Rummaging around in the deeper, darker recesses of my cwchdanstar is proving more and more revealing as each day passes.  It's also increasing my rate of melancholy sentiment and nostalgia.  This morning, hidden underneath an immensely long and colourful Dr Who scarf and a really ‘cool’ denim jacket I haven’t worn for over 35 years, I unearthed a book that, almost unimaginable years ago, was very precious to me indeed but whose beauty and significance had faded as the years have come and gone; that’s the passage of time, and advancing sourdough maturity, for you.

But, through all my changes of residence, jobs, relationships and tastes, it’s been there at the bottom of the box, waiting for its moment to re-emerge and re-assert its sheer wonderfulness.

I’m so glad that, through all the ups and downs in my life, I never threw it away.  And now I know that I never will.

It’s called Grooks and it was written (and drawn) by a Dane called Piet Hein who, in one lifetime, contrived to be a scientist, mathematician, Danish Resistance fighter, inventor and designer.  He entered my life, however, as an author.  A poet.  The man who composed grooks - hundreds of them.

So what, I hear you ask, are grooks?


They are short, rhymed epigrams - and much, much more.  They are pithy, pertinent, witty and wise.  They are gentle and kind.  Rather than slap you in the face in an ‘aren’t I clever to have thought of this‘ kind of way, they tap you softly on the shoulder and smile with you.

I could go on.  But by far the best way for me to explain what a grook is is to show you some, in the hope that they will affect you in the same way they affected me all those years ago - and endear you to the remarkable Mr Hein...

If they made diving boards
    six inches shorter -
think how much sooner
    you’d be in the water.

It ought to be plain
how little you gain
by getting excited
    and vexed.
You’ll always be late
for the previous train,
and always in time
    for the next.

How instructive
    is a star!
It can teach us
    from afar
just how small
    each other are.

He that lets
the small things bind him
leaves the great
undone behind him.

There’s an art of knowing when.
    Never try to guess.
Toast until it smokes and then
    Twenty seconds less.

If a nasty jagged stone
gets into your shoe,
thank the Lord it came alone -
what if there were two?

We ought to live
    each day as though
it were our last day
    here below.

But if i did, alas,
    i know
it would have killed me
    long ago.

And here are my two favourites...

Some people cower
    and wince and shrink,
owing to fear of
    what people may think.
There is one answer
    to worries like these:
people may think
    what the devil they please.

Love is like
a pineapple,
sweet and

I hope you liked them.
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In preparation for an expected - and very much dreaded - move from Robinson Towers, I’ve started to excavate the voluminous ‘cupboard under the stairs’ which everyone seems to have and which, in my case, has turned out be a crammed and cluttered Narnia stuffed with ugly ornaments wrapped in newspaper, sundry useless knick-knacks, birch-twig Christmas lights, two left-foot Wellington boots, an elaborately beautiful candle-holder I didn’t even know I had and a sign that says Please Do Not Touch.

And that doesn’t include the two boxes of books for which, at some indeterminate time in the past, I decided I had no shelf-room.  They’re a very mixed bunch, too.  A Popular History of Sheffield rubbed shoulders (or spines) with A Dictionary Of Old Trades, Titles and Occupations as well as The Tramways  of Jarrow and South Shields and a biography of James Renforth (‘champion sculler of the world’).

(The Dictionary includes some truly magnificent entries.  I bet you can’t guess what a ‘mole-drainer’ does.  Or a ‘domifex’.  How about a ‘rubber-up’.  A ‘shuffler’ or a ‘blaxter’ or a ‘pavyler’.


Tucked away underneath The Lost Canals Of Leicestershire, and looking very old and neglected, was A Brief Treatise Of Various Ailments And Their Treatment By Nature’s Remedies.  Seriously.

Considering how big its title is, the book itself is disappointingly slim.  Slender, even.  It’s a kind of hard-backed pamphlet - from (I think) the 1890s - which offers recipes for cures for the various maladies which affected the general population of the time, from asthma and acne, via blackheads, constipation, dropsy, falling hair, lumbago and sore eyelids to ulcerated throat and worms.

