Midwinter musings from the Shire-tiddely-pom…

28 01 2013

snow‘The more it

SNOWS- tiddely-pom

The more it

GOES- tiddely-pom




And nobody

KNOWS- tiddely-pom

How cold my toes-tiddely-pom

Are growing’


By Winnie the Pooh (with a little help from his friend – A.A. Milne)

 Monday 21st January:  ‘Blue Monday’

It has been calculated that the third Monday in January, ‘Blue Monday’, is officially the most depressing day of the year.

blueHow do we know? – Because psychologist, Cliff Arnall, told us so. His scientifically based assertion, first made in 2005, was determined using a complex formula. I’m pretty light on the detail, and I expect only Cliff can properly explain his bizarre equation, which factored in a whole lot of  stuff like: miserable weather, outstanding debt – with Christmas bills rolling in, post-Christmas anti-climax, broken New Year’s Resolutions, short daylight hours,  and low motivational levels, to name but a few.

All very clever but what’s the point? Naming the day as ‘depressing’ is somewhat of self-fulfilling and counter-productive surely? Well yes, but then we learn that the whole notion of discovering a single day when we are all, supposedly, at our lowest ebb was dreamt up by a travel company.

In his letter from the executive editor, Stefano Hatfield of the ipaper picked up on this, dismissing the concept of ‘Blue Monday’ as, ‘a fine example of pseudo-science subverted by marketers …so we can be sold remedies for ‘the blues’: sunny holidays and chocolate to name two.’  

Arnall’s get out response to those who question his claim, is that he is happy that it has stimulated debate around depression and that he is ‘encouraging people to refute the whole notion of there being a most depressing day.’ He wants us to use the day, ‘as a springboard to the things that really matter in life.’ 

They just might include holidays and chocolate…

Tuesday 22nd January: ‘Quartet’ falls flat…

downloadIt seems every Tuesday is ‘Supersaver Tuesday’ at Vue Cinemas. I only discovered this last week when Chris and I went to see ‘Les Mis’ – albeit on a Thursday. Anyhow, we are both now fully signed up members with cards to prove it, complete with a promotional code number.

Apparently there is also ‘Orange Wednesday’, a 2 for 1 ticket offer available to Orange mobile or broadband customers – which unfortunately we are not!

Yesterday we used our Supersaver 10% off cards for the first time, hoping that ‘Quartet’, based around life in a retirement home for classical musicians, might help lift the January blues.

Despite a fine cast, of veteran actors and musicians, director Dustin Hoffman’s, debut feature film, a drama comedy, is perfectly pleasant but eminently forgettable. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by ‘The Life of Pi’ and ‘Les Mis’ – both outstanding cinematic experiences. In all honesty, this ninety minute BBC production (based on a West End stage play) didn’t warrant the  big screen treatment and would have been more at home in a cosy TV film format.

A simple, predictable, storyline based around the relationship between four retired opera singers, ably played by Pauline Collins (Cissy), Tom Courtenay (Reg), Billy Connolly (Wilf) and the obligatory Maggie Smith (Jean) – who is enjoying something of a renaissance since the emergence of Sunday evening period drama, Downton Abbey – and whether they will, or will not, reunite to top the bill at the annual fund-raising concert to celebrate Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday.

quartetTheatrical temperaments and old rivalries are eventually put to one side and, surprise, surprise, the show, directed by a splendidly eccentric Michael Gambon (Cedric), goes on.

Filmed in its entirety at the charming Hedsor House, in Buckinghamshire, and with added musical authenticity provided by professional musicians, ‘Quartet’ is easy on the eyes and ears. There is plenty of pathos but too little humour, although Billy Connolly raises the odd smile – nothing more.

While ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ (set in India, and also starring Dame Maggie – which I thoroughly enjoyed) a similarly bitter-sweet movie, built around issues of ageing and coming to terms with one’s twilight years, maintained a lively Bollywood tempo throughout, with enough humorous high notes to leave me feeling upbeat, ‘Quartet’, by contrast, was more pastoral largo, which left me feeling somewhat flat.

Wednesday 23rd January:  Bill Oddie – all of a twitter…

blue_tit_300_tcm9-139623_v2Flakes, as big as dinner plates, were tumbling out of the sky, as I carried out my Winterwatch duty – trudging to the top of the garden to feed our feathered friends. To quote Alfred Hitchcock (well Toby Jones playing Hitch – in recent TV film, ‘The Girl’) ‘’The Birds’ is coming’

And so they are. ‘Orchard House’ has become a regular winter haven for peckish visitors. I’ve been trying to do a tit-bit to help them through this recent cold snap but it ain’t ‘cheep’. They have already pecked their way through a 12.75 kg sack of wild bird seed – in just three weeks!

imagesNo wonder @Bill Oddie is tweeting, ‘break the ice, clear the snow, scatter the seed, hang up the fatballs. Garden alive with hungry birds. They need us now.’

A 2kg bag of Bill’s ‘Really Wild Bird Food’ is currently available, online, for a really wild £10.50 – and we are asked to believe that is a really wild reduction on the regular price of £18.81. While a small plastic seed feeder marketed under the Bill Oddie brand retails at £8.07, or if you’re feeling flush there is a top of the tree, 360mm metal model, for just £19.99!

goodies (1)‘Ecky thump’ It strikes me a bit ‘Oddie’ that the former ‘Goody’, now a high-profile ornithologist and wildlife presenter, has turned ‘Baddy’ by allowing his name to be used in marketing such grossly over- priced products. He deserves to get the bird. On yer ‘Trandem’ Bill, it doesn’t strike me as at all, ‘Goody goody yum yum’.

In true ‘Blue Peter’ style I have made my own large seed feeders out of recycled 2 litre green plastic bottles, fitted with a screw in adaptors costing about £2.50.

