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Archive 2012d: October to December

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

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400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 19/11/2012



                                                                                        Design: Yosida

 
                                                                 ♫♫♫ 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, something startling that nevertheless generates a spontaneous smile, 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

Monday, December 31
Here’s lookin’ at you, 2012


So what tickled my old funny bone along my stroll through Twenty-Twelve? Or should that be Two Thousand and Twelve? Whatever, who and what were blessed with the great cause of cheering me up?

Well, as ever, there was the Asterisk Bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, along with all those characters lodged therein who masquerade as the locals.

As mentioned in previous dispatches, I will never be able to personally introduce you to Chief Wise Owl and his beloved Mrs What A Hoot, or Ivor the Engine and his good lady Glad Eyes, or indeed Old Shaggy and Young Shagwell ― but I know them all and they brighten up my walk through time no end.

The Crazy Horsepower is just another Cheers, the famous bar of American sitcom fame. As someone who worked behind the bar at the Crazy Horse for a few years, I can say with hand on heart that I have personally met each and every one of those beautifully drawn characters you meet at Cheers.

Yes, even the mega-bolshie waitress Carla Tortelli. Especially  the mega-bolshie waitress Carla Tortelli.

Right behind the local pub in my affections comes the Towy Valley, which I walk every early morning, extreme wet and windy conditions excepted, of which there have been quite a few such mornings of late. With the rhythm of the seasons to keep me endlessly entertained, Mother Nature is never more than a smile away.

Great Britain and those who live thereon

The Daily Telegraph  named their Great Britons of the Year. Telegraph writers and editors chose 25 notable Britons of 2012 ― and at the top of the pile:

The Queen, Our Greatest Briton

When historians look back on 2012, one Briton will define the year’s momentous and joyous events more than any other. The Queen not only celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, giving us all a reason to remind ourselves what is best about Britain, but also played a starring role in the opening ceremony of London 2012.

Who will ever forget the delicious moment when Her Majesty greeted James Bond at Buckingham Palace, before appearing to parachute out of a helicopter into the Olympic Park? Our Olympians and Paralympians may have given us a month’s worth of unashamed patriotism, but the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was the culmination of a lifetime of service to the country.

I can’t disagree with any of that. And I suppose, to keep a balance, Our Worst Briton was the BBC for its ― well, listen to what one of the Corporation’s top names down the years has to say:

“The Dunkirk Little Ships, the most evocative reminders of this country’s bravest hour, were ignored so that a pneumatic bird-brain from Strictly Come Dancing could talk to transvestites in Battersea Park.” Broadcaster Michael Buerk, 66, attacks the BBC coverage of the Jubilee regatta and the performance of presenter Tess Daly.

Yep, and the mastermind behind that disastrous day in the history of the BBC, George Entwistle, was, just a few months later, promoted to Director-General of the Corporation ― and lasted a grand 54 days.

Doolallyness at its most spectacular.

But this is a scrapbook about those things wot make me smile, about those characters blessed with that special gene ... so who topped my smileometer in 2012?

Well, if I walked into the Crazy Horsepower tonight, these are the fore figures, or rather the four figures, I would like to bump into and have a chat and a laugh with to round off 2012, a grand boys’ year On the Town:

First,
MATT, The Daily Telegraph  cartoonist. Following Boris Johnson outshining David Cameron at the Olympics, there followed swiftly thereafter the annual Tory conference ― and this is how MATT , King of the Chuckle Muscle, caught the moment to perfection...
                                               
                                                           "You'll have to move, Prime
                                                             Minister, we're expecting
                                                             Boris any minute now......"

Next comes choir master Gareth Malone who, in just two years has taken the British Armed Forces from having not a single choir in their ranks to now having over 50 up and down the land, busily bonding everyone together; I admire so much Gareth’s ability to bring out the best in those around him.

Then comes cyclist Bradley Wiggins, not just for his sporting achievements, but every time he opens his mouth, so much basic, uncomplicated wit and wisdom comes tumbling out...

...King of the baton...

...King of the road...

...King of the high-wire act...


And of course, finally, the aforementioned Boris Johnson. What was it David Cameron said about Boris when he got stranded on that zip-wire?

“Look, if any other politician anywhere in the world was stuck on a zip-wire it would be a disaster. For Boris, it’s an absolute triumph ... he defies all form of gravity.”

Yes indeedy, for Boris it was just another glorious photo opportunity.

Cameron’s quote made the short list for my favourite quote of the year ― but the winner is this one:

“Always remember that men are just small boys in long trousers. That way you won’t expect too much of them and you won’t be disappointed.” Chrissie from Norfolk shares a gem of an insight with Alex Lester on his BBC Radio 2 Best Time of the Day Show  on the last day of August 2012.

Whenever I happen to catch Top Gear on the box and I see Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, the first thing that comes to mind is that quote.

In truth, Chrissie from Norfolk sums up most men rather perfectly, including me, MATT, Gareth, Bradley and Boris.

Here’s now lookin’ at you, 2013...
 


Sunday, December 30
You try telling that to kids today

This
headline to a newspaper article by a Philip Johnston beckoned me in...

                           Sick of all the rain? It’s not as bad as the Big Freeze of 1963

Fifty years ago, an extraordinary winter almost ground Britain to a halt. The winter of 1962/63 broke many records for the coldest and longest-lasting of the 20th century.

In his book Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson recounts his amusement to read that “blizzards” had hit parts of Britain. According to the newspaper report, the storm had dumped “more than two inches of snow” and created “drifts up to six inches high”. As Bryson wryly observed, where he came from, in the American Midwest, a blizzard is when you can’t get your front door open and drifts make your car disappear until spring.

As a maritime nation, we rarely have weather like that, though that does not stop so-called weather experts predicting every year the onset of a Big Freeze that never arrives. But very occasionally, it does. Exactly 50 years ago this week, Britain experienced the start of what was to become a truly extraordinary winter, one familiar to a North American but for which this country was ill prepared.

 

It was an article that triggered all sorts of snowy memories; indeed as a youngster on the farm I recall ice on the inside of bedroom windows as being quite normal during really cold winters, which seemed to happen on a regular basis.

However, what made me smile, as per usual, were a select few of the online comments. Many ventured warily down Monty Python’s famous slippery path, for example...

Geoffo: [Ice on the inside of windows] was a common occurrence in our Victorian terrace, right up to the 1980’s, in fact I can recall a glass of water also freezing on my bedside table during the winter of 1981/2.
     Kids don’t know they’re born......

Steady on now Geoffo, don’t encourage them ... but they didn’t need encouragement, and here are my particular podium winners. BRONZE goes to...

Wittgensteinsfoot: When I was a kid, 32 of us lived in a broken thermos flask on an iceberg at the back of the Salvation Army hut in Staines. We only ate sweet wrappers and had to make our own fun, but we were happy.

SILVER goes to...

Fjb1957: The two worst winters us Brits have endured since the war have to be Mike and Bernie, IMO.

And the GOLD...

Peter Mack: Well, it was so cold where we lived that the flame on the candle froze and fell off. Then in the spring it thawed out and burned the house down.
     You try telling that to kids today :-)
 

I’m still grinning at the Gold Standard. Very clever...

 

What’s in a name?

During the week I’d heard on the radio about the curious case of the Englishman who woke up from a coma and became a pure Welshman ... anyway, I’ll let Rod Liddle take up the story...
 

Englishman Alun Morgan, from Somerset, suffered a severe stroke, but fortunately recovered more or less completely. However, instead of speaking English, he now speaks fluent Welsh.

Linguists are now wondering if the entire Welsh language was perhaps the consequences of some terrible, traumatic event as mysterious as that which killed off the dinosaurs.

One night everyone west of Shrewsbury went to bed speaking English as usual but awoke with brains able only to process the letters “w” and “y”.
 

Ho, ho, ho ― very good. As I mentioned the other day, Rod Liddle is one of those slebs I am overwhelmed with a need to give a good slapping to ― but his writing does make me smile, and I am happy to quote him.

However, he has mentioned something similar before, particularly with reference to his obsession with an English inability to process the Welsh letters “w” and “y”.

But the best examples, surely, are the letters “LL” ― as in Llandampness, which Liddle and his compatriots tend to pronounce as “Clan-dampness” ― and the “CH” as in “chwech”, meaning “six” (the “ch” is not pronounced as in “China”, but the English naturally tend to do so, and the result is a delight ― just try it, sounds like a bird with a sore throat).

Actually, “ch” should sound as if you’re firmly attempting to clear your throat after swallowing a fly ― but I don't know why you should have swallowed a fly!

Anyway, back with Englishman Alun Morgan ― and that’s the part wot made me smile. Alun (pronounced “Ah-Lynn!”) Morgan has to be one of the most Welsh of names you are ever likely to encounter.

Do I detect a wind-up? I Googled the story ― here’s all you need to know, a quote from the man himself; Alun Morgan, that is, not Rod Liddle:

“I was born in 1931 and when the war came I was sent down to Wales as an evacuee. It gave my wife the shock of her life when I woke from the coma and started speaking Welsh.
     “After the stroke it was hard going. I’ve managed to remember English but I’ve almost forgotten Welsh again. We were London Welsh and I learned a bit of Welsh when I was in London.
     “Then, when I was evacuated to Wales during the war, we spoke it virtually all the time because my aunt didn’t speak much English, so I had to pick it up very quickly.”

 

Yes indeedy, why let the facts get in the way of a good story? Alun Morgan an Englishman, indeed to goodness.

Mind you, I guess we’re back with yesterday’s central smile: “If a cat had kittens in the oven, they wouldn’t be loaves ... just toast.”
 

Saturday, December 29
You’re taking the rise, ain’t cha?


THE Daily Mirror  went with the front page headline SIR WIGGO. The Daily Star  decided on ARISE, SIR WIGGO. The Times, however, peeped over its glasses and declared ARISE, SIR BRADLEY.

But as always, The Sun, despite a small ARISE, SIR WIGGO, takes GOLD with:
                                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                                                             
Brilliant. Absolutely fantastic. You know me and my admiration for clever word play ― but I am taken somewhat aback that no other newspaper spotted that KNIGHT RIDER front page speeding towards them over the brow of the headline hill.

Anyway, well done Bradley. I shall return to you, my son, on the 31st, if spared.

Behind the headlines

In the meantime, I’ve been looking back through my diary proper at things I smiled at (and made a note of, obviously), but never got round to including in my online scrapbook.

For example, a letter from last August in The Sunday Telegraph...

Rising to the occasion

SIR – I grew up in mid-Cheshire. When I was a teenager, a man asked me if I was Welsh, as my surname was Evans. I told him that I was born in Birkenhead, but that both my parents originated from north Wales. He replied: “If a cat had kittens in the oven, they wouldn’t be loaves.”
Cynthia J Brett, Epping, Essex


I think it was the Duke of Wellington who is supposed to have said: “Being born in a stable does not make one a horse.” And I guess that someone, somewhere, sometime, must  have pointed out: “Being born in a stable did not make Jesus Christ a donkey.”

Be that as it may, I include the above letter because of this very clever online response...

Coljam: Cynthia – but if a cat did  have kittens in the oven, they would  be toast.

Crumbs, Coljam.

 

Engage tractor beam

It was also back in August that social scientist Catherine Hakim suggested in her latest book, “The New Rules: Internet Dating, Playfairs and Erotic Power”, that having an affair might make for a better relationship.

Ms Hakim advises married couples to look to the French for inspiration for successful relationships. She says our French neighbours ― who she brands “masters of seduction” ― have a “philosophical approach to adultery” and allow their partners off the marital leash.

Before going any further, I was baffled by the word “Playfairs”. Google first came up with Playfair Cipher Tool ... hello, I thought, surely not ― but that turned out to do with encryption. Whatever, this, compliments of the Telegraph:

Want to be happy? Get married and then indulge in an affair. Or at least the 21st century version, a “playfair”, in which the parties involved know that there is no danger of either one leaving their spouse. Of course, it helps if the aforementioned spouses accept this arrangement for carefree, no-strings-attached, adulterous sex.

Hm, interesting ― but the problems start, surely, when one of the partners in a playfair relationship decides not to play fair and keep an affair secret. But what do I understand...

Anyway, now that we’ve got that cleared up, just days after the book launch, this headline was spotted:

                                     French farmer “mows down love rival with tractor”

Which in turn drew the following letter:

One man went to mow

SIR – Perhaps Catherine Hakim should talk to Claude Boutevillain, who “killed his wife’s lover after chasing him across fields in his tractor and mowing him down” (report, August 21).
Peter Dann, Haslemere, Surrey


There is something wildly doolally about a love rival being chased down by a tractor. But what about the surname of the cuckolded husband? Boutevillain? Talk about being cursed with a name that has ambush written all over it. How much more civilised to be called, Butcher or Baker or Candlestick-Maker...

And what of the tractor? Was it a John Deere? Perhaps even a Deere John tractor?

Deep down though, I hope it was a Cockshutt ― and yes, dear reader, there really is a make of Canadian tractor called a Cockshutt. Google if you doubt.

Anyway, whenever I hear a tractor trundling past the bungalow these days, I shift somewhat uneasily in my seat. Quite why, Im unsure because I sleep easily in my bed of a night.

Pause for thought

Apropos something or other, I spotted this comment online...

Toots: A wise soul once told me that, for all their superior qualities, women often aren’t very good at working out what happens next.

And on that bombshell, I think I hear a Cockshutt tractor being started up, somewhere...

 

Friday, December 29
Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see


THE above is a headline I often deploy. Mostly because it is one of life’s great truths.

It means, of course, to be wary of any casual or throwaway gossip you hear, whether it be on the street, in the pub, church or supermarket ― or indeed, in the media. Especially so in the media.

Then today I stumbled upon this delightful little tale by James Thurber (1894-1961), an American author, cartoonist and celebrated wit.

The Very Proper Gander

Not so very long ago there was a very fine gander. He was strong and smooth and beautiful, and he spent most of his time singing to his wife and children.

One day somebody who saw him strutting up and down in his farm-yard and singing, remarked: “Now there is a very proper gander.”

An old hen overheard this and told her husband about it that night in the roost. “They said something about propaganda,” she said.

“I have always suspected that,” said the rooster, and he went around the barnyard next day telling everybody that the very fine gander was a dangerous bird, more than likely a hawk in gander’s clothing.

A small brown hen remembered a time when at a great distance she had seen the gander talking with some hawks in the woods. “They
were up to no good,” she said.

A drake remembered that the gander had once told him he did not believe in anything. “He said to hell with the flag, too,” said the drake.

A guinea hen recalled that she had once seen somebody who looked very much like the gander throw something that looked a great deal like a bomb.

Finally, everybody snatched up sticks and stones and descended on the gander’s house. He was strutting in his front yard, singing to his children and his wife. “There he is!” everybody cried. “Hawk-lover! Unbeliever! Flag-hater! Bomb-thrower!

The perfect prop to a gander
[Worth A Gander  by Gil Elvgren, 1952]

So they set upon him and drove him out of the farm.

A childhood memory

That cartoon up there wafts me straight back to my childhood on the farm.

No, not the blonde from next door, I should be so lucky ... I vividly remember that the one creature I was scared stiff of ― apart from the bull, obviously, which I was constantly warned to stay clear of and never, ever provoke in any way shape or form ― was the gander.

If ever I went near the gander, or his girls, the geese, it would go straight for me and attack. As it did anyone, even adults. Much as is shown in Gil Elvgren’s well-defined cartoon.

Ganders are most aggressive creatures. They dont risk human life or limb, clearly, but a vicious peck from the thing would hurt. So some vivid memories revisited, compliments of the James Thurber story and the cartoon.

A bird in drag

Talking of a proper gander: following a newspaper report that humans are not the only creatures that can benefit from the insecticidal properties of nicotine, but that birds plagued with lice are also receptive to nicotine, this letter was spotted in The Daily Telegraph...

Goldfinch flake

SIR – Birds have been found to use cigarette ends in their nests because of the insecticidal effect of nicotine. My understanding of European legislation on the recycling of nicotine-based products by nesting birds is that it is permitted for those species naturally attuned to it: puffin and shag.
David Brown, Lavenham, Suffolk

 


Thursday, December 27
The things they say about Xmas


BEFORE waving a final farewell to Christmas 2012, and coming under starter’s orders for 2013, a few festive quotes that grab the spirit of Christmas in all its manifestations...

Where else to start but on my own doorstep with something terribly Welsh:

“It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”
                     
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), Welsh poet, writer and broadcaster.

“A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.” Garrison Keillor, 70, American author, storyteller, humorist and radio personality famous for his tales of Lake Wobegon.

Keillor is a man in possession of a beguiling voice. If it were possible to come up with a designer baby, I’m undecided whether a boy should be blessed with the voice of Richard Burton or Garrison Keillor.
     I have already decided that a girl would have the distinctively husky and sexy voice of actress Fenella Fielding, “
England’s first lady of the double entendre”.

Whatever...

Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year.” Victor Borge (1909-2000), born Børge Rosenbaum, a Danish/American comedian, conductor and pianist, affectionately known as The Clown Prince of Denmark.

The one thing women don’t want to find in their stockings on Christmas morning is their husband.” Joan Rivers, 79, American comedian, writer, actress and film director.

“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store ― and he asked for my autograph.” Shirley Temple, 84, who became famous as a child star actress and for her trademark song  On The Good Ship Lollipop.

“I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying, toys not included.” Bernard Manning (1930-2007), English comedian who specialised in irreverent jokes about people from all walks of life. Manning was reviled by liberals and loved by countless people north of the M25 (or so I read on a web site somewhere).

“The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.” George Carlin (1937-2008), American stand-up comedian ― and perhaps a joke that lost a little of its glitter following the Jimmy Savile river of no return, not to mention its various tributaries.

“I felt overstuffed and dull and disappointed, the way I always do the day after Christmas.” Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), American poet, novelist and short story writer.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, DC. This wasn’t for any religious reasons. They couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.” Jay Leno, 62, American stand-up comedian, writer and television host.

“Christmas to a child is the first terrible proof that to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.” Stephen Fry, 55, English actor, author and television presenter, who is scheduled to make a staggering 189 separate television appearances over the two week festive period.

Old Frying Tonight is one of those people, whenever I catch sight of him on the box, I am overwhelmed with the need to give him a good slap, metaphorically speaking of course, so I doubt I will see many, if any, of those 189 appearances. Good quote, though.

“Does Santa Claus really exist? I have to say I have become very sceptical in recent years.” Rod Liddle, 52, British journalist.

Again, old Liddle and Irregular is someone I quite enjoy reading, yet have this uncontrollable urge to give him too a good old slapping when I catch sight of him. I can never quite understand why newspapers and magazines print mug shots of these people.


“Christmas at my house is always at least six or seven times more pleasant than anywhere else. We start drinking early. And while everyone else is seeing only one Santa Claus, we’ll be seeing six or seven.”
WC Fields (1880-1946), American comedian, actor, juggler and writer, famous for his hard-drinking persona.

And finally, Chico Marx’s memorable play on words in a quick-fire exchange with Groucho: yes of course, ‘The Contract Scene’ from the Marx Brothers film, A Night at the Opera, an exchange between Driftwood (Groucho) and Fiorello (Chico: “the party of the first part ...”):
                                                                

Fiorello: Hey, wait, wait. What does this say here, this thing here?
Driftwood: Oh, that? Oh, that’s the usual clause that’s in every contract. That just says, uh, it says, uh, if any of the parties participating in this contract are shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified.
Fiorello: Well, I don’t know...
Driftwood: It’s all right. That’s, that’s in every contract. That’s, that’s what they call a sanity clause.
Fiorello: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha
! You can’t fool me. There ain't  no Sanity Clause!


Hey you ― yes you, EU

Do you suppose there’s a Sanity Clause in Britain’s contract to be a member of the European Union?: “If any of the parties participating in this contract are shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified.”

Well, just a thought, given that most of those involved appear to be at least half a bubble off plumb.
 

Wednesday, December 26
Boxing Day exclusive

“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.” Roald Dahl (1916-1990), a British novelist, short story writer, poet, screenwriter and fighter pilot; born in Wales to Norwegian parents, he served in the Royal Air Force during World War II, a noted flying ace and intelligence officer, rising to the rank of Wing Commander.
 

And talking of a little nonsense, these snaps of Kate, William and Pippa round at Papa and Mama Middleton’s for yesterday’s Christmas Day family get-together, brightened up a dull and damp Boxing Day morning no end...

 

In a smiley series of images, Bafta-winning photographer Alison Jackson ― renowned for her use of brilliantly realistic lookalikes ― imagines the Middletons’ uproarious family Christmas.

I wonder: did Kate surface well before dawn to help her mother put the turkey in the oven, her morning sickness permitting, of course? Witnessing her about to take a huge bite out of that turkey leg is a delight.

And what about Pippa’s present: it says “To Pippa, love from Camp Bastion” on the card ― but whether the name in front of the “xxx” says Harry ― well, it is rather cleverly hidden.

Most remarkable of all is the William likeness. That’s quite something.

In fact, Alison Jackson has a weekly ‘Fake Take’ spot in The Sunday Times  Magazine, and her photos are always worthy of a quick peep behind the mask.

Very funny. Oh, and Pippa inspecting that little bit of red, undercover kit, reminded me of this, perhaps a quote from last Friday, the 21st of December 2012, the day of the Mayan Apocalypse (?).

Sale starts today

“Did it not say that at the end of the world it would be possible to choose between 126 different types of bra (not including strapless)?” Lynne Truss, (born 1955), English writer and journalist, best known for her popular book  Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, comments on today’s overwhelming variety and enormous choice of everything, everywhere, and all available at any time of day or night.
 


Christmas Day, 2012

IN
my Notes to Self  on the Welcome mat, I list just some of the sources that generate a smile and which 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, something startling that nevertheless generates a spontaneous smile, curiosities spotted along my walks through the Towy Valley...

And of course smiles range from the hearty ho-ho-ho! to the sly, often ironic variety which overtake us when we contemplate the utter stupidity of the world about us. Or indeed something akin to the gentle smile when sharing something amusing or perhaps rather touching as recalled at a funeral eulogy.

Todays smile comes compliments of an article from last weekend and spotted in The Sunday Times  Culture Magazine; a weekly column dedicated to the world of the wireless: Radio Waves by Paul Donovan.

It joins up all the dots apropos the range of things which, not only make us smile and often laugh out loud, but reinforce our faith in humanity, and that despite the dreadful things we do to each other ... it concludes with a smile of appreciation laced with huge sadness.

Magic in the air

Four weeks ago, I invited you to nominate “2012’s funniest, most moving or most extraordinary radio moment”. The reader who put forward what I regarded as the most striking entry would receive a limited-edition Roberts radio, made for the firm’s 80th anniversary. There were many entries, and their variety is indicative of British radio’s remarkable range.

More than one person picked the item with the most immediate impact ― John Humphrys’s “forensic” interview with George Entwistle, the hapless BBC director-general, which led to his resignation within hours. Danny Baker’s rant on BBC Radio London, after learning that his show was to be axed, was also picked.

One reader, Ray Keane, says: “In a year when the BBC has suffered from a tirade of criticism, I thought that not pulling the plug on his programme during the broadcast said more about the BBC than it did about Mr Baker’s plight. I can’t imagine any other broadcasting organisation that would allow a live two-hour torrent of criticism to remain on air.”

The World Service was commended for its output “in the middle of a sleepless night”. Radio 5 Live’s Olympic boxing coverage and Jeremy Vine were singled out, as was Charlotte Green, for apparently saying on the lunchtime news: “A naked man was arrested by police in Whitehall and charged with possessing an offensive weapon.”

The winner, however, was listening to another programme altogether.

Rosemary Anstey, of Worthing, was in her kitchen that same Sunday when she heard an unusual announcement at the start of Gardeners’ Question Time, on Radio 4. The presenter, Peter Gibbs, said that, during the programme, listeners would hear a question asked by a man on behalf of his son, that the son had since died, but that his father had asked “that his question remain in the programme as a tribute”.

Twenty-nine minutes later, the question was read out. David Drummond-Baxter asked: “My son is an officer presently serving in Afghanistan. He’s asked me to send out some packets of vegetable seeds for the locals. Bearing in mind that where he is stationed is extremely hot and dry in summer, and extremely cold in winter. I’d be grateful for suitable suggestions.” The team suggested tomatoes, mint, thyme and saffron crocuses.

The day after this programme (which can still be heard on the BBC website) was recorded, the officer, Lieutenant Edward Drummond-Baxter, was killed in Helmand province. A platoon commander in the 1st Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles, he was shot by a man wearing Afghan police uniform. He was 29.

“He just wanted to find out what packets of seeds would be most suitable to give to people in this land of poppy fields,” Rosemary Anstey says. “I found myself weeping for the loss of a young man whose concern for other lives had led his father to ask a question of a panel of gardeners in rural England. His death touched a wider world. Such is the power of the radio.”

Those words speak for themselves, especially at Christmas. She now has the radio, for good times and bad.
                                                                                                                                                 
paul.donovan@sunday-times.co.uk

   Lieutenant Edward Drummond-Baxter, left, was killed in Afghanistan on 30 October 2012...

                                          

                    ...alongside fellow Royal Gurkha Rifles member Lance Corporal Siddhanta Kunwar.

 

Monday, December 24
                                           ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
                                           Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
                                           The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
                                           In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
                                           The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
                                           While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads...
                                                                                       
                                 First published anonymously in 1823

THE other day I touched on a piece spotted in Mail Online  which featured a collection of adorable letters sent to Father Christmas that reveal what children really, REALLY want to find in their ‘stockings’ tomorrow morning.

I then selected a couple of letters which could well have been sent to Santa by our politicians, never mind the kids. In other letters, requests included livestock and a Venus fly trap, while some children were interested in how tall the elves are – and does Rudolph really have a red nose?

Oh, and children are overwhelmingly keen to point out how well-behaved they have been.

Here are just a couple more of the letters featured...

We shop, you drop

“Dear Santa, I’ve been a good girl, please bring me a cat, a dog and a pig.” Wonderful, particularly the drawings ― she has to be a farmer’s daughter, with grand plans for the future. Oh, and please, Santa, don’t hang about on your delivery round.

A couple of online comments also grabbed my attention...

TSUI, UK: My daughter said she wants an ATM cash machine for Christmas!!

Clearly a young lady who will end up running one of our leading banks, even the Bank of England, perhaps.

KYM, Yorkshire:  My five-year-old daughter wrote her Christmas list at the beginning of December. All it said was: “Dear Santa, Get rid of Phoebe! Love, Darcy xxx” She’s going to be very disappointed to find her little sister still here on Christmas morning, ho-ho-ho!

Telly watch

On TV I really enjoyed Morecambe & Wise – Song and Dance ... Music routines from the comedy duo’s shows. In between the smiles and the laughter you realised what a truly talented duo they were.

Also tonight, The Snowman And The Snowdog, the sequel to Raymond Brigg’s classic Christmas tale...

Very enjoyable it was too, especially the thinking person’s ending. Mind you, I’m not sure the featured song will last as long in the memory as Walking In The Air. Earlier in the evening, Disney’s Lady And The Tramp was on the box, a film which of course features perfect examples of what catchy and memorable songs really should be all about.

Back with The Snowman And The Snowdog, pride of place goes to this amusing online comment...

Austin Barry: Frankly, I’m appalled that these snowmen are all hideously white and celebrating Christmas. They should be multi-hued and enjoying the ‘Holiday Season’.

 

Early call

Finally, and speaking as someone whose mother was charmed and seduced by a lark rather than an owl, I really did enjoy these few words:

“I’m a morning person only on December 25.” Julie Harris of Barry in South Wales, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
 


Sunday, December 23
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

GIVEN
the dreadful floods currently swamping many parts of the country ― I was going to add, ‘especially distressing at this time of year’, but flooding at any time is a stressful business ― I was rather seduced by a somewhat traditional Christmassy scene recently captured the other side of the Channel...

Thomas the Train ploughs on regardless


                                                                                                                                    Picture: Jens Schlueter / AP

A train on a narrow-gauge railway line makes its way through a winter landscape near Wernigerode in Northern Germany.

There is something definitely ― even definitively ― nostalgic about a picture of a steam train chugging merrily along through a snowy landscape. It flirts with the romantic in most men ― my guess is that the four figures standing alongside the track are all men.

Anyway, it’s a wonderfully atmospheric photograph. However...

I’m still dreaming of a White Christmas

The above picture set me thinking. Just two years ago, the UK was not one big lake, but rather a snow covered wonderland. Yes, we had a White Christmas. But not, according to the bookmakers. For them to pay out against a ‘White Xmas’ it has to actually snow on Christmas Day.

Anyway, I was then living in a cottage on a farm on the edge of Dinefwr Park and Castle, so I trawled through the many eye-catching snaps I took during that cold and snowy December ― well, most photographs involving snow are eye-catching, so I plumped for this one...

Walking in a winter wonderland

                            Tuppy ― or Pussycat as I call her ― next door’s and my landlords’ eccentric but lovable Collie
                                     
(If it wasn’t for that eye, perhaps I’d get away with labelling it a monochromic image)


Yesterday I noted that Plebgate politician
Andrew Mitchell had set out on his challenging mission to transform his public persona from polecat to pussycat.

Interestingly I rechristened Tuppy Pussycat because of her beautiful nature. And in human terms, people blessed with a beautiful nature are always pussycats.

Indeed, if you think about those individuals you personally know who you would describe as having a nice nature, then it follows that everything else tends to fall into place: they are trusty, dependable, charitable, loyal, kind, loving...

In other words, they are the most agreeable of human beings i.e. pussycats.

Poor old Andrew Mitchell has his work cut out...
 


Saturday, December 22
Out with the old ─ in with the new

YES, I know, the Mayan Apocalypse is so, well, yesterday. But did the world as we know it actually end?

As I suggested on Black Friday, for all we know we could have effortlessly warp-drived into a parallel universe, where everything is inside-out, back-to-front, upside-down...

There will be clues all around us. For example, has media baron Rupert Murdoch morphed from a shark into a dolphin? Has politician Andrew Mitchell morphed from a polecat into a pussycat? Has singer Morrissey morphed from a sparrow hawk into a sparrow?

Oh, allow me to explain to any new visitors here what I mean by that last paragraph.

Within moments of meeting someone, my brain figures out whether I am confronted by a dolphin or a shark. For example, at first glance the dolphin and the shark look vaguely similar in shape, size, configuration, colour, etc, so one can be easily fooled into confusing your sharks with your dolphins, but when you are in the water and not able to quickly distinguish between the two, then it could seriously damage your health.

Similarly, my brain decides whether the person in front of me is a pussycat or a polecat, a sparrow or a sparrow hawk, a roundabout or a lay-by i.e. intuitively I know whether it’s safe to either step forward and embrace, hold my position — or perhaps even take a gentle step backwards and be ultra careful.

Sharks, polecats and sparrow hawks are people whose feet you do not step on, even accidentally, for they will make your life a misery. Dolphins, pussycats and sparrows are those lovely people who apologise even when it is you who has accidentally stepped on their feet.

My instinct has never once let me down. However, I can’t tell you whether the person in front of me is likely to turn into a Hitler or a Mother Teresa — but I do know whether they are going to make my journey through life a delight or a disaster, so I adjust accordingly.

Andrew Mitchell falls into the pussycat or polecat classification, for example...
                                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                                                            ...looking at him, my instinct says polecat, someone whose sense and sensibilities I wouldn’t like to step on, a person you would be ultra careful about negotiating, an individual who comes across as a rather hazardous roundabout rather than a welcoming lay-by.

To remind you, roundabouts are those people you approach with caution, senses on full alert ... you then navigate them, at arm’s length, with your wits about you ... and then exit their personal space with a huge sigh of relief as you put your foot down to escape.

Lay-bys on the other hand are those individuals you spot approaching along the pavement and you instantly start to smile as you pull in for a quick chat and a laugh; individuals who leave you cheered up no end and convinced that the world is not such a bad place after all.

As for Andrew Mitchell, it seems that the transformation from polecat to pussycat is under way. Let’s hope he tells us precisely what he did say to those policemen, and allow us to take it from there.

Anyway, back with this parallel universe theory of mine. If nothing appears to have changed, then we are still in the same old troubled universe. Just keep a keen eye open for those magical lay-by people.

First glance suggests nothing has changed...

“She is 27-years-old with very solid values, beautiful on the outside and even more beautiful on the inside.”
Silvio Berlusconi, 76, former Italian prime minister and currently working his way through the courts, announces his engagement to his girlfriend and now fiancée Francesca Pascale, who makes him feel “less lonely”.

From what I’ve seen of the lovely Francesca, she does indeed appear to have some very solid values, know what I mean, chief?

Sadly though, the Berlusconi quote suggests that we are still stuck in the same old universe. Bugger.

Memorable Christmas songs

As I write this, the telly is on in the background, and Top of the Pops 2: Christmas 2012 is warbling away. It is hosted by Mark Radcliffe, who goes on to introduce Fairytale of New York, a Christmas song sung by the Celtic punk group The Pogues, released in 1987 and featuring the late British singer Kirsty MacColl.

The Pogues is fronted by Shane MacGowan...

                                                                                                       

                                                                                                                                                                    ...and memorably introduced by Radcliffe as “the thinking man’s Liberace”. Priceless. Watching Fairytale of New York  and Shane MacGowan will never be quite the same again. Even more troublesome, following the song, Mark Radcliffe refers to Shane and Kirsty as the Kylie and Jason of the snug bar.

Actually, the show is full of memorable little witticisms by Radcliffe ― which, truth to tell, are more entertaining than the music.

PS: Returning briefly to the Andrew Mitchell Plebgate story, back in September I wrote this: Mind you, I am not aware that any members of the public present who “looked visibly shocked” have come forward with their story.

That always struck me as odd, something which the newly released CCTV footage also questions ― I mean, where are the visibly shocked members of the public?

On September 24, I also wrote this: This pantomime is likely to run and run... 

Ho-hum, many a true prediction spoken in jest, especially so with the pantomime season now in full swing…
 

Friday, December 21
                                           
  End of the world  à  this way 

IN the couple of days directly leading up to Christmas Day, a personal festive calendar custom of mine, now well established, is visiting the homes of much-loved local characters that I have come to know well and appreciate hugely along my walk through time.

Even though I see them regularly, I still call for a chat, a coffee, a glass of mulled wine, a mince pie, a smile, a joke, a laugh ... as we put the world to rights. Oh, and to wish them the compliments of the season, obviously.

This year I changed my routine. With Christmas Eve on Monday, and being that I wouldn’t call on them over the weekend anyway, I decided to start my circuit today, Friday.

Just before I left home, the discussion on the wireless was the threatened Mayan Apocalypse, the expected doomsday scenario due today at 11:11 GMT (how odd that it should be the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour), where the four dreaded Horsemen would come charging out of the side of some mountain located somewhere or other ― and then God help us...
                                         

House call

As I approached my first Port-and-Stilton call in a storm, a gentle smile established itself about my persona...

“Hello,” I said as Ivor the Engine and his good lady Glad Eyes welcomed me into their home. “I thought I’d come a day or so early this year because if it really is the end of the world later, I’d hate to meet you on the other side and have you give me a bollocking for not calling to see you before the final curtain call...”

And the joke went down so well I repeated it at every call, much to folk’s amusement. Actually, Chief Wise Owl wasn’t at home, but the delightful Mrs Owl ― or Mrs What A Hoot, as I affectionately call her ― said she would take great delight in passing on my message when he did arrive home, presuming the world hadn’t ended by then.

Gosh, Hubie, said Mrs What A Hoot, you could be the very last person I see in this crazy old world of ours.

The story I also repeated along my festive journey was this one, a tale I call...


Four horses and a conga

I hardly ever dream ― at least I have no recollections of my dream world ― but last night, I did. I was back at age 18, driving along a country road in the glorious TR3 I then owned, the real love of my then life (now that’s the age you’re supposed to own a sports car, not at middle age and counting).

Anyway, I slowly became aware of there being no traffic about. I then came to a village, and a great big sign said:

                         WELCOME TO THE END OF THE WORLD … Please drive carefully  

I sort of smiled, for that perfectly reflected my view of the doolallyness of the world about me.

But there were no people, no pets, no vehicles ― the place was deserted, it was all very eerie and creepy … as I departed the village I was suddenly driving along a huge open field, picking up speed at an alarming rate ― and clearly heading towards what was a cliff edge.

But I had no control of the car … as I shot over the edge, I registered another huge sign:

                                                        LESSONS HAVE BEEN LEARNED 

And the very last thing I remember seeing were those dreaded Four Horses ― and Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Margaret Thatcher, Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin, Bob Diamond, Anne Robinson, AA Gill, Chris Patten, Andrew Mitchell et al doing the conga as they disappeared over the edge…

Then I awoke with a start ― but I definitely remember smiling at the irony of Rupert and Rebekah saving their last dance for each other...

Later, much later

In the cold light of reality, I really did smile at MATT’s  take on the end of the world ― which rather disturbingly sits uncomfortably alongside mine...
                                                                                

 

Well, you are  reading this, which suggests that the end of the world didn’t happen.

Unless, of course, you are actually reading this while parked up in some parallel universe...

 

Thursday, December 20
A Downing Street Plebby-site, ho, ho, ho
!
                                                        (
♫♫♫: Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…)

   
   “I swore at the carol singers,
    but I didn’t call them plebs”
                                             
AS MATT  reminds us, Plebgate is back on the political agenda. Never mind the rights and wrongs of the whole episode, let’s get our horrible politicos off the hook.

Previously on the subject of Plebgate, this, compliments of Wikipedia...

Some three months ago, Andrew Mitchell, 56, a Tory MP and then Chief Whip in the House of Commons, who, for eco-effect had been bicycling to work, was allegedly threatened with arrest after swearing at police officers who asked him to exit Downing Street through the pedestrian side gate rather than by the main gate now reserved for vehicles.

The official police log of the incident states that Mitchell said: “Best you learn your f****** place ... You don’t run this f****** government ... You’re f****** plebs.” It was also reputed he informed police officers: “I’ll have your f****** job for this.”

