You say pronounciation,
I say pronunciation...

Come again? ...  "Pacifically." The word voted the most annoyingly mispronounced, according to a new poll - it should be "specifically".

And here is the best response spotted thus far...

If I had a hammer ... "An editor on the radio station where I worked years ago rang me to ask if the actors in the play I had just reported on had broken all their teeth. 'You said they were hammer chewers,' he explained. 'It is "amma-ter".' I have said 'amateur' that way ever since." David Beake of Budock Water, Cornwall, in a letter to The Guardian.

And that came to mind today while watching the Tour de France, and Eurosport's commentator Rob Hatch talking about new stars of the sport having worked their way up through the "'ammer chewer ranks", ho, ho, ho.

There, you will now never stop noticing the people who talk endlessly about "hammer chewers".


Football's coming Rome

Tuesday's MATT front page cartoon, The Daily Telegraph ... A man is at home, in the living room, looking out of the window, and is on the telephone: "I'm not coming into the office today. I'm WFH - Watching Football at Home." A typically smiley effort from the ever-witty MATT.

Yes, I watched and cheered England's well-deserved 2-0 Euro win over Germany, the first time England have beaten their old rivals in the knockout stages of a major football tournament since 1966 when, incidentally, they won the World Cup for the first and only time, beating Germany 4-2 in the process. (Fifty-five years without a tournament win against the Germans and their penalty-taking specialists is an astonishing statistic.)

Following the game I particularly liked the play on England's "Football's Coming Home", a snippet from the Three Lions song written by comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner for the Euro campaign of 1996, which was hosted by England, but Germany beat England in the semi-final compliments of the dreaded penalty knockouts.

With England's quarter-final against Ukraine being played in Italy next Saturday, "Football's Coming Rome" is rather clever.

Yes, I like a picture-perfect-pun.

Jumping ahead to the morning after the night before...

Wednesday's MATT front page cartoon, The Daily Telegraph ... A couple at home watching the television, which displays the on-screen headline 'ENGLAND BEAT GERMANY', and the woman, with arms crossed against her chest in frustration, is saying to the man: "I thought Boris promised that everything would be returning to normal." 10/10.


Confusions 'R' Us

Musical chairs masks ... "In Parliament, MPs wear masks while sitting but take them off when standing up to speak. In pubs, people wear masks when standing up but take them off when they sit down." Diana Kimpton of Cowes, Isle of Wight, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Yesterday, I mentioned the Telegraph survey of its readership which rated the Letters page its most interesting read, so I thought I would share a couple of examples which raise some wonderful points regarding the doolallyness of the passing parade, whilst at the same time generating a smile.

The above letter perfectly highlights the total confusion over Covid rules regarding the places where people gather in crowds, and the numbers allowed - generous limits in pubs and football matches, but very limited numbers in chapels and churches for services, weddings and funerals. Someone did wonder if it was okay to have more than 30 guests for a wedding if it was held in a football stadium.

And then I caught sight of a clickbait: "Hiring an e-scooter? Wear a helmet! Study warns that 28% of injuries are to the head and neck - including concussion, lacerations and brain damage." Yes, e-scooters are generating quite a bad press regarding their flamboyant and dangerous use in public spaces, especially on pavements and shopping precincts. And that drew this letter, again to The Daily Telegraph:

Charge of the bike brigade ... "I wonder whether the safety feasibility studies for e-scooters and smart motorways were done by the same people." Susan Sang of Petersfield, Hampshire.

Indeed, Susan Sang - but is anybody listening to your song? As has also been pointed out: if electrically powered cars are rated as motorcars, why are electrically powered bikes and e-scooters not rated as motorbikes - with all the legal requirements the law demands?

Bonkersness around every corner. Go well, go, er, Shell!


Sunday is knock-knock day

Who's there?
Grim who?

I may have mentioned before about a Telegraph survey which asked its readership to rate its regular contents on a scale of 'Interesting' to 'Uninteresting' - the newspaper's Letters page was voted its most interesting read (I heartily endorse), just ahead of the Obituaries. Talking of which...

A recent obituary was of Edward de Bono, famous thinker, born on May 19, 1933. He died of undisclosed causes on June 9, 2021, aged 88. The world-renowned Maltese doctor, philosopher, psychologist and all-round polymath, wrote scores of books and came up with the famous term 'lateral thinking'.

He predicted that his epitaph would read: "Here lies Edward de Bono, lateral to the last."

And that set me thinking ... perhaps, more correctly, it should read:

"Over there lies Edward de Bono, lateral to the last."


The mourning after the morning before

[Yesterday, I rounded off my joy and doolallyness post eagerly anticipating today's Daily Telegraph front page. Well now...]

Saturday's MATT cartoon, The Daily Telegraph ... A woman wearing a rather startled look is sitting in an armchair, perusing an open newspaper, and its front page reads "HANCOCK & AIDE PHOTOS". Standing over her is presumably her husband, holding a cuppa, he also studying the "photos", and is saying...

Well, today's papers and media outlets have been awash with the captured CCTV pictures of Matt Hancock doing his thing, so I share one of the grabs here, together with MATT's marvellous line to his cartoon...

"That's not how you take a Covid swab..."

I guess my line of choice would go: "Of all the office joints in all the towns in all the world..." I know, I know, but today I enjoyed my favourite film on television, Casablanca. (Endlessly more entertaining than watching Wales getting thumped 4-0 by Denmark in the Euros.)

Anyway, what I didn't quite understand yesterday was how the photos accompanying the hold-the-front-page exclusive by The Sun (see above) carried the newspaper's copyright tag - I mean, how could the paper copyright images that had been captured off CCTV cameras inside a government building? Today, the copyright tag had disappeared.

