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Friday, 13 September 2019

The Exorcist (reposted by beetleypete)

Pete Johnson (the prolific WordPress blogger beetleypete) generously offered space for guests on his blog. I jumped at the chance because he has almost 5,000 followers. I wondered whether there might be interest in my piece about the film The Exorcist originally posted over four years ago during my early blogging days. In all that time it had less than 200 views. Pleasingly, it turned out to be one of Pete’s most viewed posts this week with a cacophany of comments. [my spelling is corrected in the comments below]

beetleypete's guest post invitation is here

the reposted post on Pete's blog is here

The Exorcist

When my son was about eight, he wanted to know what was the scariest film I had ever seen.

“Well,” I said, “there are quite a few, but one of them is so scary that even its name is too frightening to say.”

No eight year-old would let me off that easily, and when it became obvious he was not going to give up I said that I would only tell him when he was eighteen. For now, all I was prepared to say was that it began with an ‘e’. “The rest is too terrifying to think about,” I repeated.

“Excalibur” he said without hesitation, trying to guess.

“I don’t think there is such a ....”

“Yes there is,” he said, “what about The Executioner?”

“Even if it was I wouldn’t tell you,” I said after again having been corrected about the existence of such a film.

“Excrement,” he guessed. I really doubted that one, but not wanting to risk being found ignorant a third time I simply repeated what I’d said already.

This continued on and off for the next few weeks ....
Read original post (~1200 words)

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Köhler’s Apes

rotary clothes drier or whirly

Blogger Tom Stephenson described recently how he retrieved a small, ancient metal blade that had mysteriously appeared on an out-of-reach flat roof by using a long pole and a magnet. I could sense his immense satisfaction in the flash of insight into how to retrieve it and it gave me vicarious joy to read how the blade popped on to the magnet for him to haul it in. Köhler’s apes would be impressed. This is how culture, in its widest sense, is passed on. 

Wolfgang Köhler, if you’ve not heard of him, was one of those psychologists whose ideas made the study of that subject a pure delight before it became all numbers and logic. He described how insight and problem-solving are not confined to humans; how chimpanzees, after puzzling a while to gain insight, would stack boxes or join two sticks to retrieve bananas that were out of reach. They do it for the thrill of it. I could go so far as to say that dogs enjoy doing clever things such as learning the name of a toy, and Phoebe our cat certainly looked pleased with herself when she realised she could open the sliding doors between the back and front rooms (that’s the dining room and the sitting room for those of you who don’t speak Northern) in order to sleep on the settee and be sick on it, but scientific psychologists would call that anthropomorphic nonsense.

Moments of insight seem to stick in our memories. The photograph above shows our rotary clothes line, a well-made and robust one (now over thirty years old) brought from a previous house in Scotland where they call them whirlies. Blow the ‘h’ and roll the ‘r’ to say it properly. When we moved to our current house there was a rusty old clothes post concreted into the middle of the lawn. We wanted rid of the ugly thing to make a hole for the whirly. Help, insight. Were we a match for Tom Stephenson and Köhler’s apes? (NB not “the Coca Cola apes” as a student once wrote in an exam.)

base of rotary clothes drier or whirly

Half an hour with a hacksaw cut off the clothes post at ground level leaving a suitable hole. It was too wide, but more patient hacksaw work cut down a length of old road-railing pipe to make a sleeve which fitted perfectly into the hole to accommodate the whirly. Very satisfying! 

But there was a further problem. Things used to fall down the hole when the whirly wasn’t in. On one occasion a nauseating smell was found to be coming from the decomposing body of a bird that had fallen to the bottom. We got the poor thing out with a stick, disinfected the hole with Jeyes Fluid and used a threadbare tennis ball to cover the open top.

Then Phoebe the cat started to play with the ball. She liked (more anthropomorphic nonsense) nothing better than knocking it off the hole and chasing it around the garden. If we didn’t put it back things still fell in.

I don’t know what made me look down one day when about to drop in the pipe to put up the whirly, but something caught my eye at the bottom of the hole. It seemed to be moving. I crouched down to peer in. I had to get a torch. There was a large frog at the bottom.

Problem: how do you rescue a frog from fifteen inches (37 centimetres) down at the bottom of a narrow pipe without harming it?

Phoebe the cat, from the comfort of her nest of garden sacks in the garage, suggests hooking it out with your claws and ignoring the screams. The idea that frogs feel pain is felineomorphic nonsense. She also thinks Köhler’s apes were stupid. Why stack up all those boxes when you can just spring up to get it, and who would want a banana anyway? As for Tom Stephenson, well, why didn’t he leap across from his balcony and bring back the blade in his mouth? It was one of her friends who left it there in the first place after using it to poke frogs with.

Are there any other suggested solutions to the problem?

Thursday, 5 September 2019


Isn’t it irritating when a blogger blocks you simply for questioning his rather biased and inflammatory political posts through polite and reasoned comment? Suppress all dissent! I didn’t even disagree entirely. Shame because otherwise he writes quite interesting posts. I suppose I will have to unfollow him.


Sunday, 8th September. He has now moved on to another post and I have unfollowed him, but emboldened by the nothing but supportive comments below here are links to some of the posts I take issue with. He refuses to engage in any discussion of his one-sided arguments based on twisted evidence taken out of context. I find some of these views offensive but here are the links and you can decide for yourself:

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Review - V. S. Pritchett: A Cab At The Door and Midnight Oil

V. S. Pritchett
A Cab At The Door and Midnight Oil (3*)

I first picked up Midnight Oil by chance during a formative period around 1974 and was taken by Victor Pritchett’s determination to become a full-time writer. What would it be like to chuck your job to live in a garret in Paris? Would I dare do that? (Spoiler Alert – No).

