Letters from Middle-Britain - 7

Say again ... "Kiwis can't pronounce vowels (Letters)? I worked in Auckland with another English lady who arrived for work one day wearing an apron on which she had written: 'This is a pinny. My name is Penny.'" Carol Taylor of Halstead, Essex, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

How delightfully witty of Penny. I learn that the busted vowel sound in New Zealand - almost all vowels are pronounced "i" - comes from Maori pronunciation of English. And given that "e" is the most commonly used letter in English, even Down Under, it makes for interesting sounding words. But I do like Penny's pinny.

Sorry, say again ... "Regarding the criticism of Donald Trump's pronunciations, surely Thighland lies between Kneepal and Waistland." David Masters of Surbiton, Surrey, in a letter, also to the Daily Mail.

Very clever - and mention of our glorious leaders...

Picture of health ... "Your article 'Celebrity trainer goes to work on PM' (Aug 27) quoted Boris Johnson's personal trainer as saying that after a workout you should be 'sweaty and red-faced and a mess'. It could be argued that Mr Johnson has already achieved this appearance without recourse to the gym." David Elwyn Jones of Holyhead, north Wales, in a letter to The Times.

Ho, ho, ho - but a David Morley of Margate in Kent, in a letter to the Daily Mail, offers up some words of common sense on Boris's weight problem: "Why is Boris paying a fitness instructor an arm and a leg? All he has to do is run around the park a few times and stop eating all those things he tells everyone else not to scoff."

Ah yes, the 100% guaranteed EL Diet ... the Eat Less Diet.


Sunday is knock-knock day

Who's there?
ET who?
Hang about ... how many extraterrestrials do you know?

Funny you should say that. When I look at the planet's movers and shakers - world leaders, business tycoons, civil servants, media chiefs, celebrities - you have to conclude that there are more alien shapeshifters lurking around every headline than you can wave a neuralyzer at ... yes, you know, the gadget in the Men in Black movies that generates a super bright flash which erases people's memories...

Now, where was I?


♪♪♪: Look to the rainbow

"The recent weather can only be described as menopausal - hot and cold, with thundery outbursts; extremely changeable and totally unpredictable. But it has been great for rainbows." Lynne Allbutt, "Champion for Mother Nature", kicks off her weekly Green Scene column in the Western Mail newspaper.

Very good, a perfect description of the British summer - but did Lynne perhaps mean womenopausal? After all, we men are a lot of things, but not, I think, "hot and cold with thundery outbursts, extremely changeable and totally unpredictable".

Our problem, I would suggest, is that we men are totally predictable, which is why the world is in a state of constant chaos (see how countries led by women appear to have handled the Covid pandemic much better than those run by men). Whatever, I agree that our weather is great for rainbows.

But first, catch your rainbow...

♪♪♪: Somewhere, over the rainbow...

...there really is such a thing as a free lunch

Toto the Blue Tit, as captured in the Towy Valley.


Every day a day at school - 1

Job for life ... "Re 'proper jobs' having short titles, my grandfather worked at shipbuilders Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. His job, as specified on my father's birth certificate, was 'Ship's boiler makers' riveters' holder-up'." John Lydon of Leeds, in a letter to The Guardian.

How wonderful, indeed see "Do you have a proper job?" from just a couple of days back, when the word on the street suggests that a proper job has a title of three words or fewer, preferably just the one: farmer, mechanic, electrician, plumber, builder, doodlebugger, butcher, baker... I guess in today's workplace John's grandfather would be a "shipyard worker", definitely a proper job.

Curiosity made me search out the work of a "Ship's boiler makers' riveters' holder-up" ... back in 1900, riveters, or a rivet crew, usually worked in a team of five: the heater boy to heat up the rivet ... who then passed it to a catch-boy ... who passed it to a holder-up ... and then it was hammered in place by two men. It is said that the best team consisted of a left-handed man to help hammer the rivets in place as the job was apparently done quicker.

Curiously though, there is evidence that a right-handed riveter earned about 25% more than a left-handed one (they were paid piece rates, i.e. they were paid for the work they finished and not for the time they worked).

At the end of a long, physically demanding workday, a foreman tapped all the rivets to ensure that the work was up to standard. If the tap sounded hollow, the riveting had to be redone in the team's own time - unpaid. Not so much ribbit-ribbit but rivet-rivet!

Oh yes, 3,000,000 rivets were used in the construction of Titanic - 2,000,000 by hand, 1,000,000 by hydraulic hammer.

As it says at the top: every day a day at school. Rivet-rivet!


An apprenticeship beats a degree

"I did not choose the A-level-to-university route; I chose a two-year, Level 3 customer service apprenticeship (equivalent to three A-levels) through Land Rover, earning a wage while studying, unlike university where debts can easily build up and students can leave without a job or knowing what they want to do..." Susannah Kendall of Calderdale, West Yorkshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Susannah goes on to explain that she beat 275 other apprentices in the Vertu Motors Group to win the apprentice of the year award. She also informs us that she lives on a small farm and has worked at a local farm shop, as well as helping her parents during furlough with lambing and other day-to-day farm jobs.

