PC 29 Cards & Post Cards

When Celina and I moved to Hove in 2012, it was very apparent from the outset that there was little storage space in our apartment – no garage, no cellar and no loft! A lot of ‘stuff’, an over-worked modern word for everything and anything, had to go. I hate throwing things out, never knowing when they might ‘come in useful’, but that’s the whole issue; when might they come in useful? Next week? Next month? Next year? In five years’ time? I admit to keeping some things for really no good reason, apart from being a bit of a romantic. For instance, I have a collection of cards/post cards which bring back some lovely memories. Of course the original Post Card had ‘Post Card’ printed on the front; then came ‘picture post cards’ with a photograph of something on the front and space on the back to write the address and ‘Wish you were here’, which probably was not wholly true! So here is a selection of some of my cards I simply cannot throw away!

I’ve been known for having a positive attitude towards life, something I tried to work into my coaching assignments. ‘Bestie’ is a card illustrator. One client sent me a Bestie card depicting a man lying in a distressed state in the gutter and a stranger walking by; both wear Biblical clothing. The walking man turns to the chap in the gutter and says: “Oh! Stop moaning about your problems and pull yourself together.” And the card is entitled: ‘The Bad Samaritan’!

The Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney has the most mesmeric installation I’ve ever seen. One hundred and three large stones from a river bed, suspended in a horizontal circle 11 metres in diameter by wire, no one stone touching another. Google it (Ken Unsworth) to see it! Just amazing; I treasure that memory ….. so I keep the card.

In the early 1980s I had to go and do a military reconnaissance of some type in Gibraltar and stayed in the Royal Air Force Officers’ Mess. My memory is a little vague, but somehow I’ve ended up with a 1930’s sepia photographic post card of a scantily-clad lady …. and on the back ‘The Thespians’ have written “Richard, Richard, Richard, where are you ….?!” and added ‘love’!. Maybe this should have been classified as much as the reconnaissance?!!

When I left Morgan & Banks to start up “The Yellow Palette”, my own coaching business, there was the obligatory farewell gift and the card signed by everyone in the office! Bestie again, showing a chap sitting at a table doing an exam. “While answering a question on surrealism his pen ran out”; and the pen has jumped off the table and is running out of the card!

I love the female body and admire those who have captured the essence of femininity. I have four cards: Modigliani’s female nude circa 1916, the photographer Annie Leibovitz’s depiction of Lauren Hutton lying in a sea of mud, Matisse’s Large Pink Reclining Nude 1935 and my favourite, Willy Ronis’s wife Marie-Anne. This famous black & white photograph shows her at their house in Gordes in Provence, naked, washing her face from a bowl; a pitcher of water stands on the rough stone floor.

There must be something about Bestie’s humour that gets to me, as another of his cards shows a grocer’s shop, run by a badger (not normal huh?). In the queue is a bear, a weasel and a rabbit. The bear is asking for: “Half a pound of tuppenny rice and half a pound of treacle please?” And the caption at the bottom? “Weasel didn’t like the sound of this.”*

I have a card of an aerial photograph of the Circus and The Royal Crescent in Bath. Together they look like a giant Question Mark, not something the Georgian architects would have been able to see from their earth-bound existence! I was born in Bath and Uncle Tommy and my grandmother lived in the Royal Crescent.

When I was running an Outplacement service, amongst other things I advised people how to be successful during the interview process. I am amused by a card showing an extremely large Hippopotamus, wearing a tie and a cross face, facing a small man with glasses. The man looks up to the Hippopotamus and says: “The bunny didn’t get the job because the bunny is cute. The bunny got the job because the bunny knows WordPerfect!” (WordPerfect? Gosh! That’s so last century!)

Winnie The Pooh featured in the early childhood of many here in England. A card shows Christopher Robin bringing Pooh downstairs: “Bump! Bump! Bump!” This was the only way Pooh came downstairs, on his head. And if you have never read “The Tao of Pooh.” (by Hoff), please, go and get a copy and read it …… now. It’ll improve your understanding of us humans and how we communicate, or not!

Just simple pleasures derived from a stack of treasured cards and post cards. Mere scribbles, you might say!

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

*“Half a pound of tuppenny rice, half a pound of treacle, that’s the way the money goes, pop! goes the weasel!” an old nursery rhyme. Probable in Cockney rhyming slang that ‘weasel’ is coat and ‘pop’ is ‘pawn’….. ie pawn your coat to buy some food and drink. But ‘pop’could be ‘to explode’!

PC 28 Balloons, Bacteria and bloating!!!

