A limerick a week #223

Let them eat cake…

… but it’s not only Christmas cake at this time of year…

Mmmm! A rustic 4-tiered coffee cake dressed with walnuts and mocha ‘coffee beans’, courtesy of Firstborn!

There once was a bloke gave three cheers
For his daughter because, it appears,
She’d gone out of her way
To mark his birthday
And to bake him a cake with four tiers.

Firstborn does the honours, but was just a ‘few’ candles short 🙂

The Eleventh of the Eleventh 2020

A family at war

I have previously written about the life and experiences of my great uncle Harold, a wounded survivor of the First World War who also volunteered in the Second World War in support of the D-Day landings (see here and here).

I also had three uncles who served in the Second World War; Tot, who died at sea, Jack, who survived the land war and Doug, the eldest of his siblings, an electrical engineer in a reserved occupation who was unable to volunteer for active service or to be conscripted.

Tot was the second oldest of the brothers and served as an engineering officer in the Merchant Navy as poor eyesight caused him to be rejected by the Royal Navy. In 1941 he broke his leg when ashore in the United States and, although permitted to recuperate there, he chose to travel home on a convoy vessel, the SS Empire Crossbill, as a supernumary Fourth Engineer.

Empire Crossbill was an American cargo ship built in 1919 as the West Amargosa and laid up in 1937. In 1940 she was transferred to the UK Ministry of War Transport and renamed the Empire Crossbill. After several successful crossings of the North Atlantic, she mustered in Cape Breton in August 1941 as part of Slow Convoy 42 bound for Liverpool.

The West Amargosa, subsequently SS Empire Crossbill, before transfer to the UK Ministry of War Transport

SC42 was attacked by the Markgraf wolfpack of 14 German submarines that was on patrol southeast of Greenland. The attack extended over three night nights, 9-11 September. Empire Crossbill was torpedoed by U-82 east of Cape Farewell at 03.11 GMT on 11 September 1941 and sank with all hands: 38 crew, 10 gunners, and one passenger – Thomas Lang Forster, aged 23.

The reported location of Empire Crossbill’s sinking

Of the 65 merchant vessels that comprised SC42, sixteen – almost one quarter of the convoy – were lost. U-82 was itself sunk with the loss of all 45 crew just a few months later on 6 February 1942, north of the Azores, having been depth charged by HMS Rochester and HMS Tamarisk. Its captain, Kapitänleutnant Siegfried Rollmann, was 27 – just four years older than Tot.

Tot’s name (Forster T.L.) on the Tower Hill Memorial to merchant seamen

Jack, the youngest of the three brothers, survived the war having experienced both the Dunkirk evacuation and the D-Day landings.

Prior to the Dunkirk evacuation, he had been with 285 Battery, 72nd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery 50th Northumberland Division, a part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). His Division was one of the last to leave Dunkirk as it had been tasked to destroy any installations as the BEF retreated. Jack and his companions joined one of the last ships, if not the last, that departed Dunkirk. He landed at Margate on 2 June 1940.

As far as his family was concerned, Jack was missing in action, so it was a great relief to them that a telegram arrived from him on 3 June. No “Hello Mam, I’m fine”, but just one line asking her to ‘wire’ 10 shillings (50 pence) to him care of the General Post Office in Rugely Staffordshire!

The 50th Northumberland Division (and Jack) then went on to fight in the North African desert war with General Montgomery and landed on Sword beach on D-Day itself. He was on active service from the time of the BEF to VE Day.

Jack being Jack, he was almost court martialled on VE Day itself. He had been listening on the radio to Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s speech announcing the end of the war in Europe when a senior officer sent for him. He refused to attend the officer and told the messenger to go away saying that he was busy. Jack was subsequently escorted under armed guard to the officer’s room.

I don’t think the officer could have seen much action, certainly not compared to Jack, and on learning of his involvement at Dunkirk, in North Africa, and on D-Day, the officer absolved him of any offence. Many years later they were reunited on Breakfast TV in a segment to mark the 40th anniversary of VE Day and retold their story on air. (I have never watched breakfast TV apart from that one morning, but, unfortunately, despite viewing it from 6am until about 9.50, I never saw his contribution – my employer’s flexitime limit meant that I had to be clocked in by 10am and Jack’s contribution only came later – we had no video recorder at that time.)

NB. Some of the above is taken from archived records detailing the events mentioned, the rest is taken from the family matriarch’s tome ‘A European Family’ and archival material held by family members.

Postscript: This is Jack’s personal recollection of the D-Day landings…


The journey we made from Portsmouth to Normandy in France was unforgettable. We travelled in a ‘Landing Craft Tank [L.C.T]’ and to some, the journey was a veritable nightmare. The transport consisted of very long barges, designed to carry eleven tanks, and acted like huge white whales; they would rise from the water towards the sky and then crash onto the sea again after each swell.

It was a welcome relief to land on Sword beach with the main assault troops of the 3rd British Infantry division. The tanks, which went straight into action, left first and at the same time the ramp was in about 15 feet of water.

