Thursday, August 31, 2006

An issue of some gravity

Am I the only one to have noticed that gravity is getting stronger? I have searched the web and the literature and cannot find a single scientist who is aware of this worrying phenomenon. I have no idea what is causing this strengthening of the Earth’s gravitational pull, but I am very aware of its effects, some of which I list below:

1 A greater tendency for objects to slip out of my hand and fall to the ground

2 Greater difficulty in heaving my carcase out of an armchair

3 It's getting harder to lift my feet when walking

4 Climbing over farm gates has become quite an ordeal

5 More and more parts of my body are being pulled towards the Earth’s core.

It's a very disturbing trend, this increase in gravity's grip. But I suppose it's less alarming than the opposite: imagine if objects and one's body parts started floating upwards to the ceiling...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Shine on, shine on harvest moon

My father worked for 25 years for the Wrekin Brewery. This had several important consequences for the family. I can remember from a very early age sitting at the table in the evening with my father, bravely sipping mild ale, nibbling bread and cheese and eating strips of raw onion, man-style.
When he was in mellow mood (lovely euphemism), we would go into the front room where the piano was, and my mother would play the songs of the day while my father sang, sort of, all the while holding me aloft like some kind of trophy. He rarely dropped me, which was a great solace to my mother.
The taste for this heady mix of aerial buoyancy and music-hall kitsch has never left me. If you want me to, I can play and sing “You are my sweetheart”, “If you were the only girl in the world”, “Hold your hand out, you naughty boy”, “In the shade of the old apple tree” and many many others. The amazing thing is that I DO play and sing them still, the piano replaced by a convenient electronic keyboard, but in all other respects, authentic.
Even more amazing: I love it. Sometimes I will go wild and play, say, “Come to me my melancholy baby” in, say, 7/4 time, but it’s only a matter of time before the guilt kicks in and I go back to playing it the way God and my father intended.


Some regional or dialect names for birds are well known. For example; Bottle Tit for Long-tailed Tit, Butcher Bird for Redbacked Shrike, Stormcock for Mistle Thrush, and, if you have birded in the Highlands, such local names as Bonxie for Great Skua, Gowk for Cuckoo and Tystie for Black Guillemot. But can you match the names in the first column, 01-16, to the birds in the second column, A-P?
Essentially, most local names are nicknames, picking out some feature of the bird such as shape, call, preferred habitat or nest site. If, for example, you know what a coulter is and what a neb is, you should have no difficulty matching 13.


Alp or Olp








Beam Bird


Blue Tit


Billy Biter




Bessy Blakeling


Corn Bunting


Butter Bump




Carr Goose






Great Crested Grebe


Clot Bird


Long-tailed Duck






Colly Bird




Corn Dumpling


Spotted Flycatcher


Coulter Neb




Cricket Teal






Wood Pigeon


Cuthbert Duck



A Jarifa en una orgía

During my brief excursion into secondary school teaching, I was lucky enough to enjoy the friendship of a teacher of Spanish who introduced me to the poetry of José de Espronceda, and in particular, the poem at the head of this posting. The teacher rejoiced in the splendid name of Luigi Carlo Francesco Sassi, even though he was an Englishman born and bred.
In the poem, the jaded poet laments to his houri, Jarifa, during an orgy, how he no longer gets pleasure from pleasure. I still remember one stanza:

Yo quiero amor, quiero gloria,
Quiero un deleite divino,
Como en mi mente imagino,
Como en el mundo no hay

Think about it: you are so jaded that you cry out for some love or passion which in fact doesn't exist - "como en el mundo no hay".
I read this poem at an impressionable age, and it scared me so much that I tried thereafter to contain my satisfactions within the pleasures that are accessible. Mind you, I still look wistfully sometimes at pleasures which are no longer available to me!

Thursday, August 24, 2006


I wooed my blond-haired blue-eyed Liverpudlian sweetheart in the prescribed manner, and once it became clear this was serious, I was taken to a village in North Wales to be introduced to the family. Clan would be a better word: seven aunts, all married, all with progeny. And, sitting on an elevated armchair, the matriarch of the clan, Grandma Holmes. The elevation gave it the air of a throne, and it was rumoured that she kept a crate of Guinness under it. Anyway, she was formidable. She stared at me silently for quite a while and then asked me to come closer. I approached. Without warning, she leant forward and squeezed my thigh, high and hard and long.

