Named for Julius

Posted by on Jul 2, 2014

Epistles part 2 Oct 8 2013  SCROLL DOWN FOR LATER E-PISTLES.
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E1001 St Paul to the Hiatusians  Oct 8 2013



Well, hello, good evening and welcome, as David Frost used to nasally intone. Your neighbourhood saint is resuming service in the e-pistles business on a more-or-less monthly basis, but can’t promise to be New, Revised or in any way Improved, unlike the soap powders we buy. If you’ve forgotten,  the purpose of these epistles is purely for amusement. During the recent hiatus, also for amusement, I did look at the social media  many people seem to use, though I can’t say I found any of it especially stimulating. Grump, grump. Mostly it’s people sending tedious pictures from their smart phones and telling each other how beautiful, lonely, exciting or drunk they are.


I did discover one thing, though, FaceBook and the rest can harm your health. Apart from the chance of dying of boredom, it promotes the dangerous Thigh Gap.  It seems that air-headed young women are pursuing an elusive weight loss goal: to have legs so skinny their thighs don’t touch when they stand with feet together. This is a condition most often seen in anorexic fashion models who have stick legs and boobs like puppies’ ears, although their boobs’ gap is usually across a bony desert of ribcage, or so I have been told. 


The thigh gap is unattainable to almost everyone. To achieve it you must either have odd genetics of wide hips and matchstick legs, or have been starved almost to death by Nazi overseers. I checked my own thigh gap, and found it missing, perhaps gone off on a Gap Year. Each thigh was contesting deep into the other’s territory, so deeply overlapping that when I walk there’s a sound like loud clapping. I take this for applause at my decision not to starve myself into becoming an icon of fashion, and am off to be rewarded with a couple of pizzas.   



The talk at dinner the other night was about Arab/Sharia punishments. An Egyptian doctor who prescribed a drug that ’caused a Saudi princess to become addicted’ was sentenced to 1,500 lashes and 15 years’ prison. Last week, four Saudi men chose to dance naked on top of a car. Buraldah police took them into custody and an irate judge fined them heavily. Worse, three of them got three to seven years in prison and 500-1,200 lashes, the one with the biggest, er, offence got ten years’ prison and 2,000 lashes. Harsh, I said, and sent the news to rugby pals, suggesting we not go there for any tour, as most of us have committed similar crimes. John Bradley shook his head in disbelief. “2,000 lashes?” he wrote, “for that? Just your average night on the piss after a good win.”  Most of us agree that Ken Hudson would have been beheaded by now. 


I wondered about how many lashes a man could survive, and found that the Saudis actually have rules about this. Generally, they hand out 50 lashes a week (Hey, it’s Thursday, time for your whipping!) and the flogger is supposed to hold a copy of the Koran under his arm to limit the range of motion and the force of the blow.  The modern record seems to have been set in 2007, when two gay Saudi men caught at it were sentenced to 7,000 lashes each.  The Iranians are less kind. In 2004 a 14 years old boy died when receiving his 85 lashes with a metal cable. His crime was to break the Ramadan fast. A 14 years Bangladeshi old girl who was abducted and raped was sentenced to 101 lashes for ‘adultery.’ She died after 70 lashes.   The Sudanese public order police, who in 1998 flogged a man to death, routinely whip women for such crimes as wearing trousers or driving in a car with a man not their husband or relative.  As women are not allowed to drive, it does put a strain on travel. Females may use a bicycle, but only for exercise, not for transportation. Talk about medieval! 


Change-up:  one of the things these epistles have done is allow us to share memories, so here’s one for us all: next month (Nov 22) is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK.   Send the saint your memories of the day, where you were, how you felt, what it meant to you and I’ll run them in one edition. It’s scary to think it’s a half century ago, and many of you, er, us, weren’t even alive then… do what you can. (He’s lying – Ed.) 


Large change:  Malcolm Balfour, vanguard of the overseas legion that invaded the Enquirer in the early 1970s, sent an update for Lantana graduates: “Amazing how things have changed.  If you go to the Old House, you have to bring  parking money — it’s “Valet Only,” so is the Two Georges.  It’s now known as the Key Lime Old House and across the road is a luxury condo building.  A charter school — “The Maritime Academy,” is now in the Enquirer building and they’ve done a good job cleaning it up.  The place had been vacant for almost two years and was all overgrown.



“The new Lantana Bridge is in the final days of construction and will be 11-feet higher than the old one.  The Duke has become a Gay-Lesbian or Lesbian-Gay bar.  There are blocks of luxury condos just this side of the Duke  with a wine bar!! The baseball field behind the Enquirer is now a two-story town-house development…and Lantana is joining the changing of America — I stopped behind a school bus yesterday on Broadway — the big street parallel to US 1 — nearly every kid climbed out and not one out of about 20 — was white.  When we came to the Enquirer there wasn’t a single black in the town.  Lantana has become a favorite destination for  “Sober Homes,” places where wealthy drug addicts and alcoholics go to get sober.  They tried to move one into the Enquirer. . . which would somehow have been fitting.  (They offered a neighbor $8,000 a month rent  for his three bedroom two bath home.  It has a pool and a dock but still!!)”


So there’s the irony: the home of some of the worst alkies in South Florida is now a sobering-up joint. Yin and Yang, eh? 


Download Abbey:    Here’s a Freebie Alert: from Wednesday 9th October to Sunday  13th, my second e-book of a trilogy will be available on Amazon and Amazon UK for free download. That’s ‘Arthur Imperator,’ and if you don’t have a Kindle, distress yourself not.  Amazon offer a free app for any smart device or computer so you can read it, say, on a tablet or IPhone. Download the app, then the book, a simple procedure. It’s a pacey read, history, magic and swords, lots of UK places (the Severn Bore? Yes.) Even the dog features in it – sadly – as does a poisoning Jennie..  The book’s at #2 of its genre on Amazon (behind its sibling ‘Britannicus’ which is in #1,  hooray! and ‘Invictus’ is at #4. Some reviewers say the pace is fast, so apply balm before reading so you don’t chap your lips as you mouth the words.



When you have a Hibernian name like Cosgrove, you’re entitled to tell irish jokes, and Kevin C offers this golden oldie:

An Irish woman goes to an ice cream shop and says to the guy behind the counter: “I’ll have a pint of vanilla, a pint of strawberry and a pint of chocolate.” The guy says:”We don’t have any chocolate.”  So she says: “In that case I’ll have a half pint of vanilla, a half pint of strawberry and a half pint of chocolate.”

He says again: “We don’t have any chocolate.”  So she says: “I’ll have a scoop of vanilla, a scoop of strawberry and a scoop of chocolate.”


The shopkeeper says: “Can you spell the Van in Vanilla?”  She says VAN

“Can you spell the straw in Strawberry?” She says STRAW

“Can you spell the fuck in chocolate?”    She says: “There’s no fuck in chocolate.”


He says: “I’ve been trying to tell you that for five minutes.”



Shameless Brian Barrick has some oldies, too: “My neighbour knocked on my door at 2:30am this morning , can you believe that , 2:30am?! Luckily for him I was still up playing my bagpipes. +++++


Paddy says: “Mick , I’m thinking of buying a Labrador .”Bugger that” says Mick “have you seen how many of their owners go blind?” ++++


“I saw a poor old lady fall over today on the ice!! At least I presume she was poor – she only had £1.20 in her purse.” ++++



Ken Potter says ten Irish priests died when their bus crashed and they all showed up at the Pearly Gates. St Peter said:”If any of you are pedophiles, get off to Hell right now!”  Nine of them shuffled away, and the saint shouted after them: “And take this deaf bastard with you, too!”  


Have a heavenly week or two. Regards, St P. 




 E-1002  Water, bricks, religion and PHOTOS!    Posted 10.19.13 


New Readers: these e-pistles of St Paul to the Various are intended for amusement and as a lame replacement for the real mail we hardly ever get these days. They used to be weekly, they’ll be more sporadic since I ran out of caffeine. Send your insights and stories, we’ll treat them with care and take them on outings from time to time. Yes, I know it’s pathetic to beg, but there it is.



Flows of history:  many rivers in Europe would hardly qualify for creek status in the USA, but however small, they’re a vital and historic part of the landscape. This saint has fond memories of cycling club summer outings that included a swim in the River Dane at Swettenham, near Knutsford. Historic? Well, it is where in 1017 Knut (aka Canute) king of England, Norway, Sweden and Denmark supposedly met Edmund Ironside and divided the country with him. Canute’s Ford – Knutsford – is also where, just before D-Day, General George Patton delivered a speech that seemed to slight the Soviets and nearly ended his career.  We teenage cyclists only cared that the Dane was an admirable place to swim on a hot day, and didn’t Canute once try to turn back the sea?  Patton’s standard is still in St Lawrence’s Church, btw

So, the Dane was a fine swimming place, and now there’s a movement in Europe to return some rivers into the swimming and sightly places they once were. The European Union Water Framework Directive aims to revivify hundreds of natural waterways across the continent by 2027, including 9,500 miles of UK rivers.  They’re starting with a small Lancashire stream with ties to America. The River Medlock that runs for a mile through the centre of Manchester’s Philips Park is today a sterile culvert because 120 years ago the Victorians regarded rivers as an inconvenience except for supplying water to factories and for taking away waste. They often channelled waterways into culverts or buried them in tunnels (London’s Fleet River may never emerge again) creating a network of lost rivers.

In the case of the Medlock, which was culverted after a flood caused it to wash away part of a cemetery and its occupants, the Victorians squoze the once-sparkling little river through a six-feet-wide channel of concrete and brick. That’s being undone. Today, there’s a project under way to remove all the hardscaping (including eight million bright red bricks)  to allow the river to return to its natural glory. And there’s another story about those bricks….  They came from the Accrington Brick and Tile Co and were fired from local clay that was once Ice Age lake sediment from the River Calder. This clay produces bricks of the highest hardness and strength, so hard they’re called NORI bricks – ‘iron’ backwards. These bright red, immensely strong bricks were used in furnaces and for the foundations of both the Empire State Building and the Blackpool Tower, and the ones that are being removed from the channel of the Medlock look just like new, despite having been submerged in running water for more than a century. 

To close the circle, while the Medlock is being restored, so too will be the River Calder whose ancient lake sediment was used to make those  bricks. It’s a neat confluence of water and history and already, early in the restoration, kingfishers and trout are reported back in the Medlock’s headwaters. The Duke of Dana Point, California, Jack Grimshaw wrote: “Brings back precious memories. The Medlock runs through Clayton, where my old man was raised. I remember visiting first at about 4 years of age. Wonder if they’re gonna resurrect the strangely named Irk, which ran deep under Chetham’s (school.) You could hear it from atop a perilous shaft dozens of feet deep. Emerged west side of the school and ran alongside Exchange Station, I think.”   Yep, memories.

As a teen, I wrote a feature piece for the Farnworth Journal on the Irk/Irwell valley and was jubilant to hear from a local teacher that she’d read it to her class of nine year olds as an example of something or other. She picked out a pretentious simile I’d used, comparing the white gleam of distant headstones to a flock of geese on a hillside (in industrial Farnworth? As if!)  and asked her kids to make a similar comparison. “Like, like, like what?” she asked.  “Like a lot of snot rags, Miss,” one urban urchin responded


Again, religion rears its ugly head, and a new word has entered the lexicon of those we may not use. It’s not the F-bomb, the C word or the N word. It’s Allah.  Happily, you need not worry that this saint will be dragged away for using it, because the decision is only against  Christian newspapers in Malaysia. There, three Muslim judges in an appeals court say that usage of ‘Allah’ is not an integral part of Christianity’s vocabulary and that using it is “against public order.”  Lawyers for the Catholic newspaper which used the Bad Word argued that it predates Islam and has been used extensively by Malay-speaking Christians in Borneo for centuries, but a 2008 decision to stop the newspaper from using the inflammatory word was upheld this week.  Observers say it’s a bid to keep the minority non-Muslim Malaysians subdued and is as ridiculous as would be a US law to prevent non-Christians from using the term ‘God.’   Allah bless tolerance.

My pal Fred Wehner sent me some DVDs of the Granada TV series ‘The Street,’ and I’m riveted. It’s a sort of intelligent ‘Coronation Street’ with gritty storylines that’s made me all nostalgic and speaking with a Salfordian accent all over again. View it if you can. Also: I downloaded something with a trojan (a sort of virus, not a condom) that slowed my computer with unwanted ads. A one-click free program (you can donate if you wish)  called Adblocker worked a minor miracle (saints don’t usually bother with the minor ones) that even inept cyber idiots (me, me!) can install. One click. Free. No ads. Covers Chrome, Safari, Opera, probably others. Brilliant. Google it  – 16 million people use it.

Ham and Tongue:  In darkest Scotland, my bro Ted was grieving the sudden loss of his four years old springer spaniel Toby, a dog he took in soon after his wife Elise passed on. Ted doted on the mutt and was devastated when the dog died two weeks ago. This week, he journeyed to an even more remote bit of Scotland, on the extreme north coast. It’s a hamlet called Scullomie, and it’s at the mouth of Tongue Bay, just south of the Rabbit islands. I’m not making this up. The Wiki entry hasn’t a lot to say about the tiny place except: “Some residents here enthusiastically keep hens as well as other types of farm animals.”  Probably in the disco. So Ted went there and bought a rescued five years old white and brown spaniel called Willow and took her back home to his big city: John o’Groats, population 220. The dog’s blissfully happy, as would be anyone who’s escaped the mouth of Tongue, hamlet of hens. 

Ken Potter says the Washington Redskins, who have been told to remove the ‘Redskins’ from their football team name, say instead they’re removing ‘Washington.’  They’re ashamed to be associated with the place, says Ken.

Oregon French: After ‘Eureka!’ as uttered by Archimedes as he leaped from his bath, we have ‘Voila!’ as declared by proud chefs and others everywhere. But not in OR 97405, where Jennie found that a blogger boasting about a way to peel garlic finished her exposition with her version of  ‘there it is!’  en Francais:   “Wa la!” 


Anyone else as amused as I am about the LinkedIn system, which offers up the alleged skills of near-strangers for you to endorse? I just agree with everything, and have had a back and forth with highly-intelligent Dave Richards, among others, saying yes, he’s a Total Expert on pomegranate processing or something. The next day, I find he’s endorsed me for Riparian Agriculture or Mesolithic Potato Farming, and the show goes on. Does any employer actually pay attention to this rubbish? Answers on a banknote to Blinked-in Bannister, please. 



 Rugby mate Don Hesler was in town the other day, took our poker group’s money (Phil Perry, Jim Floyd, Will Silvestri and I are still grieving) and as consolation sent me a pic from a rugby tournament. The photo showed a gang of us immediately post-match with our spleen-damaged prez Neal Novotny holding up both the trophy and his index finger, an image I forwarded with a note that he was revealing his testicle count while several of us, open mouthed, sang his praises. Here’s the pic.





 President Novotny responded: “To set the record straight….upon further recollection the truth is I was showing everyone the very finger on which the svelte Mr. Bannister (to my right with his mouth still open) had been sucking in ecstasy since the final game whistle blew on that memorable day. We Silverhawks had ended the two-year unbeaten streak of Mystic River RUFC from Boston in the finals of the North American Old Boys tournament at Lake Placid.  (While the distinguished Dr. H. Lloyd Jones PhD on the far right dons his classy ‘Your Problem is Obvious’ cap, with the graphic of someone shoving their head up their own rear.) 


“In addition to those mentioned earlier by Paul, (Dan Bennett, Chuck Elston) others in the photo: Mike McDuck, Karl Miller, Pat Kohlman, Larry Z, the late John Frazzini, and Phil Perry‘s powerful left shoulder on the left. On further viewing of the photo, I believe I see the bearded outline of Professor Don Hart, Esq. at the top right. He was our one of our backs and just as importantly the team’s attorney and counsel on that trip to the Lake Placid area.  What a sophisticated and proud bunch this was!”  


To support the ‘sophisticated’ tag, Dr William Shakespeare Morrison PhD, aka  Willie Waggledagger  sent on a pic of Dr Donald Hart wearing a plastic penis on his nose. He in turn responded: “Amigos: Allow me to boast…I also won the talent contest in the local saloon with a rendition of Lake Placid Blues. The prize money was a $50.00…didn’t even cover the cost of a round of drinks.”  




Dr Donald M Hart and his nose job.


 Dr Karl Miller (VD, retired)  offered: “I still remember getting off the plane at SFO International and my wife yelling when i showed her the trophy we each won. “We paid a thousand dollars for THAT”!!!!  Looking back all those years…it was worth every penny.”



Dr Miller is standing behind the saint in this pic from that tournament. Facial expressions are philosophical. Have a philosophical week.



E-1003  St Pee The Gourmet  posted Oct 25th



The saint is visiting the hamlet of Much Excitement in the Marsh this week, as the author Simon Winchester is in Portland and we’re meeting for a drink. This is getting to be a regular occurrence, as we had dinner together in Honduras in 1974 while covering a hurricane.  He probably needs some career advice as he only has 21 best-sellers to his name. Our get-together is on Tuesday, so I’ve been re-reading his work to make sure I have some knowledge of it. This is the man who wrote the perennial favourite ‘The Professor and the Madman,’ on the making of the OED and who is such an expert on China (speaks Mandarin, lived in HKong for 20 years, travelled the 4,000 mile length of the Yangtze) that his non-fiction works on the place are practically academic papers, but hugely interesting. And it all started at the Journal, Newcastle. I’m hoping some of his glitter rubs off on me, and  I hope he doesn’t wait another 39 years before admitting me to the presence. Next week: more details of my celeb stalking.




So they’ve released some documents saying that a grand jury accused John and Patsy Ramsey of involvement in their daughter JonBenet’s death, but the 1996 murder is still unsolved and looks to remain that way.  The jury charged that the parents put her at risk and maybe aided a killer. Well, what’s new? I was in Boulder to cover the story immediately after the little beauty queen was murdered, checked into the Boulderado and bumped into a longtime colleague who was there hours ahead of me. “What’s the story?” I asked him.  “Daddy did it,” he said, and 17 years later I still think he’s right. 

The ‘ransom note’ specified the exact amount of John Ramsey’s just-received annual bonus ($118k); was in handwriting that experts said was Patsy’s, disguised, on paper from the home; the child was reported to have vaginal scarring from previous sexual activity and had been molested; she was tied with rope from the house (some of the same rope was found at the Ramseys’ vacation home) and a handful of other details (no footprints of an intruder in the snow outside, eg) all pointed to an inside job.


But… the community’s closed ranks,  a smart Georgia lawyer, plus John Ramsey’s pollution of the crime scene meant the grand jury’s charges were dropped, and nobody was properly investigated. Moral: if you want to play sex games with a child and accidentally kill her, do it in a small town where you’re a big fish.  It’s a sad story, and a pervert has escaped justice.






Saintly Cuisine:  I occasionally like to cook simple things: chili, spaghetti sauce, goulash, that kind of one-pot thing, though I venture into Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding Land and even, with Trader Joe pastry already made for me, will knock out steak and mushroom pies or concrete-like Cornish pasties, so when I saw a Guardian piece about Neanderthal Cuisine I was interested as it appealed to me on several levels.


Read no further if you have a weak stomach. Resume down there, in a bit. 


Recently, some Spanish researchers painted a picture of smart, sensitive Neanderthals eating balanced diets and treating minor complaints with carefully-gathered medicinal plants. The Barca group made these conclusions from finding tiny pieces of plant in cave men’s fossilised teeth, and the world clapped its hands in joy at the picture of enlightened early rugby players eating veggies.


Well, the theory seems to have been shot down and the truth may be stomach-turning. Those tiny bits of plants probably came from the stomach contents of deer, bison and other grazing animals that the Neanderthals hunted, then ate. And, if they were anything like the modern Inuit or Cree and Blackfoot tribes, they would have regarded the stomach contents of their prey as a special delicacy. A Brit researcher says that gut gastronomes really like Already Been Chewed Food, as it has the taste and consistency of cream cheese and is highly nutritious. I’ll take his word for it.


If you’ve managed to get this far without feeling queasy, I’ll mention the heroic, admirable ambulanceman in Eccles who saved someone with the kiss of life. I was interviewing him about the drama when he casually mentioned that as he did mouth-to-mouth the victim threw up. “I wouldn’t have minded,” he said, “but he’d been eating cheese.”




Resume reading here, the grisly bit’s ended.



The saint opened his mailbag to find a couple of responses to last week’s rugby photos. First up, Nurse Vicious, who’s married to Mike Ayers.. “I want to know who stole all these svelte young handsome men and replaced them with you guys!!!!!!!!!!!”


Then there was a plaintive note from Allen Hayes :“I wasn’t able to make the trip (didn’t have the $ and Kathy threatened to leave me if went off with the boys to play and left her alone with 10 or so kids!). Now with time and $ and only one left at home, my body would revolt and collapse in  a puddle if I even thought of playing anything more than tiddlywinks.”


Techtalk 1:  Happy AdBlocker client from last week’s mention of the free software:  John Mulrooney says thanx, “Works beautifully. I’ve been running a scan every night with Super Anti-Spyware for couple of years and usually come up with 200+ spy programs every day that need to be quarantined or removed  (I use the free version so it’s not blocking in real-time). Since installing Adblocker, that number’s down to about 25 per day, and no ads to be seen anywhere. Lovely!”


Techtalk 2:  Removing pollution in another way, Dutch artist Dan Roosegaarde has had his plan to solve China’s smog problem accepted for a trial in a public park in Beijing. He envisions underground copper coils generating an electrostatic field, and a giant vacuum cleaner sucking the charged particles – they’d be attracted the way a balloon sticks to a sweater – out of the air and into a container for collection and ‘repurposing.’  He has other ideas, too, including one for glow-in-the-dark roadways and another to catch dishonest bankers. “I’m not a designer, I’m just a hippie with a business plan,” he said. Maybe we could use his giant Hoover to collect Washington political scum, too. 


Junk Talk:   Ceramic Man Dave Anson is a native Aussie with a curious bit of AusInfo to share, and it isn’t quite about the Y Chromosome:  “” Here is a bit of information of which I was ignorant. It concerns one of our national emblems, the kangaroo. Did you know that the female of the species has three vaginas? Well, two plus an exit vagina or birth canal.  The male kangaroo has a Y-shaped penis to accommodate this wonderful piece of equipment. Evidently this is common among most marsupials, with the exception of the larger male Red, Eastern & Western Gray Kangaroos. They evidently have a regular ‘willy’.  Fascinating stuff.”  I did look it up, and seems the female  ‘roo has a double uterus.  Other things I found: the pig has a corkscrew penis, the walrus has a bone to keep matters at attention in very cold water, and the dolphin’s penis is prehensile (think monkey tail) so it can wrap itself around and grab onto things. I suppose you should take care when swimming with a dolphin..The worst deal is for male  honeybees. When one mates, its testicles explode and its penis falls off. This may explain why it then shuffles off disconsolately and dies. 


Picked up from Viz magazine letters by the alert Revel Barker: “What’s all this nonsense about that 66-year-old Romanian woman being the world’s oldest mum? My mum’s 77. Beat that. * 


**These so-called speed bumps are a joke. If anything, they slow you down * 


“We should remember the tremendous contribution of the Queen Mother to the war effort: as the BBC pointed out, she “bravely remained in London beside her husband” during the war. This contrasts sharply with the actions of my grandfather who, on the declaration of war immediately left his wife and children and pissed off, first to France , then North Africa , Italy , France (again) and finally Germany . The shame will always be with us.”


**Why is it that Channel 4’s Big Brother are allowed to install loads of cameras in a house and watch the residents’ every move. But when I put one tiny camera in my neighbour’s bathroom I get bound over for 12 months. There’s no justice.* 


**I heard recently that, on average, Rush Limbaugh receives two turds in the post each week. What I want to know is….. who’s sending the other one?”





New readers: the e-pistles of St Paul are intended as a modest replacement for the paper–and-envelope mail we no longer receive and are only for amusement or to bring comfort to  insomniacs. They are non-fattening and are not addictive. Contributors will be blessed. Several hundred previous epistles are archived at 




E-1004  Posted November 1st 2013. St Pee to the Fairy Penguins et alia




Shamelessly using OPE’s – Other People’s Experiences – is a benchmark of St Paul of the E-pistles, and it isn’t plagiarism if I change the punctuation a little.  Or so I say. Which is why this week’s epistle may be more interesting than most, as I’m stealing, er, reporting some of  Simon Winchester’s material after meeting the great man. Winchester, former Visitation Convent schoolboy (Dorset); The Journal, Newcastle, reporter  and onetime dissectionist in a morgue (all of them not-unrelated activities) is promoting his newest best-seller ‘The Men Who United America’ and is touring the US to persuade elderly audiences to invest their reading budgets with him. This from a man who hitchhiked around America for a year and left with $182 of his original $200 stake. 


As a journo, Winchester covered roughly one-quarter of the globe (Asia and the Pacific) for the Observer, so I can relate, having ranged across the entire Peak District National Park (500 sq miles) for the Telegraph, Sheffield. Moreover, Winchester also knows Joe Mullins.  His Portland lecture included tales of eating cherry pie with the Angel family (Gene and Lynn)  in Paradise, Kansas; and of the neglected obelisk that marks the heart of American geography in East Liverpool, Ohio. This marks the beginning point of the US Public Land Survey  (and is close to the spot where Pretty Boy Floyd was embalmed.)  


However, it was Winchester’s tale of the first director of the USGS, Clarence King, that had the audience sitting a little straighter. The fair-complected, blue-eyed King was drawn to black women, so when in 1887 he spotted attractive, black former slave Ada Copeland he persuaded her he also was black so as to avoid the opprobrium attached to mixed-race liaisons. “He introduced himself as James Todd, a Pullman attendant,” said Winchester, “They fell in love, and they had a common-law marriage.”  The couple begat four children, two of whom inexplicably enough were white, but Ada never seemed to notice and for the whole 20 years of their relationship, King would from time to time excuse himself to his wife, saying he had to take another railroad trip, then he’d cross the Brooklyn Bridge to the USGS offices. There, he would announce that he’d been on another long geological field trip. He’d write up his notes and depart “into the field again” and re-cross the Brooklyn Bridge to his family, or perhaps go off exploring the West. 


The decades of deception ruined King, who died in Arizona, but not before he made a written deathbed confession to Ada. Winchester maintains that he simply told his physician, who had the task of informing the widow that she was actually Mrs King, not Mrs Todd, and she had no railroad privileges. Her reaction is not reported, but their two daughters married white men, and their two sons served in WW1 as black soldiers. 


Before I went to renew acquaintance with the author, as it’s 39 years since we met during a hurricane in Central America, I told my geologist schoolmate  Brian Barrick about the plan because he’s a Winchester fan. He said: “Remember what my future brother-in-law said to (wife) Lis when she told him I was a geologist: ‘You will spend your life pouring drinks for him and his drunk friends.’ ”  Fact is, we had a long drive home, so I only scammed a tonic water out of the great man, not even a pint or two of scrumpy.


So now we learn that the British, French, German, Spanish and Swedish intel agencies (not to mention the good ol’ NSA of the USA) all have electronic eavesdropping? Hoo hah, what’s new? More than a decade ago when I was dealing with a couple of ex-SAS soldiers to get photographs of Princess Di going through anti-kidnap training in Hereford, they warned me not to use certain words in any phone conversation with them or my contacts. The Brits, they said, had eavesdropping equipment capable of (robotically) picking up key phrases in your private transatlantic conversation and it would alert a human operator to listen in and make sure you were not planning mayhem. Then they could track you down and there would be a pair of Size 12s standing on your doorstep, adorning the feet of a large police officer. Has nobody noticed that we live in a developing Big Brother state?  I know I never mention in phone calls  that I sometimes smuggle Marmite…



My Best Beloved, to use Rudyard Kipling‘s phrase, has a tender heart and for years now has been making small layettes for stillborn babies. It’s a programme in 300-plus US hospitals through which grieving parents are gifted beautiful hand-made grave clothes for their lost child. Volunteers make and donate the layettes and a small keepsake as a gesture of respect and love, and to help the parents know that others share their grief. The responses to the programme, called Minutes of Gold, are both heartbreaking and uplifting, and at least two epistle recipients should take a bow, Nurse Vicious Ayers and Nurse Natasha Buxton, have introduced it into their hospitals, bringing comfort to the bereaved.  You can check the charity here: 


Well, Jennie has now found another set of small creatures in need of her fabrication skills. They’re 13 inch high Little penguins (aka Fairy Penguins – really!) that were rescued along the coasts of Australia and New Zealand after being tarred in oil slicks. The oil wrecked their natural waterproofing, so rescuers dressed the birds to keep them warm and prevent them from ingesting the gunk until they could be laundered and dried. A plea went out from a Kiwi wool shop after one disaster, and the world’s Fabricant Forces leaped in to knit small sweaters – turtleneck, no less – for the birds. Organisers said the knitters may make the sweaters in any colours because there’s not a lot of style choices, but the hues can vary. Here’s a fashionable couple of penguins strutting their stuff…




and a naked one:::




BUT… like many good stories, there’s more. The call for help came in 2011 and the plea for sweaters – jumpers to the Aussies – went viral, resulting in 3,100 sweaters for just a few hundred birds. Some Kiwi conservationists didn’t even like to dress the penguins, saying it stressed the wild birds, so turned down the knitwear. Tasmanian conservationists stepped in and took the colourful piles of woolly jumpers (a cross between a sheep and a kangaroo) as part of a crisis kit for future oil spills.  They soon had a sufficient store, but the sweaters kept coming, so they now hand the garments over to their gift outlet, where they’re put on toy penguins and sold to visitors.  Either way, wild birds benefit, and it keeps my missus busy.


Lee Harrison, responding to last week’s Y-shaped ‘roo hamptons news from Dave Anson, says he is a man with everything, even a penis bone. No, it’s not his, as in one that’s a biological part of his wedding tackle, it’s an oozik, or the penis bone of a walrus. Cold water can mar performance, y’know. Lee says: “I’ve got one of those walrus penises hanging in the bar at home. It’s called an oozik. I picked it up on a trip to Barrow, Alaska, a few years ago. Always a conversation piece at my place!”    I am at a loss to know what sort of conversations Lee has over the sherry wine and water biscuits, but this saint does know that he once played against the Alaska Rugby Union’s  President’s XV in Anchorage. They were called the Ooziks, and a very fine picture of a moustachio’ed walrus adorns their jersey patch. I had one once – an Oozik jersey, that is. Just saying. 


Firstborn daughter Claire showed up for a junket weekend a few days ago, and was dismayed to hear that her flight from San Jose was delayed an hour, as she had to connect in Portland. All however worked out. The Stanford U women’s soccer team were on Claire’s flight, so Alaska Air held the connecting Portland-Eugene plane for everyone. The girls had to scramble between gates at PDX and that’s when Claire became a star. She broke her leg while out running eight or nine weeks ago and is still in an air (inflatable) cast, so was hobbling around boarding the first plane, attracting much sympathy from the soccerettes. Came time to race between gates at Portland, she took off like a hare, passed the team and arrived, one-legged and limping,  with just two of the Stanford athletes pantingly ahead of her. She says she’d have won the race if she’d had her crutches to mow them down…


Chris Pritchard , down there in Oz, has a grump about the new journalism: cut and paste Twitter feeds… read on:  “Is it just me? Or is everyone similarly more-than-peeved by the currently fashionable reporting style that, depending on one’s point of view, denotes either greater respect for accuracy or increased laziness? (I suggest it’s the latter.) I’m referring to the fondness for including Twitter messages in stories (it’s less work than calling people or, God forbid, actually going out to see them). These stories are often accompanied by “screenshots”. If someone meets a sticky end, it’s routinely reported that the sad event sparked a flurry of Twitter tributes from family and friends. These words of wisdom are repeated verbatim without any attempt to clean up the sub-literates’ quotes. (I recall being told by one happy but misguided source he hadn’t realized he’d been so articulate during an interview.)  So, you remains “u”, you’re becomes “your” – and poor grammar and spelling are nauseatingly regurgitated.” 


Another Aussie,  Ken Potter writes in amazement:  “We had a power outage last week. My PC, TV and games console shut down immediately. It was raining– I couldn’t fish, or golf… So I talked to my wife for a few hours.   She seems like a nice person.”


My bro Tedward says a pal bought a lie-detector robot that slaps you if you tell an untruth.


One night, he decided to test it, and asked his son what he did that afternoon. “Oh, I was doing homework,” said the boy. The robot slapped him. “OK, OK,” said the kid. “I was watching a movie.”  The dad demanded: “What movie?”  “Toy Story” said the kid. The robot slapped him again. 

“OK, OK, it was porn.” 

“What?” said the dad. “At your age I never watched porn!” The robot slapped him.

The mother laughed. “Well,” she said, “he certainly is your son!”  That’s when the robot slapped her.


Says Ted: “There’s a robot for sale here, going cheap.”  


St Paul’s e-pistle to the Epicurians    E-1005  posted Nov 9 2013.


Nutrition for athletics is a developing science, and in the light of this week’s thrashing of Oregon’s college football team by Stanford, I can reveal that the California university’s dining rooms have offered high-energy meals for athletes since, oh at least since Chelsea Clinton was there 20 or so years ago. Maybe that is the secret of their success.  Whatever, as Valley Girls say,  I was a bit taken aback to hear of the England cricket team’s silver service menu for their upcoming Australia tour. Bemused Oz hosts at the venues where the team will be playing have been presented with an 82 page document containing 194 acceptable recipes for them to provide. They’re learning that their visitors are not out for a duck unless it’s a l’orange.


OK, I know about demanding diva pop stars’ demands:  M&Ms with the brown ones removed, of La Streisand‘s need for flown-today-from-Hawaii pineapples and all-new toilet seats and air filters on the entire floor of her hotel  (she even bought a million-dollar bus so she could travel across Los Angeles with her own loo) and yes, I know HM the Q travels with her very own supply of Malvern Hills water and her own toilet seat (probably has a crest) but cricketers?   They used to be happy with a pint or two of brown ale and a sausage sandwich  especially if the option was the usual slimy ham on stale bread. In Oz, they want Moroccan Spiced Griddled Chicken Filets with lime and coriander sauce; Ginger and Garlic King Prawn kebabs (with garlic mayo); Lamb and Pea Kofta kebabs with mint yogurt and Chocolate and Coconut Truffles to follow.  


Previous touring sides got luncheon vouchers. Saved up, they were good for a single Berni Inn steak; while hoarding the vouchers, the players made do with pints and pork pies. No Cajun Grilled Tofu kebabs or Pumpkin Seed and Goji Berry breakfast bars, then.


On rugby tours, when the host team usually offers post-match iceberg salad, garlic bread (burnt) and overcooked spaghetti, you can breakfast on a few McMuffins (they are easy to stow in a pocket for later and have a half-life in the hundreds of years) and dine in the evening on pints at the clubhouse. As a racing cyclist ingesting thousands of calories a day, I ate anything, but still recall my first pizza. It was in Amsterdam, where I’d gone for a kermesse, and I followed my nose to a delicious-smelling foodery where I ordered in fluent Dutch (pointing)  and fell in love for ever. Now that was real fuel.  Once, on a three-week bike tour of Ireland, my mate Neal Greenhalgh and I existed on just two solid meals. For the rest we drank Guinness, that liquid bread.  It made ordering simple, at least. (“Another round of meals, please.”)    Now, reading the England team’s requirements, I think I should take up cricket. Pass the Maximuscle. 



Fairy Penguin Blues: my long-ago schoolmate Brian Barrick read here of the oil-drenched Little Blue Penguins that were given knitted smocks and wrote to tell of the time he and wife Lis lived near their rookeries in Australia: “One of the most amazing sights is being on the beach on Phillip Island at dusk when upwards of 1000 of the little gentlemen come ashore after a day of fishing and go into the rookeries and feed the chicks.  There are about 4000 in this particular rookery.  We lived in South Australia and there were rookeries all along the coast but nothing like the Phillip Island group.  In the early 1980’s they used to floodlight the beach and play music as they came in.  You could walk among the birds as they went to the rookery.   


“The main colony in South Australia is on Granite Island to the south of Adelaide.  There was a problem with rats and cats killing the penguins.  The island is now cat and rat proofed with the only access on horse-drawn trams across a special bridge.  The Rangers are armed and authorized to shoot and kill any cat, rat or fox seen.  The penguins have made a major comeback since this policy came in.  When we were first there thirty years ago  there were very few penguins, now the local fishermen are pissing and moaning about the amount of fish being taken by the little birds.”


Uber-correspondent Ken Potter sends this from the late, lamented Ian Skidmore‘s journal, a commentary on quiet Sundays in Methodist Wales:  : “A vicar wrote to the News Chronicle: “If golf is allowed on Sunday, then cricket and football, tennis, bowls and darts must also be sanctioned and Sunday in Aberystwyth will outdo Paris.”  Skiddy followed this with:  “Gerard Fiennes was walking with the station master along the front at Aberystwyth and an RAF plane flew over on parachute exercise. The first failed to open and the poor man plummeted into the sea. ‘Eh indeed,” remarked the stationmaster, ‘nothing opens in Aberystwyth on a Sunday.’” 


Ken also offers: ” A later Manchester Guardian news editor kept a pet canary in the news room. He was carrying it through the building and explained to a curious machine minder that he was taking it home for Christmas. “Are you?” replied that man of the people, “we’re ‘avin turkey.”


and:    “John Ambrose of Hemel Hempstead, Herts, was holidaying near Sydney when he found a spectacle case carrying the name of Keith Nursery of Bungay, Suffolk. When Ambrose returned to Britain he went to Bungay to return the case personally, only to discover its owner had emigrated to Australia.”


Neil Marr chimes in from southern France with another anecdote: ” Ian Skidmore lay insensible across the desk where he was northern night news editor of the Daily Mirror when the northern editor, Ted Fenna, barged into the room. “Pissed again, Skidmore!” Fenna snarled. Skidmore opened one bloodshot eye, and said: “So am I, Ted … so am I.”  


My Korean daughter Mo DeLong is blissfully engaged to Steve McGrath, who is doubly fortunate as he comes from Liverpool, so is a natural-born Scouser.  This derives from he word ‘Scouse,’ which can mean the thick Liverpudlian dialect or a kind of stew – Lob Scouse – which traditionally is potatoes and veggies with a solitary piece of meat lobbed into it, and then, some say, removed at once. There used to be a man called the Scouse Emperor who patrolled dockland’s Scottie Road – Scotland Road that is – with an ensemble  that consisted of a large dustbin (aka garbage can)  on wheels. The bin was filled with scouse – the stew – and he peddled it for pennies to hungry dockers at lunch time (aka dinnertime in Scouse.) 


Scousers are labelled as quick witted, industrious, warm people. They are also tagged as idle, dishonest and ignorant, so there’s a spectrum of beliefs from which to choose. I recall that when I rode bike races at the old Bootle velodrome, little boys would offer to “look after” my car while I was racing. This entailed paying a small bit of Danegeld, a ransom against the vehicle’s safety. The boys were about six or seven years old, and already on their way to full Scouserhood extortion careers.  It’s said that the Ford Formula One team fired their pit crew and replaced them with Scousers, who in less than 15 seconds could whip the wheels off a car, repaint and rebadge it and sell it to the McLaren team for three cases of Cains’  beer, four packets of salt and vinegar crisps and a packet of fags. 


One friend says he celebrates his Scouse nephew’s birthday by giving him a nice surprise: he puts a tenner into the lad’s grandmother’s purse. Another pal reported that when he was in jail with a Scouser, the fellow asked him how to spell Darryl, as he was writing a letter. “It’s D-a-r-r-y-l , but wait a bit, you don’t know anyone called Darryl,” said my mate. “No, I’m writin’ to me mum,” said the Scouser. “I want her to send me some shoes Darryl fit me.” As for industriousness, they say the Port of Liverpool commissioned an aerial photograph of the docks, but the picture was spoiled. One of the dockers moved. 


