Monday, February 28, 2022

The Gift of the Magi

 Very often on my Sunday-morning way round to Hammersmith to take Peter on his weekly grocery shop, I have to call at Helen's around the corner to pick up some nicknack or other for him. I didn't think I would have to yesterday, because she had visited him on Friday, but when I messaged to double check she told me she had some daffodils that needed delivering "for St David's Day."

He was already outside waiting for me when I turned up so I didn't get a chance to give them to him as he jumped straight in the car. When we were in Waitrose, he bought three bunches of yellow flowers whose labels read "narcissi," and when we got back he told me one was for him, one was for a neighbour and one was for Helen.

In the pub later watching the Carabao Cup final, Ollie told me that narcissus is another name for daffodil; news to me.

Strictly in terms of time and motion studies and in the cause of efficiency, and what with supply chains being under stress, they could have kept their own flowers rather than have me take one bunch of daffodils out and bring a very similar one back.

But as I am all over the stories of O Henry (Icons passim) at the moment:

The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children ....... But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

quite cured of seeking pleasure in society

 My niece, who is at Central, took me to see Wuthering Heights in the National Theatre last night and mentioned is passing that Katy Owen who was in the cast had taught her at Royal Welsh. I googled her this morning and IMDB told me that she is also in the Dinklage Cyrano movie (passim), that I want to see this week.

I got a message from Lee early in the afternoon saying there was a spare ticket for AFC Wimbledon if I fancied it. I told him I was grateful but couldn't make it as I was committed to seeing as much of the England Wales six nations match as I could before striking out for the South Bank. He asked me what I was going to see at the NT, as he had been there the night before at Small Island.

Small Island? Small world.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Johnny Fontane will never get that movie!

 Two movies I want to catch are out. The 50th anniversary edition of the Godfather (passim) and Peter Dinklage in Cyrano (passim).

Clapham Common on the Northern line is only seven minutes from Colliers Wood and the Clapham Picturehouse is only a two minute walk from the station. In terms of the journey's elapsed time that may be nearer than the Curzon or Odeon. The trip will be free as well of course with my travel card.

I took a look at

The Godfather isn't playing there.

Friday, February 25, 2022


 According to Radio 4 this morning, Poland is preparing for "up to a million" refugees from Ukraine. I don't know where they get these numbers (plucked from the air I imagine to be honest) but the issue seems real enough.

A long time ago, maybe as early as 1984, I was working with a young Australian guy called Geoff Cooper for Wimpey in Flyover  House. He was taking a break from seeing the world but would still disappear for long weekends Once he went to Poland and told me he had seen the preparations for a parade celebrating the "friendship" of the Poles and the Soviet Union. A street was lined with crossed flags symbolising the relationship, but before the event could start the Polish kids had run up and down the road plucking out the Soviet flags and throwing them away. An image that has stayed with me ever since.

In other developments, Transnistria, officially the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), is an unrecognised breakaway state located in the narrow strip of land between the river Dniester and the Moldovan–Ukrainian border that is internationally recognised as part of Moldova. There are Russian troops stationed there. I had never heard of it before reports (yet to be confirmed I believe) of forces landing in Odessa.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Night 464

 I woke as usual to Tweet of the Day on Radio 4 at 5:58 am. It was about Eiders, northern sea-ducks perhaps most famous for the soft breast feathers with which they line their nests. 

It was therefore, as you can imagine, quite a juxtaposition when the Today programme started immediately afterwards at six with Ukraine-Russia crisis: Vladimir Putin launches full-scale invasion with explosions heard near Kyiv.

It felt odd after that to go on to my next regular morning appointment, reading the latest story from Malcolm Lyons' translation of The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights and posting a precis to the WhatsApp group where we are working through them.

 The angel of death takes a powerful Israelite king to hell despite his protestations.