Her interesting tale triggered a memory, and I responded to the Daily Mail, and they published it...

Farmers are hard-working

Perusing Susannah Kendall's impressive journey from family farm to winning apprentice of the year with Land Rover, took me back many a moon to a conversation with a director of an engineering company located north of Swansea.

Whenever the firm had vacancies, whether on the shop floor or in administration, every applicant from a farming background - male or female, young or older - went straight onto the shortlist, and barring a disastrous interview, was guaranteed a job.

Why? Well, those brought up in a farming environment were blessed with an innate and admirable work ethic. Also, they could see something that needed doing without being told, and if a colleague was struggling they would offer assistance without being asked or instructed.

The director thought that those brought up in a farming environment, surrounded by animals which respond best when treated well, or critically can't explain why they're feeling unwell, develop an empathy which farm children effortlessly embrace and extend to fellow human beings, the essence of survival.

Anyone who watches Channel 5's Our Yorkshire Farm will understand, indeed I can't imagine any of those nine young children having problems finding a job.

Interesting that Susannah is also from Yorkshire - must be something in the air up there. There was also another letter juxtaposed with Susannah's, from a J Kuhnreich of Nottingham: "A university degree? I don't know of any artisans who have been unemployed and are not in demand."

I wasn't sure of the precise meaning of artisan in this context - not a word bandied about in the Asterix Bar down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon: "a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand." Hm: farmer, mechanic, electrician, plumber, builder, doodlebugger, butcher, baker - see yesterday's post...


Do you have a proper job?

"Columnist Marina Hyde refers to a way of distinguishing between white- and blue-collar work in the US - 'the American that showers before work' and 'the American that showers after work'. I have a similar definition of a proper job: one where the worker has to wash their hands before going to the toilet." Dave Murfitt of Chatham, Kent, in a letter to The Guardian.

I like that - and a Sally Lambert of Oxford followed up with this: "My elder daughter decided years ago that a proper job had a title of three words or fewer. I was always OK - systems analyst, then audit coordinator - but my husband went over the line as production and service manager. She is a nursing sister."

I guess the proper significance of the tale is that real jobs have only one word: farmer, doctor, nurse, gravedigger, dentist, policeman/policewoman, mechanic, electrician, plumber, builder, doodlebugger, butcher, baker - sadly candlestick-maker doesn't quite make the cut.

Personally, I've done a little bit of this, not too much of that, and nowhere near enough of the other (all jobs one word, expect a brace of couplers). Actually, the job I enjoyed most, and the one that taught me so much about being able to read people within the first 10 seconds of meeting them, or the first 10 paces of observing them, or the first 10 words they utter, is barman. Definitely a proper job.

Talking of showers, as was mentioned up there, I will finish with yet another letter spotted in The Guardian, this time from a Paul Teal of Exeter: "Planning a day out along the A303 [which passes through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site], we are warned of 'a risk of a passing shower'. Boris Johnson and his cabinet on an awayday, perhaps?"


Hide and seek with the devil

"Tell me something my friend: you ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?" One of my favourite film lines, delivered by Jack Nicholson's memorable Joker in Batman, just before he shoots Bruce Wayne (plot spoiler: Wayne survives).

I guess that's a question we should all ask ourselves. Especially the impressive Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, who, just a couple of moons back climbed onto the top step and did a Covid-free dance under a full moon and in front of a watching world. Someone should remind Jacinda that, not only does the Devil have all the best tunes, but his favourite is Save the Last Dance for Me.

When I left home to take up work I remember my mother, a religious individual but she never imposed her beliefs, telling me that along my walk through time both God and the Devil would battle for control of my soul. "Resist the Devil's overtures," she said, "and you'll never be fearful of opening the front door, or opening the mail, or answering the phone." It hasn't been easy, think those seductive tunes.

In modern parlance, when did you last see someone answer a mobile without checking who it is that's calling? Indeed, how interesting it is to observe someone check to see who it is that's calling - and not then answer. At the other end of the scale, I personally know one person who I've never seen check who's calling before answering - and yes, he really is someone you'd hand a blank, signed cheque to without any fear that he would fill in anything but the correct amount.

Recently I told the tale of the preacher who said that a pub called the Tumble Inn should really be the Tumble Out. Well now, a few days later I watched an episode of MASH featuring an American pilot shot down and sustaining a head injury. He now thinks he is Jesus Christ.

Despite flying 52 missions, and decorated, the powers that be are unsure whether he is looking for a quick discharge home, so they call in a psychiatrist. There follows a both wise and witty dialogue, which ends with this exchange...

Psychiatrist: "Is it true that God answers all prayers?"

Pilot/Jesus: "Yes." There's a pause. "Sometimes the answer is no." He is duly discharged home.


