Chaos theory, a quick snifter, and a bra, bra black sheep

"@pmgentry: A professor of mine went to hear [French philosopher] Derrida speak once. The entire talk was about cows: everyone was flummoxed but listened carefully, and took note about ... cows. There was a short break, and when Derrida came back, he was like, 'I'm told it is pronounced chaos'." A recent tweet of the month - which earned my smile of the day.

I'll tell you what though: there's an awful lot of cows spotted on Downing Street these days. Or bullshit as they call it down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon. And talking of Number 10...

"A man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry." Ecclesiastes 8.15 (King James Version). And Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons, endorses the Good Book thus: "As the pubs are now starting to reopen it is reassuring to have divine approval for visiting them."

And talking of dying for a quick snifter...

"I remember fellow athlete Brendan Foster asking one of our Russian handlers where was the nearest nightclub. He replied: 'Helsinki!'" Sebastian Coe, who won four Olympic medals, including the 1500 gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, recalls the deprivations faced by athletes at those Olympic Games.

Ah, those were the bad old days, before the Soviet Union morphed into the current bad new days called Russia and the Putin Club. Finally:

"I feel strongly that if we had more women scientists we would have fewer helicopters on Mars and more sports bras that don't require strong arm contortionist skills to get into." English journalist Jojo Moyes is unimpressed after Nasa celebrated the first controlled flight on another planet by its drone ingenuity.

I know nothing of sports bras, but I well remember from back in the day, when I was a trainee young buck about town in my TR3, that you needed contortionist skills to undo a common or garden bra.

Whatever, and back with that mini chopper, when the Mars helicopter success was announced by Nasa, there were quite a few women scientist present, so I don't think Jojo Moyes should be holding her breath for an easy-fit sports bra any day soon.


The power of an awe walk - 10

"I think that I shall never see
  A poem lovely as a tree.

  A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
  Against the earth
's sweet flowing breast;

  A tree that looks at God all day,
  And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

  A tree that may in summer wear
  A nest of Robins in her hair;

  Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
  Who intimately lives with rain.

  Poems are made by fools like me,
  But only God can make a tree."
Trees, Alfred Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918, killed in action), an American writer and poet mainly remembered for his short poem titled Trees, published in 1914.

Yesterday I showcased Ogden Nash's Song of the Open Road, a humorous take on Kilmer's poem, and I featured a couple of trees I encounter along my walks through Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo.

Today, I celebrate the opening lines of Kilmer's poem...

"I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree..."

A Hawthorn tree among the Sherwood greenery signals "Coo-ee, look at me"

That photo of a Hawthorn tree bursting into glorious flower was taken in Dinefwr Park on the 12th of May 2014, an early spring by the splendour of those leaves.

This year though, after one of the sunniest and frostiest Aprils on record, with either an air or ground frost recorded somewhere in the UK on every day of April thus far - an astonishing statistic in times of global warming, with records going back 61 years to 1960 - it is safe to say that the darling buds of May are on hold.

I doubt I will witness such a sight as the above Hawthorn tree, at least within the next couple of weeks. But you never know. Mother Nature doesn't hang about when she has some catching up to do and gets her skates on.


The power of an awe walk - 9

"I think that I shall never see
  A billboard lovely as a tree.
  Perhaps unless the billboards fall
'll never see a tree at all."
Song of the Open Road, Ogden Nash (1902-1971), prolific American poet noted for his light verse and humorous poetry ("A bit of talcum / Is always walcum", Reflection on Babies).

I encounter no billboards along my walks through the Towy Valley - but plenty of trees though.

Indeed, just a few days ago I happened to pass the famous Castle Oak of Dinefwr Park Estate, Llandeilo. It's a tree thought to be between 800 and 850 years old, and it stands in the estate which was home to the famous Welsh Princes of Deheubarth (920-1197, a time when the Castle Oak was just a twinkle in its mother's eye).

It is possible to stand up inside the hollow trunk of the tree, a glorious old oak which witnessed the rise and fall of Dinefwr Castle as a seat of power, the ruins of which still stand guard on the hill overlooking the Towy Valley and its Castle Oak. So I took a picture of the famous oak, for one particular reason...

The Castle Oak of Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo, with a tree-crasher in the background

The tree is now fenced off to protect it - but in the above picture I feature, in the distance, a young pup of a thing, relatively speaking, which is one of my favourite trees on the estate...

An eye-catching Wych Elm presents a near-perfect pose along Dinefwr's tree walk

The tree is a Wych Elm, and what I particularly like about it is its near-perfect shape. It never fails to catch the eye. It's quite unusual to see a tree which displays and holds such a copy-book shape as it matures.

The above photo was taken on the 15th of April 2017, on an overcast day when it stood out distinctively against the background woodland which was taking its time to come into leaf, the Wych Elm being an early riser, so to speak.


Royal Ascot 2021: Top hat, tie and face mask

A mask a must for Ascot ... "No Bardot tops in the Ascot Royal Enclosure, please. No fascinators either. Vulgar, vulgar, vulgar. And to accompany 2021's designated vintage look sourced from charity shops, vintage emporiums and re-sale websites, face masks the new must-have dress code. While disposable blue surgical masks will be allowed, the Ascot style guide update urges racegoers to take a punt on a more dashing contender." A smiley clickbait caught my eye.