My flatmate in London years ago was a Scouser. Phil Liggett went on to become a cycling commentator, and his favourite bit of praise for someone was to say “He’s a good skin.” Then he’d add: “His dad was a banana.” Actually Phil was from Bebington, on the other side of the Mersey so could never really qualify as Most Famous Scouser. That might be Liverpool FC’s late manager Bill Shankly, who was, says Joe Mullins, an incredibly boring man. On the team bus travelling from the Midlands back to Der Pool,  Shankly gazed avidly out of the window, weighing up the scenery. “Behind dat row of trees dere, dat’d make a great five a side pitch,” he’d say,  or “You could put a grandstand in dere, it’s made for it.”  “He related every single thing to footie,” said Joe. “There was nothing else in his mind.” 

 Shankly and Mullins – that’s like a Large Hadron Collider of wit and wisdom, because they’re a right pair of synchotrons..


Finally, thanks to all those who have joined in the endorsement fun. The site LinkedIn continues to offer the opportunity to endorse relative strangers for having skills about which we have absolutely no knowledge. I like to click a half dozen or so a day saying yes, Joe Soap knows about Typing , or Taking a Shower. And yes, I do ask myself what the point is. No employer or putative client is going to be influenced by the fact that the endorsee Knows Geography.  Unless he doesn’t. Maybe we should start an UnLinked service. “Is Joe Soap crap at Personal Hygiene?”  Just a thought.


Have a saintly and endorseable week. 



In the newly-liberated spirit of these resumed epistles, this one is going out irregularly early, as it’s as full as the number 67 bus to Peel Green on a Friday night. Thanks to the usual suspects/contributors. Skip to the end for the jokes. 



E-pistle 1006  Fired at will.   Posted Tuesday 11/12/13   (another reason to send it now.) 



Saints and heroes:    This saint has to admit he’s not totally carried away with certain aspects of hero worship. I don’t admire most of the Royal Family (HMtheQ, her daughter Anne and the nephews William and Harry excepted from a parade of parasites.) Then there’s Hollywood types like Justin Bieber, who recently found it amusing to spit from his hotel balcony onto a crush of young female fans below.  And now another uneasy worm of discontent is wriggling within the saintly mind. We’re surfing a wave of unmitigated soldier admiration, which on the face of it isn’t all bad.  This week’s right and proper annual observance of remebrance of those who died in often-pointless military adventures is a laudable acknowledgement of people doing the right thing, even if conscripted to do it. Admire them, but also admire the families back at home who struggled along without them. 


My concern is with the current fashion to blindly regard all soldiers as upright heroes while ignoring the William Calleys and Abu Ghraib others. This week comes bitter news of Royal Marines, one of the finest light infantry forces in the world, murdering a wounded Afghan in full cold-blooded knowledge of what they were doing, evidenced by their taking steps to avoid their comrades’ detection while they were doing it. It’s a knock-on from evil Dick Cheney (who frankly admitted: ‘Sometimes we have to work on the dark side’) and his incompetent cohort  Rumsfeld  and their continued use of Saddam‘s torture centre. Then, US politicians who lacked both moral fibre and supervision allowed uncontrolled abuses.


The Royal Marines’ killing seems to have been revenge taken because they thought they could get away with it.  Either way, the point is that even admired soldiers need to be supervised. Power corrupts, says the old saw.  We admired Lance ArmstrungUsAlong until overseers stepped in, so let’s view even ‘hero’ soldiers, too,  with less-uncritical eyes.


That’s not to say I don’t admire certain of the military, (see above: William and Harry.) Another example is Mitch Munt, a Cupertino HS Calif rugby player who became a Navy SEAL of unmatched probity.  And there’s Armistice/Memorial Day vet of the week John Bradley of Nanaimo, Canada who posed proudly in his regimental beret and medal from the 1801 Siege of Seringapatam.  Finally, there are former US Marines Phil Perry and  Don Hesler,  my brothers Don Bannister (Royal Navy and a double war hero, he says) and  Ted Roberts (RAF but never crashed anything) plus longtime colleague/pal Joe Mullins (King’s Own Yorkshire Light Ales) who can be admired as much as you like. Or so they all said.


Alan Bennett-style visuals: the Beeb report this week on an exhibition of uber-photogger Martin Parr‘s work.Visit his blog  yourself for the pleasure of it:     It’s how in a perfect world these epistles would be done, but are not.     Here’s an example of his superb black and white work: the Mayor of Todmorden’s inaugural bunfight as the suited and booted citizenry scramble for the (free) stuffed mushrooms and pineapple chunks. Catering by Horrocks of Rochdale and a lovely job, too, all on the town hall account.








Revisiting Liverpool,  Dean Martin songs and John Mulrooney‘s youth…. JM and I worked on a local weekly when he was an adventurous teen who ditched his exotic Hungarian refugee girlfriend and went off to Afghanistan with his future American wife, only  narrowly escaping white slavery when stoned.  Then we spent two decades unknowingly living 25 miles apart in California. Now he’s catching up on his (and the saint’s) past and queried a mention in last week’s fishwrap.   “You can’t just say “My Korean daughter…” as if everyone from Eccles has a Korean daughter. True I lost track of you for four or five decades, but this comes as huge surprise buried deep in the epistle. What’s the story? (None, really, it’s an honorary post – Ed.)  Back to John:  “I took several trips to Liverpool this summer with my sisters and their hubbies (40 minutes on the train from Southport – free for OAPs).  What a fabulous city it’s become. Particularly delightful – hordes of drunk teenage girls in skimpy outfits tottering aound on platform heels and screaming at all the guys as if nothing had changed since their Mums (or was it Grandmas?) were doing exactly the same thing in the early 60s. How does something like that get so faithfully passed down from generation to generation? 


“Another delight, on the first visit we went to the Pier Head for an outdoor concert where the headliner (can’t remember his name, but the Brits love him) finished the show with a rousing rendition of “Vo-la-re” and the crowd swayed and sang  “Oh, oh..”  “Can-ta-re” (Crowd:) “Oh, oh, oh, oh.” Liverpool at its best!  Had me crying in my beer all the way home…”  An aside: the song was only third in the 1958  European Song Contest, but went on to sell 20 million records – as the Euro’s top song ever. Not a patch on the 1959 runner-up, Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson warbling ‘Sing Little Birdie,’ eh? (Sarcasm font detected here -Ed.)


Fred the Wicked Wehner says he was walking down Broadway in new York when he saw a parked car with the bumper sticker: “I miss Liverpool.”  

Says Fred: “So I smashed in the windshield, took the radio, torched the car and left a note saying: “I hope this helps.”


 Next week’s the anniversary of JFK’s assassination,  and I’ll pre-empt the high tide of memories by doing this a week early. I asked for anyone who had still-functioning synapses to send recollections, and Brian Barrick lurched out from under from his oilman’s ten gallon hat with this:  “It was a Friday evening.  I was in my first year at University of Hull.  I went with a lady friend to see ‘Billy Liar’ which was all the rage just then.  About an hour into the film the projector was turned off and lights came on. The manager came out in front of the screen and said that President Kennedy had been shot.  Being that the film was so surreal we were not certain whether this was part of the evening’s entertainment or for real.  Then he advised that we should go home, watch the tele and maybe say a prayer.


“I could not go back to my place as Paul Walker (also ex-DLS) was “entertaining” a “lady friend” there and Trisha lived in the dorms.  So we went back to the Student Union and watched the tele there and had a few beers.  We missed the last bus and I had to walk Trisha home and then walk back to my place.  I just checked on Mapco and this was about eight miles.  I got back knackered, wet and sober.  No tele as we were poor students (in all senses of the phrase) so listened to the BBC Radio.


“Still haven’t seen all of Billy Liar – tried to watch it a couple of times but couldn’t get through it.  My emotions were very mixed.  I remembered the Cuban Missile Crisis of the previous year and standing in assembly and saying prayers for peace and then hearing people say that this was Soviet revenge for that humiliation.  I thought that whole thing was garbage and that it was simply American exaggeration and a quick way to get a Texan into the presidency.  Then LBJ could go to gun-toting war with the world – come to think of it I wasn’t too far wrong.  Although I am not a fan of Oliver Stone by any means I still believe that there is more to it than I am aware of.


“As an after thought a while ago I made contact again with Trisha using the dreaded social media.  We correspond regularly and we both lived in Australia for four years at the same time.  Her son was the Weetabix Kid in the commercials in Australia and we saw him almost every night on TV.  She hasn’t seen Billy Liar all the way through either.”


Kennedy was shot at 12.30pm Central Time, which translated into 6.30pm UK time, and the Manchester TV station Granada broke the news ahead of the nationals. Newsman Mike Scott was the messenger. His programme had been on the air for five minutes when the telephone rang. It was CBS in New York with the tip. Granada was a subsidiary of the ITN network and the rule was that individual programme companies should never pre-empt ITN on big news. Denis Forman, the senior Granada executive present, called ITN and was told they were not going to break into the schedules with the story until they had it from their own reporter in America.  Forman decided to go ahead anyway, and Scott broke the news to northern viewers half an hour before it reached the rest of the country. It set up this saint to be one of the very first in Britain to hear the news, and may be my most pathetic claim to mini-fame. 


I’d been hanging out with the beehive-haired, over-mascara’ed, micro-skirted dolly bird who worked at the local TV shop. Scott’s announcement came in on about 30 TV screens in the place, so I have the vivid but trivial memory of racing back to the Eccles Journal office, where I was a junior reporter, and running in as annunciator to the likes of John Stapleton, who went on to be a tv presenter himself, and to the former Irish Guards sergeant major Paddy Rice who was our front office manager. He made some nervous remarks about how we’d be waiting for the four-minute warning now that the Soviets were going to nuke us, it had to be a Communist plot and we could be on the verge of a nuclear war. 


More importantly, John and I speculated about whether the dolly bird would be desperate for some comfort as she was about to die. About 20 minutes later Pete Hollinson, another young reporter, came in to tell us what we already knew. We shrugged it off. Old news, get with it, we said. We made his life miserable for weeks after that, asking him innocently every so often:”Did you hear that Kennedy’s dead?”  More intelligent people felt a sense that we’d been cheated of a chance at a better world, but to stupid us, it all seemed remote and Hollywoodish,  but then, we were just teenagers. The dolly bird worked out that the end of the world wasn’t nigh, and refused all offers of comfort,  too. 



Saint Pee sent out a swift correction last week after wrongly assigning Scotsman Bill Shankly elevated status as a Liverpool Scouser, and it struck a chord with Chris Pritchard, who leaped into the fray. (Jimmy Sutherland, we know you’re hiding out in Spain, you keelie, you, see what you’ve  you done?)  Here’s Chris: “In defense of Scots claiming others as their own, (They didn’t – Ed) I should point out that the habit is by no means unique and has long been entrenched in Australia. New Zealanders are the usual victims. If an immigrant from New Zealand becomes famous, he or she is immediately claimed to be an Australian much to the irritation of the rugby-playing folks across the Tasman Sea who are known for punching well above their weight. Best-known examples are Russell Crowe and Keith Urban – both are New Zealanders (Google them and see) but are commonly described as Australians. However, in fairness to the Australian media, it should be said that US publications are frequently at fault in perpetuating the myth that they’re of Aussie origin.” Personally, says the saint, he thinks Crowe’s a prat whatever his nationality, and what Kiwi wants to admit him as one of their own since he’s become the supporter of an Oz rugby ciub? 


Joe Mullins, whose favourite songs are ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Sing Little Birdie,’ (Only perhaps – Ed.)  has more on L’Affair Not-a-Scouser Shankly:  “Apology 2. It wasn’t even my story. Bobby Burns told me it. He followed Liverpool FC around European capitals during their glory days. I did meet the great man once when I introduced him to Paula St John Lawrence Lawler Byrne Strong Yeats Callaghan Hunt Milne Smith Thompson Shankly Bennett Paisley O’Sullivan, a tiny tot whose dad had her christened with the names of Liverpool FC’s players. I took Paula and her mum from their home in Burton-on-Trent to the hallowed Anfield dressing room. “Can you get her on the bench at the weekend?” I asked Shanks. “We don’t have any boots that small,” he said. As Paula’s lovely mum swooned at the sight of Ron Yeats in just his shorts, Shankly wagged his finger. “Ye’ll have to get a move on…I’ve got to teach these boys fitba.” So, sure, I knew he was Scottish. Not certain about Jimmy these days though. It must be 45 years since I passed my (company car)  IPC Ford onto him when I left the old Sun to join the Mail and he’d just headed south to accept the IPC shilling. KOC924E, if I remember rightly, an Anglia with a dodgy odometer. He probably needs a visa to go north of the border now.”


Fallowfield memories: Brian (see above) Barrick had a synapse fire in his brain and sent a note: “Your remark about cycle racing brought back memories of going to Fallowfield, with my Dad, to see Reg Harris race.  They used to hold joint athletics and cycle racing meets there in the summer.  I don’t why but Dad knew Reg Harris and his was one of the first, and very few, autographs I ever got.  I didn’t understand how the bikes stayed on the 30 degree banking and Dad said they had magnets in the tyres that helped grip the track.  I believed him but remember I was only six or seven.  However some think that I am still that naive.”


Jack Grimshaw starts the jocularity this week with: ‘From the secular Independent Principality of Dana Point, Orange County, Southern California (detour into town by mistake and we see that friggin’ fish sign on your bumper, you’re liable to get run into a ditch and rigorously chastised), may we offer a joke of the week?    Mother Superior calls all the nuns together and says to them: “I must tell you all something. “We have a case of gonorrhea in the convent.”    “Thank, God,” says an elderly nun at the back of the room. “I’m so tired of Chardonnay.” 


This somehow reminds me of the parapsychology professor visiting Aberystwyth University. To establish the tone, he asked the class how many believed in ghosts. “Please stand if you do,” he said. Half the class stood up. “Remain standing if you’ve ever seen a ghost,” he said. Ten students remained standing. “Hmm,” he said, “and how many have ever actually touched a ghost?” Two remained upright. Thinking to get them all to sit down, he said:”Please remain standing if you have ever made love to a ghost.” One bearded Welsh bloke at the back still stood there. 


“Please come up to the podium,” said the professor.  As the Taffy passed him, the prof said:”So you really have made love to a ghost?” Taff paused. “Oh,” he said. “I couldn’t hear you properly, back there. I thought you said goats.”


Linda Knight was hopefully not speaking from experience when she told the story of the woman gold prospector who rode into the Old West frontier town on her dusty mule. A young gunslinger had his fun, making her dance  as he emptied his Navy Colt at her feet. Ammo expended, he turned away, only to hear the double click as the woman cocked a huge shotgun. He turned to find both barrels pointing right at him. “So you made me dance, huh?” she asked as he went pale.  “Well, young man, have you ever kissed a mule’s arse?”  He looked at her steely eyes and at the unwavering shotgun barrels.   “No, ma’am,” he said. “But I’ve always wanted to.”


The cautionary tale of Captain Smithers is offered by Revel Barker, who probably was there at the time: “In the greatest days of the British Empire, a new commanding officer was sent to an African jungle outpost to relieve the retiring colonel. After welcoming his replacement with the courtesies (gin and tonic, cucumber sandwiches) that protocol decrees, the retiring colonel said,”You must meet Captain Smithers, my right-hand man, God, he’s really the strength of this office.  His talent is simply boundless.” 

Smithers was summoned and introduced to the new CO who was surprised to meet a toothless, hairless, scabbed and pockmarked specimen of humanity, a particularly unattractive man less than three feet tall.  “Smithers, old man, tell your new CO about yourself.”

“Well, sir, I graduated with honours from Sandhurst, joined the regiment and won the Military Cross and Bar after three expeditions behind enemy lines. I’ve represented Great Britain in equestrian events and won a Silver Medal in the middleweight division of the Olympics. I have researched the history of…”  Here the colonel interrupted, “Yes, yes, never mind that Smithers, the CO can find all that in your file. 

“Tell him about the day you told the witch doctor to get stuffed.”

Ever the newsman, John Garton caught and reported a fine vignette in the House of Commons when the (former) firebrand from Bolsover, Dennis Skinner declared:“Half the Tories opposite me are crooks!”  The Speaker demanded he retract the remark, and Skinner obliged. “OK,” he said, “half the Tories opposite me are not crooks.”



Martin Parr’s shot of a Hebden Bridge resident in full fig as he cleans the transom.  Have a balanced week. 



E-pistle 1007 Liverpool footie again   Posted Nov 19 2013



Some subjects just won’t die, and Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly, long deceased, is resurrected for week three in Kevin Cosgrove‘s latest ramblings. Full disclosure: England forward Tommy Smith booted the crap out of soccer-talented Kev during his youthful trials for Liverpool, though I think Man U actually took Kev on for a while until he joined the usual reject pile, at the Mirror.  So, Shankly tapped a vein, Cos put on his Big Boy Pants and wrote: 


“Typical hack (the Saint, being cruelly treated – Ed) screwing the Shankly story twice. I resisted last week, but this week I can’t. For my sins I was assigned the Liverpool “beat” as a juvenile Sunday Mirror sports reporter. These are true Shankly stories, not the borrowed second hand Joe Mullins‘ variety.  First time I met (Shankly)  In the legendary boot room underneath the main stand. He was sitting in a chair and grasping a meat and potato pie.  First words out of his mouth.  ‘I saw you play son, here when you were 15, you were crap then…hope you’re better as a reporter.’  Then he broke the meat and potato pie in half. ‘Have you had breakfast? Here’s some.’  I got the larger piece of the pie.  Breakfast with Bill.


“Me some weeks later:  ‘Bill, Emlyn Hughes is very right footed for a left back? He’s not got much of a left foot.’ Him: ‘You’re an idiot, he uses his left to get it on his right.’   Me phoning his home on any Saturday night after Liverpool had lost when his wonderful wife Nessie would always answer: ‘Oh, Kevin you should know better…..he’s cleaning the stove.’  Shankly would literally get his head in the cooker with that horrible ammonia stuff and clean it spotless anytime they lost.  He was priceless; chipped from granite; and God’s gift to any young reporter. And he was very, very Scottish.”


Cos dredged up recollections of playing in a charity match against the Liverpool FC team, which included England national team legends like Smith, Ian Callaghan and Ian St John  ‘Smith was at right back. He was having a relaxing day. And I cut inside and battered a cross to the far post and the centre forward scored. (Team captain Ron) Yeats shouts at Smith: ‘Next time he tries that break his back.’  Every time I went over the half way line one of them clattered me.’  


But Kev also has a memory of a legend who became a colleague. Ken Potter was a burly young Aussie who’d played pro rugby for the St George club in Sydney and had turned out for the national team too, before showing up at the Daily Mirror.  When a charity football match was planned against Manchester TV folk, KP got recruited.   The opponents included a professional First Division goalie, pop star Freddie Garrity of ‘Freddie and the Dreamers,’  future colleague David Duffy (with whom I’d later cover the world’s worst air disaster, in Tenerife) and the jailed presenter and juvie molester  Stuart Hall. 


 Cos recalls:  “The charity game was against a team containing the then-Man United goalie Harry Gregg;  big, horrible and Northern Irish. It was on a freezing Manchester day where the ice made razors out of the grass and frozen puddles on the pitch that Ken made his debut. After 90 minutes cut to ribbons, bleeding like a pig, and loving every minute ….the legend began with the ultimate in hero-dom. Bad tempered Harry was very mean, very stupid and squared up to Ken after a bit of nonsense in midfield. Bad idea. Ken hit him once and knocked him out. Very unconscious.   Can you spell Legend?”


The Legend himself, Ken Potter says: “Harry Gregg played in the field for half of the game, during which he kept chopping Mike Gallemore from behind.  I just kinda returned the favor, before he retired to goalkeeping for 2nd half,  Later, we had several no-hard-feelings beers together.”   


Response Corner:  Jeff Wells, whose bare bum I once photographed looming palely over his wedding cake,  is a Top Aussie Sportswriter trembling at the thought of the Mighty England cricket team arriving to thrash the Upside Downers yet again this year.  He writes:  “Chris Prichard is right. There are almost as many Kiwis living in Bondi as there are South Africans in the England cricket team.” The Saint says: ‘Whingeing Aussies!  I don’t see their team of 11 Native Australians. How many Aborigines are there in the Oz squad?” (Ed: Only two have played for their national team in the last decade.)  The Saint called His Holiness the Pope for guidance and the Other Pope Francis**, speaking ex cathedra, said: “Those Aussie bastards started it. The very first Test (1877) featured Billy Midwinter. He played in it and seven other Tests for Australia – plus four for his native country, England. Q bloody E.D.”      ** Francis Joe Mullins claims to be the first pontiff of that name..


Response 2:  US Marine (ret’d without overly many medals) Don Hesler says: ” Thanks for recognizing my military service.  Much appreciated. The only one I received in fact.  Not  that I need any, but it is nice.”


Response 3: My cousin Jo Groves backed up the Scouser as Tealeaf tales with one of her own. When she owned a hotel, a director of the company Kwiksave stayed before attending a meeting in Liverpool. “He had to collect his nice new executive company car on the way. Having done this, he drove to his meeting, parked in a multi storey in the city centre and three hours later came out to find his car on bricks minus all four wheels…I think there were about 30 miles on the clock…He was not amused, but I was.. he reigned from the East End of London and folk just didn’t do that to people of his standing (so he thought.)” 


More news from Merseyside:  Two planeloads of Scousers left Liverpool airport yesterday, bound for Leyte in the Philippines. They are going to assist with the looting.


A Scouse mum and her daughter were washing dishes. “Mum,” says the girl, “your hands are lovely and soft. Is it because you use Fairy Liquid?” 

“No, dear, it’s because I’m 14 years old.”




Mike Ayers roused himself from his usual doghouse exile to mumble that the new royal baby, George has already done three of the things on Mike’s personal bucket list. Says Mr Ayers: “He’s become a billionaire, he’s met the Queen and he’s kissed Kate Middleton‘s tits.”


Word comes from the Hash House Harrier Himself, the estimable Neil Blincow, of a birthday party with pudding…”The other day, John South‘s lovely lady, Nancy, invited us to a surprise party to celebrate John’s 74th birthday (at least that’s what he claims, although I could swear he told me he was 74 three years ago).  It was a sit-down dinner with roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings, followed by trifle and, believe it or not, spotted dick!  The guy who actually made the spotted dick, an American sailing buddy of John’s, said he’d found the recipe online where it’s often called ‘spotted dog.’  We all laughed and joked about how even something as trivial as a pudding can’t escape the notice of the humorless, politically-correct brigade.  But what brought the house down was my five year-old son Max who sat listening to all these grown-ups twittering on about spotted things, then asked me, “Dad, what’s a spotted dog’s dick?”  From the mouths of babes…….” 


Super-photogger Martin Parr‘s classic pic of the Todmorden Mayor’s inaugural foodie free for all (epistle, last week) inspired me to look up the current mayor’s FB page and I’m choking laughing. The incumbent is a burly lady I think I’ve played rugby against, who says she’s in a civil union, if not a rugby one. But what made me splutter was her account of attending (but not actually being present at) a performance of the Todmorden Orchestra at the town hall. “Sadly we didnt get to watch what sounded a magnificence performance, we spent the evening chatting to two great guys who had the misfortune to be stuck in the lift for two hours, Andrew and Johnathan you were amazing I would not have manged in that lift for all that time… and a great big thank you to Todmorden Fire & Rescue service for saving the day.”  This was accompanied by selfie photographs of them in their prison. and a pic of the almost-empty performance hall, presumably post-concert when the Lady Mayor arrived.


On his rambles around the more salubrious parts of Australia, Chris Pritchard spotted something to report: “Self-deprecating Chinese restaurant in Sydney has a blackboard sign outside advertising its delivery service: “You ling, we bling”.


An attorney friend, Marjorie Schmechel Strader, is used to prepping for trials, so it was no surprise that she’s been doing her homework before heading off to ireland for a vacation. But Marj isn’t just into book learning.  I was surprised to see her Scotch-drinking self pouring a sizeable Jameson’s, and asked about things. “I’m learning to drink Irish whiskey and Guinness,” she said, “in case we find ourselves in a smaller place where they don’t have Scotch.”  Prudent. 



Have a prepared week.



E-pistle of St Paul to the Testy   Posted Nov 23 13.


Scary Stuff Pointed Out:  the days look to be numbered for the trained journalist who actually finds and interviews real people for an original story. Former Mirrorman John Garton does his Paul Revere act to alert us to the danger and points to the latest from UK media mogul (and onetime subeditor) David Montgomery. This gent is chairman of Local World, an agglomeration of more than 100 local newspapers in the UK and his vision of the future of them is of some hireling sitting at a computer on an industrial estate “harvesting content (from the web) without human interface.”   The robotmaster told members of Parliament on the media select committee: “Journalists collecting stories one by one is hugely unproductive.”  Instead, he envisions a future of unsupervised harvesters “self-publishing on different platforms.” 


Montgomery, whose news colleagues didn’t call him Monty, but elected for ‘Rommel’ instead “because Monty was on our side,” means to let anyone with a smart phone rehash and reconstitute at second hand whatever he finds already reported by someone else, however inaccurate or slanted. Local court or council news will be left to others, likely with their own agendas, to report. Investigations into official misdoings or citizen activities will either not be covered or will be left to the interpretations of anyone with a special interest. It’s already happening, in the US as well as the UK. 


Journalists do make mistakes (see two below) but if you base your research unchecked on what you find on the web, you’ll find yourself perpetuating garbage, urban myths, propaganda and flat-out Fox fibs. OK, we do tend to get the media we deserve, but Rommel is speeding up the process and we need to take note. It will be a sad day when the checks and balances of democracy are left to unsupervised, untrained  ‘harvesters’ working only as ‘content providers’ rather than news reporters.


Back and forward:    The spectre of Liverpool football will not go away, and I’m told that LIverpool and England player Tommy Smith was a right back, and I’m a right prat because I called him a forward.  A sackcloth suit was tailored for me by Kevin (‘I like chips, me’) Cosgrove, who still has TS’ cleat marks up his chest. See below for the companion ashes…


From sunny Spain, Jimmy Sutherland has two  (Liverpool football manager) Bill’ Shanklyisms that make it in on merit: “A couple of Great Shankly quotes to end on, and possibly the greatest….  Shankly in the dressing room after a match was asked by the team why he’d nicknamed Slim, Scottish goal keeper Tommy Lawrence “The flying pig” . “It’s because he saves your bacon every week” he replied.

And the best of them all “Football’s not a matter of life or death……. It’s more important!!!” Here’s to a great Scottish Scouser.”


Ken Bousfield, a Kiwi who only whinges when All Black captain Richie McCaw is offside, which is most of the time, wants the world to know that the ABs scraped a rugby win at Twickers (aitch queue to the Brits.)  I’m pointing this out because otherwise Ken will get a sprained uterus from the stress of not delivering his old news.  And in a triumphal corrections double that earns the ashes to add to my sackcloth, , another Ken, Potter, only travelled as a pal with the Aussie Kangaroos rugby league national team. He didn’t get to put on the boots but my notes say he did win a Nobel Prize for Golf.  There will be no correction of this next week, as Mr Potter will not dispute it.


That lickspittle lackey toady running dog Dave Richards, btw, also claims I should have rushed to spread the news that the AB’s beat world number three England 30-22, though he disputed Bousfield’s mock humility.  “I  take a small exception to the word “humble” when used to describe the AB’s.  Not the word I would use to describe them.’  Spread the news of Mighty England’s minor setback? … just about what you’d expect from a bloke who has a slit in the back of his shirt where puppetmaster Bousfield works the wooden jaws and speaks through fixed teeth. Well, I also  didn’t report England’s wins over Australia and Argentina in the preceding weeks, nor the US’ 3-8  won-lost recent rugby record. The epistle is for more, er, spiritual things, unless insecure Antipodeans exercise their argument muscles – see next in this string of contentious correspondences.


Testing times: Sydney sportswriter Jeff Wells wasn’t there, he was on assignment  somewhere else that year, but he answered my suggestion that the Aussies field an Oz-born cricket team with: “An Australian Aboriginal cricket team toured England in 1868. They won 14 lost 14 and drew 19. After that they decided to concentrate on more serious matters such as fighting and drinking, leaving it to whitey who currently prevail in tests 133 to 105 over England.”  Actually, the Saint’s editors point out,  in 136 years of Test series (multiple matches in each test tour) it’s a dead-even tie between the two countries: 34 series wins each. It’s all in making an accurate interpretation of the statistics. 

As for the Aboriginals’ tour,which was the first cricket tour from Down Under to the UK,  the Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines in Victoria feared that the native players would struggle to survive the ‘dismal’ English weather. In fact, one did die of pneumonia although it was a good summer and the tour continued until October. This compared with the deaths (at least two from pneumonia) of four Aborigines the previous year during a failed cricket tour in Sydney. The saint’s editors note that at least the English weather bettered that of Oz. (1-0 in the series.) 

The current tests under way in Oz could result in England winning their fourth Ashes in a row. If they do, they would go ahead for the first time since English hero WG Grace stopped shaving. (Disclosure: this was written before the touring side’s spectacular collapse in the first match, and now their chances seem llareggub, for that one at least.)  

The Monty Python crew announced their reunion, so the saint got together after a similar intermission with the above-mentioned Kevin Cosgrove, whom I last saw when covering the eruption of Mount St Helens in the early 1980s. Cos and his warm, witty and charming wife Claudia are currently residents in a trendy Portland district but have bought a pied a mer in Vero Beach, Florida, as they seek the sun to warm Kev’s old bones. We had lunch at the weekend and he still likes chips,  sends regards to his old mates, looks good, is fit and claims that his protoplasmic protrusions still work, and some dozens of his brain’s several billion neurons are still connecting to his axons and dendrites. Or maybe that was taxmen and termites. 



E-1008  St P, sadly. 




Sad news for our household this week, my oldest brother died. Ted, who technically was my half brother (by our mother’s first husband) was born Edward Patrick Roberts on March 14 1931. Edward for his father, Patrick for the saint’s day that followed his birthday. He was a gentle soul with a flair for the dramatic, was proud to have served in the Royal Air Force, married a girl he first met at age 14 and they remained happily married for 53 years until her death, a great-grandma,  five years ago almost to the day.  Ted worked at the AV Roe aircraft builders, in Saudi Arabian oilfields and the Manchester College of Commerce before the couple retired to an oceanside house at the northernmost tip of their much-loved Scotland. That is  where he was found dead, his spaniel curled up by him ‘trying to keep him warm,’ in the words of the police who broke in.  Now he’ll go to his long rest alongside Elise in the ancient churchyard at Canisbay, overlooking the Pentland Firth, the Atlantic and the Orkneys. 


We stayed in close contact, had three transatlantic visits in the past few years, several back and forth calls each week. After all, when I was a baby this fellow bathed me and would trickle cold water down my round stomach to see me gasp. Later, I once knocked him cold with a toy gun during a game of cowboys and Indians. So, we enjoyed each other’s company.  


Three weeks ago, Ted asked me about US quarter coins. He’d seen an ad from a mint in Connecticut that was selling them, so I dug in my change jar and  I sent him a few. He was excited at the idea of collecting the entire set of so-called ‘States’ quarters. Of course, he would hardly get quarters in his change in remote Scotland, so i was given the task (and delegated it.) I looked out some coins, my daughter Rachel found almost all the missing ones. I got a commemorative booklet to hold them and sent it off – missing just one for the perfect 50. 


Then Ted announced he REALLY wanted a buffalo nickel, and there was a lovely story behind it.


When he was a boy – probably 12, in say 1943, he and our brothers Tony and Don went to play in Worsley Woods. They were pretending to be commandos and came across a squad of US GI’s,  so approached and asked for handouts, with the old ‘Got any gum, chum?’ line.  Some kind GI gave Ted a buffalo nickel. Later in his life, he drilled a hole in it and kept it on his keyring.


Thirty or so years ago, he loaned his keys to someone and they lost the lot. With his recent interest in coins, he bugged me to find another nickel. Well, they’re no longer in circulation, so I went and bought one, drilled it and sent it with a keyring. He told me he’d delightedly put it with his keys last week, and was chuffed to see that the obverse had an Indian head.


Ironic, eh? He waited for decades and got his Yankee coins and his boyhood nickel again and had less than a week to enjoy them. 

Sleep well, brother. 


Also in the obits column this week: Brian Hitchen and his wife Nelli, killed as they crossed the road in Alicante, Spain. Hitch was photo editor at the Enq and had that role when he and Bill Dick led a team to Oldham to crack the Louise Brown story – the world’s first test tube baby. Hitch’s instruction was one for the ages:”Throw some money around, boys.” We even were authorised to spend unlimited cash on beer for nurses and hospital staff as we diligently pursued the tale.   The trip was also memorable for football against the Leeds Press Club – Joe Mullins and I made such an impression that decades later they still talked about those two stonewall fullbacks. It took a while before I learned they meant we stood there unmoving while the traffic waltzed around us.  Ian Smith, Alun Rees, Swerv, Eric Mishara, who became known as Mister Mascara owing to a mistranslation into Oldhamese, Dick Saxty and Howard Poucher (yes?) all played in that match at the Stalybridge FC ground, before a crowd of, oh, about one. Yes, we did get the story, too. World exclusive months later, after Hitch and Bill milked the ex’es, , and Joe had to save the baby’s life when she was choking while under his care.


Text, not sex. A new Lancet survey of British sex lives – and no sniggering, you Americans at the back, you’re just as bad –  shows that Twitter and Facebook are undermining bonking.   Brace yourself, Camilla, the alleged sexual athletes are enjoying a pathetically small share of Getting Yours. The,  er, hard facts are that 25 – 34 year old men, the most bonk-happy male group surveyed, only managed to have sex 5.4 times a month. They were outscored by women aged 16-24, the not-very sluts, who had a 5.8 monthly average.  And these were the most active!


No,  Deidre, I know you only lie there, but it still counts as activity. The sad numbers get worse for older responders said the official National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. Overall, the drooping numbers (down about 20% in a decade) say that 16 – 44 year olds have sex fewer than five times a month. That’s less frequently than they take baths, we think. 


The blame is being firmly plonked on social media. “Modern technologies are behind the decline,” said a researcher. “People have tablets and smartphones and they are taking them into the bedroom, answering emails, using Facebook and Twitter.”  I hope my nephew Neil‘s reading this – he’s never off FB, and I don’t mean Fiona Braceyourself. 


Last thoughts: couples in the 16- 44 age group may be using online porn to make their bonking a screen sport: pretty sad. And, women under 44 claimed an average seven partners, lifetime (men claimed 11)  and only three per cent of men said they’d paid for sex, though almost no women said the same. No Catholic priests were harmed during the survey, although several football coaches got overheated.  Oh yeah, Jack Grimshaw, who is not a small person,  claims that an original Austin Mini can make a fine passion pit. I agree.  


Fred Wehner surfaces from under a big fat Georgia turkey to pipe up: “Researchers in Canada say they have discovered the part of the brain that is used to make decisions. And this is weird: if you’re married, it’s actually located in your wife’s brain.”

Our Old Jokes Maven, Ken Hudson offers this parting shot:    Paddy was driving down the street in a sweat because he had an important meeting and couldn’t find a parking place. Looking up to heaven he said, ‘Lord take pity on me. If you find me a parking place I will go to Mass every Sunday for the rest of me life and give up me Irish Whiskey!’   Miraculously, a parking place appeared

Paddy looked up again and said, ‘Never mind, I found one.’ 

Speech is not always free:  A  clown who was an early critic of my admittedly flawed but honestly worked-on first novel said such hurtful things in his crit  that I looked him out. He is a know-nothing jobsite contractor in Kansas City who claims to be a ‘professional historian’ but whose one published work (unreviewed) does not even make Amazon’s top 12 million.  But he was one of my earliest critics and touched a raw spot. Does the world regard two years of honest work this way, I wondered, unhappily?  Well, it did  not, and Amazon moved the book to number one for a longish while.  Now comes something  to soothe me. This week, the Beeb reported on a Utah couple who savaged an online company over a poor purchasing experience, and wrote a very negative critique. They found themselves on the wrong end of a $3500 non-disparagement case that wrecked their credit when they didn’t pay the fine to which they’d agreed in the small print, should they post such remarks. 

I see both sides: you should be able to honestly review your purchasing experience? Yup. On rhe other hand, some unmentionable bastards think that even minimal spending allows them to be God’s Most Savage Critic. Why should they have the right to spill their ignorant bile at some innocent’s expense?  Maybe the book they bought  was rubbish, but to savage it and deter others from it from personal-sounding animosity? 


I hope this case gets wide play, and makes people consider that old virtue: politeness.   My own bile now spilled. in saintly manner. 

Have a pacific week. 



Thank you to the many who responded to news of my brother Ted’s shuffle off this mortal coil (not my original words, btw) It’s a great comfort to see how many people care, and said so. You’ve ranged from cousins to onetime rugby teens I coached 25 or more years ago  and it’s touched me deeply. It’s something we do not do sufficiently often, this embarrassing business of telling someone something positive or caring. No, I’m not making a resolution to swamp you with sloppy emotion, but Jennie and I are quietly grateful for the expressions of care that you sent. As for Tedward, we’re having a Memorial Poker Evening for him quite soon, as he was a memorably bad card player. I hope to make a sympathy bid and come out ahead, for once..  



Touched by greatness: To prove we’re never far from the world’s movers, here’s a tale from my photog friend Kelvin Jones who had a career shooting stills for Hollywood. He was sent to South Africa on the Nelson Mandela movie ‘Mandela and DeKlerk.’.  “In 1996 we made the film in all the places he was held (Paarl Jail, Robben Island, etc). I actually got to shake the great man’s hand after I photographed him meeting Sydney Poitier ( they’d been old friends from before). Such grace and charisma. I’ll never forget it.” 



Chris Pritchard, in Oz may be a bit uncertain about the Pope’s home address, and he missed out on a Mandela Meeting, but his missus scored twice: Read on: : “All in all a very sad week for the living. Sorry to read in the Epistle about your brother – you sounded close even if physically distant. This week we heard of the death of a friend here. Then there was Brian Hitchen and his wife. And, of course, Nelson Mandela – whose hand my wife, Suree, shook on two occasions: once in South Africa and once when he visited Australia. Both times he was moving through crowds and shook as many proffered hands as he could. He had little choice. I, alas, had to be satisfied shaking the hand of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. And, though I’ve been to the cathedral in Buenos Aires, I haven’t met the Pope.”

Had a discussion with Jennie the other day in which I was not at fault, a memorable day, about Nature  vs Nurture. Briefly, that’s the debate whether the way you are brought up is more of an influence on you than your genetic makeup. For example, will a bright child from a bright family do as well if he is brought up by a not-so-bright family, or will his inbuilt genetic makeup carry the day?

The debate came up after I saw a story of two Japanese men who had been accidentally switched at birth. Today, one of them is a 60 years old truck driver who was brought up by a single mother in a 100 sq ft apartment. The child who was raised in his place by a wealthy family became president of a real estate company.  The trucker’s biological parents sent their four sons, including the one switched at birth, to private schools and universities, but the trucker’s new mother, who was on welfare, could not afford that. Instead he graduated from a junior high school and got a job in a small workshop before becoming a trucker.


The trucker’s biological parents never knew the story. They died before a DNA test revealed the mix-up in which two babies born 13 minutes apart at a Tokyo hospital were switched.  The trucker has remained anonymous and says he has no bitterness and is grateful to the family that raised him. “We’re both victims in this,” he said. “But how I wish my real parents had raised me.”


