Dec 232015

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It’s Political Correctness gone mad. (Oooh no it isn’t, it’s Health & Safety!)


The email arrived on the 23rd December at half past four in the afternoon and read “With reference to your forthcoming event we do not appear to have received a Risk Assessment. A warranted inspector from the Health and Safety Executive will be visiting your place of work on 24th December at 8.30am…”

As the recipient continued to read he noted with a sigh the phrases “ensuring your compliance” and “enforcing authority”.

The following morning Mr Pugh, the inspector, arrived at exactly 8.30am. The need for precision in his work was intrinsic to his effectiveness and it was also manifest in his appearance. Although not expensive his suit was carefully pressed, his shirt very stiff and his tie perfectly tied. His shoes were so polished that they reflected the underside of his face. Unfortunately this was not a flattering angle. His features were tiny and above his lip was a very neat moustache; an attempt perhaps to denote manliness on an otherwise bald and unconvincing facade.

He was offered a chair and a cup of coffee both of which he accepted as an entitlement. Mr Pugh placed his files and paperwork in a neatly stacked pile on the table and reached into his breast pocket for a pen, which he held poised in readiness. ‘May I see your previous assessments and certificates please?’

He grimaced when presented with an ancient, battered box file, curled and frayed in the corners and empty but for a single recent invoice for hay. He was informed that there were no previous assessments.

‘Oh dear, that will not do will it?’ he said. Continue reading »

Dec 222015

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Two smaller “Tree Presents” today. The best gifts come in small packages, they say…


Things you really wanted and got,
They are in the top slot.

mediocrity buttonThings you didn’t know
You wanted at all;
But are just what you want,
Come second, a close call.
(Slaves mug.)

Some presents are just
Mediocre. Continue reading »

Dec 212015

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Polar bears yesterday, pink bears today…


If my first Christmas present hadn’t lasted very long, I wouldn’t remember it.  But Big Ted lived with me and my family for many, many years, and was loved by us all.  He was bought for me some months before I was even born, apparently, by my mum’s dad:  Grandpa Emery was so proud to be about to become a grandfather.

teddy and girlWhy I called it “he”, I couldn’t tell you.  Big Ted is pink, with white bits.  When he was given to me I must have been rather less than half his size.

The name suited him, certainly.  We made various attempts to come up with something better over the years, my siblings and I, but Big Ted was the only name that stuck. Continue reading »

Dec 202015

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Penguin Poetry (- not a division of Penguin Books…)


Not many penguins are poets.

What?! I hear you say to yourself. This story is crazy. How could penguins write poetry? They don’t even have fingers, let alone opposable thumbs. And they just make a strange series of whoops and wails, growls and guffaws.

Well, this story is set long ago, when the world was different. And in any case, penguin poetry is an oral tradition, not a written tradition, in a language as unintelligible to you and me as the poetry of Goethe in its original German might be to a Trobriand Islander, or the Mahabharata in Sanskrit could sound to a Mexican.

auntarcticmicrophoneIn fact, long ago, there were lots of penguin poets. They spent many hours in the winter-long darkness of the South Pole competing with each other, as poets do today, to narrate the longest, fastest, most inspiring pieces of epic poetry and attract the largest audiences. These were mostly odes of great bravery performed by legendary penguin warrior-prophets, who would lead their followers into successful battles against their great enemy, the polar bears. The audiences would roar their approval.

Unfortunately, like many tales of legendary warrior prophets, they weren’t based on reality. Polar bears, which are much bigger and stronger than even Emperors, also lived in those days in Antarctica, on a diet mainly composed of penguins. In the darkest days of winter, when it was overcast and too black for the polar bears to hunt by sight, they would listen for the then familiar sounds of penguin poetry performances, knowing that if they followed their ears there would be a gathering of lovely juicy penguins. Continue reading »

Dec 192015

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A VERY good reason for leaving Santa an extra mince pie or two…


It was Christmas Eve at midnight. The streets were cold and dark
The sky was huge and full of moon and bright with diamond stars.
The children all were sleeping, the Mums and Fathers too
And if the lights were burning they were far-between and few.

The snow had finished falling. The frost was hard and fast
The city lay in a cask of ice as it had for Yuletides past.
The wind had fallen silent and all through every street
A breathless hush descended as though a heart had ceased to beat.

When far, far in the distance, so soft you’d hardly tell
If it was your imagination, came the tinkle of a bell.
And there across the heavens like a kind of shooting star
Came Santa’s sleigh, and Santa. You know how these things are.night b4 christmas Continue reading »

Dec 182015

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There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned family Christmas…


It’s difficult in these days of Mp3 mass storage and unlimited music streaming to comprehend just how desirable a bottom-of-range compact cassette recorder might have been to a twelve-year old cahnsil estate oik in the early 1970s. Imagine today’s average twelve-year old unwrapping their first ever i-phone and multiply it by a factor of around a million, then throw in an X-box1 for good measure and you might be getting somewhere close. But probably not, because twelve-year olds today are already likely to be on their fourth or fifth generation smartphone, and will have regarded ownership of such items as a god-given right rather than a privilege from the time they lost their first milk tooth. Spoilt little buggers.

casseteBut I digress: In 1973 I would have sold my granny to sex-traffickers to get my hands on a cassette recorder, and thrown in my granddad too, had he still been living, for the price of a triple-pack of blank C60s and a set of spare batteries.

