Monday, October 31, 2011


I am sure you have all heard of Strine, the baffling version of the Queen's English spoken in Australia. I didn't know until recently that Strine itself has dialects, of which Rye-Wye is possibly the most abstruse. I hope the following article will of use to students of English.

Rye-Wye: A dialect spoken by the Trine tribe. Strine, like any other living language, is constantly changing as new words and phrases are evolved or introduced and as old ones fall into disuse. All languages, and Strine is no exception, also carry with them many local dialects and sub-languages. These are usually more conservative than the mother tongue. Like the side eddies in a river they remain static and self-contained - almost unaffected by the main stream of the language, and thus they become increasingly cryptic and obscure.
Such a dialect is Rye-Wye, which is spoken only by the Trine tribes over the public address systems of metropolitan railway stations. All attempts to decipher this esoteric dialect have been so far unsuccessful, and it is now believed that it is not understood by even the Trine tribes who speak it. Rye-Wye is, in short, a ritualistic chant, the purpose of which is not to inform but to frighten away any passengers or other hostile spirits who may be lurking in the underground. For this reason it is not only terrifyingly loud but also
breathtakingly dissonant. The following are typical examples:

 (a) `Awe lathers trine nair stannenat num-rye teen plafform pliz.
Istrine term night sear. Awe lattpliz.'

(b) `Nuffor plafform nawshawtrine stomming milce point naw sinny
chasswood norl staish toresby.'

(c) `Trine num-rye teen plafform gerster rare fern, bird and stair feel

You can say that again.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Signs of the times

Premier jour de classe à Ville St-Laurent...
1er septembre... le directeur fait l'appel des élèves.
-"Mustapha El Ekhzeri"
-"Achmed El Cabul"
-"Kadir Sel Ohlmi" 
-"Mohammed Endahrha"
-" Ala In Ben Oit"
-" Ala In Ben Oit"
La classe demeure silencieuse.
- Pour la dernière fois:
" Ala In Ben Oit". 
Soudain un garçon dans la dernière rangée se lève et dit au directeur:
- C'est moi, mais ça se prononce: Alain Benoit. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

A what of what?

I have discovered that I am not a serious birder. Maybe that should be Serious Birder, a separate species in the genus Ornithophilus. The other day I put out a query to our local bird fraternity/sorority asking if anyone could supply me with the correct noun of assembly (collective noun) for a flock of Pheasants. Via google, I had tracked down a nye, a bouquet, a head, a warren and a nide, none of which I had ever heard before. The question provoked a short string but no satisfactory answer. One response stopped me in my tracks, a scathing dismissal of the whole idea of collective nouns for birds. Many of these nouns are Victorian coinages, many of them not used, but some of them very appropriate and still used by some of us, eg, "a charm of goldfinches" or "a gaggle of geese". But the scathing dismisser asserted that "serious birders despise this sort of nonsense", or words to that effect..
Serious birders, I take it, are a humourless prosaic bunch, who have forgotten that watching birds is a hobby, a source of harmless amusement, in other words, FUN. Oh dear, I am sure that another characteristic of the serious birder is that s/he has great aural and visual acuity and is therefore able - or wants to be able - to identify every bird that flies up, flits across, farts and fcuks off again.
When my sight and hearing were better than they are now, I suppose I was obsessed in the same way, but, honestly, I never lost my sense of joy in watching birds, reading about birds, and even amassing a list of the collective nouns of various bird species.
So there you are. I am not Ornithophilus severus. I am a member of that other species Ornithophilus frivolus. Frankly, anyone who does not get a buzz from a collective noun like "a tok of capercaillie" is missing the meaning of life. I'm serious.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Ever since I heard that Woody Allen had been chastised by a talking elevator, I have tried to be on good terms with machines. What frustrates me, though, is how quickly I reach the perimeter where enlightenment stops and ignorance begins. I have, for example, a microwave oven in which I can easily cook frozen meals or reheat a cold cup of coffee, but when I look at the fascia with its array of symbols, I realise that this machine can do far more than I ever ask of it. Similarly, I can use my fan-assisted oven to burn a pizza with the best of them, but I have no idea how to use the timer, mainly because all the instructions are given in icons.
Anyway, the reason for this belated grump (yes, it is a grump and we are just coming to the grump's nub) is that I bought a beautiful shirt recently and decided that it would be unfair to launder it in the usual manner, viz, on the mini programme along with oily rags, bedsocks, furlined jockstraps and the like. So I read the label on the shirt that bears the washing instructions. More bloody icons! I ask you, how intuitive is the meaning of each symbol in the following chart:
It's hard enough to understand machines as it is without baffling us with all this semiotic guff. Frankly, I'd rather have something in Hungarian or Fulani than a triangle with a dot in it to tell me that  I should put the shirt on a preheated baking tray before cooking it in the washing machine.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Consultation with Dr A, 20 October 2011

