One of Marcel Duchamps' most famous works.
It's in the Pompidou Centre in Paris and I've seen it...
In this blogposting…
*Procrastination Day
*An Incredible Story
Now go forth and…

In the Comments to posting 264, Hildie mentioned that last Friday (25 March) was National Procrastination Day. She has also sent me the link to the online Telegraph article, in which the man whose idea it was makes some interesting and serious points about why he thinks such a day is necessary.

‘Far from encouraging people to stop time wasting, this global event is about promoting "positive procrastination" in a high-paced, hi-tech world where taking one's time is a crucial act of resistance.

"To procrastinate is to refuse to do what the context – be it from bosses, administrative obligations, or a culture of results – asks us to do. We must absolutely take the time to think about the tasks we accept to execute, or we will lose all control over our lives," warned the event's founder, David d'Equainville.

Long submerged by a tide of books and methods which seek to "cure" chronic procrastinators from what was considered a "disease", the world has now reached a "historic turning point," Mr d'Equainville told The Daily Telegraph, in which the notion that "one time fits all no longer works" and putting something off has virtues.

The accelerating speed of multimedia communications and transport creates huge constraints, he said. "Just reading work emails is an impossible task. One has to make choices, and procrastination becomes a tool – a defence mechanism".

Taking the television or smart phone as a metaphor, he said that in today's world the best button to press on these devices was neither fast forward nor rewind, but pause. "We need to be able to seize the moment in all its richness," he said.

Mr d'Equainville has set out his procrastination theories in a "Manifesto for a Day Put Off", just released in French and soon to be published in English.

His heroes of procrastination include Marcel Duchamps, the surrealist artist, who was all but written off as he spent years devising relatively few works, but then was eventually recognised as a genius.

While being late for paying one's taxes for example is ill-advised, there are also dangers involved with making decisions too quickly. Citing Shakespeare, he said: "If Romeo had put his suicide off a bit on Juliet's tomb, the two lovebirds could have grown old together."

Ironically, for Mr d'Equainville, France's ultimate procrastinator is its president, Nicolas Sarkozy, seen as a reformist man of action renowned for his high energy levels.

"The price of perpetual action is that he ends up with micro-measures and puts off the real issues that require longer debate and thought."

Couldn't agree more.

I was actually in France on Procrastination Day but decided to put off celebrating it until tomorrow.


Our old friends Eric and Jean Grosvenor, who run The Commercial in Tantobie, have sent me this amazing, and very thought-provoking, story…

In 1986, Peter Davies was on holiday in Kenya after graduating from Northwestern University .

On a hike through the bush, he came across a young bull elephant standing with one leg raised in the air.

The elephant seemed distressed, so Peter approached it very carefully.

He got down on one knee, inspected the elephants foot, and found a large piece of wood deeply embedded in it.

As carefully and as gently as he could, Peter worked the wood out with his knife, after which the elephant gingerly put down its foot.

The elephant turned to face the man, and with a rather curious look on its face, stared at him for several tense moments.

Peter stood frozen, thinking of nothing else but being trampled.

Eventually the elephant trumpeted loudly, turned, and walked away.

Peter never forgot that elephant or the events of that day.

Twenty years later, Peter was walking through the Chicago Zoo with his teenaged son.

As they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the creatures turned and walked over to near where Peter and his son Cameron were standing.

The large bull elephant stared at Peter, lifted its front foot off the ground, then put it down.

The elephant did that several times then trumpeted loudly, all the while staring at the man.

Remembering the encounter in 1986, Peter could not help wondering if this was the same elephant.

Peter summoned up his courage, climbed over the railing, and made his way into the enclosure.

He walked right up to the elephant and stared back in wonder.

The elephant trumpeted again, wrapped its trunk around one of Peter legs and slammed him against the railing, killing him instantly.

Probably wasn't the same elephant...

Let that be a lesson to all those people who send me mawkish, honey-covered internet stories. Dingo’s kidneys, the lot of them…

The next AGM will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 27 April at Birkheads Nursery, near the Tanfield Railway.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
*A Quote from Kev
*Some Stuff From Peter
*Dave Shannon’s Searching Questions Of The Week
Now - tread softly, for you tread on my dreams…

The latest AGM took place, as planned, at Saltwell Towers in Gateshead. Linda, Vivienne, Hildie, Sid and yours truly enjoyed copious amounts of coffee, tea, cake, chocolate biscuits and the odd muffin (as it were).

I’ve just realised how stuffily middle-class and middle-aged that sounds. Experienced truckshunters will know, however, that that is precisely what it was not. Our well-established ‘public nuisance’ level was kept satisfactorily high, although - just for a change - there was some serious talk scattered amongst the guffaws.

