A wry view of life for the world-weary

Monthly Archives: December 2016

Christmas Decorations Of The Year (2)


If you’ve got some pot plants lying around at this time of the year, the temptation must be great to deck them with tinsel. Alas, this ruse did not throw the boys in blue from Gloucestershire when they raided a house suspected of being a small cannabis factory.

A couple had their collars felt and are up before the beak in February. Full marks for effort, though.


Gin o’Clock – Part Nineteen


The ginaissance has spawned a phenomenal number of new, independent distillers, all jostling for attention and your hard-earned cash. It is hard to even make modest inroads into what is available. And that is not counting those distillers who were ploughing a furrow before the latest gin craze took off, those you might call the Martin Peters of the gin world, some ten years ahead of their time.

One of the gins in the vanguard of the ginaissance is our featured gin, Bulldog London Dry Gin which is branded as an independent gin for the independent thinker. Personally I find that after a few gins the ability to think independently or at all rapidly diminishes but I think I understand what they mean. The brain child of a former J P Morgan banker, Anshuman Vohra, it is distilled on contract by our old friends, G & J Distillers of Warrington, and has been on the market since October 2006.

It has a very distinctive bottle, squat and dark grey, if not black in colour. The neck is wide and is studded in the manner of a dog collar. The labelling is white and strikes a rather defiant tone, “Bulldog guards the time-honoured tradition of distilling, meeting all opposition with brilliant character and a palatable disposition. Respect its spirit and it will remain forever loyal”. The marketeers seem to be linking the hooch to the mythical bulldog spirit of Churchill and World War Two. I can see the link with independence but we seem to be straying too close to Brexit for my liking. It is a gin, after all, not a philosophical or political manifesto.

The stopper is a screw cap, large and clunky, masking a conventionally sized neck to the bottle. To the nose the crystal clear spirit has a pronounced juniper smell with a hint of lime. Make no mistake, this is a classic London dry gin. To the taste it is smooth, well balanced and slightly spicy leaving a pleasant and satisfying warm aftertaste. At 40% ABV it is just right and smooth enough to be the base for a cocktail or to host a tonic.

So what is in it? There are twelve botanicals in all used in its quadruple distillation process. There are nine we have encountered before  – juniper (natch), lemon peel, almond, cassia, lavender, orris, liquorice, angelica and coriander. What gives it its unusual twist and a hint of the orient are the three other botanicals dragon eye, poppy and lotus leaves. For the uninitiated (me included) dragon eye is a literal translation of the Chinese pinyin or longan, an edible fruit akin to the lychee. It gets its name because when shelled the fruit resembles an eyeball. it is sweet, juicy and succulent and is often used in Chinese cuisine. Its taste differs from that of the lychee in that its sweetness has a much drier flavour.

My sense is that these exotic flavourings whilst blending perfectly to give a balanced gin don’t stand out. Still, it is a very welcome addition to my collection and is an ideal opener to an evening’s session.

The Feast of Mammon has come and gone and Santa Claus has brought me some new gins to add to my collection and to explore. I will report on them in due course. Cheers!

There Ain’t ‘Alf Some Clever Bastards – Part Sixty Three


Philo T Farnsworth (1906 – 1971)

Christmas has come and gone and many of us will have spent more time than we would care to admit slumped somnolently in front of a glowing rectangular box transmitting what passes for entertainment these days. Yes, the television. I had always assumed that John Logie Baird was the brains behind the gogglebox but recently I was alerted to the endeavours of Utah born scientist, Philo Farnsworth, the latest to be enrolled into our illustrious Hall of Fame.

Philo, who had already shown his mettle as a child by winning a national contest for inventing a tamper-proof lock, was an avid reader of science magazines.  He became interested in the concept of television and quickly deduced that the mechanical systems that were being suggested would be too slow to scan and assemble the many images required to put on a moving picture show. In a chemistry lesson at school he sketched out an idea for a vacuum tube that would revolutionise the TV, although no one realised it at the time. By the age of 16 he had worked out the basic outlines of a functioning electronic television.

In 1926 Philo raised some money to fund his work – $6,000 from private investors and $25,000 from Crocker First National Bank of San Francisco – and on 7th September 1927 made his first successful electronic television transmission, filing for a patent that year. Continuing to work on and perfect the equipment Farnsworth gave his first demonstration to the press in September 1928. But as you would come to expect with our inductees, trouble was just round the corner. His backers were keen to capitalise on their investment and entered into talks with RCA.

RCA sent their head of TV, Vladimir Zworykin, to review Farnsworth’s work. Zworykin was by no means an impartial assessor – after all, he was working on similar ideas for the American corporate – and concluded that whilst his receiver, the kinescope, was superior, Farnsworth’s video camera tube which dissected images and was essentially what he had sketched out in his science lesson a few years earlier was the bee’s knees. To buy him out RCA offered Farnsworth $100,000, an offer he rejected.

