Depression is a funny thing…

(Photograph by Kat Love via UnSplash)

I’ve been through – before the pandemic – in fact, last century – I’ve been through that odd phase of not leaving the house and leaving my curtains closed all day.

I also went through a phase of not opening mail for a week or so. This was strangely like the English comedian Malcolm Hardee – a man never visibly depressed. He once told me that he would randomly throw some mail away, unopened, not knowing who had sent it nor how important it was. 

At least I opened mine eventually.

Now I open my mail as soon as it arrives and I keep my curtains open during the day.

I don’t open my windows, of course.

I was partly brought up at a very impressionable age in a council flat on a hill in Aberdeen, Scotland.

If you opened the window fully there, you would have frozen to death.

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Christine Keeler’s son remembers mum

Yesterday was Mother’s Day in the UK and Seymour Platt wrote: 

“This Mother’s Day, I am working to get my Mum the best gift I can – a pardon.

“Abused as a child, Mum fled her home at 15 and, over the following years, powerful men took advantage of her. From the age of 19, she spent 18 months being stalked and frequently raped by a violent man, who eventually attacked her in the street. When the case went to trial, Mum would be jailed for perjury while her attacker would walk free. 

“She lived the rest of her life branded a liar, powerless to challenge the lies that were told about her.

“My Mum is Christine Keeler and I want to set the record straight…”

His ​​christine-keeler.co.uk website says:

​Christine Keeler was an icon of the 20th century.

But what you think you know about her isn’t true.

Behind the glamorous image was a woman who was abused throughout her life.

​A woman whose traumatic experiences affected her until her death in 2017.

​It’s now time to re-evaluate Christine’s life.

It’s time to #PardonChristineKeeler

Christine Keeler and her son Seymour, c 1975 (from Christine’s private collection)

Yesterday, Seymour wrote:


I was struggling to remember a Mother’s Day with my Mum. Did I get her a card and make her breakfast? I just can’t remember.

I do remember the first cup of tea I ever made her. I was probably about six years old and had seen tea made a hundred times. I felt very grown up when she said yes and I went off to the kitchen. We used a tea strainer to make tea – it was the 1970s – add a teaspoon of tea leaves in the strainer and pour the boiling water over into the cup then add the milk and two sugars. That was how she took her tea. As it was the first cup of tea I had ever made, I wanted to make it special, so I added a pinch of salt for extra flavour.

She took a few sips and asked, “What is that strange taste?” 

I told her how I had added a pinch of salt for extra flavour and she just started to laugh. 

“Oh god! That’s why it tastes awful!” and she was laughing so hard, tears were rolling down her face.

It’s not a Mother’s Day story, it is a tea story and there was a lot of tea in the 1970s. At about the same time, my mother had some toilet water and, after going to the loo, I would go and find that bottle of toilet water and then pour some into the basin before flushing.

My mother asked me, “Why do I keep finding my perfume in the toilet?” 

“That’s your perfume? I thought it was for the toilet.”

“You’ve been putting my perfume down the toilet?” 

She was laughing again and I learned that Eau de Toilette is another name for perfume and not, in fact, toilet water. 

The perfume wasn’t a Mother’s Day gift from me. In fact I don’t remember ever buying a Mother’s Day gift. 

A few years later, when I was about 17, just after the film Scandal hit the screens, my mother was taken to a fancy restaurant, for an interview. When she got back it was late and she was a little bit tipsy but, always thinking of her son, she had brought me back a ‘doggy bag’, some of the food wrapped up in a napkin. 

“It was delicious,” she said. “I had to save you a bit.” 

At 17, I was always hungry so I was delighted – that is until she opened the napkin. 

“It was some of my starter,” she said, “a beautiful steak tartare.”

If you don’t know, steak tartare is raw steak with chopped onions, all covered in a raw egg – one of the worst meals you could put to one side and save for later. After several hours in her handbag, it looked and smelled like dog food.

“Go on, have some, it’s delicious.”

The look and smell of the steak tartare made me never want to eat food again but, because Chris was a little tipsy, not wanting to eat this ‘dog food’ wrapped in a napkin was insulting to her. She had gone to all the trouble to bring me back a little doggy bag. She told me, “I had to get the journalist to distract the waiter while I put the napkin in my bag.”

She told me I was ungrateful for not eating the food: “If you’re not going to eat it, then I will!” and off she went to get a fork. 

After one bite, she said, “Don’t eat that, it’s gone off, yuk!” and she ran off to spit it out. We laughed so hard she started coughing that deep smoker’s cough.

The fancy restaurant meal that night wasn’t a Mother’s Day treat from me.

It seems every day more people are stepping forward and offering to help with the campaign to get her pardoned posthumously, which is wonderful; and any help is gratefully accepted. 

