In this blogposting…
* Le Blog à Pépère
* The Languid Goat
* Shortcake
* St George’s Day
Wider still and wider...

* * *

Serge has put three striking quotations on his blog 205.  To see his blog, click on his image on this page and then on his blog name.

My favourite of the four quotes is the third…

’On a deux vies; la deuxième commence le jour où on réalise qu'on en a juste une..…’

‘We each have two lives; the second begins when we realise we have only one…’

Exactly and precisely right.

* *

Thanks to everyone who’s sent me odd and occasionally baffling proverbs from foreign parts.  Here’s a selection…

* Never board a ship without an onion.
* When the bed is small, lie in the middle.
* Why should a man without a head want a hat?
* He who lives longest has the most old clothes.
* Do not stab yourself just because you have a golden knife.
* It’s no use applying eye-medicine from a second-storey window.
* God preserve us from pitchforks for they make three holes.

They are from Holland, Spain, Chile, South Africa, India, Japan and Switzerland and, to be brutally honest, I’m not what moral lessons any of them are trying to teach us.  Onions? Ships? Headless men? Golden knives? Pitchforks?

If you have any further contributions to our growing truckshunter digest of odd sayings, please email them to me.

And remember...peacocks may be grand but it’s duck feathers that keep us warm in winter.

* *

In posting 446 I asked for reliable shortcake recipes and the redoubtable Jason, who - if memory serves me right - lives up in the border country, has sent me one.  And it worked!

I have now spent almost an entire weekend getting fatter on proudly home-baked shortcake.  At this rate, I’ll be applying for The Great British Bake-Off.

Thanks Jason - you’re a star!

* *

I recently spent an evening with someone who had one of the most unusual pets I’ve ever come across.

She owned a hare.

It’s illegal - and also probably highly problematic - to keep a native British brown hare as a pet, but my host’s was a Belgian Hare, a type specially bred for, and well-suited to, a life of cossetted luxury - which is what this one was lucky enough to be getting.

He was an extraordinary animal - so beautiful to look at and to stroke.  I could see quite easily that he was well worth all the love and affection that was being lavished on him.

Being close to him and petting him made me think, though, of all the British wild animals I have either never seen or only seen rarely.

I can remember seeing only two (living) foxes in my entire life.  I have only seen a brown hare in the wild once.  I have never seen a badger at all.  Or an adder.  I think I once saw a stoat in the fields above Crook - although it could have been a weasel (as the joke has it).

I’ve only seen toads 2 or 3 times and - incredibly - the same applies to hedgehogs, which are supposed to be common as muck.  I’ve never knowingly seen a grass snake, a shrew, a water vole or a dormouse either.

This could, of course, be because I’ve spent 64 years walking round with my eyes closed.  I prefer to believe, though, that it’s because we townies have become so divorced from the natural world that we wouldn’t know a buzzard from a brown rat.

I therefore propose that funds be found immediately for the establishment of a kind of British zoo.  After all, none of the animals I’ve mentioned is remotely exotic.  We should already know all we need to in order to keep a couple in captivity and they should all be easy to find.

And in any case, it shouldn’t be easier to see elephants, giraffes and ostriches in zoos than it is to see foxes, badgers and moles, which it seems to me are just as rarely seen by British people.

Get to it.

* * *

The English have never made a fuss about their patron saint’s feast day.  Attempts to celebrate it are usually rather lily-livered and contrived.  In Newcastle, there was a St George’s Day Parade, but it was held on April 20 rather than April 23 - a Saturday rather than a Tuesday (which would have disrupted the traffic).

The way we quite arbitrarily shift ‘celebration days’ has always made me proud to be English.  We must be the only country on Earth not to celebrate May Day on May Day but on another day entirely - this year, we’ve decided that May Day is May 6.

We shifted Armistice Day from November 11 to the nearest Sunday to November 11 (and renamed it Remembrance Sunday) so that day-to-day lives would not be disrupted by two minutes’ silence.  Honouring the Great and Glorious Dead mustn’t be allowed to get in the way of business - even for 120 seconds.  It’s only in recent years that the British Legion has successfully lobbied for 'the silence' to be restored to its proper day.

Some public holidays really are ‘date dependent’ - like Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  Americans wouldn’t mark Independence Day on ‘the nearest Monday to July 4’ and it seems ludicrous to me to celebrate St George’s Day on any day other than April 23.

