HB
[HB - in dingbat font]
LOOK YOU!
[a.k.a. The Daily Doolally Post]

 
The joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade, as embraced from the grassy knoll
♥ ♫

[A wolf-whistle - in
silent jazz mode,
i.e. a smile]

October 2019: The Book has landed ... Huw and Smile - see below ... one tiny step for humanity, one giant leap for me, HB
Available at ... Amazon Books: Huw and Smile ...
Also, off the shelf at:
 
Books at the Dragon's Garden, Igam Ogam & Crown Stores, all at Llandeilo (or Llandampness to those of us in the know)


 

Self-published, with much thanks to www.publishandprint.co.uk
 

Shwmae, hello, welcome...

Children smile up to 400 times a day, adults - on a good day - up to 40 (the hassles and stresses of modern life, especially so here in the UK with its 5Bs - Brexit, Brussels, Bercow, Bollocks and Boris (coming up on the rails) - ruthlessly neuter humanity's default ode to joy mindset). My smileometer, according to a local jollyologist, currently registers some 200, so I must be halfway toward second childhood. Hm, perhaps I never left the first. Anyway, Huw and Smile - an antidote to the public commotion known as a hue and cry, see the aforementioned 5Bs - chronicles the squalls and passions of sex, greed, tribalism, rock'n'roll ... and much else besides ... a nod and a wink to a world gone bananas, a thousand days or so of the eye-rolling hysterics and doolallyness of flame-fanning topics such as Brexit, Trump, Social Media and Huawei (or Why-Why? as they say down the pub). Essentially it's B-Day plus 1,000 - that's B-Day as in Brexit-Day, but you may wish to put your own spin on B-Day! Whatever, Huw and Smile has a craic at doing so with its hat set firmly at a jaunty angle - and hopefully a little ball bouncing along above the words. Happy days.
Yours, in the best of bonds,
Huw Beynon
01/10/2019

 
To waft some electronic smoke signals downwind, e-mail me at: look_you@hotmail.co.uk
In the meantime...
...a rolling register of embraceable joys and disposable doolallyness to help lift the spirits and boost the smile quotient...
(Point of order: both joy and doolallyness effortlessly embrace delight, irony and bonkersness)
 

 

Blast from the rugby past - with loo rolls

"Who are the makers of ultra-thin toilet rolls trying to kid by describing their products as luxurious? We can see right through them." Roger Vince of Upper Brynamman in Carmarthenshire [just up the road], in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Every day is a day at school, indeed searching ultra-thin toilet rolls online gave me quite a few chuckles I can tell you. But more than that, it curiously linked into one of the greatest ever games of rugby union, together with arguably the best try of all time (remembering of course that when sitting in judgment on any "best of", context is everything).

And what a treat it was revisiting on telly last weekend the memorable Barbarians v All Blacks game played on a benign open-top Saturday afternoon in Cardiff in January 1973 (no National Stadium closed roof back in those days). And who would have thought that toilet rolls would be as high-profile 50 years ago as they are in 2020 - but more of that later.

Watching the game, what became immediately obvious is how the laws of the game have changed, and I'm not sure for the better. And there were no collapsed scrums, the curse of the modern game - well, apart from one untidy Baa-Baas effort, more down to it being a scratch pack I guess - which suggests that today's forwards are actually coached to collapse scrums. Boo, hiss!

Then that try. If any other player on the planet other than Phil Bennett was covering under his own posts the clever New Zealand kick ahead, with three All Blacks bearing down on him, he would have cleared for touch and the crowd would have appreciated and applauded his defence.

But no, Benny did what he always did for legendary coach Carwyn James and his club Llanelli, and launched his Fred Astaire routine ("Steppin' out with my baby..." - his baby back then of course being the rugby ball).

And there was a reminder of Derek Quinnell's masterful take and give of a low, difficult ball, and the one place where the move, once launched, could have broken down.

Also, under today's laws the game would have been littered with high tackle penalties, along with a few cards too, I guess.

Finally the toilet rolls thrown onto the field following the Gareth Edwards try. I had forgotten that before high-fives and supporters performing to camera and big screen, exuberance was celebrated at football and rugby games by thrown loo rolls. And in the Baa-Baas game, the evidence remained on the field throughout the game. Who'd have thought there'd be nothing new to appreciate 47 years on?

Such glorious memories will be impossible to wipe off my brain's hard drive.

Incidentally, I had the above published in the Western Mail letters page, and the headline "Blast from the rugby past - with loo rolls" is theirs. And I immediately smiled and thought "Blast from the rugby past - with Lou Rawls", which I always do when I see "loo rolls" in any headline.

I know, sad - but hey, apropos the above I thought of the Lou Rawls song You've Made Me So Very Happy: "I lost at love before, / I got mad and I closed the door. / But you said, why don't you try just once more..."

Well, the Barbarians did try once more on that Saturday afternoon in 1973 - and what a try it was.
10/07/2020

*************************

Confusions 'R' UK ... revisited

Coronavirus crisis ... "Nicola Sturgeon tells Scots eight people from three households can meet up indoors and 15 people from five households can mingle outdoors from tomorrow (so got that?)." A glorious Mail Online clickbait - I didn't click because I didn't want anything to distract from the delightful doolallyness of it all.

I took it as read that the Mail had its facts correct, but had perhaps - just perhaps - window-dressed it a little bit for public consumption, which is just fine by me.

A couple of days back I pointed out that No 10 is desperately in need of its own style guide to help avoid the Government's movers and shakers, including the Prime Minister, continually navigating along a highway of confusion, cock-ups and an absolute inability to explain things clearly and concisely.

Ditto all the other home nations, the above Scottish Parliament statement by the First Minister a perfect example of government by gobbledegook.

Often I look at the world
And I am dumbfounded that any leader can function at all
Given the kind of doolallyness
That so many of them have inherited from the past.

With apologies to Hera Lindsay Bird, 33, New Zealand's 'Instapoet' star, in particular Monica (2016) ... she actually wrote this:

Often I look at the world
And I am dumbfounded that anyone can function at all
Given the kind of violence
That so many people have inherited from the past.

Doolallyness ... violence ... same difference, as they say down the Crazy Horsepower Saloon after a shed load of alcohol.
09/07/2020

*************************

You can call me 'Owl' (not 'Al')

Must be the owlgorithm! ... "Facebook removes live-stream video link of nesting baby owls for breaking its SEX and NUDITY rules." The joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade captured in one glorious Mail Online clickbait.

It seems that Graham Moss of Doncaster suddenly found that his live link of nesting owls had been taken down by Facebonk because it breached community standards on adult nudity and sexual activity. I shall pause while you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and recover your equilibrium...

Anyway, Graham not unnaturally attempted to get in touch with Facebonk for an explanation, but no one would answer his query. However, his live-stream was reinstated and back up and running after a 24-hour ban, but without further explanation.

At least I enjoyed the wit of the Mail headline in blaming the "owlgorithm". Very good. And I was happy that Graham managed to get it up in the end. But that's not all.

Just the other day the following letter appeared in The Daily Telegraph, from a Dr PS Turnbull of Alverstoke in Hampshire:

Anti-social Facebook ... "We often hear that Facebook fails to police posts containing fake news or hate speech. However, my recent experience would suggest otherwise. I received a 24-hour ban for humorously describing somebody as a 'glass-half-empty kind of guy'.
     I am not sure what is offensive about such a comment - but trying to make contact with Facebook to ask for an explanation is nigh on impossible."

Now c'mon, you have to laugh. I mean, a common or garden phrase like "glass-half-empty" is rated by Facebonkers as hate speech. But here's the thing...

It is a universal truth that every organisation, whether it be business or government, reflects the personality and character traits of the person at the very top, its Chief Sitting Bull, or indeed its Chief Sitting Cow (fortunately I am not on Facebonkers, so I won't be banned for that, er, sexist remark, but as I always say, what's good for the bull is good for the cow).

The one thing we can say with some confidence is that at the moment of conception, Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of Facebonkers, would have been at the back of the 'Sense of humour' queue. As indeed was Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister of the UK and now Vice President for Global Affairs and Communications at Facebonkers.

More worryingly though than both Zuckerberg and Clegg being short-changed on the sense of humour front, is the fact that all the troublemakers of history were also at the back of that humour queue. Indeed, look at the most powerful people on the planet right now, whether they be leaders of countries, or movers and shakers of the most powerful businesses on the planet, and they were definitely all at the back of the sense of humour and/or sense of fun queues at their moments of conception.

What to do? Just join me on the grassy knoll and smile, shake your head and roll your eyes (all at the same time) at the utter bonkersness of it all.
08/07/2020

*************************

Confusions 'R' UK

"Four relatively small countries, all making their own laws and doing their own thing. Whatever happened to the U in UK?" John Maddison of Lincoln, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

What happened to the U in UK? It is called "Up yours!", or more correctly, tribalism, where all four countries, at the first hint of an ambush, pull their wagons into a tight circle and insist on doing their own thing. But it's the confusion that all these complex laws generate, even within each self-governing circle of wagons, which throws everything into muddle and mayhem.

Back on the 26th of June I featured an amusing letter spotted in The Guardian, from a Gail Mitchell of Gotham in Nottinghamshire, and it is worth a quick read again if only to appreciate the letter I will feature just after, which is also about the new rules in England as lockdown is eased:

A muddled approach to easing lockdown ... "Now let me see if I've got this right ('What's changing on July 4? From bars to barbers, how England will reopen', report June 24). Single people can only be in a bubble with one other household, but bigger households can meet with numerous other households and can stay overnight, but must stay 2 metres apart.
     And you can go into a pub if you stay 2 metres apart, unless that is you can't stay 2 metres apart
- then you must stay 1-plus metres apart.
     You can go up to the counter in a shop, but not in a pub or restaurant. You have to give your name and address if you go to a pub, but not in a shop. You have to wear a mask on a bus, but not in a shop (not sure about pubs). You can have your hair cut from July 4, but not your nails painted or legs waxed.
     But that's only in England. It's completely different in Scotland or Northern Ireland. You can't go to Wales, but you can to Spain, but you can't go out for two weeks when you come back.
     So just remind me: are we still supposed to be washing our hands?"

So that was in The Guardian, a newspaper that drives on the left (see yesterday), so here is one spotted in The Daily Telegraph, a daily that drives very much on the right. This then from Sue Crouch of Eastcombe in Gloucestershire:

Rules allowing newlyweds to have but not to hold ... "As I understand them, the new rules are that I can marry, but my father cannot walk me down the aisle if I do not live with him, and we can have only 30 guests, who must not sing. I will not, however, be stopped from attending a protest march with thousands of other people, all shouting loud slogans.
     We are not allowed to have a catered reception, but can go to a pub or restaurant and eat and drink in the company of as many customers as that venue is now able to hold.
     My husband and I must wash our hands before and after exchanging rings, and, unless we already live together my new husband is not allowed to kiss me once we have said our vows.
     What does the Government think we plan to do after we get married?"

So there you have a perfect example of those who drive on the left, and those who drive on the right, coming together and motoring down the centre lane together with, how shall we say, a certain degree of contempt for our political masters.

