Sunray at Seventy

Sunray should be seeing the big seven-oh, his seventieth birthday, at the end of this month.

Task for this weekend, besides having the commuter’s lie-in and do my laundry (living out of a suitcase precludes having a huge pile of dirty laundry to do) is to buy Sunray a birthday card and a present.

Fortunately I know what I intend to send him:

  1. A 70th birthday card.  A quick trip to the supermarket or Hallmark should sort that out.
  2. A tenner in his card.
  3. Special bonus present: a laughing sack.  I can save giving the pedometer some hammer by ordering one online from  This looks the ideal gift for Sunray, and will keep him amused for hours and days, just like the Best of Ricky King double CD album I bought him in 2009, to remind him of how he used to deal with noisy neighbours’ offspring in the married quarters back in the 1970’s.

The laughing sack was always a family in-joke in the 1970’s and 1980’s, together with:

  • Mattierzoll “Erste kommt der kleine Bunker, und dann kommt der große Bunker” quote (you had to be there)
  • Who ate the next-door neighbour’s Christmas cake in 1962? (We never did find out.)
  • Who lives at Stubbing Nook?  (It turns out, the answer was Clarence Pask.)
  • Who is the smelliest postman in North Yorkshire (ICATQ: I cannot answer that question)

and another 94 one-liners.

Little things amuse little minds, I guess…

Have a laughter-filled day, won’t you!


“New Year, New Me”

So, a copy and paste from last year?  Yes, probably.  But to quote from the grafitti in the men’s toilets,

“Man without target hits nothing.”

This year’s resolutions…

1. To lose weight.  Got to be done.  “The same procedure as every year,” to quote from Dinner for One.  Who wants to live forever?  Well, who wants to die early?  Not me.

2. Pay off the overdraft.  Making good progress, I am pleased to say.

3. Build up savings.  Germans are big savers, and I think it is a commendable habit to be a saver.  I still have my Postbank Sparbuch.  This week I’ll pay a few € into my account.

4. Travel.  I think it is over two years since I called in on my folks.  Oh well.  Maybe this year.  However, my main destinations are:

  1. Wolfenbuettel to take the Lovely Doctor along and show her old stomping grounds, the old pad and the barracks
  2. Berda in the Netherlands and attend the redheads jamboree.  Got to be done.  I promise to bring my personal favourite brunette along. 🙂
  3. The UK, even if only for a flying visit.  London, maybe even Yorkshire (God’s Country)

5. Job security.  Oh please, God, I know I’m a sinner, but would it spoil some vast eternal plan, if I were a moderately well-off man.

6. Address book clean-up.  A purge is always cathartic.  Ditto Facebook.  Ditto Linkedin.

7. Take part in the stand-up comedy course.  (Joking aside, it should help with developing general public speaking skills.)

8. Keep a daily diary.  So far, so good this year.  A5 seems to be the right size for me.

9. Join a chess club in the warmer, lighter months.

10. Can we do it?  Yes, we can.  Will we do it?  We can but try.

Bullsh1t?  Well in army-speak bullsh1t is about putting in that extra bit of extra to achieve the highest standards.

Tales (Mails) from (or to) the Dales

Johnny P was a scrap dealer living next to Mrs Woodbine in the hamlet of Burrill.  Victor and Alpha were sons of MAW, serving in HM Forces.  In the days before spam, there was “proper” post, brought by the postman (or postwoman).  Burrill had a postman.  In bygone days of yore, there was no Sunday shopping in the UK, except for the newspapers.

Victor and Alpha used to read the Sunday papers from cover to cover.  There was little else to do on Sundays in those days.  Well, except, clip out the adverts, especially for holiday brochures and goods on approval.

Fast-forward to the following week.

A conversation across the dry stone wall.

Mrs Woodbine: Now then, Johnny.  

Johnny P: Now then, Mrs Woodbine.  ‘Ow are you?

Mrs Woodbine: Alreet thanks.  I see t’postman brought you a big package this morning.  ‘Ave you ordered summat f’ t’wedding anniversary?

Mrs Woodbine: Nay, some bugger ‘as gone an’ ordered me a pair of size 15 wellies.

As Victor  would say: And I laughed.

