May as well

Posted by on May 2, 2014

E-pistle 1028 St Paul to the congregation posted May 31 ’14.

New Readers: the e-pistles of St Paul to the Various are intended for amusement only, or as a pathetic replacement for the real mail we hardly ever get these days. These intrusions into your email inbox are more or less published weekly, but depend heavily on input from the great and good on the mailing list, so send your insights and stories. The editorial board will treat all submissions with care, bathe them in asses’ milk and take them on spiritually-inspiring outings from time to time. Yes, I know it’s pathetic to beg, but there it is. I only strayed into this mess by accident. Note that after an absence of response lasting two or more years, your address will be purged, on the grounds that we’ve probably bored you to death. Seriously. Purged, like Purgatory. We are, after all, a saint. (Self-appointed, acting and unpaid). Bless you.

Don’t Ring Us: Last week, readers endured the saint’s tale of sacrificing his life savings of £55 ($93) for an engagement ring. This week, rugby stalwart Dave Richards tells his ringing tale of woe, with its silver lining. Give the man full marks both for optimism and for accuracy in responding to the invitation to tell of the joy of engagement “or how you happily lost her.” Go, Dave: “Quick story about engagement rings. I bought a diamond ring for my fiancée, and she decided to have matching wedding rings made by a John Rink of Portland, who apparently was well known in those circles. Mine was platinum, and very heavy, and cost as much as my truck. OK, I didn’t have a really nice truck at the time, but I did pay about $4k for it.

“Just a few weeks after my honeymoon, the Silverhawks had a game at Watson Bowl in San Jose. I took the ring off, and put it in a small bag I kept in my kit bag, which held my mouthpiece and whatever detritus I deemed too valuable to discard. Seconds before kick-off, I realized I did not have my mouthpiece, so I ran off the field and dug through the bag, but it was so full of aforementioned detritus, old screw-on cleats, half rolls of athletic tape, extra laces, etc, I could not find the mouthpiece, so I dumped the bag onto the grass, rummaged around in the mess, found the mouthpiece and scooped up the mess and dumped it back into the kit bag.

“After the game I grabbed the bag, went off to drink some beverages with the boys, and never gave a thought to the ring. Yeah, the heavy ring sank into the deep grass, and never found its way back into the kit bag. The next day, panicked, I literally ran back down to Watson Bowl, and found a Mexican soccer tournament going on at the pitch, with hundreds if not thousands of spectators lying on blankets all around the area where my kit bag had been. I waded into the crowd, tried to guess where I was and dug with my fingers through the grass for hours. I found nothing. Monday, I call in sick, take several guys with me, go pick up a rented metal detector and spent four hours scouring the area. I found about a hundred bottle caps, several coins, (none antique), but no ring. For the next month or so, I traipsed into every pawn shop and tried to find it. No go.

“Ah well, it all worked out for the best in the end. After 13 hen-pecked years of unblissful matrimony, I ended up with no wedding ring and no wife either. I hope some lucky woman found that thing the next day, and gave it to her husband/boyfriend, and they are still happily married.”

The link between rings and cars led Jack Grimshaw, the Duke of Dana Point, to get misty-eyed over his long-ago, prized motor: “She was the kind of vehicle the Beach Boys or Jan and Dean could have got all anthemic about. She was Emma Peel (“Stand back – Emma Peel outa here!”), my 1951 Chevy Styleline Deluxe. Eventually, one too many issues led to a divorce – isn’t that always the way? But there’s not a day goes by I don’t think about her … poetry in sheet metal.

“Emma was like her owner today … been around the block more than a few times, the bodywork dented, scratched and patched in a couple of places, seen better days, sometimes slow to fire up and get moving, but overall in pretty good nick for its age. It was also the most successful icebreaker I’ve ever employed. For the 18 months I owned it, I rarely parked it or got in it without someone starting a conversation. My favorite was the little old lady outside the movie house in Yorba Linda, here in Orange County, Southern California. She peeked inside and confided: “My husband had one of these when we were courting. We used to make out in the back seat.” The grin on her face was a delight to behold…”

Caption: Jack stands by Emma – on a tow truck, again.. He says “She was a temperamental, er, Steed.”




From the south of France, Karin Teucher (glamour pic below) writes in one of her six or seven languages to tell of her long-lost automotive pride and joy : “Your latest epistle made me look behind so very many years, when I was the proud owner of a white Triumph Spitfire, with a black top, it was my first car, and every trip with this bijou ended in our garage, because this little sweetheart needed always a check-up before taking the road again. Fortunately, my father Gotthold being a bike-and-car lover,(BMW pics with him in 1952) could fix the little and sometime bigger headaches of my beloved car. The photograph shows my sister Doris and me on a 1976 trip to Austria, yes, the car did it, the whole trip from Flanders to Vorarlberg in Austria, not bad , this little matchbox car, isn’t it?”





The famous Nurse Vicious, aka Karen, Mrs Michael Ayers has a heartwarming tale of an Invisible Ring. “Laughing about the engagement rings. Never got one because I didn’t really want it, not much into jewelry, would rather have the latest in household gadgets. He did get me a synthetic diamond when we were first betrothed but I wrecked it at work while goofing around with liquid mercury that we used to weigh down gastric tubes to get them to travel through a blocked intestine. Before we knew it was toxic, we played with it and the side effect was that it adhered permanently to any metal it came into contact with and ruined it. We did buy wedding bands which Michael immediately removed upon returning home from the wedding because “The invisible ring through my nose is all I need.”
Mister Ayers’ Best Beloved sighed touchingly: “Such a romantic.”

