Sunday, 31 January 2010


It had to happen sooner or later. I've got rid of the lady in my life. There was nothing wrong with her - it was just time to move on. Anyway, it's not as if we'll never see each other again. I've put her in a cupboard in case I might have need of her in the future. Her name was 'Helga' and she was my SatNav lady.

My wife and I were very fond of her. Although she apparently has a Dutch accent, we named her 'Helga' and she really became part of our family. She guided us through many of our journeys in life, only occasionally leading us into a dead end. Most notably, she helped some friends and ourselves travel the length and breadth of Norway. Since then, those friends often sign off letters and emails with 'Love to you both and to Helga'.

But now I have a new car and the SatNav is built-in so Helga has become redundant. This has given us the problem of finding a name for our new lady. She has a pleasant, 'plummy' and very English accent and so far, the top of our list of names for her is 'Wanda'. Any other suggestions?

Did I mention that I find her voice very sexy? Perhaps I am suffering from Wanda lust.

Friday, 22 January 2010


Every year around Christmas, we start hearing of the latest 'must have' gadgets. This year there were the usual game consoles and the new games to play on them. There were the state of the art Blackberries and other mobile phones with the Apple iPhone at the top of most people's wish lists. We mustn't forget the various mp3 players or iPods to enable us to listen to music on the move. Then there were the most recent variations of SatNavs to help us know where we are. Finally, a mesmerising choice of computers in a wide range of sizes, many of which are portable.

Technology has leapt forward in the last century and continues to do so at an alarming pace and the list above really only begins to scratch at the surface of what is available.

Join me for a moment in casting a thought back to earlier times and considering what the Victorian equivalent of the Porsche might have been, or the Georgian version of the computer.

Our ancestors in the times prior to electricity, would have coveted the most fashionable pocket watch perhaps, or a telescope to gaze at the heavens. Quill pens would have been sought after since the fountain pen was not invented until 1884. The 1880's also saw the invention of the first camera and so prior to this, artists were in great demand to create paintings and perhaps cameos of loved ones since the daguerrotype images were not very clear.

Sedan chairs and horse-drawn carriages would have been the forerunners of our modern day cars and penny farthing bicycles would have been on many people's Christmas list after 1871 when they came into being.

I find it fascinating to consider the range of Christmas gifts which would have been all the rage back in the 19th century. Snuff boxes, ornamental pipes and tobacco pouches, sewing accessories and hatpins for the ladies, hoop and stick or jack-in-the-boxes for the children.

It is amusing to think that if we were able to leave an iPhone in a Victorian gentleman's Christmas stocking, he would probably consider it to be a very poor shaving mirror!

Sunday, 17 January 2010


I came across a lovely piece of nonsense verse in my grandfather's journal 'Pierrot's Album' which I'd like to share with you.

I think nonsense verse is such a lovely art form. We all have silly moments, usually in private, but to put your daft thoughts down on paper takes some courage.

The poem was written during the war years in the early 1940's, when the situation in Britain was dire and people must have struggled to find humour anywhere. This makes the poem even more poignant.

News was filtering through about Operation Barbarossa, Hitler's ill-judged attack on Russia and perhaps our spirits were raised as we heard of the Nazi's difficulty as they encountered the cold Russian weather. This undoubtedly inspired the poet's thoughts as he penned these lines. Note that many of the place names are real.

'Road to Moscow'

From Omsk to Minsk a thousand miles
From Plonsk to Plinsk is furder
From Plinsk to Plonsk you can't go wrongsk
Tho' all the way it's murder.

They have no trams from Tomsk to Omsk
No taxis up to Plopski
The trains are bad to Leningrad
and petrol not a dropski.

The road to Moscow goes through Umsk
Thro' Dumpsk and Umpski Dumpski
and all the way from Omsk to Plonsk
You're marching on your tumski.

