Sunday, December 30, 2007

Abbandonate ogni speranza....

Today I have been working on my Obituary. This is not as morbid as it sounds, given that the alternative was to scrub the kitchen floor, do the laundry and bring the guest room back from chaos. Also, it being Christmas, I have been ruminating on the past. I haven't got far with the obit, just a few well-turned strophes here and there which will slot in nicely when the rest gets sorted.

"...during the North African Campaign, he made a substantial contribution to the victory at El Alamein by thumping a lad called Lehmann who lived down Leegomery and was clearly a Nazi agent with a name like that."

"....Mountbatten acknowledged his contribution to the orderly handover of power from the British Crown to India in 1947, especially his willingness to give up pappadums."

"....Anthony Eden valued his moral support during the Suez Crisis in 56, deriving great comfort from his telegram: "Listen, Tone baby, it's only a fucking canal!"

"...he is credited with inspiring Gorbachev to embrace Perestroika and Glasnost', believing them to be two racehorses, racing certainties to win the Cesarewich and the Eurovision Song Contest respectively."

",,,in 1988, was elected a Companion of the Institute of Chemical Engineers in recognition of his services to oenology, etc."

A real laugh, that last one, and, amazingly, true. Well, there's more, but as it is merely a draft, I won't bother you with it right now, although I think it will fit nice and kentucky with my last will and testament in due corpse. Damned if I can think of a pithy epitaph for my headstone, though, Spike Milligan having stolen the best one ever.

Friday, December 28, 2007


I know what you're thinking.
You are thinking: why is the Old Scrote wearing a yarmulka?
It's mostly because of Stephen Fry and Nigella Lawson. They are two people who intrigue me: Stephen Fry, because the bastard knows EVERYTHING, and Nigella Lawson, because I cannot believe how she gets poured into her dresses.
They were both on a programme recently called "Who do you think you are?" in which they traced their family histories, and in both cases they came upon the fate of their Jewish ancestors in the Holocaust. It was a mind-altering moment for them. And for me.
So, thinking that Jesus, being Jewish, wouldn't mind if I skipped the Bethlehem Manger Thing this year, I decided to celebrate Chanuka instead. This has not been easy for me, because celebrating the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over their Syrian despots (167 BC), seminal as it was, as recorded in the Apocrypha, did not exactly cause the lead to throb in my pencil.
Never mind, I thought, a serving of filafel and a yarmulka on me Prince Charles spot, is at least a gesture. And the sight of Nigella Lawson leaning buxomly over a bain marie (BBC2, most evenings this week) has definitely done the trick, bleistiftsweise.
Shana tova!

Not a good moment

It wasn't a good moment. I was railing against a number of things that had annoyed me. When I say "rail", I mean, curse, imprecate, damn and calumniate, not to mention waving of the arms.

You don't want to know the cause of my rage, but it was, mostly, a combination of failed garbage disposal, successful dog poo and agonising leg cramp. Anyway, I was waxing exceeding wrath. Believe me, my wrath had rarely been waxier.

And then I thought (out loud): "My god, I am going mad!" No, it wasn't a good moment, because of the implication that I was no longer in control. I would end up like those old boys you see in parks muttering to themselves, drooling spittle on to their cardigans, fiddling with twigs, bumping into things, forgetting to do up their buttons, well, you get the picture.
And then I had an even worse thought:
people would look at me and not notice any difference.
I need to get out of the Fens while there's still time.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Tis the season to be got over

We wish you a Merry Christmas!
We wish you a Merry Christmas!

We wish you a Merry Christmas!
- And we wish it wasn't raining.

Still and all, what would December 25 be without Christmas? It would be the day before December 26 (I don't know who organises these things so brilliantly, but it sure as hell isn't the current British administration).