I’ve written to the Queen (whose birthday in April we celebrate in June).

My thanks to Vivienne for pointing out that Google, of all people, made a decent job of marking St George’s Day by designing a special masthead for the occasion.  As you can see, it’s pretty neat.
It would be even nicer if they supported the country of St George by paying their fair share of tax, along with Starbucks and Amazon.

* *
Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
* The Royal Oak Quiz 2
* Stranger Than Fiction
* The Rottweiler
Take it from here…

* *

Here are the answers to The Royal Oak Quiz 2, set in posting 447.

01 Hulk Hogan
02 Liver
03 Hydrogen
04 Alexandra
05 Argo
06 France
07 Ruby Walsh
08 The Iron
09 Chile
10 Dougal
11 Kendal Mint Cake
12 Derbyshire, Devon, Dorset
13 Films
14 Jessie J
15 Igneous, Metamorphic, Sedimentary
16 Egypt
17 Turtle
18 Spain
19 Richard Griffiths
20 Red

In the correct order, Europe’s five largest cities are...Moscow, Istanbul, London, Paris and Madrid

The answers to the questions about pubs were…
01 Q
02 Newton & Ridley
03 The Royal Oak
04 2007

The tie-breaker answer is 1922 and the ‘snowball’ answer is 124.

How well did you do?  My miserable score was 12 so I don’t think I would be any help at all as a quiz team member at The Royal Oak.

Thanks again to Ross for sending me these quizzes.  More anon!

* *

Pay attention - these two arcane bits of pure trivia may well pop up in a future Royal Oak quiz…

* Fanny Cradock’s maiden name was Primrose-Peachy…
* The world’s largest-ever cabbage was grown in 1865 by William Collingwood of Swalwell…It was 4ft 2in high (1.27m), had a circumference of 7yds 5ins (6.527m) and weighed 123lbs (55 kilos).

* *

This joke was sent to me by Eric and Jean.  I reckon it’s pretty good.

‘It was the Scotland v Wales rugby international weekend in Edinburgh.

As the crowds made their way down Princes Street towards Murrayfield, a Rottweiler suddenly lunged towards an eight-year-old Scottish lass, with its jaws wide open ready to attack.

The crowd nearby gasped in horror but, quick as a flash, a man in red jumped out of the crowd, grabbed the dog by the throat and throttled it.

As the dead dog lay there, and the crowd cheered in admiration, a journalist from the Glasgow Herald, who had witnessed the heroic deed, went up to the man and said, 'That was brilliant, I can see the headline now -

Welsh Rugby Fan Saves Young Girl From Certain Death!'.

The man replied, 'No you've got it wrong.  I'm not here for the rugby!'

‘Don't worry' said the journalist, 'I can see the headline now -
'Welshman Saves Girl From Jaws Of Rottweiler!'.’

The man replied, 'No you're wrong again.  I'm not Welsh; I'm from London.'

The journalist said, 'Don't worry; I can see the headline now -
'English Bastard Strangles Family Pet!'.’

* *
Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
 The flag of Austria 
And also the No Entry sign used on all European inland waterways

Welcome to Austria.

* *
Let’s start with what is probably Austria’s greatest and most pervasive gift to the world…

In the late 1780s, polite Viennese society was rocked by the introduction of a scandalous new peasant dance called the ‘waltz’ (from an old German word meaning ‘to roll’). 

Previously, the glittering balls that peppered the imperial social calendar had featured courtly dances like the minuet.  But not only was the waltz danced face-to-face; it also required the gentleman to grasp his partner vigorously around the waist.

Raised eyebrows and shocked intakes of breath were no defence.  By the middle of the 19th century, the dance had conquered the whole of Europe.

In Austria, the waltz’s most famous rendition is Johann Strauss II’s On The Beautiful Blue Danube, which is played at midnight each New Year’s Eve.

* *
In an equally wayward kind of way, it’s pleasing to note that Austria also gave the world croissants which, despite their fancy French name, are undoubtedly of Viennese origin.

In 1838 ( - or perhaps 1839; food historians have come to blows over the precise year - ) a retired Austrian artillery officer called August Zang opened a ‘Viennese Bakery’ in Paris, where he produced his own, light, version of the traditional tirolean ‘kipferl’.  He translated the name into French - ‘croissant’ - and the rest is history.

