|LOOK YOU : MARCH 2021|
If a tree screams in the woods...
"People create Edvard Munch's Scream out of slippers and clothes, as they make art out of household objects during lockdown." Part of an eye-catching artistic clickbait that caught the eye from a year ago, and I duly clicked. To recap:
I was particularly captivated by efforts to recreate the Scream, especially the one made out of slippers and clothes, and featured below (left). However, and dare I suggest, Mother Nature does an even better job as she reacts to what we are doing to the planet, particularly so when you ponder how pollution, both in the air and in the rain, is making our trees especially vulnerable to a host of nasty diseases...
Edvard Munch's Scream:
When the horse chestnut - or the conker tree as I know it, and is particularly vulnerable to something really nasty called 'bleeding canker' - when the horse chestnut prepares to burst into leaf and flower, there's a magical moment that lasts but a day or so, when the leaves are ready to explode out of the bud ... and as you can see, above (right), captured compliments of a friendly Towy Valley tree, it really is Edvard Munch's Scream writ large.
Anyway, back in the here and now, the other day I posted my first bluebell of the season, so over recent days I've spotted my first "Screams" of the spring season. So here are a couple of the smiliest...
The Scream, ahoy!
Mother Nature never misses a trick to generate a smile - so we
should show her some respect in return.
Five-star letters from Middle-Britain - 1
Let them hoard cake ... "The EU's approach to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine appears to be a rare instance of wanting to have one's cake and not eat it." Paul Langham of Clifton, Bristol, in a letter to The Times.
Occasionally, a letter appears that deserves a category all of its own, so I thought I'd launch 'Five-star letters', which, hopefully you'll agree, Paul Langham's pearl deserves such a nod and a wink. So witty and so wise, reflecting perfectly on how the EU has turned the pandemic into a political football.
In fact, I thought I would share the accolade with another letter, on the same theme:
Hard to swallow ... "The current attitude of the EU to the
Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine reminds me of the old Woody Allen gag
about two ladies in a restaurant. The first says: 'The food here
is terrible.' The other replies: 'Yes, and such small
Martin Clifford of Leek Wootton, Warwickshire, in a letter to
The Sunday Times.
I see no ships ... only route canal treatment
Suez blockage ... "Strange that they can build a pyramid but don't know how to unblock a canal." Jeremy Nicholas of Great Bardfield, Essex, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
Yes, it took them a week to figure out how to shift the behemoth Ever Given (out of Evergreen Marine Corp), a container ship the length of four football pitches, weighing 200,000 tons and boasting some 20,000 containers (talk about being caught offside). And blown aground by a gust of wind (probably called Mariah).
Yep, the Ever Given, a gift that kept on giving by dividing the planet: those who worried about the economic fallout and potential environment problems - and the rest of us who saw it as something to lift the spirits and generate a smile. Indeed, yet another event that endorses the fragility of our modern world.
Nothing highlighted the extraordinary doolallyness of the whole business more than one of the first pictures that emerged of the incident...
Yes, just look at that tiny JCB at the bow attempting to free the ship. It makes me imagine a goldfish confronting a blue whale. Or a road surface contractor levelling out a load of tarmacadam with a tablespoon.
And then this morning, I'm on my regular walk into town ... and I approach one advertising van and its man servicing a bus shelter billboard and inserting a new display advertisement. I stop and say hello, as is my wont, and we exchange pleasantries...
Then I nod towards the company name on his van: "Clear Channel? That ship stuck in the Suez Canal could do with you people sorting it out." We both share a good chuckle - and I move on.
Well blow me, they must have been in touch because by the end of the day news came through which endorsed that new proverb: "Many JCBs and tugs make light work of Ever Given's predicament."
Incidentally, why is the ship called "Ever Given", a strange name for sure? This is because it is owned by a Taiwanese container shipping company - the Evergreen Marine Corp - and of the company's 39 ships, 20 have names beginning with "Ever", including "Ever Giant", "Ever Goods" - and of course the now infamous "Ever Given".
So, the moral of the tale? Mariah blows a kiss across the Suez Canal, and it sets off economic whirlwinds and panic stations around the world.
The joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade. Carry on up ship
creek, indeed. For Ever and
Ever, Amen and A-women.
Sunday is knock-knock day
Yes, it's back after giving way to traffic from the right in the shape of Mother's Day and Census Day...
They Call The Wind Morwenna
Incidentally, They Call The Wind Morwenna is a take on
Paint Your Wagon and the song They Call The Wind Mariah
(spelt Maria in the film), so the Welsh version is They Call The Wind
Morwenna (meaning White-ish sea - and what do you get when
there's a gale blowing out at sea? Yep, white horses).
Letters from Middle-Britain - 22
The Bill ... "Did the organisers of the Bristol demonstration against the new law [the Police and Crime Bill, giving the police greater powers to rein in demonstrations that cause 'serious annoyance, inconvenience, loss of amenity, or recklessly causing public nuisance'] consider the possible provocative implication of calling it 'Kill the Bill' ('Disgraceful scenes': Police chief fears further violence elsewhere in UK, 23 March)? That's a genuine question." Tim Large of Reading, Berkshire, in a letter to The Guardian.
[Every day a day at school: "The Bill", or more commonly "The Old Bill", became the nickname for London's police following the Great War after the fashion for wearing moustaches that looked much like the soldier cartoon character Old Bill, by Captain Charles Bruce Bairnsfather (1887-1959). Hm, what an interesting surname; there has to be a Scottish connection with a name like that.]
Killing joke ... "Did the organisers of the protest in Bristol not realise than an event entitled 'Kill the Bill' was guaranteed to result in violence against the police?" Derek Wellman of Lincoln, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
When I peruse The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, it certifies what an impossibly tribal species we are.
The Guardian and its readers ceaselessly point out how totally useless Boris Johnson and his Ministers are in every aspect of running the country, especially so the pandemic - while The Daily Telegraph and its readers approve (more or less) that Boris and Company are doing their best in difficult circumstances, bearing in mind of course that it really is impossible to please all 67.61 million people all of the time.
