To view previous
MY SQUARE MILE
for a taste of life on the wild side of my square mile, click...
400 Smiles A Day
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 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...
This is a snapshot of life beyond the blue horizon...
everyday a doolally smile of the day
The shortest distance between two people is a smile ...
Tuesday, April 30
Chinglish rules, KO?
WHAT would I do without these wonderful
translations from faraway places. Some more memorable Sign Language
examples ― and was there ever a better illustration of something you
should laugh along with rather than at...
Dress code: best bib and tucker
Dress code: the bare necessities
Spotted in China by David Levine
Spotted in China by Sam Baird
But what does “baboosh” mean? Anything to do with “babooshka”, as in the
Kate Bush song from yesteryear, I wondered?
According to the Urban Dictionary, babooshkas are
cantankerous old ladies in Russia who work in public buildings doing
more or less nothing at all [not to be confused with babushkas,
which are Russian grandmothers].
As living throwbacks to the Soviet era, babooshkas
enforce both real and imagined petty regulations with Stakanovite zeal
and enthusiasm. Museums, cloakrooms, and metro kiosks are their natural
Also, babooshka can be used to describe anyone and everything, good or
bad. Or it can be used to fill in for a “bad” word.
I like that last example: “What the babooshka are you
Anyway, I Googled “baboosh” ... and this came up...
progressive online store specializing in products to help women get
their bodies back in shape”.
I dunno, that
doesn’t make sense in this context. However, images against “baboosh”
threw up pictures of footwear.
Now we’re getting warm. In fact, here’s
the online comment I stumbled upon which makes absolute sense. It comes
from someone called
According to my
wife, the correct translation should be:
“No flip-flops in the bathroom. Caution: slippery floor.”
I would add “impressively and memorably translated”. Perhaps it should
have been accompanied by this notice placed prominently on the bathroom
...again spotted in China, by S McCabe.
Finally, and having discovered a new word, baboosh,
here’s another marvellous addition to the
This was spotted on Twitter, witness unknown. Actually,
hullabaloo is an old English word, now rarely used, more’s the pity.
It’s a fabulous word ― very onomatopoeic ― I shall start using it
forthwith (along with baboosh) in the Asterisk Bar down at the Crazy
‘baboosh’ came up
as ‘baboon’. What is my computer telling me? That I should get the
off my back before using the bathroom?
Monday, April 29
What’s in a name?
“THE overwhelming majority of soul music is about the
pursuit of intercourse.” The soul singer John Roger Stephens, 34,
better known by his stage name John Legend, explains his art.
Oh dear, John Legend a.k.a. John Leg-end. Perhaps he
should have chosen the name John Legover, especially so with
being his middle name proper.
And now this tale has just surfaced:
Man fined for racism after Welsh sheep
An English tourist fined for racism after he branded Welsh people
“sheep shaggers” claims he was using “a term for people living in the
Anthony Taaffe had to be restrained and sat on by an
off-duty policeman and security staff at a holiday park in Wales after
he was seen shouting and swearing while drunk, a court in Llandudno
He then added injury to insult when he called the
off-duty policeman and security staff “a bunch of sheep shaggers”.
The court heard there were children present at the time
at the holiday park in Gronant, a village in Flintshire, North Wales,
population 1595 (2001 census).
But Taaffe, of Bolton, told the court that he hadn’t been
insulting Welsh people specifically. The 47-year-old was fined £150
after he admitted racially aggravated disorderly behaviour.
He also admitted a second similar offence after he
labelled a police officer at the custody unit he was taken to a “Welsh
Taaffe, who receives
state benefits, accepted he was insulting and apologised for his
Now you may well be ahead of me on this one: yes, it’s the fellow’s
surname. Taaffe. Tony Taaffe.
But of course, “Taaffe was a Welshman”, which is an
English language nursery rhyme with anti-Welsh lyrics, which was popular
in England between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries.
Yes okay, it’s actually “Taffy was a Welshman” ― “Taffy”:
a reference to being born within the sight of the river Taff in Wales; a
Welsh nickname for David; but more often than not a pejorative term for
a Welsh person or thing ― but you get the point.
Anyway, here’s a taste of the ditty which so upsets many
of my fellow countryfolk because they think its racist:
Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief;
Taffy came to my house and stole a piece of beef;
I went to Taffy’s house, Taffy wasn’t in;
I jumped upon his Sunday hat and poked it with a pin.
Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a sham;
Taffy came to my house and stole a piece of lamb;
I went to Taffy’s house, Taffy was away,
I stuffed his socks with sawdust and filled his shoes with clay.
Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a cheat,
Taffy came to my house, and stole a piece of meat;
I went to Taffy’s house, Taffy was not there,
I hung his coat and trousers to roast before a fire.
The ditty always makes me smile. Mind you, I’m not
particularly impressed with that last line.
Whatever, certain versions seem to have been particularly
popular in the English counties that bordered Wales, where it was sung
on the 1st of March, Saint David’s Day, complete with leek-wearing
effigies of Welshmen.
The image of thieving Welshmen seems to have begun to die
down by the mid-twentieth century, although the insulting rhyme was
still sometimes used along with the name “Taffy” for any Welshman.
In modern times, the image of thieving Welshmen has been
replaced by sheep shagging Welshmen. Ah well, as long as it’s a pretty
Be that as it may, I was inspired to pen a wee verse in
honour of our Bolton friend, Andrew Taaffe:
Taaffe was a Welshman, Taaffe was a sham,
Taaffe was an Englishman: “I am what I am what I am”;
I went to Taaffe’s house, Taaffe was in court,
I smiled and thought, hm, any old sheep in a port.
Sunday, April 28
Wales: the most photographed country from space
THE ABOVE has to be one of the most surprising headlines
I’ve encountered since I began this online diary cum scrapbook.
This, spotted in the Western Mail’s
A real Buzz about our George
George Abbey’s career path reads like a study of space
travel in the USA, sending him soaring from his maternal home in
(spot it on the Welcome map at Reception, top)
to the highest echelons of Nasa, from the Moon landing programme to the
Shuttle and the International Space Station ― and under his watch Wales
became the most photographed nation from space.
Now 80, George Abbey spoke last week at the annual
Richard Burton Lecture in Swansea University’s Faraday Theatre.
The one-time director of Nasa’s research hub, the Johnson
Space Centre, Abbey defines himself as “Welsh-American”. His mother,
Bridget Gibby, came from Laugharne in Carmarthenshire; she was working
in London when she met George’s father, Sam Abbey, a Canadian airman,
and the couple married before moving to Seattle, where George was born
on August 21, 1932.
There was a strong Welsh feeling in the home because his
mother spoke Welsh, and an enduring family connection with Wales was
In 1995, Abbey was named the director of the Johnson
Space Centre in Houston, where he stayed until 2001.
“I was in charge of
the shuttle and the space station programme so I had to make all the
decisions relative to both. I enjoyed it ... if the weather was good, I
usually asked the astronauts to get a picture of Wales as they flew
over, and all because of my Welsh roots.”
And the astronauts clearly obliged.
Indeed, the habit is now well established. As if in
celebration of George Abbey’s appearance in the Richard Burton Lecture
at Swansea, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, currently circling above us,
offered a stunning glimpse of Wales from space...
Astronaut George Hadfield dubbed Wales “rugged, proud and uniquely
beautiful” - with Gower in attendance
When I first saw the picture I thought the white was the
remnants of the recent heavy snow parts of Wales suffered ― but then I
noticed the white stuff extending out over the sea down there in the
Taken while in orbit, the image shows in remarkable
definition the mountainous regions of the country ― as well as the sandy
beaches of the Gower and further west to the Pendine sands (as recently
featured hereabouts) ― with some high cloud drifting across the country.
I’ve included a picture of the Rhossili beach looking
across the estuary to Pendine sands, a seven-mile stretch of beach where
many historical land-speed records were broken.
The juxtaposition is quite fascinating. The Gower/Pendine
stretches of sands are clearly visible from space.
Posting on social media site Twitter, the Canadian’s
photograph was the latest in a series of images of Earth taken from the
International Space Station.
Chris Hadfield’s five-month mission began on December 19
last year, when he travelled to the station on the Soyuz Spacecraft. He
is expected to return to Earth on May 13.
Thanks Chris. A memorable image.
Saturday, April 27
The doolallyness of the King of the Road
RUMMAGING through my cuttings file ― when a smile
registers along my stroll through the day, and excepting that special
one that lingers long in the memory, I either jot something in my
notebook or save a cutting from the newspaper ― so today I noticed
several cuttings apropos one high-profile meeja figure:
“When I spend a night at my flat in London, I like to
cook myself some supper. And since my culinary skills are a little bit
northern, I don’t overreach myself with exotic spices, pestles or
mortars. It’s just pasta, some pork and various bits and bobs to liven
“Then, the next day, I have to call a skip hire company
and a forklift truck to take away all the packaging. This makes me so
angry that my nose swells up and my teeth move about. I mean why, for
instance, do spring onions have to be sold with a rubber band?”
Yes, Jeremy Clarkson, 52, kicks off a recent motoring
column in his usual amusing style ― and I guess pretty much all of us
empathise with his exasperation. (But I can’t
remember what car he was reviewing.)
As for those onions with a rubber band, perhaps the
company that packages them has an agreement with the Royal Mail to
collect all the rubber bands our posties throw away as they deliver the
you, I am seriously worried about those teeth of Jeremy’s moving about
so. Especially when sometime later I read this quote of his on the
misuse of the confusing apostrophe:
“When I see a sign advertising CD’s and DVD’s, I become so angry that my
teeth start to fall out.”
I suppose writing a prominent and notorious regular column is much like
living in a dream world. And you know what they say when you dream about
your teeth falling out...
One theory is that such dreams reflect your anxieties about your
appearance and how others perceive you. Your
teeth help to convey an image of attractiveness, and play an important
role in the game of flirtation, whether it is flashing those pearly
whites, kissing or merely having a cwtch (a Welsh-style
Thus, such dreams may stem from a fear of rejection,
sexual impotence or the consequences of getting old.
Oh dear, are you paying attention, Jeremy? And they do
say those high-performance sports cars middle-aged men insist on driving
is a sexual hang-up thingy. God, and then your incisors disappear and
you hear yourself singing “Fangs for the memories...”.
Mind you, according to the Chinese, there is a saying that your teeth
will fall out if you are telling lies.
It has also been said that if you dream of your teeth
falling out, then it symbolizes money. This is based on the old tooth
fairy story. If you lose a tooth and leave it under the pillow, a tooth
fairy would bring you money. But that could be a rumour put about by
My own thoughts? Well, we know Jeremy is a Chelsea
Football fan, so he could have had a dream that he was the one
Liverpool’s Luis Suarez bit last weekend ― now that would
explain his teeth falling out. Indeed, this alarming image suggests that
some of them have already made their excuses and left...
“If you have to take my
picture, then go ahead, but please can you ensure that it doesn’t spill
out all over the internet, as I absolutely loathe reading stories about
Jeremy, speaking the other day to a would-be
photographer while shopping in London.
How wonderfully doolally is that. He uses his columns to
have a go at everyone and everything, but you mustn’t have a go at him.
Jeremy, you sound like a typically self-important, grand and precious
celebrity. Get over it.
I remember a little while back, when the horse meat
scandal was at its most rampant, this glorious tale surfaced:
Tweetie Pie Corner
animals were harmed during rehearsals for Top Gear Live in Moscow.”
A tweet posted by Jeremy, together with a close up picture of a dead
mouse, which lay twisted and flattened in the road following rehearsals
for his show while filming his car series in Russia.
The headline which accompanied the story read:
Animal rights activists outraged as “oaf” Jeremy Clarkson posted picture
of a squashed dead mouse “killed during Top Gear rehearsals”
You really couldn’t make it up.
At this point I’m reminded of my favourite quote from
last year: “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
But I really do wonder about the extent of the madness
spreading through our celebrities like an outbreak of the measles. Do
you suppose they’ve all been eating too much horse meat loaded with
those dodgy drugs?
I mean, a picture of a dead mouse?
Moving in next door
“The prospect of suspending rational thought, behaving
like a lemming and having to take seriously those prats who continually
spout party-line twaddle seems less appealing than having my toenails
pulled out or sharing a bed-sit with Jeremy Clarkson.”
Broadcaster Janet Street-Porter, 66, has no desire
to be an MP or share her affections with Jeremy Clarkson.
My goodness me, can you imagine living next door to
Jeremy and Janet Street-Porter? Now they really would be the neighbours
you would never, ever want to knock on the door to borrow some sugar.
There again, they both add to the delightful doolallyness
of the passing parade.
‘cwtch’, the Welsh word for a cuddle (a cuddle as a starter-for-ten,
that is), came up
as ‘catch’. With every passing day I grow more alarmed at the
‘reading-between-the-lines’ abilities of my computer.
Friday, April 26
No more “Lady Godiva” (fiver)
FUNNY how two different stories with a common theme can
come together on the same day.
This news headline caught my eye:
have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat ... and a fiver:
Sir Winston Churchill will be the next face of the five pound note
Britain’s greatest wartime Prime Minister will become the
first politician and statesman of the modern era to feature on a
banknote, and in replacing penal reformer Elizabeth Fry, the new
“Winston” will leave the Queen the only woman on a UK note...
The Winston design will feature a renowned portrait of the prime
in defiant pose, taken by photographer Yousuf Karsh in December 1941
Churchill will be pictured alongside a view of
Westminster with Parliament’s clock showing 3 o’clock ― the approximate
time on 13 May 1940 when Churchill declared in a speech: “I have nothing
to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
The quote will appear
on the note.
Now that’s what a banknote should look like, boasting a face that if you
asked it to do something ― well, you know it would be done, with bells
Meanwhile, rummaging in the ATTICUS ... this is
the other Churchill tale which raised a glass and a smile:
Do Conservative MPs have quite the reckless panache they once did?
Here is what Winston Churchill typically enjoyed for
dinner at his Kent home: oysters; fried fillet of sole, wrapped in
smoked salmon; fillet of roast venison with pâté de foie gras and
truffle sauce; ripe stilton with port; baked tart with ice cream (and
let’s not forget the champagne and brandy along the way).
By contrast, courtesy of Twitter, here is how Andrew
Percy, Tory MP for Brigg and Goole, dined on Thursday night: “Got home.
Had a kebab.” Just lives for pleasure, doesn’t he?
No wonder Churchill was renowned for the copious amounts
of alcohol he put away. And all consumed without leaving obvious skid
marks on his mental abilities or health (he died at age 90). When you eat
that much, and regularly, it soaks up the alcohol.
Those who have problems with alcohol are individuals who
keep on drinking instead of eating and their kidneys pack up.
Dinner for one
Actually, if I was confronted with the typical Churchill dinner as
listed above, and on a daily basis (if I could afford it, that is), this
is how I would tackle it:
05:00 – Oysters and
champagne to kick off the day before departing on my extended morning
walk through the Towy Valley.