Yesterday I pointed out that No 10 is desperately in need of its own style guide to avoid its movers and shakers continually navigating along a highway of confusion and cock-ups. Given the accord between the above two letters, No 10 clearly needs an encyclopaedic style guide. God help us.
07/07/2020

*************************

Engage brain before mouth

"'I don't believe in gestures,' says Boris Johnson on why he would not take the knee, not so long after being seen clapping for carers outside No 10." Jim Golcher of Towcester in Northamptonshire, in a letter to The Guardian.

"If Sir Michael Palin and Jamaica Governor-General Sir Patrick Allen find their honours offensive, hand them back and return to being plain old 'Mr'." Phil Hughes of Broadstairs in Kent, in a letter to The Sun.

If I were a race horse, and they put blinkers on me, I would refuse even to leave the stable. I quote the above two letters because, as someone who trundles happily down the middle lane of life, I enjoy keeping an eye on what is happening on both sides of the street, i.e. those who drive on the left - The Guardian - and those who drive on the right - The Sun.

And peripheral vision doesn't come more embracing than perusing both The Guardian and The Sun.

Back with Boris Johnson, today the sky fell on his head (yet again) for arguing that many care homes did not follow proper procedures on coronavirus, hence the high death rate - and later a No 10 spokesman had to step in and say that Johnson was not blaming care homes, "but pointing out that nobody knew what the correct procedures were because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known at the time".

The PM duly apologised for "clumsy use of words". D'oh!

Given Boris's declaration of not believing in gestures, yet clapping for both NHS and carers but not taking the knee, along with his "clumsy use of words" regarding care homes - not forgetting Dominic Cumming's memorable Specsaving Day Trip To Barnard Castle - is No 10 not in desperate need of its own style guide, if only to remind the PM and his motley crew that the brain should always be engaged before mouth and fingertips (both literally and metaphorically)?

I say metaphorically because I am reminded of the glorious Woody Allen quote: "If there is reincarnation, I'd like to come back as Warren Beatty's fingertips." And if memory serves, Warren's fingertips were reportedly even busier than the Boris fingertips.

Apropos the letter about Michael Palin and Patrick Allen being suddenly offended by their honour, it apparently has something to do with the "racist" design of an original version of the St George knighthood medal, but why did they not think the medal was "inappropriate and offensive" when they accepted the honour? It all reminds me of Sir Keir Starmer.

Our Prime Minister, and an Old Etonian to boot, is mainly known by his first name alone, even when being addressed by leaders of other countries (from Donald Trump to Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway) - but that the leader of the opposition, the Labour Party, and a factory worker's son to boot (whose middle name is Rodney), boasts a knighthood, and is addressed as "Sir".

Unsurprisingly the Labour leader would prefer it if he wasn't now a "Sir", but you can't give a knighthood back if suddenly you don't like it, or it doesn't fit your current agenda - it can only be removed if you've been a very naughty boy or girl, and done something to disgrace the honour.

Which makes one wonder why Michael Palin, Patrick Allen and Keir Starmer accepted their knighthoods in the first place?

We do indeed live in interesting times, where the gods are clearly working overtime to render the world's movers and shakers quite bonkers.
06/07/2020

*************************

It's a tribal thing

In the new anthropause era, which tribe are you? ... "The global corona lockdown has been called the 'Great Human Pause', but now scientists have a word for it: anthropause ... be warned, though: it is dangerously close to andropause, which is the male menopause, so be careful to get it right in casual conversation." Ann Treneman, Times columnist, kicks off an intriguing line of thought.

It seems the word anthropause has been thought up by scientists eager to study the behaviour of animals during the past few months of lockdown, and let's face it we humans are at the top of the animal tree. Incidentally, the spellchecker came to a stop at anthropause - and suggested andropause, indeed as warned by Ann Treneman (by the by, I always thought the male menopause was called womenopause, but we'll let that pause pass).

It seems we humans are divided into two tribes: those fretting about whether it is "safe" ever to leave home again, and those who never give the problem a second thought, note those happily boozing the day away after the pubs opened in England on Saturday.

Well, I would suggest that there are actually three distinct tribes, the traffic lights tribes...

Red: those who worry to extreme about catching the virus, who microwave their daily newspaper as soon as it pops through the letterbox, wipe down every piece of mail and packet of food delivered to the home, and now that lockdown is eased those who are concerned that, even by sitting on a public bench, they might somehow become infected.

Green: those who have not a care in the world, who do not know anyone who has been infected by Covid-19, and just carry on and party as if it is all a bad dream from the night before.

Amber: those on the grassy knoll who are not overly worried, but nevertheless stick to the basic rules of the game: wash hands, social distance at a common sense gap, wear a mask if requested to do so - and avoid crowded places like the plague (ho, ho, ho).

As you may have guessed, I belong in the amber tribe: look left, look right, look left again - proceed with care, and do not tempt the gods...
05/07/2020

*************************

Don Juan of the language world

Culinary theft ... "Food, it seems, is the latest area of human activity to be found guilty of cultural appropriation. Surely it is more than time to address that greatest appropriator of them all, the English language, which since its earliest days has been shamelessly stealing from all the languages of the world. Never mind the damage that it will cause to global communication and understanding, these words must be removed immediately." Henry Middleton of Maidstone, Kent, in a letter to The Times.

Last year clothing, in particular fancy-dress sombreros, were among several examples of "cultural appropriation" highlighted by Sheffield University - and I remember smiling, shaking my head and rolling my eyes, all at the same time. In fact I felt a bit guilty because I often wear a baseball cap when out walking (perfect at keeping the sun out of my eyes) and I had visions of Donald Trump knocking on my door because I'd appropriated his cultural headwear.

Also last year, a New York Chinese restaurant run by a Jewish-American couple was accused of cultural appropriation - um, I am not sure why, something to do with selling Chinese food, I think. And let's not forget music, the latest high profile example being English rugby's Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

Whatever, back to the cultural appropriator that is the English language: I remember reading that it has about three times as many words in active usage as any other language, a language chock-a-block with words stolen from other languages, and ingeniously giving the impression that the words were English along.

English is the gadabout Casanova, the Don Juan of the linguistic world, happy to jump into bed with any tongue that tickles its H-spot, its Hallelujah-spot.

I was once told that it is the only language that allows me to cross a crowded room, approach a lady I fancy but not of my acquaintance, smile, and say "I think we should make love before the night is out", or words to that effect, and said of course without sounding in any way euphemistic, vulgar, confusingly technical or gobbledygook-ish.

Welsh certainly does not oblige. And I am reliably told that even French doesn't have the wherewithal innocence of the English version.

After propositioning a lady in such a way I may well be elegantly advised "In your dreams", which indeed I have on occasion, but no lady has been so offended that she needed to slap me, storm off, or report me to her father or some PC brigade or other.

That has always endlessly impressed me. A language that allows me to say such a thing to a complete stranger without being accused of anything except having a bloody nerve. Or being asked: "Who the hell do you think you are? James Bond?"
04/07/2020

*************************

Sunny but dim ... frosty but bright

"A study has shown that sunshine could diminish brain power, making it harder to make the right judgments. A tracing app that doesn't work. A useless travel quarantine. Vacillation over the distancing rule. Mandatory registration of pub users (and ordering by app?). And now a Sage professor has suggested that the elderly should wear coloured ribbons to indicate - um, I am not sure what. It's been a sunny spring." Dr Martin Henry of the splendidly named Good Easter in Essex, in a letter to The Telegraph.

I remember reading some years ago about a study that confirmed the farther north you travel from the equator, then the more inventive humanity becomes, the suggestion being that the colder the climate, the greater the challenge to survive and flourish. In other words, nature had to evolve a more potent brain to combat the extremes.

This makes sense because it is clearly more of a challenge to survive in a cold climate than it is in a warm one (unless of course you are a Covid-19 virus which seemingly thrives in colder weather). And now this study by university teams in Denmark and Greece confirms that working in hot temperatures - which is already known to cause hyperthermia, a rise in body temperature - can cause physical exhaustion leading to critical errors of judgment.

And of course here in the UK of 2020 we enjoyed a record breaking sunny and warm spring and early summer, which does suggest that the disastrous governmental judgment calls listed by Dr Henry, above, bear out this theory.

But it's the suggestion by a Professor Calum Semple of Sage (the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) that the elderly should wear some sort of coloured ribbons, presumably to indicate how much of a risk you are, that tickles the C-spot, the Curiosity-spot. Anyway, here is the good Professor:

"I could see a position where we need as a society to respect social distancing greater in those that are elderly and more vulnerable, and potentially people might even conceive of wearing a ribbon or something on their lapel, or a badge, that just indicates that they would prefer that their social distance was respected."

Well, all I can say is that I hope there will be no orange ribbons because many a tree along the country lanes I regularly walk wears an orange ribbon...

Tie an orange ribbon round the doomed ash tree

Ash dieback claims another victim: ashes to ashes...

                                                                                     ...and within a few days it will have been cut down and chopped up. Oh dear, elderly dieback: ashes to ashes...
03/07/2020

*************************

Nuts and bolts

"Charles Moore [journalist, columnist and former editor of The Telegraph stable of newspapers] believes that 'the nuts of British administration have worked loose'. Well, the Patent Nut and Bolt Company of West Bromwich was, in the latter part of the 19th Century, managed by Boris Johnson's maternal great-great grandfather, James Scattergood. They were contractors to her Majesty's and all colonial governments. His descendant is just the man for the job." Trish Parker Brown, of Reading, Berkshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Incidentally, at The Telegraph, Charles Moore was Johnson's boss when Boris was the paper's Brussels correspondent (1989-1994), one of that City's few Eurosceptic journalists. Well I never. Whatever...

There are some letters that generate an instant smile. Apart from the thought of Boris Johnson being just the man to tighten the nation's nuts, the above letter did make me smile on a couple of non-bawdy fronts.

First: "the nuts of British administration have worked loose" ... that can be read both literally and metaphorically, expressly that the day-to-day workings of our establishment are loose and need tightening, i.e. they haven't much clue what they're doing - I mean, imaging opening up the pubs on a Saturday of all days, rather that is than a hopefully wet and windy midweek.

However, and more to my view of the passing parade as observed from the grassy knoll, is the conviction that the establishment, including the dreaded metropolitan elite, have actually lost their nuts and bolts - their marbles - and are truly bonkers. Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. The evidence is all over the shop.

Secondly, there's something rather glorious in the revelation that Boris Johnson's great-great grandfather was named Scattergood. The Covid-19 pandemic has proved that our prime minister is a bit of an expert at the scattergun approach, but essentially he has the good of the nation at heart.

By the by, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, when asked where God was during the pandemic, said "right in the middle of it". My goodness, come Saturday, then the Almighty will be down the Crazy Horse, hopefully though echoing the prime minister's advice and urging everyone to be "sensible", whatever that might actually mean to a boozy Brit.

"Here's lookin' at you." ... "Who you lookin' at?" Chaos!
02/07/2020

*************************

A shot in the dark

"Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time it's a guess - and if you're lucky, an educated one." William Goldman (1931-2018), American novelist, playwright and screenwriter who won Academy Awards for his screenplays Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President's Men.