The hospital whose staff made the error in 1953 paid about $317,000 for  “depriving him of the opportunity to gain a higher education.”


Peter Kay, Farnworth-born standup comedian has some fine one-liners:  “Husband sez to wife why don’t you tell me when you orgasm?” 

Wife: “I don’t like ringing you at work.” 

Shakespeare walks into a pub. Landlord sez: ‘You’re Bard.’ ”  

 “Woman goes to the doctor with a lettuce leaf sticking out of her knickers. ‘What’s that?’ says the doc. Says the patient: ‘It’s the tip of the Iceberg.’ ”   


Kay’s best grandma quote, which she spoke proud at being au courant about the director: “Did you see that Stanley Kubrick film: ‘Chocolate Orange?’              She added: “I’ve got to get one of them VD players.”  


More movie stuff:  Here in snow-bound Eugene, Oregon, where the film ‘Animal House’ was shot 35 years ago (Ken Hudson‘s UO frat house was one location but he says he was too good-looking to be an extra) there have been some events to mark the anniversary. Not remembered was Donald Sutherland‘s massive financial error. He was offered cash and points – a percentage of the movie’s gross takings –  but was so convinced the flick would be a dud he negotiated for $50,000 cash upfront, with no points. If he’d taken the percentage he was offered, he’d have made about $20 million for two days’ work. His compatriot Sean Connery did even worse. He was offered the role of Gandalf in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and turned down $10 million per film plus 15% of the take. Connery turned the offer down ‘because I do not understand the script.’  He’d have tried harder to comprehend, if he’d known his payoff would have been $450 million…


While we have Animal House (which had a working title of ‘Lazy Orgy Girls’) on the screen, allow me to air my favourite quote, from Dean Wormer to Flounder: “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”   Well, FD&S has been my lot, and this weekend, with temperatures that dropped to minus 10 deg F  – 42 degrees of frost – it wasn’t a bad thing,  As Jennie said: “Animals hibernate in this weather.” Our own animals, Rachel and Claire, were in Hawaii, and complaining because the hot tub was being repaired and they had to light a fire in their vacation cottage. Back in the frozen NW, I got to drive a friend to the airport, picking up a woman walking after she’d slid her car into a nine foot deep ditch. We drove by half dozen cars in other ditches and twice that many abandoned in the storm but missed the Opportunity of the Day: a Ninkasi beer truck abandoned on an icy hill. Graham Timmins says he passed it twice, but did confess that he was drinking “a beer” as he walked by.  In minus-10 freezing?  You be the judge. 


Have a warm week.



E-pistle 1010, filed 12/15/13  Take in previous.



It’s been an unhappy end to the year, and I’m not really focused enough to do well in Work Mode, so here’s what old journos do when they’re a bit underwhelmed: they re-run something from the past.  Your alleged treat is to read again a Christmas e-pistle from, oh, three years ago. Maybe it will fire up a memory or two. And, as the recipients’ list has grown since the early days of the e-pistles, it might even be fresh to you.


Whatever, it comes with greetings for the season, and with wholehearted good wishes for the upcoming year,too,  from the massed, entire editorial staff of one. (and Axel the dog.) And, yes, I did note that the epistle number reads ee-eye-oh-eye-oh. Over to you, Mr McDonald. 




December 27 2010 E-pistle 22.


We bought a Christmas tree the other day, and the scent of the needles got the tired old synapses firing and brought back immensely rich and detailed childhood memories… I recall one Christmas when I was probably five or six years old  having flu or something that put me in bed for a day or two, and my mother lit a fire in my bedroom. Yes, there was a fireplace, thank you. I was dozing, then in the flickering light saw that Santa was sitting in a chair in the corner. I could tell who it was by the white beard. Terrified, I ducked under the bedclothes until suffocation forced me out. Still there. This went on for what seemed like months, me semi-conscious from lack of oxygen, him sitting motionless in the ever-dimmer firelight. Finally, I screwed up enough of something to turn on the light, and found it was just a pile of bedding heaped on the chair. Or maybe he had been there…  


Christmas morning was a time when even slugabed me was up and twitching at about 5am, but not allowed downstairs for another couple of hours. Then the boys – five of us – would tear into the wrappings to get a new scarf, or woolen gloves, or toys like construction set Meccano or a Captain Hook glove puppet. And always there was a tangerine in the hung-up stocking, a walnut or two and some scented soap (once, and I kept it for years, it was a painted soap Bambi that smelled of jasmine, though I didn’t know that then.) After dinner of roast beef, roast potatoes,and  the annual Brussels sprout, with pudding and brandied sauce with hidden sixpences in the mix to bite down on disastrously,  there would be at 3pm,  the King’s Speech on the radio (until 1952, when he died, and it became the Queen’s Speech which seemed very odd.)  The adults would agree afterwards that the king was very good this year, then they’d all stretch out in chairs and snooze while we did imaginative things with toy soldiers and matchsticks fired from spring-loaded Dinky artillery.


Or, there were the times we had Christmas parties and what seemed like dozens of relatives showed up and we sang carols, or ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky,’ and played Forfeits. My brother Tony had to go out into the main road and polish the tram lines with Brasso, miming great fear of possible traffic,  to hysterics that caused stuff to come out of my nose. Later I ended up on Tony’s shoulders (he was ten years older than my four or five) with me wearing a long overcoat, fake beard and my dad’s trilby hat. We rang the doorbell and frightened the bejeeezus out of my cousin Joan Campbell, as I appeared to be an eight-foot monster man who spoke from his stomach. I laughed so hard at her reaction I peed down Tony’s neck, which wasn’t popular. 


On the day after Christmas, Boxing Day, and for our American cousins I’ll again explain that this was the day when affluent families gave the servants their Christmas boxes: gifts, usually of money, but knowing aristos were also likely to donate unwanted, and re-gifted objects from Aunt Maude or Uncle Percy, well, on Boxing Day the streets of industrial Salford were aswarm with small boys on shiny bicycles and small girls pushing enormous, sprung perambulators, or  ’prams,’ containing vast hard-headed dolls with manes of curls; or you’d see other small boys with skinned knees lurching up and down the flagstones on roller skates, breathing with difficulty around a mouthful of boiled sweets. Candy to you. 


And it was always cold, hard cold and bright sunshine that day. It was a rule.   


All that from the sniff of a spruce…. 


Chris Pritchard feels wrongly maligned. The saint noted recently  that Chris had a) missed out on shaking Mandela’s hand;  b) got Desmond Tutu’s mitt as a consolation prize and c) didn’t seem to know that the Pope lives in Italia. He said: “though I’ve been to the cathedral in Buenos Aires, I haven’t met the Pope.” This, St P treated as geographical error. Chris’ indignant response: “Re not knowing the Pope’s address: I was referring to his former address, which was indeed the cathedral in Buenos Aires. I mean, is the Pope Argentinian, or what?  In more innocent times people would ask “Is the Pope Catholic?” or “Is the Pope Italian?” The subject, alas, has become more complex and I may well feel moved to issue a backup-and-restore edict.”


Menu advice and Crimble Greetings to all come from John and Bobbey Garton, from un-Christmassy St Augustine, Florida, alleged home of the Fountain of Youth. It’s also a current home of the turducken:  here’s John, eh?   “We’re now enjoying our annual tasty Cajun treat…turducken, which, as you may have worked out, is a chicken in a duck in a turkey. First the chicken is stuffed with andouille, spicy Cajun sausage meat, before it goes into the duck, then the turkey. But before all the “taxidermy” happens, all the fowls’ bones are removed. We don’t do all the butchery – we buy it already prepared.  Because there are just the two of us, we don’t have a whole turducken, just a “joint” of about five lbs. That’s enough to give each of us about four or five delicious meals. On the first day the turducken is roasted and then served with vegetables. Thereafter the meat is cut into chunks, put onto a roasting dish/pan and my wife Bobbey’s own mixture of parboiled vegetables (cabbage, onions, peppers, carrots and chopped garlic) are added. Onto the veggies goes Bobbey’s own mixture of Indian (Asian) spices (not hot), which we get from an Indian grocery store, plus ghee (Indian clarified butter). Then the pan/dish goes in the oven. The second and subsequent days of eating are even more delicious.  I almost wish you could share it with us…but then….  Laissez les bon temps roulez! (let the good times roll)  Pour me another sazerac…but that’s another N’Awlins story….  Merry Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza,  everyone!”



Nurse Vicious,  aka Karen Ayers, a ministering angel but not one of the Uncharitable Daughters who run St Louise Hospital, Gilroy, California,  is to be congratulated on attaining a Certain Age.  She notes: “Guess I am feeling more vulnerable as I hit (number withheld) yesterday.  I still have many people that I need to annoy and I don’t want to run out of time. ” 


Historical Notes.   First Daughter Claire found a journal entry from her teenage years. The saint refrains in blessed manner from commenting on:  “I am beginning to think that when Mummy shouts, “You’re tired, go to bed!” that she means SHE is tired and wants to go to sleep. I’ll get her properly trained one day, as all parents should be trained. (!)”  (Circa 1986. Still not happened – Ed.) 


Ken Potter retails the tale of the Irish fellow who asks his fishing mate for a light, and Mick pulls out a giant Bic lighter, fully ten inches long.  “Where’d you get that?” he says. “Ah sure, from my personal genie, he’s right here in my tackle box,” says the other. “Can I have a wish?” says Pat, eyeing the genie. “Yes, sir,” says the spirit. “What is your desire?”  “I’d like a million bucks,” he says. In moments, the air is loud with the flapping of wings as a vast flock of waterfowl passes overhead. Pat shouts at the genie:”I said bucks, not ducks!” and Mick says, “Sure, he’s a bit hard of the hearing. D’ye think I actually asked for a ten-inch Bic?” 


Bringing up the rear, again: My pal Kelvin Jones‘ early education was at Barnstaple Boys’ Grammar School, whose motto was ‘Sic nos non nobis,’ which translates more or less as “Not for ourselves, but for others.‘   During our as-always erudite conversation the other day, bits of Latin came up, he cited the phrase, and tendered his (and his comrades’ ) schoolboy translation. “Don’t be sick on our knobs.”



E-pistle 1011, Teddy, Pam and Xmas letters  Filed 12/20/13



Note to new readers: the e-pistles of St Paul to the Uncurious are a pathetic substitute for the real stamp-and-envelope mail we no longer receive. They’re indigestible, so are non-fattening, and have started being sent at irregular more or less weekly intervals. There is no height or age qualification to ride these missives.


Christmas can also be a sad time, and Candy Neville generously shares her young heartbreak:  “When I was four years old, I got the annual Christmas doll – always my favorite present. This may have been my first cognizant Christmas and I took it as it was presented – magical, exciting with a Santa. I unwrapped the paper and took a baby doll with limp arms and legs from a box. Its tag said, “My name is Suzy.” It was love at first sight. My very own baby. Somebody said, “What are you going to name her?” I said, “Her name is Suzy,” as if she had been left on my doorstep with a note announcing same. She could suck her thumb and I had her do it all the time. I loved her like I have loved puppies. I remember adults’ arms and feet and gifts ripped open. I remember the Christmas tree and in the center of this memory that ends quickly within a small frame, I remember Suzy and me. And that we were a real pair and that we loved each other. I still love her.

“One day three decades ago I came across her in my mother’s basement. Her arm had rotted and I did not know they could be repaired or replaced. I cried in secret and tossed her away. I didn’t know. I was twenty and knew very little about anything. I regret it. I would pay a pretty ransom to get Suzy back.”


The saint himself never actually had his own teddy bear, but he did inherit one from his big brother, Ted. This creature – the teddy bear, that is  –  was unimaginatively called Teddy and made its first appearance at Ted’s first Christmas in 1931, when Ted, not Teddy, was nine months old.  Teddy, a Steiff family member,  was employed  fully right through Ted’s childhood and when two more brothers came along, both Tony and Joe took their turn to use Teddy’s cuddling services.  The bear eventually and gratefully retired, but at age 13, (which is 91 in bear years) was called up again. It was wartime, the saint had arrived to save civilisation and everyone had to do their bit.  Teddy began his new duties for another slobbering child.


I have no recollection of Teddy ever being anything but worn smooth, sans one aural appendage, owning a stab mark and looking somewhat mangy, and I did my diligent best to preserve his fine patina of age. I employed him as a hostage to be rescued from pirates,as a criminal to be hanged from the stairwell and as a parachutist who sometimes disdained the use of a canopy.  They were exciting times.  


Now, with Ted’s demise, Teddy  (574 years old in bear terms)  is returning to duties with his former employer, and my niece Lesley thoughtfully gave him a tour of Scotland before his onward trip to Oregon.


On the subject of teddy bears and Christmas, well, we almost were on that subject, does anyone else remember sending Santa Claus a wish list?  My parents had an evil sense of humour and took the opportunity to do gentle leg pulls on me whenever possible. Thanks, mum for the ‘night cloud’ that comes in to bring darkness each evening. That went down really well in geography class, at age seven, when they all joined in Brother Richard’s incredulous laughter, though I bet they didn’t know, either.  So an annual jest until I was about 28 was that Santa would get my Xmas letter if I posted it up the chimney. Of course there had to be a lit fire, and the mailing had to be done with ceremony, so year after year, almost to a trumpet fanfare, I’d put a grubby scrap of inkblot-stained paper up the chimney, where it would either whirl away or more likely set fire to the soot up there.


Jennie says she did something similar, putting her letter to Santa by the fireplace but not into the flames. She memorably once asked for ‘gold and silver pants,’  missing the ‘i’ that would have made them more useful for her art work, but providing us with years of merriment.  I did something similar at school with mention of ‘Richard The Loinheat’  but:  back to Xmas letters…


Of course, I never did get that pony I asked for (nor did Rachel, hahahahaha!) nor did I receive most of the other objects on my list, as Santa was keen on woollen gloves and soap and things like that, but at least requesting desirable goodies gave me a chance. The ceremony manifested itself in other ways when my brothers joined in the joke against the youngest idiot. When Tony was off on his first flight as an RAF cadet, he put his sandwich into a white paper bag that he solemnly promised to throw out as he piloted his jet fighter low over 323 Eccles New Rd., Salford. 


Of course, I believed him. I spent an age standing outside craning my aching neck, looking for at least a Spitfire, or maybe even a Gloster Meteor to zoom over, but nah. My brother Ted brought the bag in. “Perfect aim,” he said, “landed right in the back yard by the guinea pig hutch.”   I was impressed, if disappointed that I’d missed the death-defying aerobatics Tony must have pulled off to do so well. “You were probably in the toilet,” said Ted, consolingly.


I suppose I got a consolation prize, in a manner of speaking. After Tony enjoyed a hero’s farewell as he left to join the RAF, I claimed possession of his coveted attic bedroom with its illegal and dangerous access to the roof.  My promotion ended quickly, as Tony came home two days later. An induction medical exam revealed he had a perforated ear drum, and that disqualified him from flying (and other) duties, so he was sent away, his two years of national service ended within 48 hours. And I had to move out of his room. Drat. You can’t trust your relatives.




Anyone else smirk smugly at the report of the woman who walked off a pier in Melbourne while playing with her mobile phone? Evidently she was so engrossed in FaceBook she nearly drowned – could not swim –  and only was saved by the alarm raised by an alert passer by who wasn’t sunk in social media.  This may be the answer to those irritating (and dangerous) people who can’t multi-task  – think texting and driving. I suggest we give them all their e-toys and turn them loose on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier sailing in shark-infested waters. They’d soon enough be changing their status to ‘flotsam’  or ‘bait.’ 


My celebrity pal Kelvin Jones, well, he says he’s a celeb and he lives in LA, sends this link to Stephen Fry reading the shipping weather forecast. This will be totally wasted on our colonial cousins, so you fellows just have a 45 second nap while it airs. For me, it recalls 4.30am breakfasts I did not want to eat because as a teen I’d rather sleep, but my lovely dad had roused me from bed to prep for a bike race. Yeah, 6am, first man off, that’s timetrials for you, all of it in British weather. No wonder conquering an empire was a doddle.  Anyway, those who recall the sonorous cadence of ‘Tyne, Tees, Dogger, Fisher and German Bight,’  from a fully-awake-at-5am BBC announcer, have a swift wallow…  click the link. Or not, you colonial person. Instead, check the Ayres bit, and the link, to test your hearing and comprehension


This last has been a time when a smile has been extra welcome, and a spinoff of my celeb pal Kelvin’s email was that I came across an old favourite, the poet/comedienne Pam Ayres and wandered into a treasure trove of YouTube vids. Speaking of the downside of being recognised in public, she spoke of the embarrassment “when I’m at the knickers counter at Marks and Spencer and someone comes up to me as I’m choosing properly-elasticated ones that come well up to the armpits…”    Here’s a sample, but I warn you that once you’ve watched one, you’ll be hooked and waste – waste? – ages laughing at the others that are linked alongside. I especially liked ‘You Should Have Asked My Husband,” a vid which caused my Best Beloved to make unfavourable comments about me.  Again. Here’s Pam talking about snoring:



Last word goes to Ken Hudson, who offers the illuminating tale of the Irishman who texts his wife:  “Mary, I’m just down the pub having one more pint with the lads. If I’m not back in 20 minutes, read this message again.”






E-1012 A dam year.  St Pee posts on Dec 28 2013




This might be the last epistle of 2013, and what a challenging year it was. It started with a major scare when my son in law Bob Williams had a stroke, and only swift action by his wife Rachel saved his life, it ended with the loss of my brother Ted Roberts. At a Christmas memorial party for him,  Axel the dog playfully swung his head at a friend who was cuddling him and slashed her forehead open.  Other friends that very day signed away their coast home to a thief who used a homeowners’ association bylaws to his own advantage, and legally stole a dozen or so houses from over the heads of the people who’d bought from him. Yes, the group fought him, but at huge cost and without success.   


However, there were positives in the year, which saw an aunt turn 100, and a daughter save her sanity by escaping a lunatic employer. Bob’s health improved and he discovered how hearteningly deep friends’ and family support can be.  Even the cloud of Ted’s death has its silver lining: he went swiftly and painlessly, say the docs. Overall, everyone’s in good health, in good spirits and even the friends who lost their second home are relieved that a six-year nightmare is ended.




Dam notes:  One of the joys of writing a blog, or e-pistle for us Holy Ones, is that you can burble on about almost anything. Today’s sermon is both a paen of praise for the works of author Simon Winchester, a non-fiction writer of immense talent; and a cautionary tale of ecological disaster in the making. I’m talking about a Chinese enterprise, so sit up at the back there. 


I’m reading Winchester’s ‘River at the centre of the world’ about his journey along the length of the Yangzte (or as tyrannical Brother Richard intoned in his Educated Dublinese ”Ther Yang-see Kia-aang.”)  Then he’d set about whacking us eight year olds with his nasty bamboo stick, to make a Chinese impression of sorts. 


Well, back in the mid-1990s, Winchester journeyed the river from its debouchment into the, er, South China Sea (look, I’m doing this without a safety net here) to its source in the Himalayas, which Brother Richard called the ‘Him-aaahh-lay- aaah.’  No I can’t confirm the source, I have not quite finished the book. Anyway, Tibetan border – I looked at the map just now. 


The point is that the Chinese after three quarters of a century carried out Sun Yat-sen‘s vision of damming the Yangtze both to control the giant river and to tap its energy. It was also itended as a show of political power, but instead it may be one of the world’s great disasters in the making, as recent reports suggest. 


The 600-foot deep Yangzte dam in the Three Gorges region created behind it a 375 mile lake, displaced millions of people, drowned dozens of towns and hundreds of villages and changed the character of the river. Its slowed flow resulted in the river dropping its sediment (about 530 million tons a year, says SW) in unexpected places. This created changes that may have instigated earthquakes (weight of water on the wrong bits of landscape) and landslips as the expanded lake undercut the terrain.


Worse, upstream communities without proper sanitation disposal have continued to dump their sewage into a river that is near-stagnant in places and farmers using pesticides that used to wash into the sea and a larger ecological cleanser are sending their wastes into an increasingly polluted lake which is gradually backing upriver.  Even the mega-tonnage of silt that should be flushed from its lodging against the dam base isn’t being cleared, say eco-reports, because the turbines are clogging and the big stuff – cobbles and boulders from upriver,  are too heavy to wash away.  


In time, without drastic Chinese efforts, the dam will fail, but only after the communities upstream of it will have been poisoned. It could be a huge Chinese eco-disaster. You read it here first (or in Winchester’s book 20 years ago). 




That James Bond stuff really can work.When Cindy and Jon Anderson left their toddler Evan with a babysitter overnight for the first time, it took a credit card to fix matters… The babysitter locked herself out and needed one to jimmy the door open. Evan slept through the lot, but Jon and Cindy’s relaxing evening wasn’t: they were in phone contact all through the emergency. Amex: never go out without a card…it’s the key to lots. 


Ken Potter is more than an uber-correspondent for this blog, he was a noted rugby league player in Australia (St George’s, from memory) who retired from the sport at age 22 and moved to Britain to pursue a career as a journalist. In a recent exchange with him about the status of rugby league as opposed to rugby union (one’s a downmarket northern version of the other, union being more chaps than lads) I told how I grew up playing union despite living in the beating heart of league. I even got my first newspaper job through a rugby league sportswriter. That angel of grace, Tony Peach, covered Swinton RFC, and it was for them that Ken was cajoled by a mate to take a trial. Here’s KP:


“This led to he and I both turning out for a training night — after which I was even more reluctant, as an opposing player had tried to coathanger me in a game of touch football.  After the session wrapped up I asked Evans what was that all about it?  His answer… the guy was a coalminer during the week, and that playing footy at the weekend ‘helps his family’s weekly paycheck’… so he sees you as a major threat’.  Hey, I was convinced, and much to Scott’s disappointment I hung up my RL days for good — particularly after Evans also discovered that the RL team I played for in Sydney was going to demand some sort of transfer fee, if I ever suited up for Swinton.” 


Being a garrulous sort of saint, I talked about League to my erudite pal Craig Grabeel, and he shared his American view of the sport:  


Craig writes: “My first exposure to RL was as a high school lad in advance of my introduction to RU at the University of Virginia back in the sixties, watching Leigh and Leeds bashing each other’s heads in during occasional televised matches on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.  I really didn’t quite know what to make of the sport, especially those memorable scenes of one player sitting on an opposing player’s chest and smiling sardonically just prior to smashing his forehead into his opponent’s mouth, who subsequently displayed an equally sardonic smile, only with much blood and no front teeth.  I thought that such elegant violence was much more entertaining than other non-mainstream sporting events such as Texas Wrasslin’, curling or synchronised swimming.  


My sports were baseball in high school and basketball at junior college, then I transferred to UVA and stumbled upon a match where I observed players in colorful hooped jerseys, tight shorts and no pads gleefully slamming into each other with apparent reckless abandon.  And if that weren’t enough to excite me, all the gorgeous, braless, ladies in flimsy halter tops and even tighter shorts, plus the jumbled stack of 8 beer kegs, each with a bumper sticker proclaiming ‘RUGBY, BECAUSE’, sealed the deal.  The next week’s practice found me at #8, grunting, pushing, straining–earning my obligatory cauliflower ear and hemorrhoids–and learning all about touch, tries, knock-ons, William Webb Ellis and the Mayor of Bayswater.  As they say, the rest is history…”


Here’s Craig hanging around: 

and here’s the U Va rugby team:



Australia’s top sportswriter, Jeff  Wells  saw the vid below of a gent in an ER for an embarrassing event – link below – and notes that the film makers who produced it owe their existence to…  ” Tropfest started in a cafe called the Tropicana in Darlinghurst, a couple of blocks from where I now live, years ago, with arts students showing their little films on  sheets hung up on the wall. now the world’s biggest short film festival with, as you can see, the pros now involved. and a great subject for a bit of Aussie humor, there must be a hundred times a day when you wish that he or she would jam that silly mobile phone up ..”   OK. watch this hilarious vid. Cringe at will.


Now we’re done with Christmas I can boast about scraping through without eating my annual Brussels Sprout. Jennie even serves them with disguises like garlic or ginger, I hear, but have not tasted.  It’s all down to upbringing.  My mother was a cook from the boil-everything Ecole de Cuisine, and in her eyes any veggie that still boasted a trace of colour was underdone. So, the youthful saint was obliged to eat soggy, green lumps of anonymous herbaceous material and would sneak into the cellar to steal dandelion and burdock drinks from the stone jars down there to wash away the taste. As we don’t have any D&B these days, I have to pass on the sprouts, however deliciously presented…and I’m staying with that alibi.


That other icon of Christmas, the choirboy, came up in an exchange with Jack Grimshaw, who commented on a vid of a tuneless child bellowing out a carol.  “You just reminded me of something from the Middle Ages. Sang in the choir at Manchester Cathedral as a boy chorister. Highlight of my years there was fainting during Sunday morning opening prayer, sliding sideways from the pew and taking Snotty Robinson down with me. Much hilarity ensued. Canon Woolnough was not amused …”  The saint himself was a boy chorister, too, and when we welcomed the new Bishop of Salford from his old post in Newcastle, was puzzled that the audience burst out laughing. Our mischievous choirmaster had chosen a Geordie song for the first offering: “I Went to Blaydon Races…”  


Jack, meanwhile has his own probs remembering…”Just had an extensive security program installed on my MS Windows. One of the boxes with a check mark against it … “Memory Dumps.”   My eternal gratitude and a 1-hour freebie at Misty Morgan’s Malibu Mansion of Massage and More if anyone knows how to uncheck the #$%^%$# box in my brain!”


Have a splendid last few days of the year, and all good thoughts for the upcoming one.



E-pistle of St Paul to Tonya fans   Posted Jan 4 2014


Responses Mailbag:  Food is the lowest common denominator, it seems. The saint can almost guarantee a response to nostalgia, if it involves  grub, nosh, victuals/vittels or eats, and especially if those eats are from the reader’s childhood.  Second favourite is anything to do with sex, after that it’s scents and memories. So when last week’s epistle mentioned Brussels sprouts, I was ready for replies, and Roger Tregear burst out of the starting gate with memories of childhood gastronomy of the ugh! kind:


“I  can remember having to eat over-boiled cabbage at my aunt’s house…I had to stay at the table till it was gone!  UGH!  same thing for Brussels sprouts .  I would not eat any of these greens until I got to California.  Now I eat them all, I but cooked very lightly, NOT Brit style!

Cut the sprout in half, butter each half & spread crushed garlic on as well:  microwave the sprouts for 2 mins ( not sure of exact time, but don’t over do them)   Drip hot sauce on the cut sprout & it is really good.”


The saint’s confession of stealing dandelion and burdock soda to wash away the sprouts’ taste brought Pat Bell out of her lair (well, she is from Tipton). She reported: ” Cost Plus World Market has small bottles of D & B…have one in my fridge as I type!”  I’m on my way.


After food, as promised: Le sex…. Karen Ayers works as Nurse Vicious in the ER of a Calif hospital, and reacted to a droll vid of an Aussie with a mobile phone stuck up his Khyber Pass. “I love the video!!  That is exactly the kind of stuff that keeps me entertained when it comes into the ER, it is really the kind of crap that happens.  I have seen eggs, gerbils, shampoo bottles, zucchini, carrots, chicken bones and even a small coke bottle up there in addition to the usual collection of vibrators.”



The mind does a stagger at all that, so let’s change the subject and have a moment’s levity involving both food and doctors:


A man walks into a doctor’s office with a carrot up his nose and a piece of celery in his ear. The doctor says: “Well, the first thing is that you’re not eating properly.”


         A man walks into a doctor’s office with a strawberry sticking out of his nose, the doctor says “You’ll be wanting some cream for that.”


A dentist is working overtime in the office late at night, and there’s a knock on the door. He opens it and sees a dishevelled stranger.

“What can I do for you?” asks the dentist. 

“I think I’m a moth” says the man. 

“I’m a dentist–you need a psychiatrist.” 

Yes, I know, but I was walking down the hall and your light was on.”


More response:  From literata Martha Moffett, who’s also famous as the former Secret Homework Executive for the small son of the National Enquirer’s publisher (no wonder the kid got good marks) comes a tale of a nonfiction addiction to dictionaries: “How odd that you mention Simon Winchester. I am just reading his two books on the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, beginning with THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN then going to THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING. The reason for this is that I’ve just recently had to sell my 13-volume OED that has been part of my reference collection for many years. Huge books, beautifully bound–my set was once in the library of the Saturday Evening Post. I am missing it.


“I sold it to Rob Bacon, an editor I do copyediting for, and he is thrilled to have it. He is building a special bookcase for the books. His wife says she hasn’t seen him so happy in a long time. So they found a good home.


“I gave two years of my life to The American Heritage Dictionary–the original edition. It’s strange work, dictionaries. Didn’t make me a good speller, just aware of which words I’d better double-check. The OED the only dictionary I’ve come across where you can actually enjoy reading a few consecutive pages.”



It’s 20 years since Shane Stant whacked ice queen Nancy Kerrigan on the side of her right knee, taking her out of the nationals competition against her skating rival, Tonya Harding. The story went white-hot, the hitman and his accomplices went to the pokey, Tonya claimed no prior knowledge (though her doodles and handwriting were on an apparent written plan for the attack) and was convicted merely of covering up for her then-husband. She got probation, community service and a $160k fine.


Nancy recovered and went on to win a second Olympic medal while Tonya finished eighth, fell far from grace and became a sort of sideshow of what she might have been, as the ice skater who turned the sport into a (then) $50 million business, but took no real rewards from it.


I went to see Tonya at a time when her shyster Vegas agent was demanding $30,000 for an interview, and with the bold assistance of an enterprising girl photographer got a splendid interview for free. I almost had to buy a house, though.  Here’s the inside tale: 


Tonya had a tumultuous marriage to a lowlife who sold a sex tape of their honeymoon, booted him and was trying to jumpstart her mismanaged career. American Media Inc – maybe Globe, maybe Enquirer, can’t remember which and the story ran big in both, anyway,  sent me off to Portland to try for a chat and dispatched Rochelle Lau from California to do the pix. I did a bit of digging and found that Tonya had just put her house on the market, so when Rochelle arrived that Saturday evening, we did a drive-by. 


Tonya and her dad were standing outside a rundown place just by the river, so we approached, gushing. They may have mistaken us for potential buyers, because they took us in, or maybe it was the other way around. They certainly started showing us this boring house. Rochelle had a point and shoot in her pocket and she and Tonya went to look at girly bits of the place while I talked to dad and Tonya’s new moronic boyfriend, who produced some hats and tees with ‘Tonya 2′ emblazoned on them. This was some marketing genius’ effort to indicate that there was a new Tonya in the park but it did allow me to shout upstairs to Rochelle that hey honey, we’re talkin’ to someone famous! Tanya Hardy, the roller skater!


Rochelle by now had shot several pics of Tonya – with flash – while the skater was looking away as she demonstrated the curtains. Rochelle coolly passed off the flashes as ‘summer lightning,’ which went down unquestioned. Downstairs, I asked to have my pic taken with the famous roller derby lady,(no selfie here, had a real photogger take it). I blushed fetchingly when corrected about the roller derby reference, and got some nice pics from which I could be cropped out, while Tonya wore her T2 hat and tee shirt. I asked to see her famous legs – she obligingly hiked up her long sweater and showed a pair of guns not often seen off a warship. She told me her weight – three pounds over her nationals weight – and other details that had Rochelle gasping in fake accents: ‘Honey, ya’ll nevah ask a lady thet!”  I got a chat about the training regimen, the disappointment of missing an Olympic medal, a sigh or two over the US skating body’s intransigence and lack of gratitude, a word or two about her former friend Nancy K  and a crocodile tear over being betrayed by her ex. An excellent interview. 


And I really liked Tonya. She wasn’t hard or trashy, she was warm, seemed genuine, was cute and attractive and she even responded to my apologetic call with a nice thankyou when the story ran – it was a positive one. I stayed in touch with her dad for a few more years – Tonya went off-screen to everyone. Today, Nancy’s a housewife with three kids, Tonya appears from time to time on ‘America’s Dumbest Criminals’ and is happily married. And I never did buy her house.   Twenty years ago, eh?  but just the name Tonya ignites memories. 



Responding to some academic jokes, Ken Potter said: “They have just found the gene for shyness. They would have found it earlier, but it was hiding behind two other genes.”


Graham Lawrence tells of the Irish dancer who had a wooden leg. While he was working in Manchester, he insured it against fire, and had to pay £2,000 a year for the premium. Back in Cork, he went to the insurance agent to renew his policy. The agent got out his actuarial tables, looked it up and said:”That’ll be £15 a year.”  “Holy Mother!” said the dancer, “why so little?”  

“Well,” said the agent, ” ‘Tis written right here: ‘Wooden structure with overhead sprinkler system installed:  £15.’ ”  


Have a good start to the new year and keep the sprouts away from Nurse Vicious.



E-pistle 1014  Beer, Bobbit & Brussels.  posted Jan 11 2014.




There’s hopeful news for my rugby friends: alcoholics in Amsterdam are being paid in beer for collecting litter. The ever-advanced Dutch have said goodbye to Political Correctness and taken a pragmatic approach to helping alcoholic street people. With government funding, a charity group has begun a ‘harm reduction’ plan by opening a daytime shelter that provides beer, cigarettes and a hot lunch to alcoholics and drug addicts in exchange for a six-hour work day – with extended breaks – picking up litter. “We might not make them better, but we are giving them a better quality of life, it’s better for the neighbourhood and they’re giving something back to society,”said a Rainbow Group organiser.


Locals approve. They like their newly-tidy neighbourhood and see the plan as a cost-effective way to tackle the impact of alcoholism. “If people are being arrested, it costs society a lot of money,” said one. Police approve, too: stabbings and muggings in the area have lessened in the year since the scheme began. One of the 20 men in the walk-in programme admitted: “I come for the beer,” as he opened his third can of the day at 11am. He added: “But now, instead of them treating us like garbage, we are picking up their garbage. We are not the garbage any more.” The scheme, which is not for alcoholics who still live at home and have a job,(sorry, Don Hesler and friends)  is to be extended to other Dutch cities.


Packaged Dead Foods:   Speaking of addictions, why is it that you almost cannot eat just one or two potato chips? Pulitzer winner Michael Moss‘ new book ‘Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the food giants hooked us,’ spells out how food manufacturers lab-test their products (on sharp-palated children, no less) to turn us into addicts. Fat, it seems provides twice as much mouth excitement as does sugar, but those deadly chips first give your tongue a salt hit as the opening barrage, or ‘flavour burst.’ Then comes hydrogenated (trans) fat to warm and satiate, and crunching down on  the chip releases the simple sugar in the potato’s carbs …  and I’m reaching for the package. A half hour later, my lips are burning with salt, I have a headache and I’m booking a flight to Amsterdam for a beer…



Tidying up last week’s Tonya Talk: Photo god Kelvin Jones, resplendent in velvet dressing gown as he strolls his California mansion, recalls  his Glory Days.  “Ha! That reminds me of a film I did with Julie Brown as Tonya Hardly and then as Lorena Bobbit with the tagline:  “WHACK! SHE WENT FOR THE GOLD!      SLICE! SHE WENT FOR THE JEWELS!”




From Oz, where the England cricket team has miserably underperformed (and thanks, Dave Anson for mentioning the  0 – 5 series loss) , Top SportsWriter Jeff Wells has responded to my halting suggestion that this was just a slow hustle and confidence trick to lull the gullible Aussies into a false state of security.  “Yes I think you have hit the nail on the head. Yes the whole thing was fiendishly cunning. We could tell England were foxing. With Bondi Beach only a few minutes away the English captain Alastair Cook came out to bat wearing a snorkel,  and his partner Michael Carberry chose not to wear pads and took to the crease in his budgie smugglers (although being a black gentleman they did look more like turkey smugglers). 


“When the first drinks were taken the English batsmen were supplied with Gatorade and airline tickets. Also, England selected a Zimbabwean who couldn’t bat and a 6ft 7in Irish fast bowler who had never been so close to serious sunlight and was downing pints of Guinness between overs. Needless to say he wasn’t much help either, but we know that these series are cyclical and I have full confidence that England can win back the urn before the end of the century.”


Staying current with weather news, Jimmy Leggett said he’d just had a phone call from a friend who lives in Scotland. “She said that since early this morning the snow has been falling and is nearly waist high and still coming down. The temperature is dropping far below zero and the north wind is increasing to near gale force. She says her husband has done nothing but look through the kitchen window and just stare. She says that if it gets much worse, she may have to let the drunken bastard in.”  


Claire said it was so cold she chopped up her piano for firewood. She got two chords.

More on last week’s diatribe about sprouts, of the Brussels variety, comes from my admirable-in-other-ways niece Lesley Roberts, who inflicts the evil cabbage buds on her Lancashire family on some kind of regular basis. “I felt I had to jump in and defend these vegetables,” she wrote, admitting to a family discord about the green monsters.  

“(Daughter/victim)  Emily despises sprouts with a passion, but, like Jennie I constantly create ways of disguising them in her Christmas dinner.  So far, only on one occasion has she detected them on her plate.  I have mushed them inside roasted potatoes, spread them onto chipolatas and then wrapped them in bacon (pigs in blankets),chopped and lightly fried with bacon and garlic. (Husband/victim) Eric prefers them between two doorstep-sized slices of buttered bread. But eaten ‘al dente’ and not boiled within an inch of their life is probably the best way.  Another method we enjoy is slicing raw sprouts, then gently light-frying them with garlic and smoked bacon.”


Lesley sent me ten ways to cook the horrible things: with honey, ginger, au gratin, with sage butter, cream, almonds, pancetta, mushrooms, bacon, cheese,  Marsala and even with herb crusted salmon. And that’s my position: if they’re so awful you have to eat something else so you don’t taste these Belgic discards, what’s the point? Just eat the salmon, almonds, cream, bacon, mushrooms and the like without polluting them with cattle feed.



Intellijoke Time:  In the year 2050, language comprehension became so efficient that people could understand volumes from a single word, and university courses were designed so that just hearing the exact, precisely-engineered term would instantly fill your brain with all there was to know about the subject you were studying.


So, when my son in law Bob Williams  and his mate were walking through the University of Oregon, Bob happened to stick his head inside a lecture hall where photography was being taught. He heard the word “Umblango” spoken by the lecturer.  He walked on a little further and his pal said:“You seem depressed. What’s wrong?” 


Bob said:“Well, my parents always wanted me to be a doctor.”   


Not so intellijoke: The Irish Secret Service were recruiting assassins and were testing three candidates. They passed all the physicals and were in the mental toughness training. The first was told to go into the next room, where his wife was sitting, and to follow the instructions he would find in the desk drawer. In went Kevin, opened the drawer and found a gun and a sheet of paper. “Shoot your wife with this pistol,” said the instruction. He went pale, and walked out. “I can’t do that,” he said, and failed the test. Next up was Patrick, who pointed the gun at his wife, but it did not fire. He came out to tell what had happened and the examiners explained that the ammunition was fake, but he’d passed the test because he was willing to kill even his beloved wife Colleen, for his country.


Last up was Michael. “He’ll fail,” said one examiner to another, as they heard nothing from the room. Then there were thumping and thudding noises , a muffled scream and silence again. The examiners ran in to find Michael standing over the bloodied body of his wife Mary. “That ammunition was fake, so I had to beat her to death with the gun,” he explained, proudly. 