Letter Boxes

What is Britain?  Red, red, red.  Guardsmen in tunics, double-decker buses, ginger people, especially in Scotland, and Royal Mail letter boxes.

We Brits are renowned for being eccentric.  There is even a society/Verein for people who have an interest in letter boxes, with all their different shapes and sizes, cyphers, etc, etc.  The society even has a photo gallery to satisfy letter box fans.

Remember, if you find this all strange, Britain is also the home of train-spotters.

Personally my favourite is at High Ellington in the Yorkshire Dales, sadly not shown in the gallery.  Enjoy the pictures.

More Tales from the Dales

Conflict and war cost Governments a lot of money.  Here’s one case study for you. Victor was a full-screw (corporal) in the British Army.  He was awarded a GSM (General Service Medal) with a clasp for service in Northern Ireland, two tours, the first being Operation Motorman.  His second tour of duty was spent at HMP Maze, somewhat less risky from a life insurance point of view.  Enough of the history lesson, however. The saying goes that, “War is 95% boredom and 5% excitement.”  Northern Ireland service at HMP Maze was 99% boredom and 1% excitement.  The 1% excitement came from the telephone in the guardhouse.  Remember, good people, we are talking pre-internet, pre-remote control, pre-digital watch days.  In fact, let’s get purr-lit-i-curl, pre-privatisation days.  We are talking of the days of having to wait weeks to get a phone line installed.

So, what did people do to stay in contact, pre-internet, pre-SMS days?  By post and by phone.  Mrs MAW was Victor’s mother and lived in the tiny hamlet of Burrill in the Yorkshire Dales, Village life in the Dales in the 70’s was 93% contentment and 7% excitement: 2% – the daily visit of the travelling shop, 2%  – the arrival of the postman, 3% – the weekly phone call from Victor, serving Queen and Country at HMP Maze, while the inmates were serving time there. Imagine the scene.  The kids of the village playing hopscotch, skipping, hide and seek and chatting outside the village phone box and postbox  (actually, it’s a lampbox).



The payphone rings.

“Hello there.  “Who’s that?”

“Evening, it’s Kathy H.  Is that Victor?”

“Aye, it is.”

“How’s it in Northern Ireland?  Been to any riots today?”

“No, I’m still at the prison.  Can you go to … and tell Mrs MAW that Victor’s on the phone?”

At the speed of a thousand leaping gazelles, all the kids of the village, all ten of them, dash to MAW’s house and tell her Victor is on the phone.  No need to rush.  The Army is very generously paying.  Two minutes later, MAW takes her coat and waddles along, Woodbine hanging out of the corner of her mouth, off the Burrill phonebox, and chats with her son for a few minutes, bring him up to speed on all the village gossip.

  • George S from next door is claiming sickness benefits, but still able to dig in his back garden.
  • Mrs Cathcart from number 7 sent off a big parcel from the village sub post office and moaned about the cost.
  • Mr P from across the road has got some new underpants (dark blue).  I saw them hanging on the washing line yesterday.
  • Glen, the travelling butcher, had run out of pork chops by the time he had reached Burrill this morning.

Phone call over.  MAW waddles back to make more scones, probably also to make more notes on the villagers’ activities. Next phone calls to:

  • Brian B, old schoolmate and neighbour, recently emigrated to Australia
  • Random number in Alabama, America, to ask if it’s snowing there (at 0300 local USA time)
  • Wolfenbüttel Primary School the next morning towards the end of night shift, to wish his eldest son happy birthday

In 1976 the phone bill for the British Army in Northern Ireland was 3 million pounds.  2.5million was doubtless due to Victor at HMP Maze…

The Importance of Being Earnest: More Tales from the Dales

Our Glorious Yorkshire Flag.  Long live the White Rose County!

Our Glorious Yorkshire Flag. Long live the White Rose County!

Earnest was a Yorkshire Dales farmer, now long gone.  The British, especially the English, have a reputation for being somewhat indirect and perhaps excessively polite and understated.  A few examples…

English: “I’m not entirely convinced you’re factually accurate.”

German: “Quatsch!”


English: “Excuse me, please, can I just get past you on my bike?”

German: “Aus dem Weg, du Arsch!!!!!!  Mensch!”


