Friday, November 30, 2007

Words of wisdom from Mrs T

Mrs Trellis gets to the heart of the nail on the head:
Dear Nick Griffin
, she writes, the way you have treated your cleaning lady is nothing short of scandalous, and I am not surprised she tried to push you out of a moving car. I think you are being very unreasonable, not because you are Chairperson of the British National Party and want to repatriate all darkies, but because you blame all your misfortunes on others. In my opinion this is no basis for a serious political party, though it seems to have served the Labour Party quite well.
Take the advice of an older woman who knows about these things: get a hair cut, get a proper job, and forget about darkies, ghosties, chars and all the other tattybogles that ruin your sleep.

Goodbye, Mrs Mopp

I yield to no man in my admiration of women. I am in awe of them. I love their geography. I love their impenetrable minds. I love their bits. I love everything about them.
But I had to let my cleaning lady go.
Sorry, but in the end, she intimidated me beyond measure. A fine woman, junoesque of stature, hair pulled back tightly on a noble head, a bosom to shipwreck on, and a fierce way with broom and duster. What more could an old scrote on bachelor status ask for? Well, for a start, he could ask for her to put things back where they were before she broomed and dusted them.
Two features characterised our relationship. I was so dominated by her, bless her, that I used to clean the house before she arrived to do me. Secondly, after she had done me, I spent a good hour putting things back where I wanted them, as distinct from where she thought they ought to go.
Listen men (ladies might wish to leave at this point), she was worth every penny I paid her. My house positively glowed after her weekly visit. And she had an arse on her that any man could live off for a week. But why oh why could she never put the candlesticks back the way I had them, side by side on the diagonal at one end of the mantelshelf, but instead separated, one at each end, like lovers who had quarreled? Why did my African ornaments get reshuffled, so that the married Makonde couple were split up, the old man looking up the orifice of a gazelle, and the old woman staring at the bosom of an Angolan maiden, instead of looking at each other and wondering maybe one last time?
And now? The house is a pigsty. Dust and cobwebs filling every corner: it's like Dirty Dick's. The spiders and the harvestmen have had free rein: everything is now connected by gossamer to everything else. There are crustacean graveyards of woodlice everywhere. Even the dust has dust. Miss Haversham would feel right at home.
But at least my African figurines and my candlesticks are happy. Even if their owner is having second thoughts...

Truth really IS stranger than fiction sometimes

Only once in my life has anyone tried to kill me. Literally. Method: pushing me from a fastmoving car. Motive: revenge arising from jealousy. Outcome: I lived.
The man I was working for at the time, let's call him G, took me off to Deauville for the weekend, where we were to stay with a woman I had already met in Paris, and who I assumed was G's ladyfriend. She had two daughters, aged, I guessed, about 17 and 12. After our meal at the lady's house, she stayed home while G and I took the two girls for a walk along the beach. I then made a different assumption, namely, that G was interested in the 17 year old, so being a good gooseberry, I occupied myself with the youngster, leaving G free to chat up the older one.
When we got back, there was a blazing row between mother and G, in such rapid screeching French that I could barely make out the cause. Anyway, G stormed back to his car, I following on, and he set off, driving crazily, back to Paris. It was late by now, a scary time. Then he started to rant at me, leant across, opened the passenger door and tried to push me out.
You are ahead of me as usual. Yes, it turned out that I had thwarted him because he was in fact interested in the 12 year old. I was only 21 at the time, and unaware that some grown men (G was pushing 40) lusted after little girls. Anyway, he finally realised that I had acted innocently, and calmed down. We stopped at a relais on the way back for a coffee, and sat watching a film crew shooting a scene on location, a street scene at night with actors playing out their fictions. It seemed fitting somehow.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Where the hell has it got to?

I have a poltergeist. No doubt about it. I have put off this realisation for as long as I could, but now I KNOW it to be so. It has brought to mind the first line of the following piece of scatology, memorised devotedly from a long-ago Bedürfnisanstalt (What a great expression for a loo):

"In this house there lives a ghost..."
In diesem Hause wohnt ein Geist,
der, diesem der zu lange scheisst,

mal kräftig in die Nille beisst.

Mich, aber, hat er nicht gebissen –

Ich hab’ ihm auf dem Kopf geschissen.

Nothing else can explain the constant disappearance of things: my kitchen timer, a valued CD-Rom, a small medicine chest, books galore, the list goes on. Also, whole chunks of my memory have vanished - definitely the work of a malign spirit.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Beef burgers, Texan style

Mrs Trellis has her finger to the grindstone, as usual.
Dear Mr Bush,
she writes, I never thought I could admire a man who is named after a lady's private parts, but you have really impressed me lately, specially the way you have tried to engineer kiss-and-make-up between What's-his-name the Palestinian and What's-his-name, the Israeli, and specially because you must know your efforts are doomed to failure.
These people, believe me, are only happy when they are killing each other, so what you ought to do - forgive a poor little Welsh woman for giving advice to a man of your staturation - is arrange a duel, and whichever blows the other's brains out gets to rule the whole region.
After all, it's mainly about what kind of hat you wear when you speak to God, something which has never been a problem for us Primitive Methodists, though I have to say that Bronwen Parry's Sunday bonnets were an affront, not that I wanted to kill her for that.
By the way, if you and Laura ever visit North Wales, do call in and I will cauterise a couple of beef burgers, Texan style, just for you.