For June's Royal Ascot race meeting - the gods willing, crowds back this year - face masks must be "tasteful". But as The Daily Telegraph points out, face masks are never tasteful. They are always monstrous. Wellingtons can be tasteful. Masks can't. Masks are ugly. To quote the Telegraph: "The only person to wear one with undiminished beauty is the Duchess of Cambridge, and none of us is she."

And we all know the elegantly powerful photograph the paper is referring to...

The Duchess of Cambridge: a portrait of majesty

Undiminished beauty - and a mask fragrant with musk

There are moments, rare and hugely memorable, when a photograph captures something far greater than simply the subject in front of the lens.

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 this picture doesn't lie in Kate Middleton's jewels, eye-catching as they are; rather it captures something I have mentioned before: despite being from a typical middle-class family, and just like Prince Philip where nature trumped nurture, buried deep in her DNA were some powerful genes just waiting for the moment to explode into life.

In Kate Middleton's case her wedding was the moment they announced themselves.

I've said it afore, and I'll say it agin: These days the Duchess of Cambridge is more royal than the royals. The girl isn't just a trouper, she's a super trouper. Definitely a portrait of majesty.


Five-star letters from Middle-Britain - 3

Name of the game ... "As the possessor of a double-barrelled surname I sympathise with my uncommonly named fellow correspondents. None, however, has reported an experience of mine, which was to be asked to spell 'Hyphen'." Ian Monier-Williams of Micheldever Station, Hampshire, in a letter to The Times ... responding to the hindrance those blessed (cursed?) with unusual names have with providing such information, especially so over the phone.

What a glorious tale. Also, what tickled my old funny bone is that Ian's surname is just one little 'k' away from perfection: Ian Moniker-Williams. And Moniker is what my spellchecker suggested for Monier.

Talking of monikers...

Jeremy Clarkson, writing in The Sunday Times, had an article headlined 'Nicknames are a staple of British humour - we can't let the language police stamp them out'.

However, he argued that the trouble with nicknames is you don't get to choose them: at school he was Ness, after the monster, which sounds just about right because, while he's hugely entertaining to read, I intuitively sense he's the last person in the world you would want to live next door to. Trouble, with a capital T?

But, as Jeremy tells us, it's the humorous names that linger: "I knew a chap called Baxter Campbell who was known as Two Soups. In the car industry there's a PR man named Wayne Bruce. We call him ManBat. And then there's a chap with a medical condition that has caused one of his hands to be much smaller than the other. He's known as Clock."

Given the Welsh love of humorous nicknames, I shall definitely revisit this subject.


Sunday is knock-knock day

Yesterday, the 24th of April 2021, was the UK's first ever Blossom Watch Day. The National Trust is asking people to share the joy of the blossom season. The idea is that people will find a tree, bush or hedge bursting with bloom and - if so inclined - share images of the moment.

Well, mother never bred a jibber, so a knock-knock with a difference...

Knock-knock! Who's there? Blossom! Blossom who?

Blossom, dearie - I'm here to put a smile on your face!

I hope the ghost of the real Blossom Dearie (1924-2009), American jazz singer and pianist, will forgive me taking her name in vain.

Whatever, the above was taken this morning against a picture-perfect blue sky, just across the road from the White Hart Inn, Llandeilo. I pass it every morning along my walk into town - and yes, it does make me smile.

It also adds to the joy that I know who planted it (known affectionately as Dai R&B - Dai Root & Branch, and yes, he once owned a tree nursery). Dai thought it the perfect public space to plant a tree, with his compliments.

I agree.


Noble Defender a memorial to the Duke

Do you come here often? ... "They're not mating are they?" The Duke of Edinburgh spotting two robots bumping in to one another at the Science Museum in 2000.

Walking home from town on a beautiful if coldish early-morning, a local farmer in his Land Rover comes over the brow of the hill, and as he passes lifts his index finger off the steering wheel in the traditional country greeting.

I smile and nod, my default greeting when meeting a walker, jogger, cyclist or driver. But my smile lingers because the farmer's green Land Rover Defender made me think of Prince Philip...

Rover and out

For eight minutes Prince Philip's modified Land Rover hearse takes centre stage

Whenever in future I see that particular version of Defender - that popular model is mostly green, or what I call Sherwood green - I will be reminded of the Duke.

Now that's what I call a memorial. Better than a plaque, or a statue - but perhaps not quite as good as suggestions for the name of a new royal yacht, or perhaps a rebuilt Hammersmith Bridge in London, first opened in 1887 but currently closed completely amid fears it could collapse.

Mention of Philip's customised Land Rover hearse, while watching the funeral I held my breath that it wouldn't grind to a sudden halt, but nothing was left to chance - an identical vehicle shadowed the procession in case of mishaps. To be fair though this model of Defender precedes the age of complex electronics and electrics which can render vehicles motionless without warning.

I was reminded of the saying - which refers more to modern Land Rovers than the Defender - that 70% of all Land Rovers ever built are still on the road. The rest have actually reached their destinations.


Letters from Middle-Britain - 24

Scottish weather ... "As an enthusiastic (but very average) golfer I read the weather reports and noted that on April 14 the warmest, coldest, wettest and sunniest places were all in Scotland. Does anyone know how unusual this is and if it has occurred in the past?" William Telford of Ayr, a town situated on the southwest coast of Scotland, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

I guess if you play golf on the southwest coast of Scotland, then weather reports are essential. Be that as it may, there were no responses, probably because it is such an offbeat fact to register that no one has noticed before.

