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Stray Thoughts Archive [13-15]

No. 13 - From Cambrensis issue 59, March, 2004

* Poets of the world, look on and despair! Here comes Donald Rumsfeld: 'As we know, There are known knowns. There are the things we know we know. We also know There are known unknowns. That is to say We know there are some things We do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, The ones we don't know we don't know.' Are legislators becoming the true poets of mankind? I don't know, but I don't think so.

* If it was up to me, only two of the chosen books (Nineteen Eighty-four and Catch-22) would have made the final list of 21 for the BBC Book Choice, and only three or four of the others would have come anywhere near it. But it wasn't up to me, and anybody's list of 21 would have been different from both mine and the one resulting from the vote. That's why this exercise can only be a good thing - it gets people talking about books. As long as we all remember that The Lord of the Rings is supposed to be the nation's favourite book and not its best book.

* I hear that Freeserve, now part of Wanadoo, is planning to 'rebrand'. A real snip at £20m? As part of this thousands if not millions of e-mail addresses will have to change. Imagine the fuss that there would be if we had to change our telephone numbers because of a boardroom whim.

* Unfortunately, I missed the Jonathan Ross programme in November where he didn't wear a poppy and a 'virtual' one was added later. It seems that this electronic flower wasn't quite up to the job and its movements didn't quite co-ordinate with those of the presenter.

* One of my pet hates is word processors that think they're cleverer than you. The one I use, Lotus WordPro, isn't quite as bad as Word, but it refuses to let me type a lower case 'i' (that's 'to' in Welsh, as many will know). I fool it by an elaborate process involving the addition of another letter which I then make the same colour as the background. But why should I have to do that?

* There was a TV programme featuring a railway journey in Mexico the other day. The lines had just been privatised, and it was taken as read that, while a few people would make a lot of money, passengers would get an unpredictable and worse service. What's going on?

* A little bird (well, the Internet really) tells me that the setting for the latest film of HG Wells' War of the Worlds has been switched from the USA to late Victorian England. Isn't that original?

* Talking about the web, I was pleased to see a review of a poem of mine that had appeared in Other Poetry on it. It was a good review so I shouldn't carp, but I couldn't help smiling at the quoting of the mantra 'Michael Maine. Not his real name.' The reviewer's name was 'Polly Bird'.

* Well done Alan Cliff who has for the second time achieved finalist status in the Queen's English Society Awards.

* Some of you will remember the more exotic collective nouns, like an exaltation of larks and a charm of goldfinches. Perhaps it's time to revive these engagingly daft 'nouns of multitude' and bring them up to date. How about a security of Presidential aides or an invisibility of WMDs?

* I was getting sensitive with the likes of offering me uplifting experiences with wagon loads of viagra and recommending dynamic changes to my anatomy, until I found out that others were getting similar e-mails. Some of them were women, so 68bygun would have to be pretty nifty with a surgeon's knife. These things are probably electronically generated, but I prefer to keep my illusions of armies of neo-Dickensian clerks slaving over hot keyboards. Does anybody actually reply to them? Don't answer that.

No. 14 - From Cambrensis issue 60, June, 2004

* Apparently Sarah Jessica Parker (who?) uses Mane N'Tail horse shampoo. According to an assistant at her hairdresser's salon, 'tons of celebs' use it. There are a lot of these 'celebs' about.

* And what was Jonathan Aitken doing on an episode of HIGNFY the other day? Was he limbering up for a panel game with Jeffrey Archer and Neil Hamilton called Tell the Truth?

* Channel 4 is an odd mixture of soft porn and good programmes with 'Reality' TV and other bilge. Why is it that mostly the latter makes it across to S4C?

* The daftest sports nickname? It must be The Cheesemen. Nobody except desperate journalists would call the players of Caerphilly RFC that, surely?

* Not to be outdone by these competition upstarts, here is one of my own. Why is it that there are more 'carol singers' every year, and why do they only know one 'carol': Jingle Bells? Answers on a Christmas Card to Santa Meldrew, The Igloo, Reindeerland, N4 P0L by 24 December, 2004.

* Continuing in this unseasonable vein, my elder son Edmund was working in Japan over the Christmas period, and he tells me that a popular thing in the shops was a model of Santa Claus - on a crucifix. In ten years the typical response here will be 'so?'

* Q: When did 'a railway station' become 'a train station'? A: About the time when we could be surer of seeing an empty railway line than the 10:38 to Cardiff when we went to one.

* [Name withheld] wrote to Arthur to complain about the ripe language in a recent issue. TJ Davies complained to me that Arthur had toned down the expletives in his excellent story The River and the Sun (the unexpurgated version is now on this website). Who'd be an editor, eh?

