|5: LOOK YOU : MAY 2020|
♪♪♪: Spring is bustin' out all over...
♪♪♪: "There's a bright golden haze on the meadow..." The eight words that greeted me at around 2.08pm today, on BBC2, as the rousing Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! got under way.
And talking of musicals, the headline at the top should of course read "June is bustin' out all over", from yet another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel, but the weather folk have just confirmed that we have had the sunniest spring since records began in 1929, and for England and Wales also the driest May for 124 years (following on from the wettest February for 158 years), so currently Mother Nature is running about a month ahead of schedule.
And just to prove it, the hedgerows are ablaze with foxgloves, which don't traditionally appear in the UK until June. And just to prove it...
Ten red foxgloves, hanging on the stem...
There, I bet you did the old abacus thing ... yep, every day a
day at school, even during lockdown.
A land of hoop and glory
"The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo ... Alice soon came to the conclusion that it was a very difficult game indeed." Alice plays the game of croquet; the flamingos are of course the birds that the Queen of Hearts uses as mallets, and the balls are live hedgehogs. In the real world, Alice - or Boris as I now think of her, i.e. Boris's Adventures in Wonderland - Boris would of course use Donald Trump as the mallet and Xi Jinping's head as the ball.
"A day without croquet is a day wasted, like a day without sunshine," Tory MSP Tom Mason (b.1942) might have said because he was greeted by mocking laughter in the Scottish Parliament for asking when croquet might be played again. Labour's John Prescott (b.1938) would have empathised because he was mercilessly teased for playing it when he was deputy prime minister.
Yet sales of croquet sets have risen by as much as 600% as lockdowners look for a sport that will not be ruined by social distancing. But be warned, and as Alice discovered, the game isn't as genteel as it might seem.
"It gives release to all the evil in you," said American newspaperman Herbert Swope (1882-1958). "It's a good game."
I also like what American writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) had to say on the subject: "The game of golf would lose a great deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green."
The American city of Boston actually banned croquet in 1898 because of its association with drinking and promiscuity. Which rather suggests that the game might not be so good for two metre social distancing after all.
To finish where we started - oh, a 'billy club' is a police
officer's baton - this from the Cheshire Cat: "Here's a riddle:
When is a croquet mallet like a billy club? I'll tell you:
Whenever you want it to be!" Mind you, in Boris's Adventures
in Wonderland, a billy club would of course be a Taser.
Yesterday, horrible plastic ... today, beautiful buttercups
Chin up Buttercup, you're the cream of the crop
2020 appears to be the year of the buttercup. They are everywhere.
Oceans of them.
The oceans: death by plastic
"Never before have we been so aware of what we are doing to our planet - and never before have we had such power to do something about it." Sir David Attenborough, seemingly, and sadly, fighting a losing battle.
I do my little bit for the environment by picking up the rubbish along the lanes where I take my daily walks, and in the process, observe the world about me. I am compiling a Top 10 of the most doolally items people chuck away along the roads they navigate and walk. However, even during lockdown people still throw things away. In the 66 days since lockdown, there have been just three days when I have picked up no rubbish.
However, what with this shocking plastic problem we are subjecting the planet to I thought I'd share with you photos of the two more appalling items I've picked up. The first was about a week or so into lockdown, a bottle of - well, here it is...
I originally though it was a glass bottle, so I put it into my recycling bag. Actually it was plastic, and when I got home I had a closer look at it ... on the front label it says "Kills bacteria, fungi, viruses*" (there was no reference or evaluation regarding the asterisk). The only reason I could deduce why someone would chuck away a virtually full bottle of hand gel was the best before date on the back: 12/2014.
The second photo shows the latest and regular throwaway item, a pair of plastic gloves, disposed of in a pull-in on a country lane. I guess they'd been used during a shopping trip or filling up with fuel. It beggars belief.
Oh yes, the golf ball in the first photo: about half-a-mile further along from the gel bottle, there it was by the side of the road. Now there are no golf courses hereabouts, so I presume that someone must have been walking their dog, which suddenly decided it had had enough of carrying the ball.
I've added it to my collection of the weird and wonderful balls
I've amassed along my walks down the years, most of them washed
up on Towy Valley fields following floods. Another photo
See you later alligator
"'Hitler's alligator' dies in Moscow at age of 84." A snappy clickbait spotted compliments of The Independent newspaper - which drew this comment from a Steve Blundell: "Very sad. I've always said he never really got over the Fuhrer's death."
Perhaps the headline above should have read 'See you later allictator'. Whatever, given the continuing rumble in the lockdown jungle regarding Dominic Cummings and his escape to Durham, I did half expect a clickbait along these lines:
"'Boris's tarantula' makes his excuses and disappears into an underground burrow in London at age of 48." But no, our Dom is still going strong (I think).
Next, I caught sight of this clickbait on MSN:
"59 of the biggest celebrity splits that left us heartbroken." I had visions of a nation weeping and wailing - and I smiled, especially at the thought of Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson splitting and leaving 52% of he nation heartbroken. But accompanying the clickbait was a photo of a male/female couple ... I had not the faintest idea who I should be shedding a tear over, so I clicked.
The first picture that appeared though was of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, recalling their famous "conscious uncoupling" announcement. I remember that because I can never stop thinking of a hit song from my youth:
"♪♪♪: The runaway train came down the track and she blew, the runaway train came down the track, her whistle wide and her throttle back, and she blew, blew, blew, blew, blew" - and Gwynnie, bless, has been giving us a blew job since the uncoupling and coming down the track with her whistle wide and her throttle back. Coming being the operative word, as far as I can tell.
Oh, and the couple I didn't recognise? Rachel McAdams and Ryan
Gosling. None the wiser. I shall concentrate on Dominic coming
down the track with Boris. And no blowing of whistles,
Advance from "stay at home" to "stay alert"
Invisible touch: "The government implores us to 'stay alert'. My dictionary defines alert as 'quick to see'. How? This virus is invisible." Nicholas Wilding of Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, in a letter to The Sunday Times, in the wake of Boris Johnson marginally relaxing the lockdown rules and changing the message from "Stay at Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives." to "Stay Alert. Control the Virus. Save Lives." ... generating much confusion in the process.
