Saturday, 28 July 2012


sThirty years ago I was awarded the drinker's knighthood “Arise Cirrhosis”. Twenty-three years ago a lifetime's fieldwork in competitive drinking was acknowledged with the award of diabetics Mark Two. That was the birthday my son - “Oh Sharper than a Serpent's tooth” - made me a present of sixty bottles of spring water.

The Ferret should have got some kind of award for forty-two years of attempting to dash the glass from my lips. Negotiations for a cease supping have been going on at Skidmore Parva for the thick end of half a century. They reached their apogee on that fateful birthday, which was followed by five years in desert conditions. Oddly enough the treaty broke down during a coach trip down the Loire. I was alarmed to discover that also on the coach was an ex-girl friend. When a trip was mooted to a vineyard I bravely opted for the alternative which was a visit to a church.

“I think I'll go with you,” said the ex. The ferret is very relaxed in these matters. When I am moved to sparkle at a pretty girl she laughs derisively but I know my limits. I hastily beat a retreat to the vineyard where I could not resist a proffered Sancerre, the flinty taste of which was appreciated by my favourite writer Hemingway. I sipped daintily at no more than a couple of bottles as a Homage to Hem. Flown with wine and impertinence, I was bold enough to add a clause to the contract permitting me to drink when abroad.

As luck would have it Rod Henshal, my partner in a programme I did for Australian radio, proposed a visit and the question of entertaining him came up. Fortunately I remembered a builder I knew called Shone who divided his time between a villa in Portugal and a rather nice manor house in Chester. When his marriage broke up he kept hold of the Cheshire house by declaring it Portuguese territory.

My ancestors were Norman so I declared our house, Aberbraint, part of France. It must have appealed to my wife's highly developed sense of the absurd because she agreed.

We left our riverside manor house, built by One Leg Paget, Wellington's cavalry commander at Waterloo,when my wife inherited a Fenland stately bungalow over which I have no property rights. It was some years before I got her to agree to champagne with our fish and chips on Friday and libations for the rest of the weekend. Because she is posh I naturally took that to mean Friday to Monday but was voted down. Friday was OK because she likes champagne with her fish and chips but Monday is dry.
She won in the end because I have lost the taste for alcohol.

Teetotalism is dangerous. It allows you to do much sillier things than ever you did as a drunk. I have been persuading myself that since I seldom venture further than the garden the last thing I need is an Ipad. Last week in a bout of sober frenzy I bought one and spent the next days proving that I would never be able to make it work. So I sent it back, and because I had already given my Kindle to my wife I bought a Kindle Touch. Before I even opened that I had to spend the better part of a day adapting my wife's Kindle to her needs. Then began the worst three days of my life. The Kindle Touch is more than a little touched itself. It refuses point blank to do anything it purports to do and my fingers are so fat they punch several keys at a time on the keyboard. In consequence it took several hours creating a password of seven letters for the router. I do not even like to recall how long it took to copy my books, newspapers and magazines from her Kindle to my Touch. I finished it this morning - and then the world fell in. The postman brought an anonymous gift from a well wisher.
It was a Nexus7 tablet.
I should have swallowed it. The guide to this fiendish machine was printed online, an innovation praised by one purchaser who crowed his joy that Nexus had dispensed with printed guides: “Grandfatherly concepts have no place in the 21st century.” But by the time this great-grandfather has read the instruction online and gone back to the item awaiting change he has forgotten what the instructions were. So I sought aid from some nice people to whom I have become close. They are the Indian gentlemen from Amazon.
This was their reply:
“If a Kindle application is not installed on your Nexus 7, please install it.
“Kindle for Android can be installed on Android devices running OS 2.2 or greater.
To see what version your Android device has, tap the Menu button from the home screen, choose 'Settings', then tap on 'About tablet'. The version number can be found under Firmware version.
To install Kindle for Android through the Android Market, tap the 'Market' icon and search for Kindle. Tap on Kindle for Android to open the application’s detail page and follow the instructions to install. Android devices that do not have the Google Play Store pre-installed may not be supported.

“If you are running Android OS 2.1, you will still have the option to download Kindle for Android version 3.2 from the Google Play Store.
Please note, Android devices that do not have the Google Play Store pre-installed may not be compatible with the Kindle for Android app. If you encounter an issue installing Kindle for Android, please confirm your device has the Google Play Store app pre-installed before troubleshooting further.”

Tomorrow I will set the dog on the postman.

It has been a funny sort of week.
We had an email this morning purporting to be from an old chum saying he was broke and desperate for a loan after being mugged on holiday. It was unlikely. He has just sold the business which he created from scratch for £115 million. I sent him this:
To get such a letter from a distinguished member of the Rich List over so many years is both flattering and humbling. I can offer 50 pence or a luncheon voucher plus a small collection of centimes involuntarily collected on a day trip to Calais. Any use?
P.S. Celia can offer half a loaf of stale bred for your race horses if you can tell us where in Newmarket they are stabled.”

He replied:

It is always possible to fall on hard times! Centimes, Euros, Yen, $, they all come in handy! Your offers are therefore hugely welcome and should be sent to the nearest branch of the Bank of Nigeria - don't delay, it may be closed before you get there.

Likewise Celia's offer of bread for the horses (not cake!) will go down a treat once it gets to the horses in......... where they are now on starvation diets ( a likely story).

The lesson to be learned from being scammed is don't tell anyone your greatest secrets (notably email passwords), but if you do, the compensation is that hundreds of people enquire after your well being which can be very pleasant. It is good to know that people care. It is something that runs countercurrent to what so many would have us believe.”

My fiery friend Alastair McQueen, proud father of an Argyll wounded in Afghanistan, favoured me with the following despatch:

If His Lordship, at the risk of appearing curmudgeonly, would refer to an email I sent last night with pictures from the Olympics of Servicemen he will see that a special new Tactical Recognition Flash is being sported by our Gallant soldiery. It is an Olympic TRF, believe it or not. Who the hell is paying for this? The soon-to-be-disbanded Argylls can be seen wearing it on the left shoulder rather than on the right where they proudly sport the TRF of their predecessors in the 91st & 93rd of Foot - The Thin Red Line.
You may wish to sound off about this next week.”

Your wish is my command.

The first games of the modern Olympics took place in Athens in 1896. Forty-six years earlier, in 1850, a local surgeon William Penny-Brookes who introduced physical education into British schools, had inspired the fore-runner for the "promotion of moral, physical and intellectual improvement" and although the Games' venue is now decided by international committee rather than by the Wenlock Olympian Society, it still holds its own Olympics every July - "The old woman's" race for a pound of tea may yet be re-introduced! Baron de Coubertin was inspired to create the global event after a visit to the games in Much Wenlock., Shropshire. The influential and wealthy Frenchman was suitably inspired and shared Brookes' dream of a modern, international games.
Since the ersatz IOC fines shop keepers who copy its logo should not the Wenlock Olympiad demand a hefty fine from the plagiarist IOC for copying the entire games?
The opening concert? I enjoyed the tableaux but hope they will do a reprise in English. McCartney called “Hey, Jude” but answer came there none. He is far too old to be out so late. I couldn't abide the singer of Abide With Me. The BBC saved money by having one girl commentating but there was interference from two men that added nothing.

Was the ceremony worth £25 million? No. The money would be better spent re-opening the libraries, lavatories and all the other amenities that have recently been cut to save money.

P.S. We are a two-hour drive from the nearest Olympic venue. Our gardener Paul broke down on a motorway near here at 2 pm on Friday. He summoned assistance. It arrived at 11 pm. “ It's the Olympics,” the mechanic explained.