PC 279 Starstreak

As much as we would love it to be otherwise, there is probably a point when all of us could resort to violence. It’s like saying to someone ‘I will give you some money if you …..?’ ‘What’s your price?’ …. and they protest and say ‘I can’t be bribed’ and then they are given a figure which starts their own internal challenging of the issue but still they resist ….. until an amount is offered which would transform their life and their principles lie shattered on the floor …… and they take it!

I think it’s same with violence. Unless you are tricked into a situation when struggle is immediately rewarded with your demise, such as trying to escape a concentration camp by climbing the fence in full view of trigger-happy guards, a one-on-one situation will quickly move towards some physical or assisted response. It’s one of the reasons why countries where guns are readily available have higher deaths per million of population than those who don’t. On the sliding scale of responses, going from A-Z if there are graduated options is better than if Z is very close to A.  

But the desire to defend what we hold dear, the values of our chosen society, is basic. Most countries have some form of Armed Forces the notable exception being Costa Rica, which abolished its military in 1948 after a bloody civil war.

Here is England one of our kings, Harold, was killed when an arrow fired into the sky embedded itself in his eye. Ouch! It wasn’t the first time that projectiles fired into the sky had been used to attack ground forces but the advent of heavier-than-air machines in the First World War meant Biggles-type pilots flying over the enemy trenches could drop hand-grenades and bombs. Those below responded by firing their rifles and machine guns; thus started the need for defence from attack from the air.

Some 47 years after the end of that war I walked across the threshold of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and spent the next 20 years wearing a uniform. I spent some years in West Germany looking east towards the threat from the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. My last role was commanding an Air Defence Battery in the UK equipped with a first generation, shoulder-launched missile system called Blowpipe. The operator had to track the target and the missile at the same time and hopefully the two combined in some impact. (Notes 1 & 2) It was first used in anger during The Falklands War, whose 40th anniversary fell this month. Like many first-generation systems it was extremely difficult to use and came in for a lot of criticism from those who imagined you simple fired the missile at a target and got a hit. (Note 3) Records suggest its operators succeeded in bring down 5 aircraft.

Towards the end of my Battery Commander tour, during a bi-annual live firing practice camp at the Royal Artillery Range at Manorbier in South Wales, I was approach by someone from Short Brothers, the company who made the system, and offered a potential sales role. I joined them in April 1985 and became a salesman for air defence missile systems, initially for Blowpipe’s successor Javelin. (Note 4)

I was a typical salesman, developing contacts and giving presentations and demonstrations to those who were responsible for such purchases; loo paper, cars, mobile telephones or missiles, it’s the same basic process although a ‘demonstration’ for ‘loo paper’ might be an unnecessary one!! My ‘pilot’ bag contained slides and videos and I got on an aeroplane at Heathrow – initially to European capital cities and then to ‘India and The Far East’.   

Whispered confidential conversations about the next generation system during a visit to the manufacturing plant off Montgomery Road in East Belfast (now Thales Air Defence) got me up to date with what the company called Starstreak.

Starstreak comprises a rocket which blasts three little steel darts, captured in a laser beam, towards the target. The kinetic energy released on impact is enough to destroy the aircraft. I used to travel with one of those three darts in my pilot’s bag to aid my presentations. I would always declare it at Customs as that was the easiest way to get through. Most thought it was a scale model of a much larger missile; I did not enlighten them!

One particular memorable live firing demonstration took place at the company’s range at West Freugh south of Stranraer in Scotland. A delegation from Denmark watched as the three darts shredded a canvas sheet sitting on a raft about 2500m out to sea. I left the company in 1991 and completely forgot about it – until last month when I read that it had been used in the war in Ukraine. Whatever development programme you might have been involved in, it’s gratifying to read that the end result is a highly successful addition to an army’s air defence capability.

The Tripod-mounted Starstreak

On Wednesday The Times reported that the UK are giving Ukraine the Starstreak system mounted on a tracked vehicle called Stormer.

