance.

Mind you, I’m still smiling at those elderly Russian ladies, Buranovskiye Babushki, alias the Russian Grannies, the bread bakers, with their song “Party for everybody”.  Perhaps they should have been called the Russian Granaries, boom-boom
! Or indeed The Baker’s Half-Dozen? There were seven of them initially, allegedly, but rules allowed only six on stage.
     Be that as it may, as someone mentioned, those wonderful six old hot cross buns – combined age 484 – bore an eerie resemblance to a set of wrinkled Russian dolls, each one having popped out of the one before.
     With their song they exhorted us all to, “Come on and dance, come on and boom-boom-boom
!”, while baking biscuits in an oven revolving on the stage. Crumbs, talk about rising to the occasion. They came second, I see.

While Swedish singer Loreen sort of touched my
–spot, the moment it was mentioned in dispatches that her song had already stormed to No. 1 throughout the Nordic countries – well, there was really only one winner, something the bookmakers had known all along, and they understand these things.
     Poor old Englebert is still singing. The song simply wasn’t catchy enough. But, as Britain recovers from another night of catastrophe, at least pretty much all the other countries, while they may not like English songs, they still sing theirs in English – or at least some of the lyrics in English.
     The Russian Granaries, for example – and whisper it, even the French singer sang a little bit in English.

My thoughts on Britain’s recent non-runners? Well, t
hose who choose a Song for Europe at the BBC seem to have as much empathy with the public ear as an amoeba has with a dolphin. Above all, the song has to be catchy and melodic – and perhaps slightly outrageous: I am still smiling at the Russian ladies.
     By coincidence I have just been listening to The Proclaimers’ new release, Spinning Around in the Air. Now that has Eurovision winner oozing from every note.
     Is it truly beyond the BBC to come up with something similar next year? Give it a listen: not only is it incredibly catchy, but rather witty:
♫♫♫ If I could sing I would sing you a song in Sam Cooke’s voice...
                                                                                            
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRNc_2mtexE&feature=related

 
Friday, May 25
The tears of a clown


THAT fine line between laughter and tears is indeed a rather tenuous one. Yesterday’s smile included the ‘road sign’ I’d fashioned as a nod and a wink to the supposed obesity that is overwhelming our children.
     Well, today I came across a couple of examples of the genre that lie at either end of the scale. First, this memorably smiley picture...

                                   A clown wearing a sumo suit sits at a bus stop during a clown parade in San Salvador        (Photo: Luis Romero)

That is so funny. The clown himself, obviously, wearing the traditional sad look of a clown. But more than that, it’s the reactions of the two women, especially the older, toothless lady. Truly memorable.

Not quite so funny
Then today, the media has been awash with news of a Welsh teenager who had to be rescued from her home in a multi-agency operation involving at least 40 people. This from an online report...

The 19-year-old girl dubbed “Britain’s fattest teen” is in hospital today after builders, fire fighters, ambulance crews and police were called-in to cut her free from her own home.
     It is understood Georgina Davies was suffering with breathing problems but was unable to leave her Aberdare bedroom because of her weight — thought to be around 60 stone
[thats over a third of a ton]. An emergency scaffolding bridge had to be constructed from the road to the first floor of the house, and part of the front of the building demolished and internal walls removed in order to get her to an ambulance.
     Miss Davis was dubbed “Britain’s fattest teen” in 2008 when, as a 33-stone pupil at Aberdare Girls School, she was sent to an America health farm to undergo a strict diet. Her weight dropped to 18 stone during her time at the North Carolina camp, but after returning home to Wales she began to put on the pounds again.
     A joint statement from Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, South Wales Police, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Welsh Ambulance Service and Cwm Taf Local Health Board, said an operation was launched to “ensure the safe transportation” of a 19-year old girl to hospital for medical treatment.

It seems she was featured on ITV’s This Morning, back in February 2011, when she was 40st 6lb and had spiralled into a world of emotional eating...
                                             
                                                                                                      ...when I look at her, I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I smile because, I think ... clown, see the sumo image above, for that’s what she must look like - and some ... then I feel I should cry when I think: how come such a vulnerable individual, whose personal circumstances are so obviously well documented, was allowed to reach such a desperate situation?
     Sad beyond.

A little bit blue
I happened to catch The One Show tonight on BBC West – BBC Wales had an extended news bulletin to cover the arrival of the Olympic Flame in Wales. Anyway, one of The One Show guests was actor Michael Sheen, who hails from Port Talbot.
     The show did a feature on Richard Burton, who spent some of his earlier years living in Port Talbot. The question was posed: When will
The House Where Burton Lived In Port Talbot have a Blue Plaque?
     It seems that even Burton’s proper place of birth, at Pontrhydyfen, near Port Talbot, does not have one – although curiously, the first house he lived in when he arrived in London, does...
                                                                                                                       
Whatever, back with The One Show:
     Alex Jones to Michael Sheen: “Do you have a blue plaque in Port Talbot?”
     Michael Sheen: “No, I don’t have a blue plaque.”
     Alex: “Not yet
!
     Chris Evans: “He’s not dead yet. That’s the main criteria.”


Collapse of poor Alex, with a hearty
“D’oh!”, it has be said. Anyway, you’re not alone, Miss Jones: I never knew you needed to be dead to have a blue plaque in your honour. A plaque on your house!

So there you go: every day a day at school.
 
 
Thursday, May 24
I can still see you


JUST a few days ago, a rare annular eclipse swept around the world – the word annular makes me slightly nervous for some reason or other – but I note that it means a partial eclipse, where the moon is at its farthest point from the earth and appears smaller than the sun, thus leaving that famous ring of fire at maximum eclipse. Ah, now I appreciate my initial nervousness.
     There were loads of marvellous pictures from all corners of the globe, but the one that caught my eye is this one here...
 

The annular eclipse is captured through binoculars in Sacramento, California


The above is compliments of Mail Online, but unusually, there was no credit for the photographer. One is tempted to think that it’s a fake job, but actually, it feels right, the image makes sense.
     In fact, you can see the dirt and stains on the filter glass in front of the camera, which would have been needed to protect the camera and the photographer from the sun. Be that as it may, it is such a wonderfully inventive shot.
     Actually, the image makes me think of a strange looking owl with its head feathers sticking up - or something like that.

 

Stained crass politicians
“Politics is not always dirty but it can become unclean.” The Dalai Lama.

What a neat and tidy quote that is. Politicians are well established as the most disrespected, untrustworthy group of people on the planet. Strangely though, I really do believe that most of them go into politics to change the world for the better and thus make it a more equitable place.
     Sadly though, they are instantly seduced into this dreadful club they sign up to. It gives extra meaning to this famous but slightly paraphrased Groucho Marx quote:
                                                   
                                                         “I don’t want to belong to any House that will accept people like me as a Member.”

Ah, the wonderfully witty Groucho – and talking of which, there has been much over the past few days about David Cameron, who it seems is a master of the art of chillaxing. An ally is quoted as saying: “If there was an Olympic gold medal for ‘chillaxing’, he would win it.”

I quote this opening paragraph from a Telegraph  article...

We may mock the Prime Minister’s devotion to tennis and karaoke, but he is hardly the first politician to make full use of his free time.
     If the premiership of Gordon Brown taught us nothing else, it’s that prime ministers ought to relax once in a while. The duties of high office – managing the budget, handling the nuclear codes, sending affectionate text messages to tabloid editors – mean that anyone without a pressure valve is liable to go a bit barmy.
     Even Ed Balls would agree that Gordon, who passed the time when he wasn’t worrying about the economy by reading books about economics, could have profited from the odd game of five-a-side.


I had to include that piece, just for the line “sending affectionate text messages to tabloid editors, LOL
!” – ouch, one below the belt, methinks. Double LOL!

And finally, a little something that would have appealed to Groucho Marx, I'm sure ... this witty and laugh-out-loud letter in the Daily Mail , from a Bob Bailey of Bristol:
    
“Why shouldn’t David Cameron chillax? It’s not as if he is running the country or anything.”
 
Wednesday, May 23
Right said Fred – let’s have a fag and a cuppa


ANYTHING that can loosely be described as off-beat tends to grab my undivided attention and ring my bell. Whether it’s a joke, an event – or indeed Pussycat the dog, my landlord’s wonderfully eccentric but lovable collie sheepdog.
     The same goes for photographs. Today’s smile is a case in point.
 

A cheeky local, fed up with never-ending road works in Melksham, Wiltshire, decided to exact revenge, and has defaced a ‘men at work’ road sign to show a worker sat down, watching the world pass by while enjoying a fag and a mug of tea.
     Ah, you feel relaxed just looking at it. Unless of course you happen to travel that road regularly.
     Actually, I wouldn’t have used the word “defaced”; it looks a bit of a work of art to me – and never mind something of the night, it has something of the ET about it.
     The picture was captured by Clare Green, probably sitting at the permanently temporary traffic lights.

And here’s one I made earlier...
A few years back, the-powers-that-be laid a giant gas pipeline right across southern Wales, from Milford Haven in the west to Gloucester, just over the border. The whole – the hole? – caboodle passes right under the Llandampness doorstep.
     In fact, the huge civil engineering project featured over on
400 Smiles A Day  – follow the ‘Follow the pipeline’ link.
     What I remember mostly was an invasion of the huge machinery needed to carry out the task. The verges were littered with warning signs such as “Peiriannau trwm yn croesi” which, as you will see below, is Welsh for “Heavy plant crossing”.
     Now here’s the hopefully smiley part: “plant” in Welsh translates as “children”, so I had this childish idea about “Heavy children crossing”. Indeed, given how we are currently led to believe that our

children are doomed to a life of unhealthy obesity, I thought I would
design a road sign to stick outside our schools.
     All you need to bear in mind is that “Plantos” is Welsh for “kids”...
 


Perhaps I should patent it.
 
Tuesday, May 22
Time and a half


THE WESTERN MAIL’S  Saturday Welsh Homes supplement has a weekly feature where a VIP is interviewed about his or her favourite room at home. Last Saturday’s guest was a Naomi Thomas, principal second violinist with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Naomi’s favourite room is the kitchen; she also has to choose her favourite object, and this is the bit that caught my eye. I quote...

Naomi’s favourite object is a clock she bought from Cox & Cox. The clock has no face but is a set of black and white cardboard numerals stuck straight on to the wall.
     “You put up the numbers yourself and it’s quite tricky. It took me a few goes,” Naomi laughs. “It’s always a talking point. People come in and say ‘I love your clock’.”
     As a busy working musician Naomi constantly needs to know the time. “I’m always trying to fit this and that into the day so I need to know the time.”

     Don’t we all, Naomi, don’t we all.

Anyway, I was intrigued by Naomi’s clock: there was a photo of it stuck there on her kitchen wall. So I visited the Cox and Cox web site...
     Naomi’s clock was a basic, numbers only model, but the featured online clock was this one here, alongside, stuck to the window.
     It really is a very smiley affair and I can well believe that visitors to Naomi’s home would endlessly comment on her version.
     Let’s hear it for the clock. It deserves a big hand.


A letter in today’s Telegraph...

Some civil service
SIR – David Cameron is impatient with the Civil Service. The late Dr Piet Koornhof, a South African nationalist cabinet minister, had similar frustrations.
     “The civil service,” he said, was “like a tortoise. It goes slowly about its business, but pick it up or touch it and it stops altogether.”
Michael Brown, Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

And a Times letter from a couple of weeks back, compliments of Chief Wise Owl...

Patient concern
Sir, I misread the first word of your headline “Patent expiry is best medicine for cash-starved NHS” (May 5) and wondered if there had been another minor change in strategy.
DR PETER HARRIS, St Keverne, Cornwall

 
Monday, May 21
Men are from Mars, women are from Venus


BACK on April 25, I’d spotted this headline: G-spot “does exist”
     It seemed that a US gynaecologist, Dr Adam Ostrzenski, had climbed his very own Matterhorny and planted his personal flag on the elusive female G-spot, probably because – well, it just happened to be there, waiting to be conquered. Whisper it, but he’d found it while studying the cadaver of an 83-year-old woman. Which rather took the gloss off his discovery.

Well blow me, today I was flicking through some old Sunday Times  magazines before a day trip to the recycling dump, and I found this in the Ask Dr Ozzy column
(Caution: Ozzy Osbourne is not a qualified medical professional). Well, I never.
     And I never tire of reminding myself how stupid I am as a reader of The Sunday Times  not to appreciate that the “Prince of Darkness” is not a proper doctor.
     Whatever, here’s the question for Dr Ozzy...

Spot the spot
A gynaecologist in Florida claims to have found the female G-spot while dissecting the cadaver of a Polish woman, aged 83. Do you believe him?
Neil, Bristol

Even if he has found the female screaming-ecstasy button
[what I call the “I’ll have what shes having” thingy], if you need a fresh corpse, a sprocket set and a Black & Decker drill to get to it, what does it matter? We all know where Mars is, but nobody ever goes there on holiday.

Very good, Dr Ozzy. Personally though, I would say: “I know where Venus is, but it’s probably just that little bit too far from Mars to go there on holiday.”
     Oh yes, and the “sprocket set”? Is that some sort of rhyming slang for the old rocket in said pocket?

Also, this curious question was submitted to test the “Prince of Doctors”...

Doctor, doctor
The right side of my face has gone numb. Is it stress or something more serious?
Karen, New Malden

Your face is very important, Karen. If half of it stops working, you should do something more drastic than writing to Dr Ozzy. Please, for God’s sake: go to a doctor.


You have to believe that these letters are made up. Are we seriously expected to buy into the notion that a Sunday Times Magazine reader would write such a letter? Oh, hang on –
Caution: Ozzy Osbourne is not a qualified medical professional.
     Obviously, we are  that stupid.

Outside the box
“I didn’t just grow up with horses. I wanted to be one.” Claire Balding, 40, journalist, jockey and a BBC sports presenter.
Oh dear, Claire, that has ambush written all over it, especially if poison-pen TV critic AA Gill spots you going over the jumps.
     Old  AA Gill (other breakdown services are available: RAC Fin?) wrote about Claire in a TV review and labelled her the “dyke on a bike” – and yes, the paper had to apologise and grovel, although Gill merely proffered his usual two-fingered salute from the safety of his column, hiding behind Rupert Murdoch
s skirt.
 
Sunday, May 20
Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire and ladies gently glow


UNLESS you are the Queen, it seems...

“The Queen’s clothes are always impeccable. But it is also that she doesn’t glow. If you are a cold person, your clothes don’t crease.” Stewart Parvin, the Queen’s dress designer, explains the secret of why, for almost 60 years, she has managed to avoid looking flustered or creased: Her Majesty does not perspire.

Yes indeedy, hereabouts every day is a day at school. Now I never knew that non-sweaty people retain crease-free clothes – but as soon as I read it, it made sense. Parvin also reveals that the Queen has an assistant to wear in her new shoes and prevent chafing during public duties.
    
“[The shoes] have to be immediately comfortable ... she does get someone to wear them. The Queen can never say, ‘I’m uncomfortable, I can’t walk any more.’ She has the right to have someone to wear them in.”
     Yep, that makes total sense as well. [Mind you, I found myself momentarily diverted by the thought that perhaps I should ask Old Shaggy down at the Crazy Horsepower if he needs a lackey to wear in all those women he attracts like bees to a honey pot. But I digress already.]
     Stewart Parvin revealed other tricks too. The Queen wears an extra shoulder pad on one shoulder, for instance, and chooses bright colours to make her stand out in a crowd.
    
“She does drop on the shoulder slightly, as people do, so we put an extra pad in one shoulder,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing we do for most people. People have one arm longer than the other, one leg longer, so that’s what the fittings are for, to make sure everything’s as perfect as it can be.”

I smiled XL right there. You see, I have one leg slightly shorter than the other two – no, hang on: I have one leg slightly shorter than the other. I occasionally need to have one trouser leg shortened if I’ve bought a close-fitting trousers.
     I believe though that it isn’t that one leg is actually shorter than the other, but rather, for whatever reason, one hip is marginally larger than the other, and therefore one trouser leg is slightly tighter and pulled up. At least, that’s what I put it down to.

“It’s not as difficult as it might seem. I don’t have to introduce myself, they all seem to know who I am.”
The Queen, when asked how she coped with meeting so many people.


Wonderful. There’s no answer to that, as they say.

For your eyes left only
Yesterday, I featured the Armed Forces Tribute to The Queen at Windsor Castle, in particular, the flypast. Well, today I came across a picture taken during the parade, which featured nearly 3,000 troops marching past the monarch.
     You know how professional photographers, when taking a picture of a line of people, usually troops, police or some such like, and the picture is taken from side-on rather than full-frontal, the photographer will use the trick of the line- up looking straight ahead, but one individual leaning slightly forward and often looking towards the camera...
     It is always an effective shot because it draws the eye in. Well, here’s a spontaneous version of such a shot...
 

                                                                                                                                                                               Photo: AP
And again, it really does draw the eye into the picture. Marvellous. But I do worry if he had a bollocking after.
 
Saturday, May 19
The World turned upside down


LAST Tuesday, not only did it rain on
François Hollande’s presidential parade, but on his way to Berlin his plane was struck by lightning. On Thursday and Friday, the British delegation in Athens to collect the Olympic Flame was rained upon from a great height – yet on Friday evening the Flame lands in a gloriously dry Culdrose in the south west of England.
     Then today, the Armed Forces Tribute to the Queen encounters weather that can only be described as perfect for marching, flying and watching: not wet, not windy, not too warm...
     And this evening, a German team playing a European Cup Final, in its home stadium, not only fails to score from a proper penalty in extra-time to probably win the game – but looses a penalty shoot-out, shock, horror
!
     (Incidentally, why do teams celebrate a goal as if they have just won – the Bayern Munich OTT celebrations after their only goal comes to mind – when a potential ambush lies around every corner and cross? And of course it did: Chelsea equalise a few minutes later.)

Yes indeedy, omens, omens, how Europe must now be really, really  declaring a curse on these omens. All we need next weekend, just to prove that the world really has been turned upside down, is for Engelbert Humperdink to bring home the Eurovision bacon. Oink-oink, as opposed to beep-beep.

♫♫♫ Flying high, high, high, flying low, low, low
My favourite smile today though came somewhat unexpectedly, while watching The Diamond Jubilee – Armed Forces Tribute, a parade and muster at Windsor Castle, attended by the Queen, obviously.
     I made a point of watching it this morning because I’d seen on the local news earlier in the week loads of aircraft practising some impressive fly-past formations up in Valley on Anglesey, so I thought, must have a look at this.
     Just like last year’s Royal Wedding, the whole thing was terribly British in its pomp and ceremony, especially so the fly-past.
Twenty Tucanos, the RAF’s basic trainer, went past in the shape of a “60” to celebrate the Commander-in-Chief’s 60 years on the throne, a formation that was indeed rather impressive, first picture here...
 


And then 27 Hawk jet trainers flew over in an “E II R” formation. Perfection in motion, directly above.

A total of 78 aircraft from past and present took part in the flypast;  on the ground, all three armed services were gathered, while six massed bands played Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Britannia, et al.
     The whole thing was a sight for increasingly sore eyes from watching the nation’s politicians and wheeler-dealers do their best to rain on our parade.
     Anyway, the impressive flypast was trumped for me by something which took me completely by surprise. M
y vote goes to the mesmeric precision and voluminosity of the Three Cheers! to the Queen by the assembled 3,000 servicemen and women, who choreographically thrust their head-dresses in the air as they shouted “Hooray!
     It was a truly magical moment.

If you haven’t seen it, and you have access to iPlayer (before May 26, obviously), search The Diamond Jubilee: Armed Forces Tribute, and then at 1:46, Garrison Sergeant Major Billy Mott of the Welsh Guards begins his routine with “Parade will remove headdress...”
     Great stuff, a couple of minutes not to be missed.

PS: It can also be seen on YouTube ... it follows the Queen’s brief address to the Armed Forces:
                                                                                         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAg0zkdJErM&feature=relmfu
 
Friday, May 18
Raindrops keep falling on European heads


YESTERDAY, the Olympic Flame was handed to a British delegation out in Athens – and yes, it rained and rained and rained.
     The party included the Princess Royal – Princess Anne to you and me – Seb Coe, Boris Johnson and Games Ambassador ‘Sir’ David Beckham. Yes, the official announcer insisted that he was already Once A Knight Beckham (and he took it all in his stride and in good part, fair play to him).
     And it was still raining today in Greece when the Olympic flame took off for the UK – but, hold the front page, it was dry this evening when it duly touched down at Culdrose in the south west of England.
     Now we expect it to rain in the UK, but the other day it not only rained on François Hollande’s presidential parade in Paris, but his plane was struck by lightning shortly after taking off for Berlin to discuss the Euro crisis.
     And now it doesn’t stop raining in Athens. Omens, omens, a curse on all these omens
!

Look away now
Anyway, you know how it is when someone plants a thought in your mind, and no matter how hard you try to weed it out, there’s no way it can be done. It is burnt onto our hard drive for ever and ever, Amen
!
     My burnt-on image has to do with the curious London Olympics logo. Young Shagwell, of Crazy Horsepower fame, told me something about it which swings vicariously between hilarious, unspeakable and faintly disgusting, depending along which track your imagination decided to travel at the time.
     So if you want to avoid having something unutterable imprinted on your mind for ever more and a day, jump to the end of the picture, below, NOW...

Right, here we go. Have a look at the logo ... Young Shagwell casually mentioned what it reminded him of: young Lisa from The Simpsons, on her knees, doing something very naughty to the boy she is with, certainly something a girl of her age should never be doing, however grown-up she is.
     It’s the blonde hair that does it. Fortunately, Lisa is a fictional character.
     Now Young Shagwell never said what he actually saw, but I have to admit I laughed out loud – and there’s the rub: no matter how hard I now try to blot it out, I simply can’t get the thought out of my head...
                                                                                                                                                        
Don’t drop it
Tomorrow, the Olympic Flame begins its 70-day relay route around the UK:
The torch will come within 10 miles of 95% of people in the UK, Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey. It will enable local communities to shine a light on the best their area has to offer – including celebrations of local culture, breathtaking landscapes and dynamic urban areas.”

Now I have nothing whatsoever against the London Olympics; I certainly have nothing at all against the flame and the relay route – I wish it Godspeed – but I find it curiously reassuring that I am one of the 5%.

Anyway, let’s finish with my favourite Olympic quote thus far:
“In an effort to let everyone feel included in the event, it has been suggested that smokers standing outside the pubs will be allowed to get a light from the Olympic Flame as it passes. We’re still waiting to hear back.”
John Delaney, a resident of Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire, on the news that the Olympic Torch Relay will pass by the town’s three pubs.
Cheers! Not least in response to that splendid place name, Lochwinnoch.
 


Thursday, May 17
Can you see what it is yet?


ALL SORTS of things make me smile. And truth to tell, the more eccentric and doolally, the better. For example...