I blame warring Scottish politicians Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond. Even Mother Nature doesn't know whether she's coming or going with those two.

And talking of those where it is best to cross the street a bit sharpish when you spot them coming towards you...

A mile offside ... "Surely football's proposed Super League breakaway is a clear example of the shits hitting the fans?" Steve Smart of Malvern, Worcestershire, in a letter to The Guardian.

A bit of smart verbal footwork by Steve Smart there. Also, it is worth bearing in mind that it wasn't Boris Johnson, Prince William, Gary Lineker, et al kicking up a fuss that derailed the Super League proposal by the rich club owners - they would have factored that response into their proposal - but the overwhelming and fierce opposition of the fans.

Power to the people. As indeed Margaret Thatcher found to her cost with the riots in the wake of her poll tax disaster.

Meanwhile, back with more heavenly stuff...

Clerical vacancy ... "You report that the Archbishop of York is advertising for a 90K chief of staff who will be his 'chief companion, support and critical friend for developing and refining his vision'. Traditionally among the clergy this role has been played by Jesus Christ, in prayer." John Goldsmith of Old London Town, in a letter to The Times.

Cheap at a fraction of the price ... "I read with interest that the Archbishop of York is advertising for a 90K chief of staff whose duties include being his 'chief companion, support and critical friend'. Having been married for 35 years I realise that I am substantially out of pocket." Linda Dean of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, also in a letter to The Times.

Games, set and match to Linda, methinks. Amen. Oh, and Awomen. Finally:

Suits you, Sirs ... "Meghan will have appreciated the irony that the Queen instructed the Princes to appear at the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral service in suits." M Smith of Chatham, Kent, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

I had to think about that one - not being well up on these things you understand - but I did get it, eventually. Very clever.

Do you suppose though that Harry has married someone who is "his chief companion, support and critical friend for developing and refining his vision"? Mind you, I don't suppose for one second that Meghan will end up substantially out of pocket.


We are impressed and amused - 4

"We'd have looked like Mr and Mrs Beckham, wouldn't we?" The Duke of Edinburgh on why he and the Queen did not sit on throne-like chairs during the 2012 Jubilee River Pageant, according to his friend and biographer, Gyles Brandreth.

Among the acres of tributes to Prince Philip, both diverting and touching, the following stood out as the mark of the man.

Lord Tebbit, 90, recalls when his wife Margaret (1956-2020) - paralysed by the IRA's 1984 bombing of the Grand Brighton Hotel - was anxious about being seated next to the Duke of Edinburgh at a palace banquet because of her difficulty using cutlery. Tebbit says: "The minute the first course arrived, the Duke handed his cutlery to the footman and then ate the entire meal with his fingers ... Margaret could then do the same."

And at the other end of the scale, this in The Times, 'Lives remembered', from a Neil MacGregor:

"One day in the 1990s Prince Philip paid a visit to Wem in north Shropshire for the dedication of the newly built rural district council offices at Edinburgh House. This, I felt, was an occasion not to be missed by the boys and girls of the Sunday school, at that time quite strong in number.
     "We were all in position in the forecourt when HRH arrived and (suddenly it seemed) came across to us. Spotting me in my cassock he asked: 'Are these all yours?' Slightly unnerved by the baffling ambiguity of the question, I deferentially inclined my head."

The Duke truly was a man who added to the gaiety of the passing parade.



Colin vs Cuthbert as M&S sue Aldi rip-off ... "Marks & Spencer has launched legal action against Aldi over a copycat version of its Colin the Caterpillar cake." British store Marks & Spencer has launched legal action against German store Aldi, arguing the similarity of Aldi's Cuthbert the Caterpillar leads customers to believe they are of the same standard.

Hm, it looks as if the lawyers will have their cakes - lots of 'em - and eat them. It will be a long, slow, drawn-out crawl of an affair...

Cuthbert: "For you, Tommy, zee cake war is over!"

Colin: "Bollocks, Fritz, you don't have any legs to stand on..."

Ah, joy and doolallyness, summed up deliciously in one high-profile cake war. Aldi has defiantly announced that it is bringing back its Cuthbert the Caterpillar cake after learning it is the subject of a copyright infringement legal challenge by M&S.

Posting its latest response to the row on Twitter, the German discounter announced a limited edition of the cake will return to shelves next month with all profits to be donated to cancer charities.

Caterpillars in court ... "Only in this glorious country would a battle royal be conducted over cake, as is unfolding in the courts between Marks and Spencer's Colin the Caterpillar and Aldi's Cuthbert the Caterpillar. It makes me proud to be British." Graham White of Cambridge, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Hang about, though ... Do you suppose Aldi has missed a marketing trick in not morphing Colin the Caterpillar into Boris the Butterfly?


We were amused - 3

"Ninety-nine years old, he never slowed down at all, which I admire the devil out of." US President Joe Biden, 78, joins worldwide tributes to Prince Philip.

Tributes and tales of the unexpected are still being spotted, and well worth capturing. I particularly liked the turn of phrase used by Joe Biden, so very American.

And talking of things American, the following spotted initially compliments of the Gentleman's Journal, a lifestyle luxury magazine...

Gentlemen can be judged by the way they treat their staff, and the Duke of Edinburgh offered a glimpse into his character during a visit to the White House by the Queen and the Duke in 1979. After dinner with President Nixon, the guests went off on a tour of the White House, except Philip, who went into the Red Room, next to the dining room, alone.

