Billy The Goat

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There are occasions when you encounter animals whom assume a higher status that you would expect. They say dogs look up to you, pigs look you in the eye and cats look down on you. I would like to extend this list with my experience of goats. French mountain goats to be precise.

A recent stay in the Auvernge area of southern France introduced me to a tribe of mountain goats. Yes, tribe is the collective noun for goats and a very appropriate name in my experience. These guys were fitted with long grey and white woolly coats. Goats are essentially dogs built to a military specification; all weather, all terrain capability with armament. They fall big time into the don’t mess with me category. And like cats they have a tendency to look down on we humans.

Spending some time in a fantastic barn conversion, set on a steep gorge overlooking the river Truyere the road sweeps by within inches of the house. The original barn doors now replaced by a row of windows may sound a little overlooked but this far from the madding crowd as only two cars a day use this remote route – oh and a tribe of 10 belligerent goats who clearly own the joint. Looking every bit like the latest  to feature in “Game of Thrones” these buggers rule the manor.

I had spent the day relaying some stone slabs on a path and on the top of a wall. The cement was now in the process of drying, time to visit the local shops for vitals.

On our return our first introduction to the local goats came whilst unloading groceries from the car. The tribal leader – nicknamed ‘Digger’ for reasons later revealed, decided to inspect the contents of the shopping excursion close up. This involved an attempt to climb into the boot to get a better look. We quickly learnt that shouting, jumping up and down, waving arms and using a rather unexpected degree of Anglo Saxon had absolutely no effect. Running for the front door merely set them a challenge. “So you want to play, English” said Digger.

Reaching the sanctuary of the house only just ahead of Digger didn’t stop the tribe demonstrating their every intent on following. The solid wooden front door finally closed we breathed a sigh of relief. Then of course…..the realisation something has been left in the car boot. In an attempt to get the better of them I opened the door slowly – from a crouched position. Well I thought it a good idea at the time, this way they would be looking up to the expected height of a human, I would be on all fours out of sight as the door edged open. But as it opened half way Digger came into sight, inches away from the door, with me on all fours we met eye to eye. “It’s you English. Wanna play?”

With that he turned and shoved his bum up against the door and began pushing it closed. Now I am not proud of my next action. In deference to animal rights I shoved the door open and gave Digger a right whack up the arse. The door stopped moving as it hit an unmovable object. Slowly I looked around the door. Digger had spun around and I was looking at the sharp end again, horns and all.

Looking closely at a goats head you realise the eyes, mounted on either side of it’s head, protrude to gain forward vision. At close quarters this is quite a scary arrangement. “Got any food English? Got any ‘Rostbif ‘in your back pockets, maybe some Yorkshire puds?”

I pointed out we English do not  habitually walk around with roast beef in our pockets. “Anyway you are a herbivore” I suggested.

“Not all of us, we mountain chaps eat anything”. Digger turned as another of the tribe whispered in his ear and spoke again “My mate wonders as you have nowt in your back pockets can he have  the pockets?”

“Look you guys are now decidedly in the way, what we classify as being a bleeding nuisance” I suggested.

“But English, you are the Brexit bleeders who are getting in everyone’s way.” Digger had a point. With logical argument running thin I resorted to action and chucked a bucket of water at him.

“This is no good English, if you want to throw water wait until I have opened my mouth this is thirsty work” said Digger.

The door finally closed Digger and his tribe moved slightly up the road to peer in through the kitchen windows that reach down to the road level. With an air or retaliation he was up to something “Do you think I could head butt this window in?” Asked Digger of his tribe.

“ No mate; double glazed. You butt that and you’ll bounce back clean across the road”. Digger looked crest fallen.

“OK instead let’s go dig up those new coping slabs English has just laid” Whether with malice a fore- thought or not the tribe set about nudging the freshly laid stone slabs aside with head and hooves. “That should sort him, whacking me up the arse an all”

Further remonstrations, arm waving and a degree of refined shouting urging a halt to the demolition work met with little response. Eventually the tribe, probably through boredom sauntered off up the lane.

Suddenly a shrill female voice rang out. Digger and his mates stopped dead, turned and briskly trotted back down the road. I stared in disbelief. As Digger passed he felt I was owed an explanation.

“She speaks French, she has a shrill voice that goes right through you and she is really quite mad English” he said. I noted her technique. Digger stopped suddenly causing mayhem as the rest of the tribe clattered into each other. He turned to look me in the eye. “Don’t even think it will work with you English- We’ll be back tomorrow” and with that they trotted on past. Bunch of bastards that they are.

Hilary Cooks A Baking Storm

The 27th March will be etched in Hilary’s memory for the rest of her life. The day had started well but after a night in the police station jail she had decided that it should have had a better ending.

Hilary was a kind soul and a figurehead of the local community eager to help or support in as many local initiatives her frail body would allow. Holmfirth was where she was born and bred and she felt at home in many more ways than most folks appreciated. But Hilary, dear sweet lady that she was had a weakness. She had become irrationally dismayed with the changes that had occurred in the English language, both in the written and spoken context. This weakness had risen to fever pitch recently when a local TV news reporter had, in her eyes mispronounced a word long held sacrosanct. There was something needed to be done about it. Hilary could no longer remain cool, calm and collected; she needed to spur the local community into action.

A public meeting was called for the 27th March to be held in the town hall. Everyone in Holmfirth was invited, ‘Everyone needs to be there,’ the notice said. ‘It is imperative this devastation was quashed immediately.’ Eunice realised to improve attendance some form of inducement was required. ‘Meat pies were to be served with non-alcoholic drinks’ was added to the flyer.

As the attendees started to arrive Hilary realised she had totally misjudged the level of attendance. The few pies she had brought with her from Morrison’s would not be well received. Hilary began frantically Googling every local supply outlet. Deliveries were to be made from every known supplier and variety of fast food outlets in the region; her pension that month spent in one fell swoop.

Hilary, bashed her best brogues hard on the wooden stage brought the meeting to order. The meeting commenced, Hilary introduced herself and the subject of the meeting. It was clear cut, the 400 people in attendance were to vote on a single issue. Hilary announced in a clear although slightly falsetto voice; ‘The pronunciation of the word ‘scone’ was at risk.

Silence abruptly spread throughout the hall like a wave crashing on the shore. Never before had 400 people been as quiet since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the labour party. Pins were heard dropping all over the hall. The meat pies, held dear in the hearts of locals, had been overshadowed by a topic of such irrelevance that the townspeople could do nothing but stand open-mouthed and stare. Initially the gaze was fixed on Hilary, but still open-mouthed the gathering began staring at each other. The local dentist, ever the entrepreneur, seized the moment to rip along the audience thrusting his business card in the hands of customers whose teeth showed high potential for remedial work.

The audience listened intently to Hilary thinking this was a merely a ruse to garner attention. Hilary continued. “It has come to my notice that local people in Holmfirth have been infiltrated”, she stated. This caused Dago Smith, long known for his stern attitude to cast a fuming look at his daughter. His daughter looked stunned, how on earth did Hilary know? She was going to tell her Dad at some point but could not decide on the best place to choose as she knew she was likely to be killed in the process. The town hall was certainly not on her list but as there would be some witnesses, she might escape.

Hilary continued; “Many people in this hall tonight and a TV reporter have been heard to call a scone as a scoon”. This an appalling situation and I would like you all to vote in favour of insisting we call them correctly as scons”.