When I read the above letter, I remember thinking ... what an odd letter. I mean, you engage your instincts and apply a bit of common sense: wash hands, social distancing, avoid crowds like the plague... I know, I know, Dominic Cummings said "I followed my instincts and travelled 260 miles to Durham", which I guess I would have done too if I had a four-year-old child to put first, as I suppose all parents would.
Whatever, the following week The Sunday Times published this response to the vexed "stay alert" conundrum:
Eye-opener: "Being alert can mean using your eyes but also being attentive and on your guard. The most alert friend I have - who is often aware of things before I am - is blind." Steve Dobell of Old London Town, SW14.
Also, I particularly enjoyed this response about the en garde confusion, from a Ryan Price, a plumber, who tells Channel 4 News he has no patience with those who say the new lockdown rules are too vague: "What do you want, a full handbook telling you what to do?"
I like that. And on the subject of different rules applying in England and Wales and thus adding to the confusion, this wonderfully smiley letter in the Western Mail:
Wall of separation in the coronavirus war: "Now that England and Wales have different Covid-19 rules, should we rename the Severn's Prince of Wales Bridge as 'Checkpoint Charlie'?" Keith Morgan of Whitchurch, Cardiff.
so adore the letters pages of newspapers for their wit, wisdom
and stay alertness.
Cummings but no goings - so?
"The media was in a furious passion, and went stamping about, and shouting 'Off with his head!' about once in a minute." Every day in every way I feel more like the Cheshire Cat - or more correctly the Carmarthenshire Cat - eavesdropping on Boris's Adventures in Wonderland, especially when the Mad Hatter, a.k.a. Dominic Cummings, appears on the scene ... see above regarding today's press conference in the Downing Street rose-garden (see what I mean about Boris's Adventures in Wonderland) apropos Cummings breaching lockdown when he caught Covid-19 - and then getting caught out in the slips in the process.
Seriously though, what is it about humanity that people don't understand? The powerful, the rich and the famous play by different rules - always have, always will.
No matter what form of government you have - from Jinping, Putin and Jong-un, via Trump, Merkel and Macron, to Johnson, Sturgeon and Drakeford - they are simply being faithful to Mother Nature's Prime Directive: the survival of the fittest. There is nothing you can do about it. Just be thankful you live in a democracy.
Above all, remain faithful to your beliefs and instincts, and hopefully the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train but a bright and sunny day.
"Covid-19 is racist, fattist, sexist and richist and we need to understand why it is discriminatory in all these areas." James Nicholas Bethell, 52, 5th Baron Bethell, Health Minister and Minister for Innovation (that's an interesting one, Innovation). Actually, I added "richist" because coronavirus favours the wealthy (see Mother Nature's Prime Directive, above).
So, let's be careful out there.
PS: On the 27th, I had letters published in both the
Western Mail and The Sun on the above.
"Write to amuse? What an appalling suggestion! I write to make people anxious and miserable and to worsen their indigestion." Now who said that? Fran Unsworth, Director, News & Current Affairs at BBC News? Dominic Cummings? Patrick Roach, general secretary of the teachers' union? Nicola Sturgeon? Keir Starmer? Donald Trump and his tweets? Columnist and television presenter Piers Morgan, perhaps?
No, it was contemporary English poet Wendy Cope, 74, from her book of poems and parodies, Serious Concerns (1992). And when I first read that quotation, I smiled. Which I think is what Wendy intended me to do.
And on the subject of brightening up someone's day...
Morning, not quite all: "On my daily walk I count the people returning my 'Good morning' greeting. Yesterday's score was nine out of 15." Mary Yeoman of Horsham, West Sussex, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.
In an effort to raise Mary's 60% "Good morning" response rate, I can only commend my Native American "How!" greeting - or the Welsh "Shwmae!", as is my wont. Critically I also smile as I greet, and I have to report a 100% response. Remember though that just a reflected smile counts as a greeting, indeed a graceful nod is as good as a wink as good as a "Shwmae!". Even drivers I meet along local country lanes respond with a nod or an elegantly raised index finger off the wheel, sometimes all four fingers, to acknowledge my greeting.
So I think if Mary smiles as she says "Good morning" I'm pretty
sure her response rate will climb towards 100% - after all, when
we engage with the world about us we are really holding up a
Nature can read us like a book ... because she wrote the book
"The infamous R number - reproduction number - appears to be pure conjecture or guesswork. What credibility should one place on this factor as lockdown is slowly unpicked? Indeed does Boris know his Rs from his elbow?" My pal Chief Wise Owl, at a suitable distance over the front gate.
With England given more freedom than the other home countries to escape lockdown, we have seen film and photographs of crowded parks and beaches with people finding it a challenge to mind the two metre gap - which prompts the question why we react en masse the way we do. Indeed has the government been fixated with herd immunity but ignored herd (or mob) mentality?
Mega moons ago, a crowd of us would meet at our local Crazy Horse Saloon on a Friday evening and we would go on safari, visiting pubs in outlying villages. On Saturdays we would go to the rugby at Llanelli - back then games were always in the afternoon - and on the way home we would call at many a watering hole along the dusty trail.
But here's the thing: I noted on both days, that if the first pub we visited was much quieter than normal, then every pub would be quiet. However, if the first pub was busy, then every pub would be busy. And that's when I began to grasp herd mentality. Like all animals, we are programmed to behave in a subconscious manner without ever knowing or even wondering why, hence overcrowded parks and beaches and the like.
When video recorders first appeared on the scene, I was for many a year a member of the panel used to measure television viewing figures. Chatting to the engineer that occasionally called to sort out problems with the electronic box that recorded the data and transferred it automatically at 2 o'clock every morning over the telephone line, I learnt how surprisingly small the viewer panel was.
Every time I switched on the telly ... changed channels ... used the video to record or playback ... switched off ... I worked out (on the back of an envelope admittedly) that some 5,000 or so people across the nation were doing precisely the same thing. And this information was accepted by opposing sides: the television people who wanted viewing figures to be as high as possible, and advertisers who wanted it to be realistic because viewing figures determine the rates advertisers should pay.
We also know that pollsters need interview only 1,000 precisely selected individuals to establish how a nation is thinking. Yes, they will often interview 1,500 people, even 2,000, but that's to overcome any problems with selection irregularities.
