Saturday, 25 October 2008




It has been a funny sort of week. Last Saturday I was a guest at my grand-daughter’s deeply romantic wedding; on Sunday her sister got engaged on the top of the Brunelleschi tower in Florence and shopped for the ring on the Ponte Vecchio; on Monday my wife and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary; and on Thursday her seventieth birthday. The only other anniversaries I can think of which are celebrated at this time of the year are the battle of Hastings, El Alamein and Trafalgar, which is somehow fitting.


At all our celebrations not a drop (well perhaps just a drop) passed my eager lips. But it is not the drink I miss so much as the cut and thrust of the family battles which it provoked. I sometimes think it is no coincidence that our time of celebration should end in Hallowe’en, the Witches’ Sabbath.


“Come, come,” I once said in answer to unkind criticism from Madam, “I only graze in public once a week and take a modest slurp for the joy of having my fellow man around me.”


“The camel only goes to the watering hole every three months,” she countered with bitter cruelty, “but he can still put away enough liquid at one visit to last till his next. I often think,” mused the Moon of My Delight, “you display some of the characteristics of the camel.“


It was at this point I began to pout. Prettily, of course. Any hint at humps sends me off. Most pear-shaped chaps are the same. We cannot help feeling that if our humps had been on our backs and not fastened to our waists no one would dream of mentioning them. Much less patting them as though they owned them. Try patting them back, these indiscriminate patterers. If you don’t get landed with a sexual harassment charge, at least you get a dirty look. And as if being patted isn’t bad enough, it comes with the same weary witticisms. “Bet this cost you a fortune,” they say.


There is really only one reply to that, and I offer it to come to the aid of all stout parties. You fix the patters with a beady eye and you say: “If your parents had spent on your education what it cost me to achieve this contour, you would know that it is very rude to draw attention to other peoples’ appearances.”


Of course, the truth is that it is the burden of being an endomorph - round, soft and cuddly, as psychologists have perceptively defined us.


Better than being a squat, muscular mesomorph like Mussolini, or a lean, bony ectomorph like Hitler.


Endomorphs of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your weight. Just look who marches in our ranks: Sam Johnson, John Falstaff, Winston Churchill, Peter Ustinov. And the glorious beer-stained G K Chesterton. During the First World War a woman demanded, “Why aren’t you out at the front?” “Madam,“ said Chesterton, “if I turn sideways you would see that I am.”


Our list is endless, but who have the ectomorphs got? I’ll tell you. Twiggy. Mesomorphs? Rambo. Rambo? Sounds like a dog food.





If you think of life as a theatre, it is a great relief to have moved to the seat near the emergency exit. For one thing, the creative people I read about today are so much smaller than the ones I once knew.


Like a lady called Maureen Peters, who when I interviewed her had already written 168 novels, 25 magazine serials and 150 short stories. Her musical “Maid of Judah”, for which she wrote the book and lyrics, was about to have its British premiere after a successful American debut.


She filled her spare time knitting, tapestry making, studying the Cabala, travelling and reading at least six books a week. She had three children and nine grandchildren.


She confessed: “My head is full of ideas and I just have to get them out. At the moment I have ideas for sixteen novels either in my head or jotted down in note books. I don’t use real people as characters consciously, but my mum always said she recognised some of my characters from people we had known when I was a child.”


The practical mechanics of her writing life would make your head spin.


“When I finish a novel I give myself a day off and then I start the next one. I have to write. I couldn’t bear to sit around in the morning talking about the price of tea. It’s not an escape from life, because I am quite happy with my life, but I am just not a social animal,“


She had just come back from an extended holiday. Two days in Hawarth, the capital of Bronte Country.


“I love it. It’s still the nineteenth century there with cobbled streets. It’s where they made the Hovis advertisement. In the apothecary’s - NOT the chemist’s - they still sell Dolly Blue and wear 19th century dress. I was disappointed they didn’t have laudanum when I asked, but they said they weren’t allowed to sell it.”


Magic mushrooms had been found in Top Withas, the setting for Wuthering Heights, and Maureen wondered if Heathcliffe and girlfriend got their kicks from chewing them. Alas, the discovery came too late for her biography of Emily Bronte, “Child of the Earth”, which took her three years of research and is written in novel form from Emily’s letters.


Maureen wondered if Emily was an early euthanasia case. “She was bitten by a rabid dog and could have caught hydrophobia. There was some mystery about her death. Her Uncle Hugh was brought over from Ireland when she was ill and went back a totally changed man when she died. He would never talk about her death and the family maid at that time was left £300 in Pastor Bronte’s will, which was a fortune in those days. I wonder if Uncle Hugh assisted the death. The Parson couldn’t and Emily would not have been allowed to take her own life. It’s all fascinating.”


Everything is grist to the Peters’ mill. She has set family sagas in Kent, Anglesey and Manchester. She has written 12 thrillers about a detective nun. You might know her under her other names, Veronica Black or Catherine Darby.


The musical? “I was on the train coming home from seeing Billy Liar in the West End. I didn’t think much of it. I thought I could write a better musical than that. I had just published a novel about a little orphaned Jewish girl who is on the streets in the 1870s when there were 30,000 child prostitutes in Manchester. She is rescued by a pavement artist. Perfect plot. So I started to jot down some lyrics.”





According to H. V. Morton in the best guide book to Wales "In Search of Wales", Taffy is a corruption of the Dutch “Tayf” which is the name of the tall black hat worn by Dutch clergy. They were notorious for arriving at parishioners’ houses at lunchtime and devouring the beef.


“Tayf je was er wee hetsh naen, Tayf je was er drief,

“Tayf je gee em t’oom hye huys, Een stole er leech af beef.”


According to my Slang thesaurus (because of course I have no other knowledge of the activity), copulation at lunchtime is known as a nooner; the act itself is known as horizontal jogging, indoor sledging and parallel parking. The excreta of the butterfly is frass.


I cannot think why, but I am glad to know all that.





My wife had a Debenham’s Gift Voucher stolen from a letter. It came with a letter from the Post Office Customer Service Manager admitting it had been damaged “whilst in our care” and offering “for an investigation to be made”.


Debenham’s said there was nothing they could do to prevent the voucher from being cashed, even though the sender had the receipt. The Post Office refused to offer compensation because the letter was not sent by special delivery, thus giving a charter to the thieves they employ. And finding the Post Office Ombudsman proved more difficult than it would have been apprehending the thief, had anyone bothered to try.


A postman told me that there is one offence which, if repeated, is automatically sackable.


Leaving the Sorting Office without a cycle helmet.