PC 275     Kerfuffle et al

I have scribbled in past postcards of my observations of coincidental stuff, for example seeing The Pink Panther in a dream and later that same morning stencilled onto the bow of a dingy, or talking about St Kilda (PC 81 And the Buses Came in Threes October 2016) over supper with Ted & Richard and seeing a huge article about that particular island the very next day in The Times. I have to assume that sometimes my brain is somehow more tuned to seeing the connections than if it’s in its normal ‘half-asleep’ state.

Gathering ideas for this week’s missive, I had noted some words that I don’t usually use but love their combination of letters and implied meaning, like Kerfuffle. Pulling these together last Saturday, I paused to read the newspaper and, after the pages concerning the Ukrainian war and its possible outcomes, scanned Rose Wild’s Feedback. It was as if she knew what my latest postcard might be about, more wonderful words. She started: “Ciaran Bruton from Galway sprung a new word on me this week. ‘First Max Hastings and now Matthew Parris’, he complained, had been ‘fumfering about negotiating with Putin.’ What could this mean?” 

She continued: “Fumfering is an onomatopoeic sort of word …… and my online dictionary defines it as ‘to waffle, to stutter, to mutter, to putter aimlessly.” There we go again, Onomatopoeia, another word that I do not use regularly but one I had already mentioned in my draft for today’s PC. ‘An onomatopoeic word is one whose meaning is only their sound, as for example bang, buzz, hiss, sizzle, boom (of a firework exploding), tick tock (of a clock see PC 274 Tick Tock) or ding dong (of a door bell). Animal sounds are mostly onomatopoeic – quack, moo, miaow, cluck.’ So I agree with Rose that fumfering is a sort of onomatopoeic word (Big of me huh?)!

My draft scribbles had started:

Within the space of three days recently, I saw ‘hodgepodge’, ‘hoich’ and ‘commingles’ and would be the first to admit these are not words in common usage. The first was used by the writer of an obituary to describe someone’s early years – ‘a confused mixture of jobs and tasks, a real hodgepodge’. It can of course be written hotch potch but I think hodgepodge has a certain sound that conveys warmth as well as confusion.

While I am here, ‘hoich’ means to move or pull abruptly as in ‘she hoiched her child from behind her to introduce him to the headmaster.’ Commingles means mixing or blending but to hear it raises this meaning to a whole different level! One of my favourite words is discombobulated, meaning ‘confused and disconcerted’; sometimes I wake up feeling discombobulated, although just getting my tongue around the word helps to relieve the symptoms – well that and a cup of coffee!

Rose added a couple of new words found in on-line dictionaries but I know they won’t be in my 1962 Oxford Illustrated: ‘hockety’ meaning ‘infirm, lame or rickety’ and the Irish unisex greeting ‘a chara’ meaning ‘my friend, my dear’. However in my dictionary are two words I love as they do exactly what they say on the tin: ‘gawp’ and ‘desultory’!!      

And here are two words whose two meanings are completely unrelated: rumpty tumpty   – ‘complete nonsense’ or ‘a bit of rumpty tumpty’ meaning having occasional sexual intercourse: funny language huh! Writing of words and their uses, how come the word ‘Fuck’, a slang word for the physical act of making love, in itself an intimate personal and mainly pleasurable experience, is also used as an expletive? Meaning whatever you want it to mean: “Fuck! I have deleted that draft email!” “Fuck! I have missed the bus!” But ‘Shit!’, another exclamatory swear word, is disassociated from its biological meaning, which incidentally helps to convey true depth of tone.

Some months ago a crossword clue asked for the name of a tropical rainforest mammal related to the Raccoon. My knowledge of little animals is not great so I Googled and found it was called a Kinkajou. You probably haven’t heard of this little chap either …….

……. but the name was familiar to me and brought back a funny memory. Between the hall and the kitchen at my parent’s house in Balcombe (see PC 58 Going Home October 2015) was a duct to facilitate airflow. Each end was covered in chicken wire and a little stuffed toy animal was placed inside; it was known as the Kinkajou cage! A lack of an inquiring mind has often got me into trouble or slowed a process that was inevitable; I was no Gerald Durrell and I never bothered to learn all those years ago what a real Kinkajou looked like!

Something that did occupy one’s mind as a teenager was the longest word in English dictionary. It was a toss-up between ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ which is the act of considering something to be worthless and

Antidisestablishmentarianism’ which is the opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England which seems like a double negative?

