LOOK YOU ~ a rolling scrapbook of life, the universe and nearly everything...
Archive 2013: April

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Updated: 01/03/2012

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

400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 19/11/2012

                                                                                        Design: Yosida

                                                                 ♫♫♫ TO SELF                            
It seems that the artist Leonardo da Vinci kept a notebook, Notes to Self, a list of “things to do today”: buy paper; charcoal; chalk ... describe tongue of woodpecker and jaw of crocodile...
     These are my Notes to Self, a daily record of the things that make me smile and 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...

                                                                               ...and everyday a doolally smile of the day
PS: The shortest distance between two people is a smile ...
Contact Me

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 habitats.

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 doing?”

Anyway, I Googled “baboosh” ... and this came up...

                                                                                                                                                                                  ...babooshbaby.com is a 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 Terry:
According to my wife, the correct translation should be:
                                              “No flip-flops in the bathroom. Caution: slippery floor.”
                                                                                                                                          Impressively translated

I would add “impressively and memorably translated”. Perhaps it should have been accompanied by this notice placed prominently on the bathroom floor...

                                                                                                                                             ...again spotted in China, by S McCabe.

Finally, and having discovered a new word, baboosh, here’s another marvellous addition to the Look You lexicon...

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 Horsepower Saloon.

Spell-cheque corner: ‘baboosh’ came up as ‘baboon’. What is my computer telling me? That I should get the Clouseau minkey 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 Roger being his middle name proper.

And now this tale has just surfaced:

                                             Man fined for racism after Welsh sheep slur

An English tourist fined for racism after he branded Welsh people “sheep shaggers” claims he was using “a term for people living in the countryside”

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 heard.

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 sheep shagger”.

Taaffe, who receives state benefits, accepted he was insulting and apologised for his behaviour.

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 sheep.

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  Weekend magazine:

                              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 Laugharne (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 maintained.

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 south-east corner.

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 things up.
     “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 cant 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 mail.

Mind 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 cuddle).

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 greedy bankers.

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...
Say cheese

“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 myself.”
     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.

The Mousetrap

I remember a little while back, when the horse meat scandal was at its most rampant, this glorious tale surfaced:

Tweetie Pie Corner

    “Sadly, some 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 disappointed.”

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.

Spell-cheque corner: ‘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:

                     I 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 minister
 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 on.

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 coffee.

     12:00 – Fillet of roast venison with pâté de foie gras and truffle sauce, followed by ripe stilton with port, for
(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 brandy.

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.

Spell-cheque corner: ‘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)

WE HAVEN’T shared a Mrs Mills chuckle for a while ― yeeees, you remember Mrs Mills, she from The Sunday Times STYLE magazine, she who solves all your personal problems...
...and I mean all  your personal problems.

In last weekend’s magazine, this little smiler:


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 the Taliban.

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 bell:


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 action.

Finally, let’s see if this Mrs Mills effort measures up:


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 trim.

For some reason or other, I am reminded of yet another
Mark Twain special:
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
Thatcheration Point

“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 Charles Moore.

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 “very liberating”.

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 irritate Dimbleby.

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 biography.

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:
In 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 again.”

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 Mother Riley.

Whatever, there was a letter on the subject in The Times:

Going swimmingly

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 dining companions.
     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 away...

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!

Spotted in Louisiana by 007 enthusiasts

Spotted 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”:

Bad God!

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 charities

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 Michael Parkinson.

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 what?”

“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 though.

So I Googled the expression … what came up was this: ‘Life is like a double-bed of roses: you gotta watch out for them pricks.’

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 announced:

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 smiling.

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 years.

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 ahead.

Talking of grabbing attention, this, also from The Times:

Circular universe

Sir, You report that the Hubble Space Telescope captured images of a star explosion whose light took 10 billion years to reach our planet.
     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 names.
     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.
Keith Haines, Belfast

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 Seven.)

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 Battersea Park...”