Alexander the Great passes by a people so poor they own no worldly goods at all. He summons their king, but his call is refused so Alexander visits the king himself. Impressed by the his modesty and wisdom Alexander offers to  share his empire with the king if he serves as his vizier. ‘Never, never!’ exclaimed the king. ‘I have no desire for this.’ ‘Why is that?’ asked Alexander. ‘Because all mankind are your enemies, thanks to the wealth and the kingdom that you have been given,’ replied the king, ‘whereas for me they are all true friends because I am content with my poverty. I have no kingdom; there is nothing that I want or seek in the world. I have no ambition here and set store by nothing except contentment.’

Finally, the wise King Anushirwan feigns illness, but only as a ruse to double check is realm is well governed.

Three parables about variously wicked, amitious, modest and wise kings and their fates. Actually Night 464 could have been written specifically for today.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

All Seven

 The seven Welsh restaurants awarded Michelin stars for the 2022 Guide was a Wales Online headline that took me by surprise yesterday.

Let's dig out the runners and riders, maybe scare up a website or two and see which might be in range next time I am back in Cardiff visiting mum. (That said I haven't seen her in the flesh since before Christmas as assorted COVID regulations, alarms and infections have conspired to exclude me from the home. This can't go on for much longer though, surely.)

Ynyshir - Machynlleth, Powys - two Michelin stars but too far away

Home by James Sommerin - Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan - one Michelin star is very possible.

SY23 - Aberystwyth, Ceredigion - one Michelin star too far

Walnut Tree - Llanddewi Skirrid, Monmouthshire - one Michelin star I remember going there once with the family years ago.

Sosban and the Old Butchers - Menai Bridge, Anglesey - one Michelin star too far

Beach House - Oxwich Bay, Swansea - one Michelin star possible if we used Margam as a base I guess.

The Whitebrook - Monmouthshire - one Michelin star possible I guess, but a bit of a trek.

The winner then is Home by James Sommerin. It would be good to combine their surprise tasting menu with a visit to mum once Ty Enfys decide to let me in again.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Handbook of Hymen (Phnarr)

 This month's Audible voucher has gone on the O. Henry: Complete Short Stories Collection in memory of the old man, just as last month's The Little World of Don Camillo (passim) did.

"Homer K. M" from The Handbook of Hymen, was a not infrequent quote of his, but I am buggered if I can work out how to get to a particular story in the online collection. The lack of any sort of content or index system in spoken word audio is a recurring bugbear, though we never have the same problem with songs.

Damon Runyon is now the gaping hole in my collection of stories I imagine JPB smiling at in heaven. There's plenty of Damon Runyon Theatre content and I might dip my toe in these old radio shows but I really want the unmistakable vim of original text's narrator.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Winter On Fire

I watched this movie on Netflix yesterday. (Fill your boots at It is undeniably moving though I find its goodies versus baddies premise naive. See it yourself though and make up your own mind.

I've written before (passim) of Rod telling me about Luhansk being twinned with Cardiff. 'Panic, Total Panic': People Fleeing Occupied Luhansk Describe Growing Fear, Confusion Radio Free Europe yesterday.

There's a word bathos defined as "an effect of anticlimax created by an unintentional lapse in mood from the sublime to the trivial or ridiculous." Anyway, according to Wales Online, and you have to be from Cardiff truly to understand this, Frank Hennessey performed in Luhansk in 1986. I sincerely take my hat off to him, but it is quite a juxtaposition with the news this morning.

‘I’m Luhansk born and Luhansk bred, and when I dies, I’ll be Luhansk dead’.


Sunday, February 20, 2022

Nice to see you, to see Bernice

I mentioned to mum on Skype yesterday morning that  Shauna Guinn was going to be on Saturday Kitchen and found to my delight that she did remember meeting her in Penylan Pantry all that time ago (see Icons passim).

That was before my brothers joined the call. When they came on they had both seen an article on our cousin Danny (mum's brother Nigel's son) on the BBC Sports website. Here it is Cardiff Met University: Inside the 'rugby breeding ground' producing stars for England and Wales. Danny is the director of rugby there, England's Six Nations squad features three Cardiff Met graduates - Alex Dombrandt, Luke Northmore and Tom Pearson - while another, Aaron Wainwright, is in the Wales set-up.

