Friday, 28 December 2012


The adjutant at my new posting in Germany scratched his head when he read the charge sheet.
“I am a very bewildered officer,” he admitted. “You don’t look violent.”
I could see his point. Wearing ammunition boots, which have thick soles, I am still only 5ft 7 ins tall and in the kilt I look like a chubby reading lamp.
Yet according to the charge sheet I had assaulted six military policemen in the town square in Thetford causing actual bodily harm.
I explained I was just a bystander whilst the square heaved with angry Glaswegians hitting everything in sight including a pillar box mistaken for a red capped military policeman.
“Given the choice,” I said, “who would you arrest?”
He quite saw my point but said his hands were tied. It was a court martial offence. But he advised me not to make a fuss and plead guilty.
“They will see that it’s a trumped up charge and admonish you,” he told me.
I can honestly say that is the last time in the sixty-three years that followed I have taken any notice of good advice.
The court martial board didn’t see there was anything amiss. They awarded me 56 days in No. 3 Military Corrective Establishment in Bielefeld and there I was with a “Staff”, as the warders were known, looking up my backside for smuggled cigarettes.
The 56 days passed pleasantly enough and then I was back in Bad Oenhausen, making for the railway station intending to desert. It being plain the army and I were not made for each other. And that was the second time I heard the Voice From God. This time it was even louder. It came from a Scots Guards Garrison RSM “Jock” Graham who glittered fifty yards away at the end of the street.
Because of the army habit of speaking without spaces between the words I had no idea what he was saying but he did not give the impression he thought I was an asset to the Highland Division. I did catch his offer to rip the red hackle out of my tam-o’-shanter, stick it up my arse and make me hop up and down like a bloody rooster. And I fled through the first door I came to.
And that is how I became a newspaper reporter. The office I found myself in was the HQ of Army Public Relations and when a very amiable company sergeant major asked me what I wanted I said: “A job.”
“Have you any experience of newspapers?”
As it happened, I had. In civilian life I was an apprentice compositor on the Evening Chronicle. I started to explain but I got no further than “Evening Chronicle...” before he jumped up and grabbed my hand.
“A real reporter!  Kenneth will be delighted. Come and meet him…”
Kenneth proved to be the commanding officer. I had moved into another world where officers were called by their first name. Tobe fair Kenneth was no warrior.He had the air of one,no stranger to cosmetics. I later learned he had transferred to a cavalry regiment because they wore black berets which brought out the blue of his eyes
It only took two sentences to welcome me into the unit and then he said: “Just cut along to the QM stores and draw your three stripes. Then Paddy will take you to the sergeants’ mess…”
“A sergeant?” I said, and he got quite huffy.
“You cannot expect to be an officer straight away.”
There were revolving doors at the entrance to the sergeants’ mess but they didn’t revolve half as quickly as the Garrison RSM standing at the bar downing his dram.
Before I could speak, Paddy introduced me.
“SERGEANT Skidmore???” blustered Graham. “SERGEANT Skidmore? It took me three years to make lance corporal.”
After a pleasant luncheon Kenneth gave me my first job. It was the biggest story I have covered from that day to this.
It was the Berlin Airlift.

 Evan Morgan's  story is told in a book that is as good as any to swap for gift vouchers: " Aspects of Evan: The Last Viscount Tredegar " is by Monty Dart and William Cross. It’s a sometimes bewildering scrapbook but, like a rich plum pudding, filled with gold nuggets.
He had a pet parrot that bit both Goering and H.G. Wells. Tredegar shocked his way through Eton, Oxford, Rome, North Africa, Bali, Canada and America. The Bright Young Things of London’s CafĂ© Royal Society toasted him in aphorisms. Ogling dowagers indulged him whilst his straight-laced huntin, shootin a’ fishin family, with Royal vestiges, was shaken by his escapades. In the Great War he dodged rat-infested trenches on account of a weak chest. Claiming he was renouncing pleasure and his birthright, he turned to mysticism and Roman Catholicism, studying at Beda College, Rome, whilst acting as a Papal Chamberlain at the Vatican. 
Evan attracted iconic women and saw off two wives. He transformed the austere family pile of Tredegar House in South Wales for rave weekend parties and black magic rituals. Effeminate footmen in powdered wigs received houseguests from Hollywood stars to the Satanist Aleister Crowley.  
Cross has a fine sense of timing. His last book, a biography of Almira, the Countess of Caernarvon, came out when “Downton” was creating TV audience records. The story of the Hon. Evan, an extremely well-connected toff and a tart, has irresistible echoes of Savile.
This controversial book unravels Evan’s chequered life and tells of his amusing court martial in 1943 for offences against pigeons. Evan was in charge of MI 14, the loft of carrier pigeons dropped by parachute into war-torn Europe. His offence was to compromise the birds’ security by showing visiting girl guides the canisters which were attached to their legs in a room hung with maps of pigeon droppings on Occupied Europe. The book contains a verbatim note of the proceedings which is the funniest prose I have read this year. When Evan finally snuffed it in 1949 it was in disgrace. Naturally his terrified (mostly royal) cousins ensured a massive cover up (indeed along lines as wicked and seedy as Savile and Mountbatten.) 
His degenerate life can be measured by the number of posthumous love claims the Tredegar Estate received from those bedded by him. He had the last laugh on all, including the monks of Buckfast Abbey whom he persuaded to give him burial space in their private chapel. He endeared himself to fellow Welshman Lloyd George, who adored Evan’s rakishness, by pretending to admire his mistress, later wife, Frances Stevenson, and so secured a job at No. 10. He rocked more boats than a tsunami: he could never be discreet or silent, or, alas, happy. Aspects of Evan is just a start at unravelling the sad but depraved life of the incomparable Evan. William Cross now plans a follow- up volume next year entitled Not Behind Lace Curtains.
Things are much different now, though one could wish for more literate policemen.
The recent row between the police diplomatic (?) corps and government minister Mitchell establishes a new law of language in which the ultimate obscenity is acceptable whereas to call a man a ‘pleb’ is beyond forgiveness.
Personally I am proud to be a plebeian.
(Latin, plebs) Member of the general citizenry, as opposed to the Patrician, in the ancient Roman Republic. Plebeians were originally excluded from the Senate and from all public offices except military Tribune and they were forbidden to marry patricians. Seeking to acquire equal rights, they carried on a campaign called Conflict of the Orders, developing a separate political organization and seceding in protest from the state at least five times. The campaign ceased when a plebeian dictator (appointed 287 BC) made measures passed in the plebeian assembly binding on the whole community.

