Thursday 31 October 2019

A Ghostly Experience

Not many people believe in ghosts. I didn't either. Until one day I saw one. Yes, I saw a ghost and he spoke to me. I'll never forget the experience.

It happened years ago on a dark and wintry night in the depth of a mountainous region of Scotland.

I was driving late at night after visiting some business customers up North and somehow I lost my way. It was the days before satellite navigation systems and cell-phones to help you communicate and get from one place to another.

It was raining heavily with thunder and lightning brightening the skies for brief intervals and piercing the darkness of the road ahead. As usually happens in ghost stories and movies, my car eventually stopped having run out of gas.

But this was for real.

Not a movie script which I could put down and return to my reality sitting next to a warm fire with a hot chocolate drink in my hands. This was for real. My car stopped in the middle of nowhere on a cold rainy night with thunder and lightning for companionship. I swear I heard the howling of some wild creature in the distance.

What was I to do? I couldn't stay in the car all night and possibly freeze to death. Or be tinned food for whatever hungry creature is out there. It could have been a giant man-eating haggis for all I know. I had no blanket in the car and I'd forgotten my overcoat at the office.

So there I was. All alone in a car with no means of communication. Cold. Hungry. Afraid. And I wanted to go to the toilet too. I should not have had that second cup of coffee they offered me. Coffee is quite diuretic, you know.

Stupidly perhaps, I decided to get out of the car and water a nearby tree. I could hold it no longer it was so freezing. Moments later I was back in the car totally wet and even colder than before because of the driving rain; but greatly relieved. After all, I had to do what I had to do and I could not do it from inside the car.

Now back in the car I was shivering and my teeth were chattering in tune with my racing heartbeat. My wet clothes stuck to the leather seat. My shoes and socks were soaking wet throughout. Because of the rain ... the rain ... are you paying attention? Please don't make up your own jokes at my misfortune.

Stupidly again, I decided to get out of the car and walk in any direction trying to find shelter. I locked the car and walked ahead in total darkness and driving rain, (or should I now say walking rain?)

Every so often my solitude was broken by the occasional clap of thunder followed by a flash of lightning.Or was it the other way round?

Anyway, after walking for about half an hour there it was. Not a castle, as you'd expect in the Highlands. But a house. Admittedly a large house; again just like you'd expect in horror movies. Big and dark with overhanging trees and climbing ivy everywhere. But not a castle.

I knocked at the door ... no bell. And eventually, after what seemed an eternity an old man opened the door.

He was wearing an eye patch. What I mean, he was wearing clothes, very old clothes, and he had an eye patch on. Did you really think he was wearing nothing else but an eye patch? Where would he put the eye-patch in that case? I wish you'd pay more attention.

"Och aye ... It’s a dreich day! Aye right." he said in his native tongue. I didn't understand a word he said, so I asked him whether I could seek shelter for the night.

"Yer're drookit!" he said, "Aye ... come in ... come in ..."

I entered a dark room lit by a couple of candles. He beckoned me to sit by a small log fire to keep warm.

As I sat there still shivering he walked away towards the wall and vanished through it.

My blood ran cold. A shiver, ran down my spine ... that's a new shiver, not the one I was shivering with previously. I could have said a frisson, but I was in Scotland not France. So a shiver it was ... och aye!

I could not believe my eyes. The man had actually walked through a wall.

Admittedly, it was dark, I was cold and freezing wet and quite hungry, but I assure you I was not hallucinating. I did not imagine it.

The man just walked towards the wall and vanished through it. The experience made me want to go to the toilet once again; but this time it had nothing to do with the coffee. I must have cried in fear a little because I felt tears running down my leg.

Moments later he returned through the wall just as he had vanished. He stood there looking at me with one eye. The other eye was covered by an eye patch, remember.

My knees were knocking together in rhythm with my heart and chattering teeth. I had butterflies in my stomach and their knees were knocking too. Even my goose bumps had goose bumps of their own.

"Are you ... are you  ... a spirit?" I heard myself mumble.

"Yer mean ... be I a drop of whisky?" he muttered, "Of course not ... I be a ghost ... A ghost, laddie. I been here fer' years. Och aye! Trapped in this house of doom fer ever, laddie."

I gulped and asked "Are you the ghost of a pirate? I mean ... the eye patch ..." I continued pointing at his face.

"Och no ... laddie," he said, "this be no pirate's doing! I got this one day as I was sliding through a keyhole and someone put a key in it. Occupational hazard for us ghosts!

"On another occasion I slid under a door. There was an old lassie on the other side vacuum cleaning and I got sucked in the vacuum cleaner."

I smiled and said nothing.

"Now I just walk right through walls and solid objects," he said in perfect English, "much safer don't you know old boy ... what?"

I picked up a bottle of vintage whisky nearby and took a gulp to keep me warm.

They found me the next morning fast asleep with an empty bottle beside me.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

The Importance of being considerate

To be quite earnest, it’s quite important to be considerate too. It helps oil the wheels as it were and makes life run smoothly for you and everyone else don’t you think?

Earnestly speaking, I consider myself quite a considerate type of person. But unfortunately this doesn’t always work out as intended.

The other day for instance I saw an elderly lady in the street; she must have been about seventy or so, hobbling from foot to foot on the edge of the sidewalk. I waited until the lights indicated it was safe to cross then I held her gently by the arm and said, “Don’t worry madam; we’ll soon cross over safely to the other side!”

She tottered alongside me looking behind her all the time until we reached safely the other side as the traffic lights changed again. I took off my hat as a sign of respect and smiled politely.

She then hit me on the head with her umbrella.

I was about to say something when she cried, “You made me miss my bus, you idiot!”

“I’m sorry madam,” I said, replacing my hat, “I saw you hopping from foot to foot hesitantly …”

“That’s because I want to go to the toilet,” she hollered, “I’ve a good mind to pee in your stupid hat!”