More pins were heard to drop. Mouths open and closed with no sound emerging. The meeting resembled a gathering of goldfish. No one could believe they had been enticed to attend a meeting to discus the pronunciation of ‘scones.’ Darts, watching football and even ‘Eastenders’ had been sacrificed for this meeting. Tempers stared to fray. Hilary continued unaware of the building maelstrom.

“Could you vote in favour of the motion through a show of hands, “All those in favour of the traditional scon raise your hands.” The words hardly left her lips when she saw a meat pie being projected in her direction. She deftly dodged the pie, which smashed on the platform two feet to her left. Hilary was upset at this development and put it down to some lefty intervention. Hilary put all evils of modern society down to lefty interventions, or indeed conservatives or the demise of the local Coop.

Dago Smith was still glaring at his daughter when her boyfriend seized the opportunity to voice an unseen opinion. He selected the large cold pork pie set out on the trestle table from the host of other pies. With all his strength he launched it towards the back of Dago’s head. A distant of some 30 metres – it was a hell of an ask. The pie curved through the air, Hilary saw it, the girlfriend saw it and began sending frantic non-verbal messages to the boyfriend. These being a mixture of pride he had taken such a stance and horror that her Dad was shortly due a rude awakening. As things turned out she need not have worried, for the awakening actually turned out to be a knock out. Dago’s knees gave way milliseconds after the pie struck. He went down with an almighty crash. The pie had struck but in the process its pre-cut 20 segments burst apart like shrapnel and in turn struck 20 other members of the audience.

The fight began. Hilary watched in horror, as her catering extravaganza became the source of ammunition for the entire gathering. It rapidly degenerated into a food fight. Pies of every description were lobbed across the hall from the trestle table on which they were lovingly arranged. Steak pies, pork pies, lamb ale and Guinness pies, Cornish pasties and the delightful new range of chicken masala pies form the Indian take away all conspired to do their worst.

By the time the police arrived the mayhem had become intense. Having used the entire stock of 400 pies as projectiles the crowd moved to phase two and begun rubbing pieces of the smashed pies in the face of others. Hilary looked bemused but as a true devotee of her cause was trying to assemble some rationale to the events. She screamed at the top of her voice, “Would those in favour of ‘scone’ pleeeaase raise their hands!”

The Chief Constable had by now arrived. Urgently called to attend a riot at Holmfirth town hall he had activated the SWAT team who bust into the hall at the peak of the melee. Six police dogs were released to quell the crowds, but as they approached the mob the appetising aroma of the remains of the meat pies overcame the police dogs who proceeded to lick the assailants faces to claim the residue of the pies.

The Chief Constable grimaced as he watched his top dog team blatantly ignoring their role crossed to the other side. The SWAT team turned to face him for further orders.

“Who the hell is responsible for this?” barked the Chief Constable, well his dogs were too busy to bark for him. The crowd still fighting each drew an arm and a finger to point directly at Hilary. Hilary sat in pristine silence on the stage, not a hair out of pace, not a mark or piece of pie on her.

“Chief Constable, I’m glad you have arrived, could you insist these people vote on the correct pronunciation of the word scone?” This was the last word Hilary said before being heaved out into the street where she joined a mob of 400 dishevelled locals still being accosted by a team of police dogs before being loaded in a waiting fleet of school buses and moved to the police station.

Hilary was the last to be moved. She had the privilege of riding in the back of one of the caged police vans. All the way to the police station she was still demanding the meeting should vote.

Hilary was bound over by the magistrates and given 100 hours of community service. She completed the task without complaint as was eventfully seen walking about Holmfirth again with her head held high. Strangely all the fuss and bother of her crusade and court case had given her considerable notoriety. Hilary was a cause celeb. In the meantime after a complete ban emanating from the court case and police insistence, scones were back on sale in the coffee shops, cake shops, restaurants and supermarkets. But they were never referred to by name nor did they ever have any labels attached. If you wanted a scone you just pointed to them – but never ever again did you ask for a scone by name in Holmfirth.

 

The Fall Of Autumn Leaves

George had long dreaded the autumn. As a keen gardener he liked the outside of the house looking spick and span. Fallen leaves lying wet and soggy on the lawn being an abhorrence to his normal happy demeanour.

The task of raking leaves by hand had given George a degree of beneficial exercise but the novelty had long worn away. Fallen leaves no longer were a sign of the natural course of life; providing nourishment for future years in the garden. No, a wet leaf to George was an utter bastard out to irritate him beyond reason. Their presence induced him to a torrent of unreserved lengthy profanities.

“what did you just say?” enquired George’s quiet, church going extremely house-proud wife, Gillian.

“I was remarking on how pleasant it is to rake up these leaves and place them in the compost heap to rot down and so provide  nourishment for next year, my angel” answered George.

”Why is it your explanation is about ten times longer than your original statement?” enquired Gillian. “And also what exactly does the term “screw you twatting leaves” actually mean?”

His new found range of Anglo-Saxon expressions had shocked him let alone his teetotal daughter of a Methodist preacher wife. The marital bond having been substantially dented George realised he needed find another way to complete the task. He’d been well busted on the language front and decided it was time to mechanise the leaf clearance process.

With his head held high George visited the local garden centre. Being an environmentalist he was delighted to spot a hand propelled leaf sweeper. Not only will it pick up leaves it will leave your lawn with stripy lines as if you’ve just mown it. The thought of this outcome was a true bonus. Looks from neighbours seeing a stripped lawn in the winter actually appealed more than the mechanised  leaf collection process.

Back home George unpacked his new sweeper, assembled handle A to socket B; collection basket to handle C (which George interpreted as handle A as another marked ‘C’ surely didn’t exist). This was all achieved in an ‘easy to induce way’ just as the translation from Chinese promised. Within ten minutes George was ready to do some serious sweeping. Armed with the remaining four screws and eight nuts and bolts in his pocket left over from the assembly, George strode to the back lawn assuming the potential use of the screws and bolts would be revealed as he pushed the sweeper along.

Up and down George pushed the sweeper. Despite frequent adjustments of the ‘Leaf lift Wear'( which he assumed was a weir, designed  to control the degree of leaves to be swept up) a large proportion of the blighters were ignored. George went over the lawn top to bottom left to right, side to side. He calculated he had walked five miles before he called it quits. Still leaves were stuck to the lawn. The promised stripped effect had degenerated into scribble resulting from the sweeper passing over every part of the lawn from ten different directions.

Dismayed, George parked the self-propelled ‘Golden Dawn’ leaf sweeper in the garage adding to his growing collection of  ‘Sodding useless equipment’ that the sign in that part of the garage proudly read. Dejected George went back into house to use his computer before Gillian arrived home to berate his experience of the “tools of the devil” on Tripadvisor. The fact this web site only focused on hotels restaurants had always eluded him.  The Google search on leaf sweepers introduced George to the concept of leaf blowers. A few clicks later George had bought an electric blower which promised to deliver a gale force from its 1600-watt fan. An added bonus; it could suck up leaves as well as blow them away!

The new electric leaf blower arrived. Having assembled its four components George ventured into the garden. He set the machine to suck and began hoovering the lawn. All was well until George realised the 5m of cable fitted to his leaf blower was woefully inadequate. As the cable tightened at full stretch he momentarily took his eye off the suction nozzle. In the next few seconds the new leaf blower – ‘with suction capability’ hoovered up several small stones into the ‘patented leaf shredding facility’. The stones hit the spinning shredder blades at speed producing an alarming smashing noise; his leaf blower was in the process of self-destruction. The collection bag filled with demolished internal components which both George and the manufacturer’s design team deemed essential to its on-going ability to shred or blow leaves.

