Zsofi...on the left
In this blogposting…
* Kev
* Zsofi
* Peter’s Awful Truths
* Some Places To Visit - And Avoid
* Cats…
* Total Eclipse of the Heart
Tread softly…

Wholehearted and VERY LOUD congratulations from all of us to Kev, who has just got promotion to a new job in South Tyneside College. 

The man’s a genius.  Well done, Kev.

Many of you will remember the wonderful Zsofi (‘Sophie’) who often made us our coffees on the countless occasions when we’ve held our AGMs at Pret a Manger in Newcastle.  In posting 273 I marked her temporary departure for Ghana, where she was determined to do her bit to make the world a better place.

I’m really pleased to say that Zsofi has been in touch with me recently via email.  Not only has she sent us all her love and best regards - she has also sent me some pictures. 

I am in awe of this young lady, who, despite her comparative youth, has already uprooted and re-planted herself twice (from Hungary to England, and from there to Ghana) - and with great success and (I hope) great enjoyment.

In blogposting 292, I featured a luscious compendium of Awful Truths - those inconvenient but incontestable Facts of Life that make the human condition both frustrating and puzzling.  They were sent to me by the wonderful Peter, of South Shields - who has been contributing to my emotional and intellectual welfare since Nightshift days.

Well, I’m glad to say that Peter isn’t the sort of man who knows when enough is enough; he has sent me some more.  They are just as ‘awfully true’ - and just as funny - as his first list and deserve their own slot in the blog.


* Never accept a drink from a urologist.
* When you starve with a tiger, the tiger starves last.
* If you dance with a grizzly bear, you had better let him lead.
* When putting cheese in a mousetrap, always leave room for the mouse.
* Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn’t have to do it himself.
* Whatever hits the fan will not be evenly distributed.
* People are always available for work in the past tense.
* The first myth of management is that it exists.
* Variables won’t and constants aren’t.
* For every action there is an equal and opposite government programme.

Splendid; thankyou Peter.

If anyone would like to add to the store of truckshunter wisdom, get in touch.

Here’s another eye-catching internet viral sent to me by Eric and Jean.  Keep them coming!

I have been in many places, but I've never been in Cahoots.  Apparently, you can't go alone.  You have to be in Cahoots with someone.
I've also never been in Cognito.  I hear no one recognizes you there.
I have, however, been in Sane.  They don't have an airport; you have to be driven there.  I have made several trips there, thanks to my friends, family and work.
I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I'm not too much on physical activity anymore.
I have also been in Doubt.  That is a sad place to go, and I try not to visit there too often.
I've been in Flexible, but only when it was very important to stand firm.
Sometimes I'm in Capable, and I go there more often as I'm getting older.
One of my favorite places to be is in Suspense!  It really gets the adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart!
At my age I need all the stimuli I can get!  

There’s something eerily unsettling - as well as uproariously funny - about the photos on catsthatlooklikehitler.com.

Judge for yourself…
This last one HAS to be a reincarnation of the man himself...

Thanks to an old friend of mine for drawing my attention to one of the internet’s more uplifting websites.

The same old friend - who, on reflection, ought to get out more - has also sent me this ingenious graphic, which is the closest I’ve ever seen anyone get do drawing a diagram of a song.

Try it out.  It really works.

(If it's a bit too small for you to read on the blog, you can download it to your computer and look at it full-screen.)

If you can think of any other songs that would lend themselves to this unique, diagrammatic treatment, I want to hear from you.

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
An Ig-Nobel Award
In this blogposting…
* AGM XXIX-and-a-half
* Ig-Nobel Awards 2011
* Algeria
Proceed with caution...

Our Extraordinary AGM took place as arranged (at the last minute) today at the cafe of Saltwell Towers in Gateshead.

Oddly, it was better-attended than the ‘official’ AGM which took place last week.  I’m not sure how significant that is - and perhaps I shouldn’t think about it too much.

