Friday, 3 July 2015

Limerick of the day

There was a young lady of York
Whose pet pig was made into pork.
Though she cried, "Oh you've minced 'er!"
They still all convinced 'er
To eat up her pig with a fork.

Ali Smith - There but for the

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Quotation of the day

Friend: "Would you like any more?"
Young South African: "I have had an elegant sufficiency, thank you."

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Wednesday, 24 June 2015


The first thing I did on returning home from hospital was to walk around the garden. My arrival was met by screams from the rooftop where two agitated jackdaws were positioned. They were not screams of joy. Their fledglings were sitting along the trunk of the wisteria, in the middle of a flying lesson. As I walked past, the young birds jumped down from the trunk and hopped across the lawn to the magnolia, their parents shrieking as I giggled.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Perfection of the day

Whilst many local roses are past their first flush, this is the only flower on the thirty bare rooted rosebushes which we planted in March. It's a shame I can't send you a whiff of its heavenly scent.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Pet service

No stick insects were at the pet service at our local church this year and, unusually we were informed, humans outnumbered animals. Three ponies waiting to be blessed chewed the odd blade of grass, heads being yanked forward whenever a graveside rose caught their attention. Numerous labradors eyed each other gleefully, each willing the other to cause a rumpus. None succeeded. They missed the hilarity of 2011 when one of their companions, since departed, bit the vicar to avoid his blessing.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Lusitania

My friend showed me this medal which commemorates the sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania. The original was made by the German medalist, Karl Goetz, in August 1915. The side at the top shows people queuing for tickets at Cunard Line's office with the motto "Geschaft uber alles" (Business above all). A skeleton sells the tickets. On the left is a man reading a paper on which are the German words for "U-boat danger", while behind him is the figure of the German ambassador, Count Johann-Heinrich von Bernstorff, raising a finger as a reminder that the Germans had placed a warning advertisement in the same newspaper as the Cunard Lines sailing schedule.
The obverse shows the Lusitania sinking with armaments on deck and two German inscriptions. The one at the top says "No contraband goods!" and the one at the bottom "The liner Lusitania sunk by a German submarine 7 May 1915."
The ship was returning from New York to Liverpool in May 1915 and the German Embassy in Washington had issued a warning two weeks before that she may be in danger. She was torpedoed by a U-boat off the coast of Ireland, killing 1198 passengers. The US and the UK denied there were armaments on board and the incident led to America's involvement in the war. They were also appalled that Goetz could make such a medal and both governments made many copies of it and used them as anti-German propaganda.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Monday, 18 May 2015

Magna Carta

I went to a Magna Carta memorial concert in Odiham on Saturday and this was poem by Marriott Edgar was one of the readings:

I'll tell of the Magna Charter
As were signed at the Barons' command 
On Runningmead Island in t' middle of t' Thames 
By King John, as were known as "Lack Land." 

Some say it were wrong of the Barons 
Their will on the King so to thrust, 
But you'll see if you look at both sides of the case 
That they had to do something, or bust. 

For John, from the moment they crowned him, 
Started acting so cunning and sly, 
Being King, of course, he couldn't do wrong, 
But, by gum, he'd a proper good try. 

He squandered the ratepayers' money, 
All their cattle and corn did he take, 
'Til there wasn't a morsel of bread in the land, 
And folk had to manage on cake. 

The way he behaved to young Arthur 
Went to show as his feelings was bad; 
He tried to get Hubert to poke out his eyes, 
Which is no way to treat a young lad. 

It were all right him being a tyrant 
To vassals and folks of that class, 
But he tried on his tricks with the Barons an' all, 
And that's where he made a 'faux pas'. 

He started bombarding their castles, 
And burning them over their head, 
'Til there wasn't enough castles left to go round, 
And they had to sleep six in a bed. 

So they went to the King in a body, 
And their spokesman, Fitzwalter by name, 
He opened the 'ole in his 'elmet and said, 
Conciliatory like, " What's the game?"

The King starts to shilly and shally, 
He sits and he haws and he hums, 
'Til the Barons in rage started gnashing their teeth, 
And them with no teeth gnashed their gums 

Said Fitz, through the 'ole in his 'elmet, 
"It was you as put us in this plight." 
And the King having nothing to say to this, murmured 
"Leave your address and I'll write".

This angered the gallant Fitzwalter;
He stamped on the floor with his foot, 
And were starting to give John a rare ticking off, 
When the 'ole in his 'elmet fell shut. 

