Kathy Secker

Kathy Secker, who died just before Christmas, would be deeply embarrassed to hear me calling her a broadcasting goddess but that’s exactly what she was.  She had the knack - shamefully rare in tv and radio broadcasters - of making viewers and listeners feel important, valued and even loved.  She didn’t talk at us; she engaged us in conversation, listened to us and responded like a best friend.

And these are not just empty and predictable eulogising platitudes.  This is how Kathy was, in private as well as in public.  It’s a shame that charisma like hers cannot be emulated or learned; it has to come naturally, and it did.

I have just attended her funeral and left wishing I had known her much better than I did.

This is the verse her daughter chose to recite for us there.  It was written by Joyce Grenfell.

'If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is hell
But life goes on
So sing as well.'
My visit to Paris had been planned well before the horrors of 13 November.  In an annual ritual that goes back many years now, I go there every mid-December to pay my respects at the tomb of Saint-Saëns in Montparnasse Cemetery; he is my favourite composer and a personal hero, the anniversary of whose death falls on 16 December.
His is a family, 'sentry-box', sepulchre - very common in France - and this is the interior.  Other visitors have left flowers for his anniversary; for some unaccountable reason, I always leave an apple.  You can see it on the right of 'altar' shelf.

His memorial tablet

This burial took place while I was there.  The granite 'tabletop' had to be moved aside - no easy task - so that the coffin could be lowered  - upright - into the family vault below.
The Saint-Saëns family sepulchre is at the top, second from left.

Amongst the more usual tabletop and sentry-box graves there are some rarer and more idiosyncratic memorials.  This striking tomb belongs to Sylvia Lopez, a model and actress who died in 1958.  
 Hers was a proverbial household name at the time but her life was cut short by leukemia; she was only 26 when she died.

Just across the avenue from Ms Lopez lie the remains of Maryse Bastié, a pioneering aviator who set or beat many flying records during the 1930s - including a first solo flight across the South Atlantic.
She flew for France during the Second World War and, like Saint-Saëns, was awarded the Legion of Honour.  She died in 1952.

This isn't a grave at all; it's a sculpture by de Max called The Separation of a Couple.  Death is drawing a woman into her tomb as she blows a final kiss to her grief-stricken husband.  De Max made it for the nearby Luxembourg Gardens but, for some reason, it was regarded as 'too obscene' and was moved here in 1965.
I love looking at it - even though it could do with a good clean-up.

This is the flamboyant tomb of sculptor César Baldaccini, who died in 1998.  Each year, on the anniversary of his death, a white camellia is placed in his left hand.
This is the most unadorned gravestone I came across.  Under it lies Yves Haguel, who died in 2009.  I haven't been able to find out anything about him - unless he was a scion of the Haguel company of solicitors in Paris, which is what comes up if you Google his name...
The art of cinema was invented in France - I have visited the home of the Lumiére brothers in Lyon several times.
Under this extraordinary tombstone, decorated with movie stills and film reels, lie the remains of cinephile Henri Langlois, an early pioneer in film preservation and archiving.  
He co-founded the Cinémàtheque Française and was given an honorary Academy Award in 1974 for his work in, and love of, cinema.  He died in 1977.

This man's grave describes him as an 'illustrator, humorist, journalist, novelist, author and playwright', but it fails to give his name.  Which is sad, because the words on the headstone translate as:
He was above religions that make men fight;
He - he had found the best one;
He loved everyone.
 Love each other and pray for him
According to your faith. 

This is perhaps the most visited grave in Montparnasse Cemetery.  Jean-Paul Sartre (who died in 1980) and Simone de Beauvoir (1986) are buried here.  There are always pebbles strewn over the foot of the grave like this - interspersed with used Metro tickets (a peculiarly charming Parisian tradition of showing respect at the graves of the famous).

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It’s now over a month since the slaughter on that terrible night in Paris when a gang of rampaging killers saw fit to murder 130 people - and injure many more.  Although other news stories have inevitably taken over the international headlines, an urban orgy of bloodshed on this scale - specially in western Europe - is as difficult to forget as it was to comprehend in the first place.