* In her newsletter for Llanelli Writers, Carole Ann Smith writes about the 2½m pulped Mills and Boon novels that were used to help bind the asphalt in the new M6 toll road. There must be a better crack than 'best place for them'. These need a particular skill to write, after all. But I can't think of it.

* In the December issue I reproduced the 'No Junk Mail' label that I use to return unwanted garbage to advertisers, and said that it works. I should have added 'except in the case of Book Club Associates'. They persist in their campaign to fill up my letter-box. Apparently they can't read.

* I hope that the spirit of Colemanballs, the Private Eye feature that mocked the verbal infelicities of sports commentators, is alive and well and living in Radio Wales listeners. Pouring scorn on the failings of the Wrexham goalkeeper, the commentator said he was 'not at the races'. I wouldn't have minded so much but he said it again 12 seconds later. Then his colleague at the Kidderminster v Swansea game, comparing the crowd favourably with the Cardiff fans, who couldn't keep quiet for 60 seconds to mark the passing of John Charles, said that 'they were more respective here'.

* Meic Stephens wrote an interesting article about sloppy grammar and spelling in a February issue of the Western Mail. One of the things he said was that he saw many examples that had obviously been through an American spell checker. These normally allow for English language use, but are usually set to an American default. Why should they be if they're sold in the UK?

* And when was '9/11'? 9th November or 11th September?

* Here's another from Carole Ann Smith's Llanelli newsletter. The Archbishop of Canterbury admits that he quails at the thought of religious poetry. I'm not religious, but feel the same about nature poetry and representative flower painting. They can never match the real thing, can they?

* A TV caption read Christine Hamilton - CELEBRITY. Why?

No. 15 - From Cambrensis issue 61, Sept, 2004

* A few months ago I saw a superb Czech film, Divided We Fall, on the TV. The very next day I saw a 'top ten' of current UK films. Half of them looked like dross and all of them were from the USA. There are disadvantages to sharing a language with the World's most powerful society.

* The Fat Police, aka Carol Byrd-Bredbenner and her team of humourless researchers at Rutgers University in the USA, are turning their attention to the doughnut-eating antics of Homer Simpson. Apparently, they are appalled that 40% of the programme's 'health messages' contradict those give by health professionals. Well, who'd have thought it?

* It seems that Clive Woodward doesn't like the anthems and other symbols of nationality at rugby matches. I might agree with him if he was talking about some more chauvinistic things, but in the main these only add to the event. The Scotland v France match in the Six Nations was too one-sided to be a spectacle, but the singing of Flower of Scotland and La Marsellaise before it was great stuff. And, before you ask, as far as I know I have only 1/32 Scottish roots and no Gallic ones at all.

* It made me cringe when I saw that the makers of a wildlife documentary had dubbed the focus of the programme 'Madeleine the Moose'. There are some very good nature films to be seen these days, and this was one, but why do they think we need this soppy Disneyfication to watch them?

* 'War on terror comes to Wales,' read the Western Mail headline of 22 March, 2004. Well, you can't have a war other than against a nation-state. But leave that one aside. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that Wales is exempt from the ugly turn of events the World has taken, but counter-terrorism and our care in handling it is surely the issue of today. We should remember the [paraphrased] words of John Philpot Curran in the 18c: 'Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.'

* Some fourth-rate sub-editor at the Western Mail must have thought it clever to have put the two- tries-apiece performance of the Welsh wingers against Italy under the headline 'WMDs'. To me it was just crass and insensitive. If I were Shane or Rhys Williams I'd sue on the grounds that I exist.

* Lovers of history will be pleased to know that Hollywood is continuing to correct the false impressions that we have. Following the rectification of any incorrect notions that may exist about The Great Escape, and who actually saved the Enigma Code, it's reassuring to learn that Tom Cruise really won the Battle of Britain single-handedly in The Few.

* Spot the beaver in this IoS Business News story: 'Royal Mail has issued a damming report on...'

* Wanda Denny, my sister-in-law in Australia, says that the reality of 'Reality TV' is that it should be renamed to something more meaningful. Not one for subtlety, she suggests 'Stupid TV' or 'Cheap TV'. She also says that currently in the USA there is the 'ultimate' show, where 5 couples compete to adopt a baby. It's only a matter of time before we have 'reality' assassinations.

* Marni Griffin wrote to Arthur in less than complimentary terms about the Stray Thoughts that appeared in previous Cambrensi. I think she misunderstood my points on pop-money culture and software defaults. But never mind that. It's always good to have feedback, positive or negative.

* 'If, like me, you've over-indulged in Easter Eggs this holiday, you can call in the Radio Wales Fat Club for advice.' Eat fewer eggs?

* Joan Collins is a recruit to the antis in the Euro debate. Joan Collins? Yes, the has-been who spent over half her life in Hollywood and now lives in France

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