Those Chinese chaps! They seem to take their one-child law a bit too seriously, if this week’s news from behind the Bamboo Curtain is to be believed.  Seems the film director Zhang Yimou faces a $1.24 million fine for breaking the one-child rule. The man who was artistic director of the Beijing Olympics had three children with his wife Chen Ting, without state approval. That’s about $600,000 per unlawful child. Now our longtime rugby pal Allen Hayes has a brood of 18 kids, more or less – he can never get them to stand still long enough to count them – so I’d guess so that he owes something over ten million dollars and he never directed anything at any Olympics, not even traffic.

BTW: Zhang’s most famous for ‘Raise the Red Lantern.’  I think that usually means: ‘Stop.’


Governor Chris Christie should tread warily when dealing with artificially-induced traffic jams in New Jersey, says Revel Barker, passing on Alasdair Buchan’s note:   “You mess with the residents of Fort Lee at your peril. It’s a very pleasant small town with tree lined streets and manicured lawns. Wisteria Lane, you might think.  But as with all American gothic tales it has a dark side.

“One, it was where many UK journalists lived in the halcyon days when there were huge bureaux in New York.  The entire Mirror office at one time or another lived there. (it’s just across the bridge from Manhattan). As so did the Mafia’s top brass. Two tales. One day some teenagers robbed the local gas station. A few hours later a big black sedan drew up, the window opened and a hand held out the money that had been taken. A fruity voice told the attendant, “don’t worry, dat won’t happen again” and then sped off.

“In the apartment building where people like Brian Hitchen and John Smith lived there was a nice old man who occasionally got in the elevator in the morning at the same time as the Brits were taking their kids to school. He used to muss the kids’ hair, joke with their parents and generally lifted the morning mood. He always had a couple of guys with him. One day he wasn’t there.

“When the journalists got to work and bought the NY Post they recognised the face all over the front page. It was their neighbour, Tommy ‘Five Fingers’ Eboli.” (Eboli was acting boss of the Genovese mob, the most powerful Mafia family in America. – Ed.)


Have a traffic and mob-free week.



E-pistle 1015, St Paul the Hi-Vis to a miscellany of mates. Posted Jan 18 2014



That contentious gasbag Jeremy Clarkson,  host of the ‘Top Gear’ driving show, does not like cyclists because they can interfere with his need to drive quickly as often as possible. Now Clarkson (whose show I enjoy) is noted for being as tactful as, say, Prince Philip and is currently embroiled in a plagiarism suit over a film about the Russian convoys of WW2, so may be not just boorish and stupidly adolescent but may also not be quite honest either. 


His newest imbroglio follows his posting of a photograph (taken while driving, surely an illegal act) of a cyclist ahead of his car. The man was ‘taking the lane,’ which is bike-speak for not moving to the side, as he approached a junction where he was about to turn right, ie across traffic. In the UK at least, authorities say this is the correct thing to do when a traffic lane is restricted. It means a following car must slow for a moment or several, but it prevents the driver from attempting to squeeze past, likely forcing the cyclist dangerously into the gutter. In other words, it makes the following driver treat the cyclist as he would treat a car ahead of him, which is the cyclist’s legal right and the best course to avoid injury.

The downside for the driver is he adds several seconds to his travel time, but in city traffic he’d lose those anyway at the next red traffic signal.


Clarkson’s tweet to his 2.7 million petrol-head followers generated the usual chorus of support from bicycle-haters, who seem to include London’s police force. They are presently following a policy of pulling over cyclists riding legally and innocently  to ‘advise’ them to wear hi-vis clothing. The cops should be aware that the greater danger is not from the small number of drivers who don’t see cyclists, it’s the vastly greater number who see them but don’t care how close they pass.


The saint may have a solution for this. Some years ago, Jennie and I rode our bikes about 700 miles across England, from Manchester to Dover and back, through beautiful but narrow back lanes that often offered minimal sight lines for speeding motorists, but their actions were praiseworthy. Time after time, we’d hear a fast-approaching car behind us, it would slow dramatically, the driver would often wave as he passed and we – in our hi-vis yellow rain jackets  – would wave back.


I was so impressed with this constant courtesy to cyclists that I wrote a letter to The Times to thank the English motoring public for consideration that we never received when we were mere car drivers there.  My epistle landed on the letters editor’s desk during a Cycling Awareness Month and was so unusual the editor phoned us in California to see if it was real. Jennie took the call, and assured the editor that yes, this was the case, and to my delight the letter was published (and a framed copy was hung in the bathroom for a while).


There was a sequel.


A year or so later, long after I’d stopped boasting to American friends that English motorists were much more tolerant of cyclists, I was watching a UK football match on TV and a few minutes before the end saw a line of riot police walk out to face the crowd (of course, it was Liverpool). I idly realised that the rain jackets they were wearing were of a colour unique to the cops, and also were the exact shade of hi-vis yellow  as the American-bought rain gear Jennie and I wore during our cycle tour.   And then the coin dropped.


All those ‘friendly’ English motorists had slammed on the brakes to avoid ‘police’ in their recognisable yellow as they came upon us. I hate to think about the cheerful greetings they had waved at us, or what they thought of our reciprocated waves.



Dear God, is there any hope for this man? My niece Lesley Roberts likes sprouts, forces them on her unwilling children and now her husband Eric  actually has the temerity to agree with his wife:   “I enjoyed your moaning about the much maligned humble sprout.  I must say that I love them. It may have something to do with my childhood.  If my mum put something on your plate you ate it as nothing else would come across the table.  We also learned to eat rapidly:  my poor sister never got the hang of this skill.  My brother and I would take turns distracting her as we robbed her plate, which may explain why she is much slimmer than the pair of us.

“Sprouts ! Boil them, add salt, pepper and butter and shovel them in your mouth with a big fork. mmmmmmmmmmm.”  


Chris Pritchard cited the prez who didn’t like them, then listened to his missus(?)   “No,” she said, “that was broccoli.”


This disgusting subject is now closed – Ed.  (Not quite, see end.. Ed2)


For those who saw the vid of why the space programme failed (an ad for canned beans that showed monsters detecting a hiding astronaut because he farted) ex-Marine Bob Heaton claims it isn’t accurate. “That is not correct,” he says. “In space no one can hear you fart…”  I only hope he hasn’t tested this. I’ve seen what happens to divers who suffer a gas attack in their hermetically-sealed diving suits…


Craig Grabeel, famed as the cavalry commander Cragus Grabelius in my ‘Lord of the Narrow Sea’ trilogy (he rode into a thicket of enemy spearmen and came out looking like a porcupine) says: “ If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.


For a less-risky aerial thrill, view this five minute vid from musician Clay Reid. It’s views of Niagara Falls as you’ve never seen it before: from a toy helicopter/drone. Just splendid and a very fast, unboring five minutes, too. Thanks, Clay. Click this link to view:  DJI Phantom ~ Niagara Falls


Scots photogger Jim Leggett has a Honda motorbike that’s pretty clean but not too loaded with chrome and other sparkly junk. “I’m not a chromosexual,” he says. Reminded me of Norm Marshall‘s term for a gay salesman in a furniture store: a homosectional. 


We don’t know where Francis ‘Joe’ Mullins was when JFK was shot, although he did promise to tell us, but we at least have an anecdote from him spurred by a vid of irish children singing the ‘Cups Song.  ‘Did you see little Franny Mullins there in the back row checking out if there was anything to drink in the cup? Remember me mam coming to our concert, where I was playing the triangle. “You were the only one in tune Franny,” she told me. I proudly related that to Sister Malachy the next morning and the good nun just about pissed herself laughing. It was years before I understood.”   John Mulrooney, presently visiting family in the UK, sent the cups vid to me. It’s a super feel-good experience, and if you haven’t seen it (or wish to view it again) here’s the link:



Congratulations to Neal Novotny, past president of the Seahawks Rugby Club, on his one-year anniversary at ClearAccess. But there’s more: techie marketer Neal also celebrated one-year annivs at Cisco, BEA Systems, Vitria Tech and SendOrder while using the same coffee mug. He’s an expert in SOX compliance, which I think means no mismatched footwear, and he studied at Macy’s, taking modern lingerie. 


Our team mate Kris Chubb viewed a fine assortment of topless photos and said meaningfully: “Brings to mind a favorite quote: “Breasts without nipples would be pointless.”


Phil and Kathy Perry roped in a few volunteers to hump furniture around when they moved out of their coastal home last weekend. Now it seems they may want us to pay for the privilege. Jim Floyd, Rachel Williams and the saint himself laboured on Friday to move the world’s most recalcitrant sofa bed and assorted mega-ton church pews, benches, cabinets and boxes of china; Will and Susie Silvestri showed up the next day to assist and do more of the same. So why will Phil think to charge us for the work? Because it was Good For Us. A new study that tracked the health of about 100,000 nurses for eight years shows that lifting weights can cut your risk of diabetes by as much as one-third.  Giving your muscles a workout is linked to better health overall, and with combating diabetes in particular. Phil may well decide his furniture shifting was the same as a health club visit, and demand payment.


Topical: the Australian Open tennis is being played (and halted)  in temperatures that have reached 107degF (41degC) or more, and things are melting. Once, Jennie and I, with  Lee and Gail Overbeck, the Perrys, Lee and Candace Embrey and 25,000 of our closest friends rode across Iowa on the RAGBRAI bike ride, which is about 500 miles in a week. The temps got up to 105F as i recall, and I don’t remember much, as on that day I drank two swift bottles of Guinness and went to sleep at once. We at least had the benefit of a breeze while riding, so how the tennis players cope with still air and reflected heat off Har-Tru or whatever the surface is these days, I just don’t know. Hats off, or better yet, on, to them.


For those who care, I just sent off book four of the ‘Narrow Sea’ series (it used to be a trilogy, but it grew a bit) and my clever mate Kelvin Barnstaple Jones once again produced some very fine maps for it. It means I’m turning cart (ographical) wheels of joy. 


Also in the parish notices dept., niece-child Lesley Roberts has adopted my late brother Ted‘s dog Mollie, a white and liver spaniel (Springer, I think). She sent a pic and the once-emaciated Mol is now plump and glossy, just like Lesley’s husband, Eric. Probably all those sprouts he eats. 


Have a good week, and may it be free of sprout doubts.



E-pistle 1016 Pubs, posters and a Puritan poet.  Posted Jan 25 2014



Jeez, who’d have thought that Brussels sprouts, that Belgic food from Taste Desert Central, have actual fans apart from Hercule Poirot and a couple of retired female tennis stars?  After all, Gallant Little Belgium never produced anything much more than coal, canals and steel. Its best claim to fame (after beer and frites)  is as France’s front doormat. After all, six thousand years’ worth of invaders from Huns to, well, Huns have wiped their bare feet, sandals, clogs, sabots, bottes en caoutchoucs and jackboots there as they passed through, heading for La Belle France and some proper food. Not even one stopped to eat the sprouts.


Now, gourmand Kevin Chips-Cosgrove  (“Don’t you dare pick on sprouts“) has  offered a recipe, which he later amended to call for cider vinegar, not red wine vinegar, as it’s “more subtle,” so you know it has to be a joke. With that, he calls me a Philistine. Of course he too was once a De La Salle boy, and probably enjoys the gastro equivalent of being beaten with a bamboo cane.


Sprouts au Cos:


2 decent tablespoons of fennel seeds / 2 tbs of good olive oil / 4 tbs of water / 2-3 tbs of red wine vinegar /cider vinegar

A good pound after trimming of thinly sliced sprouts / Salt and pepper


Heat oil  /  Add seeds brown for two minutes in deep pan (pick a pan that has a tight fitting lid but keep the lid off for now)

Throw in sprouts with a bit of salt and the water,  combine with oil and fennel

Bring water to boil / Immediately turn off heat and cover sprouts with the tight lid

Let steam for three to four minutes / Add pepper and vinegar / Cover again for 2 minutes


“If you don’t like it you’re mad.”


Craig Grabeel says simply (well, he would, he has little choice) “I like sprouts, me.” Explanation: he was military and ate anything. This is a fellow who, recalled for part time duties as a USN helo pilot, had the misfortune to be overseen by a chief petty officer so obsessed with clean heads – toilets to us – that even a water mark on an otherwise-pristine bowl would drive him to screeching rage. One weekend when the final obstacle to a bout of shore leave was a set of immaculate thunderboxes, the CPO lined up the aviators while he did his inspection. 


A nameless mischief-maker had put a smear of peanut butter under a bowl’s lip. Of course the CPO found it and screamed in purple-faced rage:”What’s this? What IS THIS?”  The miscreant stepped forward, stuck his finger into the offending brown stuff, tasted it and declared, deadpan and monotone: “It’s shit, sir!”   The CPO stared blankly, left at once, and never inspected Craig’s unit again. 


Our hero Craig himself admits he isn’t enamoured of helicopters, and shares the aviator’s menu: “I don’t really like to be in helos, unless I’m driving, and even then don’t trust them very much (certainly not civilian ones), notwithstanding having been fortified by the standard Navy pilot breakfast–a Coke, a smoke and a puke.”


I see that George Clooney pulled a prank on co-star Matt Damon during the making of a film: he had wardrobe take in Damon’s trousers a quarter inch or so every couple of days, while urging Damon ‘We must get in shape.’ Damon diligently worked out ever harder as his waistline seemed to expand, but didn’t find out about the joke until much, much later, when Clooney confessed on a TV show. Well, the prank isn’t new. A pretentious sub editor at the Guardian in Manchester was the butt of something similar decades ago. This fellow used to show up to work in a City gent’s bowler hat before joining his fellow minions at the subs’ table. His airs and graces irked a few of his colleagues, who bought two other bowler hats, each sized fractionally differently. One was larger, one smaller than the original. They kept a roster on the subs’ notice board and every couple of days would quietly exchange the hat so that one day the sub would arrive with it over his eyes, go home with it looking normal, and the next time have it perched on top of his head. 


After a couple of months of this, the sub was in the pub for his break and the crusty chief sub, a Scot not noted for his humour, mentioned that he’d aye, had a vairry interrresting story across his desk about a mysterious brain disease that caused the skull to expand and contract. The prank victim practically fell to his knees sobbing that he had it, he had it!  One telling of the story has it that the chief sub suggested that being generous about  buying rounds did something for the brain waves and was a possible fix… Mysteriously, the victim was cured within a few days, and the bowler vanished from its peg, never to be replaced.


Oddly, years later, I saw a M*A*S*H episode in which Hawkeye Alan Alda and company pulled a similar stunt involving the victim’s clothes. “Next time,” they hooted, “we’ll make him taller!”



Jack Grimshaw  reacted to the last epistle’s reportage of London cyclists’ ill-treatment by motorists: “My late buddy Greg Walsh – Whistle Stop, Lantana regular; Delray Beach neighbor; known to many NE imbibers; cohort on 1001 bar hops from Ft. Liquordale to Lake Worth – had absolutely the best response I’ve ever come across to being run over by an oblivious motorist.


“Was knocked off his steed in New York City by a woman making an illegal turn. Picked himself up, bleeding, walked over to her vehicle … and punched her solidly in the face through the open window.  They shared an ambulance to hospital. She declined to press charges.”    


Dave Anson, our erudite Aussie (there are several)  reports that he recently visited Ken Bousfield  in his new home on his sister’s property in Hastings, New Zealand. Ken’s medical condition is improving, is now thought to be related to diabetes and he’s a busy fellow. He rugby-coaches very young children and volunteers four days a week  at a centre for handicapped adults, who seem to be a lively group. Dave’s urging Ken to keep a journal, and the saint seconds the motion. Dave also sends regards to all of us in frigid North America, from a place where the tennis balls are almost melting.


From frigid Saint Helens, UK comes news of Eric Roberts‘ daring adventure. A rugby league Saints fan, he ventured into the territory of their rivals, Wigan and was seeking a DIY store of the B&Q chain. Enunciating carefully so the local he addressed would understand, he asked:”Is there a B&Q in Wigan?”   “The pie-eater **” says Eric:   “looked dumbfounded for a moment, then answered: ‘Nay, theer’s a W an’ a I, an’ a G an’ a A, and then theer’s a N but theer’s no B&Q…”  


Eric explains that the ‘pie-eater’ reference comes from the 1926 General Strike, when the Wiganers broke ranks and later had to eat humble pie to their fellow union members. The ‘Humble Pie’ term in turn comes from the medieval word ‘umbles‘ for entrails. Servants and the lower orders got venison pie made from the leftovers, so eating the less-tasty stuff was a mark of your lowly rank. Pay attention, there will be a test. 


Just down the road from Frigid St Helens is Liverpool, where far-flung California resident  John Mulrooney visited this week and sent a pic of himself with a foaming pint in a pub. Here’s the grif:   “I’m enjoying a pint on the very seat formerly occupied by the Beatles when they went to get paid and have a pint after playing a gig at the Cavern Club in Liverpool in the late 50s, early 60s.  My brother-in-law, Alan, has just launched a business conducting historical tours of Liverpool and this was part of a trial run called “Tavern Trails.”


“About 20 of his golfing buddies and yours truly took the train from Southport to the center of Liverpool (about a 40 min. ride) and then we visited four different old pubs all located on the original seven streets which made up Liverpool back in the 13th century.  Liverpool, as you may know,  was the first port of call for many of the captured Africans who were shipped to America as part of  the Slave Trade. 


“The picture was taken in the White Star pub which, I believe,  was originally owned by the White Star line, owners and builders of the Titanic and the walls are covered with pictures of the ill-fated ship and other scenes of Liverpool shipping through the ages. The Liverpool docks, also known as the Pier Head, are now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is kind of equivalent to Beach Flats (Santa Cruz, Calif) becoming one of the Seven Wonders of the World some time in the future. Apparently the White Star didn’t have a women’s bathroom until 1987 because the Liverpool fathers were anxious to discourage prostitution, another pastime for which Liverpool has a special place in history (Stand by for the whoring tour, coming right up – pun intended).  


“Can’t remember much about the other three pubs because we only had 2 hours for the entire tour, including the walking (staggering?) with only about 10 minutes allotted for a pint in each pub.” 


The saint’s editor suggests that although a few of the estimated 12 million slaves taken in Africa did arrive in Liverpool, the city’s real involvement was in the 130 ships engaged in the slave trade. Those vessels carried their maximum, an estimated 46,000 miserable captives in the single year 1799. They sailed a triangular course from Britain to Africa with goods like guns, fabrics, iron and alcohol,  exchanged them for humans, gold and ivory  and took that cargo to the West Indies and the Americas. The slaves were sold there for cotton, tobacco or bills of exchange, and that is what went back to Liverpool. The trade existed from the 1660s until it was declared illegal in 1807 but was never a huge part of the city’s trade, as, even at its peak, it was carried out by less than 10% of Liverpool’s shipping. 


The last legal slave voyage was made in 1807 by Capt Hugh ‘Mind Your Eye’ Crow, a one-eyed Manxman who skippered the  vessel “Kitty’s Amelia” and who is now buried in Ramsey, Isle of Man. 


Dan & Bradstreet:  Newest reader of the epistles is Univ Oregon professor emeritus Dan Kimble, a psychobiologist who studies the effects of brain damage on behaviour and who has knocked out a few textbooks on the subject for light reading at bedtime. Among his various credentials, he’s a talented water colourist but he’s most proud of his Puritan ancestry:  “I trace both sides almost exclusively to England, including Anne Dudley Bradstreet, the first poet published in the Colonies (1655 or so),” he said.   Some swift research shows that  “The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America”  and “divers other pleasand and serious poems”  was published in 1647, about the time that Anne’s husband and father were busy writing the charter for Harvard University. The book of poetry was popular on both sides of the Atlantic, and its full title runs to 84 words:


The Tenth Muse, lately Sprung up in America, or Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, Full of Delight, Wherein especially is Contained a Complete Discourse and Description of the Four Elements, Constitutions, Ages of Man, Seasons of the Year, together with an exact Epitome of the Four Monarchies, viz., The Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, Roman, Also a Dialogue between Old England and New, concerning the late troubles. With divers other pleasand and serious Poems, By a Gentlewoman in those parts.






Ken Potter strikes another ecclesiastical note, appropriate for the e-pistles, by wondering: “When we get women bishops, will they be Birds of Pray?


Something that Amused Me Dept.:  the Argentine Patagonian city of Puerto Madryn was established as a ‘Little Wales beyond Wales’ colony in 1865 to preserve  Welsh culture and language. Although settlers were sadly misled about the area’s fertility and rainfall,  it survived and maintains a close cultural link with the mother country, one facet of which is that the area is still largely Welsh-speaking. In 2005, Wales’ national rugby team ventured south on a two-game test series against Argentina, and one of the games was held in Puerto Madryn.  The Taffies’ coach used the old ploy of calling lineout and other signals in (usually unintelligible) Welsh, not having done his homework and not realising that the locals spoke sospan just as fachly as anyone from the valleys.  Result:  the Argies won 27-25 and the coach’s face went as green as a leek.


Also Amusing:  some clever person(s) created fake but official-looking signs now posted on Tube (London Underground) trains. They range from ‘Royal Seat – reserved for Her Majesty the Queen’s bottom’ to ‘We apologise that all the apologies for overcrowding on this train are shallow and meaningless.’    Here’s my personal favourite:



See more at this link:


Time to sign off, have a splendid, sproutless week.





 E-1017 St P’s still sprouting   Posted 2/1/14


Heartwarming:  Roger Tregear forwards from Calfornia a story  how, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror strikes, 38 commercial aircraft and their passengers were diverted to Newfoundland’s Gander field when their destination airports were closed. The locals in Gander’s surrounding communities took in more than 6,500 stranded travellers and hosted them for several days, feeding and entertaining them, taking them on excursions, lending them clothing, doing their laundry and keeping them comfortable until they could resume their journeys.


Said a Delta flight attendant: “When passengers came back on board, it was like they had been on a cruise. Everyone knew each other by name. They were swapping stories of their stay, impressing each other with who had the better time. Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a chartered party flight. The crew just stayed out of their way. It was mind-boggling.Passengers had totally bonded and were calling each other by their first names, exchanging phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses. And then a very unusual thing happened. 

“One of our passengers approached me and asked if he could make an announcement over the PA system. We never, ever allow that. But this time was different. I said “of course” and handed him the mike. He picked up the PA and reminded everyone about what they had just gone through in the last few days. He reminded them of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He continued by saying that he would like to do something in return for the good folks of Lewisporte. He said he was going to set up a trust fund under the name of DELTA 15 (our flight number). The purpose of the trust fund is to provide college scholarships for the high school students of Lewisporte. He asked for donations of any amount from his fellow travellers.”

The pledge sheet came back with $14,000 in promised donations, and  an MD from Virginia said he would match that amount  and would ask Delta’s corporate office to donate, too. An Ohio State U administrator, Shirley Brooks-Jones organised the trust fund and reports that to date, 134 Gander-area high school students have been given college or trade school financial help and the Lewisporte Area Flight 15 Scholarship Fund currently stands at around $1.5 million.  Enjoy the fuzzy feeling, it’s what good humans like our own tame Newfies Frances Gibbons and her sis Mary Martina do for others.

Now that’s got you in a warm mood, back to reality. Chris Pritchard may be an Aussie but he’s got standards: “My grumpy old man’s whinge of the week: A bimbo reading the news on a commercial radio station the other day informed me of the existence of a human organ of which I had been blissfully unaware. A man, she breathlessly intoned, had been “stabbed in the car park”. I could understand the heart, head, thigh  or stomach – but the car park? I tore off all my clothing (well, I was beside myself [?] with worry) and conducted a search in front of a full-length mirror but could not locate this mysterious organ even though she helpfully informed listeners that  “the car park is under the shopping mall”. Unfortunately, I don’t appear to have one of those either.  It reminded me of a a recent radio newscast in which the reader over-excitedly announced the discovery on a Tasmanian beach of a giant squid “with 7ft testicles”.



Past matters:   Literary detective Jack Grimshaw, aka the Duke of Dana Point, Calif., read  the saintly account of the size-changing bowler hat and the Guardian sub editor and put his fingertips to keyboard at once: “ Got a stash of the Queen’s coinage left over from my last trip to Cheadle, Cheshire (March, 1997 to bury the old man; one week; rained every friggin’ day; biting wind penetrated leather coat, sweater, shirt and soul – never again!) that says I know where the above prank came from. 


“Only When I Larf,” Len Deighton‘s entertaining 1967 novel about a trio of con artists, quickly became a movie starring Richard Attenborough, David Hemmings and the delicious Alexandra Stewart as the quintessential dolly bird with brains. To the consternation of aristo Silas (Attenborough), working-class guy Bob (Hemmings) secretly and repeatedly swaps out his bowler with one of a slightly different size… 

Then again, Deighton was a freelance newspaper hack of some repute in the ’60s – cookery/features/travel. So, the chicken or the egg?”




Miss Stewart, fetchingly seated.




Also dealing with past matters, Martha Moffett,  our almost-domesticated literary lioness,  keeps the subject of Brussels sprouts alive with: “I have several times succumbed to people who have discovered ways to make Brussels sprouts edible if not delectable, but when I’ve gone to the trouble of trying their dishes, it’s always resulted in throwing out the results. I’d say it can’t be done.”    I agree entirely about the sprouts, and am quite interested to hear about to whom Ms Martha succumbed…


I could throw all my toys out of my cot in irritation because sprouts, those buds of a cultivar of the Gemmifera group of cabbages, have amazing tenacity as a subject for discussion,  John Strader, (writing in per pro se and per pro daughter Sydney) continues the subject, taking it into, er, week four. “I never would have dreamed of a recipe for sprouts (coming) from you.  Syd and I actually like them.”


An apostle of the Church of the Sprout-free Society, Chris Pritchard continues the dialogue: “Re sprouts (no, there’s no getting away from them): I refer you to my research, so far unpublished even in journals of low repute but conducted over many years, which involved telling people how much I hated eating sprouts. The few sprout fans I encountered – such people actually exist –  would inevitably nod and say “Ah, but you haven’t tried  our sprouts”. The recipe, willingly shared, invariably involved undercooking rather than overcooking, adding something tasting of nuts and drizzling something or other over the hideous green blobs. I gather another study fed sprouts to 324 people and a placebo to 317 people. The researchers concluded that those who ate the sprouts grimaced far more often than those fed the placebo. I would reveal more but I’m off to sample a placebo at my local coffee shop.”


Former Sprout Disciple Brian Barrick raised a glass of soda water in toast to us and told his sad sprout story: “Until late December sprouts were my favourite veggie.  Then I began treatment for an MRSA virus,  The massive doses of antibiotics change the perceived taste of everything.  Suddenly sprouts tasted like crap – thus converting me to your camp.  Additionally the doctor put me on a dairy free diet and on the wagon.  In addition he suggested going gluten free for the time being.  I haven’t been this dry except for short sojourns in Yemen and Libya since I was sixteen!  My three favourite things in life were crusty bread and butter, cheese and a glass of wine, in at least triplicate.  My woes will continue until the middle of February.  The only blessing is that I am losing loads of excessive flab but methinks the cure is possibly worse that the disease.”



Past matters three: Nurse Vicious, who really isn’t so bad at times, responded to John Mulrooney‘s note about the slave trade museum on Merseyside with: ” I had the opportunity to tour the slave museum while we were in Liverpool last year and found it both fascinating and sad.  It was interesting that I noticed I was the only white skinned person there during the whole tour that encompassed a large area of many rooms.” 

She adds a note of nursely concern: “Get a flu shot if you haven’t already, people are headed towards the bright light like crazy down here!”  That’s California, and it’s happening elsewhere in the West. I sweated and moaned and lost three Xmases to the ‘flu some years ago, so have reported for a ‘flu jab every year since. I also listened to heartfelt advice from shingles sufferers Tom Butler and Joe Mullins and got shots for that ailment, too. Their horror stories were not droll. 


This week, we had to say a sad goodbye to our 15 years old dog, Java, who was cancer-ridden, and I opted to send news just to a few friends, but one response especially touched me. Candy Neville sent a thumbnail of the pets she’s loved and lost, and I have to share it…


Skippy. The garbage man kept bringing him home because he was a “man/dog about town.” 

Strays my sister brought home. Cindy the Rabbit who my Dad gave to Butch the Farmer and I screamed and screamed at him to leave our rabbit alone and spent the next few weeks sobbing and singing an old country song, “Cindy, oh, Cindy, Cindy don’t you let me down.” Squirt. A small fierce, loyal goofy looking dog that I never did get over. Pepsi the wonder poodle who could balance and dance and entertain and bite. Mr. Benny the bee-butt poodle who would live through falling out a two storey window, being attacked and shaken by a vicious shepherd detaching his skin from his body in a closed circle, a neighbor’s secret poison. When he finally died of a failing heart he managed to crawl up the stairs to my bed and die under it near me. Mam the crazy lab who lived to be over 17. I couldn’t get another dog for five years; and then Margie, my half crazed (maybe part wolf?) beautiful husky totally devoted to me. She knew me better than anybody and was always on my side. The greats. People who don’t like dogs don’t know what they are missing.”


Animal matters2:  Some 90 dairy cows in Rasdorf, central Germany emitted enough methane in the form of belches and flatulence that they filled the byre with gas. It was so comprehensive a job that static electricity caused an explosion.  One milker was injured, and the upward blast caused severe damage to the  roof, said firefighters. 


Intellijoke from Rachel Williams:   

The bartender says, “We don’t serve time travelers here.” 

A time traveler walks into a bar.


Rachel added:”You heard this one next Thursday.”  


Btw to her several rugby mums, Liz Smith,  Kathy Perry, Patti McDonald and the kindly others who mothered her, aged ten or so, during games,  Rachel just landed a terrif job as Conference Services Manager at Oregon State University against fierce and numerous opposition (60+) She starts in mid-February. Huge congrats from a proud dad. Yeah, their team colours are horrible orange and black, but that what my (Mr Tour de France Voice) racemate Phil LIggett and I thought were splendid on the walls of our London flat in 1966…. 



Wandering Waggledaggers:  my rugby pal William Shakespeare Morrison is readying for a trip to Thailand. He reports: “Reconnected with my old room mate from Cornell Grad School a few months ago (we had lost touch for over 30 years).  Turns out he has been in the Canadian Diplomatic Service in Southeast Asia all this time, including High Commissioner to Singapore.  He married a Thai lady and retired in Bangkok, so we are off to visit them.”  No word on whether Blll’s wife Penny, an avid oarswoman, will be flying or rowing herself there.


Grace note:  Norm Eliason, the coffee king of Cupertino, offers a child’s prayer: “Dear God: please send clothes for all those poor ladies on Grandpa’s computer.” 


Time to clothe. Have a splendid week.



E-pistle 1018 St Paul to the Rationed. Posted Feb 8 ’14


The saint’s recent reading includes some WW2 bomber squadron reminiscences, and he came across sayings forgotten since his childhood about American servicemen, including the favourite:  “Overfed, overpaid, oversexed and over here…”  The GI’s were enviably glamorous –  Hollywood and all that – especially after three or four drab years of the UK’s wartime shortages and restrictions on clothing, food and travel. The food ration per Brit per week in 1944 included one egg, 8oz of meat,  4oz of sweets (candies) 3 oz of lard, 2oz of tea, one apple and 4oz of bacon or ham.  As for clothing, a coat would consume a whole year’s allowance of clothing coupons. Some rationing continued until the early 1950s, and the saint, who essentially caused an end to the war with his 1944 appearance on the planet. was six or seven years old before he consumed his first banana. However, he and other war babies have fond memories of treacle-thick condensed orange juice that we were given in school (suitably diluted, of course) Yum, better than sprouts. 


Contrast that with the GIs, who had unlimited supplies of food like eggs, ham, butter, fruit and juice, plus cigarettes, liquor, nylons and candy that the Brits simply could not obtain. Additionally, they were paid many multiples of the $3 per month a British fighting soldier received. With so many Brits serving overseas in North Africa, Burma, India and later Italy, France and Germany, there was a man shortage at home, so the open-handed Yanks were doubly welcomed by lonely women. I laughed out loud at the anecdote of a young Englishwoman being gossiped about by her friends. “She’s wearing those new utility panties,” they said. “One Yank and they’re off.” 


It isn’t hard to see how there could be resentment against finding American cuckoos in the nest when a Brit soldier came home on leave from fighting in North Africa, although when I took seven Americans on tour around Europe in 1979, the Brits overwhelmed them with goodwill and warm WW2 memories. However, my brother Don Bannister told me that when he was in the Royal Navy in the 1950s,  the antipathy was still alive. Don and his shipmates shared a base in Sasebo, Japan with the US fleet. It was common that a solo RN sailor would be beaten up by the Cousins when he crossed the US barracks to reach his ship because the Brit sailors made a hobby of painting out the Americans’ boast over the gates that “Through these gates pass the finest fighting men in the world.”  “They knew we did it, because we always used purser’s grey paint,” said Don. “I was a wireless operator on HMS Ladybird, a commandeered Chinese ferryboat that was home to the w/o’s,” he said. “We were sent out from there to the fleet that was battering the Korean coast or dropping shells into mainland China during its altercation with Formosa.  There were 2,000 USN sailors in the base, but only about 150 of us, so we were used to getting a good hiding if they caught us alone or in small numbers.”


“On Coronation Day, most of our fleet came in, leaving Korea and China alone for a few days. The Americans were confined to barracks, but we finally had some numbers, and it was payback time.” The RN sailors and a squad of Royal Marine commandoes crept  out of their barracks in the small hours of the morning and worked their way, block by block through the GI quarters, doing as much quiet damage as they could to their sleepy rivals before moving on. The sight at both parades the next day was a marvel, Don reported. Almost every sailor, Brit or American, had black eyes, bruises, welts and contusions, and peace reigned for some weeks after that…



Afghan Injustice: There will be no peace in Afghan households should the contemptible president Karzai sign a new law into life. A section of that nation’s criminal code titled ‘Prohibition of questioning an individual as a witness’ will allow Afghan men to attack their wives, children or sisters without fear of judicial punishment, because the code bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them.  As most violence against women in medieval Afghanistan comes from within the family, Karzai’s signature will silence victims as well as most potential witnesses to abused women’s suffering. That silence will deepen, because almost all Afghans live in walled compounds shared only with their extended clan, so the law covers almost all witnesses to domestic violence.


The West has been horrified by cases like Sahar Gul’s. A child bride, her in-laws chained her in a cellar and burned, starved and whipped her when she refused to work as a prostitute for them. In another case two months ago, a woman named Sitara had her nose and lips sliced off by her husband when she refused to give up her gold ring to pay for his heroin. Engaged at age 11, Sitara had been regularly beaten because she had given birth to a girl, not a son. Under this new law, her husband could not be prosecuted. Now, human rights organisations are hoping to shame Karzai into suspending the proposed bill, but hold small hope they can do it. 


Foreign troops will be gone from Afghanistan by year’s end, and opponents there of women’s rights are already reversing the small gains made in the past decade. So much for the lives and wealth squandered on Afghanistan by the West: the Taliban are coming back, and the vicious and cruel are taking over, again.




Good lord, will it never end? For the fifth week, we have correspondents still discussing Brussels sprouts! Graham Lawrence shouts from the back of church: “What’s wrong with Sprouts, they are great, I have tried them  Steamed, Roasted and I add them to pans of Stew.”  It’s only because Graham’s stil a fast man on a bike (despite being older than the Pennines) that I publish his note, or maybe sprouts are the secret to athletic achievement? Graham, old friend, don’t invite me for dinner if it’s sprout stew. 


Don’t invite Jack Grimshaw, either. My onetime colleague in Florida, rival reporter in Lancashire and fellow schoolboy in the Middle Ages, Jack attended a prestigious school not noted for its cuisine. He writes: “Fifty years on, I still gag just thinking about the cabbage we were served at now-illustrious (and latterly sex-abuse-infamous) Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester. In the ’60s. Nauseating aromas from the stuff sent kids to sick bay before dinner.  


“So, swore I was staying out of the Brussels sprouts situation. Impossible to not pass on, however, is that the Daily Mail reported in 2009 that the saintly one is in good company.  British naval captain Wayne Keble, it said, banned Brussels sprouts from his warship HMS Bulwark, (a ship’s company of 390)  proclaiming: “They are the devil’s vegetable and the only thing I do not like, and the only thing I hate.” Aye, aye, Captain, says the saint, noting that the sulphuric sprout was voted Britain’s Most Hated Vegetable in 2002. He also notes that Capt Keble has an OBE, which stands for One Brussel’s Enough. (or, Out Brussel Evil!) 



Methinks methane:  Last week yielded a new collective noun for cattle: an ‘explosion,’ when a gassy byre blew up,  and Chris Pritchard says the Kiwis have been looking into a use for those bovine gaseous emissions.  CP says chaps in the Land of the Long White Cloud are seeing if methane can be economically harvested from their farm animals as an energy source. I can imagine pulling into a petrol station in Dunedin and saying: “Top her up with cow premium,  she doesn’t run too well on the sheep stuff.”


Speaking of petrol, Chris recalls an Express sub editor  “who called out a geographical question: “That place in the Middle East, mate – what’s the style book say . . . Iran or Iraq?”


Ironic sympathy card for Fred Wehner, snuffling away in Georgia. He dropped by his doctor’s office to give him a book – and caught an infection. Fred’s had to spend an uncomfortable week or two on antibiotics, battling some kind of super-flu. Here’s a snippet of the letter he sent his physician: “… shortly before I came to consult with you, some hideous creature, a pus-filled leper from the depths of Hell or Davis Street, had stalked the halls of your waiting rooms. In the half-light, this unspeakable demon oozed his venom onto one of your chairs upon which I placed a glove, nay, a fair, gentlemanly hand, only to contract the dreaded disease he so mercilessly planted there.  Ever since that day have I lain in the darkness of my bedchamber praying to God to deliver me from this throat-searing, lung-wrenching torment.”



Allen Hayes comes trolling out from behind the arras sounding like Maggie Smith, querulously asking why he received the sacred writings on Friday Jan 31st when they carried a Saturday, Feb 1st dateline.  Yes, I know he needs more PlayDoh to occupy him, but the reason is, they’re ‘officially’ posted (and archived) on my website on Saturdays, so they carry that date. Numbers are important to J Allen, as he’s raised 17 children and must do swift head counts at every meal, gathering or travel stop. 


Jokemeister Ken Potter tells of the wife seductively purring to her husband:“Have you ever seen $20 all crumpled up?”  He shook his head, ‘No,’  she smiled seductively and slowly pulled a crumpled $20 bill from her cleavage.  He took the cash,  and she purred again “How about a crumpled $50 bill?”    By now the husband was nodding eagerly as she slid a hand up her skirt and removed a $50 from her panties. He was breathing heavily as he waited for the next surprise, so she said:  “Now, have you ever seen $50,000 all crumpled up?” 

“No way!” he said, while becoming even more obviously aroused and excited. She replied….. 


“Go look in the garage.” 



Quick quiz:  what do Moonlight, Halfpenny and Twelvetrees have in common?


A) They’re all international rugby stars. John and Dave Moonlight are cousins and Canadian internationals; Welsh national team fullback  Leigh Halfpenny has just moved to the Toulon club from Cardiff;   William Wesley Twelvetrees plays for England and Gloucester, where his clubmates call him ’36.’  This results from a Welsh international ‘s lisping pronunciation of his name as ‘twelve threes’ and the Gloucs men’s pride in demonstrating their mastery of arithmetic.


The Well, Yes, Dept.: An Edinburgh University study finds that people with slow reactions are more likely to die before their time. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has had to dodge an enraged bull, a speeding car or a thrown piece of kitchen equipment. It’s not the exact source of the phrase ‘the quick and the dead,’ but it could be.


