Monday, June 30, 2008

Instant mashed potatoes it is then.

And it came to pass that the multitude stopped listening to the Word, mainly because they were starving. And the disciples said unto Him: "Better feed them or they'll be gone in a flash."
And He said: "Boil a pan of water, and into it place ye a goodly portion of instant mashed potato."
And they were sore afraid, and confused too, for was it not written that He would feed the five thousand with three loaves and five fishes?
And Peter, always the bold one, saideth:
"Shouldest Thou not fulfil the prophesy by feeding the five thousand with three loaves and five fishes?"
And He looked upon the countenance of Peter and glowered a bit.
"Listen, pal, I know about these things. The story gets round, and people can't remember if it was three loaves and five fishes, or five loaves and three fishes. Nor, verily yet, whether it was five thousand and three loaves or three thousand and five loaves, never mind the fishes. Gettest thou my drift?"
And Peter saw the truth of his words and commandedeth he of his servant:
"Nu, instant mashed potatoes it is then."

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Silence is, for me, the scariest noise in the universe.
You know why?
Because there is no way to interpret it.
What does it tell you about the person you are waiting to hear from?
Away? In trouble? Depressed? Dead? Puterless?
Or, most sinister of all (and most likely explanation): no longer wanting to be in touch with you.
Personally, I would rather have an eldritch scream or a bomb through my letter box than this deafening silence.
At least I have one huge consolation: I had long chats with both my children in the last twenty-four hours. I get the impression that they still love me. Bless them.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

There's a dog in the old life yet

I constantly agonise about whether I should get another dog. Betsy, my black labrador, departed this life three years ago after a baker's dozen on the planet. Since then, I have walked less, put on weight, and had no silken ear to scratch. The other morning I stopped to chat to a farmer's wife (I am very good with farmers' wives. It's my spaniel eyes, I think), and I asked her where her dog, a feisty little terrier, was (He usually rushed out of the yard with a view to sinking his teeth in my leg). Gone, she said.
"Are you going to get another dog?" I asked.
She said 'No, it wouldn't be fair at my age'. She reckoned she would probably go before the dog did. Which disconcerted me, for I guess that she is no older than I, and probably a year or two younger (Not that I would ask, of course. My favourite comment on a lady's age was the man who said "Madam, I have no idea how old you are, but you certainly don't look it.").
There are a number of good reasons for not getting another dog, but hers is not one of them. Let me explain why. Many many years ago, when I was a young married with a good wife, two children and a mortgage, I didn't plant any trees in our garden because, I thought, I probably won't be living here very long before moving on. In the event, we were in that house for over twenty years.
So I learned my lesson, and now I try to behave as if I am going to live for ever. I will plant trees or not, get a dog or not, get married again or not, with no thought at all for the number of years left to me. I will concede, however, that I do tend these days to plant very fast-growing trees.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Today, as I sat on my patio sipping a glass of Frascati and nibbling on a Kalamata olive, a Blackcap (You probably know it better as Sylvia atricapilla) sang from the Ash in the corner of the garden.
You know those moments when you feel an intense sensation of something or other? Well, that's how it was with me, and I did, and I realised at moments like this how pathetically easy it is to make me happy. It really doesn't take much.

There's a breathless hush in the Close tonight

I am not a sporting person. You need to know that about me. Only twice in my schooldays did I do something worthy of note, not that it made any difference to my reputation as a clumsy uncoordinated dysfunctional clodhopper. The first was when I won the "Junior Discus" at the annual School Sports Day, an achievement easily explained by the fact that I had longer arms than anyone in my year. Also, I was aiming at the geography teacher, Dag Tomlinson, the man whose name defines the word "arsehole" in the OED.
The second was when they asked me to bowl at cricket, and I took three wickets in three balls. This is equally easily explained by the fact that I had such a gawky all-over-the-place spastic run-up and delivery that the batsmen fell about laughing while the ball dribbled unobstructed up to the stumps three times in a row and knocked the bails off.
I knew at that moment that I had a career in cricket, but the masters in charge disagreed. They told me to fuck off and never come back, which is how I first got into serial self-abuse.
Listen, Charlie, you shoulda looked out for me, you shoulda bin there for me, I coulda bin a contender.

