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

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POSTCARDS FROM
MY SQUARE MILE
click... smile
Updated: 26/05/2013

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

400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 08/06/2013



                                                                                        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
 

Friday, May 31
Stranger and stranger


...and everyday a doolally smile of the day, it says up there on my Welcome mat. So I was duly intrigued by this headline and story:

              Taxman tells owner of Mama Flo’s café she owes £1BILLION in VAT

Florence Coke, 59, owner of Mama Flo’s in Gorton, Greater Manchester, told how she “nearly fell over” after opening the £979,092,858 bill from HM Revenue and Customs.

She was left angry after the taxman threatened to seize her business assets if she failed to pay up ― but HM Revenue and Customs bosses have since apologised after realising Ms Coke only owed a little less than £17,000.

It turns out that her little business has only been going some three years anyway. Even then, a VAT bill of £17,000 for a small business seems rather high ― unless of course it’s for more than a quarter, indeed, perhaps it is VAT due since she opened the business.

Whatever, that is pure speculation.

But what is not speculation is that it is doolallyness in the extreme that the tax computer system does not alert and withhold anything it generates which is totally out of synch with any particular business’ normal trading figures.

Perhaps the £1Billion bill should have winged its way to Starbucks, or Amazon, or Google...

Crazy world, crazy people.

Incidentally, with Google much in the news of late ― tax arrangements, spying on us via our computer use, its reluctance to block child porn (jailed for life on Thursday, April Jones’s murderer is the latest child killer to use the internet to fuel his perversion) ― I thought this letter in the Daily Mail  from a
Chris Renshaw out in Alicante, Spain, was rather inventive:

                “Does Google spy on us? The answer may be in the name: G ΘΘ GLE ... or ... Go ogle!

I guess the question they should ask Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and which has nothing to do with his organisation’s tax regime, or whether it does spy on us, is this:
     If, God forbid, it had been one of your children or grandchildren instead of April Jones, are you saying that such a horrific crime is a price you are prepared to pay to keep Google free to promote extreme internet porn?

His answer would be fascinating in the extreme.

Crash, bang, wallop

Anyway, talking of the idiocy of the VAT computer, there was also this story:

Driver made 17 whiplash claims in just eight years: He and his gang are exposed by judge who rules that ‘bus prang’ was bogus

     • Mohammed Saeed claimed he was in a car hit by a National Express coach
     • His string of other claims came to light when the bus firm challenged the claim
     • A judge has now ordered a perjury inquiry into previous payouts made

The scale of ‘crash for cash’ scams is driving up insurance premiums for innocent motorists. Experts believe about £60 of a motorist’s annual car insurance premium pays for losses in the industry caused by fake compensation claims.

Recently a gang in County Durham swindled so much money, car insurance firms raised bills in the area by about £100 a year. The 60 gang members were all either convicted of the estimated £3million fraud or admitted the crime during the past 18 months.

Insurance experts recently told MPs that half of all whiplash claims from car crashes ― an estimated £1billion a year ― are fraudulent because symptoms are ‘too easy to fake’.

Now you would have thought that, given the scale of these frauds, the insurance companies would have some sort of linked computer claims software that would alert them, especially so given that all the claims would, by definition, have followed the same routine.

It all gives this recent quote a whole new life of its own:

“These insurance companies are taking all the pleasure out of being alive.” Paul Morgans, the mayor of Bakewell, Derbyshire, who cannot find a company willing to insure his town’s “incredibly dangerous” traditional custard pie fight.

Imagine, insurance companies simply pay out these fake compensation claims without a blink ― but don’t you dare throw a custard pie at anyone.

What is even more alarming about the above ‘bus prang’ is that it wasn’t the insurance company but National Express which decided to challenge the claim because the driver had no knowledge of any accident.

I think bringing back the stocks is long overdue. Then we can throw custard pies to our hearts content at these absolute idiots who run the country. And not worry about any insurance claims.
 

Thursday, May 30
I like these images because......

A BRACE of pictures generated different kinds of smiles today.

First up, this wonderfully eye-catching image from last weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Don't look up!


Mega moons ago I had a phase of entering consumer competitions; you know, the ones where you have to finish a sentence or compose a slogan, all within so many words.

I was reasonable successful at it, my prizes ranging from a rather swish and expensive Concorde holiday to America ― to a night out with a handful of The Sun’s  Page 3 girls.

Along the way I remember one competition where you had to submit a suggestion of something really off-beat you would like to do, an unusual holiday, perhaps, but something outside the normal parameters of your day-to-day life.

If you were a winner the prize was to make the dream come true. So by definition it had to be something reasonably achievable, assuming the right people opened the right doors.

At the time, when they televised the Monaco Grand Prix, along part of the course, one of the hotel swimming pools was clearly visible as the cameras tracked the cars racing on by. And of course it was always empty.

Not many years after, the pool disappeared from view as the race organisers erected more and more temporary spectator stands to watch the race.

Anyway, my idea was this: I would like to attend the Monaco Grand Prix, stay at that particular hotel ― but during the race, I would enter the swimming pool and then proceed to plough up and down during all the excitement of the event.

Now this would have grabbed the attention of the television people; I mean, who was this idiot swimming in the pool instead of watching one of the great events on the world’s sporting calendar?

Also, imagine the huge exposure this would give the organisers of the competition ― I can’t remember who was running it: I seem to think it was a chocolate manufacturer, someone like Cadbury, but I can’t be sure.

Anyway, and much to my chagrin, I never submitted my dream weekend. Typical of me because all my life I’ve had a go at many things ― but once I’ve sort of cracked that particular art, I would lose interest and move on to something else.

Which is a shame. I’m sure my swimming pool idea would have gone down a bomb because of the interest the wheeze would have attracted from the media.

Ah well, another one that got away.

The Great Walkway of China

The second photograph is this extraordinary image, which makes me smile and feel faint, all at the same time.

Don't look down!


Daredevil tourists have been photographed navigating an extremely narrow and treacherous walkway on a sheer cliff face on a scenic mountain in Shaanxi Province, China.

Fortunately the individuals are all attached to a safety line attached to the rock face. The precipitous Chang Kong Cliff Road on Haushan mountain was built more than 700 years ago by hermits seeking ‘immortals’ they thought were living deep in the mountains.

The walkway is alarmingly narrow and has been built clinging to the absolutely vertical cliff. One misstep could see you fall thousands of feet down the stone valley. However, anyone brave enough to navigate the path does have to wear a special safety harness.

What could possibly go wrong? Here’s a link to a Mail Online  picture gallery ― some astonishing images from this mountain.

But rather them than me, for even though I did once hold a pilot’s licence, I hate heights...

        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2332642/Chang-Kong-Cliff-Road-Tourist-trek-thousands-feet-Chinese-mountain-700-year-old-wooden-boards.html
 


Wednesday, May 29
Serendipity at its most fortuitous


SOMETIME last week, it was Alex Lester (I think) who mentioned on his wireless show something or other to do with a cartoon cat that was always roaring off on its motor-sickle. SOL! (smile out loud).

I thought at the time: how come I’ve never heard of a cat and this wonderful motor-sickle?

I mean, that is so smiley; so much so, every time I’d see a motorcycle I’d say to myself “Oh look, there’s a motorsickle”. There again, I had only just woken up so perhaps I’d misheard what Alex had said.

And then it sort of escaped my mind. Until today ― when I happened to hear Motorcycle Emptiness  by the Manic Street Preachers ― and it all came flooding back...

So I went online and searched “a cartoon cat and its motorsickle”. The search engine duly challenged and corrected my spelling and changed it to “motorcycle”. But I insisted...

Well, nothing at all ― except the following vintage cartoon postcard of a cat riding its, um, motor-sigh-cle...

A variation on the theme of “beep-beep!”, I guess. And it did generate a generous smile. However, what I did serendipitously trip over was a YouTube link to ― ta-rah! ... Arlo Guthrie and his Motorsickle song.

So off I went, riding pillion. And I smiled and smiled, and laughed and laughed.

I had never heard this before. It’s a live audio recording: think Ronnie Corbett sat in his chair telling that rather drawn out joke routine he made his own ― now put Spike Milligan in the chair, and hand him a gui-tar...

♫♫♫ 

            I don’t want a pickle,
            Just want to ride on my motorsickle;
            And I don
t want a tickle,
            I
d rather ride on my motorsickle;
            And I don
t want to die,
            Just want to ride on my motorsighhhh-cle.


It is eight minutes of delightful silliness ― put to music. I feel my sense-of-fun education has been seriously found wanting having not previously made the acquaintance of Arlo Guthrie and his Motorsickle song.

Actually, it’s not so much a song, more a cabaret act. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I may well put it into the comedy section of my Desert Island Jukebox.

It’s a charmingly smiley way to roar off into the distance and head somewhere beyond the blue horizon...
                                                                                                           
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxlyHFwq_zs
 


Tuesday, May 28
A kiss-me-quick cocktail, with a twist


“Why does he go everywhere hand in hand with his wife? Tell him not to.” Lord Carrington, 94, British Conservative grandee, on Prime Minister David Cameron’s unstatesman-like behaviour.

Yes, that is  true. I’d never thought about it, but the moment I read that, I did a quick SOL (smile out loud).

What is more, Chief Wise Owl down at the Crazy Horsepower mentioned that he is also forever kissing his wife in public situations i.e. party conferences.

Curiosity made me Google our Kissagrim PM ... my goodness me, what a load of osculating on public platforms. And not just our PM...


What is it with all these politicians? Is it some sort of mid-life crisis? Also online, there’s a wicked spoof picture of Cameron and Obama doing what comes naturally...
                                                                              

                                                                                                                         ...at least I think it’s Photoshopped!

My SOL effortlessly morphed into a LOL!

Last week I smiled at how the news was dominated by the gay marriage debate in Parliament, and I recalled Danish comedian Victor Borge pointing out that there were three distinct groups of people in Denmark: male, female and convertible.

And I pondered why David Cameron and his fellow wussycats were determined to turn Britain into a nation of convertibles, even though the current climate is decidedly unsuitable to have the top down (it’s the economy, stupid).

Down at the Asterisk Bar in the Crazy Horsepower, they reckon there are four distinct groups of people in Britain: AC, DC, AC/DC and TP (Three Phase: anything goes, from a blow-up doll to a nice looking ewe).

Given David Cameron’s propensity to hold his wife’s hand and then kiss her in public, along with his haste in getting this gay marriage thing all legal and above board ― and remember, he is a public schoolboy where it seems AC/DC and TP is par for the course ― do you suppose that he is a ... no, surely not?

Mind you, why are both Cameron and Obama always making a point of kissing their wives while in full public view? What is the subliminal message they are peddling?

Methinks they doth kith too much.

Talking of Three Phase and blow-up dolls, as I was, this from last weekend’s
Weird and wonderful column in The Sunday Times:

Showing tonight ― Blow-up

A cinema manager called police when he spotted a couple making love in the back row, but officers arrived to find a customer canoodling with an inflatable woman.
     A spokesman for the cinema in Guadalupe, Mexico, complained: “He didn’t even buy a second ticket.”


And then this quote from the lovely Australian actress, singer and model,
Holly Valance, 30:

    “Most days I am dressed like an angry lesbian. I am not a girlie girl.”

Hm, how does an angry lesbian dress? Like a deflated inflatable woman, perhaps?

Spell-cheque corner: My made-up word ‘Kissagrim’ came up, somewhat predictably, as ‘Kiss grim’ ― which was rather sweet, given the context.
 


Monday, May 27
Blank Holiday Special

AS THE day lengthens I awake earlier and earlier; indeed, down the years I have realised that I need much less sleep in summer than I do in winter. It’s my dominant caveman gene, don’t you know.

This very morning, as is par for my course, I was awake before half-four. I turned on the bedside wireless ... Radio 2’s Alex Lester with his Best Time of the Day Show  was in full flow.

Today of course is the Spring Bank Holiday, and Alex was busily promoting it as a Blank Holiday Special.

The point being made by Alex was that we should do as little as possible on a Blank Holiday; most definitely as little as we can get away with.

Alex advised us to forget going to the seaside and getting caught up in those dreadful traffic jams which would result in us returning home more stressed than we were before setting off.

Positively no DIY work to avoid the risk of ending up in hospital minus a finger ― or worse.

Now there spoke a man with experience of bank holiday hassle. But I liked the sound of this ‘doing as little as possible’.

Truth to tell, this is how I have lived most of my life: do as little as possible without letting anybody down or indeed owing anybody any money.

My philosophy doubtless explains why I have never garnered position, power and possessions. Still, as mentioned in previous dispatches, it’s been a laugh a minute; often two laughs a minute.

Back with Alex Lester: he read out an e-mail from Dawn ... that was ... blank.

How funny is that. I was sold on the Blank Holiday message.

Now my Look You day runs from noon to noon: I wrote up yesterday’s smile last night; I then tend to think about it along my early-morning walk, polish up my thought processes the best I can ― and then I post online around noon.