The allegations became known in the media as “Plebgate”. [Even “Gategate” in some fields.] Members of the West Midlands branch of the Police Federation (where Mitchell is an MP), Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, and a leader column in the Daily Telegraph called on him to resign or be sacked.

He eventually did resign. But now the whole business has resurfaced because some curious CCTV footage has been released which throws the whole episode into question. A high profile police investigation is under way.

But here’s the curious thing. He admitted swearing at the police, but not using the word “pleb”. There was an interesting point of order raised by a John Newbury of Warminster in Wiltshire in a letter to The Daily Telegraph:

Will the defendant please answer the question

How many of Andrew Mitchell’s troubles has he brought upon himself by his inability or unwillingness to give simple answers to the simple questions put to him? Instead of saying: “I did not call the policemen plebs or morons” we get: “I did not use the words attributed to me.”

Which words, Mr Mitchell: some, a few, any of them?

A wonderful point of order.
Those who stand and stare will have observed that those who use obscene language in day-to-day communication ― excepting of course as a ‘yellow alert’ between loosing one’s cool and potential violent behaviour ― tend towards being human beings of the horrible kind, individuals you should never, ever turn your back on.

So it always surprised me that Andrew Mitchell freely admitted being a man in possession of a fowl tongue ― fowl as in cock-of-the-walk ― but fought shy of being identified as someone who uses the word “pleb”, which, after all, is merely a child-like admission that users of said word rate themselves superior to the rest of humanity, something which seemingly applies to most of the nation’s movers and shakers, really.

Today, he did what horrible politicians do: the former Chief Whipper-In visited a West Midlands police station to thank the emergency services for their work ― and was pictured planting a kiss on Chief Superintendent Lorraine Bottomley’s bottom, er, lip...
                                              
                                                                                                                              
“The police do a great job and we work together extremely well,” he said. God, what is it with these dreadful politicians? Ugh.

Whatever...

Dear Santa

What really made me smile today though was a piece in Mail Online, a collection of adorable letters sent to Father Christmas which reveal what children really, REALLY want to find under the tree come Christmas morning.

I may well return to this before Christmas ― in the meantime, I’ve selected a couple of letters which could well have been sent to Santa by our troubled and troublesome politicians. See if you can guess who would have written these...

[Images compliments of London Media...]

Santa knows if you’ve been bad or good, naughty or nice
 

“I’ve been somewhat bad so I understand if you don’t get me anything” is the clue.
 Perhaps if you imagine that last year he got a new bicycle and a pink tie ―
then who else but Andrew Mitchell of aforementioned Plebgate infamy.

And the next...
 

Here’s the clue: “I have been a good boy for about three years...”
Well, Gordon Brown was ousted as arguably the nation’s worst ever Prime Minister,
nearly three years ago now ― and we’ve heard hardly a peep out of him since. A good boy indeed.
 


Wednesday, December 19
From the sublime to the ridiculous

THE above is a headline I’m pretty sure I’ve deployed a few times in this online scrapbook of mine; mostly because it is as perfect a headline as I can think of to describe the range of doolallyness I encounter along my walk through time.

As I stand and stare at the passing parade, I mostly empathise with a couple of things: something ― anything ― that will generate a smile; and then there are those little things I label ‘Every day a day at school’.

For example, the English language is a wonderful thing to behold. I think I have mentioned before that I was once told by a rather sexy lady that English is the only language in the world that allows me, for example, to spot an attractive Finnish lady across a crowded room, go right up to her and say straight out that I want to make mad passionate love to her ― and not be instantly slapped or thrown out of the premises i.e. “Hello, I’m your friendly neighbourhood Nogood Boyo and I want to make love with you.”

Her reactions can vary from a surly “In your dreams, sunshine!” to a smiley “You smooth-talking Nogood Boyo you.” But, all things being equal, she would never take serious offence.

Apparently, in any other language, to propose having sex straight out would come across as rude or crude, sound as if you are a doctor discussing a complex medical condition ― or most likely, plain gobbledegook.

Well, you can’t say “I want to make love to you” in Welsh without it sounding crude or alarmingly gibberish. And astonishingly, I am reliably told that even French doesn’t offer up the innocence of the English language to ask such a leading and personal question without giving offence.

Anyway, to business: today I encountered a couple of things which cover all the bases when it comes to the English language. First, a letter in The Daily Telegraph ― so, from the sublime...

Broadcasting Boris

SIR – Travelling into London yesterday, I was reading The Daily Telegraph on my Kindle. One click enabled me to access the Oxford English Dictionary to check the meaning of psephological and dolichocephalic in Boris Johnson’s column.

But what about the other Telegraph readers in my carriage? Should I have asked the guard to make a public announcement on their behalf?
Dr Jennifer Longhurst, Surbiton, Surrey


Well, I clicked the spell check on my computer ― and yes, both words are there in all their glory:

psephology (si fólləji)
n
study of elections: the statistical study of elections [which sounds very Boris].
(Mid-20th century. Formed from Greek psephos - ‘pebble vote’; from the Greek practice of using pebbles to vote.)

As for the next word, dolichocephalic, I was somewhat distracted by the ‘phalic’ stuck on at the end of it, especially if I then pronounced it dolly-cock-e-phallic:

dolichocephalic (dóllikō si fállik)
or dolichocephalous (dóllikō séffələss)
adj

having a disproportionately long head: having a head disproportionately longer than it is wide, specifically one with a cephalic index of less than 75.

(Mid-19th century. Coined from dolicho - ‘narrow’; from Greek dolikhos.)

I’m thinking horse right there: “Why the long face?”, as the old joke goes. But hang on...

cephalic index [?]

n

size ratio of human skull: the ratio of the width to the length of a human skull, measured at the widest and longest points, and multiplied by 100. Also called cranial index.

So there you have it ― and now ... from the sublime ― to the ridiculous...

Another in the Telegraph’s  Sign Language series of amusing signs and notices spotted around the world by the newspaper’s alert readership...

Tongue-tied

Spotted in Japan by Nicola Horton


Is English the only language that allows you to say something so utterly nonsensical ― yet know instantly what it means?

Magic.
 

Tuesday, December 18
Waxing lyrical: the fly at night

THE SUNDAY TIMES  News Review section has a weekly Obituaries column. It is not the paper’s own view of the dearly departed, but rather it selects a couple from the previous week’s daily newspapers and edits them down to suit its own particular agenda.

I have just perused last Sunday’s Obituaries, and the main man was Patrick Moore, culled from The Daily Telegraph.

The Sunday Times  has gone down the smiley route. Now I have already mentioned Patrick some days ago; on a couple of occasions, actually, but this is worth a quick read. One part of it I have already mentioned in dispatches, so I have taken that out. Here goes them, ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust...

                                                Sir Patrick Moore

TV astronomer who lit up the night sky for more than 50 years

A genuine eccentric who never took himself too seriously, the astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, who has died aged 89, played up to his image as a “mad professor”. His monthly Sky at Night programme, launched in April 1957, attracted millions of viewers...
                                
                                                                                                                             
...he was the world’s longest-running presenter of a single television show, and the secret of his success lay not only in his learnedness but also in his gusto and humour. On one occasion, for example, he appeared dressed in a spacesuit and a fishbowl helmet, pretending to be a Martian.

To make the point that we should not assume other planets to be lifeless just because their conditions were different from Earth’s, he declared, in an alien voice: “I am surprised to see you all. I had thought your thick atmosphere and excessive water would have prevented life from evolving here.”

He was equally famous for the bluntness of his remarks. Commenting further on the probable ubiquity of alien life in space, he said: “Somewhere in the universe there could be a carbon copy of Anthony Wedgwood Benn — although I sincerely hope not.”

[I guess an updated version would have substituted Anthony Wedgwood Benn with Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.]

Then there was the occasion that he visited Utah with a television crew. “Welcome to the Mormon state,” said a humourless citizen. “We are different from the rest of America. You will find no swearing or drinking or wild women here.”

“It’s hardly worth coming, is it?” replied Moore

There were many other sides to Moore besides astronomy. He was a connoisseur of music, and sometimes played a xylophone on television. In 1982 he wrote a humorous but inflammatory book called Bureaucrats: How to Annoy Them.

It advised that imposing a thin layer of candle grease on those parts of a form marked “for official use only” would prevent the recipient from writing anything. “Useful when dealing with the Inland Revenue,” said Moore.

A keen pipe smoker, he was elected Pipeman of the Year in 1983. “I regard two classes of people as being beyond the pale,” he said when accepting the award. “Weight-watchers and those who have just given up smoking.”

In 2002 Moore was appointed honorary vice-president of the Society for the History of Astronomy. He also won a Bafta for his services to television, a medium on which he became probably the first man to swallow a fly live on air.

His producer recalled the look of glazed horror as the insect vanished into Moore’s mouth in mid-flow, the presenter’s words finally failing in a strangled gulp. “Yes, dear,” his mother sympathised later, “it was nasty for you, but so much worse for the fly.”

He was appointed OBE in 1968, CBE in 1988 and knighted in 2001. In 1982 a minor planet was named after him by the International Astronomical Union. He also held the posts of president of the British Astronomical Association and director of the Armagh Planetarium in Northern Ireland.

Yet the Royal Society refused to elect him as a Fellow — one of their number declared that he had committed the ultimate sin of “making science popular”.

                    Sir Patrick Moore, born March 4 1923, died December 9 2012

Well worth a read, if only for the candle grease and the fly at night.

A peep behind the curtain

When I cut the above piece out of The Sunday Times  to paste into my actual scrapbook ― yes, I still keep a proper scrapbook because it makes it easier to refer back if I’m looking for something I’ve already done ― anyway, on the reverse page of Patrick’s obituary was this...

                                              And will sir’s deer be flying first class?

From a brace of live golden pheasants to three belly dancers in a taxi, no request is too exotic for London’s luxury hotels

Ayumi Hamasaki, Japan’s answer to Britney Spears, does not want a bath. She wants a Jacuzzi encased in marble. “Our penthouse doesn’t have a Jacuzzi,” says Thomas Kochs, the accommodating general manager of Claridge’s hotel in Mayfair, central London. “But it will ... in about four days.”

And so it comes to pass: within a matter of hours a £15,000 Jacuzzi encased in marble appears in the £6,000-a-night suite that will be home to Hamasaki for a month.

Such scenes are a regular recurrence on Inside Claridge’s, BBC2’s fly-on-the-wall series...

Never mind worrying about whether life has evolved out there in the universe, we should be more worried about the extent to which it has evolved back here on Earth.
 

Monday, December 17
Another banana, Vicar?

“WARNING: The following programme contains flash sideburns.” Thus the memorably smiley opening line to an ITV4 programme Tour De France 2012 – Wiggo’s Tour ... A look back at the memorable race.

Well, it made a change from the BBC’s default
WARNING: The following programme contains strong language from the start.

Speaking of which: why do you suppose that a genuinely entertaining programme such as BBC TV’s Have I Got News For You  has an unhealthy obsession with guest hosts such as Kirsty Young, Claire Balding, Jo Brand and Charlotte Church, women whose parents clearly never bothered to potty train their kids’ mouths?

Incidentally, yesterday I mentioned the SKY Atlantic documentary about Bradley Wiggins’ wildly successful year, particularly the intriguing bit where he was talking about his wife and the children: “Cath said to me: you’re not going to leave us now for some supermodel...”

                                                                           
                                                                                                                                                         However, what I did notice in tonight’s ITV4 programme was the regularity with which, being the Tour leader at the end of all the latter stages, he was presented with flowers and such like by an endless cavalcade of extremely pretty girls. I can see what wife Cath was getting at.

And how about this...

                                                   Wiggo: I’m a man of very few words – do you or don’t you?
                                                   Blonde: As a matter of fact, yes I do. My place or yours?
                                                   Wiggo: Look, if you’re going to argue – forget it.

Apologies to both Wiggo and the blonde lady, but it’s a very old joke and I couldn’t resist it when I saw the above Bettini Photo.

Incidentally, I seem to remember that before big fights, boxers had to refrain from sex for about a month or so prior to the big night. Well, given how much effort cyclists put into their work, sex must be on hold for months on end.

Or was that a rumour put about by the boxing fraternity to throw wives and girlfriends off the scent?

Too much, too late

Finally, the one great joke I forgot to mention in yesterday’s dispatch, and which grabbed everyone’s attention at the Sports Personality of the Year awards: it was that said by the South African embodiment of exuberant parental support ― this from The Guardian:

Bert Le Clos was the clear breakout star of London 2012 when he was interviewed by Clare Balding after his “beautiful boy”, Chad, beat Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly, and he became a favourite in the BBC’s coverage at the Olympics. His appearance last night brought a massive cheer. “You personified parental pride,” Balding told him.

He thanked her for making him famous “30 years ... and 40 kilos too late!”.

A beautiful line, impeccably delivered. It reminded me of my favourite line from Casablanca, said by police chief Captain Louis Renault to
Rick, who has just sent his beautiful but drunk and somewhat troublesome girlfriend, Yvonne, home in a taxi ― and a line that Bert Le Clos would obviously empathise with:

“How extravagant you are throwing away women like that. Someday they may be scarce.”

A note to end on

Incidentally, the piano used for the song As Time Goes By  in the classic film Casablanca  has now been sold at auction for $602,500 (£373,500). It was offered for sale by a Japanese collector who bought the film prop at auction in 1988 for $154,000 (£95,500).

Now that’s what I call a pension plan.
 


Sunday, December 16
The banana with sideburns

“I ALWAYS enjoy Sports Personality of the Year, it’s very much an institution in our household, second to Only Fools and Horses and Minder.” Bradley Marc Wiggins, 32, capped his remarkable sporting year by winning the 2012 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

As Wiggins received his latest trophy from the Duchess of Cambridge, he did so not only as the Tour de France champion and Olympic time trial gold medallist, but also as a symbol of Britain’s sporting annus mirabilis.

In Britain’s greatest sporting year, Wiggins won support of the public with his self-effacing charisma as well as his phenomenal achievements.

“Thank you very much for all the people that picked up the phone and voted. We’ve had all that jungle and singing stuff lately [I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! and X Factor], so it means a lot. So for people to pick up their phones and pay £1.50 to vote [actually, 15 pence, but what’s a decimal point between Wiggo and his fans], thank you very much.
     “And my Nan [his grandmother] ― the cheque’s in the post, you pressed redial God-knows how many times ... oh, and there’s a free bar round the back tonight, paid for by the BBC, I hope you’ll all be there.

Described at various stages throughout 2012 as “le gentleman”, “the modfather” and “the banana with sideburns”, the epithets he received were bestowed upon an idiosyncratic yet very ordinary man who has achieved extraordinary things.

Yesterday, I featured “Wiggo, the dog’s bollocks”, the amazing pooch made from recycled bicycle chains and stuff, which instantly made me think of Bradley Wiggins. Well, it’s worth a repeat showing, alongside “the banana with sideburns”...
 

 

The final countdown

Bradley received 30.25% of the votes, 492,064 in total, while Jessica Ennis earned 22.92% and Andy Murray 14.17%. Athlete Mo Farah was fourth with 8.07%, followed by Paralympians David Weir and Ellie Simmonds. A total of 1,626,718 votes were cast.

Wiggo offered up generous thanks for team-mates and coaches, including the whole back-up teams behind all the top sports stars present. He then referred to one of the co-hosts, Garry Lineker: “With all that make-up he’s got on tonight, he’s got one hell of a team behind him.”

Talking of Lineker, the one problem with having hosts who are not professional presenters is their inability to respond intuitively and with superior footwork to things said. Garry was interviewing Mo Farah: “I’ve got two gold medals,” said Mo, “but best of all I became the proud father of beautiful twin girls. It’s been a fantastic year ― but I’m back in training now―”

And you were urging Lineker to respond with: “Hoping for twins again, Mo?” But it never came.

Something else I noticed was the one person who, to my untrained eye, looked most eye-catchingly fabulous, and that, curiously, was the person in one of the most aggressive of sports, the boxer Nicola Adams, looking unbelievably elegant...
              

                                                                                             ...just behind Nicola, Jade Jones, the Taekwondo gold medallist. You don’t mess around with these girls.

I actually voted for Bradley because, as I wrote in my scrapbook back in July, I watch the Tour de France every year on the telly because of the endlessly entertaining circus that surrounds the whole event. And of course the wonderful sights and sounds of France.

But this year, there, flashing past with gusto, was this Brit ― the banana with sideburns ― hanging on to the Yellow Jersey and refusing to give it up. Day after day. Right to the end.

And of course, that memorably amusing opening line when he gave his victory speech after winning the title: “We’re just going to draw the raffle numbers now.” From that moment on, I was a fan.

He was one of us. But Wiggo himself was quite shocked and overwhelmed by the praise and recognition he received following his phenomenal summer of success. “I’m not a celebrity, never will be one, and don’t consider myself one. I despise the whole celebrity culture. I never expected this adulation. I cant even go to Tesco any more.”

But it’s always the little things that stick in the memory. There was a documentary about his year and his Tour de France, shown on Sky Atlantic. There was a moment during the filming, I think he was on a training run, having a break, he was on his own, grabbing something to eat. The camera approached him to capture the moment ... and he began a casual conversation with the cameraman, as if they were standing at the bar, having a drink together.

It was a marvellous down-to-earth moment.

And then he was filmed in his grandmother’s home, and he looked at some ornaments on a shelf. He drew his finger over one of them. “This has been here 30 years, and it’s still dusty.” And his Nan came up behind and gave him a clip. Very funny. He added: “When people win something like the Tour, they start believing the hype ― my Nan wouldn’t allow me to do that.” I believe him.

But most of all I remember this. He was talking about his wife, Cath, and the children: “Cath said to me: you’re not going to leave us now for some supermodel…”

It would be silly to say that he would never leave his wife for a supermodel, or a super-anything ― but it really would be a surprise to hear that he had...
 


Saturday, December 15
Everything goes in cycles

“GET A bicycle. You will not regret it ... if you live. It was on the 10th day of May ― 1884 ― that I confessed to age by mounting spectacles for the first time; and in the same hour I renewed my youth, to outward appearance, by mounting a bicycle for the first time. The spectacles stayed on.”
Mark Twain (1835—1910), American author and humorist, who would have been aged 49 when he confessed to age, following a bit of mounting.

Before you laugh at a man mounting a bicycle for the first time at age 49, peruse this, compliments of Wikipedia:

The first means of transport making use of two wheels, and thus the archetype of the bicycle, was the German draisine dating back to 1817. The term bicycle was coined in France in the 1860s.The first really popular and commercially successful design was French. An example is at the Museum of Science and Technology, Ottawa. Initially developed around 1863, it sparked a fashionable craze briefly during 1868-70.

So it makes perfect sense that Twain, a man from Way Out West, would mount a bicycle for the first time in the year 1884. Goodness, that is just 128 years ago. My, my: talk about man getting on his bike and reaching for the moon.

Be that as it may, here is proof, if proof were needed, that there really are some wonderfully talented and imaginative people out there. A beckoning headline to a Telegraph  picture gallery read:

                                                           Dogs made of bike chains
Dog sculptures made of bicycle chains and parts by Nirit Levav Packer

An artist has created a series of life-size dog sculptures made entirely from recycled bicycle parts such as chains, gears, pedals and yes, even bike seats...
                                                                   
                                                                                                                              
...now how wonderful is that?
Israeli artist and mother-of-four Nirit Levav, 49, began her career as a fashion designer before exploring art. She now solders bike parts that she collects from garages and bike shops all over Tel Aviv to create sculptures of man’s best friend. She has already sculpted enough to stock a kennel, woof, woof!

The kennel series, called HoW!WoW!, began by chance when Nirit examined some bicycle parts being thrown away at her son’s bike store, and instead of seeing them as rubbish she saw a potential to do something creative with them. Within a few months, she had left a successful career in wedding dress design for metal sculpture.

Her bicycle-chain dogs sell for between £700 and £7,000, depending on size and complexity. The pictures featured today come compliments of Nirit Levav and, yes, Rex Features, ho, ho, ho! (We really did have a smashing sheepdog called Rex on the farm when I was a youngster.)

A proper bit of recycling

Only the other day, compliments of Posh Spice and the Land Rover Evoque, I revisited the observation that pet dogs and their owners grow to look alike. Or more correctly, owners subconsciously look behind the mirror when choosing a pet: gobby people own yappy dogs; sociable and kindly folk have friendly dogs; aggressive types identify with ferocious dogs; farmers rather obviously empathise with tireless dogs...

As I perused Nirit Levav’s extraordinary work ― a link to the Telegraph  picture gallery coming up ― I found it great fun putting human forms to the bicycle dogs. First up, the lovable spaniel...

Wiggo, the dog’s bollocks


Who else but famous cyclist Bradley Wiggins, hot favourite for tomorrow’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2012, flying past on a time trial, what with that straight back and those sideburns. Oh yes, those sideburns.

And the ‘poop’ dog...

The Blair Shite Project

Who else but Tony Blair, doing what comes naturally. Whatever your political beliefs and views, you can say with much confidence that Tony really did leave his mark on the nation.

Best of all though, the pug...

Boris, the wag in the corner


Who else but Boris Johnson, especially so given his popular and much loved fleet of rental bikes ― known affectionately as the Boris Bikes ― which took London by storm.

But best of all the pug has that permanent tail-in-the-air bearing. After all, Boris is always wagging his tail, metaphorically speaking, and it is one of the characteristics which makes him so likeable. And yes, we all know that women love men who are fully-paid-up members of The Tailwaggers Club.

Here’s the link to the picture gallery ― if you experience problems seeing anything when you arrive there, click on the numbers above where the picture should be...
                                                                           
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/dogs-getting-on-their-bikes
 


Friday, December 14
Maisie, Maisie, gimme your wellies, do

EACH and every day I peruse my favourite online picture galleries ― and there really isn’t a day when I am not rewarded with miles of smiles.

With most people these days having a camera about their person, in some form or other, nothing spotted along the passing parade now escapes the pixel trap and is duly captured for posterity. Ask the Duchess of Cambridge.

Today I stumbled upon this delightful image...

All is wellie that ends wellie

Maisie the Goat at Maria's Animal Shelter in Probus, Cornwall, suffers from arthritis
             and has to wear wellington boots to help her condition
                Pic: SWNS.com

Recent downpours have left 12-year-old Maisie constantly squelching around in puddles and mud. So her keepers have provided pink wellies to protect her from foot rot ― the animal equivalent of trench foot ― an infectious, contagious disease often found in sheep that causes severe lameness, and by definition, economic loss.

While the picture is top drawer, I’m not sure that joining up all the dots makes sense. Sheep foot rot is fairly easily treatable, especially if spotted early on. As is the case with pretty much every infection and disease, really. (The current ash dieback disease in trees is disastrous because nobody did anything about it when it was first spotted.)

Anyway, back with Maisie: I mean, can you spot the squelching mud? Not to mention how, precisely, do the wellies stay on? It would also be the goat’s natural reaction to lift her feet out of the wellies. Or kick them off.

But best of all ― and between you and me and the green, green grass of home ― Maisie has that pissed off look about her, despite being tempted by something tasty thrown on the ground to keep her mind off things wellie.

Still, the picture serves its purpose and made me smile. And continues to do so. Great image, very funny. I think it’s the colour pink that does the trick.

Not so fast, Mr Barry

Tonight I happened to catch for the first time a repeat of the BBC Omnibus edition from 2000 dedicated to John Barry, the Oscar-winning composer, who died last year.

He was the composer of 12 Bond film soundtracks ― not least that incredibly distinctive Bond theme which has spectacularly stood the test of time ― before signing off with 1987’s The Living Daylights, the 15th Bond film.

Hm, so that’s  why later Bond themes were instantly forgettable. Even Adele’s agreeable Skyfall theme doesn’t quite pass the ‘earworm’ test i.e. a piece of music that sticks in one’s mind so that one seems to hear it, even when it is not being played.

Anyway, what made me smile was the revelation that John Barry and his colleagues were having trouble coming up with suitable and memorable lyrics for the song Diamonds Are Forever. “Think of a diamond as a penis,” suggested Barry.

At first the producers of the film would have none of it, but as Barry pointed out, if you are pure of thought, then the words are perfectly innocent.

Do you know, until that moment, I had never once thought of the words of Diamonds Are Forever  as being remotely suggestive. And I’m the one who’s always been accused of having a one-track mind.

Trouble is, henceforth the song Diamonds Are Forever  will never sound quite the same. Gosh, no wonder Shirley becomes ever so animated whenever she sings the song. I mean...

♫♥♫♥♫♥♫  Hold one up and then caress it ... touch it, stroke it and undress it ... I can see every part...

I shall go and lie down in a darkened room for a while...
                                                                                          ...however, never mind a diamond being for ever...

Sing like no one is listening

And now for something completely different. If you do nothing else today, click on the YouTube link below for a nativity scene and a young girl singing like an angel. Not.

I couldn’t stop laughing ― it gives a whole new meaning to the expression tone deaf.

And just as good, the reaction of the other kids, cleverly captured by the giggling lady filming the episode; it’s the double cream atop this three minute extravaganza of hilarity. Priceless.
                                                                                                                   
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpsXNlarAk8


Thursday, December 13
From designer and expensive...

“I ONCE bought a £35,000 watch to cheer myself up.” Harry Handelsman, 63, German-born property developer who has lived in London since 1992.

Back at the beginning of November I shared the above quote with my scrapbook. It came to mind as I read about
Russian billionaire and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich, who builds yachts to cheer himself up.

The Russian’s private fleet consists of five motor yachts: Eclipse, Sussurro, Titan, Umbra, and Luna. At 163.5 metres (536ft) long, Eclipse tops the list of the world’s 100 Largest Yachts, according to Forbes ... it is 0.5 metres (1ft 8in) longer than the Dubai, which belongs to Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of, ta-rah, Dubai.

The Eclipse’s  cost was estimated at nearly $500m, but a September 2009 report indicated that final costs could approach $1.12b...
                             
                                                                                                     ...
it has two helicopter pads, 24 guest cabins, two swimming pools, several hot tubs and a disco hall. It is also equipped with three launch boats and a mini-submarine that is capable of submerging to 50 metres. Approximately 70 crew members are needed to operate the yacht.

However, the mega-yacht wars have escalated, with a Middle-Eastern billionaire building a 590-foot ship that’s expected to reclaim the title of ‘largest yacht in the world’ when it launches next year, 2013. (What’s 54 feet between friends? The end of the world, it seems, because size is everything.)

Now these people are among the wealthiest, most powerful and ruthless men in the world, yet their self-esteem is so suspect and fragile that they have to buy a £35,000 watch, or be seen to own the largest yacht in the world, to reinforce their self-belief and VIP status.

From designer and expensive ... to cheap and cheerful

The watch and the yacht crossed my mind this morning while on my morning walk. Talk about simple pleasures which cheer me up endlessly.

It was another still, frosty and sunny start. We’ve had nearly a week now of proper winter weather. Along my walk I pass two oxbow lakes: the larger one is shallow and quickly freezes over. The second, smaller lake, is deeper, and it takes some really severe and prolonged frost for it to freeze over. So the smaller lake becomes home to all the birds during your common or garden frosty weather.

On normal mornings the smaller lake has a hundred or so birds in obvious residence: swans, geese, ducks, coots and various little water birds. They get used to me disturbing their peace and quiet of an early morning; they no longer take flight the instant I come too close, instead they will gently drift to the far end of the lake and watch me walk on by, the swans excepted: they simply hold their water and glare at me.

However, during this cold spell, many hundreds of ducks have descended from higher ground to take up residence. As soon as I approach, all the nervy ‘visitors’ take flight and circle the lakes. As I am loath to disturb them, and with no other option available, I hurry between the lakes and out into the field beyond ― stop, turn around and watch.

The ducks will follow a set routine. They are clearly reluctant to leave their temporary home, so they will circle and fly endless circuits around the lake, much as an aircraft would above an airfield.

As I clear their space their circuits bring them closer and closer to the ground. Then suddenly, just two or three will break off and land on the lake.

On the next circuit, perhaps a dozen will land. On the next, some 20-30; then 50 or so; then a hundred ... and a hundred on the next; and then perhaps 50; then some 20-30; perhaps a dozen on the next pass ― and suddenly there will be two or three left in the air. They will circle and circle, as if really nervous about landing.

If the few that were first to land were the fearless ones, the equivalent of humans who will do a parachute or bungee jump without thinking twice, then the final few are the nervy ones who really would, in human terms, rather put their feet up and watch Casablanca on the box than climb Everest.

If you want to understand humans, study the animal kingdom. It’s all there, in Stereophonic, Cinemascopic,
3-Dimensional Technicolor.

Yes indeedy, simple pleasures. Every morning during this cold spell I’ve watched these ducks take flight ... and then followed their landing routine. It really is rather uplifting.

Here, I've caught a brace of passing geese coming in to land: throttle back ... flaps extended ... undercarriage down ... nose up ... if you can swim away from it, it’s a landing...
                                                                                        

One after the road

When I get home, the first thing I do is make myself a jumbo mug of coffee, add a generous splurge of scotch ― and top it off with an extravagant layer of double cream. A Welsh version of Gaelic coffee, really. And I sit there and watch the birds on the garden feeders.

If Harry Handelsman’s cheery-up routine comes in at £35,000 a shot, and Roman Abramovich at a staggering billion dollars a splash ― well, mine comes dirt cheap.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012
At twelve noon the meeja natives swoon

YOU’VE heard of a baker’s dozen ... well, meet a journo’s dozen:

“Happy birthday to our grandson, Evan, 12 today (12/12/12), Granny and Granddad.” A short but sweet letter in today’s Daily Mail from Norman Leslie of Bangor, Co Down.

Later, I caught sight of this online headline...

                                                  Boy to turn 12 on 12/12/12 at 12.12pm

An American boy will celebrate his 12th birthday on December 12, 2012 at 12.12pm.

Kiam Moriya, from Birmingham Alabama, was born on December 12, 2000, 12 minutes after midday, in Bronxville, New York. Kiam was not due until late January/early February, but was seven weeks premature, making the birthday all the more remarkable.

Statisticians from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said about four million babies were born in the US in 2000, with an average of about 11,000 per day ― or about eight babies every minute.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, eh? Just reading that makes me feel one degree under...

What a gay Mr & Mr Day
(be sure you read the above correctly
!)

Prime Minister David Cameron’s modernist zeal for gay marriage is creating uproar among his backbenchers and the grassroots.

Personally, it is a subject on which I have no thoughts, one way ― or the other. Mind you, given what is going in in the country, I really do think that politicians have more important things to get their knickers in a twist over.

Unlike the lads down in the Asteri*k Bar at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Somewhat surprisingly, they are all for this gay marriage business, especially the male version of events. On the grounds that, the more gay men there are, the more birds there are out and about looking for some action.

I can’t fault their logic. Indeed, whenever I see Old Shaggy and Young Shagwell these days, they look like they are in desperate need of the kiss of life. I have toyed with the idea of quietly whispering that if they want to push the overflow in my direction, that would be just fine.

But I decided against. At my age I really don’t think I’d be up to the challenge.

As you will have registered along your stroll through Look You, I am a huge fan of MATT, the Daily Telegraph cartoonist ― well, today I spotted a cartoon by another of the newspaper’s cartoonist, ADAMS ... and looking at this witty and hugely smiley effort, I can see why he is Cartoonist of the Year.

Feeling a little horny

Doing what comes naturally, I Googled unicorn ... this, compliments of Wikipedia:

The unicorn is a legendary animal from European folklore ... first mentioned by the ancient Greeks, it became the most important imaginary animal of the Middle Ages and Renaissance when it was commonly described as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace, which could only be captured and tamed by a virgin woman.

Which all adds a certain irony to the above cartoon ― perhaps ADAMS was aware all along of that little throwaway fact at the end there.

Anyway, back with the unicorn: In the encyclopaedias its horn was said to have the power to render poisoned water potable [suitable for drinking] and to heal sickness. Until the 19th century, belief in unicorns was widespread among historians, alchemists, writers, poets, naturalists, physicians, and theologians.

What? You mean...?
 


Tuesday, December 11
                                   ♫♫♫ And now the purple dusk of twilight time
                                             Steals across the meadows of my heart;
                                             High up in the sky the little stars climb,
                                             Always reminding me that we’re apart.


“I WILL make one final promise. When you do join me, I’ll be on the other side with a stiff nectar and soda. I won’t say farewell, just au revoir.” An undertaking given by astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, shortly before his death.

Having mentioned the death of Sir Patrick Moore yesterday, as often happens ― and interesting as newspaper obituaries are ― the most touching tales arrive compliments of follow-up letters in the newspapers, or these days, online comments.

For example, this letter in today’s Daily Telegraph:


Memories of the talented Sir Patrick Moore

SIR – Sir Patrick Moore was a teacher before his Sky at Night programme began (Obituaries, December 10). I was taught by him for almost four years at a school near Tunbridge Wells. He taught Maths, English, History and really anything else that came into his mind. Once he even tried to teach me to play the xylophone.

His classes were always interesting and relevant. He once used some of his RAF navigator’s equipment to teach us about the application of forces. A history class about the Crimean War was brought into focus by the fact that his mother had met Florence Nightingale.

It was at this time that he started to write. We used to get the drafts to read of his stories about travelling to the moon. He told us how man would eventually reach the Moon. Some 16 years later he was talking us through the Apollo 11 landing, almost exactly as he predicted.

When I wrote to congratulate him on his knighthood his reply was typed on his 1908 Woodstock typewriter. The monocle and tie never changed.
Peter May, York


Wonderful. Much like losing a personal nearest and dearest ― and out of the blue comes a letter reminiscing about fond experiences. Much more powerful than an obituary, or even, just occasionally, a well-crafted eulogy.

And so ... from the sublime to the delightfully ridiculous:

Tweetie Pie Corner
                                 Boris tops 2012 Twitter trends

The London Olympics was the subject of 150 million tweets, Twitter revealed today. Boris Johnson’s embarrassing dancing at the Olympics was the UK’s most tweeted moment of 2012, according to Twitter’s own review of the year.

The mop-haired Tory shaking his hips to the Spice Girls created the biggest spike in Tweets in the UK, closely followed by England crashing out of Euro 2012 on penalties...

Never mind Boris, or England crashing out of a penalty shoot-out, I only have to experience any mention of the Spice Girls and what instantly comes to mind is the picture of Posh alongside that Range Rover Evoque.

The other day on the wireless someone mentioned that a great joke is much like a memorable song: it bears repetition.

I remember thinking, yes, that’s definitely true. Look how we laugh at Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, Morecambe and Wise, Dad’s Army ― even though we know exactly what’s coming next.

Not long back I did a feature on how pet dogs and their owners often grow to look alike. Or more correctly, owners subconsciously look behind the mirror when choosing a pet: gobby people own yappy dogs; sociable and kindly folk have friendly dogs; aggressive types own ferocious dogs; the hunting, shooting and fishing brigade opt for sporty dogs that flirt with aggressiveness; farmers own tireless dogs...

Victoria Beckham, apart from her impressive roll call of talents and business ventures, was/is a fashion/creative design executive for the Range Rover Evoque. I know she wasn’t responsible for the exterior design of the vehicle — but here’s a picture I never tire of looking at...

                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                                   ...totally wonderful. As owners tend to choose dogs in their own image ― just as the BBC chooses its dreaded focus groups in its own image, hence why it is slowly disappearing up its own very private orifice ― Victoria has clearly chosen to work with a Range Rover that is the spitting image of what she must see in the mirror.

Spooky or what? In a previous life, Posh was obviously a common or garden Land Rover with ideas above its station.  

I am still coming to terms with the cut of both jibs.
 

Monday, December 10
                                    Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
                                    How I wonder what you are
!
                                    Up above the world so high,
                                    Like a diamond in the sky
.
                                                                              Jane Taylor (1783-1827)


“THE average amateur knows the sky better than the average professional.” Sir Patrick Moore, who has died aged 89, and who did so much to educate the British public about astronomy and space travel.

On television Moore became celebrated for the thunderous fervour with which he would utter the words “We just don’t know!” to emphasise that our comprehension of the universe is incomplete.

He was noted also for his piercing gaze, the machine-gun pace of his speech, being a self-taught xylophone player and pianist, his wildly untidy hair and his oversized suits, which, as one critic put it, “fitted him as a hangar fits a VC10”.
The Daily Telegraph.

I did enjoy this online comment from Polarcap:

On the radio this morning I heard a recording of an interview with the late, great Sir Patrick Moore, during which he was asked by the interviewer ― not an Australian ― if he could complete the nursery rhyme “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”. Entering into the spirit of the ‘joke’ question, he professed not to know it.

Being a pretentious twit ― and avoiding dangling participles ― I remember it thus:

     Scintillate, scintillate, globule vivific,
     Fain would I fathom thy nature specific,
     Loftily poised in the ether capacious,
     Strongly resembling a gem carbonaceous
!

Not serious, just thought I’d share a beauty of the English language.

I discover that the above parody dates back to at least 1852 ― hence the unusual spellings, especially as spotted below ― when it was included in Household Words: a weekly journal, edited by, would you believe, Charles Dickens.

As it happens, the second and third verses were also given the treatment...

 

     When the blazing sun is gone,
     When he nothing shines upon,
     Then you show your little light,
     Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.
 

     Then the trav’ller in the dark,
     Thanks you for your tiny spark,
     He could not see which way to go,
     If you did not twinkle so.

When torrid Phoebus removeth his presence,
Ceasing to lamp us with fierce incandescense,
Then you illumine the regions supernal,
Scintillate, scintillate semper nocturnal.
 

The traveller on lustreless perigrination,
Gratefully hails your minute coruscation,
He could not determine his journey’s direction,
But for your bright scintillitating protection.


On a slightly different tack, and remembering Patrick Moore’s oversized suits, which “fitted him as a hangar fits a VC10”, this letter, coincidentally, appeared in today’s Telegraph...

