Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Liffery PQR

offord cluny
A refusal to fight a duel on any day ending in –y.

A sensible alternative to the response "No way!" when requested by an armed thug to hand over your wallet.

The blessed denouement of an upwell (qv), usually accompanied by lies and insincere flattery.

over, n.
[1] What awks do (Listen, I’m just the lexicographer).

[2] Male triplets (etym very very dub)

A bra or an athletic support that contains more than it was designed to accommodate.

oxlode, adj
Completely lode (qv), a feeling of despair on having a win on the pools, when, after twenty-five years of nothing, you finally get a cheque for £0.75.

[1] A test of a man's chivalry, occasioned by the discovery of bourn (qv) in a bra during a session of heavy petting.
[2] A bulging groin, the result a rolled-up sock or elephantiasis. In any case, as unattractive in its way as a nene valley (qv).

Parker's Piece
The very last piece, the missing one, the one that prevents you from completing a jigsaw puzzle. The eponymous Parker was a college porter sacked for swallowing keys.

A curious and smug back-and-forth rocking movement on the balls of the feet adopted by police officers, carpark attendants and the like when they know they have got you "bang to rights". It is accompanied by such gnomic utterances as "Is this your little pride and joy?" or "You can't leave it there, pal."

pidley adj
Descriptive of a condition which does not take kindly to giggling, sneezing, running or jumping up and down. Fun to watch.

pingles lane
Any pathway in a park or wood where boys go in the hope of encounters of the first, second, third, fourth and fifth kind. Well, any kind of encounter really, as long as it results in a nice pingle.

An instrument much used in school physics laboratories to demonstrate the impossibility of teaching science to children.

[1] (obsolete)
Refusal to serve a person a drink in a hostelry on such grounds as lack of years or money. Shakespeare's "Is this a lager I see before me?" was met with an immediate potton.
A nocturnal creature of the suburbs that leaves a perfectly-formed Richard the Third on the back doorstep every night. The animal itself has never been seen.

An incompetent batsman.

The snack you made and ate at 11 30 pm and which you bitterly regret two hours later.

Trying to look nonchalant while walking through an Oxbridge college. Even more poignant if you were "up" forty years ago and now no bugger knows who you are.

A very low score on the manea scale (qv), characterised by goo on plate, fingers and chin. If you score three quaneas in a row, switch to kedgeree.

Any unexplained landscape feature in a model railway layout, eg, a llama, or the bridge over it that leads nowhere.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Swifts in a (Church) Tower

Betjeman's Guide to Parish Churches is a beautiful book, but it's a pity he wasn't a member of Action for Swifts, or he would have realised that parish churches are, in essence, nothing more than gigantic nestboxes (I said that recently to a vicar, who paused for a moment and then said "You know, I think that's a really profound remark". I don't understand vicars).
To keep nasty things out of the belfry, either wire mesh or hardboard is put up behind the louvres. What we have done is to replace sections of the wiremesh or hardboard in part with a form of nestbox (as illlustrated above) which provides up to eight nest cavities on each louvre window. So, accommodation for swifts, without compromising the belfry (One parisioner asked me, in all seriousness, if the swifts would damage the bells. We have a long way to go).
So far we have erected boxes in St Marys Ely, Holy Trinity Haddenham, and in the parish churches in Landbeach and Chippenham. We are negotiating to put up more boxes in other parishes in the area and further afield in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire.
What we don't know is if these louvre nestboxes will work. We had good occupancy in St Marys Ely, but that is probably because there was already an existing colony that would have been lost when the tower was restored if we hadn't provided alternative accommodation.
So far, despite the use of a CD lure and fervent prayer, we have not yet had success in the other churches. But we all know how unpredictable swifts can be.
For further information, visit Action for Swifts.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Nature Walk

