St Paul’s E-pistles 2010

Posted by on Apr 9, 2011

This blog is updated until all the (40 to date) archived e-pistles are entered. I’ve also changed the order of the epistles, to show the latest first. (Thanx for the idea, Rachel, it makes sense) When all  are entered, it will be added to weekly, as they go out. Bear with me, thanx. This section covers August-December 2010 over,   PB.   For the past few months, I’ve been on a crusade to send a weekly ‘letter’ (St Paul’s epistles) to friends who, like me, rarely get anything worthwhile through the letterbox. I’m not saying this is worthwhile, but it isn’t a bill, it isn’t a plea for anything, it isn’t a ‘Bill Gates will send you a dollar if” bit of rubbish. The idea is to encourage friends to share thoughts and to keep me out of mischief for the time it takes to write this crap. In an ideal world, it would be written in ink on fine, watermarked  paper and carefully folded into an envelope to arrive crisp and elegant on your doormat. But I’d get cramp in my hand, I’d have to splurge out a couple of dollars per letter to the US Postal Service and the stuff would probably get lost, anyway. E-pistle E22   12/27/10 E22, St Paul to the recovering Xmassonians.   As usual, Jennie and I waited until a week before Crimble to get a tree, but also as usual, 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, 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 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 shiny, hard-headed dolls; 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…. and, I’ll bet you have similar tales.   Snow joke: professional rugby league in the UK is now virtually a summer sport which kicks off in tropical mid-February, so the traditional Boxing Day matches are few and far between, except in daft Yorkshire. News comes this week that the amateurs in the sport are debating whether to follow  the pros’ lead and play in the summer, too. Amateurs’ governing powers were to get together last week to discuss matters, but (insert irony here) the meeting was postponed:   because of snow. In Holland, the Beeb reported a setback for grass farmers. ” Police said the wintry weather had helped them identify and arrest cannabis-growers because their attic lights had melted snow from the rooftops.   On Xmas Eve,I had the front of my Landrover adorned with a fake leg and boot sticking out of of the grille. The pant leg was red velvet, trimmed with white fur…. As I drove into the supermarket parking lot, a boy of about eight spotted it and wailed to his mum: “He’s killed Santa!”  I allowed a Grinchy grin to cross my face…. made my day.   Taking the pistachio:  This year, we seemed to be ahead of preparations for Xmas – more time, less outside work – and I had the fun of doing a Gordon Effing Ramsey recipe for the stuffing (appropriate, eh?) It called for pork, some exotic spiced sausage, pistachios,  apricots, apples, lemon, other stuff. No apricots in the house,, despite my sous-chef’s assurances that we had some, but I couldn’t find them (the things I undergo!) so I used apricot jam, which made a lovely oozing syrup but was a bit like chewy toffee in the finished thing. I also added bread, had no pistachios,  so used walnuts, no spiced euro-sausage, so used chorizo (Mexican to you) and generally bodged the whole mess, but it worked out. Nobody really cared, as we had two Chrissy dins, a turkey on Xmas Eve, and roast with Yorkshire puds on Xmas Day. We all weigh about 34 lbs more than before, which has doubled Jennie’s weight and boosted mine by 5%.   In the evening 15 or so friends showed up for a White Elephant gift exchange and more calorie-loading of desserts and booze. A truly horrible plaster sheep exchanged hands for the fourth or fifth year, Kathy Perry threatened violence because I stole the faux marble wine cooler she wanted and Phil, after spilling his drink through a rug and into the carpet, got an animatronic dinosaur that roared and wiggled its armoured tail. Went to bed with our faces covered in sparkles from the Xmas crackers. Am told they’ll wear off by February.   Praise indeed:   Reaction to my epistles comes from The Man Who Nicked My Trip to India, Harold M Lewis. ‘Apauling piece of crud, ‘ and ‘shit, ‘  he was generous enough to write, not telling how he really felt about it. Then he went on to tell of his wedding night, spent waiting for the auto club man to show up and fix his ailing motor. Car, that is. Harold waited in the bar, sensitively cuddling a glass of pink champagne,  while his new wife pined in the hotel bedroom. Harold? Why didn’t you just abandon the car? After all, it was an MG and they’re about as reliable as an Afghan politician, but a bride on her wedding night should not be kept waiting..   My favourite Aussie, Dave Anson, steps up to the casting call for those who’d like their characters to be in my Carausius book (possible title: ‘The Pirate Lord of Britain.’)  With his usual panache and eye to the business main chance, Dave wrote: “I herewith volunteer my empty shell for you to fill with what ever devious tasks your twisted mind can conjure up.   I would prefer the role of a hangman, executioner, cruci-fixer-upper, or similar. If position already filled, how about keeper of the keys to all chastity belts? I can see a pretty lucrative side trade there. “ Dave, it’s a deal. Other volunteers: Rachel wants to be a Roman noblewoman who’s a power behind the throne. while Claire said she saw herself ,er, in the mirror. Susie Silvestri wants to be an influential  trader in hunting dogs and wool, Kathy P said she thought she’d be rather good as the spirit of the woods, which might test the author a bit. I must admit the idea of basing fictional characters on friends/relatives isn’t new. Elisabeth Beresford,  creator of The Wombles,  confessed: : “Great Uncle Bulgaria was my father-in-law, Madame Cholet was from my daughter Kate… my brother had two children and John was a very clever boy who went to Wellington College, which is where Wellington came from… and Orinoco I just picked off a map.” The Old West prospector was travelling across the prairie, came across a homestead and looked with suspicion at the line of hills ahead. “What’s in them?” he asked the settler. “Oh Ja,” said the recent immigrant from Austria. “Go in there and you’ll for sure find a bacon tree.” “Waal,” said the prospector, “I’d sure like to see one of those,” and he carried on his way. He came back two days later, covered like a hedgehog in arrows. “Damn it all,” he complained. “There was no bacon tree, just redskins waiting for me.”   “Oh Ja,”  said the Austrian. “That was the word, a ham bush.”     Epistle E21  12/20/10 (includes Tabloid Man excerpt) Chronicles of Barnia:   Last e-pistle before x-mas so here’s something seasonal, also from that upcoming work of immense, er, Sopoforic Value…ta da!   ‘Tabloid Man….’ It’s about Enquirer publisher Gene Pope’s desire to display the world’s biggest Christmas tree. All across the Enquirer’s manicured grounds and lawns of Bermuda grass at Christmas stood an array of individual displays. They were Toytown landscapes, complex model railroad layouts, animated Santas and elves, reindeer and chimneys. Gawking busloads of tourists nightly strolled the displays to canned music of Bing Crosby, Mario Lanza or Frank Sinatra, and peeked in the office windows in hopes of seeing a space alien, or maybe, the Tortoise That Could Do Trigonometry. Over the 17 years the mega-trees were erected, maybe four million pilgrims from across North America came to view them. A December day in frozen Michigan or New Jersey can be a powerful argument to take a trip to see the world’s biggest Christmas tree in balmy Florida. The pine pilgrims came in busloads, carloads and, for the last few yards, often on walkers. The first year the tree was lit, an old dear was driving the curve of Highway One into which the tree was tucked and happened by just at the moment some tired comedian from Pope’s youth was throwing the switch to turn on the lights. To the old lady’s startled eyes, a giant lighted Christmas tree seemed to leap out into the road in front of her, causing her to swerve onto the railroad tracks alongside and get a nose bleed. That made a paragraph or two in the next day’s local paper, and in following years, the Highway Patrol halted US1 traffic for the vital minutes, but the locals never did have the untold story of how the traffic-threatening giant got there. When GP wanted to find Utopia, he sent a reporter. When he wanted to locate the biggest Big Tree, he delegated the task of finding and fetching it home to one of my friends, wily Aussie Hayden Cameron. Hayden was a former Daily Mail man, who’d nabbed the title of Britain’s junior journo of the year, and was the sole survivor of the Enquirer’s PR department purge. That escape probably owed much to Cameron’s Dale Carnegie training, finely-honed instincts and seeming ability to teleport himself away from any threats that entered his personal zip code.  For the last few years of the hunt for The Tree, Cameron flew to the Pacific Northwest in the fall and spent weeks with check-shirted, big-booted loggers, searching Oregon and Washington for the perfect spruce, that is, one shapely, full and tall enough to please the boss. Most years, the job was reasonably routine, but when GP heard of a 120 footer put up for the opening of an Oregon mall, every competitive instinct surfaced. ‘That,’ he growled around his Marlboro, ‘won’t be enough.’ After three weeks of soggy tramping through Bureau of Land Management wilderness, Cameron’s Tree Team joyfully located a 135 ft beauty, sank a reviving cordial or two and called the office.  Enquirer business manager Dino Gallo flew west. The spruce earned his nod. He called in a team of loggers and had Southern Pacific roll up a rail flatcar to carry the forest giant 3,000 miles to its illustrious future in Florida.  All was ready, chainsaws primed, when a uniformed ranger stopped the show. “No trees can be cut this year,” he said. “Conditions are too dry. There’s too high a fire danger. Dragging that through the forest could cause a friction fire.”  Thwarted momentarily, the team remembered another tree, 126 feet tall, they’d surveyed on a nearby Indian reservation. Native Americans, Dino reasoned, lived outside federal laws and the white man’s fire precautions would be less strictly enforced. After considerable negotiation with the tribe, a deal was struck.  The Indians would do a rain dance, soaking the ground and safely prepping the area against fire hazards, and the tree could be cut. Bundles of cash changed hands.  The rain dance, however, was a bust. “The old guys can’t remember it properly,” explained one brave, folding a wad of readies into the back pocket of his Wranglers. That was when the Indians’ memories improved about how much trouble they’d be in if they started a forest fire. The deal was off and they faded into the undergrowth, the white man scalped again. Dino went upstairs. He made for the state capitol in Olympia and talked to the lawmakers. Which lobbyists got what we’ll never know, but a special tree-cutting permit was arranged, with conditions. Platoons of firefighters on five engines joined the Enquirer payroll for the day, an air tanker carrying tons of fire retardant circled overhead and a US Army Chinook helicopter was employed to hook the tree into the sky and deliver it undragged to the waiting rail car, obviating any danger of fire-producing friction. The operation was a success, and a week later, the rail car halted on the line alongside the Enquirer office. The million-dollar tree was delivered. All was ready. GP had ordered a six foot deep concrete sleeve set into the ground, with a Stonehenge of concrete piers and an array of stout guy wires around it. This footing and support would hold a tree that was usually around 120 feet tall, and withstand 80 mph winds, or ‘strong gale’ Force Nine on Sir Francis Beaufort’s Scale. The sump was filled with water, to reduce the chance of the tree becoming a burning bush, and to keep it hydrated for its two weeks of gawker fame. Once erected, the giant spruce was given some artificial aid. Because very large trees usually don’t have branches for the first 25 feet or so of their trunks, they don’t look much like the traditional six-foot Douglas fir with its branches low to the ground that we see in our living rooms at Christmas. Pope looked at his untraditional Christkindlein’s Baum with enough room to park a double-deck bus where the presents should go and decreed: “Give it more branches!” A crew of leather-clad, tattooed bikers, employed to hang the decorations on the tree, found themselves affixing giant fir boughs to the trunk, boughs so long they were too heavy just to be nailed on, but also needed to be suspended from above with hidden cables. Only then, with massive creaking boughs sweeping low over the onlookers’ heads, was the tree decorated with its 15,000 light bulbs, mile of garland and 1,000 oversized ornaments. Several hundred red bows added the finishing touch. But there was a snag.  Despite all the time, effort, and money, the quarter million annual visitors were not viewing the world’s biggest Christmas tree. Some quivering wretch notified an incredulous Pope that the Oregon mall’s tree, a contender grown more or less on the mall’s own doorstep, was 14 feet taller, at a certified 150 feet, and had been awarded the title of World’s Biggest in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Enquirer tree might have qualified as the world’s most expensive evergreen, but it was in second place in the height department. Cameron went into teleport mode. Pope promoted the spruce anyway as the world’s tallest, using qualifying phrases to eliminate the competition. He even set a series of editors to cajole, admonish or negotiate with the McWhirter twins who compiled the record book.  Ross and Norris were adamant. Uncompromisingly, they had already disqualified a towering smokestack decorated as an artificial tree. They’d turned down a giant Tasmanian tree because it was a eucalyptus, not a spruce. They certainly would not concede the Enquirer’s tall Tannenbaum the official nod when it was topped by its Oregon rival. GP for once had to be content on the lower step of the podium. He probably never knew which was worse: losing the tree title, or being unable to fire the McWhirters.                                                                    *********** Troubles and tribulations for Ted: my bro in Scotland has been housebound twice now in the past six weeks, thanks to what we’d regard as a minor snowfall (about six inches ) and a freeze. Here’s his report:   “What a quandary we find ourselves in, over here in the U.K. whenever snow hits these parts !  It doesn’t matter which form the snow takes, tiny feathery flakes falling for a few minutes, or wizzard blizzards active over a considerable time.. Result.. B—-y Chaos.!  The rail system grinds to a halt. Snow on the tracks.  Points freeze. Crews unable to report for duty. Mainly stranded by the miniscule inch-and-a-half drifts blocking their front gates. Icy roads prevent walking or driving. Not gritted. Public Transport is at a standstill. Can’t leave the Depot. Lack of Drivers. Meanwhile the roads are not gritted, due to the wrong type of grit. ( Would you believe THAT ?)  Most Airports are closed down, due to Rain ? Frost, Icicles, with Runways and Dispersal Areas all snowbound. Standing Aircraft need de-icing before being put into service. Alas, the de-icers are frozen solid. This sort of fiasco repeats itself every Winter, no matter how light or severe.  Just a matter of a few weeks ago, The Scottish Transport Minister was forced to resign because he lost control.  (HE LOST CONTROL OF THE WEATHER ?) My comment ? “Nine Dits and a Dah ! “     Back in Oregon, our Christmas plans are about complete and we’ve left the snow in the mountains. I’ve put up a string of Xmas lights – not too many, as the cross-street neighbour has about 15,000 lights and a lawn full of reindeer, Santas, snow globes and other junk that attracts a stream of lights-viewing visitors every night (to Axel’s loud delight).  In a way it’s a Good Thing, because one year the Nativity crib blew over. I’m now assured of my place in heaven, as I put Christ back on his feet. Claire The FirstBorn Favourite flies in on Thursday for a shopping splurge (It’s amazing how cheap shopping in Oregon seems to California eyes, as there’s no 10% sales tax)  We mght or might not take a day in the snow, we’ll have our Christmas Eve squabble over opening presents  – we used to open one each, as a CE treat, but one year naughty Claire and Jennie (not me, I’m virtuous) voted down Rachel’s objections and we had a present orgy, and opened everything before morning. Rachel grumped for about five years and we still have the memory of Christmas Day with no gifts left to open, but the-hell-with-tradition feeling was so good we threaten to do it again every year, until she gets twitchy and picks up a cricket bat. So, it’ll be brunch, dinner around 4pm, dessert with a few friends later. It’s also a chance to have a White Elephant gift exchange, though I’ll have to be careful again about not putting out some of last year’s presents to the people who donated them. That’s happened, and I’m not talking about the velvet picture of Christ and Elvis together in heaven. I’m keeping that one. Here’s my tip about Xmas gift wrapping, a chore that I do badly and gets me laughed at yearly, but hopefully not this time. Use cooking tinfoil. You just crumple it around the target object, crease it a bit, and it conforms to the present’s shape. It can be a bit of a giveaway if you’re ,say, wrapping a banjo, but it works, and if it’s a food item like a turkey, you can pop it into the oven, unopened. Just don’t do that with chocolates or explosives.     Am reading ‘Dreadnought,’ by the historian Robert Massie, who outlines the precursor events to WW1 and the rise of the British and German navies. He won a Pulitzer for his work, and when you see the insights he delivers, it’s easy to understand why.   In a passage describing the domestic habits of Victorian prime minister Lord Salisbury, Massie wrote: “He treated his ten children like small foreign powers, not often noticed, but when recognized, regarded with unfailing politeness.  ‘My father always treats me as if I were an ambassador,’ reported one adolescent , ‘and I do like it.’ ”   ‘Small foreign powers,’   I do miss the empire. (There’s a measure of my age: when I was a boy the king – George VI – was also Emperor of India, and we had a lot of pink bits on the map.Now, the closest we get is a movie about his stutter.)   Reaction to my tale of letting Axel lick my plate before it went into the dishwasher comes from Mary Kline, fresh from a visit to Cark. She lets me know I’m not alone in the pre-wash lick biz, her Dad  let their canine do the job, too. Here’s the best part of this week’s epistle: “We had a dog named Roller (after the Bay City Rollers – we weren’t very cool kids) and she was the love of my father’s life.  He let her lick the plates after dinner every evening when Mum wasn’t looking.  Usually they got washed anyway, so this went on for a while.  Until the day Mum put them back on the shelf (they were spotless and quite dry – Roller did a great job).  As you undoubtedly know, a plate licked by a dog dries very quickly and gives no hint as to what occurred until it meets with some water again at which point it turns extremely slimy.  Luckily Mum ran water over one of them before serving dinner the next night – to put it mildly, she was very upset with Dad and, from then on, the dishes were washed immediately after dinner.  Also, Roller was banished from the kitchen but that only lasted a week.  Gerry and I usually did the dishes as my brother always saved a bowel movement for just after dinner and my other sister Fran couldn’t do them as her hands and nails were too beautiful, she claimed.”   A note on more doggie stuff: I sent out a splendid set-up photograph of a handful of Labradors dressed for a nativity scene, with a couple of horses and a donkey behind them. The doggie shepherd (burnous and crook) and his Lab sheep (in sheepskins, with floppy ears) cracked me up, but an LA friend made me do the LOL bit when she responded. She said she thought “the one playing the horse had really great makeup.”   The image is attached, in case you haven’t seen it. Same friend, Dawna Kaufman, scored twice. I’d com across a byline in the LA TImes for a Rong Gong Lin II, was amused and sent a note around to share the titter. Dawna, who used to make up questions for ‘Jeopardy’  came back with: “You have to ring twice.”  She added in kindly mode: “He’s a good utility reporter, from the few dealings I’ve had with him.”   Another old friend reconnected: Harold M  Lewis, aka HM the Lewis or Lord Lewis, as he styled himself to get restaurant bookings, and I had a long chat the other day, after a silence of, oh, 30 years. Harry’s still the same, tall tales  of his days as a Mirror reporter, then as an Enquirer ditto, splashing Other People’s Money around and living large on expenses. He told of making an appearance at a journos’ luncheon, said old friends were coming out of the woodwork, it being the doorways of various taverns (told me not to use the phrase, but I’m only reporting it, Harold, not stealing) and misquoted a bit of Latin to go with the misspelled Italian Jim Outlandish corrected him over. Nothing changes. I’ve had to retype this graf several times, as the cat’s on my desk and keeps putting a paw on the keyboard. Everyone’s an editor. I told Harold he’d changed my life, and maybe it was a good thing, maybe not. I bumped into him in a Manchester pub one winter’s day in 1972. He was resplendent in white suit and white brothel creepers, very tan, and told me he was having a wonderful time at this American magazine in Florida, where the locals thought he was Alistair Cook. Yes, the Enquirer. So it started. I reminisced that we’d met in the Victoria pub, and he promptly corrected me. “No, it was the Swan With Two Necks.”  It’s stunning how our longterm memories are so vivid when I can hardly recall what I had for breakfast today. It’s a bit like the two old geezers walking down the street as their wives followed a few paces behind.   “What was the name of that school we went to as children?” one asked the other. “Oh, I can’t remember.” said his pal. “All right, what’s the name of that flower with thorns, you know, a red one usually?” “A rose?”  “That’s it,” said the first geezer. Then he turned around. “Rose,” he said to his wife, “what’s the name of that school we went to?” Another friend was complaining about her memory loss. “Can’t remember anything these days,” she said, ‘Think I’m going a bit peculiar. And, I can’t hear anything properly, and my eyes are going, Really, I can hardly see these days. It’s awful, this getting old and senile and deaf and blind. Thank goodness I still have my driver’s licence.”   Parish notice: if you live in the Palo Alto region and can help, Kathy Hudson and adult daughter Christa are looking for a place to live. Kathy’s undergoing chemotherapy at Stanford, has to be close to her doctors, so has moved down from Nevada. She’s seeking in-law quarters, a small apartment , anything of that kind with a reasonable rent. Check your friends if you can’t assist, please.   What I found when I was looking up something else, made Tears of Happiness Stream Down My Cheeks. You too, may enjoy the sensation, as Jim McCandlish’s victim tells it… The story was that a Wisconsin cartoonist proposed to his girlfriend in his newspaper’s morning cartoon strip, and Enquirer Top Stringer Jim was assigned to call him…The cartoonist later recounted the experience. Now read on: “What I could tell from James McCandlish’s voice was that he appeared to be a burly Briton of northern descent: a son of  the daring Border Reivers, perhaps, those brutal, brave, hard-bitten horsemen who fought off wave upon wave of  Scottish hordes in the name of king and country. What I COULDN’T tell was that he was writing this for the National Enquirer, mostly because he never said he was. “I’m with Sun News Features,” he growled, in a voice guaranteed to make any invading clan think twice about sacking Stirling Castle. “It’s a syndicate that places stories across America and Europe, and we’re interested in the very unique way you proposed to your fiancee.” The story ran, and this excerpt might indicate its tone, and the subject’s reaction: “Lines like “we’re the happiest couple in the world” and “he was misty-eyed” were tossed about with gay abandon. It  was, in short, as touchy-feely as two hours of Jean Feraca on Wisconsin Public Radio, and I wanted to crawl under a  stone.  But worse was to come.  “We hugged,” the story had me saying, “And soon tears of happiness were streaming down our cheeks.” This was more problematical, if only because: I never said this.?In no small part due to the fact that… Tears of happiness never streamed down my cheeks.
  1. And also that…On the off chance that I HAD ever said this, and that tears of happiness at some unspecified point DID stream down our cheeks, I would immediately have impaled myself on the nearest butter knife available.