Winged chariot

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near

Funny what comes into your mind when your knees start crackling.

There WAS a time....

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

La Trellis and the gift of tongues

Dear Mr Sarkozy, she writes, I can't tell you how much I admire your gift of tongues, but I suppose that sort of thing comes naturally to you, you being a foreigner to start with. I myself was bisexual from an early age, using Welsh at home and in chapel, and English for baser purposes. My late husband, Mr Trellis, was something of a polygon too, having learned various foreign songs from his dad. One I remember vividly was something about Inky Pinky Parlez Vous. I had no idea what the words meant, but each verse ended with a loud guffaw and a hard slap on my bum. He was such a happy man at those moments, bless him, not that he ever commensurated his passion, for reasons too indelicate to go into. I imagine your lingual abilities bring similar pleasures to your lady wife.
Enough from me. I know you are busy ruling France, which must be difficult. They seem to be such an unruly lot, forever ruining air travel and storming the bastille. Maybe if you spoke to them in Hungarian, it would distract their attention long enough for you to send in the riot police. Just a suggestion.
Yours accordingly, Mrs BlodwenTrellis, widow, unsullied.

Winter moths

Oh yes, and before I leave you, let me tell you the outcome of the mothtrapping session last night. In the spanking new Robinson trap, one moth; in Clare's actinic, two moths. And they were all the same species: Winter Moth. It is a drab creature, tiny and inert, a moth so nondescript and boring that it would not be out of place in Gordon Brown's Cabinet. I honestly thought that two of them were dead till I watched them utter a flutter as they took refuge from the daylight (I am referring, of course, to the moths, not to GB's cabinet colleagues).

Goodbye Hungary, hello Spain

Hungarian has had it, man That is an impetigo of a language, with enough diacritics to make a Spotted Dick. They have double acute accents (Ő, ő and ű, Ű) for goodness' sake, an overindulgence if ever I saw one. So, apart from telling you - without diacritics - that Szabo ur es Szabone - Mr and Mrs Tailor - are on the train, I will wish the Magyar tongue an insincere Viszontlatasra (au revoir) and move on.
And move on is what I have done, taking down from my bookshelf a manky old book called Fiestas y Costumbres Españolas, in the Heath's Modern Language Series, published in 1929.
1929! That even pre-dates Paco, and describes a Spain of dueñas and serenos and the rest that has surely gone forever. This book has been in my possession many a long year, in fact, since about 1950, when I nicked it from a second-hand bookstall in Wellington Market. Like these Spanish fiestas and customs, Wellington Market has long disappeared, but it was a nick worth the risk.
Of course, I couldn't read it then, although a couple of years later, I had plunged into the EUP "Teach Yourself Spanish" by Norman Scarlyn Wilson and was then emboldened to read El Sombrero de Tres Picos without understanding much. My later involvement with Barcelona (Los idiomas se aprenden entre las sabanas) did wonders for my Spanish and so Fiestas y Costumbres Españolas is now my morning companion. It's either that or prunes.

A mouse's tale

This morning, the dear thing started to get hot under my hand, and then stopped working. I opened her up and found that one of the batteries was so hot I couldn't touch it, and that, when I finally prised it out, part of its casing remained stuck to the mouse's insides. My mouse, the wee sleekit cow'ring timorous beastie, still works after a fashion, the fashion being that I have to bang her firmly on her mousemat every so often. The every so often is getting oftener, so I phoned to order a replacement from Michael O'Dell's splendid company. The Irishman who dealt with me is called Ilyah Mohammed, a name, you will agree, that is not immediately redolent of the land of the leprechauns, although he was definitely full of blarney, begorrah.

Unheroic Couplet

Der Zeiten gedenk’ ich als die Glieder gelenkig ,
Bis auf eins.
Die Zeit ist vorüber, steif sind die Glieder,
Bis auf eins.

Funny what comes into your mind when your knees start crackling.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Open you wallet, and say after me: "Help yourself"

Do you know what I like about the Inland Revenue (American friends, think IRS)? That's right, there is nothing I like about the Inland Revenue.
Let me be clear. I have no problem about paying my taxes, whatever they may later be spent on. I have a simple philosophy, namely, that if Her Majesty needs a few bobs of my money, She is welcome to them, bless Her.
No, what I don't like about the Inland Revenue is their requirement that I should be perfect, without blemish or failing. Bugger! In no other sphere of our lives are we expected to be 100% accurate, but the IR, if you make even the smallest mistake or miscalculation, will distrain your property, seize your assets, and, for all I know, order in a plague of locusts and a murrain on your cattle.
As you may have gathered, I am putting together that glorious annual work of fiction known as My Tax Return. I promise you, I don't cheat, I don't try to come the old soldier with the myrmidons of the Tax Office.
But I know that I am fallible, which is why, in the midst and maelstrom of this exercise, I wonder seriously if I should jack it all in and just take the money and run.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mrs T sets her cap at Mr Astaire