Oh yes, and that newspaper columnists spend their lockdown lives sat in front of a screen pointing out where the Government is forever going wrong.
Interesting then that the two letters I feature above regarding the extreme protests against the police in Bristol that have degenerated into violence - including missile-throwing and the setting alight of police vehicles - were both published on the very same morning.
And I guess the protestors knew precisely what they were doing when they named the protests "Kill the Bill". There are many doolally people out there. Two more letters make the point:
Gunpowder plot ... "One question springs to mind. Who attends a peaceful protest armed with fireworks and missiles?" Jennifer Salmon of Felixstowe, Suffolk, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
Motion carried ... "The rioters proved the point. The police do
need more powers."
Heather Remblance of Gloucester, also in a letter to The Daily
Hark! A medieval meme memo
Silver snail found in a field is medieval meme ... "The small silver mount artefact of a medieval knight emerging from his hiding place in a snail shell resting on the back of a goat, dated from 1200 to 1350 and found last year in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, is among the British Museum's latest acquisitions from treasure dug up in the UK, mostly by metal detectorists." A smiley tale in the news - and, ta-rah, here is our knight in shining armour...
Museum curator Beverley Nenk said: "The praying knight emerging from a snail shell atop a goat implies an element of parody or satire. The mount may be a satirical reference to cowardly or non-chivalric behaviour of opponents in battle, or as a parody of the upper or knightly classes."
But not so fast, Beverley: here's Dr Fergus Paterson of Weybridge, Surrey, in a letter to The Times:
Silver snail's allure ... "You claim that the silver snail dates from 1200 to 1350. Not so. It clearly depicts rugby union's Jonny Wilkinson about to take a kick at goal and was made circa 2003 to celebrate England's triumph in winning the Rugby World Cup."
The magic of the internet means it can all be brought to life:
How wonderful is that juxtaposition? Thank you, Dr Fergus, for pointing us in that gloriously silly and smiley direction.
And talking of Jonny Wilkinson and the world of rugby - the national flags of Scotland and Wales on display in a local house, as featured yesterday, worked wonders, note the Western Mail's Saturday front page headline as it went to press late Friday night:
"WALES ARE SIX NATIONS CHAMPIONS AFTER SCOTS BEAT FRANCE IN
A very chequered flag
Bonkers Broadcasting Corporation? ... "Sometimes the BBC forgets what the first B stands for." Broadcaster and journalist Andrew Neil, 71, after BBC Breakfast hosts Naga Munchetty, 46, and Charlie Stayt, 58, appear to mock Cabinet Minister Robert Jenrick for displaying a Union Flag and a portrait of the Queen in his office during an interview.
Munch and spit ... "The flag shaggers will be up in arms." An anti-Tory tweet "liked" by BBC Breakfast host Naga Munchetty after she and co-presenter Charlie Stayt were reprimanded and reminded of their impartiality rules after they mocked the size of the Union Flag in Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick's office and laughed at a picture of the Queen hanging on his wall.
Ah yes, flags, which both consciously and subconsciously say so much. Imagine what would happen to presenters on American, French, Norwegian or Scottish television if they displayed a similarly disrespectful and unpatriotic attitude to the national flag after an interview with a government minister.
Indeed, there is something unsettling in the thought that nothing inside those overly 'clever' heads of Naga and Charlie warned them of the ambush and the inevitable sky falling on their heads from a great height. Which it did, resulting in Naga having to grovel and apologise for liking the "flag shaggers" tweet.
Sticking with flags, last Saturday Wales played France in rugby union and were denied a Grand Slam with France winning the game with the final move of the match. This Friday evening, and in a delayed match because of coronavirus, France entertains Scotland in the final game of the Six Nations Championship.
To secure the championship ahead of Wales, France need to defeat Scotland by scoring at least four tries for a bonus point - and a winning margin of 21 points or more.
So this morning, walking home from town, I pass a very Welsh household sporting the blue Saltire flag of Scotland in an upstairs bedroom window. And the Welsh dragon flag in the ground floor window...
A big smile - and here's lookin' at you, Scotland, especially at 8 o'clock Friday evening.
Oh, and you won't
find anyone in Wales with anything but admiration for Scotland
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's
intensity of ethics, morality and honesty after her high-profile
flirtation with an apparent lack of ethics, morality and honesty.
Add a little seasoning
Another smiley MATT pocket cartoon spotted on the front page of last weekend's Sunday Telegraph ... A woman rolls up her sleeve ready to receive her jab, and she says to the vaccinator: "Is this vaccine from India? I don't like anything too spicy." Matt reacts with his usual wit to the news that an expected reduction in the UK's Covid vaccine supply in April is partly due to a delay in a delivery from India of five million Oxford-AstraZeneca doses.
I was reminded of the cartoon as I was today called for my second jab - which comes seven weeks after the first, rather than the 12 weeks indicated on my vaccine record card.
Presumably there is likely to be further delays because some vaccines will also be held hostage by the EU and will have to be redirected their way, so I guess the NHS wants to get the second inoculations cleared off the books. And it was noticeable how much quieter The Halliwell Centre in Carmarthen was compared to when I received my first jab.
Anyway, I shared Matt's cartoon with the paramedic - and he enjoyed it too.
Jab job well done all round.
Metamorphosis ... "The only side effect I've had from the Oxford jab are talking posh and looking down on other people." Ronald Ball of Farnborough, Hampshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
Phew, it's the Pfizer-BioNTech I had. There again, perhaps I'll end up talking all common-or-garden and thinking that the group of individuals who occupy the highest place and status in society are, um, the dog's bollocks. Ho-hum!
PS: Along my 15-mile A40 drive to Carmarthen, on a
beautifully sunny afternoon, I was captivated by never-ending
crowds and hosts of golden daffodils decorating the hedgerows,
fluttering and dancing in the breeze. Glorious.