When I was a lil ole boy, we spent every spare moment romping through fields, wading across streams, falling out of trees and into ponds and generally putting our lives at risk. Amazingly, almost all of us survived, and, in the process, learned a lot about the natural world around us, from the miracle of birds’ nests and frogspawn to the best saplings for making bows and arrows (If you want to see the places of my boyhood, sorry, they are all buried now under a monstrous wen called Telford).
Now that I am a old lil ole boy, my nature rambles are much more sedate and circumspect, but I had a chance recently to relive the excitements of my childhood. Vicariously. Thanks to a teacher from a local primary school called Amy Bell, who organised for three parties of her 7-9 year old pupils to come to our local meadows to see conservation in action. Amy was supported by her fellow teacher, Sarah, by some parents (who brought the children to the site in their cars) and by some members of the local conservation society. Despite the heat and some sneezing, the children had a wonderful time: watching wildlife in the ponds, finding (but not picking) wildflowers, listening to explanations of “jack go to bed at noon” , pennycress, hawksbeard and why kissing gates are called kissing gates, and admiring and sketching whatever took their fancy – leaves, grasses, sheep, swans on Guppy’s Pond.
What’s this called? Why this? How does that work? Where? How many? How big? Does it bite? Is it poisonous? (This last question asked about my darling Emperor Moth larvae, bright as a planet and big now as dinosaurs). Such frabjous enthusiasm! Such curiosity! Such a desire to know, to understand! A small piece of the National Curriculum brought gloriously to life. Other primary schools in the area have now expressed interest in bringing their pupils to the Meadows.
Oh yes, and nobody died. Amy did a risk assessment beforehand as the law now requires, a few warnings were issued, teachers and parents were vigilant (but not bossy or intrusive), the children went moreorless where they wanted to and did moreorless what they wanted to. And nobody died. Amazing! Just like when I was a lil ole boy! Good on you, Amy and Sarah and the enlightened Head of your school who gave his blessing to this blessed outing.
Do you ever walk across your lawn first thing in the morning and wonder about the droppings that weren’t there the evening before? Probably hedgehog. Anyway, there are some broad distinctions to be made to start with: carnivores’ dropping tend to be elongated and dark and slithery when wet (eg fox), herbivores’ round and pale and fibrous (eg rabbit). Even bird droppings can tell a tale. While I appreciate that poo may not be a suitable topic for afternoon tea at the vicarage, I think “reading the signs” in nature is very rewarding. For example, can you distinguish between a fox’s earth and a badger sett by the shape of the entrance hole? Can you separate the pellets of little owl, barn owl and kestrel? Easy, once you know how. It’s fun, and I bet those boys and girls from Amy’s primary school would lap up this kind of knowledge in no time. Just like those Indian trackers in Westerns who could read a universe in a broken twig. Just like I could when I was a lil ole boy.

Emneth - more excursions into liffery

Maid's Causeway
A thoroughfare in Cambridge, immortalised by a young woman who, when asked if she was a virgin, replied "Not yet."

march adj
[1]A word coined by schoolboys to describe the way liquid substances seep osmotically, as on a plate bearing mashed potatoes and pickled beetroot.

[2] The scum that forms on the surface of a cup of tea even if you have filtered the tap water. If you can skim off and collect a sufficient quantity of march, send it to Anglian Water for a refund.

manea (pron. 'may-nee)
A measurement of the force required to take the top off a boiled egg without causing the yolk to run down the side of the eggcup.

An Estonian refugee, founder and only resident of an East Anglian village bearing his name, wherever it is.

maxey, adj
(obs slang, ca 1910) Bold, courageous, carefree and gay. By 1919, the word had died out along with the young men it was coined to describe.

A really embarrassing spoonerism, as when you stand outside a closed post office with a clutch of letters in your hand and fluff the words "Oh dear, I missed the post."

melton constable
Usually shortened to melton. A melton is the sort of police officer who harasses decent respectable citizens (like you and me) for having outdated vehicle licences, parking wherever we find a decent space,etc. Why can't meltons go and harass real criminals?

mepal (pron `meepul)
The sudden transition from hate to remorse occasioned by the killing of a mouse in your bedroom.

mickley green
[1] An attempt to reduce the revolting nature of wiggens green (qv) by tossing them in butter and lime juice.