Wedding kit: Kathy Perry‘s niece Christie is busy arranging her wedding dinner, a mega-event for 250 guests and has decided to serve the meal on miscellaneous china plates, so she’s roped in Aunt Kathy (but not Uncle Phil) and Aunt Sharon to find suitable plates. So far, Kathy’s found about 70, including some nice Royal Doulton ones, all inside the budget target of 75 cents to $1.25 each, a stunning bargain in my eyes. Phil, meanwhile is a volunteer helper at a local warming centres, a place for the destitute to sleep, out of our current snowy, freezing weather and was disappointed to miss out on a promotion. “I was out of town, otherwise they would have made me Leader of the Handing Out Blankets Squad,” he said, excitedly. He’s readying for a medal and ribbon. And maybe, a boiled sprout.


Tender-hearted, considerate Revel Barker chimes in with a topical note:  “Just booked a table for Valentine’s Day. Bound to end in tears though; she’s crap at snooker.”


Here’s a visual treat: artist Ed Fairburn inks portraits onto printed maps, incorporating contour lines and other geographic or geologic features into his work. See a gallery here:


or view these, over-painted on a geologic map of Colorado and one of Norwich, UK.





Hope you find your map to a happy week.



E-pistle 1018  Let them have cake                  Posted Feb 15 2014


Here I am, ink-stained and wretched, hair shirt scratching me, dirty brown habit in full view and tonsured head shining in the candlelight as the 18th epistle of the second series is carved into a sheet of grimy cardboard stolen from a roadside itinerant. We’ve just emerged from what Oregonians regard as Snowpocalypse, which must bring a war-weary smirk to the faces of those in the Northeast, Midwest, Deep South and that other bit as well where a 40ft snowdrift is just a passing shower.  We had a couple of nine-inch snowfalls, at sea level no less, and an ice storm that brought down everything from tree limbs to the vicar’s socks.


Jennie and Rachel delayed their roadtrip to California by two days because of iced-up valley roads and fallen trees,  loaded the car with enough emergency supplies, equipment, cat litter and clothing to equip a Norwegian Arctic expedition for three years, then called from 35 miles down the road to announce they were in bright sunshine, on dry roads and the fluffy white clouds looked ever so pretty against the blue skies.   It made me embarrassed that I’d insisted they load the boathook, too. 


So I’ve been a bachelor saint for some days: poker with the boys, moved the cushions off the couch, toilet seat left up (an act of defiance that makes me tremble with fear)  and I’ve loaded the dishwasher from the front (I do look over my shoulder, just in case she’s back).  I eat over the sink , wear the same clothes every day and have had several ecstatic visits to Jerry’s, our super DIY store. My testy osterone is no longer Toblerone and I’ve stopped shaving, too. Then my pal Freddy Wehner, all hairy-chested in icebound Georgia, land of the frozen peach, touched on a subject adjacent to my newly-manly aorta. Irreverently addressing me as St Pollock, he wrote: : 


“Have you been suffering from the same malady as I?  For the last quarter century I’ve been plagued by self-doubt about my typing skills. Never could touch-type, but along with my colleagues back on the ol’ Daily Maelstrom I was a whizz at six-finger typing. Even before that I actually passed a speed typing test for the US Army in Wiesbaden.

Then all of a sudden I’m useless. Ham over fist. Keep hitting the caps lock key with my pinkie or activating letters I had no intention of awakening. I must’ve typed miles of unwanted letters over the years and had to go back over acres of copy with corrections. And I probably could have powered half of Georgia with the force of my swearing.

Twenty-five bloody yearsworth of cussing. And all the time the answer lay not at my fingertips. It does now. And if you’ve had the same doubt about sausage fingers then worry no more, Paul. It’s the soddin keyboards.  They’ve been making what they call ‘rubber dome’ crapola – soft touch stuff for today’s poofs and pansies, not at all suited to the he-men of Fleet Street.


“From your rugger analogies I must assume you’re the latter   (He’s simpering – Ed.) So here’s the answer: get a mechanical keyboard. There’s something called the Das Keyboard, heavily promoted as German engineered (while actually made in China), but that has crummy plastic insides. The one to get, I’d venture, is the $79 Ultra Classic UW40P4A from Unicomp in Lexington, Kentucky. They bought IBM’s buckling steel spring technology for the Model M. or (859) 233-2130.”


If, like me, you’re a member of what Freddy calls the ‘dirty Mac’ brigade, look out the  $94 Spacesaver M UW4ZP4A.


Now I can go back to power bashing the keyboard and splintering furniture with every downstroke. Joy oh joy!  Thanx Freddy!




Nurse Vicious steps into the six weeks of Brussels brouhaha with: “Enough with the sprouts already.  My demented husband went on a sprout cooking spree after getting a recipe off line from Martha Stewart and I woke up to a house that stunk like skunk farts.  He was trying to figure out how to take a picture of them with his cell phone to send to you.  If we have to obsess about food, how about a nice story about cakes? ”   

The demented husband in question is Mike Ayers, who maintains an easy chair in the garage as a safe refuge from his wife.


 Mary Kline:  “Enjoyed your wartime reminiscences – my mum worked in London during the blitz. Her comment re. GIs:  “They wouldn’t take No (!), had lovely teeth, and very big bottoms.”


Pat Penn. shrink with a habit, also has post-WW2 memories:  “I well remember rationing – my mother stockpiled dozens of packets of tea and sugar after it was over and never got out of the habit!! I’m a little like that myself so if there’s an earthquake in these parts, (of San Jose)  I have enough supplies stockpiled I could last for months!


Sad farewell to Bald Eagle rugby bro Paul ‘Tom’ Butler‘s elegant wife Patty, who died on January 30th. A gentle, informed lady, she was an avid and literate gardener, a museum docent and was as gracious as Tom is, well, is a tight forward. They were married for 54 years and have a much-loved daughter, Pamela. My favourite memory of super lady Patty was in Vancouver on the last night of a rugby tour. She made a passing remark about my muddy, bloodied, beer-stained sweat shirt, which carried the legend: “God made beer so that prop forwards would not rule the world.”  I handed it over, not thinking that this lady in her elegant dress would even touch it. She wore it for the rest of the evening and told me only months ago that it remained a favourite for years. Sleep peacefully in your long rest, Patty. I’d have laundered the sweatshirt if I’d known you were serious.


As this epistle is published online, too, I’ll not publicise Tommy’s e-address. I’ll forward emails or give you his number if you care to send him a note.


Topical: Ken Potter says that Jokes about US’ Sochi Winter Games TV host Bob Costas‘ red eye infection are getting cornea and cornea, which means he definitely won’t be working for 20/20 any time soon.


Brit singer Robbie Williams had me choking on my binkie when he was asked about his feelings when present at the birth of his first child. “It was like watching my favourite pub burn down,” he lamented.


Jo Groves shares a vital tip: do not use shampoo in the shower. She applies her full logic: “Shampoo runs down your body as you shower. If you read the label on most shampoos, it says:”For extra body and volume.”  Obviously, the shampoo is to blame for us getting ,er, fuller-bodied.  Instead, says Jo,  use dishwashing fluid. “That label says ‘Dissolves fat that is hard to remove.’ “


Furniture Moves: Happy birthday last Tuesday to Natasha Buxton, who passes the 30 mark for the first time, but she did not get a certain gift. Back in 1985 when Tash was a year old, we went to see for the first time the house in San Jose that we quickly bought. My first impression was of walking into the living room and seeing Donna Huebner, the then-owner, lolling in an armchair,  part of a comfy set of three: chair, settee and loveseat. The furniture was a perfect match for the room, oak-trimmed and blue-cord fabric, so we called my friend Mr Macy at his store and bought the exact set for ourselves.


Came time 14 years on to move to Oregon and we opted to give the set away. Our daughter Claire took two pieces, and a friend had the two-seater. In time, when Tash became a student nurse with an apartment of her own, Claire passed on the settee to her. It had gone out of the family’s life, we thought. Then, several months ago, daughter Rachel was walking her dog Suki and saw the identical sofa on an Oregon street, awaiting a charity shop collection. She was intrigued enough to speak to the owner. No, it had not come from California, it was not a wandering Bannister piece.  But the tale had not ended. Last week, Tash was moving back home pro tem, was putting her things in storage against a new move and gave the settee back. It still looks respectable and it greeted Claire like an old friend, which after 29 years’ use, it actually is. Claire was tempted to gift wrap it for Tash,  but decided the old friend is too comfy.


Cork woman Mary Kline is comfortable in languages, and exercises some Latin and Greek for us, in a sort of biology lesson. First, she points out the Turdus Maximus, a thrush. ‘Turdus’ is Latin for ‘thrush,’ and the TM is simply the greatest of its ilk. The Wattled Crane, says Mary, gets its name from the Greek ‘bous’ for ‘ox’  and ‘geranous,’ for ‘crane.’ Together they make that crane into the Bugeranus.


In the next bush along, we find the Fartulum, a snail called ‘little stuffed thing’ in Latin because its cylindrical shell looks like a sausage, and ‘farcire‘ is the infinitive ‘to stuff,’ in Romanspeak. 


I’m not telling you what Mary found next, a fungus named for the mycologist Karl Wilhelm Gottlieb Leopold Fuckel. Ask Mrs Kline if you really want to know. 


Have a Karling good week. 


E-1019 Canute, Ike and Patton   Posted Feb 22 2014



Itinerant John Bradley is on parole from his sentence in British Columbia and is wandering loose in the UK, giving tutorials, seminars and lectures on selling cars and things like that. I know he’s been in South Wales, and the other day he was stamping his Mary Janes and complaining about being in Knutsford, Cheshire, where he was bewildered to see that every twenty-something had a Range Rover, Alfa, McLaren, Ferrari or Bentley.


The explanation is that Knutsford, well placed for commuters to Manchester, is the most expensive town for real estate in all of northern England. It’s accordingly Ground Zero for football WAGs, (Wives And Girlfriends)  fund managers, civil attorneys and entertainers, ie highly-paid and non-productive members of society. Not v. interesting, you say. 


But: here’s some history, with interesting names:  Knutsford (formerly Cnutsford) was named for King Canute, son of Sweyn Forkbeard, grandson of Harald Bluetooth and great grandson of Gorm the Old, the first king of Denmark.   Canute was already monarch of Denmark, Norway and Sweden and overlord of Pomerania when he invaded England in 1014 AD to battle Ethelred the Unready.  He captured the kingdom three years later, defeating the new monarch Edmund Ironsides,  and divided it into the great earldoms of Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria. Canute took Wessex for himself, and handed over the other earldoms to Thorkell the Tall, Erik of Norway and Eadric Streaona.


A pagan who practised polygamy, Canute had two wives: Aelgifu and Emma of Normandy. The first gave him two sons: Sweyn and Harold Harefoot. Second wife Emma was Ethelred’s widow and a potent political force. She produced Gunhilda and Hardicanute, who would become king of England after Harefoot’s death.   After them came the kings Edgar, Harold, who got one in the eye at Hastings, and the forgotten, uncrowned Crusader king-in-waiting Edgar the Atheling, who resisted William of Normandy for a month or two before the Conqueror took over. …


That’s enough for now, take a breath, there will not be a test, but you’re getting an idea of the kind of people who hobnob in Knutsford.


As a small boy, I knew Knutsford and its surrounding county, Cheshire, as a playground where my parents would go at weekends to picnic,  to gather spring primroses or watercress, to collect autumnal horse chestnuts – conkers – or to watch motorcycle trials up steep hillsides. My dad knew the region well, he’d been a champion cyclist there in the late 1920s and early ’30’s,  and he had close knowledge of the region and its beauties. 


Knutsford to me as a young cyclist was the gateway to the Cheshire lanes where we raced, rode quiet club runs through places with names like Badger Bank, Clump o’ Trees and Jodrell Bank, where a radio telescope searched space, and where once a halfwit editor thought we  could ‘view’ the American astronauts on the first moon landing. 


On race days, I’d ride out through those dew-wet lanes at 5am, the place silent except for the birds and the rabbit that ran into my front wheel and caused me to crash. I’d ride a 25 or 50 mile timetrial with 120 other young idiots, or maybe do a spell of marshalling or handing up drinks/food to other riders in 100-mile events or the longer 12 or 24 hour races. We crowded Mrs Bates’ cafe at Goostrey,  and overnighted before early-start events at the nearby scout hut, a place reeking of wintergreen, horse liniment and the smell of new tubular tyres, all overlaid with the snoring of 20 or more youths.  


Until the early ’60s, the lanes were almost car-free, as the few major roads bore what traffic there was. It all changed, as things do, though the memories last.   I liked Knutsford, that small town 17 miles from home, with an all-night caff where a weary cyclist could refuel for the last hour, including the climb over Bowden Hill. . My uncle Les Eaton was the head steward at the Royal George, an old and upscale coaching inn which still boasts a circular wig room, and once or twice I stopped there to see him and scrounge food.  


Friends from those days, Graham Lawrence, Roy Barnes, Charlie Clarke and Bill Iley are still pedalling, and they’ll remember days when our whole Westwood club would ride out to the River Dane at Swettenham, clambering through fences and fields to reach a good swimming place, a welcome venue on a hot summer’s day. Once, I wandered into the Norman church at Great Budworth and smelled an odd, sweet smell. The verger told me they had opened the tomb of a Crusader some days before, releasing centuries-old air that carried the odours of the old warrior’s mortal corruption. It was a memorable scent, one that stayed with me. I smelled it two more times in my life, once from a drain in Hong Kong, once in Honduras, where troops were burning bodies of the victims of a massive hurricane.  And that’s a storm Knutsford never saw, although the US General George Patton brought a thundercloud to the town.


In April 1944, he delivered a speech at the inauguration of Knutsford’s ‘Welcome Club’ for  GI’s  saying that, post-war,  America and Britain would rule the world together. It was a statement for which devious  Winston Churchill arranged great publicity. He wanted the Germans to focus their attention on Patton, who was heading the invasion’s Operation Fortitude misdirection scheme, as the Allies’ presumed chief general.  The Russians and rest of the Allies took their announced exclusion as a slap in the face,  Eisenhower was furious at Patton for yet another case of foot in mouth, and the general barely survived in command. Maybe Canute’s shade stepped in to help the modern warrior. Knutsford’s that kind of  place, history, statesmanship and links to everything..


Speaking of links to everything, Mark Gungor says that’s how women’s brains work. Here’s an insightful and amusing five-minute vid sent by Roger Tregear, who has put down his mental Nothing Box to share

The vid’s a laugh, but Roger’s also serious about liking —- sprouts!  His evangelistic efforts to convert me is to suggest sprouts with tangerines and garlic. That makes the seventh week in a row we’ve raised the horrible subject. I’ll be calling the Guinness Book people next. Rog attempted to send me a pic of his delicious repast, but even his email rejected the smelly cabbagekins. Latest sprout fan is photogger Bruce DeLis but I’m not going to mention it.


And continuing the links theme, Joe Mullins allows us an insight to his mental processes, which link to, well, something. By happenstance, he makes reference to post-Roman Britain (see Ethelred the Unready, above and Edward the Confessor, below ) and Yorkshire building materials (wattle and daub) while suggesting I change genres from historical fiction to bodice rippers. 


Here’s Joe: “Are you going after the right market? Heard a NPR teaser for romance novels, massively popular in E-form apparently. Maybe you should have Arthur&Martha, a married couple with all that entails. “Arthur, hey Arthur. I’m worried about our Ethelred. He won’t get out of bed. He’s always unready for school. Keeps missing the chariot.” “Mam…I have to confess, I burned the cakes.” “Oh bloody shut up Edward…always admitting things.” “I wet the bed too, mam.” “Do you hear him Arthur, he’s always bloody confessing.” “Shit, I can’t stand this row. I’m going to welcome that new woman who’s taken the tenancy of the council hut down the street, Gwinny something.” Cut to Arthur singing “wattle I do when you are far away and I am blue, wattle I do.” He tells Martha he’s going out. “I’m picking up Lancelot and we’ll meet with the lads round t’table, have a few beers. Don’t wait up. We might make a knight of it.”  



Pat Penn spotted a Daily Telegraph story:  ” Commenting on a complaint from a Mr. Arthur Purdey about a large gas bill, a spokesman for North West Gas said, ‘We agree it was rather high for the time of year. It’s possible Mr. Purdey has been charged for the gas used up during the explosion that destroyed his house.’  Seems fair.


Commiserations to Malcolm Nicholl, who’s hurried to the UK for the funeral of his mother. Mrs N passed away in Kidderminster a few weeks after her 89th birthday, devastating Mal who, with Sandy,  had planned two long visits to her this summer, and was scoping out a celebration for his mum’s 90th birthday next year.



Here’s this week’s effort, just launched on Amazon. The fourth book in a trilogy (!) about King Arthur, tells how my fictional hero decides the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, outside Rome, a conflict in  312 AD that enthroned Christianity and changed the world.  Iacomus Candless – aka Jim McCandlish –  appears right at the start of the book and may well (later on in the epic tome) have compromised a matronly empress, the feral Highland beast. 




Read the ‘Lord of the Narrow Sea’ series:


‘Arthur Britannicus,’  ‘Arthur Imperator,’ ‘Arthur Invictus,’ and now:  ‘The King’s Cavalry.’   Available on Amazon E-books, £2.99 / $4.50. 


Historical fiction of Britain’s first emperor, AD 286. 


‘A thrilling story which weaves together both history and legend.’ – Richard Foreman, top-selling author of the ‘Swords of Rome’ series.


‘A fantastic insight into Roman life.’ – Tom Kasey, best-selling author of ‘The Dante Conspiracy’. 



E-pistle 1020. St P to the Brainiacs   Posted March 1st 2014



Grouchy Kevin Cosgrove, as always policing matters to ensure that I don’t get to be too happy, says I must have gone loopy ( “You have officially gone mad. Totally, stark raving bonkers. It must be the nut in Knutsford that did it. You’ve ridden round too many bends.”)  He was doing his lit crit about my witterings last week about Knutsford and the likes of my long-ago pal Sweyn Forkbeard, so I’ll make an effort to up the tone in this e-pistle. 


Here’s a report on a study from Emory University that Firstborn Daughter Claire Bannister spotted. Briefly, it suggests that reading a novel can stimulate and improve your brain.  Neurobiology researchers at the Atlanta university detected neural changes in the brains of test subjects after they read a novel with a strong narrative. The changes, which showed as increased connectivity in the brain’s various bits, lingered for several days after the subjects read the book.


The research team used MR Imaging to scan the brains of 21 Emory students who were given the same gripping novel (‘Pompeii’  by Robert Harris) to read. They were given base-line scans in a resting state each morning for nine consecutive days. After the morning scan, they were given a section of the novel and told to read it that evening. The next ayem, they were quizzed to ensure they’d read the section and given another scan. Follow-up scans were taken for five more days after the participants finished the book.


The results showed increased connectivity in an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language  as well as in a region known for triggering sensations of activity. In this central sulcus of the brain, just thinking of running, for example, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running. I believe this is called grounded cognition. Ahem. I looked up that bit.


Good stories, it seems, can put you into the shoes of the protagonist, so that reading about, say, jumping can allow you to live it mentally and can stimulate your brain into activity similar to what it would do if you actually were jumping. The research team noted that data-heavy (i.e. ‘dry’) reading failed to stimulate the increased receptivity response. Only good, gripping fiction improved the brain. “Stories shape our lives and help define us,” said lead researcher Gregory Berns.  “We want to understand how stories get into your brain and what they do to it.” 


Well, I know what stories do to me, and probably the greatest pleasure of these tedious epistles is the reader response, and their stories. People share remembered emotions and events, giving me/us a valued glimpse into someone else’s mental depths. Last week, I maundered on about Knutsford (OK, Cos!) and it sparked this wonderful reminiscence of then ten-years old Jack Grimshaw, whose masterful imagery put me right alongside him, smiling shyly at a 13 years old girl at the next table… Maybe it was, be still, my beating eight years old heart,  Sandra Jackson.


‘Knutsford (formerly Cnutsford) was named for King Canute …’  “Cannot tell you some 55 years on what a friggin’ relief it is to finally blame the whole thing on royalty. Ten years old, I’m on my first pub outing with Whalley Range, Manchester pal John Gill, his parents and mine to an ancient hostelry in Knutsford.(Glomming the web now, it’s either the Rose and Crown or the Cross Keys. It had a garden with a fish pond.)  Three drinks in, my old man turns into (for him) a rarely seen creature – a pleasant human being. John’s dad is pre-channeling (comedian)  Bernard Manning to the appreciation of every other diner. There’s an older woman at the next table (blond nymph; 13?) who actually smiles at me. (And then at John. Frailty, thy name is woman!) I chug half a glass of wine (Liebfraumilch?) while nobody’s looking. Kapow!     Just like heroin … you’re always chasing that first high. Gotta say it’s been a long, strange, hugely pleasurable trip …” 


Jack: thanks for sharing the happy memory. Obrigado!



Congrats to the Worst Day riders, a group of friends who turned out for our annual Worst Day of the Year bike ride alongside the swollen Willamette River. The day started bright and sunny, but to our great relief turned wet and chilly just before we left the Steelhead pub in downtown Eugene. So wet and chilly was it (and so fooled were some of the riders by the sucker-punch sunshine earlier that they did not bring wet weather gear) we decided the planned turn around was A Bridge Too Far, turned early and squelched happily back to the pub for ingestions of adult beverages.


Present, if not always correct, were John & Marjorie Strader, Phil & Kathy Perry,  Jennie & the saint, OSU daughter Rachel Williams, Brazen Bob Westman, Susie Silvestri, Jim & Kathleen Floyd and Bentley the dog, whose presence in a small basket on Kathleen’s bike ensured that she won the Best of the Worst silver cup,(enhanced from its introduction by the Heatons, first winners of same)  becoming a Trophy Wife (in Phil Perry’s words). 





Dawna Kaufmann tells it:  “A blonde is watching the news with her husband when the newscaster announces that six Brazilian men died in a skydiving accident. The blonde starts sobbing uncontrollably. Confused, her husband says, “It is sad, but they were skydiving. There were risks involved.” After a few moments, the blonde, still crying, asks, “How many is a brazilian?”



John Mulrooney is languishing in Southport, Lancashire with not a lot to do at present, so turned to the delights of evening telly. Here’s his insights:  “Primetime TV in the Homeland tonight, 8pm on BBC 2, The Great British Sewing Bee. Nine contestants make a pleated skirt, fashion a garment out of two old shirts and make a pair of pj’s…”


Ken Hudson, aka Batshit, offers nuggets of info, including: 

The moon moves about two inches away from the earth each year. 

The earth gets 100 tons heavier every day due to falling space dust. 

  • Due to earth’s gravity, it is impossible for mountains to be higher than 15,000 meters.

Falling space dust? How come we’re not covered in the stuff? I thought it all burned up in the atmosphere. So I checked. A UK research group says: “Satellite observations suggest that 100-300 metric tons of cosmic dust enter the atmosphere each day. This figure comes from the rate of accumulation in polar ice cores and deep-sea sediments of rare elements linked to cosmic dust, such as iridium and osmium.   But other measurements – which include meteor radar observations, laser observations and measurements by high altitude aircraft — indicate that the input could be as low as 5 metric tons per day.”   Maybe this is the reason I’m getting heavier.


Anybody else chortle when you read about the old man in Connecticut who was sent to collect his five years old great grandson from school, but brought home the wrong child? His defence was that the boy he hawked out of a bus queue had the same hat and the same colour coat as the kid he’d been sent to get. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when he arrived home and great-grandma put him right.

“Herbie: this kid’s Chinese!”


Fred Wehner was born in the middle of the irish Sea, on a land bit called the Isle of Man, so he has a fund of Irish jokes, including this ancient classic. Sit comfortably, and enjoy:  “The letter from the Department for Work & Pensions accuses Paddy of paying his employees less than the statutory minimum wage and says that officials will be interviewing them.  An inspector turns up. “Tell me about your staff,” he asks.

“Well,” says Paddy, “dere’s de farm hand, Oi pay him £240 a week, and he has a free cottage.  Den dere’s de housekeeper. She gets £190 a week, along wit’ free board an’ lodgin’.  Dere’s also de half-wit. He works a sixteen hour day, does noinety percent of de work, earns about £25 a week along wit’ a bottle of whisky and, as a special treat, occasionally gets to sleep wit’ my wife.” “That’s disgraceful,” huffs the inspector. “I need to interview the half-wit.”

Says Paddy: “Dat’d be me.”


Have an inspector-free week.

Advisory to new readers: the E-pistles of St Paul have run weekly for four years now, with only one short hiatus when he threw a hissy fit. They are intended as a modest compensation for the loss of regular paper-and-envelope mail, are non-commercial, are delivered to your inbox by e-fairies  and have Good Bits sent in by friendly correspondents. They are archived at the saint’s website  which is undergoing hot flashes at the moment and is being temperamental. Opinions expressed here are not always those of the management, or even very interesting at times, but the gossip’s OK.





E-pistle 1021 St Dusty to the Cosmics  Posted March 8 2014




Last week, Saint Grim of Jackshaw re-lived his glorious first experience of booze, a glass of fruity Moselle or maybe a palate-caressing Gewurtz stolen as he basked in the smile of an older woman (aged 13 to his ten years) sitting at the next table in (sorry, Kevin Cos) Knutsford. It was a masterly essay, evocative, engaging, and all done in nice, neat, joined-up wriitng..


The epistle went as far and wide as it does, which is to a couple of hundred people across the planet, and arrowed home to the Boynton Beach, Florida stately pile of  La Famille Mullins.     Lord Joe roused himself on his gilded throne, his attention pierced, pinned and focused by Jack’s elegant description, He shook himself like a wet dog and hurried to his lightly-oiled Imperial Upright to tap out, two-fingered, a paen of praise to install  Mr Grimshaw in the company of Behan and Thomas.


(Concerning)Big Jack Grimshaw’s introduction to drink: The Daily Mail’s Belfast office in the 70’s had a big chart on the wall (taken from the pages of the BelTel, I think) outlining 10 or 12 early warnings of alcoholism. While filling in there during difficult years, I’d peruse it before having an early-morning livener at The Morning Star close-by. 


“Of course, all the obvious indications were here. Black-outs, lost weekends, skipping work because of the sauce. They didn’t apply to me. One that hit home was that you’re probably an alcoholic if you can remember your very first drink and its effect. Mine is still crystal clear. 


“Life was getting better in 40’s Britain. We’d given Churchill and his conservative cronies the boot. Working people were beginning to see a future. My cousin Tommy returned from the war and chose Myra as his bride. After the Mass we went back to the adjoining council houses in Johnson Street, Selby, Yorkshire, where two of my mam’s sisters lived. Drinking, singing, dancing, of course.


” I was seven. I wandered round the tables….half a bottle of stout here, the dregs of a glass of John Smith’s Magnet Pale Ale there. My favourite uncle gave me a sip of Vera Lynn (gin) as everybody sang, ‘We’ll Meet Again.’ I found an almost-empty bottle of Lambs Navy Rum and drained it. I wandered unsteadily onto Uncle Les‘s lawn and slowly crumpled, gazing up at the stars. 


“The heavens were spinning but I didn’t feel sick, just entranced. Yes, this is the life, I thought. The magic of alcohol has stayed with me although I’ve never been able to recapture that first rapture. Jack’s memories triggered my own. He got it right. So few writers have done that. For me, Brendan Behan (boozing in Ireland)  and Dylan Thomas (filling his boots in Wales) were the most authentic.  Bitter irony – they both died from the booze.


“We’ve read enough of the drama and destruction. Let’s hear about the joy, the fun, the marvelous journey that Jack mentioned. I’ll drink to that.”  Joe adds: ” All we are saying is give booze a chance…but I would point out that Lent starts tomorrow and I’ll be off the sauce.” 

(I’m in tears, here – Ed.)


The saint can’t actually recall his own first drink, but does have a memory less pleasant than that of the pint-sized, pint-draining Mullins. One Christmas in Lancashire, the six or seven years old Beatified One also wandered around the house, sipping from near-empty bottles until he found a Guinness that was about a quarter full. He swigged it greedily, getting the full flavour of the hops, as well as the added frisson as it was swallowed of a discarded cigarette end left floating in the bottle. It was not a pleasant experience, but certainly educational.



Phil Perry, stopped by police at 2.30 am, was asked where he was going. “I am on my way to a lecture on the deleterious effects of alcohol on the immune system, on the dangers of smoking and of the cumulative negatives of irregular sleep patterns,” he said. “And who is giving a lecture like that at this time of the morning?” asked the cop. “That would be my wife,” said Phil. 


My cousin Jo Groves rouses herself from a Welsh relaxation of bon bons and languor on her shot-silk chaise longue  to say that studies show that “women with big bottoms live longer than men who comment on them.”



In the continued spirit of erudition, the saint this week offers an explanation of why we are gaining weight. It’s not lack of exercise, or over-eating. It’s a subject we mentioned last week, that of Cosmic Dust.   White-coated scientists say that 100 tons of the stuff drifts out of the Up There Dark and lands on Earth every single day, so Saint Paul has applied his Scientific Mind to this problem of weight settling on our heads, and here’s the result:


As we live in the northern hemisphere, we get all of it. Anything that falls below the equator just tumbles off back into space, leaving us looking like a birdhouse with a great cap of space sweepings and spiderwebs, like a snowfall. Those Aussies get none of it, because they’re underneath us. This is why they all look fit and lean, and are not heavy..


Now let’s look at the numbers. The US etc has about 300 million people and there are about 600 million more in Europe. Add in a few for places like Turkey and Uzbekistan and we’ll say 900,000,100 people. We could round that down to an even 900 mill.  If 100 tons of cosmic dust fall on us each day, that’s a millionth of a ton for every nine people, an average of about 200 lbs each. (Impromptu calculation here) 


Now, because of holes in the air, most of the heavy-making dust falls on Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri   (I know, I’ve seen the people there)  and much of the dust that falls on the edges of the American continent simply rolls off. This is because more people live in the extreme west and east of the USA, making those parts heavier, so the continent is bowed down at the edges and the dust doesn’t stick, it just rolls into the oceans, which are a bit sludgy because of it.


BUT: despite the roll-off effect, some does stick on us edge-dwellers.


Now I have a Theory. People with no hair at all, or who have fine hair, don’t collect as much dust. It falls off.  People with big feet do get very dusty, as do people with big shoulders (this is why the 1980s big shoulders fashion clothing fell from favour, people were collapsing under the space-added weight).


I’ve worked out that people like me (in a medically-induced coma, er,  comb-over)  and you (very nice, fine-spun follicles) do get a daily layer of cosmic dust but not as much as people in Missouri, or the Midwest, where they wear cowboy hats and, because of the bowing effect of the continent, are somewhat closer to Space than are the edge-dwellers.   Let’s say we on the edges get 4oz a day. Just saying.  We do gain some weight, but not elephantine amounts like the Missouri dust-attracters, and it’s not significant enough for us to notice that suddenly we’re inexplicably heavier despite eating twigs and grass and running a lot , we’re just puzzled.


So here’s the solution: we all should wear pointy hats like dunce’s caps, brush off our shoulders and wear small shoes so the dust can’t settle on them. No Dust-Gain (scientific term- Ed.) that way. And we can eat ice cream and pizza and forget the running. Not so dusty, eh?


Ken Potter, philosopher, says: ““It’s only when you see a mosquito landing on your testicles that you realize that there is always a way to solve a problem without using violence.”  KP also sends the story of the parish priest gathering a group of small children together during Mass to ask them their Catechism –  a dangerous thing when done publicly. The congregation listened, bored, until he asked if any child knew what was the Resurrection. One small boy raised his hand. “I know that if you get one lasting more than four hours, you’re supposed to call the doctor,” he said tentatively. It took, says Ken, ten minutes before the service could continue. 

Clay Reid says he sought advice on a certain matter. “I  emailed to my Japanese doctor friend; he emailed back:”If light stay on more than four hour, call erectrician.” 

An update on the business (reported last week) of the Couch That Came Home After 30 Years: it seems a Canadian fellow has been using it. It’s in a dump in Manitoba, and he seems to have found a tasty garbage bag for his tv snacks, too.





Ineffectual grumpy venting here: Jennie and I needed to renew our Green Cards, a bureaucratic matter that would seem to be simple. Uh huh. Costs $900 plus a 240 mile round trip to have our photographs and fingerprints taken, an eight minute business that consumes a day. The boneheaded appointment fixers got our renewals in the same envelope, paid on the same cheque, so set us with appointments two hours apart. At least, the day was the same. The people at the appointment centre in Portland – very offhand – shrugged that they couldn’t fit me in earlier, though the place was half-empty. The fingerprint expert scanned Jennie’s dabs twice – it’s non-inked, just a thermal image on a monitor – nodded approvingly and eventually  we were on our way, a full day wasted. Today the FBI sent a note back: prints unacceptable. We have to turn up and waste another day getting them done all over again.  The appointment notice (8am, thanks very much for condemning me to a 4.30am  start to the day) threatens: “If you fail to appear as scheduled, your application will be considered abandoned and denied.”


We’re taxpayers with a lengthy and positive US history, but the way the Dept Homeland Security treats us, you’d imagine we were criminal terrorists out to destroy the system. Well, this bit needs revamping. The local police take fingerprints every day, why couldn’t we simply turn up there?  Yes, I’ve tried contacting the USCIS and no, they wouldn’t do anything.


My mood went beatific again when my new book made #1 on Amazon in the UK and #2 in the US and things got even better when West Point intel officer and gentleman Skip Folden reviewed ‘Britannicus’ and  called it ‘an outstanding example of thorough in-depth historical research interwoven into a story about a little-known real leader..’  He added that ‘one learns a great deal about the Roman army, its weapons, tactics and conditions.” I was so pleased I looked up this discerning gent and sent him a copy of ‘Tabloid Man,’ which should save him spending on sleeping pills, at least.


Swervs Edgecombe left London for the rural life in Devon about a year ago and reports from that flooded county on his own “personal angst. My new(ish) wench – the Swedish Squeeze – lives in the midst of the Somerset Levels flooding and for over two weeks I’ve been unable to get to her village or she come over to me. Its all very well David Cameron talking about compensating farmers for the loss of their livelihoods but what is he going to do about my loss of conjugal visits and carnal mischief…….? So much for moving to the countryside for a better quality of life!!!”  Revealingly, he signed off  “Yours in willies,‘   not ‘wellies,’ which shows where his mind’s at.


Gozo-fast Revel Barker sent on a vid of a Navy drone flying off (and landing on) an aircraft carrier and I sent it on. US Military Academy (West Point)  grad Bob Heaton says that the robots are being used against ground targets (read: Afghanistan) for remote kills and are best flown by non-pilots. Here’s Bob: “Drones can be flown by anyone who has tried Flight Simulator.  I was in an AF  test to see who was the better drone pilots – us non-pilots or those who have slipped the surly bonds, etc. We flew a small TV camera around a miniature landscape model, with a small computer display of the basic information – heading, altitude, attitude.  In the early 70s the computer graphics really was abysmal.  The outcome was deleted and the test result never published.  It seems that us non-pilots were better at flying a screen that those with “the right stuff”… 


Linda Knight works as a carer and tells a tale which might be her own…  “Hospital regulations require a wheel chair for patients being discharged. However, while working as a student nurse, I found one elderly gentleman already dressed and sitting on the bed with a suitcase at his feet, who insisted he didn’t need my help to leave the hospital.

After a chat about rules being rules, he reluctantly let me wheel him to the elevator. On the way down I asked him if his wife was meeting him.  ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘She’s still upstairs in the bathroom changing out of her hospital gown.’”


Cerebral Tone unexpectedly continued:   The saint does not regard himself as a shrinking violent, er, violet, but has become aware during the past year of some new and unexpected sensitivities in his psyche. It started when someone I later found to be a bile-filled, ignorant  troll attacked my first work of fiction and ticked me off so seriously I considered a variety of vengeful actions.  Finally, I shrugged it off, but more critics surfaced.


As the reviews came in, I noticed that I took the many good reviews for granted but the few negative ones went painfully to heart. Applying logic didn’t seem to help. It didn’t matter that the review was poorly written, contained factual errors or was personal instead of being aimed at the work itself. It still hurt, even when logically I knew the critic was wrong or merely spiteful. When I answered one critic, he responded that if I’d approached him privately, he would have been kinder to me: a sort of ‘Beg me for a better review and I’ll change it.‘  As if.  I had the satisfaction of publicly refuting his bitter words with GB Shaw‘s advice: ‘I refuse to wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.” 


As usually happens, my wife came to my rescue. Jennie found a UC San Diego study by psychiatrist Dr Martin Paulus (no relation) who teaches Navy SEALS mental fitness and coping skills. He tells why we react so poorly to criticism. Our primitive-caveman ‘survival brain’ interprets negative words as threats, and sets about analysing them to find ways to keep us safe.  Two regions of the brain, says Dr Paulus, have been isolated as threat-managing. The medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala work hard to process criticism, labouring so hard that the brain almost cannot work on anything else. “It becomes all-consuming,” said the researcher. “It literally affects you to your core.”


Actors, writers and others whose work is reviewed agree: they can quote nearly verbatim their negative reviews, but the positive ones wash away from memory. Researchers say it’s best to find ways of seeing positives, as that helps us to stay happier and healthier. So when you get that scathing comment on your work, appearance or ability at anything, try not to take it to heart. It really isn’t the threat your Neanderthal instincts interpret it as.   Just walk away, and manage the stress by not wrestling  with a pig. 


However, to confess my sins, after a year of mutely receiving abuse for my admittedly flawed first attempt at fiction, usually from people whose reviews were misspelled, ungrammatical and (to my mind, at least) inaccurate, I was this week needled to see that one reader had seized on an unwise joke in ‘Britannicus’ and had castigated it as a careless and very clumsy error. His one-star review attracted nearly 20 people, and the thing topped the list of reviews as ‘Most Helpful.’ I suspected I’d been flamed – targeted by a claque – and  decided to fight back.


I enlisted a dozen or so friends to check the ‘like’ box on a genuine review, a favourable one, of course, so it would leapfrog the negative one readers would first encounter. My reasoning was that potential readers could still see all reviews but they would not be headed off first by one malicious or uninformed person’s opinion.


Well, I’m delighted and humbled to say that those friends I asked were online in minutes, and the effect was all I hoped. The flamer’s review tumbled down the rankings and a genuine one went to the top where it could be seen.  My heartfelt thanks, it’s good to have friends like you.  It isn’t a saintly thing I asked, but sometimes it’s hard to be meek as well as blessed. I’m now godly, grace-filled (not – Ed.)  and greatly grateful. 


People News and storm warnings: Hurricane Vicious – as ER nurse Karen Ayers is known, is en route from California to the East Coast. Florida (visiting her Dad).  North Carolina (stepson and family); Virginia (sister) and Pennsylvania (mom, bro, sis-in-law and niece) are all in the storm’s path, too.  Typhoon  Marjorie  is readying for her trip to Dublin. She’s given up Scotch and has started drinking Irish whiskey. “I like to be prepared,” she said. Husband John Strader is practising on Guinness and has already bought his walking shoes as he intends to amble about the country, though he’s not taking his golf clubs, which is a sin. Storm warning three is issued for South Africa.  Readying for a tour of humanitarian duty in Capetown is Francesca ‘Frankie’ Silvestri, who doesn’t let her mid-20s self flinch from skinning five old guys at poker most weeks. She’ll be en route Amsterdam and Capetown in a week or so, pockets bulging with our money.  


Tough news of our favourite wee keelie,  Neil Marr, just home again in southern France after seven weeks’ hospitalisation and surgery for throat cancer.  Indomitable as ever, he says: “Apparently, there’s no remission to be aimed for in my case, just the hope that treatment could slow the rapid growth of the tumours. I guess that’s how doctors diplomatically warn you not to get too interested in the new season of Downton Abbey.”   If anyone’s going to beat this, it’s Neil, who’s had years of cardiac and other probs. Good thoughts, old lad.  