This is all good for mum, and helps to keep her engaged. Memories of Uncle Nigel winning the victor ludorum at De La Salle and Daniel playing at outside half for Cardiff schools followed.

I checked Saturday Kitchen after our chat. Excitement about San and Shauna cooking for Dave Grohl, the Foo Fighters frontman, turned out to be premature as he was forced to cancel  after getting stuck in Hollywood following Storm Eunice.

Idly channel hopping, I came across Simply Raymond Blanc on ITV and found myself diverted by roast butternut squash with chorizo, chickpeas and tahini dressing.

We can watch it on the link I have put on the show name above, but what I recall is:

  • Ingredients: Butternut squash (peeled! Feck off), olive oil, salt, black pepper, paprika, chickpeas and Chorizo.
  • Sauce: Tahini paste, yoghurt , pinch of salt, honey, lemon juice, water, fresh parsley and fresh coriander.
  • To serve: chopped fresh parsley, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.

That should be on the menu chez moi this week.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Nice to see you, to see Eunice

 I lost a couple of fence panels to Storm Eunice yesterday. I will ask Alex D if he can repair them. The fence with concrete supports that he put up on the other side of the garden this time last year sailed through the storm with flying colours.

Small potatoes. The great storm of 1987; now that was a  was a violent extratropical cyclone for you. I remember staring it down in Wainwright Grove before dressing for dinner as the family's winning combination of insouciance and tradition demanded.

"Languid, thoroughbred, nonchalant with a certain innate recklessness under the impassive calm of habit." Baroness Orczy (from memory). A quote I remember from the stack of Readers Digests in the upstairs loo at 57 Heol Lewis growing up. Dear old dad still casts a long shadow over my extravagant turns of phrase.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Struttin' with some barbecue

I am always pleased to see Hang Fire getting on in the world, so I will catch it on Saturday though if the live segment clashes with our weekly family Skype call it will have to be on the iPlayer.

I wonder if mum can be prompted into remembering the time (Icons passim) that we met Shauna Guinn at the Penylan Pantry even though it was nearly seven years ago?

For me, the memory of that day is bitter-sweet because it was the first time I noticed that dad had no interest at all in what was going on around him. I can remember mum being engaged as Shauna responded to, genuinely interested, questions from me and John with examples and anecdotes from their BBQ pilgrimage around the USA, while he was utterly inert. Anhedonia is the posh word for it; a word I wish we didn't need.

While we are on the subject of food, I had chickpea pancaked with pomegranate molasses for breakfast yesterday. Normally it is a meal I skip but I had to stay home for the morning as the guys were coming round to install the new heating pump, for all that I hadn't realised they were when I wrote here. Sorry 'bout that. Nice to be cosy, nice to be nice, this morning.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

When you've been in the business as long as I have, Mr. Spiggott

round up the usual suspects
My heating has been on the blink since Sunday, though I didn't notice until Monday because - despite the Arctic conditions - I am well hard and my life is a giddy social whirl.

I couldn't get anyone round to look at it on Tuesday as I had to go to Brian's funeral so I booked up an engineer from British Gas's Local Heroes to come yesterday morning.

Thee are no words to express how proud I was when he confirmed my own deduction that the problem lay with the Grundfos Alpha2 domestic circulator pump. I hugged myself in my mind as I marveled at my perspicacity.

Unfortunately this morning there are still no words; but today it is  to express how frustrated I am not to have received a quote and timetable for replacing the bleedin' thing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

So shines a good deed in a weary world.

 I was out yesterday afternoon and evening at Brian's funeral. The service was at Putney Vale Cemetery and there was a reception afterwards at Warren House.