09:00 – Fried fillet of
sole, wrapped in smoked salmon for breakfast. Washed down with a Gaelic
12:00 – Fillet of roast
de foie gras and truffle sauce, followed by ripe stilton with port, for
dinner (which is what we called the midday meal when I was a kid
brought up on the farm, none of this poncey “lunch” business). Oh, and a
bottle of wine.
17:00 – Baked tart with
ice cream for high tea. A meal laced with champagne.
20:00 – After Eights and
Now how civilised is that? I mean, Churchill’s dinner would do me nicely
for the whole day.
Actually, truth to tell, I’ve been dining in such a
fashion for moons and moons. Mind you, my menu is more church mouse than
Churchillian lion. For example:
05:00 – Depending on the
time of year and the weather, it can be soup or porridge or toast ― or
even the occasional treat of a prawn cocktail/avocado with prawns and
chives, when the British summer proper arrives (sic).
09:00 – A jumbo Celtic
coffee (a Gaelic coffee, but with a Churchillian measure of whisky).
12:00 – My main meal of
the day could be anything at all given my catholic taste buds: from a
chicken dinner via sausage and mash, even a juicy steak ― to a tuna
salad (all inclusive of my 2½ of 5 a day ― I tend to do things by half).
17:00 – A proper plateful
of pudding, indeed like Churchill I am rather partial to a baked tart
with ice cream or perhaps a generous pouring of double cream.
20:00 – Any sort of
nibbles, really, including the occasional After Eight treat ― perhaps
washed down with some Baileys Irish Cream, to be sure, to be sure.
Actually, I’ve just realised that my own modest dining regime is quite
civilised in its own little way. And all for under a Winston a day.
‘Godiva’, as in ‘Lady Godiva’, came up
as ‘Go diva’. Now how smart is that?
Thursday, April 25
Welcome back Mrs Mills, she who tickles the ovaries
(as opposed to the ivories, that is)
HAVEN’T shared a
Mrs Mills chuckle for a while ― yeeees, you
Mills, she from The Sunday Times
magazine, she who solves all your personal problems...
...and I mean all your personal problems.
In last weekend’s magazine, this little smiler:
WHEN SEX IS TOO CLEAN
I have a continental boyfriend who is a great lover ―
except there’s no lying around enjoying the afterglow, he just rushes
off to wash himself. I know this is a cultural thing, but I still feel
slighted. How can I broach this tricky subject with him, please?
Hygiene-obsessive continentals are very tiresome,
but there is an easy solution. Turn off the stopcock before you get down
to business, but don’t tell him until afterwards that you have no water
supply. If he still leaps up and starts sponging himself down with
Evian, I would begin looking out for a British replacement.
For some reason, the above brought to mind this quote:
“Teenagers are obviously God’s punishment for having sex in the first
place.” Australian writer Kathy
Lette, 54, who says living with a teenage daughter is like living with
Mind you, looking at some of the books Kathy has written,
I sense an ambush of her own making: Puberty Blues; Girls Night Out;
Men: A User’s Guide; Dead Sexy; Foetal Attraction...
Back with Mrs Mills, this little gem ― from the
carburettor to the exhaust, you might say ― and it instantly rang a
THE BOTTOM LINE
I am the only person
in our household that changes the toilet roll when it is finished. It
seems to need changing far too often and I was wondering if you could
suggest a solution to this problem.
Regular visitors to Look You will be aware that I featured this
very subject back on April 10, when I selected a series of comical
‘passive-aggressive’ notes left for roommates, probably American
students, in an effort to encourage them to change their behaviour and
irritating personal habits.
I see that the above problem comes from Aberystwyth, a
coastal student town to the north of Llandeilo (as spotted on the
Welcome mat above).
Anyway, before I return to the loo roll problem I
featured, let’s find out what Mrs Mills has to say on the subject:
Stop changing it and carry your own personal supply with
you at all times. Not only is this wonderful for those occasions when
you discover that public facilities have run out of loo roll, it will
also make your family wake up to the tissue issue.
Although men are incapable of using fewer than 175
yards of the stuff at a time, I don’t think a man has ever replaced a
loo roll in a home where there’s a female presence.
The example I featured was the individual seemingly
caught short and truly annoyed that his or her housemate(s) had
neglected to replace the loo roll...
As I stated at the time, I was unsure whether the author was annoyed to
get to the toilet only to find that the previous user had neglected to
replace the loo roll ― or the pissed-off flatmate had cleverly unrolled
the paper when it was nearly finished and penned that heart-felt message
... before carefully rolling the paper back on and gluing one corner of
the final sheet to the cardboard insert. I opted for the latter option.
It did cross my mind to drop an e-mail to Mrs Mills highlighting this
clever bit of lateral thinking to help avoid the loo roll ambush.
My own simple plan, a mere man who lives on his own, is
that whenever I hear the bell to signal the last few laps of the loo
roll, I fetch out a new one and place it close to hand and ready for
Finally, let’s see if this Mrs Mills effort measures up:
FOREVER IN BLUE JEANS?
When I hit 40 I decided it was time to stop wearing blue
denim jeans – but my mother still does. Which of us is right?
While to some extent it
depends on your height, I’d say that 30 or possibly 32 inches was the
time to give up jeans. Forty is positively gross, but for all I know
your mother might be well under this, as many older ladies keep quite
For some reason or other, I am reminded of yet another
The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if
he is an optimist after it, he knows too little.
I am clearly a man who knows little about the reality of life, the
universe and everything. And who am I to argue?
Wednesday, April 24
“WERE you surprised to be invited to her wedding?”
BBC presenter Charlie Stayt, interviewing Sir Terry Wogan outside St
Paul’s Cathedral a week ago today. He quickly corrected himself.
“Thatcheration Point has surely come and gone.” Carolyn Hitt
in last Monday’s Western Mail, deploying a nifty turn of phrase.
Well nearly, Carolyn, nearly. For many, April 17 was a
great day to bury bad news ― which is what Mrs Thatcher was called back
in the 1980s ― but you can’t keep a good woman down.
Yesterday, the Iron Lady’s tale was published ... Margaret
Thatcher: The Authorised Biography – Volume One by
Author Charles Moore said the former prime minister did
not want to read the book and said it could only be published after her
death, but she gave him “complete access” and he found the conditions
Returning to the Terry Wogan quote at the top, he was also interviewed
by David Dimbleby prior to the funeral. I saw that. Dimbleby asked him why he
thought he had been invited to the ― do you know, I nearly said wedding
there, and I can only think that it has something to do with guests
being “invited”, which somehow doesn’t sound right.
Anyway, Wogan played his usual joker card (superficial
self-deprecating fluff) and said that
he had been invited to the funeral because someone had to represent the
hoi polloi, or was it the hobbledehoys ― whatever, the common or garden folk ― a response which appeared to
Now Wogan writes a column in The Sunday Telegraph,
and I happened to read it last Sunday. He rounded off his piece with a
respectful reference to the funeral:
Baroness Thatcher’s funeral was a magnificent final
tribute to a remarkable person. It was an honour to attend, all the more
because I didn’t have an invitation. The Royal Mail delivered mine last
Thursday, the day after the funeral. It had been posted, first class,
the previous Friday afternoon from London. I live 28 miles away.
That did make me smile ― I thought Wogan was now lost
somewhere out in France ― perhaps he has two homes, which rather gives
the lie to his claim to be one of the hoi polloi, one of the plebs.
I mean, how many members of the hoi polloi do you know
who would attend such a high-profile funeral without having first
received an official invitation, write a weekly column in a major Sunday
newspaper to enlighten the great unwashed in the ways of life, the
universe and nearly everything ― and expect to be addressed as “Sir”
wherever he goes?
Truth to tell, I would say the 74-year-old Sir Michael Terence
Wogan, KBE, DL, agreeable fellow that he appears to be, has as much empathy
with the hobbledehoys as a dolphin has with an amoeba.
Sticking with the funeral, I enjoyed this from ATTICUS in The Sunday Times:
Recovery starts here as Osborne’s tears go on sale
Chancellor George Osborne, who wept during Baroness
Thatcher’s funeral, might be surprised to learn his tears are being
offered for sale on eBay. Bidding yesterday [Saturday] hit £5,100 for
the blue vial, which can be worn around the neck.
“Fresh from the sly eyes of George Osborne, the actual
tears he cried like a human being,” the seller says. “Use them as a
light to guide you in the dark like Frodo from Lord of the Rings.
Sprinkle them on an enemy’s flower bed to ensure nothing ever grows
there again.” Bidding closes on Wednesday.
Other mourners have been quick to offer more authentic
souvenirs. Bidding for a pack that includes tickets, an order of service
and a copy of the London Evening Standard had reached £255 yesterday,
from a starting price of £14.99.
Such enterprise: it’s what she would have wanted.
Returning to the funeral service, this came back to me,
when the Bishop of London delivered his address...
“What, in the end, makes our lives seem valuable after
the storm and stress has passed and there is a great calm? The questions
most frequently asked at such a time concern us all. How loving have I
been? How faithful in personal relationships? Have I found joy within
myself, or am I still looking for it in externals outside myself?”
At that point, I was surprised the picture didn’t cut to
Boris Johnson sat in the congregation...
Finally, I guess that Thatcheration Point has indeed now
been reached. So a final couple of quotes:
“She is a limited, pedantic bore, with no lateral grasp,
very little humour. I may be wrong, but that was my view. God help the
Tories.” What Sir John Hoskyns, who once ran Margaret Thatcher’s policy
unit (1979-1982), said about her as recalled by Charles Moore in his
Hoskyns also told her in 1981 that unless she changed her
“incompetent” management style she would be thrown out by her Cabinet
and lose the chance to fight for a second term.
Clearly, at that point in the nation’s history, the
country was desperate for someone to play mother hen, hence not only
winning that second term but a third as well.
I shall leave the last word to Maggie:
politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything
done, ask a woman.”
Tuesday, April 23
I’m walking backwards to Doolally
HERE’S a fishy little tale that tickled me no end:
Sleep with the fishes
There’s no need for
visitors to the Happy Guests Lodge hotel to feel lonely far from home ―
they can rent a goldfish for £5 per stay...
...Jeff Riley, who
runs the hotel in Dutton, Cheshire, said: “A lot of our guests spend
many days away from home. It can be lonely. Once guests have hired a
fish, I’m sure when they return they will want to ask for the same fish
Now that’s what I call proper creature comforts in a home far away from
home. And all organised by a Jeff Riley. Do you know, I think I know his mum, Old
Whatever, there was a letter on the subject in The
Sir, Your report
about the Cheshire hotel which provides a goldfish for solo travellers
reminds me of the Taste of Ming Chinese restaurant in the Taj Mahal
Hotel, Delhi, which provides a male goldfish for ladies who dine alone
and a female goldfish for solitary male diners.
These are provided free of charge and make excellent
I am not convinced, however, that the staff can
differentiate and I’m pretty sure that on several occasions, I spent the
evening talking to a lady goldfish.
MAGGIE WHITLEY, Riccall, N Yorks
So Maggie calls over the maître d’ and says: “I think my
goldfish is epileptic.”
The maître d’ peers at her companion and says: “He
looks fine to me.”
Maggie replies: “Hang on, I haven’t taken him out of
the bowl yet!”
Oh , Maggie, Maggie Whitley née May, now they have definitely taken you
Sorry, Maggie, couldn’t resist it.
Don’t ask me why, but I thought it apt to show another from the
delightful and never-ending supply of Sign Language pictures
spotted around the world ― but first, do you remember this memorable
scene from the Bond film Live and Let Die, where 007 is down as
the main course for some hungry alligators...
“Not so fast, Mr Bond!”
in Louisiana by 007 enthusiasts
in South Carolina by Susan Judd
Ten fingers on the fender
All this offers an excuse to watch what must be the
funniest three minutes in all of the Bond movies.
After Mr Bond is left alone to dine with just alligators
for companionship at that farm in the Louisiana backwoods, he escapes by
running along the creatures’ backs to safety, ho, ho, ho.
He then sets the farm on fire and steals a speedboat. And
that leads to one of my favourite Bond sequences, when he is pursued by
Mr Big’s bad boys ― oh, and first contact is established with the
tobacco-chewing and uproariously unforgettable Sheriff J W Pepper (not
forgetting the Louisiana State Police).
Here is the link to what must be the most memorable three
minutes of dialogue in the Bond films ― and as a bonus, below, the
second link, to the moment when Sheriff JW finally catches up with Bond:
Monday, April 22
In the dog house
I SPOTTED it on the television news last night: Liverpool
Football Club’s Uruguayan player Luis Suarez’s bite-attack on the arm of
rival Branislav Ivanovic as they wrestled in the Chelsea penalty area.
It was an astonishingly animalistic thing to witness, so
it came as no surprise that, as the football authorities took a dim view
of the incident, it inspired the online brigade to take a more
light-hearted interpretation of the scandal.
Photoshopped images of the Liverpool striker have gone
viral, including one showing him as the blood-thirsty Count Dracula, and
quite a few as killer shark Jaws, gobbling up victims (“Just when you
thought it was safe to go back in the penalty area”, ho, ho, ho!).
The Uruguayan was today offered anger management classes
by the Professional Footballers’ Association, allowing jokers to
recreate the poster for Jack Nicholson’s hit film, Anger Management.
These bite-inspired images have already become internet
hits viewed by huge numbers around the world. My favourite though is the one using the cone shaped and
marvellously named “Elizabethan collar”:
Lampooned: Luis Suarez’s bite-attack on an opponent
Imagine how wonderfully surreal it would be to see Suarez
running onto the pitch with that collar on. Perhaps the Professional
Footballers’ Association should insist. With the crowd shouting “Fetch!
... Good boy!”
as he chases after the ball. Mind you, they will probably do that
anyway. And throw dog biscuits at him.
However, I do think this next one is exceedingly clever,
awash with lateral thinking and wit...
Give a God a bone
Pledge: Using an advertising technique commonly implemented by
Sadly, I have no idea whose images these are; it would be
agreeable to acknowledge their artistic bent and humour.
Substitute bite with bark
Later I was on iPlayer, listening to one of my favourite
wireless shows, John Bennett’s Sunday Club on Radio Ulster. I
enjoy his selection of songs pulled from the box marked ‘Popular music
down the years’, with some classical music thrown in for good measure ―
oh, and the occasional comedy record.
Last night John played a Benny Hill record, a sketch
where he is being ‘interviewed’ by Lesley Goldie, a sort of female
Hill takes the part of an East End ‘comic’ poet called
John Bossom, who is really rather common or garden and is not quite as
humorous as he himself thinks he is ― oh, and he often gets his words a
bit mixed up i.e. “I mean, how can you define the intangerine?”
He reads some of his poetry:
I held a little hand,
It made my sad heart sing.
It was the loveliest hand I’d ever held,
Four aces and a king.
And then this:
Roses are red and violets are blue,
So goes the age-old rhyme.
