Sunday, 27 March 2016



This is the tentenary, the tenth post on the blog and we celebrate this magnificent numeral. Where would we be without it? Still doing pounds, shillings and pence, for one thing. Decimal, decade, No.10 Downing St (Tony's Den at bingo, perhaps Blair's only lasting legacy - how tawdry and appropriate), the Top Ten, ten to the dozen, a perfect ten, ten a penny, five'll get you ten, ten fingers and toes, and of course, the Ten Commandments, to name but ten.


Truth, the whole truth and nothing like the truth

Dating in the late autumn years is different from dating at 17. You present differently: less spots but more coronary grafts. It's a different kind of marketing exercise, something like having a market stall of second-hand clothes right in front of a very cool designer outlet shop. Yes, there will be people who want antique, retro style - charity shop scourers and boot sale vultures. But not as many as flock into the shop behind you, and a different age-group.

A few years ago I decided that it might be nice to be in a couple again; that once Daughter#2 had gone to University, and the dog had yapped her last yap, it was going to be fairly solitary around here, and that although I managed my separated status well, that could change. And that by then my ageing might mean that I hadn’t got the front to go dating (at 70+!). So with many reservations, I signed up for and Guardian Soulmates. I filled out my profiles, truthfully, on the grounds that they’d find out everything in the long run, so if there was anything they really didn’t like, best get it, and them, out of the way early on. For example, I confessed to my Tottenham season ticket, thus clearing away many football-hating women and thousands of female Arsenal fans immediately, killing flocks and flocks of birds with one stone.

Unfortunately, very few people follow this policy. Dating sites exist in a different reality, one in which the truth has been the frequent casualty in the scrap between what is, and what people would like it to be. Age, for example: a woman’s real age on a dating site is calculated by adding 6-7 years to the figure given in her profile. Very correct feminists have assured me that this statement is neither prejudicial nor sexist, It’s just how it is. Probably men are the same, though I didn’t get to see their profiles so I really don’t know. I expect so. I didn’t misrepresent my age, because that makes me feel uncomfortable and insecure. It’s expediency as much as morality: one would be constantly in danger of getting found out, and I just didn’t want hide my passport every time a woman came round.

This is not an essay on the cult of youth in our society, so I won't labour the point that people prefer to be thought of as younger. Or do they? Is it not the opposite side of the coin, that they don’t want to be seen as old. So people lie about their age and post photographs of their much younger selves. Understandable, and very sad, but stupid: unless they intend the relationship to remain a virtual one for ever, they are going to be found out when they finally meet. Their prospective partner will feel disappointed, deceived and resentful, possibly not the best platform of emotion for a first date – and almost certainly the last one. Where would the trust be? How likely is it that the man (in this case) will feel the same attraction for this woman who is 10 or more years older than the one he saw in the website thumbnail. Likewise for a woman. Maybe they should, to be correct, but these new norms really don’t influence the basic laws of attraction: chemistry, magnetism, aesthetics, intellectual compatibility, sense of humour etc. They are either there, to some degree, or they are not and no amount of self-persuasion that you ‘should’ be attracted to this person (even though you are not) will make one iota of difference.

I found myself in exactly this situation early on in my web-dating career. I walked round the bars of a large pub several times before I realised I had walked past my date several times, because she was far older than I was expecting. She didn’t hail me because she didn’t want to wear her spectacles. I was not indelicate enough to ask her age, but from her appearance, clothes, voice, and attitudes, I would guess she was 72, to be charitable, which is not the same as 53, her profile listing. Her photograph had been found through archaeology. We had a more or less pleasant hour and a half (in which her age and old-fashionedness dictated that I should buy all the drinks; I terminated the evening before she got hungry as well); surprise to say that we concluded it was not a match made in heaven, nor even Wembley (where we were – the closest terrestrial approximation to Heaven), and parted without bad feeling. Except for my feeling that I had been conned, unnecessarily; not a tragedy, but quite irritating. Later, I met another, much younger woman, who was living off meals provided by older male website daters, several times a week. Men can be exploited, too, particularly older men.  It’s a jungle out there, for single Seniors…


from the incomparable Robin Williams:

'You're only given a little spark of madness, you mustn't lose it'         

'Cocaine is God’s way of saying you’re making too much money'

'Ah, yes, divorce . . . from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man's genitals through his wallet'

'In the midst of all this ranting, you can’t forget that in New York harbour, there is a statue that says, “Give me your tired, your poor…” And that doesn’t mean, “…for two weeks, to do light housework”

'If it's the Psychic Network why do they need a phone number?'