The blower still blew but the absence of most of its fan structure meant the ‘gale force’ wind had metamorphosed into a gentle zephyr. George reflected for a moment, before him lay his brand-new and terminally damaged blower. With just five minutes use he was disappointed to say the least, he had never witnessed any machine commit suicide before. An expensive exercise, and thus the new electric blower was duly assigned as the latest addition to the growing volume of ‘sodding useless equipment’ at the back of his garage.

Undaunted the quest for a replacement began immediately. A larger machine with a longer cable and a blow only function was the focus of his new search on Google. And soon he found it; a 2.5kW beast complete with 20m of cable. At home, sans instructions, he fitted the handle using the photo image printed on the box and the ‘Dawn of happiness’ blower was ready for action.

Unfortunately the 2.5kW of energy thrashing down the cable appeared largely dissipated by the time it reached the fan blades. The promised gale force resembled at best a strong wind and viewed with total indifference by the wet leaves. Bloody hell thought  George, when Gillian sees all these purchases on the credit card I will be cast into her ‘idiot of the month category.’ Also the array of useless sodding equipment had now become  embarrassing.

One last hurrah was in order. This time he needed to hit the mother load or join the mass of middle aged and divorced category. Google was searched to an inch of its existence. The confusion of specifications rattled around George’s brain. Cubic metres per second, hp, fuel mix, 2 stroke versus 4 stroke. He had wandered into the petrol driven group where the length of cable was obsolete. He narrowed the selection to three machines from different manufacturers. All appeared similar but this time there was to be no mistake. But now, which one?

Sleeping over the next week became problematic as he endlessly reviewed the features and benefits of the short listed selection. Then of course there was the issue of Japanese, German or Chinese manufacturers.

And Gillian slept on.

That weekend  the weather suddenly changed for the better. George and Gillian headed to the local park. The look of delight on George’s face was immediate, he had spotted a park gardener busy blowing leaves. Abandoning Gillian he ran to the guy to compare performance notes. Gillian, unwittingly, was found taking to herself as she pointed out key features of the fauna and flora unaware of her solos status.

George asked for user experience details of the wet leaf blowing capability, as you do. The guy explained his machine was OK but the bees knees of leaf blowing was the one used by Harry. He could clear a football pitch in 10 minutes.

George ran to the spot where he would find Harry, clipping Gillian as he ran past she spun three times on the spot. This was the tipping point, she make a mental note to sort George out – once she stopped spinning. In the meantime George had spotted Harry and fell in love. Harry was little shocked until he realised the sheep eyes from George were directed at his back. George had spotted his nirvana for Harry was equipped with a 4 stroke backpack blower and was effortlessly blowing wet leaves as if they were tissue paper. George pointed and in a trembling voice asked for the model number then ran off clicking his heels as he went. Bloody nutter thought Harry. Gillian who spotted the interlude underlined her mental note to sort George.

George had placed his order online within 10 minutes after arriving home – and just before he remembered he has left Gillian at the park. She arrived home by taxi and clearly was not amused. George did attempt an explanation but could see half way through his tale was falling on stony around. The kick in the groin serving to convince him that leaf blowers were his project and his alone!

Two days later it arrived. Completely assembled with no handles, screws, bolts or strange shaped components to confuse or diagnose. He walked to the front garden, added a pint of fuel, cranked the engine into life, heaved the masterpiece onto his back, clipped on the harness and away he went. Wet leaves flew everywhere – along with plants and small shrubs that George clipped before he realised the throttle was set at full tilt. In greater control the leaves were blown into heaps, along the road and over the fence into next doors garden. He would deal with that later he thought. Right now George had his mind set on the back garden.

Some decisions in life are hugely successful. George was about to prove some were less sucessful. Rather than stopping the engine and un-hitching the backpack he thought he would simply walk to the back garden through the house. No need to stop the engine, just leave it on tick over and scoot through the house.

As George entered the lounge to reach the patio doors at the back, all was right on plan. The engine ticked over, a gentle breeze emerged at the blower nozzle. He tiptoed across the new laminate floor – laid only last month. And this is where the cunning plan came unstuck. He slipped on that damn rug which then shot out in front of him as soon as his booted foot trod on its luxuriant pile. George was now heading in the direction of down, his feet having shot forward on the rug  he was en route to land on his back. Tragically he managed to shove the throttle to full on his way down – and then lock it that position – a feature he recalled to allow park gardens to complete extensive blowing stints without getting throttle grip. He lay for an instant flat on his back unfortunately failing to assess that actions have consequences. The engine ripped into full thrust knocking the nozzle out of George’s hands. The nozzle now had a mind of its own. George began spinning on his back like a crazed break-dancer the blower nozzle accelerating his body into a high G force blur. Dazed and feeling a tad nauseous George managed to catch snapshots of the room

Utter mayhem was his first analysis of the situation; carnage was his second. The high G force prevented him from lifting his head much above two inches from the floor. In his line of sight he saw ornaments and pictures being blown around the room. Ironically, he thought, he saw the three wall mounted ducks in flight. Nothing seemed static, as each item landed the nozzle re-launched it on the next rotation. The piece de resistance; the teapot, a least cherished gift from Aunt Hilda, being launched by the blower and impale itself spout first into the TV.

The whole of the lounge seemed to be flight like the vortex created by a tornado. At this point Gillian entered the room anxious to see what the commotion was. Seeing her beloved room in a rotational swirl  was bad enough but spotting her idiot husband spinning on his back like a fly in its death throws was more than her quiet demeanour could stand. George, building images in short burst like the raster scanning function of a TV noticed she had arrived at the crime scene.  Gillian started to run on the spot as her rage built beyond any known previous level induced by her lunatic husband. She also pulled at her own hair and spoke in tongues.

At this point the pint of fuel in the blower finally ran out. George began to slow, the only noise being the grinding sound as he and the backpack wore a deeper groove into the laminate floor. As George finally stopped spinning, Gillian started. Using words beyond his comprehension Gillian advised he was undoubtedly a fornicating person whose birth outside of marriage was a central issue in their on-going relationship.

George began rocking back and forth until he finally flipped over and clambered onto his hand and knees and stood up. The devastation was complete. He had thrashed the room beyond all recognition. Dreading the explanation to use on the insurance claim he thought his best move was to go back to the garage where he unclipped the back pack. Placing the blower on the floor he picking up the set of steps that lay nearby  and quietly sat himself down under the sign at the back. ‘Sodding useless equipment’ seemed to summarise his predicament rather aptly he thought.

Pressure Washer Pops Its Clogs

Prompted by slipping on a path covered in green slime, the left leg shot forwards whilst the right leg simultaneously shot aft, something had to be done. In grave danger of the doing the splits but with remarkable presence of mind that quite surprised me I modified the manoeuvre to that of a flamboyant courtesy.  It’s that time of year when the pressure washer needed to be dug out from its winter hiding place.

Memories of its last appearance a year ago surfaced. Having dragged the thing out and adorned in waterproof jacket, facemask and wellies it was coupled to power and water supplies, the appropriate washing lance selected and off we go. But at a mere 15 years old it unfortunately soon decided he didn’t want to play any more, this despite remedial repairs incurred during its one outing last year. Then the blighter let go in the middle of a path cleaning exercise that left an embarrassing before and after appearance, which would undoubtedly fail inspection by a higher authority.