Thursday 24th January:  Russian red tape …

communist_ussr_russian_hammer_and_sickle_tie-p151665235024382367en71g_216I spent most of today failing to complete an online Russian visa application. We’ve recently booked Easyjet flights, on their new route to Moscow. No frills by Stelios hopefully a safer bet than Aeroflot! We’re not off until late March, but having secured budget accommodation, at the very Russian sounding ‘Capital House Hotel’, close to the Bolshoi Ballet and a gentle stroll from Red Square, allegedly, I thought it best to sort out the visas sooner, rather than later.

mcdonalds1It soon became apparent that despite perestroika, glasnost and the arrival of the golden arches in Pushkin’s Square, there is still plenty of red tape to cut through, and a hammer and sickle might come in handy.

Having read through the accompanying notes, the first stumbling block announced itself. Every application needs to be supported by a ‘letter of invitation’ or a ‘tourist confirmation document.’ These are readily available, varying, considerably, in cost between a range of internet providers – and I eventually managed to save a few roubles by tracking down a £14.00 per person deal.

???????????????????With tourist vouchers and confirmation numbers winging their way through cyber space – and in fairness they arrived by email within the promised 24 hour turn around, I started completing the visa application.

Everything was pretty straight forward until I hit the ‘recent travel’ section. Please indicate every country you have visited in the last ten years and your date of entry to that country. What?

That’s something of an undertaking! I started with existing visas and passport stamps – where the dates were often barely legible – and from their I had to resort to my electronic travel photograph albums, which luckily I had catalogued by year, together with scraps of information from various travel logs I had invariably started with good intentions but invariably aborted a few days into the journey!

So something of an ongoing process, but when I do finally complete and submit the aforementioned information, my application will need to be accompanied by a postal order (how old-fashioned – whoever uses those these days?) for a visa fee which will be only marginally cheaper than the return flight!

It’s enough to make a grumpy old man turn to vodka!

Friday 25th January:  Chocks away …

16862sUp at the crack of dawn, but my early morning drive across the Cotswolds was rewarded with beautiful winter wonderland vistas. And on arrival in Caversfield, the old Parade Ground was ankle-deep in snow as I helped Nicci move into her newly renovated, 1926, Grade 2 listed apartment – previously living quarters at RAF Bicester.

The 23 acre, former Oxfordshire Bomber Command base, once home to the Bristol Blenheim bomber, spitfire and mosquito, its red-brick architecture heavily influenced by the 1930s Garden City movement, is now a conservation site.

The beautifully landscaped Garden Quarter development is just 12 miles outside Oxford, and 48 minutes by train to Marylebone Station in London, with the popular Bicester Village retail park right on the doorstep. Having halved her daily commute to school, it is an ideal location for ‘Nic’ to take her first step on the property ladder.

So chocks away ‘gel’ and enjoy the flight old thing!

Saturday 26th January: Forest stung by Hornets…

snowDespite the big thaw being well under way in the Shire, there had been significant overnight snow around the north Nottinghamshire village of Papplewick, which caught me completely by surprise, causing no little embarrassment as I swung into Dad’s cul-de-sac and slowly ground to a halt, following a failed reverse  manoeuvre on to his drive. It took two men with big snow shovels several minutes to dig me out, before I was able to slide into a parking spot nearer  the somewhat clearer main road, ready for a slippery get away.

Meanwhile, in Nottingham itself, down by the riverside, the City Ground had received only a light dusting of snow which had been dissolved by the under-pitch heating. But it didn’t stop Forest slipping up against Championship promotion rivals Watford.

Matej_2847972They were stung three times by the Hornets, twice by Czech goal machine Matej Vydra. Incisive on the break and ruthless in their finishing, they made Forest look very ordinary. On this less than tricky showing, promotion is neither likely nor desirable for the Trees this season.

Despite playing three up front Forest looked heavy footed throughout and were never really at the races after going behind. A lack lustre showing saw them booed from the pitch and left Big Eck pulling no punches in his post-match assessment.

I’m sure he’s no quitter, but given such an uninspired display by what, on paper, looked a pretty decent side, the level of post-match abuse levelled at him on social networks, erratic recent behaviour by the owners and their apparent inability, up to this point, to make appropriate bids for the players he has identified as needed to strengthen squad, he must be feeling up against it on all fronts.

Given the current inconsistency of performance, irrespective of any 12th hour signings before the January transfer window slams shut, on Thursday, the best The Reds can hope for is a mid-table finish.

For me, the owners got it horribly wrong, switching to a new manager mid-race. I fear the old adage, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, will be levelled at them time and again between now and the end of the season.

 Sunday 27th January: Here we come a wassailing…

Wassailling ceremony - Clive's 27.01.2013It was up to the ankles in mud at Clive’s Fruit Farm – hardly living up to its Frost Fair billing, with adjacent lanes once again threatened by flood water, from a River Severn swollen by snow-melt.

There was a slippery ascent up through the orchard, in the wake of the Faithful City Morris Men, to the site of the traditional wassailing ceremony, in which the wassail tree is hung with pieces of toast, and anointed with cider, as the fruit trees are awakened and evil spirits frightened away by much banging and 150958_10152479288095113_1900707116_nshouting. The ancient pagan proceedings, with touches of Christianity thrown in for good measure, were concluded by three welly squelching circuits of a spitting bonfire – all good rustic fun to ensure a plentiful harvest of apples and pears next Autumn.

Earlier I had made haste to the newsagent to pick up everybody’s favourite red top – at least in the Aldridge family – as just two weeks into her new job, journalistic Gem had scooped her first ‘Sunday Mirror’ front-page splash, and an exclusive at that: ‘Fury at Ben (Kinsella)Killer Compo – cops forced to pay £20,000 over murder hunt raid.’

