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MY SQUARE MILE
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400 Smiles A Day
It seems that
the artist Leonardo da Vinci kept a notebook, Notes to Self,
a list of “things to do today”: buy paper; charcoal; chalk ...
describe tongue of woodpecker and jaw of crocodile...
These are my Notes to Self, a daily record of
the things that make me smile and which brighten up my day no
end, whether read in a newspaper, seen on TV, heard on the
radio, told in the pub, spotted in the supermarket, a good joke,
a great story, a funny cartoon, a film clip, an eye-catching
picture, something startling that nevertheless generates a spontaneous smile, curiosities spotted
along my walks through the Towy Valley...
This is a snapshot of life beyond the blue horizon...
everyday a doolally smile of the day
The shortest distance between two people is a smile ...
Monday, September 30
September smileometer stories
brief but entertaining items from recent Sunday Times
A father of three got so drunk on a night out that he
tried to have sex with a Land Rover. Daniel Cooper, 24, had previously
tried it on with the counter of a kebab shop, magistrates in Flintshire,
north Wales, heard.
“He was seen to enter a kebab shop where he was
simulating the sex act against the counter,” the court was told. “Then
he did the same to a Land Rover Discovery parked nearby.”
Cooper, of Holywell, admitted indecent exposure.
The Land Rover cannot be named for legal reasons.
What a wonderful last line. Mind you, the
boggles as to where precisely on the vehicle he was having
Now, if it had been a sexy Range Rover Evoque...
Ten days ago I did a feature on pet owners that
look like their dogs. Well, this gives me an excuse to run again
one of my very favourite observations of the subliminal link
between people and the pets they choose ― not to mention things
Yes of course, it’s good old Posh Spice aka
Victoria Beckham and her position as a creative design executive
responsible for the interior of the Range Rover Evoque.
I know she wasn’t responsible for the exterior
design of the vehicle itself — but take a look, alongside....
Isn’t that astonishing? Just as owners tend to
choose dogs which are a reflection of their own image, so
Victoria has clearly chosen to work with a Range Rover that is a
spitting image of what she must see in the mirror every day.
Just admire the cut of
If I said you had a beautiful body...
Love my tender
John Ward, a car enthusiast, claims he has built the
world’s smallest fire engine after converting a Reliant Robin into a
working tender. The three-wheeler has six hoses, a ladder and a brass
bell, and it carries the motto:
“You’ve not been put out until we put you out”
Ward, from Spalding in Lincolnshire, said: “With all
these cuts to the service I wondered how small you could go, and there
isn’t much smaller than a Robin, unless you go down to a bike. I’ve done
some speed trials with it and it handles well up to about 60mph. If you
have a fire in a phone box, we can put it out.”
Three wheels on my wagon
I have told this true story before, but it can stand a
replay. Mega moons back, not long after Concorde had come into service,
a local carpenter and jobber, Big Jack, all 20-stone-plus of him, drove
a little Robin Reliant.
Every time he climbed into it you held your breath, just in
case the whole caboodle tipped over.
One day he called at a Llandampness petrol station, and
Brian Rees, the husband of the lady who ran the shop and fuel station,
was covering for his wife, and he went out to serve Big Jack ― those
were the days, before self-service pumps.
Brian, no longer with us, sadly, was one of Llandeilo’s great
characters. As he filled up he said to Jack: “Do you feel totally safe
“What do you mean?” said a defensively gruff Big Jack.
“Well, with just the one wheel in the front do you worry
that if you go round a corner a bit too fast you might ― well, topple
Big Jack pulled himself up to his great height. “Look,”
he said, “Concorde has only got three wheels, and if that’s good enough
for Concorde it’s good enough for me.”
A nose for theft
Police hunting a
woman who stole a £95 bottle of perfume from Boots in Salisbury,
Wiltshire, described the suspect as wearing sunglasses, a joke moustache
and a fake nose.
Finally, this letter from The Daily Telegraph:
SIR – As a young junior
anaesthetist in the Sixties, I worked with a surgeon known as “Lucky
Frank” ― lucky because he was the only person in the world who could not
be operated on by Frank.
He was notoriously slow and on one occasion we tried to
speed him up by playing The Flight of the Bumblebee through our piped
music system with, unfortunately, minimal effect.
Normally we played cool jazz through this system, and,
as patient ventilation in those days was by manual bag-squeezing, some
interesting chest movement rhythms could be seen in the anaesthetised
Dr Sydney Berger, Manchester
And on that note: my Desert Island Video Jukebox ― a trawl
through the music that has signposted my stroll through time, from
conception to 30/09/2013 ― is coming along nicely...
Sunday, September 29
Seduced by a whisker
A BRACE of smiley images caught my eye today. Yesterday I
mentioned the alarming tale of a pilot and his first officer falling
asleep while flying a freight plane ― and waking up minutes before they
were due to land.
QWERTY nods off at the controls
This tiny palm squirrel can fall asleep ANYWHERE, including Its Master’s
Wildlife film maker Paul Williams, 34, has taken in an
orphaned palm squirrel after it was separated from its mother. After a
month of being nursed back to health, the wee creature now travels with
the BBC’s Natural History Unit film crew and has become an ‘honorary
Looking at the above picture of QWERTY, and being that it
is so tiny ― called a palm squirrel because it can fit snugly into the
palm of a human hand: note the size of its head relative to the laptop
keys ― perhaps the name should be lower case i.e. qwerty.
The name’s Sauce. Tardar Sauce
Yesterday I also featured variations on the theme of a
Bond villain’s cat. Well, today I spotted what must be the definitive
version of what a bad cat should look like.
Not so fast, Mister Tweetie Pie
I taw a puddy tat a creepin' up on me,
I did I taw a puddy tat as plain as he could be...
What a wonderful look that is. It probably won’t affect
her famous mood, but Grumpy Cat now has an endorsement deal. The
frown-faced Internet sensation, real name Tardar Sauce, is now the
spokescat for a Friskies brand of cat food.
And I bet you anything that old
Grumpy Cat is actually a sweet little Puddy Tat.
The name’s Ram. Randy Ram
Watching Countryfile on television tonight,
the programme visited the Shropshire town of Ludlow during its annual
food and drink festival.
Presenter Matt Baker visited a lady farmer who breeds the
county’s native but now rare heritage breed, the Shropshire Sheep. And a
fine specimen it is too. What I enjoyed though was, during the visit to the
farm, the ram was released to join the sheep because the tupping season
is now upon us. Or upon the sheep, at least.
But what made me smile was the name of the ram: Special
This scrapbook isn’t just thrown together, you know.
What made the whole episode extra smiley was ... as soon as 00?
joined the flock, I felt like bursting into a famous rugby song:
The ram was ramming it here, the ram was ramming it
there, ramming it here, ramming it there, ramming it everywhere...
And he really was. Old Special Agent couldn’t keep
himself off the girls. I was reminded of Sir Tom, the Towy
Valley’s very own ram raider:
And on that note ... oh, before I go:
Spell-cheque corner: The term ‘spokescat’
came up as ‘spoke scat’ ― and I thought, don’t be so bloody personal.
Saturday, September 28
“WITH Bond, you would be mad not to take any role. I
would even play the dog.” Joanna Lumley, 67, English rose,
actress, author, television presenter, voice-over artist and former
model, who dreams of being a Bond bitch.
A dog? A dog, Joanna? Surely, you are a natural-born pussycat if
ever I saw one. Many a red-blooded villain would have dreamt of a little
Lumley draped across his lap, gently purring away as he stroked her...
A little pussy never hurt anyone – but a big cat is a whole new ball
Mind you, I’m not sure which of the above two want to be
a Bond villain when they grow up. Great image though.
Incidentally, Joanna would have made a memorable Miss
Cock of the walk – 1
“I think Ed should
just go on travelling around the country exposing himself to many
people.” Labour MP and former Cabinet Minister Dame Tessa Jowell,
66, could have chosen her words more carefully in her enthusiasm for the
Cock of the walk – 2
“Godfrey Bloom makes Jeremy Clarkson look like a
Fabian [member of a British socialist organisation whose purpose is
to advance the principles of socialism via jaw-jaw rather than
Harriet Harman, 63, Labour’s deputy leader, takes a swipe at the MEP
of “sluts” and “bongo-bongo land” infamy.
Cock of the walk – 3
“I’m thinking I
might stand in the next election as an independent for Doncaster North,
which is where I’m from. Thoughts?”
Jeremy Clarkson, 53, English journalist and famous motormouth, tweets
his 2.3 million followers that he may run as an independent for the
parliamentary seat ― the one that Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (he
who should be exposing himself nationwide) has held since 2005.
Clarkson later claimed he was drunk when he said he
wanted to stand against Mister Ed ― he now wants to challenge deputy
prime minister Nick Clegg at Sheffield Hallam instead.
RIP: Cock of the walk – 3
“I am about to
embark on my longest ever trans-London bike ride. Almost certainly I
shall be killed.” Jeremy Clarkson, again ― and the British
political establishment quietly goes about ordering some really nice
RIP – 1
“Our grandparents’ generation fought the Hun; we have
Ryanair.” Rachel Johnson, 48, English journalist, author, editor
and television presenter (and sister of Mayor of London, Boris), moans
that Budget airlines are the closest we come to a near-death experience.
Hold the front page...
O’Leary: Ryanair to ‘stop annoying passengers’
Boss of budget airline Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, 52,
announces that it is to reform its “abrupt culture following increasing
attacks over its treatment of passengers”.
Yes, and pigs might fly. Every organisation ― big, small,
caring, indifferent ― reflects the ethics, morality and honesty of the
person at the very top, its Chief Sitting Bull. Or indeed its Chief
Sitting Cow. I shall watch this airspace with interest.
RIP – 2
Mention of Clarkson being dispatched and Johnson moaning
about near-death experiences, today news emerged that a pilot has
confessed on a BBC Radio 5 live show that he and his first officer fell
asleep while flying a freight plane ― and woke up minutes before they
were due to land.
The pilot, who was referred to as “John”, said he and his
co-pilot were towards the end of a long overnight shift that started at
1.30am. The two were due to land at around 9am in Spain.
But after flying through the night, the pair both fell
asleep shortly before they were due to land.
Pilot John said: “We had a long series of flights through
Europe arriving down in Spain at 9am, by which time you are feeling less
than fully alert. Basically, I woke up and looked across to find my
first officer was asleep as well.
“We both just looked at each other and thought ‘oh crikey
that was not good’.”
I’m not surprised. This afternoon I was watching a bit of rugby on the
telly ― and nodded off. Now I’m not short of sleep ― I sleep soundly ―
I don’t live a stressful existence, I don’t go through different time
zones... yet I can nod off effortlessly in front of the box, even when I
want to watch something.
Imagine being sat up there for hours on end, with
flickering screens all around and nothing of note happening ― God, it
really must be a struggle to stay awake doing what is essentially a
boring job, take-off and landing excepted, of course.
Spell-cheque corner: ‘Jowell’,
as in ‘Labour
MP and former Cabinet Minister Dame Tessa Jowell’,
came up as ‘Jewell’. Honestly, my computer’s
sense of the ridiculous is coming on in leaps and bounds.
Friday, September 27
A nasty crosswind in the valleys
A LITTLE while back I saw a
that tickled my juvenile streak no end ― but I thought no, I can’t be
this childish in front of the world and its dog.
Well blow me, the following tale has just surfaced in the
Residents get wind of an awkward name switch
Welsh spelling “will make village laughing stock”
People living in the small Welsh Valleys village
of Varteg are kicking up a stink about plans to re-christen it
Farteg (‘Y’ meaning ‘The village of...’).
Language campaigners support the change saying
the current name is incorrect as there is no V in the Welsh
language (and that is why we are so polite).
But locals say renaming their village Y Farteg
would make them the butt of jokes saying it sounds like a
“schoolboy’s playground insult”.
“Can you imagine,” said villager Ray Leyshon, 62,
“the bus going past and some schoolboy shouting: ‘You are going
to Fart Egg?’ It is just a bad yoke.”
Many road signs in Wales display place names in
both English and Welsh ― and Torfaen council is now consulting
on which form should be used in Varteg, which has a population
of about 1,000 people.
Despite the letter V, Varteg is recognised as an
old Welsh word. But what does Varteg (or Y Farteg) actually
mean? Well, all Ivor the Search Engine could find is that,
somehow, the letter V crept in under the wire when no one was
looking because Varteg is shown on an old map of 1901.
There is also Mynydd Farteg Fawr (Large Farteg
Mountain) and Mynydd Farteg Fach (Little Farteg Mountain),
although the name of the village was Varteg Hill.
Do you suppose that somewhere in the distant
past the mountains were threateningly volcanic and were
christened Little and Large Farting Mountains? (Are there not a
Little and Large Farting Molehills on TV?)
Perhaps the revised sign
for Y Farteg
should also show a wind-sock with the
warning 'Beware nasty crosswinds'
Anyway, confusing or what? However, I did establish that
the other name on the above sign, Garndiffaith, means ‘The Rock
of Desolation’ ― so perhaps it is best that we remain in the dark about
Oh yes, Ivor the Search Engine did point out that
the story has even
appeared in The Washington Post.
Right, here is the
photo that had threatened to bring out the worst in me ― but suddenly
seems reasonably funny, in a strictly contextual sense, you understand:
A perfect fashion statement for the people of Farteg
Spotted in Sicily by Sheira Pullin
Quite what significance the name of the shop has
... well, I admit that it is totally lost on me. Mind you, that the sketch of the farting
person is a registered trademark is a hoot.
I wonder if the shop next
door is called The Poop Deck?
On a roll
Keeping up with the crosswind theme, the hamlet of Shitterton
in Dorset has been voted the UK’s most unfortunate place name. The tiny
collection of homes, which lies between Dorchester and Poole, is widely
considered to be the most embarrassing place to live, at least according to a
survey by www.findmypast.co.uk from last year...
This from Mail Online:
It beat the neighbouring valley of Scratchy Bottom near
Durdle Door in Dorset, and Brokenwind in Aberdeenshire.
Shitterton is a very literal English translation of the
village name recorded in Norman French in the 11th century Domesday Book
as Scatera or Scetra.