Also, and as I mentioned yesterday, questions have been asked as to why Matt Hancock did not realise there was a CCTV camera in his office capturing all his, er, comings and goings.

I guess we will hear much more about this, especially the security angle.

By the end of today, Matt Hancock had, unsurprisingly, resigned from the cabinet, ended his 15-year marriage, and disappeared into the sunset.

Oh yes, Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said, also unsurprisingly: "Matt Hancock is right to resign. But Boris Johnson should have sacked him."   


A day is a long time in politics

[Yesterday, I rounded off my joy and doolallyness post with this question: "What could tomorrow possibly hold in store?" Well now...]

Thursday morning: a newspaper clickbait ... "Queen's sympathy for 'hopeless' Matt Hancock: 'I've just been talking to your Secretary of State for Health - poor man!'" It's been a tough few weeks for Health Secretary Matt Hancock - but an expression of sympathy from the Queen yesterday will surely have left him feeling a little better.

The monarch described the Health Secretary as "poor man" as she met Boris Johnson at Buckingham Palace for the first time since the start of the pandemic 15 months ago. However, the PM went on to tell the Queen that Hancock was "full of beans", a turn of phrase that would, in short order, add a touch of Monty Python's Flying Circus to proceedings.

This morning, Friday: The Sun front page splash with grainy picture of Matt Hancock kissing a lady who is not his wife ... "HANCOCK'S AFFAIR WITH AIDE." Cheating Health Secretary's affair with married aide exposed after office snogs during Covid: married Matt Hancock, 42, and married millionaire lobbyist Gina Coladangelo, 43, who he hired with taxpayer's money, were caught in a steamy clinch at his Whitehall office last month. He is filmed on CCTV "rubbing her back and bottom during their workplace embrace".

Ah yes, "a steamy clinch", something that's been off the menu for a while now, what with social distancing and all that jazz.

Whatever, I've said it afore, and I'll say it agin: the cleverest people around - and you have to be a little bit clever to become the nation's Health Secretary - are also the most stupid people around - did it never occur to this idiot that there were CCTV cameras everywhere and constantly monitoring everything at his Whitehall office.

Not so much a Hancock, more a Hanprick.

Mind you, I don't quite see the point of saying that the lady with Hancock's fingerprints all over her bottom was "hired with taxpayer's money" - aren't all politicians and their staff-cum-aides paid with taxpayer money?

Anyway, here's what Dan Wootton of Mail Online had to say: "Hands, face, space? More like Handsy, eat face, no space. The insufferable, cheating 'effing useless Hancock' is now a national joke and must go today."

Well, I think the nation is in need of a good laugh, or two, or three...

And talking of which, here's a quick rundown of my favourite comments thus far...


Karen: "I must admit I never in my wildest dreams thought that Matt Hancock and Sex Scandal would be mentioned in the same sentence."

Brian: "There may be an innocent explanation for those pictures. Let's give Matt the benefit of the doubt."

And talking of Matt, I can't wait to see MATT's cartoon in The Daily Telegraph come Saturday morning.


One thing leads to another...

Effortless links ... "Tuesday: the tale of the super-famous racehorse Shergar, alive and well and living under an assumed mane; yesterday: the story of little known racehorse Dream Alliance winning big, and Aussie actress Toni Collette on the perils of perfecting a Welsh accent but sounding Indian, like someone from Carry On Up the Khyber; and today...?" Yes, the curious way one thing can effortlessly lead to another...

So there I am, on my early-morning walk into town, and as is my wont, rounding up discarded litter - the usual suspects: plastic bottles, cans, chocolate wrappers, crisp packets, face masks - and there's a beer bottle, so I pick it up and read the unfamiliar label...

A discarded India pale ale bottle generates curiosity

I smile as my eye catches the "India Pale Ale". Hm, a beer called IPA, by The Lagunitas Brewing Company of Petaluma, California. So why India Pale Ale?

Well, I learn that India pale ale (IPA) is a beefed-up version of pale ale, made using more hops and with a higher alcohol content. Created in England in the early 1800s, the name is a result of its popularity with British troops stationed in India in the 19th century, when the subcontinent was still a British colony. The beer was originally brewed for export to India, hence India pale ale.

And we are back with another link to yesterday's tale of Deolali, aka Doolally Tap, aka doolally.

IPA is now the signature of craft brewers worldwide, which explains the above bottle boasting an American identity (but brewed "in the Netherlands, under supervision of The Lagunitas Brewing Company", I learn from the label). Yes, every day is a day at school.

That said, glass has to be disposed of differently to other rubbish so I take it home, and given its curiosity value, take a photo - before adding it to my glass bag for future disposal.

What could tomorrow possibly hold in store?


From Shergar to Dream Alliance

There's lovely ... "It really scared me because if you go too far, you end up in India." Australian actress, singer and songwriter Toni Collette, 48, on the perils of trying to perfect a Welsh accent for the film Dream Horse.

Yesterday, it was Shergar alive and well and living under an assumed mane; today, it's the true story of Dream Alliance, the racehorse owned by a syndicate of villagers paying 10 quid a week, which overcame all imaginable odds to win the Welsh Grand National in 2009, and which has now been made into a well-received feel good Hollywood movie.

Toni Collette plays Jan Vokes, the barmaid who raised the racehorse on her allotment in the village of Cefn Fforest, near Blackwood in South Wales. Vokes was working in a local pub when she overheard a tax adviser talking about a racehorse he had once owned.

It inspired her to buy a mare in an effort to breed a racehorse - and the rest, as they say, is a 60-1 shock winner at Chepstow racecourse and a Hollywood picture about life on the sunny side of the street.