[If you are fond of your arse, you might want to skip this blog entry, since it might well bore it off you]

The X-rays that were done last Friday show a moderate degree of degeneration in both hips, and also some kind of bony growth in both that is probably interfering with the proper functioning of the hips.
Dr A also did a thorough examination of my knees and agreed that the articulation of the left knee in particular is very poor, ie, it has stiffened up so that I cannot straighten the leg, and therefore I walk with the leg bent to compensate. This in turn is probably what is causing all the groin and other muscular pain. The upshot is that I have been referred to the Musculoskeletal Assessment and Treatment Service, after which a decision will be made on the best course of action, up to and including surgery.

Susan who?

Susan Sarandon is an actress, or whatever you call actresses these days now that it is not politically correct to call them actresses. What I can tell you about her is that she has, as they say in Liverpool, "a gob on her like a robber's dog". In a TV interview recently, she referred to the present Pope as "that nazi". Anyone who has heard him speak or has read anything he has written on the evils of the nazi regime knows that he (and his family) were in no way nazi sympathisers. I assume that the actress's flippant comment was not meant seriously, and that it simply demonstrates that in addition to having a gob on her like a robber's dog, she has a brain the size of a pea, only less useful.
I looked her up and she was either Thelma or Louise in the film of that name, you remember, where at the end, the two women kissed on the mouth and then drove over the cliff. What a lezzie! (No, of course I don't mean that, but it's on a par with her offensive comment about Pope Benedict).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Something is a-foot

My feet and I have never had what you might call a close relationship. Not surprising since they are nearly 2 metres away at the other end of my body. On the other hand, I have never abused them, and they have never failed to fill my socks.
But with the present crisis, I can't even reach the dear darling pedal extremities (pace Fats Waller), so for the last 3-4 weeks my toenails, neglected and uncut,  have been turning into eagle's talons. Today, however, all was resolved when a nice lady called Sharon, a chiropodist (podiatrist?), came to my house, sat before me and used all manner of implements to pare and shape my toenails. I tell you, when she had done, I was almost tempted to ask for some scarlet nail polish: they have never looked so beautiful.

It seemed a shame to put socks back on, but the weather has turned cold, and in any case there wouldn't have been anyone to see my feet if I had left them naked. But at least I've told you about my feet, and you can use your imagination for the rest.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Waves of empathy are flowing from me to the horse at the bottom of the field, the corralled one with the bad leg(s). With the nasty things happening to my left leg, I am as forlorn as McGonagall's horse "A horse is a sad thing, naught is forlorner, It stands in a field, with a leg at each corner."
And I know the corralled skewbald feels the same. I would like to go, or more accurately hobble, over there and have a chat with him, just to let him know about my fellow feelings for his plight. Unfortunately, I don't speak horse.
Maybe if I stuffed a Babel Fish in his ear.......

Sunday, October 16, 2011

St. Gerard Majella

What do you mean, you've never heard of him?