“Darling: did you remember to close and lock the garage door?”
                                                                                                                                 
Still, I suppose if you live next door to your friendly, neighbourhood Cathedral (?)...
     Be that as it may, this Mail Online  headline drew me in:

                                         Don’t worry if you can’t afford that £15m Ferrari of
                                        your dreams — just paint it on the garage door instead


Most car owners would keep their dream motor safely tucked away inside a garage. But one enthusiast need not even go to the effort of opening his garage up - his pride and joy is painted on the front. 
     After Chris Smart, from Bishopstoke, Hants, realised he could not afford the £15million car of his dreams, he did what any art student would do and got out his brushes
     Mr Smart, who studied art at college, said: “I hated the garage door before because it was really dull. I saw garage covers on the internet but wanted one unique to me. I have always loved this particular car and wanted to make it a bit of fun. Although it would certainly be nicer to have a real one in there.”
     The realistic three-dimensional scene does not only feature Chris’s dream car however. It also includes a depiction of Harry Potter’s broom, a KFC bargain bucket and even a naughty calendar tucked away behind a step ladder...
 
 

God’s little runabout No 2: nice touch, the pot of red paint, bottom right  Photos: M & Y Media

Chris’s wife, Kerry, who he admits sometimes does not see him because he is so busy with his paintings, said the picture was a good consolation to owning a real Ferrari.
     She said: “Chris has always wanted one but there is no way we could afford it. Painting the Ferrari on the garage door is as close as he’s ever likely to get to it – unless we win the lottery.”

This tale comes down on the eccentric side of a smile rather than the doolally. Mind you, I was rather concerned where he says “I hated the garage door before...”. I’m not sure you can “hate” a garage door. But I’ll put that down to overtly extravagant meeja reporting.
     There were the usual negative comments online i.e. that it was nothing new and that the whole thing had been done a few years back out in Germany, and anyway, you could now buy prints to paste on your garage door.
     Unbelievable, really, because Chris mentions precisely that in the article, but being an artist he wanted one unique to him.
Where do these internet trolls come from?
     Still, there was the usual slice of wit among the dross. This one tickled my funny bone...

Charlie, Chocolate Factory: Spooky that, I have just painted a picture of a garage door on my Ferrari!
 

Wednesday, May 16
It never reigns but it paws


POOR old François Hollande, the new President of France.  First he got soaked in a downpour as he rode up the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe, standing, as tradition demands, in an open-roofed car. Then his presidential plane was struck by lightning shortly after taking off for Berlin, forcing him to return to Paris and board another.
     François Hollande, who was sworn in as France’s new president yesterday at a low-key ceremony at the Elysée Palace, had promised a “normal” presidency, but his first few hours turned out to be anything but. Still, with a sang-froid  that may come to mark his term, Mr Hollande seemed unperturbed, and focused on setting the tone for what he billed as a presidency of “dignity but simplicity” (or so I learnt online).
     Then this morning, this letter appeared in the Telegraph...

Frangela’s first date

SIR – François Hollande, the newly inaugurated President of France, should be able to spend his first day in office in his own country instead of having to rush off to meet Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. Mrs Merkel could have travelled to France, even as a pretend gesture of unity.
Brian Earle, Elgin, Scotland


Fair comment. But I guess he has to paw the ground to impress the good Chancellor. However, I did enjoy this online comment from
Mgcocasal:
     Angela Merkel arrives at Passport Control, Athens airport.
     “Nationality?” asks the immigration officer.
     “German
!” she replies.
     “Occupation?”
     “No, just here for a few days.”


Ho, ho, ho
! Very funny. Mind you, it looks as if the next German invasion proper of Europe will be very different from the last. Everything is building up nicely. And they won’t have to worry about Spitfires and Hurricanes and Churchills...
     Then this comment, but I wasn’t sure in response to what...

grizzly: A former female work colleague routinely called a female co-worker whom she didn’t like a “dickhead”. When I objected to her using a portion of male anatomy to insult a fellow female, she quickly came up with a female alternative which made her chuckle all day long.

I have to admit, I’ve been chuckling all day long too, for the beauty of that tale is that you insert your own word according to personal taste and indecency.

Someone please turn the lights up
At 72 I am beginning to give up hope. The only girl who ever sort of threw herself at me was when I was performing in Cardiff in 1973. She could have played in the second-row for the Welsh rugby team without anyone noticing there was anything up.”
John Cleese, English actor, comedian, writer, film producer and failed twitcher.
 
Cleese may be a failed birdwatcher, but I see that he is now a twitterer.
     Anyway, I reckon that the bird he saw in  Cardiff was indeed a second-row rugby player. It could well have been Geoff Wheel, who earned his first Welsh cap in 1974.
     Wheel was (is) one of the great characters of the game. He was a huge, uncompromising figure, a Viking incarnate. Geoff Wheel had a noticeable and exaggerated twitch which only served to make him more intimidating.
     In 1977 Wheel, along with Willie Duggan of Ireland, became the first players to be sent off in a Five Nations international match.
     So I reckon Geoff Wheel was in the audience, he gave a significant twitch – remember, back in those days men sporting long hair was very much in vogue – and given his fair hair, Cleese mistakenly thought it was a girl making a pass at him, or “sort of throwing herself” at him – and so a leg-end was born.

A parting thought: One of the more delightful facts about Geoff Wheel, given what a fearsome figure he was on the field of play – and yes, quiet off, as often happens – is that he is the organist for All Saint’s Church, Kilvey in Swansea. Also, in 2011 he agreed to become the president of a Welsh male voice choir, the Swansea-based Gwalia Singers.

Geoff Wheel playing for Wales


I am of a mind to say that they don’t make ‘em like that anymore. But they probably do.
 

Tuesday, May 15
Love (LOL) – and the world laughs at you (LOL)


LOL
! I have related this story before, of a middle-aged daughter telling the tale of her mother deciding to take on the challenge of the computer world and venturing online to become a silver surfer – with marked success.
     Mum duly learned how to send e-mails; in fact she sent a brief message of condolence to the daughter of an old friend of hers who had died rather suddenly.
     Unfortunately, she signed off her message LOL, thinking it meant “Lots Of Love” rather than text-talk for “Laugh Out Loud”.
     It sounds a bit of a jokey story, but the elderly lady’s daughter was quite sincere in the telling of the tale. And it is  very funny, in an affectionate sort of way.
     Well blow me, who would have thought that David Cameron would be overtaken by exactly the same delightful gaff. The Prime Minister, until he was put right by Rebekah Brooks*, was apparently still using LOL, in it’s old-fashioned sense, to sign off his now infamous texts and e-mails to her.
     Imagine then my surprise today when Chief Wise Owl showed me a letter to The Times, from a
David Sweet of Nutley in East Sussex: “In Welsh the word Lol  means nonsense. QED?”

QED indeed. And of course lol  does mean nonsense. How did I not realise that when I first stumbled upon the curious LOL? And in Welsh-speak it’s quite a commonly heard word. I use it myself i.e. “Ydi, mae Dai Cam yn siarad llawer o lol.” Yes, David “can’t sleep straight in his bed” Cameron does indeed talk a great deal of nonsense. (“Cam” in Welsh means “crooked” or “bent”). LOL
!
     Talk about not seeing the nonsense for the laughter.

“The French are wiser than they seem,” observed Francis Bacon (1561-1626), adding, “and the Spaniards seem wiser than they are.”
     In another time and place...
“The electorate are wiser than they seem, and politicians seem wiser than they are.” QED?

Talking of politicians, another Bacon slice:
“He that talketh what he knoweth, will also talk what he knoweth not.”

* Rebekah Brooks:
Ever since the phone hacking scandal broke, I’ve been mesmerised by Brooks. In another time and place, I sense that she would have been tied to a stake, etc, etc – but my mother taught me never to make such thoughts public.
     Well blow me, now that she’s been charged with perverting the course of justice, husband Charlie Brooks publicly describes the current to-do as a witch-hunt.
     Now c’mon, if old Charlie himself sees Rebekah in such light, then I guess it really is open season.

Incidentally, singer and fashion designer Lily Allen has added another twist to the LOL lexicon: Lots Of Lawyers!

Now I wasn’t sure what to make of this headline...
                                                                                    
The weather is sexist, says MEP
Nicole Kiil-Nielsen, 62, a French Green party MEP, has claimed that women are at greater risk than men from the effects of climate change...

                         
                                                                
...she is especially concerned by suggestions that the weather discriminates against unattractive Spanish women after reading a report that said: “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”

I read the above in a respectable journal – and I do so hope it’s true. Even if it isn’t, it’s very LOL – whether in English, Welsh or legalese.
 
Monday, May 14
Free sex and pie squared


LISTENING to Roy Noble on the wireless this afternoon, he mentioned in passing, what with fuel prices climbing ever upwards and the economic situation making things hard for so many people, that one in eight motorists now drive on a near-empty fuel tank. Filling up these days is hugely expensive for those on a tight budget.
     Roy then had a brief conversation with Mark the friendly neighbourhood traffic dude, who mentioned that he did the opposite and kept his tank full, exactly as I do as it happens – despite the fact that in the dark corner, with a gallon of fuel weighing in at eight pounds, hauling around a half-going-on-full tank marginally increases fuel consumption.
     Best to avoid the potential ambush of spluttering to a halt while travelling through the pass, say I. Anyway, the two then discussed a particular fuel station in Cardiff, where diesel is always 20 pence more expensive than other places in the immediate area.
     Roy wondered aloud what precisely they were offering that other stations weren’t.
     As it happens, Mark knew the station, had actually been there and asked the lady why their fuel was more expensive: “Our fuel goes further
!” she responded. And Mark slunk away with his slipstream between his legs.
     But the thing is, I recall reading that you really do get better fuel consumption from some brands – something to do with the way certain companies treat their fuel, and that supermarket brands were the least efficient. There are some fascinating articles online.
     Anyway, what with Roy wondering if the station offered anything special for that extra 20 pence, it reminded me of this tale...

Going back a good few moons, Llandampness had a local fuel station owner who was known to one and all as 2B, short for Pencil (tall, thin and bald, the top of his head looked as if it had a rubber stuck there; great character though and occasionally referred to at my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon as Superleaded because he had much too much lead in his pencil, or so the word at the corner of the bar suggested).
     Anyway, just like the station in Cardiff, his fuel prices were always more expensive than anywhere else. One day I noticed a sign outside his garage: “Free sex with fill-up
!
     So I pulled in, filled the tank and popped in to pay. On the till was 2B himself, but in the back office I spotted the ever sexy Nina, looking as always like a goddess – so I asked for my free sex. 2B told me to pick a number between one and 10. “If you guess right, you’ll get the sex.”
     “Seven
!” I said with much enthusiasm, smiling at the responsive Nina.
     2B shook his head. “Close, but it was eight.” Bugger
!
     A week later I pulled in again, this time I had Ivor the Engine in the car with me (for new visitors, Ivor is one of the Crazy Horsepower regulars: he too is very tall, lanky, walks rather fast, hardly ever looks left or right, always staring straight ahead, hence Ivor the Engine – and is married to the lovely Gwladys, or Glad Eyes as we all know her).
     I filled up and, again spotting Nina floating about like an angel, asked 2B for the free sex. This time I guessed five.
     “Sorry, Hubie,” responded 2B. “It was six.” Bugger, bugger - and I thought I had been born lucky.
     As I drove off, I said to Ivor: “I think that game is rigged you know. He doesn’t really give away free sex at all.”
     Ivor replied: “No, it’s definitely genuine. The wife won twice last week.”

A rather hairy pie
Later in the programme, Roy was discussing recipes with a lady guest, and he told a tale of he and his wife visiting Scotland and the Kyle of Lochalsh on the northwest coast of Scotland.
     Feeling a bit peckish, they visited a café cum restaurant. It was half-two in the afternoon, and the place was empty – except for the waitress sitting at a corner table quietly having her own lunch.
     Roy studies the menu on a blackboard ... and being an ex-headmaster, he noticed an item and wondered what it was. “Excuse me,” he said to the waitress, “what exactly is Homity Pie?”
     “It’s all gone,” she says, “so it doesn’t matter.”

Memorable response. Incidentally, I see online, compliments of the Hairy Bikers, that Homity Pie is “a traditional British open vegetable pie: rich,
wholemeal pastry packed with a potato, onion and cheese filling, with a little added spinach and a hint of nutmeg for a Biker twist”.
     Hm, sounds a rather homely if hairy Homity Pie, except in the Kyle of Lochalsh on a mid-afternoon on a quiet day, obviously, where it is so popular it is all sold out. And if you don’t mind, the waitress certainly don’t matter
 
Sunday, May 13
3D or not 3D — that is the question


I WAS captivated by the eye-catching complexity of this work of art...
 


A young lady studies a 3D painting depicting monkeys playing with a pool of fish in Beijing, China.
(Photo: Quirky China News) Ah, but is she real or part of the optical illusion? 3D or not 3D — that is the question.
 
They are suddenly very popular – or at least I seem to have spotted quite a few of them in the meeja of late: yes, 3D ‘open-air’ paintings; or more correctly, 3D Street Art, often known as 3D Chalk Art.
     As perfectly illustrated in the above picture of the monkeys and the fish, it is 2-dimensional artwork drawn on the street surface itself, which gives the viewer a 3-dimensional optical illusion, if properly viewed from a certain perspective, that is.
     It can be breathtaking, realistic and at the same time captivating once you get the angle just right. And creating one is certainly a challenge as the artist is designing a realistic 3D view out of a 2D painting.
     Google 3D Street Art, and you will come across many spectacular images. Here are two somewhat off-beat examples I particularly enjoyed...

Having called it 3D Street Art, the first image, alongside, is 3D Inside Art. Whatever, it’s all clever stuff.
     What I particularly like about this one is not so much the illusion, but the two girls performing the balancing act...

And how about the one below, of a basketball, just lying there in the middle of the road?

Underground escalator in 3D time

 


Now that’s what I call an optical illusion. But hang on: 3D or not 3D — that is the question. I believe that Exhibit A, sitting there in the middle of the road, is an actual ball. Why? Well, look at the shadow of the leaves at the top of the ball ... the shadow appears to disappear behind the ball
! If the ball was artwork, the shadow would fall over the ball, no?
     Cunning stuff – but, believe nothing you hear and only half what you see. At least, that’s my take on the image.

A sneaky spot of dog-ing
I never watch shows like The Voice and Britain’s Got Talent – nothing whatsoever against those shows, it’s just that they simply never appear on my radar. However, there was no escaping the news today that Pudsey, the capering canine mongrel and his teenage owner, Ashleigh Butler, had missioned impossible to victory in the final of Britain’s Got Talent.
     So there was no way I’d miss a quick peep at the performance, compliments of YouTube ... remarkable is the only word to describe it. It seems that Ashleigh had come up with three distinct routines for her three appearances on the show, which is itself a mark of talent.
     I am not surprised that the dog has some dominant Border Collie genes, given its remarkable energy and need to “work”. I see that the dog also has a bit of Bichon Frise in its family-tree – and something called a Chinese Crested ‘Powderpuff’.
     Puff, the magic doggie, won on the TV... Anyway, it was all very magical. And proper smiley stuff.

Victory from the jaws of defeat
I have to mention the extraordinary finish to the football season — which I watched this afternoon — with Manchester City winning the Championship title in the last minute of injury time, after Manchester United thought they were the champs.
     Watching the faces and the wayward emotions of the two sets of players, management and supporters, as the two featured games drew to a close and swung from misery and elation to elation and misery, was mesmerising in the extreme.
     As I have said before, why do we put ourselves through the emotional mangle of following sport so intensely?
 

Saturday, May 12
Returning to our roots

“ONE DAY, maybe I’ll be a national treasure, like Tony Benn, but not yet, I hope.”
George Galloway, 57, British politician, author, journalist and broadcaster, and the recently elected Respect Member of Parliament (MP) for Bradford West.
[“People are fed-up with sound-bites, spin, sensation and scandal from politicians.”
The aforementioned Tony Benn, 87, British Labour Party politician, retired.]

There is something quite ironic in George Galloway being a Respect MP; outside of his ephemeral square mile, where he appears to be much loved, he could, just as well, be the Member of Parliament for the Despise party.
     As for his wish, I firmly believe all national treasures should be securely locked away deep in an underground vault.
However, George should be careful what he wishes for ... he could end up like this: hung, drawn and eventually quartered...
 

                                                                                                                                               Photo: Quirky China News
A man shows off a knotweed root in the shape of a person on the streets of Xuchang in central China’s Henan Province. Kong Lingfa says he bought the root from a peasant while passing through the Shengnongjia Mountains. The root looks like a male body, complete with head, face, arms, legs, penis and bottom.
     Passing through the Shengnongjia Mountains? Should it perhaps be the Shenanigan Mountains? Whenever I see pictures like this – and after I have stopped smiling, obviously – I always tend to think, believe nothing you read and only half what you see. Well, the picture itself is obviously genuine. But is the root? Probably. After all, roots do grow into extraordinary shapes, I seem to remember from the BBC TV show That’s Life
! (1973-1994).
     But what I like most are the expressions, even on the faces of the children. My favourite though is the woman just over the shoulder of the man holding the root. Her face seems to be saying: “I’ve seen enough of those to last me a lifetime.”
     Very funny. For some reason though, the above led me to this quote...

♫♫♫  Whip crack away
“The question of whether it is truly sexually gratifying to have a Wartenberg pinwheel roll over your nipples while handcuffed to a stretcher bar with a ball gag in your mouth is something I hadn’t really thought about in the sheltered life I lead. I haven’t even been beaten with a Perspex ruler.”
Barbara Amiel, 71, wife of Lord (Conrad) Black, 67 (one-time media mogul and convicted felon), after reading a novel about sadomasochism.

Black has just been released from a Miami prison after being convicted on multiple counts of fraud. It is rather telling that she has suddenly discovered sadomasochism following his release, know what I mean, chief?

A scamper through time
“The ordained dress code for Twickenham – Seventies-style gear – has caused anxiety among those of us who fear being awarded a fancy dress prize in a competition we never realised we had entered.”
Stephen Jones, of a certain age, a Welsh journalist and the rugby union correspondent of The Times and The Sunday Times, writing about the ninth and final tournament in the 2011-2012 HSBC World Sevens series, which kicks off today at Twickers.

Talk about identifying with a quote...

PS: If you have already perused yesterday’s piece about the Olympic Park orbit steel structure - just a quick scroll down - a memorable
MATT  cartoon has subsequently been added...
 

Friday, May 11
Ticket to ride


TURNED on the wireless first thing this morning, and this item was on the news...

The orbit structure at the heart of the Olympic Park in east London is being officially unveiled today. The 375 foot tall structure, made of lupin-red steel, was designed by the artist Anish Kapoor.
     “It’s an awkward, kind of edgy, form,” says Kapoor. “It’s a form in a way that’s always in progress, that is to say, becoming in some way or the other. I’ve watched this model and I’ve watched the whole thing going up over the last many, many months – and I still have the sense that it’s evolving...”


Now what on earth was all that about? So I went walkies online...

                                          
London 2012 Orbit sculpture: Is this our Eiffel Tower?

Anish Kapoor has dismissed criticism of his Olympic sculpture, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, claiming that nobody liked the Eiffel Tower either when it was first built.
     The £22.7 million tower, which is twice the height of Nelson’s Column, has been likened to an “overgrown maypole”, a “turd on the plaza”, a “catastrophic collision between two cranes”, a “mangled trombone” and “a contorted mass of entrails”. 
     Even Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London and the man who commissioned the work, refers to it as “the hubble bubble”. Boris went on to describe the tower as “a piece of truly spectacular modern British art”. He added: “It would have boggled the minds of the Romans. It would have dwarfed the aspirations of Gustave Eiffel, and it will certainly be worthy of the best show on earth in the greatest city on earth.”

Unveiling the tower to the world’s press, Kapoor said: “You know, the Eiffel Tower was hated by everybody for a good many years - 50 years or something like that - and now it’s a mainstay of how we understand Paris. It’s controversial and that’s a place to start. Discomfort is okay.”

So there! I guess you have to be there to feel uncomfortable about it.

Entering the tower will cost £15 for adults and £7 for children and senior citizens. The prices were set by London 2012 organisers and Kapoor has criticised the pricing as “a hell of a lot of money”. He called for a “more democratic” pricing structure in 2014 when the tower is open to the wider public.

As always, the best comment was spotted online, compliments of fleabane:
Kapoor’s done some good stuff in the past, so I shall reserve judgment until seeing it in the metal; I am however  disappointed that you don’t descend on a mat.

Ho, ho, ho
! Very witty. Mind you, it does look like a mutant helter skelter.
     However, the last word goes to cartoonist
MATT  of the Telegraph...
                                                                                                                          
A close shave
The other day I told the tale of Crazy Horsepower regular Chief Wise Owl going for a haircut – and forgetting to take his cap off when taking his seat; also, the tale of the priest, the vicar and the rabbi visiting A Clip Around The Year (put like that, it sounds like the opening line of a very dirty joke).
     Anyway, Old Shaggy, regular at the Crazy HP, has since told me of a time when Llandampness really did have a barber. He recalled visiting Les the Barber for a haircut and shave
. While the barber is foaming him up, Old Shaggy mentions the problems he has getting a close shave around the cheeks.
     “I have just the thing,” says Les, taking a small wooden ball from a nearby drawer. “Just place this between your cheek and gum – and let’s see what happens.”
     Old Shaggy places the ball in his mouth and the barber proceeds with the closest shave he has ever experienced. After a few strokes, Old Shaggy asks in garbled speech, much like when at the dentist: “And what if I swallow it?”
     “No problem,” says the barber. “Just bring it back tomorrow like everyone else does.”
 

Thursday, May 10
Political interface


On the sunny side of the street
“I feel like some overweight Alpinist carried on the shoulders of others to the summit of a great mountain.”
Boris Johnson, 47, reflects on his victory in the London mayoral election.


Yes indeedy, only Boris would use the expression “overweight Alpinist carried on the shoulders of others” to help brighten up the passing moment. Whatever you think of his politics, he has a wonderfully amusing command of the English language.
 
Meanwhile, on the shady side of the street
“If the Prime Minister starts to pander to the right wing, he is finished, and Britain is left with the globally embarrassing prospect that one of our great political parties ends up led by Boris Johnson who, as someone brilliantly tweeted yesterday, is one pint of cider away from being the village idiot.”
Alastair Campbell, 54, who was Tony Blair’s spin doctor, or rather, Director of Communications, as he preferred to call himself.

Alastair shouldn’t mock the village idiot because - well, he has been there. He is a self-confessed, well-documented depressive, who has been to the edge and peered over. And full marks for sharing his experiences of life on the shady side of the street with the world and its mistress.
     As I understand it, depression is much like alcoholism. Once you’ve been there and pulled back, you are still a depressive or an alcoholic, likely to be tipped back at any time by the pressures of the real world. Both conditions have to be managed every minute of every day.
     So it ill behoves Alastair Campbell to make fun of someone who is seemingly “one pint of cider away from being the village idiot”. Mind you, the truth, probably, is that the Labour party is much concerned with the notion of Boris Johnson leading the Tories. They are, to quote the legendary Welsh rugby coach Carwyn James, getting their retaliation in first.
     Be that as it may, Alastair Campbell would have been the author of that sexed-up dossier on Iraq, which Tony Blair used to propel the nation to war and which has cost the lives of untold numbers of men, women and children – that’s on both sides of the divide.
     No wonder the country is plagued by dodgy people making even dodgier decisions. But that’s politics for you, people who have as much empathy with the world about them as an amoeba has with a dolphin.
 