In there was African-American Lynwood Westray (1922-2014) - a butler at the White House for 32 years and who had served eight presidents before taking his leave in 1994 - with a tray of glasses and drinks and he offered the Duke a drink.

Philip said he would have one if he could serve it and give Westray one too. So Philip poured the Champagne and he and Westray had a "little talk". Philip rounded off their chat by inviting him to look him up if ever he visited Old London Town.

"That was one thing I'll never forget," said Westray, "being served by royalty."

Yes, it's always the little things that say so much.

Finally: age, along with experience of life, the universe and everything, has nothing to do with being blessed with the royal touch:

"We love you and please give us a call if you need to talk about anything." Sia, aged seven, reaches out to the Queen in a message amid the floral tributes to Prince Philip.


The power of an awe walk - 8
(incorporating 'Rainbows revisited')

"The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain." Dolly Parton, 75, the American singer-songwriter with an immaculate gift for the quotable turn of phrase.

Prompted by the reading from Ecclesiasticus at Prince Philip's funeral service, yesterday I shared one of my rainbow photos. Today I'm going to share my favourite rainbow, captured along an early-morning walk through the Towy Valley...

Look at the rainbow and praise its Maker...

Somewhere over the rainbow: the folk who live on the hill

My photo file tells me it was taken just after sunrise on the 7th of December 2012. And I remember it well. The sky to the west was threateningly dark and ominous, but behind me the sun was rising into a practically cloudless sky.

But what I liked most was that the image instantly reminded me of the Peggy Lee song I referred to just the other day, The Folk Who Live On The Hill. I mean, I adore how the white house on the brow is captured beautifully by the sunrise against that dark sky.

Point of interest: the reflected rainbow is dropping into the River Towy, running just behind those trees in the foreground.

Yes, the power of an awe walk - with bells on. Oh, and the Christmas song [I'll Be Home] With Bells On was written by Dolly Parton and first released by Dolly and Kenny Rogers in 1984.

Talk about joining up all the dots.


Prince Philip: Somewhere over the rainbows

"Look at the rainbow and praise its Maker; it shines with a supreme beauty, rounding the sky with its gleaming arc, a bow bent by the hands of the Most High..." The First Lesson: Ecclesiasticus 43. 11-26, read by the Dean of Windsor during the funeral service of Prince Philip.

So I had a look through my pictures files ... and stumbled upon the following, taken along my morning walk back in November 2018...

Look at the rainbow and praise its Maker...

Somewhere over the rainbow at Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo

What I liked was the double rainbow, obviously, but it fell over the arch that takes you into Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo - and the arch ties in nicely with all the archways on view in St George's Chapel during Prince Philip's funeral service.

Oh, and if you look closely at the photo, the rainbow actually appears to fall on the (just visible) roof of Newton House.


Prince Philip: Reflections

"The gods could not have scripted a more glorious day, picture-perfect blue skies framing Windsor Castle with the royal standard flying from the Round Tower." A view of the stage for the funeral of Prince Philip.

No matter how many league tables Britain has slipped down over recent years, the one thing at which the nation really does remain world-beating is pomp, ceremony and pageantry, perfectly highlighted as the military bands from all three services massed impressively on the magnificent green quadrangle in the centre of Windsor Castle...

Musical reflections at the funeral of Prince Philip

Apart from the eye-catching shadows captured by the high shots, what are the moments that particularly burnt themselves on to my brain's hard drive?

Well, there was the Land Rover hearse, definitely peak Philip, and definitely the only way to exit, stage left. From the moment it glided into view it captured the eye...

The Land Rover hearse readies itself for Prince Philip's final journey

For eight minutes the Land Rover remained centre stage as it wound its way to St George's Chapel, with members of the royal family walking behind.

And during the service, there was the Queen, a masked figure all in black, on her own, head bowed under her hat. Indeed, the wheel turns in a most curious way: a coronavirus face-covering, especially so in black, pretty much parodies the mourning veil of yesteryear, something which has now passed into history.

Many suggested that she looked lonely, but if anyone present was pragmatic enough to handle the Covid restrictions and enforced social distancing, then it would be the Queen.

As the service drew to a close, I shall remember the lone pipe major of the Royal Regiment of Scotland playing a magnificently haunting lament, Flowers of the Forest, as the coffin was lowered by lift into the royal vault beneath the altar. In particular, how the lament faded softly away as the piper turned and slow marched out of the chapel through an archway.

And then the buglers of the Royal Marines sounding The Last Post, followed by the state trumpeters of the Household Cavalry's Reveille, followed again by the buglers sounding Action Station.

It was extraordinary how the sound echoed majestically within the Chapel.

And that was it. The man who started life as a refugee prince ended it taken into the heart of his adopted country. For a no-nonsense person there can be no more fitting epitaph than his own words: "Life's going on after me. If I can make life marginally more tolerable for the people who come after, I'd be delighted."

A life well lived and a purpose well served. And a beautifully choreographed funeral. Amen.


We were amused - 2

"What do you gargle with - pebbles?" Prince Philip, speaking to singer Tom Jones after a Royal Variety Performance, 1969.

"I wish he'd turn the microphone off." Muttered during an Elton John turn at the Royal Variety Performance, 2001.