Trust your trousers

SIR – Robert Adam (Letters, December 8) wears braces and a belt. To quote Henry Fonda’s character Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West : “How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can’t even trust his own pants.”
Alistair Makin, Petersfield, Hampshire

I am particularly reminded of George Bernard Shaw who said that the United States and United Kingdom are “two countries divided by a common language”, endorsed by Oscar Wilde: “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, the language.”

Happy for ever more and a day

There was also a second death reported today:

                                                                              Obituary: a member of unit which inspired 007

Bill Day, personal bodyguard to Winston Churchill and one of the first Allied officers to drink at the Ritz after liberating Paris, dies at the age of 95.

Well, opening lines don’t come much better than that. You already feel that it would have been a privilege to call this man a pal. But it gets even better...

William Bernard Day (known as Bill to his family and as “Happy” to his fellow Marines) was born in Sculcoates in the East Riding of Yorkshire on February 20 1917...

“Happy” to his fellow marines ... what was it my mother said? “Ignore the grand, sweeping, self-important things people say and do ― it’s those spontaneous, throwaway, seemingly unimportant little things that tell you all you ever need to know.”

Someone online wondered aloud why there are no people like Bill “Happy” Day anymore. Oh but there are. Just look at those brave souls serving out in Afghanistan.

But I get the point. There was much more to the observation than bravery and unselfish behaviour, rather it was a condemnation of the sort of ‘senior’ people who now hold sway over every aspect of our lives.

The production line marked ‘People’ does not change. Human DNA and our genetic code does not alter over the generations, at least not in the short-to-medium term.

Good people are still there, in the background, watching the passing parade, undoubtedly shaking their heads in disbelief.

It’s just that, sadly, somewhere along the line, from about the Sixties on, our movers and shakers became the omnipresent clowns, cowboys and crooks of society; people who, at the moment of conception, were right at the tail-end of the queues marked ‘Ethics’, ‘Morality’ and ‘Honesty’.

And that explains precisely why an undisciplined Britain marched straight into the current ambush headed ‘Financial chaos’.
 

Sunday, December 9
                                  My heart leaps up when I behold
                                         A rainbow in the sky

                                                                                                             William Wordsworth

“My father considered a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing.” Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), English writer of both fiction and non-fiction.

Huxley was a humanist, pacifist and satirist; he subsequently became interested in spiritual subjects such as parapsychology and philosophical mysticism.

Now there’s a couple of subjects I can’t ever remember discussing over a few pints down at the old Crazy HP.

Huxley was also well known for advocating and taking psychedelics. By the end of his life he was widely acknowledged as one of the pre-eminent intellectuals of his time and respected as an important researcher into visual communication and sight-related theories.

Suddenly, I was on-side with an open goal stretching as wide as the Grand Canyon: visual communication and sight-related theories, eh? Yep, I know precisely what Huxley was looking at there.

Anyway, when I read his quote about a walk being the equivalent of churchgoing, I instantly thought of Richard Dawkins, the most famous atheist in the world. Probably.

I remember Dawkins saying that he thoroughly enjoys listening to, and joining in, Christmas carols. For no other reason than they are beautiful pieces of music that invite you to join in.

Yes, I know precisely what he means. Much as a walk in the mountains is the equivalent of churchgoing.

As it happens I don’t walk the mountains, but I do walk the Towy Valley every morning, and that, now that I think about it, is probably more the equivalent of chapelgoing: not quite so dramatic on the senses, but the message is similar.

I suppose I have a head start with my country walks, what with all the little songbirds that come out to greet me and claim their morning fix of goodies. After all, they must see me as their Candy Man.

And every morning nature throws up something wonderful to behold. For example, just recently, with the weather fluctuating wildly between sunshine and showers, there have been rainbows in excelsis Deo. Indeed it seems the Towy Valley is very much a nursery for rainbows.

So much so I’ve just posted up there at reception, in the flower gallery, a recently admired and vibrant example. After all, I guess a rainbow is as near as you can get to a flower of the imagination. Isn’t it beautiful?

A perception of percentages

Mention of the weird and wonderful things I spot along my walks, just the other day I included a picture of a beer deliver lorry parked in front of Yr Hen Vic ― The Old Vic ― one of our local pubs and restaurants.

This morning, what caught my eye was a new notice board on the outside wall ... and I smiled, for I had never seen anything like this before...

                                                     
                                                                                                                                                                                    ...how wonderfully novel, I thought, to show that they were 82.25% full at that moment for their Xmas Day Lunch. Off the top of my head, I reckoned that if they have, say, 124 covers, then 102 ― give or take a childs high-chair ― are already booked.

But as I got nearer ... I registered that the notice board actually said 822596 ― The Old Vics actual telephone number. D’oh! And Double D’oh!!

I had a good laugh, as you would ― but be honest, from a distance that 96 really does look like %. That’s my story ― and I’m sticking to it.

Oh yes, I didn’t work out those percentage cover numbers off the top of my head ― I am reasonably good at mental arithmetic, but not that good ― in fact I worked it out with a calculator when I got home.

Incidentally, the other notices you see declare:

     CUSTOMER VACANCIES: OVER 18s ONLY, NO EXPERIENCE NEEDED, APPLY WITHIN

     COME IN, EAT, DRINK AND BE MARY (very seasonal, perhaps they should add HO, HO, HO
!)

And just out of shot:

    
QUITE NICE SUNDAY LUNCHES FROM £--- 01558-822596


Yep, not only is a walk through the Towy Valley on a Sunday morning the equivalent of chapelgoing, but it’s also a smile a minute ― sometimes two smiles a minute.


Saturday, December 8
Santa Claus is coming to town

  
   “Never mind whether I'm naughty
     or nice, I've set up a process of
                 self-regulation”


AH YES, the incomparable MATT  in the wake of the Leveson Report into press and media standards.

With just three boozy weekends to go before the Big Day ― the final weekend a boozy bonus weekend, obviously, what with Christmas Day on the Tuesday ― the lads down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon have pinned on the notice board a sort of huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ league table to show how many party antlers each and every one of us will spot between now and Christmas Day.

No prizes, just a bit of good clean fun. Oh, and there’s a bonus point for each lighted or flashing antler spotted.

And to add joy to the moment, Chief Wise Owl (CWO) later e-mailed me a letter that appeared in The Times  just a few days ago:
 

    Elf and safety

Sir, Which organisation do we inform about the lighted candle on the antlers of the reindeer on the second-class stamp?
VAL GEORGE, Belvedere, Kent


Ho, ho, ho
! indeed. Also, knowing my appreciation of the classic 1942 film Casablanca, and the fact that the piano used for the song As Times Goes By  is up for sale in New York on December 14 ― the auction house estimates it will fetch up to $1.2 million ― CWO also included a second Times  letter...

Play it Sam, play As Time Goes By

Sir, I would love to get my hands on the Casablanca  piano. I was always amazed at how it turned Dooley Wilson’s (Sam) random fingering into a beautiful mournful tune. Just what I need.
CHARLIE FLINDT, Hinton Ampner, Hants


Hm, getting it In Like Flindt, eh Charlie? And just to keep me on my toes, CWO included a third Times  letter...

Missed a bit

Sir, Longevity will be a challenge for Steve Wozniak’s device [a “low-cost” robot] which cleans your car while you sleep (report, Dec 3). We have one which worked well for a couple of years, but since reaching its late teens it sleeps longer than we do.
MARTIN ROSE, London W1

Believe it or don’t spot

“You should have seen his face when he saw me.” Mike Tyson, former undisputed heavyweight champion of the WORLD, claiming he once found Brad Pitt in bed with his now ex-wife Robin Givens.

Hm, talk of random fingering of a beautiful tune off the Job sheet: Naked went I into Robin’s bed, and naked did I return thither. Indeed, what the Pitt giveth the Givens, the Tyson taketh away.

Ah yes, The Tyson: it beats ... as it sweeps ... as it cleans ... it is called positive agitation. No, hang on, that’s a Hoover.

Whatever, I am forever pointing out how modern man has lost its inherent instinct, the ability to spot the ambush before entering the pass.

I mean, never mind the antlers, you do have to wear some special kind of blinkers to play around with Tyson’s woman.

What is it Chief Wise Owl always says about a man on a mission? When a pretty woman across a crowded room flashes her eyes at him, the body automatically drains all the blood from his brain and transfers it to the business end.

Hence Commandment 7, sub-clause 1, of my Revised Ten Commandments Ancient and Modern: A standing prick hath no conscience; nor the capability to spot the ambush, even after entering the pass and the shooting starts.

 

Friday, December 7
When things never quite make sense

YESTERDAY, I was captivated by a couple of images from the new edition of Landscape Photographer of the Year.

Today, I happened to spot that the World Photography Organisation has announced the countdown to the close of the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards, one of the planet’s leading photographic awards.

There is just one month remaining for both professional and amateur photographers from around the world to select and enter their best images of the year in the various categories.

All entries are free via www.worldphoto.org and the shortlist will be revealed on the 5th of February 2013. In the meantime, I perused a gallery featuring some of the images entered thus far into the 2013 Open categories.

As with yesterday’s pictures, there are magical images aplenty, but I was captivated by one particular photograph...

A bicycle built for four, maybe more

An untitled picture by Simone Tramonte: two children in colourful clothing become
 part of a wall painting where real life merges with art

It’s a real tease to work out precisely what is happening up there. It doesn’t quite make sense. There’s a real bike, obviously, on which the real children are sitting. But the painted children are also sitting on a bike.

If I zoom in on the image, then the bicycle in the painting appears to be a perfect shadow of the real bike. So my guess is that either the photographer, Simone Tramonte, is also the painter ― or she found a bike that matched perfectly the painted version.

So I did a quick Google ... and found this, a web site headed: “malaysian media matters – uppercaise”... a blog written and produced by « uppercaise »: This is the hobby site of an old newspaper man. Much of the stuff here is facetious and irreverent. It may bear no resemblance to your reality. Take a deep breath. Don’t panic...

Now that intro made me smile. Have I serendipitously tripped over a soul brother? Anyway, apropos the picture above, I quote the following from the “old newspaper man”:

                               Penang street art scene in world photo contest

Do you also have a photo something like this one? This is a scene that’s been photographed countless number of times, both of the street art as well as of children posing next to the art.

But one person, Simone Tramonte, took the initiative to submit her photograph for the Sony World Photography Awards. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are hundreds of people in Malaysia slapping their foreheads and thinking, “Why didn’t I do that?”.

The street art scene above is of the Little Children on a Bicycle mural in Armenian Street, George Town, one of many murals by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic in little corners of the inner city.

It goes without saying that both picture and uppercaise  appeal greatly to my wonder at the passing parade.

 

Wipe away the smile

Talking of the passing parade, yesterday I mentioned the hoax phone call surrounding the Duchess of Cambridge, where I couldn’t believe the royals’ protection squad hadn’t guarded against such a predictable ambush.

Well, who would have thought apropos today’s tragic news involving the nurse who first answered the call, that something so seemingly inconsequential and exceedingly childish could lead to such dire consequences.

The news of the nurse’s death really did upset me, as I guess it did pretty much everybody else. But it was revealing that the Samaritans came out almost immediately with a caution, a ‘look before you leap’ few words of advice ― and something I had never thought of ― that it is highly unusual for a single event, however traumatic, to cause someone to take their own life.

And you intuitively grasp that the Samaritans' caution does indeed make you stop and think.

It is all very, very sad, especially so with children involved. I feel sorry for everyone  involved, including the two radio presenters, and that despite their child-like behaviour. What must they be feeling?
 


Thursday, December 6
Healthy and picture perfect


WITH the Duchess of Cambridge discharged from hospital today, it’s worth reflecting on the curious case of the hoax phone call from Down Under.

The hospital, where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for severe pregnancy sickness, admitted that one of its nurses gave out confidential details of her treatment after falling victim to a hoax call from an Australian radio station.

You do wonder about the competency of the police protection squad which purportedly ‘protects’ the royal couple.

We all remember the topless episode, where the protection squad failed to warn Kate of the distinct possibility of the paparazzi lining up her Earth Kitts in their Box Brownies.

Well, you would have thought that when she went into hospital, instructions should have been given to the hospital that all visitors, e-mails and telephone calls to do with the Princess should have been routed through the most senior officer on duty first to weed out the inevitable ambush.

It’s not hindsight, it’s pretty basic wisdom.

Anyway, I was diverted by this headline in Telegraph Online’s  eye-catching Picture Gallery section...

                                               Beautiful British Landscapes
Landscape Photographer of the Year: Collection 6

A new book features the best photographs of beautiful British landscapes. The book showcases the best pictures from amateur and professional photographers alike from the sixth annual Landscape Photographer of the Year competition...

Well, if you do nothing else today, click on the link below to see the most exquisitely stunning pictures of our British landscape.

As I have said before, I am not a photographer, merely someone who always carries a little camera to capture the passing parade, but I admire hugely those who take their photography seriously.

I have selected a couple of pictures. Anyone who points a camera is always drawn to reflections, simply because they are eye-catching in the extreme. But how about this...

Watch the birdie!


A misty morning beside Loch Awe with views to Kilchurn Castle, Argyll & Bute, Scotland     Pic: Adam Burton / Rex Features

What gave me that additional mile of a smile was the bird speeding across the water. A magic moment.

In contrast, I found this picture quite captivating in its elegant stillness...

♫♫♫:  Yes, they’ll all come to see me in the shade of that old oak tree,
As they lay me neath the green, green grass of home.


                        South Downs National Park, Hampshire, England                    Pic: Roger Voller / Rex Features

So simple ... a tree in the middle of a field in the middle of somewhere. I think it’s the fact that the picture features just the one colour that captivates me. And where is Tom Jones warbling away in the branches when you need him?

Apropos the whole gallery of pictures, I enjoyed this Online Comment from Skullpit: Blimey! I give up, anybody want to buy £2,500 worth of photographic equipment?

Hang on in there, Skullpit: Nine points of the law of photography is making sure you are in the right place at the right time. And that is within your power to fix, at least some of the time.

Here’s the link...
                          
Beautiful-British-Landscapes:Telegraphed-to-a-screen-near-you


Wednesday, December 5
Feeling better already

THE SUN  followed up yesterday’s memorable Kate Expectations front page headline with this morning’s effort...

                                                              SHE’S DOING SWELL

Very good. By contrast, The Independent  front page cautioned...

                                               Scientists warn of sperm count crisis

The reproductive health of the average male is in sharp decline, the worlds largest study of the quality and concentration of sperm has found.

Between 1989 and 2005, average sperm counts fell by a third in the study of 26,000 men, increasing their risk of infertility. The amount of healthy sperm was also reduced, by a similar proportion.

The findings confirm research over the past 20 years that has shown sperm counts declining in many countries across the world. Reasons ranging from tight underwear [ouch!] to toxins in the environment [yuk!] have been advanced to explain the fall, but still no definitive cause has been found...

After lying down in a darkened room for a while, I found this marvellous image of a sperm cell, a spermatozoon ― shame a single sperm is not called a spermatozoom ― attempting to charm, seduce and penetrate an ovum coat to fertilize it...

                         
                                   Knock-knock!
                                   Who’s there?
                                   Spermatozoon
!

                                   Come in, come in---

I made up that little joke, right here, right now. I’m quite proud of that; I think it’s only the second ever joke I’ve  made up wholly on my ownsome.

I know, I know, I’m not supposed to laugh at my own jokes, but come on: “Come in, come in---”? As those pretentious meeja twits would say: hm, yes, it works on many levels.

Incidentally, I bet the above spermatozoon is that of a person conceived to be a politician, a banker, a media owner, a corporate chief, a director-general of the BBC ... did you notice the kink in its tail?

Anyway, being serious about the falling sperm count problem, perusing the full Independent  article, I never saw any mention of the mobile phone. I can’t help noticing how many men keep their mobile, switched on, in their trouser pocket, on their belts, or somewhere not a million miles from their crown jewels.

As I understand it, cell phones communicate using signals in the microwave spectrum. So who’s to say that exposure to such radiated signals does not pose a health threat.

But what do I understand?

Say nighty-night ― but don’t kiss me

Finally, Daily Telegraph  cartoonist MATT  went after the news that almost 700,000 people across the UK have been struck down with the vomiting bug Norovirus. The cartoon had no caption, but, given the Xmas theme, and that the dear old lady featured is probably called Carol, I was overwhelmed with the need to add my own caption ― my second ‘joke’ of the day...
                           

                               ♫♫♫
                              
No-well, No-well...”


Tuesday, December 4
 
                                
THERE really was only one story vying for today’s smile of the day spot, and that’s the meeja diving overboard, from a great height, over the news of that troublesome morning after the many nights in shining amour before.

And the award goes to The Sun’s  front page. Wonderful. I thoroughly enjoy clever word play, and I greatly admire those blessed with the gift. Mind you, The Sun’s  sub-editors have probably been sitting on Kate’s Expectations for a while now, but power to their elbow anyway. Ten out of ten.

The news broke late yesterday afternoon, just after four, I believe ― but the Telegraph’s  Letters page also deserve a smaller for they had a little cracker delivered to the nation, poste haste, this very morning ― and yes, you can’t keep the one and only Boris out of the news, even when someone else is having sex:

Olympic baby

SIR – With the news that the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant, how prescient of Boris Johnson who, in a speech as long ago as early September, praised Great Britain’s Olympic athletes with the words: “You probably not only inspired a generation, but helped to create one as well.”
Paul Harrison, Terling, Essex

I read that Kate is supposed to be 12-weeks pregnant. Curiosity made me look back to when Boris made that speech in front of the Olympic athletes and Buckingham Palace ― here’s the quote in full: “And speaking as a spectator, you produced such paroxysms of tears and joy on the sofas of Britain that you probably not only inspired a generation but helped to create one as well.”

Believe it or not, Boris said that, late afternoon, on Monday, September 10 ― and if you count the weeks to, late afternoon, on Monday, December 3, yesterday – ta-rah! – yes, precisely 12 weeks.

You couldn’t make it up. And worst of all, Boris has missed the best story of all in his just released book, The Spirit of London, his tales of derring-do and goings-on at the London Games.

Incidentally, when I picked up my morning paper, I couldn’t help but notice how many extra copies of all newspapers, plastered with news of Kate, obviously, had been delivered to the shop.

Oh yes, it was Paul McMullan, the former News of the World  reporter, who argued during the Leveson Inquiry that “newspaper sales define the public interest”.

Finally, there was a Picture Gallery in Telegraph Online, headed:

           Duchess of Cambridge pregnant: royal baby mania as the media wait for news

Bugger, there was that White Rabbit again. The “media wait for news” bit drew me in ... and yes, I wasn’t disappointed, for sprinkled in the gallery were images of the meeja waiting for news. For example, this picture from Sang Tan (who reminds me of Sam Tân ― pronounced Taaaaan  ― the Welsh version of Fireman Sam)...

‘Old it, flash, bang, wallop ... stick it in your fam’ly album

Members of the media wait for developments across the road from the King Edward VII hospital

A little further on in the gallery, another picture of the meeja hordes, with the caption “...and wait...”; then further on still, yet another picture, with the caption “...still waiting...”.

It was all very smiley ― indeed I was instantly reminded of that wonderfully atmospheric narrative opening to my favourite film, Casablanca, and the very first words we hear, in that dramatic American accent...

Narrator: With the coming of the Second World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully, or desperately, toward the freedom of the Americas. Lisbon became the great embarkation point.

But, not everybody could get to Lisbon directly, and so a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up: Paris to Marseilles ... across the Mediterranean to Oran ... then by train, or auto, or foot across the rim of Africa, to Casablanca in French Morocco.

Here, the fortunate ones through money, or influence, or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon; and from Lisbon, to the New World.

But the others wait in Casablanca ... and wait ...... and wait ......... and wait............

 

Monday, December 3
Keep your money or open the box
?

LAST Saturday, my little old funny-bone was tickled by this headline:

                                                      ’Provocative’ Playboy lorry advert banned  

Today, it was this:

                                                             Zurich to open drive-in sex boxes

The Swiss city of Zurich is to open drive-in sex boxes in an attempt to rid the town of street prostitution...

It instantly brought to mind Pete Seeger’s Little Poxes, ho, ho, ho!

On a high
I was casually listening to Roy Noble’s Radio Wales  show yesterday morning and, as is par for the course, something really smiley unfolded.  I’ve mentioned before that one of Roy’s attractive foibles is that he gets words slightly wrong. Much as I often do (thank heaven for little spell-checks).

I mean, how could I ever forget Roy earnestly describing a certain lady of a certain age who had been on a course of “Botex”, before being gently corrected by a friendly female news presenter who had hung around the studio for a chat.

As I have mentioned before, presumably “Botex” should be something between Tipp-Ex, which corrects human error, and Botox, which corrects Mother Nature’s slip-ups. It was a most memorable cock-up.

Anyway, to check out what I thought I’d heard yesterday, I clicked onto the iPlayer.

Now that didn’t help because this is what it said on Roy’s iPlayer home page apropos yesterday, the 2nd of December:

Music and chat with Roy, and the chance to guess the ‘mystery voice’. Includes two minutes’ silence and The Last Post, live from the Cenotaph in London.

No wonder the BBC has lost its way. Has it no pride in what it does anymore?

Whatever, Roy had as his guest Alan Wightman ― a name I wasnt familiar with ― a screenwriter, playwright, author and comedy writer.

After a break in conversation, Roy returned to his guest and reintroduced him to the listener: “Now with me is Alan Wightman, pantomime is his scenario right now, but let me tell you, there’s a depth here which is, well, somewhere beyond the ― is it the Marijuana Trench? No, not the Marijuana ― it’s that trench in the Pacific I’m talking about.”

There is much studio chortling. “I think you mean the Mariana Trench, Roy,” says Alan Wightman.

There was something delightfully hilarious about the deepest part of the world’s oceans being juxtaposed with something designed by Mother Nature to give us a high. Gives a whole new meaning to taking a deep drag.

Short change

“City of London police are investigating the alleged serious embezzlement of funds at a Gordon Brown-backed think tank set up to improve bankers’ behaviour.” Thus the opening paragraph of a Sunday Times Business article.

Do you know, all the nation’s movers and shakers must also be looking for the Marijuana Trench.

And finally, Boris

Yesterday I smiled at an extract from Boris Johnson’s new book, The Spirit of London, a tale of his Olympics experiences over the summer. What I forgot to include was this little gem, definitely a starter for ten:

Next week

It wasn’t easy at school, not being able to speak English. He heard some kids shouting, “Come on, then!” and took it to be a greeting rather than the standard invitation to a fight.

“Come on, then,” shouted young Mo Farah. He promptly got beaten up.

The mayor meets an immigrant hero who is “as British as a bad pun in a Carry On film”.

“As British as a bad pun in a Carry On film”. That even beats Roy Noble’s “Marijuana Trench” in the smile of the day league.
 

Sunday, December 2
Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!

                                                                                           
YOU know me: I never read books, except in a research or reference context ― I simply do not have the time to do anything else ― but this very morning I flirted with the idea of buying myself one as a Xmas present. And that, dear visitor to this well of smiley things, is something quite unheard of along my stroll through time.

I was sorting out The Sunday Times  into my usual preference pile, the section of zero interest at the bottom (APPOINTMENTS), the one of most immediate interest at the top (CULTURE Magazine), and I got to the NEWS REVIEW section ― and there, staring up at me, was a variation on this picture, along with the comment thereon and the caption blurb beneath...

His bulk and a flimsy seat nearly caused mayhem at the Olympic opening ceremony and, as
Boris Johnson reveals in his new book, it was not the only comic mishap at the London Games

Why is it that whenever I see a picture of Boris ... I start to smile? Anyway, I was drawn in, much like Alice following the White Rabbit down the hole.

If you are a reader of The Sunday Times, in particular the NEWS REVIEW section ― and you have read the Boris piece ― then bear with me for I must record in my scrapbook these opening few shots, for they really did make me laugh out loud...

Boris under starter's orders

We all have moments when we think we have really blown it, when we realise we have committed – or are in the process of committing – a goof from which there can be no realistic hope of return. Such were my feelings at about 9.30pm on Friday July 27, 2012.

It was the night of the Olympic opening ceremony. I was sitting in the politburo seats in the stadium at Stratford, with Marina, my wife, on my left, and the Duchess of Cornwall (aka Camilla) on my right.

Not far down the line were Her Majesty the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the PM, Sam Cam, the International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, and the Countess Rogge, Lord Coe, Lady Coe, Michelle Obama, Mr and Mrs Mitt Romney and about 134 heads of state and government from democracies and tyrannies around the world.

[No Macbeth and his good Lady, Boris?]

We were all acutely conscious that there were about a billion people watching, and that we should not be seen scratching or picking our noses. I was so overwrought that I will not deny I had refreshed myself freely at the excellent VIP bar. But I can assure you that this was nothing to do with the problem that overwhelmed me.

I was engaged in animated conversation with Camilla, who is every bit as wonderful as her most passionate advocates will tell you. She was enjoying the spectacle, and I kept leaning forward, toady-like, to make some point or other – to identify the flag of some nation or to explain why the proceedings seemed to be partly in French.

[And what about that German gent in front of you, Boris? I saw you and Camilla smiling as he appeared to give a very naughty salute when the German team entered the arena and paraded in front of him.]

As I shifted my weight (more than 16½ stone) I felt a little give in the seat beneath. As I leant a bit further forward, the underpinnings seemed to wheeze and bend with strain, and then ... CRACK ... something serious snapped beneath my right buttock.

After seven years of preparation for the Games, after all the speeches I had given about how ready we were, after all the trouble we had taken, as a country, to look competent and efficient, I discovered in a millisecond of horror that I was being pitched forward like a greased piglet on a tiny tray. And my head was going straight for Camilla’s lap.

As I dived unstoppably for the concrete floor, I reflected on the disgrace. I would have to say that I was drunk. It was the only excuse. I couldn’t possibly blame the workmanship of the Olympic Delivery Authority, not after we had spent the thick end of half a billion pounds on building this stadium. I thought about the headlines, the savagery of the Olymposceptic press, the TV footage.

[Tut, tut, Boris, jerry-building is jerry-building ― and no, not a reference to the gent making the funny salute. The origin of the phrase jerry-building is unknown; sometimes said to be from the name of a firm of builders in Liverpool, or to allude to the walls of Jericho, which fell down at the sound of Boris’s ― oops ― Joshua’s trumpets (Josh. 6:20).]

With effort I avoided collision with the knees of the duchess and grovelled on all fours in front of her, like some wheezing retriever; and I thought, as I prepared to haul myself back up, before global derision, that it wasn’t the first disaster of the evening.

[How come I never heard about this episode? And what would Mr and Mrs Mitt Romney have made of it, especially after Mr Romney doubted whether Boris and Old London Town were really up to the job?]

It can now be revealed that a large chunk of the VIP party almost missed the ceremony altogether. For some reason it was decided that we should all take a bus from St James’s Palace through the rush-hour traffic to east London, and we set off in plenty of time.

[A bus? I can hear Mrs Thatcher saying that in perfect “A handbag?” voice ― for did not the Iron Lady say that Any man who finds himself on a bus over the age of 30 can consider himself a failure in life” … It seems Mrs T thought the bus a mode of travel for infants, children and students, nothing more. Hm.]

There was the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition and Mrs Miliband, the commissioner of the Metropolitan police and various bemedalled heads of the army, navy and air force, as well as other important ministers and spokespersons. You could have founded a perfectly viable country with that cast list.

We had all sorts of Olympics honchos who had offered up the best part of a decade to prepare for this moment, and we had an excellent driver. But no one had explained to him with sufficient clarity where to exit from the A12...

[But hadn’t the exact same problem surfaced when the American Olympics team arrived in London? Honestly, our movers and shakers never, ever learn.]

Anyway, all very entertaining, Boris Johnson. And the wonderful thing about Boris’s writing is that you can hear his voice as you read, which is why, I guess, his words trip off the page.

I like Boris. He is the sort of bloke, if I walked into the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, and saw him standing at the bar, I would head towards him for a chat because you know that you will be enlightened and entertained.

PS: You may well have twigged from the above another reason as to why I never read books. I am continually overwhelmed by the need to butt in and challenge with my own questions and observations, which rather takes the edge off the exercise.

PPS: The above extracted from The Spirit of London, to be published by Harper Press on Thursday at £8.99.


Saturday, December 1
A little something on the side

JUST occasionally, a headline beckons, much like a previously unseen creature of desire smiling at you across a crowded room...
                                            
 
‘Provocative’ Playboy lorry advert banned

An advert for Playboy featuring scantily clad women was banned after it appeared on the side of a lorry parked outside a hotel popular with the elderly in a seaside town...

Hello big boy – wanna come out and play?


                                                                                                                                               Photo: SWNS

The lorry, which appeared in the picturesque seaside town of Ilfracombe in Devon, featured pictures of semi-naked women in seductive poses to advertise Playboy TV Chat.

Just very smiley. Nothing more, nothing less.

However, if it’s Brains you want

The above, curiously, reminded me of a picture I captured back in 2009 as I walked through Llandampness.

Parked outside a pub called Yr Hen Vic  ― The Old Vic; historically The Victoria Hotel, the pub where I not only enjoyed my first pub drink, but it was also my first under-age drink ― was a beer delivery lorry.

What drew my attention was how neatly parked it was in front of the pub. And then the clever, eye-catching advert with its Welsh Letter play on the side of the lorry. (Anything you can do with French Letters the Welsh can do better ― damn, hang about! One of our national symbols is the leek ― Latin name: Allium porrum ― but we’ll let that pass.)

One for the road
 

Every day a day at school spot: Brains (S. A. Brain & Company Ltd) is a regional brewery founded in 1882 in Cardiff by Samuel Arthur Brain ― what a perfectly wonderful surname that is to promote your product.
                                                                                                                                                           

Over the last 100 years, SA Brain has grown from being Cardiff’s own brewer ― bringing together a combined heritage of over 600 years of South Wales brewing tradition, hic! ― into “The National Brewer of Wales”.

With Brains SA and SA Gold beers being a couple of their leading brands, it is so easy to appreciate the clever word (letter?) play in the advert on the side of the lorry.

The Crazy Horsepower Saloon’s Wildebeest Theory of Beer Drinking and Brain Development

A herd of wildebeest can only move as fast as the slowest wildebeest, much like the brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cell, the weakest link.

The slowest wildebeest are the elderly, the sick and the weak, so they die or are picked off first by predators ― think those naughty crocs waiting in ambush at the river crossing ― thus making it possible for the herd to move at a faster pace.

It is Nature’s Prime Directive: The Survival of the Fittest.

Like the wildebeest, the weak, slow brain cells are the ones that are killed off by excessive beer drinking and socializing, thus making the brain operate faster.

And the moral of the tale? Drink more Brains SA beer: it will make you smarter and help avoid those nasty predators lying in wait around every corner.

And who knows, one day you may well play Brains, one of the leading characters in Thunderbirds.
 

Friday, November 30
A quiet moment to think about it

WITH the meeja understandably going overboard today following the publication of the Leveson report on the public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press ― all in the wake of Rupert Murdoch’s News International phone hacking scandal ― I must confess that I have only followed the circus on a very superficial level, so I shall leave the serious stuff to those who think they understand these things.

MATT’s  cartoon in The Daily Telegraph, as usual, really summed it all up for me...


          (Caption to be supplied by
       cross-party committee of MPs)

                                               ...I took MATT’s  witty caption as an invite to come up with my own effort. I duly gave it some thought, and my humble effort comes up down below.

As to the Leveson Inquiry itself, it’s the throwaway stuff I remember...

Little things say so much

I learnt that one of Hugh Grant’s middle names is Mungo ― that is so Hugh Grant, so Mungo Jerry (the computer’s spell-check had suggested Mango/Mongo/Mingo); I also learnt that David Cameron signed his texts to Rebekah Brooks “lol” ― until she told him that it meant “laugh out loud” not “lots of love”.

Given the way our politicians operate, perhaps he really did mean “laugh out loud” all along. I mean, c’mon, do they really discharge their duties to the nation with any degree of TLC?

“In 21 years of invading people’s privacy I’ve never found anybody doing any good.” That was the declaration of Paul McMullan, the former News of the World reporter, who also added that “privacy is for paedos”.

Mind you, I have often wondered about the ferocity with which people guard the absolute privacy of life behind their front doors. Excepting the obvious business of reporters and photographers camped on doorsteps, what on earth do folks get up to that would render them so ashamed if the rest of the world knew about it? I mean, everyone who demands privacy can’t all be “paedos”.

Yes, I’ve done a few things behind closed that would make me blush if I knew you lot were watching ― but never anything that would bring shame and scandal upon the family.

Also, in Paul McMullan’s testimony, he argued that newspaper sales defined the public interest. Intriguingly, I discovered that the ex-editor’s thoughts on this subject made for one of the most read articles in the Guardian newspaper’s entire Leveson coverage.

That part about newspaper sales defining the public interest is interesting. Given how public executions were historically a significant social event in the calendar, and drew huge crowds, I have always maintained that if Saddam Hussein’s hanging had been carried live on television ― it was actually filmed on a mobile as I recall ― it would have attracted the largest TV audience ever. By a mile.

Which suggests that whatever the media throws at us, we, the great unwashed, the common or garden, the plebs, will devour it with huge enthusiasm. Therefore the media carries a huge responsibility to limit what it shows us in order to keep our dodgy emotions in check.

We also know that the majority of British people still favour bringing back execution for certain crimes, such as the murder of a police officer, yet does the media support what the Great British Public demand? Of course it doesn’t. It only feeds us what the meeja itself thinks is good for us.

(Incidentally, I wouldn’t bring back execution on the basis that innocent people have been executed in the past. But that’s just my humble opinion; and nobody close to me has been murdered.)

Anyway, back with Leveson: and then there was barrister Robert Jay, apparently famous for injecting long, historical words such as “propinquity” into his questioning, earned more than £500,000 from his regular ‘song and dance’ routines. Nice work if you can get it.

Hm, “propinquity”? Yet another of those words you definitely never hear in the Asteri*k Bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. It can mean physical proximity, a kinship between people, or a similarity in nature between things i.e. like-attracts-like.

In a wholly different context ― about art, actually ― I stumbled upon this quote:

“Life is short, and Art long; the crisis fleeting; experience perilous, and decision difficult.”
Hippocrates (c.460BC-377), Greek physician who is referred to as the “father of medicine”.

My instant reaction was that perhaps it should read: “Dec is short, and Ant long...”

Whatever, there was an explanation of the quote for the benefit of plebs like me: the physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants, and externals cooperate.

In his own way, Lord Leveson is very much the physician in this situation, and his medicine is that, because self-regulation clearly doesn’t work, legislation is required to control the press.

Start taking the tablets, Rupert, you Dirty Digger you.

Apropos that Hippocrates quote, online someone calling herself
Plum-tart put me back on the straight and narrow: “I’m pink therefore I’m spam ... that’s my philosophy.”

Anyway, enough already. Here’s my caption to the MATT cartoon:
   
   “I only said Leveson wants to turn the
      nation’s guard dogs into lapdogs –
               and he threw a strop”

                                                     Strop: just in case someone in some faraway place with a strange sounding name is wondering about this even stranger looking and sounding little word, it is an informal word meaning “in a bad temper or sulk’. As a bonus, there’s something wonderfully onomatopoeic about it (now that is a word you will occasionally hear in the Asteri*k Bar, even if only uttered by me).

Whatever, rarely along my walk through time have I found it necessary to throw a strop ― but it is, curiously, hugely satisfying when it happens.
 

Thursday, November 29
Road hog ahead

REMEMBER the Frank Muir story about him driving along a narrow country road in his Kentish heartland?

Round the corner ahead came a woman driver, in a clapped-out, dented Morris Minor. She missed the wing of my beautiful Lagonda by a centimetre, wound down her window furiously and yelled at me, “Pig!.

“Woman driver! I snorted, drove on round the corner and hit a pig.

Well, today, in the Telegraph’s  Sign Language Picture Gallery, the newspaper’s regular collection of amusing and confusing signs spotted and snapped by readers on their travels, this little gem...

A million miles from Lemmings Leap

Judge and Jury: Spotted in Norfolk by Ruth Judge

Marvellous, it sits just perfectly alongside the Frank Muir quote.

And from the sublime to the ridiculous ― this letter sort of took my breath away:

Citizenship too testing

SIR – Immigrants wishing to become citizens [of the UK] have to pass an exam. This consists of 24 questions with a pass mark of 75 per cent. After downloading a specimen list of typical questions from the government website, I completed the test and failed. A number of my relations and friends also failed. We are all natural-born, university-educated British subjects.

Here are four questions as examples:

1. Which year did married women get the right to divorce their husbands? a. 1837; b. 1857; c. 1875; d. 1882.

2. How many parliamentary constituencies are there? a. 464; b. 564; c. 646; d. 664.

3. How many million children are there up to the age of 19? a. 13; b. 14; c. 15; d. 16.

4. How many days per year must schools legally remain open? a. 150; b. 170; c. 190; d. 200.

I fail to see how any of these questions indicate suitability for citizenship. (The answers are 1. b; 2. c; 3. c; 4. c.)
James Beardall, Shelford, Cambridgeshire

I failed all the above; well, three were just plain guesses, but I did know that our parliamentary constituencies numbered somewhere in the 600s ... sadly though I plumped for the wrong one.

It set me thinking: how many of the brave souls who are fighting out in Afghanistan right now, for and on behalf of our dreadful politicians (not to mention those who fought in the Falklands, the Second and First World Wars, and all other conflicts), would have been able to answer these sorts of questions?

I agree absolutely with the final thoughts of the above letter writer.

The test is the very epitome of doolallyness.

 

Wednesday, November 28
How old would you be...
                                      ...if you didn’t know how old you are?

“THE 60s are the new 40s and the 70s the new 50s. You just have to be a little more careful walking downstairs.”
Sir Terry Wogan, 74, an Irish radio and television broadcaster, who holds dual Irish and British citizenship, and who clearly tends to stick to the escalator these days.