An amazing start to what I hope will be a long and successful career as newspaper journo, providing a warm and satisfying glow at the finish of just another midwinter week in the Shire – tiddely pom!


100 years of the bra – an uplifting celebration!

20 01 2013

Madonna+in+the+1990s“So Mary Phelps made the blueprint for one of the most successful items of clothing ever invented. She called her maid to bring her two hankies, some ribbon and a needle and thread …and voila! The over-the-shoulder boulder holder was born.”

Gemma Aldridge (features@sundaymirror.co.uk)

It is an ‘In the bleak midwinter’ kind of Sunday in our corner of the Shire. The chill factor is up, the pathways are paved with ice and the rooftops are laced with lingering snow.

tom jones 320x240Olde Upton on Severn may be known for its literary association with Henry Fielding’s bawdy 18th century 1167029529_originalromp ‘The History of Tom Jones’ (a scene is set in The White Lion Hotel – ‘a house of exceedingly good repute’) but today there is more of a Dickensian film-set feel about the place.

It is, therefore, somewhat ironic that the annual Frost Fair and Wassailing at Clive’s Fruit Farm has been postponed until next week, due to icy conditions!

I’ve just returned from a brisk trek into town, to pick up the papers, my usual ‘Sunday Observer’ with a copy of the ‘Sunday Mirror’ tucked inside – discretely hidden from public view. Pure snobbery I know, but I’m pretty sure I’m not alone!

I even felt the need to justify this deviation, from my normal Sunday reading habits, with the lady in the shop. Well, actually it was more an opportunity to exercise parental bragging rights. Because today, daughter number two, journalistic Gem, a graduate of the local Hanley Castle High School*, made her debut in the Mirror.

One_Canada_Square-pictureAfter two years making her mark as senior features writer at the weekly ‘Love It’  magazine, from a small office tucked above ‘Starbucks’ in old Holborn, she has been lured away to dizzier heights, the  22nd floor of 1 Canada Square – Canary Wharf.

It is a great career move and quite a nostalgic occasion for me. Sadly, I’m old enough to remember the ‘Sunday Mirror’ when it was under the ‘Sunday Pictorial’ banner (prior to re-branding 1963) and it was our Sabbath day paper of choice, during much of my youth.

imagesI was surprised, but pleased, to discover that  Andy Capp is still going strong. Evidently, some things never change.

Andy and his wife Flo were created by cartoonist Reg Smythe in 1957 to help boost ‘Mirror’ readership figures in the north. Smythe’s cartoon strip about the somewhat dysfunctional, bickering, but ultimately loving couple, was based around his own parents, and their working-class life up in Hartlepool.

Although Smythe died in 1998, and despite turning 55 last year, Andy continues to be a ‘Mirror’ ever present, and long may he continue.

My old Mum, who used to knock off  ‘the Mirror’ crossword as part of her daily routine would have been so proud to see her granddaughter’s by-line above today’s centre-page spread,‘100 Years of The Bra’ – ‘from 2 hankies and a ribbon to Katy’s cupcakes…’

It’s an altogether uplifting centenary celebration and just my cup of tea – a 36D cup that would be!

downloadAnd as is if the sight of everyone from Marilyn, through Raquel Welch, Madonna, and Eva Herzigova, to Kelly Brook, bursting out of their lacy, racy bras were not enough, to raise my somnolent Sunday spirits, there’s even a decent length report on yesterday’s East Midlands derby – ‘Chris Bliss – Cohen strikes after tough week at Forest’ – but more of the Championship ‘match of the day’ in a post to follow…

I seem to remember a 70’s advertising slogan, ‘If you really want to know look in The Mirror’. I guess I’ll be taking them up on that from here on in – well at least on a Sunday!

200px-RightHoJeeves100px-HanleyCastleHigh*Hanley Castle High School (formerly Hanley Castle Grammar School), one of the oldest in England (circa 1326), has a couple of noted connections with authors of well known literary works.

It features in ‘Right Ho Jeeves’, as Market Snodsbury Grammar School – attended by Bertie Wooster. There is an accurately drawn description of the old school hall (now a library). ‘Plum’ had an aunt who was wife to the vicar at Hanley Castle Church – just 60 metres from the school.

A more recent alumnus of ‘HCHS’ is celebrated author David Mitchell whose novel ‘Cloud Atlas’ was short-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize, now a recently released movie starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant.

Life in, 1982, Hanley Castle, provided the inspiration and setting for his follow-up novel ‘Black Swan Green’ – ‘the sleepiest village in muddiest Worcestershire.’ 

‘Twelfth Night’; or ‘What You Will’ – a whole mess of beanz…

6 01 2013

12night‘Twelfth Night’ – Bard sound-bites:

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”

images (2)

“If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,

The appetite 

may sicken and die.”


Twelfth_cupid_smsp_AW“Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit”


“Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere.”



“In nature there’s no blemish but the mind. None can be called deformed but the unkind.”

Shakespeare wrote his play ‘Twelfth Night’, or ‘What You Will’, around 1602 – an entertainment for the close of the festive season. In medieval and Tudor times, Twelfth Night marked the end of the Winter Festival, which began on Halloween.

It was a day of reversals, presided over by a Lord of Misrule, where the world was turned upside down. The King and all those in high office would become peasants and vice versa.

A special cake was baked, containing a bean. Whoever found it assumed the role of bean king and ruled the feast until midnight when the natural order of things was resumed.

7400809-venice-carnivalThere are echoes of this topsy-turvy behaviour in Shakespeare’s play, with Viola – a woman dressed as a man, and Malvolio – a servant who imagines he can become a nobleman.