A typically good time was had by all, outside on the terrace in the lovely - though admittedly cool - mid-autumn sunshine.

My thanks to Vivienne (at whose behest the AGM took place), Sid, Hildie and Linda for yet another hugely enjoyable occasion; just what the doctor ordered!

I’m delighted to report that this year’s Ig-Nobel Awards were finally handed out in late September - and a bumper crop they are, too.

For those not ‘in the know’, Ig-Nobel Awards are made every year to people whose scientific researches are both intellectually satisfying and improbably funny.  To use the official blurb, they ‘are intended to celebrate the unusual, to honour the imaginative – and to spur people's interest in science, medicine and technology.  They are awarded to people whose academic research makes us laugh - and makes us think, as well….’

Here are the year’s category winners.

Awarded to a team from the Netherlands, Hungary and Austria for their study which concluded that there was no evidence of contagious yawning amongst red-footed tortoises.
This is a picture of a red-footed tortoise, although I’m not sure whether it’s yawning or not.

This is truly exceptional.

A Japanese team is attempting to develop a new kind of public alarm to be used in the event of fire or other emergency.  Instead of making a loud noise, though - which would be useless for deaf people - they are designing an alarm which uses the pungent smell of Japanese horseradish - wasabi.

The prize was awarded for their work in determining the ideal density of any airborne horseradish aroma to be used in waking up sleeping deaf people.


Awarded to a joint Dutch, Belgian and British team who have demonstrated that people make better decisions about some kinds of things - but worse decisions about other kinds of things - when they have a strong urge to urinate.

This award has very personal resonances for me.  Paul Wappat once told me that he performed much better on-air if he was desperate to go to the toilet.  Naturally, I have always pooh-poohed this notion as mere broadcasters’ superstition - until now.

Awarded to Karl Halvor Teigen of the University of Oslo, Norway, for trying to understand why, in everyday life, people sigh.

Hmmmmmm.  Hey-ho.

Awarded - quite rightly, in my view - to John Perry of Stanford University, USA, for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which states: ‘To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that's even more important.’

Perfection - and a theory I have undertaken to put into practice with the greatest urgency.

Awarded to a joint Canadian, American, British and Australian team for discovering that a certain kind of beetle mates with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle.

Isn’t Nature wonderful?

Awarded to a joint Dutch and French team for their research into why discus throwers become dizzy and hammer throwers don't.  (Apparently, it’s something to do with centrifugal force during the wind-up spin.)

This is another classic.

The prize was awarded to…
Dorothy Martin of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1954)
Pat Robertson of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1982)
Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1990)
Lee Jang Rim of South Korea (who predicted the world would end in 1992)
Credonia Mwerinde of Uganda (who predicted the world would end in 1999) and
Harold Camping of the USA (who predicted the world would end on September 6, 1994 and later predicted that the world would definitely end on October 21, 2011, a matter of days ago).

According to the citation, the Award was made because each of these splendid people ‘taught the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations’.

This Award was made to the astonishing Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, for demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armoured tank.
You can watch a video of him doing exactly that at:

Given to John Senders of the University of Toronto, Canada, for conducting a series of safety experiments in which a person drove a car along a major motorway while a visor repeatedly flapped down over his face, blinding him.

To be honest, I’m not entirely certain of what these experiments showed.

Once you start investigating the Ig-Nobel Awards, it’s difficult to stop yourself getting hooked.  So, while I’m in the mood, here are some selections from previous years…

Aviation Prize...to a team who discovered that hamsters recover from jet-lag more quickly when given Viagra.
Biology Prize...to a Dutch researcher who took a census of all the mites and other life forms that live in people's beds.
Chemistry Prize….to a Japanese research chemist who extracted vanilla flavour from cow dung.
Economics Prize...to a Chinese man who patented a device to catch bank robbers by ensnaring them in a net.
Linguistics Prize….to a Spanish team who discovered that rats sometimes can't distinguish between Japanese played backwards and Dutch, also played backwards.
Literature...awarded to a lady called Glenda Browne for her magnificent and exhaustive study of the word "the".
Medicine...awarded to Dan Meyer and Brian Witcombe for investigating the side-effects of swallowing swords.
Physics:...awarded to two researchers for their theoretical study of how sheets become wrinkled.

