Split down the middle

The classic British sitcom “Steptoe and Son” depicted rag ’n’ bone man Harold Steptoe’s  (Harry H Corbett ) aspirations of bettering himself constantly being trampled on by his selfish old Dad, Albert (Wilfred Brambell).

Galton and Simpson wrote 57 cracking shows, but one particular 1972 episode is a fan favourite…

In “Divided We Stand”, Harold’s ambition to re-decorate their house with wallpaper “Like they have in Blenheim Palace” is thwarted by Albert, content with their ancient, anaglypta walls.

Having suffered his Dad’s stubbornness for years, Harold builds a partition right down the middle of every room in the house and re-decorates ‘his’ side, much to Albert’s annoyance.

Boundary Lane in Saltney, Flintshire, is similarly split down the middle like the Steptoe’s residence in Oil Drum Lane.

One side of the lane in Flintshire is in Wales and the other side is in England!

Whoever created boundaries back in the day must have had a weird sense of humour.

Up until now it’s not been a problem, but… because the Welsh Parliament has taken a different approach to the lockdown to the English Parliament, it’s led to the frustrating situation where residents on the English side of Boundary Lane currently have more freedom than their neighbours on the Welsh side, just a matter of yards away!

People on the English side can sunbathe, travel to other destinations and play sport with people from the same household.

They can also pop over to Wales and shop in their local Morrisons. I’m obliged to say, other supermarkets are available – though I’m not sure they are in Saltney.

Residents on Boundary Lane’s Welsh side aren’t allowed to leave Wales to exercise and have been storing their rubbish for weeks because their nearest Welsh recycling centre isn’t open.

Those living across the road are having theirs taken away regularly because the nearest English recycling centre has never closed.

When deciding to take a different approach to the English Parliament, you’d think the Cardiff Bay geniuses might have considered that, with so many towns and villages situated along our 160-mile border, a ridiculous situation like this might arise.

Or am I asking too much?

Constant nagging was mainly the motivation here

The weeks are flying by and we are now approaching the end on May. Where has the time gone?

Lockdown continues and many are now stir crazy, or so my friends tell me. So many of my old skills have been put to the test over the past 10 weeks and the jobs around the house have slowly been tackled.  Yes, the DIY projects are well underway, indoors and out, and, before you ask, yes, I have also had to dig out the first aid kit.

If I’m honest with you, the whole experience of tackling the outstanding jobs that have been put off for years has been very therapeutic and a great form of exercise. Having said that, a constant nagging was mainly the motivation here.

However, the aches and pains seem to last for days, but seem to be resolved by a good night’s sleep having taken a few paracetamols. Sounds familiar?

In addition to the DIY, I have organised my paperwork and backlog of writing projects and have given some half baked jokes and stories a brand new lease of life, which means I will have some exciting breaking news to report very soon. Watch this space.

Who needs coffee shop gossip?

I recently mentioned that being unable to sit in coffee shops and overhear conversations that might prove useful for comedy material was one of the downsides of the lockdown.

Not that there are many upsides, apart from the public’s heightened appreciation of the debt of gratitude we owe everyone working in the NHS – from the stoic ICU doctors and nurses to all the other medical professionals and the cleaners, porters and catering staff.

Because we’re used to seeing busy intensive care wards  on the TV news – including uplifting scenes of patients who’ve been treated for the virus and survived –  we tend to overlook that as well as unfortunate coronavirus patients, there are thousands of people in hospitals all over the UK with other serious conditions.

Life-saving operations, scans, biopsies, x-rays, blood tests and other procedures are being carried out, just as they were before we’d ever heard of Covid-19.

And we shouldn’t forget NHS staff who risk their lives every day in  out-patient departments dealing with appointments made months ago and A & E staff kept busy helping those in pain and distress 24 hours a day.

These doctors, nurses and paramedics have no idea if the people who need their attention might be in the early stages of infection.

I’ve gone off at a tangent now – who said “So what’s new?”- but as tangents go, it’s one that needed to be gone off on – if that makes sense.

What I actually wanted to say was, I’ve discovered I don’t have to sit drinking coffee surrounded by gossiping ladies to pick up potentially funny lines.

One arrived, gift-wrapped, at my front gate last week…

As I was putting out my 47 different re-cycling bins, bags and boxes, a young lady walked past, talking on her mobile phone to, I presume, a female friend.

She spoke just 12 words which were more than enough to publicly lay bare her relationship with her male partner….
“See, I have to tell him he’s wrong, even when he’s right!”

Are there any ladies out there who can identify with that sentiment?

