Quotes of the year

"Nothing in the history of disappointment compares to our seven-year-old daughter realising she's the daughter of key workers." NHS doctor Mike Hunter after schools were closed in March due to the Covid crisis - except for the children of vital staff.

That is my favourite quote of 2020. I empathise absolutely with that seven-year-old. Yes, I had a love-hate relationship with my school years: I loved the company and the fun of school pals - oh, and fantasising about the girls - but hated having to learn inside-out knowledge about things like Latin, Shakespeare, chemistry... Yes, I belong in the Mark Twain camp: "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."

"People who menstruate. I'm sure there used to be a word for them. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?" JK Rowling speaks out on sex and gender issues in June amid a monumental row with trans activists.

And the sky duly fell from a great height on Rowling's head and she became a cancelled person. This gets my seal of approval because, not only is it a period joke - both literally and metaphorically - but she has enough, er, balls, to stand up to the bullying of those who want to censor what we think and have to say on all sorts of subjects. Power to her opinions.

"News channels ... can we stop asking morons on the street what they think about things." Jeremy Clarkson urges broadcasters in September to stop the surge of vox pops.

What I particularly rate about this quote - and I speak as a regular reader of his columns in The Sunday Times - well, it's always a joy to read his, um, moronic but entertaining thoughts on the joys and the doolallyness of the passing parade.

And if this blog is about one thing, then it's about the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade.

PS: Spellchecker moment ... Whilst the computer never gave a thought to Wumben and Woomud (I must have used them previously), it came to a stop on Wimpund, which came up as Wimped, followed by Wimping, Impend, Impound and Wampum (white strings of shell beads, the origins of which can be traced back to Hiawatha).

Happy New Year!
New Year's Eve, 2020


Perfect present past

Want knot ... "After reading the letter from Mary Ross, whose daughter requested Sellotape as a present [see yesterday's post], I asked my dad (aged 92) what he would like for Christmas. He said he could do with another ball of string. Since we are a large family, and his birthday is also in December, I was thrilled that I could tick him off my list." Jo Marchington, Ashtead, Surrey, in a follow-up letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Perfect indeed. And how long is a ball of string?

Finally, one last dip into those conversations overheard in an Essex Tesco store leading up to Christmas:
Woman shopper to a male (age unknown): "Callum! Are chips on a Christmas dinner? Are they? Then put them back!"



Perfect present

Top of the present list ... "The request by columnist Michael Deacon's son of a box of Cheerios cereals for Christmas made me smile. Many years ago, my daughter told me her best friend had been given a new My Little Pony for doing well in school exams. Feeling guilty for not rewarding her in a similar fashion (surely a high mark is reward enough?), I asked her if she'd like me to get her something. She said she could do with a new roll of Sellotape. She got one." Marry Ross of Warrington, Cheshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Brilliant. And talking of presents and shopping, another panicky conversation overheard in an Essex Tesco store leading up to Christmas:
Woman at the tills: "Oh no! I've forgotten the bags!"
Man in tow: "Jesus, I thought you forgot your purse ... You have got your purse, right?"

The response isn't on record, so I guess she did have her purse.


A Christmas present hiccup

Not the spirit ... "My worst Christmas ever was when my brother inked a Hitler moustache on to the beautiful blonde doll my sister had just given me. Over 60 years on, the memory still lingers." Jane Moth of Snettisham, Norfolk, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Oh dear, I feel her pain. At least he didn't ink the infamous spider flag on to the doll's upper arm.

Curiously that letter reminded me of another in the Telegraph, back near the beginning of December when the EU trade talks were well and truly bogged down and getting nowhere fast. This missive from a Laurence Barnes of Davenham in Cheshire:

Boom-boom! ... "We always seem to lose the argument with the EU, and in particular give in to the French. I am trusting the Government this time to hold firm over Brexit. My future vote depends on it. I'm still annoyed over the 'e' on Concorde."

I really like that slice of tail end wit. Do you suppose Boris actually read the letter and got his act together?


Sunday is knock-knock day

Who's there?
Honda who?
♪♪♪: Honda third day of Christmas my true love sent to me three Va-va-voom chicks...



Santa's Boxing Day Blues

"I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph." Shirley Temple (1928-2014), Hollywood's number one box office draw as a child actress from 1934 to 1938, quoted in Halliwell's Who's Who in the Movies (1999).

Meanwhile, The Times Diary invited readers to submit imaginary letters written by the Good, the Bad and the Ugly to Santa Claus, and this was the first on the list...

"Dear Santa, Because of the fantastic job I did - THE BEST EVER - controlling the China virus I deserve the following: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia. Yours, Donald J Trump."