Twelfth Night also marks the feast of Epiphany, a celebration of the Adoration of the Magi – a big event in countries such as Spain – which ushers in the carnival season, culminating in Mardi Gras.

art-1cHere in ‘the Shire’ (and other cider-producing counties) it also heralds the traditional season of orchard wassailing, an ancient custom of drinking and singing the health of fruit trees, to awaken them and scare away evil spirits – ensuring a good harvest in the following autumn.

Splash_2At ‘Clive’s’, our nearby fruit farm (Upper Hook Rd – WR8OSA) this ceremony will take place on Sunday 20th January – led by the local, Worcester based, Faithful City Morris Men – as part of an annual Wassailing and Frost Fair.


For most of us, however, Twelfth Night is about remembering to take down the Christmas decorations, for fear of tempting fate and causing bad luck to descend upon our homes in the year ahead.

This morning was, therefore, spent clambering up a rickety ladder to stash away glass baubles in the loft, and dispatching our ‘special’ tree, with its crooked top, for recycling.

monkey-christmas-6inch-4There was also an emotional farewell with the PG Christmas Monkey – who only sees the light of day for a couple of weeks each year!

With journalistic Gem already back, hard at it, in the big city, working her notice on ‘Love It’ magazine, before embarking on fresh and exciting challenges at the ‘Sunday Mirror’; and teacher Nicci departing for Oxford, this afternoon, bracing herself for a busy Spring term, the Christmas holiday will soon become a fading memory.

I took time today to gather up presents, still scattered around the house, and spend a few moments appreciating them. We had made a family pact, we would cut back this year, but I still seem to have been the lucky recipient of many thoughtful gifts.

archie_-_tweeting_is_the_new_bleetingFrom number-one daughter, Nicci, a card – but no ordinary card:

“No ifs or butts… this is a great gift – a goat!

Dad, I know they must be missing you in Africa, so now they have a replacement! This guy is just like you … always bleating on about something (just kidding!) Happy Christmas x”


From number-two daughter, Gem:

hd_14a7ba6c6a1a1ffbc90e21f8a1ccf15da signed, Pictogram rock poster by Swedish designer  Viktor Hertz – David Bowie www.victorhertz.com

an ‘On The Road’ travel document case, from the British Library, where we recently saw Jack Kerouac’s original 120 feet long manuscript scroll,

and a Moleskine diary/notebook.

I had my present from Chris back in September – a Tricky Trees season ticket!

dandy_1091434tBut there were still a few surprises under the ‘special’ tree, including the 75th Anniversary ‘Dandy’  Annual and a Heinz Baked Beanz book – with recipes, history, trivia and more…

Funnily enough, that brings us full circle. Apparently, today, 6th January (Twelfth Night) is National Bean Day in the US of A.

So in keeping with the whole bean king/Lord of Misrule role reversal thing, it seemed only right that I should try out an ‘original and best’ Henry J Heinz recipe – chilli bean con carne with cheesy scones…

Serves 4


  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 75g butter – diced
  • 50g strong Cheddar – grated
  • 1 egg – beaten
  • 50ml milk


  1. Mix the flour and baking powder in a large bowl
  2. Rub in the butter and add cheese
  3. Make a well in the centre and pour in the egg and milk
  4. Mix the dough until it comes together
  5. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and roll to a thickness of 5mm
  6. Cut out 8 rounds – 5cm across – & place on a baking sheet
  7. Brush with milk and bake in a preheated oven (200˚C) for 12 mins (or until they sound hollow when tapped)

Chilli con carne

heinz beanz

  • 415g can of (Heinz) baked beanz
  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 1 onion – finely chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves crushed
  • 500g minced beef
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 2 large red chillies – chopped
  • 1 teaspoon hot chilli powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried mixed herbs
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • jalapeño peppers


  1. Heat the oil in a large pan
  2. Add the onion and garlic and cook over a medium heat for 5 mins – until softened
  3. Increase the heat to high and add the mince
  4. Fry for five minutes – until browned all over
  5. Stir in the tomato purée, chillies, chilli powder and mixed herbs
  6. Cook for a further five minutes
  7. Add the tomatoes and beanz
  8. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes – until the beef is tender

034-chillicheeseTop with sour cream. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with the scones and separate bowls of grated cheese and jalapeño peppers.

Buen Provecho!

Online lifeline for Desperate Dandy …

17 08 2012

“Comics are essential to childhood and the food for imagination; they’re wide open spaces for children to explore the most crazy ideas and the most ridiculous characters. A place to escape to when the real world isn’t so attractive.”

Jamie Smart: ‘The Guardian on Facebook’

“But thank God for the dear old Dandy, and all it did to shape our national character and to show us that reading was one of the truly great escapes.” 

“It was built on an attitude where everyone, in the end, had goodwill towards everybody else. It celebrated an idea of friendship and a frighteningly cohesive society. And above all, everything in the end had its funny side.” 

 Simon Heffer ‘Mail Online’

December 4th is ringed in my diary – a reminder to visit the local paper shop and pick up the last issue of the UK’s longest-running comic The Dandy, before it disappears from newsagents’ shelves forever.

The final print version of the UK’s longest-running comic will be a special 75th birthday edition, including a facsimile of the first ever Dandy comic. Thereafter everybody’s favorite comic book cowboy, Desperate Dan, together with the rest of the Dandytown characters, will be relocating to a brave new online digital world.    

At the peak of its popularity, during the 1950s, the older, sister-comic to The Beano, boasted sales of 2,000,000 copies per week. In recent times, despite a 2010 re-branding as ‘Dandy Xtreme’, and a celebrity make-over, which enlisted real-life characters such as Harry Hill and Cheryl Cole, the readership has fallen to just 8,000.  

The slump in circulation has been roundly blamed on the popularity of children’s computer games and this has led the publishers to take The Dandy ‘in another direction’, with assurances from Ellis Watson, chief executive of Dundee-based publisher DC Thomson, that there are ‘exciting plans in the pipeline…Dan has certainly not eaten his last cow pie.’   