Reach for the sky

"We all know that a sky with clouds in it is much more interesting than one that doesn't have any." Jodi Picoult, 54, American writer, from her novel House Rules (2010).

I appreciate that she is talking human character traits - but I couldn't resist a literal challenge. The first problem I had was finding a photo of a cloudless sky ... and of course you wouldn't take a picture of a cloudless sky, a pretty pointless thing to do.

But I did remember capturing one where a con trail suddenly materialised above my head, really high - so high I couldn't even see the aircraft...

Mr Blue Sky ... but where did that suddenly come from?

Then it was gone ... it was so gloriously weird - and endlessly interesting in its own clever way, which rather spoils the point of a cloudless sky. I guess it might have been one of those stealth planes.

Be that as it may, here is a traditional effort I captured earlier, a colourful sunrise full of wonder and awe...

A glorious Technicolor sunrise over the Towy Valley

Sadly such wondrously colourful skies last but a few precious minutes before they make their excuses and return to being common or garden clouds that one wouldn't offer up a second glance to.

However, and just to make it doubly interesting, my trawl through the files found a photo of a colourless sky, a black and white one - well, nearly black and white - and just like the film Independence Day, you expect a giant alien spaceship to emerge through the clouds and hover menacingly right there...

Independence Day prepares to land in the Towy Valley

How endlessly dramatic and interesting that is. Just like people, really, which is where I came in.


Sunday is knock-knock day

's there?
Huw who?
And a yoo-hoo to you, too!
Very droll - come in, come in...

Yesterday I shared the news that the chap who dreamt up the knock-knock joke won the No Bell Peace Prize, boom-boom, so I thought I'd make Sunday a knock-knock day. And where best to start than with the opening page of my book Huw and Smile, above.

So, today's Sunday Special is...

's there?
Cash who?
No thanks, I prefer walnuts.



"Did you know that the fellow who invented the knock-knock joke won the No Bell Peace Prize?" Heard on the wireless this morning. And as a smiley bonus...

"I had to close down my chicken-dating agency. I couldn't make hens meet."


Oh by goth by golly!

Rebellious youth ... "Nigel Farndale writes that the objective of teenagers is to annoy their parents. My cousin's daughter appeared, one day, to her mother's horror, in all her goth glory including black make-up, to which her mother retorted: 'Very nice, dear, but of course it's only another uniform.' The outfit was never seen again." Robert Dewberry of Morton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, in a letter to The Times.

Good story, that. In fact I've always felt that the tattoo is also a form of uniform. But of course with a literal uniform you can discard it at any time - see our goth girl, above - whereas with a tattoo you're stuck with that uniform for life. Well, nearly.

A few years back the famous Mrs Beckham was reported to be undergoing laser tattoo removal to erase some of her tattoos, including the famous Hebrew tattoo down her spine that was dedicated to husband David and which read "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" (the deletion of which unsurprisingly led to all sorts of rumours about the health of the Beckham marriage).

Apparently Victoria's billboard of tattoos wasn't good for her "business image", indeed according to a Mirror newspaper report at the time, the ink no longer fitted the former Spice Girl's "minimalistic aesthetic" (wonderful expression that, very celebrity elite).

In other words, tattoos are frightfully common or garden, and nowhere near Posh enough for our Victoria.

And of course tattoos age rather badly.


Grounded at the pass

"Halt! Who goes there?"
"Friend or foe?"
"Er, that's a very good question..."

Now there's an exchange that would have been heard in our schools up and down the land over the past week or so as Britain made a total bollocks of its university admissions. Ofqual is of course No 10's Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, often referred to as the exam "watchdog", ho, ho, ho.

It drew some interesting letters to the newspapers, for example...

Sending a message ... "I am not sure that the student whose placard read 'Oi gavin! Our Teachers are qualified to give grades. Yo'ur not!' should expect high marks." Rosemary Freestone of Devizes, Wiltshire, in a letter to The Times.

Gavin of course being Gavin Williamson, mostly seen as the hapless Secretary of State for Education. Whatever, back to that placard ... my money suggests that the student knew exactly what he or she was doing with those cock-ups because it would capture the attention of the media, and indeed draw a letter to The Times newspaper. Advantage student.

Incidentally, shouldn't Ofqual read Offqual, as in Office of Qualifications. Subliminally even better if it was called Onqual, as in The Onomastic Qualifications and Examinations Regulation. Better On than Off, say I. Finally...

Buy your lottery ticket here ... "A merger of Ofqual and Camelot would seem appropriate." Giles Slaughter of Woodbridge, Suffolk, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Yep, one lucky dip please, chief.

PS: Spellchecker moment ... Ofqual popped up as Equal, followed by Offal and Foul, clever computer.


Who'd be a politician, eh?

A symbol with hidden waffle ... "I have been reflecting on the portcullis symbol used on official correspondence from parliament. If you take away the crown and the chains you have an image resembling a waffle - a perfect symbol for the present government." Len Street of Marlborough, Wiltshire, in a letter to The Guardian.

