PC 228 Thinking Out Loud

Inspired to make a contribution towards more ecological living, you may recall my purchase of a Hotbin composter (PC 221) in the last few days of February and how I had had to use the landline telephone. Landline? Who has one of those these days? Well, here some 75% of the adult population but that’s probably a great deal lower in our 18 – 35 year age group. Living in Amber House the landline is essential as mobile signal coverage is very variable. Despite living in a city and despite my service provider O2 claiming I should have 5 bars, the reality is that it drops out, that the only way to get a good signal is to hang out of the window, with the tips of your toes wrapped around the radiator to prevent catastrophe. Texts?  ‘Didn’t send. Try again?’ ….. so you move a couple of metres and try again, lifting your arm up into the stratosphere as if that will help.

You may remember an office …… and you may have been lucky enough to have a desk …… which came with a landline telephone …… its cable coming up through a hole on the right hand side? I am sure you’ve watched a film where someone picks up the telephone with their right hand, dials a number and in the course of the conversation wants to make some notes. So they transfer the handset to their left ear, with the cable coming under their neck, half-throttling them, and use their right hand to write. Much easy to get used to using your left ear to listen, having the telephone on the left hand side of the table, with a free right hand to scribble. The reverse is true if you are left-handed (Note 1)

You might think if you have been reading these postcard scribbles for a while that I watch television quite a lot. ‘Tis true, particularly during these lockdown periods, but documentaries and dramas give me ideas about this and that.

Recently I watched some lightweight crime drama where the lead detective, and that’s lead as in most senior and not lead as in dead-boring and that probably would have been leaden…….. in the middle of a conversation with someone ……. when their mobile chirped and he said: “Sorry! Just need to take this!” without even looking at the screen to see whether it was someone on his Contacts List or someone unknown, without knowing who had called him and of course these days it could have been someone asking whether he had been involved in a no-fault car accident or someone whose first words were ‘I am not selling anything’ and one’s heart sinks because you know that’s exactly what they are going to lead into (lead again!) …… so interrupting whatever conversation he was having ….. just because your mobile rang or chirped or barked or whatever ringtone you have selected …… just because the caller has decided to call you as it’s convenient for them without knowing whether it’s convenient to you and we have become slaves to the ringtone, slaves to the ‘must answer this’ demands!

Sorry if I am a dinosaur about this but what happened to good manners when you are talking to someone aren’t you focused on them and what they are saying and how you might respond and yes sometimes you wish your mobile would ring and give you an excuse to pause the conversation because the person next to you is banging on and on and you wish they would listen and then you realise the only way to interject is to interrupt and that used to be rude but in some cases necessary. In the course of this particular drama the detective must have said ‘sorry I need to take this’ 8 times ……. not that I was counting!

I often call a chum, just for a catch-up, and I call when it’s convenient to me; possibly after lunch. “Sorry, just in the middle of lunch/afternoon tea/reading important stuff! Can I ring you back?” – so why answer in the first place when an answering machine will take a message? And don’t get me started on the modern habit of arriving in a restaurant (remember those?) and everyone puts their mobiles on the table; why go in the first place if you don’t want to engage with those you have come to be with?

Carol Midgley, writing in The Times on 17th April: “Oh! No! They’ve come back the phombies, more gormless than ever! People who walk and text simultaneously, oblivious to traffic or the old ladies they knock into. Almost knocked one over the other day texting, crossing the road, earbuds in; it’s important to be deaf as well as blind crossing.”

Of course our mobiles have become so much more than a way of speaking to someone. We communicate by voice, by text, by sending a photo or using one of the many social media apps. And more than a communication device, the mobile or iPad has become the internal spy for companies anxious to sell you stuff. For example, last year a bird dropped a seed and it landed in some compost in a terracotta pot. This I surmise as I didn’t actually see the bird but I saw the little shoots of growth.

So I encouraged it, watered it, re-potted it and watched it develop. The problem is I don’t know what type of plant it is, possibly a weed, possibly a shrub, possibly a tree. So I took a photo and sent it by WhatsApp to Sally whose a keen and knowledgeable gardener – if in doubt go to the Oracle or so I thought.