It was all the more delectable because Saltwell Park is so luscious and so beautifully well maintained; and, of course, because of the wonderful Spring weather. The park is fairly sheltered and I’m convinced that the temperature crept up to the high teens (although that could have been wishful thinking on my part). In any case, the daffodils and crocuses (croci?) are out at last, the trees are coming into leaf and the bees have started to buzz.

It was lovely; a splendid time!

Linda noticed that, near where we were AGM-ing, they’re building a scaled-down Tyne Bridge in the park. Except that, on closer inspection, it appears to be only one half of the bridge. Can anyone throw some light on this? Is it the same ‘model’ that was displayed at BALTIC when it opened? And why are they only building half of it?

Or have we got this entirely wrong?

‘Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm’.

...who emailed me with the following snippets…

‘Bob Holness (‘I'll have a p please Bob’) is supposed to have played saxophone on Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street'

(Never mind ‘supposed to’, Peter. Did he or didn’t he?)

AND 'Heather Small and Rick Astley are half brother/sister; same mother, different dads. Apparently you can hear it in their voices!!!!!’

I received this intriguing and thought-provoking email from Dave a few days ago. Try to obey the in-built instructions as you go…

Question 1
If you knew a woman who was pregnant, who had 8 kids already, three of
whom were deaf, two of whom were blind, one mentally disabled, and she had
syphilis, would you recommend that she have an abortion?

Now - read the next question before looking at the response for that first one.

Question 2:
It is time to elect a new world leader, and only your vote counts.
Here are the facts about the three candidates:

- Candidate A:
Associates with crooked politicians, and consults with astrologists.
He's had two mistresses. He also chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10
Martinis a day.

- Candidate B:
He was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in
college and drinks a quart of whiskey every evening..

- Candidate C:
He is a decorated war hero. He's a vegetarian, doesn't smoke, drinks
an occasional beer and has never committed adultery.

Which of these candidates would be your choice?

Decide first... No peeking, and then scroll down for the response.

Candidate A is Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Candidate B is Winston Churchill.
Candidate C is Adolph Hitler.

And, by the way, on your answer to the abortion question:
If you said YES, you just killed Beethoven.

Pretty interesting isn't it?
Makes a person think before judging someone.

Amateurs ... Built the ark
Professionals ... Built the Titanic

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
Thanks to Hildie for sending me this photo of a notice she saw in a local shop...
In this blogposting…
*Yet Another List
Now - once more unto the breach, dear friends…

...will take place at 1100 on this upcoming Wednesday 23 March at Saltwell Towers in Gateshead.

Here is a copy of the agenda.

1 - Any Other Business

Obviously, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

Emailer Lynn - who sent me the lovely pictures of the Dutch bulbfields featured in the last posting - recognises a listomaniac when she sees one. And she sees one right here.

She has sent me this list compiled by a project called the ‘World Library‘ in 2002. Apparently, a ‘representative sample‘ of the world’s greatest authors from 54 countries were asked to list what they considered to be the best books ever written.

Their nominations were aggregated to produce these ‘Top 14’...

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
The Canterbury Tales (Geoffrey Chaucer)
Nostromo (Joseph Conrad)
Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
Middlemarch (George Eliot)
Sons and Lovers (D H Lawrence)
The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing)
Nineteen Eighty Four (George Orwell)
Hamlet (William Shakespeare)
King Lear (ditto)
Othello (ditto)
Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)
To The Lighthouse (ditto)

According to these 54 world-beating authors, the very, very bestest book ever written in the entire history of bookwriting was Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

A number of things about this list caught my attention, provoking much in-depth thought and excogitation. Such as…

Does the list compare like with like? Shakespeare’s inclusion is surely fraudulent; he didn’t ‘write books’ - he was a dramatist who wrote works intended for performance rather than to be read curled up in bed with a steaming Horlicks (although I suppose real addicts can enjoy them that way).

But however spurious the list, the aspect of it that I dislike most is that it reflects so badly on me. My cultural self-esteem - never high at the best of times - sank to an all-time low as I read down the list.

I’ve read only Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, Middlemarch and Nineteen Eighty Four - although I’ve also seen Othello and Hamlet.

How badly-read am I when I’ve never even heard of two of the books in a list of the best books ever written - Mrs Dalloway and The Golden Notebook?

Digging even deeper, I come up against the sadly unarguable fact, though, that I didn’t even enjoy three of the four books I have read; only Nineteen Eighty Four gets the Robinson Seal of Approval.

And I’m not sure how I should feel about this, either. I am certainly not proud of disliking Charles Dickens - although dislike him I most certainly do. To some people, that’s the equivalent of disliking Durham Cathedral or new-born lambs or the Red Cross.