In other words, there are only a thousand or so human blueprints, which subscribes to the claim by geneticists that we are all descended from just a thousand people, individuals that would have survived some catastrophic event, much like Covid-19, I guess.
So next time you think you're
a bit unique, just remember there are 66,000 Brits out there who
think and behave precisely as you do. Hence crowded parks and
Brexit? Remind me what that was all about...
In, out, shake it all about: "Has anyone told Michel Barnier, the European Union negotiator, that we are leaving the EU and not joining it?" Nick Malins of Stourbridge, Worcestershire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, responding to news that Barnier was getting rather cross that trade negotiations were not going his way.
Now I had a good smile at that, mostly because I'd forgotten all about the never-ending Brexit shemozzle. Is it really only five months ago that we were tripping over The People's Vote, Lords Heseltine and Adonis, Gina Miller, Lady Hale and her giant spider broach which was a subliminal invitation to Boris to enter her lovely parlour - and oh how we miss John Bercow, especially as he was passed over for a peerage, the first Speaker in 230 years not to given a knighthood.
"The absence of Mr Bercow," wrote journalist Charles Moore, "is particularly soothing - like being able to hear birdsong beside a motorway in our Covid-induced silence." You could say that the knighthood became a night-hood to cover his cage and rage and to give most of us a bit of peace and quiet.
Meanwhile, the battle against obesity continues apace. I read some correspondence where bariatric surgeons were saying that "obesity is a disease, not a choice", while orthopaedic surgeons responded with: "Really? Matter cannot be created out of nothing." Yep, it's a jungle out there. And then this...
"Australian dietitian reveals the five huge mistakes people make with food and why you're not losing weight." A Mail Online clickbait beckoned, especially given yesterday's heavyweight tip about losing weight.
So straight down to the comments...
This Court Is Now In Session:
"The five huge mistakes can be bundled into one mega mistake:
eating too much [see yesterday's EL Diet]."
Now remind yourself of the EL Diet sheet, included free in
Bend it like Boris
"It's all right for you thinnies." Boris Johnson, who weighed more than 17 stone before his brush with Covid-19, discusses obesity as the government gears up for a health drive and he is anointed the nation's "Fatbuster-in-chief".
"With Boris set to battle both his and the nation's obesity crisis, it gives a whole new meaning to 'flatten the curve'." Me, of Llandeilo Town, in a letter to the Daily Mail.
With obesity established as a determining factor in coronavirus deaths, we learn that being overweight affects 29% of adults in the UK - nearly a third of the population, gulp - while in Japan it is 4%. Scientists believe that this may help explain why Britain has the highest death toll in Europe and one of the highest per capita in the world, yet Japan by contrast has been remarkably unscathed by Covid-19 deaths (nearly 40,000 deaths in Britain, 734 in Japan with a population 50% larger than Britain's and with a far higher proportion of elderly people).
As the UK sinks under its tide of obesity, my own fighting weight, metaphorically speaking, is 12 stone. My sparring weight is 12-and-a-half stone, which I live quite contentedly with. My rarely worn hatch, match and dispatch suit, which dates from the early Eighties, still fits perfectly (and as a bonus, a quality suit never goes out of fashion, sort of).
That said I am blessed with a sweet tooth so I will slowly but sugarly put on the pounds. As soon as I reach 13 stone I go on the EL Diet, and over a couple of months I return to my sparring weight; occasionally I will keep right on toward my fighting weight.
Losing half-a-stone was made easier by a rather wonderful trick a female GP I once got into conversation with on a train, told me. When she wanted a patient to lose weight she aimed for a target of just half-a-stone at a time, whether that individual needed to lose 7lbs, 7 stone or 17 stone. And this is what she did...
She would ask the patient to stand up and hold out his or her hands, as if she was about to administer the cane. She would then reach down and pull out a 2lb bag of sugar from a drawer and place it on the patient's hands. Then another ... and another ... and one more - 8lbs of sugar in total.
She would keep chatting while both were standing - the longer a patient had to stand there holding 8lbs of dead weight the more it weighed on that person's psychology. And her punchline was this: "Loose half-a-stone, and that's four bags less of sugar you'll be needlessly carting around, meaning lots less stress on body and soul. And then we can tackle the next half-a-stone."
She said it worked rather well, especially the next half-a-stone. I must say, when I want to lose weight the idea of needlessly carting around those four bags of sugar does indeed concentrate the mind.
Oh yes, the EL Diet. That's the Eat Less Diet - 100% guaranteed, and you don't need to cut anything out, just eat and drink a third less than you normally would. Life really is remarkably simple when we revert to basics.
"Has anyone heard a cuckoo this spring?" Roger Crawford of Meppershall, Bedfordshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail (sighted squatting just beneath my letter, as it happens).
I include the above because this very morning, along my morning walk, I heard what I first thought was a woodpigeon at some distance, but quickly realised it was a cuckoo. My first cuckoo of the season: "In April, come he will. / In May, he sings all day. / In June, he changes his tune. / In July, he prepares to fly. / In August, go he must..."
I guess it must have been a trainee young cock of the walk I heard, leaving his mating call rather late because, what with global warming, studies now show that tagged cuckoos, despite what the above nursery rhyme says, most will have left UK airspace by the end of June.
Over and out.
Yes you can!
"Victoria's Secret model Kelly Gale shares her 15 minute upper body workout using tinned tomatoes as weights while in isolation." A Daily Mail headline invites readers to take a peep at the 24-year-old Swedish-Australian model's impressive physique and handy workout. In the meantime...
"Doing aerobics while holding two tins of fruit - isn't that the can-can?" Vincent Hefter of Old London Town responds with a letter to the Daily Mail.
Meanwhile, on another front, or more correctly, on another font...
"Your handwriting is going to become an official and fully functional font - what would its title be?" An intriguing question posed on the wireless.
I rather liked a couple of the suggestions: Spider crawl, or if you're posh, Hieroglyphic. And how about this: What the Helvetica.
Me? If I'm writing in the slow lane, then I flirt with a kind of Copperplate Script - flirt being the operative word, mind. However, if I'm writing in the fast lane, then it's exceedingly What the Helvetica. Mostly though I write roughly in the middle, somewhere between Copperplate Script and What the Helvetica, so I suppose I could call mine a Centre Lane font.