Swing low sweet chariot
“You only have to look at her curtseying to the Queen to see how much respect she had. She went so low sometimes that I wondered whether she would get up again.” Sir Bernard Ingham, 79, who was Margaret Thatcher’s spin doctor, or rather, press secretary, as he preferred to call himself, rejecting the view that the monarch and the former prime minister did not get on.

Now that made me smile. Not so much that a Tory says “press secretary”, and a Labourite says “director of communication”, but that we say spin doctor or liar, liar, pants on fire, let’s call the whole thing off – no, what made me smile was the image, alongside...

I can see why Bernard Ingham wondered whether she would get up again. One comment I saw noted that the Iron Lady was so in awe of the Queen that “her curtsey almost reached Australia”.
     For some reason, that Australia reference brought to mind the current and amusing Foster’s Lager TV ads, where a couple of Aussie Agony Uncles run a problem bar: “Is my girlfriend definitely going to end up looking like her mum?”
     By the way, what is Carol Thatcher up to these days? No worries, mate.
PS: I enjoyed this online comment:
“Why waste money on Foster’s Lager. You might as well drink the 15-day-old piss of an elderly toad.” GOOD CALL!


In for a penny, in for an iPad

“The Prime Minister says ‘We are all in this together’. So where do I pick up my free iPad?” Tony Schoonderwoerd, of Littleover, Derbyshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail  following news that
MPs will be given free iPads at a cost of at least £200,000 to the taxpayer, despite David Camerons promise to make a “virtue of thrift” during the spending cuts.

Perhaps David Cameron meant “thrifty with virtue”. Good call. Finally, a notice crafted with politicians in mind...

Taking the Fosters
“We are closed from Monday April 2 till Thursday April 12. We will reopen on Friday April 13. Sorry for your incontinence” Sign spotted outside a Chinese restaurant in Hipperholme, West Yorkshire.
 

Wednesday, May 9
Short back and sides


JUST heard this tale during a visit to the Crazy Horsepower: it’s a story about one of the pub regulars, the legendary Chief Wise Owl (CWO), indeed one of the deacons.
     Now CWO is noted for his neat and tidy appearance, always looking as if he’s just stepped straight out of Austin Reed’s flagship store in Regent Street W1; yes, even if only popping out for a pint of milk, let alone down the pub for a quickie or several.
     We regulars always comment on his well-groomed appearance, both behind his back and to his face. Quite naturally he prides himself on being something of a perfectionist, taking as much care in removing items of clothing (at least in the pub) as he obviously does putting them on.
     However, here was a neat tale about age, and how growing older affects all of us in some way or other. So CWO walks into A Clip Around The Year, the male section of a local unisex hairdresser’s...
                                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                                                                            ...sadly, as with so many rural areas of the UK, we no longer have a traditional barber in Llandampness.
     There is a vacant seat and one of the girls beckons CWO forward. He carefully takes off his coat and scarf and hangs them up; next he removes his sports jacket and carefully arranges it on a handy coat hanger. He then loosens his tie – CWO belongs to the generation that still wears a tie, even when going for a haircut – and undoes the top two buttons on his shirt.
     Finally he sits down in the chair. The girl, waiting by the chair, smiles sweetly – she knows that CWO is a handsome tipper – and asks nicely: “Are you here for a haircut?”
     “But of course.”
     “Perhaps you’d better take your cap off then.”

Oh dear, there’s always a little something that sticks a sprag in our wheel and stops our gallop through time dead in its tracks. It all reminded me of this...

Good deed for the day
The local priest calls at A Clip Around The Year. He duly gets his trim, offers up thanks to Helen, the lady who gave him the haircut and who also happens to be the owner, and asks how much he owes. “Father, you’re a holy man, a man of the cloth, so there is no charge for you.”
     The priest blesses her and says: “Thank you very much,” and goes about his business. The next day, 10 extra-large free-range eggs appear on the shop’s doorstep. Ah, how nice, Helen thinks, for she knows the Father keeps chickens.
     A few days later, the local vicar calls for his clip round the ear, and when the time comes to pay, Helen says: “No money, please, vicar, you’re a spiritual leader, a man of the people, it’s on the house.”
     The next day, magically appearing on the doorstep, 10 Easter eggs, with a note from the vicar to share them among the staff. Helen’s faith in humanity is underlined.
     The following week an unfamiliar face, a rabbi, comes in, has his haircut, goes to pay and Helen says: “No, Rabbi, you are a learned man, a wise man, I can’t take any money from you, go in peace.”
     Yes, the next day, Helen opens her shop - to find 10 rabbis waiting for a haircut.
 

Tuesday, May 8
A foggy day in somewhere or other


CAPTAIN Mark Phillips, 63, is currently in the news as he prepares to decamp to Florida with his new love, 35-year-old Olympic riding star Lauren Hough. This letter duly tickled my funny bone…

Rank outsider
SIR – Mark Phillips (report, May 5) has no more right to use his previous army rank as a title than does Lance Corporal Jones [Dad’s Army].
     Only officers of field rank (major and above) may use their previous rank when retired.
Gerard Needham, Ferndown, Dorset


So there
! And what followed was this little online exchange which amused me no end...

lordrayne: I understand that Mark Phillips’ nickname was “Fog” because he was both thick and wet. [The name unfairly dubbed by the Royals, it seems.]

politicallyincorrect: Get it right - Captain Fog
!


mfl: And there’s Captain Slow on Top Gear.

olafbloodaxe: Is that the same Captain Slow who drove a Bugatti Veyron around the Nürburgring at 275mph?

[Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see, olafbloodaxe.]

orangputeh: An officer friend of mine having served in the Royal Horse Artillery was once described in a report by his Colonel, thus:  “Looks good in the paddock, but I wouldn’t breed from him...”
Ouch. Do you suppose the officer friend’s response was “Bollocks
!”.

At ease, Captain

Anyway, Captain Fog or not, since giving up competitive riding in the late 1980s, and divorcing Princess Anne in 1992, Mark Phillips has become a one-man commercial conglomerate, earning mouth-watering fees for services that range from advising wealthy private clients to course-designing.
     He serves as chef d’equipe (“coach”, to non-horsey types) of the US eventing team, writes books and columns, farms 1,000 acres near Stroud and oversees the annual Gatcombe Horse Trials, one of the biggest events in the equestrian calendar.
     Quite how much he makes from all this is a subject of much horse world speculation. His son, Peter Phillips, once told The Daily Telegraph  that: “The most ridiculous thing I have ever heard about my parents is that dad has £4 million buried in the garden.”
     Sadly, Phillips Jr didn’t specify whether the ridiculousness related to the sum or the location.

Mark Phillips is to decamp to Florida with his new love, Olympic
 riding star Lauren Hough, who at 35 is just five years older than
 his daughter, Zara (left)
                                       Photo: SPRINGS


Every day is a day at school

Yes, it’s one of my tried and tested sayings. Today though I was put in my place when I heard this Homer Simpson clip...

Homer is feeling a bit down and Marge is trying to cheer him up: “There are many things you can do to feel better.”
     “Take another bath in malt liquor?” chirps Homer.
     “There’s that – or you can take an adult education course.”
     “Look Marge: e
very time I learn something new it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home wine-making course – and I forgot how to drive?”


So that
s why my memory has been playing up of late? Doh!

Much hot air
Then I saw this headline...
                                           
Dinosaur wind may have caused climate change

Eh? Would this have been the Wayward Wind? Or a Trade Wind? Le Mistral, perhaps? No, it seems that huge plant-eating dinosaurs may have produced enough greenhouse gas by breaking wind to alter the earth’s climate, research suggests.
     This is delightful doolallyness at its most exquisite. Are we supposed to believe that Mother Nature, in putting evolution together, overlooked the fact that dinosaurs farting in extremis could kill pretty much everything off, including themselves?

And talking of evolution: if you want to watch 90 seconds of delight, watch
The Simpsons – Homer Evolution.
     Oh, and watch out for the guy going the other way – devolution? Come to think of it, we humans are already devoluting at a rate of knots. Enjoy...
                                         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faRlFsYmkeY&feature=relmfu

 
Monday, May 7
Bird’s-eye view


YESTERDAY, it was a selection of Letters to the Editor, along with the amusement they generate. Today it’s photographs, and the power a perfectly captured image has to delight. This Mail Online  headline drew my attention...

                                     Bird’s eye Britain: Amazing collection of aerial photographs
                                   showing nation from above released to mark the Jubilee year


I wasn’t initially overwhelmed by the headline – after all, there are loads of wonderful aerial photographs of Britain floating about up there, not least as captured from the International Space Station. But I clicked anyway ... my goodness me ... I repeat the Mail’s  opening paragraphs...

This brilliant new collection of aerial photographs giving a spectacular bird’s-eye view of Britain from above has been released to mark the Queen’s Jubilee year.
     Bustling cities contrast with serene stretches of glorious countryside as sites that might seem ubiquitous from the ground are transformed into unique and wonderful images when viewed from above.
     The heart-stopping shots are the work of dedicated aerial photographer
Jason Hawkes who developed a real love of Britain’s varied landscape since taking his first flying lesson 20 years ago.

I show just one of the photographs...
 


I can’t say that I have ever seen such a dramatic photograph of London and Buckingham Palace – it’s that astonishing splash of green among the grey. The shape of the greenery reminds me of something, but I can’t think what. Beautiful though.
     Jason Hawkes clearly has the eye. A master at work. I commend a visit via the link, below.
     Incidentally, the one advantage that Mail Online  has over most other web sites is that it shows the photographs in a jumbo format, which means the detail is astonishing - note the difference with the above picture.
     Click and enjoy...

   http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2140304/Queens-Diamond-Jubilee-marked-amazing-aerial-pictures-showing-Britain-above.html
 

Sunday, May 6
Dear Sir or Madam


A CHANCE to catch up with some more newspaper letters. First, the Telegraph...
     Now we know about the drought conditions in certain parts of the UK – and that despite all the recent rain and flash floods; also, there appears to be growing concern about the possible demise of the good old fashioned face flannel, would you believe. Here’s a letter that brings both problems perfectly into focus...

All things are possible
SIR – Flannels are the answer to the water shortage. As a child I was given a bowl of water, a piece of soap and a flannel, and told to “wash down as far as possible, up as far as possible, and then wash possible”.
Ann Bartle, Harrogate, North Yorkshire


Fast approaching, at a rate of knots, are the Queen’s Jubilee and the London Olympics...

Putting the bounce back in your life
SIR – Jeremy Deller, the Turner Prize winning artist, has built a bouncy Stonehenge to mark the Olympics. To celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee, could we create a bouncy Edinburgh Castle for Scotland and a bouncy Giant’s Causeway for Northern Ireland as well?
Gill Evatt, Chandlers Ford, Hampshire

Hang about! What about us here in Wales? You know, that spot on the map where it says Here be dragons? So watch it.
     Anyway, perhaps Gill is an American who thinks that Wales, just like Texas, is merely a State of Mind. Perhaps she’s right.
     Whatever, we deserve something bouncy in our lives. I resisted a bouncy Snowdon, for rather obvious reasons, but which AA Gill would undoubtedly commend to the House.
     Recently, I told the tale of an Andrea Ritchie (April 26), taking part in a “sail away singsong” on a British cruise ship, and when the Welsh national anthem was announced, Delilah by Tom Jones was played.
     To properly celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee here in Wales, I think we should have a bouncy Sir Tom. Now there’s a thought.
     Arise – or rather, Bounce, Sir Tom Jones, and put the spring back in all our lives and loves.
 

Sir Tom the Jones in his Sir Dai the Dye days
Oh, and escorted by a couple of bouncers
!

And then – well, I really couldn’t make it up, this in the Daily Mail...

Gently does it
JOAN COLLINS says she bounces out of bed in the mornings. I tried that once when I was 79. I tripped over the cat, knocked over the commode and ended up in traction.
Mo Southcott, Ryde, Isle of Wight


Incidentally: What sort of ball doesn’t bounce? A snowball. (I remember that from a Christmas cracker, years ago – well, okay, last Christmas.)

And here’s another missive spotted in the Daily Mail...

Que?
SEEN IN A Spanish surgery: ‘English-speaking doctor available; please request’. What a good idea, I thought, maybe we should adopt it in England.
Mrs J Brooker, Hutton, Essex


Finally,
Viz Comic is Britain’s leading toilet humour magazine. Here, from the Viz archive, are three funny and amusing letters to the editor. Sadly, I do not have the names of the authors...
 

Mum’s the word
What’s all this nonsense about that 66-year-old Romanian woman being the world’s oldest mum? My mum’s 77. Beat that.


Glass half full
They say football is a game of two halves. Not for me it isn’t. I regularly down eight or nine pints whilst watching a live game on Sky TV in my local.

It’s in the post
I heard recently that, on average, Alex Ferguson receives two turds in the post each week. What I want to know is, who’s sending the other one?

 

Saturday, May 5
Funny ha-ha
!

THIS tickled my funny bone no end:
A small boy swallowed some coins and was rushed into hospital. When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was, a nurse said: “No change yet.”

I thought of something along the same lines, based on a Tommy Cooper joke: A small boy dreams that he is eating a giant marshmallow; the following morning the feather pillow is missing and he is rushed into hospital. When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was, a nurse said: “Comfortable.”

Of mice and men
Being invited here is like being a mouse invited to a dinner party by a cat.” Simon Cowell, 52, English A&R Executive, television producer, entrepreneur and celebrity, at the launch of an unauthorised biography of him by Tom Bower (65, a British writer, noted for his investigative journalism and for his unofficial biographies).

Hang about? What precisely was Cowell doing at the launch of an unauthorised biography? Honestly, believe nothing you hear and only half what you see.
     Intriguingly, I have never watched a single one of Simon Cowell’s shows, yet I feel I know him personally simply from the endless coverage he attracts in the media.
     (Let’s see now: his television shows attract an audience of around 10 million, the UK population is some 60 million, so by definition 50 million of us have no interest in him whatsoever. So why are the interests of one-fifth of the population shoved down the throats of the other four-fifths? An interesting philosophical conundrum that.)
     Anyway, I was fascinated that Simon Cowell identifies himself with Jerry, rather than Tom. I guess a watching world would say that Simon is Tom incarnate. He comes across as a bit of a bully, with his acts having to carry the heavy loads that are his personal expectations, as is perfectly captured in the image, alongside.
     Like Tom, his comeuppance lies in ambush.

 

And as if by magic...

IT’S IN FRONT OF YOU!!
“Obviously Simon Cowell has love bites on his mirror.” Kathy Lette, 53, Australian gossip columnist and writer.

Yep, that’s Tom all over. Meanwhile...

IT’S BEHIND YOU!!
“It’s Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee, William and Kate’s anniversary, and first birthday of sister Pippa’s famous behind.” Cindy Adams, 82, American gossip columnist and writer.

With Pippa now established as the butt of all jokes, I simply have to include this quote...

I’m included in the lists of the best butt or breasts with the likes of Megan Fox and Mila Kunis, who are 20 years younger than me. That’s a great satisfaction. My career is because of my look and I am not ashamed of it. My look has opened so many doors.”
Sofia Margarita Vergara-Vergara, 39, Colombian actress, comedienne, television hostess and model (known to the world at large as simply Sofia Vergara).

I liked the honesty of the quote – except I’d never heard of her...
                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                                                    ...Ahhh, now I see why she has that double-barrelled surname. Phew
! On Wikipedia I rather liked where it says Years active: 1995 – present.
     Mostly though, Ms Vergara reminds me of the young lady teacher, Justine Franny, arriving at her new school. She introduces herself to the headmaster and they have a little chat. The head eventually takes her along to meet her class.
     As he is walking along the corridor, and being somewhat absent-minded and eccentric, he keeps saying to himself: “Miss Franny ... Miss Franny ... I must not get it wrong ... Miss Franny ... Miss Franny...”
     He enters the classroom and he introduces the new teacher. “Children, say hello to Miss Crunt...”

I tell that story about Miss Franny because, if ever I have to introduce the delightful Ms Vergara, I’m pretty sure I’d say: “Childen, say hello to Ms Viagra...”

     Ah well, must keep taking the tablets.
 
May the 4th be with you
A banana republic

TODAY is one of those days of the year which tickle the ears of those of us who like to stop, stand, stare and smile at the pleasures of a passing world.
     Earlier this week, the UK’s postal rates shot up by a quite startling rate, first-class from 46 pence to 60. When the increases were first announced a few weeks ago, this letter appeared in the Telegraph...

Some first-class bananas
SIR – For the price of a first-class stamp, I can have two pounds of bananas grown, harvested, packed, shipped, marketed and retailed. Who says that a first-class stamp represents good value?
N S Daniels, Kirby Muxloe, Leicestershire


I knew precisely how I should respond to the above. But I had to keep it until today. True, my little story has made a previous appearance on Look You – but like any off-beat or agreeable tale, it stands being retold. Indeed, it rates as one of my more inspired moments...

Bananas: wrapped by God, delivered by Royal Mail
N S Daniels equates the price of a first-class stamp with two pounds of bananas. Back in 2006 I was captivated by an ad campaign which used a banana as a Post-it note; so much so I wondered if a banana would work as a postcard.
     On the 3rd of May 2006, I decided to post a banana to my local pub, first class, with precise postage. I wrote on the banana just the pub name and postcode, and on the ‘reverse’: “May the 4th be with you. From: The pick of the bunch”.
     Posting it without being spotted was an adventure in itself. Weighing the banana in the post office was not a problem – I pushed it inside an envelope and placed it on the scale. I then went home to address it and stick the necessary stamps on, with extra Sellotape to make sure the stamps and the ‘First Class Mail’ sticker didn’t come off.
     Mind you, sliding it into the post box was a potential ambush – someone was bound to notice – but I hid it under a larger envelope I needed to post anyway. Problem solv-ed, as Inspector Clouseau would say.
 

Visiting the pub the following evening, May 4, there was much talk of a banana delivered that morning by the postman, but in a plastic bag because it had been squashed while navigating the postal system. All we regulars came under suspicion, but I never let on.
     A year later I sent an actual postcard with a photograph of said banana, see above, bearing a similar message, signed Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ben). A week or so later I wrote about it on this web site, with photographs, look you
!
     When I next visited the pub, Thérèse, the manageress, come at me with a stern face: “I knew it was you all along.” She then smiled. “Nobody else would think of doing such a crazy thing.”
     Needless to say, everyone was most impressed with our local posties (warm and VAT free, as opposed to our local pasties which in future will be cold and VAT free in order to keep the cost down), not least that, despite their Royal Mail bosses, they had retained their sense of fun.
     It was a silly little stunt which gave me lots of pleasure. I did go online to try and find some information about the original ad which had used the banana as a post-it note, without success. I’m sure it was used by an electronics company – Sharp, or some such like.
     Anyway, while searching online, I came across this, made entirely of Post-it notes...
                                                                                                                                                   
Clever or what? Is it Elvis? I guess so. Sadly, I do not have the “artist’s” name.

Count me in

Normally, London’s mayoral elections would draw just a passing interest from me. This time around though I was intrigued to know what face the people of Old London Town would want to present to the World and its mistress come high summer and the Olympics.
     As I write, it has just been announced that Boris Johnson has won. Given that we are a nation known for our somewhat eccentric sense of humour, albeit waning at a rate of nots – that’s not funny, that’s not funny, and that’s not funny either – I did offer up a little smile when I heard the result.
     And all rounded off perfectly when Boris finished his speech – I kid you not – thus:
                                                                                                                                                   
“May the 4th be with you!
 
Thursday, May 3
Child’s play


THE INSTANT I spotted this picture, I smiled and smiled and...
 


                                                                                                                           Picture: Ben Bichll

School children wait with inflatable corgi dogs prior to the arrival of the Queen in Exeter. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were visiting the South West of England as part of their Diamond Jubilee Tour of the country.

There is something so deliciously amusing about that picture. I think it’s how the dogs are looking up, the way dogs do. And the leads. And of course, they are smiling, despite the corgi on the right having its paw trod on...
     I wanted to find out more about the story behind the picture. Where did the idea come from? Whose was it? What sort of discussions did they have at school before deciding to parade the dogs in front of the Queen? I did try, without success.
     Shame, for there’s another picture of the Queen looking down at the dogs, and clearly, she is amused. Also, when I Googled the story, I noticed that the picture has travelled all around the world. Unsurprising, really.

As I perused the Telegraph, this headline on the Letters page caught my eye

Importance of healthy meals shared with family
Teaching children to cook
SIR – Richard Harman, chairman of the Boarding Schools’ Association, is spot on when he suggests that children from families who eat together have a healthier diet (report, April 30). However, education has to be provided for the children and the parents so that an unhealthy cycle can be broken.
     Home Economics in schools needs to take on a more varied and sensible format. My son’s first experience of Home Economics ended with him making a sandwich. He went on to make a pizza and scones. I brought home casseroles, shepherd’s pie and crumble from my domestic science classes, and I was always excited about sharing them with my family.
     Let’s teach good, simple recipes that will give children an excellent understanding of nutrition, and a basis for them to explore more adventurous cuisine in the future. This will stop the ping of the microwave.
Marilyn Wathes, Witney, Oxfordshire

All that made sense to me, I have to say. Indeed, these two online responses grabbed my attention…

Danielfg: My grandchildren are taught to cook from about 4 years old, starting with peeling potatoes, which at that age is exciting. The result was that my 21 year granddaughter cooked a Christmas dinner for fifteen of her friends.
     Cooking should start in the home, but how many parents can be bothered?

That attracted far and away the largest number of
Recommends. However, I particularly liked this one...

Lordmuck: The marking in schools is too lenient ... 20 yrs ago daughter number 2 was in cookery class with other 9-year-olds to make Scotch Eggs. All the class had 9 out of 10 (one mark deducted for mass outbreak of talking), except daughter’s BF who scored only 5. Apparently ‘forgetting’ to insert the egg into Scotch Eggs is still halfway acceptable!

Staying with children...

I needed to telephone Fly By Night, one of the regulars down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, and who is, incidentally, a fisherman of note, hence the name, ho, ho, ho: “Hello,” says a gentle, rather quiet young voice at the other end of the phone.
     “Hello,” says I. “Who’s that?”
     “David.”
     “Hello David.” He is Fly By Night’s very young and somewhat mischievous son: “Is your dad there?”
     “Yes.”
     “Can I speak to him?”
     “He’s very busy right now - he can’t come to the phone.”
     “Oh, is your mum there?”
     “Yes – but she’s busy too – she can’t come to the phone either.”
     Hm, that all sounds rather strange, I remember thinking. Now I know David has older siblings: “Can I speak to either your brother or sister then?”
     David’s voice goes even quieter and reaches whispering proportions. “They’re busy too - can’t come to the phone.”
     “Is there anyone else I could speak to?”
     “There is a policeman.”
     I become somewhat startled. “There’s a policeman in the house?”
     “Yes.”
     My startled state morphs into concern. A long shot: “Is it possible for me to speak to the policeman then?”
     There’s a pause... “No,” says David really, really quietly. “Nobody can come to the phone – they’re all busy looking for me.”
 