However, giving the National Enquirer the benefit of the doubt, the phrase may just have been taken out of context.  These things happen in journalism all the time. For example:  “Would you say tears of happiness were soon streaming down your faces?” McCandlish asked, when he called me up. “No, I would not say tears of happiness were soon streaming down our face,” I replied. See how easily that can be misinterpreted?   All I know is, tears of happiness are streaming down MY face, right now.  Of course,  the cartoonist isn’t credible. The Reivers were simply steel-bonneted cattle thieves, and they never fought off any hordes, Scots or English.  How dare he criticize Jim when he himself is so inaccurate?  I taxed Mr McC with this (very old) sin, and he gallantly responded that his nephew had sent him the printed version.   “At least the guy could take a joke…In the circumstances, all I could do was beam with pride…” Saw this from England and Lions rugby god, Phil Vickery: “Back in the summer of last year, after being recalled to the Lions side for the third and final meeting with the Springboks in Johannesburg, he was asked to reflect on his previous appearance for the Test team in Durban a fortnight previously – a game in which he finished such a distant second to the powerful Zimbabwean-born prop Tendai Mtawarira that he was given the shepherd’s crook treatment early in the second half. “You know you’ve had a shit game when your wife and your mother text you afterwards to tell you they still love you,” he said.   Hopefully, your holidays and upcoming year will be better than that. So, all seasonal good wishes to you and your loved ones and have a splendid time re-creating and digesting.     Epistle E20     12/13/10 Sunday night, a bit early this week with St Paul’s Epistle to the Effusians.  Claire gave me a wonderful Simon Winchester book (I’ve been a fan of his material, since ‘Their Noble Lordships,’ and had dinner with him in Honduras when we were both working on a disaster. The fellow was charming, educated, had it all. He made me feel like a mental midget – shut up at the back, there)  Anyway, I enjoy his books, and this one’s on the rise of geological studies. It’s about the 18th century engineer  William Smith, who worked on mines and canals, noticed strata and developed his theory of geological deposits that turned into the first geological map of Britain. ‘The Map That Changed the World’  had me  learning much about the place in which I grew up, as canal pioneer Francis Egerton, the Duke of Bridgewater, built Britain’s first canal a few hundred yards from where my my parents’ house would be built,  and began the canal mania that put a network of waterways across England.  I lived a half mile from the mines that made Egerton’s fortune without knowing that he’d had 14 miles of underground canal built, to get coal from the face cheaply to market. What I did know was that Queen Victoria visited our small town (Eccles, 1,500 years old) and travelled by royal barge to the canal end at Worsley, where she stayed at the old hall. She walked up the newly-laid granite steps and turned to view the Cheshire plain, murmuring at the lovely scenery. A century later, friends of mine retrieved that top step and installed it above their fireplace in Church Lodge. They would dazzle visitors  with the (true) statement that Queen Victoria once stood on their mantelpiece….   Christmas gifts:   Jennie’s reaction to finding out she’d used a dog-bespittled plate (left out by me)  for her breakfast was swift and to the point. She left an REI catalogue open at a page where she’d chosen Christmas presents, with the objects heavily underlined. Yes, ma’am. Rachel, on the other hand, suggested our family draw names to reduce the gift-giving load. You draw the name of whomever’s to receive a gift from you, is the premise. Claire was enthusiastic, and offered to draw up the roster. Thus: Sender – Recipient Rachel – Claire Bob – Claire Jennie – Claire Paul – Claire   It’s good to smile, because sometimes, a week is just  not good, and we’ve had a crop of unhappy things to digest. News comes of four couples, all our friends, who are divorcing or in counselling after long marriages. One woman was hit by a double blow. Divorcing, she went home to her parents to find her aged father had been taken into care for Alzheimer’s, one of the cruellest ailments. And, in Calif, a vibrant friend is in serious health straits. Please send a quiet prayer if you’re so inclined, to maybe ease their troubles.   Alarums and excursions sent police cars skidding to our local Amazon Creek bike path the other day after a jogger was startled to see a large brown animal lumber into the bushes behind a mini-mall. A bear!  The cops found nothing, but walked about with drawn guns, looking nervously over their shoulders in fear of a grizzly attack. The next day a local furniture store owner solved the case. George Cole lets his brown Welsh Mountain ewe, Sissy, graze on the creek bank and the police and the jogger are feeling sheepish….  It was just Sissy, on the lam.   groan.   Casting Call:   First response from a First Responder, firefighter Steve Franklin replied to my offer to include readers as characters in my upcoming novel.  Steve jumped in feet first with: ” I would love to be Stevig “the Stupid”; awesome ex viking warrior who on arrival in Ireland started a policing/firefighting/security business enhanced greatly by his employment of the best thieves, murderers and arsonists that the Emerald Isle had to offer . . . eventually caught by the Village elders while fornicating with Chieftain’s wife in the middle of the blazing community hut he had just alighted to stir up some business.” Fact is, I’m serious about wanting people to volunteer as characters. It’s easier for me to envision a character if I can base her/him on a real person. You can indulge your 3rd Century fantasies as a Roman soldier, Gaulish pirate, Vandal warrior, early Christian martyr (they were being persecuted a lot at the time, as they refused to acknowledge Augustus as a god) trader, Pict, sea raider, builder – Carausius improved the Saxon Shore forts – or almost anything but a taxi driver, as they’re all taken and the chariots are spoken for.  I can finish you off in bloody fashion, or make you a hero. Your choice.  Free, this offer will not end soon. email your wishes. Murderers, assassins, cutpurses welcomed. Poor Graham Timmins, who’s had notice from a Nigerian hitman that there’s a contract out on him. The good news is that the hitman promised, for $28k, to abort the mission. Now things are cheaper, with survival priced at $298 , but the threat’s still there, The scam email even suggests Graham might get $2.5 mill for surviving … see this:    “I am writing to confirm the fact if you are (DEAD) or (ALIVE) and failure to reply back in the next 24hrs simply means what Jude Ejioma said was right that you are dead. Rev Jude Mba has agreed to pay the needed charge fee valued of $298.00dollars required for the Bond Release Order Fee of your consignment box, But we have not gotten the money from him yet as we want to find out if you are dead or not, so if you are still (ALIVE) you are advice in your own best interest to reply back. The only money you will pay to our office is just $298.00 for the paper works, take note of, so we can stop further communication with Rev Jude Betsy and delivery the consignment box to your door step being the original benefactor of the $2.5 Million US Dollars. Contact our General Director with below e mail address= (in Nigeria) Graham’s puzzled, of course, and writes: “Couldn’t quite decide whether I should reply…that makes me (alive) Or not bother…and then he will think I am (dead) And if he realises I am not (dead)….will he hire another hitman?? With a feeling akin to sending off your child to kindergarten (or college) I finally stopped tinkering with my manuscript and handed it over to a nice Englishwoman, Kim McGovern, who’s a book designer. She’ll feed it through various software programs, put in the chapter and sub-headings, design the front and back covers (using Rachel’s idea and Bob’s eerie picture of the Baffling Chair of Death)  and set the whole thing up as an e-file I can upload to Amazon, who’ll print it and make it available as an e-book, too.  It’s an odd feeling not to have the thing to adjust, edit, tidy up or rephrase, after having this albatross around my neck for, oh, three years. I’ll say no more about it, but alert readers will see that  I’m adding an excerpt to the end of this epistle. apologies if it sends you to sleep…   Yesterday, I was interested to read on an journos’ site my old chum Harold Lewis’ account of splashing Other People’s Money around on his worldwide jaunts. One anecdote concerned him dropping a big roll of $100 bills in the back of a Kashmir taxi and scrambling to retrieve it before the cabbie drove off.   It moved me to respond thus.. Editor:  I read my friend Harry Lewis’ entertaining account in Ranters of life in the fast lane of Enquirer expense accounts and found myself nodding at that Western Ontario University student’s question: “Is this guy for real?”  As a fellow traveller on the same Enquirer editorial team, I can vouch that he was a Big Spender. From the minute he walked in the joint, Harry was an Olympic-class user of corporate credit cards.(You can set that last to music, eh?)  Keen observers of the human condition will note, however,  that nowhere in Harry’s account is there mention of him Actually Writing A Story. His tale of losing a fat roll of readies in a Kashmir taxi is likely true. He certainly was in Srinagar, and I wasn’t, damn it.  Here’s the backstory of how he found himself there, extracted from my upcoming Epic Tome, ‘Tabloid Man.’   From my next assignment in France, it was an easy trip into Switzerland to meet the world’s leading expert on ancient astronauts.  Erich von Daniken, ex-con evangelist for the theory of long-ago visitors from space and author of ‘Chariots of the Gods,’ had invited me to his home in Zurich, where he terrified me and the local citizenry by race-driving the streets in a Chevrolet station wagon only slightly smaller than a nuclear submarine. He told me tales of tracking ancient astronauts, and focused on one area in particular.  He’d followed the Hindu legends of star visitors 3,000 years ago to a ruined temple in Srinagar, Kashmir. There, he and his assistant Willie Dunenberger claimed to have detected faint traces of radiation that led in a 52-meter straight line from the temple door to the altar. This, Erich extrapolated, meant that the site was once a repair shop for starships – the radiation traces were left as they drove in and out, and the locals had later built the temple in hopes like those of New Guinea’s Cargo Cults, of attracting their celestial visitors back again. It all seemed very reasonable to me, if I could get a trip to India out of it, and the game at that time was that if you put up several decent ideas, you could go anywhere in the world to get them. I submitted the proposal and dug out my passport i anticipation. It wasn’t to be. Fellow reporter Harry Lewis, whose white suit and wintertime tan, displayed in gloomy Manchester, had lured me into this situation in the first place, was on his way home from Hong Kong or somewhere. He was instructed to stop off in India, take a hired academic along to the temple and independently verify matters. I knew what would happen, and it did. The Most Inventive Man in the Office didn’t want to have to write anything, so he simply neglected to find the radiation with the Geiger counter the academic brought along. As I watched my entertaining if unscientific story collapse, I pleaded with the editors. “Just let me add one word to the story. If I say it’s an intermittent line of radiation, everything else stands up!” They weren’t convinced, and the story ended on the spike. Back home in Lantana, sleek and glossy on expenses, Harry showed us pictures he’d taken in Macau on another story, and I sulked. “I suppose you got that one?” I snarked. “No, old boy, killed it, too,” Harry smiled. He’d been halfway around the world without writing a word.   Of course, I sent this on to a couple of accomplices, urging them to stir up matters by writing to the same webzine, and saying that Harry wouldn’t mind, he’d enjoy the attention. One wrote back swiftly:”That’s exactly why I won’t… it makes him worse.”   Small triumphs:  Went to a concert last night with Jennie to listen to her old orchestra and pretty good it was, too. The audience had newcomers, and they clapped between movements once or twice, causing them some mortification (it’s awful to be the only idiot clapping). Anyway, the third piece was a Sibelius one, a sad waltz (OK,  Valse Triste) about a dying woman’s last dance. The piece ended without a defining oompah and the audience, mindful of prior embarrassments, sat on its hands. The seconds went by, five or six very long ones, as the orchestra looked at each other and the conductor probably made faces, and I earned my bravery medal. I clapped first, and loudly.A second or two ticked by, agonisingly slowly, then the audience joined in. I felt like going onstage to take a bow.           It’s a heartstopping moment, to put yourself in the way of shame in case you are wrong, but I put it right up there with the time I coughed during a quiet moment in Winchester Cathedral, during a BBC choral taping. I did it deliberately, to hear myself when the thing was broadcast. That plan failed. The sound engineers edited it out. Call me childish, it’s OK.   Bottled up: we’ve had some busy-ness and some bad weather, so I’ve not had the bike out for several weeks, was determined to go on Sunday (yesty) as the weather guessers said it would be a dry day. Up betimes, as Sam Pepys would say, saw a red glow in the east, sunshine, set about my morning routines then put my bike kit on. Looked outside and in 20 minutes it had gone from promising to pouring, so changed back to day clothes. Found Jennie and said:”Have you seen my cycling shoes?” “No,” she said.  “That’s good,” I said, “because I’m not going out in this weather.” Instead, I spent a few hours bottling pear wine. It will be interesting, as I added sugar just before corking the stuff. That’ll make it ferment, hopefully just enough to make it sparkling but not enough to blow the corks, which ahs happened before, once staining the ceiling (came thru from the loft) and once coating our cars in the garage, as I’d racked the bottles horizontally on one wall and about a dozen of them turned into alkie fire hoses.. While I was doing all this vintner’s stuff, our nice neighbours came by walking their baba. The garage door was open (easier to sluice the floor there than inside the house) and I called them in to sample the vintage. No glass to hand, so I siphoned some into a half-gallon measuring jug. Cindy’s a professor, and a bit of a foodie and wine snob. She liked the product but gasped in horror that she’d never imagined herself standing in a garage sipping from a measuring jug plonk that had just been sucked up through a plastic tube. I said it’s the way the Queen does it, only in a stable, and she left, contented. It’s all in the packaging, you see. And, the jug was glass.   Went with Rachel to a tuba concert (50 umpahs in sync playing carols) on Saty. It was raining but I told her my feet were toasty because I was wearing some REI socks Bob bought for me last year. “The soles are this thick,” I claimed, indicating a two-inch gap with my fingers. A few seconds later, she said:”That bass is very low. Can you feel the vibrations through the ground?”  Then she answered her own question. “Course not,” she said. “Your socks are this thick.”  I hate her.     Epistle E19 12/6/10 St Paul’s E-pistle 19 to the Epistolarians: ( or as Dave Anson flatteringly called it:  ‘E-pistol.’ ) I suppose now, everything has to be marked with bullets (of the ** type, not the cartridge kind) ** Mentally adrift, again… Been a boring old week so far. Do you know how much revision, correction, rewriting and general pawing over tired old copy you have to do with an Epic Tome? My eyes are crossed, but my tees aren’t. I can practically recite the damn book I wrote, and it’s 89,000 words long, but there’s always something that needs tweaking, polishing or changing, so that’s keeping me busy. For relief, I’m scouring Roman history in third-century Britannica, digging up nuggets of info I can include in the next epic. There’s a lot to absorb, interesting stuff (to me, anyway) like the strips of lead on which the Romans would scratch a curse to damn the thief who stole their linen or sandals while they were in a public bath, or whatever. The usual form was to offer one-third of the value of the stolen goods to one god, another third to another deity. Don’t know how they paid off the gods if they got their stuff back, but I suppose they’d just dedicate it. Thanks, Minerva, for the use of one-third of my sandals, now I have them back, see you in heaven.  Save my soles.   ** Highlight of the day was receiving a couple of copies of  a  magazine, with a two-page spread of the topless gold miner girls feature that son-in-law Bob and I cobbled up. His pics made it all look good, but it was amusing to see all our household stuff being used as props: window boxes masquerading as sluices, recycling bin and a compressor as, er, something; plus rifle, spades, a pickaxe and Jen’s wellies, all with a solemn reporting of how the girls take it off to distract trigger-happy gold miners from shooting at them. I see a flood of young Brit guys arriving here next summer with gold pans and binoculars, Biggest disappointment was that the mag didn’t use pics of my carefully-painted gold nuggets, all displayed in an authentic test tube.   ** Anybody else see that story out of Oklahoma, of the two fat women who shoplifted things and hid them in their rolls of body fat?  “Authorities say  they took four pairs of boots, three pairs of jeans, a wallet and gloves; $2,600 worth of store merchandise. Ailene Brown, 28, and 37-year-old Shmeco Thomas were arrested for shoplifting and are facing felony charges.” Four pairs of boots tucked under your boobs? Plus three pairs of jeans? And, worse this was a TJ Maxx, where you’d need a couple of shopping carts full of merchandise to rack up a $2600 tab. The airport TSA security people don’t stand a chance. And, that duo would easily dodge carry-on charges…If they’re jailed, how many guards will it take to do a body search?   Just as disgusting: anyone see the story from the UK about the whole rat found in a catering-size tin of baked beans. Yup, it was dead. No food manufacturer named yet.   “The local authority public analyst heading the inquiry said the rat’s presence indicated “severe failings somewhere in the food production process.” “This one of the ultimate horror stories,” he said.   “The rat had come to an untimely end, but was not possible to say if it had died before or after it got into the beans. But enzymatic tests established that it had been through the canning process. A post mortem examination showed that it hadn’t eaten recently – it had not enjoyed a last meal of baked beans.” Oh good, not shorted on that tin. ** The (UK) Independent newspaper had a lovely feature this week, during its coverage of the Ashes cricket match (England vs Aus) detailing some of sport’s better nicknames. We all remember Eddie the Eagle, the ’88 Olympic ski jumper and gallant failure who couldn’t even reach the qualifying marks, and some might remember Eric the Eel, a gormless Trindadian swimmer allowed into the 2000 Olympics without qualifying, either. His distinctive trait, apart from painful slowness, was that he insisted on swimming with his head above water at all times.  But the best nicknames came from footie, where Duncan Ferguson, jailed for headbutting an opponent, was known both as The Birdman of Barlinnie for the prison where he was held, and as Duncan Disorderly.  There was too, Sicknote, a player best known for his medical absences from the first team, and Neal ‘Dissa’ Pointin, whose skills didn’t match his enthusiasm. But for me the best nickname was missed out. That was the England cricketer Kevin Pietersen’s moniker Figjam. It stands for Fuck I’m Good, Just Ask Me.   (Students of nicknames will note it’s now the name of an Aussie rock band and a sobriquet applied to a Kiwi politician and a US golfer, students of cricket will note that on Friday, Pietersen knocked a double century against Australia)   ** Here’s a couple of tales for your amusement:   A nice, calm, respectable lady went into a pharmacy, looked straight into the pharmacist’s eyes, and said, “I would like to buy some cyanide. ” The pharmacist asked, “Why in the world do you need cyanide?” “I need it to poison my husband.” The pharmacist’s eyes got big and he explained, “Lord have mercy! I can’t give you cyanide to kill your husband, that’s against the law. I’ll lose my license! They’ll throw both of us in jail! All kinds of bad things will happen. Absolutely not! You CANNOT have any cyanide!” The nice lady reached into her purse and pulled out a picture of her husband in bed with a woman. The pharmacist did a double take. The woman was his wife. “Oh,”he said, suddenly brisk. “You didn’t tell me you had a prescription.”   Sat opposite an Indian lady on the train today, she shut her eyes and stopped breathing. I thought she was dead until I saw the red spot on her forehead, and realised she was just on standby.   Also: a city gent opted to spend a year in the wilderness, leased a lonely mountain cabin and settled in. After a couple of months of solitude, there was a knock at the door. Outside, a huge bearded prospector type, all checked shirt, gunbelt and boots. “I’m your neighbour across the mountain,” he said. “I’m havin’ a party tonight and you’re invited.” “Great,” said the city gent. “What sort of party?” “Well, there’ll be drinkin’, and fightin’ and rough sex,” said the bearded guy. “Sounds, good, who’s coming?” “Just you and me.”   and this, from Graham T (last name withheld to save his life)  “My wife went missing two weeks ago. The police told me to expect the worst….so I went to the charity shop to buy back her clothes...” ** If you didn’t see it yet, this is the site for a Flash Mob vid – five minutes – of a food court surprise rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus. Wonderful. Thanx, Liz Smith, for the link. Candace Embrey said she sang along with it, in tears. Don’t blame her. If you didn’t see it yet, take out the time to get a lump in your own throat,   ** Talking of taking lumps, Pat Penn knows of what she writes. She’s noticed that people snipe at my literary, diaracolical efforts, and encourages me:  ” Ignore all criticisms of your weekly epistles – I love ’em so keep ’em coming.” I’m practically in tears, too.   ** My bro Ted went to mark the second anniversary of his wife Elise’s death with flowers at the ancient (sixth century) cemetery where she’s buried. It’s on the Scottish coast overlooking Scapa Flow and the junction of the Atlantic and the North Sea. It’s an incredible spot, views of the Orkneys, the wild ocean just below Britain’s most northerly mainland church. He reported in: “Went along in a snow storm so bad I could hardly get there. Struggled into the churchyard, put the flowers down and said:’Sorry, old girl, the dog’s in the car and he’s fretting. Anyway, it’s bloody cold.’ And I left.” I mean, how’s that for romance? Well, he gets cold in the Trossachs, nothing on under the kilt, y’know. And, if anyone’s interested, that church’s minister has left for somewhere else, and the job’s on offer. Perqs include ‘a warm manse’ and easy access to Thurso and Wick. Wick’s about 21 miles away, Thurso, a place where they roll up the sidewalk at dusk,  is about 12 miles, but isn’t very big. The Castle of Mey, however, onetime home of the Queen Mother, is nearby if you need to borrow a cup of whisky or some tiara polish.   ** In Manchester, meanwhile, Liz Smith ignored the weather forecasts and blithely walked to the village to get her hair done.  “It came down so heavily  that I had to wait in the hairdressers for an hour – no umbrella and wasn’t going to waste £40.   So we’re now like the rest of the country, deep in snow.    I hope the weather improves before Saturday, I’m going to South Wales to see the girls and grandchildren.  Ffion will be 4 years old and I’m looking forward to being there for her birthday party.   I’m sure the motorways will be clear but I’m taking a shovel, blanket, hot drink and food, just in case.” That’s  British True Grit (for the icy roads)  although the government announced on Friday that it can’t guarantee grit supplies will last.   ** Another UK snow story shows you can’t trust those Southerners: In Kent, officers said that a woman who dialled 999 to report the theft of a snowman from outside her house in Chatham was “completely irresponsible”. Police said she thought it demanded investigation because she had used pound coins for the eyes and teaspoons for the arms. The woman told the emergency operator: “It ain’t a nice road, but you don’t expect anybody to nick your snowman.” ** OK, here’s an offer you don’t often get – and I don’t mean one of Those, from a strange woman. I’m busy sorting out a plot line and characters for my Roman novel, about a Belgian**  peasant who became an emperor (Carausius, 286-293 AD) I’ve offered my bro Ted near-importality, oops, immortality in type,  as a Pictish warrior, all battle scars, blue tattooes, wild hair, bulging lallies and a huge war dog. Well, he does have a spaniel called Toby. I said if Ted would let me know what he’d like to be, wild warrior, smooth nobleman, learned Roman mathematician, whatever, I’ll do my best to create a character like that with a version of Ted’s name, all for the book.  The cast of characters includes third century sea raiders from what’s now known as Ireland; assorted Romans, including a few emperors and their staffs/hangers-on/ dancing girls; a variety of Picts from what’s now Scotland, some naval characters around the Rhine and Channel, muscular galley rowers (most of those boys were not slaves)  maybe the odd Vandal, Hun or VisiGoth and a couple of Greek or Phoenician negotiators (Latin for trader). As these characters have been dead for, oh, 1700 years, the chances of a libel action are slender. Your task, should you accept, is to suggest what you’d like to be. If it fits the plot, I can insert that character and give him/her your characteristics, suitably amended to fit the script. No cost, just fun. I’ll try to match your name, too, to a suitable version from the third century so one day you may be able to open the book, point to the page and say:”That blue-tattoo’ed assassin with the gold torque is ME! ” before you run the tax collector through with your gladius. **Menapian. Belgium didn’t exist at that time, but he came from the area of the River Meuse. I’m ending the script with a confession in true saintly style, Sorry, Jennie. Very sorry.  The other morning, I had my toast, tea and eggs and surreptitiously let Axel lick my plate to get the eggy bits off. I put the thing on the kitchen work surface behind me as I continued at table to read the papers and drink tea. Don’t want dog spit on the table, eh? Got up to wash it off before putting it into the dishwasher, plate was nowhere in sight, but Jennie was eating something off, well, it looked like the same plate. On balance, it did look very clean, and it was where you might expect to find a clean plate…I’ve been watching her carefully. So far, no foaming at the mouth, and she hasn’t bitten anyone, though the cat won’t go near.   Seasonal:  went to a brass band concert at a church last night, excellent stuff. Best line came from the MC, who told of a West Texas cowboy present at the stable in Bethlehem at the exact right time. The three Wise Men showed up, sooty and covered in ash. One of the shepherds asked the cowboy why. “Waalll,” he drawled, “it’s cuz they jest came from a fahr.”   Epistle  E18  11/30/10 Just a belated and brief epistle this week, as Jennie and I took a road trip to see Claire in her new California home. It was all about dodging snowstorms,  unpacking boxes, shifting furniture and driving 1,200 miles. One correction, btw. The pass over the Siskiyous is at 4,300 ft, and is the highest point on Interstate 5, but it isn’t the highest point of the entire US Interstate system. I was misinformed and did not check until too late. My bad. There’s a tunnel in the Rockies  (on the I-70 in Colorado)  at 11,158 ft that should get your engine gasping for air. So we did our trip, out on Friday back on Monday, 20 hours of driving and no fuss. Claire’s very happy with her situation and after a dozen years living in San Fran, where parking’s impossible and even basics like grocery shopping’s difficult, she’s in shock at how easy and accessible everything is in spacious Cupertino. Her place has a resort-like feel, gym, sauna, pool all within 70 yards, all facilities within a mile. Better, she’s cut her commute from an hour-plus of horrendous traffic to 20 minutes on one of the world’s most stunning freeways (280)  and says she’s already not just enjoying more free time but is energized about it all, too. We did see one set of friends in C’tino, Norm and Mort Eliason, who promptly told me these epistles are usually blocked as spam, the fate of much of my other email, too, and Eli confided to me that I really do ramble on a lot, don’t I? Graham Timmins was kinder, if incredulous, with :”Again, I enjoyed your  Epistle 17 (have you really been sending out those things for 17 weeks??) I think I may have to start maintaining complete radio silence to avoid being quoted in every further episode!!” and then he went on about a hiker whose arm was trapped and had to self-amputate it to survive. Graham’s idea: this would make a great Leatherman or Swiss Army knife ad… who’s ruthless. eh?? Rachel looked after our dogs while we were away, took them to a dog park where Axel the ball hound did his usual thing of collecting tennis balls. Rachel reports that at one stage she had 17 muddy tennis balls around her, all courtesy of the Catahoula canine. As she left, she checked to see she had the three balls she’d brought. One in the throwing stick, one in her pocket, one in Axel’s mouth. Stopped to put his leash on at the gate, he spat out the two tennis balls he’d been hiding behind the front one.. Raining again, we’re told this is a La Nina winter that will dump a lot of wet stuff on Oregon as the jet stream’s diverted this way. Good for the snow lovers, and our ski resorts have already been open  for two weeks. On Friday, as we went though the agriculture inspection station  to enter California, the officer told me they were expecting nine inches of snow that night (which they got)  We travelled in a bubble of fine weather each way, except for a drizzle of rain for the last 100 miles or so, woke up to see that our mountains had a foot of stuff dumped on them a few hours after we arrived home. Nice timing, eh? More next week, stay safe and dry.   I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, ‘I’ve lost my electron.’ The other says ‘Are you sure?’ The first replies, ‘Yes, I’m positive.’     