Ada - our Honorary President

J Arthur Smallpiece


As I write, there's only a couple of hours of 2010 left to get through. This is the Old Year's last blogposting and Wednesday's AGM was the last of the year, too.

So it's doubly appropriate for me to be seriously delighted to say that it was one of the most successful AGMs in the distinguished history of truckshunting. No fewer than ten people (excluding my neighbour Nigel, who just happened to bump into us) found time in their busy Christmas schedules to make their way to Newcastle for a seasonal smile and a warming posset.

I loved every single minute of it and have decided that, rather then give a detailed narrative of proceedings, I should let the end-of-year portraits and pictures above do the talking.

A very big Thankyou to everyone who was there. If you enjoyed it only half as much as I did, then you had a great time, too!

I know, too, that there are truckshunters who would like to have been there if they could have managed it. You were our absent friends and you were in our thoughts because of it. We missed you and we all hope we can see you soon.

For me, 2010 has been an amazing year, for lots of reasons. I am ending the year in a way I would never have thought possible only twelve months ago. 2010 has provided proof, if proof were ever needed, that it's simply not possible to know what lies round the corner ahead or where our lives may take us - however old or crusty we might think we are.

The comment Hildie added to my last blogposting is wonderfully fitting for the occasion. Together, we've all created a truly unique and satisfying ad hoc 'friendly society'. And I suspect that it has survived and flourished because each of its members has retained, and shares, the three 'senses' essential to our well-being and growth: a sense of curiosity, a sense of wonder and a sense of humour.

Whoever you are, and wherever you might be as you read these words...

Whatever your circumstances, good or not so good...

...I hope that your year ahead is peaceful and rewarding, that any troubles you may have recede and become mere memories, that you find grace and pleasure in the small things of life as well as the great, and that, if your 2011 must contain some tears (and everyone's must), it will also be adorned with smiles and good times, too.

Have a happy and tranquil New Year.

And keep shunting trucks.

Know what I mean?

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At the village Christmas market
In this blogposting...
*A Silly Game
*Another Silly Game
*A Joke

All yours...

Our seasonal AGM will take place at 1100 this upcoming Wednesday 29 December at (or near) Grey’s Monument in Newcastle.

You have two choices. You can stay away and be a grumpy old Scrooge or turn up and cast a sparkling Christmas light on the proceedings. There will even be a special guest.

Whatever happens, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

This is one of those silly word-games for people who don’t mind playing with themselves (so to speak). It’s easily possible to have hours of endless Yuletide fun with it - at least until they come to take you away.

You will need a dictionary - the larger the better.

First, choose a verse of your favourite poetry or the words of a song. Then - and here’s the tricky, intellectual bit - change every noun to the noun following (say) three behind it in the dictionary.

The sylvan dreaminess of Wordsworth’s Daffodils…

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high over vales and hills
When all at once i saw a crowd
A host of golden daffodils transformed into…

I wandered lonely as a clove
That floodlights on high over valencies and hillsides
When all at once i saw a crucifix
A hostess of golden dahlias

Replace every noun with the seventh one following it in the dictionary and the effect can be quite trippy…

I wandered lonely as a clue
That flops on high over valises and hindrances
When all at once i saw a cruet
A hotelier of golden dairymen.

Prizes should be awarded for the best entries. They should be, but they won’t.

I'm one of those tedious people who loudly and proudly proclaim that I do not know the rules of cricket. I'm genuinely delighted to say that, if you showed me a cricket score, I really wouldn't know who had won.

I was boring someone to death with these facts the other day when I remembered an email sent to us by a Blue Bus listener on this very subject.

You have two sides, one out in the field and one in.

Each man that's in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out.

When they are all out, the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out.

Sometimes you get men still in and not out.

When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in.

There are two men called umpires who stay all out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out.

When both sides have been in and all the men have out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!

So there you have it.

Eric and Jean have sent me this joke. I make no apology for including it here because I think it’s about time the people of Sunderland and Hartlepool got their own back on smug Tynesiders.

‘53,000 Geordies meet in St James Park for a "Geordies Are Not Stupid" convention.
Alan Shearer addresses the crowd....
"We are all here today to prove to the 
world that Geordies are not stupid. Can I have a volunteer please".

To loud applause Gazza gingerly works his way through the crowd and steps up to the stage.

Shearer asks him "What is 15 plus 15?" 

After about 20 seconds Gazza says, "Eighteen!"

Obviously everyone is a little disappointed. Then the Geordies start chanting
"Give him another chance! Give him another chance!"

Shearer says "Well since we have a capacity crowd, world-wide press and global broadcast media here, I think we can give him another chance".