I ran away before she did.

This however did not stop me being considerate by nature.

One night I noticed that one of the floorboards in our bedroom, under the carpet, was a bit loose. It made a distinct sound when you stepped on it.

Being very considerate I hammered it in the dark so as not to wake up my wife.

Unfortunately, in the darkness I hammered nails through my shoes lying there by the bed and I pinned them to the floor board.

Next morning when I put my shoes on I couldn’t move one inch. I fell flat on my face.

I thought I had put on weight in my sleep during the night and the extra calories all fell down to my feet!

That very night I had dreamt I was in a marshmallow factory. I woke up eating the pillow.

I remember another occasion where my considerate nature conspired to work against me. We were on holiday and we went out on an organized boat trip to swim with dolphins. It’s something which, for some reason, most people love to do.

The organizers of the trip suggested we go in the sea in teams of six for safety reasons. They wanted to keep an eye on us with the dolphins and we took turns in little groups to swim for a while, and then come out to allow others to go in the sea.

Being considerate as you know, I decided to be one of the last to go in. I stood by the side of the small boat watching everyone else enjoy themselves with the cackling dolphins and caressing them as they got nearer. It was really fun watching those lovely creatures swim around and every so often jump out of the sea.

When it was my turn I went to the communal changing room and put on my tartan swimming shorts.

The other swimmers in my group were already changed in their costumes in seconds and in the water. Unlike me who neatly folded my clothes in an orderly fashion.

When it was my turn to enter the water the other people had had enough and got back into the boat.

Just as I entered the water, immediately, the dolphins saw me and they all just swam away!

The head dolphin in the pack must have said to the others, “We’re not swimming with him. He looks weird!” And the others followed him deep into the sea leaving me splashing about by miself.

To make matters worse one of the dolphins came back, probably excited by the tartan colour of my shorts, and tore them right off. It swam away cackling with my shorts on its head.

It didn’t do my self-esteem any good. I got out of the sea and into the boat as best I could under the circumstances.

I hate these new cell-phones with cameras in them, don't you?

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Not Blue Suede Shoes

Hello ... is this Customer Services?

Hi ... I am calling about Order Number 7354 which I placed on-line a few days ago.

Yes, that's me. You got the right name and address.

Yes ... the packet arrived today. Only there's been a mistake at your despatch department. I ordered a pair of Elegant Gents shoes ... no ... ELEGANT Gents not eggplant. Yes ... Order Number 7354.

Well ... instead of two shoes I received three. No ... no ... not three pairs but actually three shoes. Yes, I'm sure. I have them here in front of me. Let me count them out loud for you ... one ... two ... three. I have three shoes.

Let me explain what is wrong with them.

I have one left shoe. It is an Elegant Gents model. It is size 10. It is black. I love it. The despatch department at your end met all the requirements of my Order Number 7354 as far as the left shoe is concerned. If your firm gave awards for meeting the customer's order requirements then your despatch people deserve an award as far as the left shoe is concerned.

Not so for the right shoe I'm afraid. This shoe is a totally different model the name of which I do not know nor do I care. It is size 8. Thus being the wrong size and too small to wear. Also it is brown and not black as ordered. So it fails on all counts as ordered by me on-line; and your despatch department deserves to loose the award they would have received for the left shoe.

The third shoe? Well ... the third shoe fails on more counts one would wish to consider, had one the time to do so and not having lost the will to live.

For a start ... it is surplus to requirements. I do not need a third shoe. Not unless I had a third leg in-between my existing legs instead of my dangling bits.

Secondly, the third shoe, which is surplus to requirements is a left shoe ... not that it matters since I already have a perfect left shoe as ordered.

It is size 7 and it is white. It also has a high heel, it being a lady's shoe and not a man's shoe remotely resembling the Elegant Gents model as shown on your website.

So all in all your despatch department has only got half the order correct as compared to what I requested. Or 33.3% correct if you account for the additional shoe which, as I said, is surplus to requirements and will not be hanging between my legs.

Hello ... hello ... are you still there? You went silent for a moment and I heard a stifled sound as if you were not taking me seriously.

I see ... Let me see if I understand what you are saying. You will cancel Order Number 7354 altogether and you will refund my credit card for the full amount paid so I am not out of pocket. That's very decent of you. Is that you laughing, again?

So ... What do I do with the shoes you sent me? What ... you don't want them back? You mean I can keep them and no need to return them?

Well ... thanks ... I'll use the two men's shoes as plant pots for my geraniums. I've still to decide what to do with the lady's shoe!

Monday 28 October 2019

In a pickle

I just love pickles. They are juicy, crunchy, sour, salty, tasty and all other good things besides. If you happen to like them, as I do.

I had a large glass jar of pickles and every day I took some out to enjoy with my meal until eventually there was only a tiny little bit of pickle right at the bottom of the jar. It would be a shame to waste it.

So I put my right hand into the jar and tried to dislodge the bit of pickle at the bottom. It was quite a squeeze to get my hand in and … ehm … how shall I say this … my hand got stuck inside the glass jar.

No matter how much I tried to pull it out my hand was stuck inside the jar at the wrist. No twisting or turning would release it.

I remembered from science classes at school that heat expands things and makes them bigger … so a little heat would enlarge the neck of the jar and release my hand.


I poured boiling water inside the jar and nearly cooked my hand trapped in there. I raised my arm up in the air to empty the jar quickly and got hot water splashing all over me.

There must be a logical solution to this. I don’t want to break the jar in case the glass cuts my hand to shreds.

I decided to phone Aunt Philomena. She’s an expert at everything and is sure to have an answer.

It’s difficult picking up the phone and dialing the number with one hand. I picked the phone with my left hand and balanced it gingerly on my left shoulder. Then I started to dial Auntie’s number. As the phone was ringing I got an itch just above my right eye. I raised my right hand to scratch it and hit my head hard with the glass jar knocking myself to the ground.