A year of lockdown
A MATT pocket cartoon on the front page of The Daily Telegraph ... A fellow is walking his dog in the park, and the dog looks up at him and says: "We've had a year of lockdown. When this is over, let's never go for a walk again." Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle...
It brought to mind some horses I regularly meet on my country walks and have a conversation with, albeit one-sided conversations. So I thought I'd revisit one of my photos and take some inspiration from Matt...
Which way to The Crazy
Here's lookin' at you - in due course, of course. If there are any pubs
left open, that is.
Every day a day at school - 6
The law of diminishing spare parts ... "Tough new rules aim to make electrical goods last longer..." The rules include a legal requirement on manufacturers to make spare parts available to consumers, which aims to extend the life of products up to 10 years and cut carbon emissions from the manufacture of new goods.
A recent news headline announces a long overdue crackdown. This generated a letter to The Daily Telegraph, from a Rosie Rushton, whose perfectly adequate oven had burnt out its grill element - but the manufacturer had stopped making elements to fit her particular model. And she missed her Welsh rarebit.
This drew a letter from a Bob Prichard of Claygate, Surrey:
Toastie technique ... "Rosie Rushton (Letters, March 15), who has
no grill misses cheese on toast. There is an excellent
Well, I'm partial to some cheese on toast myself, so I decided to give that alternative a go ... yes, it took longer than eight minutes, but that's down to getting used to the heat output my electric hot plates generate.
Whatever, the result was wonderful. And so easy and
uncomplicated. So, when caught short on the grill element front,
I commend Bob Prichard's
alternative to the House.
Census Day 2021
Common census ... "Columnist James Marriott says that the census reminds him of his ordinariness (Comment, Mar 12). Speculating on what question would put some life into the raw data, I propose it should be 'What is your favourite item?' I'm torn between the dishwasher and homemade fudge." Sheila York of Camberley, Surrey, in a letter to The Times.
This morning, just before 6 o'clock, I did the old census thingy (my online acknowledgment confirms that it was submitted at 06:03). I would also add that completing it endorsed my common-or-gardenness, which, incidentally, I'm perfectly happy with (further proof that I am probably the most average person in the country).
As to what question should be asked in the census to throw up some intriguing raw data (that is, authentic and undiluted facts), and bearing in mind the explosion in tribalism in the wake of Brexit, Trump and Black Lives Matter, I suggest the following would throw up some interesting insights:
"Excepting the tribe of family, friends and colleagues, list in order of priority the three tribes you identify most powerfully with, starting with the most potent, for example: Scarlets, Wales, the British and Irish Lions."
My example is best expressed through the game of rugby union (local club Scarlets represents community, Wales represents country, and the British and Irish Lions represents cross-border collaboration).
The British and Irish Lions is a wonderful example of inherently individualistic tribal nations coming together as one all-embracing tribe, including, remarkably, all of Ireland because in rugby union both North and South play as one international team.
So, with the Lions all five nations become one tribe to take on equally tribal opposition, whether it be Australia, South Africa or New Zealand. All good, powerful stuff.
Oh yes, when the players and supporters return home - I speak as a supporter who has been on Lions tours and treasure the T-shirts - everyone reverts to their default tribal mindset (all nations prize beating the English above all else).
With the exception of European golf, the EU does not work the way of the British and Irish Lions because 27 such diverse tribes coming together as one is too much to ask of the human psyche. Note during the Olympics how all EU nations, when on the top step, wrap themselves in their own individual national flags and belt out their anthems with huge enthusiasm and emotion.
Oh yes: what is my favourite item? Hm, good question ... I will go with my digital camera. I am not a photographer (having no interest in photography per se), but always have my camera handy, whether out walking or travelling, simply to snap those moments that capture the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade, examples of which I regularly feature here on Look You - see yesterday's photo of Solitaire 2021.
Incidentally, listening to the radio, a fellow informs us that
when completing the census he came across a box with the
instruction alongside "Do not write in this space" - and he
nearly wrote "OK". I suspect that's an old joke, but it was new
to me. Very good, though.
The joy of Solitaire ... "I do not think I have ever seen anything more beautiful than the bluebell I have been looking at. I know the beauty of our Lord by it." Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), English poet and Jesuit priest.
Yes, Solitaire, my first bluebell of the year, has made her grand entrance. Over the past 22 years (2001 excluded, the year of the Foot and Mouth pandemic when the countryside was in lockdown), there's a spot in a local wood where I note the arrival of the first bluebell of the year.
I say my first bluebell, because in this sheltered, south-facing spot, this one little beauty appears a couple of days or so ahead of her siblings, and anything up to 10-14 days before the surrounding woodland, so Solitaire is my measure of whether spring has sprung in west Wales.
And here she is (above) - bang on the Vernal Equinox, the day spring officially begins. Oh, and you can just about spot her siblings, just emerging, desperate to catch up with Big Sis.
As to the woe, woe and thrice woe factor of today's headline, I've just watched Wales take on France out in Paris for a Grand Slam sweep (beating England, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and, yes, France, along the way).
After navigating rugby's Six Nations Championship with steadfast discipline, Wales forfeit a most gloriously unexpected Grand Slam by committing four silly penalties and two yellow card offences in the final 10 minutes of 400 minutes of five games of Six Nations pressure rugby. Sigh!
At least the EU's
movers and shakers will empathise, given their 27
Nations Vaccination Championship wooden spoon nightmare.
France excepted, of course.
The power of an awe walk - 7
"Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American writer and philosopher (a journal entry for May 16, 1834).
I repeat Ralph Waldo Emerson's quote from a post from a year ago because this is when I record the appearance in a local wood of the first bluebell of the year.
The bluebells are just about ready to say hello, especially Solitaire, the individual that first appears - but today I'll share the magical way the woodland floor transforms itself to welcome the flower's grand entrance onto the rural stage.
This is winter's woodland...
Bluebell woodland floor in January
I prefer Frost's gold to brown, which would be my first choice of colour to describe the woodland floor over winter.