Croissants caught on everywhere.  In Argentina, they’re called ‘medialunas’ (‘half-moons’), in Italy they’re ‘cornetti’ and they’re even very common in Japanese bakeries, where they are covered with a sweet glaze and filled with chocolate.

Vast quantities of croissants are eaten in Poland on St Martin’s Day, November 11.

Paradoxically, although croissants were introduced into Ethiopia (of all places) as long ago as 1902 and have been hugely popular there ever since, they didn’t become popular here in England until the advent of ‘cafe culture’ in the early 1990s.

Which is weird.

* *
From the sublime to….

Schrödinger’s cat.

In 1935, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger posed the question ‘Is a cat locked inside a box alive or dead?’.  Great minds have searched for an answer to this question ever since.

So, just for the record (and to prevent truckshunter insomnia), the standard and most classically accepted response - known as the Copenhagen Response - is that the cat is both alive and dead until the box is opened.

So now you know.  Probably.

* *
The living are far outnumbered by the dead in Vienna.  Its Central Cemetery has 2.5 million plots.

* *
Interpol was founded in Vienna in 1923, an initiative of the city’s Chief of Police.  Strictly speaking, ‘Interpol’ is simply the organisation’s telegraphic address but, as the body’s official title is 46 letters long, it’s ‘Interpol’ that everybody uses.

How countries refer to their own police is, of course, an entirely different - and highly colourful - matter.

In Turkey, they’re called ‘asphalt cowboys’.  In Australia, they’re ‘Jacks’ (amongst other things); in Germany, they’re ‘bulls’; in India, they’re ‘khaki kutta’ (‘brown dogs’); in Singapore, they are known collectively as ‘The Eye’; in New York City, a cop is a ‘Jake‘ whilst in Portugal, he is a ‘smurf’.  In Norway, he’s a ‘snut‘ - a ‘dog’s nose‘, in Russia, he is ‘musor‘ - ‘trash‘ - whilst in Mexico, and several dozen other countries, he is a ‘puerco‘ - a ‘pig’.

* *
The Patron Saint of Austria is St Leopold and its National Day is 26 October, the day it signed the Neutrality Convention in 1955 - which must be about the dullest reason for a National Day anywhere on Earth.

The National Bird of Austria is the eagle, often depicted in broken, black chains.

Most famously of all, though, is Austria’s National Flower - the edelweiss (above) - the mere mention of whose name calls to mind the turgidly mawkish dirge from The Sound of Music.

It’s worth making a short, cinematic diversion here.

The Sound of Music - scandalously referred to by more than one of its stars as The Sound of Mucus - is the most successful musical film of all time, specially (for some reason) in South Korea.  In order to reduce the film’s running time and thus allow for more screenings per day, at least one Seoul cinema edited out all the songs.

Austrians will tell you, though (if you care to ask), that the film isn’t exactly an authentic historical record, songs or no songs.  Maria came to the von Trapp family in the 1920s and had married Georg by 1927 (not 1938).  There were ten von Trapp children and not seven, and the eldest was a boy and not a girl.

And finally, the family set off openly by train for Italy and not secretly on foot for Switzerland.

* *

Austria bequeathed Sigmund Freud to the world - but no-one is quite sure whether this was a good thing or not.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is Austrian as well…

* * *

For years, Austria has marketed itself very well indeed as a sing-song land of jagged, snow-capped peaks, cow-bells, stately cities, wiener-schnitzel, coffee and chocolate cake.  You don’t have to scratch very far beneath the surface, though, to uncover some bizarre - and occasionally even macabre - characteristics at which Austrians seem to excel.

Although, for example, Austria gave the world Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Bruckner, Strauss and Mahler - and doesn’t let us forget it - it also gave us a few much less savoury characters which it would much rather we did forget.

For starters, Austria fathered two notoriously cruel dictators - Hitler and Dollfuss (an undersized twerp who seized power in Austria in the 1930s and systematically had all his opponents imprisoned and shot).
The ridiculous Herr Dollfuss

More recently, other rotten apples have soured the sachertorte - sometimes quite spectacularly.

In recent years there have been two cases of domestic torture and incest that left the world stupefied.

In 1984, at the age 18, Elisabeth Fritzl was lured by her father into a dark, moldy, dungeon-like cellar underneath the family's apartment building.  The cellar had been rigged up with electronic doors so that she could not escape.  He imprisoned her there for 24 years.

