Friday, March 31, 2006

Grandmaster and the Plod

Here is a picture of the signature that appears in a couple of chess books I bought in Hay about 10 years ago. I would like to know if they are the signatures of the author of the books, Alexander Alekhine. I have found a specimen of Alekhine’s signature on the web but it looks nothing like this. But then Alekhine was such a devious character it wouldn’t surprise me if he had more than one. So if you know that it definitely is or is not his signature please let me know and I might make a few quid.
His games are brilliant and the defence that bears his name is so good because when you play it you feel like Muhammad Ali employing his ‘rope a dope’ tactics against George Foreman, it is so completely contrary to normal chess instinct. (As I suppose is playing chess in boxing gloves but you get the point- I am making an analogy about tactics)
Now what is the connection between Alexander Alekhine chess artist extraordinaire and Paula Radcliff our own, well, obsessive runner and, perhaps more to the point ,why does the kind of theme I am about to recount crop up regularly in this blog in one way or another?
Alexander Alekhine or Dr Alexander Alekhine as he called himself, although there is a strong suggestion that he did a bit of Jeffrey Archer with the claim to a Doctorate, was given to urinating during a game on stage especially when drunk and Paula Radcliffe , well I still cant believe she did that! I could pursue this comparison further but I think it will only increase the reader’s unease and so I will spare you that. As to the unanswered question I am not even going to think about it. But if you are ever in a pub quiz and the Alekhine/Radcliff question crops up this might just make all the difference.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Trevor Johns sat on our sofa puffing at his unlit pipe and pondered the question what would he do if he won the lottery. He gave it deep and serious thought before removing the pipe and announcing. “I'd get a new shed”.

Ripped off by Oxfam

I have just been reading Chase me Ladies and he gives a quote by PG Wodehouse about ‘Gone with the Wind’ :"After an eternity of it, they fell into the embrace, and I was just reaching for my hat when damned if they didn’t start a whole new story".
Which reminded me that living so close to Hay on Wye, Town of Books, I did once dabble in collecting. I once came across among the old books in Oxfam a thickish hardback covered in wrinkley brown paper with ‘Gone with the Wind’ written upon it in a spidery ancient hand.
I opened it up to find that it was a 1st edition. Whoever priced the book knew it was a 1st edition too because they had written it in pencil on the inside cover and alongside it the price, £5. I knew that the price of a first edition ‘Gone with the Wind’ was at the time about £300 because I took ‘Book & Magazine Collector’. Should I tell them to reconsider the price it was a charity after all?
I glanced shiftily over my shoulder adopted a casual pose and bought it in silence for £5. Maybe I might send them something when I ve sold it on – perhaps.
Rushed back to the car and drove the 8 miles home.
Carefully removed the wrinkly paper and found that the wrinkley paper wasn’t to protect the book but more to hold it together. The spine was badly damaged.
But it was a first edition after all, I hunted out the relevant magazine. Yes there it was, £300 in very good condition ran my finger down the various categories of condition until I came to , “Poor £4. “. Ripped off by Oxfam!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Only a lark

Alouette gentille alouette,
Alouette je te plumerai.

I am disturbed to find today the verb plumer meaning to pluck.
All these years, since at least 1961, telling myself, ‘I must look that up’ - at last I do and am shocked at the barbarity of it. Poor little skylark.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Old School Ties

Last week a package arrived for me. I wasn’t expecting anything.
I ripped it open and two ties fell out. But they might as well have been two vipers my whole body stiffened as subconsciously I recognised them before the brain could put a name to them. Brockley County Grammar School ties. They expelled me in 1961, loathsome place.It wasnt for stealing a postal order either.

Llyswen from the air

I once heard a canoeist telling his friends excitedly that he had just found another river going in the opposite direction.