E 17 11/22/10   Here’s a chilly Monday, blasts of Arctic air coming in, snow on the local hills – 2000ft – and a few feet of the white stuff dumped on the ski resorts an hour or so to our east. We’re planning to drive down to California this week, to see Claire in her new ‘resort’ home (gym, pool, patios,  all just yards from her couch) so Jennie’s making noise about crossing the Siskiyou Pass, which gets up to 4,310ft, the height of Britain’s biggest mountain, and the highest point on the I-5 interstate (The system gets up to about 12,000 in Colorado). Rachel once got snowbound overnight there, and although she was lucky enough to get probably the last motel room in Yreka (note to self, open a bread shop there and call it the Yreka Bakery – a perfect palindrome)  Jennie’s never forgotten, and points out that Rachel’s entrapment was at this exact time of year. She’s looking for red flannel and snowshoes, just in case… So, it looks like the Chelsea Tractor,  despite its thirsty nature, will be called in for the 1500 miles roundtrip,  and I’ll carry snow chains and other pieces of hardass equipment, and look like Scott on wheels. After all, Jennie is an Oates, and that’s a comfort if one of us has to struggle off into the snow to save the other.There’s a family history to uphold, here.   Meanwhile, a look out of the window at the chill grey sky brings a shudder…. Last night, was at a party for a friend who comes from Radcliffe, a Lancashire town very close to my old home, and there was a bit of shuddering going on there, too. Because parking was limited on his hillside road, people had to trudge in a few hundred yards and you could tell who’d just arrived by the quantity and quality of their shivering. Graham Timmins, mentioned below for sending our Sovereign a Facebook greeting, was the host, and was a member (Graham Lawrence, pay attention) of the West Pennine Road Club, and raced on the same timetrial courses Graham Lawrence and I did back in the late 1700s. That gave us cause for conversation and massive lies about our claimed, onetime speed over the coconut and ginger bbq shrimp, I can tell you.   In other news: son in law Bob Williams has launched an interesting concept, a website for aspiring models to hook up with photographers. See it here: He’s going gangbusters on it and has linked to some high-powered photoggers already. Bob’s an IT guy turned artist, who paints with light (and a few Canon cameras) and was called on by his old company to photograph the staff, one of whom he dislikes. He did the group shots, then used the magic of Photoshop to slim down the pudgy, subtly enhance the light  and carefully remove the odd facial blemish of the unsightly. All the staff ooh’ed in wonder at how well they looked and admired how cleverly he must have arranged the lighting. All except one person…. who had been left untouched and blotchy. Maybe there was even the odd added wart and wen.   A look at the email box reveals that Ken Hudson enjoyed Richard Gould’s ‘Women want me, fish fear me’ bumper sticker sighting, and came up with some beauties of his own:  “It reminded me of two I saw on a sedan in Texas.  The female diriver was rather non-descript but not petite.  On one side of the bumper was “Yeah, I’m a bitch, but not yours” followed by a classic “Nice Truck! Too bad about your small penis” Super-correspondent Mary Kline offers us insights to toilets, raccoons and death…and she slights my high forehead. “My next door neighbor here in San Joe has a tylet with overhead tank and chain – totally retro and cost him a fortune from Lavs ‘R Us….  OK, here I go again….. we also had the luxury of two privies – one in and one out.  The outside loo was in one of the back yards (not the one with the coal shed I told you about in Epistle MXXXCIV, t’other yard) but we never used it as my gran referred to it as the “pig’s toilet”.   I guess we assumed that it was for all the potty-trained pigs we didn’t have – this is reminding me of a great movie I saw years ago – something with Michael Palin and Maggie Smith about keeping a pig in the house after the War – funny stuff with lots of piggy poo.  I suppose I could Google the name but that really takes the fun out of racking the brain for trivia. ( ‘A Private Affair ‘ – Ed) “So is this the same chair you interviewed years ago in England?  The one in the pub?  There was a photo of you (and the chair) in an encyclopedia of my dad’s – think it was a series called ‘Man, Myth and Magic’ – you had lots of hair at the time.  Oh, and you weren’t sitting in the chair. “I’m going to Cark tomorrow night (well, via London and Boston) for my sister’s 50th b-day party.  It’s in a fancy hotel that was originally a final resting spot for Protestants with terminal illness – St. Luke’s.  It was next door to St. Patrick’s which was the final resting spot for Catholics with terminal illness.  My gran (same one with the pig’s toilet) referred to them both as The Incurable.  On her deathbed, she was so pissed at God for finally taking her (she was 97) that she demanded a Protestant priest so she could convert to spite Him.   She ended up with the Little Sisters of the Poor as there was no room in The Incurable, either of them.     We buried Roxy, Aidan’s guinea pig, in the garden last Thursday.  I keep going out to check the burial spot as the raccoons having been sniffing around more frequently – regular Burke and Hares they are.  We put some pavers over the mound but they were pretty muscular looking ‘coons…..” Went to a very loud side-by-side performance of the Eugene Symphony and the Univ Oregon Symphony – about 90 musicians playing crashing Mahler – he wrote it that way – and was amused by the conductor’s insight to the composer, a bit of a megalomaniac who had a ramp built from orchestra pit to podium so he could run up and down it, adjusting the positions of the choir in mid-vocals.  We heard that Mahler admired Beethoven and Bruckner, both of whom had pegged out after writing their Ninth Symphonies. Superstitious Mahler had finished eight, thought he’d dodge the curse by calling number nine “‘Song of the Earth.’  With that insurance, he knocked off his ninth and started the tenth, but died with #10 unfinished. Curses!   It was my turn to get my glissando vibrated when I went to get my car in the parking garage. Ticketed, yet I’d paid for a spot. Jennie had given me the wrong space number, indignantly explaining later that one car was hiding behind another when she was counting spaces (too idle to walk 20 paces, and I’d just got to the head of the impatient queue and discovered we needed the space number)  It wasn’t her fault, she insisted. The Mahler Parking Curse had struck again…   England’s abuzz over the Will and Kate saga. After nine years, if your cave was soundproofed and you didn’t know, Prince William is to marry his longtime girlfriend, Waity Katie.  This line from the Indo made me do the LOL bit  Kate is fantastically well-groomed and gorgeously put-together; if only she’d aimed a little higher, she’d have made a top-flight air stewardess.” My cycling pal Graham Timmins, on the other hand, sent greetings directly to HM the Q:  “PS…just sent my friend The Queen a message via Facebook…congratulating her on the engagement of her Grandson.” HM has a Facebook page? I’d love to see the entries: ‘Popped down to Harrods for some tiara polish and a diamond collar for the corgi.”   Claire was amused by Alan Sugar’s tale of his boss saying there had been moans from the factory about him: ‘Had a complaint from the plant’. He lost his job over his response ‘Well you should have watered it.” Up she came with these beauties: “The last bit reminded me of a fragment of a comedian’s spiel I heard the other day. While working at a gas station, said comedian amused himself by challenging himself to say rude things to the customers that could be taken in different ways. Said to a man sporting a rather obvious hair piece, “How would you like.. to pay?”, and to a large woman who was complaining about the delay getting the gas pump turned on, “Sorry about.. your wait.” It was not a job he kept for very long.” Candy Neville had an email joke for us, or maybe it wasn’t a joke::: “One day God was looking down at Earth and saw all of the rascally behavior going on. He sent one of his angels to earth to look into it. When the angel returned, he told God, “Yes, it is bad on earth; 95% are misbehaving and only 5% are not.” God was not pleased so he decided to e-mail the 5% that were good, because he wanted to encourage them and give them a little something to help keep them going… Do you know what the e-mail said? NO?    Okay… I was just wondering because I didn’t get one.” Our own Robbie Roy, my bro Ted, has a bit of tough guy glamour to add to his highland regalia of kilt, sporran and bonnet.. He’s sporting a two-inch scar on his right cheek. Ted claims it’s a duelling memento from his Student Prince days at Heidelburg but the truth’s a bit less romantic and involves a snip of surgery to remove mushrooms or something from his face. He hasn’t, however, given up wearing Student Prince sky-blue tights while he sings the drinking song and waves his stein in the air.   Mike Ayers, rugby stalwart, nut farmer and onetime Washington Senators cheerleader (really) has just returned from a cruise down the Danube and writes in: “I saw a young mother, in Budapest, enjoying her baby daughter. The mother was attractive and the baby was overdressed in pink.  I commented on how beautiful her daughter was and she grunted that it was herSON!  Might that have been my first sighting of a transvestike? Transvestike! Love it. Mike, btw, keeps a comfy chair in his garage, which he’s labelled his ‘Spousal Avoidance Area.’   This site’s going viral: a NY artist printed several thousand posters advertising a ‘Missing Unicorn’ and has had thousands of callers and correspondents contact her over the bit of fun. You can download the poster here if you’d like to help the search: Who knows? someone might sight the beast. If you do, get on the horn and tell me.     Epistle E16  11/15/10 Good Monday, fellows, let’s see: this is E-16, so we’re about four months into this project of sending around a weekly letter, a pleasant chore begun just because we (or I, anyway) rarely get proper mail any more. Thanks to all those who respond, and allow me to crib their material for the Epistle to the Epistolarians. Very useful and great stuff. Bless you one and all. Pax vobiscum. For me,  battling with my book, it’s been a week of tedious revisions, spell checks and uncertain lookings-up of things I once was sure about,  and I think this is only the beginning. Writing the thing was the easy part. Now it’s all self-doubts and wondering how on earth anybody could think this gibberish would attract a single reader. I’m talking about Tabloid Man, the book, not this e-pistle…After reading and re-reading it, changing this and that, wondering if that should go over there or if it should even be in at all, I can’t see the forest for the obstructing timberlands.   So, on Tuesday a nice lady from Bicester – it’s near Oxford, had to look it up – showed up to look at the thing and suggest how she’d present it , as she’s a book designer. She shook her head a lot and took the manuscript and a DVD of the text away with her, saying she’ll give me a bid for the work, soon.   I had an idea, well, I stole it from Rachel, for the book cover and the designer said it could work, but I’d need a certain photograph.  Of a particular chair. I went online to a stock photo agency. The designer had told me I could get some free copyright stuff, or pay as little as $20 for a pic elsewhere. At the stock agency site, I filled out an online form about what I needed, where it was going, in how many languages the book would be printed etc. Then it clicked and whirred a bit , leaked a little steam and spat out a price. $797. I picked myself up off the carpet and reconsidered matters.   I called the curator of a UK museum where is the chair I wanted photographed, and he was a typical Englishman. He was stubbornly uncooperative. He had, he said, six Japanese TV companies wanting to feature this chair, which is reputedly fatal to all who sit in it. The chair is mounted high on a wall, in a corner of his museum, to reduce the fatalities legend says will happen if people use it as a seat, and no, he won’t get it down. It’s inconvenient until early April even to think about sending a photographer there because the place is closed for the winter, and getting the pic I want is nearly impossible because of the chair’s placement. I offered bribery and he weakened enough to offer to send me two images which he described as poor, but he won’t be going into the museum for a while, and may not be able to send them just yet…. After all that, he promptly sent me two excellent images of the chair, with a kind note. How’d you explain the English? Answers on a postcard, please, to Baffled of Broadstairs.   I found out later that one Japanese TV honcho had unsuccessfully complained about the curator to the local council in a bid to get the chair into photographable position. The huge joke is that the Baffling Chair of Death is a fake. Legend says the bit of elm and ash furniture was cursed by a murderer on his way to the gallows in 1702. But… the chair  couldn’t have been built before 1840 and was not even in the pub where the legend says it did its centuries of fatal deeds, before 1951. Hmm.   I’m thinking of pulling the chain on that idea. Even that phrase is redundant, now. How long since anyone found a loo with a chain in it? You probably have to explain to younger people what the whole thing invented by Thomas Crapper was about, with the overhead tank and the – oh, you know. We had a whitewashed outdoor toilet (we had one indoors, too, very upmarket) in Eccles, and as a naughty teen I’d sometimes spend a few hours in there around midnight, sobering up before I crawled to bed, to escape my dad’s vigilance. He usually knew, though so my freezing, cramped time in that draughty loo was mostly a waste. Also, my brothers  would unhitch the chain so when you pulled it the handle would fall on your head. Droll humour, eh? Just the thing when you’re already woozy.   Change of pace.  Anybody see the Corpus Christi football vid, where the quarterback dupes the opposition into thinking the play hadn’t started, then ran in a score? It’s gone worldwide and people are shaking their heads. See it here on YouTube:   If the link doesn’t work, the young QB loudly announced that the refs had marked off another five yards, the centre casually handed him the ball, he walked thru the opposition linemen and sprinted in for a touchdown while they thought he was simply moving the line of scrimmage. The vid went viral, but the ploy isn’t new. Kevin Yocum, one of our rugby team, did the exact thing in a game after we’d been given a penalty. he nudged the ball thru the spot with his foot, then started pointing downfield as he strolled, ball under his arm,  towards the ‘new spot’ he claimed the ref had given. As the other team busied themselves arguing with the official, Kevin jogged in to score. I was rolling on the ground laughing. Nothing new under the sun or goalposts, eh?   Almost 1am last Tuesday as I let Axel out for a  pee before bedtime and closing of the office deck gate – he has a dog door and private biffey, but no access to the whole garden that way. Lots of noise, screamings and barkings like a factory siren being murdered. He’d caught a big raccoon under the potting shed. Much more noise, I got there, found a stick, whacked it as it came out, and the thing escaped alive though Axel got it by the spine. Big animal, about 30 lbs. He battled his way through some uncomfortable fencing, got another whack from my stick, which afterwards I realized was too short to protect me,  and struggled over the fence. Left Axel to patrol things, came inside to close shop, heard a whining, and the dog had trapped another ‘coon,  under my office deck…. Everyone in, please, let him escape. I don’t need a potentially-rabid wild creature biting my dog. Through it all, our once-fierce Java (now about 12, maybe a bit older) snoozed in comfortable hearing-impaired  ignorance, as did Jennie, under whose window it all went down… clear conscience, I suppose.Two very lucky raccoons probably will stay away for a while…..Axel’s ticked off at me at spoiling his raccoon dinner.   In the email box:  Graham Timmins, who recently had a death threat note from someone who claimed to be a hit man, and  wanted Graham to buy him off for only $3,800, has had an improvement in his e-comms: Hello Dearest One, My name is Miss Rita  Odo, i am a very nice looking lady of love caring sincere understanding, matured, and of good reputation. and am looking for a very nice man of love, caring, honest, kind, easy going, matured and of good character, then after going through your profile, i picking interest on you, so i will like you to write Or Contact me via my E-mail address which is as follow,   ( for me to give you my pictures and tell you more about me.” Graham’s saving up to send her a £.   Jennie called Symantec to say she couldn’t get into their web site. They told her:”Have you disabled your cookies?” She said:”Well, once, I bit the legs off a gingerbread man.”   Photogger Jeff Joffe has a grumble about the monkeys with cameras not getting proper recognition and did a Bad Thing. He gave away something he can ill afford – a piece of his mind. See this from him:   “Just to let you know that this past Friday I drove to Coral Gables for my 45th U of Miami reunion.  I attend only on the fives and tens and only the affinity (those who chose journalism over a real career.  Once again, I expected to win the prize of the “Oldest Geezer” but thankfuly I was disappointed as a number of graduates from the 50’s and even 40’s showed up (alive that is).  Once again (and very routine I might add) the speakers panel gave photography a backseat to wordsmiths.  Needless to say, I grabbed the microphone and without making an ass of myself I gave them a piece of me mind.  It sure was a fairly good alternative to getting on stage and urinating on the moderator.  Phew, now I feel better. “ Speaking of pieces of mind,  What’s the difference between a Tea Party member and a supermarket trolley? Answer:  A supermarket trolley has a mind of its own.   This tale of getting to heaven came in from Jenny Mann in Cornwall: “I was testing children in my Dublin Sunday school class to see if they understood the concept of getting to heaven.  I asked them, ‘If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my  money to the church, would that get me into heaven?’ ‘ NO!’ the children answered. ‘ If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the garden, and kept  everything tidy, would that get me into heaven?’ Again, the answer was ‘NO!’ By now I was starting to smile. ‘Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave sweets to all the children, and loved my husband, would that get me into heaven? Again, they all answered ‘NO!’. I was just bursting with pride for them. I continued, ‘ Then how can I get into heaven?’ From the rear of the classroom came the response: ‘Ye have to be fookin’ dead!” That’s a suitable intro to Swerv’s near-death experience, running in the NY Marathon: so here are some of his golden words… “It was masochistic and the last six miles absolutely hammered me but I DID FINISH the New York Marathon last Sunday!! I completed the course in 4hrs 25mins on a bitingly cold day with the most vicious of winds. The first 20 miles were not too bad and I felt that they went pretty much according to plan but then things started to go awry with the leg muscles as we entered the Bronx to be greeted by a gravel voiced cop at the side of the road who bellowed ‘Vive le Bronx – all who enter tread in the Valley of Death!!’ It was an exhortation which did not, however, impel me to run any quicker…I couldn’t!! What was worse, it seemed at times during the last six miles that his words had been a highly prescient observation on the last cruel leg of the journey through the five boroughs from Staten Island – however the most sadistic bit was to still to come at the very last. “For, having passed the 26mile post at the corner of 59th Street and the entrance to Central Park, the final 200yds to the finish line abruptly veered uphill all the bloody way to the magical final goal. Absolutely devastating – and your words about my Smithy sponsorship assignment being an odyssey of masochism came back to haunt me. If I had only had breath left I would have cursed every bugger involved in the conception of the event. As it was I managed only a limp ‘thank you’ as the cherished medal was hung around my neck and a banana and apple thrust into my hands….”   Swerv’s dogged efforts raised almost £3,000 for a multiple sclerosis unit, but he’s inadvertently let slip his secret motivation. Now read on: “ A great, great day for me and the sponsorship pot full to overflowing. In short, a job well done and all objectives accomplished. Mr Mullins did allude to it being a poor show that I only finished in the first 17,000 and came nowhere near to eclipsing the Kenyan and Ethiopian brothers – or even finishing in front of all the female entrants. Being such a gazelle like creature himself with a propensity to speed akin to that of a five toed sloth, I can only humbly defer to such experienced judgements and agree that my fixation with the grinding behinds of several Peruvian and Italian womenfolk did at times distract me from my primary purpose on the day….Hey ho.”   Thanks, Swerv, (he trained so hard he sweated an ‘e’ off his nickname) great and good job, and a nice bit of material for the epistle as a side benefit. Now do a longer run, somewhere dangerous. We could use the copy.   Next offering:   I really like Craigslist, an online emporium of services, rubbish, job offers and ventings. Found a gem the other day, offering $25,000 cash to the successful applicant. Here’s the first part. The last bit was about qualifications, which mostly were concerned with the ability to be comfortable in cramped spaces for long periods of time: “Astronaut needed for experimental flight to Titan. I have been working on this project now for near 40 years and am afraid I’m no longer fit enough to go. My secret space craft is the result of my professional experience and imagination while serving the U.S. military in advanced aeronautics as a scientist. The craft harnesses a revolutionary propulsion system and its fuselage is fabricated with the most advanced material. While considerably safe, I am certain you will make it safely to Titan but there will not be enough fuel to get home. This is for someone unique that has always wanted to see the universe first-hand and has perhaps a terminal view on life here at home. Here’s your shot at romantic history. “ In other news: Richard Gould, who still retains connections with rednecks despite living in Berkeley, sent a funny bumper sticker: ‘Women Want Me. Fish Fear Me.’   Authorities say he’s wrong on both counts. Nun on the run:  Had dinner on Friday with our friends Bob and Debbie Heaton. Swerv, pay attention. Debbie once ran a 2h 53m marathon, made the top 100 women marathoners in the US. That, I pointed out to her, would have left her enough time to play a full rugby game before Our Merv came home in 4h 25m . On the other, other hand it was in 1984 when she was a bit younger than Swerv’s 62 good summers. I recalled a San Francisco nun, Sister Marion Irvine, whom I interviewed. She took up running when her niece wanted to exercise, after having a baby. Sister M liked jogging, continued alone with the habit (pun) until the day two young Marin Track Club coaches panted up alongside her. “You’re running really fast,” they told her. She thought everyone she passed was just dawdling on purpose. Storyline is that at age 54, after a lifetime of non-exercise except a bit of volleyball with other nuns, she turned in a 2h 51m marathon and made the Olympic trials. At age 61, she was still knocking out a 40.37 for 10k.  She wasn’t a small woman, either, but a big rangy Norwegian who just happened to process oxygen like a factory, so was an actual natural athlete. Makes you envious.   Here’s a startling report: King penguins are rarely found dead, because, social animals, they gather around the corpse of any of their kind that have died and use their bills and flippers to scrape a hole in the snow and ice for the body. Then, amazingly, four or five of the male birds sing a sort of dirge to the dead penguin. It’s always the same song: ‘Freeze a jolly good fellow.” Then they kick him in the ice hole, and waddle away.   That fellow Sir Alan Sugar, the host of the Brit ‘Apprentice’ show – and what an awful bit of telly that is, with backbiting, sniping yuppies fighting for attention – made me LOL during a broadcast interview. He was telling how he’d begun his business life as a teenage statistician, making daily calls to some coal processing plant in Wales to monitor output. He said he was phoning fellow clerk Owen Llewellan each day to ask  ‘How many tonnes of anthracite? What quantity of cinders?” etc  He’d taken a list of stats and was signing off, when Owen came back with a category he’d forgotten. “You didn’t ask about my slag,” he said. Sugar riposted that he didn’t want to hear any more about Owen’s wife, and hung up laughing.  Owen, furious, called headquarters. An hour later, Sugar was summoned to his boss’ office. “I was standing there looking at the giant aspidistra next to his desk when he said: ‘I’ve had a complaint from the plant.’  Sugar lost his job over his response: ‘Well, you should water it….” Have a lovely week, keep taking the tablets. E-pistle  E15  Nov 8 10 As this goes out, our slender-legged Swervippedes should be recovering from whatever effort he put into the NYC Marathon yesterday (Ed: a highly creditable  4h.25m  easing him into  the top 17,000 of 43,000 runners. He averaged a series of 10-minute miles, Now he owes us a race report to show he really didn’t do a Rosie Ruiz and get the subway. Yorkshireman Mullins, whose native battle cry is an indignant ‘Ow much?’ claimed to have donated to Merv’s charity fund. He grumbled: “Hi Paul, thanks for alerting me to Mervyn’s bleatings. He hasn’t run the f—ing race yet. How do I know he’s not going to sit in Costello’s and do a Rosie R? It’s no longer there. That’s how I know. But he could sit in Ryan McFadden’s. Or Dustin’s. He could try out the new Tavern on the Green and empty the dregs of his pint and trot down to the nearby finish line like a hero. Anyway, it’s all moot because I gave at the office. Nooo, I’ll send something to his home and he can pass it on. If it’s not enough he can put it on the favorite in the 4.30 at Catterick…I hear it’s a sure thing. Smithy is probably up there looking down and wondering who’s the cheapest of all his old mates. Well, he’ll know when Swerv opens my envelope… “ Then Joe got the result: “As he didn’t win, I think we’re off the hook as regards contributions. Smithy was always a winner and wouldn’t want to be associated with somebody who was beaten by so many women. Merv must have been looking at their arses as they passed, waving on all 6,000 of them. Probably some of the blokes too, if you ask me. He will just have to run next year and really go for it to get his money…or there’s Boston, LA and even London. “ All the northern banter reminds me of the story of the Yorkie whose wife died. He instructed the stonemason to inscribe: “Lord, she were thine” on the headstone. It came back as “‘Lord, she were thin.” “Tha’s missed t’bloody ‘E’ off it!” the client stormed. The mason apologised, said to return tomorrow, all would be fixed.   The widower showed up the next day and viewed the amended stone. Now it read: “Eee, Lord, she were thin.”     Tame USAF/West Point instructor  and devout E-pistolarian Bob Heaton saw a my vid of Russian drivers t-boning each other at red lights and had this for us:  “Apparently vodka and driving don’t mix that well.  And red is just another color to ignore, damn Communists, anyway.” Conan the Librarian, aka my cuz Carole: had this account of death in New Zealand: “Jennie would be horrified at what happened to a poor bird at  (her son) Cameron’s cricket game last Friday evening.  One of the parents had brought their small dog along (I have no idea what sort it is).  Liam called it a Chihuahua (did I spell that right?), but it definitely had more fur than one of those).  Anyway, the dog managed to catch a bird and kill it, pulling it to bits in the process.  I think the poor parent/dog owner was mortified as her son called out, and of course his voice carried right around the field, that the dog had killed it.  Cameron commented that he thought only cats caught birds.  