All of them are now Honorary Truckshunters.

Thanks for the fascinating info you’ve already sent to me for the next instalment of our very own international encyclopaedia.

The subject this time is Algeria.  Get as many oddities and trivia as you can find to me via the usual channels.


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
AGM XXIX-and-a-half will take place at 1100 this upcoming Wednesday 26 October in the cafe at Saltwell Towers, in Saltwell Park, Gateshead.

How extraordinary it turns out to be will very much depend on who turns up!

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
The bumpkin's inspiration...
In this blogposting…
* Problems in Parliament
* More Caviar Anyone?
* The World:  A Truckshunter Geography
Pray continue…

A recent Freedom of Information disclosure reveals some of the items confiscated by the Metropolitan Police from visitors to the Houses of Parliament between January and July this year.  They include:
* 2 boomerangs
* 1 pair binoculars

* 1 balloon

* 6 bungee cords

* 1 giant tennis ball
* 9 harmonicas
* 10 hip flasks
* 1 magic wand
* 1 can of moth spray
* 2 pairs of nail clippers

* 1 piercing kit

* 5 police helmets (children's)
* 1 plant pot

* 1 tub science putty

* 14 scooters

* 1 skateboard
* 1 sleeping bag
* 1 pair snow shoes

* 1 tent

* 1 plastic thumb

There were but three of us at AGM XXIX last Wednesday at Grey’s Monument in Newcastle.  But what the AGM lacked in quantity it more than made up for in quality - because I was joined not only by the redoubtable Hildie but also by the amazing J Arthur Smallpiece, aka Gerry Fenwick (and NOT Gerry Rawlings, the name I’ve been inexplicably using for him).

The three of us managed to hit just the right note of relaxed conviviality for which the Honourable Society of Truckshunters is rightly renowned - this despite the autumnal wind whistling relentlessly up Grey Street direct from the Baltic - the actual Baltic.

It was as hugely enjoyable as any other AGM, proving - as if proof were needed - that all it takes for successful AGMs is goodwill and good humour.

Speaking of which, Gerry was kind enough to bring along another of his poems.  It has a peculiarly melancholy feel about it which - as I suspect he knew perfectly well - suited my circumstances very well.

I love it and reproduce it in its entirety - including Gerry’s preamble - below.

Thanks, Gerry.  And thanks too to Hildie, without whom AGMs would have fizzled out and died long ago.

AUTHOR’S DISCLAIMER:  As my illustrious predecessor Mr Wm Shakespeare pointed out, in his wordy docudrama Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, fine poetry is wasted on riff-raff – “it pleaseth not the million, ‘tis caviar to the general”.

Sad but true! It’s small wonder, therefore, that my poems routinely provoke flat hostility, undisguised indifference bordering on disdain and unmistakable signs of boredom, except in a few favoured aesthetes lucky enough to be on my mailing-list.

Now read on, but don’t bother to show it to any toe-rags………

A short poetic effusion entitled:

MORE CAVIAR ANYONE?                                                  
J. Arthur Smallpiece, Romantic Poet and Man of Some Consequence.
In which the Poet Garners Wisdom from a Contemplative old Codger

I met a bumpkin on a bench, set by the beck-side’s edge,
Where loose-limbed lovers tickle trout and water wagtails fledge.
His beard was flecked with spiders’ webs and little bits of straw
And on his face he bore the scars of ninety years or more.
Hence wispy hairs adorned his ears, each finer than a thread
As white and weightless as the clouds that floated overhead.∗

Gorse grew and blossomed all around - the hills were overrun;
A million specks of glowing gold rejoicing in the sun!
Yet still he wore a mournful look, as if he sensed his doom,
And as he gazed upon the ground he seemed engulfed in gloom.
Though once he smiled and showed to me his time-discoloured teeth −
As if some tiny trace of joy had broken through his grief.

