Saturday, 27 December 2008

Picked Up by a Penguin

Thanks to the war and my own disinclination I attended school for no more than five years out of a possible fifteen.

I did not miss school. I had discovered the world of books. I devoured, especially, the wonderful early Penguins. And I never missed a day at the public library. The discovery that there was a building in the village filled with books which grown ups were desperate to lend you was the defining moment in my life.

One discovery I made was that there was no need to leave your home in order to travel. Over the centuries, this strange breed The Author was eager to do your travelling for you. You could sit back in your armchair and enjoy the best bits whilst The Author got bitten by mosquitoes.

Apparently this odd breed of human being had existed for centuries. Unhappily, with no one to guide me, my reading followed no pattern. I took Herodotus home because I thought he was in some way connected with the Daily Herald and I had ambitions to get a job there. I could not have chosen a better guide to travelling in ancient Greece and Egypt. He wrote in vivid language and - in my translation by de Selincourt anyway - used the sort of short words which we used in every day conversation. He was a great traveller but, like most reporters, no one believed what he said. He described how the pyramids were built after interviewing Egyptian priests on the subject. For centuries scholars insisted his explanation was rubbish. Some years ago I interviewed the keeper of Egyptian antiquities at the British Museum. He told me that scholars were coming round to believing that Herodotus was telling the truth.

Never mind every dog has its day. In today's tabloids every day has its dog story. So with Herodotus. He knew his readers liked stories about lovable animals. So he told the story of a breed of sheep which was prized for its fat tails. Tails which were so fat and so heavy that the shepherd made little carts that the sheep dragged carrying their tails behind them.

Herodotus knew that a tabloid story must have sex, crime, royalty or scandal. In the story of building of the treasury for Pharaoh Ramphsinitus’s vast fortune, he managed to combine all four. Herodotus tells how the tradesman who built the treasury contrived a secret way in, which, on his death bed, he told his sons so that they could steal the Pharaoh's Hoard . He wrote:

“They came by night to the palace, found the stone in the treasury wall and took it out. The king on his next visit to the treasury was surprised to see that some of the vessels in which his treasure was stored were no longer full though the seals were not broken. He ordered traps to be set near the money jars. The next time the thieves came one of them made his way to the treasure chamber; but as soon as he approached the money jar he was after, the trap got him.

“Realising his plight, he at once called to his brother and begged him to come as quickly as he could and cut off his head. Less the recognition of his dead body should involve both of them in ruin.

The brother, seeing the sense of this request, acted upon it without delay. Then, having fitted the stone back into place, went home taking the severed head with him. Next morning the king visited the treasury, and what was his astonishment when he saw in the trap the headless body of the thief.

Much perplexed, he decided to have the thief’s body hung up outside the walls and a guard set with orders to arrest anybody they might see thereabouts in tears or showing signs of mourning.

“The thieves' mother was much distressed by this treatment of her dead son’s body and begged her other son to do all he could to think of some way of getting it back. At last he thought of a way out of the difficulty. He filled some skins with wine and loaded them on donkeys; which he drove past the guard. Arriving there, he undid the fastenings of three of the skins. The wine poured out and he roared and banged his fist. The soldiers, seeing the wine flow down the road. seized their pots and ran to catch it.

“Such a quantity of wine was too much for the guards. Very drunk and drowsy, they stretched themselves out at full length and fell asleep at the spot. It was now well after dark and the thief took down his brother’s body. Then he put the body on the donkey and returned home.

“The king was very angry when he learned the thief’s body had been stolen. And determined at any cost to catch the man who had been clever enough to bring off such a coup.

“I find it hard to believe, says Herodotus, the priests’ account of the means he employed but here it is:

“He sent his own daughter to a brothel with instructions to admit all comers. And to compel each applicant to tell her what the cleverest and wickedest thing was they had done; and if anyone told the story of the corpse she was to get hold of him, scream for the guards and not allow him to escape until they arrived.