The dog was about the same size as our cat, so perhaps it’s a bit confused – not big enough to be a real dog. And there’s more murder in the wind: Graham Timmins, a Lancastrian who lives here in Eugene got what seems to be the newest wrinkle on Nigerian scams: a letter from a self-proclaimed hitman who wanted $3800 not to carry out the contract. Part of the note read: “I am very sorry for you; It is a pity that this is how your life is going to end as soon as you don’t comply. As you can see there is no need for me introducing myself to you because I don’t have any business with you, my duty as I am mailing you now is just to (KILL YOU) and I have to do it as I have already been paid for that. Someone you call a Friend wants you Dead by all means, and the person have spent a lot of money on this, the person also came to us and told us that he want you dead and he provided us with your name ,picture and other necessary information’s we needed about you. “   Ungraciously recalling the day I might have either been murdered by a frustrated birthday person, or might have died of shame all by myself, Pat Penn  reminisced: “We had some very memorable parties.  Best was you dressed up in a tutu (can’t spell it) and jumping out of a cake at John Kroesen’s 40th or 50th birthday party!!” What indignity. It was a green bikini, with spangles. Never saw a birthday boy so dismayed. The cheapskates said they couldn’t afford a real stripper, so I had the do the job (for a cheese sandwich and glass of milk) News arrives of a new contraceptive patch for women. It’s three inches square and reads: “Get off me!”   We’re just recovering from a visit by two friends from a long time ago, Gerhardt and Diane Schlecht (yes, he’s a Fritz) with whom we had a splendid, easy time. Odd how you can just resume a friendship smoothly with some people. On the one hand,  Gerhardt has a good memory. His usual Christmas card note to me is :”It never was a goal in 1966.” Well, we won at Wembley, let’s put it that way. Been a bit of a drought since, though. I’m taking the insults, as he’s growing pinot grapes in the Santa Cruz mountains and makes some fine wine. Old IBM’ers might remember their Heidi’s Deli at Santa Teresa.     Ordered to look at FaceBook (well, it’s been about six weeks since I viewed my page) I started plodding through the vaporings of proud young mothers, ditzy partyers and bewildered old people who can’t operate their laptops or telephones since the demise of the rotary dial. Then two entries made me do the ROTFLMAO  thing (I had to Google that when someone sent it to me weeks ago – you do the same if you don’t know.) Melissa Bell wrote: ‘Learned something important today.’ Claire used four words that flattened me.  ‘Pants first. THEN shoes?‘ She even had the gall to make me laugh again with ‘Giants finally won a World Series. My work in SF is done. Now, I can move.’ Brilliant, CB. Finally, Facebook was worth it.   Claire meanwhile, is readying to move house, and reports that she’s been busy packing: “Our Lady of “I take eight bags of things to Goodwill every month” has apparently been secretly bringing back an equal number of bags of stuff and stashing them ever more craftily into all the nooks and crannies of my tiny apartment. Not only do I have an inner child but it now appears that I have an inner hoarder, too…….the inner hoarder is largely overshadowed by the inner ADHD Project Enthusiast. I have encountered hundreds, nay, thousands of projects I began, produced something, bought more accessories and tools for, and then, just as things were really starting to take off, my attention diverted elsewhere and the project was abandoned.” That great journalist Vincent Mulchrone reported a splendid idea: the Let’s be Kind to Me Day.’  The form is that the day’s celebrant would declare that such a date was a compulsory one for everybody to be nice to him. Those around the originator of this wheeze were usually so taken aback they complied, as commanded.  I had the idea to put some spin on that: to involve the Epistolarians in a similar, but trade-off,  scheme.  You get the kindnesses back.   It might work this way:  you choose a day on which you want everybody to make nice to you. Create a wish list rather like a wedding gift registry (ie  ‘8am:  bring me breakfast in bed. ‘wholewheat toast, soft boiled eggs, coffee,’ 9.15am:  car to take me to the tennis courts where opponent lets me win..’.  you get the picture.) Friends see the registry and volunteer for a duty, earning credit for themselves to go on your repayment list. You have a splendid day with, say ten  friends/relatives being kind to you, and later you check to see what days those friends (or others) have registered as their special day, and what actions they’d like performed. Hold that down, please, girls, this is not that kind of place.   This whole scheme could require a central clearing house, a web site perhaps,  and email contacts – you’d be urged to supply a list of contacts geographically close to you. They’d be e-nudged ahead of time and perhaps given a spouse or other contact of the LBKTM recipient who could coordinate things like timings. No money changes hands, no cruelty to animals is involved in testing of the product, and you must be this tall to participate. It’s just donating acts of kindness and maybe a bottle of single malt for me. Weekly. Another way might simply be to post everyone’s wishes in an e-letter, and let people fight it out. If you’re interested in a silly winter scheme like this, let me know and we’ll see about greenlighting it.   Winter’s arriving early, here in Oregon, and I’ve already been doing the winterization things to the garden, among them taking out the tomato plants, which went from gloriously fruitful to rotting stalks in about a fortnight (we got a freezer full of fruit from them, which will go into sauces during the coming months)  I struggled as usual to get the tomato cages out from the tangle, and rued the numbers of green fruit left on the dead vines – a late summer ruined crops for many people. Best idea I’ve heard is to string wires between posts and let the vines grow up them. It gives you a wall of tomatoes to pick, rather than a jungle of climbing-framed plants through which you have to duck and weave and fight off spiders, while also dropping the best fruit on the ground, to squash.   Had a note from Ken Bousfield, whose All Blacks so nearly came unstuck against England on Saty. He’s organizing an old boys’ tourney at a Masters (50+)  Games in late March, at Stanford U.  He deals with the question of uniforms in  his usual Kiwi Finishing School of Tact and Diplomacy way:  “I am placing an order for commemorative jerseys for the occasion which will depict red, white, blue and stars and stripes. Send me your order. ( How many, size, #, remember these are tight fitting jerseys. If you want them loose order two sizes bigger if you do not want to look like a sausage.) Let’s be Kind to Me today, and pass on the image of PB as wurst. Have a good week, more later. E-pistle E14  sent 11/1/10   Not much to report for the week, really, through the Oregon rain and brilliant autumnal sunshine. The trees, espec. the maples, are glorious and life’s getting better for Axel. Now, he can spot squirrels easier as the leaves fall. It’s harder for me as I’ve got to clear the leaves off the grass, though. Jen’s made a couple of bird rescues this week, as our feeders outside the kitchen window attract a lot of finches and other species that  I need to call Ann White about. Are we supposed to get pterodactyls on the bird/dino  house?  Damn, now every time I write a word whose spelling tests me, I think of Conan Carole the Librarian in NZ and her red pencil, and flinch from her expected lash as I open my email. Anyway, the bird brains keep flying into windows and glass doors. Jennie heard a familiar crash the other day, saw nothing, and opted to hose the deck down, to wash away spilled birdseed. She was working away when she saw a movement. Only inches from the hose jet was a stunned finch, wondering about its first-ever power shower. I came in to find she’d brought it in to recover, put it in a blanket, on a hot water bottle, probably  gave it chicken soup and an ice pack on its crumpled beak. It flew away happily after she’d given it admonitions about taking two aspirin and getting lots of nest rest. The cat looked really irritated.   I suppose the highlight of the week was getting my m/s back from Mister Mullins in Florida, who waded through it for me, as a favour. How many people not only know the spelling of ‘Eboracum’ and ‘cerveza’ but caught my erroneous spellings of same? He even corrected me on my statement that Oprah Winfrey had never had a child. She did, at age 14, sadly losing the baby at birth.   Add that to tales of his boyhood as a teenage Scout talking haut literature with his would-be girlfriend’s mother while his mate nicked the girl, and you have a Renaissance Man.  (single until Christine took him on as a project)   Our youngest child , er, younger child, had her 40th b’day this week, had a mini-meltdown over her enthusiast friend’s wish to do all the public humiliations sometimes associated with birthdays, and did it Her Way… I found Rachel and five others crouched over large steins in a dismal brewhouse that passes here for a pub but has the advantage of being only steps away from her office. Put it this way, the staff all know her name, lipstick shade, favourite books, films, travel destinations and shoe size. That’s a regular.   Speaking of shoe size,  there’s an 18 year old football player here who takes a size 22. He’s 6ft 7ins, or 12 metres in New Money, and weighs 250 lbs, or 18 stone, Catholic measurement.   Regarding big, did I tell you Axel’s gob is so large he can hold three tennis balls in it at once? This week, he’s been making determined efforts to get four in there. He charges off after ball four with one, two and three in his mouth, spends minutes pawing and shuffling, then brings the same three back. I have hopes he’ll get the quad and I’ll get a pic. Ball Four, and a walk (baseball stuff, for the Brits)  It’s my amusement.   Story just in of a guy stopped in his car at midnight and asked by the cop where he’s going. “I’m on my way to a lecture,” he slurred. “A lecture?”  “Yes, on the evils of alcohol,” he said. And who, the cop wanted to know, would be giving a lecture after midnight? “My wife,” said the guy.   More amusement, in a note from Freddy in Georgia on typing error;s;s;   “You know., Paul Home alone, maybe, buyt youi’re not alone in Typo Hell. I;ve been experiencing the exact samwe trouible forf years now. I’m finding I have to go back and correxct thijngs all the time for fear of writing gijbberish. It nwever uised to be this way in the days when I has an actual typwreiter at my fingertips – it all started witn these dadblamed keybvoards. Are the keys smaller or soemthing? And there’s no proper typing sound any more. Isn’t that what;s m,issing – the lack of a clack? Or is it me? The Walls Pork Sausages I now call my fuingers, bashign away still at the samwe rate of knots they achieved amid the spilled stryofoam cups and half-eateb egg-and-chuips canteen dinners in the old Daily Mail newsroon. These are the digits that would;ve won me Best Secretarial Sjkills at the US Army gtryouts in Ftrankfurt when I tries iout for a job there back ion 1968 – escept there was no such catyegory. Chjeers Feddp”   Vicarious thrills:   Claire sends a note to clarify my casual reference to her sexuality  “Amusing, except the part where you make me sound gay. “Claire’s girlfriend Mo, at a gay wedding…” Really now.” And she enlightened me about Moped Boyfriends: (Moped – fun to ride but a bit embarrassing to be seen with.) Then she gossiped about a divorced girlfriend  who “went a bit off the deep end on the dating scene with men ten years her junior, juggling several dates at a time, etc., and even had a quick fling with a woman. We have all been fully supportive of her, telling her we’re living “bicuriously” through her. haha!” Our wiry but determined friend Swerve is running the NY Marathon soon. He sent round a note asking for donations, as he (claims to be, or maybe actually) is running it as a gesture to a friend who passed away. Not that the late Smithy would ever have considered running a marathon, unless there were Scotch and fags stations along the way. Anyway, Joe Mullins, who sometimes knows that of which he speaks, suggested Merve was on a scam and would trouser the money for a hol on the chilly North Sea coast… Now read on for Swerve’s indignant response:   “Cleethorpes!!  Do you think I would set up a scam like this to then blow it in North bloody Lincolnshire? You never did have any class, despite your thin veneer of Floridian chic……..I’m splashing the cash on Bridlington and Barmston, you daft bugger. “ This talk of the Yorkshire coast  inspired Mullins into reminiscences of his small boy beach hols there, complete with sunburn on his rain-washed lily-white hide..” .As my dad said, I had blisters as big as duck eggs on my back. My mam chimed in, ‘He’s a little soldier with the courage of a lion.’ Family of writers, you see. Too busy talking to put sun screen on me.” Of course, we Lancastrians have a certain disdain for those Yorkies. We tell the story of the Tyke (Yorkshireman, God, this translation stuff isn’t easy) who told his pal he’d bought a pig “But where will yer keep ‘im?” asked the pal. “In t’ bedroom,”  said the Tyke. “But what about the smell?” asked the pal. “He’ll get used to it.” Other bedroom news: Claire’s found a place in Cupertino,  you California friends be warned, and she moves out of San Fran in mid-month. She’s working at a 1600-attorney law firm in Menlo Park and was tired of the commute, so our South Bay friends may well see more of our FirstBorn. She’s leased a place for a year, plans to see if she can tolerate the area again before she buys a house. She said she attended a good Halloween party in the S Bay, lots of interesting men, nine of whom hit on her. Well, after San Fran… I told her about the time the San Fran Rugby Club held a dance there. They advertised it as ‘The biggest gathering of straight men in San Francisco since the Gold Rush.’  Thousands of cocktail-dress-clad women showed up. And a few gay guys. Freddy says that a gay Mexican is a Pedrophile. Enough already. Better stuff next week, eh?     E-pistle XIII   I should live in Much Grumbling in the Marsh, with all the recent moaning I’ve been doing about my life as a lonely shut-in, but  I’ll sprinkle some fairy dust from up my sleeve and all will be well.   Our daughters went off to Hawaii the other week to celebrate birthdays and attend a wedding, and  one of them has her birthday on the 25th, the pub date of this e-pistle. She says she doesn’t want any fuss, but we think she’ll be ticked off if we don’t acknowledge the day, so that’s the plan. ‘Well, you said you didn’t want any fuss…’ Her pals had celebrations already, none of them involving a quiet night at home with cocoa and a geography book. (which sounds good to me.)   Jennie did about  the same for her birthday last week, and celebrated by going out for a business lunch, then departed in the evening to a calligraphy class. I stayed home with the cat and did some particularly exciting crochet work, making my day as gay as a maypole..   A sigh here as I go back to correct  typos. Does anybody else have the same constant typing prob I have with apostrophes that turn mysteriously into semi colons? Something to do with thick fingers? Thick head? Don;t both;er to answ;er.   Anyway, I set about sending off our topless gold miners piece and hit some small setbacks. The Aussie men’s mag I’d intended it for said ‘Sorry, mate, we don’t do topless. Bikinis only.”    In Oz???? My London magazine contacts all seem to be on hols, although one was on assignment in Afghanistan (ouch) so those outlets are  back-burnered. Bild newspaper  has cleverly hidden their New York contact info from everyone, so I had to send a query to Berlin and their ultra-efficient PR fellow, who forwarded it to zer korrekt department, and resulting silence. The PR fellow’s own office is the splendidly-named Information und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit  (IuO) which reminds me of when I was an information officer of the Queen at the GPO in London. I was known as an IO,  my assistant was an AIO, the manager an MIO  and that’s how we addressed internal memos, to Bannister IO, or Johnson MIO. There was a book-producing fellow, something MacDonald, who was an Executive Information (External Imprints) Officer. Guess how he answered the phone…   OK, talk about the weather… We’re getting predictions for a colder, wetter winter than usual in the Pacific NW, which leads to the story about the new Indian chief:   It was October and the Indians on a remote reservation asked their new Chief if the coming winter was going to be cold or mild. Since he was a Chief in a modern society he had never been taught the old secrets. When he looked at the sky he couldn’t tell what the winter was going to be like. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side he told his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect firewood to be prepared. But being a practical leader, after several days he got an idea. He went to the phone booth, called the National Weather Service and asked, “Is the coming winter going to be cold?” “It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold,” the meteorologist at the weather service responded.?So the Chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more firewood in order to be prepared. A week later he called the National Weather Service again. “Does it still look like it is going to be a very cold winter?” “Yes,” the man at National Weather Service again replied, “it’s going to be a very cold winter.” The Chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of firewood they could find. Two weeks later the Chief called the National Weather Service again. “Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?” “Absolutely,” the man replied. “It’s looking more and more like it is going to be one of the coldest winters ever.” “How can you be so sure?” the Chief asked. The weatherman replied, “The Indians are collecting firewood like crazy.”   Onward and upwards, although one fellow in the UK wrote to say that these epistles are meaningless to him as they’re about my US friends. Sorry, but they’re the people with whom I interact, I explained, ex’ing his name from the list.  He took another swipe at me, too, saying his brother also sends him ‘silly’ emails. OK, I’ve stopped. For him, anyway.   Back to incoming mail:   Don’t book ’em:  On the subject of meetings and what a waste of time and oxygen they can be, Lee Overbeck writes: “A local friend, also retired, frequently calls for mandatory “Book Club” meetings, usually at a local watering hole. The one rule of attending is don’t screw it up by bringing a book to talk about.”   Mary Kline bought Claire’s white two-seater,  as our Firstborn has invested in a small SUV for her daily, deadly commute. Herewith a report on Mary’s new maternal status:  “Did she tell you – she is now rich and I’m poor as I treated myself to a new car, i.e. her Miata?  It’s worth it because now my son asks, nay begs, me to pick him up from events.  My other car is a 1994 Honda station wagon with a bad paint job, ripped seats, and Obama stickers on it.  First time I picked him up at the mall (first date with his girlfriend), he asked me to park it out of sight from her parents as they voted for McCain and Palin.  On Friday night, he called me to pick him up from the football game and I heard him say to his friend (in suitable bragging tone), “keep an eye out for a white Miata, yeah, my mom… yeah, I guess she’s cool, kinda”.  Speaking of car stickers, there’s a wee Union Jack on the rear of the Miata which I shall never remove as it gives me great pleasure to think of my Uncle Sean and his wife Aunt Ella doing cartwheels in their graves in punishment for the many educational trips to Kilmainham Jail we endured every time we visited them in Dublin.  Ah yes, sitting in the cells of various Fenians before attending Mass in Oirish in the freezing chapel….  I think of that as I tool around in the warm California sun and I allow myself a small smile……”   Carole in En Zed sympathised with Jennie’s frequently-misspelled (misspelt? nah) name, and  added a spin of her own, concerning her sibs and nieces:::   “And please tell Jennie she has my sympathies on the name thing.  Mine is always spelt wrong too – actually first, middle and surnames get the creative treatment.  Funnily enough, Dayle and Dene have the same sort of problems.  Dayle always used to complain to Mum and Dad, that they should have given her an easy-to-spell name.  A bit ironic really, because now she’s named her daughters Holli and Eryn! “ Joe Mullins, born in the coal country of Yorkshire, where he and his brother built Selby Abbey in 1069, (or so he says) had a thought about our topless girl gold miners: :  “Your miners’ feature…nothing like the miners I knew from Frickley, Hemsworth and South Kirkby though. Guess our business has changed too.”     I had a lovely, caring letter from Sarah Ellam, daughter of the esteemed Daily Mirror feature writer Dennis, who’s about to celebrate (or not) his 60th. She enterprisingly hunted down people who knew him from ages ago, including me. I worked with him in Sheffield in 1968-70 (a million experiences ago)  and knew him only slightly. So, I had no qualms about responding (another cheat to fill this e-pistle) thus:   Dear Sarah: I’m flattered and mildly surprised that you turned up my name and acquaintance with your Dad, from oh, 40 years on. As with all my friends from that time, I have only golden memories, except for that pretentious jerk Eric Walker, onetime Morning Tel newseditor, with  whom I’ll deal by ignoring him in my soon-to-be-published memoir, and hang the cost. This last was delivered in a high-pitched, bitchy semi-fag tone, if any cinematographer is reading. Although, as one who hung up his rugby boots only last year, I’m afraid I won’t make the casting call, as I’m insufficiently pale, interesting or highly-strung. Anyway, I remember Dennis as a tall, slim youth  with a cerebral aura, probably fake, and frankly that’s where I’d like to keep him in my memory banks. Don’t send me a pic, or ask him to call.  Everyone else I knew from that and even later eras has turned out to be whiskery,  fat, bald and possessed of an expensive  roadmap of booze-induced nose veins, including myself. My wife (vintage 1968 and a good year) is excluded from these remarks. Therefore, from the grand, green Pacific NorthWest, I wish you and your positively-remembered (by me, at least) Dad everything good and great, although I’ve read some of his copy online and It isn’t a patch on Joe Mullins’ stuff. (This endorsement paid for by the Campaign to Elect Joe Mullins Pope.   Again.)   I’m halfway serious about not knowing of the 2010 Dennis, a nice young man when I knew him  40 years ago. I’d leave him preserved in the aspic of 1970, from choice. Fact is, I recently re-met my half-brother after 35 years apart, and although he has a lot of good points, there was a certain friction after he’d stayed with us for nine weeks. I have that effect on people. We’re cordially OK now since he went back to Britain. Does anybody else feel the same way about renewing long-ago acquaintances?  There have to be some good horror stories out there.  One follows.   A former schoolmate of mine, discovered thru the Old Boys’ site, contacted me a few years ago, and we exchanged e-jokes for a while. Then he started sending neo-Nazi political statements, OK, he merely thought Sarah Palin would make a fine president.  Alarm flags fluttered briefly at my masthead. Next, schoolmate and wife planned a visit to Seattle, and we offered accomms here, just a few miles off the interstate from California. He wrote to tell me his wife said no way, we might not be able to tolerate each other for an evening, and was there an hotel in Eugene? He must have remembered me better than I recalled him. Or, his wife knew and hated him. Either way, that renewed acquaintance withered on the vine…   On the other hand, a couple we knew in California and have not seen or had contact with for 15 or more years overnighted here yesterday and the relationship was as easy and natural as if we’d never had an hiatus in it. It’s odd how you relate to some people, how the chemistry works. It also helped that they harvested nine tons of pinot grapes this year, and brought samples. Bottled. And now, a solicitation from an old friend I actually quite like. Swerve, aka Mervyn Edgecombe, is putting his wiry but nicely-marked self and sparrow legs on the NY Marathon line next week (Nov 7th) to raise cash for a departed pal, Ian ‘Smithy’ Smith. Smithy died a year ago after two decades battling MS. Now, Swervin’s busy soliciting donations for the nurses who cared for our Welsh wonder for so many years. Swerve’s not a marathon novice, btw, with hundreds, maybe thousands, (Ed: ?)  of the things in his legs (which is why they’re so worn-down and thin. Some say they couldn’t even act as tomato vine supports. He’ll  be reporting on his experiences in next week (and a bit’s)  event. He notes: ” I think one of the things I will be watching out for on the run is if the cops have finally got on top of the buggers in Harlem who always nick all the Poland Spring water that is provided for the runners and replace it at the watering station with the crap they have run off from the area’s fire hydrants. No kidding….the first year I did it I couldn’t understand the foul tasting water only in the Harlem area, the second time I did it I spotted the brothers at their nefarious dark arts and vowed never to drink the water provided in that spot again..”   Joe Mullins, approached for a donation to the Smithy fund, had this to say: ‘I think it’s an elaborate setup…Merv is somehow going to trouser the money and have a holiday in Cleethorpes. Very nice too, stay at the Kingsway probably. Guess I’ll send something anyway for his cheek.’) Thinking of Smithy reminds me of the night in Manchester decades ago when Swerve, myself and Smithy left the Daily Mail office at break time in search of sustenance, and were wandering into fashionable St Anne’s Square when Smithy, who existed on a diet of Scotch and ciggies, spotted a furrier’s shop window, all bright lights and groomed, glistening coats. “In yer, boyos,” he Celt-commanded us before going through an extraordinary sales exercise with the assistant. Using wizardry inherited from his ancestor Merlin, he found and settled on a white fur ensemble for his lady,  later wife, Liz. I can’t remember the numbers, but it was enough to make me turn as white as the glossy coat he was scamming, but Ian wasn’t fazed. “Do the hire purchase, do yer?” he demanded. “Good.” “So I’ll need what, £35 down?  Good.’ He turned to Merv and I , said something in Druid that meant “Give us 34 quid, eh?” and produced a pound note. I scared up a few pounds, Merv, a single guy who actually had money, funded the rest and we returned to the office unrefreshed  because we could no longer afford pints or anything else.   Fast forward about a month. Merv was holding a Christmas soiree at his tasteful bachelor place in Prestbury. The guests were lolling about on the floor or in chairs, all was muted, calm, polite and upmarket, when the door burst open and in, accompanied on the blast by a flurry of snow, strode Liz. She was magnificent in  flame-red mane, polished talons and dazzling Zhivago pelt..  She didn’t enter, she Made An Entrance like a Valkyrie on speed, all eyes, teeth, tits, and fur coat. Behind her, fresh from an assignment at Bolton town hall or somewhere, was Ian, nobility-resplendent in rented black tie (went on the office expenses), a picture of bonhomie, whisky breath and lofty presence.   Merv, sitting on the floor like some unlettered, muddy peasant while the lord of the manor and his chatelaine graced his squalid cot, recalled the moment. . “I felt like tugging my forelock. I felt honoured, humble and grateful and I rushed to get them tumblers of Scotch, suitably iced. Then I remembered: Liz was wearing MY 30 quid…”   To top the entire package, Ian took the coat back after Christmas. “Didn’t fit,” he reported, pocketing OUR refunded money.   