The problem with that Santa message is that it is clearly a fake letter, because, because - well, there isn't a single exclamation mark. Yes, there's a rush of capital letters - true to form - but any communication from Trumpety Trump without exclamation marks is like Christmas lunch without sprouts. Amusing effort though.

Staying with Santa, this conversation overheard in an Essex Tesco store in the lead up to Christmas:
Woman shopper rebukes a child who drops a toy: "Oh for Christ's sake! You are doing my head in. I'm ringing Father Christmas as soon as we get home."

That rings so gloriously true.


♪♪♪: Having myself a merry little Christmas...

"How can my family's presents make up for their absence?" Yes, Vincent Hefter of Old London Town, in a letter to the Daily Mail, indeed as per Vincent's familiar trademark of wearing his clever wordplay on his fingertips.

The headline at the top marginally paraphrases Boris Johnson's message to the nation in the lead up to Christmas: "Have yourselves a merry little Christmas - and I'm afraid this year I do mean little."

That, of course, was delivered before Christmas Eve's post-Brexit trade agreement, which the PM declared as his Christmas present to the country - served up as "the feast" after he promised an "oven ready deal". Talk about Santa appearing over the horizon just in time.

Anyway, mention of a "little Christmas", "the feast" and "oven ready"...

As someone who happily lives on his own (as opposed to alone), I traditionally join the family on Christmas Day, but this year decided to give it a miss rather than run any unnecessary risks, especially with a very virulent variant of the virus va-va-vrooming it in the vicinity (Covid-19 definitely deserves the V-treatment).

As it happens it's a standing joke within the family that Christmas lunch is my one and only proper square meal of the year. Unlike the extravagant multi-course meals traditionally served up on the 25th, I have never cooked a Cinemascopic meal for myself. Ever.

I eat quite well, mind, but I never cook more than one course per meal, rather I enjoy a meal of many courses spread across the day. It probably explains why my very occasionally worn 39-ish-year-old FFWC suit (Functions, Funerals, Weddings and Christenings) still fits and sits like, er, a glove.

On my own this year I decided to have a Christmas lunch to linger long in the memory. Yes, the comfort food called beans on toast. I mention this to my sister-in-law, and she suggested the ultimate comfort food by adding scrambled egg. Perfect.

And all washed down with a bottle of red and some extra mature Cheddar, a combination which, according to Iowa State University, combats "cognitive decline".

So here's lookin' at you, 2021 ("There are years that ask questions and years than answer," Zora Neale Hurston, written in 1937).

Finally, one last Christmas cracker joke, especially so bearing in mind rumours that the police would be checking on families to ensure the strict lockdown rule on Christmas Day gatherings was being complied with - which the police denied they ever considered doing. And I believe them. Whatever...

"Where do policemen live? Letsbe Avenue."

Compliments of the season to you and yours.
Christmas Day 2020

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♪♪♪: EU, Me & Us...

"...we are my favourite people; we all go together like peaches and cream, or bells with a church and a steeple..." The popular 1957 song You, Me and Us by Alma Cogan from back in the day when the Common Market (or the EEC, the European Economic Community, as it was also known) wasn't even a twinkle in the nation's eye, was the first thing that came to mind today on news that a trade deal had been reached between Britain and the EU.

For those unfamiliar with the words of You, Me and Us, it's worth a quick search to help generate a post Gunfight at the OK Brexit Corral smile.

The surprising Christmas Eve conclusion to the deal brought to mind a witty letter spotted in The Daily Telegraph, back on the 15th of December, from a Tom Merchant of Maresfield in East Sussex:

Above and beyond ... "Does the EU agreeing to 'go the extra mile' herald a shift our way? It could have said 'go the extra 1.60934 kilometres'."

Nice one, Tom. Oh, and on the Christmas cracker front...

"What do you get if you lie under a cow? A pat on the head."

That was voted the best worst cracker joke in a survey by UK-based card company Thortful. Hm, a penny for your Thorts. But not when the cow is spending a penny, obviously.

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♪♪♪: Jingle bells

Not so Wizzard ... "It's obvious a woman didn't write I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday." Mrs Jane Roberts of Winterton-on-Sea, Norfolk, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Well that made me smile - and yes, the song was indeed written by one Roy Wood, 74, English singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, and who made it famous with his glam rock band Wizzard. And talking of Christmas...

Walking into town, first thing this morning, still dark ... suddenly I hear a rush of what sounds like the tinkling of many bells. I look skywards, thinking it must be Father Christmas on a dummy run, just making sure that everything is in perfect working order ... Nothing ... A minute or so later, another rush of tinkling bells...