Mrs T gets straight to the point.

Dear Boris Johnson, she writes, not for the first time, I am bemused by your obsessation with female bosoms. I can only think that you were deprivated of the nimpule as a baby. "Spare the tit and spoil the child", as my late husband used to say whenever I told him to leave my dinties alone. Don't think me cruel, he just wanted to push them together and make a single mound, like that man in Third Encounters of a Close Kind.
Anyway, if you are going to make a success of being Mare of London (Shouldn't that be Stallion? I get confused very easily these days), where was I?, oh yes, if you are to make a success of being Mare of London, you need to forget all about busty substances and get a grip on yourself. But I guess is you forget the first you won't need to do the second. Haha. Just my little joke. I wasn't implying that you are a wanker, even though you are.
Blodwen Trellis
Mrs, Widow, refined.

Eternity, it's just around the corner

In my dotage, I tend to spend more time contemplating Eternity and considering the good reasons for believing in God and an afterlife. Call it the John Donne syndrome - a youth spent in dissolution (Youth?? Still going on in my seventies?!), followed by quiet contemplation as the sap subsides, and a realisation that there is joy to be had at a slightly higher level than the groin.
Which is why, today, I had another of those joyous epiphanic moments when you realise that there is a Divine Purpose after all. I am talking about the Women's Singles at Wimbledon. Watching the match between Venus Williams and Naomi Cavaday, it was borne in upon me that tits and thighs like those cannot possibly be the result of a random collision of molecules.
So there. I am a Believer. Better late than never. And thank you, God.


Further investigation reveals that "Benedicus" (as distinct from "Benedictus") is the form used in Oxford, at least at Balliol. So, it seems that I have not corrupted my grandchildren after all.

Monday, June 23, 2008


After 40 or more years, I have been corrected. The Latin graces before and after the meal should be:
Before dinner:
Benedictus benedicat. May the Blessed One give a blessing.
After dinner:
Benedicto benedicatur. Let praise be given to the Blessed One.
Mind you, this is a Cambridge University opinion, so I am not altogether convinced.....
As to the pre-prandial long grace I published, here is an even longer version of it:
Benedic, Domine, nos et dona tua,
quae de largitate tua sumus sumpturi,
et concede, ut illis salubriter nutriti
tibi debitum obsequium praestare valeamus,
per Christum Dominum nostrum.
Bless, O Lord, us and your gifts,
which from your bounty we are about to receive,
and grant that, healthily nourished by them,
we may render you due obedience,
through Christ our Lord.

I am so glad you didn't bother to read this blog!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

An Old Scrote's Lament

Der Zeiten gedenk' ich
Als die Glieder gelenkig,
Bis auf eins.

Die Zeit ist vorueber,
Steif sind die Glieder,
Bis auf eins.

[With a nod in the direction of Heinrich Heine]

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Satire of Swifts

Today, with my Action for Swifts colleagues Dick N and Bill M, we entertained three fellow Swift enthusiasts from Northern Ireland. (Did you know you can get from Belfast to Stansted for £35 return? And they even provide seats).
It was a good day, with exchange of ideas, visits to three locations where we have put up Swift nestboxes, and an interlude involving a fiery Chilli con Carne (You need something hot to counter the blizzard weather of an English June).
But precious few Swifts about. It looks like one of those years when, to use the jargon, "the population has crashed". We have no idea why, but we have lots of theories.
That's the trouble with wildlife - it's always doing unpredictable things, like, in any given year, being very late or very early, or being abundant or being scarce. Personally, I blame grey squirrels, not because it's their fault, but because they keep eating all my peanuts, and I need something to hate from time to time.
Anyway, a piece of promising news: it looks as if the RSPB is now taking seriously the decline in Swift numbers in this country: maybe we can tackle the problem before it becomes a crisis after all. Watch this space for fiurther developments - I promise to be indiscreet.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Let's be graceful