And you don’t have to read very far to realise how much more fun it was to be ill in those days than it is now.  Nowadays, all most people have to do is visit a doctor, get a prescription, have it filled out, start taking the tablets and lie down.

In the 1890s, though, your first step would be to obtain a copy of A Brief Treatise Of Various Ailments And Their Treatment By Nature’s Remedies if you didn't already have one.  Having hobbled home from the bookshop, you’d have to look in the book’s index to find the remedy for whatever was wrong with you - assuming that you knew what it was.

Assuming that you knew that you were afflicted with, say, gout or dyspepsia, you’d then have to take a stout pair of scissors or a Stanley knife and launch yourself into the countryside or, at the very least, into the nearest public park, in order to gather the ingredients to make a tincture or lotion back home.

And the ingredients which the book suggests you should gather are one of the more esoteric aspects of the phenomenon.  Let’s say, for example, that you wake up one morning feeling all stiff and rheumaticky.  These are the ingredients which A Brief Treatise Of Various Ailments And Their Treatment By Nature’s Remedies suggests you assemble…

Burdock, yarrow, agrimony, bogbean and raspberry leaves.

It seems to me that most, or even all, of these would be unavailable during winter, when rheumatism is at its anecdotal worst.  And in any case, how many stiff-jointed sufferers can be expected to go wandering in the fields and hedgerows looking for agrimony and bogbean - or would even recognise it if they saw it?

If rheumatism deteriorated into sciatica, you’d be expected to go foraging yet again - this time for poplar bark, juniper berries, bayberry and ginger.  If you want a lotion instead, you’ll need some ‘spirits of hartshorn’, some ‘sweet oil‘ and a dash of ‘tincture of myrrh’.  (I’m inclined, here, to ask what myrrh actually is - and to ask why it’s spelt so strangely - but that would just needlessly overcomplicate matters.)

Helpfully, A Brief Treatise Of Various Ailments And Their Treatment By Nature’s Remedies tells you that sciatica ‘is sometimes tedious of cure’.  You can say that again.

My favourite recipe, though - and one which I intend to try whensoever the need arises - is for ‘kidney and bladder trouble’.  It demands half an ounce each of ‘parsley piert’, juniper, ‘dog’s grass’, ‘pellitory of the wall‘ and ‘clivers‘ -  a couple of which sound like diseases in their own right.  Pellitory of the wall?  Clivers?

At first, I took these to be misprints or even jokes.  After all, I reasoned, I’m 65 years old and have never heard of either of them.  (Or of ‘Queen’s delight‘ and ‘mazerion’, both of which are recommended for ‘blood disease’, whatever that might be.)

So, on your behalf - and to take my mind off my junk-clearing - I’ve done some investigating and the pictures on this posting are the result (although neither Google nor Wikipedia had any knowledge of ‘mazerion’).  Clivers turns out to be common-or-garden couch grass and at least we know what pellitory of the wall looks like.  All we need now is someone with kidney or bladder trouble and we’re set.

Anyway - back to the jungle under the stairs...
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Today, July 24, is one of the most important days of the year for Truckshunters and has been for centuries.  Probably for much longer than you imagine. 

Indeed, our illustrious ancestors were even present when, in 1096, Pope Urban II fired the starting pistol and launched the First Crusade.  Amongst the Templars, Hospitallers, Vintners and Victuallers that set out on that (frankly foolish) adventure were our proud forefathers - and, fluttering proudly before them, they bore the dazzling (not to say slightly garish and marginally tawdry) banner of their patron saint, whose day today is.

This is the feast day of...

St Christina The Astonishing.

(It really is.)

So I hope that, in accordance with the tenets ordained by long tradition, everyone has done something truly Astonishing today.

If not, there’s still time….

If you think that what you have done was more Astonishing than was strictly necessary or even ritually desirable, get in touch and tell us all what it was.

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Any old iron...