So noon arrives, job done ― and I think, right, I am now entering into the spirit of the Blank Holiday. I shall put my feet up, listen to a bit of radio, visit my Desert Island Jukebox, catch up with the newspapers ― and watch a bit of telly, especially now that Springwatch is back for a run.

And as if by command, after a beautiful weekend, the rain began to pour down at noon. A perfect day to put my feet up.

Reading yesterday’s newspaper, I read this brief obituary:

Eddie Braben

Eddie Braben, who has died aged 82, was Morecambe and Wise’s television scriptwriter during their golden decade at the BBC between 1968 and 1978. Many considered the Liverpudlian to be the unsung genius of British comedy.

In July 1969 Bill Cotton, BBC Television’s head of light entertainment, signed Morecombe and Wise to do 13 shows a year for the BBC for three years. Cotton commissioned Braben to write a whole show for BBC2 and, three shows later, Braben became Morecambe and Wise’s official writer.

The shows became a national institution and Braben shaped Britain’s cultural landscape of the 1970s.
                                                                                                                                    
The Daily Telegraph

Today, having caught just a slice of it yesterday on BBC Radio Wales, I listened to this on iPlayer:

Another chance to hear Aled Jones in conversation with legendary comedy writer Eddie Braben, who sadly passed away this week. This programme was first broadcast in October 2012.

I remember listening to the programme first time round. It was even better this time. Eddie Braben was an exceedingly witty and funny man and he comes across wonderfully so in this conversation.

“Why do you still keep training alongside the players?” Eddie Braben once asked Bill Shankly, the legendary Liverpool Football Club manager in his later years, when most managers of his age would coach from the sidelines.

“When I die,” replied Bill, “I want to die fit.”

I must tell that to my doctor. Anyway, the programme is awash with tales like that.

If you are able to access the BBC iPlayer, then the link is below. Alternatively, simply put Aled Jones into the iPlayer search box. It will remain available until 3.02PM Sunday, 2 June 2013

                                                                    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01sny00/Aled_Jones_26_05_2013/

 

Sunday, May 26
Symmetry in emotion


LAST Sunday I shared the experiences of a picture-perfect spring morning: bluebells and wild garlic in abandoned glory; and the spectacular 40 shades of green as all the various trees were coming into leaf.

Well blow me, today, a repeat performance ― no hot air balloon this Sunday though ― but just a week on and there are subtle differences all over the shop.

The bluebells in south and south-west facing woodlands are fast wilting and disappearing amongst the sprouting ferns; and the vibrancy of the difference shades of green on the trees is already morphing into that blanket ‘Sherwood green’ I mentioned.

To compensate though, there’s blossom and golden chain everywhere ― oh, and those eye-catching candles on the horse chestnuts are just about coming into their own.

However, what made me smile this morning was something I’ve never quite experienced before.

The forecast had promised a great day. I was out and about at five. The sun rose perfectly into a near clear sky, just wisps of high, horizon cloud floating about; plus lots of mist down in the valley. But as I walked across Dinefwr Park, ahead of me the full moon in all its glory was preparing to set over Dinefwr Castle.

What made it so extraordinary was that the sun was rising directly behind me ― and as I followed my shadow onwards and upwards towards the western horizon, the moon was setting directly in front of me.

Now I have witnessed plenty of memorable sunrises and moonsets, but this morning the whole shebang was in such perfect symmetry it made me blink at the wonder and the beauty of nature.

Mind you, you’ve got to be up and about bright and early to capture much of it.

I’ve posted a Towy Valley sunrise and moonset over on Postcards corner. Link here...
                                                                                                                                  
smile

Talking of weather, I particularly enjoyed this amusing letter in today’s Sunday Telegraph:

Unorthodox deterrent

SIR – Some years ago I was in a pub in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands. One of the locals was chatting to me and mentioned the midge problem and that the best deterrent was brown sugar, rubbed all over one’s face.
     “It stops them biting, does it?” I asked, and with guffaws from his pals he replied, “No, but it rots their teeth
!
Ray Byrne, Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire

 


Saturday, May 25
Schadenfreude personified



“A woman who carries a polecat by the tail learns something she can learn in no other way.”
With apologies to Mark Twain.


The following is a headline (or variations thereof) that all newspapers carried this morning:

    
£100,000 bill for Mrs Speaker as judge rules she DID libel Tory peer Lord McAlpine on Twitter

Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow is facing a six-figure payout for libelling a Tory peer on Twitter. She has lost a High Court battle with Lord McAlpine over a tweet suggesting he was a child sex offender.

Mrs Bercow now faces a  crippling payout and legal costs totalling more than £100,000 after the court decided the  message was libellous.

The tweet ― sent to her 56,000 online followers on November 4 last year ― said:
                                                                                                 “Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*”

Sally Bercow can best be described as the Patron Saint of Serendipitous Schadenfreude (the faculty of making happy and unexpectedly malicious discoveries of anothers absolute inability to spot an ambush at 140 characters).

It is obvious that Sally has been placed on this planet to delight all of us who stand and stare at the passing parade. And she does not disappoint.

It was Gore Vidal (1925-2012) who said: “Every time a friend of mine succeeds a little part of me dies.”

Every time Sally Bercow opens her mind and mouth a little corner of my heart goes hop, skip and jump ― and I hear a voice inside my head saying: “My round next.” Following our Sally down her dead end alley is an expensive business.

As usual, the Telegraph’s MATT  sums it all up perfectly...

 
    “After a week of terrible news,
            it’s good to laugh again.”


Incidentally, Sally Bercow would do well to remember another
Mark Twain classic: “It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.”
 


Friday, May 24
A history lesson in Sign Language

TIME to catch up with a snatch of British history, compliments of a few Sign Language gems, those confusing and amusing signs and shop notices spotted by Telegraph  readers on their travels about the UK.

Starting with the Great British Flood, or in this case, as the Telegraph  pointed out, Noah’s lark:

Noah takes a rain check

Two by two they hurried into the ark / Spotted in London by Brian Minkoff

 

What did the Romans ever do for our comfort?

Roman furnishings / Spotted in the UK by Roy Wallis

 

Dying to spend a groat

Visited by the late Michael Winner? / Spotted in Bibury, the Cotswolds by Paul de Fraine

 

Where all the stars hang out

Good food at rock bottom prices / Spotted in London by Stephen Lee
 

A moment to reflect

While this scrapbook cum diary is dedicated to the things that make me smile, it would be amiss not to acknowledge the dreadful things that happen in this increasingly confused and troubled world of ours.

How ironic then that the restaurant in London with its Afghan roots provides an unfortunate and cursory link to the dreadful happening in Woolwich.

Who would have thought that the killing of one person would leave such a profound mark on a nation.

Excepting the brutality of the killing itself, two things linger in the mind.

First, the bravery of those three women who confronted the killers.

Hindsight tells us that the men were determined to wait for the police and to then confront them ― but the women were not to know that as events unfolded.

Secondly, when I saw that dreadful image of one of the alleged killers with his victim’s blood on his hands ― and it became known that the murdered man was a soldier ― I instantly thought Macbeth.

What came to mind was the historical incident involving Peter Brierley, the father of a soldier killed in Iraq, who, back in 2009 following a commemoration service at St Paul’s for the 179 British personnel who had died during the conflict, refused to shake hands with a troubled Tony Blair because the politician had “blood on his hands”.

The former prime minister was ushered away and afterwards Mr Brierley, from Batley, West Yorkshire, said: “I understand soldiers go to war and die but they have to go to war for a good reason and be properly equipped to fight.”

The murder of Lee Rigby underlines the great truth that wheels turn in a ruthlessly unforgiving manner, whether literally or symbolically.

 

Thursday, May 23
Dancing around the totem pole


I REGULARLY trip over things which generate a generous smile, but they still don’t quite make the daily cut.

Mind you, I often file away such examples ― then out of a clear blue sky I either spot, hear or read something which instantly has me reaching into my memory cabinet and filing system.

Here’s a perfect example of a smile which I enjoyed but then stashed away somewhere inside my head. It’s a letter spotted in The Sunday Telegraph:

An iconic figure

SIR – Charlotte Rampling, the actress, is described as exuding “iconic wattage” (Seven, April 28). These days, anyone who has been on the television becomes a celebrity, but what does it take to become an icon?
     In the fullness of time, she will become a “national treasure”, and then what?
Anthony White, London N16

Surprisingly, no one came up with a response or suggestion, not even compliments of the online comments.

My immediate thoughts on Charlotte Rampling’s “iconic wattage” ― whoever Charlotte is when she’s at home ― is that, to those in the know she clearly burns brighter than other common or garden icons.

Whatever, just the other day, by coincidence, this letter in The Times:

Like, iconic

Sir, I have recently seen the following referred to as “iconic”: Harris Tweed, the Bradford Odeon, Mrs Thatcher,  H&M clothes, The Rite of Spring, the roof of the Sage concert hall in Gateshead, Fawlty Towers, Top of the Pops, Amy Whitehouse, and the front door of Paul McCartney’s childhood home. What does the word mean?
KEN SMITH,
ken.smith4@virgin.net

There came one response:

Iconoclasm

Sir, The examples Ken Smith gives would suggest that “iconic” now means “quite well known”.
RODDY WALDHELM, Edinburgh

Hm. Well, my mind goes back to May 11, when I did the celebrity totem pole thingy. This is how I think it all works...

A different kind of pole dancing

If, as you go about your daily life, you encounter people you have absolutely no reason to personally know, but they either stop and stare or acknowledge you in some way or other, then you have attained a degree of fame (or indeed infamy) and you are now on the bottom rung of the totem pole.

As the flames flicker and the drums kick into life, we plebs begin a little war dance around your pole.

When these complete strangers then engage you in conversation ― as if you are an old friend ― and worse, they nod and shake their heads at everything you say (while probably having their fingers firmly crossed behind their backs and hoping that they are nodding and shaking in the right places), then you are now a celebrity. You move a few rungs up the totem pole.

And our dancing becomes a wee bit more enthusiastic.

The next stage is when you say something vaguely amusing ― and we, the great unwashed, slap our thighs in yee-haa! fashion and fall about in a heap of helpless laughter. You have now achieved iconic status.

The flickering flames, the beat of the drums, not to mention the dancing, now become ever more furious and frenetic.

The final stage is when those you meet ― whether they be the great unwashed or indeed fellow celebrities from lower down the totem pole ― morph into bunnies caught in the headlights of fame. We are both dazzled and bamboozled and unable to say anything sensible in your presence.

You are now near the top of the totem pole and you spread your wings. You clearly possess the answers to life the universe and nearly everything.

You are now a national treasure. Like, um, Jimmy Savile.

The drumming and the dancing and the whooping reach a crescendo...

Where to next?

Anthony White asks: what next? What comes after national treasure? I am stumped here. A military or state funeral, I guess, but at the moment we don’t have a suitable term that readily embraces such a condition.

However, I have my own thoughts on national treasures: it is ‘things’ that we should label treasures, surely?

For example, England has Stonehenge and Big Ben; Scotland the bagpipes, kilts and whisky; Ireland claim Guinness and the Blarney Stone.

Here in Wales our national flag with its dragon, which makes it instantly recognisable alongside the top national flags of the world, definitely claims national treasure status; oh, and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (not so much the stadium itself, but rather that it is situated right bang in the middle of the City, something incredibly rare, as anyone who has visited stadiums around the world will testify to ― ah, the joy of tumbling out of the hotels, pubs and restaurants and straight into the stadium).

But do people qualify as national treasures? I guess they do, but the real test is that you must remain instantly recognisable even after everyone who has lived during your lifetime has died. Shakespeare, obviously. And Isambard Kingdom Brunel, for he was central to what made Britain Great.

It is a fair bet that Churchill will become a National Treasure.

But will our present Queen? Hm. The answer would appear to be yes ― but only the passage of time will tell.

Commatose

Sticking with The Times, this letter tickled my old funny bone:

Dash it all

Sir, I have two questions for Giles Whittell, who pronounced in the Thunderer (May 10) that commas get in the way of clarity. Does he find inspiration in cooking his family and his dog? Or does he find inspiration in cooking, his family and his dog?
PIPPA KELLY, pedant with a dog who eats shoots and leaves
London, SW17


Now I probably use too many commas because I deploy them as if I am speaking the lines. If I would pause naturally while saying it, I insert a comma. Mind you, I enjoyed these responses:

Watch this space

Sir. Pippa Kelly could have gone one further with an inclusion of the late-lamented Oxford comma. And “found inspiration from cooking, her family, and her dog”.
GABRIELLE HOLMWOOD, Chester


I’m with Gabrielle on that one. But here’s the letter I particularly enjoyed:

Sir, Lawyers are the first to argue that the absence of commas leads to improved clarity ― my will includes none at all ― but Pippa Kelly shows how their presence can often pinpoint one meaning to the exclusion of others.
     Lawyers work an adversarial system, where the possibility of different interpretations is a major source of revenue, so I’m not surprised the legal profession is anti-comma. In my judgment, however, the pertinent comma has no case to answer.
CHRIS WHITBY, Peckleton, Leics


How intriguing is that? Especially that Chris Whitby’s will includes no commas. For that to work it must be written in short sentences. To avoid longer sentences at Her Majesty
s pleasure, so to speak, ho, ho, ho.

