A wry view of life for the world-weary

Monthly Archives: November 2013

Surprise Of The Week

Video of everyday life in the Faroe Islands

Rest assured, the whale died of natural causes.



Game Bird Of The Week



If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, so they say and it seems that this is the policy that 21-year-old Brazilian model, Catarina Migliorini, is adopting.

Last year she auctioned her virginity via an internet auction and the winning bid of $780,000 sealed the deal for a Japanese millionaire. Unfortunately for Catarina, the winner didn’t come up with the goods – the moolah, you understand – and so the unfortunate lass still remains in a state of grace.

Undaunted, she has decided to try again and aspiring suitors can place their bids on her new website.

Here in some parts of Blighty, I’m told, a couple of glasses of lukewarm Blue Nun usually does the trick!


What A Way To Go – Part Fifteen


Continuing our occasional series of unusual (and amusing) deaths

Sir Arthur Aston (1590 – 1649)

Sir Arthur, a native of Cheshire and from a prominent Catholic family, was a career soldier who prior to getting entangled in the English Civil War saw considerable service as a mercenary in the Polish-Swedish wars, being taken prisoner by the Swedes near Danzig in 1627. As is the way with mercenaries, upon his release he joined the Swedes and was contracted to raise an English army which he did in 1631 and which fought in Germany.

Although he was doubtless an accomplished soldier, when the English Civil War broke out, Charles I was reluctant to use his services because of Aston’s Catholicism but Prince Rupert interceded on his behalf and he saw service on behalf of the king during the Edgehill campaign. Then when Charles captured Oxford, which he made his capital, Aston was sent to command an outpost at Reading. There he became deeply unpopular with the locals because of his authoritarian behaviour and demonstrated a degree of misfortune which was to dog him through the rest of his life when he was struck on the head by a falling tile whilst the garrison was being besieged. He was then captured by the Roundheads but gained his liberty as part of a prisoner exchange.

In late 1643 Aston became governor of Oxford, a post he held until the following September when he fell off his horse, lost a leg and had to have a false leg fitted – see picture. This led to his discharge from the army and the receipt of a large pension from his grateful king.

Aston next came into prominence during the Irish rebellion and he was appointed governor of the strategic port Drogheda in 1648. The following year Cromwell’s troops put the port under siege in what became the most vicious episode of the campaign. Eventually storming the town the Roundheads massacred many of the defending troops and citizens, forcing Aston to agree terms for surrender. Unfortunately, Cromwell’s troops reneged on the deal and proceeded to slay the rest of the unfortunate townsfolk.

Aston himself perished in what can only be described as unusual and amusing circumstances. The Roundheads took him prisoner and spotting his wooden leg surmised that he was using his prosthetic to conceal treasure. They ripped the wooden leg from Aston and in an attempt to break open the leg started beating him around the head with it. Unfortunately for the troops it contained no gold and, unfortunately for Aston, being made of solid wood inflicted injuries on him from which he expired. And so his long military career came to an ignoble end!

What Is The Origin Of (39)?…



Halcyon days

This phrase is a synonym for a calm and peaceful time.

Halcyon is the ancient Greek noun for what is now known as the European kingfisher, that small and beautiful sparrow-sized bird with blue plumage, orange underparts and a long bill which, if you are lucky, you might see by a river bank. It normally is seen as a blur of colour as it swoops to catch a fish.

The Roman poet, Ovid, tells a story of how the bird was able to calm the waves of the sea. Aeolus, the ruler of the winds, had a daughter called Alcyone who had married the king of Thessaly, Ceyx. The unfortunate Ceyx was drowned at sea and Alcyone , in despair, threw herself into the drink. However, instead of drowning she was transformed into a bird and was carried to her hubby by the wind.

The ancients believed that the Halcyon built its nest on the sea and needed a period of calm to hatch their eggs. A period of calm was anticipated when the Halcyon was nesting and the Halcyon days were a period of around fourteen days around the winter solstice commencing on 14th December.