And finally, an Army connection! I met Crichton at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst on the 9th September 1965; he was commissioned into the Royal Gloucesters. It’s lovely to still be in touch and he commented on Unintended Consequences post card (PC 277 April 2022): “I am constantly impressed by your ability to write about complete trivia (I don’t think all of my posts are trivial!!) but make it interesting and fun, especially when you have been people watching in your local café!”


Richard 22 April 2022

www.postcardscribbles .co.uk

Note 1 CLOS Command to Line of Sight is the basic. Then Semi-Automatic Command to Line of Sight (SACLOS) and finally Automatic (ACLOS) when the system tracks both target and missile

Note 2 The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was always looking to buy weapons for its conflict against the British State. The cartoonist Jak brilliantly summed this up, depicting someone holding a Blowpipe cannistered missile for sale, with the caption acknowledging its native origins.

But don’t ask me what end you blow through!

Note 3 There are two basic types, one infra-red seeking aka ‘Fire & Forget’, and one which relies on the operator or system to track the target.

Note 4 This name is now used by the American company Lockheed Martin for their Anti-Tank missile system.

PC 278 Refuge – The Hope Café

Refuge:  ‘shelter or protection from danger or distress’, ‘a place that provides shelter or protection’ or ‘something to which one has recourse in difficulty’.

Haven’t managed to get to the Hope Café for a while, so it was good to push open the black-framed door and enter its cosy warm space – a sort of personal refuge. Nothing had changed so it’s comforting to see the familiar! I reach a table near my normal one as that’s occupied and raise a hand to Josh, who indicates a double espresso is on its way.

Susie is also behind the counter so he brings it over:

Morning! Haven’t seen you for a while! You OK?”

Yup! Fine! You?”

“Of course! You probably expected to see Sami here but he’s gone on holiday, now his evidence to the Post Office Inquiry is over. He thought it went well but he was exhausted having to relive the sequence of events that eventually resulted in his bankruptcy.”

“Poor chap! Really hope that he and all those wronged individuals get good compensation.”

As Josh ensures there are no crumbs from the previous occupant of my table by wiping with a cloth, he turns his head towards another table. “There’s a lady over there who has heard about you and wants to tell you something. Her name’s Edith.”

I pick up my notebook and walk across to the purple-hatted elderly lady who has a pot of tea, a crumpet and an empty chair in front of her. “Hello Edith! My name’s Richard and Josh tells me you want to chat?”

A crumpet with lots of butter!

“Sit down, Richard” she says in heavily accented English, “I recognise you from standing outside Trinity Medical Centre a year ago (See PC 224 Trinity) but more importantly I overheard your conversation with Josh the other week about how Jews fled from Nazi Germany. I was one of those refugees; I was aged 3 and more to the point, came from Prague with a great friend of mine Marie Korbel.

“Not a name I recognise! Who is she?”

She looked down and I saw a page ripped from The Times with the obituary of Madeleine Albright.

 “Was! She became the American politician Madeleine Albright and her obituary was in the paper on 23rd March; she was 84. Apparently she had been a refugee twice in her life. The first time was aged 2, when her family fled to London as their home in Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis in 1939. It was almost sixty years later that she learned that her grandparents and a dozen of her relatives had died in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. After a brief return to Prague, the Soviet-backed communist coup in 1948 saw the family sail for the USA. It says here that Madeleine thought Britain welcomed refugees then asked when they would be leaving, while in America they felt welcomed and were asked when they would become US citizens.”

“You didn’t go back to Prague, Edith?”

“No! My parents found work, I went to school and became ‘English’; have been living quietly here in Hove for years.” She reached out and put a slender hand marked by purple veins and parchment-like skin on my arm. “Now you can mention me in your writings, again!” she said with a smile as she turned back to her crumpet.