Englishman Alun Morgan woke up after suffering a severe stroke speaking fluent Welsh despite having never been to the country for 70 years. That is more than many natural Welsh speakers can claim. The Welsh taught in schools and spoken on Radio Cymru bears little resemblance to the language spoken on the hearth. By law, brochures are printed in both English and Welsh. I wrote a story about a Citizens Advice Bureau in predominantly Welsh-speaking Bangor where the English version of a brochure had to be constantly replaced whereas the official Welsh version, which hardly anyone could understand, remained stubbornly on the shelf. My old pal the Moelfre (Anglesey) lifeboat cox was reproved on Radio Cymru for using the ‘wrong Welsh word’ during an interview. Welsh was Dick Evans’ first language.

Saturday, 22 December 2012


Field Marshall Montgomery will have his own memories, but for me the most significant moment of the war came during the bacchanalia which suffused the population on V.E. Day. Mrs Kitty Williams, the wayward wife of our religious neighbour, had her way with me behind our garden shed. The celebrations which followed our atomising of the Japanese were marked in a similar way with my Sunday school teacher. I began to regret there were not more enemies to defeat.

These momentous days began innocently enough when our parents brought tables and chairs into the street and the children worked their way through mountains of Shippon’s Fish Paste sandwiches, strawberry jam butties,  fairy cakes and vast troughs of jelly on which armadas of cake boats with paper sails sailed tranquilly. In the evenings it was the turn of our parents to celebrate with dances under waxed lanterns and Glenn Miller on the gramophones. It was then that Kitty struck. God Bless Her.

Disappointingly, the army seemed less anxious to secure my services. It was 1947 before they summoned me to their colours - and spent the next two years regretting it. I was designated an O. R 1 (officer material) before they really knew me, and less than a year after achieving that proud moment I was undergoing a humiliating physical search for cigarettes, in a place I would not have dreamed of hiding them, as preparation for 56 days in a military prison.

The trouble started within 48 hours of my enlistment when I was designated to take a party of fellow recruits to Chester, 20 miles away, to be fitted with spectacles at Saighton Camp. We had a jolly journey down and we were laughing and joking when we climbed off the bus, but all soon went silent. What I took to be the Voice of God roared “WHO IS IN CHARGE OF THIS F……SHOWER?”

It wasn’t God. It was a huge sergeant whose polished cap brim had been readjusted to flatten his nose and who shone from badge to boots. I would have preferred God.

In the army sergeants manage to make all their words run into one another: “YOUORRIBLELITTLEMANGETTHEMFELLINANDMARCHINASOLDIERLYMANNER!”
He was not very impressed with my attempts. His own were much more impressive. Shivering with fear, it seemed to take less than a minute to reach the Optical block. I was so shaken that when we returned to the railway station I discovered that I had left the travel warrants back at the camp. With my new found authority I ordered several of my men to go back and bring them. Alas, they had picked up the one word indispensable in the army: “F… If you want the f…….travel warrants, you go and get the f……. things.”

So I did. Unfortunately when I returned to the station they had all gone home and I returned to camp alone, carrying 24 travel warrants.The Orderly Officer was obviously impressed. “ F…..  me,” he invited. “You have lost 26 men? We didn’t  f…....  lose that many on D-Day.”

It soon became obvious that the army and I marched to a different tune. We O.R. Ones were given aptitude tests. The most taxing was to assemble a domestic light fitting. I had a picture of preparing to charge a mythical enemy when my C.O told me: “There are Hun cavalry to the right of you, on the left a battalion of Japanese spinners, and ahead a squadron of Prussian artillery. God knows what you can do." “Leave it to me,sir,” I reply. “I will assemble a domestic light fitting.”

What with the prison sentence,  three courts martial  and various little escapades, it was nearly two years before I joined my regiment. The commanding officer carried a Cromach, a long walking stick with a hook on the end, of the kind shepherds used. Try as I might I could not think of any way you could win a war with a flock of sheep, hurling domestic light fittings at a baffled enemy.


At last an addition to the sadly small list of competent BBC interviewers.

Olivia O’Leary is unobtrusive, thoughtful in her choice of questions. Her voice has warmth which envelops both  the audience and the interviewee. Her questions are brief and always to the point and she manages to sound as though she wants to know what the answer will be and is not just waiting for a slice of silence which she cannot wait to gobble up. And she NEVER says “what you are saying is this…” All things considered, I am amazed she got the job.

Many interviews remind me of the time my bookmaker Willy Birchall rang an optical firm for a progress report on the binoculars he had sent for repair. He announced himself “Willy Birchall from Chester” and the girl on the other end said: “Is that a suburb of Manchester?” Proud Cestrian that he was, Willy asked her through gritted teeth if he could speak to a man and he told him: “I have just been talking to your beautiful receptionist.” “How do you know she is beautiful?” the man asked. “There is no other way she could have got the job,” said Willy.


The most innovative TV producer I met in thirty years as a broadcaster was called Jess Yates. He devised shows that attracted multi-million viewers like “Come Dancing” and launched “Miss World",  but "Stars on Sunday", the ITV show he wrote, produced and presented, was his major contribution to TV. It was watched in its two-year run by 3,500 million viewers. It was the ultimate “God spot” and inspired a series of imitations, among them Harry Secombe’s “Highway” and “Songs of Praise”. It is the only religious programme that had more viewers than “Top of the Pops” and it received fan mail of 2,000 letters a week. 

The Pope agreed to appear on the programme and gave it his blessing. ITV boasted in its glossy brochure:
“Stars On Sunday has succeeded in fulfilling its aims. And more! Today, it attracts a regular viewing audience of 15,000,000, which on occasions has reached 17,000,000, and it never falls far short of the 10,000,000 mark, even in the summer months. In January 1972, when it completed its centenary programme, it celebrated the event by becoming the first ever religious programme to enter the television viewing charts. And during its first year in 1969, over 250,000 requests were received. That figure has well and truly exceeded the 500,000 mark today.

“But probably the strongest testimonial for Stars On Sunday is the list of stars and distinguished people who have appeared on the programme. It includes the Archbishops of York and Canterbury, the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson, Dame Anna Neagle, Raymond Burr, James Mason, Raymond Massey, Gerald Harper and Bill Simpson - who have all been featured regularly reading extracts from the Bible. Miss Gracie Fields, Miss Violet Carson, Anita Harris, Moira Anderson, Eartha Kitt, Shirley Bassey, Nina, the Beverley Sisters, Sandie Shaw, Harry Secombe, Cliff Richard, Lovelace Watkins, Norman Wisdom, Roy Orbison, Bobby Bennett, Howard Keel and the Poole Family, are just a few of the star names who have graced the programme and added their own interpretations to many well-loved songs.

“Yorkshire Television’s Stars On Sunday has now carved a unique place for itself in television history.”

