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29 September 2011

Lunacy in lead knickers: Overcharge of the light brigade is out of order

THERE can’t be many of us who have never crossed swords with an airline check-in desk over the weight of our luggage.

And suffered the embarrassment of exposing our packed smalls in front of a queue of impatient travellers as we search vainly for a discardable pair of knickers weighing two-and-a-half kilos.

There’s no chance of finding any one item remotely near as heavy, of course – so we either pay the £50 excess or see our hand luggage whisked into the hold along with an arm and a leg.

It’s a painful scenario, as anyone whose purse has experienced the pain of being disarmed and de-legged will testify. Particularly all you wafer-thin ladies who regard a size six as a tent.

Not so long ago, my friend Amy, who tips the scales at around 45-kilos, found herself hunting for those lead knickers after being caught in the ‘your bag’s overweight’ trap.

Her cause lost, she forked out the obligatory 50 quid …and then saw the giant of a man behind her, complete with bushy Brian Blessed beard, sail through check-in in a whisker.

‘‘He must have weighed 25 stone (158 kilos),’’ Amy moaned. ‘‘That’s four times as much as me, yet he didn’t have to pay any extra. It’s so unfair.’’ She has a point. Whilst airlines obviously need to put a lid on the total weight their planes lift off with, the system of treating all passengers as clones does seem innately flawed.

Excess weight equation: Little Amy plus suitcase plus lead knickers (67.5 kilos) = £50; Michelin Man plus suitcase (178 kilos) = No charge.

You have to admit there is something illogical about Michelin Man and a full set of spare tyres being treated identically to a stick insect.

But then, we live in an age of political correctness where it’s taboo to mock the afflicted. Or in this case those who eat all the pies. However, there are parts of the world where flying can be heavy going for the more rotund (you fat burgers, that is).

For instance, my long-time pal Mike Thornton was turfed off an eight-seater plane after he had been checked in for  a short flight in the Philipines. Mike, an undertaker whose surname sums up his shape, moved to the Costa Blanca recently to escape the deadful (sorry, dreadful) Manchester weather.

He recalls: ‘’My partner and I had booked for a later flight to Manila but when we arrived at Caticlan airport, the one before was still on the runway with two seats free.
‘’I needed to go to the loo so my other half checked us and our bags in at the desk.

When I emerged, the check-in clerk took one look at me and, clearly shocked, said to my partner: ‘‘Oh my God! Would you ask him to get on the scales?’ ‘‘I did – and as a result we had to wait for the next flight.’’

Fortunately, Mike saw the funny side. In fact, he admits he corpsed with laughter.

Which made a pleasant change from his day job…

16 September 2011

The day I started singing a children's song I didn't know...

