7: LOOK YOU : JULY 2020

Wit of the month

"Words that sound like Shakespeare characters:
     - Portfolio
     - Patio
     - Androgynous
     - Taliban
     - Wonderbras"
Tweet compliments of @MisterABK.

Clever that - which set me thinking ... Covid-19 has thrown up many possibilities, for example, a rival coven of witches for Macbeth to ponder:
     - Endemic
     - Epidemic
     - Pandemic

I say a coven of witches ... I guess they could actually be a covidian of witches: "When shall we three meet again?" And don't forget the masks.

Also, the TV series MASH is full of monikers that would sit comfortably within a modern-day Shakespeare play:
- Hawkeye
     - Radar
     - Trapper
     - Klinger
     - Hotlips

Incidentally, how come Margaret Houlihan is called Hot Lips? Well, it all revolves around the camp having wired her tent and everyone listening in to her and Frank going at it hell for leather: "Oh, Frank, my lips are hot! Oh, kiss my hot lips!" And so it came to pass that Hot Lips was christened at climax.

The scene is actually from the feature film: just search 'Mash (1/5) Movie clip - Hot Lips on the radio'. And for those not of a medical bent, be sure to read the first comment.


Keep on smiling

"With everyone in face masks, are we in danger of forgetting what a smile looks like?" Susan Gregory of Bristol, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Susan's letter surfaced just a couple of days ago and, being a worthy pause for thought, I said I would sleep on it. Actually, I replied to the Daily Mail, and the paper has just published it:

"With everyone in face masks, might we forget what a smile looks like (Letters)? In the first few seconds when we meet a stranger, survival traffic lights in our brains judge them with absolute precision based on their face, voice, body language and pheromones. If there is a sincere smile behind the mask, we will intuitively sense it."

I wrote about this in Huw and Smile. Here's a quick grab...

It is now recognised that within the first 10 seconds of meeting a stranger our instincts will have made a critical decision about that individual in relation to ourselves (point of order: my reading of a person may well be different to yours, after all there are those 1,000 human blueprints, which, as mentioned during foreplay, is why pollsters need only interview a thousand precisely selected individuals to establish exactly how a nation is thinking at any given moment).

I began to grasp the wonder of this particular 10-second law of survival when I gently navigated the paddling creek between younger days and middle-age, at around 35 years of age (or 35-years-of-old, as some say when hijacked somewhere between articulating 35 years of age and 35-year-old).

Along the second half of my stroll through time I have pretty much figured out how my extravagantly clever little Hoo Bear of a Brain sorts out this 10-second survival rule with such extraordinary precision - but, and as you would imagine, it is quite involved and will take a further and separate book to explain and hopefully join up all the dots.

Suffice it to say at this stage that 50% of what we are is written into the face, 30% into the voice, and 10% into body language - which is why a burka-clad person instantly puts us at a significant disadvantage in the world of the survival of the fittest.

As to the missing 10%, the one aspect of our Traffic Lights survival strategy which is not catered for above, and which I don't understand, is how the olfactometer perched atop the lights inside my brain works.

It is accepted that males and females of many species can communicate through chemical signals called pheromones - as previously mentioned, note how cats and dogs approach some strangers with no fear, yet steer well clear of others; similarly with domesticated farm animals - so they must obviously be able to smell aggression, or friendliness, via the pheromones we exude...

Back with that letter from Susan, she won't miss any smiles from behind the mask because her instincts will sense it. By the by, I believe blind people can detect smiles compliments of the tone of voice and the selective use of words. Our traffic lights work with admirable efficiency.

Oh, and when it comes to the message in the voice, beware the John Major delivery (he was memorably caught out labelling those who disagreed with him as bastards)! Happy days.


Can you hear it?

"Google is to lay a transatlantic cable from New York to Bude in Cornwall. As we fiddle with our mobiles it is worth realising that 98% of the world's data is carried by undersea cables ... If you press your ear to the screen of your laptop, you can hear the sea." A three-sentence grab from a Daily Telegraph comment piece about the impressive history and importance of the laying of undersea communication cables.

That amusing final line reminded me of a MATT pocket cartoon spotted on the front page of the Telegraph about a month ago when, on the hottest day of the year, Bournemouth beach was overrun and packed out dispute lockdown, and a "major incident" was declared. Anyway, in the cartoon, two young lads are chatting on a crowded beach, and one is holding up a sea shell to his ear and telling the other: "If you hold this shell to your ear it tells you to get off the beach."

Yep, a good line is a good line is a good line...

Talking of Google, tonight I caught on telly act one of the pantomime that was the CEOs of Amazon (Jeff Bezos), Apple (Tim Cook), Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg) and Google (Sundar Pichai) held to account before the US Congress about tech industry 'emperors' and their suspect business practices and market dominance.

Well, all I can say is this: if I were an undertaker, and I had to do business concerning any of those gentlemen, I would make it a golden rule that I should measure three times and cut once. Honestly, I can't remember when I last saw such a shifty looking group of individuals, movers and shakers totally addicted to ambition and greed.

The best quote came from Republican Congressman Jamie Raskin: "In the 19th century, we had the robber barons. And in the 21st century, we have the cyber barons." The robber barons were of course successful industrialists whose business practices were often considered unethical and were accused of using unscrupulous methods to get rich, or expand their wealth. Yep, history keeps repeating itself.


This way to the masked ball(s)

"Only handle your own balls." Covid-19 safety advice spotted at tennis courts in Windsor, Berkshire.

Talking of having balls, sort of ... a naked man has been spotted in Old London Town - nothing particularly odd about that - but he was strolling along a busy Oxford Street, in broad daylight, wearing nothing but an independent air and a facemask to cover his crown jewels...

Who was that masked man?

A certain degree of balls a requirement

I love the background wallpaper with all those "THANK YOUs".  And do you suppose that "GE-BE" of King's Lynn is a distant relative of the "BEE-GEES" of Manchester?

Whatever, it has been suggested that the fellow was sent by Dominic and Boris to make the point that wearing a mask that doesn't cover the nose is as useless as wearing it around your bits and piece.

Do you suppose though that he was on his way to see a doctor about a possible hernia, but had somehow misinterpreted a pal's insider info that the doctor in examining him would cup his testicles and instruct him to cough - so be prepared?

Incidentally, and apropos of nothing of obvious interest in this instance, I enjoyed this from a Phallogocentric of Rome: "Ancient Greeks [who flew those kites] saw small penises as a mark of civilisation and high refinement, and associated big ones with barbarism and lack of impulse control." Down the Crazy Horse of my youth, a big dick casually spotted in the gents while going about one's business, was a sure sign that the bearer wasn't quite the full ticket, meaning Mother Nature balances the books in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.

Finally, a letter to the Daily Mail, from a Susan Gregory of Bristols - oops - Bristol: "With everyone in face masks, are we in danger of forgetting what a smile looks like?"

Well, not if the above is anything to go by. Never the less, I shall sleep on Susan's worthy pause for thought.