Congrats to Susie Silvestri, who this week acted as a carpenter’s apprentice, measuring, drilling and painting when we put up a wall of shelves (14 ft x 8ft)  in her new secret-project leisure room. She found herself in a hardware store lusting after moulding trims, sniffing wood glue and handling chisels to judge their heft and balance. A woodworking addict is born…Wandering loose in the British isles: Linda and Fred Wehner, who stopped by the British Museum but they wouldn’t take him back. They went on to the Isle of Man to revisit Fred’s  childhood haunts, and they wouldn’t accept him, either. At Rancho Floyd, Kathleen is doing grand jury duty: a months’ worth of eight-hour stints, which has put a crimp in the efficiency of the county blood bank where she runs things and has husband Jim scratching around for his dinners.


Jam and Jerusalem WI president Liz Smith sends the IT joke about the woman who texted her husband: ‘Windows frozen.’  He responded:“Pour boiling water on it.” She texted back:’Computer completely buggered now.”     And a reaction to a reaction: Jack Grimshaw responds to Joe Mullins‘ response to his,  oh the heck with it... Jack on Joe:Joe’s mention of Brendan Behan brings to mind the man’s classic: “I saw a sign that said Drink Canada Dry and I’ve just started.” For me, no better philosophy to encapsulate a lifetime of chasing the next buzz than that of former Miami Herald swigger Dave Barry: “Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.” Words to live by, no matter how you slice ’em.” 


Cognomen cogito-man : Jack has a clever (he must have stolen it) motto for a drinking man: ‘Kegito, ergo sum.’


People News to Make Us Jealous: Sandy and Malcolm Nicholl have itchy feet and it isn’t what you think. They moved from their SoCal rural estate into downtown San Diego, two blocks from Mal’s favourite British pub, which he says is just far enough to get his fingers trodden on when he’s making his way home. Anyway, they’re taking the downsized, almost car-free urban life a stage further and are readying to embark on a half year wandering around Europe. They’ll start in the UK, where they went just weeks ago to put Mal’s mum Lilian (89) to her final rest, deal with some business there, then take off for France, Prague and for a ten-week stay in Florence, where they have taken a centrally-located apartment. “We don’t know what we’ll do next,” said our Wandering Boy from Kidderminster, “maybe a cross-America trip, maybe we’ll want to settle down with our things around us again. We just thought we’d do this while we can.”  Mal, 65, might be right about time moving on for him. Last year, he went to the UK and reported: ” Either my mom is looking great for her age or I’m looking shite. One day a barman asked me what “my wife” wanted to drink. In fairness, mom was sitting at a table a fair bit from the bar…. “


Talking to Malcolm brought up some old memories, including one of his Florida bachelor pad with its shag-lined (!) sunken Conversation Pit. Once, Dubliner Michael Brophy visited him there. The late, great Stuart Greig reported that Broph kept shambling mud into the Pit and Mal had complained about his ‘great big dirty feet.‘  Stu said:”Mal was on it like a Wild West sheriff after the bad guy, racing in and whipping out his twin, pearl-handled Hoovers.”


Antipodean Dave Anson shouts up from the southern regions  to proffer a trove of newspaper corrections, starting with one from the Sun: “In an article on Saturday headlined ‘Flying saucers over British Scientology HQ’, we stated “two flat silver discs” were seen “above the Church of Scientology HQ”. Following a letter from lawyers for the Church, we apologise to any alien lifeforms for linking them to Scientologists.” 

This from the Evening Standard: “By unfortunate error we referred to Rachel Garley, the late Sebastian Horsley’s girlfriend, who arranged the exhibitions, as a prostitute. We accept that Ms Garley is not and has never been a prostitute. We offer our sincere apologies..”   and this from the mag Marie Claire: “In our July issue we wrongly described Tina Cutler as a journalist. In fact she is a practitioner of vibrational energy medicine.”  And, though the usual journo excuse is ‘Shurely shome mishtake,’ maybe the New York Times had this right after all: “The article also misspelled the name of the production company of Simon Cowell, on whose “X Factor” talent competition show One Direction was created. The company is Syco, not Psycho.” 

 E-1023   Daffodils and doovies: the caravan moves on. Posted 3/22/14 



St P spent a day last weekend working as a coffee Bannista at a daffodil festival. It was a charity event held at a grange hall – a term unfamiliar to Brits but which means a sort of rural clubhouse for farmers and the like. Our local Long Tom River Grange holds an annual springtime event which attracts people from across the whole social spectrum, and it’s a sight to see. There are miles of daffodil-lined roads leading to the grange for a festival of food and craft booths, old cars, lots of flowers and a couple of dining rooms staffed by Boy Scouts and the like who serve dinner plate-sized baked goods.  This year’s several thousand attendees were the usual suspects. Be-leathered bikers who roared in on Hardly Dangerouses wandered about simpering with bunches of yellow flowers in their hairy paws; tweedy schoolmarms got elbow-deep in the innards of a row of antique cars, a lady civil court judge peddled giant, sticky cinnamon rolls to Latino farmworkers, a few old flowerpots who thought they were at a chapel choir function looked bewildered  and red-faced farmers with hands like shovels arranged the daffies’ petals. And there were lots of old people. Your correspondent spent the day tending to large coffee tanks, humping full ones to the outdoor vendors and the dining rooms, and refilling the empties. I had a brace of industrial-sized coffee machines to tend, and was given stern and specific instructions (two). One involved exactly how much fresh grind should go into each filter box, the other was not to start the process before the green light came on. I only managed one of those two operations successfully, but was almost adequate at carrying out the garbage.


The day was fraught because our supplier of the giant cinnamon rolls that are a major attraction was delayed and the atmosphere inside our kitchen resembled that of the hospital at Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu War. (American cousins, read: The Alamo). We, the besieged within, would start white-faced and fearful when someone stumbled through the door with the latest news of the restive natives in the dining rooms. “There are 300 in line for the takeout buns,” someone whispered. “They’re refusing the hot chocolate now,” whimpered someone else. The stamp and shuffle of mutinous feet sounded outside and I waited nervously for the first assegai to crash through the window. I was clutching a fairy cake to throw at the invaders. Then a cell phone trilled and a fellow kitchen wretch answered. “The rolls are on their way, they’re on Territorial Highway,” she reported in the same tone that those trapped in Lucknow must have used about the arrival of the Highland Brigade under Colin Campbell. (Historical Note: he was called the Crawling Camel for his methodical deliberation). I was musing on a vision of a legion of 6,000 sticky buns tramping north in rhythmic, swaying lines to the skirl of bagpipes when I realised that someone was prodding at me.  


“Get out there and tell them,” the Kitchen Kaiserin hissed. I was the only male in the whole crew, an obvious sacrifice and no great loss after that failure with the green light on the coffee machine. I was pushed from steamy safety into a dining room filled with blue or white-haired old people with walkers, sticks, colostomy bags (the exterior, sport models) oxygen tanks and ferocious, wrinkled expressions. A low growl greeted my appearance. “Ladies and gentlemen,” I whispered, then someone jabbed me in the ribs with the sharp end of a crutch.  “Ladies and gentlemen, “I announced, “the rolls will be here soon.” It sounded like the chauffeur’s scene from Downton Abbey. 


I tried again. “The cinnamon rolls,” I said, and the place went deathly still and attentive,  “will be here in seven and a half minutes.”  Every head bent over as people peered dimly at their wristwatches. One man, I noted, had an egg timer.  The heads came up like a breaking wave and the place erupted into a low roar as everyone tried to do the arithmetic, falling into happy arguments over just when the cinnamon fix would arrive. It kept them extremely busy for the next 40 minutes until the sticky pastries finally showed up in a U-Haul van.  By then, I was away over the veldt. 



Bob Heaton has had a tough time recently, as a series of skin cancers had to be excised (probably by bayonet, he’s a US Military Academy grad) and I asked if he was irish, a race subject to brutal treatment by the sun they so rarely see – Cork woman Mary Kline and her daughter Aine are both battling their own skin demons.  Bob’s response was unmedical but interesting:   “I’m Scottish – my family, the Eatons, left for the New World  after Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned and later shortened by her sister (a bit much for sibling rivalry, I would have to say).  We changed our name to Heaton, so those of QE1 regime would not be able to find us using a simple Google search. Seemed to work, since they never found the “new” Heaton family of Pennsylvania.

“Yes, this cutting and cutting, (three cancerous sites chopped off and sewn up)  interrupted by an occasional freezing session,(ten more blasted off with liquid nitrogen) is really getting old, as I am.  Oh well.  I still am trying to catch up on sleep from those five days after the surgery when I could not sleep on my back because of the large bandage and a bit of pain.”  Bob moans about the injustice of it all.  “I moved to Oregon to avoid the sun and keep my skin cancer down.”  

Bob’s new embroidery kept him from riding to the daffodil festival (above) but did not deter the likes of the unembroidered  Straders, the Russo clan, including their enormously tall teenager Michael consumer of about 8000 calories a day,  bike hero Brazen Bob Westman, who recently rode an epic 147 mile day that finished over a huge local wall of a climb, Paul and Candy Neville, the latter on her historic 1978 bicycle, which I think was the first ever to have metal wheels and pneumatic tyres, and several Bannisters. The highlight of a brilliant springlike day was not the 20+ miles of daffodil-lined roads that nodded to us as we passed, but the umbrella of several thousand Canada geese that flew over, honking triumphantly at entering the US without green cards.



Mention was made last week of Malcolm and Sandy Nicholl‘s plan to spend a half year in Europe. Mal said he only really needs an internet connection, so he’s ready to continue working, albeit slowly, during their adventure. I was envious, but not so admiring as I am of Mary Martina‘s decision, unwaveringly carried out. A slight, single Newfoundland lady of a certain age,  she had happy memories of her military service in Europe and decided to up sticks from Georgia and to go and live in Italy. alone, except for her small dog. Last week was her first anniversary of that courageous decision. Here’s her report: “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I live very simply, shopping daily, going to Mass, taking Italian lessons from the most wonderful young woman, Donatella.  I love this place so much, words can not express it!  I have a few British, a couple of Irish and two American friends.  I just got a new teeny tiny chihuahua named Mamie.  Sono innamorato!  (I am in love).”   If you’re in the region of Vasto, on the Adriatic Sea, which Mary’s terrace overlooks, go and see her. I’ll buy the wine. 


We have a father/son literati double in the e-pistle this week.  First, a note from Simon Winchester, author of a couple of dozen best sellers of the non-fiction variety (including the recent: ‘The Men Who Built America’).  SW made soothing noises to me about book reviewers and shared a painful review of his own: “Some years ago a fellow of wanton ignorance and low breeding wrote of one of my books ‘Me, I hated this book so much I wanted to drop-kick it across the back yard’ and further, ‘if Doris Kearns Goodwin is the Miles Davis of modern history, then surely Simon Winchester is the Kenny Gee.’ It stung, of course. But so many friends were so shocked by what was a spiteful and wholly ad hominem review that six, all unknown to each other, wrote to ask me the same question about why the reviewer was so mean-spirited: did you, each asked me, ever sleep with his wife?   To which I replied no, but be sure that no matter how ugly she might be, I surely will now!


“But seriously: (SinologistJoseph Needham, a great hero of mine, once wrote of critics an Arab saying: ‘The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on.’ “


Keelie Jim Leggett surfaces from under his tartan blankie to mutter: “Aye…but as once I heard  Boston Symphony Orchestra  conductor Erich Leinsdorf reply following a chorus of BOOS  from inebriates in the audience; “Thank you….thank you!…anything but indifference…!”  His  audience erupted in thunderous applause.”


Back to Simon Winchester, who tweets under @simonwwriter,  and who has intelligently spent the past couple of months researching in Hawail, far from the snow storms that still blanket his home in the northeast. He advises us of his son Rupert’s tasty blogs, to be found under themightypenh. Winchester Junior lives in Pnnom Penh and I dare not steal from his literate offerings, but with his father’s permish offer this – which SW says ‘”ought to amuse…his picture of their mad new puppy enjoying horse d’oeuvres (sic – my bad pun, not his).” 




The dog, says Winchester Pere, has “become enormous. Here is a picture of him considering whether to eat an entire, real, horse.  Honestly.”    Rupert makes no such claim, but admits that the pup has ‘oppositional defiant disorder.’


Dawna Kaufmann makes topical reference to the Malaysian air tragedy  noting that one of the pilots was shown in 2011 photos with two young blonde females in the cockpit, and draws on her own experience.  “On my 21st birthday I flew LAX to JFK with two friends. They snuck a huge cake and champagne onto the plane and I went into the cockpit where I sat on the pilot’s lap and wore his cap as we shared cake and champagne. These days, of course, that couldn’t happen.   I don’t share my cakes.”


Roger Tregear sends a theory about flight 370’s disappearance: a major electrical fire that caused the captain to turn back  for the nearest landing strip before smoke overwhelmed the crew and the plane flew on automatically into the ocean wastes.


Last week’s postbag contained a note from the Scribe of Selby, Joe Mullins, on the pleasures of alcohol, and it earned him a rap on the knuckles. “I ran into heavy flak from a good friend re Dylan Thomas and DT’s (drinking allusion),” he says. “She said Thomas was haunted by his drinking and it was criminal to portray it as enjoyment. Perhaps later that was true. But I remember one of his stories from when he was a young reporter in South Wales and went out on the piss for the first time. “I liked the taste of beer, its live, white lather, its brass-bright depths, the sudden world through the wet-brown walls of the glass, the tilted rush to the lips and the slow swallowing down to the lapping belly, the salt on the tongue, the foam on the corners. Same again miss.”  I for one see Joe’s (and Thomas’ point) and raise a modest half pint to it.


A reviewer who gave three of my Britannicus e-books high ratings is a West Point graduate who wrote a research paper on King Arthur, which made his positive assessment of my historical and military research especially gratifying. I was delighted, too, to learn that his Amazon  ‘Vine’ rating means that Skip Folden is regarded as one of their most trusted reviewers. My head is now too big for my halo. Heartfelt thanks to him and again to those who took time to check the ‘like’ box on his review. It really does make a difference in promoting the series, and I am grateful. If Hollywood comes knocking with a few mill., we’re all on the Queen Mary for a cruise. All, that is except the latest critic who called me a village idiot. She’s in the upper deck, open air suite on the attendant submarine.


Frederick the Great:  this backstory’s a touching one from Fred Wehner, a Brit now resident in darkest Georgia. Fred’s father was a German national interned for the duration of WW2 on the Isle of Man, which is centrally located in the irish Sea. Also interned was Fred’s sainted mother, who gave birth to baby Fred and marked his Manx arrival with a distinctive middle name. Our hero recently returned to the island of his birth…. now read his account of matters:   


“Well, St Paul, a sorry end to my Isle of Man odyssey…Wishing to bestow upon me some special status, Poppa Wehner named me Frederick Orry, the latter being my handle in early childhood and discarded the moment I realised its highly embarrassing oddness.  Now in my dotage, seeking identity on the IoM,  poncing about among my own people, I kept telling folks I was named after the isle’s Viking ruler, King Orry. It’s the national name. Folks just cadenced that mild two-tone mmm sound. I told them I’m a Manxman. Born there. They shrugged. 


“The curator of the Manx Museum said there never was a King Orry. (The last ship of that name was sunk by my dad’s lot as it escaped with soldiers off the beaches at Dunkirk). No, he said, Orry was a folklore name given to some Norse/Irish bugger called Godred Crovan, 11th century King of Mann. So, St. Paul, my newly-proud middle name is just a nickname that nowadays nobody knows.”


The demoralising news hasn’t stolen Fred-Godred’s ability to report the news, though:  “Terrible accident but my neighbour’s a really stoic hero. When the bus hit him the poor guy lost his voice and both legs. And yet he doesn’t make a song and dance about it.”  For some reason, that reminds the saint of the man with two wooden legs whose house was destroyed by fire. The poor fellow was burned to the ground.


Freddy redeems himself with this, though:  “I was standing at the bar in downtown Monroe, here, and this little Chinese guy comes in, stands right next to me and starts drinking a beer. I asked him: “Do you know any of those martial arts things, like Kung-Fu, Karate or Ju-Jitsu ?” “No. Why you ask me vat?” he says. “It because I Chinese?” “No,” I said. “It’s because you’re drinking my beer, you little shit.”


UK-fast John Mulrooney shamelessly offers a belated and ancient St Pat’s Day joke about three Irishmen sitting in the pub watching the back door of the village brothel. They see the local Methodist minister sidle up, knock and enter. “Would you credit that?” says Michael. “The auld hypocrite!” As he speaks, Rabbi Goldstein arrives, and slips inside, as well. “And dat rabbi, another one with the sacred hat and the bad morals,” says Patrick. They’re still clucking with indignation when Father O’Malley cycles up and furtively ducks into the brothel, too. “Ah, sad it is, to see that,” says Kevin. “The good father going in there. One of the girls must have died.” 


Words of wisdom from Linda Knight“A meal without wine is called breakfast.”

The King of Gozo, Revel Barker sends a news item, of sorts: “ As the coffin was being lowered into the ground at a  traffic warden ‘s funeral, a voice from inside screamed: “I’m not dead, I’m not dead. Let me out!”  The vicar smiled, leaned forward, sucking air through his teeth and muttered: “Too f**king late pal, I’ve already done the paperwork.”


E-1024 St P  on holding your fluids     posted 3/29/14



Yes, I know King George V said the most valuable thing he’d learned as monarch was to ‘urinate whenever possible.’  Well, his subjects in the British motor industry took this to heart, and have installed those traits into cars built in Perfidious Albion. Life can be cruel, and I’ve had my share dished out by the auto-da-leak Torquemadas of that world.  I’ve had a few Britmobiles: a Mini and a Maxi, a couple of Triumphs, (and a lot of failures) a humble Devon and a primitive Anglia, a sleek Capri  and a busy Minor and once, a glorious Alvis. There were probably more, but you get the picture. Now I have an aged Range Rover that has an engaging habit of self-healing its ills. Except, like all British cars, it doesn’t fix oil leaks. The only time it and its mechanical compatriots don’t  leak is when they run out of fluids.


Now our German cars: Audi, VW, Mercedes and Porsche never dripped a drop (though the 911 had an oil capacity roughly that of the Torrey Canyon). Nor does Jennie’s beautifully-behaved Acura slobber or pee on the garage floor. Thinking about it, our several Renaults had dry diapers, as did our solitary Fiat (Fix It Again,Tony) and didn’t we have some sawdust-dry American cars: a Camaro, a Mercury and a Dodge?  Moral: all nations’ autos except those from the land of the Rosbifs seem able to hold their fluids. 


Over the years since my first horseless carriage, I’ve become accustomed to having a car which marks its presence like a territorial tomcat. It hasn’t been too bad with the Rangie, after all the engine was an expensive transplant a couple of years ago, but there’s always a discreet wet spot or two on the garage floor on my side. I don’t have to sleep there, but privately I express myself in industrial language about it. 


So I was unsurprised when I backed out the other day and a big puddle of carbon-blacked oil was glistening up at me. My local garage guys (who all vacation in Fiji or St Mortiz on my account) responded and 30 or so hours later I drove away with a car equipped with new main seal, new steering hoses and sundry other plumbing fixes. But now I ‘ave ze troubles. Every time I move the car, I’m utterly compelled to park and run back to look for evidence of a leak. And so far, nada, all surfaces spotless. It’s unnerving, unnatural and damn well time-consuming. Happily, it is a British car and one day my leaks will return. Then at last, I will be re-admitted to the legion of spot-beset Englishmen, but at the moment it’s a dry and unsettling  time. 


Newfie news:  Laura Martina, sister of Frances Gibbons and Mary Martina, plans to join the latter on the Adriatic coast of Italy, where she has established a Newfoundlanders’ beach head. Laura presently pursues art and writing, homesteading and travel with her daughter Gallagher and lives “in the tidal village of Bear River, Nova Scotia.”  The saint checked it out. Bear River is an artists’ colony billed as the Village on Stilts and offers not one but two tourist attractions. One is Magoo Cafe, the other a museum which seems to consist of a corner shelf with tin helmets on it. A tempting blurb for the facility says there is ‘a lot to read if you are interested in the military.’  The township is home to the first solar aquatics waste water management facility in North America, (huh?) and has a March high temperature of 36 deg F. There is no town government and the volunteers who run the village want to keep out fast food outlets, box stores and shopping malls. Going to Italy promises to be an interesting change for Laura. Or not. 


Kevin Cosgrove offers: “More fuel for your critic jihad. Oscar Wilde said: “Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.”  Check. 


Had communication with J Grimshaw, spinster of the parish, who was defensive about his former role as a rugby winger and generously offered to qualify me for the soprano section of the choir for a demeaning description of rugby backfield players. (Is this possible? Ed).  Thus challenged, I shall reveal a couple of things about Jack.  He once scored a single point in a rugby quiz when he gave the same answer to all 20 questions. His solo successful reply was to: “What is the name of  the movement of the ball from one player to the next?” Our hero responded: “Pass.”   The other thing I can reveal is that for his 500th game for the club, the manager told him he could lead out the team onto the pitch and tossed him the match ball to carry. Jackmarvelled: “I never knew these things weighed so little.”


One Derek Smith of Brighton gives us a meaningful insight into an old-style back’s rugby life:  “The change is remarkable. I have a video of a match in which the team I support played where the backs were running, then passed to a prop who was tackled and laid it off – honestly – to another back who, after a short run passed it to the hooker who scored the try. Not only that, but the backs are expected to tackle the forwards. Never heard of in my day, not that they’d be running with the ball of course. Or running. 

“At 6’3” I was considered tall. As I was no good at binding I was first of all put as a flanker but then they found out I had speed, although not much by way of acceleration. So I was pushed into the backs. I had to learn how to catch the ball. No one had ever passed it to me before. Not that they did when I was a back come to that. Whilst I prefered the new position, I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold. If I had a run each half it was a good match. 

“It is an entirely different sport nowadays and when I’m asked what position I played I sometimes reply that they don’t have it now.”

From the depths of the Mediterranean Sea comes Revel Barker‘s tale of the man who visited a house of prostitution and developed green lumps on his Gentleman’s Sausage. He took himself to the doctor, who nodded sagely. “This is serious,” he said. “Do you know how rugby players get cauliflower ears?”  The patient gulped and nodded. “Well,” said the medic, “you’ve got brothel sprouts.”

I should never have run that joke, as it’s revived the GBS(Great Brussels Sprouts) exchange.  Malcolm Nicholl has the podium: “I never did join the great Brussels sprouts debate. My earliest memories are of the disgusting stuff served up with school dinners and also later on my mom’s delicious simple, no-frills variety. I didn’t feel passionate enough to contribute.  However, I just had the best Brussels sprouts of my whole life as an appetizer at a little French restaurant in Ocean Beach, California called BO-beau. It’s just north of downtown San Diego. Had never been there before. So if anyone is ever in the neighborhood check it out. Charming atmosphere, too, in spite of the cute name.


“They were crisped up with pancetta. But the crowning glory (which probably influences my thinking) was the balsamic port reduction. 1 cup of balsamic vinegar and 1 cup of port per 1 cup of Brussels sprouts. I’m no chef but it sounds about right to me.”

More restaurant stuff:  at age six or so, First Daughter Claire Bannister devoured a book of jokes, puns and riddles and inflicted them on us at every opportunity. Something came up the other day and reminded me of one of her favourites:  ‘Waiter, waiter, this Pekin Duck is rubbery!’   Chinese Waiter: ‘Thank you, sir.’

Thirty-seven point five megabytes of DNA information is contained in a single sperm, says omniscient Fred Wehner, who spent all weekend counting.. That means that the typical offload of, er, 7ccs contains about 1,587 gigabytes, all transferred in three seconds. “And you thought 4G was fast, ” says our Orry.  He also sent a pic of an ‘Autographed Copy’ of the Bible with the note: ‘Jeez!’  It looked in good shape for its age.




Jim McCandlish, aka wicked Bishop Candless of my King Arthur e-books (plug) has been in the e-mail wheelchair parking spaces recently, as he’s had hand surgery and has to type, er, one-fisted. Let’s give him a big, er, hand.    News comes that Dino Gallo, our pleasant consiglieri of NEnq days, passed away, aged 91, several months ago.     Deep sympathy to Pat Gregor, whose tigress tenacity gave her handicapped daughter Kelly as normal a life as poss, seeing the girl through college and all the usual stages until her sudden demise this month at age 27.  Pat once famously left Kelly at the roadside in her wheelchair for throwing a schoolday tantrum. “I’m not showing her special treatment just because she has a wheelchair,” she declared. But Pat, for decades, also roused herself several times a night to go and turn Kelly in her bed and only her heroic efforts saved the girl’s life during several crises. Full praise to a devoted Scots mum and may she find comfort soon. 


Inside line on what it is to drive a Boeing 777:  Greg Finch is a senior United captain (wife Debbie‘s in the biz, too) and has been on the Paris run quite a bit recently. A pal asked him about what crew is needed to man one of those monsters, and the answer’s illuminating:  one captain, two first officers and eight flight attendants. To keep the pilots fresh on the 11-hour flight from the west coast to Europe, each gets a 3 hours 20 minutes break in a private, lay-flat first class seat. Says Greg: “So, feel pretty good after covering 5,100 miles.” 


A Stockholm couple called in a Rodent Operative (ratcatcher to us) when they had a problem and he trapped a monster rattus fully 14 inches long. On behalf of Daughter Number Two, aka Ratty (short for Ratbag, as we affectionately called her)  I did a little research and discovered that a U Leicester researcher shrugs that it isn;t such a biggie. “Given enough time, rats could probably grow to be the size of a sheep,” says Dr Jan Zalasiewicz. He says that in the future, there will be all kinds of rats, from aquatic to ferocious, but probably none as big as one extinct rodent that lived in South America. It was larger than a bull and weighed more than 2000 lbs. 


Graham and Zeeta Timmins recentlydrove 4,000 miles coast to coast with their pug, Mugsy and says GT, Mugsy took this selfie, which Graham seems to have photobombed. You decide which is the better-looking… Mugsy’s on the right, looking ashamed.



 E-pistle 1024 Washing away sins    posted Apr 5 2014



Forget Athens, forget Rio. If you’re near the small town of Much Wenlock in mid-July, do drop in on the Olympics. They’re on from July 12- 21st and will be as hotly contested as ever, though I don’t think that quoits, the blindfold wheelbarrow race and the pig race will be up for Olympic medals (or a silver inkstand) this year, as they were in 1850.



Much Wenlock is in Shropshire, a lovely part of central/western England and was the home of Dr William Penny Brookes, a firm believer in physical activity for health both moral and intellectual and a man with knowledge of the ancient Greeks and their Olympics. He was, too, a magistrate and dedicated God-botherer who believed that running, jumping and the like would keep people out of the pubs, so in 1841 he formed the Much Wenlock Society for the Promulgation of Physical Culture. 


Things developed, and in 1850, at the first Wenlock Olympics, competitors marched in parade through the town to the racecourse where Brookes’ Olympian Games included events like cricket and football, running and jumping. There was even an old women’s race with a pound of tea for first prize.  News spread and in 1851 the expanded games saw  ‘Badger of Wolverhampton’ come second in the half-mile foot race; ‘Mainwaring of Birmingham’  was victorious at ‘leaping in distance’ and Poyner of Albrighton came home winner of  three events. No news if anyone  survived the medieval tilting tournament. 


Winners got laurel wreaths and medals inscribed with the image of Nike, goddess of victory, and by 1859  competitors came from as far away as London to compete for a silver medal sent by the King of Greece. The next year, the organisation split from the Agricultural Reading Society and became the Wenlock Olympian Society, a name by which it is still known. 


Brookes in 1890 liaised with Baron de Pierre Coubertin, who went on to found the IOC in 1894 and staged the first international revival of the Olympics two years later, but the Wenlock games, the first modern Olympics,  have continued to this day. Some of the old ladies are still hoping for a revival of their race, as they’d like a cuppa. 





The WOS withstood an attempt by Britain’s ruling athletics body , the AAA, to restrict British sport to ‘amateurs and gentlemen,’ i.e. Oxbridge and public school athletes, and forced the AAA to open its doors ‘to every grade of man.’  My own grandfather, winner of a foot race that paid him five guineas, was deemed a ‘professional’ athlete as he’d raced for money and under the old AAA rules was ineligible for such events as national championships or the Olympics.  Shamateurism continued almost to my own bike racing days, and I was among the last of the ‘sponsored amateurs’  receiving cash for wins as a first-category racer riding for Witcomb Cycles in London.   Until about 1950, athletes could only accept equipment as prizes, or forfeit their amateur status. A decade later I did once, as a 17 year old, win five guineas – just like granddad – as prize in a 100-mile time trial, but the usual awards were bike parts for road races and cutlery or tea pots at track events.  But no tea.




Moving on… Chats with friends reveal that we all share the same surprising and unwelcome experience of finding that you’re not as fit, as strong, as smart as once you were. I’ll be 70 in a few months, and that’s not really an age I’d ever contemplated having to deal with. Mentally, I think I’m still, oh, about 28. I wasn’t that sharp then, either.  But, if I look truth in the eye and acknowledge matters, I’m getting older. I wince every time I put on my socks, something that’s been happening for a decade or so, but which previously I put down to aches from the previous day’s efforts, say, cutting down a tree, or hauling something heavy, or (in my mind) heroics in some sports contest, like ,er, needlework. It used to be that every wince was a sign you’d played your proper role as a front row forward, hadn’t opted out early, done the donkey work. Now, I know why it’s called work, asn I’m the donkey. 


Oh yes, I can still look active, but I’m now reluctant to climb a long ladder and,say,  hack at the top of a tree, hoping that the bloody thing I’ve just dismembered won’t smack me in the face, like that vicious hazelnut did the last time. You might call it learning…


I’ve learned that it’s easier to hook the Landrover up to the trailer full of garden rubbish  before I drag the thing up the small slope onto the level rather than gruntingly doing it with manpower. Use the mechanical horsepower first, do the drag, then hop out and hook it up properly on the level.  Learning Curve 1, Bannister 0.  Equally, I’ve found that spending two or three hours lying on a concrete floor messing with the underside of a car makes me a) cold and b) stiff, with sometimes a sleep penalty, too. So there’s a pleasure lost.


But there are compensations that come with age. I do better at Jeopardy now, with more memories in the library; I can be a cranky old man  and use my age as a defence. I can boast inaccurately  (aka lie – Ed.) about my past without fear of contradiction. Yes, I did run a six-second 100 metres and yes, I was runner-up in the Mr Universe contest, before it got wide publicity, which is why you can’t find my name in the records.  But given all that, it’s still a bit of a shock to think you may be mortal, dying even, in 30 or 40 more years  (110? Nah, Ed.) 


So, with all this cheap philosophy to ponder, what epiphany told you you’re no longer 25? What has advancing age and galloping decrepitude stolen? What do you most miss? Answers on a postcard, please to Rusting Gently, Oregon and we’ll start a theme.



Wrongful Washing Away: I’ve always considered religion a dangerous thing and as a onetime altar boy (retired, fed up) knew that baptisms were the most contentious of all religious ceremonies. Cold water on a squalling baby is not the best way to calm it. There’s always the danger (reported, but not personally witnessed) that a nervous dad might drop the baba in the font or (witnessed) that the baptisee would produce a terrible smell and the priest would whisper quickly for more incense. It’s not good to have tbe subject of a religious ceremony being the one who doesn’t want it. 


So it was hardly a surprise when pastor Maurigro Cervantes, luminary of the Jesus Christ Light of the Sky church in Santa Maria, California got a baptism wrong last week. The rev and his cousin Benito, who was acting as his acolyte, waded out into the Pacific with a 25 years old baptismal candidate who wanted to have his sins washed away. The pity was that Benito was also washed away when the three of them were swamped by a couple of large waves.  All went under, the pastor and his new church member surfaced, but  Benito has vanished. He was still missing 48 hours later and is presumed deceased. 


“He was the only one unable to self-rescue,” said the county fire chief. “The surf at that spot can be very dangerous, and there are warnings posted.”


Entrant #2 in Things Go Wrong  category is the Irish bomber blown up by his own device. Police say he planted a bomb in a Volvo in Long Lane, Dublin this week, but it went off too soon and blew up in his face. The man had forgotten about clocks going forward for summertime, and had not re-set his wristwatch to synchronise with the bomb’s timer.  (Daylight Savings Time in Ireland began on Sunday Mar 31st)   Dubliners  commenting on the episode included a fellow who said:”I suppose they picked him because there was no chance of this gobshite blowing his own brains out,”  and another who wrote:  “Spring Forward, Fall Back.  Which is probably what he did when it went off.”






Graham Timmins sent me a pics of animals squashed into improbable resting places (sample above) and yes, we’ve all seen things like that. Our large cat loves to squash into undersized jigsaw box lids (and sometimes delivers an errant piece onto my desk, carried there courtesy of his furry bottom.  Just saying.



Big Guns:   the saint circulated this pic of the German sprint cycling team . Joe Mullins thought they were ‘lovely lasses,’ while Graham Lawrence, who’s seen at least Robert Vorstermann (centre) in action on the Manchester velodrome, says “Those legs look bigger in the flesh,” and adds that Vorstermann  can hardly walk.


A&E News:  John Mulrooney, my long-ago colleague at the Eccles Journal, later at the Cambridge Evening News and Santa Cruz boardwalk bar, is returning from the UK next week after several months there with his mum and twin sisters. Mrs Mulrooney passed away last month, John’s returning to California.  Lucky escape #1:  Stuart Timmins, a Lancashire Road Club member, knocked off his bike by a passing car which didn’t stop. When the cops caught him, the 80+ years old driver said he thought he’d run over a brick or something, no he didn’t look in his mirror to check, and the cops nodded, OK, fine. He has to do a driving course as punishment, that’s all. Stuart, bike ruined, ribs etc battered, is indignant. Lucky Escape #2:  for Susie Silvestri, who totalled her car in a T-bone accident with some uninsured, unlicensed illiterate who can’t read a ‘Stop’ sign. Susie suffered huge bruising and a broken arm which needed three procedures to set. Her wire terrier Mister Biscuits (who’s had two hip replacements recently) was battered by the airbags but survived intact. Daughter Frankie Silvestri’s dog Cooper, also in the car, was unperturbed, as was Frankie. That’s because she didn’t know. She was just at that time arriving in Capetown to begin several months as an intern in a refugee-assistance project and was not yet informed. Papa Will Silvestri has had to be treated for shock, for exposure to housework Susie’s unfit to do. He reacted well, though, calling in the cavalry from California. Lonnie from Napa, a well-known hitman, was due to arrive on Friday to act as nurse, cook and chauffeur. 




E-1025   Early Easter-pistle   Officially posted (SW!) April 12 2014  



Easter’s almost upon us, the pagan festival of the fertility/moon/rebirth goddess Eostre that was nicked by the Christians to become their reddest Red Letter Day of the year, one filled with renewal and resurrection and all that.  When I was a small saint and Easter Sunday arrived, it really was a resurrection of sorts. For weeks,  our gloomy, gothic St Joseph’s church in sooty Salford had been ultra-sombre, with all its statues shrouded and headless in Lenten purple. Worse, we small boys had been deprived of our lemon sherberts and other sweets because it was Lent (‘but why can’t I give up sprouts, Mum?’) and Father Yarnitsky had worn the same dull purple stole and chasuble every morning at six o’clock Mass.


The tension heightened as Der Tag drew near, with Pathe News showing black and white newsreels of HM the King handing out silver Maundy Money to old people in heavy overcoats, (“Threepence? That’s all he gives them?”)  Then came the terrible laid-on guilt of Good Friday, with all that  business at 3pm Holy Hour when the clocks seemed to stop and drag us into the dead zone of Easter Saturday.  And then it was Easter Day itself. Cohorts of church ladies from the Catholic Women’s League, the Union of Catholic Mothers, the League of Mary  and the Association of Sex Kittens for Older Altar Boys, (he made that one up – Ed) a few beery-breathed husbands roped in from the Total Abstinence Union, and a presentation  bunch of florists had transformed the church into a candle-lit lily-fest. Fathers Yarn, Sloane and McMullen were strutting their stuff in dazzling white and gold drag and we urchins were kitted out in our new windcheaters, sensible shoes and short pants, (winter and summer issue for the use of).   We’d even had haircuts and a wash, and I checked the bottoms of my black plimsoles before putting on my altar boy kit of cassock and cotta. I never could trust my brothers not to embarrass me and they’d several times sent messages on the soles of my shoes, for the congregation to view  when I knelt. I enjoyed the joke, but the clergy took a dim view of it.


So, the pews at  morning Mass were full for the other time in the church year, with lots of coughing and shuffling from reluctant husbands dragged along to witness the small First Communicants, all in white, walk self-consciously down the aisle under the smiling gaze of a horde of mothball-scented grannies. The priests did a lot of high-pitched: ‘Despise not my petitions O Lord,” and over-used words like ‘sin,’ ‘sorrowful,’ ‘thy,’ ‘thou’ and ‘thine’ as they attacked the ‘pitiless demons of prodigal vice,’ and stared at the squirming menfolk. Then there was a breakfast in the school:  porridge, milk and tea, bread and marge and mystery sausage, but no sugar or eggs in 1951. The husbands were noticeably absent as they’d all galloped off to pubs, their Easter duty done, next stop Christmas. The wives didn’t mind, they were now able to exchange gynaecological stories unmonitored and the big tea urns were in a constant, appropriate state of  resurrection and renewal.


Finally, we were on our way home to lunch (dinner, in Lancashire’s vocab) and a go at the Cadbury’s chocolate Easter eggs. I can’t remember any egg hunts, although rosy-cheeked posh boys in The Eagle and in books like ‘Roger Goes to Public School’ had jolly hunts for coloured hard-boiled eggs hidden by Mummy and Nanny on the smooth green lawns before they all went in for afternoon tea and crumpets. We didn’t have acres of lawns. Instead, we had full-on Professional Collectors’ Edition Dog Shit on our streets, which made seeking chocolate eggs a chancy and selective business, but the foil-wrapped Cadbury’s from my relatives was unmistakably genuine. It was even worth the price I paid when I lost my first tooth on a chunk of it. That was on an Easter Sunday afternoon, and I remember well how the upper incisor shockingly went sideways as I bit down. I suppose it was the day the Tooth Fairy met the Easter Bunny.**  


** E-Bunny factoids: he’s a hare, not a bunny, can run 48 mph, was known in mythology as clever, destructive, evil and always very sexy. And, a lagomorph like a rabbit, EB has the ability to close his nostrils. Maybe that’s because he sometimes chooses to eat his own droppings to extract maximum nutrients from them, and no, that Mad March boxing thing: it’s not two males disputing dominance, it’s a doe fighting off an unwanted suitor. (Notes by pedantic  Ed. )


Mrs Michael Ayers, aka Karen, Nurse Vicious, read last week’s report of a God-botherer choosing to be baptized at a dangerous part of the Pacific shore only to find himself washed away along with his sins. She suggested “I vote that we baptize all the inmates currently wasting my tax dollars at that same spot in the ocean.  If that is successful, let’s move onto applying the same process to all the welfare recipients who reproduce indiscriminately while on the dole.” 