"We'll get him a Magna Charter,"
Said Fitz when his face he had freed; 
Said the Barons "That's right and if one's not enough, 
Get a couple and happen they'll breed.'' 

So they set about making a Charter, 
When at finish they'd got it drawn up, 
It looked like a paper on cattle disease, 
Or the entries for t' Waterloo Cup. 

Next day, King John, all unsuspecting, 
And having the afternoon free,
To Runningmead Island had taken a boat, 
And were having some shrimps for his tea. 

He'd just pulled the 'ead off a big 'un, 
And were pinching its tail with his thumb, 
When up came a barge load of Barons, who said, 
"We thought you'd be here so we've come" 

When they told him they'd brought Magna Charter, 
The King seemed to go kind of limp, 
But minding his manners he took off his hat 
And said " Thanks very much, have a shrimp." 

" You'd best sign at once," said Fitzwalter, 
" If you don't, I'll tell thee for a start
The next coronation will happen quite soon, 
And you won't be there to take part." 

So they spread Charter out on t' tea table, 
And John signed his name like a lamb, 
His writing in places was sticky and thick 
Through dipping his pen in the jam. 

And it's through that there Magna Charter, 
As were signed by the Barons of old, 
That in England to-day we can do what we like, 
So long as we do what we're told. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Shroner Wood

Many apologies for my absence which was due to a computer glitch. Here are some photos of the beautiful rhododendrons and bluebells in Shroner Wood, near Micheldever, to celebrate the Conservative victory last week:

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Bedside manners

My poor dear father has been (very well) looked after in a nursing home whilst the builders were here and we were all looking forward to his coming home tomorrow. However, the home rang me at half past midnight to say he'd fallen, was in pain and they'd called for an ambulance. This morning the hospital said his hip was broken and he'd be operated on today. I then received a strange call:
"Hello, is that WW?"
"This is the anaesthetist at the hospital. I'm calling to tell you that in view of your father's advanced age, this will be a high risk operation. He may not be strong enough to get through the surgery and the general anaesthetic."
"Are you advising that he should not have the operation?"
"No. He must have the operation to stop the pain. I just wanted to warn you that he may not make it."
He has made it but I'm amazed that this sort of telephone call is standard NHS procedure.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Delight of the day

The leaves of the Jack Frost are so beautiful. Sadly only 6 of the 9 ducklings survived today. Don't know what happened to the other three.

Monday, 27 April 2015

In for nine ducklings

Hanging the washing in the early sunshine, I noticed that the duck's nest was empty apart from a couple of eggshells. Had the crows enjoyed a good breakfast, I wondered. Fifteen minutes later a very proud duck paraded nine gorgeous ducklings outside our back door. They waddled off in haste when I went outside to take a photo, Mrs Duck racing into the tulip cover, shouting at the children to follow her. Some of them couldn't quite jump over the brick edge to get there and one fell onto his back in a panic and to his horror couldn't turn over. I gently propelled him with my little finger, his warm softness melting my heart. He got onto his feet, quite delighted. Apologies for the quality of this photo which was taken through the window.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Surreal explanation

Last night I dreamed I was at Charlie's wake. I spotted him there and rushed up to him:
"Charlie! I can't believe you're at this party for you!"
He gave me a big hug and said, "I told you I shouldn't have eaten that Big Mac!"

Monday, 20 April 2015

RIP Charlie

I'm very sad because my dear Chinese friend, Charlie, who used to be a broker of mine, has unexpectedly died, aged 41. He collapsed a couple of weeks ago with terrible stomach pains, hardly able to breathe and was in bed for four days, not being able to eat. He then felt a little better and we spoke on the phone last Tuesday. He'd consulted an allergist who said he was definitely allergic to something and should make a start with 50 basic foods, cutting them out one by one to eliminate them. Charlie thought he may have a wheat allergy. He was running a mergers and acquisitions business and was on the cusp of signing a couple of deals so he was on top form, telling me all the gossip about the Europeans and Americans who wanted to do business with him. He was so excited about the prospect of a contract that he'd been to a temple and given a donation to the god in the hope that he'd be showered with cash in exchange.
When I called him today, his stepfather answered the phone and told me the bad news: Charlie had been found dead in his flat on Friday. The stepfather's English is better than my Mandarin but insufficient to relay any details. I do hope he didn't die alone (he lived alone). I also wish he'd prayed for health first, wealth second.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Parody of the day

"The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them" Robert Southey (1799)

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, father William, a hearty old man;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth would fly fast,
And abus'd not my health and my vigour at first,
That I never might need them at last."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And pleasures with youth pass away.
And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth could not last;
I thought of the future, whatever I did,
That I never might grieve for the past."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And life must be hast'ning away;
You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"I am cheerful, young man," father William replied,
"Let the cause thy attention engage;
In the days of my youth I remember'd my God!
And He hath not forgotten my age."