The 1930s saw Farnsworth embroiled in legal battles with RCA who claimed that his inventions were in violation of a patent filed earlier than his by Zworykin. The resources of RCA funded a series of actions, appeals and counter-appeals and it was not until 1939 that they agreed to pay Farnsworth $1m for his patents. The Second World War put a stop on TV production and by the time peace returned, Philo’s patents had expired in any case.

The decade of legal battles had taken its toll on Farnsworth’s health – he had a nervous breakdown in the late 1930s – but in 1947 his company Farnsworth Television produced its first TV set. The company, though, was unable to compete with the giants of the industry, particularly RCA, got into financial difficulties and was taken over by IT&T in 1949. Farnsworth was retained as vice president of research but the battle for primacy in the TV market was lost.

Worse was to follow. He moved back to Utah to continue research on technologies such as radar, infra-red telescopes and nuclear fusion but his company, Philo T Farnsworth Association went bankrupt in 1970. Philo then took to drink and died of pneumonia in Salt Lake City on 11th March 1971. It was only through the efforts of his wife, Pem, that Farnsworth’s part in the development of TV has been belatedly recognised, being inducted into the San Francisco Hall of Fame and the Television Academy of Fame.

Philo, for playing a major part in the development of TV and not profiting from it, you are a worthy inductee into 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

Christmas Decorations Of The Year


The seaside town of Blackpool is famous for its illuminations but one resident, Steve McGawley, got into a bit of bother with his external Christmas decorations. The lights, rather amateurishly strung up at the front and back of his property in Rodwell Walk, featured a bell and the word END and a penis followed by the word C**T.

Neighbours complained and the old bill attended the scene. After a Monty Pythonesque ten minute argument during which McGawley refused to take them down, he had his collar felt and was charged with a public order offence.


The lights have been taken down and replaced with strings which read Sorry and LOL. Personally, all external Christmas decorations are offensive but the effect has rather been lost here, methinks.


Christmas Crackers Of The Year (2)


More of the best cracker jokes of 2016 for your delectation:-

Why can’t the England football team play Yahtzee this Christmas? Because they got rid of Allardyce.

Why is Bob Dylan’s sleigh so quiet? Because it has Nobel.

Who might be cooking Christmas dinner at No 10 this year? Theresa May.

Why can’t Mary Berry eat turkey sandwiches? Paul Hollywood took all the bread.

Why doesn’t Sam Allardyce help load Santa#s sleigh. Because it took him 67 days to get the sack.

Why did the snowman pull out of Strictly? Because he got cold feet.

What does Nigel Farage do to the hall with boughs of holly? He Dexit.

What did Tim Peake get in his stocking this year? Galaxy and Milky Way.

Why did Ed Balls fail an audition to play one of Santa’s reindeer in a Christmas pantomime? Because he’s no Dancer.

What’s Donald Trump’s favourite type of ice cream? Wall’s.

Why’s Santa going around the world this Christmas Eve? He’s playing Pokemon Ho Ho Ho.

How do snowmen leave the EU? They trigger Icicle 50.

And finally, what is the best Christmas present in the world? A broken drum. You just can’t beat it.

Christmas Crackers Of The Year


To bring some post-Christmas cheer here is a selection of the best cracker jokes of 2016 for your delectation:-

How do you recognise a Christmas tree from BHS? All the branches have gone.

I bought my Mum Mary Berry’s cookbook for Christmas, I tried to get Paul Hollywood’s but he had sold out.

What is David Cameron’s favourite Christmas song? All I want for Christmas is EU.

Why has Hillary Clinton asked Santa for a 23-letter alphabet? Because she is sick of F-B-I.

Why didn’t Roy Hodgson go to visit Santa at the North Pole? He couldn’t get past Iceland.

Why are Jeremy Corbyn’s Christmas cards on the floor? His cabinet collapsed.

Prince Philip looked out of the window on Christmas Eve. “That’s some reindeer”, he says. The Queen replies, “63 years. Yes, that’s a lot”.

What’s the difference between the clementine in your Christmas stocking and Donald Trump? Nothing, they’re both a little orange.

What do you get if you cross Donald Trump with a Christmas carol? O Comb Over Ye Faithful.

What’s the best advice you can give at the UKIP Christmas Party? Avoid the punch.

Why did the three wise men only have frankincense and myrrh? Because Team GB took all the gold.

Which parent is likely to do the Christmas shop at Tesco this year? Dad might, Marmite not.

More tomorrow, if you can stand it!