“The girl obeyed her father’s orders and the thief, when he came to know what she was doing, could not resist the temptation to go one better than the king in ingenuity. He cut the hand and arm of the body of a man who had just died; and putting them under his cloak, went to visit the king’s daughter. When she asked him the question she had asked all others, he replied the wickedest deed he had done was to cut off his brother’s head when he was caught in a trap in the king’s treasury; and the cleverest was to make the guards drunk so that he could steal away his brother’s body.

The girl immediately clutched at him. But under cover of darkness the thief pushed towards her the hand of the corpse, which she seized and held tight in the belief it was his own. Then leaving it in her grasp, he made his escape through the door.......”

A very sporting Pharaoh as it turned out. He was so impressed he offered the thief not only a pardon, but the hand of his daughter.......I only hope it was HER hand.


"The Christmas Tree" by a much

neglected poet  C. Day Lewis

Put out the lights now

Look at the tree, the rough tree dazzled

In Oriole plumes of flame.

Tinselled with twinkling frost fire,tasselled

With stars and moons - the same

That yesterday hid in the spinney and had no fame

Till we put out the lights now

Hard are the nights now

The fields of moonrise turn to agate,

Shadows are cold as jet

In dyke and farrow, in copse and faggot

The frosts tooth is set;

And stars are the sparks whirled out by the north wind's


On the flinty nights now.

So feast your eyes now

On mimic star and moon-cold bauble

Worlds may wither unseen

But the Christmas tree is a tree of fable

A phoenix in evergreen.

And the world cannot change or chill what the mysteries


To your hearts and eyes now

The vision dies now

Candle by candle the tree that embraced it

Returns to its own kind

To be earthed again and weather as best it

May the frost and the wind.

Children it too had its hour - you will not mind

If it lives or dies now.

When the Sunday Times columnist Godfrey Smith asked his readers for their favourite poems and prose about Christmas, that poem came high on the list.


Getting Ready for Christmas, by Meg Harper

Aimed at Key Stage 2 children (seven- to 11-year-olds), this Nativity looks at the different characters' reactions to Mary's pregnancy. Promising "cross-curricular activities" the script allows children to explore the themes further in personal, social and health education, ensuring the play has some classroom relevance.

Topsy Turvy Christmas, by Lucy Moore

Another one for Key Stage 2 children, this introduces pupils to truanting and blue-sky thinking. Two angels are skiving off choir practice to watch television. Seeing events unfold on TV, the angels at first view God's plans for the birth of his child as crazy, until they realise that the first Christmas is, like, "so upside down it's the right way up!" Among the humour are songs in the style of rock'n'roll, rap and even calypso.

Jesus's Christmas Party, by Nicholas Allan

This Nativity, for any children from three up, takes on the tale of the innkeeper, who loves nothing more than a good 40 winks, but suffers a night of interruptions and lost sleep. He gets increasingly irate, but melts at the sight of the little baby. A musical version, by Roger Parsley, is available.

The Stars Come Out for Christmas, by Andrew Oxspring

This play is held in the style of a Hollywood – "Tinseltown" – awards ceremony, recognising the services of those who've made an "outstanding contribution" to Christmas. Nominees include Santa, Christmas cards and Christmas dinner. But who's the biggest star of them all? Why, Beth of course: the Star of Bethlehem.




Saturday, 20 December 2008


I can never set a foot on the calendular escalator that leads to Christmas without remembering my friend Curly Beard and the free Xmas tree.

Curly was a former champion show jumper for whom I used to ride work in the days when I could be carried by a single horse.  He spent much of his retirement drinking in the Sportsman, up on the Welsh border at Tattenhall.

I was in the bar there one day with Curly and my old man.

I said: "I will have to go after this. Going to buy a Christmas tree from the Delamere forest."

Curly said: "You don't have to buy one.  I'll get you one free.  But we will have to wait until dark."

So I said: "What will you have while we are waiting?"