Desperate Dan, the wild west strong man who sleeps on a reinforced bed with a rubble filled pillow, shaves with a blowtorch and can lift a cow with one hand, is a hardy survivor from that first, 4th December 1937 issue, a rare copy of which was sold at a 2004 auction (only ten are known to exist), together with its original promotional free gift – a ‘metal whistler’, for a UK record £20,350.     

The Scottish Daily Record has disclosed that, cow pie munching, Dan is in transfer talks and could line-up alongside Denis the Menace in The Beano, which will continue in its current printed format. It’s hard to imagine a defection of such proportions, but maybe his enormous gait will bridge both titles, enjoying both a Beano print and Dandy online existence, if anyone can it’s Dan.

It is a shame that the traditional British comic, and in particular such an iconic title as The Dandy, finds itself in decline. It belongs to a bygone innocent age and is apparently not sophisticated enough to tickle the palate of today’s discerning youngsters so pre-occupied with their play station games.

I remember the six or seven-year old excitement of first discovering The Dandy and The Beano (which was always my favourite of the two) in the local barber-shop, sitting on a padded bench seat wading through piles of back-numbers. It made bearable my wait for the dreaded electric clippers up the back of my neck – as did the final peace-offering of a Brylcreem quiff!

My Dad’s choice as a suitable comic for a young son had been his own boyhood favourite, ‘The Eagle’. I did enjoy Dan Dare, 1950s ‘Pilot of the Future’ pitting his wits against super intelligent arch-enemy the Mekon, but much of the rest of it rather serious and dull compared with the anarchic humour of my new-found favourites. On top of that you could get both The Dandy and The Beano, at 3d each, at a time when the going rate for pocket-money was about a shilling a week – leaving a ‘tanner’ (6d) to be spent at the sweet shop or on a saturday morning matinée, at the local cinema.      

So after a bit of manoeuvring, the next time Mum went to pay the paper bill, the switch was made  and I looked forward with anticipation each week to Tuesday (Dandy) and Thursday (Beano), when my comic would plop on the mat, rolled up inside the daily newspaper. Comics really were quite a big thing for kids of the ’60s.

I enjoyed my weekly fix of the Dandy and Beano, pretty much all the way through junior school, and of course there were the Annuals too – a staple item in every Christmas stocking. I always found the Christmas and New Year issues the most attractive, with their snow-capped letters on the title page.  

The characters, apart from Desperate Dan – a given of course, who I most enjoyed in that pre-Bananaman era, were:

Korky the Kat: The Dandy’s original cover star who featured on the front page continuously for 47 years until replaced by Desperate Dan.

Corporal Clott: An accident prone soldier, a liability within the British army, who would crash, sink and destroy anything he came into contact with. 

Winker Watson: A  third form pupil at Greytowers boarding school, a ‘wangler’ – constantly playing tricks and trying to avoid unpleasant school activities – the nemesis of his teacher Mr Creep – ‘Creepy’.

Smasher: A sort of cross between Beano characters Denis the Menace and Roger the Dodger, in his red and black diamond jumper, a walking disaster area who smashed anything and everything he came into contact with – by accident rather than design, of course!

Dirty Dick: Not a name you could get away with these days!  He looked almost identical to Winker Watson, apart from he was always covered in smuts and smudges, and his misadventures always ended with him in some filthy mess or another.  

Black Bob: The Dandy wonder dog, a brave, intelligent and faithful, black and white border collie ‘owned’ by bearded shepherd Andrew Glenn. He had a nose for tracking and catching wrong doers and rescuing those in distress – and enjoyed such popularity that he had his own series of books.

Incidentally the 75th Birthday Dandy Annual is already on sale – I might just add it to my Christmas list, for old time’s sake!  


Oh Danny Boy – Lord of the Rings…

31 07 2012

“We hope…that through all the noise and excitement you’ll glimpse a single golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of the better world, the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring nature that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. A belief that we can build Jerusalem. And that it will be for everyone.”      

(London 2012 – Official Opening Ceremony programme notes)

“We had no agenda other than something with values that we feel are true. I felt that very strongly. There is no bull**** in it.”

“I hope you feel we delivered value for money. I try to do that in my films. I try and make them look like $100m films but they cost $20m. So if it looks like a $100m evening and it cost $27m, then I will obviously be delighted.”

Congratulations to Danny Boyle for his momentous, ‘Isles of Wonder’, London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony.

The Academy Award winning director/producer, best known for movies such as ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘Trainspotting’, will now be forever remembered as the man who masterminded the breath-taking ‘warm-up act’ for 10,000 World athletes at the 30th Olympiad.  

His quintessentially British pageant played out, over three hours, by 15,000 volunteer performers, and requiring nearly 13,000 props was watched by an estimated global TV audience of one-billion.

Boyle’s spectacular Olympic overture, put together at a cost of £27m, may have seemed extravagant compared with a post-war budget of £700,000, to cover the entire cost of London 1948, the post-war ‘austerity games’, but was significantly less than the $100m (£64m) spent on Beijing’s 2008 curtain raiser. 

So what did we get for our money?

A ‘Liquorice Allsorts’ of British history:

·        An ‘A-Z’ of GB achievement, from Brunel (played by a cigar chewing Kenneth Branagh) to Tim Berners-Lee (in person) inventor of the worldwide web.  

·        ‘GOSH’ – a celebration of the Welfare State – featuring giant hospital beds, NHS staff and young patients from the Great Ormond Street Hospital.  

·        Touchingly thoughtful tributes to those from all nations who lost their lives in war, and the victims of the 7/7 (2005) London bombings.

