- Former scientist, now graduated to a life of leisure.
- Family man (which may surprise the family; it certainly surprises him).
- Likes cycling and old-fashioned B&W film photography.
- Dislikes greasy-pole-climbing 'yes men'.
- Thinks Thea Gilmore should be much better known than she is.
- Values decency over achievement.
I don’t normally do ‘Throwback Thursday’, but was so pleased to see this headline a couple of weeks ago that it made me revisit an ALAW from 2016!
Five years ago, we’d purposefully avoided a dolphin show whilst on holiday in Mallorca, but had re-created one ourselves. The limerick wasn’t very good, but the pics and commentary still make me laugh (if not my other half🤭) so I’ve included them here along with a brand new limerick…
A lassie once thought t’would be cool To porpoise around in a pool She got all of her kicks Doing Flipper’s old tricks ‘Cos she knows that it’s dolphins that rule!
…and the old pics and commentary:
(As with the original blog post, no sprats, sardines or spouses were injured in the making of this montage)
A few years ago I posted a blog about the life of my great uncle, Harold Whidby Speight, and his service in the First World War.
I had mentioned that, aged 21, he was mobilised to Belgium as a sergeant with the 50th Northumbrian Division, arriving just in time for the second battle of Ypres (with neither gas mask nor steel helmet). I also mentioned that he painted in watercolour and, recently, I have come across an undated work of his at the intersection of graphic design, cartography, history and personal experience.
It is an example of ‘map art’ and represents his account of the second battle of Ypres. It’s in a rather fragile state and was torn in two at some point, but I’ve photographed it and included it below. (You’ll need to zoom in to see the detail.)
I think it’s rather impressive and worth restoring and preserving for the archives of the Durham Light Infantry (anyone know the number of TV’s The Repair Shop😆?).
My second post about Harold’s war time experience referenced his pay book and a poem that he’d copied into it in lieu of a short form will. The poem, The Steel of the DLI, was about the Division’s experience in early August 1915, a few months after the Second Battle of Ypres, when it fought to re-take the area around Hooge, and its costly heroics in holding Hooge Crater.
Although Harold’s artwork pre-dates the latter event it does, nevertheless, contain one reference to the crater in the roll of honour at upper right. Most of those named died on May 24 1915 (the penultimate day of the Second Battle of Ypres), but one named officer, Lieutenant Gilbert Talbot, is recorded as having died at Hooge Crater on 30 July. That was the day when the German army first used flame throwers (flammenwerfers). It must have added hugely to the terror felt by the opposing infantry. Talbot died leading his men in a counter attack following the flame thrower offensive.
Talbot was not directly linked to Harold; however, there is a clear motivation to his inclusion in Harold’s artwork. Talbot’s elder brother was an army chaplain who, along with others in December 1915, established a rest and recreational centre named Talbot House in honour of Gilbert. This became known Toc H based on the house’s initials (TH was represented as Toc Aitch in the radiotelephony phonetic alphabet of the time analogous to Tango Hotel in the modern International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet).
In 1920, Toc H developed into an international, inter-denominational Christian social service of which Harold was a member. One of its aims was to promote reconciliation, something that would have been close to Harold’s heart. (The organisation still exists as a voluntary movement.)
Postscript: The Hooge Crater was created by the detonation of a mine laid at the end of a 190-foot tunnel (dug by the 175 Tunnelling Company) on 19 July 1915 and was estimated to be 120 feet in diameter and 20 feet deep.
In the early 1990s British Rail was derided for claiming that ‘the wrong sort of snow’ was the cause of many service failures during one particular wintery spell. Subsequently, a successor company, Network Rail, was similarly derided for claims that ‘leaves on the line’ were responsible for a number of fractured services.
Yet in both cases the problems were caused by genuine engineering challenges, something overlooked by the great British public in its ignorance and with its desire to moan about the country’s railways.
I know from experience, that when complicated issues are reduced by the media to ‘trial by soundbite’, it is very difficult to close down misleading commentaries – especially to a public with the attention span of a gnat!