Rindfleischetikettierungsűberwachungsaufgabenűbertragungsgesetz’ was German’s longest word and means ‘the law concerning the delegation of duties for the supervision of cattle marking and the labelling of beef’. It has been confined to the linguistic history books as it was no longer necessary when the EU halted BSE-testing on healthy cattle at abattoirs. Now the longest in their dictionary is ‘Kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung’ meaning motor vehicle indemnity insurance. Quite!

On the island of Anglesey, off the northwest coast of Wales, there’s a small, quiet town called, for short, Llanfair PG. Its full name is:  Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

But the longest place name place in the world (85 letters) is a New Zealand hill named by the Maoris: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateteaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu.

It lies inland from Hawkes Bay on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

In case you have forgotten, the title of this PC is ‘Kerfuffle’, a good word to get your tongue around and one that means a commotion or fuss, especially one caused by differences of opinion.

Richard 25th March 2022


PS Hope to be back in The Hope Café in a couple of weeks to find out how Sami’s evidence to the Post Office Inquiry went.

PPS After Rose Wild’s Feedback following my lead on funny words, in last Sunday Times’ Style Section was a watch survey entitled Tick Tock. (See PC 274 Tick Tock!)

PC 274 Tick Tock

After last week’s grim scribbles, I hope these are altogether easier to absorb! If someone had simply read the title to you, you might have been forgiven for thinking this was about Tik Tok. That, in case you don’t know, is a video-focused social networking service known in China as Douyin. It hosts a variety of user-made videos covering tricks, pranks, dance and entertainment which last anything from 15 seconds to three minutes. 

When few people owned a watch, towns built clock towers. The one on North Street in Brighton was opened in 1888 and its golden ball still rises on the hour.

A large Victorian town hall was built on Church Road in Hove in 1882, but destroyed in a fire in 1966. It had a clock tower.

Its replacement was opened in 1970 and is an example of the Brutalist style of John Wells-Thorpe; personally I think it’s disgusting! It has a modern unattractive tower complete with a clock.

Sometimes the clock tells the right time; often it seems to be surprised when we change from GMT to British Summer Time or vica versa. Mind you, it’s easy to get confused. Eire, The UK and Portugal are in the same Time Zone; move further east and you add an hour for Central European Time. Many years ago I flew into Brisbane (QLD) Australia, set my watch to local time, hired a car and drove south to Byron Bay for a few days. Arriving in a local restaurant for dinner the following evening, I was surprised when the manageress said: “You booked for 1930 but we kept the table for you.” I looked at my watch, which showed it was indeed 1930. I glance enquiringly at the woman. “Ah!” she said, looking at my pale English complexion, “you probable flew into Brisbane. We’ve in New South Wales and an hour ahead!” (Note 1) 

Scribbling about Australia, I love this from Chris Hammer’s book ‘Opal Country’, a fictional town in New South Wales:

“At the centre of the roundabout sits a squat brick clock tower. Approaching from the north or the east, the clock tells the correct time during the winter, but at this time of year it lags an hour behind, so that it’s telling Queensland time instead of summer time. Coming from the west, it is perpetually five thirty, and coming from the south, forever ten past ten.”

I own a half-hunter as an accoutrement when suited and spurred, but it’s not as visible as a timepiece worn on one’s wrist.

Fortunately for me the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont (See PC 6 Petropolis April 2014) was a friend of Louis Cartier, one of the three sons of Louis-Francois Cartier who had founded a jeweller business in Paris in 1847.

Needing two hands to control his flying machine, Dumont was unable to look at his pocket watch, nestling in his waistcoat pocket. Cartier made a small version, attached a leather wrist strap to it and presented it to Dumont in 1904. He called it the Santos Cartier.

In one of my boxes is a collection of old watch ‘detritus’; some work and some don’t. I should really throw them out but each contains some sentimental memories. Most of the watches I have owned don’t emit the traditional ‘tick’ – well, certainly the Cassio digital one didn’t!

A further tray has my Christopher Ward (CW) ones – four that get rotated on an infrequent basis. Celina has a CW slim wrist watch but rarely wears it; time now of course comes courtesy of one’s mobile ‘phone!

If we care to look we are constantly reminded of the time. In our living room there’s a digital clock on the Bosch Microwave, on the oven, on the Brennan music system and on the landline handset; on the end wall a large modern clock.

