Monday 31 December 2007

The Last Post


I decided that I should make the last blog post of the year a significant one; one of great interest to humanity at large. The result of this has been me sitting at the keyboard for half an hour staring into space and occasionally touching a key when the screensaver came on. Why, I kept wondering, do we attach such significance to the turn of the year? I could understand if we still celebrated the pagan solstice 'New Year' as Spring begins in March. But why January 1st? Initially no one in the room could come up with a reason other than having a late night partying and getting a bank holiday. However, ideas eventually flowed as the morning cup of tea began to have its effect.

"You get a new calendar and if you made a mess of the old one it can be thrown away. It's like the feeling you got when you had a new exercise book in school."

"Old Filofax diary pages can be chucked and all the jobs that didn't get done can be binned." (An optimistic view of how life works I rather suspected).

"A lot of people use it as a focal point to make a new start, new resolutions, new plans... " "Aha," I responded, "so what resolutions have you made?"

"To finish tiling the bathroom," was one answer followed by "To start tiling the bathroom," from the more pedantic of the partnership. There then followed:-

"To record the species of bird which appear in our garden." (HJE)

"To record the books I've read." (IE)

Not to make resolutions - followed by "To do the things that are on my to do lists / go to gym / learn something about computers." (Jo).

These notes of the conversation were taken down in my usual shorthand in-between attempts to decipher a note on the back of my hand which appeared to read "Black AB". It was suggested that one of my resolutions should be not to make indecipherable notes whose meaning could be easily forgotten in the space of an hour. This ended up in my notes as "Write" which caused a certain amount of amusement! On a more serious note I decided to make a resolution to get my pastels out of the loft and do at least one painting this coming year.

At the end of the day this blog post has turned out to be neither significant nor of great interest - it has simply been a Ramble from my Chair....


It looks an awful long way to the loo... I can't wait that long!

Sunday 30 December 2007

Spirit of Christmas

It must be the spirit of Christmas. After years of trying to pretend each other does not exist Meek and Samantha have actually got around to curling up together in the last week or so!

Australian Tourism: questions answered

These questions about Australia were posted on an Australian Tourism website. Obviously the answers came from fellow Aussies.....just trying to help:

Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia? I have never seen it rain on TV, so how do the plants grow? (UK)
A: We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.

Q: Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street? (USA)
A: Depends how much you've been drinking.

Q: I want to walk from Perth to Sydney - can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)
A: Sure, it's only three thousand miles, take lots of water...

Q: Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in Australia? Can you send me a list of them in Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville and Hervey Bay? (UK)
A: What did your last slave die of?

Q: Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia? (USA)
A: A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe. Aus-tra-lia is that big island in the middle of the Pacific which does not... oh forget it. Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night in Kings Cross. Come naked.

Q: Which direction is north in Australia? (USA)
A: Face south and then turn 90 degrees. Contact us when you get here and we'll send the rest of the directions.

Q: Can I bring cutlery into Australia? (UK)
A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do.

Q: Can you send me the Vienna Boys' Choir schedule? (USA)
A: Aus-tri-a is that quaint little country bordering Ger-man-y, which is...oh forget it. Sure, the Vienna Boys Choir plays every Tuesday night in Kings Cross, straight after the hippo races. Come naked.

Q: Do you have perfume in Australia? (France)
A: No, WE don't stink.

Q: I have developed a new product that is the fountain of youth. Can you tell me where I can sell it in Australia? (USA)
A: Anywhere significant numbers of Americans gather.

Q: Can I wear high heels in Australia? (UK)
A: You are a British politician, right?

Q: Can you tell me the regions in Tasmania where the female population is smaller than the male population? (Italy)
A: Yes, gay nightclubs.

Q: Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia? (France)
A: Only at Christmas.

Q: Are there killer bees in Australia? (Germany)
A: Not yet, but for you, we'll import them.

Q: Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available all year round? (Germany)
A: No, we are a peaceful civilisation of vegan hunter gatherers. Milk is illegal.

