Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Spot The Difference (6)

Left: former BBC news reporter, now presents gentle TV programmes for the elderly. Pencilled in for Songs of Praise.

Right: One-dimensional 'comedienne': "I'm fat, I'm fat, all men are bastards, ooo a cake." But still funnier than grandson Russell.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Spot The Difference (5): Miliband vs Plasticine

Left: Labour party supply leader. Brought in as a stop-gap until the party's appalling record under Gordon 'Chuckles' Brown has been forgotten by the electorate, when he'll be replaced by Yvette Cooper.

Right: Piece of plasticine. For short periods, can be animated.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Country Walking: Stick People

One of the joys of Cornwall is the scenery; I love tramping across the countryside. Be it coastline, moor or the truly atmospheric Cornish antiquities, on goes my walking stuff.

My boots are a good ten years old, dubbined until they're like butter. In a sale a few years ago I bought a second pair thinking that eventually the old faithfuls would drop to bits, but they're still a going concern.

Above the boots I tend to wear army surplus stuff. There are loads of pockets for necessaries, and it's tough. Hacking through brambles on Predannack Down may not be your cup of tea, but it would be a jolly sight worse in Marks slacks.

My car's filled with vital equipment. A change of clothes for when it rains.
A map, food, a small pack, a camera, a book. The last doubles as my toolkit - if I break down, I can read it until the RAC arrives.

Walking's a gregarious pursuit. You meet other explorers and people stop for a chat. Often they're middle-aged, but walking is great exercise and many are very fit. Some know about the locality, or have friendly dogs you can make a fuss of. Others can give you directions, which is helpful when the map's wrong (this happens quite a lot). The old campaigners are easy to identify; they use worn-in, battered but serviceable clothing and equipment.

But can someone please explain the current fad for walking with the aid of sticks.

We see this particularly among smartly-dressed walkers, couples with matching cagouls in bright, jolly colours. As well as their new booties and little packs they favour telescopic, carbon-fibre walking-sticks, sometimes just one, often two. To these people, sticks are an indespensible aid to motion.

Couldn't the stick people just walk normally? Sometimes the terrain's perfectly flat; it's never likely to reach the severity of the Matterhorn.
There's no need to push off on every stride, as if they were dragging a laden Arctic sled behind them.

No. Even in the uncomplicated world of walking about, the nurtured need has arisen to accessorise. Megacorp is snaring this simple activity in its loathsome commercial grasp. What further ridiculous embellishments can we look forward to?

Message: don't be a victim, don't buy stupid sticks! They aren't cool, they don't help you to walk; you learned to do that some time ago.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Charles Causley: My Mother Saw A Dancing Bear

Charles Causley was a poet of international stature, born and bred in Launceston, Cornwall where he lived for most of his life. Highly-regarded by John Betjeman, Ted Hughes and Roger McGough, Causley’s early work was noted for its narrative style and included many references to Cornwall and its legends.

During the 1970s Causley began to publish poetry for children, simple rhymes to delight readers by their very sounds, often illustrated by prominent artists. He also wrote plays, short stories and opera librettos. In 1967 he was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry; a CBE followed during 1986. Causley died in 2003.

'My Mother Saw A Dancing Bear' is my favourite Charles Causley poem.

My mother saw a dancing bear
By the schoolyard, a day in June.
The keeper stood with chain and bar
And whistle-pipe, and played a tune.

And Bruin lifted up its head
And lifted up its dusty feet,
And all the children laughed to see
It caper in the summer heat.

They watched as for the Queen it died,
They watched it march, they watched it halt.
They heard the keeper as he cried,
"Now, Roly-Poly!" "Somersault!"

And then my mother said, there came
The keeper with a begging cup,
The bear with burning coat of fur
Shaming the laughter to a stop.

They paid a penny for the dance
But what they saw was not the show;
Only in Bruin's aching eyes
Far-distant forests, and the snow.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

This Is No Ordinary Dinosaur ...

Recently, Bill Bennett was overcharged by Marks and Spencer for a sandwich. He sent an email to them:

I was in your Taunton store a couple of days ago, and bought a sandwich. You’ll notice from the photos enclosed that the sandwich was priced up on the shelf at £1.90 but scanned through at £3.00. I would be grateful if you would refund the difference to me, preferably back to the payment card used. Regards.
The store replied:
Thank you for your email regarding your sandwiches. I was sorry to hear you were overcharged. Unfortunately, I am unable to refund the amount onto your credit card but if you would like to send in your address details I will happily send you a gift card. Kind regards, Tracey Burns, Retail Customer Services.

Time passed but Bill's gift card wasn't sent. He emailed:

I’ve still not received the gift card, could you please advise? Rgds.

From M&S came:

Thank you for contacting us. I’m sorry we’ve not sent your gift card yet. We will arrange this as soon as possible. Kind regards, Anne Gledhill, Your M&S Customer Service.

Bill responded with:

It’s [address]. For the inconvenience of all the letters, I would also like a hand-drawn picture of a smiley dinosaur to be included with the gift card. I trust you will be able to comply with this request.

An unusual demand but fair play to him. Not to be outdone, M&S replied with the following:

Thank you for getting back in touch and I am sorry to hear about the overcharging in our Taunton store for the sandwiches. As agreed with my colleagues Tracey and Anne please find a gift card for £5 to cover the overcharge of the sandwiches.

Please also find a picture of a smiling dinosaur, hand drawn. Unfortunately art was never my strong point, but I hope you will appreciate it. Thanks and regards, Steve Jones, Customer Adviser, Retail Customer Services.

Mr Jones may not have a future in the world of art, but his innovative customer service skills succeeded in prompting from Bill: "It’s awesome – they’ve more than made up for overcharging me." A neat ending, and another satisfied customer.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Sloe Gin: Country Phial

Lovely weather yesterday, here in Cornwall. London Acres was bathed in warm sunshine, across the meadow the blue river twinkled; peaceful silence broken only by birdsong. Time to go out.

In the nearby lane I met an elderly lady snaffling blackberries and sloes from the hedgerows. I nipped back for two carrier-bags.
What better than to gather succulent fruits during an afternoon stroll around the local fields, or along the river path. Both have blackberries galore - lovely with a dollop of cream, or in a pie. But also of great interest are the sloes.

Christmas has many disadvantages, but one compensation is sloe gin. Smooth, sweet, sticky, it brings comfort, a warm fuzzy swaddling as it slips down; the loathsome period recedes. You have to know to make it, so here are some instructions.

1) Collect lots of sloe berries - don't leave it too long, get out there over the next couple of weeks or you'll find they've started to turn. Good luck with this bit if you live in Newham. In fact, good luck generally.

2) Buy two 70 cl bottles of Asda Smart-Price Gin.

3) Get two empty 70 cl screw-top spirit bottles from your friendly publican.

4) Prick each of the sloes a couple of times.

5) Fill each of the four bottles half-full with gin, and a third-full with sloes.

6) Bung in a load of sugar, but leave a bit of space at the top of each bottle.

7) Give each of the bottles a really good shake. Oh, put the tops on first - sorry.

8) Place the bottles upright in a warm place. Inspect them monthly. Add more sugar, give them a bit of a shake. Put the bottles back unsampled.

9) Christmas Day. Drink four 70 cl bottles of sloe gin. You may need a friend to help you with this bit, eventually.