Curly said he would have a large gin and my old man said, while I was ordering, would I call him up a large scotch?  By the time I had added mine, the free Christmas tree had cost me £4 (it was a long time ago).  By the time it was dark it had cost me another ten quid and we were in no state to go digging up Christmas trees.

We arranged to meet at opening time the next day.  We were just going to have one and then collect a free tree from a friend of Curly's.  We would have done, too, if the Wynnstay Hounds hadn't been meeting at the Cock at Barton.

In those days hunt followers of standing - or in our case barely standing - shared the stirrup cup, a potent mixture of port and brandy which reconciled people to falling off horses.  It tasted so good we stayed on after the hounds had moved off. Let's be honest, we were still on it, at my considerable expense, when the huntsman blew kennels somewhere over by Overton.

We kept meeting like that for about a week and I had lost count of how much the free tree had cost me in drinks.  But it was well over fifty quid, 70s’ prices.

To be fair, though, the next night we borrowed the landlord's spade and went off to dig up the tree.  I do not know how we managed to break the spade, which I later replaced at the cost of £11.50.

I know how I broke the tree.  I remember falling on it.  And even if I hadn't remembered, my wife of the time kept reminding me of it for years.

If you can avoid the Christmas disasters, have a very merry time.  Do not forget the wise words of The Tao by Lao Tsu:


“The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts and stuffing bellies, by wakening ambitions and strengthening bones.  If men lack knowledge and desire, then clever people will not try to interfere.  If nothing is done, then all will be well.”


Opening presents is the only part of Christmas that is as good as it was when you were a child.  But it is seldom that a Christmas gift changes one’s whole life.

 My chums Dr Philip and Patricia Brown (nee O’Callaghan and a formidable Express reporter) have given me such a gift.  I feel like Moliere’s Misanthrope who discovered to his delight that he had been talking prose all his life.


Would you believe, I am an epistemologist and always have been?

 The book in which I made this discovery is “The History of Britain Revealed” by M. J .Harper.  The discovery is Applied Epistemology, which posits, briefly, that everybody gets everything wrong.  That the cherished national myths of the Island of Britain are just that; that most of the entries in the Oxford English Dictionary are wrong; British place name history is misconceived; Latin is not what it seems; the Anglo-Saxons played no major part in our history or language; and Middle English is a wholly imaginary language created by academics.  Oh, and the epic “Beowulf” is a medieval forgery.

 I cannot remember a book I read with more pleasure and little whoops of agreement…………………………………..

The quieter the Christmas, the better I like it.  No one better expressed the warm companionship I feel at times like these than Victoria Sackville West:


         “Sometimes when night has thickened on the woods
          And we in the house's square security
          Read, speak a little, read again,
          Read life at second-hand, speak of small things
          Being content and withdrawn for a little hour
          From the dangers and fears that are either wholly absent
           Or wholly invading - sometimes a shot rings out.
         Sudden and sharp.  Complete, it has no sequel.
 .         No sequel for us, only the sudden crack
           Breaking a silence, followed by a silence.
           Too slight a thing for comment, slight and unusual.
           A shot in the dark, fired by a hand unseen
           At a life unknown, finding or missing the target.
           Bringing death? bringing hurt? teaching perhaps escape?
           Escape from a present threat, a threat recurrent,
           Or ending once and for all?  But we read on.
           Since the shot was not at our hearts, since the mark was not 
            Your heart or mine, not this time, companion.”

Friday, 12 December 2008




This is the time of the year for telling old stories by the fireside. This is my favourite………….


I keep going back in my mind to the Christmas when I was out of work and this pal of mine said: "Don’t suppose you’ll be having much of a Christmas?"


I said: "If I wanted a mince pie I would have to buy it on H.P.  We’ll be out on Xmas Day because it is warmer out than in the house.  I have promised the kids we’ll watch the Queen's Speech through the window of a TV shop.  Then we’re going to a park to mug robins for their breadcrumbs."


"Not having a bird on The Day then?"


"Not unless I can grab one of the robins as we steal its breadcrumbs."