Q: Please send a list of all doctors in Australia who can dispense rattlesnake serum. (USA)
A: Rattlesnakes live in A-meri-ca which is where YOU come from. All Australian snakes are perfectly harmless, can be safely handled and make good pets.

Q: I have a question about a famous animal in Australia, but I forget its name. It's a kind of bear and lives in trees.(USA)
A: It's called a Drop Bear. They are so called because they drop out of gum trees and eat the brains of anyone walking underneath them. You can scare them off by spraying yourself with human urine before you go out walking.

Q: I was in Australia in 1969 on R+R, and I want to contact the girl I dated while I was staying in Kings Cross. Can you help? (USA)
A: Yes, and you will still have to pay her by the hour.

Q: Will I be able to speek English most places I go? (USA)
A: Yes, but you'll have to learn it first.

Bitter water

So how much bitter water did you have over Christmas? When the Spanish arrived in Mexico they came across the Aztecs. The Aztec language is called Nahuatl. Like most Mesoamerican peoples, the Aztecs had a drink which they made from a bean they called zoco (bitter). They would put this bean into water (atl) to produce XOCO-ATL (bitter water). The TL sound is common in the Aztec language but not in Spanish. The Spaniards mispronounced the drink CHOCOLATO. This drink, whose use was first documented in 1100 BC, was brought to Europe (with sugar added) where the pronunciation and spelling in English became CHOCOLATE.

The GOOD NEWS - Recent studies have suggested that cocoa or dark chocolate may possess certain beneficial effects on human health. Dark chocolate, with its high cocoa content, is a rich source of the falavinoids, epicatechin and gallic acid, which are thought to possess cardioprotective properties. Cocoa possesses a significant anti-oxidant action. Some studies have also observed a modest reduction in blood pressure after consuming approximately 100g of dark chocolate daily.

The BAD NEWS - Consuming milk chocolate or white chocolate, or drinking fat-containing milk with dark chocolate, appears largely to negate the health benefit. Processed cocoa powder (so called Dutch chocolate), processed with alkali greatly reduces the antioxidant capacity as compared to "raw" cocoa powder. Chocolate is also a calorie-rich food with a high fat content, so daily intake of chocolate also requires reducing caloric intake of other foods.

Saturday 29 December 2007



In case you were thinking of doing the hokey-cokey at the New Year’s Eve knees-up... You may wish to read this article by David Bamber
from Sunday 14 March 1999

THE hokey cokey, the popular dance, has always been seen as an innocent, if raucous, form of entertainment. But an Anglican clergyman has now discovered a more sinister side: it originated as a parody of the Roman Catholic Church's Latin Mass.

Canon George Nairn-Briggs, Provost of Wakefield Cathedral, West Yorkshire, says that both the name of the dance and its actions were originally designed to satirise the traditional Mass and the clergy. The dance involves participants forming a chain and flinging their limbs about in line with commands.

Canon Nairn-Briggs said: "In the days when the priest celebrated the Mass with his back to the people and whispered the Latin words of consecration with many hand movements, the laity mimicked the movements as they saw them and the words as they misheard them." The words "hokey cokey" were a mishearing, or a deliberate parody, of the Latin phrase "Hoc est enim corpus meum", which translates as "This is my body".

Canon Nairn-Briggs also contends that another corruption of the same phrase is "hocus pocus", the words believed to be used by magicians when they were casting spells.

Historical sources appear to back up his theories. The Hokey Cokey became a popular dance in 1940s America and crossed the Atlantic with US soldiers. But its origins are much older and it seems to have gained popularity originally on this side of the Atlantic, before being taken to the US by refugees. An earlier folk dance version was performed in mainland Europe in the 19th century.

The Oxford English Dictionary says that "hokey cokey" comes from "hocus pocus", the traditional magicians' incantation that derives from a Latin phrase used in satanic masses, themselves parodies of the Latin Mass.

Friday 28 December 2007

Clothing label

Little Bits of Christmas


Thought I’d show you our Christmas tree – which was a gift from Helen and Ian – and if you are observant you’ll see there are presents underneath it because the picture was taken a week or so ago! Sadly all the pressies are gone now.