Round Up Of The Week


My lawyers have asked me to point out that my departure from the London work and social scene in late 2015 and London’s subsequent fall from first to second in the cocaine usage stakes – behind Antwerp, would you believe – is purely coincidental.

Our benighted Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, has just got into a spot of bother for “dooring” a cyclist, knocking one off their bike whilst opening a car door. Despite our local council spending a fortune introducing cycle ways – a pot of white paint and some bollards to bifurcate the footpath into a lane for cyclists and one for pedestrians – many still insist on using the road. I was nearly a victim of dooring a few weeks back. I was innocently opening the door of my car when I was descended upon by a pack of cyclists. My door, fortunately, was able to retract in time, otherwise, we might have seen an interesting example of the domino theory in play.

The Dutch, sensible people in most things, I find, other than politics, have the answer to the problem. They recommend that you open the door with the hand furthest away from it – a right-hand door with your left. This manoeuvre forces you to look backwards and spot any oncoming cyclist. Contact can be guaranteed every time rather than just leaving it to blind chance.

Best cracker joke of 2016 – what will be different about Christmas dinner after Brexit? No Brussels.


I would like to wish all my readers and followers a happy Christmas.

What Is The Origin Of (109)?…


A man of straw

It is a long time, if I ever truly was, since I could have been described as a man of straw, a phrase we use to describe someone without any assets. It is often used in a judicial context when damages are being awarded against someone only for their lawyer to point out that they are a man of straw without two farthings to rub together.

In 1823 John Bee defined a man of straw in his Dictionary of the Turf as “a bill acceptor, without property – no assets”. Gambling which is the natural concomitant of horse racing is prone to leave the unsuccessful punter financially embarrassed and it is not too fanciful to think of it as bookies’ argot for someone who hasn’t the assets to back his wager. In the 17th century there was a proverb which contrasted straw with gold – “a man of straw is worth a woman of gold” – a tad sexist for sure but the sense surely is linking straw with a lack of assets. Quite how it gravitated into the court room is anyone’s guess – perhaps some lawyers or judges were patrons of the race course and adopted this colourful phrase for their own purposes.

For farmers one of the perennial battles is keeping birds and other predators from their seeds and a popular device over the ages to achieve this is to erect a scarecrow in the field which had a vaguely human form and was often stuffed with straw. Inevitably, a straw man became a synonym for a decoy or a dummy or a sham. The Return of Parnassus, the third of three plays performed in London as part of the Christmas festivities of St John’s, Cambridge and dating from between 1598 and 1602, has this marvellous line, “he braggs…of his liberalitie to schollers..but indeed he is a meere man of strawe, a great lump of drousie earth”.

Another sense soon developed, that of an artificial construct for the purposes of refuting the arguments and enhancing the power and brilliance of your own logic. In 1624 T Gataker wrote in A Discussion of the Popish Discussion of Transubstantiation “to skirmish with a man of straw of his owne making”. In Advice to the Men of Shaftesbury, printed for John Smith in 1681, we find “I rather suppose the Some that say so never were men of God’s making but mere men of straw set up by Master Bencher, for a Tryal of his own Skill in Confutation”. In describing the format of the Socratic dialogues T DeQuincey wrote in 1859 “in fact, Socrates and some man of straw or good humoured nine-pin set up to be bowled down as a matter of course”.

The phase spawned a variant, particularly common across the pond, straw man which was used to suggest an artificial opponent as in this usage in The Philosophical Review of 1895, “or, better, against a straw-man which he constructs himself…”  In more recent popular culture the most famous straw man quote appeared in the film, the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy slaps the paw of the Cowardly Lion, saying “It’s bad enough picking on a straw man, but when you go picking on poor little dogs.” Of course, the straw man refers to a scarecrow and is not used metaphorically.

More recently, the phrase is increasingly used as a compound adjective as in straw-man device or technique or issue, to describe something which has been floated to be tested and, if necessary, knocked down, a variant of our Aunt Sally.

So now we know!

Gin o’Clock – Part Eighteen


The Scots may be losing out in the whisky stakes to the Japanese but they are putting in a spirited performance with their premium gins. In my exploration of the ginaissance some of my favourites to date have been distilled north of the border. Perhaps this is not too surprising because in the mid to late 18th century the city of Edinburgh was a hub of distilling expertise. In 1777 there were eight licensed distilleries in the city and Port Leith area as well as upwards of 400 illegal stills.