Some comedians’ material will live for ever, and Tommy Cooper’s work is a fine example. Here are three of his:

“So I rang up British Telecom and said ‘I want to report a nuisance caller.’ He said: “Not you again!”
“So I went to the supermarket to complain. I said: ‘The vinegar’s lumpy.’ He said: ‘Those are pickled onions.’
“So I said to the gym instructor ‘I want to learn to do the splits.” He said: ‘How flexible are you?”
“I said:’Well, I can’t make Tuesdays.’ “


Small world revolving: Teenager Dallas Archer was booked into Kingsport Jail, TN after being collared for driving with a suspended licence. While she was being frisked, a female jailer noted an ‘unknown object’ in her crotch. A further search netted a loaded North American Arms 22LR revolver concealed in Miss Archer’s vagina. The four-inch, five-shot gun was stolen last year. The story raised amusement among the saint’s coarser friends, and a prime example of them, Craig Grabeel owned up to, er, inside information about the snatched firearm. Craig’s nephew JD Gregory is the Tennessee highway patrolman involved in the arrest – though not in the cavity search. Craig wanted to know where the saint saw the story, and he responded truthfully that it was in an online source called appropriately: The Smoking Gun. 


Big furore this week over a pic that the Dirty Digger’s men published, showing Kate Middleton’s bare rump. She was visiting Oz when a gust of wind blew up her skirt and a photogger bummed a shot which Rupert Murdoch’s papers carried. Ken Potter, also Aussie, had a cheeky explanation : “Nice butt..with sister Pippa’s the previously most-talked about, is there really any surprise? Clearly it’s hereditary genes!” John Mulrooney slyly noted :” Apparently the photographer has promised to donate any profits from sale of the photo to a “bush fire relief fund,” while Jeffrey Joffe explains that “cost-cutting measures of the extravagance at Buckingham Palace included reduced spending on knickers. They always get in the way anyway……. I know from personal observation and experience and will vouch for it if ever the Chancellor of the Exchequer should choose to contact me for further information.”


End message: Someone who understandably wishes to remain anonymous offers this: “A prominent duchess was hosting a group of her titled friends at dinner when she accidentally let go a very loud ripper. Thinking quickly, she turned at once to her faithful old butler and said:”Wibble, stop that!”
“Certainly, Your Grace,” he said unhurriedly. “Which way did it go?”




E-pistle 1027 engaging attention. Posted 5//24/14



Two British classic cars raise mixed emotions in the saint’s blurry mind: the MGTF with its wire wheels, Goodwood Green paintwork, sweeping wings and gleaming chrome; chrome that I usually envision glinting under street lights in Manchester rain while my mouth waters. The other automobile bon bon was the low-slung, and fat-bottomed Triumph TR3. Both were sports cars, both were objects of my desire as a young gorilla. The MG that I so nearly bought then cost a whopping £125 (say $300) and was offered by Archway Engineering of Manchester who probably would have reduced the price from a month’s worth of my salary to about, oh, four weeks’ worth. About the TR3 I’m less specific, as I had saved £55 or so towards the one I had yet to find, though in all honesty I may have been delaying because my Triumph Courier van (price £35 to a man in a pub) better served my purpose of driving about with a three or four racing bikes in the back. (And for its occasional use as an overnight B&B).

I never bought either MG or TR, as the entire painfully-hoarded saintly fortune went on an engagement ring for Jennie, bought from the third establishment on the left as you enter Hatton Garden, London’s epicentre of the jewellery trade. On balance the downpayment on the delectable Miss Oates was a very much better deal, as her chassis and bodywork have not rusted even a bit since 1966. Her upholstery’s stayed remarkably good, though her headlights may have dimmed a little. She’s had new rings, been re-tyred, (hahaha!) jumps gears occasionally, chatters a bit and needs a paint job now and then, but she’s extremely reliable, gets great mpg and runs very sweetly. (Though there is the occasional scent of burning).

So I got to saintly meditation about engagement rings when I read the De Beers advertising claim that people should spend a month’s salary on an engagement ring. The actor George Clooney recently forked out a reported £450k ($750k) for a rock to adorn Amal Alamuddin’s third finger which would put Clooney’s income at, oh, a lot. So who said you had to fork out a month’s earnings? Well, De Beers’ diamond cartel did. Before the 1930s, a diamond was not for ever and was a rare thing on an engagement ring. But a De Beers advertising campaign changed all that, and by the end of the 20th century, 80% of engagement rings contained diamonds.

Inventing the tradition that men would pay whatever was expected is regarded as the most effective marketing campaign ever. In Japan, the goad is to pay three months’ salary for a diamond, and that nation is one of the world’s leading markets for diamond jewellery. Compare it to the US where the average is about $4,000 per bauble or four-plus weeks’ pay; or to the UK, where besotted gents cough up an average $2,200, or three weeks’ pay. You may manipulate these numbers upwards a bit, as the effect of X Clooneys drives up the average quite significantly in terms of weeks worked against rings bought.

The saint doesn’t know. He went bust for for a small splinter of sapphire, and it’s held up for 48 years now. But… you may have a tale of the engagement ring you bought your best beloved, or didn’t buy, or how you happily lost her. Send me a note for the next epistle. And if you have an MGTF to sell for £125 ($200) I’ve got a cheque for you.