I am finding myself getting a little nervous now and thinking what would happen if her pardon is rejected or why it could be rejected. I guess these are all understandable fears, but I also realise it’s because the story of getting my mother a pardon is not just my story. In fact it hasn’t been for a while, as more and more people get involved, more people become invested. 

I sometimes sense the same nervousness in the people around me, the people who are working on this so hard to get her pardoned. I’m sure that is a good thing because sometimes being nervous reminds us when things are important.

On Mother’s Day, we do something in recognition of the women who brought us into the world and this week I wanted to tell you stories about my mother that could equally have been stories about any mother, stories that show a mother’s love.

If you are lucky enough to be with your mother today, why don’t you tell her that you love her and maybe make her a cup of tea? But don’t put any salt in the tea, it makes it taste yuk. 

Happy Mother’s Day, Mum.


Details of Seymour’s campaign to obtain a pardon for his mum are online at christine-keeler.co.uk


 

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“If you are a woman who has been assaulted by a serving police officer…”

Sarah Everard (Photograph via Wikipedia)

Last week, the UK news was full of the shocking case of Sarah Everard’s killing. A serving Metropolitan Police officer has been arrested and charged with her abduction and murder. The abduction is thought to have happened on Clapham Common in London.

Below is a piece written by Sally Homer about a separate case and posted on her Facebook page.


This week, a police officer will be sentenced for an ‘assault by beating’. 

The assault happened in July 2020 as my niece (let’s call her Gemma) walked home in the dark at 1am. The officer (let’s call him PC Danfell) pleaded guilty at Leamington Magistrates Court in January 2021 and his sentencing hearing will take place in Leicester Magistrates’ Court this week.

So that is the news.  

Except it probably won’t be the news because – for PC Danfell’s convenience – the hearing will take place in the East Midlands, outside local media scrutiny of where he lives and was charged (Warwickshire) and where he works (West Midlands).

Since the assault – an unprovoked, verbal, and brutal physical attack by a stranger (who turned out to be an off duty-policeman) – Gemma has experienced many instances where the criminal justice system is stacked in favour of the police rather than the victim.

The details of the assault and the subsequent effect on her life are not mine to share. That is Gemma’s story. But I can share the circumstances that have taught me this: if you are a woman who has been assaulted by a serving police officer, then be prepared to battle extremely hard to get justice.

I am a theatre/comedy publicist, so I have had plenty of time due to the pandemic to navigate complicated complaint procedures, to liaise with two police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service. I spent hours researching divergent police procedures when a suspect is a serving police officer. I have been a passionate advocate for Gemma. By focusing on the admin, I was able to better handle the sense of shock at the injustice of it all.   

I used a brilliant service provided by the Rights of Women organisation whereby I was able to talk to a criminal barrister for free for an hour.  

Such an odd situation: the victim requiring sophisticated legal advice.  

But, without their guidance, I don’t believe we would have secured a conviction.

The attack happened at 1am and Gemma reported it 7 hours later, at 8am. 

Without ever explicitly referring to this as her ‘mistake’ the investigating police force have implied that their poor response was in part because Gemma did not report the attack immediately.

Under covid restrictions, minimal face-to-face contact was the narrative from the police… Still, it took over 30 hours for an officer to take Gemma’s statement over the phone; it took a week until she was given a name of an officer who would be in charge of the investigation; and it took nine days for an officer to come and see her to sign her statement – despite several attempts by Gemma, myself, and her brother to get a proportionate response to the report of a serious crime.

Gemma supplied the police with two witnesses and, within a week of the assault, with the name, address and photograph of her assailant. 

The police had been independently sent 90 seconds of CCTV from a witness who reported the assault without any knowledge that the victim and the assailant were her near neighbours.

Police reassured Gemma that, because the suspect was a serving police officer employed by another force, the investigation would be carried out with extra care and vigilance. 

In practice, the opposite was true. 

They failed to secure crucial evidence and, even though the assault happened 10 metres from her front door and her assailant lives less than 30 metres away, it took a further 8 weeks for officers to conduct thorough house-to-house enquiries and interview PC Danfell.

When interviewed and allowed to watch the CCTV evidence, PC Danfell (6ft 2in) did not dispute the incident took place but created a back-story about how he was defending himself, as Gemma (5ft 2in and 8 stone) had, he said, assaulted him just before the CCTV caught the incident.   

A sergeant came to see us and explained that, since it was Gemma’s word against his, then PC Danfell would be ‘served with a caution’.   

We were incredulous. There was no scrutiny of his story and anyway, the CCTV clearly showed excessive force.

Emboldened by reading the Centre for Women’s Justice ‘super complaint’ about how police officers are allowed to abuse women with impunity, we insisted that they take the case to the Crown Prosecution Service and offered-up Gemma’s medical records as evidence. Gemma had sustained no cuts or broken bones but the effect on her mental well-being was severe.