THE say elephants never forget…and neither, it seems, do humans. Even if we don't realise it.
I had a bizarre experience a few months back when I suddenly started singing a song that I didn’t recognise – in Welsh. There was something childlike about it all – but I had no idea where or when I had learnt the words or tune.
All I knew was that the garbled lyrics in my head, phonetically, sounded like this:
Dackoo mama doo add
Dabana gana wed
Ruby and a fat dog
A feeser and a fed
Adoo ack a die dee
A gravy and a call
Jim Crow crust in
Jim Crow  call
Now, if I could speak the Language of My Father, I would have known what the song was all about – and been able to work out when it might have come into my life.
But although I grew up in South Wales and lived there until I was 20; I had absolutely no idea where or when that little ditty got into my head.
Until the moment I started Dakooing in the shower, it certainly hadn’t been part of my conscious memory. All I wanted to know was from whence the song came – and how early in my life.
My parents are long gone so I asked my sister – who’s 18 months younger than me and now lives in the Middle East. She didn’t recognise the words but was able to confirm that it was neither Arabic nor Hebrew. Very helpful, that.
So I decided to look for the mystery tune on the Internet. Problem was that I had no idea how the words were spelt…so it was a matter of guessing. I actually learnt Welsh for a year when I started grammar school – but, given the alternative of French in Year Two, I jumped bateau.
This of course, was in the days when the British education system was so far behind the times that they thought ‘Duck a l’orange’ meant ‘Get down, they’re chucking fruit’.
It was bad enough that the boffins had the misguided impression that teaching foreign languages to six and seven year olds would only confuse the little sponge-brains.
Meanwhile, European kids barely out of infants school were yapping away in foreign tongues as if they were natives. I personally wasn’t aware of Spanish (which even then was one of the world’s most spoken languages) being on any local school’s curriculum in those days.
But back to Dackoo – and the concocted spelling ‘Dacw mama dywad’ that I Googled into my computer.
To my Google-eyed amazement, it came up immediately with a website of ‘Welsh Nursery Rhyme Lyrics’. And there, in both languages, were the full words of 38 kiddies’ favourites taught typically to pre-school toddlers in Wales.
Including those of Dacw Mam yn Dwad or, in English, ‘There’s Mummy Coming’.
As I went through the correct version, more and more of the lyrics came back to me  – along with emotion-filled thoughts of my mother, who died in a polio epidemic when I was six.
*Dacw mam yn dwad,
Ar ben y Gamfa Wen,
Rhywbeth yn ei ffedog,
A phiser ar ei phen.
Y fuwch yn y beudy,
Yn brefu am y llo,
A’r llo’r ochor arall,
Yn chware Jim Cro
My mother could not have taught me the Dackoo words because she was English – and although Dad was born in the Rhymney Valley, his virtues did not include patience. Not that I ever heard him speak a word of Welsh, in any case.
Which means I must have learnt it at Greenways, the Cardiff kindergarten I started attending at the age of three.
The emergence of that hidden memory after well over half-a-century tends to confirm what European educationalists have known for generations, namely that very young children can absorb a second language with no fear of confusion.
And my own experience with Dackoo also demonstrates that our minds retain information for life, even if we are not aware of it.
What I want to know is, why can’t I remember what I did yesterday?

10 September 2011

Wanted... the hit-and-run knitcase who battered my Betty

THE expression ‘hit-and-run’ immediately conjures up horrific images of maniac drivers and mangled bodies.
But what about the guy who accidentally backs into a parked vehicle, causing visible damage, and then drives off, hoping that nobody has taken his registration number? That’s hit and run, too.

And judging by the state of most cars in my part of Spain, there are an awful lot of people on the roads protecting guilty secrets.

Let’s be honest, a three-year-old car without at least one noticeable dent or scrape is about as common as free-flowing traffic on an English motorway.

I’ve had Betty, my little Kia Picanto, for four years, during which time she has been in one proper accident (the other guy’s fault, naturally) and been attacked by two hit and runners.

Oh, there was also the occasion last year when a family member nudged another vehicle while she was parking in Guardamar. Although there was little damage to his car, the owner insisted on going through the insurance because it was a business vehicle. Not clever – my premium has virtually doubled for the next 12 months. All of which makes it all the more galling that the two b******s who deflowered my Betty got away with it, while I face a bill of several hundred euros to get the damage repaired. If I ever get round to it.

Meanwhile, I’m driving round with my pride dented, along with a cracked headlamp and two mysterious holes in the top of the front bumper. My hunch is that the damage was caused by a pair of motorised knitting needles on wheels, which then tried to pull the wool over my eyes.

For all our frustration at careless drivers who damage our cars and then leg it (that can’t be right), how many of us have not done the same thing ourselves?

I nudged a parked car during a three-point turn in Manchester a few years back and still have a conscience over it, even though I have no idea if any damage was done. I could have stopped and knocked on the owner’s door but I was frightened what their reaction would be. And I guess fear does come into the equation.

  It’s a lot easier to go missing than to face the possibility of being attacked by a furious gorilla of a man. Particularly if he is armed with knitting needles.

8 September 2011

Help, we've been burglarized! The Yanks have stolen our language

THERE used to be a language called English – until it was murdered by our so-called friends across the Pond.
And the thing that saddens me most is that we’ve wilted like wimps under a growing bombardment of ridiculous Americanisms.