[2] Mouthwash that makes no difference.

middle muckle
The half-finished state in which most fixers remain for years once the enthusiasm, energy and money run out

An unidentifiable, mildy embarrassing stain on the carpet right by the front door. By dabbing a mildenhall with a damp cloth soaked in bleach, you can turn a mildenhall into an identifiable and grotesquely embarrassing stain.

milkinghill bridge
Overpriced dentistry.

Poetry that kills 99% of all known germs.

The inexpressible humiliation of being rejected by a member of one's own sex.

much wittering
A noise heard at supermarket checkouts coming from the people behind a customer who insists on packing every last one of his or her purchases before paying.

The blue-green mould that Alexander Fleming noticed growing on a culture in 1928, and which led directly to the invention of gorgonzola cheese.

A ploy employed by males to win sympathy by appealing to a woman's maternal instinct. Still used, but ineffective since 1975.

nene valley
An unappealing goose-like cleavage, but at least more honest than a silicon valley.

Norman Cross
The man who invented cat's eyes after seeing a cat walking towards him at night along a dark road. He reported later that if the cat had been walking away from him, he might have invented the pencil sharpener.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Toiling udder warts

Ladle Rat Rotten Hut
(Hairs annulled furry starry, toiling udder warts, warts welcher attar girdle deferent firmer once inner regional virgin)

Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honour itch offer lodge florist. Disk ladle gull orphan worry ladle clock wetter putty ladle rat hut, and fur disk raisin pimple colder "ladle rat rotten hut".
Wan moaning, rat rotten hut's murder colder inset: "Ladle rat rotten hut, heresy ladle basking winsome burden barter and shirker cockles. Tick disk ladle basking tudor cordage offer groin murder hoe lifts honour udder site offer florist. Shaker lake! Dun stopper laundry wrote, end yonder nor sorghum stenches stopper torque wet strainers".
"Hoe cake, murder," resplendent ladle rat rotten hut, and tickle ladle basking and stuttered oft. Honour weigh tudor cordage offer groin murder, ladle rat rotten hut mitten anomalous woof.
"Wail, wail, wail," setter wicket woof, "Evanescent ladle rat rotten hut! Wares or putty ladle gull goring wizard ladle basking?"
"Armour goring tumour groin murders," reprisal ladle gull. "Grammars seeking bet. Armour ticking arson burden barter end shirkle cockles."
"O hoe! Heifer blessing woke!" setter wicket woof, butter taught tomb shelf: Oil tickle shirt court tudor cordage offer groin murder. Oil ketchup wetter letter, end den - o bore!
Soda wicket woof tucker shirt court, end whinny retched a cordage offer groin murder, picket inner widow, any sore debtor pore oil worming worse lion inner bet. Inner flesh, disk abdominal woof lipped honour betting adder rope. Zany pool dawn groin murders nut cup end gnat gun annie curdle dope inner bet.
Inner ladle wild, ladle rat rotten hut a raft attar cordage offer groin murder and ranker dough ball.
"Comb ink, sweat hard," setter wicked woof, disgracing is verse.
Ladle rat rotten hut entity bet rum end stud buyer groin murders bet.
"O grammar," crater ladle gull, "Ware bag icer gut! A nervous sausage bag ice!"
"Buttered lucky chew whiff, doling," whiskered disk ratchet woof.
"O grammar," crater ladle gull, "Water bag nose! A nervous sore suture anomalous prognosis!"
"Buttered smell your whiff," inserter woof, ants mouse worse waddling.
"O grammar, water bag mousey gut! A nervous sore suture bag mouse!"
Daze worry on forger nut gulls lest warts. Oil offer sodden, throne offer carvers, an sprinkling offer bet, disk curl end bloat-Thursday woof ceased pore ladle rat rotten hut end garbled erupt.

Mural: Yonder nor sorghum stenches shut ladle gulls stopper torque wet strainers.