I must have passed out for a few seconds.

I could hear a distant voice saying “Hello … hello … stop breathing heavily down the phone or I’ll call the police …”

I said incoherently “Is that you Aunt Philomena?”

I explained that I was not a phantom obscene phone call maker and told her my predicament. The poor lady must have been in shock because all she muttered was “Butter … plenty of butter …”

She was obviously thinking about making cakes or something delicious which is quite her forte.

All the talk of butter made me hungry. I went back to the kitchen and with my free hand I put two slices of bread in the toaster.

I got a packet of butter from the fridge but it was too cold and almost solid. To soften it a bit I put the packet in the microwave oven for a minute or so.

When I got it out of the oven it was too hot and I dropped the packet of almost melted butter on the floor.

I bent down to wipe it with a towel and I slipped backwards on the melted butter and the water I had previously splashed all over the place.

As I landed on my back my hand must have struck the ground hard and broke the glass jar into million pieces.

I was found later when my family returned from the shops lying unconscious in a pool of water, congealed butter and broken glass … but no blood.

I blame Aunt Philomena for this!

Saturday 26 October 2019

Bishop Phoning

The phone rang one evening as Father Ignatius was watching football on TV. It was Father Frederick from Bishop’s House.

“Hello Ignatius are you well?”

The preliminary greetings over, Father Ignatius was keen to find out the reason for the call. After all, it isn’t everyday that the Bishop rings a lowly priest such as he.

“I’m sorry to tell you that Monsignor Thomas is not well … he’s in hospital right now …”

Father Ignatius knew the Monsignor from way back as they trained together for the priesthood in Rome. He hadn’t seen him for a while and the news of his illness came as quite a shock.

“Oh don’t worry it’s nothing serious. He sprained an ankle as he fell down the stairs,” declared Father Frederick nonchalantly. “Anyway … are you doing anything on Tuesday? Thomas was due to go to a Conference and deliver a Keynote Speech on behalf of the Bishop … now he can’t make it he suggested you go instead!”

“Keynote speech … well … I’ve never given a speech … and it’s only three days away …” hesitated Father Ignatius.

“Oh I’m sure you’ll do well, the Bishop has every confidence in you … we’ll send you your itinerary and your speech and everything else you’ll need in the morning … Oh it’s in Washington,” interrupted the priest at the other end of the line in his usual casual manner.

“Washington up North?” asked Father Ignatius still in a daze by the sudden turn of events.

“Not Washington in Tyne and Wear … the real Washington old boy … in America …it’s only for a few days … nothing to it … we’ll send you all the details first thing tomorrow.”

Father Ignatius put the phone down and tried to recall the phone conversation. Had he dreamt what just happened? One minute he was happily watching football on TV the next he’d received his marching orders to go to the other end of the world.

The following morning a special courier delivered a large pouch confirming that it was not all a dream after all. There for him to read were his speech, the programme of the Conference, his air tickets and everything else he needed to complete his mission.

Apparently the Monsignor was due to attend an International Youth Conference to discuss and evaluate various ways of encouraging young men into the priesthood in order to overcome a projected shortfall in vocations.

“Have they thought of praying about it?” mumbled Father Ignatius as he fumbled through the reams of papers on his desk.

Three days later and Father Ignatius was in the States once again. He recalled that the last time he visited America was also, as now, a totally unscheduled and unexpected visit.

His hotel was full of priests mainly from America and Canada and a few from Europe. He was the only one from England and soon discovered that he spoke “with a funny accent”, or so his fellow conference delegates thought.

The itinerary included several trips to tourist venues scheduled by the conference organizers and he was paired with a young priest in his twenties from Houston Texas. The idea was to allow exchange of views and ideas on the way different churches tackled vocations in the priesthood.

Father Ignatius got on very well with this young priest and they discussed quite a lot during the various organized trips and free time they had together.

Father Ignatius learnt how this young farmer’s son, decided to become a priest. Being almost half his own age, the young Texan provided quite an insight into his motivation, outlook, hopes and fears. His Christian up-bringing had played a very important part in his decision to become a priest. So much so that the night before he was to deliver his speech Father Ignatius had an important decision to make.

“Do I deliver the Monsignor’s speech as it has been given to me, or do I tell them also my very own views on vocations and the priesthood?” he asked himself.

He felt that the speech written for him, whilst full of facts and statistics, projections and strategies for the future, lacked the very essence and soul which the young lad from Houston had engendered in his conversations with him.

Here we have a young Catholic boy, one of a family of six, all girls except for him. Brought up on a farm by loving Catholic parents who had endured poverty and hardship over the years, yet they managed to keep the family together, all of whom grew up to be exemplary treasures for their parents to be proud of. One of the young man’s sisters was a nun back in Texas. The others were happily married and raising their children as taught by their parents.

In particular, one phrase from that young priest stuck in Father Ignatius’ mind, “The way my parents brought me up, it was inevitable I’d become a priest!” he had said in his Texan accent.

“That alone is worthy of a speech,” Father Ignatius thought to himself, “Even though I might deliver it in my funny British accent.”

And that’s exactly what he did.

He said to his listeners that it isn’t the church which selects people to be priests; but it is God Himself.

By the grace of God we all have a mission on this earth. Some parents are given the gift of children by God. Their gift back to God is the way they bring these children up.

They can create the conditions within the family where it becomes inevitable that their sons may become priests, and their daughters nuns. And those children who go on to have their own families may in their turn emulate their parents’ good example.

Nothing should give parents more pride than to see their sons and daughters join the church. And when they get to meet the Good Lord they can look up humbly and say: “I did my best Lord with the children you gifted me.”

He explained to his audience that priests have an important role in this cycle of events by being an example which others might wish to follow.

Priesthood was not a matter of statistics, projections, strategies and plans. Whether or not there were enough vocations in the future was a matter for God and not for planners and strategists.