Ken Potter keeps close tabs on golf, and especially on Aussie golfers like himself, so I knew that any take of his on the white ball scene Down Under would have some heft to it. Sure enough, Ken did not fail to inform. He says: An article in a golf book by veteran Aussie pro and course-designer Al Howard, now 90+, mentions a piece in the Sydney press about “wife swapping”at a particular Sydney club.” Ken monitored press responses, noting that this was an event for amateurs, not pro’s, and came up with a fine media knee jerk: “No, I’m against it. Among other things it breeds familiarity, next thing is, they’ll want to play with you in the mixed foursomes.” Dame Edna would be proud

Rugby friends may be surprised to know that our own lock forward Paul ‘Prince of Peace’ Moura took on and defeated stage four lymphoma last year. ‘Chemo wasn’t that bad,” he shrugs, saying he’ll call onetime teammate Lee Overbeck to chat. Lee’s currently at Stanford having his bone marrow sterilised (he refused my offer of dog bones, btw) and thanks the crowd for ‘heartwarming’ support. Paul, whose iaction jumps in the lineouts included some in which his feet never actually left the ground, blames my short arms for not lifting him sufficiently. I’d disagree, but he sent a pic of his little boy and I shook with fear. Tim Moura, now 31, pro-wrestles (UK, Germany, East Coast) under the pseudonym ‘Tim Thatcher’ when he’s not working with the rowing crews at Sacramento State U. See this and tremble. No, I don’t know what his mom Dottie has been feeding him., but he’s 6ft 4 ins and 235 lbs, so it’s working.






Andy Leatham applies his newsman’s eye to the Guardian and comes up with this tale: “Irish police are being handicapped in a search for a stolen van, because they cannot issue a description. It’s a Special Branch vehicle and they don’t want the public to know what it looks like.”

Wordsmith Martha Moffett chimes in: “In all the musings about the Enquirer’s last days, someone (I thought it was Dave Pavement but can’t find it) coined a new word. Asked how things were going in the Boca office, a staffer replied, “Things are confused. It’s sort of skyfallish.”
Of course Spellcheck doesn’t recognize it, but I have used it several times in the last week.”

Philosophical thought from Dave Steadman: “We are here on earth to do good unto others. What the others are here for, I have no idea.”

I had no clue this could happen…some sobering, scary news came this week from a friend whose stepdaughter became a drug addict. She and her husband were deemed unfit parents of their small twin boys and ordered into rehab and the toddlers were out into foster care. Fifteen months on, despite court orders to remain clean, she again failed urine and hair sample tests that showed she’d been using drugs. The DHSS have now ordered her to give up her children, and she may never see them again unsupervised. The husband, who was as deeply involved in drugs – heroin and meth in particular – has passed his urine test but is unlikely, says the caseworker, to pass the hair analysis, which retains telltale markers of drugs for much longer. If that test comes back positive, the twins, now five years old, will be put up for adoption. Should the adoptive parents choose, the children’s natural parents may never see them again. It’s a scary lesson: do drugs and lose your children. Even the grandmother is unlikely to get custody, as her daughter lives nearby and the caseworker ‘s attitude is that the twins would not be kept away from their druggie mother.

Oh la la! The French have found that their new trains are too fat! A $20 billion order for new trains (2000 of them) has already cost the country about $70 million, and is likely to cost even more. The national rail operator seems to have given train company SNCF the wrong dimensions, and the new trains can’t actually get into about a thousand regional stations. The cost is to adjust those platforms. Someone, please, send for un couturier to make ze adjustments!




E-pistle 1026 St Pedalling to the peloton. May 10 14

Just back from watching the Tour of California and performing some high speed antics in a Cooper S, about 1500 miles of them (see the saint in F1 position!) We saw the greats – Sir Brad Wiggo, Cav, Thor, Jens, Sagan and Martin, in a field of 120 that included ten world champions, fistfuls of TdF stage winners and grupettas of grimpeurs. My bike pal Brazen Bob revisited the state where he was a grommet (young surfer, not to be confused with Wallace’s pal, or cheese) and we did the full tourist thing, hooked up with old pals like Don Hesler and Mary Kline, who promises more Celtic copy for the epistles, tequila’ed ourselves carelessly and watched daughter Claire and her beau Roy fly a camera-carrying drone over San Jose. They lost one last week while demo’ing it to the Monterey Aquarium folks, who want to monitor sea life unobtrusively and cheaply. The $2000 mini-helo has about a 40 minute flying duration, which would put the missing one partway to China as it flew out of range of the controller and vanished into the far blue. Check the ‘operator error’ box for that one. These small drones can get up to heights dangerous to aircraft, but the potential applications are impressive.

Big highlight for me was to reconnect with Optum-Kelley professional bike racer Alex Candelario,who a decade or more ago was a fresh-out-of-the-box national college champion when he rolled up for a stage race and bivvi’ed Chez Saint P for a week with the British mountain bike team. Ten guests dossed here while Jennie was in England, but they can all come back, as one was a professional chef and cooked for us, all did housework w/o being asked and my only real duty was to shop for food.

Cando is planning a change of gears and tempo in a year or so, to begin a mountain bike expeditions biz on the Big Island of Hawaii. Sign up now. He and wife Hannah have a second small Cando en route, and they kindly named their firstborn after my dog, Axel. (Or so I say). Hope they don’t name the next one Lassie, or Spot, or let his mom name the baba. She once told us that Alex had earned a place on a pro team, and we understood that he was signed on as a domestique, or worker bee for the team leader. Mama Cando fumbled the term, though, and said Alex had been signed as “an au pair.”