Towards the end of the reception, I could see - out of the corner of my eye - that his wife of 63 years  appeared a little tired and distracted. A couple of minutes later I noticed that she had moved on but left a wine glass on a table, and wondered if she had abandoned it deliberately or forgotten it.

The next time I turned round though, I realised I wasn't the only tracker in the room. Spike, her grandson, had materialised and was sitting next to her chatting in front of a screen showing old family photos. She visibly bloomed in his company. Simultaneously and independently Sophie, her granddaughter, picked up the forgotten glass and brought it over. Moments later they were all smiling together.

If I ever need a Close Protection Team, I am going to get those two some weapons and martial arts training and employ them. Their peripheral awareness, plus ability to perceive and defuse risks are already off the charts.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Pay attention, 007

 It seems that I was wrong yesterday (Icons passim), and the Ukrainian ambassador was running off at the mouth when he said his country might be willing to sacrifice its aspirations to join NATO.

Protesters fighting government forces on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kyiv on 18 February 2014.

With all the loose talk and grandstanding, not least from our government, I sometimes feel as if I am the only person who remembers what happened in Ukraine 8 years ago this month. It was the moment I became a premature Brexiteer. The Maidan revolution took place in Ukraine in February 2014 when a series of violent events involving protesters, riot police, and unknown shooters in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv culminated in the ousting of elected president Viktor Yanukovych, and the overthrow of the Ukrainian government.

It was a coup, essentially, after Yanukovych's refused to sign a political association and free trade agreement with the European Union at a meeting of the Eastern Partnership in Vilnius, Lithuania, and I remain convinced that the EU, plus various American useful idiots, were complicit in it.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Well, you can Crimea river, Crimea river

Ukraine's UK ambassador has told the BBC that his government may commit itself to spurn NATO, and it is NOT all over the news today. What is going on that I don't understand? Surely this is an extraordinary development. It is difficult to imagine a senior diplomat just saying this off the cuff without it being cleared right from the top. Isn't it?

Sunday, February 13, 2022

There Is Nothing For You Here

 The magical elves that Google keep in cages studying my history and recommending YouTube videos came up with Intelligence Squared's Standoff in Ukraine: How we reached crisis with Fiona Hill yesterday.

Interesting person Fiona Hill (here's her Wikipedia page). I am somewhat surprised that I had never even heard of her before. Here's part of the blurb from her latest book on Amazon.

A celebrated foreign-policy expert and key impeachment witness reveals how declining opportunity has set America on the grim path of modern Russia - and draws on her personal journey out of poverty, and her unique perspectives as a historian and policy maker, to show how we can return hope to our forgotten places.

Fiona Hill grew up in a world of terminal decay. The last of the local mines had closed, businesses were shuttering, and despair was etched in the faces around her. Her father urged her to get out of their blighted corner of Northern England: “There is nothing for you here, pet,” he said.  

The coal-miner’s daughter managed to go further than he ever could have dreamed. She studied in Moscow and at Harvard, became an American citizen, and served three US presidents. But in the heartlands of both Russia and the United States, she saw troubling reflections of her hometown and similar populist impulses. By the time she offered her brave testimony in the first impeachment inquiry of President Trump, Hill knew that the desperation of forgotten people was driving American politics over the brink - and that we were running out of time to save ourselves from Russia’s fate. In this powerful, deeply personal account, she shares what she has learned and shows why expanding opportunity is the only long-term hope for our democracy.

She reads it on Audible. That may well be where my next credit is spent when it turns up a week from today.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

I know this much is true

Got a message from Rod today, asking me why I hadn't posted my regular, granular daily blog post. I told him I was waiting to see if Callum Hudson-Odoi would win the World Club Championship with Chelsea. He did. They did. 'Nuff said.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Ziggy played for "time gentlemen please, ain't you got no 'omes to go to?'

time & leisure

10 February marks the 50th anniversary of a musical milestone when David Bowie introduced the world to his Ziggy Stardust persona at the Toby Jug pub in Tolworth.