However, I was attracted to the Collette quotation about her Welsh accent sounding Indian because it really is true that the accents do flirt with each other. I remember the film Carry On Up the Khyber, where the exterior shots were filmed in the Snowdonia mountains of North Wales, which was funny because the Indian accents really did sound very Welsh.

And talking of Indian accents, one of my favourite sitcom lines comes from the BBC's now grounded It Ain't Half Hot Mum, a television sitcom about an exceedingly bad Royal Artillery concert party of misfits based in Deolali in British India, featuring the fictional village of Tin Min in Burma, during the last months of the Second World War.

Michael Bates, plays Rangi Ram, the concert party's native bearer who is very proud to be of service to the army, and who starts off most sentences with "There is an old Hindu proverb which says...". I fondly recall some shemozzle involving the locals, and Rangi Ram says to the concert party: "We British must stick together", which rings so wonderfully ironic these days here in the UK.

But I digress. Back with Toni Collette worrying about sounding a little bit Indian, Jan Vokes offered her assessment on the Australian's version of her Welsh accent, saying: "She mastered it almost to perfection. She took me off really well."

"All's well that ends well," as Rangi Ram would doubtless say, adding: "We Commenwealthees must stick together."

PS: Deolali ... Yes the word "doolally", which features regularly hereabouts, or originally "doolally tap", meaning to lose one's mind, derived from the boredom felt at Deolali British Army transit camp, which would drive the men, er, doolally, as they waited to be transported home.

PPS: Unlike poor old Shergar, Dream Alliance is still alive and well and enjoying retirement in the green, green fields of Somerset with his former stable girl, Clare Sandercock.


Wordplay of the day

Horse sense ... "We might get a better result if the investigation officer had been kidnapped and Shergar was looking for him." A comment made by a journalist after a shambolic press conference by the Garda (the national police service of the Republic of Ireland) in1983 following its unsuccessful investigation into the sensational theft and unpaid two-million quid ransom demand for the super-famous Irish-bred, British-trained thoroughbred racehorse.

The unsolved disappearance of the reportedly highly intelligent stallion, owned by the Aga Khan, has just surfaced again because one Vanilla Ice, 53, the American rapper, actor and television host, is looking into the disappearance of Shergar.

Although fascinated by horses since childhood, one of Vanilla Ice's more curious throwaway lines is that he won't ride a horse because "I like to be in control, as opposed to riding something with a brain". Good luck with the investigation.

There were many comments in the media on the theft (allegedly by the IRA), especially so the re-emergence of Vanilla Ice to present a BBC podcast on the Shergar mystery - but galloping up full pelt on the rails and trailing all the other comments in its wake was this corker...

"Shergar is alive and well and living under an assumed mane." Graham Thomas.


Hammer the message home

Blue wall revisited ... "The blue wall will always be there because the system supports it." Frank Serpico, 85, a retired American detective ... serving with the New York City Police Department (NYPD), he is best known for whistleblowing on police corruption in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which led to a film, Serpico, released in 1973.

Following yesterday's knock-knock routine featuring Liberal Democrats leader Ed 'I-Have-A-Hammer' Davey knocking six bells out of a Tory blue wall, I searched online for any amusing observations about the incident ... and stumbled upon the above quotation by Frank Serpico, which of course has nothing to do with the blue of politics but everything to do with the blue of law and order.

But of course Serpico's line is also true about the blue of British politics.

Whatever, I did also stumble upon a good story linked to Ed 'I-Have-A-Hammer' Davey, a tale connected to the widely derided photo op in which he symbolically smashed a blue wall with a small orange mallet (see the picture feature, yesterday). And he came out swinging...

Davey denied claims from a party source that plans to have him smash the wall with a sledgehammer were abandoned amid fears "about Ed not being able to lift it". He responded: "That is a very inaccurate and ill-informed rumour." He refused to confirm whether party activists had expected to win and invested in some blue bricks in advance, laughing: "That's way above my pay grade."

Anyway, it's a thumpingly good story - and I must admit I hadn't noticed he was using such a small weapon of mass destruction, otherwise I'd have christened him Ed 'I-Have-A-Mallet' Davey, which doesn't hold quite the same menace.

Never a dull moment observing the passing parade.


Sunday is knock-knock day

's there?
Is that Mister Ed, the talking horse?
No, Boris, you buffoon, it's SIR Ed - Sir Ed 'I-Have-A-Hammer' Davey - and I am here to flatten your blue wall and turn it into a yellow brick road...

Yes, Thursday's shock Chesham and Amersham by-election result, where the expected also-ran Liberal Democrats overturned a Conservative majority of 16,233 in the 2019 general election to secure a stunning upset with a majority of 8,028. Truly hold-the-front-page stuff - and this is where Ed 'I-Have-A-Hammer' Davey comes in...

Image of the week

Ed 'I-Have-A-Hammer' Davey sets about turning
the blue wall into a yellow brick road

So, a hefty warning shot across the bows for Boris Johnson. You ignore those who traditionally worship at the foot of your totem pole at your peril.

And I can hear Lib Dem leader Ed 'I-Have-A-Hammer' Davey getting his backing group together to lead the nation in a rousing singalong of The Hammer Song (with apologies to the ghost of Trini Lopez)...

♪♪♪: Yes, I've GOT a hammer,
         And I'm going to hammer in the morning,
         And I'm going to hammer in the evening,
         All over this land.
         I'll hammer out danger,
         I'll hammer out a warning,
         I'll hammer out love between
         My brothers and my sisters, ah-ah,
         All over this land...