Last week, too,  the saint regretted losing certain abilities and wondered aloud at being 28 years old only on the inside. . Without comment, here’s the first response: “St. Paul: As I read your most recent missive, you seem to have asked for things we’ve lost and miss. Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most. Tommy Butler.”   Uber-correspondent Jack Grimshaw, who at the NEnq a while ago was big Jack the Lad, Corvette wrecker, female assistants’ heartbreaker and Alpha Bachelor,  adds to the conversation: “When exactly did I become invisible at the supermarket?  There used to be at least one check-you-out line at every store – she, pert and smiley at the register; you the center of her attention. Now, I’m a character out of H. G. friggin’ Wells.  Heard but not seen. Sorta looked at, but not really noticed. There, but only vaguely.  Man, the increasing indignities of aging …”   Then Invisible Jack sent a second email:  “Did I mention getting confused, inattentive and bleary-minded, also? Like sending a “working” version of an eml along with the finished product?”


Always good for a Golden Oldie, Revel Barker this week offers: “Paddy took two stuffed dogs to the Antiques Roadshow. ‘Ooh,’ said the presenter. ‘This is a very rare set produced by the celebrated Johns Brothers taxidermists who operated in London at the turn of last century. Do you have any idea what they would fetch if they were in good condition?’   ‘Sticks,’ said Paddy.”


Congrats to my cuz Eveline Ollier, a music teacher, two of whose pupils are taking some highly advanced exams. Right now the family suspects she’s walking around saying ‘Ho, varlet!’ and the like  as she’s been immersed in Renaissance music for months.   Eagle-visioned Ken Potter picked up on the latest bit of PC-ness. Seems two UK newspapers (Sun and Mirror) seized on a footballer sent off for a foul on Man United hero Wayne Rooney. The German who saw red, a red card that is, carries the name Bastian Schweinsteiger and the two tabloids used ‘You Dirty Schwein!’ and ‘You Schwein!’ as headlines on their match reports.  Their club, Bayern Munich called the choice words  ‘discriminatory and insulting’  and refused to accredit the papers’ reporters for the return match.  The saint thinks it’s a good thing the headline writers didn’t go to work on ‘Bastian.’


That irritating LinkedIn app that keeps telling you about jobs in Ethiopia, how your friends have endorsed you for skills like bean bag racing or to tell of promotions for people you’ve never heard of, caused long-ago SheffTel colleague Betsy (Whitaker) Everett (who lives in Askrigg, Yorkshire,  site of  fictional Darrowby in ‘All Creatures’) to send an email apologising for a ‘befriend me’ request. I sent Betsy a note saying forget it, and she gave me a LOL moment with this:  “Thanks, Paul. It should easy to ignore but I was lured in by a cheese-maker in Hawes. Vanity, vanity – I thought she loved me.”  I’ll remember that: “I was lured in by a cheese-maker in Hawes…”  It’s the perfect excuse, so, er, cultured.  



My rugby mate Phillip Cecil Perry and his wife Kathy proudly announce that their nephew Dan Quinley has written a WW2 romance story: that of his parents.  Phil’s Uncle Cec , also known as USAF B17 bomber pilot Flt Lt Cecil Quinley   was shot down in 1943 on his 14th mission. Injured, he escaped his burning bomber ‘Feather Merchant,’ and free-fell 20,000 feet before opening his tattered parachute. Crippled from his flak injury and the hard landing, he was captured and sent to the ‘Great Escape’ camp of Stalag Luft III in Poland. Fifty Allied airmen who tunneled out of it were later murdered by the Gestapo, but Cecil  was liberated by US armoured forces  69 years ago this month. He came home to wife Margaret, who spent the war as a Red Cross nurse, and this year the couple celebrate their 75 years’ marriage. Cecil will be 99 in July,

See the e-book ‘Forever’ on Amazon.                 





Ecclesiasticals Again: Anyone else chortle to hear that Germany’s Bishop of Bling, Franz-Peter Tebartz van Elst, has handed in his mitre? F-P TvE spent $42 million having improvements made to his modest little pied-a-terre in Limburg with cash that came from the church collection boxes. This  prince of the church had his spendthrift ways halted by Pope Francis, who has turned his back on the Vatican’s sumptuous papal palace and lives in a small apartment. Il Papa uses a Ford Focus and has mothballed the Papal limousines.


Now the word’s spreading, and anxious clerics are divesting:  Archbish Wilton Gregory of Atlanta is rushing to quit his $2.2 million mansion. 

“I’ll sell it,” he said, after learning that the poor live differently. 


Others who may be moving into the Pope’s fiscal gunsights include Archbishop Jon Myers of Newark, NJ, who used parish funds to equip his retirement home with an elevator, gym, library and hot tub; fellow New Jerseyite Bishop Dennis Sullivan, who presides over one of the state’s poorest cities but opts to live in a five-bed, six-bath stone mansion in the leafy suburbs rather than in the diocese’s central rectory, and Charleston, W Va. Bishop Michael Bransfield, who splurged three times more on construction than the church gave to charity last year. His spending of $7.5 million on his new office, plus millions more on marble altars, stained glass, cherrywood panelling, a chauffeur and a personal chef caused parishioners to call for an investigation. They point out that the diocese annually spends $20 million more than it takes in, the balance coming from endowment income. A number of priests who spoke out against the un-Christlike lifestyle of their bishop have been transferred or have left the diocese.


Congrats to my neph, Ian Bannister who with his dynamo wife Mavis are converting a centuries-old stone house on an island in Crete that has been settled for 6000 years. They’ve got many mod cons in , but have hit a roadblock. Ian’s just changed his job after 22 years and won’t be getting much in the way of vacation time to go and continue the work. Instead of lolling in the Mediterranean sunshine and sipping retsina, he’ll be trudging through Lancashire fog and gloom, and that’s just the summer. 


International Heathen Jeffrey Joffe sends along a link to a fine wedding surprise from  ta-dah! A priest!  Sit back and listen to this for five minutes:     It made the BBC’s number one spot as most viewed, btw.


Parish Notice 2:   A generous offer here for all ex-pats of the UK/colonial variety: Fred Wehner, ex-Mail, ex-New York, former Hitler Youth Obersturmbahnfuhrer and well known lederhosen perv now resident in Georgia, says he has video delights for you, if you have an old-tech VCR that will play PAL videos.  “I wonder,” he says “if anyone cares to cop a boxful of PAL gems of British comedy – four dozen or so of them.”  Fred says it would be a shame to drop them off at the town dump, so if you’d like any or all of:   “11 Tommy Coopers, five Morecambe and Wises, a miscellany of Dave Allen, Dick Emery and the like, they are yours for help with the postage.”



Apologies to those who’ve attempted to access the archive of e-pistles on the website. The Glitch Fairy has been extremely busy entangling it for five months now, and changes should be coming soon. Then you should be able to read all kinds of interesting material about the Carausius series of books, with insights about e-pistle readers who appear in them under pseudonyms. Murray Scott may continue as a fake eunuch,  the painful deaths of a couple of despised ex-colleagues may be highlighted and the truth about Kelvin Jones‘ short tunic may, well, no hemming and hawing here. 


For those interested in military matters, my publishers in London have a quarterly e-zine, called ‘Fighting Times.’ The new issue will be available for 99p, or about $1.60 until Monday 14th, when it will revert to its usual price of  whatever. I have a piece in the new issue on the forgotten emperor of Britain, our old friend Carausius which you can read here for free as a friend of the writer. See attachment ‘Caros’





Please note that Amazon have somehow blundered and listed me ahead of the distinguished historian AJP Taylor. Swelling head here, doctor. Pity they misspelled ‘Carausius.’  The photograph of that emperor of 1,700 years ago is one I took myself.  OK, OK, from a coin that my daughter Claire gave to me.


Here’s the Amazon link for anyone who wants to know more.







E-asterpistle 1025  Riding asses           Posted 4/19/14 



Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, when Christ is reported to have ridden his ass into Jerusalem, and three of us, an un-Holy Trinity,  celebrated the glorious sunshine by riding our asses into Junction City, Oregon. Unlike Christ, we stopped at a Bi-Mart there so Jennie and Rachel could use the facilities, but there was a certain kinship in the day.


We gloried in the Oregon scenery, a sacrament of wildlife and views of the snowy Three Sisters 100 miles away. We passed several thousand – literally, we estimated them at 3,000 – Canada geese grazing and occasionally lifting off in noisy, honking clouds. We viewed a bald eagle that in turn was watching a lake, and spotted his mate drowsing in the next tree, half-hidden in foliage. We fed fig bars to goats, rode past flocks of sheep, dozens of horses, a dog called Sparky and 33.7  miles of fruit orchards, pastures and blossom-loaded copses of trees, passing all of them on near-empty roads. I lost a dollar to Rachel, as I’d promised her that much for every car we saw on a certain five-mile stretch. We were 150 yards from the end of it when a car turned in towards us.  I never paid up, as I charged her $1 for guiding duties, but she beat me in the sprint to a horse paddock, so we both had a win, of sorts.


We three rode back in weather good enough to give Rachel an odd-shaped sunburn, rolling along steadily at 17/18 mph with a pleasant northerly tailwind, and I reflected that nearly 60 Easters ago, I rode out to Rostherne Mere, Cheshire on my brand-new, royal blue Stallard in my new Louison Bobet cycling shoes (no cleats on them yet, I had to mark the soles so I could align the things). I met several other young boys who admired my bike and I told them proudly that I was going to get shoe plates to go with my pedals’ toeclips and straps and I was going to join a cycling club. That was one prophecy I got right, eh, Graham Lawrence?   (TG Lawrence was our racing club hero and is still competing at some age even older than mine).


That day in 1957 was chilly and overcast, but I was warmed with cycling ambition. Last Palm Sunday was just as bright, and we  rode very close to a hamlet called Cheshire. This time, although my ambition was less, the warmth came not from the sunshine but in the simple act of cycling and in sharing the day with my wife and one of my two splendid daughters. Ironically, and to close the circle, Rachel didn’t ride in cleated shoes.  She has a dickey knee and won’t yet fasten herself in. Jennie and I marked the day by handing over to her a Great Britain national cycling team jersey that once belonged to Jason Queally, who was both an Olympic and a World champion. He’s from Lancashire, and that was where Rachel was born, too. 




Sly Freddie Wehner offers medical advice: “A new study shows that women with large bottoms live longer than men who mention it.”  My neighbour’s son Iao is off to Oregon State U (where Rachel works) in the fall, studying things agricultural as it’s a top uni in that discipline. He’s asking for an exemption from the usual rule that freshmen must live on campus for the first year. He asks to live off-campus because he wants to take his cat with him. I hope he didn’t use the cat’s name and tell the university authorities he wanted to bring his Binkie. (memo to non-USA readers – ‘binkie’ is American for a child’s pacifier, or dummy, as we called it).  John Garton sends from his southern mansion a brief vid of his corkscrew, with an explanation of its workings.. click here for amusement:   


 Crunch Time: Graham and Zeeta Timmins visited the Fess Parker winery (remember TV’s Davy Crockett?) in SoCal and brought the saint a bottle of FP wine, complete with mini coonskin cap (which the dog ate the next day). Last weekend, GT informed me, was Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, and  Fess’ winery suggested a $28 bottle of their best 2011 Syrah with that snack food. The French contemptuously call a GCS with ham,  a ‘Croque Monsieur’ meaning something like  ”Mister Crunchy.’ 


That Scots photogger Jimmy Leggett is braver or dafter than you’d think. He just forwarded some snaps of actor John Goodman on his 1989 wedding day  including one where Jim’s standing between the bride and groom. The caption: ‘First man to come between Goodman and his bride Anna Beth.”  I suppose wearing a kilt makes you look a bit like a bridesmaid, but Jim makes an ugly one. And, when Kilty Jim rides his motorbike, it gets a bit windy around the Trossachs.


Best Advice of the Week: “Stop posting your woes on FaceBook and just go to the pub like the rest of us.” 


House shopping? Ken Potter sent pics of Bob Hope‘s house in Palm Springs, on offer for $50 million. The place is big enough to host 300 people for dinner, was designed to look like a volcano, has a giant golf visor to shade the acres of patio, boasts six bedrooms, 10 bathrooms and three half-bathrooms in its 24,000 square feet. There’s the usual  indoor and outdoor pools, a pond, putting greens and a tennis court. I once went to interview Hope at his Burbank mansion, which was grand enough, all walled garden and lawns, but surrounded by a sort of industrial area. No, the interview was useless. He was a truly dull and boring man who occasionally broke into a polished, rehearsed comic bit. Later I found he was a mean-spirited person, too, turning his back on a girl the couple adopted and refusing even to meet her daughter, his granddaughter. I saw her when she was living in a garage, on welfare, in Walnut Creek, ailing and bitter.


There have been various theories about the disappearance of flight MH 370, including supernatural intervention, a midair black hole and a hijack to Pakistan for the Taliban. This now comes from Clay Reid, whose commercial pilot friend says : “An observation: a retired 3-star USAF general said (on Fox News) on 18th of March that Boeing received its last ‘ping’ from the Malaysian 777, while on the ground in western Pakistan, in Taliban-controlled area, near the Afghanistan border.  While flying today between Paris and New Delhi (LFPG-VIDP), we were going to fly right over that area. When talking with Kabul Control, we were told to “OFFSET COURSE 10 NAUTICAL MILES TO THE NORTH, TO AVOID MILITARY AREA”.  Having flown this part of the world for the last 3.5 yrs, i have NEVER been asked to offset that much in that area, EVEN WHILE THE WAR WAS GOING ON.”  


The pal reasons that the disappearance is the result of a deliberate criminal act, and points out that Lt-General Tom McInerneyhas stated unequivocally that the missing B-777 is ‘on the ground in western Pakistan in a Taliban-controlled area’. He said that he had information from Boeing that the last “ping” from the aircraft had been when the aircraft was on the ground in Pakistan.”


Best letter to The Times this week: “Sir: Wednesday’s paper did not have a picture of the Duchess of Cambridge. I do hope she is all right.” Gerald Vinestock, Lancaster.


Late, sad news: my long-ago colleague from junior journalist days in Lancashire, Neil Marr has slipped away after a brief and unwinnable battle with cancer. Son Sandy  thanked the medical team at the Centre Hospitalier Princesse Grace in southern France for their supportive care, and added that “even in his later days, when (Neil) was unable to travel beyond his beloved terrace, he formed so many strong friendships through social media.” Scotsman Neil worked at the Nat Enq’s London bureau and founded a publishing company in  France with his beloved Skovia Grassi, who survives him. Condolences from us all. 



E-pistle 1026   4/26/14  Small towns and contact books.  


Have any of the saint’s faithful correspondents experience of living in a small community? By that, I mean a small town or village that’s reasonably remote from a good-sized city, not a hippie commune (though news of THAT might be interesting, too).  The thought came to me at the weekend when we biked through two very small (and attractive) rural towns near here. Harrisburg, population 3,600, was a finalist in a recent All-American Towns roundup. It has the attributes: river frontage on the impressive Willamette River, parks, pioneer downtown plus a wildly popular parade and a couple of civic festivals. There’s even an occupied osprey nest on the bridge as you enter town, an avian welcome to Harrisbird.  Its local neighbour, Brownsville (those pioneers knew how to name their towns!) has a population of only about 1,700 but its impressive downtown caught the eyes of film makers when they shot ‘Stand By Me’ and movie buffs occasionally drop by to look at locations, which disturbs the cats who sleep in the middle of the streets.


Both towns have some attractive Victorian houses of the picket-fence-and-front-porch style, both places have withstood the blight of fast-food outlets and both are set in beautiful rural surroundings. They’re each 15  – 20 miles distant from bigger cities and largely depend on farming for their economies. Grass seed farms, claimed to be the world’s best, make up much of the agriculture, so it’s hardly a noisy environment as even the sheep are fitted with silencers.


But each time we’ve been there, the places were utterly empty of activity. Harrisburg has a handful of stores and farm equipment suppliers, plus one cafe; Brownsville is better served with several cafes, but only one of them bothers to open on Sundays. (And we missed the Easter Egg Hunt, which they held on Saturday).


Now, I’m not planning to move to one of these places, but I wonder what it would be like to have constant calm, peace and quiet.  We’ve never experienced that, always having lived in or on the outskirts of large cities (think London, Manchester, West Palm Beach, San Jose).  Our present city is small enough that we can be downtown, car parked and in our seats at the performing arts centre within ten minutes of leaving home. But it’s also large enough at about 250k population to have big-city facilities. What’s it like to live without them?  I’m interested to hear how you feel about small-town living, especially if you’ve transited from one extreme to another.    Drop me a note, please, with anecdotes or opinions. Bless you! 



Another thing I was curious about, since our daughter Claire mentioned her experiments with them, was drones, those mini-helo’s that provide such wonderful pics (remember the views of Niagara from above?) Here’s an informative video, six minutes long, plugging a particular model, but it seems a typical example, and it’s a good, clear explanation.   The gadgets can cost as little as $100, but you can spend lots more. The featured one linked below is about $1500, or what I spent on my first computer printer (a ‘daisywheel’ which produced ‘letter quality’ docs a bit slower than I can type).


High-flying Kevin Cosgrove read last week’s Bob Hope story, and confirms my low opinion of the English-born tightwad billionaire.  Here’s KC: “I went to interview him for the BBC at the Burbank joint – a place he also rented out for corporate parties cos he obviously needed the money. After a similarly boring conversation to yours we were saying our goodbyes at the door. There was a coffee table piled high with copies of his latest book reminiscing about his golf experiences “Confessions of a Hooker”. Great title, awful man.  He handed me a book, pointed out a few photos with famous friends, then took it back with these parting words “Goes on sale next week. You should buy one”. Turned around and went off presumably to count his money.”


Roger Tregear risks the Wrath of Blondes with this tale: “A blonde  hurried into the emergency room late one night with the tip of  her index finger shot off. ‘How did this happen?’ the emergency  room doctor asked her. ‘Well, I was trying to commit  suicide,’ the blonde replied.  ‘What?’ sputtered the doctor.  ‘You tried to commit suicide by shooting off your finger?’  ‘No, silly’ the blonde said. ‘First I put the gun to my  chest, &  then I thought, ‘I just paid $6,000.00 for these  implants… I’m not shooting myself in the chest.’  

‘So then?’ asked the doctor. ‘Then I put the gun in  my mouth, & I thought, ‘I just paid $3,000..00 to get my  teeth straightened. I’m not shooting myself in the mouth.’  ‘So then?’ 

‘Then I put the gun to my ear, and I  thought: ‘This is going to make a loud noise. So I put my finger  in my other ear before I pulled the trigger.”  


Dangling participles:  Fulsome apols to Jimmy Leggett, who I said wore a kilt when motorcycling and felt unusual breezes as a result. The exact phrase was: “when Kilty Jim rides his motorbike, it gets a bit windy around the Trossachs.” This was of course a geographical reference to a range of Scottish hills, but Mr Leggett says: “Lies, I tell you…I only wear the kilt when parachuting!”

 Confessions of Candy (Neville, that is).  Mrs N read of our bike ride last week and responded: “I tried to resist my bicycle story but  could not. I am weak.  Decades ago my friend’s older sister taught me to ride a two-wheeler and of course I was thrilled. It was the olden days when horse and buggies had just been replaced with motor cars. We had a drive way which consisted of two concrete strips with gravel and grass in the middle. It had a tiny incline. I was doing pretty well and Mr. Ritchie (aka Mr. McGregor) came out and I proudly called out to him, “Watch! Watch! I can ride a bike!” I got on and was doing splendidly, beaming in pride, watching his admiration and then his alarm as I ran straight into his tree.”   Congratulations to my brother Don Bannister, who turns 80 this weekend. Don served on submarines and corvettes and even the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious during his not-so-illustrious Royal Navy career, and to prove it, he has salt all over his collar. He says that all the nice girls love a sailor, but he isn’t so interested in the nice girls, just the bad ones. HBD, matelot!


Yes, there IS a him/her difference. Freddie Wehner tells of the husband who was involved in an accident. He texted his wife: “Darling, I got hit by a car outside the office. Paula brought me to the hospital. They have been doing tests and taking X-rays. The blow to my head, though very powerful, will not have any serious or lasting injury.  But I have three broken ribs, a broken arm, a compound fracture in the left leg, and they may have to amputate the right foot. ”    The wife responded:  “Who’s Paula?”


Today, I watched a man dismantle a tree. It was ours, a curly willow that had branches like corkscrews and it originally came home in the front seat of my car (the sunroof was open so it could look around) but the ingrate grew to 45 tall feet and used its sheddings to clog my house gutters, to steal light from the vegetable beds and generally to indulge in arboreal misbehaviour. Jennie forgave it, as she is soft hearted around plants, but as Gutter Cleaner #1, I disliked it. Two months ago, an ice storm so loaded the thing with frozen rain that a dozen or more branches snapped, but perversely hung on by their green willowy skin, dangling and threatening like Damocles‘ sword. We called for the tree medics, who were getting ludicrously rich off Mother Nature’s whims, and they deigned to show up for $1000, only eight weeks later. So  I watched a man climb the several trunks of this willow, lop them off with a chain saw and lower them with ropes. Another man handled the rigging, the smallest man of the trio of “tree surgeons” carried the severed limbs away and threw them over the fence because my neighbour wanted the wood for fuel. It looked effortless, and it was, until I found that I had to manhandle the ‘brush’ – a laughable term for all the massive leafy branches, some of them as thick as Schwarzenegger’s thighs and multiple times longer, and drag or carry them uphill to my trailer to be hauled to the garden debris recycling centre. The ‘surgical’ recipients of my cash worked for about 90 minutes. I worked like an abused  donkey  all day long and I still have maybe a couple more trailer loads to go. I hope the ibuprophin kicks in, and maybe, just maybe it won’t be raining again tomorrow. 


Tonight, fed, watered and wiped down with clean straw, I grunted to Jennie that the job, thank goodness, was about done. She said thoughtfully that she could probably grow another curly willow from a cutting. The divorce papers will be filed in a matter of hours. 


Rien/plus ca change:   A contacts book is a working journalist’s bible,  and needs updating, though I have to admit that mine simply got bits ex’ed out or overwritten, but a thoughtful friend whose career involved research wrote a wonderful entry on FBook, which I’ve stolen and reproduce here. I am not naming the writer, as this does undermine his/her rep for phenomenal memory, with the confession that there’s a crib sheet at work…. However, here’s an insight to a tidy mind: “Just redid my old address book. A good glimpse at where I was and where I am now. People that died were eliminated first. People that were important at the time but I now have no reason to contact in the future are eliminated. Ran across people that I should touch again but somehow have drifted away. Bumped off spouses’ names of the divorced. Added children’s names. There are names that I have been carrying over because I don’t want to lose them…just in case. Alphabetical listings were changed for those that reverted to their maiden names. Some addresses have never changed and some people-like myself- are always changing addresses. Needed more space for those that have added second houses. There are some names with no addresses or contact info that I have to look up. Married children of friends now get their own entry. New neighbors added, old neighbors are gone. Names of grandchildren are added in the book so people will think I know them off the top of my head when I converse. There are dots for people that have returned Christmas cards although I’ve read not to expect something back just because you do a gesture from your heart. If I lost this book, I lose my life.”   And, says the saint, life is not a constant, and this is a good way to gain a measure of it.

Fine joke from Ken Potter, who takes time off from golf to tell us about a very cranky old woman arrested for shoplifting a can of peaches. “In court, she was defiant and told the judge ‘I was hungry. It was just a stupid can of peaches.” Said the magistrate:”How many peaches were in that can?” “Nine,” she said, “but what do you care?”  Patiently, he explained: “Ma’am, I care because I’m going to give you one day in jail for each peach: nine days.”  Before the judge could drop his gavel, the woman’s long-suffering husband raised his hand. “Your honour,” he said, “she also stole a can of peas.”





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.




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 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.

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. :






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 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.’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. 




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 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 une couturier to make ze adjustments!



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-appojnted, 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…” 


From the south of France, Karin Teucher   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 1029  Maya and Dawna, St P’s ranting again.    June 7 ’14.


Brush (and hug) with fame and a crim: LA  author and journo Dawna Kaufmann has a history of covering celeb stories, was once a member of the Jeopardy! clue crew and has been a top crime reporter for longer than you’d guess from her youthful appearance. Now she shares a brush with a great. She says: : “At a TV taping once, I was standing just off camera as R&B artist R. Kelly performed his quite astounding “Bump and Grind.” As he finished, he walked over to me and I said, “Jeez, that was hot!”   A voice from behind me added, “No shit!” I turned to see Maya Angelou. 


“Robert hugged us both together, so I guess I kinda had a three-way with Maya and R. and he didn’t pee on either of us. (As he did in a sex tape to a minor. Possibly the only benefit to being older).  Later, in the green room, I got to talk to Ms. Angelou — or actually, just listen because she was so very present and full of great stories.  I had hoped she would live forever. There aren’t many people who are so inspiring. Look how she inspired me to remember this story!”  


The saint met Ms Angelou (who was not a serial kiddie fiddler like R Kelly) once and briefly, merely to shake hands with her in the DC office of psychic Jeane Dixon, for whom I was writing a book. There is nothing much to report, but it did remind me of a small humiliation I suffered in that same place. I had called Jeane and told the receptionist who I was. She not only misheard my name, but she even got my deep, masculine tones confused with some unbroken soprano altar boy’s.  Jeane came to the phone much more eagerly than she usually did when I called. “Pearlie, darling!” she exclaimed. She mistakenly thought it was Pearl Bailey calling and despite my protestations,  regarded me with some suspicion after that.  


Late notification came Thursday from Dawna about the ISS on a favourable trajectory for viewing, but she rather spoiled her display of scientific knowledge:

“You’ll have a three minute show. Use it to wave in case anyone’s watching. Who knows? Maybe Sandra Bullock is on board.”

Huh. Doesn’t Bullock have an aisle seat?



Anybody else view the security cam vid of an Ohio kindergarten teacher who grabbed a six year old boy by the neck and twice bounced him against a wall? The woman was given ten days’ suspension, pretty meaningless as the school’s out on vacation anyway, and that has stoked the online indignation. Legal experts say what she did could be a criminal act. Well, that got me thinking about where it would leave Brother Richard and his cohorts at De La Salle College, Pendleton?  From ages seven to 16, the saint was regularly beaten with a bamboo cane, usually across the hands, four or six strokes at a time, and twice, the proud highlights of his DLS career, received a flogging on stage at assembly, bent over a chair so he could grin with an unconvincing lack of concern while the beating went on. And jt was regarded as normal….


Fact was, like my contemporaries, we didn’t report it to our parents as they’d have added some physical abuse of their own, reasoning that if the kindly, god-fearing brothers needed to chastise us, the least they could do was to join in. School beatings were so routine that our form masters all had their own canes, which they kept tucked inside their cassocks.  Brother Philip called his after Ranjit Singh, a cricketer, and even the solitary woman teacher in prep school  Miss Gannon used the bamboo on us seven year olds. Years later she told my classmate Kevin Heakin that the headmaster had specifically instructed the teachers not to spare the rod. She obeyed with gusto.


One lunatic pseudo-monk, Bro Constantine, ironically named for the emperor who brought Christianity to the Roman Empire, attempted to teach us woodwork and injured at least several boys by throwing sharp implements at them during his frequent explosions of rage. One fellow got a wood chisel to the face, I had my watch broken and my wrist  bruised when Connie slammed down a length of dowelling as I committed Talking During a Lesson. I used to think that all this clerical violence was meted out only by the Christian Brothers, because the parish priests seemed kindly souls. These days, I know a bit more, with Magdalene laundry slaves, secret irish and Guernseyan graveyards and regular updates on predatory priests the Vatican has been assiduously protecting.


My classmate Tony Taylor,  who  posted his verdict on a DLS old boys’ site: “in some cases, the teaching was appalling – with a totally unnecessary emphasis on systematic beatings, enormous amounts of time-filling homework and unpredictably violent behavour from a small group of teachers. Very 19th century. This seemed to encourage subversive behaviour amongst pupils, like prisoners in a POW film – eg spitting in staff milk..”    (The saint specialised in letting down Connie’s bike tyres twice a week  – Ed).  One poster wrote on the reunion site  “would like to see a selective group of teachers invited if only to tell them what lies they wrote on our reports and if (teachers) Alec Curtis and Joe Rabbit are invited I would hope that someone could guarantee their safety. The last thing I want to see is someone being chinned. Really though, it would be mad to invite anyone with any history of disturbed behaviour and I mean teachers, not pupils.”


So the rough-handling kindergarten teacher, Barb Williams, of Riverdale School, Ohio or the racist-talking  Alabama teacher Dalsity Pinkston who was terminated after she planned to ‘ smash the bitch-ass n—–‘s  face‘  of an honours student who protested an unfair grade might not be as big offenders as some of the folks who dedicated themselves to a life of poverty, chastity, obedience, monk’s underpants and over-cooked cabbage, but the US duo were caught. 


As for the poverty bit, the Vatican’s senior cardinal, 79 years old Tarcisio Bertone is hardly a poster boy for frugality, though his claim last week that he paid for his uber-luxury retirement condo (four storeys and 7,500 sq ft) from his own money may be sort of true, as he’s under investigation for ‘mishandling’ $20 million from Vatican bank accounts, and the Pope has sacked the entire watchdog board.  The cardinal’s modest (sarcasm font in use) penthouse apartment  (with 1000 sq ft terrace)  is at least five times bigger than the Pope’s own quarters, but it will also accommodate three nuns who’ll act as the retired cardinal’s domestics.  So he’s an example to us all. 


Sad news from California, where our rugby and cycling friend Lee Overbeck has died after a battle with bone marrow cancer. Lee, a founder-member of the Seahawks RUFC, San Jose,  and former athletic director at San Lorenzo Valley HS,  leaves his wife Gail, daughter Brittany, and son Joeben. Lee was a fine loose forward and keen cyclist with whom a group of us rode 480 miles across Iowa on a RAGBRAI week, a feat he did about eight times, although unlike us, he tended to leave the beer slides alone.  Contact Phil Perry for funeral details, please. 


Hola from Baja, Mexico where the Oregonian  Stolls, Debi and Sandy. have their new, other home. Debi writes“Is it time to complain yet?  It is hot and humid (90 degrees, 62% humidity) – but somebody’s got to do it…might as well be us! Actually, we have been sleeping outside on the upper deck, The stars we can almost touch and the breeze off of the sea is refreshing. We have been staying out of the sea this past week because of the jellyfish. Swimming in the pools is nice as the temperature of the sea now is approaching 88 degrees. Anyway, we rise early and do most of our work before 1:30, then a short siesta in the afternoon.”


Speaking of warm water, David Attenborough told of his trip to the edge of space in the Vomit Comet. He related how the instructor told the passengers what to do if there was an emergency and they had to parachute. Opening the ‘chute too soon would mean they could freeze to death at the extreme high altitude, so the parachuting survivor should count to 60 before pulling the ripcord. They should not, he repeated, pull the cord sooner than that. “On the other hand,” he told them, ” if you find cold water is coming up your leg and meeting warm water trickling down your thigh, you’ve left it too late.”


The saint met a Polish bloke who works at a call centre in Eugene, and the fellow was so excited. “We’ve just been told our jobs are going to Calcutta,” he said. “That’s great news. I’ve always wanted to see India and Pakistan, and I’ll be able to live like a maharaja on my wages there.”


Tough break: Graham Timmins‘ lawyer brother Stuart recently splurged $140k on a new GT3 Porsche only to have the vehicle recalled because of a fire risk.   Porsche took the car back to fit a new engine and told Stuart he would not have his toy back until September. There was a small silver lining: they’re paying about $2000 a month in compensation for loss of use, and oh, yes, Stuart could go to the showroom in Lancashire and pick out any car to use free until his own GT3 comes back. Stuart chose a Porsche Cayenne.  Our GT – the one in Oregon, not the GT3 in Lancs. –  is green with envy.





Grandma Patti Paris suffered anxiously for a few days this week after her 10 years old grandson Griffy swallowed three magnets. He was showing a pal how to put the magnets in his ear, eyebrow, nose and so forth, when he next put them on his tongue, hiccupped and swallowed the lot. The ER staff tried giving him prep fluids suitable for a colonoscopy but the magnets had not yet emerged at time of going to press. Griffy’s been having X-rays every four hours to chart progress. but there’s not a lot of,  er, motion.  He’s no stranger to ER’s, as he recently broke his hand demonstrating to the same pal how to punch a gym mat, dis-remembering that there was a solid wall behind it…


Speaking of grandmas, Pat Sear is already a great one and granddaughter Jayne has a second great-grandchild on the way for her. Pat’s husband David is recovering from prostate cancer, but then again, Pat ordered him to get better, and he does not dare defy his wife. She’s a former Waller, and one of them, Sir Hardress Waller was a famous Cromwellian major-general who committed regicide, one of the world’s rarest crimes. (He signed the death warrant and was responsible for the execution of King Charles I). For that, Sir H was later himself condemned to death, but with Waller luck, he was reprieved, given life imprisonment and died in jail.


Untiring raconteur Ken Potter has this: “Doug Smith is on his deathbed and knows the end is near. His nurse, his wife, his daughter and two sons are with him.  So, he says to them: “Bernie, I want you to take the Mayfair houses. Sybil, you take the apartments over in the east end. Jamie, I want you to take the offices over in the City Centre.  Sarah, my dear wife, please take all the residential buildings on the banks of the river.”

The nurse is just blown away by all this, and as Doug slips away, she says, “Mrs. Smith, your husband must have been such a hard-working man to have accumulated all this property.”  Sarah replies, “Property? …. the asshole had a paper route!”




E-1030 St Paul’s e-pistle to the beaten and beatified.  Posted June 14 ’14



Last week, as we all know, was the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and on the day big John Bradley fired me a note about it. Like so many WW2 military, John’s dad, John Henry ‘Jack’ Bradley had little to say about his actions during the war, when he served in the Andrew – the Royal Navy, to you. Decades later, a firefighter,  he met a fellow who also served at Normandy. Here’s  John, who is himself an Old Sweat: “Reminds me of my own father today, poignant as it’s  D-Day +70 as he never spoke of his D-Day driving a landing craft back and forth to the beach, landing Canadians of the Regina Rifles. Not until visiting Canada in 1976, meeting my then work partner Barnie McGough. Barnie never spoke of his exploits once landed on Juno beach except to mention the slaughter of the Falaise Gap. (Where about 10,000 German troops were killed – Ed).  Introducing Dad to Barnie didn’t take long before they realized that they shared a common bond:  June 6 1944. Dad had been one of the landing craft drivers delivering Barnie’s company to the beach. My father’s landing craft was hit by a shell and he spent three hours of pure hell being protected by those very same Regina Rifles until he grabbed a ride back to his ship once the beach head was secure. Two bottles of a fine single malt later the sun was coming up, I was fascinated by the whole adventure. It was the only time my father or Barnie spoke of that day, but I will never forget that treasure of a night. They laughed, they cried, they hugged, they remembered, but amazingly after that night they never spoke again. Both passed away the same year in 1984, both the same age,  both separated by an ocean.”  Jack’s ashes, btw, were scattered on the 18th green at Canons Brook golf course, Harlow, Essex.


John’s a ginger, so naturally he had forgotten the real purpose of his note: to respond to the saint’s bullying/brutal  teacher sermon, to remember his own special teacher and to send him greetings: “I digress, the purpose of this memory jog was the BASTARD who had me birched with a bamboo stick at school twice and stood and watched.” JB’s crime: “I bunked school to go fishing. Twelve on the buttocks each time, couldn’t sit for a week……..BASTARD. ”  The bastard in question was one William Bramfit   of Netteswell Grammar School in Harlow.  Said JB: “He was a short horrid little fat fuck, with small man syndrome. I still hate the man to this day for what he did to me.”   OK, Mr Bramfit, you’ve been warned, and considering John’s British Army training and decades as a big nasty prop forward, I’d regard with caution any invitation to afternoon tea that carries a Canadian stamp on the envelope. 


Dawna Kaufmann agreed with the sermon: “Excellent point about the child abuse we Catholic schoolers suffered. Where were our attorneys? Or parents?!”


One of my favourite Yorkshiremen, and that’s a phrase you don’t often see,  Joe Mullins shares a story of his schooldays and points out that even non-Catholics knew how not to spare the rod. A Catholic, Joe was one of a small cadre of RCs who attended a non-Catholic school.  “Just in case your readers get the impression that only Irish Catholics beat pupils in the 40’s and 50’s let me say that I went to a Church of England grammar school and was rarely out of trouble. The headmaster wielded a hooked bamboo cane on my arse on a regular basis. Once I ‘jigged’ school and spent the day getting a tan. Before going in the next day I wrote a ‘sickie’ explaining I had had ‘diarrhoea’ (Brit spelling) but was OK now and signed it in my mam’s name. After an hour, the headmaster called me to his study and told me he knew I’d played truant. “In 30 years of teaching, no parent has ever spelled diarrhoea right,” he said. I was noted for my spelling (but little else). The result: three strokes on the backside in public, with each one leaving a double ‘tramline’ of raised, bruised flesh.


” My canings became a joke…. In a physics lesson, the teacher drew a cartoon of a boy getting beaten with the caption, ‘Mullins looks forward to next week.’ He wrote something on the school website a couple of years ago and I emailed him wishing him well and saying that his cartoon pissed me off more than the whacks. He said not only did he not remember the joke he didn’t remember me….but allowed the head was a brute and a bully.” 


The physics master eventually apologised, and Joe graciously omitted something:  “I was going to remind him of another incident but didn’t. He caned Billy (Sunbeam) Talbot in class with a huge blackboard set square and then realized he’d made a mistake. He let Billy cane him back with the same set square, across his tightly-stretched gray pants…always thought it a bit odd. Billy, a farmer’s boy, broke the wooden square and our physics guy shuddered and grimaced but didn’t scream. Took it like a man…”


Travel Notes 1:  Wee Scots keelie Jim Leggett says he’s of no fixed abode, but is in Donegal.   “Still riding my old Goldwing  (motorbike), flying WW2  (Beechcraft here) aircraft and, last week, defying gravity over the wild Irish 700 foot sea cliffs at Slieve League – part of the Appalachian Trail for the geologically minded. Then onto Loch Lomond where I found as yet unreleased Balmaha single malt whisky – Only 270 bottles will be released. I snared bottle No 100 – Hic!  Slainte!”


TN2:  Five weeks into their 10-week stay in central Florence, or Fiorenze as the Italians call it, Malcolm and Sandy Nicholl  say they’ve been eating and drinking their way through the sights, but are walking it all off. Next month, they head to Umbria, to Orvieto in particular, then on to Prague and England. Send sympathy cards for their tough life.


TN3:  Welcome home to Oregon from Capetown, where Francesca Silvestri has just spent several months as an intern in a refugee organisation. Among her memories: being encased in a shark cage and dangled as Great White bait. Only the cocktails oozing from her pores kept her safe. 

TN4:  Jim and Kathleen Floyd raced down to California in time for the arrival of their first grandchild, Olivia Lynn. Congrats all around!


TN5: Sad news from Francesca Martina and her sisters. Their mother Margaret passed away this week, the girls are presently enr Newfoundland from the USA and Italy. Our commiserations.



One of the rewards I get on a particular bike ride is to pass within 30 ft of an osprey nest. It’s on the iron bridge over the Willamette River at Harrisburg, a Parker Truss structure that shakes and rattles when heavy trucks roll across, and from the pedestrian walkway you can observe the nest at close range. It’s a construct of small branches, is about six feet wide and probably 30 inches deep. It’s a very des res, fabulous river views, close to shops and fully air conditioned. Over the past few years Mrs Osprey  – I’ve never seen Mr O – has raised a pair of chicks there each year. By chicks, I mean big nestlings the size of hawks, and you see them gazing out beakily, looking here and there for the fish lunch mum’s collecting. Two years ago I sat by the river, which is about 150 yards wide and watched Mrs O and one fledgling circling over it, while she uttered harsh keeks of encouragement and presumably advice about the best places to collect a salmon. Last weekend, at the half distance of a 50 mile ride, I stopped as usual to gaze up at this year’s chicks and mom swooped in to observe me. She came close, maybe 20ft away, then turned and headed for a tall cottonwood where she sat and considered whether to pick me up and drop me in the drink or not. And, magnificent bird she is, she seemed capable of doing just that. The image of her splendid markings stayed with me for the next 25 miles and beyond.  