When Parisians, and many other French people, feel that France is in trouble or in crisis, they customarily head en masse to Place de la Republique, near the centre of Paris, to show their solidarity and support for each other - liberty, equality and fraternity in action, if you like.

Last week I visited Paris and joined many of them there.

Republique lies only a few minutes’ walk from Dominique and John’s flat; it’s even closer to most of the places where so many lives were cut so brutally short by the agents of Allah.  This means that its place at the centre of France’s ongoing public reaction to November 13th is especially poignant.

And that poignancy was not lost on me as I walked onto the square and saw national grief (as it were) in physical form.  I had seen pictures on tv and in newspapers but nothing prepared me for the sadness, shock, despair, incomprehension, anger and loss I saw and felt there.  It was palpable.  It hung in the air.
Même pas Peur - Nevertheless, no Fear

I spent as long as I could looking at the thousands of candles there; visitors and local people make sure that at least some of them are burning day and night, and new ones, like the one I laid there, are being added and lit all the time.

And there are flowers - many, many thousands of flowers - and flags, banners, letters, posters, cards, photographs, placards and achingly scrawled messages.  Impromptu and defiant Christmas decorations have started to appear now, too.

The noble and historic monument at the centre of all this outpouring cannot cope with the burden of grief laid upon her; the bouquets and wreaths and candles are spreading ever outward over the pavement now - and into the hearts of everyone who visits this overpowering and heartbreaking symbol of the savage butchery of innocent people.

I cried.  And I wasn’t alone with my tears.  People were weeping and hugging all round me.  The memory of my visit there is having the same effect on me now, as I write.

Like everyone else, I hope that the souls of those who were murdered that night are at peace in whatever version of paradise gives them most comfort; a paradise forever beyond the reach of thugs, terror and tears.

This is going to be an awful Christmas for those they left behind.
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 I took this photo of my new great-nephew Arthur last Friday; that's his grandma with him - my sister-in-law Jean.  Isn't he just SCRUMMY.  (Jean too, of course.)
My philological creation of ‘misislamy’ in the last posting has prompted yet another long-absent truckshunter to contact me.  This time, it’s the lovely Martin in Houghton-le-Spring, whom God preserve.

He wonders why I’ve never quoted - in any of my previous 593 posts - one of the most famous and laugh-out-loud criticisms of the vagaries of English spelling and its wayward conflict with English pronunciation.

I quote…

'If non-native English speakers find it tough going, they should not despair.  Multi-national personnel at NATO headquarters near Paris found English to be an easy language ... until they tried to pronounce it.  To help them discard an array of accents and pitfalls, the verses below were devised.  After trying them, a Frenchman said he'd prefer six months at hard labour to reading six lines aloud.

Try them yourself.

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,

Dies and diet, lord and word,

Sword and sward, retain and Britain.

(Mind the latter, how it's written.)

Now I surely will not plague you

With such words as plaque and ague.

But be careful how you speak:

Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;

Cloven, oven, how and low,

Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,

Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,

Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,

Exiles, similes, and reviles;

Scholar, vicar, and cigar,

Solar, mica, war and far;

One, anemone, Balmoral,

Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;

Gertrude, German, wind and mind,

Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,

Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.

Blood and flood are not like food,

Nor is mould like should and would.

Viscous, viscount, load and broad,

Toward, to forward, to reward.

And your pronunciation's OK

When you correctly say croquet,

Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,

Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour

And enamour rhyme with hammer.

River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,

Doll and roll and some and home.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,

Neither does devour with clangour.

Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,

Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,

Shoes, goes, does. 
Now first say finger,

And then singer, ginger, linger,

Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,

Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,

Nor does fury sound like bury.

Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.

Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.

Though the differences seem little,

We say actual but victual.

Refer does not rhyme with deafer.

Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.

Mint, pint, senate and sedate;

Dull, bull, and George ate late.

Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,

Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,

Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.

We say hallowed, but allowed,

People, leopard, towed, but vowed.

Mark the differences, moreover,

Between mover, cover, clover;

Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,

Chalice, but police and lice;

Camel, constable, unstable,

Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,

Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.

Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,

Senator, spectator, mayor.

Tour, but our and succour, four.

Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Sea, idea, Korea, area,

Psalm, Maria, but malaria.

Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.

Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,

Dandelion and battalion.

Sally with ally, yea, ye,

Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.

Say aver, but ever, fever,

Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.

Heron, granary, canary.

Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.

Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Large, but target, gin, give, verging,

Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.

Ear, but earn and wear and tear

Do not rhyme with here but ere.

Seven is right, but so is even,

Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,

Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,

Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation -- think of Psyche!

Is a paling stout and spikey?

Won't it make you lose your wits,

Writing groats and saying grits?

It's a dark abyss or tunnel:

Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,

Islington and Isle of Wight,

Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough --

Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?

Hiccough has the sound of cup.

My advice is to give up!!!'

Thanks Martin - it’s wonderful.
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Jonathan Ruffer


...of all places.

In blogpostings 252 and 266 (way back in 2011) I got myself agitated over the future of 12 amazing paintings by the great Spanish ‘Golden Age’ painter Zurbarán.  They were bought in the 1750s by the then Prince Bishop of Durham, Richard Trevor, who built the Long Dining Room in Auckland Palace specially to house and display them - thus creating the first de facto purpose-built art gallery in Europe.

The last I’d heard was that they had, at least, been saved from sale at the philistine hands of the greedy bishopric of Durham, who were shamed by the generosity of businessman Jonathan Ruffer; he donated £25m to secure their future as well as the future of Auckland Palace itself.

Well things have moved on since then.  I’m glad to say that Mr Ruffer’s plans have been developed and enlarged; if all goes well, sad old Bishop Auckland will soon be adorned not just with the Zurbarán pictures but also with works by other Spanish Siglo Oro painters - El Greco, Ribera and Velázquez (no less) - as well as priceless sculptures, most of them newly-acquired.

The Auckland Castle Trust has said that although the Zurbarán paintings will stay where they are, the other artworks will be housed in the town’s new Spanish Art Gallery and Research Institute - two adjacent buildings in the Market Place that were once a bank and a school/pizzeria.

With any luck, it may soon be unavoidably necessary for me to change my admittedly jaded opinion of Bishop Auckland. - and I’ll be very, very happy to do so.

And Thankyou, Mr Ruffer - you made my day.
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In posting 583, I claimed responsibility for inventing a new word - Islamogyny - ‘hatred of Islam’.  Peter in South Shields has pointed out that, for someone who prides himself on his love of words and wordlore, I came grievously unstuck.


Islamogyny were to mean anything, it would simply be ‘Muslim women’'.  You were right to split misogyny and misanthropy, but you used the wrong bits!  It’s the mis- part that means ‘hatred’; ‘hatred of women’ and ‘hatred of men’.

So 'hatred of Islam' would surely be
misislamy, or something like that.’

Thanks Peter.  You're right - and you’ve made me feel thoroughly ashamed.
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Another big Thankyou (not to mention an even louder Welcome Back) is called for - this time to Peter in South Shields.  Until yesterday, I hadn't from him for 18 months and had assumed that he'd found new outlets for his talents and enthusiasms, which were legion.

But no.  In his quiet, South Shields kind of way, Peter's still around and remains safely within the truckshunter fold.  To prove it, he has sent me a poignant collection of cartoons which, between them, seem to home in on many of the aspects of modern life that disappoint, anger or puzzle old stagers like me.  And (presumably) Peter himself.

I'd like to give credit to the illustrator who devised these brilliantly clever drawings but Peter has told me that he doesn't know his/her/their identity.  If you do, please get in touch.

Thanks again, Peter.
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Peter also sent me what he called 'the last word' about my birthday.

'Ian...you share your birthday with Pamela Stephenson, Jay-Z and Ronnie Corbett, who is now 85.

And it was on 4 December in 1872 that the American ship Mary Celeste was found drifting off the Azores.  She was in good, seaworthy condition and her cargo was intact.  Her crew, though, had completely disappeared.  Even now, no-one knows what became of them.  56 years later to the day, you were born...'

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The Madagascar Serpent Eagle - saved from extinction when I was 45; 
today, there are about 350 of them

Firstly, a very, very BIG Thankyou for your emails, txts and cards.  I promise to reply to each one personally but, until I do, be assured that you’ve helped to make an old(er) man very happy indeed!

