Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Mea Maxima Culpa

I'm afraid that I must plead guilty to the one trait I dislike more than any other - gratuitous rudeness. The nature of my rheumatics is such that I'm sometimes only comfortable lying down. At a quarter-to-six yesterday evening, I took to my bed with Radio3 and The Times. I got up an hour or so later to get some water. The phone rang.

It was one the those firms of fiscal ambulance chasers who wanted me to sue someone. Anyone, it seems, would do. I explained to the man that: apart from the £20 I owe a friend who helped me replace my blown-up microwave, I have no debt; I have no credit card; I pay people in cash which I draw from an instant access building society account; and, although I use a cash card for buying things on the net, the card account has no overdraft facility. He didn't believe me and started to argue.

"But surely you must have a credit card. Everyone has a......"
"What makes you think you know what I have better than I do?"
"What about a bank loan some time in the last six years?"
"No. Please go away. You're keeping me from my bed."
"Piss off!" Receiver replaced.

No sooner had I hung up than the phone rang again.
"Is that Mr Timothy Quirk of...." and he reeled off my full address just to show me, I presume, that he knows where I live.
"It is. But the only person to call me Timothy is my mother and even she doesn't any more as she died thirteen years ago."
"Sorry, Mr Quirk, for keeping you from your bed. Might I suggest that you'd get some comfort from a nice hot water bottle? Or perhaps you should go out and buy yourself a teddy bear? Would you mind terribly if I call you Timikins?"

This time the words "fuck off" were forming on my lips but I managed to hang up without further comment.

I'm deeply ashamed of myself. He was, after all, only trying to do his job, a poorly paid and pretty thankless occupation by all accounts. I expect his hours are long, the script to which he must religiously adhere, boring and the verbal abuse from the likes of me, very annoying. In future, when I get similar calls, I'll turn the radio up a bit, pretend that there's someone at the door and leave the receiver off the hook for ten minutes or so. At least that way I'll avoid trying to kick myself to death out of guilt for being nasty.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Please pooh-pooh "poo"!

Poo, or pooh, is a perfectly acceptable interjection expressing contempt. It dates from the late 16th Century. In the last decade, though, the word poo has come to be used almost exclusively as a synonym for defecation. As such it is priggish nursery-talk and to the nursery it should be banished. I blame all this pooing on those women journalists who write weekly columns in the national press. Their angst-ridden outpourings, usually dreamt up in bespoke home offices on the mean streets of Notting bloody Hill, are concerned mostly with the horrors of soiled nappies and with the unreliability of Bulgarian au pairs. Thanks to these hacks and their puritanical papers, the steady proliferation of the piss-poor poo word has continued unabated.

Two perfectly good colloquialisms meaning faeces spring immediately to mind. We borrowed 'shit' from one of the old Teutonic languages a good 500 years ago and 'crap' has been appearing in print since 1780 and probably earlier. Consult Mr Roget (he was English-born and the remoteness of his Swiss ancestry makes a "Monsieur" unnecessary) and you will find several other synonyms but no 'poo'.

Let's try to stop using the prudishly prissy 'poo' and revert to good old Old English.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


Like thousands of others I have tinnitus and it seems to be getting worse as I grow older. I'm most conscious of it at night, probably because, in this neck of the woods, silence reigns between midnight and dawn (apart from the occasional cacophonous outburst from our local gulls which would drown the racket made by any number of testosterone-fuelled town centre teenage drunks).

I've devised a little trick to help me get to sleep. I noticed that the pitch of the noise in my head is much the same as that made by the millions of insects which start singing in all the world's tropical zones every evening from dusk until first light. When I go to bed I simply convince myself that I've returned to my African childhood and I manage to drop off almost at once.

There is, however, an unexpected side effect. Every morning when I wake up I automatically shake out my shoes in case some peripatetic scorpion has made one of them its temporary overnight lodging-house. And the other day I managed, for a moment, to convince myself that the black dressing-gown belt in the middle of my bedroom floor was, in fact, a cobra and I'd plotted my escape through the window before reality set in!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Insomnious Domestic Mania

I got up just before 0300 this morning and set my mind to housework. After an unsuccessful attempt to clean the lavatory I ironed 3 short-sleeved sports shirts, 2 long-sleeved formal ones and a couple of pairs of slacks, the elasticated waists of which I wear, Churchill-style, halfway up my chest. Had someone warned me that it would come to this I'd have stuck my head in an oven years ago.....