It means a little town that is on the stream of a midden
The unfortunately-named hamlet also beat off competition
from Crapstone in Devon, Ugley in Essex, Back Passage in London, Sandy
Balls in the New Forest, Old Sodbury in Gloucestershire and North Piddle
in rural Worcestershire.
Contenders for the UK’s most unfortunate street name
included Slag Lane in Haydock, Merseyside, Pratts Bottom in Kent and
Hooker Road in Norwich.
Spell-cheque corner: I was intrigued what the computer would make
of the Welsh place names. Well, the village of ‘Varteg’
came up as ‘Vertex’, meaning apex: the highest point of something ― hm,
back with the mountains, now how intriguing is that? And
came up as ‘Farther’, which I guess could be read as Fart-her.
beat the computer hands down. It drew a blank.
Thursday, September 26
Twice the name, twice the fun
YESTERDAY I mentioned Tian Tian, the perhaps pregnant
panda of Edinburgh Zoo fame, and I actually referred to her as Tian
Twice. Now thereby hangs a tale.
First thing yesterday morning I visited the local
doctors’ surgery for my annual MOT check-up with Karen, a practice
I arrived in plenty of time. The waiting room was quite
full. In a place like Llandampness pretty much everybody knows
everybody, so all over the shop people were enthusiastically greeting each other: “Hello, fancy seeing you, haven’t seen you for ages ― how are
you?” “Fine, thanks ― and you?” “Yes, fine...”
That was a typical exchange ... there’s something really
funny being in a doctors’ reception awash with people feeling fine. But
I know what they meant.
Then, over the public-address system: “Mr Thomas Thomas to the
treatment room, please.” And I smiled. I watched a somewhat frail
looking gent ― vaguely familiar but I couldn’t quite place him ― walk
past, with his daughter I presumed. He walked unaided, but as I say, he
was quite fragile; indeed he could well have been around the
Anyway, it was the name. I remember in my youth, back on
the farm, there was a fellow in the area who was known to everyone as
Twm Twice, and I was intrigued by his nickname.
Just like the gent I had seen in the surgery, his name
was also Thomas Thomas. Now Thomas can be a first name as well as a
surname (obviously). Thomas becomes Tom ― Tom Jones, Tom Thomas ― and the Welsh for
Tom is Twm ― Twm Thomas. So he was known to everyone as Twm Twice, which
is really funny on the ear, probably because of the alliteration.
Hence my referring to the panda as Tian Twice ― but it
doesn’t quite flow off the tongue like Twm Twice. Bad call.
Oh yes, a quick PS: there’s also a rumour that the
nickname Twm Twice had a sexual connotation ― but I couldn’t possibly
Yes, it’s an amusing old world out there if you pay
Last week I made a diary note of a
Bad science: wind turbines blamed for ‘causing bats to explode’
And I remember thinking: Could we not send all our
celebrities and national treasures into close contact with wind turbines
― just to see if it’s true?
Anyway, in The Times
column, where readers
contact the paper with their thoughts, this appeared:
Brickbats and beetles
“I know it is the silly season,” writes Chris Stubbings
(no it’s not, Ed), “but the article entitled ‘Fear of exploding bats’
really takes the biscuit. One dead, unexploded bat, with no obvious
sign of trauma, does not constitute a warning that large numbers of bats
can explode because of wind turbines.”
Quite right, Chris Stubbings, you tell ‘em.
Tell me again
You don’t need me to regularly remind you that we live in
a doolally world. It was recently announced that the age of jury service
is to be raised by five years to include 70 to 75-year-olds (in a move
expected to cut the cost of compensating jurors taking time off work).
Here’s a letter spotted in The Times:
Too old to try?
Sir, At the age of 70, after 17 years’ service and at the
peak of my competence, I have recently been forced to retire as a
However, now I am amazed to find that although I am
deemed to be too old to deliberate on thefts and drink-driving, I am not
considered to be too old to deliberate on rape and murder on a jury.
TONY STANLEY, JP (Supplemental List), Newton Solney,
So let’s get this straight: An expert in the criminal justice system
must retire at 70 ... yet we, the great unwashed, will be eligible to
sit as jurors until 75?
Talking of bats...
“I was summoned recently for jury service. I asked to be
excused on the basis that I was well-known and would be a distraction.
The judge had never heard of me.”
Sir Terry Wogan, 75 (note the age),
Irishman, broadcaster and often described as among Britain’s best-loved
and wittiest entertainers.
I’m unsure whether old Wogan is a bit miffed that
m’learned friend His Honour had no idea who he was, or if he is being a
bit self-deprecating in the fact that he is not quite the National
Treasure he thinks he is.
Strange fellow, Wogan. I enjoyed him hugely on his
morning wireless show, but whenever I see him on television I am
overwhelmed with a need to throw a bucket of cold water over him to wipe
the smirk off his face.
But hang about: Wogan is 75, and the changes to jury service will be
legislated through an act of parliament early next year ― in 2014...
You are probably ahead of me:
what on earth was he on about? Obviously a
joke. But what a strange joke.
Whatever, I have a new hero ... this headline surfaced today:
“I see you’ve been in quite a lot of films”: D-Day veteran, 90,
meets Brad Pitt but has to admit he doesn’t know who he is
A British D-Day veteran who was personally invited to a
Hertfordshire World War Two film set by actor Brad Pitt was forced to
look him up online because he had no idea who the Hollywood star was.
The superstar, worth more than £100 million, met with
90-year-old Peter Comfort to talk about his latest film, Fury, but the
WWII veteran admitted he had to use the internet to find out who Pitt
The famous actor had invited Peter Comfort ― smashing
surname ― to the set of the
new blockbuster in Hertfordshire to hear a first-hand account of life
inside an amphibious Sherman tank.
Mr Comfort is the last WWII survivor of a Sherman
tank-assigned regiment. And my goodness, he does look well.
So how agreeable, a brace of heroes for my Comfort Zone scrapbook ... Peter,
above, obviously, and the unnamed panda featured yesterday, and pictured, just
Wednesday, September 25
Pandas in Labour
“OUR policy review resembles a pregnant panda ― it’s
been a very long time in the making and no one’s quite sure if there’s
anything in there.”
Jacqui Smith, 50, a member of the Labour Party and former home
secretary, suggests it’s time for the party to announce some
eye-catching politics ― which Ed Miliband certainly did today with a
promise to freeze gas and electricity (and oil?) prices until 2017. [The
fear is, however, that this may cause future power cuts and that we will
all freeze to death instead.]
That time of the month
Relaxez-Vous: what is this life if, full of care, we have no time to
sprawl and stare?
With pandas in the news, especially
so with the picture today of a
group of 14 artificially-bred panda cubs born between July and September
and put on display in China’s
Sichuan province ― I found myself wondering what has happened to Tian Twice up there in Edinburgh
It’s pretty much exactly a month since I did a feature on
the cute little lady who was playing hard to get in the sex stakes (she
had to be inseminated ― twice, just to be sure, to be sure ― as I recall).
So, why are we waiting?
Mind you, Tian
Twice should not allow TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham within a
the wild are a terrible waste of money. It’s ridiculous, but these
pandas in Edinburgh Zoo are fantastic ambassadors for keeping the zoo
industry going, even if the species should be allowed to die out.”
I have a feeling that Chris, 52 (do I sense a midlife
crisis?) has fully bought into his celebrity status, and that he firmly
believes, what with millions of fans and followers hanging on his every word,
that he really did come down the mountain loaded with tablets
of insight, wit and wisdom to share with his people.
He even has his thoughts on the trial badger cull currently under way to
find a way to eradicate TB in both badgers and cattle:
“I feel sick and
disempowered, betrayed, angry and crushed by the corruption of all that
I know is right.”
He’s beginning to sound like the bore down the pub who
has the answers to all of life’s problems. If he bought the property next door the first thing
I’d do is
prepare to move home because every instinct in my body tells me that
as a neighbour he’d be Trouble,
with a capital T.
Oh dear. Anyway, back with the safer side of wildlife,
that thing called politics...
A matter of trust
A week ago I happened to catch Laurie Taylor’s Thinking
Allowed on BBC Radio 4. He told a wonderfully amusing tale at the start
of the programme, which was a lead into an item on political
disaffection amongst white, working class people.
I have just caught up with it again on iPlayer ― so over to
Some years ago I was asked by a national newspaper to
follow a Labour candidate around a disadvantaged London constituency as
he canvassed support in a Parliamentary by-election.
“What we want,” said the features editor, “is a little ―
a little local colour.” But there wasn’t much colour to be found in the
grey, high-rise housing estates where the Labour man went looking for
He did however devise a way to speed up his canvassing,
so when we arrived at a particular landing in a tower block, he’d ring
these four bells in the hope that four constituents would all open their
doors and he could then deliver his brief election message to an
And I soon knew that message by heart: “Hello, good
morning,” he’d say with an exceedingly jolly and enthusiastic delivery,
“I’m your Labour candidate, you can trust me because I come from around
Well, on one landing this line failed spectacularly
because although four bells were duly rung, nobody at all appeared.
But finally, one door was opened to the extent the
security chain allowed ― and an elderly lady’s face became half visible:
“Hello, good morning,” said the candidate briskly, “I’m your Labour
candidate, you can trust me because I come from around here.”
The lady was singularly unimpressed. “I wouldn’t trust
anyone that comes from around here,” she said firmly as she closed the
Oh dear, you can actually see and hear that old dear
giving the politician short shrift. A smashing story.
Sticking with the political theme, this letter from The Times:
Sir, The Mayor of London’s likening of signs of
improvement in the UK economy to the refloating of the Costa Concordia
is unfortunate. Once righted she will be towed off to be broken up for
HUGO GERRARD, London W12
We are waiting, Boris...
Tuesday, September 24
iSpy with my little eye
YESTERDAY I smiled at a series of Sign Language
photographs that really tickled my juvenile funny bone.
Today, I’ve been amused by something similar ― but
different. Here’s an eye-catching Mail Online headline and photo montage:
‘Antonio’s flamenco concert cancelled owing to verruca’: String of
whimsical adverts that keep being posted in corner shop window
Prank posts have been turning up in the shop for six months
Amusing one liners are all written in the same handwriting
Owner of the shop is the only one who knows joker’s identity
The entertaining posts have got locals in the village of
Borough Green in Kent gossiping and wondering just who is the mystery
prankster giving locals a laugh as they pass by or enter the shop...
‘The Greatest Cape’: what a clever play on words.
Brilliant. As for the author, well, it could be the shop owner himself, who has hit
on a sure-fire way of generating interest in his shop.
This also hit the smileometer:
That’s entertainment, folks. Indeed, I’ve been puzzling what message I’d put in the window ...
but I decided instead to concentrate on the above and figure out what
precisely the ‘Telepathic’ advert is saying------
First things first ... actually, it doesn’t say ‘Telepathic advert’
at all, but rather ‘Teleprompter message’:
In the above ad I use the word ‘fondled’ ― I wasn’t sure
though whether it was the one I needed, so I visited the computer’s
dictionary, but rather to click on the Thesaurus.
However, I couldn’t help but notice how the word ‘fondle’
has two diametrically opposite concepts, something I’d never thought of:
1. stroke lovingly: to stroke, handle, or touch something or
somebody gently, in a loving or affectionate way
idly fondling the cat's ears
2. touch in an aggressive way: to touch or caress somebody in an
aggressive or unwelcome way
he fondled me, your honour
[Late 17th century. Back-formation from obsolete fondling
And on that note, it is time to add another of my signature tunes to
the Desert Island Video Jukebox:
Don Williams, Country Boy:
Oh yes, with Johnnie Ray’s Walkin’ In The Rain
link having been severed ― I tell you, my Video Jukebox is just like
the proper thing ― I thought I’d replace it with a seasonal effort,
Autumn Leaves and Walkin’ In the Rain in perfect
and harmonious tandem:
Monday, September 23
Convenience store humour
YESTERDAY I mentioned that I was born age 46 going on a
streaky 16. Or should it be 16 going on a streaky 46?
Whatever, time to exercise and exorcise another bout of
juvenility, and what better way than a quick stroll down The
Sign Language Lane picture gallery:
For what we are...
...about to receive
Spotted in Vancouver by Ian Pitch
Spotted in Thailand by Antranik K
May the Lord make us...
...offer up a smile of appreciation
Spotted in Passau, Germany by Husam Fakhry
Spotted in London by “Blake”
Well, they all made me smile, especially in
juxtaposition. When I first saw the Holy Crap one, my first thought was
that Richard Dawkins, the celebrated atheist, had launched his own
Oh, and do you suppose that R. Soles is cobbler Hans
Christian Anderson by another name?
I couldn’t resist engaging
Ivor the Search Engine for a quick peep:
Designer Cowboy Boots Since 1975
R. Soles was established by
Douglas Berney and opened on the Kings Road, Chelsea in 1975. We are now
one of the few remaining independent shops and continue to offer our own
unique styles and the highest quality cowboy and biker boots for men and
So there you go. Every day a day at school. Anyway, back to the default
46-years-of-age tomorrow. Probably.
Sunday, September 22
Keep taking the tablet
LAST Wednesday the nation
smiled/giggled/chuckled/laughed ― or perhaps simply collapsed in a heap on the floor
― at the
BBC television newsreader who grabbed a ream of photocopier paper he
mistook for an iPad ... and continued delivering the news to camera as if
nothing untoward was unfolding in front of our very eyes.
I did a little feature on it. Remember this?
As you can probably guess, the media in general and the
newspapers in particular have been dining out on the story ― and it
continued in the weekend papers.
My favourite piece is from The Sunday Times ...
Speakeasy by Matt Rudd, which definitely deserves its place in my
Scrapbook of Life’s Passing Parade:
Midlife brain burps
Just imagine. You’re about to go live on the BBC news
channel. You’re the newsreader, no less. You’ve remembered to put your
trousers on (a must, since the powers-that-be insisted, for reasons
known only to themselves, that the news must be read standing up).
You’ve checked your flies. You’ve got your teeth in. This is not your
first rodeo. Lights come on, cameras roll and suddenly to your horror
you realise you are holding an enormous packet of photocopier paper.
“This is not an iPad,” you think to yourself. “I’m
supposed to be holding an iPad but this is just ... a big stack of
paper. What should I do?”
