|LOOK YOU : DECEMBER 2021|
Here's lookin' at you, 2022...
...hopefully though, not from behind the sofa, through slightly parted fingers and wearing a face mask.
A regular feature of my embrace of both the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade (from the relative safety of the grassy knoll, it has to be said), is my 'PS: Spellchecker' feature, which continues to unearth some memorably surreal and often amusing alternatives to the words it does not recognise.
The month of December was a particularly rich experience, with the spellchecker grinding to a halt on eight separate days. I thought I would kick off 2022 with a missive that sums up a spellchecker's entertainment value quite splendidly...
With a flash of light ... "When I was a medical examiner for the Department for Work and Pensions, I wrote: 'This woman is capable of light housework.' The spellchecker then altered it to '...is capable of lighthouse work'." Giles Youngs of Drinkstone, Suffolk, in a letter to The Guardian.
That really is a proper cracker to start the New Year. Being that my computer is not a modern song-and-dance model, the spellchecker does not automatically alter something it does not recognise into something vaguely familiar, without my input.
It comes to a full stop and I have to decide what should pass. What is friend and what is foe? What is light housework and what is lighthouse work?
I rather like that way of doing things.
And on that note: Happy New Year to one and all. And that includes my entertaining spellchecker.
Yes, the spellchecker came to a full stop, but today it paused
over something rather straightforward: it decided that the
village of Drinkstone in Suffolk should either be
Drink stone, or Drinks tone.
As far as I can tell, Drinkstone is derived from Dremic's
homestead, the homestead by the pool.
Pulling a few 2021 crackers
Blunt advice ... "It wasn't all plain sailing. I was locked in with my mother-in-law for 16 days, 11 hours and 36 minutes." English singer-songwriter James Blunt, 47, amusingly insists there was a downside to spending so much time at his villa in Ibiza during lockdown.
And on to the next Old Year cracker...
Now you see 'em, now you don't ... "A non-visible style of community policing." Avon and Somerset Police's description in a review of its attendance at a BLM protest in Bristol in June 2020 which resulted in a statue of Bristol-born merchant, politician, philanthropist and slave trader Edward Colson being toppled.
That drew this response:
Light hand of the law ... "I note that Avon and Somerset Police has adopted a technique called 'non-visible policing'. I assume officers were trained in rural Suffolk, as the police have been invisible here for years." CW Vaudrey of Alderton, Suffolk, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
Meanwhile, on the Meghan and Harry front...
Spare us ... "Royal Editor Roya Nikkhah claims Prince Harry is 'privacy-obsessed'. Really? He seems to do nothing but give interviews." Wendy Abbott of Hull, in a letter to The Sunday Times.
Do you suppose the royal presenter, commentator and broadcaster Roya Nikkhah was really christened Royal - but someone forgot to add the letter 'l' on the birth certificate? Anyway, back with Prince Harry, who, despite being "privacy-obsessed", has spoken publicly about a few personal issues...
Tunnel vision ... "Harry says that after starting therapy he 'plucked his head out of the sand'. What a pity it didn't stop him sticking it somewhere else." Gordon Lethbridge of Sherborne, Dorset, in a letter to The Sunday Times.
Finally, my favourite quote/letter of the year: whenever Boris Johnson now appears on the television, or in the papers, I am reminded of his exceedingly odd and incoherent ramblings about Peppa Pig and Moses to a bewildered gathering of business people at the CBI.
Bad hair day ... "Boris Johnson compared himself to Moses in his 'pig's ear' of a speech to the CBI. Moses parted the Red Sea, while the PM cannot even part his own hair." Jonathan Mann of Gunnislake, Cornwall, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
Every time I now see him I think of that glorious observation.
Another Christmas postscript
Unwanted instruction ... "Our son gave his mother a new hot water bottle for Christmas. Made in China, it is stamped: 'Keep heat water bag far from baby'. She is 82." Antony Mackenzie-Smith of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
And it gets even better...
Beware of mojibake ... "I was given a foot massage machine for Christmas, inevitably made in China. The instructions are a treat. I must not use it if I have 'some Psychopath', or if I have 'some skin consciousness obstacle', or if the machine 'becomes mojibake'. Any advice on how to spot mojibake?" Sandy Pratt of Storrington, West Sussex, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
Mojibake? Tap, tap, tap... Click... "Mojibake is a Japanese word which literally translates as 'character changing'. It is a term used in IT that describes instances where text is improperly decoded, resulting in nonsense or random symbols."
Ah, that mojibake. I shall refer to it as a Nigella, as in Nigella Lawson, the English food writer and television cook.
Why Nigella? Well, a while back I turned on the radio and a female cook was in conversation. It was a voice I did not recognise, but it was somewhat distracting in its harshness. You know, the sort of annoying voice where you're overwhelmed with the need to reach into the radio to strangle it into silence; or perhaps, slightly more civilised, to reach into the radio with a potato and stick it the speaker's mouth just to shut the grating voice down.
Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be Nigella Lawson, a world away from that curious come-to-bed-delivery she deploys when doing her telly cooking shows.
How odd. Ah, but which is the real Nigella? Mojibake or seductress-in-chief?
Oh yes, one parting thought on the China front:
That time of year again ... "As my New Year resolution is not to buy anything made in China, I don't think I'll be spending much!" Neville Slater of Congleton, Cheshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
Spellchecker time. Unsurprisingly, the computer came to a full
mojibake, and suggested motivate, followed by
which is actually quite clever.
That loving feeling ... "Today I have received no fewer than six emails in which the writers announce that they are 'reaching out' to me. Do they really feel the need to touch me that much?" Richard Dalgleish of Kingsclere, Hampshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
Hm, sounds like the latest banality that has subliminally infected the population compliments of the meeja.
Meanwhile, it's beginning to look a lot like mid-summer...
Superior footwork ... "It might be a good idea to move Christmas to June. The shops are always so busy in December." Ian MacDonald of Billericay, Essex, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
There again, perhaps it's just best to keep a low profile at such hectic times, whatever the time of year...
Life goes on ... "Being ancient, we shall be hibernating over Christmas, as we decided with the family that it is too dangerous for everyone to meet. So we're going to make marmalade." Christine Naylor of St Andrews, Fife, in a letter to The Guardian, and obviously going to have an unrehearsed or improvised jam session.