Out of interest I went online and had a look at what had been a trending thread on the subject. The name that attracted far and away the most votes was OP's Parkin Sans, which had me, like loads of others, puzzled as to its significance or meaning. Indeed someone did ask why Parkin Sans was the best voted font. This was the response: "Presumably 'OP' has Parkinson's Disease, a condition that causes tremor, which often leads to unreadable writing."
So the general feeling was, and shared by myself, that Parkin
Sans really was an exceedingly clever wordplay name for what
would, after all, be a somewhat wobbly handwriting font.
13/05/2020: "Is NASA actually working on a warp drive?"
Clickbait spotted at news.yahoo.com
Pause for thought:
Do you suppose that if they unplugged Donald Trump ... and
switched him back on again after three minutes, the default
Leadership and the American Presidency Project Program would
kick back in ... and all would once more be well with the world?
Well, sort of.
Come along at the back there, pay attention
"Sex and booze: during lockdown they seem to be all some people can think about. Take our report on 90-year-old New Yorker Betty Dodson, who has launched masturbation classes over Zoom." The Sunday Times gets all down and naughty as it reviews online comments apropos the, er, elephant in the Zoom.
Quite a few commenters came over all queer it seems, alluding to "immoral attitudes" and such like - but most had a smile on their comments. Indeed, joy and doolallyness in one fell swoop. I enjoyed these observations:
Betty Dodson: "They say meditate, I say masturbate, which
is a form of meditation."
And these deserve a mention in dispatches:
Woody Allen: "Don't
knock it. It's sex with someone I love."
And on that note, but staying with The Sunday Times, this was columnist Niall Ferguson, 56, Scottish-born historian and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University (a posh think-tank - but does it beat, as it sweeps, as it cleans to generate "Positive Agitation", see Hoover vacuum cleaners?), and a fellow who spends his life sitting in judgment on his fellow human beings - lots of mention of fellows in there. Anyway, in his piece about town v country living, he says this: "I prefer homes in the country, with my neighbours at a distance behind trees - plenty of them."
I'm always wary of those who want to hide behind trees and the like. What are they being so secretive about? Along my walk into town I pass a couple of neighbouring properties: one is open plan, the grounds surrounding the place are completely open to view by passers-by, as is the home itself. Next door is a property completely cut off by high walls, tall hedges and trees ... you can't see anything of the grounds or the property, apart from its pine end.
I know which property I'd be happiest living next to.
Talking of my walk into town, I pass loads of homes with many a variation on the theme of "Thank You NHS" messages and rainbows in windows. One property caught my eye, with lots of pictures of various key workers on show. A farmer on his tractor, presumably off to mow, drew a smile - and here it is...
It juxtaposes quite magnificently with yesterday's picture of
Jeremy Clarkson and his Jumbo Lambo tractor down at Diddly Squat farm
in Oxfordshire. Sadly I don't know who the artist, above, is,
but I obviously know the name of the piss artist, below... but
to be fair he is an exceedingly amusing piss artist.
♪♪♪: One man went to wow...
Farmer Clarkson's got a new motor - and it's a nine-ton Lamborghini: "If Jeremy Clarkson had a tractor, you might imagine it would be a Lamborghini. He does and it is." The television presenter and Sunday Times columnist is ploughing a new furrow as a farmer on his 1,000-acre spread named Diddly Squat (it makes no money) in Oxfordshire. "It's huge," says Jeremy of his Lambo. "Even the front tyres are taller than me."
And then he provides this picture to accompany the article in The Sunday Times...
in his German-built Lambo
Even lounging against the front, he is still taller than the front tyres. Obviously you wouldn't buy a used car - or a used tractor - from Jeremy, ho, ho, ho.
He goes on to claim that size matters in farm machinery, but admits that the tractor, a Lamborghini R8 270 DCR - bought used for 40,000 grand, 100,000+ new - has its detractors, with Old MacDonald, along with every other farmer, saying the same thing, that it is too big. "But in my mind," Jeremy insists, "tractors are like penises. They cannot be too big."
I am reminded of an exchange from yesteryear at my local Crazy Horse Saloon - or the Crazy Horsepower as it now is - when the lads were good-naturedly pulling Dai's leg that he wouldn't win supreme champion at the local show in the Length-of-Willy category (as spotted in the gents with everyone lined up as if facing a firing squad).
"Don't listen to them, Dai," said Pearl the characterful barmaid, sadly no longer of this world. "It isn't the length of the barrel but the power of the shot."
To which Dai added, with a smile: "It may be small, but it's surprisingly busy." Which nobody challenged because everyone knew Dai was not backwards in coming forwards when it came to charming the ladies. And as all today's farmers would testify, the little grey Fergie tractor of yesteryear will still run rings round Jeremy's huge, lumbering Lamborghini when it comes to doing essential little jobs about the place.
Incidentally, and as a son of the soil, I am looking forward to Jeremy's weekly Sunday Times Magazine farming column, just to see if the answer really does lie in the soil.
Apropos his built-in-Germany Lambo tractor, I hope he keeps a
detailed record of problems and costs. Despite being
mechanically sound, farmers tell me that modern tractors, loaded
with complex electronics, are an expensive nightmare when the
British weather - wind, rain, mud, snow, frost, heat, dust -
gets under the machine's foreskin.
You for coffee?
Save as you brew: "Having been unable to have a takeaway coffee for the past nine weeks, I've treated myself to a top-of-the-range coffee machine. Only another four weeks and the savings will have paid for it." A letter in today's Daily Telegraph, but what tickled my funny bone was the author being one Stephen Dunk of Dorchester.
I was instantly prompted to make me a cuppa - and open up a packet of Dunkables (yes, I regularly buy them from my local CK's, "ideal for dunking in your favourite beverage", it says on the tin, er, packet). Stephen's letter also jumped to mind as I walked into town today, and passed a house with this orderly lockdown presentation cum invitation in the front yard (but no table to park a cuppa and dunkable...):
Welcome to my world...
Talking of songs, the Eurovision Song Contest proper should have happened tonight, so instead the BBC did a live online vote for the British public to choose their all-time favourite Eurovision song.
I didn't see it, but the winner was no surprise because it really was a one-horse race with Waterloo from 1974 crowned the viewers' favourite. Abba, after all, are the Dom Perignon of Eurovision victors, indeed Waterloo was of course the song that launched the group's phenomenal popularity.