Mrs T, as always, is approximate:
Dear Mr Astaire
, she writes, what a tragedy that your knees are going just when you were beginning to build up a reasonable dancing career. I can understand what a blow it must be to you, seeing that you can't act for toffee.
Also, I didn't realise until now that you were Hungarian, though it probably accounts for your lovely legs, what with all that Hun horsemanship, killing Slavs and so on. I often wonder what it must be like to grip a huge horse between one's thighs....
Anyway, I don't wish to protrude on your privates, but I really would like to know what it was like to dance with Ginger Rogers. She seemed such a skinny thing, not a bit like the plump Welsh girls you could have got your hands on if only you and I had been in touch sooner.
Don't make it so long next time.

Knees up Mother Brown? Well, I would if I could...

This evening, I had a serious talk with my knees. As mechanical objects go, they have given seventy-one years of uncomplaining service, without a drop of oil or WD40 to keep them on the grind. But now, bless them, they are definitely crying out for assistance.
How do I know this? Well, apart from occasional buckling and crackling noises, I have noticed that everyone now walks faster than I do, even Tesco trolley-jockeys, who must rate among the slowest moving humans on earth, if you discount the people in the IR who pay out tax refunds.
The former Mrs Allsop, bless her, advised me "Whatever you do, avoid surgery." This from a Senior Nursing Sister! What does that say about current orthopaedic practice?!
Anyway, my beloveds, please don't panic. I have a theory that, just as "an apple a day keeps the doctor away", my daily intake of red wine is keeping the zing in my knees. At the rate I am putting it away, I don't think I will need to consider surgery much before 2020, by which time I and my knees both could well be beyond caring.

Colloquial Hungarian

I don't wish to be indelicate, but if you are to make sense of what follows, you need to know that I make use of serious reading material in the mornings when I obey my mother's instructions to keep myself "regular", if you catch my drift.
Years back, so far back that I can scarcely remember the reason, a buxom girl called Joely, whose father got out of Hungary in 1956 just before the Russian tanks rolled back in, lent me her copy of Colloquial Hungarian by Arthur H Whitney, publ Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1944. I still have it, and it is currently on sennapod duty in the throne room.
The reason I am telling you about this book is because it is the worst DIY language book I have ever dipped into . It is so bad it is appealing, in the way that William Mcgonagall, poet and tragedian of Dundee, wrote poetry that fascinates by its sheer awfulness:
Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,

Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

I will not quote from Whitney beyond giving you a sample of his "Small Change" section of useful phrases, such as: "He has no equal", "I was quite done in" and - my favourite - "The whole thing's ruined".
You can say that again.

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

I will tell you, soft, what light through yonder window breaks: it's bloody Allsop with his bloody mothtraps again.
Yes, mes potes, despite all the arguments to the contrary, I have fired up the new Robinson in my garden, and Clare the old Actinic in hers. We are after the December Moth, Poecilocampa populi, and anything else that blunders in.
What I can also tell you is that the moth is so called from the Greek, poikilos = varied, and kampe = larva, the larva being, it seems, well, varied; and from the Latin populus = poplar, the larva's foodplant.
What I cannot tell you is why this moth chooses to strut its stuff in December, when the cold, I would have thought, would play havoc with its wedding kit.
Nature's a mystery, and that's a fact.

Competition time

I hope you like this picture of a girl on a tractor holding up two bunches of giant maraschino cherries. I think I have come up with a snappy title for it, namely, "Girl on a Tractor Holding up Two Bunches of Giant Maraschino Cherries".
If you think you can do better, be my guest.

Stariy bit

It means "the old way of life". They're not writing tractors like this one any more. Or women like this one. Does anyone know the Russian for "we should be grateful for small mercies"?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Play that thing!

I have mislaid a CD-Rom which I am anxious to lend to my friend D. Having failed to find it in all the obvious places - you know, breadbin, freezer, knicker drawer - I riffled through my CD collection, which I hadn't looked at in ages. And it was then I rediscovered my appalling musical tastes: wall-to-wall jazz, with a smattering of baroque, classical guitar, seasoned with some humorous stuff (Lehrer, Jake Thackray, Bob Newhart), and one mindblasting compilation of the Grateful Dead. Dated, or what?!
Anyway, among this heap of detritus of my yesteryear, I selected a Dixieland group called - no, of course, you have never heard of it - Roy Pellett and his Dixieland Band. I regularly used to visit the Casa Bar in the Niederdorfstrasse in Zurich to listen to them when I was living there, 1974-75. Dixie is SO outrageously life-affirming. If you don't tap your foot, get to the nearest psychotherapist without delay. Assuming, of course, that you are not already dead.
Who said nostalgia isn't what it used to be?

