In this blogposting…
*Pencil Sculptures
Now - get to it…

...took place as planned last Wednesday 26 January. I think it would probably be fair to say that the turn-out was modest but lively; what else would you expect from Hildie, Linda and me?

Of course, the rain didn’t help matters. Rather than lazily slurp our coffees outside in the sunshine that normally accompanies an AGM, we had to scrunch up inside Pret, balanced tightly and unsteadily on high stools. Eventually, the unaccustomed indignity got the better of us and we withdrew indoors (as they used to say) - to Grainger Market, in fact.

We found a nice open area with a few cafes and (and I very much regret having to say this) caused mayhem at one of them; Oliver’s, I think it was called. A childish indecision about which cake to have (or, in my case, which sauce to have on my sausage sandwich) quickly reduced any pretence we may have had to middle-class, middle-aged dignity to ashes. I blame Hildie and Linda, naturally. I reckon they put something in the lemon meringues at Oliver’s.

Or perhaps it’s in the HP sauce.

In any case, the paucity of numbers was made up for easily by the usual, unstoppable pleasure of the occasion. A splendid time was had by all three!

And a venue was found for the next AGM. The coffee and comestibles were satisfyingly good to eat - as well as inexpensive (an essential quality in these straitened times). For me, the clincher is the nearness of Newcastle’s best cheese shop just a matter of yards away.

As the AGM ended, I took the liberty of distributing samples of my all-time favourite French cheese. It’s called vacherin; so far, I’ve had no reaction from either Hildie or Linda. I’m not sure of that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Time will tell.

While I was in Newcastle last week, I noticed something that reminded me very strongly of my days at the BBC. It was a newspaper-seller’s placard…

In many ways, I suppose I was out of my depth by several fathoms when I worked at the Pink Palace. It had never been my ambition to be a radio presenter; I kind of ‘reversed’ into the job and realised almost at once that I was working amongst some extremely talented and unusually creative people, journalists to a man (or woman).

Of course, a journalist’s greatest gift and asset is his/her ‘way with words’; which words to use and which order to put them in. This gift of words is known as ‘journalese’ and is seen to the best effect in newspapers, whose hacks and editors have developed a language which is virtually unique to the trade.

I can remember a wonderful conversation I had with a BBC journalist at Radio Newcastle; he had worked on newspapers and we had great fun dissecting journalese…

A policeman is a ‘cop’. A robbery is a ‘heist’. An investigation is a ‘probe’. A suspect isn’t questioned, he’s ‘quizzed’. A sexual indiscretion is a ‘romp’. Celebrities are ‘slebs’ who never divorce; they have ‘breakups’, or ‘dump’ each other. Newspapers talk of ‘quakes’ that ‘rock’ cities and towns. Unexpected bad news is always a ‘bombshell’.

I’m sure you can think of many more.

But the placard I saw in Newcastle reminded me of a specialised journalistic skill which, although dying out generally, is still very much alive and well here in the north-east - the much admired art of the placard writer, who must encapsulate a headlining story as succinctly and as obviously as possible.

To do this, all inessentials must be omitted. And that means no verbs, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs or conjunctions. A really good placard consists entirely of nouns and nothing else. And at the Evening Chronicle, there seems to be an ongoing competition to ascertain how many nouns the placard writers can stack up and still make sense.

Four- or five-noun placards are not uncommon. ‘Saturday Football Timetable Reorganisation Shock’ or ‘Wappat Internet Identity Theft Probe’ are pretty good but I recently saw two six-noun placards that almost made me applaud in public.

‘City tycoon home raid gem outrage’ and, this week, the truly awesome ‘City club knife gang raid - pictures’.

Whoever wrote that deserves an award.

Get in touch with any you see - or try making one up. It’s not as easy as it looks.

In posting 248 I put up some amazing pictures of carvings made from whole eggshell or melons. In response, Kev has sent me the pictures you see above. Each one is sculpted from a perfectly ordinary pencil, as Kev’s accompanying note says...

Brazilian born, Connecticut based, Dalton Ghetti carefully crafts the tips of pencils into amazing micro sculptures. These miniature masterpieces are a side project for the professional carpenter, who has been perfecting this art for the last 25 years.

Dalton uses a razor blade, sewing needle, a sculpting knife, a steady hand and lots of patience to meticulously carve the graphite which can take anywhere between a few months to a few years.

