Tuesday 10 December 2013

A tree is for life, not just for Christmas!

While glancing at the credits at the end of Masterchef on TV one evening recently, the words ‘sustainable fish list’ caught my eye, causing me to rush to Google. This latest fad is seemingly the aquatic equivalent of advising us to ‘drink responsibly’ and is designed to make the consumer feel guilty buying perfectly legal everyday things in a bid to save a planet that they are unable to manage. On the BBC website, an extensive list of endangered fish includes just about everything that can swim underwater. Cod, haddock, salmon, prawns, tinned tuna, they are all up there on the no-no scale, turning our every seafood meal into an ecological disaster. And woe-betide us if we dare to push the boat out with halibut, sole or monkfish. We might as well break into the Sea-life Centre and machine-gun all the dolphins! Towards the end of the list, though, we do get a little respite in the fact that we could, should we wish, eat Gurnard or squid as a sustainable substitute. Excuse me, what’s poor old Bernard the Gurnard done to get itself on the hit-list? Isn’t the thing unfortunate enough to look like something from a Ridley Scott movie, without us chasing it around the high seas just so we can brag about how ‘cuisinely responsible’ we are being. And as for squid, well thanks. Why don’t I just eat my dog’s rubber bone and be done with? What a load of pollocks?
And then there is all the political nonsense with the damn Xmas tree. How dare we chop down a poor defenceless tree minding its own business in a forest in Scotland? You villainous axe murderer, you! You should have bought one in B&Q for three hundred quid, made of plastic by slaves in a third world country earning sixpence a year, and then keep it until the end of eternity in the attic. Where’s the economic advantage in that?! Surely a fresh one every year creates far more jobs, as well as doing wonders for the vacuum cleaner industry?  A tree is not for life, it’s just for Christmas!
Isn’t it quite amazing the things you discover when you are not looking for them? A crumpled business card turned up in an old coat pocket for a contact I have been trying to track for ages. Then I accidentally learn that Wendy and I are both self-confessed oenophiles  - the scientific name for wine-lovers, apparently. Lastly, but much more to my horror, that no words in the English language rhyme with month, orange, silver or purple. This I found out while writing up some verse recently – 200 verses to be precise, all about a small lamb called Daisy Death-Wish. Despite being a writer for nearly 4 years, the English language still never ceases to amaze me, unless of course it is written by Americans who can’t spell!
And while on that subject, I recently bought a new laptop running Microsoft Windows 8. And it is crap. Nothing works like it did before, everything is American - and I can’t even get my emails anymore! The reason for the latter is that I now have extra built-in security to protect myself from acts of terrorism, whether I want it or not. It’s no longer satisfactory to be myself and let other people send me mail. No, Norton-Macafee-FortNoks will all need to read my mail first and send it via the FBI in case it contains coded messages that might endanger the US military! Except that they won’t understand my English spelling when they skeptically analize my humor! Incidentally, the American language even has a variation of the English word mediƦval which I find quite amusing, as while the British were busying themselves during that period with marauding and beating peasants, Americans were still living in tree-houses!

Tuesday 12 November 2013

I wish it could be Christmas every day....

My dog, Louis, is not clever – this is a known fact. So when he starts jumping up and down at 2pm in anticipation of his dinner, which he never has until 6pm, I do my best to console him about the impending 4 hour wait. By 5pm, he reaches fever-pitch, and spends the next hour barking at the cupboard door. But then the real problem arises in that he wolfs it down so fast that it is over in 5 seconds and the only thing he has left to look forward to is breakfast.
This is very much how I view Christmas – as a nation builds such deranged expectation on one day full of woeful anti-climax.
So, I have an idea.  Why don’t we have Christmas every 3 months? Or even make it a monthly event. Let’s face it, its religious anchoring has long been lost in the annuls of greed. With enough back-handers, I am sure the Conservative party could swing it through parliament. That way I wouldn’t have to scream when the whole TV gets taken over by Xmas adverts for things that I don’t want, as they would be on all year round and I would surely get used to ignoring them!  Simon Cowell could rehash endless Christmas number ones while we just wheel out the fake tree and some tinsel each third Monday in the month, grab a turkey sandwich and a glass of Astpi for lunch, and then get on with our lives, safe in the knowledge that it was not really worth getting excited about! The BBC could show repeats of everything we saw last month on a looped tape and the Queen could tell us that it was a tough month but the next one would be much better if we all spared a thought for those in poorer parts of her Empire. Then, if we chose to ignore the whole thing and hide under a blanket, nobody would get too upset, as there would always be next month’s to look forward to, along with three weeks of turkey curry. That’s where you’ll find me, anyway.
On the subject of TV ads, which tends to be my bugbear this time of year since the winter drives me indoors, am I the only one who fears that product placement has gone way, way too far? It seems that some companies no longer just have advertisements between the programmes but actually have programmes of their own. Yes, BBC4 have stooped to a new low, by giving high street stores their own shows, in return for large sums of money. In fact one despicable store, whose name I refuse to patronise even in this modest publication, has its own whole TV series, which it can use for as much product placement and self promotion as it wants. Ok, yes, I did watch half an episode, just so that I could rant about it! On it we see its marketing department and sleazy managing director trying to raise themselves and their products back out of the gutter after being caught peddling horsemeat to a whole nation for 20 years. Is there no longer a ruling body that scrutinises this stuff? Instead of being allowed to redeem themselves from such a dastardly and despicable act on national TV, Fridgeland (name changed to protect the polar ice cap) should have been closed down immediately and their MD thrown in jail. Whatever can we expect next? Will Fred Goodwin be offered a weekly show discussing the benefits of pension investments? Or Myra Hindley presenting children’s hour! It’s all gone too far.
By the time this goes to print, we are expecting once again to be in Scotland, suffering quietly from tinselphobia in our bolt-hole by the sea. This year, we have exchanged the tiny drafty cottage that we used to rent for a newly built, if somewhat soulless, apartment in a new built block, near the famous Muirfield golf course. It has gas central heating and all singing toilets which, for some reason, sound like HMS Ark Royal arriving through the fog every time they are flushed. My local plumber says we need to replace the shu-shu valve, but I reckon he may be taking the mickey! In fact, he probably has a mate on the counter at the nearby Know-it-All superstore waiting to ridicule me when I pop in and ask for a new one, so he can announce it over the tannoy and the whole 40 acre shop-floor can share in my shame.  I can hear him now: ‘..the gentleman on till number 5 is looking for a new shu-shu valve, could an assistant please bring one over, along with some left-handed spanners and a glass hammer…!’
As well as being warm - and handy for the golf course and pub - this flat also has another advantage, from a female prospective anyway: FIREMEN. Lots, and lots of them, all rushing around with their sultry good looks and long hoses, right outside our window. Why is it that us men never cotton on to the whole picture, when devious women are concerned? The fact that the block is situated right next to Scotland’s fire college never even crossed my mind, as Wendy enthusiastically signed the purchase deeds. I was hoping for a few quiet months, in which to get some writing done - but no. Now all her mates frequently pop in for coffee, and then shamelessly ogle out of the window, giggling. It’s disgraceful! Would I do the same were it opposite, say, the ladies beach-volleyball training camp? Too damn right! At least the location does present one advantage: When we are back south in the summer, I am considering renting the apartment out to ladies-of-a-certain-age through an advert in Harper’s Bizarre!