     “Broad-bosomed, bold, becalmed, benign,
          Lies Bal-Ham, four-square on the Northern Line…

     “Oh stands the church clock at ten-to-three,
          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 big House...


Newton 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 hand.

Birds are like people, really. Or rather, we  are like the birds, for the birds have been around a whole lot longer than man.

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 or bother.

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 about.

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
Hanging on

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 all evening).
     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 over it:
                                                        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 received...

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 obscenities.
     “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 well...

Whatever, just to keep a sort of political balance, I also spotted this:

“Scargill alive
!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.


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

This, 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 is good.
Robert H Olley, Reading, Berkshire

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 different.

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 country.


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.
cCOY, Stone, Staffs.

Oh to live in Utopia Street, Upper West Side, Underheaven...


Thursday, April 18
Sweat, tears and curiosity

WELL, the day after the Iron Lady was laid to rest ― I nearly said ‘laid to rust’ ― I enjoyed this from the Telegraph’s MATT, especially so given the emotional tears of a senior government minister...

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 British people.

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 chancellor.

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 the ‘sweat’?

Sweat for duty, not for need

These 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, Hertfordshire

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 Cathedral.
     Only by doing it can one appreciate the strain and difficulty involved.
John Wild, 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 a Saturday.
     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?
Hugh Foster, Farnborough, Hampshire

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 my eye...

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 my pad?

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 hi-viz cleavage?

                                                                                                                      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 programme.

[In my usual spell-cheque corner, the computer suggests ‘Dibble’ for ‘Dimbleby’ ― as in Officer Dibble from Top Cat, I presume.]

And then Amanda Thatcher, Lady Thatcher’s granddaughter, delivers the first of the readings. So composed, so elegant, so classy beyond...
                                                                                                        ...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 school peers.

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 funeral:

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 these:

“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 much.

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.

How best 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 noon.

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 repetition.

The relevant recall was triggered by a trending story, reported on MSN:

                                 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 Joan Rivers.”

Gwyneth Paltrow has recently been letting fly a string of personal revelations. Most of these confessions have been harmless, if not humorous.

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

Paltrow fears 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 adopted.

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 store.

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
Forty winks

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 course.

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 believe.

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
bluebell-watch, 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 everywhere.

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 day.

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 cropped.

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 walks.

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 and Michael.

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 inventions.

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. For example...

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.”

Smashing piece.

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 last weekend:

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.
cALLISTER, Lavenham, Suffolk

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.

Wow! Yes of course, horses are built differently and the comparison is somewhat illogical.

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 prairie.

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.

Come again

Finally, and sticking with The Times:  back on the 23rd of August 2012, the newspaper printed this letter...

Waste not

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.
ARIEL COHEN, Elstree, Herts

Obviously The Times  does not hoard stuff, particularly letters on subjects that have previously appeared in the newspaper.

Very funny, though, especially as the nation’s media outlets keep telling the rest of us where we are going wrong with our lives. 

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 dead.

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 show.

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 guest host.

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 followers.

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.

And 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 on Twitter...


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:

The retrospectives 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 gentility.”
     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:
“Everyone knew 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 news headlines.

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 paraphrased: “A protest is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”

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 day’s smileometer.

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 sounding names:

Spell checkmate

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.


Bluebell watch: Exactly a week ago I spotted my first bluebell of the season, Solitaire ― there she is up there in the Flower Power Gallery. By Sunday she had been joined by her pal Solidarity, 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 ‘solitaire’: 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 wireless show.

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 solutions”.

Back on 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

The 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...

Charles Cawley: 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 new ideas.
     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:

“If 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.”

Next 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 Mail Online:

“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 above note.

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...

Caught short

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 question...

     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.

On reflection

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 marvellous...

LogieBear, 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 shared.

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 The Astor.

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, I thought.

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 Sundance Kid.

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 Id 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.

     “You rang?”

     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 Margaret Thatcher.

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 seconds moment.

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 imagination.

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 low.