The tree looks better at night but I haven’t taken a decent photo yet – must do so. In the meantime this gives an idea of the warm glow it gives the conservatory.

A little tradition we have introduced in the last few years is to have a separate named bauble for each member of the family so that decorating the tree reminds one of Christmases gone by and folk with whom one has shared those Christmastimes... This is my Mum’s.

Jo and I shared the preparation of our Christmas festive meals but rarely used the kitchen at the same time. Having the kitchen to ourselves is preferred by both of us. During one of my stages I put two jellies out ready to make and when I next came into the kitchen it was spotlessly clean and the jellies had disappeared from the work surface. I hunted everywhere and in the end gave up and went to the cupboard to get two more out. I made them and only when I went to put them in the fridge did I find the originals – Jo had made them. I’d send you some but they haven’t made an internet service that carries jellies yet. Perhaps one day. In the meantime the whole fridge wobbles when you go near it.

Rich and Jo on Christmas morning (note to the timer round Jo’s neck – every time it bleeped there would be a dash for the kitchen to baste the roasties or undertake some other task.)

Me in my ‘Bah Humbug’ hat with Prince the reindeer in the background.

Helen and Ian on Boxing Day

Our Christmas hamper from Bryony and Mark about which more can be read on

Thursday 27 December 2007

My head hurts


Christmas and Boxing Day are over. My head hurts... Too tired to do a serious blog... It's most unfair that I get a hangover - I don't actually drink! Nevertheless for those of you who do....

Tuesday 25 December 2007

My Fair Lady


Re-runs of re-runs and even more re-runs. That’s the story of Christmas television. But there is one film that I can forgive them repeating ad other people’s nauseam... My Fair Lady.

Not only is this one of my top ten films but the tagline of “The loveliest motion picture of them all!” is as true now as it was when it was made in 1964. Audrey Hepburn – the most beautiful of women to have walked the streets of Hollywood – was never more lovely.

Rex Harrison was never more chauvinistic and bombastic; and Wilfrid Hyde-White never more the English gentleman. The supporting cast of Stanley Holloway, Mona Washbourne and a youthful Jeremy Brett and the like is top class. As says - "My Fair Lady", bringing the most tuneful of Broadway scores to the big screen (really big, at the time) was as perfect as movie entertainment could be."

Like all films and stage plays it had its glitches. One of these was the scene in which Eliza says to Henry Higgins “...not you my reverberating friend.” The first attempt at shooting the scene was just after lunch and Rex Harrison had eaten beans. The word reverberating was echoed by the sound of him breaking wind, loudly! After a few more attempts to shoot the scene simply ended in giggles and laughter the job was given up for the day.

Happy Christmas to one and all

From "Today’s Cartoon by Randy Glasbergen", displayed with special permission. For many more cartoons, please visit Randy's site -

Monday 24 December 2007

Father Christmas

Top Gear

All good things come to an end and such has been the case with Strictly Come Dancing and Top Gear. Our televisions will now be filled with re-runs of The Great Escape, Oliver Twist and the Blackadder Christmas Carol.

This year’s series of Top Gear has been one of the best ever and it was rounded off rather nicely for me by The Stig driving the most beautiful Formula One car ever made – the JPS Lotus from the 1970s.

The 1964 Lotus 25 of Jim Clark, the 1970 Tyrrell of Jackie Stewart, the Gold Leaf Lotus 1970, the 1972 Elf-Tyrrell 005 and the 1979 Williams FW07 were all things of beauty but nothing could match the JPS Lotus whether seen in the hands of The Stig or the late great Ronnie Petersen (in the blue helmet above).

Brussels Sprouts

It's Christmas Eve and the unmistakeable whiff of Brussels Sprouts is in the air. I refer you to one of my other blogs for a more detailed dissection of this alleged vegetable..

Sunday 23 December 2007

It's nearly Christmas

That good old song again..

When you hear a favourite pop song on the radio you often find yourself singing along with it (under your breath if you are tone deaf and sensitive to the pain of others like me). But every now and then a song is played that does more than just tickle the ears it belts one in the nostalgia centres of the brain. Yesterday I heard three such numbers in quick succession.