The show's line-up of stars and the way they returned week after week was impressive. Even more
 impressive was the fact that none of them was paid more than £40, the union minimum for a day’s work of several recordings. No show cost more than £1,000 to produce. The elaborate sets - a palace, a ruined abbey and a country house library - were all borrowed.

Yates’s secret was that he had noted the way tape inserts were used in news bulletins. For “Stars” he taped eight songs or religious readings by every star that appeared, using songs from their repertoire which did not need rehearsal. Then he scattered the tapes through a season of programmes.

Perversely, the Independent Television Authority and its successor the Independent Broadcasting Authority, the controlling bodies of commercial TV, hated the show and loathed its presenter. Although it had no right under the Television Act to interfere with the content of shows, it re-wrote his scripts and finally used a savage newspaper campaign, based on half truths and inspired by a fading TV star Hughie Green, to wreck the show and destroy Yates. 

The News of the World missed a bigger story. Green had an affair with Yates’s wife a year after they were married and fathered her daughter Paula Yates, the wild child who married Bob Geldorf. In a torrent of spite from beyond the grave he boasted of cuckolding his one time friend. Think of him when you watch the rubbish the TV companies rehash over Christmas.

Good Heavens, is it that time already? I am off to watch "It’s a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol". Such a pity "Henry V" (the Olivier one) is worn out. I watched that film so often I qualified for the Agincourt Cross and was mentioned in despatches for climbing the Town Walls at Harfleur.

Do your best to enjoy Christmas, despite the fact that the next time we meet it will be Year 13. Those Mayans. They never got anything right.

Friday, 14 December 2012


We grew up to the sound of enemy bombers.You could always tell the "Jerries" by the way their engines seemed to function in bursts. Odd myths grew. People said you never heard the bomb that hit you, though I used to wonder how they knew because few people were still available for a chat after a bomb hit them. Later we learned to dread hearing the engines of the flying bombs which cut out when they were over their targets, but incendiary bombs never worried us. Flying bombs caused more casualties in my regiment when we occupied Germany and mounted guard on the sites. Two soldiers went blind after drinking the fuel.

My father was in our village police station when two excited children ran in to say there was an incendiary bomb stuck in a tree in the churchyard next door.. The only bombs that worried my father were the landmines, large canisters packed with explosives which were dropped by parachute. Which is what met his eyes when he went to inspect the “incendiary” bomb, swinging like a clock pendulum from the lower branches of a graveyard oak.

My father’s war was brought to his armchair by the British Broadcasting Service. He was addicted to “Auntie”, as the BBC has come to be known, a measure of the way we felt about radio. He listened until midnight when the National Anthem was played. Then, drunk or sober, he stood to attention until the last notes of "God Save the King” died on the air when he switched to the shortwave band to listen to the trawlermen in the North Sea swearing at each other over the ether. It was the novelty. Swearing was something one never heard on the BBC. Now one hears little else and it still shocks me because the BBC held a special place in my childhood. Years later the moment I stepped before a microphone I felt at home. I was in my element. Broadcasting, I found, added an extra dimension to writing. I do not remember ever feeling nervous of a microphone in the way I did every time I was sent out to write a story. I owe that to a peerless broadcaster, Wynford Vaughan Thomas.

He was a war correspondent I had listened to with awe as he broadcast from a bomber over Berlin with anti-aircraft shells bursting all round him, or as he landed with the first wave of troops on D Day. He was later to boast that he led the battle to free the vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux. “It's not nerves,” he told me before my first broadcast. "It is your mind summoning your body into action.”

Another friend in those early broadcasting days was Roger Worsley whose father wrote and produced a programme called “ITMA” (It’s That Man Again). It was credited with winning the war. We thought it was the funniest thing in creation and my father even hurried home from the pub to hear it. It was loosely based on a series of characters talking to the star, Tommy Handley. There was Mrs Mop, the cleaner, Colonel Chinstrap, the drunk, and Mr Funf, the spy whose “funny” voice was made by an actor speaking into a glass, a trick schoolboys used, and when his father heard Roger doing it he incorporated it in the show.The programme was recorded weekly in garrison theatres, RAF hangars and Navy mess halls. I listened to a recording this week which came from a ship. Introducing the star, the announcer said: “It’s a funny thing. Every time we visit the Navy he is all at sea.” And Tommy said: “Well, tickle my toe with an anchor” to roars of laughter and tumultuous applause.

During the war the BBC moved its Light Entertainment Unit to Bangor, a seaside town in North Wales
where the only entertainment was a one-legged diver who would dive off the pier to retrieve coins thrown in by holiday makers. Inevitably he appeared on the show as “Dick the Diver” whose roof-lifting catchphrase was “Going down now, sir.”

The invasion of Bangor by arty, colourful ladies of both sexes came as a shock to the chapel-going population. Describing producers of the day, one broadcaster Gilbert Harding said: “They tend to wear corduroys and beards…and the men aren’t much different either.”

One housewife told about her lodger, a man whose kindness had overwhelmed her: “Do you know, Mrs Jones, every Saturday he goes down to the port and finds a lonely sailor. He treats him to a fish supper, then he brings him home and takes him upstairs to let him sleep in his bed. There’s kind for you.”

She was deeply shocked when Mrs Jones told her what the kind lodger was doing. She told the BBC man that she was a bit worried about having strange men coming in the house and would he not do it any more. The next night she heard the BBC man come home and was relieved to hear only one pair of footsteps but when she looked out she saw him giving a sailor a piggy back upstairs.

“Good God,” she told her husband, “he’s bringing home cripples now.”


I rather like being twins but you may not be surprised to hear that my recruiting policy has not been wildly popular in the Domus.

Predictably, the reaction of the Head Ferret borders on the explosive. The worst four-letter word available, D I E T, is frequently on her lips. I am a foe of the diet but not, I hope, unreasonable.I have reduced fish and chip luncheons to fish and mushy peas.

My dear friend the late Jimmy Goodwin, Maitre de of the Blossoms Hotel in Chester, suffered a heart attack and was asked by a doctor to confess his drink level. He told him a bottle of gin and tonic and the doctor said that was a lot of tonic. But Jimmy put him right. “Not tonic. Gin,” he said. The doctor said he must give up the bottle a day and he did. He changed to whisky and tonic and had another heart attack. He said to me: “I have cracked it. It’s the tonic that is the common denominator." Not another drop of tonic passed his lips before he died a fortnight later.