I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over this exchange, though the usual Yorkshire response to  ‘a bag of chips in Bakewell?’   would be ‘You were lucky: LUXURY!’  Keith Farnsworth, former Sheffield Telegraph reporter, wrote in FaceBook: “Is there any wonder that many people have stopped going to the theatre when seat prices are so expensive? Looking for what was available for a matinee performance of West Side Story at the Lyceum, Sheffield, the cheapest available were in the rear circle (with restricted leg space) and cost £38 each. That’s £76 for a couple of pensioners for an afternoon at the theatre. Ridiculous! We’ll settle for watching a DVD of the film.” His pal Anton Rippon responded: “Went to see the D Day Darlings at Derby Guildhall for £11, but then there were only three of them (sort of Andrews Sisters tribute act). Then again the Silk Mill pub over the road wanted £11.95 for fish and chips. Few expensive days out these days. Bus pass to Bakewell and a bag of chips by the river is still best value.”


Pat Penn:  “Bag of chips – luxury – we had to grovel outside the chip shop for the potato peelings – if we were lucky!!!!” Then again, she’s from Stoke on Trent.



Fans of Father Ted Crilly may enjoy this: Mary Kline reports that George Clooney‘s mother has given her future daughter in law the thumbs-up, saying that Amal Alamuddin “is a lovely girl.”  Mary K wants to know if she’s like the beauty contestants judged by Father Ted: “Does she have a lovely bottom?”

(Father Jack wants to know: ‘How did that gobshite get on the television?”) 

Apropos of something that need not concern us, Mary wrote: “On being told that my future husband was a Lutheran, my grandmother exclaimed, “and what in the name of God is that?!”  I should simply have told her that he was “an Orange dog” (her words, not mine).”


Last word to Jack Grimshaw, who advises: “The California Highway Patrol recently announced it’s trading in its BMW motorcycles for Harley Davidsons. Speeders being written up by one of these officers will probably not advance their cause by referring to him as a pig on a hog.”


You’ve been warned….



E-pistle 1031 St P to the Footiefans and Dutchmen   posted a bit early:  6/19/14 



Well, the world’s presently focused on World Cup soccer – football to (the grieving) Brits, footie to True Brits and Aussies, so my idol (I may have misspelled that) Joe Mullins nudged me to point the epistle, too, in that direction. Well, my footie memories are of a limited variety. Schoolyard games of 30-a-side, the goalposts a couple of bundled blazers, the ball a thing not much larger than a large orange, skinned knees on the gravel, sweaty afternoon smells in the classroom, all excellent stuff. 


The saint never went in for school footie on actual grass, as we had 11 rugby teams and only one football team turn out each Saturday. I knew just one boy, a tall, strangely-pale bloke from Oldham called Peter Glynn who actually played the round-ball game. However, when I began working and the office wanted to turn out a football team, I was pushed into volunteering. After all, I was a teenager, I was a bike racer and had big legs. Came the day of an inter-office match and the team captain spat his cigarette end at my feet and asked me what position I played. “I’m a cyclist,” I said, “I don’t play footie.” “Is that ALL you do?” he asked, incredulously. “Well, I do some rock climbing.” “Well,” he said, thoughtfully, “go and climb the goalposts.”


At the Daily Mail, the soccerites like Mullins, Edgecombe, Smith and Rees put together a team to play Leeds Press Club. They secured the professionals’ ground at Stalybridge and dragged me out as a fullback. The first half I did my usual aimless fly hacking and girly screaming;  in the second half I challenged my own team mate for an air ball and knocked him out, which earned me a few beers later. Years on, someone asked Mullins about the game, recalling that Joe and I played ‘like a stone wall’ at fullbacks.  I blushed with pride until Mullins told me the fellow meant neither of us actually moved. The only other footie thing of note was falling over the ball and breaking my leg. It was during a five-a-side game in a rented gym and helpful Jimmy Grylls kept shouting in thick Glaswegian: “Gerrim off! We’re payin’ seven an’ sex for this hoor.” I assumed he meant ‘six’ and ‘hour,’ but didn’t dare ask. 


My soccer career continued at the Enquirer where people like Kevin Cosgrove, Mike Vohmann, John Cathcart, Scott Hunter and Jimmy McWilliam really could play, while  John Cooke looked pert and nicely dressed in full Man U kit and fearsome former Aussie rugby pro Ken Potter chopped down anyone who came near. I recall one incident where a knife-wielding Latin gent went after Scott, but didn’t have the speed to catch him, even after several laps of the field. 


Memorable, too, was the all-star international game in which I featured, as did Mullins and Lee Harrison. There were only the three of us, a goal made of coats and we played under the shadow of the Space Needle in Seattle when we should have been covering a medical conference. We even supplied the world-broadcast commentary: “Harrison makes a move around George Best, beats him like a bass drum, flattens Tommy Smith with a powerful shoulder and unleashes a cannonball at Gordon Banks, who’s totally beaten by the man’s amazing skill. Gooooaalll !!! ”  You get the picture.  


Fantasy football did me no good in San Jose, where I helped our rugby club’s soccer team to stay firmly in the bottom division. We had some decent players, including Ken Bousfield and our own enforcer, Kevin Golden, the mildest man in the world off-field, but whose Irish O’Hooligan blood surfaced seconds after he put on his cleats, and who usually was to be found in the centre of five or six Latinos, swinging wildly. We had a trio of brothers, one of whom was fast in a straight line, two of whom reported skills they cleverly kept concealed from us, and we had Dr H Lloyd Jones who used his kicking leg like a nine iron and could be relied on, should it somehow connect with the ball, to cause consternation among low-flying seagulls.  I popped a hamstring in a game, remembered my other leg injury and decided footie caused hurty bits, so retired gracefully from the Beautiful Game.


But this is a sermon, there’s more: when Mr Mullins suggested I bang on about footie, he said he’d send some copy.  Here’s the fine result, and it’s as topical as can be, seeing how England have just lost both their opening matches:


By Joe Mullins

dateline: Boynton Beach, Florida


“As a 12-year-old in Selby, Yorkshire, I read about the upcoming game a few days before and how it was going to be televised. What a chance. England vs. Hungary at Wembley. I woke up coughing, feeling woozy and told my mam that I was too sick for school. ‘Nice try,’ she said. ‘Get up.’ I was supposed to catch a train to the grammar school, dawdled and missed it. Knowing mam had left for her factory job I went back to the semi-detached house on a council estate where we’d lived for three years. She was due home at 12.30 to have her lunch, although we called it dinner. What’s now called dinner, we called ‘tea.’ 


“Just before she got home, I climbed into the attic and sat there shivering in the rafters as she made a cup of tea and a sandwich.  After listening to the news on radio – not knowing that I was perched shivering 10 feet above her – she left for the second half of her 10-hour day, walking a mile and a half to the paper factory. As soon as I heard her close the door I got down and switched on the tube (the ‘telly’ then); black and white, of course, and something like 14inches diagonally. There was no fire as the house was supposed to be empty and I wrapped myself in an eiderdown. 


“Nothing bothered me because I was sure Billy Wright and his team would light up the dull November day. We’d make mugs of the Magyars. Stanley Matthews would waltz through them. Ninety minutes later my football world had collapsed. Sometimes I still have a nightmare of my hero Billy Wright sliding over the byline on his backside as Puskas pulled the ball away from his charge and scored in what seemed like one movement. It got a lot worse. Hungary won 6-3. Tell me it didn’t happen. I went for a walk and arrived home just after my mam got back from her shift, making her believe I’d gone to school. ‘England got beat,’ she said. ‘Oh no,’ I replied, and helped her make the fire.


“I saw that England wasn’t invincible…in football or anything else. The Suez debacle and the shrinking empire convinced me that there was nothing super-special about us..something Republicans have difficulties with now.


“But the football fire burned bright. I went to watch Selby Town play in the Yorkshire League on their field built on a rubbish dump and saw the game’s grassroots. After a brilliant save, Harrison  Fearnley, Town’s  ace goalkeeper, came behind the net where I sat on the grass and showed me his finger, at right angles to his hand. “It’s not all glory and glamour,” he said, pulling the dislocated digit back into place. Just what is glamour, I asked. Or glory?


“I learned some of the mysteries of becoming a man. Our striker once broke off from play, strode to the side of the pitch and shouted to a pal in the crowd who was watching with a girlfriend at his side. “Shove it well up, Cyril…she’s a long bodied woman.” Cyril laughed, the girl blushed red. What on earth could he mean, I wondered. It worried me for quite a while before all became clear.


“My wife Christine was a schoolgirl fan of York City and their hotshot striker Arthur Bottom (Q: What’s got 22 legs, two wings and a dirty Bottom? A: York City) I’ve always been told she knows more about the game than I can hope to.


“In the 60’s we would not miss a Sheffield Wednesday game. In ’68 Christine was heavily pregnant and the Wednesday were threatened with relegation. We had to go to the game. Manchester City stuffed us. Walking away from the Hillsborough Ground, Christine fell down a flooded manhole. It was open and unmarked. I pulled her out. Could anything worse happen? Yeah, Wednesday really were relegated.


“Footie has always been a driver of newspaper sales in UK. Reporters chased stories about players, managers, their girlfriends, their crazy fans. I’ve spent too much of my life on their doorsteps. One Sunday, chasing Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty after a weekend story that he was having an affair, I caught him sneaking through the bushes at his girlfriend’s home. Upstairs was the United physiotherapist Lawrie Brown. Downstairs was Tommy’s innamorata Mary Brown. An hour later, Docherty asked me to come in and discuss the situation. “It’s Adam and Eve,” he said. That’s not a bad headline, I thought.

The following weekend, when United played Liverpool, the Kop crowd chanted, “Who’s Up Mary Brown?” to the tune of Knees up Mrs. Brown.



“So, this week, with the US playing in the World Cup, I listened to the entreaties of my friend Bobby Burns. He suggested we watch the game against Ghana surrounded by genuine Americans.  It didn’t happen. No Yanks turned up at the bar we chose. They missed one of the best games I’ve seen in a long time. We watched it together, sipping quietly. For 40-some years, I’ve waited for a soccer springtime in the States…looks like it’s going to be a few years yet.”



Phlegmatism Abandoned: My long-ago flatmate in London, an erudite and sophisticated Italian called Rolando Kleewein, presently lives in the Netherlands (whose Dutch national team recently routed the world champions Spain 5-1) Here’s his atmospheric, wonderful note, remembering that English is merely Roland’s fifth or sixth language: 

“The usually cool, analytic and rational Dutchmen and Dutchladies (Calvinism is omnipresent, it is the root) never lose their continence, exception made for soccer and the monarchy. In those two cases the boiling point is dramatic and there is no way to stop them, there even the King is powerless. Now with the championship going on the streets are fully decorated with national flags and orange pennants stretched between the buildings like the laundry in Naples.” 



Last footie word to Paul and Dottie Moura, who sent this 30-second vid:




In confessional mode, the saint is inspired by Joe’s tale of dodging off school to admit to similar misbehaviour. On certain schooldays, I used to sneak off to our cycling clubroom, because I had a key, and would nap there before going for a bike ride. I also got out of a weekly double German period by using an old hospital appointment card of my brother’s and forging convenient ‘appointments.’  It worked well until my mum found the card and thought I had some terrible illness and was too brave to tell her.



John Garton shares a favourite quote, of TV’s  Judge Judy Sheindlin asking a prostitute: “When did you realize you’d been raped?”  

“When the cheque bounced.”


Educational:  My niece Lesley Roberts tells of the round-Sicily cruise she took with husband Eric..  “We sailed around the Sicilian islands, listened to and witnessed the rumblings of Mount Stromboli and visited Libya.  I don’t know of anyone else to visit this place.  It was really interesting and I felt at ease during our time there.” I always thought stromboli was just a sort of calzone, a cheesey/sausagey turnover, and I’ve had a few rumblings from one myself.  


Shameless Fred Wehner emerges from the Wehnar Republic palace of Schloss Schlossed with a droll, golden oldie that is sending him straight to hell: “A guy goes into the confessional box after years being away from the Church.He pulls aside the curtain, enters and sits himself down. There’s a fully equipped bar with crystal glasses, the best vestry wine, Guinness on tap, cigars and liqueur chocolates nearby, and on the wall a fine photographic display of buxom ladies who appear to have mislaid their garments. 


“He hears a priest come in:”Father, forgive me for it’s been a very long time since I’ve been to confession and I must admit that the confessional box is much more inviting than it used to be.”    The priest replies: “Get out, you idiot. You’re on my side.” 


Ethiopian traffic thrills:  here’s a video bit from Addis Abbaba – no need there for traffic circles…


One of my cousins, Jo Groves, is the family genealogist and has been working at it for donkeys’ years. She pieces the clues together, like those of the great, great grandma who had a bastard, and seems to have been expelled from home, but things ended well enough. She married her lover and they had 11 children. Now, out of the blue to add hundreds of entries to the growing family tree comes my cousin Angela Hulse, who’s working on another branch of the family. She  tells of the four Walter Woods, the first of whom died in WW1 in France, the others were her granddad, father and brother. The last opted not to continue the confusing tradition when his son, putative WW5 was born, but Angela’s still pondering a photo of a handsome young man with his arm around her grandma…






E-pistle 1032 Bones of Verdun. Posted 6/28/14



As we’re at the centennial of the outbreak of the First World War, here’s a poignant insight to those Guns of August from my friend Roland Kleewein. Roland’s Italian and is a cultured, artistic man (even his lovely Karin’s an artist) who lives in Holland. He recently visited the ossuary of the battlefield that the Germans called ‘The Hell of Verdun.’  It was a place where a generation of young French and German men died.


Roland writes: “I had the chance to visit a few outstanding exhibitions in this extremely-in-culture-interested nation. But my highlight for this year will remain the visit to the hinterland of Verdun on the trail of WWI.  We were a party of six friends including a journalist who wrote an article for one of the most known magazines in the Netherlands. Four of the guys were unbeatable historians to this catastrophe and knew every stone, hill and hole in the open, tortured landscape. It is an enormous desolate, abandoned area still housing the craters of the 100 years old explosives. It is impressive and morally destroying to the visitor and made a profound impact on me. I was thoroughly prepared  and had many numbers in my head but could not realize the number of 170.000. When I stood in front of the gigantic “Ossuaire de Douaumont” with its length of nearly 140 meters I could look at the immense heaps of bones of unknown soldiers who lost their lives for exactly nothing, apart for the contempt  and disdain against the human race of some unscrupulous politicians and ruthless generals. I still can not grasp the number of 170.000. “


Those were just the bones of unknown soldiers, the ones who were not buried. The battle was the world’s longest, and was fought for 300 days in an area of less than eight square miles. The soldiers’ average lifespan in the front lines: less than 14 days.


It all came about, says Roland, because : “In 1916 the very humane German general Erich von Falkenhayn decided to “drain the blood” of the French by forcing them to (attritional)  battle. The tragic result was  362.000 French  and  337.000 German soldiers, all between 20 and 30 years old, lost their lives. 

The same gentle general was forced to transfer a part of his army to the Russian front. In order to keep his position secure on the western front he decided to use the Germans’ newly invented poison-gas. The chemist got a Nobel Prize and the general died peacefully and highly respected years later. Bravo!!”



Von Falkenhayn





Kevin Golden, a very fine loose forward at rugby and an assertive something or other at soccer, was recently revealed as the usual centre of a whirlwind during our rugby club’s soccer matches. He sends this memoir of his footie days:  “I always enjoyed playing with the Seahawks soccer team. The after game beer and talk was lots of fun.  The team stayed together for over twenty years.  It was always funny when the little Mexicans would run up to us and they would be smaller and 70 lbs lighter.”  Kevin assessed his team mates: “ Ken Bousfield had the best toe poke kick to score all his goals along with his size and speed,  brothers PatJohn and Paul Earley were the legitimate soccer players along with Ray Boreham who was the last to buy a pitcher of beer. His sidekick Darryl Heywood kept goal.  Doug Hummel was usually getting into scraps or yelling at the referee, (Umberto Ambrozzini,  the little Italian referee who started soccer in San Jose. If you said anything to him he would take ten seconds reaching into his pocket threatening to give a card). He didn’t like Doug.”  


There were certain less-skilled players, too: “Lloyd Jones would kick the opposing player’s leg and when the player was complaining he would always say “Just going for the ball friend,” and Bill Morrison, playing fullback, would run into who he was marking so the guy couldn’t get around him.”   Kevin recalled some gallant, sad moments, too: Dave DeClercq trying to play soccer not knowing he had ALS , and Gerry Hummel  dying from his second bout of  cancer  but still coming out to play soccer.” 


The same suspects played indoor five-a-side, too, often co-ed, with ladies like Christina Harrison, Kathy Hudson and Katie Desmond,  who were unafraid to slam some unsuspecting saint or Austrian ski bum like Sepp Schwarzl  into the wall and could usually outrun him, too. In Alaska once, where we’d gone to play rugby, this female trio played the first women’s rugby game on record in that state, and the tactics were simple: get the ball to Katie, who could outrun almost anyone. It worked like a charm, too. We guys won our three matches, including one against a team from Homer called the irish Lords, but known locally as the Homer Sexuals, and the girls won their Anchorage match against a Presidents’ XV.  Kathy’s husband Ken Hudson was there post-game, as usual offering to help them remove their wet bra’s.


World Cup:  The saint has been mourning England’s failure at the soccer World Cup, (ps: check this very upbeat link sent by Revel Barker, lovely, cheery short vid-   ) and at the heartbreak loss to the All Blacks in NZ, where his favorite tee shirt was on display: “I’m not an alcoholic. I only drink when Richie McCaw is offside,” reference to the ABs’ captain’s cynical cheating. To revive his spirits, the saint considered the upcoming Tour de France and learned about the rabid Dutch fans who line the famed Alpe d’Huez each time the race goes up there. They often camp out for a week of partying and are in a state of frenzied hysteria when the cyclists actually come through. Roland K. sheds surprising light on the usually-dour Hollanders’ activities. 


” Alpe d’Huez:   you certainly know that once a year the Dutch organise a climb on this mountain. it takes place on the very beginning of June and the idea is to mount the hill on a bike for six times, therefore it is called the Alpe d’HuZes (zes = six). Everybody can be a sponsor and the accumulated money is given to a fund of combat against cancer.  Thousands of people are involved and nearly all of the fietsers have a relative or friend lost to this flagellation of the human race. This initiative has started in 2006 and its success is growing continuously. The collected money since then is over 140 millions  €.   ($182 m). 

The 2014 edition brought   12,351,000 €    (about $16 mill) in to the fund.”   When you consider that Holland is pan-flat, riding a bike up one of the most-feared climbs of Le Tour not once, but SIX times, means you have to tip your clogs to them. 


World Cup 2: After Joe Mullins shared his footie memories came this about that Glorious Day When England Won One: “It was the best damn wedding reception I barely attended, ” says Jack Grimshaw. “Upstairs, at the pub in North Manchester, seriously outnumbered by irate females, was my cousin John. The poor sod had to be there, he was the groom. One hour in, he was doubtless already henpecked and getting a preview of the upcoming decades.   Downstairs, I and 97% of the male guests were busy getting hammered in front of the TV. It was July 30, 1966, and Geoff Hurst was waltzing around the Germans on his way to the only World Cup Final hat-trick.


“England leading 3-2, the moments right before the final whistle were chaotic, with dozens of the 98,000 crowd expectantly invading the pitch. BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenhome provided a classic moment: “Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over … (Hurst scores) … It is now!” 

And the disputed goal? Never a friggin’ doubt. Nineteen years old and five pints to the good, I saw both balls hit the crossbar and go in.”



 Ken at the mic

Adds the saint: “48 years on, I still get Christmas cards from my pal Gerhard Schlecht (yes, he’s German) saying ‘It never was a goal.’ “



Traffic 1: Ron Haines climbed out of his canoe at some NE waterside for a few minutes and viewed last week’s vid of free-flowing traffic chaos in Addis Ababba to explain:  “I’ve driven in Ethiopia.  The traffic is governed by one simple rule:  Worry only about what’s ahead of you.”


Traffic2:  Here’s a 90-second vid clip of an old F1 wheelchange, and a modern clip of Liverpool FC supporters stealing the wheels, repainting, rebadging and selling a car to the McLaren team. They got a case of Boddington’s, 200 ciggies and an unknown quantity of grass for the vehicle.                 Alert Dan McDonald notes that they didn’t polish the windscreen.



Swordhenge:  A small excitement this week, as the cover for the fifth book of my historical fiction series arrived. True to form, the publishers included an error. The cover for book one had knights with footballs under their arms;  the next, about sea battles, featured horses.Two more covers were equally unrelated to the content. For the fifth go-around, I suggested using a sword and Stonehenge or a pestilence symbol like a skull.  They listened, dumped my ‘King Arthur’s Plague’ working title for ‘A Fragile Peace,’ which left me, er, OK, I suppose. They did use stones and sword, but put a Knights Templar seal on it,  an anachronism 700 years off the book’s period. Ah, well. At least, they got the right henge. The epic will be available as an e-book on Amazon in a week or two and a sales surge is expected as Tom Wilbur has advertised it to his mailing list of  23 people.





Bait and Sue: More about publishing and the internet: my photogger son in law Bob Williams says certain New York law firms hire snappers to take high-quality stock pics of various subjects and put them up on the web. In time, and they leave the bait out there for a year or so, people see and steal the images for their own use. At a certain point, the legal trappers trigger their images’  ‘call-home’ signals and see who’s using them without permission. Then they send out copyright theft letters, and correspondingly large demands for $$$.


Get well soon wishes 1:  to my bro Don Bannister, who sustained two cuts to his head. He was dive-bombed by a crow in Oldham.  

GWS wishes 2: Graham Timmins, sickened by inhaling weed and feed. He not only came down with a bad rash and ‘flu-like symptoms but he’s now nine feet tall. 


Odd fact unearthed by Malcolm Nicholl:  Elvis Presley, no less, liked to quote favorite lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Mal nudged me, wink wink, to recall a night when a group of us saw the Pythons live on Broadway. The saint had a couple of spare tickets, so thriftily offered them for sale in the foyer, pre-show. I was accosted by 20 or so people, all of whom were ex-pat Brits. They had no interest in buying the tickets, but wanted to connect with a fellow Englishman. Except for John and Virginia Miller, they all seemed to come from Cincinnatti, and during the show the whole audience chanted the script along with the actors. Surreal. Typical of newshound Nicholl, he sniffed out Tom Jones, who was there, “Drinking, not performing,” he said.


Ken Potter has the last word: “For students in an advanced Biology class, taking their mid-term exam, the last question was: ‘Name seven advantages of Mother’s Milk.’ The question was worth 70 points or none at all.

One student, in particular, was hard put to think of seven advantages. However, he wrote:

1) It is perfect formula for the child.

2) It provides immunity against several diseases. 

3) It is always the right temperature. 

4) It is inexpensive. 

5) It bonds the child to mother, and vice versa. 

6) It is always available as needed.

And then he was stuck. Finally, in desperation, just before the bell rang indicating the end of the test, he wrote:

7) It comes in two attractive containers and it’s high enough off the ground where the cat can’t get it.”


  Says Ken:  “He got an A.”





E-pistle 1033 Bikes and bandages. Posted early for the hol. Jul 2 ’14.



In a moment of vainglorious weakness, the saint recently emailed news of his cycling mini-exploit to a few close friends. Now the whole truth can be told. After spending 2013 getting fat-arsed at his desk, and the first part of 2014 searching for his bike under a blanket of cobwebs, St Pee realized that his self-promise to ride 70 miles on his 70th birthday was another over-reaching ambition. Worse, the ride had to be done very, very soon. With two weeks to go, he belatedly realised that the weekend he’d planned for it was a much-watch-TV one. There’s the start of the Tour de France in northern England,  plus the July 4th bonanza, plus the Wimbledon finals.  The next weekend, when the saintly natal day will be marked with yawning indifference on the church calendar, is that of the the World Cup finals. Delay all by another week? Not really. Firstborn heiress Claire will be arriving then in her golden coach of state and the pater’s absence on a bike ride will be regarded as lese majeste (add your own accents).


So the ride was made with a certain lack of preparation last weekend, when Oregon’s beautiful backroads were free of logging trucks and the citizens were all in church or somewhere. St P trained by spending Saturday wheel-barrowing garden soil uphill, consumed a large handful of Ibuprophen and conceived a cunning plan to pass the weary miles. He intended to learn a poem as he pedalled.  ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley was printed and laminated to make the words as sweatproof as poss and the saint rolled into Sunday’s dawn confident that poetry would distract him from all earthly aches and pains.


Total disaster. The poet’s ‘fell clutch of circumstances’  turned out to be that you can’t pedal and learn. The rhythm’s not the same. All that was retained in the saintly mind-shell was ‘Master of my fate’ and ‘captain of my soul.’  Except, confusion set in and first it was ‘Was that master of my feet?‘ and ‘pain of my soles?‘ which turned as the blood drained from the cerebral cortex into ‘plastered meat’ and ‘rain of moles‘  After more than 20 miles of the wretched doggerel running endlessly around in my skull, I threw the laminate away and sulked until a coffee-and-white rabbit hopped across the road just ahead of me. I stopped and photographed it and a woman who saw it called me over. She wanted to give me a 90 lbs pit bull dog – white – that could and did jump four or five feet into the air from a standing start. The (tethered) beast was bouncing like a ping pong ball, grinning at me meaningfully. I did not accept the gift, although I did throw him an energy bar as I rode away. The only other canine incident involved a fat and ambitious Jack Russell who ‘raced’ me for 15 yards, then gave up, coughing, and had a cigarette.


I finished my ride,  sent out my immodest note and got a response from an even older bike rider,  John Hicks. He lives in Hibernia, aka Land of the Thousand Welcomes, and forty shades of green, which is how he left me after reading this:  “Well done young bean. Happy 70th birthday. Lovely teeth!  Read your email after struggling out of bed with mega-sore quads. Damage caused by weekend charity ride 220 miles Belfast/Dublin/Belfast with 740 riders.  A lash on the beer at Matt Weedon‘s pub in Ballymun, Dublin did not help. Celebrated my 70 in Jan.”  John once rode solo across Australia, so he’s not exactly a novice cyclist. Bloody show-off.


Once again, the saint was upstaged. Worse, my delicate, feminine. nicely-perfumed wife Jennie did a half-marathon on Saturday (in company with Daughter #2, Rachel) then went out on Sunday for a 20-plus mile bike ride with the same overly-energetic, elderly child. And, they did it without even a single aspirin. I have one consolation. Unlike Rachel, I survived my ride without tearing a lump out of my elbow, an injury she received while fiddling with toy mice in her  pocket at 20 mph. Don’t ask. 


Next day, heavily bandaged and leaking gore, she gave a presentation at her university, explaining “Just a flesh wound.” She’ll probably start the Tour de France this weekend, injured or not. My nephew Ian Bannister, his wife Mavis and my brother Don, who say they will be at the roadside in Rochdale, cheering on the TdF riders, should look out for the bandaged one with the big smile and the pocket full of cat toys. They should also check for Pat Penn on her new cruiser bike – she’s claiming a 15 mile ride on it already, which is more than she ever did as a member of the Stone Wheelers CC as a girl in the 1840’s.  Lastly, my mate Swervs, a bachelor for a bit too long now, says he fancies me nearly as much as he salivates over Olympic cycling champ Laura Trott, which is flattering but a bit scary:   See Rode-icea Laura and note the similarities. That’s a disc wheel, btw.





More Bikes Etc.: Calif resident Sepp Schwarzl, the former Hitler Jugend obersturmbahnfuhrer,  is in Austria showing wife Diane how to wear lederhosen, but they’re also planning a sport-confused vacation north of the 49th parallel: “I’m in Austria as we speak,” he writes, ” In August we are heading north to Banff with car, bikes, 7&9 irons, hiking boots and ski poles. We booked a ” heli-hike ” in BC.”   To the saint, this implies cycling, golf, hiking, skiing and parachuting from choppers. Just what you need for a restful fortnight, but only if you were elite Schutzstaffel (Retired). See the projection pic of Sepp, post-holiday: 







Full and sincere kudos to Lonnie Combs, our Napa Valley Guy, who’s made determined efforts to improve his health and fitness. In four months, he’s dropped  60 lbs in weight, visits the gym four times a week and says he went jogging for the first time in 13 years. That takes iron cojones. We almost forgive him for taking   our poker money by sheer blind luck when he comes north. Also: he’s looking for a decent road bike, 52cm or so. 

Things you learn while looking up something else:  there was a Joseph Mullins on the Mayflower. Our own Joe Mull  says with a trill of gay laughter,  it wasn’t him, he caught the next boat. Pity, he’d have looked good in one of those Pilgrim lace collars, sort of ‘When did you last see your father?’  Joe also turns TV critic and takes a swipe at the saint: “I watched the first episode of PBS’s Brit sitcom ‘Vicious’ on Sunday. Quite funny, well acted. But if I want any more bitchy queen repartee I’ll give you a call.” The sitcom’s about two fussy, feuding gay men played by Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen, and the former admits that the show has become  “the Marmite comedy.” He explained: “Marmite is a spread in England that you either love or loathe, and ‘Vicious’ brought with it a touch of that.”

Incidentally, to those kind people who keep adding to my LinkedIn skills   I’m not asking for them. I’ll happily add to yours, whatever they ask, but don’t feel obliged to reciprocate. Thanks, Erik Amos, Dave Richards and Jeffrey Joffe, especially for frequent and flattering endorsements.  (‘Can read,’  ‘Stands up almost without support,’ ‘Breathes,’ and  ‘Learning to wipe own bottom’)


Travel Log: Norm and Mort Eliason in Maui, Greg Finch in Paris every other week (he drives a jumbo)  and John, Marjorie and Sydney Strader just back from ireland where John only clipped one wing mirror of a parked car with his wrong-side driving. This means Phil Perry still holds the Irish record: three car mirrors in 100 yards.


In the 50-plus years I’ve known him, Andy Leatham has never failed to spark my genuine laughter with his wit. This week, I shamelessly share his doubly-PC joke, straight from the Farnworth Working Men’s Club.   “A policeman spots a black guy dancing on the roof of a car. He radios for backup, saying… “I’ve got a darkie dancing on a Volkswagen.” “You shouldn’t say that over the radio.” replies the dispatcher. “You must use politically correct terminology.” 


“OK” he says, “Zulu…. Tango…. Golf….” 


Unrelated to Hurricane Arthur, which I arranged as a publicity stunt, book five of my Arthurian historical fiction series launched on Amazon on Wednesday. This one’s called ‘A Fragile Peace’ and is the penultimate in the series.Here’s the link

Don’t be afraid to review it, or at least to click the ‘like’ button when I get a review or two. I’ll send out a note.

E-1034  Lots of pics this week. 7/11/14 but not for the website readers, sorry.


Idle Moment:  Last week, the saint invented the source of Andy Leatham‘s excellent PC/PC joke (as in police constable and politically-correct) but even a white lie can bring reward, as Andy now shares a real-world anecdote:    “Your mention of Farnworth Working Men’s Club sparked a memory of being sent on a job for the Sunday People to Bradford, once the wool capital of the world, where I found myself in a suburb which rejoiced in the name of Idle.Searching for a functioning telephone box from which to file (this being pre-cellphone/laptop days) I found myself outside a large, low building with a sign over its entrance that declared it to be: “Idle Working Men’s Club.”   I went in, used their phone, had a few pints and joined. A few days later my membership card arrived and was subsequently proudly flourished at many a bar.

It’s real: here’s a cat and a map, both showing the way to Idle ::

World Cup 1: Revel Barker says:  “After Nigeria was eliminated from the World Cup the Nigerian captain personally offered to refund all the expenses of fans that travelled to Brazil. He said he just needs their bank details and pin numbers to complete the transaction.”  Revel even offered a WC joke: “I met a fairy today who said she would grant me one wish.  “I want to live forever,” I said.  “Sorry,” said the fairy, “but I am not allowed to grant that type of wish.””Fine,” I said, “Then I want to die when England wins the World Cup.”   “You crafty bastard!” said the fairy.

 WC2, Orange Blossoms:   Cerebral musings come from Rolando Kleewein, who to my bewilderment once presented me with a copy of Bertrand Russell‘s ‘History of Western Philosophy, ‘ obviously not realising that most of my books have to be coloured-in with crayons.  He points out that soccer is a substitute for war  and ” the usual suppressed national feelings are blazing up and receive in a mass dynamic development an unbelievable energy. it is a metastasis with a virulent outcome… but.. is to a great extent not dangerous.”  Then he tells how Holland has gone crazy before the Costa Rica QF: “My world now becomes orange.  The stamp-sized nation is plunging into the total war, (“der totale Krieg” – Goebbels)   . 

 “Everywhere you look, the only colour is orange.  the Dutch have not painted the sea and the cloudy sky yet, but there was much (else) done.  People have transformed the country in a flood of orange. About 16 million people have bought in shops and stores (for an additional 45 million € ) various goods :  carrots, orange cakes, pastry and sweeties, orange sunglasses, orange drinks and soda, orange decorations, even caps for rear vision mirrors and little flags, always in the same colour.  There is no end to the fantasy, we will see the happening on Saturday night. it will be fever.”    

This was written before the quarter finals. Sadly, Holland lost in the semi-final, on a penalty shoot-out, so we won’t see the North Sea recoloured. 

 Fascinating vid from Roger Tregear, of the manufacturing process of the Tesla cars in Fremont, Calif. “It was science fiction not so long ago,” he says. Here’s four minutes of hi-res video of some amazing robotic assembly lines.   Don’t say these epistles aren’t educational.

 Another thing to learn: if you live near pediatric nurse Natasha Buxton, be discreet.   She says: “Just witnessed my neighbor vacuuming the inside of their fridge.”   

Travellin’ Sisterhood:  Mary Martina upped stakes a year or more ago and boldly went solo from Macon, Georgia to Italy to live. She was rewarded within days by attracting admiring comments from the gentlemanly Italian males gathered in the town square, but so far refuses to report on progress in that area. Instead she writes modestly: “I just got back from Florence.  It was my 1st road trip with my new teeny chihuahua, Mamie and it went very smoothly.  My girlfriend chose Florence to celebrate her 70th.  It sure is a lot more crowded than when we visited 50 years ago!”  This, the editor implies, means Mary had her bottom pinched more frequently. 


Cautionary Tale:  Deep into a weekend of TV sport that included the Tour de France in Yorkshire, Wimbledon finals and the above-mentioned football World Cup, we virtuously opted to ease ourselves from our recliners and take a bike ride. Our over-age infant Rachel, still bandaged from a recent ‘uncontrolled dismount’ from her road bike, dragged us out. My astute son-in-law Bob Williams pleaded food poisoning from a wedding feast the previous day and stayed home, the lucky whatsit. I was mindful that the route was hilly and the forecast was for temps in the 90s, so double-shotted my bidons with Gatorade powder. More, I have always believed, is better. Uh huh.

 More sugary electrolyte mix is worse, worse, worse. Not only did I suffer miserably on the hills (as expected) but by the time we began driving home, I was feeling distinctly pale and interesting. My balance was so knackered I was clinging to the bike rack,  my head was aching and I was nauseous. Turns out that Gatorade in concentrations anywhere above weak is utter poison.

The Livestrong web site, which as Lance Armstrong‘s voice to the world should be the go-to authority on chemistry, says the stuff can be a serious health threat and cites the National Institutes of Health, who warn: “the symptoms of hypervitaminosis A  include blurred vision, fatigue, headache and nausea.”  At once, my Best Beloved sweetly pointed out that in more than 47 years of Holy Deadlock I have yet to measure anything when cooking, mixing or adding. This, she recalls, was why a blonde guest who once entered our hot tub’s toxic stew left it with green hair.

 I replied that it was only the lower eight or nine inches of her glorious tresses which had dipped into the water that were affected. Jennie trilled a tinkling, mocking laugh. “You added 15 times the correct amount of  chemicals to the water,” she said. “I wanted it to be safe,” I replied, with dignity. 

 All in all, I may adopt Graeme Obree’s formula for hydration and carb uptake. The hour record breaker and cycling genius relies on water and jam sandwiches. Sports drinks, he and a variety of nutrition experts agree, are a triumph of marketing over science. 

 Francis ‘Joe’  Mullins gloried in the Tour going to his native Yorkshire and added a sly note or two: “Watched the Tour de Francis for hours on NBC live….  fabulous pictures of places we know so well. Hoped they would go through Penistone but it was apparently too difficult for the sign language interpreter…although she managed to tell us about the young rider Coquard.”  

 Those who watch juvenile Jeremy Clarkson on ‘Top Gear’ will know that he loves to have ‘Penistone’ written on his car doors as sponsor’s advertising, arranged so the message when the door opens it reads ‘tone’ on one door and Clarkson’s naughty word on the other.

 To answer a question:  you may spot a black and white (or red/white, or blue/white) Union Flag*  at the Tour. It’s football fans supporting their Fulham team. Blue is, er, Peterborough, and red’s for Sheffield.   * Union flag = British flag, aka Union Jack when flown at the sharp end of a ship, on the spar called a jack staff.

Tuesday’s Cycling Tip:  don’t try to freewheel when you’re riding a fixed gear. Brazen Bob broke his pelvis doing just that…Now he’s hanging onto pretty therapists at Riverbend hospital as he re-learns that walking thing. It’s not true that Bob was imitating Chris Froome. 

 Graham Timmins sympathised, sort of. “Last time I stopped pedaling on a fixie, I went over the handlebars. Never had one since….mind you, I was an 11 year old, doing a paper round in Radcliffe!”

 First (and five star) review of my new histfict on Amazon (‘A Fragile Peace’)  contains a brilliant suggestion. The Duke of Dana Point wants Hollywood to cast the main characters thusly:  “Ask Ed Harris if he can do a kingly, Brit accent.”  

 the Duke also wants cavalry commander Grabelius  to be played by Jason Statham,  (Debbie Grabeel  is enthused) and Bishop Candless  to be portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger    though he’s not as well-muscled as the bish’s inspiration, Jim McCandlish,  and Viggo Mortensen  would make a fine sea raider Grimr. Or so says the Duke..

 My pal Clay Reid was so taken with the suggestions he sent them to a Top Hollywood Guy, suggesting silver screen status, so I’m all a-tremble.It didn’t stop me having other suggestions: Joe Mullins could be played by Nora Batty; Ken Potter as portrayed by Bob Parr (Mr Incredible), Fred Wehner to be  portrayed by Jurgen Klinsmann,  and Don Hesler, played by  Ben Kingsley (in his role as Sexy Beast, not Gandhi ).  Don’s cautious about eating curry, says he once had a bad Rogan Josh, it gave him a dicky tikka and he went into a korma. 

Also, if you’ve got a character in one of the books, don’t rein it in, send your suggestion about who should play you

 Musical notes: Clay Reid’s fun with music has so escalated, he’s built an amphitheatre on his California land, and … oh read this for yourself : “We put on a music event here annually in the outdoor amphitheater I’ve built here in Paradise   … Over the years, Miles Davis’ guitar man Garth Webber has headlined along with our various friends from Doobie Brothers, Santana and Tower of Power to drop a few names, and last year Carlos Reyes headlined with our local band of brothers ( local musicians ) who backed him up to an enthusiastic crowd…”    Wow. Names to pick up after you’ve dropped them, I’d say. Congrats, Clay!