There are regular articles and documentaries in the media about
what it is that makes a hit song. Well, all you have to do is
study Abba's track record because all their songs are the very
epitome of musicality and catchiness, and blessed with a certain
rhythm that makes them instantly memorable and sing-alongable.
21 - the perfect age to retire?
Take a break: "After I had cleaned the house, mowed the lawn, cut the hedges and cleaned out the shed and garage, my wife pointed me towards the ivy and weeds on the gate and gatepost. Once these were clean, the gatepost was free to fall over of its own accord, having been supported by the ivy for 25 years. Doing nothing is often the cheaper and more useful option." Martin R Cooper of West Horsley, Surrey, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph regarding lockdown consequences.
Oh how I endorse Martin's conclusion apropos "doing nothing is often the cheaper and more useful option". Since the age of 23 I have spent around half my working life hours lolling on the grassy knoll - that's lolling as in lol, lol, lol - simply observing and embracing the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade, happy to let others beat a path through the woods.
Now how does that song from Paint Your Wagon go? "Where am I goin'? / I don't know / Where am I headin'? / I ain't certain / All I know is I am on my way..." Yep, that sounds about right.
Whatever, along the way I did just enough to pay the bills, earn enough to do a few things I really fancied doing - and to put a little bit away, not so much for a rainy day but more to offer some shelter from any passing thunderstorm. It's an arrangement I've been more than happy with.
Then tonight I was watching Gogglebox, in particular the entertaining couple Giles and Mary from Wiltshire. Giles is listed as an occasional writer, painter, broadcaster - oh, and a self-proclaimed natural philosopher.
Anyway, Giles and Mary had been watching an exceptionally moving BBC2 documentary Hospital Special - Fighting Covid-19, in particular a sequence involving Nancy, a community nurse since 1970, who had been struck down by coronavirus and her recovery chances, given some complications, were put at 50-50.
Well, after some critical surgery to have a ventilation tube removed from her throat, she made a full recovery, and on her release gave a soaring and moving speech: "I have worked for the NHS since 1970. I've worked every day of my life and never taken a day off sick. So you can imagine how angry I am that this stupid illness got me." She then thanked the hospital staff who had gathered to applaud her departure, inspirational stuff all round.
Anyway, after the sequence, this priceless exchange unfolded between Giles and wife Mary:
Giles: "I've just read in the paper, Mary, that there's
no guarantee they will find a vaccine. This could be with us for
a long time."
Very funny exchange - and I empathised hugely with Giles, except
I sort of semi-retired at 23, so he did have a two-year head
start on me.
♪♪♪: I see the moon ... and the sun!
"...as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine." A line from the poem Locksley Hall by British poet Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892).
At around 7 o'clock this morning, on a crystal-clear day, I am confronted along my walk by a marvellous sight. Both the setting half-moon and the rising sun are in my line of vision, both floating at around 30 degrees off the horizon. Because the air is so extraordinarily clear, with not a cloud or a single contrail to dim the view, the moon, even allowing for brilliant sunlight, is surprisingly bright (it does not set until midday).
I can't remember seeing something so eye-catching before, probably because the vagaries of the weather, along with the murkiness of the atmosphere and the aforementioned contrails, have simply not allowed such a flawless sight to unveil itself. Oh, and I was walking in a southerly direction, so I couldn't miss the spectacle staring me in the face.
Sadly, even though both sun and moon hover there in my line of vision, my somewhat common or garden camera and its lens is not wide enough to capture the image, so instead I burn the vision onto my brain's hard drive.
However: along my walk the air is awash with the sound of woodpigeons furiously cooing away as they attempt to impress the girls and attract a mate. So I capture a photo of one singing its heart out atop a weeping beech tree...
the light of the silvery half-moon...
I've mentioned bird song previously ... indeed I have a piece in Huw and Smile about it. Here's an excerpt from the book:
Birds are a blank sheet of music: what they reason, feel or communicate is unknowable, hence why we can bless them with whatever values we choose. Listening to the dawn chorus, the little songbirds are the Tim Vines, the comedic one-liner specialists: "♪♪♪: If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?"
The woodpigeon on the other hand is a bit of a poet, a Dylan Thomas: "Hunker down, hunker easy, allow me to embrace you and let us copulate with a cloacal kiss..." Honestly, the old smoothie. The woodpigeon has a distinctively flamboyant and protracted chat-up tune. I think it was Bill Oddie (b.1941), English comedian, TV presenter and birder, who put the pigeon's call into words thus:
"My foot is bleeding ... my foot IS bleeding ... my FOOT is bleeding ... LOOK!"
Now I'm more a glass-nearly-full person: "I love you madly ... I love YOU madly ... I LOVE you madly ... FEEL!"
Yes, an early-morning walk along country lanes is a smile a
minute, often many more smiles a minute
especially so during the mating season when the sun and the moon
turn water unto wine.
♪♪♪: Show me the way to go to the pub
Town v country: "The article by Libby Purves ('Think hard before leaving city life behind', May 11) reminds me of a visit years ago when friends from London stayed for the weekend. On the way to the pub down unlit country roads, one of them suddenly asked: 'How do you know where you are going?'." Annette Payne of Malvern, Worcestershire, in a letter to The Times. [Malvern lies at the foot of the Malvern Hills, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.]
Well that made me smile. And adding the bit about the Malvern Hills somehow made it even more smiley.
Funnily enough, I remember way back, and a girlfriend from Old London Town came down to stay. When we went into Llandeilo on a busy Saturday afternoon, and walking along the street and heading for one of the pubs, she couldn't get over how I'd smile and cheerily acknowledge all and sundry, often exchanging brief greetings: "How come you know everyone?"
This simply didn't happen in London, for rather obvious reasons. In any rural community everyone pretty much knows everyone else anyway. And just like Annette Payne of Malvern, it's a line that has remained with me.
Mention of traversing country roads, this morning along my morning walk, I pass a laburnum tree - or golden chain as I always think of it - and I couldn't resist taking a picture (note the sky of blue minus those toxic contrails)...
When I was growing up on the farm, as I got up of a morning, at this time of year, I would be greeted through the bedroom window by a golden chain tree in all its glory. Whenever I see one these days, I am always whisked back to that glorious sight that welcomed the day with a smile.