Neverthless, a lexicon that now includes ‘the wrong sort of snow’ does point to a kind of exasperated humour, which is why I had to smile when the Lake Windermere ferry service was stopped from running this week (for genuine safety reasons) due to the lake being “too full”…
It was the Graun that cottoned on to the fact that:
The operators of the Windermere ferry, which shuttles between Nab End and Bowness, have apologised for being unable to run the service with the lake being too full.
… before acknowledging the actual safety issue as given by the operators:
Due to excessive rainfall overnight the lake levels have risen to an extent whereby we cannot land safely and must suspend services till levels drop.
Still, it’s worth a limerick…
A Lake District storm will not lull When the weather’s so beastly and dull And conditions have shown us The ferry from Bowness Can’t sail ‘cos the lake is too full
Postscript: you can always tell an offcomer to Cumbria by the way they pronounce ‘Bowness’ (or ‘Penrith’ for that matter). The emphasis should be on the first syllable and not the second: BO-nuss rather than bo-NESS, ditto, PEN-reth and not pen-RITH! (In other words, to a Cumbrian, Bowness is a true rhyme with shown us!)
I recently travelled with a small group of friends to Islay, the island home of Scotland’s most heavily peated malt whiskies. The aim was to take some old-school B&W film photographs, take in the scenery, and enjoy some fine food.
We had also booked a whisky tasting session at the Lagavulin distillery that commenced at 10.30 on a Monday morning!
Five drams later (full measures!) you left via the distillery shop and were even offered other tastings if a particular bottle took your eye. Try not spending lots of money in that sort of alcohol-fuddled state! Marketing genius!
The cask master at our tasting pointed out that a character from the sitcom Parks and Recreation (Ron Swanson, played by Nick Offerman) often referred to Lagavulin in the show. Indeed, in one episode his character travelled to Islay and the distillery as a part of the storyline.
The Swanson character reads Burns’ poetry in that episode. But who needs Burns when you can have a limerick loosely inspired by our trip (and in recognition of women’s role in the history of whisky making – see Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey by Fred Minnick).
A young woman on Islay’s far shore Swigged drams at a Port Charlotte bar One morn by eleven, She’d sunk six or seven So here’s to that lass – Slàinte Mhath!
(For the non-Scots reading this, Slàinte Mhath is pronounced ‘slan-ja va’ and translates as ‘Good Health’. Islay is pronounced ‘eye-la’.)
(For the pedants reading this, “yes” I know that the Lagavulin distillery is close to Port Ellen and miles away from Port Charlotte, but this is a limerick, not a geography lesson, and it so happens we also sampled drams in the Port Charlotte Hotel, close to where we stayed.)
Last September I mentioned that I’d completed four years of A Limerick A Week (ALAW) and that I’d give it another year before downsizing to Occasional Limericks Only (OLO).
Well, today’s ALAW marks five years of The Good, The Bad and The Indifferent. No week was missed and, although one or two were a day or so late, there were several bonus limericks to make up for that (including today!).
I would have liked my last ALAW to be a perfect blend of clever word play, intelligent bawdiness and anapestic correctness, but although I’ve given you two to finish with, sadly neither is that…
It’ll never ever be orthodox For ‘gateaux’ to be pronounced ‘gattox’ Which just goes to show Why we don’t say ‘bolleaux’ When he’s told that his lim’ricks are ‘bollox’!
A limericist tried hard to coax A rhyme that’s so pure it invokes The most noble of verse, But his oeuvre got worse So he quit, saying “That is all folks!”
Postscript: there are two limericks that I came across over the last five years, written by others, which, I really, really, really wish I’d written myself. But I didn’t. So, with full acknowledgement that these are the work of others…
… the first, by Mick Twister (@twitmericks), uses clever word play and was contemporaneous with the event that inspired it. In this case, it needs context to be fully appreciated (see pic, below):
A Rotterdam artist’s creation Prevented a train conflagration On leaving the rail, It stopped on the whale, Which wasn’t its scheduled cetacean.