Yep, a certain Scottish pop group, singing a proper earworm song, wiggled and jiggled inside my head... "♪♪♪: Ob-la-dee, Ob-la-da / Life goes on, whoa..."
My old Spellchecker has been having a ball this month. Today it came to a
full stop at
Dalgleish, as in Richard Dalgleish of Kingsclere, and suggested
Dogleash, followed by
Dillies (do you suppose dillies is old Scottish for dildoes?).
Kingsclere came up as Kingsolver.
If suddenly we were not around
Recovery rate ... "If, at midnight tonight, all human beings, as if by magic, were to disappear off the face of the Earth, how long would it take for the planet and everything else on it to recover from humanity's pillaging, burning, raping and poisoning of the environment?" The headline of a newspaper article I broadly recall reading back in the 1980s, which went on to list some 50 situations (perhaps more), along with the time scales involved.
I've attempted to search for the article online, without success (the piece was published before newspapers went online). However, what I do remember is what was in first place, i.e. what would recover the fastest; and what was in last place, i.e. what would take longest to right man's interference in the natural order of things.
In last place was our nuclear footprint, which would, again as I recall, take a million years to disappear.
And in first place? All creatures great and small would recover at a spectacular rate, starting at precisely one second after midnight. Hm, why so fast out of the starting blocks?
Well, the killing of all animal life would instantly come to a halt. We would stop killing creatures for food, as well as in the name of sport. Even more dramatically, there would be no accidental killings, whether by road traffic, farming, gardening, or indeed pollution of the environment.
And just to make the point in a most telling fashion, this road kill, a dead bird found along my morning walk into town...
Being familiar with our common or garden songbirds, I was stumped as to what the bird was - somewhat larger than a blackbird.
At first I thought it was a woodcock. However, when I got home and flicked through my Complete Guide to British Wildlife, I discover that it's a water rail (the long red bill a dead giveaway), one of our most elusive wetland birds, preferring well-vegetated edges of rivers, ponds and marshes. Its closest relatives are the coot and moorhen.
But what was it doing here in Llandeilo? I learn that many migrate from the Continent when winter sets in, so perhaps the poor little thing was in transit when it met its unfortunate end.
Indeed, a perfect example of why wildlife would recover at just
one second after midnight if we were not around to do our worst.
A sobering thought.
Don't be a tosser
Confused thinking ... "I bought my grandson a big box of plastic building bricks for Christmas, but had to carry it home in a paper bag." Lindsay Perkins of Castle Donington, Leicestershire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
Yes, I too found myself rolling my eyes with the doolallyness of it all.
Anyway, a couple of days not doing my regular early-morning walk into town and collecting the discarded rubbish as I go meant that today was always likely to be a bumper day.
Here's a photo of the rubbish that was easily recyclable...
Obviously someone likes their Thatchers Haze Cloudy Somerset Cider: four cans, one slightly crumpled by a passing vehicle, but recyclable; one can of Budweiser; and one glass bottle of Birdbarker, a medium sparkling craft perry, made by the Ross on Wye Cider & Perry Co - I like the dog (or is it a wolf?) howling at the full moon there on the label.
That's how I sometimes feel collecting all this discarded trash.
Oh yes, to add to my list of the most off-beat things littering the road, one small solid rubber wheel with a metal centre, which looks like something that has accidentally fallen off a bit of machinery, probably something attached to a tractor or some such like.
Yep, never a dull moment along the winding trail that leads me
into Dodgy City.
Boxing Day 2021
Reflections ... "My husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I said I'd love a little something that goes from 0 to 100 in the blink of an eye, trusting that he would register my hint that I quite fancy a proper sports car. He got me some bathroom scales." My pal Chief Wise Owl shares a joke that deserves to be found in a luxury, up-market box of Christmas crackers from Harrods of London.
Yesterday morning, Christmas Day, before leaving home to join the family for the day, I watched the first hour or so of Casablanca, my favourite film. One particular scene especially tickled my imagination, the one at the gambling tables where Rick gets his croupier to manipulate the roulette wheel to provide a charming young couple of refugees with enough money for exit visas to get them to America.
A customer, observing the young man's double slice of remarkable "luck", asks Carl, the amiable head waiter at Rick's Cafe: "Are you sure this place is honest?" Carl: "Honest? As honest as the day is long."
The reason that particularly registered is down to something amusing said back on the 21st of December, the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year: "This is probably the best day of the year to tell someone you're as honest as the day is long."
Tuesday 21 December 2021, 5.15pm: "No more Covid restrictions before Christmas..." Boris Johnson, as he rules out further restrictions in England before Christmas, but urged caution amid speculation that further measures will be needed.
As far as I can tell, Bojo didn't answer a journalist's question about honesty with:
"Honest? I'm as honest as the day is long."
Christmas Day 2021
Feudal tradition ... Tweet of the festive season from @OFalafel: "It used to be a Christmas tradition for our whole family to go down the pub, come home after a few hours and deck the halls. To be honest I'm surprised the Halls carried on living next door for as long as they did." Ho, ho, ho - with jingle bells on.
And this caught my eye...
Ho-ho-hokum ... "Journalist and columnist John Clancy says Christmas is 'the most important date in the Christian calendar' (Comment, last week). No - that's Easter Day, when the risen Christ brings hope to the world. I have no axe to grind, by the way. I am an atheist." John Oliver of Bayfordbury, Hertford, in a letter to The Sunday Times.
Now that really is a chicken and egg situation. I'm with John Clancy on this one. If Jesus Christ had not been born there would have been no Easter Day.
I mean, just imagine what history would be like if, say, Hitler had not been born. Or more worryingly, if Winston Churchill had never been born.
Even more curious, I recently read that Churchill was hit by a car in New York City in 1931, but escaped serious injury. By an amazing coincidence, earlier that same year, Adolf Hitler survived being hit by a car in Munich. As the author of the piece I read concluded: how different history would have been with weaker brakes. Indeed.
Three days ago I began my piece with this quote, compliments of Anonymous: "The best way to see Christmas is through the eyes of a child."
Well now, a line highlighted from today's Christmas Day message by the Queen reads: "Christmas can speak to the child within us all."