Monday, June 19, 2006

More Sophisms

Mommy, why does that lady have such a big tummy?
Shh, she's pregnant, dear.1
What's pregnant?
She is growing a baby in her tummy.
Oh. I guess Grandpa's pregnant too.
Eat your macrobiotic clover-fed icecream, dear.

Noah's Ark
Mommy, was Grandpa in Noah's Ark?
No dear, I'm sure he wasn't.
How come he didn't drown then?
Nibble on your organic compost lettuce leaf, dear.

Muscovy Duck
Mummy, what's a Muscovy Duck?
It's a duck from Muscovy, dear.
Where's Muscovy, mummy?
It's a country near Tesco's, dear.
Do they speak English?
No, dear. Ducks just go "quack."
Wow, mummy. You know EVERYTHING!
Drink your live-bacteria desalinated yogurt, dear.

Mother, I have written a pome just for you.
A what, dear?
A POME. Please listen to what I say!
Oh, a poem. That's nice, dear. Read it to me.
"I wander'd lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er vales and hills when all at once I saw a crowd a host of golden daff.........."
Darling, you didn't write that!!!
I did too. Look, this is my handwriting, isn't it?
Drink your folic-acid-rich parsnip strainings, dear.

Mommy, why does Grandpa watch birds?
I don't know, dear. It's a mystery to me. Ask him.
Grandpa, why do you watch birds?
Because they are quieter than children and they don't ask dumb questions,
Mommy, I think Grandpa should be called Grump-pa.
Eat your FAO-approved possumburger, dear.

Life after Death
Mother, is there life after death?
I don't know, dear. Ask you Grandpa.
Grandpa, is there life after death?
Sure there is, sweetiepie. Why else would I shave every morning?
Mother, I think Grandpa is weird.
Slurp your Kanazawa noodles, dear.

A cautionary tale

I have already written about this sad event on the yahoo group Cambirds. Accidents to birds involving binder twine are not uncommon. It's doubtful if we could persuade all users of binder twine to dispose of it safely, but it would be a good start if we as individuals picked up any we find lying around and wrap it before disposing of it in the bin.
The Swifts were found by my colleague, Bill Murrells, while he was doing some maintenance work on Witcham Parish Church. From their desiccated state, it is clear that they were long dead, probably strangled when they tried to pick some strands from a heap taken into a nest cavity by nearby Starlings.
I have found a Little Owl and Barn Owlets in a similar plight. So, please, if you see binder twine, pick it up and dispose of it safely.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Liffery K-L

Pretending to be Irish, a stratagem much used by Jews in Gaza. Oy veh, Maria.

kennett, adj
Feeling good after being undercharged in an Italian restaurant. Rare.

king's lynn
A medical condition ascribed to Henry VII, who experienced finger spasms when told it was his turn to buy a round. The "Lynn" refers to his wife, who kept an empty purse handy for such occasions.

Absent-minded self-fondling. It is not generally realised that in the first line of the American folksong "Froggy went a-courtin' and he did ride". “a-courtin’” was originally "a-kirtlin'". This was changed by popular demand after a plague of waterfleas in Minnesota.


South American mammals that adopt a stance of buddhist calm when confronted with shears.

linden doles
Melancholy brought on by leafless trees.

little downham
[1] A property owner's right to chop all the branches off a dangerous tree while leaving the bole intact. (See also lynford arboretum)
[2] a badly-executed bikini line.

little ouse
The colourless liquid which emerges from an uncooperative zit.

little raveley
A futile attempt to re-create the thrills of a great raveley (qv).

little snoring
Great snoring (qv) for the timid.

little stukeley
She says, “I am feeling a little stukely tonight, darling”. He says, “I am so sorry, darling, I have the most terrible migraine.”

An informal way of slicking down hair, much favoured by Adolf Hitler. His aide-de-camp used to collect the Fuehrer's Saliva during His Speeches expressly for That Purpose.

A moment of indecision. Atypical lode moment occurs when you can’t decide whether to cross your left leg over your right, or your right leg over your left.

A scale for measuring how funny a joke is, based on audience reaction ranging from a subdued groan (score 1) to a double inguinal hernia (score 10).