That’s a really interesting comment about how we British expect refugees to return home, especially today when millions of Ukrainians have fled the conflict engulfing their country. I sense Ukrainians who have been displaced by the conflict will, in their hearts, want to return. The issue may be when that will be possible, given the wanton destruction and therefore rebuilding necessary. By that time they, like Edith, will have become embedded in their host countries, adults into work, children into school and so on.

We used to have a history of welcoming refugees in this country, starting with the Huguenots. They were French Protestants who were so persecuted by the Catholic Government of France in the C17th that they fled, in huge numbers. Some 45,000 sought refuge in England, others in non-Catholic countries in Europe or in the United States and Africa. They brought the French word refuge into the English language as refugee. (Note 1) 

Jews were banned from this country for 300 years before Oliver Cromwell overturned the ban in 1656. Since then there has been a steady trickle and a surge in 1938/1939 of whom Edith and Marie Kobel were just two. Parts of North London are heavily populated by Orthodox Jews.

Whilst the plight of the Ukrainian refugees and their treatment or non-treatment remains headline news, the English Channel continues to be a popular route for others. Refugees from Iraq, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan particularly, some 5000 so far this year (Note 3 & 4), are making the perilous 22 mile crossing from the Calais area to Dover in dangerously overloaded inflatable dinghies in journeys organised by people smugglers.

I read an interesting and arresting news item in the paper last week. The head of the White Helmets group of search & rescue volunteers in Syria, currently numbering some 3200 individuals, accused European nations of giving preferential treatment to the refugees from the Ukraine over those from the civil war in Syria. The figures suggest he’s correct; over six years some 20,000 Syrian refugees have settled in Britain, whereas 22,000 visas have been granted to Ukrainian refugees in the past month. (Note 2) “It’s double standards. Refugees should be treated equally regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion, because they have equal rights.” In an ideal world he’s probably right, but ideals suffer for pragmatism and I suspect European Ukrainians are viewed as having more equal rights than Arab Syrians.

And finally, in last month’s PC 275 ‘Kerfuffle’ I scribbled about the use of two swear words f**k and s**t. Two weeks on and Rose Wild in The Saturday Times reports that the subject is very current!!

A busy morning in The Hope Café!!

Richard 15th April 2022


Note 1 Refugee: “The UK government accepts someone as a refugee if he or she has fled their own country because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group of political opinion.”

Note 2 Our Home Office has come in for a great deal of criticism over its handling of those from Ukraine wishing to move here.

Note 3 Some 600 on one day this week, the 13th April. Nine out of ten are economic migrants and are male. The Government plans to send them ‘for processing’ to Rwanda!

Note 4. The breakdown of illegal immigrants arriving last year across the English Channel is thus:

PC 277 Unintended Consequences

I know some people have stopped reading, listening to or watching the current news stories, such is their general gloomy and doomy nature. Personally I am a news sponge, soaking up the facts, the fiction and the analysis; history is being made as I write. Years ago there was a newscaster here in the UK who tried to provide exclusively ‘good news’ stories; it didn’t last long!  Today there are many websites offering it: www.goodnewsnetwork.org – “good news itself is not in short supply; the broadcasting of it is.” Or www.postive.news –  “the first media organisation in the world that is dedicated to quality, independent reporting about what’s going right.” (See PS Below)

I guess the broadcasting organisations give us the gloomy and doomy stuff because there is something compulsive about its absorption; a little like driving past the scene of an automobile accident – and having to look, to stare, to work out what happened. If you are driving at the time this is an absolute no-no. (Note 1) There’s even a verb in English to describe this foolish action – ‘To Rubberneck’. 

My car key fob: open, close and open tailgate

‘In the old days’ some things were much simpler but technology has given us gadgets galore to make our lives easier. I mentioned amongst other things in PC 167 Modern Complexity (January 2022) the TV remote controls; the need to get up off the sofa to change a TV channel was erased overnight. It’s the same with the locking/unlocking device for your car. A real key was necessary to unlock the doors and boot. Then a remote locking system became pretty standard. My Saab’s key was actually hidden inside a moulding, which fitted into the slot on the console.