Editor’s note: frazzled Mrs Saint stayed home, looking after Axel and Barney; Mr Biscuits (Silvestris were in Mexico) Pumpkin, Gracie and Cooper (Frankie is in South Africa, swimming with sharks and interning with refugees).

Anyway, the California bike racing was fantastic, though the days were blisteringly hot (sometimes over 100degF/38degC) and the soigneurs in the 70 or so following cars were going through 50lbs of ice a day just for the ice-pack pantyhose neck wraps they give the boys as they race. Here’s a glimpse of what it’s like from sprinter John Degenkolb, who lost by a tyre’s width to Cavendish. Hold your breath and experience the last few hundred metres into Sacramento. The cameras are under the saddle and under the handlebars.The guys are doing about 45mph in the finale.

http://www.steephill.tv/players/vimeo720/?title=Bikecam+video+of+John+Degenkolb’s+Stage+1+leadout+and+sprint&dashboard=tour-of-california&id=95181887&yr=2014



Tough times for our rugby and cycling pal Lee Overbeck, who tells us he’s been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. “Without treatment this is a very fast progressing disease,” he said. “I will be entering Stanford Hospital for chemotherapy and will be there for about five weeks. Not something I want to do but there really is no choice.” Lee was athletic director at San Lorenzo Valley HS near Santa Cruz and was a very fine loose forward for our masters’ team. He and his wife Gail are keen cyclists and we rode with them and their Iowa bike club across that state on one of the half-dozen times they did the RAGBRAI ride. Now Lee’s facing a hard couple of months as he goes through the forest fire that’s chemotherapy, so send him your best thoughts, please.


Big John Garton sends out a shout of praise (about the way he sings hymns, too, I hear) “My wonderful, breast cancer survivor daughter Jo has made me very proud. Last night she completed a true marathon-length walk, called the Moonwalk, through the center of London with 30,000 other decorated-bra-clad women to raise money for breast cancer research. They started at 12.30 a.m. from Clapham Common, walked those 26 miles right through London and back to Clapham in really cold London weather. She’d never walked that far before and had been training for a couple of months.If that wouldn’t make any dad proud, I don’t know what would!”

My bro Don ‘Roger’ Bannister responds to my question about living in small communities with a mention of a problem we just don’t see in the land-rich USA. Most small communities in Britain are old – sometimes a thousand years or even more, and were never built for automobiles. The result is that many people in small villages where houses are often built in rows have to sacrifice their front gardens to have parking facilities. And most families don’t have just one car, either. In bigger cities, the parking is down both sides of the street, leaving barely enough room for traffic. Says Don: “You have to go to Scotland or somewhere remote, parking in England is a pain in the backside. I like the peace and quiet of small communities, and saw loads of places along Route 66 that I’d like to live in.”

Don himself probably qualified as a PoB during his time in the Royal Navy. “I used to change my religion: Anglican, RC, Methodist, Presbyterian, I was even Plymouth Brethren in Devonport during a blank pay week. You sang hymns for a few minutes, then got tea and sticky buns, free.” The purpose of the faltering faiths was simple. By being in a minority at church parade, Don could slip away an hour early. Once, at inspection, “the Master at Arms said out of the corner of his mouth ‘What are you this week, Roger?’ ‘Presbyterian, Master,’ I replied, and he looked up to the heavens. The First Lieutenant said:’What was that, Master?’ He replied: “I was just telling Bannister to straighten his lanyard, sir.’ And the Jimmy the One gave me a very dirty look.”

Aussie Tossers: Last week’s report of knob throwing – don’t ask – caused Chris Pritchard to surface in the email with some excuse about having been in SE Asia for a few weeks. Says Chris: “The knob-throwing contest somehow reduces the status of Australia’s annual tuna-tossing competition, in which competitors throw frozen tuna along a beach. When I – for reasons unrelated to money – was the Sunday Express (London) stringer down under, I was responsible for a story about a strolling British vacationer who was knocked unconscious by a flying frozen fish. She was, as they say, “rushed to hospital.” No word on the fish.

Self-plug: my first book in the ‘Lord of the Narrow Sea’ series – I’m writing book five right now although it started as a trilogy – was published just a year ago. Pleased to report that this week it was hanging on in the number four slot of the Amazon listings. That’s ‘Arthur Britannicus,’ variously described as ‘Worst book I ever read,’ ‘Has no knowledge of the subject’ and ‘Outstanding example of thorough in-depth historical research.’ I know which review I prefer, and it came from a West Point military historian. No, it wasn’t the second one, or the first.

Fortnight’s Notice: on May 24, Earth will pass through what could be a spectacular meteor storm of hundreds of ‘shooting stars.’ Debris trails from the 1803 Comet 209P/L will finally intersect Earth orbit and the stream of collisions could produce hundreds of flares per hour. Astronomers say they’ll be best seen from the south, but we’ll all get views which will seem to emanate from the Giraffe constellation, or between the Big and Little Dippers.












Note to new readers: the e-pistles of the self-proclaimed saint, Paul are for amusement only and should not be taken internally. In case of an overdose, induce vomiting. The ramblings are archived on the bannisterbooks.com website, which is undergoing its seventh month of repair and is totally unavailable. Just saying.