Over time he has broken many works in progress and keeps them in what he calls the cemetery collection.

One of the most fascinating things about these tiny works of art is that he has never sold them, only given away to friends as gifts.

Thanks Kev. They are wonderful.

Please spare a thought over the next few days and weeks for Hildie and her neighbours in Dipton. Murder is thankfully extremely rare round here, which makes any occurrence particularly shocking. When it occurs in your own, closely-knit village - and to someone you knew personally - it must be truly devastating.

I saw Hildie on the day the news broke and she was understandably very shaken indeed. So please, truckshunters, keep a caring eye on her while I’m away in France next week. That's what the ‘friendly society’ of truckshunters is all about, after all.


Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
...will take place this coming at 1100 this coming Wednesday, 26 January, at Grey’s Monument in Newcastle.

The agenda is:

1: Any Other Business

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

To add lustre - even glamour - to this already momentous occasion, I am inordinately delighted to say that I recently received a letter postmarked ‘85p to pay’. I knew at once who it was from (or, to be pedantically grammatical, from whom it was).

Fearlessly, I reproduce it unexpurgated below.

The Old Vicarage
Flange Close
Esh Winning

Felicitations my dear Mr Robertsfield on an achievement which, knowing you as I do, I always thought was an impossibility: 250 message twirts (or whatever they’re called) on the digital interweb.

You may be surprised to know how intimately I keep abreast of your sojourns - keeping abreast being a skill I have honed most carefully over my years here at Esh Winning.

Each Friday evening, after a light, six-course supper at Burke’s Corner, I repair to my study (the littlest room in the vicarage), gather the tails of my frock-coat under me, snuggle down in my Stannah Comfilux Recliner and gaze out for a moment at the flashing neon lights across the valley which tell me that Waterhouses has once again swung into riotous night-life mode.

Then I pull out a sheet of foolscap, grab my Waterman in my right hand and begin the arduous process of writing Sunday’s sermon.

But whenever I think of Lazarus rising from the dead, I somehow think of you, too, and am immediately distracted (in both senses of the word). I discard my warming posset and my singin’ hinny (saving them for later) and am at once riveted by your cogitations. It’s as if my whole body has been seized by the narthex. At moments like these, I can look at my housekeeper, Mrs Tragedy, and be oblivious of the work her busy fingers are doing on my hassocks.

The exciting (if clumsily-written) adventures of your Grand Tour last year reminded me very much of my own evangelical younger days, when I was glad to accept a few missionary positions with the devout and passionate ladies of the Rio favelas. Yes, in those days I was able to save many young women with nothing more than my crozier. I even saved a few for the Bishop himself.

My life has changed a great deal since then, though. My dear wife Concepta passed over to the other side last September; she’s now living in Yorkshire with a boarwalker. (I enclose a photograph I took of her moments before the taxi arrived.) This melancholy event has, though, given Euphemia and myself an opportunity more deeply to explore each other’s nooks and crannies. She explores my nooks and I explore her crannies.

So fulfilling have these journeys of mutual discovery been that I am delighted to tell you that we intend to consummate our union in public soon. Yes, I am to become an Overall-Burke by default, as it were. At last I will be able to augment my meagre stipend with the residue of the late Algernon’s sweet pickle and toilet-roll tube empire.

Perhaps you and your fellow-truckshunters could hold one of your AGMs at Burke’s Corner by way of celebrating my upcoming nuptials. I would be more than happy to show Hildie, Vivienne, Linda and Ada what my darling Euphemia has to look forward to.

And Euphemia is wondering if you’d like to give her away. Her sister Hortense will not be available, unless they agree to release her on temporary license.

I look forward to your prompt and favourable response

Rev Unseemly Dogposture

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A Large Blue Butterfly...isn't it smashing?
In this blogposting…

*Ryan Cross

*Wildlife Report

*the Real Ian Robinson

Proceed with caution…

...will take place at 1100 next Wednesday 26 January at or near Grey’s Monument in Newcastle ( - indoors if wet).

The first four or five minutes of the AGM will be spent putting the world to rights. After that, it’s every man for himself.

If there are agenda items you’d like the AGM to cover, please take a clean sheet of white A4 paper and, using black ink only, write down the list of topics. Fold the paper over three times so that it fits in a DL envelope - the long, thin ones (but with no windows). Carefully seal the envelope down and then throw it in the bin.