‘’Can I GET a burger and chips,’’ has become the staple way of ordering food for just about every young Brit under the age of 25. I’m still waiting to see someone actually do what they say…and march into the restaurant kitchen to collect their grub.

Then there’s the curse of having to watch TV show hosts inanely urging British audiences, not to applaud, but to ‘’give it up’’ for some Z-list guest who’s incapable of  generating spontaneous appreciation.

Give up what? Pandering to Hollywood movie culture by using American-speak at every opportunity? Far better they give up the ridiculous posturing rap culture that’s become the ‘in’ thing among certain segments of British society. Sometimes with extremely negative consequences - innit?

I honestly believe that English as we know will disappear within a couple of generations, submerged under the tsunami of American influence on our young people. Television, computer games, electronic gadgets, all sorts of technology – everything seems to emanate from the other side of the Atlantic these days. And as for American films (the real word for ‘movies’, remember?), I doubt I understand even half of the obscenity-filled soundtracks these days.

The English language is certainly not what it was 50 years ago.

Back in the 1960s, Britain was king. The Beatles ruled the music world, England were world football champions – and the Commonwealth still encompassed half the planet.

Then, slowly but surely, the meticulous grammar that people like myself were taught in school began to be Yanked away. It has since been regurgitated in American-speak with Britain’s younger generation happily swallowing the new version as if it was a ‘cookie’. And that takes the biscuit.

It seems that English kids today are so weak-willed that they can’t fight off their absorption into 21st century America. Because, believe me, they are being sucked in relentlessly to the point that they actually seem to think McDonalds is proper food and that Starbucks make decent coffee.

We’ve already seen it with Halloween, which was not even celebrated in the UK in my childhood. Guy Fawkes Night was the big one – everything went into making the best ‘Guy’ for November 5, because it guaranteed richer pickings from our door-to-door ‘Penny For the Guy’ collections.

These days, householders are pestered by a horde of masked midgets demanding sweets (or should that be ‘candy’?). With menaces, too. Presumably the sweets are the treat –but what happens if you opt for ‘trick’? Does one of the midgets’ masks comes off and reveal Paul Daniels? Horror of horrors!

But back to the English language. As a professional wordsmith, I have to deal every day with the trimmings of the American Revolution. I am increasingly seeing words like ‘organisation’ and ‘realise’ spelt with a Z; rather than an S. Indeed, the spellcheck on my computer, which is set to ‘ENGLISH English’, perpetually tries to ‘correct’ the spelling to the American style.

We can do nothing about the Yanks nicking our language and changing the rules (just as they did when they pinched the game of rugby, turned the participants into bouncy castles, and called it American Football).

But for heaven’s sake, let’s vow NEVER to allow words like ‘burglarize’, ‘gotten’ and ‘’winningest’ to creep into our everyday speech.

Even if that means stepping up to the plate and doing math in the parking lot.