Wednesday, May 2
Murder, she twinkled


YESTERDAY, I smiled at the brouhaha over AA Gill’s bully-boy comments about Mary Beard. I have the perfect answer for Mary, not withstanding the rather obvious fact that she is fully capable of looking after herself, of course.
     Today I listened on iPlayer to last Sunday’s The Best of Radio Wales. I heard a clip of an interview with PD James the crime writer, now 91, still going strong and sharp as a tack – I mean, who will forget her interview from a couple of years back with Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, when she took him to task in memorable fashion over the Corporation’s failings and made him sound like an overgrown schoolboy and anything but the DG of the BBC.
     [There’s a Telegraph link at the bottom to a transcript of part of the exchanges - it is somehow more telling than actually listening to the interview itself on YouTube.]
     Anyway, Baroness James left school at 16, and wrote her first crime novel at age 39, when she was already a widow. When asked if she had a favourite murder weapon, she said no, but the weapon should always be appropriate to the murderer.
     For example, elderly ladies, however murderous, are unlikely, in the UK anyway, to have access to guns. An elderly lady would probably murder by poison; she certainly wouldn’t have the strength to strangle anybody.
     In real life though, she added with an ominous tinkle in her voice, you would keep it simple. In real life, if you wanted to murder your husband (or Mary Beard wanted to murder AA Gill), you invite him for a walk along Beachy Head. “Come and see this, darling, a most interesting flower, here at the edge...” – and then you give him a push.
     As long as you don’t have a terrible conscience and confess, nobody can possibly prove beyond reasonable doubt that you killed him. He was close to the edge – I was about to call out a warning – and suddenly he wasn’t there...
     And there you have it, the perfect murder. The only flaw I can spot is that someone would be bound to see you. If Jeremy Clarkson wasn’t filming the 50th anniversary celebration of the E-Type Jag, then someone would surely be out walking on Beachy Head...
     Mind you, I still think Mary Beard should try it out on AA Gill.

Then I read this memorable quote – and thought, I hope this is AA Gill speaking...

“I don’t think I shall ever write anything again. I’m going to go out to a clockmaker’s, buy a clock and present myself with it.” Sadly, they are the words of Michael Frayn, 78, English playwright and novelist.
Great quote though, one of those
I wish I’d thought of that moments.

Finally, and still thinking “I wish I’d thought of that”, only today did I hear this about George Best, the most entertaining footballer the world has ever seen – probably – and spotted on a banner at his funeral back in 2005.
     It seems wonderfully apt that a footballer would have a banner held high at his funeral. Anyway...
                                                
Maradona good; Pelé better; George Best

Here’s the link to the PD James interview:
   
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/6920354/How-PD-James-skewered-the-BBCs-Mark-Thompson.html

 
Tuesday, May 1
Hair today, Beard tomorrow


“THE hair is a disaster, the outfit an embarrassment. If you are going to invite yourself into the front rooms of the living, then you need to make an effort.” TV critic AA Gill, 57, on historian Mary Beard, 57, who has been presenting a TV series on the Romans.

Well now, Gill’s poison-pen column, where he put the boot into a lady called Mary Beard, really did generate a terrible to-do in the meeja and online. My instant response would have been: “Gill, old boy, if, in the shadow of The Sunday Times  banner, you are going to invite yourself into the front rooms of the living, then should you not first wash your mouth out with soap and water?”

Anyway, I was intrigued by Gilly, Gilly, Ossenfeffer’s abuse of Mary Beard, so this evening I decided to join the good lady on BBC2’s Meet the Romans, an everyday tale of typical family life in ancient Rome, revealing stories of drunken housewives, teenage brides, bullied children, runaway slaves and - never mind the hair - a very dodgy looking Willy Wonka. She had me hooked from the word go.
     I say the word go, truth to tell, the first thing I caught myself staring at was Mary’s hair – something I would never have noticed but for old AA the Breakdown Man doing a Fred and Ginger (a song and dance routine) all over it. And?
     Well, what an old bitch Gill is. How could someone be hijacked by Mary Beard’s hair when she proved such diverting company with her enthusiastic knowledge of the Romans, especially her romancing of the texts on the stones. How superficial can the man be?

Be all that as it may, today’s top news story was undoubtedly the realisation that Gill’s boss, Rupert Murdoch, is a businessman “unfit for purpose”. Undoubtedly the least surprising headline since yesterday’s “Porsche drivers three times more likely to crash than Daewoo users”.
     By coincidence, yesterday I had a letter printed in the Western Mail  about Mary Beard, AA Gill and the old Dirty Digger himself...

Mixed Gill
SIR – The way any organisation conducts itself – neighbourhood pub, local government, high street giant, the BBC, and yes, even Parliament itself – is a precise reflection of the person at the very top.
     Given the furore over AA Gill’s attack on TV presenter Mary Beard’s appearance (“He thinks he’s clever but AA Gill’s just lazy”, April 25), note that Gill comes under the Rupert Murdoch umbrella.
     It is also instructive that the Times umbrella shields a spit of fine writers who have an incredibly cruel streak to their nature, as is regularly on show through their writings: Clarkson, Mathew Parris, Giles Coren, Simon Barnes et al.
     To the observant, every article, letter, paragraph and sentence we write leaves a DNA trace.
     Now Murdoch hasn’t achieved his wealth and power through being a regular nice guy, a pussycat. Like all powerful and rich people he is a polecat, successful because he will trample on or destroy anyone who stands in his way.
     Think of his comment to the Leveson Inquiry about Gordon Brown that he was not “in a very balanced state of mind”. He may well be right, but he said it simply to protect his own back.
     Incidentally, do you believe a single word Murdoch has uttered over the past year? Just asking.
     So it is no surprise then that those who work for him share his natural-born need to bully – Private Eye nicknamed him The Dirty Digger when he first emerged from the outback.
     This brings us back to AA Gill. His is just one individual’s doolally view of the world, a person you would not ideally want to spot moving in next door. You simply smile benevolently. Alternatively, you respond with wit and wisdom.
     Dr Madeleine Gray, in rightly defending Mary Beard, missed the good lady’s priceless response to Gill’s attack: “On balance, I think he is better at reviewing soup and shiitake mushrooms than television programmes.”
HB, Llandampness


Curiously, someone called
Samantha Brick, the journalist who was recently ridiculed for claiming “women hate me for being beautiful”, has risked further condemnation after saying that Mary Beard “is too ugly for TV”.
     I well remember the original shemozzle over Samantha Brick, 41, and I thought at the time it was all a wind-up, that Sam was having a bit of a laugh at the media’s expense – but it seems not. It appears she does indeed regard herself as the most beautiful girl in the world.
    She bemoaned her lack of female friends, constant amorous attention and jealousy at the hands of strangers in her bizarre confessional, all done in a bid to explain away why her “lovely looks” cause her such misery. (Yes, but what is she like in bed? We should be told.)
     Anyway, meet the ladies...
 

Mary Beard on what the Romans wrote on the wall

All in all, just another Brick in the wall

I note from the above that Samantha is an “award-winning” producer – but presumably a non-descript writer and journalist. Oh dear. Anyway, I enjoyed these two online responses following all the attacks on our Mary.
     This from a
Charlie Wild: Mary Beard is a babe. I laughed enthusiastically at that one.
     And I certainly appreciated this next one, especially so on reading the name of the poster:
Testaclese_the_Tautologist.
I really enjoyed “meet the Romans” and find Mary Beard a superb presenter, knowledgeable and enthusiastic about her subject. I don’t really care much about her appearance, but she is kind of cute in a sort of nerdy way. Far more an interesting human being than the dark, vain, superficial souls of AA Gill or Ms Brick.

Back with our “award-winning” producer, it seems that the term “Samantha Brick” was used so many times it became a trending topic, even becoming rhyming slang. “Erm, am I missing something??” someone asked. “Is this some new cockney rhyming slang? As in ‘she sounds like a complete Samantha Brick if you ask me’?”

Right, here’s a test question – time starts now...
You have to fly to the other side of the world, and the delightful young lady at the check-in smiles and asks: “Would you prefer to sit next to a Mary Beard ... or a Samantha Brick?”

I guess your two-word answer will say more about you than a thousand-word CV ever could.
 
Monday, April 30
Bits and pieces


ONE intriguing headline spotted over the weekend...

What if we ARE alone?
Scientists say Earth may be a “one-off fluke” and the Milky Way’s billions of other planets may all be lifeless.

That particular notion has always appealed. That there is no other life out there. Nothing at all. If I actually think about it ... it is slightly more unsettling that knowing that ET is on his way and wants to meet two people: the one Earthling that perfectly represents the worst of humanity; and the one person that perfectly represents the best of humanity.

But then today, this headline...

Big boost for alien search
NASA has said “BILLIONS of habitable planets may be lurking in the Milky Way”.

After all that, I’m not sure where to go next. I know: a quiet lie down in a darkened room to ponder who precisely are the two people I would nominate to meet ET. The worst of humanity is relatively easy; so many perfect examples to choose from. But who on earth is the one individual who best represents humanity? I’ll have to sleep on that one...

Meanwhile, the least surprising headline I have ever read. Probably.

Porsche drivers three times more likely to crash than Daewoo users

Now who would have believed such a thing? And how about this one...

Five-a-day confusion sees milk put on list
Around one in six youngsters believe a blueberry muffin counts as part of their “five a day”, a poll has found. Jam, milk, cereal and water were also listed by children as counting as fruit and vegetables.

I say, I say, I say
“I have a sharp tongue, so a lot of what I say can be construed as bitchiness. But it isn’t. I think I am more witty than bitchy.” Joan Collins, 78, English actress, author and columnist.

Hang on now Joan, my lovely. You would be fully justified in claiming to have a sense of fun, which I guess is true – but only others can decide whether you have a sense of humour, or more crucially, you are a witty person. That is probably what comes of being a celebrity and continually meeting fans who believe that everything you say is the height of humour and wit.
     It’s the famous celebrity ambush.

“I would love to have been around in the 18th century. You could have been a playwright, a rake, a Member of Parliament - all at the same time.” Tony Robinson, 65, English actor, archaeologist, writer, TV personality and political activist.

Hang on now, Tony, love. Why do you want to go back to the 18th century? Think Boris Johnson. Okay, he’s not a playwright, but we learnt the other day that he earns £250,000 a year writing a weekly column for The Sunday Telegraph.
     Money for old rope, I think everyone is agreed, especially bearing in mind what Rod Liddle of The Sunday Times suggested the other day, that actually, Boris writes the same little playlet every week, ever so slightly rehashed. So in another age, Boris could well have been a playwright.
     True, Boris is not a Member of Parliament, but he is currently the Mayor of Old London Town, and regarded by many to be the UK’s most influential Tory. As for being a rake ... well, I have no idea whether he’s into vices such as drinking and gambling, but if one believes only a smidgen of what one learns in the meeja, he does indeed indulge without restraint in physical pleasures. The old rocket rarely stays in the Boris pocket, allegedly.
     So Boris appears to tick all the boxes: a columnist, a rake, the Mayor of Old London Town. All very 21st century.
 
Sunday, April 29
Born to be Queen Bee


OVER the weekend, and today especially, there was no escaping the anniversary of the wedding of you-know-who.

Yesterday I spoke about the autumnal-type weather currently engulfing us. Imagine if today’s weather had been around a year ago. The point being, any outdoor event in this country depends so much on luck, as it does in most places in the world, really – yesterday I mentioned the rotten weather out in France as I watched a televised game of rugby – but the odds in this country are much shorter, obviously.
     Every outdoor event in the UK must have a Weather Plan B; mind you, the only Windsor Weather Plan B the royal wedding could have put into operation was no open tops, whether horse-drawn carriages or dad’s Aston.
     Anyway, a year on, and how have they done, Kate especially? Well, in June 2011, Top Gear did its magnificently memorable celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Jaguar E-Type – who can possibly forget that quaint English village populated exclusively by E-Type Jags? Priceless.
     Following that E-ByGum tribute, Jeremy Clarkson, back in the studio, looked down at the E-Type in front of him and said: “Do you know, this is the very last thing this country produced which made the world stop, stand and stare.” Or words to that effect. I remember thinking something similar.
     One of Clarkson’s fellow presenters suggested the Dyson. Jeremy half-heartedly agreed: “But the Dyson won’t have Spitfires flying over Beachy Head to celebrate its 50th birthday.”
     [It was noteworthy that on the wedding day itself, the lower-order guests were ferried to the church on time in Volkswagen-made mini-buses – quality British vehicles were also available, I’m led to believe by those who know about these things. D’oh
!]
     Anyway, it was only sometime later I thought: well, Kate and William made the world stop, stand and stare – at least two billion people are supposed to have watched the wedding live. And everywhere they go, crowds gather, stand, stare and cheer.

My favourite Kate and William images of the past year are these two coming up. First, Prince William and Catherine Duchess of Cambridge Barbie Dolls, launched to mark the wedding anniversary. The plastic figures were actually launched back at the beginning of the year and available to pre-order at £99.99 (by Mattel, dispatched from and sold by Amazon, gift-wrap available). Amazing.
     Said the blurb: “Each model measuring 11.5 inches tall, dressed in full wedding costume reflecting the originals worn at Westminster Abbey for the 29th April nuptials.” Now if this pic-of-the-bunch doesn’t make you smile, I’d go and see about it...

The perfect juxtaposition, above, came about through pure luck rather than judgment

I particularly enjoyed this online comment from a Jane of London: “The dolls are much better looking versions of the real thing. William’s doll has no receding hairline whilst Kate’s doll looks nothing like her because it does not include her elongated chin, turkey neck, high forehead or mannish looking cheekbones.”
     LOL, as they SAL (say a lot) online. I wonder how I could find out how many Barbies they’ve sold?

The other picture is from the couple’s tour of Canada. It makes my choice because many so-called media aficionados hated it: what were they thinking putting themselves about in cowboy hats and looking as common as muck? Delightful nonsense.
     When in Calgary do as the Calgarians do. And the Calgarians clearly loved it.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the past year has been how Kate has effortlessly morphed into the job. She seems more royal than most of the royals. Clearly there’s something of the landed gentry/ruling classes genes firmly lodged in the Middleton DNA.
     I enjoyed this just discovered piece by Will Hutton, written the day after the wedding...

Don’t slip on the soap
Of course that is part of the royal family’s point: to be the longest-running and glitziest soap on the planet – and this wedding was another classic episode: the gallery of medieval-style trumpeters made me laugh out loud, but at other times the effect was touching and affecting.
     Commentary is thus made infinitely harder: apart from the queen, no royal warrants any real reverence, so attempts to be serious collapse into unctuous banality. Simon Schama’s comment to the BBC’s Huw Edwards that there were three marriages going on – between Kate and William, past and future, and monarchy and nation – for my money won the prize.
     There was only one marriage; given the soap the Windsors have become, to suggest that the event represented more was unhinged.


Well, unhinged or not, William and Kate appear to have advanced on all three fronts; indeed, republicans have temporarily retreated behind the barricades.
     Yes indeedy, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Bang! You’re nearly dead

The only slip in The Middleton Armoury came just recently when Pippa ended up at a French aristocrat’s wild party, complete with stripper, dwarves and a nobleman on a chain - oh, and was photographed in the company of the direct descendant of Inspector Clouseau, who was photographed wielding a gun, albeit a toy one [apparently].
     I suppose one error of judgment by the Middletons over a 12-month period is acceptable, especially given the ambush that awaits around every corner.
     Oh, and it offers up an opportunity to enjoy a Nick Newman cartoon...
 

 
Saturday, April 28
Enough OnoH2O already

WITH this month looking like being the UK’s wettest April on record – made doubly ironic by the drought orders and hosepipe bans issued earlier in the month covering much of southern and eastern England, especially so with this weekend promising the mother of all downpours – I thought I would time-travel back just one brief month.
     Before going there, I heard on the radio that currently, Europe is split down the middle, weather wise: to the east they are enjoying beautiful sunshine and high temperatures; to the west it is all horribly wet and stormy.
     This afternoon on the box I caught a bit of a rugby game in France, where Biarritz defeated Brive in the European Amlin Challenge Cup semi – and it poured down. Very un-French was the weather. Very
OnoH2O!

Anyway, towards the end of March we enjoyed some truly beautiful, summer-like weather in western Europe, something I have previously covered, using some glorious NASA photographs which had captured a cloudless Britain and Ireland, both by day and night.
     I thought I would juxtapose a couple of them. Let’s remind ourselves of the two images, both taken, as far as I can tell, over the same 24-hour period – the first, taken from a geostationary weather satellite, which remains over a fixed point above the Earth...
 


The second, of course, was captured by the International Space Station (ISS), at some 200 miles high, approaching the UK and Ireland at a speed just short of 18,000 mph.
     All this leads me to an astonishing piece of film just released by NASA. It is a video which
features a series of time lapse sequences photographed by the current Expedition 30 crew aboard the ISS.
     Set to the song “Walking in the Air”, by Howard Blake (sung by Peter Auty, not Aled Jones as some believe), the video takes viewers around the world, through auroras, over dazzling lightning displays, past a glorious full moon - and a comet...
     Truly amazing – I was particularly intrigued at how those huge solar panels on the ISS keep adjusting their position to capture maximum power from the sun.
     I include a couple of links. The first is a Mail Online  link, an article, with photographs – the video is at the foot of the page – and the second is NASA’s own page.
     It really is worth a few minutes of your time. In fact I’ve watched the video several times, so mesmerising are the images – and the song adds a certain something to the experience.
     Oh, and it takes us away from all this dampness down here on terra firma – or perhaps that should read terra squidgy...

   
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2133567/Nasas-greatest-hits-Breathtaking-time-lapse-photography-shows-beautiful-planet-International-Space-Station.html

                                      
http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?media_id=141042671

 

Friday, April 27
More OnoH2O
The above, [
OnoH2O], is my newly discovered formula for “unholy water”, liquid rain from heaven that has not, curiously, been blessed.
     It could now also be applied to the drought orders issued across a large swathe of the UK [
OnoH2O], or even better, now that it hasn’t stopped raining since the hosepipe ban, with flash floods all over the shop, it could be [Ono - H2O!].
     I must briefly return to the Letters page of The Daily Telegraph...

Piddlin’ down
SIR – During the past 24 hours Britain has had over half an inch of rain. This equates to more than three billion tons. How much more of the stuff do we need?
Willy Pledger, North Selsey, West Sussex


Yes, it’s the name that grabbed readers’ attention. Here’s a brace of responses from the Comment board...
     Grizzly: Willy Pledger ... Never mind the rain. A lot of women must be asking: “Can you also deliver?”
     jp1000: Or willy (sorry, will he), get a waiver from delivering his pledge?

Oh yes, in another letter, a
John Bidder of North Harrow in Middlesex wondered if “all the unseasonably high rainfall since the hosepipe ban was introduced is an example of nature’s quantitative easing”?

Right, back to OnoH2O proper...

“I once worked out that if I drank less water I could use the toilet less, which meant I could fit more into my day.” Karren Brady, 43, business woman, author, columnist, motivational and public speaker and TV personality, from her book Strong Women: Ambition, grit and a great pair of heels.  She is currently Lord Sugar’s aide on the BBC TV show The Apprentice.

Polly Hudson, reviewing Karren’s book in the Mirror, said this:
I presume I’m supposed to find Karren’s story inspirational ... mainly because there’s a vaguely threatening quote on the cover from Lord Sugar saying: “Karren’s story will be an inspiration to women everywhere.” Maybe he actually said irritation, but was misheard.

I have never seen The Apprentice – merely watching the programme promos satisfies my curiosity. But I cannot stop myself smiling at the thought that there are millions of people hanging on Karren’s every thought and utterance.
     A classic case of throwing out the
H2O with the baby?

“I was beaten by a camel, a rice pudding and a teapot! A rueful Sarah Moncrieff, an accountancy consultant, on coming 35,815th in the London Marathon.

I truly hope that Sarah hadn’t taken Karren Brady’s advice apropos the
OnoH2O – but what a delightfully amusing quote though. It marginally helps balance the tragedy of 30-year-old Claire Squires who collapsed and died along the final stretch of the 26.2-mile course.
     We really don’t know what ambush awaits us round the next corner.


Tweetie Pie Corner
  “Eating a salad, dreaming of a cheeseburger.” Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, 26, better known by her stage name Lady Gaga, American singer and songwriter.

That certainly made me smile. So much so I had a look at her Twitter account, which I hear is the most followed on the planet, with 23,593,754 followers (will she end up with more followers than Jesus?).
     In fact, this was the full tweet...
“Just killed back to back spin classes. Eating a salad, dreaming of a cheeseburger #PopSingersDontEat #IWasBornThisWay”

I have no idea what that “Just killed back to back spin classes” means. Perhaps something to do with a personal fitness regime? Or could she have been meeting Tony Blair who would have advised her how to really spin? After all, the more you spin, the more millions you rake in from a gullible public.
     What’s interesting is that a sub-editor somewhere had taken out those seven opening words for the Quotes of the Day column I spotted. Very clever, for it makes the “Eating a salad, dreaming of a cheeseburger” that much more eye-catching and memorable.
     Everybody who twitters should have their own sub-editor, if only to stop at source the 90% rubbish that is tweeted.
Mind you, the pop diva hits the spot with this tweet in the lead up to the opening show of her global tour, which has just kicked off in South Korea.
                                               
Leaving for Korea in the morning. Bandana: Check. Leather Jacket: Check. Machine gun: Check. Pushup bra: Check. Yep. All packed!
 

Thursday, April 26
The wit and wisdom of letter writers to our national newspapers


CHIEF Wise Owl has passed me a few Times  letters for my smile spot. Taken together with some spotted in the Telegraph, they confirm what a rich source of entertainment these Letters pages really are. First, this from The Times...

I am shocked, shocked to discover...
Sir, George Osborne says he is shocked at discovering how little tax is paid by the rich. What shocks me is that we have a Chancellor who is shocked to learn a fiscal fact which everyone else has been aware of for decades.
DR MARGARET GULLAN-WHUR, Heacham, Norfolk


On a Comment board,
Tebbitforpm summed it up rather well: Some of the wealthy try to screw the taxman and some of the poor do the same to the welfare system. Those in the middle pay for it.

Along similar lines of incompetence, a missive in The Daily Telegraph,  spotted in the wake of this year’s Boat Race disaster, when a swimmer decided to disrupt and stop the race. Oh, and then the Oxford cox goes and forgets her TomTom...

A butterfly stroke in the Thames
SIR – The Boat Race resulted in a fiasco because the stewards and river police were totally unprepared, rather like the starter and organisers of the Grand National in 1993 [the race was declared void after 30 of the 39 runners began and carried on racing despite there having been a false start]. Sheer British incompetence on show to the rest of the world.
     If a man swimming at two miles per hour cannot be stopped by the authorities then I dread to think what will happen at the London 2012 Olympics, which will be the next target for every looney demonstrator, exhibitionist or would-be terrorist, imported or home-grown.
Roger Brown, Lincoln

Back with The Times ~ the 1982 Falklands Conflict remembered, bearing in mind the controversial sinking of the Belgrano after being struck by two torpedoes fired by the British submarine HMS Conqueror...

Depth charge
Sir, While senior backpacking in Argentina in 2010 we were met with friendliness and indifference in pretty much equal measure. But at a tango show bar, on our last night in Buenos Aires, each table was asked to declare its nationalities.
     The band played the intro to the Marseillaise for the French; the Italians got a few bars of O Sole Mio  and so on. For the UK audience? Yellow Submarine.
     Somehow it didn’t seem appropriate to stay.
PETER SAUNDERS, Blakeney, Norfolk


Ouch
! Then this one, which really does have the ring of truth about it...