The myth of the halcyon and its association with the calm weather needed by the bird to rear its young was well-known in mediaeval England and was recorded by John Trevisa in his translation of De proprietatibus rerum in 1398 thus, “In the cliffe of a ponde of occean, Alcion, a see foule, in wynter maketh her neste and layeth egges in vii days and sittyth on brood … seuen dayes.

By the time of Shakespeare halcyon had lost its specific association with the bird and had now come to represent calm as can be seen in Henry VI, Part 1, “Assign’d am I to be the English scourge/ This night the siege assuredly I’ll raise:/ Expect Saint Martin’s summer, halcyon days,/ Since I have entered into these wars”.

The kingfisher was ascribed other meteorological properties. It was popularly held in the mediaeval period that a carcass of a kingfisher which was hung out to dry would always point its beak in the direction of the wind – a sort of decomposing weather vane.

In modern times we associate halcyon days with times past and the phrase is generally used with some wistfulness as we reminisce upon warm summer days, probably when we were young, when life was carefree. In this context, the phrase has certainly lost association with the original period of halcyon days which were around the dead of winter.

So now we know!


Question Of The Week



Did Nigella marry Saatchi to have constant access to Charlie?

My Aim Is True

bog (1)


One of the areas of dispute between us chaps and the fairer sex is in the use of the toilet. For some reason they have this unrealistic expectation that after doing our business we will remember to put the seat of the toilet down. I ask you! And then the next bone of contention is the accuracy of our aim – after all, we only have a small target to aim at we cannot be expected to be unerring in our aim every time.

Thaler and Sunstein in their influential book on how to alter behaviour, Nudge, report how the authorities at Schipol airport put pictures of spiders in the urinals to give chaps something to aim at. Apparently it had an amazing effect on the accuracy of the users’ aim. Doubtless, though, for some who had visited the Dutch city and got the wrong idea about being a tripper, the sight of arachnids in the urinal did nothing to restore the equilibrium of their addled brains.

In a reflection of the feminist dominated society in which we live, there is a movement afoot to require chaps to sit down at the toilet, irrespective of what they need to do. One such attempt was proposed by Viggo Hansen, a county councillor from Sormland in Sweden. He argued that forcing men to sit down was better for public health because it reduced the splatter around the toilets and the spread of disease. Stephen Shen, head of the environmental protection agency in Taiwan, has also tried to impose these draconian measures. All they have done is provoke a stream of outrage but at least the debate is out there now.

Is there anything in their arguments? The scientific view is that urine is actually sterile and doesn’t contain any bacteria. You can actually drink it and it will not cause you any after effects – handy to know if you find yourself marooned on a desert island. So whilst puddles of urine around the toilet basin may be unsightly and upset the finer sensibilities of other users, they do not pose any overt health risks.

So what about the argument that sitting down actually aids a full release of the contents of your bladder and reduces the strain on your prostate? Again, there is no obvious correlation between sitting down to relieve yourself and improved healthiness of your prostate. However you choose to urinate, the very act will relax your prostate muscles.

Whether you sit or stand still remains a question of choice – apparently half the Japanese male population choose to sit to pee – and long may that remain the case. As the French say, Vive la difference!


Virtual Patronage



Having a brain wave can often be the start of your problems, not least because you normally need access to moolah to bring your idea to fruition. But where do you get it from?

Throughout history artists and musicians were reliant upon patronage. Some, such as the Medicis, were not entirely altruistic, seeing the patronage of art as a good way of cleansing the money they had made from usury. Nonetheless, even until recently arts groups were able to find sponsorship fairly easily or banks willing to lend money to support a business idea. Alas, not any more as someone who is associated with a longstanding arts festival well knows. Sponsorship money is not as readily available as it once was.

Although the internet has a lot to answer for, it has provided the platform for many an innovative idea. One such is Kickstarter which enables people with ideas to access funding from individuals. It uses what is known as crowdfunding techniques, allowing people to pitch their ideas and for individuals to pledge money to help bring them to fruition.