How about that?
Boxing Day, here we come...
♪♪♪: Good tidings we bring to you and your kin
Look again ... "Christmas is a box of tree ornaments that have become part of the Penybanc family." With apologies for that little bit of playful paraphrasing to the ghost of Charles M Schultz (1922-2000), American cartoonist and creator of the comic strip Peanuts.
A couple of days back I featured the brief history of the Christmas decoration that have become a regular feature of a tree at a junction on the outskirts of the village of Penybanc, along with some photographs of same.
Well now, I decided I should feature one of this year's home-made decorations as fashioned on a slice of wood by some marvellously imaginative local children, and which sums up the soul of this little corner of west Wales just perfectly...
Village tree! Now how good is that?
Also, I mentioned the one decoration that I have added each year, and here it is...
I love the bird perched on top of the postbox. I tend to think of it as a robin, even though its red breast has spread all over. And why not?
Oh, and this one caught the eye...
I can't decide whether it's home-made or not.
By the bye, at the top I quote the song "We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year, / Good tidings we bring to you and your kin..." When the next line comes up I am always reminded of the version by John Denver and the Muppets.
One of the Muppets starts singing: "Now bring us some figgy pudding, now bring us-" Miss Piggy cuts across him very aggressively: "Piggy-pudding!?" And comes the reply: "No, Figgy pudding - made with figs." "Oh, sorry!" "And bacon!" "WHAT?"
And on that note, I wish you a merry Christmas: "Eat, drink and
be merry, for tomorrow you may be locked down."
Christmassy letters from Middle-Britain - No 29
That time of year ... "♪♪♪: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmask." Antony Dean of Keighley, West Yorkshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
Ho, ho, ho, a clever bit of wordplay there.
Bouncing ball ... "♪♪♪: 'I'm dreaming of a Multicultural, Diverse, Transgender, Inclusive Christmas' doesn't quite roll off the tongue." Mark Cohen of Manchester, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
And as mentioned in a previous joy and doolallyness post, there's no escaping you-know-who with the mop of unparted hair...
Getting it done ... "It is surely fair to suppose that while Boris Johnson's goose may not yet be cooked, it is at least oven-ready." Andrew Scadding of Bradnop, Staffordshire, in a letter to The Times.
And then came news that Brexit minister Lord Frost, 56, has resigned from the UK government over, er, "concerns about the current direction of travel", voicing doubts with Boris over sweeping new coronavirus restrictions...
Christmas crisis ... "It would seem that the 'oven-ready' Brexit deal is actually in the process of being de-Frosted." L Cadwallader of Oswestry, Shropshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
And out of the woodwork wriggles another cause for concern...
Believe it or don't ... "I notice that the government is again asking us not to believe experts, this time the Sage committee. It would be interesting to know who is expert enough to be able to tell us which experts to believe and which to ignore." David Osmond of Barnoldby le Beck, Lincolnshire, in a letter to The Times.
Meanwhile, back in the Saloon Bar...
Flavoured to taste ... "If Sage has its way, we will be well and truly stuffed this Christmas." Tony Hounsell of Exeter, Devon, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
Yes, joy and doolallyness is alive and well and lurking inside every piece of woodwork.
The Spellchecker, surprisingly, came to a stop at
Oswestry, and suggested Sweaty, followed by
Eowestre (old English for a sheep fold, or
'a place at the sheep fold', which, given that Oswestry is a
market town, is rather good).
Next, the spellchecker suggested
Sentry, and finally Sweetly. Never a dull moment
with my computer.
♪♪♪: We wish you a merry Christmas
Look here ... "The best way to see Christmas is through the eyes of a child." Anonymous.
It all started back on the 3rd of December 2018, when I found an ever so slightly damaged polystyrene snowflake languishing in a hedge along the lane I daily walk.
So I decided to retrieve it and hang it on the branch of a tree, in a prominent location to catch passing eyes, at a junction a few hundred yards from the village of Penybanc, where I currently hang my hat...
The next day I decided to add a bit of colour and bought a little Christmas decoration to hang near the snowflake. Well now, over the weeks leading up to that Christmas, youngsters living in the area began hanging their own decorations on the tree...
Oh yes, and quite a few of them hand-made by a clutch of gloriously imaginative children...
Every year since I have hung my own particular decoration as a trigger to see what would happen - and yes, the decorative explosion continued. Except this year, when I didn't instigate the first decoration, but I'm happy to report it has become a bit of a tradition and the festive trimmings duly appeared - and here's what it looked like just a few days ago...
The display never fails to raise a smile. And as the wise
Anonymous observed: "The best way to see Christmas is
through the eyes of a child." I plead guilty as charged.
Winter solstice - shortest day of the year
The onset of winter ... "You can't get too much winter in the winter." American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963). How apt, with a name like Frost.
06:40: I set off on my daily walk into town for the morning paper, and also to pick up a few bits and pieces to see me through the day, as is my wont.
It is of course still dark - sunrise isn't until around 08:25 - but I enjoy my walk on these dark mornings. It's just me and the owls - oh, and the distant beep-beep of a tractor reversing as it goes about its business on a local dairy farm.
The morning is still, cloudless, cold and frosty. However, the lane and surrounding countryside is all lit up because the full moon is just a couple of days into its cycle towards a new moon.
And then I can't help but notice something incredibly eye-catching.
As mentioned before, here in Llandeilo we live under one of the busy air traffic lanes that moves aircraft back and fore over the Atlantic, and early morning is the time traffic arrives in Europe from America and other points west.
Since March last year, when lockdown began, the skies have been practically empty with no pollution being pumped into the atmosphere. However, air traffic has been slowly increasing over recent months, and this morning was a case in point.
The sky was awash with contrails, planes having negotiated the directional beacon out west at Strumble Head in Pembrokeshire, and now all beautifully lit up by the moon. So much so I got out my camera and pointed it skywards ... click! click! click! ... and hoped for the best...
Well, a bit grainy, yes, but I'm relatively happy with that. Mine is but a simple camera without a powerful lens for situations like this. And I am strictly a point and click photographer - Autopilot is my middle name - out to capture a moment in time rather than a work of art to be criticised for technical shortcomings (or admired, ho, ho, ho) by committed snappers.