But I am not complaining. I had a wonderful evening last evening sharing supper and good humoured sodality with my wonderful neighbours, and a wonderful surprise this morning when I opened my present from them: a Johnson Bug Cage, which I can appreciate is unlikely to float YOUR boat as much as it floats mine.
I have also had lovely phonechats with people who matter a lot to me, starting with the Kiwis. Grandma is bursting with pride, the new arrival is still unnamed, Joseph is articulate and happy, and Matthew, bless him, chattered away incomprehensibly in a New Zealand accent. Various ex girlfriends also called, still unable to believe that they ever saw anything in me. And I am about to phone Sarah and the Californian munchkins, once I have finished this quite unnecessary piece.
And now, my darlings, I am in an expansive postprandial mood, gently eructating after a most satisfying Christmas lunch of two corned beef sandwiches with festive sprigs of holly stuck in them: food with built-in toothpicks.
The news, as far as I have been able to glean it from various sources, is that the Archbishop of Canterbury is against greed, HM the Queen is in favour of looking after the unfortunate (I can't wait for my food parcel from the Palace), Jodie Foster has finally come out as a lesbian (Funny expression that: I mean, other actresses don't have to come out as straight, or am I missing something?), and Gordon Brown has choked on a sprout.
OK, the last is not true. And the reason I mention Jodie Foster is that I just watched a snatch, if you will pardon the expression, of Bugsy Malone. Goodness, she was a heartbreaker even then.
Oh yes, and I used the catapult to remove a squirrel from my nuts. Not that I succeeded, but I thought you might want to know that I am never one to take adversity lying down, well, not until I have finished this bottle of Hardy's Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon, special offer at £3.85, hurry while stocks last. God bless Charlie Tesco.

And now, I want to wish you a true, honest and real Merry Christmas, or Hannukah, or whatever guides your spirit, and a New Year full of healthy invertebrates, luscious vegetation, mega-broods of short-tailed field voles and a bumper Barn Owl season. Plus whatever else you think you might need to make 2008 the best year yet.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sic transtit....

Well, we delivered the dead common buzzard to Tony T at CEH. He palped it knowledgeably and made two brief announcements: [1] it is a young bird [2] it it so far gone that its gonads will have withered. There's such a thing as too much information....
Anyway, we trolled round the Nature Reserve and found lots of Marsh Tits (pictured above), plus a smattering of other species that we don't find much or at all in the parish of Haddenham: Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal Tit.
But no Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Apparently there is only one left in the whole wood, poor lonely sod.
So, onwards and upwards. All'assalto, i miei prodi! Tomorrow I am nestbox-making. It's wonderful to think that all those years of education and training, costing the taxpayer zillions of pounds, have led to this moment: driving nails into pieces of marine ply.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Love it!

Monk's Wood

Tomorrow I accompany my colleague PM to deliver a dead common buzzard to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at Monk's Wood, about a 40-minute drive from here. By the way, the buzzard is not a buzzard which is "dead common"; it is a common buzzard which is dead. Just thought I ought to clarify that point.
Monk's Wood also has a nature reserve (see picture above), so we will undoubtedly take a stroll round it in order to fail to hear or see some really tasty woodland species like Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Treecreeper. And, if we try REALLY hard, we should also fail to hear or see Lesser-spotted Woodpecker. You know me, I love a day out exploring the wonders of Nature.
CEH Monk's Wood does a fantastic job researching important aspects of wildlife in Britain. Guess what: the Government are shutting it down as part of a cost-saving drive. Personally, I think we would be better off shutting the Government down.

Welney Visit

NB: click on the hyperlinks to see the birds.
So, yes, I went to the Welney Wildfowl Reserve. The main building has been refurbished. No, it's been rebuilt. It's Dudesville now. I preferred the old slum, but never mind, over the bridge and down to the hide, and the birds were still spectacular.
Lots of hungry Whooper Swans - who wouldn't be hungry after a thirteen-hour flight across the North Atlantic from their breeding grounds in Iceland?
Lots of handsome male Pochards. Female Pochard mostly winter in southern Spain. Nobody knows why the sexes split up this way. I reject out of hand the theory that the females zoom on down to the Iberian peninsula because they don't know how to read a map.
As a bonus, there was a female Smew, known as a Redhead for reasons I will leave you to guess. In fact, it was identified by the person next to me as a "female Smoo". I love the fen dialect. My previous cleaning lady once congratulated me on my "boo'iful noo compoo'er".
Oh yes, and there was what looked to me like a Pacific Black Duck. Do you think it might be an escape from a collection? It has given me an idea. Seeing that a lot of British bird species are in decline, I am going to start a NEW LIST, consisting ONLY of birds that have escaped from collections. I might start with the Red-breasted Goose (illustrated above) on a pond in the Godmanchester Nature Reserve, which is very near here. There's also a Tesco's Hypermarket on the way back, so that will make a real day out for a shopaholic like me.