I am now near the town's rugby and cricket grounds - and I realise what the sound is. The bottle banks located there are being emptied into a collection truck. Now who would have thought that a rush of bottles crashing into a lorry would make such an astonishingly musical and Christmassy sound?

Meanwhile, on the Christmas cracker front...

"Why can't you get Aspirin in the jungle? Because the Parrots-et-em-all."

I feel a headache coming on.

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The mysterious life of Brian

Blessed are the cardsenders ... "I have received a Christmas card from Brian. I wish I knew who he is." E Jones of Sevenoaks, Kent, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Well, I guess we can be sure that Brian is definitely not the Messiah. And talking of Christmas cards...

Is the Christmas post really that unreliable ... "[Following reports of Royal Mail prioritising deliveries of tracked packets and parcels over Christmas cards], my son posted a package in Edinburgh in the afternoon. It arrived the following morning. The only problem is I can't open it until Christmas morning." David Wood of Newark, Nottinghamshire, in a letter to, again, the Daily Mail.

Which brings me back perfectly to the world of Christmas cracker jokes - and the more groanful the better, yes?

"What did the stamp say to the envelope? Stick with me and we'll go places."

And said by a first class stamp I'd venture.

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More Christmas crackers


Fancy crackers that never get to go with a bang ... "A few years ago we bought some handcrafted luxury Christmas crackers in January for half price. They come out every year, but are always returned to their box untouched simply because they are 'too posh to pull'." David Pilcher, Askham, Cumbria, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

I like that - but ponder what glorious ho, ho, hos the Pilchers are missing out on. The other day I listed a few cracker jokes that made a Top Ten Best Of. I have just seen a Top Ten Worst Of - and it's worth sharing a few of them between now and Christmas Day. After all, the better the groan factor...

"What do you get if you eat Christmas decorations? Tinsellitis."

"Why is Parliament like ancient Bethlehem? It takes a miracle to find three wise men."

Remember though, you must pull your cracker the correct way to ensure that it will always go off with a bang.

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Sunday is knock-knock day

Who's there?
Harold who?
♪♪♪: Harold Hark - as in: Hark! The Harold angel sings, ho ho ho...


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"What is Dominic Cummings' favourite Christmas song? Driving Home for Christmas." TV channel Gold's Christmas cracker joke winner for 2020 revisited, because - well, to join up a few dots...

In my head I carry a Top Ten of Immaculate Truths. Tucked in there is this: "Clever people do and say the most stupid things."

Dominic Cummings, 49, a political strategist by trade, served as chief adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson until last month, November 2020, when too many lumps of sky kept falling on his head for him to continue in the job.

Whatever your thoughts, he's a clever fellow is Dominic (Brexit, tick; Prime Minister Boris, tick). When, back at the start of the pandemic, he was overtaken by Covid-19 he silently sneaked away to be near his family in Durham, up there in the northeast of England (tick), and if he'd sneaked back to London after, nobody would have been any the wiser, job done (tick, again).

But he then did something spectacularly and gloriously stupid, as clever people tend to do. What on earth made such a wily fellow set off on a day trip to Barnard Castle, a distance of some 25 miles - and visit a bluebell wood along the way - to test his eyesight, just to see if it was okay for him to, er, drive back to London?

Yes, he was spotted, and the sky unsurprisingly fell on his head, from a great height.

So beware clever people because they will, for sure, lead you into the wilderness - rather than out of it. In for a penny of cleverness, in for a pound of stupidity.

Anyway, it has just emerged that earlier this year, following Johnson's thumping election win, Cummings was given a 50% salary rise, which prompted the following question from my pal Chief Wise Owl: "Do you suppose the 45,000 quid Boris Johnson presented Dominic Cummings with was a pay rise or just his mileage allowance?"

Ho, ho, ho, as Santa would say, just pull another cracker.

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1st class delivery

"I just wanted to put a smile on people's faces." The headline that greeted me as I opened the Western Mail and landed on Page 3 - and accompanied by this photograph...

Lucy Garlick of Tonteg has been voted Wales' 2020 most-loved postie

The accompanying article began thus: "A postwoman who cheered up her community by dressing as a rainbow throughout lockdown has been named the best-loved postie in Wales..."

Having forgiven the much-flogged-to-death "best-loved" expression deployed, the article and picture tickled both my funny-bone and my lateral thinking - so I responded to the Western Mail, which kindly published it...

Cavaliers and Roundheads

The first thing I did when I landed on Page 3 of Tuesday's Western Mail was - smile - ratification of the photo of Lucy Garlick, 42, of Tonteg, near Pontypridd, who has just been voted Wales' most cherished postie ("I just wanted to put a smile on people's faces").