It all makes sense to me.

A boy named Sue meets a girl named Bill

Tales of the comma instantly whisked me back to 1974 and a record released by Jim Stafford, now 69, an American comedian, musician and singer-songwriter.

David Cameron would have been eight years of age back then; a gay marriage would have been a soldier getting hitched while surrounded by lots of Gay Hussars, but probably not the Queen’s Own Hussars.

And the song that caused such a stir back then? My Girl Bill.

Of course, it’s not until we get to the end of the song do we realise that it actually reads My Girl, Bill.

So clever. So witty. And all down to that little comma.

It’s on YouTube if you want to check it out:
                                                                          
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDS4G1L3qKs

 


Wednesday, May 22
The perfumed garden


LAST Sunday, on that glorious early-morning I wrote about, I mentioned that the bluebells were now in their glory, the woods a perfumed garden of delight.

Bearing in mind the tale of the lamb with its head stuck in a bucket, perhaps I should have written this (with apologies to Tommy Thumb’s Little Story Book):

                                                                    Little Blue Bell,
                                                                    Come waft your bouquet,
                                                                    The lamb’s in the meadow,
                                                                    Wandering any which way.

Whatever, Chief Wise Owl ― or more correctly his good lady, Mrs What A Hoot, handed me this intriguing column from The Times’ 
Nature notes as penned by Derwent May:

Bluebells are out in the woods, and spreading. Soon there will be whole carpets of them, a beautiful violet-blue. The bells are long and narrow, with turned-up edges, and they nod at the top of the stalks, all on one side. When the wind sweeps through the wood, both the flowers and the shiny green leaves tremble.

There are often wood anemones growing nearby, sometimes even trailing over the bluebell leaves. They are delicate white flowers with a yellow centre, and sometimes have a pink underneath.

I shall pause there, for back on April 5 I wrote this in my smile of the day following the spotting of Solitaire, my first bluebell of the season:

The early bluebell is very difficult to spot at this stage, hidden amongst the rich, green and abundant foliage. 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 bluebell’s little bridesmaids, the pretty wood anemone, have been in attendance for a couple of weeks now ― but looking rather sorry for themselves first thing of a morning as they shelter from the cold (and await the arrival of the bride, obviously).

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.

Well, it has been nearly seven weeks from that first bluebell to the endless perfumed carpets now on view.

Now I always think of the wood anemones as the bluebell’s bridesmaids, especially in those early days before the bluebells overwhelm them ― this year I did manage to catch a picture of a very early bluebell slowly rising above these delicate little white flowers, first thing in the morning when they were not fully awake and alert, it’s true, but it proves my point...

The bluebell arrives early for a dress rehearsal, surrounded by her sleepy bridesmaids, the wood anemone

Meanwhile, back with Derwent May:

Another flower of the bluebell woods is ramsons, or wild garlic. It has a pungent smell of garlic, and grows in colonies away from the bluebells. Numerous little star-shaped white flowers sparkle on the flower heads.

Well, far be it for me to challenge what Derwent May says, but along my morning walk, there is a south-facing corner of Castle Woods that is a mass of wild garlic. Right now, a substantial part of the woodland floor looks as if there has been a sudden and heavy snowfall.

But most surprising of all, there are spots where the bluebells and the wild garlic grow happily together...

 

The bluebell and the wild garlic seemingly buck the trend and flower side by side in the Towy Valley

I guess the apparent phenomenon is most noticeable this year because the cold spring delayed everything ― ponder the bluebells taking some seven weeks to become really established ― so everything is coming into flower at the same time and the normal rules of engagement might not apply.

Derwent May finishes thus:

Above all these flowers, the fresh green leaves of the oak trees are beginning to open.

Which is precisely the observation I recorded last Sunday beneath the hot air balloon floating by.

Finally: as for the seemingly unusual combination of the wild garlic and the bluebell, I have just captured a neat close up of the pair ... it will now take pride of place in the Flower Power Gallery.
 


Tuesday, May 21
From GCE to ECG in one effortless leap


MY MOTHER always insisted that everything in life goes round in a circle: “Treat people badly and you will find yourself caught up in one ambush after another; treat people as decent human beings ― well, you really will be pleasantly surprised.”

And of course, our journeys though life underline this philosophy to perfection.

A while back there was a newspaper article by a Nigel Farndale regarding our responses to telephone cold callers, and why there really is no excuse for us to be so rude. I enjoyed this extract:

I once went to Dharamsala to interview the Dalai Lama and asked him probably the most original question he had ever been asked, one that he had surely never had fired at him before, nor will have again. What is the secret to achieving happiness?

His answer, which I often think about, came without hesitation and was two words long: “Be kind.”

It was almost as if people had been asking him that one all his life.

Those who work in call centres don’t ring people up just to annoy them ― they’re doing a job. I’m feeling warmer to cold callers already. It's good to remember that kindness, even to a salesman, doesn’t cost anything.

Quite right, too. Mind you, most of the time I neatly sidestep the cold caller issue because if I’m not right next to the receiver when it rings, the answerphone kicks in and cold callers simply hang up. As for a mobile, I only carry that for personal emergencies, so it is always switched off anyway.

Reflecting on the Dalai Lama and his “Be kind” advice, I remember the Crazy Horsepower’s own Dalai Lama, Chief Wise Owl, telling me something quite profound and somewhat similar: “We always remember those individuals who are nasty bits of work, people who treat us badly; we also never forget those individuals who are genuinely nice to us.”

And do you know, he is spot on. I really do recall the genuinely nice people I have met along my walk through time.

Anyway, today I completed a different kind of circle. But a circle never the less.

When I was at school I sat a GCE examination ― a General Certificate of Education, or something similar. And today, now that I am much older, I sat an ECG examination ― an Electrocardiogram. Take it from me, mirror circles don’t come much more perfect than this. GCE : ECG.

Yes, today I visited my local doctors’ practice to check out a potential ambush I’d experienced over the weekend: nothing spectacular, but better safe than sorry.

I duly had an audience with a really pleasant and kind young lady doctor, who thought it best I had an ECG, something I’d never experienced before. So I was transferred into the safe hands of an equally agreeable and kind nurse.

As she wired me up I mentioned that I felt a bit like James Bond in Goldfinger, when he’s at the mercy of that laser beam as it slowly tracks towards his crown jewels...
     Goldfinger: “Choose your next witticism carefully, Mr Bond ― it may be your last.”
     Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?”
     Goldfinger [looks back, smiling]: “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die
!

At which point the nice nurse smiled and said: “No, I definitely don’t expect you to die ― and you must not talk during the test.”

So that shut me up.

I call it nerves. Actually, my blood pressure reading was higher that it should be ― and yes, I do suffer this white coat syndrome thingumajig, or white coat hypertension as it’s properly called, the curious phenomenon where patients exhibit elevated blood pressure in a clinical setting.

I never understand quite why I suffer this sort of stress because, touch wood, along my stroll through time, thus far anyway, I’ve had no reason to feel wary of doctors and nurses.

Anyway, I was reminded of that marvellous caption competition moment from Have I Got News For You, featuring the one and only Boris Johnson:

“Will someone please call a male doctor...”

Oh dear: Boris, Boris, what would we do without you to brighten up the political landscape? Mind you, when I saw that clenched fist I did have a rather unsavoury thought. But that’s me and my one track mind. Probably.

Say cheese

Later in the day I popped into the local Co-op for a few things. As usual I checked out the ‘Reduced to clear’ corner ... invariably a few bargains there ― and I saw this tease of an offer:

It was a selection of four different cheeses ― but as noted on the package: “1 missing”.

Now I am endlessly intrigued as to how that single packet of cheese went missing. Was there a cock-up during packaging? Did someone nick it? Did an employee at the back of the store have a quick snack when no one was looking? Did a mouse grab a quick bite when no one was looking? Or more correctly, a rat? How fascinating is that?

Mind you, the price drop from £2.89 to £1.94 was exceptionally mean given the intrigue behind the missing block.

But it did say cheese ― at least I smiled as I grabbed a picture of it.
 


Monday, May 20
You are my sunshine
(♫♫♫: you make me happy when skies are grey)


TODAY’S news was dominated by this gay marriage extravaganza. Many moons ago I remember Danish comedian Victor Borge (1909-2000) pointing out that there were three distinct groups of people in Denmark: male, female and convertible.

It seems that David Cameron and his fellow wussycats are determined to turn Britain into a nation of convertibles, even though the current climate is decidedly unsuitable to have the top down.

Whatever, I may well have mentioned before that, outside of a bit of sport ― rugby, American Football, and over recent years the Tour de France (the very model of a modern circus) ― I am not a great watcher of television.

Yes, I enjoy factual programmes like Countryfile, Great British Train Journeys, the occasional Horizon ... oh, I also appreciate some comedy ― MASH, Dad’s Army, Cheers, Have I Got News For You ― but I hardly ever follow any drama and the like.

I was a great fan of Dallas when it was in its prime ― so delightfully doolally ― and I have always enjoyed Star Trek, especially the Voyager series.

Yes of course, I blame Jeri Ryan ― or rather, Seven of Nine ― the real man’s litmus test as to whether he’s about to go convertible.

Here she is, wearing the family heirloom, with distinction; something Victor Borg(e) would have greatly appreciated,  ho, ho, ho...

We are a Babe, you will be assimilated...

...resistance is futile

Tonight, I just happened once more upon what is far and away my favourite episode:

                                                                 Someone to watch over me

Stardate: Unknown
The Doctor tries to introduce (and subliminally seduce) Seven of Nine to the concept of dating ― and things

Voyager makes first contact with the Kadi, a ritualistic race boasting a bland culture with many social protocols. Seven of Nine, meanwhile, takes the advice of the Captain ― and the Doctor gives her classes in social skills in general, and dating in particular.

A significant sub-plot involves an ambassador from the Kadi, Tomin (played hilariously by Scott Thompson), visiting the ship, with Voyager's own Ambassador Nelix in charge of his well-being.

However, all the best laid plans and all that: Tomin is rapidly seduced by the food, the drink, the socialising and the women ― and in front of our very eyes the Kadi Ambassador morphs from preacher man to party animal. Brilliantly scripted and acted. And exceedingly funny.

It would be akin to a member of the Amish staying at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon and succumbing to all the usual suspects.

In the meantime, the Doctor finds himself falling for his student. The Doc and Tom Paris make a bet about Seven’s potential, with the Doctor furiously coaching her (Seven later finds out about the bet and that is really the end of any designs the Doc has on Seven).

Also, hold the front page: we meet an unfamiliar ship’s crew member who isn’t killed after delivering just a couple of lines ― and he has a personality. He is the one Seven of Nine asks to dinner ... she ends up injuring him while attempting to perfect her dancing skills.

The episode is the sort of romantic comedy-drama that the Americans do with bells on. It has a very witty script and is more about laughs and singing and exploring Seven of Nine’s feelings, confirming that she does indeed have a heart beneath the cat suit and the Borg Implants.

It’s always worth a look to enjoy the music, the funny lines and guest Scott Thompson’s memorable performance.

There are plenty of marvellous lines, for example:

     Doctor to Seven: “They say gossip travels faster than warp speed.

Tell me about it, Doc.

     Doctor to Seven: “
What are your likes, your dislikes?”
     Seven: “I dislike irrelevant conversation.”

Don’t we all Seven, don’t we all.

     Doctor: “You’re a woman, Seven.”
     Seven: “Is that an observation or a diagnosis?”
     Doctor: “A simple biological fact, with repercussions that are hard to deny.”
     Seven: “What is your proposed treatment?”

And then, what leads to my favourite line from all of Star Trek:

Tomin the ambassador is drunk at a party given in his honour; he attempts to chat-up Seven. But Seven is in a foul mood after finding out about the bet. Tomin grabs Seven’s arm: “Remove your hand, or I will remove your arm.”
     Tomin is deeply insulted and throws a wobbly ― but he collapses in a drunken heap ... he wakes up in sick bay, and the first person he sees is Seven: “Ah, Seven of Mine ... assimilate me.”

Ah, Seven of Mine. Is there really a better line in all of Star Trek?

If I said you had a wonderful body...

The Doctor and Seven of Mine (finally out of her cat suit)

Whatever, Robert Picardo, who plays the Doctor, and Jeri Ryan, who plays Seven, both have great singing voices in real life, and in this episode the Doc discovers that Seven can actually sing ― in the link coming up, watch out for the contemptuous looks she gives the Doc ― but it leads to their duet, You Are My Sunshine.

I’m no expert, but I know what I like and this is a wonderful minute-plus worth of entertainment. As you watch the clip, look out though for something really amusing.

