Friday, 9 May 2008

SOME NECK……………………………………………………….

Churchill is accused of enjoying the war in “Human Smoke”, Nicholas Baker’s controversial history of World War 2 which was published this week. It would be surprising if he had not. His career until that date had consisted of a series of spectacular mistakes. To end it in a burst of martial glory which eclipsed that of his ancestor the Duke of Marlborough was a gift many a pensioner would envy.

It is some years since the historian Noble Frankland pointed out that Churchill believed air support on a battlefield would add a complication without conferring an advantage; that the Germans would be unable to break the French on the Western Front; the Japanese would be too cautious to enter the war and, if they did, Singapore would remain invulnerable.

According to Frankland, Churchill thought that neither submarines nor aircraft would pose a serious threat to battleships and that aerial mines would be better defence than radar. He was responsible for Gallipoli in 1915 and for the disastrous campaign in Norway in 1940. He sent the “Prince of Wales” and the “Repulse” to Singapore, ordered the bombing of Dresden and then condemned it. On the eve of Victory in Europe he summoned the Chiefs of Staff to prepare a plan for an alliance with the German Army for an attack on Russia. He famously agreed to a plan to bomb defenceless tribesmen and said he would not object to the use on them of poison gas.

Biographies of his mother show him to have been constantly urging her to further his career. Only her intervention saved him from involvement in a homosexual scandal in his regiment and his odious son recounted with glee how his father had slept with Ivor Novello in Leeds Castle when a fire necessitated guests sharing a bed. Asked how it was he replied, according to Randolph, “Very musical.”

Difficult not to believe that with him the pen was mightier than the sword when he got in first with his History of the War, making him his own most passionate advocate.

Another chum from broadcasting days is the Earl of Norwich, who every Christmas sends his friends “Christmas Cracker”, a collection of cuttings and quotations which have amused him during the year. On payment of a fiver to John Julius’s favourite charity ‘Venice in Peril’, for which he works tirelessly, I am allowed to reproduce them here. This one is worth every penny.

From an Exeter newspaper:

Donna Challice, a thirty-year-old single mother of three from Devon, has appeared in court accused of failing properly to recycle her household waste. Mrs Challice was being prosecuted for “contaminating recyclable rubbish” under the Environmental Protection Act. She has now been released on bail and will next appear on 5 June 2006 for a pre-trial review.

The Environmental Protection Act specifically states which types of recyclable items must be cleaned and placed in which containers on which days. Mrs Challice has been accused of putting items in the wrong bin on six separate occasions over the last year. She claims that the rules are confusing and that any offence that she may have committed was completely by accident.

Arthur Dimson, Director of Waste Disposal for the Exeter City Council, has dismissed Mrs Challice’s claim saying that:

“It’s quite simple really. On the second and fourth Monday of each month, plastics go in the red bins and aluminium in the blue bins. On the first and third Tuesdays of each month - providing there has already been a first Monday - paper goes in the red containers and other non-aluminium metals go in the blue containers. If there hasn’t been a first Monday, the schedule is pushed back a week. On alternating Wednesdays, glass goes into the red cans and miscellaneous recyclable refuse goes into the blue cans. On Thursdays, non-recyclable refuse may be put into either the red or the blue receptacles. All discards must be washed except clothing – which may be either washed or dry-cleaned depending on the fabric – and paper. Paper with coloured printing should only be placed in the red cans on the first Tuesday of each month. Paper with only black ink may be placed in the red containers on any other qualifying Tuesday. On weekends the bins are to remain empty for cleaning. These rules are all posted on the bottom of each recycling bin. So it’s not as if people have to memorise them.”

He added:

“Mrs Challice could wait until the weekend and look in the bottom of the empty bin to refresh her memory on the rules.”


It began as an April Fool’s joke. An online poll asked villagers of Audlem, Cheshire, whether they would like to break away from England and become Welsh. So far more than 66 per cent of the 333 respondents have registered support for the motion.