Job done then.

When I earned my degree from the university of life as a barman, every customer through the door was rated a Cavalier or a Roundhead. The split was about 50-50, a reflection of the population at large, indeed as reflected many moons later in the Brexit referendum (the passage of time and wokedom changes nothing).

The fringe element of the Cavaliers, after a few drinks too many, would invariably add to the joy of the passing parade by climbing onto a table and doing a rip-roaring and much-appreciated turn to Hey Big Spender (especially so the female of the species).

The fringe element of the Roundheads on the other hand, after a few drinks too many, would invariable add to the doolallyness of the passing parade by becoming stroppy, confrontational, aggressive and regularly threatening violence (especially so the male of the species).

Lucy Garlick clearly qualifies as a Cavalier.

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Doggy days

Gone to the dogs ... "A friend who is a vet once told me that at her practice she seldom saw a fat dog with a thin owner or a thin dog with a fat owner. This raises the question: do people become like their dogs or vice versa?" Diana Hailey of Deddington, Oxfordshire, in a letter to The Times.

Hm, as Anonymous observed: "If your dog is fat, you aren't getting enough exercise." Anyway, the above letter drew this glorious response...

Doggone it ... "Our first, beautifully slim, labrador never stole any food, except bizarrely, every year she ate the chocolates hanging on the lowest branches of our Christmas tree. Thirty years later I was regaling a friend with this story when our three daughters, on overhearing the conversation, interrupted with: 'Surely you don't still think it was the dog?'" Compliments of Kiereen Lock of Fordingbridge in Hampshire.

And to quote Anonymous again: "To err is human - to forgive canine."

As to the question whether people become like their dogs or vice versa, what I have observed along my walk through time is that, uncompromising, bellicose, forceful people will go for the more aggressive breed of dog, the sort of dog you would fight shy of patting on the head and saying: "Who's a good dog, then?"

If Donald Trump owned a dog you sort of assume it would be an American Pit Bull Terrier.

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Pull the other one

"Why can't Boris Johnson make his Christmas cake until the last moment? He doesn't know how many tiers it should have."

Yes, some more ho, ho, ho Xmas crackers, literally...

"Which Christmas film was 30 years ahead of its time? Home Alone."

"Why couldn't Mary and Joseph join their work conference call? There was no Zoom at the inn."

Three of 2020's top Covid Christmas cracker jokes, as submitted by viewers and compiled by TV channel Gold.

And the winner, as voted by Jo and Joe Public...

"What is Dominic Cummings' favourite Christmas song? Driving Home for Christmas."

Indeed, and always remember, Dominic: look left ... look right ... look straight ahead ... look directly behind ... look left again - etcetera, etcetera - keeping an eagle eye open for left-hand-drive Guardian journalists out to grab you by the short and curlies...

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A ho-ho-ho Christmas countdown starts here

"I knew Advent calendars would be in short supply. After all, their days are numbered."

"Just bought a Jehovah's Witnesses themed Advent calendar, and behind every door someone tells me to go forth and multiply. But that should be my line."

"All the windows in my Advent calendar are boarded up. A sign of the times?"

"All the windows in my Advent calendar display the Amazon symbol. A sign of the times?"

"I don't have an Advent calendar, so I'm just opening every kitchen cupboard door and eating whatever's in there."

Five chuckles in - and that's me to perfection.

Be all that as it may, to get around the temptation of being unable to resist chomping through a chocolate Advent calendar without self-control, I enjoyed the tale of the 91-year-old lady who places two tins of chocolates beneath her calendar. Whenever she opens a window, she then eats however many extra sweeties she fancies from the tins. Brilliant.

As was pointed out: truly, with age comes wisdom.

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Exit, stage right

"It was a sad week just gone. On Monday we had the death of American test pilot Chuck Yeager (1923-2020), the first person to break the sound barrier. On Friday came news of the death of English actress Barbara Windsor (1937-2020), best known for her roles in the Carry On films and the BBC soap opera Eastenders. The week has gone from boom to bust." Those final eight words compliments of Patrick Kidd of the Times Diary column.

As that witty line suggests, Barbara Windsor, apart from her acting talents, was recognised for her famous chest, but as someone pointed out, it wasn't that big, really, because at 4' 10" she was tiny and her boobs looked more bounteous than they actually were. A sort of optical illusion then.

According to The Daily Telegraph obituary, when the Carry On cast were backstage, Sid James once said to Barbara: "Here you look normal. How come when you go on stage you have these enormous knockers?" Without looking up from her newspaper, she replied: "It's called acting, Sid."

And talking of optical illusion, I will now look upon Dolly Parton, another compact little lady, in a slightly different light.