Painter of colour goes all black and white

"Recently I was doing a demonstration in a shopping mall and I had a man come up to me: 'Bob, I can never paint because I'm colour blind, all I can see is grey tones.' So I thought today we'd do a picture in grey, just to show you that anyone can paint." Bob Ross (1942-1995), American painter, art instructor and television host. He was the creator and superstar of The Joy of Painting, an instructional television show that aired from 1983 to 1994 on PBS in America, and subsequently (and repeatedly) shown around the world.

The old grey wolf-whistle test

Bob Ross and the joy of painting in greyscale

A compilation of Bob Ross's The Joy of Painting series is currently showing on BBC4. Even though I somehow managed to pass my O level in art, I have never embraced the art of painting. I prefer instead to snap photos (much easier) and write about the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade (much harder).

However, I am a big fan of the late Bob Ross and I thoroughly enjoy watching him turn out handsomely eye-catching oil paintings in just 25 minutes flat. It is a most relaxing way to spend half-an-hour.

In fact BBC4 has also just shown Bob Ross - The Happy Painter, a documentary looking at how the American painter became a pop culture icon. Apart from his obvious painting talent, it's his mastery of the art of communication that is so mesmerizing. He was also blessed with a relaxed manner, along with one of the most laid-back voices on television.

Then there was that trademark mass of permed hair, and he always wore the same plain and simple onscreen outfit, long-sleeved-but-rolled-up shirt, and jeans. He decided at the very start that he wanted to appear perfectly natural and unchanging should someone happen to be watching 30 years further down the line (he sensed that it was a programme that could be broadcast repeatedly because of its instructional nature).

Hindsight confirms what a wise decision that was. The only feature that dates the programme is yesteryear's 4:3 aspect ratio of the TV screen picture, rather than the Cinemascopic nature of modern TV. Back with the wearing of the same or similar outfit, whenever I watch Frank Sinatra performing in his black tie outfit, that never dates either.

Anyway, the evening after the documentary, he told the tale of meeting the man who was colour blind, so he painted that eye-catching mountain scene up there, in greyscale. Magical.

Top fellow, Bob Ross, caught perfectly up there in black and white.

Home Page

The dog's dinner and a cup of tea

"I have terrible condensation in my kitchen. If there's a specialist damp surveyor out there who can come up with a solution, please pop round anytime, the kettle is always on." Jac the Joker lifts the spirits in the Asterix Garden Bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon.

Good old Jac - and here's another of his: "Talking of always having the kettle on, you know when people say: 'Would you like a cup of tea?' And they say: 'Only if you're having one.' And you say: 'Well I wasn't going to have one.'"

Yesterday's joy was all about the cat's whiskers, so today it's only right to finish with the dog's dinner. Jac the Joker, again: "I bought a Border Collie dog from the local blacksmith. Well you know how clever those dogs are. Bugger me, within 10 minutes of getting him home, he'd made a bolt for the door."


The cat's whiskers

"'Why is this cat food made of beef?' my vegan teenage daughter asked of the food bought for our newly acquired mature if carnivore cat, which she adores. Daughter expounds: 'Doris can't even get up on the sofa without help, let alone bring down a cow. Why don't we make cat food from mice and pigeons?' Being forced to live with difference always encourages useful debate." Helen Rumbelow, Times journalist and columnist, throws a marvellous pause for thought into the mix, reminding us that we shouldn't eat what we're not prepared to kill.

That's a cracker, as they say, but I'll have to pass on that one ... in fact, I'll back pass to June 29th, and revisit Jerry the Moggy, a friendly little pussycat I came across a few years back, relaxing in a local bluebell wood...

Jerry the cat, the bell of the ball...

Jerry: "Is that a tasty little cow over there?"

I had originally encountered Jerry wandering the streets of Llandeilo - and there he was one early morning, in a bluebell wood, a mile and more from the nearest property. Perhaps he was hoping to bring down one of the deer that regularly wander the woods.


Letters from Middle-Britain - 3

"If the word 'man' is banned, where do I live?" Jimmy of Manchester, texts The Sun.

Hm, perhaps you would then live in a suburb of Chester, which, as the crow flies, is only some 30 miles away. But imagine though, Jimmy, if you lived on the Isle of Man. Perhaps it would become the Isle of Shuttlecock, in honour of those who shuttle back and fore between island and mainland? (I think I got away with that one.)

"I have lived all my life in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, so why am I not living in the United Queendom?" Maggie Jennings of Old London Town, pens a letter to The Guardian.

Indeed Maggie, it's something that has always tickled my C-spot, my ever-mushrooming Curiosity-spot. Well, it's a "kingdom" because men typically ruled when such things were set in thrones of stone. So in the English language the word "kingdom" actually means a country ruled by a king or queen. Also, "queendom" is not a recognised word.

Similar, I guess, to the fact that "man" can be a human being of whatever sex - AC, DC or Three Phase - simply a person.

"The three 'powerful' women - the Duchess of Sussex, Michelle Obama and Hilary Clinton - at the Girl Up leadership summit are all married to famous men." Brian Cotterell of Wraysbury, Berkshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Interesting that, indeed would we be familiar with Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark if he hadn't married Elizabeth, or the wonderful Denis Thatcher if he hadn't married Maggie, or the curious Philip May if he hadn't married Theresa. Game, set and match to Brian Cotterell, methinks.

"I drank to drown my sorrows, but now the darned things have learnt to swim." Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), a Mexican artist known for her portraits, self-portraits and works inspired by the nature and artefacts of Mexico, in a letter written in 1938, cited in a biography by Hayden Herrera (1983).

I know, I know, Frida Kahlo is not Middle-Britain - but hey, here's lookin' at you, Frida, with a buoyancy jacket on.


Dreaming of a whiter than white Christmas

"In order for the prime minister's prediction to come true ('Normal by Christmas': PM's claim sparks row, July 18), maybe we should now all be washing our hands to the tune of Jingle Bells?" Kate Burgess of Bicker in Lincolnshire, in a letter to The Guardian.

I'd have thought that Boris the Long-Nosed Reindeer (and growing ever longer), would be a much better choice of song. By the by, I am rather taken that Kate Burgess comes from a place called Bicker. Do you suppose that Bicker is a variation on the theme of nominative determinism, that people are drawn to live there because it reflects their character? Perish the thought.

Anyway, Boris and his "we'll be back to normal by Christmas", urging the public to be optimistic as he details plans to ease and hopefully end Covid restrictions. Nothing wrong with being optimistic, but you'd have thought that his clever brain would have warned him that people would instantly think of what politicians boasted about at the start of the First World War: "It'll all be over by Christmas."

The suggestion has ambush written all over it. Events, dear boy, events.

"Boris has made all the right decisions, but not necessarily in the right order." Colin Warburton of Yarm, North Yorkshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail, reminding us of the memorable line said by Eric Morecombe to the complaints of Mr Andrew Preview - oops, Andre Previn - on the Morecombe and Wise Christmas Show of 1971.

Finally, yesterday the Duke of Edinburgh, 99, stepped out of retirement for a very rare public engagement as he officially handed over to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, as the Rifles regiment's Colonel-in-Chief - and I was rather taken with what the Rifles officer said to the Duke: "We would like to wish you fair winds and following seas."