The Oracle responded in a negative way. Not so the internal spy! The morning after my Facebook offering is to invest in an App that will tell me what it is; I know there is one for plants but this is for trees.  

Just thinking out loud!

Richard 30th April 2021


Note 1. Famous lefthanders include Angelina Jolie, Winston Churchill, US Presidents Barak Obama and Bill Clinton, Bart Simpson (as his creator Matt Groening is) and the future King of England Prince William.

PC 227 Departing ………

It comes to all of us, without exception, our departure from this world. Where we go, if anywhere, has been a constant in our philosophical merry-go-round discussions.

I appreciate it may be a factor of age, reading the published obituaries of individuals deemed worthy of comment, but three recently caught my eye. The first, George Reynolds, who heeded the advice of a priest after he emerged from his fourth prison sentence: “You’re clearly not very good at crime; why not try something legitimate?” Reynolds went on to make £260 million – a real mixture of businessman and rogue.

Then there was Doreen Lofthouse. Not sure whether it spans the generations but you may recognise the trade-name Fisherman’s Friend? Developed for fisherman from Fleetwood, Lancashire to sustain them and relieve their bronchial congestion in the cold North Atlantic, it was initially a liquid medicine, containing liquorice, menthol, eucalyptus oil and capsicum. From its origins in 1865 it was modified into a starch-enclosed lozenge and by 1971 into the aniseed one we recognise today. Believe it or not, some 5 billion lozenges are now produced annually and exported in various versions all over the world.

Doreen, who married into the family, changed the company from a small local operation to a global business; she died at the end of last month aged 91. Interestingly her obituary in The Times erroneously titled her as ‘OBE MBE’. When you are elevated from one rank in the ‘British Empire’ award, you drop the lower one; she should have been simply OBE! Just for accuracy you understand.

Then we have the celebration of the life of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, who died aged 99. Anybody who has reached their 90s must be judged to have had a full and rewarding life; his was no exception. One of the lovely comments I read was from the Countess of Wessex, wife of Edward; “He passed away gently, as if someone took him by the hand.” Departed for sure!

Numerous stories have been published here in the newspapers about his unique and waspish sense of humour. One concerned some tabloid photographs of the Duchess of York having her toes sucked while she lay naked by some swimming pool in the south of France. “Beyond the pale!” the Duke commented, using a phrase popular amongst his generation. (Note 1) Reminded me of how this lovely phrase, meaning unacceptable behaviour, came into the English lexicon. The word ‘pale’ comes from the Latin ‘palus’ meaning a stake or fence. The historians of you will know that England ruled over much of the island of Ireland, although by the late C15th that area had been much reduced; what was left was contained by a ditch from Dalkey just south of Dublin to Dundalk to its north. The ditch had in theory a fence, and obviously anywhere beyond the fence was an area of lawlessness and danger – ‘beyond the pale’.

Gives colour to one’s language, to know the origins of these things. Nigel Rees’ ‘Phrases & Sayings’ is a great reference and what you can’t do if you simply Google it is read what phrases it’s sandwiched between. In this case ‘Beyond The Fringe’, a term first used at the Edinburgh Festival in 1960, and ‘BFN’. Jimmy Young had a hugely successful BBC Radio 1morning show and his sign-off was BFN – ‘bye for now’. Maybe it’s used in modern abbreviated text speak – but I know not!

Word associations and links can create fun challenges and often on the commercial radio station Classic FM the compere asks the listener to establish a link between pieces of music or composers. The other day I drove up to see my daughter, a rather unique event these days and the first since Christmas; I listened to the radio. The guest presenter was John Humphrys who hosted the television series Mastermind for 18 years and therefore anxious to measure his listeners’ knowledge. He played John Caponegro’s Shoe Symphony and was looking for associations. I immediately thought of Choux (pastry) and later research found a Baker’s Symphony by a Kuba Piecze.

Do you understand this: “to plus to is fore?” Or this: “Te kwality of merci is not stained. It drops as te gentle reign from heven on the place beneef. Its twice ……..” Not shore weather ither make cens? Maybe this is better:

“The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

Departure from a good standard of spelling and grammar has been on the lips of many pedants here, after the University of Hull announced that “they were committed to removing barriers to learning, increasing social mobility and providing opportunities to students from all backgrounds.” …. meaning if your work is badly spelt but understandable, that’ll do.