Editor’s note: Swerve confirms the veracity of this account and adds a detail about our fiscal policies  with: “about the fiver Smithy owed you for Liz’s white fur coat – I remember such a coat which I bought in its entirety one Christmas when cashiers had frozen all advance-exes to Smithy because of what he owed them. He promised I’d get paid back….but I think it was the following Spring before I saw a groat!!’ Epistle 12, Oct 18 10 First, news from our correspondents:   Steve ‘Firebloke’ Franklin seized on the treacherous attack on me by an Irishwoman and records the dialog he had over an adult beverage with one of his Irish pals: “You’re English; I’m not supposed to like you” “Yes, the last time I looked in a mirror I was English, and I’m very aware of your distrust of us English by the placement of the handle of your shovel (now playing ignorant to the history)  . . . However, just what was it that we did that upset you so much?” Now after much contemplation on the subject, and a couple of swigs, the good navvy friend  in question said to me “I can’t remember what you did, but we didn’t like the way you did it”   Candy Neville is a sunny Eugene resident  – she’s the sunny one, not Eugene – and recounts her encounter with the rude. What cracked me up in the account was her insult to him. ‘Hall monitor.’  Here’s how it went down:   “I did survive being harassed angrily on Mt. Pisgah by an over-age bully who insisted that the service dog I was exercising for someone (she was smelling a blade of grass without a leash) should immediately be on a leash.  Since I didn’t comply he gave me the finger, called me a bitch, upped the ante and called me something far worse in a chant – over twenty times! I called him a “hall monitor”, “old coot” and a “coward” (somehow I just know he doesn’t demand and harass a man with a docile dog that ignored him).  Then when I scooted past him back to the parking lot to call the cops and see what car he got into – HE called 911 and reported feeling threatened by me!  He said I had gotten angry and obscene.   Ah, the beauty of nature.” BTW:  Candy got the guy’s name from the police report, and says the cops know him and his recurring actions.   Navy guy Craig (mostly) supports my rugby memories of Nassau with: “I must have drank much more than you…don’t remember half of the details you’ve recounted, but do recall sitting on the bottom of the deep end of the motel pool looking up at our drunk mates and maties thrashing about on the surface playing grab-ass.  Wheelchairs?…moi?…if so, I assure you it was only out of heartfelt concern for our lame and halt in their hour of need!   Pat Bell reports in spookily about meeting a woman whose last name is Tipton. Pat was brought up in Tipton, England, and now lives in Pasadena on Dudley Avenue – the neighbouring town to Tipton is Dudley. Pat’s philandering ex, Alan, shares his name with the next street, Allen, and the one after that appropriately, is Mountin’,  er, Mountain.   Paddy goes to the vet with his goldfish. “I think it’s got epilepsy” he tells the vet. Vet takes a look and says “It seems calm enough to me”. Paddy says, “I haven’t taken it out of the bowl yet”.   Then there was the one about the 90 years old golfer whose eyesight was fading, so he took his equally old pal along to spot the ball for him. It worked well until the second hole, when the golfer asked his pal did he see the ball land? “Yep,” said the sighted one. “Got it just fine.” They walked up the fairway. “Where is it?” asked the golfer. “Dunno,” said the eyes of the team. “I’ve forgotten.”   My week was much occupied with a photo shoot. I’ve been sending adventure stories – people who survived bear or croc attacks, or plane crashes, or shipwrecks, that kind of thing,  to a number of magazines, notably the new breed of ‘lad mags’ like Nuts and Zoo, plus Maxim, in UK, Beijing, Budapest and Rome, plus  Zoo in Australia, People ditto, and some London-based women’s mags like Now and the late, lamented Eva.   A couple of years ago the market began to go sour. I lost the Maxims, Eva, and People when the first lot folded and People went entirely girly. Then Nuts and Zoo went on an austerity drive and freelancers were too expensive for them so matters got a bit thin.   After some head-scratching, I thought it best to join them, so I dreamed up a story I thought might attract their attention: a photo exclusive with the topless girl gold prospectors of Oregon. I’d do the story, my photogger son in law Bob would do the pics. and the models would get a paid gig.   Bob came up with five 20-something girls. Three of them were active or retired strippers, one was a college student and the other a tattoo artist. The company he keeps!  Actually, all the girls had tatts, and people of that persuasion are usually happy to show their bods, so we were were set for a shirtless afternoon.   I spent a day driving around seeking a location, found one three miles east of a place that’s not much more than a wide spot in the road, ironically called London. It was a B&B, now closed since the owner’s wife had a massive stroke, but it has 1000 feet of creek frontage and the trees are set back a little from the bank, so there was plenty of sunlight. Better yet, the creek was shallow enough to wade and the whole place was private – useful when there’s a display of girl flesh.   Next up, I needed enough props to make the site look authentic. I rigged up a couple of window boxes, a compressor and some hose to simulate a gold sluice box; borrowed a metal detector, loaded up on shovels, picks, buckets, wellies, straw hats a stepladder and the like and threw in my ex-Army Lee Enfield rifle.   Also in the mix: a table to hold flasks of hot coffee, soft drinks, Bailey’s Irish cream, sandwiches, fruit and cookies. The booze went first, as did the cookies. The B&B owner, whose 76th birthday it was, sat on his deck watching the shoot – see attachment for a sample – and said it was one of his best birthday presents ever.   So we did the shoot and scrambled a bit (before Bob and Rachel left a day later to go to Hawaii)to get the photos chosen and put in a gallery online so editors could see them. Then I had the problem of explaining why the girls opted to work topless…. My first thought was to say they stripped off because of the heat, but our models were almost white-skinned and pretty obviously hadn’t been in the sun, much. But I overlooked that detail and here’s what I finally wrote: Gold prospector girls in Oregon’s famous Bohemia Mines country are going topless to protect themselves. Five beautiful young women who hunt for gold on public lands have found a simple way to keep safe. They bear arms and bare breasts. “It encourages trigger-happy miners not to shoot,” one explained.. “Gold miners are very protective of their claims, and because we pan creeks, we move on fairly often. It’s easy for us to accidentally come close to someone’s claim, and that’s dangerous” said 25 years old ash blonde Diana Cronk. “Miners think if they stake a claim, they have the right to run you off. They’ll post a notice: ’Go past this spot and you’re liable to be shot at.’ They see us half-dressed and that takes their minds off guns.” Hey, it’s a reason….and I did get my picture taken with the girls (all dressed) so the day wasn’t wasted.   It’s birthday time in this household, Jennie’s day is today (18th) Claire’s was on the 15th and Rachel celebrates on the 25th. One thought, btw: it’s JennIE not JennY. It ticks her off that friends don’t get her name right, and I speak as Saint Porl.  But back to the geburstagen (I think that’s right, from memory) Claire had her usual gift – amethyst earrings. I think this is the seventh or eighth pair I’ve bought, as she keeps losing them, usually while wake boarding (Yep, she could take them out, tell her yourself) So there are amethysts all over lake bottoms in California and Nevada. That should puzzle future geologists. In an odd way, I don’t mind because it makes gift-giving very simple. Just troll to the jeweller and hand over the cash. Actually, if I get it right, the Celtic knot/amethyst combo she likes works well enough together that she can wear mismatched ones. Very few people see both sides of your head at one time, though I suppose a horse could. But then again, the horse couldn’t mention it, eh? I can’t say what I got Jennie because she’ll read this around the same time she’ll be opening her presents, but I can say what i got Rachel. Sentimental fool that I am, I gave her money to buy a car battery. Well, hers was fading and a Jeep is hard to push-start. I expect Jennie will get her something girly. Fact is, Rachel and Claire will probably get themselves something, as they’re vacationing in Hawaii with Bob, Claire’s girlfriend Mo and the gay doctors at whose wedding Claire was the ‘officiant.’  They have a house on the beach at Kailua (a beautiful spot) and I expect they’re swilling mai tais as I scribble. I hate them all. I’m going somewhere quiet to sulk.   An old Irish farmer’s dog goes missing and he’s inconsolable. His wife says “Why don’t you put an advert in the paper?” He does, but two weeks later the dog is still missing. “What did you put in the paper?” his wife asks. “Here, boy” he replies.   Number Ten, Epistle X, St Paul to the Epistoloarians, Oct 5, 2010     This epistle stuff gets easier, thanks to far-flung correspondents (and some of them have had their flings flung very far) who respond with entertaining material for us all. In this week’s email box, we have a handy tip about using pee, more on the Decline and Fall of the English Language, a lovely anecdote about the Brit comedian Norman Wisdom and some insights from the Manx-born son of a German internee whose prose I’m proud to pinch, plus grumbles from an old fellow. As the News of the World used to proclaim: ‘All Human Life is There.”   Start with Jeffrey in Florida, who besmirches my four-wheeled friend, the Chelsea Tractor: “Never trust a Yankee mechanic to work on a Range Rover, especially not the one vehicle that was rejected from appointment to Her Majesty. And….remember….in an emergency, even urine has lubricating qualities….somewhere in the area of 5w-10, or so the BP folks claim.”   More on Freddy’s thoughtful bit on the appalling slide of English into Chav n that, from Claire to Rachel and forwarded….   Rachel wrote: “I don’t know if you saw Claire’s post on Facebook last week:     This is English. LOVE IT!: Wen i cum bk 2 get me stuff u wiernt in, oda wise i wud of, i went the gerrard arms the oda week wid me dad, and i went over to the hostel to c if u stil live thr n they said no, i was guttd wen they said tht, coz though id never speak to u agen n nw am talkn to u on f.b its mad isnt it x x   I responded that it was like fingernails on a chalkboard. I’m glad I’m not the only one who is irritated by ignorance.”   And this, from Craig in Virginia, a former Navy helo pilot, sometime minister and longtime rugby friend with a taste for Adult Beverages: “LOVE IT!!!   How frustrating it’s been to observe the creeping anti-intellectualism and dreadful ‘dumbing-down’ of the USA during my lifetime–‘W’s tenure and malapropisms being prime examples.  So I appreciate those who try to help us Americans maintain some semblance of linguistic decorum with clever critiques like this. Thanks.”   Mary in Santa Clara got it, too: “I know that guy with the arthuritis and I have many friends with prostrate problems beens as how they don’t eat their breffus when  they visit Massatoosits with their Vietminese girlfriends.  As O’Casey’s Paycock said, “the whole world’s in a state of chassis” and I agree with him and I am unanimous in that (ok, that last was Mrs. Slocum). ” (Ed: Mrs S was a character on the  Are You Being Served TV show who made constant reference to her pussy, and meant her pet cat.) Mary again:  “A friend did comment recently that his wife was hoping to get a job as a conserjhay in a fancy hotel…..but that’s French and who cares what happens to that….”   In other news, Swerve, who was once propositioned by Weakest Link presenter Ann Robinson, a dangerous biz as she was married at the time to his editor, (gossip exclusive here?) is reported thus:     “At the age of 62 ex-Daily Mail reporter Mervyn Edgecombe is in training to run the New York Marathon as a fund raiser in memory of his former colleague Ian Smith. ‘Smithy,’ as he was known to everyone, died in 2009 after a long struggle against Multiple Sclerosis. He had been one of the best — and one of the most popular — reporters in Manchester during more than 20 years in the city. So, despite a dodgy knee, Mervyn trains four times week and is currently putting in up to 40 miles a week in preparation for the marathon, at which he hopes to raise a big pot of money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.” Skeptics like Your Humble Corr think the time he’s spending pounding the pavement may have something to do with the fact  he has extra time on his hands as he no longer attends church executive committee meetings. The new free time comes after one of his saucy boobs and bums emails was accidentally forwarded to the ladies of that committee. But then again, I’m  gossiping…   Speaking of gossip, here’s Joe Mullins, the man who covers Hollywood from Florida and who claims rightly to have guided me through my only triumphant moment (see the Lulu interview in my memoirs) “Epistle readers probably think Paul is a kindly soul bubbling over with bonhomie. Some of us know different. I’ve suffered his scathing sarcasm since the sixties in Sheffield (note the sibilant alliteration. A pro at this or is he short-tongued, you’re asking). Recently, during a heartfelt conversation about the church we both grew up in, I emoted how I’d spent much of my childhood in the company of priests….schools, missions, sports, dances; even camping on the Yorkshire coast. Never an improper word or deed, if you discount Fr. Langhan turning a blind eye to a few beers in the Black Bull at Barmston. “Ah,” said Bannister, “but you were such an unattractive child.” The death this week of Norman Wisdom brought a message from another former Sheffield reporter, Howard Poucher. Howard now entertains as a fiddle player and a Morris dancer. (Yes, I wondered about it, too). Well, back in those sixties I mentioned, he bought a suit from a photographer called Vic Clements for 10 quid. (Vic was a nice man, brilliant photographer, but not one to give away a suit that he’d only worn for 15 years) Why Howard bought it, I couldn’t understand as he weighed 12 stone and Vic a mere 10. But he’ll forgive me for saying that he was often sartorially challenged. The first day he wore it, he got a night job to interview Mr. Wisdom, who was appearing at a local club. “I was convinced it was a perfect fit,” Howard wrote to me this week. “Norman opened his dressing room door, looked me up and down and said, ‘Ere son, are you trying to take the piss.’ I looked down at the stretched button, the jacket barely fitting and realized I looked just like him. I never wore the suit again. Ten quid down the drain but a priceless moment.”   More gossip, about Fred Wehner, middle name incautiously revealed here. We’d corresponded about the Isle of Man, that Irish Sea gem populated by people of such insularity (Latin: insula, an island – Ed) they disparagingly call residents of a half-century’s standing ‘Comeovers.’ They also won’t use the word ‘rat’ because it brings bad luck, so you’d call the Rodent Operative to come and remove a plague of ‘Longtails.’   And when you drive over the Fairy Bridge, which has prominent road signs to make sure you know about it, you have to say aloud ‘Hello, Little People’ or your fortune will be a bad one.  And the Manx are proud of their superstitions. Yeah, Jennie’s father was Manx….   Here’s Freddy, confessing to his middle name:   “The Isle of Man oh man – wozrong wiv the place? Is it the people? I’m an IoM people. I got myself born there Nov 26 1942 at Port Erin. My crazy little brother was spawned at Port St Mary. Parents were internees housed at the Hydro Hotel in Douglas and Douglas is my bro’s middle name. Mine? Orry, after King Orry. Yes, I know. Orry Bull. Orry Fiss. I hated my parents for bestowing that strange name on me, but these days – hey – it’s somewhat cool, don’cha think… in a nerdy, stoopid, wimpy kinda way. Linda wants us to visit there but mate Stewie White, who’s from right across the water at St Helens, says it’s what you might call an anal orifice. Which is decidedly NOT my recollection as an incredibly astute babe in arms. Okay, I went back there when I was ten. ”   The weekend in our college football-obsessed town was dominated by a Duck game. That’s Duck as in University of Oregon football  Ducks, the team mascot being Disney’s Donald. The uni football team is largely underwritten by mega-alumnus Phil Knight, founder of Nike, who has donated massive amounts of hard cash that turned the Ducks from not very much into the third-ranked college football team in the nation. Of course, there’s contention about  the amount of money he spends on football, while seeming to ignore academics. Knight recently underwrote a ‘student athlete’ study centre inelegantly known to critics as the Jock Box.  The place, a glass cube within a cube, boasts white oak floors, Italian leather auditorium chairs and designer seats reinforced for bulky linemen. The all-glass elevators and circular gas fireplace in the cafe are just features in a place exclusively reserved for university sports team members. Its $42 million pricetag works out to $1,100 per square foot, or several times what you’d pay for Portland’s priciest condos. Oh yes, the football coach just signed a $20 million contract, too. The lavish, pampered sports-only  spending so disgusts one of our friends she won’t allow a Duck game to be viewed on TV in her home. Some of us aren’t so principled, and when the Ducks played Stanford University at the weekend, a critical game in their Pacific  league, several of our poker group gathered for an afternoon card game and to watch the match. Stand by for a peeve. Bad enough that one of my best friends, who hosted, is a rabid fan of any sport and watched two football games and a baseball game while playing cards. We’re used to him not concentrating if there’s any sport on TV, and take fiscal advantage whenever we can.   What was irksome was when it came time to watch the Stanford-Duck showdown,  another guest hijacked the remote control and, over our protests,  flicked back and forth between two (or was it three?) games while the Ducks played, much of the while standing in front of the TV to get a better view. Is it just me, or is anyone else annoyed by these butterfly watchers, who flick between programmes?? I left at half time and settled in comfortably at home, to watch uninterrupted.   It’s good to get older and be cranky.   And oh yes, a bit on the kindergartenish execs who want to be everybody’s friends and who called on their colleagues to make paper chains of written observations about their board members. Our fed-up spy  says it got worse: each group’s paper chain was judged for neatness. ‘Infantile,” said our spy. ‘Their business ambition isn’t to make a profit, but simply to make everyone like them . Yesterday one group were planning to spend the day at their boss’ house to tell each other what they hoped to achieve in the coming year. It is to be a cosy, comfy all-girls-together day making cookies or something, hardly a professional meeting.”   So I mentioned this baby-talk chumminess to my chum Freddy. He responded with a long and elegant piece he’d written about the day he became a US citizen. Here’s an extract:     “It’s been two hours. Heads turn suddenly. A lady, with hair oiled down tightly on her skull culminating in a curly bun on top, toddles up to the lectern. She’s wearing a bright red-and-black number. It fits so tightly, with the feminine bulges so extremely constricted into a pronounced duck shape, that in propelling herself across the room she appears to be doing some long-forgotten 1960s dance. The Hully Gully? The Mashed Potato? “Hello. I’m Miss Jackson and I’m the supervisor.”   For the rest of the morning the huge dimpled smile never leaves her face. This is one very happy woman.   She takes us through this momentous formal event as though it were a kindergarten class. Each word is separated by a half-second’s silence. “Now, I don’t know what it’s like to be you because I was born right here in the United States of America. So I don’t know what it’s like because you came from someplace else where I wasn’t at…”     But then once again it’s back to reality and the ever-gleeful voice of the Sunday School teacher, Miss Jackson: “Repeat after me.” And so we go through the Oath Of Allegiance. “I hereby declare… baaa baaa….“ We, the 76-strong flock, bleat our way through it, line by sing-song line.   Of course it’s a commitment we’re all taking seriously, and some become quite teary-eyed. But the way we’re led through this process is nothing if not infantile. The whole ceremony – almost a joke. A charade. I wonder: is Patrick McGoohan going to come dashing through the room chased by an angry white weather balloon?   With a squeal of delight, Miss Jackson informs us that folks from 32 other countries are represented here today and “now ain’t that somethin’?” There are three others from Britain: one a basketball-tall young man in US Air Force uniform, another a middle-aged blonde with the beginnings of a widow’s stoop who looks like one of my old neighbours back in Crystal Palace.”   Oaths duly taken, Fred is a citizen….   “You may shake the hand of the person next to you or give them a hug,” warbles Miss Jackson, almost bursting out of her ample frame with well-rehearsed glee. And when, on receiving his certificate, a diminutive Vietnamese-born gentleman gives her a hug instead of the requisite handshake she shriek-giggle-announces: “Hope your wife ain’t here.”   Save me, somebody! I’m caught in the midst of a Butlins nightmare.   “I want to hear you clap your hands and stomp your feet and cheer,” she trills. “This is a happy time.” But as more and more New Americans – myself included – receive their certificates the applause dwindles noticeably.   It’s down at least a dozen decibels, so Supervisor Jackson now exhorts us: “Make lots of noise. Let ’em know in the next room – in ‘Deportation’ – what they (sic) missing.” Highly humorous. A standard line in Miss Jackson’s performance no doubt, but It really was a witty remark.”   OK, OK, it’s just me (and Freddy) being grumpy. But I can end on a positive note: I was  complimented on my driving skills on Tuesday. I came back to my car and someone had left a note on it. It said: “Parking Fine.”  It made my day.   Epistle nine A bonus, or not, in that our Far-Flung Correspondents have been sending such good and copious material that the Monday epistle is ready on the previous Thursday afternoon. Well, I’ve never been able to wait (I could have been a doctor, but I didn’t have enough patience)  and I never said the epistles would be exactly and regularly spaced, so here’s the ninth Epistle to the Evidentials, a little early. Thank you, Mary, Freddy, Carole, Ann and Brad for the lovely copy. I’ll try to keep up with you fellows. I’m in thrall and enthralled.       Last week was much concerned with the Great White. That’s my trailer-towing, go-anywhere Range Rover, 1993 vintage, distinguished by hand-sewn leather seat covers in the back where the dogs ripped them up and I got busy with my bike tyre repair kit. I looked around to replace it after half a year’s ailing noises from it, didn’t like or want to spend on the options,so coughed up almost $4k to have its heart and lungs replaced. Drove away from the shop in Portland to grinding noises – a drive shaft was eating the catalytic converter when we went over bumps.A series of minor woes corrected, took Jennie (and the dogs) for a 200 mile drive on BLM forestry roads to coastal Reedsport, seeing just a single other vehicle in one 50 mile stretch. Jen was white knuckled at being so far from a hair and nail salon and was anxiously contemplating her fashionable little shoes and wondering how long they’d hold up if we had to trek out. I was all blase about it, until we got home and I thought to check the fluids. The clowns at the specialist Rover shop hadn’t filled the oil sump properly, and had left it almost three quarts low…..It had me looking at my shoes, too, wondering how we’d have coped with a seized engine and a 30 mile hike. Add to all that the fact that Java and Axel loved the place and took off running half a mile up a gravel road at their first pee stop (deer scent, probably) and we would have had a merry hike home, whistling for the bear-attracting canines. Or not….   The week was marked happily with some responses to the last eructions, and one of our more cerebral friends (well, she chooses not to have a tv) sent me a note about blueprints,after I’d mentioned how a garage sale visitor had asked for the plans,’blueprints’ to our house, sight unseen. Ann White   “got to thinking about how the term has evolved. According to Wikipedia, the original process produced technical drawings or architectural plans with white lines on a blue background, but then in the mid 1900s, the “blueprint” was largely replaced by the diazo process, which produces plans with blue lines on a white background (like our house plans)–and hence also the term “blueline” to refer to the printer’s proof to check before going to press. (I remember accidentally leaving one of these in the sun–oops!)   From New Zealand, my cousin’s daughter, Carole, who owns an impressive degree in librarianism or book declensions or something, has three sons with truly impeccable manners (for small boys, anyway)  and I have that on the authority of Claire, who wrestled with all of them.  Now Carole grumps a bit and gives us the secret to Getting Your Own Way….   “Your annoying coffee shop woman struck a chord.  Why are there so many rude people like this around?  I think I now notice good manners more, maybe because so many people we come across are really rude.  I’m sure working a shift on the supermarket checkout is less than exciting, but surely a bit of polite chat with the customers makes the day go faster and their work more enjoyable?  I’ve especially found at work (in a high school library) that I’ve stopped noticing the girls who don’t say please and thank you, and really take note when someone slips a please into their request.  That is so wrong!  I’m turning into the grumpy old woman (not quite the stereotype librarian with the twinset and hair in a bun) who has to remind teenagers what manners are …”   (Editor’s note: Carole’s pretty hot, and the teens probably like the attention)   At least you can rest assured that our 3 have got good manners coming out their ears (well, not literally).  When Cameron and Ryan were at preschool together, one of the teachers there taught them that when they were asking me for something, they needed to say, not just please, but “please mummy sweetie pie darling”  Needless to say, that pretty much always worked! ”     Also in the inbox, a cryptic – ‘crypt,’ geddit? – note from paranormal researcher Brad Steiger, who has something like – no exaggeration – 400 books to his credit, all on demons, devils, aliens and the occult in general. He wrote simply:  “Dyslexic devil worshippers sell their souls to Santa.”   The very thought of devil worshippers would probably have the so-called execs at a certain person’s workplace in fear and trembling. I won’t name the guilty, but here’s the latest tale of the cosy, unprofessional management style of a software non-profit that elects board members every couple of years. When the new board was about to visit, senior management instructed the staff to mix and mingle with them  – the instructions wasted a full day of meetings – and, staffers having met and mingled, they were to write down something positive they’d learned about the new board member with whom they’d  M&M’ed. These billets douces were then made into a paper chain and hung in the office,  kindergarten style. Up next: finger painting your way to the top and learning to play nicely with others.   