That is the best any of us could want. Especially Boris, as Christmas beckons.


"Hello, hello - statue?"

"You report that a statue of Emperor Constantine [one of the most influential personages in ancient history, who ruled between AD 306 and 337], is being 'looked at' by York Minster because of his views on slavery. In ancient Rome slavery was a way of life. Logically, all statues of Roman emperors should be 'looked at'. This whole thing is out of hand." Charles Puxley of Easton in Berkshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph in the wake of the shemozzle when the statue of English merchant, philanthropist and Tory member of Parliament Edward Colston (who was involved in the Atlantic slave trade), was toppled, defaced and dumped into Bristol harbour.

So what did the Romans ever do for us? Hang about, nobody mentioned the slavery bit, so given all these marvellous straight roads which the Romans originally set out and built, which many of today's roads still follow, should I refuse to use any of them to show my displeasure of those nasty Romans and their addiction to slavery?

Back with the Bristol statue: a life-size-plus sculpture of a Black Lives Matter protestor, A Surge Of Power (Jen Reid) 2020, by artist Marc Quinn, was installed shortly before 4.30am last Wednesday by Mr Quinn's team without the knowledge or consent of Bristol City Council. At around 5.20am the following day, council contractors used webbing straps to hoist the statue off the plinth and place it into a skip lorry.

Yep, Monty Python is alive and well and living all over the shop.

The whole episode brought forth this glorious letter to The Times, from June Davis of Church Stretton in Shropshire - to which most of us will utter a hearty "Hear, hear!": "Good gracious! Forget the statues and plant a tree there instead."


Who was that masked man, er, woman, er, child?

"Beekeepers don't know what the fuss is all about. They are used to having to hide their face in public. So too welders, brides and Prince Andrew. For the rest of us, it's a bit confusing..." Thus Times columnist Matt Chorley kicks off his weekly review of the latest episode of Boris Johnson's Flying Circus.

My favourite mask story of the week though, was of American teenagers wearing masks, teamed with old lady clothes and wigs, specs, walking sticks, even a walking frame, to buy alcohol without need of an ID...

Here's lookin' at you...

Yes, but not too closely!

Genius, move to the top of the class, girls. It reaffirms one's faith in human ingenuity.

Also, animal behaviourists warn that dogs don't like us wearing masks. They read our facial cues, and if they can't see how we feel - or hear what we are saying - they could become confused and concerned. A dog spokesman spelt it out: "Drawing a smile on a mask won't cut it either. We might not be brain surgeons, but we're not idiots."

But here's the thing: I enjoy watching horse racing on the telly, and everyone surrounding the horses now wear masks, even the jockeys. And the horses don't seem to care a jot. They just get on and do their thing. And the horses that play hard to get when attempting to load them into the starting stalls were playing hard to get BC (Before Covid).

It endorses my firm belief that the horse is God's favourite creation, the most exquisite piece of engineering on the planet.

Finally, I kicked off with Matt Chorley's opening gambit, so it's only fair to finish with his closing shot: "There was some good news for the government as one high-profile person came forward to say they would be happy to tour the streets of Britain in a face covering. The bad news is that it was Shamima Begum [the returning jihadist and IS poster girl]."

PS: Spellchecker moment ... Shamima popped up as [Guerlain] Shalimar (the perfume of love and oriental power). But Guerlain, sadly, did not come up as Guerrilla - but curiously Geraint was the third option.


Mother Nature's recovery position

"If humanity disappears off the planet at midnight tonight, how long will nature take to right the wrongs of man?" Thus I remember a newspaper headline and article from mega moons ago.

It came to mind when, just a week ago, I featured again the mountain goats of Llandudno taking yet another stroll into town and pictured waiting patiently and amusingly outside a "Hairdressing for men" salon in the town, and clearly endorsing the observation of how positively lockdown affected wildlife and nature.

The article of which I speak listed 50 items drawn up by scientists, starting at No 1 with what would recover quickest, and ending with what would take longest. All I can remember are the bookends. Our nuclear footprint would take longest to eradicate, a million years I think it was.

However, I recall exactly what was at No 1: at precisely one second past midnight all living creatures would explode back into life and recover at a phenomenal rate because there would be an instant end to the killing of animals, both for food and in the name of sport, and not forgetting the ominously named trophy hunting.

Also, accidental killing would stop, whether on our roads, through farming and gardening, or simply walking along a path or pavement because we crush an endless number of tiny creatures that the eye doesn't even register. Indeed, think of the spiders people kill.

I can't remember if plastic was listed - it was that long ago and plastic I don't seem to think was perceived as a problem back then. I've attempted to search online for the article - it was pre-online newspapers, but I did wonder if the newspaper involved (I can't remember which one it was) had archived the article and a search would pick it up - if only to see how it would compare with a modern list.

Sadly, no luck thus far - perhaps my searching skills are not up to scratch - but I shall continue having a look. But what about that No 1, animals exploding back onto the scene? It makes so much sense, especially with that awful trophy hunting business back in the news again.


Conscious unconscious bias

"I have to admit my unconscious bias against ginger-haired princes." Sir Christopher Meyer, 76, Britain's former ambassador to the US, responds to Prince Harry's remarks about systemic racism and the Commonwealth.

The above amusing line was presumably triggered following news that the Labour Party is introducing "unconscious bias training" for everyone within the party, indeed leader Sir Keir Starmer thinks he should lead by example by doing it first, "as soon as I can book in for it".

Yep, it's Mao's Little Red Book meets Orwell's 1984, Big Brother and all and all.

Politics, with every passing day, resembles more and more a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch (I may well have made that observation before, many times, and doubtless will again).

"Unconscious bias" is the old nature vs nurture chestnut. Nature is our hard drive, given us at the moment of conception. Nurture is all the software added following birth. All the rules and regulations informed by family, community, schooling, employment and of course the laws of the land, i.e. the dos and don'ts of living a civilised and agreeable existence, and so hopefully avoid bringing the sky crashing down on our own heads, not to mention those of our loved ones.

The problem though is, as you will have observed with your computer or mobile device, software can easily be corrupted, overwritten, even deleted, and in humanity's case the brain then automatically resets itself to its default hard drive setting.

This happens when we are exposed to extreme stress, tribalism, or intriguingly, when we become drunk. Under such conditions all the nurture - the software - is cast aside and we default to nature's DNA hand-me-downs. So unconscious bias training is fine if we are not exposed to any of the aforementioned negative conditions - but if we are, all bets are off and unconscious bias training flies out the window.

I thought the whole kit and caboodle was perfectly illuminated in this marvellous Daily Telegraph letter, from Anthony Whitehead of Bristol:

Re-educated ... "I have recently had the opportunity to reconsider everything I previously thought was pretty sensible. I realise now that it is actually what other people think that matters, and not my own opinions.
     I further understand that even when I was not doing or saying anything particularly bad, I was definitely behaving in a completely unacceptable way subconsciously. I am working very hard to educate myself so that I can more fully appreciate quite what a dreadful person I am.
     I humbly and unreservedly apologise to everybody for everything, and hope that I can be forgiven and continue to have a job. And I love Big Brother."