“We should have enough Faith in God to ensure that His Word is spread on this earth by people chosen by Him. And in so doing, our role is to pray constantly that many will follow in our footsteps as we priests lead by good example,” concluded Father Ignatius.

Before he left for the airport Father Ignatius met up again with the young Texan and gave him a small Crucifix as a souvenir. He thanked him warmly for inspiring him to deliver a speech from the heart which was no doubt remembered by all delegates at the conference.





I hope that you enjoy all books which I’ve authored and that perhaps they bring someone somewhere to experience God’s love.

I pray that God blesses each one of you dear readers, old and new, and may He be with you and your families always.

Friday 25 October 2019

Shocking ... just shocking!

This is an electric switch. In America when it points UP it means it is ON and the lights switch ON. When it points DOWN it means it is OFF and the lights are OFF.

In the UK it is the other way round. UP means OFF and DOWN means ON.

A couple of years ago we built an extension to our house. It was cheaper and more convenient than moving to a new larger house. We like it here so we might as well stay and extend the house.

We employed a professional electrician to fit all the wiring, the lights and what have you electric wise in the extension.

He fitted all the light switches the UK way - UP means OFF and DOWN means ON.

Except for one switch which he fitted like this:

Just before he left I stopped the electrician and said, "Hey ... this switch is sideways!"

He replied in his typical British nonchalant way, "It works ... doesn't it?"

I said, "I did not complain about its working quality. I'm complained about the fact that it is sideways!"

He went on, "There was no room on the wall next to the door frame to have it upright. So I put it sideways on. It works see ... ON ... OFF ... ON ... OFF!"

I got irritated and said, "For a start it is not ON and OFF. It is NO and FFO when you read it sideways. I have checked my Oxford English Dictionary and there is not such an English word as FFO. I have not found it in any other language either. If it were to be strictly correct the switch, now that it is sideways, should read NO and YES ... not NO and FFO."

"It works though, doesn't it?" he said shrugging his shoulders.

"So does your van outside," I cried, "but you would not like it if I tipped it sideways would you? The wheels may well turn round when the engine is on but the van will hardly go anywhere!"

"What exactly do you want me to do?" he asked getting equally irritated.

"Well, you have two choices," I said, "you either turn this switch the right way round, or you turn all the switches in the house sideways so that they all match!"

"But ... but ..." he muttered, "yours will be the only house in the world with its switches all sideways!"

"That is true," I agreed, "and when you finish, you can go throughout the world and convince everyone to have their switches sideways too. That way we will all be uniform and we will live happily ever after!"

He refused and left.

When I received his invoice I paid it minus an amount which I considered equated to the switch he fixed the wrong way round. He never complained.

So now I am on a crusade. Would you be willing to change your light switches sideways to match with mine?

Thursday 24 October 2019

Art et Moi

Being intellectual and educated can be very hard work you know.

We had some overseas clients from Paris visiting our Headquarters and guess who was assigned to entertain them? Just because I can speak French does not necessarily mean I enjoy such assignments.

I had to accompany them to a pre-arranged expedition to a famous art gallery to admire the latest exhibition they had on; as well as the other works of art which are on display there all year round.

My heart was all a flutter with boredom.

I really don’t know how someone has to behave in such circumstances. As we arrived we were all given fancy brochures, all pre-paid by my organization, detailing the displays of the art exhibition and featuring miniature photos of the various paintings on show. I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t give us the brochures in advance and we could have looked at the photos in the comfort of our homes or offices, instead of having to come all the way here.

Our guide started talking as soon as I lost interest in what he was saying.

He mentioned words like pre-Raphaelite period, Impressionism and Cubism; and I remember well he kept talking about Robert Delaunay which for some reason seemed to impress my French guests. I remember the name well because Jack Delaney is the landlord of my local pub, and perhaps Robert’s brother.

Anyway, we got moving under the expert leadership of our guide from large room to even larger rooms.

I can never work out how long you’re supposed to stand in front of a painting and admire it.

Is it five minutes? A little more? Or what?

I mean … I can see a whole room with thirty or so paintings hanging on the walls in as many seconds.

That’s it … seen it. Let’s move to another room.

But the guide stood there by some masterpieces and talked for ages about brush strokes, lighting and shading, the use of colour and various other words whose meaning I did not know.

The French guests seemed to enjoy it and murmured amongst themselves “C’est magnifique … Oh oui bien sure … Merveilleux …” which I suppose was the whole intention of this expedition in the world of total monotonous tedium.

Now please don’t consider me a total Philistine only interested in the beauty of the balance sheet and the profitability of the bottom line. I’ll admit I do like a good bottom line but then, some figures are much more interesting than others.

For example, when we were beside some paintings of nudes I tried to show interest and stood there admiring them for more than the obligatory five minutes or so. I attempted to start a conversation about the various shadings and the clever use of the palette to its full extent; but our guide quickly moved us on to something quite boring like a painting of a bowl of fruits.

“Now come on!!!” I thought, “I’m trying to be educated and intellectual here! I too can appreciate great art when I see it. Let’s wait here a bit longer.”

It was too late. The snobbish know-all guide had moved on to another room with his party and left me all alone amongst the bathing beauties.

But alas the moment had gone as were our guide and my overseas clients.

I quickly hurried from room to room and finally found them admiring a plastic sculpture of Mickey Mouse.
At last … we’d arrived at contemporary art and the end of our tour of the gallery. I looked forward to taking my French guests to sample some real British culture. A pub lunch with a pint or three of Guinness!

Now do you still dare to call me a Philistine?

Wednesday 23 October 2019

At the doctor's

I went to see the doctor today. He was checking whether my sense of humour was still intact.

Ours is a big medical practice with several doctors and nurses. It has a large waiting room with a speaker system which plays soft music and every so often it calls patients to their appointed doctor.