On Monday last week I met up with Jon in Bill’s in Lewes. Bill’s, a quirky restaurant both in food and decor, was started by Bill Collison in Lewes in 2001; the second one opened in Brighton and now there are currently over 70 branches in the UK.

Produce for sale in Bill’s

I had parked in the local Tesco car park (free for 3 hours!). After a convivial lunch we walked together upriver back to the car park and to our respective cars; Dick Head had parked so close to me I could not get in the driver’s side. (Note 2)

Fortunately the parking space on the passenger side was empty. I unlocked the door by pressing the key fob ‘unlock’ (obviously) and lowered myself onto the passenger seat then lifting my right leg and placing it in the driver’s side foot-well. It was a good thing I do Yoga as this sort of manoeuvre requires certain flexibility. All good! The key fob was in my right hand and inadvertently the tailgate button got pressed. It rose silently and gracefully into the damp air and it was this, the sense of the damp air that alerted me to the problem. Note 3.

The only way to close it is by pressing the button on the tailgate itself! I extract myself from my delicate position astride both front seats and exit the car. I walk around to close the tailgate and make a second attempt to get into the driver’s seat from the passenger side, keeping an eye on the safety of the Crown Jewels, the proximity of the handbrake level and the location of the key fob. Success! Key into the ignition, start the engine and reverse out of my space.

Mentioning ‘the Crown Jewels’ and we are not talking here of what HM might wear to the State Opening of Parliament, reminded me of other slang words for male genitalia: ‘lunch box’, ‘meat and two veg’, ‘naughty bits’, ‘tackle’ to mention a few. Believe me, banging the Crown Jewels is momentarily completely incapacitating and has been compared with child birth. As pain is very subjective it’s impossible to make a judgment, apart from saying that pain in the nuts fades quite quickly whereas giving birth can take many hours.

But this little experience reminded me of cinematic recreations of two individuals trying to make love in a car. Invariably there is a great deal of huffing and puffing before achieving their goal, for which they should be awarded an Olympic medal for gymnastics. Steamy windows? Well only when Mr Plod spots the car in the deserted car park with its four way flashers operating (something inadvertently pressed the button) and tries to see what’s going on. What was it Tina Turner sang: ‘Steamy windows – zero visibility. Steamy windows – coming from the body heat!

Recently there has been a move to make our internet purchases more secure, by the introduction of a ‘security code’ sent to your mobile telephone. This is a good idea, except that it is not instantaneous! The other morning I bought something online, was told to wait for the ‘security code’ ……. and I waited …… and I waited ….. the page on the website asked whether we wanted to log out ……. I made a cup of coffee …… I checked my text messages – nothing …… I waited …… and finally, after 38 minutes, I got the code which if I had actually been patient and waited for it, would probably have ‘time-expired’! (Note 4)

Now, next week I will be scribbling about …………..

Richard 8th April 2022


PS  Something to mull over; this week recorded the 40th day of the Ukrainian war. In that time western allies of Ukraine have delivered some one billion dollars’ worth of military hardware. On the other side, Russia is receiving one billion dollars each DAY in revenue from its oil and gas sales. 

Note 1 Researchers in the USA estimate that 10-16% of all accidents there are caused by rubbernecking, ie distracted drivers. Some 1000 people are injured daily by distracted driving. You have only got to go onto YouTube to watch people being complete ****wits!

Note 2 In the last year I have lost some weight ….. but the bones don’t shrink! There was absolutely no room – well 15 cms perhaps.

Note 3 Recorded by the comedian Gerald Hoffnung (1925 – 1959), The Bricklayers Story is a tale of unintended consequences and my car experience reminded me of it. Although dated (1958) it should raise a laugh if you listen to it on YouTube. Hoffnung had fled Nazi Germany as a boy in 1939 and died in Hampstead of a cerebral haemorrhage aged 34.

