Sunday 30 August 2009

Grumpy's Alternative August News

Every month I wonder if there will be enough alternative news on which to blog; each time I am pleasantly surprised.
Firstly, follow up from last month. Over a thousand coffee-house owners in Turkey protested about the ban on smoking in public places. One reader suggested Turkey would win the Smoking Olympics hands down. Evidently 48% of Turkish men smoke. Remember Geoffrey Spicer, marooned on a Scottish island in order to give up smoking. He gave up, living on the island that is, citing inhospitable weather, though he claims it has cured his smoking habit.
And in case tobacco smokers are thinking of switching to the herbal mixture Spice, too late, it is to become a Class B drug in the very near future.
The animals kingdom always figures in the news. a farmer in Hertfordshire was served with a noise abatement order because his cockerels would not shut up at night; the equipment in Sturminster, Dorset set up to measure a cockerel crowing on an allotment cost £5,500.
Whilst in Australia amorous tree frogs have had to raise the level of their croaking to combat increased traffic noise. (Another costly scientific study, no doubt.) To cap it all, insects called thrips are setting off smoke alarms in Cambridgeshire costing thousands of pounds. Thripping hell! One last little snippit of animal news. An elephant has had an artificial foot fitted in Lampang. (The result of a landmine.) Guess how much anesthetic is needed, in human terms, to knock out an elephant. (answer at the end of the blog.)
Whilst we are in a guessing mood, how many potholes have the Leicester City Council promised to mend in Netherall Road, and at what cost? And I bet you can't guess which county used the Taser-gun most in Britain last year. (And it wasn't London.) How much do you think the US owes in London congestion charges. (It regards the charge as British taxes, therefore claiming its Embassy staff are exempt.) Finally how long do you think Frederick Chiluba of Zambia's trial has taken on a charge of corruption.
Talking of London, I notice a deputy mayor for policing (whatever that means) has suggested blocking the mobile numbers on prostitutes cards left in telephone boxes. Contrast the German attitude. Brothels in Berlin are advertising discounts for customers who arrive by bicycle! How very green of them!
One final incident in the news that I personally found ironic. I once wrote a short story (see blog dated 21st July 2009) concerning identical twins with one tiny, subtle difference. In August's news was a young US lady in bed with her lover, an identical twin when she noticed her bedmate was missing a buttock tattoo. Whoops!

Concerning the guessing games.
The anaesthetic needed to knock out the elephant would have knocked out seventy humans.
Northumbria used the Taser-gun most. I wonder why.
Leicester City Council have promised to repair more than one hundred potholes in the one street cost £50,000.
The US owes £3,478,200. As Queen Victoria would say, I am not amused.
And Mr Chiluba's trial has taken six years. The verdict is expected any day now. But don't hold your breath!

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Silly Old Granddad's Gone to the Pub Again

The one thing I like about my local is, it never changes. Scruffy, untidy, you wipe your feet when you go out. I told Cyril the landlord he's apathetic; he says he's not, he just can't be bothered. Mind you, it doesn't seem to make any difference, the place is still full of characters. Old Davey's always good for a chat, though he doesn't always make sense. He'd just been to an exhibition of Dutch artists in the art gallery. He reckons Van Gogh would have been blind if he'd had the other ear off. Something about he'd never have been able to wear his glasses. Poor old Davey's showing his age. Whatever you tell him, it's in one ear and out the other. Now you'd never get that with Van Gogh. It'd be in one ear and out the same ear.
Plus old Harry gets no better. He's an awful belching old bogger is Harry. He belched at the bar last night, right near a terribly posh couple.
'How dare you belch in front of my wife' the bloke said indignantly.
'Oh I am sorry' said Harry, 'I didn't realise it were her turn.'
There's no flies on Harry.
We don't just get us old uns in the pub. The young uns give us hours of entertainment, cocky young devils. Young Barry chases anything in a skirt, though his chat up lines are a bit suspect.
'Haven't I seen you you before' he said to a young woman at the bar.
'You might have done' she said quick as a flash, 'I'm the receptionist at the VD clinic.' He never learns and he never gets any better. He's so thick he thinks safe sex is not falling out of bed.
You don't have to be chatty if you don't want to. One chap just sits in the corner and reads. I noticed he were reading some Shakespeare. I tried to engage him in conversation. I nodded towards his book.
'Which one?' I enquired.
'William' he answered without even looking up.
Serves me right for being nosey. I told Cyril. He thought it were funny.
'He came in here one night' he said.
'Who came in' I said.
''Shakespeare' he said, ' I wouldn't serve him. William I said, I'm not serving you. You're bard.'
He's a right one is Cyril when he's on form.
The pub dog still lies in the middle of the floor. This chap came in with this strange pig-like animal on a lead. Cyril were quite worried in case it went for the dog cos its quite old.
'You keep that thing under control' he ordered, 'I don't want no fighting.'
The bloke were quite indignant.
'Its better behaved than any dog round here' he snapped. 'Of any case, a little aardvark never hurt anybody.'
Much as I enjoy my pub visits, you have to go home sometime. I just hoped she were in a better mood than last time. Mind you I upset her just before I came out. The phone rang and there were no speaking, just heavy breathing. She didn't like me shouting 'It's for you dear.'
It were me birthday last week and she were in a good mood and let me win an argument. I never knew what happiness was until I married. Then it were too late. This week she's promised me a surprise when I get home. Perhaps she's gone to live with her sister. Now that would be a nice surprise.
(Only joking about the wife. We've been married a long time and it shows. Last night she said 'Lets go upstairs and make love.' 'Make you mind up,' I said, 'I can't do both.')
As George Dixon used to say, 'Evening all.' If you remember George Dixon you must be getting old!