Sunday 3 November 2013

I AM John Sharpe

It’s that time of year again, where the daylight goes unnoticed and sleep is rare, while I am tucked away in my little bothy, hammering on the keys. Yes, National Novel Writing month is here again and, once again, I have decided to take part in this global event. Every one of us hundreds of thousand of wannabe writers have their reasons for needing to knock out 50,000 words in one month, each as valid as each other. Mine is quite simple. Currently my day job consists of research and writing for 8-10 hours per day, while I compile a massive history book, on a two year contract. With that and running this old farmhouse, it tends to leave little time for much else, except, of course, drinking.  With a project of that size, I find myself immersed into my own world, day and night, a personal world where nobody else would either understand or care what it entails. I am alone in there - just me and a whole bunch of cows.
So NanoWriMo offers me an escape to another world, although perhaps still not the real one. Now, I have to be someone completely different. Many years ago I did some acting and, to play a part well, you have to image yourself on that person, and become them for as long as the show runs. I feel the same about writing a novel. In the past, most of my 15 or so novels have been fiction, where the mind can run free and the central character does what I tell him to. In fact, in many cases, the protagonist takes over and skips happily through the story, while words appear on the pages as if by magic. But this year is a little different, as my story is a true one, waiting to be told or, at least, dramatised. This is the first time I have ever done this and am finding it damn hard. As the protagonist in real life has since died, and I have only sketchy details of him, I discover that the only way to bring him to the page is to don his shoes and coat, and be John Sharpe for a month. And he is very much, most definitely, not me!
Quiet, calm, clever, resourceful...need I go on, when I describe all the things I am not? Being someone else takes total dedication, probably twice as much as knocking out 50k words of fiction. Each morning, I have to pull on the mask and transform, not unlike Spiderman, except not as exciting and with baggier clothes. My partner thinks I am bonkers as my voice changes to broad glaswegan, my walking pace slows, and I stare at nothing much, saying even less. My dog has since disowned me and visitors think they have the wrong house. Today is day 4, and I am just starting to wake up with the same dreams that I think John Sharpe, an engineer from Aidrie, would have; ones where he achieves his objective of building and flying his own aircraft. Although he is not me, I have come to like him.
Only now we are one, can I proceed towards the goal of this exercise and get his story written, as it needs to be, within the allocated timescale. It will probably only sell one copy, to his grandson, but who knows, he might send it to the BBC so that the man can be immortalised in cellulite.
Strange, really, for once writing a book for an unselfish reason.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Flock all on TV

Oh dear, winter is rapidly approaching and with it that dreaded two letter device designed to suck out our brains and replace them with lemon-curd. This autumn, as I plug in the half-yearly redundant TV, I notice it running an update, bringing yet more new channels to its existing list of garbage that supposedly masquerades as intelligent viewing. Not that I have taken the effort to count them, but I reckon we now have well over 100 stations to chose from, but still more keep arriving. What could they possibly fill these with that could be anything different than the ones already there? Surely not more celebrity master-bakers? Or maybe Britain has pointless talent? Possibly some more ecomentalists grandly designing homes from corrugated tin and matchsticks? No? Ladies and Gentlemen, feast your eyes on a brand new series on ITV3 entitled: The History of Wallpaper! You are joking, right? On it, so the narrative says, Professor Steve Boring from the University of Beige Corduroy tells us all about wallpaper from the 16th century to the modern day, in hour long segments designed to send us to sleep faster that chloroform. Please, please get the flock off our screens (pun intended) before we all die of monotony poisoning.  
Having had a slight brush with HM customs lately, I find myself having to complete a long and complicated form to back-up my overseas habitation while still maintaining my British status. Except on it, right there on line one, I already have an identity crisis, as I am asked my gender from the following list. Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms, Mx. Excuse me? What is Mx, you ask? Well, apparently it is a new politically correct term for those who no longer wish to be labelled with a gender at all. Think of it as somewhere in that pillow space between man and woman. Is there such a gender as ‘no gender’? Or is it ‘both’ genders, which sure as hell would be confusing when buying trousers! I wrote MALE in caps, just to be sure.  It reminded me of the Blackadder sketch when Baldric announces that his father was a nun. ‘No he wasn’t, Baldric,’ says Blackadder. ‘Yes he was, sir, because whenever he was asked his occupation, he always said ‘None’! ....Oh, well, please yourself!
Once again this month I have to have a pop at Mr O’Leary, that rather greedy owner of Ryanair. A poor old lady sitting next to me recently on a flight, ordered the following from the menu. ‘Buy any fresh sandwich and add chips for only £2.00 – save 50p.’ When the Mx duly arrived with her order, she held out her two quid, only to be told that the price was £9.50. Rather flustered, she fumbled in her purse and handed over a crinkled tenner, until I nobly intervened. ‘Hang on’, says I.’ It clearly states that the ‘meal deal’ is priced at two pounds sterling?’ No sir, you just read it wrong, the two pound was just for the addition of the chips. On further investigation, nowhere on the shiny menu was the real sandwich price listed. This surely must be illegal. But then, so is charging £7 per flight to pay by credit card when it is the only option available. Is this hood really above the law?
Meanwhile, on the other side of the law, here’s something you don’t hear me say, ‘the French Government, I salute you’. This has come about after reading of a new law, which passed narrowly through its corridors last month, in the banning of Mini-miss competitions. For the uninitiated, these are beauty contests which involve girls as young as seven years old parading in make-up and high heels, to be judged on their looks, and often portrayed on tabloid TV stations. Maybe, for once, Les Francais can lead the way into other countries, particularly Britain and the US, doing away with this despicable practice altogether. If only they would ban Johnny Halliday records, our lives would be almost bearable!
Finally, I have to applaud the regression of progress within the British Government, particularly the Indian High Commission in London, who have reverted back from computers to the good old-fashioned typewriter.  So concerned that all their words and documents are being bugged by Americans on anti-terrorism witch-hunts, the Embassy suspects that all its PC terminals are being monitored by Big Brother, and thus are turning back the clock 50 years to the old metal keyboard and tippex. Allegedly, they have also reinstalled an abacus in every office, inter-office communication is now via baked-bean can and string, along with a flock of mail-delivering pigeons that can only communicate in Hindi.