The CPS’s response was not to charge due to lack of evidence. We got savvier. And appealed.

The CPS were finally committed to do some investigative work. 

Danfell’s narrative fell apart and he was finally charged at the end of last year, JUST within the 6-month statue for this offence.

We have faced barriers that are common to thousands of cases throughout the UK, most commonly associated with domestic abuse by police officers against their partners. 

Namely: difficulties in initial reporting, failures in investigation, improper responses to complaints/concerns, manipulation of police processes, accused using their police knowledge, status and powers and improper decisions on criminal charges.

If you are a victim, you are fighting on two fronts – the actual IN YA FACE violent misogyny of the assault itself and the systemic, drudging, hidden misogyny of the police and the criminal justice system.

I began writing this blog before Sarah Everard’s murder. I was going to wind it up with a neat quip about looking forward to the new series of the BBC TV series Line of Duty

But last night I watched the news hoping it wasn’t real, that Kate Fleming from Line of Duty would walk into shot on Clapham Common and we’d know justice would be done.  

Sadly, it isn’t like it is on television …


THERE IS A FOLLOW-UP BLOG HERE.

AND A CHANNEL 4 TELEVISION REPORT HERE.

Sally Homer adds: I am not connected with the Rights of Women organisation professionally or privately at all – But they provided a great service, so give them money if you have any to spare!

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I keep feeling like I want to fall over…

Another one of those blogs only of interest to me in years to come; or to niche medical students.

Back in January, for three or five days, I was almost falling over.

This recurred about three weeks later and again two days ago.

I was OK yesterday during the day but, last night, the wobbliness came back. 

Since last May/June, my sleeping pattern every night is I go to bed and have some trouble getting to sleep (I used to go to sleep almost immediately).

After sleeping for about two hours, I wake up with a dry – and I mean totally dry – mouth and tongue and have to drink some water. I then go back to sleep but, at least once every hour after that, I wake up again with a bone dry mouth and have to more drink water.

This means that, a lot of the times I wake up, I have to go to the loo.

Last night, I went to sleep around 2300 and woke up about 0100… then (as normal since last May) I kept waking up with dehydration at least once in every hour until around 0800. Most times I had to go to the toilet.

All that water imbibed!

Multiple toilet trips!

But, when I got up and sat on the edge of the bed to get up, my head felt wobbly inside and my torso wanted to topple over. I had to concentrate to stay upright, then inch slowly to the foot of the bed, still sitting on it, reach out, open the wardrobe door and use my right hand to clutch the edge of the door to raise myself up.

I then had to walk a wibbly-wobbly diddery-doddery walk to the loo keeping myself upright by clutching the end of doors, doorframes and walls until I got to the actual toilet. If I had not done that, I would have fallen over.

Maybe it’s not vertigo. Who knows?

I think vertigo is a sort of dizziness with the world spinning sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly round outside or inside your head. This was more like a lack of communication between brain and balance function. Maybe it’s an ear infection.

Sure as hell, my GP won’t be any help and, as I say, at the moment, in the daylight, with my torso vertical, there’s no problem.

We shall see what happens.

Tomorrow night is another day.

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ECCENTRIVIA: levitating ships, 3,951 dangerous pets and Meghan Markle…

Hertfordshire has been called a “dull” county…

I live in Hertfordshire, an ostensively fairly quiet county on the edge of Greater London. But it turns out there are 104 dangerous and/or ‘exotic’ pets kept here. And those are only the ones people admit to.

According to animal welfare charity Born Free, 3,951 dangerous wild animals are licensed to be kept privately in Great Britain. They say a total of 210 private addresses across 129 local authorities hold licences to keep dangerous wild animals such as lions, tigers, crocodiles and cheetahs.

In Hertfordshire, the Dacorum Council area – that’s basically Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted, Tring and the western part of Kings Langley – has:

15 venomous snakes 

1 bearded lizard

4 ‘death stalker’ scorpions

1 fat-tailed scorpion

3 gila monsters

2 spectacled caimans

A serval in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

6 servals (whatever they are)

12 serval F1 hybrids (presumably faster than normal servals)

and

1 recluse spider – though I suspect people don’t see much of that one

In my own council area there is, I am relieved to report, only one exotic pet – a Savannah cat.

The East Hertfordshire District Council area goes in for quality, not quantity, with:

3 cheetahs

2 pumas

4 wolves

and 2 Mississippi alligators

But never venture into the North Hertfordshire District, whose 46 exotic animals kept as pets include:

2 bobcats

2 camels

1 jaguar

1 clouded leopard

1 snow leopard

4 lynx

and 10 – yes, count ‘em, 10 – pumas

********

A ship floating… (Photograph by David Morris/APEX)

The most unlikely things are true.