So he asks "What is 5 plus 5?"
After nearly 30 seconds Gazza eventually says, "Ninety?"

Shearer looks down and just lets out a dejected sigh. Everyone is disheartened and Gazza starts crying.

But then the 53,000 Geordies begin to yell and wave their hands shouting "GIVE HIM ANOTHER CHANCE! GIVE HIM ANOTHER CHANCE!"

Shearer, unsure whether he is now doing more harm than good eventually says, "What is 2 plus 2?"

Silence hangs over the stadium.
Gazza closes his eyes, and after a whole minute eventually says, "Four?"

Pandemonium breaks out throughout the stadium as the Geordie crowd stand to a man, wave their arms, stomp their feet and scream..................


I want to start the New Year on a high note - so please send me the best jokes you've heard recently and I'll include as many as I can in the next posting.

Or you could just bring them along to the AGM on Wednesday.

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Lyon from the hill of Fourviere. Old Lyon is in the foreground
In this blogposting…

*Life In France/La Vie en France

Our seasonal AGM will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 29 December at Grey’s Monument in Newcastle. Try to be there if you possibly can. After all…

...a particularly splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Two weeks ago, I tasted my first snails. There was a bustling Christmas market in the village and one of the refreshment stalls was selling escargots, freshly cooked in butter, garlic and parsley. (Incidentally, the French for ‘parsley’ is persil. Why, in the name of all that’s sacred or profane, is there a washing powder with the same name in England? Is it coincidence?)

For a few minutes, all eyes were on ‘the Englishman’ as he tentatively placed the first unshelled mollusc in his mouth. After all, this sort of thing doesn’t happen too often in deepest, rural Beaujolais. I became a temporary gastronomic phenomenon!

As I ate, I was conscious of several factors which encouraged me to persist. Firstly, I represented England - that sceptr’d isle set in a silver sea land of hope and glory blah blah blah. Secondly, snails were, I thought, just another version of foodstuffs I was quite happy to consume at home - winkles, scallops, cockles and the like. And thirdly, I'd already eaten horsemeat in Verona. If you can eat horse, you can (I reasoned) eat snails.

Disappointingly, I quite enjoyed them. Because they are drenched in garlic, most of the sensations in the mouth are of texture rather than taste. And, precisely as you’d expect, they have the texture of cockles or winkles. It takes longer to eat each one, of course, as they are so much bigger.

The reaction of the small and expectant crowd around me was the most surprising aspect of the whole event. They obviously thought I would grimace like a gurning bulldog or even throw up all over their lovely pavement. I’m proud - and admittedly quite relieved - to report that I did neither.

Escargots, though, remain an acquired taste as far as I’m concerned.

I also discovered, on my latest French jaunt, that eating snails and frogs - and driving on entirely the wrong side of the road - is by no means the only thing that the French have their own way of doing.

They also play ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ with an extra ‘element’. In France, you play Caillou, Papier, Ciseaux, Puits - ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors, Well’. (That’s ‘well’ of the sort you draw water from.)

Since I discovered this astonishing divergence of our two cultures, I’ve pondered long and idly (as you do) about its significance - and how, mathematically speaking, it affects the balance of the game itself.

Think about it. With the three elements we are used to, the risk seems balanced. Each element can beat one of the others and get beaten by the second. Paper defeats Rock but is defeated by Scissors. Rock defeats Scissors but is beaten by Paper. Scissors defeat Paper but are defeated by Rock.

Thus - by my calculations - whichever you choose, you have a 50/50 chance of winning.

But any fourth element is bound to unbalance your chances - isn’t it?

Stay with me on this one…

Rock defeats Scissors but can be beaten by Paper and Well ( - you can drop a Rock down a Well).

Scissors defeats Paper but not Rock or Well. (To be honest, I’m not sure who wins with Scissors and Well - or why.)

Paper defeats Rock and Well (apparently because you can cover a Well with Paper) but not Scissors.

But (and it’s a very big ‘but’) Well defeats them all except Paper.

If you’re still alive and functioning at this point, it may have occurred to you, as it has to me, that all you need to do to win the French version of the game is therefore choose Well all the time. Its chances of winning seem to be 3:1.

Or has all this pre-Christmas mulled wine addled my otherwise superlative powers of reasoning?

Your Yuletide mission, should you choose to accept it, is to work all this out and then explain it in words of one syllable.

Go for it.

As if escargots and Rock, Paper, Scissors, Well were not enough, I also visited the city of Lyon for the first time during my latest sojourn in France.

Lyon is France’s third city, after Paris and Marseille. It’s about the size of Manchester or Sheffield or Leeds. And it’s an awe-inspiring place, in a brash, ‘look-at-me’ kind of way.