'Some people say Jesus wasn't Jewish. Of course he was Jewish! Thirty years old, single, lives with his parents, come on. He works in his father's business, his mom thought he was God's gift, he's Jewish. Give it up'

'Never fight with an ugly person, they’ve got nothing to lose

'Do you think God gets stoned? I think so ... look at the platypus'

'Cricket is basically baseball on valium'

'A woman would never make a nuclear bomb. They would never make a weapon that kills. They’d make a weapon that makes you feel bad for a while'


David Milner's photo.

Thanks so much for your letter. I hadn’t realised we were on first-name terms but it’s obvious that we should be friends, we have so much in common. You live in Barnes, by the Thames, I live in Willesden, by the North Circular (both in London, see). You are unbelievably wealthy, I am unbelievably unwealthy. My small fortune was accumulated through 50 years of hard labour in study and public service, yours was acquired by inheritance from your dad, billionaire Sir James – he of the very questionable friends – like Lord Lucan), marriage to a Rothschild (I’ve often thought of screwing my bank, but like Cameron, you’ve gone the whole hog) and some token work to pass the time, along with backgammon and poker. Your wealth amounts to about £300million, mine a bit less than that. The similarities and coincidences just go on and on: you’re a pretty young guy, I’m pretty old. It’s like we were identical twins separated at birth!

Now I don’t know whether the letter was your idea or one of your advisors’. If the latter, sack them. It is a transparent attempt at scaremongering: smear Sadiq Khan, with his association with Jeremy Corbyn. As Corbyn is doing better than Cameron in the polls at the moment, you should be more worried that you’ll be smeared by association with the PM – or Boris – you seem to be flirting with both of them, you naughty boy. Anyway whatever his politics, Corbyn is an honest, decent man. And as the Conservative Party unravels to its dishonest core at the moment, backstabbing coming to its leadership as naturally as breathing, the electorate will appreciate the straightforward, honest, socially responsible, policies of Corbyn and Labour. You lot are making us look really good right now. Smear techniques like your letter are scraping the barrel of political activity: they are usually employed by people and parties who fear defeat and will go to the depths to avoid it. I’d heard you were better than that. I suppose the chaps would give you a bit of a joshing if, with all your wealth and contacts, you were beaten by a bus-driver’s son! (“I say, Tarquin, bit of a rum do: the lunatics are taking over the asylum, what!”)
I guess you got my name from the electoral roll. God put me on it to vote against you and your party.It is His way of saying 'watch your back,they can always get rid of you'. I have tried to do that at every election since 1964. So you won't be getting my vote unless you put a couple of million through my letterbox.

Zac, think positive: if you don’t get to run London, you can always buy it.

Venceremos, buddy

                                            No Mr Crabb, homosexuality is not a sickness,
                                                              but bigotry certainly is.


Researching a piece on Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the only major British Art Nouveau figure, I came across the work of his wife, Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh. Art historians may correct me, but over many years of looking at the work of Mackintosh (male) I had never come across the work of Mackintosh (female). Surely it cannot be the case that her work was in any way downgraded or overlooked because she was merely a woman? Heaven forfend!

Which is which?       (answer at the end)


The beauty of the Mackintoshes' work moved me to poetry. I posted this yesterday on Facebook and it largely escaped people's notice or approval, one or the other. So I'm giving it another airing in case you appreciate the surpassing beauty of language, but missed it.

There's a gaping hole in my literary portfolio: novel (under revision) play (under review by assorted luvvies) auto-bio (selling like hot cowpats)....where's the poetry? Let's have a go:


Ronald Reagan
was a vegan.
Margaret Thatcher
liked gazpacho
George Bush: he
liked sushi.
Tony Blair
adored a pear.
But Alex Salmond
dined on ham and
eggs. Exclusively.

I think you’ll agree that my candidacy for Poet Laureate is a shoo-in after this seminal contribution to English literature.

You know what? If you've read this far in the blog/post, it would be really nice if you could put your name or initials in the comments section at the end. I would like to get some idea about who I am reaching. Thank you, I don't care what they say about you, you're a good person. Don't be shy, I won't out you...

Mackintosh answer:   

CRM left   MMM right

Sunday, 20 March 2016



"NUMBER NINE - Doctor's orders!"   Quoi?  It's not intuitively obvious where this bingo call comes from, but your grandparents would have known. In World War 2, army doctors used to give out a laxative, which was called 'Number 9'. Have I given you a fascinating piece of trivia to fill any conversational lull in your next dinner party, or what?  