More came in this week from one of my fave correspondents, Mary K, a Cork woman with a vivid writing style that makes me hate her. She’d just returned from a sisterly visit in Boston. Now read on…   “On the return journey, I paid $25 to check through a bag loaded with Barry’s Tea, Porter Cake, McCambridge Irish Brown Soda Bread, and assorted Cadbury’s and Oatfield sweeties and choccies – reminded me of the ould emigration days back in the ’70s and ’80s when we’d barf our way across the Irish Sea courtesy of Slattery’s Travel of Tralee, laden with slabs of Galtee cheese and rashers, Clonakilty sausages, and the ubiquitous brown bread and Barry’s tea (because God knows, you can’t get a dacint cuppa east of Cork City), all provided by our weeping Mums whom we left sobbing on the doorstep, as we set off full of hope, freedom, and thoughts of streets paved with gold.  Clutching the addresses of various siblings of friends of friends, we descended on such delightful areas as Archway and Cricklewood, stashed our entire worldly goods in the corner of a friend’s 10′ x 10′ room, in return for sharing the food, and spread our sleeping bags on the floor before heading down Holloway Rd. for a pint at The Cock (very aptly named as they provided entertainment in the form of a couple of toothless strippers on Sundays after 12 Mass at St. Gabriel’s).”     Talking of toothless strippers, and who wouldn’t, reminds me of rugby pal Don Hesler and that’s all I’ll say about THAT, maybe.   On the home front, Jennie’s been out photographing spider webs today. We have a huge display of spiders, something about the weather, and this misty morning (with 89 deg F forecast for later) shows them up in dewy glory. Interrupted there by the cat, who chose his moment to leap on my desk, where he promptly stepped on a list I keep scotch-taped to the wall. I’d taken it down to add to it, the cat arrived a moment later, stepped on the sticky bit and jumped off my desk with the list stuck to his paw. It took me a minute to trap him and get my work back, but it’s somewhat stained from his muddy feet as he’d been out following Jennie on her photo essay around the garden. I’ll have my revenge tomorrow, when he’s booked into the vet’s to get his hairy backside trimmed. I’ll put something cold where he sits….   I see that Tony Curtis died yesterday. Well, I crossed his tracks a couple of times, and this bit from my (hopefully upcoming) book sketches it:   One of my 1997 assignments was to get the story of the teenage beauty queen and the twins she said she’d had with Curtis.  I didn’t think Tony would be talking to me, because in the 1980s, I’d added to his woes when he was in a rehab clinic in Pasadena, California, battling depression, aka drugs and drink.   The Enquirer, scenting scandal, had told me to get down there and get the goods.   My assignment took me to the psychiatric facilities offered by Las Encinas Hospital, Pasadena, where a tipster told us the actor was recovering from a stressful time.   I called the hospital and told them I was ‘strung out’ and needed to check in for a few days’ rest. They took me in, a tabloid hyena in patient’s clothing.   I found Las Encinas to be a 17-acre compound, a pleasant collection of small cabins, which made a popular refuge for Californians and others in need of time to dry out from drugs or booze, or who wanted a restful time for whatever reason.   The reception clerk who spoke to me before I flew down from San Francisco told me: “Don’t bring in any alcohol, and leave your car elsewhere.”   I parked on a nearby street and checked in, smug in the knowledge that, as a patient, I wasn’t trespassing.   That night, I scaled the wall and drove to a bar. The next morning, after my blood work showed alcohol, orderlies searched my room for contraband booze. Nothing.   I went out again the next night. Another morning blood test, another search.   The third night, in the early hours of Sunday, they were waiting for me as I climbed the wall. They told me I’d be booted out when the administrator came back after the weekend.   I didn’t care. I’d been busy in the daylight hours and had the story, except for one thing. I hadn’t yet spoken to Curtis. He’d been in the hospital for two weeks, following a solitary routine, not mingling with the other patients.   Each day, the actor would get a morning massage, take a walk and eat breakfast. By mid-morning, he’d be collected by an intimidating-looking chauffeur, who spent his time punching one leather-gloved fist into the other, and staring challengingly at the frails who were ambling around the place..   Around dusk, Curtis would check in again for the night, then depart again come daylight.   That Sunday I was up early and over the wall to load my car before I went to Curtis’ room. ‘Mr Allen,’ whom the staff had been cautioned on pain of firing not to acknowledge recognizing, and certainly not to pester with autograph requests, was sitting on the edge of his bed.   “Morning, doctor,” he greeted me.   “Well, Mr Curtis,” I said. “I’m not your doctor. I’m actually from the National Enquirer, and I was wondering how you’re doing?”   Curtis went from listless to ballistic and ran at me, then changed his mind. He’s not a very large man and I’m a rugby prop forward.   He turned back to the bed and picked up the phone, waving a hand at me. “Sometimes, you’ve gotta get away from it all,” he said. “It’s nothing I want to talk about.”   “Thank you,” I nodded. ‘Goodbye.” He was dialling as I left for the front desk, to get my bill.   Before I got there, the loudspeaker system was on Boost Over-Ride. “Dr Finkelbein! Dr Hammond! Dr Page-Morton!”   I thought about the leather-gloved ‘chauffeur’, of indignant medics and of my need for breakfast. I’ll call them later, I decided, to sort out the bill. Sometimes, it pays to be discreet, and as an almost-doctor, I didn’t want to raise the poor fellow’s blood pressure. It wouldn’t be professional etiquette.     JUST IN:   Oh gosh, this excellent piece, stealthily extracted by me, from Freddy in Georgia. I could not agree more…     Haddent you noticed? It’s now a much simpeller time. BTW, I’m not talking about the abbreviated e-blabbing that’s taken over the Internet, I’m aware that if I don’t LOL, LMAO and then ROFL at these e-breviations then I must be some kind of pre-computer pterodaccatyl. But that’s a diffarent beef. What I’m asking is: What’s Happened To The Engalish Langawage? I’m referring to the current populace who couldent, shouldent, wouldent or  simpelly diddent  want to learn sparkeling grown-up English. So they just spout this childalike gibberish like the waiteress scared of lightening. Sure, it’s comical, but hardly anybody’s laughing, and – even more scary – I seem to be the only one compellaining. Doesn’t anyone speak Adult English any more? There are athaletes who suffer from arthuritis and simular affalictions and the fellow who was casterated with people wondering how he’s handeling himself now. It must be flusterating. No, we don’t all have immaculant grammar, me included, but we’re facing a epicdemic of epic proportions and it didn’t all just begin when George W. Bush subjected our Mother Of All Tongues to nookular contammunation. These abnormalies were around before him and after.     and this wonderful concept….       Therefore Valspeak from Los Angeles is no longer toadally awesome-like, kayokayokay, it’s not tre bitchin. And wiv luck Chav Talk from Essex is dahn in popularity innit: it ain’t wot it woz in the days of Margrit Fatcha. Janartamean? WhatEVERRR! Wouldn’t you have loved to hear a conversation between a Valley Girl and an Essex Girl?   Freddy, geddit on tape.   PB   epistle eight: Well, thanks for the gratifying unconcern about my almost deathbed experience with food poisoning. Two people responded with semi-sympathy. One hinted I was too fat, the other at least justified my red wine habit.   Pasadena Pat volunteered: “Do hope you are feeling better although sometimes these events help us to regain that youthful figure; at least for a couple of days.”   Karen, also known as Nurse Vicious, was more forthcoming:  “I am now reading about your food poisoning at the end of a 15 hour shift of snatching the hordes of whining Californians back from their imaginary brink of death so pardon me if the empathy is not oozing forth in my own journalistic response. Am currently finishing night 5 of 6 in a row.  When I come back tonight, no more Mrs. Nice Guy.  I will simply toss them towards the proverbial “Light” that we hear so much about. Now, next time you think you have ingested some culinary poison, drink red wine immediately as this deactivates the Salmonella which is usually the causative agent.  If you were sick for a whole week, it probably wasn’t food poisoning as that usually only lasts for 24 hours until you expel whatever it is that made you sick.”   Thanks for that. Pass the vino, as a proactive measure (and make the measure a good one) This info should be useful to Susie and Joe, who also went down sick, and to my brother Ted in Scotland who went to hospital after eating two-week old chicken casserole. He told me it was a surprise it poisoned him, as he’s made it before.   The talented rugby coach and our former captain, Ken ‘Batshit’ Hudson sent this absorbing video highlighting the skills of New Zealand’s All Blacks. In fairness, I think most international players have similar skills, but it’s still a bit of a jaw dropper for the likes of us less exalted onetime athletes. Well, we had athlete’s foot.  Enjoy hearing your lower mandible thud against your chest:          Click on:   I spent the week driving up to Portland several times, delivering my motor for heart and lung surgery to the Landrover shop. I got a rental car that was truly hideous, a Kia Soul, that was like driving while wearing horse blinkers (blinders in US speak)  The side and rear visibility was appalling, a trend I’ve noted in a  couple of other new vehicles, too. I cite the Toyota Matrix as evidence.  Why is this?   Driving almost 1000 miles this week severely reduced my time to collect amusing anecdotes, and when I might have profitably spent the weekend searching to amuse you, Jennie put on our annual garage sale and roped me in for the more humble duties. She never let me hold the cash box, either. My mandible to chest routine got well exercised as I watched people haggle over spending 25 cents to purchase a perfectly good item that cost $25 or $50 when new. At the end I had my Rover stuffed full of things to take to the charity store and estimated that at a dime per piece it was only about $50 worth, so didn’t feel at all bad about donating it.   One guy showed up and frankly admitted he was wasting time. He wasted ours, too. He priced probably 25 things, examined 100 more  and finally left after eyeing the not-for-sale things in the garage. Reckoning he might be casing the place for a more furtive visit later, I pointed out not too politely that we have dogs and a Lee Enfield  rifle among our security measures. He even asked me if I was saving up for anything special, probably expecting me to lead him to a stash of money to show how well I was doing. Sure, I was tempted.   Another woman, who rolled up in a car so beat-up, its arrival at the top of our hill must have surprised even her, announced that she was having a house built and was collecting the blueprints of other people’s houses, for ideas. Would we, she asked, give her a set of blueprints to our home?   I pointed out that only engineers work from blueprints, and our place wasn’t machined or bolted together, merely designed and built. She nodded wisely, and left without purchasing anything.   The best customers were a mum and two boys who snapped up a pool table and equipment, a large model sailboat and some other bits, and kept saying how delighted they were, because they were turning the garage into a games room. I got strong woman Rachel to pick up the other end of the pool table, we loaded it into the truck and delivered it, to the boys’ delight. All that boot camp exercising paid off, Rachel/ No wonder Bob’s polite to you.   During the week, I met a graphics and book designer to discuss the possibility of her handling my epic tome, and joined her at her local coffee shop. She’d parked her large briefcase on a table and was getting a coffee when I arrived. I put my case there, and we walked back with our drinks.   As we sat down, a woman at the next table, who was pounding on a laptop and sighing artistically, remarked on the designer’s big briefcase. “I carry my presentation in it,” said the designer. “Oh really?” asked the coffee shop creative one, “what do you do?” She then launched into  – no exaggeration – a six minute conversation with the designer, aiming not a word at invisible me as I unfastened my case, put out a legal pad, files and pens and shuffled my papers noisily.   The designer, a polite woman, kept having to answer question after question as the neighbour hijacked our business meeting. I finally did a brusque interruption, refrained from head-butting the woman and started our business while the neighbour unashamedly earwigged everything. When we finished, the neighbour jumped in within a nanosecond to talk to the designer again, who resumed their conversation. No, I’m not hiring that designer, although she did email an apology later to say the woman ‘does that all the time.’  Can we say: ‘Sit somewhere else, perhaps?’ Again, a jaw-dropper at the incredible insensitivity humans can display (I exclude the current readership)   As the Scotsman was heading out to the pub he turned to his wife and said, ‘Maggie – put your hat and coat on, lassie.’   She replied, ‘ Aw, Jock that’s nice – are you taking me tae the pub with you?’   ‘Nay,’ Jock replied, ‘I’m switching off the heat while I’m oot.’   We’re back into glorious weather again and Jennie’s been harvesting tomatoes by the tens of pounds. She freezes them whole, we use them in sauces during the winter and feel very smug. Ditto for the pears, a poor crop everywhere in the region this year. I have 14 gallons of pear wine fermenting and planned more but found that our sole Bosc tree, which is alongside the street, has been denuded of the reachable fruit by some passing vandal. On the other hands, the squirrels are less evident since Axel killed three and an oak that was a preserve of red squirrels has been taken over by greys, who are more discreet.   So, there it is. Too many notes, Majesty, as the court composer Salieri said of Mozart’s music. Epistle Seven. Sept 20 2010:   Another Monday, another Epistle, this time to the Epicureans, as I had several days’ worth of suffering from food poisoning last week and edibles are on my mind.   I blame the crab cakes, kept warm at a party, as at least one other victim had a similar experience (of getting poisoned, not of being kept warm, thanks) Feeling queasy but hungry, I remembered the old fighter jock’s advice to eat bananas as they taste the same egressing as they do ingressing, so I ingressed a banana and promptly egressed it, plus a day or two’s other intake, including coffee, an onion bagel from three weeks ago, a Power Bar from 1979 and a plastic toy from a Kellogg’s packet that I’d always wondered about where it went. So the week was one of slumber and sore abdomen, me all pale and interesting, whimpering to Jennie for a lavender-scented hankie and being ignored.   We did drive 120 miles each way through a rainstorm to Portland to get another diagnosis on my Range Rover’s engine, which has increasingly been imitating the noises of a 1936 Massey Ferguson combine harvester fuelled by broken bottles. A rebuilt, not even new, replacement motor is $6500, so now you know why the Chelsea Tractors are the choice of the wealthy. Anyway, they told me my lifters were dying, as if I didn’t know with all the strain there’s been on me, oh sorry, the car’s bits. I’ll take it in for a rebuild tomorrow, Tuesday, and hope the operation is a success. It takes about three days and there’s no anesthetic, just a general numbing of the bank balance.   For your edification, Jim McC in Florida sends a splendid YouTube vid of the Army mechanics who strip and rebuild a Jeep in four minutes. Check this:     Life goes on, and meanwhile, responses came in from almost worldwide to last week’s epistolary efforts. From the south of France, Jeffrey my old snapper colleague rubbed it in:   “Your rambling essay arrived at Cote D’Azur on a cool French evening.  As I am sitting here on a roof top of a four hundred year old semi restored abode in old Antibes, trying to dodge pigeon turds, I called the one who claimed with little authority to be my mentor and moral compass, Ignatius Fransisco Fartini, second cousin of Pepe Le Puke and heir to the Garibaldi (or is it Grimaldi) misfortune,  and ran your story by him.  Of course most of it was lost in translation as my French sucks.  To his great horror and constipation I tried German and made little progress.  He suggested (or so I thought) that I start consuming alcohol to appreciate the deep social significance of your epistle, especially the part about the floating turd in the bath tub.”     Former chopper pilot, rugby player, onetime minister until they found out about the marmoset,  Craig wrote from Virginia: “A ‘hole in his scrotum‘…hmmmm…a symptom of legionaries disease?…and where else would one carry his jewels and small change (or had they already invented sporrans)? ”   Also heard from Swerve, a UK desperado with whom I once went into a McDonald’s in Florida wearing just swim trunks and an off-the-shoulder sheepskin rug. We pretended to be cavemen wanting 28 hamburgers, which they served (we had hungry friends at a swim party).  Swerve is now over his spat with Malcolm, wine bar king of San Diego, after Mal responded to a Swerve email with a Reply All message. The display of naked woman Mal offered wouldn’t have been bad, but it went to the very proper church school committee for whom Swerve was acting as public relations liaison.   Our gleeful understanding is that at least two older ladies attended the next committee meeting not wearing liberty bodices under their sensible grey cardies, just to tempt the very apologetic Swerve…     Response the Next was from cultured London boy now resident on the Pacific coast, fire captain Steve. He’s another ex-rugby player (he used to stagger off at half time to inhale a couple of ciggies, then race back into the fray breathing smoke).  He wrote: “Just to prove you ain’t the only old Limey who can righ-a-bit of inglishh. . . I have submitted to you one of my poems  . . . share if you wish . .  . most of my other poems are about firefighting, which is also quite a passionate laugh  and a giggle . . .     The Game of Rugby   Honor the dauntless game indeed Honor the player’s courageous seed   With skin hued blue from bruise and scrape And some with flesh held-on with tape   Sauntering with their warrior’s walk Many with accents heard within their talk   These gladiators are really brothers all These stalwarts who play with a rugby ball…”   At the pleading of the local prevention of cruelty society, I’ve edited out the next 457 verses, but they can be obtained by sending me a handwritten note on a large-denomination banknote (Editor, held-on with tape.) Thanks, Steve, for the contribution and imagery.     Today observed an incident that reminded me of being married. I came across big dog Axel sitting patiently in a doorway, waiting for me. Posed like a Disney pic alongside was the cat Barney, who was rubbing his head on the dog’s shoulder, before reaching up to sniff his jaws. The dog gently nosed at the cat’s ear and resumed his alert, intelligent wait. Just like me, I thought: noble, patient, with a loving partner cuddled up alongside him. Then the cat thoughtfully reached up and swatted the dog on his ear. Must have had a claw or two out, as the paw stuck. A comic look of alarm crossed the feline’s face. The cat was stuck, arm extended. Axel never moved, allowing his treacherous friend to shake his hooks free. Down came the cat’s right arm and swift as a wife, he launched two left hooks with his other paw, whopping them right onto the dog’s shiny black nose. “Puniishing him for not acknowledging the first attack,” explained Jennie later. “A wife knows these things.” Shock and awe, I suppose. An unrelated shockwave of fear ran through our poker group this week after a BBC story said Oxford University researchers had determined that falling in love costs you two friends. One of our group currently has two girlfriends, which potentially means four of us are going to be dumped. This could indicate that Wednesday poker nights will be down to just Brazen Bob and Jack, and the rest of us will have to mooch about looking for something else to do, if Professor Robin Dunbar is to be believed. I sent the story around, eliciting erotic fantasy responses from several guys who lasciviously speculated on exactly what Brazen was doing with his multiple inamoratas (some interesting and useful material there, too, involving parachute gear, scented Vaseline and purple satin.) Then I got a note back from the Brazen himself insisting the ladies and he were just friends. “They rule when the good stuff is given out” he said. “For now.”  That’s evolutionary anthropology for you. Personally, I study anthropology in the columns of Craigslist, an online want-ads of wide and varied interests. Found a oouple of gems this week.  In among the lost pets was this one, from a woman seeking three  young cats, Trudy, Trina and Trixie (yes, really)  that had vanished from her yard simultaneously, leaving behind a puzzled sibling and a mama cat. “I know they wouldn’t run away from home,” she wrote, asking for help finding them. Then she added the killer post script. “Ron2Joy1@aol thought maybe aliens took them,” she wrote indignantly. “I really don’t want or need any more email responses like that, please.” The other CL entry I liked was from a woman who makes soap (“cold process with recipes free of artificial dyes/colorants, 100% natural, spa quality, not melt and pour or glycerin soap, please”)  and wanted to find someone who would mix the ingredients “using bicycle power.” She couldn’t do it herself for various reasons, she explained, and wasn’t hiring, but felt that someone might be inspired to start an electricity-free, “green, soap-stirring service for other soap makers around.” Using pedal power. Well, it would keep your chain clean, I suppose. Yes, this is Eugene, where vendors in tie-dye tees, grey ponytails and loose, flowing clothes flaunt their uniforms at Saturday Market, destination for their organic radishes and silver wire jewellery, all shipped  on convoys of rainbow-painted old VW buses. (And usually shipped out again six hours later, mostly unsold.) Our poker group, much concerned about the quality of hands,  also had intense discussion about Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, who recently, famously declared that masturbators were committing adultery by excluding their partners from their onanistic pleasures. A self-proclaimed conservative Christian, she later admitted to practising witchcraft, too, justifying it by asking ‘How many of you didn’t hang out with questionable folks in high school?” Oh. Blood sacrifices and homework, eh? Our wank and file poker players, who handily pointed out that a Star Wars-style, Han Solo date was a rare affordable pleasure in these hard times, said someone should organise a million-masturbator march, although the cost to police it and clean up afterwards might be a stiff price to pay. I’ll leave this subject alone now, and so should you. over. PB Epistle Five   Another Monday, Labour Day – not the UK political party, but the day that celebrates. I think,  the working man, and the end of summer. There’s a jolt of crispness in the air, the wind can be cool, and the outdoor poker tournament four of us attended on Saturday night was chilly enough that the host lit a wood fire and we all went home smelling as if we’d been camping for a week.   For the results I got, I should have hidden in my tent. I was at a table of six, with three intense guys who folded and folded their non-starter cards and grumbled every time they’d thrown away the winning hand, the hostess, who had never played poker in her life, and someone’s wife who was on her second-ever poker game, she claimed. Certainly, she had no clue, certainly she needed advice on every move, all night long. Yup, she won the whole damn’ tourney while we KO’ed players grumpily stood around shivering in the night air.Our host didn’t just chill us and take our money, though. He provided hot dogs and potato salad, which we thought was kind, until we got home and found that our wives had enjoyed a wine-tasting evening with filet mignon and grilled shrimp.   It’s crop-collecting time, and Jennie’s had mixed successes. Cabbages, A-plus, which means great coleslaw with cayenne;  garlic, C-minus, onions ditto, tomatoes B-minus but may do better if all those green ones ripen. The peppers, peas, herbs all did their usual reasonable work so will go up to the next form at term’s end.   We spent the morning picking pears, a poor crop this year because the cold springtime weather did the blossoms no good at all. Last year, we had about 600 lbs of fruit, this year we’ll probably only get 150, maximum. I’ll make some pear wine, Jennie will bottle some fruit in brandy, or syrup. They’re good come January or February, when you pile ice cream on them and remember the hot summer days when you could lie under a pear tree and look up at the pale fruit and the tree creature who was eating it and showering you with squirrel spit and the fag ends of chewed fruit.   Onward and upward:  the epistles have sparked some responses, including one or two from people who are not seized of the essence of the idea.  Briefly, it’s just to begin a correspondence, however one-sided. No ulterior motive, and no, they’re not religious, just my joke about St Paul and the Ephesians or whomever.   So, a look in the email box finds that my Scots friend Jim is acting as a sort of invigilator, and has jerked my bit and bridle over using the flying donkey anecdote and the Tommy Cooper ‘pulling my leg’ joke, because he astutely noted I’d stolen the material from others. Guilty, and I’ll keep doing it.   Jim’s in sunny Florida and said he came across an original programme of ‘Hawaii-5-0 ‘ that roused memories of his youth in gloomy Glasgow (or was it Dunbar?) “The difference between the two places couldn’t have been more stark,” he said. “Look at the screen: sun, glamour, beaches, skyscrapers, jet planes, blondes in bikinis. Look out of the window… well, you remember. And people wonder why we’re here?”   My rugby pal Don responded to my report of a bike outing with: “I enjoyed that read. I think I am going for a good hard ride today, due to it.    On Jill, of course.”   Motorcyclist Jeff, who’s trolling around Monaco after travels with his Danish wife in northern Europe,  said the miles are “much easier when you have an engine between your legs.” Thanks.   Irish Mary from Cork  responded hilariously to a Time piece which said that heavy drinkers outlive non-drinkers with:”I forwarded this to all the drinkers I know (my siblings). My brother went home and put away (ie drank, not stored) the bottle of wine his non-drinking wife  wouldn’t let him touch. Her family are all non-drinkers and ironically, the only family member he can sneak one with is her sister’s husband, who is Muslim.”   Mary also makes my personal Hall of Fame because she responded to the Earliest Memory request. Her offering: “If it’s not too late for an earliest memory – I remember having to take a bath with my sister (this was normal as hot water was apparently very expensive in my childhood) and reaching for the pumice stone.  As the “stone” squished between my pudgy fingers, I realized with horror that said sister had dropped one in the water.  I started screaming for Mum and sister promptly screamed along with me.  She was a lot louder so Mum actually rescued her first, leaving me hysterically swishing the now rapidly disintegrating pooh away from me.  She swears I made up that story but there are times when I can still feel the ghostly turd between my fingers….”   Other, different  reports came in from faithful correspondent Freddy in Georgia  who said he’d been thumbing through a supermarket trashbloid  and “I came to a gallery of snaps showing floozies all wearing the same, or nearly-same, dress.  With the caption: Who Wore It Best? Answer, (according to Fred) “The one with the biggest boobs, of course.”   Closer to home here in woodsy Oregon, forestry worker Mike passed on a colleague’s report about a BFR that had rolled down a hillside and blocked a forest road. That’s a Big F Rock, tech talk.  The engineer’s also a poet..  