Its site is spectacular. It straddles the confluence of two of France’s mightiest rivers - the Rhone and the Saone - and the hill of Fourviere, which dominates the city centre like the Acropolis dominates Athens, affords a panoramic cityscape view which must be almost unparalleled in Europe. I was gobsmacked by it, and felt ashamed never to have been there before.

As I looked out over this splendid and thriving city, I wondered why our continental neighbours (and not just the French) almost always seem to be able to provide themselves with grand and monumental metropolitan cities while we in Britain seem to end up only with places like Birmingham, Southampton or - God forbid - Plymouth.

And we can’t blame wartime bombing, either. On the continent, post-war development of bombed-out cities always included vast amounts of restoration. Warsaw is perhaps the best-known example of the careful and loving post-war restoration of a beautiful city but there are dozens of others, some of which I saw on my Grand Tour.

But since the war, we in England seem to have treated our cities as ‘necessary evils’ rather than grand centres of culture, learning and heritage. Before it was bombed to oblivion in 1940, Coventry had the largest and best-preserved mediaeval city centre in England. After 1945, it was ‘redeveloped’ into the hideous abomination it now is.

And afterwards, almost all of our great centres of population seem to have been laid waste in the 60s and 70s. Newcastle itself was almost entirely and wantonly destroyed in a way which, I suspect, would be unthinkable elsewhere in Europe.

It wasn't only Lyon's 'built environment' which drove this point home. Its attitude to public transport was also terribly unEnglish.

Lyon has four metro lines, four tramways, two funicular railways (to get you up the hill of Fourviere), four express busways, five trolleybus routes and over 100 regular bus services.

The new 'tram-train' (on the left in this photo) whisks you from the city centre to the airport non-stop in 20 minutes.

Lyon also has three all-night bus routes.

This is a city that ‘looks after’ its citizens.

Lyon's public transport - not including bus services

Tyneside and Wearside together are over twice the size of Lyon. We have one (or, at a pinch, two) metro lines which leave huge tracts of our conurbation unserved.
Tyneside and Wearside public transport - not including bus services

We have no trams or trolleybuses at all. Instead - and unlike almost everywhere else in Europe - we rely on buses. Within living memory, we have built whole towns - Washington, Cramlington, Killingworth and Peterlee - with no meaningful planning for public transport.

Buses are expensive to operate and use - and stop running even before the pubs have shut. (Except if you need to get to Chester-le-Street. For reasons known only to God, there is an all-night service.)

Here endeth my year-end rant. I know I’m crying in the wilderness, anyway. Nobody’s listening…

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A nuthatch...isn't he lovely?

In this blogposting…
*Words, Words, Words
*The Twelve Days of Christmas
*Analogies from Heaven
Now - just do it…

The final AGM of 2010 will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 29 December at Grey’s Monument in Newcastle. All other things being equal, our French truckshunter should be there. It would make his day (and mine too) if you were there too.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

A big thankyou to Vicky, a first-time emailer, about whom I know nothing else. (Note to Vicky: Get back to me, please!)

I know you love words and thought you might be interested in these two - for different reasons!

Firstly - mamihlapinatapai is a word from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego. It is listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the "most succinct word" in any language, partly because it is considered one of the hardest words to translate. It describes "a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that they both desire but which neither one wants to start."

(Yes, we’ve all been there, Vicky. I wonder, though, why the good folk of Tierra del Fuego are so shy that they need such a unique word.)

Secondly - an opsimath refers to a person who begins, or continues, to study or learn late in life. Opsimathy was once frowned upon and was used as a put down, with implications of laziness. Opsimathy was considered less effective by educators than early learning. The emergence of "opsimath clubs" proves that opsimathy is no longer looked down upon but is in fact desirable.

Cato the Elder, for example, learned Greek only at the age of 80.’

(Learning Greek is quite an achievement at any age, Vicky. And you’re certainly right about opsimathy. Almost by definition, all truckshunters are opsimaths - and proud of it.)

Truckshunters are, of course, hopeless romantics. And this year, I happen to know that several members of our Honourable Company are planning to festoon their loved ones with gifts based on that tiresome song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. You know who you are.

Before they take this drastic step though, they should know the full extent of the expense to which they are committing themselves. It turns out that, if they succeed in acquiring all the items in the song, it’ll set them back a whopping £14,071.

How, I hear you ask, can I possible know this?

Every year since 1984, the American investment group PNC Wealth Management has compiled a Christmas Price Index by pricing all the items in the song from the partridge right up to the twelve drummers drumming.

