Saturday, 19 December 2009


I can never set a foot on the calendular escalator that leads to
Christmas without remembering my friend Curly Beard and the
free Christmas 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 Cheshire/ 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 Clocaenog 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, my 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, '60s 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.

From “Forgive Us Our Press Passes.” Revel Barker Publishing.
Available at Waterstones and the Book Depository (free delivery, worldwide), and at Barnes & Noble and Amazon in the USA. Or on order from any decent bookshop.

Talking of books, one of the best I have read these many months comes from the pen of Geoffrey Seed, a former reporter and producer of World in Action and Panorama. To call it a thriller is to diminish it. It is a finely written novel and I look forward to his next one. It, too, is published by Revel Barker. For once I agree with a publisher. Barker told me: “He has emerged as a gifted novelist and in the book he switches -- without your really noticing -- from a William Boot sort of countryman, describing the birds and the trees in the woods around his godparents' house, to a crime man covering mysterious deaths. It has a good kick-start, then the narrative begins with a few cleverly stitched flashbacks... and all (or most of it) is based on fact that he couldn't stand up quite well enough to publish as news or documentary. Good stuff.”

A Place of Strangers

A TV journalist is invited to his ageing step family’s beautiful but decaying country house for one last Christmas. Beyond the gates, terrorist bombs and industrial unrest threaten the government of Margaret Thatcher. This political chaos mirrors the unravelling lives of those within - a retired British diplomat and his once glamorous wife, each burdened by past sins, suppressed guilt and approaching death. Their stepson’s idealised picture of them is revealed as a sham. He uncovers a tantalising Russian doll of a story, secrets locked in secrets in a conspiracy of murder and revenge across Europe and North America, all rooted in history’s greatest crime – the Holocaust.  
Also available at Waterstones and the Book Depository (free delivery, worldwide), and at Barnes & Noble and Amazon in the USA.
Or on order from any decent bookshop.
ISBN: 978-0956368614


From Revel Barker:

“As for the movie clip of the Angolan scaffolder...,” he began, but left the sentence hanging in the air.
To get round the Jesus blasphemy, how about:
“I don't understand why people who say they love me wear a crucifix around their necks,” said Jesus crossly.
---- -----
From Geoff Mather:

“It must be swine fever,” the doctor grunted.

“Nice piece on sausages,” he said, as we reached a fork in the road.

(and if you get this twice, it's the driver's fault)
Alas, all disqualified because they did not use the correct form: - “SAID TOM......”


“Heliogobalus whose favourite dishes are said to have been the tongues of nightingales and peacocks, or Sept.Geta, who, according to Jul Capitolanus, was so curious, so whimsical, as to order the dishes at his dinners to consist of things which all began with the same letters.

“Sardanapulus, again as we have it in Athenaeus, gave a premium to anyone that invented and served him with novel cate; and Sergia Orata built a house at the entrance of the Lucrine Lake purposely for the pleasure and convenience of eating oysters perfectly fresh”

from “The Forme of Cury”

NEW YORK TIMES: Judges and lawyers in Florida can no longer be Facebook friends.
In a recent opinion, the state’s Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee decided it was time to set limits on judicial behavior online. When judges “friend” lawyers who may appear before them, the committee said, it creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, since it “reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer ‘friends’ are in a special position to influence the judge.”


From the Desk of Ed Rawlinson:

This morning I listened to a clip on the wireless of the Band and Bugles of The Rifles playing "Love Farewell". Although only a clip, it sounded a magnificent lament sung by folk singer John Tams. The song was originally written for servicemen going to war against Napoleon and the money raised from this recording will go to the Help for Heroes charity for those affected by the present war in Afghanistan.

Editor notes: you can download for £1 or buy the CD for £4 from Help the Heroes website.