Sunday, 30 January 2011


This is the second example of funny things which I used to hear said as I was growing up. In each case, I have trawled the internet together with a few books in my possession and compared the findings to come up with what I regard as the most plausible origin. I will always quote my source when there is no doubt but usually, as in this case, there are several options.

My poor father was once asked by my mother if he would build a brick surround fireplace in our living room. They were all the rage in the early fifties. My uncle had built one in his Solihull home but as with most of his DIY efforts it came to grief. It looked good enough when he'd finished it. In fact it was so impressive a structure that my Mum nicknamed it 'Warwick Castle'. Sadly for my uncle, it fell through the floorboards a few weeks after completion so he installed underfloor heating instead - but that's another story.

My Dad pointed out that the fireplace would be too difficult given my uncle's disastrous attempt but my mother would have none of it. "What is so difficult?' she asked. "Get some bricks, slap on some cement and Bob's your uncle". Except that Dad's uncle was Joe.

We often used this phrase - it meant 'easy peasy', 'job done', 'no problem' etc. etc. It seems that 'Bob's your uncle' was first noticed as a phrase in common usage during the early 1930's. This means that those suggested origins dating back to the 1800's are thrown into some doubt.

On balance then I will go with the widely reported theories which point to a music hall song written in 1931 by one John P. Long and sung by the famous Florrie Forde. It was called 'Follow your Uncle Bob' and included the lines

"Bob's your uncle
Follow your Uncle Bob
He knows what to do
He'll look after you"

Etymology? What can be so difficult about it? Just find the source and Bob's your uncle.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


I remember my dear maternal grandmother fondly. I called her 'Nanna' so as not to confuse her with my Dad's mother who was 'Granny'. For some reason, some of these memories were of her doing the washing up. This was undoubtedly because I would be doing the drying up and listening avidly to the pearls of wisdom which fell from her lips.

As she aged, she developed glaucoma and when her eyesight failed she used to need to feel with her fingers where the muck was on the plates she washed. I would monitor them for her to make sure things were clean.

The advent of dishwashers has put paid to such tender moments of course. Women have now grown larger feet since they no longer need to stand close to the sink to wash the dishes. I for one am very grateful to their inventor and consider them a necessity rather than a luxury.

Not so one of our armed forces. I was hearing recently of a wife who discovered that when she moved into a 'Forces' house, she was not allowed a dishwasher because her husband wasn't an officer. I presumed this simply meant that officers were given a greater allowance of household gadgets but no, she was forbidden from having one even if she paid for and supplied it herself!

I wonder if they also insist that she do her laundry with a dolly tub?

Sunday, 23 January 2011


I've always loved our language. I love the way it has picked up bits here and there along the way like a jackdaw; the end result being a hotch-potch of words and phrases which contain a great deal of history. My mission is to examine some of these components and breathe life into them to selfishly satisfy my own curiosity and perhaps yours. Let us begin.

I would frequently hear things which my parents, or grandparents said and chuckle inwardly as I mentally locked them up in a brain cell for future use. I was born in the Midlands so there will be a strong 'Brummie' flavour to my choices, none more so than the first example.

It was often the case that my Mum would throw back the curtains in the morning and then remark with an air of impending doom "It looks black over Bill's mother's this morning". The meaning is clear - bad weather is on the horizon and most sources agree that it is a Midlands saying.

The origins are uncertain but some suggest that 'Bill' refers to William Shakespeare whose mother, Mary Arden, lived in Stratford. She was lucky to have lived when she did because her house is full of tourists now.

If this is true, it means that the black clouds were over Stratford, to the south of Birmingham. Thus, if you were looking in that direction from the 'Black Country' which is the West Midlands, you would miss the bad weather since the prevailing South West winds would carry them away from you. However if you were South Midlands as we were, you better dress for rain.

Sunday, 16 January 2011


I bought my first record in 1957 but in the event, I'd have been better waiting a year because in 1958, the first stereophonic records became available. Impatient? Moi?

Of course stereo soon became the norm yet it is still possible to find a 'Mono' button on some music players. Presumably this is for total Luddites who yearn for those good old pre-1958 days when Lulu was only Lu.

Man is never happier than when he's 'improving' something don't you find? In time we were blessed with quadrophonic and surround sound. Lucky us. Mind you, I never like to experience surround sound in company because I feel such a fool when I duck to avoid the low-flying aircraft which I can hear approaching from behind me.

No doubt dear reader, you have a state of the art music system which makes you feel that you're in the middle of the Albert Hall - or Wembley arena depending on your music taste.

I can go one better than that. I have stereophonic newspapers. Ha! Admit it. You're jealous now aren't you? There I am busy reading my Times article about the horrendous price of fuel when my dear wife looks up from her perusal of the Daily Fascist and says 'Good God! £70 to fill your tank up now.'

Unfortunately the tuning is sometimes slightly out and she begins 'It says here that.....' then proceeds to repeat almost verbatim, the paragraph which I have just finished reading. This lack of synchronisation can have its funny side though. I was recently reading about the ongoing police investigation into a Bristol woman's murder when I suddenly heard 'Oh no! She was killed by an elephant on her honeymoon!"

Wednesday, 12 January 2011


Dead men don't eat chips.

I've been taking a look at some writers' tricks of the trade and one of the most obvious is to begin with something startling and enigmatic to grab the readers attention. 'Dead men don't eat chips' seems to fit the bill but I'm sorry to disappoint you - I shan't be expounding on either chips or dead men.

Another typical ploy which my fellow writers use (I suppose I can call myself a writer?) is to write a long and rambling sentence such as this one, which seems to drift on for ages, so long in fact that you come close to losing the thread, then immediately follow it with something very short. Get it?

One of my favourite styles is what I'll call misappropriated adjectives. For instance - "the subject matter of this blog is a matter of astronomical insignificance". Another example would be "She was hideously beautiful".

Finally in this examination of writing techniques, there is ridiculous exaggeration. I went to the doctor for flu jab and she left a hole in my arm which a tube train could have travelled through. You get the idea.

So there you have it. See if you can spot these in my future scribbling.

Sunday, 9 January 2011


I have noticed that many people get incredibly virtuous and industrious around the time of new year. The moment the Christmas decorations come down they start spring-cleaning their homes and that done, they inevitably start spring-cleaning their lives for good measure.

The resolutions are resolutely made and with a sigh of satisfaction that they have somehow created a new dawn, they boldly embark upon their brightly polished, shiny new existence.

I am not one of these people.

The arrival of January fills me with a feeling of utter torpor. Incidentally, have you noticed how much effort people have taken over creating new words for this? Laziness, indolence, sloth, idleness, sluggishness, lethargy, slackness the list is almost endless depending on the size of your thesaurus. It wears me out just thinking about it.

Understandably, I don't much like to apply any of these very negative-sounding qualities to my own condition. The only word which I might describe myself as if pushed is 'lackadaisical'. This is only because I've always thought of the word as meaning 'daisy-like' which somehow appeals to me.

No, I need some other definition of my inactive state and luckily I have the very thing. I hibernate. Unlike the words above this is a very positive action. Like so many other mammals I am clearly shutting down some of my systems to preserve energy all of which makes me feel a whole lot better about myself.

Phew! That was quite an effort on my part - time for a nap.