A magical mystery tour of our rich cultural heritage:

·        A catalogue of classical literary references from Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’, Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ and Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, through to that best-selling phenomena of modern times, ‘Harry Potter’, – reclusive author JK Rowling making a rare public appearance to read an extract from JM Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’.

·        A virtual trawl through Danny Boyle’s I-pod, provided a varied musical soundtrack, that ranged from Elgar to The Prodigy, featuring live performances by as diverse a group of artists as, amazing deaf percussionist – Evelyn Glennie, Mike Oldfield – complete with tubular bells, local East-end, grime star, hero – Dizzee Rascal, Arctic Monkeys and Sir Paul ‘Macca’ – for yet another tuneless reprise of ‘Hey Jude’ (someone really needs to tell the aging, former, Beatle that his time is up!)     

My Top Show Stopping Moments:    

·        To triumphant GB cyclist, Bradley Wiggins, he of the trademark sideburns, kitted out in his 2012 Tour de France winning yellow jersey, fell the honour of  ringing the 23 ton Olympic Bell* to signal the start of the Opening Ceremony.   

·        The transformation of an idyllic, opening, pastoral set (just a tad too reminiscent of Teletubbyland land for me) to the dark satanic mills of the  Industrial Revolution, complete with flaming red-brick chimneys and a fiery furnace – wherein five gigantic Olympic rings were forged and raised above the stadium.   

·        ‘Good evening Mr Bond’ – The Queen expertly delivered an iconic line, in greeting her security escort, 007 – Daniel Craig, before being whisked, by helicopter, from Buckingham Palace, and (apparently) making her royal entry to the ceremony beneath a Union Jack parachute – absolutely brilliant.

·        Multitudinous Mary Poppins, borne on umbrellas above the Olympic Stadium, doing battle with the stuff of children’s nightmares – giant puppets of Lord Voldemort, Captain Hook, the Queen of Hearts and Cruella De Vil.   

·        Sir Simon Rattle conducting a LSO rendition of ‘Chariots of Fire’, ably assisted by Mr Bean – Rowan Atkinson, playing one fingered keyboard – hilarious.

·        ‘Becks’ escorting the Olympic torch, by neon lit speedboat, along the Thames, beneath a flaming Tower Bridge.

·        Sir Chris Hoy proudly brandishing the Union Flag, at the head of team GB, clad in their ‘Elvis’ style white hooded tracksuits with golden lining (designed by high street retailer ‘Next’ and not, as many thought, Stella McCartney) entering the arena to rapturous applause.

·        Sir Steve Redgrave, rowing gold medallist at an unprecedented five consecutive games, and GB’s greatest ever Olympian, passing the Olympic flame on to seven teenage athletes, for the lighting of the cauldron –  a master stroke, in keeping with the London 2012 motto, ‘Inspire A Generation’.    

·        The igniting of the copper petals (assembled as participating national teams entered the stadium) by the ‘next generation’, before they rose and converged to form a large flaming cauldron in the sky – the most potent sporting symbol in the world.       

For me, Danny Boyle’s London 2012 Opening Ceremony was close to perfect.

Never possible, nor desirable to match the militaristic precision and technical expertise of Beijing, it did, however harness the philosophy and feel good factor of Sydney – ‘The People’s Games’ – while successfully capturing the very essence of modern Britain; an inclusive, multi-cultural nation with a rich and proud cultural history, an innate modesty about its myriad achievements, increasingly comfortable with its place in the modern developing world, but with a perennial tendency towards disarming self-deprecation, unerringly irreverent behaviour, and a wonderfully off-beat sense of humour.

It made me feel very proud and privileged to be British.     

* Earlier in the day, Jeremy Hunt (sport and culture secretary) got the day’s celebrations off to ‘a flyer’, dropping something of a clanger, when the hand bell he was brandishing with gusto  – as part of a national three-minute ring o’bells ‘pealed’ off its handle, narrowly missing a group of onlookers. He was caught on camera, all of a fluster, exclaiming,“Oh, oh dear! Are you all right? Health and safety!” 

It could only happen here – the Olympics are clearly in safe hands…      

C’mon Team GB… 

Musings from a soggy Shire …Singing in the Ukraine…

16 06 2012

‘Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun.

If the sun don’t come, you get a tan

From standing in the English rain.

I am the egg man, they are the egg men.

I am the walrus, goo, goo, gjoob.’


(‘I am the Walrus’: Lennon & McCartney) 


Whatever happened to flaming June?

On the sixth day of the sixth month, in 1953, I was born, around ten o’clock on a sunny Saturday morning, or so I’m told. ‘Saturday’s child works hard for a living’ – well that certainly came to pass!         

It was Coronation week and my parents were gifted a commemorative teaspoon to mark the occasion. So, despite entering the world, in the upstairs bedroom of a humble terraced house (14 Wollaton St. Hucknall) I can, nevertheless, lay claim to having been born with a silver spoon in my mouth – well chrome plated, actually. 

It may well be a case of rose-tinted spectacles, but I always remember my childhood birthdays as sunny occasions.

During my teenage years, secondary school exams inevitably coincided with lengthy spells of fine weather. I distinctly recall sitting an A-Level Geography paper, in a steaming, sticky, school hall – scarily enough, forty years ago last week!     

50 words for rain…

The Egyptians are said to have 50 words for sand.

The Inuit (or Eskimo) language is said to have 50 words for snow, around which notion Kate Bush (now well past her half century) shaped a quirky, Christmas comeback, concept album – but failed to meet her former wuthering heights.

How many words do we Brits have for rain?

It regularly ‘rains cats and dogs’ over here, a phrase I’ve never really got my head around, whereas I fully understand the colourful French candour of, ‘Il pleut comme une vache qui pisse!’  