But I know roses are blue and violets are red ―
I’ve seen them hanging on the line…
Silly but smiley (and I enjoyed the slightly delayed
laughter from the audience as they got the joke). “Just a few of
the collected poems of East End poet John Bossom,” says Leslie Goldie,
“under the title ‘Life is like a double bed’. Why did you call it that?”
“Well, I’ve always believed that is true of life; it is
probably the most profound statement I’ve ever made in my life; all the
things I’ve said, all the phrases and that, you know; I think it’s the
most meaningful thing I’ve ever said, that life is like a double―”
“Why?” Lesley interjects as Benny Bossom waffles.
“Why is life like a double bed?”
“Look, if you’re goin’ to bleedin’ argue about it,”
responds a rattled poet, “life isn’t like a double bed…”
And there I left them to it. However, I was intrigued as to why life should
be like a double bed, because we never got to find out. It sort of makes delightful illogical sense
So I Googled the expression … what came up was this:
‘Life is like a double-bed of roses: you gotta watch out for them
Which I thought was very funny, given the circumstances.
So just before ten I toddled off to my double bed to
sleep on it ... Zzzzzzzzzzz...!
When I awoke on Tuesday morning, this was my first
thought: Life is like a double bed because ... it never quite delivers
on its initial promise...
Oh yes, when I collected the morning paper, The Sun’s front
page was preoccupied with the Luis Suarez biting incident, and proudly
"I'VE LET DOWN THE FANGS"
Sunday, April 21
In the pink
AN AMUSING session (both literally and metaphorically)
with Chief Wise Owl today, but nothing new there. We are session
musicians, in perfect harmony. After a few drinks to wash
the dust of the morning down, he showed me The Times front
page for Saturday the 13th, a week yesterday.
As it happens I actually remember it. Perusing the
various front pages at the paper shop that morning, the eye-catching
picture splashed across The Times did indeed grab my
attention, and I recall
Here is that front page...
...the heading says ‘Some sheep are brighter than you
think’, and the caption reads: ‘Drivers sounded their horns in
appreciation yesterday as a flock of dyed sheep brought a dash of colour
to the dreary spring conditions beside the M8 in West Lothian’.
Curiosity didn’t get the better of me; meaning, I didn’t
pick up the paper to investigate further because deep down, it somehow
or other rang a bell.
Then a few days later, Chief Wise Owl spotted this on The
Times Letters page:
In the pink
Sir, How frustrating to show the picture of several sheep
dyed pink on the front page (Apr 13) without the why or the wherefore.
STEPHEN MUIR, Tetbury, Glos
Now how odd is that? There was no explanation inside the
paper ... certainly not like The Times to be so shy with the
facts. Obviously the editor of ‘The Thunderer’ believes most of his
readers are brighter than your average sheep.
So remembering that every day is a day at school, and wondering
why the picture seemed vaguely familiar, I Googled the subject matter...
From “Fetch!” to “Very fetching”
A flock of pink sheep have been
entertaining motorists driving past a business park in West Lothian.
Local farmer Andrew Jack, who owns the flock, has
spray-painted the creatures to give passing motorists something to smile
at. And they certainly look fantastic.
The dye is animal-friendly and is said to not cause the
sheep any harm or distress. They will remain pink for a month or so
until they are sheared.
Mr Jack has released coloured sheep every spring since
2007. The idea originated with the local Pyramid Business Park. It is
all became part of the M8 Art project which created artistic talking
points along the main travel corridor between east and west.
Well, it has certainly achieved its aim. Indeed, that is why the picture
was sort of familiar. I would have seen similar pictures over recent
Mind you, if Andrew Jack says the dye is harmless to the
sheep, I’m not sure whether those coats of many colours are equally as
harmless to passing motorists as they distract their gaze off the road
Talking of grabbing attention, this, also from The Times:
Sir, You report that the Hubble Space Telescope captured
images of a star explosion whose light took 10 billion years to reach
I would not wish to seem to doubt the veracity of this
claim ― but it does seem to be a very round number.
JOHN MACKENZIE, Cuckfield, W Sussex
Talking of stars in our eyes, here’s a recent letter from The Sunday
Telegraph, which also generated a smile and more.
Where’s in a name?
SIR – Some celebrity children, such as Zowie Bowie, seem
able to prove ultimately indifferent to public ridicule about their
However, given the Beckhams’ penchant for the location
of conception, one can be fairly sure that any of their children must be
grateful not to have been conceived in Peckham.
Oh dear, Peckham Beckham. It would sit perfectly alongside Brooklyn Beckham,
not to mention Romeo, Cruz and Harper Seven. (Do you suppose Harper
Seven was conceived in a bathroom? No, hang on, then she would be Harpic
Anyway, remember the joke voted the funniest at last
year’s Edinburgh Fringe?
“You know who really gives kids a bad name? Posh and Becks.”
Actually, what instantly came to mind when I thought of
Peckham Beckham was that funny Peter Sellers record from the 1950s,
Balham ― or more correctly, Bal-ham, Gateway to the South ― the
wonderful take off of an American travelogue so typical of the Fifties.
There’s a YouTube link below for a few minutes of
Sellers magic. I mean, just imagine this:
“We enter Bal-ham through the verdant grasslands of
“Broad-bosomed, bold, becalmed, benign,
Lies Bal-Ham, four-square on the Northern Line…
“Oh stands the church clock at
And is there honey still for tea?”
“Honey’s off, dear.”
Marvellous. There’s also a reminder in there that bad service is
nothing new. Oh, and for ever more and a day, I shall think of the
Beckhams as the Beck-hams:
Saturday, April 20
The early bird
NATURE announced my day with a picture-perfect dawn:
still, cloudless, clear ― and suddenly rather cold again. The fields had
a covering of frost ― not particularly severe; after all, we are
approaching the end of April.
As I crossed the fields of Dinefwr Park and Castle, what
slowly hove into view was Newton House ... and I was dazzled by the sun
reflecting off the many windows.
The time was approaching half-six and the sun had just
surfaced over the Carmarthenshire Vans and the Towy Valley, directly
behind me ― and it is was reflecting magically off the windows of the
House, Llandeilo: a dazzling sunrise over Dinefwr Park
It was quite an experience on such a picture-perfect
morning, and all about being in the right place at the right time. A
little to the left, or a bit to the right, and I would have missed it.
Being such a cold morning after the recent arrival of the
mild weather ― I was even wearing gloves, softie that I am in my old age
― the little songbirds were not so much waiting in numbers for their
Candy Man moment, but zooming across the fields to greet me.
At one particular spot where I feed the birds, four came
to hand in quick succession, which is most unusual: first a tiny marsh
tit, a regular and welcome guest, then two great tits, much like a couple of jets lining up to land at Heathrow ―
and finally a beautiful little coal tit, here pictured a couple of weeks
back against a background of some Towy Valley wild daffodils...
Although all the smaller birds are totally at ease with
my presence, it’s only a very few of them that will actually come to
Birds are like people, really. Or rather, we
are like the birds, for the birds have been around a whole lot longer
With humans there’s a rule of thumb: just about one in
every ten individuals we meet we find ourselves instantly attracted to.
I’m not talking here about sexual attraction, just basic human
interaction: it can be male-female, obviously, but it can also be
female-female, male-male, young-old.
These are the people who, from the moment we meet them,
whether at the pub, on a train or plane, or simply when out walking, we
are instantly at ease in their company and conversation comes easily.
This mutual attraction can also cross the class divide.
When the Lord of the Manor walks through town he is just as likely to
stop and have a friendly chat with the local solicitor as he is with the
fellow who calls round to clean the windows.
Birds are the same. About one in every ten will
eventually venture onto my hand to take some feed. But best of all,
because the birds which won’t come to hand are not phased by my
presence, they carry on their normal behaviour as if I’m not there,
especially so now during the mating season.
The most fascinating are the little blue tits. Unlike the
larger birds, like say the blackbirds where the males are always
fighting for dominance, the blue tits appear to pair up without much fuss
But there is a lot of wooing and seducing going on. I
notice two blue tits chasing each other through the trees; initially I
tend to think it’s the male giving the female a hard time, so to speak.
The female lands on a branch and the male chases and lands alongside.
The female takes off ― and the male goes off in hot pursuit yet again.
Suddenly, the male appears to say, bugger this for a
bundle of laughs, why am I wasting my time here. But if the male holds
his ground, the female returns and lands fairly near the male, as if to
say “C’mon, get your act together―”. And off they go again.
It’s an absolute delight to watch.
The other thing I noticed ― yesterday morning, actually ―
was the return of the swallows. I was crossing one of the larger fields
down in the valley, and I noticed loads and loads of swallows bombing
about the field, flying very low.
Then the sun came out from behind some cloud and lit up
insects after insects after insects, all glistening in the sun. I’ve
never seen so many, millions of them it seemed, so it was no surprise
that the birds were having a ― well, a field day.
This morning though, crossing the same field, with the
cold slowly melting away under the power of the rising sun, there wasn’t
a swallow in sight. It was still too cold for the insects to be out and
Back to this morning, and a walk through the bluebell
wood. The bluebells are now popping up left, right and centre. However,
from a distance the woodland floor still hangs on to its dominant green.
Even the camera in a wide shot doesn’t yet capture the
early bluebells among the green. Only a painting would do so, I guess,
with the dots of blue enhanced, as only an artist can.
Yep, today’s morning walk was a perfect example of the pleasures nature
has in store as spring slowly but surely unfolds in all its glory.
Friday, April 19
TODAY I finally got round to finishing off last weekend’s
Sunday Times, in particular those little corners of off-beat news
which keep me endlessly amused; for example, here’s a couple of smiley
pieces spotted in ATTICUS, a column penned by Roland White.
Oh, and it’s no surprise that Margaret Thatcher was the
star of the show last weekend:
When that handbag really was in season
Who says the Iron Lady had no sense of humour? Last week,
the former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing recalled their
first meeting at his official residence.
At one point, the president’s black labrador, Jugurtha,
pounced on the prime minister’s handbag and began to make love in a
vigorous fashion (claiming afterwards that the bag had been making eyes
Mrs Thatcher apparently stared at the young lovers before noting: “I see
this dog’s been given a French education.”
By one of those smashing coincidences, I noticed this headline in
Mail Online ― and was tempted to fetch a bucket of water to throw
The Queen of handbagging!
Sales of Thatcher’s favourite Launer bags soar 53% in the days after
the Iron Lady’s death
● UK's first women PM was rarely
seen without her signature black bag
● Her MPs coined term
“handbagging” due to her stern nature and bag
● Luxury firm Launer have seen
53% rise in sales since Maggie’s death
● Brand made many of her bags and is also favoured by the Queen
At that point I made my excuses and departed ― returning to the ATTICUS
column ... and this little piece, especially apt as the address at
Wednesday’s funeral by the Bishop of London was particularly well
Short and sweet
Here’s a handy tip
for Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, who’ll be preaching at
Wednesday’s funeral: keep the eulogies short or you invite trouble.
The Labour MP Chris Bryant, a former vicar, once
described the deceased ― a man he’d never met ― as “a loving husband”.
He recalls: “Suddenly I heard a sort of constipated
groan from the second row as the widow lurched up and started mouthing
“Then she stared at a woman several rows back: ‘I don’t
know what you’re smiling at. You two were at it for 20 years.’.”
A few weeks ago, watching the rerun of Cheers on
ITV4, there was pretty much a similar story line, when Carla, the
handbagging but amusing waitress, was at the funeral of her husband
who’d been killed in an accident, and when the officiating clergyman
invited the widow to approach the coffin ― another woman got up as
Whatever, just to keep a sort of political balance, I also spotted this:
Text message sent by former miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, 75,
after himself receiving a text reading “Thatcher dead”.
Now if Arthur had shown that sort of droll humour when he
led his miners to that infamous confrontation with Maggie, the British
people might have warmed to him ― and who knows what history would be
recording right now.
Anyway, back with what was often perceived as Maggie’s lack of a sense
of humour, this letter in The Times:
Sir, Some people say
that Margaret Thatcher had no sense of humour but she could certainly be
amusing. In the early 1960s, when there were few women parliamentary
candidates, a speaker at a Conservative candidates course was telling us
how to win our election campaigns. “The best thing would be if your wife
were to have a baby,” he said.
Then, realising that there were a few of us women in
the audience, he quickly added, “Oh, and of course if you ladies were to
have a baby too.” There was then a voice from the back asking, “Well,
tell us the date then. Tell us the date.”.
That was Margaret Thatcher.
ANN SPOKES SYMONDS, Oxford
What I liked in that story was the observation that perhaps she
really was not blessed with a sense of humour, in the accepted sense,
but she could certainly be amusing.
I guess we all know people like that: individuals we
would never describe as the life and soul of the party, yet they amuse
us no end with their sayings and behaviour.
And now for something completely different
in today’s Daily Telegraph:
SIR – I think Lady
Thatcher was mistaken when she told the Bishop of London to avoid the
duck pâté because of the fat.
When she was working as a chemist, scientists the world
over were starting to demonise saturated fats, and replacing them with
hydrogenated vegetable oils containing the dreaded trans-fats. The harm
these can do only started to come to light later.
I understand that, in Gascony, duck fat is widely used,
and the health of the population should be evidence enough that duck fat
Robert H Olley,
When I read that, I felt there was something wrong with the premise ― so
I searched out the Bishop’s actual address. This is what he said of
Margaret Thatcher and her amusing ways:
She was always
reaching out and trying to help in typically un-coded terms. I was once
sitting next to her at some City function. In the midst of describing
how Hayek’s Road to Serfdom had influenced her thinking, she suddenly
grasped my wrist and said very emphatically: “Don’t touch the duck pâté
, Bishop ... it’s very fattening.”
Yes of course, she didn’t say to avoid the duck pate “because of the
fat” ― but rather “it’s very fattening”. Which is something completely
Incidentally, I’ve resisted the temptation of Googling ‘Hayek’s Road to
Serfdom’ ― mostly because my inherited genes have spent many generations
furiously going the other way.
As for ‘Thatcher’s Road to Heaven’, this from The Times:
Sir, On my way to watch Lady Thatcher’s funeral I
overheard a man asking a police officer: “Where should I go from here do
you reckon?”. To which the officer replied, without batting an eyelid:
“That depends on where you wish to go, sir. Did you want St Paul’s, the
procession, or the protest?”
That, surely, is what it means to live in a free
MARTINE BOOGAERTS, London NW4
Finally, given that Margaret Thatcher was famous for not
making U-turns, I intuitively knew that a recent Times
letter Chief Wise Owl had saved for me would come in handy:
U for upward?
Sir, That streets beginning with U have the most
expensive property may be true of Upper Phillimore Gardens, Kensington,
but I hardly imagine the same goes for Uncouth Road, Rochdale.
Oh to live in Utopia Street, Upper West Side, Underheaven...
Thursday, April 18
Sweat, tears and curiosity
the day after the Iron Lady was laid to rest ― I nearly said ‘laid to
rust’ ― I enjoyed this from the Telegraph’s
especially so given the emotional tears of a senior government
What made the politician’s tears so ‘hold the front page’
was that, in the light of Amanda Thatcher being voted the individual
“most likely to change the world” by her high school peers, this
particular fellow would, at 11am yesterday anyway, been voted the
individual “most likely not to show emotion” by the
There has been much speculation regarding what triggered
the tears from Chancellor George Osborne. The Bishop of London had not
long begun his address, so did his words trigger something?
