Remember December

Posted by on Dec 4, 2014

E-1057 Crusoe Christmas 12/19/14

A delayed epistle this week, following a trip to Calif through massive rainstorms. st p.

A castaway Man Friday’s Xmas story arrives from Jeffrey Joffe: “Just a short reminisce – Mike McDonough and I went to Isla Juan Fernandez, some 420 miles off the coast of Chile. That was the place where Alexander Selkirk was banished for some dispute with the Captain or shipmates. Selkirk spent over four years waiting for rescue. After finally rescued by another British ship he returned to London. Selkirk was sitting in a pub telling tall tales within ear shot of Daniel Defoe who then concocted the Robinson Crusoe myth and his non existing side kick Friday.

“Since there was only twice a year supply ship service to the 80 residents of the island Mike and I chartered a plane to drop us off and pick us up 4 days later.

“We all know the story of Robinson and his cave…..yes there was a cave on the island and so was a lookout. Story and pictures were done in two days and as boredom set in the wine was flowing. Due to bad weather the aircraft would not come back to pick us up for ten more days. More wine bottles. To pass the time I typed on index cards the NE address and phone number and request to call when the bottle is found. A handsome reward was promised. 23 empty bottles of fine Chilean wine, with cards sealed with candle wax were tossed in the Pacific Ocean in the summer (December) of 1973.

“To this day, 41 years later, not one bottle appeared. Just imagine, if we relied on a bottle discovery we would still be sitting on a rocky beach, eating stale bread, moldy cheese and drinking fine Chilean wine.”

Ken Potter has discovered the Blonde Joke Few Have Heard: “A blonde chick gets a job as a physical education teacher, working with 15 year olds. She notices a boy in the field standing alone, while all the other kids are running around having fun. She takes pity on him and decides to speak to him. ‘You ok?’ she says. ‘Yes.’ he says.. ‘You can go and play with the other kids you know’ she says. ‘It’s best I stay here.’ he says. ‘Why’s that sweetie?’ says the blonde.
The boy says: “Because I’m the goalkeeper !!!”

Retired Air Commodore (hyperbole – Ed.) Skip Folden viewed the excellent Mike Hawthorn vid of his tooling around the Le Mans course in a Jaguar, sidestepping all kinds of pedestrians, carts and cyclists, and recalled his own experience with one of the world’ great classic cars: ” For many years I had a beautiful red, white sidewalls, spoked rims, knock off hubs, XK-150, named Bucephalus. People used to ask me if that was a disease. H’mnnn. Averaged 85 mph all way from San Francisco to NYC in 1965. The SU (as I recall) carburetors whistled. Water hoses gave way only when I turned off ignition in NYC after scattering dumb-bats of NYC crossing against red light. Loved the car. First wife made me sell it, as I was most often under it or its hood doing something or other. Should never have sold it. “

If you missed the Hawthorn vid, here’s the link supplied by the estimable Ken Potter:

Jack Grimshaw writes: “Speaking of Joe West, which we weren’t, you know he’s had 40-plus novels – mostly Westerns – published? Writes under the name Joseph A. West, but has continued at least one series by a dead guy. Co-authored one book with James Arness. Couple of nice plugs from Robert Olen Butler and Loren D. Estleman.”

Joe, a soft-spoken, gentle sort of Scot was once a very young Glasgow copper, a profession he abandoned after investigating a death in a Gorbals tenement. As I recall him telling it to us: “I was in this truly horrible place when the electricity meter ran out and it was suddenly pitch black. I fished out a coin and stumbled to find the meter when I stepped into something that seized my boot. I staggered to the hall to find I’d stepped in the bucket they used as a toilet and my foot was jammed in there.” It was a Road to Damascus experience and Joe turned to newspapers, where the merde flows, but arguably not in bucketsful, before heading out to the roundups.

Ron Haines updates us on the doings of former editor turned city councillor Malcolm Balfour who attended the demolition of a hospital, which seems to be a bit of wrongdoing but isn’t. That’s Mal smartly decked out as Yul Brynner.