While they admit that it’s mainly just a bit of harmless fun, the company also believes the index does have something to say about the wider American and European economies.

This year, they reckon that the index has leapt 8.1% - its second highest ever increase.

Apparently, the bulk of the dramatic rise is due to the cost of the seven swans-a-swimming which has risen by 33.33% to £3,604. (The scarcity of swans has always made them one of the most volatile elements of the index.)

If you leave out the swans, the index is £9,964.10 - a rise of 1.1% since 2007, and a figure that seems to echo the economic slowdown in western economies.

The PNC Christmas Price Index may seem faintly ridiculous but its compilers take it very seriously indeed. After all, its sources range from the National Aviary in Pittsburgh to modern dance troupe Philadanco in Philadelphia.

Most of the increase in the index is due to rising prices for the rarer birds such as turtle doves and partridges. Fuel price rises, meanwhile, have lead to an increase in transport costs for some of the bulkier items such as the pear tree itself, which has increased by £32.

The metal in the five gold rings, meanwhile, may have increased as commodity prices have soared, but retailers are heavily discounting items in order to get shoppers through the door. As a result a bargain-seeking True Love should be able to get them for £226 this season, down 11.4% on last year.

Changes in the labour market, meanwhile, have impacted on some of the other prices in the index. PNC reckons the eight maids a-milking are the only unskilled labourers in the song and so qualify for the minimum wage, which increased for the second year running in 2008. As a result their services will set a True Love back an extra 12% this year.

The drummers drumming, pipers piping and lords a-leaping have all been affected by the economic slowdown which has seen wage inflation kept in check by worries about job security. As a result their cost has increased by just 3%, which PNC says essentially keeps them in line with the rise in the cost of living. The price of the nine ladies dancing, however, was unchanged at £3,063, according to PNC's sources.

You couldn’t make it up.

These were sent to me by Peter in South Shields and are apparently taken from real exam papers….

*The hailstones leapt from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot fat.
*John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
*Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.
*He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.
*He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a man who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

Priceless. Thanks Peter.

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In this blogposting...
*Sports News
*Health Warning
*A Dog Is Not Just For Christmas
*Lateral Thinking
Now, take heed and look sharp...

...will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 29 December at Grey’s Monument. For your information, here is the agenda:

*Item 1 - coffee
*Item 2 - more coffee and perhaps a cake or something
*Item 3 - catch-up chat
*Item 4 - another coffee for whoever wants one
*Item 5 - New Year resolutions (if anyone has any)
*Item 6 - taking photos
*Item 7 - Any Other Business

Item 5 may be dropped. It sounds a little too earnest. If it’s dropped, it will be replaced by The Reading of J Arthur Smallpiece’s Birthday Poem to Ian, which doesn’t.

If you have any items for the agenda, please send them to me using the contact details below. Or not, as the case may be.

And remember - none of this will happen if no-one turns up but me. That would be truly awful and highly unseasonal to boot.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Except for the inevitable speedway, courtesy of Lawrence, sport does not figure highly in the truckshunter firmament. It’s far too dull. Even the ongoing pantomime at Newcastle United has become predictable and tedious.

Occasionally, however, a sport-based story puts it head above the otherwise dreary parapets and almost begs to be included in our hallowed blog.

Thus it is with considerable pleasure that I present to you - in my best, BBC-honed journalistic style - the awe-inspiring story of Madron FC (above), a Cornish village team all of whose members deserve honorary admission to the truckshunter club.

Madron FC's start to the season has been, to put it mildly, disappointing.

At the beginning of December they had lost 11 games on the trot, conceded 227 goals (scoring just twice themselves); this means that they have conceded a goal every 4.36 minutes.

The stand-in manager, Alan Davenport, admitted Madron FC are "probably the worst team in Britain" after their "embarrassing" string of results. He did, however, praise his players for at least turning up.

The club (based near Penzance) was delighted to be promoted from Division Two of the Mining League last season. But a mass exodus of players, followed by the manager's departure, left them struggling.

Now the depleted squad, which is made up of people from a local pub and students, struggle to get 11 players out.

Asked to pose for a team photograph recently, only eight of the 11 would do so; the others were simply too embarrassed. Shame on them.

At a recent fixture, they went down 22-0 to St Buryan.

Only seven players (and no officially-recognised goalkeeper) turned up for a game against Illogan RBL Reserves, which they lost 55-0.

I’ll repeat that. 55-0.

Mr Davenport (68) said of that defeat: "It's a struggle when you only have seven players and no goalkeeper. One of the lads went in goal and did his best. I know everybody is probably laughing at us but we will battle on.