As the doctor sings he walks around the console he has just been operating ― and suddenly, a ‘But they’re only joking’ moment unfolds. You can see that someone behind the camera, a member of the crew perhaps, catches his eye ― and his gaze lingers ... just that little bit too long.

You will probably need to watch it a couple of times to appreciate the moment ― but I find it wonderfully smiley.

Anyway, I thoroughly appreciate the duet, which will go on my Desert Island Jukebox, just below Daisy Bell...

You Are My Sunshine ― Seven of Mine and the Doc:
                     
                                                                         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rf4NXpQDVKQ
 


Sunday, May 19
On days like these...
(♫♫♫: when skies are blue and fields are green, I look around and think – blimey!)

WHO would have thought: the second day running and the Towy Valley generates my smile of the day.

Today’s smile though is somewhat different to yesterday’s: goodness gracious me, picture perfect mornings don’t come much better than this.

From the word go, just before half-five, it looked and felt great: still, chilly and cloudless with just a few high, wispy clouds ― and a light mist floating about the meadows...

 

Sunrise, looking out from Newton House over Dinefwr Park and Castle

As the sun rapidly climbs ― alarmingly we are just a month away from the longest day when the sun reaches its zenith in the sky ― the temperature rises and within a couple of hours I am in shirtsleeves.

The bluebells are now in their glory ... what a spectacularly uplifting sight they are; however, the leaves are rapidly filling the woodland canopy so the bluebells’ days are already numbered. Even the oak and the ash, the last kids on the block, are now sprouting their leaves.

However, as I walk along the valley, to one side of me Castle Woods is a glorious sight with all sorts of leaves exploding into life. There in profusion are eye-catching shades of green ― from the yellowish-pinkish-olive glow of the oak leaves, often burnished with brown in their infancy ― to the vivid greens of the sycamores and the beech trees.

And yet, within a few brief weeks this kaleidoscopic 40 shades of green will become one amorphous mass of ‘Sherwood green’.

The whole scene is made even better because Castle Woods rises sharply, so rather than just look at a row of trees at the wood’s edge, there are layers upon layers of green canopies rising into the sky with dramatic effect ... with the occasional copper beech dotted amongst the greens.

And to top it all, overhead a hot air balloon floats ever so gently by ... I recognise the red dragons dotted about the balloon: it’s the one that regularly flew from the farm where I lived in the cottage for three glorious years until ― gosh, until a year ago now. How time floats on by when you’re having fun.

Anyway, I managed to capture the balloon behind the emerging olive glow of an oak tree with its male catkins, looking much like strings of greenish-yellow beads dangling beneath the leaves...

 

One final lick

A postscript to yesterday’s tale of the lamb with its head trapped in the bucket, dear Lisa, dear Lisa: I hadn’t really paid much attention to these mineral containers before ― so I had a quick look at the label on the bucket:

Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, selenium, cobalt, iodine, manganese, zinc ― and a whole load of different vitamins: “A molassed (sic) lick designed to be fed to ewes pre-lambing and lambs up to slaughter, to increase lamb performance and growth as well as improve foot and skin condition and reduce the incidence of parasitic attack.”

What I did notice though was the enthusiasm with which both sheep and lambs were tucking into the lick.

Alongside, a sheep and her two young jet-black lambs are enjoying the treat...

What I also had a close look at was ... how difficult it would have been for yesterday’s lamb to be so precise as to place both its feet through that handle to get itself trapped...

                                

A song for the occasion

So how else to pay tribute to today’s picture perfect morning than Matt Monro’s On Days Like These, the theme song from The Italian Job, with that Lamborghini Miura climbing the Alps before meeting its explosive end ― and this video is minus the film credits and the sound of the car.

A song from 1969, perfect in the wake of the Rock ‘n’ Roll years to add a bit of calm to proceedings...

On Days Like These – Matt Monro
                                                                
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQIRbV_noi8
 


Saturday, May 18
Looking a little pail around the shanks


UP THERE on the Welcome mat I list the usual suspects that are likely to provide amusement along my stroll through the day, including anything startling that might generate a spontaneous smile, especially those curiosities spotted along my daily walk through the Towy Valley.

Well, here we are ... very early this morning, I am walking across one of the larger valley fields, a meadow awash with sheep and lambs. In the distance I spot something strange. It looks like a sheep with some sort of container over its head ― the animal kingdom’s version of a brown paper bag...

                                                                                                                                  

As I get nearer I can see that it’s actually a lamb, a teenage lamb (in human terms, that is).

But how odd, I think. Not the container itself: that could be an empty mineral lick put there for the sheep; or indeed a pail that might have washed up following a recent flood. But what precisely has happened?

I quickly see that it’s an empty bucket of mineral and vitamin lick. Whatever, I can’t figure out why the container doesn’t simply slide off when the lamb dips its head.

As I get nearer I can’t help but smile: the lamb is bleating away, made somewhat eerie by the echo from inside the container ― and nearby its mother, repeatedly calling out, and clearly not understanding why her child will not come when called. Kids today, honestly.

It’s at moments like this I wish I could understand the animals. As I’ve mentioned before, I wouldn’t want to talk to the animals à la Dr Dolittle ― I mean, in no time we humans would impose out ethics, morality and honesty on the creatures, and that really would be the end of life as we know it.

Imagine how wonderful it would be though to understand the birds and the dawn chorus. What are they saying to each other?

Similarly with this lamb and its mother: what precisely are they communicating?

Anyway, as I approach the poor lamb I can see what the problem is...
 

 

The bucket must have been on its side and somehow, when the lamb went to investigate and poked its head into the container, it would have disastrously placed both front feet inside the handle ... then as it lifted its head to pull away, the handle would have shot up the lamb’s legs ― note the above picture ― and it was instantly trapped with no way out.

Or at least, getting out would have been much too complex a manoeuvre for it to deploy.

As I smiled and watched, it began to move towards a backwater ― oh-oh, rescue time. There’s no doubt that once it entered the water, the container would fill and that would pull its head down into the water and it would drown.

But curiously, as its front feet touch the water it pulls back ― note its back legs as it decides to retreat rather sharpish. Anyway, come here you silly thing...

Catching it was easy because it couldn’t see me. However, once I got hold of it, it began to struggle like mad. Then followed quite a tussle to get the container free.

I had to get its legs out and free of the handle. It really was a tight fit. The lamb vigorously resisted, so I had to force the first leg, but all the while mindful that I didn’t damage its leg. After a few seconds, it was out. The second leg was easy ― and the bucket was free.


Off it shot to its mother ― and the first thing it did was suckle.

And it suckled and suckled and suckled ... its mother eventually got fed up ― probably she had no milk left anyway ― as you can see from the final picture, her back leg is already beginning to move forwards, to push the lamb away...

It’s likely that the lamb had been trapped overnight, and clearly it was thirsty as hell.

So my good deed for the day done ― with a smile.

Mind you, even if I hadn’t come along, and assuming the lamb kept out of the water, it would have been rescued anyway because the farmer would later be doing his rounds, and there’s no way he would have missed the poor thing with the big white bucket over its head.

I have previously seen pictures of animals with their heads stuck in unusual contraptions and containers, or indeed trapped in some freaky situations. Here are links to a couple of sites that will positively raise a smile ... some quite memorable images on show...

The World’s Top 10 Best Images of Cows with their Heads Stuck:
                                                                                   
http://theverybesttop10.com/2013/04/17/cows-with-their-heads-stuck/

And also, 12 Bizarre Stories of Animals Getting Stuck:
                                                                                            
http://www.oddee.com/item_97669.aspx
 


Friday, May 17
Crouch, pencil, thumb, draw...

                                                                                

YESTERDAY, all my troubles seemed so far away, now it looks as though they’re here to stay ― no, hang about, the Beatles and the Rock ‘n’ Roll years featured in yesterday’s smile...

However, yesterday I also featured some images of a rather beautiful blackbird ― so today my spirits were lifted by some rather curious images of a royal bird, if Her Majesty will forgive my turn of phrase.

This, from a couple of weeks back, compliments of Metro:

          Welsh Rugby Union’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II gets mixed reception

It’s just as well the 133rd official portrait of the Queen was unveiled in Wales because it’s hard to see it ever taking pride of place over the mantelpiece at Windsor Castle

The Red Queen: And what is this?

The Queen, as spotted at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

The Queen, as spotted ― yes, but where?

First impressions

Now my immediate reaction on seeing the Welsh Rugby Union version was ― yes of course, I smiled ― but the first person that came to mind was Brian Moore, the former English rugby union footballer, who played as hooker and is now a rugby presenter and pundit for BBC Sport...

Anyway, back with Metro’s  take on events:

Apart from its large hands, masculine face and, dare one say it, slightly oversized bosom, the painting is spot on.

Neither impressionistic nor photo-realistic, the work by Cardiff-born artist Dan Llywelyn Hall seems to owe more to satire.

It has been criticised by both professional critics and the public.

Rugby fans who saw the portrait at the Millennium Stadium were not impressed. “It is a shocking portrayal,” said David Frazier, 38. “She looks like a caricature of her Spitting Image puppet.”

However, Mayfair art gallery owner Francis Kyle was more measured in his response. “It has a positive quality, a certain thoughtfulness, alertness,” he said. “What is strange is that the Queen is very small and petite and fine featured. You wouldn’t think that to look at this.”

It is described by the Welsh Rugby Union as “an imposing three-quarter study painted in an expressionist style”.

Whatever works for you, as they say. Hm, but what of that other mysterious portrait, above?

Well, this from The Daily Telegraph  Letters page:

Jollier Queen

SIR – I have been writing to a prisoner on death row in Texas for 10 years. He has no access to paint, so grinds
crayons into a powder, mixed with water to make a paste (“Why is it so hard to paint a portrait fit for a Queen?”,
Features, May 3).
     This is a recent portrait he sent me of the Queen, looking, I think, particularly jolly.
Lesley Fernandez-Armesto, London NW8

 

Now how fascinating is that? And I agree, the portrait does indeed look rather jolly.

But what fascinates is that the prisoner, with an obvious artistic bent, should be refused access to proper paint.

How odd.

 

Thursday, May 16
Meanwhile ~ back on my Desert Island Jukebox


SO WHERE were we? First up was my mother’s genetic hand-me-down notes, perfectly summed up by The Lord’s Prayer as performed by Andrea Bocelli and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

However, the first earworms that really lodged themselves inside my young brain were the Christmas ditties i.e. Ray Conniff’s Jolly Old St. Nicholas a typical example; quickly followed by sing-along songs from primary or junior school, catchy little numbers like Daisy, Daisy.

Then came Children’s Favourites on the wireless ― I mean, what is there not to smile about when you hear Nellie the Elephant, the sort of jolly little novelty earworm that really does lodge itself in the brain, indeed the sort of music today’s children will never experience.

Next in line was the anthemic music I was intuitively drawn to: Ray Conniff, Jim Reeves, Perry Como, Patti Page ― with a hint of Ella, Sarah and Billie...

And then, right out of the rhythm and blue, came Rock ‘n’ Roll. The first I remember of this new wave of music was Bill Haley & His Comets; so what else but Rock Around The Clock, which hit the top in 1955.

Hot on Haley’s tail came Elvis ― his first hit in 1956.

Here in the UK, a while later, came The Beatles (first hit 1963) followed closely by The Rolling Stones (1964).

Bill Haley then sort of disappeared off the scene. However, the interesting thing about Elvis, the Beatles and the Stones from a personal viewpoint is that I was not an overwhelming fan. I thoroughly enjoyed what I liked, but I was very selective as to what I was attracted to. I certainly wasn’t the traditional bunny-caught-in-headlights fan who liked everything.

However, before I come to my Rock ‘n’ Roll Jukebox selections, the other day, this letter appeared in the Western Mail, just before that brief and enjoyable dry, sunny and warm spell broke:

Featherbedded

SIR ― As I was closing our curtains last evening, Mrs Blackbird was busy somehow finding worms in our sun baked lawn to feed her youngsters; as I was opening them at 6.30 this morning she was back finding more worms for their breakfast.
     It is wonderful to realise that some species still take responsibility for their offspring, without relying on state aid.
BRIAN CHRISTLEY, Abergele, Conwy


Now that made me smile. Out in the back garden over the winter months, six blackbirds have been regular visitors ― four male, two female ― and I have to say they were thriving on the state aid put out for them.

But they were present and correct only when the weather was at its coldest; as soon as the temperature rose they were off, thereafter only returning when the temperature suddenly dropped again.

But they are wonderful guests: the way they hop along ― and those tails sticking up in the air are a joy to watch.

Mind you, they were forever squabbling amongst themselves. There was a dominant male, Mr A Scargill-Blackbird, and a dominant female, Mrs M Thatcher-Blackbird. Needless to say, it was the female that always seemed to have the last word.

As it happens, one recent bright and sunny early morning, I photographed a Mrs Blackbird going about her duties in Llandeilo’s Penlan Park...

It’s the early bird...