He said: "Why don't you nip down to the market just before it closes on Xmas Eve?  They practically give birds away.  Then," he added, "come to the Press Party at the Continental Cinema."


So I did.  I picked up a chicken with my last fifty pence and went to the party.  Where I set up a record for drinking free scotch and eating vol-au-vent which was unbroken for many years.


Then this guest said: "Let's play rugby."  


Another guest said: "We haven't got a ball."


A third guest said: "Yes, we have," and grabbed the parcel of chicken from where it had been roosting under my arm.


Everyone but me applauded the skill with which the next guest, a rather showy chap, executed a back pass with my parcel between his legs.


I was less pleased than anyone when another guest followed through with a drop kick.  It was powerful, I will say that.  It sent the parcel soaring across the foyer, out into the street, over the heads of the passers-by, to drop, perfectly positioned, under the tyres of a passing bus.


They were all very apologetic.  The manager of the cinema particularly.  He said he hoped the parcel hadn't contained anything important.  I said, no, it was just a chicken I got for tea on Boxing Night.


For the rest of the party I was a bit thoughtful, though I did manage to clock up a further freeloader's record of 18 scotch and a round dozen vol-au-vents.


At the death the manager came up and gave me a parcel.  "I hope you will accept this replacement with our apologies," he said.


It was a twelve pound turkey.  Which would have been nice... but we didn't have an oven at the time, just a gas grill.  So we had to cook it a leg at a time.




Here's a funny thing.  We went by coach to Rochester for the Dickens’ Festival.  It is great fun.  There is a procession, led by a pipe band, of townspeople dressed as Dickens’ characters, special services in the Cathedral which was the setting for Edwin Drood, a carol concert in the grounds of the magical Norman castle and later a second procession by candle light lanterns of Dickens’ characters.  There was a Christmas market, mulled wine stalls in the streets and a fun fair.


I spent the journey reading some memoirs of the Restoration poet Lord Rochester written by his contemporaries and I came across this explanation of the Hobbesian influences which shaped his thought.

In the "The Leviathan” Hobbes wrote:

"The present only has a being in nature; things past have a being in memory only, but things to come have no being at all."

Rochester; wrote:

"All my past life is mine no more;

"The Flying Hours are Gone
"Like transitory dreams given o'er
"Whose images are kept in store
"By memory alone.
"Whatever is to come is not,
“How can it then be mine?"


Marcus Aurelius wrote of life being like a river.  The past has flowed by irretrievably; the future has yet to reach us; it is only the river at our feet which exists.  The Eternal Present is a Buddhist concept.

So that’s the Lord Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, Hobbes and Rochester agreeing we should live in the Present - which makes it pretty well unanimous.  I must say, it is a concept that has given me much content.






Pantomime horses are a much-loved staple of the genre.  But the star of a new production of the classic fairytale has been denied her horse-drawn carriage because council officials say the use of Shetland ponies breaches rules on health and safety and animal welfare.

The stars of a new production of Cinderella which opened at the Nottingham Theatre Royal on Friday night had hoped to be joined on stage by their regular team of ponies.  But officials in Nottingham have banned the use of live animals in premises they control and so Cinderella's coach had to be brought on stage by two male members of the cast wearing horses' heads.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

As I would have been saying had I not been rudely interrupted

I used to rent the mouth out for money in broadcasting, with a nice sideline in after dinner speaking.


My favourite gig was the occasional gathering of old friends of the Liverpool Press Club and I thought it would be nice, in view of recent events, if I bowed out from mouth-renting with a last speech at their luncheon this year.


Alas, though the spirit is willing, the flesh is getting weaker by the minute.  So I will deliver it here.


Ladies and Gentlemen


I had enjoyed three peaceful years on evening papers in Yorkshire.  Then I went to Liverpool to join the Daily Dispatch.  A week later a Daily Mirror reporter called Bill Marshall came back from his holidays and my life went into free fall.