She served as his beaten, tortured sex-slave.  Her father raped her more than 3,000 times. She gave birth to seven children fathered by him, delivering the babies without receiving any medical care.  She cut the umbilical cords with a pair of rusty scissors. Another baby was stillborn. 

At his criminal trial for rape, incest, and murder, the respectable Herr Fritzl admitted to murdering one of the children.

Despite having ‘suspicions’, none of the neighbours did anything at all.  For 24 years.

More recently, two sisters - Christine and Erika - revealed that they had been similarly imprisoned in a basement for 41 years.

I’ll say that again.  41 years.

They described it - accurately - as ‘a disgusting, dark, barren basement with nothing but filth, a rudimentary toilet, and just a wooden shelf to use for a bed.’  Their father beat them  - and their mother, who died in 2008 - with a stick, poked them with a pitchfork, and systematically raped them. 
Because of the torture, the sisters became mentally ill.

Despite having ‘suspicions’, none of the neighbours did anything at all.  For 41 years.

It might seem illiberal to blame Austrian culture for these grotesque aberrations - but there’s more.

After Josef Fritzl's arrest, teenagers used Elisabeth's dank hell chamber as a party pad.  The place was full of rat shit, garbage and mildew - not to mention extremely negative associations - after serving as the site of unimaginable suffering for several decades.

The police were finally obliged to weld the doors shut.

* * *
Austria was the only country that actually welcomed being invaded by Nazi Germany.

Since World War Two, Austrians have elected a high-ranking ex-Wehrmacht Nazi officer to President - Kurt Waldheim.

And in a poll conducted in the mid-1990s, 70% of Austrians said they did not like Jews, more than 20% actively loathed them and about 10% found them ‘physically revolting’.  Almost half of all Austrians believe that Jews were at least partly to blame for the Holocaust.

* * *
We’re a long way from snow-capped mountains, gushing rivers, clinking wine-glasses and dumpling soup now.  So let’s conclude by celebrating the life of an Austrian who, because of his pioneering research, has saved the lives of countless millions of people - although, as we’ll see, his story has a uniquely Austrian twist.

To give birth in a 19th-century hospital was to dice with death.  In 1847, 18% of women died in childbirth in Vienna - if they had been assisted by a doctor.  The death rate when only midwives were involved was only 2%.

When Dr Ignaz Semmelweiss (below) investigated, he found that in Vienna - as elsewhere across Europe - doctors filled in their time whilst awaiting births by doing post-mortems on the women who had just died.  And they never washed their hands.
When Dr Semmelweiss insisted that doctors scrub up with bleach, the death rate dropped to 3%.

Despite these startling results, his research was derided and rejected by the medical establishment.  (This kind of rejection of awkward new ideas is now called the ‘Semmelweiss Effect’.)

He nevertheless continued to campaign vigorously for improved hospital hygiene until, fed up with this thorn in their collective sides, his fellow doctors had him imprisoned in a lunatic asylum.

When he tried to escape, he was bludgeoned to death.

* * *
Welcome to Austria.

* *

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
Alexander the Great
In this blogposting…
* The Royal Oak Quiz 2
* Brenda’s Jokes
Out, damned spot…

* * *

Once again, a big Thankyou to Ross for sending me a copy of the quiz he compiled for The Royal Oak pub in Medomsley.

See how many you score without rersorting to Wikipedia!

01 Which wrestler starred in Rocky III as 'Thunderlips'?
02 The medical term hepatic refers to which part of the body?
03 Which element is number one on the periodic table?
04 Several bookmakers have suspended betting on the potential name of Prince William and Kate’s baby after several large bets were placed on which girl's name?
05 Which film won Best Picture at the Oscars?
06 Which country finished bottom of this year’s Six Nations Championship?
07 Who was the leading jockey at this year’s Cheltenham festival?
08 Players of Monopoly recently voted to replace which playing piece with a cat?
09 Apart from Antarctica, what is the world’s southernmost country?
10 What was the name of the dog in The Magic Roundabout?
11 What peppermint flavoured candy is said to be popular amongst climbers for energy due to its high sugar content?
12 Apart from Durham, name the three other counties in England that start with the letter D.
13 The website Rotten Tomatoes is an online review site for what?
14 Who is the youngest of the judges on the TV show The Voice?
15 Name any two of the three basic types of rock.
16 In which country would you find the Valley of the Kings?
17 A leatherback is a type of what animal?
18 From 1936-1975, General Franco ruled over which country?
19 Which actor, best known for his roles in Harry Potter films and Withnail & I died recently?
20 In the Google logo, what colour is the 'e'?