In the early 19th century John Haig took over Leith’s first legal distillery, the Leith distillery, and the port area was soon established as a centre for rectifying and distilling as well as exporting rectified grain spirit to the distillers in the English capital. In 1823 duties on Scottish spirit were halved which meant that better quality spirit in larger volumes could be sent south of the border. The English distillers were soon up in arms and Parliament rescinded the tax break. This ostensible set back only fuelled Scottish ingenuity. By 1826 Robert Stein had invented  a new method of continuous distillation – a process further improved by the Irish distiller, Aeneas Coffey – which speeded up the process and allowed the use of cheaper grains rather than the more expensive malt barley.

The result was that inexpensive, lighter, neutral grain spirit was available to the London distillers by the gallon, leading many of them to move away from the sweeter Old Tom gin and to develop the London Dry. London Dry as a style has ruled the roost pretty much ever since.

With this heritage it is perhaps surprising to discover that there is only one gin distillery currently operating in the centre of Edinburgh, in Rutland Place in EH1 to be precise, and then only since 2014, a claim that The Spencerfield Spirit Company went to court to prove when Pickering’s Gin made a counter claim on their website. A prickly lot are the Scottish gin distillers, for sure.

Our featured gin this month, Edinburgh Gin, supplied by the ever reliable, comes from the Spencerfield stable. Ironically, it started life out in 2010 in England at the Langley Distillery in Birmingham, although a 200 year old Scottish copper pot boasting the sobriquet of Jenny was used in the process. Using finest Scottish grain spirit together with juniper, coriander, citrus peel, angelica and orris root the spirit was then shipped up to Edinburgh where locally sourced botanicals such as heather, milk thistle, pine and juniper berries were added. It was only in 2014 that the whole process was migrated up to Edinburgh.

The bottle has an art deco feel about it using black and grey shades against a white background on the labelling. Edinburgh Gin is embossed in the glass and the stopper is synthetic. To the nose the gin which has an ABV of 43% has a piney and spicey aroma. To the taste the crystal clear spirit is very junipery with spices coming through with a creamy texture. The aftertaste is predominantly one of pepper and pine. Tasted neat and with the obligatory Fever-Tree mixed it had a very pleasing warm and smooth feel to it. A definite hit.

Until the next time, cheers!

Book Corner – December 2016 (2)


The French Revolution: From Enlightenment to Tyranny – Ian Davidson

Rather like the First and Second World Wars you would think that the last thing the world needs is another book raking over the coals of the French Revolution. But this book gives a refreshingly clear and thought provoking account of the seismic events that gripped la belle France without the usual Dantonist or Robespierrist guillotines being ground. Some of the themes that Davidson focuses on are remarkably relevant today.

Although the popular conception of the revolution centres around the storming of the Bastille, the execution of Louis XVI and the Terror or, as Robespierre styled it, the despotism of liberty, Davidson is at pains to show that the genesis of the revolution was from the bourgeoisie, frustrated by the glass ceiling imposed by the aristocrats and clergy and endorsed by the monarchy that prevented their advancement. Their aim was to build a better state and one of their first acts was to draw up a Declaration of the Rights of Man upon which many that are in existence today are based. They also introduced a form of elected local administration in France which is still used today. The revolutionaries were respecters of and felt bound by the law.

Davidson points out that the period was a time of revolutionary ferment across many parts of Europe but mostly the upstarts were successfully resisted by the monarchs and aristocrats of those counties. In France, however, Louis just caved in. And this caused the Revolutionaries no end of problems – what to do with him but, more importantly, what to replace him with. They never really solved this problem leaving a power vacuum that allowed factionalism to run rife and the unscrupulous to seize control.

Economics played a major role in the fortunes of the revolution. The assignats, bonds issued by the National Assembly from 1789 and underwritten by the sale of the newly nationalised properties of the church, were a piece of financial engineering that the Bulls of Wall Street would have been proud of and caused, inevitably, rampant inflation.. This in turn meant that the living conditions of the lower classes – variably in my edition described as sans culottes, sans-culottes and sansculotes – some editorial consistency on so vital a term would not have gone amiss – were unbearable. Attempts to control prices of basic foodstuffs failed miserably.

The lumpen prole was there for the unscrupulous politicians to manipulate – resonances of the EU Referendum if there ever were ones – and the pressure from the bottom together with the factionalism that the power vacuum had created meant that the enlightened principles of the early part of the revolution went out of the window. Instead, violence, waves of unspeakable barbarity and mob rule backed by the absence of the rule of law took centre stage.

It is remarkable that the revolution lasted as long as it did and no surprise that it was replaced by the dictatorship of Bonaparte who had worked his way up the greasy pole as one of the butchers of the reign of terror.

The book is full of fascinating insights. The Assembly chamber was narrow and wide and the radicals sat on the left of the chair and the moderates to the right, giving us the left and right political short-hand we use to this day.

An engaging read and if you really feel the need to understand the French Revolution, this is the book to go to.