St. Gerard Majella is the patron of expectant mothers. He was born at Muro, Italy, in 1726 and joined the Redemptorists at the age of 23, becoming a professed lay brother in 1752. He served as sacristan, gardener, porter, infirmarian, and tailor. However, because of his great piety, extraordinary wisdom, and his gift of reading consciences, he was permitted to counsel communities of religious women. 

Now, that's a job I would have been ideally suited for... Who knows, there might even have been a St Scrote's Day for you all to celebrate.

Trellis jumps in

As ever, the dear lady from North Wales grasps the nettle by the wrong end:
 Dear Mr Tolstoy, she writes, your Mrs Grice reminds me a lot of Annie Karinena. Was she the inspiration for your famous opera? Did she throw herself under a train at the finish like your heroin? I am not a literatious person, but I do like a good read with a bloody ending.
Yours graciously
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, widow, retd

Mrs Grice

I was into phatic communion long before I knew the name for it. Phatic communion describes those verbal interactions which have no intrinsic value, but are used as a kind of social lubricant between passing strangers or slight acquaintances. In Britain, the utterances are typically about the weather:
"Turned out nice again", "Nasty nip in the air this morning", "Lovely day isn't it?". "Looks like rain ", etc. I leave you to supply the equally pointless responses.
Which brings me to Mrs Grice, one of the dotty ladies of my natal village. Whenever she saw me, she would exclaim, and I mean EXCLAIM, in a shrill north country accent: "Ee, Jackie, 'e 'as grown!". lingering on the last word to squeeze the last drop of drama from it. It irritated me, not because she was making a statement of the bleeding obvious - I turned into a beanpole as I approached puberty - but because she called me "Jackie". Jackie was no name for a toughie like me, who was on his way to fight Redskins or root out Nazi spies or save the world from the evil things that came out of the graveyard at night. So, as a defence, I decided to be the first to speak, and I deliberately mangled my phatic utterances, eg, "Good morning, Mrs Grice, lovely day of the weather for the week of the year, isn't it?" And the old bat would smile and agree with me!
And then she'd add "Ee, Jackie, 'e 'as grooooooooooown!"
Sometimes you just can't win.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday grump

I have ranted before about the pernicious practice of asking people to declare their ethnicity whenever they are dealing with a government body or large public organisatin. I was asked to do so yesterday when I went to the Princess of Wales Hospital in Ely to have my pelvis x-rayed. Of course I refused, and not just because they didn't have a category "wobbly pink blancmange".
I have a suggestion for an alternative and equally valid way of categorising people, and it is encapsulated in this chart:
Immediately, I hear the bleating of the equa-pop sheep: "Unfair to women!" Don't worry, I am working on a chart for females. But it's going to need a section for transgender, transsexual and those who just can't make up their minds what they want to be when they grow up. We owe it to our bureaucrats to get it right.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Here is a wonderful example of Italian politeness.
When you say or write something that confuses your listener/reader, he is likely to say "Non ho capito" (I have not understood). The gallant reply is "Anzi, non mi sono spiegato bene" (On the contrary, I didn't explain myself well).
So, my good friend P, you were right to be confused by my message about medical appointments: I said that I would be referred to a surgeon on Wednesday, which is ambiguous, because I meant that my gp will pass me on in due course to a surgeon for further examination (Non mi sono spiegato bene). The confusion is compounded because I wrote Wednesday, when it should have read Thursday. Non mi sono spiegato bene, anzi, ho fatto un ERRORE!
I don't feel too bad about the Wed-Thurs cockup when I remember the story of the Reverend Spooner, who gave the sermon one Sunday in chapel, leaving the congregation in baffled silence. He paused half way down the steps, returned to the pulpit, announced "Of course, during my sermon, when I referred to Aristotle, I meant Saint Paul" and calmly descended the steps again.
My kind of cockupper.

Who was Sabine, and how did he pronounce his name?

You get discussions from time to time as to where certain words in bird names came from and how they should be pronounced. Two currently under discussion are chukar and sabine's.

Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names
Onomatopaeic Hindi name chukor for the Chukar Partridge Alectorix
Chambers gives variant spellings and pronunciation  chu-kör' or chu-kär' (chu-CORE or chu-CAR). Most of us pronounce chukar to rhyme with pukka, but apparently we should be putting the stress on the second syllable. It seems to me a bit like that pretentious TV character, Mrs Bucket, who insisted that her name be pronounced "bouquet" in the French manner.

Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names
1 Joseph Sabine (1770-1837) English zoologist (Rhaphidura)
2 General Sir Edward Sabine (1788-1883) English scientist and explorer (Dryoscopus, Xema)

Chambers gives the following pronunciations of sabine

Sabine /sab' īn/ a member of an ancient people etc ("SAB-ine)
Sabine's Gull /sa-bēnz'/ a small gull etc (sa-BEENZ)

Most of us pronounce Sabine's (the gull) as SAY-bines, and I doubt if most of us will change.
After all, you need to remember that Chambers was originally produced by two Scottish ladies.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A distress call from Mrs Trellis

She writes:
 My cat's gone again. Well, when I say "my" cat, it was in fact my late husband Mr Trellis's pet. I've put out food for it and some dead mice I found in the bottom of the wardrobe, but the contrary little minx has not reappeared. I fear that standing in the yard calling her name doesn't work either. After all, would you come running up joyfully if someone screamed "Anghenfil Ychydig" at you? That name was my husband's idea, he said it was revenge on the English for giving their cats names like Boddington.
Anyway, enough about my pussy problems. I am going on a charabanc trip to Pwllheli tomorrow, shopping, cream tea and maybe a paddle in the sea if I can get my tights off without loss of dignity.
That ought to take my mind off anghenfil ychydig.

Monday, October 10, 2011

That's it for today

The weather outside is frightful, etc, so I am going to batten down the hatches and dream about tractors. See ya around.

Mix me a metaphor

An interesting Swedish experiment involved fitting geolocators to six Swifts in 2009. All six were retrapped in the following year, and a lot of data collected telling us many things about Swift migration patterns and routes that we didn't know. A paper about this project will appear shortly. I read a note announcing the forthcoming paper, a note that contained the following delicious mixed metaphor:
"The intention is to have the bones of a joint paper thrashed out by Christmas with completion ..."
Not only does the paper have bones, but someone intends to thrash them. I tell you, folks, I can hardly rein in my excitement - it  is fired up to overflowing....

Sunday, October 09, 2011

More medical guff

[Listen, guys, I promise this is the last entry on this topic until I have some definite news for you all]
Despite my doctor's diagnosis, I am convinced that there are other things going on in the imperial extremities, so I've been doing what you do at such times - I've been a-googling. Prepatellar bursitis, that sounded like something worth suffering from, until I discovered it is what my mum had - "housemaid's knee" Then there's . Baker's Cyst at the back of the knee, not sure who Baker is/was but I am all swolled-up there, so maybe it's that, and it's always nice to have a condition with a proper name attached.
A-googling on, I finally came to the realisation that I am suffering from EVERYTHING connected with knees and hips. That's bloody serious, mes potes, but what's even worse, knowing that has aggravated the pain. I guess this is what happens when you give up the booze.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Hypochondriac, moi?

I am getting regular and very tiresome night sweats these days, no known cause, so I googled my way to an informative website. Here's what I discovered about possible causes and cures:

1 Andropause: hormonal changes occur after 40 – 45 years.
2 The level of testosterone diminishes, consequently, this a manifesting feature.
3 Idiopathic Hyperhidrosis: i.e. there is no known cause
4 Alcoholism: excessive alcohol intake of alcohol.
5 Diseases: night sweats are common in certain medical conditions such as: cancer, T.B., bacterial infections,  viral infections, AIDS, etc.
6 Stress: is a very common cause. Anxiety, worry, apprehension, fears, all trigger night sweats.
7 Diet: consuming excessive amounts of garlic, onions, red meat and spicy foods, especially at night, triggers sweating
8 Medicines: certain medicines / drugs are also known to cause night sweating