Woke watch - 3

Keir Starmer's woke on the wild side ... "Labour leader Keir Starmer dodges saying whether he is a 'woke bloke' amid fears he is out of step with Red Wall voters, claiming Britons 'haven't the faintest idea' what the term means." Starmer went on to point out that the latest poll confirms that 90% of people haven't got the faintest idea what we are talking about when we say "woke", adding: "And a good thing too."

I understand absolutely where Keir Starmer is coming from and why he sidestepped confirming whether he is a dreaded "woke bloke". It is one of those shapeshifter words that take on a different meaning every time you look behind the shop front.

Think of something like the letters BBC, which over the past 30 years have taken on a life all of their own as the Corporation's elite rulers became increasingly divorced from the real world - now be honest, does anyone really believe that the millions watching the Euros football tournament on the BBC do so because Garry Lineker - officially its highest paid "entertainer" by far - is the host? People tune in to watch the football, full stop.

And that is why these days we talk of nothing but the Bonkers Broadcasting Cohort.

"Woke" too has become a bit of a shapeshifter word. Originally it was defined as: "To be awake to sensitive social issues, such as racism." Or, the Urban Dictionary definition: "Being 'woke' means being aware ... knowing what's going on in the community (related to racism and social injustice)." A definition which puts it beyond criticism.

But the word has been hijacked by all sorts of people pushing their own personal agenda. So what best describes its current meaning? Well...

"Woke: holding an opinion that must never be challenged."

I guess that perfectly embraces the curious notion that, these days, anyone questioning others' thinking is instantly cancelled.

Unless, of course, someone out there has a better definition.


Woke watch - 2

Bojo goes all wishy-washy ... "Boris Johnson urges the world to be 'more gender-neutral, feminine and green' as it re-builds and recovers after Covid in bizarre opening remarks at the G7 summit in Cornwall." A curious clickbait spotted following last weekend's meeting of elbow-bumping world leaders.

Ah, the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade, as spotted from the relative safety of the grassy knoll. But pray, what in God's name is a more "gender-neutral and feminine" recovery? As was amusingly pointed out, it "sounds like some kind of confused tampon commercial, presumably a Mrs Johnson-inspired word salad".

And anyway, how can something be both gender-neutral and feminine at the same time? It comes across as a load of glorious old bollocks.

Or more correctly, it doesn't, because it sounds as if Boris, hush my mouth, has mislaid his bollocks - for example, during the 2005 general election campaign he typically and famously/infamously said that "voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3".

Yes, clearly Boris has gone from a bloke's bloke to a woke on the wild side. Or more alarmingly, do you suppose he is suffering from some sort of Long Covid following his brush with death in April 2020?

This would help explain, I guess, the curious decisions and pronouncements he is putting his name to these days, indeed I submit the following as Exhibit A: "The world needs to be more gender-neutral and feminine."

Your witness!


Five-star letters from Middle-Britain - 4

Here's lookin' at you ... "Three glasses of wine can cut a woman's chances of pregnancy by almost a half [according to a study at the University of Louisville]? In my experience, they greatly increase the chances." Carol Bond of Ware, Hertfordshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Wonderful. Now if only Carol had lived in a place called Beware.

And talking of honesty...

Truth said in jest ... "Regarding memorable sitcom lines, most pithy and appropriate is the remark of PM Jim Hacker in Yes, Prime Minister: "I don't want a fact-finding inquiry, I want to know what happened." John Fox of Edgware, Middlesex, in a letter to The Times.

Yes, I can hear Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying: "I don't want the enquiry into how the Government handled the pandemic to be a whitewash; I want the people to know what really happened, including how many critical errors of judgment I was responsible for."

Gosh, can you imagine?


The 'First Law of Holes'

Sorry to be a bore ... "Taken together, the total combined depth of Britain's 900,000 potholes [let's call it a million for a better echo] is roughly 20 miles ['roughly' being properly befitting]. To put that into perspective, were you to bore down into the Earth that far, you would find yourself three times deeper than the deepest point of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean." A report [marginally paraphrased] spotted in The Times newspaper.

But have you ever wondered how potholes get started?

Walking into town early morning, especially at this time of year, I am always surprised how many birds I encounter on the road, busily pecking away, particularly at the edges. This applies to both country lane and town road (especially so early morning when there is little traffic).

Indeed I remember reading that certain types of birds, usually those that feed on seeds that have a husk, need to eat some grit or gravel - let's call it a kind of roughage - which then sits in the crop to grind up the food and help digestion. The harder the food, the more grit the bird will need.

Most mornings I encounter pigeons busily pecking away, usually in the middle of the road, dodging traffic, see here...

How potholes begin their lives

Ferrero Roughage: "Mmm, you spoil us, Mr Ambassador..."

And as seen above, they are invariably pecking away where there is some rutting - spot the delight with eye closed in exceedingly good appreciation. Obviously pecking away at the edges makes it easier to dislodge the grit ... which eventually leads to a pothole further down the line.

So that's how potholes get started. Feed the birds, indeed.

PS: The 'First Law of Holes' - "When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging" - first appeared in the Washington Post in 1911, in the form "Nor would a wise man, seeing that he was in a hole, go to work and blindly dig deeper... ", but made famous by the American humorist Will Rogers (1879-1935) compliments of his Eight Rules for Life (more of which at a later date, if spared).


Now you see it...

Now you don't ... "I have an extensive collection of invisible statues for sale for a few grand if anyone is interested." Phil North of Brigg, Lincolnshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Yes, this follows news that Italian artist Salvatore Garau, 67, has just sold an invisible sculpture for 18,000 dollars (13,000 quid). The work, titled Io Sono, or I Can See A Sucker A Mile Off - actually, I lie, it translates as "I am [the one and only?]", but I prefer my translation because it asks you to "activate the power of the imagination", which is precisely what Salvatore Garau's sales pitch was for his invisible statue...