The chancellor himself suggested he cried for the simple
reason that he found the service at St Paul’s Cathedral immensely
touching. “A moving, almost overwhelming day,” the chancellor tweeted
shortly after leaving the cathedral.
Osborne appeared emotional after the Rt Rev Richard
Chartres had said “our hearts go out” to Thatcher’s children, Mark and
Carol, and the rest of their family.
But his own party lined up rather unkindly to mock the
One Tory said: “Perhaps George had just read what Oscar
Wilde said of Little Nell.” Wilde reputedly said of Nell’s death in
Dickens’ novel The Old Curiosity Shop: “One would have to have a heart
of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears
... of laughter.”
If I am going to be super-cynical ― after all, it is my
job to be so when recording the things that draw me in and invite a
smile ― I reckon he shed a tear when the bishop said this: “Today the
remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral
service. Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of
all human beings...”
It has to be the one thing that buggers up the rich and the
powerful ― I believe Osborne comes from a wealthy family ― and that is
that they can’t take their wealth with them when they die.
I guess that would make me cry too if I found myself
listed in The Sunday Times Rich List. Note how the world’s
richest people become exceedingly philanthropic when they hear the bell
for the final lap.
Can salvation be bought for a crock of gold?
Anyway, after posting yesterday’s bulletin on the funeral, I cast a
quick eye over my notes ― and noticed that three words, ‘Sweat and
tears’, remained untouched.
Well, the ‘tears’ have now been crossed off. But what of
Sweat for duty, not for need!
two letters in today’s Daily Telegraph say it much better
than I could...
SIR – This [the
service] was a triumph of British decency and solidarity, but may I
record particular admiration for the coffin bearers, under the command
of the formidable Welsh Guardsmen brothers Mott, in negotiating the
steps of St Paul’s, not only up but down? My fingers were crossed.
Roland Fernsby, Pelham,
SIR – I would like to think that some of the applause during Lady
Thatcher’s funeral procession was directed towards the men who gallantly
and faultlessly carried her coffin up and down the steps of St Paul’s
Only by doing it can one appreciate the strain and
Herne Bay, Kent
Which explains the gentle beads of sweat on the foreheads of the
pallbearers as they entered the Cathedral.
Major Nick Mott at the rear, brother Garrison Sergeant Major Bill Mott
at the front
A call to arms
Two of those who served in the Falklands were chosen to
command the pallbearers: Major Nick Mott, from the Welsh Guards, and his
brother Garrison Sergeant Major Bill Mott (a familiar face at recent
military, national and state occasions), who both survived the attack on the Sir
Galahad, the supply ship and troop carrier which was attacked as it
prepared to unload soldiers in Port Pleasant.
Forty-eight soldiers and seamen died; many were rescued
from the burning hull by helicopters.
The Motts were in charge of co-ordinating the team of 10
pallbearers; only eight actually carried the coffin, but two others were
required to carry the caps of those with the weight on their shoulders
and the sweat on their brows.
Finally, these two letters ― and as I often find on reading such things,
I smile because the same thoughts had crossed my mind at the time:
Yes, I wonder why?
SIR – Having watched the funeral of Lady Thatcher I
wondered why Tony Blair thought it appropriate to stand at the door of
St Paul’s shaking hands with members of the congregation as they left.
Diana Goetz, Donhead
St Mary, Wiltshire
SIR – When Sir Winston Churchill died in 1965 his funeral took place on
Why did Margaret Thatcher’s funeral have to take place
mid-week, with all the disruption and inconvenience this caused to
business and travel in central London?
Yes, and just as importantly, it would have given the chance for many
more to either attend or watch on television, for these occasions
undoubtedly trigger something significant within the British psyche.
Wednesday, April 17
Maggie’s final journey into history
SO I sat down to watch the funeral of Margaret Thatcher.
I am always mesmerised by these national events.
It is something the nation does with distinction, from
the marriage of Kate and William to the Olympics Opening and Closing
ceremonies ― with a grand funeral thrown in for old time’s sake.
The last state funeral was that of the Queen Mother ...
do you know, I can still hear the extraordinary sound of the pipes and
drums that accompanied her final journey.
It is astonishing how a nation can put on such a show of
pomp and pageantry, such exquisite timing and precision with everything
done to the second ― yet it is something completely at odds with
everything else modern Britain has to offer.
So I sat down with a pad and pencil and decided to jot
down a word or two when something out of the ordinary or off-beat caught
The very first word on my pad is:
Gategate: Along the initial journey, the hearse
slowly passes the entrance to Downing Street, and I couldn’t help but
notice those huge gates ― now known as Plebgates ― and the ludicrous
fuss Andrew Mitchell made over a four-letter word most of us were wholly
unfamiliar with. And all because the fellow wanted the police to open
those large gates for him to take his little pushbike through.
Never mind a pleb, the fellow’s a twit.
The TV picture then regularly cut back to St Paul’s
Cathedral to spot the great and the good arriving. And the next word on
Trains: There was Michael Portillo, our guide
along Britain’s great railway journeys ― and how grey and drab he looked
compared with the extraordinary colourful wardrobe he wears as he
wanders over the points, over the points...
And my goodness ― who on earth is that extraordinary
looking lady looking like a million dollars, not to mention the somewhat
You could have pushed me over with a feather when anchor
David Dimbleby identified her as opera singer Katherine Jenkins.
Wel-i-jiw-jiw, keep taking the pills, Katherine.
And then David Cameron arrived ― oh God, all that silly
kissing nonsense. Why?
Then we were back with the funeral procession proper, the
coffin carried on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses.
And I became aware of the three horses which did not have
riders on ... each one appeared to be having a continuing conversation
with the horse alongside. Indeed, with the two horses directly in front
of the carriage, I found myself mesmerised with the behaviour of the
horse not being ridden.
Not only did it appear to be having non-stop dialogue
with the horse alongside, it looked as if it was determined to give it a
good old love-bite...
...then several horses began shaking their heads quite
violently up and down ― something they appear to do when they are
getting bored with everything.
However, despite the heads bopping up and down and the
horsey chit-chat going on between them, the rest of their bodies never
missed a beat or a step and were in perfect harmony. Mesmeric.
At St Paul’s Cathedral, the bells, the bells. Or rather,
the bell, in particular the alternate toll, between the normal and the
half-muffled bell. Who would have thought that something so simple and
basic could be so spellbinding.
Inside, the sheer splendour of St Paul’s, especially the
camera shot looking down on the scene from on high...
...and then panning up to that exquisite dome...
Mind you, as the coffin was placed on the dais under the
dome of St Paul’s, I would love to know what the Queen, somewhat
irritatingly it seemed, said to Prince
Philip ... whatever it was, he was stumped for a reply.
The next word I have written down is Organ. What a
majestic sound an organ makes, especially noticeable as it echoed around
the Cathedral: “Now one of Lady Thatcher’s favourite films ... er,
hymns,” said David Dimbleby. Cut. Oh no, you can’t do that during a live
[In my usual spell-cheque corner, the computer
suggests ‘Dibble’ for ‘Dimbleby’ ― as in Officer Dibble from Top Cat, I
And then Amanda Thatcher, Lady Thatcher’s granddaughter,
delivers the first of the readings. So composed, so elegant, so classy
...she and her brother live with their mother in Dallas, where according
to Amanda’s school reports she is a talented sportswoman who excels in
athletics and was voted “most likely to change the world” by her high
No pressure then. But no surprise either.
Those who have always lived in a community will know that
nature plays a little trick when it comes to passing genes on down the
line. Rarely are children ‘clones’ of their parents, but they regularly
are of their grandparents. Why nature does this, God only knows. But
rather obviously young Amanda has inherited her grandmother’s genes.
The address was given by The Bishop of London, the Rt Rev
Richard Chartres. It was well judged, well written, well spoken: “After
the storm of a life lived in the heat of political controversy,” he
said, “there is a great calm. The storm of conflicting opinions centres
on the Mrs Thatcher who became a symbolic figure ― even an ‘ism’.
“Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher
are here at her funeral service. Lying here, she is one of us, subject
to the common destiny of all human beings...”
A pause for thought there, for sure...
At the end of the service, the Great West Doors swung opened ... and the
light came flooding in to dramatic effect ― with the three cheers of the
crowd hot on its heels.
And then Margaret Hilda Thatcher was back in the hearse
and gone forever. But not from history.
Two letters seem apt, the first from The Times:
Sir, Born above a
corner shop. Dies at the Ritz. She must have done something right.
GRAHAM LAST, Longthorpe, Cambs
And I liked this letter in The Daily Telegraph following the
SIR – How appropriate
that the last three letters of the hearse bearing Lady Thatcher were
LEV, which means “Lion” in Russian, Czech, Polish and other Slavic
languages. Many of those nations would surely approve.
Christopher Peters, Godalming, Surrey
The quotes that found themselves on my note pad during the funeral were
“I am thinking of going for leader,” Margaret Hilda told husband Dennis
when she first decided to challenge for the leadership of the
Conservative Party. To which Dennis replied: “Leader of what?”
Someone said she spoke in primary colours, that there were no pastel
colours in her vocabulary. “Unclutered clarity,” Nick Clegg called it.
She always answered the question you asked her, a reporter said. And if
it was a nonsensical question she told you so in no uncertain terms.
Terry Wogan observed that she was the only Prime Minister to turn up in
person to support Children In Need. It’s the little things that say so
While she was very hard on those who opposed her politics, or indeed
those in her own cabinet, many said that she showed extreme kindness and
consideration to those who worked for her.
Michael Cockerell the documentary maker said that, on the
many times he filmed her she would always ask if he wanted a cup of tea
, a biscuit? She would also go round each and every one of the crew
accompanying him and ask the same thing. They always remarked on it.
Cockerell told a tale of Tony Benn attending a studio and
overhearing a couple of technicians: “Are we lighting for or against
tonight?” Perhaps apocryphal ― but there is a gem of truth because such
people can make you look good or bad.
So what of the day? Unsurprisingly, it was a memorable one, a very
dignified affair ― but as I say above, it’s always the little things
that stick in the mind.
can I sum up why I made a point of watching the funeral?
Well, the coffin entered St Paul’s at precisely 11am ― then
“a service of deep civility amid the brutality and bitterness” of the past
week or so ― and the coffin leaves the Cathedral at precisely 12
A final thought
Above I mention the pipe and drums at the Queen Mother’s
funeral. Below is a link to a sequence filmed that day from the crowd.
It’s a bit shaky at first, but stick with it.
It’s very moving ― and watch out for the horses drawing
the gun carriage as it passes through, seemingly having a chat and
obviously doing what comes naturally...
Tuesday, April 16
Botox: in-box ... out-box
AS MENTIONED in a previous dispatch, a really good story
or joke is just like a really good song or piece of music: it bears
The relevant recall was triggered by a trending story,
Gwyneth Paltrow says Botox makes her look
like Joan Rivers
More beauty confessions from Paltrow: “I’ll try anything.
Except I won’t do Botox again. Because I looked crazy ― I looked like
Gwyneth Paltrow has recently been letting fly a string of
personal revelations. Most of these confessions have been harmless, if
However, her latest announced decision, to stop using
Botox, might step her up from the world’s most decadent lifestyle
blogger ― to Hollywood’s new Queen of Mean.
Beauty and the Beastie
going somewhere up that crazy Rivers
Paltrow, 40, in discussing her DIY health regimen,
explains that she only allows herself one cigarette a week and will
never do Botox again because “…I looked crazy. I looked like Joan Rivers!”.
Madam, we’ll have you know Joan Rivers is a comedy icon
who made her name making fun of other people’s … oh!
Delightful doolallyness in excelsis. Yes of course, there’s that
business of Gwyneth allowing herself one cigarette a week, 52 cigarettes
a year ― why? ― but it’s the historical Botox story, compliments of
Radio Wales’s Roy Noble, that came surging back into view.
Or more correctly, the invention of a wonderful new word.
One of Roy’s attractive foibles is that, just
occasionally, he gets words slightly wrong, to very comic effect ― much
as I often do, I must admit (the written word doesn’t really count, obviously,
because I review what I’ve written, and any mistake that still gets
through means ― well, it means I’m just stupid, and it’s not a slip of the tongue).
Anyway, there was Roy earnestly describing a certain lady
― come to think of it, it could well have been Gwyneth Paltrow ― who had
been on a course of “Botex”.
He repeated the word “Botex” a few times before being
gently corrected by a friendly female news presenter who had hung around
for a quick chat after delivering the news.
What I so enjoy about this cock-up on Roy’s
part is the inadvertent perfection of the word “Botex”. Now we know that Tipp-Ex is
something we use to correct human errors on the page; Botox, on the
other hand, corrects Mother Nature’s slip-ups.
So Botex becomes the stuff that is used to correct the
human errors made following the use of Botox to correct nature’s errors.
Now you see why the word deserves to be repeated and
Word of mouth
This afternoon I called at CK’s Supermarket in town. As I
was browsing I overheard a comment that grabbed my attention. Now
I’m not sure what precisely led to the comment, but there were three
shop employees sorting out stuff in the corner: two youngsters
and a middle-aged lady, who I believe is some sort of manager at the
Anyway, what I think had happened is that one of the
youngsters swore ― but quickly apologised to the older lady. She clearly
wasn’t phased, but simply responded with: “It’s not the mouth it comes
out of but the mind it goes into.”
I had never heard that before. I
complimented the lady on her comment ― and she smiled sweetly as if it
was the most natural response in the world.
The first thing I thought of afterwards was, that the BBC
should bear that quote in mind with their relentless use of obscenities
in programmes that simply do not benefit from casual use of obscenity.
When I got home I Googled the saying ... I was surprised
that out of 258,000,000 results, there was just the one entry at the very
top using the quote, and that was from a blog back in 2008.
It sounds to me like one of those sayings children
pick up from their parents when they use language they shouldn’t.
What did tumble out of Google in huge numbers though was a quote from the
Bible, Mathew 15:11: “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile
them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
Which, to my mind, is nowhere near as memorable as what the
supermarket lady said.
Monday, April 15
IN MY Notes to Self on the
Welcome mat, above, I list some of the places where I see and hear
the things that make me smile and which brighten up my day no end ― and,
at the very end I mention the curiosities spotted along my early-morning
walks through the Towy Valley...
Well, today was such a day. Yesterday morning, after a month and more of
mostly dry but extremely cold weather, I missed my walk because of the ―
yes, because of the rain and the wind. This morning I was back on
The difference in just one week is quite
startling. Last Monday we were in the grips of the cold with that
bitingly bitter easterly wind, temperatures first thing in the morning
just below freezing.
By mid-week the cold weather relented.