He looked at me with listless eyes and shook his harmless head.
Then, leaning downcast on his crook he sadly sighed and said:

             “Despite life’s senseless waste of time
             In one way I was blessed –
             Of all the things down here on earth,
             I loved the moon the best.
             When she was full or waxing fat,
             I craved her sunny beams,∗∗
             They took away this dreadful world,
             And left me with my dreams.”

∗It is an interesting insight into the difference between the poetic and scientific casts of mind to note that a large cumulus cloud weighs much the same as 90 elephants.                                                                                                                                                                              
∗∗As the moon shines by reflected sunlight, this is not as daft as it first seems.                                                     
 This work is the intellectual property of J. Arthur Smallpiece. Please bin it with care respect and sensitivity. Thank you!

Psst! Fancy another poem? Visit: www. jarthursmallpiece.wordpress.com

Having already done the dirty on Afghanistan and Albania (see postings 298 and 305), it’s now time to turn our beady eyes to North Africa - to Algeria.

So this is your mission….

To investigate, research and otherwise unearth as many interesting facts about Algeria as you can over the next few days.  When it appears, our survey will, of course, include the first few words of Algeria’s National Anthem and the numbers from one to ten - both of which are staples of the type.

But if you can dig up some obscure, well-I-never, facts about it then you will get a metaphorical pat on the back worth even more than the real thing.  What, for example, is at Number One in the Algerian charts at the moment?  What are its natives’ favourite ways of insulting each other?

Here’s a bit of Algerian trivia to start you off….

70% of its lawyers are women.  (I’m not sure if this is an indication of the country’s comparative liberality or of the litigousness of its women…)

Send your facts to me via email - address below.

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

In this blogposting…
* A Personal Message

Our next AGM will take place at 1100 this upcoming Wednesday, 19 October at Grey’s Monument in Newcastle - or rather outside Pret a Manger nearby!

I hope you can make it.

Over the last two weeks or so, I’ve received a great many messages from from you wonderful truckshunters.  You have left Comments on the blog itself; you have txted me, emailed me, telephoned me and sent me many cards and letters.

I don’t know how to even begin to thank you all.  I hungrily soaked up the lovely words of sympathy and understanding that you sent me and passed them on to my family - especially to my brother Barry and Jean, his wife.

Your loving and gentle messages served as points of welcome light in the dark tunnel we were walking through and I will always be grateful to the great many of you who took the time and trouble to contact me.

Just as countless millions of other sons and daughters have had to do, so must I begin to try and knit together a new kind of life without the extraordinary and very special lady I was always proud to call my Mam.  This new path is unfamiliar to me and I know it will take me some time to get used to it.

I’d be very happy for you to keep me company along the way.

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
A rather over-romantic portrait of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine
In this blogposting…
* Names
* Stranger Than Fiction
Proceed with caution...

I recently idled away an hour or so looking up the derivations of the names of some of the people I know.  The results, though trivial in the extreme, were nevertheless interesting - especially to a logophile like me.

My real forename is derived from sty-ward, the ‘pig-keeper’.  Poetic justice gone mad.

Apparently, it only became popular as a given name in the 19th century, when it appealed to romantic Victorians because of the Stuart royal family, which produced several kings and queens of Scotland and Britain between the 14th and 18th centuries.

This started out as a short form of names containing the Germanic element hild, ‘battle.  No comment. It was used for both Old English and continental Germanic names.

Saint Hilda was a celebrated 7th-century English saint and abbess who began her spotless life at Hartlepool and ended it not far away at Whitby.

The name became rare in England during the later Middle Ages, but was revived in the 19th century.

There’s some disagreement about this name, unsurprisingly.

Some experts think it was originally derived from various place names in England meaning ‘wide island’ - a likely story.