Ken Hudson sends an adrenaline link: ten minute GoPro video of people mostly flying through the air…

Risking the Wrath of Merv, who says all my jokes are ancient , I wave onstage Fred Wehner’s latest laugher:

“The applicant had explained his constant winking was a medical problem.

Scanning his papers, the interviewer marvels: “This is phenomenal. You’ve graduated from the best schools, you have excellent recommendations and your experience is unparalleled. ?”Normally, we’d hire you in the – no offence – blink of an eye, but I’m afraid we can’t send out a sales representative who’s winking constantly. Potential customers will be scared off.”?”Wait!” says the man. “It stops when I take two aspirins. I’ll show you.”?He reaches into his pocket and begins pulling all manner of condoms, red ones, blue ones, ribbed, flavoured. Finally he finds a packet of aspirin, tears it open, swallows the lot and the winking stops.?Tapping his desk, the interviewer says. “That’s all well and good but this is a respectable company and we can’t employ a womanising sex addict.”?”Sex addict?” protests the guy. “I’m a happily married family man.”?”Well what about all these condoms?”?”Those?” he sighs “Have you ever been winking heavily while you ask the pharmacist for aspirin?”

and, Merv don’t read on, here are some stolen from the Daily Express blog…


What is Dean Martin’s favourite eel?

That’s a moray.


A transvestite from Greater Manchester walks into a bar.

He had a Wigan address.


I’ve decided to sell my Hoover – well, it was just collecting dust.


Q What’s the difference between Kate Moss and Max Clifford?

A Kate Moss is on the cover of Vogue, Max Clifford is doing Time.


There was this Chinese waiter, name of Mr Sho-Mi. He got drunk one evening and started dropping plates and things. So what did the customers sing?

“Sho-Mi the waiter go home!”


I used to go out with a Dutch girl who had inflatable shoes. It didn’t last – she popped her clogs.


A woman walks into a bar and asks for a double entendre. So the barman gives her one.


This Higgs Boson Particle escapes from the Cern Hadron Collider. It finds a Roman Catholic church and says to the priest: “You can’t have mass without me.”


A man bought a dog from the local blacksmith. When he got it home it made a bolt for the door.


An E-flat, a G-flat, and a B-flat walk in to a bar and the bartender says: “I’m sorry, we don’t serve minors.”

E-pustule 1056… More ‘unmitigated crap’ ***

Xmas Shopped Out: There could be hope, after all, of improvement in our social mindset, because we’re buying less Stuff. An august body called the World Values Survey says our materialistic view of life may be changing, and their project to survey beliefs and social habits globally found that the people of western nations are moving into an era of de-cluttering and post-materialism. They say that we’re taking a new look at our values and are beginning to move away from gathering More Stuff and are trending towards simpler, sparser lives.

It’s happening, say the WVS, because we in the western world have the basics of food, shelter and security, and now we’re seeking a better quality of life. That can mean downsizing houses and expenses so we have more leisure or family time. But: there are knock-on effects. One is that the trend spells doom for traditional retailers, because post-materialists are abandoning Shopping Therapy in favour of more-focused purchasing of things they actually need.

It’s already showing up in this year’s Xmas shopping, because more people are purchasing online, where they are inclined to be more purposeful and less impulsive among the greater selection, uncrowded experience and transparent pricing that the digital experience offers. Retailers, on the other hand thrive when we enter their stores. This is because we go in for the loss leaders, then hang around and make impulse purchases of the glittery things the crafty shopkeepers put in our way. We go for necessities parked at the back of the store and find we have to trek past irresistible goodies that we want to snap up. But even the people who actually enter stores are acting with greater frugality. Haunted by the recession’s hard lessons about debt, failed real estate investments and stagnant salary levels, Aussies, Austrians, Canadians, Italians and Americans (in that order) are becoming post-materialists and thrifty, crafty consumers. It’s no longer shop ’til you drop, it’s drop the shop.