Now there's a quote for our time. Take out the whole middle sentence - "Nobody knows anything ... every time it's a guess" - and there you are, right up to date, slap bang in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. You just know that Inspector Clouseau would be just as lucky as most every other expert. But which expert should one trust? Indeed this makes the prime minister's job of making the right call every time, every day, a total impossibility, right?

For example, back on the 12th of June, I quoted some of the confusion over the wearing of masks and how it has led to a split among researchers. Some scientists insist that there is still no evidence that masks actually help. Others say that even without strong evidence, there is a clear plausible mechanism for how even homemade Blue Peter-style masks can stop transmission through droplets, which makes some sort of sense.

Never mind masks, where is that elusive vaccine everyone is desperate for? It is all very confusing: one expert thinks there could be a vaccine by the autumn; another says Covid-19 will never be eradicated. And others, including old Trumpety Trump (with the sky falling on his head, bless), think that Covid-19 will die out naturally.

Perhaps like you, me and the ghost of William Goldman, they don't really know, so best to keep your head down and your nose out of other people's business, both metaphorically and literally. Indeed, remember what Pascal Soriot, the chief executive officer of pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said about "keeping his fingers crossed" that the Oxford coronavirus vaccine they are experimenting on works.

Do you get the impression that these experts, just like the Hollywood experts of William Goldman's day, are just licking their index fingers and holding them up to see which way the wind is blowing? For "follow the science" read "blowing in the wind". Or better still read it as "a shot in the dark". To paraphrase the words of Winston Churchill: Experts should be "on tap, not on top".

But as I chill out on the grassy knoll, and file all the above under "joy and doolallyness", there is a sad side to this voyage into the unknown. I shall leave you with this heartbreaking letter in The Daily Telegraph, from a Valerie Neave of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire ... read it and weep: "My mother is 93 and is in a care home suffering from dementia. She is slowly dying of a broken heart because she thinks I have abandoned her. I wonder what they will put on her death certificate if she passes away before I see her again."
01/07/2020

*************************

Tour de France ... simply blowing in the wind

"He's already the Prince of Wales. Now he's the King of France." The amusing Eurosport commentator Carlton Kirby delivers a great line when Welshman Geraint Thomas, against all expectations and odds, wins the 2018 Tour de France in grand style; indeed "Gee", or simply "G", as he is affectionately known to colleagues, fellow riders and the media pack, is generally regarded as one of its most popular winners.

The 2020 Tour de France should have started this past weekend, so ITV4 is recycling daily highlights of the Geraint Thomas Tour from 2018. In fact broadcaster Eurosport has similarly revisited the race - and watching it I was struck by three points.

I'd forgotten what an eventful and gloriously entertaining Tour the 2018 edition was, not least the famously protesting French farmers who brought the race to a halt, mainly down to a classic Inspector Clouseau moment when the pepper spray used by the police to disperse the protestors blew back into the faces of police and riders. D'oh!

Secondly, knowing the result one notices things not obvious at the time, such as how luck plays a huge part in the race. Not so much Geraint's own good fortune but the rotten luck of others.

Finally, these packaged repeats highlight why France is the most visited tourist country in the world. Not so much that it is beautiful - Norway and New Zealand also lay claim to that honour - but it's the extraordinary breadth of its landscape and attractions. And of course it has this annual and extravagant three-week promotional exposure.

Also, I enjoyed the comedic talent of Eurosport commentator Carlton Kirby, for example, the camera lingered on Dutch rider Bauke Mollema: "The man who sounds as if he was named underwater."

It reminded me of Noel Coward's memorable comment when he first heard of the actor and singer Edward Woodward, and it helps to mimic the famous Coward accent: "Edward Woodward? Sounds like someone farting in the bath."

Returning to that King of France quote at the top, when the Second Severn Crossing linking Wales and England came back into public ownership, it was officially renamed the Prince of Wales Bridge. Unsurprisingly the sky duly fell on Tory Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns for not giving it a proper Welsh name.

Well, forever more and my day, I will now always see it as the Gee Whizz Bridge.

Finally, and, er, having mentioned Noel Coward's take on the name Edward Woodward, I have just spotted the following - rightly listed as a Tweet of the week - from @DrGABaines: "50% of Roger Federer's name is 'er'."

PS: Spellchecker moment ... DrGABaines popped up as Dramamines (a motion sickness medicine). The second choice was Dogbanes (poisonous tropical plants reputed to kill or repel dogs, as well as some livestock). Every day a day at school.
30/06/2020

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Foul play

"How can I stop our neighbour's cat from fouling the garden? I have planted rosemary and lavender as a deterrent - and sprinkled black pepper, citronella pellets and lion's dung. Any ideas?" Tamara posed her pesky cat problem in The Sunday Times Home section, "Home Help: Readers' Clinic Special".

There were some weird and wonderful suggestions from readers, including strategically burying used tea bags, especially if first soaked in Dettol (do you suppose they have christened their poopy cat visitor The Donald?). Lie in wait with a water pistol was also a popular suggestion.

Also, cats hate mirrors, so strategically place one where they gain entrance, although given that they can climb over things,  that has to be a bit of a long shot. Oh, and apparently ultrasonic animal repellers work wonders (but the claim challenged online I noted).

Time, methinks, to revisit a cat I came across a few years back relaxing in a local a bluebell wood, a really friendly pussycat I christened Jerry, and a world away from back gardens...


Jerry the Cat does relaxevoo in a Llandeilo bluebell wood

Now the curious thing about Jerry was that I had encountered him wandering the streets in Llandeilo - he was a friendly little thing and in a perfectly shinny condition - and there he was one early morning, in the bluebell wood, a mile and more from the nearest property. And Jerry was happy for me to take photos of him. A wandering boy indeed.

Anyway, back with the cat deterrents...

There were some morally questionable solutions. For example, bury inverted carpet grippers, just below the surface, and cats will soon learn to keep away, ouch! "Buy a bulldog," suggested S Cohen. "They'll eat anything. My boss Jeff's bulldog George ate a neighbour's Chihuahua."

My favourite though was this from a Janet Dawson: "Dig a hole. Blow up a balloon. Place in hole. Cover with earth. Cat returns, digs in fresh earth. Bang! Exit cat." Brilliant!

However, a word of caution: Cats are property under the Criminal Damage Act 1971, so any harm caused to a cat by you can result in a criminal conviction. So the obvious solution is for the law to change so that owners have to bear responsibility for their pets' behaviour, in the same way that dog owners do, i.e. public liability insurance.

So there you have it, the cat's whiskers.
29/06/2020

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A touch of class

"Class is an aura of confidence that is being sure without being cocky. Class has nothing to do with money. Class never runs scared. It is self-discipline and self-knowledge. It's the sure footedness that comes with having proved you can meet life." Ann Landers (1918-2003), American advice columnist.

I like that definition of class. I would add this though: "Class has nothing to do with money, but everything to do with breeding." All this came to mind when I picked up today's Sunday Times - and there, gracing and dominating the front page was this glorious photograph of the Duchess of Cambridge visiting the Nook children's hospice in Framingham Earl, Norfolk, on Saturday. She is the charity's royal patron...


If a picture paints...

What a thousand-word photo that is. Let's rewind ... when Kate joined the royal family many commented how welcome a positive injection of Middleton middle-classness would be inside The Firm.

Yet right from her wedding day we glimpsed that, buried deep within her DNA, some seriously impressive and elegant genes were lurking, all eagerly awaiting their moment in the sun (perhaps in the dim and distant past, Lord Chatterley had his way with a chambermaid, indeed the rural world is sprinkled with individuals who are clearly not who they think they are, whether it be in a characterful or a physical way, and at both ends of the social scale).

I particularly remember when William and Kate set off in their open-carriage ride following the wedding ceremony, and whenever they passed a band playing the anthem, William would salute - and Kate would bow her head in such a natural and elegant way that she appeared to have been doing it all her life. Or more likely, there was that special slice of inherent breeding, dormant within her genes, awaiting the green light. I was seriously impressed.

And nothing I have seen since has made me change my mind. Kate has style and comes across as being a more natural-born royal than most of the royals, indeed in a battle for the hearts and minds of a nation, my money would always be on Kate to outflank Meghan.

And to balance the books on class, I like the following quote from Frank Abagnale, 72, an American security consultant forever known as the classic poacher turned gamekeeper for his career as a con man, cheque forger, and imposter when he was just 16 to 21 years old, now one of the world's most respected authorities on forgery: "What bothered me most was their lack of style. I learned early that class is universally admired. Almost any fault, sin or crime is considered more leniently if there's a touch of class involved."
28/06/2020

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From the ridiculous to the sublime

"I never knew what happiness meant until I met my wife - but then it was too late." A listener requests a song for his wife, as heard on Money for Nothing on Radio Wales this morning ... and host Owen Money bursts out laughing and admits that, as a comedian/singer he's heard it all before - but that was a new one. Yes, very good. And the unexpected twist did give it that XL smile bonus.

"We're told the slogan 'White lives matter' is offensive, but 'Black lives matter' isn't. The simple solution is just add 'too' at the end of the statement. No one could argue with that." Richard Wittering of Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, in a letter to The Daily Mail - and delivering as sound a slice of wisdom as I have heard in many a day.

Incidentally, and with a generous bonus slice of sublimity, yesterday's joy and doolallyness headline read "Hibernation at an end!" - four words delivered by Boris Johnson as he relaxed the lockdown rules, in England anyway. It drew this letter to The Guardian, from a Penny Aldred of Old London Town, which also helped expand my limited education:

"I should have thought our classicist prime minister would have known better - hibernation happens in winter; in summer, or months of drought, it's aestivation."
27/06/2020

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"Hibernation at an end!"

"An Englishman, a Welshman, a Scotsman and an Irishman walk into a pub and go up to the bar ... God! Those were the days." My good pal Chief Wise Owl makes light of the confusion following news by Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the lockdown in England finishes on July 4, when visiting a pub is back on the cards (sort of), a day already christened Inn-Dependence Day: "Four pints of 'New Normal', please landlord."

But hang on, not so fast, some typical correspondence spotted in our newspapers:

A muddled approach to easing lockdown ... "Now let me see if I've got this right ('What's changing on July 4? From bars to barbers, how England will reopen', report June 24). Single people can only be in a bubble with one other household, but bigger households can meet with numerous other households and can stay overnight, but must stay 2 metres apart.
     And you can go into a pub if you stay 2 metres apart, unless that is you can't stay 2 metres apart, then you must stay 1-plus metres apart.
     You can go up to the counter in a shop, but not in a pub or restaurant. You have to give your name and address if you go to a pub, but not in a shop. You have to wear a mask on a bus, but not in a shop (not sure about pubs). You can have your hair cut from July 4, but not your nails painted or legs waxed.
     But that's only in England. It's completely different in Scotland or Northern Ireland. You can't go to Wales, but you can to Spain, but you can't go out for two weeks when you come back.
     So just remind me: are we still supposed to be washing our hands?"
Gail Mitchell of Gotham, Nottinghamshire, in a letter to The Guardian

So that's a typical view from those who, politically speaking, drive on the left. But here's the view from those who drive on the right, politically speaking:

The 'new normal' when popping in for a quick one ... "The new rules for visiting the pub have obviously been written by some civil servant who only frequents expensive West End wine bars. We, the innocent people, have been held prisoners in our own homes. Now we are to be tagged so we can continue our confinement in the community." John Owen of Gloucester, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

"How ironic that the reopening of pubs rather than churches provoked a cry of 'Hallelujah!' in the House of Commons." Derek Wellman of Lincoln, in a letter, also to The Daily Telegraph.

