Neutral phrase can be thrown away

During the winter months whenever I had a cough or sore throat, I’d pop into a chemist’s or sweet shop and purchase a packet of Fisherman’s Friends.

Yes! I am aware that there are many other cough drops and throat lozenges on the market, but if you’d stop interrupting and read on, you’ll understand why Fisherman’s Friends is the brand particularly pertinent to this article.

Last week, on the Radio 4 Today programme, the BBC’s Europe Editor, referred to Britain’s tough, hardy fishermen as the gender neutral ‘Fisher People’ and was immediately ridiculed by many sources.

You won’t be surprised to learn than Piers Morgan was one of them.  For once, I find myself agreeing with him.

‘Fisher People’ – which sounds like a race of scary aquatic aliens that Doctor Who might come up against in the Colin Baker years – is a term that no-one had ever heard before.

It just popped out of the BBC correspondent’s mouth like a tiny, almost-sucked-to-the-end Fisherman’s Friend.  But, unlike my favourite lozenge, it left a nasty taste in the mouth.

If the Europe Editor had done her research before trying to be ‘fashionably woke’, she’d have discovered that while many hundreds of women work in the fishery business, only 2.7% of the people who actually go out in fishing boats to catch fish for our chip shops and supermarkets are women.  One of them was interviewed and said she’s happy to be referred to as a female fisherman.

With so much else going on in the world to worry and confuse us, it’s a shame that the Today programme’s Europe Correspondent didn’t possess a similar amount of common-sense as that friendly female fisherman.

Because when you consider a definition of ‘Neutral’ is ‘Having no strongly marked or positive characteristics or features’, who on earth, man or woman, would enjoy being described in that way?

Mind you, if the makers of Fisherman’s Friends do decide to go along with the PC trend, I’ll never ask for a packet of “Fisher People’s Friends”.

I’ll just switch to Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls.  Let’s see the BBC try and gender neutral them!

But do we really need all these bargains?

It’s that time of year when every retailer wants our hard-earned cash and we are constantly tempted to part with it as those special offers are all around us.

But do we really need all these bargains, or are we just seduced into becoming serial impulse buyers?

At home, clutter and waste is all around us in one form or another.  Things we don’t use or need – and, quite often, bought on impulse.

You know what happens after the big Black Friday sales?  I’ll tell you.

A lot of people who bought new big screen TVs will take them home, hook them up and then realise they need to do something with their old TVs.  Same is true with other things they bought.

Whether it be exercise equipment, bikes, toys, furniture, books, even high-end audio gear, they’ll want to get rid of the old to make room for the new.

A lot of unwanted items will end up at your local charity shop, which makes this a good time of the year to visit those stores – because they’ll be overflowing with goodies.

You pick up bargains, charities make more money. Chances are, you’ll find some real bargains there. It’s win-win!

Whatever you do, just do it your way

Life’s full of surprises. Just ask Donald Trump.

And now it’s the turn of Death to raise quizzical eyebrows amongst the populace.

Some time ago, I told you that popular songs were nudging aside traditional hymns at funeral services.

At that time, it was roughly a 50/50 split between traditional hymns and popular songs.

But now, Co-Op Funerals have revealed that in 2019, there wasn’t one traditional hymn in the “Top 10 Funeral Songs” chart. Not even Abide With Me or The Lord Is My Shepherd!

Whilst hymns may well continue to be sung at funerals of devout churchgoers, this striking change in musical tastes reflects how religion has less relevance to many people in the UK.

So, what songs replaced hymns at many funerals?

Let me give you a rundown in the style Alan Freeman used on ‘Pick Of The Pops’…

“Straight in at Number 10 are those very naughty Monty Python boys with “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life!”

At Number 9, Vera Lynn promises “We’ll Meet Again”.

And at Number 8 we’ll meet Westlife with “You Raise Me Up”.

Nat “King” Cole is the merry old soul at Number 7 with “Unforgettable”

And let us not forget that Ed Sheehan’s making his funeral chart debut with “Supermarket Flowers” at Number 6.

Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” is hovering at Number 5.

And those wings might well belong to Robbie Williams “Angels” at Number 4.

While the girl with the voice of an angel, Eva Cassidy, is “Over The Rainbow” at Number 3 – Time to say “Hello” to Andrea Boccelli and Sarah Brightman at Number 2 with “Time To Say Goodbye!

And still clinging on to that Number One spot is The Chairman Of The Board himself, Francis Albert Sinatra with “My Way”.

One song I definitely wouldn’t want played at my funeral is “You Raise Me Up” as it infers I might need to be exhumed at some point.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter what song(s) I select – because I won’t be able to hear them.  If I can, someone’s made a terrible mistake!