(And you thought it couldn't get worse!)

Thursday 20 August 2009

Do You Fancy a Fag

I happened to be in Scarborough last week. In the town centre were some delightful young people working for a European initiative, and giving away promotional 'goodies', never a bad thing. I had my carbon monoxide blood levels tested (evidently low) and I wondered what they would have read had I still been a twenty plus a day man. (Would I in fact still be alive.) I have not smoked for over thirty years; most of us smoked in times gone by. How I personally 'learnt' the habit is no secret.
In the years after the war the majority of adults smoked. Nor was the habit merely the prerogative of the workers at the bottom of the social order. It was not unknown for the local doctor to be puffing away at a Capstan Full Strength or similar whilst he attended to the coughing, wheezing unfortunates peering through the haze in his gloomy waiting room, which was of course provided with an ashtray. Will’s Woodbines, known universally as coffin nails, Players Weights, Park Drive, Players Navy Cut, the choice was endless. Almost everyone seemed to smoke, and everywhere. Crowds at football matches, customers in shops, even teachers in schools, sometimes non-too secretly. No consideration was offered or given to the minority who were not addicted to the gruesome habit. This meant many children, some already fragile and often sickly were exposed to passive smoking, including in the home, though the term had not been invented until many years after the war. Smoking was the norm, smokers were the role models for children, which in part explains our childish fascination in what we considered was ‘a grown up’ pursuit. Thus our approach to such forbidden pursuits was ingenious beyond our years.
A disused stone cow trough provided privacy from prying adults. An iron bedstead, liberally covered with branches, leaves and all manner of debris meant a den that was indescribably cosy. A hole in one corner allowed entry to this most secret of places.
Here was attempted diverse delights, one of which was the art of smoking; smoking was adult, smoking was exciting. The dangers of smoking were naturally unknown to ignorant adolescents, not that it would have made any difference. Besides, death from suffocation and the risk of being burnt alive in so confined a space were at least as likely as the risk of contracting the dreaded ‘C’ word from inhaling tobacco. Not that tobacco was necessarily the only ingredient smoked.
First attempts involved an acorn, a straw and dried walnut leaves. The acorn was discarded and the acorn cup carefully drilled at the base. The straw, around four inches long, was inserted into the hole in the cup and ‘hey presto’, a pipe evolved. The next step was to carefully break up the collected dry walnut leaves, using thumb and first finger. The small, parchment like particles were inserted into the prepared pipe. Matches were produced, having been secreted one one’s person for days prior to the ‘happening’ and the smoking mixture was anxiously ignited. Long, experimental ‘draws’ on the straw produced clouds of smoke, much coughing and occasionally glowing leaves flying in all directions. A fearsome prospect in an area that measured no more than eight by four feet, containing at least two small boys and miscellaneous bedding of straw, grass or hay.
We nevertheless persevered, moving on to the delights of the elderberry bush, at first sight an unlikely smoking source. In spring the bush is much sought after as a provider of berries for wine making. As the seasons progress, the bush dies back, leaving dead, woody bark. We carried lengths to our hideaway. There we carefully stripped the external wood, exposing an internal pith surprisingly cigarette like in shape and appearance.
A piece of wire was pushed down the centre of the pith to make a hole and the operation was complete. We lit the makeshift cigarette, the results were almost indescribable. White or grey smoke abounded, flames sometimes singeing throat and tonsils. Whereon the offending incendiary would often be dropped. Causing anguished cries in the semi darkness amongst the straw or hay carpet.
Wherein the smokers would search, panic stricken, eyes streaming, for the glowing butts, lest our secret camp became our tomb.
Because such tobacco substitutes were not even remotely in the Woodbine or Park Drive class, not surprisingly alternatives were sought. The alternatives usually took the form of nub ends procured by the dubious practice of walking along pavements and picking up any discarded cigarette ends. Several small boys could soon accumulate a small paper bagful. We would return triumphantly to our lair where the cigarette ends were stripped and the paper discarded, there being no filter tip in those days. Pipes would be produced, this time real pipes bought from local jumble sales or ‘borrowed’ from unsuspecting adults. The pipes were filled with the tobacco gleaned from the cigarette ends. Matches would be produced and a real ’smoke’ would result. A ‘smoke’ fraught with both obvious and unimagined dangers, but enjoyed just the same, in part due to the illicit nature of the event itself. Eventually, as the years progressed, we moved on to the real thing, Woodbines, Park Drive and Turf, and, when funds allowed, the luxury of Passing Clouds. Happy days indeed!
Did you ever smoke? If so, where did you acquire the habit? What are your memories of smoking in 'the good old days'.