Let's just take five minutes out of our busy lives to wonder at that marvelous sentence (written no doubt next door, time and leisure being in the office adjacent to mine).

The juxtaposition of Ziggy Stardust and Tolworth fifty years ago last night is particularly satisfying. Tolworth is about six miles from here, down the A3. When Ben was playing junior rugby every away game seemed to be down the A3.

The Toby Jug gives me a mental image of a pre-fame Bowie turning up out of the blue in full Ziggy rig to play the Standard in the 'Wood. What I wouldn't give to see Trevor's reaction to that.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Belfast and Cardiff

Kenneth Branagh's Belfast has received seven nominations for this year's Oscars. When he founded the Renaissance Theatre Company in 1987, their first production was his own play Public Enemy. Like his film, this was set during the troubles. I am surprised that I haven't read any references to it in reviews of the movie. It played at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith so I popped around after work one day to check it out. I can see that I wrote about it in the blog years later in 2005 (Icons passim).

The next thing Renaissance did was John Sessions’ The Life of Napoleon, a one man show directed by Branagh as I recall. I saw that as well as it was also in Hammersmith at the Riverside Studios. I have a vague memory of talking to Sessions with a glass in my hand after the show. I wonder how that happened, maybe it was the first night? My memories of 35 years ago are hazier than they might be.

Also a Cardiff-based couple have picked up an Oscar nomination in the Best Animated Short Film category. Fingers crossed for the big night.

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Metaphysical Animals

Yet another book about Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch, Mary Midgley and Philippa Foot was reviewed in the Grauniard yesterday. I only recently finished Benjamin Lipscomb's The Women Are Up to Something (Icons passim). "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come" eh?

If you decide to read the review (over by here), you can wonder - as I do - that the sentence "If you want to know what colour of silk cushions and bedspread Foot had in her rooms near Somerville College, then this is the book to read." has been published in the Guardian in 2022! God knows I will pass for a knuckle-dragging misogynist until a real one comes along, but that is a bit rich even for my blood.

Further (and I agree with the comment that says "Anscombe, Foot, Midgley, and Murdoch were not principally targeting the views of A.J.Ayer, who by the way was a Fellow of Wadham at the end of WW2, and held a chair in Oxford from 1959 to 1978. Their main targets were Austin, Hare, and Ryle.") though I cannot abide AJ Ayer, our heroines' supposed bete noir, I would have loved to have gone out for a drink with "Freddie" Ayer the friendly charming bonvivant who lived in the same body.

Stop sniggering at the back! This is actually interesting Blenkinsop, and the essay I have set you - Wittgenstein and Sheffield Wednesday - is still due tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Comparative illusion


In linguistics, comparative illusions (CIs) or Escher sentences are certain comparative sentences which initially seem to be acceptable but upon closer reflection have no well-formed meaning. The typical example sentence used to typify this phenomenon is More people have been to Russia than I have.

c.f. Frank Sullivan's wolf sentences:

  • This is the best salad I ever put in my whole mouth.
  • It was a heck of a party, everyone in the room was there.
  • I've got more money than I can afford.

As I consider them whole new vistas are opening up behind me*.

* My first attempt at one of my own.

Monday, February 07, 2022

just simple lines intertwining

be as careless with your own heart
as you are careful of everyone else's
love and lose and learn
tread lightly on the earth
but try and put more into the pot
than you take out
Those are lines of mine above. Much to my astonishment, my yoga teacher quoted the first two during Saturday's class.
We must not be frightened nor cajoled
into accepting evil as deliverance from evil.
We must go on struggling to be human,
though monsters of abstraction
police and threaten us.
More good stuff, from an American poet called Robert Hayden with whom I was unfamiliar until yesterday. I got it, of all places, from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, when Dua Lipa asked him how his faith and his comedy overlapped.

Sunday, February 06, 2022

I'm Wales' rugby gnome and you can't cwtch me


Less said about yesterday's loss to Ireland the better. Gareth the rugby gnome (Icons passim) was back on the roll-ups after swearing off them.