E-pistle 1028 Mothers, Movers and Fakers Posted May 10 2014

Mother’s Day is this weekend, so here’s an MD Awww story: Mrs John Garton, Bobbey G celebrated her 75th birthday the other week, and her four daughters flew to Florida with A Plan. They intended to put their dear mama through skydiving and other pursuits, but she had an unscheduled tumble without a ‘chute soon before they arrived, so that adventure was shelved. Instead, Kathy (Chicago); Jill (Cape Coral Fla.), Beth (Chicago) and Kim (Minneapolis) took Mom to church in Daytona,Florida which appropriately for that car-racing town was a drive-through chapel. (You pray as you accelerate). It was only one stop-and-go in a whirlwind day that Bobbey voted “most memorable’ as “I had my wonderful daughters all to myself, and the laughter and hugs will last a lifetime.” John notes that the girls flew 8,000 miles between them and is scheming to get it onto his air miles account.

More on Mother’s Day: From pagan celebrations of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele to the early Christians’ ‘Return to Mother Church’ Sunday, this has been a long-established red letter day on the ecclesiastical calendar, but it took an American to popularize it, and the same woman then went broke fighting to put it back in its box. Anna Reeves Jarvis of W Va. in 1860 started ‘Mother’s Day Work Clubs’ to teach women how to tend their offspring, then boosted a ‘Mother’s Friendship Day’ when moms held gatherings to reconcile Union and Confederate soldiers. Some temperance activists joined in, which didn’t add to the attraction, and Jarvis’ daughter took up the torch at her mother’s death. Anna Jarvis had her efforts sponsored by Philadelphia store owner John Wanamaker who enjoyed great profits from the annual event at his businesses, and by 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed Mother’s Day into the official calendar. Unfortunately, Anna Jarvis, who neither married nor was a mother herself, hated the commercialization of the day. She publicly disowned the idea and spent the next 34 years and all of her fortune on legal fees but failed to squash the holiday.

Ever-astute Ron Haines isn’t just some grumpy, white-bearded canoe paddler, he’s an actual Reader of Words. Because he has such a lot of time while drifting his birch-bark, he was able to mouth his way through last week’s e-pistle and respond: “Saw your reference to ‘sarcasm font.’ (Which proves that I read your missives all the way through—or start at the end—or just go to the end) There actually is such a thing.” Ron offers a link so you can see and maybe download the ‘sartalics’ font for yourself. http://glennmcanally.com/sarcastic/
The saint was amused to read on the site : “Seriously though, have some fun with it. I know you’ll be at the forefront of the movement…” And then they added:




For all that I torment Kevin Knut-Cosgrove (it’s good for his soul), the Manchester masochist continues our friendship, and he responded to last week’s e-pistolatory report of an early sub-four-minute mile. Kev had forwarded my piece about the greengrocer who ran a 3m 58secs mile in 1770, or long before Sir Roger Bannister did, to John Rowlinson, former deputy head of BBC Sport, and got this response: “Great, great story. You will not be surprised to learn that I have the signed photo of Bannister, Chataway and Brasher at the finish in ’54! Sadly only the former survives and announced today he has Parkinson’s Disease. Post race, Norris McWhirter milked the moment for all its worth……”the result of event 19: first RG Bannister, in a new British, European and Empire record which…. IF RATIFIED….. will also be a new world record……. of THREE minutes……. (The rest was lost in the noise of the crowd..).”

South African Malcolm Balfour, now a venerable alderman in Lantana, Florida, was also a runner of considerable note, and was the Southeastern Conference’s two-mile champion in 1963, when he ran for Mississippi State. He wrote: “I loved your Uncle Roger and the runners piece — although those early four-minute milers would definitely not get past (National Enquirer fact-checking) Ruth Annan’s squad. On athletic scholarship in the USA, I really became a professional, getting free board and lodging etc and pairs of expensive running shoes etc. In South Africa I even had to buy my vest to run in the SA championships! I remember setting an alarm for 3 a.m. in South Africa in 1954 to listen to the “mile of the century” when Bannister beat John Landy.” (At the Empire Stadium, Vancouver, 3m 58.8secs. Landy ran with a cut-and-sutured foot and trailed the Englishman by just five yards or eight tenths of a second at the finish). Also. tactfully, nobody mentioned the saint’s math error last week: 1954 was 60 years ago, not 50 – Ed.

Another runner of repute, Irishman Fred Forster, who three years ago won a foot race against a racehorse at the Curragh (OK, Fred, aged 79, only ran about 15 yards and jumped the gun before the jockey could get Dobbin going. It was a fix). Anyway, FF was Irish collegiate sprint champion in 1951. This week, he wrote “I do enjoy your letters. They are witty and informative.” Just so my halo didn’t tighten, he added: “The epistles are too fucking long.” Yes, that’s the very same Fred who sends me a note each year: “Hooray hooray for the first of May. Outdoor shagging begins today.” In March, I get: “Happy St Patrick’s Day, you English bastard.” It’s a long way back to Tipperary, Fred, so look out that I don’t follow your rugby advice, and get the retaliation in first.



A New York trendista sent a pic of a pile of cel-phones on a restaurant table noting that diners fed up with table mates thumbing texts under the table agreed to stack their devices. As it’s showy NY, the first one to stack their phone pays the bill. Erudite varlet Kelvin Jones spotted a High St shop with the sign ‘Richard III Camping Goods’ and a window display labelled : ‘Now is the winter of our discount tents.’ From Down Under, Ken Preshaw chimes in on the resumed Oscar Pistorius murder trial: ” His lawyer’s got a hard job ahead of him. Realistically, it looks like Pistorius hasn’t got a leg to stand on.” Then KP explained why the shooting happened: “Police reconstruction indicates that Pistorius lost it when, for his Valentine’s Day gift, his girlfriend gave him a pair of socks.”