Nine is not as rich in associations as seven but there are a few: nine bells (no idea) nine ladies dancing (12 days of Christmas, or gay edition of Strictly?), Nine Elms (New Covent Garden, Battersea Dogs Home), dressed up to the 9s (9 is a biblical superlative, later often associated with clothing), the whole nine yards (highly disputed origin), a stitch in time saves nine,  cloud 9, 'nine times out of ten', nine day wonder, and of course, the wonderful Niner Simone.  There are two other weird aspects of 9: one is that back in the days of, literally, dialling telephone numbers on a revolving dial, the 9 was almost the furthest number, and therefore the longest to move round to and longest to return to base, in order to dial the next number. So in picking 999 as the emergency number it would take longer to summon help than necessary. Now of course 111 has been chosen for non-emergency medical help. A lesson learned? Not really, these things don't apply to push button or mobile phones in the same way, and there's less hurry with a non-emergency call.

Finally, when you multiply a number by 9, then take the resulting digits and add them together, it always come to 9. For example, 6 x 9 is 54. Add 5 to 4  =  9. I can't think of a single aspect of my life which is helped in any way by this numerical phenomenon, so it is relegated to the category of clever, very hard to explain and utterly useless).

All numbers are unique, but to paraphrase Orwell, some numbers are more unique than others. Seven is the single most popular number in our culture but nine runs it close for use in expressions. Of course, cats have nine lives, or they think they do, which is why they often look knowing, and quite smug.


 In the next few weeks I would like to 'memorialise' some people who have made a unique contribution to history, by daring to be different. Some choices may be surprising to you but probably not the first one:

Muhammad Ali

 Ali used his fame when he was at the top of his game to
make a stand against the Vietnam War on religious grounds. One of the most popular sportsmen in history, known all round the world, with a higher recognition factor than Elvis Presley, he drew the wrath of the American Establishment by these actions. Arguably he was the greatest boxer ever, just like he said, but the humanitarian model he created was just as influential as his dancing in the ring. Parkinson's is taking him but the memory will linger on and on.


'It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.'

'I know where I'm going and I know the truth, and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want.'

'Sonny Liston is nothing. The man can't talk. The man can't fight. The man needs talking lessons. The man needs boxing lessons. And since he's gonna fight me, he needs falling lessons.'


I used to be such a fogey: this is something I started to write a few years ago, probably as an outlet for anger. Fortunately the star of this particular show is now fully mature and unrecognisable from this portrayal, it says here...

A           ACNE:  eruptive skin condition, disfiguring, varying from the spot to the relief map.
               See also: ‘ackney  (once a very poor London Borough, now a very poor London Borough)
                                Acme: 1950s floor polisher
                                AC/DC:  bisexual rock band
B           BISEXUALITY: in teenagers, condition of uncertainty about sexual orientation often        lasting for more than an hour at a time.
C           COOL: ultimate accolade. State of grace impossible for anyone to achieve over the age of 25
D          DENCH (as in Dame Judi):  cool. Transient term, origin obscure. Likely to be only slightly more opaque in two years’ time than it is now.
E          ELECTRICITY BILL: meaningless paper transaction mapping how not-Green people are. Teenagers may safely ignore this till they leave home; however vengeance can be wreaked on cruel parents by leaving all lights and appliances on 24/7 and turning up thermostats. Parents will soon tire of nagging about this.
F           F-WORD: Used sparingly it still has great impact, particularly when grandparents and guests are around. Over-use, to the same level as parents’ usage, persuades parents that teenager is now adult, can support him/herself, without further pocket money.
G         GREEN: All teenagers say they will vote Green when they are old enough. This is a bit cool, and saves them finding out anything about the major parties and politics in general, about which they know next to nothing, having prioritised gaming for the last 10 years.
H          HILARIOUS:  slightly funny. Good example of Chronic Exaggeration Syndrome e.g  ‘BREAKING BAD is the best television programme EVVUH’, ‘I look so bad in this people will vomit’, ‘You are SO mean, £100 is NOTHING these days’
I           I:  the first word in every sentence, will probably also be median and final word.
J           JESSIE J:  Already disappearing over the horizon, damned by too many parents liking her
K          KOOL-AID:  the soft drink used to disguise the poison used in the mass suicide in Jonestown. Examination of the victim’s records showed that every one of them was American and had two or more teenagers at home.
L          LESBIAN (see BISEXUAL) compulsory stage of teenage girls’ development coming between ballet classes and vegetarianism.
M         MUM:  Hate-figure, Madonna, nag, confidante, traitor, teacher, rival, companion
N          NEUROSIS:  is entirely normal, in fact obligatory for teenagers; only psychosis should raise an eyebrow.
O          OMG: textspeak, for Omigod. A strange incantation, for the totally godless non-believer.
P           PERSONAL HYGIENE: a State of Grace devoutly to be desired but still having the status of 
              an ambition rather than a habit.
Q           QUEER:  see bisexuality
R           RANSOM NOTE CRISIS: when teenager is kidnapped, awful dilemma at to whether to pay,              pretend you haven't received the demand for a few days in order to have a holiday, or write                  back saying 'forget it, we've let his/her room'.