To be honest, it turned out to be a more interesting birthday than I’d imagined.  A friend reminded me of a guest we once had on the Blue Bus Programme who explained that life for ordinary people like me and you had changed more in the last sixty-odd years than it had done in the previous two thousand.

So rather than spend the day in glib self-congratulation (isn’t ‘glib’ a lovely word?) I got to  wondering about exactly how much life really has changed since I arrived 67 years ago - not just for me but for the world into which I was born.  And a wonderful website, created by the BBC (naturally) was able to tell me much that I wanted to know…

So here goes…

- My heart has beaten over 3 billion times.  The heart of a Blue Whale would have beaten ‘only’ 211 million times in 67 years, whereas a Hummingbird’s would have beaten an amazing 44 billion times.

- Although I am 67 years old here on Earth, up there on Mercury I would be 278 - years on Mercury last only 71 days.  On Venus, I am 108, on Mars I am 35, on Jupiter I am only 5, on Saturn I am 2 and on Uranus and Neptune I haven’t even reached my first birthday - a Uranian day is 6,213 Earth days long and on Neptune, one day lasts 35,718 Earth days.

- In my lifetime I have travelled over 63,433,602,500 km round the sun and counting.  (Since I started typing this sentence, I’ve travelled a further 210km.)

- This also means that I have travelled 528,613,420,250 km through the Milky Way; as I write, I’m travelling at about 500 km per second.

- A house-fly my age would have a family of 37,248 generations by now.  A mouse, 446. 
A rabbit, 115.  A penguin, 13.  And a killer whale, 4.
The earliest important wildlife discovery made after my birth was that of the Golden Poison Frog, found in Colombia when I was 25

The creature most recently discovered in my lifetime is the Squat Lobster, 
found off New Zealand when I was 64

- There have been 307 major volcanic eruptions since I was born - none of them my fault.  The largest was in 1991; it measured 6 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (of which I had never heard until this very moment).

- In my lifetime there have been 692 major earthquakes - the largest, in 1960, measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale.

- I have reached a height of 1.83m in my lifetime.  A California Coast Redwood tree has grown 26.31m.

- There have been 147 solar eclipses since I was born.  The next will occur in 92 days.

- The world’s population grows by about 4 births every second.  This means that there are, on balance, about 4,884,162,000 more people on Earth now than when I was born.  There are now about 10 more.  And counting.

- This is also partly because life expectancy worldwide has increased by an incredible 26 years in my lifetime.

- Sea level has risen by 15cm since I was born.

- The number of mammal species classed as ‘critically endangered’ when I was 51 was 169; it is now 211. 
There are just 1,500 Borneo Pygmy Elephants left in the wild

- The same figures for birds are 168 and 198 respectively. 
There are just 500 Philippine Eagles left

- Fish are faring much worse - their figures are 157 (when I was 51) and 424 (now). 
Reports suggest that the Goliath Grouper became extinct only in the last few weeks

- Things aren’t looking good for plants either.  Critically endangered when I was 51 - 909 species; now - 2104. 
There are just 100 populations of Georgia Aster left on Earth

- At current rates of consumption, the Earth’s oil reserves will run out when I am 119.  And there’ll be no more coal after my 121st birthday.

- Almost 20% of the Earth’s forests have been lost in the last 67 years.

- On the other hand - and to end on a slightly more cheerful note - several animals have been saved from extinction in my lifetime…
The Black Rhino was saved when I was 57; there are now about 3,725

The Saiga Antelope was also saved when I was 57; there are now over 40,000 of them
 The Mountain Gorilla was saved from extinction when I was 43 
but there are still only about 400 of them
 The Golden Lion Tamarin has been safe since I was 23; there are about 800 of them now
The Grey Whale was saved from extinction the year I was born; 
happily, there 21,000 of them 67 years later
The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was rescued when I was 56 - 
but there are still only about 50 in the wild 

So now you know what I did on my birthday - well at least until Paul Wappat arrived with his partner Penny to disrupt proceedings.

And I finished the day at a live Matt Berry gig in the Town with John, my old friend.  Nick Roberts was there, too.  How cool is that?
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