Happy, colourful days.
So, how many weeks to the gallon?
"I went to fill up with petrol earlier, but due to the lockdown I haven't used the car for so many weeks I'd forgotten which side of the car the petrol cap is on. Before making a fool of myself, I remember someone telling me that there should be a little pump on the dashboard fuel gauge showing which side it's on. And there it was. Phew!" My good pal Chief Wise Owl, who I happened to bump into at the Post Office today.
We had a brief chat about the complications thrown up during lockdown. A few weeks back oil prices crashed because of low demand world-wide, as well as over-production. Indeed American oil dipped into negativity with oil producers having to actually pay traders to take it off their hands because they had no available storage space. Apparently you just can't turn oil wells and the like off - well you can, but starting them up again is a nightmare so it's cheaper to take a short-term hit.
Anyway, Chief Wise Owl had been waiting to see if the local petrol station would actually pay him to fill up. No such luck.
On a similar tack, I remember reading about a Kenneth Mackenzie confirming the doolallyness of lockdown's passing parade: "Strange times indeed. I got up this morning to find that overnight some villain had siphoned petrol into my car."
think that's what is now known as a groaner-virus.
The French way with words (and the British way with situations)
"We will not wake up after the lockdown in a new world. It will be the same, just a bit worse. Covid-19 is a banal virus with no redeeming qualities ... it is not even sexually transmitted." Michel Houellebecq, 64, a French writer, satirist and provocateur, the "ageing enfant terrible of French literature", according to online pen-pictures.
Only the French would curse the lack of a sexual theme in coronavirus. Brilliant. Mind you, I'm not sure Houellebecq would be too happy being called "aging" at a mere 64. I mean, the fellow's a pup, although from his photos he does appear to have been chasing his tail a bit too enthusiastically down the years.
And then I read this about Winston Churchill (there isn't a day that passes without Churchill being quoted in support of a particular point of view, whether for or against). Anyway, when Churchill was informed, in the midst of a harsh wartime winter, that one of his ministers had been caught in flagrante with a guardsman on a park bench at three in the morning, Churchill replied: "In this weather? Good God, man, it makes you proud to be British." KBO! (Keep Buggering On, indeed.)
Sticking with Churchill: given the endless criticisms of Boris Johnson and his handling of the coronavirus outbreak from opposition politicians, media experts and trade union leaders, not to mention an endless list of common or garden folk with degrees in hindsight, this is what Churchill had to say on being wise after the event: "Among the deficiencies of hindsight is that while we know the consequences of what was done, we do not know the consequences of some other course that was not followed."
One tends to think that the new leader of the Labour Party, Sir
Keir Starmer - who, with every passing day, is beginning to look
more like a furious grey squirrel that's had its nuts pinched by
a passing red - should bear Churchill's wise words in mind
before operating mouth.
♪♪♪: Oh what a beautiful morning
Top 10 bright spots: "In this time of doom and gloom, I - like
others - am looking for positives. These are my top 10:
That Munday missive certainly dropped anchor at the forefront of my imagination. Half the list was made up of things to smile over: loo rolls, Eurovision, the light at the end of the Cocid-19 tunnel, Boris A-OK, and the ability to Zoom (which reminds me of that new lockdown term: "Elephant in the Zoom").
However, the other five generated a wry smile: silence to now hear the birds and the bees, people are more agreeable, we care about our fellow human beings, the farmer and the cowman are now friends - and we have a pristine atmosphere. I must say all these I would have ticked before Covid-19 burst onto the scene, as I suspect most people living in a rural community would.
The one caveat is the cleaner atmosphere, indeed the one advantage we have here in west Wales, even if we do sit under a busy international air lane (ironically identified on aeronautical charts as Green One), is that the prevailing winds tend to blow all the poisonous con trails away to rain down on someone else's parade, mostly to the east and the north.
Occasionally though, when we sit under a high pressure zone, with little or no wind, it hangs over us like the Shroud of Contrail. See this picture taken way BC (Before Covid), at sunrise, in the Towy Valley...
Green One crosses south
and west Wales
Fortunately such a blanket of obnoxious poison hangs over the Towy Valley very rarely, but it does paint a perfect picture of the polluted air we have to breathe when, BC, some 9,000 flights a day would criss-cross the UK.
PS: Today, Sunday, really did start off as a beautiful, picture-perfect day with a vibrant blue sky and a gin-clear atmosphere. By midday though the promised cold front had moved down from the north, bringing with it some really windy conditions, and the temperature dropped as fast as a randy Professor's trousers on a lockdown promise, indeed there was snow in Scotland.
Ah yes, the joy and the doolallyness of the British weather.
Half-listening to the wireless
"Barry McDevitt, good evening. Barry would like a dedication for his sister Caroline, her birthday coming up on Tuesday. He gallantly adds: 'I can't remember what age she is - but I know she's six years older than me.'." You know how it is, you're not paying full attention to what's playing on the radio - and something half-catches your ear and generates a smile.
I was listening on the BBC's iPlayer, or Sounds as it now is, to Sunday Club with John Bennett on BBC Radio Ulster (popular easy-listening music from yesteryear), and I heard the above, so I had to rewind to catch it properly because I too can never remember my age - but I know my brother is seven years older than me.
By the way, I think Barry's surname was McDevitt - I couldn't quite make it out no matter how many times I replayed it, but it sounded like McDevitt.
By coincidence, I was reading Ann Treneman's Notebook column in The Times, and under the heading "Mother of mistakes", she too explained the perils of half-listening to the radio. And her tale was perfectly encapsulated by her reaction to the news that Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the government's chief architects of lockdown, had broken the social distancing rules because his mother had visited him at home.
"Oh, for goodness sake," Ann fumed. "Was it the end of the world when a mother visited her son?" It was only the next day that she saw a picture of "the mother" in the paper. "Well," Ann adds with a wry tone, "lover does sound similar when you are preoccupied."
(See: "From lockdown to pantsdown - in one fell swoon" just a
few days down, on the 6th.)
Just one for the road then
"For God's sake, open the pubs again before we all become alcoholics." Tom McGrath of Wicklow and his pleading letter to The Irish Times.