Like many a good idea, the concept is pretty simple. Project creators choose a deadline and a minimum funding goal. Visitors to the site review the project specs and decide whether to invest or not. A bit like Dragon’s Den, if the project doesn’t raise its minimum funding goal by the deadline, the project creator gets nothing.

Projects eligible for investment are in the following major categories: Art, Comics, Dance, Design, Fashion, Film and Video, Food, Games, Music, Photography, Publishing, Technology and Theatre. Kickstarter takes 5% of the funds raised. The scheme operates on an investor beware basis because there is no guarantee that the people who use Kickstarter to raise funds will actually deliver the project or that the project will ultimately meet the backers’ expectations.

Notwithstanding that, Kickstarter, which launched in the UK on 31st October 2012, has announced that £22.5m has been pledged, of which £17.1m has gone to 1,550 projects which have met their capital requirement. Apparently, some 323,282 have pledged money via the website. 25% of the successful fundraisers were associated with film and video, 13% associated with publishing ventures, a further 13% with games and 11% with music. The scheme, which originated in the US (natch) is migrating to Canada and Australia in the near future.

Perhaps this is what Cameron’s Big Society (remember that?) is all about. It is good to know that the internet is not all bad and a new source of artistic patronage has opened up. I will watch its progress with interest.


There Ain’t ‘Alf Some Clever Bastards – Part Twenty



Anthony E Pratt

The latest inductee to our Hall of Fame is the wonderfully named Anthony E Pratt whose surname, as events revealed, was quite appropriate.

Born in August 1903 in Balsall Heath, a suburb in Birmingham, our hero left school at the age of 15 to pursue a career in chemistry. However, he was also a very accomplished pianist and with the absence of formal chemistry qualifications blocking his progress in his chosen career, he decided to concentrate on honing his musical skills and earned a living playing piano recitals in country hotels and on cruise ships. During the Second World War Pratt worked in an engineering factory, the dull (but vital) work giving him time to think.

The inter-war years were the golden age of the detective novel – Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Dorothy L Sayers etc – and quite often the soirees that Pratt played at also  staged murder mystery extravaganza. With no television and restrictions on movement in force, evenings during the War were deadly dull. Pratt thought that a way to enliven evenings would be to develop a board game involving the unmasking of a murderer. A country house with all its sprawling rooms – so often the setting for a who-dunnit – could be hosting some form of evening entertainment. One of the guests could be found murdered, all the guests could fall under suspicion and by putting clues together the players of the board game could work out who the murderer was and how the crime had been committed.

And so the seeds of a game germinated in Pratt’s brain and during the course of 1943 he and his wife, Elva, had designed a game which was sufficiently well-developed that by 1st December 1944 he had filed for a patent. The game was originally called Murder and Elva designed the artwork that went along with the game.

The game was taken up by Waddingtons, who after a few minor modifications and a rebranding of the game to Cluedo – and amalgam of the word “Clue” and the Latin verb “Ludo”, to play – launched it in 1949. Sales weren’t brisk and by 1953 Waddington offered Pratt the princely sum of £5,000 for all the overseas rights of the game. Unfortunately, Pratt took the silver, the equivalent of around £106,000 in today’s money, but in the process he denied himself access to the millions that would have rolled as overseas sales picked up.

The British patent expired in the early 1980s and so the money from what became a pre-eminent parlour game dried up. Pratt died at the age of 90 in 1993 having suffered in his later years from Alzheimer’s disease.

Anthony, for developing a favourite game of mine, Cluedo, and foolishly tossing away the key to untold riches, you are a worthy inductee to our Hall of Fame.