Incidentally, one of those contrails crashes into the moon and looks like a rocket exploding after take-off. Very dramatic.
Oh, and about an hour later, I was walking home, with sunrise still about 20 minutes away, so this time I pointed my camera east towards the Brecon Beacons where another directional beacon guides aircraft eastwards - and from pretty much the same spot I photographed planes arriving earlier from the west - but this time bade them farewell as they trundled towards London and various European airports.
Yep, today was an awe walk with a difference.
Known knowns and unknown unknowns
A jab in the dark ... "There are several things we don't know, but all the things that we do know are bad." England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, 55 (?!), says Omicron could be more harmful than previous Covid variants - and in doing so flirts with the famous quote from American politician Donald Rumsfeld (1932-2021):
"There are known knowns; these are things we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know."
I really enjoy that Rumsfeld quote. Whatever, all this talk of Omicron brings me here:
Fiction meets reality ... "Reading 'The Small House at Allington' by English novelist Anthony Trollope (1864), I have just encountered 'Sir Omicron'. Other characters in the novel are Sir Raffle Buffle and Major Fiasco..." Susanne MacGregor of Tonbridge, Kent, in a letter to The Guardian.
Yes, try as I might, I just can't keep Boris out of my daily joy and doolallyness posts. And talking of which...
Team names ... "Professor Quiz Whitty, Rebels without a Claus, Bucks Quiz, Cheeses of Nazareth and Hands, Face, First Place." Some of the jokey team names at last year's No 10 Christmas Quiz that is at the centre of lockdown-busting claims as the sky yet again threatens to fall with a big thump on Boris's head.
Pull! ... "Which relative will not be at Professor Chris Whitty's Christmas dinner? Auntie Vaxxer." Joke shortlisted for 2021's best Christmas cracker gag.
The Spellchecker came to a stop at
Vaxxer, as in
as in anti-vaxxer, and suggested Vexed, which by any
measure is delightfully ironic.
Sunday is knock-knock day
(Boris Johnson is alone in his office at 10 Downing Street...)
Repudiation of the PM ... "Although a lifelong Conservative voter who grew up in a Tory household, and now in my 80s, I feel conscience-bound to say 'thank you' to the voters of North Shropshire." Gerald Fisher of Milborne Port, Somerset, in a letter to The Sunday Telegraph.
And this is how the Telegraph's glorious cartoonist MATT saw the by-election...
The only thing I would add to that is: "It was just a gathering of Lib Dems and disaffected Labour members who abandoned their own candidate, with pencils and voting slips."
Meanwhile, back on the Letters page:
Pleasing all of the people ... "The trouble with the North Shropshire result is that everyone thinks they have been vindicated. Remainers think it was a vote against Brexit; Brexiteers think it was a protest against the failure to get Brexit done. Lockdown sceptics attribute it to the latest measures; lockdown fanatics believe people want tougher rules..." Simon Hubbard of Brownhills, Staffordshire, in a letter to The Sunday Telegraph.
Here's lookin' at Boris ... "Would I like to have a pint with Boris Johnson? Definitely. Would I want him on my board of directors? Definitely not." Melvyn Parrott of Bedford, in a letter to The Sunday Telegraph.
A couple of days ago I juxtaposed pictures of Winston Churchill and Boris Johnson dressed for a crisis...
Well now, today's Sunday Times published this perfectly apposite missive:
Clowning street ... "We were promised the new Churchill. What we got is a second-rate Benny Hill." Simon Greenfield of Birmingham, in a letter to The Sunday Times.
And on that note, with the Benny Hill Yakety Sax
chase music ear-worming its path inside my head, I shall draw a
line under the North Shropshire by-election.
Domestic science and a shock recipe
Hey good lookin', what'cha got cookin'? ... "If domestic science classes at school helped to foster a lifelong fondness for unhealthy stodge such as toad in the hole, rock cakes, scones and Victoria sponge (Letters), Maggie Owen should realise that her 'unhealthy stodge' is only unhealthy stodge when other people are eating it. If you are eating it yourself, it's comfort food." Pete Bibby of Sheffield, in a letter to The Guardian.
Ah, comfort food. That takes me back to Christmas Day last year. With the nation in lockdown, I gave joining the family for the traditional gathering a miss - and for Christmas lunch I had one of the ultimate comfort foods, beans on toast. And thoroughly enjoyed it. Indeed, it will be the one Christmas Day lunch I will always remember.
Click here for Xmas 2020 (well worth a quick visit if only to enjoy the pick of all-time Xmas cracker jokes, and shared over the days leading up to December 25, jokes I'd forgotten about).
Anyway, back with domestic science. This from a Daily Mail TV review:
Shock recipe of the week ... "Mary Berry showed us how to bake
her favourite cake, a jam and cream sandwich, on Love To Cook
(BBC2). The secret, she said, was not to use butter - instead,
she took 'baking spread' straight from the fridge. That's
margarine to you and me."
Bad hair day at the office
Boris torpedoed in the ballot box ... "Tories lose North Shropshire seat they held for nearly 200 years: Lib Dem by-election winner Helen Morgan overturned a Tory majority of almost 23,000 and won by nearly 6,000 votes." Shock, horror at North Shropshire as Boris takes a hit below the water line.
The omens were bad a couple of days ago when it got very heated outside the Conservatives' 1922 Committee room, the place where "execution" measures of Tory leaders are discussed, and just before the rebellion of around 100 Tory MPs against the PM's Covid measures.
As the gaggle of press eavesdropped outside the Committee room, one furious MP spat the word "Vultures" at them. A quick-witted hack replied: "That implies dead meat."
And the Great British Public also contributed to discussions:
Full confidence in The Boss ... "To use an old sporting analogy, it looks like Boris Johnson has lost the dressing room." Nick Brigham of Harrogate, North Yorkshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
Say "Ahh!" ... "Boris Johnson caught Covid-19 last year and I wonder if it affected his brain. His behaviour has been erratic since." Liz Lucy of Ledbury, Herefordshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
Well, it's not just me then. I mentioned a while back that I thought Boris was suffering long Covid, not just because he was suddenly finding it impossible to think outside the box, but more tellingly, finding it a challenge to even think inside the box.