I am greatly amused by this business that we are all now somehow physically younger. It has a touch of the Emperor’s Magic Suit of Clothes about it. Somebody “important”, a celebrity probably, said it ― and it has subliminally ingrained itself in the human psyche.

I enjoyed an article by a Lloyd De Vries on the CBS News  web site ― here are just his opening few shots:

The other day, I read another one of those articles called, “Is 60 the new 40?”. We hear about this supposed phenomenon all the time. 60 is the new 40, 70 is the new 50, 110 is the new 108, etc.

It means that people are living longer today, they’re healthier, and they’re enjoying life more. All that is great.

However, at the same time that people are feeling much younger than people their age felt in previous generations, an all-powerful culture of youth is dominating our society. People in their 20s are getting cosmetic surgery to look younger. Men and women in their 40s are considered too old to work in some fields. More and more people are forced to take early retirement at an earlier and earlier age.

So while older people are feeling younger these days, our society may be seeing them as older, not younger. Maybe in terms of perceptions, 40 is the new 60.

Very perceptive bit of writing. The way I see it ... if it says 40 on your birth certificate, you are 40 years of age; if it says 70 you are 70; 100 you are 100.

However, I have always believed that we are born either young, middle-aged, old ― or in crisis. We all know kids who behave like grown ups, adults who behave like children, and inbetweeners who behave like ― well, middle-aged folk.

Hindsight suggests that I was born middle-aged, and the older I get the more convinced I am of that.

Be that as it may, there are four categories of age: chronological (what it says on your birth certificate), biological (how easily you get through your MOT), psychological (your frame of mind – see above apropos being born young, middle-age, old or in crisis) and archaeological (how old the world at large thinks you are).

The biological one is the most critical of all. Those blessed with a Royal Flush of Health Genes at the moment of conception are the individuals who appear much younger than they really are: a spring in the step, a smile on the face ― and very much young at heart.

Whatever, I have the perfect quote to balance the Terry Wogan one at the top, especially that business about being a little more careful walking downstairs:

Careful grooming may take twenty years off a woman’s age, but you can’t fool a flight of stairs.” Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992), a German-American actress and singer, who is famed for saying “I want to be alone”, but what she actually said was, “I want to be left alone”, which is significantly different.

Where was Lord Justice Leveson when Marlene needed him?
 

Tuesday, November 27
Never mind a great opening line...
                                                      ...think great closing lines

TODAY I perused a list of 25 of the greatest closing lines in films. As it happens, first on the list was from my very favourite film, Casablanca, which had its world premiere 70 years ago yesterday, on 26 November 1942, at the Hollywood Theatre in New York.

The final line of this brilliant film was spoken by nightclub owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) to police chief Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), as they leave vanquished Morocco to join the Free French Army in West Africa.

               “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” said Bogart.

The film, which also starred Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid (as Victor Laszlo, a renowned fugitive Czech resistance leader and the least complex of all the characters), won three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay i.e. a script to die for.

If you want to get ahead get a hat


A beautiful friendship

Given that Casablanca’s closing line was the opening line on the list, and that Captain Louis Renault was the character drawn by the eye in the marvellously atmospheric picture above ― enjoyed his police hat at that slightly rakish angle, a perfect reflection of the man’s character ― I am reminded that back at the beginning of this year, I acknowledged that Louise is the only fictional character I would have enjoyed being in real life.

                ”Oh, he’s just like any other man, only more so,” was Rick’s verdict on Louise.

Yes, Louis Renault was a Nogood Boyo: forever on the make and always chasing the girls, running with the hare and the hounds, not a man of strong conviction, but a friend to whoever was in power at the time ― but when push came to shove, he landed firmly on the side of the white hat.

Also, he would have been the script writers’ favourite character, for the most consistently witty and wise lines in all of filmdom belong to Louis. Next time you watch the film, just concentrate on Claude Rains’ performance as Captain Renault. Gems 'R' Us, Wisdom Unlimited.

Indeed, he delivers my all-time favourite film line: near the beginning of the film, Rick has just sent his beautiful but drunk and somewhat troublesome girlfriend, Yvonne, home in a taxi; he then joins Louie sitting at a table outside the café, and Louie utters a magical line that every red-blooded man 40-plus will empathise with:

         “How extravagant you are throwing away women like that. Someday they may be scarce.”

It’s intriguing to learn that the sentence was originally “Someday they might be rationed”, but government censors objected and the line was changed ― for the better, methinks.

Coming up on the rails

Other closing lines I enjoyed were these:

Groucho Marx, who plays veterinarian Hugo Z. Hackenbush in the madcap 1937 film A Day At The Races, tells Emily Upjohn (Margaret Dumont):

                  “Emily, I have a little confession to make. I really am a horse doctor.
                          But marry me, and I'll never look at any other horse.”

In Back to the Future, a 1985 film, Dr. Emmet Brown (Christopher Lloyd) says to Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox):

                         “Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads.”

Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), the flesh-eating serial killer in Silence Of The Lambs, a 1991 film, is on the phone to FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jody Foster) after his escape. He says:

            “I do wish we could chat longer, but ... I'm having an old friend for dinner. Bye.”

I’ve never seen the film, but I am aware that he is talking about Dr Chilton, the psychiatrist he has pursued to Bimini.

Michael Cain, who plays Charlie Croker in the 1969 caper, The Italian Job, as the golden bus balances on the edge:

                                                “Hang on a minute lads; I’ve got a great idea...”

Having a different sort of friend for dinner

To balance the books, I’ll finish with a great opening line, but not from a film. At least I don’t think it is. A few days back, the radio was on in the background, and a lady was talking about the first time she had met the man who was to become her husband.

Normally when I catch the tail end of a good tale, I make a note of the day, programme and time ― later I will visit the iPlayer to get the story right ― but for some reason I was distracted and I forgot to make a note, and the moment was gone. However, I do remember the line, which was totally wonderful. He said to her:

      “I’d like to send you flowers and take you out to dinner ― sadly I can’t afford both right now.
                                        Which would you prefer?”

Magic, for it works from both sides. It is very doubtful that he couldn’t afford both, but if he was unsure, the flowers are a perfect escape lane. If the lady herself is not sure, she would say “flowers”, obviously, and the man would know he has a bit more work to do.

However, if she says “I quite like the sound of that dinner” ― as the unnamed lady, above, did ― well, all systems go...

                                       “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”

 

Monday, November 26
A way with words, a way with the world

RARELY does a straight news story have me laughing out loud ― but I was drawn by this Western Mail  headline...
 

Boris mistaken for ‘King of England’ in India
 


 

FORGET Downing Street, London Mayor Boris Johnson could well set his sights on Buckingham Palace as Indian locals mistook him for the King of England on the first day of his tour of the country.

Others thought he was Wimbledon legend Boris Becker as he toured the Akshardhan temple in Delhi, while one American businessman who had his photo taken with the mayor at his hotel simply referred to him as “that guy on the zip line” ― a reference to when Boris got stuck as he traversed Victoria Park during the Olympics [how could we ever forget?].

Yesterday, Mr Johnson began his six-day tour in typical whirlwind fashion as he was greeted by monks with a garland of rose petals and the traditional kanku ― the red dot which was daubed on his forehead ― and chased by enthusiastic street vendors.

A remarkable character is our Boris. He has this magical ability to make us smile even when doing the most mundane of things. I’ve mentioned before how endlessly intrigued I am by the fact that in the media, high-profile individuals like David Cameron or Tony Blair are always respectfully referred to as Mr Cameron or Mr Blair, yet Boris is pretty much always referred to as Boris, even in face to face serious  interviews ― note how the Western Mail  uses Boris  in their headline, as shown at the top.

A way with speed, away with the world

Yesterday’s smile of the day featured the John Humphrys quote, “Quiet, please!” where he complained that the world is getting progressively louder, and the noise is damaging our health. It’s time we all turned down the volume, insisted John.

But, as I remarked, what I’ve noticed is not so much that the world is getting louder, but that everyone and everything is speeding up at an alarming rate. Everything is getting faster and faster, everyone in a rush and likely to disappear up their own very private orifice anytime poste-anus.

Well blow me, this online headline today...

                                                                    310mph ‘floating’ trains unveiled in Japan

The first of a new generation of high-speed, magnetic levitation trains has been unveiled in Japan, designed to operate at speeds of more than 300mph.

Designed by Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), the state-of-the-art trains are scheduled to go into use in 2027 and link Shinagawa Station, in central Tokyo, with Nagoya.

At present, it takes 90 minutes for a conventional “shinkansen” bullet train to complete the journey between the two stations, but the new technology will cut the trip to 40 minutes.

Honestly, people will shortly be getting up before they go to bed. Crazy world, crazy people.

But hang about. Remember Concorde? And how it changed the way of the world for business people ― allegedly?

As someone fortunate enough to have flown to America in Concorde ― I won the trip in a competition ― did the business world fall apart the moment Concorde finished flying back in 2003?

Hang about? 2003? Apart from the fact that Concorde’s final commercial flight really was that long ago ― isn’t that just about the time when the business world as we now know it began to slowly unravel? When the clowns, cowboys and crooks of the world, those without ethics, morality and honesty, began to take over everything?

Bloody ‘ell. Where are Britain’s high-speed trains when we need them?

 

Sunday, November 25
I’ve got a little file


IT GOES without saying that there are endless things wot make me smile, giggle and laugh along my journey through the day ― but overwhelmingly they never make it anywhere near the final cut.

But, just like the ‘I’ve got a little list’ song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, I have a little file full of such cuttings and jottings, which I often visit when looking for something to juxtapose.

Well, today was a perfect example because I came across a couple of recent Rod Liddle bits and pieces from The Sunday Times...

Gobbledegook

Foreign accents can be very difficult to decipher. So have sympathy for the poor stenographer charged with transcribing onto a giant screen the Dalai Lama’s  address to 5,000 people in the US.

This is what His Holiness said: “If you feel these points are not much relevant, not much interest ... then forget.” He certainly didn’t say what the stenographer typed up: “If you feel these points are not much relevant, not much interest ... then f*** it.”

My favourite transcription came from an interview with the former Lib Dem leader, Charles Kennedy. Asked what he would do when no longer party leader, he said: “Oh, it’ll probably be the rubber chicken circuit.” He did not say, as written: “Oh, I’ll probably rub a chicken and suck it.”

Mind you, what Charles Kennedy said could so easily have come out similar to the Dalai Lama misquote. Now that would have been a hoot. How the above story missed the cut first time around is a mystery. Very funny.

However, talking of the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, as I was yesterday, I just read again what happened in a North Wales pub, the Royal Oak at Penrhyndeudraeth, not that long ago, and it somehow sits perfectly alongside the above.

Welsh knot

How does one best deter people from speaking Welsh in a pub? This problem has vexed me for years, and now we are being given guidance by the courts.

It was decided that Gareth Sale, a landlord, probably went too far when he got his air rifle out. He runs a pub in Gwynedd and had objected to the locals ordering their drinks in Welsh. When they refused to stop, out came the gun.

It’s all very well saying this was an overreaction, but obviously they had to be stopped somehow. If not a gun, then what? A ferocious dog, trained to respond to a vocabulary comprised largely of multiples of the letters “L” “y” and “th”?

The regulars made the predictable complaint that they had a right to order their drinks in Welsh as they were in, er, Wales. Any excuse.

Actually, Liddle had only quoted the letter “y” in his piece – but a quick peruse of the reception map on my welcome mat above will register that the letters “double-L” and “th” also have a point to prove.

Incidentally, back in September the landlord was handed a 32-week suspended jail sentence.

Mind you, that should have been doubled for being so stupid as to take on a pub in a place called Penrhyndeudraeth ― gosh, even I look left, right, and left again, before writing and saying it ― when he and his partner, Sheridan Graham, clearly hated the sight and sound of the Welsh language.

Thank God they dont keep a gun behind the bar down at the Crazy Horsepower, otherwise we would permanently be under the table, and thats just having a chat.

Honestly, people do the strangest things ― whatever, just keep the noise down, please.

Shhhhhh...!

“Quiet, please!says John Humphrys, 69, Welsh author, journalist and presenter of radio and television news programmes. “The world is getting louder, and the noise is damaging our health. It’s time we all turned down the volume.”

I don’t have so much problem with noise, probably because I live on my own, and much of the time when out and about is spent in the splendid isolation and silence of the Towy Valley, the sounds of nature and farmers going about their business excepted, of course.

But what I’ve noticed is not so much that the world is getting louder, but that everyone and everything is picking up speed at an alarming rate. Everything is getting faster and faster. Everyone is in a rush ― and likely to disappear up their own very private orifice anytime soon if they don’t slow down rather sharpish.

 

Saturday, November 24
Journey from Crazy Horse to Crazy Horsepower

YESTERDAY I featured the warm but wet, windy and unfriendly fronts assaulting the country from the south-west. They were at it again today as they hauled much misery in their wake.

Today though, I stumbled upon two images which, perchance, summed up perfectly the history cum family-tree of my spit-and-sawdust-style saloon bar experiences.

I regularly mention in dispatches my favourite watering hole ― no sort of pun intended, given the opening paragraph ― namely The Crazy Horsepower Saloon, in particular, The Asteri*k Bar.

As you have doubtless appreciated by now, you will not find a pub called The Crazy HP at the end of your TomTom; just as, of course, you will never find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or indeed a tavern called The Crazy Horse at the base of those smoke signals on the horizon.

Both pubs are a conglomeration, a potpourri, a hotchpotch, a miscellany of all the pubs I have known and loved along my stagger through time, gentlemen, please!

Originally, my own particular version of Cheers, that famous Boston bar of sitcom fame, was simply the Crazy Horse.

Back then, in those days of smoke signals and uncomplicated lifestyles, when I began to visit public houses, most of the regulars ― farmers and country folk, along with those loosely connected with a rural lifestyle ― were ‘old boys’ who would have been intimately familiar with the world of the horse, whether as warhorse, carthorse, workhorse (in the shape of the majestic shire), hunter, the elegant Welsh cob (that mostly for show purposes of course), or indeed simply a pony and trap that at one time would have delivered them to the pub and home again.

Slowly but surely though, life in a rural community morphed from the world of the horse to the world of the horse power, a world of tractors, 4 x 4s (in the shape of the Land Rover workhorse), or the Chelsea Tractor (show horse).

And of course, mustn’t forget the ubiquitous Quad Bike, which not only replaced the pony and trap, but shanks’s pony as well.

My Crazy Horse of fond memory became The Crazy Horsepower Saloon.

And so to the brace of images I stumbled upon...

From the laid-back world of The Crazy Horse Pub...

Moving elegantly along:  a pony and trap pass through flooded fields and roads
close to the village of North Curry, near Taunton in Somerset 
     Pic: Matt Cardy

...to the furious world of The Crazy Horsepower Saloon

Ploughing through: a 4x4 makes its way through floodwater in Essex         Pic: Stephen Huntley

What an amazing image of the 4x4 that is ― but it captures perfectly the pace of modern life: no time to say hello, goodbye! I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!

Incidentally, the pony and trap photograph was taken by Matt Cardy, the same gent who captured yesterday’s picture of the cottage surrounded by floods. Clearly Matt has a nose for an eye-catching image.


Friday, November 23
Endless raindrops keep falling on the nation’s head


“WIDESPREAD flooding as month’s worth of rain falls in 48 hours” was yet another of those now familiar and alarming newspaper headlines.

Do you know, ever since the UK’s waters broke rather dramatically a few months BO (Before Olympics), when water companies in the south and south-east of England had just introduced a hosepipe ban following prolonged drought conditions, hardly a week now passes without a month’s worth of rain falling in 48/24/12* hours, somewhere in the UK.

* Delete to deluge

Given that perpetual precipitation could well become a feature of 21st century Britain ― well flagged climate change, and all that ― should not the Met Office revise its phraseology? Otherwise, such endless warnings will carry as much impact as that infamous “barbecue summer” which went AWOL, back in 2009.

That apart, what exactly is there to smile about given all the misery that comes with flooding?

On the ‘WELCOME’ mat at the top, I say this: 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, something startling that nevertheless generates a spontaneous smile, curiosities spotted along my walks through the Towy Valley...

What I’ve just added to those notes is the “something startling that nevertheless generates a spontaneous smile”. And heres why...

I see no ships, only hardships


                                                                                              Pic: Matt Cardy/Getty Images Europe


Arthur Dziewicki ponders the flood water lapping at the front door of his cottage close to the village of North Curry near Taunton in the south-west of England. Recent heavy rain brought widespread disruption to many parts of the UK, particularly the south-west, and weather forecasters have warned of more wet and windy weather to come...

Obviously I didn’t smile at the dastardly predicament Arthur found himself in ― rather, it’s the cottage itself. My immediate reaction was that poor old Arthur has more to worry about than the floods, given how the cottage is listing alarmingly to stern ― well, the place does look a bit like a ship sitting there in the water.

And another thing: I’m unsure whether a light is shining through the downstairs, right-hand side window. I guess if you have a property subject to flooding, then you make sure there are no electrical wiring or power points anywhere below a good few feet off the ground; indeed you also ensure that you either move, or unplug anything that cannot be moved such as a fridge or freezer.

Apart from the obvious distress the episode would have caused Arthur, it is a startlingly eye-catching image, and perfectly fits the criteria mentioned above.
 

Thursday, November 22
Whistle a happy tune

                                        Silent electric cars must make a racket

THUS insisted a newspaper headline.

With electric and hybrid vehicles on the increase, there is genuine concern that these virtually silent vehicles will jeopardise the safety of blind and partially sighted people, along with children, older folk, cyclists and those with their heads permanently bowed while transfixed by their handsets.

Such ‘creepy’ vehicles must be audible to pedestrians and road users, at all times ― but how?

Bruce Denness of Whitwell, Isle of Wight, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, “hopes that plans to install artificial engine noises for electric cars preclude the free-for-all that exists for mobile phones, where standard ring tones vie with Bohemian Rhapsody, increasingly heavy breathing, and so on, for their owners’ attention”.

While I own a pay-as-you-go mobile for emergency use only ― I take it with me on my morning walks; also when using the car ― a ring tone to me is a wholly meaningless thing (I don’t even know what my mobile number is).

However, if I did have a special ring tone, I think I would go for the call of the cuckoo, which is so distinctive. One of the regulars down at the Crazy Horsepower has a crowing cockerel, which I have to admit always makes me smile as it stretches its neck and becomes the cock of the walk.

Anyway, back with audible electric vehicles, I enjoyed this letter from Terry Maidens of Nettleham in Lincolnshire:

“I would like to suggest that a suitable noise would be that of horses’ hooves. It would not only reflect the green credentials of the car, but could also indicate the speed of approach. For example, the noise up to 5mph could be the walk, up to 20mph, the trot, up to 30mph, the canter and thereafter, the gallop. It would also have the advantage of being cheap to simulate, only requiring a couple of coconuts.”

Very witty.

There followed on the comment board these suggestions...

Bleausard: “How about a man with a red flag, walking in front?” And a whistle, of course, to which came the response: “For Gawd’s sake, don’t encourage them.”

Lazydays: “No, a man walking in front equipped with suitable coconut shells.”

JDavidJ: “Maybe they should sound like a herd of cattle ― after all, the green credentials are, specifically, bullshit.”

Me? I’ve told before the tale of walking along the pavement in Llandampness, and some 50-60 paces ahead is a handsome blonde lady walking towards me ― and I am overtaken from behind by a white van.

As the vehicle approaches the pretty girl, it lets out the father of all wolf-whistles. The van was in possession of a ‘warming’ horn with a difference. Everyone on the scene initially looks towards the van ― and then the blonde.

And everyone is smiling ― including, tellingly, the attractive blonde. As me and the blonde close, I smile. She smiles. I stop. She stops. “Gosh,” I say, “why couldn’t I have come up with an opening line as good as that?” Or something like that.

She laughs, and responds in a surprisingly sophisticated voice: “That really made my day...”

So perhaps every electric vehicle should have the ability to emit a gentle, seductive and elongated wolf-whistle as it mooches along the high street. (I am fairly sure that such vehicles mooch rather than motor.)
 

Wednesday, November 21
                                                         ♫♫♫♫♫♫
                                               
I said Mr Purple People Eater, what’s your line?
                                                He said it’s eatin’ purple people and it sure is fine.
                                                But that’s not the reason that I came to land,
                                                I wanna get a job in a rock 'n' roll band...
                                               
[Well, actually, after eatin’ English rugby’s purple people...]
Colour me purple
                                                                      

“What on earth did the England rugby team think they were doing at Twickenham by forsaking their traditional white for that ghastly purple kit?” fumed Colonel Guy Wathen (retd), in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
   “Unless forced by a similarity of colour,” continued an alarmingly red-faced Colonel (retd), “do the Kiwis ever abandon black? It is hardly surprising that such lack of pride was reflected in their performance.”

For those not of a rugby bent, and indeed for the record, the unfancied Australians defeated Purple England 20-14.

However, the fallout from the rugger kit was even greater than the rugby loss.

Given the shocking Welsh rugby performances of the past couple of weeks, I have absolutely nothing whatsoever to add apropos the England performance on the field ― but the fuss over the kit was just impossible to resist.

Every day a day at school spot:  Back in 1995, in the run up to the Rugby World Cup, the then captain of England, and good friend to Princess Diana, Will Carling, was briefly relieved of his post for criticising the Rugby Football Union (RFU), the people who run the game in England: “If the game is run properly as a professional game,” said Will, “you do not need 57 old farts running rugby.”

He was of course referring to the dreaded committee members up and down the land, and for that very reason it’s a quote that has remained fresh in the memory. Rugby, like most other sports in Britain, continues to be run by ― well, by “old farts”, administrators with little empathy with those currently playing and supporting the game.

Okay, that’s all you need to know. Well, apart from this, a famous poem by Jenny Joseph, called Warning

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves;
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,
And run my stick along the public railings;
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain,
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens –
And learn to spit...

Wonderful. However, with apologies to Jenny, I thought I’d paraphrase the opening few lines, as if out of the mouth of a kit committee man at Rugby HQ:

When I am an old fart I shall make ‘em wear purple,
With a red rose which doesn’t go, and doesn’t look like it belongs.
And I shall spend my pension on G&Ts and summer shorts;
And proper sandals, and definitely purple socks to match..
.
      O2 not 2B in England now that Purple’s here
 

A parting shot

Finally, and to round off proceedings with a song and a smile ― and be sure to listen out for Alvin the troublesome Chipmunk making a guest appearance...
                                                                               Sheb Wooley and his Purple People Eater, c1958
 


Tuesday, November 20
Ask no questions, hear no doolallyness

INCREDULOUS smile of the day goes to this letter in The Daily Telegraph...

Ask a foolish question...

SIR – Today my bank sent me a list of answers to frequently asked questions. These included “How often will I receive my annual summary?”.
     Should I be more disheartened that such a question is asked, or that the bank bothers to answer it?
Thomas Cooper, Llandudoch, Cardiganshire

Just more proof that nothing out there in the corporate world adds up anymore. Truly, the nation’s movers and shakers are permanently half-a-bubble off plumb. At least.

And then this:

Christmas comes early

SIR – I received my first Christmas card on Thursday November 8, which was posted in Britain. Is this a record?
Margaret Messervy, Montacute, Somerset

But it’s the silly online responses that generated a smile...

Spikey: No Margaret, it’s a Xmas card.

Ibeagle: I think that should read “an Xmas card”!

 

Smoke and fire

Yesterday, I told this Frank Muir story ― it’s worth a repeat...

Round the corner ahead came a woman driver, in a clapped-out, dented Morris Minor. She missed the wing of my beautiful Lagonda by a centimetre, wound down her window furiously and yelled at me, “Pig!”.

“Woman driver!” I snorted, drove on round the corner and hit a pig.

And of course, Frank’s postscript:

NB: Anybody using my pig story without saying where they got it from will be hounded through the law courts of Europe.

That last bit set me thinking: it brought to mind this current and curious business about Lord McAlpine and the thousands of Twitter users who could be sued after mentioning false child abuse allegations about the Tory peer on the social networking site.

This MATT  cartoon from The Daily Telegraph  sums it all up rather wonderfully...

      
   “The budgie repeated Lord
   McAlpine’s name and now it’s
     being sued for £100,000”

                                    As someone who stands and stares, I accept McAlpine’s denial absolutely ― but I was endlessly intrigued as to how his good name got dragged into this dreadful business in the first place; after all, we all know the old adage: there’s no smoke without fire.

So I Googled my intrigue ... this from The Guardian  newspaper...

McAlpine has vehemently denied the allegations pointing out that he lived in the south of England at the time and had only been to Wrexham once in his life. On Thursday Keith Gregory, the Wrexham councillor who has been an eloquent spokesperson for the victims of abuse this week, said he believed a different member of the McAlpine family who lived locally may have been mistaken for Lord McAlpine.

He said a man who children at the home believed to be a member of the McAlpine family would arrive at Bryn Estyn in an expensive car. “He was a right flashy thing,” he said.

Lord McAlpine was exonerated by the 1997 Waterhouse inquiry of any involvement in the abuse of children in the north Wales homes but not named because of an order by the retired judge preventing the identification of either victims or alleged abusers.

As a result he has been the subject of persistent smears, which resurfaced following the BBC Newsnight allegations about a senior Tory.

Now how fascinating is that? Talk about an ironic smile of the day. And the moral of the tale?

Secrecy, along with the love of money, is indeed at the root of pretty much all evil.
 


Monday, November 19
                                    Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn,
                                    The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn;
                                    Where is that boy who looks after the sheep?

ALONG my regular morning walks I go through some eight separate parcels of farm land, much of it owned by the National Trust but rented out to local farmers, most of whom I know personally.

Apart from all the wildlife I encounter ― one of the advantages of being out and about as the run rises is that creatures of the night such as politicians, bankers, media chiefs, foxes and badgers are still about and haven’t been frightened to ground by people like myself, and indeed farmers themselves as they go about their business.

Apart from said wildlife, I encounter all sorts of domestic stock: sheep, cattle and horses, and the joy is that they get used to me and hardly take any notice as I walk past or through the various herds and flocks.

What I occasionally encounter though are sheep that have got themselves stuck in some undergrowth or trash, or have pushed their heads through a wire fence and can’t pull themselves free without human help.

Worst of all sheep, due to their cross-breeding physiognomy (a word you never hear in the Asterisk bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, ’tis true, but I believe I am talking sense), have somehow managed to roll themselves onto their backs and are unable to twist themselves back onto their feet, again without a helping hand.

Here are a couple of pictures captured along my walks: first up, a sheep that thought the grass really was etc, etc ― and got itself stuck in a kind of animal version of the stocks...
 


That they get their heads through such small spaces in the first place is a mystery anyway ― but when they try to get out they automatically lift their heads and the nape gets trapped by the wire. When you come across such a sheep you have to force its head down to clear the wire.

Next along, the black sheep of the family has been stranded in that unfortunate upside-down situation I spoke of. In fact I have written about this curious phenomenon in some detail over on 400 Smiles A Day ― once there, scroll down to 31st May 2010 and read all about it.

Essentially, a sheep that is simply stuck in trash or some such like will survive for quite some time, but for the sheep on its back it is pretty much a death warrant ― unless it is rescued pretty sharpish.

Farmers inspect their flocks regularly ― after all, it’s not just the expensive loss of the sheep itself, but rather all the future lambs as well ― however, if a sheep rolls onto its back just after the farmer has been round the flock, say ... well, without someone coming along to the rescue it’s not a story with a happy ending.

There was a young lady from Kent...

Anyway, I received the following email from a lady of Kent; in fact I christened her Carol, A Kentish Lady ― more of that later. So here’s the delightful communication that fluttered into my inbox...

Hello

I write to thank you ― on behalf of a Kent sheep!

On Sunday afternoon my partner and I were on our way home from a very enjoyable walk and lunch with friends locally when suddenly I spotted ― as we were driving along ― an upside-down sheep in a field!

Having had a very good look and read of your website back in July, I knew straight away what the problem was (or could be), so we pulled over, and having been unable to find the farmer, I climbed over the fence and walked slowly up to the sheep; I kept thinking it was so still it couldn’t possibly be alive ― even when I got right up to it, it looked pretty dead ― so was quite surprised when its head suddenly moved!

But it was  clearly unable to get up ― so I did what you suggested and gently but firmly grasped its fur and rolled it away from me, and hey presto ― it managed to stand up, then it wobbled a bit and ran off, with a definite little spring in its step!

I can’t tell you how empowering it was to be able to save an animal’s life like that (especially after a couple of glasses of red wine)!

I felt lucky that we must have seen it not that long after it had rolled over, but it was just beginning to get a little dark so the animal would have got pretty cold during the night, exposed like that, not to mention any predators appearing on the scene.

So ― once again, thank you!

Carol (and Paul)

Now how smiley is that? And that’s one pretty lucky sheep for it is certain that it would not have survived the night.

Above, I refer to Carol as “A Kentish Lady
!

Being from Kent, obviously, I was reminded of Frank Muir (1920-1998) an English comedy writer, raconteur and media personality.

Sadly, Muir died soon after the release of his autobiography, A Kentish Lad.

Although I haven’t read it ― as is my wont when it comes to books; I plead ignorance because there aren’t enough hours in the day ― I am reliably told that it is a good read.

However, I remember hearing this tale from his book, and curiously I heard it repeated on a Welsh language radio show.

Now the one thing we are intimately familiar with here in rural Wales is driving along narrow country lanes, where you can only pass another vehicle by either going onto the verge, with all its attendant risks, or reversing to purpose-built mini lay-bys strategically placed along the lanes.

Anyway, let Frank tell the story of approaching a blind corner on such a typical country lane:

Round the corner ahead came a woman driver, in a clapped-out, dented Morris Minor. She missed the wing of my beautiful Lagonda by a centimetre, wound down her window furiously and yelled at me, “Pig!”.

“Woman driver!” I snorted, drove on round the corner and hit a pig.

Frank added this amusing postscript:

NB: Anybody using my pig story without saying where they got it from will be hounded through the law courts of Europe.

At this stage, I can safely add that the BBC recently sped round a blind corner and hit a pig by the name of Savile.

PS: I see that Carol, the Kentish Lady, is a photographer ― and I mean a proper photographer, so here
s a link...
                                                                                                                                            http://www.carolfulton.com/
 

PPS: Given that a sheep has provided todays smile, I thought it a good time to update 400 Smiles A Day  with the tale of Sir Tom, the Randy Ram...
 


Sunday, November 18
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...

WELL, I guess it was the first proper morning of winter: cold, frosty, perfectly still ― with the Towy Valley shrouded in fog. Along my morning walk though, it was surprisingly picturesque with the trees looming like XXL ghosts out of the mist.

Ah yes, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

Talking of trees, I become extremely nervous every time I spot an ash in case the dreaded Chalara fraxinea dieback disease has arrived in this corner of the world ― when I first encountered the name of the disease I misheard it as the Clarissa Dickson Wright Dieback, and I thought: poor buggers, those trees have their goose well and truly cooked.

Anyway, back with the ash disease: it’s really only a matter of time, indeed, it is probably here in west Wales already.

This set me thinking: It began all those years ago with Dutch elm disease ... then came acute oak decline, bleeding conker canker (actually, affecting both horse and sweet chestnut trees), the aforementioned Chalara dieback of ash ― with various degrees of diseases affecting spruce, pine, larch, cypress, juniper and God knows what else.

Do you suppose the disasters overtaking so many of our trees are a ‘red alert’ warning from nature?

Trees, like all living things, have an immune system. Now ponder the endless pollution and poisons we have pumped into the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial revolution, and our poor old trees occupy the front line of life as we know it on this planet, breathing and drinking everything thats around them.

How can their immune systems not be compromised by all this human plunder, pillage, burning and rape?

And what affects the trees today will affect we humans tomorrow. Indeed, I regularly read of a marked increase in the incidents of cancers, and worryingly affecting people at an ever younger age.

Thank goodness then that a degree of humour remains through it all. A recent letter in the Daily Mail, from a Michael Tarrant of Welling in Kent, wondered if there could possibly be something out there called Leylandii Lynch  disease?

And at the Crazy Horsepower, this very lunchtime, Dai Aphanous mentioned in passing that there’s a fellow working for the local Forestry Commission called Ashley David Backhouse ― he is now known to one and all as Ash Dai Back.

I do so hope that’s true. Sadly though, I’m fairly sure it’s just a rather good joke.

Thinking outside the chocolate box...

                                                                                                      

Later, I was surfing the Telegraph  web site, and I came across something to lift the spirits, this picture gallery:

                                                              10 best chocolate-box cottages

Now have you ever seen anything so chocolate-box-looking as this in your life?
 


If you’ve got £450,000 handy, and you rather fancy living in a chocolate box, then Pimpernel Cottage at Old Hills, Worcestershire, could be just the homestead on the hill to satisfy your taste buds.

I quote: As well as four bedrooms, an immaculate thatched roof and a well-maintained, mature garden, the property comes with views of the Worcestershire hills. It is only four miles from Malvern, perfect for shops and trains. Even the most recalcitrant city-bound grandchildren have no excuse not to visit.

Agent: Knight Frank (01905 723438; knightfrank.com)

I was somewhat taken aback that it boasts four bedrooms ... bags I the Blueberry Truffle Nogood Boyo bedroom.
 


Saturday, November 17
Add laughing-stock to taste...


PRECISELY a week ago, I remarked on the resignation of George Entwistle, the BBC’s Director-General.

I said this: Tonight, Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, strode out of New Broadcasting House in London (alongside George Entwistle), his hands firmly stuck in his pockets the whole time, looking for all the world as if he would rather have been listening to the Last Post on BBC One’s The Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance. Little things say so much.

Many a true word spoken in jest: over the past week, pressure has been mounting on the “Good Lord!” to resign as he increasingly comes under fire for “taking his eyes off the ball” ― while holding ten other jobs. Yes, TEN.

You couldn’t make it up. Patten, apart from being the proud possessor of two public-sector pensions (MP’s pension as well as a European Commissioner’s pension) is paid £110,000 to work for the BBC, often just three days a week.

Additionally, he allegedly has ten other jobs, including working for an oil company, an energy company and a transport, property & telecommunications conglomerate, all earning him up to £200,000 a year.

Given how pathetic we men are at multitasking, no wonder he’s totally useless at overseeing what is going on at the BBC. After all, he was the man who appointed George ‘Winnie the Pooh’ Entwistle in the first place.

There was a smiley editorial piece about the BBC in today’s Telegraph.

Bring back the Test Card

Given all its recent problems, the BBC should consider reintroducing a bit of peace and quiet into its schedules.

On Coronation Day, from which so many memories of television date, at 6.30pm, the end of the children’s hour, came the announcement: “For the older ones who may be watching this evening ― we start our transmission at eight o’clock. That’s all for now, so goodbye children, goodbye.”

This was nothing out of the ordinary. Until 1957, the “toddlers’ truce” gave parents a nightly hour to put the children to bed without the distraction of noisy television.

This week we have heard quite a bit about BBC television. In all the chatter, one concept has been missing: peace and quiet, down time, a pause.

From the black and white snowstorm of 50 years ago, some pieces of footage stand out. One was the Potter’s Wheel, an intermission film, up to four minutes long. Alternatives were waves breaking on the shore, and, less soothingly, a frisky white kitten (called Snowy, from Barnet, though few knew it at the time).

When no programmes were broadcast, the Test Card gave help to TV repair-men, who used to play such a large part in national life...
                          
                                                                                                            .
..from 1967 to 1998, Carole Hersee spent 70,000 hours with her clown, Bubbles, on Test Card F, above. It may have lacked the Potter’s Wheel’s tranquillity, but at least, unlike 24-hour broadcasting, it didn’t burst into the room like a violent burglar.

A radical step now would be to close down BBC Three and Four. For the rest, a sound economic and cultural step would be at times to bring back the Test Card.


The above is an interesting perspective on the troubles at the Beeb. The online comments overwhelmingly reacted with “Switch the bloody thing off instead then” ― or words to that effect, thus missing the point completely.

However, reading between the lines of the Telegraph View piece ― pun intended ― what the paper seemed to be saying is that the BBC is simply churning out too much stuff, particularly programmes of sub-standard, child-like quality i.e. less is actually more, BBC.

Like the modern day EU, or the USSR of yesteryear, the BBC is now so big it is ungovernable and out of control. Witness the absolute uselessness of Good Lord Patten.

However, I did thoroughly enjoy this comment from Kleggsemptyscrote: When I turn off my TV set, I Blu-Tack a picture of the test card over the screen, and it gives me an enormous sense of well-being.

Perfectly judged and very smiley, Kleggo-something.

Personally, I think the BBC should bring back a different Test Card. How about this marvellous US road sign, spotted by one Mike Franklin...
                                    

                                                                                                                                                  ...both amusing and ironic. Very modern BBC.

Staying with the Telegraph, I enjoyed this letter hugely...

Eliot’s favourite story

SIR – Valerie Eliot (Obituaries, November 12) did share memories of her husband sometimes. When Bertrand Russell died, she wrote of her husband’s favourite story.

Late one evening, Eliot stopped a taxi. As he got in, the driver said: “You’re T S Eliot.” When asked how he knew, he replied: “Ah, I’ve got an eye for a celebrity. Only the other evening I picked up Bertrand Russell, and I said to him: ‘Well, Lord Russell, what’s it all about?’ and, do you know, he couldn’t tell me.”
John Bromley-Davenport, Malpas, Cheshire

Intrigued, I looked up some dates: Russell died in 1970; Cilla Black had a hit with Alfie (What
s it all about, Alfie?) in 1966. It’s quite wonderful when all the dots join up.

Whatever, could this actually be what’s it all about?
                                                                                   
The tranquillity of the BBC’s Potter’s Wheel

 

Friday, November 16
A week is a long time in politics

                                                                                      Harold Wilson (1916-1995)
Forty years is an eternity in politics
                                                                                                   Chief Wise Owl (1932 - still going strong)

IF it is true that 400 smiles a day keep the doctor at bay ― and I believe it is ― then prepare to generate one instant smile that will repeat over and over every time you think of the subject matter.  

