LOOK YOU : January to March 2020

Blount by birth, Blunt by nature

"Many other artists are doing mini concerts from their homes - I thought I'd do you all a favour and not." Englishman James Hillier Blount, 46, better known as music man James Blunt, keeps up the nation's spirits.

"Which famous person or celebrity would you be happy to find yourself in lockdown with?" was a question asked on the wireless. Well, I am programmed to give the worship of fame and celebrity a miss, encoded to look the other way. However, if I had my arm twisted and asked which totem pole figure I would be happy to sit next to on a flight to the other side of the world - my version of totem pole worship - then James Blunt would definitely be in the frame.

I happened to hear his song Halfway the other day, and rated it rather listenable. However, and despite the fact he has sold over 20 million records and won many awards, he is best known for his Twitter account, in particular his brilliant return of serves and turn of phrase. For example, someone claimed that he stopped being relevant in 2009, but James fired back: "2006, actually."

There are loads of "the best of" online, but here are three that caught my eye...

@Thomssmn: Just realized how short James Blunt is!
@JamesBlunt: It's only halfway in.

@garymoody65: Why you only got 1.9m followers? [Updated from 200k in 2013, when the tweet was posted.]
@JamesBlunt: Jesus only needed twelve.

@McKym: James Blunt is a c**t.
@JamesBlunt: I foresee a career in poetry.

Yep, I'd be happy to sit next to James on that long-haul flight.


Your quarantine nickname!

"Ah, lovely listener, it's that moment of the programme again, the juncture where I fiddle with the filigree of your soul in an attempt to get to know you better than I do already..." Yes, Vanessa Feltz on her early-morning Radio 2 show: "I want to know your quarantine nickname. It is how you feel right now, your current emotional state - plus the last thing you ate out of the larder or fridge. My quarantine nickname is Dazed Bruised Apple and producer David is Relaxed Yogurt..."

Now how could I resist? First things first though ... filigree - Vanessa often deploys words you never hear in the Bible or down the pub - anyway, filigree: ornamental work of fine (typically gold or silver) wire formed into delicate tracery, i.e. filigree earrings.

Can't wait to casually drop "filigree" into the conversation down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon when it reopens following lockdown. Mind you, they will probably think it's a posh word for a young female horse boasting an impressive pedigree, or perhaps a lovely young lady who likes to agree.

Anyway, my quarantine nickname? Well, I am a glass-half-full soul, so my emotional state listening to Vanessa on Monday morning - as it is 99.9% of the time - is cheerful, with hat set at a jaunty angle. And then I look down at my breakfast plate - and I see a crumpet. Not any old crumpet mind, but a Warburtons Gluten Free Crumpet. Indeed a Warburtons gluten free, wheat free, milk free crumpet.

There was a pack of two crumpets on the clearance shelf of my local supermarket, at 22p, dropped from 75p. How could I resist such a bargain? (Funnily enough I remember seeing on the telly rows of empty bread shelves at some supermarket or other, except for many gluten free loaves, which hadn't been panic-bought.)

Now I'm a caveman, and I'll eat what's in front of me; also I'm not allergic to anything. Oh yes, there were two packets, so I did my own bit of panic buying. And they were absolutely fine, filled an empty pit with gusto.

Anyway, my quarantine nickname is, ta-rah! ... Cheery Crumpet. How can I possibly go wrong?


Nature calls

Sunday, 02:00hrs (Clocks go forward ... British Summer Time is here): "Thank God, one hour less of coronavirus lockdown." Yours truly: a call of nature interrupts my dreams, i.e. my battery-liberated but reliable bladder alarm clock. "By the by, come October 25, let us hope and pray the Devil and his agent Covid-19 won't be claiming back my 60 minutes of escapism. Thoroughly washed fingers crossed, eh?"


Pooh, Piglet, a tree ... and Me

"Pooh and Piglet were walking through the wood on a stormy night. The wind was howling, the trees were swaying and the branches were creaking. Piglet was scared and turned to Pooh: 'Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?' ... 'Supposing it didn't!' said Pooh after some careful thought. Piglet was comforted by this." Thus a contributor signing off a coronavirus-prompted business video conference with a few lines compliments of AA Milne's House at Pooh Corner.

And here's a funny thing: Many moons ago I processed a motoring claim on behalf of an elderly client who had, notably, never before made an insurance claim. He'd been shunted from behind at some temporary traffic lights. There were no injuries, the guilty party apologised, admitted full liability, and they departed on good terms.

As I completed the claim form, the courteous gent sighed and cursed himself for "being in the wrong place at the wrong time". "But," I reassured him, "think of the millions of times you haven't been in the wrong place at the wrong time." And just like Piglet, the old boy was comforted by this.

Today of course that no-fault claim of his would have automatically loaded his premium because the data (or those dreaded statistics of Mark Twain infamy) insist that if you make a claim, whether at fault or not, you are likely to be involved in another claim in the near future.

I guess that curious phenomenon is much like injuries and crashes in sports: once a typically 'healthy' player picks up an injury (or a crash in say cycling), more unconnected injuries (or crashes) are likely to follow. It is an intriguing thing to explain.

Yes indeedy, there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our understanding of human nature ... sort of.


Extra coronavirus: from funny ha-ha ... to funny punny

"In an unsettling reversal of my teenage years, I am now yelling at my parents for going out." Brigid Delaney, 46, Australian journalist and former lawyer, offers up some infectious humour, but at a safe distance.

Meanwhile, the Atticus column in The Sunday Times has already awarded its 2020 Headline of the Year to The Spectator (the world's oldest magazine), which ran a profile of Professor Chris Whitty, the government's chief medical adviser (currently self-ironically-isolating with coronavirus symptoms), and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, under the headline: "The two gentlemen of corona."

Oh yes, one positive aspect of the pandemic has been the crystal-clear evenings (compliments of a cloudless high pressure zone parked over the country), with pretty much all pollution having been washed right out of our skies.

Tonight at 7:42 I popped out to watch the International Space Station (ISS) pass pretty much directly overhead - always a sight that draws the eye, not so much because of its brightness, but the swiftness with which it crosses the sky.

It approached from the west, first passing close by a bright crescent moon (with the rest of the moon in well-defined shadow), and then just whizzing past Venus, as bright a planet in the night sky as I ever remember. Talk about a magnificent sight for sore eyes.

Four minutes later and the ISS had disappeared from view ... but the number of stars visible a little later was a powerful reminder of those star-studded nights I remember so vividly from my childhood on the farm in deepest west Wales.


Coronavirus departure lounge

"The cure can't be worse than the disease, and we're gonna have to make some difficult trade-offs." Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, puts the ambition and greed of corporate America ahead of human survival. Meanwhile, here in the UK:

"Sir Max Hastings [74, a British journalist], is to be applauded: he has the courage to speak the truth. We pensioners will beggar the country for future generations in our selfish desire to hold on to life at all costs." Ian Rank-Broadley of Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, in a letter to The Times, responding to an article by Max Hastings - "My oldie generation is privileged and selfish, a dead weight on the NHS" - along with "losing it in staggering rant" on the BBC airwaves.

Unsurprisingly the sky duly fell on Hastings' head. We should not be surprised though because he once worked as a foreign correspondent for the BBC, and as we know the BBC is made up of that curious breed of metropolitan elite who exhibit as much empathy with the real world as an amoeba does with a dolphin.

However, the line above about old people's "desire to hold on to life at all costs", reminds me of a teacher discussing old age with her class. "Who wants to live to be a 100 anyway?" enquired one youngster dismissively but understandably. And the teacher replied: "Someone who is 99."

You see, survival is hard-wired into our DNA, irrespective of age.

Incidentally, as NHS workers on the frontline of the coronavirus war were given a round of applause and thanks across the nation, isn't it strange that, while actors, footballers and celebrities are paid huge amounts of money, the essential workers we actually depend on in a crisis are among the lowest paid, indeed I couldn't stop thinking of Lord Hall, Chief Sitting Bull at the BBC, and his claim that football pundit Gary Lineker is the Corporation's - and by definition the licence payers' - most precious asset.

Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad...


Grounded - with a Capital F

"It's not often you'll find me talking about the great indoors - but this is the exception." Bear Grylls, 45, a British survival expert and chief scout, offers tips for keeping children amused at home during the lockdown.

But how to keep us grown-ups amused?

"This virus has a lot to answer to. I have this strange man hanging about the house. He says he lives here." Mary McMillan of Haddington, East Lothian, in a letter to The Times.

"At least we have all the spring - to clean." Sue Doble of Hockworthy, Devon, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

"Why are all my friends giving me the elbow?" Arthur Jaggers of Abingdon, Oxfordshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

"Samuel Johnson [1709-1784, English writer and man of many talents including his epic achievement 'A Dictionary of the English Language'] is quoted as advising us to count the spoons whenever guests leave our house; no doubt today, he would be advising us to also count our toilet tissues!" Brian Christley of Abergele, Conwy, in a letter to the Western Mail.

Just a few of the smiley gems spotted in the never less than entertaining letters pages of our newspapers. And best of all, humour without the need of obscenity - or a Capital F!


♪♪♪: Always look on the bright side of life

"Do remember, they can't cancel the spring." David Hockney, 82, a British painter and photographer, releases a picture of some daffodils, and urges us to look on the bright side, as championed by the Monty Python crowd - and echoing Dame Vera Lynn, 103, quoting from her famous wartime song, We'll Meet Again: "I encourage you all to keep smiling through."

Back on February 26, I shared my visit to a local bluebell wood to see where the bluebells are at, something I have been doing annually since 1999 (excepting 2001, the year of the foot-and-mouth outbreak).

As a rule of thumb, the first bluebell appears around the middle of March. The earliest was February 27, 2016, following a mild winter. The latest was April 8, 2006, in the wake of a coldish winter and late spring. Last year was March 14, pretty much par for the course.

This year the first bluebell appeared a handful of days back, on March 20, the Spring Equinox. I measure it at the stage just before it bursts into song - and here it is, chomping at the bit...

♫♫♫:  You're a white bluebell...
...I'm a blue bluebell, have we met somewhere before?

                                                                                 ...and within a few weeks the woods will look like the second photo, captured from the spot where I witnessed this year's warm-up act peeping through the green foliage curtain.

I am happy to report that spring has not been put on lockdown, phew!


Last orders!

"We are taking away the ancient, inalienable right of the free-born people of the United Kingdom to go to the pub." Last Friday evening, Boris Johnson announces desperate measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus ... tonight, Monday evening, Boris places the United Kingdom on street lockdown: "If you don't follow these instructions you are putting people's lives at risk..."

Shoot the messenger? We all know individuals who, the moment we see them approach, we start to smile. They don't do funny walks, pull comic faces, tell amusing jokes, mimic, indeed they are not celebrated raconteurs or fonts of unforgettable wit and wisdom - yet we always stop for a chat because they lift our spirits, the sort of person you'd be delighted to sit next to on a flight to the other side of the world.

Watching Boris Johnson deliver his lockdown message to the nation, in a perfectly sombre and acceptable manner, a little corner of my soul couldn't stop smiling. Boris was perfect for Brexit, but is not quite right for Covid-19.

Indeed, how all of America must wish right now that they were led by Governor Cuomo of New York, rather than Donald "Great-Fantastic-Tremendous-Incredible" Trump*.

* "Great-Fantastic-Tremendous-Incredible": When Donald Trump speaks, blank out the use of those flowery and meaningless words - and he says nothing. Governor Cuomo on the other hand is mesmeric in his fluency and elegance, especially so when relating the coronavirus effect to his mother and children. The magic of the common touch. Oh, and you can tell that he is a lawyer compliments of his eloquence when explaining points of order.


You shouldn't have

"Instead of the usual flowers for Mothering Sunday, my daughter has sent a food parcel." Judith Book of Bath, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

What a smiley letter that is. And at the other end of the smiley roundabout, a Newman cartoon on the front page of The Sunday Times, of little Tommy Tucker handing his delighted but emotionally overcome mammy a toilet roll, and declaring: "Happy Mother's Day, to the best mum in the world!"

And finally, this from English stand-up comedian Mark Simmons: "I managed to get one loo roll from Tesco. I feel bad for the next person to use their customer toilet."


Memories are made of this

"It is hard to believe that the debate about whether Big Ben should bong for Brexit not only happened in our lifetimes, but was only seven weeks ago." Matt Chorley, Times columnist, endorses that unsettling feeling that we all went to bed as normal the other evening ... and we all woke up in a parallel universe - you know, the sort of thing they sometimes feature in Star Trek.

He also reminded us of some memorable political moments that had us chortling, chuckling and rolling our eyes in disbelief and joy, doolallyness in excelsis, events that happened in a faraway place called Wonderland:

*  David Miliband's banana skin moment, but while still holding the banana as he arrived at the Labour Party conference in 2008.
*  Brother Ed Miliband's fraught battle with a bacon sandwich as he bought flowers for his wife at a London market.
*  Ed Miliband (again) and his totem pole that wouldn't make voters dance, i.e. the Ed Stone Tablet, brought down from the mountain by Mungo, rather than Moses.
*  David Cameron cycling to Parliament, followed by a car carrying his shoes, red box, and a man with a gun.
*  Nick Clegg admitting to being a bit of a Casanova, but sleeping with "no more than 30" women.
*  Gordon Brown and that "bigoted woman" moment.
*  John "Barking" Bercow labelling Commons leader Andrea Leadsom a "stupid woman".
*  Boris "hides in a fridge" to avoid Piers Morgan interview (fair play, who wouldn't?).
*  The Labour Party leadership contest, a.k.a. The Mousetrap, still running ... and perhaps best of all...
*  Theresa May's coughing fit at the 2017 Tory Party conference, which of course in this parallel universe would have meant instant quarantine.

In view of the above - and much, much more - I can only echo what Matt Chorley says: please, can we have our old universe back? We really miss the joy and the doolallyness of the passing political parade, as observed and embraced from the safety of the grassy knoll - and without the need to wash our bloody hands every whipstitch.


The Halleloojah Chorus!

A MATT cartoon on The Daily Telegraph front page, of a Vera Lynn-type figure, in military uniform, singing atop a cliff in the south-east of England ... ♪♪♪: "There'll be loo rolls over / The white cliffs of Dover / Tomorrow, just you wait and see..."

"Are those filling trollies with loo rolls intending to sit it out?" John Evans of Wokingham, Berkshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

"I am just going off-pissed and may be some time." Jac the Joiner, so named because he always joins the crowd when someone is buying a round, leaves the Crazy Horsepower Saloon after the landlord calls "Time!" for the last time until - well, who knows until when.

PS: Just to balance the MATT cartoon at the top, here's what Dame Vera Lynn, 103, had to say, quoting her famous wartime song We'll Meet Again - and I am happy to report that I am doing my bit for the cause: "I encourage you all to keep smiling through."



"With no pub to go to, or any sports to watch either live or on telly, all down to this coronavirus thing, I've been having long chats with the wife. I've just found out she's been made redundant from Woolworths!" Dai Version of Crazy Horsepower Saloon fame makes a rapid return appearance.

Honestly, if we didn't have things to smile at, the overpowering media coverage coming at us from all angles really would drive us doolally.

Also, watching a repeat episode of Have I Got News For You on Dave TV tonight, a recording from long before the word coronavirus was a look of alarm on the face of a Chinese scientist, Prince Philip featured in a brief segment, and the show highlighted this well-documented quotation of his from 1988 - and hold on to your hats:

"In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, to contribute something to solving overpopulation."


Prayer for Boris

"Instead of singing Happy Birthday to ourselves to ensure we wash our hands for the requisite 20 seconds, would not reciting the Lord's Prayer be more appropriate?" Dai Version, of Crazy Horsepower Saloon fame, shares a letter spotted in the Daily Mail.

In fact, Dai suggested that I should have a go at rewriting the Lord's Prayer, a version to suit the task at hand, bearing in mind that the Lord is blessed with humour, irony and a sense of the ridiculous, adding: "Look at Donald Trump."

Well, I have no particular gift for this sort of thing - however, and as I have mentioned before, mother never bred a jibber, so...

The PM's Prayer: "Our Boris, who art in Number 10, cheery be your name. Your United Kingdom will be embraced, in Old London Town as it is in Holyrood, Stormont and Cardiff Bay. Give us this day our daily soap and forgive us our handshakes, our hugs and our kisses, as we also forgive you your indiscretions. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Devil's handiwork. Get coronavirus done. Amen."

So I submitted my effort to the Daily Mail - and it was published in today's paper.

Incidentally, why do we say Amen and not Awomen? Well, we sing hymns, not hers. (I know, I know, it's a recycled joke - still clever wordplay though.)


I need to be alone

"I note that a cabinet minister is self-isolating. In Wales we call this practice 'farming'." Helen Nakielay of Talley, Carmarthenshire, in a letter to The Times.

That generated a smile, on two fronts: first, I'm from a farming family, so I appreciate where Helen is coming from; secondly, my own family's farm is just a mile or so from the village of Talley, indeed I went to primary school in Talley. Sadly, and whilst I have known a few Helens within that square-mile, I can't say I know any Nakielays.

Talking of self-isolating and social-distancing, the organisers of the Glastonbury Music Festival announced at the end of last week that the festival is still on for June, confirming that the star headline will be Paul McCartney. So at the projected peak of the coronavirus pandemic, a 78-year-old Beatle will be standing in a field surrounded by 210,000 people who haven't, um, washed their hands and things in three days.

As The Daily Telegraph columnist Michael Deacon pointed out ... hm, that sounds "a tiny bit risky", adding: "Perhaps each attendee will be presented on entry with a free basin, six bars of Imperial Leather soap and a one-size-fits-all hazmat suit." ♪♪♪: Yeah, yeah, yeah!

However, Glastonbury has now programmed in the risk and cancelled 2020's much anticipated 50th anniversary event. As indeed has May's Eurovision Song Contest. That's life. Coronavirus equals no hiding place.

Incidentally, as I write I have just heard a meaningful slice of advice: if you have to be out and about, imagine that you actually have the disease, so conduct yourself in a way where you consciously don't want to infect other people, i.e. social-distancing, et cetera, et cetera... Top drawer guidance that.

PS: My endlessly entertaining spellchecker unsurprisingly came to a sudden halt at the surname "Nakielay" ... and suggested "Nakedly". I increasingly marvel at how my computer is also now wearing its hat at a jaunty angle.


Convenience store

"I think that I may take a stroll,
    And buy myself a toilet roll..."
The English poet and funny lady Pam Ayres, on holiday in Australia, has captured the national mood - as is her custom in times of need - in a witty ditty of Twitter doggerel, posted from Down Under.