Whether it's those parties at Downing Street last Christmas during strict lockdown, or his incoherent ramblings about Peppa Pig and Moses to a bewildered gathering of business people, it has to be a cause for concern that he was unable to spot the rather obvious ambush after ambush lying in wait inside the pass.
Anyway, back with that crushing defeat in the North Shropshire by-election, Boris has today taken "personal responsibility" for the loss, adding, "I hear what the voters of North Shropshire have said". A markedly flustered PM blames voters and the media for focusing on sleaze and Partygate rather than Omicron and its consequences ... yawn!
All that said I came up with my own brief letter:
Hair-raising ... "What Boris Johnson nearly said: 'I hear what the voters of North Shropshire have said - and I assure them I will start by getting a proper haircut to at least look the part of being a responsible Prime Minister.'"
I mean, he always looks such a mess with that unruly hair and ill-fitting suits. Not what a Prime Minister should look like to inspire confidence during a crisis. If you look a mess, then your thinking will also be a mess.
Compare and contrast what Boris's hero Winston Churchill looked like during a crisis...
Say no more.
The great wash vs wipe debate!
Mum's the word on Number 2s ... "A woman raised in a Middle-Eastern household provokes a VERY heated discussion on the British parenting forum Mumsnet by asking how people can think using loo paper is sufficient instead of cleaning with water after going to the toilet." A Mail Online clickbait catches the eye.
Yes, swiftly down to the comments ... contributors couldn't agree, with both sides calling each other "disgusting".
Me? I'm a water man. Now I don't have a traditional bidet - well, I use what I call a Welsh bidet, but I shall say no more because, perhaps, I should patent it having read the Mail article (along with the comments, obviously).
However, what really drew me to this clickbait was my default curiosity: I couldn't wait to see what the 'best rated' comments were down below in regard to, er, down below.
And I wasn't disappointed. The comment which attracted far and away the most 'Best rated' ticks was this cracker...
"JohnyM of Old London Town: Toilet brush first, and finish off with a labrador puppy."
LOL doesn't really do it justice.
But here's a curious point of order: I have just revisited the article to see if there were any more funny comments ... curiously though, JohnyM's had disappeared, so I can only presume that someone had replied in some offensive way and the whole comment was pulled. How sad, because it really is genuinely funny.
By the by, yesterday I mentioned Sunday Times journalist and natural-born controversialist Rod Liddle, and the shemozzle he generated in the wake of his talk to the students of Durham University, who subsequently declared they were "Proud to be pathetic".
Well, here's something worth a mention in dispatches:
Prickly Rod ... "Rod Liddle says that last Christmas he
flagellated himself with birch twigs ('Silent night, wholly
moribund night', Comment, last week). How disappointing. I would
expect that, as a traditionalist, he would respect the season
and use holly. He might also find that more satisfyingly
Phil Pearce of Ascot (yes, that's Ascot as in "Come on Dover!
Move yer bloomin' arse!"), in a letter to The Sunday Times, and
proving to the students of Durham University, with jingle bells
on, that a whip of wit beats walking out on a talk and then
holding a public protest about it, every time.
Party time down Downing Street way
Shindig at No 10 ... "I noticed the headline 'The Christmas Party' on a recent television news bulletin. Is this the advent of a newly formed political movement?" Diana Hartley of Askrigg, North Yorkshire, in a letter to The Times regarding the alleged parties at No 10 that happened a year ago when the country was supposedly in lockdown.
The marvellous village name of Askrigg sounds like someone you would ask to "fix" an election result in your favour. Just ask Rigg. And as we know, Donald Trump has a longstanding history of calling elections "rigged" if they don't go his way.
Incidentally, I learn that the Askrigg is of Old Norse origin, consisting of the combination of askr (ash tree) and hryggr (ridge), meaning the ridge where ash trees grew. Every day a day at school.
Oh yes, there was a response to the above letter:
Snowslide election ... "I refer to Diana Hartley's letter about the supposed formation of The Christmas Party. Surely the election of a leader would be restricted by a Claus in the constitution." Alan Cape of Spennithorne, North Yorkshire, in a letter to The Times.
Ho, ho, ho, as they say in the Asterix bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon.
By the by, yesterday I featured the cartoon where a frustrated lady is looking to complete her Christmas shopping, and is saying to the shop assistant as she launches into a lengthy list of problematic issues for him indoors (see below): "I'm looking for a present that will take my husband's mind off students..."
Well blow me; in the news today, Durham University students staged a protest for a "safer, more inclusive Durham University" after journalist Rod Liddle's appearance and short speech where he stressed the importance of listening to other people's opinions and points of view.
But here's the thing: some walked the woke and left during his speech, and later staged a public protest at being labelled "pathetic" for, er, walking out on Liddle's talk. However, in pictures of their protest there is clearly a banner declaring the students "Proud to be pathetic".
You couldn't, as they say, make it up. But it all adds to the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade as we approach the season of goodwill hunting.
♪♪♪: ...the goose is getting fat
Winceltoe and wine ... "On the subject of cringeworthy Christmas offerings, may I offer the festive card I had the misfortune to discover recently: 'Merry Crimbo to Mum and her Bloke.'" James DC Perks of Bicester, Oxfordshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
And then I enjoyed this gloriously smiley Heath cartoon in The Mail on Sunday:
I say "gloriously smiley" because I identify with everything listed on that frustrated lady's shopping list. I really could be her husband.
Oh yes, the list endorses why, these days, I never watch or listen to the news, or anything to do with politics, because it is beyond my power to do anything about it (an election is way down the dirt track and anything can happen between now and then).
Yes, I catch the news headlines, just in case Russia has invaded - or China has declared war on the West - and I can compose myself for the consequences.
Meanwhile, and as celebrated at the top: "Christmas is coming, and the goose is getting fat..."
The Spellchecker, unsurprisingly, came to a stop at
Winceltoe, and suggested Wince toe. I blame Cliff
Richard and his Mistletoe and Wine.
Jeremy Clarkson revisited ... "Back in the glory days of Top Gear we had a giant picture on our office wall of Formula One World Champion James Hunt (1947-1993) sitting on his McLaren after a race with a fag in one hand and a can of Carling in the other, and next to him was a 'dolly bird' in a gold lame jumpsuit. And you could see he was thinking, 'Which of these three things shall I have first?'." See yesterday's post as the row about events at the final Formula One race of the season at Abu Dhabi rumbles on.