But first, who would have thought that in the People’s Republic of China, in just 40 years flat, the country can go from this poster ― Madame Mao (Jiang Qing), wife of Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong), promoting the joys of ‘The Little Red Book’...
                      

                                                                                                                                 ...the slogan reads: “The invincible thoughts of Mao Zedong illuminate the stages of revolutionary art! ― to this...

                                                                                China’s very own Sally Bercow?

Actually, no, it’s China’s next first lady, Peng Liyuan, wife of new leader Xi Jinping, driving the lads doolally
                                                                                                                                                             Picture: Sipa Press / Rex Features

A quick Chinese take-away

With a revolutionary hero for a father and a pop star for a wife, China’s new leader Xi Jinping, 59, has impeccable political pedigree but has given few clues about how he will govern the country.  Perhaps we should look to his good lady, Peng Liyuan, 49, for clues. She certainly appears to have the knack of making the lads scream and shout.

While it is tempting to think of her as China’s answer to Sally Bercow, the country’s next first lady is, it seems, a dazzling singer in her own right, whose profile has long eclipsed that of her husband. It is generally thought that she will bring a touch of glamour to a role hidden in the shadows for decades.

A soprano known for singing the praises of the party, Peng holds the rank of army general and starred for 24 years in an annual Lunar New Year gala broadcast on state television and watched by hundreds of millions of viewers.

But what a picture, what a photograph. I smile every time I think about it.
 

It’s fascinating to note that Jiang Qing, who became Chairman Mao’s third wife, much against the wishes of the Party leadership it seems ― and featured in the poster, at the top ― was herself a moderately successful actress in her 20s, when a close friend introduced her to Mao Zedong.

Eventually, the Party was appeased on the condition that Jiang Qing limited herself to the role of a housewife and refrained from playing any role in politics (including making public appearances with him) for the duration of 20 years. Strange but apparently true.

PS: I have just read this piece in the Western Mail  by Rhodri Morgan, a Welsh Labour politician and who was leader of the Welsh Assembly Government from 2000 to 2009, now retired, but writing a weekly “Mr Wales” ― eek
! ― column in the paper...

                                                 Silence lies at the heart of history’s magic moments

AT its 18th Party Congress just finished, the Chinese Communist Party has squeezed out a new name, Xi Jinping, for us to get used to, as the leader of the world’s “other” superpower.

No-one knows how the selection was made. All we know is that this handover happens every 10 years. At the end of his decade in power, it is entirely possible that Xi Jinping will be the boss of the world’s leading superpower. What a responsibility!

The Congress in Beijing was all very smooth compared to the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR in 1956. That was when the new Party supremo Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin for crimes against humanity to the thousands of delegates. This was just three years after Stalin’s death and only 11 years after the highest achievement of the USSR, the defeat of Hitler in 1945.

After a couple of hours of listening to an account of all the show trials and all the terror and starvation, the stunned delegates were then asked if they would like to put any questions to Comrade Khrushchev. One was brave enough to write his question down on a piece of paper. Khrushchev read it out:

“Comrade ― if you knew about these atrocities all along, why did you not speak out about it at the time?”

His reply was: “This question is unsigned. Which delegate is asking it?”

Nobody put their hand up. Total silence.

Then Khrushchev said: “Now you know why I did not speak out at the time!

One of history’s magic moments.


Thursday, November 15
More tea, Your Grace?


“IT IS a very strange feeling when you find yourself having odds quoted on you at a bookies. Generally speaking, I am not a horse.” Dr Justin Welby, 56, the 105th successor to the Church of England’s most senior post, the Archbishop of Canterbury; Dr Welby turned his back on a six-figure salary and executive lifestyle in the oil exploration business to pursue a life in the church.

Dr Welby’s quote generated quite a chuckle. And hey, as a bonus, a senior man of the church sporting a self-deprecating sense of humour. Unsurprisingly, it would appear that he’s not the only one in the family to enjoy a little horseplay when it comes to dressing up.

Dr Welby’s daughter Katharine, 26, posted a picture of herself posing with a Mitre-shaped Tea Cosy in an IKEA store on Twitter following the announcement of her father’s new position...

                                                                                 


Smashing. She certainly looks a chip off the old block. And I’ll tell you what, from that picture, Dr Welby himself falls firmly into the dolphin/pussycat/sparrow category. Definitely a lay-by as opposed to a roundabout, a fellow you’d be more than happy to pull in, stop and have a quick chat and a laugh with.

There followed a letter in The Times:

Triumphal arch

Sir, Am I right in thinking that the new Archbishop of Canterbury has more business experience than the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer combined?
MATHEW EATOUGH, London SW1

Sadly, and much more worryingly, Mathew could also have included the current Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, 64, who will shortly put his feet up, supported by a gold-plated, index-linked pouffe of a pension, while we poor buggers have to struggle by with our feet firmly on the ground.

Quiet please, game on

As is my wont, I Googled Mervyn King ― and I was confronted by two people:
                                                                                                                                Mervyn King (economist)
                                                                                                                                Mervyn King (darts player)

No wonder the country is in a financial mess: both occupations are wholly interchangeable.

At the third stroke, it will be precisely o’clock

“Your correspondent asks if ‘o’clock’ is one word or two? It is three words – ‘of the clock’.” Andy Cole of Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, in a letter to The Times.

Giving us the pips: 55 Days At Hundred Acre Wood

“He showed the leadership qualities of Winnie the Pooh.” Former Tory Cabinet minister David Mellor, 63, on George Entwistle, 50, the former BBC director-general who lasted just 55 days in the job.

That reminded me of this most wonderful of Winnie the Pooh quotes ― and I too plead guilty as charged:

                                         “Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?”

I have just been enjoying some glorious AA Milne/Winnie the Pooh quotes, for example, this from Pooh’s Little Instruction Book (and slightly paraphrased), which reminded me why I enjoy calling at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon:

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like What about another drink?.”

And this:

               “People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”

 

Wednesday, November 14
♫♫♫  Happy Birthday, dear BBC,
          Happy Birthday to you
!
                                             

 

ALONG most of my walk through time, the BBC has been the eye-catching buttonhole on the nation’s lapel, a Corporation the country was justifiably proud of, if only because the rest of the world (mostly) admired its output and what it stood for.

If folk in a faraway place with a strange sounding name wanted to know what was really happening on its own doorstep, it tuned in to the BBC’s World Service.

I have a soft spot for the BBC. It is my default broadcaster, especially so its radio stations. At £2.80 a week, it is by far my best value for money purchase (I cough up £10.90 a week to Sky just to watch a bit of rugby and some American Football ― and I have the cheek to label other people doolally).

Be that as it may, at a point some 70-odd years along its 90-year journey through time, the BBC began to morph into just another common or garden, foul-mouthed broadcaster. Suddenly it became an organisation you shouldn’t really turn your back on; as you never should when dealing with anyone who communicates in obscenity.

I have to admit, the “Happy birthday, dear BBC” above came through slightly gritted teeth. “Gritted” being the operative word because the BBC now finds itself on black ice, an untreated stretch of road, and the Corporation has been slipping and sliding towards the precipice.

My goodness, watching the BBC unravel is like having a variation on the theme of an Advent Calendar on the wall: an Adversity Calendar. Each time a new window opens, something quite dreadful, carrying a large shovel, clambers through to dig an even bigger hole.

So how did the BBC crumble in such a spectacular fashion?

Well, I believe you can trace it back to a sort of mid-life crisis. On the eve of its 43rd birthday, on November 13, 1965, Kenneth Tynan became the first person to use the f-word on a live BBC TV debate. The Corporation’s irreversible decline become inevitable.

Those in charge at the BBC decided that, if they chose to communicate obscenely in front of their own grandchildren, children, parents, grandparents, friends and colleagues, then they should jolly well be allowed to speak in front of the rest of the nation in like manner.

The rose that was the nation’s buttonhole would slowly but surely be replaced by stinging nettles and thistles called Ramsay, Ross, Brand, Naughtie, Marr et al.

When I watch Have I got News For You, I am always taken aback when transient hosts such as Kirsty Young, Clare Balding (who is shortly to host a Sunday morning religious spot on BBC radio), Jo Brand and Jeremy Clarkson have their foul utterances bleeped out ― I am not shocked or upset, I simply wonder what they are trying to tell me.

Is it that they want to join Kenneth Tynan, Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand as the thistles on the nation’s lapel?

Now I have nothing against the use of obscene language per se. I happily drink at a watering hole I fondly refer to as the Asterisk Bar ― but I go there out of choice. Also, inside my head there’s a snow globe, except the snow is actually the letters of the alphabet: when someone really stamps on my foot, or rattles my cage, all those letters float around inside the clear liquid, creating words you never hear in the Bible...

Crucially though, writ large on the globe is this: “Shake in emergency only!

Whatever, the moment the BBC decided it had every right to enter my home and spew forth obscenities, even if disguised as bleeps, that was the moment fate decreed that it was riding into the mother of all ambushes.

Perhaps this should be the BBC’s current motto...
                                                                              


Anyway, the BBC celebrated its 90th birthday today. At precisely 5.33pm, Radio Reunited, a three-minute filler went out on all of the BBC’s national, local and regional radio stations, as well as the World Service ― theres a link to the piece at the bottom.

It was an assemblage of listeners’ recorded messages, focusing on the future, the next 90 years, messages in a bottle, sort of thing, which explains why children’s voices feature large. On its first listen I found it pretty much impossible to empathise with ― but a few repeats brought it into focus. I enjoyed these lines...

A child’s voice: “Hello future. I hope music still matters because music is everything. Without it there’s nothing, just silence.” Not strictly true, but I know what she means. Let’s hope the DJs stop talking over the music then.

Next, a rather sophisticated adult female voice: “Keep talking to one another. Keep listening to one another. These are the ways to keep living with one another.” As Winston Churchill famously said: “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” Yep, theres nothing new under the sun.

Back to another very young female voice: “I think there will be more people. And because there will be more people I would tell them to be careful, not to get lost, ‘cause it might be, like, really, really busy...”

That last one is fascinating: the more people there are, the less likely we are to interact with one another. Which neatly explains why small-ish communities get on rather well.

I dreamed a curious dream

After listening to Radio Reunited, I had a dream: I was about 18, driving the second car I owned, a TR3, a proper sports car ― boy, did I enjoy that car, and at an age a young Nogood Boyo About Town should own a sports car ― anyway, the dream ... I was driving along, on my own, and I approached a road sign which read:

                                    Welcome to The End Of The World ... Please drive carefully

I drove, very carefully, through a pretty little village ... but there were no people about, no pets, nothing, totally deserted ... I exited the village and I kept driving straight ahead, towards a cliff and what was the open sea beyond ― but I couldn’t stop the car ... as I shot off the edge into oblivion, the very last sign I saw declared:

                                                                 Lessons have been learnt

I awoke with a start ― and my first thought? God, lying to our very last breath...

                                                                                                                  Radio Reunited – compliments of BBC listeners

 

Tuesday, November 13
Compare and contrast


IT IS one of life’s little joys. Flicking casually through a newspaper or magazine ... and coming across a photograph that momentarily stops your progress. Such images come in all shapes and sizes, whether in colour, black-and-white or yesteryear’s sepia toning.

It comes as no surprise then that the photographs that have me performing a handbrake turn are those which invariable generate a smile, whether in the name of delight, admiration, curiosity or revelation (what I term in Welsh a “wel-i-jiw-jiw” moment, in English, a “well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs” experience).

And I’m not necessarily talking about obviously amusing pictures. Just occasionally though, a couple of photographs which, in isolation, will draw an extended glance of curiosity ― but place them together ― well now...

First up, some images of David Beckham, Mr Posh Spice, which I have to say did make me smile. As I have mentioned in previous dispatches, tattoos, much like fashion, jewellery, make-up, expensive motors, extravagant homes, obscene language in normal day-to-day conversations and having a twitter account, are all classic signs of lack of self-esteem.

Lack of self-esteem does not make you a bad person, just that you have a need to continually project your very existence onto an imaginary large screen, with endless firework displays going off in the background.

One of the kindest and nicest women I know suffers a lack of self-esteem: she spends a fortune on fashion and accessories. I continually attempt to wean her off her addiction by never mentioning how fashionable she looks ― but she knows my little game and ignores the fact that I ignore her appearance.

Anyway, here’s the nice Mr Beckham...

 


So what precisely is David trying to tell us? It’s a puzzle. There again, maybe not.

And then this picture of American prisoners, looking for all the world as if they’re about to break into the Haka, the version that ends with the slitting-of-throat routine as performed by the New Zealand All Blacks (quite why they are allowed to do that on prime-time TV escapes me).

Anyway, the American prisoners...


The photograph was used to highlight a piece about large numbers of inmates living in such proximity that it regularly leads to clashes and violence between the men. But I was transfixed.

You have to admit though, whatever your point of view, the tattoos project a picture that paint a million words ― onto a very large screen with fireworks going off in the background...
 


Monday, November 12
Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see


“I WOULD only lose weight if it affected my health or my sex life, which it doesn’t.” Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, 24, better known simply as Adele, English singer-songwriter and musician, and songbird of the new James Bond theme, Skyfall.

How tickled I am that one of her middle names is Blue, for I seem to recall someone saying that she is exceedingly colourful of tongue.

Anyway, Adele’s thoughts on her chubbiness leads me to this letter in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph ― stick with it, for there is something wonderfully smiley trailing in the letter’s wake...

                            Skyfall stretches belief with its train-top tussle

The train-top fight in the new Bond film Skyfall is less than unlikely

SIR – Following your excellent review my wife and I recently went to see Skyfall, the latest James Bond film. Yes, it is possibly the best Bond yet. But why, when Bond is fighting with an assassin on top of a train in Turkey during the pre-credits sequence, do the filmmakers ignore one of the most basic safety features of rail travel?

When the assassin Bond is chasing shoots through the train coupling, the train begins to leave Bond’s carriage behind. However, if the baddie has been lucky enough to uncouple the part of the train containing our hero ― couplings being somewhat resistant to light calibre bullets ― then the brake hoses part, and the brakes are applied automatically. This simple fact applies throughout the world.

So, thanks to Victorian design, Bond would have got his man, and the world would have been saved, before Adele even started singing.

Neat, but perhaps by suspending our belief for just one moment, Sam Mendes, the film’s director, does it better.
Ralph Ingham, Tingley, West Yorkshire

There followed this witty online comment from Watermelonineasterhay: So, thanks to Victorian design, Bond would have got his man, and the world would have been saved, before Adele even started singing. Please forgive my ignorance ― is Adele a fat lady?”

How wonderfully clever is that? Yup, the film would have been over even before the fat lady sings.

But here’s the astonishing part. Today, Monday, I paid a return visit to the comment section where I spotted the above, just to see if any other observations worthy of note had been added.

Imagine my surprise then that one dash, five words and a question mark, “― is Adele a fat lady?”, had been removed, and “Edited by a moderator” inserted instead.

To which Watermelonineasterhay had added this: “Correction, please don’t forgive the moderator’s ignorance.”

How extraordinary then that a Telegraph  moderator had removed the “fat lady” reference, when Adele herself acknowledges that she is a somewhat plump bird of fancy ― witness the quote at the very top.

It’s a doolally world out there for sure.

“Bond. James Bond.”

Whatever, with the release of Skyfall, the meeja has been awash with some of the best lines from the 007 films. Perhaps the most memorable is the one above, which surfaces in the very first film, Dr No.

Closely followed by this from Goldfinger

James Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?”
Goldfinger:  “No, Mr Bond. I expect you to die.”

Others of note ... this from Diamonds are Forever

Mr Bond: “Weren’t you a blonde when I came in?”
Tiffany Case: “Could be.”
Mr Bond: “I tend to notice little things like that, whether a girl is a blonde or a brunette.”
Tiffany: “And which do you prefer?”
Mr Bond: “Oh, providing the collars and cuffs match...”

Someone called Furry Badger added: “Had to wait until adulthood to get it...”

This, from GoldenEye

M: “If I want sarcasm, Mr Tanner, I’ll talk to my children, thank you very much.”


From Russia with Love

Tatiana Romanova: “I think my mouth is too big.”
Mr Bond: “It’s just the right size ... for me, that is.”

Ah yes, like all the best lines, it’s all in the mind.

For Your Eyes Only

Mr Bond (walks into a Greek Confessional Booth): “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”
Q (removes disguise): “That’s putting it mildly, 007
!

Live and Let Die

Mr Big (to his men): Is this the stupid mother who tailed you uptown?
Mr Bond:
There seems to be some mistake. My name is ―
Mr Big:
Names is for tombstones, baby. Yall take this honkey out and waste him. Now!

The World Is Not Enough ... and the lovely Denise Richards plays Dr Jones...
                                                                                                            
Mr Bond: “Miss...?”
Dr Jones: “Doctor ... Jones. Christmas Jones. And don’t make any jokes. I’ve heard them all.”
Mr Bond: “I don’t know any doctor jokes.”

Later, Mr Bond puns shamelessly in bed with the good Doctor Jones: “I thought Christmas only came once a year.”

I found myself wondering what I would say if, with my little eye, I espied Christmas Jones across a crowded room, and I then approached her ... “Gosh, I haven’t felt this excited since ― oh, since I was but knee-high to a tall story, peering out of the bedroom window on the evening of the 24th of December, before reluctantly going to bed and thinking ... Christmas can’t come soon enough...”

 


The Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month...

AS BRITAIN remembers its fallen heroes, how fitting to be presented with this spectacular display of home-grown poppies...


The beautiful image above was taken by Alan Ranger, 43, at Blackstone Farm nature reserve in Bewdley, Worcestershire, during a one-week window when the poppies appear in full bloom.

Alan released photographs of the poppies ― whose seeds can lie dormant in soil for more than 80 years before germinating ― as a moving tribute in time for Remembrance Sunday, today, November 11.

He explained: “There’s only a small window to take the pictures because they are only in bloom for one week during the year, and they never last very long. There was a lot of planning and research involved in getting the perfect shots.

“I went to the field at 3.30am in the morning and spent four hours taking pictures around sunrise and then returned in the evening to take pictures before sunset, when the light is much softer. It brings out the colour and contrast in a more harmonious way.”

What particularly caught my eye was the horse on the embankment ― I’m not wholly convinced it was actually there ... something to do with scale ― whatever, it coincided perfectly with a photograph that caught my eye in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Sunday...

War Horse


The Heavy Horse beside the M8 motorway at Baillieston, Glasgow wears a poppy designed by the statue’s creator, Andy Scott, to raise awareness of this year’s Poppy Appeal.

The eye-catching image was taken by photographer Mark Owens. My only critique is that there is no sense of scale. I mean, just how big is the horse? And the poppy?

Beautiful statue though, captured to perfection by a beautiful shot.
 

Saturday, November 10
Here’s another fine mesh you’ve gotten us into


DOUBLE-BARREL surnames are on the way out, I see. The new trend is for newlyweds to fuse their surnames together in a show of unity and equality: John Smith and Sarah Jones become Mr & Mrs Smones.

The practice, known as meshing, originally became popular in the States a few years back and has now, surprise, surprise, caught on with couples here in the UK.

This amusing short piece from the Telegraph:

Spliced as wan and mife

The trend for couples to blend their names when they marry carries hidden dangers

The latest trend is for couples to blend their names when they marry. The example always given is of Michael Pugh and Rebecca Griffin, who changed their name by deed poll to become Mr and Mrs Puffin. A perfectly good name too.

But what would have happened if Mr Pugh had fallen in love with Miss Tomkin? Would they have been happy as the Pumkins? Or if Mr Murdoch had met Miss Griffin, and they became the Muffins?

Perhaps Samantha Cameron might not have minded trading in her maiden name of Sheffield for Camfield, but it wouldn’t have been much good to be Shameron. Miriam González drew the short straw anyway, name-wise, by becoming Mrs Clegg, and she’d hardly be consoled by having become Clonzáles.

Blending reveals hidden dangers at every level, all the way from Bosh and Pecks to the Widdletons

The piece drew this response in the Letters  page:

Meshing around

SIR – Regarding Mr Pugh and Miss Griffin’s decision to “mesh their names as Puffin” (report, November 9) ― my wife’s maiden name is Brownrigg. I don’t think we’ll bother.
N J Laycock, Carlisle, Cumberland

Hm, Layrigg ... sounds perfectly fine to me.

Imagine though if Adam Fudge married Eve Tucker. Um, Adam and Eve Tudge?

Born to be poor

“How will Warren Buffett’s son spend his fortune?” was a headline in the newspaper.

Now isn’t Buffett one of the wealthiest individuals on the planet? If not the  richest?

Whatever, in response to the headline question, there’s a wonderful Welsh proverb, which loosely translates thus: “The first generation generates the cash; the next generation worship it, even build upon it; the third generation piss it up against a wall.”

Well, I’ll tell you, as someone who has lived his life in and around a community, together with the tales handed down through the generations, I assure you that the proverb is ruthlessly true to the fact.

The only exception to the rule were the landed gentry, who married within the same class system, thus ensuring that the next generation was born to handle possessions, position and power.

However, back in 1894, the modern form of death duties were introduced and politicians then became the third generation ― and crucially, from the Second World War on, people like Atlee, Wilson, Heath, Thatcher, Blair, Brown, Cameron and Clegg proceeded to piss it up against the wall. With gusto.

And that, folks, is why we are now such a piss-poor nation.

Last Post
The very last thing I saw on television tonight was a news item on the resignation of George Entwistle, the director-general of the BBC.

Ignore the grand, sweeping and self-important things people say and do, my mother always insisted, it’s those little throwaway, spontaneous and seemingly unimportant things which really tell you everything you ever need to know…

Tonight, Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, strode out of New Broadcasting House in London, alongside George Entwistle, and the Good Lord Patten had his hands firmly stuck in his pockets the whole time, looking for all the world as if he would rather have been listening to the Last Post on BBC One’s The Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance. Little things say so much.

And what of George Entwistle? Well, the moment we knew that it was he who was responsible for the BBC’s extraordinary child-like coverage of the Queen’s Jubilee River Pageant, here was a man hopelessly out of his depth, and reports of his drowning were never, ever going to be greatly exaggerated...
 

Friday, November 9
Close Encounters of the White Van Kind


Tweetie Pie Corner
 
Straight off the Vine: “Cycling past a bus stop and an obese man points at me and yells ‘Bradley Wiggins’. Everybody laughed. I couldn’t think up a retort fast enough.” Jeremy Vine, 47, British broadcaster, author, journalist and brother of Tim ‘One-liner’ Vine, on the legacy of the Olympic Games.

Why is there never a White Van Woman around when you really need her?

Talking of which...

Infamy, infamy

Gosh, never mind being The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, imagine being The Woman Who Knocked Bradley Wiggins Off His Bike...
                       

                                                                                                                                                            ...I believe the newspaper headline says “Wiggins is on track”, but sadly old Wiggo went seriously off-piste the other evening.

The lady van driver who knocked Bradley off his bike on Wednesday night was in shock: “What have I done? Oh my God, I’ve just knocked over Bradley Wiggins!

The driver, named as 38-year-old Cath Burrows, a Porsche repair specialist ― that somehow adds insult to injury, thank God she wasn’t actually driving a White Porsche Van ― was said to be “mortified” after realising she had hit Wiggins, one of the gold medal-winning heroes of London 2012. She told a friend that she did not see the cyclist.

Her friend said: “It’s bad enough to knock anyone off a bike but imagine you’ve just floored the most famous cyclist on the planet.”

Poor thing, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, even a Porsche dealer. Thank goodness Bradley seems okay.

Even though Cath Burrows is to be summoned over driving without due care and attention, it all brought to mind a recent conversation with a local businessman who owns a retail outlet situated along the main road through Llandeilo.

The other weekend morning, he was telling me, just before eight, the weather dry but heavily overcast and murky, he prepares to pull out from in front of his premises into the traffic flow ― in his white van, as it happens. He checks the mirror ... all clear ... begins to pull out ― and a cyclist zooms past, shouting at him to watch what he’s doing.

It gives him quite a start. He duly pulls out and follows the biker, who he knew as a local man anyway. As he follows, he notices how difficult the rider is to spot dressed in his black cycling outfit. He overtakes him, stops, gets out of his van and flags down the cyclist. They exchange a few words, without it becoming nasty, threatening or aggressive.

“I’m sorry I didn’t see you coming up behind me,” says our White Van Man, “but have you any idea what you look like? It’s impossible to spot you in a mirror on a gloomy morning like this, especially coming down that hill so fast. Touch-wood, I’ve pulled out from in front of the shop thousands of times without incident ― but I assure you, in the mirror you were invisible. Why don’t you wear something bright or have some flashing lights or something? The last thing I want to do is cause an accident due to you being the invisible cyclist.”

And of course, White Van Man is absolutely right on this one. Just the other day I made the comment that when everybody is high-visibility, then nobody is.

But if there is one group of people who should be XL HI-VIS, then it is the cyclists on our roads.


Dishing the dirt

My only white van experience is a dirty one ... a battered and bruised old van I spotted a few years back, parked up not a million miles from my previous abode, as it happens.

I have  mentioned this particular van in dispatches before ― its mucky condition drew the local graffiti artists like flies to you-know-what. Mind you, the main message scribbled into the dirt is so good it deserves a replay...

 


The above also reminds me of something Dai Version of Crazy Horsepower Saloon infamy recently told me:

“I once saw a very mucky white van, on which someone had written in the dirt: 'I wish my wife was as dirty as this!' Underneath, in different handwriting, was scrawled: 'She is.'”
 

Thursday, November 8
Wake me up before I go-go ga-ga


“BEING rather aged, I dropped off for a moment, and on being woken by my wife, I was briefly disorientated.”
Sir Peter Hall, 82, theatre director, apologising for heckling during the closing scene of Uncle Vanya at London’s Vaudeville Theatre.

I actually chuckled in some detail at this incident, compliments of last Sunday’s smile of the day. However, I repeat Hall’s apology because of an amusing letter in today’s Daily Telegraph:

A good nap interrupted

SIR – Sir Peter Hall is not the first to have snoozed at the theatre. The music critic Evan Senior was noted for this. Once during Carmen, at Covent Garden, there was a sustained ringing on the triangle, which sounded much like the telephone bell of the time. Evan awoke and was clearly heard to utter his number, as if taking a call.
Rodney Bennett, Richmond, Surrey

How wonderful. And totally believable, for we do indeed do all sorts of strange things when we awake with a start. This online comment from Anton Checkout  also tickled my funny bone:

Rodney Bennett’s letter about critics asleep in the theatre reminds me of the story of Neville Cardus, the Guardian’s music critic, who reviewed a piano recital he was unable to attend, enthusiastically damning a performance of Chopin’s First Ballade.

When a reader pointed out that the artist had changed his programme, and had actually played Schumann’s Kinderszenen instead, Cardus loftily replied that, from where he was sitting, it sounded like Chopin’s First Ballade.

Cherry blossom time

Apropos nothing whatsoever to do with snoozing at the theatre, or anywhere else come to that, I rather enjoyed this online comment from Watermelonineasterhay:

In a Len Deighton book he describes a chap who was in line for a top Whitehall job, but they invited him to lunch at a “posh” club to test his etiquette ― serving him cherry tart and eagerly observing how he disposed of the cherry stones. He fooled them by swallowing the stones and all.

...to laugh with you, to cry with you...

Lovely Glad Eyes (Gwladys, or Glad, to her family and friends), is with hubby Ivor the Engine in the lounge watching TV: “What are you doing?” she asks Ivor.

Ivor replies: “Nothing.”

Glad Eyes retorts: “Nothing! You’ve been studying our marriage certificate for longer than is comfortable.”

Ivor explains: “I was looking for the ‘use by’ date.” He deflects the cushions coming his way. “But here’s a strange thing, Glad: a marriage certificate must be the only place where a ‘use by date’ comes before the ‘sell by date’.”

Her last cushion hurtles towards him. But she wouldn’t trade him in for the world.

A quick PS before I go go

Returning to the headline at the very top, whenever I hear the George Michael song Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, I can never stop picturing that unforgettable Sun  front page headline following the incident in Los Angeles when Georgie Porgie did something you should never, ever do in front of the horses, and certainly not in a public place ― anyway, this from the Guardian newspaper:

For a gay Greek-Cypriot from north London, George Michael has come a long way ... while he dated women in the Eighties, rumours about his sexuality existed long before he was involuntarily outed in 1998 when he was arrested for lewd contact in a Los Angeles public toilet.

The incident inspired a classic Sun headline, Zip Me Up Before You Go Go, and Michael told Q magazine that “running naked up and down Oxford Street singing ‘I Am What I Am’ would have been a more dignified way to come out”.

Oh dear, Georgie Porgie puddin and pie, kissed the boys and made them cry...
 

Wednesday, November 7
I think, therefore I am


I’M UNSURE why, but while stationary for rather a long time at some temporary road works traffic lights today ... I found myself thinking about golf, of all things, and wondering if that ultra-dramatic final-day Ryder Cup win out in America a month or so back was ever celebrated by an open-top bus tour around Europe?

Naaah! I would have heard about it, surely? And they’d still be trundling along. I mean, today’s Europe is a bloody big place.

Then I noticed all the workers milling about the road works sporting those high-visibility outfits that are now everywhere. Indeed, I’m sure I read that even the police are about to go hi-vis as well.

I really don’t understand it. When everyone is high-visibility, then no one is.

Doolally world, doolally people.

All the above came to mind when I read this letter in The Daily Telegraph...

Radio silence

SIR – I had to pay an extra £15 for a heater in my first new car in 1967, when a radio was not even an option. To this day, I do not use the now ubiquitous car radio (report, November 6); I prefer to pay attention to the road ahead and travel in alert silence.
Robert Warner, West Woodhay, Berkshire

It prompted me to submit this response...

I do not think, therefore I am not

Sir ― I am intrigued as to how Robert Warner manages to drive in such alert silence in order to concentrate on the road ahead. How on earth does he stop himself thinking about that row he had with the wife over breakfast … the fellow he has to fire when he arrives in the office … the gorgeously attentive blonde he met at yesterday’s business meeting … that infuriating letter in this morning’s Daily Telegraph which demands a response...?
HB

God, I have often found myself driving along, in silence, on my own ― and suddenly thinking: what the hell am I doing here? I had meant to turn left about a mile or so back ― but I was in a world of my own, oblivious to everything, and obviously thinking about that gorgeously attentive blonde I met at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon last night...

In the meantime, here’s a fairly recent letter from The Times:

Double-time

Sir, “Double-dip set Britons back £1,800 every year” and “Free inside, 28-page luxury watch supplement”. Two-tier Britain?
LORD DUNLEATH, Newtownards, Northern Ireland

I quote the above letter because of this timeless quote:

“I once bought a £35,000 watch to cheer myself up.” Harry Handelsman, 63, German-born property developer who has lived in London since 1992.

It was a Q&A piece in The Sunday Times  Money section. Here’s the full answer apropos the watch quote:

What’s the most extravagant thing you have ever bought?

“When things weren’t going particularly well in my St Pancras development, and I was rather in despair, I decided to buy myself a £35,000 limited edition of a Jaeger-Le Coultre watch. I simply bought it because I wasn’t happy with how things were going, so I figured, let me have some extravagance that will put a smile on my face in this rather miserable time.”

It really is a different world out there. Not so much “two-tier Britain”, Your Lordship, more “two-tear Britain”.

As it happens I never wear a watch. Well, except when I go on my morning walks and I need to get back by a certain time. Apart from that, time is everywhere. And if it isn’t I just ask and people are always delighted to oblige.

(Truth to tell, I don’t even need to wear a watch while on my walk because the camera I always carry has the time ― it is just easier though to look at my watch.)

But more than the watch, I am dazzled by the notion that Harry Handelsman’s smiles come in at £35,000 a pop. And here I am, surrounded by things wot make me smile, and all compliments of the planet.

Funny old world.
 

Tuesday, November 6
Say ‘Ahhhhh...’


A CLUTCH of locals are gathered around the Asterisk Bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. The small talk is about last night’s Guy Fawkes, what with all the fireworks going off and banging away all over the place and frightening the horses.

Harry Hankey: “Give me Guy Fawkes any night over bloody Halloween. All those kids ringing the door bell with their tricks or treats ― drives me nuts.”

Will Both Ends: “You mentioned all the hassle of Halloween the other night. I was chatting to the Misses about it. I don’t understand: we live just up the road from you and we’ve never had a Halloween caller. Not once.”

Harry Hankey: “Bloody ‘ell, Will, how do you manage that? Hang about, you live in a flat above a business premises, so no wonder.”

Will Both Ends: “True, but the stairs lead down to the front door which opens out onto the pavement, much like all the other properties either side ― they  have Halloween callers, but we don’t.”

There’s a bit of a pause, broken by Chief Wise Owl: “Yes, but what is  that business downstairs, Will?”

Will Both Ends: “A dentist’s.”

Chief Wise Owl: “Precisely. Now the door to the flat could easily be mistaken as part of the dentist’s property, yes?”

Will Both Ends: “That’s true ― it has on occasions anyway.”

Chief Wise Owl: “Mystery solved. How many kids are going to knock on the door of a dentist’s and demand trick or treat?”

A wave of laughter rushes round the bar. And the moral of the story? If you want to avoid cold callers and kids ringing your door bell, live above a dentist’s surgery.

Smashing tale.

On the sunny side of the street

The cover of the current New York Magazine  features a photograph taken by Iwan Baan on Wednesday, October 31, 2012, showing New York City’s Manhattan borough, half aglow and half in dark, after Superstorm Sandy slammed into the east coast.

Now it looks as if the picture was taken around twilight, late afternoon/early evening, so in a tiny moment of inspiration, I thought I would call it...

5 o’clock shadow


 

                                                                                                                                 Memorable image compliments of Iwan Baan and New York Magazine/AP

On the shady side of the street

A sports-themed letter in The Times...

Foul play

Sir, Hugh Schollick is right that it would benefit all if footballers followed the example of rugby players and show respect towards referees. However, I fear the reverse is happening, that rugby players are aping their footballing counterparts.

Winning in a professional league appears to be the crude priority for some, with cynical “professionalism” to achieve an end. Lineouts and scrums become a time-out designed to disrupt the flow of the game and allow further instruction from the bench. This is an abuse of the referee. It would be sad if professional rugby came to mirror professional football.
PETER REYNOLDS, Woodford Green


How true that is. However, I think that ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’ has entered the equation. Of course rugby players do not earn anything remotely similar to footballers ― but everything is relative when it comes to greed.

I have observed that the moment individuals start earning over double the average national wage ― say £60-75,000 ― they become entrepreneurs rather than professionals, and from that moment on ethics, morality and honesty fly out the window. Think what has happened to doctors and high earners in the health sector of society.

Anyway, The Daily Telegraph  then took up the rugby baton and Brian Moore, an English former rugby union footballer who is now a rugby presenter and pundit for BBC Sport, had his say...

Rugby must cut out the backchat before it is too late or criticisms of referees could lead to insubordination

I was particularly amused by these opening paragraphs:

The first came when one irascible referee said to me: “Moore, stop trying to referee this game.” To which I replied: “Well sir, one of us has to do it.” He saw the funny side, chortling with each of the 10 steps he marched me back.

My comeuppance came when another referee nailed me by saying: “Don’t blame me because you’re playing badly.” A very perceptive comment and often the real reason for the bad behaviour of many players.

There has always been humour and interaction between players and officials and nobody wants to lose that. Sometimes some laws and their interpretations are so opaque that it is justifiable to seek an explanation...

Essentially, Moore took a thousand words and more, humorous asides excepted, to say essentially what Peter Reynolds said in a hundred.

Be that as it may, I was perusing the online comments ... and someone put a link to this perfectly memorable exchange between Welsh referee Nigel Owens and Treviso player Tobias Botes.

Can you ever imagine football referees saying something like this to a player? Sixty-four seconds of magic...

                                                                                                                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YUF9LSXAkY

 

Monday, November 5
Word of the day: intrinsically

                                                                  (don't ask)


SAUSAGE and mash

“I feel a few sausages short of a barbie.” The Prince of Wales admitted jet-lag was catching up with him today as he arrived in Australia.

I’m not sure why, but there’s something intrinsically comic about that line.

Brains and rockets, surgeons and scientists

“There are more people in employment than ever before because there are more people than ever before. It is not an economic miracle.” Andrew Hurrell, of Ammanford [just down the track from Dodgy City], in a letter to the Daily Mail.

I’m tempted to add: It’s not rocket surgery. Or brain science, come to that.

Do you know, there really is nothing intrinsically superior about Jeremy Paxman ― yes dear reader who hails from that faraway place with a strange sounding name, you know Jeremy Paxman, the fellow who looks like a Proboscis monkey and featured in my smile scrapbook last Tuesday, October 30.

Anyway, there’s nothing particularly special about Jeremy because there’s a Paxman hiding under every bush and bushel, witness Andrew Hurrell’s perfectly judged letter, above.

Intrinsically disapproving

“People always disapprove of me ― when I marry, when I divorce, when I lose weight, when I put it back on. They disapprove of everything.” Dawn French, 55, British actress, writer, comedian, and perceived by most to be a jolly good fellow.

No Dawn, people do not always disapprove of you. It is just a tiny group of intrinsically nasty people working in the media who disapprove of everything you do (aided and abetted of course by an equally small group of intrinsically poisonous internet trolls).

I can put my hand on my heart and say that I have never once heard a single person outside of the meeja disapprove of you or anything you do.

A period joke

“If you drain the moisture in your mouth you experience richness, creaminess and sweetness more intensely and there is really nothing more absorbing than a tampon.” Heston Blumenthal, 46, British chef, mad scientist and magician, famed for his culinary wizardry ― and playing with, err ... the boundaries of physics and flavour to create truly unique eating experiences.

According to the Guardian newspaper, this is the latest slice of wisdom from the old Blumin’-‘Eck Think Tank: “I use tampons to soak up juices in my mouth so I can enjoy food more. If you drain the moisture you experience richness and sweetness.”