I should have sensed there was something odd about him when he sold my passport for thirty quid.  Fair play, he gave me half, but it meant I couldn’t go abroad for years.


Then he became a Drug Baron.  We spent our thirty quid from the passport on what Marshall insisted was hashish.  When we got back to the Club with it, he spotted Bert Balmer and Jimmy Morris, two very senior detectives, at the bar.


He gave me the hash and said, “Go and ask them if it is genuine.”


I think, probably, I was too trusting.


So, anyway, there I was, in possession of thirty quidsworth of hashish, asking the Head of the CID and his deputy to identify a substance that should have been a one-way ticket to the Bridewell.


Bert looked very serious when he took it off me and buried his nose in it, sniffing audibly.


Then, very gravely, he passed it over to Jimmy Morris.  “What do you think?” he asked.  “Rhododendron or Azalea?”


“Oh, Azalea,” said Jimmy as he handed it back to me.  “But tell your mate Bill it will never grow.  He’ll need seed for that.  Not shredded leaves.”


Bill knew how poor I was.  I was getting fifteen quid a week and sending ten of it back to my family in Doncaster.  The fiver I had left paid for my digs.  But if I wanted to eat as well I had to play poker.


Fair play, he was always very worried about my poverty and constantly thought of ways of making us both rich.


Like the roulette game he set up in the Club.  I had taken a few quid off John Edwards, who was working – but not very often - at the Daily Post at the time.

Marshall allowed me to put most of my winnings in the bank.  He even left me enough to buy a black shirt and a white tie.  Because he said the croupier had to look the part.

Did I mention that he decided I was to be the croupier?


I realised why when at the first spin of the wheel we lost £75.  Most of it to Les Clare who was not famous for benignity.  Which is probably why we couldn’t find Marshall anywhere.


I don’t think I will ever forgive him for shaving off half Jackie Yeadon’s beard whilst he slept in the bar, then making me help to lift him onto the parapet outside the big windows and shout to the shopping crowds below in Lime St: “Roll up an d see the dwarf with half a beard.”


Jackie was tiny but he could look after himself.  He got extra meat during the war by telling the butcher he was the captain of a midget submarine.


Mind you, there were pluses to my friendship with Bill.  If I hadn’t met him I would never have got pissed with Hoagy Carmichael.


I was sleeping on the files in the office at the time having run out of digs money.  This one morning the phone rang.  It was Marshall.


He said: “Hoagy Carmichael is staying at the Adelphi.  We must go and pay him homage.”


Carmichael couldn’t have been nicer.  He invited us into his suite and plied us with scotch.  Marshall wanted him to play “Stardust” for us.  Hoagy said he hated the tune but he would be happy to play anything else.  So he did.


We were just having this personal concert when Marshall spoiled the mood by yelping.  He had just remembered he should have been in court across the way in St. George’s Hall.


Nobody did disaster better than Marshall.  It certainly worried Carmichael.  “Is there anything I can do?” he wanted to know.


That was something you never said to Marshall because what happened afterwards was always bad.


“Well Hoagy,“ he said, “there is something but you may not be too keen.”


“Try me,” said Hoagy.  Very foolishly, in my view.


“My news editor Rolly Watkins is a great fan of yours.  If I were to ring him up, we could put the phone over the keyboard and you could play a few bars of Stardust and say ‘Hello Rolly, I have your man Marshall with me and I want him to interview me.”


Good as gold, Hoagy played the few bars and spoke into the receiver as ordered.  There was a pause.  And then a very cross Hoagy barked:


“No, this is not Bill Marshall and I am not taking the piss.  Nor am I pissed as you dare to suggest…………..”


He did his show at the Royal Court that night and afterwards came over the Press Club where he played for another hour before he stopped.


By this time Marshall was in charge.  “Play, Hoagy,” he demanded.


“Bill, I get a thousand pounds for a concert.  I think I have done enough.”


“Oh,” said Marshall, “money is your god, is it?”


And before my horrified gaze he wrote a cheque for a thousand pounds which he threw at Carmichael.