His report ends thus: “Don also reported another BFR that made its way beyond the road prism to the west, travelling downslope in response to gravity. The travelling BFR created a skid trail in its wake. We have no plans to decommission said skid trail, as it is considered a naturally occurring event.”   Back at the homestead, I’ve started research on a novel about the ‘lost’ emperor of Britain, the enterprising, pirate-plundering Roman soldier Carausius, who seized power for almost a decade and proclaimed himself emperor of northern Gaul and Britain. to the chagrin of the two gents who held joint emperorships in Rome and Constantinople. When they found out he was doing his job of stopping pirates by waiting until after they’d seized their prey, and only captured them so he could take the plunder for himself, they went after him. He used the fleet to keep them at bay while he held Britain and gave himself the emperor’s laurels.   The research is fun, and you come across things like a note about legionaries being paid well. “Of course,” an historian wrote, “a legionary having all that extra money burning a hole in his scrotum could buy himself additional food…” Quick look in the dictionary: ‘ Scrotum = purse.’   Oh.   As for my tabloid meisterwerk (mess to work?) , I’m considering sending that forlorn hope off to Amazon, to take the self-publishing route, as 40 literary agents have selflessly maintained unity by ignoring or refusing it.  Thanks, Candy, for the heads-up advice on the self-pub route. Obrigado.   Another development during the week was that we advanced (or retarded) our house-moving plans. We’d seen a new house we liked some months ago, and after dithering, got an agent to come and appraise our place. Unsurprisingly, after two years of tumbling real estate prices, her verdict was that we could sell it fairly quickly, but for considerably less than we had expected.   That, we said, doesn’t matter because the house we buy, which will be smaller, should have declined in price, too, A rising tide lifts all boats, and a falling tide does the opposite, I confidently said. Not so. The Law of Murphy applied.  The builder of the new house had the gall to put the price up considerably. All things factored in, we’ve opted to sit tight for another year or more, which means visitors will still have plenty of accomms. here. That could be you….   Got to go, the dog’s outside howling at a squirrel. News this Monday comes from fellow hack Jim McCandlish in south Florida, where he’s been shamelessly airing my Tommy Cooper joke, after berating me for pirating other people’s stuff. Jim reported on the annual tabloid journos’ gathering at the Blue Anchor where he selflessly acted as surrogate drinker for friends now teetotal for health reasons. “The format at the Bashes is that the MC (a Scotsman you correspond with) invites everyone and anyone to come to the mike and tell tab stories,” he writes.  “I made the mistake of letting Harold get there early, despite the fact that I warned everyone that insomniacs line up around the block to listen to him. Suffice to say that next year we’re gonna have a gong, or maybe a shepherd’s crook…”   Also checking in to complain is Claire, who wrote of sharing a bath with her baby sister when she was herself only two or so years old.  She got her gusset in a binder  over an entry in last week’s epistle.  ”PS :  Mary of Kline stole my bath pooh story; one of my earliest memories is of enjoying a pleasant evening bath at the Astley house, until a small brown turd came blithely floating along the surface, one I was sure had not been produced by me. I leapt out of the tub like it was electrified. Rachel didn’t seem to mind and continued to play, as it was obviously a non-issue. My revenge, perhaps unintentionally, was to emulate my Daddy the next day , lather up and ‘shave’ my face with a toothbrush. The poor little Rat (Rachel, aka Ratty – Ed.) had a hell of a job convincing Mummy that the reason she couldn’t brush her teeth that night was because her toothbrush  mysteriously tasted of soap.”   Claire also enters the Earliest Memory ranks with “Sitting on the stairs having my shoes put on by my very big-tummied Mummy, then going for a walk in my push chair and being annoyed at nodding off during the six minute walk up the lane and missing a visit with the neighbor’s dog.”   Rachel’s entry: “Probably of Xmas 1972  (age 14 months) and chewing on the plastic ears of the bag that had a doggie face on it. It explains a lot.”   This week’s skidded by in a blur, but I can pick out a few bits. Our lawn has become Murder Central in the squirrel kingdom,  as the pear, hazelnut and oak trees’ crops have brought in red and grey squirrels from around, and Axel, our 85 lbs hound, has killed three of them.  He’s been lurking in the undergrowth, then making a dash to grab the poor old Nutkins if they’re unwary enough to leave the safety of the trees. Also found in the garden: a headless grass snake. Could have been Axel, could have been Java or Barney the 18 lbs cat. The jury’s out.   I liked the Englishman/Irishman/Scotsman joke about naming their children. The Anglo said he’d named his son George because he was born on St George’s Day; the Scot said he’d called his boy Andrew because he’d been born on the feast of Scotland’s patron saint. The Irishman beamed and nodded. “Let me tell you about my boy, Pancake,” he said.   I mentioned the other week about reconnecting with some good friends from the distant past, cycling clubmates I last saw in the 1960s. We had some telephone chats and exchanged emails, and although Ian didn’t remember being attacked by a dog during a tandem race (I was on the front and the surge in power from the stoker was immense) he had a keen memory of the things I’d done wrong, including breaking his ‘unbreakable’ bike lock outside the teashop in Frodsham. He still wants recompense. I think he still owes me sixpence for a KitKat in 1963. Anyway, Graham reconnected me with another friend, Tony, who’s now in Australia. I remembered him as a fresh-faced 14 or 15 year old, so it was a shock to receive a cycling pic from Oz and see that he’d suddenly grown a grey beard. It’s only been a  half-century,  but it doesn’t fit what I recall.   Something similar happened to me yesterday. I’d stopped to get a haircut on Saturday, as I was doing a fair imitation of that photo of Einstein and his sunburst hairdo. The cutter was very chatty, told me all about getting pregnant at age 25 when she was on the pill, outlined her maternal grandmother’s history in the Channel Islands, described her life as an aerialist in a San Francisco circus and gave me some enlightening details about her boyfriend’s likes and dislikes that may come in handy one day if ever I turn gay.   She seemed eager to prolong our one-sided conversation: this new salon, she explained, wasn’t like her old one where the cutters were to maintain silence, and now and then, lips pursed for once, she’d take a thoughtful snip at my hair. Along the way it inevitably got  shorter and shorter, though I noticed she only seemed to chop off the grey bits. Anyway, yesterday was a party at Bob and Debbie’s house and I showed up as Sean, er, shorn and for once wore a clean shirt. Phil said I looked as if I’d come straight from church (as if!)  and a handful of others said pleasant things while smirking at my cropped scalp. The shame of it led me to too many margueritas and Jennie had to drive us home. Apologies for all that, Bob.   Also on the alcohol front, I have five gallons of pear wine fermenting, will start another ten gallons later this week. You’ve been warned. Lethal liquids will show up on your doorsteps around Christmas time, as nobody really wants to drink the stuff but I enjoy making and bottling it.  A few years ago, John took a couple of bottles with imaginative labels to a Duck football charity auction and some poor sucker bid $150 for them. They didn’t taste like $75 wine, more like carburetor cleaner.   Newsflash: Did you hear that Captain Hook died from jock itch?                 I came across this while looking for something else. It’s Things You Would Never Know Without the Movies:   During all police investigations you must visit a strip club at least once. All grocery bags must contain at least one stick of French bread It’s easy for anyone to land a plane, providing there’s someone in the control tower to talk you down. The ventilation system of any building is the perfect hiding place If you need to reload your gun, you will always have more ammunition, even if you haven’t been carrying any before now. You’ll probably survive any battle in any war unless you make the mistake of showing someone a picture of your sweetheart back home. Should you need to pass yourself off as a German officer, it will not be necessary to speak the language. A German accent will do. The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window in Paris. If you’re being chased through a town, you can usually take cover in a passing Saint Patrick’s Day parade, at any time of year. Kitchens don’t have light switches. When entering a kitchen at night, open the fridge door and use that light instead. If staying in a haunted house, women should investigate any strange noises in their most revealing underwear. Mothers routinely cook eggs, bacon and waffles for their family each morning, although their husband and children never have time to eat it. A single match will be enough to light up a room the size of the Superdome. Anyone waking up from a nightmare will sit straight up and pant. All bombs are fitted with timing devices with large red readouts so you know exactly when they’ll explode. A detective can only solve a case once he has been suspended from duty. It doesn’t matter if you are heavily outnumbered in a fight involving martial arts. Your enemies will wait patiently to attack you by dancing around in a threatening manner until you have knocked out the other attackers. When they are alone, all foreigners prefer to speak English to each other.   Over. pb Sent: Monday, August 30, 2010 10:00:58 AM Subject: epistle 4   Here it is, a wet Monday in Oregon, the first rain for 59 days, and the garden’s heaving with relief because the sprinkler system never gets everywhere.  It’s been an absorbing week that started when I logged onto a web site run by and for my old De La Salle schoolmates and found that a schoolfriend had died. He was someone with whom I’d ‘always meant’ to reconnect, and now it’s too late.   It started a train of thought and even action, and by week’s end I’d talked to three good friends from cycling days 40 years ago, so the reminiscences were flying and we were all much faster, stronger and more famous in memory than in fact. I found that one stalwart of the 1960s is still racing at age 78, staggering around 10 and 25 mile timetrials at a speed modest by his own long-ago standards, but still impressive for an old gaffer.   I held the thought on my own 40 mile Saturday ride and knocked 23 minutes off my previous best for the loop, which shows I wasn’t trying before. It did make me realize how we value old friends, and how they can inspire us, so perhaps I’ll put in a little more effort on my rides and see where that takes me…   Back to the epistles, as good evangelists should. Last week’s note inspired one friend to send me a wonderful malapropism, which upgraded ‘ditchwater’ to something more appropriate. She wrote that ‘unfortunately at the moment, my life is dull as dishwater,’ and added that “I did manage to concentrate on breathing yesterday, if that counts.”   Jennie dropped one into conversation, too, with a remark about doing something ‘at the speed of lightning,’ (shouldn’t that be speed of light?)  which caused me to remember Norm’s famous ‘It was like walking off a duck’s back.’   Nobody wrote to share early memories, but when the subject came up at dinner, one friend – no names – said her earliest was of her mother forcing her head into the toilet bowl and flushing it, as a punishment. We were stunned until the kindest, gentlest woman you could meet admitted to her worst sin: when all else had failed, she’d put hot sauce on her four year old’s tongue to stop him from swearing.   What destroyed her, she said was that she told him: ’Put your tongue out,’ and he trustingly did. Then she did the deed.  OK, Kathleen, you’re busted.   The rain’s still beating down, and a wet dog is grunting as he slumps next to my desk. Axel’s had a busy few nights, as the raccoons keep sneaking in to find windfall pears. The other night, well, 3am, he trapped one under the potting shed and raised howls that would wake King Arthur and his knights from their sleep under Alderley Edge.   I went out with flashlight and a Frisbee (all there was quickly to hand) and heard the ‘coon growling under there, realized I was barefoot, in shorts and armed only with a bit of round plastic, so hauled the dog away.   The next night, at 2am this time, I heard the dog door’s slam slam. I lay there half dazed (as usual) wondering ‘Was that one dog doing out, then back in, or was it one dog coming in and going back out? Or, was it two dogs coming in? Or two dogs going out? Or..” at which point I had to get up and see.   Both dogs ushered in, I couldn’t find the board that closes the dog flap, so shoved a laundry basket in the way and went back to bed. Within moments of dozing off, I heard the flap slam again. Java had simply pushed the basket aside and led the charge to check for raccoons.   Both dogs and Barney the giant cat were out there, a proper gang, looking for furry trespassers. I herded them indoors,  went back to bed. Ten minutes into my resumed dream, Barney was banging on the bedroom door, locked outside as he’d obviously slipped the dragnet and gone back out. Let him in, back to the bit where Cindy Crawford was admiring my physique (“I’ve never held such a big willie.” “You’re pulling my leg.”) and the cat was purring confidentially into my ear and I started thinking about how I should really fix that noisy lifter and it was daylight…   Oh yes, Happy Birthday, Aunt Mary. She’s 97 today, and determined to hang on for the century, when the Queen will send her a postcard of congratulations – she doesn’t do telegrams any more.  It’s hard to comprehend that this sharp-as-a-tack lady was born before the Great War (1913 if you can’t do the maths) and consider what she’s lived through. No, do your own history, I’m not listing it.   Anyway, she still enjoys her daily G&T, likes a rude joke  and thinks that everyone should be quietly put down once they pass, oh, about age 80.  When the doctor asked her about her alcohol intake and suggested she stop the gin, she wondered aloud what was the point, at 96?  So, kudos to Karen, who went to Cornwall for the anniversary and took her great-aunt a huge bunch of flowers, and a bottle of gin.   Like my cycling pal Graham, who’s banging around time trial courses at age 78, it’s all about the spirit (s)  These people are an example to us all, bless’em.   One last church notice: my offer to send Hancock DVDs to any fan was a little premature. I do have a supply of shows sent to me by Freddy in Georgia, but they’re write-protected and I can’t copy them. I’ll happily loan them to you for a while, but until we can find a way to (probably illegally) copy them, I can’t just give them to you. Sorry.   PS: newsflash about the identical blonde twins… one of whom was so depressed she became suicidal. By mistake, she shot her sister. Sent: Mon, August 23, 2010 10:54:24 AM Subject: epistle 3   Here it is, Monday already and a week into the epistle campaign. Nobody’s thrown rocks at me, yet, and some people have even been very mildly complimentary, if you ignore the swearing.  This came from Mary K, a lovely Irishwoman who left Cork for California, but has also spent years in very different bits of the planet, notably Fairbanks, Alaska and Sierra Leone, probably for mortification.   Anyway, Mary wrote of the joys and pains of letter writing:  ‘You must be psychic because, by a strange coincidence, I made the decision last week to sit down and actually write some letters to the various unfortunates whom I consider friends.  I got the writing paper, even had a fountain pen (admittedly a new-fangled one with cartridges and not the pump-action Olympic model – 2s 6d in Eason’s store – through which we squirted ink at each other in class), and I began writing.  After the first paragraph, my hand began to cramp up and I wondered what the pain would be like after 10, maybe 20, such paragraphs.  I then started making excuses – well, what use is writing in pen when I don’t have any blotting paper and where the hell can I find blotting paper these days.  So as you’ve probably noticed by now, there isn’t a rose-scented envelope in your mailbox from San Jose, not even one of the more mundane buff variety and probably won’t be in the near future.  Nice idea though and glad I’m not the only one to think about it. ‘   Well, I’ve sidestepped the fountain pen  cramps in favour of  keyboarding, Going All Modern, but something I saw on AP had me musing this week. It was a Mindset List compiled to remind teachers that cultural references familiar to older people don’t always work for younger ones. Few incoming college students (mostly born in 1992)  know how to write in cursive, have ever worn a wristwatch or have used a telephone with a cord.  Email is too slow for them, but snail mail is ‘kind of fun’ and  ‘a bit more personal. They even regard Clint Eastwood as a sensitive movie director, not as Dirty Harry urging punks to make his day. Damn. I still think of 1995 as just a year or two ago, and keep forgetting we’re a decade into what is it, the 21st century already?   I still have sharp memories of things like the Walls Ice Cream poster that said: ‘Not just a treat, ‘ which I could read, but couldn’t decipher the next bit, in cursive, which added: ‘a food.’  I suppose I was four or five years old, and yes, it was in the 20th century, thank you. Anyone have very early memories? Share them with us, please. The best might win some of my priceless belly button lint collection.   My own earliest recall is of being in a harness thing, was probably younger than three years, and being addressed by a Mr Isherwood, who asked if I was going for a ta ta? I was indignant because my family didn’t use baby talk to me. I don’t recall answering ‘No old chap, I’m just off for a perambulation,” but I’d like to think that happened. Anyway, old or not, it’s been a hardworking week for me, and the Advil bottle came out a couple of times. Daughter Rachel’s been building a garden, and that involved levelling, hauling in railroad ties, or railway sleepers as we Brits properly call them, bringing in gravel, (open and pea) top soil, turf, patio paving stones and edging timbers. Much of this stuff needed to be loaded in, shovelled out and wheelbarrow’ed around, so my trusty trailer got some good use and Rachel and I did some fine spadework and sweating during a 90+ degree hot spell.   I was grateful to retreat to my cool office to write about kidnap gangs in Venezuela. Sorry, Rachel, keep digging, I’ve got work to do…   Actually, I can easily fill my day on frittering it away, work or no work. There’s always a pair of doggies to take for a swim at the lake, crops to tend, lawn to mow, trees to trim. Jennie’s got cabbages, peppers, peas, other mysterious non-beef things all growing in garden beds, while I have a jungle of tomato plants groaning with fruit. The pear and hazelnut trees are lively with squirrels and , during the darkest bits of the night, raccoons braving Axel’s watchdog operations.   Aside: the blonde was asked what her two dogs were called. “Rolex and Timex” she trilled. “Huh?” said the questioner. “Because they’re watch dogs, silly!” she explained.   On my book front, the rejection letters and emails still drop in with depressing frequency, all with a bright and cheery tone of ‘Just not for us, we’ll pass this time.’  It’s even extended to other things. I was struggling on my bike up the last rise before home the other week,  knackered and looking like the Charge of the Light Brigade coming back from the Russian guns,  when I passed a very fat lady sitting at a bus stop.   She said in a singsong cheerful Fat Lady’s encouraging voice: “Good for You!!” as I limped by. It was so discouraging to think I looked that bad I nearly got off to throw my bike over the hedge. I survived, but it happened again, 10 days ago.   I was on a longer ride, and lunchtime came when I was 40 miles into it, so I wheeled into a small farming town – Brownsville for locals who know it – and headed for a bakery with tables outside. One was occupied by a very fat lady (again!) a fat teenage girl and a hunched-over old fellow in a wheel chair.   I stopped, clicked out of the pedals and stretched my back before I headed for an unoccupied table. The old fellow looked up at my bronzed, godlike, Lycra-clad self and wheezed: “Gittin’ a bit old fer that, aintcha?’  Rachel said later I should have pushed him and his wheelchair down the hill…     Sent: Monday, August 16, 2010 11:22 PM Subject: musings   I greatly regret the demise of the letter. When I was a boy, we got two postal deliveries a day, morning and afternoon, and they were not simply flyers for mattress sales, offers from garages to change your vehicle’s oil or those omnipresent, unwelcome,  utility bills.  Among the buff billets marked  ‘Official Use Only’ or ‘On His Majesty’s Service’  (I’m old enough to remember the day the king died in 1952 and how, post-lunch,  I ran back to school through the rain thinking I’d be the first bearer of the news) were white, cream or boldly mauve envelopes with actual handwritten addresses.   Well, address, as the ones I’m discussing came only to our house at 323 Eccles New Road, Salford, Lancashire.   No cipher-like postal code, no nine-digit zip code needed.  It’s still that way for my brother Ted, whose address is simply ‘East End, John O’Groats, Caithness. Add ‘Scotland’ if you like, but most people have heard of tiny JoG, even if they are a bit dodgy on the concept of Scotland.   So, back to the death and dearth of letter post. I’d like to start sending the things again, but it’s such a performance, kills off a couple of dollars per item (where did the penny post go?)  and the news is out of date by the time the languid US Postal Service gets around to folding the battered, creased envelope into a rain-lashed mailbox out in the street.   Therefore, I think I might start emailing letters, sending by modern Mac to modern PC some old-fashioned letter-quality scribblings of my mundane life and other matters.   I mean, apart from jokes and sometimes-stunning photographs made by strangers, what do you find in your inbox when you click your computer awake?  I can’t promise haut conversationes, or world-beating exclusives on the doings of some soap star,  just idle gossip or a reportage of the minutiae that make up the daily doings of the Clan Bannister.   It shouldn’t be difficult, though it might be boring. I could tell how Jennie and I fed apple fig bars to three horses we met alongside a road while we were cycling, and how they got the chewy centres stuck in their teeth and made amusing-to-us giant lip movements to liberate the sticky bits.   Or there was the Scandinavian festival at a nearby small town, run off in hundred-degree heat while sweaty wretches costumed in fur leggings and horned helmets strode about waving painted wooden battleaxes, or over there women in voluminous skirts and aprons heel-and-toe’d it to traditional ScandiMusic with men wearing woolen breeches and clogs, heavy waistcoats and linen shirts that seemed to drip with perspiration. Just to add to their misery, the crowd watching from the shade were severely under-dressed and were generally slurping down ice creams and cold drinks.   Talk about warming in the Arctic Circle. Someone should write a letter about it. Sorry, I just did.   From: “” <> Sent: Tue, August 17, 2010 6:21:53 PM Subject: epistle 2   Well, that was tremendous, as the bishop told the actress. I’d half-resolved to push out an  epistle only every week or so, to friends and via email. No blogging, no Facebook-ing because I see too many precious entries about  ‘Had a lovely walk this morning and stopped in an artisans’ mud-walled bothy for a double decaf goat’s milk latte with sprinkles’ and similar vapourings. I didn’t want to join that queue.   I also wanted it to be personal,  not just e-graffitti on a cyber-wall. I wanted to send it to friends’ inboxes, as a means of trapping them into reading it and as an actual directed-at-you note. Whew, such philosophy. My latte had yak curd, btw. So the initial epistle went off, I felt slightly embarrassed and wondered at my own presumption.   Back to the bishop: about a dozen people responded promptly, politely for the most part (I know where you live, Jones) and a few were actively encouraging, so I’m reporting back earlier than planned.   It seems many of us miss letters dropping onto the doormat for the dog to eat. Merv, sounding a bit like Jane Austen,  confided elegantly that he likes to send out epistles written with a fountain pen as ‘human communications,’ which is both something I hope to achieve and also is easier than getting a goldfish to read a letter.   Freddy liked the tip about not having to pay postage on emails, Joe was polite and spelled everything nicely. Several penned longish responses. Candy told of going to a park to write a note to herself, and (cougar that she is) spending two and a half hours in chance conversation with a young man her son’s age. ‘He thought me intelligent,” she reported, ‘something I’ve been trying to convince my kids of for years.’   The Scribing Scot, Jim ‘Outlandish’ McCandlish, was gobsmacked to learn  37 years into our friendship that I have a brother in John O’Groats (population 220, situation: extreme northern tip of Scotland)  and declared that 98% of Scots have never been there. As I know he makes up 76% of his statistics, and 17% more are wrong,  I’ll disregard that.  I’ve invited my brother Ted and Jim to e-correspond so Ted can explain how a Lancastrian ended up in the northernmost bits of Scotia and asked them to copy me on any mail. They both write brilliant copy, and we all may be entertained by the crossfire.   Of course, the idea of complaining that nothing interesting shows up in in the post came unglued on its very first day of being aired. I went to my dented streetside mailbox and found something very interesting and welcome:  a dozen  Tony Hancock DVDs sent by  Saint Fred.  (I can make and mail copies if anyone would like to view 1960s UK comedy.   “So Tiger and I were in the shellhole. ‘Captain, I said,’  ‘Sir?’ he said….”)   It was  more of a highlight than the 40 minutes Jennie and I spent yesterday ushering a humming bird out of the house. We have high ceilings, and hummers fly upwards to escape, so he wouldn’t use the open windows or doors. Finally, using a couple of large screens removed from windows, we boxed him into a corner and shepherded him out before Axel the dog caught him (he had a chickadee a few months back, held it in his mouth for several minutes until I got his huge jaws open – this dog carries three tennis balls in there at a time – and then the thing flew away unharmed,  but soggy. )   We didn’t get humming birds or chickadees in Sheffield, but we did get the odd circus act. Yesterday, I was reminded of the time decades ago, in the age of Bisto and hobnails, when one of the Star reporters was told to cover such a performance, but he didn’t want to go. The journo looked out the publicity flyers and saw that the highlight of the show was Fernando and his flying donkey.   Before he took the evening off with a girl called Angela, he wrote an imaginative piece about the be-spangled Fernando, all bulging muscles and tights,  as he trapeze’d above the audience holding his donkey’s rear legs.   To drum rolls,the mustachio’ed trapeze artiste released the aerial moke into an elegant backflip that landed him all four feet down, on the sawdust. The audience, wrote the journo,  rose as one man, rendering wild applause.   The review ran and the next day or two passed uneventfully. Until, that is, a letter from Fernando arrived on the editor’s desk, thanking the paper for its wonderfully kind review. It also pointed out that there had been a printer’s error in the circus flyers. Fernando’s aerial act partner was actually a monkey….                                