Well, obviously, you put it down on the floor, out of
shot, with an awkward smile and get on with your bulletin about drunk
tanks. But that’s not what Simon McCoy did. Oh no, he decided to style
it out, perhaps in the hope that viewers wouldn’t notice. “In the rush
of live news, he didn’t have an opportunity to swap the items, so simply
went with it,” explained a spokeswoman some time later.
Viewers noticed. YouTube noticed. Newspapers began
describing him as “veteran newsreader Simon McCoy”, which is only one
notch down from “national treasure Simon McCoy”. Everyone, in short, had
a jolly good laugh.
We shouldn’t laugh. I forbid you to laugh. Veteran
newsreader McCoy, 51, is merely middle-aged. He is enjoying what
psychologists describe as the afternoon of life. What middle-aged man
hasn’t mistaken an enormous wodge of paper for an iPad? Who hasn’t tried
to do a PowerPoint presentation with a colleague’s packet of Ryvita? Who
hasn’t gone the whole day before realising one’s underpants are
tucked into one’s shirt, one’s sweater is on inside out and one is still
wearing one’s slippers?
[I had a bit of a Y-front moment there: “one’s underpants
are tucked into one’s shirt”? I can’t picture that. Should it not be
“one’s shirt tucked into one’s underpants”? Perhaps I am missing a
rather obvious insider joke. Whatever, sorry Matt, pray continue...]
Last week, at exactly the same time McCoy was pretending
he was holding an iPad, new research was published claiming men
officially stop caring about stuff at the age of 46. We lose interest in
fashion. We abandon the need to “be cool”. The desperation to conform
goes out of the window, along with the embarrassment that comes when you
don’t. In short, the 46-plus group no longer gives a monkey’s.
So what if my underpants were sticking out? So what if
McCoy just read a news bulletin holding a thing that wasn’t an iPad? It
could have been worse. He could have grabbed that Sex and the City box
set or a well-thumbed copy of Dan Brown’s Inferno. With age comes
So it is with trepidation that we should absorb the news
that Google is going to cure ageing. Here I am on the cusp of no longer
having to give a monkey’s and it could all be snatched away. The search
engine giant has recruited Art Levinson, the Apple chairman no less, to
launch Calico, a company that will focus not just on diseases but also
on problems affecting mental and physical agility.
Old age is a solvable problem. “In Silicon Valley
parlance, this mortal coil is a bug, not a feature,” said Valleywag, a
Sure, there is an upside here. Life is too short. It
would be nice if all those smartarses who made us waste half our brief
existences playing Angry Birds did something for the greater good. But
we should also note the downside. The joy of mistaking an iPad for
something that looks nothing like an iPad and ploughing on regardless
would be snatched away.
We would still be young at 51. And 61. And 101. And
that’s a far more terrifying prospect than realising you’re holding a
stack of paper live on air.
That is such a smiley piece. My own
enjoyment is endorsed by the fact that I was born circa 46 years of age, with a streak of
16 as highlights. I never at any stage developed an interest in fashion,
and the need to “be cool” was something I experienced only in the summer
of 1976 ― “Phew!
What a scorcher” ― or when visiting countries that have revolutions
because it is gets so bloody hot under the midday sun you just want to
kill someone, anyone.
In other words, I was born wearing, not so much a purple
hat, but a violet one. And it was probably a fedora.
Oh yes, I liked the name of that tech website, Valleywag.
I mean, it sounds like the name of a character from the Welsh valleys,
say Merthyr Tydfil, or perhaps Treorchy ― which brings me neatly to another addition to my
Desert Island Video Jukebox.
Today I happened upon a smashing version of Eli
Jenkins’ Prayer from Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.
It is performed to perfection by the Treorchy Male Choir
― or Treorci, to give it the proper Welsh name. And just to give the
whole thing that something extra, the accompanying video is as perfect
as anything I have seen on YouTube.
I have also taken the opportunity to add 96 seconds of a
traditional Welsh sound by Plethyn, a group no longer performing
So here’s the link to Ely Jenkins’ Prayer:
And now Plethyn with Cerdd Wefus (Lip
Saturday, September 21
“I REALLY can’t get my knickers in a twist about my
age and ageing in an industry that caters to the ids of 14-year-olds.”
Vera Farmiga, 40, American actress and film director.
I appreciate precisely what she means ― but I wasn’t
absolutely sure what “ids” meant...
id – theoretical part of human psyche:
Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the part of the psyche that is
unconscious and the source of instinctive primeval impulses and drives.
The other parts of the psyche are the ego and the superego.
So, mention of instinctive primeval impulses and drives,
today I smiled at a marvellous picture featured online ― it whisked me
effortlessly back to my boyhood id:
naughty boys watch Bolivian dancers perform during a parade to mark
the traditional “Day of America” festival, in central Oviedo, Spain
Isn’t that a magically caught moment? I guess most of us
fellas have been there, a young lad’s peep show ― which would, in the
great scheme of things, lead eventually to the “if I show you mine will you show me
yours?” ploy. Sweet memories indeed.
But hang about ... what precisely was the meeja full of
back at the beginning of the week? This from Mail Online:
Flirty Susanna Reid flashes her knickers on BBC Breakfast
Susanna Reid has accidentally treated viewers to a flash
of her knickers on Monday morning’s BBC Breakfast
Flash in the pan
The 42-year-old TV presenter gave those at home more than
they’d bargained for when she inadvertently offered a cheeky glimpse of
her underwear as she crossed her legs on the sofa.
Sitting alongside co-host Bill Turnbull, the Strictly
Come Dancing contestant gave an eyeful of her black and white striped
undies as she chatted away, much to the surprise of eagle-eyed viewer,
The 28-year-old IT
consultant from Sheffield said: “I was eating my breakfast, watching the
news as I always do. Just before they switched over to the regional
news, Susanna crossed her legs over and I caught a flash of brilliant
white. I spat my cornflakes out. I thought it was hilarious. I had to
rewind it to have another look to make sure.”
I never saw it or watched the video ― I mean, c’mon, shades of Sharon
Stone in Basic Instinct it clearly ain’t. Oops, did I say that? I may
have seen the Sharon flash, but I never rewound the tape to check it
But the thing about the Susanna Reid picture is that you
can bet your bottom dollar that it’s the men in the meeja who got
so excited about this pretty meaningless picture and splashed it all
over the shop.
Never mind shades of Sharon, I would suggest more shades of Silvio
(Berlusconi, from yesterday): wet nose, slavering, tongue
hanging out, tail wagging at the thought of yet another glimmer of
The brutal truth is that we men never really grow up,
especially 28-year-old IT consultants from Sheffield, it seems.
Be all that as it may disappoint the female half of the population, I
have the answer for Susanna. Here’s the very model of a perfect pair of
modern bloomers for her:
A model displays a Spring/Summer design by Agatha
Ruiz de la Prada
during Madrid’s Fashion Week
Doolallyness rules, OK?
Still, very funny though.
Spell-cheque corner: Keeping up the juvenile theme, ‘undies’
came up as a rather smiley ‘undoes’, while
as in Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, said designer of that extraordinary body
came up as a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek ‘Gather’.
“Gather round, gather round, for a magical mystery tour
Friday, September 20
Old sea dog days
ARRR, I be recallin’ them well ― no, hang about, Talk
Like A Pirate Day was yesterday. Let’s start again.
I remember these well:
Now c’mon, are those back-up passport photos just too
wonderful for words? Having said that, it’s magical beyond how the heads
tilt precisely in that first one. I guess the photographer started with
Well, there’s one similar headline and image today that hit the old
smileometer with a flourish:
Dog that looks like Putin
The Russian president has a reputation as a bit of a
Rottweiler. But perhaps there is more to the canine comparison than
Vladimir Putin’s fierce bite.
This dog in the Ukraine ― codename KGB K9 ― seems to mirror Putin’s steely
gaze and high forehead. The comparison was first highlighted on Russian
news site obozrevatel.com [gosh, how times have
There was also another Putin story...
Putin: Berlusconi would not be on trial if he was gay
Russian president Vladimir Putin has divulged what he
believes to be the real reason former Italian prime minister Silvio
Berlusconi has been prosecuted in court.
It’s because Berlusconi is heterosexual. “He is on trial
because he lives with women,” Putin declared to a meeting of the Valdai
International Discussion Club. “If he was homosexual no one would have
lifted a finger.”
[I am thinking that it should be called the Vladimir International
Discussion Club ― well, who the hell is going to argue?]
Such an outburst should not come as a surprise. Putin and
Berlusconi are old friends, and the Russian president has often come to
his counterpart’s defence. Putin’s latest remarks come just three months
after he signed anti-gay legislation, banning homosexual “propaganda” in
Give a dog a bad name...
The wonderful thing about the internet is how I can
engage Ivor The Search Engine to look out for a photograph or some such
like that will highlight something I may have noticed, as with the above
Putin-Berlusconi image ― well bugger me, up popped the picture of the
I’ve no idea whose dogs they are ― but they reflect the
human characters to perfection.
Putin: not so much a Rottweiler but rather
something small, aggressive, forever baring his teeth, always looking
for a quarrel and prepared to take on anyone who dares question his
Berlusconi: a bit of a pussydog really ― just like
Old Shaggy down the Crazy Horsepower Saloon ― wants to be friends with
anyone and everyone (especially those of the female persuasion), wet
nose, tongue hanging out, slavering, tail wagging at the thought of yet
another quick hump ... but great company I would guess (at least if he
really is anything like Old Shaggy).
The juxtaposition is quite something, even if I say so
And then I tripped over this picture:
Black & White and loved all over
Again no idea whose photo it is. I mean, the image is
obviously Photoshopped ― but that’s okay. When the
result is as smiley as that, weeeeell, be my guest.
WEIGH anchor and hoist the colours me hearties, September
19 be International Talk Like A Pirate Day.
Here be me starter for ten:
“Ahoy there me hearty ― ‘ave ye
seen me buccaneers?”
“Aye, they be under ye buccin’
“Arrr, ye scurvy dog!
I be keelhaulin’ ye, yo-ho-ho an’ a bottle o’ rum...”
That be me own contribution to ye day.
Mind ye, I be rather likin’ what I see ‘ere. It be Oscar
Wilde, who now be safe and sound in Davy Jones’ Locker, who say: “Be
yourself; everyone else be already taken.”
But ... By the Powers!:
But this be worth ye prize piece o’ eight:
Shiver me timbers!
Pieces o’ ten jolly chat-up lines:
An’ what be a saucy scrumpet like ye doin’ aboard a right fine
ship like this?
Arrr, they be sayin’ ye can reduce the size of a scallywag’s problem at
I be lustin’ to drop anchor in ye lagoon
Avast there: if I be sayin’ ye have a vast stern and fine bow, would ye berth
it against I?
Aye, that be a hornpipe in me pocket ― an’ I be ever so glad to eye ye
Avast there me proud beauty!
You be wantin’ to know why me Roger be so Jolly?
Would ye like to scrape the barnacles off me rudder?
Arrr me buxom beauty, prepare to be boarded.
Well blow me down ... and thar she blows, me hearties!
Arrr me lass, would ye mind me firin’ me cannon through ye porthole?
Phew, that be all I can take o’ that. I now be exhausted ― and dyin’ to
talk tidy once more...
Wednesday, September 18
Go to work on an iPad
FAR and away the silliest cum smiliest tale today
happened just after 10 o’clock this morning ― anyway, allow the day’s
headlines to run with the story:
Who says TV news is fake? Simon McCoy shows off the
latest must-have gadget for BBC newsreaders, a ream
of photocopier paper that he mistook for an iPad
“I spy, with my little eye ... something beginning with 'i'---”
The 51-year-old broadcaster was doing a piece to camera
from the Corporation’s newsroom about ‘drunk tanks’* ― with the refill pack of A4
paper clearly visible in his hands.
Viewers saw McCoy holding the packet in a full-length
shot as he hosted the item live on the rolling BBC News channel without
any explanation. But the BBC later said he had picked it up by mistake.
* ‘Drunk tanks’: proposed holding cells for binge drinkers to sober up ―
hence the drunk woman on screen behind McCoy ― and, just like car
pounds, they will be billed for their overnight stay.
Oh dear, it’s the funniest thing since Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly
Walks ― and poor old Simon looks as if he too should have spent some time in a ‘drunk tank’. There’s a video
of the piece all over the internet shop.
Actually, and to be fair, he looks as if he was on the
way to load the paper into the photocopier ― but suddenly remembered he
had to deliver the news.
Mind you, I have always wondered about this modern fad of
presenters wandering about on screen and holding those tablet thingies.
They appear to serve no purpose other than to make them look cool, or
whatever the modern expression is.
But even more doolally is this business of a presenter
walking though a crowd and talking earnestly to a camera in the far distance ― while
the crowd look on as if they’re expecting some people in white coats to
rush up and say “There, there, it’s okay, we’re here now”.
Perhaps they will now begin to realise just how silly they all
look. Indeed, we need a suitable term that goes even beyond ‘dumbing
Go to work on an egg
“As a viewer I want to watch great drama, I don’t want
to see a geezer cookin’ a boiled egg.” Ray Winston, 56, English film
and television actor, complains that when he turns on the TV these days
all he sees is cookery programme and Big Brother “and all that kind of
Talking of cooking a boiled egg ... a thread of letters
from The Times:
Sir, You report on the lack of culinary skills (“Beans on
toast too complicated
one in ten’”,
Sept 2). When I was serving at my fundraising stall at the village
“Summer Fun Day” at the weekend, a young mother stopped. She surveyed
the homemade preserves. “Lemon curd? What do you do with it?”
She returned later to buy some.
GLENDA M. BREWIN, Willington, Derby
How to boil an egg
Sir, In 1956, as a 21-year-old in a bedsit in a strange
town, I bought The Penguin Cookery Book. One of its first pages
advised how to recognise boiling water. I still refer to it
DAVID EVANS, Ashton-under-Lyne
Sit on bed
Sir, As a student in
the 1960s I relied on Katharine Whitehorn’s Cooking in a Bedsitter.
She suggested boiling eggs in a kettle.
LIZ WHITTLE, Usk, Monmouthshire
I like that boiled egg in a kettle idea. Also, here’s a You Say contribution from The Sunday Times:
For the past 22 years, I have been able to poach an egg.