Writing in the Times, Giles Coran’s headline screamed: “Don’t stop at spelling, let’s refresh jography too”. (And this is not the science of slow running). Fortunately that newspaper’s leader of 12th April was written with clarity. “The claim that requiring good English could be seen as ‘homogenous north European, white, male, elite’ (as Hull had suggested!) is seen as a idiotic travesty of everything a university stands for …… and a massive disservice to those it misguidedly believes such piffle is meant to help.”

Such an appropriate if old-fashioned word, PIFFLE!

Richard St George’s Day 2021


PS My last PC concerned the truth. One comment from Meryl, “Not only very interesting but highly philosophical! You have identified that the biggest threat to modern civilised society is the absence of absolute truth. Whereas for many this used to be God, it has now become a case of ‘what I believe is the truth for me.’ What do you think?” deserved a reply: “I think we see our perspective of our experience as the truth but acknowledge that others may see it differently and the reality may be something different again.” And Meryl again: “Truth is a concept that is increasingly stretched from reality.”

PPS Twitter exploded last Sunday with comments about a text read in a BBC Crime drama called ‘Line of Duty’. The word ‘indefinitely’ was spelt ‘indefinately’.

Note 1 There was another use of this phrase this week as we watched a Netflix series, Occupied. Another of those coincidences!

PC 226 The Truth, The Whole Truth ..

I am sure we have all seen it on television, in plays or in films, the moment of gravitas when the clerk of the court offers a bible to a witness and says: Take the bible in your left hand and say after me ………. “I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Some years ago I was called to serve on a jury in the local Hove Crown Court. Having been sworn in, we were asked to judge whether the accused was, beyond reasonable doubt, guilty or not. It was a great reminder of the way our justice system is the bedrock of civilised society, being judged by one’s peers. I had my share of making such judgements in the army, both as a Battery Commander delivering summary justice to miscreants under Military Law and also on a Courts Martial panel. Trying to establish the truth is quite subjective, for we all innocently filter what we hear and see through our own mesh of experiences.

Hove Crown Court

You may recall me quoting Caroline Jones from her book “the space in between” in PC 202; it’s worth repeating as she eloquently sums up the issues about memory: “…..  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings – and who is to say that my version is true anyway? Who is entitled to say what is true in any family’s history? It is all shades of grey, interpretations and misinterpretations: something that passes one person by might be the thing that tips another onto a different journey; and all, in the end, coloured by imagination and weakened by unreliable memory.”

Last year, still in the age of the Trump Presidency, we read about the hearings on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. These are not things we in Britain understand. Here judges are appointed to our Supreme Court by the monarch; the name of a nominee is given by a Selection Commission to the Prime Minister who must pass the name without comment to the Queen, so in theory ensuring the Judiciary remains apolitical. You may of course think the American way has some merit, as it gives a congressional committee an opportunity to determine whether A or B could or should be selected.

This is by-the-by. What always amazes me is a person’s ability to recall conversations from their past, in the case of Christine Ford and Brett Kavanagh over thirty years ago. She had accused him of sexual assault at a party. Now I understand that when the experience is traumatic, the memory can be very vivid and long-lasting. But my mouth drops when I listen to someone recall a party 36 years ago …… one where alcohol was present ….. and go into the ‘he said’ ‘she said’ recall. It’s the same when people write their autobiography. Conversations with my mother when I was 7? Nah! Can I quote verbatim what I heard last week any better than last year or within the last decade? Nope! My mind generalises the experiences, compresses the data so it’s manageable.

I find myself shouting at the television more and more, mouthing ‘bollocks’ or somesuch; must be a feature of being over 60? Most recently it was during a screening of an ITV lightweight crime drama entitled MacDonald & Dobbs, set in the city of my birth, Bath. The second episode was centred around someone’s death on the railway tracks running through the Box Tunnel. This tunnel was designed by the prolific Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunnel (1806-1859) and its alignment catches the rays of the rising sun on his birthday, the 9th April.