"Why was the decision made to reopen pubs on a Saturday? Surely a Monday evening might have been more sensible." Simon Morpuss of Stratford-upon-Avon, in a letter, again to The Daily Telegraph, clearly bearing in mind the vast crowds that have been ignoring all degrees of social distancing down on the beach.

Finally, back on the left hand side of the road:

"Pubs before gyms? Yes, that reinforces confidence that our leaders know what they are doing. What group, I wonder, will be more adept at social distancing? Beer drinkers or people who care about their health?" Paul Garrod of Portsmouth, in a letter to The Guardian.

Now who would have thought that our politician and civil servants, together with their army of experts, would find the letters pages of The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph in surprising harmony. Unbelievable, really.
26/06/2020

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Bluebirds over here and over there

Avian prophecy ... "Did bluebirds ever fly over the white cliffs of Dover?" John Nelson of Amesbury, Wiltshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph in the wake of the death of Vera Lynn, in particular her famous song "There'll be bluebirds over / The white cliffs of Dover". Indeed there was many a variation on the theme in many a newspaper.

It seems that bluebirds are thrush-sized birds indigenous to the Americas. The lyricist who penned the words was American Nat Burton (1901-1945), born Nat Schwartz, who it seems, was unaware that bluebirds were not found in Europe. Coincidentally, bluebird is also said to be an old country name for a swallow, making them a rather attractive option.

Also, during the war there was a belief that bluebirds referred to the hero airmen flying over the white cliffs of Dover in their blue RAF uniforms. I tend to think that the birds over the white cliffs of Dover were birds of prey, perhaps just blue of thought.

Whatever, this letter then appeared in The Times, from a Maroussia Richardson of Old London Town:

"Apropos why bluebirds would be flying over the white cliffs of Dover, the phrase (for phrase it is) means happiness, and it comes from the 1908 play L'Oiseau Bleu [French for The Blue Bird] by Maurice Maeterlinck. The play concerns two children who leave home seeking the blue bird of happiness, finding it at last in their own home."

How about that? It changes the whole feel of the sentence and the song. There's also a part-song The Blue Bird by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, a setting of the poem of the same name by Mary Coleridge: "The lake lay blue below the hill / O'er it, as I looked, there flew / Across the waters, cold and still / A bird whose wings were palest blue..."

And here is one of the 'bluebirds' I encounter regularly flying over the Towy Valley, namely one of the many blue tits I befriended along my early-morning walks...

A bluebird over the Towy Valley

"The lake lay blue below the hill / O'er it, as I looked, there flew
Across the waters, cold and still / A bird whose wings were palest blue..."
Mary Coleridge

A blue bird in the hand - and a red, hot-air balloon in the air...

PS: Another spellchecker cracker ... L'Oiseau, as in L'Oiseau Bleu, came up as a rather wonderful Clouseau option. Now that's something I would never have thought of, but once you see it - perfect.
25/06/2020

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Joy and doolallyness

All systems go ... "Good weather conditions are a prerequisite for successful rocket launches - so it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to spot that the Shetland Islands are a questionable location for a spaceport." Neil Truelove of Shefford, Bedfordshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, in the wake of Scottish firm Skyrora completing the first ever successful test rocket launch on the Shetland Islands, one of three proposed locations bidding to launch commercial satellites into space.

So that's the joy of the passing parade ticked.

Fire? Hang on... "I work in a five-storey NHS building. We recently had a fire alarm. Evacuation took longer than on previous occasions because people were practising social distancing on the way down the fire escape. Has Covid-19 had some strange effect on our mental capacities?" Professor Peter Furness of Whissendine, Rutland, in a letter to, again, The Daily Telegraph.

And that's the doolallyness taken care of.

PS: My spellchecker came to a stop at Skyrora, the Scottish space company founded in 2017 ... and suggested Scrota (which, I learn, is the plural of Scrotum, so fingers crossed there'll be no balls-up then). Oh, and the second option after Scrota was Syria. Say nothing is best.
24/06/2020

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That Boris fellow in his magnificent flying machine

"'Union Jack paint job' for Boris Johnson's VIP RAF plane will cost 900,000 quid." A 'Union Jack Brexit' makeover for the military plane used by the prime minister and senior politicians to gallivant the globe will cost 900,000 pounds, Downing Street has revealed.

So how did the nation see this? First a professional newsman's view, namely Matt Chorley in The Times: "On a scorching day on the banks of the Zambezi, hungry children raise their hands to shield their eyes from the sun and look skywards. Is it a bird?  Is it a plane? Yes, but not just any old plane. It is the shiny new Johnson Airways. Air Farce One. Massive Con Corde. Leerjet. Messerschitt..."

How funny is that? I particularly like Air Farce One. Whatever, the readers of newspapers were not going to be left out of the fun. H Knowles of Eastbourne, in a letter to the Daily Mail, came up with this gem: "So, Boris wants a red aeroplane. What next: A yellow submarine?" And if it's really going to be red it can effortlessly double up as part of the Royal Mail delivery fleet.

Others wondered, at a cost of a million quid, who exactly is doing the job, David Hockney? Grayson Perry was also mentioned in dispatches. And I particularly liked the idea of Banksy doing something creative in the still of the night, without fuss or bother, or indeed anybody knowing he'd done the job until the following morning. And as a bonus, Boris could then sell the plane at auction for a handsome profit. And would it have a shagedelic look about it? Brilliant.

But the most financially advantageous idea was suggested by my old pal Chief Wise Owl: if Boris is happy to pay cash, and no questions asked, Dai Aphanous will do it for half-a-million quid, job done, no problem.

But of course there is one problem. If Johnson Airways is going to be a bit right wing, like its captain, will it go round and round in ever decreasing clockwise circles and disappear up its own con trail?
23/06/2020

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Heavenly tastes

"Judith Hope says that her taste of heaven is sitting in an English garden on a sunny summer's day eating scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream (letter, Jun 17), but she inadvertently raises another hotly contested matter: which do you spread first on the scone, the strawberry jam or the clotted cream?" Bruce Parker of Appleshaw, Hampshire, in a letter to The Times.

This is a question/discussion that pops up regularly in letters pages across all newspapers, not just about whether the cream or jam should go on first, but whether you should say scone or s'gone. But I did see something new in response to the above letter, this from a Nick Winstone-Cooper of Helston, Cornwall:

"County contest ... Cornish scones are buttered, then the jam is added and the scone is topped with cream, while Devon scones have the cream first and no butter simply because of farming. Cornish farms were mainly dairy and there was sufficient milk to make butter and cream, Devon farms were more concentrated on sheep. The lack of milk in Devon meant that there was rarely enough to make butter and cream."

I'm not sure I find myself convinced by that. Anyway, let's have a Welsh angle, this from Brian Churchill of Abergele, Conwy in North Wales:

"Here in Wales, we sit lightly to the question whether jam or cream should be first on the scone. What matters far more is that, in addition to Welsh cakes and bara brith [a rich fruit loaf, sometimes known as 'speckled bread'], the generous Te Hufen Cymreig [Welsh cream tea] demands raspberry jam to provide a tart foil to the clotted cream."

Incidentally, I always thought a tart foil was the legendary News of the World undercover reporter from yesteryear, forever out to expose ladies of the night hiding behind a respectable front, and when it came to the crucial moment when sex was offered, the reporter always "made my excuses and left".

Whatever, and back with the scone, I rather like the notion that the cream goes on first, then the jam, then more cream. And how about a little golden syrup on top for luck (a dramatic delicacy known in Devon as "thunder and lightning")? Yep, I'll go with that, definitely s'gone.

Whatever, here's some top advice given by my old pal Chief Wise Old: when eating something truly delicious (or even mildly delicious) you should always close your eyes. This not only enhances the taste and the joy (tick, I can confirm), but more importantly, makes it an irrelevance as to whether the cream or the jam was added first (definitely a tick).

As to my taste of heaven, I vividly remember the Sunday lunch I was served on the farm when I was a growing lad. And I also remember the homemade bread and butter pudding, which was something special.
22/06/2020

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Pinky and Porky - but not so Perky

"Chop horror ... The closing sentence of George Orwell's Animal Farm is one of the most vivid in English literature: 'The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." Thus the opening shot in today's Sunday Times tail-gunner Comment piece.

The paper goes on to point out that anybody looking from pig to man and man to pig these days would be in for a terrible shock. Two separate slices of research reveal that we are now porkier than our pigs.

The average pig has been getting leaner and leaner over the past 30 years, now containing just 16% fat by weight compared with well over 20% two decades ago, while middle-aged Britons are comfortably insulated by up to 38% fat, gulp.

For as long as I can remember, politicians have urged us to eat more healthily, drink less booze and exercise more. And to watch our weight. Yet it seems only the pigs have been paying attention. Boris Johnson certainly hadn't, at least up until the time Covid-19 nearly fed him to the pigs - but he is now paying full attention as he sheds loads of that extra fat he's been lugging around.

As the Sunday Times concludes: "This feels like a significant moment: it's surely the first time in history that we've been fat-shamed by our Sunday joint."

At this point I feel a little bit smug. Since lockdown my weight has remained pretty constant, hovering just between my fighting weight of 12 stone and my sparring weight of 12-and-a-half stone.

Oh yes, the memorable Animal Farm closing sentence quoted at the top reminds me of the political scene here in the UK as I sit upon the fence and observe the doolallyness of the passing parade with this closing sentence: "The fellow on the grassy knoll first looked left, and then looked right, and then looked left again; but already it was impossible to say which was the safe way to jump."
21/06/2020

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The freedom of living life in a Minor key

"If only we had known how much pleasure and fun our grandchildren would give us, we would have had them first." A letter spotted many moons back - in The Daily Telegraph I think, but in those days I never saved memorable letters to stick in my diary so I don't know who those grandparents were. Mind you, whenever I quote the letter to grandparents I meet, they always respond with a smile and a nod.

The most insightful, amusing and quotable letters to a newspaper are those brief ones you often find lurking bottom right, i.e. the very last letter - see above as a perfect example of the genre. Indeed a variation on the theme has just appeared in a Western Mail Q&A Sports feature, "The rugby world of Gareth Thomas".

Gareth "Alfie" Thomas, 45, won 100 rugby caps for Wales and captained his country. Since hanging up his boots in 2011, he has gone on to become an even more famous name, appearing on shows such as Celebrity Big Brother, Dancing on Ice and The Jump, while also working as a TV rugby analyst. And let's just add that he has lived an interesting life, interesting as per the Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times", meaning he does not always come across as the happiest of bunnies.