I’m sorry (as they say) but I just don’t get it. Reading Wuthering Heights was like wading through stagnant porridge. Middlemarch was so execrably boring as to be painful - it took my mental gag-reflex three whole months to get through it. And I found Great Expectorations (as a friend of mine calls it) to be so full of typically Dickensian verbosity and unbelievable coincidence that self-hypnosis was necessary to get beyond page 5.

Nevertheless, I have decided to join the fashion for middle-class, middle-aged and middle-brow ‘reading groups’; I want every truckshunter who values the name to read at least one book from the list.

You have a year to do it. A whole year. Just choose a book from the list and read it. Make occasional reports on your progress. You are allowed to be as abusive as you like because truckshunters are permitted to kick against the traces of conventional wisdom.

I will be awarding a party hat and a big balloon to the person who finishes their nominated book before anyone else finishes theirs. (If your choice is Nostromo, you’ll deserve it. I seriously tried to read a Joseph Conrad novel once and didn’t even make it to the bottom of page 1. The book eventually came in useful shredded as emergency cat-litter. Sadly, the cat died soon afterwards.)

I’m glad to have got that off my chest…

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
My thanks to emailer Lynn, who has sent me these pictures of the Dutch bulbfields,
as they are starting to look at about this time of year...
In this blogposting…
*Paul Wappat
*St Cuthbert’s Day
*The Moon
*Forgotten Heroes
*1,001 Buildings
Onward and upward!

Our next AGM will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 23 March at Saltwell Towers (in Saltwell Park, Gateshead).

Needless to say, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Be there or be square.

Unsurprisingly, my erstwhile oppo and good friend Paul has re-invented himself as The Quadfather. To find out what he’s up to, google or search for thequadfather.com.

I’ve had the hair-raising and tremendously exciting experience of quadbiking with Paul on several occasions. It seems to me that he’s made exactly the right decision to set up his quadbiking site at Seaton Burn - and chosen exactly the right name, too. His enthusiasm and expertise alone will set the new business off to a flying start.

Maybe we should have an AGM there, sooner rather than later. I can’t wait to see a few truckshunters letting their hair down and going for broke on one of Paul’s infernal - and totally irresistible - machines.

In the meantime, all truckshunters and ex-Radio Newcastle listeners everywhere wish Paul the very greatest of success and pleasure with…

The Quadfather!

St Cuthbert's pectoral cross
Please don’t forget that Sunday 20 March is St Cuthbert’s Day.

At the very least, try to find a few minutes for heartwarming reflection; you live in - or are associated with - a part of the world he loved as much as you do.

He was a truly remarkable man and we are very lucky indeed to ‘own’ him as our patron saint.

Happy St Cuthbert’s Day!

In her role as the Official Astronomer Laureate of the Honourable Society of Truckshunters, Hildie has pointed out (in the Comments to posting 261) that, on this upcoming Saturday 19 March, the Moon will be 30,000km closer to us than it usually is - so the view should be awesome. And the weather should be in our favour, too.

Take a look and report back!

Once in a while on the Blue Bus programme, a listener would call and remind us of how badly the north-east celebrates its heroes. And they were right to do so; with only minor exceptions, we’re not the sort of people to erect statues and other monuments to the memory of the sons (and occasional daughters) of the north-east who made often surprising and even startling contributions to humanity. We have too easily neglected to celebrate their diversity and ingenuity - or even their almost accidental roles in History with a capital H.

That latter category should surely include Sunderland-born Tom Taylor, a playwright of (mostly) farces and burlesques whose work would almost certainly have disappeared down the toilet-basin of changing tastes - except that President Abraham Lincoln was watching one of them (Our American Cousin) when he was assassinated in 1865.

And surely there should be a memorial somewhere in Whitley Bay to one of its more illustrious sons: Gladstone Adams, who invented the windscreen wiper in 1911 after driving back from London in his 1904 Daracq-Caron motor-car in the rain and snow. The poor fellow had to keep getting out to clear the windscreen…

Another Sunderland man bequeathed to the world something of slightly more questionable benefit: William Mills patented the ‘Mills bomb’ in 1915. It was immediately adopted as the officially-approved hand grenade of the British Army although I can’t say off-hand how it affected the outcome of the First World War.

Admiral Collingwood - the real hero of Trafalgar - could never be classed as ‘forgotten’, of course. Not only has he one of the north-east’s most striking statues at Tynemouth but he also has a street named after him near his birthplace in Newcastle. Maybe one day - depending on how well our AGMs go - there’ll be a Truckshunters Street somewhere.

Where was I? Ah yes….

It’s surely indicative of our deplorable attitude to our ‘local heroes’ that there is, for example, no monument to Sir Joseph Wilson Swan, inventor of the incandescent lamp - whereas the whole world knows the name of the scoundrel and mountebank Thomas Edison, who didn’t invent it.