Life is a journey, not a destination

The world of live entertainment has been on its knees since February this year.

At this time of year, for as long as I care to remember, November would be the build-up to the ‘silly season’ – private functions, corporate award nights, office parties and pre-Christmas dinners. I cannot remember a time that this was not the case.

This year will certainly go down in history as one that many would never have envisaged in their wildest dreams

For me, the additional free time has meant that I have been able to focus on other projects, many of which I had previously started, but never found the free time to complete.

The key is to always look for the things that we can do and not on the things that we can’t.

Not as easy as it sounds, mind you!

This discipline has taken me years to get comfortable with, but is so worth it. More so this year than ever before.

We are all longing for a sense of normality, but let us not forget to live every day and appreciate what we do have.

Life is a journey, not a destination

Draconian? That’s a little bit harsh!

Whether the Welsh and UK Government’s refer to it as a lockdown, a circuit-breaker or a ‘firebreak’, the end result will be pretty much the same.

“In order to prevent you and everyone else from catching Covid 19, you must stay in; work at home if at all possible; and put your life on hold for a period of time that we’ll decide upon – and we’re not making all these rules up as we go along, honest ‘guv!”

Some people view this as a Draconian curtailing of our individual freedom, which I think is an unjustified accusation because I speak fluent Draconian, having spent three weeks in Upper Draconia before it became over-run with sun-seeking tourists and desperate-idea-seeking politicians.

I can assure you that Draconians are an easy-going people who would never impose their rules on other countries.

They love good wine and singing folk songs while balancing flaming kebabs on their noses – a skill not easily acquired, as the medical staff at the local A&E will confirm.

As I’m not a big fan of TV, unlike many people forced to stay home when the first lockdown was announced, I wasn’t interested in signing-up to any of the ever-increasing streaming services.

But now and then when I did dip in to watch certain TV shows that friends recommend on the terrestrial channels, I’d either get bored or distracted well before the end of Episode One.

If a series is half-decent, I might find the patience to sit through four episodes over four consecutive nights, but if there’s 10 or 12 episodes stretched over as many weeks….as they say on Dragons Den . . . “I’m out!”

Incidentally, in Draconia it’s called “Dracon’s Den” as the letter ‘G’ doesn’t appear in the Draconian alphabet.

When I asked a waiter at my hotel why that was, he said “I haven’t ot a clue!

Shall I et you another lass of laer and another in and tonic for your orgeous irlfriend?”

And as he placed the flaming kebabs we’d ordered in front of us, the room was filled with the unmistakeable smell of burning nasal hair…

Day to remember and one we should never forget

While writing this week’s column, I felt a strong urge to mention Remembrance Sunday, an event that has meaning for so many and is held in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth as a day to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and other conflicts.

I have only recently discovered the significance of the poppy, which to my surprise was inspired by the World War One poem ‘In Flanders Fields’.

“In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing, fly . . . ”

I read that the opening lines refer to the many poppies that were the first flowers to grow in the churned-up earth of soldiers’ graves in Flanders, a region of Europe that overlies a part of Belgium.  This is truly a day to remember and one we should never forget.

So many have contributed and paid the ultimate price so that we have choice and freedom of speech, enabling me to share my views openly (subject to the Editor’s approval, of course!).

Please don’t keep SAD to yourself

“The falling leaves drift by my window. The autumn leaves of red and gold”.

The song “Autumn Leaves” evokes beautiful images of the season.  But, in reality, fallen leaves clog drains, which, unless cleared quickly, create potential flood hazards during the next heavy downpour.

And you turned to this page to be cheered up!

People who constantly need cheering up as autumn arrives could be suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder.  S.A.D. is brought on by the dread of shorter days and longer nights and feels like a cloud constantly hanging over you.

Sunlight can stimulate a part of the brain called the hypothalamus and there’s a theory that caused by reduced exposure to sunlight in autumn and winter, which can affect people’s moods, appetite and sleep.  As if we haven’t had enough to worry about this year!

In particularly bad cases, people are helped by a light box that radiates daylight-equivalent illumination.  I’m no expert on S.A.D. but on cold dry days, sufferers might benefit from wrapping up warm and taking a walk in the park.

Fresh air and exercise can really improve our mood and our health.
It’s simple but effective.  Just like my Uncle Cledwyn.

For working S.A.D. sufferers, based at home or at their workplace, being busy can help take their mind off the problem.