"Amid all the gloom from viruses and a run on toilet rolls, it was wonderful to read in Saturday's Telegraph that there is an organisation called the British Toilet Association." David Bardell of Reydon, Suffolk, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

All this talk of toilet rolls reminds me of the cartoon mentioned in yesterday's dispatches, of the lady returning from a shopping trip carrying what looks like three planks, and telling her husband: "They only had empty shelves, so I bought them."

Anagram corner: coronavirus pandemic morphs alarmingly into a predatory carnivorous incamped.


Panic-buy name, panic by nature

"Loo rolls may have run out. Cat litter hasn't. You know what you need to do." This was a smiley, straight-to-the point letter by Marianne Bartram of Sherborne, Dorset, spotted in the Daily Mail, and which I quoted just a couple of days ago, Friday the 13th.

Well now, here is the opening line in an article headed "Tangled supply chains behind empty shelves", written by a Sam Chambers in today's Sunday Times, Business & Money section: "At a packed Sainsbury's store in Wallington, south London, shoppers had emptied the shelves of everything from baked beans to cat litter by mid-morning on Friday."

You couldn't, as they say, make it up. I'm reminded of a Newman cartoon from a week back, also in The Sunday Times, of a wife walking into the house, her husband waiting to greet her while holding a newspaper bearing the headline "PANIC BUYING", and she is carrying what looks like three planks, and is telling her husband: "They only had empty shelves, so I bought them."


"Some trust in chariots, and some in horses..."

"A Shetland pony goes to the vets and says: 'I think I may have caught coronavirus from the boss - and before you ask, yes, I have regularly bathed my hooves in the river at the bottom of the field.' The vet examines the pony ... and is reassuring: 'It's okay, nothing to worry about - you're just a little hoarse.'." I know, I know, it's essentially an ear joke rather than an eye one, but it's an oldie worth updating.

It came to mind today as I was watching horse racing on telly. I am not a horse racing man, I can't even remember when I last had a bet, but I quite enjoy watching it on ITV, which covers the sport both entertainingly and informatively. Also, I am endlessly impressed watching horses doing their thing, confirming that they are undoubtedly one of Mother Nature's more remarkable creations. A most impressive creature is the horse.

Whatever, running in the 3.35 at Uttoxeter today was a horse called Christmas In April. What a memorable name. I am endlessly impressed by the names owners come up with. Here are just a few recent names that stick in the mind: Paddy's Motorbike (officially minus the apostrophe), Air Force Jet, Show Me Show Me and Constantinople (ah, but should the name be changed by deed poll to Istanbul?).

And then there are the legendary names: Shergar (stolen for ransom by the IRA and subsequently shot as it is believed to have seriously injured itself during the theft), Arkle, Desert Orchid - and of course horses winning against the odds: Foinavon in the 1967 Grand National, and the Welsh owned and trained Norton's Coin in the prestigious 1990 Cheltenham Gold Cup (beating the nation's favourite grey, the aforementioned Desert Orchid at 10/11 on), both Foinavon and Norton's Coin winning at an incredible 100/1.

I particularly like names that roll off the tongue: Red Rum and Tiger Roll (which is hoping to emulate Red Rum with a third Grand National win come April, coronavirus willing of course ... sadly, the pandemic is unwilling and the race is off, so to speak).

However, my favourite named horse has to be Greta Garbo, an Argentinian mare from 1928. I mean, Greta Garbo ... GG for short, or, if you insist, Gee-Gee. Magic.

PS: My spellchecker came to a halt at Uttoxeter - and suggested Untogether. Now there's a word I've never heard mentioned down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon.


Friday the 13th ... a good day to raise a smile over coronavirus

Chop-chop: "Panic buyers welcome here." Spotted in the window of a butcher's shop in East Horsley, Surrey.

Grime scene - do not cross: "No toilet rolls are stored in this van overnight." Written into the dirt on the back of a van in Hambledon, Hampshire.

Wipe out: "Loo rolls may have run out. Cat litter hasn't. You know what you need to do." Marianne Bartram of Sherborne, Dorset, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Darn it: "I visited a local hosiery shop looking for some socks and was told there was a shortage as people had been stockpiling." Roger Coombs of Maidenhead, Berkshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Hang about: did the newspaper spoil a good joke there? Should it not have read ... "there was a shortage as people had been sockpiling"?

Whatever, keep calm and keep smiling.


Believe nothing you hear, half what you see

Viral survival: "Anyone suggesting that the Mediterranean diet [in particular olives and olive oil] may help to prevent infection by coronavirus is either oblivious to events in Italy, or has no idea where Italy is in relation to the Mediterranean." Neil Salter of Yeovil, Somerset, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

There is, as they say, no answer to that, indeed it brings to mind the following...

"Believe those who seek the truth, doubt those who find it." Andre Gide (1869-1951), French author, from his final memoirs, Ainsi soit-il [So Be It, or The Chips Are Down], published posthumously, 1952.

Never mind Donald Trump, the first thing that came to mind was the "BBC Reality Check: What claim to you want to investigate?" The Corporation's metropolitan elite journalists, forever under the spotlight of prejudicial bias, have investigated many subjects, from claims made about Brexit vs Remain, via the 2019 General Election, to "Is Greta Thunberg right about UK carbon emissions?".

So, we believe BBC journalists for seeking the truth, but we doubt them when they find it. Yep, sounds about right: "That's life, you're flying high in April, you're shot down in May..." Clever old Andre Gide.


Keep cool and carry on

"The Times newspaper began its report on the Vegan Society's campaign for more respect at work with these words: 'Vegans should be given their own shelf in the office fridge.' That's a bit harsh. Surely we can stretch to giving them a desk and chair too." Daniel Finkelstein, 57, British journalist, political columnist and associated editor of The Times, writing in his Notebook column in ... The Times.

Quite: if you'll beetroot to me, I'll beetroot to you.

"When I announced myself as the gas man when visiting a hospital ward, the sister in charge apologised that she had no idea where the meter was." Brian Watson (retired anaesthetist), from Newcastle upon Tyne, in a letter to The Times.

Being a glass-half-full person, I like to think that the aforementioned sister was also a glass-half-full person, and she knew exactly who Brian Watson was, which makes her response a glorious return of a fine serve. And a great slice of joy to round off the day.


Caution: children at play

"Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book." Cicero (106BC-43BC) a.k.a. Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman, lawyer, orator and, um, writer of books.

As Chief Wise Owl insists: "There is nothing new under the sun." ... Scroll forward 2,063 years, and this glorious letter in The Sunday Times, from Brenda Gilligan of Lincolnshire:

Child's play: Sarah Baxter [British journalist and deputy editor of The Sunday Times] bemoans the lack of books "about how to resist the tyrannical demands of your own children" (Comment, last week). Let me write one for her. 'Chapter 1: 'No!' The end."

The brutal truth is that all the self-help books ever written, especially with regard to bringing up children, are an irrelevance. If you think of all the interesting and helpful books that have actually been written down the ages, then we should now be living in a sort of paradise. The trouble is, all the wisdom hoovered up from such books, and indeed from life itself, is not passed on to our children via our DNA because we've already had our children before such wisdom is burnt onto our DNA.

That is why each generation is doomed to repeat the mistakes and incompetence of the previous generation, whether it's bring up kids or running the country. Rarely is learnt wisdom handed on down the generations. Now a few lucky individuals inherit accumulated wisdom compliments of their ancestors' genes - and they don't need any books to tell them "how to resist the tyrannical demands of your own children".

Life is remarkably simple and sensible when your inherent wisdom puts you one step ahead of the ambush. And on the subject of recurring generational mistakes, this letter, also in The Sunday Times, from Christina Jones (by email):

Life starts at 60: Rod Liddle [age 59, British journalist, columnist and an associate editor of The Spectator] is worried he will become invisible after the age of 60. He should embrace it. I am more than happy to be ignored as I quietly watch the antics of the young, secure in the knowledge that they are all making the same mistakes as I did - and I no longer care.

Pause for thought: Do you suppose the children of parents who have them late in life are wiser because much learnt wisdom is already burnt onto the genes passed on to the children?


Pop goes the Corona

"As a boy I drank so much Corona, I'm hoping it might have given me a measure of immunity." Dr Philip Hickman of Taunton, Somerset, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, recalling the popular fizzy drink from childhood, rather than the Mexican beer of adulthood.

It is quite amusing seeing repeats of television programmes broadcast before the word coronavirus infected the planet. For example...

Watching Antiques Road Trip from 2015 on Really TV, road tripper Catherine Southon bought a selection of those sturdy wooden delivery crates we remember from yesteryear, items which always go down well under the hammer. As the auctioneer took bids on the crates, which had Corona writ large all over - clearly crates that the Corona pop bottles would have been delivered to the shops in - Catherine's co-road tripper Philip Serrell turned to her: "I'm old enough to remember the Corona pop man delivering!"

Now if that had been filmed today, would the producers have risked upsetting the nation's snowflakes?

Then watching an episode of Have I Got News For You from just before the 2016 EU referendum, one of the guest panellists is Labour MP Jess Phillips, she being one of the many Labour MPs hostile to Jeremy Corbyn remaining as leader, even back then. There were three hostile groups: 72 MPs were labelled "neutral but not hostile", 49 "slightly hostile", while 36 were "outwardly hostile", Trouble with a capital T, if you like.

Opposition team captain Ian Hislop is waggishly provoking her about both her and the Labour Party's problems in attempting to replace Corby: "So which group are you in?" he asks her.

"I'm in the 'slightly hostile' camp," she responds. "Also known as 'core group negative'."

"Blimey," says Hislop, "that sounds like a nasty disease."

The point being, if that had been 2020 instead of 2016, Hislop would probably have said something like: "Blimey, corona group negative? No hand shaking - or hugging - or kissing - and be sure to wash your hands every time you go anywhere near a foreign body like Corbyn."

Smile of the day: I happened upon the Commonwealth Day Service from Westminster Abbey on BBC1. As the Dean of Westminster begins the actual service, the camera focuses on four young Brownies in the front row. They catch sight of themselves on a TV monitor ... and smile bashfully - except the one girl on the end who looks quite serious, as if she can't quite believe that that is her on the telly - but she suddenly breaks into a smile and mouths an exaggerated but respectful "Hello!" towards the monitor she is watching. Pure magic.

It's a perfectly wonderful, elegant and grown-up way to behave, rather than the child-like way we grow-ups behave when we catch sight of ourselves on the big screen.

If you read this before April 7, 2020, search BBC iPlayer for 'A Service Of Celebration For Commonwealth Day' - and scroll forward some 55 minutes, where The Very Rev Dr David Hoyle begins his address ... and enjoy.


Bullshit baffles brains

"Bullshit is the fertiliser that animates both the rose and the deadly nightshade." Anonymous.

It was Gore Vidal (1925-2012), the American writer, who observed that when you're sat on the throne of the world, then any delusion can effortlessly morph into fact. So what do you suppose he would have made of Donald Trump sat on that throne? For example, the Donald on his expertise apropos the coronavirus outbreak...

"Maybe I have a natural ability. You know, my uncle was a great person. He was at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a private research university]. He taught at MIT for, I think, a record number of years. He was a great super genius. Dr John Trump. I like this stuff. I really get it. Every one of these doctors said, 'How do you know so much about this?'." Donald Trump says medics are endlessly impressed by his understanding of the coronavirus outbreak.

Yes indeedy, bullshit regularly Trumps the best brains around. Monty Python must be performing a barrel roll in his circus.


Six doolally things before breakfast

"Alice laughed: 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.' 'I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.'" Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), English writer of children's fiction, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871).

Just like Alice, I am invited to believe six, not so much impossible but doolally things, before breakfast. So, if I follow Boris the White Rabbit through the doors of Westminster, me and the Cheshire Pussycat will tumble into a wonderland of weirdos, misfits and bonkersness.

  1. 1)  When I awake I am free to self-identify for the day as any sex I fancy: AC, DC or Three Phase.

  2. 2)  That coronavirus is not something that has escaped from a lab, when the responses of world leaders range between Corporal Jones' "Don't panic! Don't panic!" to Churchill's "KBO!" (Keep Buggering On!). What are they not telling us?

  3. 3)  ♪♪♪: When I wash my hands I must sing "Happy birthday" - twice - to myself; oh, and remind myself that coughs and sneezes spread diseases.

  4. 4)  The 66m people of Britain (as opposed to the 5.7m of Singapore) do not need a farming industry because that nice Johnnie Foreigner will provide us with all the cheap food we need, whatever the effects of global warming, even before feeding his own.

  5. 5)  Britain will effortlessly survive a cashless society irrespective of power cuts, IT crashes and hacking by that nice Johnnie Foreigner and pals Vlad, Xi and Kim.

  6. 6)  Electric and self-drive vehicles will take us hither and thither without a care, and certainly without regularly breaking down as everything involving complex electronics does these days at the drop of a Mad Hatter's bobble hat.

Whatever, after a traditional Welsh farmer's breakfast...

"Breakfast like a King," said the Queen...

                                                                                                              ...I invited myself to believe one possible thing: that the whole world is bonkers, except for thee and me and the Cheshire Pussycat - but I'm not too sure about thee.


For "HOW!" say "SHWMAE!"

"He's an old school player: he doesn't do social media; he's not into vegan food; and he won't be going for a run in the morning." A sports commentator on ITV delivers a memorable throwaway line about Scottish professional snooker player Stephen Maguire, 38.

Stephen sounds like a man I could happily share a pint or ten with down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Given all this doolallyness that, in order to avoid coronavirus, people should stop shaking hands, hugging, and the old kissy-kissy routine when meeting up, they should now greet each other by touching elbows, or engaging in some complex Freemasonry-style contact with footwear, you wonder what on earth is wrong with a smile: simple, natural, pleasant, friendly, sunshiny, contactless - and a greeting which paints a thousand words.

The "old school player" that is Stephen Maguire reminds me of something I may have mentioned hereabouts before. Unless courteously responding to another's greeting, I only ever shake hands to offer up condolence or congratulations; I only embrace (or hug) when someone is off on a solo jaunt around the world - or just returned; and I only kiss those I quite fancy ending up in bed with. (Remember Sybil and Basil Fawlty? "What are you doing?" "I'm kissing you, dear." "Well don't.")

Otherwise a smile, or a nod, or where appropriate a wink - occasionally a combo, sometimes all three - never fails to draw an acknowledging and friendly response.

Also, if I spot someone the other side of the street, or say when out walking and they're too far away for any of the above to work efficiently, I increasingly deploy something from my childhood when watching films of "Cowboys and Injuns" - or "Immigrants and Native Americans" as we must now say - and that is the Sioux word "Hau!", with accompanying hand and arm gesture, but using the Welsh word "Shwmae!", which means exactly the same as the Native American "How!"...

The Parley by American Frederic Remington (1861-1909)

What is fascinating about the above painting is not so much the "Hau!" from the native, but perhaps the birth of the "High-five!" from the non-native who is responding with a "Flat-five!".

Who'd have thought? In these dodgy days of coronavirus, I am way ahead of the game with my "Shwmae!".



"Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it." A repeat of Ralph Waldo Emerson's journal entry for May 16, 1834 (see February 26, below).

Yesterday I featured a couple of trees with faces and shapes hiding within their form, both spotted in Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo. Today, another tree, a horse chestnut, spotted in the grounds of Newton House, looking remarkably like Wales in full bloom (with no digital jigger-pokery for effect):

Wales' very own impressive family tree

From the candelabra-style flowers of spring ...
... to the autumn tints of a Towy Valley sunrise

It's a never-ending delight following the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson when on a walkabout, especially so in the country.


Barking mad!

"Mind-bending snaps reveal the faces and shapes hidden in trees." An eye-catching clickbait compliments of:

Shareably: 50 Trees Messing With Your Mind Looking Like Something Else

So I searched the above - and clicked ... the Shareably photographs took me back to a snowy morning, 09:08 on the 2nd of January 2010, walking through the grounds of Newton House, on my way from Birds Hill to Llandeilo, and a sculpted deer caught my eye.

I took a few photos, but only when I got home and looked through the images did I notice something weird and wonderful nestling in the corner of one of the snaps...

I spy, with my little eye ... something beginning with f---

Spotted it? Bottom left? I noted the date and exact time because I have the photo as captured by the camera with all the technical details encoded thereon - which proves that the photo hasn't been digitally altered in anyway. Lovely surprise though. And do you know, it's the spitting image of my driving licence mug shot!

And talking of deer, here's another photo, again from Dinefwr Park, captured at 06:48 on the 13th of October 2009...

I spy, with my little eye ... d'oh, the little eye of a deer

So how wonderful is the juxtaposition. The first image, of a deer fashioned by Homo Sapiens, the second, of a deer fashioned by Mother Nature. And again, not digitally altered, in particular that perfect eye.

Follow that, as they say. Well, I might have something even better tomorrow.


Who goes there?

"Have you met someone and mistakenly thought they were someone else entirely? Or did you have an interaction with someone super-famous but didn't recognise them until afterwards? Or perhaps someone pointed out later who the individual was you had just engaged with?" The daily question posed to listeners by Vanessa Feltz on her early-morning Radio 2 show.

She introduced the question by repeating a mischievous tale told by the endlessly amusing Gyles Brandreth. He and his wife Michele were on holiday and strolling along the golden sands of a beach in Jamaica: "Coming towards us was this bent figure, this little old lady, wizened-looking ... and it wasn't until she got right in front of us that we realised who it was: Sir Mick Jagger."

"Oh naughty, naughty Gyles Brandreth," adds Vanessa, with a naughty chuckle. Oh joy, such a funny story, indeed, whenever these days I see pictures of Mick and the Rolling Stones, I can see why Gyles and his good lady were confused.

Anyway, I gave Vanessa's question a miss because I have problems remembering who it is I'm looking at in the mirror. Whatever, Vanessa told the story about being at university at the same time as Hilda Swinson, a name that meant nothing to me. Vanessa remembers Hilda: "She had long red hair, all the way down to her bottom, incredibly striking" - and she was on her way to an acting audition. "'I want to be an actress,' she said - and did she make that come true or what?"

Out of interest I searched Hilda Swinson ... but my search engine is always one step ahead of me - and up came Tilda Swinton, d'oh! That's what happens when you're not paying proper attention at the back. Mind you, Tilda Swinton also meant nothing to me, but the red hair, the striking looks, and not least her acting CV, well, it all corresponded with Vanessa's words. So, for Hilda Swinson read Tilda Swinton.