Now I am the sort of chap who likes to benefit from diligent research. In the interest of peace in the home I have given up gin and tonic. In its place I am a Vodka Martini sipper. Not just any Martini. My grandson, a Wall Street banker, speaks highly of the New York Martini, and I am indebted to my good friend Brian Hitchen and his chum, a former Capo di Capo Tuti  of the New York Mafia, who have honoured me with the receipt of the Ultimate Martini. It is as follows:

Place ice in a Martini glass, pour over it vodka to the count of ten (I find that counting slowly improves the taste). Add two drops of dry Vermouth and twist peel from a lemon to release the oil, drink and enjoy. In the interest of my diet I have forgone the olive.

I was alarmed to read that a middle-aged man had died of a heart attack attempting Gangnam style dancing at a Christmas party. His doctor warned that though the chances of death are small (I can think of many office parties where death would have been welcome) he advised against taking untypical exercise. He said further: “Let the lady dance round you.” Doctor, any lady who made it round my 60-inch waist would have little energy left for the dalliance which is the only point of such parties.

Sadly the profile of the portly person was dented by the disclosures about the loathsome Cyril Smith MP but we have been more than redeemed by my political hero, the Communities Minister Eric Pickles, who weeps over Italian Opera and on a recent “Desert Island Discs” radio programme described it as “Chicklit”, by a mile the best description of that lovely art.

I haven’t been bothered about Press Regulation .The print newspaper is to the future of the media what the magic lantern is to Light Entertainment. It will be lucky if it outlives me. However, Lord Levenson has told an Australian audience that he has got his eye on sundry blogs, including, I am sure, Skidmores Island which is already banned in China. So I am forced into the fray.

Our Culture Secretary Maria Miller is paid primarily to go to Covent Garden and other jollies but her expenses are plainly not enough. She has not told Parliament, as required, that she has rented a house from a Tory donor for £6,000 a year below its market price. There is also an inquiry into her £96,000 expenses which include costs of a house she owns in which her parents live.

Very properly the Daily Telegraph decided to publish details of this dubious deal. Only to be warned by Craig Oliver, the Tory Communications Chief, that the article may be poorly timed as “she is looking at Levenson at the moment.” Taxed by the paper, he denied the remark was a threat. I suppose that also applies to Joanna Hindley, the Culture Minister’s adviser, who twice telephoned Daily Telegraph executives to flag up the minister’s role in implementing new press rules.

When I read that MPs' expenses were now back to the level they reached before The Great Row I decided to accept that our lot were just as bad as other European countries. It is not that which worries. It was the total incompetence of this Hoorah Henry Government. I expect the editor of the Telegraph is rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect of getting two stories.
A correspondent puts it beautifully]
Dear Sir, 
Now run this by me again...
A clearly mentally disturbed character who defaces a painting by Mark Rothko, a painter who died by slitting his wrists when the balance of his mind was disturbed, gets two years in prison.
A cynical thieving MP, escapes the prison she richly deserved and gets a supervision order, by pleading that she was mentally stressed.
If you needed any further proof that we are a sick society, where the politicians have the judiciary in their pockets, then this is it.
Dai Woosnam

Friday, 7 December 2012


For the Allied Powers 1939-40 were the years of the Phoney War. I took a rather different view. For me it was a fight to the death. I wasn’t bothered that Our Side was being trounced all over Europe, that Dunkirk was a humiliation however much the Prime Spin Doctor Churchill was desperately trying to sell it as a victory. The nightly bombings were exciting and there was always the chance of another sighting of Olive Cobbold’s bosom. But not even that could distract me from my major strategy. I was determined not to be evacuated.
I had an early victory by faking spectacular ill health when, in 1939, all the city children in the kingdom were evacuated to the country, leaving only a hard core of refuseniks behind. What a blissful period that was. School hours were cut to an hour and a half a day and kindly teachers were brought out of retirement to cosset us. The streets seemed knee-deep in desirable shrapnel, even precious parts of downed Nazi bombers.
My parents were wondering which was doing the most damage, Hitler’s Luftwaffe or the mobile anti-aircraft guns which for reasons unclear went from street to street firing so noisily they broke every window in sight. My father said it was just like France in World War One when the Royal Artillery competed with the Germans to see who could kill the most Allied troops. It was decided it would be safer to send me to stay with Aunt Isobel in Blackpool. It only took me a week of tears and tantrums before Aunt Isobel decided if she could have the choice she would send me home and my mother could send her the anti-aircraft gun. What, she asked, is so bad about broken windows?
Somerford Hall was much harder to shed. Somerford Hall was a sort of public school for the working class. It had been a holiday camp before the war - which was the way my father sold it to me. I was a bit suspicious but the feeling was temporarily lulled when we ‘new boys’ gathered at the station and were handed plates of chocolate biscuits whilst the camera man from the Daily Herald took our photographs. I thought this was a good sign because chocolate biscuits were rationed. Alas, when the cameraman finished the teacher collected all the biscuits and put them back in the tin, and I began to plan The Great Escape.
Unfortunately it was hard to find anything to complain about. The Hall was set in the rolling Cheshire countryside by a river. The boys were housed in wooden chalet-like dormitories and the teachers seemed intent on teaching us as little as possible. I searched for several days before I found something to complain about.
The food won by a mile.  Every morning after breakfast I put fried egg and baked beans in an envelope and sent them to my parents so they could see how little we were given to eat. I believe it was the postman who was instrumental in getting me home. If memory serves, he offered to collect me in his van. He said that people were complaining because bits of egg were seeping out of my envelope and coating his letters with albumen.
It was good to be home and, since by this time the other stay at home kids had been farmed out, I had all the shrapnel to myself.
Food was severely rationed. Each person got a weekly ration.  4 ounces of bacon, 4 ounces of sugar, 2 ounces of tea, a shilling’s worth of meat, 2 ounces of butter, one egg, 3 pints of milk.
Every eight weeks we were allowed a tin of milk powder; every month, eight ounces of jam.  Fortunately my policeman father, who was a “speed cop”, was given the job of driving the three-man team of detectives set up to control the Black Market under an Inspector Stainton who had a different interpretation of controlling. To him it meant running it.
Within a very short time our house was stocked with sides of bacon, bolts of cloth, cartons of eggs and huge tins of jam which he shared at very reasonable rates with selected neighbours. Much of the whisky he kept for himself. I developed quite a taste for it and since he marked the level in the bottle I would take my share and then fill it up to the mark with water. To the day of his death he swore the distillers were watering their whisky. The older I got the paler the whisky became.
On the food front the only competition he had was a battalion of American infantry, posted in the village in the run up to D-Day. To my father’s chagrin, they gave away food, cigarettes, chocolates, even bottles of whisky to the families on whom they were billeted. The wives and daughters in the billets suddenly blossomed with silk stockings, and chain smoked. My mother hinted darkly - and perhaps a little enviously - what they were offering in return. It was a toss up whether it was General Eisenhower or my father who waited more anxiously for June 6th.
I all but choked on my vodka martini, and my partridge and mushy peas went down the wrong way, when R4 broadcast a “2 way” between two obesity experts in Mexico and Rotherham. It wasn’t so much that, like most female broadcasters, they had voices like cheap scent, nor that if I wanted to conjure up a vision of Hell it would be an even bet between those two cities in which one I would hasten death by over eating.  Though I suspect fish and chips would win easily as a death hastener over tortillas and there was little to choose between massacre by drug dealers or kicked to death by football hooligans.
The programme lacked balance. No voice spoke up for the suffering portly. I am 21 stone, twice the recommended weight for an elderly gentleman, 5ft 8 ins from natty footwear to jaunty cap. You see the point. Whatever computation you use there are now two of me. I am, in a word, twins. Or as Shakespeare prettily put it, a two backed beast.
And there is the rub. Speaking for my other half we should be eligible for two personal allowances for tax purposes. Whereas the single person is allowed four units of alcohol we should be able to claim eight. Six rather than three large vodka martinis would be gratefully received and perhaps a brace of partridge to each cheek.
Be fair. That is all we ask. When I buy a suit I am charged extra for the cloth involved yet justice surely demands I get two suits for one. Two old age pensions would be nice and a £200 fuel allowance seems a bit niggardly when I am keeping a brace of people warm.