Up to a point

"Masks are the new bra ... When you don't wear one, everyone notices." Judy Murray, 60, mother of the tennis star Andy, joins the debate on face coverings.

Living delightfully removed from the madding crowd, as I do, whenever I venture into built-up areas, the opposite of Judy's bra phenomenon is still true, up to a point, in as much that I only notice the occasional person actually sporting a mask. It's a very confusing business.

Whatever, joining up the dots linking masks, social distancing and shopping, I enjoyed this letter in The Daily Telegraph, from a William Hamilton of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland: "The tape and distancing safety measures in our reopened shop create the impression that customers are walking into a crime scene. I applaud all who are brave enough to enter."

Yep, that touches on something many of us feel, in as much that it just isn't worth the hassle. Indeed I am endlessly impressed by those brave souls prepared to holiday abroad, what with all the restrictions and stress involved in the travelling, not to mention the hassle when arriving at their destination.

Also, in another letter to The Telegraph, Mary Coles of Radstock in Somerset raises another point of confusing intrigue: "Why can a socially distanced music festival take place, but a socially distanced wedding reception cannot?"

Why, indeed? Finally, and back with masks and the problem of wearing glasses, a letter to The Guardian from a Lee Pascal of Richmond in Old London Town - incidentally, perhaps I should say boom-boom before delivery: "If you find that glasses steam up when wearing a face covering, you may be entitled to condensation."


Looking the world in the eye - revisited

Playful promenade ... "While out walking I amuse myself with a points system when meeting others: five for those who move aside and greet one; four for those who move aside; three if they make a half-hearted attempt; two for those walking two abreast who don't drop back to single file; one if they ignore one, and zero for those who run or cycle, panting past one's shoulder." Anthea Richardson of Old London Town, in a letter to The Times.

A Stephen Knight of Barnet in Hertfordshire responded with the observation "that those failing to make any apparent effort to socially distance when passing me are almost always under 30, while the older the individual concerned, the greater the distance and the more elaborate the ballet to avoid being near me".

Now I have been here before, and what I would ask of Anthea Richardson in her marking out of five those she meets and who move out of her way when out walking, and also to what degree they greet her, is how she marks herself. Does she ever volunteer to move first? Or is it up to everybody else to move? Also, does she acknowledge and greet others first, rather than simply respond to their greeting?

Ditto Stephen Knight. Along my own lockdown walkies, a great truth has been revealed: when you look the world in the eye, what you catch sight of is your own reflection. Smile and the world smiles with you, frown and the world frowns with you.

Finally, and over recent days, I stumbled upon these two relevant quotations:

"To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American poet, philosopher and essayist, 'Journals (1822)'.

Yep, God and the Devil, heaven and hell, all very much in the mind. And then this one:

"If you want to change the way people respond to you, change the way you respond to people." Timothy Leary (1920-1996), American psychologist and writer, 'Changing My Mind, Among Others (1982)'.

Hm, that's another way of saying 'When you look the world in the eye, what you catch sight of is your own reflection'. And I'm no psychologist. It's probably called common sense. Amen and Awomen to that.


Letters from Middle-Britain, a.k.a. whiff-whaff - 2

"He needs to make up his mind about which brief he's going to take today because at the moment he's got more briefs than Calvin Klein." Boris Johnson takes aim at Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during this week's Prime Minister's Questions.

Advantage Boris!

"I can't help thinking there's a certain karma about seeing Boris in a face mask. We are all 'letterboxes' now." Margaret Deighan of Malvern, Worcestershire, in a letter to The Guardian, reminding us of the Boris comment in a newspaper column that Muslim women wearing burkas "look like letterboxes".

Deuce! And proof that a throwaway line can boomerang and bite you on that other cheek. Mind you, claiming that wearing just a face mask makes one look like a letterbox suggests great care should be taken when asking someone to post a letter on your behalf. Meanwhile, continuing on the mask front:

"Today, I saw a middle-aged man in a mask walking towards me. He had made a neat hole in it, through which he was smoking a cigarette." Sue Beale of Maidenhead, Berkshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Advantage Bonkersness! Mind you, you should only have that cigarette after a meal...

"Sir Jeremy Blackham states that it is not possible to eat while wearing a mask. I would point out, as a regular traveller to the Middle East, that women who wear the niqab are well used to eating and drinking in public." Peter Cartledge of Tetchill, Shropshire, in a letter to The Times.

Intrigued, I Googled it ... and there you see photos of women eating and drinking while wearing a niqab, although it does look, potentially, rather messy to the casual eye - but I guess practice makes perfect. That said a mask is a rather different proposition to a niqab while dining out. And removing a mask (or a niqab) rather defeats the whole point of wearing it in the first place.

Also, go back to March, and you would be liable to be arrested if you walked into a bank or a shop wearing a mask. Now they'd call the cops if you're not. Yep, it's an upside-down world for sure.

Game, set and match to those of us smiling, shaking our heads and rolling our eyes - all at the same time - on the grassy knoll.


Classic line

"There are continuing delays on the A4 at Hammersmith. That's A4 - not Faure." A wonderfully witty play on words heard during the traffic report on Classic FM, early this morning. Move to the outside lane, whoever you are.

Staying in London, Tom Kerridge, the English Michelin-starred chef, slammed the "disgraceful, short-sighted behaviour" of 27 people who were no-shows at his London restaurant Kerridge's Bar & Grill last Saturday, saying that "their actions were putting staff jobs at risk ... this industry, like many others is on the verge of collapse".

It is beyond comprehension that people behave like that when the industry is struggling to get back up and running again. A cancellation call is so easy to make. What must such people be like? The story drew this letter to The Daily Telegraph, from Carry Hepworth of Petworth in West Sussex (I like the symmetry between surname and village). Anyway:

"The English restaurateur and celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson had a restaurant in Beauchamp Place in London in the early Eighties. A table was booked one evening for six people. By 3am the customers had still not arrived. Mr Worrall Thompson phoned the customer to inquire if they would still need the table, or if he could let the staff go home."

Cheque mate!?

Talking of food, there's been much in The Daily Telegraph about the historical glories of the proper and traditional British breakfast, a typical pre-war breakfast described as "heroic". Indeed, it was the English novelist and playwright W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), who spent a large part of his life living in France, who declared: "To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day."

And a Telegraph reader, Philip J. Bennett, reminded us of the Victorian George Borrow (1803-1881), a writer of novels and of travel books, in particular his walking tour of Wales in 1854.

In his book Wild Wales he describes "a noble breakfast" served at the inn in Bala, North Wales, which included "tea and coffee, a goodly white loaf and butter; a couple of eggs and two mutton chops. There was broiled and pickled salmon, fried trout, potted trout and potted shrimps."