And here is spring's woodland...
The same bluebell woodland floor in March
The change in just two months is dramatic; indeed, the lush green carpet that precedes the bluebell itself is particularly beautiful, as the above proves.
Stay tuned for the arrival of Solitaire,
the leading lady of 2021's bluebell wood...
Bits and pieces - 1
Quotable tweet ... from @RobMeyerson: "Funny how people always say 'avoid that like the plague' and then the plague shows up and millions of people do very little to avoid it." Rob Meyerson is an American aerospace engineer and executive known for his role in the development of reusable rocket launch systems.
I'm impressed how "avoid that like the plague" has become an essential part of our daily thinking, excepting the aforementioned millions, of course.
Meanwhile an addendum just added to my post of last Tuesday, the 16th of March:
Mind your 'ead ... "It's just incredible that there was a meteorite in our drive which was 4,567 billion years old. It is just mind-blowing." Cathryn Wilcock, on discovering some space rock outside her house in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, England.
Followed by this - apropos the shredded vehicle tyre I discovered abandoned by the side of the A40 - and it's a line from a song just heard on the radio, Island Girl, sung by Elton John: "Well she's black as coal, but she burns like a fire / And she wraps herself around you like a well-worn tyre."
Quite. Anyway, there I was, following some road cycling on Eurosport, and a conversation between commentators Carlton Kirby and Dan Lloyd tickled my old funny bone:
Ells bells ... "I must hold the record for the number of letter 'Ls' in my name, nine in total: Daniel William Llewellyn Lloyd."
The village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch on Anglesey, Wales, has only 11. Although Dan was born in England, and listed online as English, there must be a strong Welsh connection there somewhere.
Sticking with cycling, I was watching a women's race and a
21-year-old Dutch cyclist by the name of Lonneke Uneken won a
stage - but her surname was pronounced without the last 'n', as
in Lonneke Uneke, and I particularly enjoyed how the internal
rhyme in her full name made it roll effortlessly off the tongue.
Just like Llanfairpwllgwyngyll...
FOMO ... JOLA ... LOOP
Unlocked ... "Forget FOMO (fear of missing out), Britons are now experiencing JOLA (joy of looking ahead). Over half of Britons are revelling in the 'joy of looking ahead' following the Government's roadmap unveiling." A clickbait tickled my I-spot, my Imagination-spot.
So I decided to revisit my 'Roadmap out of lockdown' signpost from March the 8th (see down below)...
Roadmap out of lockdown
Actually, what did go through my mind was that the empty space on the signpost should now read LOOP (Load Of Old Pollocks). I resisted the more common or garden LOOB (Load Of Old Bollocks) and decided to go with Pollock, as in Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), the American painter and noted for his association with the abstract expressionist movement.
After all, much of my thinking tends to travel along abstract expressionism (see revisited signpost). And life does tend to go round and round - as in 'what goes around comes around' - as in a LOOP.
Finally, and with the 21st of June 2021, the Summer Solstice, inked in as when the nation will finally be released from its lockdown starting gate, there are calls to make that day a Midsummer Bank Holiday to celebrate the end of the coronavirus restrictions as we know them.
So: a day on which everything will be shut and no one will be
able to do anything. Have they thought this one through? Hm ...
lots of tunnel vision - but no peripheral vision. Typical LOOP.
Mind your 'ead
The Guardian: Corrections and clarifications ... "An article about meteorites said 'About 50 tonnes of extraterrestrial material enters the Earth's atmosphere each year.' That should have said each day (Meteorites from fireball 'may have landed near Cheltenham', 2 March, page 4)." A chunk of said meteorite, and a very rare specimen to boot, apparently left over from God's universe-warming party, was indeed found in the driveway of a Winchcombe home in the Cotswold hills of Gloucestershire, England.
Meanwhile, walking into town, Monday morning, I cross the busy A40 - but notice, about 30 paces or so to my right, what looks like a black rubbish bag. Or, heaven's above, perhaps a chunk of meteorite.
Anyway, given my determination (now bordering on addiction) to pick up all the rubbish along my walk, I decide that the minor detour is no problem, and I can dump it into the council bin I pass a few hundred yards further along the road into town.
However, when I reach said 'black bag/meteorite', what I find is this...
Yes, it's a shredded vehicle tyre, which I pick up, inspect ... and wonder how the hell it ended up there. I photograph it (above, my boot included to give an idea of scale).
Just a little further along I pass a road sign, so I hang it there for another photo opportunity, especially so given the irony of the words...
"Diwedd/End" seems appropriate. It's the tyre size of a small family car, and the thread is above the legal limit, so I guess it must have had a blowout, or a flat without a spare and driving on regardless (note one side of the tyre is ominously shredded). But how did it end up discarded by the side of the road?
Perhaps that is where the vehicle came to full stop, changed wheel and threw away the tyre. Or perhaps it blew off a recovery truck if the mishap ended up with only three wheels on their wagon, or indeed the blowout caused an accident.
Yep, one of life's curious little mysteries. And I will never know the answer.
Addendum added 18/03/2021:
Royal soap Oprah - 5
Dear New York Times ... "Given your dedication to bash Britain at every given opportunity, I was intrigued that you ran a comment piece following the Sussex-Oprah love-in attacking the evils of inherited privilege. Hm, would you be the same American newspaper that has been owned by one family since 1896?" Me, of Llandampness, West Wales, in a letter to the New York Times - but never submitted.
Actually, my 'letter' was motivated compliments of a brief item in TMS, The Times Diary, which tickled my old funny bone. Meanwhile, back with proper correspondence...
Not ready for my photo opportunity ... "Meghan claims that she was unprepared for life in the Royal family. An actress who fails to research the role, read the script or take direction should not expect a successful career." Rosalind Grimes of Honiton, Devon, in a letter to The Sunday Telegraph.