“Well, he’s got good legs anyway,” she said. And that was all the approval I needed, it seems, to be allowed to carry off her favourite granddaughter and take her to wife.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What's the Hittite for "Oops"?

In my third year at university, I had my first meal in an Indian restaurant, all new and strange to me. The waiter asked me if I had enjoyed my meal, and I said yes, I particularly liked the crunchy dark pieces. “They are cinnamon sticks, sir, you are not supposed to eat them.” Oops.

I went quite regularly after that, and one evening got into conversation with a man at the next table. He was rather wild-looking, florid face like a farmer at harvest time. It turned out he was doing postgraduate work on the Hittite civilisation.

“In fact,” he said rather smugly, “I'm the only person in the world who can speak fluent Hittite”.

“Oh,” I replied. “Then, who do you talk to?”

Abrupt end of conversation. Oops.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon cœur
D’une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

I guess Verlaine was having a bad hair day when he composed this.

The Golden Casket

Every year for centuries a ceremony has taken place, alternately in Rome and Jerusalem, at which a Gold Casket is passed between the Pope and the Chief Rabbi for safe keeping. One year, while the ritual was at its height, the Pope whispered to the Chief Rabbi

“Have you ever wondered what is inside the Golden Casket?” Indeed, they had both wondered, but had never opened it, so, on this occasion, the Pope slipped behind an arras and checked the contents. He came back to his seat with a yellowed parchment in his hand and a bemused expresssion on his face.“What is it?” the Rabbi whispered, barely able to contain his impatience. “It’s the bill for the Last Supper.”

Saturday, August 19, 2006

"Father, forgive me, for I have sinned"

When you add up all the apologies you need to make to people for your sins of commission and omission, it is hard not to rush round to the nearest RC priest and ask for a conversion.
As I am not up to such a commitment, I wish to use my blog at this point to ask forgiveness of all the people whom I have inadvertently upset.
C, that was a tactless posting to your blog.
M, I really don't fancy your wife, nice as she is.
R, you didn't deserve my last dramatic exit.
And to all the rest, sorry guys, didn't mean it, ok?
Well, no point in going on as the people concerned won't read this, but it makes me feel a little better.
I promise to try harder. After all, that's what every one of my school reports prescribed.
Better late than never.

Friday, August 18, 2006

“Darling, we can’t go on meeting like this"

If you find yourself sitting through a bad movie, one way to get through it is to listen out for the cliches. Here are a few to get you started:

Any French movie

“Je m’en fous.”
Any Italian movie
“Va fanculo!”
Military drama
“I could have you courtmartialled for this!”
World War II movies
“Kill him, Schultz!”
“Let’s get outta here!”
Family dramas
“One day you’ll regret it...”
“I knew it wouldn’t work.”
Detective stories
“You forgot just one small thing…”
Romantic movies
“Darling, we can’t go on meeting like this…”

Thursday, August 17, 2006


My first hero was a bear called Rupert. He wore a red sweater with yellow striped trousers and a matching scarf. He lived in an idyllic rural nowhere called Nutwood, had loving parents, several close friends (Algy Pug, Bill Badger and Edward Elephant for starters) and a capacity for amazing adventures, which often took him into other universes. But he always managed to resolve the problem or thwart the villain and still be home in time for tea.

Rupert Bear started out as a newspaper cartoon strip in the 1920s, drawn by a fey lady called Mary Tourtel (She was later replaced by the true Rupert artist genius, Alfred Bestall). Soon, annuals started appearing, annuals which are now collectors’ items. I had my first Rupert Annual as a Christmas present in December 1945 (amazingly, the annuals continued to be published throughout the war, albeit on inferior paper). Years later, when I began to collect Rupert Annuals, I bought, sight unseen, a 1945 annual only to discover it wasn’t the one I had received as a Christmas present. I eventually found and bought the one which was: the Annual for 1943. My Christmas present was a handmedown from my older sister (along with socks, shoes and other gender-neutral items). By this time, mother father and sister had all gone to join the Choir Invisible, so I couldn’t ask for an explanation.