We were a signal section, part of the advance signals H.Q. and were issued with only handcarts containing wireless equipment. We managed to get a line ashore and the carts, being waterfproof and containing air, floated just below the surface. During this time shells were falling closer and closer. The L.C.T. Captain bawling “Get the hell out of here”, added to the threatening atmosphere. Fortunately we made dry land with only one casualty and that was the barrage balloon we were painstakingly carrying for the beach defence. It was shot down!

We struggled over the beach and found some protection in a farm just inland from the French holiday resort of Lion-sur-mer. Some holiday! Leaving the wireless operators to set up their equipments, driver Morgan and I set about clearing up the area following the tank and infantry assault. My binoculars and watch had been damaged by the sea water but I was able to replace them with those of a German Officer who sadly had no further use of them.

One of our tasks was to search the sleeping quarters below the fortress which had been designed to keep us out. While a young Welsh soldier covered me with my revolver I found two young Germans cowering in the upper bunks. They were terrified and I had to drag them out as they were convinced they were going to be shot. They were no more than seventeen years old and begged us not to shoot them. Having survived the previous infantry attack when many of their comrades had been killed, they were relieved to find out that they were destined for prison camp and safety.

It was unfortunate that our D-Day objective, Caen, was not taken for a further two weeks due to the arrival of Rommel and his famous Panzer troops. They had come north in an attempt to hurl us back into the sea. Rommel must have been extremely unhappy when he realised that both the 3rd. and the 50th. Divisions of the British Army were the ones that prevented him from doing so because he knew that they were the last ones to leave Dunkirk in 1940.

A limerick a week #181

Dr L Rouge, PhD

And in today’s news it was announced that Nottingham Trent University is to carry out a study on the effect of vehicular traffic on hedgehogs. Given the number of flattened specimens that litter the nation’s roads, I suspect someone might be in line for a PhD thesis that simply comprises a statement of the bleedin’ obvious!

I’m rather fond of hedgehogs because of a familial connection. You see my paternal grandmother was one. More precisely, she was a Ježek, that is she was born in what became the country of Czechoslovakia and her Czech surname  translated into English as ‘hedgehog’.

They even brew hedgehog beer there, at the Pivovar Jihlava (Jihlava brewery). As a hedgehog is the symbol of Jihlava, a town found between Prague and Brno, its Ježek lager represents the soul of the brewery.

Another Ježek is the hedgehog in the cage, a Czech puzzle that comprises a small sphere with protruding spikes of various lengths contained within a cylinder perforated with holes of different sizes. The challenge posed by the puzzle is how to release the sphere (the hedgehog) from the cylinder (the cage).

The Trent research isn’t, of course, as trivial as the puzzle or even observing the effects of a 4×4 on an individual hedgehog, but a broader study on the cumulative impact of traffic-induced mortality on the demographics of localised hedgehog populations and whether there is a way to mitigate that through developments in road engineering (ie hedgehog tunnels) or by defining hedgehog-friendly ‘best practice’ in town and country planning. (According to the BBC news website, a study from 2016 estimated that around 100,000 hedgehogs are killed each year on UK roads.)

Nevertheless, rather than await the outcome of the academic research, here is my five-line thesis as a statement of the bleedin’ obvious that tells you all you need to know…

The impact on hedgehogs of traffic
Is to screw up their whole demographic
‘Cos a sickening SPLAT
Soon renders them flat
In a scene that is gruesomely graphic!

Will it qualify me for a PhD d’you think?

Postscript: The eagle-eyed will have noticed that the current ALAW and its predecessor, both have splat and flat as the rhyme in the third and fourth lines albeit in a different order. This purely coincidental and, as a former collegue once stated “Coincidences are the most paradoxical of things – they should never happen, but they always do!”.

A limerick a week #179

On relationships going south…

Mid-february in Aberdeen is not the ideal time to have a new boiler installed. My strategy for dealing with the inevitable disruption and the loss of central heating and hot water was to order in some extra logs and coal.

Management’s solution, along with The Tall Child, was to book flights to Australia and leave me to it.

I’ll leave you to decide who was the wisest!

A chap was once given to wonder
If he’d made an almighty blunder,
‘Cos he stayed on his own
In a cold Scottish home
Whilst the others bu****ed-off Down Under! 

Worth another look…


I was apalled to see Nigel Farage wearing an over-sized poppy in the run-up to Rememberance Day. His were not the values that so many lost their lives for.

So, why not click on the headlines, below, for a reminder of the life of a man who served in two world wars, a peace-loving, true gentleman and internationalist; a man that was the polar opposite of those whom the Scottish actor Brian Cox has described as “The opportunistic clowns of Brexit, Gove, Johnson and the little Englander Farage and the feudalist Rees-Mogg”.

The eleventh of the eleventh

The eleventh of the eleventh plus one

A limerick a week #103

TopGran vs the POTUS

A short verse* inspired by the family’s nonogenarian Geordie matriarch who has crossed both the Atlantic and the American continent to holiday in California (with a cautionary note to their President given her penchant for challenging gabshite Americans to a fight).

Howay man, I’m gannin awaw
To the distant American shore,
And I’ll gan proper radgie,
Wi’ that tangerine gadgie. 
Whey aye , man; I’ll give him ‘what for’!

