Friday, 12 February 2010


For reasons best known to itself the army once thought I was officer material. That was despite the fact that I lost my first command, a party of twenty short-sighted soldiers I took to be be fitted with spectacles. They deserted to a man whilst my balance of my mind was disturbed.

Even more bizarre was the test of fitness to command they gave us. Can you believe: “Assemble a domestic light fitting!”

Perhaps that is one explanation for the existence of generals. Sir Richard Dannatt, the former boss of the army, told a R4 audience that we must choose the role we are going to play in the world and THEN choose the weapons we are going to use. “Anything else would be putting the cart before the horse.”

Watch where you are putting your cart, General. In the next war, start without me. If I am going to shoot anyone I like to know beforehand that I can afford to buy a gun.

A military friend reproaches me:

“What Dannatt is saying is that the government should decide in consultation with the military experts what role Britain is to play in the world and then equip the Armed Forces accordingly so they are not going into battle in the desert with equipment designed for the Cold War or into the jungle with desert kit etc., etc.”

Which is fine by me because the Balkanisation of Britain into New Ruritania means that two rapiers and a sling shot should see us through.

We were told this week that our hospitals can hardly cope with the casualties they are already nursing, let alone the wounded we are expecting in the putsch of the coming weeks in Afghanistan. The last time that happened was in the Crimea and it made a legend out of Florence Nightingale, undeservedly as it has turned out.

The tactics we are employing in this assault reverse the traditional view that surprise is the finest weapon in street fighting and in war. We have been warning the Taleban for weeks that we are on our way. Deliberately. It will mean more of our young men will die, the Ministry of Defence tells us with brazen effrontery. They will do so safe in the knowledge that, as a result, fewer Afghans will die. I thought he idea of warfare was to inflict casualties on the other side, not on ourselves.

The generals also believe the more mercenary Taleban will be encouraged by our warning of hell to come to take the thirty pieces of silver they are offered to lay down their arms. They believe we are fighting a Public School's Eleven. The thought that they might take their thirty pieces, spend them and then put their hands out for more does not occur. The other .piece of the equation is that Muslims don't mind dying. Dying, according to the Koran, is when life begins.

I have to say I see no reason to change my long held belief that anyone of higher rank than lance corporal is not to be trusted with anything, especially one's life.


My old friend Allan Barham is a smile and a voice. Physically he is small but his voice would win Oscars, his smile light rooms and all the rest of him is talent. We worked in friendly competition on BBC Wales for more than thirty years and it was a competition in which I always came a convincing second. Apart from the fact that he could edit his tapes on a portable machine whilst sitting in his car, draping the cut tapes for reassembly over the steering wheel, when everyone else had to use a studio editing suite, his great gift was to find and interview a series of improbable eccentrics that defied belief.

I was glad I retired before he took up authorship. His first book was an account of life in a family hotel that made Fawlty Towers the new Ritz. His second “Radio Reporter” was an account of those interviews and in addition the finest instruction manual a trainee broadcaster could hope for.

It should have come as no surprise, therefore, to find he is a world expert on the adder. This week he brought out “The Adder Report”, a book which his publisher Toby Books rightly claims is “a bewitching brew, a steaming broth of legends and, yes, facts and fantasises that spill slithering from the cauldron and wriggle from the fearsome to the rib tickling funny..” For once a publisher undersells.

Professor David Bellamy, the TV man, points out in a foreword:
“The Adder Report is good news for snakes of all shapes and sizes. I hope many snake lovers will read this book and henceforth walk with care through our countryside fearful of the fact that they will harm the snakes...”

Oh I will, I will. In turn the book should carry a health warning: “Do Not Read in Bed”. I did and fell asleep whilst reading about a man who came eyeball to eyeball with an adder whilst crawling through a meadow. Nightmares I can handle. I was once married to one. NightSNAKES?

That was one night that sleep did not knit up the ravelled sleeve of care. I should think Barham is a stranger to sleep. On the evidence of the book, people write to him from all over he world and some pretty hair raising tales they have to tell. Quite why an adder should have two penises one cannot think. But he does.

There is no escaping them. Adders have been found in the Arctic Circle and at least one man successfully made a pet of one. He said it made a fine watch dog and every morning went for the postman. But as Spike Milligan observed, “There is nothing madder than a trod-on adder.”
My chum Colin Dunne writes;
The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners are:

1.Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3.Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4.Esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5.Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.
6.Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7.Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9.Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.
10.Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.

11.Testicle, n.. A humorous question on an exam.

12.Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13.Pokemon, n.. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14.Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15.Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16.Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men