Having watched Celebrity Masterchef (BBC1), I now realise I need
to purchase a green pod in order to cook an egg.
As someone who never watches cookery programmes, I
suddenly grasp what Ray Winston is on about. But what the hell is “a
green pod to cook an egg”? A quick trip down Ivor the Search Engine Lane...
Never mind dumbing down, even doolally isn’t an adequate word.
Oh yes, yesterday I visited the local Co-op supermarket,
and on the way out a couple of the female staff were selling raffle
tickets to raise money for a local charity: 25p a ticket, 5 for a £1. I
handed over a pound and picked five tickets out of a bucket: if a
number ended with 0 or 5, I won a prize ... I had a 5 ... I won a
“Thanks ― but no thanks,” I said with a smile. “Cavemen don’t do cookery books.
If either of you fancy it, be my guest.”
They both returned my smile and thanked me ― then folded the winning ticket and put it back in the
bucket, and the book returned to the prizes shelf. Which was fair enough.
Ray Winston declaring his aversion to cookery shows on television, Vanessa
Feltz asked her early-morning listeners what they wanted banned off the
telly: sport, all soaps, ads, BBC trailers which think they’re
ads, reality shows, everything except sport...
favourite was this, from
Non: “My telly ain’t dirty, it don’t need
I know what she means.
Tuesday, September 17
Clever is as clever does
YESTERDAY I explored the intelligence of dolphins. In my
own little way I concluded that they really are bright and clever ― just
like your pet pooch ― but not particularly intelligent as in “you are
being very wise today, Mr Dolphin”.
Well, Chief Wise Owl today handed me a letter which was
published a week ago in The Times. Talk about that ubiquitous
A little kindness
Sir, Kevin Maher
(times2, Sept 9) says that being clever is a myth. Whether or not this
is true, people who think themselves clever would do well to heed Dr F.
J. Johnson’s advice to a newly elected young don at Jesus College:
“It’s no use trying to be clever ― we are all clever
here; just try to be kind ― a little kind.”
GEOFF DISMORR, Brighton
Now isn’t that wonderful? But it also rang a bell ... I went back
through some files where I keep those bits and pieces wot tickled me at
the time and I’d decided, hm, this will come in handy one of these days.
So, back at the beginning of the year, there was much
meeja discussion, letters and comments about telephone cold callers who
disturb us at home, usually when we’re having food or watching our
favourite telly show.
What I remember though is being astonished at how ignorant
and rude people freely admitted to being when answering the phone to
I tend to avoid the cold-call problem because, if I’m not
near the telephone, the answerphone clicks in after just three rings, so
cold callers instantly ring off. My mobile is always switched off anyway
― I carry it strictly for emergency use.
If I happen to be caught by a cold call, whether on the
phone or at the front door, I always politely make my excuses and leave.
(Living in the country means that doorstep cold callers are rare.)
Anyway, The Daily Telegraph’s Nigel Farndale
wrote this under the headline:
Why I’m feeling warmer to cold callers
You could call it Farndale’s First Law of
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
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.
It’s good to remember that kindness, even to a salesman,
doesn’t cost anything.
Clearly two great men, Dr F. J. Johnson (whoever he) and
the Dalai Lama, think precisely the same.
Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. (What a political slogan that would
Oh yes, the one thing we can say about dolphins is that
they do have a reputation for kindness, at least in their interactions
with people. Rarely will they attack a human, and if they do there is
always a specific reason ― being hassled or feeling threatened ― yet
there have been no reports of fatalities. Indeed there are quite a few
instances of dolphins actually helping people in distress at sea.
Ever so gently sliding laterally ― a few letters spotted in
The Daily Telegraph:
SIR – Reading the warning that a cluttered desk might
jeopardise my professional future, I was quickly heartened by Albert
Einstein’s adage: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of
what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
Professor Thomas J
Wolfensberger, Perroy, Switzerland
SIR – Having spent many years talking to people about the creation and
propagation of original thinking (and examining their desks while they
are not looking), I can only say that I have yet to meet anyone with an
interesting mind who has a tidy desk.
Lewes, East Sussex
[Note: As previously mentioned in dispatches, in my
humble opinion, Mr Watson, there is no such thing as “original
thinking”, just intelligent lateral thinking. Every single thought is triggered by
something we were already thinking of. Indeed, talking of lateral
SIR – I noted with interest
that in Kelly Hoppen’s immaculate house she said that “I’ve got a
secret, messy drawer beside the bed ― I even get a weird thrill when I
open it” (Features, August 19).
I know what she means, but with me it’s the
drawer that’s tidy.
Philip Glascoe, Sturry, Kent
What a perfectly tidy and smiley note on which to toddle off to bed.
Monday, September 16
Hitchin' a ride
“FOR instance, on the planet Earth, man had always
assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had
achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the
dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time.
But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more
intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.”
Douglas Adams (1952-2001), The
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
“For God’s sake, will you two stop mucking about”
created Adam and Eve ― and little baby Flipper arrived on the scene
A WEEK ago yesterday, I read the following tail-gunner
piece in the Comment column of The Sunday Times:
Flipper fails on porpoise
For years it has been
assumed that dolphins are highly intelligent. They communicate by
[as does the Midwife Toad, ho, ho, ho ― see yesterday’s smile of the day
― anyway, sorry Sunday Times, pray continue]...
Dolphins communicate by individual whistles, they
seem to have good memories and ― perhaps most telling of all ― no
dolphin has yet been known to watch a single episode of Keeping Up with
But if any dolphin is reading this they should prepare
themselves for a shock. Scientists now claim that the intellect of the
average dolphin is about the same as a can of Tesco tuna in brine (not
the exact description, other brands are available).
Not only are dolphins dimmer than the average chicken,
says Justin Gregg, a zoologist, but they are also capable of gang rape
and acts of violence. So don’t be taken in by those winning smiles.
We seem desperate to find intelligent life to share our
burden. As well as dolphins we have placed great hope on chimpanzees,
elephants, ravens, pigs and even people who appear on reality TV shows.
But as far as intelligent life this side of Mars goes, it looks as if we
are probably it.
Unless, of course, that’s just what the dolphins want us
Hm, are you up there, watching, Douglas Adams?
I had a response to the above piece up my sleeve, but I
thought ... no, hang about, I’ll wait to see what sort of replies,
there’ll be in the paper before I commit my thoughts into this ‘ere
scrapbook of mine.
And indeed, a response there was, a Dear Editor letter,
straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak:
For flip’s sake
In a humorous editorial, it was suggested I stated that
dolphins are dimmer than chickens and capable of gang rape. I did not.
Dolphins do not engage in rape ― a myth based on a misunderstanding of
dolphin socio-sexual behaviour ― and are not dimmer than chickens.
In my book on dolphin cognition, which was the focus of
the article “Jack the Flipper kills smart dolphin myth” (News, last
week), I concluded that there is good reason to believe that dolphins
are intelligent. But I also point out that many other species that we
often think of as unintelligent sometimes produce unexpectedly
intelligent behaviour as well.
Animal cognition is a lot murkier and harder to interpret
than most people realise, especially when trying to make cross-species
Justin Gregg, Research Associate, Dolphin Communication Project
But how do I see our smiley friends from beyond the blue
Much as I adore dolphins, I have never thought of them (or any of their
cetacean cousins) as being particularly intelligent. Bright and clever,
yes, but not exceptionally sensible or rational.
Your dog is bright and clever ― you can teach it to do
tricks and it learns things quickly ― but it is not intelligent, at
least not in the human sense.
Real intelligence ― or inherent wisdom as I prefer to
think of it ― is the ability to sense the ambush before entering the
pass, the gift of making sensible decisions and judgments before taking
the first step.
We all know such people, individuals who appear to have
some unseen power clearing a path for them along their walk through
time. What they all possess is wisdom.
If dolphins and the like were blessed with wisdom, then
the moment they hear the distant sound of an engine they would have
quickly learnt to recognise approaching death and destruction ― and get
the hell out of there. Think how many dolphins are drowned in nets meant
to catch tuna, simply because pods of dolphins tend to indicate tuna
Even whales, which might not be able to outpace modern
whaling fleets, would have learnt to keep to the deep, surfacing for a
few seconds only to take in air before disappearing back into the depths
and beyond the harpoons.
Mind you, we humans are no better. If we possessed
wisdom, our movers and shakers would have spotted at 40 paces the
property bubble with its attendant financial crash of 2007-08.
As for the repeated historical lessons apropos Iraq,
Afghanistan and now Syria ― well, ambush territory sporting a balaclava
and continually whistling a warning tune.
Dolphins still make me smile though.
Sunday, September 15
Inspector Clouseau lives
BACK on September 6, I told the tale of observing a passing heron’s
surprisingly sizable flight-feather ‘gyrocopter’ magically and
gracefully to earth in a field deep in the heart of the Towy Valley
(doesn’t quite scan as elegantly as ‘deep in the heart of Texas’;
Well, I recently read this in The Sunday Times
column. It’s about a stork, actually ― but that’s close enough:
Tinker, tailor, soldier, stork
Police in Egypt detained a stork on suspicion of spying. The bird was
captured by a fisherman on the banks of the Nile when he spotted it was
carrying an electronic device. Fearing espionage, he took it to police
in the city of Qena.
Officers suspected that the
gadget might be a “beumb” i.e. a bomb, but wildlife experts they called
in revealed it to be a tracking device used to plot the movement of
Not a nasty special delivery after all then. Smashing tale.
Move over, darling
Here are some memorable letters from The Sunday
Telegraph about moving home, the one featured last in this
appeared just today:
SIR – Oliver Pritchett (Lifestyle, August 4) asked who
would move house and take the loo roll holder with them.
Friends with boys aged four and ten bought a £400,000
house. Not only was there not a sheet of loo paper, but every light bulb
had been removed, and incredibly (the vendors had family too) the
battery had been removed from the smoke alarm.
Helen Davis, Bradpole, Dorset
Moving in the dark
SIR – On the subject of moving house, my wife’s family
once moved into a house late one evening, all natural light gone, only
to find that the light fittings had all been snipped off where the wire
entered the ceiling rose.
Mik Shaw, Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex
SIR – Upon reading Mik Shaw’s letter on the subject of
moving house in the dark, I was reminded of our move to Fareham, in
Hampshire, many moons ago.
The removal men asked where we wanted the lawnmower
put. “In the shed”, we told them. “What shed?” came the reply.
It had been removed along with all the light fittings!
P J Kelley, Poole, Dorset
Off the rails
SIR – When we moved into our
new house late one winter’s afternoon, the curtains had been left for
us, as negotiated as part of the sale. They were in a neat pile on the
floor of the conservatory.
The vendors had taken all of the curtain rails.
Sandra Turner, Hadleigh, Essex
At that point, it’s best to draw a veil over the extraordinary behaviour
of some of our fellow human beings. Indeed, I am nearly lost for words.
Things that go beep in the night
Now I’m always going on about coincidence. Well, listen
Last Thursday morning ― I meant to tell the tale at the
time but forgot and the letter above about the missing battery from the
smoke alarm reminded me ― I hear the intermittent, tell-tale beep of the smoke
alarm. I change the battery.
That afternoon, the wireless was on and Louise Elliott on
Radio Wales had a guest, an expert on amphibians. They were
discussing toads, in particular the marvellously named Midwife Toad.
These little creatures are not native to the UK but are
common in Europe. It is believed the Midwife arrived in Bedfordshire in
1903 in a delivery of plants from France.
As far as is known they are not a threat to native
species (unlike, say, the grey squirrel is to the red).
Curiously, these toads have established a thriving colony
in mid Wales, near Llandrindod Wells.
Anyway, Midwife toads have two curious characteristics.
When it comes to mating, the female develops the eggs and then transfers
them to the male; he then carries
them around as a string of eggs coiled around his back legs ... quite
Egyptian police would make of this little “beumb” ― well, I hate to
When a man’s gotta do...
The Midwife toad and his very own 16-plus-pack
A few weeks after taking possession of the eggs the
will head for water to release the tadpoles.
The second unusual characteristic is their extraordinary
mating call, which sounds exactly like a smoke alarm that’s running
short on battery life.
The expert in the studio told a tale of someone in
England who could hear this beeping sound, changed the detector
batteries, exactly as I did that morning ― but the beeping continued.
Overwhelming curiosity lead him to eventually discover
the toads. They will, when in the mood, apparently answer back if you
whistle to them.
Below is a link to their smiley mating call ― and all
beeped with a Welsh accent:
Saturday, September 14
JUST a couple of days back I wrote about the simple joy
of spotting online news headlines which are unintentionally juxtaposed (or
perhaps even intentionally for all I know).
There was the Pope and Richard Dawkins competing for our
attention ― I didn’t bother to click either story, but the Pope won
hands down in the Top Ten ‘Most viewed’ and ‘Most commented’ sections.
Well, today something similar but different:
Balloonist’s bid to cross Atlantic ends after 12 hours----
Voyager leaves solar system 36 years on----
Incidentally, I saw a piece on the television news about
Voyager. It is, apparently, about the size of an E-Type Jag; and it has
nowhere near the computing power of your mobile phone. And yet it is
still working and sending messages back to earth, and likely to do so
for a few more years yet before its batteries finally give up the ghost.
Hm, do you get the impression that as a species
we are travelling backwards through time at a rate of knots? I sense
that everything is much too complex these days, from cars to mobile
phones, and there’s now a much greater chance of something going wrong?
Anyway, talk of something simple and silly hitting the
smileometer with a bang ― some magical gems spotted online:
Animal prints: Picture perfect moments ruined as pets photo-bomb
their owners (and each other!) with hilarious results
These pictures might need a little editing before they
make it into the family album as cats, dogs and even horses photo-bomb
them. And in a sign that things are getting out of hand, animals are
even photo-bombing other animals.
While the laughing horse (“Why the long face?”) is pure joy ― the
juxtaposition between horse and girl is perfection ― it’s the cat
peeping round the corner at the dog which claims the gold.
