Be kind in our ‘parallel world’

I try and keep things light-hearted, even when I’m writing about something so teeth-grindingly, annoyingly idiotic it’s left me fuming with rage.

Because amongst the comedian’s cornucopia of comedic capabilities is the gift of being able to step back from a subject and take a cool look at it from an angle that people who aren’t in the comedy business wouldn’t give a second’s thought to.

But, right now, we’re living in what seems to many of us is a parallel world to the one we’ve all grown up in.

The buildings and roads and trees and car parks we’re all familiar with look pretty much as they always have, but there is something going on that’s worrying us all.

I’m not a political journalist and don’t have any medical knowledge apart from knowing how to apply a plaster to a grazed knee, so I wouldn’t dare start spouting off about the way the world’s leaders and experts have handled the current situation.

But as at the time I’m writing this, there’s no light to be seen at the end of the tunnel.  We have to grit our teeth, dig in for the length of the duration and do all within our means to help each other in any way we can.

It’s especially worrying for people in their 80s and 90s who lived through and remember the hardships of the Second World War.

For those of you able to get out and about, why not take a few minutes out of your day to knock on the door of a neighbour (or neighbours) you know to be confined to the house, regardless of their age? Check if they’re okay and ask if they need bread, milk or a newspaper.  Such a small act of kindness might very well make their day,

While, like me, you devour the information the media gives us on a daily basis, please try to take a balanced view of this unprecedented situation.
Because… Gossip and sensationalism drives fear and we must always ask questions and explore the truth ourselves.

Time will tell, mark my words.

Aunty Edna can check that your’ve put the bins out!

I heard a truly heart-warming story over the weekend about some wonderful work being carried out by our local NHS.

We know that the front-line NHS staff and support teams do fantastic work despite the fact that they are stretched beyond safe and acceptable levels.

However, what I picked up on was a great initiative and much-needed in these ever-changing times.

To keep visitors to an absolute minimum, the local hospitals are now restricting movement and visiting times.

In-patients are now are restricted to one visitor at a time, for one hour a day and I understand the importance on this fully.

But the new initiative means that patients will be assisted by staff in the setting up of a live video link from the bedside to friends, family and much-loved pets at home.

With the use of modern technology, Nan will be able to wave to the dog and Aunty Edna can check that you’ve put the bins out on the right day!

I do hope that all this is true – but, more importantly, I hope that it works successfully. I will investigate on your behalf and update you shortly.

I am sure this will lift the spirits of patients and families alike.

Am-drams are full of mishaps

I have an enquiring mind and absorb loads of information on a daily basis through newspapers, TV, websites and radio.  I’ve also got a reputation for picking up stories by earwigging people’s conversations in coffee shops.  Well, every man needs a hobby!

Stored in my mental filing cabinet – which is much easier to move around than a metal filing cabinet – is the fact there are 2,500 amateur dramatic societies in the UK that put on 35,000 productions every year.  I learned that from writer Michael Coveney’s new book about the Am Dram world, entitled “Questors, Jesters and Renegades”.

While I’ve never been involved with Am-Dram, people I know who have, tell me what I’ve always suspected.  The Am Dram universe is more awash with green-eyed jealousy, illicit relationships and actors with egos far bigger than their talent than the world of professional theatre.

If you suddenly feel eager to join your local Am Dram group…be careful!

Because according to Michael Coveney’s book, amateur dramatic productions are plagued with disasters waiting in the wings, which are hysterically funny for the audience but nerve-shatteringly terrifying for the poor amateur thespians they happen to…

Prop telephones stubbornly refuse to ring when they’re supposed to, then suddenly do ring at an inappropriate moment.  Fake glass bottles refuse to break in dramatic fight scenes.

Actors unsuccessfully try to exit through doors that won’t budge.  During a murder mystery, to cover the fact a prop gun had failed to fire, the actor who pulled the trigger ‘helpfully’ said “Bang!”.  An actor fell off the stage, broke his arm and was whisked off to the local A & E still dressed as a pirate.  Which was really odd because he was playing the title role in Chekovs “Uncle Vanya”.

But the story that made me laugh the most occurred in an amateur production of “Hamlet”.  In the solemn closing moments, as several bodies were being slowly carried off stage, instead of the Funeral March being played, the curtain fell to a rendition of “Tea For Two”.

Now that’s a moment of theatre that would’ve even tickled Shakespeare!

A high-pitched answer to a compliment during a prostrate examination

Having just realised that I’ve been contributing to the local newspapers since June 2014, I am slightly surprised by the fact that I continue to come up with new ideas and stories on a weekly basis.

This was not something that I planned.  I just happened to be approached and accepted the challenge in my usual enthusiastic way.  Learning on the job is one way of describing the journey so far.

Having said that, it has now become a regular occurrence to be approached by the public while out on my travels, only to be complimented on my weekly newspaper articles.  It’s nice to learn that people are gaining some pleasure from my work.