I was back sleeping on the files the next morning when the phone rang and Marshall asked, “Did I write any cheques last night?”


“Only one for a thousand pounds,“ I told him, and rejoiced in the strangled scream.


He insisted we get the cheque back but Hoagy wasn’t playing.  “I’m sorry, Bill,” he said, “I cashed it first thing this morning.”


He let Marshall squirm a bit and then admitted he still had it.


”But you cannot have it back,” he said.  “I am going to get it framed and hang it in my study to remind me of the best night out I have had this year.”


My favourite memory of Liverpool concerns the minesweeper the Admiralty forgot.  It seemed to be welded to the dock wall.  The crew had honorary membership of the Press Club and we enjoyed membership of the Ward Room.


I was there one day when a messenger came on board from the office.  He said: “Mr Wigglesworth says not to hurry with your copy.  The paper has been bought by the Mirror and closed down.”


I must have paled because the skipper asked, “Bad news from home?” in the In-Which-We-Serve voice used by naval officers.


“My paper has closed down,” I said.


“Is this the first you’ve heard?”




“If their Lordships of the Admiralty had taken a ship of mine out of commission in such an ill mannered way I would send them a pretty snotty signal.”


“And if I knew Lord Kemsley’s telephone number I would give him a piece of my mind,” I retorted.

At this point Hugh Medlicott from the Mail (Harry Slime or the Turd Man, as he was known to Les Clare) broke in.  “It’s Mayfair 1111,” he said.


“If I was near a telephone……………………………”


“Use our ship to shore,” the skipper offered.


Several large gins later I plucked up the courage, rang the number and, thank God, a footman told me his Lordship was out but he would be glad take a message.


Brave now, I gave him a very abusive message indeed.  When I finished the skipper begged to be allowed to come on the phone.


“And that goes for Her Majesty’s Royal Navy,” he told the footman.


The footman seemed very pleased.


Predictably, Wiggie, who was the news editor of the Daily Dispatch and a man with favourites, had left me off the list of those joining the Mirror.  The Editorial Director Hugh Cudlipp heard the story and insisted I should be employed.





Many thanks for the good wishes.  My old friend Dr Barry Morgan, the Archbishop of Wales; the Chamberlain of York Minister; a priest, four nuns, an ex-nun and Alistair McQueen have all had a word for me upstairs.  Indeed the priest, Brian Jones, celebrated a Mass for me.


In view of this, Ladbrokes has extended the odds on the sting in my tail.  As a thank you may I offer this:


By J.S.Haldane


I wish I had the voice of Homer

To sing of rectal carcinoma,

Which kills a lot more chaps, in fact,

Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked.

Yet, thanks to modern surgeons' skills,

It can be killed before it kills

Upon a scientific basis

In nineteen out of twenty cases.

I noticed I was passing blood

(Only a few drops, not a flood).

So pausing on my homeward way

  From Tallahassee to Bombay

I asked a doctor, now my friend,

To peer into my hinder end,

To prove or disprove the rumour

That I had a malignant tumour.

They pumped in BaSO4

Till I could really stand no more,

And, when sufficient had been pressed in,

They photographed my large intestine.

In order to decide the issue

They next scraped out some bits of tissue.

(Before they did so, some good pal

Had knocked me out with pentothal,

Whose action is extremely quick,

And does not leave me feeling sick.)

The microscope returned the answer

That I had certainly got cancer.

So I was wheeled into the theatre

Where holes were made to make me better.

One set is in my perineum

Where I can feel, but can't yet see 'em.

Another made me like a kipper

Or female prey of Jack the Ripper.

Through this incision, I don't doubt,

The neoplasm was taken out,

Along with colon, and lymph nodes

Where cancer cells might find abodes.

A third much smaller hole is meant

To function as a ventral vent:

So now I am like two-faced Janus

The only* god who sees his anus.

(*In India there are several more

  With extra faces, up to four,

  But both in Brahma and in Shiva

  I own myself an unbeliever.)