Now c’mon, have you ever seen such an evil look? It’s all
in the eyes. Compare it with the cat alongside. Wouldn’t it be great to
know precisely what the
Moggy is planning to do to the overly pleased as Punch
With digital cameras and computer thingamabobs you can do
almost anything to pictures these days. But even the most
Photoshop-savvy of photographers might struggle to fix the above snaps
after the unwitting subjects found themselves ‘photo-bombed’ by their
friendly neighbourhood creature comforts.
From a laughing horse to curious cats, if there’s one
thing these photos show it’s that no creature can be trusted around a
There’s another featuring a horse that has highly
commended written all over it ― and there’s that eye again:
Smile: The kids upstaged by a slightly manic looking horse
And finally, the holidays are over:
Look away now: first day back at school goes off with a bang
None of the above pictures are identified, so I have no
idea who they are or where they’ve come from. But what all the pictures
prove is that spontaneous visual humour is infinitely more rewarding
than the Photoshopped variety, entertaining as many of them can be.
PS: Congratulations to Non Stanford from Swansea who this
morning, in the gloom of Old London Town, generated a mega smile as she
became World Triathlon Champion. Triathlon is not just a tough sport,
but the fastest growing Olympic event, apparently:
Friday, September 13
A postbox over troubled waters
THE other day I mentioned in passing the memorable practical jokes that
were played out in the original UK Candid Camera television series:
there was the moving
wall space behind the carpenter’s back as he trimmed a shelf to fit; and the car
in the garage forecourt, having just filled up with petrol, is found not
to have an engine...
It’s good to see that amusingly original practical jokes,
without ‘victims’ shouting, swearing and loosing their cool in
frustration, are still alive and well and popping up in the most
surprising of places.
There’s something fishy going on: Mysterious red postbox
appears overnight in middle of RIVER THAMES
― Royal Mail say they know nothing about it
Sonning-on-Thames, Berkshire, was best known
as the home of celebrity spoon/mind-bender and illusionist Uri Geller.
But now residents of the town are scratching their heads over the
appearance of a Royal Mail letterbox ― in the middle of the Thames.
An incredulous postman spotted the traditional box
embedded into one of the buttresses of a brick bridge. As he didn’t have
a boat handy, he took a photo from the riverbank to prove to his bosses
just why he hadn’t been able to make this particular collection in his
Posting a letter would be tricky too, and with the box
nestled just a few feet above the water line, it would be likely to
become waterlogged in the winter as this stretch of the Thames regularly
Nobody knows how the object got there, although Geller
speculated to the BBC that it may have been left by a ghost [Ghostman
Pat, and his spoon-fed black and white cat?].
Unfortunately, the Royal Mail has revealed that the box
is “not an operational posting facility”, which means that the famous
river inhabitants Ratty, Mole and friends will need to continue to use
alternative locations within the town.
A window of opportunity
The postbox really is a great practical joke. Made even better given how much care went into ensuring that
it looks so realistic.
Oh, and the best part? Royal Mail
calling a postbox an “operational posting facility”.
Between you, me and the nearest e-mail box, I think
Royal Mail put that there themselves so that they could launch the
expression “operational posting facility” on an unsuspecting world.
Perhaps it’s all part of a cunningly frank plan by Royal
Mail to show the City that they really are a “blue-sky thinking
organisation determined to push the envelope way beyond the letterbox,
and perfectly placed to face a 21st century challenge”, what with the
£3billion sale of the organisation to the public now in the post.
Whatever, as a practical joke ... 10/10.
More comments, please
Yesterday I smiled at a thread of comments on a
Telegraph letters page. Well, you wait ages, and two come
Today, it all began, quite innocently, with a comment in
response to a published letter apropos the hassle involved in moving
bank accounts. The contributor begins by quoting a paragraph from said
of bank accounts is very different from changing your mobile phone
provider and it is worrying that a member of the treasury select
committee should think otherwise. Cannot the committee say ‘job well
done’, and move on to other initiatives that might even be supportive to
our banks?" ― Stuart O’Nions.
Indeed. Switching a mobile account, unless the phone
number changes, only affects the account holder. Changing a bank account
may affect dozens of third parties, and any hiccup can result in
penalties, loss of benefits etc. This needs to be thoroughly and
The Central Scrutiniser: JDJ ― your post needs to
be thoroughly and carefully completed!
A little later...
The Central Scrutiniser: I think this tends to
happen more and more as you get older ― you start doing something, then...
Just a couple of minutes later...
The Central Scrutiniser: ...you start doing something
Peddytheviking: Some things are better left
The Central Scrutiniser: It reminds me of Hylda
Baker, who, when asked the time, would say:
“Ooooh, it’s twenty past ... I really must get a little hand
put on this watch.”
I have no idea why it reminded me of that, but it did.
That is such an amusing response to JDJ not posting
his comment in its completeness(?). It is quite reassuring that something so innocent can turn
out to be so entertaining.
“Do you know a man by the name of LaFong, Carl LaFong?”
Oh dear, I
am still laughing at yesterday’s WC Fields-related YouTube video clip.
“Capital L, small a, capital F, small o, small n, small g. LaFong, Carl
Wonderful. It is up there with “Don’t tell him, Pike!”
from Dad’s Army, the Monty Python dead parrot sketch, the crashing
chandelier from Only Fools and Horses, the “I only told you to blow the
bloody doors off!” from The Italian Job...
Again, it is quite reassuring that something so silly can
turn out to be so exceedingly smiley.
Thursday, September 12
Here’s your starter for 10
YOU know me, I’m very much a starter for ten man,
meaning, I am perfectly satisfied reading brief (but entertaining)
previews about the day’s television and radio programmes without then
feeling obliged to watch or listen.
Also, I feel perfectly at ease just perusing those online
newspaper home page headlines ― you know, the opening line which invites you to then click and read on. Between you, me
and the nearest online gate-post, I now have an honours degree in
expanding any given headline to fit my prejudices. LOL XXL.
Take today’s Telegraph home page. Here are
two “Click me!
headlines, and as if by magic, set on opposite sides of the page:
Professor Richard Dawkins: Atheists are winning the war
author of The God Delusion has said...
Pope reaches out to atheists:
Pope Francis has struck a
surprisingly conciliatory tone towards
atheists and agnostics, saying that God will “forgive” them as long as
Talk about DOUBLE LOL XXL:
God will “forgive” them, as
long as they behave...
Well, nothing I could possibly read further would shift me off my seat
up there on the fence, so I made my
excuses and left.
Oh yes, I did note that, while the Pope story featured in
both the ‘Most viewed’ and the ‘Most commented’ Top Ten, there was no sign
of the Richard Dawkins story.
Now I believe this has nothing to do with the
Telegraph readership’s religious beliefs, but rather, I
contend that the
moment most of us catch sight of Richard Dawkins, we appear to be overwhelmed
with a need to bop him on the nose.
The good professor is a curiously unlovable fellow.
I have a dream
Returning for a moment to The Sunday Times
of the day’s telly programmes, there was a review of Pat and
Cabbage, a sitcom about a couple of misbehaving sixty-somethings.
Here’s a grab:
One of them, Pat, needs to get a job, but is distracted
by a recently acquired addiction to computer games, and her children are
unsupportive in her quest for employment. “I have a dream,” Pat moans on
her way to an interview, “where one day,
this age group will be valued by everyone, not just the car-insurance
I am highly unlikely ever to watch the programme, but I thought
line a little gem of wit and wisdom.
Right, back with today’s
Daily Telegraph ... there was a letter in response to a missive
published back on
September 9. Here’s your starter for ten:
Thou or you?
SIR – Allison Pearson’s ideas about how Shakespeare would
write Downton Abbey (Features, September 5) were ingenious and amusing,
but included a common misunderstanding: she has Carson addressing Lord
Grantham as “thou”.
Thou in Shakespeare is a bit like tu in modern French.
Romeo and Juliet, for instance, address one another as you at first. We
think of thou as a way to address God because that is the form in the
1552 Book of Common Prayer. However, the decision to address God as a
father, rather than as a Lord, was not taken lightly. It was a matter of
intense controversy at the time.
Philip Roe, St. Albans, Hertfordshire
Well, Welsh is like French: we have “ti” and “chi”. Ti (tu), is how I would address
anyone I am very familiar with, of any
age, except perhaps someone really elderly. Chi (vous), is where I show intuitive respect.
Anyway, here’s the marvellous response to the above
letter (with a brilliant Telegraph headline):
To thee or to not to thee
SIR – There is no need to look to France to explain the
use of “thee” and “you” in Shakespeare. In a BBC play, not so long ago, an elderly lady firmly
rebuked an over-familiar young man with the words: “Don’t thou thee
me!” The play was located in the North.
Daniel C Davies, Cardiff
Chris Evans, DOL!
Perusing the Letters Comment section, I stumbled upon this
entertaining thread of comments, all kicked off by the news that
wipe-clean plastic banknotes could be introduced by the Bank of England
from 2016, matching some currencies across the world.
Here we go:
Having family on New Zealand, we are there as often as we can be and
find plastic notes so much better.
They slip into wallet or purse much
easier, are impossible to tear and don’t jam in machines or go soggy if
they meet water. I simply cannot understand why it has taken the Bank of
England so long to consider them. If they are harder to forge, as well,
that must be another, even more important, reason for having them.
Hm, if they slip into wallet or purse much easier, then, from a male
point of view, they will also slip out of my back-pocket much
easier when I am not looking. Incidentally, I was intrigued by having a
family on New Zealand rather than in. A whole new
type of thee and you ball game?
Anyway, the first response to
rjw23 was this one
― I also show the new contributor’s avatar, the reason will become clear as the comments
Cuthbert J Twillie:
seem to remember that plastic bank notes were used in the Isle of Man at
least 25 years ago when I last visited ― I was amazed then that they
were impossible to tear (not that I often go around tearing up
Cuthbert J Twillie ... are you also Mahatma Kane-Jeeves?
Cuthbert J Twillie:
Well ... all I can say to that is, that a woman drove me to drink and I
didn’t even have the decency to thank her.
get Mahatma Kane-Jeeves but you’re going to have to help me out with
Cuthbert J Twillie.
Hugh_Mungas_Willy: He’s a distant relation of mine, on my
[Now there’s a man who clearly responded to the junk
e-mail inviting him to add 4" to his WMD.]
Mahatma Kane-Jeeves was W C Fields’ pseudonym as a screenwriter on,
among other films, ‘It's a Gift’. Cuthbert J Twillie was the name of his
con-man character in ‘My Little Chickadee’.
The Central Scrutiniser:
Neil ... have you ever thought of going on Mastermind?
Ah, and I thought it was another pun.
DrNickelBockle: Do you know a man by the name of LaFong,
Carl LaFong? Capital C, small a, small r, small l, capital L, small a,
capital F, small o, small n, small g. LaFong, Carl LaFong?
Zaharadelasierra: DrNickelBockle ... Why? Capital W,
small h, small y, question mark. Why?
And there, LOL (capital L, capital O, capital L), I made my excuses and left...
But not before I encountered
on another Comment thread, this time about a news story about wind
turbines killing golden eagles in the Highlands ― but fellow commenters(?) hadn’t heard the story and couldn’t even find it online.
Naomi Onions: I heard this story on the news this
morning. On the BBC, Radio 2, actually. During the, ahem, Chris Evans
Breakfast show. I was on the school run! I couldn’t help it!
Well, Naomi has the perfect excuse, the kids wanted to listen
to Chris ― but I don’t even have that luxury.
I am really not sure what I’d say if someone happened to call on
me early morning and caught me listening to the Chris Evans Breakfast
Show on the wireless.
PS: Apropos LaFong, Carl LaFong, Capital C, small a...
Watch this 46-second clip ― and mind you don’t die
Composing the perfect picture
TODAY’S smile of the day is a smile of wonder. Wonder at
what a little piece of technology called a camera can create for
posterity. For example:
New York remembers its fallen
Twin towers of light rise above Ground Zero on the 12th anniversary of
the 9/11 attacks
As mentioned in a previous dispatch (I think), if I were
packed away to that mythical South Sea Island paradise of Desert
Island Discs fame, together with my eight records, a book of
my choice and a luxury item, the first thing I would do is trade in the
resident bedside Complete Works of Shakespeare and the
Bible for the Complete Works of Memorable Quotations.
After all, the answers to life, the universe and nearly
everything are found in the unforgettable things people have said down the
ages. For example:
“Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of
consequences.” Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Scottish
novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer.
See what I mean: just eleven words, two commas and a full
stop that sets your brain racing.
you, my mother, in the language of the hearth, used to say:
“Treat people with respect because you will find along your walk through
time that the wheel always turns full circle. Always.”
And anyone who had paid attention to Mr Stevenson and my
mum will already have realised that there are good, bad and ugly consequences.
And they will pay you a visit sometime, somewhere along your journey,
whether they be good, bad or ugly.
Anyway, back with Desert Island Discs. What about that
book of my choice? Well, as I’m a reader of people rather than of books, I would take a
comprehensive album of photographs.
But would I plump for an album of the very best of modern
photography (wildlife, landscape, sport, all the startlingly high
quality photographs we now view as a matter of course), or an album of
photographs from the early days of photography, those black and
white (or sepia), rather grainy images that grab our attention whenever
appear in front of us?
For me it’s a no-brainer. Wonderful as modern photograph
is (see above), the trouble is, when you’ve seen the very model of a modern picture, no
matter how technically perfect and eye-catching it is, once you turn the page, the image quickly
fades from the memory.
But look at old photographs ― well, they really do paint
a thousand words.
I guess with today’s top photographers, no matter how
talented they are, they have such wondrous equipment they
point their cameras and take hundreds of images and hope that there is one
magical photo in there.
And if there isn’t ― weeeeell, a bit of Photoshopping,
and Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your aunt.
Of course there are glorious examples of modern
photography which challenge the rule. Take the 9/11 picture at the top:
it really is a stunning composition ... the two shafts of light, obviously, but
great thought has gone into what the picture is attempting to say, in
particular, the Statue of Liberty, all lit up with nowhere to go, there
in the foreground.
It’s a magical and thought-provoking image.
Okay, for all I know, Lady Liberty could have been Photoshopped into
perfect place ―
but it really doesn’t matter. It paints a marvellous picture.
Be all that as it may, when you look at old photographs,
you realise that, given the nature of those early cameras, the
photographer had just the one shot, one chance to get it right, so the
subject matter had to be composed with infinite care.