I have noticed in the last few weeks I take uncharacteristic pleasure in folding up a letter I have written so that the address just shows in one of those envelopes with a ‘window’.
In the height of summer when we had a dog and I cut the grass I would sometimes encounter one of his overlooked little ‘Richard the Thirds’ in the path of the mower.
Incidentally I bought a copy of the Lawrence Olivier film Richard the Third on ebay a week or so ago and it must have been good because I stayed awake right the way through, I have yet to keep my eyes open beyond the first 10 minutes of Jurassic Park.
Anyway Richard is itself again and impedes my progress with the mower.
This calls for a simple decision which requires a fine judgement founded upon a long experience in these matters. Do I remove it manually or do I mow straight over it? The prize for getting this judgement right is for the idle inestimable: call it right and ‘go over the top’ as it were and it would cost nothing. Call it wrong and go ‘over the top’ and the position is far worse than removing it first.
Some might say the correct thing to do is always to remove it manually, Ann among them, but for the pathologically lazy this is a challenge requiring judgement.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Brecon is twinned with a small Breton town called Gouesnou, near Brest.
Alternate years we visit each others homes and stay with a host family.
It is good fun.
New members sometimes get the wrong idea of what they are supposed to do when hosting. I heard of a case where the Brecon host did not know you were expected to feed your guests. It was two days without food before the stoical Breton made enquiries which resolved the issue.
Last year our guest told us of a pre-visit lecture given by the leader of the Bretons to those for whom this visit to stay with Welsh families was a new experience.
He urged them to follow the customs of their Welsh hosts when it came to food.
“If your host gets up off the sofa and wanders over to the fridge, peers inside, rummages about, drags something out and carries it back to the sofa to consume; you do the same”.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

How are the mighty fallen?

2 weeks ago were you to have typed 'nasal hair trimmers' into the MSN Search engine as I noticed in my stats somebody actually did then my blog, this blog, would have come out as the no 1 site!!. There were 4,600 other entries.
I began to dream of selling my soul to the specialist mail grooming market perhaps by subtle product placements within my meanderings. This week I am devastated to find that the number of sites has increased by more than 1000 and I cant find mine in the first 10 pages. Hair today gone tomorrow.

A small pleasure

Pleased to receive this morning from Citi bank through the post another monthly statement and five bits of paper for the 50p that is still outstanding on my account see bankers and has been for the last 12 months now.
I am now going to try for year 2.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Here is a poem by Sheenagh Pugh, a welsh poet. She says she is sick of it and has removed it from her website.

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail.
Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war,
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best intentions do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen ; may it happen for you.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Wincey Willis hypothesis

Much about modern life has crept up on me. A couple of days ago I said to Ann, “Where have all the Morris 1100s gone – the roads should be crawling with them?” She did not spare my feelings and gave me the verbal equivalent of a nasty slap on the legs. I then paid proper attention to the cars and noticed that they all looked essentially the same. It is as if there is a kind of parallel evolution going on – all vehicles tending towards the same shape. Its not that all have a common physical difficulty to overcome – re entry into the earths atmosphere say which might require a specific shape.
I had already noticed that all roads looked the same. You try and follow a route today that was once an interesting and pretty journey and are continually channelled , bullied , diverted and forced off of the route and onto some nondescript uniform motorway.
I blame Wincey Willis. I may be wrong but I remember weather forecasts as straightforward expressions of data. “Temperatures of 63 degrees Fahrenheit or 17 degrees Celsius can be expected”. I am damn sure it was Wincey Willis who in place of numbers introduced “not too bad” as a metrological term. Now they all say it and that Andrea Maclean on TV am irritates me further by always ending with “Now here is your summary” – its not my summary its her bloody summary.
In the little evolutionary tree that I am drawing up Wincey Willis ,surprisingly perhaps, is entered at a node. Thereafter down that branch all aspects of life converged to a dumbed down sameness.


"The situation my dear girl is normal and it can't be worse than that"
-Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart

Friday, March 10, 2006

Choking not Waving

Just been reading a blog on Dulwich and it reminded me of a time when my mother had a flat there in the very top of a large old victorian house. She was looking out of the window when the sash broke and the window collapsed like a guillotine trapping her head and hands outside the building.
Her shouts to passers by, for she lived alone, were either ignored or else they thought she was waving and waved back. I am not sure how she eventually got free but like everything else in her life it was almost certainly down to her own ingenuity rather than anyone else.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Great Sporting Moments