"We will definitely keep playing every week and fulfill our fixtures until the end of the season. We have no plans to stop. Some of the players aren't that brilliant so they are just happy to play. They can't get games with anyone else. Fair play to them for turning up really. It would be easy to just give in and let their heads drop but we'll fight on."

There is one unexpectedly bright side to this heart-warming tale of wasted endeavour and cataclysmic failure. Madron FC are not bottom of the league. This is because another team had points deducted for not turning up to one of their matches.

Other teams are sympathetic, up to a point. The manager of Illogan, Mark Waters, said it was impossible to really enjoy a thrashing like the one it gave Madron. "We certainly didn't enjoy it,” he said. “I have nothing but admiration for the seven Madron players, but it does make a mockery of the league."


Madron FC are now the official mascot team of the truckshunter blog.

Which means that, from now on, things can only get better for them. Fingers crossed.

It is, of course, unpleasant to be attacked by sharks, as some unfortunate holiday-makers recently have (and prompted a few unkind commentators to aver that that’s all they deserve for taking their vacation in Sharm-el-Sheikh in the first place).

It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File reported only five fatal shark attacks in the whole of 2009.

Other, sometimes surprising, aspects of our everyday lives can be just as - or even a lot more - risky than invading the natural habitat of a large and lethal predatory fish then being shocked when it attacks.

Over 1,000 people a year, for example, are dispatched to kingdom come by being struck by lightning.

22 people in the UK were accidentally drowned in their own baths in 2008.

Almost 2,500 left-handers a year die from using products designed for right-handed people.

More than 20,000 people die each year by being bitten by snakes - mostly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

And average of two people are killed each year in the USA by trying to tilt faulty vending machines.

If you have a dog in the house, you should perhaps be aware of what the website considers to be the five most dangerous elements of the upcoming Christmas season for Man’s Best Friend.

Unsurprisingly, chocolate is at Number One. Keep it away from their prying snouts.

And do the same with anti-freeze. It’s even more lethal for canines than it is for the likes of us - and that’s saying something.

Pine needles are next. Along with the shards of broken glass tree-baubles, they get into dog paws and cause extreme discomfort - and expensive vet visits for you.

At Number Five is crowded kitchens - paws being stood on, hot food dropping from above...ghastly for a dog, of course.

Finally....please don’t dress your dog as Santa Claus. It’s humiliating for the dog and, even worse, it makes you a total twonker as well.

In the last blogposting I was mischievous enough to pass on three ‘lateral thinking’ puzzles sent to me by Dave Shannon. Hildie and Sid have answered two of them correctly - well done them.

But that still leaves puzzle number two - the one about the murder suspect.

Have you got the lateral thinking powers to see the answer?

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Four airports where you just have to trust the pilot...
In this blogposting…
*Four Airports

*Speaking of Which…

*My Secret Fetish
*An Eleventh Reason to be French


*Dave Shannon - At It Again
Now read on - if you dare…

The pictures of the four airports where you just have to trust the pilot, shown above, were (like the wonderful picture of ‘two feet of snow‘ on the last blogposting) sent to me by Eric and Jean, who run The Commercial in Tantobie. So another Thankyou to them!

Thanks to the amazing Peter, who says the snow picture reminded him of the wonderful Bobby Thompson…
‘The mother-in-law’s walking round with one welly on - coz the forecast said there’s gunna be a foot of snow.’

As Peter says - they don’t make jokes like they used to.

I was recently told - by someone whose judgment I have always trusted absolutely and implicitly - that we all have deep, dark and sometimes obsessive desires which we seldom (and sometimes never) reveal to the wider world.

They lurk unseen and undernourished in the shadowy recesses of our souls and are rarely allowed up for air. And we conceal them, often from our very closest friends, because either they make us feel somehow inadequate (trainspotting, DIY, daytime tv), they don't conform to the images we all carefully create for public consumption (dressing in clothes of the opposite sex - or no clothes at all, reading Catherine Cookson books, watching George Formby films) or because we are ashamed of them (pulling the legs off crane flies, fancying Dale Winton, wanting to live in Shildon).

I have harboured such a fetish for years now. In fact, I've harboured several such fetishes but I'm only going to reveal what I consider to be the least incriminating of them here.

(If you are of a nervous disposition, move straight on down to The Eleventh Reason to be French, below.)

My secret fetish, so far unfulfilled, is....


And not any old clogs, either. Especially not the ludicrous Dutch variety, which - as I've seen with my own eyes - are virtually impossible to walk in.

And not those trendy Scholl clogs that you could hear clomping round the house or down the street long before you could see them. What, I ask you, is the point of a clog with no upper?

No. The clogs I crave are English clogs. Solid wooden soles and uppers made of leather you could build a tank out of.