Name the top five largest cities in Europe by population.  Try to do this in less than ten minutes.

01 What is the name of the pub with the shortest name in the country?
02 What is the name of the brewery that supplies beer to the Rovers Return in Coronation Street?
03 What is the second most common pub name in Britain after The Red Lion?
04 Often said to have contributed to the downfall of pubs, in what year did the smoking ban come into effect in England?
05 What is the name of the society that promotes real ale in Britain’s pubs?

In what year was Judy Garland born?   

My Way, by Frank Sinatra, has spent more weeks in the UK singles chart than any other record.  How many?

Thanks once again to Ross.

* *


Last night I reached for my liquid Viagra and accidentally swigged from a bottle of Tippex.

I woke this morning with a huge correction.

My girlfriend said she was leaving me because of my obsession with the 60's group The Monkees.

I thought she was joking ........ and then I saw her face.

My budgie broke his leg today so I made him a little splint out of a couple of Swan Vestas.

His little face lit up when he tried to walk...I’d forgotten to remove the sandpaper from the bottom of his cage.

I got sacked last night from the Salvation Army soup kitchen.
Ungrateful bleeders.  All I said was 'hurry up for goodness sake, some of us have got homes to go to!'

Last night I was sitting on the sofa watching tv when I heard my wife's voice from the kitchen.  'What would you like for dinner my angel - chicken, beef or lamb?'  
I said 'Thank you, I'll have chicken please.'

She replied 'You're having soup you fat bastard - I was talking to the cat!'

I was sat in a restaurant and got hit on the back of the head by a prawn cocktail.  
I looked round and this bloke shouts 'That's just for starters!'

This one’s a bit longer…

The armies of Alexander the Great were greatly feared in their day, but there was one problem they had that almost defeated them. Alexander could not get his people to staff meetings on time.  He always held the meetings at 6 o'clock each day after the day's battle was done, but frequently his generals either forgot or let the time slip up on them and missed the staff meeting.

This angered Alexander very much, to say the least!

So he called in his research guys and set up a project to come up with a method of determining the time at 6 oc'clock each day.  There were no clocks in those days, at least none that could be carried around.  ‘Find a way my staff can determine the hour of the day, or at least when it gets to be 6 o'clock’, he said, ‘Cost is no object.’

A study was instituted and, with several brain-storming sessions, came up with the following idea.  In a land some distance away, there grew a bush whose berries contained a type of dye that changed colour at 6 o'clock each evening.  They found that by dyeing strips of old cloth and issuing them to the generals, they could see when it was 6 o'clock by the colour change, and could get to the meetings on time.

Needless to say this pleased Alexander very much.

It was then turned over to the marketing group to come up with a name of this new invention, as Alexander saw definite market potential in the strips.  ‘It can be worn on the wrist and can be easily watched for the colour change’, said one junior executive. ‘I therefore propose to call it the
wrist watch.’

This name was immediately hooted down as being too bland and obvious.

Finally the senior vice president, who up to now had been silent, spoke and rendered his decision.

‘We shall call it a Timeband, and in honor of the Great Alexander, it shall be known as...


(...wait for it…)


Alexander's Rag Timeband!’

* *

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
 A languid goat
In this blogposting…
* The Languid Goat
* Shortcake
Never say die…

* * *

Every language on Earth seems to have its own way of looking at the metaphorical world - of teaching its speakers moral lessons, via proverbs and similes. 

Sometimes, though, the comparisons drawn are peculiarly colourful and inventive - occasionally to the extent of obscuring the lessons we’re meant to draw.  One of my favourites in English is ‘fine words butter no parsnips’.  I love that.  And I’ve never been able to fathom ‘a wink is as good as a nod to a blind horse’.

To illustrate my point, here are some proverbs from foreign lands that I started gathering when we covered this subject on the Blue Bus.

There’s wisdom in here….somewhere.