My three American grandchildren say grace before each meal. And I - an old heathen - totally approve. We lead such rich lives that it is important to say thank you to someone beyond us. So, my munchkins and I say grace before each meal, followed by a grace after the meal is over. The preprandial grace is "Benedicus benedicat" and the postprandial grace is "Benedicus benedixit."
What heartens me is that, despite the disappearance of Latin from our and their education system, they KNOW what the words mean.
Wait till I get there for Thanksgiving: I am going to hit them with the following:
Benedic Domine nos et haec tua Dona quae de Bonitate tua sumpturi sumus.
That should put the stuffing in the turkey.

OK, so NOW where's my fatwa?

And Abdullah ascended to Heaven, and knocked he on the Pearly Gate and the Archangel appeared and said: "Yes?" And Abullah said that he wanted to meet the Prophet Mohammed. And the Archangel admitted him and introduced him to Moses, and Abdullah expressed his gratitude but repeated that he really wanted to meet the Prophet Mohammed. So the Archangel sent him up to the next floor where he was admitted and introduced to Saint Peter, and once again he expressed his gratitude but repeated that he really want to meet the Prophet Mohammed. So he was sent up to the third floor where God Himself opened the door and invited him in. And when they were seated, Abdullah again asked is he could meet that Prophet Mohammed, and God said: "No problem" and asked if Abdullah would like a coffee, and Abdullah said "Yes", and God turned his head towards the kitchen, clapped his hands and shouted: "Mohammed, two coffees."

Last orders

And it came to pass that the guys got a good table at the local trattoria , and they ordered the honestest fare and the purest wine thereof. And noshed they, each according to his appetite, which in most cases was considerable.
And the sommelier passed amongst them pouring honest wine from a pitcher, saying: "Get this down thee, for it is a drop of the good stuff, no rubbish, not available in thy local Tesco's."
And they partook heartily of the food and they partook indulgently of the wine, and they knew, each according to his meed, that they were on to a good thing.
And, the moment being propitious, the Master spake, saying to each in turn: "Matthew, take wine with me. Peter, take wine with me, Simon, take wine with me, " and so on, and they each quaffedeth in turn until he reachedeth the twelfth member of the group. And he sighed deeply and raisedeth his glass and saideth: "Judas, thou art a real putz, for thou wilt betray me ere the cock croweth thrice."
And Judas frownedeth and repliedeth: "Hey, don't pick on me just because your're pissed."

Mrs T defends the kitchen

Once more, my North Walian correspondent grasps the nettle.

Dear Mrs Lawson, she writes, I am with you, dear. I find those TV chefs totally divulged from reality. Clearly they never had to feed a family for a week on scrag end or beg the butcher to leave the eyes in the sheep's head so it would see us through the week.
Not that I am against erotic fare like kiwi fruit or rocket salad. No, I am all for adventure in the kitchen, something I learned from the late Mr Trellis, whose motto was always "Surprise me!" I tried to meet his appetite for the unexpected, though he lost his enthusiasm for culinary adventure after the time I served him Mexican jumping baked beans on toast.
You know, Mrs Lawson, I think it is up to the likes of you and me to provide an alternation to all this television shrubbery. Let's offer a few realistic dishes that people can truly expatiate. I am thinking of dishes like Welsh Rabbit. so easy to make: burn two pieces of bread in the toaster, scrape, add crumbly cheese, put under the grill until cheese has totally melted into the dish, remove, pile up on the toast and serve with humility.
PS I don't wish to be indelicate, but: are your unowots REAL?

What's cooking?