The life and times of an invisible sculpture ... see here

"I see trees of green, skies of blue, red roses too ... what a doolally world"

Well, that's something you don't see every day. It's a shame that it doesn't cast a shadow. I mean, that would really, um, confuse the punters.

Apparently, the sculpture doesn't exist except in the artist's imagination, but for those of little faith Salvatore provided a certificate to prove the art is real in his imagination. It has been suggested by those who can see between the lines that it's a sculpture of someone doing a spot of money laundering, tut-tut, naughty-naughty.

Reports circulating also reported another keen bidder, but that potential buyer pulled out at the last moment because he felt the sculpture was too big to sit comfortably inside his home.

Mind you, getting it insured would be a problem. There again, how would you know if it was nicked? Presumably you would only know if it was stolen if it is not seen at someone else's home.

Oh, and back with the Daily Mail, another letter, this time from R J Pickering of Leicester, hit the spot:

Artistic licence ... "Be very careful when buying an invisible sculpture. I bought one on eBay and it turned out to be fake. When I tried to return it to the vendor, the Post Office lost it. I don't hold out much hope of them finding it."

Ah, the Emperor's brand new statue. Yep, the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade, alive and well and lurking around a corner near you.


Litter, litter, everywhere...* - 1
(with apologies to the ghost of Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

A rubbish show ... "Britain's a world leader in rubbish ... it's up to us to pick up the pieces." A Sunday Times headline from March 28, 2021.

This is a repeat of a quote I have deployed before. It came to mind yesterday morning, Sunday, walking into town, early-morning, to pick up a newspaper, and inside the built-up area, past the pub on my left, scattered over some twenty paces, I picked up the following off the pavement...

The morning after the night before

Items found discarded along a stretch of sidewalk at Dodgy City

Yes, a couple of plastic glasses, a sparkly facemask - and a shoe! Clearly there had to be a link, probably following a mega piss-up at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon.

A quick inspection indicated that the footwear was in perfect working order, but sadly stamped - boo, hiss! - 'Made in China'. But how drunk must one be not to realise that you only have one wheel left on your wagon. So a quick look about to see if I could find the other - someone could have been playing silly buggers and taken her shoes - but no, nothing.

Whilst I deposited facemask and plastic glasses in nearby bins, I left the shoe in a prominent position on the wall running alongside the pavement...

And yes, by this morning, Monday, it had gone.

Sometimes you just yearn to know the backstory.

* This is what Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), English poet, philosopher and theologian, wrote in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798):
     Water, water, everywhere,
     And all the boards did shrink;
     Water, water, everywhere,
     Nor any drop to drink...

So I guess my version will be:
     Litter, litter, everywhere,
     And all of life did suffer;
     Litter, litter, everywhere,
     Survival just got tougher, and tougher, and tougher...


Woke watch - 1

A grope in the dark ... "I was getting bullied into taking an anti-bullying course." Michael Heseltine, aka Lord Heseltine, 88, on being forced to take part in a compulsory two-hour anti-groping course by the House of Lords.

Perhaps they were attempting to stop him groping the European Union: "The campaign to rejoin the EU begins today," declared the Good Lord! back on the 1st of January 2021, the day Britain officially left the EU.

Or perhaps they were attempting to stop him groping inanimate objects - memories of 1976 and the infamous incident when he grabbed the House of Commons mace and waved it in frustration at the Labour opposition benches - an act which is considered gross disorderly conduct and is a contempt of the House, the naughty boy.

Whatever, there's something surreal and deliciously bonkers about an 88-year-old being forced to go on any sort of behavioural course. Prince Philip must count his blessings up there looking down on the madness of the passing parade.


Gathering nuts with May

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! ... "Are you kidding me? I'd pay a hundred grand not to hear her talk." Donald Trump's quip to journalist Piers Morgan after he told him how much Theresa May gets paid for corporate speeches.

Yes, a hundred-thousand-quid for dispensing wit and wisdom (sic) to the business world's movers and shakers. Do you suppose she struts onto the stage to the strains of Dancing Queen? Glorious bonkersness in extremis...

♪♪♪: The May and the Corporatists were all at sea,
                     In a beautiful pea-green boat;
          They took some honey, and oodles of money,
                     Wrapped up in fifty-pound notes...
(With apologies to the ghost of Edward Lear)

Oh yes, do you suppose the Corporatists sing "♪♪♪: O lovely Pussy! O Pussy our love, what a beautiful Pussy you are..."?

Staying with Mrs May and suggestions that she is well past her use-by date ... in the wake of reports that she has repeatedly barracked the Prime Minister about the effect of travel restrictions, as well as cuts to the overseas aid budget, a letter in The Daily Telegraph, from Alan Cumming of Stratford-upon-Avon, tickled my old funny bone:

Behind you! ... "It is not unusual for an incoming prime minister to have an active predecessor offering guidance. Tony Blair had Margaret Thatcher looking over his shoulder. But Boris Johnson has five predecessors available, all ready to offer him support and guidance (Mr Blair, Gordon Brown, Sir John Major, David Cameron and Mrs May). How lucky can you get?"

Yes, Boris was clearly born, not so much under a wandering star, but with Lady Luck perched on his shoulder.


Rites and rongs, a slip of the tongue, avoiding a smack, and superior footwork

Birth rite ... "Parent who has given birth." New term for mother, according to advice from gay rights charity Stonewall to employers seeking to boost their rankings in an equality index.

Birth rong ... "Parent who has not given birth." New term for father, according to those who have hit a stone wall (see above guideline).