And why is Morpeth town centre not graced with a statue of Emily Davidson, the suffragette trampled to death by the king’s horse Anmer at the 1913 Derby? (A listener once sent us a grainy, black-and-white photograph of her funeral in Morpeth. Disgracefully, it shows that most of the men watching obstinately kept their hats on. Let’s hope attitudes in Morpeth have changed in the intervening 100 years. Is the town going to mark her centenary in 2013, for example?)

And speaking of anniversaries and neglected heroes…

A few days ago - 15 March - was the anniversary of a grim north-east event with a happy outcome. On that date in 1789, a violent storm wrecked a Newcastle tall-ship called Adventure, just off the coast at South Shields. Everyone aboard drowned while the people watching on-shore were powerless to help.

Members of a local social club were so appalled at what happened that night that they offered a prize of two guineas to anyone who could design a rescue vessel. The winning design came from Town Clerk Willie Wouldhave ( - beautiful name - ) and the boat was built by local shipbuilder Henry Greathead ( - another beautiful name).

It was called Original and was 30 feet long, with 12 oars and a curved keel. It carried 784lbs of cork to aid buoyancy. It launched 10 months later - the world’s first-ever purpose-built lifeboat and the most important development ever in the history of sea rescue.
It’s true that Wouldhave and Greathead do have their monument (pictured); it’s at the foot of Ocean Road in South Shields, although the boat featured there is not Original, as it were. Wouldn't it be nice, though, if local powers-that-be gave more serious thought to the glaring omissions I’ve mentioned above.

And, while they’re at it, they should rid the world of the self-aggrandising memorials we do have. County Durham is besmirched by two statues of the savage, avaricious and inhumanly pitiless Marquess of Londonderry, of whom we should all be thoroughly ashamed. This is the man, remember, who, forty years after the invention of the safety lamp, sent his miners underground with candles because lamps were ‘too expensive’.

I’ll stop now, because I know you’ve heard it all before….

Here are the next ten buildings from my lovely book - just in case you’re scratching around for some interesting holiday destinations. How about Guatemala? Java? Uzbekistan? (Hands up who even knows where Uzbekistan actually is.)

With this list, we reach only the second building so far that I’ve actually seen: Aachen Cathedral, which I glimpsed from the train during my Grand Tour last year.

The buildings all date from between 743 and 961.

31 Pyramid of the Great Jaguar, Tikal, Guatemala
32 Jotab-dong Pagoda, Geongsangbuk-do, South Korea
33 Kailashnath Temple, Maharashtra, India
34 Church of St Donat, Zadar, Croatia
35 Aachen Cathedral, Germany
36 Borobudur Temple, Magalang, Indonesia (pictured)
37 Great Mosque, al-Ukba, Kairouan, Tunisia
38 Ibn Tulun Mosque, Cairo, Egypt
39 Saminid Mausoleum, Bukhara, Uzbekistan
40 Tiger Hill Pagoda, Suzhou, China

Nation scores so far: Italy 8, Egypt 5, China 4, Syria 2, Ireland 2, Croatia 2, then 1 each for Iraq, Greece, France, Libya, Turkey, Armenia, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Japan, Isreal, Guatemala, South Korea, India, Germany, Indonesia, Tunisia and Uzbekistan.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
*Bishop Auckland Food Fair

*Streets Of…


*Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know


*John Martin

Now let the Devil take the hindmost…

Just in case you’re scratching around for things to do and places to go in order to fill up whatever empty spaces you may have on your dance cards - or even if you aren’t - I thought I’d launch the Truckshunters Public Events Information Service (TPEIS) and pass on some details of local shenanigans that have been passed to me….

Yes, I know. Bishop Auckland. It does have a redeeming feature, after all.

The Food Fair - the largest in north-east England (although I’m not sure what competition there is) - will take place on 16 April in the grounds of Bishop Auckland Palace. Amongst the goodies to sample and buy will be handmade farmhouse cheeses, home-reared meats, relishes, fruit liqueurs and ales (yummy) as well as traditional arts and crafts.

You can get more information at (0191) 372 9196 or bishopaucklandfoodfestival.co.uk

This is really three separate street festivals rolled out over the three days of the Late Summer Bank Holiday at the end of August. On Saturday, the streets of Durham City will be resounding to the shrieks of children - not (unfortunately) because the wonderful Childcatcher will be stalking Silver Street or Claypath with his poisoned lollipops and enviable wheeled cage - but because that’s the day of Street Play.

Sunday is the day of Street Folk and on Monday, Folk Dance takes to the streets and alleyways of the city.

Last year’s Festival featured a bicycle ballet. Sounds good to me.