V. S. Pritchett (1900-1997) was a British writer and literary critic known particularly for his short stories. He worked in a London leather firm until around 1920 when he took a job as a shop assistant in Paris. He later lived as a writer in Ireland, Spain and America, and was literary editor for The New Statesman.

These two volumes of autobiography tell of his nomadic early life around Edwardian London and Yorkshire (the family moved 18 times before he was 12), his work in the leather trade, struggling to write in Paris, his travels in Spain and his experiences in Ireland and America. He paints vivid, perceptive, meticulously observed character portraits of his larger than life relatives and others he knew over these years, although (possibly my fault) I was not all that interested in some of them.

The old-school prose demands a lot of concentration. Revisiting it again was something of a marathon but anyone interested in what it was like to grow up in the early twentieth century, or life abroad in the twenties and thirties, might find it fascinating.

see also: V. S. Pritchett's obituary in the New York Times

Key to star ratings: 5* would read over and over again, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.  

Previous book reviews 

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Beer Mats

Another blogger (the multi-talented Yorkshire Pudding) posted about a beer mat he had designed for his daughter’s recent wedding. One commentator said her grandfather collected beer mats but she thought that “In England they don’t seem much of a feature.”

Well, Ursula, my group of friends collected them in our youth. I stuck mine on the wall of a room above the garage at my parents’ house. This is part of a black and white photograph taken in 1970:

Beer mats 1960s and 1970s
Most are English but a few came from exchange trips to Belgium (where you could drink alcohol in cafés at sixteen). I can make out the following:

Belgian mats: Maes Pils, Cristal Alken, Pela, Siréne, Barze, juni vakantie maand, Orval, Gereons Kölsch, Kess Kölsch, Diekirk, Falken, Sester. I can’t make out the mat with the bell which appears across the top and several times lower down, nor the one with the black horse – it isn’t “Black Horse”.  

English mats: HB (Hull Brewery), Brewmaster Export Pale Ale, Whitbread Tankard, Whitbread Forest Brown, Tetley, Flowers Keg Bitter, Bass Export Ale, Have a mild Van Dyck cigar with your Bass Blue Triangle, Brown Peter for Strength, Strongbow Cider, Woodpecker Cider, Barnsley Bitter, Alpine Lager, Whitbread Trophy Bitter, Whitbread Pale Ale, Calypso, Youngers Tartan, Duttons Pale.

And among my box of colour slides and black and white negatives were these slightly later beer mats. Commodore Pudding will surely be delighted to see the one from The Travellers Rest at Long Riston, just three miles from his childhood village. Can’t remember my visit to the establishment though.
  Beer Mat - the Travellers Rest, Long Riston, Hull Brewery 1970s

Hull brewery beer mat 1970s

Beer mat - Tetley Bitter 1970s

Beer mat - John Courage 1970s

Beer mat - Whitbread Trophy 1970s
Beer mat - Hull Brewery 1970s

Monday, 26 August 2019

Teenage Mums

Fairy Liquid ads 1960s (3 in sequence)

My mum’s cousin who was born in 1928 said that for her thirteenth birthday she received a toy pram with a life-sized dolly. She paraded it proudly up and down the village high street.

Thirteen! I kid you not. In later life she couldn’t believe it herself. Nowadays, it’s more likely she would have a real one.

It reminds me of a joke about the much-parodied detergent ad:

         now hands that do dishes can feel as soft as your face 
         with mild green Fairy Liquid

         Mummy, why are your hands so soft?
         Because I’m only fifteen.

Sunday, 18 August 2019


Plums - August 2019

The biggest, tastiest, juiciest plums we’ve had in over twenty-five years here. They seem to have thinned themselves out naturally during the earlier hot, dry weather and then swelled to perfection in the recent rain. At last, something to match the produce from all those gardener-bloggers who don’t live at 750 feet in the north of England.

Gardening for me now has become a case of simply keeping things under control, hoping to benefit from the fresh air and exercise. I enjoy it but we don’t have anything that would pull in the crowds at the village open day.

It started when I was little and wanted to “plant some seeds”. Dad dug up a thin line of lawn along the front of the shed and sowed some Virginian Stock – his mother used to like them he said. Soon I was studying flower catalogues, taking geranium and hydrangea cuttings, transplanting clumps of oriental poppies begged from relatives and spending my pocket money on anemone bulbs and sweet william seedlings at the local gardening shop. I kept quiet about it at school, though.

I surrounded my little patch of garden with a miniature picket fence made from the wooden lollipop sticks that littered the streets (three sticks as uprights and four or five alternately woven in-out and out-in). I grew lettuces from seeds and tried to sell them door-to-door from my bicycle saddle bag – almost too embarrassing to remember. I helped myself to some rhubarb rhizomes from an unkept allotment down by the railway but Mum made me take it back: the first time I heard the word “pilfering”.

Nowadays, I try to put on a decent display in the front garden, still sometimes with a few Virginian Stocks and those daisy things my dad always misnamed “mesantheambriums”. At the back we have various beans, Sungold orange cherry tomatoes, courgette, strawberries, raspberries, apples, pears and plums. Potatoes do well when I make the effort, but other things like cucumbers, beetroot, carrot, cabbage and cauliflower have suffered so often from mildew, grubs or caterpillars I rarely bother. And we must have some of the most health-conscious sparrows in the country; they peck peas and lettuce to shreds.

We also keep a sizeable wild patch under the trees for the hedgehogs who visit our feeding station. We captured this on an infra-red video camera last year:

Things are always a month behind everyone else here. This year has been particularly disappointing: we are still waiting for our first tomatoes. At least we can enjoy the plums.

You might also like: Help ... my courgette looks like a duck!