Sunday 15 September 2013

Steady as a Rock

After a summer of circumnavigating Britain and Ireland, coupled with single handedly installing a new septic tank system, and a complete bathroom, then cooking and cleaning for 6 weeks of guests, we finally have managed to get a few days break. Today we are in Spain. We have no dogs, no Brits, lots of local food and little understanding of the lingo – and it is bliss!
Now it is well documented that, shut away in our little corner of the Europe, I have little regard for world news unless it affects me personally. In my well documented opinion, newspapers have two purposes involving fish & chips and kindling, respectively. Thus I was blissfully unaware that ‘call me Dave’ Cameron had been having a wee scuffle with the Spanish over that lump of Britishness, Gibraltar. Until now, that is, as I can just about see the outline of it from the beach where I write. Even then, it brings no surprise, as Britain tends to be at loggerheads with most of Europe over something or other. It appears that ‘concrete-spike-fishing-gate’ as the press have labelled the skirmish – (is it any wonder I don’t read their illiterate rubbish?) - has sparked something more than a slanging match over fishing rights, which is currently blowing up into such a disproportionate political stoochie that now the Spanish government are proposing slightly more indignant retaliation against our efforts to protect part of its coastline. Not content with imposing a go-slow at customs, causing 8 hour queues through its border, they are now making noises about charging everyone fifty quid each to get in, as well as instigating tax investigations into the wealthy inhabitants of the Rock. (No, not Peter Bill, we are talking the Gibraltar Rock!). Still, their ability to throw four-star onto the flames of international embers doesn’t bother me one fig, as it is not a place that holds much interest to me. Until now, that is. Because the b+stards are now taking it out on me, personally, to which I whole heartedly object.
For just one week we are abiding in a comfortable little apartment in the pretty seaside town of Conil de la Frontera, hoping to get some sleep. What it didn’t say in the brochure is that it backs on to the only main road in the area. This in itself would be of no consequence, were it not also the only access to a massive ‘rave’ discotheque, just a mile away, which goes on until 5.30am every night. As this property is owned by Brits, I am convinced there must somewhere be a Union Jack flying over it, as every Juan seems hell bent on loudly singing what I can only guess are freedom songs as they pass our window. Some even revert to blowing their car horns, just as a note of nightly acknowledgement to their fishing birthrights. By day two of no sleep, I have decided to retaliate myself, as any good internationally proud citizen would, and take the law into my own hands. On our roof terrace, I have spotted a reel of hose pipe which, with a little effort, I have now managed to connect to a tap. Aha. Take that, you noisy louts, I whisper, as I cowardly shower them from above. But does that stop their shenanigans? Nay, it does not. In fact, the revelers are now under the belief it is raining and, as this place is as dry as a British Rail sandwich, they are quite pleased with a little precipitation. In fact one well-built young lady is so excited that she whips off her top and starts dancing in the street while her pals all join in with what can only be considered as Spain’s answer to singing in the rain! Ah – maybe I dozed off and dreamt that bit!
Anyway, now the 4 day long fiesta, which happened to be on in this town when we arrived, has ended, I was hoping that a little normality may resume, and the peaceful status quo be restored. Not a bit. Having kept me awake all night, the local government have seen fit to target our apartment once more, this time by digging up that same said main road. I kid you not, at 7am, a pneumatic drill noisier and less tuneful than Status Quo themselves now hammers incessantly away at the tarmac, right under my window. Exactly what their need for a man-sized hole in the middle of the street is, I have no idea, but once again my cowardice comes to the fore, in case it is especially to put me in and smooth over again by siesta time!
I will admit that I am now getting incrementally more psychopathic and, unless I manage just a few zeds very soon, I may do something my family might regret. Thankfully, at last I did find solace on the near deserted beach, with its calming sound of the rolling waves affording me chance to drift off. Except, now the back of my legs are redder than Tiananmen Square on Labour day, and I am barely able to sit down. As I shuffle shamefully home through the dunes, back to where the workmen are jigging about with their jack-hammers as though they have a bad case of ‘St Vitus Dance’, I can detect a chorus of muffled sniggers as Le Ingles passes by in search of some relief via ice-packs and a padded cushion.
To cap it all, I have one more significant problem. To keep down the weight on our hand-luggage on good old Ryanair, who’s intent it is to charge me a million quid fine if I am so much as a milligram over ten kilos, I decided to leave my laptop at home and work from my tablet. Now for those who believe that a tablet is something that can cure a headache, think in reverse. Every time I touch the screen, pictures, icons and strange words appear and my own stuff disappears off into some sacred hyperspace from whence there is no return. When I do manage to type legible words, it converts them into hieroglyphics which are even harder to understand than the local waiters. To type this article, it has taken me nearly 24 painful hours, to the accompaniment of Carlos the Hammer and his pals, and I have threatened the blasted thing with some swimming lessons on an hourly basis.
Why, oh why, did we leave the tranquility of our cosy farmhouse in silent France? There is a saying: ‘the grass is always greener on the other side?’ And it will be oh so wonderful to get home and find some. Maybe I should check out the local dealer who scares the bejessus out of me from the nightly shadows of the street corner and try one of his roll-ups to see me through?!
 Oh, wait a minute; here comes lunch. An aromatic dish of clams and cuttlefish in inky black rice, accompanied by a chilled bottle of local blanco from Cadiz and some cool music, and once again all is right with the world.
Hasta la vista, laptop.

Monday 12 August 2013

Fake sheep

Anyone want to buy a swimming pool? OK, possibly not, now the British summer has come crashing to a halt, although it is still blazing away here in France. With a house full of guests, including some close family, the old piscine is a major necessity this time of year – when it works. But, sadly, ours doesn’t. Well, I suppose that depends on the job description, as technically it is still a hole in the ground full of water which you can swim in, but unfortunately, in my hour of need, the water bluntly refuses to stay in it. What started out as a pin-hole in the plastic liner has now developed into a massive rip that can no longer be patched up with my bicycle repair kit and thus is leaking faster than a cardboard boat during the sinking season! Aha, says wily old Andy, what if we attempt to pump the water back out from behind the liner. After some clever installation of a recycling pump, this did have a small effect on maintaining the status-quo for a week or two. But now the whole liner has collapsed inwards and is only a fraction away from total disintegration – and an ensuing five figure bill to replace it. Well, not on my wages it won’t be. Methinks I will fill it full of fish instead, so that the guests can catch their own dinner! If they really want a swim, there is always the lake, as one of them accidentally found out late one evening last week.
On the subject of lakes, Wendy and I had a great trip around Ireland last month. Stunned by its beauty, especially in the west, we were stunned further by the weather which topped 30 degrees as we swum in the Atlantic off the Connermara coast. However, once we reached Killarney and the Ring of Kerry, it was more of a stun-gun that was required, as the hotel – and indeed whole town - was packed full of rather large and very loud Americans. Whilst wedging ourselves in a lift – or elevator, as they insist on calling it – full of them, one pointed to Pooper, our scruffy mongrel, and asked in a deafening Texan accent, ‘Is that a Border collie?’ When I admitted that there was a touch of sheepdog in her chequered pedigree, as one, the whole ensemble started chattering away as excitedly as a classroom full of toddlers. It seems that one of the excursions that were lined up for these gross tourists was to a working sheep farm. For ‘working sheep farm’, read, one enterprising farmer with a few dozen old toothless ewes on a couple of acres, who owns a pair of collies. Twice per day an over laden busload of gullible yanks turn up at his gate to listen to his blarney about lambing in mid winter, and rescuing baby lambs from impossible ledges in the snowy distant hills, even though they are only worth tuppence each. Then, as his piece de resistance, with a loud whistle he commands his dogs to round the up the flock, and gather them into the shed, to rapturous applause. The fact that the sheep are as conditioned to this ritual as the tourists are to be robbed in broad daylight completely eludes their collective trans-atlantic brain cell as the whole party swoons with delight. All this entertainment for a meagre tenner per head, - eg a grand a day in Pat O’Malley’s arse pocket, probably in cash – bargain.
Forget fake tan, fake handbags or even fake orgasms, here comes the next pseudo-product to arrive in our shops - fake meat. Yes, the world’s first test-tube burger hit our streets a few weeks ago to much fanfare from the vegan fraternity, claiming that this ‘humanely’ produced mincemeat will save society from itself. Pioneered by Professor Post, an overzealous Dutch scientist, there are claims that genetically engineered fillet steaks could be grown in large buildings on banks of scaffolding, to feed the starving masses. Hoorah? Hmmm?
Well, firstly, one has to question the necessity for such production? It is here where his theory is as thin as a holstein cow. Apparently in a few years time we will be unable to feed ourselves with meat, because the cost of beef production will become too expensive. I have to say that from my standpoint in the agricultural corner this simply means that supply and demand should just push up the retail price. Eg, beef would become more expensive, so that the poor farmer can make some profit for once. If obese Americans are hell-bent on furring up their arteries with hourly quarter-pounders, then perhaps charging them more money for them may be the solution to a massive social problem. Let’s face it, if society didn’t demand the right to eat cheaply so that they can fritter away their earnings on caravan holidays in the Dordogne, le cheval would never have found its way into Tesco’s lasagne.
Secondly, in the same newspaper that Mr Veggie Reporter wrote this one sided argument, which includes such nonsense as – and I quote: ‘rearing animals for slaughter is a cruel practice’, there is another article on a different page condemning the use of genetically modified crops. Has anyone else woken up to the conflicting dispute here?
We are not allowed to improve our cropping system by use of modern science because that would mean fatcat farmers might make some cash, so let’s all take the moral high ground. But we could genetically manufacture fake meat which would inevitably put farmers out of business. Sounds to me like a win-win for the anti agricultural lobby. Come on farmers everywhere, stand up for yourselves and stamp this out before Frankenstein breaks out the ketchup!

Saturday 13 July 2013

Eulogy for the funeral of John Frazier

Wow, how many people? Well, welcome to Rock church, I am sorry you couldn’t all find a seat.
That in itself, purely by the number of you here, it is a fantastic compliment to this man that I will be inevitably unable to surpass in words.
But – please – let me try.