More information from streetsof.co.uk

Between 17 and 20 November, specialist artists from all over the world will bathe Durham City’s ancient and familiar landmarks on light, creating ‘a mesmerising nocturnal landscape’ (it says here).

I know that an event like this was held last year - but I missed it. I won’t miss it this time, though.


Why don’t we all go?

*One in ten over-55s haven’t seen their parents for over a year
*On average, one medium-sized egg now costs 10p
*The most expensive street in England is Victoria Road, in Kensington, London; the average property value there is £6.4m
*The average British man spends 11 years watching tv and 10,500 hours in the pub over his lifetime
*Copper theft cost the UK £770m last year
*29 swans have been shot dead with an air rifle in Somerset recently - and no-one knows who’s doing it

...will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 23 March at Saltwell Towers in Gateshead.

Naturally, a splendid time is guaranteed for all

I have mentioned the John Martin expo at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle as a possible AGM venue.

Well, I’m delighted to say that the exhibition is gaining national coverage. We featured the work of John Martin more than once on the Blue Bus programme and it really is about time this astonishing local lad gained the recognition he deserves.

This is what The Guardian said about the expo a couple of days ago….

'He was an artist derided by much of the establishment, his work was dismissed by Thackeray as "huge, queer and tawdry", and after his death he was, for nearly a century, something of a lost painter. But the public loved the theatricality and apocalyptic vision of a man who will be introduced to a new generation with the first major exhibition of his work in 40 years.

More than 80 works by the wildly dramatic artist John Martin (1789-1854) go on display at the Laing gallery in Newcastle on Saturday. Later in the year the show will visit Sheffield and then London at Tate Britain, the co-organiser of the exhibition.

Martin has gone in and out of fashion – sometimes disappearing altogether – and the show's co-curator, Julie Milne, believes the time is right for a new appraisal of his work, which resonates with modern concerns about impending global disaster.
"He brought history alive for people," said Milne. "He excited audiences."

Martin was always on the extreme edge of Romantic art. But his visions of heaven and hell, his fascination with judgment, damnation and destruction, have made him a favourite at the Laing where young goths and emos can be seen admiring his paintings alongside visitors who wouldn't have a clue what a goth or an emo is.

Milne believes Martin is undervalued in British art history. "We hope to establish his reputation as more than a flash in the pan. He had a unique vision but he was also one of the very strong exponents of the sublime, along with people like Turner, and he deserves his place alongside those painters. We don't want him to be forgotten about for another 40 years."

Martin was from impoverished, humble beginnings, born to working-class parents in a one-room cottage in Haydon Bridge, Northumberland. But he moved to London and became a star – a "people's painter".

Probably because of his childhood, Martin displayed entrepreneurial spirit throughout his career – and that was one reason so many other artists rated him so lowly. When he stood for election to the Royal Academy, he didn't get a single vote.

His detractors included John Ruskin, who dismissed Martin as a mere "workman" bent on the "reckless accumulation of false magnitude", and Constable called him a painter of "pantomimes".
His work will still not be to everyone's taste. Even his biggest fans would say he is not the greatest painter of people. One of the works has Satan waving in an exaggerated "over here" way which is more camp than threatening.

But the public adored him and he made a lot of money. Among those who came to his studio and bought works from him were Lord Grey, who bought Clytie, and Prince Albert, who bought The Eve of the Deluge, being lent by the Queen.

The painting that helped make his name was Belshazzar's Feast. "People were just astounded by it," said Milne. It was bought by Martin's former tutor, William Collins, who "saw an opportunity to make money. He charged people to look at the painting." And they came in the thousands. "The picture had an almost cinematic effect and people flocked to see it."

There are two versions of the painting. The more famous, huge version is in a private collection and is being lent only for the Tate show. The Laing gallery will display an earlier version lent by the Yale Centre for British Art in the US.

Martin deliberately chose catastrophic events from history and the Bible that were bound to excite audiences. This is why filmmakers including Cecil B DeMille, DW Griffith and Ray Harryhausen were directly influenced by his visions.

Other fans include the comic book legend Alan Moore.
"He was very interested in these themes of damnation and destruction – the end of the world," said Milne. In many ways Martin was ahead of his time, creating scenes that we might see in today's science fiction films.

He was painting pictures about being the last man on earth 150 years before Will Smith starred in I Am Legend.

Martin made a lot of money but he also lost a lot of money. He was a skilled engineer but bankrupted himself when he decided he would try to bring fresh water and sewage systems to London. "He did really want to change the world and change people's lives," said Milne. "He saw a lot of poverty around him, a lot of people dying through drinking contaminated water. The plans never came to fruition but years later people looked at them and said there was something in them."

Three of the most remarkable paintings in the show are huge, two of them bequeathed in 1974 to the Tate after hanging, improbably, on the walls of a small London flat. The three – The Great Day of His Wrath, The Last Judgment and The Plains of Heaven – brought worldwide fame as they toured the US and Australia.