I first photographed Mrs B while facing into the sun, which created a rather atmospheric image with the moisture glistening on the grass ... then I slowly circled to catch her with the sun behind me ... and just look at that load of worms she has in her shopping beak...

Let the music play

Right, Rock ‘n’ Roll time. First up it has to be the man who was initially out of the blocks and defined the genre...

Bill Haley ― Rock Around The Clock:
                                                                   
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mZLpDuuf40

I wasn’t sure which of the Elvis songs to pick. This particular track isn’t my favourite, but it’s a screen test at Paramount Studios in 1956, and it clearly shows what the man had: the music, the presence, the delivery, the looks, the charisma ― and yet Elvis suffered dreadful lack of self-esteem. Yes, that’s all in the genes, no matter what gifts nature sees fit to bless you with.

Oh, and watch out for the hair doing a solo turn near the end ― it’s worth watching for that alone.

Elvis ― Blue Suede Shoes:
                                                 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bm5HKlQ6nGM

Finally, The Beatles. Well, after the above about Mrs Blackbird, what else?

The Beatles ― Blackbird:
                                             
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7epRPz0LGPE
 


Wednesday, May 15
The man who put the world in a box


I SWITCH on the computer first thing to check the Met Office rainfall radar to see if the rain of the last 20 hours or so has relented to enable me to set off on my morning walk.

As I’ve mentioned before, my home page is Google; after all, it is the site I visit most in order to help join up all the dots of the things that tickle my old funny bone.

As a bonus, the occasional Google Doodle is something quite fascinating anyway ― and this morning was a perfect example.

The moment I saw it ... well, it was like listening to Chris Evans on Radio 2 of a morning: I was instantly whisked back to my childhood...

Frank Hornby’s 150th Birthday

Frank Hornby, model railway creator, celebrated in Google Doodle

This, from Guardian Online:

       Briton born 150 years ago in 1863 was also the inventor of Meccano and Dinky Toys

The birth of one of the world’s greatest inventors of toys is celebrated with a Google Doodle featuring trains, tracks and other model railway paraphernalia.

Frank Hornby, the inventor of Hornby model railways, Meccano and Dinky Toys, was born 150 years ago in Liverpool. He had no training as an engineer or craftsman but began making toys for his children in 1899.

He cut out pieces of metal to construct bridges and buildings but realised that if he made interchangeable components, they could be used to make a variety of objects.

He began marketing his Mechanics Made Easy toy sets in 1902 and these rapidly sold out. By 1907 he had registered the name Meccano. The kits were made in Liverpool and exported all over the world.

Hornby became a millionaire and was elected Conservative MP for Everton in 1931.

In 1934, he began selling Dinky Toys ― robust metal vehicles ― and also began developing railway sets.

It’s the level of realism that proved the key attraction to everything Hornby designed. The things he made didn’t look like toys, but precise versions of the real world, manufactured with exacting detail.

His products were not packaged with the amoebic forms and infantilising colours of today’s toys, but gained their magical quality simply from taking things of fascination ― industrial machines, trains, boats and planes ― and shrinking them to the scale of 1:48, reducing the entire world to something that can fit in a box.

Enthusiasts around the world still collect Hornby train sets, Dinky Toys and Meccano models. The modern business also make Scalextric cars and Airfix kits

He died in 1936, age 73, two years before his company began selling Hornby Dublo model railways.

Gosh, imagine being blessed with a mind that could invent things that would give so much pleasure to millions of children (of all ages) around the world.

I remember having a bog-standard railway set, and I always pestered my parents for a larger set and to then hopefully expand my railway set ― but to no avail.

My father had never had anything like train sets and Dinky Toys when he was growing up, obviously, so hindsight suggests that he had no idea how much pleasure these things gave a child.

But it never really bothered me; after all I lived on a farm and once outside the door it was a great big playground where I could put my own imagination to work and drive my own make-believe train around the fields.

Mind you, how ironic that just today, a story broke about a model railway fan in Buckfastleigh, Devon, who has been ordered to dismantle his £10,000 train set in his loft by his housing association on health and safety grounds so that repair work to a chimney can be carried out.

Father-of-three Robert Burdock, 61, has 63 locomotives which whizz along 70ft of track around the perimeter of his attic. His train set includes hand-crafted stations, depots, streets and tiny figures ― which are all enjoyed by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

My goodness, what must it be like for a child to play with a £10,000 train set. Never mind a child, I’d like to play with that set myself.

The folk who put the trains in a tube

Incidentally, how about this for an uncanny coincidence: flicking through my TV guide to see if anything of interest catches the eye, I see that tomorrow evening, Thursday, this is on:

Tunnel vision
The Tube
– An underground History ... Marking the 150th birthday of the world’s first underground railway...

Caution: Keep clear of the doors

Talk about catching the passing parade: here, Chancellor of the Exchequer William Ewart Gladstone, along with directors and engineers of the Metropolitan Railway Company, take an inspection tour of the first underground line on May 24, 1862. The London Underground duly opened the following year on January 9, 1863.

Fascinating.
 

PS: I note that Google celebrates “Frank Hornby’s 150th Birthday”. That always puzzles me. After all, we won’t be celebrating “Jesus Christ’s 2,013th Birthday” come the 25th December.

Now I can understand the London Underground celebrating its 150th birthday ― after all it is still going strong ― but how long do you suppose we have to be dead for others to stop celebrating our birthday rather than, say in Frank Hornby’s case, commemorating the memory of the man and his exploits?
 


Tuesday, May 14
Blockheads


LAST Sunday I read this short piece in The Sunday Times  Comment section:

                                                                    
Thereby hangs a tale

The author Dan Brown has revealed that he hangs upside-down to beat writer’s block, which might explain a lot about his novels. While the cure is unusual, he is not alone in suffering lapses of inspiration.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once described how he beat writer’s block by taking a bus trip and getting his hair cut (providing the idea for his unpublished novel, Tender is the Scalp). Hilary Mantel takes a bath (Buff up the Bodies); Laurence Sterne had a shave [A Sentimental Journey Through the Looking Glass (?!)].

Does such a condition really exist? Writer Philip Pullman says he doesn’t believe in it and he might have a point. Why does it affect only writers? Why do we never hear about accountant’s block? Why do software writers at Microsoft never complain about Office block?

There is anecdotal evidence that footballers can suffer from a closely-related condition. As soon as Fernando Torres joined Chelsea from Liverpool he began to suffer from striker’s block, an uncanny inability to find the goal. This trouble can usually be cured by a large injection of cash. Alas, in most cases this injection is unavailable to writers.

Now that was quite amusing; it seems that author Dan Brown has revealed an eccentric ritual called ‘inversion therapy’. He uses gravity boots to hang upside-down as a method of relaxation. And it helps him write.

I was reminded of a memorable Sign Language warning notice spotted in Luang Prabang, Laos by Polly Mansell...

 

Especially if it's up your backside...

I’m with writer Philip Pullman on this one. It’s a load of old bollocks. I think I’ve said it before: if a plumber turns up at your home at eight in the morning, on the dot, to do a job ... then at nine he says he has to go home to hang upside-down because he is suffering from plumber’s block ― well, you’d stick a sink plunger somewhere relevant, and probably not up his nose.

Dan Brown is a professional writer for God’s sake, and to turn round and say he can’t write is a nonsense.

Having said that, I do believe that there is such a thing as politician’s block. When a party is in opposition it always maintains that everything the party in power does is a nonsense and is certainly not the answer to the country’s problems. More importantly, the opposition insists that it has the answers to make everything okay.

Yet, when it eventually gains power it is as useless at sorting out the mess as the previous lot. So I guess that can only be politician’s block.

“He had the mien of a prime minister in his first year. He talked, he walked like a prime minister. Then things got difficult. He no longer gives that impression.”
Broadcaster Sir David Frost on David Cameron ― which rather confirms my notion of politician’s block.

Never give a sucker an even break

Back with Dan Brown ― on the news today, this, from The Independent:

    Enter the Inferno: Dan Brown’s “worst book yet” tops bestseller lists on its first day

Bestselling writer Dan Brown unleashed his latest page turner today as eager fans made Inferno an instant chart-topper.

The writer, whose sales have already exceeded 200 million with his previous novels, has published his latest thriller starring Harvard professor Robert Langdon.

But despite a history of strong sales, his new adventure has once again come under fire for the novelist’s literary abilities, with one reviewer calling it his worst book yet...

And there you have it. The silly upside-down story explained in one easy lesson. Dan Brown has a book to sell so he dreams up the most outrageous thing he can think of ― no problem for a novelist of course ― and the media predictably laps it all up.

What Inspector Clouseau would call “Ah yes, the hanging upside-down from ceiling ploy ― Kato?”; and hey presto, the sort of publicity that money just can’t buy.

Not being a book reader, I have no thoughts on what Dan Brown is like as a writer, so I shall leave the final verdict to the highest rated comment spotted on Mail Online...

Sugarplum, France: Worst author ever. Favourite quote: “Bonjour” he said, in flawless French.
Hahahahahahahahaaaa
!

I shall just add a quick SOL (SMILE OUT LOUD)!
 


Monday, May 13
At least half a bubble off plumb


REFLECTING on the things wot made me smile over the weekend, I rather enjoyed watching the London Sevens tournament at Twickenham, where the safari-themed fancy dress outfits were as good as the rugby.

But before I get to the fancy dress, first this...

The curious case of the invited obscenity

During the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race back on March 31, a cursing cox turned the airwaves blue. The BBC, in its infinite wisdom (sic), had decided to mike-up the two coxes ― and the Corporation had to grovel and apologise for invading our homes on that Easter Sunday afternoon with a wall of obscenity.

During the weekend’s London Sevens, a mike on the end of a long boom hovered and hoovered above every half-time huddle ― and the Sky Sports commentators continually apologised for the “industrial language”.

Watching ‘The Road Runner’ show a.k.a. Have I Got News For You, on the BBC, it seems that each and every guest is contracted to utter as many obscenities as possible during the recording ― only for producer Richard Wilson to then “beep-beep” each and every profanity during transmission.

It seems you don’t have  to be half a bubble off plumb to work in broadcasting, but it clearly helps.

Richard Wilson recently complained that he finds it impossible to get many female guests to appear on his show. Joanna Lumley, Dawn French, Dame Helen Mirren, Victoria Wood, Julie Walters, Caitlin Moran and Fiona Bruce have all declined repeated invitations to appear on Have I Got News For You.

“We have asked them to come on until we are blue in the face,” said Wilson. “They won’t do it.”

Surprise, surprise, Richard old boy. The clue is in your remark that you have asked them “until we are blue in the face”. Perhaps you should cut out this obsession with obscenity. Good, clever humour, which Have I Got News For You certainly has in spades, does not need it.

Mind you, it really is a bolt from the blue that the famously foul-mouthed Dame Helen Mirren with her “industrial” genetic background has repeatedly turned down invitations; the show would appear to be a vehicle perfectly suited to her talents.

Dr Livingstone, I presume?

Anyway, back to the IRB London Sevens, and the safari-themed fancy dress outfits on display in particular. I have never seen so many memorable outfits: lions, tigers, zebras, monkeys ― and more Dr Livingstones than Stanley could shake a knife at.

My particular favourite were the two girls walking towards the camera dressed as monkeys; as they walked past, the camera followed them ― and of course they were baboons not monkeys because they sported the two most glorious red bums you have ever seen.

I have searched the internet for a picture of them ― someone must have captured that memorable image ― but so far without success.

Along my online search, I did came across an eye-catching fancy dress photograph from the London Sevens ― but from the tournament of 2007...

                                                                  

What makes me include it in my smile of the day is that the BBC invited visitors to their web site to suggest a caption. Here are the top six:

               6. Gareth Jones, Isle of Anglesey
                  “Trust me ... the best place to hide is in a crowd.”

               5. Simon Rooke
                  The woad to Twickenham.

               4. James Carter
                  “Smurfette and Grandpa just called, they’re on their way. I hope they can find us amongst the crowd.”

                                     
                   3. Clare
                  “Why is it always Smurfette that gets the attention?”

               2. Nigel Macarthur
                  “Which do we sue first? The tanning salon or the online hat shop?”

               1. Simon Rooke
                  “Are you sure ‘indelible’ means easily removed?”

That’s very good and well worth a smile of the day spot. However, the picture that caught my attention from the weekend just gone is this one...

                                                                

I presume they were suffering the after-effects of all the horse meat we’ve been eating over recent years without realising it. (Incidentally, is that Tony Blair in the background, in the pink shirt?)

Anyway, looking back to the 16th of January, when all the Tesco horseburger fuss and subsequent jokes first broke ― I blame Labour anyway, seeing Tony Blair up there standing in the horseshit! ― this is what I said at the time:

     My favourite joke goes to ReyLuis with this clever effort:
     Is it a coincidence that ‘HAMBURGERS’ is an anagram of ‘SHERGAR BUM’?
     Yes, I did check it out ― and it works. My own effort? Well, I was chatting to Dai Aphanous down at the Crazy Horsepower late afternoon and I told him that I’d eaten some of Tesco’s burgers, so I went to see the doctor, just in case. “What did he say?” said Dai.
     Oh, I said, he was quite unconcerned, but the Doc did add: “Just to be safe I’ll make out one of these...” He reached for a pad on his desk and started scribbling out a per - a per - a per-
     “A prescription?” volunteers Dai.
     “No, no,” say I, “a permit to shit on the road.”