And just to endorse George Borrow's thoughts on what a good Welsh breakfast looks like, I have to show again the memorable "Welsh farmer's giant fried breakfast country living":

"What nicer thing can you do for somebody
than make them breakfast
Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018), American celebrity chef

To quote a comment when the above breakfast first surfaced in 2018: "This is not a breakfast but a work of art."


British Hairways (Motto: To snip. To serve.)

"My hubby and I have mastered the art of hairdressing for each other. He asks if I am going anywhere nice for my holidays. I ask if he needs a little something for the weekend." Marianne Bartram of Sherborne in Dorset, in a letter to the Daily Mail. Top marks on the smiles front - shame Marianne doesn't live in Shear-borne.

The letter struck a chord on two fronts. Shortly after lockdown, the goats of Llandudno made the "And finally..." spot on news bulletins around the world when they took over the town given how quiet the place had become with no people about - I featured them back on the 2nd of April.

Well, they're back, and photographed in relaxevoo mood outside a gent's hairdressers in the town - particularly amusing because hairdressers were due to reopen following the extended lockdown...

The Goatbusters of Llandudno take a curtain call

"A little something for the weekend? You look mighty horny!"

Also, when Marianne mentioned the line about needing "a little something for the weekend", it brought to mind another related story mentioned in dispatches back in November. It was about condoms, and it took me back more years than I care to remember.

A girlfriend gave me a birthday present, a Working Man's Brief Case, slightly larger than a box of matches - see below, where I've added a 50 pence coin for scale purposes...


From condoms to calling cards - in one easy-peasy jump

But here's the thing: the Brief Case was stuffed full of condoms - coloured ones. In fact, I still have the black one somewhere, still unsealed, but way, way, way past its climax date.

As I mentioned back in November, I still use the "Brief Case" - it's the perfect size for business cards, or HB cards as I call them - and it always generates a laugh when I explain its colourful history.

So you see, a bit of recycling that again definitely delivers Look You's manifesto pledge to join the Goatbusters of Llandudno and chill out on the sunny side of the street, even where the sun don't shine.


Letters from Middle-Britain - 1

"Adrian Chiles [British television and radio presenter, currently working for BBC Radio 5] went to mass and prayed that Brentford would lose to his team, West Brom. I was at mass and prayed that Brentford would win. Sorry, Adrian." Fr Bernard Scholes of Boxmoor, Hertfordshire, in a letter to The Guardian ... by the by, Brentford defeated West Brom 1-0.

Hm, it is obviously not what you know, but who you know - and naturally God is as prejudiced as the rest of us. Meanwhile, on the candid camera front:

"A lady I know who recently gave birth needed several stitches after a difficult labour. Concerned that she was not healing well, she phoned her doctor. The receptionist offered her a Zoom appointment." Shirley Horwich of Altrincham, Cheshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Hm, think before you look before you leap. Finally, taking the knee refuses to take its leave:

"How does objecting to your neighbour's loud rap music make you a racist?" Anne Cardy of Southampton, in a letter to The Sun.

From The Guardian, via The Daily Telegraph, to The Sun, no one can accuse me of wearing blinkers. Glorious letters, as always, endorsing the joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade.


The bear necessities

"Bad bear! Bad, naughty bear! Very naughty bear! ... The bear sort of looked at me and lumbered off. He was a big bear." The actress Helen Mirren, 74, tells the tale of chasing away a wild black bear out of her garden in Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, after it helped itself to food left out for the birds.

Yep, it's a jungle out there, full of nasty things you would not even want to meet on a nice sunny day let alone a dark and stormy night. But hang about ... given Helen Mirren's well documented common or garden potty mouth, do we really believe that that is what she actually said when chasing away a wild black bear (of all things) from her garden?

Helen appears to spend her time effin' and blindin' at the passin' parade, indeed on reaching the promised age of 70 she said that if she could give her younger self one piece of advice, it would be "to use the words for cough much more frequently".

At least I think that's what she said, so she deserves a packet of Strepsils Extra Strength Lozenges for that for cough problem, hey-ho.

I am reminded of Michael Cain's memorable line from The Italian Job: "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" We appreciate perfectly well that that isn't quite what he would have said in real life, indeed if the film had been done after the Sixties they would have used the f-word - and that would have distracted totally from the joy of the line.

If the f-word had been used in the film, the line simply wouldn't have been endlessly repeated in the media and used to relate to similar situations. For example, when wandering-boy Dominic Cummings did his ill-fated trip up north, you can hear Boris Johnson saying: "You were only supposed to go home to Durham, not go for a bloody day trip to a bluebell wood."

The Italian Job proves that if you've got a witty line, perfectly delivered, the last thing it needs is an obscenity. In fact, repeat the line using the f-word ... and it doesn't add anything to the line. Indeed the use of obscenity in modern drama and light entertainment simply highlights that we are being sold a pup, either a rubbish script or a rotten joke.

Here endeth the for cough lesson. And keep taking the Strepsils!


Stand and deliver!

"I can see why the President of the United States was reluctant to be seen in public wearing a mask. He looks more Dick Turpin than Donald Trump. Hm, Donald Turpin meets Dick Trump." An observation of mine - and the proof of the pudding...

Donald Trump wears a face mask for the first time in public after saying Covid-19 was no worse than the flu and it "would disappear"...

"Stand and deliver!"
Donald Turpin meets Dick Trump

Yep, old Trumpety Trump is morphing into Richard "Big Dick" Turpin, as portrayed by Sid James in the Carry On Dick film. There's a scene where Kenneth Williams whispers Dick's most distinguishing feature to Sid James: "I cannot believe it's Jake the Woodcutter for he is the only one around here with a big chopper." Only the Carry On gang would get away with gloriously silly lines like that.

The only thing missing in the Donald Turpin photo is the gun, but we know that he is a huge supporter of the gun lobby in America ... hm, say nothing is best.

Seriously though, you just know that if it were possible to take a high-speed journey back through Trump's family tree and genetic hand-me-downs, there'd be some highwaymen and Sheriffs of Nottingham lurking in there somewhere: "Your money, or your Pussy Galore!"


Blast from the rugby past - with loo rolls

"Who are the makers of ultra-thin toilet rolls trying to kid by describing their products as luxurious? We can see right through them." Roger Vince of Upper Brynamman in Carmarthenshire [just up the road], in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Every day is a day at school, indeed searching ultra-thin toilet rolls online gave me quite a few chuckles I can tell you. But more than that, it curiously linked into one of the greatest ever games of rugby union, together with arguably the best try of all time (remembering of course that when sitting in judgment on any "best of", context is everything).

So what a treat it was revisiting on telly last weekend the memorable Barbarians v All Blacks game played on a benign open-top Saturday afternoon in Cardiff in January 1973 (no National Stadium closed roof back in those days, indeed no roof). And who would have thought that toilet rolls would be as high-profile 50 years ago as they are in 2020 - but more of that later.

Watching the game, what became immediately obvious is how the laws of the game have changed, and I'm not sure for the better. And there were no collapsed scrums, the curse of the modern game - well, apart from one untidy Baa-Baas effort, more down to it being a scratch pack I guess - which suggests that today's forwards are actually coached to collapse scrums. Boo, hiss!