2 September 2011

Mr Coleman's cane: Corporal punishment and human riots

When I was in junior school, I was petrified of the cane in Mr Coleman’s study. He was the headmaster - and the only teacher allowed to dish out corporal punishment.  And I worked hard to make sure I never crossed him, or any other teacher for that matter.
When I think back, the fear of bamboo on youthful fingers was probably the biggest deterrent of all in keeping boisterous 10-year-olds on the straight and narrow.
My Dad wasn’t averse to clipping me around the ear when I stepped out off line at home; indeed he occasionally whacked me on the back of the head and was promptly ticked off by my stepmother for overstepping the mark. “Jack, that’s dangerous,’’ she’d complain. ‘’If you must hit her, smack her on the leg.’’
To anyone under 30, the above scenario must sound Dickensian – and to some extent it was. But whilst I was a bit of a naughty child at home, I made sure I kept on the right side of the school authorities.
Only once was I marched to Mr Coleman’s study...for stupidly lobbing a lump of coal onto the playground. Don’t ask me where the coal came from because I haven’t a clue. Mind you, this was in South Wales and at the time I was a minor!
Anyway, you can imagine how this cowardly coal-chucker reacted when the headmaster brought out his cane.  I burst into a flood of tears and apologies... and literally begged for mercy.
My emotional plea had the desired effect on Mr C, though I’ll never know if the cane would have hurt my hand more than his alternative punishment – the exertion of writing   ‘I shall not throw coal on the playground’ 100 times.
Now I was a pretty typical kid and, whilst I was an angel compared to the child rioters of 2011, there is no doubt the fear of physical discipline taught me and my friends to respect authority.
I’ve a message for David Cameron, Theresa May and Co.  Corporal punishment works. And it’s because Britain abandoned discipline that loony looters have been running wild in the nation’s major cities.
I have certainly never come across anyone who was permanently damaged, physically or mentally, by the after-effects of six of the best. In fact, everyone I’ve spoken to said the experience did them good.
But try telling that to the politically correct dummies who run our country. They would rather collaborate with the thugs rather than confront them – believing you can talk sense to the brain dead.
The vermin who destroyed England come from a subculture that has developed over the last few decades  – a scum society where scallies perform street carnage while mum and dad are either enjoying the pleasantries of a comfortable jail cell or out of their minds on drink and drugs.
These lowlifes are only a tiny minority of British society, yet they can cause havoc, as we have seen so painfully recently.
They respect nobody, would not dream of working, and believe the only way of life is to steal from others. They live by the law of insolence, robbery and violence.
And the only way to deal with them when they go on the rampage is to give the police and, if necessary, the  Army the freedom to stamp on them.
But in a country where most of the police are not even armed, what chance have we got?
Political correctness rules, just as it does in the schools where the little scumbags develop their obnoxious charms. Teachers cannot so much as raise a hand to discipline the rebels, who celebrate by threatening and even attacking the people trying to educate them.
This is where the problem began...we took legalised discipline out of the equation when the cane was confiscated from our schoolteachers.
Mr Coleman,  your cane is needed. Desperately.

1 September 2011

My life is going to the mogs... but that's just PURRFECT!

MOLLY: Not bright enough to have learning difficulties
GEOFFREY: Does he have another home?

 THEY say that cats have nine lives.Well, my life has nine cats. At least it seems that way as just about every waif and  stray in the neighbourhood queues at my cat flap for its daily food fix.

Officially I have three moggies. The first is mad Molly, who is small, black, weirdly mis-shapen and has learning difficulties (the description of her previous owner, not mine). Poor Molly’s not intelligent enough to have learning difficulties. The cat flap’s been there for three years and she still doesn’t know how to use it.

MOGGY No.2 is Geoffrey (Geoffrey Boycat to give him his full name – apt for an animal that moves as slowly as his cricketing namesake used to score runs for England).

My Geoff is a black, long-haired softie of a stray who was probably lost or left by his previous owner a long time ago. Certainly someone cared for him because he was neutered and healthy when he first started coming to my place. In fact, it’s possible he still has another home because he sometimes goes missing for a day or two.

MOGGY No.3 is Henry, a young tabby who turned up at my back door last autumn with a hairless, bleeding chest and a mega-miaow. ‘’I suspect he’s been in a fight but I can stitch it up, no problem,’’ said the vet. ‘’I would advise you to have him neutered as soon as possibly, though. Not only will it stop him fighting, it will also help to keep the cat population down and make him more of a house cat.’’

Twenty-four hours later, Henry moved in -  neatly stitched, snipped and tucked. When his chest took longer than expected to heal, I took him back to the vet…and a blood test revealed he was FIV-positive, the feline equivalent of HIV.

‘’It’s nothing to worry about,’’ said the vet. ‘’He was almost certainly born with it. It’s quite common and he has a good chance of leading a normal life. Because he has been neutered, he’s highly unlikely to pass the FIV on, even through sharing food bowls with other cats.’’

All of which makes Henry a bit special. After all we’ve been mutually stitched up – him by the vet and me by Henry, who could have saved me a lot of money had he turned up on someone else’s doorstep! (I’m joking…wouldn’t be without him for anything.

Add to Molly, Geoffrey and Henry the half-a dozen feral waifs and strays which turn up at various times of the day and night – and the menagerie-a-trois moves into mega-moggy mode.