And talking of getting things horribly wrong: walking into town the other day I spotted on the road ahead a discarded bit of plastic, rubbish which I always collect to properly dispose of. Now I was wearing what I call my walking glasses, and as I went to pick up the bottle I noted the bold name printed on it: Julie Walters.

How odd, I thought, being a famous English actress and comedienne, that you'd want your name plastered all over a throwaway plastic bottle that's poisoning the environment and the creatures of the sea. However, after picking up said bottle I gave it a closer inspection, and this is what came into proper focus:

For Julie Walters read Juicy Water

D'oh a dope, a definitive dope...! Incidentally, the smiley decoration is something I picked up a little further along the road. And, bearing in mind my error of branding, they go together like a - well, like a pony and trap, daft as a bat... Never a dull moment along the country roads that take me home.


Lay your cloth on the table

"The most beneficial reason for using a bright white tablecloth is that it reflects light upwards and makes everyone's face look its best." Leonora Bennet of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph in response to a thread of correspondence as to whether tablecloths, white or otherwise, were now relevant.

So I guess wearing a white shirt (or blouse) does the same thing. Which I also guess is why television people use reflected natural light when interviewing outdoors. And talking of tables...

"Apropos the business of decluttering, I once left unwanted books on a table outside our house before we moved. Minutes later I watched from the window as a car approached, the driver swept the books on to the pavement, loaded the table into the boot and drove off." Heather Newman of Marsh, Devon, in a letter to The Times.

I am reminded of the tale of the chap leaving a large factory, his place of work, pushing a wheelbarrow full to the brim with wood shavings. Security at the gate thought, hello, what's this chap got hidden under the shavings. He explained he was merely taking the waste that would normally be burned anyway, for the hen house at home - which made sense - and he'd had permission from his foreman.

Security naturally checked that there was nothing hidden under the worthless shavings ... all clear, and off he went. The fellow did this a few times over a period - and security never twigged that he was actually stealing wheelbarrows.


St David's Day, 2020

"Why don't all wind turbines in Wales look something like this?" My good pal Chief Wise Owl poses a logical and logistical question...

Narcissus windmillissus at Llantrisant

It was back in 2018 when the Royal Mint, based in Llantrisant, south Wales (the town affectionately known as 'the hole with the mint'), generated one of my treasured smiles of the year ... on the hill overlooking its 38-acre site it has erected and installed a huge wind turbine to help power its factory and visitor attraction - but as you can see, above, it has been painted in the colours of a daffodil, the national flower of Wales.

How wonderful is that? And why, as Chief Wise Owl ponders aloud, has it not been done before? Or at least a variation on the theme?

And a happy St David's Windmills-Of-My-Mind Day to one and all.


Getting things done

"We got engaged at the end of last year, and we've got a baby hatching early summer." Carrie Symonds, 31, announces a No 10 baby. Twelve weeks ago Boris Johnson, 55, predicted a celebratory Brexit baby boom in the wake of "Get Brexit done!". Today it was announced that the prime minister has indeed done his bit to keep his end up.

The baby, it has been pointed out, will be at least Bojo's sixth child (you'd have thought someone, somewhere, would have been keeping count, ho, ho, ho). The new arrival will be the couple's second. Dilyn the dog arrived in September, and "is going to be an amazing big brother".

Needless to say, Twitter took up the baton. This one made the joy and doolallyness charts:

#BorisBaby: "Give it a month and Boris will announce that he's 'Got Pregnancy Done'." A winningly smiley tweet from a Kris King.

I'm not sure why, but all that good news brought to mind a marvellous quotation, compliments of American Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), the longest-serving First Lady (1933-1945), one of the country's most inspirational figures and noted for her wise and witty sayings, this gem from a speech: "I had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: 'No good in a bed, but fine against a wall.'"


A royal flush of joy and doolallyness

"'I'm a 3,000-year-old vampire': Elon Musk on time travel theory." A clickbait complements of The Independent newspaper. [I have long suspected that Elon Musk is ET in disguise. Replace Musk with Tesla - ta-rah - ET!]

"Wife needs new dress. Horse needs new rug. Horse gets new rug." Lynne Anderson of Bethersden, Kent, puts the nation's love-affair with the horse into context, compliments of The Daily Telegraph's Letters page.

"He who feeds the crocodile is hoping to be eaten last." Adeyemi Banjo of Old London Town, in a letter to the Daily Mail, reminds those in the cabinet that if they won't stand up to Dominic Cummings [Boris Johnson's right-hand man, a cross between the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John's favourite court jester, a sort of eccentric Mad Hatter figure], they are only enhancing the carnivorous reptile's anti-veganism approach to satisfying its appetite.

"Note to Boris: Forget HS2 and sort out H2O." Jim Armstrong of Harrogate, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

"Boris is not Canute." Frank Berresford of Northampton responds to Jim Armstrong.

Pondering on that final contribution, in particular the name "Canute" ... I was overtaken with a need to anagram what 48% of the population would probably suggest is a perfect description of Boris, especially if delivered with a Yorkshire accent: 'E, a c--- ... no, I had better not go there, best to quit whilst I've still got a head.


How to avoid the B-spot (the Boring-spot)

"To avoid persevering with a book that is boring you, open the book at page 99 and read, and the quality of the whole book will be revealed to you." Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939), English novelist and poet.

Having just read that intriguing bit of advice - I'd never heard of Ford Madox Ford, which is rather surprising given that I'm rather taken with that memorable name of his - anyway, the first thing I did was grab Huw and Smile and - yes, somewhat apprehensively, open it at page 99...

Ignoring the first few lines, which round off the previous page, there is a sub-heading:

Pooh, Hoo & Dai Version take the scenic route

"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods..." Lord Byron (1788-1824), British poet, politician and leading figure in the Romantic Movement.

One of the characters frequenting the Asterix bar down at my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon (formerly The Crazy Horse) is one I fondly refer to as Dai Version. Whenever Dai tells a tale, he takes the scenic route, mostly through the woods - hence our Dai being mentioned in dispatches.

Along this winding trail I shall occasionally take that scenic diversion, for example, I was drawn to a clickbait in the never less than entertaining Mail Online, the Daily Mail's internet newspaper (in 2016 it was apparently the most read English language newspaper on the planet, having overtaken the New York Times for that honour - you rubbish the Mail stable at your peril).

I know you are not supposed to laugh at your own jokes - but does the same apply to your own writing? Whenever I think of Dai Version I smile. And it was an XL smile just there, in as much that yesterday, what was my journal entry? Yep, I took the scenic walk through a local bluebell wood - no bluebells just yet, only three discarded beer cans. But, hey ho!

Given that my favourite number is 42, then I guess opening the book at page 42 - or 142 - or 242 - should also hopefully do the trick. Indeed, and with my hat set at a jaunty angle, I like to think that there's a minimum of one smile per page in Huw and Smile, so I'm happy that pages 42, 99, 142 and 242 do actually offer up a full and proper flavour.


Journal entry for February 26, 2020

"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).

Today I paid a visit to a local bluebell wood to see where exactly the bluebells stand as we await their annual grand entrance onto the rural stage.

For the past 20 years I have noted the date the first bluebell appears in Llandeilo's Castle Woods. Back in 1999, I selected a sunny, south-facing and sheltered spot, where the first few bluebells always appear some 7-10 days ahead of the surrounding woodland floor; and I fix the date when the stalk and flower bud is a few inches tall, before the bud flowers, but the colour blue is obvious. That way I have consistency with my observations.

As a rule of thumb, the first bluebell appears around the middle-third of March. The earliest was February 27, 2016, following a mild winter. The latest was April 8, 2006, in the wake of a coldish winter and late spring. Last year was March 14, pretty much par for the course.

Today, as I enter the wood, a flash of blue catches the corner of my eye. I look - and blink. There lies a squashed can of Foster's beer, the Australian 'amber nectar'. I roll my eyes and collect it. Is there no escaping the rubbish idiots discard, this particular can having clearly been thrown with some momentum from the dirt track that runs alongside the boundary fence of the woodland.

Oh yes, the blue I was actually looking for? The eye-catching green carpet that precedes the bluebell is not quite at the 'lush' stage yet. In my particular corner of blue heaven, the buds are flirting with an appearance, perhaps a good week or more away, depending what the weather does, given that we have suddenly hit a coldish few days.

On my walk home along said track and a well-trodden path through Dinefwr Park, I catch sight of two discarded Carling lager cans - here is the photo, where I have added the Foster's can, just for the record...

It's bad ... and it's not quite Carling

The two Carling lager cans had been totally squashed and squeezed into a space under a fallen tree trunk. Yes, and why would anyone want to drink alcohol while taking a healthy and scenic walk through the handsome Dinefwr Park?

Whatever, and whilst I sort of understand the can of Foster's being flattened and thrown away, the two Carling cans though had been particularly crunched and deliberately chucked into a handy space, a conscious and measured decision to litter the Park, rather than take them home or drop them into the proper rubbish bins available as you exit the Park. Yet another paragraph added to our bonkers species' suicide note.

It is safe to say that Greta and Sir David have a mammoth task to save humanity from its obvious fate.


♪♪♪: That fanny, familiar, forgotten fragrance

"Gwyneth Paltrow reveals that her infamous 'vagina candle' is back in stock at Goop." The 47-year-old American actress and businesswoman earlier this year introduced a new 'This Smells Like My Vagina' candle on Goop, but it quickly sold out at 75 dollars a sniff (58 quid in UK Unlimited).

Another newspaper clickbait, another Premier Division joy and doolallyness entry.

Truth to tell, when our Gwynnie first launched that candle of hers - "Funny, gorgeous, sexy and beautifully unexpected scent" (points for selecting the most fitting word used there) - I read Goop as Coop, or Co-op as I think of it. Wow, I thought, what fun waiting in the queue at my local supermarket and being a trifle nosey - but apparently her lifestyle website is called Goop, not Coop, d'oh! (My spellchecker came to a sudden stop at Goop - and counselled Goo, Goof or Goon, all reasonable suggestions.)

Also, I learn that Gwyneth has 6.9m online followers, who presumably all got there by just following their nose. She is also famous for shoving jade eggs up her fanny - oh, and giving herself a coffee enema. Monty Python's Flying Circus always had a fellow in a dinner jacket, or sometimes naked except for a tie, sat at a desk, in highly bizarre situations, saying: "And now for something completely different" - so our Gwynnie could commandeer that famous opening line.

But here's a funny thing: whenever I walk into town I do my bit for Greta and the environment, and along the way I pick up all the rubbish people irresponsibly discard. I round up the usual suspects: plastic bottles, cans, crisp packets, food and chocolate wrappers, and on and on. I also pick up some unusual things - I am currently compiling a Top Ten of the most bizarre items chucked away - but since the beginning of the year I've picked up three discarded perfume bottle.

And here they are...

The sweet smell of Charlie bites the dust

The small bottle, left, reads: Modern Muse, Eau de Parfum, Estee Lauder. Now I am intrigued to know if whoever is discarding these bottles has abandoned Charlie and gone for Gwynnie and her - well, her fanny, familiar scent. We should be told.

Incidentally, here are some comments that caught my eye from down below about Gwynnie's Candle:

FlossFloss: "She's gross ... anything for a quick buck." [Thinks: did FlossFloss write "buck" to get round the censors?]
Dangermouse: "Is that the one you burn at both ends?"
WC Meadow: "Never give a sucker an even break."
Cheshire Cat: "Can't wait for her pal Elton to bring out a candle with the label: 'This Smells Like My Penis'."
[I'm not sure I wish to know that, kindly leave the stage!]

And on that bombsmell!


Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative

"Front page of The Times: '[Secretary of State Priti] Patel livid after claim she has lost trust of MI5'; more of that on The Telegraph front page: 'Furious MI5 bosses deny Patel relations have soared - soured! The security service has been dragged into the internal war between Priti Patel and a top civil servant as official issued an unprecedented denial that it did not trust her'." Vanessa Feltz reviews the front pages of the newspapers on her early-morning Radio 2 show.

That such a glorious slip of the tongue should come from Vanessa Feltz effortlessly makes today's joy and doolallyness spot. I make slips like that all the time, but Vanessa possesses such a command and presentation of the English language - well, it makes it memorably entertaining, I mean, "soared" for "soured", glorious. And more to the point, when I make such a slip, a few million people aren't hanging on my every word and ready to smile or roll their eyes.

The Priti Patel brouhaha registered a couple of days ago with this clickbait: "Civil servants who worked with Patel five years ago [when she was Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury] accuse her of 'bullying' by 'dressing them down in front of colleagues', 'emailing them in the middle of the night' and asking: 'Why is everyone so f***ing useless?' Allies of Ms Patel emphatically rejected the claims and labelled them malicious gossip."

This is what Jack Straw, Labour home secretary (1997-2001) said, about some advice Kenneth Baker, Tory home secretary (1990-1992) told him: "When you are home secretary, Jack, there'll be 20 sets of officials in the Home Office working on projects that will destroy your political career and undermine the government, and the worst is that not only do you not know who they are, but neither do they." Indeed, not so much the best-laid plans of mice and men, more the best-laid plans of rats and movers and shakers.

Back with Priti, my guess is that 90% of the adult population, when observing the passing parade of the nation's movers and shakers - politicians, civil servants, bankers, business CEOs, media chiefs, indeed anyone who pulls the strings - will have shaken their heads and rolled their eyes, and asked: "Why is everyone so f***ing useless?"

Incidentally, I see that Priti Patel was "Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury"? Does that mean she was in charge of petty cash? And today's Pause for Thought all kicked off with Vanessa saying "soared" instead of "soured".


'Ello, 'ello, 'ello! And what's all this then?

"♪♪♪: There I was, a-digging this hole, a hole in the ground, so big and sort of round..." The opening line from 'The Hole in the Ground', Bernard Cribbins' comic song from 1962, which reached number nine in the UK charts, and famously chosen by Noel Coward, who himself wrote many comic songs, as one of his Desert Island Discs.

The song came to mind when I read a piece about the famous pranks pulled off by Cambridge University students down the years. Doubtless the most astonishing and audacious took place on a dark (but definitely not stormy) night in 1958, when 12 intrepid engineering students stunned the University, the City of Cambridge, and indeed the nation, by hoisting an Austin Seven car onto the roof of Cambridge University Senate House. And here is the celebrated photograph that so impressed a suitably flabbergasted world... 

Sedate Seven Up on the roof of Cambridge University Senate

The Cambridge police traditionally gave these 'in-house' pranks a wide berth - apart from one rather wonderful occasion, when a gang of council workmen set about digging a hole in the road near the University.

They were warned that undergraduates masquerading as policemen would try and stop them. The police were then phoned and told that a gang of undergraduates masquerading as council workmen were setting up diversions and digging up the road.

Reports from the incident confirmed that the subsequent encounter, when genuine police met genuine workmen, each thinking the other were undergrads, was a sight to embrace and enjoy. Mind you, I would presume that it quickly dawned on both sides, given what I must imagine would have been the significant range of ages of both workmen and police, not to mention the accents, that events were not quite what they seemed.

Still, I rate the prank because it involves so little effort on behalf of the students, just a rush of lateral thinking. Shades of the wonderfully inventive pranks from the original Candid Camera television series, indeed I wouldn't be at all surprised that the people behind that TV series were Cambridge undergraduates, just as so much of the original comedy of that time was (think the Pythons, with of course a sprinkle of Oxford for good measure).


Keep calm and carry on

"I too attended prenatal classes in breathing and relaxation ('Duchess of Cambridge, childbirth and the truth about mind over pain', Times2 & letters). I found them most useful when my babies became teenagers." Veronica Kinahan of Blairgowrie, Perthshire, in a letter to The Times.

A typical bottom-right-of-page letter spotted in The Times, those brief letters which generate a nod, a smile and often a wink. I don't know if Veronica did any work behind the bar of a pub, but if she did I have no doubt she would have found deep breathing and relaxation a huge benefit as seemingly civilised people's behaviour and character went downhill fast as drink took its toll ... something most women reading this will identify with anyway I guess.

Mind you, in the days when public smoking was allowed, deep breathing in a busy pub or bar would not have been recommended because exposure to dogged cigarette smoke would compromise the immune system against, say, a cold virus.

And here's another smiley letter to The Times, this time from Peter Chadwick of Belper, Derbyshire:

"Classics without Homer is like maths minus the numbers, says Lucy Fisher. I have studied maths minus the numbers. It was called algebra." D'oh! Given that I spent my education mostly gazing out of the window, what came to mind is that The Simpsons minus Homer is like "d'oh!" without the "ray me fa so la ti d'oh!".

Yesterday, Meghan and her allegedly kryptonitic lady garden; today, Homer with lots of breathing and relaxation. Yes indeedy, the d'ohs and don'ts of daily life. Every day a day at school, especially so if, like me, you weren't paying attention when attending school proper.


♪♪♪: Territory folks should stick together...

"Harry and Meghan will not use 'Sussex Royal' brand name after Spring." The Duke and Duchess of Sussex do not intend to use 'Sussex' in any territory post Spring 2020, a spokesperson added.

Thus a Sky News clickbait keeping me abreast of important breaking news. Three points of order:

First, what a curious word is 'territory' to use in this context (I initially took 'territory post' to mean using 'Sussex' in any online message posted, as opposed to using 'Sussex' after Spring 2020 - the little ball bouncing along above the words was missing, with clumsy use of language diverting me for a second or two); secondly, the first thing that came to mind on reading the word 'territory' was the song from Oklahoma: Territory folks should stick together, territory folks should all be pals ... ouch! Finally...

"Harry and Meghan need not waste time contemplating the revised name of their website. All they need do is stick in a brace of dots, for example: Suss.ex.Royal." Now that's a brilliantly witty bit of lateral thinking thrown into the royal ring down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. Oh, and this line hoovered up off tonight's Gogglebox:

"Poor old Harry, Meghan comes along with kryptonite in her pussy..." And to avoid any hint of racism, the line was uttered by a bla - oops, a gentleman of colour - speaking to his wife, also a lady of colour. Glorious line though.

And to go from the sublime to the ridiculous, this line, also off Gogglebox, said by Mary from Wiltshire to other-half Giles: "Remember Terry? He loved his baked beans sandwich. He would take off his clothes and eat a baked beans sandwich while leaning over the sink." There's no answer to that, as I tend to say when repartee's gone walkies.

Finally, finally: watching rugby on telly - Wales U20s against France U20s - and Wales second-row forward James Fender is penalised for an offence in the lineout, to which the commentator, with definitely a little ball bouncing along above his words, says: "Fender is the offender!"