A few days ago, the BBC reported that one David Morris took a photograph of what appears to be an oil tanker floating in the air near Falmouth in Cornwall.

This, apparently, was the result of a rare optical illusion caused by special atmospheric conditions that bend light.

BBC meteorologist David Braine explained: “Superior mirages occur because of the weather condition known as a temperature inversion, where cold air lies close to the sea with warmer air above it. Since cold air is denser than warm air, it bends light towards the eyes of someone standing on the ground or on the coast, changing how a distant object appears. 

“Superior mirages can produce a few different types of images – here a distant ship appears to float high above its actual position, but sometimes an object below the horizon can become visible.”

********

It’s all about perception.

Yesterday evening, for 1 hour and 50 minutes, ITV screened the much-hyped Oprah Winfrey interview in California with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It made me a tiny bit more sympathetic to La Meg, but she still seems strangely naive verging on being a self-obsessed airhead.

Daily Telegraph on Meghan Markle…

One thing it did was highlight the Atlantic divide. The Daily Telegraph‘s front page this morning reports US President Biden saying the Duchess (Meghan) had shown courage. Their other front page story is an opinion piece headlined: They may claim to respect her, but this is a devastating insult to the Queen.

It starts: “Towards the end of her more-shocking-than-you-can-possibly-imagine, even-in-your-worst-Royal-Family-trashing-nightmare, interview with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, mused, “Life is about storytelling, right? About the stories we tell ourselves, about the stories we buy into”… The story the Sussexes have told themselves about their own behaviour… is perfectly clear. The only truthful lens is their own.”

This morning, a female friend of mine’s opinion was:

“She’s a decent actress and she showed she hasn’t lost the knack.  Quivering lip etc. Knows how to let the camera catch a slight tremble. I’ve watched all of (her TV series) Suits. Loved her in it. This performance was up there. And I take my hat off to any pregnant woman who can wear those heels. Harry sounds like he’s had LOADS of expensive West Coast therapy.”

This morning, I also received a text from a gay acquaintance of mine who said succinctly and rhetorically:

“Is she a drama queen?”

********

OK – You find an image showing vertigo (Photo:Mwangi Gatheca/UnSplash)

Meanwhile, at the risk of seeming slightly drama queeny myself, my supposed vertigo hovers like an oil tanker in the sky.

I have been ever-so slightly unsteady on my feet (which means wobbly inside my head) since January when I had to spend three days in bed/holding on to walls to avoid falling over if I got up.

It recurred for a couple of less-bad days in February.

Three nights ago, I went out about 7.30pm to get some chocolate (I am on a diet, but hey-ho…) and, for the first time in a while, I felt 100% fine. 

Then two nights ago – bear in mind that, since May last year, I wake up at least once every hour during the night with a severely dehydrated mouth and drink lots of water – I got up on one occasion to go to the toilet and had to hold on to the walls and sundry objects to avoid falling over.

During the next day I was fine.

But, last night, again only once, I was again wobbly when I got up and had to touch walls etc.

And today I am OK again.

The Chinese curse: may you live in uncertain times.

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Janey Godley’s Handstands in the Dark

The 2005 hardback bestseller…

Today is International Women’s Day.

In 2005, Ebury Press in London published Scottish comedienne and unique Force of Nature Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Dark in hardback.

It became  an immediate No 3 Bestseller in Scotland.

In 2006, it was published in paperback and became a Top Ten Bestseller in the UK. 

That same year, it was the WH Smith Book of The Month and was voted Favourite Read of 2005 by listeners of BBC Radio 4’s Open Book series.

It has never been out of print since then.

The 2006 paperback bestseller…

But last week, on World Book Day, Penguin Books re-issued it with a new cover and with a new Introduction by Janey.

Penguin are soon to release an audiobook of Handstands in the Dark, read by Janey herself.

Personally, I think her autobiography is up there at the apex of horror writing with Edgar Allan Poe – except that Janey’s terrifying tales are real.

Just when you think the horrors of her life can get no worse, you turn over a page and they do.

Below are excerpts from some of the reviews her book received when it was first published…


The new 2021 Penguin reprint…

“The utterly compelling autobiography Handstands in the Dark has become a word-of-mouth phenomenon… un-putdownable… the writing is sensationally good”
(Daily Telegraph)

“Against all odds, she has turned her life story into an inspirational book”
(Daily Mail)

“From the first page… Janey Godley, a natural storyteller, has you in her grip… Hair-raising… mesmerising.”
(Glasgow Evening Times)

“A remarkably engaging and fluently written memoir of a life that makes the McCourt family look like the Von Trapps”
(Observer)

“Makes Frank McCourt’s story look like a walk in the park. This is a harrowing but really readable book.”
(‘Good Morning’ – TV New Zealand)