Others have suggested that it comes from the name of a town in Normandy called Saint Denis (the patron saint of France). 

In either case, it was first used as a given name in honour of executed politician Algernon Sidney (1622-1683).  Another notable bearer of the surname was the poet and statesman Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586).

Originally a medieval short form of Germanic names containing the element linde, ‘soft, tender’.  Again - no comment.

It also coincides with the Spanish word linda meaning ‘beautiful’.

This Scottish name was originally derived from a place name, itself probably derived from British cet, ‘wood’ - although the linguistic link isn’t obvious to me.  Keith occurs in quite a few Scottish place-names, like Dalkeith - ‘valley with a wood’.

It was the surname of a long line of Scottish earls and has been used as a popular given name since the 19th century.

This is an easy one.  Derived directly from a Norman French place-name meaning ‘new town’ - neuf-ville.

This is, of course, the short familiar form of Adelaide and other names beginning with the same sound.

It’s been popular since the mid-19th century, when it was borne by Augusta Ada King (1815-1852), the Countess of Lovelace (known as Ada Lovelace), a daughter of Lord Byron. Interestingly, she was an assistant to Charles Babbage, the inventor of an early mechanical computer.

Hereby hangs a tale.

This is the feminine form of Vivianus.  Who he?  Keep reading.

Saint Vivianus (also known as Bibiana) was a either a Roman saint and martyr of the 4th century or a French bishop who provided protection during the Visigoth invasion of the 5th century. It apparently means ‘living, alive’, which seems inappropriate, considering.

It was used occasionally as an English (masculine) name from the Middle Ages but it’s only in modern times that it’s been adopted as a feminine name, too.

We’re back to France again for this familiar, shortened form of Eleanor.

It comes from the Provençal name Aliénor and, unusually, we know exactly who first bore the name - Eleanor of Aquitaine - the queen of Louis VII, king of France, and later of Henry II, king of England.

She was originally named Aenor, after her mother, but was called by the Provençal phrase alia Aenor, ‘the other Aenor’, in order to distinguish her from her parent.

Eleanor has been a hugely popular name ever since the Middle Ages, largely due to the fame of the original.  Indeed, two queens from the following century had the same name:  Eleanor of Provence, the wife of Henry III, and Eleanor of Castile, the wife of Edward I.

So now you know.  I hope you appreciate all the effort that’s gone into this.

Just when we think we’ve got the hang of it, the world comes up with something so staggeringly unbelievable that we almost have to go back to square one and re-think our view of the planet.

In a tiny corner of western Poland, for example, there’s a very strange forest indeed.

Hidden deep in what is otherwise a fairly unremarkable - not to say predictable - woodland of pines and firs and larches and stuff like that lies a mysterious copse which has puzzled and amused both local people and dendrologists for over 70 years. 

Go for a tramp in this wood (no jokes, please) and you’ll discover a clutch of about 400 pine trees growing with a 90-degree bend at the base of their trunks.  As if that weren’t enough to stop you in your tracks, keen observation will show that, without exception, they are all bent toward the north.

The area is known as the Crooked Forest, for fairly obvious reasons, and to save you the trouble of actually having to go to Poland to verify this unlikely tale, I append a picture of the trees in question.  Look at it and gasp.
The real mystery, however, is not that they grow in such an unnatural - though not entirely unpleasant - way, but why.  It’s known that the trees were planted around 1930 and that they managed to grow normally (in that staunchly upright way that trees have) for between seven and ten years.

But then something inexplicable happened.  The tree-farmers who were caring for them applied some sort of mechanical weight (or so it’s thought) to the bases of their nascent trunks with the result you see in the picture. 

Exactly why they did this is unknown.  Nobody knows what possible use tree trunks of this shape could possibly have or what advantage the foresters were hoping to gain.

Perhaps they did it just for fun.  If only someone had asked.

Our next AGM will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 19 October. 

If you have any suggestions for venues, get in touch in any of the many useful ways available to you.

Wherever it takes place, come prepared to plank.

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