The chef is famed for his bizarre dishes like curry ice-cream and snail porridge. But tampons won’t be served up as an absorbent starter to patrons of his restaurants.

However his latest culinary experiment may leave a sour taste with some of his foodie fans...

Incidentally, since opening in 1995, Heston’s restaurant, The Fat Duck, has come to be regarded by many as the UK’s best restaurant ― one of only four in the country to hold three Michelin stars.

It’s at moments like this that I am overwhelmed with an intrinsic need to give those Michelin stars a bit of a kick to see if they are in desperate need of some air.

Indeed I find myself wondering if the Fat Duck should not now be renamed The Revered Spooner’s Dat Fu- --- yes, well, I shall let you finish off what I guess you could call a that-time-of-the-month joke...

 

Sunday, November 4
Would you Adam and Eve it

IT SEEMS a brother and sister managed to capture on camera a squirrel recreating Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel painting.

The composite image here, compliments of Mail Online, shows the red squirrel in a Czech Republic park reaching for a walnut in a pose similar to the Creation of Adam painting in the Vatican City...

 

Photographer Stanislav Duben, 33, took the photo of his 16 year-old-sister, Aneta, as she fed the squirrel.

He said: “We went to the park with a bag of nuts and within seconds we were surrounded by squirrels.” Stanislav, from Prague, took the photo in a park in Mlada Boleslav, in the Czech Republic.

He added: “I was really lucky to get the shot, I didn’t have time to worry about the settings on my camera and just pressed the button.”

In the comments section, the appropriately named OMG took an unexpected take on proceedings: “I didn’t realise that in Michelangelo’s painting God was trying to reach that man’s nuts.”

Gosh, yes, that would have stopped Adams hanky-panky in its tracks and perhaps avoided him and Eve being banished from Paradise.

Very smiley image though. But talking of being lucky to get the shot in, here’s someone who perhaps should have been shot, and not with a camera. I was attracted by this headline, even though I’ve never watched Downton Abbey...

                 
Downton Abbey star heckled at West End opening night by grand old man of theatre

It was one of the West End’s most eagerly awaited debuts. Laura Carmichael had left behind her familiar role as Lady Edith in Downton Abbey to appear in a new production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre.

But as the 25-year-old delivered the play’s final words on its opening night it became clear that one member of the audience was less than impressed.

“Stop, stop, stop,” a mystery voice boomed from the stalls. “It doesn’t work and you don’t work. It is not good enough. I could be at home watching television.”

They were stunned to discover that the culprit was none other than Sir Peter Hall, former director of the National Theatre and a colossus of the theatre world.

The 82-year-old made a swift exit at the end of Lindsay Posner’s production, on Friday night, before other members of the audience had left their seats and his coup de théâtre  appeared to have escaped the attention of even some of the critics.

One wrote that an individual was responsible for “some disturbance in the auditorium” in his review, and added that it “all but ruined the final moments”.

As usual, a selection of online comments generated a smile...


basingstoke67: It seems “Sir Peter’s spokesman would not comment on what he loudly exclaimed during the production”.
Now, where have I heard something very similar to this quite recently?

I think it had something to do with a man on a bicycle, a pair of big gates and a policeman ... s’funny, I seem to recall that the man involved in that hoo-hah had an overwheening sense of his own self-importance as well.

ColonelScheissKopf: It’s bizarre. One would expect a GOD of the theatre to have the courtesy to at least keep his opinions close to his chest until getting in a taxi afterwards. This is, sad to say, just plain rudeness, one of the two things in the world which cause more strife between man and man than anything else. (The other is bullying ― and there’s a bit of that here too).

Jazz6o6: He was either pissed or he’s becoming gaga.

Jeffgoebbels: At least he didn’t do what an American heckler did in an apparently bad play about Anne Frank. In the scene where the Germans are searching the house he shouted: “She’s in the attic!

PS: Monday morning headline...

Sir Peter Hall apologises for disrupting Laura Carmichael’s speech in Uncle Vanya, claiming he was “briefly disorientated” after falling asleep

“I am mortified that I unintentionally disrupted the final scene of Uncle Vanya and I have sent a personal note to Laura Carmichael offering my apologies,” Sir Peter told the Evening Standard.

The most common word on the comment board was “bollocks!”, with many urging him to climb down off his high JCB i.e. when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

And anyway, the number of times I have been “briefly disorientated” down at the old Crazy Horsepower Saloon and wished I had been at home watching television, is nobody’s business. 
 

Saturday, November 3
The tender mouse trap


“I ALWAYS remember when I was at Claridge’s, we had a mouse that ran across the foyer. And the very grand man in charge said to a lady who had jumped on a chair: ‘Not one of ours, madam. It’s not wearing a tie.’”
John Thurso, 59, Scottish businessman and Liberal Democrat MP.

Surely, the lady should have responded: “But it is  wearing tails.”

Smoke signals

There’s a continuing debate as to whether smoking in cars should now also be banned in order to protect drivers and passengers from their own stupidity.

Indubitably yes, according to the British Medical Association, whose head of science and ethics, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, said this: “The evidence for extending the smoke-free legislation is compelling. Sadly, smokers’ groups claim any such law would be an invasion of privacy.”

I briefly followed an online discussion on the subject ... unsurprisingly, it mostly focussed on the damage smoking in cars must be inflicting on young children.

Then I stumbled upon this memorable quote:

“Probably all laws are useless; for good men do not want laws at all, and bad men are made no better by them.”
Demonax, Roman philosopher, circa 150 A.D. (Also known as Demonax the Cynic.)

How wise is that? I forgot about the smoking issue, for I instantly recalled a letter from last May in The Sunday Times  motoring section...

Slow, quick, slow

On an eight-mile drive last week I went in and out of five speed limits, each requiring signs at both ends. Britain is a small country and to facilitate easy movement, speed limits should be uniform nationwide.

We should not let every tinpot local council invent its own system. Only one speed limit is required: 30mph in built-up areas and none elsewhere.
Hazel Prowse, Camberley, Surrey

The contents intrigued me, so much so I responded, and my reply was duly published...

Slow-witted

Hazel Prowse, in taking issue with our country’s range of speed limits, makes the critical mistake of presuming that everyone using our roads shares her obvious road sense.

If, as we enter a built-up area (look out: children, old people, pets, people rushing out from behind parked vehicles, etc, etc), we have to be instructed by speed limits to slow down ― indeed the police can pretty much catch us at will exceeding those speed limits ― it merely proves what an alarmingly stupid species we are. Hazel excepted, of course.
HB

The point both Hazel and I are making in our own way is spectacularly endorsed by Demonax: “Probably all laws are useless; for good men [and women] do not want laws at all, and bad men [and women] are made no better by them.”

A bit of a drag

Returning to smoking, I am reminded of a line I saw quoted in a newspaper, a quip which apparently originated in a sitcom called 2 Broke Girls  showing on something called E4: “I smoked for seven years, then I quit when I was 12.”

Never mind that parents smoke in the presence of their children, whether in the car or in the home, I am truly astonished that women continue to smoke when pregnant; you do not need to be an expert in anything to suggest that, while the child may well escape damage in the womb depending on the strength of the immune system it has been blessed with, but by definition, the mother must be putting the child at a significant disadvantage.

Anyway, I concluded that just marginally paraphrasing the above sitcom one-liner would make a marvellous anti-smoking promo aimed at parents in general and pregnant mums in particular:

“I smoked for nine years and nine months, then I quit when I was nine.”
 

Friday, November 2
Pop on a poppy

AS I may well have hinted at before: kick off the day with a smile ... and you are already perfectly primed to face the next 17 hours or so.

Vanessa Felts on her early-morning wireless show was perusing the newspaper front pages on my behalf. Well, and on behalf of a few million others too.

She was mightily impressed with a front page picture and headline in The Daily Telegraph. I laughed just picturing it in my mind. When I later saw it in the flesh at the newsagents, I did indeed have a quiet giggle to myself.

The story involved the Prince of Wales, who was yesterday pictured sitting astride a celebrated Harley-Davidson motorcycle at Clarence House as the Royal British Legion Riders Branch helped to publicise the annual Poppy Appeal.

And here’s the picture and headline...

Charley-Davidson

Very witty, especially so as it’s the sort of clever word play you expect to see on The Sun  front page.

While on the subject of the Poppy Appeal, I see that the first commemorative £5 coin ever produced by the Royal Mint has been made especially to mark Remembrance Day.

Every colour-printed coin sold will lead to a donation to the Royal British Legion...

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s truly eye-catching and beautiful. Designed by Emma Noble, the Royal Mint's engraver, it is, as you can see, emblazoned with a red poppy, along with the words ‘the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’.

Just as most adults in the country will generously give over the next week or so, I too will pop a few quid into the collection box when I pick up a poppy from the local corner shop or pub; but this year, as I am not a conscious collector of things ― you should, however, see the spare room full of things that need to be taken to the tip ― I shall give an extra £5 or so rather than buy the commemorative coin.

Thats the very least I can do for the cause.

I also thought it a perfect reason to pop the poppy up there on my web site’s lapel, which is something I tend to do at this time of year anyway...
 

Thursday, November 1
Every egg a dinosaur, every dinosaur a Winner

“GEORGE BERNARD SHAW was the most boring, pontificating playwright ever. Tedious, hectoring, dismal. We never met, Mr Shaw and I, but he figured strongly in my youth at St Christopher Quaker, a vegetarian, co-educational school run very much on Shavian* principles...”
Thus Michael Winner, 76, film-maker and restaurant critic of this parish ― or rather, The Sunday Times Parish ― kicked-off one of his entertainingly irritating weekly sermons in the paper’s News Review.

It invited a response, as does pretty much everything he says, really. But first, the ‘every day a day at school’ spot.

*Shavian: Now there’s a word you never hear in the Bible or in the Asterisk bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Right, according to www’s The Free Dictionary :

            adj.   Of, relating to, or characteristic of George Bernard Shaw or his works: Shavian wit.

            n.       An admirer or disciple of George Bernard Shaw.

Anyway, before returning to the quote, allow me take you back to August 31, when I shared with you this brief missive from ‘Michael’s missives’, a selection of the letters Winner receives in response to his ‘wit, wisdom and wilfulness’. And fair play, he may dish it out, but he appears more than happy to take anything and everything the reader wants to throw at him. For example, this is the letter of which I speak...

When it’s your time to go
You say a medical specialist gave you until 2015 to live and you weren’t sure if he meant the beginning or the end of the year. I think he meant quarter past eight.
John Fletcher, Kent

Now I thought that was just a Winner joke ― the you’ve got until 2015 to sort out your affairs bit, that is. An exceedingly good joke, mind. Then I spotted this Michael Winner quote in the paper:

“People should have the right to terminate their own life. I am very happy to snuff it. I’ve had enough time on this earth. I’d be happy if someone gave me the plug to pull.”

It seems the 2015 deadline is true. He told a newspaper that he has considered taking his own life after being told by liver specialists that he has 18 months to live. He has been diagnosed with the illness vibrio vulnificus, triggered when he ate a bad oyster back in 2007.

But the thing is, he seems quite happy for readers to carry on taking pot shots. And why shouldn’t he? So, armed with that information, I submitted a response to the George Bernard Shaw intro...

Mirror, mirror

I do so hope, Michael, you were not looking in the mirror ― or worst, taking a quick peep behind  the mirror ― when you wrote that. Whatever, may you live forever and die suddenly.

Didn’t make the cut though; this was the letter that made it into Michael’s missives:

George Bernard Shaw may be dead but I see that his alter ego is still eating slices of hard peach and appalling ice cream.
Peter Grundy, Newcastle upon Tyne


Antique dresser

Anyway, the reason I am writing all this is because I have just read Michael’s missives from last Sunday. Memorably smiley stuff. But first, a reference point: below is the picture from the previous Sunday’s column, the one that everyone is referring to, where Michael and his chauffeur are standing in front of the Winner Bentley.

Incidentally, I have noticed in recent photographs that Michael is always wearing slippers, so I presume that is somehow linked to his illness.

Right, here we go...

Charity begins at the Hilton

Our local supermarket car park has an elderly chap with a bucket and sponge who will clean your car while you shop. From the photo last week, it looks as if the Hilton Kensington offers the same service. Hope the smart gentleman next to you was pleased with your efforts.
Dave Landed, Lancashire

The car is No 87 of a limited edition of 100 by Bentley, the fleece is one of 2m by Primark and the slippers came from a charity shop. But you, Mr Winner, are unique.
Howard Bentley, Lancashire

What a fantastic photo last week ― best ever ― featuring such a beautiful old girl. Not you, you old tart; your wonderful Bentley. If you feel yourself starting to slip away, could you let me know, so I can prepare to bid for her?
Stef Dutchyn, Lincolnshire

I am not sure that British Airways intended its first-class pyjamas to be used as casual lunch attire, although they do match the Bentley rather well.
Steven MacGeachy, Chicago

Could the old man on the back of News Review, sporting what appeared to be an old tracksuit, ill-fitting T-shirt and old carpet slippers, really be the same person who accused the Kensington Hilton of being “devoid of style”?
Anthony Hale, Cardiff

The charity-shop-closing-down-sale look you managed to achieve recently ... was quite amazing to behold. With the exception of the slippers, how do any of these ill-fitting garments relate to each other or their wearer?
Graham Richards, Devon


Yes, all wonderfully entertaining. Only yesterday I recycled the quote regarding the art of being exceedingly good at Twittering: “The first step is to ‘Always be nice’. And if you can’t be nice then at least be nasty in a way that is supremely funny.”

All the above missives pass that test. I’d be happy to put my name to any of them.

This all brings to mind one of my favourite letters spotted in Michael’s missives. He is forever mentioning in dispatches that he is around £10m in debt at the bank ― but because he owns expensive property in London, his net worth is estimated to be some £25-£35m ― so here’s the missive:

A very black hole

“I’ll look into it”, the phrase used by the Cipriani Restaurant manager, is one you shouldn’t knock. I bet you use it every time the bank manager calls to say there’s a gaping hole where your balance used to be.
Nick Jones, La Drôme, France

 

Wednesday, October 31
Love is all

“IT CAN get a bit depressing when I’ve just finished what I think was a really great programme and the tweets start coming in saying ‘Great shoes’.”
Emily Maitlis, 42,
British journalist and newsreader, currently employed by the BBC. She presents news programming across the network, including Newsnight and bulletins on BBC One and the BBC News Channel.

Last Sunday evening, poor old Emily Maitlis made the news herself, all down to a particular outfit she wore while reading the news. But what, you may well ask, could the elegant Emily possibly have in common with the stern-faced Sontarans, the fearsome aliens from Doctor Who?

Well, as someone who knows little of all the aliens giving Doctor Who a hard time ― Daleks excepted, of course ― today I learn that Emily and the Sontarans seemingly share something of a similar taste in fashion. Here’s Emily doing her thing last Sunday...

                                           

Indeed, the distinctive neckline of her dress certainly wouldn’t be out of place in a Sontaran wardrobe. The alien race are particularly fond of stand-up collars, which thankfully obscure a large part of their faces.

Emily’s outfit, which she wore to read the Ten O’clock News  on BBC1 on Sunday, showed off a little more of her complexion, for sure. But it was not a hit with viewers, who flooded Twitter with jokes and comments on the similarity.

Twittarians pondered if the 42-year-old had chosen her outfit in light of All Hallows Eve, which of course falls today: “Apparently Emily Maitlis is dressing as a Sontaran for Halloween.” Others compared the frock to something that might be seen in Star Trek: “I love Emily Maitlis, but I think someones pinched her goldfish bowl spaceship helmet this evening.”

Then someone joked, with a nod and a wink towards the Grim Reaper: “The lovely Emily Maitlis looking like the Grim Reader minus the hood tonight”. Yet another suggested she borrow an outfit from a colleague next time: “It’s not Strictly or X Factor, pet: rob a suit off Fiona Bruce.”

A number of others Tweeted that she looked like she was dressed as a deep sea diver, while the one that made me chuckle most was this from a lady called Gems: “Emily Maitlis looks like a head sticking out of a chimney pot.” Ouch!

Poor old Emily. What was it writer James Rhodes said about those who Twitter? “The first step is to ‘Always be nice’. And if you can’t be nice then at least be nasty in a way that is supremely funny.”

Well, I guess the above do just about pass that test. And Emily herself does seem to be more concerned with people taking her seriously than insulting her dress sense. Which is fair enough.

Mind you, Id have thought that looking glamorous while reading the news is not good news, a bit of an ambush, really ― see tweets, above...!

 

A dedicated ignoramus of fashion

All the above made me smile because, as it happens, I did actually see Emily read the news last Sunday. Now as someone who has never been a follower of fashion, her curious outfit did register, probably because it really did seem out of place while reading the news. Oh, I thought, she must be off, after reading the news, to the Butterfly Ball.

Indeed Emily instantly took me back to the first music video I remember seeing, the animated version of Roger Glover and the Butterfly Ball – Love Is All, which was often shown on our local ITV station, HTV, as a filler ― and I thought it was great, so wonderfully jolly and colourful.

A year or so after The Butterfly Ball, Queen gave us the first promo music video proper, Bohemian Rhapsody, and thereafter music videos would never be the same again.

For that reason I have a ton of affection for Love Is All, so off I went to YouTube to revisit ‘The Butterfly Ball’...

My goodness, memories are made of this … and yes indeed, there was Emily dancing away in her Sontaran outfit.

See if you can spot her...
                                        
Roger Glover and the Butterfly Ball – Love is all

 

Tuesday, October 30
Monkey business


THE DAILY TELEGRAPH  has just unveiled the fourth book in its series of unpublished letters to the editor, titled Imagine My Surprise.

I’m supposed to have had a few letters included in the previous two editions, but I never did find out because a) I’m not a reader of books unless it’s for research and ‘every day a day at school’ purposes ― I forever have my nose in a dictionary, thesaurus, Wikipedia, that sort of thing ― and anyway, if my letters were published, well I’ve read them before; and b) I slightly baulk at the thought of paying for something which belongs to me anyway.

Whatever, there was just a taster of the contents of the new book in today’s edition of the paper. Here are a couple that caught my eye...

A nose for the news

SIR – Am I alone in thinking that Jeremy Paxman looks like a Proboscis monkey?
Michael Powell, Tealby, Lincolnshire


Now that did make me smile; for those reading this in faraway places with strange ― hell, you know who you are ― Jeremy
Dickson Paxman is an English journalist, author and broadcaster. He has worked for the BBC since 1977. He is noted for a forthright and abrasive interviewing style, particularly when interrogating politicians. So much so I am often overwhelmed with the need to bop him on the nose ― and he’s on my side.

In a nutshell, he’s not really the sort you would honestly and truly want to find moving in next door. Anyway, looking like a Proboscis monkey, eh?

                                  

Yep, I’ll buy into that. Perhaps he has  been bopped on the nose more times than we are aware of. Be that as it may, whenever I catch sight of him on the telly in future I will smile. Dear old Jeremy will never seem quite the same again.

I’ve got some bad news ― and I’ve got some really bad news

SIR ― It is bad enough reading that Colin Firth’s wife has dispensed with her underwear, but to publish the fact that 67 per cent of women over 80 are sexually active and that most achieve orgasm is devastating news.

Are you mad, sir? I am a mere male (not a rampant young stud) of 68 years, still trying to live up to some vague sexual expectations. Not being certain whether or not I have succeeded is bad enough, but the thought of perhaps another two decades of strenuous and possibly gymnastic marital duties is just too much.

My only resort is to prevent my wife from reading The Daily Telegraph.
Geoff Milburn, Glossop, Derbyshire


I really do empathise with Geoff Milburn and all that sex thing expectancy at age 68 (even worse, perhaps he’s 69 by now!).

Well, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned hereabouts before, and speaking as a life-long bachelor, I have now reached that stage in life where I prefer a good joke to good sex.

With a joke I can laugh at it over and over within the privacy of my own mind, but with sex the only way I can relive it is by doing the damn thing, and that often becomes a joke anyway (mind you, there is one other way, but my mother told me I’d go blind, so when I started wearing glasses I gave up).

As a bonus, even Viagra has given up on me. I honestly can’t remember when an urgent Blue Bayou missive drooped ― oops ― dropped, into my inbox.

 

Monday, October 29
Bond. Basildon Bond

I’M GONNA sit right down and write myself a letter ... Ah, Russ Abbot as Basildon Bond in ‘The Man With The Golden Labrador’. Fetch those memories from the far end of the field, there’s a good dog.

Perusing the online home page of the Telegraph, I see this headline apropos a programme on telly tonight...

                                                   50 Years of Bond Cars: A Top Gear Special

Richard Hammond celebrates the vehicles in the Bond film...

I am instantly reminded of this memorable quote from August 31, compliments of Chrissie from Norfolk:

“The only thing you ever need to know in life is to always remember that men are just small boys in long trousers. That way you won’t expect too much of them and you won’t be disappointed.”

Hm, I thought, I may well take a peep at 50 Years of Bond Cars; the Telegraph  picture gallery of the motors first, then the BBC2 documentary, tonight...

However, my eyes drift down the home page and another headline catches my eye:

                             Clegg warns Hammond is ‘jumping the gun’ over Trident nuclear missile plan

God, I thought, don’t tell me that Richard Hammond is now driving a submarine about this planet ― I read on: Nick Clegg has clashed with Defence Secretary Philip Hammond over replacing Britain’s nuclear weapons.

D’oh! Wrong Hammond. This fame and celebrity business is getting very confusing.

Anyway, back with the Bond cars ... like many other folk, my favourite has to be the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger. It’s not just the car, but that ejector seat, which has to be one of the best and most believably whacky gadgets ever, in any film.

Mr Bond and his Astons

From the DB5 in Goldfinger, 1964...

...to the DBS in Casino Royale, 2005

Order out of disorder

Do you know, what this country needs is not so much a trouble shooter but a trouble ejector. Perhaps someone called The Stig: “Some say that in his wallet he keeps a photograph of his wallet, and that his genitals are upside down. All we know is, he’s called The Stig.”

Imagine, the Stig should list all those who, over recent years have given Britain such a bad name around the world, and then invite them for a quiet ride in the nation’s very special DB5, to discuss ‘things’: Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Alastair Campbell, David Cameron, Andrew Mitchell, Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin, Bob Diamond, Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, George Entwistle, Mark Thompson ― God, the list is endless.

It would be a modern version of the stocks. You can imagine the conversation in the car:

Tony Blair: “Do you expect me to repent?”

Stig: “No, Mister Blair, I expect you to disappear up you own backside!


While perusing the online gallery of Bond cars, I enjoyed this exchange regarding the Lotus Esprit S1 – the ‘submarine car’ from The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977:

Costamonkey: The Mk1 Esprit leaked like a sieve without going underwater. The huge front and rear glass areas were poorly sealed and one got a wet bum and floating engine-bay carpet if the car was left out in the rain.

Simon Carter: Buying a Lotus and then complaining about the build quality is like going out with Scarlett Johansson and complaining about her cooking. You’re completely missing the point.

Costamonkey: Scarlett makes a mean pie...

Marc Melander: LOTUS = Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious.

Anyway, I enjoyed the television programme. It was like being back in short trousers again. Great.

 

Sunday, October 28
Boom
! Boom!


IT ALL began with a rather serious letter in today’s Sunday Telegraph, a missive that took me into territory I am unfamiliar with:

Israel under attack

SIR – Ibrahim Hewitt states that Golda Meir, Israel’s prime minister in 1973, was ready to use nuclear weapons when the Egyptian army retook the Sinai peninsula. This was the launch of the Yom Kippur war, when Israel was attacked on its holiest day of the year. Many Israeli soldiers near the Suez canal were murdered, not killed in action.
Rev Robert Weissman, Woodford, Essex

Then came a couple of online comments, and as usual, they led me up all sorts of intriguing alleys. First up...

Lord Muck: Interesting thought from Rev Weissman, that it was immoral to declare war on a ‘holy’ day. I had always assumed that in the cold war period, the Soviet invasion would be planned to coincide with the coincidence of Christmas Day falling on a Sunday.

I had also assumed that our Generals would have ensured that this was the time when our armed forces were on highest alert; in a double-bluff, rather than invade at another time, the Soviets would have attacked when they were most expected. In turn, our Generals would have anticipated this and ... it’s just too much...

The answer of course is to be on high alert at all times ... a lesson the Israelis have probably taken to heart.

And then my grin turns into a chuckle...

Percyvere: The Rev Robert Weissman's mention of Israeli soldiers near the Suez Canal reminds me of a subtle Israeli tale. An Israeli soldier, Louis, waits by the canal every morning for Ahmed, an Egyptian soldier on the other side of the waterway, to come out of his tent. Louis shouts: “Oi, Ahmed!

Ahmed responds: “Yes?”

Louis says “F*** you!

This went on for several days until Ahmed got fed up and went to his commanding officer. He explained the problem and the officer said that the obvious answer was for Ahmed to come out of his tent early and do the same to Louis. In other words, he should get his retaliation in first.

The next morning Ahmed got up nice and early and was waiting for Louis. Ahmed shouts: “Oh, Louis!

Louis responds: “Who is it?”

“Ahmed.”

“F*** you!

By the way, I recently saw a car sticker in Cairo that said: “If you give me tit for tat, I will give you 100 tat!” Obviously the Muslim Brotherhood still have some clamping down to do!

Talk of clamping down...

Shoot the messenger

SIR – On reading “Scientists jailed for failing to predict Italian quake” (report, October 23), I realised how lucky our television and radio weather forecasters are. If Italian law applied here, they would rarely not be behind bars.
Neville Goldrein, Liverpool

Poor old Michael Fish would have been given life. Anyway, talk of shooting the messenger...

Led by the nose and endlessly recycled

If you are the governing body of a sport rocked by a scandal in which your most famous star has been stripped of his titles amid allegations of drugs, deception and cheating, it’s probably not a good idea to unveil a new logo that looks suspiciously like one of the world’s most renowned liars.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the International Cycling Union (UCI) has done with their logo for next year’s world championships, which will take place in Florence, Italy. Just days after Lance Armstrong was banned from cycling for life for doping offences, the UCI unveiled its mascot for the 2013 championships...
                                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                                                         ...yes, none other than Disney character Pinocchio, adorned with the rainbow jersey of a cycling world champion. Why, he even has a packet of goodies in his hand, ready. Unbelievable.

What was it The Blue Fairy said? A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.
 

Saturday, October 27
More of the wireless


I’M A great fan of the wireless. The pictures, as someone once observed, are much better.

One of my favourite radio programmes is BBC Radio 4’s perennial antidote to panel games, the anarchic I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.

Mind you, good as Jack Dee is as the new host, the show definitely lost something following the death of chairman Humphrey Lyttelton, who died rather suddenly back in 2008, aged 86 (sadly, he didn’t quite live forever to die suddenly).

The moment Humph was suddenly called upon to perform in that last great stomp in the sky, the show lost a certain innocent charm. As indeed it did when it lost the wonderfully witty Willie Rushton, the comedian, satirist, cartoonist, author, actor and a man who listed his recreations as “losing weight” and “gaining weight”, who died after a heart operation at the age of 59 (way back in 1996, would you believe).

Anyway, here’s a typical Starter for Ten from the show:

                  What’s the definition of catastrophe? A puss who’s just won a prize
!

Yes, a new book celebrates gloriously groan-worthy gags from the I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue  gang. To the delight of millions of fans, its blend of risqué humour, dreadful puns and chaotic improvisation have helped make the panel show an enduring hit.

Here are just a few examples from the book:
                                                                          
 Historical Postcards

What would some famous people from the past write on the cards they sent family and friends?

Kipling, from India: “Weather exceedingly good; beaches exceedingly good; nightlife exceedingly good; cake crap.”

Samuel Morse [from somewhere near Dodge City, exceedingly Way Out West]: “Dear Dot, must dash.”

René Descartes, from Antwerp: “Having a wonderful time I think ― therefore I am.”

                                         Texting For Pensioners

Millions of text messages are sent every day, but text acronyms have so far been devised only for the young. Here the teams attempt to redress the balance:

                                                                        OMG (Oh My God) becomes Oh me gout.

                                                                        TBC (To be continued) becomes To be cremated.

                                                                        MYOB (Mind your own business) becomes Make your own Bovril.

                                                                        IMHO (In my humble opinion) becomes It’s my hip operation.

                                                                        ETA (Estimated time of arrival) becomes Eighth time of asking.

                                                                        WTF (What the f***) becomes Wig tilted forward.

                                                                        POW (Prisoner of war) becomes Peed on wellingtons.

Very funny. Mind you, I’m not sure where POW  came from. I can’t imagine many young people busily texting POW. Whatever, I was thinking: you know how LOL morphed from Lots of love  into Laugh out loud? Well, I think that WTF (What the f***) would be much better served if it became What’s that friend?

                                      Very Slightly Shorter Film Titles

How different the titles of classic films might have been if just one letter had gone missing from their titles. Teams?

     One With The Wind
     Only Angels Have Wigs
     The Way We Wee
     Danes With Wolves
     Zorba The Geek
     The Da Vinci Cod
     O Hello (by William Shakespeare)
     The Greatest Sow On Earth
     Who Framed Roger Rabbi

     
Rear Widow
     Lice In Wonderland
     Aging Bull
     It’s A Wonderful Lie
     True Git

Really enjoyed The Way We Wee  and O Hello. And True Git  has a certain ring of truth about it too. Hm, I thought, this sounds like a good game. So I picked up the Western Mail’s  Weekend with its television and radio guide.

Here are some of the films on television today, Saturday 27 October 2012...

     BBC 2:       The Importance of Bing Earnest (hope he sings Autumn Leaves rather than White Christmas).
     ITV 1:        Tar Wars (made me think of Boys from the Blackstuff).
     Channel 5:  Man Without a Tar  (ditto).
                        Ma Without a Star (unthinkable, really, but it does carry the benefit of an internal rhyme).
     BBC 2:        Ill Bill (yes, I did hear that they were sick as parrots up there at New Scotland Yard).
     ITV 1:        Dante’s Eak
!

And that was just one day’s films.

Oh okay, one from tomorrow, Sunday, a title which would work perfectly on the wireless: Carr On Jack...

 

Friday, October 26
They seek him here, they seek him there

OVER the past year or so there have been many pictures in the media of Chinese artist Liu Bolin, who has made an art of becoming the invisible man.

Incidentally, whenever I’ve needed to become ‘the invisible man’, I’ve merely carried around a clipboard, as if I’m conducting a survey ― and everyone instantly looks away, as if I’m not there. Magic.

But this fellow Liu Bolin takes the whole thing to a new level.

Look carefully ... a little closer, especially at the picture on the right ... yes, this is a portrait of a man doing his best to magically blend into the background...

 

“I can still see him! A memorable five-word online comment by a lady who, fingers crossed, was being deliciously ironic.

Mind you, Liu in front of the JCB wheel took some close scrutiny ― oops, did I say JCB? ― I meant the ZL50 (doesn’t sound quite as practical and romantic as a JCB, now does it?).

Every day a day at school spot: JCB is named after the founder of the company, Joseph Cyril Bamford. In Welsh, a JCB has become known as a Jac Codi Baw, which comes from a child’s name for the digger, and translates literally as Jack Digs [the] Dirt. The Welsh version really is a clever name for the genus ‘digger’.

Anyway, when Liu Bolin’s astonishing pictures first appeared, many thought they were digitally enhanced images. A reasonable conclusion. But they are not.

People occasionally watch his art take shape. Liu often poses for up to 10 hours while his collaborators paint his disguise to blend in with the surroundings. It works so well that often passers-by aren’t even aware of his presence until he moves.

Bolin says his work is a protest in defiance of the Chinese government who shut down an artist village in 2006.

I show these astonishing pictures of Liu’s work because I’m sure these images have subliminally lodged themselves in my psyche, for I now regularly spot things in photographs that aren’t readily obvious, or indeed aren’t there in the first place.

For example, I came across an online picture gallery of beautiful autumn scenes submitted by readers of The Daily Telegraph. In particular this wonderfully evocative picture of autumn colours. But what do you  see...?

Florence Baner took this at Ashby Hall, in the wonderfully named Ashby de la Launde in Lincolnshire.

Well, this is what I  see...

At the base of the tree, right-hand side, the roots take on a human form, female, reclining against the tree, her hand resting on her thigh ... and just above her breasts the head disappears and morphs into the trunk.

Moving towards the centre, I see a naked body, as if twisting to rest against the trunk, again the head disappearing into the trunk. Just above where the head should be, peeping out of the trunk, what looks like the head of a prehistoric bird or lizard or some such like.

Moving to the left, and stacked up from the bottom ― well, not fungus but some sort of frogs, and the one at the bottom is giving us all a very evil eye ... oh, and is that Kermit the Frog alongside them, stretching his neck and peering up into the tree?

Isn’t it amazing what you spot when you give your imagination a licence to roam. There again, perhaps I’ve got a bit too much time on my hands.

Whatever, the wonderful picture made me smile beyond.

 

Thursday, October 25
Comatose


“I saw the headline ‘Shorter sentences do not deter criminals from breaking the law’ and thought, in that case, why not have longer sentences with lots of commas, maybe the odd subordinate clause, and above all make sure the words fill at least half an A4 page, or if that’s not possible, three-quarters of an A3, and then we can be sure those pesky criminals will cringe from further law-breaking.”
An online comment by Jp1000 in response to the Telegraph  headline as quoted.


Very witty, Jp1000. And yes, ‘Shorter sentences do not deter criminals from breaking the law’ really was a headline in the newspaper. Staying with the Telegraph, another headline to ponder:

                                            Dear Sir, We’ve all got a lot to be sorry about

Following Michael Gove’s decision to apologise publicly to his former French teacher for “clever dick” remarks, five writers reveal what they would like to say to their old teachers.

Incidentally, for those reading this in faraway places with strange sounding names (Llanfairpwllgwyngylletcetc), Gove is the current Secretary of State for Education. Indeed there are some who may well suggest that he is not so much a “clever dick” but more a “prick too clever by half” ― but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Here is Michael Gove’s apology: All we could do was compete to think of clever-dick questions to embarrass you and indulge in pathetic showing-off at your expense. Many have pointed out that it sounds as though Gove had perfect training for asking questions in Parliament.

Whatever, the handful of Telegraph  writers/apologists that followed were ... well, sort of interesting ... but here’s the one that grabbed my attention, yet again an online comment ― the Telegraph  appears to be blessed with more than its fair share of amusing and entertaining readers ― this time someone who flies under the name Albatross:

“There were three kids named Harris in our class. The roll call went: Harris D, Harris GC, Harris GM (me). Then it changed to Harris D, Harris Fat, Harris Thin. Then changed again to Harris D, Harris Fat, Harris L (L stood for lazy).

“Often the maths master would take hold of my ear and grind my nose into the desk accompanied by, ‘Boy, you can  do it, but you’re idle, bone idle.’ He was wrong. I was lazy, but I've never been idle.

“Laziness is the art of getting from A to B with the minimum expenditure of effort. Idleness is doing nothing. You have to make an effort to be properly lazy. I spent hours honing it to perfection.”

Boy, did I identify with that comment. I too was lazy in school. Truth to tell I ― no, hang about, I nearly said “I hated school”, but that’s just not true.

Initially I surprised everyone by passing my 11-Plus into the local grammar school. Now I have never in my life hated anyone or anything, for the simple reason that no person or ‘thing’ has ever visited upon me something that would have made me hate them (or it). What is more, I have never actively disliked anyone or anything ― for the very same reason.

However, and much to my chagrin, there are plenty of people and ‘things’ that I feel no affection whatsoever for. But I don’t make a big deal of it, I simply cross over to the sunny side of the street and quickly move on.

That’s precisely how I felt about school. There was no affection for the institution at all. I did as little work as I could get away with, resulting in always either just passing or just failing all my examinations ― well, all except Latin and French, both of which I was totally useless at and dropped them as subjects as soon as possible.

This rather surprised folk because I am truly bilingual ― I never remember having to learn either Welsh (my first language) or English (the language I feel most comfortable in), and that fact supposedly should have given me a head start in languages. Clearly that is a rumour put about by those blessed with a language gene.

Given that all my other marks hovered around 50 per cent, I became known as Average Boy, confirmed when I sat nine O-levels ― and passed five. I then progressed to first-year sixth, but I was hopelessly out of my depth so decided to leave and find work.

But I identify absolutely with Albatross, especially his definition of laziness i.e. the art of getting from A to B with minimum expenditure of effort. That’s me to a T, from A to Zee / Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. (With apologies to one Cassius Clay; actually, in my case it should read: “Float like a bee, sting like a butterfly.”)

A Low Flyer

And finally, this brief online exchange, which tickled me no end. It doesn’t really matter what the contributors are actually discussing ― but it reminded me of schooldays, particularly so the use of the word “sinecure” in the exchange.

I had no idea that “sinecure” meant “a paid job requiring little work i.e. a job or position that provides a regular income but requires little or no work. Rather amusing given what has gone before. Anyway, pay attention, class...

Wuffothewonderdog: It was a good deal (for Scotchmen) because it was a Scotchman [ex prime minister Gordon Brown] fixing sinecures and jobs for Scotchmen in Scotland. There’s none so close as Scotchmen on the make.

Coljam: What is a Scotchman?

Spikey: Presumably one who drinks Scotch, as opposed to a Scotsman - one who is Scottish (and drinks Scotch!).

I was gently amused that Wuffo the Wonder Dog used the word “sinecure” but still labelled Scotsmen “Scotchmen”, which suggests that Wuffo knew precisely what he was barking at.

My guess is that Wuffo is a wind-up pooch, and no less entertaining for that (the very antithesis of a troll: a LOL?).

♫♫♫  Have a drink, have a drink, have a drink on me / Ev’rybody have a drink on me ― and that includes all you Scotchmen...
 

Wednesday, October 24
♫♫♫
         That’s life, that’s what people say.
         You’re riding high in April,
         Shot down in May......