“A natural storyteller… For someone so refreshingly gobby, it’s hard to imagine how she ever kept the secret that she did.”
(Daily Record)

“Her enthusiasm and sheer optimism have helped her survive life’s cruellest blows where others might have crumbled.”
(The Sun)

“A life that would try the patience of a saint… it’s doubtful you’ll be able to choke back the tears.”
(Metro)

“I found myself laughing… and crying.”
(Sunday Post)

“A fantastic book. You will keep turning those pages. You do cry and you laugh and it’s raw. No punches are pulled… but it’s absolutely not a ‘poor me’ book.”
(Janice Forsyth, BBC Radio Scotland)

“Rather than a bleak cautionary tale, her story is exhilarating, uplifting and often extremely funny. Ultimately it’s a testament to the extraordinary endurance of the human spirit…. She’s brave and honest enough to reveal her innermost emotions and it’s this raw sincerity that gives her streetwise revelations such savage bite… It’s a distressing yet life-affirming read.”
(Guardian)

“Gothic biography… Amid such dark subjects it’s easy to forget that Godley is very much a limelight sort of woman. Not just courageous but mouthy and irrepressibly funny… Harrowing but life-enhancing.”
(The Scotsman)

“A disturbing but ultimately uplifting true account of overcoming a traumatic childhood in Glasgow.”
(‘Open Book’ – BBC Radio 4)

“Vividly evoked… no punches-pulled… relieved by innate good humour and unflagging optimism.”
(Choice magazine)

“She is making waves with her hard-hitting autobiography.”
(Mail on Sunday)

“Genuinely compelling… she deserves the sales.”
(Glasgow Herald)

“I just couldn’t put it down. I don’t think I’ve read many books that quickly. Her story followed me around the whole time – it was as if I was living it..”
(Nicholas Parsons – Sunday Times)

“The word ‘unique’ has been repeatedly used about her and was only strengthened by the publication of her astoundingly honest, blood-spattered autobiography.”
(Mensa New Zealand magazine ‘Menzed’)

“Written with… an astonishing generosity towards so many, this is a disturbing, moving and authentic book, which can demand to be read in one sitting.”
(The Skinny)

“This is Janey’s life story and it’s gripping stuff!”
(OK magazine – Hot Stars)

The new Penguin edition of Handstands in the Dark, 2021 – back cover

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I was brought up in Aberdeen and Campbeltown in 1950s Scotland…

I was born on the west coast of Scotland – in Campbeltown, Argyll, near the end of the Kintyre peninsula, AKA – as Paul McCartney would later eulogise it – the Mull of Kintyre

Scots singer Andy Stewart had much earlier sung about Campbeltown Loch.

At the time, as well as having an unfathomably high number of whisky distilleries, Campbeltown was a very active fishing port. My father used to service the echo sounders on the fishing boats.

Radar spots incoming aircraft and suchlike. Echo sounders do much the same but vertically, with fish.

A fishing boat would use its echo sounder to project an acoustic beam down under the surface of the sea and, when the beam hit the seabed, it bounced back and you could see any shoals of fish which interrupted the beam.

My father worked for a company called Kelvin Hughes, who made the echo sounders.

When I was three, my father got a similar job with Kelvin Hughes in Aberdeen, in north east Scotland. It was a bigger depot in a bigger town. A city, indeed.

“Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man,” is a quote either from the Greek philosopher Aristotle or the Jesuit writer St. Ignatius Loyola. Neither copyright nor political correctness held much sway back then.

Anyway, I lived in Aberdeen from the age of 3 to 8, in the 1950s.

I remember idyllic summer days in Duthie Park and Hazlehead Park… and happy warm afternoons on the sandy beach, playing among the sand dunes. It must, in reality, have been like combining the sands of the Sahara with winds from the Arctic. 

When we first came down to England, I remember being horrified by the beach at Brighton: not a sandy beach, more some bizarre vision from a horror movie where the grains of sand have all been replaced by hard egg-sized grey stone pebbles.

This is not a beach! I remember thinking. This is just a load of stones!

I was also surprised by the uniform blackness of Central London. This was before the cleaning of buildings with (I think) high-pressure water jets. The whole of Whitehall, I remember, was just flat, featureless black buildings, caked in a century and more of soot. Aberdeen, by contrast, was/is ‘The Granite City’ – uniformly light grey stone but, when the light hits it at the correct angle, the stones sparkle.

London also had no decent ice cream: a feature of key importance to me both then and now. At that time, ice cream in London was mostly oblongs of fairly solid yellow ‘stuff’ compared to the glories of the delicious softer white Italian ice cream in Scotland.

No-one seems to have a definitive explanation of why there are so many Italians – and, in particular, Italian ice cream vendors – in Scotland. Explanations vary from Italians on Scottish POW Camps in World War II who went native after the War ended and married local girls… to an inexplicable influx of Italian coal miners in the 19th century. I only repeat what I have read.