Recently, reproductions of original Rupert Annuals have been published. I bought the 1943 one, eager to see if they had remained faithful to the original (No point being an anorak, if you aren’t finicky). It had been bowdlerised by the Thought Police. Talking of anoraks, I joined a society called “The Followers of Rupert” and realised that I am not an anorak after all: I don’t have the memory or the enthusiasm to check and chase all the minutiae which are the lifeblood of my fellow Rupertians. I am basically a lazy sod.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A last lingering look at Liffery

bure (WWII slang)
Properly, B.U.R.E. One of many acronyms written on the backs of envelopes to sweethearts during the war, eg, SWALK = “sealed with a loving kiss”; BOLTOP = “better on lips than on paper”, NORWICH = “(k)nickers off ready when I come home”. B.U.R.E stood, it’s too lurid (and illegal in many countries). You work it out.

A hen party, an opportunity for women to get together and hate each other.

A considerate man who chooses the farthest stall in a urinal so as not to provoke envy in other users of the facility. The most famous cockthorpe was Winston Churchill, who when asked by Clement Attlee if he was “ashamed of it”, replied: “No, it’s just that whenever you buggers see something big, you nationalise it.”

costessey adj
A peculiarly British affliction, it means becoming infuriated when trying to compare prices and quantities of goods described in a mix of metric and imperial..Napoleon must be giggling in his sarcophagus.

drayton drewray
The converse of Occam’s Razor, much in vogue these days. It is the proposition that “Other things being equal, the wordiest most complicated explanation is the right one.”

etling green [from OE etle vb, to bewilder]
The colour, never seen in Nature, of the gumboots and waterproof coats favoured by the owners of Range Rovers.

feltbrigg adj
Descriptive of the satisfaction a man feels after volunteering to do a household chore. He then dissipates the goodwill thus engendered by some remark like “I’ve done your dishes for you, darling.”

foxley adj
Perplexed, bemused, caused by pondering unfathomable questions, such as where all those splendid summer bosoms disappear to in the wintertime.

fulmodeston [pron /fundltn/]
The noise “fndltn” or something like it is used by people who, when invited to do so, desperately want, but are too timid to take, the last biscuit on a plate.

The strange odour arising from an old man after sitting too long in a leather armchair.

An inexpressible feeling of joy on leaving Telford.

The fury provoked by a tangled shoelace.

A limp affected by a perfectly fit person as a way of getting across a busy road. The cemeteries are full of failed holters.

Any pointy device used by a child to explore the mysteries of an electric wall socket.

A version of Hide and Seek in which unpopular children are told to hide and the ones who are “it” don’t bother to go and find them.

A dismissive toss of the head affected by queens of one kind and another.

irstead, vb
Irsteaders are the people who insert unnecessary apostrophes, eg “a dog and it’s bone” “potato’s” etc. For further details, visit their website’s-shoot’s-‘n’-leave’

A neighbour who gives barmy advice, eg, “Tealeaves, that’s what you should feed your penstemon”. Surprisingly, it is against the law to strangle kenratts.

A wiremesh gizmo for removing the limescale from false teeth.

Leonard Childs
The man credited with the invention of the leather elbow patch for schoolmasters’ tweed jackets. In hot weather, Childs liked to wear the patches without the jacket.

A talking vibrator.

little ryburgh
A small dry biscuit which effectively kills the taste of any cheese you put on it.

An ornate portal to a cemetery for pet cats, usually with the superscription “Nine down, none to go”

A carbootaholic, someone trying to earn a crust by buying junk at one sale and selling it at another. Many failed entrepreneurs began their careers as tatterfords.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More Sophi(e)stry

Grandpa, what will happen when our pet tortoise dies?
We'll bury him in the garden, put a little cross on his grave, then invite all your friends to a party with cookies and ice-cream.
Can we kill him now, Grandpa?

What's that on the side of your nose, Grandpa?
It's a beauty spot, dear.
Hm, it looks more like a wart to me.
Have you ever thought of becoming a counsellor, dear?

Are you an old scrote, Grandpa?
Maybe, honeybunch.
Is it the same thing as a pain in the butt?
Don't believe everything your mother tells you.

Grandpa, what's an old scrote?
A lovable old man who forgets things.
Forgets what things?
Sorry, dear, what was your question?

Grandpa, I think you should remarry.
Really, dearest. Why?
So you won’t be lonely.
That’s very sweet of you.
You’d better get rid of the wart first, though.

What a way to hang socks!