Descriptive of those rare occasions when a man wishes it wouldn't.

lynford arboretum
The opposite of a little downham (qv), viz, a property owner's right to remove the BOLE of a dangerous tree while leaving the BRANCHES intact. Tricky manoeuvre.

lyng, n
[1] Allophones of the phoneme [r]. Lyng accounts for the poster outside a Kyoto theatre announcing a performance of Mozart's Magic Fruit.
[2] lyng lyng (redupl) The sound made by a Chinese telephone.

The Daleks are coming!

Alien introductions can be disastrous: the rabbits in Australia, that turned whole areas into desert; the rats, cats, goats and pigs that wiped out endemic species (try to find a kiwi or a kakapo or a takahe in New Zealand now); the invasive weeds that choke estuaries, and - nearer to home - the grey squirrel, that has done for our native red squirrel what the conquistadores did for the Incas.
And now there's another: the Harlequin Ladybird. I went recently to a talk given by Dr Mike Majerus, a leading coleopterist and a specialist in ladybirds. I had no idea what a threat this recent invader is likely to be to most of our native ladybird species. It breeds shamelessly, it is omnivorous, it is big, and it is ruthless. It is the Dalek of the insect world (pace those people who have welcomed the return of Dr Who to BBC - goodness, they must be desperate!). Exported mysteriously from its Asian homeland, where it apparently behaves itself, it has reached plague proportions in north America, and is now busy working its way up Europe and into Britain. It has already arrived in fact.
Dr Majerus urged us all to go out and check the ladybirds in our gardens, recording the good guys as well as this invader. There's even a laminated sheet giving tips on identifying the Harlequin as well as our common species (if you want details, visit and ). On the evening of his talk, he handed out Petri dishes containing various examples of the wicked beetle, and here lies my problem: it can be - at least for me - very difficult to differentiate from our familiar coccinella species. Moreover, I think it should be called the chameleon not the Harlequin, because it has so many variations from mainly black with a couple of red bands, to mainly red with a few black blotches. Fortunately, there is one way to be sure. Put one on your finger, and if it gives you a vicious bite, it's a Harlequin. Apparently, it also stinks.
Another gloom and doom story? Well, yes and no. Fortunately, there is a parasitic wasp that might do for it. Already scientists are talking about using the wasp as a biological control. Let us it works, because if it doesn't, the Harlequin will eventually wipe out most of our other ladybird species, along with aphids, lacewings and other aphid-feeders. And if this happens, species higher in the food chain, such as birds, are going to suffer a serious famine.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

East Anglian Liffery G-I

So many lovely words would be wasted if it were not for Liff.

gateley, adj
Descriptive of people who enjoy going through gates. “He has his gately Spring, when fancy clear Takes in all beauty with an easy span” (Shelley) emphasises the importance of moving smartly through a gate and also making sure first that it’s wide enough for your backside.

gayton thorpe
In the good old days, Sir Reginald Gayton Thorpe was the byword for le vice anglais in his part of Norfolk. The epitaph on his gravestone records his dying wish to be buried face down under the honest Norfolk sod.

gedney dyke (male jargon)
An aphetic form of the question frequently asked by one male of another: “Did you get any?” together with the improbable explanation of why he didn’t.

Every man has a drawer or a box or a large tin stuffed with "girton". Even modern males who vowed never to be like their fathers usually end up with a girton. Like the coton (qv), a girton is full of very usable bits and pieces, which you only need the day after you throw them away.

New Zealand slang for “Not sure.”

Reputed to be the despairing cry of a Cambridgeshire sales rep on arriving in the northwest. Now refers to anyone who forgets to carry a raincoat in August.

graveley, adj
Descriptive of the mood of a slimmer who feels obliged to order"a dray whate wane", but hates it.

great raveley
A wonderful party which you wouldn't have missed for the world, if only you had been invited.

great snoring
The noises people make when trying to endear themselves to polar bears in a zoo.

grunty fen
One burp too many after a serious vindaloo.

Gordon Brown’s attempt at a smile. Scary.