Anyway, back with James Hunt ... his was a turbulent life lived to the limit - in and out of racing cars. He won the F1 World Championship in 1976, but even at the pinnacle of his racing achievement he was out to enjoy life to the full and never took himself too seriously.
Early on along his motor racing career he distinguished himself more for crashes and the occasional shemozzle with rivals. He became known as Hunt the Shunt for his many accidents in lower formulas. Perhaps in the pit lane he was known as Hunt the Shunt the **** (you don't need me to replace the asterisks).
He died of a heart attack in his sleep on the 15th of June 1993, aged 45. Among those shocked by his sudden passing was his old friend and rival the Austrian F1 driver and aviation entrepreneur, Niki Lauda (1949-2019), who said: "For me, James Hunt was the most charismatic personality who's ever been in Formula One."
I guess that view remains as true today as ever.
Anyway, I was intrigued by the picture of James Hunt mentioned by Jeremy Clarkson, so did a quick search ... and there it was, all over the shop...
What is fascinating about Jeremy Clarkson's entertaining style of writing is how he exaggerates everything and, how shall we say this, is somewhat economical with the actuality when he wants to make a song-and-dance point of order.
For Exhibit A, see above photo. James Hunt is clearly not thinking whether he should have the fag, or the can of Carling, or the girl alongside him first, because he is already smoking.
Back in the day, lovers were known to have a cigarette in those relaxevoo moments after making love, but James Hunt being James Hunt obviously had his fag before making love. And why not?
Indeed, the word in the pit lane back then was that he could pleasure the ladies as fast as they formed an orderly queue. And being that he died in his bed of an unexpected heart attack, is it possible that he actually died on the job, so to speak?
Great photo though, which sums up the James Hunt character
rather splendidly. And you can see why the Top Gear crew had it
up there on their office wall.
Jeremy Clarkson writes ... "Back in the glory days of Top Gear we had a giant picture on our office wall of Formula One World Champion James Hunt (1947-1993) sitting on his McLaren after a race with a fag in one hand and a can of Carling in the other, and next to him was a 'dolly bird' in a gold lame jumpsuit. And you could see he was thinking, 'Which of these three things shall I have first?'." Jeremy continues...
"It's almost certain you couldn't put up a picture like that in the BBC today. Drink, smoking, fast cars and girls are all not allowed. And yet F1 has edged its way from those days to this weekend and survived."
Yes, Jeremy writing in The Sunday Times about today's title-deciding final Formula One race of the season in Abu Dhabi, under the headline "Sorry Lewis. I'm rooting for mad Max". Both Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen (mad Max: red rag in a Red Bull car?) were equal on points going into today's race.
I don't normally watch Formula One these days because it's mostly hidden behind a paywall, and when the occasional race is shown free-to-air on Channel 4, I tend to end up reading the Sunday paper, only looking up when something terribly exciting happens and I catch up with it on the replays.
Today's race was a case in point, with two incidents of interest, the second involving something complicated following the crash of an also-ran driver which meant the safety car had to be called in and which bunched all the cars up removing the time advantage Hamilton had built up prior to the accident.
This meant the race came down to the one, final lap, which generated much confusion, especially so for a simple country boy like me. Whatever, "mad Max" won - Jeremy Clarkson never explained in his article why he was rooting for the Dutch driver rather than Hamilton, but I can guess.
Anyway, both the winner of the race and the championship was "mad Max", but apparently, the race result is being legally challenged by Hamilton's Mercedes team because of all the chaos leading up to that critical final lap (Grand Theft Auto?).
All very complex, and effortlessly confirms why I won't be watching another Formula 1 race in the foreseeable future.
Incidentally, with Channel 4 providing free-to-air coverage, the viewing figures of a chaotic season-ending race will make interesting reading. I am intrigued how many potential participants and freelance zap-a-dee-doo-dah viewers like me are lost when sports disappear behind a pay wall.
The Spellchecker made a pit stop at Verstappen, as in "mad
Max Verstappen", and suggested Overstepped. How deliciously
ironic is that?
Reasons to be cheerful - 6
I say, I say, I say ... "What did the horse say after it tripped? 'Help! I've fallen and I can't giddy-up!'" That's a typical Xmas cracker joke if ever I heard one - but stick with me on this one, there's method in my sillyness.
The other day I had the following letter published in the Western Mail...
Reasons to smile amid the doom and gloom
The first of a couple of incidental joys of watching horse
racing on ITV - and I speak as someone who thinks of clothes
fashion only as something found in the dictionary - is admiring
the effortlessly stylish elegance of presenter Francesca Cumani,
38, always looking as if, on her way home, she will pop in to
see the Queen for tea and a chat about the latest on the horse
Five-star letters from Middle-Britain - 10
Duck soup? ... "Like many readers, I too have some elderly foodstuffs in my cupboard, including a tin of duck cassoulet, bought in Paris in the 1990s. I plan to eat it before I die. Probably just before. Liz Fuller of Old London Town, in a letter to The Guardian.
Now that generated a smile and a nod. As did the following, which is not a letter but a quote, but it juxtaposes rather wonderfully with the above:
Popty ping! ... "I love entertaining but I hate cooking. I use my smoke alarm as a timer." Author Kathy Lette, 63, admits her failings in the kitchen.
"Popty ping" is of course the Welsh word for microwave - or "mee-cro-wah-vay" as the gloriously pretentious Domestic Goddess, i.e. English food writer and television cook, Nigella Lawson, 61, bizarrely pronounces it - so I never miss an opportunity to use the Welsh version because it rolls so beautifully off the tongue.
Back with Nigella Lawson, and the ridicule she heaped upon herself with her pronunciation of microwave on the BBC, she recently remarked: "I'm now too self-conscious, so I have to say, 'Pop it in the-you-know-what'."
The Spellchecker stopped at cassoulet, as in "duck
cassoulet", and suggested assault, followed by
assoiled (meaning "to pardon or atone for a sin"). Perhaps when Liz
Fuller eats her tinned duck cassoulet from the 1990s, she will
be both assaulted and assoiled.