Meanwhile, out on the tennis court...

Let's play! ... "You need to deal with it - you just got to man up here. Or woman up, I should say." Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, 64, just about avoids a 'tongue fault' after world No 2 Naomi Osaka, 23, withdrew from the French Open over her refusal to give press conferences - she claims she is suffering mental health issues from the media's need to skewer her by continually asking how she is feeling.

And staying in the sports arena...

Seconds out, first round ... "Everyone has a plan until they get smacked in the mouth." What boxer Mike Tyson said in 1996 when asked by a reporter whether he was worried about opponent Evander Holyfield and his fight plan. Holyfield won, and that despite the massive 15/2 odds against him, giving Holyfield one of the most famous upset victories in the history of boxing.

And that, I guess, signposts why you should follow with great caution - indeed never bet on - a two-horse race. I mean, it only takes one of them to throw the contest (unless, of course, you have inside information). I am not, I should add, suggesting that the Tyson-Holyfield bout was anything, um, but an honest contest...

Incidentally, Tyson's rather cautious response to the reporter is similar to the old saying "no plan survives first contact with the enemy", which is a reminder that you pick your battles with wisdom.

Oh, and confirmation that superior footwork is essential in any contest.


Memo to the planet's movers and shakers...

Freudian lift-off ... "Richard Branson, Elon Musk and now Jeff Bezos. What is it about men who have so much money they feel constantly compelled to launch large, pointy objects into space? I bet Freud would be able to explain it." Sarah Vine, 'Columnist of the year' at the Daily Mail, makes an intriguing point about the planet's movers and shakers' addiction to waving their, um, willies at the moon.

And then I saw a picture of the Blue Origin rocket Amazon's Jeff Bezos is going to strap between his legs in order to hitch a ride into space...

Blue [penis-substitute] rocket?

Freudian thoughts on Jeff Bezos' very Blue Origin

Not so much a Freudian slip, more a Freudian space ship. Yep, Jeff Bezos will ride a cock-horse to cross the Karman line into space (sort of).

And when I say quick ... the entire suborbital trip - the rocket isn't powerful enough to enter Earth's orbit - from launch to landing, is expected to last around 11 minutes. Only a small portion of that time is above the Karman line - the altitude at which space and weightlessness begins, about 62 miles above sea level.

Mind you, I'm undecided whether that Karman line reminds me of Kamikaze or Kama Sutra.

Given the shape of the rocket, and that the weightless experience will last but a few brief minutes, I guess it has to be Kama Sutra. The point being, it will really be just like sex. The pleasure lasts but a few brief minutes, and worst of all, it will be impossible to relive the pleasure. You have to do it over and over, which is why we become addicted to sex.

So the question is: will Jeff Bezos become addicted to his penis rocket and climaxing along the Karman line?

My advice to Jeff would be to keep his rocket firmly in his pocket.


Shaken not stirred, Dear Sir or Madam, and Oh Harry, do shut up!

Dancing on the ceiling ... "You can insert your own joke about whether we will be following you." The Chief Sitting Bull of British Security Service MI5 (Military Intelligence, Section 5), Ken McCallum, announces that the organisation is joining Instagram to improve transparency and counteract "martini-drinking stereotypes" about British spooks, hopefully in an effort to appeal to job applicants. And he promptly posted a photo of the ceiling where he works.

But should we really know who the Chief Sitting Bull of British Security Service MI5 is? Just askin', like. There again, Ken McCallum could be an alias, a pen name, or more correctly a post name, a pseudo name. Indeed, he could be a she, as in Chief Sitting Cow. Whatever, back on the job application front...

Dear Head of Spooks ... "I have experience in using walkie-talkies to secretly report back to my sister on what my dog is doing in the house." A ten-year-old's "private and confidential" letter to MI5 on the prospect of becoming a spy.

Now that's more like it. Over and out. Well, nearly...

Finally, a reminder to proceed with care...

Mum's the word ... "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt (Lincoln or Twain or someone smarter than Prince Harry)." American journalist, lawyer and former Fox News host Megyn Kelly after Harry criticised the US Constitution's First Amendment - the right to free speech - as "bonkers".

A Sun newspaper front page splash ... "Exclusive: Noel lets rip ... 'Harry's an effin woke snowflake!'" Oasis legend/wanker* Noel Gallagher has laid into Prince Harry following the latest instalment in his curious relationship with the royal family, adding: "This is what happens when you get involved with Americans."

I mean, you have to smile. Oh, and Noel fans should rest assured that he did not use the word "effin" but the proper Anglo Saxon, anti-snowflake, de-icer version.

Incidentally, what were Harry and Meghan thinking when they named their daughter "Lilibet". It's not even a proper name but a personal and private nickname, one that belongs uniquely to the Queen. Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.

To repeat: whom the gods wish to make mad they first sprinkle with power, position, wealth and celebrity. And then, stand well back.

* Delete to taste.


Sunshiny flag

Blowing in the wind ... "I particularly like the Ukrainian flag. It always reminds me of a clear blue sky floating over a field of glorious sunflowers..." Carlton Kirby, Eurosport's principal cycling commentator, when Ukraine's previously unheralded Mark Padun, 24, takes the top step of the podium after winning Stage 7 of the Criterium du Dauphine road race run in the southeast of France - and doing so from a breakaway. A feat the amusingly agreeable Padun repeated, also winning Stage 8, and to great acclaim.

And just to prove Carlton's memorable observation about the flag...

The Ukraine national flag of blue skies and wheat fields, of calm and joy

And here is the most juxstaposable (I trust there is such a word - well there is now) image of a blue sky floating over yellow flowers I could find in my files...