Ken Potter says wife Diane came home and told him the car had water in the carburettor. “Ridiculous,” he said. “How’d you know that? You don’t even know what a carburettor is. Where’s the car?” “In the pool.”

Getting Well: Phil Perry spent a single overnight in hospital after an operation to have samples taken of spots on his ancient lungs. All’s well – the biopsy is expected to show they’re bits of old scar tissue and not malignant. The medics’ bill was nasty, though: $59,000. Phil did get meals included.

Inside the tabloids: Tom Muldoon sent word around that the National Enquirer’s bare-bones staff were abruptly told this week that they no longer have jobs in sunny Florida. A no-questions conference call from American Media boss David Pecker, who has successfully led the company’s decline, told them that effective immediately, the mag is being moved to New York. Few if any existing staff are expected to go north. They may be mindful that Pecker did a similar and costly south-to-north shuffle in 1999 and then reversed course. Martha Moffett says that decades ago, when she was recruited to sleepy south Florida, she had questions. “I thought, why is a national publication being put out here? There’s no transportation, no research sources, no … nothing. At least now it’s back in the center of things.”

The move comes after an embarrassment when NE editor Tony Frost oversaw a cover story that actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had a gay lover. It turned out that the ‘lover’ they interviewed was someone of similar name they’d turned up in the phone book, and the real David Bar Katz filed a $50m libel suit. That was settled with what insiders say was about a million, plus appropriate apologies and corrections. Frost lost his job as editor in chief. He’ll continue on other titles, but Aussie Dylan Howard, 31, who was already running AMI’s RadarOnline has taken over Frost’s chair. “Let’s face it,” Howard said. “Content has changed.” He’s right. The tabloids successfully sold ‘gay lover’ smear pieces for years now, without penalty. This time they changed the content from Barack Obama, Oprah and the rest and got torpedoed. It’s what happens when you cut corners and have no (above-mentioned) research controls.

A coincidental backstory concerns Scots journo Jim McCandlish who rolled up to the Enq in 1973 after stints in Glasgow, Hong Kong and Vancouver. Jim’s still turning out NE stories as a freelance, often in the ‘Tears of Happiness Poured Down My Face’ idiom, and is just about the Last Man Standing of the talents who made the paper into one that changed US journalism. I included a character based on Jim in my historical fiction e-books (doing just fine on Amazon, thanks for asking) who’s a fake bishop in the early Christian church. Meet Bishop Candless. So, having set the background, here’s Jim’s email this week: “I have a story, maybe my last, in this week’s Enquirer which was assigned to me because, of all things, the dateline. It’s about the copycat Andrea Yates mom who drowned her two boys in the bathtub of her home in…McCANDLESS, Pennsylvania!” As Jim said, you have to love an editor with a sense of gallows humour.

For those who’d like more, read what Joe Mullins rightly calls ‘the best single piece ever about the Enquirer and those times.’ Here’s Jay Gourley’s wonderful Washington Weekly insight from 1981. : http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/1981/WM_1981-09_Gourley.pdf

Odd fact: this week marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Channel Tunnel, and nine of the 11 giant machines used to dig the hole are on display in various parts of France and Britain. The other two are buried in the tunnel walls. Because nobody thought to fit the machines with a reverse gear, they could not be backed out, and it was cheaper to make a right-angled turn and bury them in the wall of the sub-Channel chalk rather than dismantle them and bring them out.

Kudos to Paul Allen, long-ago friend at the Morning Telegraph, Sheffield, whose stage adaptation of the film ‘Brassed Off’ opened in Yorkshire after playing elsewhere in the UK. Paul recalled an early day as a reporter of brass band concerts. He found the band secretary and introduced himself. “I hope it’s not going to be one of those pieces about how much beer trombonists drink when they’re offstage,” said that worthy gent. “Of course not,” said Paul, bridling. “Good,” said the hon sec. “Well, mine’s a pint.” Paul understands the liquid requirements of trombonists, as he was once one himself. He admits he caused a conductor who required him to find a haunting F sharp to underpin a Tchaikovsky chord to say: “It’s supposed to be ghostly, not ghastly.”









 
E-pistle the 1027th    Roger that – four minutes two centuries later.  Posted  May 3 2014.  
 
 
Small Town Living:  Candy Neville has two experiences of it and responded to my plea for tales of life:in a community that was, er, close:   “When I was a kid, I lived in a Minnesota town population under 2000. Boring. The good was that we could hike all over everywhere and be safe. We did typical kid things. Mother took us shopping in Mankato on Monday and to Minneapolis for a few days to Christmas-shop and we had two weeks in Chicago. The townspeople were gossips and the gossip was always true. 
 
“In high school I lived in a small town of 6,000 in Iowa on a lovely lake. There was a famous Surf Ballroom and dances every week end. Buddy Holly‘s plane crashed leaving there. **  The lake, boat races, ballroom were great fun. Those who still live there love it. But they do travel to Chicago and out of the country. Two different mentalities. But the town that did nothing was a real snore.”   (I do like the line: ‘and the gossip was always true.’ – Ed) 
 
** An aside on The Day the Music Died.  Holly rented the plane in Clear Lake Iowa after getting frustrated with bus travel during a 24-city tour in February 1959.  JP ‘Big Bopper’ Richardson, Holly and Richie Valens, plus pilot Roger Peterson all died in a snow-caused crash soon after takeoff.   Richardson died after he swapped his bus place for Waylon Jennings‘ spot on the plane, Valens won a coin toss for his fatal place from Tommy Allsup.  The $36 cost of the flight deterred Dion DiMucci, who opted to travel by bus. His thrift saved his life. 
 