How could I resist the juxtaposition?

What do you call a portcullis at Westminster?
A Parliamentary Waffle House?

Now c'mon, that is rather smiley. However, it's very easy to rubbish politicians; indeed can someone name anyone, from any party, that would have provided perfect cock-up-free leadership during these curious times?

Remember, if Boris Johnson had not won the last general election, Jeremy Corbyn would be in charge - but that is not a valid excuse for Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and the rest of the No 10 Hole In The Wall Gang to be the least-worst option available.

I mean, take the chaos over school examination results and the 2020 university admissions, where our politicians rode into the pass (pun intended), straight into an ambush, and perfectly summed up here...

Making the grade ... "It's not the algorithm's fault. It was only doing as it was told." Peter Burroughs of Felpham, West Sussex, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

I have always thought that "algorithm" is just a posh word for "ambush" ... I mean, just look at the people who actually profit from all the algorithms currently ruling the world. And those movers and shakers are the individuals instructing their algorithms to do as told.


Letters from Middle-Britain - 6

Wait weight ... "It would be cheaper and easier for the obese to have a Greggs bypass rather than a gastric bypass." I. Walmsley of Bury, Greater Manchester, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

For those unfamiliar with the British palate, Greggs is the largest bakery chain in the UK, specialising in savoury products such as bakes, sausage rolls and sandwiches, as well as sweet items including doughnuts and vanilla slices. Say no more. Yum's the word.

Weight wait ... "After the Government initiative to Eat Out To Help Out, will September be Think Thin And Stay In?" Chris Jones of Cardiff, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Hm, accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. I can only promote my own special, 100% guaranteed, EL Diet, probably the only warranted diet available, the Eat Less Diet.

Say cheese ... "David Garner's letter on being given a choice between red and white cheese reminds me of being asked in 1960s Australia whether I wanted 'mild or tasty'." Wendy McMullan of Cheltenham, in a letter to The Guardian.

Which drew responses ranging from being once asked at a Dublin hotel "Will you be having the Irish Camembert or the Irish Danish blue", to a Kelso, Scottish Borders hotel waiter, when asked what cheese was available, replied "Both types: Wrapped and unwrapped".

Finally, it is a wrap:

Shaping up ... "When I was a young boy, there were only two kinds of cheese, but they were block cheese or triangles, the latter being Kraft Dairylea portions." Greg Biriseye of Iffley, Oxford, in a letter to, again, The Guardian.

After all that, I quite fancy a pint of port, especially with that delicious sounding Irish Danish Blue.


For tumbleweed read tumblewit

"A tumbleweed moment is a period of stunned silence when someone says something particularly stupid or offensive: 'Pray silence for Donald Trump!' A tumblewit moment is a period of broken silence when someone says something particularly amusing or witty: See below..." And below, a true tale I had published in the Western Mail...

A smiley stumble over Tumble ... Watching on the Welsh language television station S4C a programme delving into the colourful history of  the National Eisteddfod's Literary Pavilion (Y Babell Len), I was amused by tales of poets competing against each other, especially where they are given tasks just prior to the competition.

To avoid endorsing the belief that, like the world of television in general everything spontaneous is actually fixed, and that the poets are given their tasks a week in advance, the live audience is asked to provide words that the poets have to build around.

One such was the tricky Tumble, as in the village near Cross Hands in west Wales. The task fell to local poet Elis Dafydd, and his couplet (in Welsh: "Wedi i mi dwymo'r iar, / Drewi ma'r Tumble dryer" - a certain something goes missing in translation: "After heating the chicken, / Stinking is the Tumble Dryer"), the "Tumble dryer" though was particularly amusing because earlier that day I read of yet another bonkers survey which proclaimed that Brummies (people from the English city of Birmingham) top the list of who has most sex on washing machines.

Talk about taking the world of spin to a whole new level.

Whatever, the word Tumble took me back to my childhood on the farm and hearing my father - a deacon at the local chapel, and who incidentally enjoyed a quiet drink and a laugh - tell a visitor of the tale of a lay preacher from Tumble addressing the congregation.

This particular minister was very much against alcohol, as many chapel people were back then. In his fire and brimstone sermon he explained that near his home was a public house, the Tumble Inn, and that every Saturday night the place was packed - and worse, the singing of hymns wafting out of the establishment. Disgraceful!

"Tumble Inn?" he bellowed, followed by a dramatic pause. "Tumble Out it should be!"

Now I am not sure whether there is, or ever was, a Tumble Inn, but whenever I hear or see the word Tumble, or indeed travel through the village itself, I always catch myself smiling and thinking: "Tumble Inn - and Tumble Out!"

Here's lookin' at you, Mr Preacher Man, wherever you are, whether Upstairs or Downstairs.


Calorie cheers

"UK Government launches consultation on calorie labelling for alcohol." Alcoholic drinks sold in the UK could soon have to list hidden liquid calories, according to the Department of Health and Social Care, in an effort to tackle the country's obesity problem.