Note 4 I had bypassed the code system by simply putting in my details and finished the payment.

PC 276 Pictures at an Exhibition

I imagine we’ve all traipsed around art galleries at some point in our lives, whether on a school trip to one’s town or city’s municipal display or to the capital city, as a student of ‘Art’ or as an adult who appreciates drawings, paintings and sculptures. In London this would probably mean visiting the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, the National Portrait Gallery around the corner in St Martin’s Place, Tate(s) Modern and Britain, The Royal Academy of Arts on Piccadilly, The Hayward and The Serpentine. Abroad and you’re also spoilt for choice, with The Louvre in Paris,

…… the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, MoMA and The Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Museu de Arte do Rio in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro or the galleries in every state capital in Australia; the list is endless.

My view of Aberystwyth in Wales

Using the verb ‘to traipse’ might give you a clue as to my abiding feeling, ‘To walk or move wearily’; initially I am always enthusiastic but find after two hours I have had enough and need to sit. Sitting in front of an internationally renowned painting doesn’t work, as the crowds of visitors block your view. It’s better to find a less popular artist and a work you can get lost in, if you get my meaning. I visited one gallery every time I went to Copenhagen on business back in the 1980s, just to sit in front of one particular painting, in silence, and get my fix! If you don’t want to wear out your shoe leather you can always look at all the paintings and creations on line, in detail, up close.

Local artists here in Brighton and Hove have a large choice of wall space on which to hang their creations, some obviously for sale but others simply to grow their following. These days they probably do that on Instagram as well.

My latest triptych

At this point you might wonder why I am scribbling about a subject, Pictures at an Exhibition, which is already covered by thousands of books and here’s me trying to be succinct, in a thousand words! The connection is the capital city of Ukraine, one we knew as Kiev and now know as Kyiv.

My knowledge of Russian classical composers only covers four of the main five and probably just their more well-known works. (See PC 109 That Reminds Me (1) November 2017) Think Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Scheherazade and The Flight of the Bumblebee), Alexander Borodin (Prince Igor), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (the ballets Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, his Symphony no 6 (Pathétique) and the Violin Concerto in D major) (Note 1) and Mussorgsky (Pictures at an Exhibition). What I hadn’t known was that Mussorgsky’s first name was Modest! A quick Google search reveals it’s not unusual in Russia as a male first name and its female version Modesty is tagged internationally to the main character of the comic strip Blaise.

I can’t imagine that the saying ‘Modest by name, modest by nature’ applying to a classical music composer with a big ego but I can’t find the origin of the saying so it may be I dreamt it?

Modest Mussorgsky 1839 – 1881

Mussorgsky had been born in 1839, some five years after the artist, architect and designer Viktor Hartmann had been born in St Petersburg. They probably met in 1868 and quickly became friends, both devoted to the cause of Russian art. Hartmann gave Mussorgsky a couple of paintings; Mussorgsky dedicated a composition to Hartmann. Sadly five years later Hartmann died of a suspected aneurism aged only 39 and Mussorgsky became deeply depressed. Friends of Hartmann organised a memorial exhibition in the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg in February 1874; over 400 paintings were exhibited, including the two that Mussorgsky owned.

Inspired by his friend’s paintings, Mussorgsky composed ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, a suite of ten piano pieces with a recurring theme, in three weeks in 1874. It was not well received and didn’t get published until five years after Mussorgsky’s early death at the age of 42. I probably have heard the whole suite but it’s the Great Gate of Kiev that is memorable and my ears can recognise it instantly. Hartmann had designed a monumental gate for Tsar Alexander ll (1818 – 1881) to commemorate his escape from an assassination attempt in 1866 – “in the ancient Russian massive style with a cupola shaped like a Slavonic helmet”. The sketch The Bogatyr Gates was included in the exhibition and became the 10th piano piece.