As you all know, I have more than a passing interest in cookery. I am, to take one example, a great fan of Jocelyn Dimbleby's seminal work on oriental cuisine, and have on many occasions given great oral satisfaction to my guests with such dishes as Peking Pork with Cashew Nuts. I am also famous (notorious?) for my Madras Chicken Curries, served with Brinjal and Lime Pickle and Pappadums, together with a slip of paper advising guests to put a toilet roll in the fridge before they go to bed.
I am not one for the TV gurus - you know, that grinning negro poofter, that lisping egomaniac, that limp-wristed hotel chef, etc. I don't like them mainly because I hate their use of the word "just" -
"just marinade it in yak's semen for ...." "just add the zest of 24 Armenian green lemons" "just blend till it achieves the consistency of Afyon goat's turds."
The only exception to my antipathy to these poseurs is illustrated above, though, to tell the truth, I am not sure my motives would bear close scrutiny.

Point and shoot

For a while, I worked for a company whose CEO and deputy were shooting men. We got on well together, even though my interest was in the protection and conservation of birds and theirs in the hunting of them. One day, I was walking to a meeting with the deputy CEO and we were deep in conversation (He was probably the best friend I have ever had). We met a member of staff, who stopped in front of us and said:
"I don't understand how you two can get on together. Jake, you conserve birds, and Alf, you shoot them."
Alf replied: "Jake protects songbirds. We only shoot game birds."
To which our interlocutor replied:
"You mean you shoot the poor little buggers just because they can't sing?!"

Today, with my friend and piri, Peter W, I spent a couple of hours with a farmer who, at first, was suspicious of us, and said, defiantly, that he was a shooting man. We went round his farm with him looking for suitable spots to mount Barn Owl boxes. He has a modest spread of 100 acres, but with nestboxes and feeding stations everywhere. Even the cover crops he puts down for gamebirds are winter havens for songbirds - and he knows it, and rejoices in the fact. Once he realised that Peter and I have no problem with wildfowling, we became the good guys. We know that the countryside would be much much poorer without the shooting fraternity.

I once went out with the CEO and deputy referred to above when they were on a shooting quest for partridge. I know I could never shoot a partridge - or any other bird for that matter - but I could see the attraction of their sport. And at least they ate everything they killed. When the barricades go up - just so you know - I would rather be on with the wildfowlers than the anti-hunting lobby, mostly because the latter really know so LITTLE about the reality of rural communities, and the former, on the whole, care a great deal about their environment.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A question

I have just come across a thin circular disc made of black vinyl. It is about the size of a dinner plate and has a continuous groove running from the edge to the centre. It also has a small hole in the middle. Is this a record?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Peopled out

Today I learned a new idiom, a phrasal verb that I realised at once I had lacked all these long years. It is "peopled out".
My dear friend D described a day that was intended to be one of quiet contemplation with some gentle chores thrown in. But it didn't work out that way, because people phoned or called round or popped in or sent text messages requiring replies, therefore turning it into a more stressful day than the one planned.
So, D was peopled out.
You all know, of course you do, the Italian saw "Gli ospiti sono come i pesci: dopo tre giorni incominciano a puzzare." That is serious peopling out.
I suppose the only thing worse than having your quiet day destroyed by people bothering you is to have a long run of days with nobody at all bothering you.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Stop that, Onan!

And the Lord saideth:
"It's amazing, the minute the Divine Back is turned, they're up to all kinds of naughty. It's time I put out a few rules and regulations."
And they saideth:
"Oh yes, we knew it would be too good to last. So what has the Divine Being got in mind for us this time? No more bingo? Lay off the egg and chips? Leave the car at home and take the bus? What?"
And the Lord girdedeth He up His Loins and spaketh He as follows:
"First off, no spilling of your seed upon the ground. That bugger Onan is a disgrace."
And they saideth:
"No spilling of seed? How the trumpeting shofah are we supposed to grow crops then?"
And the Lord rebukedeth He them saying:
"Ye knoweth perfectly well what I am referring to. No more of the old knuckle shuffle, ok?"
And they sighed and saideth:
"It's just a way of passing the time. So, what else?"
"No more lying with your mother."
And they waxedeth indignant and spaketh as follows:
"You can't tell the old bat the truth all the time. She will freaketh out."
And the Divine Presence sucked in His Divine Breath and thought "I will give it one more go", and saideth:
"No pig meat, no cloven hoof meat, no flat fish, no...." (well, the list went on), and they really waxed unbelieving at this point.
"It's going to put a real drag on Tesco's," they opinedeth.
It was at this point that the Creator of All Things thought about having a word with Noah......