Investigation revealed a failed pressure switch that required a trip to the local parts shop, taking with me a note of the model and part description. The assistant looked at the data and scanned a parts list on the computer. With a shake of his head he then turned to a microfiche reader. After another shake of the head he opened a drawer and pulled out a sheaf of drawings, blew the dust from them and searched for the detail.  Bingo a match was made.

The assistant looked at me in the eye and enquired if I was called Noah as my pressure washer pressure washer had surely been originally used to wash a certain ark after its escapade. I bought the switch having offered several Denari which he rejected saying the cost had appreciated in manifold terms over the years. Back home the part was duly fitted and the pump burst into life. Unwanted residue was then ripped from the remainder of the drive, stone flags, walls, car wheels and inadvertently the paint from the garage door. I was also transferring most of the grot from said structures to my person. Blow-back had given me the appearance of snipers camouflage, only wetter.

The process complete it was time to store my ancient pressure washer in its allotted place in the garage, behind the trolley jack and the lawn mower and the leaf sweeper on the low shelf at the back and pushed home out the way of shins. Subsequent extrication of the damn thing is thus a nightmare that requires considerable commitment hence the infrequent use of the thing. And therein lies the problem.

This year’s curtsy episode provided the incentive. The need for the pump was duly highlighted and extracted from its hideaway, generating a mental note to reassess this storage nightmare. Again decked in all the gear and with water and power supply connected it came to the switch on. Nothing, zilch, zero activity. The power light glowed in meek apology to indicate a “nothing to do with us” situation but high pressure entirely evaded the situation. The winter store and non use had allowed the corrosion demons to strike.

Remembering the parts issue of last year a further replacement pressure switch seemed remote. Drastic action ensued. Engineering principles aside it was duly clouted with several frustrated blows from a nearly brick. Bits of plastic moved abruptly but not the pump. It was a goner. A replacement was needed if only to prevent the splits.

Then the webs search. Amazing how proficient you become whilst reading the various specifications of the latest pumps on the market. No, we haven’t got to the price search bit yet.  Machines designed to suit every imaginable application and at least 10 uses you never thought of or indeed will never experience but good to know you re suitably equipped should they ever arise.

Determining that that the specs of manufacturers are all very similar the field was narrowed to either a water-cooled pump from A or inverter motor from B both claiming to outdo the other. In the end I went for the blue one. It’s my favourite colour.

The thing performed well in identical fashion to its predecessor – except this one did actually work so water cooled versus inverter drive didn’t amount to a hill of beans.  Job done I have slip free paths for around a month before a repeat is required. Which means I have 30 days to discover a new storage location.

Geoffrey Jogs On

 

The road ahead seemed clear, the weather fine with light clouds but no rain. Critically it was not raining, something that Geoffrey dreaded. He opened the front door and stepped out to start his 10 km run through the country lanes.

Resplendent in his new Lycra leggings, bright yellow breathable top, wooly hat, gloves and most importantly his luminous green running shoes he felt a million dollars. This positive self image was half the battle according to his doctor, the other half was the attempt to loose a significant portion of his body mass. This intrigued Geoffrey. Clearly he was the most unfit guy he knew but the thought of loosing fat as he ran conjured all manner of odd thoughts. Would the fat merely slide down his legs and be deposited on the road as he passed; could it then be considered a road hazard causing potential accidents? But the thoughts passed thanks to the omnipotent presence of his doctor who would question progress on the weight loss programme and give short shrift to any answer that portrayed a lack of commitment. Dripping lard on the road and becoming a road hazard would not get far. He moved to other thoughts.

Geoffrey once tried using an iPod to pay music to enlist encouragement. He selected tracks with a pronounced beat that would inspire and induce a steadier pace. The experiment lasted a few minutes during which he has reviewed the entire collection of 200 CDs stored on the iPod that had a beat equivalent of less than 200 paces an hour. He could only think of Chopin’s funeral march and even that was a might fast in his eyes.

Reciting poetry was out; he only knew two poems and one of those was rather choice. He moved through catch phrases of comedians, advertisements and famous one liners from the movies. None these options worked. The metre was not right he surmised and plodded on hardly stressing the body and clearly distant from entering the fat burning zone he strived for.

And then serendipity slapped him in the face. As he rounded the next bend leading to the village a road maintenance crew were busy replacing the tarmac pavement. Half of the road and the pavement being resurfaced were coned off and temporary traffic lights shone his way. Geoffrey’s intended path was closed, and the traffic lights went red as reached the head of the queue. He dutifully stood alongside the “wait here” sign catching his breath. Something in his limited experience convinced him that to look the part and keep the leg muscles warm, although in Geoffrey’s case they hadn’t yet warmed up, he should indulge in running on the spot as if a car with its engine running.

The process looked a bit ridiculous to those queuing behind Geoffrey and passing in the opposite direction. Running on the spot for Geoffrey compromised of lifting each leg in turn in a ponderous sumo wrestling style. The repetition was excruciating, obviously Geoffrey’s coordination required as much development as his commitment to running. It was the best he could do. Passing traffic became transfixed on the sight of the slow speed jogger waiting at the end of the road works. Then the lights changed. Oh Christ thought Geoffrey, he hadn’t thought this one through. When he arrived he was first in the queue, now a stream of traffic stretched behind him led by a heavy goods vehicle. Decked out with two double air horns and a triple row of headlamps this beast would put many a football stadium floodlights to shame.

The lights beamed green, the truck’s 12 litre V12 engine roared, Geoffrey moved off with the queue in close pursuit. Then the limited options open unfolded rapidly. To his left, a 1.5 m Hawthorn hedge beautifully groomed by the farmer, flush with the road with no verge and no gaps. To his right, road cones and the paraphernalia of equipment in use by the workmen. The intensity of the work required the array of repair kit to be nose to tail along the entire length of the road works. In summary, Geoffrey had nowhere to duck into, he had to run the entire length of the diversion before he could let anything pass.

He started well but at 5kph, and having covered 30m, he realised his body had never propelled itself beyond running for a bus, and most of those he missed. Gussets started to strain as he was urged forward incentivised by the close proximity of the truck. After 100m Geoffrey realised the damn roadworks were 500m long, he had already achieved an array of personal bests most associated with the fact he was still running. The gait was not a pretty sight. The gel lining in his trainers, bought from a friendly chap in the market for a song had already broken down. Resembling the effect you get when squishing a jelly desert back and forth through your teeth, the pounding from his overweight bulk has destroyed any shock absorbing properties and sounded like somebody running in wellies filled with water.

At 300m he began to seriously overheat. Sweat was pouring out soaking his clothing in series of “V” shaped stains. Regrettably these did not all reassemble those of a fit six-pack runner. Instead his apparel become stained with damp patches in places that would require some serious investigation as soon as he stopped. His face had turned bright red from the exertion as his body frantically tried to adopt damage limitation. Geoffrey, with his bright red face, yellow top and bright green running shoes made the driver at the head of the opposite queue believe he was seeing the traffic lights from the opposite end being repositioned. Several change sequences passed; the queue at the opposite end closed up nose to tail waiting for the lead car to move. It was only as Geoffrey passed the 300m mark and became in focus that the true interpretation could be made. It was a classical OMG moment for the waiting drivers.