I vividly remember playing in the living room of our first rented flat in Aberdeen, beside the wonderful warm flames of an open coal fire while a storm raged outside. My mother was in the room. I was playing on a patterned rectangular carpet with the gaps between the edges of the carpet and the walls filled-in by hard brown lino – fitted carpets were an unimaginable and thought-unnecessary luxury back then. I was racing small metal Dinky cars round the band at the edge of the old and randomly threadbare Persian-design carpet.

It felt so warm and lovely and safe in the room with the raging fire while the storm outside loudly battered and spattered rain against the window panes. And my mother was with me.

I went to Aberdeen Grammar School when I was a kid. This was a state school and it had a Primary School section for under-11s, but you had to be interviewed to be accepted, presumably to get a better class of person. I must have slipped through.

My mother had heard that one of the things they sometimes did during the interview was to ask you to tie up your own shoelaces. This was not something I could do. Frankly, I’m still not too good at it. Fortunately, it was snowing the day I had my interview, so my mother dressed me in Wellington boots, thus circumventing the problem.

I do remember one question I was asked.

I was shown a cartoon drawing and the grown-up asked me what was wrong with it.

The cartoon showed a man in a hat holding an umbrella in the rain. But he was holding it upside down with the handle in the air and the curved protective canopy at the bottom. 

I have a vague memory that I may have thought the grown-ups there were stupid, but I did point out the umbrella was upside down and got accepted into the school.

Weather was an important factor in Aberdeen.

We lived on the ground floor of a three-storey roughcast council block on the Mastrick council estate.

Modern Google Streetview of a similar – but not the actual – council block on the Mastrick estate

It was cold cold cold in Aberdeen. In the winter, my mother used to make the beds and do the housework in her overcoat.

She used to get up before my father and I did and make the coal fire in the living room. She used to start with tightly rolled-up newspaper pages which, once rolled-up, were folded into a figure-of-eight. These and small sticks of wood were put below and among the lumps of coal. The rolled-up newspaper ‘sticks’ were lit with a match and burned relatively slowly because they were rolled-up tight and, when they went on fire, they set the wood on fire which started the coal burning.

At least, that’s the way I remember it. 

The bedrooms, as I remember it, had no lit fires, which is why she had to wear an overcoat when making the beds in the morning.

I remember making an ice cream shop man (probably Italian) very happy one afternoon by buying (well, my mother bought for me) a cone of ice cream. I was his first and possibly only customer of the day.

My father had been in the British Navy based in Malta during the Second World War and always told us that, in very hot weather, the Maltese drank lots of hot tea on the principle that, if you made yourself feel as hot inside as the weather was outside, you felt the extreme heat less.

As a reverse of this he said, in cold weather, you should eat cold ice cream because, if you feel as cold inside as you are outside, you will feel the extremity of the cold weather less.

Rain, snow, sleet and high winds were, of course, not uncommon in Aberdeen.

I remember once, coming back from school one afternoon, being on a bus which got stuck on a hill on an icy road in a snowstorm. I think it was maybe not uncommon then.

The Mastrick council estate was built on a hill with lots of open areas between the buildings, so the wind tended to build up.

The main road, a few minutes walk away from our council flat was The Lang Stracht (literally The Long Straight) and I remember it in a snow storm once. Or, at least, I think I do. I may have got confused by seeing a YouTube video a few years ago of a snowstorm on the Lang Stracht.

Either it reminded me of a genuinely-remembered snowstorm on the Lang Stracht; or it made me think I remembered one but hadn’t.

Mental reality, like any memory, is flexible.

All the above could be a whole load of mis-remembered bollocks.

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Filed under 1950s, Scotland

ECCENTRIVIA: Man killed by own cock, penile routing and Mother’s Day

In my last blog, I mentioned that a 9-year-old of my acquaintance in London had adopted a kākāpō called Ralph in New Zealand. These are quirky, large, flightless, nocturnal parrots, not all called Ralph. They have a reported lifespan of up to 100 years. Over that period, they learn a trick or too.

My blog mention got this comment from a reader:

“I was in New Zealand a few years ago and took a bus tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound on the South Island. Somewhere along the winding and mountainous journey, the bus pulled up for a moment and a kākāpō strode up to the door and the bus driver fed him while tourists took photos. I don’t know how the kākāpō trained the bus driver to do this, but I am convinced that they are smart birds.”

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In other bird-related news, this blog’s occasional Vancouver-based correspondent, Anna Smith, sent me a report from the CTV Network in Canada about a man who was killed by his own cock in Southern India.