Place left hand on Netflix Bible ... "I promise to tell my truth, my whole truth, and nothing but my truth." Vincent Hefter of Old London Town, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
Now what was it my old pal Chief Wise Owl once told me? "Believe nothing you hear, half what you see, and everything your instincts tell you. And remember, there are always three sides to every story: Your truth, my truth - and the facts."
Royal flush ... "In speaking out against those who he well knows are unable to retaliate or challenge inaccuracies, Prince Harry has shown a streak of cowardice. He has let down his country, his regiment and, more importantly, himself." Robert Leng of Colchester, Essex, in a letter to The Sunday Telegraph.
Bravery beyond the call of duty ... "Just compare the courage and determination of the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, to the petulant whining of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex." Colin Bullen of Tonbridge, Kent, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
Indeed, there's no answer to that.
Halt! Who goes there? ... "If I wanted to read about the private lives of the royal family, I could buy the Daily Mail for somewhat less than I pay for the Guardian. Please can you stop giving so much publicity to what is essentially a private family squabble? Just stop it." Barbara Robb of Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, in a letter to, yes, The Guardian.
Your wish is my command, Barbara. For now, anyway. I mean, it is astonishing - but not surprising - how the UK has taken to the trenches to defend itself against Harry, Meghan and the old Soap Oprah Queen herself.
(Look away now, Barbara.)
To be continued, if spared.
The Sunday Telegraph, front page, a MATT pocket cartoon ... Mum is sitting in an easy chair, enjoying a cuppa, and she is being addressed by her earnest looking young son, standing there in front of her, hands on hips: "Mum, you've fed me, looked after me and home schooled me. You really should have remembered to buy yourself some Mother's Day flowers." Very funny. And very Matt.
Meanwhile, an equally amusing request heard on Owen Money's Money for Nothing music programme on Radio Wales:
"Please wish my wonderful mother, Dilys Sullivan, a very happy Mother's Day. She's the most selfless, kindest woman and is loved by all who know her. She cares for my demanding uncle, and has kept the family and neighbours in Merthyr in cakes and pies throughout lockdown. Hopefully, hearing her name on the show will trump her Mother's Day gift of last year, a 12-pack of toilet rolls. Many thanks, Lisa."
As it happens, that reminded me of this gem of a news item from precisely a year ago, March the 14th, which I cut out and pasted in my Joy and Doolallyness diary:
"There is panic buying on British high streets. Sales of soap have risen by 100%, soup by 75%, cold remedies by 64%, rice and noodles by 54%. In Australia, NT News, a newspaper known for its jokey front pages, prints a special eight-page blank supplement with guidelines for its readers to cut and use as toilet paper."
Only Down Under, eh. Wonderful!
Royal soap Oprah - 4
Bring on the memes ... "We've had shock, outrage and the departure of a controversial breakfast show presenter (End of the Piers show: hiss/hurrah*). Now it's time for the blessed internet's take on Harry and Meghan's Night at the Oprah..." The Times sort of leads me in for a quick peruse of the wit and wisdom of the online world. [*Delete to taste].
The one I particularly liked was this...
Some recollections may
Back here on terra firma, sat in front of the telly ... before switching to the rugby - Italy v Wales - I watch some horse racing on ITV4...
In the 3.00 o'clock at Sandown (the race should have been the Oprah Handicap, see here) the favourite is Rainyday Woman at 5/4, ridden by Meghan - no, hang on, it's Megan Nicholls (events of the past week have blurred my thinking).
The favourite is tracking the leaders into the home straight, with every chance three furlongs out, but soon weakens from two furlongs and finishes 10th, the race won by Flirtatious Girl at 13/2.
Well, it tickled my funny bone.
Royal soap Oprah - 3
A quick one-two to the deltoid ... "I seem to have been struck with what experts will one day surely call 'Piers Morgan Syndrome'. This involves having sudden and vehement opinions on subjects that, irritatingly, I know little about..." A gloriously quotable opening paragraph by Times columnist Ann Treneman to her weekly Notebook column.
Yes, I know the feeling, Ann. Actually, she was talking about her advice to friends in the States that, after two jabs, they should not throw away their masks as there will still be a real risk they could catch Covid - but later realised she had no idea if this was the case.
Ann's quote links flawlessly to Meghan and Harry's A Night at the Oprah because English broadcaster, journalist and television celebrity Piers Morgan, 55, he of Piers Morgan Syndrome, has become the first evident casualty of the Royal Soap Oprah. Incidentally, half the population recognise our hero/villain as Piers Morgan, while the other half, given his style of journalism and interviews, know him as Piers Moron.
Whatever, Meghan complained to both Ofcom (the UK's communications regulator) and Dame Carolyn Julia McCall, 59, the chief executive of ITV, over Morgan's comments that he didn't believe a word of what Meghan had said in her interview - and the sky unsurprisingly fell from a great height on his head, so he jumped ship before being pushed (ironically, on the day after the programme pulled in its "highest ever audience").
But it was the end of the Piers show.
The story also links to a Daily Telegraph pocket cartoon by the glorious MATT, where a lady reporter is standing outside ITV's Good Morning Britain studio (where Piers Morgan did his morning show), and she is speaking to camera: "Piers Morgan said it had been a fantastic six years. ITV said some recollections may vary."
Finally, this was Morgan's farewell message to his fans: "Freedom of speech is a hill I'm happy to die on. Thanks for all the love, and hate. I'm off to spend more time with my opinions."
That is rather splendid, remembering that most politicians who
suddenly jump ship invariably do so "to spend more time with my
Memory aid ... "BBC shows are all cookery, repeats, antiques, property... Not too difficult to come up with an appropriate mnemonic..." R Myers of Doncaster, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
Very good - which leads me effortlessly to this:
Order! Order! ... "I have never in this Assembly heard such a running stream of rancid bilge water since I was last on the Constable of Grouville's cow farm." An observation made in Jersey's legislature and deemed to be unparliamentary, according to the annual report of the Society of Clerks.