“Would Mr Herbert Pixon please go to Dr Smythe’s room please?” said the speaker as a weedy tall middle-aged man got up and left the waiting room.

Now Dr Smythe may well be the best doctor in the world, but he is certainly not that good at technical matters; because he inadvertently left the microphone open in his room, and this is what we all heard.

“Do sit down Mr Pixon. What seems to be the problem?”

A lady in the waiting room suddenly got up to advise the receptionist that the mike was switched on.

“It is rather very embarrassing!” interrupted Mr Pixon.

The lady sat down again to the relief of everyone in the waiting room.

“There’s no need for embarrassment,” soothed the doctor, “we’re here to help and I’m sure whatever is the matter, we’ve dealt with it before.”

 “Well … I’ve met this young lady …” Pixon hesitated.
An elderly lady in the waiting room reading her book suddenly took off her spectacles and started listening with the rest of us.

“I met her on an Internet website …” continued the hapless man, “she came to my apartment yesterday evening … for a romantic encounter …”

A man in the waiting room started tapping his hearing-aid violently to make sure it works all right.

“I understand,” said the doctor, “you want to discuss precautions …”

“Well … not just that,” muttered Pixon, “it’s that something actually happened … I feel awful about it!”

At this point the receptionist entered the waiting room. Everyone pretended they were reading a book or newspaper and not paying attention to the loudspeaker on the wall. She looked at us suspiciously for a moment or two, and then she stood on a chair and increased the volume on the speaker, and sat down with us to listen.

“The young lady arrived at 7:35 …” said Pixon, “this put me off a little because she was five minutes late.

“I took off her coat and she was wearing a nice pink blouse and a short blue skirt.

“I offered her a cup of nettles tea. She took one sip and said she didn’t like it. I offered her dandelion tea and she turned it down too. She wanted a gin and tonic but I didn’t have any tonic. And I didn’t have any gin either …”

“I understand,” interrupted the doctor gently, “what exactly happened which made you come to see me?”

“I’m getting to that …” answered Pixon, “we sat down for something to eat. We had tofu and nettles salad for starters, and quinoa with broad beans for our main. She didn’t like either and asked for some meat; but I didn’t have any. She just nibbled at a multi-grain bread roll.

“I got up to put some romantic music on. Insect sounds of the forest. Have you got that record?”

“Mr Pixon, please get to the point,” suggested the doctor, “I have other patients to see …”

“Don’t rush me!” said an upset Pixon, “you’re like my mother. She always says Herbert get to the point.

“Well the point is that when I put the music on, the young lady started running her finger through my quinoa. She had her own plate full, but she ran her finger provocatively in an enticing and beguiling manner through my quinoa moving it around in circles all over the plate. I had difficulty eating from around her fingers because I did not wish to stab her accidentally with my fork.

“Wherever I ate, she followed my fork with her finger.

“I didn’t know what to say … I asked her ‘Would you like some of my quinoa?’ and she said rather abruptly ‘No … I’ve dropped my contact lens in your plate!”

The whole waiting room chuckled and then realized that this was not appropriate in case they missed part of the conversation.

The doctor encouraged Pixon once again, rather sternly but politely, to get to the point.

“After the meal I showed her my organ pedal collection,” continued Herbert whilst the waiting room filled up with more patients and nurses.

“I don’t actually play the organ, but I collect the pedals from old ones which have been decommissioned. I have some that date back to Napoleonic times. And some from the reign of Queen Victoria, King George, and even as far back as Henry the Eighth. And of course there are pedals from modern electronic organs too …

“I brought all the pedals which I keep in separate boxes, all properly labeled. Both the boxes as well as the pedals so that each pedal goes back in its proper box. I write carefully in my best hand-writing which organ the pedal appertained to, the date of manufacture of the organ, as well as the date of decommissioning, the price I paid for the pedal when I acquired it, although mostly I got them for free, and the date and place of such acquirement.

“I have six hundred and seventy two pedals. Some are wooden and some are brass or other metallic substance such as cast iron or steel.

“I took each pedal out of the box carefully and explained their history to the young lady.

“I had reached number two hundred and ten when it happened … the embarrassing thing I came to see you about doctor … I noticed the young lady had fallen asleep. She had her face in her plate full of quinoa and she was snoring loudly.

“Doctor … are you OK? Doctor … why is your head down on the desk? Are you feeling a little tired? Have you not been listening to me?” 

Tuesday 22 October 2019

Village Life

Years ago, when I used to travel on business, I used to stay in hotels up and down the country. On one occasion, I was due to work in a city up North and decided that instead of staying in a hotel  I shall stay with some friends I knew who lived in a village not so far away. About ten miles from the city I was due to work in. I stayed with them for about ten days or so.

Imagine a small rural village community consisting of one main road they called grandly the High Street, and 200 houses or so dotted around housing about 500 people. And that was your village. At the end of the road there was a butcher, a baker, but no candlestick maker. Instead they had a newsagent selling various goods including ironmongery, a grocery shop, a small pub and a farrier. A blacksmith who made horses' shoes and cared for horses hooves; and he also made metal gates and fences and little metal ornaments.

In a small village where nothing exciting ever happens, not even the changes in traffic lights, because they had no traffic lights, then everyone knows everyone else's business and the local community becomes tightly knit all knowing each others goings-on. This may or may not be a bad thing.

I had only been there a couple of days when everyone knew of my arrival. I was the stranger in town. I'd be walking in the street when people would say, "Ye'd be stayin at Theobold's cottage ye be!" Or they would say, "Ye're fellow be stayin with the Theobolds be  drivin that girly pink car, aren't ye?"

I'll have you know it was a last-minute hired car because mine had developed a fault and this was the only one available.

I used to smile in response to the villagers' comments and wish them a good day.

John and Irene Theobold were a lovely couple in their fifties who had retired from high-life in the city and decided to take it easy in a small rural community in the countryside. They'd been there for a couple of years and greatly enjoyed it. I envied them.