I never thought I’d say this – but I do miss the Brexit debates

Over the past six weeks or so I have discovered a few things about myself and the world we now live in. Let me explain . . .

My car now does six weeks to the gallon.  The money I have saved on petrol has gone towards gym membership and I’ve started going twice a day.  It’s closed, but the walk there and back does me good.

I also discovered that you should never tell your other half that you can see her grey roots when she’s halfway through cutting your hair with an electric hair clippers.  I now have to wear a bobble hat as well as a mask and gloves. A few months ago, if I’d have walked into the bank looking like this, they’d have activated the alarm.

I called to the shop on the way back and shouted, “I’ve got Corona!” The queue cleared, and I was only buying a pack of beer.

How Covid-19 has changed me.  I had a call asking me if I’d had an accident in the last three years and I kept the young man on the phone for over two hours just for a chat.

Well, I never thought I’d say this. But I do miss the Brexit debates now.

Right then. I must dash. I’m off to buy a bucket. Well – it’s at the top of my list.

If you see any litter in front of your house, please pick it up

On more than one occasion in this newspaper, I’ve made my feelings plain regarding bone-idle, slack-jawed, knuckle-dragging idiots who thoughtlessly drop litter in the street.

And I’ve explained my views on those people who think it’s okay to throw empty burger cartons and fizzy drink cans out of their car windows.

You wouldn’t do it and I certainly wouldn’t, so it’s always puzzled me what they have (apart from fresh air and the odd fly buzzing around that got in but can’t escape) between their ears.

Almost every day since the lockdown, I’ve gone out to get some fresh air and walk off the five bags of crisps I’m currently getting through every evening – well they’re very filling and it saves on the cooking.

Everywhere I go on my walks I see the same pieces of litter on the pavements and gutters outside people’s houses day after day.  Which, you won’t be surprised to learn, really annoys me.

Many of us are under ‘house arrest’ for at least part of the day and if we do go out, we don’t venture far.  We’ve never had so much time on our hands.

So, when people look out of their front window and see the same empty cola can and plastic water bottle on the pavement or across the road that were there yesterday, you’d assume they’d think, “I’ve got absolutely nothing to do until bedtime so I’ll safely pick them up and pop them in my recycling”.

If they’re feeling less charitable they might even think, “Why don’t the  people whose house these items have been lying in front of since Easter Monday pick ‘em up?”

But we have to remember that, unfortunately, not everyone takes pride in their neighbourhood’s appearance.

So, my friends, if you see any litter in front of your house or nearby, please pick it up.  If you have one, use a litter-picker stick – which isn’t easy to say with a mouthful of crisps – and bin it or recycle it.

If we all did this, there’s never been a better time to help us create a cleaner, more pleasant Wales!

‘There IS always two sides to an argument’

Do you have an opinion? Does it matter?

The world is constantly changing and so are opinions, which we often find challenging due to the fact that we also have our own opinions.

We are fortunate to be living in a country that, in the main, grants us freedom of speech and more and more people are now stepping up to the plate and confidently speaking up, which can so often be a double-edged sword.

We have discovered that social media is great for putting your opinion across, but it also gives idiots a voice, too . . . far too often without any repercussions.

This, in itself, is a modern day curse and I have personally witnessed the downside to such shenanigans.

Friendly debate will soon be a thing of the past, if our politicians, world and industry leaders don’t control their emotions and show evidence of professional respect, while setting an example for generations to come.

Education is key for a balanced debate and there IS always two sides to an argument (did you see what I did there?).

As a comedian I’m often asked, “What happens to jokes that aren’t funny? Well, they become politicians!”

Many of us are a little stir crazy

I don’t think any of us, even as recently as January, would have ever thought I’d be writing the words… “We’re all anxious to know when the lockdown restrictions will begin to be lifted.”

But it’s a fact that many of us are going a little stir crazy – or, in some cases, becoming very depressed after weeks of adhering to the Government’s instructions.

Even social distancing and staying away from friends and family is so alien to our nature we find it very hard – but knowing that it reduces the chances of catching the disease or passing it on, we’ve been doing what’s been asked of us.

Not being able to go out for a coffee ( and, in my case, overhear conversations I can use for material) is annoying – but we only have to look at our hospitals and care homes to realise our inability to get our daily shot of caffeine isn’t that important.

Having said that, I really hope all the independent coffee shops, cafes and restaurants in the country can ride the economic storm and re-open for customers who can’t wait to pour in through their doors and order cappuccinos, lattes and expressos…and maybe  a teeny slice of that delicious-looking cake?