Anyway, the Western Mail's Q&A looked back over his rugby playing career - and the last question was this:
Q: If you hadn't been a rugby player, what would you have been?
GT: A postman, and a really happy one as well. Sometimes I wish I had stuck to the post, let me tell you!

In other words, he would rather have remained a little open-top Morris Minor mooching along in the inside lane as opposed to the E-Type Jag zooming along in the outside lane.

Yet, whenever I turn on the telly, there's good old Alfie giving us his thoughts on life, the universe and everything. Presumably, like all celebrities, he is now hard-wired to fame and social media, in particular those followers who worship at his totem pole, no questions asked. Which I guess is why he does sometimes wish he "had stuck to the post".

Incidentally, I mention a Morris Minor because walking into town last summer, when Covid-19 was just a twinkle in Mother Nature's eye, and waiting to cross a busy A40, along trundled a young-ish couple in an open-top Morris Minor - and no, it wasn't Charles Hanson and Natasha Raskin-Sharp off telly's Antiques Road Trip who I have spotted driving such a classic car.

Whatever, I smiled at the couple in the Minor and gave them a discreet little wave - and both smiled and waved back, looking ever so contended and happy chugging along with no worries about complex electronics about to stop them dead in their tracks.

It struck me even back then that I had witnessed the perfect metaphor in how to negotiate life's stressful twists and turns. Today even more so.

Talking of those memorable tail-end newspaper letters, here's one just spotted in The Times, from a Ken Humphreys of Wells, Somerset:

"Have a good sniff
PG Wodehouse was well ahead of Elliott Hoey on the sniff ('Don't snort! When you sniff you're really making conversation', Jun 17), as this passage in Full Moon shows: 'Lady Hermione said that she had not spoken. Nor had she. She had merely sniffed. But in certain circumstances a sniff can be as wounding as the bitterest repartee.'"

20/06/2020

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The bottom line

"No matter how big the house is, you can only sit on one couch, and you can only watch one TV." Sam Palmer, 36, an Essex lad and a former electrician, who is engaged to the financially well-endowed Formula One heiress Petra Ecclestone, 31.

Sam now lives with Petra, her three children by James Stunt and their new daughter, along with a crew of staff in a sprawling mansion in Los Angeles. I read that Sam has challenged James to a fight to put an end to some on-going feud or other - spit-and-sawdust stuff I guess - but if I were Sam I would be careful about tangling with someone called Stunt, if only to avoid ending up as a dodgy rhyme.

Anyway, Sam's great truth at the top reminds me of a quote from back in May when the government marginally relaxed the lockdown rules, and Boris Johnson changed the original message from "Stay at Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives." to "Stay Alert. Control the Virus. Save Lives." ... generating much confusion in the process about that "Stay Alert" instruction, in particular this 'quote of the day' from Ryan Price, a plumber, who told Channel 4 News he had no patience with those who say the new lockdown rules are too vague: "What do you want, a full handbook telling you what to do?"

What I like about those two quotes is that they come from those in the everyday workplace who grasp reality so much better than the nation's movers and shakers, the metropolitan elite, the mega rich, those who live in their own little bubbles (I take it as read that electrician Sam has yet to be properly adopted and absorbed into the multi-millionaire Ecclestone lifestyle and mindset).

It's the main reason I enjoy watching Gogglebox, for they are the views of people living their lives in the real world (and why I never watch Celebrity Gogglebox).

Finally, and what with lockdown still with us, this letter in The Daily Telegraph, from a William Pease of Southam, Warwickshire: "What a difference three months make. Our local Tesco now has large packs of toilet rolls 'reduced to clear'."

Wipe that smirk off your face.
19/06/2020

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A quick smile, or two, or three - and a frown

"I was following a magic tractor along a country lane when it suddenly turned into a field." Well it made me laugh. I heard it on the radio, indeed how many motorists following a tractor along a country lane wished they were following a magic tractor ... and shortly after, this mysterious verse preceded a famous song:

"♪♪♪: Once upon a time, before I took up smiling, I hated the moonlight; Shadows of the night that poets find beguiling seemed flat as the noonlight..." Now I had never heard that before, but it's the verse to Blue Moon.

What I was listening to was a 1935 recording by a Greta Keller (1903-1977), an American cabaret singer and actress (born in Vienna). Search "Greta Keller - Blue Moon - 1935" on YouTube, it makes for a fascinating listen. Very few singers actually sing the verse to Blue Moon, but Rod Stewart does, also on YouTube, and well worth a listen.

"Petitions call for Britney Spears and Dolly Parton statues to replace Confederate monuments." As the statue shemozzle boils over here, over there and over everywhere, fans in Louisiana and Tennessee are calling for their favourite singers to be celebrated instead of Confederate soldiers.

There were some amusing comments, some suggesting that a Dolly statue would be perfect to shelter under when it rains, but others worried that the statue might be top heavy and liable to topple over.

There are also calls for Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Mary Poppins statues, which agreeably sums up the doolallyness of the passing parade.

However, a word of caution: tearing down busts, statues and monuments to those of whom we disapprove is precisely what the Taliban did in Afghanistan and Isis in Iraq - and if memory serves, the world shook its head in shock. Be careful what you wish to see torn down with history edited to taste.
18/06/2020

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Chicken Licken banned from the Goop coop

"Gwyneth Paltrow unveils her new Goop scented candle called ... This Smells Like My Orgasm!" Earlier this year the 47-year-old American actress caused quite a stir when she offered a Goop candle for sale called "This Smells Like My Vagina" - which quickly sold out before being restocked.

Yes, a glorious fanny-business clickbait compliments of Mail Online...


Spot the difference: for Grafenberg read Gwynnie

Yes, Gwynnie is the new G-spot on the block. The 10.5 oz candle is being sold for 75 bucks on the Goop website, and its description reads: "A fitting follow-up to that candle - you know the one - this blend is made with tart grapefruit [ho, ho], neroli, and ripe cassis berries blended with gunpowder tea [ho, ho, ho] and Turkish rose absolutes for a scent that's sexy, surprising, and wildly addictive."

Bonkers or no, she's a marketing genius. I think I might buy one because whenever there's a night-time power cut I can never find the bloody candle. As long as I don't catch Covid-19 that is, and lose my sense of smell.

Incidentally, Gwynnie's teenage son Moses, 14, made an appearance on the same TV show when she unveiled the candle, but apparently there was no mention that he was the one carrying the tablets. Whatever, straight down to the comments ... and the winner is:

AreJayBee of Giveover, UK ... actually, it was "of Andover, UK", but I couldn't resist. Anyway, the comment: "Fake candles available online - reviews say most men can't tell the difference, ho, ho, ho."

By the by, as you may have guessed, that is my "ho, ho, ho". I mean, it is a rather clever and witty response, which effortlessly tickled my T-spot (my Titter-ye-not-spot). Actually, I'm starting to feel very Christmassy, what with all these ho, ho, hos.

Also, it's worth recalling a few comments from back in February when our Gwynnie launched her This Smells Like My Vagina candle:

FlossFloss: "She's gross ... anything for a quick buck." [Thinks: did FlossFloss write "buck" to get round the censors?]
Dangermouse: "Is that the one you burn at both ends?"
WC Meadow: "Never give a sucker an even break."

That's Gwynnie done and dusted then, but still more to come, pardon the orgasm...

Who corrects the correctors?

The Guardian, 15 June, Corrections and clarifications: "The clue for 14 across in quick crossword number 15,631 (12 June, page 12, G2) included an anagram ('coy elm') that unfortunately did not match LOVELY, which was the required solution."

If you are a quick brown fox, you would have jumped all over the lazy corrector - as did Jennifer Gale of Littleham, Devon, whose letter appeared in the paper the following day: "'Coy elm' is not an anagram of lovely (Corrections and clarifications, 15 June), but it is of 'comely', which is what I entered into the quick crossword on 12 June."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but whom the gods wish to destroy they first make doolally.
17/06/2020

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♪♪♪: Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do!

"Be careful of words ... they can be both daisies and bruises." Anne Sexton (1928-1978), American poet, known for her highly personal, confessional verse.

Come the month of May and the lanes around Llandeilo are adorned with ox-eye daisies, sometimes called the dog daisy, and they really are a sight for those sore eyes of ours - assuming of course that the council has not decimated them with their annual short-back-and-sides when these eye-catchers are in their prime...


A triplet of daisies escape the short-back-and-sides trim

I was catching up on BBC Sounds with one of my favourite radio programmes, Sunday Club with John Bennett on Radio Ulster, where he entertains us with popular music that has stood the test of time.

He played a song from 1937, There's A Gold Mine In The Sky, but the Pat Boone hit version from the Fifties, and John mused, given the get-rich-quick world we now live in, that a modern version would probably be called There's A Hedge Fund In The Sky, which I rather liked.

Then he played a Bing Crosby song, We'll Make Hay While The Sun Shines, from a 1933 film, Going Hollywood.

The recording John played though was the bouncy and exceedingly catchy Billy Merrin and his Commanders version, and featuring the song's glorious opening line: "Take me where the daises cover the country lanes, we'll make hay while the sun shines, we'll make love when it rains."

And that's way back in 1933. The song continues: "Take me where the songbirds thrill you with sweet refrains, we'll make hay while the sun shines, we'll make love when it rains."

Honestly, the old smoothie. A quick roll in the hay, literally.

I guess with lockdown, today's line would be: "Take me where the ox-eye daisies cover the country lanes, we'll make silage while the sun shines, we'll catch up on Zoom when it rains." Nowhere near as romantic though.

"Daisies in water are the longest lasting flower you can give to someone. Fact. Buy daisies. Not roses." Anne Sexton, again, and I'll take her word on it. Talking of daisies, and lockdown, and everything else that's troubling this weary old planet of ours right now...

"Human beings are born solitary, but everywhere they are in chains - daisy chains - of interactivity. Social actions are makeshift forms, often courageous, sometimes ridiculous, always strange..." Andy Warhol (1928-1987), American artist, famous for his pop art.

Hopefully, Anne Sexton's daisies in water will remain famous for longer than Warhol's infamous 15 minutes.

And on that note ... Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do...
16/06/2020

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To troll and burn, or not to troll and burn...

"'People who menstruate.' I'm sure there used to be a word for these people. Wumben? Woomud?" The author JK Rowling was furiously criticised for transphobia for making this remark. Elsewhere...

Fingers burnt: "Some Harry Potter fans are burning JK Rowling's books to express their anger at her views on the transgender movement. I wonder if they will burn biology textbooks next." Gordon Letherbridge of Sherborne, Dorset, in a letter to The Times.

The toxic argument between some feminists and the trans lobby has long been one where most grown-ups fear to tread, but JKR waded in, initially objecting to the phrase "people who menstruate" to describe biological women.

Me? I'm easily confused anyway, and I've never been able to navigate further than AC, DC or Three Phase. As far as I can tell, Rowling's experience of violence makes her wary of the notion of allowing someone born male to legally identify as a woman, and have access to female-only spaces, without having completed hormone therapy or undergone a surgical transition.

Needless to say the trans lobby sky fell with a vengeance on Rowling for daring to assert that biological sex is a reality.