Never mind a thousand words, in that one picture they
needed to tell a short story. First, a title ...
then a perfect opening line to draw us in ... and finally the
composition had to tell a tale that made you want to ask...
Talking of which, The Famous Five Ws Go To War:
Sent to hell on double-decker buses
Max Hastings is apparently one of Britain’s greatest war historians.
In his new book to mark the centenary of World War I, he reveals the
very human stories behind the war.
There was an extract in today’s Mail Online, where he
tells the story of the heroic fighting around Ypres, where the horror of
trench warfare first emerged in all its blood-soaked futility.
The Belgian town came “to represent all the blood-letting
horrors of World War I”.
I was mesmerised by this picture:
Ready to fight: British troops from the 2nd Royal Warwickshire Regiment
are ferried to Ypres
in 1914, on the same buses that would, just months earlier, have taken
them to work in the City
At the place immediately dubbed ‘Wipers’ by the British
Tommies, there would be five gruesome battles over the next four years.
And five questions have followed ever since. What? Where? Who? When?
In this abattoir called ‘Wipers’, more than a million men of all
nationalities would die or be wounded. The toll of British dead alone
would top 200,000 in this ongoing Flanders nightmare. (Did you feel your shoulders slump
And doesn’t the picture, above, say something quite huge.
Especially that fellow on the left, a local I presume, his forlorn look
and body language seem to anticipate what will happen to him, his town
and those poor soldiers.
Even though there was terrible suffering surrounding 9/11
people jumping to their deaths to escape the horror ― they had little
time to think about what was happening to them. But those WWI
‘victims’ had four years to ponder on their fate, if indeed they
survived that long.
Stunning as that 9/11 picture at the very top is, the WWI image
overwhelms my imagination.
Tuesday, September 10
Making a bit of a splash
WHAT happens when a body is immersed in water?
The bloody doorbell always rings twice ― and sod’s
law dictates that Iv’e
that sexy little postwoman yet again.
I spotted the following smashing story yesterday ― but only caught up
with its conclusion today. But first, just to get us in the mood:
Fatima Blush: “Oh,
how reckless of me. I made you all wet.”
James Bond: “Yes, but my martini is still dry. My name
Man finds 007’s submarine car from The Spy Who Loved Me worth
after he buys storage container contents blind for just $100
When a New York small business owner bought a storage
container in a blind auction for $100 he hoped he might be able to
double or even triple his money by selling its contents.
But inside he discovered one of the world’s most legendary
film cars ― albeit he didn’t recognise it having never watched a Bond
film ― and is now set to make at least 10,000 times what he paid for the
James Bond’s Lotus Esprit submarine car, which featured
in the 1977 film The Spy Who Loved Me, is up for auction today in London
where it is expected to reach $1million (£640,000).
From a Lotus Esprit de Corpse to a Lotus Esprit de Cor Blimey
Its owner, who has chosen to stay anonymous, found the
abandoned car after buying the storage container in Long Island in 1989.
The submarine Lotus Esprit is said to be fully
operational, but not so as a road vehicle.
The car was used during underwater filming in the Bahamas.
Going ... going... (or rather: Gurgle ... gurgle...)
Well, the submarine car was sold last night for £550,000 ($825,000 ―
only 8,250 times what the serendipitous owner paid for it,
as opposed to the anticipated 10,000 times, shock,
Peter Haynes, from RM Auctions, said the auctioneer was
pleased with the price despite it coming in at under the estimated
prices of between £650,000 and £950,000.
While the seller will have been hugely delighted, it was
still quite a way short of the most expensive Bond car, the famous Aston
Martin DB5 from Goldfinger, which sold for £2.6m in 2010.
Don’t park there
The sale of the submarine car brought to mind a couple of
recent, and as ever, smiley, Sign Language pictures:
Doing it the French way
Doing it the Welsh way
Spotted in France by Paul Beresford
Spotted in Anglesey by Mathew Woolmer
So no parking beyond the blue horizon, unless of course, you are a
00-Something ― or perhaps, unless you are Anglesey resident
Duchess of Cambridge, who might, just might,
be able to drive on water.
Monday, September 9
More nesting dolls
BBC director general Mark Thompson has been facing MPs’ questions over
the size of some extraordinary severance deals agreed during his time
with the Corporation.
BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten, along with head of human resources ― that title,
‘human resources,’ makes me cringe whenever I see or hear it ― anyway,
Patten and BBC personnel manager Lucy Adams, are among seven giving
watched some of it on the BBC’s own news channel ― how
delightfully ironic ― and
gosh, so shifty did they all look I couldn’t stop myself smiling.
couple of days back I mentioned an apparent Queen Mother quote; allow me
to slightly paraphrase it:
“Never trust a corporation that hides ever larger bosses
inside ever larger bosses.
A very British Broadcasting Corporation of nesting vipers
Former director general Mark Thompson (circled left) and
Lord Patten (right) blame each other over who was responsible for
lavishing licence payers’ money on over-generous pay-offs. There has
been much criticism of pay-offs totalling £25m to senior outgoing staff
― £2m more than was needed.
The row centres on the £949,000 given to Thompson’s
then-deputy Mark Byford in 2010, a personal and social friend of the
then director general. Thompson insists he told the BBC Trust about the
deal, something trustees ― including Lord Patten ― deny.
Apart from the above nesting dolls image (each individual desperate to
hide inside the person sitting next to them), the Machiavellian Seven
remind me of a group of poachers wearing camouflaged clothing ― but
forced to wear hi-viz jackets over their outfits to give the bailiffs,
we the Great British Public, a fighting chance.
And still they disappear into the undergrowth.
Patten vs. Thompson
In the unfolding local derby between Thompson and Patten
to establish which one of them we should be able to throw the least
farthest ― does that make sense? ― I am reminded of Bill Shankly, the
legendary Liverpool football manager, who, when asked which result would
best please him in the game about to take place between Liverpool’s two
nearest rivals for the Championship, replied: “I hope they both lose.”
Incidentally, hasn’t the term ‘BBC Trust’ morphed into an oxymoron?
one instance sums up the decline of the BBC, then it’s that infamous
phone call made by Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross.
It followed a BBC Radio 2 broadcast of an
advance-recorded episode of The Russell Brand Show on Saturday 18
In the show, Brand and Ross left lewd messages on the
voice mail of Andrew Sachs, including, unforgivably, comments about
Sachs’ granddaughter, Georgina Baillie. The two originally called Sachs
as a guest to interview on the show, and after he failed to answer the
telephone, Brand and Ross left the messages on his answerphone.
“Hugo Boss made the uniforms for the Nazis. But they did look f******
Russell Brand, 38, comedian (sic – or perhaps that should read sick),
has a pop at the sponsor of the GQ Man of the Year awards before being
thrown out of the event.
The following front page duly appeared on the news stands...
According to The Sun front page, Brand wears
a Hugo Boss jacket to an exclusive Oscars party — six months before his
Nazi jibe about the firm designing SS uniforms.
He chose the slim-fit wool number for a star-studded bash
at Hollywood’s posh Chateau Marmont.
The Sun also revealed how at the GQ
Men of the Year ceremony he slagged off the German firm, which had
splashed out £250,000 sponsoring the event.
Doesn’t that say everything about the state of modern
celebrity. I mean, you really do have to laugh at the utter doolallyness
of it all. And there are probably many people who hang on every syllable
uttered by Brand.
Brand **** indeed.
Sunday, September 8
Final boarding call
“I AM quite superstitious. When I get on to a plane I
have to kiss my hand three times and tap the plane three times. If I
didn’t do that and the plane went down, I would know it was my fault.”
Sienna Miller, 31, English actress, model, fashion designer and
nervous high flyer.
“I’d be happy to
be forgotten, to be honest.”
Sienna Miller, again, when asked how she would like to be remembered.
Let’s hope that one of these days Sienna doesn’t get all
confused and taps her hand three times and kisses the plane three times
― and it goes down. She would definitely be remembered then.
If ever I meet Sienna and she offers up a triple cheek
kiss and then taps the cheek of my arse three times ― then boyoboyo, I
can take it as read that she is about to fly me to the moon.
Pondering on the notion that the white-hatted Sienna would instantly
morph into a black-hatted villainess if the plane really did come down (I hate to
think what the black box would tell us), here are a couple of recent letters
compliments of The Times:
Booing black hats
Sir, The booing of villains is not confined to the
theatre, opera and golf course. David Leonard, for many years the
villain in York Theatre Royal’s pantomime, often entered Bettys Tea
Rooms to a chorus of hisses and boos from the clientele.
DR JOHN BURSCOUGH, Hibaldstow, Lincs
Sir, F. Vickers is correct up to a point about the booing of golfers.
Supporters of Matt Kuchar reward a good shot with a long shout of
“Kuch”, while fans of Luke Donald elongate his first name in response to
a good shot. The only player who is booed is Boo Weekley, who is booed
on an almost daily basis.
TOBY SHEARLOCK, Wallington, Surrey
Well, I hope Boo Weekley is booed in a limp, floppy and shaky manner, as
befits his full name.
Mind you, I like the idea of pantomime booing. It would
go down well in the Asterisk Bar at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. There
are one or two regulars that would thrive on it.
An apple a day
“Elizabethan ladies kept apple slices under their
armpits to absorb sweat, before passing them to potential suitors as
Nigella Lawson, 53, celebrity chef and recently divorced, retweets a
word of not-so-sound advice.
Who would have thought: the Elizabethans were into their
very own 5-a-day routine, albeit for a different reason to the modern one.
But hang about though,
a little bird tells me that the Journal of Neuroscience
reports that humans, like butterflies and rats (Beauty and the Beast?),
may use chemosignals to attract mates:
Researchers simulated the scent of sweat, then had
participants take a whiff while scientists measured their physiological
vital signs ― body temperature, skin response, ear pulse, blood
pressure, heat rate, and breathing. The results revealed that the
simulated sweat scent improved the participants’ moods as well as their
level of physiological and sexual arousal. The longer they lingered with
the smell, the better they felt.
This might be why our bodies are naturally conditioned to
sweat a little when first talking to someone of sexual interest. Sure,
it’s nerves, but it might be beyond that.
Hm, this also might be why it’s
been shown that couples who workout together hanky-panky together.
I tell you, those Elizabethans with their apple slices
under their armpits were no fools.
And then there’s the odd headline that tickles the old
smileometer without ever having to click to read the article:
“More than half of us lie about reading classic novels”
Well, never mind War and Peace, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
is still on my ‘To Read’ list.
And I enjoyed these ‘Trending now’ beckoners:
“She doesn’t ask for shopping money: why man wants to marry goat”
There really is no need to click because it would spoil
the tale unfolding inside my head. But at least you can take it as read that
there’ll be no arguments over whether to call the children the kids.
Tweetie Pie Corner
“Victoria Beckham’s bike stolen: Posh tweets shot of
The delightful and utter doolallyness of celebrity and social media.
And finally, a couple of gems heard on the wireless:
“Do you have to go to public school to be depraved?”
Vanessa Felts recalls from her college days asking her dad to help
with a debate address she had to deliver in response to the above motion.
He responded with
apparently a marvellous speech, which began thus:
“The higher the brow, the lower the loins...”
“Celebrated 44 years of marriage yesterday...” So said a radio
show host reading out a greeting from a listener ... some applause,
compliments of the host ... before continuing with the greeting: “Three
of them were happy.”
I think that last one was a joke. I’m still working on Vanessa’s dad’s
Which reminds me: try saying this very fast, in the manner of red lorry,
yellow lorry ― without simply reading it off the screen. Try it down the
pub with the regulars...
Ken Dodd’s dad’s dog’s dead
Spell-cheque corner: ‘Hatted’,
as in ‘Sienna
would instantly morph into a black-hatted villainess’,
came up as a rather obvious if clever ‘hated’.
Saturday, September 7
“JUST a small island no one pays any attention to.”
Reported comment about Britain by Dmitry Peskov, official spokesman for
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who later denied that he had ever said
such a thing, heaven forefend, etc, etc...
“Never trust a country that hides ever smaller dolls inside even
As the Queen Mother, God rest her soul, always insisted after a few
G&Ts over the eight. Allegedly.
Russian rulers hiding inside ever more, erm, suspect, Russian rulers
Vladimir Putin, Boris Yeltsin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Leonid Brezhnev,
Nikita Khrushchev, Joseph Stalin,
Vladimir Lenin, Nicholas II, Catherine the Great and Peter the Great
And your response, Prime Minister?
Sadly, David Cameron didn’t count to ten, or better
still, sleep long and hard on it, before responding to the Russian put
every sport played around the world”
Mr Cameron duly offered reporters a few thoughts on why
Britain is much more than “just a small island” to whom no one pays “any
His remarks were robust. No one could deny his sincerity.
But his grasp of facts was perhaps a little less persuasive. He said
Britain has invented “every sport currently played around the world.”
Participants and followers of kabaddi might beg to
differ; likewise fans of American football, ice hockey, pétanque,
wrestling, most track and field disciplines, skiing, handball,
basketball and volleyball.
He was on surer ground when he said: “Britain is an
island that has helped to clear the European continent of fascism and
was resolute in doing that throughout the second world war.”
Less convincing was the declaration: “Britain is an
island that has invented most of the things worth inventing.”
Fair enough, so long as you don’t rate things like paper,
gunpowder, the compass, printing, bells, cutlery, coffins, banknotes,
the telescope, kites, silk, lightning rods, swivel chairs, morse code,
safety pins, telephones, televisions, nylon, jeans, gas masks, barbed
wire, traffic cones and the internet*.
*As opposed to the world wide
web, which was
invented by a Briton.
So there. Mind you, looking at this picture of Cameron and Putin outside
10 Downing Street...
One man and his dog went to mow, went to mow a reputation...
Cameron should have had Boris Johnson whisper, off mike, that, Vladimir
is not exactly statuesque, which perhaps explains why he jumps up and
down and bangs the table a lot ― which probably also explains why he
will be more suited inside a Matryoshka nesting doll rather than
standing tall on a plinth ― but you don’t hear us Brits banging on
that he is just a short-arse no one pays any attention to.