I never wanted to be a roughie toughie Paratrooper but, during my officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, there was an opportunity during an Easter holiday break to do some basic military parachute training. Edward Bear was a scruffy teddy bear, complete with beret and parachute wings, and the mascot of the club whose entry involved completing 7 daytime and 1 night-time parachute jumps. After our initial ground training, we arrived for our first jump, from a tethered balloon, its shape a little like those World War Two barrage balloons. Fitted up with my parachute, I climbed into the basket with a couple of others and the instructor. We left the ground behind and the cable was let out until the balloon was at 800 feet. It seemed a long way off the ground!! Adrenalin was pumping through my veins, the instructor went through the checks, I stood at the barrier, thought “What the f**k am I doing here?”, a tap on the shoulder and I jump ………. the ‘chute’ opens above me and my quick descent is suddenly jerked to a stop, becomes an ascent for a bit and then I float down! I look around: “Wow! This is such a feeling of elation, of satisfaction …. so weird.”  And suddenly the instructor on the ground is yelling through a megaphone; “Number 73! Assess your drift, prepare to land……” Land? Oh! Yes! I need to do that!

I remember doing two jumps from that balloon maybe three; then we jumped from aeroplanes, with kit, before we passed the course and became eligible to wear a small parachute badge on our uniform and the Edward Bear tie. But that balloon, standing there waiting to leap into space ……. I can picture it now! We did of course have a ninth jump, one summer’s evening about three months later, onto a nearby training area for the ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’. As you would!!

Balloons featured at my birthday party in October, ones filled with helium (He). And I was reminded that, at a wedding in August, two teenagers thought it such fun to let the helium out of the balloons and inhale it. Took a while before adults realised the effect the gas was having! Maybe the adults had already had too much of another gassy drink, Champagne!

Some years ago there was a craze amongst the cooking fraternity to rinse a raw chicken under some running cold water before preparing it for cooking. “Get all the blood off!” Now we’re told that this is so wrong. The reason is bacteria called Campylobacter, which seems to be present in a huge percentage of chickens, and it can cause severe food poisoning in us humans. A chart in a national paper suggested that no chicken supplier’s chickens are completely immune.  It’s destroyed by proper cooking but if you wash the bird then you potentially spread the Campylobacter around ….. your kitchen! Yuk!

The other morning, well actually around 0200, I thought about the chicken I’d had for supper. Normally I prepare our meals from scratch but I was lazy and it was a ‘ready-made’ one, Chicken Arrabiata if my memory serves me well! I went to our bathroom, contemplated my navel, went back to bed …..  and then I went to our bathroom, contemplated my navel, went back to bed … I was blowing up …. truly not sure what was really going on in my stomach but the Chemistry teacher from Breaking Bad must have had a hand in it!! Celina asked if I was OK? I said I felt like one of those large rubber bouncing balls, with two large hand holds, that children can ride on. “Bounce! Bounce.!” ….. except I had feet at the other end ….. just the middle that was so, so bloated. You know those Puffer fishes that, dare I say it, ‘puff’ themselves up when confronted with danger? That’s not how I looked, for sure, in the dim light of early morning, but it was exactly how I felt.

And what came to mind? Far from the Madding Crowd!! Some of you will have seen the cinematic adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel “Far from the Madding Crowd”, starring Terence Stamp and Julie Christie. It was in our cinemas the year Celina was born, 1967. OK! OK! What the hell brought this to mind? You remember the scene when a flock of sheep strayed into a field of young clover? Sheep love fresh juicy clover ….. and munch and munch and ……. and they can develop ‘pasture bloat’, caused by a build-up of methane (CH4) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2). (You’d think I was good at Chemistry but the truth is I can’t tell an oxide from a dioxide!). In the film they rush around the field performing rumenotomies, where they puncture the sheep’s stomach to let out the gas …. or the sheep dies!

Well, I wanted someone to come and perform a rumenotony ….. on me!!

You know that Celina and I practise Bikram Yoga most days? Well, what you probably don’t know is that there is a posture called “Wind Removing Pose” (Pavana mukt asana). You think I’m joking? No! Really, it’s true. After the one hour ‘standing series’ you have a half-an-hour floor series, and the first posture is ‘Wind Removing Pose’. You lie on your back, bend your right leg up to your chest, put your hands on it just below the knee and pull the knee down towards the right shoulder. You hold it for 10 seconds and then do the other side. It’s meant to ease the intestinal gases ….. out. So, at 0300, on the bedroom floor, I try it. My stomach is so extended I can hardly get my knee to bend, let alone touch my shoulder! I’m reminded of that ‘funny’ card of a women’s yoga class where it seems they are all in ‘wind removing pose’ ….. and it’s very effective (there is no delicate way to describe this, is there?).

Just some more mundane thoughts …..

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

PC 27 Christmas!