We went along to Get Up Stand Up in the evening. A fact I am recording so that there is a reference under the Bunburying tag that records my theatre trips.

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Not doing things by half

 It will be busy today. I am off to yoga at half past eight. The weekly Skype call with mum is booked for half past ten. I will get the Standard early in the afternoon to make sure we have got a good table for the Six Nations; Ireland v Wales kicks off at quarter past two. Thence to Corleone to eat. From there via tube to the West End to see Get Up, Stand Up.

Friday, February 04, 2022

Art imitating life

The lobster telephone is part of West Dean's collection (Icons passim) and the trolley problem really arises from a 1967 philosophy paper by Phillipa Foot (Icons passim),

It is almost as if I had a plan.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

Bona PPE

For  my sins, I was watching Boris Johnson on PMQs at lunchtime and I was particularly intrigued when the passive aggressive narcissist said - as if it was some sort of definitive put down - he had found a letter from the shadow chancellor from April 2020 suggesting that PPE could be "secured from a theatrical costumier" as if this was a ridiculous idea. I wish I could see the letter because it is not a ridiculous idea, it is a good idea.

PG spent his life in the theatre, and I distinctly remember him telling me early in this national calamity that there was a world class industry in this country that could potentially make an enormous contribution to supplying PPE. Guess what it was? The men and women, the talent, the skill, the infrastructure and the experience of supplying what actors and actresses "wear" in films, on television and in the theatre (an industry worth billions remember). At first I thought he was off his head, but gradually he convinced me. "How many medical grade masks a day do you think the Star Wars crew at Pinewood could pump out", he said "if they can dress hundreds of stormtroopers in full body armour."

I think Rachel Reeves' letter, very far from deserving BoJo's scorn, might have been prescient and practical. Though obviously responding to the Prime Minister's cheap shot shouldn't be a priority I hope the opposition won't let it lie. In general, who would you rather have run something Dido Harding or Cameron Mackintosh? Who would be most likely to deliver when the chips are down?

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Counseluh, you are the engine that drives this foim

Thoity-six objections sustained, tree overruled; fawteen summary judgements sought, toiteen ranite, eighteen movments to voice fuh Respondent's prejudice, eighteen ranite which is a hunnut pissent, Twelve cawt days on the Rexrawt case alone; tree hunut'n twenty billable hours paralegal soivicies; four hunnut'n two billable associate counsel and consultative; six hunnut'n eighty billable at full attorney rate and eighty five lunches charged. Counseluh, you are the engine that drives this foim.
Though I adopted Miles Massey's fixed grin as my brother was talking to me about work last night, the scene above is what was playing through my mind. Sophie love, there's more to life than paralegal soivicies you can still think again!

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Man says him a ting, then him a ting

I sat down over a lemonade with Megan and her mum and dad on Friday or Saturday.  She is back from college for a week. Much to my delight she started reminiscing over the burritos I used to make and bring along to their family barbecues, wrapped in foil and asked me to bring one along on Saturday. She is not driving back until after the Ireland Wales game.

I have promised to make a batch so she can make take some with her and stick them in the fridge or freezer at her digs as well. 

Luckily I have found the recipe on these spindrift pages at If is from 2005. 2005!

I remember when her brother Jonnie was 16 (he is 21 now) and told his mum that want he wanted for his birthday party was the paella I had cooked when we were away on a camping trip. I was thrilled from the soles of my feet to the top of my head and turned up about an hour early, with a new pan as his present, and got cooking in it over a low-cranked grill in the garden, happy as the clams I was to add as a last few minutes' finishing touch.

My niece Bethany stayed with me for week in October 2019 when she was doing something with the National Youth Theatre. When my brother John picked her up to take her back to Wales I fed the both of them chicken tinga. "Nobody's perfect," said Beth to JC in the car, "but Uncle Nick can cook. I will say that for him."

"But enough about me, let's talk about you.... what do you think of me?"