It seems a rooster fitted with a knife for an illegal cockfight in the Karimnagar district of Telangana state “inflicted serious injuries to the man’s groin as it tried to escape”. The cock was briefly held by local police before it was sent to a poultry farm.

According to CTV, “Specially-bred roosters have 7.5-centimetre (three-inch) knives or blades tethered to their legs and punters bet on who will win the gruesome fight. Thousands of roosters die each year in the battles which, despite the efforts of animal rights groups, attract large crowds.”

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On a peripherally-related subject, Andy Dunlop – President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation (also featured in my previous blog) contacted me with a story from the Welwyn & Hatfield Times about a man in Southern England who creates penis-shaped running routes to raise money for testicular cancer.

It seems Adam Linsell, an air conditioning engineer, wanted to get back into shape after Christmas and chose to start running routes in the shape of penises.

Some of Adam’s runs are fairly long (nearly 7km) while others are on the short side (around 4km). The Welwyn & Hatfield Times helpfully reports that “cold weather doesn’t put Adam off or cause the runs to shrink in size”.

Andy Dunlop bike ride route: sadly neither penis nor America

Adam is quoted as saying: “I’m chuckling to myself as I go along passing people who have no idea what I’m up to!… I uploaded the pics onto Welwyn Garden City Unhinged and they’ve currently had 4,000 shares, 3,000 likes and 2,000 comments.” 

Inspired by Adam, Egg-Throwing supremo Andy Dunlop tried to re-plan his bike ride routes across the North Yorks Moors to emulate his hero, but “only managed a bad map of America.”

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Meanwhile at home, in the last week, I have been bombarded by a barrage of spam/scam phone calls.

These included a pre-recorded phone call from 0118 348 2605 (a Reading number) telling me my British Telecom landline was about to be cut off and asking me to press key 1 on my telephone.

I have no BT landline.

On another day, two calls from different numbers told me that I was under investigation for tax fraud by HMRC (the taxman) and told me to press 1 or the police would arrest me.

On yet another day, I had a text message from HSBC bank to my mobile phone checking if I had authorised a payment of £240 to Mr C Jones and telling me to click on a link to security.hs-online-authpayee.com if the payment was not legit.

I have no HSBC bank account and I imagine that clicking the link would probably have connected me with some vastly expensive premium phone line in some far-flung country.

The (I hope) final scam was a pre-recorded call to my mobile phone from the National Insurance Office (surreally via a mobile phone number 44 7836 703246) saying I should phone them back immediately by pressing 1.

I do not recommend phoning that number, because of the potential ‘vastly expensive premium phone line in some far-flung country’ factor. But there seems to be some as-yet-inexplicable love of Button 1 by scammers.

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I also got a (I think) perfectly legitimate email from London’s Natural History Museum asking me if I wanted to opt out of receiving “Mother’s Day themed emails” from them – presumably on the basis that, if your mother has died, being reminded of the fact would upset you.

A worthy thought but, methinks, an email asking if you want to opt out of emails about Mother’s Day would equally remind you of the bereavement and be equally upsetting.

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Filed under Birds, Eccentrics, political correctness, scams

ECCENTRIVIA – hairy-nosed wombats, almost dead parrots, Scots and tossers

My last blog ended with the mention of comedian and author Janey Godley’s meal of mince on toast being the subject of a prominent news article in Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper.

The next day, England’s/the UK’s Daily Star newspaper picked up the Daily Record story and it also turned out that, according to Google, ‘Janey Godley’ was the most-searched name for and by Scots in 2020.

Forget toast; she is on a roll.

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Fame though, like the hairy-nosed wombat, can be a fickle thing.

Hairy-nosed wombat (Photo by Eva Hejda, via Wikipedia)

Creative hyphenate Ariane Sherine’s 9-year old daughter decided that, for her upcoming birthday in April, she wanted to adopt (online) a hairy-nosed wombat. They are an endangered species and she reckons they look sweet.

I am not altogether sure I agree and I felt obliged to point out to her that there are only reckoned to be either 206 or 147 of the even-more-endangered kākāpō left in the world.

These are quirky, large, flightless, nocturnal parrots.

Ralph (Photo: New Zealand Department of Conservation)

As a result, for her still upcoming birthday, she has now persuaded her long-suffering mother to fork out an extra £55 for the adoption of a near-extinct non-Monty Python kākāpō parrot called Ralph.

I suggested that, as the Rule of Three is immutable (she is an expert Scrabble player) Ariane’s daughter should also adopt the two squirrels who live in my back garden and, as I cannot tell them apart, we should call both of them Cyril. 

So she has now informally and additionally adopted Cyrils the Squirrels.

We will skate over the fact that four creatures are now involved. 