I’VE been catching up with some ‘normal’ news. By the way, if, whenever Jimmy Savile is next mentioned in the meeja and the story is accompanied by yet another picture or film clip of the fellow, I may well throw something significant in the direction of said image.

While it is right and proper to report developments, do we really need to see his smirking mug at every twist and nasty turn? Talk about adding insult to injury.

Anyway, back with other news: I see that Lance Armstrong has been formally stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life by the International Cycling Union for his drug taking. What a strange business that all is, particularly so given his high-profile and successful battle against cancer.

Do you suppose all this additional stress will perhaps even strip him of that win?

It’s also interesting to note that Bradley Wiggins, the current Tour de France champion, says the Lance Armstrong scandal is having the same effect on cycling as Savile is having on the BBC. It’s those bastards at the top, Bradley.

Yes, as always, it all comes back to the clowns, cowboys and crooks whose dirty little hands are seemingly on the tiller of every significant ship sailing under the UK flag, or indeed any other flag of convenience.

And of course there’s the infamous “pleb” man and keen cyclists about London Town, Andrew Mitchell, who is no longer the government chief whip, having duly resigned his post.

Armstrong and Mitchell make unlikely tandem pals. However, I thought this cartoon by Blower captured the moment perfectly...

Folk everywhere getting on their bikes
 

 

Actually, the moment I saw Blower’s clever cartoon, the first thing that came to mind was ET, especially when Your Friendly Neighbourhood Extra Terrestrial takes flight. Should he not have been tested for performance enhancing drugs? The juxtaposition is rather wonderful, even if I say so myself.

Apropos Andrew Mitchell, I enjoyed these letters in The Daily Telegraph:

Toad of Plebgate Hall

SIR – Has Mr Mitchell paid too high a price? Not if we recall that Mr Toad got a year for car theft, three for furious driving, and 15 for “cheeking the police”, “which was a bad sort of cheek ... even if you only believe one-tenth ... of what you heard”.
Robert Stephenson, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

What a gloriously amusing letter that is: furious driving ... cheeking the police ... a bad sort of cheek...! Priceless.

Shut that gate

SIR – Is Plebgate the first political scandal to involve an actual gate?
Annie Pierce, Birkenhead, Cheshire


I was intrigued to learn this about Mitchell: the Pleb man, 56, is the son of a Tory MP and went to Rugby public school, where as a prefect he earned the nickname “Thrasher”. (Do you suppose he carries a whip about his person which he uses on his bicycle when the going gets tough and the old velocipede struggles?)

He was also criticised during the notorious Parliamentary expenses scandal for claiming 13p for correction fluid (not so much Tipp-Ex as ChiefWhip-Ex, ho, ho, ho!), and 45p for glue (oh that he had washed his mouth out with a tube of Unibond: My word is my Unibond, boom-boom!).

Obviously the fellow is in need of a good clip around the ear, rather than around the trouser leg, that is.

Over and out.

 

Tuesday, October 23
The London Derriere (You just can’t keep a good bum note down)

“THERE’S more to Pippa Middleton,” writes Bryony Gordon in the Telegraph, “than a fine derriere. It’s easy to mock her book, ‘Celebrate’, but Pippa’s almost as sweet as her recipes.

“Never before has so much been said about someone who says so little. Until now, that is. Pippa Middleton ― sister-in-law of the second in line to the throne, owner of the first ever bottom to be described as a national treasure ― has written a book, and my what a book she has written...”

Having duly celebrated Pippa’s new book just a couple of days ago, I decided to revisit the fragrant Ms Middleton when I saw said derriere described as a national treasure (and in the process leave my fingerprints all over her bum, metaphorically speaking, that is).

Do you know, I have grown weary of mere people being described as national treasures. I’m sure I once heard Jimmy Savile labelled as such. (It’s at moments like this that you really hope there is a God and an Afterlife, sod what Richard Dawkins thinks ― if you’ll pardon the expression.)

As a rule of thumb, it is only ‘things’ that should be labelled national treasures: Big Ben, Stonehenge, the Spitfire, the E-Type Jag, the glorious red of our phone and post boxes and London buses...

Yes of course someone like Shakespeare is a national treasure. And I presume Churchill will become one ― the test is this: when there is nobody left alive who can actually remember Churchill when he too was alive, and he is still fondly recalled and discussed, then he will be a national treasure.

Also, when there is nobody left alive who can actually remember Stephen Fry when he was alive, then he will cease to be regarded as a national treasure (one would guess).

Whatever, the idea of Pippa’s bum up there with Stonehenge and the E-Type Jag is a rather jolly thought.

Incidentally, after finishing Bryony Gordon’s piece, the very first contribution on the Comment Board was this amusing input from Pheasant Plucker:

In years to come, when Pippa has married into the landed nobility and the fruits of the union reach the age of enquiry, one can imagine one of her cherubic offspring saying: “Mummy, why was the whole world obsessed with your bum back in 2012?”

Pippa will no doubt give a dimpled, demur smile and say: “I’ve really no idea, darling, it was just one of those silly things that happen when someone makes a comment and then the word gets around, it was nothing really.”

“Oh, come on, Mummy, there must have been more to it than that. Penelope Wattern-Eiffel’s mother says the tight dress you wore to Aunt Kate’s wedding clearly showed the cheeks of your arse, and you kept bending over on purpose, and by the way, who was Max Clifford...?”

Things that make the news

Watching the BBC’s Six O’clock News tonight, the lead story was the dreadful Jimmy Savile saga, in particular the appearance of the BBC’s seemingly inept Director-General George Entwistle who spoke of his “horror” over the deluge of allegations against the late TV presenter as he was grilled by MPs at a Commons Select Committee.

The item took up nearly half the news. However...

The Few get fewer still

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” was Churchill’s famous tribute to those Battle of Britain pilots, made at the height of their battle in the late summer of 1940. Now they are one fewer.

The final item on tonight’s news was a piece about the death aged 99 of the oldest surviving pilot to fight in the Battle of Britain. Which is rather ironic given that above I speak of national treasures such as the Spitfire and Churchill.

William Walker was a celebrated member of the glorious Few and one of many who risked their lives so bravely and without question in battles with Germany in our skies.

At 99 William Walker held the title of the oldest remaining Battle of Britain pilot, but sadly the Second World War hero suffered a stroke last Thursday and died at a London hospital some days later.

The Flight Lieutenant had an incredible life, escaping death after plunging into the Channel as well as becoming a celebrated poet and dedicating his time to the memory of his friends and comrades who died in the war.

Born in Hampstead, north London, and after just five hours pilot training, William Walker went into action in June 1940 with the 616 Squadron at Leconfield, East Yorkshire.

In later life, Flt Lt Walker, pictured alongside, attended many events on behalf of “The Few”, including the 2012 Memorial Day at Capel-le-Ferne in Kent. On the side of a monument there, opened by the Queen Mother in 1993, is the poem Our Wall, which William Walker wrote.

        Here inscribed the names of friends we knew

        Young men with whom we often flew.

        Scrambled to many angels high,

        They knew that they or friends might die.

        Many were very scarcely trained,

        And many badly burnt or maimed.

        Behind each name a story lies

        Of bravery in summer skies;

        Though many brave unwritten tales

        Were simply told in vapour trails.

        Many now lie in sacred graves

        And many rest beneath the waves.

        Outnumbered every day they flew,

        Remembered here as just ‘The Few’.

 

Such a simple yet touching little poem. And a wonderful photograph of the old boy up there.
 
Monday, October 22
Poetic justice

  “DOES heinous rhyme with penis or anus? Tweet your one-word answer to @piersmorgan.”
A tweet by @sixthformpoet to his legionnaires, his finger soldiers, his battalions of followers.

The above tweet was shared by columnist James Rhodes in the Telegraph, where he wrote about ‘Seven steps to Twitter Nirvana’. I guess the point of the article was to avoid the ever present threat of a Twitter Ambush and turn it into a First Aid Post.

Speaking as someone who does not tweet but nevertheless delights in the doolallyness of the medium, I read on:

The first step is to ‘Always be nice’. And if you can’t be nice then at least be nasty in a way that is supremely funny i.e. see @sixthformpoet, above.

Now c’mon: the idea of Piers Morgan suddenly receiving out of the blue endless tweets with just “penis” or “anus” thereon is rather startling. Particularly so as penis and Piers go together like cock and Cockerel.

In fact I though the tweet so comic I took a quick peep @sixthformpoet...

Here are just a handful that tickled my old funny bone:

Tweetie Pie Corner
  “I’m a man trapped outside a woman’s body.”

“I feel sorry for David Cameron. He’s basically David Cameron, trapped in David Cameron’s body.”

“A Freudian Slip is when you say one thing, but mean amother.”

“Weird. I just killed a mouse. It was a copycat murder.”

“My friend said he’d give me £100 if I did a bungee jump. I’m not falling for that.”

Essentially, and excepting the Piers Morgan tweet, they are simply one-liners, but nevertheless, amusing ... then I stumbled upon this tweet...

Tomato@edsbrother: “This is the best photo I’ve ever seen...”
                                                                                                              

The first thing that came to mind was ‘Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see’. I mean, is it really genuine? It certainly looks real, especially with that camera flash reflection on the screen.

Whatever: fake or fortuitous, funny beyond.

The blind swordsman

“I was shaking and I thought ‘I’m going to have another stroke any second and this one is going to kill me. I’m being killed. I’m being killed.’.”
The unbelievable tale of blind stroke victim Colin Farmer, 61, a retired company director, who was shot with a 50,000-volt Taser by police who mistook his white stick for a Samurai sword as he walked to meet friends in Chorley, Lancashire.

For the record, the police were on the lookout following reports of a man wandering about the town wielding a Samurai sword. But still.

Then this letter appeared in yesterday’s Sunday Times:

Offensive weapon
So a policeman Tasered an elderly blind man with a white stick because he thought the man was carrying a Samurai sword. Surely they were filming the next “should have gone to Specsavers” advertisement.
Robert Houghton, Jugon-les-Lacs, France

Finally, this letter in the Daily Mail :

Did you ever see such a thing in your life?
The police want to update to two-shot Tasers. When they get treble-shot Tasers, the three blind mice had better look out.
M J Stayton, Banbury, Oxon
 

Sunday, October 21
It’s a bum wrap

“IT IS a bit startling to achieve global recognition (if that’s the right word) before the age of 30, on account of your sister, your brother-in-law and your bottom. One day, I might be able to make sense of this...”
             
                                                           ...Pippa Middleton, 29, admits she struggles to comprehend her celebrity status and attention on her figure. She continues: “In the meantime I think it’s fair to say that it has its upside and its downside. I certainly have opportunities many can only dream of ─ but in most ways I’m a typical girl in her 20s trying to forge a career and represent herself in what can sometimes seem rather strange circumstances.”

Pippa rightly takes advantage of the upside and makes her comments in Celebrate: A Year of British Festivities for Families and Friends, a party-planning guide based on her experience with her family’s business, Party Pieces.

It was reported that the deal for the book, with publisher Michael Joseph, was worth £400,000. It includes seasonal recipes, as well as recollections of her childhood, including Bonfire Night and playing conkers.

“We all used to get really competitive,” she writes. “The trick was to paint clear nail varnish on the conkers to make them very tough and less likely to break ─ outrageous cheating of course!

Nail varnish, eh? That’s a new one on me. That girl will go far.

But I do sympathise with Pippa and her attempts to make sense of her fame. As a species we truly are in thrall to this celebrity nonsense.

I think I’ve said it before, but those who stand and stare can’t help but notice what happens when we, the great unwashed, the common or garden plebs, come face to face with celebrity: we nod or shake our heads at everything a famous person does or says (fingers crossed in the right place), and a sleb only has to say something vaguely amusing and we slap our thighs in eee-hah! fashion and fall about in a heap of helpless mirth.

Worst of all, celebrities buy into this and begin to believe that they really have been blessed with a wit and a wisdom that we lesser mortals can only dream of.

It’s desperately doolally and wonderfully funny. Pippa though does seem to have recognised the ambush, and is quite naturally cashing in on her fame.

Tat looks for a home ― and finds it in tattoo

“I know where the wrinkly bits are. You wouldn’t at my age have a tattoo on your tummy because it might get hidden. Bits like shoulders stay flat. They don’t wrinkle and they don’t get larger.” Felicity Kendall, 66, English actress and self-confessed “rock chick”, having now abandoned Botox, is having a turtle tattooed on her shoulder.

A turtle, that is, to add to the moon and two feathers (symbolising her elder son and grandchildren) tattooed on her calf; and a dainty star on her foot symbolising her younger son. I also note that Samantha Cameron has a dolphin on her ankle, and Helen Mirren, pictured here, has a symbol on her thumb...
                                                                                                              

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              ...trouble is it draws attention to her hand, which is a dead giveaway of a woman’s age, whatever a Botoxed face is saying. Oh dear, it’s a laugh a minute out there.

I read about Felicity’s new tattoo in the Telegraph, so it was fascinating to read the comments from typical middle-Britain. On the recommended scale, and at the time of reading, the top comment had attracted 104 ticks.

But first, here are some recommended ticks along the way...

Zenuano (33 ticks): “I love tattoos on women. They save me a lot of time in my constant quest for a quick shag.”
[My spell-check for Zenuano suggested Genuine. Quite how I am unsure. But how delightfully ironic.]

Malcolmbrhc (35): Tattooed women equals never have sex with one, you don’t know where they’ve been.

Mrmchenry (50): I have yet to see a tattoo that enhanced the wearer. Looks more like self-abuse ─ a cry for help. And then there are these young girls with a ring in the middle of their nose which looks like they have a permanent snot drip.

Rastusctastey (66): A tattoo ─ or as I prefer to call it, body graffiti ─ on a beautiful woman is desecration or philistine vandalism ─ rather like wind turbines in a formerly undefiled landscape.

Crafford (104 ticks): Tattoos are a sign of boredom ─ which, in turn, is a sign of inferior intellect ─ confirmed by the fact that the person would display the tattoo for all and sundry to see. What idiots.

The comment that I would have ticked a ‘recommend’ box, if I had been so inclined, would have been the one about “wind turbines in a formerly undefiled landscape”. Neat turn of phrase ― and to the point.

Human tachograph

Look, the human body is a living, breathing, walking tachograph, a precise record of where we have been, where we are right now, and critically where we are heading.

My take on the tattoo is that it’s a classic sign of a lack of self-esteem, whether on a man or a woman. Now a lack of self-esteem does not make an individual a bad person; indeed one of the kindest and most generous people I know is sadly lacking in self-esteem.

Put it like this: think of the most self-assured and agreeable woman you know ... I bet you she’ll be rather plain in the way she presents herself to the world. She will wear no obvious makeup; no jewellery, apart from perhaps wedding and engagement rings, which aren’t really decorative anyway; she will be dressed quite plainly, certainly not a follower of fashion; she will not be sporting a tattoo; and she definitely, positively won’t be heard to utter an obscenity.

Oh, and she will ooze self-confidence and possess an abundance of self-esteem.

So who would have thought that Felicity Kendal, Helen Mirren and Samantha Cameron ─ all talented and very clever women ─ would be so lacking in self-esteem that they need body decoration to face the world.

I tell you, it’s a fascinating world out there.
 

Saturday, October 20
Big boys’ toys

ACCORDING to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, va-va-voom is “the quality of being exciting, vigorous, or attractive”. Today, a brace of items to delight humanity, especially the male of the species, and both very va-va-voom:

                       Fly me to the Moon and let me play among the boobs ― oops! ― the stars

But first, a few dots need joining up...

The Haynes Owners’ Workshop Manuals (commonly known as simply Haynes Manuals) is as delightful a British phenomenon as you will find. They are a series of practical manuals from the Haynes Publishing Group, aimed at both DIY enthusiasts and professional garage mechanics.

The series primarily focuses upon the maintenance and repair of cars and motorcycles, covering a wide range of makes and models (300 models of car and 130 models of motorcycle), but it also includes manuals in the same style for domestic appliances, personal computers, digital photography, model railways, men and women, sex and babies. The last four are of the tongue-in-cheek variety, but have proved very popular.

Additionally, they have released manuals based on popular fictional series including Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends...
              
                                                       ...and Star Trek (The Klingon Bird of Prey Owners’ Workshop Manual  is due out next month – how agreeably silly is that – but sadly no sign of The Definitive Bird of Pray Manual  i.e. Seven of Nine).

The Haynes Manuals are named after John Haynes, 73...
                                                                                              

                                                                                                                                                                          ...in 1956, when just 16 and still at school, he wrote and published a book on building a ‘special’ based on the Austin 7. He wrote two further books while performing national service in the Royal Air Force. Haynes Publishing was founded in 1960 and the first manual was for the legendary Austin Healey ‘Frogeye’ Sprite.

So I was duly tickled beyond when I saw this image...

PERFECT LUNARCY
(Fly me to the workshop and let me play among the bits and pieces)

                                                                                                                                                                Pic: Haynes/Rex/Nasa

Apollo 15 astronaut Jim Irwin pilots the lunar rover

The above practical guide, in traditional Haynes Manual style, is being published to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the final Lunar Rover drive on the Moon on December 14, 1972. The Lunar Rover Manual will be available from all good bookshops and direct from Haynes priced £21.99.

I was tickled even further than beyond when I saw this image...

HELLO BOYS!
(Fly me to the bedroom and let me play among the bits and pieces)

                                                                                                                                       Pic: Wonderbra/Rex Features

A new Wonderbra advert allows you to undress model Adriana Cernanova  

Sadly no Haynes Manual, but by using an app called The Wonderbra Decoder (apparently), users can scan Adriana to reveal the Wonderbra behind her look and view a gallery of recommended Wonderbras for every occasion and different outfits, from daywear to special events.

In the interests of balance, the Wonderbra Decoder App is available now free from the App Store and Google Play.

Mind you, to my caveman eye, the wonderfully handsome Adriana looks much sexier in the left hand image ... confirming the old adage that the best pleasures are invariably found lurking in the mind.

Anyway, a whole bunch of images that really did make me smile and smile... All very va-va-voom.

PS: I’ve just done a spell-check on today’s bulletin: when it came to ‘Klingon’ it suggested ‘Clinton’. Clever spell-check.

 

Friday, October 19
What’s in a name?

JUST recently I spotted the following couple of letters in The Daily Telegraph...

It’s the Twort that counts in spelling a name

SIR – I used to collect variations on my name received by way of business letters: Tarte, Trout, Tworf, Twoet, Twork, Towart, Twart, Tworwt, Towort, Tuort, Thort, Taught, Tyort, Toort, Twant, Tarort, Torte, Towrt, Torge, Tworet, Tout, Toft, Twoort, Twot, Tworl, Twoer, Tnort, Tworte, Trautman, Tort, Pwart, Twarp, Pwort, Tought and my favourite, Mr Twunt...
Richard Twort, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Word games that help when spelling a name

SIR – When asked my name, I add “as in water”. Still, I am sometimes met with a blank look.
     I could say “pen” but, these days, would that be any clearer?
Andrew Fountain, Corby, Northamptonshire


Perusing Richard Twort’s letter, it is obvious that he hasn’t yet received a letter from Prime Minister David Cameron i.e. Dear Richard Twat ... a couple of years ago Cameron, in a live radio interview, was asked his views on Twitter: “The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it ─ too many twits might make a twat.” And yes, there was a bit of a fuss.

There again, it could it be that The Daily Telegraph  has acknowledged the sensitivity of its readers and removed from the list the rather obvious Twat.

As for Andrew Fountain’s efforts to clarify his name by adding “as in water” or “pen”, perhaps he should try: “As in ‘Three coins in a -’ ― and yes, you may make a wish if you so wish.” I can guarantee him that his relationship with the person on the other end of the conversation will get off to a smiley start.

Anyway, there then followed over the next week or so a whole raft of amusing letters on the subject of names. Here are my favourites, with the name of the author shown first…

Sid Brittin:
When I was doing national service, an officious corporal asked me my name. I told him, and he asked
“-en or -on?” When I said –in, I was put on a charge for insubordination.

Robert Book: Try reserving a table at a restaurant with my surname. It leads to many a complex dialogue.

Linda Fisher: I once rang a newspaper with a view to gaining a mention about an event that was to be held at a venue called The Quay. The conversation went like this:
     Reporter: Is that key as in door?
     Me: Quay as in harbour.
     Reporter: Could you spell that?
     Me: Q-U-A-Y.
     Reporter:
Kway
! I thought you said key.

When I was but a pup, I remember going on a Sunday school seaside outing to New Quay ─ spot it up there on the reception map. I had never been there before, indeed had never seen the place name. As the bus approached New Quay, I spotted a sign with the place name. I turned to one of the adults: “Is New Kway near New Key?”

Sylvia Waite (née Sherwood): As a single lass, I used to give my name adding: “Like the forest”, and things progressed smoothly. Now, when I give my married name, there is often an abrupt halt in the conversation.

Rosemary Webb: While revisiting childhood haunts on the Devon-Cornwall border, my brother booked his family into a Bed & Breakfast. On registration, he gave his name as: “Forrest, like trees but with two Rs,” whereupon his hostess wrote TRR before inquiring whether there were two Es as well.

David Guess: When ordering some goods, I was asked my name. I told the shopkeeper, and he replied: “Rumplestiltskin?”

John Greenwood: A colleague of mine, Charlotte Boucher, once ordered some tickets over the phone. She said: “It’s Boucher, as in Luncheon Voucher, but with a B.” The tickets duly arrived addressed to “Mrs Buncheon Voucher”.

Nicolas Broadhead: It has obviously never occurred to The Daily Telegraph  correspondents that when someone asks them to spell their name, that is actually what the person is requesting. I’m dyslexic and have difficulty spelling, so to be told that a name is spelt like something else is of little help.

Yes, a pause for thought, there ― meanwhile, heres something fishy...

Christine Pilcher: The midwife present at the birth of my first child must have considered the event to be a biological first. The identity bands were printed: “Baby Pilchard”.

John Gibson: My fairly common surname is always met with: “Is that with one B or two?” I have never seen the name spelt Gibbson.

Cerys Taylor: My address is Yew Tree Cottage. When requesting job application forms by telephone, if I didn’t spell it out, the form would often be addressed to Ewe Tree Cottage. If I spelt it out, it risked an unspoken response from the person at the other end: “She thinks I can’t spell. She’s no chance of getting even an interview.”

The above reminds me of the very first picture and comment I posted on Look You’s sister web site,
400 Smiles A Day, way back in 2007. It’s still there – but here it is repeated, alongside...

I did, I saw you, U, yew and ewe,
No matter what your  point of view.
(Poetic licence applied for.)

Albert Edward Short: When I was courting my wife, someone saw us together in the town. Seeing her later, he said: “Last night, I saw you with someone I know. I can’t quite remember his name. I know it’s short.”

R G Godwin: When in the RAF and booking out of camp as Rob Godwin, I was surprised when returning to be told there was no record of that name. “We have a Hobgoblin, though,” was the reply.

Peregrine Banbury, Little Hadham, Hertfordshire: My Christian name has been used as my entire name, with my surname as the address, as in Perry Green, Banbury. My village has sometimes been turned into Little Adam.

Anne McBride: When my mother-in law collected her dry cleaning, she was surprised to see that the name on her garment was Mrs Muckbride.

John Field: In the Seventies, a friend whose name was Steve Pratt got so fed up with being called Pratty that he changed his name by deed poll to Steve Smith. Since then he has been known as Pratty.

The above generated an XL smile. You just know that it makes absolute sense.

Max Bowker: My mother, Beryl, once received a letter addressed to Mr Burly Bonker.

Nick Pickford: On seeing my name written as “N. Pickford”, I was once asked whether the “N” stood for Neil or Nigel. “Neither” I replied. “That’s an unusual name” came the response.

Grantley Berkeley: “Berkeley as in Square” does not always work in clarifying my surname. For my Christian name, I say “Grant with L-E-Y on the end.”
     My brothers Wulstan (aka Willesden or Walthamstow) and Thurstan fare no better. When working with Thurstan in a factory in Nottinghamshire many years ago, in order to avoid the usual embarrassment, we introduced ourselves as Grant and Stan.
     “Grant and Stan?” replied the foreman. “What did your parents give you posh names like that for?”

Margaret Hancock: My husband had a colleague called George Clark, who was irate when people spelled his surname with an E on the end.
     On being assigned his personal parking space, he was enraged to find it adorned with the name “George Clarke”. He had a rant at the site management, saying that his name didn’t have an E on the end. He arrived the next morning to see his parking place bearing the name “Georg Clarke”.

Rex Last: I am at a loss when a call centre operative asks me: “And what is your last name?”

Sharron Enticknap: When asked, “Can you spell that?”, my answer, after 43 years, is: “Yes, I can.”

Frances Luczye Wyhowska: No comment.

Sue Smith: I cannot see what the problem is.

Bowling a maiden over

I’m not sure why, but latched onto the tail end of those wonderful little name tags, above, I’d saved this online comment ― having read it again, it is certainly worthy of its place in the gallery...

Grizzly: Rachel Heyhoe-Flint, the great England women’s cricket captain had no time for all this so-called “sexist” nonsense. She was more than happy to be described as a batsman.
     She also had a good sense of humour, shown when she told of the time when she had been mistakenly credited with answering a reporter who had asked if women cricketers wore any protective equipment similar to a man’s “box”.
     The reply given was: “Yes, it’s called a manhole cover
! 
 

Thursday, October 18
Yesterday, a free range Dick ~ Today, a free ranging Dick

I’M AWAKE just before five. I stretch out and switch on the bedside radio: Radio 2’s Alex Lester is just starting his listeners’ ‘What today has taught me’ spot...

The usual comic suspects are there: Jane in Mansfield, Sting in Tring, Belinda in Carlisle, Eric in Clapton ... then a ‘boringly named’ Terry Parker tells us this: “I’ve learnt over the past 24 hours that, apparently, I don’t listen to the wife ― at least I think that’s what she said.”

A quiet chuckle to ease my smile muscles into gear ... then Alex delights us with Joe Brown’s ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’... Wow! I’m lying there, enjoying Joe’s marvellous performance ... I should really have been listening to this last night, I’m thinking, just after ten...

Trouble is though, I never remember my dreams. Later, a quick YouTube search comes up with Joe and his ukulele performing the song at the end of a concert celebrating the life and music of Beatle George Harrison (back in 2002, at the Albert Hall).

And what a warming and joyous four-and-a-half-minute spot it is, especially so when the rose petals start raining down. Well worth a look. A link coming up at the bottom...

Every day a day at school

Later in the morning, I kick start the computer ... I look left, look right ― then straight ahead into Google ... I am confronted with this image, which baffles me completely...
                                                                                         

What on earth does it mean? Particularly so with that leek sticking up there? What possible Welsh connection can there be, I’m thinking? And what is it with that mysterious eye?

Later, I visit Telegraph Online ― and I eye this headline:
                                                                                             
The easy way to read Moby Dick

Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick is celebrated in a Google doodle today to mark its 161st anniversary. The epic 212,758-word masterpiece is now also available in a 12-word version

Of course, the eye belongs to the great white whale, invisible against the background ― clev-er. And the mysterious leek? The famous Gregory Peck film was shot down here in south-west Wales...
                                                                                                                                 

Moby Dick was published 161 years ago today in Britain ― it came out in America a month later on 18 October 1851 ― and is a book that is still considered one of the treasures of world literature.

The famous opening of Herman Melville’s masterpiece, “Call me Ishmael,” are the first three of those two-hundred-thousand-odd words in 38 chapters in a giant humpback of a book, which was on President Barack Obama’s recent reading list.

Moby Dick, which tells the story of sailor Ishmael’s part in Captain Ahab’s self-destructive and obsessive voyage on the whaleship Pequod, to hunt the great white whale, has been chosen four times on Desert Island Discs ― by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, J G Ballard, Penelope Lively and Patricia Highsmith.

In its own day, it was received by many critics as a deranged rant. Henry F. Chorley, chief critic of London’s The Athenaeum, called it “trash belonging to the worst school of Bedlam literature”.

New York-born Melville (1819-1891) used his travels in the Pacific in the 1840s as the basis for Moby Dick, published when he was 31. Here’s an example of the memorable prose:

“There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own.”

Right now though, the child within has to bow to the remarkable children’s board book from Cozy Classics, where brothers Jack and Holman Wang use needle felted figures to tell Moby Dick  in just 12 words:

          Sailor  ...  Boat  ...  Captain  ...  Leg  ...  Mad  ...  Sail  ...  Find  ...  Whale  ...  Chase  ...  Smash  ...  Sink  ...  Float

 

                                

Put that way, its hard to see what all the fuss is about.

Free range cock comes home to roost

Talking of sperm whales and “this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke”, yesterday, I hinted that the tale of a “sperm donor service aimed at matching women with anonymous celebrity dads” was an April Fool’s joke. Well, today, Mail Online:

            ITV forced to apologise after featuring celebrity sperm bank hoaxer on This Morning

This Morning  featured an interview earlier this week with self-styled businessman called Dan Richards who said his firm, Fame Daddy, would match up women with donors including professional sportsmen and millionaire musicians.

However, it has since been revealed that the entire scheme was actually an elaborate hoax. This Morning  host Phillip Schofield told viewers that an investigation has now been launched into the story.

“It now appears that the man claiming to run a website for celebrity sperm donation was an actor working for a TV production company who clearly went to great lengths to pull the wool over the eyes of the programme and our audience.

“They also managed to convince other media, appearing on radio and in newspapers. We are very sorry that This Morning  and our viewers were deliberately misled by this stunt.”

As well as Fame Daddy being featured on This Morning, several newspapers were taken in by the stunt, including The Telegraph  and The Sun.

Hm, although I latched onto the story in The Telegraph, I
m not sure theyd been taken in by it; I had  noticed that they did not allow any comments on the story, which was unusual.

This only happens when it’s a delicate story where they don’t want trolls and the like spouting off ― or perhaps when they feel the story doesn’t quite ring true.

It’s a shame because, although I treated it with tongue-firmly-in-cheek ― actually my take on it stands up quite well, being that it is a hoax ― but it would have underlined my conviction of the doolallyness of our modern world.

♫♫♫  In the meantime, here’s the link to Joe Brown’s marvellous ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’:

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


Wednesday, October 17
It may be the cock that crows, but it is the hen that lays the eggs.”
                                                                                                                                                Margaret Thatcher, 87, ex-prime minister of this Parish

                                                  Celebrity sperm donor service gears up for launch

I quickly checked the date ― no, not April Fool’s Day. This extraordinary piece, spotted in the Telegraph:

A sperm donor service aimed at matching women with anonymous celebrity dads ― such as rock stars, famous athletes and disc jockeys who fix things and raise a lot of money for charities along the way ― will launch next year, its owners have claimed

Okay, I added the bit about the DJ who Fixes Things, just to register at the outset the utter doolallyness of this delightful up cock of our times.

Whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad. Quite. Anyway, back at Tossers’ Corner ― but first, two images that came to mind, along with a timely warning for hens, everywhere...

 

   Free range cock meets battery hen
  
WARNING:  Like the curate’s sperm, this sample is likely to be
     good in parts only, and its cryptic genetic coding could seriously
     ambush your child’s walk through time
 

Come to Daddy

Fame Daddy will offer would-be-mothers “top quality celebrity surrogate fathers” when it launches next February, according to Dan Richards, its chief executive.

Prices will start at £15,000 for a premium sperm service from the clinic.

The company’s website, which launched last week, claims that women can pick from a range of celebrated high-achievers when picking a prospective father for their offspring.

The identities of each high-flying father will be kept secret as the donors have been guaranteed anonymity. The men will also be required to sign a legal waiver of their rights to access the child.

However, would-be mothers using the Fame Daddy clinic will be able to identify their area of achievement and other personal attributes: the website lists a range of “sample profiles” of typical sperm donors, including an Oscar-winning actor, a member of the House of Lords and an ex-Premiership footballer...

[I wonder how many ladies reading this have, at this point, involuntary but gently crossed their legs? Whatever...]

Last night Mr Richards admitted that the clinic has no real sperm samples “as of yet”. He said that the online descriptions are examples of the type of clientele that Fame Daddy “intends to attract”.

However he said that the site’s register of possible donors already includes a retired ATP tennis pro, a retired English cricketer and a multi-platinum recording artist.

Mr Richards said: “We currently have about 40 people on our register of interested donors. Of course, until we have premises we cannot store sperm and therefore we as of yet have no actual samples. I am confident most of these will donate once we are operational.

"Our vision is to help women give their children the very best chance in life. To be able to harvest potential from the global gene pool, rather than from the more limited selection of the men she comes into direct contact with, is a major evolutionary leap for women.

"Whether it is talent on the stage or pitch, having a world beating voice, or just being very beautiful, Fame Daddy will have the perfect celebrity surrogate daddy."

Oh dear. Imagine, if this service had been available 10 years or more ago, we could now have little blonde children, sucking on toy cigars, running around uttering things like “Now then, now then. How’s about that?”.

I shall go and lie down in a darkened room for a while ― but before I go, and just to balance Maggie’s memorable quote at the top:

“I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called Mother and Child Reunion. It's chicken and eggs.”
                                     
Paul Simon, 71, singer of Newark Parish in New Jersey

 

Tuesday, October 16
                                      Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle,
                                      Felix jumped over the moon...

“READING about the space skydiver, I thought of my long dead Yorkshire mother-in-law whose comment would have been: ‘Some folk will do owt rather than work.’.”
A letter in the Daily Mail  from Norman Lees, Corbridge, Northumberland.

“Many a true word spoken in jest” is the comment that came to mind when I read that amusing letter.

Whatever, the Felix Baumgartner tales keep coming. It seems that as a boy he could hardly go past a tree without wanting to climb it. His childhood photos are littered with him perched at the top of one.

“I wanted to climb everything,” he says. “I loved to get to the top of a building, a house, a tree, whatever. I loved watching the world from above. The air is my element. I like to be up there as much as I can.”

And then, of course, once up there, he had to get down again...

Baumgartner has jumped from a plane and flown across the Channel with wings strapped to his back. He’s jumped off the 101-storey Taipei Tower in Taiwan, and of course the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, pictured alongside ― and what a shot that is. It gives an idea of the size of the statue.

Nothing in Baumgartner’s family background suggests he would become the world’s most adventurous daredevil.

He was born in the beautiful Alpine city of Salzburg. Baumgartner’s father, a carpenter also called Felix (that’s where the love of trees comes from I guess) and mother, Eva, a farmer, didn’t do any sport at all — not even skiing in the surrounding mountains.

Time for a few more eye-catching online comments...

Thomas Chisholm: “The effects of gravity can be grave.”
Didn’t that used to be part of a safety advert?

Indeed it did, Thomas: it was to do with wearing protective head gear and shoes at work. Here’s just a taste...

Felix Baumgartner, who goes by the code name Base 502, prepares to
 jump from the arm of the Christ the Redeemer statue on the Corcovado
mountain, overlooking Rio, for the world’s lowest ever Base jump!                                                                                     Photo: Reuters

           Sir Isaac Newton told us why
           An apple falls down from the sky,
           And from this fact, it’s very plain,
           All other objects do the same.
           A brick, a bolt, a bar, a cup
           Invariably fall down, not up,
           And every common working tool
           Is governed by the self-same rule......

           It’s better to be sure than dead,
           So get a hat and keep your head.
           Don’t think to go without is brave;
           The effects of gravity can be grave….

And Zagreus added this: You can’t rely on gravity ― it will always let you down. (But well done Felix!)

Oldbrew: “I’m retired from the daredevil business,” said Felix afterwards. So his passport won’t say supersonic skydiver.

Given his name of Felix, along with the string of beautiful women trailing in his wake, perhaps his passport should say Supersonic pussycat.

Philmill: If, when he bunny-hopped off the capsule, he had simply floated off into space, it would simultaneously have been the funniest thing I’d ever seen and the most heartbreakingly sad thing as well.

Now isn’t that the truth.

Trunk call

Given Felix’s attraction to trees, it is 25 years since the Great Storm of 1987. On the night of October 15 it is estimated that 15 million trees were brought down across southern Britain, the south east of England particularly badly hit. We escaped relatively lightly here in west Wales.

The media has been looking back at that storm, with loads of images of flattened trees, obviously. I have to say, I liked this...
                 

                                                                                                         ...do you suppose that the telephone was actually working, and the fellow really is making a call? A trunk call, perhaps? (No proper mobiles back then, remember.) Or did a snapper invite a passing chap to go in and pretend to make a call?

Whatever, it’s a memorable shot, and gets my vote.

 

Monday, October 15
Falling from a great height


LAST night I nervously watched that magnificent man without a flying machine, Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian daredevil, achieve one of the most remarkable feats of modern human endeavour as he became the first man to break the sound barrier after a 24-mile skydive from the edge of space.

Today, the trials and tribulations of the jump have emerged, along with the images ... these from Mail Online...

ZOOOOOOOM ...... BOOM BOOM!

For more than four nerve-racking minutes, Felix Baumgartner was a tiny speck against a dark sky, hurtling towards the Earth at 834mph. Then his parachute opened and, five minutes later, 'Fearless Felix' had completed the highest and fastest skydive in history (right).
In doing so, the 43-year-old Austrian became the first freefall diver to break the sound barrier, as well as breaking the record
for the highest manned balloon ascent.

Enter, stage overhead

The former military parachutist rose in a purpose-built capsule beneath a giant helium balloon to a height of more than 128,000ft – almost four times the height of a cruising passenger airliner.

It was a remarkable thing to watch live. I really felt quite nervous and apprehensive for the fellow, especially when he began to spin and tumble out of control.

It reminded me of the Apollo moon landings ― well, not the actual landings because we were only ever able to listen as there were no live pictures ― but when the lunar modules took off there was always a camera on the moon surface to capture live the lift-off and ascent.

One always felt hugely nervous: were the engines going to fire? And when they did would the modules climb as they were supposed to or career off to one side and crash?

Watching Baumgartner was much like that feeling.