I don't know why it stopped at 'R', probably she came in the room and I had to cover up.....



THE GOOD:  The Danish Girl. I liked this a lot and found Eddie Redmayne very plausible, if not as a woman, then certainly as a man who desperately wanted to be one. His journey from transvestite though transgender to transsexual (though stopping short of TransSiberian railway) had the ring of truth and evoked sympathy and admiration for his courage. I am reliably informed by my local sexual politics expert that his portrayal is flawed, though how you can know this without seeing the film beats me. Hearsay, rumour and received opinion I guess. Hmm.

THE BAD AND THE UGLY:  High Rise. The Guardian liked this film and gave it 4 stars. I actually can't remember a film I've enjoyed less, left early (as one of the later departees, having given up hoping for a bomb scare) and would have left after 15 minutes if I hadn't spent £12 to get in, and it hadn't been so cold outside. Ben Wheatley directs the film based on a J.G.Ballard novel about a dystopian 1970s tower block. So, potentially good story, excellent cast (though Tom Hiddlestone may be photoshopped as in some shots his head looks much too small for his shoulders) lots of room for lovely retro seventies interiors, clothes and hairstyles – but with all that going for it, it's still a disaster. Packed with gratuitous sex and violence (I prefer sex and violins these days) it starts off badly and quickly deteriorates, having tried to out-do Tarantino and failed. Truly self-indulgent film by a director who was clearly on some left-over 1970s acid. You must go and see this film – if you've done something really bad and deserve sadistic punishment. May become a cult film on grounds of rarity value as the director will clearly never work again. OK, I liked one shot, lasting about 7 seconds, of the car park, from the top of the block: very painterly. That's it. If I have said anything at all which makes you want to go and see it, I apologise for my mistake. Sorry.

Saturday, 12 March 2016



On the first page of a novel (whose name I forget) by an author I can’t recall (though I have an image of him as a slender Angus Deayton-like figure, so we can rule out Clive James and Oprah), – anyway, there is, in the first paragraph, one of the best word-plays I can ever remember reading. I’m not going to call it a pun because puns for me connote the rather contrived, sneaky, self-regarding manipulation of similarities in sound or meaning beloved of my father’s generation, producing winces rather than laughter. No, the quotation in question is something else, a majestic sweep of the English language, causing it to turn a balletic somersault, landing unwaveringly on its feet, and skipping off the mat on tiptoe to the rapturous applause of the audience, knowing they are privileged to witness such virtuosity.

The author writes: “If Oxford is the City of Dreaming Spires, then for me Cambridge was the city of perspiring dreams”. Imagine the surge of excitement, joy even, as that equation was formed in his mind; the patience and frustration as he waited for an opportunity to use it; the realisation that he might have to write a whole novel after using it in the first page, just to see it in print. How many times did he read it back to himself, looking at it from every angle, passing it around his mouth like a good claret? I think he deserves every ounce of the self-congratulation he undoubtedly lavished on himself.

This kind of verbal gag is very situational: they need to be seen as spontaneous, of the moment, not rehearsed and produced as if just thought of.  True confessions time: I once stored away a gag in the back of my mind for about 6 months, waiting for the right opportunity to use it. Eventually it came during a meal in a caravan on the Isle of Mull, with seals playing on the beach outside and a clear view of Iona – a suitably beautiful backdrop to the birth of my gag, after a long confinement:  picking up a vegetable dish, I offered it to our guests with the words: “Would you like a few increments of celery” .  OK, Oscar Wilde can take this level of competition without worrying, and you may be thinking “What kind of a geek would even remember something like that, let alone want to celebrate it, in public?”.   My kind of a geek, I suppose.