‘To Clock’ is a verb meaning ‘to notice’ or to mean ‘taking a particular time’ as in “He clocked 10 seconds in the 100 metres race.”

There are many examples of rather odd public behaviours and obsessions during and in-between the Covid-induced lockdowns of our society. One is a renewed interest in more old-fashioned pastimes and a revulsion about our ‘throw away rather than repair’ attitude; ‘The Repair Shop’ has been an unlikely hit series on BBC television. Filmed in the Court Barn of the Weald & Downland Living Museum in Singleton, West Sussex, the fictional workshop to which the public bring items of huge sentimental value for refurbishment has developed a cult following; so much so that a 9th series has just been commissioned. Those who follow it have become absorbed by the skill and artistry of the repair shop experts who tackle the restoration of eclectic items brought through their door;  leather chairs, paintings, trophies, teddy bears and dolls, grandfather clocks, radios etc etc …… and recently a ‘clocking on’ machine.

If you couldn’t understand why I was scribbling about The Repair Shop in a postcard entitled ‘Tick Tock’, now I hope the penny’s dropped? Clocking On machines were prevalent in factories where the workforce punched their attendance card on arrival and departure. A clock recorded the time and naturally they became known as ‘clocking on’ machines. One was recently brought into The Repair Shop by a chap who had used it personally for over 40 years when working for an engineering company in the West Midlands. When the building was demolished he bought it.

My step-father loved his large clocks and wound them every Friday evening on his return from the office in London. Although there was no grandfather clock, all the downstairs rooms and hall had a ticking clock; the latter, sitting on the hall table, chimed the hour and that sound echoed through the house (See PC 58 Going Home – December 2015). When the house was still in the early hours, when to a young boy ghouls and ghosts wandered about, the sinister atmosphere was magnified by this sound.

Tick! Tock! Tick! Tock!

Richard 18th March 2022


PS Big Ben is Big Ben. But actually that’s the nickname for the Great Bell of the striking clock on the north end of the Palace of Westminster. The Elizabeth Tower, as it is now officially known, has undergone a £79 million refurbishment which will end this summer. The whole edifice, tower, bells and clock, is one of London’s most iconic landmarks and will always be called ‘Big Ben’!  

Note 1 QLD is GMT -10, NSW GMT -11, Western Australia is GMT- 8 but the Northern Territories are GMT- 9½!  

PC 273 Stories to Tell

Last week I was drafting some light-hearted scribbles about clocks for this week’s missive but I can’t ignore the other stories than clamour for oxygen, so this is a somewhat different, more serious postcard than I had envisaged. Not sure about you but I think I have a reasonable understanding of contemporary history and the events that have created the world and its political systems as we know them in 2022. But it seems that individuals can reread, rewrite or reinterpret history in ways which suit their own narrative. You may remember PC 226 ‘The Truth, The Whole Truth ….’ which explored the rather modern take on what’s true; this idea there is ‘your truth’ and ‘my truth’. On a simplistic level “one person’s version of past events can be rather different” – summed up nicely by the statement from The Queen – “recollections may vary”.

Map showing how the old ‘Soviet Block’ shrunk post-1990

Had twenty minutes on Tuesday before my dental hygienist appointment and I had promised to catch up with Sami this week but entering the Hope Café I was waylaid by the main barista Josh. Now have two stories that shock and dismay me in equal measure, one international and one domestic. I signalled to Sami I would be with him in a minute and gave my attention to Josh. I learn that his grandparents had indeed escaped the Nazi threat in 1938 and made it to England on a Kinder Transport. (See PC 269)

As the conversation develops, he discloses that relatives of his grandparents had been living in Ukraine at the start of the Second World War. I shouldn’t have been surprised as the Jewish diaspora stretches around the world like veins around the body. But I hadn’t known what had occurred in those days in the Babyn Yar area of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, whose name became today’s news as it was shelled by Russians last week in the current war.

Nazi Germany’s Eastern reach

Nazi Germany’s eastward expansion reached Ukraine in September 1941. Jews were rounded up in every town and village; in the capital Kyiv some 34,000 were simply shot and thrown into a ravine. As 85 year old Igor Aheyev, who lost three siblings and his grandparents, recounted: “Old and young, men, women and children, were just annihilated ….. for nothing ….. just because they were Jewish.” Josh imagines his distant relatives were among them.