Saturday 15 August 2009

Memories of Mother

On reading through my diary of 1985 I suddenly realise that my mother's birthday would have been last week. (On the 5th of August.) It was in fact the only year of my life I kept a diary for the whole year. A godsend in view of an autobiographical work I have been writing for some considerable time. Meticulously written in biro, it already seems archaic at the side of our blogging exploits of 2009.
August 5th 1985
'The birthday of Mary Elizabeth Stevens, my mother. An incredible, independent, stubborn, beautiful fighter. What do I remember thirty two years on?
I remember a little, busy woman working, often, almost always working. Preparing school meals, cleaning for the rich, cleaning our home for her pride. I remember shopping in Derby at Cheshires, an old family business, returning usually with 'yellow fish' or pyclets, two favourites that we could ill afford.
I remember a home maybe lacking in the trappings of wealth, but a happy home scrupulously clean. We lived in three different houses until Mary died in 1953. try as I might, only fleeting memories can be retrieved. A cherry lady ornament in a window, cherries held aloft invitingly but never consumed. A Westminster chimes clock, erratic in its timekeeping. A pet cat with an amazing long neck and amusing expression. (Made out of pot.) A black leaded dog, almost certainly a Scottie.
Sweets lovingly made from flour, cocoa and other forgotten ingredients.
Rather secretive visits to her nightwatchman friend, also I recall named Stevens, the nearest Mary came to romance as a hardworking widow and mother of two. Similar secretive visits to Stockbrook Street, home of Ernest Steven's sister Elsie. (Ernest was my mother's husband and died in tragic circumstances in 1942. Stockbrook Street was an area rated lowly in many eyes. This would be particularly so in the eyes of my mother's chapel attending, rather insular family.)
Strange days, long ago days, but happy days nevertheless.'
I honestly believe that all our experiences in life are stored forever in the brain. Whether or not we can retrieve them at will is another matter. A difficulty that inevitably increases with age. All the more reason to commit pen to paper whilst we are still in charge of our faculties. How many childhood memories have you retained for whatever reason. And how many of you have put pen to paper?