The village is nine miles from Wales and residents have long looked with envy at their neighbours’ free NHS prescriptions.
And for two more good reads try


Sunday, 4 May 2008

Huns,Guns and butttering up doctors

I do not go quite so far as George Orwell who in one of his wartime Tribune columns asserted that we did less harm to the Germans by dropping bombs on them than we did by calling them “ Huns”.
He insisted ;
“ Naturally one does not want to inflict death and wounds if it can be avoided, but I cannot think that mere killing is important. We shall all be dead in a hundred years, and most of us by the sordid horror known as ‘natural death’.
“The truly evil thing is to act in such a way that peaceful life becomes impossible. War damages the fabric of a civilisation not by the destruction it causes, nor even by the slaughter of human beings, but by stimulating hatred and dishonesty.
By shooting your enemy you are not in the deepest sense wronging him. But by hating him, by inventing lies about him and bringing up children to believe them, by clamouring for unfair peace terms which make a further war inevitable…………………...”,

In his manual of leadership “The Prince” Machiavelli suggested the best way to rally a people behind a leader, is to invent an enemy. . Clearly in trying to frighten us about anyone with a sun tan our Government has learned the lesson that it is in its interest to have a frightened public. It enables control,; validates the 3,000 new laws, including for the first time laws which limit the things one can say, words one can use, mindsets one can display. Political correctness is now part of the contaminated air we breathe. It is no accident that the first unnecessary legislation the Government brought in was the law which took firearms out of the hands of the ordinary folk. To-day it is announced the Govt is considering making it illegal for a parent to teach their child how to drive. Here on the Fens a church is having to spend £5,000 replacing iron railings destroyed by vandals. The Parish Council has been warned the new railings must not have spikes in case vandals hurt themselves climbing over them.,
I have personal experience of Government manipulation. When I was reporter in Chester there ws never more than one murder on each Assize Calendar. During the moratorium which preceded the abolition of the death penalty there were four murder charges on the calendar. I said to a friend who was the Court Administrator that here was certain proof hanging ws a deterrent.
He smiled at my innocence.
“We have had an instruction from the Lord Chancellor. All defendants charged with murder are to be invited to plead to a lesser charge. There will be no murder convictions on the list I prepare. “
Nor were there and the argument for hanging was lost, though the public was overwhelmingly in favour..
The Govt is like the Fat Boy in Pickwick. It wants to make our flesh creep,
The reason ? We are at war once removed. On the one side there are the Western Liberal Democracies on the other the growing Autocracies of China, Russia and the East.
Like befuddled Joans of Arc we bring the banners of democracy to countless millions who do not want them. In doing so we flout three hundred years of international law which forbade interference in sovereign states.
The dilemma comes to a head in the State of Israel. Heroic act or violent landgrab? Centuries of verbal abuse of these two septs of the same clan have brought about a situation where the Arab race which gave us so much , which preserved the treasures of the classical world, the roots of our own civilisation, has created the suicide bomber.
The Jews, a gifted people who have enriched the worlds of art and commerce and earned the world’s pity by the murderous sacrifice of sixteen million poor souls, drew the blueprint of post war terror with the Stern Gang and Irgun.
Neither can accept the simple solution of a shared land.. Both rely on ancient history. As the Welsh historian Gwyn Alf Williams wisely observed in his book “When Was Wales” it would be a bold man who relied on history pre-Tudor times,
Historically the war between East and West began in classic times when a Persian sea captain kidnapped a Princess of Io; but as Herodotus pointed out the girl ws pregnant by the captain and went quite willingly. Herodotus is the most gossipy of historians but he can sometimes be relied on. I once asked the Keeper of Classical Antiquities at the British Museum how reliable Herodotus was in his description of building the pyramids. He said the more we excavate the more likely Herodotus’ explanation sounds.
Nevetheless there is almost as much of Hans Christian Anderson in Herodotus as there is in the Bible.
Freud persuasively argued in his book “ Moses and Monotheism” that Moses the father of Israel who gave the Jews their laws was in fact an Egyptian subversive who took over the fringe tribe of Jews rather in the way that Hitler who had been sent to spy on it took over the National Socialist party.
It is risible that such an intellectual race as the Jew/Arab should base its title deeds on a book which might be seen as fanciful mythology.