We are going to the Isle of Wight in September for a week. I like the place because it dosn’t seem to alter beyond recognition. We seem to go there about every 10 years. The first time I went was also the first time I had ever stayed in a hotel it was a ‘school journey’ probably circa 1955.
Edward May had been practising ‘gobbing’ for many weeks before the event, make as much spit as you can before depositing it in one, hopefully huge, globule. Success was measured by the size and coherence of the effort in its final resting place on the pavement. If it were an Olympic sport marks would be deducted for any separation in the body of this watery projectile when finally at rest.
Lee Manor Primary school in south east London was a long way from Shanklin Isle of Wight and Edward May’s effort to achieve the record must rank along side the greatest sporting efforts. His cheeks were going in and out as we boarded the coach and I think if he did manage to say anything at all it would have been at this point before the precious cargo had multiplied to a level that required careful containment.
I am sure the ferry port was Portsmouth and that would be about 90 miles from the school and on roads that were still pretty to travel on. Edward May’s cheeks pumped away , occasionally they paused , I suppose to rest the muscles in his face but he could say nothing. Not without tremendous risk to those of us who sat near him and to the ultimate perfection and beauty of his great work. Then the ferry which takes about ½ hour and again back onto the coach for the journey to Cliff Top Hotel Shanklin. Finally we arrived at Keats Green and walked up the gravel drive of the hotel. In my mind I now clearly see the white bay window where its base meets the gravel drive and nestling in the crevice the enormous but slightly disappointing Ted May deposit. His big error was not to realise the importance of gravel as a means of drainage.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Raising funds

One way they raise funds here for the Church or the new village hall etc is to hold a Chinese Auction. Why it is called a Chinese auction I don’t know and you don’t have to travel very far outside the area before you encounter locals who haven’t a clue what a Chinese auction is and so maybe it did evolve here first.
With a conventional jumble sale the organisers are left with a huge pile of rubbish that nobody wants and it is a real problem to get rid of it.
I remember once having to store a huge pile of the late Mrs D…’s old corsets in our garage – why she thought they might have some resale value I don’t know.
I wished Id hung on to them though because I think I might have been able to shift them on ebay especially if I lied about their provenance.
Incidently Mrs D….. in the days of Thatcher regularly delivered to our house the local Tory newsletter much to my concealed annoyance. In one issue they were running a competition, which was , complete the following ,’ Oh dear Kinnock and Hattersley……..’
I sent in ‘will soon stuff the tories and then where will Maggie be’.
I didn’t win but she never delivered another Conservative newsletter.
Now the thing is that under the Chinese auction regime Mrs D…..’s corsets would pose no problem at all. With such an event all the donated bits of junk are set out in piles and in front of each potential prize is placed a plastic cup. The punters come in and buy a book of cloakroom tickets. They then wander among this cornucopia of crap dropping a cloakroom ticket into each mug which is adjacent to prize in which they are interested. But you are saying at the end of this session Mrs D….’s corset collection will have attracted no tickets – surely not?. You would be right but the beauty of this system will now be demonstrated. Suppose that you, a punter, wished to win that first edition copy of ‘Gone with the Wind’ nobody had noticed and placed all your tickets in the plastic cup adjacent to it and suppose when they came to draw the winning ticket it was yours! The skilled assistant auctioneer would gather up your book, and here is the beauty of it, Mrs D…..’s corsets too and present the lot to you as your winnings. You would say ‘I didn’t put in for these’ to which the standard reply is ‘ Its all part of the same lot’ . Brilliant , all gone no crap left.
I thought I would help out once with an advert. I scoured the internet and found a magnificent picture of the Duke of Edinburgh in fully military kit and he was pointing towards the camera. I inserted a speech bubble which had him saying ‘Go all slitty eyed at the Llyswen Chinese Auction’. Unfortunately it was deemed not suitable by the committee.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Cool out bottom in

I don’t use new words when an old word will do nor do I give them permanent new meanings. Temporary, new, one off meanings is a different matter that’s style.
Never will I describe any thing as ‘cool’ or ‘wicked’ and mean anything other than cool or wicked. I further expect that the number of occasions I am going to be able to use the word ‘awesome’ in the declining balance of my life is limited and I certainly don’t expect to have to deploy it in connection with a pair of trainers.
But there is one new usage which I feel does add something to the English language and that is the figurative use of the word arse. ‘I cant be arsed’. It seems to me to sum up a unique hitherto inadequatley described human predicament.
I was going to write some more but frankly I…etc et……………..

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Who says we in the insurance industry dont have sense of humour.
The following from Rod Gibson in Brokers forum
'The Balloon family are asleep in bed. Baby Balloon wakes up and decides to get in bed with his mum and dad.

He can't get in so he lets a little bit of air out of his mum.

He still can't get in, so lets a little bit of air out of his dad.

He still can't get in so he lets a lot of air out of himself.

In the morning his parents wake up and are really cross that he got out of bed.

His dad says “I'm really disappointed Son, you've let your mum down, you've let me down, but worst of all you've let yourself down”'