  1. Hey! Would you mind if I share your blog with my zynga group? There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Cheers

    • I’d be happy to co-zynga, but what exactly is that?
      best, Paul B.

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    • thank you, I’m happy to share my friends’ creatibve material and take the credit for their efforts!

      best, pb.

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    • the real credit goes to my friends, whose material I steal.
      best, PB.

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    • thank you – my friends should take the real credit, as I steal their material all the time!

      best, pb.

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    • hope your thermo probs are fixed, but I can’t take credit for that!


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    • it’s just a correspondence between friends, a conversation if you like. Enjoy it, and take part. pb

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    • thanks, the talent is with Eric Lilly, and Bob Williams , the site designers.
      My friends supply much of the good material, I just take all the credit

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    • Right now, there’s no RSS feed, I’m not even sure what one is. I’ll have to ask the IT guys if we need one. I can say that we’re about to work on the site to make some of it easier to navigate. This whole thing evolved out of a simple email to friends and I need to keep it simple. If it helps sell a few books to compensate for my time, that’s good, too. Best, PB.

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    • Credit for the site goes to Bob Williams and Eric Lilly, who designed its look and menu, and did me proud. I can take absolutely no credit for it. Take a bow, fellows.

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    • The blog’s very simple, just an email to friends. They in turn send responses, which I steal from and include in the next week’s blog. In a few more days, the previous weekly blogs will have caught up to the present. Then, new epistles will be posted weekly, but I’ll probably put up new content,too, to keep traffic coming. That, I hope, will generate book sales – the book has about 85 stories in it. If you want to join the correspondence, I’ll happily include you on the weekly e-pistle email list. It’s very informal. That way, you’ll get the epistle. If you’re inspired to respond and it fits the next week’s epistle, I’ll shamelessly steal from your material, using your name as credit, of course.

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    • take a look at, my brilliant photogger/IT artist’s site and you’ll see why the site looks good. (Though my daughter took the handsome pic of me!)

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    • flattered, but no twitter, too techie for me.

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