As for Chuck Yeager, this is Jeremy Clarkson writing in yesterday's Sunday Times: "My hero Chuck Yeager rang. I flew 5,000 miles to meet him: 'You're 15 minutes late,' was all he could say when I arrived. Thinking he was joking, I replied: 'That's nothing. You were three years late for the Second World War.' The interview didn't go well."

Interesting that, about being 15 minutes late for the interview with his hero. Clarkson was sacked as a Top Gear presenter by the BBC when he arrived late one night at his hotel after a day's filming, and the chef had gone home and there was nobody there to provide a hot meal for His Lordship. So he punched a producer - "unprovoked physical attack", were the words used by the BBC.

So clearly Jeremy thinks that he has a perfect right to turn up late and, more importantly, everyone should hang on his every delayed arrival, whether the person waiting is a nobody, or indeed a somebody.

As one of the Top 10 Perfect Truths I carry in my head insists: "Ignore the grand, sweeping, self-important things people say and do, it's those spontaneous, throwaway, and seemingly unimportant things that tell you everything you ever need to know."

Amen to that.


Sunday is knock-knock day

Who's there?
Dexter who?
♪♪♪: Dexter Hall - with boughs of holly, fa la la la, ho ho ho...



A quick wash down under

Splash it all over ... "I'm surprised Zoe Williams' Aussie boyfriend didn't tell her that what she calls a French wash, 'where you just stand at the sink, splashing yourself', is commonly known in Australia as a Pommy wash." Peggy Sellers of Pickering, North Yorkshire, in a letter to The Guardian.

Zoe Williams, 47, author, journalist and Guardian columnist, born in Wales but noted on Wikipedia as English. Hm, Williams equals Welsh, Zoe equals English, so you pays your money and takes your choice, I guess.

I mention that because when I worked as a very Welsh barman ("Croeso i'r ffynnon - welcome to the well!") down at the Crazy Horse going on Crazy Horsepower Saloon, I seem to remember a couple of Aussie visitors to the watering hole mentioning that an "Outback wash" is known as an ACF (armpits, crotch, feet). But that the more cultured outbackers would have a FACAF (face, armpits, crotch, arsehole, feet), or as they said it, a "facaff".

I will hang that out there to dry. Strange the things one remembers.

PS: Spellchecker moment ... facaff came up as faceoff, which was rather deep thought of my computer.


The man formerly known as Prince Harry

♪♪♪: Singing Woking in the rain ... "Every single raindrop that falls from the sky relieves the parched ground. What if every single one of us was a raindrop? At the end of the day, nature is our life source ... It's almost as though Mother Nature has sent us to our rooms for bad behaviour ... We must learn to leave the world in a better place than when we found it without taking from our children and generations to come." Prince Harry, in a very woke promotional video for the launch of a new Netflix-style platform for environmental documentaries, speaking in his capacity as president of African Parks.

Surprise, surprise, not only did the rain fall on Harry's head, so did the sky, from a great height.

This is a shame because we all know what he is trying to say, it's just that the words and delivery sound all wrong. My guess is that he needs a non-woke speechwriter to help shape his thoughts and words to avoid all the chortling and giggling in the aisles.

It's not so far back that we remember him fighting for his country by day and clubbing or playing strip billiards by night and flashing his crown jewels while frolicking with a naked girl. He seemed to be such a happy little soul back then, the very model of a modern British red squirrel.

Harry needs to rediscover his sense of fun and, by definition, help put the smile back on his face. And he could start by doing it in the style of Paul Newman and Katherine Ross in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He and Meghan should climb on a bike and have a ball to the soundtrack of Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head, preferably in a downpour.

C'mon Harry, the nation wants you returned to its bosom as a lovable red squirrel. Hopefully before the dreaded grey squirrelpox virus finally does for you.


When size really matters

Give me an inch and I'll take a meal ... "Enough of Scotch eggs [mentioned in political dispatches as a 'substantial meal' with which to earn a pint to wash it down]. Here in Hampstead, one of the local pubs sells sausage roll by the inch. How many inches would I need for it to constitute a 'substantial meal'?" Harvey Sanders of Old London Town, in a letter to The Guardian.

What a splendidly civilised way of dispensing a sausage roll. As to how many inches would equal a satisfying meal - well, I guess we should leave that to the ladies to answer. But I suppose it is not the length of the sausage but the yumminess of the roll.

While on the subject of eggs, I see that a large sculpture of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is set to be unveiled in her home town of Grantham, Lincolnshire, when the pandemic is over...

                                                                                              ...it seems that 14,000 people on Facebook have already registered their interest in attending an egg-throwing contest at the unveiling of the statue.