Whenever I've seen them worn - all too rarely, if you ask me - I've been bewitched by them. They look totally solid and sensible - and not in a tweedy, office-block kind of way. They look as if they would survive a nuclear attack.

To me, clogs are the supreme example of purpose matching design perfectly.

The big problem with my secret clog fetish is, of course, that no-one else seems to share it. Clogs are about as unfashionable as you can get without donning a fair-isle cardigan and doing the Black Bottom.

And this means that, in all the years during which I have been intermittently searching for a pair, I've never found any. I even asked on the Blue Bus programme one day; a listener came up with the name of a clogmaker somewhere in Yorkshire that had, as it happens, just gone out of business.

So I was delighted - no, I was thrilled to smithereens - to be told that there'd been a clog-dancing event in Newcastle city centre a few days ago. Needless to say, nobody told me about it beforehand - probably because nobody knew about my secret clogophilia. So I missed it. How typical is that?

All, though, is not lost. The event was part of a documentary being made for tv about the resurgence of clog-dancing in the north-east. It will be shown on BBC4 this coming Saturday, 11 December. And I just can't wait.

It feels wonderful to know that I'm not alone in my love of the humble clog. It's the same feeling I got when I discovered - via The Nightshift - that there were other people in the world who disliked Ricky Gervais and Little Britain - as much as I did.

So my day has been made. Except that I still haven't found a supplier of clogs.

If you have some spare time on your hands, you could help me out with that one.

In blogposting 230, I quoted some playful ‘Top Ten Reasons’ to be various nationalities. A big Thankyou to Sid, who suggests that an eleventh reason to be French is….that you get to say things only once.

(If you don’t understand this joke, you’re either under 30 or very forgetful about the sillier tv comedy shows.)

Another big Thankyou, this time to truckshunter Dave Shannon, who has sent me these lovely - though rather unsettling - jokes.

‘An old man placed an order for one hamburger, French fries and a drink.
He unwrapped the plain hamburger and carefully cut it in half, placing one half in front of his wife.

He then carefully counted out the French fries, dividing them into two piles and neatly placed one pile in front of his wife.

He took a sip of the drink, his wife took a sip and then set the cup down between them.
As he began to eat his few bites of hamburger, the people around them were looking over and whispering.

Obviously they were thinking, 'That poor old couple - all they can afford is one meal for the two of them.'

As the man began to eat his fries a young man came to the table and politely offered to buy another meal for the old couple.
The old man said they were just fine - they were used to sharing everything.

People closer to the table noticed the little old lady hadn't eaten a bite.
She sat there watching her husband eat and occasionally taking turns sipping the drink.

Again, the young man came over and begged them to let him buy another meal for them.
This time the old woman said 'No, thank you, we are used to sharing everything.'

Finally, as the old man finished and was wiping his face neatly with the napkin, the young man again came over to the little old lady who had yet to eat a single bite of food and asked 'What is it you are waiting for?'

She answered

‘The teeth’’

A Spanish teacher was explaining to her class that in Spanish, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine.

House for instance, is feminine: 'la casa.' Pencil, however, is masculine: 'el lapiz.'

A student asked, 'What gender is computer?'

Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups - male and female - and asked them to decide for themselves whether computer should be a masculine or a feminine noun. Each group was asked to give four reasons for its recommendation.

The men's group decided that computer should definitely be of the feminine gender ('la computadora'), because:
- no-one but their creator understands their internal logic
- the native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else
- even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for possible later retrieval, and
- as soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your wages on accessories for it.

The women's group, however, concluded that computers should be masculine ('el computador'), because:
- in order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on
- they have a lot of data but still can't think for themselves
- they are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they are the problem
- as soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have got a better model.

The women won.

Dave also sent me these three 'lateral thinking' puzzles. I've never been much good at this sort of thing and didn't answer any of these correctly.

Can you?

1 There are six eggs in a basket. Six people each take one egg - yet one egg remains in the basket. How can this be?

2 Acting on an anonymous phone call, the police raid a house to arrest a suspected murderer. They don’t know what he looks like but they know his name is John.

Inside the house they find a carpenter, a lorry driver, a car mechanic and a fireman playing cards. Without even asking his name, they immediately arrest the fireman.

How do they know that he’s the one they want?

3 There was once a recluse who never left his home. The only time anyone ever visited him was when his food and supplies were delivered - but the visitors never came inside.

Then, one stormy winter night when an icy gale was blowing, he went out of his mind. He went upstairs, turned off all the lights and went to bed.

Next morning, he had caused the deaths of several hundred people.