The painting which prompted Mussorgsky’s The Great Gate of Kiev is top left

Other paintings of the ten included a ‘ballet of un-hatched chicks’, two Jewish men, a dark painting of the catacombs and the ‘Hut on Hen’s legs’.  I have this rather romantic notion that all cities had monumental entrance gates; maybe I have watched too many Ben Hur-type movies. Certainly the inner city boundaries have been subsumed by urban sprawl and Kyiv doesn’t have anything resembling Hartmann’s design.

Watching the current wanton destruction of Ukraine’s villages, towns and cities raises many questions; how do people survive, how will they be rebuilt and who will pay for the rebuilding, currently estimated to be $100 billion but this is just a finger in the air figure? But rebuilt they will be and tourists in the future will wander the streets of, for instance, the old port city of Mariupol and marvel at the ancient buildings and narrow streets.

If they have no knowledge of history they will be none the wiser. Take Warsaw, a city flattened by the vengeful Nazis after the 1944 Warsaw Uprising of the Polish resistance. The uprising infuriated German leaders, who decided to destroy the city as retaliation.

The ‘old’ centre of Warsaw today

It was rebuilt brick by brick, stone by stone, to look exactly as it had.

Richard 1st April 2022


Note 1 Possibly Tchaikovsky’s most famous work is his 1812 Overture, composed in 1880 to commemorate the Russian defence of Moscow against Napoleon’s invading armies sixty-eight years previously.

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

PC 271 Friday 25th February 2022

On Tuesday we had one of those palindromic dates – 22/02/2022; it reads the same forwards as backwards and in a digital format upside down. The comedians also refer to it as Twosday, presumably a nod to the Winnie the Pooh stories and Owl’s inability to spell, although Pooh’s feathered friend would be the last to admit it!

(Thanks to Beth St Claire in Auckland for this)

Not sure what goes on with coincidental observations. Is it our minds that are unconsciously seeking connections that we subconsciously are eager to see? Let me explain. I have started painting again after many years of inaction and needed some paper to sketch out an idea. Sellotaping sheets of A4 together worked but I suddenly thought of those flipchart paper pads that I used frequently in past careers.

A visit to the nearest Rymans, a High Street stationery shop, saw me heading home, a rolled pad under my arm and £16 poorer! The next day we arrived at the Yoga Studio early, to find the lovely Armando Colucci waiting. Armi works for Schwarzkopf UK (Note 1) as their Academy Coordinator and under his arm …… was a roll of flipchart paper!! Actually his was a very superior type, magnetic and wipeable; he was off to London after class and the paper roll wouldn’t fit in his suitcase.

After last week’s postcard about phrases (PC 270), the very next day I find Robert Crampton’s column in the Saturday Times starting: “I reckon the worst phrase in the English language is: ‘I like you … as a friend.’” He went on to mention phrases that he liked or disliked. In the latter camp was his wife’s ‘It was the one thing I asked you to do.’, trotted out on her return from a few days away and necessary because he clearly hadn’t done the one thing she had asked of him!

The third coincidence was a mention of ‘ad infinitum’ in some television drama script. Having written it the day before was it simply lurking in the background of the subconscious? One of my regular readers asked what other phrases I use; I jotted down ‘A miss is as good as a mile’ and ‘inch by inch life’s a cinch, yard by yard life is hard’ (Note 2) and realised my engineering education may have given me a bias towards numerical phrases. Just a thought!

As I entered The Hope Café this week I thought I would do more than nod to the grey haired chap in his regular seat and say ‘hello’, for how else do you develop a ‘community spirit’? Having got my coffee from Susie I stopped by his table and introduced myself. He smiled in recognition, said his name was Sami Gupta and suggested I sit down. He put aside a hardback copy of ‘This Charming Man’ by Marian Keyes.