Exceptionally among the British, Yorkshiremen have a reputation for being blunt, direct and forthright.  Earnest certainly was.  Earnest was a man of few words, and none of those words was small talk or particularly cute and cuddly.  Picture a 6ft (181cm) tall man, immaculately dressed from head to toe, shoes looking like black glass (he never did any of the manual labour on the farm), leaning on the rails at Leyburn market, an expression on his face to say, “Don’t you ever speak to me unless I speak to you first.”

After a few minutes a sales rep, all very hopeful of seeing a bit of commission, approaches Earnest.

Good morning, Mr G.  How are you?

Earnest (scowling at having had his peace disturbed):

None of your business.

Sales rep:

Do you require cattle feed?

Earnest, scowling:

I have sufficient.

Sales rep:



I speak to Mr S. when I wish to place an order.

Sales rep:

Very well, Mr G.


Good day to you.

When Earnest wanted to order cattle feed he would catch the eye of Mr S, his usual sales rep, point in his direction with his walking stick as if it were an RSM’s pace stick to summon said rep over to him and then bark,

The same type and amount as last time.

(Vocabulary points: 1. RSM – Regimental Sergeant-Major, nicknamed “Regimental Scarey Monster”, the senior soldier in a British Army regiment; 2. Pace stick: a long stick carried by warrant officer and non-commissioned officers in the British armed forces as a symbol of authority.)

Later that evening, a visitor calls at Earnest’s farm and knocks at the door.


There’s someone at the door, Grandad.

Earnest, not even lifting his head momentarily from his copy of The Northern Echo newspaper:

They’ll go away… eventually.

Five minutes later, the visitor, who has still not got the message, is still at the door.


Grandad, Grandad, that man is still there, and it’s raining.  That poor man is getting wet.

Earnest (nose still in his newspaper):

Your eyes are not failing you.  May the Lord place eternal shame on him for his conceit in believing that I should permit him egress to my dwelling without prior appointment or invitation.  The rain is but an expression of the Lord’s anger at his shamelessness.

Earnest was also a Methodist lay preacher and would travel round all the local Methodist churches and chapels with his six-year-old grandson in tow.  Fast forward to one Sunday in a frozen cold chapel somewhere in the Dales.

Earnest standing at the lectern in his Sunday best:

Let us pray.


But Grandad, there’s nobody here, just you and me.


Nonetheless let us pray.

On that note, please be upstanding for our glorious Yorkshire national anthem.  Sithee!

Herr Cuts

Herr Cuts

Herr Cuts is not a German barber. He is, in fact, the local barber (actually, gentlemen’s hairdresser) of Masham, a market town in the Yorkshire Dales. Arthur is nearly 80 and going strong, serving every local man from the local brewery workers to the local Lord. He is, however a trifle deaf, or as he puts it, slightly hard of hearing. He only charges £3 for a haircut, which also includes stimulating conversation and anecdotes. The only thing he asks is that you let him know at the start, “Now then, sir, do you require a silly conversation or a sensible conversation? I can do either. I just need to know the direction.” Conversations with Arthur can sometimes be shouted, eg…

Arthur: “So, sir, where are you living these days?”
Customer: “Burneston.”
Arthur: “Pardon sir?”
Customer: “Burneston.”
Arthur: puzzled look.
Customer: “Burneston, Arthur! Burneston! BURNESTON, BURNESTON! I LIVE IN BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURNEEEEEEEEEEEEEESTOOOOOOOOOOOOON!” (this time at 100+ decibels, customer glad that he had done a drill instructor’s course in his Army days).
Arthur: “And what grade haircut would you like, sir?”
Customer: “Two, please.”
Arthur: “I’m sorry?”
Customer (now doing Winston Churchill V for victory sign in the mirror): “TWO, ARTHUR! TWO, TWO, TWO, TWO, TWO!!!!!”
Arthur: “Oh, I see. What’s your son doing these days?”
Customer (vocal cords now working overtime): “Teacher! Teacher!”
Arthur: “Please say that again. I have to reach her?”
Arthur: “Sir, there’s no need to shout. I can hear perfectly well.”

Haircut: £3. Entertainment: priceless.