In Psychology, nothing truly exists without a reference, and so those habits of thinking and belief make me apologise for providing no data on the book itself, or its author. Sorry. Memory loss, hair loss and just plain loss are the order of the day, so I’m writing now, while stocks last.  Sic transit gloria mundi. (‘worldly things are fleeting’) or as we say here in Billericay, ‘the van’s broken down, Gloria’ll nip down and pick it up early next week’.

My personal favourite turned up in The Guardian, many years ago, in the sports pages. The writer described how the Scottish nation get very excited around the time of the World Cup and, when they've qualified, send their team off to the finals with a sincere and euphoric belief that they are actually going to win the thing: invariably they go out in the early stages to a team of paraplegic part-timers from Paraguay, This syndrome has been widely recognised as a clinical disorder and has been called 'Premature Jock Elation'.

It gets worse: Mahatma Gandhi walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

Last week I posted one on FB which I think merits a mention: under the heading 'The Holly and the Ivy', I suggested that there should a Jewish Christmas Carol called "The Chollah and the Oy veh'.

And finally, there was the person who sent twenty different puns to his friends, with the hope that at least ten of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did...

 FEAR NOT (said he,  for mighty dread had seized their troubled minds)

Driving down the M1, I listened to Gloria Steinem on Woman’s Hour. It was inspiring, not in a revelatory way because we are of the same generation, as are Greer, Dworkin, Angela Davis and all the other pioneers, and had a consciousness of feminist issues raised just by virtue of swimming with the tides of the 60s, or surfing them. Steinem always had a way with words and could have been a top political copy-writer, or advertising woman. This morning she said “Follow your fears: they are the way to growth”. I assume she meant follow them, throw them to the ground or trip them, and kick the living shit out of them.  Then they are dead and you are free of them.

If I have one regret about my life it is that in childhood and adolescence I carried too much fear and anxiety. Some were conquered or simply passed; others instilled ways of thinking and feeling as habits, which ensured that they lasted way beyond their natural span. Steinem is essentially right, they are better confronted than buried, only to to do their mischief beneath the surface. To slay the dragon, be it air travel or public speaking or spiders or anything, takes courage: and the person who does so is far, far braver than the person who was not afraid of these things in the first place (though who is generally seen as the more courageous). Easy to say but hard to do. There’s no ‘how to’ manual, no Idiot’s Guide to Fearlessness. But I can say, however tritely, from my own experience, that the anticipation of the dreaded event is so much more frightening than the actuality. And if you can, rationally, realise that truth, you have taken the first step, because you have struck a blow against phobiaphobia, which is even more crippling than the original problem. The next step is to do that thing (whatever it is that you fear, Just Do It) whereupon you discover that indeed it is way less terrifying than you expected. That's the first course of bricks out of the wall. Persist, do it again, and the wall of fear starts to crumble, at a remarkable rate....

Who said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”?  Well, allegedly it was Churchill quoting
F.D.Roosevelt, without attribution, apparently. On the button, whoever said it first.


Abraham Lincoln                            

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.


I recently lost my keys, including a car key/remote. I've managed with my malfunctioning spare key for a few weeks, but then it occurred to me that, given my propensity for losing things, sooner or later I would lose that and then I would be completely screwed. So I went to Spire in Kentish Town (BMW agents) yesterday to get a new key, forearmed only with the knowledge that they are 'expensive'. The nice man asked me for £139.40. When I regained consciousness, I put it to him that for that money I would expect to have a key with an onboard chip that sent a GPS location to the police whenever somebody of a different fingerprint picked it up, made decent espresso, and contained a memory stick with a playlist which included Dylan and the Bach cello suites. "Sadly not", he said, ''for those features you have to pay an extra £2.70, and I can see from your charity shop clothes you don't have that kind of money".


You may be thinking 'serves him right, shouldn't buy pricey German cars' which is fair enough, I can understand that and I'm suitably admonished and contrite. Until the nice man told me that the very same key for a Vauxhall Corsa is an eye-watering £175.  Deutschland Uber Alles, as I always say.

PIECES OF HATE  (reprinted from FB)


                                                                                          "FUCK THE JEWS"                      


On a lighter note I make no apology for repeating this cartoon I posted on FB some months ago: I chose a bad time and it missed most people. It's one of the best cartoons I can remember seeing.


                           'Handbags' by Dominic Dibbs       (