I'll swear, without the risk of perjury,

It was a snappy bit of surgery.

My rectum is a serious loss to me,

But I've a very neat colostomy,

And hope, as soon as I am able,

To make it keep a fixed time-table.

So do not wait for aches and pains

To have a surgeon mend your drains;

If he says 'cancer' you're a dunce

Unless you have it out at once,

For if you wait it's sure to swell,

And may have progeny as well.

My final word, before I'm done,

Is 'Cancer can be rather fun.'

Thanks to the nurses and Nye Bevan

The NHS is quite like heaven

Provided one confronts the tumour

With a sufficient sense of humour.

I know that cancer often kills,

But so do cars and sleeping pills;

And it can hurt one till one sweats,

So can bad teeth and unpaid debts.

A spot of laughter, I am sure,

Often accelerates one's cure;

So let us patients do our bit

To help the surgeons make us fit.

                        - J.B.S. Haldane





In Lancashire community policemen are quelling drunks by giving them soap bubble pipes………………….


Faced with a recession which is the result of living in debt we have a Government who proposes to cure it by getting further into debt.


And to whom?  China, that is whom.  America already owes China a trillion dollars or so and we are in to the Tiddlywinks up to the hocks.  They won’t have to declare war on us: they will just call in the debt.


They wouldn’t do it?  America loaned us millions during the war and no sooner was it over than they asked for it back and brought down an Empire…………………………………………


Tony Blair assembled a panel of experts to assess the purpose and profitability of hosting the Olympic Games.  After a year’s intensive research the experts decided there was no profit or purpose except as a national feel good party.  Naturally the Government ignored the findings and grabbed the games with money they had not got.  They boasted this month that one of the “stadiums” was complete ahead of target date. Stadium?  It was the sea on which the dinghies will race.


My newsagent has not cleared the path in front of her shop this year.  She usually puts salt down to clear the snow.  But Insurance Companies have ruled that if she does, and a customer slips, she is liable.  If the customer slips on uncleared snow it is his own fault.


The American army is developing robot soldiers.  When they fight a robot enemy, how will they know who has won?


Oh Dean Swift, thou shouldst be living at this hour.




The Australian Navy has been given Xmas off.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Another Nelson..............................




Captain Timothy Edwards (or to give him his nickname in Nelson’s Navy “Old Hammer and Nails“) was the squire of Nanhoron on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales and a hero in the Nelson mould.He was every bit as dashing as was shown in his biography “Hammer and Nails” by David Beaumont Ellison.

Ellison was a friend of mine, a naval historian and former schoolmaster who took a retirement job as a supermarket shelf stacker.  Nothing was known of Captain Edwards until Ellison was asked to identify Edwards’ mourning locket, bought at an auction in Fife.  Fortunately an aunt had left him £20,000 so he was able to devote himself to his search.  By a fluke, he found a volume of historical memoirs in Cambridge Public Library which mentioned Edwards and his Nanhoron home.  He wrote to the house and got a letter back from Bettina, the wife of David Harden, who is one of Edwards’ descendants and also friends of mine.  They invited him to Nanhoron and one of the best books on naval history I know was the result.

In 1745, at the age of 14, Edwards signed on the frigate “Chesterfield“ as captain’s servant.  Eventually he himself became a captain and after a brilliant career died at sea on his way home from the American War of Independence.


He was a midshipman on the sloop “Sphinx”, the flagship of fifteen transports, taking 2,576 passengers, plus horses, cows, sheep and goats, to found a new settlement in Nova Scotia, which in time became the city of Halifax.  After the mandatory six years’ sea-going service, he applied for his commission and in 1775 was posted to the newly refitted 1,689-ton, line-of-battle second rater “Ramillies” as 6th Lieutenant.  Fortunately, because of his knowledge of the waters round Nova Scotia, he was transferred to the 75-gun “Terrible”, which was about to sail for that region.