Intriguingly, we have been sent a Fortnum and Mason’s Christmas hamper with no clue as to the donor, not even a U NO WHOO to tax the mind. Best of all, my lovely granddaughter-in-law Sarah announced this week that I am once again to be a great-grandfather, or indeed two g.g.f.
I do know one  Lordly F and M regular. He caused quite a stir as a boy when he called in to complain about the lack of jam in a school hamper.
A Jeeves like creature in a frock coat shimmered up to ask if he could be of assistance to the “young gentleman”
“And who might you be” the young gentleman demanded
“I am in charge of this floor”
“ Then I should get it swept. It’s filthy”

Friday, 30 November 2012


An American reader invites  me to write "Skidmore’s War" to help his fellow countrymen see those years through British eyes. Alas this Britisher's eyes are bleary with age and dissipation and seen through any eyes my war, like the rest of my life, is comedy to the point of farce but I will seize on anything that takes my mind of the coming fester-ivities


My family fought at Crecy, Agincourt, Trafalgar, Waterloo, in the Boer and Zulu Wars and World Wars One and Two, so I never really forgave Hitler for starting his war when I was only ten and too young to join in; though I had the Martini Henry rifle my Uncle Alby used to despatch Zulus.  In my bed in Manchester I slept with it by my side longing for invasion.

I vividly remember the lovely autumn day in 1939 when our Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told us that Herr Hitler hadn’t written so we were at war. We were sitting round the powerful radio my dad bought so that he could hear the Orkney fishermen - and on one glorious occasion the Queen Mother -,swearing on the ship-to-shore radio. He always reckoned the Queen Mother had a wider vocabulary.

Later in the war we listened nightly to another broadcast from Berlin of Lord Haw Haw, a loquacious traitor, telling us we were going to lose the war. It was quite unnerving because he would find the home addresses of various Britons and tell them there was a special bomb for them which would be delivered within a week.

My father had joined The Royal Scots when he was 15 in 1914. He served  alongside his father and three of his brothers. Another brother was on his way to join them but his train was involved in the Gretna Green train crash and we still have the brass plaque the Government sent to the families of the war dead. Naturally, as an expert, my father took the war very seriously. All families were issued with Anderson air raid shelters, steel huts which families had to erect in the garden. That was not enough for my father. He buried ours three foot deep in a large pit, then covered the pit with a two foot thick ‘roof’ of concrete.

“There you are,” he told me proudly as he posed for a photograph. “Not only bombproof. Waterproof as well.”

Alas, it was also water-tight as we discovered a year or so later when the bombing started and he pushed me in, to find it had become an underground pond and I  bobbed twice to the surface before he was able to grab my shirt collar and drag me out.

The upshot was we spent the bombing years sharing a shelter with Mrs Cobbold and her daughter Olive across the way. I do not remember much about the bombing but will never forget the first sight of a female bosom when Olive undressed in the confined space we shared.

The other benefit of the war was that it taught me a deep and lifelong mistrust of Government. We were told that all our aluminium domestic utensils were needed for melting down to make Spitfires. Park gates and iron railings went to build tanks. After the war the Government came clean. Neither utensils nor park furniture would have been made into weapons. It was the Government's way of getting us involved in the war. I often wonder how much it got for the scrap.

Then there was the matter of carrots. The Ministry of Information announced the reason our fighter pilots could see in the dark was that they were fed exclusively on carrots. Anxious to improve my chances of getting in the Forces I ate piles of carrots a steeple chaser could not jump over. After a week of carrot chewing I waited for darkness, stepped out of the back door and barked my shins on the dustbin. It was only after the war that we discovered the story was invented to use up a glut of carrots.

We spent every night for the next year in the Cobbolds' shelter. We would wait for the sirens to go which were followed by a Niagara of lavatories being flushed. Followed by the shout of newly married Mrs Cooper at  Number 32 to her husband: “Willis, put your trousers on.” It was odd. Whatever time the sirens went they caught Willis trouserless and my mother glanced significantly at Mrs Cobbold who blushed, becomingly.

My mother took a subjective view of the war. She noticed that both Chamberlain and Hitler had moustaches and was proud of the fact that Mr Chamberlain’s was the more militant. She was always convinced that the Head of the Luftwaffe, Marshal Goering, was in the aeroplane that bombed Maycroft Avenue, where we lived, and wondered how anyone so fat could squeeze into a cockpit.

We children thought being bombed every night was great fun and made huge collections of shrapnel and the fins of incendiary bombs. We knew where to look because whenever a shoal dropped our fathers rushed out with stirrup pumps to douse them with water they carried in buckets and frequently spilled in their haste. Usually after they had refilled the bucket the fire had burned out leaving only the fins.

Going to school the next morning brought the other side of warfare. We passed house after house which had suffered a direct hit and some from which the front walls had been sheared off, exposing the rooms behind them with all the furniture, down to the ornaments on the sideboards, still eerily in place.

At school there were more empty desks in the classrooms most mornings as the casualty list mounted. But when school ended we scrabbled through the ruins of our dead friends’ houses looking for shrapnel.

(to be mercilessly continued).