Also seasonal, as we write our Xmas cards, ,,, please, please try to do what good journalists do – spell the recipients’ names properly. There’s little that irritates people more than seeing their names misspelled. As a (usually) happy husband and father I can vouch for the tight-lpped ‘would you believe it ?’ that comes from my wife and daughters about people who’ve known us for decades but still can’t spell our names. Jennie gets ‘Jenny’ and ‘Jeni’ (among other oddities of which the worst toothgrinder is Jeanie), Claire takes a medial ‘i’ so it’s not Clare, and Rachel is just plain Rachel, not Rachael or Raquel (really!) and FFS I’m Paul, not Veronica!!! Oh, wait…

I’ve also heard from Rodger/Roger; John/Jon; Mike/Mickey/Mick/, Jo/Joe, Geoff/Jeff/Jef and Debi/Debbie/Debby/Deby and Debie on this one. So, rant ending, give the gift of caring and correct spelling this Yule. Yule keep your friends in better humour Er, humor? Hummer?

More seasonal shopping stuff from Jack Grimshaw, in a sort of ironic op-ed about firearms and folks. He notes – see the last para – that gun deaths will likely overtake traffic fatalities next year and considers weapons purchases as Yuletide gifts. Disclosure: over the years, Jack has possessed a few guns, and suffered for it at least once. Here’s his thoughts: “my … ownership over the decades of a couple of .38s, a .357 Colt Trooper Mark III (Florida Highway Patrol weapon of choice in the ’70s), a beautiful over-and-under Browning Citori (purchased from our mutual buddy Joe West) and a Mauser 30-06. Was on the receiving end of the latter. It hurt.

“Looking for that special, seasonal gift for your 15-year-old grandson? The one with the potty mouth, juvenile-delinquent tendencies and dodgy friends? Well, you’re in luck, hoss. Because this is America, where nothing says Christmas quite like a 12-gauge shotgun. Big 5 Sporting Goods- with, uh, killer deals in 11 states from Washington to Texas – is running newspaper ads for a Holiday Super Sale on must-have items such as Mossberg’s ‘500’ Silver Combo Pump. If that’s not enough firepower for the little hoodlum, there’s always Ruger’s 10/22 Takedown Camo 10-Round-Magazine Semi-Auto Rifle.
“Recommended trinketry for yourself, stashed in your cowboy boot for when things get up-close and personal down at the Dew Drop Inn, is the 12-inch Iconic Marines Combat Knife. Options would be the Stiff Kiss Semi-Serrated Knife (we get a medium hard-on just reading that), Stonewashed G-10 Folding Knives and Ballistic Assisted-Open Knives. (Switchblades are illegal, of course, but we get the definite impression that’s not much of a problem.) If you’re a true patriot, there’s always the 14″ and 10” Bowie Knife Set.

“In a moment of perfect synchronicity, news stories are projecting that firearm fatalities in the U.S. will probably exceed traffic fatalities for the first time next year. Shooting deaths (murder, suicide, accidental) will probably rise to almost 33,000, and those related to autos will decline to about 32,000. Yep, happiness is a warm gun.”

In the media furore about torture, ISIS and its cruelties have dropped off our radar but the estimable Mark Mardell of the BBC has turned his canny eye on the would-be creators of a caliphate. The good news is, he reports, that they will be overwhelmed by the relatively minor deprivations that the citizens of occupied Mosul and other ISIS-occupied territory suffer. They are more angered about the rising price of gas for cooking, or resentful about the vanished mobile phone network than they are about burqas and beheadings. The violent, intolerant Wahabism (which gave rise to Saudi Arabia) may be designed to lure us into a ground fight to allow an Arabian Armageddon prophecy to be fulfilled, but it isn’t working. The wanna-be caliphate’s economic base is shot. It may take a year but support for the caliphate is collapsing for lack of cooking gas.

Down on the Florida farm, Jeffrey Joffe adjusts his overalls and muddy wellies to report: “Yesterday I finally completed 6,500 ft of field fencing with 20 gates and 128 corner and brace posts! Needless to say, I hope I do not have to plant another fence post in my life again.” He adds: “The Ice Bucket Challenge came to the farm, and Chocolate the heifer calf participated! Well ok she participated involuntarily. She is incredibly inquisitive, and stuck her head into an empty bucket, the handle dropped over her little horns and the fun started. She finally managed to shake the bucket off.