I do hope the lads above had their permits safe and sound, just in case.
 


Sunday, May 12
Double take

IT ALWAYS surprises me how something rather simple and somewhat silly can generate such amusement. It all began with this headline and story:

                                                        Wallace and Gromit back UK tourism

Wallace and Gromit are to feature in a £4m campaign to boost UK tourism

The Nick Park-created animation duo will appear in TV adverts designed to inspire Britons to take holidays in their own country.

The pair, who will also feature in cinemas, will be seen on their travels, discovering what tourist chiefs describe as “the best of the UK” ― including Loch Ness, Stonehenge, the Giant’s Causeway and the Wales Coastal Path, which provides a continuous 870 mile walking route around the whole of Wales ― from the outskirts of Chester in the north to Chepstow in the south.

And as a bonus, you can then of course walk from Chepstow to Chester along the Offa’s Dyke Path (look out for Claire Balding and AA Gill doing their thing).

Anyway, I perused a series of images featuring Wallace and Gromit at certain locations around the UK ... as soon as I saw the Welsh one I smiled and thought: hm, I must paste that into my scrapbook.

However, I am now going to jump the gun a little. After reading a Mail Online  article about the ad campaign, I had a quick look at the online comments ― as I do.

Normally, when I encounter a somewhat thought-provoking or smiley contribution, I tend to add it as a postscript to the subject matter.

This time though I’m going to quote a particular comment first; so this, compliments of Tornadobelt from, surprise, surprise, Kansas in the United States:

Wallace and Gromit I know and love, but who is Kim Kardashian and what does she do for a living? [I’m not sure where dear old Kim came from, but let’s plough on.] Oh! And does anyone else think that the beautiful grinning face of Wallace looks a lot like the front end of a 1950 Ford pickup truck?

Now I had no idea what an American 1950 Ford pickup truck looked like, except that it might look like Wallace, so Google here I come...

“Gromit, old pal, I’ll ... need assistance: come over here lad ― no need to feel sheepish”

The Ford truck that thinks it’s a Wallace

Wallace and Gromit in the advertising campaign

Good old Tornadobelt, the compare and contrast is so smiley. Whenever I catch sight of Wallace again I will automatically think 1950 Ford pickup truck.

Be that as it may, the ad image that really made me giggle though was the pair at Titanic Belfast, a visitor attraction and a monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage on the site of the former Harland and Wolff shipyard in the city's Titanic Quarter...

Wallace and Gromit say cheese at Titanic Belfast

Wallace and Gromit have recreated the famous scene from the movie Titanic outside Belfast’s landmark tourist attraction, as part of the campaign encouraging people to holiday in the UK.

Now how perfectly smiley is that?
 


Saturday, May 11
Celebrity is a foreign country


“A NEW way has been found of ruining people’s reputations before anyone has established their guilt.”
Charles Moore, 56, Margaret Thatcher’s biographer and a former editor of the Telegraph stable of newspapers, as well as The Observer, on the spate of arrests of veteran male entertainers for alleged historical sexual offences following the Jimmy Savile scandal.

“The post-Savile witch-hunting of ageing celebs echoes the Soviet Union.” Barrister Barbara Hewson goes over the top while calling for an end to “the persecution of old men”. Hewson, specialising in reproductive rights, has also called for the age of consent to be lowered to 13.

Do you know, in the immediate wake of the Savile scandal, there was a discussion down at the Crazy Horsepower ― probably echoed across the country ― wondering just how many “victims” were simply jumping on the bandwagon in pursuit of a cash settlement or whatever. Indeed, perhaps there really was a witch-hunt unfolding.

Well, among those to have since been convicted is former BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall, who admitted 14 charges of indecently assaulting girls, including one aged nine, between 1967 and 1985.

Suddenly “the persecution of old men” takes on a whole different perception.

As usual, MATT  in The Daily Telegraph  sums up the whole sorry episode much more succinctly than either Charles Moore or Barbara Hewson...

                                          

                                             “Is that famous old man calling for
                                              us to leave the EU, or has he just
                                              been arrested for sex offences?”


   The celebrity totem pole

Personally, I believe it’s not “the persecution of old men” we as a society should be preoccupied with, but the active “prosecution of celebrity”.

When someone becomes famous something happens in the psyche of those of us in the gallery who stand and stare. We become rabbits caught in the headlights of celebrity. All that matters is the specific talent that makes someone a sleb; we seem to automatically override anything rumour or instinct tells us about the negative aspects of a celebrity’s character, hence all the troubles at the BBC down the years.

Successive director-generals, along with other high-ups at the Corporation, insist they knew nothing about all the scandals fermenting under their watch. Yet it now transpires that most within the BBC knew what individuals such as Savile and Hall were up to.

Remembering that the love of gossip is one of the things that sets us apart from the animals, it really is quite inconceivable that successive director-generals at the BBC had no idea what was going on.

So why did they do nothing about it? Well, we, the great unwashed, are dazzled by the slebs clinging to the totem pole; but the thing is, those already on the totem pole are dazzled by those higher up the pole.

Savile and Hall would have been at the very top when those sexual shenanigans were unfolding, and it now seems that even director-generals were afraid to confront them.

It’s a crazy situation, highlighted by this perfect celebrity quote:

“Bandon, my home town in County Cork, has threatened to put up a statue of me. They want to bring attention to the town but I must write to them and beg them not to because it is such a waste of money and it will be hideous.” Graham Norton, 50, an Irish comic presenter, based in the UK and host of comedy chat show The Graham Norton Show.

Goodness me, imagine it, a town of 1,500 people perfectly caught in the headlights of celebrity. It is doolallyness beyond. Thank goodness Graham agrees, assuming he doesn’t have his tongue firmly in his cheek, which is quite possible, such is the self-importance of our slebs.

Perhaps Bandon in County Cork should put up a totem pole rather than a statue.

Whatever, all the above reminded me of another Rod Liddle piece:

Light my fire

Whose side should one take in the entertaining spat between the gay lobby and a director of studies at Wolfson College, Cambridge ― a man with two names? Tim Winter is a Muslim convert who has adopted the dual Islamic name Abdal Hakim Murad. He’s also tried to grow one of those exciting Islamic beards that all the really serious ones have.

A video has emerged of him delivering his opinions on homosexuals. “You are an ignorant people. Because you don’t even understand what your bodies are for. Even the animals know,” he opined. He also compared gays to “arsonists”, although this may be a simple confusion over what “arsonists” means.

Old Abdal has said that this is a very old video and he no longer thinks homosexuals are ghastly and aberrant, and he has been supported by his university...

Yes, it’s a jungle of doolallyness out there. But I’ll tell you what, the word arsonist will for ever more and a day conjure up a little smile whenever I hear or see it.
 


Friday, May 10
The camera and the passing parade


LAST Tuesday I was duly captivated by the picture of Wales and Ireland as captured by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station.

It was a photograph which underlined so many modern scientific advances: first and foremost the impressive act of putting a space station up there to enable a human in orbit to take the picture; secondly, the digital innovation in camera technology to capture such a quality photograph of high definition ― and then the ability to put that picture up on the internet in the blink of an eye for all of us to share and enjoy.

But pictures are pictures, and nothing has really changed since the birth of photography. The extraordinary definition and beauty of modern photography tends to divert us from its purpose, namely that the camera evolved to capture for posterity the passing parade.

And just to prove the point rather spectacularly, here’s a famous photograph from way back in 1869 ― just 17 years after photography was first officially recognised ― celebrating the joining up of two tracks to establish America’s first transcontinental railroad...

Captured: a memorable moment in time

And what a memorable image it is. It celebrates the symbolic importance of the moment when the westward Union Pacific and the eastward Central Pacific came together in Utah in 1869, and the enormous repercussions of the conquest of the West by iron and steam.

There followed the emergence of settlers, cowboys, frontier towns, prairie cornfields, the near-extinction of the bison, the cattle trade and of course the early clashes between US troops and Indians. (Are you a General George Custer or a Chief Sitting Bull person? I’m unashamedly a Chief Sitting Bull fan.)

Anyway, what catches the eye in the above photograph is not so much the two ‘chief executive officers’ ― or whatever it was they were called back then ― shaking hands there in the middle, but rather the two fellows in the background: one holding up a bottle of something celebratory (one presumes), and the other chap holding what looks like a jumbo glass.

Oh yes, and pretty much everybody sporting a hat or cap ― yes, even white hats and black hats on view ― but best of all the fellow just above the four, bottom extreme right, lifting his cap to the camera. Smashing.

While context and surroundings may change, human nature doesn’t, and the camera is always there to capture it for posterity.

And crucially, the technical quality of the photograph is secondary to the eye-catching characteristic of the image.
 


Thursday, May 9
Friend, Welshman, Countryman...
(be a pal and lend me your troll)

“A FRIEND”, according to the Urban Dictionary, is someone who knows you really well but loves you anyway.

However, I was rather taken with this definition, compliments of public relations consultant Charles Saatchi, 69:
  
“A friend is someone who will help you move house. A real friend is someone who will help you move a body.”

Especially if it’s moved using a supermarket trolley (see later). Whatever, do you suppose Charles Saatchi is talking from personal experience?

Shop till you drop from shock

Rarely do I visit one of the big supermarkets ― I don’t count the local Co-op, which I think of as more a corner shop than a supermarket. Anyway, the other day I visited a Tesco store in a town just down the trail from Dodgy City.

At the checkout I waited my turn and watched Barbara, a serious-looking but clearly efficient, middle-aged checkout lady ― so the challenge was to put just a hint of a smile on her face when it came to my turn in the firing line.

As she began to check my things through she asked if I needed help to pack ― which was quite funny considering that she was just about to pass through a packet of toilet rolls. “That’s okay, thanks, I should be able to manage,” I said. “Mind you, I have reached that stage in life where I now buy a six-pack for the bathroom cabinet rather than the drinks cabinet.”

Barbara sort of smiled. I duly paid my dues and she handed me the change and the receipt along with some other bits of paper. One was a “Tesco Price Promise” and it read: “Today you saved £3.48 at Tesco compared to shopping at Asda, Sainsbury’s or Morrisons ... Every little helps...”

“Oh,” I said to Barbara, “could I also have a slip showing how much I didn’t save through shopping at Tesco’s rather than Asda, Sainsbury’s or Morrisons.”

She gave me a stern look. I smiled. She sort of smiled. I laughed. She sort of laughed. “That’s a very good point,” she said, slowly entering into the spirit of things.

Next in the checkout line was a lady of about 30, rather sophisticated looking, who was watching and listening with amusement.

“Oh,” added Babs, “are you collecting the Pyrex vouchers?” She held up a sheet of reddish little stickers.

“Sadly,” I said, “my best-before days of handling very hot stuff have long disappeared in my rear-view mirror.”

“Shame,” said Babs, “I would have given you a bonus one for brightening my day.”

“Give them to the lady here, if she’s collecting them.”

“Thank you,” said the next customer. And the three of us parted company with a smile.

As I left the store, pushing my Tesco trolley, I remembered a Sign Language picture from a little while back ― and its time had come...

Pushing the boundaries

Spotted in Paxos, Greece by Elizabeth Henwood

Spotted in Tesco, SA Something Or Other by Yours Truly

As I unloaded the trolley into my car, I pondered on that warning notice, pictured above. My first thought was: no wonder Tesco profits have recently taken a dive; I mean, if they will insist on using American words, what do they expect? “Facility”, indeed. What’s wrong with “premises” or “property”?

Also, I was intrigued with the warning notice itself. I felt like attempting to leave the “facility” with said trolley to see what would happen ― but then I saw a Tesco worker collecting trolleys, so I approached him and asked whether it really meant what it said.

“Well,” he said, “follow me.” And he took one of the trolleys with him. “Trouble is,” he added, “I bet this won’t work because as the trolleys get older and banged about a bit the magnetic mechanism in the wheel fails and the store tends not to repair them.”

That made me smile, I can tell you, whatever the end result would be. Anyway, we all headed for one of the exits. “See that line on the ground, across the entrance ... buried underground there is a magnetic strip, so when the trolley passes over that line a wheel or wheels should lock and the trolley is rendered unusable.”

However, and as he predicted, the wheel locks didn’t work and the trolley left the facility with a hop, a skip and a jump, shouting “I’m free, I’m free...”.

Yes indeed, and as Barbara said, every little helps to brighten up the day.

Parting thought

On yesterday’s Thinking Allowed on BBC Radio 4, host Laurie Taylor read out some responses to the previous week’s discussion about the ‘Great British Class Survey’, a unique piece of research conducted by BBC Lab UK and academics from six different universities, who devised a new way of measuring class, a system which doesn’t define it by occupation but by the different kinds of economic, cultural and social resources or “capitals” that people possess.