Cor blimey, look at the wheels on that!

Today I am determined to use my time wisely. There's over 2000 Whooper Swans and over 1500 Bewick's Swans on the fens at the moment, and they all come into the wildfowl refuge at Welney to roost. They get a feed beforehand, which you can watch from the comfort of a centrally-heated hide (blind) with a vast picture window. It's a real spectacle, and almost better than a tractor with enormous wheels.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Old Scrote's Last Will and Testament

Being of as sound a mind as I have ever been of, I wish to make a public declaration of my last will and testament, not that I know the difference between a will and a testament.

But first, I wish to review the achievements of my life.
Erm. Right, that's done.
No, hold, stout yeoman, before I proceed, I think a brief resume of my astonishing sex life would be valuable for the instruction of posterity. Erm. Right, that's done too.
My father's will was as simple as it gets: "To my wife, Mabel, I leave all I possess." That's the kind of will that really pisses the lawyers off.
Mine is similar, but with more fancy legal jargon full of archaic heretofores and hereinafters. It just says: split everything between my two children, and if they predecease me, equally to their children, and if THEY predecease me, give it all to MacMillan Nurses.
I know a lot of you will be disappointed that I am not leaving anything to you, but I have made a provision of a tidy sum of money to be devoted to a post-interment party, with an instruction that you do not mourn my death, but celebrate my life. As I will not be there, except in spirit, I have already started celebrating. Now, where's the corkscrew?
Oh yes, and don't hold your breath. I intend to live long enough to claw back all the money I paid in taxes over the years. And long enough for the Prudential Pension Company to take out a contract on me: "That bastard Allsop REFUSES to die! Terminate him with extreme prejudice!"

What's in a name?

According to a reliable Californian source, the new Kiwi Allsop remains happy and well-fed but unnamed. I still think a Biblical name to follow Joseph and Matthew is best: such names never go out of fashion. David, Peter, Simon, etc, though Luke might be a bridge too far.
What baffles me is how people can possibly give their wee babies, all pink and wrapped in swaddling clothes like the Baby Jesus, names like "Clint" or "Hank".I never yet saw a baby that looked like a Clint or a Hank, though, once they is all growed up and strap on them sixshooters, pardner, them monikers is the dog's bolludicocks (Spits into cuspidor).
Far be me from it to give advice to the Auckland Allsops, but I do think it's important to choose a first name that harmonises with the surname. A name ending in a consonant acts as a buffer, eg, David Allsop as distinct from Henry Allsop, which comes out as Henry'Yallsop.
When I was in Primary School, the monitor, in the absence of the teacher, was instructed to write up the initials of boys who misbehaved. At that time, I was known as Jackie Allsop. The result was that, nine times out of ten, I was scribed as either JY, which meant that Jimmy Yale got the cane; or JH, in which case John Heinemann got the cane. Me, I just stayed VERY quiet.
Maybe a clumsy elision isn't such a bad thing after all.

Mrs T waves to the Zulus.

Mrs Trellis, taking time off from making bara brith mince pies, adds her bit to the Christmas spirit.

Dear President Mbeki, she writes, I SO enjoyed your piece about sardines, though I think you would be better advised to eat them rather than bury them - I believe they are crammed with Omaha 3, which is very good for AIDS, etc, not that you believe in AIDS, I know, and quite right too, it only affects nancies, etc, not persons of your statuary, or Mrs Mbeki.
Mr Trellis, my late husband of beloved memorial, used to refer to himself as an ichthyophile, though luckily he was never caught actually doing it. He did, however, once win first prize in an Unusual Pet Competition with a tin of sardines, bless him.
May I be the first to wish you a very Happy Black Christmas, with lots of zulus in your Christmas stocking. And don't worry about your successor: whoever you choose, he's bound to cock it up look you, if you will pardon my Welsh.

You didn't you get my card? Weird.