“We had two field agents from the NRCS visit the farm and one of them took this photo, which was entered into their state yearend contest. The photo got second prize in Florida!”

More unabashed self-promo. My latest historical fiction went up on Amazon this week, and the publishers did a fine job with the cover.

A group of us play our version of poker every week or so, a high-stakes affair that requires plenty of adult beverages, party food, five dollars and the ability to withstand insults. Jim Floyd attends after a drive down several thousand vertical feet from his mountain top (hyperbole – Ed) OK: he lives up a steep and dangerous-when-icy hill, but he is still up there in the clouds. He is also a molasses-slow decision maker when gambling, deliberating for ages over whether to plunge on a dime bet instead of a five cents one. The other week, I asked him about his Native American roots, and he said his ancestry was Kashaya Indian, from the California coast. So I looked them up. No kidding, this is what I found in a book by Otis Parrish: “The Kashaya, the first people known to have lived in the area that is now Fort Ross, still live in this region. The local native people consider their name to be “People From the Top of the Land.” The name Kashaya, which means “expert gamblers,” was given to them by a neighboring Pomo group.”
Expert gambler? People from the Top of the Land? Damn! No wonder he scalps us every week. And, ‘Kashaya’ sounds suspiciously like ‘cashier.’ Here’s Jim making a bet after losing his shirt.

From Emily Ray, who may know of what she writes, comes this image of The Day After the Big Party;

Cruise News: If you’re capable of NOT dying of envy, read on… Barbara Sternig sent Better Than A Postcard from her latest vacation trip: “HEY…I just blew in last nite from couple of weeks in French Polynesia, sloshing around all of those idyllic and dreamy isles surrounded by coral reefs and transparent turquoise lagoons. Tahiti, Mo’orea, Nuku Hiva, Bora Bora and a few others which have already blended into a haze of bliss. Ahhhhh, it was so nice, and never heard the news even once, not even BBC on stateroom TVs. Just gazed at water, snorkeled, circled the atolls and islands, walked around and talked to the completely unselfconsciously gorgeous and humble natives, donned the pareu they wear in lotsa new and different ties I didn’t know before, and of course gained 4 pounds. Short rations now for a while….” This arrived on a gloomy Oregon afternoon as rain lashed the windows (and anyone who went outside.) Thanks, Babs.

*** As judged by my longtime literary friend Mervyn Edgecombe, who includes Fred Wehner’s Teutonic chokes in the critique. I’m asking the Devon Dairymaids and the local chapter of Campanology Chaps to chastise him.

E-pistle 1055 12/4/14

Donkeys’ years ago, I was an apprentice with a shiny halo and an even more shiny suit. I had exited Saint John Baptist De La Salle College, Pendleton on my 16th birthday with a sheaf of papers attesting to the fact that I had failed maths but passed useful exams like Latin and was released clueless of what I wanted to do. So my father sent me off to a couple of interviews at large companies and I became a management trainee, i.e. an apprentice. Of course I failed.

I quit the first job on the morning of my second day in it and, as I’d not actually declined a rival offer, promptly began at a heavy engineering firm, where I spent a couple of miserable years shuffling papers in the traffic, accounts and purchasing departments, and briefly attended the training school (drafting, tinsmithing, machining, wiring) where the engineering apprentices served their four-year sentences. I was paid £4 a week, or less than I had received as a 13 year old delivering groceries on Saturdays and left when I was offered a newspaper job with infinitely more freedom, plus an ongoing day-release education.

I relate this tedious story because the UK government has recently announced stats from their own apprentice scheme. Intended to battle unemployment and to give job skills to youth, apprenticeship programmes are policy for all three political parties, and seem to be a massive Fail. The number of apprentices has doubled since 2009 to 851,000 today and almost half of them (42%) are not teens, but people aged 25 or more. Some 50,000 apprentices are aged 50-plus. Worse, they all seem to be wage slaves.

Apprentices in 2014 Britain can be paid just £2.73 ($4.23) an hour, and employers are not obliged to fund day release or evening class education, so an apprentice is cheap – read ‘subsidised’ – labour receiving work training which the employer would provide anyway. Nor is he/she being trained for jobs where there is a national shortage of skills.