A picture of blue and yellow, calm and joy, at Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo

Okay, it's not a field of sunflowers - but dandelions will do, and it makes the point beautifully. Oh, and I shall never again forget what the Ukraine flag looks like. Ever.

Officially, the blue of the flag represents the wide blue skies and the yellow represents the wheat fields that characterise the country's bread basket reputation for that corner of the world. The flag has its genesis in the 12th century, but was only officially adopted in the 20th century.

Psychologically, I learn that blue symbolises calm, whilst yellow symbolises joy - which in Ukraine's case is quite ironic, what with Putin's Russia a constant border threat.

Whatever, Mark Pavlovych Padun deserves a flag of blue skies and calm and joy smiling over him.

PS: Yesterday's picture of a golden chain against a crystal clear blue sky makes a rather wonderful point of joy and calm.


Chain reaction

Nature on repeat ... "The common hill-flowers wither, but they blossom again. The laburnum will be as yellow next June as now..." Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Irish poet and playwright, from his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890).

Along my walk into town I pass a newly-planted laburnum sapling - or golden chain as I prefer to think of it - and it has flowered with just the one dominant chain. I couldn't resist taking a photo of it against a cloudless blue sky...

Chain reaction

"A deer tethered with a golden chain can escape
 to the forest to eat grass." African proverb

How captivating an image is that? A chain reaction of joy.

Oh yes, to complete the Oscar Wilde quotation at the top, from his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray - Lord Henry Wotton is speaking to Dorian Gray:

"The common hill-flowers wither, but they blossom again. The laburnum will be as yellow next June as now. In a month there will be purple stars on the clematis, and year after year the green night of its leaves will hold its purple stars. But we never get back our youth. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty becomes sluggish. Our limbs fall, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to. Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!"

Fair enough, Lord Wotton. But, like the flowers, humanity's next generation will be as colourful and bright as we were when we were footloose and fancy-free and oh so easy on the eye.

So we should make a point of enjoying ourselves along every step of our walk through time and space.


The Sunday every-day-is-a-day-at-school lesson

Today, a different kind of knock-knock...

Duck a l'orange ... "Our favourite sitcom scene is Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses telling Rodney he loves roast duck served with an orange sauce - but doesn't know how to say it in French. Rodney says: 'It's canard', to which Del Boy replies: 'You can say that again!'" Annie Tavener of Ipswich, in a letter to The Times.

Ah, the joy of television BO - Before Obscenity - yes, you know, the days when writers worked hard at being creative, witty and amusing rather than merely declaring before every show: "The following programme features strong language."

Whilst I obviously got the exceedingly clever 'canard' joke, I wasn't familiar with the French connection, so searched its meaning ... the first listed was familiar, which is just another word for social media:

Canard: 1 a false or baseless, usually derogatory story, report, or rumour. 2 in cooking, a duck intended or used for food, from Old French caner, to quack...

Quack-quack indeed.


Afterthoughts on that marriage

Jane Seymour ahoy! ... "So, with his latest marriage, is Boris Johnson's model no longer Winston Churchill, but Henry VIII?" Joy Everington of Marshwood, Dorset, in a letter to The Guardian.

Yes, an excellent bit of lateral thinking there by Joy Everington. Oh, and many were puzzled by the absolute privacy of the ceremony, for example:

Shhh! ... "Why would a couple wanting to get married on the quiet choose to do it in an enormous cathedral?" Ron Todd of Yate, Gloucestershire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

And here are three other letters that tickled my old funny bone, all spotted in The Daily Telegraph...

Superior footwork ... "When a Prime Minister is married for a third time, is it called a wedding or a reshuffle?" Neville Stangroom of Dereham, Norfolk.

Shades of you-know-who ... "No, that was a fake wedding. The real one took place three days earlier, conducted in the garden of No 10 by the Archbishop of Canterbury with Dilyn the dog as sole witness." Peter Thompson of Sutton, Surrey.

The last word ... "Apropos questions regarding confirmation of Boris Johnson as a Catholic for his church wedding ceremony, Oscar Wilde, when questioned about his late conversion to Catholicism, said that he was attracted to the faith because in this Church 'Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.'." Anna Mackay of Dublin

Ah, was it ever thus, always one cannon law for the somebody and one for the nobody.


What next?

Stumped! ... "When the inventor of the drawing board messed things up, what did he go back to?" Bob Monkhouse (1928-2003), the English entertainer and comedian famously known for his witty one-liners.

I saw the above listed in a newspaper under 'Quote for today' - and yes, it did make me smile. No answer was provided, but what instantly came to mind was 'back to square one' (or 'back at square one' - the original saying).

'Back to square one' derives from the birth of radio and live football commentaries back in the 1920s. The pitch would be divided into numbered grids and commentators would use the numbers to explain to listeners where the ball was at any given time. A visual guide was provided in the Radio Times...

"And Boris flicks the ball back to square one..."

Squares 1 and 2 were in front of the home team's goal, so when, say, a defender passed the ball back to the goalkeeper, the play was "back at square one" ... the goalkeeper would then distribute the ball to one of his own team (hopefully) and the action would start again - which I think is rather clever and paints a wonderful picture in the mind.

And, dare one suggest, even better than 'back to the drawing board'.


Note to Boris: keep rocket in pocket

Speak now or forever hold your piece ... "Interesting ... let's hope he keeps his trousers on and behaves himself." Christopher Goodyear, 64, a witness protection officer in the Metropolitan Police homicide division, and a member of the congregation at Westminster Cathedral last Saturday for the marriage of Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds, wishes the Prime Minister and his beloved well.