Only if you follow these instructions carefully and precisely will a splendid time be guaranteed for all.

As Hildie has already noted, our mysterious man in Alton - Ryan Cross - has finally revealed himself. As you can see on the right, he has joined the screaming hordes of unhinged and deeply confused people who have outed themselves as Truckshunter Followers. Well done, Ryan. Keep taking the tablets.

Interestingly, if you click on Ryan’s photo in the grid of Followers and then click on his name when it comes up, you’ll see that he’s a regular tweeter. That is to say, he tweets a lot. On Twitter. Firing messages off to the great and good (and also the not-so-great and not-so-good) as if his life depended on it - which it might.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure what (or why) Twitter is, let alone how it works. It’s made me think, though, that perhaps we truckshunters (who naturally pride ourselves on keeping abreast of the latest valveless digital technology) should join in.

What do you think?

Round about this time each year the National Trust publishes a kind of end-of-year report about the state of British wildlife from information they gather from various conservation groups. Interestingly, this year’s report isn’t too bad at all, considering.

Despite what you may think, 2010’s weather was fairly average, specially compared to the really bad years that went before it. And this return to ‘normal’ seasonal weather has benefitted wildlife immensely…

*the cold winter of 2009/10 enabled animals to hibernate properly;
*the warm Spring and early Summer created ideal conditions for insects and led to good berry crops in orchards, woods and hedgerows;
*generally, butterflies, birds of the tit family, and bats all benefitted - although crane-fly (‘daddy-long-leg’) numbers are still worryingly and mysteriously low;
*the heath fritillary on Exmoor, Cumbria’s netted carpet moth, and puffins on the Farne Islands all did very well in 2010;
*there was also an unusually large number of queen wasps (although I’m not exactly sure who this is good news for);
*it was a good Spring and Summer for many flowers - they weren’t overgrown by vigorous grasses;
*bluebells were still in flower at the end of May;
*the Large Blue Butterfly had its most successful year ever in Somerset;
*and mammals generally entered the winter of 2010/11 in good shape - specially badgers, deer, and the wild sheep and goats of Cheddar Gorge.

Let’s hope the weather’s just as kind to our wildlife this year.

As everybody knows, Ian Robinson isn’t my real name. I was reminded of my waywardness in this respect when I read about the annual report of the Legal Deed Poll Service (LDPS) the other day.

Apparently, the number of people changing their names by deed poll rose by a staggering 80% last year. That’s 90,000 people morphing from Fred Smith to Emperor Kermit Canute Featherduster - or the like - and all for just a 13 quid fee.

David Lennox, from Aberdeen, became Her Majesty The Queen to raise funds for a cancer charity, while Jane Nash, from Manchester, is now Miss Jelly St Tots after a ‘friend’ bought her the name for her 40th birthday.

And John Denton, from Lowestoft, has become Willy Wonka - again, to raise £5,000 for charity. It sounds like an extreme step to take to raise just £5,000, doesn’t it?

This has made me wonder whether I shouldn’t go the whole hog, as it were, and drape my sorry life with a decorative and ear-catching new name myself.

Quaker Oats? Montmorency Bismarck Furniture? St Joseph of Arimethea?

In fact, if I were to take that final leap into a new identity, there’s really only one name worth the candle.

You may remember the erstwhile ‘confidante’ and paramour of the Tipsy Duchess, whom God preserve. He was a rapscallion. A rogue and a mountebank. And his name was….

The Rev Unseemly Dogposture.

That’s worth 13 quid of anyone’s money. I might just give it a try.

Almost anything's better than the name-changing suggestion we once received from a Blue Bus listener, which was to take the name of your first pet and add your mother's maiden name to it. In my case, that would have produced Titch Todd. ('Titch' was a hamster.)

Ask yourself: would you have listened to The Nightshift in quite the same way if it had been presented by Titch Todd?

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Carved from a single eggshell...
...and from a melon

In this blogposting…
*Out Of The Mouths Of Babes…
*Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know
*Kev’s Jokes
*The True Spirit Of Christmas
*In Memoriam
Now off you go - and the last one home’s a cissy…

A big Thankyou once again to Eric and Jean, who run The Commercial in Tantobie, for sending these gems culled from the ‘exercise books’ of the young and confused….

In wartime children who lived in big cities had to be evaporated because it was safer in the country.
Sometimes in the war they took prisners and kept them as ostriches until the war was over. Some ended up in constipation camps.