One evening I was in my bedroom reading a financial report late at night when I heard from the bedroom next door that the Theobolds were getting a bit friendly. Perhaps they'd forgotten they had guests or maybe they did not realise that their amorous encounters could be heard next door.

By the way ... as an aside, this reminds me of the day we went to the zoo as a family and we heard nearby a sound like "Hein ... Heiiin ... Heiiin ... Heiiin ..." We walked round to investigate and it was the tortoises enclosure. There were two mating. The male had mounted the female and was making all these noises as if proclaiming, "I made it", whilst the female looked bored reading a fashion magazine.

Anyway ... back to the Theobolds.

In order to save them embarrassment I decided to sneak out of the house for a few moments. It was not easy because the stairs creaked and there were one or two loose floorboards which betrayed my presence too. But they were too busy playing Monopoly so I put on my coat and left the house quietly.

It was almost midnight as I went out and walked towards the end of the road. Coming towards me I saw a farmer smoking a cigarette followed by his dog. The dog was not on a lead but just following faithfully.

When they reached me, he said, "Bit late be goin fer walk in't it, boy?"

Without thinking I replied, "I'm going to the shop to buy some milk!"

"It be midnight ..." he said, "shops be closed right now, they be!"

I waved without answering and cursed myself for saying something so stupid. I walked for a few more yards then looked behind me to check he'd gone. Then I turned back to the house hurriedly and quickly slipped into bed.

The next morning I got up at seven and went to the newsagent for my morning newspaper. He said to me, "We be open from seven in't mornin 'till six in't evenin should ye be needin anythin. And so's 't butcher and grocer. 'T pub's open 'till ten at night!"

I smiled and said nothing. As I made my way back I met the farrier. He asked me, "Ye got a horse boy?"

"No," I replied perplexed, "I have a car!"

"Don' xpect me te change yer tires at midnight. I close shop at six and go 't pub! And I do horses not cars!" then he laughed a loud rural laugh lasting a few seconds.

When I got back to the Theobolds, Mrs Theobold served me breakfast and said sweetly, "I have bought an extra pint of milk in the fridge in case you need a hot drink at night, dear!"

Within a few hours of my nightly escapade the whole village knew about it.

A couple of years later, when I visited the Theobolds again, a man recognised me in the street and said, "Hello ... ye be the Midnight Milk Boy, ye be!"

Monday 21 October 2019

Je ne comprends pas!

The other day I attended a business conference in another town. The meeting was open to people from various organisations from many different countries, so there were plenty of people I had never met before.

I was standing in this large area with my briefcase at my feet enjoying a cup of coffee when this very attractive brunette lady wearing a very low cut black décolleté dress a few sizes too short approached me and started talking in Greek.

I couldn't understand a word she said. It was all Greek to me, as they say. I knew she spoke in Greek because a distant aunt of mine (she lives 300 miles away) is Greek and I could make out the language even though I could not understand what this young lady was saying.

I regretted not having my dictionary with me at the time. Not that it would have helped. It's an Italian dictionary. I like to carry it with me to impress the waiters in restaurants when I order a meal. I once ordered a whole meal in Italian and the waiter did not understand a word. It was a Chinese restaurant. But I digress.

Anyway, this young lady was enthusiastic about something or other and she talked fast in her native Greek and smiled a lot.

My mind went back to the many times I visited my aunt and I tried to remember some of the Greek words I had heard in her household. Words like youvarlakia, avgolemono, dolmades and baklava.

But I could hardly spout them out incoherently just because they were in Greek. Besides, they mean meat balls, chicken and lemon soup, stuffed vine leaves and a pastry sweet with syrup. Can you imagine a woman speaking to me in Greek and I reply "meatballs!" She'd think I was insulting her and not believing a word she is saying.

Try as I might to look blankly at her and saying politely, "Yo no hablo español !!!" she still continued smiling and speaking in Greek without as much as taking a breath.

I then remembered the famous Voltaire quote and said, "I may not understand a word you are saying, but I will defend to the death your right to confuse me!"

She stopped for a while, perhaps wondering why I replied in English, then continued speaking to me in Greek as if nothing had happened.

It was then I remembered another phrase which my dear aunt used to say, time and again, to her daughter. I repeated it silently in my head once or twice to get the intonation and the pronunciation right and then, taking a deep breath, I said, "I foústa sas eínai polý mikrí ..."

The woman stopped abruptly and then slapped me in the face. She then turned round and walked away and vanished in the crowd of people in the conference room.

I just about managed to hold on to my cup of coffee and save it from crashing to the floor. I tried to compose myself and look as if nothing had happened, hoping that no one noticed me.

It was then that a man approached me and asked me, "Why did you tell her 'Your skirt is too short?' "  


Sunday 20 October 2019

Closed For Candles

It was just before 10 o’clock in the morning, early Mass had long been over and everyone had left. The church was empty, or so Father Ignatius thought. He came out of the Sacristy to spend a few minutes with the Virgin Mary, sitting on the front pew reciting his Rosary as usual, when he noticed a young man sitting in his place. He was wearing a very smart dark suit and had a small business case with him lying beside him on the pew.

Father Ignatius nodded a greeting and sat on the other side of the church, by St Joseph’s statue, for a change. He thought it prudent to give the young man some privacy to pray or meditate. He’d never seen him before, “not one of our regulars,” thought the priest as he started his prayers.

A few minutes later the young man got up and made his way towards the priest.

“Do you work here?” he asked hesitantly.

“Yes … I am the priest here, they call me Ignatius. At least to my face, that is,” joked the priest standing up.

“I saw a book at the back about Catholic Saints. May I purchase it please?”

“Oh, you’re welcome to it … it’s free. Please help yourself to any leaflets or pamphlets on the table at the back,” replied Father Ignatius.