Welcoming the Russian visitor

It is heartening to know that Mrs Trellis never misses a trick.
Dear Gordon Brown, she writes, I know you have your problems, dear, but with your wrecked face, it's not surprising. Do try to cheer up! After all you are a socialist, aren't you?
Anyway, thank you for alerting me to the Siberian in our midst. We get so few foreigners in LlanfairPG (apart from the English) that it will be a change to host a Russian with snow on its boots, etc. Do you know what it eats?
Also, I hope it will make friends with my budgerigar, Myfanwy. Fortunately she only swears in Welsh (having spent too long with my late husband in his workshop, where he tried but failed at many a DIY project, bless him. Even hammers were machines beyond his capability).
Now, listen to the advice of an older woman: ignore your critics and carry on with governing, or whatever it is you people do before you retire on enormous pensions, etc. It's not your fault you have less charisma than a stick insect, you just have to make the best of the gifts that the Good Lord gave you, few as they may be in your case.

Little brown jobs

LBJ's are the delight or the curse of birding, depending on your taste. Among the most devilish are the pipits, a whole series of stripy brown sparrow-sized birds that, depending on your point of view, are an identification challenge or a pain in the aspidistra.
At the moment, I am totally alone in East Anglia, everyone else having dashed to Wales to see a vagrant pipit called a Pechora Pipit, which breeds in Siberia and should be somewhere in SE Asia by now, but isn't. The picture above eloquently reveals the plumage features which separate it from the other pipits. Well, it does, doesn't it? Right.
We have four pipit species: Meadow, by far the commonest; Tree, a summer visitor; Rock, a coastal species; and Water, about which I know little, except when you flush it, it flies high and only comes back to land after several kilometres. After that, there are several vagrants: Richard's, which has a liking for Witcham; Tawny; and Red-throated, which I have seen in Turkey.
But I am happy not to have gone to Wales in pursuit of the Siberian, because, this frosty morning, I had a new bird feeding below my plum tree: a Brambling, which is a winter visitor, cousin to our Chaffinch. Be honest: when it comes to sexy, my Brambling beats that Siberian interloper hands down.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


There is a well-known condition that afflicts many fen folk in the winter. It is known as fen-itis, and, I imagine, pre-dates SAD (seasonal affective disorder) by several centuries. The cure is called Spring, but you have to wait a while for that.
So, the nights draw in, it's dark by four o'clock on overcast days, which the days mostly are at this time of year, and all the fun outdoor activities are put away in the shed.
Clare is desperate for us to try out the new Robinson trap. I am tempted, mainly because we might catch an interesting moth called, appropriately, December Moth, but it's a matter of waiting for a night with no wind, no rain and no frost. All the same, I am quite keen to see this little beastie (picture above), not only because it's pretty, but because it has a sexy scientific name: Poecilocampa populi.
But you gotta have the right night...
Damn, it's bad cess is fen-itis. Time to open a bottle of the discounted Rioja, pour a glass and go online to see if there are any nice tractors on Google Images.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Another happy tractor!

Yesterday, I went to Monk's Wood with David H and three barn owl corpses. We had a blog round the nature reserve and managed to see a few woodland species that are infrequent in our fenlandscape: coal tit, marsh tit, goldcrest, treecreeper, nuthatch. DH also heard - but I didn't - siskin, redpoll and lesser spotted woodpecker. This has nothing to do with tractors.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


I'm sorry, but it IS Saturday evening, and I am alone and feeling frisky. I hope you will forgive me if I post something that excites me beyond measure. So, call me a dirty old man, but at least I am upfront about it. Isn't this just the prettiest tractor? I am up for a ride any time, and make no mistake, I still know how to double-declutch....

Ding bleeding dong

Oh yes, and I went up into a belfry, that of Holy Trinity Church, Haddenham to be precise, in order to check if swifts had used our nestboxes. For the seventh year in succession, the answer is no, they haven't.
I have a theory as to why the boxes have not been successful, but it is so boring that I won't even bother you with it.
Just let me say that checking empty boxes in a belfry at the exact moment when the bells ring the quarter must be the equivalent of an interrogation session at Guantanamo Bay. DING DONG DING DONG Aieeeeeeeeeeeeee! What was that you said?

It's that time of year.

Yesterday I went to Hindolveston to buy a Robinson Trap, which is to mothtraps what the BMW is to motoring, only without the arrogance. It is a superior trap, expensive, but wotthehell, Archy, mostly because it retains its catch, whereas other traps fail to hold more than a portion (Moths, especially geometers, are Great Escapers). Of course, there's no point in setting the BMW trap until maybe next March, but I needed to reassure myself that my SKI plan (spending the kids' inheritance) was still on track.
Today, I knocked up two Barn Owl nestboxes, with assistance from my best mate, Clare, whose speciality now is telling me I am doing it wrong. That's ok, it makes her feel good that she can bully an adult, and it is good for me to be reminded of my imperfections. Anyway, how was I to know that half the screws would miss the battens? Maybe if I had measured more carefully.....
Tomorrow, weather permitting, I am going to practise lethargy. Thank god there are still some things I can do well.