Geoffrey’s predicament worsened with each stride. By 400m he was in serious trouble. Any coordination of feet and arms had passed. Understandably his arm motion, requiring less energy began to overtake his feet. It was as if he was attempting to drive up the speed of his feet through more rapid arm motion. It didn’t work. His arms were now swinging at twice the rate of his feet giving the appearance that a clutch had gone in the mechanism. It looked ridiculous and certainly not helped by a blast of the truck’s twin air horn that caused Geoffrey to attempt to further increase speed. The arms were swinging faster still; the legs not so. The impetus of the arms moved his centre of gravity. Geoffrey starting to tilt forward, this could end in disaster had his legs not desperately tried to correct to imbalance by running harder. The last 50m were completed at a forward angle of approx 20 degrees.

The end was in sight. The queue of waiting traffic loomed up to reveal the next challenge for Geoffrey. The waiting cars now aligned nose to tail due to a number of false starts when their light turned to green prevented him from squeezing in between them to step on the new footpath. The race continued as if a macabre encore. Fifty meters now remained before he came to the end of the queue and was able to swerve right and crash landed on his belly on the new Tarmac. A final blast of the air horns sounded the completion of the race and the realisation that he was now face down in new, steaming hot Tarmac that was sticking to his new running gear. But he couldn’t care less, he was done with running and his bright green trainers and yellow top were destined for the bin as soon as he could peel himself off the damn pavement.

 

 

 

 

 

Luigi’s Leap of Fate

Luigi had long suffered a feeling of being remote from the other residents of the small town in Sicily to where he had recenty moved. A traditionalist, he believed in the old customs and procedures. He plucked up courage to buy a scooter to fit in with the townspeople who all used scooters as their main transport. He then spent six weeks secretly practising how to ride the thing on a car park on the outskirts of town. He felt this magnanimous gesture would break the ice but regrettably it served to acquire nothing more that the occassional  nod as he parked the thing. Something else was needed.

After weeks of scrutiny he noted that everyone in town, except him, had a mobile phone. Although logic convinced that the number of people he could phone would be desperately small, and conversations with the gas and electric company tended to be calls he least relished. But a mobile seemed to be what was needed in this modern society. At least he could pretend to make calls or play the games that come supplied on the phone. So on that fateful day he called into one of the local shops that surrounded the  town square.

The young assistant was both patronising and disinterested; a frequent combination in Luigi’s eyes. After some confusing debate on the model, range of services, tariffs, extras and the meaning of 4G he bought the phone he did not need. No sooner had he left the shop it rang, catching Luigi completely by surprise he answered the thing as instructed by the terse shop assistant. It was to be his introduction to the world of the cold caller, his number being fed into the company by the friendly shop assistant for a small commsission.

The call infuriated Luigi. The questions asked were an invasion of his privacy; he became more and more agitated. This passionate debate that lasted some 10 minutes became more heated by the second. He found he was pacing up and down on the pavement arguing with a complete stranger who was trying to sell him something he did not want. In the process Luigi had gathered a small crowd amazed at the sight and sound of Luigi as an aggressive man. The shop assistant popped out to congratulate Luigi. “Look at you. You have mastered the phone already”. This did little to appease Luigi. Infuriated he mounted his scooter and with his new found aggression kicked the thing into life. And then it all went spectacularly wrong.

He let the clutch in far too aggressively. The front wheel of the scooter rose form the ground causing Luigi to slide backwards down the seat. Gripping on for dear life he attempted to pull his weight back up the seat but twisted the throttle to full in the process which served to exacerbate the situation. The front wheel rose higher and he was in full wheelie mode; a staggering feat on a scooter and unseen in the town.

As Luigi ripped round the town square his bright green helmet which he had forgotten to fasten slipped down the back of his head in typical young buck style. His body also edged further back down the seat such that his feet touched the ground where upon he adopted an entirely unscheduled running action whilst sitting astride his scooter. This didn’t last long before his feet were kicked back by the speed of the scooter. This pushed his body into the prone position lying flat on the seat with his feet stretched out behind and him hanging onto the handle bars for dear life he hurtled around the square in a screaming wheelie. No one knew how he turned the corners let alone Luigi. The throttle being wide open meant the engine was screaming at maximum revs which all added to the drama and gathered an amazed crowd who lined the square as Luigi thrashed around in his superman pose like a jockey in the Sienna Palio. Then the finale.

After the third circuit of the square he suddenly veered to its centre. The scooter’s front wheel being airborne passing safely over the kerb but the rear wheel struck and launched the scooter some five metres into the air where it became airborne for a distance of 25 metres. Whilst airborne the energy required to drive the rear wheel dropped to zero. The engine having little to do screamed a last gasp, over-revved and seized locking the rear wheel solid. Scooter and Luigi flew through the air, Luigi still in his superman alignment but the scooter under the effects of gravity dropped vertically beneath him with Luigi still holding the handlebars it looked every bit like the stunt biker at a high jump competition. As the scooter landed the locked rear wheel acted as a vicious brake. The scooter  stopped dead, Luigi did not. He landed hard, belly down on the seat causing him to emit the largest fart ever recorded by mankind. His forward momentum continued until he flew over the handlebars ripping them from his gasp but not  before they caused his body to spin in (what was recorded on the CCTV) a series of six forward rolls in the air whilst still emitting the fart like a giant Catherine wheel without the firewoks.

The green helmet spun off his head and impaled itself in the mouth of the Lion’s statue in the centre of the fountain. Luigi miraculously landed in an upright sitting position full square in the same fountain. The impact displaced the entire contents of the fountain in a spectacular surge that also arrested his fall.

The stillness of the square and the townsfolk was electric. Slowly Luigi stood, unharmed to the tumultuous applause of the crowd. As he stepped from the fountain he saw his precious new phone  had slipped from his pocket during spin number four and smashed into a million pieces in the square. But he didn’t care. Now he no longer needs a scooter or phone. Wherever he goes he is greeted with a wave. The young bucks on their scooters always slow down, toot the horn and wave. Yes it’s good to be the town’s hero. And the green helmet? Well the town’s people insisted it be left in the lion’s mouth – looking every bit as if it was eating an apple as a tribute to Luigi’s leap.

IMG_0737

Luigi’s scooter after it was stripped bare by townspeople wanting a souvenier for good luck.

 

The Inheritance Trap

This week I have become a multimillionaire. A guy in Nigeria has offered to pay $10m into my bank account as thanks for helping him move an unclaimed estate of his late uncle. Another splendid chap in Hong Kong believes I have a late name sake which could lead to my inheritance of his $8m estate. He wants my bank account so he transfer the cash  for a  fee of 50 per cent which he tells me is the accepted standard for these transactions.

There’s another $8m waiting for me from The COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION OFFICE AND UNITED NATION AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM (U.N.A.D.P) ATTENTION OF: THE ENTITILED BENEFICIARY OF FUNDS. Allegedly it is very important I reply immediately hence the use of upper case.

And finally the $5m from the cousin of my late Aunt’s best friend in Kenya who insists I am entitled to a chunk of her cash. But I’m no fool. I believe it’s all a rouse of out Chancellor to grab tax on the transfer so I sent them all fictitious bank accounts held with Lloyds bank with whom I don’t have any accounts. Just a minute Lloyds bank has just declared records profits. Bugger.

Short Back and Sides.

And it came to pass that before the operation the medics requested that I conduct a pubic shave. A short back and sides below stairs. Yes I absolutely had to double check that I had heard that correctly. The process up until then I believed the sole providence of Brazilians.

The extent of the pruning was to be from the navel down to mid thigh. I was thus to be adorned with a negative version of boxers. Armed with four NHS disposable razors, scant advice on the technique, a couple of hand towels I was directed to the shower room.