Much was made of this fact in the drama and that it only happened once a year ‘on his birthday’. Well, anyone with even the scantest knowledge of our solar system and our earth’s tilting axis will know that the sunrises on the same azimuth some five months later, in this case on the 4th September. But if you didn’t know, as maybe the writers of the drama didn’t, then you would accept this as the truth – the whole truth being different, gospel.

I didn’t watch Harry & Megan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, but saw enough of the clips and read much of the analysis to form a view. This is not about them or their situation but more about the trend to challenge what is true. Although advertised as an interview, it seemed more an opportunity for them to air ‘their truths’, to make statements that went virtually unchallenged. The rules for royal titles for instance were laid down in the Letters Patent, issued by King George V, so in my view it’s disingenuous for Meghan to make out otherwise. Similarly her statement that she had a ‘secret wedding’ before the official one was simply untrue; revelations such as these diminish the whole two hours and subsequent furore.   

Much has been made over the past 18 months by both Harry and his brother William of the modern challenges to our mental health. So in my mind it’s unbelievable that Meghan didn’t discuss her suicidal thoughts with him and he, in turn, couldn’t help or find the right person for her to talk to; shame on him. What is striking are these new ideas about what is true, what is your truth or my truth and what isn’t; to use a playing card analogy, that a ‘lived experience’ can trump ‘hard evidence and intellectual analysis’. One person’s version of past events can be rather different – summed up nicely by the statement from The Queen – “recollections may vary”.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Richard 16th April 2021


PS And slightly tongue in cheek, we always imagine that the BBC newsreader’s script is grammar-perfect and speaks the truth!! Not so the other evening when they described Prince Charles as the late Prince Philip’s elder son, when he is of course his eldest son

PC 225 The Fall Guy

Following on from my last postcard and continuing a little the theme of self-deprecating stories, I hope you will find this one is less intimate?

Do you ever dream of falling? Apparently it’s one of the most commonly reported dream subjects, this feeling of falling and it’s not falling in love or embracing any other emotion, it’s the physical action of falling through the air, one imagines from some height, with a degree of uncertainty about how it will end. Wow, that’s a long sentence, sorry. Oh! And I have never dreamt about falling, at least not in my conscious memory; who knows what goes on in that subconscious. I never quite understand how dreams can be so so vivid … and then you wake up, think ‘I’ve been dreaming’ and can’t recall anything.

These scribbles, despite what you might be thinking, are not about dreams, but about the act of falling, as I did the other morning. After we have learned to walk, it is one of the subconscious actions we carry out without thinking, like breathing. Like lifting your arm; you reach for something and unconsciously all the muscles do the bidding of the mind. Being physically fit, walking was just something you did, so it was a surprise when I enrolled in the British Army that one or two of my fellow officer cadets had two left feet and had to be taught how to use both independently; and how to swing the alternate arm – which seemed even more difficult!

So I cross the road and as I am reaching the pavement I trip and stumble, somehow (presumably to trip you have to have your toe too low?), sense myself heading for the rough asphalt that replaced some nice paving stones, put out my hand and in the last minute stop myself from being a complete prat! So not quite base over apex.

My hand stings and I look to see chips of gravel imbedded in my palm; blood starts to ooze. My pride’s taken a dent (Note 1). I get up; nothing obviously broken and no one has seen me – that’s a relief! Before all of you writers dust off any minimal notes you might for my obituary I am OK, shaken but not stirred. I collect my paper and gingerly make my way home. Realising my chinos have blood showing through on one knee, I am reminded how Jeremy Clarkson (Top Gear and gentleman farmer) never buys any other types of trousers but jeans, as jeans tend to hide the odd scuff, the little bit of dirt, whereas on my green Chinos it’s obvious. (Note 2)

So I became a guy who fell, a fall guy! Actually ‘The Fall Guy’ was a television action series in the 1980s, featuring Lee Majors as Colt Seavers who earned money from tracking and capturing bail-jumpers. The Fall Guy has another more well-known meaning, referring to a person to whom blame is deliberately and falsely attributed in order to deflect blame from another party. Obvious contenders here in the UK might be the scientists who appear flanking the politicians at the evening Covid briefings, not fully ‘independent’ and yet asked to support whatever policy is being outlined. If it all goes tits up, not difficult to know who takes the blame?