In the latitudes in which England lies, December is often a cold month and so here we develop this huge association of Christmas and of cold, hopefully even of snow! Many a Christmas I walked or drove to the local church for the Midnight Mass service and if there was snow …… wow! Magical! We don’t really make the connection with Bethlehem and snow and frost, thinking the Middle East is always sunny and warm; we learn later in life that that is not the case. I’ve spent Christmas in Sydney in Australia, rather warm but wet that year, in New Zealand where it was warm and dry, and in Rio de Janerio, where it was amazingly hot … and humid. Wherever, “There must be turkey …. and sprouts ???” Really?? “It wouldn’t be the same without Brussel Sprouts.!” The most maligned vegetable in western cuisine, normally with any taste and colour boiled out ……. until Jamie Oliver came along and suggested roasting them with bacon. Brussel Sprouts are just another of those things in life associated with the most boring country, Belgium.

Christmas in Britain, commercial Christmas that is, starts sometimes in ……  October nowadays! I resist …. and resist …… until I think at least I should dig out the box of decorations. You go up into the attic, into the garage, into the cellar or in my case, in my modern no-storage apartment, into a spare bedroom and find the Christmas decorations box.

Uncle Tommy” shook his head. Well, he didn’t really, but as his head was attached to his body by a big spring, every time someone nudged the table, his head shook! This wonderful papier-mâchié Father Christmas, some 10 cms tall,  was bought in the 1960s, but still gives enormous pleasure as he sits on the dinner table at Christmas. He was christened ‘Uncle Tommy’ as his rather red cheeks, reflecting too much sherry drunk delivering Christmas presents, reminded us of our grandfather – who also loved his sherry, amongst other tipples!

Christmas is a family celebration …. a time when everyone gets caught up on the merry-go-round of eating and drinking, stuffing the turkey and stuffing their faces, nursing hangovers and wishing it hadn’t happened. Growing up as teenagers, we had to ‘make do’ with sandwiches and wine for lunch as we opened presents, before walking the dog and sitting down in the evening to roast turkey, roast potatoes, sausages with a bacon wrap, bread sauce, Cranberry sauce …. and the dreaded Brussel sprouts. This was followed of course by Christmas pudding, a wonderful sweet concoction of dried fruits, eggs, suet and spices, laced with Brandy during its manufacture to ensure it matured properly, accompanied by Brandy Butter. Before the pudding was brought into the dining room, hot brandy was poured over it and set alight. Uncle Tommy simply nodded his head – he’d seen it many, many times.

Of course, we all believed in Father Christmas and of his way of delivering presents by climbing down one’s chimney. So at the bottom we would put a plate – a couple of mince pies and a small glass of sherry for him, a couple of carrots for Rudolph. Dave Allen had a one-man evening comedy show on television in the 1980s and 1990s. In his wonderful glorious Irish brogue, he would talk irreverently about every single aspect of Christmas, religious or otherwise. He mused that if Santa drank all the sherry and ate all the mince pies he found at the bottom of every chimney, he would have exploded  ……. And that Rudolph certainly wouldn’t have got airborne with tons of carrots inside his tummy! He also had a few things to say about the party hats in crackers and about bringing a tree into one’s house!

One year he brought a rather modern look to the story of Bethlehem and that stable. He reckoned Joseph was a pretty disorganised husband. Mary: “What do mean, there’s no room in the inn?”Well,” says Joseph, “I thought it would be OK.” “What? OK? The whole nation is on the move, back to our home towns, and you didn’t think to book a room? And you see this”, says Mary, pointing to her huge pregnant belly, “that’s our baby, due any day now. And you didn’t book a room …….. and we have to make do……  in a stable?!!” You could imagine at this stage a modern woman would have sworn, possibly using a word beginning with ‘J’, but then you’d be getting ahead of the story

I spent a couple of Christmases in Northern Ireland when the IRA were fighting for some form of independence, firstly in Londonderry in 1973 and then in north Armagh in 1975. They were dangerous times but we still recognised Christmas; dinner was roast turkey, Brussel sprouts (!) and Christmas pudding served by the officers to the soldiers. The Miss World organisation, through Julia Morley, delivered 400 stockings to our regiment, with packets of cigarettes, sweets, playing cards and I think the latest copy of Penthouse, a Men-Only raunchy magazine. I’ll leave it to your imagination how the soldiers enjoyed the contents of the stockings! On Christmas Eve in 1973 I went up to the border, to visit some of my soldiers on patrol. A Baptist minister, let’s call him Desmond as my memory is too dim (!), attached to the regiment for the length of the tour, accompanied me. The sentry and I stood in a static observation post, looking out over the dark, frosty countryside, whilst Desmond talked softly about the meaning of Christmas; one of those memories that stays with you all your life!