Boris 'Nogood Rascal' Johnson

"In the wake of chancellor Sajid Javid being awarded the OBB (Order of the Boris Boot) complements of that savage cabinet reshuffle, we deduced that Boris Johnson enjoys giving people the sack even more than seducing them into it." A neat throwaway line heard over the airwaves last weekend.

Also last Sunday, Rod Liddle writing in The Sunday Times in the wake of the brouhaha over whether it was, perhaps, Vladimir Putin (ho, ho, ho) who had paid for Boris's grand 15-grand Christmas holiday break in a faraway place with a strange sounding name, pontificated that, perhaps, just perhaps, the thing that would finally castrate him, both literally and metaphorically, was "his relentlessly mischievous and inquisitive penis", in particular its possible involvement (though passionately denied) in the curious incident of the attractive American technology entrepreneur who nearly barked in the night-time, back in November 2019.

However, just like Trumpety Trump, old 'Nogood Rascal' Johnson can do no wrong at the moment.

I have revisited last weekend because a few days ago I mentioned that in searching something supposedly penned by the English crime writer and poet Dorothy L. Sayers, I serendipitously stumbled upon some marvellous words of hers. And I particularly liked this, bearing in mind the above:

     As I grow older and older,
     And totter towards the tomb,
     I find that I care less and less,
     Who goes to bed with whom.

Tell you what, I am neither a poet nor an English language aficionado, but I adore the structure and stricture of that little gem.


Born under a wandering planetary nebula*
(*a star gone to seed)

"WOW! Star TV presenter Phillip Schofield makes a huge announcement. Has he discovered a cure for cancer? Or single-handedly extinguished the bush fires in Australia? No, he's just come out as gay." A letter from Ken Lovate, spotted in the Daily Mail. As was this one from Amanda Yates (perhaps Boris Becker came to mind): "All power to Phillip Schofield. Some come out of the closet, but he came out of the broom cupboard!"

The above letters, from a few days ago, came to mind when I spotted the photo I featured yesterday, of a fellow who looked remarkably like our Phillip. Also, I read that there was quite a negative reaction by viewers that the TV news bulletins on the day he announced his coming out party ("and I'll cry if I want to"), was the lead item, particularly so given how many other major events were unfolding in this crazy old world of ours.

Me? I no longer watch the news, I just keep my head down and let them get on with it, simply embracing it all from the relative safety of the grassy knoll. Mind you, I have often pondered if these older men who have been married for yonks and have children, have encountered what I mentioned yesterday, namely womenopause (cue George Melly again, who, on finding himself impotent at 70, said: "Upset? Certainly not. It's rather wonderful, like being unchained from a lunatic.")

Do you suppose that coming out as gay is preferable to admitting that the old fire cracker is no longer firing on all six cylinders when it comes to sex with the opposite? Or am I being too cynical on the joy and doolallyness front?

Whatever, there was another letter in the Daily Mail which rather balanced the books, this time though from Anonymous, gender unknown (Name and address supplied):

"After much internal conflict, I have decided to come out about my sexuality and hereby announce I am straight. All my friends have told me they suspected this all along and congratulate me on my bravery and strength of character in making this announcement. They have promised their full support. I have not provided my details as I do not want to receive emails, phone calls and texts from complete strangers applauding my decision."


Back after the break

"Ulrika Jonsson (52), Carol Vorderman (59) and Zoe Ball (49) all admit having more sex helps them cope better with the menopause." GP Dr Philippa Kaye says having an active sex life is a way of keeping the symptoms of the condition under control, and pleads with her patients to open up and embrace growing old.

Thus a Mail Online clickbait that embraced joy (mind you, I'm not sure pleading with her patients to "open up" was a particularly wise choice of words); whatever, I clicked to seek evidence of doolallyness (that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it).

I scroll down to the well to see if there are any comments to quench my thirst for knowledge and, um, something to tickle my T-spot (my Titter-ye-not-spot). Most in the "best rated" column range from "Way too much information", via "Old people don't have sex, what a silly story", to some not very gracious words about the above celebrated ladies.

The article featured the following picture ... by the by, my query in the caption...

Hang about! Is that Phillip Schofield before, er, coming out?

Mind you I rather liked the comment which pointed out that "there are some beautiful 50-something women out there, but for most of us they're out of reach", which drew this response: "Hm, just like classic sports cars."

Yes, when you think of the MGBs, the TRs and Triumph Stag, the Austin-Healey 3000, and of course the E-Type, those classic sports cars look as good today as they did in the 50s and 60s. (I am slightly prejudiced because I owned some MGBs and TRs in my trainee-young-buck-about-town days; great pulling power, happy days and even happier nights.)

Be all that as it may, there's never any mention of the womenopause we men suffer, probably because of what the late, sexually voracious jazzman George Melly, who, on finding himself impotent at 70, said: "Upset? Certainly not. It's rather wonderful, like being unchained from a lunatic." (I always smile when I read that ... why, I'm unsure!)

But back to the aforementioned ladies and their sex lives: I also enjoyed this letter in the Daily Mail print version, from a Mike Picewicz of Blackpool: "Ulrika Jonsson is jubilant that her revived love life makes her feel as if she has lost her virginity again. That's virgin on the ridiculous!" Indeed Mike, everything in life these days is virgin on the ridiculous.

PS: My spellchecker ground to a stop at "Picewicz" ... and suggested "Pickwick", which rather tickled my O-spot (my Offbeat-spot).


Body language

"Within 10 seconds of meeting a stranger a set of survival traffic lights inside our brain will subconsciously switch on: green equals embrace; amber equals engage - but proceed with care; red equals stop, danger - treat as a roundabout, navigate at arm's length, with elevated caution." From Huw and Smile, where I explore why it is that some 'lucky' people cruise through life as if some unseen power - God/Mother Nature/Old Father Time/Mrs Jones Next Door - is clearing a path for them, while others travel a road littered with ambush after ambush. But most striking of all is an appreciation that our traffic lights instinct for survival should never cause us to have a flat in the smart lane.

It came to mind today following a visit to my local doctor's surgery for a spot of minor surgery to remove a B-spot (a spot of bother). Present was the doctor, a nurse - and a young lady trainee doctor. The atmosphere was perfectly relaxed, all lights on green. And unlike a routine doctor's visit, where there is no space to engage in small talk, this is different because the procedure, along with waiting for the local anaesthetic to work, enables spontaneous and friendly conversation.

I learnt that the visiting doctor's square mile is Winchester in Hampshire, but being naturally inquisitive I also learnt of a North Wales connection from a couple of generations back; we moved on to rugby and that she would qualify to play for either England or Wales, indeed given modern society's increasingly mixed heritage more and more of us could play for pretty much any of the Six Nations.

As the practice doctor reminded me, there's a youngster, Stephen Varney, playing for the Italian Under20 side - who actually speaks Welsh (his father is Welsh, his mother, although born in Wales her parents were born in Italy, hence his dual qualification).

And then he asked if I wrote letters to The Times, which I occasionally do. On the way home I realised why my name had likely triggered The Times connection. Last October I had a letter published which was about a personal experience while visiting a doctor. And here it is (the published version was marginally edited):

Grand standing: "Your correspondence about doctors watching how a patient stands to help with diagnosis ('Stand and deliver', letter, Oct 25), takes me back many moons and visiting a doctor's surgery in the Swansea area after hours for my first pilot's medical. I passed, and afterwards had an engaging and extended chat with the doctor. He told me that when I arrived in the car park, he was waiting at the surgery entrance, not so much to greet me, but to observe me getting out of the car (he had no personal details, i.e. my age, just my name). From that moment I have been fascinated watching people climbing in and out of vehicles and aeroplanes."

My letter drew a couple of responses to the paper. Dr Henry Guly of Yelverton, Devon, pointing out, under the heading "Miracle cures", the wise doctor observes that when a patient limps in with an injury from an accident from which he is to make a legal claim, a quick glance out of the window will note he can return to his car miraculously cured.

But this one I particularly enjoyed, from Roger Sykes of Sissinghurst, Kent under the heading "Next patient please: As a solicitor representing personal injury claimants, I was once told by a wise occupational health physician that he placed his waiting-room chairs at right angles to the door of his consulting room so that patients had to turn their head 90 degrees to see him when their name was called. This enabled him to discriminate between genuine and fake claims for whiplash."

For joy and doolallyness - read joy and wisdom.


Space to breathe

"There is enough room on the planet for all the peoples of the world, but there is not enough room for the boundaries that separate them." A line overheard on the radio, on a Welsh language religious programme, and attributed to the English crime writer and poet, Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957).

Pondering whether I'd, not so much heard it properly but translated it correctly from the Welsh, I searched the quote online ... with no success. But I did stumble upon some marvellous quotes by Dorothy Sayers, for example:

"My old mother always says, my lord, that facts are like cows. If you look them in the face hard enough they generally run away," from her novel, Clouds of Witness (1926). Well, if a cow trusts you, it will not run away, rather it will stretch its neck, stick out its tongue and lick you. I guess a trustworthy fact does the same.

Anyway, back with the quote at the top, Dorothy Sayers is presumably talking about tribalism, something I have written about previously, indeed I cover the very subject of tribalism and human boundaries in Huw and Smile, the chapter headed Sex, greed, tribalism and rock 'n' roll.

One other throwaway line with a neat twist in its tail (nothing to do with Sayers this time), which I also heard on the Welsh Radio Cymru, was on a programme of Welsh hymn singing, Gymanfa Eglwysi Cymraeg Canol Llundain (Singing Festival of the Welsh Churches of Old London Town), and after one particular hymn, the conductor, a lady by the name of Pat Jones said, in Welsh, obviously, but here translated: "If I were marking you all out of 10, it's the men that would receive full marks." There are some ironic and good-natured cheers from the men, and after a slight pause ... she adds: "And that doesn't happen very often."


Hurry! Hurry! There's a storm comin' in

"♪♪♪: A way out here they got a name for rain and wind and fire; the rain is Tess, the fire's Joe, and they call the wind Mariah..." Yep, the song from Paint Your Wagon jumped to mind as yet another "bomb cyclone" weather system swept in for the second weekend on the trot.

"Knock-knock! Who's there? Dennis! Dennis who? Dennis the Menace - and I am coming for you!" At last - Dennis, a proper Nogood Boyo name for a proper menacing storm of wind and rain. Proper, as opposed to those wishy-washy names they insist on giving these badly-behaved storms increasingly coming our way.

Both print and broadcast media latched on to the name, witness this typical newspaper headline: "Storm Dennis proves real menace with 70mph winds, threatening floods and disruption to travel for the start of the half-term."

Incidentally, last weekend, as Storm Keira - when I see Ciara, which the weather system was actually called, I can't stop myself saying Kee-ara, so Keira it is - anyway, as Storm Keira was slowly winding itself up, walking home I was overtaken by a bus bearing the magnificent legend 'Windy Corner Coaches of Pencader' (near Carmarthen), and all the way home I couldn't stop hoping they'd called the coach Mariah (as opposed to Maria, as per Paint Your Wagon, which people like me would mispronounce).

Hopefully, and to balance the books, Windy Corner Coaches will paint their next new coach Dennis. In fact, I seem to remember travelling to school in a Dennis coach, which was its make rather than its name (a quick search online confirms that my memory was not playing tricks).

By the by, is it not time these storms were given proper scary name to make sure we pay attention and take cover? For example, next year: Storms Athena (goddess of war), Banshee, Cyclops, Delilah, Eris (the goddess of strife and the constant companion of Ares, the god of war), Favonius (god of the west wind) - and so on...

Those names would certainly make us pay attention - and hopefully add to our knowledge, especially so should we happen to bump into Boris Johnson, who excelled in Greek and Latin, on a friendly walkabout.

PS: We should feel sympathy for a fellow named Storm Denniss from Whitby in Yorkshire, who has received more than 50 threatening messages from online trolls (wind-up merchants more like) imploring him not to wreak havoc on their homes. One advised him to enrol on an anger management course to wean him off ripping roofs off buildings, flattening trees and flooding homes, advice which I believe he took in good part.

Mr Denniss has revealed that he was christened Storm because he was born on a particularly stormy evening. Mind you, Storm should be grateful that his parents had not just polished off a refreshing bottle of pop and been rather taken with the name Corona.


Roses and violets abound

"Sajid Javid wishes Boris Johnson a 'happy Valentine's Day' as the relationship between the two former allies grew increasingly bitter after the Prime Minister, and his special adviser Dominic Cummings, forced him to quit as chancellor in savage reshuffle." A typical February 14 clickbait - but what did the cartoonists make of it all?

Paul Thomas of the Daily Mail, has Boris in dressing gown and slippers, reading a card just picked up off the mat, with Javid peering through the window of No 10, and Cummings coming down the stairs: "Roses are red / Violets are blue / I've had enough / Of working for you." Hm, 3/10, must try harder.

Meanwhile, Matt of The Daily Telegraph, has some unidentified fellow, who presumably works for Boris, with a bunch of flowers on the desk, and has just finished writing his card: "Roses are red / Violets are blue / I'd never forsake you / If Cummings told me to." Not up to Matt's usual standards, just 5/10, so a pass mark, for old time's sake.

But what would I write on my Valentine's card on behalf of the nation? Well, I'd depart the usual roses and violets, and, given the current political climate...

     She bathed with Labour red, and Tory blue;
't care for Corbyn, but Bojo - woo-hoo!

Yep, time to come clean: I looked up the history of the familiar 'Roses are red, violets are blue' ditty ... and learned that the origins of the poem may be traced at least as far back as the following lines written in 1590 by English poet Sir Edmund Spenser (1552-1599), from his epic The Faerie Queen:

     She bath'd her breast, the boyling heat t'allay;
     She bath'd with roses red, and violets blew,
     And all the sweetest flowers, that in the forrest grew.

Now how elegant is that? (Spelling as per the original.) I have a way to go.

Be all that as it may, there have been some interesting messages in relation to Boris's political adviser, Dominic Cummings, he who has something of the (k)night about him, for example: it has been suggested that it is time to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with Dominic Cummings.

And best of all, Margaret Thatcher, who, off the cuff, came out with one of the funniest lines ever uttered by a politician: "Every prime minister needs a Willie." She meant of course Willie Whitelaw, who was her trusted and loyal deputy. So it has been asked if Dominic Cummings is Boris Johnson's Willie.

Well, Boris certainly wouldn't need Cummings as his willie, in the traditional meaning, that is, lower case - as far as we know, anyway. But watch this space. Stress does funny things to a man's libido, or so I read in the paper.


Chaotic space

"I'm not being driven out of Scotland by that bloody wee Jimmy Krankie woman." Boris Johnson's reported response to a suggestion that Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, should have a role at the 2020 United Nations Glasgow climate conference in November, prompting rumours that the summit might be switched to a London venue.

You have to smile at the idea of Nicola Sturgeon as that "bloody wee Jimmy Krankie woman".

However, do you suppose that the night after Boris won his thumping election majority, his mind, like those of all the planet's movers and shakers (think the world of politics, business, media and celebrity), was commandeered by a ghostly presence from chaotic space - no, not Boris's special adviser, Dominic Cummings, he who has something of the (k)night about him - but when he awoke he was convinced he was now in possession of the vision of legendary civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Never mind runways (Heathrow), railways (HS2) and bridges (Scotland-Northern Ireland), keep a sharp eye open for striking headwear, cravats and cigars, and all against a background of heavy duty chains of office from his Mayor of Old London Town days.

Boris, my Kingdom

And then today, February 13 (not quite Friday), in a day of the long knife with its dramatic Cabinet reshuffle...

"I do not believe any self-respecting minister would accept those conditions." Sajid Javid reveals he resigned as Chancellor following tensions between him and the Prime Minister's chief adviser, the aforementioned Dominic Cummings, and being asked by the PM to replace his political advisers.

Gosh, I was whisked back mega moons to 1976, to the moment in the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special, when an exceedingly elegant 32-year-old Angela Rippon was sat behind a desk, reading the news, a bulletin which was meant to be all about the Chancellor's statement from No 11 Downing Street, and she started by saying:

"There may be trouble ahead - but, while there's moonlight ... and music ... and love ... and romance - let's face the music, and dance..." Then the orchestra struck up, Angela stood up, did a huge kick across the desk - and newsreader no more, she proceeded to dance gracefully down the steps, joined by Morecambe and Wise in top hat and tails. Magic. And it all came flooding back because of that "bloody wee Jimmy Krankie woman".

Joy and doolallyness in excelsis.


Smile ... nod ... wink

The cheek of it: "It has been suggested that, now we have left the European Union, we should go back to a single kiss on the cheek. Certainly not. A handshake is more than sufficient." John Ralphs of Dunstable, in a letter to The Times.

Viral etiquette: "Now that there is a real risk that some of us may become infected with the coronavirus, can we all agree to stop shaking hands when we meet? As for the social kiss on each cheek, do not even think about it." Dr Michael Pegg of Esher, in a letter to - no, not The Times, but this time The Daily Telegraph.

Me? Unless courteously responding to another's mode of greeting, I only shake hands to offer up condolence or congratulations. I only embrace (or hug) when someone is off on a solo jaunt around the world - or just returned. And I only kiss those I quite fancy ending up in bed with.

Otherwise, I offer up a smile, or a nod, or where appropriate, a wink, or perhaps I will perm any two from three, indeed occasionally furnish all three - and do you know, it always draws a positive response, whether it's a smile, or a nod, or a wink, or perhaps a perm of any two from three, indeed occasionally all three.

Clearly, and more by luck than judgment, I am keeping ahead of the game.


It's raining trains

"The rail line is closed because a train has ... sorry, a tree has fallen on the tracks." Tuesday, 8:20am, Classic FM: Newsreader Moira Stuart suffers a minor derailment in the wake of the chaos following Storm Ciara raging across the nation, from tip to toe.

Well it made me smile. As it happens, a phrase I enjoy borrowing is Chicken Licken's "The sky is falling", uttered when the young chick goes to the woods and an acorn falls on its head. I mean, we've all been there and had degrees of sky falling on our heads, so a mental picture of Moira's train falling on the tracks gives a whole new meaning to that hoary old chestnut of train delays due to leaves on the track.

A quick rewind ... I switched from BBC Radio 2 as my default soundtrack along my journey through time, to Classic FM about four years ago, just to escape the increasingly child-like nature of the station, along with the doom and gloom of its ever-lengthening news bulletins.

And what happened? Exactly a year ago, Moira Stuart, having departed the BBC, joined the station - and hey presto, they started doing news bulletins every 20 minutes of a morning. Nothing against Moira, agreeable lady that she is, but I wanted to enjoy the calming sounds of Classic FM simply to escape the bloody news.