"What is Britain without the pub?" was a headline in The New York Times, with the following opening comment: "It may seem trivial, but the closing of pubs is unprecedented for Britain. Never before in the history of the country have pubs closed. Through two world wars, Britain's pubs stayed open."
Many have taken exception to use of the word "unprecedented" by politicians and media folk to describe Government reactions to the Covid-19 pandemic. While it can properly be argued that a deadly infectious disease spreading rapidly without cure or vaccine is a recurring theme of human history, however measures put in place to combat the disease are indeed without precedent, see the aforementioned closing of pubs and bars.
The English writer Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) is quoted as saying this about the pub: "No, Sir; there is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn. A tavern chair is the throne of human felicity." And, whisper it, sat on a bar stool I've known one or two barmaids called Felicity, even if they were actually identified by another name.
And a modern day English politician and writer, also called Johnson, with an equal command of words, put it rather well when he officially imposed Britain's lockdown policy: "We are taking away the ancient, inalienable right of the free-born people of the United Kingdom to go to the pub."
The real worry now is that when full lockdown is lifted, and presumably taverns and inns will be among the last to be allowed to reopen, many more pubs will disappear off the cliff face, and in the process one of Britain's most unique DNA footprints will increasingly go the way of High Street stores and shops.
As The New York Times has it: "What is Britain without the pub?"
When the history of Covid-19 is committed to record, my guess is that the word "unprecedented" will leap off the page like a salmon heading for its spawning grounds.
Incidentally, the lockdown was introduced to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed - and it worked. Also, whatever Boris Johnson does will be wrong. I mean, he is on a hiding to nothing because we all have degrees from the University of Life in Hindsight. Right?
lookin' at you.
For "HOW!" say "SHWMAE!" ... revisited
"Cyclists, joggers and pedestrians battle for dominance in a do-or-die battle for space along the nation's pathways and country lanes." Relations are turning fractious with much stern language and waving of hands as cyclists, walkers and joggers - or runners as many wish to be called these days - compete for dominance of parks, pavements, footpaths, towpaths and narrow, twisty rural roads.
Back in March, a couple of weeks or so before lockdown and restrictions on how much exercise we were allowed to take, I actually touched on this, in particular how social distancing has put a sprag in the nation's wheel of extravagant and Cinemascopic forms of greetings. So on Monday I wrote to the Daily Mail with my updated take on it all - and they published it yesterday, Wednesday. Here it is...
How to be sociable
Before Coronavirus, unless courteously responding, I would only ever shake hands to offer up condolence or congratulations. I would not share an embrace or hug unless someone was off on a solo jaunt round the world or had just returned.
And I would only kiss those I fancied ending up in bed with. Otherwise a smile, nod or, where appropriate, a wink would never fail to draw an acknowledging response.
Social distancing means all bets are off. I now deploy the traditional approach of the Sioux, pointing my palm outwards and substituting the Welsh "Shwmae!" for the Native American "How!".
Walking along a country lane on my daily exercise, when someone
comes towards me, I move aside, look them in the eye, smile and
offer up my new greeting. Without exception, they smile, nod,
say "Thank you!", or "Shwmae!" in return.
Incidentally, I should add that when I am on walkies and I am approached by a female who graciously responds with a smile to my "Shwmae!", I will also wiggle my fingers. It seems to go down well.
I guess the point of the above is, that when you look the world in the eye, you are actually seeing your own reflection.
Mention of "Shwmae!" prompts me to again share the wonderful "How!" painting...
Oh yes, what I did mention previously about the above painting
is not so much the "Hau!" from the native, but perhaps the birth
of the "High-five!" from the non-native who is responding with a
"Flat-five!", or perhaps it's a "Put it there, pal!".
From lockdown to pantsdown - in one fell swoon
Prof Neil Ferguson avoids prosecution for meeting his married lover: "It is clear in this case that whilst this behaviour is plainly disappointing, Professor Ferguson has accepted that he made an error of judgment and has taken responsibility for that. We therefore do not intend to take any further action." Scotland Yard say Professor Neil Ferguson, 52, British epidemiologist and professor of mathematical biologist, will not face further action after breaching social distance rules during these fraught times.
Here I am, on a picture-perfect day in early May, chilling out on the grassy knoll, and spoilt for choice as I observe and embrace the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade. Whilst the police label the professor's behaviour "plainly disappointing ... and [he] made an error of judgment", we are unsure whether they are referring to his actual affair with his married lover, or that he broke both the social distancing rule and the 11th Commandment - and got caught, stupid boy.
What is extraordinary about this tale of the expected is that Neil Ferguson is the government's Chief Sitting Bull coronavirus adviser, a.k.a. the coughin' boffin, and as such the architect of the lockdown policy. He is yet another of these exceptionally clever movers and shakers who find it impossible to think outside the box, or in this case, outside the ambush.
When lockdown was introduced, first there was Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock, 50, who was spoken to by South Wales police for visiting his father at home on his 78th birthday (and sharing it with the world on unsocial media, stupid boy), a journey deemed by police not to be "essential travel". However, we were not told whether he was given a hundred lines and detention.
Then there was Robert Jenrick, 38, the UK Housing Secretary, who visited his parents in Shropshire to supposedly deliver some medicine. We trust he was given six of the best by the headmaster.
Next there was Scotland's Chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood, 51, who echoed the mantra of the Scottish and UK authorities about staying at home, who quit following not one, but two trips to her second home in Fife. Shame the place wasn't spelt Fyffe, and then I could have described her behaviour as bananas.
And now we have the randy professor. Honestly, there's nowt so dumb as clever dicks.
Both Calderwood and Ferguson endorse the old country adage that the cleverest in the community are also the dumbest. Every morning I look forward to reading the weird and wonderful nonsense that that exceedingly clever fellow Elon Musk has been spouting overnight. I mean, who would not delight in the gloriously bizarre name Elon has given his new-born son: X AE A-12. Over and out, as they say in the world of the A-12 spy plane.
be honest, you most certainly have to be rather clever to end up
being the most powerful person on the planet
yet I never fail to both smile and roll my eyes at the glorious
doolallyness of President Trump's
tweets and outpourings. Dettol and out, as they say in the world
of the White House.
For Clouseau read Covid-19
"Hello, reception? This is Inspector Clouseau. There is a beautiful woman in my bed and a dead man in my bath..." One of the glorious lines from The Pink Panther Strikes Again, which was on telly this afternoon.