That's a good list. At my age, I think 1 and 2 can be discarded. As can 4 and, I hope!, 5. Also, 7 seems very unlikely, which leaves:

3 Idiopathic Hyperhidrosis: i.e. there is no known cause
I love "idiopathic", which means "you've got it but nobody else has as far as we know"; and "hyperhidrosis" means excessive sweating. As an explanation, it's brilliant, isn't it?!

6 Stress: is a very common cause. Anxiety, worry, apprehension, fears, all trigger night sweats.
Well, yes, but I really don't think my "angustia" is so excessive as to cause night sweats. A desire to commit murder, maybe, but night sweats, nah.

8 Medicines: certain medicines / drugs are also known to cause night sweating
Well, again, yes, but the sweats occur even when I have laid off the medication. All the same, I guess this is the likeliest one. Personally I think that decaffeinated tea is the culprit.

The website where I found the above goes on to give advice:

Whilst sleeping, always wear light cotton clothes. I DO
Make sure that the room is well ventilated. I DO
Do not consume a heavy meal, just before bed time. I DON'T
Have a light snack, which is not too heavily spiced. I DO
Stress management will go a very long way in helping fight the problem. Yoga, Pranayama and meditation are strongly recommended. DO CROSSWORDS COUNT?
Even after lifestyle changes, the problem persists, get yourself examined and investigated, as per your doctor, and identify if there is any underlying medical condition, I WILL
If you are experiencing night sweats frequently, and every night, or they tend to disturb sleep, it is necessary that you consult a physician. YOU JUST SAID THAT.

So, if it persists, I guess I need to take medical advice. If I remember, I will mention it to Dr A next week. I just hope it has nothing to do with black stockings.

Cynical knees

You know how French schoolboys refer to Shakespeare as "le chat qui expire". Well, when I was a young shaver. Diogenes was known humorously as "dodgy knees". So, I feel quite justified in describing my knees as cynical.
What I find odd is that the doc, he of salad cream fame, is diagnosing a dodgy left hip in need of repair or replacement. How is that going to solve my two-knees-in-agony problem? I think he was a bit quick with his diagnosis, his mind was probably on cricket or the senior nurse's nether regions. Or am I just being cynical?
Anyway, we will know next Wednesday, when I am to be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon for a second opinion. Let's hope HIS mind is on MY nether regions, he can leave the ogling of the nurses to me.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Friday grump

Just one this week:

I am trapped. Because my children live overseas, I have to pick up when INTERNATIONAL appears on the Caller Display LCD on my phone. Almost always, I get instead, either one of those subcontinent voices asking for Mr Alspop, or a breathless American female telling me I have just won Male Stripper of the Year Award or whatever.
There seems to be no escape and no defence, but I am working on one. As soon as I hear the voice of Mr Subcontinent Cretin or Miss Breathless Tart, I will fake a recorded message that goes something like this:

You have reached the phone of [static noise and the word Alspop]. Please choose from the following options:
- for accounts queries or psychotherapy, press one.
- for heavy breathing, grunting and sweating, press two
- for migraine and cerebral haemorrhages, bang the phone against your head
- for donations to your favourite charity, don't press anything
- to see what happens, press any key and the hash key at the same time.
- for all other queries, please ring off.

Not funny? You must be joking.


Being told by my doctor that Glucosamine Gel was no more effective than Salad Cream as an unguent to massage into my naughty knees set me to thinking. It set me thinking back to a time when I was in Mombasa (on business, never been anywhere for pleasure, me). I was sitting at a table on the street-side patio of the hotel where I was staying when a scruffy urchin came up to me, grinned, handed me a card and stuck out his hand for baksheesh. I can't remember how much I gave him, but when I read what was on the card, I realised it was well worth the expense. Here, as nearly as I can reproduce it, is the announcement to the world of the wonders of a concoction called ALMARO:
OK, doc, Glucosamine Gel may not do anything for knees, but I bet it's the dog's bollocks if you needed to cure Burantasi or Qack ache, and you've run out of Almaro. I must try rubbing it into my qack and see what happens.