Prince Philip was probably a Matt Monro and Peggy Lee fan (The Folks Who Live On The Hill). Mind you, he is reported to have said that one of his favourite popular music songs was Yellow Bird (I remember from back in the day a particularly melodious version by the Mills Brothers).

"I would like to go to Russia very much - although the bastards murdered half my family." Asked about a possible visit to the Soviet Union, 1967.

"I declare this thing open, whatever it is." On opening an annexe to City Hall, Vancouver during a visit to Canada, 1969.

"It looks like a tart's bedroom." On seeing plans for Andy and Fergie's house (a.k.a. the Duke and Duchess of York) at Sunninghill Park, 1988.

"People think there's a rigid class system here ... but Dukes have been known to marry chorus girls. Some have even married Americans." Said in 2000, long before Harry met Meghan!

"If it doesn't fart or eat hay, she's not interested." Said of his daughter, the Princess Royal, or Princess Anne as we best know her.

Yes, it's an endless roll call of memorable quotations - or gaffes, as the meeja tends to label them, even if secretly the nation rather enjoyed them.


♪♪♪ Luck, be a lady tonight

"Lady Luck generally woos those who earnestly, enthusiastically, unremittingly woo her." Bertie Charles Forbes (1880-1954), a Scottish-American financial journalist and author who founded Forbes magazine, an American publication focussing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership and lifestyle.

Collecting my newspaper this morning, I invest two quid in a couple of lucky-dip lines for tonight's Health Lottery draw. It's a pound a line, selecting five numbers from 50 (rather than six numbers from 59 as per the National Lottery, at two quid a go), so the prizes are much smaller, the top prize being 100K, which is fine by me (I should be so lucky!).

So I check the numbers online, and here's a copy of my ticket, the actual winning numbers shown in red...

Lady Luck takes the night off

Red are the winning numbers ... sigh!

Notice anything extraordinary? How about that? Every number on my ticket, second line, is out by one! I mean, what are the odds against that?

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I laughed. When I buy a lottery ticket or scratch card I never expect to win anything - even winning the cover price of the ticket or card fills me with joy.

Obviously, the moral of the tale is that I should woo Lady Luck a bit more earnestly, enthusiastically and unremittingly. Or perhaps the Good Lady was telling me that's as near as I will get.


We were amused - 1

"The man who invented the red carpet needed his head examined." Prince Philip, during a state visit to Brazil, 1968.

I enjoyed the fact that he laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of a man.

"Aren't most of you descended from pirates?" Said to a wealthy islander during a visit to the Cayman Islands, 1994.

A little surprising that he didn't say on a visit to Australia: "Aren't most of you descended from deported convicts?" Perhaps he did, but the Aussies took it as a joke and didn't curse-and-tell. However...

"Do you still throw spears at each other?" Said to a successful Aboriginal entrepreneur during a visit to Australia, 2002.

"How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?" Speaking to a driving instructor in Oban, Scotland, 1995.

Now how does that Scottish proverb go? "Never drink whisky with water and never drink water without whisky."

"It looks as though it was put in by an Indian." The Prince, pointing to an old-fashioned fuse box during a tour of a Scottish factory near Edinburgh in 1999. He later clarified his comment: "I meant to say cowboys. I just got my cowboys and Indians mixed up."

Hm, never complain, never explain. But I know what he meant. When I worked as a barman I often got my cowboys and Indians mixed up. Oh, and that was before the time Chief Sitting Bull became a Native American. (But I did admire Prince Philip's verbal footwork re the clarification.)

And how could I not finish with this quote from 30 years ago, what Prince Philip is alleged to have told the German media: "In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, to contribute something to solving overpopulation."


The colourful life of a national treasure

HRH Prince Philip: This is your life! ... "How is it possible for such a National Treasure/Troublemaker* to die aged 99 with so much of his walk through time coming as a complete surprise? Especially so his unsettled and difficult childhood and formative years..." The opening paragraph of a letter I had published in today's Western Mail newspaper.

Yes, it really has been astonishing learning what a difficult upbringing he had - and then morphing into the sort of figure he became. My letter continued...

I guess it proves that nature trumps nurture every time, meaning there were some powerful genes lurking in his DNA simply waiting for the moment to be triggered (see also Kate Middleton, who these days comes across as more royal than the royals).

This couplet, composed by the Englishman Charles Haddon Spurgeon, encapsulates Prince Philip rather well [and mentioned in my post of last Friday following news of his death, but worth a repeat]: "It needs more skill than I can tell to play the second fiddle well." How apt that his final journey will be in the back of a Land Rover.

* Whether you see Prince Philip as a Treasure or a Troublemaker is a reflection of your view of the passing parade. I've always admired him as a Cavalier (as far as I'm aware nobody he has met and spoken to while delivering a celebrated "gaffe" has ever complained, not even the Chinese following his "If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed" comment to a group of British exchange students in China, during a 1986 state visit).

Also, he reportedly had more than an eye for the ladies, yet not a single kiss-and-tell emerged during his lifetime.

Truly a technicolour, cinematographic life.


Prince Philip: tales of the unexpected

Three wheels on our wagon ... "In 1956, we took our family summer holiday on Anglesey. Approaching the Menai Suspension Bridge, we had a puncture. We children, aged six and four, stayed in the car with our mother while Dad changed the wheel.
     "A Land Rover with two men inside stopped. One got out and asked Dad if he could help. Dad thanked him with a brief glance in his direction, saying he'd almost finished. The man spoke briefly to my mother through the open window of the car before driving off.
     "It was the Duke of Edinburgh. My parents never forgot this act of kindness."
Martin Tooley of Southampton, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph

The newspapers have been awash with unexpected tales of the character and humour of Prince Philip. A brace of letters ticked my old funny bone; the above, from a member of the public, especially so given that Prince Philip's final journey will be in the back of a Land Rover - and the following, from a high-profile English author, essayist and playwright...