John Frazier.
What a man.
Perhaps the last of his kind.

As the Pastor said, today is not a day of sadness, but a day of celebration. Celebration of the life of a man who made the most of his.
A man born and bred in the parish of Rock - The second biggest parish in England - he was always proud to say that. I am not sure if its true, but it sounds pretty good.

Nearly the last of the elders of this parish too - when it comes to farmers and custodians of the land anyway.
His compatriots, John Whiteman, Bernard Birch, Aubrey Booton, John Nott Bullockhurst ------ they’re all gone too.
Back in the days when Coningswick had yards full of cattle being fattened for market, we heard one morning that his school chum, John Whiteman, had died –
That day Bernard Birch commented, ‘Jack, it looks like they are pulling out of our pen, now!’
Well That pen is pretty much empty today, as the next generation fill it’s stalls..

John Waldron Frazier.
Born at Fernhalls farm in 1925, the youngest of 3 - known as Jack to a select few -  John’s life was set on course to be a farmer from the outset.
Schooled at Rock School – for those who don’t remember it, it stood next to Timberdine house, on the site of – bungalow now – and later at Far Forest.  He had a meagre education, although he often commended the way they taught him maths, something he was always particularly good at. His mother, my granny Kate, recalled with pride how he won the school prize for arithmetic and she was called in to be told of it.
By his teens, a war had started, and he did his bit for this in two ways.
Firstly, he was issued with a standard Fordson and a two furrow plough, which he then proceeded to drive for the next 4 years, ploughing up pastures, some of which had never been turned over in thousands of years, in order to feed the nation. There are not many acres around here that he didn’t pull a furrow through during that time. Perhaps there may have been a few high hedgerows from where a fair maiden might have applauded the excellence of his cops and reams.

And then there was Dad’s army – the Bewdley Home Guard. The tales he told about those days could fill a book in itself. As a young private, he would spend days and nights defending Bewdley from invasion by the hun who might, at any time, approach up the Severn. A platoon full of boys in uniform, too young to make real soldiers, but too old to ignore a world war.
And, of course, he fought - in the battle of Bewdley.
Maybe there are a few here who are unaware of this infamous event?
In 1941, whilst on the lookout for raids by air, one local spotted what he assumed were parchutists falling from the sky over Wyre hill, and sounded the alarm by ringing the church bells.
With bayonets affixed, John and his platoon were despatched to capture the dastardly German paratroopers – shoot to kill if they had to. It was at least half an hour later when it was discovered that what was falling from the sky was not in fact soldiers at all, but straw that had been collected by a small whirlwind and then deposited from a great height. Oh how the shame must have shown in their red faces!

Farming – he enjoyed farming.

As he moved more into the roll of farmer, John was always a man of vision. Events were progressing and consumer demands dictated new methods of production.
You must remember that this was a fast changing period in agriculture. A time that accelerated farming from being a simple way of life, through a family dependant livelihood, to becoming a business that required brains, discipline, rules – and profit.

Chicken farming at fernhalls gave way to fruit growing, as the steeper fields provided gooseberries, blackcurrants, damsons and plums to a starving nation. This in turn, especially during picking time, offered employment to many from the local area, when Dad would drive the cattle lorry each morning to pick up housewives in their dozens from Stourport and Bewdley to reap the harvest.
New Buildings sprung up to house ventures into pork and beef production, with the barley-beef unit at the newly acquired Coningswick farm being far ahead of its time. Innovative crops were grown too, such as peas, beans and even lupins - as he not only embraced, but experimented with new ideas – all the time recording the results, learning, and moving forward.

Tractors – he liked tractors.

I am sure he would have approved of his final journey behind that magnificent Massey Ferguson 135 – courtesy of Dave Bradley.

All his days, right up until recently, he would be out at daylight on his tractor, tilling the soil with tender care. As machines progressed from simplicity to highly complicated, so he would evolve, adapt and learn.
Nick would like it known, that he is missing his tractor driver now – and a lot more advice besides.

John married Val, a vibrant but tolerant person, in 1954, and they remained happily married for some 59 years. A life sentence, some may say. But she never complained, when sometimes farmlife didn’t go according to plan.

Not just a man of vision, John will always be remembered for his eye for quality, in everything that he produced. Pigs and cattle were the mainstay of the farm for many years, every one of them of the highest quality and confirmation - regularly recording the top price of the day at Kidderminster Market. Up to 10 steers per week and a hundred pigs - all bore the Frazier calibre of excellence that had butchers clambering to sell them in their stores.
In order to extend the reputation of quality - steers were exhibited at local shows – something which soon became a passion. During the 70s & 80s, the name of HS Frazier & Son was engraved on dozens of trophies, which annually adorned the mantelpiece at Coningswick. I believe he won the coveted champion of Kidderminster Fatstock show, a commendable  9 times in 10 years.

Sheep – he loved sheep

In fact, It is probably with sheep that many of you will associate John Frazier.
Again, among this species, he was a pioneer. Initially experimenting with breeding Welsh Mules, a cross between a Beulah ewe from the welsh mountains, and an often short-lived Blue Faced Leicester, he would supply breeding stock to many other farmers throughout the Midlands.
Incidentally, For those of you unaware of a Blue Faced Leicester, they are a rather gangly looking creature, with a penchant for dropping dead for no apparent reason. On buying these rams from Builth ram sale, when asked if the vendor would be offering a luck-penny with the sale, one breeder replied, ‘yes, we give a spade away, with every one!’
And so it was, he turned to the Blue du maine, a new breed which was just imported from France. Within a short time, John soon became an expert breeder of these, exhibiting sheep at shows far and wide and retrieving a haul of cups, rosettes and championships.
As you may be aware, the welsh nation is very fond of its sheep, so it will be of no surprise that the Royal welsh show is the biggest sheep show in the world. To win a breed championship there is the pinnacle of any breeder’s career. John Frazier did that, on no less than 5 occasions.
In order to find the very best, the ultimate top sheep, -– a finale is held on the last day of this event, where all the champions get to fight it out for one trophy – the best in show, if you will. The holy grail of sheep breeding.
In 1992, John was a very proud man when the name of HS Frazier & Son was immortalised on that very trophy – a feat that only a few have ever achieved.
His prowess with this breed brought him invitations to judge shows, far and wide, from Bristol to Belfast - Carlisle to CardiffEdinburgh to Essex. In fact he has judged at shows in just about every county in England, again an accolade that few can boast. He was also the first - and I believe ONLY - breeder to ever sell a blue du maine sheep back to France. A deal that was done – bizarrely - in a Parisian nightclub. That is to say, he was in the nightclub, not the sheep.

Still on the lookout for yet more quality, the arrival of a new breed took his eye, that of the Beltex - a hybrid sheep from Belgian. Instantly taken with the carcase capabilities of this breed, a nucleus flock was set up at Coningswick - which was soon to set the breed alight. Yet more trophies poured in, as well as top priced animals being sold to breeders far and wide. To this very day, the name of Coningswick lives on in hundreds of pedigrees throughout the land. A testament to a man with a clear vision for quality.
He was once interviewed about his sheep breeding success, and asked what he looked for in an animal.
His reply was simply this: ‘If I can breed a sheep with an arse as big as my missus, that will do for me!’
I think Val might have been out of earshot on that occasion!

Whisky. He liked whisky.

To all of you here, that is no secret. Many of you will have shared a dram with him over the years, be it at livestock shows or in the Bliss Gate or Rock Cross, listening to his stories.
Macallan, that was his tipple.
He was also an avid collector of things. Guns, tractors, walking sticks and books, but primarily whiskies. In fact his unique collection runs into literally hundreds of miniature bottles from extreme areas and unobtainable eras.

That is why, directly after this service, you are all invited back to the Rock Cross, for some light refreshments and to raise a glass to the old bugger.
This was a man who, after all, coined the phrase.