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

It's all over, folks! Well, nearly...

So, mes potes, it seems that Barak Obama, the well-known anagram, is "all set to clinch the Democratic nomination". Hillary Clinton, it seems, is equally "all set" to concede. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, John McCain is quietly laughing his socks off, cos he knows he can beat da nigga, but he probably couldn't beat da bitch.
I sometimes wonder if Americans have some kind of death wish. Maybe they are tired of being the World's Policeman, and want to hand the truncheon on to the Chinese or to the Russian Mafia.
Me, I just want to know whose finger is on the button, so I know who to curse in the nanosecond left to me before I am reduced to ash.
By the way, talking of Armageddon, I strongly advise potential Islamic martyrs, aka suicide bombers, to pack it in- a message just came through from the Big A: he's run out of virgins.
Never mind the button, that's me up for another fatwa.

Que maca la sardana!

And while we are talking about Barna, let's applaud the sardana, a traditional street dance that anyone can join in. The movements always looked complex to me, almost mathematical in their precision, which, some say, suits the Catalan character. The music and the instruments that play it are equally traditional. The sardana is the quintessential symbol of Catalan pride. As they say en catala "que maca la sardana! crec que tothom n'hauria de ballar!" (how beautiful the sardana is. I think that everyone ought to dance it).
I used to go to various squares in the city on Sunday mornings to watch and listen and feel a vicarious pride in the continuing traditions of Catalunya. I wish we cared as much about our heritage as the Catalans do about theirs To hear a sample of their music and get a glimpse of the sardana, click HERE.

Monday, June 02, 2008


During my Barcelona Period (Well, it is the natal city of Pau Picasso), I used to stay at the Hotel Oriente. Here is a description:
The Oriente hotel enjoys a good location right on Las Ramblas, close to the famous Liceu Theatre, the Gothic Quarter and Plaza Catalunya. Shops, bars and restaurants can be found on its doorstep. This is an attractive lively area in the heart of the city centre. The Oriente hotel is traditional in style and very popular. The building is a wide 5-storey stone structure dating back to 1842, and was originally a monastery, it has managed to retain some of the features from this time such as the grand carved wood and glass doors leading to the breakfast room and an ornate ballroom with a beautiful chandelier. Wide marble hallways with lots of steps lead onto the newly refurbished, modern rooms. In the summer months there is an outdoor bar and restaurant providing the ideal place to people watch.

Well, never mind that. I knew it unrefurbished: huge rooms, huge iron bedsteads with shiny brass fineals and baths you could hide an aircraft-carrier in. Cavernous. Lovely.
Also the history appealed: it was the HQ for Republican Officers during the Civil War (Read Orwell's Homage to Catalonia).
And then I stopped using the Oriente and took up residence in the Hostal Continental just off Placa Catulunya. A modest place run by a gaggle of women, all of whom dressed alike in red front-buttoning dresses, looked alike and talked alike. Spooky. Different.
The reason I left the Oriente was that I got tired of being whistled at admiringly by the girls in the little bar next door to the hotel. Some of them were quite attractive, but as they were all transvestites, I thought it was time to turn mother's picture to the wall and get the hell out.
And that is all I want to say about that.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Saint Boniface of Crediton

As you all know, the fifth of June is the saint's day of St Boniface of Crediton. Boniface, missionary and martyr, was born near Crediton c 675 AD. When he was 40, he left England to bring the gospel to the heathen tribes of Germany. He carried on his missionary work well into his seventies, but was martyred when he and his party were set upon by "heathen Frieslanders" and put to the sword. He is described as "a great and lovable man", which is why I am telling you about him, seeing that his saint's day coincides with the birthday of another great and lovable man: me. All presents welcome, and remember: it's not the thought, it's the gift that counts.