TopGran and her wingmen! (Pic courtesy of the Joneses.)

best read while effecting a Geordie accent. 

Quotes that made me laugh #49

When I was a kid my dad used to take me to watch Kendal United play football. That was because a doctor had told my folks that, as an ill child, I needed lots of fresh air.

I was probably about six when I came home after one game and asked mum “How old do you have to be before you can swear?”. Her reply was “You’re never old enough!” and that was when I ratted on him: “But daddy swore today!”. (I think he’d said ‘bloody’ – serious stuff, eh?)

Karma came back and bit me on the a**e many years later when I momentarily forgot The Tall Child was in the car when, in complete exasperation at the antics of a lorry driver, I less-than-silently mouthed “Oh, for f**k’s sake!”. It didn’t take long before I was ratted-out in turn when we returned home: “Mum! Dad said the F word!”.

And that is why I laughed out loud when I read the BTL comments that followed the online Graun’s review of Harlequins’ poor showing in rugby’s Aviva Premiership this year. It’s the last line that made me chuckle …

A limerick a week #85

33,000 not out!

The Matriarch was 90 at Christmas, but we couldn’t all make her ‘do’ in Baden Baden, so we arranged a get-together at Whinfell Center Parcs to celebrate her 33,000 days-old anniversary on 29 April.

And thus the Aberdeen branch of the family got together with her over the weekend along with her Geordie relatives. The lodge we stayed in came with a chalk board and chalks. Here’s the results…

Actually, the party was swell!

Her birthday meal was booked for 8.30, but she mis-remembered and thought it was for 6.30. Fortunately we all got there at the right time, but not before it inspired this rhyme (based on an original idea of The Tall Child). The rubbing-out and inserted text demonstrate something of the limerick writer’s thought processes…

And here is the group photo (sadly missing the cousin who took the pic) with the family surrounding its Matriarch in the centre…

A limerick a week #81

Pogonophobia? It’s infantile!

Firstborn had her nose put out of joint last year when we were together in a café and a baby at another table kept smiling at me and not her. After last week I now know how she felt because it was then, along with the tall child, that she was the focus of my one year old great-niece’s attention when the best that I got from our extended family’s latest arrival was a look of sheer puzzlement.

Even that was a temporary blip; a minor departure from the infant’s contemplative looks that opined “What is that? Can I trust it? Hmm, I’d better steer clear of it!“. The consensus view was that the little one was a wee bit uncertain about a bloke-with-a-beard (okay, very uncertain!).

My own dear mother once looked at me and said that she saw a wolf’s head, so perhaps my beard and the little one’s upbringing in the shadow of Germany’s Black Forest psychically brought to mind the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, and with it a fear of all things lupine. Who knows? But it was kind of cute, if a little demoralising, to a clearly not-so-great-uncle.

Meantime, Management suggested the experience could inspire the next ALAW, so here goes:

There once was a baby that sneered
When her bristly great-uncle appeared.
Which led him to infer
That she seemed to prefer
Her playmates to have less of a beard.

Postscript: According to the Massive Phobia website it’s a real thing:

“Pogonophobia (po-go-no-fo-be-ah) is the irrational and persistent fear of beards. Its opposite is Pogonophilia, a love of beards or bearded persons.

While beards are often viewed as a sign of ruggedness or manliness, they are also sometimes associated with illness, misfortune, homelessness, etc., leading fearful individuals to think of bearded men that way.

The root word ‘pogono’ is Greek meaning ‘beard’ and the word ‘phobia’ comes from the Greek word ‘phóbos’ meaning ‘fear.'”

A limerick a week #68

Words spoken, but not quite in jest

A recent Graun review of Jon Richardson’s comedy and our own escalating plans for a kitchen renovation came into conjunction this week.

Richardson’s comedy is often based on his obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hypothesizes two types of people: Putters and Leavers. Putters, as the name suggests, put away things that are left out (compulsively in Richardson’s case) and Leavers are, of course,  the folk that leave things hanging around until a Putter comes along.

Richardson’s partner, the comedian Lucy Beaumont, is a Leaver and this conflicts with him domestically and is where a lot of his comedy arises. In our family we reverse the rôles, with me the Leaver and Management the Putter (Me: “Where’s my [insert any item that was left lying around]?” She:I moved it!“).

Meanwhile, on the kitchen front, our plans include provision for a dog bed in the utility room, and this reflects our continuing conversation about getting a dog when I retire, which is where things crossover into Richardson’s world of Putters and Leavers. Discussions about how a dog would fit into the reshaping of our kitchen moved on to it being trained properly and that made me think: Is it possible to train a Leaver to be a Putter and vice versa?

I speculated that to avoid domestic disharmony, I could try to train Management to be a Leaver or she could try to train me as a Putter. In fact, it would be quite funny if we both tried successfully to train the other and managed to reverse our rôles. Her response was cutting: “Just you train the dog and leave me to train you!

I know my place!

A puppy’s most likely to chew
A slipper, a sock or a shoe
But as you are slovenly
 I’ll tell you (quite lovingly)
“You train the dog; I’ll train you!”