Eileen’s mother took against her future daughter-in-law because the poor girl was pegging socks on the line by the TOE instead of by the TOP (Thanks for the anecdote, Eileen)
On our first business trip together, my colleague Arthur B pointed out indignantly that I was opening my boiled egg “at the wrong end” (Thanks for that, Arthur, my good friend)

When making cheese on toast for a colleague, she asked me why on earth I was putting butter on the toast as well as cheese (Thanks for that, Jane)

A friend visiting me was horrified at the small opening I cut in a carton of milk (Thanks for that, John M)

In Turkey, I caused a sensation in the kitchen by cutting a cucumber into concentric rings instead of longitudinally (Thanks for that, Zeynep)

When cutting a simple sandwich, I cut it in half across the middle; lady friends have pointed out that the “correct” way is to cut it diagonally (Too many ladies to acknowledge. Ahem).

When I do the dishes, I put the cutlery in the drainer with the business end up.. My cleaning lady makes a point of replacing them handle end up. She often mutters when she does so.

Pause and reflect.

All of the above, and many other unconscious or ingrained habits, led me to consider why I do a million mundane tasks the way I do. How do you deal with a lettuce, cut or break? How do you boil an egg, put in cold water or in hot? How do you eat peas, fork up or fork down? I came quickly to the conclusion that I do the million mundane tasks the way I do because I absorbed the methodology from watching my mother long before I was able to make rational choices. You could describe these activities as “inherited characteristics”.

I derive a great deal of pleasure from thinking that they way I hang socks or drain cutlery or open a boiled egg is based on the ways of generations of Allsops and Frances and Pyes and all the other tribes whose many couplings finally resulted in me.

The other day, my friend Dick told me that after sixty plus years on the planet, he discovered that all his life he had been tying his shoelaces incorrectly. He was on a ship at the time heading for the Antarctic (Dick does that kind of thing). A man standing near, who turned out to be something impressive like the CEO of NASA, pointed out that Dick’s shoelace was undone. When Dick did it up, the NASAman said “As long as you do the knot that way, your shoelaces will keep coming undone”. Dick now does up his laces the NASA way, and no longer suffers from lace-dangle. The moral of this story is: love and honour your mother and your father, but don't put total trust in inherited characteristics.

Monday, August 14, 2006

This is my weird and I must dree it

By way of introduction, here is the world's shortest fairy tale:
Once upon a time, a girl asked a guy "Will you marry me?"
The guy said, "NO!"
And the girl lived happily ever after and went shopping, dancing,camping, drank martinis, always had a clean house, never had to cook and farted whenever she wanted.

Like the girl in the fairy story, I live alone and can do what I please. I like alone. What I don't like is lonely, which is the sense of loss that you are not sharing a particular moment with someone else. Not "anyone else" because the worst loneliness is when you are not actually alone. It has to be the right someone else. And herein lies the problem. Another story to illustrate the point:
A man inherited pots of money and went round the world in a quest to find the perfect woman. After many false starts he finally found what he thought might be the one and, at a suitable moment, told her about his quest. Her response was immediate: "How interesting! I am looking for the perfect man. One day I will find him".
I am not gumple-foisted, I promise you. But there are days when thoughts like this come unbidden. No matter: once the rain stops, I will go out and kill weeds in my garden. At moments like this, herbicide does it for me. How's that for dreeing your weird?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Liffery Lives! M-Z

[Reminder: all the words defined hereunder were taken down from road signs in East Anglia. They will not be missed]