Well, it’s not the chap in the middle!

For those of you with longer memories, the stand-out American fall guy from the 1980s was Oliver North. The Iran-Contra affair was a political scandal that engulfed Ronald Regan’s presidency but it was North who was prosecuted. In a typical American twist, by 1991 all charges were dismissed; they know how to protect their own!

Now every morning, as I walk through the local streets to Rami, I pass the place where I tripped. I look at the pavement and kerb and give it a ‘you bugger’ sort of malevolent stare. It stares back. You might recall, as I am sure we’ve all done it (?), kicking the table that you bumped your knee on, as if it was its fault. Inanimate objects, no matter how much we hate or love them, have no emotions. Cleaning myself up, I feel lucky ….. and then am reminded of when I broke a bone in my arm, not sure whether the radius or the ulna, aged 11.

Glencot, a boys’ boarding school for 5-12 year olds, operated from an old manor house just down the road from Wookey Hole, near Wells in Somerset. The building is now a hotel!

Down at the basement level was a room with a table-tennis table and a black & white television. We used to gather around the latter to watch Saturday evening programmes as a treat. One music show featured Perry Como, who had a hit single “Oh! What did Dela ware boy?” whose lyrics ran through all the states of the USA and was clever. Like all catchy songs it still resonates “…… she wore a brand new jersey……” and “What did missi sip boy?” ….. “She sipped a mine sota”. Anyway, I digress. Two short flights of steps led up out of this room, the first step two feet away from the others.

I tripped on the first, put my hand out, caught my forearm on the next flight and broke a bone. My plaster cast was covered in others’ scribbles within a day.

The plaster-cast covered by the Cricket Scoring book!

A few weeks ago the US President Joe Biden tripped going up the steps of Air Force One and the press and everyone else made fun of him. Sadly it seems it’s a common trait.

I tripped on a paving slab on St John’s Road in Battersea many years ago, all suited and carrying my brief case after seeing a client in the IOD. I recovered my vertical position but not before someone starting laughing loudly.

Bearing has, I think, a great deal to do with our physical and mental well-being and with walking; demonstrable pride, neck in the back of the collar, head-up, shoulders back – that sort of thing. (Note 3) Maybe I should just look where I am going?

Richard 9th April 2021


Note 1 ‘Pride Comes Before a Fall’ a C16th saying suggesting if you are too confident something bad will happen to remind you you are not as good as you think you are. Doesn’t apply here!! Moi? Surely not.

Note 2 Our new neighbour fell up his internal stairs before Christmas and cracked two ribs, so I was lucky!

Note 3 In yoga there’s a posture that requires you to keep your head level but drop your eyes to 4ft in front of you, bend your leg over the other and lower yourself to a swat. Try it!

PC 224 Trinity

Although we generally do our weekly supermarket shop online, I needed to go and pick up some Gordon’s Gin & Tonic 0.5% abv from the physical shop the other afternoon. As I reached for the hand-sanitiser inside the entrance, a chap was making his way into the supermarket, his left leg all encased in rods and strapping. To my eye he was making a bit of a meal of it and I ask whether he needs any assistance. He tells me he’s fine. Out of curiosity I ask whether it’s his ankle or knee and get the “Both knee and hip and don’t get me started!” line, with a light-hearted tone in his voice. I see him later struggling with some bags of Bok Choy and raspberries but leave him to it, his determination obvious to see. 

My local GP surgery moved from Sackville Road into the renovated, deconsecrated Holy Trinity Church in 2017, joining two other surgeries to become the 16-doctor Trinity Medical Centre; co-located in a new building is the Trinity Pharmacy.

After a recent prolonged period of bloatedness (see PC 28 Balloons, Bacteria & Bloating) and an email consultation with my doctor, she asks me to come in; yes, actually face-to-face …. or mask-to-mask! This led, inter alia, to the need for a microscopic examination of my faeces: “We will get to the bottom of this!” I left the old church clutching an envelope with all the instructions to follow and a warning from the receptionist ringing in my ears: “Follow the instructions carefully as 25% of the returned Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) samples are unusable.” This suggests to me the instructions need rewriting?