Sigh ... any day soon I expect to hear the following order at the Asterix Bar down at my local Crazy Horsepower Saloon: "Two pints 138cc (calorie capacity), two pints 125cc and one pint 203cc. Also a couple of shorts - one 170cc, one 115cc - both with ice and lemon."

That's two pints of Carling lager, two Guinness Draught, one Doom Bar real ale and two G&Ts, one with slimline tonic.

As the world descends into bonkersness, way out west in Llandampness we smile - or shake our heads - or roll our eyes - mostly though, all three at the same.

Oh, and write to the Daily Mail to share the doolallyness of it all - and get published.


The devil is in the detail

"Unintended blunder over spacing paints a vivid picture." A smiley clickbait and accompanying picture tickles the T-spot, the Titter-ye-not-spot...

Never mind social distancing...

...mind the spatial distancing

Yesterday it was 'Dutch Reach' ... today it's 'French Spacing', which I understand to mean optically equal word spacing.

In other words: believe nothing you hear and only half what you see.

The word on the street suggests a photoshopped image, and if you look closely ... you can see that the 'RAPIST' has clearly been shifted slightly to the right because the two lines are out of balance. Shame, because I thought the actual massage itself would involve the rolling pin underlining 'THE RAPIST'.

Still, imaginative messing about with the English language.


Suitably certified

"There is a simple mantra to always be aware of when driving, especially in traffic: when a situation feels dangerous to you, it's probably safer than you think; when a situation feels safe, that is precisely when you should feel on guard. Most crashes happen on dry roads, on clear and sunny days, to sober drivers." Tom Vanderbilt, 52, American journalist and author of the 2008 best-selling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do.

That came to mind today as I took my car for its annual MOT (just a new wiper blade set, phew).

Staying with the subject of road safety, while Britain has grown up with all sorts of things Dutch - from simply going Dutch, to Dutch auction, barn, courage, elm disease and cap (how did that get in there?) - now roundabouts are added to the roll call.

A Dutch roundabout has just opened in Cambridge, where cars give way to bicycles, and bikes give way to pedestrians ... it looks alarmingly complex, a riot of colour, much like a pub dartboard after one over the eight. But a Dutch roundabout should make for safe foreplay while traversing same.

As it happens I am reminded of something called the 'Dutch Reach' - no, nothing to do with the aforementioned cap - the phrase originating in the Netherlands in the 1960s, this particular driver routine (corrected for right-hand drive cars in countries like the UK, South Africa, India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and others) involves always opening the driver's door with your left hand, which forces the head to look directly to the side and, compliments of the wing mirror, towards the rear of the car, eliminating the blind spot, and allowing for full visibility of the immediate area.

Given how the number of cyclists on our roads has exploded, it's a brilliant habit to embrace, especially when you've just parked on the roadside and about to open the driver's door. It really is no surprise that the practice is a required section of the Netherlands driving test, even taught in Dutch schools. It should be adopted here too.


Dirt tracking

Dirty drivers ... "I felt a rush of nostalgia as I passed a dirty car and saw that someone had written 'please wash me' on it, using their finger in the time-honoured fashion. It seemed so innocent, so far removed from the angry, virtue-signalling world of Twitter mobs. I wonder who was the first to write it? Henry Ford in the early 1900s maybe." Nigel Farndale, 55, British author and journalist, in his Times newspaper column.

This took me back many a year to the time I saw a locally parked-up, clapped-out van that had clearly lived a full life, and someone had written something quite memorable in the dirt...

Dirt talk in the shadow of the Crazy Horsepower Saloon

What is particularly ironic about the opening quote is that Nigel Farndale is currently The Times obituaries editor. I think it is fair to say that the above old Transit had definitely reached the end of the trail, and its obituary would make fascinating reading. Amen indeed.


Letters from Middle-Britain - 5

Playing bowls? ... "We once repelled a Spanish Armada laden with cannons. Nowadays it seems we can't repel a rubber dinghy..." Terry Jones of Bournemouth, Devon, in a letter to The Sun.

Hm, where are Sir Francis Drake and Lord Howard of Effingham when you need them? And yes, there really is a village in Surrey boasting the marvellous name of Effingham.

The name game ... "... I must add that I preferred my new name, as my maiden name was Day." Gay Rhodes of Cheadle, Cheshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

And on a similar theme: "Shut that door!" would have made a perfect headline to the first letter.

Wearing thin ... "Will the Village People have to apologise for cultural appropriation?" U Ging of Lowestoft, Suffolk, in a letter to The Daily Mail.

I have mentioned before that, whenever I put on a baseball cap, I expect one of Donald Trump's heavy mobs to come knocking on my door and tell me to take it off or be scalped.

Spellcheck ... "If Pam Lunn was taught to read at home with the Manchester Guardian (Letters, 10 August), how come there isn't a single spelling mistake in her letter?" Sam Babiker of Bristol, in a letter to, yes, The Guardian.