It gets even worse. I've just ironed some polo shirts. Whoever irons polo shirts? You should just take them out of the washing machine, let them dry on hangers and hope that the natural contours of your beer belly dispose of such minor creases that remain.

I'm sure that ironing is addictive. At the moment I've got my beady eye on a laundry basket full of boxer shorts and Primark socks. No -- I couldn't, could I?

Nancy, the charming mother of Linda, the housekeeper at our hotel in Wales, had once been 'in service' and she showed me the proper way to press a handkerchief. (You start with the four corners and then the centre before you fold.) If only I had a monogrammed Egyptian linen 'kerchief or two I could perfect my skills. As it is, even I realize that if I try to iron my Kleenex I'll probably set fire to the flat so I'll give it a miss.

Friday, 11 June 2010


A friend of mine was expecting to spend a week on the English Riviera when her boyfriend rang up from work and advised her to start packing. He'd negotiated a half-price holiday for the two of them in Bulgaria, flying out that evening.

She announced that she couldn't possibly go because she wouldn't have enough time to shave her legs. He said that he didn't think that eastern European ladies were too worried about their hairiness. After all, they rarely bothered to depilate the hollows beneath their shoulders. She then announced that she definitely wasn't going to Bulgaria as her lack of upper-torso hair would make her stand out like a sore armpit.

They had a lovely time.


I'm very happy for South Africa and hope the World Cup is the success it deserves to be but my main concern at the moment is how to avoid the football 7,000 miles away here in Dorset!

The Cross of St. George, who was by all accounts an obscure mediaeval Turk, is ubiquitous and even girlies are saying "Come on England" twice after every breath they draw. Don't mention the television: there's no point in having more than one channel because the game seems to be on all of them most of the time. They were even discussing the confounded sport on Radio3 the other day - playing soccer instead of playing Beethoven. I ask you!

The best solution would be for England to get knocked out as early as possible. (Please don't let on that this has even crossed my mind. If word got out I'd get lynched!)

Monday, 7 June 2010


We lived in the bush outside Lusaka. Our turn-off had ten or so households scattered along its three miles and, several times a year in the rainy season, whole chunks of the track would wash away making it impassable. This was despite having had it graded a month before the first deluge which usually came at the beginning of November. The grader would spend a couple of days accentuating the camber and digging out the ditches which, over the previous eight or nine dry months, would have filled up with dust and the encroaching bush.

Paying for the grader was always an issue. It was expensive and none of us was particularly well off. The people whose houses were nearest to the main road would argue that those further down the track should pay proportionately more and there was always at least one householder who refused to pay anything at all. However, when a section of the road disappeared, good neighbourliness prevailed and it was all hands to the pumps, though not literally, of course! Parents and cooks, children and gardeners all armed themselves with shovels and turned out on parade. So far as we children were concerned it was almost as much fun as fighting bush fires which happened several times a year as well.

One year it rained continuously for three days and nights although, judging from the damage caused, it could just as well have been forty. Messengers were despatched (our party line phone didn't work very well even on the rare occasions when the lines weren't down) and everyone congregated at the worst affected spot after breakfast.

One of our more recently arrived neighbours was a missionary called George. He was an Englishman employed by a Canadian society which kept on forgetting to pay him so he was not, on the whole, a happy man. He went around the place doing his very best to do good but, as he could barely afford to feed his own family, he tended to give the rest of God's children fairly short shift. Furthermore, his voice was disproportionately loud for a man who stood at only 5'1" in two pairs of thick wool socks. And he thought he was a born leader.

Despite being by far and away the least experienced road repairer of us all, he automatically assumed command, as of right, and started bossing everyone about. He went stomping off towards my father to give him advice about ditch digging when he stepped in a puddle. The puddle turned out to be a pothole and, unfortunately, the pothole turned out to be 5'2" deep and George disappeared completely. When his head emerged a few seconds afterwards I'm afraid everyone burst out laughing. He was hauled out of the hole and, covered in mud, trudged off home, not to be seen again that day.

In future years, when the road needed repairing, he was always busy taking care of some important aspect or other of the Almighty's affairs and would be unable to help. His goodness was rewarded, I'm pleased to say. Whenever my mother went round to the mission with a chicken or a basket of vegetables, his wife would say, to my mother's extreme annoyance,"Alleluiah! The Lord has provided!"