One vociferous critic put it thus: "Cancel Rowling. Burn her books. Forget she ever existed." And to another would-be book-burner, Rowling tweeted: "God, I hope you don't, because whenever somebody burns a Potter book the royalties vanish from my bank account." A witty nod and a wink there, which neatly offsets the doolallyness with a dollop of joy.

By the by, just a few days back I pondered aloud what comes after the destruction of statues? The slashing or splashing of paintings? The burning of books? Attacking the descendants of anyone with a connection to the slave trade? Who'd have guessed that the burning of books would follow so quickly? But the curious thing is that all this burning will delay the target of zero carbon emissions these very same people are desperate for.

The whole world is mad, etcetera, etcetera...

Back with statues, there was a smiley MATT cartoon in The Daily Telegraph, of a frustrated fellow returning home with one hand securing a coil of heavy-duty rope slung over his shoulder, and the other hand holding a pickaxe - and he is saying to his surprised wife as he enters the house: "It was a waste of time. Apparently there aren't any statues of Michel Barnier."

And to add to the joy, a letter in the Daily Mail, from G Andrews of Bideford, Devon: "Is it time to replace statues of historical figures with those of people who really matter, such as David Beckham, Amanda Holden and Keith Lemon?"

Whisper it, but I had to Google Amanda Holden and Keith Lemon. Never heard of them. That's life. And that's okay.

PS: My spellchecker came to a sudden stop at Wumben ... and suggested - ta-rah! - Women. Who knew my computer was so ahead of the game. It unsurprisingly also came to a stop at Woomud, but rather unimaginatively suggested Woo mud, followed by Wormed.
15/06/2020

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But who is watching Big Brother?

"Why I am proud of Big Brother." It was raucous and vulgar, and it changed television for ever. Twenty years on, the man who brought Big Brother to the UK, Peter Bazalgette, talks to Louis Wise: Twenty years ago this summer Big Brother first aired on Channel 4, changing British television for ever...

Perusing The Sunday Times Culture magazine, I came upon the above headline and opening shot. As soon as I read "changing British television for ever" I made my excuses and moved on (nothing changes anything for ever, that's just meeja horseshit). Truth to tell though, I have never watched Big Brother.

Actually I never watch reality TV. In fact I never watch anything that has the word "Celebrity" in the title - or indeed any programme where a celebrity presenter is more important than the contents of the show, i.e. "Can I have a go?". True, I enjoy watching Gogglebox on Channel 4, but I never watch Celebrity Gogglebox.

Anyway, if millions of others enjoy these shows, that's fine by me. After all there are about 1,000 television and radio channels available out there to fill any gaps in my life.

What I do like though is a good laugh, or a genuine rolling of eyes.

Back on May 31st, the 94-year-old Queen was photographed riding Fern, a 14-year-old Fell Pony, in Windsor Home Park, the first time apparently since lockdown. The following Friday, the Daily Mail used the picture for its weekly speech bubble competition, where it invites readers to pen what the Queen is saying, in an amusing fashion. The winner was a Clive Johnson of Nottingham...


"Do you think one can do a McDonald's drive-thru on this?"

Well now, this very Sunday, I read that KFC has just caused a bit of a storm after refusing to serve a man on a horse-and-cart at a Carlisle drive-thru restaurant - and the sky duly fell on the head of the American fast food restaurant chain, now known as Kentucky Fried Chicken Licken...


"I'll have one chicken bucket and a sack of carrots, please."

With concerns about global warming, horses are the transport of the future, surely. And they are perfect for social distancing, too. Oh, and from humanity's point of view, the most perfect piece of engineering ever created by nature. When we first arrived on the scene, the horse was there waiting ... ready, willing and able to take us down to the local watering hole ... and knew the way home when we were too pissed to remember.

Pubs, restaurants, shops, supermarkets and the like, need to get their act together and provide hitching rails outside, ready for the rush.

But here's a peculiar thing. After his refusal at KFC, the gentleman in question, a Mr Bell, went to McDonald's further along, where he was able to clippety-clop through the trot-thru and get his meal, no bother. Oh yes, KFC were quick to issue an apology for their refusal at the first jump.

But here's a doubly peculiar thing (I thrive on doubly peculiar things). Searching the story online, I came across a similar one from exactly nine years ago, where a woman riding a horse-and-carriage was turned away from - ta-rah! - a McDonald's drive-thru in Alfreton, Derbyshire after they were deemed a health and safety hazard ... but she went to - ta-rah! - a KFC across the road, and got served, no bother.

You couldn't, as they say, make it up. But it all adds to the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade.
14/06/2020

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FAIR-PLAY OR FORE-PLAY!

"The difference between a good golf shot and a bad one is the same as the difference between a beautiful and a plain woman - a matter of millimetres." Ian Fleming (1908-1964), English author, journalist and naval intelligence officer, best known for his James Bond series of spy novels, and his description of 007's round of golf with the cheating Goldfinger (a line I don't remember surfacing in the film, but my memory could be playing tricks).

Mention of golf, and I am also reminded of a quotation I used back on May 30, compliments of American writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961): "The game of golf would lose a great deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green."

The above came to mind when I read some golf terms, especially so for well-hit balls that end up in an unintended positions, for example, an Arthur Scargill: a great strike with a poor result. Also...
A putt known as a Salman Rushdie: long and difficult to read.
Son-in-law: not what you had hoped for but could have been worse.
Condom: safe, but didn't feel right.
Ken Livingstone: miles left
Marine Le Pen: way right
Tony Blair: too much spin.
Donald Trump, sometimes known as a Commander in Cheat: you win a club championship without even playing in the tournament.

Oh, and there's no escaping lockdown...

Dominic Cummings: a long drive out of bounds. Boom, boom!

Finally, mention of Donald Trump brought to mind a letter in The Times, from a David Powell of Brighton, and thoughts of a designer president gone wrong: "Marvellous mutts: Emma Duncan is wary of encouraging cross-breed dogs such as cavapoos and labradoodles, preferring good old fashioned mutts. I agree. Our last family dog lived until 17. Her mother was a collie-cross, her father an opportunist."
13/06/2020

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Stand and deliver!

"Facemasks slow coronavirus spread by 40 per cent, study shows." Thus a front page headline in today's Times newspaper. The mandatory use of facemasks slows the growth in coronavirus cases by 40%, according to a German study that scientists said was the best evidence yet for the use of facemasks. Other scientists warned that the findings were not robust enough to support the widespread use of masks, arguing that too many other factors could explain the results.

The report addresses one of the most contentious areas of science during the pandemic. It has led to a split among researcher. Some scientists insist that there is still no evidence that masks help. Others say that even without strong evidence, there is a clear plausible mechanism for how even homemade Blue Peter-style masks can stop transmission through droplets.

And talking of 40 per cent:
"About 40 per cent of coronavirus transmission may be due to asymptomatic cases." Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organisation, who said research estimates suggest the proportion of people with Covid-19 who are asymptomatic (producing or showing no symptoms) could be anywhere between 6% and 41%.

Anywhere between 6% and 41%? Do you get the impression that these experts are licking their index fingers and holding them up to see which way the wind is blowing? For "follow the science" read "blowing in the wind". In the words of Winston Churchill: Scientists should be "on tap, not on top".

All this talk of masks reminds me of a recent letter spotted in the Daily Mail, from a Chris Hyland of Northampton: "While out and about in my mask, people keep calling out to me: 'Where's Tonto?'."

What struck me though was this: why is Chris wearing his mask around his eyes rather than his mouth and nose? Say nothing is best.

The Lone Ranger & Tonto meet Dick Turpin
    
"Must try harder, Kemo Sabe ... Must look like a Dick!"

Never mind masks, where is that elusive vaccine everyone is desperate for? It is all very confusing: one expert thinks there could be a vaccine by the autumn; another says Covid-19 will never be eradicated. And others, including old Trumpety Trump, bless, think that Covid-19 will die out naturally.

Perhaps like you and me, they don't really know, so best to keep your head down and your nose out of other people's business. Indeed, remember what Pascal Soriot, the chief executive officer of pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said about "keeping his fingers crossed" that the Oxford coronavirus vaccine works.

I think it is safe to say that humanity has lost its way.
12/06/2020

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UK's 21st Century crises unfolding alphabetically

"Austerity ... Brexit ... Covid-19 ... Drought ... E---?" A letter in the Daily Mail wondered what the E-crisis could possibly be - and here are some of the suggestions:

Economy ... Escalation ... Expansion ... Extricate ... Evidence ... Election ... Epiphany ... Everything ... Extinction ... End of!

What came to mind was 'Eviscerate' - as in 'deprive (something) of its essential content', i.e. history: 'the protestors eviscerated all public statues with links to slave trading to make history inoffensive to all people of colour.'

Redaction, in all its forms, is always a dangerous game to play. I mean, what comes after the statues? Slashing of paintings? Burning of books? Attacking the descendants of anyone with a connection to the slave trade?

Accepting that history will now judge us on the most negative and destructive aspect of our character and behaviour, with redemption an irrelevant footnote, I presume that all busts, statues and paintings of John Newton will be removed from public view. And that the BBC will ban Amazing Grace from the airwaves. However, will the fact that he wrote the words to such a memorable hymn pardon his indiscretions as a slave trader?

Whenever the Judy Collins version of Amazing Grace plays I stop what I am doing and simply listen - just as I do when an old cassette of mine titled Smile plays Rolf Harris and The Court of King Caractacus. How do I wean myself off such wildly diverse pleasures? Over to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.

Interestingly though, the UK's preeminent slavery museum, the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, has offered to house toppled statues of profiteers targeted in an "ethical" overhaul in order to help Britain face its history with a view to exhibiting the fallen sculptures and educating the public on the people they depict. Good luck with that one.

There have been other suggestions, and actually, this letter in The Guardian, from a Ted Dilloway of Soueich in France, generated a smile: "Establishing a Garden of British Unworthies is an excellent idea. I suggest the gardens of Buckingham Palace." Oh dear, and the Queen's birthday coming up in a couple of days on the 13th. "'Orf with his head!' said the Queen, without even looking around." Perhaps though she said: "Qu'on le decapite!" Or something like that.

PS: The spellchecker suggested that Soueich should be Squelch, which will doubtless please the Queen.
11/06/2020

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The accused stands charged with ... not charging

"If the Prime Minister wishes to encourage electric cars, he should concentrate on providing refuelling infrastructure, rather than a scrappage scheme. Last year I bought an electric car, but was obliged to sell it as the lack of charging points around the country made the vehicle unworkable for me." Charles Cooper of Southwold, Suffolk, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

When I read the address of the author, the first thing that sprung to mind was Southfork in Parker, Texas - yes of course, the Ewing Mansion and home to the dastardly JR of Dallas infamy. And yes again, he was an oil man, the very polar opposite of the electric world and the need to escape dirty fossil fuels and CO2 emissions.

Whatever, the above letter from Charles Cooper raises a couple of points of order, not wholly unrelated, that I have yet to see properly explored. All the thousands of public charging points the electric vehicles need, will surely be an open invitation to vandals, if only to unplug every vehicle they come across? There is already evidence of charging points being vandalised in this country and abroad. I foresee a significant problem.