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And finally...
In this blogposting…
*Viral Lies
*And Finally…
Now get on with it…

Viral Lies sound as if they can be caught through coughs and sneezes, that they’re dangerous to health, even that they are lethal to whole populations - like avian flu or mad cow disease.

They’re not, though. Viral Lies are an unexpected - and by no means unpleasant - result of the computer age. They exist because of the unparalleled ease with which computer-users can pass any information they like from one to another to another to another - or even from one to several dozen others.

Viral Lies, then, are about as pernicious as a drink of water. They pose as much of a threat to your physical wellbeing as a light summer breeze. Because all they are is lies and the ‘virus’ in question is of the computer variety; or at least, it behaves as if it is. Viral lies spread from computer to computer because internet and email users allow them to. In fact - and unlike real, damaging software viruses - internet surfers actually want viral lies to spread.

They work like this. Someone sends you an email they have received which contains a fascinating fact of which they and you were previously unaware. Perhaps the email says something like this:

‘Giving someone the ‘cold shoulder’ dates from mediaeval times, when most of the people in a village ate together in the communal hut round a big table. Anyone who was being ostracised would have to sit nearest the door, and thus feel the draught over one of their shoulders. They were thus literally being given the ‘cold shoulder’’. I bet you didn’t know that!'

You, too, find this piece of trivia interesting and send it to everyone on your email address list, who in turn forward it to all their contacts. And so it spreads - over immense distances and very quickly indeed.

Of course, the reason you were unaware of this explanation for ‘cold shoulder’ is that it’s not true. There is no evidence at all that ‘most of the people in a village ate together in the communal hut round a big table’. And, in any case, it wouldn’t just be the person sitting near the door who would feel a draught.

No. Some mischievous prankster - some philological mountebank - has made it all up, probably just to find out how gullible people are. It is a Viral Lie.

Viral Lies like this are as old as the computer age itself and started in an interestingly academic way.

At the University of Berkeley in California in the mid-90s, three eminent Professors cooked up the idea in order to exercise the minds of their students and to prove certain theories they had.

The Professor of English wanted to give his students something interesting and fun to do. So he asked them to dream up explanations for everyday words and phrases like sleep tight, dead ringer, upper crust and honeymoon. Some of his students excelled themselves by also concocting unlikely reasons for four-poster beds and bridal bouquets.

The Professor of Computing - a skill still in its infancy - wanted to test the effectiveness of the internet and the World Wide Web, also still mere novelties at the time. So the English students’ spurious explanations were constructed into an email and dispatched to the Professor’s sister-in-law, with the instruction to send them to everyone on her email address list.

The Professor of Psychology wanted to find out how quickly the email circulated round the world and made its way back to the University. This, he believed, would show him just how gullible people are; that, as he believed, people are prepared to believe almost anything, depending on how the information is delivered. After all, we are far more likely to believe an unlikely-sounding story if we hear it from the BBC rather than from, say, the Daily Mail.

The original email took precisely four days to be passed from contact to worldwide contact and eventually back to Berkeley (from a teacher in Japan).

Amazingly, though, that original email is still in circulation - almost 16 years later. The list of ludicrous explanations, with some minor additions and alterations, is still being passed round the world.

In my 10 or so years at the BBC, I received it at least 20 times. And I’ve received it 5 times since I retired!

It’s a masterful piece of work. The explanations sound plausible and the ‘interesting facts’ are certainly attention-grabbing….

Did you know that, although you can lead a cow upstairs, you can’t lead it downstairs?
Yes, you can.

Did you know that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from the Moon?
No, it isn’t. It’s only 20ft wide. No man-made objects are visible from the Moon.

Did you know that there’s more caffeine in tea than in coffee?
No, there isn’t.

These are classic Viral Lies, passed round the world until they achieve the status of undeniable truths, the internet equivalent of Urban Myths. But that original 16-year old email - which I last received less than a month ago - is still the best.

Here is the first paragraph…

In the 1500s they used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot and then once a day it was taken and sold to the tannery.......if you had to do this to survive you were "Piss Poor". But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn't even afford to buy a pot...........they "didn't have a pot to piss in" and were the lowest of the low.

Human urine was indeed used in tanneries. In many parts of the world, it still is. But there is no evidence at all that the poor ever sold their collective urine to tanneries. After all, why would a tannery buy a commodity so freely available?

Piss-poor is simply a colourful, if perhaps vulgar, alliterative metaphor. As such, it describes grinding poverty particularly well.

It is also used to describe shoddy workmanship or any object unfit for purpose. As such, it has no link at all to 16th-century urine.

In fact, its first known use was not in the 1500s but in 1946.