The last glass you drink at a party, consisting of the dregs of various wineglasses and a generous admixture of cigarette ends. You drink it anyway.
mintlyn wood
A woodland scene with bright yellow fields, the sort that only existed in Rupert Bear annuals before the advent of rape
mousehold heath
A blasted place where mice meet to make love.
A troll
Tiny invisible insects that you can feel on your skin but can’t locate, and whose sole purpose in life is to spoil your enjoyment of a good thunderstorm.
old bottom
A VPL without interest.
The top E string on a guitar, the one that never seems to be quite in tune.
Asking for change from a waitress so that you can leave a mingy tip.
pillard’s corner
A public gathering place where people can express worthless opinions without fear of being understood.
A dimpled chin
A dimpled chin containing bloater paste or similar.
Another hapax logomenon, found in the saw “As ye Soham, so shall ye Reepham”.
runcton bottom
The angry red parallel lines that appear on your backside after sitting too long on a park bench.
The belief that anything said in a Lancashire accent must be true.
sco ruston
Jive or black American street talk. If the assistant in a Harlem bookshop asks if you want your purchase rapped, say no thanks, or you could be there for hours, mystified.
[1] Reluctance to remove one’s hands from one’s trouser pockets on a cold morning or when checking the tackle.
[2] A method for peeling an orange without being seen
A dry cleaner’s underarm deodorant.
The cord which enables you to tighten the bottom of an anorak for no reason
A measure of the degree of fuzziness that can be achieved with even the most sophisticated digital camera.
The last scrape of mayonnaise under the shoulder of the jar, the bit you can never quite get at.
A look of deep concentration, often enhanced by sucking on an unlit pipe, which enables you to appeare wise while someone is explaining quantum mechanics to you.
The fun moment when a garden implement comes up and smacks you on the nose as you stand on the business end.
stratton strawless
Totally exhausted after a day of climbing hayricks.
Attempting to explain to a police officer that you are perfectly fit to drive.
three hammer common
An heraldic device, as in the blazon “On a field or, a fess raguly gules three hammers common”. This is the coat of arms of anyone called Smith, but do check with Lord Lyon King of Arms first or you might end up in the Tower.
The inexplicable excitement that men derive from an unintended glimpse of a nipple.
The bits of grass left standing defiantly after you have mown your lawn. Only nail scissors or dynamite can remove them
A dilemma, as in “Tyby or not tyby”
The sort of person who says everything twice. Says everything twice.
A fretful pause when straddling a gate as a man considers the chances of his ending up singing soprano in the church choir.
vinegar middle
The point at which cheap plonk lives up to its reputation
weasenham lyngs
Wriggly things in a garden pond which will turn into biting insects if you don’t kill them.
welches dam
An unfaithful horse.
The moment when a wife realises they are lost, and when the husband refuses to ask a local for directions.
A question you ask without really wanting an answer, eg, What is earwax actually FOR?

What’s in a name? A lot, that’s what’s in a name

I love birding in the southwestern states of the US, and it’s partly because of the linguistic fun I get out of it. My first Pacific Loon was, of course, a Black-throated Diver, my first Black-bellied Plover a Grey Plover, Horned and Eared Grebes are Slavonian and Black-necked respectively, an Oldsquaw in San Diego Bay was a Long-tailed Duck, and so on. Sometimes vernacular names are shared: I saw four species of orioles in SoCal, but they are in the family Icteridae, not Oriolidae. Similarly, their Thrushes and Blackbirds are not Turdidae (although the American Robin, confusingly, is), their Hawks are generally our Buzzards, and their Buzzards are generally our Vultures. Our Parus tits translate as Chickadees. And so it goes.
My question is this: does this linguistic gallimaufry really matter? After all, if I am not sure if their Snowy Plover is really a Kentish Plover, I can always check the scientific name. And there it is: Bingo! Charadrius alexandrinus. So, tell me, why should we ask the Americans to call it Kentish, any more than we should be asked to call it Snowy? Vive la Différence! Variety spices our lives.
You all know that there are several species of nearctic wrens – Bewick’s, House, Marsh, Canyon, etc – and, in winter, the Winter Wren, which is our Troglodytes troglodytes. I loved the frisson of recognition on finding my first: familiar in appearance, exotic in name.
And now, the desiccated scrotally-challenged buffoons of the BOU have decreed that our wren should be called Winter Wren. Tell me why. Listen, you bou-ffoons, the vernacular names of birds are just that: vernacular. Vernacular means popular, popular means chosen by the people. Not by committees, not by experts. We the people call them what we want. By all means advise us. Point out that the Hedge Sparrow is not a sparrow and might better be called a Dunnock, but don’t dictate to us. And leave the poetry in the names, for goodness’ sake. A Stock Dove flies wing-flickingly like a dove, not like a pigeon: that’s why we call it a dove (unless you are an old fen tiger, in which case you call it a Blue Rock).
As for the rash of epithets that have been attached to our birds’ names, they are like a bad attack of impetigo, disfiguring lists and bird reports. Have you noticed how much harder it now is to locate, for instance, Lapwing in a list now that it is prefaced with the egregious Northern? Damn the busybodies!
Fellow birders, let me ask you a question: when you see a wren, do you see a Winter Wren? When you see a Little Ringed Plover, do you see a Little Plover? No, neither do I. Long live OUR names, there’s no good reason to change them.