Whatever, all this talk of trains falling from the sky, today Boris Johnson gave the controversial mega-costly High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project, a green light. I fondly remember a cartoon from last year ... a grumpy-looking child has just opened a big box marked "HS2 Train Set", and what is inside is a jumbo toy white elephant.

And last weekend, a cartoon of two children in a playroom: one is playing with a traditional train set, while the other is holding a thick, heavy file, and he says: "For Christmas I got an HS2 train set viability report."

Finally, a bit of sky did fall on the head of Boris Johnson, ponder this letter in The Daily Telegraph from a Mary Work of Haltwhistle, Northumberland (Haltwhistle being particularly ironic in this context): "Something had to be cancelled this week. Sadly it turned out to be my Conservative Party membership, not HS2."


Strictly no smiling!

"There's no art in a passport photo." So declared BBC Radio 5 presenter Dotun Adebayo in a throwaway line about the merits of art versus photography, delivered over the weekend airwaves.

I was in my late-20s when I needed my first passport, and acknowledging passport photos as a source of great mirth, I decided to invest. The late Ryan Peregrine was a local wedding and portrait photographer of note - and not cheap, which is fair enough. Could he do me a quickie? "I don't do quickie," he insisted, with a smile, but agreed.

For a passport photo, eyes must be open and clearly visible (no glasses), and facial expression must be neutral (neither frowning nor smiling) with the mouth closed. Now I'm a natural-born smiler and Ryan, God rest his soul, managed to capture my smile without me smiling, which perfectly endorsed his talent.

My mug shot was a disappointment to all who wanted a quick chuckle, a perfect investment, as it turned out.

So yes, Dotun, there can indeed be art in a passport photo.

Incidentally, I haven't had a passport for many a year now - I did my gallivanting mostly between the ages of 30 and 50, and these days I'm happy to be spotted on the grassy knoll, simply watching the passing parade. I still have that original passport with its agreeable picture, but it's boxed away, somewhere in the attic.

Oh yes, my driving licence picture was taken in a photo booth. All that is missing is a number across the bottom.

Whatever, here is a happy snap I prepared earlier, much, much earlier, as it happens - and in my defence, someone must have shouted "Smile!":

Nogood Boy (pre Boyo days)



Mary Beard's Shock of the Nude (Monday, BBC2, 9pm)

"She showed us examples of 'totally in-your-face Greek male nudity' while barely explaining anything about these statues. Why did the ancient Greeks not like 'a big penis'? No idea: penises do not interest her." Camilla Long of The Sunday Times reviews, "out of curiosity more than anything", the first episode of Professor Mary Beard's two-part series, Shock of the Nude.

Not even curiosity got me to watch the programme. Mary Beard reminds me of that mad professor character in a Monty Python sketch, there to provide laughs for others. And what did Camilla Long mean by "penises do not interest her"? Anyway, this makes my joy and doolallyness spot today because Professor Beard claims that nude paintings have tended to serve as "soft porn" for the male elite, and she bemoans the lack of male nudes to balance the peekaboos, so to speak.

And then a letter in The Daily Telegraph from a Moira Singleton of Southampton ... Moira tells us that when she was a child she received a sound education in classical art from her mother. On one occasion, they were looking at a book of paintings by the old masters when, inevitably, they came across one "that depicted a group of nudes lounging and frolicking in bucolic surroundings". Moira continues:

"Totally baffled, I asked her what they were doing: 'Looking for their clothes,' she replied."

I am reminded of Ken Dodd and his silly song from 1965, when Adam stumbled upon Eve for the first time, and she offered him her apple - and all he could think of in the moment was to cry out, in a silly voice: "Where's me shirt? Where's me shirt?" I know the feeling.


Shouldergate: Shouldergreat or Shouldergrate?
(as per my Straight to the Point letter in the Daily Mail)

Breast dressed: "The off-the-shoulder dress as worn by Labour MP Tracy Brabin in the House of Commons this week has come at just the right time - so suitable for breastfeeding during prime minister's questions." Elizabeth Dean of Old London Town, in a letter to The Times.

And for my next number

Shoulder charge: "Tracy Babin's off-the-shoulder dress, drooping in the House of Commons to reveal naked flesh, left me shocked. Shocked, I tell you. Not because I thought it unbecoming. No, it's because it's only February and she was wearing no sleeves. How? It's so cold." Columnist Carol Midgley, also in The Times.

When I first caught a flash of this intriguing story in the clickbaits, I both smiled and rolled my eyes, a perfect tandem of joy and doolallyness. Being out of the loop of politics and mainstream news, a quick search online confirmed the brouhaha the dress has generated, a "disco outfit" being a typical description.

The worst aspect, as ever, were the trolls who came out from under the social media bridge and labelled her - and this is Tracy's own list of the abuses hurled at her: "drunk", "hungover", a "slapper", a "tart", "just been banged over a wheelie bin". She also tweeted: "I can confirm I am not a slag."

Tracy Brabin, 58, is a British actress and Labour politician, and MP for Batley and Spen, West Yorkshire, since October 2016 following the murder of the sitting MP Jo Cox - but all I could think of was this: what on earth made her do it? What were you thinking of, Tracy?

Surely the male equivalent would be Boris Johnson at the House of Commons despatch box, minus tie - which would be fine by me - but with four shirt buttons undone. Can you imagine the furore and abuse as the sky proceeded to fall on his head?

To slip off at my usual tangent, when ties began to be consigned to history, it was instructive to then observe the number of undone shirt buttons as a measure of the degrees we men really fancy ourselves. The Right Said Fred song I'm Too Sexy (For My Shirt) was clearly ahead of its time. There again, perhaps the song subliminally triggered the "Coo-ee, look at me!" idiot gene lurking within all us men (see also tattoos as shouty canvas art).

I often wonder what goes through the minds of women when they catch sight of say, Simon Cowell, aged 60, with shirt buttons undone to the navel. Do they sigh and gasp: "Move over, Tom Jones, this is what a real sex bomb looks like?" Scarcely believe, unless of course women really are dazzled and seduced by celebrity, money and power.

Mind you, the sight of Jacob Rees-Mogg lounging on the front benches minus tie with five shirt buttons undone would be a sight to raise the spirits no end.

Back with Tracy Brabin and that I'm Too Sexy (For This House) dress, by tonight it had attracted bids of up to 14,000 pounds in an eBay charity auction to end on Thursday. She will donate the proceeds of the 35 quid dress to Girlguiding, a suitably contrite return of serve I'd say.


Salad days

"Inspired by a rather epic rant on Twitter courtesy of author Elan Gale, that salads are dull and boring and flavourless, how do you, dear listener, prevent your salad being anaemic and bland with no personality and character? What would be the ingredients of your spectacular salad lunch today, a salad with oomph and va-va-voom? A salad with dynamism, individuality, idiosyncrasy, eccentricity - we could ask the same question of your socks, but we're not going to - we want to know all about your salads. You can send me a text on - - - - but do please make sure that it's safe to text me before you do so..."

Another memorable question posed by Vanessa Feltz on her early-morning Radio 2 show. I've included that last bit about the text because she issues that warning every morning - I mean, are there really people out there who text while driving in the dark of a winter's morn? Blimey. But I digress...

The question, asked earlier in the week, held no particular interest for me - until the very last message read out on the show: "For the last word on salad, with or without charisma, here's Geraint from South Wales: 'I like to enjoy a proper Welsh salad for breakfast ... of sausages, bacon, beans and eggs - now that is proper food.'" And Vanessa adds: "Can I argue with that? No I can't!"

Geraint from South Wales? Hm, could that be Geraint Thomas, the Welsh cyclist who won the Tour de France 2018? After all, these cyclists have to stuff themselves full of "proper food" to build up all the strength and energy they need to race. The thought lingered for a few days ... then I remembered something I had written in Huw and Smile, namely where I invite people to Google 'Picture of farmer's giant fried breakfast country living', again from 2018 - but here it is:

A farmer's sausage to make ends meat

It's an anonymous Welsh farmer's proper va-va-vroom-vroom breakfast. Glorious or what? It invites a line from Carry On Farmer: "My, that's a magnificent sausage you've got there, stranger."

The online comments ranged from "This is not a breakfast but a work of art" to "All I did was lick the screen and I gained 7lbs and 25 blood pressure points". Proper food indeed. And on that terrific/horrific calorific bombshell...


Blue by Huw
(with apologies to the ditty Blue Bayou)

"Is the colour of your bedroom walls keeping you awake?" Experts reveal how trendy grey could add to insomnia, while calming shades of blue allow people to nod off easily.

The above newspaper clickbait made me, er, click ... and I duly hurried on down to the comments, where I sort of knew what the reaction would be ... and yes, all 10 comments on the 'Best rated' first page can be encapsulated thus:

Batman, The Roost, UK: "Before I turn over to sleep, I turn off the light and close my eyes - and blow me, I can't see what colour the bleedin' walls are!"

But of course the commenters hadn't paid proper attention to the article because as the experts point out, many people spend an hour or more in their bedrooms with the light on before going to sleep, which is why the colour can be so disruptive.

Bright colours, apparently, can put your brain into an active state of high alert, whilst grey is quite suppressive and gets you down. The real champion when it comes to good sleep is blue - but not the blue emitted by mobile devices which keep the brain activated long after the bedside light has been turned off.

All that sort of makes sense. But while on the colour blue, a couple of letters spotted in The Daily Telegraph: Columnist Tamara Abraham had reported in the fashion pages that "petrol blue" is the new colour of choice for the Duchess of Cambridge. But as a Jeremy Havard points out, that colour is named after the bird called a petrel, and should therefore be spelt in the same way.

Then a Sandra Hancock follows up and clarifies that petrels are not blue but black and white, and that "petrol blue" is named after petrol's diffracted thin-layer blue - that delicate blueish colour you notice when you pour petrol from a container into say a lawnmower - and not a pelagic seabird. And yet, and yet: the blue petrel bird is described online as a bird with blueish-grey upperparts. So there! Oh, and I had to look up pelagic: found in open sea, as opposed to near the shore. Every day a day at school.

However, if you type "petrol blue or petrel blue" into a search engine - well, it's all very confusing, and Wiktionary under "petrol blue" shows how many different shades of blue there are. Talking of 50 Shades of Blue ... this set me thinking: given how addicted the BBC is to swearing in all its light entertainment shows, do you suppose the favourite colour of Director-General Tony Hall and his apparatchiks is Bleep Blue, or **** Blue as it is known at large.

And just to round off the blue theme, another newspaper clickbait made me, er, blink:

"Taking Viagra can make men see BLUE: Doctors in Turkey warn of visual problems from using the strongest dose of the impotence pill?" Seventeen men visited a hospital in Turkey with abnormal blue tinted vision after taking the pills, but the symptoms did wear off after some 21 days, without lasting damage. [As a Yorkshire Lad pointed out: "Not a good look when the side effects last longer than the pleasure they are supposed to provide." Blue boo-hoo!]


Slow, slow - slower ... slower - slow

"Searching for something that wasn't Christmassy, cartoony or celebrity, I came across The World's Most Scenic Journey - Minute by Minute (Channel 5). It was so compelling I watched the whole two hours. No commentary, no celeb waffle, just me on the journey, and the small amount of music was discreet and appropriate." Kath Almond, in The Sunday Times Culture Magazine, "You Say" section, published on 19 January 2020.

Back on the 30th of December I shared my enjoyment of this enchanting 42-mile "slow TV" trip by steam train - I quoted Jeremy Paxman's thoughts on the magic of a steam engine: "It is the nearest we human beings have ever come to creating a living, breathing organism" - every mile of a journey from Fort William, through the Scottish Highlands, to Mallaig on the west coast.

On the very day Kath Almond's appreciation of the rail journey was published, BBC4 broadcast a 150 minute "slow TV" special: All Aboard! New Zealand By Rail, Sea and Land, a journey through the country's landscapes by train, car and boat - the clever editing of the train travelling parallel to a main road, and then, as it crosses said road, the camera seamlessly switches from being on the front of the train on the track, to being on the front of the Land Rover for the road journey - magical. I had to rewind to work out how they had pulled off that clever little trick.

Again no celebrity presenter, no commentary, just the occasional caption joining up the dots along the way, like this one on the wilder scenic South Island: "Local legend says these mountains were carved by an inexperienced demigod - who cut out a wall when he meant to carve stairs. D'oh!" Actually, I added that last bit.

For me, the only problem with the New Zealand trip was that it lasted 150 minutes, whereas 120 minutes seems a perfect length for some slow, relaxing TV. However, I did respond to Kath Almond's mention of the Scottish trip, in particular that these kinds of programmes are more suited to the BBC because there are no commercial breaks to spoil the laid-back nature of the journey, which is the whole point of such productions. My comment was published under today's date:

"Having watched The World's Most Scenic Journey (Channel 5) and All Aboard! New Zealand By Rail, Sea And Land (BBC4), all 'slow TV' should be on the BBC. Good as Channel 5's slow train was (rhythmic chugging, mesmeric clickety-clack), the need to run ads and shouty trailers every 12 minutes or so fragmented the banquet into frustrating appetizers and aperitifs."


Drop dead gorgeous

"Nature gives to every time and season beauties of its own..." Charles Dickens (1812-1870), English writer and social critic, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1939).

About a week ago I was on my early-morning walk into town, quite gloomy, not quite sunrise, and on a slightly different route to my normal one ... I register ahead, on the verge, a white plastic bag. Nothing unusual in that, I come across lots of discarded bags and packages of all sorts that people throw out of their vehicles. I do my little bit for the environment and collect and dump all the rubbish into bins in town.

However, as I near the white plastic bag I smile, for what is there is not a white plastic bag but a welcome mat of snowdrops. Fast-forward a week or so, and today along my walk into town there are swathes of snowdrops, especially along the banks of a stream that runs alongside the road for a couple of hundred yards or so. Beautiful. So in honour of this gorgeous little flower, here's a photo of mine...

Look you: Raindrops keep falling on my head!

Incidentally, the other morning along my walk I spot in the hedgerow my first primroses of the year - 10 days earlier than I did last year, in the same spot. But of course this start to the year has been considerably milder than last year, which I guess explains their earlier appearance. Another welcome beauty.


And the winner is...

"Ah lovely listener, it's that juncture in the programme where I flounce around the furniture of your soul to learn even more about you than I already know ... since the Baftas occurred last night - with the Oscars coming up next weekend - here's today's question: If there were a Bafta award for best film scene - just one scene - from any film you have seen, what do you think ought to win the gong?" Vanessa Feltz poses her daily question on her early-morning BBC Radio 2 show.

I didn't even have to think about it. It's a scene compliments of my favourite film, Casablanca, and a line delivered by the only character from fiction I would love to have been in real life: yep, the morally ambivalent Vichy French police chief, Captain Louis Renault, who morphs from a witty Nogood Boyo into an exceedingly witty Verygood Boyo by film's end, one of the best character turnarounds in cinema history. First though, some context to set up the scene...

Near the beginning of the film we are made aware that Rick's strained romance with Yvonne has run its course, ponder this brief exchange between a neglected and drunk Yvonne and a neglectful and sober Rick:

Yvonne: "Where were you last night?"
's so long ago, I don't remember."
"Will I see you tonight?"
"I never make plans that far ahead."

The relationship is finished and he escorts her from the club to a taxi waiting outside to take her home. And this is the scene I think deserves a Bafta: as the taxi departs, Rick returns to the club, but sitting alone at a table outside, enjoying a drink, in full chief-of-police uniform, is Louis Renault, who was watching and listening. Rick joins him:

The beginning of a beautiful friendship?

Louis: "Hello Rick."
"Hello Louis."
"How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Someday they may be scarce..."

I was in my mid-thirties when I happened to catch on telly Casablanca for the first time, and being single, footloose and fancy free, and still just about firing on all cylinders, the line instantly registered as wonderfully wise and witty.

As I grew older I came to appreciate the line more and more, especially so given humanity's confused sexuality exploding all over Mother Nature's prime directive. Wonderful line though, a variation, I guess, on making hay while the sun shines, and making love when it rains. And to make the point, I must share more of the above conversation:

Louis: "How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Someday they may be scarce. But I think I shall now pay a call on Yvonne, maybe get her on the rebound. Hmm?"
"When it comes to women, you
're a true democrat."

For a moment there I intuitively thought of Bill Clinton, who, if memory serves, was also a true democrat. No, hang on, he's a Democrat with a Capital D, an UPPER CASE Democrat.

Whatever, for proof of Casablanca's sparkling and enduring dialogue, especially surrounding the above scene - and why lines from the film dominate the list of 'Top 100 Best Movie Quotes' - visit YouTube and search 'Casablanca Misinformed' ... and be impressed by the number of memorable lines in just 2:30 minutes of magic and mystery.



"Not since 01/01/1010 and 11/11/1111 in medieval times has there been a date like it. Today, being the 2nd of February 2020 - 02/02/2020 - becomes that rarest of international palindromes: it reads the same forwards and backwards, whichever side of the pond you live." Rare because if, like America, you put the cart in front of the horse, i.e. put the month first, followed by the day, it still reads 02/02/2020.

The palindrome also works for 02/2/20, but why you would put a 0 in front of the first figure but not the middle one is unclear. And it works for China and a few other countries which put the year first: 2020/02/02.

Intriguingly there won't be another date like it until 12/12/2121. After that the next will be 03/03/3030, followed by 04/04/4040 ... and every succeeding millennia up to 09/09/9090. Then of course 31/12/9099 becomes 01/01/9100, and the game is lost.

And here's another strange fact about dates in UK format: on a day in King Alfred's reign, 28/08/888, all the numerals were even numbers, and that did not occur again until 02/02/2000, because every date in the intervening 1,114 years had 1, 3 or 9 in it. Every day a day at school, even if occasionally useless but curiously amusing.

There's another smiley fact to note about 02/02/2020: it is the 33rd day (a palindrome) of a leap year, with 333 days (another palindrome) to go before 2021. Just some of those delightfully useless facts one registers when standing on the grassy knoll observing and embracing the passing parade.

I say useless ... there are familiar palindromic words: madam, civic, radar, level, racecar, kayak, refer... the longest palindromic word in the Oxford English Dictionary is the wonderfully onomatopoeic "tattarrattat", coined by Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941) in Ulysses (1922), a word which represents a rhythmic knock on the door. "I recognised his tattarrattat at the door." Yep, a bit more style than a common or garden knock-knock, suggesting a visitor with hat set at a jaunty angle.