My learned friend Revel Barker, sometime Managing Editor and  Consiglieri to the late  Robert Maxwell of the Daily Mirror and Editor of the European writes:

Because it was said that Jesus was laid in a manger, the animals were simply assumed for the story development - and of course the later artwork.
In fact, in 'Biblical architecture' it was the norm for the animals to be on the ground floor, and the residents upstairs. The animals provided warmth, and handy food, and fresh milk, etc.

In the Bible there's no mention of an inn (no room at the...) or a stable or a cave. Just the manger, to fire the imagination.

As Bob Maxwell once said to me: "We are not in the business of flattering f...... krauts", but a better query for the Pope to have kicked off might be: What has Bethlehem to do with anything?

The plot is that Joseph had to return to the home of his fathers for a census.
Roman records, normally reliably thorough, don't mention a Jewish census any time around the date when BC became AD.
More to the point - a census isn't about where your family came from. It's about how many people live where... in the present day.
In a Roman census, people were counted where they lived.
So for somebody to live in Nazareth, but go to Bethlehem to be counted because that's where his ancestors came from, is nonsense.
Worse, for a man to trek all that way with a heavily pregnant wife is even greater nonsense.
It's about 80 miles, and via belligerent Samaria.
(The Bible doesn't mention a donkey.)

In Roman-Judaic rule, the man would provide the information on behalf of his entire family. Women had nothing to do with it (except to be counted). 
Bethlehem, of course, was put into the story only so that Jesus could be "born in David's City"... and providing the bloodline from David to Jesus.
Joseph was supposedly a direct descendant of King David.
Fair enough.
Except, according to the version that the Pope accepts... he wasn't the blood father of Jesus. So Bethlehem is a Jewish insertion (to provide a Messiah), not a Christian one.
The Christians, of course, call him Jesus of Nazareth.
Not Jesus of Bethlehem.
Perhaps they know more than they're saying.

NOTE TO THE VATICAN: The Pope has Revel’s permission to use the above  in his Christmas Message.

BeWrite Books has left a new comment on your post "BEDTIME STORIES": 

What makes you think your Lusty Ladies won't see the gaslight of night, Skiddy? Said ladies currently lie upon my desk, and I assure you that they'll have a fair doing-to and fully revealed in all their naughtiness almost before you can say Madam Whiplash. There'll just be a different publishing house logo on the editions now. Everyone should have a lusty lady in the library. Bestests. Neil 


The Leveson Inquiry has ended with the expected vilification of the press and the police whirewashed. I am surorised no one has noted that it was the Media who produced the evidence which prompted the inquiry. An earlier reluctant inquiry was curtailed by the Metropoliton police. It was only after the press, led by the Guardian, had made a fuss about the cover up that a new inquiry was set up. The result is that 90 newspapermen and establishment figures are facing possible jail sentences, The News of the World has closed down with the loss of 300 jobs and around £2 million has been paid by newspapers to victims. Proof, surely, that existing law is protection enough?

Friday, 23 November 2012


In view of recent happenings I had expected much from my next book “Lusty Ladies”. Alas it will never see the light of day. My publisher has become yet another victim of the fine mess that Cameron and his chancellor, the Laurel and Hardy of our day, have got us into.

I wrote it to show the Upper Classes did more to popularise adultery as an indoor sport than any other class, except perhaps the America military. Generals Allen and Petraeus certainly deserved the sack for losing wars but for sexual indulgence?
They, or more likely their ladies, can turn it to advantage. Ms Currie's unlikely affair with John Major earned more money for her kiss and sell memoirs (£500,000) than ever did Harriet Wilson, who earned a comparative pittance from threatening the peerage with her memoirs when the Duke of Wellington told her to publish and be damned.

You don't get many faithful husbands to the pound in Number 10 Downing Street. Churchill, according to son Randolph, slept with Ivor Novello at Leeds castle, an event he later described as musical; Lloyd George slept with practically anyone; Asquith was, according to a recent biography, a notorious groper and besotted with Venetia Stanley. Gladstone crept eerily round gas-lit London seeking street girls to save; Palmerston drove naked women in silken harness round the Cabinet Room; the Duke of Wellington cruelly abandoned his wife and numbered Napoleon’s widow amongst his harem. It is comforting that Douglas Home was far too fond of fishing to indulge. Even Lady Thatcher had her Willie.

American Presidents were even more vigorous. One, Jefferson, begat children on his black slaves; another was addicted to sex in a White House cupboard. We recall Kennedy’s energy with awe, Clinton’s with distaste and even Eisenhower was an unlikely Romeo.
An American friend Jerry Jasper, who has some expertise, enters a caveat:

“Genetic evidence indicates that SOME of Sally Hemmings’s children were fathered by some male in the Jefferson family, not necessarily by Jefferson. DNA research has shown that at least one of the children was not related to the Jeffersons. Jefferson had male cousins who visited Montecello frequently, and they were not noted for having any respect for the rights of female slaves…There were a lot of rumors about this relationship during his lifetime. A number of European visitors to Montecello were startled by the appearance of several young red-headed male ‘house servants’ who seemed white to them, and who strongly resembled Jefferson."

Power is plainly an aphrodisiac and monarchs, as research for the book has shown me, were even more promiscuous than prime ministers and presidents. Not for nothing was Edward VII known as Edward the Caresser and his dreadful namesake the Abdicated Eighth was not only a traitor to his country; he collected women with an enthusiasm which meant that no expenses were spared save that of taste.

Significantly none of these facts were known outside the participants’ circle and no-one felt they were doing anything wrong. Nowadays The Media is our Monarch and, however promiscuous its component parts, it is a Puritan. Its power, like Cromwell’s who abolished Christmas, is awesome. It can censure Crowns and make Princes apologise. The Royal Family, like politicians, is terrified of it. The Media can alter legislation, cast powerful men from office at the drop of a whim. Like the Fat Boy in Pickwick Papers, The Media “wants to make yer flesh creep, missis.”

Which is why Mrs Currie, unlike the Paramours of Power who preceded her, has altered history. Not by her actions, however vigorous, but by her timing.

Mr Major, according to the polls the least popular PM in history whose greatest gift to civilisation was thinking up the Lottery and a traffic cones Hotline, rose without trace from the Treasury, to the Foreign Office and finally to Number 10. If only she had told us then about the blue underpants how different everything would have been.

In the Gulf War Major was  silent when US soldiers used earth moving equipment to bury alive 1,500 Iraqi conscripts in their trenches. Nor did he protest at the turkey shoot of thousands of Iraqi soldiers of the most timid army in recent military history as they fled home.

He was complicit when Bush the Elder shirked the ultimate test and left Saddam on his throne. Major also colluded in the shameful episode when, having encouraged the Kurds to rise against their tyrant, they were abandoned to their grisly fate. It is beyond question that because of the elder Bush and Major we are now gradually returning the East to desert.