Good to see the paper happy to laugh at itself and its legendary Grauniad reputation. Passed with flying colours.


How much is that doggy on the telly?

"What a view we have," declares BBC weather presenter Carol Kirkwood, 58, as she delivers the morning's weather forecast from Greenwich Park - one of the Royal Parks of Old London Town, and the largest single green spaces in south-east London - as the nation enjoys a glorious heatwave, but with a sprinkling of thunderstorms generated by the intense heat. Carol adds:
     "Fabulous! The sun is beating down, we've lots of doggers ... not doggers, of course - lots of dog walkers and joggers..."
 A slip of the tongue that was quickly all over the media shop, something not particularly difficult to forecast.

And the moral of the tale? Never say joggers and dog walkers in the same sentence, otherwise Mr Blue Sky will fall on your head. But was it a slip of the tongue? The cynic in me suggests that it might be a carefully crafted slip to gain lots of free publicity for the BBC's Breakfast show.

I mean, she would know the media would jump on it from a great height, and that the clip would be endlessly played. And of course the clever bit is that it doesn't need any bleeps or asterisks because the words dogging and doggers are now regularly deployed, even within polite society.

I say cynic because I am forever intrigued by the endless and vulgar slips-of-tongue by senior and highly professional television and radio reporters, the best most recent example being the Tory politician and former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, which is occasionally said as Jeremy C--- ... well you don't need me to spell it out.

I tend to think that there's a league table in the BBC Director General's office that shows who has successfully uttered the most obscenity live on air by, er, mistake. It must be quite crowded up there.

True, it is not hard to imagine that Jeremy Hunt doesn't exactly help himself because he forever comes across as a bit of a - well, a bit of a fanny.

Incidentally, my computer's impeccably brought up spellchecker came to a sudden stop at doggers. Here are the words suggested: diggers, daggers, dodgers and doggery. Intrigued, I clicked on doggery to see what the spellchecker had to say for itself: "doglike behaviour or conduct, especially when surly."

Every day a day at school. Oh, and throw a bucket of cold water over Carol Kirkwood.


Just sayin'

"Do you wake up every morning, look in the mirror and say, I am a complete idiot?" No, not a question asked of me, but compliments of Duncan Bannatyne, 71, Scottish entrepreneur, philanthropist, author and familiar face via the BBC programme Dragons' Den, who lets rip at a Twitter user who suggested members at his gyms should wear masks while using treadmills and other exercise kit.

The above juxtaposed perfectly with a TV review by Camilla Long of The Sunday Times of an ITV programme, Anne: The Princess Royal at 70: "The great pleasure of watching Anne is the fact you can almost always tell exactly what she is thinking. Twitter? Bollocks. Hair? Stupid. Sculptures? Not worth the bloody time. Shall I wear this extraordinary man uniform with 1,000 medals or this other extraordinary man uniform? Man uniform it is."

Yep, Anne could have uttered that Duncan Bannatyne quote up there in regard of the ambush territory that is Twitter.

I never saw the Anne documentary - not my scene, even if I have plenty of time for Anne, given how she stands out from the royal cast of characters as a bit of a rebel - but I did enjoy Camilla Long's review.

Apparently Anne, often seen as an "honorary man" within The Firm, in a single day, could meet up to 1,000 people, which, as Camilla says, "the more you think about it, the more it sounds deranged, if not borderline unwell".

Camilla Long continues: "It obviously helps if you know how to deal with large herds of cows or horses. Anne approaches well-wishers as you would farm animals. We watched as she patted and whispered her way through several vast crowds ... all in all it was difficult to know where the animals stopped and the people began."

My smile of the day, that. And I did wonder if, as Anne whispered and patted ... did any of the cows stick out a tongue and give her a rough licking? As they do.


Lions and lambs (oh, and wolves)

"The Hong Kong chief executive has postponed elections in the region. The US president is trying to postpone the November 2020 elections. Both cite security fears. Is this a case, as it almost says in Isaiah 11.6, of 'The liar lying down with the Lam'?" Paul Hewitson, Sneem, County Kerry, in a letter to The Guardian.

Well it is a Sunday ... so I had a look at what it actually says in Isaiah 11.6: "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them."

Hm: "But Mr President! What big lies you have," said Little Red Riding Hood, her voice quivering slightly. "The better to fool you with, my dear..."


The Great War

"In 1914, people were told that the war would be over by Christmas. It lasted another four years. A few weeks ago, we were told that things would be back to normal by Christmas. I hope that Covid-19 does not last another four years." Miles Garnett, South Otterington, North Yorkshire, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Miles echoes the very point I made back on the 23rd of July, when the Prime Minister first mentioned his over-the-top optimism about the Covid World War - or, as Colin Warburton mentioned in a letter to the Daily Mail: "Boris has made all the right decisions, but not necessarily in the right order."

Perhaps though the English actor Brian Blessed, 83, speaks (very loudly) for the nation: "This Covid virus ... bugger off!"