A week is a long time in politics
Terms, Conditions and Bullshit apply ... "All guidance was followed completely." Boris Johnson, from a week ago during Prime Minister's Questions about reports he and his Downing Street staff broke strict Covid rules by attending two parties in the run-up to last Christmas.
That was the PM's initial response when rumours of said parties first surfaced. Over the following seven days the sky fell on Boris's head with such a thump that it echoed around the nation.
Perhaps best summed up compliments of today's Sun newspaper front page...
"Do as I say, not as I Christmas do" the Sun says in its usual clever way, around an image of Boris as the Grinch. The paper adds that it is "one rule for them - you can do as you please till you get found out".
Oh yes, let's not forget those four rules for us, the peasants, the common or garden lot: compulsory face masks, Covid passports, home working, and Omicron contact tests.
Hm, "one rule for them, one rule for us"? Hasn't that always been the way of the world? And always will be? I mean, you have to smile, otherwise you would go mad.
Oh, and I particularly enjoyed these two letters, as spotted in The Daily Telegraph:
Crash, bang, wallop! ... "As a timely reminder not to drink and drive after a Christmas party, Boris Johnson has crashed the car again." Paul Gaynor of Windermere, Cumbria.
Oh dear: "Blow into this bag, please Prime Minister." And I
guess another brick in the wall won't repair the damage this
time. Or will it? Watch this space.
Letters from Middle-Britain - 28
Rings a bell ... "Whenever I see Boris on the telly sporting a hard hat, a hi-viz jacket, a face mask, and bumping elbows with every Tom, Dick and Harriett he meets, I am reminded that 'Omicron' is an anagram of 'Moronic'." My good pal Chief Wise Owl comes up with a smiley observation, which leads neatly into some prime letters.
And talking of "Click! What a picture, what a photograph..."
Bojo alert ... "Given Boris Johnson's endless hospital photo opportunities, I have for some months carried a Boriscard, which states that I do not wish the PM to visit me in hospital under any circumstances. These cards are available, and free, from the excellent independent bookshop News From Nowhere, on Bold Street in Liverpool." Jean Davies of Wootton, Liverpool, in a letter to The Guardian.
Back on the world stage...
The wolf and the lambs ... "As Boris Johnson and other world leaders struggle to save humanity in the face of global warming, they would do well to reflect on the old Russian proverb: 'It's no good the sheep voting for all animals to be vegetarian unless they get the wolf to sign up!' Just ask China." Vic Molyneux of Groby, Leicestershire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
And finally, a touch of realism, which flirts with the truth...
Morphing tunnel vision into peripheral vision ... "Politicians know the right thing to do to save humanity given the challenge of a climate catastrophe. They just don't know how to get re-elected when they've done it." Martin Rees, 79, the Astronomer Royal.
I say "flirts with the truth" ... see the previous letter from Vic Molyneux.
China is a dictatorship and President Xi Jinping, 68, has voted
himself in for life, so he doesn't have to worry about getting
re-elected. Yet he appears to put domination of the world stage
ahead of saving humanity (search China's determination to burn
coal for as long as possible).
♪♪♪: Knees bent, arms stretched...
I say, I say, I say ... "I used to be addicted to the hokey-cokey ... but I've turned myself around - and that's what it's all about!" Joke of the day, as spotted in the Daily Mail.
Well it made me smile. Just as the following weird and wonderful human form shaped by nature in a wire fence, as spotted along my daily walk into town...
Yes, it looks like a person, sitting on a shooting stick, perhaps at a race meeting, and watching events on his or her iPad. Mother Nature's human form has no specific support, apart from the fence itself; it's just the undergrowth having crept up and fashioned itself into that shape.
The fence was put there back at the beginning of the pandemic to block a footpath shortcut through what was originally a parking space but became a beer garden at the rear of Yr Hen Vic (The Old Victoria) pub in Llandeilo. I first remember the place as The Victoria watering hole, which then became a sports club, but has reverted back to being a pub and restaurant for the past 14 years.
Yep, there are always plenty of things to smile about if you
keep your eyes and ears alert to the world about you - rather,
that is, than forever looking down at your iPad or mobile as you
shuffle about this glorious planet of ours.
Santa goes doo-loo-lally
Time to mull ... "Flying off the shelves in my local supermarket today were orange and cinnamon-scented lavatory rolls. I resisted, though I will confess to a baffling moment of temptation." Deb Carroll of Stockport, Cheshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
The above drew some interesting responses...
Festive furnishing ... "The festive offer of scented lavatory rolls discovered by Deb Carroll is surpassed by Matalan's lavatory-seat cover adorned with Father Christmas's head and a mat featuring the rest of Santa. I am happy to confess that I did not have a moment of temptation to buy." Geoffrey Kendall of Liverpool.
So that sent me online for a quick swipe or two ... and found the following...
I must say, I liked the chimney housing the spare orange and cinnamon-scented loo roll, ho, ho, ho.
And then there appeared this gem of a letter:
For your eyes only
... "Christmas-themed lavatory seat covers are not new. Almost
40 years ago, after visiting relatives in Canada, we brought
back a cover with a beaming Father Christmas face on the
uppermost side. When one lifted the lid, the same face had
mittened hands positioned decorously over the eyes.
Well, it brought a smile to my face just thinking about it.
No doggy equals a no-go area
Compulsory canine ... "Dogs must be kept on a lead. A person who does not have a dog on a lead in this area is committing an offence and could result in a fixed penalty notice..." An amused vicar tweets a Herefordshire County Council notice, as spotted in his square mile.
Sunday is a perfect day to enjoy this confusing tweet, so over to you, Amused Vicar, for prayers. But first: "Let us all smile."
As journalist and columnist Emma Duncan observes regarding the
doggy notice: "I am a firm believer that dogs enhance people's
lives, but even I would not go that far."
Apostle Apostrophe and the Pedants
Pedant's petard ... "This went viral online, made all the more poignant by the final word: 'Text from wife: "Your great." Reply from me: "No, you're great." She's been happy all day. Should I tell her I was only correcting her grammer?'" David Leech of Balcombe, West Sussex, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
That letter was published a little while back, around the time the Apostrophe Protection Society was disbanded, having failed in its mission to halt the crucifixion of the humble squiggle.