This morning, although overcast with a strong south-westerly breeze, it
was dry but incredibly mild, around 15 degrees later in the morning I
The first thing I noticed was the
birdsong. Suddenly there was a whole lot of chatting-up (or more
correctly, singing/whistling-up) going on, along with much courting and
wooing, underlined by the noticeably fewer birds enthusiastically coming
to greet me, their friendly neighbourhood Candy Man, as I am probably
known to them.
When sex is in the
air, food is pushed onto the back-burner.
As for my
suddenly flowers are
opening all over the shop, and at Ground Zero the Green Room is awash
with bluebells ready to open. I guess it will be another week before the
colour blue begins to distract from the green ― and then it will be all
systems go for one of the sights of the British countryside, not just in
spring but in any season.
Oh yes, and the wild primroses are now
The other thing I notice is how much livelier and bouncier the young lambs
are in the proper spring weather ― and here I come to my smile of the
As I was crossing a field awash with
sheep and their lambs, I noticed something most unusual concerning one
of the sheep and her lambs. I blinked and cautiously approached, slowly
preparing my little camera for action as I did so.
My cautious approach is helped by the
fact that the sheep and lambs see me as something familiar crossing
their territory every morning, and as long as I walk through them slowly
and casually without making any sudden movements, they tend not to get
spooked and will sit or stand there and just watch me pass on by...
Wake up, wake up you sleepy head
Grabbing forty winks with mum on lookout duty
Yes, the lamb was fast asleep ― but still on its feet.
Extraordinary, made possible I guess because it had actually toppled
onto its mother, which presumably stopped it from falling over. Never
seen such a thing before. And as far as I know, sheep, unlike horses,
are unable to sleep while standing up.
And of course the second lamb is sleeping in the usual
way on the ground.
What is also noticeable is that mum is aware of my
presence, but is not troubled. Mind you, I am not as close as the
picture suggests because I am using the zoom and the image is tightly
I was pleased with the photo because the light was quite
poor, and I was using my smaller, back-up camera, my main camera having
developed a recent fault. Actually, my main camera, a modest little
bridge version ― something between a compact and an SLR ― has given me
wonderful service, so time to invest in a new one.
In fact, the above picture proves how essential it is to
always have a camera of some sort about my person along my morning
Over the points, over the points...
Talking of camera work, in the evening I watched Great
British Railway Journeys. Tonight, Michael Portillo ― a most
agreeable travelling companion ― took us around the Lake District, a
repeat from Series 1, No. 8: Windermere to Kendal.
Fascinating, as usual ― great camera work, combining some
marvellous old black and white photographs and film, in particular of Windermere
and its famous lake.
Michael then visited a local premises, Darryl’s Café &
Take Away, which used to be a railway booking office, and he enjoys
a coffee. Whilst there, the owner of the café (I presume), outlines the
intriguing history of the café from its earliest days.
All the while there’s a fellow stood at the counter, also
enjoying a coffee and collecting a takeaway, a local character,
obviously, and he is listening intently to the exchange between Darryl
At the end, Michael says to Darryl: “It’s nice to know
that local people know their history ― thank you very much.”
And as Michael turns to walk out of shot the fellow at
the counter looks at Darryl and says: “You never told me all that.”
It was ever so funny. Now I don’t know if it was
spontaneous or planned, but it worked a treat.
I find Great British Railway Journeys just
about the most enjoyable and relaxing 30 minutes on telly. And what a
fascinating country it is we live in, with its extraordinary history and
A truly smiley day.
Sunday, April 14
ENJOYED the company of Chief Wise Owl and Mrs What A Hoot
today. CWO is my man who keeps me posted on smiley articles and letters
spotted in The Times newspaper.
We shared a laugh over quite a few things. First was
this, a piece from Rose Wild’s weekly Feedback column, something
similar to BBC TV’s Points of View, where readers good-naturedly
(mostly) challenge or correct what has been published in the newspaper.
Déjà vu, again
Nicholas Leonard wonders if it was Yogi Berra, rather
than Yogi Bear, to whom Al Gore was referring in his interview in
Times2. In a light moment, Mr Gore, reaching for the author of a quote,
said: “Samuel Johnson, Winston Churchill, Yogi Bear ... you’re safe with
any of them.”
But Mr Leonard is probably right that he meant the
quotable New York Yankees catcher, outfielder and manager Lawrence Peter
“Yogi” Berra, as opposed to the cartoon bear of Jellystone Park.
Berra, who played and coached from the 1940s through to
the 1980s, was responsible for: “When you come to a fork in the road,
take it,” and: “It’s déjà vu all over again”. The cartoon Yogi was known
for: “I’m smarter than the average bear.”
My Favourite Yogiism though could almost have been coined
by his great predecessor in the scrambling of logical sentences, the
Reverend W. A. Spooner: “I really didn’t say everything I said.”
Another Times contribution the three of us had some fun
with was this letter, especially so remembering that the Grand National,
with its history of insisting horses do unnatural things, was run just
Horses can take it
Sir, You report that the ratio of the weight of the rider
should be 10 per cent of the weight of the horse.
While I am sure that there are some overweight riders
on underweight horses, it is interesting to note that the racing
industry has many jockeys carrying 9st 7lb (60kg) on a horse that will
weigh approximately 450kg.
Horse racing operates on a ratio of about 13 per cent,
while point-to-point operates on a ratio of approximately
16 per cent. These horses seem pretty fit to me.
How fascinating is that? Rather frightening though, isn’t
it? As Mrs What A Hoot pointed out, working on the point-to-point ratio
of carrying 16 per cent, that is the equivalent of a 14 stone man
(196lbs/89kg) digging his garden with a rucksack on his back carrying 14
bags of sugar (1kg each) ― or more realistically, running a 400m hurdles
race with those 14 bags of sugar on his back.
Yes of course, horses are built differently and the comparison is
Yet even if you halve the load in the man’s rucksack to
just 7 bags of sugar, or even down to four ― I mean, you try holding
just a couple of bags of sugar in your hands for an extended period ―
and the thought of having to carry all those sugar bags on your back
while doing some physical work is somewhat off-putting.
While I have no problem with people riding horses ―
gee-gees appear to have been built for the job anyway ― I have
nevertheless always felt sorry for those horses having to haul all that
weight over the jumps.
“Oh, but horses love to jump, it’s second nature to
them,” is something the horse racing fraternity always argue. And yet,
and yet ... if they love jumping so much, when did you last see a horse
clear a modest, bog-standard fence to release themselves from the prison
that is their paddock or field?
After all, it is in their nature to run free, run wild.
Along my morning walk I regularly come into contact with
a few horses, and the place they call home is a particularly large
field, especially so for this part of the world ― and it really is a joy
to watch them racing around the field as if they were out there on the
Yet I’ve never once witnessed them clear ― or indeed
wanting to clear ― the modest fences surrounding the field.
Pause for thought
Talk of horses and fences brings me neatly to God. As I
may have mentioned before, I am unsure whether I believe in a God (or a
Grand Designer), so I tend to sit on the fence.
To paraphrase some historically famous figure ― so famous
in fact that his name escapes me right now: I would rather live my life
as if there is a God, but if when I die there is no God ― well, no harm
done; indeed I may hopefully have lived a better life because of it and
perhaps done someone, somewhere some good along the way.
However, if when I die I discover that there really
is a God, and I have lived my life passably well ― 50
per cent is a pass mark in God’s University, but with the important
rider “Can do better, MUST do better” ― gosh, so if there is a God I’ll
be quids in (says he with fingers firmly crossed behind back).
Getting back to whether there is a Grand Designer ― or
that everything is down to that selfish gene ― I am always intrigued as
to why nature just happened to evolve the horse, a perfect machine to
carry a man, and did so way before anatomically modern humans appeared
on the scene.
It’s a real tease, that one.
Finally, and sticking with The Times: back
on the 23rd of August 2012, the newspaper printed this letter...
Sir, Thank you very
much for the helpful article about hoarding (Times2, Aug 20). I’ve put
it with the others.
JOHN SCRIVENS, Lorton, Cumbria
Very amusing. Then, last Monday, the 8th of April 2013, this was printed
in The Times...
Sir, Thank you for
your informative article on hoarding (“Stop hoarding and change your
life”, Apr 6). I have placed it with the others.
Very funny, though, especially as the nation’s media
outlets keep telling the rest of us where we are going wrong with our
ARIEL COHEN, Elstree, Herts
Obviously The Times does not hoard stuff, particularly
letters on subjects that have previously appeared in the newspaper.
Saturday, April 13
Taking the road less travelled
SO I deliberately kept away from pretty much everything
in the news media to do with Margaret Thatcher since her death last
Monday. From the very moment I heard the news, instinct warned me that
the meeja would go overboard with it all.
And if the number of newspaper pages I’ve simply flicked
over without reading is anything to go by, my instinct appears not to
have let me down.
I mean, c’mon, if we Brits as a nation did not understand
what her legacy was all about last Sunday, the day before she died, then
there really is very little hope for us as a country now that she’s
We can’t be that stupid, surely? Or can we?
Anyway, I have ventured back into the news ― and there has been no
escaping the rise and rise of Ding Dong!
The Witch Is Dead ― the song propelled into the pop charts by
opponents of Margaret Thatcher, along with its attendant fuss over
whether it should, or should not, be played on the BBC’s Sunday chart
I shall return to that later.
Proceed with caution
Today, I ventured onto iPlayer to watch last night’s
Have I Got News For You (HIGNFY). I wasn’t sure what to expect,
especially with the outrageous and exceedingly loud Brian Blessed as
Truth to tell, I thought the programme handled its main
story, the death of Thatcher obviously, rather well ― and Blessed was
wonderfully well behaved, relatively speaking.
The programme made a point of laughing at those
commenting on the death of Margaret Thatcher, rather than laughing at
Thatcher herself. Much like the film The Life of Brian, which
didn’t poke fun at Jesus but rather at the doolallyness of many of his
Here are some of the news titbits on HIGNFY that
made me smile and laugh along, Brian Blessed talking:
There was a
misunderstanding on social media over a twitter conversation called
#nowthatchersdead ― which upset fans of the popular singer Cher, who
thought she had died i.e. #now-that-chers-dead.
there were errors on mainstream news too. In a hurry to break the story,
this is how the BBC announced the news
[and fair play,
HIGNFY actually showed the BBC clip of the news reader saying this]:
“A message from Lord Bell, and
he has been quoted as saying: ‘It is with great sadness that Mark and
Carol Thatcher announced that their mother, Baroness Thatcher, had died
peacefully, following a strike this morning...’.”
It was also captured on the BBC’s mobile site and shown
Gosh, the Iron Lady, killed by industrial action. How her
ghost must have smiled. That has to be the mother of all ironic slips.
Mind you, if you look at your keyboard, it is very easy to stumble over
stroke and strike.
Anyway, let’s allow Brian Blessed to continue with the show:
of Thatcher’s reign have brought back some memories. Do you recall what
the eminent Doctor Jonathan Miller said about Thatcher? “She is
loathsome and repulsive in every way with her odious suburban
I mean, it’s good that Jonathan Miller reminds us
occasionally what a twat he is.
Jeffrey Archer paid tribute to Margaret Thatcher, saying:
“She was a giant and she will remain a giant, and in history she will
remain a giant.”
And Jeffrey Archer, not just a terrible writer, but
also a terrible writer...
Anyway, back to the Ding Dong!
The Witch Is Dead furore. This unconnected story recently
spotted in the media...
Call off the dogs
A Chinese woman
has been fined £500 for naming her dog after a neighbour. She insulted
and swore at the dog repeatedly after she and the neighbour fell out
over a planning dispute, a court in Gansu province heard.
The neighbour, Wang Sun, told the court: “Whenever she
saw me she would start swearing and insulting the dog using my name.
Everyone knew what she was up to.”
There’s something really amusing about that tale:
what she was up to.”
Now wouldn’t it have
been better if Thatcher’s enemies had named all their badly behaved dogs
after her? That would certainly have added to the gaiety of the passing
dog parade, rather than all this nastiness about the witch being dead.
I mean, we all remember that 47-second YouTube clip about
Fenton the dog ― or Jesus Christ Fenton, as he subsequently became known
― chasing the deer across Richmond Park, with a posh-sounding chap in
hot pursuit and the poor fellow increasingly doing his nut.
Now imagine if that dog had been called Thatcher. How
funny that would have been ― and without causing offence. You can test my
theory at the end ― there’ll be a link to the actual clip.
Back with The Witch Is Dead, the BBC really is in a difficult
position over this. After all, it is much easier to sit in judgment than
to actually act.
Whatever, this is what new BBC director-general Tony Hall
had to say: “I understand the concerns about this campaign. I personally
believe it is distasteful and inappropriate. However, I do believe it
would be wrong to ban the song outright as free speech is an important
principle and a ban would only give it more publicity.”
I sympathise with Hall. The words rock and hard place
spring to mind.
Free speech ― to music
I was intrigued that it only
needed some 30,000 people to download Ding Dong!
The Witch Is Dead and launch it into orbit to dominate the
But hang about; just 30,000 people out of a population of
60m have been able to create a political diversion that is out of all
proportion? That’s just 0.05% of the population (if my maths is correct;
anyway, it is an insignificant percentage).
I am unsure whether I find that reassuring or unsettling.
Actually, it brings to mind a Theodore Roosevelt quote, ever so slightly
“A protest is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of
Right, here’s the Fenton clip; as you watch and listen,
just imagine if the dog had been called Thatcher:
Friday, April 12
Shed a light
A FEW more Sign Language gems have topped the
Last Sunday I rummaged around in the 2013 Shed of the
Year competition, currently underway to seek out the UK’s most
wildly wacky and wonderful sheds ― and I chose as my favourite the shed
wearing a ‘beret’.
Mind you, if I had seen this little classic...
Sheduled for restoration?!
Spotted in Killin, Scotland by Dudley Chignall
Now how smiley is that? I am reminded of a character from
my early Crazy Horse days, Jac the Joiner.
Yes, he worked for a local carpentry business, but the
nickname was a double-edged blade: Jac was a smashing fellow ― now dead,
sadly ― but he was notorious for not buying his round without being
prompted. As someone at the Crazy Horse once remarked: “You can tell why
he’s called Jac the Joiner: as soon as he sees someone buying a round,
he quickly joins us.”
In the meantime, here’s another brace of beauties, this time apropos the
English language as she is written in faraway places with strange
The author is toast
Spotted in India by John Sakman
Spotted in Japan by Charles Henshaw
Yes, the above definitely, positively add to the gaiety
of Friday’s passing parade.
Exactly a week ago I spotted my first bluebell of the season,
― there she is up there in the Flower Power Gallery. By Sunday she had
been joined by her pal
who annually comes out a few days later in sympathy.
By today, another bluebell had properly opened; however,
following the sudden loss of the extremely cold weather from yesterday,
the Castle Woods Green Room is suddenly full of bluebells just waiting
to spring open and transform themselves from a green closed-shop into
the blue extravaganza we all recognise.
Also, the massed ranks of wood anemone have also perked
up dramatically with the arrival of the mild southerly breeze.