Then that try. If any other player on the planet other than Phil Bennett was covering under his own posts the clever New Zealand kick ahead, with three All Blacks bearing down on him, he would have cleared for touch and the crowd would have appreciated and applauded his defence.

But no, Benny did what he always did for legendary coach Carwyn James and his club Llanelli, and launched his Fred Astaire routine ("Steppin' out with my baby..." - his baby back then of course being the rugby ball).

And there was a reminder of Derek Quinnell's masterful take and give of a low, difficult ball, and the one place where the move, once launched, could have broken down.

Also, under today's laws the game would have been littered with high tackle penalties, along with a few cards too, I guess.

Finally the toilet rolls thrown onto the field following the Gareth Edwards try. I had forgotten that before high-fives and supporters performing to camera and big screen, exuberance was celebrated at football and rugby games by thrown loo rolls. And in the Baa-Baas game, the evidence remained on the field throughout the game. Who'd have thought there'd be nothing new to appreciate 47 years on?

Such glorious memories will be impossible to wipe off my brain's hard drive.

Incidentally, I had the above published in the Western Mail letters page, and the headline "Blast from the rugby past - with loo rolls" is theirs. And I immediately smiled and thought "Blast from the rugby past - with Lou Rawls", which I always do when I see "loo rolls" in any headline.

I know, sad - but hey, apropos the above I thought of the American singer/songwriter Lou Rawls, in particular his song You've Made Me So Very Happy: "I lost at love before, / I got mad and I closed the door. / But you said, why don't you try just once more..."

Well, the Barbarians did try once more on that Saturday afternoon in 1973 - and what a try it was.


Confusions 'R' UK ... revisited

Coronavirus crisis ... "Nicola Sturgeon tells Scots eight people from three households can meet up indoors and 15 people from five households can mingle outdoors from tomorrow (so got that?)." A glorious Mail Online clickbait - I didn't click because I didn't want anything to distract from the delightful doolallyness of it all.

I took it as read that the Mail had its facts correct, but had perhaps - just perhaps - window-dressed it a little bit for public consumption, which is just fine by me.

A couple of days back I pointed out that No 10 is desperately in need of its own style guide to help avoid the Government's movers and shakers, including the Prime Minister, continually navigating along a highway of confusion, cock-ups and an absolute inability to explain things clearly and concisely.

Ditto all the other home nations, the above Scottish Parliament statement by the First Minister a perfect example of government by gobbledegook.

Often I look at the world
And I am dumbfounded that any leader can function at all
Given the kind of doolallyness
That so many of them have inherited from the past.

With apologies to Hera Lindsay Bird, 33, New Zealand's 'Instapoet' star, in particular Monica (2016) ... she actually wrote this:

Often I look at the world
And I am dumbfounded that anyone can function at all
Given the kind of violence
That so many people have inherited from the past.

Doolallyness ... violence ... same difference, as they say down the Crazy Horsepower Saloon after a shed load of alcohol.


You can call me 'Owl' (not 'Al')

Must be the owlgorithm! ... "Facebook removes live-stream video link of nesting baby owls for breaking its SEX and NUDITY rules." The joy and the doolallyness of the passing parade captured in one glorious Mail Online clickbait.

It seems that Graham Moss of Doncaster suddenly found that his live link of nesting owls had been taken down by Facebonk because it breached community standards on adult nudity and sexual activity. I shall pause while you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and recover your equilibrium...

Anyway, Graham not unnaturally attempted to get in touch with Facebonk for an explanation, but no one would answer his query. However, his live-stream was reinstated and back up and running after a 24-hour ban, but without further explanation.

At least I enjoyed the wit of the Mail headline in blaming the "owlgorithm". Very good. And I was happy that Graham managed to get it up in the end. But that's not all.

Just the other day the following letter appeared in The Daily Telegraph, from a Dr PS Turnbull of Alverstoke in Hampshire:

Anti-social Facebook ... "We often hear that Facebook fails to police posts containing fake news or hate speech. However, my recent experience would suggest otherwise. I received a 24-hour ban for humorously describing somebody as a 'glass-half-empty kind of guy'.
     I am not sure what is offensive about such a comment - but trying to make contact with Facebook to ask for an explanation is nigh on impossible."

Now c'mon, you have to laugh. I mean, a common or garden phrase like "glass-half-empty" is rated by Facebonkers as hate speech. But here's the thing...

It is a universal truth that every organisation, whether it be business or government, reflects the personality and character traits of the person at the very top, its Chief Sitting Bull, or indeed its Chief Sitting Cow (fortunately I am not on Facebonkers, so I won't be banned for that, er, sexist remark, but as I always say, what's good for the bull is good for the cow).

The one thing we can say with some confidence is that at the moment of conception, Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of Facebonkers, would have been at the back of the 'Sense of humour' queue. As indeed was Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister of the UK and now Vice President for Global Affairs and Communications at Facebonkers.

More worryingly though than both Zuckerberg and Clegg being short-changed on the sense of humour front, is the fact that all the troublemakers of history were also at the back of that humour queue. Indeed, look at the most powerful people on the planet right now, whether they be leaders of countries, or movers and shakers of the most powerful businesses on the planet, and they were definitely all at the back of the sense of humour and/or sense of fun queues at their moments of conception.

What to do? Just join me on the grassy knoll and smile, shake your head and roll your eyes (all at the same time) at the utter bonkersness of it all.


Confusions 'R' UK

"Four relatively small countries, all making their own laws and doing their own thing. Whatever happened to the U in UK?" John Maddison of Lincoln, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

What happened to the U in UK? It is called "Up yours!", or more correctly, tribalism, where all four countries, at the first hint of an ambush, pull their wagons into a tight circle and insist on doing their own thing. But it's the confusion that all these complex laws generate, even within each self-governing circle of wagons, which throws everything into muddle and mayhem.

Back on the 26th of June I featured an amusing letter spotted in The Guardian, from a Gail Mitchell of Gotham in Nottinghamshire, and it is worth a quick read again if only to appreciate the letter I will feature just after, which is also about the new rules in England as lockdown is eased:

A muddled approach to easing lockdown ... "Now let me see if I've got this right ('What's changing on July 4? From bars to barbers, how England will reopen', report June 24). Single people can only be in a bubble with one other household, but bigger households can meet with numerous other households and can stay overnight, but must stay 2 metres apart.
     And you can go into a pub if you stay 2 metres apart, unless that is you can't stay 2 metres apart
- then you must stay 1-plus metres apart.
     You can go up to the counter in a shop, but not in a pub or restaurant. You have to give your name and address if you go to a pub, but not in a shop. You have to wear a mask on a bus, but not in a shop (not sure about pubs). You can have your hair cut from July 4, but not your nails painted or legs waxed.
     But that's only in England. It's completely different in Scotland or Northern Ireland. You can't go to Wales, but you can to Spain, but you can't go out for two weeks when you come back.
     So just remind me: are we still supposed to be washing our hands?"