A mosque is a kind of church. The main difference is that the roof is doomed.

On our activity holiday Dad wanted to ride the hores but Mam said they were too expensiv.

I want to be an accountant but you have to know a lot about moths.

The closest town to France is Dover. You can get to France on a train or you can go on a fairy.

If it is less than 90 degrees it is a cute angel.

The Arts:
...and at the end of the show we all sing Away In A Manager.

Helicopters are cleverer than planes. Not only can they fly - they can also hoover.

Nature Study:
Crabs and creatures like them all belong to a family of crushed Asians.

If you marry two people you are a pigamist - but morons are allowed to do this.

Sir Walter Raleigh circumcised the world with a big clipper.

The next AGM will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 26 January at the usual place - Grey’s Monument or thereabouts.

There is no doubt whatsoever that a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Continuing the admirable work done by Sid and Hildie, with their Weird News/Strange World Records investigations, I’m proud to regurgitate yet another piece of unspeakable trivia gleaned from the trashcan of knowledge…

(That deserves the 2011 Truckshunter Award for Most Mixed Metaphor.)

The Anglo-Zanzibar War, fought (as its name suggests) between the United Kingdom and Zanzibar on 27 August 1896, was the shortest war in the history of conflict - or anything else, for that matter.

It lasted approximately 40 minutes.

It all started with the death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini on 25 August 1896. His successor was Sultan Khalid bin Barghash, whom the British didn’t like very much. They wanted Hamud bin Muhammed to be the new sultan because he was more favourable to British interests.

In accordance with a treaty signed in 1886, a condition for accession to the sultanate was that the candidate must obtain the permission of the British consul, which Khalid had foolishly neglected to do.

Naturally, the British considered this a good enough reason for war and sent an ultimatum to Khalid demanding that he order his forces to stand down and leave the palace immediately. In response, Khalid called up his palace guard and barricaded himself inside.

The ultimatum expired at 0900 on 27 August so the gallant British declared war.

By that time, the British had gathered three cruisers, two gunships, 150 marines and sailors, and 900 Zanzibaris in the harbour area. Around 2,800 Zanzibaris defended the palace; most of them were recruited from the civilian population, but they also included the sultan's palace guard and several hundred of his servants and slaves. The defenders also had several artillery pieces and machine guns which were set in front of the palace and aimed at the British ships.

A bombardment, which started at precisely 0902, set the palace on fire and disabled the defending artillery. A small naval action took place, too. The British sank a Zanzibari royal yacht and two smaller vessels.

Some shots were fired ineffectually at the pro-British Zanzibari troops as they approached the palace. The flag at the palace was shot down. The firing ceased - and the war came to an end - at 0940.

And there you have it. The shortest war in history. So now you know.

These two - er - jokes were sent to me by Kev. I therefore take no responsibility for them.

One evening two vampire bats were hanging out in their cave.
One said, “I'm starving! I need to go and get some blood!"
And he flew out of the cave.
He returned about three hours later with blood dripping from his mouth.
"Where'd you get the blood?" the other bat asked.
"Well, you fly out of the cave, and you see the first tree on the left?"
"Yes," the other bat replied.
"Well, I didn't."

A duck walks into a bar and orders a beer and a sandwich.
The barman looks at him and says, "But you're a duck."
"I see your eyes are working," replies the duck.
"And you talk!" exclaims the bartender.
"I see your ears are working," says the duck, "Now can I have my beer and my sandwich, please?"
"Sure," says the barman, "sorry about that, it's just we don't get many ducks in the pub. What are you doing round this way?"
"I'm working on the building site across the road," explains the duck.
So the duck drinks his beer, eats his sandwich, pays and leaves.
This continues for 2 weeks.
Then one day the circus comes to town. The ringleader of the circus comes into the pub and the barman tells him about the incredible talking duck.
"Marvellous!" says the ringleader, "get him to come and see me."
The next day, the duck comes into the pub. The bartender says, "Hey, Mr Duck, I lined you up with a top job paying really good money!"
"Yeah?" says the duck, "Sounds great, where is it?"
"At the circus" says the bartender.
"The circus?" the duck enquires.
"That's right," replies the barman.
"The circus? That place with the big tent? With all the animals? With the big canvas roof with the hole in the middle?" asks the duck.
"That's right!" says the barman.
The duck looks confused and asks: "What the heck do they want with a plasterer?"