* The languid goat is always thin.
* Empty gossip jumps with one leg.
* Dry pants catch no fish.
* After being struck on the head with an axe, it is a positive pleasure to be beaten about the body with a wooden club.
* Mistakes aren’t haystacks; if they were, there’d be more fat ponies.
* The tongue is soft and constantly remains in; the teeth are hard and fall out.
* If you throw cakes at a man, he will throw cakes at you.
* He who is tempted today by a cucumber will be tempted tomorrow by a goat.
* Kiss the hand you cannot bite.
* The ground is always frozen for lazy pigs.
* Lying a little and stealing a little will get you nicely through the world.
* Beware of men with beards and women with beards.
* Do not blow in a bear’s ear.

There are proverbs there from China, India, Russia, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, the USA, France, Holland and Italy - make of them what you will.
Another languid goat

* * *

Some months ago, in a fit of culinary fervour, I asked you to send me any recipes you have that would be suitable for a cackhanded novice like me.  So here we go again….

This time, though, I’m after a recipe for one of my favourite little luxuries - shortcake (or ‘shortbread’, as some people call it).

I have several recipe books here at home, and have also tried methods I found on the internet.  So far, none has worked.  A couple have been disastrous.

It seems, from my investigations, that shortcake is notoriously difficult to get right - which is surprising for a comestible with only three, very basic, ingredients.  This is reflected in the recipes I’ve found, which call for wildly varying amounts of butter, sugar and flour - with the occasional addition of cornflour and/or ground rice - and huge variations in cooking time, from 40 minutes in a cool oven to 15 minutes in a hot one.

Over to you, then.

If you have a shortcake recipe that always - or even usually - works for you, please send it to me in either of the usual ways.

And do it soon.  If you don’t, you’ll be condemning me to producing shortcake you could either build a wall with or use as window-putty or modelling clay.


* * *

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

In many of the world’s countries, anti-gay laws are still profoundly illiberal and repressive and it’s often fairly easy to see why:  religion, of which the most notorious of all is Islam.  I have the deepest and sincerest respect for anyone who is gay - even secretly gay - and lives in, for example, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran or any of several other Middle-East states.

It’s just as bad in huge swathes of Africa, too, where being gay can result in Islam-inspired persecution, victimisation, imprisonment, mutilation, torture or even death - or a blood-curdling combination of some or all of these things.

A Roman Catholic or Orthodox tradition is also often the progenitor of the repression of gay people.  Italy, Poland, Russia, Romania and Bulgaria all have a peculiarly harsh, Victorian attitude to homosexuality and are obstinately defying European trends to liberalise their law.

There are occasional, and sometimes puzzling, exceptions, though.  By Islamic standards, the laws of Turkey are oddly accepting of gay people; rainbow flags fly unmolested from gay bars in İstanbul as in London or Amsterdam.

Catholicism, too, does not always guarantee institutionalised homophobia.  Argentina has recently introduced gay equality legislation of a very high order and is quickly becoming the world’s centre for exotic gay wedding ceremonies - and their accompanying celebration parties (as you can see in posting 345).

Ireland - about as deeply Catholic as you can get - has some of the oldest and most liberal gay laws in Europe.  Spain, too, has freed its gay people to live openly - and marry if they want to - without any noticeable backlash from the general population.

All of which means that being gay is no longer an issue in...Ireland, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Holland, the UK, Norway, Sweden, Finland or Iceland, as well as in Canada, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand.

Western Europe’s main - and least explicable - exception to the ongoing trend of gay law reform is France.

Its new President, Francois Hollande, promised to introduce gay equality law when he was elected - and has kept his promise.  But I have been genuinely surprised by the very vocal and hate-filled protests that have taken place there as a result.

Being gay and ‘out’ in either France or Italy isn’t exactly easy.  Both countries have a hopelessly outdated idea of ‘masculinity’ and sexuality.  The frankly bizarre Silvio Berlusconi just about says it all for Italy but French attitudes are more difficult to explain.  This is a nation, remember, that embraced revolution - and its ideals of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ - over 200 years ago.

Opinion polls in France seem to suggest that most of its people have no objection at all to M Hollande’s proposals to legalise gay marriage (even though he has become a deeply disappointing  - and thus disliked - President).  What is worrying, though, is the stridency and sheer loudness of its opponents and the terrible street-violence it has engendered.

The photo above is of Wilfrid de Bruijn, a Dutchman who lives in Paris.  He and his boyfriend were attacked on their way home from a friend’s house there last Sunday night.  The assault has thankfully made national news in France, a country whose people hate, almost more than anything else, to feel ashamed of being, and embarrassed to be, French.