It's impossible to write a satirical, or even a sardonic, piece about the custom of sending Christmas cards. It is beyond satire. I have tried everything. Sending to everybody I know, however slightly; sending no Christmas cards at all; sending cards only to those who send cards to me.
It's useless. You never get it right, no matter how hard you try. The only person who, in my opinion, got it nearly right, was my late and lovely friend, Chic Goode, who sent out one single card with a list of names and addresses and a request to forward it. And we all DID forward it! The last recipient used to get his Christmas greetings around Easter time. But that takes cojones.
All the above, because I have just finished doing my Christmas cards. No, hell, of course I haven't finished. There'll be some more dropping through the letterbox from people that I didn't send a card to, and there'll still be time to get one in the post....
Anyway, if you didn't get a card from me, it means it got lost in the post. Honest. Merry Bleedin' Christmas.

The sardine again

Since writing the previous piece, I have discovered that Goya did a painting of the sardine burial ceremony, and here it is. I leave you to spot the wee fishie.
No matter. When it comes to Goya, I prefer to contemplate the paired paintings, Maja vestida and Maja desnuda, which caused me many years back to stagger sobbing from the Prado. I am over it now, folks, but I still cannot think about those paintings without remembering how much in love he must have been with the beautiful Duchess.
Ah me! Love! I think I remember love too.

Burying the sardine, olé!

I continue to make my way through the book about Spanish customs (Fiestas y Costumbres Españolas) published in 1929, and a cracking read it is too (usually at the rate of a page and a half per sitting, as you might say).
But this morning, the cracking read finally cracked me up while I was reading about Carnaval, the three days of insanity before the start of Lent. What loosened my grip on reality was a section headed El Entierro de la Sardina. I was so doubtful that it could really mean (the ceremony of) the Burial of the Sardine that I actually checked the dictionary to see if "sardina" had any other meaning. But no, sardina means sardine, and there really was a ceremony during the Tuesday of Carnaval which involved men dressing up as priests and friars and ritually burying a sardine. I leave you to decide what symbolism is involved here, but I deeply suspect that it is sexual.
What I can say is that John Cleese and the other members of the Monty Python team must have read this book too. It's inspirational.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Proud Grandma

The new Kiwi arrival getting a cuddle from his cuddly Grandma.

The Kiwi Boys

Joseph on the left looking down at his new brother, Matthew on the right, looking at the camera. In the middle, the new arrival, asleep and oblivious.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Stop Press

Grandchild number six has now arrived. 7.5 pounds. Mother and child fine. Home birth, two Kiwi sages femmes in attendance (three, if you count Grandma), and labour no more than three hours.
It's a boy. No name yet. I wish they would name him after me, but I can't see them calling him Scrote, can you? I think Simon or Peter would be a good name - after Joseph and Matthew - a sort of apostolic succession.
Photos will be posted asap. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to rest awhile: childbirth always takes it out of me.

The Coolidge Effect

(With acknowldgements to Colin Wilson)

President and Mrs Coolidge visited a successful chicken farm. They took separate routes round the facility. Mrs Coolidge was impressed by the unit's productivity.
"How do you account for it?" she asked.
"We have an amazing cockerel that can do his duty fifty and more times a day," they replied.
"Tell the President that," she said.
Later, President Coolidge arrived at the same spot and was impressed by the unit's productivity.
"How do you account for it?" he asked.
"We have an amazing cockerel that can do his duty fifty and more times a day," they replied. "Your wife particularly asked us to tell you that."
"Always with the same hen?"
"No, Mr President, a different hen every time."
"Tell Mrs Coolidge that," he said.

The above fills me with a deep sense of something or other.

The Old Scrote's Funny Finger

I had a consultation today at Hinchinbrooke Hospital with Mr Southgate, the orthopaedic surgeon who did the operation for Duypitren's Contracture on my right hand some years back. After discussing the pros and cons of operating right away on my left hand, and especially bearing in mind the increased risks attendant on the fact that I have a pacemaker, we agreed to a further review in six months' time, with the proviso that if the degeneration accelerates - which is very possible - we will bring forward the date for an operation.
So, assuming the condition doesn't get more rapidly worse, my next visit to the hospital will be on 5 June. I pointed out to the Appointments Secretary that 5 June was my birthday, and she, sweet lady, said, "Oh, shall I make it for 6 June then?"
"Nah," says the Old Scrote, "Let's make it the fifth and I'll bring a cake."
And, you know me, that is exactly what I will do.