“I am not from this side of town,” continued the young man, “I’m here for a job interview at the factory down the road. I was surprised to find the church open at this hour. Where I live they are always closed.”

“It’s the devil’s finest hour when we lock our churches,” replied Father Ignatius, “we try to leave the door open as much as we can around here .”

“It’s a shame that so many churches are closed during the middle of the day … I like to go from time to time and just sit there … it helps me to think … and pray perhaps … you know, before my interview. I really need this job.”

“I wish you well … and I shall pray for you too.”

  “All these statues of Jesus and the Saints have candles lit besides them. I’m not Catholic and I never understood the purpose of candles … do you believe they help get your intentions attended to … you know, if I lit a candle for this job I need?” asked the young man hesitantly.

The priest sat down and so did the young man. “Ah … I’ve been asked this so many times … the statues are of course inanimate objects just to help us envisage what Jesus or the Saints looked like. Just like having a photo of a loved one in your wallet. A helpful reminder every time you look at it …

“Some people consider it wrong to pray or light candles to statues. I understand that sentiment. But it’s important to understand also that we’re of course praying to Jesus or a Saint and certainly not to the statue we see there.

“It’s also important to understand that Jesus or the Saints do not require anything material from us … they don’t need candles lit … flowers put in vases or any such things …

“Lighting a candle is for many people a sign of love and respect. Their way of veneration … an expression of their Faith.

“So the answer is no … a candle will not help get you a job at the factory or anything else for that matter.

“I’ve lit many a candle in my time. I don’t see any harm in it, as long as it is understood that it will not buy you any favours in any way.

“God does answer prayers, I’ve seen it often, but He does so according to His will and not based on candles, flowers or such like.”

“Thank you …” said the young man, “I’ll light one all the same … but no promise or guarantee intended.” he smiled.

“Should you get the job around here … I hope to see you visit us from time to time,” said Father Ignatius as he shook the young man’s hand.

It seems that this time God was willing, and the young man did get his job, because Father Ignatius saw him sitting at the back of the church at midday Mass on several occasions since.

Saturday 19 October 2019

Sapristi Alors!

Our church has one of those huge baptismal fonts made of stone or concrete or such like material. Why it’s so big beats me. It’s an old church and I reckon babies in olden times must have been born really big which must have been an ordeal for their poor mothers. Either that or perhaps in olden times they put the whole baby in the font rather than just wet his head.

Anyway, that aside, it has become a habit in our church to baptize babies during Sunday Mass rather than at a private service at some other time. Just after reading the Gospel, the priest moves to one side near the font and baptises the child whilst the whole congregation witnesses and joins in the event. It’s rather nice I think.

This week Father Gaston celebrated Mass. He is a temporary priest whilst our priest is away. He is French, severe looking with a gaze that would turn you into stone before you even thought of sinning, and a monosyllabic conversation only used on rare occasions when he has something to say.

He also uses reading spectacles which he balances precariously on the end of his long aquiline nose; and looks at you from above them whilst speaking to you. I believe he looks at people from above the glasses so as not to wear out the lenses.

He stood by the font reading from his book whilst the proud parents and god-parents waited patiently as they handed the baby to each other. He was a lively little mite; the baby that is … about eight or nine months old. You could hear him gurgling and laughing throughout the church.

At the appropriate moment the mother held him on top of the font and as Father Gaston poured water on the child’s head he raised his hand out and hit the priest in the face knocking the spectacles in the font.

The priest stopped and said something in French which is not in my Missal. He then reached into the font for his glasses forgetting that his vestments had long and wide sleeves.

He withdrew his hand and put the wet glasses on. As water dripped on his face he realized his sleeve was soaking wet. He tried as best as he could, with as little dignity as remained in the situation, to squeeze the water from his sleeve back into the font. He then dried his face and glasses; and continued with the Baptism.

I felt sorry for the poor parents.

But not so much for Father Gaston.

Friday 18 October 2019

Not swimming with dolphins

Many people like swimming with dolphins. I don't. I like to go cycling with dolphins. If we humans can learn to swim, I don't see why they can't learn to ride a bicycle.

Years ago I wanted to go on holiday and swim with dolphins; but I could not afford it. So instead I went to a foreign seaside resort and swam with sardines. As soon as they saw me they swam away thinking I was too weird to swim with them. The only thing I attracted was a jellyfish which attached itself amorously to the outside of my leg; just below the knee.

I got out of the water screaming in agony. A fat woman sitting on the sand sunbathing said, "You have to pee on it. It takes the sting away! It's the same if you are ever bitten by a shark."

How could I possibly pee on it attached to the outside of my leg? It's not as if I had an extension hose with me. Anyway, I couldn't just do it in public.

Since there was no queue volunteering to pee on me I kept on screaming instead.

A man came to my aid and suggested he buys a bottle of vinegar from the nearby fish and chips shop. He asked me for some money.

As I was only wearing my sports swimming trunks at the time, I of course had no money on me. He asked me for a credit card. I shouted in pain, "and where do you expect me to swipe it?"

He ran to the shop and brought a bottle of vinegar. As soon as he poured some on the creature it let go off my leg and shrivelled to the ground. But the leg was still stinging.

There was another man nearby selling ice cream from the back of a van. Every so often the van would play nursery rhyme tunes on the loudspeaker to attract young customers. The ice cream salesman volunteered to drive me to the hospital about a mile away. He rushed as slowly as he could playing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" along the way.

At the Emergency Room the Head Nurse, who served years ago with Florence Nightmare during the Crimean War, would not let me in. "You can't come in dressed like that!" she said, pointing at my minute swimming trunks.

It's amazing isn't it, that you can be on the beach with tiniest bikini or swimming trunks and it's OK; but in a different environment it is not acceptable.

"Would you like me to take them off?" I asked, still in severe pain.

She looked me up and down once or twice and said, "No, that would be worse!"