An ambiguous postman, the kind who leers while making you sign for junk mail.

An involuntary tightening of the sphincter when forced to be polite to one's social inferiors.

Medieval manors had a mound of earth on which virgins had the right to "haver", ie think about it before saying yes. Such mounds were often places for target practice or for getting a good view of what was about.

hemingford grey
Popularised by Rossano Brazzi, this refers to the touching-in of the temples of an otherwise black barnet. In Italian, cappelli brizzolati . The Grecians also had a word for it.

hickling broad (WWII US servicemen’s slang)
The hickling broad was an infamous East Anglian fille de joie who used to enjoy sneaking up on GIs and sinking her teeth into their necks. The tracks of the Sherman tank were reputed to be based on a cast of her dentures.

A sudden quickening of pace, a curious hopping gait, accompanied by a bright grin, adopted by people who arrive late to take their seat at a function in the belief that it makes them both lovable and invisible. Hitler performed a hilgay at Compiegne, but for different reasons.

hitchin (obs)
A device made from beech brashings and used to relieve itching between the shoulderblades. "Wieldin' the ‘itchin’" for this purpose was indistinguishable from self-flagellation, and nearly as much fun.

Wondering whether to give it one more try at the disco, or just go home for a barclays and a mug of horlicks..

The lost art of darning socks.

humby, adj
Descriptive of socks that are on the cusp.

ingoldisthorpe (pron nuguluduzuthup)
A name of Viking origin which makes you glad you are not Norwegian.

isleham (pron 'eye-zlum)
An unscrupulous birder’s gambit, you “play an isleham” by saying that, for instance, the warbler that just flitted through the scrub, and which ONLY YOU SAW, had a yellow supercilium, a crown stripe and a double white wingbar. You then wait for someone else to call “Pallas’s!” and shrug modestly. It never fails, but thereafter leave as soon as it is decent to do so.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Would you like to see my jinty?

I like trains. I once took the train from Thessaloniki to Athens, a seven-hour journey as the Greek Firebird flies - while my colleague took the plane. We - the lucky passengers - passed through wonderful scenery, including Mount Olympus, this being the only time I ever got close to the gods, except for one memorable evening at the Liverpool Philharmonic, where, to be honest, I was more interested in the contents of my future wife's bra than the music playing in the far distance below us.
Anyway, I digress - which bloggers are allowed to do - my Athenian colleague (Can you believe a Greek lady called Bella Dietschi? Really. Hi, Bella!) met me at the station and apologised that the train was an hour late. My response was to say how pleased I was that I had had an extra hour at no extra cost. And I meant it. A similar experience with the Fatih Express from Istanbul to Ankara, on that occasion only an extra forty minutes gratis, but I don't want to be ungrateful or add fuel to the Graeco-Turkish issue (Cypriots that I have spoken to from both sides of the divide tell me: "We are not Greek", or "We are not Turkish". They say: "We are Cypriots". Come on, you Big Brothers, get out and leave them alone).
I also like trains because my son Jeremy likes trains, although he is an aficionado of the diesel era, while I have a nostalgia for steam. In my natal Shropshire village, we could go either to the main village station, Hadley, and see the LMS trains; or to Hadley Halt, north of the village, and watch the magnificent GRW locos speed past like spaceships. I liked both, but preferred the Halt because I had fallen for a dark-haired gypsy girl called Melva Davies who lived in a nearby railway cottage (I was eight at the time and it was love in its purest form, unrequited. How I have thriven on unrequited love over the years...)
I also like trains because my grandson, Joseph, likes trains. We made a couple of trigenerational trips to the Nene Valley Railway, an hour north of where I live in Cambs; and one trip to the Swanage Railway in Dorset, where Joseph and family lived before migrating to New Zealand. Wonderful! Do visit these collections of old trains, even if you are not into trains: there is something majestic about old locos. Joseph is now a kiwi, but he tells his father that he wants to visit Grandad again because Grandad has a Jinty.
Hands up all those who know what a Jinty is. Me neither till I bought one on impulse at a swapmeet in Bury St Edmunds, some years before Joseph was born. A jinty is an old-style shunting engine, a basic workhorse moving rolling stock about, and I bought a jinty trainset for £25. Watching a train with six assorted wagons trundling round a circular track on the dining-room table palls after a while, but my jinty had a new lease of life when my first grandson, Joseph, came to visit. And now, he tells everyone in Auckland, New Zealand, [a] that he is English; and [b] that his Grandad has a jinty. Oh my! That makes me so proud!
But I don't like modern trains. This is not me being a grumpy old man (although I do that well). I don't like these Sprinters because they have been designed, like so much of the planet, by a Malevolent Japanese Dwarf. Well, maybe not Japanese, but whoever he she or it is, they have very small bums and very short backs. My arse doesn't fit in the seat, and the seat stops in mid shoulderblade while the rest of my back, neck and head carry on. For a while, I thought it was me. For a while, I held to the proposition that I was on the Wrong Planet. But natural grumpiness forced me to the conclusion that I am probably on the Right Planet, and that there really is a conspiracy against anyone over one metre tall and seventy kilos weight. Tight seats, mingy legroom, low lintels, narrow beds, XXL still not enough for anyone of a decent size. Grrrrr. I once wrote to a clothing chain store asking them why they stacked clothes with the smallest sizes on the top rack and the biggest sizes on the bottom. Think about it. Of course, we have special shops called Big Man or Fuller Figure (I have a size problem, but it's better than being a woman with a size problem), but don't go in there: everything fits but is totally HORRIBLE. Woolworths do cheap crockery, fair enough. Cheap is good. But why do they also have to make it so UGLY. I reckon it's all part of the same conspiracy. Paranoid: Me? You bet!