I yield to none in my admiration of Bing Crosby but the Pope and I  are dreading a white Christmas. He is against the whole shebang and one with Cromwell who banned it.

The Pope has written a biography of Jesus which might seem presumptuous. In it he has a go at nativity scenes – there were no animals in the stables and no Angels sing. They talked their announcement that Christ was born and it’s the fault of people who insisted they sang to the shepherds that we are now plagued with carol singers. Curiously he is silent about Santa Claus in whom I firmly believe but the Virgin birth gets the thumbs up. Well he’d have to say that, wouldn’t he? Cost a fortune to whitewash the Sistine Chapel.

According to that font of learning “The Fenland Citizen”, it is all down to the Mesopotamians:

“Many of these traditions began with the Mesopotamian celebration of New Year.  Each year as winter arrived, it was believed that chief god Marduk would do battle with the monsters of chaos.

“To assist Marduk in his struggle, the Mesopotamians held Zagmuk, the New Year’s festival that lasted for 12 days.”

I am very fond of God and dislike the way It has been bad mouthed by successive religions down the ages. I merely say that if a white Christmas is anything like the ones I used to know and only dimly remember, I will be queuing up to avoid it. I will go further. I am dreading a white Christmas with every Christmas card the Ferret writes. I even have a woolly hat, the gift of the lady in our chip shop, which  I wear for Christmas shopping. It is black with a white slogan which reads “Bah Humbug”. It commemorates the fact that I formed the SAS – The Scrooge Appreciation Society.

If it's what grabs you, may your days be merry and bright. Me? I’ll settle for 'flu. Christmas is when you cannot get near a bar for teetotallers swigging Tia Maria and Baileys shandies, singing and  getting drunks a bad name.

It is when you encourage children to believe an old man is going to climb down the chimney and invade their bedrooms when you have spent the year warning them to have nothing to do with strangers.
It is when the TV screens are laden with menacing prophecies about the massacres you will cause if you so much as stand next to a sherry bottle. Yet you leave out sherry by the gallon for a drunken old driver of six reindeer whose red noses show they prefer their corn in liquid form.

My hero the Daily Mirror columnist Cassandra was particularly exercised by what he called the Christmas Card Artillery. I had a friend who sent all his cards out on December 1 to make sure everyone sent him one back. My bĂȘtes noires are the ones who time their cards to arrive on Christmas Eve when it is too late to send one back.

My favourite Christmas story is about the late news editor of The Guardian Harry Whewell, whose son Tim is the only real reporter on Newsnight.

Harry kept a canary in his office and naturally took it home for the festive season when the office was unattended. As he was leaving the newsroom an impish copy boy asked: “Where you going with that, sir?” “I am taking it home for Christmas,” Harry explained. “Oh are you? We’re having turkey.”

If you are looking for a superb Christmas gift I do commend "Figures of Speech" by John Jensen, a brilliant cartoonist. It is a collection of 101 picturesque images. If you have ever wondered what a "passing whim" or "a flimsy excuse" or a "screaming abdab" looks like you will love this book. It brings to life through witty and imaginative illustrations the curious idioms and phrases we use every day. A lighthearted look at language which you should buy early so you have a chance to look at it before you pass it on. It will make Christmas bearable. I must send the Pope a copy. 

Saturday, 17 November 2012


It’s been a funny sort of week. China says The rubbish we exported for recycling is of such poor quality they have sent it back and I have been warned that the next time I get stuck in the bath I am going to spend the rest of my life there.
The Fire Brigade will still rescue cats from trees but uncorking the fat is out. Predictably the World Rulers on “To-day” thought it was funny. I didn’t. But I know where the rubbish has gone
 I was even less amused to hear that my bank which welcomes the ill gotten loot of drug dealers and sundry other crooks is going to war on its respectable customers.I joined HSBC when it was a mere stripling trading as the Midland and I was an 18 year old stripling not doing a lot of trading at all. Over the sixty five years that followed the Bank has made more out of me than it has given.I counted up the gold coins I have hurled at its head in overdraft penalties,mortgages and the crippling interest on bank loan.Only the licensing trade has made more from my wayward ways.
Now I am past the years of debauch and thrown on the blousy shores of temperance, in the words of the wicked Restoration Earl of Rochester the best I can manage is to spend my annual pension from the Royal Literary Fund in ten months.For the past decade the bank has subsidised me for the eight weeks until the pension goose lays its golden egg.This year as always I had a letter from it confirming it was happy to go on playing Father Xmas for another year.My joy was short lived when another letter arrived complaining I was £1,000 overdrawn and I was required to reduce it by £500 over the course of the next month. I rang the bank to say that my pension was due in a month and the bank said that was Ok, under the circumstances they would revise their new strategy and accept £100. I said if I had £100 I wouldn't need an overdraft and I too had a new strategy. I was closing my account. It was not a decision I took lightly. I have enjoyed the battle of wits in which we have been engaged over half a century. A battle which an earlier manager had described as getting me to agree to returning to the more conventional form of banking where I banked with them, rather than them with me.

 Battle was joined early in our arrangement when my riposte to them bouncing a £2 cheque was to apply for a personal loan. Halfway through the interview that followed the manager excused himself because he had to supervise a visit to the vaults.He paled when I offered to go with him. “You are doing enough damage to the concept of banking where you are."

Some time later the years did well by me. I was living in a manor house attended by a house keeper who brought the mail up one morning. The first letter was an invitation to the annual Ball of the Duke of Lancaster's Yeomanry, tickets £20. the second letter was a reminder my Hunt Subscription to the Cheshire Hounds was overdue, there was a third bill for mooring fees for my cabin cruiser,the aptly named “Fancy Free”. The fourth letter was a rather sad little plea from the bank”.....if you would even try to live within your means” Greatly touched I bundled up the bills and sent them to the bank with a covering note “I send you these in order that you can set the Hamlet's Ghost of my overdraft against the Elsinore of events” Almost by return the bank wrote “thank you for your full and frank disclosure.May we remind you that Hamlet was one of Shakespeare's great tragedies as you are one of the Midland Bank's “.
 In those days there were giants in the land where now only pygmies rove. My happiest time came when my bank manager commanded a territorial battalion of the Liverpool Scottish. When he discovered I had served in a Highland regiment I could do no wrong. When he had to lecture me about my wild spending he used to take me out to lunch to deliver it.
 Some years later when my first best seller was published I sent him a copy to thank himfor his support He immediately wrote to congratulate me. He added “Alas a junior clerk thought the package was a bomb and summoned the Bomb Disposal Squad. So not for the first time you have disrupted the working of the bank for the better part of the morning."