Truckshunters always give credit where credit is due, however tardy. Hence these belated congratulations to Thames Valley Police.

On Christmas Day they finally rescued Mohammad Bellazrak (aged 74). He had driven his wife to Gatwick Airport on December 23 and was last seen heading home to Wiltshire that afternoon.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t find Wiltshire. CCTV cameras show that he drove around the Home Counties for two days and two nights - through Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire - trying to find the M4.

It is with real sadness that I have to note the death of Lass, the 24-year-old crossbred Jack Russell and West Highland terrier believed to be the oldest dog in Britain. She died at her Weardale home in County Durham.

Owner Tom Martin had been keeping track of her age but said it would be difficult to verify her long life for The Guinness Book of Records owing to a lack of documentation.

The previous holder of the title was a 20-year-old dachshund cross terrier from Shrewsbury, called Otto.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
*Joe Rose
*The Mystical East
*In Memoriam
Now cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of war…

The poor old BBC has once again found itself at the centre of a storm - well, a stormette in a barely noticeable teacup stored right at the back of the crockery cupboard. The unlikely villain of the piece this time is Desert Island Discs, of all things.

A few days ago, Kirsty Young’s guest on the programme was Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit. One of the eight records he chose to accompany him to his mythical desert island was Plain Song, a track by Joe Rose.

This rather startled Ms Young, who admitted to never having heard of Joe Rose, an ignorance she shared with virtually the entire audience of the programme. So Nick Park explained that Joe Rose was an archetypal struggling young musician who had thus far failed to get a recording contract. Nick explained that Joe had released only one album, at his own considerable expense.

But Nick suggested that Joe Rose’s music was haunting, innovative, highly original - and deserved a wider audience.

He also admitted that Joe Rose was the son of two of his best friends and that they’d known each other for years.

There were immediate cries of nepotism from various anti-BBC harpies like the Daily Mail. There were protests that the song should not have been played as the singer was known to the programme’s guest castaway. Grovelling explanations and apologies were called for.

I am delighted to report that, just for once, the BBC has stood its ground. No apology was forthcoming, on the very substantial grounds that, firstly, Desert Island Discs’ guest often know the people who perform on the records they choose; secondly, because Kirsty Young herself, once she’d heard the track, suggested it ought to have been a Christmas No 1; and thirdly, because the song really is astonishingly good.

I am a grumpy old man now, so feel entitled to say things like…

We now live in a world of vapid ‘celebs’ - people who are famous for being famous. Musically, we are fed cesspits full of pathetic X Factor wannabes who earn vast amounts of money by mounting an oversized and overlit stage and warbling empty pap whilst smiling and pouting at the repulsive Simon Cowell and the mind-bogglingly atrocious Cheryl Cole, of whom the north-east should be thoroughly ashamed.

That vacuous and fetid people like these should be the arbiters of modern musical taste is very deeply worrying indeed. I suspect that Joe Rose wouldn’t have made it past the first round.

As for Joe’s music itself…

You can watch a (rather poor) video on YouTube of the song that Nick and Kirsty were so taken with. In the Search box, just type ‘joe rose plain song‘ and be captivated.

I did and I was. I’ve downloaded it from iTunes, it’s on my iPod and I’m i-listening to it right now.

I hope you like it enough to do the same thing - and thus add more power to Joe’s elbow.

I’ve swapped the venue for the next AGM from South Shields back to Newcastle - but only because I don’t know South Shields well enough to suggest a venue.

So the fellowship will next muster at 1100 on Wednesday 26 January. Be there or be square.

Or, if you like, suggest a new venue. I’m very suggestible, after all.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Hildie gave me a page-a-day calendar for Christmas. It’s called Wisdom of the East; each day, a new thought-provoker appears as if by magic.

Some of the entries, though, are more thought-provoking than others. Today’s, for example, is…

Close the language-door and open the love-window. The moon won’t use the door - only the window.

Normally, I would ask the author of this esoteric snippet of eastern sagacity - Djalal ad-Din Rumi - to explain it to me. But he’s dead.

So I’m asking you.

A couple of weeks ago - largely because of a programme on BBC4 about clog-dancing in the north-east - I went on and on and on about my so-far unfulfilled aspirations to own and wear (but not dance in) a pair of English clogs.