"You are Old, Father William" Lewis Carroll (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865)

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

"You are old," said the youth, "As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
"I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling the box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?"

"You are old," said the youth, "And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life."

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
Said his father; "don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!"

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Brain teaser of the day

Peter bumped into his old friend Sam whom he hadn't seen for ages.
"So good to see you Sam! It's been years. I've had three children since then. You're very clever; perhaps you can tell me their ages? If you multiply them together, you get 36 and if you add them together the sum will be the number of the house we're standing outside."
"Not enough information," replied Sam.
"Ok here's another clue: my eldest child's just come back from picking flowers."
"I've worked it out," said Sam.

I couldn't do it. Can you?

Monday, 13 April 2015


There was an example of the Assyrian view of  "the body" at the British Museum exhibition, taken from its wonderful collection of friezes. It showed prisoners strung up.
Now the old capital of Assyria, Nimrud, has apparently been completely destroyed by the philistine IS. King Ashurnasirpal II who reigned from 883-859 BC built the city of Nimrud. Here's one of the inscriptions which used to be on its walls:

"The palace of cedar, cypress, juniper, boxwood, mulberry, pistachio wood, and tamarisk, for my royal dwelling and for my lordly pleasure for all time, I founded therein. Beasts of the mountains and of the seas, of white limestone and alabaster I fashioned and set them up on its gates." 

Thursday, 9 April 2015


This was my favourite piece at the British Museum's exhibition of the body in Greek art. It's a Roman copy of a lost Greek original. The lines, the symmetry, the grace, the rippling muscles: stunning! The majority of the exhibits are from the BM's own collection but there is a beautiful Aphrodite on loan from the Queen and the hermaphrodite from the Villa Borghese in Rome is also on display.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Surprise of the day

Behind the washing line, hiding in a clump of grass, a wild duck is sitting on a dozen eggs. This isn't a photo of her (I didn't want to scare her) but I do hope to be able to show you some of the ducklings when they hatch.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Family portrait

These two lambs were born in our neighbour's field yesterday.

I heard this bad (Christmas cracker?) joke over Easter:

Q: What's the fastest thing on earth?
A: Milk because it's past your eyes before you can see it.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Dear deer

There were two young deer frolicking on the land behind our house in the autumn. They would race through the trees, leap along the fields, white tails bobbing, full of joy and great companions. I saw them again in February, darting from field to forest, and at the beginning of March, just behind our garden, close up and grown up but still brimming with enthusiasm and energy.
My neighbour told me she'd found one of them in her field last week, shot and its legs hacked off. She had to deal with the carcass. She thinks the poacher must have had a silencer on his rifle as she heard nothing. I can only imagine the grief of its good companion, if indeed it escaped.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Beautiful morning

My Chinese intern is called Xiaoqi. Having learned a smattering of Mandarin (spoken, not written) over the years, I know that "xiao" means "small" or "little" and "qi" is of course that very useful Scrabble word meaning "life force".
"Does your name mean small something?" I asked.
"No. That's a different tone. It means 'beautiful morning.'"
How happy her mother must have been on her birthday!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Great Escape

I looked out of the kitchen window at 8am and saw that half the flock (yes, three of them) had escaped and were nonchalantly munching the grass on the ice house (see photo). Interrupting the builders' morning pow wow, I inquired whether a couple of them might have a moment to help me herd the sheep back into the field. The builders did not jump at the challenge. Happy in their placid world of plaster, dust and paint, they did not relish the idea of facing stroppy livestock. Eventually two of them agreed to help.
"You head them off either side of the ice house and I'll switch off the electric current in the fence," I instructed.
The sheep (and here I must admit that they are not in fact ewes but eunuchs, in fact they could be described as rams) looked alarmed as the two men, one with a beard, approached. I switched off the current and ran over there. The rams tried to race off but the builders did a good job blocking their way and so they headed swiftly back into the field. The builders kindly mended the fence and I switched the current back on and called the farmer, saying he should check the enclosure.
Later I was amused to see the bearded builder walk over to get something from his car which was parked next to the field. On seeing him, all six rams charged over to greet him! They must find comfort in facial hair...