Several things can go rushing out of the back door when retirement comes in at the front.  There are warehouses full of anecdotes about people - specially men, for some reason - who fall to pieces when they retire; vegetating blankly in an armchair, believing everything they read in the Daily Mail and thus drifting deeper into reactionary grumpiness while their frantic wives feed them cake, inadvertently clogging their arteries and fattening them up for the coffin.

For others though - and their numbers seem to be increasing - retirement is like huge hangar-doors opening for the first time and revealing vistas of unimaginable opportunity and adventure.  Happily, large numbers of retired folk take up the challenge of stepping outside to find out exactly what it is that their working lives have prevented them from experiencing.

They take up hang-gliding or needlepoint or genealogy.  They learn Spanish or Kurdish or even Welsh.  They go ski-ing in Austria or mountaineering on the less challenging slopes of Andorra or Norway.  They travel for travel’s own sake, taking advantage of its undreamed-of cheapness, all the while getting both smilingly envious of younger people for whom such things are taken for granted and quietly jubilant that they are still spry enough to enjoy it all.

You could be forgiven for thinking that I’m about to bring forth the many journeys I’ve made since the BBC’s revolving door revolved me unceremoniously out of the Pink Palace as evidence that I am very much of the latter type.  But I’m not going to do that at all.

For me, the most powerful - and most recent - symptom of the joys of my own retirement lie in a different direction entirely.

I’ve started ironing.

Until fairly recently, the last time I’d ironed a shirt in anger was several decades ago.  Whole wars have started and ended, a generation has come and gone, and several careers have slid into oblivion since I last put heat to fabric, as it were.

Until, that is, I found myself looking into a fitting-mirror in Marks and Spencer’s and being appalled at the slovenly, crumply, creasy, disordered untidiness of what was a moderately expensive shirt.  Well, expensive by my standards.

It looked no different to the way my shirts generally look, except that I’d noticed it.  I looked like a Jesmond vagrant.

So I went across the street and - unbelievably - bought an iron.  When I got it home, I realised that I already owned one.  I just hadn’t realised…

The problems started at once.  The ironing board seemed to have the constructional complexity of a cartoon deck-chair and kept collapsing.  And my newly-acquired iron had buttons and switches and dials the purpose of which eluded me.  (I still don’t really know what they all do but I press them and flick them anyway.)  The days of simply heating up a heavy, handled steel plate and pressing it down mercilessly onto an innocent swatch of polycotton have obviously long gone.

The real problem, though, is the ironing process itself - and this is where you come in…

I may be stupid but I’m not daft.  I have no intention of ironing my socks, kecks, jeans, handkerchieves or sheets like I understand some people are wont to do.  That way lies insanity.

I am only going to iron my shirts.  And I am only going to iron them if someone has the experience, skill and straightforward gumption to tell me how to do it.

I am aware that, as with so many things, there is a correct and a hopelessly incorrect sequence of events attached to shirt-ironing.  In exactly the same way, I’m reminded of an on-air discussion we had on one of Paul’s Saturday shows about the ‘proper’ way of mounting toilet rolls; do you pull the paper over the top or out from underneath?  Paul and I disagreed as vehemently as is possible with such matters of domestic nicety and the phone-calls we got were split down the middle (so to speak).  The matter remains unresolved to this day…

Back to shirts, though.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve tried various permutations in the way I iron my shirts.  Collar first, then yoke, sleeves and body.  Sleeves, then yoke, collar and body.  Yoke, then body, collar and sleeves.  And so on and so on.  The problem is that each time I try a different regime, I have an uneasy feeling that, if someone knowledgeable about such things were watching, they would either gasp at my ignorance of what is right and proper or guffaw at my clumsy incompetence.

So...once and for all...is there a domestic god or goddess amongst our sacred fellowship who knows what the prescribed order of shirt-parts during the ironing process is?

If so, please get in touch at once before I throw in the (unironed) towel and decide to take up dusting instead - God forbid.

Isn’t life bizarre?
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So how's everybody keeping?  
What've you been up to? 
Anything to report?  
The daily grind?  
Missed me?