The things I remember are these...

Unsurprisingly, he came across as quite nervous in the capsule as he ran through the final checks leading to the jump; indeed we learnt today that he considered aborting the mission at that point when his visor began to fog up because of the coldness of his breath ― then after a quick salute to a watching world, our hero jumped from the capsule and plummeted toward earth...

 

His remarkable feat came exactly 65 years to the day ― spooky or what? ― after Chuck Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier, but in a jet aircraft.

In a press conference after the jump, he said “When I was standing there on top of the world, so humble, you are not thinking about breaking records. I was thinking about coming back alive. You do not want to die in front of your parents, my girlfriend, and all these people ... I thought: ‘Please God, don’t let me down.’.”

[Perhaps quietly he thought: “Please God, let me down ― and don’t let me down.”] 

He said that he considered aborting the mission twice. When in the capsule, and then at the beginning of the descent when he went into an uncontrollable spin. Baumgartner had a button which would activate a parachute which would arrest his spin but would mean that he could break no speed records.

The other thing I remember was Baumgartner’s incredibly gentle landing ― and looking so casual about it. Then, just the one person initially approached him ― clearly a photographer ― and I marvelled at how the snapper resisted the temptation to shake his hands or give him a quick hug, but kept his discipline to concentrate on the importance of capturing the moment for posterity.

But did the Austrian generate a boom-boom ― a sonic boom ― as he went through the sound barrier? A quick Google leaves that question very much up in the air. For now, anyway.

There’s a link below to a Guardian  Q&A about the Austrian adventurer and his jump, including some quite dramatic footage taken from a camera mounted on his spacesuit and which shows the terrifying moments he spun out of control.

Finally, I have to quote this brief online exchange, very comical...

Terry101: Get the spelling right you hopeless idiots, it’s “Australian”, not “Austrian”.

sramsey: An Aussie would have done it in shorts.

How true. Oh, and he would have been swigging from a can of lager as he came in to land. No worries, mate. Fosters. Good call.

Crash landing

When I thought of the headline for this particular smile of the day, Falling from a great height, I had not seen the ironic MATT  cartoon in The Daily Telegraph ― but how about this, then, guys and gals?
                                                                                                                                              
Sometimes, there is just nothing to add. Except this link...
!
                                                                                               
Link to Guardian Q&A + a quick spin into the unknown with Felix

 

Sunday, October 14
Final Word


THIS from today’s Sunday Times'  ‘View of Life, the Universe and Everything’ Comment column, a tail-gunner piece which is there to raise a smile as well as make us think, to a degree...

The third degree

There was a time when Oxford and Cambridge universities asked only two questions of aspiring students: did you go to a leading public school and, if so, can you bowl a decent leg break, as we’re a bit short on the college team this year? How times have changed.

Oxford has just released some examples of the questions today’s applicants might face. Why are strawberries and ladybirds red? Why do human beings have two eyes? What would history be like if seen only through the prism of sport? Does poetry have to be difficult? (Extra marks are awarded, presumably, for answering that one in rhyming couplets.)

Why does Oxbridge do this sort of thing? Because the interview has now become the most important part of a university application. Here is a maths question that will explain it all:

“If 50% of applicants to Oxford University have four A*s at A-level, and the remaining 50% also have 4 A*s at A-level, how can you tell the difference between them?” It’s a trick of course. This question has no obvious answer.

This is as good a ‘smile of the day’ contribution as I am ever likely to paste in my scrapbook. Not only does it make me smile, obviously, but it activates my ‘every day a day at school’ Q-Spot.

I couldn’t resist Googling said questions ― and they are, unsurprisingly, well served online. But as always, its the comic observations that make it in here. In response to the Why are strawberries and ladybirds red?, I enjoyed these...

Onlooker: Wow. I don’t know. But so are cherries and the Turkish flag. Have you noticed? Coincidence? Synchronicity? It proves Darwin was wrong, though, doesn’t it? This was intelligent design.

Prometheus: That’s a tough one ... and I have always wondered why blueberries are blue.

Coolioca: I dunno, but would you like to buy some lemonade??

And, What would history be like if seen through the prism of sport?

Now that is a philosophical teaser. But here’s what I did notice during the Olympics and Paralympics: normally, the only people who get to hear their national anthems are those who win gold; yet when team sports are played ─ say football, hockey, that sort of thing ─ then every competing team gets to hear its own national anthem before getting stuck into each other.

Just as happens with traditional football or rugby internationals outside of the Olympics arena.

Imagine how much better it would be if only the winners got to sing their anthem at the end of the game. And the All Blacks can only do their increasingly theatrical and annoying haka after they have won ― which would, sadly, be at the end of pretty much every game, obviously. Now wouldn’t that add something extra to the occasion?

Finally, Does poetry have to be difficult? Excellent question ― indeed, ponder the limerick. This, compliments of Wikipedia:

A limerick is a kind of a witty, humorous, or nonsense poem, especially one in five-line anapaestic or amphibrachic meter with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA), which is sometimes obscene with humorous intent. The form can be found in England as of the early years of the 18th century. It was popularized by Edward Lear in the 19th century, although he did not use the term.

The following limerick is of unknown origin:
                                                                      The limerick packs laughs anatomical,
                                                                      In space that is quite economical.
                                                                      But the good ones I’ve seen,
                                                                      So seldom are clean,
                                                                      And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

True, but what about this ― mind you, I don’t think it’s either anapaestic or antiseptic, but it gave me an unexpected smile:
          There was a young lady from Bude,
          Who went for a swim in a lake.
          A man in a punt,
          Stuck an oar in her ear,
          And said you can’t swim ‘ere it’s dangerous.

PS: The limerick has the strict rhyme scheme AABBA ― which suggests it is marginally more entertaining than ABBA.

 

Saturday, October 13
Geronimooooo...
!

PICTURES have been my thing this week. And today is no exception.

It’s the Mail Online  yet again: the headline link coming up beckoned me in ... to peruse some marvellous sepia-toned photographs from a 100 years ago and more...

Sweeping landscapes and sepia stares: Inside the rare book depicting the customs and ceremonies of Native Americans that fetched a FORTUNE at auction

The Edward S. Curtis masterpiece, North American Indian, is widely considered to be the most lavish and elegantly produced series of photography books ever made ─ and now it has become one of the highest selling works at auction.

The Swan Auction Galleries in New York sold the 40 volume series for an impressive $1,440,000, making it the most expensive item ever sold at the 70-year-old house ─ and a glimpse at the stunning photographs show just why it was so desirable.

In an astounding unrivalled feat, Curtis travelled for more than 30 years across the United States, Alaska and Canada to capture tribes including the Apache, the Teton Sioux, the Kato and the Tewa, producing more than 40,000 photographs.

With intimate detail, the photographs chronicled the customs, manners, rituals, songs, languages, and ceremonies of more than 80 tribes, setting them against the stunning landscapes of North America.

Here’s my favourite from the Mail gallery...

Warrior


Pictured in 1905, Geronimo, 76, four years before his death, was a prominent leader of the Bedonkohe Apache tribe in New Mexico. He fought against Mexico and the U.S. as they expanded into Apache lands before he surrendered to the US in 1886 and became a prisoner of war.

What the above proves is this: you can visit the most exciting and glamorous locations in the world, have the best equipment that money can buy, which will of course help capture images of exquisite sharpness and detail ― but only one thing matters: content, content, content...

When you turn the page of a newspaper, magazine, or indeed click on an online picture gallery, what draws you in is not the technical brilliance of the photograph, but the eye-catching nature of the picture.

Going back to Geronimo: what a characterful image it is. If ever a picture paints a thousand words, here it is. Quite wonderful, a portrait of a life clearly lived to its fullest.

Every day a day at school spot

At the top I use the expression “Geronimooooo...!” Where does this come from? This Q&A session from The Phrase Finder:

Can anyone tell me why paratroopers shout Geronimo!? I’ve been looking and looking for the origin, and I’m about to die of curiosity!
AM

GERONIMO - From the “Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (Second Edition, HarperCollins, 1977) by William and Mary Morris:

From the earliest wars in recorded history, men have plunged into battle shouting battle cries. Indeed, our common word ‘slogan’ was originally the Gaelic ‘sluggh-ghairm’, meaning the call to battle used by Scottish Highlanders and Irish clan.

One of the most interesting of these cries is that used by the U.S. airborne paratroopers: “Geronimo!

When we speculated in print on why our soldiers use the name of a dead Apache chieftain for their slogan, several alumni of airborne regiments reported stories of its origin.

A plausible one came from Arthur A. Manion: “At Fort Sill, Oklahoma,” he wrote, “a series of rather steep hills, called, I believe, Medicine Bluffs, was pointed out to all new arrivals. It was said that one day Geronimo, with the army in hot pursuit, made a leap on horseback down an almost vertical cliff ― a feat that the posse could not duplicate.

“The legend continues that in the midst of this jump to freedom he gave out the bloodcurdling cry of ‘Geronimooooo!’ Hence the practice adopted by our paratroopers. I hope this helps. It’s at least colourful, if not authentic.”

Another correspondent, who once lived at Fort Sill, added the information that the bluff from which Geronimo made his daring leap “is a cliff overlooking a small river”. So we know that Geronimo and his steed had water, rather than desert floor, to break their fall.

Now, this is indeed an interesting tale and one that may very well be the real inspiration, for the paratroopers were trained at Forts Bragg and Campbell. Why, then, did they reach to Fort Sill for inspiration for their battle cry?

R. Collier of Milwaukee offered a less glamorous but probably more accurate account of the origin of the call. “In the early days of the 82nd Airborne,” he wrote, “the men used to go to the nearby movie in Lafayetteville. During the week scheduled for the division’s initial jumps, they saw a movie named ‘Geronimo’. (If that wasn’t the title, at least the Indian chief played a leading part.)

“Anyway, one guy hollered the name and one of those things no one can explain happened. The whole division took it up and from them it spread to the later-activated airborne forces.”

Here’s the link to Mail Online’s  North American Indian gallery...
  
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2215985/Sweeping-landscapes-sepia-stares-Inside-rare-book-depicting-customs-ceremonies-Native-Americans-fetched-FORTUNE-auction.html#ixzz28zy1Pjax
 

Friday, October 12
The Sex Olympics

“YOU can lie to your relatives at Christmas dinner and tell them everything on the home front is just peachy. But you cannot lie to your vagina.” Olivia Wilde, 28, American actress, suggests that she lives in interesting times.

“Sure you won’t have a bit more stuffing, dear?” Sorry, should have resisted something quite so spicy and sage after reading about the Wilde child in Mail Online. To move quickly onto the next course:

Olivia performed her own take on the Vagina Monologues in New York the other night, and revealed that her body had told her that her marriage was over.

And the actress wishes she’d listened to it as her long-term relationship with Italian prince Tao Ruspoli, 36, filmmaker and musician, became sexless.

After her 2011 divorce, Wilde was single but, for the past nine months, she’s been dating Jason Sudeikis, 37, American actor and comedian.

The actress then went on to say that she and the comedian “have sex like Kenyan marathon runners”.

Sex like Kenyan marathon runners, eh? Goodness, the sex Olympics are here. “Goodness,” as Mae West would undoubtedly remind me, “has nothing to do with it.”

Speaking as someone who’s strictly a hop, step and jump man, what I want to know is this: who the hell is standing next to the bed and handing out refreshments as they move round the course? Even more importantly, who rings the bell to signify the final lap?

Oh, and after it’s all over, do they do the Mobot or the Lightning Bolt?
                                                                                                                        

 

Perhaps they do the Mobolt Marathon.

Incidentally, I’m not surprised Sudeikis is a marathon man when it comes to happenings between the sheets; after all, his name suggests that he takes as long to perform his duties as it takes me to complete a Sudoku puzzle.

I also read that Olivia Wilde has mixed-race parents: Her father’s a sprint man ― but her mother prefers the marathon. Boom-boom!

A pee for your thoughts

“Rod is so mean, he even hates to take a pee because it means he is giving something away.” Actress Britt Ekland, now 70 would you believe, on former partner, Rod Stewart.

Stewart is well known for his liaisons with women, particularly those of the blonde variety, indeed he has eight children with five of them.

In reference to his many and expensive divorces – no wonder he’s reputedly mean – Rod was once quoted as saying: “Instead of getting married again, I’m going to find a woman I don’t like and just give her a house.” Ho, ho, ho!

Meanwhile, back with the main course and the stuffing...

“If you stick your wife in an oven, she will probably be tasty, but is that any reason to eat your wife?”
What singer Morrissey, 53, English singer and vegetarian, nearly said when he attacked meat-eaters.

Rod would probably say, yes. However, what Morrissey actually used as an example was his grandmother. Doolallyness at its most delightful.

Incidentally, until the other day I thought he was known as Morrissey because he was once a Morris dancer. D’oh! But I’m just a simple country boy, remember.

 

Thursday, October 11
Picture me this


OVER the past couple of days my 42 smile muscles (42 being The Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything) were activated by a series of pictures. Well blow me, here I am, again.

Mail Online  is noted for the quality of its picture galleries, and today was no exception. So I came upon a gallery featuring some delightful pictures that will be on display later this month when 20 of the world’s greatest wildlife photographers gather in London and reveal the secrets of their art.

Hosted by zoologist and conservationist Mark Carwardine and wildlife expert and TV presenter Chris Packham, WildPhotos ― the UK’s largest wildlife photography show ― takes place at the Royal Geographical Society on  October 19 and 20.

The two-day event is packed with inspirational talks and sessions, I read in the Mail, giving visitors a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most spectacular wildlife images ― including winners of the prestigious Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

Anyway, here’s my favourite picture from the Mail Online  gallery...

♫♫♫  Sing something soulful  ♫♫♫
 

Take my breath away: A wren male fills the spring air with early morning song   (Mark Hamblin/WildPhotos 2012)

It’s the bird’s breath on the cold morning air that undoubtedly gives it that something Xtra. You can see the notes in its breath. You can hear it sing. Fabulous picture.

There are undoubtedly more spectacular and eye-catching pictures on show, but I liked the little wren because, let’s be honest, given the simplicity of the image, I could have taken this (with a gentle tailwind and oodles and oodles of luck taken as a given, obviously), especially so as I am surrounded by friendly wee songbirds along my morning walk. 

The point being, with most of the other photographs on show I would have had to travel to exotic places, go underwater, the need for quality equipment ― and more than anything, patience, patience and more patience.

It goes without saying that I was nowhere near the front of the queue marked ‘Patience’ at the moment of conception. But, as I say, any of us could have taken the picture of the wren just by being in the right place at the right time ― and being alert to the world about us, obviously.

And that’s to take nothing at all away from the photographer, Mark Hamblin

Here’s a link to the Mail’s  picture gallery...

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2215710/WildPhotos-exhibition-Otter-eating-fish-forms-amazing-gallery-wildlife-images-taken-best-nature-photographers-world.html#ixzz28zycary9


Wednesday, October 10
A multi-story parked car

YESTERDAY, what caught my eye was the image of the horse as created by the Ohio State University marching band.

Today, it was this extraordinary image of a parked car...

                                                      


A vehicle is parked on a balcony of an apartment block in Kiev, Ukraine. How or why it got there is a mystery, but it would take some nifty handling to get into such a tight spot. And you wouldn’t want to be taking part in a modern version of The Kiev Job  and needing to make a quick getaway.

My initial reaction was that you would have needed a crane in the middle of the night to get it up there without hordes of people with cameras filming your every move and posting it on YouTube ... and obviously it would have to be some sort of publicity stunt.

But then when you look closer at the car, something just doesn’t look right ― in particular that ‘ridge’ which runs along the bottom of the body, between the wheels, which appears somewhat bent...

My guess is that it’s an inflatable car. Good bloody joke though.

While on the subject of cars, this letter from The Sunday Times  motoring section, to do with personalised registration number plates, made me smile:

Name and shame

Like Geoff Kirkham (“Letter of the law”), I was pulled over by a traffic officer and given a fixed penalty for illegal spacing of the characters of my number plate. Okay, fair cop ― I had squeezed up the gap between the letters and the number to make HAY 7N look a bit more like my first name ― HAYDN ― so I paid the fine and put it down to experience.
     I was later surprised to receive a letter from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), which had become aware of my brush with the law and wished to advise me that, contrary to my previously held belief that I had bought the plate, I had, in fact, purchased only a right to display it. The ownership remained with the agency, and it said it would not hesitate to evoke my right to display it if I didn’t keep my nose clean. Ouch.
                                                                 Haydn Roberts, Wrexham

Now I’ve never purchased the right to display a personalised plate, but I bet that many of those who have were taken rather by surprise when they read the above tale.

This in turn takes me to another letter from the same column:

On reflection

The DVLA may not have issued the number plate SEX, but it has issued X92, which looks pretty innocuous until you read it in your rear-view mirror (“Lust revenue”, Letters, last week).
                                                                                                                  Vic Brown, Morpeth, Northumberland

If you write X92 on a piece of paper ― be sure to write it as printed ― it is indeed surprisingly smiley. The things people catch sight of in the mirror, eh?

 

Tuesday, October 9
Galloping into the memory


AMERICA is famous for its university marching bands. And very entertaining they are too.

Today though I’ve watched a spectacle which is a step up from your run of the mill “By the left, quick march: left right left right...”.

The Ohio State University marching band, all 225 members, shows off its moves recreating images from video games such as Space Invaders, Pokémon, Tetris, Zelda, Halo, among others.

Now all those games mean absolutely nothing to me, but I was attracted by this still image of the band doing its stuff...
           

                                                                                                                   ...I couldn’t resist clicking on the image ... now the Chinese and Koreans are brilliant at this sort of stuff, but I’m not sure whether they also make swinging music while performing.

The show took place during the half-time break in a university American football game between Ohio and Nebraska in June of this year. However, it has only just been posted on YouTube, and the ever growing numbers viewing it are marching in step with the band it seems.

It is worth watching just to witness the horse taking shape ― but even more extraordinary is to see the horse suddenly do a quick gallop. Exquisite and quite wonderful to watch.

The show lasts some 10 minutes, but there are several edited versions on YouTube. There’s a link, below, to a three minute effort ― skip the ad, which, the last time I looked, is nearly as long as the video clip itself ― and the clip finishes with the horse routine.

It really is worth a quick view...
                                                  
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VS6FmPvRHOA&feature=watch_response

Monday, October 8
BORIS IS IN THE BUILDING
!

ELVIS may have famously “just left the building” ─ but the above instantly grabbed my attention.

The Mail Online  headline continued...

Extraordinary scenes as media scrum and hoards of fans greet the Mayor of London’s arrival at the Tory party conference

Boris Johnson today brought the Tory party conference to a standstill as he arrived in Birmingham to the sort of reception usually reserved for pop stars.

The Mayor of London’s celebrity status eclipses even that of Prime Minister David Cameron, and TV crews and photographers are out in force to capture his every move.

To chants of “Boris! Boris!” he battled into the conference centre ahead of a rally tonight whose sole purpose is to celebrate the cult of the Conservative’s biggest star...

And in the blue corner

At this point it is fascinating to compare and contrast the style of two politicians in the news today: one, it seems, is driven by the need to make love not war; the other, it seems, driven by the need to make war not love.

On the one hand we have an image of Boris as he parts the madding crowd on his arrival at the Tory party conference, a man who famously uses humour to seduce the masses...
 

Gertcha Kirchner

On the other hand we have Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner ― President of Argentina, who is facing revolt over an ailing economy as her approval rating hits a record low and aides admit she is using the Falkland Islands as a smokescreen to mask domestic failings ― a lady who famously uses aggression to seduce the masses.

And let’s be honest, despite being an essentially handsome woman, nature has also seen fit to curse her with an alarmingly ‘nasty’ look when cornered.

Anyway, this is a web site to celebrate the things wot make me want to make love and smile, rather than make war and weep - now c’mon, who would you rather have rule the world: Johnson or Kirchner?

A bit of a no-brainer, really; so, returning to the smiley world of our Great Leader, Boris, the above whisked me back a week to a piece by Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times...

Up the Orinoco without a paddle

You have to feel sorry for the prime minister. He could be on a canoe up the Orinoco to meet a lost tribe of savages who eat monkeys and make poison for their spears out of frog urine ― and you can bet they would advance on him, whooping and hollering: “Boris! Boris! Boris!

Cameron is preceded by the ghost of the floppy-haired pretender everywhere he goes. When Cameron was in Brazil, that’s all the locals wanted to talk about: Where is Boris? We thought he  was your leader.

Still, Cameron fares a hell of a lot better abroad than Gordon Brown (yes, you remember, it wasn’t just a bad dream: short-tempered Scottish bloke with the personality of a coffin lid).

Gordon was at the United Nations to give a press conference and only one journalist turned up – despite the fact that its approach had been announced repeatedly on the Tannoy: “Gordon Brown’s press conference is about to begin in Room 101” etc. Cue hordes of people fleeing the building with their hands clapped to their ears as in that Munch painting that got nicked.

Every day a day at school

Right, did you spot the cock-up in the Mail’s  headline, at the very top? By a delightful coincidence, Rod Liddle mentioned “Cue hordes of people fleeing the building” ― and at the top, the Mail  reports “hoards of fans greet the Mayor of London’s arrival at the Tory party conference”.

Yes, the Mail  really did say “hoards”, as in: to collect and store, often secretly, a large quantity of something such as food or money for use in the future ― as opposed to “hordes”, as in: a large group of people.

As an amateur I am allowed to make such mistakes ― but a national newspaper?

Whatever, MATT, the Daily Telegraph cartoonist, captures today’s happenings at the Tory conference perfectly...
  
   "You'll have to move, Prime
    Minister, we're expecting
     Boris any minute now..."

And finally

All the above Boris brouhaha was perfectly rounded off for me tonight while watching the BBC’s local television news on Wales Today.

Parliamentary correspondent David Cornock was reporting live from the Tory conference at Birmingham. In the background we could clearly hear music...

David signed off with this memorable line: “I can confirm that is actually a brass band and not Boris Johnson blowing his own trumpet.”

Priceless.


And finally, finally

Continuing the Tory theme...

“For too long, this place has been run like a sergeants’ mess. I want it to be run more like an officers’ mess.” What Government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell ― yes, you remember, the fellow who infamously swore at police manning the gates at Downing Street and then called them “plebs” ― what Mitchell reportedly told fellow whips at a private meeting.

You are probably ahead of me already: yes, the place is now being run more like a politicians’ mess.


Sunday, October 7
The Queen of Hearts and the Cat

A BRACE of images caught my eye today. One was the new portrait of the Queen. Actually, what drew my attention was the accompanying blurb, starting with this headline:

Ralph Heimans’ portrait of the Queen reveals her soul
 

Ralph Heimans poses in front of his portrait of the Queen, this year’s only official portrait Photo: EPA

Heart and soul

I quote part of a letter from a Bridget Gunston of Ingleton, North Yorkshire:

We catch the Queen in a moment of contemplation, in which she appears to be reflecting on her reign and role as a lone figure, bearing the burden of her heritage and yet showing warmth and a human vulnerability, something not usually represented in past royal portraits.

One’s eye goes straight to the figure, which is so accurately portrayed in intimate detail. Her averted gaze makes the portrait the more refreshing. I am sure I am not alone in admiring this exquisite piece of work…

Meanwhile, on the comment board,
Percyvere observes:

The artist has painted one of the best portraits ever of Her Majesty. Despite the splendour of the background, the eye is immediately drawn to the Queen, who is in deep contemplation about her coronation and the subsequent sixty years.

I am clearly an ignoramus in these things. I do not spot any soul on parade, let alone a tachograph of her 60 years on the throne. 

What I actually see is a rather splendid painting, not just of Her Majesty, but especially so the detail of the floor and the magnificence of the background, the Coronation Theatre in Westminster Abbey, with the Queen standing on the very spot where she was crowned. Nice touch.

As for the representation of the Queen herself, well, I would need to see the painting in the flesh, so to speak, to make a judgment call. (Incidentally, I call it a painting rather than a portrait ― I thought a portrait was the subject or sitter up close, an image that is taller than it is wide, no?)

Be that as it may, the Queen’s portrait makes my smile of the day, compliments of this glorious addendum by the aforementioned Percyvere:

Is it not a bit of a paradox that the artist can paint something so beautiful but look rather a scruff himself!?

The first thing I did was scroll back up ... what a perfect observation, Percyvere. Very funny.

So that’s the Queen of Hearts done and dusted, now for the cat...
                                                                                                           
Artist: Tambra Wilcox

I stumbled upon this headline and image, compliments of Mail Online:

This is Colonel Meow, nicknamed the “World’s angriest cat”

Despite a rather fluffy coat, the black smoke Persian cat, Colonel Meow, appears anything but cuddly, thanks to a face that seems to be fixed in a permanent frown.

It is a hilariously amusing look. In fact, Colonel Meow looks the sort of cat that you may well spot in a future Bond film ― but dont be at all surprised that it’s the cat stroking the baddie as the Colonel purrs and plots world domination.

Owner Anne Marie Avey from Seattle says the Colonel was found abandoned by the side of the road. The thing is though, I bet Colonel Meow is actually a bit of a pussycat, the very opposite of his angry expression.

 

Bearing in mind todays brace of smiles, I am reminded of this brief exchange from Alice in Wonderland...

“How do you like the Queen?” said the Cat in a low voice. 

“Not at all,” said Alice: “She’s so extremely---” Just then she noticed that the Queen was close behind her, listening, so she went on: “---likely to win, that it’s hardly worthwhile finishing the game.”

The Queen smiled and passed on. (Now that has  to be Elizabeth II of the United Queendom, reflecting her soul.)

 

Saturday, October 6
Ashes to ashes


BRITAIN’S trees and woodlands are facing a growing threat from at least 15 pests and diseases that forestry experts fear could decimate the landscape.

The situation has become so critical that the government has announced it was preparing to ban imports of ash trees as the spread of Chalara fraxinea fungus, also known as “chalara dieback”, has already led to the destruction of tens of thousands of trees.

It seems that the glorious ash is the latest of our woodland trees to be attacked by a deadly fungus spreading from Europe, which makes you wonder why the government are “working towards a ban on imports and looking to impose movement restrictions on trees from infected areas” rather than getting on with it.

In the Daily Telegraph I learn that the indiscriminate importing from Holland of potted plants, which in turn are often sourced from China, is spreading disease throughout the world’s trees. In Britain alone the growing list of species afflicted by new pests and diseases includes oak, ash, horse chestnut, larch and pines.

Of course it started back in the 1960s with the elm ― and by an alarming coincidence, the deadly Dutch Elm disease. Why do you suppose the Netherlands has it in for the world’s trees?

The scale of the threat is frightening, particularly so if we believe what is happening to the ash, one of our more distinctive trees.

Personally, I believe we are now paying the price for the pollution and poisons we have been pumping into the air since the industrial revolution, not to mention all this genetic engineering that is going on behind our backs.

My considered opinion is that all the above have weakened the trees’ immune systems and they are unable to fight off these diseases as they once did.

The same is true with us humans. Yes, we are living ever longer, thanks to improved lifestyles, diets, central heating, improved health and safety regulations, no wars to decimate a nation’s population, etc, etc...

However, it seems that cancers are appearing at ever increasing rates, in all age groups. Are we again looking at compromised immune systems due to our poisoned environment, much in the same way as our trees are suffering?

Compare and contrast

What brought the fate of the poor ash onto my smile of the day menu was not the tale itself, but rather the photograph that accompanied the story in the newspaper.

As I have said before, I am not a photographer, merely someone who always carries a little camera to capture the passing parade. But I do enjoy a good photograph, just as much as I enjoy a good parade, really.

The first photograph here is of a rural idyll: ash trees surrounded by autumn mist near Wharram-le-Street, North Yorkshire. The picture compliments of Alamy...

   

 

How beautiful is that? It would make a wonderful October calendar picture. Personally I’d be more than happy to have it hanging on my wall.

In stark contrast, alongside is one of my own pictures, captured a year or so ago on one of my early morning walks through the Towy Valley.

I was captivated by its stark autumnal beauty, its monochromic qualities, especially so when juxtaposed with the North Yorkshire image. Compare and contrast, indeed.

What also grabbed my attention are those electricity poles. All from trees, obviously. But more than that: imagine where we would suddenly find ourselves if we had no electricity. Indeed, green rules coming from Europe threaten to plunge Britain into 1970s-style blackouts in just three years (allegedly).

Every aspect of our lives depends on the power carried along those lines. After food and water, it’s the one thing that would bring civilisation crashing down overnight if it was no longer there, on demand.

If another Hitler suddenly arrived on the scene, then the first thing he would target would be our power stations. The Battle of Britain would be over in a flash.

Son of a ― ?

Finally, on the subject of trees, this online comment from the curiously named Augeanstables, tickled my funny bone...

A birch and a beech have been side by side for years. A sapling appears next to them and they don’t know what it is. They ask a passing woodpecker to establish whether it’s a “son of a birch” or a “son of a beech”.

The woodpecker investigates and flies back to report: “That’s the best piece of ash I’ve ever had my pecker in!
 


Friday, October 5
Ooh la la
! Bare skins on parade


YOUNG ROYALS ANNOUNCE COMPLETE OVERHAUL OF PROTECTION SQUAD


                   Gay Paree cabaret act Crazy Horse promote their show at London’s South Bank         Pic: Getty Images

Crazy Horse

FOR most of my adult life, my friendly neighbourhood pub was the Crazy Horse Saloon ─ before the regulars became variations on the theme of petrolheads, that is.

Conversations slowly switched from ponies and traps and harness racing to Chelsea Tractors and all-terrain quad bikes, and the pub morphed into the Crazy Horsepower Saloon ─ but we never had barmaids that looked quite like the above. Or at least they never appeared on parade undressed quite like this ... in private, perhaps they did.

The other legendary Crazy Horse, which opened its doors in the French capital in 1951, calls itself ‘the most avant-garde’ cabaret in Paris, and claims to have been seducing Parisian audiences for 60 years. (Or ‘the most avocado-garden carpet in Dodgy City’, as Dai Aphanous down at the Crazy Horsepower would put it.)

And now we in the UK can experience the same joys and titillation as our Gay Paree cousins.

This UK presentation of the cabaret that has been seducing Parisian audiences for over 60 years claims to preserve the cabaret’s artistic heritage while adding 'a touch of modernity, humour and sophistication'. Hm, that sounds like the Crazy Horsepower Saloon all over to me.

Mention of the Crazy Horse girls as an ideal protection squad for the young royals ― well now, it set me thinking: how quickly Kate and her topless pictures disappeared off the news. From the moment the royal tour came to an end, really. Astonishing how rapidly the news moves on.

Mind you, the images will obviously lie in ambush for the rest of Kate’s life. If she reaches the grand age the Queen has, you can imagine pictures then appearing with cruel captions such as: “Remember what she looked like at 30?”

Anyway, what came back to me was this: it is pretty obvious that Kate and Harry have a close, good-humoured and good-natured relationship, so I wonder what text message Kate sent Harry when he was caught with his pants down?

But more to the point, what did Harry text Kate when the topless pictures appeared?

Remember the Sun front page?
                                                  

                                                                          Kate to Harry: OMG! And stop boasting. Both hands to hide it? LOL!

                                                                          Harry to Kate: OMG! You should have used both hands to hide ‘em. LOL!

When imagining the first text, I did ponder this message:

Kate to Harry: OMG! And stop boasting. Both hands to hide it? How little they know. LOL!
(You will have to indulge in some lateral thinking to work that one out. My lips, intuitively speaking, are sealed.)
 

Thursday, October 4
Naughty but nifty

“ONCE he was asked back to the BBC and the producer said ‘Now Kenny, you’re live on Saturday, for goodness sake behave yourself.’ As soon as he got on air, Kenny’s first words were: ‘I’ve just been told I mustn’t say penis’.”
Writer and comedian Barry Cryer, who worked with Kenny Everett on his successful TV shows, recalls Cuddly Kenny’s first day on his Radio 2 Saturday morning show.

As it happens, I actually remember that first Saturday morning and Kenny saying “penis”. There was something delightfully innocent in its delivery and smiley-ness, the very antithesis of what Jonathan Ross said to David Cameron on his chat show back in 2006 (see last Tuesday).

I was a dedicated follower of Kenny’s show: not just his infinity of voices, his conjured flights of technical fancy (with really basic equipment back then), his inventive surrealism, his linguistic whimsy ― but also the magically eclectic range of music he played: from disco fodder via pop songs (both ancient and modern), to classical music.

Cuddly Ken appreciated that all kinds of music, if melodic and catchy, will delight (think March of the Swiss Soldiers from Rossini’s William Tell Overture, AKA the theme music from The Lone Ranger).

Thankfully I still treasure cassette tapes I put together of favourite bits of his radio shows, which I regularly play. Magic.

Above, I quote his first words on that BBC Saturday show ... he began his zany style of presenting on the pirate ship Radio London, where his first brutal but perfect words of advice on Christmas Eve 1964 ― and remember this was a good few moons before the breathalyser blew in on the wind ― were: “If you’re a motorist at a party, I suggest you drink, drink, drink until you can’t even find your car.”

I have to admit that that has happened to me, but on the day after the night before, when I’ve gone to collect the car ― and it is not  where I thought Id left it. Panic stations. And very embarrassing.

 

A plate, please

SIR ― Recently, I visited two restaurants, and on both occasions the main course was served on a piece of wood, rather than a plate. One piece could have been mistaken for driftwood, the other was manufactured for the purpose.

Earlier this year, when having a meal in the South Lakes, all the courses were served on a piece of Cumbrian slate. Am I now expected to request a plate?

Fr Peter Gooden, Grange-over-Sands, Lancashire

The above letter recently appeared in The Daily Telegraph. This online response amused me no end...

Jonny Norfolk: I refuse to accept meals served on anything but a plate. I make a point of asking for a plate when I sit down, and before I order, but of course they never listen. So I have no hesitation in sending it back.

Oh and they must be round plates not square. Even though I do eat three square meals a day.

Then this funny follow-up letter appeared in the paper, just today:

Bird feeder
SIR – A friend and I were at a barbecue where we were served a steak on a paper plate and sat at a wooden garden table. I complained that my steak was inedible, but my friend declared that hers was delicious.

We then discovered that she had eaten most of the plate and some of the table.

Jessica Church, Evenley, Northamptonshire

It prompted this immediate online comment...

William Garrett: “We then discovered that she had eaten most of the plate and some of the table.”

I doubt this is true, I think it’s a fable.

Ten out of ten, William Garrett ... both witty and clever ... mind you, William could also have picked up on the fact that the teller of said tall tale (tall table?) is called Church, and she nearly comes from a place called Heavenly ... otherwise, definitely smile of the day stuff.

 

Wednesday, October 3
Make ‘em smile; make ‘em laugh; make ‘em Waitrose

MORE moons ago than I care to remember, when video recorders first appeared on the scene, I entered a competition where you had to complete the sentence “I have chosen the Philips Video Recorder because...” ― or something like that.

Anyway, and much to my surprise, I won a really expensive five-star Concorde holiday for two to America. My successful line went something like this: “I have chosen the Philips video recorder because I can now put off until tomorrow what I can’t watch today.

Imagine, back then the thought of watching something called iPlayer at the end of a telephone line would have been akin to flying to Mars. Let’s face it, the arrival of the video recorder was like flying to the moon.

With that memory of crossing the Atlantic in Concorde burnt onto my soul’s hard-drive, I’ve been catching up with the “Oops!” social media stunt by the Waitrose supermarket chain inviting, nay challenging, people to finish the sentence  “I shop at Waitrose because...”.

Clearly bosses had hoped to see Twitterphones around the globe burst into life with positive tweets, but instead the supermarket chain prompted a range of humorous put-downs reflecting its upmarket image and largely middle-class patronage ― Waitrose is the proud holder of a Royal Warrant ― rather than messages praising the shop’s core values.

Completed sentences are still surfacing in the meeja, so I thought I’d pick out my favourites. What I did register with great appreciation is that, although people have applied the Great British Humour with gusto, very few I would class as nasty. They are mostly very funny, even the ones that appear superficially cruel, and Waitrose acknowledge that.

So here we go...

Some more shredded tweet, sweetheart?

I shop at Waitrose because, darling, Harrods is just too much of a trek midweek.

I shop at Waitrose because it makes me feel important and I absolutely detest being surrounded by poor people.

I shop at Waitrose because I was once in the Holloway Road branch and heard a dad say “Put the papaya down, Orlando!

I shop at Waitrose because I get shoved aside by a better class of elbow.

I shop at Waitrose because I WILL NOT stand next to the scumbags at Marks and Spencer. (As someone who occasionally shops at M&S, that generated a generous smile from this scumbag.)

I shop at Waitrose because in Tesco the aisles are narrow and the people wide, but in Waitrose the aisles are wide and the people narrow. (A glorious slice of lateral thinking, there.)

I shop at Waitrose because there are XL parking spaces to accommodate my Chelsea Tractor.

I shop at Waitrose because Clarissa’s pony just WILL NOT eat ASDA Value Hay.

I shop at Waitrose because ladies dressed up like Jane Austin seem normal.

I shop at Waitrose because I never encounter people with tattoos and BO.

I shop at Waitrose because you say ‘Ten items or fewer’ not ‘Ten items or less’, which is important. (This is my favourite, very witty.)

So there we go. Incidentally, when I ran a spell check, ‘Tesco’ stopped my computer in its tracks ― and suggested ‘Tosco’ ― which, given today’s news of the supermarket’s first drop in UK profits for more than 25 years, is all rather spooky.

Be that as it may, and following on from my opening remarks at the top, I thought it right and proper that I should have a go at the Waitrose challenge, firstly entering into the spirit of the responses...

I shop at Waitrose because I don’t have to walk down the aisle with SecondhandRose.

Secondly, a more considered attempt...

I shop at Waitrose because everything comes to those who Waitrose.

Finally, and all done in the best possible taste

I rounded off my Wednesday evening smiling and smiling and smiling at The Best of Kenny Everett’s Telev