The flaming Brandy on the pudding reminds me that one year in Kitzbuhel, in Austria, the real candles that decorated the Christmas tree flamed in the draught from a window … and the tree caught fire! You only do these sort of mad things once huh?

It’s been suggested I start a ‘blogg’, but I thought these were for the really really mundane …….. not just my simple mundane scribbles and thoughts. I wonder?

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

PC 26 This Language of Mine

This is called ‘… of mine’ as a number of my readers do not have English as their ‘first language’; I’m not trying to be too possessive!

I was never very good at spelling and suffered the ignominy of having my brother, two years older than me, supervise spelling tests in the school holidays! We would sit in the study and he would dictate that day’s Times leading article. I hated it!! To this day I have to think about the difference between practise and practice for instance, but spell-check helps …… except when it wants to put an ‘s’ and I want to put a ‘z’ or vica versa. Luckily, I guess, I grew up in an environment where the spoken and written word was valued. My step father loved doing The Telegraph crossword puzzle. In those holidays, at a weekend he would bring the paper into the kitchen as mother was preparing supper and we’d wrestle with the final few clues: “Two Down, “No Sailor’s About To Desert.” 3.2 R blank blank. blank N.

It’s sad to reflect that some sections of our society never develop sufficient vocabulary, beyond a basic 500 words, to be able to use this rich English language. Sometimes I sense that the TV soaps have, over the years, dumbed down the use of language to its coarsest; or do they simply reflect what the writers hear. Bit “chicken & egg” possibly!  The other day in a local supermarket Mrs not-very-well-educated was having a ‘go’ at her husband. “You f*** git!” I told yer before, bring the f****g shopping list! Yer useless piece of s**t. I really don’t know why I bother.” …. and this in a loud, yelling, in-your-face voice. She didn’t seem to mind that the whole supermarket had almost stopped to listen ….. but why didn’t a member of the management take them aside and tactfully ask them to be quiet? Maybe they didn’t do ‘tactful’!

Some years ago a woman who didn’t know much about me, on the very first occasion we met, said: “So you’re trained to kill people!” or maybe it should have been “So you’re trained to kill people?”, referring to my time in the British Army, which at the time of this embryonic conversation had ended over fifteen years before. Funny how some people have a very warped perspective of some aspects of life. I think I responded that we actually tried very hard not to, but if push came to shove …..! My reply came to mind when thinking about this PC and I rather wish I had said: “No! Actually we were trained to write English in the most pedantic way.” Now that would have been true … but I was never very good at the quick witty retort!

Staff Duties (SD) were a major aspect of our training, seemingly on a par with tactics and strategy. If you couldn’t write an appreciation, whether tactical or strategic, you didn’t get on. If there were spelling or punctuation mistakes during staff courses, out came the red marker pen.

We had to grapple with the proper use of the apostrophe, know when to use a colon and not a semi-colon ….. and woe betide us if we dared to split an infinitive. Does it sound better to say “To go boldly” or “To boldly go”? Personally I think the latter is better and I wear my ‘pedant’ label with a small ‘p’! I don’t think I’m so precious about it now, as the SD taught us to be, and listen with interest how this language evolves, how it lives. Some 500 words join our dictionary every year and some fall by the wayside, no longer in vogue or just obsolete, or should that be obsolescent? See what I mean? A real mine-field!

I was awake enough the other day to read of a Zeugma, a ‘figure of speech by which a single word is made to refer to two or more words in a sentence, especially when properly only applying to one of them or to them in differing senses.’ The example given was that she could draw a cork, a nude and a conclusion. Wow! How clever is that? How did I manage to get through life without knowing that? The letters page of The Times was flooded with examples, all apt: for instance, “We had turkey for lunch and Granny for tea.” and John Lennon saying “I play the guitar and sometimes the fool.” But then people started asking how you could tell the difference between a Zeugma and a Syllepsis. Well, having not known of a Zeugma for the first 68 years of my life, I think I’ll leave the understanding of the second for later!

A book came out some years ago by Lynn Truss, called: “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.” It explores the correct and incorrect use of punctuation in English. The title came from a wildlife manual: “Panda. Large, black-and-white bear-like animal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.” Of course it should have read ‘eats shoots and leaves’ but the image of a panda firing a gun into the air is rather endearing! Bless that comma!

Lynn also explored the use of the apostrophe. Did you know, by the way (sorry, btw!), that there is an Apostrophe Protection Society? I must find where to sign up, as I love this little mark. News the other day that the ‘autocorrect’ function in our iPhones and other Apple devices will insert an apostrophe, when it’s needed, is music to my ears! How can ‘its’ mean anything other than a possessive, as in “its colour” rather than “it is colour”?  I could go on …… and on …… and on.

There may of course be punctuation errors in the above – but that’s life, innit! Just some idle thoughts, mere scribbles.

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com