Time for a bit o' slubbin'?

Have you ever slubbed a dyke? It's all right, this is not about doing shameful things to ladies in sensible shoes, it's about cleaning out a ditch, the expression slubbing dykes being Fen talk for that activity.
Because of some quaint survival from the Middle Ages, it turns out that I own* not only my back garden and the hedge at the bottom of it, but also the ditch on the far side of the hedge (which separates me from the farmer's field beyond). Given that the same is true of all the homeowners upstream and downstream of me, it is a little difficult to seriously exploit ownership of what is probably 3% of the total ditch, especially - and it grieves me to say this - there is no Grand Unified Policy about how we should all manage our individual bits.
So, after mature rioja-induced reflection, I decided not to slub out my dyke, though I did tidy its banks and verges. What stopped me, to be honest, was not just the lack of a communal policy, and not even my natural tendency to withdraw in the face of serious physical effort, but the fact that as I squelched my wellie-booted way along my bit of dyke the other day, I disturbed all kinds of interesting wildlife, not least frogs and froglets. I want to leave them in peace to wallow there.
So the answer is: no, no dykeslubbing for me. Mind you, it's a helluva concept: I wonder how it would go down in Old Compton Street?

*For our overseas readers: in fact, according to ancient law, all land belongs to the Crown, down as far as you can dig, but we subjects have unfettered use and enjoyment of it. So, I could dig up my land and take it to Australia, say, but it would still belong to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, God bless Her.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Welcome, stranger!

Exotic birds are kept in zoo-like collections. Sometimes they escape, and mostly they don't survive. But a few do survive and thrive and build up wild breeding populations. Of course they are still foreigners, "shouldn't be here" birds, at least many birders are puritanically dismissive about them. But not me. I think some of our feral birds are gorgeous and I actively seek them out. Today, thanks to Hawkeye Hopkins, we were able to enjoy the spectacle of twenty of them grazing so close to the roadside that we could almost touch them. If you want to know why Alopochen aegyptiacus - literally the "Egyptian fox-goose" - is so called, just look at its amazing face. And when it flies, it shows two ginormous white wing patches. Damn, it's a beauty! I wish we had more of them in our countryside, and yah boo sucks to the puritans.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

When it comes to money-making, I'm your man

I think you have already gathered that I came from a poor working-class background, not quite urban proletariat enough to provide the sort of cachet that D H Lawrence, for instance, had, but poor enough for me to realise that if I wanted something, I had to get it through my own efforts.
You don't know "The Pocket Guide to British Birds" by R S R Fitter and R A Richardson, published by Collins in 1952, do you?
Neither did I, until a schoolfellow called Douglas Walker brought it into school and introduced me to it and to the emotion of homicidal envy. All I had had to that date was a little book, published by a Christian organisation, with very few pictures and a message that we should all love birds because they belong to Jesus (that may not have been their exact message - I am no theologian - but it was to that effect).
Filled with lust, I decided I had to have a copy of the Fitter and Richardson. So, I added an evening paper round to my morning paper round and eventually had enough to go into W H Smith's to buy a copy (I would have shoplifted one, but they always seemed to make a point of watching me whenever I went into their shop, probably because the arse was usually out of my trousers). I still have the copy I bought all those years ago, as witness the addresses I scribbled in the front:
51 High Street, Hadley, Nr Wellington, Salop
followed by
St John's College, Oxford
followed by
53 Byerley Street, Seacombe, Wallasey, Cheshire
followed by
77 Howeth Road, Bournemouth, BH10 5DZ
I then bought other field guides, leaving the Fitter and Richardson to become an historical document.

My other lust in that epoch was to learn German, and the book I lusted after was "Teach Yourself German" in the Teach Yourself series published by The English Universities Press Ltd (Their motto: "Give instruction to a wise man... and he will be yet wiser" Proverbs 9.9). That one I acquired from the proceeds of some persistent carol singing on the new council estate at the top of Manse Road during the cold nights of late November, early December. Imagine a lone 14-year-old pushing approximate versions of "While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night" through a crackling voicebox struggling between pubescent soprano and pubertal tenor, a shivering lad driven by the desire to decline and conjugate nach deutsher Art. God bless the good folk of the Manse Road Estate for making that possible, even if they only gave me their sixpences to get rid of me.

And I taught myself German - after a fashion - from that book, sufficient to pass O Level German three years later, despite a lot of help from a teacher called "Titch" Hanby, who probably knew the language quite well before he decided to give up being sober.

Adolescence brought its own imperatives - I am sure I don't need to specify them, but they were all money-consuming - so I took jobs during the school holidays: the Post Office at Christmas, and, in summer, the Brewery where my father worked. In fact, I received my A Level results while I was being fondled by one of the girls at the "pop factory on the top road" (The Wrekin Brewery Bottling Plant on the Holyhead Road to be precise), thereby confusing my academic and sexual ambitions, a confusion from which I never fully recovered.