A big Thankyou to the many people who have kindly told me where to go (as it were). As recently as a couple of days ago, I received an email from ‘clogwearer‘ directing me to several surviving clogmakers. Over the next week or two, I intend to visit the nearest one(s) and thus to finally acquire (note the split infinitive) an item of apparel I’ve wanted to own for decades.

To ‘clogwearer’...who are you?

To everyone who responded...Thankyou!

Two formative influences in my musical life have died recently, both of them at distressingly young ages.
Bobby Farrell, the Afro-headed bloke in the otherwise all-female Boney M, has died aged only 61.

These days, many people think an admission that you quite liked Boney M equates to admitting that you like mud-wrestling or molesting children.

Well, I’m prepared to stick my head above the musical parapet and say, loudly and proudly, that I loved them. Whatever the frankly weird genesis of the group, I thought they were glamorously camp and attractive, and that their music was innocently catchy and rightly popular. I still love tracks like Rasputin, Still I’m Sad, Gotta Go Home and many more. And Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Mary’s Boy Child.

And my career at the BBC would have been a lot less enjoyable without Gerry Rafferty, who has sadly died at the age of 63.
It has to be admitted that the BBC’s playlist was often tediously, and sometimes maddeningly, repetitive and predictable. But Baker Street was one of the songs I never tired of playing. It’s one of those instantly recognisable songs that deserves its ‘classic‘ status, as was Stuck In The Middle With You (with Stealers Wheel).

Gerry Rafferty was a complex character and his last few years were not happy. He deserved a great deal more peace of mind than his fame gave him.

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Today has been Hildie’s birthday. As I draft this posting, she’s out with ‘the girls’, and I know we all hope she’s having a great time. No-one deserves it more than Hildie does.

Ever since the unpredictable and frankly wayward hours of The Nightshift, Hildie has always struck me as a ‘model’ truckshunter. She has the necessary senses of wonder and curiosity - and the even more obligatory sense of humour - in waggonloads.

Consequently, she regularly responded to quirky queries and puzzles, often by supplying her own! I received countless internet print-outs through the post, often taken from weird websites full of wondrous ‘trivia’ - information which truckshunters believe to be the most useful useless information on the planet.

In these and other ways, Hildie ‘fed’ the programme some of its juiciest and most interesting titbits, and often started inter-listener discussions that lasted weeks.

The minx!

In fact - and she probably didn’t know it at the time - it was Hildie’s way of encouraging the involvement of other listeners that helped give birth to the truckshunting idea after I retired in 2009. And it’s substantially due to her efforts that it’s still going so strong after all this time.

Since I retired, Hildie has become a true and trusted friend. I have shared my bad times as well as my good with her. Even so, she probably doesn’t realise how much I value her sensitivity and thoughtfulness, as well as her scrumptious sandwiches and her ability to make me laugh.

Each member of our unique truckshunting community is important and essential to all the others - and not just those who leave Comments on this blog, attend AGMs or send me emails. The blog - and thus the community - has more ‘followers’ than it seems.

But I make no excuse or apology for singling out Hildie on this special day. And I know you won’t mind, either. That’s the sort of people truckshunters are.

Happy Birthday, Hildie. From all of us.

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My thanks to Vivienne for these extra photos of AGM XXII
In this blogposting...
*J Arthur Smallpiece’s Small Piece
*J Arthur Smallpiece: The Ghost Of Christmas Past

*La Vie en France/Life In France


Stand at the gate of the year, open it - and walk on..

Pictured below is the trinket spat out by a Christmas cracker pulled by J Arthur Smallpiece at AGM XXII. The teaspoon is in the photo to give you a sense of proportion.

The item itself is made from a strip of sheet metal about half an inch wide, bent into the shape you see, with the ends welded together.

Which is all very well. But - what is it?

Several truckshunters, and a few other people besides, have not unreasonably pointed out that there’s little purpose in our Honourable Society appointing its own Poet Laureate if the results of his musings are kept hidden under a bushel, as it were.

With the sting of these criticisms very much in my thoughts, I grasped the artistic nettle and asked J Arthur Smallpiece for permission to reproduce one of his odes here. Without any hesitation, he graciously agreed.

It is therefore with an intellect-curdling amount of pleasure that I present to you The Ghost of Christmas Past, which Laureate Smallpiece sent to me, tucked inside a Christmas card.
I know you will agree that it is as seasonally cathartic as anything that Dickens came up with.