Yes,  some people think the current rules don’t apply to them because they’re immune, maybe even immortal, and  recklessly gather in groups to have house parties or rowdy barbeques – but they’re the type it’s best to stay away from at any time, not just now.

Long after it was announced we shouldn’t make unnecessary journeys, particularly out of our areas, a rather foolish driver – I’m watching my language here – was stopped by the police as he entered Tenby and admitted he’d travelled there from Brighton!

I like Tenby but if I lived along the Sussex coast with its beautiful sparkling sea, why would I drive several hundred miles to sit by another beautiful sparkling sea, especially during a lockdown?

I’m not even allowed to drive to Tenby from Ammanford!

But, then, I’m not one of the immune for whom ‘the rules don’t apply’…

Keep trying outdoor clothes on

I’m in need of some help here.  My gran would always tell me to “never cast a clout until May is out” and to be honest, for most of my childhood, I never knew what on earth she was talking about.

Apparently, since the 15th century ‘clout’ is a word that has been used to describe a fragment of cloth or clothing and could be spelled as clowt, clowte, cloot, or clute.  It’s here that the saying took on two meanings, rather than just the one original.

The new meaning was a reminder not to be too quick to chuck the winter clothes before cooler days during the month of May were most likely over.

I have a feeling that most of this years ‘going out’ clothes are going to remain in the wardrobe due to the current lockdown, we all seem to be sporting the pyjama or tracksuit ensemble for the time being!

Just a quick top tip, keep trying your outdoor clothes on too for when this is all over, those PJs can lead you into a false sense of security where your waistline is concerned . . .  You can thank me later!

With these three words I’m one up on Tolstoy!

As I had some time on my hands last week – who hasn’t these days? – I started reading “War and Peace” written by Tolstoy (not to be confused with the Disney sequels “Tolstoy 2 & 3” and last year’s “Tolstoy 4”) for the first time.  I bought it so long ago, I’d forgotten I owned a copy.

But. having read all the newspapers in the house, re-read last week’s “Beano” three times and thumbed through all my back copies of “Advanced Knitting Patterns” magazine, I was desperate for something to do while I waited for “Tipping Point” to start.

As I’d bought the book in 1987 and never opened it before, it was still in the original Woolworths  paper bag, so if there’s any rare paper bag collectors out there – and there are people who collect far weirder things –  send in your bids, starting at a not-unreasonable £500.  Well, it seems reasonable to me.

“War and Peace” contains 587, 287 words within its 1,225 pages – yet there’s only 26 letters in the alphabet!

Yes, that impressed me, too.

That’s the literary equivalent of building the Taj Mahal* out of a half-a-dozen bricks and a bucket of cement.  (*Other Indian restaurants are available.)

But as clever as he was, there were three words that Leo Tolstoy just couldn’t put in the book, which can only be used in one context.

Let me tell you the words and you’ll understand why.

“Bundled”. People aren’t ‘put’ into police cars. They’re ‘bundled’.  A word you never hear in any other context.

‘Potter’. People don’t mess around in their gardens. They ‘potter’. A word you never hear in any other context…unless they’re making clay pots or a trainee magician at Hogwarts.

And thirdly…‘Traipse’. the word that describes ‘wandering around somewhere for hours’ which you never hear in any other context. No-one says ‘Let’s traipse down the ‘pub’ do they?

Well, not lately, anyway.

However, you’ll notice I’ve managed to insert all three words into this article  – which means I’m one up on Tolstoy!

Now, where was I? Oh yes, page 896…

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get laughter on prescription?

Laughter comes in many forms: the giddy giggle, the mild chuckle, the gutsy guffaw, the sarcastic “ha!”

Its meaning is just as varied, signalling everything from amusement to discomfort and distain.

For researchers, understanding how our brain interprets this complex behaviour is serious business.  Yes, people are actually paid loads of money to research this stuff.

Every day we are faced with varying degrees of stress and challenging situations, more so now than ever.  As time goes on, as we get older, relaxation and laughter can slow down the ageing process.

We are bombarded with information relating to weight loss, diets, exercise and such like.  But little is said about the huge health benefits of laughter.

This is probably because of the lack of understanding by the masses . . . up to this point!

Over the years, while attending many conferences, I have been party to such a discussion, that left me convinced that the benefits of humour and being around uplifting people can add years to our lives, reduce the need for anti-depressants and keep our brains active for much longer.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could get laughter on prescription?

After all, laughter is the best medicine.  Unless, of course, you are diabetic. Then, insulin works better.