Incidentally, here is one definition of
a gem, especially a diamond, set alone in a ring. Well, my Solitaire is
actually a sapphire, set alone, at least in her first few days on the
grand stage, but surrounded by a ring made up of those ever so pretty
little wood anemone.
Thursday, April 11
Avoiding that ambush
“THE person who knows how to solve a problem is always
less efficient than the person who knows how to avoid it in the first
place.” Roy Noble, 70, Welsh radio and television broadcaster,
speaking on his
Ah yes, politicians, now they always know how to
solve problems (created by the previous administration, obviously).
And wasn’t it Eric Sevareid, the American journalist and
war correspondent, who observed that “the chief cause of problems is
the wireless, Roy also added this slice of wisdom:
“If you are
determined to do something today, a piece of advice: only do something
that will make you look good if you are unexpectedly caught doing it.”
Wonderful. Roy is full of such witticisms. He is our very
own Mark Twain. Well, sort of.
“There’s new research out, you know,” Roy continued. “It’s
easy to be wise: all you have to do is live long, speak little and do
even less ― so let’s try it, eh? Let’s play the percentage game: two out
of three and see what happens...”
A while back I remember seeing this headline somewhere or
other, the Telegraph, I think ... the article concerned the
political capabilities of the nation’s three prime movers and shakers:
Prime Minister David Cameron; the leader of the Opposition and Labour party, Ed Miliband; and PM in waiting, the Mayor of Old London
Town, Boris Johnson...
Boris Johnson has a deadly weapon ― wit
Mayor of London has never been more popular ― but would the electorate
trust him with the top job?
What I remember though from the article is the following,
spotted in the comment section...
Wit shows you have imagination and that you know how to read people and
situations. It indicates an ability to engage with people and a
quickness of mind.
It also shows an ability to listen and weigh up
situations and information with a mind capable of learning and applying
All these things Cameron lacks. The only comfort is
that Miliband is even more witless.
I was rather taken with that definition of wit (presumably Charles sees
those qualities in Boris Johnson).
A couple of days back I defined a proper wit as “a 0 to
60 in 2.5 seconds” sort of person, 2½ seconds being the maximum time you
have to get your verbal counter-punch in.
As mentioned, at the Crazy Horsepower we have a master of
the cutting repartee, The Sundance Kid. And do you know, the Charles
Cawley definition of wit sits perfectly on the shoulders of Sundance.
Meanwhile, back with Roy Noble: earlier I was catching up
with his Sunday show on iPlayer, and Roy told this tale:
Always leave a great tip
You go to a restaurant or hotel, and you get those little
forms that ask ‘How was it for you? Was it excellent ― or just so-so?’
Do you fill them in? I tend to, actually. But do they listen? In most
cases I think they do. But a woman here has had the opposite experience.
She said: “I’m full-figured, and when I eat in
restaurants I find the chairs are too small and uncomfortable. Last time
I had a meal, I filled out one of those comment cards: while the food
and the service were wonderful, the chairs did not accommodate anyone
over a size 14.
“Several weeks later I received a note of apology ― and
a coupon for a free dessert.”
Kiss the frog
So let’s leave you with the real master of wit; who else
but Mark Twain (1835-1910), American author and humorist:
it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the
morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the
biggest one first.”
time I am overtaken with apprehension or fear before having to do
something I detest, I shall think of Twain’s terrible twin frogs ― and
get on with it.
Wednesday, April 10
Notes from a small shemozzle
I WAS definitely tickled by a feature spotted compliments of
“My parents are coming today, can
you please wear pants all day?”
The hilarious notes left
for annoying roommates
A series of hilarious passive-aggressive notes left for
roommates show one way to get the message across. Whether it be not replacing
the loo roll or never washing the dishes, the notes, believed to be from
America, show exactly the sort of behaviour that won’t exactly endear
you to your housemates.
The saying goes that you never really know someone
properly until you’ve lived with them. And anyone who has ever set up
home in shared accommodation or a communal apartment block will
understand how frustrating living with others can be.
While it can sometimes be tough to iron out the
irritating habits of a flatmate without causing a rift or a row,
sometimes you’ve just got to get your frustrations off your chest.
For Post-it Notes read Pissed-off Notes
I am rather taken with the “passive-aggressive” turn of
phrase. I guess that means doing your nut without needing to “beat the
shit out of you”, as I presume Michelle has actually written on the
While some keep it short and sweet ― I feel for poor
Ashley passed out naked on the bathroom floor, but I am impressed with
the polite “Thank You” ― others get a little more
creative, such as the frowning slice of toast. Crumbs.
Mind you, I am puzzled that the annoyed user of said
toaster doesn’t carry a simple check-list in his/her head before
sticking the bread in. I mean, sometimes we have to teach ourselves to
spot the ambush before going round the bend.
For example, take the individual annoyed to find the
toilet roll has not been replaced...
I’m unsure whether the author was annoyed to get to the
toilet and finding the previous user had neglected to replace the loo
roll ― or the pissed-off flatmate had cleverly unrolled the paper when it was nearly
finished and written that message before rolling the paper back on. Now
that would be a clever bit of lateral thinking.
Indeed, by coincidence the toilet roll in the bathroom was near its end
― so I experimented ... yep, the smart money says the message was
written before the roll had actually finished: the bit of paper
remaining on the cardboard suggests it has been glued back on.
Sometimes though these things can backfire...
This student didn’t take too kindly to being asked not to
slam doors late at night or early in the morning ― the bottom line,
left, reads: “Please show basic consideration for your fellow students.”
This though is perhaps my favourite...
A little judicious hint
One disgruntled roommate finds a creative way of getting
his or her friends to clean up after them.
I’m reminded of that memorable English Language exam
Q : Use the word “judicious” in
a sentence to show you understand its meaning.
A : Now hands that judicious can feel soft as your
face, with mild green Fairy Liquid.
I noted a couple of great responses in the comment
section to the Mail Online
article. I particularly liked this first one; I mean, you can just see
the whole episode unfolding in front of your very eyes...
Jules of Kent, UK: I remember an incident
at uni when a usually well-mannered, quiet housemate completely lost it
when she discovered another housemate had eaten her biscuits yet again.
She waited until she went out for the evening, then
spread several unwrapped packets of biscuits in her bed and jumped madly
on them until her bed was awash with crumbs ― then calmly left the room.
That image still makes me laugh 20 years later!
And I liked this because the premise is spot on ― and the response is
Auckland, NZ: I just thought of a new drinking
game ... every time a Mail Online article uses the word “hilarious”, you
take a drink…
Steve from Shropshire, UK: See you in AA.
Well, that was all very LOL, worthy smile of
the day stuff ― but just to prove what a crazy world we live in, further
down the Mail Online homepage was this extraordinary story:
“Burned alive for drinking his flatmate’s beer”: Australian man who
“stole drink” was beaten unconscious, locked in the boot of a car and
set on fire, court hears
An Australian man who allegedly drank a flatmate’s beer
was beaten unconscious, locked in the boot of a car and burned alive, a
court was told today.
Two men have pleaded not guilty to murdering 47-year-old
Paul Stamp by locking him in the car and setting it on fire because they
were furious that he had taken a beer from the fridge in the flat they
The court was told that Gregory Channing, 41, and Gary
Miles, 40, returned to Mr Miles’ flat in September last year to find a
single beer was missing from the fridge.
Crown Prosecutor Paul Ushere told a court in Darwin that
the two men woke Mr Stamp in his bedroom and beat him unconscious. He
was then dragged down the front stairs and locked in the boot of a car,
the court heard.
“They discussed driving into the bush or an industrial
area and leaving him there so he could find his own way home,” said Mr
Usher. But while they were driving with Mr Stamp still in the boot, the
car ran out of fuel.
Mr Miles then allegedly poured fuel over the vehicle and
set it alight.
What a weird and unbalanced species we are. Mind you, my instincts tell
me there is more to this story that just a missing beer from the fridge.
Something to do with drugs, perhaps?
Normal service resumed tomorrow, if spared......
Tuesday, April 9
Left ... Right ... Left ... Right
WELL, I ignored radio and television yesterday because of
what I guessed would be OTT coverage of Margaret Thatcher’s death ― but
there was no escaping the newspaper stand this morning.
Many of the front pages were particularly eye-catching,
but there were a couple that appealed to my sense of the occasion, one
of said newspapers a supporter of the Labour left and obviously not a Maggie fan
― and the other from the opposite camp...
By the left...
By the right...
Do you know, when I saw The Sun
headline, the first thing that flashed through my mind, excepting the
internal rhyme, obviously, was: my God, she had
to go and lose it at the Ritz.
Hang on, I thought, that’s the wrong hotel. I was of
course thinking of the Astor ― as in She Had To Go And Lose It At
More of that later.
I’ll tell you an amusing little tale from yesterday. Now the fellow I
do some work for to help keep the wolf from my door, hails from a very
traditional Valley mining family, and we all know what miners think of
Maggie, especially the Welsh miner.
Anyway, yesterday, late afternoon, I had reason to call
my ‘boss’ on his mobile ... it rang out without answer. I’ll try later,
Now I am a great admirer of witty people with their
clever/cutting comments and repartee. Like most people I am essentially a 0 to
60 in 10 seconds man when it comes to badinage i.e. I think of a clever
response about 7.5 seconds too late.
Mind you, sometimes I’m a 0 to 60 in 24 hours man ― but
the less said about that the better.
To be a proper wit you need to be a 0 to 60 in 2.5
seconds person. That is the maximum time you have to get your verbal
counter-punch in. Yes, you may well on some occasions, depending on how
many people are present, the pace of the conversation and the volume of laughter, get away with 0 to
60 in 5 seconds, but those instances are rare.
At the Crazy Horsepower we have a master of the cutting repartee, The
Often when Sundance shoots from the hip a rather cutting
remark or response in my direction ― in that first tenth-of-a-second I am overwhelmed with
a need to biff him on the nose ― yet in the next tenth-of-a-second I
find myself smiling and thinking, hm, I wish I’d
said that about myself.
Anyway, back to yesterday and the aborted call to my
‘boss’. About an hour later, my phone rings: “Hello,” say I.
It was my ‘boss’ ― and in one of
those glorious but rare 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds, I said: “I thought
perhaps you’d taken a couple of days off.”
“How do you mean?”
“I wasn’t sure whether you were
in mourning following the sad news ― or out celebrating ―”
Well, the miner’s son laughed as generously as I have
ever heard him laugh. Made better by the fact that, although he is/was an
out-and-out opponent of Maggie and what her politics stood for,
he’s not the type to crack open a bottle of champagne at the news of
someone’s death, as many in the country appear to have done with
When will such people realise that their actions say more
about their character than it ever did about Margaret Thatcher’s.
(Remember Eddie Mair and Boris Johnson?)
Whatever, thanks to Maggie, I had a little 0 to 60 in 2.5
And above all, I want you to be very, very careful
Anyway, back with my Desert Island Jukebox. As
mentioned recently, I am now approaching the Rock ‘n’ Roll years, but
before I get there, a couple of other discs first.
Above I touched on the song She Had To Go And Lose It
At The Astor. Now this was a ditty I never remember hearing on
Children’s Favourites. In fact I can’t really remember when I first
heard it ― but I instantly enjoyed it.
I see someone has described it as “sophisticated filth”, and I
think that’s a perfectly delightful description, which perhaps explains
why the BBC banned it for many a year.
I mean, who cannot smile at this:
SPOKEN INTRO: We'd like to tell you a story about a young girl,
about 18-years-old, about five-feet-two, and about to go out. Now
her Mother, realising it was her first time out with a young man,
called her into the bedroom and said, "Minnie, you're all dressed
up in your finery, your very best clothes, and you look beautiful,
you're gorgeous, you're alluring (you look swell, baby), and now
Minnie, I want you to remember everything I've always told you,
and above all, I want you to be very, very careful.....
When you listen to the song, especially that glorious
intro, and even though we all know
exactly what Minnie has actually lost, we also know exactly what Harry Roy and
the Band are going on about. Marvellous stuff.
Oh, and do you know what I really enjoy on the record?
The piano playing. Who would have thought that a bit of clever tinkling
on the old ivories could paint such naughty pictures in one’s
As a matter of fascination, have a go at Googling
‘List of songs banned by the BBC’ ― Wikipedia has them all listed.
In the years between Children’s Favourites and what became
known as the Rock
‘n’ Roll Years, one of the singers I enjoyed hugely was Jim Reeves. So
what else could I put on my Jukebox than the song which includes the
line “turn the jukebox way down low” ― with the “low” sung so perfectly
So the first link is naughty young Minnie losing it at the Astor:
second, He’ll Have To Go by Jim Reeves:
Monday, April 8
Here’s lookin’ at you
WOMEN fall into two groups: there are those who wear
their pregnancy on their sleeves, so to speak; and there are those who
are rather discreet about their ‘bump’.
Yesterday, I featured Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, looking
like ― well, like the roof of a man-shed, ho, ho, ho!
Blow me, I visit Mail Online and I’m
confronted by a blink-blink article:
Kate Middleton v Kim Kardashian
in the baby bump off!
They are two of the most glamorous women
in the world, their every outfit forensically examined by fashionistas ―
and each will give birth to her first child in July...
But when it comes to
the style stakes, any similarities between the Duchess of Cambridge and
reality star Kim Kardashian end there...
Oh dear, how cruel the meeja can be to draw attention to Kim in such a
way. And yes, I own up: I smiled. The image even made my smile of the
day, look you.
I am presuming that Kim Kardashian is comparable say, in
a professional sense anyway, to our Jordan, or Katie Price, or whatever
it is she calls herself these days.
usual, it’s the comment board that really put the boot in...
BK of Scotland:
Never mind Duchess Kate, Kim Kardashian should be compared to the other
Kim, Kim Jong-un!
Hopingforamiracle of Penzance, UK: One has real
class the other has one large ass. Kim hasn’t found a real outfit to fit
Me from Somewhere over the rainbow, France: The
difference between the two in one word: Class!
Well, I would challenge that it is actually down to class ― although I
think I know what
is alluding to. It also has something to do with an inherent sense of
style, as Mail Online hints at ― and speaking as a mere
male, whenever I see Kate she always looks so elegant.
Personally, I think it has everything to do with
self-esteem. Kim is saying: “Look at me. Ain’t I the clever girl?”
As for Kate, whilst the baby is the most important event
in her life thus far, what she appears to be saying is this: “Look,
billions of women have done this before, it really is no big deal.”
And that, to my mind, is all down to self-esteem, helped
of course by that slice of inherent style and class that Kate has in
Short back and sides
Anyway, as Kim Jong-un has been mentioned in
“To be fair to King Jong-un, if I was given a
haircut like that, I’d go nuclear too.”
Comedian Rory Bremner.
While on the subject of world leaders, this from Rod Liddle in
The Sunday Times:
Never trust Mike
Politician of the week is Jose “Pepe” Mujica, president
of Uruguay, who divested himself of an opinion about a South American
neighbour’s leader without realising that his mike was switched on.