I repeat that quote from last Sunday's special knock-knock post in celebration of the wedding of Boris and Carrie, and bearing in mind that it was Boris's third marriage, I added, somewhat cynically, that if the events of history really do repeat themselves, we should keep an eagle eye on the Births, Deaths, Marriages, Civil Partnerships, Separations and Divorces corner of the newspapers...

It all came flooding back when I read about a new book, Cricketing Lives: A Characterful History from Page to Pitch, a collection of portraits of the sport's more colourful characters by Richard Thomas, where drunks, rogues, cads and bounders abound along the boundary.

One such character mentioned in dispatches is Englishman Bill Edrich (1916-1986), the postwar England batsman who married and divorced regularly.

At the fifth wedding his England team-mate John Warr (1927-2016) was asked if he was bride's side or groom's, replied: "I have a season ticket."

I wonder if Christopher Goodyear claims the same privilege.


A touch of class

Face mask majesty ... "The only person to wear a face mask with undiminished beauty is the Duchess of Cambridge, and none of us is she." As The Daily Telegraph pointed out back in April, face masks are never tasteful. They are always monstrous. Wellingtons can be tasteful. Masks can't. Masks are ugly. Unless of course, you are Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.

In support of their assertion, the Telegraph featured that striking photograph of the Duchess arriving by car at the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh - and here it is, certainly worth a revisit...

The Duchess of Cambridge: a portrait of majesty

Undiminished beauty - embracing elegance and physical poise

The Duchess rarely looks directly at the camera (apparently on the advice of Prince Philip himself; the Queen doesn't, but Diana did), but there are moments when you will inadvertently catch the eye of the camera, and then it is up to the photographer to benefit from being in the right place at the right time.

The power of the above picture doesn't lie in Kate Middleton's jewels, eye-catching as they are. Above the mask, her eyes project calmness and unflinching resolve, framed in turn by the elegance of her funeral attire and her physical poise.

And then, just a few days ago, she again looked a picture of casual style and sophistication receiving her vaccination against the coronavirus...

Catherine: a portrait of magnificence

Endless elegance - even when receiving the jab

And, as the Telegraph noted last April, wearing a mask with undiminished beauty

Yes, I'm a fan. Kate is the perfect antidote to Meghan's curious behaviour and lack of natural-born class.


En Guardian!

Corrections and clarifications ... "We misquoted Les Dennis [English actor and comedian] describing his role in the forthcoming film Sideshow; he plays 'an ageing, past-his-prime psychic', not '...sidekick' as we had it (Dennis to make his opera debut, 25 May, page 9)." Spotted in The Guardian newspaper.

Yes, a memorable slip of the fingertip in fine Grauniad tradition - it tempts one to have a go at composing a limerick deploying psychic and sidekick as rhymes born to please - a blunder which juxtaposes just perfectly with the following letter published, again in The Guardian...

Man on the loose ... "On Saturday, you published a photo of the UK prime minister above the headline 'A dangerous cult now runs Britain' (Journal, 29 May). I was pleased to see that, despite the constant turmoil of the modern world, some things, such as the Guardian's famed penchant for typos, never change." Tony Mabbott of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, generates a wickedly wide smile of joy.

And talking of the cult known as Boris Johnson brings us to Dominic Cummings - and another fine mess highlighted in a letter to The Guardian...

A brief read ... "Isn't the headline on your article about Dominic Cummings eight words too long ('Dom, tosser of pretend hand grenades: you're no war hero', Journal, 26 May)?" Alan Pearson of Durham, generates a nod and a wink.

And talking of Dom (as the tabloids regularly refer to the fellow), this gives me the chance to share a letter of mine, published in the Western Mail...

Bit of a stink ... "'Dom' is the Welsh word for the stuff that bulls excrete after a long day in the field chewing the cud and sniffing the breeze. Yes, you know, that stuff that is collected into a heap called a 'domen', and which leaves a bit of a stink in its wake when spread about.
     "Yes, Dr Dom sounds just about right. But I am surprised that Boris Johnson
's instincts didn't warn him that Dr Dom had 'ambush' written all over him. But prime ministers - and first ministers - do have a track record of employing people that spell Trouble, with a capital T."

That was the best way of saying bullshit without saying bullshit I could come up with. Incidentally, 'domen', or more correctly 'tomen' (without the mutation), is the Welsh word for dung heap.


Here comes the sun

Come what May ... "So that's why they call it May - it may rain, it may be sunny, it may hail, it may be hot and it may be cold..." Writer and gardening expert Lynne Allbutt kicks off her regular Western Mail Green Scene column.

Yes, it's the last day of May - and what a strange month it has been weather wise here in the UK.

April - the frostiest, sunniest and driest on record - but May has more than made up for it with the weather stuck in an unsettled, turbulent pattern with troughs and drenching downpours sweeping endlessly across the country, indeed the month is set to be the wettest on record, especially so here in Wales.

Oh, and remaining unusually cold, reflected with the reluctance of the annual 50 shades of leaf burst to sweep onto the rural stage.

However, the month ended with sunshine and warmth as high pressure settled over the country. And on that score, walking into town on a beautiful morning, my eye caught the rising sun catching a tree on a private property...

The rising sun spins purple into scarlet

I don't know what the tree is with its copper/plum/burgundy/purple leaf* - some sort of Acer, perhaps - I mean, it's rude to stride onto someone's front lawn to inspect (obviously if I see the folk who live there I'll ask them).

Whatever, I was captivated by the way the sun streaming between the two properties captured just some of the leaves and gave them that vibrant scarlet tinge.

Every morning as I now walk past, and assuming the sun is shining, my eye is captured by the technicolour aspect of the tree. Astonishing how such a little thing can generate such huge delight.

* I never know which word best describes the colour - help yourself to whichever does it for you.

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