A different kind of puncture ... "Prince Philip liked nothing better than to puncture formality. We met in the late Sixties at a Writers' Guild awards ceremony, all gowns and diamonds - he the guest of honour, I a young television writer. It was a good night.
     "When I received my third award Prince Philip said: 'We can't go on meeting like this,' then after a brief pause: 'I've run out of conversation. I'll say rhubarb rhubarb, then you say rhubarb rhubarb.' And that, dear reader, is exactly what we did."
Fay Weldon of Rushden, Northants, in a letter to The Times.


Sunday is knock-knock day

Who's there?
Rachael who?
Um, Rachael, as in: "I don't feel male or female right now. I don't even feel human ... It's unbelievable."

How else to acknowledge Rachael Blackmore, 31, the jockey from Tipperary, who yesterday made history as the first woman to win the Grand National, the race first run in 1839, aboard Minella Times (went off as fourth favourite at 11/1).

Reflecting on Rachael's triumph, I am not a horse racing man, but I enjoy watching; indeed, Rachael has climbed on to my Grand National podium to join Foinavon and Red Rum as names burnt into my brain's hard drive.

For National Velvet read National Treasure.

Anyway, Rachael: Come in, come in...


Five-star letters from Middle-Britain - 2

Spoilt for choice ... "What a development for the good people of Scotland: they now have a choice between the Scottish People's Front and the People's Front of Scotland." Robert Dobson of Tenterden, Kent, in a letter to The Times.

As the Scottish Parliament gears up for the election to be held on 6 May 2021, Alex Salmond, 66, clickety-click, reappears on the scene with his new Alba Party (People's Front of Scotland?) to challenge Nicola Sturgeon, 50, half-a-century, and her established Scottish National Party (Scottish People's Front?), the glorious letter from Robert Dobson is a reminder that there is no escaping the wisdom of Monty Python's Life of Brian.

On the same theme, it is also worth reminding ourselves of a letter from earlier in the month...

Addendum (04/04/2021): A pause for thought apropos the resurrection of Scottish politician Alex Salmond, formerly of the Scottish People's Front but now of the People's Front of Scotland:
A bit fishy ... "April fools in the media are becoming less and less subtle. On the radio this morning I listened to Alex Salmond pretending that he's still a credible politician." Rod Craig of Kingston Lisle, Oxfordshire, in a letter to The Sunday Times.


The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921 - 2021)

June 10, 1921 ... Born in Corfu to Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of the German House of Battenberg. Sixth in line to the Greek throne.

1928 ... Philip is sent to school in Britain and lives with his mother's family, the Mountbattens.

Nov 20, 1947 ... Marries Princess Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey.

1956 ... Philip and his old Gordonstoun School mentor Kurt Hahn launch the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, which would go on to become the Duke's most enduring legacy - the awards have now spread to over 144 countries and are a byword for excellence and achievement, generating exceptionally positive reaction from those who have been involved with, and received, the awards.

A pause for thought...

"It needs more skill than I can tell
      To play the second fiddle well."
A couplet composed by the quintessential Victorian Englishman Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), the famous Baptist minister and orator, known as the "Prince of Preachers".

[Note for the tone deaf amongst us: The leading performer in an orchestra is the first violin. By extension, to play first violin is to take the leading part in any enterprise. A familiar or contemptuous name for a violin is a fiddle, so to play second fiddle is to take a subordinate part. To play the second fiddle well is to give loyal support to your immediate superior.]

April 9, 2021 ... Prince Philip dies at Windsor Castle, aged 99.

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Letters from Middle-Britain - 23

Bugger! ... "My sympathies to the person who failed to complete a 54,000-piece jigsaw (Mail). Why is it always the last piece that's missing?" Richard Rogers, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

And talking of the complex jigsaw "I swear by Almighty Oprah that the evidence I shall give shall be my truth, my whole truth, and nothing but my truth", in particular the growing evidence of Megan and Harry's truth pieces not quite fitting, I rather enjoyed this response...

Who's truth? ... "The Duchess of Sussex has complained to Ofcom [The UK's Office of Communications] about Piers Morgan's comments. To whom should I complain about the shocking inconsistencies in her interview?" Susan Lister of West Horndon, Essex, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Meanwhile, back at No 10 Downing Street, Old London Town...

The Creation of Boris ... "How can two-and-half million pounds be spent on decorating 10 Downing Street's new press briefing room? Who did it, Michelangelo?" Chris Sharp of Leeds, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

The Recreation of Boris ... "My failing eyesight gave me fleeting hope as I misread Boris Johnson's pledge of a return to 'some semblance of normality (Report, 6 April) as his pledging a return to 'some semblance of morality'. Some hope." John Fullman of Thornton Heath, Old London Town, in a letter to The Guardian.

Finally, the end of lockdown can't come fast enough for some...

It's a numbers game ... "I was born on 28.7.42. Today [06.04.2021] I am 28,742 days old. Now that I can, perhaps I should get out more." John Haycock of Old London Town, in a letter to The Guardian.