And thereby hangs another tail…the tale of why I prefer cats to dogs.

Now I’ve written a couple of light-hearted articles in the past about the respective merits and otherwise of each species, so apologies to those who have previously been subjected to what follows.

Cats are to me the most mysterious, fascinating and wonderful creatures on earth.  Not only can they read your mind, they can also manipulate it to  their own advantage.

That's the voice of 40 years of cat ownership speaking. Oh, and I didn't own any of my moggies - they owned me.

I was THEIR pet, not the reverse. If it didn't suit them to live in my home, they'd have been off like a flash to appoint some other purr soul as honorary daily food-and-milk supplier.

Some of us are cat people, some dog people and some, like myself,  care for both. Only we usually have a preference and in my household, moggies have always held the edge.

To start with, they allow their owner more independence. If you're not around for a few days, it doesn't really matter as long as someone is there to feed them. Leave a dog on  its own for two days and you're not only in serious trouble with the animal authorities, the poor mutt will also have moped itself into a candidate for the canine nuthouse.

Then there is the cleanliness issue. Dogs love to pepper their noses with  the ghastliest of savouries left for them by their fellow barkers. The browner and smellier the better for Fido and his pals, and the worse for those of us whose shoes squelch the stink into our  rugs and carpets when we get home.

From my experience, there's nothing more frustrating  than trying to house-train a  puppy. It will pee and poo to order providing you let it out a minimum of 250 times a day. But pop out yourself for five minutes and you open the door on your return to a mound of doggy dung and a floor awash with a ship-load of urine.

The yelps when Little Poo  is left momentarily on its own are bad enough. But they are nothing to the yelps of human anger that boom into the stratosphere when Mr and Mrs Owner discover what poochie was up to while they were out of the room.

Yet to a dog lover, those Close Encounters of the T*rd Kind are all acceptable in exchange for the pure, uncomplicated love you are guaranteed in return for just being there. Who cares that Fido spends all day rolling in mud, urine, vomit and the faeces of every animal on earth? It only takes a couple of hours to clean him up - and then those luscious licks and doggy hugs make it all worthwhile.

Unless, like me, you're already so browned off by those pooper bloopers that you've vowed never to have a dog again.

Cats are a complete contrast. House-trained before they've ever seen a house, all a kitten needs is a litter tray and it will wee and poo  into it ad infinitum. Mind you, removing the hail of stones that hurtle around the house in mini-puss's attempts to  bury the residue with its lethal back feet can take twice as long as clearing up after any untrained puppy.

HENRY: The vet stitched him up - and Henry stitched me up!
Moggies also need no  teaching when it comes to cleaning themselves. And thereby hangs another tale - plus body, head and legs.  Before you  know it, puss has licked herself  bald and is coughing up a two-ton hair ball. You rush her to the vet thinking she's on her last legs but fear not...they all do it.

Unless, like my Molly, the furry one suffers from feline asthma and vomits up nothing but wheeze.
If your cat is a Tom, then you have another problem or three. First and worst is his territory spraying, and the pungent, difficult-to-remove smell it creates. Then there's his sexual appetite, which he'll inevitably impose on all the local moggettes - accompanied by a cat's chorus loud enough to drown out a 30-piece orchestra.
The solution to that one is simple. Have Tiger Tom snipped in the bud when he's a few months old and the spraying and s****ing will be a thing of the past.

If you have a dog, you will of course need to take it for walks. Unless you are a lazy bitch like one or two of my friends - and end up with a mutt that's even fatter than its owner. In such instances, at least fatso and her pet won't need a pooper scooper to clean up the dog mess, though not that many people seem to bother if the pavements in my locality at El Raso are anything to go by.

People not clearing up the mess left by their dogs in public places is a big problem everywhere. But here's a question for you: If you saw a threatening-looking yob's pit-bull pooing outside your home and he didn't clean up the mess (the yob, not the pitbull), what would you do?  If your answer is 'nothing', score a brownie point for honesty.
As for me, I'll stick with my moggies. I just wish they could purr in English.

Published in The Courier (www.thecourier.es) September 2, 2011