So that was in The Guardian, a newspaper that drives on the left (see yesterday), so here is one spotted in The Daily Telegraph, a daily that drives very much on the right. This then from Sue Crouch of Eastcombe in Gloucestershire:

Rules allowing newlyweds to have but not to hold ... "As I understand them, the new rules are that I can marry, but my father cannot walk me down the aisle if I do not live with him, and we can have only 30 guests, who must not sing. I will not, however, be stopped from attending a protest march with thousands of other people, all shouting loud slogans.
     We are not allowed to have a catered reception, but can go to a pub or restaurant and eat and drink in the company of as many customers as that venue is now able to hold.
     My husband and I must wash our hands before and after exchanging rings, and, unless we already live together my new husband is not allowed to kiss me once we have said our vows.
     What does the Government think we plan to do after we get married?"

So there you have a perfect example of those who drive on the left, and those who drive on the right, coming together and motoring down the centre lane together with, how shall we say, a certain degree of contempt for our political masters.

Yesterday I pointed out that No 10 is desperately in need of its own style guide to avoid its movers and shakers continually navigating along a highway of confusion and cock-ups. Given the accord between the above two letters, No 10 clearly needs an encyclopaedic style guide. God help us.


Engage brain before mouth

"'I don't believe in gestures,' says Boris Johnson on why he would not take the knee, not so long after being seen clapping for carers outside No 10." Jim Golcher of Towcester in Northamptonshire, in a letter to The Guardian.

"If Sir Michael Palin and Jamaica Governor-General Sir Patrick Allen find their honours offensive, hand them back and return to being plain old 'Mr'." Phil Hughes of Broadstairs in Kent, in a letter to The Sun.

If I were a race horse, and they put blinkers on me, I would refuse even to leave the stable. I quote the above two letters because, as someone who trundles happily down the middle lane of life, I enjoy keeping an eye on what is happening on both sides of the street, i.e. those who drive on the left - The Guardian - and those who drive on the right - The Sun.

And peripheral vision doesn't come more embracing than perusing both The Guardian and The Sun.

Back with Boris Johnson, today the sky fell on his head (yet again) for arguing that many care homes did not follow proper procedures on coronavirus, hence the high death rate - and later a No 10 spokesman had to step in and say that Johnson was not blaming care homes, "but pointing out that nobody knew what the correct procedures were because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known at the time".

The PM duly apologised for "clumsy use of words". D'oh!

Given Boris's declaration of not believing in gestures, yet clapping for both NHS and carers but not taking the knee, along with his "clumsy use of words" regarding care homes - not forgetting Dominic Cumming's memorable Specsaving Day Trip To Barnard Castle - is No 10 not in desperate need of its own style guide, if only to remind the PM and his motley crew that the brain should always be engaged before mouth and fingertips (both literally and metaphorically)?

I say metaphorically because I am reminded of the glorious Woody Allen quote: "If there is reincarnation, I'd like to come back as Warren Beatty's fingertips." And if memory serves, Warren's fingertips were reportedly even busier than the Boris fingertips.

Apropos the letter about Michael Palin and Patrick Allen being suddenly offended by their honour, it apparently has something to do with the "racist" design of an original version of the St George knighthood medal, but why did they not think the medal was "inappropriate and offensive" when they accepted the honour? It all reminds me of Sir Keir Starmer.

Our Prime Minister, and an Old Etonian to boot, is mainly known by his first name alone, even when being addressed by leaders of other countries (from Donald Trump to Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway) - but that the leader of the opposition, the Labour Party, and a factory worker's son to boot (whose middle name is Rodney), boasts a knighthood, and is addressed as "Sir".

Unsurprisingly the Labour leader would prefer it if he wasn't now a "Sir", but you can't give a knighthood back if suddenly you don't like it, or it doesn't fit your current agenda - it can only be removed if you've been a very naughty boy or girl, and done something to disgrace the honour.

Which makes one wonder why Michael Palin, Patrick Allen and Keir Starmer accepted their knighthoods in the first place?

We do indeed live in interesting times, where the gods are clearly working overtime to render the world's movers and shakers quite bonkers.


It's a tribal thing

In the new anthropause era, which tribe are you? ... "The global corona lockdown has been called the 'Great Human Pause', but now scientists have a word for it: anthropause ... be warned, though: it is dangerously close to andropause, which is the male menopause, so be careful to get it right in casual conversation." Ann Treneman, Times columnist, kicks off an intriguing line of thought.

It seems the word anthropause has been thought up by scientists eager to study the behaviour of animals during the past few months of lockdown, and let's face it we humans are at the top of the animal tree. Incidentally, the spellchecker came to a stop at anthropause - and suggested andropause, indeed as warned by Ann Treneman (by the by, I always thought the male menopause was called womenopause, but we'll let that pause pass).

It seems we humans are divided into two tribes: those fretting about whether it is "safe" ever to leave home again, and those who never give the problem a second thought, note those happily boozing the day away after the pubs opened in England on Saturday.

Well, I would suggest that there are actually three distinct tribes, the traffic lights tribes...

Red: those who worry to extreme about catching the virus, who microwave their daily newspaper as soon as it pops through the letterbox, wipe down every piece of mail and packet of food delivered to the home, and now that lockdown is eased those who are concerned that, even by sitting on a public bench, they might somehow become infected.

Green: those who have not a care in the world, who do not know anyone who has been infected by Covid-19, and just carry on and party as if it is all a bad dream from the night before.

Amber: those on the grassy knoll who are not overly worried, but nevertheless stick to the basic rules of the game: wash hands, social distance at a common sense gap, wear a mask if requested to do so - and avoid crowded places like the plague (ho, ho, ho).

As you may have guessed, I belong in the amber tribe: look left, look right, look left again - proceed with care, and do not tempt the gods...


Don Juan of the language world

Culinary theft ... "Food, it seems, is the latest area of human activity to be found guilty of cultural appropriation. Surely it is more than time to address that greatest appropriator of them all, the English language, which since its earliest days has been shamelessly stealing from all the languages of the world. Never mind the damage that it will cause to global communication and understanding, these words must be removed immediately." Henry Middleton of Maidstone, Kent, in a letter to The Times.

Last year clothing, in particular fancy-dress sombreros, were among several examples of "cultural appropriation" highlighted by Sheffield University - and I remember smiling, shaking my head and rolling my eyes, all at the same time. In fact I felt a bit guilty because I often wear a baseball cap when out walking (perfect at keeping the sun out of my eyes) and I had visions of Donald Trump knocking on my door because I'd appropriated his cultural headwear.

Also last year, a New York Chinese restaurant run by a Jewish-American couple was accused of cultural appropriation - um, I am not sure why, something to do with selling Chinese food, I think. And let's not forget music, the latest high profile example being English rugby's Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

Whatever, back to the cultural appropriator that is the English language: I remember reading that it has about three times as many words in active usage as any other language, a language chock-a-block with words stolen from other languages, and ingeniously giving the impression that the words were English along.

English is the gadabout Casanova, the Don Juan of the linguistic world, happy to jump into bed with any tongue that tickles its H-spot, its Hallelujah-spot.