My, my, my
Sir, We recently took part in a “sail away singsong” on a British cruise ship. When the Welsh national anthem was announced we were treated to Delilah  by Tom Jones.
ANDREA RITCHIE, Chislehurst, Kent


Truth to tell, it wouldn’t surprise me if more Welsh people know the words to Delilah than the Welsh words of the national anthem.
     Next, this marvellous Telegraph  effort...

Musical moths
SIR – Sarah Rainey (Features, April 18) warns that the warm spring has led to increased moth activity in our wardrobes.
     My piano restorer reports an increase in the number of pianos needing the felts replaced due to moth infestation. The solution is to put lavender bags, mothballs or a strip of moth paper inside the piano.
Linda Ebrey, Friston, East Sussex


Well, it is not so much the letter, but this smiley online comment, which drew an avalanche of ‘Recommends’...
Geniusloci: “My piano restorer reports...” Now that’s what I call a letter to the Telegraph!

Also, I musn’t forget the Daily Mail, whose readers specialise in one-liner letters, the Time Vines of the “Dear Sir” world – for example, following the huge increases the Post Office recently announced in the cost of postage stamps...

Frankly, my dear
I've emailed Royal Mail to tell them their stamps are too dear.
G Valentine, Rotherham, South Yorkshire


Finally, this from The Times...

Road rage
Sir, Why do pick-up trucks have such bellicose names? I’ve recently seen a warrior, an avenger, a thunder, a ram, a barbarian and a raging bull.
TONY PHILLIPS, Chalfont St Giles, Bucks

The above leads me neatly to this extraordinary photo in today’s Telegraph  Picture Gallery...

                                                 
“Hello, is that the very, very nice man from the AA?”
                                                                                            
“Pass!                                                     


The Srinagar-Leh highway road link opens for vehicular traffic after five months winter closure due to snow. Above, vehicles drive with great care near Zojila Pass, 67 miles east of Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, India.
                                                                                                                                                         
25 April 2012 / Picture: AFP

Wow! Literally, Wow! I feel dizzy just looking at that. I was struck by three things:
     1)  This is not a place for road rage, whether driving a warrior, an avenger, a ram or a raging bull.
     2)  It is certainly not a place to suddenly breakdown, AA cover or no (other breakdown services are available).
     3)  And what about traffic coming the other way? There obviously has to be some sort of control system, hence the convoy – but I guess patience is a virtue when entering the pass.


Adding the final sizzle
And so to my top smile of the day. Roy Noble, on his afternoon Radio Wales  show, was discussing the finer points of the humble sausage – and fascinating it was, too. Then Roy asked the expert in the studio if he had ever ordered and eaten sausages in the States. No.
     “What a palaver,” said Roy. “The waitress arrives and I order some sausages. ‘Pork or beef?’, she asks: pork. ‘Organic or free range?’: organic. ‘Fried or grilled?’: grilled. ‘Linked or unlinked?’...”

Oh dear, I shall laugh whenever I spot a sausage in future...
 

Wednesday, April 25
G-spot spotted at Ding Dong


YESTERDAY’S smile came compliments of the wireless in the corner. Ditto today’s. This morning, at the crack of Vanessa Feltz, she was on top form and had me grinning from the word go.
     Perusing the morning papers, she highlighted a breathless headline:  G-spot “does exist”.
     It seems that a US gynaecologist, Dr Adam Ostrzenski, has climbed his very own Matterhorny and planted his personal flag on the elusive female G-spot, probably because – well, it just happened to be there, waiting to be conquered.
     (I learn that the G-spot was
named after German gynaecologist Ernst Graefenberg, who first mooted its existence in 1950, and is claimed to be a highly sensitive area in the vagina that, when stimulated, gives a woman a powerful Meg Ryan “I’ll have what shes having!” moment).
     “I hasten to tell you,” adds Vanessa, “that other spots are available.” Ho, ho, ho
!
     Yes indeedy, Lady Vee, my favourite is the H-spot: no, not named after me, sadly (the Hubie-spot?), rather, the Hallelujah-spot. Amen and Awomen
!

Meg Ryan famously sings a song of orgasm,
unaccompanied, in the film When Harry Met Sally
(plus memorable look from the fellow in the background)

Oh yes, ‘G-spot spotted at Ding Dong’ at the top? Well, there’s a town in Bell County, Texas, called Ding Dong – which brings me neatly to the next bit of news Vanessa brought us, a story headlined...
                                                                  
 Dull’ is to twin with ‘Boring’

It seems the Scottish village of Dull is to forge links with a US town called Boring. While Boring was named after William H. Boring, an early resident of the area, Dull’s name may have come from the Gaelic word for meadow, although others have speculated that the origins could be connected to the Gaelic word ‘dul’, meaning snare. And to think yesterday’s headline concerning Dylan Thomas read: Dylan but never Dull.
     Vanessa then invited listeners to nominate their favourite place names – and in they came, thick and fast and funny. I’d never heard of many of them – and they are quite wonderful.
     Here’s just a pick ‘n’ mix selection (incidentally, did you know that the last ever bag of Woolworths’ Pick ‘n’ Mix sweets was sold on eBay for £14,500, the money going to a charity).
     Right, here we go...

A place by any other name
First, the familiar Middle Wallop: a village in the civil parish of Nether Wallop in Hampshire. Do you suppose the locals, when they need to visit Nether Wallop, actually say “Right, I’m off to They Don’t Like It Up ‘Em, Sir”?
     Horse and Jockey: a village in North Tipperary, Ireland. That name should win, hands down, but I’m not so sure.
     Land of Nod and Wetwang: both are villages in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
     Dog Town: spotted in California.
     Homer and Wigwig: both in Shropshire. If you were heading for Wigwig but landed in Homer, would you go “D’oh
!?
     Indian Queens: a village near Newquay in Cornwall. Do you suppose the locals call it Bollywood? Anyway, Vanessa actually played a song called Indian Queens, by a Nick Lowe. Every day a day at school.
     Upper Upham: a hamlet and deserted medieval village, set high on the downs, near Marlborough in Wiltshire – perhaps known locally as “Don’t Panic”, in honour of Lance-Corporal Jones of Dad’s Army fame (see also Nether Wallop, above).
     No Place: a small village in County Durham. It has to be pretty small, really. And there are no faint-hearted folk there.
     Nowhere: found somewhere in Norfolk, England; also in Oklahoma, America.
     Nameless: the town with no name, spotted in Tennessee. Quite how, I’m not sure.
     Santa Claus: found all year round in Indiana, America.
     Christmas Pie:
a hamlet, near Guildford in Surrey. The curious name owes its name to property owned by a prominent local family named Christmas. The “Pie” part of the name comes from the Saxon term “pightel” or “pightle”, meaning a small piece of arable land.
     Idle: resting in West Yorkshire ... on the High Street is The Idle Working Men’s Club, which attracts membership from all over the world.
     Ugley: hiding in Essex – and yes, there is The Ugley Women’s Institute – but they pronounce the place “You-glee”:
♫♫♫ You say Ugly, we say You-glee – let’s call the whole thing off.

Let’s not call the whole thing off, but go slightly off message, which is well worth the detour: in Shirley, on the outskirts of Birmingham, you will find an Indian restaurant called The Shirley Temple. Ah yes:
♫♫♫ On the Good Ship Lollipop ... Magic.

My own favourite name is a farm, just across the valley from where I live, and called, in Welsh, Golwg Y Byd – meaning, “In sight of the world” – and it is a perfect name because there is a glorious view from the farm. It really is a beautiful Welsh name, which just rolls off the tongue. Trust me. (Note to self: must pop up there to take a picture.)


Finally, how could I not include Knockin, a village near Oswestry? And yes, there really is a shop in the village called – ta-rah
!The Knockin Shop – see a link to a great Flickr photo in the nether regions of this post... In fact, the shop reminds me of an old joke, which highlights the upstanding delightfulness of the English language...
                                                                                                                    Knock-knock!
                                                                                                                    Who’s there?
                                                                                                                    The House of Hillary.
                                                                                                                    The House of Hillary who?
                                                                                                                    The House of Hillary Pute.

Yes, “the knocking shop” is another slang expression for a house of ill repute, brothel,
bordello, cathouse, whorehouse, strumpet house, sporting house and bawdy house. HOUSE!!
     All that means I must now include Hooker, Oklahoma: the city of Hooker is located in the centre of the Oklahoma Panhandle With Care - okay, I added the With Care bit.
     So there you have it, all the above smiles, delivered to my door before half-six of a morning. Not bad, eh? Anyway, here’s the promised link to Flickr’s Knockin Shop...
                                                                               http://www.flickr.com/photos/flickrjrt/5324549450/

 

Tuesday, April 24
Dylan but never Dull


BBC Radio Wales, in the run up to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations, has just begun twice daily packages of around five minutes or so highlighting the main events of each year of the Queen’s reign; sound bites apropos Radio 2’s recently finished Sounds of the 20th Century, which was an audio journey from 1951 to 2000.
     Radio Wales puts an emphasis on events Welsh, obviously. The series began, yesterday, with 1952 and 1953. The afternoon Roy Noble show broadcasts the second year of the day, so his show featured 1953.
     I enjoyed it so much I decided to listen in again today on iPlayer. The year featured Dylan Thomas, who was then well into his bardic stride and working on Under Milk Wood, a new ‘Play for Voices’; the famous Stanley Mathews Cup Final which Blackpool won 4-3; Hillary and Tenzing conquer Everest; the Queen’s Coronation, and her visit to Swansea; and finally, the sudden and unexpected death of Dylan Thomas.
     The clips began with Dylan Thomas, reading his own piece about
Laugharne, his very own square mile.

Now some people live in Laugharne because they were born in Laugharne, and saw no good reason to move; others migrated here for a number of curious reasons, from places as distant and improbable as Tonypandy – or even England – and have now been absorbed by the natives.
     Some enter the town in the dark and immediately disappeared, and can sometimes be heard on hushed black nights making noises in ruined houses...

Magic. What a way with words the man had. Mind you, he did seem curiously over-fond of the word ‘black’. Hm?

During the Everest clip, a reporter asked this: “Hillary-” Although his name was Edmund Hillary, everyone appears to address him as Hillary, even to his face. Anyway: “Hillary, what were your feelings on reaching the top?”
     A fair question, which he responds to with a smile in his voice: “Well, naturally, very pleased to get there – mainly because we had some difficulty in finding the top.” Much laughter in the background. “And secondly, I was distinctly interested in getting down again.”
     More laughter, for it was a most amusing delivery.

Then it finished with the death of Dylan Thomas, at the age of 39 (it seems he had predicted his own death “before the age of 40” - hm, think ‘black’). I really do believe that people can subconsciously sign their own death warrants - but that’s a discussion for another time. Anyway, this tribute from Huw Griffith, the equally famous and characterful Welsh actor...

“I once asked Dylan how would he like to act the part of the fool in King Lear. He laughed and his drooping cigarette wobbled as he answered: ‘You’d be casting too near to type, mun.’ Had he chosen he would have been a great actor. But no, he was a great bard, a great fool, and he has gone to bed at noon.”

What a wonderful line: and he has gone to bed at noon ... halfway through his day, his personal Three Score Years and Ten - plus Godly inflation, obviously.
     One of the more astonishing things about Dylan Thomas is that, even though he was well known and established when he died, and he had indeed done lots of radio work – a sonorous, Burtonesque voice helped, for sure – there is not a single moving frame of him.
     Perhaps it is waiting to be discovered, in an attic somewhere. Perhaps even in Laugharne.

The music played during the 1953 feature included Glow Worm by the Mills Brothers. Some great harmony, and some even greater lines...
              Glow, little glow worm, fly of fire,
              Glow like an incandescent wire;
              Glow for the female of the species,
              Turn on the AC and the DC;
              This night could use a little brightenin’,
              Light up, you little ol’ bug of lightnin’;
              When you gotta glow, you gotta glow,
              Glow, little glow worm, glow
!
                                                                              ...and what about the line “When you gotta glow, you gotta glow”? How smiley. I’m sure Dylan Thomas would have approved. There’s a great live performance of the Mills Brothers urging that glow worm to do his thing, right here ... glow man, glow...
                                                                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8myK93FqbYc

 

Monday, April 23
A cockeyed optimist


THERE is something oddly satisfying when yesterday’s smiles effortlessly morph into today’s. On Sunday I thoroughly enjoyed a thread of Daily Telegraph  letters about those fleeting bits of overheard conversations that often leave us amused – well, here are a couple more...

The eyes have it

SIR – Overheard at a table next to us in a restaurant, a man said to the woman next to him: “There’s nothing wrong with my eyes, it’s the glasses that are no good.”
Nairn Lawson, Portbury, Somerset

Very apropos that – see my response to the next letter...

How’s that?

SIR – Two elderly locals sat chatting in deckchairs behind us at a county cricket ground. One said to the other: “You played any cricket then, Bert?”
     “No,” said Bert. “My eyesight was never good enough. Done a bit of umpiring, though.”
Wyn and Doug Cole, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex


Well, that last one really made me smile. But, a word of caution that everything in this world is not quite as clear-cut as it might appear at first glance.
    
At school I was sort of average at all sorts of sports – never quite good enough though to make the first team. Well, okay at all sorts of sports – all except cricket, that is, which I was hopeless at. The flight of a fast ball always got the better of me.
     When I hit middle age at 35, I decided to have my eyes checked, having grown weary of seeing double after a few too many doubles (we know the joke: I go to the gents for a pee, see two willy wonkas, put one back in the stable – and pee in my pants).
     Anyway, the optician explains that I suffer what is, apparently, a surprisingly common problem (to some degree or other): my eyes register on two slightly different levels, thus creating two distinctly separate images. However, most of the time my clever little brain corrects this by pulling both images together, merging them into one perfect picture. Result: I couldn’t spot the join and my eyesight seemed perfectly okay.
     However, when I have too much to drink, become tired, or indeed as I grow older, the brain gives up. It can’t cope and the two images drift slightly apart, reverting to the default position, hence seeing double after too much to drink (before the breathalyser became established drivers often joked about seeing two white lines down the middle of the road as they drove home from the pub).
     In short, I am cockeyed. I now wear glasses.

Intriguingly, this condition was not picked up in my twenties when I passed a medical for a pilot’s licence. However, it explained perfectly why I could never quite pick up the flight of a cricket ball bowled at speed – the brain obviously couldn’t correct the two separate images of a ball travelling at speed towards me, so my judgment was – well, all to cock.
     Yet the condition still enabled me to accurately judge, say, an lbw decision. And indeed fly a plane. So the old boy sat in the deckchair wasn’t so daft after all.
     Those two old boys sat in deckchairs remind me of that Morecambe and Wise long-running gag, where Eric begins a story – which we never actually get to hear the end of i.e. the punchline. Imagine: a letter to The Daily Telegraph...

Not now, Eric
SIR – There were two elderly locals sat chatting in deckchairs behind us at a county cricket ground. One said to the other: “It’s nice out today, Bert.”
     “Yes,” said Bert. “I think I’ll take mine out as well.”
Eric and Ern, BBC Television Centre, London W12


Before leaving the business of seeing double, it takes me back to the musical South Pacific, in particular the song Cockeyed Optimist, which first saw the light of day in the 1949 Broadway musical – and boasts this line...
                                                                                                                                                       I’m just a cockeyed optimist
                                                                                                                                                       Immature and incurably green...
How about that? Incurably green, even back in 1949.

A Pussycat PS: Yesterday of course there was the tale of Patrick Moore and his book about cats, not to mention that cat which lurks deep within my genes and my psyche – and what did I spot in the Telegraph’s  online Picture Gallery today? Yep, this delightful image...
                                                                
Get this monkey off my back


Romain Mattei photographed what looks like a monkey massaging a stray cat on a pavement in Kuala Lumpur. However, the cheeky monkey was doing the moggy a favour by searching for fleas.
     Delightful.

 

Sunday, April 22
Hear, hear


OVER the past week or so The Daily Telegraph  newspaper has published a thread of letters about those fleeting bits of overheard conversations that often leave us smiling – and occasionally wondering what the hell all that was about. Here are just a few of my favourite missives...

If I hadn’t heard it with my own ears ...
SIR – I overheard an elderly man say to his companion while travelling on a London bus: “You must be philosophical dear. Don’t think about it.”
Michael Stanford, London SE23

Listening in
SIR – As a Durham undergraduate in the early Sixties living opposite the east end of the Cathedral, I overheard one American tourist say to another, “Gee
! What a cute little God box”.
Prebendary Philip Luff, Totnes, Devon


Prebendary
! What an unusual name, I thought to myself. So I Googled it: a prebendary, I learn in my ignorance, is a post connected to an Anglican or Catholic cathedral or collegiate church and is a type of canon. Prebendaries have a role in the administration of a cathedral.
     I’m never sure how truthful these letters are – meaning, these overheard “conversations” could be the work of a vivid imagination in order to get a letter published – but I guess I have to believe the good Prebendary.

Hear no evil, see no evil
SIR – It was in the Fifties when, as I stood at some traffic lights, a Hillman California, a British car with the wrap-around rear window which later became commonplace, pulled up. A lady close to me said to another beside her: “I don’t like that; you can be overlooked
!
Stanley Eckersley, Pudsey, West Yorkshire

Jack and Jill...
SIR – I overheard a couple coming out of a shop. She said: “What’s Jill’s name?” And he said: “Jill who?”
Tony Wheatley, Chichester, West Sussex


Now I like the above. I can hear me saying something silly like that.

Unscripted lines
SIR – Overheard in a crowded doctor’s waiting room: “I’ve never seen it as busy as this. It was exactly the same last week.”
Geoff Price, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

Earwigs
SIR – Overheard at a recent funeral, man to woman relative: “What did he die of?” Reply: “Oh, nothing very serious.”
Michael Stoneham, East Preston, West Sussex

This is where I began to seriously question how many of the published letters were genuinely overheard conversations, although I’m reasonably happy with the ones I’ve reproduced here. That last one, however, has whiskers on it, so I doubt whether it is genuine. But I’ll give Michael Stoneham the benefit of the doubt because – well, it is a good joke, after all.

Cat and squirrel
JUST a few days ago, I was rather taken with this quote:
“One of my ancestors was a squirrel.” Sir Patrick Moore, 89, legendary British astronomer and television star, when asked if he ever threw anything away.
 
This set me pondering which one of my ancestors had left its mark on my DNA? I decided that it has to have been a cat – a pussycat as opposed to a big cat. I mean, I’m an independent sod, forever chasing my tail, mostly for fun – oh, and I enjoy stretching out in front of the fire and purring the night away while watching the world about me go round and round in ever decreasing circles before disappearing up its own very private orifice.
     Well blow me, in today’s Sunday Times  I came across an article headed...

Paws for thought
Cats are meant to be dumber than dogs, but the reverse is true, says Sir Patrick Moore. Take his test to find out whether your moggy is Mensa material...

It seems Patrick Moore has just brought out a book:
Miaow! Cats Really Are Nicer Than People!
     I am somewhat dumbfounded that I had chosen a cat as my alter ego, especially so after reading that Sir Patrick Moore is descended from a squirrel. Anyway, this is what Patrick has to say...

It is generally said that the cleverest of all animals are seals and their close relatives. They are followed by elephants, with dogs some way down the scale and cats even lower. I am quite sure that this is not correct, however, and I absolutely refuse to rank cats below dogs. Cats are far, far cleverer.
     There are two immediate points here that I regard as important. First, it is wrong to confuse cleverness with cunning, although they may often seem the same. One has only to look at the front bench and cabinet members of our present House of Commons. They are certainly cunning, because they have the ability to make others believe what they say, but can you really think that they are actually clever?
     The answer must be a resounding “No
!
”. Away from their cunning politics, it would be hard to find a bigger collection of dunces.

The Sunday Times  cat: that it happens
to be wearing my glasses is a coincidence


Patrick has devised a series of fun tests to try out on our cats. Here is a sample question:
Your cat is sitting in front of the fireplace, near the fire, which is getting hotter. Does he...
     a)  move out of the danger zone?
     b)  stay where he is, purring, even though it’s clearly too hot?
     c)  wait to be picked up and moved?
     d)  go to sleep, oblivious to the heat?
It is fairly apparent that the sensible answer in this case is “a”, but not all cats will be sensible, so they may take one of the other options.
     Apply this test question to your own cat and make your decision. Does he merit an “a”? He may not. Tick the letter that you think applies to him – and be honest about it...

At moments such as this I tend to ask myself: how old am I? Whatever, as I am not owned by a cat i.e. I do not own a cat, but given my DNA affinity with cats, I am now that cat, so my answer is “d”, go to sleep, oblivious to the heat.
     And here’s why: on those rare occasions here in the UK when we have a sustained burst of very hot and/or humid weather, most people complain about the trouble sleeping at night. Well, as soon as my head hits the pillow, I’m off, somewhere over the rainbow – and I will sleep through any heat.

My joke about having a cat lodged deep within my DNA may not indeed be a joke.
 

Saturday, April 21
Spot the difference


SPOTTED this teaser on the BT/Yahoo
! homepage...

                                                 CAN YOU GUESS WHO’S PLAYING HITCHCOCK?
One of Hollywood’s greatest actors is barely recognisable in his role as the legendary Alfred Hitchcock: get ready to do a double take...

                      
                                                                                                                        
...as the first image of Welshman Anthony Hopkins as iconic director Alfred Hitchcock is revealed ... and it is truly an uncanny likeness.
     Best known for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in the 1991 thriller The Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins is almost unrecognisable in the recently released image.


That really is quite remarkable. When I first saw the headline, the name Anthony Hopkins did indeed flash through my mind from somewhere – but when I looked at the picture ... I thought ... no, can’t be.
     It is not so much the likeness – you can pinpoint shortcomings if you so desire – but it’s the projection of the Hitchcock persona within that one shot. It is pretty amazing. However, my laugh of the day – which will probably only register with, and be fully appreciated by, British visitors to this ‘ere square mile of mine – goes to this memorable online comment from
Roland:
             I thought Anthony Hopkins was Neil bloody KINNOCK ... I’m off to Specsavers
!


Yes indeedy
, the famous Welsh Windbag. A wonderfully funny-beyond observation, which unsurprisingly attracted loads and loads of “Recommends” on the Comment board.

Pssssssst...!
ON last night’s Have I Got News For You, hosted by comedienne Jo Brand - Jo can be rather funny when she decides not to swear merely to amuse all 15 year-old boys watching in their bedrooms - anyway, she quoted an anonymous source who had made the observation that
“Andrew Marr looks like Martin Clunes with some of the air let out!.
     A quote that made me, the audience and the teams laugh rather heartily. So today, I Googled away...

Andrew Marr, 50, a British journalist and political commentator. A bit of a serious cove, I suppose: a sparrow hawk and a roundabout, someone to navigate with care.
Martin Clunes, 50, an English actor and comedian. A bit of a jolly old soul, a pussycat and a lay-by, someone to stop for a quick chat and a laugh.
     Anyway, here we are...
                                           
                                                                                                                                          ...wonderful
! You know how it is when you meet someone who has lost a lot of weight, their facial features morph ever so slightly. Magic. That both Clunes and Marr are exactly the same age adds a little whoosh to the puncture picture. Shame the source of the quote remains a mystery.

Red alert
“If David Cameron wants a great leap to popularity, he should agree to Scottish independence as soon as possible - then we can invade them.” Peter Sargeant of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail. 