The first was “The Boys are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzie. Ah, memories of being at Silverstone with dozens of Formula One engines roaring and this playing on the loudspeakers. Heaven.

Then came “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies. This 1969 hit was not exactly a favourite of mine but it did instantly take me back to my college days in Leeds. It always seemed to be playing as Jane (a fellow student) and I walked down the alleyway to Whitelocks for a lunch which consisted in my case of a Scotch Egg and a brown ale. Later The Vic (Victoria) was to become my local for the next three years but that didn’t have music in the room we used so no particular songs bring that to mind.

The third song in the row was “Bus Stop” by The Hollies. One of a number of tunes from 1966 when I spent some time in hospital after a road accident. There were no TVs in the ward in those days and we relied on three things for our amusement – betting, pretty nurses and Radio Caroline. (This was a year before Radio One came into existence to make up for the fact that Caroline and other pirate radios were made illegal.) Others from that era included - “Pretty Flamingo” by Manfred Mann; ”Michelle” by the Overlanders; “These Boots were made for Walkin’” by Nancy Sinatra; "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" by The Walker Brothers; "Winchester Cathedral" by the New Vaudeville Band; "California Dreamin" by Mamas and the Papas; “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles; and “Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks. One song guaranteed to cause a groan from all around the ward as it was announced on our headphones was Tom Jones “Green, green grass of home”.

Saturday 22 December 2007

Pick up a Penguin

Your most embarrassing moment

What was your most embarrassing moment? I suspect you can think of an answer but whether you are prepared to share it on my comments slot is likely to depend upon how long ago it happened!

Fortunately mine happened many decades ago and the above swimming pool was the location. I had been invited to go on a day trip to New Brighton open air swimming pool by a neighbour, Mrs Kerr. I hated swimming (or drowning as my version tended to be) but the combination of her having two attractive daughters – Jean and Barbara – and a trip on the ferry decided me in its favour. I even enjoyed the pool as it had a shallow end which sloped to nothing (unusual in those days). I expect you have already guessed the embarrassment – I started to get out of the pool whilst my trunks decided to stay in a waterlogged heap around my ankles. The only consolation was that the Kerrs were far enough away not to notice.

Since I’m mentioning embarrassing moments I’ll tell you one of Jo’s as well. We went to the bank one day and I stood in the queue to get money from the counter while Jo hung around at the back. After I’d got my money I peeled off a load of notes and reached out towards Jo and gave her them. As she wasn’t expecting any she looked slightly surprised and said “Thank you”. “No problem, you were worth it!” I said as I turned my back on her and walked out of the door leaving her open-mouthed and the folk in the queue staring at her.....

Friday 21 December 2007

Keep warm this Christmas

Have a nice week-end

A man in his 40s bought a new BMW and was out driving on the interstate at top speed when he suddenly saw flashing red and blue lights behind him.

"There's no way they can catch a BMW," he thought to himself and sped up even more. Then the reality of the situation hit him, "What the heck am I doing?" he thought and pulled over.

The cop came up to him, took his license without a word, and examined it and the car. "It's been a long day, it is the end of my shift, and it's Friday the 13th. I don't feel like more paperwork, so if you can give me an excuse for your driving that I haven't heard before, you can go."

The guy thinks for a second and says, "Last week my wife ran off with a cop. I was afraid you were trying to give her back."

"Have a nice weekend," said the officer.

Thursday 20 December 2007


I visited a website with ten ugly fish on it the other day. I know that ‘Ugly’ like ‘Beauty’ is in the eye of the beholder but how dare they put my beloved Blobfish in the ugliest ten. I love it.

More wit of Stephen Wright

When I erase a word, where does it go?

Tell a man that there are 400 billion stars and he'll believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint and he has to touch it.

Why is it lemon juice contains mostly artificial ingredients, but dishwashing liquid contains real lemons?

Why do we wash bath towels? Aren't we clean when we use them?

