Wednesday, 29 August 2012


I once took a group of children camping. This in itself is probably grounds for certifying me as insane but if I add that the kids in question had profound learning difficulties then clearly I should hold my arms out for the straightjacket.

On the last morning I was rudely awakened by one of my colleagues who politely asked me if I would come and deal with something. The situation which required my attention was the inside of a tent in which three of our girls had been sleeping. One of them had produced a copious quantity of excrement and saw this as an artistic medium which would make a lovely mural. The mural covered every part of the tent's interior.

This will serve to explain why I have never been camping since but in the unlikely case that I ever get tempted, I remind myself of the ten rules of camping:

1. A flimsy bit of canvas is no substitute for brick walls.
2. A sleeping bag is no substitute for a warm bed.
3. All the dry clothes which you take with you will get wet.
4. Wet clothes will be impossible to dry again until you get home.
5. Insects are not your friends.
6. Camp sites do not have wi-fi.
7. You will grow to hate the dawn chorus.
8. Sharing toilets and bathrooms (if such luxuries exist) lowers your opinion of mankind.
9. Guy ropes serve two purposes. One is to hold up the tent. The second is for tripping over.
10. There was a reason why our hunter-gatherer ancestors started to build permanent homes. 

Sunday, 26 August 2012


The entire world now knows about Prince Harry getting caught playing strip billiards in Las Vegas with a group of complete strangers. This is old news. 

The entire world outside of the U.K. is allowed to see the photos in which the third in line to the throne is guarding the crown jewels very closely.

Oh and everyone inside the U.K. has also seen them courtesy of the internet or The Sun. 

But what is the question everyone is asking? Is it 'Why did he do that with a bunch of strangers without having them frisked for camera phones?' Is it 'Where were his minders?' Is it 'Where was his mind?'

No, the question everyone wants the answer to is 'What are the rules of strip billiards?' 

The answer is that there is a long version and a shorter version. The long version is that everytime your opponent pots a ball you have to remove an item of clothing. The short version means that you also have to remove something each time you fail to pot a ball. 

Put another way, if your balls don't disappear into the pockets they will soon be in public view.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


What do you think of if you are asked about traditional English cuisine? Roast beef with all the trimmings perhaps? Maybe steak and kidney pie comes to mind.

Surely, the the most archetypal food which we are renowned for is the full English breakfast. Eggs, bacon, fried bread, mushrooms, beans, tomato etc. etc. 

But what is the equivalent in other countries? What is the full Morocco or the full Egyptian for instance? Here are a few examples.

The traditional breakfast of sausages made from coarsely minced beef flavoured with spices and fat makes frequent appearances at breakfast tables in Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and so does scrambled ostrich egg.

Moroccan breakfast is called 'tagine' which is a slow-cooked stew consisting of lamb and a variety of traditional herbs and seasonings. It is named after the clay pot in which it’s cooked. 

A typical El Salvadorian breakfast is made of standard national foods and  includes fried sweet plantains, casamiento (black beans and rice in an onion sauce) and salsa.

Often eaten with bread, the traditional Egyptian 'ful medames' breakfast consists of slow-cooked fava beans (partially or completely mashed) served with olive oil, chopped parsley, onion, garlic and lemon juice. 

A standard Hindu breakfast is a mix of rice, lentils and spices and is widely prepared across Pakistan, northern India and Bangladesh. Common accompaniments include deep-fried eggplant, oil-based pickles and yogurt.

The traditional Japanese breakfast consists of nattō (fermented soy beans) on rice, along with various miso soup incarnations and green tea.

Known as Malaysia’s national dish, Nasi Lemak, in its breakfast form, consists of coconut rice, cucumber, anchovies, roasted peanuts, hard-cooked egg and sambal (spicy sauce) served in a banana leaf, newspaper or brown paper.
In Turkey, 'Tarhana' is a fermented and dried combination of cracked wheat, yogurt and vegetables that is usually made into a thick soup and eaten at all meals, including breakfast. 
Why do I torture myself like this when I'm on a diet? My apologies if I have made you drool. 

Sunday, 19 August 2012


I just watched a film set in 1948 in which someone made a call from a phonebox. This took me back and I remembered the many times when I used a phone box myself.

It will be hard for younger readers to imagine in this era of mobile phones and connectivity but way back then, we had to go and find a phone box if we wanted to phone someone.

To make them easier to find, they were painted bright red. You needed the right coins since this was long before credit cards were in use. 

The procedure was to lift the receiver and wait for a dialling tone. Next you inserted the coins and dialled the number. If there was an answer, you pressed a big button called 'Button A' (for answer) at which point, your coins dropped down into the money box. If you were talking and your money ran out, pips would sound for about 10 seconds during which time you could put more money in.

If there was no answer, you could press 'Button B' (for 'back') to get your money returned.

The phone boxes each had their own phone number so you could arrange for someone to call the phonebox at a certain time and hope that no-one else would be using it when your girlfriend phoned you. It was quite common for queues to form outside if someone took a long time making a call.

It all seems so primitive now. Plenty of the red phone boxes have survived though many were sold off and some have been recycled for other uses such as for small free libraries in village settings.

When we were kids I remember six of us getting in a phone box together, squashed in like sardines. There is no official record for this feat but unofficially, they say that fourteen people have managed to cram themselves inside one.