Drivel Driven: My cousin Jo Groves lives in coastal Prestatyn, Wales,  and confirms Candy’s take on gossip: “(Prestatyn)  still seems to retain the small town mentality. The one thing I learned very early on was never to discuss anybody in a derogatory manner as the person you spoke to ALWAYS knew somebody who knew somebody who is somebody’s relation or bosom buddy..but also it’s great for spreading rumours, they always come back to you, slightly disjointed.”   Prestatyn isn’t exactly a small, small town (pop: 18,496) and has not been since my ancestor Robert de Banastre built a wooden motte and bailey castle there in 1167 AD, but it does have the doubtful distinction of being the only place in Britain bombed in WW2 by the Italian Air Force. who may have known something.   Jo shrugs that aside and offers its neighbour, St Asaph as a contender for her memories of small town living, though she hasn’t actually been resident there. I should have explained the concept better in what Jo calls my ‘dribble.’ 
 
St Asaph’s population size has not changed much over the years: 3,144 in 1831, 3,491 today. Jo says that when they were bidding for status as a Queen’s Jubilee City, the thrifty town fathers spent a miserly £300 (about $500) on promo, and won the contest. I recall that when I worked for a glass manufacturer, St Asaph was chosen as site for its optical glass division because it had very clean air. One of the ways our Top Scientists discovered this was by looking at the sheep in the fields. Unsurprisingly, sheep in industrial areas have sooty fleeces, as the lanolin retains dirt. St Asaph’s baa lambs were beautifully white, and the town got a glassworks. Rumours that the locals heard of the fleece test and put the flocks through a car wash are unsubstantiated.
 
Dawna Kaufmann has me doing the LOL thingey with this one:  “This guy’s father dies, and he tells the undertaker he wants to give his dad the very best. So they have the funeral and the undertaker sends him a bill for $16,000. He pays it. A month later he gets a bill for $85, which he pays. The next month there’s another $85 bill, and the next month there’s another.   Finally the guy calls up the undertaker. The undertaker says, “Well, you said you wanted the best for your dad, so I rented him a tux.”
 
Dawna also has a lovely story about drones/quadcopters, flying machines that might be smarter than we think…  “My pal, a private investigator, has one and was playing with it outside his office in Westwood, Calif. The sun got in his eyes and the quad vanished. He figured it might have landed on the roof of the local FBI headquarters but didn’t think it was a good idea to go knocking there and ask. So he sadly gave up on seeing his baby again. And since it was worth about $1500 all told, he shed some real tears. Cut to just recently when he got an email from a maintenance guy who found the quad on the roof of a pharmacy. The man kept it in his office for a few months until he got around to looking at the footage, saw something that ID’d my friend, Googled him and made the contact. My friend happily rewarded the fella, then looked at the footage of what the quad’s camera saw before it landed in its hiding place. Flying by the seat of its pants, so to speak, it carefully avoided hitting other buildings, including the FBI’s, and chose just a nice out-of-the-way spot. Luckily (?) we’ve been having a drought in So. Calif., so it didn’t suffer from inclement weather and catch a cold.” 
 
The British tv show ‘Emmerdale Farm’, aware that the Tour de France will spend three days in Yorkshire in July, has advertised for competent-looking road cyclists (read: Lycra, lean, lovely bikes) to act as extras in a Tour-themed show to be shot there. My longtime footie hero and critic of Knutsford, Cheshire,  Kevin Knut-Cosgrove says he’d pay to see me in Lycra, so I’m phoning the artist Christo. If he can wrap the Reichstag,  there’s a chance he can swathe me.   Joe Mullins plaintively asks  “Is there a section for Florida pensioners on 3-wheelers with pennants waving in the Yorkshire breeze?”   Jack Grimshaw moans: “Getting flashbacks to flogging that (3-gear?) 300lb beast up those Welsh hills – I need to go lie down,” while  Rachel Bannister Williams asks hopefully: “Would I look ok in running tights and an anorak?” Here she is, doing weight training with our giant 21 lbs cat, Barney.. you be the judge.        PS: Barney does not wear running tights and Rachel has been doing 40 mile road bike rides. Also among our cycling heroes: Brazen Bob Westman, who’s been riding 100-mile days and the Radcliffe Rembrandt, Graham Timmins. GT has been turning out after work to scale the steepest local hills on his high-wheeler Old Ordinary.
 
 
Hist Non-Fict:   Speaking of running tights, and the saint refers to the garment, not to holes in hose, the first fully-ratified sub-four minute mile was run 50 years ago this week. Sir Roger Bannister covered the distance at the Iffley Road sports ground, Oxford on May 6th 1954 in 3m 59.4 secs  after a lunch of ham salad and with pace assistance from two team mates.  But Sir Roger may well not have been the first sub-four miler.  In 1770, James Parrott wagered and won 15 guineas (about $2500 in modern dosh) to cover a measured mile inside four minutes. His run, from Shoreditch Church, London and along the length of Old Street was kept clear by men with whips and poles, and he sped over the course in his thin leather laced-up shoes to finish with a second to spare.
 