Of course what makes the scene so memorable is Peter Sellers' marvellous comic acting because he only then realises that he's just seen the dead man in his bath, who happens to be dressed exactly like him, false moustache and all. Very funny. (Just search "There is a beautiful woman in my bed and a dead man in my bath" for a couple of minutes or so of pure joy.)
This is the film where you have the memorable exchange "But you said your dog does not bite!"... "It is not my dog." Anyway, it is also the film where the world's most prolific assassins descend upon Munich's Oktoberfest, the world's largest folk festival, to kill Clouseau, but in a comical sequence of events they all end up killing each other, excepting the Egyptian and the Russian (the "beautiful woman in my bed").
What struck me though was this: if you substitute Clouseau with Covid-19, then you have the world's top scientists desperate to kill the coronavirus. But of course in the film Clouseau keeps coming up with brilliant disguises to fool everybody. Let's hope Covid-19 doesn't come up with brand new disguises - or mutates - when the boffins feel they are closing in for the kill.
Also in the film, watching Dreyfus, the Chief Inspector and Clouseau's former boss, who is now completely bonkers, reminds me of Donald Trump, who is also impatient for his experts to stop Covid-19 in its tracks.
Talk about fiction and real life melding into one.
And talking of Donald Trump, I enjoyed
this new lockdown term:
"Elephant in the Zoom."
Say it with
With apologies to the ghost of Pete Seeger (1919-2014), American folk singer and social activist, in particular his famous Where Have All The Flowers Gone? protest song - oh, and Chief Flour Grader Fred of Homepride, after all it wasn't his fault that the panic buyers swiped all the flour, and that despite everyone at Homepride singing: "Right said Fred, all of us together..."
Fred, we knead you.
International Dawn Chorus Day 2020
"It was one of those zip-a-dee-doo-dah mornings, the kind of morning when the birds can't open their mouths without a song jumping right out of it..." With apologies to the ghost of Ray Gilbert (1912-1976), American lyricist, who penned the words of Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, the song made famous in the 1946 Disney movie Song of the South, and which won an Oscar for best original song.
This all takes me back some 10 years or so, when I daily walked the Towy Valley, and conducted a little experiment to see how easy it would be to get song birds to come to hand to feed. These were truly wild birds, far away from gardens and the like, and the only people they would see would be the farmer and someone like me taking a walk on the rural side, well away from the beaten track.
It was a wild success - I was helped by a couple of really cold winters - and was able to carry out some weird and wonderful experiments, such was the trust the birds invested in me. I have some marvellous photos, so I thought, on Dawn Chorus Day, what with love in the air, I'd revisit a brace of them...
♪♪♪: If I said you had a beautiful body...
...and Great tits are from Mars
Happy, smiley, silly memories.
World Naked Gardening Day 2020
"Today is world naked gardening day, which is the traditional time for cutting back your old man's beard (or traveller's joy, a woody member of the buttercup family which is often seen scrambling all over places it shouldn't), and planting some clitoria ternatea (also known as the beautiful butterfly pea)." Hm, nudity and gardening don't exactly go together like a horse and carriage, love and marriage - behind you, mind the nettles ... and the brambles. Ouch! Whatever...
About a week ago, along my daily walk, I came across a bluebell living dangerously. It had decided to lean out onto a narrow country lane, thus inviting someone or something to give it a good clip around the ear...
Today, after many days of escaping the inevitable, it happened, and in the process of being whacked the bulb had been yanked out and exposed, but remained undamaged. So I rescued it and planted it back home alongside some resident bluebells.
I pretended to plant it whilst in the altogether ... I'm fairly sure nobody saw me being wildly imaginative, fingers crossed.
On the subject of nakedness being in vogue, apparently you can hire a naked butler, also a naked chef to rustle some duck breast, or strip steak, or pork tenderloin, or cheese fondue, or molten chocolate cake, or even a stuffed avocado with shrimp and mango salsa - and a naked cleaner to buff up your tallboy.
Also there's naked beach volleyball, water polo, rugby, skiing - and I definitely remember a naked cricket match, which was elegantly and memorably interrupted by a streaker dressed up to the nines.
So is all this nakedness a passing fad? We'll know for sure if the wheel has turned full circle and it's no longer cool to be naked when the local WI poses for a trendsetting calendar fully dressed in hazmat suits, face masks and gloves - oh, and Llandeilo Young Farmers' Club do one in beekeeping outfits and various farm protective clothing used for spraying and such like. The world turned upside down.
And why not? A World Fully Clothed Day 2021?
"American inventor Elmer Berger (1891-1952) was the first person to patent the rear-view mirror in 1921 and develop it for incorporation into production street cars [named Desire?]." I guess we can take it as read that from that moment, Elmer Berger never looked back.
I know, I know - but such a rotten joke prompted me to glance in the rear-view mirror, in particular Captain Thomas Moore's 100th birthday bash of yesterday...
What if, back at the beginning of the month, on April Fool's Day morning, Captain Tom had told his family that he'd had a most weird dream ... that on his 100th birthday at the end of the month, he would receive a personal card and note from the Queen, a video message of gratitude from the Prime Minister, and Michael Ball would sing Happy Birthday down the line - oh, and he would share a number one hit single with Michael.
Not only that but he would enjoy not just one military fly-past (something only the Queen normally gets) but two; accept an honorary military promotion to Colonel; made an honorary member of the England cricket team; offered freedom of the City of London; receive nearly 150,000 birthday cards; raise 32 million quid for NHS charities - and become a national hero along the way.
Well, I guess his family would have smiled benignly, with perhaps a gentle roll of eyes...
But none of us know what's around the next bend or ten, what fate, application, destiny and luck have in store. Fate is what happens to us (in Captain Tom's case, skin cancer and breaking his hip); destiny is what we make of it (in Captain Tom's case, see above).
And we should never underestimate what part luck plays in everything that happens to us. When Captain Tom fell, he could have banged his head and done some serious damage - and his 100th birthday might have taken a very different turn.
Do you suppose he woke up this morning and wondered if
yesterday, April the 30th 2020, was actually all a dream?
Huw and Smile 2020: April
Huw and Smile 2020: January to March
Huw and Smile 2019: October to December