Having done what the instructions have asked of me, the following morning I walk up to the surgery clutching my enveloped-sample; not a lot, in fact only enough to fit through the eye of a needle! Normally the space that would have been the church nave is crowded with chairs, the majority occupied. Most will now be familiar with the Check-in Procedure on a wall-mounted computer screen; name and date of birth and then, ‘Take a seat’ or ‘Go to the first floor waiting room’. Another screen high on the wall indicates which of the waiting individuals should go to which doctor’s room. In between patient announcements are advertisements for treatments for this and that or, for instance, what to do if you think someone’s having a stroke – look for indications in FAST (Face, Arms, Speech and Time). We are reminded that every booked appointment that is a ‘no show’ costs the NHS £150. Bit like double booking a meal out and being too ignorant to cancel! Oh! To be able to think about eating out! Currently it’s like the Marie Celeste (note 1) but unlike the Marie Celeste a skeleton staff operates and greets individuals outside.

To the left of the main doors an intercom/entry device controls the large, glass double doors. I have timed my visit to miss the peak times, normally first thing in the morning when the night’s fears and niggles need addressing. Already there’s an elderly, slim, white headed lady standing by the door. One rarely chats to others in the waiting room, often lost in your own reasons for wanting to talk to your doctor and not wanting to invade others’ personal space. Generally we never talk about our health to strangers, unless you press the ‘on’ button of a health bore and then you get chapter & verse and if you are extremely unlucky Volume 2. Outside it’s somehow different:

Good morning. Have you dialled the number?” my head nodding in the direction of the intercom.

Ya! Ya!” she mutters with impatience “but no von comes!” I ask whether she’d been waiting long – she eyes me rather suspiciously: “Long time! But no von comes!” I often try to hear the origins of an accent and in this case think she’s either Jewish or Polish. She reminds me a little of Rose Tobin, who used to accompany my grandmother in piano duets in the Roman city of Bath.  

I walk over to the intercom and press the interrogation button. It rings out; I try again and again ….. eventually Anne-Marie the Irish receptionist on duty answers and promises to be out shortly.

She’s coming” I say to my companion who gives me an ‘about time’ sort of look. Anxious not to talk about the weather or politics or Covid or Brexit (is there anything else?) I say casually: “You wouldn’t want to know what’s in my envelope!” 

Can’t be as bad as mine!” she boasts, without smiling.

The electronically operated doors swing open and Anne-Marie appears, all smiles and apologies (well she’s masked so I don’t see the smile of her mouth but her eyes smile – best we can do these days). I let the old lady offer her envelope first ….. then give mine; they are both the same, both FITs, both of us leaving a deposit of our poo to be microscopically examined.

I smile as I leave – a connection!

Richard 2nd April 2021


PS Completely coincidental that these scribbles about Trinity, those three GPs surgeries coming together to form Trinity Medical Centre, in the old Holy Trinity church and of course ‘the Father, Son & Holy Ghost’, are posted on Good Friday 2021.

PPS Doing our little bit for the planet, we ordered some 100% free-of-plastic loo paper made by a British company called ‘Who Gives A Crap’ – crap of course is slang for rubbish. Learn more about Loo Paper in PC 47 and about Thomas Crapper in PC 54.

PPPS An afterthought to PC 223 (Chips and Shoulders). My brother, who had a full career in the Royal Navy and in the Fleet Air Arm, writes: “Before taking over the Lynx squadron at Yeovilton in 1980, I had to learn to fly the beast (Ed. The Lynx helicopter). As the CO (designate), I was known on the training course as COD. Inevitably the (student) observer with whom I was often paired was dubbed “chips”.”

Note 1 I have mentioned the Marie Celeste before (PC 166) and was surprised when one of my readers expressed ignorance as to what or about whom I was referring! The Marie Celeste was a two-masted ship that was sailing from New York to Genoa in 1872. A month after leaving the US, it was found adrift, off the coast of Portugal, intact but with no soul on board. There has never been a satisfactory explanation as to what happened to the Captain, his family and crew; they were never found.