The pay is another major issue. On my £4 a week in the early 1960s, I supported myself and my cycling habit. When I reached the heights of being a junior reporter on £14 weekly, I even bought a series of aged cars at around £30 a time. Fifty years on, an apprentice on starvation pay can barely afford bus fare but his employer profitably gets a government-subsidised worker and the nation’s Dept of Business boasts about its unemployment statistics. Oh yes, one more depressing thing: the government funds the apprentice subsidies scheme by draining cash from the same welfare services that the apprentice needs to feed himself. How’s that for a numbers game?

Moving along, Joe Mullins sends a super set of anecdotes: “Your recent mention of Ken Potter and David Duffy brought back many splendid memories. I recently had a few beers with KP and John South. As usual we ended up telling Duffy stories. David grew up in Manchester with an Irish dad and Jewish mum. He disparaged both groups and just about every other ethnicity. He held Australians in particular disdain. Imperfect sense then that his best mate in South Florida should be the Larrikin writ large, Kenneth Trevor Potter. To sit in the news room beside them was to be transported directly into an episode of Hancock with KP playing the gruff Sid James and Duffy cloaking himself in dubious dignity a la the lad from 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam. They battled weekly over David’s assigned task to book tee times at the local golf course.
KP: Have you got ’em?
DD: Why should I have to do this every week? I have important work to complete.
KP: You know why…it’s the only way you’ll get a game. Nobody wants to play with you unless you do the work.
DD: I can play with my friends.
KP: You don’t have any fucking friends.
DD: Alright…I’ll play with my neighbors.
KP Your neighbors won’t play with you because you’ve shouted at them all.
Phone rings. KP answers. Tells Duffy: That was Baker….he wants to know if Shit-for-Brains has booked the tee times.
DD: Shit-for-Brains. How dare he? I’ve never been so insulted.
KP: Yes you have. He called you it last week. And the week before that. He always calls you it. To your face.
DD: Well I can’t put up with this any longer.
KP: So what are you going to do.
DD: Guess I’d better book the tee times.
David had a fund of funny self-deprecating stories. I liked his one about Brian London. Duffy interviewed the Brit fighter just before his bout with Ali for the World Heavyweight Title in the mid-60’s. They got along famously and after their on-camera talk Brian escorted David to the door. Duffy shook his hand and said in a Hancockian way, “Brian, on behalf of every Englishman, I want you to know that we have every confidence in you. You’re going to put this upstart on his backside where he belongs.” London let out a guffaw and said, “Don’t be a c–t….I’m going to get fucking killed.” He was right…KO’d in the third.
David was truly an indelible character as well as being a fine reporter and a good mate. But then, I never played golf with him.”

The saint’s own best memory of Duffy is of the two of us sitting on the oceanfront terrace of an ultra-posh restaurant in Tenerife, Canary Islands after a two-week slog covering the world’s worst air disaster. We’d been through all the harrowing scenes and interviews, grabbed a genuine world exclusive ** by blackmail and had survived the entire fortnight on three or four hours’ sleep a night. Finally, the job was done, the paper had locked up and we had a breathing space before flying out. A waiter brought the seafood dinner we’d ordered and David surveyed the sunlit Atlantic and Teide volcano above us. Then he looked down at his plate. He picked up a sea creature and dangled it by one tentacle over the table. He sighed with pleasure. “You don’t,” he said, looking around again, “get this in Salford Docks.”

** I knew you’d ask. I got the tape of the last eight minutes’ conversation between the 747s and the tower. $4000 and a promise not to reveal the naughty fellow who’d nicked it.

Andy Leatham announces his newest e-book thriller, ‘Body Market,’ and here’s the blurb: “Mia, a beautiful medical student from Damascus, flings herself from the helm of a ferry into the North Sea. She is one of hundreds of young girls lured into the snare of a complex network of criminal activity. The NCA have called it Hydra – a network which spreads across Europe and the Middle East, supplying Class A and B drugs as well as firearms and women… To take down this national network, the NCA sends Ray Wilson undercover.” (Probably to find out what a medical student was doing steering a North Sea ferry. The publishers write the blurbs, and Andy is a saltwater sailor, so he was on that in a flash.) If you do splurge three quid on this excellent read, take a moment to review it, the more who do, the better for starving authors.