The “Ramillies” would have been a bad career move.  She was commanded by Admiral Byng, who, aboard her, lost Minorca to the French, was court martialled and shot.


The Captain of the “Terrible”, John Lockhart, was more successful.  He was known as “Lucky” to his men because of the number of ‘prizes’ (enemy ships) he captured.  His total was 14 ships and Edwards’ share in the prize money was £813, the equivalent of ten years’ pay.


Edwards was promoted to captain and sent on spying missions off Toulon.  The many sea fights he fought brought him a fortune in prize money. 

He “swallowed the anchor” to develop his Llyn estate, Nanhoron, still today much the same as when he laid it out.  He was helped by his wife Margaret with whom he exchanged tender love poems. 

He re-mustered when the American War of Independence broke out, joined Rodney’s fleet and fought a great battle off Martinique which is excitingly described in this book.  He died of fever on his journey home, rich with prizes and honours. 

Unknowing, Margaret, his wife, went to Southampton to meet him.  By the custom of the day she did not to take money for her return, relying on her husband for that.  Not only did she learn she was a widow; she was stranded near penniless in Southampton.  The church refused to lend her the return fare but an unknown Independent minister did.




When the doctor called this week and told me I had cancer I thought of a column Damon Runyon wrote when his diagnosis ws made.

It began “ Why me ?”

And ended “ Why not?”

Perversely it has given me a new lease of life., I have been terminally bored since we left Wales. Now I have something to fight and I love a good battle. I have beaten alcoholism and diabetes. You couldn’t put the odds on paper for the Treble

I also remembered that in 1820, the English writer and wit the Rev. Sydney Smith wrote a letter to an unhappy friend, Lady Morpeth, in which he offered her tips for cheering up.  His suggestions are as sound now as they were almost 200 years ago.

“1st. Live as well as you dare.
2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75 or 80 degrees.
3rd. Amusing books.
4th. Short views of human life - not further than dinner or tea.
5th. Be as busy as you can.
6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.
7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
8th. Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely - they are always worse for dignified concealment.
9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.
10th. Compare your lot with that of other people.
11th. Don’t expect too much from human life - a sorry business at the best.
12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence.
13th. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree.
14th Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
15th. Make the room where you commonly sit gay and pleasant.
16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness.
17th. Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
18th. Keep good blazing fires.

 Another comforting contribution from an old friend and Master Blogger Geoff Mather:


Life begins at 80 by Frank Laubach

" I have good news for you. The first 80 years are the hardest. The
second 80 are a succession of birthday parties. Once you reach 80
everyone wants to carry your baggage and help you up the steps. If you
forget your name or anyone else's name, or an appointment, or your own
telephone number, or promise to be in three places at the same time,
or can't remember how many grandchildren you have, you need only
explain that you are 80.

            Being 80 is a lot better than being 70. At 70, people are
mad at you for everything. At 80, you have a perfect excuse, no matter
what you do. If you act foolishly, it's your second childhood.
Everyone is looking for symptoms of softening of the brain.

            Being 70 is no fun at all. At that age, they expect you to
retire to a house in the country and complain about your arthritis, and
you ask everybody to stop mumbling, because you can't understand them
(actually your hearing is about 50% gone).

            If you survive until you are 80, everybody is surprised
that you are still alive. They treat you with respect for just having
lived so long. Actually they seem surprised that you can walk and talk
sensibly. So, please folks, try to make it to 80. It's the best time
of life. People forgive you for anything.


Hipkin my gardener was in a bit of a hurry this morning. He has to buy an advent calendar for his dog.

Hipkin’s dog is one of the wonders of Fenland. He has four pieces of dog’s chocolate for tea and likes nothing better than sausages for breakfast.

Hipkin says “ Owd dog be fewrrus if’n I fergit the calendar.

“Every morning he sits in front of it and barks, till we oopen the little door.”

He also goes on holiday every year to Skegness and can count.

Hipkin is a constant source of wonder to me and I love him dearly. I am going out now to buy one for Taz