A load of old nonsense if you ask me. You either have class or you don’t. And we all know people who are blessed with oodles of true class, individuals who are a pleasure to know and to do business with. And as far as I can tell, about 10 per cent of the population are so blessed.

Anyway, and talking of Tesco, this was the clever Thinking Allowed response that really made me smile:

“Last word goes to Lawrence Scott for this very important new piece of ethnographic research: 'Laurie, observation of my Tesco’s disabled parking spaces indicates that wealth is now considered a disability.'”

 

Wednesday, May 8
The perfect fan base


WAKIE-WAKIE! On weekday mornings my bedside wireless is tuned into BBC Radio 2; come the weekend and I tend to have it on BBC Radio Wales.

However, overnight and up until five in the morning, Radio Wales broadcasts BBC World Service programmes. Over the Bank Holiday weekend just gone, I caught the tail end of two programmes and a brace of delightful tales.

The first was on a show called World Football. If you are unfamiliar with the trials and tribulations of the game of footie, all you need to appreciate apropos this particular story is that away fans are always segregated from home supporters, normally in a sectioned-off end of the ground (‘sectioned’ being the appropriate word given how opposing fans have this intuitive urge to abuse and kill each other).

Fans are kept apart not just here in the UK, but all over Europe ― and all over the World as far as I can tell. Football, for some reason, draws the seriously doolally supporter who is more interested in a shemozzle than watching the football.

So today I went on iPlayer to just check that I have my facts about both stories correct. Okay, here we go, the footie story:

                                Away support of one gets free trip to Swedish league game

STOCKHOLM, April 29: Brommapojkarna midfielder Bojan Djordjic has offered to pay for the team’s away support who attended last weekend’s game, as guests of the club at a home game of choice ― the gesture, however, is unlikely to break the bank.

When the Stockholm side visited Mjallby in the Swedish first division on Sunday, the away section was populated by just a single, yet exceedingly vocal and enthusiastic Brommapojkarna fan.

“When I saw him, in his club shirt, singing, cheering and applauding, all by himself, I decided I had to do something,” Djordjic said. “So I’m going to pay for him to travel to a game of his choice and he’ll get to meet the lads.”

The fan in question, Ander Ung, used to coach one of Brommapojkarna’s junior sides, before moving 660 kilometers from Stockholm to Ystad in southern Sweden 20 years ago. He has not been to a home game since.

“You have to lift up people like that,” Djordjic said. “After the game I got hold of his number through Twitter and I called him from our bus. After he got over the shock, the warmth and the joy in his voice was unbelievable. He deserves this.”

Ung said there was no need for the 31-year-old ex-Manchester United midfielder to pay for his trip, but Djordjic insisted.

Despite Ung’s passionate support, Brommapojkarna fell to a 4-2 defeat and are currently 14th in the Swedish championship.

Now isn’t that a wonderful tale. Proof that even football boasts players and supporters who actually do wear white hats.

And so to the second tale, caught on The Arts Hour, again on the BBC World Service, and featuring Academy award-winning American actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

     Iron Man 3 star Gwynnie wants to know what Justin Bieber looks like in the steam room

“Gwyneth Paltrow,” said the female host, “is married to Chris Martin, Coldplay’s front man. Gwynnie is a bit of a goody two-shoes, Pollyanna, holier-than-thou figure ... the cleanest-living, Earth Mother you could find in a sun-dappled field with a basket of freshly picked strawberries ― you get the picture...”

Anyway, we eavesdrop on a chat between Gwyneth Paltrow and BBC radio presenter Simon Mayo, mostly about the Iron Man film.

However, our Gwynnie mentions that her 7-year-old son Moses (no jokes, please, just keep taking the tablets) is a Justin Bieber fan and that she took him to a Bieber concert. “I can tell you my ‘once I was in a steam room with Justin Bieber’ story,” says Mayo.
     “Is that true?” interrupted a somewhat surprised but enthusiastic Gwynnie.
     “Yes, it’s true.”
     “Did you see his junk?” asks Gwynnie.
     There is a momentary silence, with a bit of giggling in the background. “Is that a Californian expression?” asks Mayo. “I can tell you,” he continues, “that he has a tattoo of a Native American on his left shoulder. But he was wearing a towel. Does that answer your question?”
     “Yeah. Did he have his monkey in the steam room?” asks Gwynnie with a distinct giggle in her voice.
     “Well, he did have a member of staff in there ― and they were having a big argument...”


It was an entertaining if delightfully doolally sleb interview. However, what sticks in the memory is the question: “Did you see his junk?”

Yep, class distinction is alive and well and living in America. Clearly a man is identified as either belonging to a class labelled “Antique”, “Treasure” or “Junk”.

Anyway, the expression “junk” was rather telling. But what would the female equivalent be?

Indeed I found myself wondering what would happen if our Gwynnie overheard husband Chris on the phone to a mate: “No, I can’t come out tonight, I’ve promised the wife I’d take my junk down the tip later...”


And just to underline the point about antiques, treasure and junk, what did I see today in the Telegraph’s  Sign Language gallery?

Trash talk

Spotted in Singapore by John Varnham

Priceless. I bet they do a roaring trade. And do you know, if I walked past that shop, I would go in and buy something. On principle. And just to be able to write about it.

 

Tuesday, May 7
A whole different perspective


BACK on April 28 I featured one of the most surprising headlines I’d encountered since starting this online diary cum scrapbook: Wales ― the most photographed country from space.

And all because the astronauts were looking for the elusive Welsh dragon featured on the nation’s flag ― well, okay: and all because the man originally in charge at Nasa, George Abbey, had Welsh roots and the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) duly obliged his regular requests.

And the photographs keep on coming. On April 28 I was captivated by a marvellous picture of Wales by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who is still up there, but about to come back down to earth with a bang.

In the meantime, Chris’s delightful pictures keep appearing, all compliments of Twitter ― and here’s the Canadian’s latest in a series of images of the planet taken from the ISS.

 

Celtic gems: The silhouettes of Ireland and Wales captured in this beautiful picture taken from the ISS by Chris Hadfield

The first thing I noticed ― after appreciating the beauty and perspective of the picture ― was the curious shape of the Gower (and the south-western tip of Wales). I was going to say Gower looks like a sore thumb, but it’s more like a little thumb on the open left hand of Wales.

Here’s a tightly cropped picture of Gower and the south west from Chris Hadfield’s previous picture of Wales:

                

Compare and contrast. We are used to the usual perspective of Gower and the south west, looking from a southerly point of view ― but how different it looks from the east.

Actually, the observant will note that both pictures were clearly taken on the same orbit, for example, the cloud formation: see the white strip of cloud down there in the south west, present in both photographs.

Wonderful couple of images, and this latest one claims exclusive rights to my smile of today.

 

Monday, May 6
“I have a rendezvous with Death
     At some disputed barricade”
                                                                             Alan Seeger, 1888-1916

Shake, rattle and roll

“I think one of them is keeping me alive, but I don’t know which one it is, so I will keep taking them all.”
Pop singer Cliff Richard, 72, one of the original stars of the rock ‘n’ roll years, who takes nine tablets a day.

Dai Version down at the Crazy Horsepower pondered if, before he goes on stage these nights, someone has to give him a good shake ... he then tends to rattle a bit ... but boy can he still roll.

Today though, I’ve been greatly entertained by death: a mixture of smiley Sign Language pictures from the marvellous Telegraph  gallery, along with some memorable Mark Twain quotations.

So where best to start than with one of Twain’s most famous:

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” This quote came after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal.

Mistaken publications of obituaries aren’t as rare as one would suspect. A fairly recent example is of Dave Swarbrick, 72 (like Cliff), the British folk/rock violinist. For many years Swarbrick suffered steadily worsening health because of emphysema.

He was however killed off mistakenly by The Daily Telegraph  in April 1999, when the paper reported that his visit to hospital in Coventry with a chest infection had resulted in his death.

He did at least get the opportunity to read a rather favourable account of his life, not something we all get to do, and to deliver the gag: “It’s not the first time I have died in Coventry.”

The wall of death

Spotted in Jamaica by Anonymous

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” Mark Twain.

The final fork in the road

Spotted in the Bahamas by Ali Bentley

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” A particularly unforgettable Mark Twain quote.

And so much more memorable than Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead, the song propelled into the charts by opponents of Margaret Thatcher with its attendant fuss over whether a few seconds of it should have been played on the BBC’s pop chart show the Sunday before her funeral.

The long goodbye

Spotted in Surrey by Keith Hughes

And finally, this gem from Twain’s “The Last Words of Great Men”, 1869:

“A distinguished man should be as particular about his last words as he is about his last breath. He should write them out on a slip of paper and take the judgment of his friends on them.
     “He should never leave such a thing to the last hour of his life, and trust to an intellectual spurt at the last moment to enable him to say something smart with his latest gasp and launch into eternity with grandeur.”


Now how wonderful is that? I am neither great nor distinguished, but it set me thinking as to what would be appropriate ‘last words’ for me. Or rather, what would I like my last words to be ― after all, I could be knocked over by that dreaded bus, or drop dead from a massive heart attack, or whatever.

Best of all though, I like the bit about taking the judgment of friends.
 


Sunday, May 5
To Hull and Baloo


LAST Tuesday I featured a few of those marvellous Chinese signs translated into English, a special language that is affectionately referred to as Chinglish. One of them was this...
                                                                                                          

“Hullabaloo” is a smashing old English word, now hardly ever used, sadly. Being such an onomatopoeic word, I decided that I really should start using it.

Well blow me, today I flick through all the various Sunday Times  sections ... and I come to the Sport, and the picture on the front page is a celebration of Hull City’s football team yesterday gaining a draw and winning promotion into the Premier League of British football. A result that will be worth £120m to them.

I saw it on the news last night, and as you can perhaps imagine, there were huge celebrations at the final whistle. So much so, this is the front page of The Sunday Times  Sport...
                                                                                                     
Hullabaloo
! Honestly, you couldn’t make it up. And so clever.

Do you know, my stroll through time is one coincidence after another. Great fun though. All I now want to see is the word “baboosh” ― another of those glorious Chinglish words ― featured on a front page splash somewhere.

Meanwhile, back on the doolally front ... this is from the Rod Liddle column in The Sunday Times. Oh, and it makes my smile of the day because of the final four words in his piece...

                                                     Man is an irrelevant issue for Orbach

The radical feminist author Susie Orbach admits she is puzzled by heterosexuality.

“I am always perplexed as to how heterosexuality happens,” she said, before suggesting that women were actually “programmed” to be lesbians.

This is an interesting, if counter-Darwinian, view, from a writer whose most famous contribution to her cause, as author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue, has been to insist that all women have a duty to be as fat as walruses.

I suppose if women had followed this advice, there would indeed be little heterosexuality taking place.

Susie was heterosexual but has now decided she is a lesbian and is in a relationship with Jeanette Winterson, whose most famous novel is Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. No indeed, no indeed.

Talking of oranges being not the only fruit ― while smiling no end at the thought:

“Her connection with humanity was a very loose thread. Emotionally, she was not in touch with herself or anybody else. As well as being such an intelligent woman, I would say she had psychopathic tendencies.”
Actress Andrea Riseborough, 31, on Margaret Thatcher, whom she played in a TV drama, The Long Walk to Finchley, back in 2008.

Dear old Maggie refuses to go gently into that good night. Mind you, I am gently amused that someone who would have been 26 at the time she played Maggie, thinks that she can work out her state of mind during her rise to the top from a script writer’s thoughts.

Mind you, Andrea could possibly be right anyway; after all, it takes one to know one. Meanwhile...

“The presence of the likes of Jeremy Clarkson and Conrad Black [
a convicted felon for fraud who for a time headed the third-largest newspaper group in the world] was a useful reminder of the Dark Side of Thatcher, generally overlooked by her uncritical obituaries.”
Broadcaster Richard Ingrams, 75, editor of The Oldie Magazine, on those who attended Thatcher’s funeral.

If Jeremy Clarkson outlives Richard Ingrams, it will be fascinating to hear his thoughts on those who attend Richard’s funeral.
 