Why doesn't glue stick to the inside of the bottle?

What do little birdies see when they get knocked unconscious?

Should you trust a stockbroker who's married to a travel agent?

Is boneless chicken considered to be an invertebrate?

Do married people live longer than single people, or does it just SEEM longer?

I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, "Where's the self-help section?" She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.

Tuesday 18 December 2007

Christmas Beetle

Christmas Beetle – Anoplognatius porosus.
At Christmas time in Australia, huge numbers can suddenly appear on a Eucalyptus tree and look just like the decorations on Christmas tree. They are metallic green in colour and have a beautiful texture on their wing covers. They're about 25-30 mm in length.

Christmas Beetle female lay eggs in soil or compost in spring and early summer. Larvae live in the soil. They feed on decaying organic matter or roots. They pupate in soil as well. Adult beetles emerge during the early to mid summer period from soil. They are extremely voracious feeders and large swarms can rapidly defoliate trees in young eucalypt plantations and are regarded as important pests.

(I went to a store to buy some insecticide. “Is this good for beetles?” I asked the clerk. “No,” he replied. “It’ll kill ‘em.”)

What's a drib and what's a drab?

I mentioned to my daughter that some of the things I had ordered from Amazon were arriving in dribs and drabs. That gave me cause to wonder about the origin of the phrase. What was a drib and what was a drab? Upon investigation it seems that a drib was simply an alternative word for s drop or small quantity.

Drib was known in some English, Irish and Scottish dialects from at least the eighteenth century, and was most probably a variant form of drip or drop. It was taken by emigrants to the US and at one time was fairly common there. The English Dialect Dictionary quotes a letter written by Abraham Lincoln in 1862: “We are sending such regiments and dribs from here and Baltimore as we can spare to Harper’s Ferry”.

Whilst there are various meanings for 'drab' - such as an untidy woman, a minor debt or a something dull - none of them is likely to be relevant to 'dribs and drabs' and the phrsae is most likely just an echo of the word drib forming a duplicated compound similar to helter-skelter, hurly-burly and see-saw.

Sunday 16 December 2007

The Wit of Steven Wright

If a person with multiple personalities threatens suicide, is that considered a hostage situation?

Just think how much deeper the ocean would be if sponges didn't live there.

If a cow laughed, would milk come out her nose?

If olive oil comes from olives, where does baby oil come from?

I went for a walk last night, and my kids asked me how long I'd be gone. I said, "The whole time."

How come you don't ever hear about gruntled employees? And who has been dissing them anyhow?

After eating, do amphibians need to wait an hour before getting OUT of the water?

Why don't they just make mouse-flavoured cat food?

So what's the speed of dark?

Burmese lake

This is a picture of a rock formation near a lake in Burma. The photo can only be taken on a specific day once a year when the sun rays touch the rocks at a certain angle.

Saturday 15 December 2007

Welwitschia mirabilis

Welwitschia mirabilis consists of only two leaves and a stem with roots. Its two leaves continue to grow until they resemble an alien life form. The stem gets thicker rather than higher, although this plant can grow to be almost six feet high and twenty-four feet wide. Its estimated lifespan is 400 to 1500 years. Mirabilis grows in Namibia, and is thought to be a relic of the Jurassic period.

Growing Garlic

The web is full of useful pages – how about this one for example –

All you need to know to grow your own garlic.

Friday 14 December 2007

The Lion King

No doubt our Christmas television will be full of the usual second-hand films and animated cartoons to keep the old folk and children quiet while we burn the turkey and try to get the wine stain out of the table cloth. One of these will probably be the 1994 Disney classic “The Lion King”.

But have you ever stopped to analyse how horrific some of our animated cartoons are? The monomyth theory of plot claims that there is a common plot structure in all narratives in popular culture: a hero of royal birth - hero escapes death in childhood - hero goes on a journey / marries a princess or is given great honour. In that respect one should expect similarities between the archetypal Jungian hero Simba and a number of Shakespearian characters. But, would you knowingly subject your child to a cartoon version of Hamlet with all its intrigue, scary music and scenes of death and dark violence? That is, after all, what you get with the Lion King.