The French Parliament has passed the gay marriage bill into law.  This summer should see the first gay weddings in French history - a measure of equality long overdue in what is otherwise an enlightened, liberated and friendly country that I love very much indeed.

But please spare a thought for Mr de Bruijn, his boyfriend and all the other embattled gay people of France who still suffer at the hands of a noisy minority of religious bigots on a daily basis.


Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
In this blogposting…
* Royal Oak Quiz:  The Answers
* In Memoriam
You have been warned…


Hildie - whom God preserve - supplied us with this quiz in posting 442.  How well did you do?

01  Who recorded a cover of Blondie’s One Way Or Another for the official Comic Relief song this year?
One Direction
02  Stella and Pandora are two types of what fruit?
03  In the Beatrix Potter stories, what type of animal is Mr Tod?
A fox
04  What is the capital city of Sudan?
05  Diane Youdale is the real name of which of TV’s Gladiators?
06  Which US state was home to the Olympic Games in 1996?
07  In bingo lingo, number 1 is known as who’s eye?
08  Which chemical compound has the formula O3?
09  Which actor played Screech Powers in Saved By The Bell?
Dustin Diamond
10  Who played 276 games for Wimbledon between 1986 and 1994, scoring 107 goals and now hosts the Nigerian version of Deal Or No Deal?
John Fashanu
11  In film, who has played characters called John Smith, Tyler Durden and Rusty Ryan?
Brad Pitt
12  July 14, 1789, saw the storming of which famous prison, kicking off the French Revolution?
The Bastille
13  Name any two of the original Charlie’s Angels (character names)
Sabrina Duncan, Jill Munroe, Kelly Garrett
14  Facebook was founded in which year?
15  In Toy Story, who owned Woody?
16  What age followed the Bronze Age?
The Iron Age
17  Which TV series featured a president called David Palmer?
18  How many members were there of the 60s band The Monkees?
19  According to the Beaufort Scale, at least how many miles per hour must wind be travelling to be defined as a hurricane?
20  Which is the first letter of the alphabet that doesn’t appear in any month of the year?

What are the nicknames for these football clubs?
01  Cardiff City
The Bluebirds
02  Brighton & Hove Albion
The Seagulls
03  Bristol City
The Robins
04  Sheffield Wednesday
The Owls
05  Norwich City
The Canaries

01  Who was the first person to speak to Jesus after he had risen from the dead?
Mary Magdalene
02  What occasion does Maundy Thursday represent?
The Last Supper
03  What Jewish festival takes place near Easter?
04  Which country owns Easter Island?
05  Where did the arrest of Jesus take place?
The Garden of Gethsemane

The tie-breaker question was...
In what year was the Carphone Warehouse founded?  

And the ‘Snowball’ question...
How many stone monoliths have been found on Easter Island?

My score was 13.  Absolutely pitiful.



Along with everyone else, I feel I should mark the passing of Margaret Thatcher on the blog.

My first reaction, on hearing of her passing the other day, was one of unbridled pleasure that the world was finally free of this poisonous inhuman carbuncle who wilfully ruined the lives of countless people, who ennobled pure unadulterated avarice to an art-form, who indulged her bigotry and self-satisfied conceit in the guise of ‘political conviction’, whose pernicious policies damned selflessness and compassion to the collective international dustbin and whose sycophantic funeral - full of state pomp and circumstance - we have yet to endure.

I am, however, far too polite and respectful of my superiors to say stuff like that while the wretched corpse of the Iron Lady is only just starting to rust in the bin-bag or skip into which it certainly ought to have been thrown.

So I won’t.


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 Maya Angelou
In this blogposting…
* Snow Patrol
* Happy Birthday…
* A Daft Daffodil
* Thought for the Day


This posting is adorned with photos of some of the breathtaking sculptures on show at this winter’s Snow Sculptures expo at Breckenridge, Colorado.

Thanks to Eric and Jean for sending them.


...to the wonderful Maya Angelou, who is 85 today.

Ms Angelou is a very special American ‘lady of letters’.  She is an accomplished, articulate and mellifluous writer, poet and public speaker nowadays but first achieved celebrity when the first volume of her autobiography - I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - was published some years ago. 