Saturday, May 4
Memorable snaps


A SERIES of letters in The Times  bumped up the old smileometer:

Make it snappy

Sir, I was astounded to read in your report from Australia (“Swimmer caught by croc escapes from 'death roll'”, Apr 23) that “the crocodile struck without warning”.
G. HENDERSON, Porthcawl, Bridgend


Very smiley. There was a follow up missive:

Toothsome

Sir, I wonder if the crocodile that attacked a swimmer “without warning” was related to the one you recorded a few years ago as devouring an “attractive girl”.
CHARLES BOASE, Monmouth


For some reason, the above reminded me of a letter from a good many moons ago, also in The Times, which has lingered long in the memory:

Going swimmingly

Sir, Your tips on how to avoid a shark attack remind me of Spike Milligan’s advice, given in his war memoirs, on how to avoid seasickness: namely, to go and sit under a tree.
T. WHITEHEAD, Mansfield, Notts

And talking of sharks, this from the Daily Mail:

Painstakingly unfair

Unscrupulous ambulance chasing lawyers (Mail)? I thought unscrupulous lawyers were called lawyers.
JAMES BUGG, Witney, Oxon


Meanwhile, back with memorable snaps, this headline and composite picture spotted in Mail Online  drew me in:

The pictures that make you look twice: Intriguing optical
illusions  that were created with no camera trickery


These clever photos merge apparently mundane elements into incredible juxtapositions which have a mind-bending hint of the fairytale about them. With cameras often believed to reflect the real state of things, to create a facsimile of the true state of the world, so when photographs show something wildly chimerical it delights the imagination.

Many of the incredible images in this set play with our sense of perspective by bringing side by side two elements that are, in fact, distant from each other in depth.

What fascinates is that a kind of camera trickery is  engaged, but does not involve Photoshopping, where two or more images are merged to produce one seemingly genuine picture.

My favourite from the above set is the woman serenely delivering a speech ― while seemingly floating on a magic carpet, thanks to a perfectly placed shadow of a flag flying behind the photographer. It is all about being in the right place at the right time.

The whole series of clever photos ― some by accident, some by design ― prove that there is more to them than meets the eye.

Spell-cheque corner: The south Wales seaside town of ‘Porthcawl’ came up as ‘Poetical’ ― which is exceedingly whimsical and would have doubtless pleased the ghost of Dylan Thomas no end.

I was disappointed though that ‘chimerical’ was not challenged by the computer spell-check, for not only is it a word I am unfamiliar with, but I cant say that I have ever heard it mentioned in dispatches in the Asterisk Bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon.
     Chimerical: imaginary ― nonexistent, existing only in somebody’s imagination, or wildly improbable or unrealistic.

Anyway, here’s a link to the picture web site ― well worth a quick look:
                                                                                                        
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/Weird-and-wonderful-pictures.html
 


Friday, May 3
Revenge of the fruitcakes


“IT IS very tempting to vote for a collection of fruitcakes, loonies, closet racists and clowns.” Cabinet Minister Ken Clarke and his fellow Tories on the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the lead up to Thursday’s local elections.

The above is a rerun of part of a quote from yesterday’s smile of the day, when I enjoyed the sights and sounds of Conservatives doing their best to belittle those who were intending to vote UKIP ― not to mention that splendid MATT cartoon ― and of course it backfired spectacularly, as some observers had indeed predicted.

UKIP duly surged to the party’s best ever showing in a local election, averaging 26% of the vote and winning 150 council seats. It gave rise of course to one very smiley headline, compliments of UKIP leader Nigel Farage:

                                                                    Send in the clowns

And just to add the icing, on tonight’s Have I Got News For You, Ian Hislop inadvertently referred to Ken Clarke as Ken Clown ― made sweeter by the fact that it was quite obviously a genuine slip of the tongue rather than a well-crafted joke. Very funny.

But UKIP’s night wasn’t all smiles:

“I don’t call it defecting, I call it upgrading.” David Meacock, a former Conservative councillor, now a UKIP local election candidate standing in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire.

Mind you, ‘defecting’ flirts rather ominously with ‘defecating’. Phew. Sadly though, it’s back to the departure gate for Meacock as the Conservatives retained the seat.

However, it’s right and proper to give the last word on the subject to Nigel Farage following his electoral triumphs:

“I am very ambitious. I want our country back. We have a political class which has given away our birthright, given away our independence and virtually bankrupted the country.”

A light lunch

Precisely a week ago I detailed how I would have tackled 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 (not forgetting the champagne and the brandy).

I would have eaten that five course meal spread over the day: essentially the starter for breakfast, the main course for dinner (lunch?) and the pudding for high tea (incidentally, if a nibble between breakfast and lunch is called brunch, then I guess a meal between tea and supper should be called tupper).

Anyway, this letter appeared in The Daily Telegraph:

Fine dining

SIR – I was interested to read that Princess Margaret believed “three or four courses for lunch and five for dinner are sufficient” (report, April 26). In this household, lunch consists of one course and dinner, two. My GP would have something to say if we took four courses for lunch, and five for dinner.
Lynne M Collins, Hadleigh, Essex


My goodness, imagine that, more courses than you could shake a college at.

I enjoyed these online comments, kicking off with this effort from the memorably named Tebbitforpm (I’m expecting any day now to hear from Farageforpm):

Whilst I agree it sounds like over-eating, it’s the size of the courses that matters, is it not? I mean, melon balls for example? There isn’t much in them is there? Princess Margaret was well known for having a fag between courses too. (Cigarette that is).

I particularly enjoyed the fag joke. And then the comments shot off at a bit of a tangent, and somehow settled on the fish course in general, and salmon in particular.

As it happens, someone posted a response, but erroneously typed salmond instead of salmon. Now Alex Salmond is a Scottish politician and current First Minister of Scotland; he is the driving force behind Scotland wanting to break away from the UK and gain independence, something which will be put to the vote in 2014.

Speaking as someone who merely stands and stares at the mad world of politics, the curious thing about Salmond is that he comes across as a bit of a troublemaker, an individual that it is impossible to feel affection for.

Which probably suggests that Scotland is unlikely to gain independence, at least on his watch. But what do I understand.

Anyway, apropos the misspelling of salmon, this witty response from Spikey:
     Salmon is a fish, Salmond is a fish out of water :o)

Meanwhile, there was a discussion about whether the midday meal should be labelled lunch or dinner.

Grizzly: Children go to school. At midday they have a meal. That meal is called “dinner”. I know that because the school employs “dinner ladies” to look after the children and ensure that they eat their dinner.
     Now, if that meal was called “lunch”, then surely the schools would employ “lunch ladies”. They don’t. QED. ;º)

Tea for two in Hong Kong

Talk of lunch ladies reminds me of spending a few days in Hong Kong ― more moons ago than I care to remember, actually. Anyway, on the advice of a receptionist at our hotel, me and my pal hired a taxi one afternoon to take us round and show what was worth seeing.

It was a great investment, helped by the fact that our taxi driver, born and bred in Hong Kong, was a bit of a character. He told us that many businessmen in HK didn’t partake of lunch in the traditional manner, but would visit certain joints to meet girls and have a “sexual” lunch. These girls were known as “lunch girls”.

How civilised, I remember thinking. Anyway, it was now about four in the afternoon and we were returning to our hotel, driving down a narrow side street ― and walking along the pavement towards us were two lovely looking Chinese girls.

The driver looked at us, then at his watch ― and with a huge grin said: “It’s nearly tea time.”
 


Thursday, May 2
Wake up call


I’M USUALLY in bed by ten of an evening ... as soon as my head hits the pillow I’m off, somewhere over the rainbow ― I’m never sure where because I don’t remember my dreams ― anyway, the next thing I hear, just before five, is that little click the alarm makes before it goes off proper.

However, last night, in the early hours, I was awoken by the sound of music. In a haze I thought I’d left the bedside wireless on. But no, the music seemed to be coming from the lounge. Had I left the radio or television on overnight?

I rather nervously got up to investigate: the light was on in the lounge ... I cautiously pushed open the door ― and there were two goats ... playing guitars.

They saw me and stopped. “Who are you?” I asked.

“We’re the goat buskers!

I’ve been laughing at that all day. I actually heard it this morning, after the click of the alarm and I’d turned on the wireless ― and Alex Lester on his Best Time of the Day Show  was relating a joke submitted by a listener.

That set my smileometer up for the day.

The next thing that made me laugh out loud was a
MATT  cartoon in The Daily Telegraph  ― no surprise there. First though, a bit of background information to help join up the dots, compliments of an online headline:

            Judgement day: Millions of voters go to the polls in local elections with Tories
              fearing big losses at the hands of the UK Independence Party and Labour

 More than 2,400 seats up for grabs in 34 county and unitary councils in England and Wales
 
Conservatives braced to lose hundreds of seats with the UK Independence Party (UKIP) predicting big wins
 
Nick Clegg suggests the Lib Dems could be pushed into fourth in the popular vote
 
Ed Miliband under pressure to make gains in the south to prove he is on course to become PM

Okay, we’re now back on track:

Have you got a light, boy?

    “Voters who back the UK Independence Party are racists. UKIP’s politicians are clowns who attract waifs and strays; it is very tempting to vote for a collection of clowns.”
That’s how Tory Cabinet Minister Ken Clarke, 72, pictured above, has described UKIP in an increasingly bitter war ahead of today’s election.

And here’s the MATT  cartoon...
                                                

                                                                       “Clown or fruitcake?”

That is so funny. I would have to declare myself a fruitcake ... I think ... therefore I am.

What struck me though in the Ken Clarke quote was the inference that those who back UKIP are all racists. Is he really suggesting that other parties, including the Conservatives, harbour no racists at all?

Scarcely believe. And what about all the clowns currently in Parliament, with no UKIP member in sight?

Talking of racism, here’s a recent something from my cuttings file, compliments of The Sunday Times  ATTICUS column. Again, a few dots need joining up:

Springclean Time in Paris

Britain’s first youth police and crime commissioner, who stepped down from the role over offensive comments she made on Twitter, is “pleased” police are taking no further action against her, her lawyer said.

Paris Brown, 17, was meant to be providing young people’s views on policing but instead had her own mobile phone seized as officers investigated her tweets amid claims they were homophobic, racist and violent.

The teenager, who was to earn £15,000-a-year from the role, previously apologised for causing offence with messages she actually posted between the ages of 14 and 16.

She denied being anti-gay or racist, and said she is against taking drugs, insisting that a reference on Twitter to making “hash brownies” was from a Scooby Doo film. The offensive tweets have now been deleted.

Right, here’s the piece:

Say again

At Atticus, the customer is always right. However, our public engagement people are examining this exchange between The Sheerness Times Guardian and a reader angered by a report about Paris Brown, who quit as Kent police’s youth commissioner.

Reader: “[I object to] the snide, insensitive comment made by political editor Paul Francis, quote: ‘The sight of an overweight teenager struggling to contain her emotions.’ Was there really any need for him to comment about her weight...? Talk about kick someone when they’re down.”

Times Guardian: “He described her as ‘overwrought’ not ‘overweight’.”
 


Wednesday, May 1
What do you want to make those eyes at me for?


AS I never tire of pointing out, one of the enduring charms of we human beings is our ever-inflating doolallyness. Just last Monday I featured this story:

                                              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”

It involved an Englishman named Taaffe, Tony Taaffe, as I’m sure you recall.

Well, today I just couldn’t believe my luck as I perused some online news stories.

        Welsh woman fined for “racist” insult after calling father’s mistress an “English cow”

A Welsh woman was convicted yesterday of racially abusing her father’s mistress by calling her an “English cow”

Prestatyn magistrates in North Wales heard that Elen Humphreys, 25, went to Angela Payne’s house in Rhyl to collect some of her father’s belongings and told her: “Leave well alone, you English cow.”

Ms Payne reported Humphreys to police, saying the comments were the “final straw”.

Humphreys was ordered to pay Ms Payne £50 in compensation and was given a 12-month conditional discharge after pleading guilty to racially aggravated harassment.

The case comes just two days after English tourist Anthony Taaffe was fined £150 on the same charge for calling security staff at a Welsh holiday park “a bunch of sheep shaggers”.

Prosecutor James Neary said Ms Payne contacted police last November because Humphreys’ mother had previously been warned by officers about her conduct.

He added that Humphreys, of Garndolbenmaen [a surprisingly near place with a strange sounding name, but known colloquially as Garn], near Porthmadog, had called Ms Payne other names before the incident.

Andrew Hutchinson, defending, said that Humphreys’ parents had been married for 32 years but her father had then started the other relationship and gone “backwards and forwards” between the two women.

“Emotions were running high,” he said...

You really couldn’t make it up, as they say down at the Crazy Horsepower. Mind you, I’ve never heard sex described as going “backwards and forwards” before. Every day a day at school.

Anyway, I searched through some photographs I’d taken along my walks through the Towy Valley...

A few English cows and a pretty Welsh sheep

“What are you lookin' at?”

Actually, they are not English cows but Welsh bullocks, mostly ― and the sheep is just a nosy old cow.
                                                                                                                                                                         
Home


                                                                                                                                    Home
                                                                                                                                   
Previously on Look You...
                                                                                                                                   
Smile of the day 2013: Apr
                                                                                                                                   
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)
                   Home

 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


Reception

You are here, way out west,
at Llandeilo

aka Llandampness
aka Dodgy City

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Previously on LOOK YOU......

Smile of the day 2013: Apr
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)
2009

2008
Sep to Dec '07

June to Aug '07
March to May '07

As it was in the beginning:
ST DAVID'S DAY, 2007

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Postcards from my Square Mile @
smile
Updated: 26/05/2013

Here's lookin' at you @
400 Smiles A Day
Updated: 08/06/2013


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

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