Every visit to hospital reminds me of an incontrovertible fact: even the fattest, least shapely legs look good in black stockings. That's one of many reasons why all men love nurses.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

December days

This is the time of year when we devote our days to repairing old Barn Owl nestboxes, making and erecting new ones (and occasionally providing advice to farmers and landowners on how to keep - or attract - their Barn Owls).
So, these are days of saws, drills and screwdrivers. Doesn't sound very appetising, does it? But there are compensations, not just the here-to-horizon vistas and skyscapes provided by the fens, and not just the wonderful sight of an occasional Barn Owl slipping silently out of a barn and arcing across the fields to another roost site. Today, for example, the compensations included fields with up to 2000 Whooper Swans feeding on potatoes and other scraps, wisps of Golden Plover tripping across the sky, a male Merlin trying momentarily to look like a Kestrel before turning to reveal its true identity.....
It's not a bad way to spend a December day!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Cane Toad

In the nineteen-thirties, this beast would have been in Hitler's SS. It is poisonous, ruthless and seemingly unstoppable. Introduced into Queensland, Australia, from South America as a biological control (beetles in the sugar plantations). it is spreading fast and wiping out native fauna as it goes. Bugger, there are some scary things going on in the world.
Time I looked for some more pics of buxom ladies on tractors.

Let's call the whole thing off

A 77-year-old former traffic policeman who for ten years had cared for his Alzheimer's-stricken wife, walked into the hospital where she was being treated and shot her three times.
Vitangelo Bini then sat down at the foot of her bed to call the police. When they arrived, he told them: "I couldn't stand to see her suffer any more."
Poor old sod. They will probably throw him in the chokey.
But, for goodness' sake, isn't it about time we grasped the nettle on this issue? Listen, my beloveds, when I get to the stage of dribbling spittle, gabbling incoherently, wetting myself and no longer knowing which way my arse is facing, turn off the oxygen, ok?


Today, surfing my television for something to accompany my mid-morning coffee other than Lorraine Kelly's cleavage, I came upon an item that puzzled me. And then: a flash of insight! Suddenly, in an eureka moment without benefit of bathwater, I KNEW who had invented the Lawn Mower!
It wasn't Flymo or Hayter, much less Honda or Stihl. No, it's a Peruvian piece of ingenuity, invented by a long-gone people called the Nazca. Everyone has sought an explanation for the Nazca lines (see photos). To me, it's very clear: they wanted stripes in their lawns. Also, because of the lack of hedges, would-be topiarists were reduced to etching figures of plants and animals in the sward.
Listen, it may seem unlikely, but I think it's more plausible than all that van Daniken crap.

Oh no, not another scare!

The front page of today's Times newspaper carried a really scary article about wicked hacker websites that are offering people's bank and credit card details, free at first and then for a fee. Everything: name of accounts, pin numbers, names and addresses, the lot. Even the police are saying they have never known anything as serious as this.
What to do? I already have firewalls, an anti-nasties program, I am hyper cautious about opening any email that isn't from someone I know, and I NEVER open files with extensions like .exe, .dat, .pif, or even .zip or .mim if it isn't from a source I know and trust. And, of course, I am now an avid shredder of personal documents.
So, all I could think of was to change my passwords and pin numbers.
Among my least attractive scenarios is the day when the World Wide Web crashes. Talk about a dependency issue.....

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Trellis does it again

The following letter from North Wales confirms that my faithful correspondent is still all over the ball:

Dear Mr Mandela,
she writes, what a comprehensive man you are! Is there nothing you cannot turn your hand to? One minute you are destroying apartheid, the next minute you are saving mice from incinerification!
By the way, forgive my indescription, but is Mandela your real name or did you adopt it from our Social Security Building in Bangor, Mandela House?