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Andy Dunlop in happier days

On a more serious note, I received this sad missive from Andy Dunlop – President of the World Egg Throwing Federation:

“The World Egg Throwing Championships, hosted by Swaton Show, was looking forward to its return this year following last year’s lock down but the Committee fears our June 27th date may be unachievable due to the global pandemic. Movement to another date this year is impractical for wholly understandable reasons.”

I suggested that, when tennis becomes allowed, surely egg throwing must be allowed and that, if Scotch Eggs could be classified as a full meal to get round pub restrictions, maybe they are the future of egg-throwing too – though a bit dangerous for Russian Egg Roulette, which involves smashing an egg into your own forehead.

Andy Dunlop’s disappointing reply was: “Probably not.”

The moment the World Gravy Wrestling Champion failed in his World Russian Egg Roulette title bid in 2012

He added: “Our family continue to be fine as are now both vaccinated and it’s pretty much OK to be locked down when I can work from my conservatory, over-looking a couple of acres of garden and field disturbed only by bird song and the occasional baa from the sheep looking through my fence. 

“The ten girls in there since yesterday, placed by farmer Steven (son of Steve, father of Steven John) arrived after a scan revealed they are not in lamb and, unbeknown to them, are being fattened before their final trip. They will be replaced shortly by a clutch of successful mothers and their new joyous off spring.”

It took me a moment to realise all this referred to sheep.

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Shortly after that message arrived from the barren outlands north of Watford, I received this photo from comedy uber-fan Sandra Smith on England’s south coast:

I had always assumed the locals in Brighton were fairly sophisticated men and women of the world (other genders are available). But I am prepared to reconsider this opinion…

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Filed under Eccentrics, Humor, Humour

ECCENTRIVIA – Mis-gendering, Tit-Bits, Potato Heads and Janey Godley

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned the NHS wasting time and money sending out three letters when only one was required. That referred to a local hospital appointment I am (still) having on 11th May with the Respiratory Department.

Today I received a text on my mobile from the same hospital about a telephone appointment I have with their Physiotherapy Department on 4th March. The text tells me that my telephone appointment has been changed to a telephone appointment.

Apart from the surrealism of my telephone appointment being changed to a telephone appointment, there is the quirkiness of the fact that they could have saved money yesterday by sending me one text rather than three physical letters. The technology seems to be not unknown to them.

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The NHS is an organisation that just keeps on giving. After reading yesterday’s blog, a care worker I know sent me a message she received from the NHS’s ‘Health Education England’ – presumably sent to all NHS workers in England who interact with members of the public – advising her what to do if she should “misgender someone by accidentally using the wrong pronoun”.

Her reaction to me was: “FFS, I think I’ll stay in lockdown”.

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In other gender-bending news, Hasbro’s Twitter account announced that, from Autumn this year, its iconic Mr & Mrs Potato Head toys will be getting “a 21st-century rebrand” as ‘Potato Head’ so that the toy could “break away from traditional gender norms” and, when the new brand is unveiled, “kids will have a blank slate to create same-sex families or single-parent families”.

This would mean the toys would not “impose a fixed notion of gender identity or expression”, freeing kids to do whatever feels most natural to them. A girl potato might wear trousers and a boy potato might wear earrings. Hasbro would also sell “boxed sets that don’t present a normative family structure”. This approach would allow kids to project their own ideas about gender, sexuality and family onto their Potato Head toys, without necessarily offending parents who might have more conservative notions about family.

After some surprised reaction on social media, Hasbro then re-Tweeted yesterday that, although the toys would indeed be re-branded as Potato Heads, they would also still be identified as ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’ on the packaging.

So Mr Potato Head will now be called Potato Head to avoid gendering the toy, but the toys will be identified on the packaging as Mr Potato Head or Mrs Potato Head.

I am undecided whether this is good publicity – lots of coverage of the brand – or bad publicity – too much ducking, dodging, diving and weaving in the PR.

Collins Dictionary currently defines ‘Potato-head’ as “[slang] a dumb or stupid person”.

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Meanwhile, on Facebook, Man-of-All-Arts Peter Stanford has spotted a piece in a 1884 edition of Tit-Bits magazine.

Peter’s reaction was: “I so want some reputable magazine to offer this service. I would write my own, and send it off with my subscription, just in case.”

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All publications are desperate for readers and ever have been.

In yesterday’s Daily Record (basically Scotland’s national equivalent to England’s Daily Mirror), there was a prominent article on comedian and author Janey Godley ‘dividing the internet’ by posting a picture of her dinner: a plate of toast, mince, peas and onions.

According to the Daily Record, “many were outraged by her choice of dish”.

You know you have really succeeded in the fame game when a national paper starts reporting your dinner (with pictures) for the sole reason that, if they publish your name, people will want to read the article. All the more jaw-dropping because this week Janey started writing a weekly column for the Daily Record‘s competitor, The Herald.

 

 

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Filed under Bureaucracy, Eccentrics