Martin was never honoured by his own country, although the king of Belgium made him a knight, the tsar of Russia gave him a medal and the king of France gave him some Sèvres porcelain.’

The expo runs until June 5.


Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
*A Simple Question


*Viral Lies?

Now - cry ‘Havoc!‘ and let slip the dogs of war…

In posting 259 I asked ‘a simple question’; if you want to know what it was, take a look at the posting. In the comments box, you’ll see that Vivienne and Margaret both suggested answers to the problem.

First of all, then, congratulations to Margaret, who seems to have come up with a new theory of cognition. Her theory suggests that, when confronted with a stationary image of an object normally seen in motion, and in the absence of any contra-indication, the onlooker assumes that the object was moving from left to right when the image was captured.

I think she may have something. I asked a startled and puzzled friend to email me pictures of trains, trams and cars in situations where it was difficult or impossible to tell which direction they were travelling in. It took him ages!

I then asked my neighbour to look at them and tell me which direction each vehicle was travelling in when the picture was taken. In 12 cases out of 15, he said they were moving from left to right. When I asked him why, he couldn’t really explain. It just seemed ‘obvious’, he said.

So congratulations, Margaret. I feel fairly certain that one of the many esteemed university professors of psychology who read this blog is bound to put in an immediate application for research funding on this fascinating new theory.

However, until the research is concluded and published, the laurels must go to Vivienne, who was absolutely correct. The children assumed the bus was travelling to the right because there was no door on the drawing.

Well done, Vivienne. If there was a Truckshunter Award For Sheer Brilliance, you would get it.

The award would normally be shared with Peter, who emailed me with the same explanation. He queered his pitch, though, by being sarky. He said the drawing looked more like a caravan…

Thanks also to Vivienne for sending me the photos above, of AGM XXIV. Speaking of which…

...will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 23 March at Saltwell Towers in Gateshead.

Naturally, a splendid time….

The redoubtable Dave Shannon sent me this list of statements, under the heading True or False? Take a look; try to decide which of them are true before you look below the list…

* Apples, not caffeine, are more efficient at waking you up in the morning.
* Alfred Hitchcock didn't have a belly button..

* A 20-a-day smoker will lose approximately 2 teeth every 10 years.

* People do not get ill from cold weather; it's from being indoors a lot more.

* When you sneeze, all bodily functions stop - even your heart.

* Only 7 per cent of the population are cuddywhifflers.

* Babies are born without kneecaps; they don't appear until we are 2-6 years old.

* The toothbrush was invented in 1498.

* The average housefly lives for one month.

* A coat hanger is 44 inches long when straightened.

* Your feet are bigger in the afternoon than any other time of day.

* Most of us have eaten a spider in our sleep.

* The REAL reason ostriches stick their head in the sand is to search for water.

* The only two animals that can see behind themselves without turning their heads are the rabbit and the parrot.

* Prince Charles and Prince William NEVER travel on the same aeroplane, just in case there is a crash.
* The first Harley Davidson motorcycle built in 1903 used a tomato can for a carburettor.

* Humphrey Bogart was related to Princess Diana; they were 7th cousins.

* If colouring weren't added to Coca-Cola, it would be green.

According to Dave’s email, they are all true.

As soon as I saw the list, my ‘viral lies’ radar went on full alert. Dozens of ‘well-I-never’ lists like this have been circulating on the internet for years and most of them are a load of dingo’s kidneys. This one, however, contains at least three facts which I know to be true. Does that make all the others just as true?

If anyone would care to do a little research - well, alright then, a lot of research - I would be very grateful!

Finally, another big Thankyou to Peter, in South Shields, for sending me a list of some of his favourite quotes. Take a look; there’s some inspiring and thought-provoking gems here.

‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’

‘We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.’

‘...So I wait for you like a lonely house till you will see me again and live in me. Till then my windows ache…’

‘A dead fish can float downstream but it takes a live one to swim upstream.’

‘Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone.’

They’re good, aren’t they?

Unfortunately, Peter doesn’t give the origins of these quotations. If you know who said what, please get in touch.

And I’d be happy to share your favourite quotes here, too. This one was included in a txt Hildie sent me recently: ‘There is no education like adversity.’ Disraeli said that, and he should know.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
*A Simple Little Question

*Local Words
*1,001 Buildings
*And Finally…

Go forth…

The picture above (which was sent to me by Eric and Jean, who run The Commercial in Tantobie) was shown to a sample of infant-school children in the UK. They were asked to say which direction the bus was travelling in: to the right or to the left.

90% of them said that it was travelling to the right.

They were correct. And my ‘simple little question’ is...why?