Perhaps John should have a go at that 54,000-piece jigsaw.


Dolly and Elle take a quick jab to the deltoid

All together now ... "♪♪♪: Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I'm begging of you, please don't hesitate..." So sang Dolly Parton, 75, back at the beginning of March before receiving her first Moderna shot at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, paraphrasing her famous song, Jolene - and exceedingly entertaining it was, too.

Indeed, Dolly has been credited with donating a million dollars to fund the early stage-trial of the Moderna vaccine. A star in the true meaning of the word.

Whether by chance or design, the choice of young carer Elle Taylor, 24, from nearby Ammanford, to be the first Briton to receive the Moderna jab in the UK at the West Wales General Hospital in Carmarthen, was inspired.

Given that Elle would not be off the telly and social media all day, it was a clever subliminal jab to those young people who are a bit sceptical of being vaccinated.

And there she was, so laid-back she looked as if she was on her way to a night out with the girls. And as for that sparkly facemask, Dolly would have endorsed it with a hoot and a holler. But most impressive of all, when staff nurse Laura French administered the jab, Laura didn't avert her eyes...

Elle takes a quick jab to the deltoid

Elle Taylor becomes the first Briton in the UK to receive the Moderna vaccine

Most of us - including me and Dolly (watch her amusing vaccination turn on YouTube) - will look away a bit sharpish when a needle is loitering with intent, which is why television's addiction to endlessly showing people being jabbed is so off-putting to many.

Finally, how good is it to have a vaccine that is both easy to say and spell?


Hold the front page: snow at Easter

Last Sunday revisited ... "Knock-knock! Who's there? Lettuce! Lettuce who? Lettuce in, it's really cold outside. And the weather folk always say that here in the UK we're more likely to have snow at Easter than at Christmas. Brrr! Please, lettuce in, we're freezing..."

Well blow me, this morning there's a coating of snow, having spread south from north of the border. But it is just a light covering, and the roads and paths remain clear.

So I extend my daily morning walk into town to take in the local woods to see how much covering of snow the emerging bluebells have experienced.

Navigating the path through the woods, I note that very little snow has passed the tree canopy, indeed what has made it to the ground has melted away - except...

The path through the woods

Snow reluctant to clear off the boardwalk

A short boardwalk over a stream - currently dry due to the lack of recent rain - has retained the snow cover while it has melted away completely off the woodland floor and the path. It's an image that tickled my faithful old i-Spot, my imagination-spot. Exceedingly eye-catching.

Oh, and those are my footprints, the giveaway being that I am one of those rare people whose feet do not splay but point pretty much directly ahead when walking. A curious fact.

Also, look to the far end of the boardwalk, and the snow highlights that the second board in hasn't been properly trimmed. Detention for the carpenter - and a hundred snowballs hurled in his (or her?) direction.


And they're off

A shot in the dark ... "Grand National week started with a huge shock in today's Irish Grand National when nine-year-old rank outsider FREEWHEELIN DYLAN, a 150-1 shot, lived up to his name and made all the running to win ... the longest priced winner of the race since it was first run in 1870." Easter Monday's exciting race of 28 runners over three miles and five furlongs perfectly captured in that headline.

Oh, and winning 216,000 Euros in the process for owner and head groom Sheila Mangan (who had backed him at 66-1, 100-1 and 150-1 because she was confident the bookies had it horribly wrong).

The horse is trained by Dermot McLoughlin: "I said to jockey Ricky Doyle, he likes to bowl along there in front, and that jumping's his forte so use him up. And he kept on bowling along, and whenever he looked like getting swamped by more fancied horses he would take another length out of the field with his jumping."

I'm not a horse racing man, but I enjoy following it on the box - I mean, those horses are such magnificent creatures to watch, and it really hurts when one falls and does itself a mischief and has to be put down.

And I particularly enjoy the names they give these horses. Freewheelin Dylan is a marvellous example; the name just slips off the tongue (with shades of Dylan Thomas, who also liked to bowl along there in front).

Recent names that have tickled my i-Spot, my imagination-spot, are:
     Brian the Snail
     Master TommyTucker
     Christmas in April
     Paddys Motorbike
     Show Me Show Me
     Air Force Jet

And of course there are those legendary names like Red Rum and Tiger Roll, which literally roll off the tongue.

If I owned a race horse, I guess I would call it Shwmae. And if I owned two, I'd call the second Shwmae Shwmae.

Finally, is it not amazing how sport regularly throws up these extraordinary results against, er, all the odds? You can add Wales winning this year's Six Nations Rugby Championship to Freewheelin Dylan's success. Whilst Wales wasn't the rank outsider - that would have been Italy - not many would have put money on Wales singing We Are The Champions!


Sunday is knock-knock day

Who's there?
Lettuce who?
Lettuce in, it's really cold outside. And the weather folk always say that here in the UK we're more likely to have snow at Easter than at Christmas. Brrr! Please, lettuce in, we're freezing.



Five-star broadcast moments - 1

I'm off! ... "No surprises that Roy Grace's wife had walked out on him all those years ago (Grace, a new two-part ITV crime drama introducing Detective Superintendent Roy Grace). What a bore. After less than two hours, I did the same." Anthony Green, in a Sunday Times "You say" comment about the Brighton-based detective who has hit rock-bottom in his life.