About cagebirds: I advise you to have nothing to do with them. Apart from reminding you of your long years of incastration on Robbin Island, it will do your reputation no good to be seen stuffing wild birds into cages, well, except for your Winnie, who ought to be locked up and the key thrown away, forgive me, but I don't like women who indulge in hankypanky while their husbands are banged up.
If you are ever in North Wales, do visit me and I will prepare you a mealie mealie feast that will put the colour back in your cheeks, begging your pardon, no offence meant.
Yours, Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, Widow, Unabashed.

Wee sleekit c.t.beastie, part 2

Ilyah Mohammed, Dell's answer to Terry Bin Wogan, has sent me the wrong kind of mouse, so now my cup runneth over. No, it bloody boileth over. Why does nothing ever go in a straight line?
As it happens, I have repaired the original, she has, bless her, risen phoenix-like from the ashes, with nothing worse than a scorched bum and a slight odour of burnt plastic.
But over there, in Dublin or Sligo or Mumbai sits Ilyah O'Mohammed, unaware of my chagrin. What to do? I wonder if the Archbishop of Canterbury is up to a fatwa?

My dad's birds

On my left, a Zebra Finch; on my right, a Java Sparrow. Just in case you weren't sure what they look like.

Who's a pretty bird?!

My father Dug for Victory, as required by HM Government during the 39-45 spat with the Axis. As well as digging and planting up every inch of fertile soil around the house, front and back, he built two enormous greenhouses. Well, they seemed enormous to me as I was no more than two feet high at the time.
Much later, as the memory of beating the fascists faded and the disillusion with Attlee's lack of socialism grew, my father converted his two greenhouses into aviaries. In the larger one, he bred Budgerigars; in the smaller, Java Sparrows and Zebra Finches.
By this time, I had grown to six feet and had moreorless left home, so I had little to do with the aviaries, although I can remember being impressed by the range of colours of the budgies - red, yellow, green, blue and even magenta - and by the fecundity of the Java Sparrows and Zebra Finches, which were into an awesome repopulation programme.
"A bird imprisoned in a cage, puts all of Heaven in a rage", the poet said, and I am always saddened by the spectacle of caged birds in street markets in everywhere from Bangkok to Barcelona. But, at the same time, I have a niggling thought that it might be fun to have an aviary in my back garden.
I only know of one birder who is also a cagebird enthusiast. I wonder how many more there are?

With friends like these.............

Fundamentalists of whatever religion share one interesting characteristic: they are all fucking ugly. I feel sorry for God, and cannot believe He wants to spend Eternity with these jerkoffs cluttering up his Palace and moaning about the lack of facilities, or whatever.

A teddy bear called [YOU fill in the blank!]

In a technical college where I once worked (no details, I am anxious to avoid a fatwa), we had a one-year contract to train young men from a certain Arab state. In coffee and lunch breaks, these Arab lads filled the canteen, leaving no seats for any other students. Apparently - or perhaps I should say, allegedly - the other students found a solution: one of them would put his head round the door of the canteen and shout:
"Mohammed! Telephone!"
And two thirds of the seated students would make a rush for the corridor where the phone was situated. Fortunately, not one of them was a teddy bear.

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Honda have gone into production* with a car, the Hydrogen Honda FSX, that runs on hydrogen, extracted from water by an electrical process that I don't understand, but deeply admire.
The FSX does about 82 miles to the gallon for about half the cost of petrol/gasoline, ie, no fossil fuel pollution, and runs for 270 miles between fill-ups, not that there are many places where you can fill up with hydrogen, except, it seems, in California. But Honda are proposing to solve that problem by establishing the fill-up infrastructure themselves, based around the idea that individual homes could have their own hydrogen facility for all their power needs, not just for their cars.
There is one question that is bothering me, though. Given that here is a wonderful opportunity to reduce pollution, and an even more wonderful opportunity to break the oily Arabs' (and others') grip on our goolies , why are our governments not shouting about the hydrogen car from the rooftops? Why aren't they investing megabucks to get out of fossil fuels and into hydrogen? After all, we aren't short of water, at least not where I live. They keep nagging me about lagging my legs and recycling my used banknotes, so why shouldn't I start nagging them about taking hydrogen cars seriously?
Go on. Say it. You've heard it all before. It's water under the bridge. That's even worse than the pun that heads this posting.

*A production run of only a 100, but it's a start