Now if I had only known all that a little while back, the first page of Huw and Smile might have sounded like this:

Who's there?
Huw who?
And a yoo-hoo to you, too!
Very droll - come in, come in...

Not quite James Joyce, I know, but mother never bred a jibber.
Just after 2am: 02:02:20 on 02/02/2020


For 'smart', see 'dumb'

"If the world go wrong, it was, in some off-hand manner, never meant to go right." Charles Dickens (1812-1870), English novelist and social critic, Bleak House (1853).

Some things never change, just the words we use. Think 'smart', as in 'smart motorway', or 'smart metre', or 'smart thinking', or indeed 'smart humour' (remember alternative comedian Jo Brand calling for battery acid, rather than the coffee actually used, to be thrown over Nigel Farage, and oh how the metropolitan elite thought it so smart and witty). To update Mr Dickens' quotation:

"If the world go dumb, it was, in some off-hand manner, never meant to go smart."


Reflecting on days of whine and poses

"Brexit Day dawns: Wales' political leaders speak out as 'historic' new chapter to begin." Western Mail front page headline on the morning of Friday, January 31, 2020.

With Big Bad Ben not prepared to get out of bed for less than half a million quid to bong Britain leaving the EU, there were lots of ideas floated: from a public holiday next Monday, February 3, 2020, via beacons lit and church bells ringing across the length and breadth of the country, perhaps a quiet meal of fish and chips washed down with a nice bottle of Somerset sparkling wine, to the Brexit hour marked with a one-minute silence.

The one that tickled my JD-spot (my Joy & Doolallyness-spot) was the suggestion - given almost half the nation did not vote for Brexit - that perhaps the bells should indeed be rung, but half-muffled, as at a funeral. Whatever, it seems that everything was to be low key with everyone doing their own thing, indeed The Times' Friday front page captured the moment rather well...

Silence in court!

It is wonderfully ironic that Big Ben, apart from its smiley face (think Boris), is covered in scaffolding. Let's be honest, both Britain and Boris have a great deal of repair and restoration work to carry out.

Anyway, the whole "Bung a bob for a Big Ben bong", which gloriously backfired, added to the bonkersness that gripped the country since the referendum. I never argued with the democratic decision of the electorate, but everything that has happened since confirms that our movers and shakers have mislaid their marbles, all epitomised by that great poser of an ex-Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, who inelegantly showed what happens to those consumed by power and ambition.

And what could be more tolling and telling than the row over the "missing" Oxford comma on the 50p piece ("Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations"). I referred to it yesterday, so here's my singalong contribution...

"♪♪♪: Philip Pullman says Oxford comma, I say Cambridge* flush; he says harry and tarry, I say flow and glow - it's too late to call the whole thing off." (*Cambridge is flat, so there's no need to pause when you walk and talk, hence a Cambridge flush, meaning no need for a comma. So according to my Huw and Smile style guide, I should punctuate as I speak, end of.)

So how will little ole me mark Britain leaving the EU? Well, my mother was amused, charmed and captivated by a lark (as opposed to an owl), so, given that I will be in bed before 10 o'clock tonight, I shall set my alarm for 11pm - and at that curious witching hour I will ponder for a second or two that this is now the first day of the rest of Britain's life (or should that be the UK, I never know which), then turn over and go back to sleep.

See you all in those sunlit uplands we've heard so much about.


Corona goes pop!

"Google searches for 'Corona beer virus' surge as people confuse the Mexican pale lager with the deadly outbreak that's killed 132 people in China [up to 213 as I write]." A newspaper clickbait spotted Thursday - but as a point of order, is Corona a beer or a lager?

Just a week ago I mentioned in passing that I pick up all the rubbish along my daily take-me-home-country-roads walk into town, and I shared this photo of two of the most totally bonkers bottles people had simply tossed out of their vehicles.

Anyway, and with tongue-firmly-in-cheek, I mentioned back then that "when I first heard the expression 'Corona virus', I thought of that bottle, and had visions of Chinese people getting sloshed out of their minds on Corona Extra - but of course I now know that it's actually coronavirus, and a whole different ball game".

Who would have thought that there really is a whole swathe of folk populating the globe who actually think (or at least suspect) that the increasingly deadly disease is linked to a Mexican beer that has not only crossed the Great Wall of Trump but also the Great Wall of China?

Oh yes, beer or lager? Well, it clearly says on the label: "Imported beer from Mexico."

And finally, to add to the doolallyness of the passing parade...

"The 'Brexit' 50p coin is missing an Oxford comma, and should be boycotted by all the literati." Philip Pullman, 73, English novelist, takes aim at the message on the Brexit commemorative coin - "Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations" - and that there should, apparently, be a comma after "prosperity".

Lord Adonis, 56, Labour politician and journalist, along with Alastair Campbell, 62, Labour spin doctor, have both said they will refuse to accept the coin. I would love to be behind them in the queue when they are given a Brexit 50p coin in their change. Incidentally, the Pull-me-Push-me quote above should have read "boycotted by all literate people" - oops! That doesn't include me obviously because I am clearly an illiterate person, which I won't argue with, so all rejected 50p coins welcomed with open palm.

Needless to say, the sky duly fell from a great height on the assertion that there should be a comma after "prosperity". Essentially, it appears that 48% of those who voted in the EU referendum think there should be, whilst 52% believe there shouldn't. Joy and doolallyness indeed.


It was a time of truthfulness, it was a time of, er, superior footwork

"In answer to that perennial question asked at job interviews, what would your response be if asked 'What is your greatest weakness?'." Thus Vanessa Feltz' Wednesday poser asked of her listeners on her early-morning Radio 2 show.

One responder effortlessly climbed onto the podium and the gold medal spot: "Without thinking I replied 'Chocolate eclairs'. They fell about laughing - and I got the job." Tracey from Guzzle Down in Devon. No it wasn't - I didn't actually catch where Tracey was from, but I think Vanessa said Worcester.

That brought to mind my tale from a couple of days back, and well worth a repeat, when a Dr Rhoda Pippen of Cardiff recalled interviewing a candidate for a junior doctor appointment, and towards the end of question time she asked him if he had anything to say or ask. He asked if the panel would accept an unsolicited testimonial, and produced a Woolworths weight card (with an inspirational-type message on) from his pocket, which read: 'You are an achiever with good prospects of success.' He got the job.

And what that proves is, just like Tracey above, if all things are fairly equal, humour will get you the job because a workplace infused with good, clean fun inspires a happy environment.

I was never asked about my greatest weakness - the first half of my working life was spent as a paid slave, before becoming self-employed (an unpaid slave), but in an interview for a sales manager's job I was asked what I saw myself doing in 5 years' time ... I paused and smiled: "I quite fancy doing your job." I got the job.

My new boss duly told me that my response to doing his job is what had pulled me out from a competent field. Humour got me over the line. We went on to become good pals, and we shared many a laugh together.


A hop, step and jump too far

"If the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long." Misattributed to that masterful wordsmith Mark Twain (1835-1910; however, a quick search online suggests that the advice belongs to French writer Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794), best known for his witty quips and aphorisms, who advocated: "Swallow a toad in the morning and you will encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day."

Now that's a classic glass half-empty view of life - amusing as it is - but nevertheless an observation which suggests that Trouble-with-a-Capital-T lies in ambush around every corner. However, Chamfort also said this: "The most wasted day of all is that on which we have not laughed." Now that gets my vote...

The first thing I do of a morning as I tuck into breakfast, my first course of five of the day - at this time of year some soup, bread and cheese - is ponder what tickled my funny bone most the previous day, and what it is that will make the cut for my daily joy and doolallyness spot here on Look You. So, Mon-sewer Chamfort (to quote John Wayne in The Comancheros), makes it on both quotes.

It probably says much about my mindset, but I rather like my way of starting the day, at least better than swallowing a toad, which would, I guess, leave a nasty taste in the mouth for the rest of the day. I mean, doing it my way and I'm already Cheshire-catting it before I even meet anyone.

Hence the glass half-full route to best observe and embrace the passing parade from the relative safety of the grassy knoll. To be fair though, the moral of the quote is, if you've got something yucky to do, do it first thing, otherwise the thought of it will get yuckier and yuckier as the day unfolds. And this is how Mark Twain actually added his own spin to the Chamfort quip:

"If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first."


Frying today, freezing tomorrow

"Am I alone in thinking in Fahrenheit on a hot day and Celsius when it's cold?" Mark Carlisle of Hillsborough, Co. Down, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

The joy of the letters pages of newspapers is that you regularly read something where you agree absolutely with the author, when really you've never consciously thought about it before. In the imperial vs metric battleground - the BBC insists in giving distances in kilometres when there isn't even a single kilometre signpost in the country - I belong firmly in the imperial camp because those are the measurements that are burnt onto my brain's hard drive.

Mention an inch - or a foot, yard, mile, ounce, pound, stone, hundredweight, pint, gallon - and an instant point-of-reference image appears in my imagination. Mention any metric measurement, and I have no idea - well, apart from a metre, which is a stride, which is a yard (more or less).

And so it is in the Fahrenheit vs Celsius camp. I mean, when, "Baby, it's cold outside", I think of zero degrees as the roundabout with black ice on and to be navigated with great care, yet when it's really hot I automatically think 100 degrees and why it's essential to stay out of the kitchen.

So no, Mark Carlisle, you are not alone. Oh, and acknowledging that every day is a day at school, today I learnt that the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales intersect at -40 degrees, i.e. -40 Fahrenheit = -40 Celsius. That should impress them down at The Crazy Horsepower Saloon.

And while on the subject of letters to the editor ... with pharmacists, under new NHS guidelines, being urged to start friendly chats with shoppers about weight loss, a Dr Rhoda Pippen of Cardiff, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, reminded us about those distinctive weighing machines found in Woolworths. You put money into the machine and out would pop a printout card with both your weight and an inspirational-type message on it, for example: "Do not walk through time without leaving evidence of your passage."

Anyway, Dr Rhoda tells this glorious tale, which embraces the great truth that a sense of amusement is essential for a jolly journey through life, whether you are an amusing individual, or a person hard-wired to embrace the notion of being amused: "I recall interviewing a candidate for a junior doctor appointment. Towards the end of our questions, I asked him if he had anything to say. He asked if we would accept an unsolicited testimonial and produced a Woolworths weight card from his pocket which read: 'You are an achiever with good prospects of success.' He got the job." 10/10!


"...and don't call me Shirley!"

"Prince Charles triggers controversy after it emerged he flew 16,000 miles in just 11 days using three private jets and one helicopter before proudly posing with climate activist Greta Thunberg in Davos." A newspaper clickbait spotted Sunday morning ... I duly roll my eyes at the delightful doolallyness of it all, make my excuses and move on without clicking...

A couple of hours later, perusing The Sunday Times ... my eyes alight and light up at cartoonist Nick Newman's Photobubble...

What makes me smile is not so much the wit of the exchange but, given how short Greta is, Charles appears to be bowing the way people do when they meet and shake hands with him. Marvellous.

What baffles me though about all these movers and shakers, these high flyers, who obviously care about climate change - from actress Emma Thompson, via Harry and Meghan, to Charles - is that they don't think through their actions, and how exposed they then become to ridicule and hilarity, which rather extinguishes their torch of hope.

Probably like most people, I first became aware of this curious hypocrisy when actress Emma Thompson flew 5,400 miles from her 60th birthday party in Los Angeles to join an anti-flying climate protest in London, and declaring that "we should fly less". Indeed, the delightfully dotty dame wanted to be arrested at the Extinction Rebellion protest to make her point and so enhance her credentials.

What she should be arrested for is a total lack of peripheral vision, the ability to spot and avoid the obvious ambush. Ditto Charles, Harry, Meghan, et al...



"Your visa got approved." How @GermanyDiplo Twitter account, which represents the German foreign ministry's English-language channel, got seduced into some witless banter on social media, and responded with a perceived ho-ho-ho to the trending hashtag inviting the world and its lover to "Seduce someone in four words".

The sky duly fell with a great thump on the head of the Deutschland government's foreign ministry department, especially as Germany's visa process is recognised as being complex and the very opposite of seductive; a process which, according to one Twitter user, made people feel "less than human". The joke was deleted hours later, the ministry noting: "Being funny is apparently not always our strong suit."

In the interests of research I sought out the hashtag ... most responses seemed to be variations on the theme of "You hungry? I'm cooking!" Mind you, I did smile at the photo of the seductive mouth of an alluring female about to insert a stick of rock candy into her mouth: "Wanna be that candy?" Oh er missus!

And there's a glorious 5-second clip topping #SeduceSomeoneInFourWords, of a spaniel dog holding a milk bottle in its mouth off which a pet lamb is feeding. Glorious. Check it out. The only marginal pity is that the dog isn't a border collie. (Search: 'Secret Life of Dogs: Jess the Springer Spaniel feeds an orphaned lamb with a bottle.')

However, as to the hashtag itself, I reckon "SeduceSomeoneInFiveWords" would have been better for the sake of perfect balance because the question is five words long. Indeed, Belgium's ministry of foreign affairs took the point and tweeted five words: "Some beer, chocolate & waffles." (Perhaps though they decided that "&" doesn't count as an actual word, which is fair enough.)

France's ministry for Europe and foreign affairs took "foreign affairs" to heart and, with a Gallic shrug, contributed only three words: "Hi, I'm French." There again, the pedant would read that as four words: "Hi, I am French." A win-win situation.

I did search a Tony Hall (Chief Sitting Bull at the BBC) typically seductive Corporation tweet ... with no luck. Perhaps: "Over 75? Pay up!" (I've used the Belgian trick and counted "75" as one word.)

Me? Given that the female of the species is reputed to be effortlessly seduced without need of words by someone bearing power, or money, or fame, or a celebrity status, for those of us bereft of such things, humour is listed as an essential tool of the trade. Women, apparently, love to be laughed into bed, so I'll go with: "Joy and doolallyness unbounded." Or perhaps: "50 shades of jollity."


World War Flu ... ACHOO!

"I once heard an announcement on the New York City subway telling passengers to 'cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm if you don't have a tissue'. It's, erm, stuck with me ever since." Columnist Helen Rumbelow, writing in The Times on the 11th of January 2020.

I mention the date, not just because it, erm, stuck with me too as I had never heard the handy advice before, but critically it was well before the current Corona virus thingy spreading across the globe. Oh yes, I wrote it as 'Corona virus' because that's how I first imagined it - or more correctly 'Corona Extra virus' - that is before seeing it written in the media. A quick pause for thought here...

Along my daily early-morning three-mile round-trip walk into town - weather permitting - to collect the morning paper and any bits and pieces needed to see me through the day, I pick up all the rubbish along the way (my modest contribution to clean up the environment). I won't even begin to list right now the more extraordinary things I come across. Apart from rounding up the usual suspects, I am endlessly astonished at the empty glass bottles thrown out of vehicles.

If cans and bottles (plastic and glass) are newly disposed of and not crushed, broken or soiled, I take recyclable things home to put in the blue bin - apart from glass bottles obviously, which I take to the council dumps dotted about Llandeilo. But here's the thing ... a photo of two bottles recently picked up off the verges...

And that's just the tip of a glass iceberg. Anyway, when I first heard the expression 'Corona virus', I thought of that bottle, and had visions of Chinese people getting sloshed out of their minds on Corona Extra - but of course I now know that it's coronavirus, and a whole different ball game. By the by, if the Corona Extra is the Eric Morecambe, the Ernie Wise is the 20cl bottle of Prosecco thrown onto the roadside by a passing vehicle. Gulp!

See what I mean by the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade? Oh yes, apropos the "cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm", there's even a Sesame Street song: "♪♪♪: Lift your arm up high, bend it towards your face - sneeze right there in the bendy place ... achoo, achoo!" Visit YouTube: "Elmo & Rosita: The Right Way to Sneeze".


♪♪♪: Move Over Darling Megxit

"Will Harry and Meghan be allowed to call any future profits they make 'royalties'?" Vincent Hefter of Old London Town makes a welcome return to the Daily Mail's Straight to the POINT column.

The media is now awash with wit and humour following Harry and Meghan's decision to step back from royal duties - but to hang on to the 'Sussex Royals' tag. For example, Sussex Royals sounds very much like a British variety of potato (or, given their move to Canada: "We say potayto, they now say potahto!" - ah, but should they have called the whole thing off?). Whatever...

Just think about that potato angle: Sussex Royals, Jersey Royals, Cornish Kings, King Edward, Purple Majesty, British Queen, Duke of York (a bit mushy, gone off the boil) and Charlotte (a tasty variety rapidly establishing a smiley reputation). Incidentally, there's a report by the memorably named Mushroom Bureau that one in 20 British people believes potatoes and parsnips grow on trees. Hm, and whilst we're on field patrol, where and how does a pineapple grow? Answers on a handy stalk...

Also, what with Veganuary, Dry January and Meg'n'Harry all over the shop, there's a campaign to abandon January, skip February, and fast-forward - or better still, spring-forward - to March. Top thinking.

I shall leave you with another Vincent Hefter right royal gem in the wake of news that the Queen's supposedly favourite grandchild, Peter Phillips, 42, son of Princess Anne, has been, according to The Sun, "forced to do a tacky Chinese milk promo to rake in cash" ... hm, can a cheesy ad be far behind?

And where is Peter's 9-year-old daughter, the wickedly amusing Savannah, when you need her to divert attention? Anyway, if you seek out the ad on YouTube, never mind the Jersey Royal potatoes, look out for the Jersey Royal moo-cows doing their thing.

So this is how Vincent saw the Chinese take-away episode: "So what if Peter Phillips is trading on his status. If you're a member of the Royal family, why not milk it?"


Humanity in the palms of our hands

"The American century - and the European half millennium - is coming to an end. The world century is beginning." Rosabeth Moss Kanter (b.1943) - no, me neither - she is one of America's best-known management thinkers, a social scientist, and a best-selling author; she holds a Professorship at Harvard Business School, specialising in strategy, innovation and leadership for change.

A social scientist, eh. Hm. Anyway, the quotation was written in 1995, when Greta Thunberg wasn't even a glint in anyone's eye, and the damage being done to the planet by ambition and greed was conveniently brushed under a booming balance sheet by the world's movers, shakers and opinion formers, i.e. specialists in strategy, innovation and leadership.

I happened upon Rosabeth's quotation just yesterday, and I presumed (a dangerous thing, I know) that when she wrote it she was thinking of the planet becoming one global village, its inhabitants wondering hither and thither without a care, and everyone trading with no talk of horrid things like trade barriers, tariffs and Donald Trump.