It's in the book

"Farewell, then, laminated book of dreams." The English comedian Bill Bailey, 55, marks the passing of the printed Argos catalogue.

This neatly leads me here:

Making Christmas wishes come true ... "In 1986, a friend asked her class of six-year-olds to write a letter to Father Christmas. Most of the class asked for a My Little Pony or a Transformer, but one boy just wrote a column of seven-digit numbers. It seems he had memorised the Argos catalogue numbers for the items he wanted and thought it would save Father Christmas some time." Dee Reid, Twyford, Berkshire, in a letter to The Guardian.

And on the subject of Christmas...

I regularly tune in to Spotlight TV because the station regularly plays music from the Fifties and Sixties. It was late June, I zapped onto the station and featured was Memory Lane 50s ... it was an hour of Christmas songs, which was amusing given that we were halfway between Christmases. Was it deliberate, or had someone during lockdown, with few new editions being produced, played a mistaken edition from the memory vault.

Whatever, it was most enjoyable to have Festive tunes in June, indeed the hour emphasised how many traditional and popular Christmas songs surfaced in the Fifties. Anyway, one song featured was Suzy Snowflake, sung by Rosemary Clooney. I can't say I had ever heard it before, or at least it had never registered. True, it wasn't a White Christmas, or a Rudolph, or a Jingle Bells - but it was quite a pleasant little number.

But here's the thing: the term 'snowflake generation' surfaced in the 2010s, meaning young people who think they are special and unique, like real snowflakes. So a typical modern-day Suzy Snowflake is deemed to be an overly sensitive individual who thinks the world revolves around them, or sensitive uni students who demand 'trigger warnings' on books and lectures that might contain upsetting subjects.

Presuming we all survive Covid-19, I think Suzy Snowflake deserves to be updated and reissued next Christmas.


Letters from Middle-Britain - 4

Escaping lockdown ... "The Government warns that pubs may have to close so schools can open in September. Given that children don't go to pubs and drinkers don't go to school, what is the correlation?" Kate Graeme-Cook of Brixham, Devon, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph.

Well Kate, every day is a day at school, and I must admit that I learnt more about life, the universe and everything down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon (previously the Crazy Horse) than I ever did at school. Meanwhile, readers of other newspapers are also bemused...

Homework ... "I am confused by the Covid advice: should children go to school or to the pub?" Nigel Swann of Milford on Sea, Hampshire, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

And it's not just Middle-Britain that's confused, ditto the nation's movers and shakers...

Unmasked ... "Your picture on page 4 (31 July) shows the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel visiting Masons Yorkshire Gin, laughing together, without masks, and passing round and packing bottles of gin, without gloves. They are obviously as confused about what the current social distancing rules are as I am." Jeanette Hamilton of Buxton, Derbyshire, in a letter to The Guardian.

Here's lookin' at you, Boris - and remember: someone, somewhere, is always lookin' at you. Finally, and given that Meghan and Harry were declared runners in yesterday's Joy and Doolallyness Stakes at Royal Ascot, how about this...

RSVP ... "So David and Victoria Beckham invite Harry and Meghan to their son's wedding on a day to suit the Sussexes, not the bride's chosen day. Hardly the norm this, is it?" Carol Molson of Waltham Abbey, East Sussex, in a letter to The Sun.

Now where did I put the confetti?


Stop whingeing

"This is the worst time in the world to be whining." Thomas Markle reacts to Finding Freedom, the new book about his daughter Meghan and Prince Harry.

What can one say? Well...

Who's that girl? ... "You report that Prince Harry was upset by his brother referring to his girlfriend as 'this girl'. He should perhaps have remembered his great-grandmother's famous dismissal of Wallis Simpson as 'that woman'." Stephen Eason of Gosport, Hampshire, in a letter to The Times.

Yes indeedy. Meanwhile...

"Kate Middleton left 'devastated' by bombshell Finding Freedom tell-all revelations." A typical clickbait spotted all over the shop following publication of extracts from the book.

Kate? Devastated? Somehow I don't think so. She may have rolled her eyes a lot, even been a little upset, but she doesn't strike me as the type that ends up devastated and retreating into the corner to shed a tear. Kate, I warrant, is not a jibber.

Truth to tell, Kate is a typical native red squirrel, while Meghan is an archetypal alien grey. Curiously enough Wallis Simpson too was a grey, and like Meghan, along with the original grey squirrel incomer into the UK back in 1876, all three arrived here from America.

Indeed, Harry too was very much a red, both literally and metaphorically, but appears to have caught the grey's dreaded squirrelpox virus. Oh dear...

Finally, Meghan is quoted as saying that what she wants most for her birthday - 39, yesterday - are the gifts of "kindness" and "happiness". Well, and I am repeating myself here: when you look the world in the eye, what you catch sight of is your own reflection.