So the first link is naughty young Minnie losing it at the Astor:

And the 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.

But as 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 her yet.

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
Me 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 spades.

Short back and sides

Anyway, as Kim Jong-un has been mentioned in dispatches...


“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 silence.

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...
he 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 news bulletins.

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.

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?

Especially so given that bit above about old Dan Diamond and Cristina Kirchner of Argentina.  

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 spotted.

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...

Chris Crowley, owner of Clarkson Mk1 in Ickenham, Middlesex, wrote: “The Clarkson is my first shed and was
conceived on my computer and constructed with materials reclaimed from demolishing the house. It is fully insulated and double glazed...


“It was Jeremy Clarkson who said: ‘Every invention that has ever mattered in the whole of human history has come from a man in a shed in Britain.
As it resembles 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.

Wood-Shed Love

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 / www.readersheds.co.uk

Boat people

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 Alex Holland 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 eye?

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...

Bluebell watch: 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 count.

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 Court).

The above quote comes from a live televised interview of a couple of weeks back, referred to at the time as that “road crash interview”.

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:

                                               Without his 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.
          Then a 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 proud).

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

Boris: “I swear to tell no lies, no damned lies, and no whoppers this size.”

Green Flag: rapid roadside recovery

Within a day of leaving the scene of said accident, Boris had recovered his equilibrium and delivered the following:

Eddie 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 photograph above.

I was quite chuffed with mine: it was relevant to the subject matter under discussion; and best of all I’d managed an internal rhyme: “I swear to tell no lies, no damned lies, and no whoppers this size.”

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 relevant pointers.

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 their education.

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 arrives...

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 newspaper scene]:

Fellow travellers

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 first.
     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.
George Smith, Canterbury, Kent

Very 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.

Spell-cheque corner: 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 ― please, I’ve told you, chuck the ‘sir’ onto the hat rack à la James Bond ― came up as ‘Canine’. Clearly, you cant teach an old dog new tricks. 


Wednesday, April 3

ONCE 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 time, the connection having been lost in the midst of time.

That won’t happen here on Look You 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 highly satisfying.

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 section:
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 shelter
attracts thousands 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 its own
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” domains.

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
Look You 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.

Actually, Look You 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.

Be all that as it may, the idea that Look You 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.

Spell-cheque corner: 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:

Risky apostrophes

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?
Robert Readman, Bournemouth, Dorset

Over to the online comment community...

Oldgit13: “A 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 mixed up.”

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 dont 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:

Lych mob

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, etc. However...

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.

I would 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.

Talk of friendship takes me back to yesterday’s smile: remember these two paragraphs from Telegraph View?

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, colleague, etc.

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 ‘syntax’ 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).

Spell-cheque corner: 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 attention?

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 contributed.

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 April 1.

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 Look You 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:

New! What’s that smell? Find out with Google Nose

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...”

Spell-cheque corner
: ‘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: Mar
Smile of the day 2013: Feb

Smile of the day 2013: Jan
Smile of the day 2012d (Oct-Dec)

Previous 2012 smiles: 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 (Oct-Dec)

 Previously: Smile of the Day 2010
Home   2010 (Jan to Jun)   2009   2008   March to May '07   June to Aug '07   Sep to Dec '07


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Previously on LOOK YOU......

Smile of the day 2013: Mar
Smile of the day 2013: Feb

Smile of the day 2013: Jan
Smile of the day 2012d (Oct-Dec)
Smile of the day 2012c (Jul-Sep)
Smile of the day 2012 (Apr-Jun)
Smile of the day 2012 (Jan-Mar)

Smile of the day 2011 (Oct-Dec)
Smile of the Day 2011 (Jul-Sep)
Smile of the Day 2011 (Jan-Jun)

Smile of the Day 2010
2010 (Jan to Jun)

Sep to Dec '07

June to Aug '07
March to May '07

As it was in the beginning:


Here's lookin' at you @
400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 19/11/2012

What A Gas @
400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 17/05/2009

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