It is the classic tale of a young prince setting out to rule his pride while his friends singing catchy songs about how good apathy can be. His uncle murders his father and takes the prince’s rightful place leaving the young prince to vow revenge in best Shakespearian fashion.

The Lion King reinforces many stereotypes,. including stereotypical villains. In this case the main villain, a lion named Scar (suggesting bad events in his past), is skinny, with a low and secretive voice and a cunning look. Whenever he appears, the background is gray in colour And he always goes to the "shadowy" place where the bad hyenas (subsidIary villians) live. In Jungian psychology, the shadow is the dark side of the psyche, which we try to hide from consciousness.

In one major departure from the Shakespearian darkness, the "something rotten in the state of Denmark" is actually a flatulent warthog. But, one seriously must wonder how the meeting went when the writers tried to pitch this to the producer...
"It's Hamlet, but with lions, songs by Elton John and fart jokes."

Of course, the 20th century gets a look in with a bit of environmentalist dialogue...
Mufasa: Everything you see exists together, in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance, and respect all the creatures -- from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.
Simba: But, dad, don't we eat antelope?
Mufasa: Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass. And the antelopes eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.

Unfortunately some other aspects of the modern world do not get a look in. For example, feminists will be saddened by the fact that of the fourteen characters ten are male and only two females have speaking roles and those are very vocal stereotypical ‘help-seeking’ roles.

The principal difference comes at the end where, in a radical (and totally unpredictable) departure from Hamlet, the hero kills his uncle, reclaims his throne, gets the girl and lives happily ever after. So, we are left with the great philosophical question of our times – Does the end justify the plot?

And I thought the Mersey was bad!

Citarum, near the Indonesian capital of Jakarta is, according to many, the world’s most polluted river. If this isn't the most polluted I'd hate to see what was!


I used to have an inferiority complex. But I'm not sure I'm important enough to have one any more...

Thursday 13 December 2007

Wollemia nobilis

Wollemia nobilis: Until 1994 this bizarre-looking tree was known only from 120 million-year-old fossil leaves. Since then a few have been discovered but it is estimated that fewer than one hundred exist in the wild. They have strange bark that looks like bubbles of chocolate (below), multiple trunks, and ferny-looking leaves growing in spirals. They can grow up to 125 feet tall.

Computer humour

Oh dear! or words to that effect..

Wednesday 12 December 2007

Early memories

One’s earliest memories are usually of things related to the family or which directly concerned oneself. But what is the earliest news of national or international importance you can recall?

In my case it is Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile. On 6th May 1954 Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old British medical student, became the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes. It was a feat which most people thought could never be achieved. His time was 3mins 59.4 seconds, achieved at the Iffley Road track in Oxford and watched by about 2 to 3,000 spectators. I don’t think any athletic record since that one has had the same impact. It seemed there were no longer any limits to what man’s body could achieve.

From 1956 onwards I recall a few things – the Suez Crisis, the opening of Calder Hall power station and most amazingly to me the laying of the trans-Atlantic telephone cable between Newfoundland and Scotland. I even recall Dad showing me on the globe exactly where Newfoundland was.

But of all the events of 1956 none sticks in my memory more than the arrival of Soviet troops in Hungary. The day after my 7th birthday the Hungarian people rose up against Soviet rule and the picture above shows Hungarians mobbing a Russian tank. But a week later 1000 Russian tanks rolled into Budapest and put down the ‘revolt’. The freedom fighters, hoping for help from the West, were ignored by the British government which was too busy with the Suez Crisis to risk taking on the USSR on its home turf. I remember my teacher, Miss Perry, standing at the front of the class on 5th November to tell us, in a most emotional manner, about hearing on the radio of the brave young men who had stood in front of the tanks only to be mown down. It was unheard of for any teacher to show emotion to her pupils and that alone would have made the events stand out in my mind. In all some 30,000 Hungarians were killed in Budapest alone as Russia “crushed the forces of reactionary conspiracy against the Hungarian people".

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