Yep, if you need to put the boot in, do so with a flush of
mischievous elegance, which will guarantee it attracts the
attention of a wide audience.
Royal soap Oprah
50 shades of colour ... "When my god-daughter (who is white) was expecting a child by her partner (who is black), both families spent the entire pregnancy wondering what colour the baby would be. That's not racism. It's natural curiosity." Marie Jackson of South Barrow, Somerset, in a letter to The Times.
Yes, I wonder if the accusations by Harry and Meghan that the "concerns" raised by a family member about how dark the baby's skin might be, actually began life as natural curiosity as to what colour the baby might be (a variation on the theme of a "Chinese whisper"?), bearing in mind that Meghan herself inherited her father's hue (on her wedding day the camera picked out her freckles against her pale-ish skin).
And along related lines...
Further shades of colour ... "When I was pregnant, those around me happily speculated whether or not the baby would inherit my husband's bright ginger hair. Thanks to the Sussexes, I now realise that I should have been outraged rather than simply pleased that they took an interest." Margaret Ingall of Minehead, Somerset, in a letter, also to The Times.
Words matter ... "Revelations reveal; accusations accuse - a very important distinction." Christopher Timbrell of Kington Langley, Wiltshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
Indeed, a very black and white distinction. Meanwhile, joining me on the grassy knoll:
Brothers Grim sequel ... "Actress kisses Prince, turns him into a frog!" D. R. Kimberley of Northampton, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
Ready for my close-up ... "She's an actress, darling!" Jane Campbell of Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
Money talks ... "Only in La La Land would a billionaire interview millionaires about their problems." John Evans of Wokingham, Berkshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
We want to be alone ... "For a couple who wished to leave public life, they're not making a very good job of it." David Graham of Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
So, end of term report: Must try harder.
Roll up, roll up, it's the royal soap Oprah - 1
"PEERLESS HARRY DEMOLISHES PALACE!" A Monday morning headline compliments of The Fighting Cock, a forum for fans of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, which ran a report on their Sunday game where striker Mr Harry Kane MBE scored twice in their 4-1 win against south London side Crystal Palace.
Yes, it's my favourite ho-ho-ho headline in the wake of Harry and Meghan's night at the Oprah (where were you, Groucho?). Very witty word play by The Fighting Cock.
Incidentally, and apropos The Fighting Cock, for those of a sensitive disposition, Tottenham Hotspur have sported a cockerel on the club crest since the 1921 FA Cup final, the club being named after Sir Harry Hotspur who wore spurs on his riding boots to nudge his nag to go that little bit faster. Every day a day at school.
On a more thoughtful note, this quote brought events back down to earth:
"Has any celebrity, ever, managed to 'let-me-tell-my-truth' their way to serenity? You don't calm the [media] sharks by throwing steaks at them." Times columnist Hugo Rifkind, writing a piece under the headline "Celebrities like Meghan are there to be eaten".
Many note Duke and Duchess of Sussex parallels with the late Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who also sought to live a "private" life within the public eye.
Indeed, Andy Moreton of Uxbridge, wrote to The Daily Telegraph that the image of Prince Harry and James Corden atop a double-decker bus in Los Angeles having a "private" conversation put him in mind of the sketch in which the late satirist and comedic actor Peter Cook, dressed as the Swedish-American actress Greta Garbo, drove through London in an open-top car yelling through a megaphone: "I want to be alone!"
Back with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, there's a delightful tale from November 1936, of Wallis Simpson hailing a taxi so that she could go and meet Edward VIII in Scotland. "King's Cross," she said as she hopped in. The driver replied that he was sorry to hear it.
Now if there was only a station in London called Queen's Cross.
Whatever, the show must go on. And on. To be continued...
Back with Sir Harry Hotspur, he whose spurs went jingle jangle
jingle as he rode merrily along in the Tottenham area of yore, a
press release from the high street chain Shoe Zone has
just announced that Terry Boot will be its new finance director,
replacing Peter Foot, who has stepped down and walked away from the job after
seven months. Well bless my sole.
First day of 'roadmap' out of lockdown
Boris Johnson said no dates, just data, and then gave us a list of dates ... "I thought the vaccination programme was the roadmap out of lockdown? Obviously not. And I thought Boris was being led by the data and not dates? So March 8 and 29, April 12, May 17 and June 21 aren't dates? Churchill and Thatcher will be turning in their graves." Neil Harrison of Stokesley, North Yorkshire, in a letter to the Daily Express.
Yes, it really is exceedingly confusing. Do you suppose our politicians ever sit down and read, study and have a think about what they are about to communicate to the Great British Public?
Anyway, today is the first day on that list, March the 8th, the first phase of England's roadmap out of lockdown as pupils start to return to the classroom (the youngest children having already returned in Wales, which adds to the roadmap confusion).
Today, I set off on my early-morning walk into town, and at one spot I face the rising sun on a beautifully cold and frosty sunrise - and capture this perfect roadmap signpost for an extremely bemused, bothered and bewildered nation...
Roadmap out of lockdown
Finally, there's a joke doing the rounds in France: how do you get a Frenchman to have the Covid vaccine? Tell him he can't have it.
While us Brits have been giving our left and right arms for a Covid-19 jab, out there in still-sceptical France folk are actually saying "Non!" And not just to the Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca vaccine, though it didn't help after President Macron rubbished it - before relenting and saying he would happily receive the AstraZeneca if that was what was offered - but all vaccines are off-limits.
Disinformation, distrust and rumours that are outrageously bonkers have turned what should have been a fairly routine operation, as here in the UK, into an organisational nightmare. Shades of Prime Minister Johnson as Inspector Clouseau and President Macron as his boss, Commissioner Dreyfus, as explored, with delight, just a few days back.
My roadmap signpost appears to say much more than meets the eye.
And not just here in the UK.