Monday 10 August 2009

Useless Buys

I spent five minutes strimming my apology for a lawn yesterday. Followed by twenty minutes trying to put the strimmer together again after it fell to pieces for the umpteenth time. If it does this ten times a summer and I strim for twenty five summers that means I will have spent just under four days of my life fixing strimmers before I die. Was I really put on the earth for this purpose!
Is it me or are strimmers a useless product. Now I'm not renowned for my DIY skills. If I saw the left hand end of a piece of wood the right hand end falls off. And shelves in our house slope more than the Cresta Run. I'm not too practical in general. I once bought a trailer, hooked it on the back of the car and drove home. Only when I got home it was gone. But it amuses people and don't you just hate people who are perfect at everything. But its not always me, the world seems full of useless objects.
I fed 'useless tools' onto the internet. Amazingly there were 12,100,000 references. (There are also 7,470,000 references to 'crap products'.) And when I read the things people have bought and then found useless in the extreme it cheers me up immensely. Some of the products I confess I've never heard of. Rot Zip, what the heck is Rot Zip. Profile sanders, whatever they are also list highly on people's pet hates.
Banana slices, back scratchers, yogurt makers, turkey turners, all have some fuming. I suppose some might find these items of immense use, if so, please tell me. But a gas powered leaf blower, surely not an asset. Great, presumably it shifts the leaves, but where to?
How many items have you got tucked away in the house or garage that you thought was a good idea at the time. We tend to be suckers for flash demonstrators at exhibitions. Plus we all like gadgets, particularly the ladies I suspect. (No, the ladies are not gadgets. Oh you know what I mean.) Dare you confess to something you bought that you thought was a good idea at the time. I suggest two categories. Something that is useless and something that was badly made in the extreme.
Lest I give the impression that all my household objects are useless or badly made, let me hold up my yard brush as an example of exemplary British craftsmanship. I bought it in 1972, soon after we were married. I was a student at the time, soon to have two children. Money was tight so I considered the 7/6d it cost was money well spent. And do you know, it it still going strong today. It has performed well, and all it has ever had is three new heads and two new handles. It pays to choose a product you know will be useful and will last for ever!

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Grumpy's Alternative News. July.

Firstly a follow up to a previous 'news'. The post as resident witch at Wookey Hole has been filled. Carole Bohanan, to be known as Carla Calamity was appointed from 300 applicants. Another 278 'volunteered' their mother in law for the post!
And so to July. Air and space travel figured regularly in July's news. Koichi Wakata, Japanese astronaut circled the earth 2,208 times, 138 days without changing his underpants once! His prototype pair were anti-static, flame-resistant, odour-eating, bacteria-killing and water-absorbent. Evidently no fellow crew member complained so the experiment presumably went well. Mind you, I reckon some of my class at junior school weren't far short of his record, and they had only rough old serge pants if I remember right!
Moving swiftly on, the passengers on the Abu Dhabi flight to Cairo, courtesy EygptAir weren't too happy when a baby crocodile appeared in the aisle. It was caught and eventually handed to Giza Zoo. The funny thing is, it was never claimed; I wonder why.
Plus a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 with 136 on board had to return to Long Island because of a smell of burning. It took off again later when the smell was traced to a coffee pot. (Is it any wonder I have never flown in my life!)
One more flight story. Leadenham village in Lincolnshire lost its power when a helium balloon got entangled in power lines above a croquet lawn. And what was attached to the balloon?
A black thong! Don't go there, don't even ask!
Is it really two years since the smoking ban came into effect in the UK. In Russia servicemen will no longer be supplied with a cigarette ration. Instead they are to receive caramel sweets. I wonder how they will go down, literally. Its not easy to give up, as an ex-smoker I remember it well. Smoker Mr Geoff Spice is to spend August on Sgarabhaigh, a 40 acre island in the Outer Hebrides. No boat, no people, no fags. Good luck to him. I hope he has more will power than the customer in a restaurant in Kumkuyucak, Turkey. He responded to a request to stub out his cigarette by shooting the restaurant manager dead and injuring another man. I wonder if he'll be allowed to smoke in prison.
Finally one or two or more unconnected little 'events' that caught the eye.
Sat nav time again. a Swedish couple drove 400 miles to Carpi in Northern Italy, intending to go of course to Capri. Even if they are dyslexic, weren't they surprised that they never crossed water?
Nottingham University is to open a brewery for students on a masters degree course in brewery science. Now that's one course I fancy, even at my late stage in life!
Chris Eubank, ex-boxer is selling the title, Lordship of the Manor of Brighton for a knockdown £35,000. Interesting, and one perk is that the holder is entitled to take 4,000 eels a year from fishing boats. Surely a 'reely' great offer at twice the price.
And two items from Berlin to round off July. Thomas Cook travel boss Peter Fankhauser has proposed a way of ending the Anglo-German beach towel war. You can now reserve a poolside lounger for £2.50 a day. No more early morning stress at last. Some hope!
Plus a German man trying to win a cherry-stone spitting contest (honest) nearly died when he took too long a run up and accidentally hurled himself off a balcony. You couldn't make it up. There's nowt so strange as folk.