My alma mater is known as "the home of lost causes", but that's no reason for me not to fight back even at this late stage.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Dawn chorus? You can keep it

Well, it’s lovely in the Spring, but once you get into mid to late Summer, the only birds still holding territory seem to be Wood Pigeon and Collared Dove, both of which species have taken up residence in my garden. So the dawn chorus consists of the monotony of the Wood Pigeon’s babble, which has the rhythm of a catechism: “How’s your father? All right.” “How’s your mother? Half tight.” “How’s your sister? She might.”. The triplet is usually followed by a stunted “How...?” leaving your hooks on the tenter as you await the completion. No gestalt here, guys. The Collared Dove meanwhile is doing its own moaning repetition of the trisyllabic du-DUH-du du-DUH-du du-DUH-du, interspersed with an eldritch shriek as it flies to an old perch or a new mate.
The scientific name for the Collared Dove is Streptopelia decaocto, and I will explain the derivation, partly to show off my knowledge, and partly to make this Anatolian intruder* a little more palatable. Streptopelia is from Greek streptos, a collar; and peleia. a dove; nothing there to cause a bishop to kick a hole in a stained-glass window. But wait: decaocto is from Latin deca, ten and octo, eight; so the bird’s specific name is “eighteen”. Intrigued? Well, if there’s nothing better on offer, you might as well read on. It comes from a Greek myth about a hardworking maidservant, bemoaning her pay of a miserly 18 sovs a year and praying for release from her misery. The gods heard her and changed her into a dove that echoed her mournful cries. Not many people in Huntingdon know that. Incidentally, there is a parrot in Western Australia, the Port Lincoln Parrot (Barnardius zonarius), that is known locally as the “Twenty-eight bird”, because its call sounds for all the world like a repetition of that number. It is unnerving to be walking along a broad thoroughfare in Perth and have what sounds like an unhinged bank clerk screaming “twenty-eight” in your ear, but it’s not quite as bad as the Collared Dove’s piercing wail.

*The Collared Dove, known in German as the Tuerkentaube – the Turkish Dove – colonised northern Europe starting in the late fifties and is now common everywhere. A typical economic migrant.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A further gallimaufry of silly liffery (A to L)

[All the words defined below started out life as East Anglian placenames]

Using archaic language in the belief that it is amusing, eg, “Canst tell me the hour, stout yeoman?” Personally I wouldn’t give such a person the time of day.

The man standing at the bar who doesn’t laugh when you tell an Irish joke. The thing to do is to tell it again, only more slowly for his benefit.


beeston regis
Royal honey

beetley adj
Descriptive of legs that have delicate traceries of veins reminiscent of contour maps of the Andean Cordillera.

The person in a supermarket who puts their shopping cart crosswise in the aisle, thereby blocking it, and who then engages a shelf stacker in deep conversation.

Complaining that the party you voted into power have turned out to be “just as bad as the other lot”.

A synonym for instant coffee.

blofield heath
The blasted place where people meet to make love.

Advising a referee that he is in the wrong profession

A Tom Cruise lookalike. Shave him and he might look quite presentable.

burgh stubbs
Lavatorial evidcnce that you need to change your lifestyle

Inserting lots of do-able items in a “to-do” list to give yourself the illusion that you really ARE clearing up the clutter in your life.

The stranger who obligingly waves you back into a parking space, thereby enabling you to put a dent both in your car and in the one behind you.

castle rising
Unwarranted excitement during a game of chess

clipping green
Topiary, the kind that produces lopsided peacocks.

colby (TM)
A motel trouser press which allows you to add a parallel crease to your pants.

The agonising of a fat man as to whether he should wear his belly above or below his belt.

An angry linnet

A fluffy blouse designed to conceal the paucity of the bosom.

dumpling green
An apple-cheeked buxom country wench with a smile marred only by plaque and missing teeth.

A hatred of all things Dutch

friday bridge
A weekend that starts on Thursday

The snapping noise made when you pull a bra-strap. Boys love it, girls hate it.

grimston warren
Killing rabbits for fun.

“Gli ospiti sono come i pesci, dopo tre giorni incominciano a puzzare” (Guests are like fish: after three days they begin to smell). A guestwick is a ploy to persuade them it is time to leave, eg, by burning the house down.

guist adj, pron /gaist/
The sort of spectre that haunts houses in Surrey

The scrotal frisson that men experience when Clint Eastwood squares up to a villain.

Forgetting the first name of your boss’s wife at a reception. Calling her “my dear” only compounds the error.

A rash or excrescence arising from the wearing of a fishmonger’s jockstrap.

high kelling
Putting the porn on the top shelf to keep it out of the reach of short vicars.