Now the razors were of the mark I Bic disposable variety. I estimate the total cutting performance of each razor was a straight furrow of six inches before the blade lost 90 per cent of its functional enthusiasm. This was going to be a challenge of inexperienced technique and equipment limitations. But before Sweeney Todd could leap into action there was the matter of shaving foam. A liberal application around the site being duly applied I would draw attention to a small but highly relevant observation. Do not, repeat do not apply shaving foam that has a menthol base. The experience after some 15 seconds was truly awesome. The painful realisation of the cock up (if you pardon the pun) was growing in intensity. What to do? Option one; to run the length of the ward screaming like a girl complete with Dopler effect sound- grabbing jugs of water from the side tables of fellow patients as I passed had one drawback. It was a mixed ward and whilst the foam boxers would hide ones frontal appendage the arse would be on full view as I passed. Further, any dousing would subsequently reveal bits that only a mother could love.

Option two was to operate the shower. This was not as simple as it sounded. The non thermostatic controls for flow and temperature comprised  one hot and one cold tap – and the essential need of a continuing prayer that some bugger did not flush a toilet or run a sink tap. Luckily by the time I had established the ideal temperature the pain was subsiding. If I washed the wretched foam off I would only have to reapply it.

Option three adopted;- grin and bear it. Started out as running on the spot, progressing to a precocious stamping of one or other foot and ended and a rather fine example of Riverdance.

The pain subsided and the shaving began. Not only is everything upside down compared to shaving your face you are manoeuvering in unknown territory and find yourself muttering a constant mantra;  “This could hurt be very, very careful.” Bending double to maintain close scrutiny was a truly novel experience. The forestation from navel to mid section despite being relatively light quickly established the razor’s design inability to cope requiring considerable effort to un-bung the blades after every stroke. This was going to be a long job. As we approached the nether regions, where nature had previously increased the resilience of the hair; a fact that continues to mystify me, the going as they say got considerably tougher. Shaving contours resembling elbow skin and the fear of the slightest chance of a nick was overwhelming.

The final area extending down to mid thigh being downhill in more ways that one. Those bastard razors having long exceeded their design capability had resorted to a mechanical depilatory action that brought more tears to the eyes and the wonderment that women should regularly use such a barbaric activity on their legs.

The job was finally complete, the shower tuned and the debris washed away. Looking like a very old baby emphasised by the liberal application of talc I returned to the ward discreetly checking I had not been the subject of some nursing prank al la being sent to fetch a sky hook or tartan paint. It now all seems a distant memory except the constant reminder, four weeks later, that the undergrowth had returned and just how scratchy stubble can be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shower Disaster Results In Sticky End

The day started OK for Charles; sun shining, warm and the prospect of a summer’s day. A rare confluence for the UK, a scary moment, a freak set of parameters, something to be cherished. But before the PMA took too firm a hold his day changed. The refreshing start involving a bracing shower began to go tits up. An ominous smell developed from the shower pump; that of overheating electrical components and  melting insulation resin – the sure sign something inanimate was about to let go of this mortal world. The additional high pitch screeching that kicked in backed the initial diagnosis. The shower pump was demonstrating a distinct lack of enthusiasm. It was about to squeeze water for the last time.

On the positive side Charles had just rinsed the last of the foam leaving his bits shiny and ready for what else the day could throw up. The foam was the result of an error in his showering sequence. Being a soul who normally wore glasses, but understandably not in the shower, Charles had indulged in his penchant for using those little bottles of bathroom potions doled out by hotels. To him it was an amazing waste that the remains of the bottle of pampering potion used once in the hotel shower would be ditched after he had left. To Charles it made sound recycling sense to pop the thing in the wash bag for future use, possibly in those let’s rip every luxury out of the deal budget hotels.

And this was the day to consume one of the little blighters. The shampoo he recalled would anoint the follicles with Aloe Vera and all manner of exotic accoutrements promising golden shiny locks free of all imperfections, well at least 99.9 per cent of them. But the promise remained sadly unfulfilled. No foam, no soothing ingredients to activate his shiny locks, no lustrous dandruff free body to astound. The shampoo seemed to jam things up. It smelled OK but that was about the measure of it. And the ailing power shower, in the process of gasping its last, faltered. Time for Charles to step out of the shower and apply the body lotion stolen from the same source; its Ylang Ylang promise to be fulfilled.  Before taking off his glasses he recalled the emphatic instructions advising to “Apply the body lotion to the skin whilst still wet” and before using a towel. The process began, the gel generously massaged into the skin with the recommended circular and vigorous motion. Things were going well and the opportunity to relieve a bout of dry skin cherished. And then the OMG moment. The soothing gel began to lather; copious bubbles began to appear producing thick foam that began covering his whole body. Something was seriously going off plan. Groping for his glasses with frothy hands such that the lens was almost totally obscured he managed to squint at the label which revealed the nub of the issue. He was in the process of rubbing neat shampoo over parts of him that didn’t really appreciate it. Additionally he had washed his hair with body lotion. The panic set in; would there be any side effects from an attack of Ylang Ylang versus Aloe Vera, was there time to hose off the ingredients before the bloody shower pump ground to a halt? Could he spend the day looking like as if suffering a combined massive attack of hair gel and scurvy.

Initially Charles thought the squealing was mostly coming from him. The acrid aroma from the ailing pump developed. Time was critical, the profusion of foam from a months’ worth of shampoo proved quite reluctant to be hosed off. The thought of completing his day as a sticky mess, despite its enriching qualities was far from ideal. But he made it, just. Wet, foam free, staggeringly clean and a shower pump down could the day get better? Well not much. He also managed to smash a table lamp, a favourite beer glass and buy a replacement shower pump that just happened to have all the inlet and outlet connections the other way round that would require a plumbing job which would turn his original neat pipe layout into a bad attack of scribble. Oh well that’s tomorrows job, and after today’s blast he wouldn’t need to have another shower until the winter. Today he thought going back to bed it was safer.

One Man Went to Mow A Mountain

Frances and Raymond work hard.  They have built up their own business over the years working six days a week. So they play hard to compensate. To recharge they have a bolt hole in a secret location in southern France. They keep it secret in case Gerald Depardieu starts cold calling to say Russia is a better bet, or Francois Hollande to say it isn’t, or even David Cameron to ask if he can stay.

The house is a lovingly converted barn. Derelict to start with, now something Kevin McCloud would wax lyrical over, if he were invited, but he won’t be, what with sat nav and GPS the location could be blown and then suddenly a knock at the door and bloody David Cameron really does turn up.

Apart from coming from a family so populous the WHO has reclassified Fran’s family as a species in their own right. Frances, known as Fran to her friends and Frances to her family; discuss, is married to a gentleman known as Ray to the family and Raymond to everyone else.  This reversed nomenclature causes some doubt as to where you might stand in the relationship. Are you on a familiar verb structure, abbreviated form or confused.

In case you had avaricious thoughts the idyllic bolt hole in France has a dark side. Common with many French houses the garage is built underneath the house, or you if are so inclined the house is built on top of the garage. This is a splendid use of available land and a magnificent way to keep fit evidenced by the absence of overweight French. The reason; – try humping the weekly shop up the steps/slope to the front door. This has controlled their diet over the centuries. Don’t eat what you can’t carry. We should adopt this logic in the UK. MacDonald’s should all be located on the top floor of building with no lifts. Customers should be required to carry what they what to eat up the stairs.