Thank you

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Tea for one

As a child one considers all sorts of careers that may lie in one’s future. I’m not sure when my youngest son, Jack, decided on his chosen path but I congratulate him on securing his first job, as a graduate quantity surveyor – whatever one of those is – after getting a 1st class honours degree. Well done, fella.
My own decisiveness never quite came to me so young, other than that of being a farmer, and I sort of stumbled through one career into another for most of my working life, each one slightly more bizarre than the last. Cattle hair-dresser, computer programmer, fiction writer, they all happened as if by accident and none were a real surprise; but in all my wildest dreams I never considered that I would be negotiating with the Ukrainian Mafia. Yet, today it seems that is my very task. Having been gazumped on a property deal right at its closing stage, I then get a phone call from Don Mishkof Corleone making me an offer that I cannot refuse, no questions asked. ‘Consider it that I am doing you a favour,’ he said, in the voice of a Bond villain. I will admit that I was somewhat disturbed by the call, and thankfully the lump under the duvet when I crawled into bed last night was not a horses head, just my beloved, snoring quietly. Should I accept this man’s offer? I have checked out his credentials and he is definitely a cosha baddie, complete with Limmo and facial scars, and what he wants with a small beachside apartment in Bulgaria is probably something highly dodgy. But business is business, so I suppose I most go ahead, particularly as he didn’t seem keen to take no for an answer. If this column never appears again, you will know that I have been sent swimming in the Black Sea in a concrete waistcoat during the sinking season!
Maybe it is just good fortune – or luck, as some people refer to it – swinging my way for a change. Lord knows, we could do with a touch of that. I must be the only person in the world who chose to take 5 days holiday by the Bay of Biscay last month to endure constant rain. 6 inches in one day, no less! Meanwhile, back home at Chauffour, less than 3 hours away, the sun blazed away continually, frying the sheep in their woolly jackets. We did get a few nice days, eventually, when we could run the dogs on one of France’s few dog-friendly beaches. This in itself was a tad traumatic as the local authority had also designated it as ‘playa naturism’, although, in my mind, these two hardly go together. So we did get into a few scrapes as Pooper, our unkempt terrier, has a habit of surprising sunbathers by licking their ear as the sleep. This in itself would be alarming enough but when said sleepers are totally naked, it tends to freak them out a little. The screams from one poor chap are still echoing around the hills of the Pyrenees as we speak, as he ran towards the ocean in a dangly fashion. Needless to say, we will not be allowed back.
When we did return home, however, the rain followed us up the autoroute and hasn’t stopped since. Week after week it pounds the petals off the roses, encouraging the grass to grow like bamboo which requires mowing 3 times per week. The poor lawnmower will need at least a couple of pit-stops if it is to make it to the end of this season. We do have a great crop of tatties though, if only I could wade through the swamp to get to them. And yet, it seems, that we are the only ones to be enduring such torrents. This week I spoke to a few colleagues in Scotland who claimed to have had a month of dry weather and could do with a little rain to dampen the dust! Well, be careful what you wish for, as I set sail for Edinburgh next week and may just bring some with me.
I am actually in UK for a couple of weeks, and then a further one in Ireland, so the law of sod will dictate that the sun will beam on SW France while I tramp around the Grande Britannia in my Kagool. Those in the know say that ‘timing is everything’, and it appears mine is a little out of sync this summer.
Having built it up over the last couple of months, I have to report that our annual party was not quite such a blistering success this year. Guest numbers were well down, due to other commitments or general lack of interest, and this was just as well, as we were all ensconced indoors while the skies rained down and the cold east wind chiselled its way in from Siberia. Our only saving grace was the large open fire roaring away in the garage as we stoked it up with expired Ikea furniture in order to keep warm. They did manage to much their way through a 4.5kgs shoulder of mutton though, which had slowly sizzled away on the bbq for 12 hours. And delicious it was too, although I say it myself.
During the event we had a giggle when Wendy’s phone rang. On answering it, an old lady’s voice asked if we could bring her a cup of tea! Initially considering it was a wind-up from one of our friends, she soon ignored and ended the call. The problem is, however, that it was genuine. Somehow, a dear old lady has got Wendy’s mobile number programmed into her phone and continues to call, every day at 3pm, demanding her tea and a biscuit. We have no idea who she is, or from where she is calling, but we do feel a tad responsible for her daily disappointment when her afternoon sustenance fails to arrive. Recently I have gone to great lengths to try and track the call so that, if only once, we can obey her wishes and send a bob-a-job boy-scout round with a cuppa. But there is the problem. Although the world and his dog can manage to obtain my mobile number and constantly call me trying to sell me things, when we want to do a little good in the world, the information is more classified than the president’s nuclear launch codes. On the off-chance that someone reading this has their granny secured in the attic with a new cell-phone, please oblige us by firstly taking her a daily brew and digestive, and then deleting our number. Thank you so much.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

A load of crap?

Wow, what a month that was. Technically, there is no such thing as half a hole although you can, of course, have half a whole hole. Well I have to say that the one which was dug in our garden to contain all our effluent is more like a hole and a half. 6000 litres? That’s a whole lot of crap, especially from just two people! You see, this is French bureaucracy once again evolving from the Middle Ages into total ridicule in just one single round of administration.
Since we have been in this house, I have extended it and modified it, this way and that, until we have now ended up with 6 bedrooms to accommodate our deluge of guests who descend on us from time to time. So, says the French government, if you have 6 bedrooms, each one of them will create a thousand litres of effluent and thus you need a septic tank which could viably cope with an entire commune. 1000 litres each, I hear you ask? How much food and drink do they consume in a few weeks? Even with my liberal servings, that doesn’t equate to the output of any normal human being.
Despite my protestations that, were the numbers living on our house spread out equally through the year, we would technically be only 2.35 head, this cut no ice with the local authorities, who have been here three times now, measuring and checking that we have installed our full capacity. Along with the vast underground tank comes 250 metres of 4 inch tubing, a grease-trap, inspection hatches and ventilation shafts, together with a rather hefty bill approaching five figures. The irony of this is, after all this cost, every Frenchman who visits for dinner will still pop round the corner and pee on the lawn!
But then during this installation, another problem arises: that of public holidays. In UK these are generally confined to Mondays, but this is France so ours are on Wednesdays instead - and possibly Thursdays - just to be awkward, and the month of May seems to be chock full of them. Exempt of the National status, I toil away with my shovel and barrow through these significant events - which include carnivals, village fetes, kick-the-beggar and various other general frivolities to celebrate pre-historic French victories – and when they are over, on Friday, I make a desperate trip to the builders merchants, only to find that they have taken a PONT. For those with a smattering of school French, you will recognise this word from the rhyme ‘sur la pont, d’Avignon’. Yes, a bloody bridging-day from holiday to weekend to extend their drinking frenzy. Hence, everything is closed, making it impossible to buy so much as a u-bend!
Hampered by this significant inconvenience, I am now under pressure to complete a bathroom that I can then connect up to our yet-to-be-completed hole in the ground, prior to more guests descending on us in time for Whitsun and our annual bash. It could get messy, in more ways than one!
On the subject of the aforementioned gathering, I am quite startled to discover that this is our seventh one in this house. Yes, for seven years, I have been masquerading as a DIY, plumber, builder, roofer and general labourer as each year more money gets poured into the pit that is our renovation project. The fact that the original plan was to complete it in five years can only partly be blamed on myself, with constant bank holidays, spiralling prices, ridiculous red-tape, my increased writing commitments and human procrastination all sharing the remainder of the excuses.
Once again we will welcome back my sister Sarah, who has made a remarkable recovery from her head injury a couple of years ago. Other guests - which include one friend who has just starred in a Bollywood film and will be on her way back from seeing it featured at the Cannes Film festival - will hopefully be able to enjoy a bit of home-reared lamb and fresh garden produce in the May sunshine.
Except, we haven’t had any! For some reason summer this year has, as yet, failed to get its sandals on, as grey skies prevail, much as they have done in UK. This damp climate not only brings the problem of keeping the lawn maintained, with twice weekly mowing between the showers, but also confines us to indoor TV evenings to shelter from the chilly northerly winds. So, a cunning plan has since been tagged on to the end of the already over-saturated renovation project, to add a fourth terrace to the property – completing the circle, as it were. Utilising the machinery that arrived to dig the cavernous hole mentioned previously, I have now managed to excavate on the more sheltered east side of the house, removing brushwood and trees that were once occupying that space. Hopefully, within a few weeks, even if this weather does persist, we should be able to christen it with Pimms on the East Lawn in casual summer dress - with maybe a quick game of croquet thrown in. What, ho, Chaps!
I must admit, I can’t wait to get back outdoors, to avoid me destroying the TV set with a machine-gun on Wednesday evenings. I am, of course, referring to the return of that programme run by Mr Smug himself, Lord Alan Sugar-lips. Each year an even more self-righteous bunch of imbeciles line up to become his Apprentice, and this year surely takes the biscuit. Why anyone would possibly employ any of these slimy individuals is beyond comprehension, as they bicker and snide with each other with absolutely no sense of business acumen whatsoever? In one episode, team ‘Intolerance’ went to sell kegs of beer at a wine festival! That’s like popping up with a pork curry at a Bah Mitzvar? On another occasion, they are not even able to assemble IKEA furniture. Er. Well, come to think of it, perhaps that is a slightly more challenging task. Anyone seen my Allen Key?