As good as that is, if I’d only ever written one limerick, I’d wish it was as clever and inventively bawdy as this one (NB, you have to pronounce the name the American way, ie, ber-NARD rather than the British way, BER-nud):
A cross-dressing monk called Bernard Dropped dead when crossing the yard. Post-mortem inspection Revealed an erection. It seems that old habits die hard!
(Author unknown to me, but I doff my cap regardless – reply in comments for credit.)
My dog, @calliebordeaux, nicked half a roast beef joint a couple of days ago and made short work of eating it all before anyone noticed.
I was a bit concerned because the joint had been wrapped in string netting and I wasn’t sure whether it would ‘pass’ naturally. (I’ve watched too many vet programmes in which dogs have had things they’d eaten surgically removed!)
I needn’t have worried. The first ‘morning after’ poop made it look as if Callie needed to be wormed as a few little bits of nematode-like string were apparent. The next ‘episode’ clearly showed the presence of netting – a parcel wrapped stool!
Anyway, it spawned a bonus limerick:
The roast that my dog ate was wrapped In netting and quite neatly packed, But the string made me fret Should I call out the vet Or just look for it each time she crapped?
… that Emma Raducanu, a young, British, female tennis player has made the final of the US Tennis Open at the age of 18. No surprise, then, that the media is full of it and also speculating on the riches that await her should she keep on progressing up the world rankings.
Nevertheless, I am indebted to ‘Management’ for pointing out Forbes Magazine’s statement of the bleeding obvious that: the nine highest paid female athletes in the world are all women. Who’d have thunk it?
Juiced-up MPs and the bewhiskered nature of scientists…
I once met Austin Mitchell a former Labour MP, who died recently. He had travelled to Aberdeen’s Marine Laboratory soon after the Millennium as a member, I think, of the UK Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on some sort of fisheries fact finding mission. We met with the Committee in the afternoon after it had earlier held talks with leaders of the Scottish fish catching and processing sectors.
The Marine Lab commonly hosted such gatherings in its net store where there was room to set up display panels and examples of different fishing gears. After my presentation I meandered to the back of the room to observe the rest of the event from a distance. Soon after that I became aware of a distinctly inebriated presence sidling up to me. It was Mitchell who, in the vernacular of the day, ‘had enjoyed a good lunch’.
As the presentations continued at the front, he quietly asked me about fishery discards and what did I think of the Norwegian fishery discard ban; could such a thing work in European waters? I whispered that I’d recently reviewed the Arctic Fisheries stock assessment working group report in my guise as the UK member of the ICES Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management and told him it made clear that its catch data were quite uncertain due to unreported (illegal!) landings and an unknown quantity of discards despite the discard ban.
I explained that the true discard rate was unknown because the Norwegians had no means to measure it. Their logic seemed to be that discarding was not allowed, ergo it wouldn’t happen, ergo there was no need to monitor it (they do prosecute a handful of cases each year, but inspection and monitoring are quite different activities with differing requirements and processes).
(To be fair to the Norwegians, the discard ban is accompanied by a package of permanently or seasonally closed areas, and some real-time area closures when the likelihood of catching undersized fish or exceeding legal by-catch limits is beyond some specific threshold criteria.)
Anyway, I finished by telling Mitchell that the Norwegian scientists knew as well as I did, and as did many others, that when it came to disposing of any unwanted or illegal catches “in Arctic waters the nights are long and the waters deep!”.
Mitchell guffawed loudly and exclaimed merrily (and just as loudly) “Ah, not just a scientist, but a poet as well!”.
After that he nodded towards a couple of scientists and engineers at the front, and jovially asked “Do you have to have a beard and be bald to become a fisheries expert?”
As I also had a beard, but had not yet started to thin ‘on top’, I told him a beard was mandatory, but that baldness was optional (like integrity in politicians, but I lacked the courage to say that).
There once was a drunken MP Went to a marine lab to see If all scientists were weird And bald with a beard And they were, I’m sure he’d agree!
Postscript: I found an interesting quote on the current status of Norwegian fishery discard estimates. The relevant paper explicitly includes unknown discard rates in the estimation of total unreported landings; an acknowledgement that Norwegian fisheries and their management are not as virtuous as their sanctimonious political headlines would sometimes have us believe!