The aforementioned dark side of having a garage on the bottom has nothing to do with a GP’s diagnosis  – means there is a stonking great slope. Just to make matters worse Fran and Ray’s house sits on the edge of a steep hill. The drive therefore runs in series of hairpins bends from the roof down three floors to the garage. Under no sober circumstances offer to mow the bloody grass on the said slope.

Fran and Ray's mountain slope IMG_0597

Having imbibed in some French artisan beer, which had a surfeit of alcohol, a staggering array of ingredients and as far as I could work out very little water content. Do not consider mowing the grass as a means of (a) thanking Fran and Ray for staying and keeping David Cameron at bay (b) working off the alcoholic haze that has unexpectedly arisen. But killing two birds seemed a great idea to the uninitiated at the time. I got the mower out. I stood and stared. The instructions were a series of hieroglyphics designed to overcome language barriers and making the starting procedure idiot proof. Clearly they never tested the logic with alcohol. Also if the thing had four wheels is it not beyond the wit of man to expect four wheel drive? But no, the rabbit and tortoise emblems had now’t to do with forward motion but merely the speed of the cutting blade. Now call me old fashioned but who wants to cut grass with the blades spinning anything short of the speed of sound. If weeds and long grass are to receive their just deserts you want to vaporise the buggers in a mist of chlorophyll at full tilt.

Fran has clearly upset Ray at some point, who subsequently bought her the mower from hell. Fran cuts the grass – Ray has no conscience. Anyway this bloody throbbing thing (another good reason not to drink before you mow) just stood there in testament that the invention of the wheel did not necessary mean self-propulsion. The grass slope loomed, shoving this beast up the 60 degree slope offered some slight compensation; going down was tad easier except deft footwork was then needed to apply sufficient friction to stop careering off the side of the mountain – mowing passing Douglas Firs as they slipped by. Such an event would also induce my tendency to scream like a girl with anything to do with heights.  Sherpa Tensing  bid a friendly wave as we passed in the direction of up, my sweating brow furrowed as I tried to recall the school boy French for oxygen – just in case input was needed by the paramedics. Mixed thoughts when I recalled after 30 minutes that oxygene was the answer.

Obsessed by the British need to apply stripes only added to the chagrin. Where is a passing Olympic bobsleigh team in search of practice when you need them. We shoved up and skidded down for an eternity. Thoughts of applying the coefficient of friction of grass to calculate whether any vehicle could climb the incline after I had laundered it just plainly got in the way and were abandoned. Sweat was pouring, hay fever had set in. The alcoholic haze long gone. Such fun. The throbbing beast with no intent of forward motion duly shut down. Dehydration now raised its head. I need a beer – no wait up – oh for Pete’s sake have you learnt nothing.

Sometimes It Is Impossible Not To Hear

Stamford is a great place to visit. Hidden in the top left hand corner of Lincolnshire this ancient town is full of surprises. A conservative bastion where ancient meets modern in an awkward challenge with the local trades.

The George is a charming hotel. Centuries of character have amassed an ambiance of log fires, nooks and crannies. The meeting place for farmers, professionals, aunts uncles, friends, relatives and acquaintances over three hundred years. It blends traditional with modern, traditional service with computerised registration, atmosphere with the electric light. It also displays laminated signs on all tables in the lounge announcing “Following complaints from fellow guests we ask you to refrain from using laptops, mobile phones or business paperwork in the lounge”. Obviously the management don’t have an opinion.

As a meeting point over the centuries this slight Luddite approach is a little strident. But it has hidden advantages. No shouts of “I’m in the George”, no conversations abruptly interrupted by the phone call that take precedent leaving you mid sentence. Instead you are entertained by amazing conversations from the clientele. Elderly folk also tend to shout; flat batteries or a stubborn refusal to accept reduced auditory capacity. No need to eavesdrop it all unfolds as a stage play around you.

“Isn’t this a splendid room now they have stopped people using mobile phones” heard 20 feet diagonally across the room.

“Mabel’s piles are giving her some right gipe at the moment”

“Did you know he’s having an affair with that butcher’s daughter?”

“ Jack, we have been here for 30 minutes why are still wearing your hat?”

“What hat?” “Oh my G’awd I didn’t know I was wearing one”

“One assumes you bathe rather than shower?”

The smart suited gentlemen in the corner looked as if he was there for a job interview. He was. Amazing how all job interviews follow the same track irrespective of seniority. Our guy was up for a senior post associated with the Air Force and what better place to conduct the interview than in a restaurant. Let’s grill the bugger ( no pun intended) whilst he has  a face full of lobster. Any spillage would drop points.

“Tell me what you think of the strategic implications facing the Air Force over the next ten years?”  A thought crossed my mind- clearly the biggest treat was its obsolescence due to the onset of cheaper unmanned aircraft. Some of the RAF reconnaissance aircraft currently in action in Iraq  are actually flown by American technicians – from  their base in Nevada. And having bought the Typhoon fighter we haven’t any cash left for the fuel. They only fly every third Wednesday after a whip round.

Wonder if he got the job, hopefully he plans to retire in nine years.

The use of notices in Stamford seems endemic. Shops are adorned with important notices;

“Please don’t let the door just close behind you. Close it firmly!”  Alternatively we could get the door closer fixed.

“We don’t accept credit or debits cards. Cheques ( what are they?) will be accepted with a bank card ( so they are aware of the power of plastic) but will be charged 35p handling change. Cash is acceptable providing we have change.” The same café presented a complex menu linked to time of day. You selected what you wanted and then checked if they were prepared to sell you it. Some snacks were only available between 10:30 and 12:00; others 11:00 to 2pm, or 12:00 to 3pm. Absolutely nothing would be sold after 15:00. They closed at 15:30, slow eaters presumably.

“Do not close this window.” Shouted a sign sellotaped to the closed window next to me. I sat in fear of a deft clout to the head from a well aimed frying pan.

“Bargain table at the back of the shop – Great Christmas bargains” It was early September, it was a kitchen equipment shop. The Christmas bargains were a tad eclectic. Merry Christmas here is pasta slicer and an unduly heavy, strange shaped jug from Le Creuset. But it got me into the shop, and I did enjoy the large paperclip that made an electronic noise of a frog –more closely matched to that of a donkey farting suggested by a little old lady fellow shopper. I have no experience with which to doubt her word.

The Accidental Management Guru

The character of Mayor Sidney Freeman the psychiatrist in the TV hit M*A*S*H had a great line; “Ladies and Gentlemen, take my advice, pull down your pants and slide on the ice”. Used with stunning effect in moments of psychological crisis the actual meaning of the phrase was never revealed. The recipient made his own interpretation which always fitted the circumstances.

I had similar experiences in management meetings. Not one known for brevity I was often accused of rambling, repeating the message, overstating the case or presenting a strangely hidden meaning. Actually it was a defence mechanism. By repeating the key points I was in the process of convincing myself and being slow witted it helped tremendously. But I discovered that the performance had a hidden effect. It inspired the audience to try and work out what the hell I was on about. It was if I was setting a challenge through some key points buried in the detail like a crossword puzzle they had to fathom out.

This spurred many an intelligent response “I see what he means”, or “I think he means” prefacing their reply. On most occasions their augments were by far better than the original point I was trying to make. They turned to acknowledge an intellect with hidden depth, a management guru, a philosopher. I masked bewilderment with a flick of the wrist but also a lasting a regret I had never thought of saying “Pull down your pants and slide on the ice.” It would have been so much more impressive and more to the point, whatever it was.