The name game

"The new head of the Royal Horticultural Society is a Mr Weed. Hoe! Hoe!" Mrs Pat Ross of Oxford, in a letter to the Daily Mail.

Yes indeedy, a Mr Keith Weed, 59 - whose mother, incidentally, had the maiden name Hedges - has just become the new president of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). He joins a remarkable number of other senior RHS staff with gardening names: Mathew Pottage, Jo Sage, Suzanne Moss, Heather Greig and Gerard Clover. There just has to be a Bill and a Ben working somewhere within the RHS.

I also liked this letter to The Times:

Body Language ... "You report that the RHS is now headed by a Weed. Was it nominative determinism that decreed that I should once have the privilege of speaking to the annual conference of burial and cremation authorities? As I said in my opening remarks: 'This is the first time you have been addressed by a body.'
The Rev Anthony Body, Ludlow, Shropshire."

Talking of burial, the last thing I saw on television tonight was that massive and devastating explosion in Beirut. It was like watching a nuclear explosion in a test tube, especially the shock wave tossing vehicles around as if they were toys. It certainly made one ponder on how unthinkably destructive a real nuclear explosion would be.

Given the trail of destruction and death in Beirut, quoting a letter from the Rev Anthony Body seems ironically apt.


Eccentric habits

"Do you have any daft or quirky routines? Me? Whenever I weigh myself on the bathroom scales I always, but always, ensure that I place it on the exact same tile before I step on. Peculiar or what?" Nicki Chapman fills in for the holidaying Vanessa Feltz on the early-morning BBC Radio 2 show, and invites listeners to share their strange behaviours.

Actually, I don't think Nicki's habit is particularly odd. When I pull the scales away from against the wall to weigh myself, I don't think I place it on the exact same tile, but I do place it where it catches the light, whether it's artificial or natural, which is pretty much the same spot, so that's more practically routine than quirky.

I can't off the top of my head think of any odd routines I engage in - but I guess that's down to living on my own and there being no one always there to point out the ridiculous things that I do out of habit. Mind you, I enjoyed the following responses:

 - The lady who, when she hangs items out on the line to dry, is fixated that each item has the same coloured pegs.
 - The fellow who always puts on the one sock, the left one, inside-out, for luck.
 - The lady with the habit of always blowing on a spoonful of ice cream before eating it.
 - And the lady who always blows the bedside light out when she switches it off, a habit she somehow acquired in childhood, and now her husband does it too.

I really like those last two, in fact I may well start blowing out the bedside light myself because when I was a youngster on the farm, and before we had mains electricity - we did have our own power generator but it was invariably turned off before I went to bed - there was always the bedside candle to blow out.

It's always great to smile at such delightfully silly things. And we are indeed creatures of habit, doolally or otherwise.


Cannonball run

"It's well known that British-American actress and socialite Lillie Langtry (1853-1929), celebrated as a young woman of great beauty and charm - and commemorated yesterday in a race at Goodwood (Qatar Lillie Langtry Stakes, Fillies Group 2) - was Edward VII's mistress, but did she also inspire the phrase 'as the actress said to the bishop'?
     "She and the Bishop of Worcester were admiring roses during a country house weekend, so the story goes, when he pricked himself: 'How's your prick?' she inquired at lunch. 'Throbbing,' complained the bishop. The butler was apparently so surprised he dropped the potatoes."

That glorious story compliments of Atticus in The Sunday Times. Emily Charlotte Langtry (known as Lillie Langtry and nicknamed "The Jersey Lily"), was born on the island of Jersey; indeed her father was the Dean of Jersey, which certainly adds a little something to the tale.

Incidentally, and as I understand it, it isn't "as the actress said to the bishop", but rather, "as the actress said of the bishop": "With balls like that he should have been a canon." Boom-boom!


Barefaced cheek

"All doctors and nurses must be bare below the elbow in this clinic area." Just a few days ago I shared "Only handle your own balls", a Covid-related sign outside a tennis court in Windsor, Berkshire. Today, it's a notice spotted on a door at Darent Valley Hospital, Dartford, Kent.

That somewhat amusing (if confusing sign, at least to a non-medic like me), did bring to mind a memorable episode of Only Fools And Horses, when Del Boy goes to his GP with chronic stomach pains.

The lady doctor tells him to go behind the screen, strip to the waist and lie on the couch. She goes in to examine him, but emerges quickly with a rather startled look: "Mr Trotter, when I said 'strip to the waist' I meant the top half."

And just to round off on a similar theme:

"You're listening to BBC Radio Wales, it's Vicki Blight with you through until 7 o'cock - o'clock!" You know how it is, you're half-listening - did Vicki really make that smiley slip of the tongue? I mean, it's a novel line: "What time shall we meet?" "Oh, say 7 o'cock!"

Later, out of curiosity, and given how my mind is easily side-tracked, I check on BBC Sounds ... I think what Vicki actually says is "...with you through until 7 o'cluck..." - which is rather apt at half-five of a morning. Oh, and just the hint of egg on her face.

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