Then, it all got easier when I was awarded a County Scholarship to cover my expenses at university. But it didn't really cover them, mainly because I was so enthusiastic about girls and boozing. So, to pay my Battels, I worked at Hall's Brewery in Oxford during vacations, first in the bottling plant, and later as a drayman's mate delivering to pubs in the town and in the surrounding towns and villages. You should have seen me manoeuvring pins, firkins, kilderkins and barrels off the back of the dray, down into the cellar and up on to the stills. Poetry in motion, it was, balletic even.

So, when it came to money-making, I was no slouch. One day, when I grow up, I might see about getting a proper job.

PS Somewhere in the picture above sits Cynthia Brown, but I can no longer recall which is she. I just hope she has forgiven my impulsive lunge all those years ago. It was all part of my self-improving Teach Yourself phase....

Grand Unified Theory

Wouldn't it be nice if there was one grand theory that accounted for everything: relativity, gravity, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, etc?
Well, it would be nice for the theoretical physicists, and they are all trying to come up with one.
But I think the ordinary Joe and Joanna in the Street could benefit from a GUT which brought together many disparate strands of current concern. I should like to start everyone's balls rolling by offering the following as a starting point:
The melting of the polar icecaps is caused by bird droppings...
...which have increased because of the viral infection known as avian flu...
...which is caused when birds' resistance is lowered because of obesity...
which is the result of overeating at landfill sites...
which are the result of conspicuous consumption...
...which arises when banks are too generous with credit...
...which is a way of sustaining economic activity...
...which has the side effect of increasing the consumption of gasoline/petrol...
which really began in earnest when I bought a Lambretta scooter in 1960.

So, as I have already hinted, it is all my fault. That's my GUT feeling anyway.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


For those of you who might have been unsure, this is my carbon footprint. I feel bad about it, but at least it's not nearly as big as my arse print would be.
Small consolation, I know, but I am trying to cope with my guilt about that, and about the slave trade, the massacre at Amritsar, my Li125 Lambretta scooter and the time I grabbed Cynthia Brown's boobs without her permission.

It's my fault, Lord, it's all my fault!

Praising with faint damns

I had not, till now, realised Mrs Trellis's love of poetry.
Dear Mr Brooke, she writes, you are such a good poet I can hardly believe you are not Welsh, you would go down a treat at an Eisteddfod. It's such a pity that you decided to bang on about England. Look how much better it would sound if you had made it:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever Wales.
Not only that, but there are more words to rhyme with Wales than there are with England, which is important for you poets, well, except the modern ones who can't spell or do up their flies, let alone make their poetry rhyme.
But I carp. You did well.
But I would advise you to tone it down a bit if you ever find yourself one night alone and unarmed on the streets of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch**.

Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, Widow, Undimmed.

**For my foreign readers, this really IS the name of a Welsh village. Don't believe me? Cop this (with an English translation for the illiterate):

Falling apart

Today, I met a colleague in Cambridge whom I hadn't seen since March. I noticed that he was limping badly. On inquiry, it turned out that in that meantime, he has developed a collapsed left knee, an inguinal hernia and cataracts in both eyes.
"Good lord, man," I said, "if you were a horse we would shoot you."
Call me soft-hearted, but I think it is important at moments like this to comfort our friends in whatever ways are available to us.
He then said, without smiling: "Jake, I am falling apart."

Earlier, on the bus into Cambridge (yes, folks, I took the park-and-ride option: somebody's got to save the planet), I got into conversation with a lady of mature years. It transpired she was on her way to the hospital for chemotherapy for leukemia, that she had had rheumatoid arthritis for 25 years, had two artificial ankles and the only reason she did not have an artificial elbow was that the surgeon would not operate on her while she was undergoing chemo. I thought to myself, "Good lord, woman, if you were a horse we would shoot you." But of course I didn't say it, because she was not a friend and therefore not amenable to that kind of comforting observation.

I don't want to make a list of my medical problems, so let me just quote the poet:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever the place where, if I had been a horse, they would have shot me.

I'm always like this when I have a headache.

PS For those of you who like your poetry uncontaminated by old scrotes, here is the original (Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier")
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


The indomitable widow is quick to pick up the cudgels as usual.
Dear Reverend Paisley, she writes, I saw you today at the Cenotaph ceremony laying a wreath and I must say you looked terrible, close to dying, I would say, heaven forbid.
Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for your little contribution about Armageddon, it's about time people were reminded of what awful fate awaits them if they do not obey the Word, viz, recycling plastic bottles, being kind to darkies, remaining conjugated, etc.