And it’s not just the poem you’re about to have the pleasure of reading. I have also included J Arthur’s explanatory notes, his preamble (in the form of an ‘Author’s Note’) and his post-amble as well (if there is such a thing as a post-amble).


'Author’s Note:
There have only ever been two deep and meaningful passions in my life, viz the barmaid to whom these verses are dedicated - and beer. As you will discover, in recent months I have been embarrassingly dispossessed of one of my objects of affection.

Which one will become apparent as the gruesome details of my disempowering experience are revealed by the lyrical narrative of the enclosed poem.

Now - read on (if you have nothing better to do).

But be warned....If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.

(This work is the intellectual property of J Arthur Smallpiece. And less of the cheek.)

by J Arthur Smallpiece - Flaneur, Tragedian and Unpublished Poet
Being a Love Song Disguised as an Appreciation of Real Ale

My favourite pub’s the Old Dun Cow but I hardly ever go there now;
Not since the barmaid upped and left. I’m morbid, downcast and bereft
And miss her more than I can say. Her name was Daffodil O’Day.
I’d always hoped that we would gel, once she got to know me well.
I dreamt she’d bring me unplumbed cheer (ie romance combined with beer)
And love would flow when she was ready - lively, sparkling, bright and heady,
Effervescent, strong and hale - like Tolly Cobbold’s Nut Brown Ale.

(Look - don’t be cheeky. It gets better anyway; honest.)

On her first day behind the pumps, my skin came out in prickly lumps.
I subsequently trembled when she handed me my Speckled Hen.
Her Pedigree was up to par - this was averred throughout the bar.
She was, it seemed, a doorman’s daughter who pulled a perfect pint of Porter;
As luscious and refined, no doubt, as Sam Smith’s scrumptious Oatmeal Stout.
The Landlord fancied her as well - he hushed it up, but I could tell -
And other bar-flies, I dare say, were lusting for her IPA.
(Of course, this didn’t bother me - I much preferred her XXB.)
At closing time, I liked to linger - in hopes of getting Bishop’s Finger.
I was transfixed by Cupid’s dart. She was so Special in my heart.

(Don’t be rude! You won’t get a poem next year, mind.)

Last Christmas Eve I filled a jug* and got her cornered in the snug.
‘Daffodil my dear’ I said, ‘Let’s sup this off and go to bed!’**
I haven’t seen her since, you know. How cruel of her to hurt me so!
Rejection is my biggest dread and, realising what she’d said,
I went all pale and weak, you see - like Jimmy Deuchar’s Number 3.
I’m crushed and cope as best I can and go down to The Mortal Man
To dull the pain I feel inside with floods of Fuller’s London Pride.

Please dispose of this poem in an environmentally-friendly manner.

*With Courage, appropriately enough. Director’s, naturally.
**A striking example of the silver-tongues Geordie.'

Personally, I think we can each walk away from this poem having learned a salutary lesson. At least, I hope we can.

A treasured Christmas gift I received from Hildie was Wisdom of the East, a page-a-day calendar which reveals a new pearl of mystical Eastern wisdom every day. The first two are:

You should be attentive today. Waiting until tomorrow is too late.


Those persons who have perceptive eyes enjoy beauty everywhere.

Which is what shunting trucks is all about.

I’ve been here in France since New Year’s Day and was pleased to discover an unusual custom still going very strong indeed - at least, it is here in Beaujolais.

The first Sunday in January is ‘Kings’ Day’. Families gather together and each person eats a slice of galette des Rois - ‘kings’ cake’ - a kind of large, sweet, marzipan pie. They’re lovely.

Hidden inside the galette is a little pottery token - called a feve - just as a coin or two used to be cooked inside Christmas puddings in England. Whosever slice contains the feve becomes King (provided they haven’t choked on the feve or broken a tooth, of course).

Patisseries are open all day on Kings’ Day and each family has its favourite supplier.

Each galette comes with a golden paper crown which the King wears for the rest of the day - giving him the right to issue orders to his family, which they must obey.

I have sometimes wondered if ‘folk’ traditions similar to our English Pancake Day or Bonfire Night existed in France. I needn’t have worried. This gratifying local way of celebrating Epiphany is alive and well - and great fun.

Our next AGM will take place during the week beginning Saturday 24 January. If there is a day of that week (including Saturday and Sunday) on which you would be more likely to be able to attend, please get in touch.

I thought we might meet at somewhere accessible in South Shields this time. What do you think?

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com