Whip Crackaway

So it came to pass that Rodrigo and Fernando bounced onto the stage to demonstrate their prowess in the use of the bullwhip. No everyone’s cup of tea, but over the years they had built up a presentation that revealed an extraordinary precise skill in whip cracking that commanded attention.

And then it happened. The whip cracking duo, resembling a couple of peacocks strutting about the stage, would crack and walk. The sacrificial end of the whip slowly disintegrating as it passed through the sound barrier producing the loud associated crack! A few moments into the 15 minutes routine they faced each other and were to produce a double crack. But with freak and unbelievable precision timing the whips moved through the air to intertwine by about eight feet. The snap action created by Rodrigo and Fernando induced the whip to reverse direction at a combined speed of Mach 2.0. The resultant boom was phenomenal. As was the fact that eight feet of each whip disintegrated in the conflagration. The duo were stunned, the audience mesmerised. And then the reality of the consequence. From now on the whips severally curtailed length impaired length could only imitate the sound of a lethargic snap of the fingers. A damp squid.

The proceedings of the stage act became severally curtailed. The removal of each other hats, the obligatory snuffing of a lighted cigarette in the mouth abandoned. The act scheduled to last 15 minutes was over in 15 seconds. They could do no more than bow to an ecstatic audience who thought the opening double sonic boom was the taster of more elaborate things to come. Leave the audience clamouring for more was their motto and by Jove they earned that night.

Trainer Shoes Worn By Elderly Fashionistas

Have you noticed the strange footwear adopted by elderly peeps. This is not meant in any derogatory sense, for I am physically approaching such a classification although have a mental age of around 33. Just take a sneaky peak at oldies footwear next time you are out and about.

Firstly, you need to discount couples who are dressed alike. The matching anorak brigade. They have other issues and need compassion. The rest of we snowdrops have a predilection for wearing, well, comfortable trainer shoes. These need not follow any fashion trend as we are past caring, thus price can come to the fore in the purchase criteria.

Weird coloured trainer shoes abound sporting huge soles extending well beyond the upper to give inherent strategic balance, . These are also very useful in soft snow. Flashing lights built into the heel are an option but with a little judicious probing with a sharp implement you should be able to wreck the electronic circuit, short the battery or zap the LED lights. Care needs to be taken when matched with ancient attire. The shiny trousers sans crease that have long lost their reason for being should be avoided. They divert attention from the shoes and the inevitable short leg length of the trouser, due to shrinkage in the wash, will reveal any mismatched socks.

Harmonised dress sense has no truck here. And why should it, we aim to impress no-one, we are resplendent in heavily discounted footwear that is comfortable and with any luck made of Gortex whose technical properties we care not a jot except that they don’t leak in the rain or when jumping in puddles – which we don’t do of course unless accompanied by a grandchild – even then only if unaccompanied by their parents.

So take a look around young person and eat your heart out. We oldies are plodding around the planet with abandon. Due to the surface area in contact with the pavement we have a reduced capacity to fall over and a huge increase in traction. It also means the transition from inclined to horizontal at the end of escalators can be bridged under foot without predetermined fancy footsteps, ‘appen a bit of burning rubber whilst the rheumatic hip joint permits  forward motion again but no real drama.

We are masters of common sense and if adorned with some zany trainers mask your ridicule and think on. The snowdrops will probably leave a little more in the inheritance kitty saved from buying toe pinching, heel rubbing, and bunion crunching fashion shoes that cost a fortune. And watch the will does not leave you a pair of cherished wide rimmed non flashing trainers with miles left on the clock.

Image courtesy www.freedigitalphotos.net

Monica Is Thrust Into The Limelight

It wasn’t planned but that night Monica was to make a lasting impression on a crowd of people she had never met that was also to be a turning point in her career.

Cast your mind back to the number of fads you can recall (An intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, esp. one that is short-lived; a craze.) OK that’s probably enough already. The one I have in mind is the medieval banquet. If you have kids under 15 years old they will now look at you a little strange and wonder how, you as parents, can dance using your thumbs and were capable of also bringing up kids. Ah! the medieval banquet; the chance to experience the cuisine and eating habits of our ancestors. We queued at the upmarket versions of this must go event to be dressed in some strange “authentic” garb handed to us as we entered the great 12th century hall converted from an empty cellar. The illusion being somewhat shattered by the “made in China labels” on everything. We stumbled in the candle light from bulrush lanterns, caught flowing sleeves on furniture and slid down refectory benches to an allotted spot. Finally draped with an authentic linen bib to catch food particles we were ready to be fed from a menu comprising entirely of roast meat.

And then the rules and regulations deemed essential to capture the spirit of the occasion. Wine to drunk from wooden goblets, and you really didn’t want to know how they were cleaned; food served on wooden platters or on bread trenchers and eaten using fingers. And mead, red wine, strange chants, more wine and the inhibitions slid away. What great times and such a total success they like all fads, expired are now all but a memory. The medieval banquet fad now needs explanation to a generation of children who look at you with wide incredulous eyes. Eating with fingers is second nature to many of our grazing children. Maybe a fad two hundred years in the future will feature the eating of beef burgers and pizzas from mock polystyrene and cardboard containers.

And so to the entertainment. This particular event had failed to find lute players and the jester had been let go after an unfortunate series of ill-judged jokes. But this left a career changing moment of glory for Monica. For months she had been practicing her new act as a flame eater. The insurance had finally paid out on the “freak incidents” occurring in a sequence of garden sheds, she was ready to seek the recognition from a live audience. She also needed some cash as the next instalment on the flame eating paraphernalia bought on the internet was due. Tonight was to be her launch pad. And it went extremely well. A couple of wobbly moments; her juggling skills need some work, but the knife with the burning handle which impaled itself in the refectory table after a slight timing error,  shedding a burning ring of paraffin, was judged a huge success. But the piece de resistance was yet to come.

Conventionally fire eaters take a gulp of paraffin, a little of which is used to spray fuel  that is then ignited by adjacent burning torch. One mouth full is enough to create five or six bursts of flame. But our Monica decided at that very moment to create a slightly different effect. She sneezed. The mouthful of fuel in her mouth was discharged at around 700 miles per hour – (the speed of a human sneeze measured in research experiments). The flame then ignited the highly atomised fuel allowing Monica to experience the phenomena first discovered by Sir Frank Whittle ( the inventor of the jet engine). The flame produced sufficient thrust to propel her backwards whilst still standing for around 15 feet. The effect was mesmerising. The audience spellbound. Okay the heat from the jet wash severely damaged several mock polystyrene oak beams of the “Great Hall” but this wasn’t to be discovered until the following day by the cleaners. Monica, traumatised by the event was heard to utter a single adjective over what seemed several minutes. SH*T had never been applied with such passion, significance or apt application. The audience agreed its use seemed entirely appropriate in the circumstances. It even gained a nod of approval by the local vicar who although pausing mid quaff of mead, allowed it to then dribble down his chin, when he failed to spot he left the pouring action as work in progress.

Monica’s exploit received a standing ovation. Initially the shock of the event prevented the realisation it was she who was the focal point of the cheering. A feint smile, a nervous wave of the hand. Her mind was racing; was anyone injured from the jet blast? More importantly how to continue? She knew then on everything from in her act would be a total anti-climax. She also knew she had blown both the act and the last of her stock of paraffin. Sod it she thought; finish on a high. Thus she gathered her equipment, bowed low to her elated audience and left the stage, the building and regretfully her act. Once the insurance claim had been settled the owner implored her to return but Monica felt she had a lucky escape and fate and insurance claims needed no further test.