Even my doctor commented recently, which totally threw me as he was carrying out my first ever prostate examination at the time.  My reply was quite high pitched.

Not the conversation I was expecting and not that I have a prostate issue, but I’m at the age where regular check-ups are advisory.  So, if you are reading this, clearly you are checking out my column.  If you are male and of a mature age then make sure you also regularly check out your prostate condition.  You can thank me later.

Examples of hilarious ‘typos’.

As I was about to tell you about some amusing typographical errors (‘typos’) that happen when people text or e-mail, I remembered the classic typo in a script for the 1970s TV soap “Crossroads”.  Noele Gordon, playing Crossroads motel boss Meg Mortimer, was rehearsing ‘talking’ to someone on the phone when Ann George, playing cleaning lady Amy Turtle, entered, vacuuming the carpet…noisily!

Noele turned to Ann and said “What are you doing?” to which Ann replied, “What it says in my script!”  Producing her copy out of her overall pocket, she showed it to Noele, who burst out laughing, saying, “It’s a mis-print. It should say ‘Amy is HOVERING in the background!’”

If we don’t notice a typo before we send a message it can cause much hilarity for the receiver and puce-faced embarrassment for the sender.  Although we can always blame the arch-enemy of stubby fingers and coherent grammar…predictive text.

As in this example… “Sorry I can’t meet you tomorrow. I’m expecting the delivery of a three-piece swede”.

On-line news often contain ‘typos’ like the one I read on the website of a well-respected daily newspaper when referring to the cost of living…
“Pensioners on fixed incomes are becoming increasingly concerned about princes!”

One particular pensioner who resides in Buckingham Palace has good cause to be very concerned about princes!

Some prime examples of hilarious ‘typos’ occur on TV subtitles, which have to be typed at break-neck speed by the subtitlers so that the words exactly match the images on the screen, which may only last a few minutes.

Take this mis-spelt subtitle for example…
“I find it shocking that in this day and age, these people are still living in Dickinson conditions!”

Does that mean they have fake tans, wear shiny suits and spend their days wandering around antique shops?

My favourite mis-spelt subtitle has to be the one that appeared during a big-budget BBC costume drama.  The subtitle should have read as follows… “Anton walks across to the open French windows and starts peering into the garden”.  Unfortunately, the subtitler left the ‘r’ out of ‘peering’.

Well it made me smile!

Cat’s no way to talk about pets…

A few weeks ago, while rambling on about the many unanswered questions that worry me, I jokingly asked “Can vegetarians bring home the bacon?”

Well, it turns out I shouldn’t have.

Not according to The People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals (PETA), who believe the expression ‘Bring home the bacon’ might traumatise pigs and want it replaced by ‘Bringing Home The Bagels’.

Preferably not filled with ham!

They also want “Take The Bull By The Horns” replaced by “Take The Flower By The Thorn!”  Ouch! Surely you take flowers by the stem?

My recent article about my ‘Pet Peeves’ might also incur the wrath of PETA, who, despite having an acronym that incorporates the word PET, want the ‘P’ word replaced by ‘Companion’ because the word Pet is derogatory to animals, making them sound inferior to humans.

Look, I like animals and don’t feel particularly superior to them, but if I ever need a tooth out, my eyes tested or a knee operation, I’d rather put my trust in a dentist, optician and surgeon than a labradoodle, hamster and a goldfish.

PETA wants lots of other age-old expressions changed and in the case of ‘Let the cat out of the bag’…banned outright, as according to their Media Officer Jennifer White, “Cats shouldn’t be in bags!”

I agree. They shouldn’t. Although it’s a big help when you take one to the vet.

However, the expression isn’t an insult to moggies. It refers to the ‘Cat O’ Nine Tails’, a nasty-looking whip used to punish 18th Century sailors.   Whenever they saw it removed from the bag it was kept in, they knew to expect trouble!

PETA want the expression ‘To Kill Two Birds With One Stone’ replaced by ‘To Feed Two Birds With One Scone!’ and (please don’t laugh) ‘Flogging A Dead Horse’ replaced by ‘Feeding A Fed Horse’.

Feeding a horse that’s already full of hay, makes about as much sense as taking a Cat O’ Nine Tails to a deceased equine.

Must dash. I want to ‘phone the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena and book tickets to see The Companion Shop Boys this summer…

There’s no point suffering to stay healthy, is there?

Over the past few days. I have witnessed more cyclists and joggers on the roads than at any other time I can remember.

Sweating, red faced and panting heavily whilst maintaining that focused and determined look through gritted teeth is not something that I personally feel the need to participate in, but hats off to those of you that do.  Well done and keep it up, if it makes you feel good.

A close friend recently challenged me to start training for the London marathon next year. I’ve now come to the conclusion that I don’t need friends like this.  My exercise regime is far less strenuous and more of a leisurely pace these days, weather permitting of course.