Such a great book!” I declared, having read it last year, and he smiled in agreement. Old habits, such as my initial need to understand someone’s back story, die hard and I found myself asking if his parents had come from India.

Do you know, my mother was English? She was working in the Colonial Civil Service in Gujarat when she met and married my father; 1946 I think. The following year the Indian subcontinent was partitioned into India and Pakistan, and the majority of Anglo Indians decided to leave. My parents settled in Southall, which was rapidly developing into a ‘Little Punjab’. I was born in 1956 and after school worked for the Post Office. Eventually I became a sub-post office manager in the main one in Southall.”

Southall lies to the north east of London’s Heathrow Airport

Please don’t tell me, Sami, that you’re a victim of the Post Office scandal?” (See PC 235 June 2021)

Actually I am! Got charged six years ago with fraud, as £10,000 was missing. I was taken to court, fined, declared myself bankrupt and left the Post Office. Have been unable to find a job since so come in here, read books I get from the library and enjoy the warmth and atmosphere of this café.”

After the successful High Court action that has led to the Public Inquiry

I would love to know a little more of what’s happening with the Government Inquiry but this morning I need to complete my next post, so can we get together next week here?

“Of course! Good luck and chat next week.”

Back at ‘my’ table, I glance through my cuttings. Here in the United Kingdom a debate about one’s gender has been rumbling, in the background for most of us, in the front line if you are unsure of your gender or sexuality. I read that ‘trans people do not feel safe here’ but ‘for the average Briton allowing people to legally define their own gender presents no concern at all’. To be honest, I don’t think ‘public opinion’ has really considered the topic, as most of us are happy to think of him and her, mother and father and raise our eyes to heaven when we read that ‘birthing parent’ should replace ‘mother’!

Where the topic is interesting is on the sports field. Individuals who have changed gender should not be able to take part in competitions of the opposite sex. This is particularly true of those trans males competing against females; too much testosterone in their bodies that can’t be erased!!   

Richard 25th February 2022


PS Today we wish our friend Sandie a Happy 50th Birthday!

PPS I am trying to persuade Rahmi to quit smoking. Yesterday I told him he would have saved £715 if he had stopped his packet-a-day habit on 1st January 2022. He probably thinks I’m a plonker!

Note 1 Always amuses me that an international company dealing with hair colouring products and shampoos is called Schwarzkopf. For ‘schwarzer kopf’  translates as ‘Black Head’!

Note 2 This does not work well in the metric system: “Two point five four centimetres by two point five four …….” You get the problem!

PC 270 Phrases

I feel comfortable in the Hope Café so I am back in my usual spot. Naturally I nod my head in acknowledgment to those who are similarly habitual; the grey haired chap in the corner, always with a hardback book, a couple of twenty somethings for whom this is their office and of course to whoever is behind the counter. I have brought something sweet from the new Brazilian cake shop next door and look forward to sampling it with a double espresso.

Great horned owl mama with two owlets

Getting up in the morning, with or without a dog to walk or exercise class to go to, is not an issue for me! Being a Lark and not an owl I identify with the phrase ‘The early bird catches the worm’ and truly believe that ‘early to rise makes one healthy, wealthy and wise’, although the last two adjectives are for me simply aspirational!

On India’s Independence Day and my nephew’s birthday this year, twenty-sixth of January in case you were wondering, The Times covered news that here in Britain a great many sayings that would have been familiar to our grandparents are no longer understood, never used, or considered completely inappropriate in the C21st. You may remember the pamphlet series ‘Bluffer’s Guide to …..’ where you could learn key facts about Etiquette, Cycling, Entertaining, Wine, Golf, Tennis, Football or Opera for example. Careful study of these light-hearted guides would help those who need help, those who need a leg up, those who need to make friends, those who need to influence, by sounding like you know everything there is about the particularly subject. Truly bluffing your way through life.