This set me thinking...

When the Scots decide to erect a large sculpture of High Priestess - oops, First Minister - Nicola Sturgeon in her hometown of Irvine, Ayrshire, irrespective of whether she gains independence for Scotland, do you suppose that there will be endless day trips from south of the border with people armed with Scotch eggs to throw at the statue?

And talking of Scotch eggs, I hear on the grapevine (or should that be the grainvine) that the landlord of my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon, who keeps chickens round the back, is to start feeding the birds whisky-laced corn and layers pellets to see if their eggs can then be described as proper Scotch eggs under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. And if so, they will be called True Grit Scotch Eggs.

Here's lookin' at you, chicks.


Bond. James Bond. Honestly!

"Ah, lovely listener, it's that moment in the programme where I unravel the Christmas lights of your soul in an attempt to get to know you even better than I do already..." Yes, Vanessa Feltz and the morning challenge on her Radio 2 show. Lady V continues...
     "Yesterday was the day the first person in the UK, indeed the world, was given the newly approved Covid vaccine. And the second person to get it also caught people's attention because his name is actually William Shakespeare, and his name trended at No 1 on Twitter all day - so do you know someone who shares a name with someone more notable..." [See yesterday
's post to see Mr Shakespeare given his jab.]

What came to mind about notable names was a recent message read out on the radio - I think it actually was on Vanessa's show - from someone with the memorable name Robin Hood (I presume it was a real name, indeed there are lots of people with the surname Hood, even in this corner of the world, so you really would be tempted to name your son Robin to make it memorable).

However, on today's show, this was the response that tickled my funny bone: "Ivy says: 'I had two people on my training course a few years ago called Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. They were work colleagues, and it really is true.'"

Here in Wales we have unforgettable nicknames, and I have mentioned before the fellow christened Thomas Thomas - Tom Thomas for short, or, being Welsh, Twm Thomas, sometimes Twm Twm - and he was blessed with the gloriously memorable name Twm Twice.

However, the most striking actual name was someone I heard interviewed on the radio back in 2002. It was an item about the release of the 20th Bond film, Die Another Day, starring Pierce Brosnan, and it was an individual from Bristol, I seem to remember, called James Bond. He was 40 years of age, the same age as the Bond film franchise, both surfacing in 1962. What I recall is the back story.

In 1962, his parents, Mr & Mrs Bond, had gone to see the first Bond film, Dr No. She was heavily pregnant, but as was the case back then, she had no idea whether she was expecting a boy or a girl. However, she and her husband decided that if it was a boy, and given how much they'd enjoyed the film, they'd call him James because they just liked the sound of it.

And of course they would have had no idea back then just how famous the name would become.

Anyway, James Bond said that the name had, unsurprisingly, opened all sorts of doors for him along his journey through time. He also told the tale of being with some friends in a London restaurant, and who also happened to be there, with a group of people, was Pierce Brosnan, the Bond of Die Another Day.

So one of his pals ventured over to the Brosnan party and politely explained the coincidence - and he was called over to join the star for a chat. And apparently Brosnan insisted that the real James Bond give him his card as a keepsake.

Wonderfully smiley tale that. And all down to a fortuitous choice of name by Mr & Mrs Bond of Bristol back in 1962.


Pause, ponder ... proceed (with care)

"I just reckon we've got the very best people in this country and we've obviously got the best medical regulator, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have. That doesn't surprise me at all because we're a much better country than every single one of them." UK Government Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on why he thinks the UK is getting a coronavirus vaccine first.

Doesn't your heart sink when one of the UK's leading politicians delivers such a spectacularly crass and embarrassing statement on the nation's behalf to an expectant world? A little prick desperately in need of a little prick.

Clearly the Trump disease - the need to brag at every opportunity - is highly contagious and needs Pfizer to come up with a new vaccine. Whatever...

Today, a UK grandmother, Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, became the first person in the world to be given the Pfizer Covid-19 jab. Enter stage right though, pursued by an avalanche of puns, the second person to receive the vaccine - yes, a Mr William Shakespeare, 81, and would you believe it, from Warwickshire.

"When shall we two meet again for your second jab?"

A wonderfully bardic looking William Shakespeare gets his Covid-19 jab

Here are just some of the puns that caught my eye: Is this a needle which I see before me? Much ado about nothing. The taming of the flu (near enough). All's well that ends well. Also, I liked this: If Margaret Keenan was Patient 1A, was Mr Shakespeare Patient 2B, or not 2B? And on and on...

Now you would think that the nation's movers and shakers would have thought: "Right, let's make sure that Mr William Shakespeare is the first person in the world to get a Covid-19 vaccine outside of a clinical trial - just think of the front page headlines around the planet. And it would certainly trump Education Secretary Gavin Williamson's child-like boastfulness."