“A Caledonian Hitler.” David Starkey, 67, a British constitutional historian and a radio and television presenter, offers a rat-tat-tat opinion of Alex Salmond, 57, Scotland’s First Minister (who is obviously preparing for war).

I’m not sure I’d go as far as to label Salmond a Hitler – but I know what Starkey means. Salmond falls firmly into the polecat category. There is something very unsettling about his persona. I find myself wondering how safe the future of Scotland is in his hands...
                                          
                                                                                                    ...without doubt, there hides a polecat:
best to have him inside the Union pissing out than outside the Union pissing in.
 
Friday, April 20
♫♫♫   I say fook it and you say f--- it,
              I say Fooking and you say F---ing;
              Fook it, f--- it, Fooking, F---ing,
              Let’s call the whole thing off
!   ♫♫♫

FRACKING has been in the news all week. It’s what I would call an ambush word. It invites the obvious playfulness without actually causing offence. Already people are heard saying “Oh frack it
! and “I’m a man of very few words: do you or don’t you frack? But what a strange and clumsy word it is though.
     Fracking means “hydraulic fracturing”, the process of drilling and injecting water and chemicals into the ground at high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas.
     Shale gas is seen as a way of ensuring relatively cheap energy supplies. But critics have warned of the possible side effects of fracking - including the contamination of ground water, the triggering of earth tremors and, horror upon horror, the word becoming a common or garden curse.

When I saw this picture, alongside, the first thing that came to innocent mind was: oh, I didn’t know there was an actual place called Fracking – and why would they be ashamed of it?
     Then I read this accompanying Telegraph  article...

                                                       Austrian village F---ing to vote on name change

The Austrian village of F---ing is to vote on a name change in an attempt to escape the constant ridicule and attention the name attracts the picturesque hamlet.
     [Actually, the name rhymes with “booking”, which adds a bit of homeliness to the pronunciation. Back to the Telegraph...]
The 104 residents of the village are about to cast their votes on whether to alter the name. “People are now willing to discuss changes to the spelling of the name,” Franz Meindl, the village’s mayor, said in a television interview. “The only problem is, we need all of the F---ing residents to agree on whether they want to change it or not.”
     For centuries the tiny village in northern Austria lived life in happy obscurity, but everything changed when US troops, stationed in the area at the end of the Second World War, discovered it, and since then the village’s name has been a constant source of amusement for tourists and irritation for locals.
     At least 13 of the £250 road signs bearing the village’s name have been stolen, and the sight of semi-naked women posing for photographs beside signs has become a common sight. One local business woman, exasperated with people stealing her sign, has taken to adding another “g” in the hope it will deter thieves.
     A brisk market in postcards and Christmas cards making liberal use of the name have also managed to spread its fame.
In an attempt to curtail the fun generated at the village’s expense, some locals want to readopt its 16th-Century spelling and replace the “ck” with a single or double “g”.
     Experts say the town’s name is derived from Focko, a 6th Century Bavarian nobleman, and the modern spelling was adopted in the 18th Century.

So there you have it, a delightfully childish tale. I enjoyed all the asterisking bashfulness – fully understood though – but I decided to go down a different trail.
     Wikipedia says this of the place name:
German pronunciation: [fʊkɪŋ], rhymes with "booking". So I found this letter, ű, with those perfect quotation marks on top (Latin Extended-A subset, apparently), which I have decreed, in my humble opinion, should be pronounced “oo” – as in “booking”!
     So keep that in mind as you read on – it
s pronounced “Fooking”, okay? - and suddenly, the place name sounds delightfully amusing. Well, that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it.

The above Telegraph  story drew some smiley Comment board responses, the first then from the aptly named
Crosscop, which really did hit the mark: Surely the headline should read: “Austrian village to vote on Fűcking name change”

Given the global village nature of our world,
Bronazo suggested that, in reality, “We all come from Fűcking”. Very witty.

And a popular suggestion, apart from the idea that they should be building lots of condominiums, was that the village should cash in with a sure-fire T-shirt winner:
                                                                   
I    Fűcking

Fűcking Footnote: The villagers have voted to change the name to Fugging. But then came the news that there used to be a second village with the name Fűcking in Austria – and residents there had already bagged the name Fugging more than 100 years ago.
     Now you would have thought that they would have been aware of that crucial bit of information before voting took place. Whatever, back to the cursing board for the folk of Fűcking ...
 

Intriguingly, the broadcasting media has gone with the in-yer-face, aggressive pronunciation, rather than the gentler and much more amusingly proper one.
     On tonight’s Have I Got News For You there were a few bleeps as they discussed the story, yet if they’d gone with the proper way of saying it – well, it would have been even funnier, and not a bleep in sight.
     Which all goes to prove what a nasty little place to be stranded in is today’s broadcasting world. Ah well, c’est la vie...

PS: If you have already read yesterday’s smile - I’ve added a little something special (to my eye, anyway) at the very end...
 

Thursday, April 19
A brainy polecat or a playful pussycat?


“BRAINS are always attractive, especially in a context where almost nobody has any.” Clive James, 73, Australian author, critic, broadcaster, poet and memoirist, best known for his autobiographical series Unreliable Memoirs.

I like that, very witty, as indeed you would expect from Clive James. However, James, like so many great writers, has always struck me as one of those individuals whose toes I really wouldn’t like to step on, whether accidentally or otherwise, on a dark and stormy night in the middle of nowhere in the back of beyond.
     In other words, he falls into the polecat/roundabout class i.e. best to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in (as President Lyndon B. Johnson so memorable said of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover).

Incidentally ... memoirist? Well, a person who pens a memoir, I would guess, but officially:  
As a literary genre, a memoir (from the French: mémoire from the Latin memoria, meaning “memory”, or a reminiscence), forms a subclass of autobiography – although the terms “memoir” and “autobiography” are almost interchangeable in modern parlance.

Indeed, and as Eric Morecombe often told Ernie Wise while inspecting his supposed wig: “You can’t see the join you know.”

Oh yes, and while on the subject of “pissing”,
Lyndon B. Johnson also said this: Making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg. It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.”
     No wonder Gordon Brown always looked so bloody miserable.


Meet the familial
“One of my ancestors was a squirrel.” Sir Patrick Moore, 89, legendary British astronomer and television star (and delightful eccentric to boot), when asked if he ever threw anything away.

This set me thinking: which one of my ancestors left its mark on my DNA? A cat, I think. That’s a pussycat, mind, not a big cat: pouncing on a vole for lunch sounds more appealing than having to bring down a zebra with all the attendant risk to life and limb that would entail.
     And yes, stretched out in front of a roaring fire and purring away contentedly while watching the world shoot by as if strapped to a bullet train – and often chasing my own tail for no obvious reason rather than it being a fun thing to do – yep, all that stuff sounds very me, very Hubie.
     Oh yes, I’m also an independent old sod, so I’ll settle for this:
“One of my ancestors was a cat.” Mind you, I dont think all those little songbirds Ive befriended over the past three years or so, and which you will find dotted about all over this web site, will be best amused by the twist in my tail.

“When I went to the White House, all I wanted to meet was the President’s cat.” Elisha Cuthbert, 29, Canadian film and television actress...
                                       
                                                                                       
...you can probably hear me purring from the other side of the planet.
 

Wednesday, April 18
Coming or going?


SIMON COWELL: WHY I’M A LOVE MACHINE shouted the Daily Express  front page headline much like a frustrated University Boat Race cox.
     Above the headline was a picture of Cowell and a lady called Dannii Minogue. I shared a hearty laugh with the newsagent at the doolallyness of modern celebrity – oh, and we definitely chuckled at where we both rated ourselves in the LOVE MACHINE LEAGUE. Personally, I have always finished out of the frame, often unseated at one of the early jumps.

Anyway, I arrive home from my walk, sit down to enjoy a mug of coffee (laced with a generous dollop of scotch and topped with some double cream – makes up for my hopeless and hapless sex life) and peruse the Western Mail.
     I arrive at my favourite THEY SAID WHAT? column – and by hook or by crook, this was the first in the schnook:

“There were a few bonks and then it petered out when I was in America.”
Simon Cowell, 52, describes his brief fling with Dannii Minogue, 40.


Wikipedia informs me that Ms Minogue is an Australian singer-songwriter, actress, television and radio personality, fashion designer and model. Where on earth does she find time to fit in a “few bonks” along her hurried rush through time? Indeed, does she know whether she’s coming or going?
     Anyway, good luck to her. Mind you, I did find myself wondering what precisely Simon Cowell gets out of making such silly things public. Purely an ego trip, I guess.

Time and emotion study
“All women should be able to drill, paint, wallpaper, sew and cook. I am a passionate believer in doing things yourself across the whole sphere.”
Kirstie Allsopp, 40, wife, mother, businesswoman, journalist and British TV presenter known for the Channel 4 property programmes: Location, Location, Location; Relocation, Relocation; Location Revisited; The Property Chain; Kirstie’s Homemade Home and Kirstie’s Handmade Britain.


Gosh, I’m out of breath just reading Kirstie’s CV. And I bet you anything that, like Simon Cowell, she’s a love machine. Mind you, all that business of being “a passionate believer in doing things yourself across the whole sphere” did set me wondering. I hope she did actually say “whole”.

Ah well, back to the drawing board.

 

Tuesday, April 17
How strange the change from Major to Minor


“There is no better chat-up line than ‘Come up and see my statutory instruments’.”
Edwina Jones, 65, born Edwina Cohen and commonly known by her first married name, Edwina Currie, former Tory MP, reveals her bedroom secrets while subliminally planting in our minds the Major notch spotted on her bedpost overnight.
Shame Edwina missed out the “sometime” - as in: “Come up sometime and see my statutory instruments.”

Infamy, infamy
In 1988, the then health
minister Edwina Currie, provoked outrage by saying most of Britain’s egg production was infected with the deadly salmonella bacteria. Egg sales went sunny-side-under. The claim was simply not true and she was forced to resign. No more going to work on an egg for Edwina.
     She effortlessly became a Spitting Image free-range hit...
                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                                                                     ...something she accepted with good humour, as the picture here suggests. Incidentally, is she taking the oath on that Bible?

Infamy, infamy, Major Minor had it in for me
Currie’s Diarrhoeas – oops! – Currie’s Diaries (1987–92), published in 2002, caused a sensation, as they revealed a four-year affair with former Prime Minister John Major between 1984 and 1988, while both were married to other people. The affair started while she was a backbencher (nudge-nudge) and Major was the government whip (wink-wink) in Margaret Thatcher’s government.
     (Everything about the story invited us to make childish jokes – I plead guilty as charged; I mean, she is “commonly known by her first married name”, ho, ho, ho
!)
     After Major’s swift promotion to Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the relationship ended, but the two remained friends. Currie apparently ceased the affair when it became dangerous and impractical owing to the presence of bodyguards who had to be avoided.

     John Major duly admitted his four-year affair with Currie, and described it as the most shameful event of his life, but said his wife Norma had long known of the relationship and had forgiven him.
     He has since kept his rocket in his pocket. We presume. But he did go on to become known as the “grey man” of British politics, witness this famous Spitting Image puppet...
                                                                                          
What I vividly remember when the news broke of the Major-Currie affair, was the difficulty in picturing the two of them bonking the night away. After all, how can we forget the cartoon of Major with
his underpants worn over his trousers following a seriously doolally Edwina informing a cringing public about John Major’s large blue underpants.
     Oh, and their shared baths. How delightfully embarrassing it all was...
                                                                                                                            

If I said you had a beautiful body...
Back with Edwina’s favoured chat-up line,
I can only reintroduce my own favourite, paraphrased from the 1954 film, Beau Brummell...
                  “You strike me as a lady blessed with a wonderful talent for reducing the size of a man’s troubles.”

Down the years, before quality control caught up with me (a polite expression for growing older, or womenopause coming up fast on the rails), the line never failed to raise a smile – but I really never cashed in on the sales pitch because I have always been totally useless at closing the deal, whether it be personal or business.
     Still, I have grown to appreciate Dorothy L. Sayers’ maxim that a trouble shared is a trouble halved.

PS: I have some homework, having just spotted this quote in the Western Mail...
“If you can define what God is, I can tell you whether I believe in it.”
Michael Sheen, 43, Welsh stage and screen actor.


God, I enjoy a challenge – definition coming up on the rails, sometime soon
!
 

Monday, April 16
The unspeakable in full pursuit of the unbelievable

WITH apologies to the ghost of Oscar Wilde: “One knows so well the popular idea of modern entertainment and sport. The British media galloping after a politician – the unspeakable in full pursuit of the unbelievable.”

“He looks like he got dressed in a hurry, possibly escaping over a garden fence.” AA Gill, columnist for The Sunday Times, accompanies the sartorially challenged Boris Johnson, Conservative and current Mayor of London Town, on the stump as the Mayoral election hears the bell to indicate the final lap.

“This is our very own Silvio Berlusconi,” Gill tells a very pretty, very Boris, dark-haired Latin girl that Boris has darted across the pavement to accost. “Oh, no, no, no!” Boris protests, “I’m not; really I’m not. You’re not to write that.” The very pretty, very Boris, dark-haired Latin girl doesn’t seem to be put off in the least. Boris trundles on.

Meanwhile, on the next page...
                                                  
Silvio Berlusconi trial hears of women dressed as nuns stripping
Former Italian PM’s parties shocked me, says Imane Fadil, adding that she was later warned to keep quiet by a “mysterious” man

A model testifying at Silvio Berlusconi’s trial for paying an underage prostitute has given dramatic evidence of young women dressed as nuns and footballers at the former prime minister’s parties, and has claimed she was warned not to speak about what she had seen.
     Imane Fadil alleged in court that one of the women dressed as a nun was Nicole Minetti, a former TV showgirl now regional councillor for Silvio Berlusconi’s party.
     Moroccan Imane Fadil, 27...

                                                    
                                                                                                       
...told the court she watched as two young women donned black habits and crucifixes to perform a pole dance before stripping to their underwear. At another party, a Brazilian model wearing a mask of the footballer Ronaldinho and an AC Milan shirt, stripped to her G-string.
                                                                                                                                                              [Yes, yes – but did she score?]
Fadil is one of at least three women who have come forward to deny Berlusconi’s claims that the “bunga-bunga” parties at his mansion outside Milan in 2010 were more than just “elegant dinners”.
                                            [Honestly, it gives intercourse chit-chat - small talk between each course - a whole new meaning]
Shocked at what she saw at her first party, Fadil said Berlusconi took her into his office and handed her a watch, earrings and €2,000 (£1,650) in an envelope, stating: “Don’t be offended, but I know you women are always in need.”
                                                                                              [But of course: a friend in need is an accommodating friend indeed.]

Meanwhile, back on the stump, AA Gill tells us of meeting Boris that morning: Boris sees me and does a great, mimed double-take, as if he’s been Tasered by fate. “Oh my God,” he shouts. “They told me it would be someone from The Sunday Times. They didn’t say it was you.”
                                              [What can you do? You expect the RAC – and the AA turns up.]
“When was the last time you cried?” AA Gill asks Boris, given the news that Labour opponent Ken Livingstone has just been photographed weeping pathetically over his own party political broadcast. “Oh, I can’t remember,” says Boris, irritably, as if tears came in the same envelope as tax returns. “I really can’t remember.”

That line from AA Gill, “as if tears came in the same envelope as tax returns”, made me smile because rather obviously Gill has just received his tax return. At least I received mine a few days ago, and I guess everybody else did as well.

On another page, a Sonia Purnell says this of Boris...

When (or if) he wins again, he will be a Conservative electoral titan. His godlike status and celestial glow will cast George Osborne and David Cameron into a political half-light.
     These so-called master strategists managed to secure power only with the help of the Liberal Democrats, a party that Johnson has repeatedly and casually insulted along with its leader Nick Clegg, whom he once described as a “cut-price edition of David Cameron hastily knocked off by a Shanghai sweatshop to satisfy unexpected market demand.”
     Only Johnson, people will say, can do it all alone
!

                                                                                         [Only Johnson can deliver lines like that.]

On yet another page, columnist and Rottweiler Rod Liddle says this...

“Which is the most outrageous fact do you think? That Ken Livingstone, having railed against very wealthy people using loopholes to avoid paying tax, is revealed to be himself a very wealthy person using a loophole to avoid paying tax? Or that Boris Johnson earns a quarter of a million quid a year for writing the same column every week for The Sunday Telegraph?”

That last line made me smile. Yes, Liddle would say that, wouldn’t he? After all, both he and Johnson are in competition for the same readership. Still, I enjoy reading Johnson – the Shanghai sweatshop line above is very seductive – yet I am aware that I only occasionally read him.
     Terry Wogan, who also has a weekly column in The Sunday Telegraph, and probably earns the same sort of figure, falls into the same sort of category. Wogan, without his daily listeners feeding him ammunition, is not quite as witty and wise without them.

In other words, both Boris Johnson and Terry Wogan, like AA Gill and Rod Liddle, are professional bullshitters, and I make a point of enjoying all their ramblings as precisely that.
     Bullshit always baffles brains, especially if delivered with a cheeky smile.

Given that money is such a driving force in modern life, particularly so with our movers and shakers, our columnists and politicians, here’s a great quote to finish on...

“People who don’t have money don’t understand the stress.” Andrew Schiff, a bank worker who’s had a smaller bonus than usual, says life’s so tough on a salary of $350,000.

PS: Ever wondered about this intriguing “bunga-bunga” expression? Well, here’s a link to a BBC article about its origins and how it has caught on around the world - oh, and the correct pronunciation (only the good old BBC, eh?)...
                                                                                                                       http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12325796
 

Sunday, April 15
Lights, camera, action


THIS Mail Online  headline drew my eye...
                                                         Earth as you’ve never seen it before:
                           The best pictures of our planet taken from the orbiting Space Station


[Thinks: Over recent years I’ve seen plenty of wonderful pictures of our planet captured from the International Space Station (ISS) – so what’s new?]
     I click – and I see one mesmeric photograph of my part of the world. Firstly, I quote:

An astronaut on the ISS has designed a ‘tripod’ for taking spectacular night-time pictures of Earth - quite a technical feat when you’re on board an orbiting craft that moves at more than four miles a second.
     Andre Kuipers installed ‘Nightpod’ - a motorised camera that compensates for the hurtling speeds of the ISS, by tracking points on Earth’s surface. The results are some of the most spectacular pictures ever taken from space.

The picture here, which as I said, perfectly captures my own particular square mile, truly stopped me in my orbit...
 


UK and Ireland by night, with the Aurora Borealis on the horizon, taken on the 28th March 2012


Not only is it a stunningly beautiful and clear image, but I am taken aback at...
     1)  How alarmingly lit up the UK is at a time when energy waste and light pollution is such a burning issue.
     2)  How dark so much of Wales is.
     3)  How lit up Ireland is – now that really is a total surprise.
     4)  How bright, perhaps unsurprisingly, London is – links to more pictures coming up down below, particularly a jaw-dropping overhead shot of London surrounded by the M25.

Best of all though, I can pick out where I live merely by following the lit up, built up areas along the A40, what was, before the arrival of the motorway, the main road from west Wales to London.
     It is easy to pick out the Milford Haven port and  industrial complex at the south-west tip, and just round the corner to the east is Tenby. Slightly to the north-west is Narberth - then we are on the A40 moving east: Whitland ... St Clears ... Carmarthen ... my home town, Llandeilo ... north to Llandovery ... east to Sennybridge ... Brecon - and onwards.
     To the north of Brecon, Three Cocks, Hay-on-Wye ... and the other side of Offa’s Dyke, Hereford is all lit up ... amazing. Truly amazing.
     I can more or less spot myself watching the ISS approaching from the south-west – which is not quite the throwaway line it seems for we know that the above was taken on the 28th of March, dawn is breaking on the far horizon, and by one of those extraordinary coincidences I thrive on, I actually wrote about the ISS on that day. I repeat:

AT 06:09 this morning, as dawn prepared to break over the Towy Valley, I popped outside to watch the 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.


Later in that day’s smile, I wrote this:

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.


And of course, the conditions I described that day applied all over the UK and Ireland – which is clearly why Andre Kuipers up there in his beautiful ISS couldn’t resist the shot. I am convinced that I watched him taking that picture.
     Tonight, at 21.51, under a crystal-clear sky, I again watched the ISS pass overhead - the view lasted some five minutes - and I couldn’t stop myself thinking about
Andre Kuipers and his ‘Nightpod’ camera clicking away.
     Here’s a link to the Daily Mail  article, which explains the camera ‘trick’ used to avoid blurred night-time shots. Oh, plus some more incredible photographs, including a stunning moonset, as well as that one of London I mentioned above.
     Below that, a link to a Daily Telegraph  Picture Gallery (some photographs duplicated). Enjoy, as they say...

                                                              http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2129386/Moonset.html

  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/picture-galleries/9202815/Andre-Kuipers-space-station-astronaut-sends-pictures-to-Earth-via-Twitter.html#?frame=2192333
 

Saturday, April 14
One for the road


THE other day I mentioned that, in my humble opinion, The Daily Telegraph  had overtaken The Times  in the entertainment value of the tail-gunner letters, those smiley missives that prop up the Letters pages.
     Well, The Times  has struck back. Here’s a run of agreeably entertaining letters...

Done Inn
Sir, Wherever I have been recently, in town or country, one of the commonest sights was yet another boarded-up pub. Sadly, we are not only losing the pubs themselves but also a wealth of interesting and amusing pub names.
     Somehow, The Folded Arms just isn’t quite the same.
CLIVE WHICHELOW, London SW19

Last Orders
Sir, Clive Whichelow makes a good point that not only are we losing pubs but also “a wealth of amusing pub names”.
     I know it’s not really funny but I could not help but be struck by the irony of a boarded-up ale house I passed recently outside Guildford named The Hope Inn.
     Unfortunately, there wasn’t much.
DR JOHN WALTERS, Wye, Kent


Sir, Clive Whichelow’s letter about the demise of British pubs has made me wonder about a pub I used to pass on the Heads of the Valleys road in South Wales in the 1960s.
     It was called The Highwayman and boasted an appropriate roadside sign, but hanging below this was another sign which read “No coaches”.
     How could it have survived?
COLIN MUNRO, Kingston St Mary, Somerset


Reading that last letter, I was overtaken by a stand-and-
deliver moment: the “No coaches” sign does make sense; after all, you don’t want any old Tom, Dick Turpin or Harriett waiting in ambush outside the pub for some easy pickings.
     Otherwise it would be much like putting bird feeders in our gardens, which is an open invitation to our friendly neighbourhood sparrow hawks: Please, do call and enjoy our daily buffet of delectable tweets provided specially for your delectation.

Meanwhile, back with the Letters...