Get your copy here
(Amazon UK)

Andy wasn’t under cover there, and that’s the naked truth, but he has a story from the Creation: “Adam has been in the Garden of Eden for a couple of months and is getting bored so asks God if he can have a companion. “Funny you should ask that,” says God. “I was thinking of making you a woman.” “What’s a woman?” asks Adam.

God answers: “Well, the creature I had in mind would be beautiful to behold, compliant to your every desire whatever time of day or night, would make food for you three times a day and clean your dwelling place regularly. And she would do all this without once complaining or raising her voice.” “That sounds perfect God. I’ll definitely have one of those,” says Adam.

“Hang on a minute,” says God. “Such a loving, submisive and obedient creature is not an easy thing to construct. To do so I need to take from you the little fingers of each hand, the tips of each ear and your nose.” Adam thinks for a minute. “My little fingers, the tips of each ear and my nose is a very high price to pay,” he says. “What could you make with a rib?”

Those rib-tickling jokey Swiss, what will they think of next? The clockwork country with a rep for straight-faced business may harbour some pranksters after all, to judge by the bike-racing event that finished at the weekend. The Zurich Six Day is a track race (think a steeply-banked bowl, no brakes and teams of two) that the organisers bill as the World’s Fastest Six-Day. I thought that they meant it was a fast track, but then I noticed the event dates: Nov 26-29th. Oh. A six-day race, over four days? Ho ho ho, those cantons are full of comedians. Here’s a 2000 pic of podium girls there as consolation:

plus a pic of the podium guys, to be fair to all:

My favourite American professional racing cyclist is Alex Candelario, three times a US national amateur champion and possessor of a professional palmares that’s longer than a wet Sunday in Yorkshire. Last season he blew past Tour de France and world champion Cadel Evans and the entire BMC lead out team in full flight to bring his team leader a win in the Tour of Utah. He’s now retired and has set up a bike riding biz in Hawaii, offering training camps, clinics or just plain bike tours. Whether you want to train with the hard men, bike and do ocean sports, too, or simply poddle about gently and sample local cuisine, you should consider Alex’s new business. Check the website:

And, speaking of Hawaii, we have a story from jumbo captain – of aircraft, not elephants – Greg Finch. He viewed a pic from Jimmy Leggett of a monoplane riddled with arrows (Dawna Kaufmann had her suspicions about it being genuine, btw) and adds this: “In 1980 I was building time in my logbook as a flight instructor in Honolulu. One of my duties, in addition to teaching, was checking-out pilots wishing to rent our airplanes. To assess landing skills of the prospective renter, we would do touch and go’s on the north shore on Dillingham airstrip. While checking a pilot in a Cessna 310, we apparently flew too low over a pakalolo (marijuana) field nearby the airstrip. Never felt or heard anything, but upon parking the airplane in Honolulu, our mechanic found a bullet hole in the lower aft fuselage, and a bullet in one of the unused back seats. Yikes!”

Here’s the ultra-flighted aircraft: and yes, Dawna’s right. it’s an art piece representing ‘clash of cultures.’ The acupunctured airplane is labelled ‘Piper Comanche’ but it could well be a Cessna Arrow.

Ferguson, Missouri riots: Dan McDonald claims that Prez Obama is about to issue an executive order designating looting as ‘Undocumented Shopping,” while Dave Steadman points out that not a single pair of work boots got looted and Don Hesler sends this ‘newsflash’ from Ron Burgundy…(who should have said ‘dispensing.’)

Last, but not least, Ken Hudson sends a video of a stunning invention: a table saw that stops in a thousandth of a second if it senses a finger being fed into it… The vid had me holding my breath, and cringing. In ultra high speed photography, we see it all, including watching the inventor push his own finger into the blade… no, there’s no blood. Don’t try this at home.