But of course in the quarter-century since, things have changed dramatically. Global warming and the way we have raped, pillaged, burnt and poisoned the planet has altered our perception of what ambush awaits. Suddenly the world century takes on a different meaning, suggesting that if we do go down - well, all 7.7 billion of us now crammed into the same overcrowded lifeboat, will all go down together.

So yesterday, Tuesday, I submitted a letter to the Western Mail about Rosabeth's world century prediction. Today I collect the paper - and I smile when I see the front page...

Unbeknown to me, today was the day the paper launched its #Do1Thing campaign to Save Our Planet, eleven pages inside dedicated to the cause. And yes, my letter was published.

I forever jest that Coincidence should be my middle name - I have no official middle name, just a collection of nicknames accumulated down the years - but my life has been awash with curious little coincidences, just like submitting my letter about the world century and having it published on the day the Western Mail launches its SOP - Save Our Planet campaign.

Mind you, if we are brutally honest, we are not talking about saving the planet - the planet has survived everything the universe has to throw at it, and it will survive our brief stroll through time and place. No prizes for working out that, after we have made our excuses, along with all the species we will drag down with us, nature will regroup and start all over again.

So in truth we are talking about saving humanity, rather than the planet. Perhaps the campaign really should be called SOS - Save Our Species. And who knows, if it does all go wrong ... in another 65 million years dinosaurs could once again be roaming the planet. Or perhaps something in between: Homosaurus.

And on that alarming bombshell, we had all better #Do1Thing (at the very least)!

PS: My spellchecker came to a stop at Homosaurus - and suggested Hoosiers (natives or inhabitants of the state of Indiana, US). Do you suppose that's where Donald Trump comes from?


A pint, three straws and a packet of Nutts

"Is Professor David John Nutt pulling our plonkers when he says people should drink less by ordering one pint of beer or glass of wine and three straws, then sharing it with friends?" Columnist Carol Midgley poses an interesting question in The Times in the wake of Professor Nutt's book 'Drink? The New Science of Alcohol'.

Unsure whether Carol was pulling our plonkers - I mean, what if you draw the short straw? - anyway, I searched online Professor John's gloriously oddball proposition...

David John Nutt (b.1951), English neuropsychopharmacologist - never mind a play on nominative determinism (whether someone's name reflects their work or line of thinking), that extravagantly stretched occupational word sounds like something that should be sung by Mary Poppins, Bert and a host of cartoon characters - whatever, the good Professor specialises in the research of drugs that affect the brain, as well as conditions such as addiction, anxiety and sleep. Also, the following clickbait came up:

"Government chief drug adviser David Nutt sacked over cannabis stance - The Guardian, 30 Oct 2009." The Government's drugs tsar was forced to resign for challenging its hardline policy on cannabis and ecstasy. [A few days later three more scientists resigned from the Government's drugs advisory body following the sacking of Professor Nutt.]

Carol Midgley used words like horror, joyless, infantilising and backwash to describe Professor David Nutt's pint-and-three-straws proposition and its consequences. What came to mind was my barman's degree from the University of Life ... I could picture three of the regular lumberjacks in the Asterix Bar with a pint and three straws in front of them - and disaster, two go down for a sip at the same time, they accidentally head-butt each other, there's a shemozzle and a fracas - and it's a Wild West late-afternoon brawl down at The Crazy Horsepower Saloon ... result, chainsaws at dawn.

Honestly, the passing parade really does get more doolally and nutty by the minute. Anyway, here's lookin' at you, straw dogs or no.


Say cheese!

"I am satisfied overwhelmingly that ethical veganism does constitute a philosophical belief and meets the same legal criteria for being considered a protected characteristic under the same section of the Equality Act that prohibits religious discrimination." Judge Robin Postle makes a landmark ruling at an employment tribunal. (I originally read that as Judge Robin Apostle: apostle of course meaning each of the twelve chief disciples of Jesus Christ; or, a vigorous and pioneering advocate or supporter of a particular policy, idea or cause. Hm, many a misread word gives cause for curious concern.) Whatever!

"You can't eat cheese if you're a vegan? It's just a crime against cheese-lovers. I considered signing up for Veganuary, but I can't give up my cheese." Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of this UK parish, announces a curd upon your vegan house.

The last time Their Honours came into conflict with Boris, they ruled unanimously that, in suspending parliament - a prorogation upon this House! - he had misled Queen, Parliament and country. However, at the resulting general election, the country sat in judgment and decided that Boris should be given the benefit of the doubt and be free to roam unrestricted on the Brexit front.

On the vegan battlefront, it will be interesting to see whether the country eventually comes down on the side of Boris and decides that the love of cheese makes Veganuary simply a passing fad.


Borehole ahoy!

"All my life, 90% of men have bored the arse off me." Women taught me everything, says the English actor Brian Blessed, 83 (as spotted under 'Quotes of the week', The Sunday Times).

In Huw and Smile, in the chapter headed 'Sex, greed, tribalism and rock 'n' roll', here, just a brief snatch:

A voice on the wireless reminded us how a brace of famous spiritual figures coped with this hard-core addiction thingy called sex. First was the glorious tale of English actor Brian Blessed (b.1936), who went to Everest in 1990, and along the way met the 14th Dalai Lama (b.1935), and the blessed Blessed broached the subject of sex - you can actually hear Brian saying this: "I was 57 and I said: 'You're my age, I'm really randy, I can shag anything - now how have you got on for sex all these years?' And The Dalai Lama replied: 'I do sometimes think of a beautiful woman and then I chant my mantras loudly and take a cold shower.'."

Even better, St Benedict (480-547AD) dealt with sex thus, at least according to the voice on the wireless: "Whenever he felt the stirrings of lust, he would hurl himself into a thorn bush." And verily, the alternative comedians of the day did add: "What a prick, eh?"

And on that score, this clickbait from March 2019: "Ehud Arye Laniado, 65, billionaire diamond trader, dies from a reported heart attack during penis enlargement surgery at private Paris clinic." Gosh: and the moral of said sorry tale? Mother Nature only gives you the heart to handle the penis she blessed - or cursed - you with.

Returning to the quote at the top, do you suppose that 90% of women would say: "All my life, Brian Blessed has bored the arse off me."


Life's too short not to say "Just one for the road, then!"

"If drinking just one extra glass of wine or pint of beer over the recommended daily limit will shorten one's life by 30 minutes [according to an international study of 600,000 drinkers published in The Lancet medical journal], then by my calculations I should have been dead for more than six years by now." Graham Barnes (Age 73) of London SE9, in a letter to The Times (marginally paraphrased here to join up some dots regarding the source of the claim, which was all over the media like a bulbous red nose).

Graham Barnes's letter generated a response from a Maureen Ann Peacock of Oxford, who reminded us that, according to the Queen Mother's former equerry, Major Colin Burgess in Behind Palace Doors, the Queen Mother would have "a gin and Dubonnet at noon followed by red wine at lunch, and sometimes a glass of port ... a couple of martinis were served at 6pm ... one or two glasses of pink champagne accompanied dinner". She died aged 101.

Churchill was known as a regular drinker. He always had a glass of whiskey by him, and he drank brandy and champagne (his truest passion) both at lunchtime and dinner, but most historians reject the commonly held belief that he was an alcoholic, indeed not even an excessive alcohol drinker. He was just a regular tippler. He died aged 90, way past the three-score-years-and-ten promised age of mankind (see the Bible, Psalm 90, verse 10).

When I earned my degree from the University of Life working as a barman, I observed something interesting. Most heavy drinkers clearly suffered some sort of mental anguish, went on to suffer poor health, and died relatively young - yet a chosen few followed the Queen Mother and Churchillian path to longevity.

Those who clearly had an addiction to alcohol abused their eating habits. Drink took the place of a meal, a deadly recipe. Yet those who one would regard as regular, even heavy drinkers, enjoyed good health and lived to a decent old age - but they all embraced their food and never seemed to miss a meal (if they did, it was the exception that challenged the rule).

And what do we know about both the Queen Mother and Churchill? Yep, they loved their food and ate regular meals.


I must go down to the sea...

"Fish oil can boost sperm count and make men's testicles BIGGER, study at the University of Southern Denmark claims." Scientists in Denmark analysed the testicles and sperm of more than 1,600 young and healthy men going through national service fitness testing and found those taking Omega-3 ejaculated more sperm.

Thus a textbook joy and doolallyness clickbait that grabbed me by my, er, very average scrotum - but made me smile and click (the erectile "BIGGER" was the headline's, not mine). As usual, I hurriedly scrolled down through the article because in the basement lurked the Comments section, waiting to grab me by my, er, average-plus imagination.

True to form, the commentaries ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime to the droll.

JJ of B1: "Come again?"
Mr T of TQ: "Been using fish oil for years. Now I have to use a wheelbarrow to carry mine around."
Halfords of TQ: "So you were the fellow who wanted a heavy-duty tyre for his barrow."
MIC of Suffragette City: "Someone send Harry a few gallons so he can grow a pair."
Lady Godiva of CV1: "Been downing the stuff for years. Still no balls - eye-catching breasts though, shyly shrouding under all this hair."
Mr B of UK: "What a load of old bollocks."

Talking of national service fitness testing, I remember from years ago the tale of three Welsh brothers, Tomos, Rhisiart and Harri, joining the army and going through the entrance medical. The doctor noticed that the first brother in front of him, Tomos, was rather well blessed in the cockpit area, but nothing unusual, the law of averages and all that. He passed his medical with flying colours.

The second brother, Rhisiart, also passed his medical, but the doc did register that he too was well endowed in the cock-a-doodle-doo department, which was somewhat of a coincidence, even if they were brothers (as opposed to identical twins).

And then Harri, the third brother ... well, you're probably ahead of me already and can guess what's coming: "I don't mean to be overly personal," said the doc to Harri, "but in the interest of medical research, I couldn't help but notice that all three of you brothers are exceptionally well endowed. Is this a family characteristic?"

"Oh no, I don't mind you asking," said Harri. "You see, our mother only had one arm, and when we were very young that's how she used to lift us out of the bath."


Kamasutra Kamikaze Bed

"Artificial intelligence, smart hands-free sex toys and transport technology are the big trends at this year's Sin City annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES)." Thus an eye-catching clickbait apropos the annual 52-year-old show held in Los Angeles, which showcases the next-generation innovations set to revolutionise the way we live and, er, make mad passionate love (adult-only companies are welcomed at the CES).

From a loyal robot called Rollbot (with a teddy bear face) that brings you a toilet roll should you be caught short (unless you're in the woods, I guess), via a smart anti-snore pillow that could save your marriage, to a robotic "sex bed" that teaches you lots of new positions, and niftily called the Kamasutra Bed (it changes shape at the flick of a button to help couples keen to try out X-rated positions).

I have rechristened it the Kamasutra Kamikaze Bed because I am reminded of a conversation with a doctor pal who said I'd be surprised how many men of a certain age (and getting younger, apparently) actually meet their maker when involved in over-energetic and furious sex.

We only hear of high profile incidents where some unfortunate fellow comes unstuck in the back of a car in a parking area atop the Black Mountain, or on a bed in a massage parlour in Cardiff (or knocking shop as they are known with a nod and a wink down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon).

So the Kamasutra Bed really could be the Kamasutra Kamikaze Bed to those who are not quite up to it.

PS: I had originally misspelt Kamikaze, so the spellchecker put me right, having also suggested Kawasaki, which had a certain va-va-voom about it. However, I was disappointed that it hadn't, given the context, suggested the Krankies, the married Scottish comedy duo who recently retired and revealed details of their kinky sex life during what they describe as their "dirty thirties". The mind boggles.

PPS: When the spellchecker came to Krankies, it suggested Crankiest. Never a dull moment on the joy and doolallyness front.


There's The Sun, The Moon, The Balloon, and Harry

"Get a Harry's Trial Set now..." Thus an online advert looking me straight in the eye - and here's me thinking it must be some brand new electronic board game, a sort of modern-day Snakes and Ladders thingy, a game to help us avoid the ambush after ambush that lies around every corner, where today we're a ladder, tomorrow a snake - Harry of course being a certain individual currently in the news and warily navigating ambush territory.

But no: "Everything you need for a smooth shave." There again, if it had been about Prince Harry, then it should read: "Everything you need for a close shave."

Whatever, Catherine Howe's song Harry ("There's the sun, the moon and Harry") came to mind, first released in 1975, but reissued in 1984 due to public demand with the birth of, ta-rah, Prince Harry.

Except today of course the sun becomes The Sun (all that tabloid attention), the moon becomes The Moon (as in The Moon's A Balloon), and of course poor old Harry becomes the Duke of Sussex, where the Duchess seemingly wears the trousers (now there's an expression I haven't heard for many a moon). Ah, but is there a possibility that Harry might become the Duke of Suss-ex?

And talking of tabloids, I caught sight of this clickbait:

"Harry and Meghan's dogs 'flown to Canada' bombshell." I do so hope they travelled Flyby Mary Poppins, safely ensconced within that carpet bag in the cargo hold, and incidentally - important this - the only airline with zero carbon emissions (presuming of course that Mary doesn't belch or fart to excess at 30,000 feet).

Here's wishing safe and happy landings all round.


Are you awoke at the back?

"In 2019, the University and College Union in Britain decided it was perfectly OK for white folks to self-identify as black, so long as they...
     A)  Were attending a job interview
     B)  Blacked up properly (think Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and his 'blackface-cum-redface' incident)
     C)  Were dancing
     D)  Felt like it

Answer: D) The far-left leaning union prides itself on always recognising the right of people to identify as anything they want, even when to the casual glance they are clearly not. Even as grey squirrels, if that is what grabs their bushy tails and dipped eyes."

The above is a quick grab of a quiz doing the rounds to test if we have been paying attention over the past decade, the woke decade, 10 years of gender fluidity and conformity of speech.

Mind you, I enjoyed the grey squirrel reference because I recently saw this headline:

"First they cloned Dolly the sheep. Now they're targeting grey squirrels: Researchers plan to engineer males by DNA editing to spread infertility through the grey population and bring red squirrels back to Britain." For 150 years they have wreaked havoc on Britain's woods and wildlife, but the destructive reign of the grey could soon be over...

Yes, I know what they mean: the grey is a rat (with a fancy tail), the red is a pussycat (with extra bushy tail and cute ears); or, in human terms, Jeremy Corbyn is a grey, Boris Johnson is a red.

Mind you, I did like the thoroughly modern woke solution that the greys should self-identify as red. Problem solv-ed, as Inspector Clouseau would say.


The Prince and the Showgirl

"We all thought Meghan Markle had married into Royalty when, in fact, Prince Harry had married into show business." Clive Whichelow makes a pithy 'grassy knoll' observation, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Indeed, Katie Hurlow, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, decided that she must watch The Prince and the Showgirl again because "I cannot remember whether it is a comedy or a tragedy". Intriguingly, The Prince and the Showgirl was originally called The Sleeping Prince. Thus just a brace of smiley comments spotted in the never less than witty and wise Letters pages of our newspapers.

Several correspondents also suggested that anyone seeking to understand Prince Harry's decision to step away from royal duties would find clues in the lyrics of various popular songs: Rex Harrison's I'm An Ordinary Man from My Fair Lady, or There Ain't No Pleasing You by Chas and Dave, both good starting points. I also liked the notion of Meat Loaf's I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That).

Alan Sabatini points out that Harry says he wishes he hadn't been born a prince, but, "had he been born a pauper would he dream of being a prince?". And if Meghan didn't want an extended family for her son, "she should have married Tom or Dick, but not Harry". That gem from Camilla - gulp, surely not? No, hang on, Camilla Coats-Carr of Teddington, Middlesex. Phew! Mind you, I'm not sure what Thomas and Richard's thoughts are on the matter.

And Eric Howarth sums up the gloriously entertaining doolallyness of it all: "What a wonderful diversion while waiting for Big Ben and Independence Day."

"There are no happy endings in history, only crisis points that pass." Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), American professor of biochemistry and fiction writer, in The Gods Themselves (1972).


Roots, belonging and place

"WHERE ARE YOU FROM? IS IT WHERE YOU WERE BORN? HOW ABOUT YOUR PARENTS? THEIR PARENTS?" Thus the opening gambit in an eye-catching if in-yer-face entire back-page advert, compliments of the HSBC UK banking group, in today's Sunday Times newspaper - copied here in full...

Now if you peruse all the questions asked, along with the presumptions suggested, which clearly set out to establish where you believe your roots are, and what it is you strongly identify with ... there is one critical question missing: What tribe do you identify with?

In my book I have a chapter called 'Sex, greed, tribalism and rock 'n' roll' - it explores the three things, addictions if you like, that are hard-wired into all of us, indeed all living creatures: sex, greed and tribalism (rock 'n' roll is there as a bit of background music). It is all to do with Mother Nature's prime directive, 'The Survival Of The Fittest'.

We are all tribal, whether we care to admit it or not. The population of Britain became one huge tribe during the Second World War, which is why, against the odds, it enabled the nation state to withstand and overcome the Nazi challenge. Nature is very clever when it comes to survival, which is why we become increasingly tribal when our freedoms, indeed our very existence, are threatened.

In my book I list the tribes I intuitively identify with, listed here in diminishing order of belonging:

     Family, friends and colleagues (the banker tribe which tops the list, everyone's list, I guess). Then comes...
     Sporting entities
- or more correctly, Caucasian
     'The West'
- just in case, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours, etcetera, etcetera...

Whisper it, but I haven't included religion, perhaps historically one of humanity's more tribal factions.

Clearly if something changed dramatically in the life and times of the nation - something similar to the Second World War, say - then my priorities would change, and the British tribe would shoot up the table of belonging and place. I believe that's how Mother Nature makes sure survival works.

In the meantime, I'm happy with my tribes as they are.


♪♪♪: By the light of the silvery wolf moon

"Wanted: Super-talented weirdos, misfits and true wild cards to shake up Whitehall." Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister's key adviser at Downing Street, has launched an appeal for an unusual set of people with different views of the world, particularly younger ones, as he reveals plans for a massive shake-up of the civil service.

The sky threatened to fall on Number 10 - but the appeal was lit-up by this one particular response:

"My career as an entertainer has been the perfect mask for my work in espionage." Uri Geller, the 73-year-old Israeli-British illusionist, magician, spoon-bender and self-proclaimed psychic, answers the Downing Street adviser's job advert for "weirdos", claiming that his "genuine" psychic powers could help settle Middle East tensions. A source close to Geller elaborates to The Daily Telegraph: "Uri is 100% serious about taking up a role in Government. He concedes that his application might be one of the more unusual received by Dominic Cummings but hopes that he can see the potential value of having Uri on board."