Sign of the times
Sir, Clive Whichelow bemoaned the boarded-up public houses he has seen and the loss of interesting and amusing pub names.
     In Bury we have also lost several pubs, but they are not all boarded up. There are two about a couple of miles apart on the same stretch of road that have been tastefully renovated with new signs prominently displayed. They are both undertakers.
     A new slant on “last orders”?
GRAHAM HOWARTH, Bury, Lancs

Sir, We were losing excellent pub titles long before the current depression in the pub industry, I recall some decades ago that the pleasing pub name The Sea Around Us, near Loughborough, and just off the M1, was changed to The Junction 23
DR P. W. L. CLOUGH, Rough Common, Kent

Pub crawl
Sir, I still have a notebook of pub names collected by me in the 1930s on travels around the South of England in a motorbike and sidecar. It consists of 641 different names beginning with “The Ace of Spades” and finishing with “The Zulu”.
ERIC BETTS, Colwyn Bay, Conwy

That last one set me thinking. My own local, The Crazy Horsepower Saloon, should feature in any A to Z of pub names. Now you will not find it at the end of any TomTom, or indeed nestling beneath some distant smoke signals, for it is an amalgamation of the pubs and characters I have known along my walk through “Time, Gentlemen, Please
!”.
     It used to be simply The Crazy Horse, but we regulars worryingly morphed from mules and stallions into petrolheads. Oh, and I’ve had to add an Asterisk Bar. A **** of the times
!
     My current favourite characters, as you may well have observed, are Ivor the Engine and his beloved Glad Eyes (Gwladys to her family).
     As I say, you are always welcome to call: knock three times – four times for a Welshman (or woman) – and ask for either The Preacher Man or Sergeant Sheriff.
     True, nobody will know your name, but all the same we’ll all be glad you came.

Incidentally, did you notice that two of the above letters were signed by Doctors? Hm.


Finally, and talking of the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, Asterisk Bar: today, Dai Aphanous whispered a hot tip for the Grand National, running later: Lunch – a cert at 12 to 1.

 
Friday, April 13
A night to remember
~ or forget

IVOR THE ENGINE, a regular at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, is one of life’s genuine characters. What is more, if Ivor can do anything to help, he will. Today I needed to borrow a saw, and Ivor was the man.
     So I called on him and rang the door bell ... Ivor appeared – and the first thing I noticed was the hat on his head. “Oh, have I called at a bad time?” I said apologetically.
     “No, no, come in – whenever I answer the door I always grab the hat off the peg by there and pop it on my head; if there’s someone selling something at the door – or someone I don’t particularly want to invite in – I tell ‘em that I’m just on the way out – but because it’s you, well, I’ve just arrived home and I haven’t had a chance to hang up my hat yet – come in, come in
!
     Only Ivor the Engine would think of that. He did add that he’d thought of buying a stock of special T-shirts (all bearing the same slogan), which he would slip on as soon as he got up or returned home: JESUS SAVES - please ask me how
!

Anyway, about three weeks back, I told the tale of Ivor visiting Louise at her shop,
The Bewitched and the Wardrobe, a ladies’ fashion shop in Llandeilo specialising in sexy lingerie, for he wanted to buy a negligée for his wife, Gwladys, or Glad Eyes, as we all know her.
     Like all great stories it’s worth a repeat. Ivor had just won a pile of money compliments of an accumulator on the horses, so he decides to treat his lovely Glad All Over to something special. Louise shows Ivor various
negligées; the more sheer they are, the higher the price. Ivor decides to go the whole hog and opts for the sheerest and forks out a whopping £400.
      Back home he presents it to Gwladys and asks her to go upstairs and model it for him. Once there, Glad ponders her cat-walk moment and thinks: “This is so sheer I won’t even bother to put it on. I’ll model in the all-together and then take it back tomorrow and pocket the £400. Ivor will be none the wiser.”
      She appears naked and strikes a modelling pose. “Bloody ‘ell
!” splutters Ivor. “For £400, you’d think they’d at least have ironed it.”

A good story is always worth a revisit. We have another character at the Crazy HP who is known as  I Say, I Say, I Say
! – mostly though it’s just I Say! He’s a wonderful joke and story teller. Even when I’ve heard him tell a joke before I still hang on his every word, and even though I know the punchline I still laugh all over again. Story telling is a wonderful gift.
     I recall with fondness some of the guests Michael Parkinson had on his television chat show: Peter Ustinov, David Niven (who was so nervous before going on that he was physically sick in the dressing room, apparently), Billy Connolly (who made a record 15 appearances on his show), and on and on...
     Billy Connolly is particularly interesting: never an obscene word on the Parkinson show, yet the moment he walks on stage he can’t make an audience laugh without effin’ and blindin’ every other word. It is a most curious affliction.
     I reckon Connolly isn’t anywhere near as agreeable a fellow as his celebrity chums make out. The following is a rather telling story from perhaps the most famous Michael Parkinson show of all.
     Much to Parkinson’s chagrin, the most repeated clip is of his interview with entertainer Rod Hull in 1976. While the pair were chatting, Hull’s ‘evil’ glove puppet, Emu, continually and (apparently) uncontrollably attacked the interviewer, eventually causing him to fall off his chair....
                                                                           
                                                                                                                                           ...Parkinson was not amused; indeed fellow guest Billy Connolly threatened Hull: “If that bird comes anywhere near me, I’ll break its neck and your bloody arm
!
     It’s the aggressive “and your bloody arm” which labels Connolly a character not to accidentally bump into on a country road on a dark and stormy night.
     Before leaving Parkinson, I enjoyed this story of another of his guests, Richard Burton: his chat had to be recorded during the afternoon, for fear that the notorious drinker would be inebriated by the evening if allowed sufficient access to alcohol (shades of George Best on Wogan’s chat show?).
     Accordingly, the audience was hastily convened and as a result, mainly comprised staff of the BBC canteen - still in their kitchen whites. Burton confessed afterwards that the view from the studio floor as he walked on made him think that the “men in white coats” had caught up with him at last.

Anyway, where was I? God, I’m getting more like Ronnie Corbett every day. I know: Ivor the Engine and his win on the gee-gees and buying that negligée.
     Ivor’s win on the horses was so generous he also decided to treat Glad Eyes to a taste of Paris in the springtime. They arrive at Charles de Gaulle and take a taxi to their hotel. Ivor, being a sociable sort, strikes up a conversation with the driver. “You are Welsh
!” the Frenchman knowingly declares, in a broad French accent.
     A somewhat surprised Ivor confirms the fact. “Until a year ago,” continues the taxi driver, “I worked for a civil engineering company specialising in pipe laying – I was a welder – the money was good, thousand euros a week plus, but I got tired of being away from home so much. Some years ago I spent a couple of years in Wales working on a major gas pipeline, so I recognise your accent.”
     Glad Eyes, however, has trouble understanding the driver’s thick accent. “What did he say?” she asks Ivor.
     Ivor says: “He recognised us as Welsh and said he worked on that huge gas pipeline - you know, the one that by-passed Llandeilo a few years back.”
     “Llandeilo?” questions the driver, rather excitedly. “I stayed in a cottage just outside Llandeilo – I am familiar with The White Hart, The White Horse, The Salutation – and The Cawdor, very posh, as the English say.”
     Glad Eyes asks: “What did he say now?”
     Ivor says: “He’s familiar with Llandeilo – he stayed there when he was working on the pipeline.”
     The taxi driver continued with an excited trill invading his deep accent. “You have some very lovely ladies in Llandeilo.” He half-turns to glance at Ivor and Glad Eyes. “Very sexy too.” His eyes return to the road ahead. “But,” he says lifting his right hand off the steering wheel and pointing skywards with his index finger, “I also met one particular woman in Llandeilo – and I had the worst sex of my life.”
     “What’d he say, what’d he say?” asks a frustrated Glad Eyes.
     Ivor replies: “He thinks he knows you.”

PS: Ivor did lend me a saw, which I needed to trim back a few of the smaller, lower branches on a horse chestnut tree. So you could say that: I came, I sawed, I conkered.
 
Thursday, April 12
Ono H2O

I JUST knew my formula for “unholy water” would come in useful one day. With last Monday, the Easter Bank Holiday Monday, having been rained off pretty much all over the UK – and also given the news that significant regions of southern and eastern England are already subject to drought conditions and hosepipe bans – this letter appeared in The Daily Telegraph  following last Monday’s annoying wetness...

High value of water
SIR – If the Government were to introduce a few more bank holidays that would surely help the drought situation. It always rains on a Bank Holiday.
Moira Brodie, Swindon, Wiltshire


A letter with its damp tongue clearly in its wet cheek? However, many people really do believe that our Bank Holidays are always wet and miserable. The truth is of course a million miles removed from beneath that wind-swept umbrella. So I did a little homework...


Lies, damned lies – and a few home truths
HANG on, Moira, the Good Friday before was a most agreeably sunny day, if a wee bit on the cool side – but it is only the beginning of April, mind; true, the previous Bank Holiday, January 1, was windy and showery, but January 2, which was also a Bank Holiday because New Year’s Day was on a Sunday, was bright and coldish.
     As I have mentioned here before, I keep a daily diary, a purely functional one: I merely list everywhere I’ve been, who of note I’ve met, along with anything unusual that happened that day; I also note the one thing that made me smile the most; oh, and a throwback to my flying experiences, I record the weather as it unfolds within my square mile.
     Just remember, many people believe (especially those who gloat from the other side of Offa’s Dyke) that it always rains here in Wales. So I went through my 2011 diary – and of the nine Bank Holidays (there was an extra one last year compliments of Kate and William), three were dry, bright and/or sunny, two were picture perfect days, the Spring Holiday (May 30) had some rain early, then cleared up beautifully – oh, Christmas Day was dampish, while New Year’s Day and Boxing Day were drizzly-ish.
     So that takes care of the set Bank Holidays, but there were two additional holidays because January 1 fell on a Saturday (Monday January 3 was cloudy but dry) and Christmas day fell on a Sunday (Tuesday December 27 again was cloudy but dry).
     So how about that? Not a single Bank Holiday in 2011 was a washout, (well, to compare and contrast with the Easter Monday just gone), and only three could be mildly described as damp – and two of those were in the deep mid-winter.
     How quickly we forget.

Mention above of last year’s royal wedding, I seem to remember that bad weather had been a threat, so I went back a year, and I quote this from my ramblings for the day after the wedding...

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


Oh yes, I also posed this question: shouldn’t the Middletons now be called the Uppertons? Even more relevant a year on.

Returning to the troubling drought conditions slowly wringing parts of the country dry, it is right and proper that we all have a duty not to waste water. I am always aware how much water I use when brushing my teeth – multiply that by 60 million people – so I try hard not to waste.
     Then just the other day there was a letter in one of the newspapers where someone from southern England, I think, drew attention to the water we waste while waiting for the hot water to, well, get hot – now there’s something I hadn’t registered previously – and this individual drained all that into a container which he then transferred to a water butt for watering the garden and other stuff. Brilliant.

With the royal wedding having been mentioned already in dispatches, this has just caught my eye:


            One year on, the world remembers – but spot the inscrutable cock-up
 


A mug celebrating the first anniversary of last year’s royal wedding features the wrong brother. The memento depicts portraits of Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge on fine bone china. On the reverse of the mug, produced by online company Guandong Enterprises, is the hopeful message: “The body of a man, the beauty of a woman, may they produce children.”
     But despite the Chinese-sounding company name and the fractured English used in the description of their product, the souvenir may not be all it seems. A small printed disclaimer at the foot of the website reads: “This is a novelty item featuring the images of Prince Harry and Kate Middleton” – and the registered office is in North Finchley, London.
     The firm also “accidentally” made the same mistake prior to the wedding last year.

How smiley is that? Ten out of ten, especially so given that clever “Guandong Enterprises” which makes it sound like a typical Chinese take-away special. Clever stuff. I bet they will sell a shedload.

PS: One final thought on Bank Holidays, especially wet ones, and which is at odds with the thinking of Moira Brodie, above:
“If the Government was really committed to marriage it would do away with bank holidays: nothing good ever comes of spending too much time with one’s spouse.” Writer Sarah Vine, wife of Education Secretary Michael Gove.
 

Wednesday, April 11
Beatling about in the archives


HERE’S a little something I spotted in a Telegraph  Picture Gallery, a celebration of the work of photographer Philip Townsend (born 1940). Let’s join up a few dots...

First finding success photographing young debutantes for Tatler  magazine, Philip Townsend spent the 1960s taking pictures of the decade’s most popular stars and notorious personalities.
     Some of the most striking images from those years are now featured in the exhibition Sorry You Missed the Sixties at the Playboy Club in Mayfair in London, on until April 30. Here Townsend recalls the stories behind some of his most memorable encounters.


And here indeed is the lead image, the one that really made me smile...

                                          The Beatles and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the Meditation Centre,
                                      Abbotsbury Road, Kensington in 1967


Philip Townsend enlightens us thus:
“After this meeting they went to the Hilton Hotel, Park Lane, where the Maharishi gave a lecture. These shots were taken before the Beatles went to Wales or India. The picture of all the fabs, partners and road crew is interesting as it is one of the few with the whole lot in one snap. Images from this meeting are exclusive to me as I was the only photographer there. I had been asked by the holy man’s PRs to take them but they failed to pay me so I own the copyright.”

What I particularly enjoy about the picture is confirmation of how seriously the Beatles took themselves. Something pretty much all celebrities do these days, what with their Jesus Christ-like followings on Twitter (or perhaps that should read Maharishi-like followings in this case - didn’t John Lennon say that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus?).
     Look at that picture again and note how grim and unsmiling the Fab Four appear ... Then look at everybody else in the room: they’re all dying to burst out laughing – well, all except the blonde sitting between George and Ringo, who is clearly suspicious of the whole shooting match and would, all in all, rather be down the pub. (I’m fairly sure she is Maureen Starkey, then partner of Ringo.)
     It is such a telling photograph. The delightful doolallyness of celebrity. There, for all of us to see, in black and white.

Pass the Pepper
STAYING with the Fab Four, also back in 1967, British pop artist Peter Blake came up with the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band  album cover. It was a mighty fine testament to those considered famous back then, featuring writers, musicians, film stars and a number of Indian gurus (that last one was a George Harrison request – see picture above).
     Blake has decided to mark his 80th birthday by updating the iconic artwork, and has thrust a plethora of newer British talent into the limelight: “I’ve chosen people I admire, great people and some who are dear friends,” Blake told the Guardian.
     The late Amy Winehouse is featured, as are the likes of JK Rowling, Kate Moss, Damien Hirst and even the Monty Python foot (“there are better parts of his body available at very little cost,” said original Python Terry Jones).
     Images of both the original and the updated version are there to study online.

However, the image I’ve decided to go with is a marvellous Adams cartoon from the Telegraph...

                                                             
Mr Cameron’s Lonely Hearts Club Land...

It’s a wonderful roundup of the usual suspects: clowns, cowboys and crooks. Those who have managed to screw the UK to death while busy feathering their own nests, individuals you would never, ever want to spot moving in next door.
     Having said that, there are a few present and incorrect, who are presumably there to challenge the rule of thump (‘thumb’ I’d meant to type, but thump is so much better).
     Lenny Henry, obviously – I don’t think he has done anything to damage the reputation of the country, but I guess it’s the Lonely Hearts Club thingy. And there, top left, third in, Gio Compario from Gocompare, the insurance comparison website.
     Yes, Gio’s very annoying, but I don’t think he’s harmed anyone. And I have no idea what that poor horse has done to be seen in such dreadful company.
     Anyway, a great collection of the goons, the bad and the ugly.

 

Tuesday, April 10
Post-it
♫♫♫
TODAY has been a bit of a spring-clean day hereabouts. I’ve relocated the January > March smiles to the archive – the link found both on the margin (bear sharp right), and at the very bottom of this page (straight ahead until you come to a dead end - watch out for the hot airbags). I’m quite flabbergasted how all this stuff has built up over just a few brief years.
     Anyway, the revised intro at the top -
♫♫♫ TO SELF – is a nod and a wink to the newly discovered notebook, Notes to Self, by artist Leonardo da Vinci (and how astonishingly complex his notes appear - have a quick Google).
     Of course, the subtle differences between my notes and Leonardo’s are, that mine can be revisited at any time, and hopefully, they will make me smile time and time again. Smashing title, though, Notes to Self, which I have morphed into musical notes because music, in any form – as long as it’s melodic and catchy – works for me.
     Interestingly, there was a discussion on the radio this morning about “earworm music”.

An earworm is a piece of music that sticks in the mind, so much so we seem to hear it even when it is not being played. [Currently there’s an O2 ad on telly featuring the theme song Little Boxes, which rather proves the point for me.]
     The phenomenon is common, and is also called a ‘haunting melody’ or ‘hard-to-shake melody’. In Germany, where the phenomenon was first recognised, an earworm is known as “ohrwurm”, a type of song that typically has a high, upbeat melody and repetitive lyrics that verge between catchy and annoying [Little Boxes, again
!].
     One reason why this occurs, apparently, is that melodic music tends to have a rhythm which repeats and therefore burns itself onto our brain’s hard drive. This cyclical nature may cause endless repetition unless some way to achieve a climax is found, which then breaks the cycle.
     I was intrigued to learn that Mark Twain’s 1876 story “A Literary Nightmare” (also known as “Punch, Brothers, Punch”) is about a jingle which you can get rid of only by transferring it to another person. (Not a “jingle” as we would think of today – remember it is 1876 – but a catchy little poem: think Spike Milligan.)
     Honestly, there is nothing new under the sun. Oh, and a great earworm link coming up down below.
 


Relocation, relocation, relocation
Talking of nothing new under the sun, I’ve brought my previous “Welcome to my world” photo from up there to down here, to replace it up there with a little lamb that had temporarily lost its way.
     There’s a spot along my morning walk where a host of golden daffodils grow in a traditional farmer’s field, which is most unusual. This particular lamb had clearly become momentarily separated from its mother, and then it spotted me: I froze – and it began to move slowly towards me.
     This was not normal behaviour, for it was obviously not a pet lamb. I gently adjusted my camera position to take a shot ... the lamb stopped ... stared at me ... I pressed the button – the flash and the click frightened it and it shot off up the bank, to join its mother just over the brow.
     It certainly earned my smile of the day, even if the daffodils had seen better days and were starting to wilt.

Think inside the box
Back with Little Boxes: it is a song written by Malvina Reynolds in 1962, which became a hit for her good friend Pete Seeger, in 1963. It is well worth watching the YouTube link, below, of Malvina Reynolds singing the song, but the accompanying video is a Claymation homework assignment by the uploader.
     If this doesn’t make you smile – and watch out for the campfire flame (lol, as someone comments)...
                                                                                         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SADPuUYF_4I&feature=related

 

Monday, April 9
Error on page

YESTERDAY I reflected on how, in the film Lawrence of Arabia, the dramatic emergence of Omar Sharif, through a desert mirage, and onto the international stage, stands as one of the grandest and most spellbinding debut appearances in all of filmdom. Both literally and metaphorically.
     The scene also made me ponder about the Second Coming - when it comes to pass, that is - and The Sharif entrance could well be how it all happens. Out of the wilderness, and all that...
     This in turn took me back a few days to a Western Mail  cartoon - pictured below - which really did tickle my sense of the ridiculous.

     We are reliably told that the universe began with a Big Bang, so it sort of makes sense that the whole shebang will end with Abrupt Closure. Just like that. Or just like that, over by there.
                
May you live for ever and die suddenly. Click.
This in turn brings me to the following curious tale from the U. S. of A:

Holy H2O, Batman
A group of atheists has “unblessed” a road in Florida ... Highway 98 had been blessed by a Christian group last year, but an Atheist group called Humanists of Florida – armed with mops, Magic Foam, and a carton of Unholy Water – were determined to prove a point about the presence of religion in the Central Florida county, and symbolically scrubbed away the sacred oil and sprinkled “unholy” water instead.
     “We come in peace,” said Mark Palmer, director of the group. He said last year’s blessing “sends a very bad signal to anyone who travels through the county and doesn’t happen to be a Christian”.
     A local pastor, Glen Copple, said: “I find it absolutely ludicrous that the atheists, who say they don’t believe in God, have to erase something that they don’t believe in. Only two of them showed up.”

A Bill Whitehead creation (destruction?)

Definitely smile of the day material. But what precisely is “unholy water”?
     Well, “holy water” is defined thus:
(Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) water that has been blessed by a priest for use in symbolic rituals of purification.
     So by definition, common or garden water is “unholy water”. What we might term as:
Ono H2O

PS: Talking of water, if I see, hear or read any more about the Titanic, I shall definitely click the box in the upper right-hand corner. Yes, a worthy subject to cover, for sure – but talk about overkill.

PPS: The end of March saw summer-like temperatures and conditions. The first week of April saw winter-like frosts and snows. Bank Holiday Monday, today – and it rained and blew and blew and rained – all day long.
     At the risk of exercising my own bit of overkill: No, Sir, when a man is tired of the British weather, he is tired of life.
 
Sunday, April 8
Beware your unfriendly, neighbourhood Sharif


BEFORE settling down in front of the box to watch an afternoon of European rugby, I first caught the opening 40 minutes or so of that great biopic from Sixties cinema, Lawrence of Arabia.
     It is not so much David Lean’s tale of TE Lawrence brought so memorably to life by a particularly charismatic Peter O'Toole – the real Lawrence here, in tandem with O'Toole’s astonishing screen portrayal...

                                                           

No, neither is it the film’s dramatic and all-embracing score, nor the majestic shots of desert scenery, which look good even on my ‘big bum’ TV set that still sits comfortably in the corner of the room – incidentally, have you noticed how the improvement in technical quality of the modern television picture is inversely proportional to the dumbing down of what we actually watch on the screen?
     Be all that as it may, what made me watch before switching to the rugby is the scene some 30 minutes into the film: Lawrence and Tafas, his Bedouin guide, are taking water at their very own Crazy Camel Saloon Bar, a well in the desert – when suddenly, on the distant horizon, something grabs their attention.
     Just a speck of dust initially... Is it a bird? Is it a dust storm? Is it a mirage? Slowly, ever so slowly – and quite dramatically – a traveller riding a camel becomes discernable through the wavy heat thermals.
     O'Toole’s body language throughout this scene is spellbinding. The approaching rider, dressed all in black, as if heading to a funeral, grows ever more imposing as he approaches the well across the vast sand plain – when suddenly a shot rings out and Tafas falls dead before he can fire his own gun at the stranger.
    Omar Sharif’s entrance (as Sherif Ali) onto the international stage stands as one of the grandest and most spellbinding in all of filmdom. He arrives at the well, elegantly dismounts the camel and immediately inspects the prone Tafas.
He is dead.
    
Yes, responds an angry and emotional Lawrence. Why?
    
This is my well ... He was nothing. The well is everything. 

The scene is so dramatic it conjures up a wry smile every time I think about it. I have always imagined that when the Second Coming materialises, this is how the new Jesus Christ will appear to save us all. But I don’t think he will shoot anyone. Mind you, if Tony Blair should happen to be taking a drink at the well - well, who knows.

Here is a curious fact about that unforgettable scene:
To film Omar Sharif’s entrance through a mirage, cinematographer Freddie Young used a special 482mm lens from Panavision. Panavision still has this lens, and it is known among cinematographers as the “David Lean lens”. It was created specifically for this shot and has not been used since.
     Here is a TCM link to that scene, which is aptly headed:

                                                                                                     My name is for my friends

      http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/296447/Lawrence-of-Arabia-Movie-Clip-My-Name-Is-For-My-Friends.html
 

Saturday, April 7
Drip ... drip ... drip ...


A WEEK or so back I shared with you some smiley newspaper letters apropos the drought-hit areas of England. Let’s recall the one from Anna Anderson of Westcliff on Sea, who told the tale of staying at a Scottish guest house in the Seventies, and looking forward to a nice hot soak. She had already disrobed when she noticed this sign: “Bath 25p – ask for tap”.