Less grief, please ... "Ever-more gruesome, depressing detective shows throughout lockdown will make many a viewer more paranoid and isolated. Lighten up and give us more joy." Michelle FitzHerbert-Kellett adds her "You say" comment to Grace proceedings.

Well, a balance between joy and doolallyness is my thing. Now I never watch drama on the box, indeed the above exceedingly funny comment from Anthony Green perhaps helps explain why.

In fact, I keep abreast of things I never watch by following Gogglebox (Channel 4), a series where amusing and witty common-or-garden telly viewers are filmed in their own homes while watching the highest-rated shows on British television.

So the show features a clip from Remarkable Places to Eat (BBC2), where TV foodie celebrities Nadiya Hussain, 36, takes Frenchman Fred Sirieix, 49, to visit some of her favourite eateries around Yorkshire, especially a visit to popular tearoom Bettys in Harrogate, a venue where people often queue round the block to get in.

While there, Nadiya says she could not visit without sampling a "Fat Rascal" - a Yorkshire classic which is similar to a scone or rock cake in both taste and ingredients, but obviously blessed with a more mischievously playful nibble.

So, back on Gogglebox, best friends Jenny and Lee are watching, and Jenny says, flicking her eyes sidelong at Lee: "Fat rascal? That's a new one on me. I know a fat bastard, though."

Meanwhile, this morning, listening to Money for Nothing (Radio Wales), a 50s to 80s music request and dedications show, and host Owen Money, broadcasting from home because of lockdown, says: "The wife just popped in while the music was playing: 'I'm going to the dump. Do you want anything?' I think I know what she means - but she could have phrased it better."

Joy reinstated.


Bottled water is just rubbish

Evians above ... "If ever I become Prime Minister - the day can't be far off now - bottled water would be first on my list of things to ban. Just above cats." English journalist Rod Liddle, 61, rounds off a brief piece in his weekly Sun column endorsing the newspaper's war against single-use plastic packaging as the country sinks under the volume of discarded rubbish.

Rod took a particular swipe at bottled water and pondered if there has ever been such an environmentally damaging con job: "Why do we still drink the stuff? And the people who DO drink it look so bloody virtuous."

I have to say I am in Rod's camp on this one (except for the cats, obviously, but I think he was jesting). In fact I have never partaken of bottled water. At home, I fill bottles with tap water and pop them in the fridge - perfect.

And on the theme of rubbish, this, just released by NASA...

"If ever I become Prime Minister, bottled water would be first on my
list of things to ban."
English journalist Rod Liddle

My favourite item of news spotted, er, just yesterday...


April Fool's Day

The Guardian: corrections and clarifications ... "An article in early editions of yesterday's paper said that, despite suspicions of an early April Fools' Day joke, Volkswagen had confirmed it was changing its name to 'VoltsWagen' in North America in an attempt to reflect its investment in electric vehicles.
     "This was based on what turned out to be an intentionally false statement on the US website of the car company, which has since made clear it is not changing its name and that the announcement was a joke ('VoltsWagen's eco name change officially not an April Fool joke', 31 March, page 16)."
Joy and doolallyness in extremis, all compliments of today's Guardian newspaper.

We are regularly told that the Germans lack a sense of humour, so much so that we are also constantly reminded that their default setting is a need to rule the world. ("For you, Tommy, zee war is over!"; or, in today's values: "For you, members of the European Union, the economic war is over!")

So I had to laugh at the VoltsWagen joke. I mean, it is funny. But, but, but...

The Volkswagen emissions scandal, also known as Dieselgate or Emissionsgate, began in September 2015, when the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act to the Volkswagen Group. Which has cost the company some 30 billion quid in fines and compensation around the world - so to make a joke with the scandal still fresh in American memories - well...?

"For you, Fritz, zee joke is over."

Addendum (04/04/2021): A pause for thought apropos the resurrection of Scottish politician Alex Salmond (66, clickety-click):
A bit fishy ... "April fools in the media are becoming less and less subtle. On the radio this morning I listened to Alex Salmond pretending that he's still a credible politician." Rod Craig of Kingston Lisle, Oxfordshire, in a letter to The Sunday Times.



If a tree screams in the woods...

"People create Edvard Munch's Scream out of slippers and clothes, as they make art out of household objects during lockdown." Part of an eye-catching artistic clickbait that caught the eye from a year ago, and I duly clicked. To recap:

I was particularly captivated by efforts to recreate the Scream, especially the one made out of slippers and clothes, and featured below (left). However, and dare I suggest, Mother Nature does an even better job as she reacts to what we are doing to the planet, particularly so when you ponder how pollution, both in the air and in the rain, is making our trees especially vulnerable to a host of nasty diseases...

Edvard Munch's Scream:

a slippery customer  ...  via the real thing  ...  to a conker cracker

When the horse chestnut - or the conker tree as I know it, and is particularly vulnerable to something really nasty called 'bleeding canker' - when the horse chestnut prepares to burst into leaf and flower, there's a magical moment that lasts but a day or so, when the leaves are ready to explode out of the bud ... and as you can see, above (right), captured compliments of a friendly Towy Valley tree, it really is Edvard Munch's Scream writ large.

Anyway, back in the here and now, the other day I posted my first bluebell of the season, so over recent days I've spotted my first "Screams" of the spring season. So here are a couple of the smiliest...

The Scream, ahoy!
When you go down to the woods today ... will you spot anything funnier?

Mother Nature never misses a trick to generate a smile - so we should show her some respect in return.

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