I wonder if I could crave your indulgence to ask a small question, you being an expert on Hellfire and all. I know you say "There will be a wailing and a gnashing of teeth", but my worry is, I don't have my own teeth any more. Will teeth be provided for the likes of me? Assuming the worst, that is.
Yours repentiously
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, Widow

Slipping away

I am beginning to get seriously worried about me. I've been observing myself on the sly for some time now, and there are some worrying signs that I am slipping by degrees into a parallel universe. Let me give you a few examples of how I seem to be unravelling:
- Not worrying any more about global warming and my carbon footprint, though I still recycle my empty wine bottles out of habit, and possibly vestigial guilt;
- Learning to live with the realisation that my purchase of a Lambretta Li125 Scooter in 1961 initiated the catastrophic melting of the Greenland ice cap;
- No longer reading or listening any more to the news beyond the headlines: I can supply the rest, ie, speculation, comment and armageddon;
- Preferring more and more the company of children, birds, moths and other invertebrates, on the grounds that they are what they seem to be, nothing phony;
- Interesting conversations these days (apart from those with children, birds, moths and other invertebrates) with my dog, Betsy, who died three years ago, but still responds as she always did to my dissertations and diatribes with warmhearted indifference;
- Realising the amazing variety of things that can kill me without me doing anything to encourage them, eg, cancers, strokes and heart disease. Now, I eat what I want and drink what I want, so, if my liver gives out, at least it was my doing;
- Getting what sexual frissons I can out of the Antiques Roadshow, Bargain Hunt and Cash in the Attic. Not easy, believe me, though Kate Alcock can still cause me to stir my coffee a little more vigorously than strictly necessary.
Vayan con Dios.

Could you spell that, please?

Thank you all for worrying about me. I do appreciate it. Any fuss is welcome at my stage of the game. Dupuytren's Contracture is what I have got. For the second time. Compared to what some people are currently going through, Dupuytren's Contracture, despite its awesome name, is trivial, ie, not life-threatening. Mainly it prevents me from playing serious chords with my left hand. Which some people would regard as a good thing. It can, however, disconcert strangers who assume that I am making some kind of dismissive digital gesture, as you might say.
Anyway, I am off to see Mr Southgate at Hinchinbrooke Hospital on December 6 so that he can decide whether it is once again time to operate, attack the gristly bits in the palm of my hand and put me in a sling for a week or so.
Baron Dupuytren, after whom the condition is named, thought it was caused by years of gripping the reins of his horses. Whatever I may have been gripping over the years, it is, apparently, not the cause. Any more than hairy palms or failing eyesight....
In fact, nobody knows the cause.
But, as I say, thanks for worrying about me. I will try to make the most of this indisposition.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

It's arrived! Man the barricades!

It's here, the dreaded alien ladybird known as the Harlequin, so-called because it comes in various guises (see chart above). It is a Far Eastern beetle, which, having been introduced into North America, proceeded to eliminate a number of indigenous ladybird (ladybug) species there. It then turned up in southern Europe and is now rampantly colonising the British Isles. The fear is that it will do for our native ladybird fauna too (it eats other ladybirds when there's nothing better on the menu).
Clare - my young naturalist friend - brought me two from her garden yesterday, and kindly released them in my garden - not wanting them in her own, pretty as they may be. What to do? Stamp on them? Ignore them? Try to negotiate with them, these Bin Ladens of the beetle world?
Seeing that they are immigrants, and probably adherents of some other faith than Christianity, it's more than your life's worth to risk the wrath of the Commission for Racial Equality by suggesting that they are undesirable aliens.
My big regret, though, is that you can't eat them. They contain nasty toxins and their elytra get stuck in your teeth. Typical of your devious Johnny Foreigner...

What do you mean "we", white man?

You are much too young to know who Enoch Powell was, so I will tell you. In the 60s, he was the MP for a West Midland constituency who was concerned about the consequences of a massive influx of immigrants from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent. Being a classical scholar - and a man with a massive brain but no media savvy - he described the potential social upheaval in a classical metaphor about "the TIber running with blood". It finished his career
Today, with massive immigration (800,000 and rising), another paliamentary candidate for a West Midland constituency has gone on record as saying "Enoch Powell was right", ie, immigration on this scale risks social unrest. And he too is about to be consigned to oblivion.
Who am I to complain? After all, according to a number of imams preaching in British mosques, I am an unclean, uncircumised infidel, an enemy of Islam, and a legitimate target for assassination. And nobody tells those guys they shouldn't be saying such things.
But, you know me, always looking for the peaceful solution, nobody gets hurt, everybody wins. And this is how we achieve it: all the white people in Britain should be deported forthwith to some underpopulated Caribbean island. I wouldn't mind; it would be another avifauna to explore. Not only that, it is a way for me to avoid the unkindest cut of all, if you catch my drift.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Guido, che ti bruci la barba!

All over Brtain, bons are on fire, rockets are crackling into the sky, potatoes are roasting in the embers, and little boys are burning their bums in the heat. And it's all to one end: we are burning a Catholic.
When I was a sprog, it was called Guy Fawkes Night, November the Fifth, to celebrate the capture of Fawkes and his fellow Catholic conspirators, whose plans to blow up the Houses of Parliament were foiled by the MI5 spooks of the day.
But, alas, no longer. It is no longer politically correct to burn Catholics. Fair enough. But it is no longer politically correct even to remember the event.
No big deal, you might think. As long as the lads have a chance to let off their bangers. But you would be wrong. Because, hot on the heels of suppressing the GF aspect of November 5, the PC gestapo are now advocating the de-christianising of Christmas, on the grounds that it might "offend other religious groups".
Let me state here and now that I am not offended by Ramadhan, Seder, Yom Kippur or the Hindu festivals of (supply the names), so please, guys, don't be offended if I celebrate the birth of Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem, etc, even if I am, at the time, full of turkey and not sober enough to give it its due solemnity.