Never mind all that. Let me reiterate: old locos are gorgeous. I should know, being a bit old and a bit loco myself.

The Wisdom of Sophie, Part 119

After the Anitkabir outburst, I thought it wise to get back on track with some more of Sophie's gems. By the way, this is not a picture of her brother Harry; I think it may be of George W Bush as a child.

Mommy, I think boys are gross.
Really? Why is that, dear?
They pull your hair and say rude things and make bad smells.
Not all boys are like that, surely? What about your brother?
ESPECIALLY my brother!!
Drink your fermented Bighorn sheepmilk, dear.

My birthday is on June 5th. Please make all donations payable to me, not to charity
Birthdays again
Mommy, can we have a party for Grandpa's birthday?
But Grandpa isn't here, dear.
I know, but we can save him a piece of cake.
But we can't have a party without Grandpa.
I don't see why not. He'd only fall asleep anyway.
Drink your environmentally-friendly buttermilk,dear.

Why are all the bad things so good?
Junk food
Mommy, why can't we eat junk food like normal people?
Because it's not good for you. I want you to grow up strong and healthy.
But Grandpa eats all kinds of junk food and..
Yikes. Can I have A LOT MORE broccoli and a BIG glass of carrot juice, please?

We all try to define our individuality by assuming attitudes, adopting roles, etc
Mother, I have decided to become a venginterian.
A what, dear?
Oh mother, please listen! A VENGINTERIAN.
Oh, a vegetarian. You do know what the word means?
Oh mother, really. You must think I'm a child.
Yes, dear. So, no more meat.
That's right. I refuse to eat animal flesh. It's barbar..., it's gross.
Very well. Eat your wholewheat-breaded albacore strips, dear.
Yes, mother.

Well, this IS California, after all. Kick back, chill, it's cool.
Mother, I have decided to become a lensibum.
A what, dear?
A LENSIBUM. Why do I have to repeat myself?!
Oh, a lesbian. Very well, dear, but why?
Because I no longer wish to eat meat.
That's a vegetarian, dear. A lesbian is, well, something different.
I can be BOTH, can't I?
Yes, dear, if you wish. Now, what would you like for tea?
Are lesbians allowed to eat chicken nuggets?