Sir Kyffin Williams R.A, Wales’s greatest painter is the subject of my latest book which came out this week;, “Kyffin; A figure in a Welsh Landscape”

I was lucky enough to trace childhood sweethearts, boys who hunted with him in the Ynysfor Hounds, a private pack of foxhounds in which the members walked about twenty miles a day UPHILL in Snowdonia,, fellow art students at the Slade, men he soldiered with and the people who knew and helped him in his days as an unknown art master at a London public school. Sadly some have died since I interviewed them. I am glad I was able to collect memories which might otherwise have been lost.
Kyffin was a forthright critic of the Arts Establishment in Wales during his lifetime and I suspect the inexplicable delays in publishing the book may owe something to Welsh politics. The book does not pull any punches. Quite rightly, because the Arts Establishment seemed to go out of its way to denigrate him during his lifetime and I know he was dreadfully hurt.
The mechanics of the book have been a nightmare. Kyffin asked me write it, then decided he didn’t want his private life picked over by the public. So he went round all the people he had asked me to interview and told them not to co-operate.
I wasn’t upset. He was odd but deeply lovable. The Marquess of Anglesey hosted a party for him on his 70th birthday. It was attended by the Great and Good. The only person who ws missing ws Kyffin who hated parties and refused to go until I was begged by the Marchioness to go and bring him..
Despite the contretemps of the book we remained friends and I have illustrated the book with cartoons he did of us both. He understood I was contracted to write the book but I ws happy to agree not to publish in his life time .
Nor did it stop him giving me material.. He used to come to supper once a week to our home in Llanfairpwll and afterwards my wife Celia and I would sit in the library, switch on a tape recorder and have the joy of hearing one of the finest raconteurs in Wales tell his hilarious life story.
It is my twenty-seventh book and the second one to be published this month. , “Forgive Us Our Press Passes” which I have extended (the original edition is listed at £70 online), is now one of the top buys on Amazon.
My biographies are all Welsh. Owain Glyndwr was a kinsman and the three other subjects were all good friends. Dick Evans, the Lifeboat cox who was awarded two V.Cs., Ken Williams, the Holyhead policeman/naturalist who married a millionairess and was the only police constable with a holiday home, staffed with servants, in Mombasa and a flat at the back of Harrods; Lord Langford, the Rhyl war hero, the story of whose wartime escape from Singapore was my first best seller.

It is my 79th birthday next week and I will spend it editing my biography of TV phenomenon Jess Yates, whose programme “Stars on Sunday” was watched each week by twenty million people.

I am also completing ten years’ research on Maria Stella, Lady Newborough, whom many believe was heir to the throne of France. I thought I had finished but I have just discovered a large amount of new material in a North Wales archive.


MY doctor’s note;

Dear Dr Winfrey,

I gather my name has been put forward for your “Fit for the Future” clinic.

Alas, I am not and do not really want to be. The future has already gone on far too long for my taste and I have no real wish to tread the road to Alzheimer's and an Old Folks’ Home.

As I told you when we met, I have had an exciting and glamorous life. The present, when the most exciting moments are the visits to your clinics and jaunts to Sainsbury’s, is far from that. The future threatens to be even worse.

I have already been robbed by age of most of the pleasures of life. Those that remain include fish and chips, cheese on toast, black pudding and roast potatoes once a week.

I do not propose to give any of them up and I am enough of a Buddhist to believe one should live in the present and that there is no such thing as death.

I do hope you and the good nurses will understand and I wish your new clinic every success. But, alas, its aims miss me by a wide margin.

Yours very sincerely,

Ian Skidmore


An old BBC Wales mate with an English accent - and for that reason no longer heard - is John Bilsborough, a poet who publishes his own books at the Elephant Press, Glyn Abbey, Llanelli. The title is a joke because the books are usually no more than 2 inches high. Bilsborough is an authentic genius. In my broadcasting days I would give him the subject of a poem at the beginning of a half hour programme of Radio Brynsiencyn. At the end of the programme he would read it. He is a mile better than the so-called impromptu poets R4 wheels out on Saturday mornings. This is his rewrite of nursery rhymes:

Little Bo-peep has lost her sheep and doesn’t know what to do

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town
Upstairs and downstairs in his dressing gown
Peeping through the windows...a pity he got caught
Now he’s been remanded for a Medical report.

Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet
Ever so proud and prim
But when little Jack Horner came round the corner
She had her whey with him.

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe
Had so many children she didn’t know what to do.
If you indulge in such pursuits
You might find what you need in Boots*.
(*For the benefit of overseas readers Boots is a chemist which specialises in ‘something for the week-end, sir?’)

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
The Official Inquiry was ever so rushed
And people are saying he might have been pushed.

Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon,
The little dog laughed to see such fun,
“You’ve been smoking that all afternoon.”


and a reminder of further interesting reading;