I tell him of twenty-something Ukrainian Olga who owns an apartment here in Amber House. She’s in the process of converting her Masters in Human Rights from the University of Sussex into a Law Degree – another two years of study! Her parents had lived in Kyiv up until last weekend and she had been unable to make contact. Last Sunday she heard they had made it across the border into Moldova – “the first time I breathed in the past two weeks”. This is personal news in what would otherwise be a somewhat impersonal conflict, no matter how we identify with the obvious suffering.

And if you are trying to fathom Putin’s aims as far as Ukraine’s concerned, remember the actions of one of his predecessors, Stalin. That dictator wanted to not only replace the country’s small farms with state-run collectives but also punish the independently-minded Ukrainians who posed a threat to his totalitarian authority; echoes of Putin’s aim? Russians simply confiscated the wheat harvest with no compensation. Between 1932 and 1933 some 3.9 million people, about 13% of the population, died of starvation, possibly one of the most horrible ways to die. (Note 1) It’s known as The Holodomor, a combination of Ukrainian words for ‘starvation’ and ‘to inflict death’.

‘Skin and bone’

Josh had to get on and serve a customer; I make my way over to Sami who’s in his usual seat. I tell him I have been watching the actress Ambika Mod’s portrayal of a junior NHS doctor in the BBC’s ‘This is Going to Hurt’. He looks confused. I explain that his own parents’ experience of being uprooted from India to settle in the UK is similar to Mod’s. She wrote: “Does that make me a first or second generation immigrant? I am confused!”   

Sami rummages around in his satchel and pulls out a cutting from The Sunday Times. The large photographic spread is headlined: “Will Justice Finally be Delivered?”

….. and goes on to list ten individuals who either ran the Post Office, were Post Office legal counsel, Members of Parliament who had responsibility for inter alia the Post Office or who ran Fujitsu UK, the company responsible for the error-ridden computer system; some or all of them bear responsibility for one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in the UK’s legal system. The idealist in me hopes punishment will be meted out appropriately; the cynical me thinks I live in cloud cuckoo land! The inquiry is expected to last the whole of the year; only 72 out of 700 have had their names cleared to date.

Sami is due to give evidence next week but has yet to receive a penny in compensation, a situation I find absolutely disgraceful. See my ‘Generosity in Government’ PC 235 June 2021. Having been accused of ‘losing’ £10,000, he borrowed money to pay this and the Post-Office-imposed fine back. He defaulted on his mortgage and had to declare himself bankrupt. As it’s now six years on, the details of his bankruptcy will be removed from his credit file. He’s hoping he will be properly compensated although compensation scales will not be set until 2023.

“You know, part of me thinks there was some subconscious racism at work in the Post Office Management.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Well, a large proportion of sub-post offices are run by families with immigrant backgrounds; I’m the classic example. Was there a belief that we immigrant families would never dare question the mighty management (of the mother country!)?”

I looked at him, my mind racing. There are two sub post offices within walking distance of my apartment, both run by families of obvious Indian Sub-Continent descent. This was also true of ones I used when living in South London and, although the Post Office does not collect data on the background of their sub post office managers, maybe this is true country-wide.

“Interesting! Sami, how was it that hundreds of sub-postmasters and mistresses, who heretofore had always balanced their books, suddenly were having unexplained losses, at exactly the point when a new IT system was introduced? Did no one think? Did no one add two and two and get four and not three?”

My mobile alarm suddenly started beeping; I needed to leave pronto!

“F**k! Sorry! Got to dash but good luck next week. Text me?”

Finally, social media has wonderfully creative examples of how we in the west view Putin. This is just one:

Richard 11th March 2022


Note 1 Compare with the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol today, without water, without power, without food for days now, starving but still with hope?

PC 272 Temporal Memories

Haven’t been able to get to the Hope Café this week so will have to wait to find out more from Sami as to how the next months might develop.

The Russian invasion last Thursday of the sovereign nation of Ukraine has naturally been the focus of news here in Europe; the severe flooding of Brisbane and parts of Sydney in Australia is relegated to ‘other news’. Whilst the Ukrainian situation develops hour by hour, the commentators are having a field day, raking over Europe’s political history, trying to make sense of the Russian president’s actions (Note 1). Most believe Putin has become too isolated, too paranoid, even too deranged to be capable of rational thought and subsequent action. One commentator suggested that the end of the Cold War was hailed as a success for Western politics, democracy and diplomacy. Apparently George Bush senior said: “We won!”, the inference being that ‘the other side’ lost. Putin belongs to the other side and this loss has burned deep in his psyche. Today that fire has reached the surface, grateful for oxygen!