 Writing this and remembering those happy times left me feeling quite sad but I have just had a reassuring phone call. A midland heart still beats in the plate glass and polished steel body of HSBC. A delightful girl from the bank named Terri rang to say in view of the long years I have dealt with the bank I was to ignore the last letter.The dear old Midland and I will ride together into the sunset.


John Humphrys has been much praised for his attack on the luckless DG. I do not share the plaudits. The sad Entwhistle was already mortally wounded and had he been thinking straight he would have refused the invitation to his own execution He probably thought it would be an opportunity to bow out gracefully.Odd that he should think so when he had served the Bbc for so many years. Kicking men when they are down is an old BBC blood sport. I have noticed before that Humphreys and the other bully Paxman pick their victims carefully. The next morning the Hump behaved very differently when he interviewed the formidable Liz Forgan.

 The ex DG was said not to be up to the job. In thirty years I met very few BBC managers who were.I think the daggers were out for him the moment he was appointed. He wasn't told things he should have been told by the men whose job was to read papers and keep an eye on the schedules. No point in keeping dogs and barking yourself. Why so much fuss ? Saville, in death as in life,is above the law.A few ageing entertainers may go to prison, many entertainers who were chased by under age nymphets will go free. The real problem that care homes have become little more than brothels for the young and torture chambers for the aged will not be addressed.The disgraceful business of the maligned Tory Peer is easily resolved by sacking the incompetents who permitted it to be aired, the editor who approved the copy and the reporter who was apparently unaware of basic news gathering techniques should all be sacked.Perhaps then we can concentrate on real injustice.


 A sniper has been sent to prison for possession of a fire arm. No suggestion that he intended to use it, even remembered its existence.It was discovered by illegal means. His kit which had been packed by other soldiers in his absence arranging the funeral of two fellow warriors was stored in the house of a friend. The friend's wife alleged assault by her husband. The police used to dismiss such matters as “Domestics”. Now for reasons unknown to criminology the police search the house and the kit of the husband.With no justification at all, they also searched the belongings of a house guest. ,SAS veteran Sgt Danny Nightingale. Acting illegally they found a hand gun ,presented to him for outstanding service by the Iraqui army. He intended to present it to his sergeant's mess in Hereford. sadly he collapsed running 200 mile marathon for charity and as a result is suffering from loss of memory.
 Sgt. Nightingale , an SAS sniper, has spent the last seventeen years putting himself in harm's way. The veteran of repeated missions, he was in the front line in Afghanistan. Nevertheless he was brought home, court martialled, disgraced and sent to prison. His wages are stopped, his wife and children face eviction from their army home.. We certainly know how to reward our warriors.One can only hope Help the Heroes will make sure the family are fed and housed until he is freed No wonder recruiting figures are falling.

Friday, 9 November 2012


Spilled blood and trickery built most empires. Ours is the first to be killed by kindness. The labour party emerged from World War 2 dripping with the milk of human kindness. Most of our treasury had been spent on winning the war and a large part of what remained went to America which insisted on immediate repayment of the money it had loaned us so that we could buy the tools of war from Detroit. Britain faced years of penny pinching, of crippling austerity. What did we do? We were given the most expensive present in the history of mankind and one that would become more expensive every year until the end of time. We were given the Welfare State. A noble concept on which we could not even afford the deposit. Now, according to the Daily Telegraph, because of expensive private financial initiatives - or, to put it more simply, buying hospitals on tick - the Government (us) will have to provide at least £1.5 billion in bail outs to councils mired in debt, in addition to the £1.1 billion already written off rescuing health trusts. One trust has already been placed in administration. More are expected to follow. The Ministry of Health has admitted it has no idea how it is going to help those trusts so far in debt they are effectively bankrupt and 30 organisations that are unviable. A Ministry report admitted that by March this year 34 organisations had deficits totalling £356 billion. There would have been twice as many had they not been bailed out by other Trusts and the Department of Health yet a spokesman for the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has insisted “the NHS is in robust financial health and on track to meet its efficiency targets.” Herodotus praises the Medes who made every decision twice. Once when they were drunk and again when they were sober. I take it our government is never sober so they don’t subtract that of which they first thought. We are desperate to be governed by people who are good housekeepers. In their place we have an enviroment minister who says we have planted too many windfarms and an energy minister who plans six thousand more. As an act of insensitive timing at a time when epidemic paedophilia is in the forefront of all our minds our government announces that 13-year-old girls are to get safe sex jabs. Quite breath-taking. In the fifties sodomy was a word that dare not breathe its name. Now we look forward to the day when its practitioners marry in church. How long before paedophilia is compulsory? Government spending on benefits swallows up a third of the national income, 75 per cent of street lamps are switched off at 9 pm because councils cannot afford the electricty. We fight enemies armed largely with booby traps and small arms with weaponry so sophisticated it costs millions to produce. Yet our troops went to war inadequately trained, dressed, armed and transported. We might have just been able to afford these extravagances but there were still presents in the money bag to be distributed. We had to finance the rebuilding of Germany. Then there was overseas aid for under privileged countries like China and India and the emerging African nations whose statesmen would not otherwise have been able to fill their Swiss bank accounts. They were saved by the the shovels full of gold we hurled at their heads. Germany Revived has saved up enough to buy us and China laughed at the notion they should slip us a few quid to see us over until we got paid. Our Government, a political Ali Baba rubbing a golden lamp, has enriched India. Then of course there was the expense of democratising the third world by bombing them into the Stone Age. We had been warned, of course. Cicero told the Roman Senate two thousand years ago: “The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance.” In 1887 Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years ago: "A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse over loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship." Life dances to hidden music and I have only rarely caught the sound. The first time was when a very senior officer in the Courts Service explained to me how the Establishment had massaged the murder statistics by reducing murder charges to manslaughter, in order to justify abandoning the death penalty. The second time was when I traced the ills that beset us to what has been called ‘the peace that passeth all understanding’, the Versailles Peace Congress. The Elm trees were wiped out by disease. Now we learn that, thanks to DEFRA delays, the Ash trees are dying. Since disasters come in threes, the Oaks will probably follow. With them, every recognisable sign of the Britain I loved will vanish into a disunited kingdom, a Septic Isle. There was a time when things were done differently. From the splendidly named Sir Laming Worthington-Evans, secretary of state for war nearly a century ago: "If the Arab population realised that the peaceful control of Mesopotamia ultimately depends on our intention of bombing women and children, I'm very doubtful if we shall gain that acquiescence of the fathers and husbands of Mesopotamia for which Secretary of State for the Colonies looks forward." He was referring to Iraq in the 1920s; he could have been talking about the Middle East now.