If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Clever Bastards by Martin Fone which is now available on Amazon in Kindle format and paperback. For details follow the link

It’s The Way I Tell ‘Em (10)



More high-brow jokes

  • What did the sub-atomic duck say? Quark, quark
  • There are two signs of genius. The first sign is that they always forget things. The second is – oh, I can’t remember
  • A skeleton walks into a bar and asks for a pint and a mop.
  • A 19th century explorer is mapping the American West and comes across a tribe of natives. He is taken to see the chief. He enters the teepee to find that the chief has three wives. Two of them are holding sons in their laps and are sitting on old deer hide rugs. The third has no son but is sitting on a beautiful hippopotamus hide rug.
    The explorer asks ‘Why, chief, do you privilege the wife who bears you no children over the two who do?’ The chief responds ‘I love all my wives equally. The two who have children are happy for their sons. My third wife is barren, so I make up her lack of children by giving her a beautiful hide to sit on.’ The explorer thinks a bit and says, “So what you mean is the squaw of the hippopotamus is equal to the sons of the squaws of the other two hides?”
  • Salman Rushdie is writing a vegan cookbook. It is called The Seitanic Verses.
  • Why doesn’t Derrida like Christmas? Because he was denied presence.
  • “How’s that paper coming along?” “Slowly, of course, It’s on Dante”
  • Why did the Marxist cross the road? Historical inevitability!!!!
  • Did you hear about the post-modern mafia? They’ll make you an offer you can’t understand.
  • An SQL query walks into a bar, goes over to two tables and asks “Can I join you?”.
  • What were Mayakovsky’s last words before he committed suicide? “Comrades, don’t shoot!”
  • And finally (for now) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis decide to make a film about the lives of famous composers. Bruce Willis says, “I’ll be Beethoven!” Sylvester Stallone says, “I’ll be Mozart!” and finally Arnold Schwarzenegger says, “I’ll be Bach.


Book Corner



The Sleepwalkers – Christopher Clark

We are girding our loins to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War – the so-called war to end all wars which was followed up by the Second World War just over twenty years later. Already there is a flood of books raking over the coals of the events leading up to and during the war, Clark’s being just one such.

If there is one area of controversy remaining in what you would think to be a series of events and circumstances and events so well-known as to brook no hint of controversy (by 1991 alone there were some 25,000 books and articles published on WW1), it is who was to blame for the catastrophe. In the post war settlement, the ill-considered and fateful Treaty of Versailles, the vindictive victorious Allies sought to pin the blame squarely on the militaristic hubris of the defeated Germans. Some historians, such as A J P Taylor, argued that the outbreak of the war was the inevitable conclusion of rigid plans, railway schedules and treaty commitments. In the early 1960s German historian, Fritz Fischer, argued that the outbreak of the war was Germany’s pre-emptive strike to break the threat posed to them by the growing industrial might of France and Russia. Open a book and you will find another interpretation of the events.

Clark, in what is a well-written and well-researched but over-long book, takes the view that there is no one culprit, that there is no one standing over the body with a smoking gun as you might find in an Agatha Christie murder story. He describes the war as a tragedy, not a crime.

Clark takes as his starting point the assassination of king Alexander I of Serbia by a terrorist group known as the Black Hand in 1903, the same group who assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. He shows by detailed analysis of the ebb and flow of party influence in each of the major capitals, Vienna, Paris, St Petersburg, London and Berlin, the tensions between military leaders and politicians, the prejudices and high-handed behaviour of some of the key protagonists and the move and counter-moves of the major powers meant that the slightest friction would be enough to spark a catastrophic chain of events. The emergence of Serbia from Ottoman rule and its aggressive and expansionist policies underpinned by terrorist activities (sounding familiar to modern ears?) backed by the dominance of the pro-Slavists in the Russian court who saw the state as a means to put pressure on the ambitions of the Austrians was sufficient to create the spark.

The complex strategic alliances between the great powers designed as part of a grand diplomatic chess game to balance and counter-balance each other’s global ambitions spun a web from which the major powers could not break out. Clark’s central thesis (and hence the title of his opus) was that there was no desire or ambition on the part of the major protagonists to go to war. They were just sucked in by events, hence the title’s reference to somnambulism.

It is a detailed account and often repeats events although from different perspectives, inducing a state of narcolepsy in the inattentive reader.

A well-argued thesis but not for the faint-hearted