Sunday is knock-knock day
Something rotten in the state of Scotland
McBoutface ... "I might be a shallow individual, but I am sure I cannot be alone in taking a perverse pleasure in seeing the two most unpleasant people in Scottish politics tearing one another to shreds." Captain Graham Sullivan RN (retd) of Gislingham, Suffolk, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
In January 2019, former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, 66, of the Scottish National Party (SNP), was charged with 14 offences, including attempted rape and sexual assault, but was acquitted of all charges after trial in March 2020.
There followed accusations that the current First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, 50, also of the SNP, was somehow involved in a conspiracy to get rid of Salmond, and in so doing broke the ministerial code - all exceedingly dark and stormy stuff reflecting badly on Sturgeon and the SNP, which is why both Salmond and Sturgeon have been in the news as they appear in front of a Scottish Parliamentary inquiry.
Nicola Sturgeon's main line of defence was that she couldn't remember critical meetings and what was said, indeed, there was a Newman cartoon in The Sunday Times, of one goldfish talking to another: "Have we met? I've a memory like a Sturgeon."
Yes, definitely something fishy in the state of Scotland, with both Salmond and Sturgeon now past their "Use By" date and beginning to stink.
To endorse the unrest within the SNP, a Panelbase survey for The Sunday Times finds that two-thirds of Scots believe Sturgeon has not delivered "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" about the Alex Salmond affair.
Witnessing the flying SNP circus from the relative safety of the grassy knoll, I wrote a brief letter to The Western Mail, which was published today:
Into the valley of death rode the SNP
There is something other-worldly in the notion that "The Charge of the UK Independence Brigade" is being led by Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party.
Hands up anyone who caught sight of them under questioning over the past week or so and said, "Yep, these are the sort of people I admire and want to lead me towards the Promised Land"?
Observing the two of them desperate not to be caught off-side, I
was reminded of that witty Scotsman and football manager, Bill
Shankly (1913-1981), who, on the day two of Liverpool's closest
rivals for the title were playing each other, was asked what
result would best suit his ambitions, replied: "I hope they both
Amen and a-women. Or, a-Salmond and a-Sturgeon.
Peas in a pod ... "How do you get two whales in a Mini? Depends what your starting point is, and where exactly in Wales you want to get to?" One from the schoolyard memory bank.
I know, I know, it's an ear joke rather than an eye one, but it sprang to mind when I happened upon a marvellously witty picture from seven years ago...
Welcome to Swansea, a
funny, lovely town
Newcastle United fans display some black and white humour by unfurling a banner at Swansea's Liberty Stadium. That is so clever. The only pity is that there weren't 58 games to take into account, as per the famous village in Anglesey, north Wales...
Talking of the schoolyard memory bank, here's one from the Crazy Horsepower's Asterix Bar memory bank: "How does a Welshman find a sheep in tall grass? Very satisfying."
You may well ask why a Welshman would eat a rump of hogget in
tall grass. A good question.
"I suspect everyone. And I suspect no one"
The Blond Panther ... "Years ago two of the funniest figures in comedy were Inspector Clouseau and his boss, Commissioner Dreyfus. Clouseau bumbled along causing chaos while driving the equally hilarious Dreyfus to distraction. I see a similarity in the pairing of Boris Johnson and France's President Emmanuel Macron..." Frederick Forsyth, 82, English novelist, journalist and columnist, writing in the Daily Express.
Now that made me laugh, even more so because I have just watched The Pink Panther Strikes Again on Film 4 (this is the one where the world's top dozen assassins descend on the Munich Oktoberfest to kill Clouseau - but all end up killing each other.
That is so Boris. The Clouseau comparison is perfect. Boris has bumbled his way through the pandemic, yet when it came to the critical vaccine rollout he has come out smelling of those famous roses - and Macron and the EU smelling of that stuff a passing horse deposits and which is perfect to feed the roses.
Oh, and Mon-sewer Macron (as John Wayne famously addressed Stuart Whitman in The Comancheros), having rubbished the AstraZeneca vaccine as quasi-ineffective (almost ineffective, I think that means), has over recent days said that he would now happily receive the AstraZeneca if that was what he was offered.
You can hear him shooting himself in the foot in the style of Commissioner Dreyfus.
Sticking with columnist, I enjoyed what Rod Liddle wrote in The Sun:
Teaching a mislaid art ... "Things change, don't they? Back in my day it was the kids who didn't want to go to school. And the teachers who got really cross about them playing truant. In 2021, though, it's the children who are apparently desperate to be back at their desks. And the teachers who are, how shall I put it, a bit, y'know, reluctant..."
But as Rod goes on to point out, it's not the teachers - they are actually quite keen to do their stuff - it's the teaching unions who are the villains, currently top of the list of the nation's baddies, and resisting a proper return to work.
We do indeed live in interesting times.
Refer to drawer ... "George Osborne, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and former journalist is going into banking because he wants to be more popular..." "...ho, ho, ho" should really be added there in response to a memorable sentence spotted in The Times newspaper.
Ah yes, George Osborne, 49, the Chancellor responsible for instigating the short-term free TV licences for over-75s, and since reinstated by the BBC under much animosity and bitterness, can now properly be described as a merchant banker, which of course is Cockney rhyming slang for - well, see further on.
While on the subject of merchant bankers, at the entrance to Llandeilo's rugby and cricket grounds a community inspired signboard says "Donation Drive-Through", inviting us locals to contribute anything surplus to requirements.
Intriguingly, a separate "Food bank" notice has been replaced by a plain and simple but eye-catching - well, see for yourself...
Do you suppose someone realised that a bank is now the least public-spirited entity in any community? And that today's senior bankers are individuals motivated purely by ambition and greed (note how desperate they are to force everyone to bank online, yet fight with all of their might not to be held accountable for the explosion in online fraud)?
I mean, would you happily hand a senior bank executive a blank signed cheque without monitoring your account to see if the verbally agreed amount is what had actually been taken (which is figuratively what we all do if we hold a bank account)?
Oh, and at the last count, George Osborne held nine jobs, some of which boast a six-figure salary, so he's a perfect fit to be a senior merchant banker.