So Heil to Omsk and Tomsk and Plonsk
and Heil to Plinsk and Plonski
From Plinsk to Plonsk you can't go wrongsk
So now we shan't be longski.

N. Gubbins (1941)

Sunday, 10 January 2010


So Britain is suffering it's worst winter since 1963. We're under snow and don't have the infrastructure that other countries which are used to this weather have. However, being the optimist I am, I decided to try to come up with 10 good things about living in the snow in freezing conditions. It's been very difficult but here goes.

1. It's all very pretty. We have Christmas card views everywhere.

2. There's less traffic on the roads. We may have to drive a bit slower but fewer cars around counterbalances things quite a lot.

3. I have a very good excuse for not tackling gardening chores - weeding, mowing, watering, digging - all impossible!

4. It's easy to entertain the kids. They just love it - and building a decent snowman takes a long time.

5. If you feed the birds and I hope you do, there are plenty of good opportunities to see them gratefully visiting your garden.

6. There are less people in the shops so less jostling at the tills.

7. People are friendlier and there's more camaraderie and good will around.

8. There's a chance to practice winter sports like tobogganing.

9. It's a good time to re-acquaint yourselves with some old winter clothing favourites which don't get used too often.

10. It's also a great opportunity to catch up with those jobs at home which get left for a rainy/snowy day - like putting photos in albums for instance.

There you have it - 10 reasons to be cheerful - of course I could have written 100 reasons to be miserable but then so could you!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


That's it then. Another year done and dusted.

As we took down the Christmas decorations I remarked to my wife that it felt like it does when you are coming back from holiday. It's lovely to go away but so much nicer to come home as Frank Sinatra used to sing.

Christmas is a wonderful time of year but it does rather take over the house doesn't it? It felt so good to be putting our home back to normal again.

We saw in the New Year and saw everyone else round the globe see it in as is the fashion nowadays. Is it me or are the firework displays becoming a bit habitual? After 'Wow', 'Amazing' and 'Incredible' I'm starting to run out of words.

Then of course, one's attention turns to making New Year's resolutions. Although as someone has pointed out, we should be vowing to improve ourselves more than just once a year.

Anyway, I went with the flow and thought up a couple or three for myself. Sadly, the traditional one about losing weight fell by the wayside in the first nano-second as I reached for the chocolates and peanuts.

Then I got to thinking. There has to be a better way. So I have come up with a revolutionary idea for these resolutions and I put it to my wife who readily embraced it. Simple really - we each set one for each other. It worked well because in both cases, we correctly predicted what the other would choose. Mine was for me to do more to help around the house and my wife's, which would have been my choice for her, was to be tidier.

The point is that if either of us fails to maintain our resolve, it lets the other off the hook - so if I want my wife to keep things tidy I'd better get that vacuum out!

Sunday, 3 January 2010


Regular readers will know that I work part-time as a 'befriender' at a children's hospice. One of the joys of doing this is that I never know from one day to the next, who I shall be working with.

On a recent visit I was introduced to a 7 year-old boy who we'll call Ben. It was Ben's brother who was dying. Ben was perfectly fit and healthy but on this occasion, his Mum had been up all night at the hospital with his brother and was now utterly exhausted and sleeping upstairs. Ben needed entertaining for a few hours and I was lucky enough to get the job.

I introduced myself and Ben was having trouble remembering my name so I pointed at the end of his foot ('Toe') then at his knee - Toe - Knee and he laughed at this silly name. We went outside and played football, then a game of hide and seek. We played a board game and I after that I dressed him up in a pirate costume. I played the guitar and he pretended to play one along side me. We made a great duo.

He was getting tired now so we sat on the sofa while I read him a story as he instinctively cuddled up to me. That was when it happened. He looked me straight in the eye and said 'You're my new best friend'. My insides melted.

Later, we played some more. 'Can you remember my name now?' I asked him. 'It doesn't matter any more' he replied, because I'm just going to call you 'Best friend'. Life doesn't get much better than that.