Friday, 1 February 2013


Broadly speaking, they are fortunate who live in warm climes
and are not prey to the British inter-family winter sport
of "Pass the Cough."

I caught my current dose in a running pass before, with a neat kick, I transferred possession, as the sports writers say, to my wife,the Head Ferret.
I had hoped as a former captain of hockey she could have retained possession and managed the short run to the touchline without further help. Not so. Using the hook that made her the terror of the Remove, she passed it back and now we both lie a-nights, side by side on our sleeping platform, baying in unison.

We are not a pretty sound. She is more your last act of La Boheme; with the long pause between reverberations and what in the night watches seems an unnecessarily prolonged sigh. I incline to the peremptory bark, drawing attention to unlawful possession of the duvet.

Arguing by cough is an infant art but we have worked out some meaningful exchanges. Whilst her tiny hand is frozen reaching out for the medicaments, I do a very neat line in "wake up at the back there" if I suspect for a moment she has
sneaked off to sleep. At such times Mimi is the last thing I think of calling her. It had not occured to me until this recent illness what a self-satisfied way wives have of sleeping whilst husbands lie awake, prey to a sobbing cough
which would have brought the house down in any decent production of "I Pagliacci": "On with the mogadon, the pastilles and the soothers......".

What is deeply annoying is the way one only coughs at night when, to say the least, the claque on the other pillow is less than sympathetic; never during the day when a certain amount of emotional capital could be earned..."Well, thank you very kindly, perhaps just a tiny tot of something soothing. The throat, you know, not a wink of sleep these three nights past..."

No. What I get is the dog with its paws in its ears and the sort of look that only cats can give when for the third time they have been wakened by the sort of cough explosions that would have peace movements picketing the bedside. A sort
of Greenham Common cold.

You get no sympathy with a cold, but you do get sovereign cures. All different and all an assault on the sensitive palate.I am the prey of the Missing Linctus, awash with the sort of drug drenched syrup I swear is smuggled ashore at
night on deserted beaches. I have a collection of Premier Cru cough mixtures, donated by friends, would make your eyes water. One dear lady even made a special journey to purchase what I take to be the distilled essence of the instep of an elderly Cossack.

But, by golly, it worked. For twelve terrifying hours I was afraid to cough in case the duvet caught fire. Two teaspoons of that on your breath and you could empty an airport. Somewhere an illicit drug factory is bottling that dragon-breath and marketing it through the National Ill-health Service. I am afraid to close my eyes lest St George the dragon slayer should come galloping up the stairs and pin me to the pillow with his lance. Though I would be open to
negotiation re the removal of the damsel in distress from the distaff pillow. Coughing to be enjoyed should be a solo performance of bravura and suffering nobly born. To turn it into a duet, a sort of catarrhal counterpoint, is to make a mockery of misery.


What a thing of vanity is man who believes himself the image of God. With his manifest talent as a designer why would God, who made the tiger, used a forked radish as a maquette?

I forget which German philosopher said that you could not make anything straight from the twisted timber of mankind but I reckon he was on the money. The problem is that we look on Him with Stone Age Eyes as an explanation for the weather. Thunder and lightning, God  angered; Sunshine, God fruitful; Darkness, God sleeping.

I agree with Randolph Churchill: He has been created by people who did not like Him.  When Randolph read the bible for the first time in middle age he told Evelyn Waugh, “God is a complete shit.” If you pay any attention to the bible no other explanation is possible. Ask gullible Abraham. And when you think what God did to His own son…….

I have shopped around a bit over the past eight decades. Now as I paw with growing impatience on the Pearly Gates I am thinking of advising Him to reposition Himself in the market. Change his image into something that gives off vibes of benevolence, loyalty and love. Something on the lines of Winnie The Pooh.
As an only child my Teddy was my first and only constant companion. We discovered the world together and mutually reassured ourselves when we found what dodginess was on offer. He was always ready to fall in with my plans. He would fight me, console me and watch over me when I slept. My mother used to claim there were four angels round my bed: one to guard, one to pray and two to carry my soul away. What did she know? Teddy and I would fight any angel of equal weight and reach.

Teddy had been around. He knew that a bear gets tubby without exercise. As A.A. Milne discovered, he gets what exercise he can, by falling off the ottoman. As all scholars know, the group noun for Teddy Bears is a Hug.When my great grandson was born I sent him a platoon of my Teddy’s successors, highly trained in all aspects of child watching. There were plenty to choose from here at Bear Command. Over the years the Ferret and I have marked happy moments by recruiting bears. Our recent wedding anniversary was marked by bear bride and groom; at Christmas a festive bear greets guests. There is a Cambridge, bear capped and gowned, in memory of a jolly lunch; a Mountie bear and a fox hunter in a livery of hunting pink, an archbishop bear and monk bears. A Mohammed bear marks the fuss Muslims made that time when a teacher gave his  name to the class bear. There are Guardsman bears, a giant Paddington bear my mother made for my sixtieth birthday, Pooh bears with attendant piglets and Eeyore. They sleep in drawers,waiting like King Arthur's knights, for a call to arms.

On duty still is a Cadre of Fighting Bears from my Regimental Charity, Help the Heroes. The Last Bear from Woolworth's is there and a stylish bear, a present from the painter Maria Saxe Ledger, a descendant of a medieaval saint whose embalmed body greets communicants in St Gallen in Switzerland. In her youth Maria had been the loveliest aristocrat in Europe and at 89, exiled to a valley in Wales, still painted her patent leather knee boots with clear nail polish and flew the Swiss flag in her garden so that the local Nationalists would not mistake her for a Sais. We lunched in a barn in the garden she had turned into a baronial hall with huge silver candle sticks, tapestries and a nude painting of her at twenty. The Bears and I contribute to several bear charities. We were a little shocked when one of them, Saving Moon Bears, sent us an invitation to a fund raising evening - of belly dancing. The belly is quite excited but I have told it that it is not an invitation to a belly ball.


I had to give up writing satirical novels. However outrĂ© the situation I imagined, life created one infinitely more outrĂ©. Under the Camerloons it is difficult to know whether you are watching “In the Thick of It” on BBC2 or the Parliament Channel.

Currently our greatest fear is a forthcoming Balkan invasion. Over the horizon an army musters, dancing on its knees, drinking Tokay by the gallon, expelling clouds of Balkan Sobranie and nibbling on goulash the while. It is as well to recall Hungarian film maker Alexander Korda saying the recipe for a Balkan omelette is "First steal a dozen eggs....." Those of us who make a habit of falling over in public are all in favour of immigrnts: others less so. Ever alert, the Government is planning to ask the public whether we want to be part of Europe - but not for another four years or so. In the meantime we have made a film telling foreigners what a terrible place Britain is and warning them to give it a wide berth. At the same time millions are to be spent by the Tourist Board making other films beguiling holidaymakers with a whiff of kipper and loving long shots of empty beaches. What do we care? We are spending 48 billion to cut an hour off rail trips from London to Birmingham.