A safari-style jerkin with numerous pockets. No matter how long you own a hindolveston, you will never finally decide what to put in which pockets.

Excessive polishing of wineglasses to expiate the overindulgence of the night before.

Trying to provide a sophiscated reply to the question “How do you like your steak, sir?”

Failing to impress the waiter: “medium to well-done” is for wimps; “saignant” is for showoffs.

Trying to reconcile the gambolling image in the Spring with the chops on your plate a couple of months later.

A failure to win your man by whipping the shit out of him.

leziate (schoolgirl slang)
A gym mistress.

little hautbois
A French piccolo

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


An austringer is usually defined in dictionaries as "a keeper of goshawks". Austringers are to hawks what falconers are to falcons, but it seems a mighty pretentious word. Why not just "hawker"? I suspect it was the name that hawkers gave to themselves to boost their image, seeing that hawkers were considered inferior to falconers, you know, in the same way that ratcatchers became "rodent operatives" and our polytechnics became universities...
Anyway, all this is an excuse to let you know that I am (re)reading T H White's classic "The Goshawk". If you have read Helen MacDonald's "Falcon" (and if you haven't, you should), you will have some notion of the almost mystical relationship that binds falconer to falcon, and of the extraordinary patience and determination required to achieve that relationship.
Well, from T H White's account, it seems that training a falcon is a walk in the park compared to training a goshawk. On the way, T H White - like Helen MacDonald - has many insightful things to say about the human condition, which is why I recommend both books to all of you, not just to specialist birders, falconers, or, for that matter, the austringers among you.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

More chats with Sophie

Grandpa, do you love Grandma?
Of course!
Then why don't you live together?
I've lost the key to the front door.
Why don't you just knock, and Grandma will let you in?
She might be sleeping.
Grandpa, sometimes I just don't understand you.
Neither do I, dearest.

Grandpa, why do mommies and daddies sleep together?
It saves on laundry bills, dear.
So why don't you sleep with Grandma?
There's not enough room for me AND Grandma AND my teddy bear.
But you don't have a teddy bear...
OMG, so that's who he's sleeping with!

Grandpa, I'm learning German!
Good for you! Do you like it?
Sicher, ich lerne gern deutsch.
Really, Sophie? Das haette ich nicht gewuesst....
Grandpa, why do you have to go and spoil everything?

Would you like to hear a German poem, Sophie dear?
Good, here it is:
Wär' ich ein Vögelein,
Bald wollt' ich bei dir sein,
Scheut' Falk' und Habicht nicht,
Flög' schnell zu dir.
Schöss' mich ein Jäger tot,
Fiel' ich in deinen Schoß,
Sähst du mich traurig an,
Gern stürb' ich dann!
Shall we go and eat ice cream, Grandpa?
Good idea. Bugger Goethe*.

*The poem is in fact by Helmina von Chézy, but who's ever heard of her?

Monday, August 07, 2006

How to catch elephants

[This post is for Sophie but grown-ups are allowed to read it as long as they remain silent and respectful]

Equipment needed

1 blackboard and easel
1 piece of chalk
1 violin
1 telescope
1 pair of tweezers
1 pot with lid

Set up blackboard and easel in a clearing in the jungle
Take the piece of chalk and write on the blackboard 2 + 2 = 5
Conceal yourself nearby, pick up the violin and start to play

How it works
Elephants are very musical, so any passing elephant will be attracted into the clearing by the sound of violin music.
Elephants are very intelligent, so when it sees what is written on the blackboard, it will stop in its tracks, trying to work out why someone should write 2 + 2 = 5 when every elephant, and most children, know that 2 + 2 = 4 (at least in this universe).

Catching the elephant
This is the easy bit. Put down the violin, look at the elephant through the wrong end of the telescope, which will make it very tiny. Using the tweezers, pick it up carefully and put it in the pot. Important: don't forget to screw the lid tightly, otherwise the elephant might escape.

(What you do with the elephant after you've caught it is up to you, but don't take it into the kitchen or you will have mighty big footprints in the margarine).