Oh yes, and which language do you suppose is the world’s
favourite second language, eh Vladimir? Here’s a clue: it isn’t Russian.
Then Boris could have denied ever having said such a thing, even though
his statement, just like Peskov’s aside, would all have been too
Incidentally, in the above pair of images, were you
wondering about the one next to the picture of our great leaders? Was it
some sort of subliminal message about who exactly is leading whom on a
Every Saturday, the Western Mail carries a
Welsh Homes supplement. I have no interest in property, but I
always flick through ... what invariably catches my eye is the page
headed My Favourite Room.
The nation’s movers and shakers are invited to show us
their ― well, their favourite room. There’s also a secondary feature:
In My Treasure Chest Would Be... and the VIP of the day lists two or
three of their favourite items.
Here’s the intro to today’s piece.
When she’s not out at the theatre or admiring original
artwork, Jen Thornton, who works in communications for National Theatre
Wales, loves nothing more than relaxing in her living room in Cardiff
city centre’s Hayes apartments...
As for the items in her Treasure Chest, this was
“I have to choose the first
piece of art I ever bought for my flat ― a sculpture made out of resin
coated wire of a man walking his dog. It’s really striking and the first
piece of art that I bought to start my collection.
I bought it through a scheme with the National Theatre
which aims to get people buying original artwork ― and I guess once
you’ve caught the bug, you can’t really stop.”
Well, when I landed on the page, my eyes were drawn to the sculpture and it
made me smile. I really like it. Especially so seeing it up there in
tandem with our great leaders.
Spell-cheque corner: ‘Kabaddi’,
a wrestling sport played in South Asia, came up as ‘Abide’ (♫♫♫:
fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless ... O Lord, abide with me”).
a form of boules, came up as ‘peanut’. Wonderful.
Friday, September 6
Knock me down with a fevver
IT IS often the simplest of things that provide the
greatest of innocent pleasures.
As I will have mentioned many times before, I thoroughly
enjoy my morning walks through the Towy Valley countryside.
I always set off around sunrise. My walk on the wild
side can vary anywhere between five and seven miles, subject of
course to which particular route I take. It can last anything
from two to three hours, depending again on what has grabbed my attention
along the way.
My walks are always across agricultural land, with some
woodland thrown in for good measure. I traverse eight separate parcels
of land, all farmed by different owners or tenants, including the
I encounter sheep, horses and cattle (as well as the
Trust’s herd of White Park cattle ― see
400 Smiles A Day).
And of course, an endless parade of wildlife, in particular the Forty
Shades of Birds (40 or thereabouts, anyway).
There are the birds that live on or around the two oxbow
lakes along my route, not to mention the backwaters dotted here, there
and everywhere ― oh, and I must not forget the songbirds I’ve befriended
and who treat me as their Candy Man, what with all the goodies I feed
But here’s a strange things. The smaller the birds, the
less wary they are of me. As you go up the scale ― coots, ducks, geese ― the
more nervous and unsettled they are when humans approach. Except the
swans, which aren’t in the least bit perturbed by my uninvited company.
But perhaps the most nervous bird of all is the heron.
For such a big bird it is incredibly jumpy of people presence. As soon
as it senses a human ― it’s off.
A few years back I happened to creep up on a backwater
via some adjacent woods and captured a reasonably decent picture of
a grey heron ― but the bonus was, it had company, something quite
The ghost of herons past?
Curiously, a little egret shadows a grey heron on a fishing expedition
There’s another backwater, in the shadow of Dinefwr
Castle, where I often spot herons hanging out; one day a few weeks back,
there were five of them there.
But today, just the one, and as per usual, as
soon as it sensed my presence, off it went ― and then something rather
As it crossed in front of me, climbing away, it shed one of its
main feathers, what I believe they call a contour feather, or flight
Now there’s been a couple of previous occasions along my
walks when a shed feather has floated to earth in front of me. Smallish
feathers, and they drift down on the breeze in a gentle, reassuring way.
But this feather was a biggie. It headed to ground, the
quill end pointing directly downwards. But the blade, the feathery end,
began to rotate, much like a helicopter blade ― and it headed gently but
purposely towards the ground, rotating magically as it did so.
It was totally mesmeric, one of those wholly unexpected
things which instantly burn themselves onto your hard drive. It happened
so quickly though that I had no chance to burn in onto my camera’s hard drive.
It was over in a matter of seconds. But the image will remain in my
mind’s eye for ever and a day.
I rescued the feather ― and her it is...
Never mind Forty Fousand Fevvers on a Frush...!
Just Firteen inches of exquisite aerodynamics
How awesome that observing something as simple as a
feather float to
ground could create so much exquisite pleasure.
My smileometer hit the gong ― with bells on. What a joy
to write about such a magical experience.
Spell-cheque corner: ‘Fousand’,
as in the old song
very fond of having sprees / When he’s
had a drink or two he can’t
pronounce his Ts i.e. Forty fousand frushes wiv forty fousand fevvers ’round their froats’ ― well,
‘Fousand’, came up as ‘Foulard’.
Perhaps it should have been ‘Fowl
Thursday, September 5
Out of the Shadows
Online headline of the day:
Cliff Richard announces 100th album ― threatens to never stop
Well, I burst out laughing, right there and then. I had no
need to click.
Now Cliff is not my kind of singer, but I would never
mock or begrudge him his extraordinary 54 years of success. Actually, I
really did like his Devil Woman from 1976 (mind you, I did actually
click on Ivor the Search Engine to confirm some of the facts and figures
I’ve used here).
Whisper it, but I actually do remember his first hit way
back in 1959, Living Doll. And of course the song that in 1968
should have swept all before it in the Eurovision Song Contest, Congratulations (there was talk of
rigging of the Spanish vote by state television on behalf of General
Franco’s fascist regime ― Congratulations lost to Spain’s
entry La, la, la by just one point. La, la, la indeed).
Cliff had the last laugh though, as the song is still
going strong. Indeed, wasn’t it played at the changing of the guard
outside Buck House following the birth of Georgie Porgie? Amazing.
Despite the fun many make of Cliff, he remains the
third-top-selling singles artist in the UK’s history (just behind Elvis
and The Beatles, top), with total sales
of over 21 million units in the UK, and has reportedly sold an estimated
250 million records worldwide.
Good on him.
I visited Ammanford today and had two amusing
First, I was tailgated by a tractor. I kid you not. So I
exit the country road from home onto the A40 main road. I need to turn
left ― to my right a tractor is approaching, but far enough away. Off I
go, about half-a-mile to the eastern roundabout for the town of
I proceed through town at a leisurely pace, there’s no
heavy traffic, no hold ups, no need to stop even at the zebra crossing.
However, from the moment I exit the roundabout I notice the tractor
catching up with me at a pace; by the time I’m approaching the town
centre it is right behind me. And I mean right behind me.
I see in my rear mirror that it’s a green, rather large
tractor, a John Deere, I guess, with a mower fixed onto the
back (I think). Driving through town and it’s right up my arse. The tractor is so big and
high that I can’t see in my mirror who’s driving, but I think I know who
the tractor belongs to and who is probably at the wheel.
Owning a distinctive 23-year-old Saab means the locals
instantly recognise my car, which is why the tractor is playing games
with me. The 30 limit through Llandeilo and nearby Ffairfach measures a couple
of miles or so.
I stick to the limit, as does the tractor, obviously.
Modern tractors can travel at 30mph anyway, although it’s very confusing
to try and establish what the specific speed limits for various types of
tractors are these days.
Whatever, I have a quiet smile to myself because I don’t
feel threatened in any way. Suddenly the tractor turns left at a
junction ― and I’m
sure I know who it is now.
For about two miles or so in moving traffic with no hold
ups, I was tailgated by a tractor. That’ll make a perfect tale down at
the Crazy Horsepower Saloon.
In Ammanford I visit the Tesco store. When I arrive at a
checkout I’m greeted by a smiling face, an older lady, let’s say. She
could be a mother, even a grandmother. It’s difficult to guess what age
There’s nobody else behind me. “Oh,” she says, “would you
mind closing the gate for me, please?” She points to the ‘gate’ that
indicates the position is now closed ― well, it is lunchtime.
“Of course,” I say and I shut the gate. “I’m a farmer’s
son and all my young life I had my parents shouting at me to ‘Shut that
She laughs. In fact I sense that she could well be a farmer’s wife
herself, earning a bit of extra money to boost the family earnings in
Anyway, I assume that she is Welsh speaking ― which
is. We exchange some chit-chat as she scans and I pack. I pay, and she
says: “Thanks again for closing the gate and saving me having to come
“No problem,” I say. “It’s important to keep the gates
closed because I guess there are quite a few old cows wandering about a
big old place like this.”
“Oh yes,” she says with a big smile. Then she hurriedly
adds: “But there are some really nice people here too.”
“Isn’t that the truth about every place of work that has
ever existed,” I say.
She smiles again ― and we part with a cheery goodbye.
It was one of those unexpected but agreeable little
exchanges that brighten up the day no end. However, next time I visit
that store I’ll try and pick out who the old cows are. And who the nice
ones are, of course.
On yer bike
Yesterday, Boris Johnson featured apropos the
big blue cock in Trafalgar Square. Today Boris surfaces once more, this
time in connection with the blue colour-coded Barclays Cycle Hire, a
public bicycle sharing scheme in London ... the scheme’s bicycles are
popularly known as ‘Boris Bikes’, after Boris, of course, who launched
ET Returns ~ the director’s half-cut
Boris riding a bike and waving generates a smile of the day
“If they give us another £100 million for our bike
scheme, I promise I will change my name to Barclays Johnson.”
Mayor Boris’s appeal to Barclays Bank over his cycle hire project.
Remembering it was Barclays that was at the centre of the great interest
rate ‘fix’ scandal called “libor”, Boris should be careful that he does
not end up being called Liebore Johnson.
Spell-cheque corner: ‘Libor’,
as in the
‘fix’ scandal, came up as ‘Labour’,
which is really ironic given that the economic scandal unfolded because
lax controls over the nation’s
spivs ― you know, those who ran the banks, spivs who boast a college education.
Now I maintain that Tony Blair was definitely a bit doolally while Prime
Minister, a condition which is par for the course at 10 Downing Street.
Well, it just isn’t
me that thinks that, you know. This quote has just surfaced:
“He should shut up and go away. He has lost the plot,
he really has.” Ex-Labour minister Clare Short attacks Tony
Blair, who has described MPs' vote against military intervention in
Syria as "shocking".
Wednesday, September 4
Cock of the walk
ALONG my regular morning walks through the Towy Valley ―
and depending on which particular route I take ― there is one sight that
currently never fails to raise a smile.
Never mind the horse chestnut tree looking like Wales (featured
alongside, in the Flower Power Gallery), silhouetted perfectly against the sky, even from a distance of a mile or
more, is what looks like a giant cockerel ruling the
roost atop a tree...
As you can see from the close-up, it even has a couple of
legs on which to crow the life into the dawn. How marvellous are the weird
and wonderful shapes trees grow into. It always pays to keep eyes peeled
when out and about in the country.
Every time I now see it, I am reminded of that tale from
a month or so back, when a giant 15ft blue cockerel sculpture ― simply
called Cock ― took its place on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
London mayor Boris Johnson had agreed to unveil the
sculpture ― probably with a sense of mischief because as a former editor
of The Spectator (1999-2005), he would have been more than aware that
media sub-editors would have been champing at the bit. And they didn’t
Headlines ranged from The Daily Telegraph’s
unveils big blue ... erm, bird----
To the Radio Times (no less), with its
Boris Johnson unveils big blue cock in Trafalgar Square
"Can this cockpit hold the vasty
fields of France?" King Henry the Fifth
The nudge-nudge, wink-wink feel of the headlines must have had something to do with Boris’s
blue blood, what with him being descended from European royalty, at
least in part. Mind you, I
am taken by how large and ― well, out of place? ― the Cock
Anyway, here are some reports from 25 July, first up,
blue cock erected on fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square
There is simply no other way of putting it, and nor would
earthy British wit have it any other way. A giant bright-blue cock ― its
feathers proudly upstanding, its coxcomb as stiff as a pennant in the
breeze ― has been erected in Trafalgar Square, London, and no double
entendre is too good for it.
Hahn/Cock, the latest work to fill the square’s empty
fourth plinth, is by Katharina Fritsch, the German artist (‘hahn’ is
German for cockerel, and it carries a similar double meaning in
Gleefully feminist, the work pokes amiable fun at the
vainglorious statues of men (Nelson, George IV, and generals Havelock
and Napier) that surround it in this most imperial of British public
spaces. “Humour is always a big thing for me,” said Fritsch. “It stops
things from becoming too severe. I like English humour. It is so often
The sculpture was unveiled by Johnson, who, despite his
claim that “my critical faculties are exhausted by this wonderful
sculpture” had plenty to say, not least a thinly veiled jibe at David
Cameron’s recent efforts to crack down on online pornography. “If you
were to Google the sculpture in a few years’ time,” he said, “search
engines would collapse at the behest of the prime minister. Er, quite
properly of course.”
He warmed to the
theme later. “You would be forbidden by prime ministerial edict from
looking at it,” he told journalists. After a meaningful pause, he added:
“Quite right too.”
And some more facts and figures from the cockpit:
What would Lord Nelson say? A giant rooster ― the symbol of France ― has
taken up a perch beneath the admiral’s statue in Trafalgar Square, which
celebrates Britain’s 1805 defeat of Napoleon’s armies.
The 15.4ft fibreglass artwork took its place on the
vacant Fourth Plinth and will stay up for 18 months. “I definitely never thought about the French thing. But
it’s a nice humorous side-effect to have something French in a place
that celebrates victory over Napoleon,” Fritsch told The Guardian
She also said she hoped the double meaning in the work’s
name would appeal to the British sense of humour. “I know they like to
play games with language,” Fritsch said, adding that her sculpture
mocked male posturing in a square full of military statues.
The only tenuous argument put forward is the artist’s
dubious claim that the “cockerel is a symbol for regeneration, awakening
The Fourth Plinth was erected in 1841 for an equestrian
statue that was never completed.
It remained empty for a century and a half, and since
1999 has been occupied by artworks erected for 18 months at a time. They
are paid for by the Mayor’s office and Arts Council England.