Drizzle Cake…  

St Clement’s drizzle cake, dripping with orange and lemon, was a very apt choice for my birthday. Delicious – thanks, Chris.

‘Cadbury’s Heroes’, in a London Olympics Bus, went down well too, ‘Nic’ – clearly a future collector’s item!

Kindle convert…  

With birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, I’ve finally succumbed, signing up to the e-reader revolution – entering the Kindle generation. Weighing in at just 170g, Wi-Fi enabled, with a 6 inch advanced E-ink display, and capable of holding up to 1400 books, it will be a convenient travelling companion. 

Up until now I’ve been, something of a Luddite, digging my heels in, fighting the dog-eared corner of the traditional paper-back. However, I’m sure there is room for both in my life. Although snuggling down between the sheets with a Kindle, for all its sleek good looks and 10% faster seamless reading, will never fully replace the tactile experience of a genuine page turner – not in my book anyway. 

Tino – Simply the Best…

The 3rd Investec Test at Birmingham, home of the ‘Brumbrella’, was decimated by the weather. Days 1 and 2 were completely washed away, without a ball being bowled – the first such occurrence for 48 years.

I had pre-booked a ticket for Day 4. A dull, but dry, Sunday was forecast, and although the game was heading nowhere, with so much play lost to the weather, I went along anyway.    

Settling into the Upper West Stand for the start of play, nursing a warming cup of coffee, I never anticipated any cricketing action that would prove vaguely memorable. Judging by the sparse crowd, many absent ticket holders clearly thought likewise, opting instead for a lie in and a Sunday roast, rather than a day in the Edgbaston gloom.

It just goes to show just how little can be taken for granted, in a game which is nothing if not unpredictable, and a statistician’s dream – with a propensity for record-breaking events, in the most unlikely of situations.

Tino Best, an ear-ringed, eccentric and erratic fast bowler, batting at number eleven in his Test comeback, after a couple of years in the wilderness, took it upon himself to spread a little Caribbean sunshine, illuminating proceedings with a bravura display of stroke-play that brought him a scintillating 95 runs in just 112 balls.

He finally fell agonizingly short of becoming the first number eleven, in 135 years of Test history, to make a century, having put on 143 runs with wicket keeper Danesh Ramdin – who did complete a, not out, century – creating the third highest 10th wicket partnership in all Tests, and the highest in England.                         

Singing in the Ukraine

Euro 2012, co-hosted by Poland and the Ukraine, is well under way. As far as Roy Hodgson’s England team are concerned, national expectation going into an international tournament has never been lower – perhaps not a bad thing.

In their opening game, well-drilled England stopped a more talented French side from playing, audaciously took the lead, through a Joleon Lescott header, at well worked set piece, and finally settled for a 1-1 draw.

In my opinion it was a thoroughly effective performance. The players appeared comfortable with the way the team was set up, understood and stuck to their roles, worked hard, restricted France to long-range efforts, and created a couple of decent chances on the occasional foray forward.

Hodgson had been brave enough to start with Arsenal’s eighteen year old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who made a good impression, as did Man U’s young striker Darren Welbeck. 

However post-match comments were harsh, critics tagging Hodgson’s tactics as dull and unambitious – not at all the sort of gung-ho approach we might have expected from media favourite, ‘Arry Redknapp, if he’d been appointed as national coach.

There was a great deal of doom, gloom and despondency ahead of last night’s ‘must-win’ game against Sweden – a national ‘bogey’ team that England had never previously beaten in a tournament.

But, ‘Woy’s boys’ proved the doubters wrong. The Swedes were finally mashed, in a ‘woller’ coaster of a game – that ended up, Turnips 3 Swedes 2!

England may be accused of lacking quality on the ball, compared with the best teams, but all three goals owed much to good technique. Pony-tailed striker Andy Carroll brought into the team to cause the Swedes problems in the air, did exactly what it says on his over-priced tin, towering above their defence to power home an old-fashioned centre forward’s header, from Steven Gerrard’s pin point cross, putting England into a first half lead.

And then later in the game, with time running out, inspirational substitute Theo Walcott revived a nation’s flagging hopes, cooly drilling a shot into the roof of the net, before surging into the penalty area and crossing for Darren Beckford, back to goal, to show an exquisite touch in hooking the ball into the corner of the net, for the winner.

In between, Carroll’s opener and Theo’s equaliser we saw the worst of England, as they conceded two howlers, from sloppy set-piece defending, to veteran Viking warrior, former Villa centre-back, the bearded Olof Mellberg.

England’s performance may have been a mixed bag but to their credit they bounced back strongly when they might so easily have folded. The coach deserves praise too, for his initial team selection, a positive and timely substitution, and the vastly improved team spirit which he has generated within the England camp.

England will enter their final group stage game, requiring just a point, against a distinctly average Ukraine side, to reach the quarter finals. But the ‘home side’ will be giving everything to remain in the competition, and with a huge crowd behind them, it will be a tough ask for England. 

On the plus side, Wayne Rooney will be available and keen to make an impression following his suspension. That could make all the difference. I think we will squeeze through.

It is hard to look beyond Germany or Spain for the eventual winners, of what is becoming a truly compelling tournament, but a number of less fancied teams are capable of causing upsets when it comes to the knock out stages. England must believe they are one of them.

The Kuwaiti is coming – or is he?

Mega-rich Kuwaiti businessman Fawaz Al-Hasawi is reportedly poised to take over the Tricky Trees, although there has been no official confirmation from the City Ground. Long-suffering Forest fans  are beside themselves, desperate to believe it’s true but fully expecting to be let down, yet again.    

Forest have  suggested that there are a number of interested parties and no deal is imminent. But this rumour of a multi-million pound deal has been simmering away on Twitter for over two weeks now. With next season’s Championship fixtures due to be announced on Monday, and the club having extended the deadline for season ticket renewals, I’m cautiously optimistic that there could be good news, sooner rather than later – inshallah!