A treat in store

The recent silence of my North Walian fan was beginning to worry me. But Mrs T is as alert as ever, god bless her.
Dear Benazir Bhutto,
shewrites, if I had known you were planning a comeback, I would have knitted you a burka. Anyway, as one woman to another, I just hope you win. It's about time New Zealand had a woman Prime Minister.
And don't worry about the fish. As my late husband used to say "A fish on the plate is worth two in the bush." What a wag he was, bless him!
If you are ever in North Wales, your duties permitting and specially if you lose the election, do pop in and I will cook you Welsh leeks au gratin, kosher of course, as you people require, ie, leeks slaughtered as prescribed in the Bible, AV.

I'll save the planet, starting tomorrow

I am racked with guilt. Cardboard, paper, bottles, plastic, alicans - I recycle them all, every last jot and tittle (or should that be tit and jottle? I like the idea of tit and jottle, not that I ever fondled a jottle).
I am not so good with composting vegetable matter, though, mainly because I don't know how to do it. I just let it fester for a while then set fire to it.
No, the reason I am racked with guilt is because of fish. I am depleting the world's oceans. Kippers, mackerel, cod, haddock, tuna - you name it, I am eating it. But, of course, no longer with pleasure because every mouthful is accompanied by a realisation that one more mouthful and some poor piscine bugger could well go extinct.
The reason I am eating so much fish is that the health gestapo tell me it's good for my heart. Yeah, sure. What about the angst that I feel? I could be eating my way to an early grave, never mind the bones sticking in my teeth and down my throat.
Mind you, it's not all bad news. My fishy habits generate an awful lot of cardboard, plastic and little tin cans. I might still save the planet, albeit a fishless one.

Physics is the opium of the misfits

Physics was never my strong point at school. About the only thing I moreorless understood was the Refraction of Light, because my pencil appeared to bend when I popped it into a beaker of water. Mu, the teacher called it, and there was a formula to calculate mu, one of the many legacies from my grammar school days of which I have never had further need.
Any road up, in my mature years, I pointed out to those who understand these things that gravity is getting stronger, ie, things fall to the ground more than they used to. Of course I got no response from the world's physicists, perhaps because they have all buggered off into a parallel universe where the booze is cheaper.
And now, I have another observation to offer any physicists who have not yet joined the PU brain drain, viz: Why is it that the moment you take the cork out of a wine bottle, the wine disappears?
It can't be evaporation, and surely not teleportation, but I tell you, my beloveds, I am becoming unnerved by the way the wine disappears from the bottle before I have had a chance to pour more than 3-4 glasses from it.
Eureka shmeureka, it's not global warming that bothers me, it's the way the Laws of Physics are falling apart before my very eyes, especially Australian reds.

Saturday report: all is well

Mick Miller once said he didn't believe in the transmigration of souls, and he didn't believe it when he was a frog.
In the same way, I don't believe in all that astrological mumbo-jumbo, but that's because I am a typical Gemini.
Interestingly, my new-found young friend Clare is also a Gemini, and she's also left-handed like me, so it's not surprising we get on so well.
Today - a beautiful autumn day full of sunshine and colour - we attacked the garden together, trying to clear all the vegetation that has been obscuring and choking the pond. And my goodness, we worked like Trojans. You see, we Geminis are like that. We alternate between lethargy and frenzied activity. Tomorrow, I am going to have a crack at lethargy - if Clare will let me.
Moths: only four in our traps last night, but four beauties: Feathered Thorn, Juniper Carpet and two Bricks, the last much prettier than its name. The moth above is a Feathered Thorn.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The bird has flown!

The fat lady can now sing! Everything posted off to the publisher's (except for two maps, of the Russian Federation and Siberia - lots of Golden Orioles breeding there), and now I am trying to find the energy to tackle a mountain of domestic chores, while I wait for the response from our Editor.
So, it's a matter of keeping the samovar on the boil and a watchful eye on on the fan....


Thanks to high pressure sitting over the east of England, we are enjoying a late Indian summer, clear blue skies, warm enough during the day, colder at night.
For me, though, the glorious part about autumn in my garden are the viburnum shrubs with their masses of red berries, the amazing smoky red-auburn tints of the leaves of the Smoke Tree, and - my favourite of all - the clusters of grapes nestling among red leaves shot through with green veining.
No, I don't eat them. I leave them for the Blackbirds, thrushes and various insects, and that in itself gives me a visual treat. The grapevine grows along the back of my house and therefore over the back door and kitchen window, and it's a joy to see Blackbirds tumbling out of the vine as they struggle to cling on while snaffling the grapes.