I was once told that it is the only language that allows me to cross a crowded room, approach a lady I fancy but not of my acquaintance, smile, and say "I think we should make love before the night is out", or words to that effect, and said of course without sounding in any way euphemistic, vulgar, confusingly technical or gobbledygook-ish.

Welsh certainly does not oblige. And I am reliably told that even French doesn't have the wherewithal innocence of the English version.

After propositioning a lady in such a way I may well be elegantly advised "In your dreams", which indeed I have on occasion, but no lady has been so offended that she needed to slap me, storm off, or report me to her father or some PC brigade or other.

That has always endlessly impressed me. A language that allows me to say such a thing to a complete stranger without being accused of anything except having a bloody nerve. Or being asked: "Who the hell do you think you are? James Bond?"


Sunny but dim ... frosty but bright

"A study has shown that sunshine could diminish brain power, making it harder to make the right judgments. A tracing app that doesn't work. A useless travel quarantine. Vacillation over the distancing rule. Mandatory registration of pub users (and ordering by app?). And now a Sage professor has suggested that the elderly should wear coloured ribbons to indicate - um, I am not sure what. It's been a sunny spring." Dr Martin Henry of the splendidly named Good Easter in Essex, in a letter to The Telegraph.

I remember reading some years ago about a study that confirmed the farther north you travel from the equator, then the more inventive humanity becomes, the suggestion being that the colder the climate, the greater the challenge to survive and flourish. In other words, nature had to evolve a more potent brain to combat the extremes.

This makes sense because it is clearly more of a challenge to survive in a cold climate than it is in a warm one (unless of course you are a Covid-19 virus which seemingly thrives in colder weather). And now this study by university teams in Denmark and Greece confirms that working in hot temperatures - which is already known to cause hyperthermia, a rise in body temperature - can cause physical exhaustion leading to critical errors of judgment.

And of course here in the UK of 2020 we enjoyed a record breaking sunny and warm spring and early summer, which does suggest that the disastrous governmental judgment calls listed by Dr Henry, above, bear out this theory.

But it's the suggestion by a Professor Calum Semple of Sage (the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) that the elderly should wear some sort of coloured ribbons, presumably to indicate how much of a risk you are, that tickles the C-spot, the Curiosity-spot. Anyway, here is the good Professor:

"I could see a position where we need as a society to respect social distancing greater in those that are elderly and more vulnerable, and potentially people might even conceive of wearing a ribbon or something on their lapel, or a badge, that just indicates that they would prefer that their social distance was respected."

Well, all I can say is that I hope there will be no orange ribbons because many a tree along the country lanes I regularly walk wears an orange ribbon...

Tie an orange ribbon round the doomed ash tree

Ash dieback claims another victim: ashes to ashes...

                                                                                     ...and within a few days it will have been cut down and chopped up. Oh dear, elderly dieback: ashes to ashes...


Nuts and bolts

"Charles Moore [journalist, columnist and former editor of The Telegraph stable of newspapers] believes that 'the nuts of British administration have worked loose'. Well, the Patent Nut and Bolt Company of West Bromwich was, in the latter part of the 19th Century, managed by Boris Johnson's maternal great-great grandfather, James Scattergood. They were contractors to her Majesty's and all colonial governments. His descendant is just the man for the job." Trish Parker Brown, of Reading, Berkshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Incidentally, at The Telegraph, Charles Moore was Johnson's boss when Boris was the paper's Brussels correspondent (1989-1994), one of that City's few Eurosceptic journalists. Well I never. Whatever...

There are some letters that generate an instant smile. Apart from the thought of Boris Johnson being just the man to tighten the nation's nuts, the above letter did make me smile on a couple of non-bawdy fronts.

First: "the nuts of British administration have worked loose" ... that can be read both literally and metaphorically, expressly that the day-to-day workings of our establishment are loose and need tightening, i.e. they haven't much clue what they're doing - I mean, imaging opening up the pubs on a Saturday of all days, rather that is than a hopefully wet and windy midweek.

However, and more to my view of the passing parade as observed from the grassy knoll, is the conviction that the establishment, including the dreaded metropolitan elite, have actually lost their nuts and bolts - their marbles - and are truly bonkers. Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. The evidence is all over the shop.

Secondly, there's something rather glorious in the revelation that Boris Johnson's great-great grandfather was named Scattergood. The Covid-19 pandemic has proved that our prime minister is a bit of an expert at the scattergun approach, but essentially he has the good of the nation at heart.

By the by, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, when asked where God was during the pandemic, said "right in the middle of it". My goodness, come Saturday, then the Almighty will be down the Crazy Horse, hopefully though echoing the prime minister's advice and urging everyone to be "sensible", whatever that might actually mean to a boozy Brit.

"Here's lookin' at you." ... "Who you lookin' at?" Chaos!


A shot in the dark

"Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time it's a guess - and if you're lucky, an educated one." William Goldman (1931-2018), American novelist, playwright and screenwriter who won Academy Awards for his screenplays Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President's Men.

Now there's a quote for our time. Take out the whole middle sentence - "Nobody knows anything ... every time it's a guess" - and there you are, right up to date, slap bang in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. You just know that Inspector Clouseau would be just as lucky as most every other expert. But which expert should one trust? Indeed this makes the prime minister's job of making the right call every time, every day, a total impossibility, right?

For example, back on the 12th of June, I quoted some of the confusion over the wearing of masks and how it has led to a split among researchers. Some scientists insist that there is still no evidence that masks actually help. Others say that even without strong evidence, there is a clear plausible mechanism for how even homemade Blue Peter-style masks can stop transmission through droplets, which makes some sort of sense.

Never mind masks, where is that elusive vaccine everyone is desperate for? It is all very confusing: one expert thinks there could be a vaccine by the autumn; another says Covid-19 will never be eradicated. And others, including old Trumpety Trump (with the sky falling on his head, bless), think that Covid-19 will die out naturally.

Perhaps like you, me and the ghost of William Goldman, they don't really know, so best to keep your head down and your nose out of other people's business, both metaphorically and literally. Indeed, remember what Pascal Soriot, the chief executive officer of pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said about "keeping his fingers crossed" that the Oxford coronavirus vaccine they are experimenting on works.

Do you get the impression that these experts, just like the Hollywood experts of William Goldman's day, are just licking their index fingers and holding them up to see which way the wind is blowing? For "follow the science" read "blowing in the wind". Or better still read it as "a shot in the dark". To paraphrase the words of Winston Churchill: Experts should be "on tap, not on top".

But as I chill out on the grassy knoll, and file all the above under "joy and doolallyness", there is a sad side to this voyage into the unknown. I shall leave you with this heartbreaking letter in The Daily Telegraph, from a Valerie Neave of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire ... read it and weep: "My mother is 93 and is in a care home suffering from dementia. She is slowly dying of a broken heart because she thinks I have abandoned her. I wonder what they will put on her death certificate if she passes away before I see her again."

Home Page
Huw and Smile 2020: June
Huw and Smile 2020: May
Huw and Smile 2020: April
Huw and Smile 2020: January to March
Huw and Smile 2019: October to December