If retired, a cheap, effective way of combating S.A.D. is to pop into a warm, brightly-lit supermarket and, if the café is open under the various lockdown rules, sit at a socially-distanced table with a hot drink and watch the hustle and bustle for a while.

While I’d never suggest those with S.A.D should stop watching TV news, it might be wise if they limit themselves to one or two bulletins a day.

I doubt there’s been one recorded case of anyone watching hours of rolling news and feeling any positive benefit!

Please don’t keep your S.A.D. to yourself.  It’s possible someone you tell might have once had it and can give you helpful advice.

So change your S.A.D. to D.S.A & A.S.D.  Don’t Suffer Alone and Always Smile Daily.

A brisk evening stroll gets the heart pumping

How has your diet been during the past few months?

Have you found yourself comfort eating and snacking more on unhealthy food?

Speaking to friends and family is revealing that lockdown weight gain is certainly a thing!

At least during the first one back in April, the sun was shining for a lot of the time and garden centres had never been so busy.  Fast forward to October and November, ends of hurricanes, biblical rainstorms and dark morning and evenings.  Still, let’s look on the bright side – because there is always one if you look hard enough. Wales won’t be having a hosepipe ban any time soon.

I’ve taken to making a concerted effort to take our Spaniel out for a walk every night in the dark, whether it’s raining or not.  He loves it, as he told me the other night as we strolled home “Dad, there’s no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothes.”  He’s right you know.

A brisk evening stroll certainly gets the heart pumping, keeps the old joints supple and more importantly, stops the dog waking me up at 2am to go to the toilet!

Get in touch and let me know your favourite lockdown walks!

A touch of bard behaviour

If you’re expecting my annual rant about the Americanisation and ridiculous commercialism of the ancient festival of All Hallows Eve – AKA Halloween – you’ll be disappointed.

Although . . . if our current situation has put the kibosh on this year’s ‘Trick Or Treat’ ritual – AKA “Give us some sweets or your car bodywork will get an eggshell finish” – I wouldn’t be disappointed.

I’m not someone who knocks on strangers’ doors to indulge in (what should be) the criminal act of demanding confectionery with menaces.

No, dear readers, this year I’m keeping my opinions to myself about the millions spent by financially-stretched parents on the ‘spooky’ tat supermarkets have stocked since August.  I bet you’re relieved.

This week, the reviews I’ve read of a new book of hilarious theatrical anecdotes complied by Gyles Brandreth made me laugh out loud.

So I thought I’d try to put a smile on your faces by recalling an allegedly true theatrical anecdote I heard years ago.

Sir Donald Wolfit was an actor-manager who achieved great success on stage, in film and on TV.  In the 1950s he toured the provinces with his own company of raggle-taggle actors, performing Shakespeare’s plays.  He saw it as ‘Taking culture to the masses’.

If you’ve seen the film “The Dresser” you’ll have a good idea just how hammy Wolfit’s acting could be, as Albert Finney’s character ‘Sir’ was Wolfit in all but name.

One wet Monday night in Huddersfield, the curtain had just come down on a performance of ‘King Lear’ at the local theatre, with Sir Donald in the title role.

As he ‘staggered’ back on stage, seemingly exhausted, he thanked the audience for their kind indulgence, before announcing . . .

“Ladies and Gentlemen, from Thursday there will be a change of programme. We shall be presenting “Macbeth” by the immortal Bard. Your humble servant will be playing the title role and my wife, Lady Wolfit, will be playing the role of Lady Macbeth.”

When a male voice from the stalls rudely shouted “Lady Wolfit is an ugly old trout!”, Sir Donald immediately responded . . .

“Nevertheless . . . she will be playing the role of Lady Macbeth!”

Spend time focusing on others less fortunate

As some of you may know, I love a new gadget, especially if it is going to assist me in some way, or make my life easier.

Instead of looking on my 17 days in lock-down as a chore, I decided to catch up on some learning, podcasts and music.  I invested in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones, as a friend had said his ear-cans block out the Mrs nagging in the background, even when you’re not playing anything on them!

Now, it takes a lot to impress me, but these earphones are awesome, you can disappear into your own little world, no background noises or distractions.

One afternoon, when a podcast had finished, I left the headphones on, all was utterly silent and I have to admit, a bit lonely.  Sitting next to me was my faithful old Spaniel, who is now 12 and totally deaf.

Then it hit me.  I was sitting there experiencing exactly what it was like to be him, in his own silent little world depending on those around him to protect him and assist him.

And that, my friends is what we need so much more of right now. Be thankful for what you have, be grateful for the things you are able to do, and spend a bit of time focusing on others less fortunate.

I guarantee, you’ll feel better for it and more importantly, so will they.