Oh, here comes the rain again – perhaps I spoke too soon…


‘Jika-Jika’, Jack Sparrow and ‘the Salamander’.

21 02 2012

‘It’s a very serious substance and something I’ve, over a period of time, realised I have an issue with.’ 

(January 2009)

‘We are pushing the boundaries of coffee in the UK. We want to put connoisseur coffee on the map in this country.’

(October 2009)

‘The focus at Saracens is on individuals and their families. It’s not just about what happens on the park and that has made it easy to stay focused and healthy.’

(April 2011)

Matt Stevens (rugby playing, coffee shop proprietor) 

Nowadays, when Saracens and England (formerly ‘Baarf’) prop, Matt Stevens, makes reference to an addiction with ‘a very serious substance’ it is not cocaine, but coffee, he has on his mind…

On Saturday morning, I was picked up by a BMW, with personalised number plate, and chauffeur driven to, ‘the glorious Georgian city of ‘Baarf’.’ At least that’s what my old mate ‘Stevie D’ calls it!

‘Stevie D’, a retired teaching colleague and long-time friend of many years (until he read this) is a self-confessed ‘Saga Lout’, former local radio DJ, author of ‘the Swinging 60’s Quiz Book’ (currently out of print), ‘first class’ global tourist, and calendar model (for ladies of a certain age).

When not engaged in perfecting his Spanish accent or keeping toned at the local gym, he divides time between his twin passions, ‘the Jeremy Kyle Show’ and the ‘Blue, Black and Whites’ of ‘Baarf’ Rugby – well there’s no accounting for taste!

We were headed for the west-country derby, the most heated rivalry in the Aviva Premiership, ‘Baarf’ v the ‘Glawster’, or as Stevie put it, ‘rugby intellectuals versus rugby artisans’. Not that he was bitter, or anything, about GRFC’s double victory last season, or having to watch, stone faced with gritted teeth, back in September, as ‘Baarf’ stumbled to a 23-6 defeat , at fortress Kingsholm!

But there was plenty of time to build up for the day’s main event, when Roman ‘Baarf’ would unleash its lions on the cherry and white gladiators of ‘Glawster’, in the muddy amphitheatre, that is ‘the Wreck’.   

Stevie D, ‘Baarf’ born and bred, had kindly drawn up an itinerary of pre-match entertainment. Having skipped breakfast, and gagging for a coffee, we headed for brunch at ‘Jika Jika. Billed as, ‘probably the most popular coffee shop in Bath,’ it is jointly owned by British Lions rugby stars – Matt Stevens and Lee Mears.

‘Jika Jika’, meaning twist or zigzag in Zulu, takes its name from King Jika Jika, a legendary and enigmatic figure from the Indian Ocean island of Glorieuse, with a passion for travel, aeronautics, and coffee.   

Aged thirty, he set sail for distant horizons, a ten-year journey during which he is thought to have explored Africa, visited Japan, China, Siam (Thailand) and met Queen Victoria, Mahatma Gandhi and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, who was exiled in Bath.    

During his visit to the west-country he is said to have enjoyed an extended affair with a certain ‘Princess Caraboo’, who had supposedly been abducted by sailors from the Indian Ocean island of Javisu, finally escaping her captors by jumping ship in the Bristol Channel and swimming ashore.

Attractive but diminutive, at five feet two, she wore a series of exotic masks, and speaking no known language, communicated mainly through gestures. She enjoyed an eccentric lifestyle, spending her time dancing, praying to her god, climbing trees and swimming naked in the River Avon.

It transpires, however that the ‘Princess’ was an imposter, a cheeky working class heroine, a cobbler’s daughter from Devon, a certain Mary Willcocks, who successfully duped high society with her elaborate hoax and, having final been unmasked, ended her days in an unmarked grave in Bristol.         

Tiring of his travels, King Jika Jika returned to Glorieuse Island, where he indulged his passions for flying machines (hot air balloons and a tractor biplane) and coffee, (having smuggled home and successfully nurtured twenty-eight varieties of coffee plant).

He soon gained recognition for ‘brewing the best cup of coffee south of Somalia’, and managed to procure, from under the nose of Mussolini, who knows how, the first espresso machine to arrive in Abyssinia.

He finally ended up as fish food, following a nasty encounter with one of his pet sharks.

Believe it if you like! But what is beyond doubt is the quality of bacon baguette and free-trade organic coffee, served up in the George Street café that takes his name.

Stevie D will be the first to admit he enjoys seeking out chance encounters with celebs, and with that in mind we set out to walk off our bacon butties with a brisk stroll up to The Royal Crescent and around The Circus – 18th century architectural masterpieces both, the former by John Wood the Younger and the latter (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) the work of John Wood the Elder.    

We kept a weather-eye open for a couple of captains: Jack Sparrow, infamous pirate of the Caribbean, and mandolin playing Corelli…

Hollywood stars Johnny Depp and Nicolas Cage both own properties on ‘The Circus’, pointed out by my guide, but not unsurprisingly neither materialised during our visit.  

Our next stop, the scene of Stevie D’s miss-spent, under aged drinking youth, ‘The Salamander’, a quaint old pub tucked away off Queen Square. Snug, wood panelled, and full nooks and crannies, its sole purpose to keep the punters happy with the quality of its local brewed Bath Ales and good pub grub. 

‘The Salamander’ enjoys a strong affiliation with the city’s rugby club, and supporters of both persuasions were shoe-horned inside, engaging in a bit of pre-game banter over a pint or two of Gem Bitter.

By the time we emerged, the forecast deluge had set in, and we hurried along the glistening streets, across Pultney Bridge and down to the riverside ground, full of anticipation…