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Bad joke of the day

An atheist was walking through a wood admiring the scenery: emerald glades, a sparkling stream, green and yellow leaves fluttering in the gentle breeze and the captivating scent of the bluebells. Suddenly he spotted a large bear amidst the trees and he started to run. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the bear running after him and getting closer. In a panic, he tripped. He rolled over onto his front and saw the bear standing over him, one paw raised.
"Oh God!" the atheist cried.
The breeze died down, the stream stopped flowing, a bright light appeared and a voice called out, "So are you admitting you do believe in Me after all?"
The atheist thought for a moment and replied, "Well it would be hypocritical of me to profess complete faith at this moment of desperation."
"So why did you call Me?"
The atheist thought quickly, "I wanted to ask you a favour."
"What is that?"
"Could you make this bear a Christian?"
"Certainly!" God replied.
The bright light vanished, the breeze blew and the stream flowed. The bear got onto his hind knees, put his front paws together in prayer and said, "Oh God, thank You for providing this food for me. For what I am about to receive, may the Lord make me truly thankful."

Monday, 23 March 2015

Unanswered questions

Home Secretary Theresa May says the UK will no longer tolerate the behaviour of Islamist extremists who "reject our values". Her proposals include:

1. Banning orders for groups which do no reach the current threshold to be banned as extremists.
2. A positive campaign to promote British values to the public.

My questions are:

1. What's the threshold for a group?
2. What's her definition of  "British values"?

Friday, 20 March 2015

Venus de Milo

Look at this beautiful snow sculpture which my friend made in an hour and a half when she was in the French alps.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Beginner's luck

My taxi driver had been a mechanic at a garage in Newbury and told me the following story:

"One of the stable girls came in to get her car repaired. The car was on its last legs and she was on a shoestring so we gave the job to the YTS (Youth Training Scheme) lad who patched it all up nicely. We called the girl and said we'd fixed it on the house. She was well chuffed and the following week she called us and said, 'Thank you so much again for mending my car. I just wanted to let you know we've got a horse running tomorrow which is worth an each way bet if the going's heavy.'
So we took £5 out of the tips box and told the YTS lad to go down to the bookies and put it on £2.50 each way and blow me if it didn't come in at 35-1! We all had a good night out on the proceeds.
The next week she called again: 'That horse is running again tomorrow. It's worth another punt if the going's heavy.' We took out another £5 and gave it to the lad to put on. The odds were lower: 20-1 but again it came in and we had another night out. What we then found out was the YTS boy had put his entire life's savings of £1000 on it. He then became madly keen on the horses and was asking everybody who came to the garage with a bit of straw hanging off him for tips!
We decided this had better stop as it would ruin him and the foreman and I planned a trick to put an end to his addiction. We looked at the form and chose a three legged old horse which had used to pull a cart which was priced at 50-1. Then we told the lad that the stable girl had given us a new tip. This was the first time I'd ever studied the form and blow me if it didn't win the race!"

Friday, 13 March 2015

What's in a name?

I interviewed 10 people for 2 intern positions: 4 Chinese, 2 Brazilians, 2 Ukrainians, 1 Indian and 1 Indonesian. The Indonesian's cv said his name was Robert Robert.
"What's your family name?" I asked. (His gmail address had a very Indonesian name.)
"We don't use them in Indonesia. You don't have to put it on your passport." (Untrue.)
"Even so, what is it?"
"Shall I spell it for you?"
"Yes please."
"W A N G"

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Entrepreneur of the day

One of the Brothers of St Cross Hospital, Winchester has been learning French and, in order to keep it up, rang the Tower of London to offer himself as a guide to French tourists, wearing his Brother's robes from St Cross. His offer has been gratefully accepted. Tres bien!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Propaganda of the day

North Korea is urging its people to produce more food using this catchy slogan:

"Make fruits cascade down and their sweet aroma fill the air on the sea of apple trees at the foot of Chol Pass!"

Anyone want to rephrase it?

Monday, 9 March 2015

This little piggy had 12

The farmer who grazes the sheep on our field invited us to see his three day old piglets. There are a dozen of them: six pink, six black and white. When he picked one up, it shrieked and its mother squealed so, rather than taking a photo, I asked him to put it back down on the ground. They are so sweet...
ps Don't mention the cricket!