Yes, the world's media still had a ball with Shakespearean puns, but no thanks to the powers-that-be.

Sadly our movers and shakers appear devoid of peripheral vision, foresight and wisdom. Indeed, the nation finds itself in an ever deeper hole because our leaders are frustrated JCB drivers rather than thinkers and doers.


Proceed with PC or expect a knock on the door from a PC

"BBC suspends football pundit for describing a clash between players as 'handbags' and a male player as a 'drama queen' amid exasperation at the corporation's 'OTT levels of PC'." Popular commentator and analyst Steve Thompson, 65, has been suspended from punditry until the new year and will undergo BBC training in political correctness before being allowed to return to work.

Well, the sky duly fell on the BBC, mostly over its reaction to the word "handbags", a word regularly heard during rugby games when the commentators refer to a shemozzle between players which doesn't involve violence or incur a penalty, just a warning from the referee to stop behaving like children and grow up.

The term "handbags" is so common it appears in the Collins Dictionary as "an incident in which people, especially sportsmen, fight or threaten to fight, but without real intent to inflict harm". And of course the media regularly referred to Maggie Thatcher as "hand bagging" those men around her she rated as useless and wet.

Whatever, it reminded me of a tale about the American actor Burt Reynolds (1936-2018), who apparently was not rated the greatest of actors - "My movies were the kind they show in prisons and on airplanes, because nobody can leave" - but made up for it as a noted raconteur, and told a great story about John Wayne playing Julius Caesar on stage.

When the Duke mumbled his way through the lines in his usual drawl, the audience started booing. At which point, Wayne stopped the play and said to the audience: "Look, I agree with you, but I didn't write this shit."


Sunday is knock-knock day

Who's there?
McDonald who?
McDonald's McLitter!

I step out through the front door and the first thing that greets me on the busy-ish country lane I navigate along my walk into town is - well, here it is, Exhibit A...

McDonald's McLitter

Rudolph drops his lot on a country lane

Yes, a bit of McDonald's Muck-Litter. So I "rescue" it to take a photo before dumping it in the bin. What makes it worse is the Merry Christmas flavour of the carton: "Are you reindeer ready?" Well, not if Rudolph and his mates drop their shite all over the shop like a McDonald's customer.

What, in rescuing the planet, makes people chuck away their rubbish rather than dispose of it in a civil and proper fashion when they arrive home? And given that the two nearest McDonald's are some 10 and 16 miles away, why would people want to shite on their own doorstep?

Crazy world, crazy people.


From the smiley ridiculous to the uproariously sublime

Mind the doors ... "I remember going on a bus once, from Merthyr to Troedyrhiw [Foot-of-the-hill], and my mother said to me: 'Right, when we get on the bus by 'ere, and the conductor asks you how old you are, you're two.' And I said I'm three. 'No! You're two.' I'm three!! And she said: 'Shut up and listen. You haven't got to pay on the bus when you're two in Merthyr.'
     "So we get on the bus and the conductor said: 'Hello lovely boy, and how old are you then?' And I said I'm two I am. 'Gosh, you're a big boy for two. When are you three?' And I said: When I get off this bus."
 A smiley joke told by Welsh comedian, musician and radio presenter Owen Money, 73, on his Saturday morning Radio Wales show Money For Nothing.

Ah, conductors on buses, those were the days, my friends.

But, truth is often more whacky than fiction...

Those frills and flowers and buttons and bows and curtsies

Waiting for the weather forecast on telly, I happen to catch an item at the tail-end of the news about the annual Diplomatic Reception of new foreign ambassadors, and a curious ceremony which had taken place at Buckingham Palace, where they had to meet the Queen - who was at Windsor Castle.

Because of the coronavirus they were met with a screen filled with the face of the Queen welcoming them. What was so www - wonderfully weird and whacky - was the sweeping bow or deep curtsey by each ambassador in front of the screen ... pure Alice in Wonderland - and mystically smiley.


Bombs away

Wellington beef ... "The Wellington, a pub in my home town of Maesteg, is listed in the review of monuments in Wales linked to slaves ('Nelson in Welsh statue review', News, Nov 28). Presumably the great and good who drew up the list assumed it was named after the Iron Duke, the 1st Duke of Wellington. The pub is in fact the former Royal Air Force Association club and the new owner decided to name it after the Wellington bomber." Jeff Jones of Maesteg, Bridgend in south Wales, in a letter to The Times.

Occasionally, just occasionally, something defines quite comprehensively what I mean when I declare the pleasure I register when I observe and embrace the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade.