Monday 15 April 2013


Having recently written about discovering new words, I would now like to make one up - angerportia - the hatred of airports, and I suffer from an extremely acute dose of it! So how delighted I am today on arrival at one of Britain’s most miserable hotspots in the airline world, Bristol airport, to hear those immortal words ‘your plane is delayed’! For two fucking hours!
So far I have been here for two minutes, having got soaked on the way from the hire-car return depot, which is situated somewhere near Cornwall, and already I am a screaming psychopath whom every one gives a wide birth to. Why do airport security staff have to be so belligerently unfriendly? What is it about the job application that attracts the most unpleasant people in the land to apply? These failed traffic wardens seem not only out to make your airport experience as unbearable as possible with their barked orders and scowls that would curdle milk, but I am sure they go out of their way to make grown adults cry with fear or rise to the occasion with reactive aggression just to get their kicks. Oh how I would love to have delivered one of those!
In a bid to further inconvenience travelers, I note that this airport, along with a few more in England, have recently seen the need to charge for baggage trolleys. Now this I would understand, were it a returnable fee to encourage users to return them as they do in some supermarkets, but they don’t. This is a non-refundable fee of one pound or - get this - 2 euros! Yes, yet another wonderful display of discrimination against anyone non-British. No wonder the rest of the European economy is in such a mess with exchange rates like that? But then I got around to some smart thinking to brighten my otherwise miserable day. If I have paid for this trolley, that means they don’t want it back - SO I CAN TAKE IT HOME! Well I can’t today as I am flying to France and the old wobbly three wheeler wont fit in my hand luggage. But I will next time I am here. In fact I might buy quite a few. At a quid each I could get perhaps 50 if I save my pennies, and then fasten them all together and tow them home back up the M5. To research my cunning plan yet further I find that I could probably get a fiver each for them on ebay, which is an even bigger profit than the airport is making on exchanging one pound for 2 euros! Another idea would be to flog them to Tescos, or Lidls. Or perhaps other airports who don’t have enough. Watch the NASTAC index for trolleydeals.com to make it into the Footsie 100, very soon.
Anyway, back to the indoors of this godforsaken hellhole. I now need a seat for 2 hours, but there are none - save a few wooden church pews that would cause your coccyx to disintegrate were you to sit on them for more than 30 seconds. Not only that but there are no tables either; well, unless you want to sit amongst the debris that the last 8 fat families have troughed from, while their kids write graffiti in ketchup all over the Formica using words I am quite glad I don’t understand. At the bar I ask the bored 12 year old barman if they are short staffed, as his 3 colleagues watch me suspiciously. No, he says, looking round at his buddies. When I suggested that that may like to clear the tables he looked at me as though I had 3 heads, and then smirked. I must admit, I didn’t hold out much hope for a positive reply and was awaiting the excuse that he wasn’t qualified to do such highly skilled jobs, or maybe he hadn’t time as he had some homework to finish. However, it appears that someone was already allocated to the task, a lonely woman, but she was on her break. After an hour I did the job myself, just so that we could sit down. This got me a telling off from said lady, because I wasn’t qualified, obviously. ‘You trying to get me fired?’ she asked. ‘No Mamn, if I had anything to do with your employment, you wouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place, as I would have trained your bar-monkeys to do it in their spare time!’
Next I get chance to use their free internet wifi, except that, before I can get online, I now have to register all my details on their database so they can sell it to every marketing company in the world in exchange for a whopping 30 minutes free use of their service, after which I will be charged £75 per minute. So blessed am I with this free time so I can check my emails and post on Facebook to people I have never met about how much I hate Bristol, England, UK and possibly the whole of planet earth. This inevitably gets me into heated arguments with some bearded man from Temple Meads who swears at me using symbols and acronyms that I unable to decipher. Just when it is getting meaningful I have to log off, for fear of spending my life savings in this futility.
Ok, so only one and a half hours left. What to do? I wonder around the glitzy duty free shops which are more expensive than Fortnum and Masons, as smiley staff grin at me with perfect teeth, and call me sir. I can’t help thinking that maybe they should apply a little role exchange in this place, putting these glamorous supermodels in charge of the security where they could be pleasant to people who need it. Then the power-crazed hideous aggressive bastards from security could take their jobs in the shops and nobody would buy anything and be ripped off! A win-win all round, I say. Maybe I will write a letter to someone and suggest it. Or perhaps post it in Facebook and see what my bearded Bristolian friend thinks.
Finally I take to reading the newspaper which is filed with a thousand pages about how wonderful Maggie Thatcher was, and that we should all pin pictures of her on front doors as a mark of respect.  Except that when our doorbell went ding-dong we would all be arrested for taking the piss! The witch IS dead, long live the witch.
Well, old iron knickers, although I will admit I was a fan of yours at the time and do have some respect for the way you stood up and stamped on socialism, I have to say that it is you I blame now, for allowing the masses to sell their Dad’s council houses and fritter the profits away on foreign holidays, thus cluttering up our airports with their screaming tattoed children and designer luggage - when all I want to do is sit in silence!