And on that subject
Bully beef ... "Columnist Camilla Long rightly lets rip at spoilt business bullies in the mould of the late British media proprietor, MP, suspected spy and fraudster Robert Maxwell (Comment, last week). However, if she thinks they are hailed as 'auteurs', I wonder who she is mixing with. Nobody I know would use such a fancy word to describe people who behave this way: they would choose an earthier, vernacular term. John Wilson of Craigavon, Co Armagh, in a letter to The Sunday Times.
You certainly don't hear the word "auteur" in the Bible, or the Asterix Bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon.
First things first then: "auteur"? A film director who influences their films so much that they rank as their author. Fancy!
Secondly: "an earthier, vernacular term"? In Cockney rhyming slang, a "merchant banker" means "wanker", which sounds just about right. Auteurs, indeed.
Mind you, whenever I read Camilla Long
entertaining, for sure, but she definitely comes across as a bit
of a merchant banker you wouldn't
want to sit next to on a flight to the other side of the world.
Huw and Smile ... Banana Sky
Hello! Is that really you, God? ... "On the Seventh Day, I poured myself a large drinkypoo, put my feet up and reflected on what I had learnt over the previous six days of intense creation cum evolution. Could I come up with another perfect concept? Well, yes: I fashioned the banana, my all-singing, all-dancing, all-purpose herb-cum-fruit; the colour is pure, bright and sunny; easy to harvest and transport; grows all year round; ripens best off the plant; no need to wash hands or fruit before eating; no messy peeling, just a quick zip-a-dee-doo-dah." God, in a quiet moment, caught thinking aloud.
Yes, it's a paragraph from my book, Huw and Smile, which has a banana on the cover (see above), and in particular one chapter where I ponder on what it must be like to be God.
However, the point here is that I was walking into town early the other morning, the sun about to rise into a cloudless sky - cloudless that is except for just the one single cloud hanging there above the rooftops, in my line of vision...
Just bananas over Llandampness
Anyway, to continue with my admiration for the humble banana...
Also: tastes great, easy to eat, even for those with no teeth, even easier to digest, full of goodness, contains three natural sugars - sucrose, fructose and glucose - which combine with fibre to generate instant, sustained and substantial energy boost.
And of course it can safely be eaten even as it begins to go off, when it turns all gooey and browny; also a sure way to cure a hangover, i.e. a banana milkshake sweetened with honey. Yes, a banana a day keeps the doctor away. And as a super-duper bonus, the magical banana can be used as an emergency Post-it Note.
And how can I not acknowledge Rod Stewart (b.1945), British rock legend and alleged stallion of any parish, who announced in his own colourful way that, at age 74, he won't be fathering any more children: "The banana is back in the fruit bowl." Yep, the mushy banana catches up with us all.
So, the banana cloud in an otherwise cloudless sky was, in its
own way, a moment of delightful awe.
Saints alive! Wales win Triple Crown
Do the big things ... "St David gave sight to the blind, sprung a spring in a drought and raised the ground beneath him so the faithful could see him preach. But a few short weeks ago even greater miracles were deemed necessary for Wales to make an impact on this year's Six Nations Rugby Championship..." Award winning journalist and columnist Carolyn Hitt kicks off her column in the Western Mail in celebration of Wales winning rugby's Six Nations Triple Crown against all the odds (beating Ireland, Scotland and England), and crucially securing the Crown against England, the 'Old Enemy', arguably a top draw miracle.
However, still a couple of games to play to put Wales within touching distance of the Grand Slam (Italy first, with a sparkling France lying in ambush out in Paris at the final hurdle}.
Yes, the gods were definitely with Wales along the route to the Triple Crown, so no wonder England head coach Eddie Jones looked exceedingly confused and glum as Saturday's game dramatically unfolded in Wales' favour.
Whatever, allow me to take you back a couple of years...
Sunday, 24th February 2019: England, clear favourites, and Eddie Jones' side suffer an unexpected 21-13 defeat to Wales at the Principality Stadium the day before, so Eddie decides to take a morning walk through Cardiff to clear his muddled head. Strolling through one of the arcades he passes a gift shop and notices in the window a human skull. Intrigued, he enters the shop: "Whose skull is that?"
"That," says the shop owner proudly, "is the skull of St David, the Patron Saint of Wales, which is why we have a price tag of 10,000 quid on it."
Eddie has a quick ponder, and decides he would rather clip the skull of a dead Welsh Saint than those of his players who admittedly performed so abysmally the day before - and he'd be able to claim it on expenses anyway, putting it down as a management tool, the rugby equivalent of a dildo. "I'll take it."
Fast forward two years...
Sunday, 28th February 2021: England, clear favourites, and Eddie Jones' side suffer an unexpected 40-24 defeat to Wales at the Principality Stadium the day before, so Eddie decides to take a morning walk through Cardiff to clear his muddled head. Strolling through one of the arcades, he passes the very same gift shop from two years previous - and notices in the window another human skull, but this time a much smaller one.
With the pandemic meaning the place was shut, he calls the number displayed on the shop front and asks the owner about the skull: "That," says the owner rather proudly, "is the skull of St David, the Patron Saint of Wales, cheap at 5,000 quid."
"Hang about," says Eddie, "two years ago you sold me the skull of St David."
"Ah, but this is the skull of St David when he was a boy."
Pause for thought: While the ghost of St David undoubtedly helped Wales win the Triple Crown - "Do the big things" - his actual advice back in the day to his followers was to "Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things".
Top drawer advice. Count me in.
Sunday is knock-knock day
Huw and Smile 2021: February
Huw and Smile 2021: January:
Huw and Smile 2020: December
Huw and Smile 2020: November
Huw and Smile 2020: October
Huw and Smile 2020: September
Huw and Smile 2020: August
Huw and Smile 2020: July
Huw and Smile 2020: June
Huw and Smile 2020: May
Huw and Smile 2020: April
Huw and Smile 2020: January to March
Huw and Smile 2019: October to December