At the reception desk the receptionist asked me for some identification to prove who I was. I told her I did not have any on me. I was on holiday and all my papers and passport were at the hotel. She insisted on some identification she could put on her computer; and she asked me how I would pay if all I had on me was my swimming trunks. I assured her I did not have my name and address tattooed on some private place to prove my identity. She still insisted.

I asked her what would happen if a patient is unconscious. She said that would be different.

So I lay on the floor, closed my eyes, and pretended to be unconscious.

Another young nurse came out of her office, took me to the treatment room and treated my leg.

I then had to take a taxi back to the beach to go to the changing room and get dressed and pay the taxi driver. It cost me a fortune.

I don't like dolphins, or sardines. The only fish I like is the one served with potato chips and tomato ketchup.

Thursday 17 October 2019

A Load Of Old Bones


I had reason to visit our local suburban museum the other day. As I have been accused by some to being somewhat uncultured I decided to spend an hour or so looking around and educating myself in matters which will stand me in good stead in future cultured surroundings.

Here’s what I learnt:

In a large room at the museum there was a collection of various dinosaurs’ skeletons big and small with unpronounceable names such as leptospirosis and tri-cycle-steps; and they all had small labels with the dates of their various ages. One skeleton had no label so I asked the attendant in that room how old it was.

He replied with confidence, “It is 230 million years and 9 months and 3 weeks old, Sir.”

“That’s very precise,” I said in amazement.

“Yes Sir,” he said, “I have been working here for 9 months and 3 weeks and it was 230 million years old when I started.”

Now that’s something I didn’t know.

I then moved on to another room which had a lot of human skeletons and different bone parts collected from various places in the world. On a table there were two skulls – a small one and a larger one. The labels both read “Skull of Ivan Eyefull - Marco Polo’s bodyguard”.

I asked the attendant to explain and he told me that one skull belonged to the bodyguard when he was a child and the other when he was a grown man.

It was fortunate that both were found by the same archaeologist in the same excavations in the desert where Marco Polo had a picnic and his bodyguard choked on a fishbone stuck in his throat.

I was amazed at what archaeologists can learn from just a pile of bones. They must be really clever with all their knowledge and research.

The museum attendant, who had knowledge written all over him, (some jokers had done it with permanent ink), told me a story I'll never forget ... You'll probably never forget it too.

He said that an archaeologist was digging in the Negev Desert in Israel and came upon a casket containing a mummy. After opening it carefully he recognised it straight away and he phoned the curator of a prestigious natural history museum. "We've just discovered a 3,000 year old mummy of a man who died of heart failure!" 
The curator of the museum quickly sent a team to collect the mummy for thorough examination.

A week later, the amazed curator called the archaeologist. "You were right about the mummy's age and cause of death. How in the world did you know it was heart failure?"

"Simple ... there was a piece of paper in his hand that said - 'put me down for 10,000 Shekels on Goliath'."

I also discovered something else when visiting our local museum:

Statistics of marriages and divorces over the years show that archaeologists make the best spouses. The older you get the more interested they are in you.

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Mah Na Mah Na

Do you remember the Muppets' song Mah Na Mah Na? Great song which you can hear here.

Well, today's post has nothing to do with the Muppets or Mah Na Mah Na; but more to do with Manet Manet. Or, to be precise Édouard Manet.

Let us study Manet's painting "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe", also known as "The Luncheon on the Grass".

The first thing I noticed when I studied this wonderful oil on canvas, (this is arty talk), is that it can't have been much of a luncheon, (or déjeuner), since there's no sight of any French Fries or chocolate milkshake anywhere. What kind of picnic is this without French Fries? You would have thought that  Manet, being French, would have had some French fries, or escargots, or frogs legs in his luncheon. But no ... all I can see is a loaf of bread on the ground and I don't know what else in the basket. I think Manet missed a trick there, but never mind.

The second thing I noticed in this painting is the subtle use of colours and the masterful brush strokes. (That's more arty talk to show you that I am learned in these things).

And finally ... I noticed that we have here a naked lady having a picnic with two fully dressed men, whilst another half naked woman is having a wash in the river in the background.

That's an odd mise en scène I said to myself. (This means scenery in French). 

I asked myself. Why do we have a naked woman sitting nonchalantly totally naked next to two men  not so nonchalantly beside her?

At first I thought that it must have been very hot that day and she needed to cool down, but then, on reflection, I started to worry about any ants or insects that may be in the "herbe" in the vicinity. What if she got bitten in all the familiar places? By the look on her face she doesn't seem to mind.

I also noticed that the two men are happily talking to each other and totally ignoring the naked lady beside them; very uncharacteristic of most men I know. I doubt I would have behaved like that if I was posing for this painting for hours on end. Unless of course I was discussing last night's game of football on TV; then I would perhaps have ignored the naked lady ... NOT!

Intrigued by all this I researched the painting a little more.

I was surprised to discover that Manet' wife Suzanne Leenhoff posed as the naked woman, although the face on the painting is that of another model. Strange this. She did not mind sitting naked next to the two men for hours on end, as long as her husband does not paint her face in the painting.

Stranger still, the men sitting beside her are Manet's brother Gustave, and his brother-in-law Ferdinand Leenhoff - that is Suzanne's brother.

Talk about dysfunctional families. Would you pose naked with your close relatives sitting there fully clothed?

You can imagine the conversation as they prepared to sit for the painting.

"Hello sister, you've put on some weight lately. Never mind, Édouard will make you look good in the painting, I'm sure!"

"Why don't you two take off your clothes as well? Why just me?"

"It's a precaution, my dear ... a precaution just in case ..."

"Where are the French fries?" 

"Édouard ate them. The milkshake too!"

And there you have it friends. An expose of Manet's "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe".

Perhaps you'd like to add below snippets of conversation as you would imagine them whilst these people are posing to have their picture painted.