“This old hag is worse than the cross-eyed man,” he said
― referring to Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, president of Argentina,
and her predecessor (and late husband), Nestor Kirchner. For possibly
the first time in history, the old hag was (briefly) stunned into
I often wonder what
world leaders really think of one another. Someone leave Merkel’s mike
on the next time Cameron pays a visit. “Gott im Himmel, it’s that
smirking, shiny-faced, chinless loon with his retinue of halfwits...”
I really warmed to good old
Jose “Pepe” Mujica. So much so I Googled him ― and
couldn’t stop smiling when I saw his photograph...
looks just like old generous Dan Diamond down the Crazy Horsepower, who
is always pottering about on his allotment and sharing his greens with
all and sundry.
Many a true word, etc...
Mid-afternoon, and I hear on the wireless of the death of
Margaret Thatcher. I decide there and then that I would not, for the
rest of the day, tune in to any radio or television channel that carried
Nothing against the memory of The Iron Lady; indeed if
spared, I may well watch the funeral service ― but working on the simple
premise that the meeja would be flooded with all sorts of people
reinforcing their prejudices by repeating the mantra white hat/black
hat, white hat/black hat ― I decided instead to do some work
on the computer and listen to my Desert Island Jukebox on YouTube.
Instinct tells me I probably made the right decision.
Especially so given that bit above about old Dan Diamond
and Cristina Kirchner of Argentina.
Talking of mikes being left switched on, wouldn’t it have been
interesting to know what other world leaders really thought of Margaret
Thatcher when in her prime as she handbagged her way around the world?
Sunday, April 7
A shed load
YOU know how it is, you look at something ... you blink
... a kind of lateral thinking kicks in and you see something else,
something which has no direct connection with what you first
Anyway, first things first: the annual Shed of the
Year competition to seek out the UK’s most wildly wacky and
wonderful sheds is underway. I was looking through a gallery of the
early entrants ― and as usual, there are some eye-catchingly weird
and wondrous examples.
Sheds dripping with invention, wisdom, wit ― and clearly
showered with an extravagance of TLC.
Last year, the shed that caught my eye was the
Clarkson Mk1 ... it was not so much the shed itself, striking as it
was, but the story behind the edifice. I quote from a year ago...
Clarkson Mk1 in Ickenham, Middlesex, wrote:
Clarkson is my first shed and was
conceived on my computer and
constructed with materials reclaimed from demolishing the house. It is
fully insulated and double glazed...
“It was Jeremy Clarkson who said:
‘Every invention that has ever
mattered in the whole of human history has come from a man in a shed in
As it resembles the classic shape of a caravan, it was christened in
honour of the great man.”
Now that was worthy of the smile of the day accolade.
What caught my eye this year though is something delightfully wild and
off-the-wall looking, definitely not quite what you would call a deluxe version in the Clarkson Mk1 mould.
Alex Holland has submitted a picture of his man-shed
which is found at some 750ft above sea level in the Cambrian mountains,
near Machynlleth in mid Wales. The roof is a boat ― and the shed is full
of nautical nonsense befitting an upturned boat berthed atop a mountain
in Wales. The walls are recycled wood and wattle and daub, the window’s
are from a 1940s caravan...
Entrant to Shed of the Year 2013, sponsored by Cuprinol /
Now that’s what I call a proper man-shed. None of this poncey
nonsense. Much as I liked last year’s, this is the one I would enjoy
hanging out in.
Allow shed man
to enlighten us:
The shed roof is made from a clinker-built boat that is
14ft long and 7ft wide at its widest point. It was an inshore fishing
boat made between 1900 and 1910, and which earned its keep in Cardigan Bay.
The walls are made of wattle and daub, a mixture of mud,
clay, and straw stuck onto a woven frame. The spaces were filled in
using aluminium framed windows from a 1940s caravan, along with single
glazed windows from our 400 year old farmhouse.
The rear of the shed is clad in old corrugated metal
sheet painted in black bitumen. The roof (boat) is covered with sheeting
stuck down with roofing felt adhesive and liberally dosed in bitumen
paint and roofing paint. This is because clinker-built boats retain
their waterproof-ness by the wood expanding due to wetness.
We have discovered that the shed is an ideal space for
middle aged women to get drunk and dance wildly under the stars, and we
intend to pursue this policy!
It is also an ideal place for me to sit
whilst our three dogs run around our field exercising themselves.
Now how wonderful is that? Getting away from it all, eh?
And God told Alex to build a shed, called an Upside-down
Ark, and He told Alex exactly how to do it. First
you find yourself a boat that has to be 14ft long, 7ft wide ― and you
must use it as a roof to keep the rain off; in an emergency the shed can
be used as a stable. When the flood arrives, you simply turn the
whole kit and caboodle upside-down ― and God’s your Uncle.
Association of images
But hang about, what was that
I said at the top, about lateral thinking? And what exactly was it I saw
in the man-shed that had no direct
connection with what I was actually seeing in my mind’s
Well, the first picture I spotted of the man-shed was the one
below ― and alongside, what came to mind...
Yes, the first thing I thought when looking at the shed
was ― oh, a beret-shed ― and then in my mind’s eye I
recalled this picture of
the wonderfully handsome Kate, captured when she attended the Cheltenham
Festival a few years back.
Yes, my mind works in very lateral ways. Best not to enquire,
really ― but I do get many a laugh out of it. And anyway, any
excuse to show a picture of Kate...
By this morning, one other bluebell had joined Solitaire. Also, a couple
of others were there at ground level, all curled up and still green ― but until I
spot some blue, they don’t
Saturday, April 6
Sunny side up
“YOU’RE a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?” said
BBC Journalist and Judge Eddie Mair to London Mayor and Tory defendant
Boris Johnson at the BBCHC (British Broadcasting Corporation High
The above quote comes from a live televised interview of a
couple of weeks back, referred to at the time as that “road crash
Boris Johnson had looked surprised and distinctly
uncomfortable as the presenter asked him about his being fired by The
Times newspaper for making up a quotation; being sacked from the Tory
frontbench for telling “a bare-faced lie” to the party leader Michael
Howard about his affair with the journalist Petronella Wyatt; and the
claim that he agreed to provide a News Of The World
journalist’s address to his friend Darius Guppy, a convicted fraudster,
so the reporter could be beaten up.
Right, a quick diversion. This from The Times columnist
Hugo Rifkind. The article was headlined thus:
private life, Boris has nothing
It’s the gaffes and faffs that make the London Mayor so fascinating. And
that tells us a lot about this political era
Forgive the regurgitation, but I thought I might start by
reprinting what was possibly my favourite item from the gossip column I
once wrote for this newspaper. It’s from June 27, 2006. Ready?
“I was in a shop on Highbury Corner,” e-mails a reader. “An odd-looking
fellow came rushing
in, asked for some eggs and told the owner that he
would be back in five minutes to pay for them.
I followed him out and saw Boris Johnson crossing the
street. Egg-man started throwing. Boris
started effing and blinding and
tried to push the man away in a rather girly way with his knees.
black cab turned up. Boris got in, but then decided to get out again, to
hurl some abuse.
In all the excitement, he fell over. You might be able to use this in your column.”
Indeed, dear reader. Twice,
now. Sort of three times, actually, because the Shadow Minister For
Higher Education (as he then was) called up early the next morning to
take furious issue – in an amused sort of way – with the “girly” bit.
He was also convinced that
I’d set up the whole thing (deploying my own freelance egg-thrower),
which is precisely the sort of flattering misconception that people so
often have about the work ethic of gossip columnists. So that helped to
fill the page the next day...
Now that, I am sure you’ll agree, was the most scenic of
diversions (Dai Version down at the Crazy Horsepower would have been
Right, back to that road-crash of an interview the Mayor
of London enjoyed with the BBC’s Eddie Mair.
During the course of the 15-minute
interview, Boris Johnson admitted he had “sandpapered” quotes as a Times
journalist, failed to deny he had lied to then Tory leader Michael
Howard about an affair, and conceded that he had humoured an old friend
when he asked for a phone number in the knowledge that the friend
intended to beat up the owner of said number (in the event nobody
floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee or had egg on their face).
At one point, Mr Mair accused him of
“a barefaced lie”.
At another, Mr Johnson looked stunned as Mr Mair rounded off a question
by asking him: “You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?” (The thing about those startlingly insightful eight words
is that they say so much more about journalist Eddie Mair than they do
about London Mayor Boris Johnson.)
Ed and Boris during the road-crash interview
swear to tell no lies, no damned lies, and no whoppers this
Green Flag: rapid roadside recovery
Within a day of leaving the scene of said
accident, Boris had recovered his equilibrium and delivered the
Mair did a splendid job. There is no doubt that is what the BBC is for ―
holding us to account.
“I fully concede it wasn’t my most blistering
performance, but that was basically because I was set to talk about the
Olympics and housing in London and he wanted to talk about other things,
some of them ― my private life and so on ― of quite some antiquity, the
details of which I wasn’t brilliant on.
“He was perfectly within his rights to have a bash at me
― in fact it would have been shocking if he hadn’t. If a BBC presenter
can’t attack a nasty Tory politician what’s the world coming to?”
Asked whether Mair should get Jeremy Paxman’s lead anchor
role on Newsnight, Boris added: “I should think he’ll get an Oscar, it
was an Oscar-winning performance. I think he’ll get a Pulitzer.”
I rake over the above because, just a week ago, I
happened to pick up a Daily Mail newspaper, and I noticed a weekly
picture-feature which offered the reader the chance to write an amusing
caption in a speech bubble.
And the picture was the one featured above, with a speech
bubble coming out of the Boris motor-mouth. The writer of the caption judged
the best would win a £20 book token.
So I thought I’d have a go. Sadly for me, the winner was
the one featured below, by a Bryan Owram of Esholt in West Yorkshire,
and reproduced here from yesterday’s Daily Mail...
My effort? Actually, it was the caption to the
I was quite chuffed with mine: it was relevant to
the subject matter under discussion; and best of all I’d managed an
swear to tell no lies, no damned lies, and no whoppers this
However, I was concerned about that “concertina”
reference, just in case I’d missed something important ― so I Googled
“Boris Johnson and the concertina” ... and came across a couple of
2008: Abolishing London’s bendy buses, which
became known as the controversial ‘concertina’ vehicles, was a key
pledge from Boris Johnson before he was elected in 2008. He claimed
their “awkward elongated bulk” was a menace to other road-users.
2011: Boris Johnson has launched
a new charity called the Mayor of London’s Fund for Young Musicians
(MFYM), which will aim to develop and support children and young adults
who have significant musical talent and require assistance to further
Ah well, must pay more attention to the road ahead.
Friday, April 5
The bells, the bells
IT’S that special day of the year, the one I anticipate
with great affection. The day when I come face to face with ‘The Special
One’, the one I call Solitaire.
To repeat myself, as I do annually when this day
Over the past 14 years I’ve kept a record of the first
bluebell of the season ― excepting 2001, the year when Foot & Mouth
struck and the countryside was out of bounds.
Along my early-morning walk I pass one particularly
secluded and sheltered south-facing spot, a real suntrap in Castle
Woods, just outside Llandeilo, a spot where a solitary bluebell always
but always appears a good few days ahead of the chasing pack. Which is
why I call ‘her’ Solitaire.
As a rule of thumb, her appearance varies between March
18 and March 30 ― excepting the occasional wayward year.
Here’s a picture taken in 2009, on April 26, with the
bluebells on song...
Oh, and Jerry, the wandering tom, getting in on the act.
I must make a note to take a picture on the same date from the same
spot, in three weeks’ time.
Spring 2006 was really cold and late, and the bluebell
did not appear until April 8; in 2010, following an exceptionally cold
start to the year, it was actually on this very day, April 5.
In 2008, with its unusually mild winter
and spring, Solitaire appeared, astonishingly, on February 28. I even
had a letter published in The Times about it. Well, it made
a change from a missive about the cuckoo.
In 2011 it appeared on March 20, very rule of thumb; last
year, the beautiful bluebell trumped our national flower, the daffodil,
and appeared on St David’s Day, March 1.
Being that this spring is so unforgivably cold and
missing-in-action, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But there again, you
climb into your parked car on a sunny afternoon right now ― it will be
really warm in there. After all, the sun is now quite high ― at the
other end of the calendar, it is the equivalent of early September, when
it can be generously warm and pleasant.
So if we take this bitterly cold easterly wind we are
experiencing right now out of the equation ― for example, the sheltered
south-facing spot that is home to Solitaire ― well, the afternoons are
really quite inviting.
And this morning, there she was, on the very same day as
in 2010. It does appear that, whatever the weather, the British bluebell
is extremely reluctant to leave its grand appearance beyond the end of
the British tax year.
The early bluebell is very difficult to
spot at this stage, hidden amongst the rich, green and abundant foliage,
and I really have to get down and peer. No doubt Solitaire would have
been present and correct yesterday, but I just didn’t spot her.
In fact, the bluebells’ little
bridesmaids, the pretty wood anemone, have been in attendance for a
couple of weeks now, but looking very sorry for themselves first thing
in the mornings, as they shelter from the cold.
This year, I’ve given Solitaire pride of
place and showcased her up there in the Flower Power Gallery.
Given the current 2013 spring weather it
will be fascinating to see how quickly ― or reluctantly ― all the other
bluebells decide to catch up and make their grand entry.
I have always seen the bluebell as a true harbinger of
spring, so it was interesting that on the weather forecast tonight, it
seems that from this weekend, this exceptionally cold weather will
slowly but surely begin to release its grip.
So then, Solitaire, who’s a clever girl then?
Thursday, April 4
Wherever I hang my hat
“I WILL talk
exactly the same to the Queen ― and have done so many times ― as I am
talking to you now or the woman cleaning the hotel room.”
Actor Sir Michael Caine, 80, telling a reporter he does not like people
calling him “sir”.
I think I have mentioned before the tale of
Melvyn Bragg, 73, a.k.a. The Right Honourable The Lord Bragg, FRS, FBA,
FRSA, FRSL, FRTS, an English broadcaster, presenter, interviewer,
commentator, novelist and scriptwriter, who was a guest on Roy Noble’s
magazine show on Radio Wales.
At the very start of the conversation, Roy, being one of
life’s gentlemen, good-naturedly asked Bragg how he should address him:
Baron Bragg of Wigton, Lord Bragg, Sir, Mr –? “Just call me
Melvyn,” he said. “When I enter a room the first thing I do is hang my
title up on the hat rack.”
And Melvyn it was. But what tickles me is this: why do these people
accept such honours in the first place when they quite clearly dislike
using them or being addressed by such self-important titles?
Even more odd are those who have declined an honour ― but
let it be known that they have. I guess that’s what they call inverted snobbery.