The story of her truly horrendous childhood, and how she overcame it and mastered it, is as uplifting and as liberating as any tale of human suffering and eventual release can be.  It’s one of those books that, once read, affects you for the rest of your life;  I still glance at it sometimes, when I need to get things into the kind of perspective that only Maya Angelou can express.

A few years ago I had the very great pleasure of going with my Mam to see and hear Ms Angelou talk about her life in the unlikely but peculiarly fitting surroundings of St Oswald’s church in Durham City.  Her rich, deep voice added resonance to her wisdom.  It was an occasion I will never forget.

If you haven’t read her life story, you’re seriously missing out.

A very happy birthday to this extraordinary woman.


...here’s a splendid picture of Brenda doing her bit for Marie Curie Cancer Care’s ‘Daffodil Day’ in Northumberland Street.  How appropriate that it took place on St David’s Day!

‘We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it.’
Che Guevara

Incidentally, the three proverbs in Serge's posting 195 translate as:
You can't teach old monkeys to pull new faces.  'You can't teach an old dog new tricks'.
You can't be in the oven and in the flourmill at the same time.
It's better to prevent than to cure.

Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com
A French art-nouveau engraving of Spring...
In this blogposting…
* The Royal Oak Quiz
* Paper Has A Future
Cry ‘Havoc!’….


Just for fun - and to herald the slight uplift in the weather - here’s the quiz that Hildie and her mates took part in last weekend.

Round One is ‘general knowledge’ questions.  Round Two is all about ‘birdy’ football names.  Round Three is about Easter.

See how many of these questions you can answer correctly without looking anything up!

01  Who recorded a cover of Blondie’s One Way Or Another for the official Comic Relief song this year?
02  Stella and Pandora are two types of what fruit?
03  In the Beatrix Potter stories, what type of animal is Mr Tod?
04  What is the capital city of Sudan?
05  Diane Youdale is the real name of which of TV’s Gladiators?
06  Which US state was home to the Olympic Games in 1996?
07  In bingo lingo, number 1 is known as who’s eye?
08  Which chemical compound has the formula O3?
09  Which actor played Screech Powers in Saved By The Bell?
10  Who played 276 games for Wimbledon between 1986 and 1994, scoring 107 goals and now hosts the Nigerian version of Deal Or No Deal?
11  In film, who has played characters called John Smith, Tyler Durden and Rusty Ryan?
12  July 14, 1789, saw the storming of which famous prison, kicking off the French Revolution?
13  Name any two of the original Charlie’s Angels (character names)
14  Facebook was founded in which year?
15  In Toy Story, who owned Woody?
16  What age followed the Bronze Age?
17  Which TV series featured a president called David Palmer?
18  How many members were there of the 60s band The Monkees?
19  According to the Beaufort Scale, at least how many miles per hour must wind be travelling to be defined as a hurricane?
20  Which is the first letter of the alphabet that doesn’t appear in any month of the year?

What are the nicknames for these football clubs?
01  Cardiff City
02  Brighton & Hove Albion
03  Bristol City
04  Sheffield Wednesday
05  Norwich City

01  Who was the first person to speak to Jesus after he had risen from the dead?
02  What occasion does Maundy Thursday represent?
03  What Jewish festival takes place near Easter?
04  Which country owns Easter Island?
05  Where did the arrest of Jesus take place?

The tie-breaker question is...
In what year was the Carphone Warehouse founded?  

And the ‘Snowball’ question...
How many stone monoliths have been found on Easter Island?

They’re not easy, are they?

Answers in the next blog.

A BIG Thankyou to Hildie.

(And if anyone else would like to provide a quiz for the blog, feel free to email it to me - with the answers!)

I wonder why pub quizzes like this haven’t caught on in France?


In general, French tv is diabolical.  But in one very important respect, it is far, far superior to ours.

British tv adverts that are supposed to be funny are almost always awful.  The joke is weak and usually embarrassingly childish.  Genuinely funny British tv ads are a great rarity.

On the other hand, French tv adverts that are meant to be funny really are funny.  They are the only reason I enjoy watching French tv when I am there.

As proof of this, I submit the following video link.  Don’t worry - you don’t need to speak French to get the joke.  The link was emailed to me recently, but I foolishly deleted the email.  So Thankyou to whoever the sender was! 


(If the link doesn’t work, cut and paste it into the Search box of your internet browser.)

Why can’t the British make ads as good as that?  What’s your favourite funny ad at the moment?


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