(Answer in blogposting 260, unless I receive a rush of brilliance and prespicuity in the meantime.)

...will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 23 March. Possible venues this time round include Gateshead Library, Saltwell Towers or the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, which is currently hosting an awesome exhibition of the work of John Martin, the immensely popular Victorian painter from Hexham.

If you have a preference, or another suggestion, get in touch.

And remember, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

A big Thankyou to Martin, from Houghton-le-Spring, who has sent me a list of his favourite local words (see postings, passim).

clarts - mud
snaggers - turnips
spuggy - sparrow
spelk - splinter (also one of my favourites)
lowp - jump
gansey - jumper
cuddywhiffler - left-hander

I know the definite origin of only one of these words: gansey is derived from Guernsey, the sheep from which the wool came, presumably.

As for the others...spelk looks vaguely Viking and lowp seems to be a corruption of ‘leap’.

Cuddy has a complex presence locally. On its own, it used to be the word for a pit pony; there was a pub playfully named The Kicking Cuddy. In compound words, it’s usually a reference to St Cuthbert, as it is in ‘cuddy ducks’, the local name for eider ducks, which were supposed to be under the saint’s special protection.

I’m not sure, though, whether he was left-handed or not. And even if he was, whence whiffler?
Here goes with the next ten ‘buildings you must see before you die’. If you’ve seen any of these buildings, or have plans to go, please get in touch.

They take us from 550AD to 715AD

21 Skellig Michael, County Kerry, Ireland
22 The Hanging Monastery of Xuan Kong Si, Datong, China (pictured)

23 Church of St Hripsime, Vagharshapat, Armenia
24 The Great Mosque, Mecca, Saudi Arabia

25 The Great Kyz Kala, Merv, Turkmenistan

26 Ise Shrine, Japan

27 Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel

28 St Domnius Cathedral, Split, Croatia

29 Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Suzhou, China

30 Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

So far, that’s Italy 8, Egypt 4, China 3, Syria 2, Ireland 2, Iraq 1, Greece 1, France 1, Libya 1, Turkey 1, Armenia 1, Saudi Arabia 1, Turkmenistan 1, Japan 1, Isreal 1, Croatia 1

As the list progresses, one of its most though-provoking aspects is how few of these buildings I’ve even heard of, let alone visited.

It raises other issues, too. Such as...who were Sts Domnius and Hripsime?

Dave Shannon has emailed me to say that this year - 2011 - July has five Fridays, five Saturdays and five Sundays. Apparently, this happens only once every 823 years. Dave also says (and I quote) ‘Gawd knows who sits and works these things out but he /she has more patience than me!’

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting (which was drafted and posted in France)...
* News From Nowhere
* La Vie en France/Life in France
* Rugby
* The National Anthem
Et maintenant - allez!

Half a dodo has been discovered in London.

Even worse - at least from the dodo’s point of view - is that it was mistaken for a crocodile when its bones were first put in the box in Edwardian times.

The Grant Museum, part of University College London and one of England’s oldest natural history collections, had decided to move its 70,000-item collection of bones to new premises and that’s when the original error was uncovered.

A museum spokesman said the mistake was understandable. ‘The bones of crocodiles and birds have a lot in common’, he said.

I am not remotely qualified to argue the point. It does, however, seem to be a spectacularly bad mistake to make, up there with ‘Peace in our Time’ and the famous ‘can’t sing, can dance a little’ assessment of a Fred Astaire audition.

I don’t know which half of the dodo it was, but I can’t help wondering what happened to the other half. It could be in a box somewhere, being mistaken for an elephant or something.

I’ve now spent quite some time in France, on and off. This, I think, entitles me to give voice to some of the ways - great and small, good and bad - in which daily life is different there.

Do not expect any heavy cynicism here, by the way. I know a few French people who will cut and paste this posting into an online translator. So anything other than the gentlest, kindest ribbing would result in a rapid and rather unpleasant end to ma vie en France.

By ‘flannels’, I mean ‘facecloths’ - those small, square bits of terry-towelling which many Brits use in the shower or the bath.

Well, they don’t exist here. Instead, the cloth is shaped and sewn into a mitt shape, which you ‘wear’ over your hand. Which is all very well until you want to change hands. The resulting struggle can make shower-time a nightmare.

For reasons which French people regard me as being tendentious for even asking about, French pillows are not oblong; they’re square.

This variation in our national preferences is, of course, completely unimportant. I just wonder why it exists at all. After all, one of us must be right.

I spend most of my French time in Beaujolais, famous (of course) for producing France’s most popular wine. It’s popular because it’s good and it’s inexpensive; the French drink more Beaujolais than any other wine.