In Britain, the apostrophe has, for some time, been vanishing from street signs and the like. However, the incorrect use of the apostrophe continues to generate much joy, especially so in shop notices, witness the following letters, as enjoyed in the Daily Mail's "Straight to the Point" corner...
Work, rest and play ... "The ultimate example of apostrophe misuse: 'Mar's Bar's, the cheapest in Wale's.'" Sandy Thompson of Cardiff.
Yes, very tasty, but...
Let them eat cake ... "Spotted outside a local cafe: 'Gateau's.'" Annie Carr of Snettisham, Norfolk.
Five a day ... "In addition to potatoe's and carrot's, a greengrocer at my local market has collie's for sale." Angela Hollis of Nuneaton, Warwickshire.
Hm, I wonder how many of such examples are deliberate mistakes to generate attention, bearing in mind of course that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
This final letter sums it all up with a neat touch of humour:
Fetch! ... "Collie's spotted on a market stall are to help the owner round up his price's." Ian MacDonald of Billericay, Essex.
The computer Spellchecker obviously came to a stop at grammer
and suggested grammar; apropos the wayward
apostrophes, it only came to a stop at Potatoe's, suggesting
Potatoes', and carrot's , suggesting carrots.
All the other misplaced humble squiggles slipped through the
Guide me, O Thou Great Guardian
Should have made a meal of sex ... "The great sex guide takes up two pages in print (Saturday Magazine, 27 November), whereas Feast warrants more than 30 pages. Does this reflect readers' priorities, or do we just need more help with cooking than sex?" Toby Wood of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, in a letter to The Guardian.
That smiley missive drew a couple of intriguing responses...
Second serve ... "A very good point, Toby Wood, on great sex vs food. The imbalance speaks to the quote from the English novelist and poet of the Victorian era, George Meredith, and his 1859 novel The Ordeal of Richard Feverel: A history of Father and Son - 'Kissing don't last ... cookery do.'" Siobhan Ni Chuanaigh of Dublin.
Deuce ... "Many years ago, my wife and I brought back a kitchen ornament from Pennsylvania that had the words 'Kissing don't last ... cooking do' on it. We never liked it, and in 66 years of marriage proved that it is not true." Rev Peter B Godfrey of King's Stanley, Gloucestershire.
Hm, you pays your money and takes your choice. I guess the good
Reverend makes a point that challenges the general rule. Mind
you, sex and cooking have something in common: once you've had your fill you
will be hungry again in no time.
Nothing new under the sun ... "Snowflakes are one of nature's most fragile things, but look at what they can do when they stick together." Author uncertain, but believed to be American Vesta M Kelly (1901-1988).
Yesterday was the first day of meteorological winter, and I pondered aloud whether this year a white Christmas is on the cards. So today it seemed perfect to acknowledge the Christmas lights and decorations adorning my home town.
What caught my eye was a snowman in the window of The Zen Den, a therapy and beauty salon in Llandeilo ... and it took me back to the snowy Christmas of 2010 mentioned yesterday, and a proper snowman spotted sitting on a bench in the grounds of historic landmark Llandyfeisant Church, situated just half a mile or so west of the town of Llandeilo...
A decorative snowman in the window of The Zen
Den, Llandeilo, 2021...
Ah, from a perfectly fabricated snowman, to the magic of the
real thing, both worthy of a 5-Star smile. Mind you, if the real
thing is a snowman, as opposed to a snowwoman, then it looks as
if his crown jewels have gone missing in action, perhaps a
passing fox had them for breakfast.
First day of meteorological winter
"♪♪♪: I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the one from 11 years ago..." Memories of a snowy Christmas in west Wales.
It's a question that the weather forecasters will increasingly be asked as we approach December 25th: "Are we going to have a white Christmas?"
But, as the meteorologists never tire of reminding us: statistics inform us that here in the UK, and excepting the high ground of Scotland, we are much more likely to have snow at Easter than Christmas, which confirms the observation that we do indeed tend to have snow over the second half of winter.
The last proper snowy Christmas here in west Wales was in 2010, and here's a photo I took, which reminds me of that particularly cold and snowy but picture-postcardy December...
I am reminded of last weekend's storm Arwen, which, as explained a couple of days ago, I mistakenly thought was a Welsh girl's name I had never heard of, and that the romantic in me thought Arwen meant "beautiful as a snowy landscape", or literally, "on white".
Oh yes, meteorological winter has this year kicked off on a
grey, cold note. So who knows what lies in store as we approach
the end of December.
Last day of meteorological autumn
"Autumn ... the year's last, loveliest smile." William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), American romantic poet and journalist.
It has been a particularly colourful autumn. Yesterday I mentioned storm Arwen, the first named storm of the 2021-22 season, a particularly vicious affair which left a trail of death and destruction across the country.
What made the autumn of 2021 so colourful was the absence of storms and high winds. It was a particularly quiet season which of course meant the leaves remained on the trees much longer for us to treasure. Indeed, "the year's last, loveliest smile".
So much so, along my daily early-morning walk into town, I would pass a tree where its leaves would gently drift to the ground in an undisturbed manner...
In a typical Welsh autumn the leaves will blow away as they fall, but this year's quiet and remarkably windless season meant the leaves formed a perfect circle directly beneath the tree.
Wonderful. And such a rare sight to enjoy and smile along with.
Oh, and I particularly enjoyed the irony of the ambulance
passing in the background, which I hadn't noticed at the time.
Huw and Smile 2021: November
Huw and Smile 2021: October
Huw and Smile 2021: September
Huw and Smile 2021: August
Huw and Smile 2021: July
Huw and Smile 2021: June
Huw and Smile 2021: May
Huw and Smile 2021: April
Huw and Smile 2021: March
Huw and Smile 2021: February Huw and Smile 2021: January
Huw and Smile 2020: December
Huw and Smile 2020: November Huw and Smile 2020: October
Huw and Smile 2020: September Huw and Smile 2020: August
Huw and Smile 2020: July Huw and Smile 2020: June
Huw and Smile 2020: May Huw and Smile 2020: April
Huw and Smile 2020: January to March
Huw and Smile 2019: October to December