Members of the jury ... I rest my case.


Letters from Middle-Britain - 12

F*** me! ... "If the BBC feels obliged to remove offensive words from the Christmas song Fairytale of New York for its Radio 1 audience, why does it include them in so many of its programmes?" Stephen Perkins of Grimsby, Lincolnshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Definitely a 3* letter that.

Stone me! ... "I welcome the news that a tunnel for the A303 is to be constructed to reduce the traffic bottleneck, noise and pollution. However, I think it was daft to build Stonehenge so close to the road in the first place." Brian Cooke of New Milton, Hampshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Planners! Honestly, what can you do with them?

Order! Order! ... "Boris Johnson tries to deflect blame from himself by calling Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer 'Captain Hindsight'. Military names for the prime minister abound: Captain Clueless, Major Catastrophe, General Incompetence..." Susan Castles of Wem, Shropshire, in a letter to The Guardian.

Hm, methinks Susan missed out Major-General Calamity (you'll have heard of his sister, Jane), Field-Marshall Fiasco...

Drowned out ... "A lockdown is like holding one's breath underwater: it's a temporary solution to an immediate problem. We must learn to keep our heads above water until the tide goes out." Charles Smith of Ruddington, Nottinghamshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Hang on, Charles, I'll throw you a lifebuoy, just in case...


Is this a Scotch egg which I see before me?

Pub grub ... "A Cornish pasty doesn't count (unless served with a salad or chips); a slice of pizza is up for debate; however, a Scotch egg, according to George Eustice, the Environmental Secretary, is substantial enough to be considered a proper sit-down meal, and is enough to save a Tier 2 pub in England from closure under new regulation rolled out today." Journalist and feature writer Eleanor Steafel attempts to resolve all the fears for tiers, and as spotted in The Daily Telegraph.

There is something truly bonkers where the rules determine that a Scotch egg (a delicious nibble, by the way) qualifies as a substantial meal and thus makes the difference between your local pub opening and closing. Now if we had one with an ostrich egg - well, now you're talking, albeit with mouth full.

On the other hand, the Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin, 60, offers us his detective Inspector Rebus's patented recipe for the Scotch egg delicacy:
     1)  Put eggs on to boil
     2)  Pour a scotch while you wait
     3)  Keep pouring and drinking
     4)  Throw away the eggs

Hm: A (Tier 2) Meal For The Dark Times?

So that's England sorted. In Wales though, the whole confusion is summed up by today's Western Mail front page headline:

"Welsh pubs 'cannot serve any alcohol'." Pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants in Wales will have to close at 6pm and cannot sell alcohol at any time as part of new measures to try and slow the spread of coronavirus. After 6pm they will only be able to provide takeaway services.

♪♪♪ "But there's a-nuthin' so lonesome, morbid or drear / Than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer..." goes the smiley old country song, and in 2020 reimagined by the Welsh government. How can we forget Billy the blacksmith break down when arriving home early and having to tell his wife that the pub's got no beer.

Even worse, mind, is to stand in the bar of a pub selling only ginger beer - or even worse, bitter lemon.

So, no more "Here's lookin' at you, pussycat" over a glass of bubbly here in Wales, even with a substantial Scotch egg as a side dish to placate the gods - or Mark Drakeford (First Minister) and Vaughan Gething (Health Minister) as we call them hereabouts.


Is this an oyster knife which I see before me?

Knife edge ... "Feeling very sad as my 20-year-old bread knife has broken. We've been through thick and thin together." Gaz from Camborne, Cornwall, via email, and as spotted in The Sun.

Well, that bit of wordplay certainly made me smile; especially so as just a few weeks ago my own bread knife broke.

As it happens, some four years ago I was perusing the middle lane in Lidl - and what caught my eye was an Ernesto Kushino knife, approx. 18.5cm (that's seven inches in caveman speak), at around 13 pounds sterling, as I recall, and it was still in its box when my faithful old knife broke. So a handy bit of anticipation.

Anyway, there was some further correspondence on the business of bread knives:

Cutting edge ... "Gwyneth Paltrow clearly has delusions of grandeur if she believes she can sell a bread knife at the ludicrous price of 260 quid. Does the actress really think ordinary folk have that level of money to waste? Dream on." Michael Frost of Romford, Essex, in a letter to The Sun.

The point is, Michael, there are plenty of folk out there who will pay that much for a Gwyneth Paltrow knife - and she knows it and is smiling all the way to Fort Knox.

And for the last word on the subject:

"I do not weep at the world - I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife." Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), American folklorist (my word of the week), author, anthropologist and filmmaker, from her book How It Feels To Be Colored Me (1928).

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