Not to have a pot to piss in is an even better metaphorical description of real poverty. But that’s all it is - a metaphor which, in fact, needs no explanation. It dates from about 1905.

Let’s finally look at the next part of that Viral Lies email…

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell . .. . brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

The first sentence is pure garbage. In the 1500s, ‘most people’ did not get married in June. Nor did they take their ‘yearly bath’ in May - they tended not to bathe at all.

Interestingly, the custom of brides carrying bouquets goes back much, much further than the 1500s and is, of course, unrelated to cleanliness. The ancient Greeks and Romans had the custom, which serves no other purpose than being splendidly decorative and uplifting, as flowers almost always are.

In later posts, I hope to set the record straight on a few more of the concocted and utterly spurious fabrications contained in the original Champion of Viral Lies.

In the meantime, watch QI on television, which thrives on debunking these modern mischievous misconceptions.

The next AGM will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 29 December at Grey’s Monument in Newcastle - handy for the sales and lots of scrummy coffee-shops.

It would be wonderfully seasonal and Dickensian and cosy to see some old friends there.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

...please remember to feed the birds while the weather is cold and wintery.

In fact, you could make a habit of it and feed them all the time.

(My brother tells me that the mysterious and pretty birds I’ve recently seen at my garden’s peanut feeder are bramblings, which migrate to these parts at this time of year - more fools them.)

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Two feet of snow
(I am indebted for this picture to the wonderful
Eric and Jean Grosvenor, who run
The Commercial in Tantobie)
In this blogposting…
* Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know
* A Night At The Music Hall
* They Have Snow In France, Too
* 6 Billion Others

* Happy Birthday
Now - read on, and let the Devil take the hindmost…

* The average adult spends 8 minutes and 45 seconds a day complaining about something
* A fifth of all pets are given home-cooked meals
* 1 in 10 British people say they prefer dogs to human beings
* The average age of the first-time bride is now 30
* A tenth of all the furniture bought by UK householders comes from Ikea
* 10% of people spend more time talking to their partner on the phone, or via email, than face-to-face
* London Zoo’s gorillas ate 70 kilos of popcorn last year

One of the finest - and funniest - birthday presents I ever received was from my friend Sue a couple of years ago. It was a 4 CD boxed-set called A Night At The Music Hall and features original recordings of those bawdy, essentially British music-hall songs from before the First World War.

Amongst the artists performing these seaside-postcard gems are George Formby Snr, Marie Lloyd, Vesta Victoria, Harry Champion, Florrie Ford, Lillie Langtry...even their names are evocative of a time before brutal, X-Factor commercialism replaced the giggles of nudge-nudge innocence.

But for me, the real pleasure of the CDs lies in the titles of the songs themselves. Who doesn’t want to know the plots behind such unforgettable gems as…

* Never Let Your Braces Dangle
* A Little Bit Of Cucumber
* Now I Have To Call Him Father
* Up I Came With My little Lot
* The Bird on Nellie’s Hat
* All Of A Sudden It Struck Me
* It Aint All Honey And It Aint All Jam
* Archibald - Certainly Not!
* I’m Getting Ready For My Mother-in-Law
* Nature’s Made A Big Mistake

They don’t write - or sing - them like that any more.

If you take a look at Serge's blog, you'll see that he's posted an entry all about his native village, of which he is rightly very proud.

You'll also realise that they've had some pretty hefty snowfalls in Beaujolais, too.

While you're at it, give him a friendly English boost; make yourself one of his followers.

I guess it will take years for something as mind-expanding as the internet to truly show us how it can change the way we think, communicate and live. I suspect we’ve only just begun.

A friend has drawn my attention to a website which was one of the first to demonstrate the internet’s mind-expanding possibilities. It’s called and, like much on the net, is a startlingly simple idea that is only possible because the internet exists and is accessible to anyone with a computer connected to it.

Hundreds of ‘ordinary‘ people from all corners of the world, describe themselves, their lives and their thoughts and, in so doing, show us clearly that there is no such thing as an ‘ordinary‘ person. is strangely addictive and deeply moving. Take a look.

For good or ill, I’ve decided that AGM XXII will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 29 December in Newcastle city centre. I know it’s a tricky time for everyone but please try to make it if you can. It’ll be lovely to see you again.

Bring at least one Christmas-cracker joke.

And remember - a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

...Thomas Carlyle, Samuel Butler, General Franco, Claude Renoir, Ronnie Corbett, Gemma Jones, Jeff Bridges, Jay-Z - and yours truly (even if I say so myself).

And a VERY big Thankyou to everyone who has sent me cards, emails, Facebook messages, gifts and texts. Once again, I’m overawed and thrilled to bits.


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