Secondly, and a bit of a jump, the wearing of face masks. What happens, say on public transport, or in a supermarket, when one is overtaken by an aggressive sneeze or two or three? Normally the elegant would always have a handy hanky to confine and discreetly wipe said mess. Should one carry a spare mask around the neck, much like a spare wheel in the boot, and also have a flashing warning light on our heads to warn that a hazardous change of mask is unfolding dead ahead?

As I may have noted before, my mind tends to work in a curiously tangential way. And so, talking of face masks and social distancing, a weird and wonderful clickbait caught the eye:

"How to have sex during the Covid-19 lockdown: Harvard experts say couples from different houses should avoid kissing, wear masks and disinfect the bedroom to avoid spreading the disease." Alternatives suggested were abstinence, masturbating or phone sex (♪♪♪: Long distance information, get in touch with my Marie...). Yep, straight to the comments:

Sweet Memories: Sigh! The last time I had sex was 1959.
Perfect Recall: The last time I had sex was five-past-eight, so I beat you by six minutes.
Me: I'm just grateful I've got such a hopeless memory for such fleeting things.
10/06/2020

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Your best advice ... in four words or less fewer

"Ah lovely listener, it's that moment of the programme again where I tap the skirting boards of your mind with a cotton bud dipped in bleach lightly in an attempt to get to know you even better than I do already ... so what is the best advice you've ever received, or given out yourself - in four words or fewer..." Yes, it's Vanessa Feltz on her early-morning Radio 2 show, once more tickling my C-Spot - my curiosity spot - with that cotton bud dipped in bleach lightly.

Incidentally, when I wrote the above headline I couldn't stop myself saying "four words or less", even though I knew it should be "fewer", but how odd that "four words or fewer" trips off the tongue so much more clumsily than "four words or less". Whatever, on with the show: here are some of the more ear-catching four words or fewer:

Take a deep breath / Talk less say more (Write less say more?!) / Always read the question / Live life now / Choose your battles / Health before wealth / This too shall pass / If in doubt ask / Always preserve your mystique...

Those are rather good (I added "Write less say more", a message to self). I particularly like that last one about preserving mystique - so a little later, along my daily walk, I thought, why not have a go, starting with four words ... and working down the scale to just the one word:

     Always trust your instincts
     Stand and stare
     Be agreeable
     Smile

My four-word advice is a repeat of what I wrote just a couple of days ago, in particular those first ten seconds when we meet a stranger.
The three word gem is compliments of the magical WH Davies poem, Leisure: "What is this life if, full of care, / We have no time to stand and stare..."
The two word counsel is simply an endorsement of my belief that, when you look the world in the eye, it spontaneously reflects your state of mind.
Smile: even if you're not a natural-born smiler, work at it because it will subliminally lift your own spirits, never mind everyone else's.

And as a tribute to the "stand and stare" advice, here's a photo of some trees I pass every day along my country walk...

Time to stand and stare...

Trees stand tall in a flower meadow in the Towy Valley

I particularly like how the more youthful copper beech makes a look-at-me statement in front of the larger lime tree - and how the rising sun catches just the trees, while the field and its flowers remain in shade. And more proof of how flowery the fields are this year, which has more to do with the sunny and warm spring rather than anything to do with lockdown.

So just remember: stand and stare ... and say: "Here's lookin' at you!"
09/06/2020

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From the sublime ... via the daftt and the witty ... to the oh so sad

"Pascal Soriot, the chief executive officer of Britain's largest quoted company, AstraZeneca [a British-Swedish multinational], and a world leader in pharmaceutical research and development, has said he is 'keeping his fingers crossed' that the Oxford coronavirus vaccine works. If it is any help, I'll do the same." David Elstein of Old London Town, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph. The joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade captured in one masterful missive.

"Can it be true? The Cummings' farming business in Durham is called DAFTT Ltd. Such foresight." Colin Baker of Llangynidr, Powys, in a letter to The Guardian. It is, it is. A quick search came up with some intriguing free company information compliments of Companies House:

It shows a "Mixed farming" company registered in Durham, with a Dominic Cummings appointed director on 13/04/2007, but resigned just a week later on 20/04/2007 [pray, why?]; his date of birth as November 1978, as opposed to November 1971 noted elsewhere [pray, why, why??]; also, his occupation noted as author (of his own misfortune?).

If it really is the political Cummings - all in favour say "Aye!": "Aye!" - it brings to mind Walter Scott's "Oh, what a tangled web we weave / When first we practise to deceive!" - but gives the lie to the oft quoted after-thought that those who fake it regularly are better at it: "But when we've practised quite a while / How smoothly we improve our style." Yep, nowt so Daftt as a clever Dom.

So remember, ladies, next time you hear yourself saying "Honestly, what an old smoothie", you can be sure that he's spinning you a line - and he knows damn well that the longer the line, the more you'll love it.

"Of all the wet markets, in all the cities, in all the world, it had to be Wuhan - where there just happens to be the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a research institute on viruses." My pal Chief Wise Owl borrows and amusingly paraphrases a famous Casablanca line. All in favour say "Aye!"...

"World War II stole my childhood and now coronavirus is trying to steal my retirement." Jim Ellis, in a letter to the Daily Mail. No address shown, just "address supplied".

What a desperately sad letter. But I did find myself wondering what on earth poor old Jim got up to in the 75 years between 1945 and 2020. Hopefully he didn't spend them looking forward to his retirement.

My mother was right, I was born lucky: having navigated the same years as Jim, and having never come close to winning a lottery jackpot (or the football pools as was) it's been a laugh a minute, sometimes two. I guess if you smile and throw the occasional wink at the passing parade, it will tend to smile back - and occasionally wink.

Hallelujah! Or Bendigedig! as we say in Welsh.
08/06/2020

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Words of wisdom

"BEST ADVICE I WAS GIVEN: Always be excited and interested when you meet new people.
  ADVICE I'D GIVE: Trust your instincts because invariably they're right.
  WHAT I WISH I'D KNOWN: It's really important to enjoy the here and now."
Su Chantry, 51, a Williams Formula One medic who trained as a nurse at St Thomas' Hospital, London, and last month volunteered to rejoin the NHS after 15 years, working three days a week as a rapid response bank nurse with Covid patients in A&E, as well as on the surgical and medical wards.

[Note: 'bank nurse' is an individual who wants to do the occasional extra shift in the evenings or at weekends, traditionally to earn extra money - to put in the bank, presumably? Every day a day at school.]

Su Chantry was featured in The Sunday Times Magazine's A Life in the Day. I always follow a set routine when I visit this page: Read the bold intro at the top of the page to see who it is, glance at the photo, then read the brief introductory 'See Me' (okay, CV) paragraph, again in bold.

My eyes then flick down to the bottom of the left column for the regular "Words of Wisdom" feature - as quoted above - and those few words influence me as to whether I actually read the piece.

Mostly I don't because the "wisdom" is too hackneyed. Well, Su sounded like the sort of person I'd be happy to share a few drinks with, so I went on to read about her day back with the NHS as a volunteer nurse, especially though as I was intrigued by the perceived contradiction in her first two slices of wisdom.

"Always be excited and interested when you meet new people." Yep, sounds just right. "Trust your instincts because invariably they're right." Absolutely, always right, I find. But here's the thing: we know that within the first ten seconds of meeting a stranger a set of traffic lights will switch on inside our brain: Green ... embrace; amber ... look left, look right, look left again; red ... treat as a roundabout and proceed with extra care.

So what happens when that stranger is a dodgy roundabout? Be polite, agreeable and smiley, for sure, and if ever in the future you need to do business you have a head start, so be sure to measure three times and cut once - but essentially, never get excited and overly interested when your instincts flash red.

Oh, while I'm here: My words of wisdom?

BEST ADVICE I WAS GIVEN: Treat everyone as if you're doing business with yourself, never take advantage because the occasional person you meet will be acutely observant - and you won't know who they are until it is too late.
ADVICE I'D GIVE: Trust your instincts, especially those first 10 seconds, because they will never let you down.
WHAT I WISH I'D KNOWN: That I shouldn't wait until middle-age to keep a daily diary to note those things that tickle my H-spot (H as in Hallelujah!) and my F-spot (F as in Funny bone, my sense of fun).

I have a shocking recall memory, and if I don't make a note of those things that bring joy, or make my eyes roll (as in classic doolallyness) - they're gone.
07/06/2020

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Sometimes you just need to distance yourself

"Shoemaker makes size 75 shoes for social distancing." Grigore Lup from Romania noticed that people were not following the safety guidance amid the coronavirus pandemic, so he set out to do something about it...

Remember to put your best foot forward

Grigore's picture-perfect platypus shoes

Apropos social distancing, there is much ado about the UK's two metre gap. It appears to be such an arbitrary compromise. According to British science, we should maintain a distance of two metres, i.e. two big steps for a man, one giant leap for Covid-19.

German science, however, recommends 1.5m, South Korea 1.4m (that's two arms' length), with China, Hong Kong and Singapore settling for one metre - which is what the World Health Organisation advises. All very confusing.

Here in Britain, this is how different occupations and trades measure current social distancing:

Dairy farmers deem it to be the length of a Holstein Friesian cow - or two smaller Dexters.
Sheep farmers measure it as a couple of Border Leicesters, or a brace of Beulah Speckles in Wales.
Horsey folk settle for the length of a Shire horse - or two Shetland ponies.
Footballers view it as a Peter Crouch, boxers as a Tyson Fury, and celebrities as a Richard Osman.
Undertakers envisage it as a man-sized coffin.
Supermarket workers put it at two trolley lengths.
Classic car lovers embrace it as the original Mini.
Casanovas see it as the length of a King Size Bed ... curses, two metres is as good as a mile.
When pubs eventually reopen, the fellow who is always reluctant to get his round in will maintain six-and-a-half-feet distance between him and the bar (that's the new Corona two metre 'yard' of ale).
On the moral high ground social distancing is impossible due to the overcrowding.
However, Prince Andrew settles for 3,500 miles, currently the distance between himself and the USA.
As, curiously, does American diplomat's wife, Anne Sacoolas, who has been charged with causing the death of Harry Dunn by dangerous driving.
Me? I'm with the Swedes: they measure social distancing as common sense.

Enough already. However, before I go, next door to Sweden, in Finland, this is a typical conversation doing the rounds: "So, we now have to stay two metres away from each other? Why so close?" Mind you, the one Finnish girl I have personally known was anything but a two metre girl. Ah, sweet memories.
06/06/2020

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Browsing headlines and herbivores

"It's eerie recording radio from one's eyrie." A couple of days back I enjoyed some clever wordplay, compliments of a Richard Brown of Redditch: "Rather than being given permission to have a barbecue, I'd prefer to join a barber queue." Today it's the art of the newspaper sub-editor: browsing The Times, I spotted the above headline atop a Notebook piece by columnist Daniel Finkelstein about broadcasting from home during these days of lockdown and social distancing.

All together now ... ♪♪♪: You say eerie, I say eyrie; You say barbecue, I say barber queue ... let's call the whole thing off - I say not, you say knot...