This water shortage story will run and run, if you’ll pardon the pun. Especially so given these confused weather patterns we are increasingly experiencing. Anyway, today this surfaced, again in The Daily Telegraph...

Water, water, everywhere
SIR – Advertising to attract visitors to the Isle of Man focuses on scenery, beaches, etc. Maybe this year our slogan should be: “Come to the Isle of Man and have a bath.”
Bob Shacklock, Onchan, Isle of Man

The above sales pitch took me back to my schooldays, and I recall our geography master, Mr Spiller, asking the form’s Tommy Tucker (only the name has been changed to protect the guilty): “Where is the Isle of Man?”
     A bit of a pause: “Um, nowhere near the Virgin Islands, Sir.”

Off at a tangent then ... I also liked this:

Capital crimes

SIR – Our bank has just introduced a “summary execution policy” for its customers. It seems rather a harsh punishment for displeasing one’s bank.
James Service, Noss Mayo, Devon


What an extraordinary expression for an organisation to use. Not so much blue sky thinking as foggy day in London Town confusion. Musing on the expression, I wasn’t sure I knew precisely what “summary execution” meant.
     This, compliments of Wikipedia:

A summary execution is a variety of execution in which a person is accused of a crime and then immediately killed without benefit of a full and fair trial. This includes show trials, but is usually understood to mean capture, accusation and execution all conducted at the same time.
     Summary executions have been practiced by police, military and paramilitary organizations, and are frequently associated with guerrilla warfare, counter-insurgency and any other situation which involves a breakdown of the normal procedures for handling accused prisoners (either civilian or military).

That makes it an even more bizarre thing for a bank to write. No wonder it was our banking and financial systems that brought the world to its knees. Time to turn the guns on our summary executioners, methinks.

Oh yes, back with that last letter writer: what a splendid name for a place, Noss Mayo. It is well worth a quick Wikipedia visit – a short entry, but very intriguing.

In tune with the weather

Over recent days I’ve written about the doolallyness of the British weather – again mentioned in passing, just above – so here’s the best description thus far of this phenomenon, as penned by a Nigel Farndale (is he the head of UKIP, the UK Independence Party?) – anyway...
 
The past few years have seen unseasonable heat in April followed by flooding in August. Our weather has become like “Grieg’s Piano Concerto, by Grieg” – as played by Eric Morecambe for André Previn. It has all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

Perfectly brilliant. (Come to think of it, the boss of UKIP is Nigel Farage. Glad I cleared that one up before going to bed.)
 

Friday, April 6
Simple pleasures of life


I HAVE probably mentioned in a previous dispatch that my mother was charmed and seduced by a lark – as opposed to an owl. Meaning, my default setting is to be in bed before ten of an evening – then later I get up and go home, ho, ho, ho
!
     No, I tend to be in bed before ten, and then I surface just before five of a morning (I always awaken in time to hear that little click the alarm clock makes just before it goes off - strange but true).
     Anyway, that’s how my sleep habits operate when at home, even on the two days of the year I officially put my feet up, St David’s Day (March the 1st) and Christmas Day (December the – well, you know the rest).
     Yesterday I spoke with affection apropos the doolallyness of the British climate, how every day is a bit of an adventure because we have no idea what lies in ambush (70 degrees and clear blue sky yesterday, 7 inches of snow and grey skies tomorrow, sort of thing:
“No, Sir, when a man is tired of the British weather, he is tired of life.”).
     Well now, this morning, at five, I enter the kitchen, and through the window, in the south-western sky, I see a glorious full moon, boasting an eye-catching pinky-orangey tint, hanging there in a clear sky. I put a coat on and go outside – it is cold and frosty – and I take in the glorious sight ... I guess it will set behind the nearby rolling hillsides, oh, in about 30 minutes, and it will be a sight always well worth a few stand and stare moments.
     I have some breakfast – just a few slices of toast and honey – and at half-five I dress warmly to go outside. The moon is now startlingly orange, and as it nears the horizon, an optical illusion makes it balloon in size. At 05: 36 it begins to set...
     At 05:37 something quite magical happens. Out of the south-western sky comes the International Space Station ... although low in the sky – at an elevation of just 16 degrees I discover later – it is perfectly clear and bright in the cloudless sky, and I am able to follow its path eastwards.
     And then, some four minutes later, as if by magic, at the precise same moment, the moon disappears and the space station fades from view.
     You really couldn’t make it up.

At half-six I set off on my morning walk. After climbing the couple of fields directly behind the cottage, I reach the highest local point, and I am now facing east, the Black Mountain and the Carmarthenshire Vans stretching out in front of me – and there, precisely an hour after the moon set, a blood-red sun was rising.
 


All sorts of things make me smile, so who would have thought that watching moonset and sunrise – throw in a space station as a bonus – could generate such a glow of satisfaction in the viewer...

Just to add to the glory of the morning, about an hour later, I am deep in the heart of the Towy Valley; it is perfectly still and very cold – to go from 70 degrees to minus-four in just a few days takes the body a bit of adjusting to – and then I hear it, one of my favourite country sounds. Whoosh ... whoosh ... whoosh ...
     I scan the sky ... and there they are: a flight of swans heading up the valley ... the formidable sound their wings generate as they power their significant body weight through the air is quite awesome. Especially so on such a quiet, still morning.
     I capture a couple of pictures of the group as they approach ... and then I just watch them pass overhead and continue their journey up the valley...
                                              
                                                                                                                                                                      Whenever I catch a science programme which depicts ‘flying dinosaurs’, especially so the size of some of them – and acknowledging the sound a swan makes in flight – then those creatures must have sounded like helicopters when approaching.
     A smile direct from the imagination.

PS: Yesterdays smile began with a quote compliments of the Clown Prince of Doolally, Russell Brand. Today, featured in the quotes of the day, was this gem:

“Fame is, I think, just a disgusting by-product of what I do. It’s quite a delicate creature – it’s a wild animal of sorts. It can love you, and then it can attack you.”
Katy Perry, singer and ex-wife of the Clown Prince of Doolally, Russell Brand.


Now I would have thought, taking this and the quote just below, in tandem, that they were a perfect match. What is more, proof, if proof were needed, that celebrity does indeed drive our celebrities bonkers.

 

Thursday, April 5
Under the weather

“I DON’T have to let anything go. I don’t hold on to anything negative. It’s the same as zero-ness. It’s not about letting it go. You can’t let go of something you don’t hold, you know. It’s meaningless.”
An enigmatic Russell Brand discusses the weather – no he doesn’t: he is actually discussing his failed marriage to Katy Perry.


But Russell could have been talking about the weather. Well, he could have been talking about anything under the sun.
     I have frequently indulged Russell Brand’s doolallyness – a potential Patron Saint of Doolallyness? – but of late he appears to be trying to convince us that he is well into his descent into madness, which is all rather sad, not least for the man himself.

From bikini to bobsleigh
“WHEN two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather.” Samuel Johnson (1709-1784).

Johnson could well have said
“When two Brits meet”, for we are as a nation obsessed with the weather, probably because the whole shooting match is so unreliable and unpredictable.
     Johnson could also have said:
“No, Sir, when a man is tired of the British weather, he is tired of life.” As opposed to: “No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”

Just a week ago I wrote about the unseasonably warm, summer-like weather we were enjoying. I headed my piece:

Picture perfect
I quote: 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 as we head towards Easter.
      I never grow bored of the British weather. Which is why I probably never get bored of life.


Clearly, Samuel Johnson’s words were subliminally planted in my thoughts. And of course, over the past day or so, the cold and the snow returned with a bit of a spring in its step, although my particular square mile escaped with just a few spits and spots of rain. But it has been all very cold.
     Then today, NASA released an amazing brace of photographs, the two images separated by just a week...
 


Left: A virtually cloudless (and rare) photo of the United Kingdom and Ireland viewed from space, taken during the last week of March when the UK enjoyed summer-like weather, with parts of Scotland experiencing record high temperatures for the time of year (if you look closely, you can just about see me walking the fields surrounding the cottage).
Right: The same view one week later, when around seven inches of snow fell in parts of Scotland, before moving south into areas of England and Wales.
     Here are two of my favourite pics from the past couple of days - both made me smile...

 

Families caravanning during school holidays get snowed-in near
Pickering in North Yorkshire
               Photo: Owen Humphreys

Snow covers a road sign in the Brecon Beacons, just up
the trail from my square mile
                Photo: Tim Ireland


“No, Sir, when a man is tired of the British weather, he is tired of life.”
 
Wednesday, April 4
Whistle while you work

“I CAN’T stand people whistling, it makes me want to kill them.”
Fern Britton, 54, English television presenter, whistles down the wind.


Fern does not elaborate on whether it’s wolf whistling that upsets her so, or indeed anyone who happens to be passing and is whistling a happy tune. The smart money says she won’t go within a million miles of One Man and his Dog.
     Curiosity made me Google the quote ... well now, it comes from a Q&A session with the Daily Mail  newspaper. The question: The pet hate that makes your hackles rise...
     There is no further explanation to her response – but it brings to mind one of Hollywood’s most memorable love scenes. It comes from To Have and Have Not:

Slim (Lauren Bacall to Humphrey Bogart): You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle ... You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and ... blow.

It has to be one of sexiest scenes in all of filmdom – a link to 56 seconds of heaven coming up down below...

Anyway, back with Fern Britton’s Q&A session. The next question but one was this: The person who has influenced you most...
My mother, who’s 88. She taught me that “everything passes”.
Everything except people whistling, obviously.

All the above took me back a few weeks, when David Cameron committed Britain to passing legislation which will criminalise “unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct”, which involves wolf whistling, obviously.
     Some time ago, I was walking along the pavement in Llandampness. A white van passed me from behind. Almost immediately I heard a loud, emphatic and very horny wolf whistle. The van, rather than its occupant, had whistled at a blonde female walking along the pavement (I see that you can buy a Wolf Whistle Horn: every day a day at school, look you).

I did not know this attractive lady, but as we closed our eyes met - and I smiled ... she smiled. I stopped ... she stopped. “The moment I saw you I was overwhelmed with the need to wolf whistle,” I said, “but that damn van beat me to it.”
     She laughed: “That’s never happened to me before – it quite made my day.”

I suppose that being whistled at by an inanimate object, rather that a person, does throw all the balls into the air. Intriguingly, she had no idea what the driver or his mate looked like – just that it was a white van.

     Back with David Cameron and his need to criminalise wolf whistling, how do you prosecute something which many (most?) people are simply not offended by? Indeed, whether something is welcome or unwelcome could well depend on which side of the bed you got out of that morning – or indeed who the delivery boy or girl, man or woman, is.

Anyway, let’s finish with some absolute class, the whistling scene from To Have and Have Not. Marvel at the fact that Lauren Bacall is just 19 years of age. Also, look and listen out for the last few seconds of the clip, which is so relevant to the above. Oh, and enjoy the Top Comment on the site – magic.
                                                                                                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MheNUWyROv8
 

Tuesday, April 3
Nice set of wheels you got there


“I CALL my sports car my Male Menopausal Machine.” Dr David Bainbridge, 43, science writer, reproductive biologist and veterinary anatomist at the University of Cambridge, currently studying human middle age, in particular if the mid-life crisis in the male actually exists i.e. men running after inappropriately young girls while driving inappropriately powerful sports cars – heard on the wireless quoting his own mid-life soft-top moment.
    
He added: “I heard the other day of someone who’d bought a flashy new Audi sports machine and he called it his Concubine Harvester.” Ho, ho, ho
! Perfect cornering, no understeer, no oversteer.

Mind you, I am always amused when I hear of men suffering the Male Menopause. Look, if women suffer the menopause, then men, surely, suffer the womenopause?
     Just today, with the heatwave having disappeared and snow promised overnight, I suddenly realised that I too had hit the womenopause when I passed a pretty girl in a very short skirt and thought: Gosh, she must be cold in that.
     (With apologies to Dewi the Butcher of KO Corral territory, Dodgy City – who had it mentioned in dispatches on a local wireless programme.)

All this reminds me of a letter I spotted in The Sunday Times 
In Gear motoring section:

Latin lover
I love my new BMW 520d, especially its professional multimedia system. It is so clever, but maybe too clever – or possibly even a Latin scholar.
     It was reading out loud an email to me and it said: “Attached is my one hundred and five.” Intrigued, I looked at the screen to see: “Attached is my CV.” Brilliant
!
Colin Allen, Barnet, London

That’s very smiley, but I did find my natural-born cynical self thinking: Believe nothing you hear and only half what you read.

Finally, and continuing in the motoring mood...

Lemming pie
Last Wednesday, when the fuel crisis panic kicked in, I wrote of my own experience that day. Here
s just a taste:

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 ...
     Today, 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, a doomed conformist, straight over the cliff in hot pursuit of the lead lemming.


Well blow me, in today’s Daily Telegraph, this appeared:

Bottom’s up
SIR – Last week I thought that the petrol tank in my car was half full. Now, I realise to my horror that it is actually half empty.
Bob Bruford, Horsham, West Sussex

Great minds think alike, obviously
! Obviously.


And finally, finally...
As is my wont, I Googled today’s lead headline – and up popped this:

Nice set of wheels you got there-
Is the use of meronym and synecdoche the same thing? If not, please illustrate. I am confused.
P
osted by whimsicalnymph to Writing & Language

Now meronym and synecdoche are words you are unlikely to hear in the Bible or in the Asterisk Bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Intrigued, I perused the dozen replies. I’ve picked out a couple:

So your title [“nice set of wheels you got there”] could be either a synecdoche (you bought a new car), or a meronym (you bought a new set of wheels for your car). Synecdoche is figurative; meronym is literal.
Posted by weapons-grade pandemonium  

A meronym is simply a part of a whole. A finger is part of a hand, a sailor is part of a group of men and women on a ship, the White House is part of the architectural layout of Washington, D.C.
   Synecdoche is where the part stands in  for the whole. If I say “All hands on deck”, it refers to hands, yes, but the “hands” mean the crew. If you hear a reporter on television saying: “The White House said today that they are not convening 'Death Panels'”, it doesn't mean that the building itself said anything, being an inanimate object; rather, the Executive Branch / The President is being referred to.

Posted by exlotuseater

Yes, where do those posters get their extraordinary names? I rather liked the user name KlingonOffTheStarboardBow spotted on a recent Telegraph  comment board, who wrote at length about the shortcomings of the EU – it was rather good and well recommended by visitors to the site, but it needed a sub-editor to ruthlessly trim it back.
     Klingons, especially when spotted off the starboard bow, would use very few words to make their forceful points of view.

 
Monday, April 2
A see-through moment


BACK on March 24 I told the tale of Louise, owner of The Bewitched and the Wardrobe in Llandampness, a ladies’ fashion shop specialising in sexy
lingerie, who’d had a surprising visit from a young man looking for a job.
     Anyway, I have just caught up with this tale of Ivor the Engine, one of the regulars down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, who visits Louise’s shop to buy a negligee for his wife, Gwladys, or Glad Eyes as we all know her.
     Ivor has come up smiling with a handsome accumulator win on the horses, so decides to treat his lovely Glad Eyes. Louise shows Ivor various negligees; the more sheer they are, the higher the price. Ivor decides to go the whole hog and opts for the sheerest and forks out a whopping £400.
     Back home he presents it to Gwladys and asks her to go upstairs and model it for him. Once there, Glad Eyes ponders her cat-walk moment: “Wel-i-jiw-jiw
!” she thinks. “This is so sheer I won’t even bother to put it on. I’ll model in the all-together and then take it back tomorrow and pocket the £400. Ivor will be none the wiser.”
     She appears naked and strikes a modelling pose at the top of the stairs. “Bloody ‘ell
!” Ivor splutters. “For £400, you’d think they’d at least have ironed it.”
                                                             
(Paraphrased, compliments of Michael Winner in The Sunday Times, who in turn borrowed it from a Dennis Pallis of Kent – but the tale had Ivor and his beloved Gwladys written all over it.)

The Billy Goat Gruff Internet and the troll under the bridge
A MORE serious moment ... just occasionally, a sober observation creeps up on me when I’m not looking. I had a letter published in The Daily Telegraph today, a missive which is a few asterisks removed from my default position. The Telegraph even showcased the letter with a photograph of the subject matter.

Internet trolling is just a new form of obscenity

SIR – Walter Ellis asks: “When did the world become so abusive and so rude?” (“On being loathed and despised by commentators underneath my blog post”, Telegraph.co.uk, March 28).
     I can tell him precisely: on the evening of November 13, 1965, when Kenneth Tynan, the theatre critic, first used the F-word on the BBC. That moment legitimised obscenity.
     Of course, obscenity and bullying are natural bedfellows. You do not need to be particularly observant to note that those who use obscenity as a tool for daily communication are horrible human beings of the sort you certainly don’t want to find moving in next door.
     Today’s internet “trolls” are Tynan’s legacy.

Master of the trolls? Kenneth Tynan famously uttered
an obscenity on BBC live television     
 Photo: ABC

HB, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire

I had no idea what Tynan looked like until I saw this photograph. If I apply my dolphin or shark? / pussycat or polecat? / sparrow or sparrow hawk? / lay-by or roundabout? ... my instinct suggests a roundabout, a person you approach with caution, navigate at arms length and hastily exit with a sigh of relief - as opposed to a lay-by, a person you pull in to have a chat with before continuing your journey, spirits having been suitably lifted by the exchange.

Whatever, most online comments on my letter tended towards my point of view, although it was fascinating how the word “troll” took contributors into the world of anti-Semitism, the German Reich, the death camps – and unexpectedly, what part, if any, the Polish people played in the construction of those death camps. Intriguing stuff.
     Anyway, back with the casual use of obscenity,
Percyvere said this: I can swear like a trooper if I want to, but I would never do so in public, in writing or in front of my family, for example.
     I empathised with that. While I don’t swear “like a trooper”, I certainly do keep a couple of obscenities in a glass box inside my head which is marked “In case of emergency break glass”, but like Percyvere, I do not swear in public; I do so just occasionally in writing, and then only inside quotation marks – which leads to this from...
     
geniusloci: “…horrible human beings of the sort you certainly don’t want to find moving in next door.” How terribly British. Just like the silliness of blaming Tynan, who was only making public the sort of language the luvvies of the day used every day. You seem to have forgotten the Chatterley trial, not to mention Ulysses.
     Also, in some ways the internet is more tightly controlled than the BBC in 1965: try saying “ni**er” on twitter and see what happens to you.

An interesting observation – although being called “terribly British” made me smile; anyway, with Chatterley and Ulysses you make a conscious decision to enter the imaginary worlds of both D H Lawrence and James Joyce. Just like the Asterisk Bar at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, really: I go there out of choice.
     The BBC, however, is invited into our homes on the understanding that it behaves properly unless it gives due warning.
Sadly though, it seems the BBC is now run by the luvvies who use obscenity as a tool for daily communication – which is precisely why it has become such a foul-mouthed broadcaster.
     All part of its dumbing down strategy. Probably.
 

April Fool’s Day
The Paradise of Fools


SOME rather suspicious looking news items in today’s paper: a “hot” pasty, as opposed to a “cold” one, will in future attract VAT (a 20% rise in cost); jerrycan-builders are having a field day due to the panic buying and hoarding of fuel (perhaps that should read jerrycan-makers, but it then loses a certain foundation).
     A first-class stamp will rise in price from 46p to 60p (a 30% rise) and a second-class stamp from 36p to 50p (a 39% rise), an eye-watering jump in price, to be frank; Gorgeous George Galloway looks like the cat that got the cream as he sweeps Bradford West’s electorate off their feet and into bed; Tory cover-up over ‘cash for Cameron’ – no, hang on, that last one definitely can’t be an April Fool joke.
     Anyway, the following letters have recently appeared in The Daily Telegraph:

A warm embrace
SIR – Man with pasty would like to meet lady with jerrycan and stamps for travel and fun.
W K Wood, Bolton, Lancashire

Cost of a postage stamp goes bananas
SIR – For the price of a first-class stamp, I can have two pounds of bananas grown, harvested, packed, shipped, marketed and retailed. Who says that a first-class stamp represents good value?
N S Daniels, Kirby Muxloe, Leicestershire

You’re winding me up, right?
SIR – Given the granny tax, VAT on hot pies, advice on jerrycans and George Galloway winning in Bradford, how will we recognise an April Fool story tomorrow?
David A Greenwood, East Barnet, Hertfordshire

How indeed, David A Greenwood? Well, the story that fits the profile of a

Nick Newman's week, Sunday Times

perfect April Fool joke is the tax on hot pies and similar stuff.
     This easy guide from The Sunday Times...

What’s hot, what’s not
Under the government’s new rules all pies, pasties, rotisserie chickens and toasted sandwiches will be subject to Vat at the standard rate of 20% - if they are above the “ambient air temperature” when sold to a customer.
     Freshly baked bread that is cooling down will be excluded from the new rules. But how will the government define bread – will a croissant count? And what about a hot cross bun?


Crumbs. A cold hot cross bun. Or more like, a cold hot bloody furious bun. To continue...
 
HM Revenue & Customs is holding a consultation into what constitutes bread.

I wouldn’t hold a consultation too long in case it exceeds the ambient air temperature and then they will have to pay Vat to themselves. Back to business...

In a further complication, retailers are not clear how they would define “ambient temperature”. A lukewarm pasty sold on a hot day could be exempt from Vat, but on a cold day it would be subject to 20%.
     It does not end there. Vat experts said last week that doughnuts could be affected by the new rules, but only if they were sold hot.


And on and on it all goes. Total madness by people you wouldn’t trust to organise a leg over in a bordello on a lads’ night out. I tell you, the country is run by clowns, cowboys and crooks.
    
“What if you buy a cold sausage roll and then heat it up at home?” one unidentified tweeter asked. “Does that make you a tax dodger?” More a jammy dodger I would suggest.
    
John Peett’s letter in The Times  went along similar lines: “Allowing a hot sausage roll or pasty to cool before it is sold sounds like aggressive tax

Nick Newman gets a second bite

avoidance to me.”
     Oh yes: you know how on a really hot day, we always wonder if you could actually
fry an egg on the pavement – well, are we going to see an outbreak of pasties and
sausage rolls being heated on hot pavements?
     Of course the trouble with all this is that nothing heated up tastes quite the same.

A bun in the oven
As you can imagine, the Greggs bakery chain are at the centre of this nonsense. I enjoyed
My Week by Kennedy McMeikan, the company boss, detailing events as they unfolded. He finished thus:

As the chief executive of Greggs, every year I put on the staff uniform and work several shifts in shops and bakeries alongside other employees. I do anything from serving customers to sweeping floors.
     Once when I was fairly new as chief executive I was tasked with making sandwiches. There’s a skill to making them at speed and I was very slow. A member of staff raised an eyebrow as I worked and asked me what my job was. I didn’t want to say I was the boss so I told her I was based in the head office.
     She continued to quiz me and I eventually told her my job title. “Oh hell, I hope you’re better at running the company than you are at making sandwiches,” she said.
At the bottom of the piece it said: As told to Audrey Ward. Oh hell, does that mean he can’t write, either?
                                                                                                                                                                                        
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c.99 seconds walking in my moccasins:
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As it was in the beginning:
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400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 15/06/2012


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400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 17/05/2009

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