My dreams were almost answered in December 1972. I had been pleading miserably (shush!) for a tape-recorder since my birthday in August (when I had received nothing grander than a cheap kite), and had convinced myself that said pleading had “incentivised” mum into borrowing the necessary monies from our tallyman, Mr Pither, to procure it for me. Imagine my shock and dismay, then, on discovering on Christmas morning that the daft old bat had instead invested my present money in a poxy little second-hand reel-to-reel recorder on the advice of a “family friend”. That the “friend” was the person selling the reel-to-reel – probably to fund the purchase of a proper cassette for their own offspring – was an implication lost on my mother, but an oversight she would rue throughout the entire Christmas period and for at least six months of the following year. Continue reading »

Dec 172015

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It’s Political Correctness gone mad. (Oooh no it isn’t, it’s Health & Safety!)



On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
A Partridge in a Pear Tree. This is an odd choice of gift for someone who lives in a small second floor apartment in the centre of town. I suppose the tree might just fit on my tiny balcony but partridges are known to be poor at flying; something of an evolutionary oversight. Add to that the fact that these plump tree-averse creatures nest on the ground and I feel from the bird’s perspective it is a rather thoughtless present.

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Two Turtle Doves. Okay so that is quite cute; bit of a romantic gesture but nevertheless again without any consideration for the poor birds who in normal circumstances would have migrated somewhere much warmer than a drafty corner of Tunbridge Wells.

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me:
Three French Hens. Hmmm, I’m seeing a trend here! And he knows I only buy free range. This variety of hen may be well adapted to battery farming but that is no justification for cramming in onto my balcony with a pear tree and its acrophobic inhabitant. Continue reading »

Dec 162015

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You can never go wrong with diamonds…


Yes, we all know ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’, but, personally speaking, it is a darn sight less stressful to receive than to give. Receiving a present just requires a quick: ‘Ooh, thank you. It’s just what I wanted’, even if you’ve got two of them already, which was the case at my 6th (or thereabouts) birthday party when I was given yet another copy of “Noddy and the Magic noddyRubber” (which was about hilarious happenings involving an eraser, just to banish any more inappropriate thoughts!). But as for deciding what to give, when Christmas and birthdays come round I am stricken with a debilitating case of “present block”. What to buy? Not a bloody clue!

Linked to this is a psychological affliction so profound I have coined a scientific name for it (with apologies in advance to any Latin scholars who have ventured to this site): donumatychiphobia – the fear of failure when presenting gifts. Is it what was wanted? Is it the right size/colour/logo? If it’s a techie gift, has it got the right number of gigathingies / megawhatsits / ROM / RAM / RUM / TUM / bits-per-pixel / pits-per-bixel? Is it cool? Is it hot? Will it be on eBay this time tomorrow? Oh, the worry, the stress, the humiliation. Continue reading »

Dec 152015

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Grumpy old man… In the story, I mean – not an admission of guilt!


There was once a poor old man who shouted at the sky.

‘God!’ he would cry, shaking his fist. ‘Why do you neglect me so? I have lived a long time and I read fables. I know how God should be!

‘I am the poorest man in the district. My wife is ill from bearing me three children who have grown up and left us. My house crouches in the wet ground like a dog about to be whipped. The cold wind claws at our ragged clothes. My back aches from digging the poor soil to grow a few vegetables. And…’ he continued ‘Christmas will be upon us soon, when all my neighbours will rejoice in their own good fortune and we will shiver by our small fire and eat the same vegetables we eat every day.’

The man cursed, and cursed so loudly that many in the neighbouring fields heard him and, for the most part, they agreed that he was, indeed, the poorest, most unfortunate man they knew.

‘God!’ he cried. ‘It’s about time you showed me how good you are!’

Each day, when the light failed and his backache became too much to tend the garden, the man would walk up the hill to shout again at God.

Then, one evening, as the man began to shout, a strange thing happened. The chill wind which whistled around him suddenly stopped and, from nowhere, and yet from everywhere, a voice spoke. ‘I will give you what you want,’ it said in a low rumbling, like thunder. Continue reading »

Dec 142015

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Letters to Santa…


Advent was announced in our village by the appearance of the model Nativity scene in the window of the post office. The post office itself was the ground floor front room of a modest terraced house which was home to Mrs Sharman, the postmistress.

Mrs Sharman presided over her official duties with austere efficiency. She was a thin woman who wore face powder over what were undeniably wrinkles and her hair was set rigid in a style similar to the Queen, but her hair was still dark brown, which left me unable to decide whether she was properly old. She was certainly not of the frivolous type who colour their hair. Her seriousness made me nervous and I discovered this to be a universal reaction. Visiting friends and family always commented on how dour – sour, even – they found Mrs Sharman.

nativity peppyWe would visit the post office of necessity from time to time to deposit or withdraw small amounts of pocket money or to purchase essentials such as pencils and stamps and big, thick, navy blue gym knickers. I was always intimidated by Mrs Sharman’s stern, unsmiling demeanour and I stayed close to my mother, who would alarm me by engaging the terrifying postmistress in conversation. Continue reading »

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