It is indeed a curious world. But not as curious as this,
a letter spotted in The Daily Telegraph [I’ve joined up a
few extra dots for those not familiar with the British political and
SIR – On a recent trip on Eurostar, my seat was next to
that of Ed Balls
[a British Labour Party politician and current Shadow
Chancellor of the Exchequer] who, I must admit, I did not recognise at
His female colleague offered me the choice of one of
their several newspapers, and I asked if she had The Daily Telegraph
[also known as The Daily Torygraph down at my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon].
The reply was that it was the only one they did not have.
I found them both extremely courteous and friendly. I
have to add that we were in the second-class part of the train.
However, it did occur to me that you should always know
what your opponents are up to. The best way for the Labour Party to do
that is to read The Daily Telegraph from cover to cover every day.
good, George Smith, an agreeably witty letter. However, below is a
precise ‘copy and paste’ of a just-spotted Telegraph online headline:
Welfare reforms are needed to ensure only genuine claimants get benefits
Distinguishing between the work shy and the desreving poor
That probably offers up a clue as to why the movers and
shakers of the Labour Party don’t read a Tory publication. And I’m not
talking about the politically explosive content of the headline, which
is currently splashed over all the media.
No, Ed Balls would probably think that “the desreving
poor” is a penniless church mouse with a big engine hiding out at the local manse.
I am endlessly surprised that such high-profile online
publications never appear to use a simple spell-check to weed out the
more obviously simple and silly mistakes.
And just to prove the point of that final paragraph, ‘desreving’ came up
as ‘deserving’, the only alternative on offer.
Also, ‘Caine’, as in Sir Michael Caine ―
told you, chuck the ‘sir’
onto the hat rack à la James Bond”
― came up as ‘Canine’. Clearly, you can’t
teach an old dog new tricks.
Wednesday, April 3
upon a time in the wild west of Wales, I remember thinking: what would
happen to this website if I were to suddenly disappear under a bus?
Well, actually, truth to tell, no, I’d never thought
about it ― until today.
In reality, when the domain name and the hosting of the
website expire, and they are not renewed ― or I decide that I’ve done
my bit ― then everything will simply fall off the end of a dot, never to
be seen again.
Which is fine. As I’ve mentioned before, I do this purely
for my own amusement, having graduated from years and years of
jotting down each and every day in my desk diary a word, line or brief paragraph apropos the
most amusing thing I had encountered that day.
There’s great pleasure in randomly picking up a diary from
yesteryear and flicking through ... it’s truly satisfying how an amusing
little episode suddenly comes flooding back. Mind you, often I look at a word
or sentence ... and I haven’t a clue what it was I found so amusing at
the connection having been lost in the midst of time.
That won’t happen here on
for the simple reason that I have to join up all the dots, otherwise it
would make no sense to a visitor.
Now I have no idea how many of you pop in for a peruse
(and hopefully a smile). Yes of course, I could easily find out, but
that is not why I do it.
I am not a gatherer of followers, but rather a gatherer
of smiles. Mind you, when a message lands in my inbox from a stranger,
perhaps someone from a faraway place with a strange sounding name, it is
In essence, if someone shares my somewhat off-beat view
of the world and its delightful doolallyness ― well, step aboard, you
are very welcome.
I raise all the above because, just today, I caught up with
last weekend’s Sunday Times ... and saw this in the News
Shh, it’s a digital library of Britain
FROM the BBC Online service to a website celebrating a
windswept bus shelter [see below], the British Library is to create one
of the largest digital archives of its kind aimed at capturing all
UK-produced internet content for future generations.
Billions of web pages, covering everything from shopping
habits on Amazon and eBay to gripes about school dinners, will be stored
on a giant database to record our culture in perpetuity.
You wait for ages - then you fall asleep
Luxury stop: The bus shelter in Unst, the
northern-most of the Scottish Shetland
Islands, kitted out with a sofa, cushions, a TV, a phone and flowers. The
of tourists every year ― and even boasts a hot snacks stand.
Over the years the shelter has picked up quite a reputation and now has
website and Facebook page.
It even has its own visitors book.
In future, even indiscretions posted on Facebook and
twitter could be made available to historians seeking to make sense of
British life today.
Almost 5m websites with the domain name of “.uk” will be
among the first to be captured, with snapshots of more than 1bn
individual web pages taken at least once a year.
Sites that regularly change will eventually be captured
at more frequent intervals, as well as British content posted on “.com”
The ambitious project involves the British Library and
five other legal deposit libraries. From Saturday a new law will come
into force allowing the libraries to collect automatically all digital
publications as well. This covers e-books, blogs and all web pages
generated in the UK.
Experts say the legal change is crucial for capturing
internet content that would otherwise be lost in a “digital black hole”
when websites are taken down or postings are deleted.
A digital archive is
necessary because the average life span of a website is only 75 days.
Once taken down, even cached Google searches can provide access to such
sites for only a limited period...
Well how about that. I am aware that casual visitors to
land here because they were looking for something via a search engine ―
and just happened upon my Welcome mat.
There is something rather wonderful in the notion that
somewhere in the future, someone looking for something or other, will
land on this website, irrespective of whether I decide to call it a day,
or indeed I was unable to escape that blasted bus...
The other astonishing bit of information in the Sunday
Times article is that the average life span of a
website is just 75 days. The average, mind. That is quite startling.
has been going since 2007 ― daily updates since July 2010. Well,
everyday excepting those four days last year when I went missing in
action ― actually, it was my computer that went missing, when I took it
back to my local computer shop for them to update the thing.
that as it may, the idea that
will be suspended somewhere up there in the ether ― or wherever it is these
things hang out when they put their feet up ― for ever more and a day ...
well, that’s put an extra little spring into my fingers as they go slow,
slow, quick-quick slow, all over the keyboard.
While ‘blog’ is automatically recognised, ‘blogs’ was not ― and it
suggested ‘bogs’. God, my computer is now into Freudian slips.
Tuesday, April 2
Let’s be possessive
YESTERDAY’S smile involving Morris dancing and incense
(or was it incest?), with news of the BBC carrying out a risk assessment of said
activity ― the Morris dancing, that is ― took me back to last month and
this quite extraordinary train of doolallyness as highlighted in The
Daily Telegraph Letters page:
SIR ― I was not unduly surprised to learn that Mid Devon
District Council was planning to do away with apostrophes on street
signs. This is just another example of the dumbing down of modern
culture by jobsworths who have nothing better to do than waste their
time and taxpayers’ money.
What did cause me to choke on my toast as I read the
story over breakfast was the revelation that the councillors responsible
for this decision only made it after carrying out a “risk assessment”
that left them with concerns that apostrophes on street signs “could
cause confusion and have adverse consequences in an emergency”.
A risk assessment on apostrophes?
Over to the online comment community...
risk assessment on apostrophes?” says Robert Readman.
“Oh sorry”, said the man from Mid Devon District
Council, “I was thinking about catastrophes. I always get those two
The subject also generated comments apropos missing hyphens, commas,
colons, semicolons ― punctuation in general, really ― the
lack of which makes
reading modern stuff quite difficult to follow and make sense of.
Wilson: Les Sharp and the vanishing hyphen... I
saw a paper article years
ago in a very narrow column.
One sentence that intrigued
me was how “he did it in ear-
The hyphen marked the end of the line with the word split
to make full use of the space available ― the “nest” was
on the following line. It took me a few seconds to get the meaning. The
hyphen is something that should be used judiciously, as in “I like climbing-roses”, as
opposed to “I like climbing roses”.
Naomionions: I saw: “It’s a shame that the-
rapists get such a bad press.”
I don’t know what it
says about me, but I carried on reading for quite a while before I went
back to check.
That last one is a cracker. I do hope it did happen like
that. Meanwhile, back with common or garden punctuation:
SIR ― Punctuation does matter, as proven by the plaque on
the lych gate of Dore Abbey, which reads: “Erected to the memory of
Capt. R. C. B. Partridge. M.C. CdeG. killed in action Sep. 28 1918 by
friends in South Wales.”
Barry Ray, Abbey Dore, Herefordshire
Now that is rather smiley: with friends like that, etc,
David of Kent: It’s the syntax in the writing that
is wrong. Punctuation cannot solve every poorly written sentence.
David of Kent doesn’t actually suggest how it should have
been written, so I thought I’d have a go ― just remember, I write on a
wing and a prayer i.e. I am NOT an expert, the computer spell-cheque
being my bestest friend, except of course when it comes to things like
cheque/check, herd/heard, whose/who’s...:
First though, where is Dore Abbey?
Well, Dore Abbey is a former Cistercian abbey in the village of Abbey
Dore in the Golden Valley, Herefordshire, England.
Hm, so I guess I might have written:
Erected by friends to the memory of Capt. R. C. B.
Partridge, M.C. CdeG., killed in action 28 Sep. 1918.
leave out “South Wales”. When you do something out of friendship it is
irrelevant who you are, or indeed where you are from. I mean, think how
satisfying it is to do a good turn for someone without that person
having any idea who did it. Even better, when the recipient of a good
turn has no idea that a good turn has even been done. Magic.
friendship takes me back to yesterday’s smile: remember
these two paragraphs from
In the days when George Orwell and VS Pritchett wrote for
the New Statesman, it began a regular column called “This England”, with
quirky snippets from the press.
“Asked at Bedlington
juvenile court to value his bantam,” ran one extract, in 1949, from the
Manchester Evening Chronicle, “the 60-year-old witness replied: ‘As a
bird I value it at five shillings, but as a friend I value it at seven
shillings and six pence’.”
The first thing you do on reading that is smile ― but it
is such a powerful observation by said witness. What we observe
today is the increasing number of people who keep pets, whether
they be dogs, cats, donkeys, parrots, snakes, whatever.
Why should this be? Well, could it be that society is now
so mobile and so fragmented and fragile, with no proper roots, that more and more
people have fewer and fewer real friends, and their pets somehow compensate?
Using the above quote as a guideline, it is fair to
conclude that a person you think of as a proper friend is significantly more
valuable than someone you respect simply as family, pal,
Food for thought for sure.
PS: For ages I thought a
‘split infinitive’ was something a Chinese lady of the night wore;
similarly, I was sure that
was a kind of tax that prostitutes had to pay.
Not so much PAYE (Pay As
You Earn) but rather PAYL (Pay As You Lay).
I am getting rather worried about my computer. Yesterday, ‘unsurveyed field of sheep’ came up as ‘unscrewed field of sheep’.
Today, ‘bestest’ came up as ‘bentest’.
Where on earth is my computer going of an evening when I am not paying
Monday, April 1, 2013
Morris dancing with added incest (or was that incense?)
THIS, spotted in The Daily Telegraph:
Danger, with bells on
The tweeted reaction of Countryfile’s James Wong
[a presenter of the popular BBC1 television series]
to a BBC risk assessment over Morris dancing is a wonderfully quirky
sign of the times
In the days when George Orwell and VS Pritchett wrote for
the New Statesman, it began a regular column called
“This England”, with quirky snippets from the press.
Every few years, they would be compiled into little
books, illustrated by Vicky or Ronald Searle. “Asked at Bedlington
juvenile court to value his bantam,” ran one extract, in 1949, from the
Manchester Evening Chronicle, “the 60-year-old witness replied: ‘As a
bird I value it at five shillings, but as a friend I value it at seven
shillings and six pence’.”
Today we report an item of news that reflects, in a
striking way, much of British life in 2013. James Wong, a presenter of
Countryfile, has tweeted his surprise at receiving an official BBC risk
assessment for a film sequence involving Morris dancing...
Mr Wong, an ethnobiologist [the
scientific study of the way plants and animals are treated or used by
different human cultures],
is best known for his television series Grow Your Own Drugs. He is 31,
not much older than Countryfile, to the revamping of which he has
It is a stroke of genius to combine Morris dancing and
tweeting. Somehow, England has spent many a century trying to embrace
the former, and the whole of Britain has found no difficulty in enjoying
the embarrassments provoked by the latter.
No doubt the BBC runs risk assessments before allowing
Julia Bradbury into an unsurveyed field of sheep or exposing Matt Baker
to the dangers of a demonstration of corn-dolly weaving. The risks of
tweeting are harder to assess.
Now you’ve read that ― you’ve looked at the date,
right? ― and
said, ‘ello, ‘ello, ‘ello, I smell a rat ‘ere, an April Fool’s joke.
But no, dear fellow doolally spotter, it is not. The above was spotted under
Telegraph View a couple of days ago ― but I thought it such a
delightfully silly piece of news that it deserves to be filed under
Incidentally, Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961), English
conductor and impresario, is reputed to have said: “You should try
everything once, except incest and Morris dancing.”
Which is very funny. However, the actual quote is: “You
should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest
and folk-dancing.” This was written by Sir Arnold Bax (1853-1953), also
an English composer (and poet), but quoting a Scotsman. Perhaps what is
‘growsome’, and found under the kilt, had something to do with it?
Incidentally, I liked that piece about “a regular column
called ‘This England’, with quirky snippets from the press”.
Isn’t that precisely what
is? Except, with quirky snippets from the meeja in general (including
social meeja, of course), as well as
stuff overheard and spotted from under the table in the Asterisk Bar down at
the Crazy Horsepower Saloon.
Perhaps I should rename my scrapbook ‘This Doolallyness’.
Whatever, and talking of April Fool jokes: I switch on the computer ...
Google’s home page comes up ― and this line:
that smell? Find out with
Now I am a sucker for a well-crafted April Fool’s joke ―
actually, truth to tell, I’m a sucker even for a sloppily crafted April
Fool’s joke. But I did twig the above. Honest.
However, I clicked on the link anyway ― well, I am an
intuitively nosey person.
And I liked this...
“Aggressive and foxy with notes of musk, wet towel...”
‘unsurveyed field of sheep’ came up as ‘unscrewed field of sheep’.
Honest, cross my heart and hope to die, etc, etc. I truly tell not a lie. And anyway, it would never occur to me to drag
that little gem kicking and screaming out of my imagination.
Previously on Look You...
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day
Smile of the day 2013: Jan
Smile of the day 2012d (Oct-Dec)
Smile of the day 2012 (Jan-Mar)
.. Smile of the day 2012
(Apr-Jun) .. Smile of the
day 2012c (Jul-Sep) .. Smile
of the day 2012d (Oct-Dec)
Previous 2011 smiles:
Smile of the Day 2011 (Jan-Jun)
.. Smile of the Day 2011 (Jul-Sep)
.. Smile of the day 2011
Smile of the Day 2010
(Jan to Jun) 2009
March to May '07
June to Aug '07
Sep to Dec '07
You are here, way out west,
aka Dodgy City
Previously on LOOK
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day
Smile of the day 2013: Jan
of the day 2012d (Oct-Dec)
of the day 2012c (Jul-Sep)
Smile of the day 2012
Smile of the day 2012 (Jan-Mar)
Smile of the day 2011
Smile of the Day 2011 (Jul-Sep)
Smile of the Day 2011 (Jan-Jun)
Smile of the Day 2010
2010 (Jan to Jun)
Sep to Dec '07
June to Aug '07
March to May '07
As it was in
ST DAVID'S DAY, 2007
Here's lookin' at you
400 Smiles A Day
What A Gas
400 Smiles A Day