The use of Latin phrases dropped liberally in one’s conversation or writing, is a sine qua non for some poor people, poor as in sad and not financially poor, anxious to show their educational or intellectual prowess. The affectation is dying out but maybe still found in the dusty corners of our Civil Service, or indeed from the mouth of our current Prime Minister. I readily admit to using inter alia and maybe ad hoc, and recognise but rarely use carpe diem (seize the day), ad infinitium (on and on) or ‘cognito, ergo sum’!! (I think therefore I am).

Long gone are the days when cables sent back to HM Government contained Latin words. You may know the lovely one from General James Napier, fighting Queen Victoria’s wars in India in 1842? Ordered to subdue a particular part of the large independent state of Sind, to the North West of British India, Napier, flushed with success at the Battle of Miani, ignored his brief and occupied the rest of Sind State, much to the anger of his boss Lord Ellenborough. Napier’s dispatch to London contained one Latin word, ‘Peccavi’ (note 1)

The Times’ article listed a number of sayings which are in danger of dying out, although 73% of the survey sample, 2000 people aged 18-50, believed it was a shame if they did! In Britain it’s inevitable that the weather features in our sayings, but I don’t recall ever using ‘cold as a witch’s tit’. While not listed in Nigel Rees’ ‘Phrases & Sayings’, it refers to the imagined icy blood and wrinkly skin of a witch – why were witches female I wonder? Personally I use ‘cold as a brass monkey’ or in full ‘cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’. 

But hey, Je ne sais quoi! I certainly use ‘under the weather’ to describe being slightly ill, and when it’s ‘raining cats and dogs’ I am aware that the saying originates from a time when towns and cities had poor drainage and, after torrential rain, it wasn’t unusual to see drowned cats and dogs. Of the 10 most endangered sayings, I probably only use one, then only when the moon’s blue – ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, particularly dealing with our landlord’s lack of urgency in getting things done. And in the same vein use ‘measure twice, cut once’ a great deal and always try to ‘hit the nail on the head’!!  Others on the list of sayings dying out are ‘pearls before swine’ (don’t waste time trying to persuade someone who’s thick to do something), ‘nail your colours to the mast’ (dropping out because you can’t nail the White Ensign to a metal mast!), ‘I’ve dropped a clanger’, ‘ready for the knackers yard’(the destination of horses not cars – never quite translated across!), ‘a fly in the ointment’ and ‘know your onions’.

Food often works its way into our sayings: ‘don’t cry over spilt milk’, ‘the best thing since sliced bread’, ‘like two peas in a pod’, ‘can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs’ and ‘it’s a piece of cake’. Others I sense I use quite often are ‘killing two birds with one stone’, ‘better late than never’, ‘bite the bullet’, ‘it’s not rocket science’, ‘no pain no gain’ and ‘time flies when you’re having fun!’

One of my favourite T Shirts

Countries have their own collection of sayings, like the famous ‘No Worries’ originating in Australia. In Brazilian Portuguese you hear people shout ‘va tomar banho’ (give me a break!) and then there’s ‘em boca fechada não entra mosca’ (better to keep your mouth shut and don’t offer an opinion – but literally keep your mouth shut to prevent the flies getting in) or ‘meter o bedelho’ (getting involved in someone else’s business)!!

It’s possible that these scribbles about sayings prompt ‘a penny for your (own) thoughts’? Maybe you can picture something as a ‘picture paints a thousand words’; but it was the group Bread in 1971 who questioned ‘then why can’t I paint you?’

I am pleased to see that, after my last postcard entitled ‘Hope’, the owners of The Hope Café have stencilled the proverb “Hope well and have well” above the counter. Good choice for an enterprise focused on giving sustenance to people.

In closing these scribbles I hope you remain ‘as fit as a fiddle’ in its C21st meaning and not its C17th one, when it meant fit for purpose or well suited.

Richard 18th February 2022


Note 1 Translated to mean: ‘I have sinned’!