Sunday, 30 December 2007


Merry Xmas was it?


My ex-SAS doctor, who until this time I had looked on as a friend, put me on antibiotics which ruled out drink. Not only was I dragged back on the wagon. I was tied to the wheels with a grim-visaged Head Ferret driving the team.

I didn’t really mind. Drinking at Xmas is no fun. It is when teetotallers crowd into pubs and get us drunks a bad name. I shudder at the way they follow a sweet sherry with a milk stout, a whisky and ginger and a Tia Maria, then ask their friend, “What was that we had in Majorca, Blod?” and finish up with Sangria and an Alka Seltzer rub down.

I was tempted to ignore the blood pressure problem like my good friend Jimmy Godwin, head waiter at the Blossoms in Chester who was told by his doctor to give up gin and tonic after his first heart attack.

Jimmy did exactly what the doctor ordered. He gave up gin and tonic. Switched to whisky and tonic. He was much relieved after his second heart attack. He told me he had found the common denominator.

“It’s the tonic,“ he said, and not another drop passed his lips.

“Great waiter,” said Lol at his funeral some months later. “Lousy diagnostician.”

Teetotalism comes a bit hard, though I once lasted five years. Came a cropper when the Ferret took me on a coach trip to the Loire Valley. One of the excursions was to a vineyard.

The Ferret said I could drink on French Territory but not at home, which was OK for a bit. Then an American cousin and family historian, Warren Skidmore, discovered that our first ancestor, Ralph, was a Norman who came to this country after the Battle of Hastings.

Norman, I thought? That means I AM French Territory, and it was off at all meetings. Alas, not for the first time, France has been occupied by Fascists.
The Ferret claims that by May the drinking money I save will pay for a holiday in Moscow and St Petersburg, a city for some reason she is desperate to visit. Though she knows I do not do abroad, or even the next town, unless pushed. She reckons that when we have paid for a holiday for two there will even be enough left over to buy the Kremlin. But she always had an exaggerated notion of how much I spend on drink. I doubt if there will be enough to buy Lenin’s Tomb, which, the way things are, will be just the place to hold my 79th birthday party.

But don’t worry about me. Just make sure you have a Happy New Year.

The tenor Stuart Burroughs was a great one for New Year parties. Nice fellow. Never had a singing lesson, just began singing when he was in the RAF and never looked back. I know a story which puts him in a very good light.

Pal of mine’s wife had motor neurone disease. She was a big fan of the tenor who was coming to Bangor, North Wales, to give a concert.
She was too ill to attend a performance but my pal was determined she would be present at the rehearsal. We pulled a few strings and a place was kept for her.

Alas, traffic was heavy, manoeuvring a wheel chair is a slow job, and when they arrived at the venue the rehearsal was ending. As he walked out, Burroughs spotted the wheel chair and came over to have a word with my pal’s wife. She told him how sorry she was to have missed his rehearsal.

“Did you?” he said. “We can’t have that.”

He called back his accompanist and together they did the whole programme, just for her.

I was telling you about my friend George Thomas and his debut in the paddling pool world of light entertainment.

He was fortunate enough to do his air crew training in America. Before visiting New York on leave, he and his pilot were warned not to stare at people. To do so would be to elicit snarls of “Rubberneck”.

George recalled they were on the subway when a Puerto Rican mother settled in their carriage, accompanied by the fattest baby they had ever seen. “It was spherical,” George said, and you could see he was moved. So unusual was its shape that the pilot’s eyes were drawn to it, however hard he tried to look away.

“RUBBER,” snarled the mother.

“Thank God,” said the pilot, “I thought it was real.”



Seven people were injured on Thursday when Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests came to blows in a dispute over how to clean the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Following the Christmas celebrations, Greek Orthodox priests set up ladders to clean the walls and ceilings of their part of the church, which is built over the site where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born.
But the ladders encroached on space controlled by Armenian priests, according to photographers who said angry words ensued and blows quickly followed.
For a quarter of an hour bearded and robed priests laid into each other with fists, brooms and iron rods while the photographers who had come to take pictures of the annual cleaning ceremony recorded the whole event.
A dozen unarmed Palestinian policemen were sent to try to separate the priests, but two of them were also injured in the unholy melee.
"As usual the cleaning of the church after Christmas is a cause of problems," Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh told AFP, adding that he has offered to help ease tensions.
"For the two years that I have been here everything went more or less calmly," he said. "It's all finished now."
The Church of the Nativity, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, is shared by various branches of Christianity, each of which controls and jealously guards a part of the holy site.
The Church of the Nativity is built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born in a stable more than 2,000 years ago after Mary and Joseph were turned away by an inn.

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