Saturday 13 April 2013


I don’t know about you but I love that programme for anoraks on TV entitled QI. So much so that today I have downloaded a book of its 1200 most interesting facts, which has whiled away a couple of amusing hours, causing me to chuckle out loud (COL). I feel immediately obliged to share a few of these with you this month, in the name of factual entertainment - if only so that you can pass them on at dinner parties.
For example, did you know that in 1997, 39 people were admitted to hospital with tea-cosy related injuries? A little known fact, indeed. Or that, in 1915, Charlie Chaplin entered a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest and came 11th? Canned food was invented 48 years before the tin opener, Mark Roget, who invented the thesaurus, also invented the slide rule and that, if you so wish, you can rent Liechtenstein for 70,000 dollars per night, for a minimum of two nights. It sleeps 900!
Now these are not things that any human is deemed to be aware of, unless of course you are planning a massive lederhosen party, but none the less, fun to know.
My reason for discovering these facts and, indeed, for having the novelty of a few hours of spare time to digest them, is that I am currently on a Ryanair flight back to UK, to do some research. No I am not writing a new version of Johnson’s dictionary, just more of the cattle research that is currently occupying the majority of my working day. For the next 5 days I will be touring Aberdeenshire, visiting some rather clever people who have added their mark to the history of that magnificent beast, the Aberdeen Angus. Among these include a rather heraldic lady, whose titles include Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire, by the name of Lady Quiet-a-few-surnames, from Ballindalloch castle, whose great grandfather was one of the breed’s founders. I also have to see a 88 year old man who once sailed to Argentina with a boat load of cattle, to hear first hand the story of one particular bull which firstly fell ill and then fell over the side. The fact that he had cost upwards of 20, 000 guines, was subsequently discovered to be infertile, and was well insured, apparently had nothing to do with his coincidental midnight swim!
My only hope is that the April weather will not dump me in snow drifts higher than the Cairngorms, as UK continues its extensive winter.
Having said that, our pilot just announced that the weather in Edinburgh airport was 5 degrees warmer than the day we have just left behind in Bordeaux. Yes, France has suffered at the hands of mother nature too, although our odd frosty night and chilly day doesn’t quite stack up to the depths of weather seen in Rock over the first few weeks of April. Ok, I won’t rub it in, but I did get sunburned last week whilst trimming a hedge in my shorts!
Aha, moving on just in time, my rant this month is a little disjointed as the captain announced that he was about to land the plane and would I turn that bloody machine off as it was disturbing his concentration. So now I continue from the middle of a snow covered forest near Ballater, 200 miles and 24 hours later, where a large stag is eyeing me suspiciously through the trees. For the last few hours I have traversed the Cairngorms via single track roads as the satnag directs me the shortest route from here to there. Were there an override button that suggested we avoid snow drifts over 1 metre high I might have pressed it but, without the aid of a map, I have little or no choice but to follow her mundane commands. I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised to find myself on a ski-run, but evidently it was the shortest route and we did enjoy some majestic scenery. It was only a green run though, although I do have to apologise to those couple of beginners who fell over when I blew the horn for them to get out of the way as I slid down towards the drag-lift. Anyway, all is now calm again, although I have no idea where the hell I am. You see, satellite navigation is only really helpful when it can directly contact the metal transmitter that is orbiting the earth. In this instance, this would be nigh on impossible, judging by the depth of this forest, coupled with the thick black cloud looming over head, but hopefully they will all be reconnected soon enough for me to reach my destination. Otherwise, would someone kindly alert the mountain rescue services within the next few days and send me supplies, and possibly a rifle and a stove. At times like these it is nice to comfort myself with learning new words, such as ‘Nomophobia’ - the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. Strangely enough, I just went through a village called Dunniken, a few miles back. And there was I thinking that name was just a Scottish myth!
Assuming I do get out in one piece, on my return to France next week we have the builders in to install our new septic tank. I know it might appear a little strange to be excited about such an event but, due to a mountain of French bureaucracy, we have actually been waiting for this for over 3 years! Even now, a power-crazed little man in a white van will have to make no less than 4 visits to check we are doing it right, at the right depth, in the right place and woe betide us if we don’t. Then will follow 3 frantic weeks of jigsawesque pipe assembly in a hope to get it all connected so that our late April guests wont have to pee in the bushes.
Meanwhile, the invites are out for our annual May bash, which this year will also encompass a 6 nations championship all of our very own, as we have arranged golf, table-tennis and pool to be undertaken in order to spice up the event and give folks something to occupy their time instead of drinking themselves into oblivion in the summer sunshine! By evening, this will culminate in a quiz - hence the swatting up on irrelevant facts - and prizes will be handed out to the soberest team. Judging by the current entrants, I don’t hold out great hopes for Scotland!
They say deaths come in three’s, a bit like busses and nuns, and this week has seen some of those. Firstly I learn of my Auntie Gina, my mother’s cousin, whom I barely knew, save for photos of her and Mum swanning around the French Riviera in their bikinis, glamourously wooing the local boys and posing for the cameras. Then, we hear about the Iron Lady herself, which signals the end of an era of unparalleled democracy. As notes of respect for Maggie come flooding in from world leaders, you have to marvel at the hypocrisy of most these people who at the time either couldn’t stand her or were terrified of the old dragon. Can’t say I saw one from Galtieri though, nor Mr Scargill for that matter, but maybe she has seen them off in more ways than one?
Finally I get sad news of the death of one our old sheep breeding adversaries, Big Gavin Shanks. Now Gavin was a gentle giant of a man who for many years excelled at the Highland Games and once tossed the caber for Scotland. He was a large as life character and extremely popular amongst sheep breeding circles for many years and will be sorely missed. I hope the Big Yin is up there handing round the drams and entertaining Gina and Mrs T in the same way he had always done when I was in his company.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Pope Argie the first

So, at last Argentina has something to shout about. After 150 years of trying to nick our Falkland Islands and nearly as many unsuccessfully attempting to beat us at rugby - although I admit, they have won the odd game of footie -  they have now secured a Pope.
Yes, when the white smoke finally arrived through the Vatican roof yesterday, the secret Cardinals had all agreed on the world’s first non European Pope.
All hail Pope Francis.
Francis!? What sort of a name is that for a Pope?
The one thing I enjoy about the papal election is the self-appointed names that the head of the Catholic world appoints themselves with. We have recently had Benedict, which sounds like a mouth-wash, and before him we had Beatle-loving Pope Jean-Paul – who was only lacking George and Ringo to make up a full set.
Over history we have had a dozen Gregorys, Augustines and Alexanders - mainly Italians, all from Europe. And now we eventually get a South American and he calls himself Francis!
Come on man, where’s you imagination? You might have well called yourself Barry? Or Dave?
Argentina has some wonderful Spanish names in its culture. Where is Garibaldi? Or what about Diego Maradonna? And then there was that brilliant rugby paring of Philipe Contepone and Augustus Pichot. Sounds like a pair of bank robbers, admittedly, but it is a bit more highbrow than bloody Francis?
This got me round to thinking that, were I elected as Pope, what would I call myself? Not just me in fact, but all of us.
Let’s play a game where we get elected to one day of religious fame – and have to come up with a name?
Well, I would dump Andrew for starters. For all its regal connotations, it makes me sound like a right dull bastard. My middle name – James – that would be out too. James the millionth? No ta.
How about Archibald? Nah, too old fashioned – I want to be a modern Pope.
It needs to sound upbeat as well, but not too chavvy. Kevin, Robbie, Darren, they’re not quite right for all that splendour are they – in fact Daz would have probably had it away with that gold tea-service by lunchtime and fenced it for 40 Marlboro and a zippo lighter!
Needs to be original, too – don’t want any numbers after my name. Gerald? Has there been a Pope Gerald? No? I can see why – the boring git!
Here we go – Silicontine. What do you think of that? Has a nice sort of cyber tone to it? No? Pope Packard? Maybe Pope Google? Then they could sponsor me – although you wouldn’t really need much sponsorship in the Vatican, it’s kinda cash-rich.
Pope Elevate? I quite like that. Stands on high ground, doesn’t it? A bit too pompous perhaps?
Christopher, Lawrence, Benjamin, Nathaniel – all a bit run-of-the-mill, really.
You know, actually, this game isn’t as easy as I thought. Maybe he should have just gone the obvious route and pre-empted what everyone will call him from now until his death.
Arise – Pope Argie!