Va Pensiero Sull'Ali Dorate - Nabucco

There are times, and this is one, when we are all Jewish.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011


My thanks to Angit for making me aware of this extraordinary episode in the story of 9/11. Can you imagine, a boat evacuation from Manhattan Island that was bigger than Dunkirk? 350,000 British and French soldiers were rescued from Dunkirk over nine days, 500,000 people were rescued from Manhattan within a day.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Essence of Kingfisher

Check this out, and while you are about it, enjoy Katie Fuller's wonderful blog, Bogbumper

Many years ago, when I was ringing in reedbeds in Christchurch Harbour during the summer, when the reeds are full of Sedge and Reed Warblers feeding on aphids to put on fuel for their journey south, we caught a succession of SEVEN young Kingfishers in one day, and everyone of them did something similar to what you can see in Katie's video clip.
Photo courtesy of RSPB

Monday, October 03, 2011

Bugger Barclays

I have now met the ultimate idiocy. I got the following message a few minutes after I had logged on to my online account with Barclays:
Sorry - we have had to log you out of Online Banking because you did not use the service for more than 10 minutes. Please enter your membership number below, and select the 'next' button to log in again.
Trying again to log on, I got the same message BEFORE I had logged on. I sent an email complaint to Customer Services and received one of those insulting pro forma replies which tells you [a] that they didn't read your email properly [b] they get cockups all the time and basically don't care.
There's no doubt in my mind now, I really am on the wrong planet.

Mrs T is disgusted

 Always one to grasp the nettle, Mrs Trellis takes a stand on morality:

Dear Signor Berlusconi, she writes, I am not surprised someone tried to stick a cathedral in your head, the way you act the old goat when it comes to young women. At your age, you should be growing geraniums and playing bowls, not chasing every skirt that comes along. My husband, the late Mr Trellis, had an eye for the fair sex too, but I kept him on a very tight leash.
Doesn't your wife mind about your philatelic tendencies? If I were her, I'd put a dog collar round your neck and literally keep you on a leash. But knowing you, you'd probably enjoy that, you prevert.
Yours disgusted
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, widow retd, strict Wesleyan.

Saturday, October 01, 2011


Twenty-five years and more ago, there were two Italian restaurants in Church Street, Cardiff, opposite each other, looking equally attractive. I had no reason to choose one rather than the other, but I am no Buradan's Ass, so I just picked one, the one on the right. It was ok, and the raven-haired young waitress who served me was most attentive and chatty. As I was paying the bill, she whispered "The restaurant opposite is better than this one."
Over the next two-three years, I having regular business in South Wales, I visited "the restaurant opposite" many times, and as often as not, my young informant joined me for a meal. It was a loving, but non-sexual relationship, something like uncle and niece. She was one of the nicest, funniest, brightest, dottiest, and prettiest, dinner companions I could have asked for.
Twenty-five years later - last Wednesday to be exact - I got up at ten to three in the morning and drove to Stansted Airport so that I could have a cup of coffee and a chat with my long-lost Cardiff dinner companion before she caught her seven a m flight back to Turin.
Sonia is fifty now, but to me hasn't changed a bit, except for perhaps being more worldy-wise.
We met, we hugged, we sat, we chatted, and it was as if the intervening twenty-five years had just melted away. Isn't it wonderful when that happens?  Sonia is long divorced, lives with her two grown-up daughters, works as an ambulance nurse, writes poetry, is in love with a doctor (though she calls it "just flirting") and yet, bless her, still has time for me. I am a very lucky man.

Mandarin ducklings leap from tree