Let’s face it, there’s no point suffering to stay healthy is there?

I’ve been a member of a gym for more than a year now, but apparently you actually have to turn up for it to have any effect.  Who knew?

I do have a favourite machine in the gym though, known as the vending machine.

On a serious note though, I really must make more of an effort to look after myself and stay in shape.  At this point in time, I’m a bad example.

‘Mister Manners’ can buy his own food!

For some time, I’ve been puzzled by the fact that various food items I’ve purchased in different supermarkets were missing the familiar ‘Best Before’ dates.  Because we all like to check them, don’t we?  Especially on milk and bread!

I only began to understand why this was happening when I read a shocking newspaper report that revealed the average British family wastes £700 of food annually – the equivalent of 10 billion meals a year!

One in three of us is a ‘High Food Waster’. Not to be confused with the Clint Eastwood western “High Plains Drifter!”

Something must be done to combat this terrible waste, not just of food but of resources.  Because before we pop any food item into our shopping trolley, a vast army of people had to source, process, pack, deliver and place it on display on the supermarket shelf.  Not only that, we also waste fuel driving to the supermarket to purchase stuff we don’t eat.

If you haven’t already comprehended how insane the situation is, let me give you some statistics.

Every single day more than a million loaves of bread; 920,000 bananas; 800,000 apples; and 720,000 oranges end up in domestic bins – hopefully, the ones that your local council provide you with for food recycling.  Yet there are thousands of people queueing up at food banks to obtain their basic food requirements.

A breakthrough has been made in the war on waste, helped by some retailers who’ve scrapped ‘Best Before’ dates on many fresh items to encourage shoppers to decide for themselves if the item remains fresh to eat.  Which makes perfect sense.

At the same time, certain restaurants are serving smaller portions of commonly thrown out food such as chips and also provide diners with doggy bags.

While these efforts reduced food wastage by 7% in three years, the Government’s waste advisers (WRAP) warns more effort is needed if the country is to reach their target of halving food waste by 2030.

So, never again say, as you finish a meal, “I’ll leave that sausage for Mister Manners”.  Don’t save the sausage.  Save the planet!

Celebrate the tradition of St David’s Day

What’s special about it?

Saint David was born towards the end of the 5th century.  He founded a Celtic monastic community at Glyn Rhosyn (The Vale of Roses) on the western headland of Pembrokeshire at the spot where St David’s Cathedral stands today.

The date of Saint David’s death is recorded as 1st of March.  The year, however, is uncertain, but it’s thought to be around 601.  That’s round about the same time as the news starts at teatime in Wales.

For centuries, March 1st has been a national festival.  Indeed, the 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys noted how Welsh celebrations in London for Saint David’s Day would spark wider counter-celebrations among their English neighbours and life-sized effigies of Welshmen were symbolically hung.

By the 18th century, the custom had arisen of confectioners producing “taffies”— gingerbread figures baked in the shape of a Welshman riding a goat on Saint David’s Day.

This tradition can often be seen re-enacted in Ammanford on a Saturday night.  Happy St David’s Day on Sunday.

‘Hits to die for’ at your funeral service

When I was a lad, I barely heard anyone talking about Death.  It was a taboo subject, whispered about by elderly relatives behind closed doors over glasses of sweet sherry and a shared packet of pork scratchings several months past their sell-by date. (Yes, I do come from aristocratic stock. I just can’t hide it)

But how things have changed!

If you spend any time at home during the working week, when The World & His Wife (is Mrs World an ex-Miss World?) are out earning a living, and tune into the appalling cheap and cheerless guff that TV schedulers believe daytime viewers deserve, you’ll find the Grim Reaper hiding between every commercial break, waiting to pounce on you before you can switch channels.

A while back I pointed out that numerous daytime telly commercials are for life insurance and funeral plans.  At the time, these products weren’t really on my personal radar.  But recently, someone somewhere found out I’ll no longer see 39 again and has bombarded me with junk mail about those ‘Final Expenses’.

To persuade me to respond, they always contain the ‘tempting’ offer of a free pen.  If there’s one thing I don’t need is a free pen – provided my bank keeps forgetting to chain theirs down.

Funeral companies regularly announce the Top 10 favourite popular songs which for many families have replaced traditional hymns, adding a more personal touch to the service.

“My Way” by Frank Sinatra, the Number One choice for a long time, has been replaced by “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, while hovering close to the top are “Unforgettable” by Nat ‘King’ Cole, “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen and “Highway To Hell” (!) by AC/DC.

I think I’ve spotted a marketing opportunity.  As daytime telly often features ads for CD collections of old pop hits, the next logical step is a CD of favourite funeral songs!

In a few months, watch out for me appearing in the middle of “Countdown” flogging the triple CD “HITS TO DIE FOR”

As you might guess, it won’t be available in the shops!