Of course nowadays, this is called commuting.


Wednesday, 15 August 2012


I remember a time when I did someone a good turn and they said 'Thank you for saving my bacon'. 

I've said the same thing myself too but have often wondered why it refers to bacon rather than any other meat or indeed why it refers to meat at all.

It seems that the phrase was used as long ago as the 17th century. Here is a quote from 1654 in 'Momus Elenticus':

"Some fellowes there were... To save their bacon penn'd many a smooth song."

The phrase has a similar meaning to 'saving one's skin' so it refers to escaping from harm.

The reason that it speaks of bacon is simply that way back then, bacon meant all of a pig's meat not just those delicious crispy rashers which I like to eat in a sandwich with lashings of butter, ketchup and Worcester sauce.

Surely this has to rate as one of the greatest snacks of all time. In fact I am drooling at the thought and having to hold back from going off to make one now

... but I digress.

Sunday, 12 August 2012


I love playing tennis but sadly my playing days are over since I got golfer's elbow. Obviously I assumed it was tennis elbow but the medics assure me that it is the smaller ball version even though I was playing tennis at the time.

My tennis 'career' started at the Bristol Cathedral school. Whilst I never quite made it into the Olympic team, you will be impressed to hear that I was 'house' tennis captain at school and our house ('Abbots') finished just outside the medals in fourth place. The other three houses were called 'Deans', 'Canons' and 'Priors'.

Tennis facts and trivia:

1. Though the modern game is British in origin, the original game came from France and was called 'tennis' from the French word 'tenez' which means 'hold'.

2. At one time, the strings of the racquet were made from cow or sheep guts.

3. The fastest ever serve so far has been recorded at 156  miles per hour or about 120 miles per hour faster than mine.

4. The first women to play at Wimbledon wore full length dresses.

They could probably have beaten me even though I was in proper tennis kit.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


It was never going to take long to write about the Olympic sports which I currently play so now I'm moving on to sports which I once played but no longer do. 

In the last century - indeed in the last Millenium, I attempted to be a fencer. Apart from myself, other former fencers include Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

As I remember it, this involved me waving a foil around shouting 'En Garde' while the other chap kept sticking his pointy end in my chest until somebody told me that I'd lost. This didn't seem like a whole lot of fun so I soon moved on in my quest to find a sport which I might be able to win occasionally.

Fencing trivia:

1. With origins dating back to the year 1200, fencing has been an Olympic sport since 1898.

2. The suits are white because long ago, the sword points were tipped with ink to leave a visible mark on the opponent.

3. After a marksman's bullet, the tip of a fencing sword is the second fastest moving object in sport.

Personally though, I never saw the point of fencing. I just felt it as I was jabbed with it.


Sunday, 5 August 2012


When we were kids and had guests come to tea, Mum would whisper 'FHB' to us. This was our signal for 'Family Hold Back' so we would let the guests serve themselves before we dived in elbowing each other aside to grab the best bits.

We were also taught the 'right' way to hold our cutlery and to keep our elbows off the table.

The dining table also served another purpose once dinner was over. We used it for board games like Monopoly or Scrabble and would put up a makeshift net so we could play a gentle game of 'ping pong'.

Nowadays I play 'proper' table tennis and consider myself to be a pretty good player. This was until I watched the game being played in the Olympics and found that it is supposed to be played at fast-forward speed compared to my own efforts. 

Table Tennis trivia:

1. As in our household,  the game began as an after dinner parlour game. It was invented in Britain during the 1880's. Originally, a row of books was used as the 'net' and two more books used as bats. At first it was played with a golf ball.

2. Considered an upper class pursuit, it is also said that it was sometimes played using cigar box lids as bats and a champagne cork as a ball.

3. The original name 'ping-pong' came about because of the noise made as the game is played. For the same reason, it was also known as 'wiff-waff'.

4. The record for the most times a ball is hit back and forth in 60 seconds stands at 173. Whilst the longest rally in competition stands at 10 hours and 13 minutes.

I sometimes manage to keep it going for a couple of minutes myself.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


It's a once in a lifetime experience to be hosting the Olympic games - unless of course you're as old as I am in which case it's twice in a lifetime. 

However, since I was less than two years old last time, you were spared from me writing about it. This time round you're not so lucky.

I play Badminton myself but the game they are playing on the Olympic stage is very different from mine. I couldn't even keep pace with their warm-up. I have picked up a useful tip though. I realise now that I need to leap four foot into the air whenever I smash the shuttlecock. I'm going to try that next time as long as the St. John's ambulance guys are nearby.

Badminton trivia:
* The name comes from the place in my home county of Gloucestershire which is believed to be where the game was first played.

* The shuttlecock itself is made from fourteen to sixteen goose or duck feathers but get this - these feathers have to be from the bird's left wing only. This is presumably to give the bird a 50-50 chance of flying off. There is a popular superstition that using only left wing feathers gives left handed players an advantage.

* The fastest smash ever recorded was 206 m.p.h. One of my smashes once hit an opponent in the eye, thankfully without injury. This was probably because my smashes are travelling at about seven miles per hour if the wind is behind me.

* Finally, Badminton is one of the few sports where the game has to be stopped regularly to wipe sweat off the court. Now I understand why I slip so much.