Saturday, August 05, 2006

BTO Open Day

Saturday, 5 August 2006. Gorgeous weather for the BTO Open Day at the Nunnery in Thetford. I arrived early, walked round the grounds and admired four Egyptian Geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca), but not much else, although I am always struck by how beautiful the grounds are at the Nunnery. You really must pay it a visit one day. As to the foxgeese (alopex = fox, chen = goose), I am all in favour of colourful introductions, ceteris paribus, and am not sniffy about Mandarin Duck either (v.i)

The events at the BTO Open Day were not quite exciting enough to cause me to send out a come-hither message, although the toasted sandwiches were damned good. The new Chris Mead Library is very impressive, lots of tempting books in a delicious new building. Well, not to be grudging, there were also excellent displays of the BTO's work, censusing, surveys, nest recording, etc.

Mostly it was, as these things usually are, a good opportunity to meet old friends. I talked Barn Owls, Swifts and Orioles - of course - and also learned a lot about monitoring nest activity by means of cameras, thanks to a dynamic couple from Devon who deal in this stuff. Young and energetic, good guys, their brilliant company is called Eco-Watch. Lang may their lum reek..

I am always struck by the number of white-bearded old scrotes at these events, and have to remind myself that I am now one of them. Eheu fugaces!

The heat got to me by early afternoon, so I came home via the traffic jam on the A11 to a plate of chicken goujons with tartare sauce (crazy combination, but it was all I could find).

All this is really just an excuse to post pictures of Egyptian Goose and Mandarin Duck of course. There are only two species in the Aix genus: Mandarin (Aix galericulata) and the Carolina Wood Duck (Aix sponsa). The Mandarin is now under threat in its native China, so all the feral populations, resulting from escapes from collections, are now of conservation importance. But this is really just an excuse to post a picture of a Wood Duck as well. :-)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A funny thing happened on the way to the kibbutz

A few years back, I did a lecture tour in Israel: Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and Beersheba. Tough audiences. Great experience. I had three minders organising the tour, with Eric the one in charge. Eric and his wife and children met me at Tel Aviv airport and invited me to dinner that evening. I said thanks, but I am really tired, but ask me for tomorrow night and the answer is yes. Which is how I came to be having dinner in a Jewish home on Friday evening, the eve of the Sabbath. Thank goodness they felt able to have a gentile at their table for the Sabbath meal. Eric’s mother, Sonia, took pity on me and tried to guide me through the ceremonial. The children giggled at this goy’s clumsy attempt to follow the prayers and the rituals. I loved every moment of it, and just wished I had a tradition that went back four thousand years.
My minders were wonderful guys, looking after me and introducing me to filafel and Jewish culture, enabling me to visit kibbutzim and all the while arguing with each other about every damn thing,. All I had to do was ask a question “How far are we from the coast?” or “Why do you leave rusting tanks along the roadside?” and they would build a whole mivneh out of it in moments.
Because I had worked for many years with a Jewish man, a German scholar who delighted in teaching me Yiddish expressions, my speech was, and still is, larded with yiddish words and syntactical peculiarities, so it was not surprising that people in my audience frequently asked my minders “Is he Jewish?”
Anyway, I came home with a very positive impression of Israel and its people. So impressed that I arranged for my daughter, Sarah, then aged 18, to spend a summer on Sonia’s kibbutz in northern Israel. Sarah didn’t like the experience, soon left and did her own version of an aborigine’s Walkabout. She became very involved with the Palestinian community in the process.
When she came home, and we began to talk about Israel, it soon became clear that she and I were talking about two different countries. She couldn’t recognise the Israel that I described, and I had no grasp of the Israel that she had experienced. We didn’t fight, but the dialogue between us soon dried up as there seemed to be no common ground.
A funny thing indeed happened on the way to the kibbutz.

More movie quotes

All they talk about is fertiliser and women. I have never shared their enthusiasm for fertiliser. As to women, I became indifferent at the age of eighty-two.
From ten o’clock tomorrow morning, everyone under the age of sixteen will be over the age of sixteen
I don’t mind your using my men, but I do wish you had asked first, old boy.
It was nice to meet you. Surreal, but nice.
It’s a good day to die, Grandfather.
Ma non ti sei sbottonato i pantaloni?
The first thing we got to do in cleaning up this town is to take out all the laywers and shoot ‘em down like dogs.
What, please, is screwing?
It’s, oh, yes, it’s bumsen.
That would be the one German word you pronounce perfectly.
Would you mind marrying us first? It would mean so much to the lady.
You can eat it, but it tastes like shit.

A Amarcord
B Bananas
C Cabaret
D Crocodile Dundee
E Jesse James
F Little Big Man
G Notting Hill
H The African Queen
I The Magnificent Seven
J Zulu