We have been reminded of the Cuba Missile Crisis of 1962, when the then president of the USSR Nikita Khrushchev tried to station strategic missiles in Cuba, considered by the USA as its ‘backyard’. The US President at the time was one JF Kennedy, a youthful 45 and riding on a wave of popularity and charisma. (Note 2) He faced down the Soviet threat and the world breathed a huge collective sigh of relief.

But where were you when he was shot in the head, in Dallas, just over a year later? My generation will always remember that day, that event. Me? I was in Salisbury at a concert, which was interrupted with an announcement JFK had been assassinated. The coach took us back to school at West Lavington in stunned silence. He had been a beacon of light in a gloomy world. We made scrap books of the newspaper articles and magazine photographs; we were moved.  

Got me thinking about other events whose memories remain as fresh today as the date they occurred. Obviously there are the personal ones that track along one’s lifeline, ‘births, marriages and deaths’ or ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’, one’s first kiss, first love, winning or losing at things, being awarded things, being promoted or demoted for instance and there are others that are generational like my memories of JFK’s assassination and my next temporal memory.

The morning of 21st July 1969 dawned clear and sunny. I was exhausted …. but happy. The last days of a two week military exercise were over, a significant eighteen months was coming to an end and I was off to university for three years to study Civil Engineering. You may wonder why the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom wanted someone to study civil engineering, unless they were serving in the Royal Engineers? It was all about have science-educated officers who could use their technical knowledge when undertaking staff appointments. Where was I? Well, actually in a 160 pounder tent (Note 3) in Trauen Camp on the Bergen-Hohne Training Area in Germany. I had been up for at about three quarters of an hour, my battery operated radio (Note 4) tuned to the British Forces Broadcasting Service and its news programme.

At 0415 CET Neil Armstrong had stepped backwards down the ladder from the Apollo 11 Lunar Module ‘Eagle’ that had landed on the surface of the moon. JFK had been shocked when the USSR had sent a man into orbit around the earth (Yuri Gagarin in 1961) and he pledged to get an American onto the moon first! Armstrong’s words, static and radio distortion notwithstanding, were clear enough: “One step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Wanting to hear it again, I ‘YouTube’d it yesterday and listened to this moment in history. Today of course conspiracy theorists contend this ‘moon landing’ was created in some American desert or film studio, whilst feminists complain that Armstrong’s words were sexist! Historical acts, particularly where recordings are available, should remain exactly as spoken at the time!

A memory of an event within this century is the terrorist attack in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York on 11th September 2001 – now referred to as 9/11. Here we would have referred to it as 11/9 but this was in America. I was on holiday in Göcek in Turkey, west of Fethiye on the Turquoise Coast, out for supper in a local restaurant. We were suddenly aware of television sets being wheeled out into the street; crowds gathered and we just gawped, unable to fathom what we were witnessing, the constantly repeated footage of a passenger aircraft being flown deliberately into a building.  

President George Bush was told of this and the three other attacks on American soil while visiting a school in Sarasota Florida. At that particular moment in contemporary world history, America’s foreign policy changed. Within weeks servicemen from America and its NATO allies went into Afghanistan, ‘to ensure it didn’t become a safe haven for international terrorist organisations’. (Note 5)   

But you haven’t mentioned where you were when Princess Diana was killed in a grotty traffic tunnel in Paris, or when TV weatherman Michael Fish told people ‘not to worry’ about a forthcoming storm in 1987 that killed 18 people, or when you heard that David Bowie had died?”

Sorry! Ran out of space ….. but I do remember where I was when Elvis Presley died!” (Note 6)

Richard 4th March 2022


Note 1 I put a small ‘p’. Gorbachev would have warranted a capital one.

Note 2 By contrast the UK Prime Minister was Harold MacMillan (1894-1986), in office very pragmatic and unflappable, but a rather staid aristocratic individual. 

Note 3 I guess its designation referred to its weight 160lbs (73kgs). Not sure what it weighed wet …… but it was big enough to accommodate six camp beds.

Note 4 The Panasonic radio could also be pushed into a bracket in the foot-well of my VW Variant – so sophisticated to have a radio in one’s car!

Note 5 Twenty years later all western forces withdrew; a pragmatic decision!

Note 6 On 16 August 1977 I was on the Italian island of Sardinia