Then today, along my countryside walk I spot something rather smiley. Cattle and sheep are essentially grazers, but whenever and wherever they can, they will browse, i.e. eat non-grasses such as leaves, which contain various minerals they crave but do not find sufficient quantities to satisfy their needs in grasses.

Here's a yesteryear photo of one of Dinefwr Park's resident White Park cattle, grabbing a quick leaf or two...

Reach for the top shelf - 1

A White Park heifer at Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo

Where you find many trees along the boundary of a field, and the branches reach out over the field, a clean and level browsing line can be seen where the cattle have reached their maximum height to reach the leaves. I have also observed sheep reaching into a hedge for leaves, but never before seen one stretching up on hind legs for some essential roughage - and suddenly, there she is, Mrs Sheep...

Reach for the top shelf - 2

Having panic-munched the bottom shelves...

Obviously those are tasty leaves because the bottom shelves have been well cleared - a bit of panic eating? - so time to move up in the world. The photo was taken at some distance, with my little camera on maximum zoom - that's zoom with a lowercase z rather the one with a capital Z - and I didn't want to lose the image by moving closer and losing the moment.

Anyway, it was a smiley click in these curious times.
05/06/2020

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Strictly no make-up - and definitely no kissing

"Coronation Street to resume filming next week without older cast members; Cast and crew will have their temperatures checked on a daily basis, and actors will put on their own make-up and costumes." A clickbait spotted online. Corrie actor Andrew Whyment went on to reassure viewers that safety will be paramount when filming resumes: "There definitely will be no kissing scenes."

ITV has denied that the soap is to be renamed Corona-Nation Street. Meanwhile, back on the sunny side of the street...

"Elon Musk has said he'd like to die on Mars - but not on impact!" A quote seen floating in the ether following his aerospace company SpaceX successfully launching its first two astronauts into space to link up with the International Space Station.

Mr Musk is definitely heading for that parallel universe so beloved of Star Trek: "It's life, Elon, but not as we know it!"

Meanwhile, Vanessa Feltz, one of the most entertaining raconteurs on the radio, relates this tale on her early-morning Radio 2 show, immediately after playing Petula Clark's Downtown:

"A while ago, I perfectly remember one birthday party, and I'd invited the late, great American producer David Gest. When he arrived he brought his own security to my home, Feltz Towers. The security guard came in and said something like this: 'Ladies and gentlemen - David Gest!' And David Gest appeared at my party, in my house."

Listening to Vanessa I sort of sat up and thought, honestly, these celebrities are all bonkers and already living in Elon's parallel universe. But we'll let Vanessa continue, because Vanessa is hugely generous and never tells nasty stories:

"Anyway, there stood David Gest, and he went: 'Ladies and gentlemen - Petula Clark!' And in came Petula Clark - it's a true story - and Petula Clark came bearing gifts and brought me a present because she'd come to my birthday party, albeit uninvited and unexpected, but still a wonderful adornment and a jewel of the occasion. And the present? The Greatest Hits of Petula Clark CD - and I treasure it to this very day."

How delightful is that? And Zoe Ball at the start of her show immediately following Vanessa, commented on how wonderful the story was, and adding: "Vanessa always throws the best parties anyway."

The only thing missing from the Vanessa story is this: "Anyway, there stood Petula Clark, and she went: 'Ladies and gentlemen - Charles Aznavour!' And Charles Aznavour came in, bearing gifts..."

But one can be just a little bit too greedy for a good story not to end...

PS: I often note the amusing alternatives my spellchecker suggests when it comes to a sudden stop over something it does not recognise. Today it had a particularly productive outing:
Whyment (Corrie actor
Andrew) came up as Hymen (no kissing, remember), followed by Wheelmen.
Petula came up as Petulant (how unfair).
Aznavour came up as Enamour, followed by Unsavoury. You pays your money...
04/06/2020

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Shops and car showrooms up and running - but churches stay grounded

"After buying a couple of dresses and viewing a new car, I would like to nip into church to ask God to help me pay for them. Has the Government lost its marbles about reopening churches?" Rosemary Corbin of Zeals, Wiltshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph. Nice one. What with Donald Trump's God-fearing moment with that Bible, perhaps Rosemary should set up a Zoom confessional with ole Trumpety Trump himself and ask for some divine guidance with those purchases.

"Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick expressed concern that hymn-singing would involve exhalation. It might even involve exaltation and sometimes exhortation." Jill Wells of Ramsey, Isle of Man, in a letter to the Daily Mail. Deep breath and count to ten.

"Newspaper headline: 'Singing hymns could spread virus, says minister.' That's right: it can spread the virus of Christianity, a greater threat to the mighty than any discovered or invented by science." Journalist and columnist Charles Moore, writing in The Daily Telegraph.

"Football matches from June 17, but barbers shut until July 14? Who is making these daft rules - a bald bloke called Dominic?" David Gordon of Romiley, Cheshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail. If only Dominic Cummings still had that striking head of golden hair his fellow student from schooldays, Alexander Armstrong, said made him look like Sharon Stone, gulp, then I guess barbers would now be open.

Anyway, I enjoyed what Grumpy Crow had to say on the Dominic/Sharon front: "Well that's the last time I watch Basic Instinct." Yep, not so much crossed-legs but crossed-fingers.

"Rather than being given permission to have a barbecue, I'd prefer to join a barber queue." Richard Brown of Redditch, Worcestershire, in a letter to the Daily Mail. Perfect wordplay.

"I gave my husband an emergency haircut using the dog-grooming clippers. It worked a treat..." Lesley Lewis of Aberaeron, Ceredigion, in a letter to the Daily Mail. Rumours that hubby now insists on stretching out on the carpet and licking his balls is a wicked bit of gossip put about by Nogood Boyo of nearby New Quay - or New Kway as I used to pronounce it until someone put me right on a Sunday School trip to Aberystwyth.

I tip my hat, with a smile, to all those marvellous letter writers.
03/06/2020

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Arise Sir Barnard Castle

"Corrections and clarifications: In articles about Dominic Cummings we misnamed Barnard Castle as Bernard Castle, and Chester-le-Street, near Durham, as Chesterlee Street. We also sited Barnard Castle on Teesside; it lies well inland in Teesdale." Thus The Guardian newspaper, putting a few things straight (note: I avoided falling into the Grauniad trap).

Whatever the folk of Barnard Castle, a market town in Teesdale, County Durham, population 5,495 (2011), think of Dominic Cummings, they are not best pleased with the meeja, who have resolutely struggled with the words Barnard and Teesdale. And it's not just The Guardian, oh no:

"The BBC has been all over the shop," complained a frequent visitor to Barney (as it is known locally). "Andrew Marr called it Castle Barnard, BBC announcers, as well as The Guardian, have called it Bernard's Castle, while the BBC subtitles department insisted it was Castle Bar Not."

As Roland White pointed out in The Sunday Times: "We should be thankful that the Cummings family didn't drive to Cockermouth."

Anyway, what did I make of the Cummings and the goings, especially as it has predictably turned into a political bun fight: the "Ayes" against the "Noes".

So, summing up the Cummings affair from the relative safety of the grassy knoll - I shall disregard the hold-the-front-page gossip from actor and singer Alexander Armstrong, who was in school at the same time as Dominic, and says he had a mass of golden hair and "had a look of Sharon Stone about him", gulp - anyway, back to Dominic's trip to Durham:

As a rule of thumb, those who have children, or grandchildren, admit they would do the same to protect their young - and those who don't insist that rules is rules and should never be short-circuited. Also, Brexiteers appear to shrug and say "Aye!" - and Remainers insist "No!".

Yet we know out there in nature, raw in tooth and claw, parents - mothers especially - go to extreme lengths to protect their young, even putting their own lives at risk. And we are animals, remember, with all the attendant baggage and behavioural traits.

So in conclusion: "The ayes have it, the ayes have it" (but only by a "noes", i.e. 52% against 48%!).

A damn close-run thing, to be sure.

Anyway, enough of Dominic's short-Cummings, did you see that crafty opinion poll by market research agency Decision Technology? They asked Britons if they had broken lockdown. But here's the cunning bit: the first sample were asked to give their names, whilst the second group were allowed anonymity:

Of those who gave their names, 3% said yes, they did admit to breaking lockdown.
Of those who remained anonymous, 29% admitted breaking lockdown. (I smiled and looked away when I saw this.)
02/06/2020

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♪♪♪: June is bustin' out all over...

♪♪♪: "I'm wild again, beguiled again, / A whimpering, simpering child again, / Bewitched, bothered and bewildered, am I..." Yesterday afternoon it was Oklahoma! and Gordon MacRae singing about that bright golden haze on the meadow. Today it was Rita Hayworth making a fool of herself all over Pal Joey, the lounge-lizard antihero played to perfection by Frank Sinatra. How could the characters played by Rita and Kim Novak fall for someone so lacking in charm, wit and wisdom, and destined to make their lives such a misery? Great songs though, so that's okay.

Talking of Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, the definitive version of the song is sung by Ella Fitzgerald. Here's just a random selection of memorable lines she delivers with such perfection:

After one whole quart of brandy, / Like a daisy I'm awake, / With no Bromo-Seltzer handy / I don't even shake...

Lately I've not slept a wink / Since this half-pint imitation / Put me on the blink...

Horizontally speaking, he's at his very best; / Vexed again, perplexed again, / Thank God I can be over-sexed again...*

Couldn't eat, was dyspeptic, / Life was so hard to bear, / Now my heart is antiseptic, / Since you moved out of here...

Romance, finis; / Your chance, finis; / Those ants that invaded my pants, finis; / Bewitched, bothered and bewildered - no more...

Brilliant. Dyspeptic and antiseptic ... and we're all familiar with the glass half-full or half-empty thingy, but what about half-pint imitation? And ants in her pants? They definitely don't write lyrics like that these days. Just search "Ella Fitzgerald - Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered (Lyrics)". All 7:14 of it.

* Lorenz Hart actually wrote "Thank God I can't be over-sexed again..." - but Ella sings "I can..." Or does she? Listen carefully at about 4:30 into the song. It's a bit like "One small step for a man..." - but Neil Armstrong seems to say "One small step for man..." - which is a subtle but critical difference.

PS: Yesterday, I changed "June is bustin' out all over" to "Spring is bustin' out all over". Well, today is June proper, so I think I will leave you with the dog rose, as the wild rose of our hedges is usually called. Country lanes everywhere are becoming dramatically adorned by them...


The wild rose ... Mother Nature's buttonhole

A perfect buttonhole that would even make Pal Joey look classy. In fact I reckon it would provide Mother Nature with an immaculate buttonhole. But be sure to handle Mother Nature with care because the dog rose petals are fragile and quick to fall.

Oh yes, reportedly called the dog rose due to the belief that the roots should be used if bitten by a rabid dog - so if you go anywhere near old Trumpety Trump, be sure to have a few dog rose roots somewhere about your person.
01/06/2020

 
Back to square one...
Huw and Smile 2020: May
Huw and Smile 2020: April
Huw and Smile 2020: January to March
Huw and Smile 2019: October to December