Joy and doolallyness is the name of my game, and I am spoilt for choice. I saw the Uri quote last night, under a full moon, which just happened to be the first full moon of 2020, the Wolf Moon, so named by the indigenous inhabitants of North America (tribes of colour?), from the packs of wolves that howled amid the first deep snows of winter.

Best of all though, I enjoyed the following overview of the job advert as submitted by a Ken Gregory of Wilmslow, Cheshire, in a letter to the Telegraph: "I note that Dominic Cummings is seeking weirdos and wild cards to shake up the civil service, but that he will be ruthless with those who don't fit in. Surely the nature of weirdos and wild cards is that they don't fit in." 10/10, Ken, move to the top of the class.

Do you know, I can hear Cummings and Geller crooning a duet at Number 10, with Dominic on violins and Uri on spoons: "♪♪♪ By the light of the silvery moon, we want to spoon, to our Bojo we'll croon love's tune..."


And on yet another bombshell: Is your bathroom cabinet racist?

"As we know, everything in life is now racist. Everything you say, everything you do, everything you think: it's all racist. History is racist. Travel is racist. Capitalism is racist. Climate change is racist. Jeremy Corbyn is racist. Dogs are racist. Comedy is racist. Television is racist." Thus Jeremy Clarkson's opening shot across the bows in last weekend's Sunday Times. [It takes me a week to get through the paper - anyway, Jeremy continues]: "And now comes news that the Lake District, the least racist thing on earth, is racist as well."

Yes, I remember just the other day reading about racist Lakeland. The national park's chief executive, Richard Leafe, argued that the Lakes should turn over a new Leafe and do more to attract a wider range of visitors beyond the able-bodied white middle class, i.e. more Asian, black and minority ethnic visitors, as well as the young and those who are less able in terms of their mobility. As Clarkson observes: "Crikey. So this land of Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth is also ageist and disablist." And couldn't-care-lessist too, I would add.

Be all that as it may, when I read Clarkson's opening gambit and his list of things that are racist ... there was something missing, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. So I followed my nose and had a search online ... Bingo x 2!!

"LIVE VIDEO: Chimney of Sistine Chapel as conclave votes for Pope - will smoke be black or white?" BBC News tweet in 2013. "This tweet from the BBC is crass and unnecessary. Do we really need silly innuendo about the race of the next Pope?" Labour MP David Lammy responds to the BBC tweet ... he later apologised when it was pointed out that white smoke traditionally emerges from a Vatican chimney to signify a new pontiff has been chosen.

"If cauliflower is racist, the racists are winning." America's young Democratic starlet, AOC, has said that growing cauliflower highlights why a lot of garden projects fail in New York in "communities of colour", and that this supremacist variety of cabbage is "a colonial approach to environmentalism".

The words 'Asylum', 'Taken Over' and something beginning with 'L' flashed through my mind.

Blimey, I hate to think about all those rugby players who have grown cauliflower ears down the years. How will they cope with the abuse? And I'm nervous of having visitors needing to use the toilet because the bathroom suite is, er, white.

Even worse, my toothpaste is racist too. I must go and lie down in a darkened room...

PS: The media darling of the left in the US Congress, AOC (see above), is one Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. AOC also happens to be the monitor screen I am currently looking at and rolling my eyes.


And on that bombshell

"MEGXIT" Exclusive: Palace Bombshell ... Civil war as Harry & Meg quit the Royals ... Queen sad ... Charles and Wills furious. Thus this morning's Sun newspaper front page with its eye-catching MEGXIT headline.

In Huw and Smile I dedicate one segment (Chapter 4: 'A flavour of the passing parade') to the Harry and Meghan wedding - I mean, it was pure and glorious theatre, on a pure and gloriously sunny spring day, when a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love - along with many events, happenings and entertaining quotations surrounding the whole shebang.

For example, in the run-up to the happy couple's big day, Germaine Greer predicted that Meghan will not be corralled for long: "She'll bolt. She's bolted before."

But who would have predicted that Harry would also bolt? And on that bombshell, indeed.

And here's a paragraph from my book, what was intended to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek:

Thinking of what Germaine Greer had said of Meghan - that she's a bolter - do you suppose that the Queen gave Harry and Meghan the title of Duke and Duchess of Sussex to cover all the bases, I mean, if the worst comes to pass, then Meghan will become the Duchess of West Sussex, and Harry the Duke of East Sussex? A cunning plan or what? But best not go there.

As previously mentioned, it never crossed my mind that they would both bolt. It's all beginning to look a lot like an episode from The Simpsons. And on that theme, here's another paragraph from Huw and Smile:

In the lead up to the nuptials I also learned that Meghan's estranged half-brother, Thomas Markle Jr, warned an expectant world that Meghan marrying Harry would be like the Simpsons marrying into the Windsors - which I must say conjures up a glorious pause for thought ... Meghan being Lisa, obviously. Hm, many a true word...


Christmas to a tee

"Now that we've disposed of both turkey and pudding some days ago, has anyone any idea of what to do with all the golf tees from the crackers?" Sandra Carter of Loughton, Essex, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Suggestions from readers included "excellent markers in seed trays" and "stick in a row upside-down on top of your fence and you'll see the end of pigeon deposits". I'm not sure about the practicality of sticking golf tees upside-down on top of a fence.

Whatever, I am reminded of a tale from the 1980s, about Jack, a local successful and characterful car dealer who'd got hold of a good-as-new Jaguar XJ-Something-Or-Other at a knock-down price. One day shortly after, he took Pat, his rather delightful secretary, out for a 'jaunt' in his posh motor. These days our cars are full of electric and electronic wizardry, but back then such things were something of a novelty and only available in the more expensive and up-market cars.

Anyway, he's driving along and points out to Pat all the gizmos: "This switch," he says, "drops the window - all electric, no winder." She is suitably impressed. "And this opens the sun roof, all automatic ... and this moves your seat back ... and this reclines it." Which the seat does, along with Pat blissfully ensconced. She smiles: "No wonder everyone fancies buying a Jag if they win the football pools."

A little later, as the seat returns to the upright position, Pat notices something on the floor. She reaches down and picks it up - it's a golf tee: "What's this?" He smiles, for Jack the Lad is a keen golfer. "Oh that," he says. "That's what we rest our balls on before we drive off."

"Blimey," she says, "Jaguars think of everything."


Normal service resumed ... so here's lookin' at you, 20/20

   A near-neighbour welcomes in the New Year

RESOLUTIONS UPDATE: "As my one and only new year resolution, I am pledging to give up being a Remainer during January. So, from February 1, I promise to become a Reminder." Alan Ponsford of Tisbury, Wiltshire, in a letter to The Times.

Nice one, Alan ... "♪♪♪: When the weather is yucky, I know I'll get lucky / If I go messing about in Roget's Thesaurus." With apologies to Josh MacRae (1933-1977) and his 1966 song Messing About On The River. Gosh, until I visited YouTube today I hadn't heard that song since Junior Choice days (or Children's Favourites as it was until 1967), yet the title and its catchy melody remain burnt onto my brain's hard drive.

Talking of resolutions, of which I have none ... let's eavesdrop on a couple of bar staff down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon discussing trade: "Dry January is a disaster. The only people in here are livestock farmers, slaughterhouse workers, game shooters, deer stalkers and butchers, all drinking to forget Veganuary."

Mind you, being a market town it is still busy enough to have a brace of barmen on duty! (With thanks to Telegraph cartoonist Matt for a bit of lateral inspiration.)

PS: The spellchecker suggested 'Legendary' for 'Veganuary'. Hm, say nothing is best.


♪♪♪: On the Thirteenth Day of Christmas...

"If decoration be the appetizer of Christmas, hang on until Twelfth Night." With apologies to the ghost of William "If music be the food of love, play on" Shakespeare.

Along the narrow, bendy and busy country lane between Llandeilo and the village of Penybanc, there's a bridge and a Y-junction, with blind bends going both left and right which slows traffic right down. As vehicles bear left towards Penybanc there is ample room for something coming the other way to pass, as well as space for a walker to stand safely alongside a sweeping retaining wall that is part of the bridge.

Well now, near the beginning of December 2018 someone had draped a large snowflake decoration on the limb of a low slung tree behind the wall, meaning it was fleetingly in everyone's eyeline as they drove, rode or walked past. It generated an instant smile. By the next day, and to add to the gaiety of the passing parade (literally), someone had added a candy cane adornment.

Over the following days other festive decorations were added, mostly anonymous. The display took on an original and colourful little life all of its own. But here's the thing - especially with Banksy's street art forever in the news - a few children had hung some marvellous road art of their own creation on the twigs, many made up of several circular slices of wood, about the size of the original Wagon Wheels confectionary, one side with some eye-catching festive art, and on the reverse the names and ages of the artists involved.

Who would have thought that a simple snowflake adornment in a rural location could generate so much innocent delight? Scroll forward to December 2019, and a conversation with a local pondered if the pleasure would be repeated, especially as the lady who had hung the 2018 snowflake had moved out of the area, so I decided, as a starter for 10, to hang a couple of festive decorations myself ... and the inevitable unfolded...

Above, just a corner snapshot of 2019's efforts, a mixture of standard Christmas decorations and some original art works by local children. The close-up of an albino Rudolph with a button for a red nose generated an XL smile - oh, and in the background you can make out a marvellous Wagon Wheel slice of wood with a Santa painted on. Quite wonderful.

I particularly liked old Rudolph because it has 'Joy' written on it. And what is my book and this web site all about? Yes of course, the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade. But I did wonder about Rudolph and whether he was a homemade effort ... however, on the back it said '8XM224 - Pretty Perfect Presents by Langs'.

Ah well, but it did the job perfectly and was properly eye-catching, which is the name of the game - and as it happens, old Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was the final item of Xmas decoration left on the tree by today, the Thirteenth Day of Christmas (Rudolph, incidentally, had lost his red nose - but later recovered by me from the river bank below - which did make me wonder whether the button had been added after purchase). The button wouldn't stick back on, so I kept it as a memento.

As I said above, it's marvellous how something as simple as that original snowflake from a year back can generate so much joy and amusement.


♪♪♪: On the Twelfth Day of Christmas...


"Unwelcome gifts? First unwanted Christmas present was returned at 7.02am on December 25." A post-Xmas headline that drew a smile - ah, but was the unwanted gift a partridge in a pear tree?

All we know is that payment systems firm PayPoint found that the first forlorn item was returned to a Collects+ store in Salisbury at 7.02am on Christmas Day. Some 38 minutes later, the next parcel was returned in Glasgow at 7.40am. In Enfield, north London, a single person returned seven parcels...

A total of 419 parcels were shipped back to their destination by the courier using drop off points on Christmas Day.

On the sunny side of the street, I enjoyed the following two letters about Christmas gifts - but sadly none about twelve drummers drumming being returned to sender.

JUST WHAT I WANTED: "Last year I received a much-desired washing machine with a special port for adding errant socks to the ongoing wash. This hatch has never been needed." Sue McFadzean of Swansea in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Now here's a funny thing when it comes to washing machine and socks: I have never lost a sock in the wash. Mind you it does help that I tend to wear just one model of sock so I can mix 'n' match at will, so perhaps I haven't been paying close attention.

SLIPPERY SLOPE: "I received a pair of M&S slippers for Christmas and luckily I spotted the warning label 'Suitable for vegans' just as I was about to eat them." Derek Long of Sheffield in a letter to, again, The Daily Telegraph.

Mind you, a pair of 'slippers' made out of banana skins would definitely be suitable for vegans - but very difficult to remain upstanding without falling over.

Derek went on to point out that there was no apology to eco-warriors that the M&S slippers had been transported 10,000 miles or so by boat and road. Hm, a slippery carbon footprint that. But Derek did add: "They are very comfy though."


♪♪♪: On the Eleventh Day of Christmas...

"Why was he so cross?" Thus a memorable question posed by Gretl von Trapp (the youngest child in The Sound of Music), and asked of Max Detweiler (her 'Uncle Max', a music agent and producer, her father's good friend and best man at his wedding to Maria), in connection with a prickly exchange between Max and Herr Zeller (the film's main antagonist).

I was reminded of the above scene in the film (shown over the Christmas holiday) when I spotted this clickbait online: "Rock musician Meat Loaf accuses Greta Thunberg of being 'brainwashed' into thinking climate change is real."

The Sound of Music scene takes place as Max and all the von Trapp children rehearse for the music festival where the family will later perform their disappearing act. The rehearsal is interrupted by an angry Herr Zeller, the town's Gauleiter (a political official governing a district under Nazi rule), and he is doing his nut because the von Trapp family were not flying the flag of the Third Reich at their home now that the Anschluss (the [forced] union of Austria and Nazi Germany in 1938) has occurred.

And Zeller demands to know when the Captain is due back from his honeymoon because he is already aware von Trapp has been conscripted into the German navy with immediate effect.

Anyway, back with that question posed at the top - and it's a timeless exchange that could have endlessly taken place, not just in Britain, but all around the world over the past three years or so, what with Brexit, Trumpety Trump, Social Media, Garry Lineker, Uncle Tom Cobley and all and all...

Gretl von Trapp: "Why was he so cross?"
Max Detweiler (with a resigned sigh): "Everyone is cross these days, darling."


♪♪♪: On the Tenth Day of Christmas...

A WAY WITH WORDS: "Could you tell me where I can get a copy of the dictionary Camilla Long uses for her TV reviews? The verb 'to enshitten' isn't in mine and I wish it were." Martin Henry of Good Easter, Essex, in a letter to The Sunday Times, [another of the Five Golden letters carried forward from the Fifth Day of Christmas].

"To enshitten" is not something you hear in the Bible; certainly I've never heard it down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon, not so much in the Asterix Bar but in the snug. So I decided to look it up online ... Urban Dictionary to the rescue: 'Enshitten - to make something shitty, e.g. You will not enshitten this project with your tomfoolery.'

Then I thought hm, now how would Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons, deploy it, especially given all the problems the Conservatives and Brexiteers had with the last speaker of the Commons, John Bercow: "You will not enshitten this House, Mr Speaker, with your personal beliefs and prejudices. Begone, dull care! I prithee begone from me! Begone, dull care, you and I shall never agree."

Yep, I can hear dear old Moggy deliver those lines in his super-posh, pussycat accent ... sounds just about purrfect. Incidentally, the words "Begone, dull care..." come from a song by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), English composer, conductor and pianist. Very much Made in Britten.

Oh yes, the rather wonderful place name Good Easter - where the author of the above missive dwells, a village in the Chelmsford district of Essex - does not refer to the Christian festival, but to the 11th-century Estre, from Old English eowestre meaning a sheep fold, or 'a place at the sheep fold or pen'. The Good part is derived from the Anglo-Saxon woman's name Godgyth or Godgifu, the lady who most likely owned the hamlet back in Ye Olden Days. Every day a day at school at Look You.

PS: As with "bollockspeak" from a few days back, my spellchecker came to a sudden halt at "enshitten", again coming clean and declaring "no spelling suggestions". However, at "Begone" it suggested "Begonia". Hm, a bit of colourful language you probably will hear in the Bible. But how about this? "Godgifu" came up as "Goodwife". Good Easter indeed.


♪♪♪: On the Ninth Day of Christmas...

"I think the yellow card is fair because I was rude, but I was rude to an idiot. And for some reason I was rude, but I was and because I was I clearly deserve the yellow card. I had bad words with the guy." Jose Mourinho, 56, Portuguese football manager, current manager of Tottenham Hotspur, and a star of any passing parade, explains his yellow card in his club's 1-0 defeat at Southampton following a heated argument with Southampton goalkeeping coach Andrew Sparkes over what is understood to be frustration and annoyance at time-wasting tactics as the home team protected its 1-0 lead.

Ah, Jose 'I Am The Special One' Mourinho, never a dull moment. The above "He said what?" was all over the morning media following Tottenham's New Year's Day away loss at Southampton ... there's nothing to add to the pure joy and doolallyness of the incident and the quotation. After all, 'The Special One' deserves a float in the passing parade all to himself.


♪♪♪: On the Eighth Day of Christmas [New Year's Day]...

"2020 is the perfect year to wish everyone 20/20 vision, especially the Prime Minister, given the long and winding road ahead." Huw Beynon of Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail ... hang about, that's me! And it made the lead letter in the paper's Straight to the Point column.

The final throwaway line that made me SOL (SMILE OUT LOUD) in 2019 was Dame Edna Everage describing her mega-sized superyacht, Ocean Widow, as "three times the size of Wales", and that a trifling cruise ship overtaken by Ocean Window the previous day was "quarter the size of Swansea" (to join up all the dots, see the Seventh Day of Christmas, below).

The first thing that made me smile in 2020 was some correspondence in The Times on the subject of Britain needing to get its transport infrastructure sorted - but before discussing bottomless money pits like HS2, or a bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland, a smiley plea was made to first sort out the massive delays on the A303, the only direct road available to serve the West Country, the busy-busy road that passes Stonehenge.

The Rev Nigel Jackson-Stevens of Barnstaple, Devon, suggests a practical new year's resolution might be to override the environmentalists, preservationists and archaeologists, and build a dual carriageway somewhere south of Stonehenge - or better still, "give the stones back to the Welsh".

What a splendid idea. But where to rebuild Stonehenge? And what to call it? Cylch Meini Mawr Tywysog Cymru (the Prince of Wales Mega Stone Circle)? Oh yes, that should go down well with the natives.

Continuing a Welsh theme, I see that Ivor the Engine is on track to return to television as a live-action version 60 years after the much-loved children's favourite first aired. I remember it from the Seventies because I seem to recall that it was on telly in the lead-up to the Six O'Clock News. And it always generated a wide smile.

Ah, welcome back Jones the Steam, Evans the Song, Owen the Signal, Morgan the Roundabout... and all is well with the world. However, a Major Allwys Wright of Berkshire did wonder if the new Snowflake-generation Ivor will be a "non-binary vegan engine fuelled by a bio-degradable sustainable gluten-free power source"?

"Let's hope Boris has 20/20 vision: Here's wishing everyone a new year awash with 20/20 vision, especially so a certain B Johnson Esquire of SW1A (with a nod and a wink to one Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP and Leader of the House of Commons, who insists on the Esquire appellation in a style guide edict to his staff)." Huw Beynon of Llandeilo, in a letter to the Western Mail ... hang about, that's me, again! Wel-i-jiw-jiw! Hm, a double-top, a good start to the year.

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