And it comes from a very pretty part of the country, too. It’s splendidly hilly. The lower slopes of the valleys are clothed in vineyards (as you’d expect) while the hilltops are forested or have small, unchanged and captivating villages planted on top of them. In Beaujolais, and the areas round it, you’re spoilt for choice if you want a trip out to visit an unaltered mediaeval village on a Sunday afternoon. Last Sunday, we chose Oingt, above.

I love the way the French place an innate value on their countryside and its villages. The preservation of ancient buildings and whole villages is not a cause you have to fight for here; it’s a fait accompli.

The sport of handball is enormously popular here. This is just as well as, at the moment, it seems to be just about the only game the French are good at. A few weekends ago, they won the World Handball Championships (against Denmark) and it was headline news.

We mustn’t begrudge them their moment in the limelight; it’s helped to eradicate the palpable sense of collective national shame that was felt here over the pantomime antics of the French football team at the World Cup last summer.

I had the very great pleasure of watching England beat France in the Six Nations on French tv last weekend. I would make myself look even more foolish than usual if I made any attempt here to analyse the match, so instead I thought the more linguistically curious truckshunters may be interested in some of the ‘match-words’ I managed to pick up from the commentators (who are even more fast-talking there than they are here.)

* les meilleurs gagne! - 'may the best team win!'
* French imports the words ‘match’ and ‘score’ from English
* French touch is used for ‘touch’
* a ‘try’ is translated literally as an essai
* a ‘conversion’ is a transformation
* teams play a domicile or a l’exterieur - ‘at home’ or ‘away’
* a ‘scrum’ is a melee
* a ‘penalty’ is a penalite, although in soccer, the English word ‘penalty’ is used
* for a ‘drop kick’, French uses the English word drop; like many languages, French has no word for ‘kick’
* English ‘tackle’ - pronounced tack-luh - is also used, although I sometimes heard plaquer, ‘to bring down’, as well

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but watching the England/France match brought it home to me once again...

As far as international sporting events are concerned, the French (and several other nations besides) have us beaten into a cocked hat before things have even got under way. Their National Anthem is a real cracker.

La Marseillaise has it all. A stirring, uplifting and easily-remembered march tune with words that actually mean something. And it builds up to musical fireworks which the French can, and do, sing as loud as they like, with very great gusto indeed and to truly awesome effect. I love it.

Interestingly, they seem to know all the words, too - and not just the first few.

Compared to La Marseillaise, our national anthem falls short of requirements on several fronts.

For starters, it’s always sounded to me like a dreary funereal dirge rather than an uplifting anthem to stir the soul.

Secondly - and as more than one French person has remarked to me - it isn’t about the ‘nation’ at all; it’s about a person. (They know the meaning of the words because, during the anthem-singing at the start of each match - and in a remarkable display of international good fun - helpful French subtitles appear on-screen: God Save The Queen is Que Dieu Protege La Reine. If the BBC did that, we could all sing along to La Marseillaise.)

Thirdly, God Save The Queen isn’t the ‘national’ anthem of England at all, but of the United Kingdom. The French do not really understand the make-up of the British ‘nations’. If we are all part of one country (which, to them, we are), why do England, Scotland and Wales compete separately in rugby and soccer? (Let’s set aside the nightmarish complications of Ireland, which is two countries for soccer but only one for rugby.)

I’m with the French on this one. I don’t see our current arrangements as a pleasing baroque curiosity but rather as an outdated and unmanageable contraption to be dismantled and rebuilt a little more sensibly.

And we could start with the National Anthem. In a list of the world’s top ten, it wouldn’t figure at all. In the Six Nations alone, we are defeated soundly (as it were) by the French, the Italians and the Welsh.

Further afield...well even Advance Australia Fair stirs the soul more profoundly than the dreadful shower of rain we have converted into our national song.

Sometimes sudden realisations hit us right between the eyes, like the moment we finally understand what quadratic equations are all about or why it snows.

Sometimes, the elation that often comes with these road-to-Damascus moments is dulled by a secondary realisation; that whatever it is you finally understand must have been so blindingly obvious to everyone else that they didn’t even think it worthwhile, or even necessary, to explain it to you.

I had a moment like that in Chatillon market last weekend. I noticed that eggs were boxed and priced par douzaine - ‘in twelves’. At one and the same time, I realised that douzaine comes from French douze - ‘twelve’ - and that English dozen is therefore derived in exactly the same way.

I still haven’t got over it.

As if that weren’t enough, I also found a new ‘false friend’ - a French word that looks similar to, or even exactly like, an English word but means something entirely different.

In this case, it’s etiquette. In English, it’s ‘good manners’. But in French, it means ‘label’. I’ve lain awake at night wondering how the one became the other, especially as etiquette seems to be a French word borrowed into English, like rendezvous or lingerie.

In which of the two languages has it changed its meaning? And why?

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