Hey, I don't know what it is either.
Omega 3
Mommy,. why is fish good for you?
Because it contains essential oils like Omega 3.
Whar's Omega 3?
It's something you get from fish.
But what does it DO?
Eat your fair-trade barley-fed coley nuggets, dear.

It's not only children who are direct. I was once told by a girlfriend "Your neck's gone, Jake". Thanks a bunch.
Mommy, Grandpa's got hairs growing out of his nose.
Yes, dear.
And his ears are awful loooooooong.
Yes, dear.
And he's got no hair on the top of his head.
Yes, dear.
Maybe he doesn't get enough Omega 3.
Eat your live-culture low-fat bionic yogurt, dear.


Here's a quiz for a wet Sunday afternoon. This picture was taken no more than a couple of weeks ago. Where is it? Who are these people? Why are they congregating in such a vast number? One thing is sure: you didn't see this picture in your wet Sunday newspaper, broadsheet or tabloid. Nah, some things just ain't news.

One of my heroes is George Orwell. The issue was unambiguous for him: fascism was evil and had to be fought wherever it started to take root, first in Italy, then in Germany and Spain. Fascism: those choreographed parades, the passionate oratory and the sexy uniforms. Spain in the thirties: clearcut issues, clearcut causes, good guys and bad guys. The intelligensia of northern Europe was in a ferment, polarised by the seductive glamour of fascism, or the nobility of the heroic workers' struggle.

So, where is the same intelligensia today, these heirs of Guernica and the siege of Barcelona, now that another country is sinking under another kind of tyranny? Ah, but wait a minute. Look at the photograph again. These people are not the honest sons of toil with muscular forearms and grime-laced faces from years of toil under the harsh Anatolian sun. These are well-to-do people, toffs, academics.

Let me come clean. This is a picture of a recent gathering at the Anitkabir Mausoleum in Ankara, it shows a protest against the skullduggery that passes for governance in present-day Turkey. The protesters are, let's face it, representative of the people who have most to lose from the destruction of the secular state and its replacement by a fundamentalist islamic state modelled on Iran.

I love Turkey in too many ways to list. I am in awe of the achievements of Mustafa Kemal, called Ataturk, "father of the Turks". And I am also aware that Turkey, as Disraeli said of Victorian England, is two nations. It's a familiar story: the good life is in the cities, so the peasantry flock into the cities, don't find the good life, end up in bidonville and listen to those who provide simple panaceas for their ills. Because there is no coherent left-wing party in Turkey, just a mess of squabbling idealogues (George Orwell described the sectarian sickness that afflicts the Left), the fundamentalists have had a clear run, and they have swept to power on the votes of the disaffected - and sources of funding that would not stand up to scrutiny.
And, my goodness, there have been some improvements: lots of new buses in Ankara to replace those rumbling monsters belching diesel fumes; lots of treeplanting and other green initiatives; cheap fuel for the poor (well, this last is not good news because the cheap fuel is lignite, the stuff that created horrendous smogs in Ankara till natural gas was introduced in the nineties). All popular stuff, good for the citizenry.
Wait though. Under Hitler, Germany built the autobahns, produced the People's Car (the literal translation of "Volkswagen") and promoted health and strength programmes which created a nation of fit and healthy people. More than that, Nazism gave Germans back their self-respect and their self-belief. But Auschwitz and Belsen and the rest were too high a price to pay for these benefits. So, clean buses and trees are welcome, but they are not per se an argument for the benignity of the regime.

So, to come back to the demonstration at Anitkabir (which is the focal point for Atatrurkism), these are people who don't want an Iran-style system. They have everything to lose. So, which side of the barricades should we be on? For barricades there will be. In Britain, we have a nation which, give or take a few blips, has been stable for a thousand years. Turkey - like many other nations around the world - is less than a century old, born out of the dismemberment of the Ottoman empire which left a maelstrom of unresolved conflicts. So we should not be too quick to judge such a young nation. What were we like one hundred years after King Alfred?

As usual, I have more questions than answers. But if the day comes when you have to hunker down on one side of the barricades or the other, start thinking now past the detail - as Orwell did - and decide where you belong.