Seventeen years later, a runner called Powell wagered 1,000 guineas that he could run a mile inside four minutes, an extraordinary bet, as a guinea (21 shillings) is worth about $1.70 today, making the whole bet, er, $170,000 in modern currency. In a pre-race time trial on one of Britain’s oldest sporting venues,(near Hampton Court Palace) in a run intended merely to test his form, newspapers reported that he ran the distance in four minutes and three seconds. He ran stark naked, as did serious runners since the 1600s,  in imitation of the ancient Greek athletes. There is no known report of Powell’s 1000-guinea run, but it’s good evidence that gamblers, athletes and their backers believed a sub-four mile was possible.
 
In 1796, an Oxfordshire runner called Weller ran a 3m 58 secs mile, winning three guineas (worth about four months’ pay for a working man) and there are plenty of stories of races of 20 or 30 miles run at speeds that correspond to elite marathon times today, including an equivalent time of for a 2h 10m marathon by a Swiss runner on the streets of London in 1769 and a 1753  equivalent of a 2h 11m marathon by an Italian athlete. 
 
In a near-half marathon, James Appleby ran 12 miles in 57 minutes in 1730 and four miles in 18 minutes on another day. 
 
The distances should be accurate, as they could be measured with agricultural chains that were precise to the centimetre, and the times could also be measured with timepieces that included chronometers. Also, consider that the races of those days were usually for wagers, and umpires and a referee were  appointed so both sides in a wager must agree to the time and distance measurements.
 
But all those fleet-footed runners faded from the record books when the Victorians came along. They policed the sport to exclude undesirables who ran for money, wanting to ‘purify’ sport and keep it only for middle and upper class amateurs. The amateurs’ records were generally slower than those who took the time to train seriously and who needed backers’ money for it, so the money-tainted professionals were removed from the scene and their records quietly dismissed. The exclusions continued even after WW1, forcing out the Frenchman Jules Ladoumegue (first man to beat 3m 50secs for 1500 metres)  and Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn, both of whom were disqualified for not complying with over-exclusive amateur rules that were too zealously applied. ***
 
Roger Bannister negotiated the minefield of official restrictions and ran that first fully-ratified sub-four, but he may merely have been the first amateur to do so,  following in the slipstream of a vegetable seller called Parrott, who 184 years before him ran from a church gate  and down Old Street, Shoreditch to win a bet. 
 
Over-zealous little Hitlers: happened to me once, when as a 16 years old no-hoper in a 25 mile timetrial held at 6am on a rainy Sunday  (ie no big crowds, or for that matter any spectators at all) I wore a donated cycling jersey with the words ‘Lygie Garciol’ on it. The timekeeper told me not to wear it – it was ‘advertising’ –  but I had no choice, no other jersey. Cost me a disciplinary hearing and a month’s suspension. 
 
A get-well shout to Mary May, Jennie’s aunt, who’ll be 101 in August. Mary’s been in care for a week or two for an intestinal infection, and I’ll bet she had no trouble finding a supplier for her daily gin and tonic. She’ll also have been fretting at being confined: this is a Daughter of Empire who coached the Nigerian  ladies’ swim team at the Commonwealth Games when her Foreign Office husband was posted there. She even learned to speak Swahili by shouting a little louder, oh no, that was Eric May. Mary’s the one who hobnobs with the likes of Sir Seb Coe, former Minister for Sport and until recently she drove her three-wheeled mobility scooter around her Cornish village at speeds that terrified the local pet population.
 
 
Bigmouth bigot Cliven Bundy has been dumped by the right wingers who supported his illegally grazing cattle on public land in Nevada, but he was due on Friday to file criminal charges against the BLM. Why? “They pointed guns at people,” he said.  I took a look to see just who Faux News were so eager to boost as a poster child of freedom, but about whom they  quickly went silent when he proved to be a racist and political embarrassment.  
 
The feds say Bundy’s spent 20 years grazing his cattle on BLM land without paying fees and he owes $1+  million because he chose to cherrypick which laws he felt applied to him. When they sent a handful of rangers to corral the trespassing beasts, they were faced with the gunpoints of 100 or more  ‘sovereign rights’ Bundy supporters. Rather than provoke a gunfight over 400 cattle, the feds wisely withdrew. Bundy’s might-is-right mob cheered a ‘victory.’
 “My forefathers .. have been here since 1877,” Bundy declared, asserting what he calls his ‘ancestral rights.’    “These rights have been created through pre-emptive rights and beneficial use .. we created the forage and the water from the time of the first pioneers.  My rights are from before the BLM ever existed.”
Well, he’s lying. Bundy’s family have not been on the Nevada land since the 1870’s, as he boasts. In fact, his parents moved there in 1948, two years after the BLM was founded,  and they bought their 160 acre ranch from Raoul and Ruth Levitt. The Levitts did transfer water rights but those were only for the ranch, not for the federal BLM land surrounding it, where court records show that the Bundys began grazing cattle in 1954. It’s  unusually green and fertile for southern Nevada and Bundy grows excellent melons there, so he’s mostly a farmer.
Bundy’s rabid gunsels – even his wife says she has a shotgun and is ready to use it on anyone who threatens the use of ‘their’ land – are melting away now from this self-proclaimed bastion of freedom who’s been thieving from the taxpayer, but that’s not been pointed out in the great reporting by Fox. Sorry,  Faux News. (Sarcasm font in use).  And, they’ll likely not give much coverage to the story when the feds come back and legally take what’s owed.