Monday 11 March 2013

Fireproof Pope

I have always been of the belief that whatever time of year I lambed the sheep, the weather would turn on me at that specific date. Be it November, Christmas or May, blizzards and tornadoes are always lying in wait to challenge the ovine newborn’s chance of survival to the very limit. And so it is that, on the day the first one hits the ground this year, we have that tornado, or hurricane, or whatever the French call the extremities of Le Vent, to contend with. Although I prefer the sheep to live and lamb outside, we do have the backstop of a 30x10 metre polytunnel for them to shelter out of the rain and snow, if required. Well, we did until last night. Now it is more like a climbing frame, as the entire ‘poly’ part of it departed north at 50 kph. At this moment, I have no idea where it has gone, and only hope it hasn’t reached the main road and gift-wrapped a lorry causing accidental deaths.
The irony of this freak 3 day storm is that we have just arrived back after a couple of months on the Scottish coast, where the wind off the North Sea would normally saw you in half faster that David Copperfield with a Husqvarna, but which was positively calm this year. Not only that, but this wind is coming from the South East which is very unusual for us down here – hence it made its way into the opening of the afore-mentioned polytunnel. The only thing it has in its favour is that it is quite warm, perhaps due to the fact it is arriving from the Sahara, and is very handy for drying the washing. Whoops, looks like that has gone north as well. Maybe my England rugby shirt will be in Paris for the weekend’s annual game, before me!
On the subject of sheep, I am happy to report that the famed Daisy-Deathwish is not only still alive – against some quite slim odds - but has this week produced a lamb of her very own. To begin with she was none too sure about it and kept running away from the poor thing every time it stood up, but now she has at least accepted responsibility for the gangly creature. Meanwhile, her mother has produced 2 lambs of which she is only able to rear one, the other one now relying on us with a milk-bottle. Hopefully we can someone locally to take pity on it and relieve us of the tiresome 4 times daily feeds.
In our few months absence we seem to have once again accumulated some more damn cats at Chauffour. Why two more grey stripy felines have rocked up here, I have no idea – maybe because it has been dog-free during that time - but I wish they would turn the noise down if they are going to stay around. One of them - definitely a tom – growls like a grisly-bear at all the others for hours, while another – I think female – sits in the rafters and swears profusely at the dogs. Occasionally, when they are done jibing at each other, they embark on a mass brawl in the attic, screaming blue murder while they hack lumps out of one-another with their scissor-hands. I am not sure if our own two get involved in this wrangle as well, or whether they just spectate from their seat in the stands. I would suggest it’s like a scene from Fight Club – except that the first rule of Fight Club is ‘you do not talk about Fight Club!’
Meanwhile, Louis (the pointless pointer) hasn’t quite worked out which ones to chase first. In fact a dog-with-two-cats is even more confused than the proverbial dog with two other appendages!  
I suppose at some stage these animals may all get around to living in harmony, and will diplomatically elect one of them as the top-cat in the conclave. Perhaps we should keep an eye out for white smoke appearing from the chimney in the next few months, before normal silence is resumed.
Coincidentally, isn’t it great to see that even the Pope isn’t above the laws of ridicule that are commonly referred to as Health and Safety. Yes, over the last few weeks, a little man with a hard-hat and highly important clipboard has instructed that, if Cardinals are to sit around playing with fire in the Sistine chapel, then they had better do it safely or they will damn well be reported to a higher authority. So it was that we saw a new chimney being fitted – by fire-fighters, according to the press -  to comply with the latest safety regulations. One assumes that, inside the highly secret conclave, they have all been kitted out with flame-retardant high-viz cassocks, fire-proof gloves and highly sensitive smoke detectors, as well as being rehearsed in fire-drills by him upstairs? There’s a thought? Who stands in as fire-monitor while there is no Pope in situ? Does he get secretly elected by 115 cardinals too?
This brings me neatly round to another absurd rule which is just about to be enforced here in France. Yes, with nothing better to do, our new leader has now instigated yet another law in order to protect ourselves from ourselves: that of having smoke detectors fitted in every household from 2015. The entirety of the new ruling is as yet unclear, with debates still raging about the number of devices required in each household. At present, it is thought that only one would be required, but the positioning of it will be determined by a fire-officer – in a hard-hat. A suggestion that it be fitted directly next to the open-fireplace has not been ruled out although other sources seem pretty sure it should be above the electric-toaster or over the barbeque. Inevitably, a further law prohibiting householders to smoke cigarettes in their own homes is just around the corner, for fear of it setting off the alarms. Apparently, 33 million of new ‘Joan-of-Arc’ devices will be supplied by French manufacturer – ‘Hollande & Hollande’ - over the next two years!
Yes, chivalry is a French word!

Friday 1 March 2013

A nagging suspicion

History will probably document that this decade has advanced more than any other throughout time, with the possible exception of the Romans and, maybe, Telford’s industrial steam iron
Here we now are in an era that can track us all by satellite, no matter whether we are on the run or on the toilet.
The question remains - should we embrace this advance or fear it?
Well, assuming we are innocent of nothing more than a parking fine, then we should have nothing to fear and be comforted that, were we lost, someone knows where we are.
Today we are back in France after three months in UK, which is no big secret.  If it were I am sure I wouldn’t post it on the internet. What information I would like to retain in a little more personal locker is where I have been, who with, how, when and why. Not because there is anything sinister about that either, just that it is my own business and not anyone elses.
So when I am singled out of a traffic queue at the HM Customs by some power-crazed short legged blonde with a pony tail and a Thatcheresque frown, and questioned on my recent exploits, I don’t feel obliged to play along. No problem, I’ll just have some fun and give them a few sarcastic fibs with a wry smile. We all know how this game works.
But when did they suddenly have the right to take swabs from my door handle?
She thought I hadn’t noticed her henchman in my offside mirror taking tiny samples from the passenger side door, while I was being I was being detained through the drivers window with inane questioning. It is quite obvious she wasn’t listening to me either, when I gave my occupation as circus freak and my home address is Abersandwich. In fact it was only when I drove away that I realised that I had actually just been violated in such a way.
You see, what he had just done was taken my DNA without my permission. That will now be filed, against my wishes, with the reg plate from the car. So whoever has opened this car door within the last week or so will now be stored on file. If they choose, they can now not only track our car by satellite, but follow our DNA trail too
And that bothers me.
If, next week, an innocent tourist has been murdered by a mad axeman in Cyprus, these records will be checked. Even if someone steals a bag of sweets or potentially puts their hand anywhere in the world, the SOCO samples can be checked against me. FOREVER. Basically, I am now a marker for crimes committed worldwide to be checked against.
And that bothers me a fucking-great deal. And I reckon it may even be illegal?
A few months ago the extent of our advances in DNA recognition hit the headlines during routine checks were made on a few beef-burgers. Yes, in that instance, it did lead to better things as it uncovered the pirates who have been filling our pies with horsemeat over the last 20 years. But then, immediately, a witch-hunt started which as usual the media stirred up into a shit-storm. We then find that traces of horse DNA turns up all over the place, as evidence of the tiniest contamination show up everywhere. Not just horse either, but pigs, goats, lamb, all killed in same processing plant that have left their miniscule evidence behind them, despite things being washed down after they have long gone in vac-pacs. You can run, piggy – but you can’t hide!
Here’s a supposition. How long before the bloke that lifted that carcase off the meat conveyor leaves his own DNA behind.
Impossible? Not at all.
Very soon we will see the headlines CANABAL NATION. The vegan brigade will love that one.
But now, let’s move on
What if that bloke I gave a lift to last week had been handling the stuff? Would my car be tracked down to our village in France?
Would the police be worried maybe I have been put into burgers too? After all, this FRANCE…they eat all sorts of shit?
Will my sister be reading the headline that her charming younger brother had just been eaten by an eighteen stone skinhead from Manchester with chips, peas and gravy?
Will hoards of well wishers attend a funeral of an empty Findus box that was once a renowned author with wailing tears, while I am obliviously sipping gin in the Atlantic sunshine?
Maybe my dogs DNA will be found as well. Poor pooper, how tragic that the world may believe you have ironically ended up in a tin of pedigree chum!
I am sure to most this may sound as far fetched as 1984 was to anyone post-war who wasn’t fitted with a straight-jacket? You will be thinking that, as per usual, this madman is cantering around on his hobby horse on the back of the beef horse, but I swear that big brother has long since stopped watching us and now is gathering our genetic finger prints without our agreement.
Well my vote is that each and every one of us should be demanding that it stop before we all end up in the hands of the lawyers, and that we should all demand more clarity on the whole DNA issue. At the very least we should be given the opportunity to smile and brush our genetic hair before the snapshot is taken to preserve us in eternity.