The previous occupant, a boy on a rocking chair by
Scandinavian artists Elmgreen & Dragset, has been bought by the Arken
Museum of Modern Art in Ishoj, near Copenhagen in Denmark. In 2009, Antony Gormley's One & Other saw 2,400 members
of the public take it in turns to stand atop the plinth for an hour at a
Boris Johnson said: “Katharina Fritsch commands
tremendous respect internationally and her giant blue...”
― a gentle, meaningful pause ―
“bird, will provide
a striking new focal as well as talking point for Londoners and tourists
Well, I just knew that no good would come of plonking
that very French, that, that very blue cock of the walk, right in the middle of
Old London Town. It was a bad omen, a
portent that something nasty would soon be cooking in the kitchen. And
it wouldn’t be that big blue ... erm, bird.
So what happened with the Government’s Syria vote? Yep,
the Frenchies suddenly replaced us Brits as America’s bestest friend. It
was like being back in the schoolyard and neither captain wants you in
We’ll know that things have really taken a turn for the
worst when the French start beating us regularly at rugby once more. And
sacré bleu, France lifts the 2015 Rugby World Cup after defeating Wales
in the final at, erm, Twickenham.
True, the bird will have flown
its cockpit by then ― but will it have left its mark on our
Tuesday, September 3
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
HERE’S another in Culture Magazine’s
television Choice previews ― and a line nearly to die for:
A man to avoid
Trauma – Level One
“You really do not
ever want to meet me in a professional situation,” says one of the
doctors in this series, “because, almost by definition, it is the worst
He can say that again. Filmed in the specialist centre
of Southampton General, the first of a two-part series grabs you by the
throat with the frightening severity of the cases it follows, and it
doesn’t let go until the very end, when you know the fate of each of
three patients who are filmed.
All their lives seem to hang by a thread, and all were
injured in road-traffic accidents.
I was captured by the line that you do not want to meet the doctor in a
professional context because it will be “the worst of times”. Wow.
You know how I have this thing, that within seconds of
meeting a stranger my instincts will tell me whether I’m in the company
of a dolphin or a shark, a pussycat or a polecat, a sparrow or a sparrow
hawk, a lay-by or a roundabout...
My instincts do not tell me whether the person in
front of me is likely to be the next Mother Teresa/Nelson Mandela, or
indeed the next Hitler/Myra Hindley ― but what it does tell me is
whether it is okay to step forward and embrace, or hold my ground, even
take a discreet step backwards, and then proceed with extreme care.
My instincts have never once let me down. In fact,
you could say that my instincts tell me whether the person in front of
me is likely to lead into the best of times ― or the worst of times...
We are gathered here today
Yesterday, I featured Welsh entertainer
Elvis Preseli & The Undertakers.
Well blow me, I flick through the morning’s Western Mail ― and I
am confronted with this marvellous headline, picture and story:
He did it his way:
Last wish granted for JCB driver
driver Billy Jones was carried to his funeral in the bucket of his
favourite JCB digger
Billy Jones, 83, told his family that he
wanted to make his final journey on a yellow digger like the ones he had
driven for 40 years before he retired.
The grandfather’s coffin was gently lowered into the
bucket of the JCB for the moving journey to his funeral service.
Mourners clapped and cheered as the coffin arrived at Coychurch
Crematorium in Bridgend on the JCB.
His proud daughter Trudi-Ann, 48, said: “He talked
about his own funeral and this was what he wanted. When dad died, we
told the funeral director about dad’s wishes and they said we could do
Billy worked as a JCB driver at Neath Port Talbot
Council for 40 years before he retired when he was in his sixties.
Trudi-Ann said: “He loved his working life ― everyone
would wave at him in the cab of his JCB. When he was driving along he
would stop to give people lifts, that’s how he was. Everybody knew him
as Billy the JCB driver.”
Billy, who died peacefully at his home in Port Talbot, leaves his wife
Carol, daughters Trudi-Ann and Emma, and grandson Carwyn.
Wonderful tale. On Radio Wales the story was
featured and the unusual request was discussed with Mike Ryan, a
funeral director from Newport.
He was asked what was the most unusual request he’d had
for that final journey.
Well, he’d buried a local self-employed painter and
decorator who wanted to be transported in the van that had been his
“office” for the past 10 years. The family cleaned the van out ― and
that was his hearse. Job done.
Then there was the HGV driver who wanted to be taken on
the back of a lorry, his dying wish being that he should be driven
over the Severn Bridge and back one final time because he’d made the
journey pretty much every working day of his life. Again no problem.
Not only do these stories make you smile but they really
are quite touching in their special little way.
Yep, smiles of the day come in all shapes and sizes.
Monday, September 2
Handsome is as handsome does
“SHE is not a looker.” John Inverdale,
55, English radio and television broadcaster ― and not
exactly a front runner in the male pin-up stakes ― landed in extremely
hot water after his ‘live’ comment about the 2013 Wimbledon winner,
He quickly apologised. Marion, to her credit, brushed off
his remark, saying: “It doesn’t matter, honestly.”
Good for her. As it happens, over the weekend I caught a
bit of the World Rowing Championships out in Chungju, South Korea.
Inverdale was the presenter out there.
Helen Glover and Polly Swann won gold for Great Britain
in the women’s pair. Inverdale duly interviewed the girls ― here’s Helen
Glover, a teacher by profession...
I was really disappointed that John didn’t sort of
balance the books and say to her: “Now you are a looker.” Not
many of us men would have argued. Actually, the above photograph doesn’t
really capture how mesmeric-looking Helen is.
Talking of not being a looker, I remember mega moons ago
at the Crazy Horse Saloon, chatting to barmaid Pearl of Joy ― nickname
is a clue ― and she recalled how one of the regulars, Jac the Joiner
(no, he wasn’t a carpenter, but whenever someone bought a round he
joined the crowd), anyway Jac had said to her: “I like you, Pearl. I
always put great personality before looks.”
Pearl of Joy enjoyed repeating the tale for she knew she
wasn’t a “looker”. But boyoboyo, did she make up for it on the character
and personality front. It was Pearl who memorably told us regulars that
“it isn’t the length of the barrel, lads, but the power of the shot”.
At the Crazy Horsepower Saloon today I mentioned the
above Pearl of wisdom, and we got to chatting about this Welsh thing
with giving people nicknames. I liked the story of Dai ‘Wizard of Oz’
Evans, the foreman at a farmers’ co-op. He would go to lunch early and
return late. There was a pub across the road called The Rainbow, and if
anyone called to see the Wizard of Oz between noon and two, the staff
would say “He’s probably over The Rainbow”.
I also enjoyed the tale of the fellow known to everyone
as Snowy, presumably because of his head of white hair from quite a
young age. He had a son nicknamed Sleet. Why Sleet? “He’s not quite as
thick as his father.”
I do so hope that is true.
And of course, how could I forget Elvis Aaron Preseli.
Now I must be honest, I thought that Welshman Elvis Preseli was so
called because he was born in the shadow of the Preseli Mountains in
north Pembrokeshire, west Wales. Not so.
Here’s a typical Comedy Club intro to Wales’s own
Elvis Preseli & The Undertakers:
ELVIS PRESELI was born at Mountain Asheville, Rhondda
Cynon Taff, north of Cardiff, the only child of Vernon and Gwladys
Preseli, who came to the Valley looking for work. Vernon became a miner
and Gwladys became a scrubber. As an only child Elvis felt lonely and
had it not been for his love of music and his close friendship with his
pet lamb, Mozart, he may have grown up to be a Weirdo.
Travelling the globe on his musical WORLD tour, Elvis has
picked up many skills and has learned from some Great Masters, and the
skills learned have catapulted him to the Grade of 20th Dan in the
ancient art of COOKING. Elvis is a specialist in the Burger style and
has been bestowed the title of The Burger King. Not bad for an
undertaker who just loves singing.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Elvis Preseli & The
Undertakers, the only bald, Welsh-speaking Non Elvis Song Singing Elvis
Tribute Act In The WORLD. You are witnessing a Legend in the making.
Welcome to my world, won’t you come on in...
There’s lovely, look you. And talking of pets, a letter from The Times:
Sir, My wife was a refugee from Eastern Europe at the end
of the war so our daughter asked her to come to her primary school class
to answer questions about the experience as a child of fleeing westward.
Bombs over Vienna, overcrowded trains, long-distance
walks were passed over with polite interest. The crucial question was,
what did you do with your pet cat when you left?
“We didn’t have a pet cat so it wasn’t a problem.”
“Yes,” the little girl insisted, “but if you had had a
pet cat, what would you have done with it?”
Good to see that children’s priorities are constant.
DAVID SHEPHERD, Woodstock, Oxon
What a wonderful question that is. Personally, I have never owned a pet ― sharing
next door’s pets, as I did when I lived in the farm cottage, doesn’t
count; indeed, I was brought up on a farm with cats and dogs, and even
though they were treated like pets, they weren’t. They were working
animals, so you definitely had a different relationship with them.
Yes, but no, but yes ― what would you do with the cat? I
guess if you have never owned a pet, then the answer would be to leave
the pet to fend for itself. But what if you did have a cat or a gerbil
or a dog? Or indeed a Mozart the Lamb, as Elvis Preseli did? It really is a great conundrum.
If memory serves, it was not long before the Duchess of
Cambridge was admitted to hospital to give birth to Georgie Porgie that Nelson Mandela,
95, was really poorly in his hospital bed, and in truth, the news
reports were elaborately preparing us for the inevitable.
Well blow me, I see that he
has spent his first night in almost three months at his home in
Johannesburg after being discharged from hospital in Pretoria.
Family members have spoken of their happiness at having
Mr Mandela home again for the first time since June.
However, Andrew Harding, the BBC’s Africa correspondent,
adds this rider: “When patients are discharged from hospital, it
normally implies that they are on the mend. That is clearly not the case
with Nelson Mandela.”
It brought to mind this smiley letter from a few days
back and spotted in The Daily Mail:
“Will the indestructible Nelson Mandela one day receive a
telegram from George VII?”
Eddie Sanders, Birmingham
Sunday, September 1
THERE is much frustration and annoyance at the growing
menace of street clutter. Yeeees, you know: those road signs and the
like that appear here, there and everywhere and are quite overwhelming
in their confusion when you’re driving along and desperately trying to
sort out where exactly you need to go.
Or more properly, where you’re allowed to go.
Back in January the government claimed that more than
9,000 traffic signs had been taken down in England alone in the last
year as it published new guidance aimed at reducing street clutter.
I was reminded of a recent picture, a perfect
example of confusion unlimited ― probably taken in America, or perhaps
Canada ― but it could well have been here in the UK. Mind you, it
could also have been a place making and selling road signs.
No way, no how, no kidding
And the second memorable picture? Well, this is the work
of artist Clet Abraham and spotted in Chelsea, London. He is known for
altering street signs across Europe and putting a smile on the face of
something rather boring.
The Banksy of Street Clutter. Very clever and witty, I
really do like the furtiveness of that sign very much.
It all brought to mind a couple of recent Sign Language
Cross my heart and hope you don’t die
Spotted in Columbia, Maryland by Jerry Stott
And then this, spotted near a place of learning:
Back to school
Spotted in Sacramento, California, by Anonymous
The above was seen near a junior school, and believed to
have been done deliberately to make drivers aware that they really
should proceed with caution.
Hm, definitely better than ‘Slow Children’.
Hello, good evening ... and goodbye
The other day I gave a couple of examples of why I enjoy
choice/Pick of the day
preview write-ups in The Sunday Times TV & Radio guide.
Yesterday, I really was going to mention in passing
Saturday’s preview, which was about a new series of Through The
Keyhole. I vaguely remember seeing this when it first appeared as a
segment on TV-am, hosted by Loyd Grossman, the American-born food-show
host and purveyor of spaghetti western sauce and strangulated vowels.
And then David Frost took it over as a proper series.
Not my type of entertainment though. However, I’ve been
aware of a new series because of a most peculiar trailer spotted on
television featuring a rather strange host. Talk about dumbing down.
this was the opening shot in the programme preview:
Sir David Frost should look away now; and Loyd Grossman
will be turning in his gravy. Tonight, ITV revives the
celebrity-home-identification panel show under the deranged chairmanship
of Keith Lemon (the luridly comical creation of the entertainer Leigh
Francis). “Oo ‘abitates in an ‘ouse like that?” the permatanned Lemon
shouts at this evening’s guests, Eamon Holmes, Martine McCutcheon and
I was going to mention the above because of that
celebrated opening line: “Sir David Frost should look away now; and Loyd
Grossman will be turning in his gravy.”
Loyd Grossman turning in his gravy!
How clever. But who would have thought that on the very day that line
appeared in print, and at perhaps the very time the new series of
Through The Keyhole was aired on ITV, David Frost would
permanently look away after he died of a heart attack aboard the Queen
I’m not sure whether much stranger things have happened
Previously on Look You...
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day
Smile of the day 2013: Jan
Smile of the day 2012d (Oct-Dec)
Smile of the day 2012 (Jan-Mar)
.. Smile of the day 2012
(Apr-Jun) .. Smile of the
day 2012c (Jul-Sep) .. Smile
of the day 2012d (Oct-Dec)
Previous 2011 smiles:
Smile of the Day 2011 (Jan-Jun)
.. Smile of the Day 2011 (Jul-Sep)
.. Smile of the day 2011
Smile of the Day 2010
(Jan to Jun) 2009
March to May '07
June to Aug '07
Sep to Dec '07
You are here, way out west,
aka Dodgy City
Previously on LOOK
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day 2013:
Smile of the day
Smile of the day 2013: Jan
of the day 2012d (Oct-Dec)
of the day 2012c (Jul-Sep)
Smile of the day 2012
Smile of the day 2012 (Jan-Mar)
Smile of the day 2011
Smile of the Day 2011 (Jul-Sep)
Smile of the Day 2011 (Jan-Jun)
Smile of the Day 2010
2010 (Jan to Jun)
Sep to Dec '07
June to Aug '07
March to May '07
As it was in
ST DAVID'S DAY, 2007
Postcards from my Square
Here's lookin' at you
400 Smiles A Day
What A Gas
400 Smiles A Day