Catching up with the past


Under this heading – Form an Orderly Queue – you’ll find previous blog posts and articles and also brand new ones, all neatly organised under their respective headings! To read the old posts, either click on the link above, which will take you to the blog on the Words with Wings site, with both posts and articles. Or click here on the aptly titled Old Blog Posts where you will also find the old posts. I will add new posts on this site, at least weekly under the headings On Writing and Form an Orderly Queue. As the name suggests, the former  is a blog about writing; the latter posts could be about anything under the sun, including odd and wacky things  about this strange, bonkers and perpetually fascinating world of ours.

A little bird told me …



Twitter? It’s a bit like Marmite. People love it or hate it. Though often those that ‘hate’ it know now’t all about it. “I can’t be bothered with all that nonsense”, implying that you are somewhat of a shallow fool. Or “ I don’t know where people find the time”, whereas you of course have absolutely nothing else to do but indulge in such fripperies.

Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it

I don’t try to stop people pursuing their interests. So obviously I take issue with those who feel free to criticise me, albeit indirectly, for ‘wasting’ my time. Especially if they are talking out of their bottoms. I’ve had a Twitter account for ages, but only started using it actively a few years ago to support James Bowen and Bob – now famous through Street Cat Bob, but at the time virtually unknown. Through those first tweets I made contact with a whole load of delightful people, some of whom I have actually met and whom I’m very happy to count as friends.

A delightful community of interesting, caring people

Now that I’ve published the first of my books, I use Twitter to help promote it. I’m under no illusions. I know that this alone will not make me a best selling author. There is, however, so much more to Twitter than self-promotion. In my experience it’s a delightful community of interesting, good-hearted people who share their knowledge, their ideas, articles they have found, funny pictures, stories, book reviews, art – just about anything and everything you could think of. A rich seam of education and entertainment.

Everything has an ‘off’ button, including Twitter

Of course there are the people who only self promote. And those who tweet drivel. Who witter on about what they had for lunch and suchlike. But with Twitter as with most things, there’s an ‘off’’ button, or its equivalent. Even if someone follows you, it doesn’t mean you have to follow them. That way, you keep out of each other’s hair. As to the trolls. Clearly they exist and clearly they are nasty. I’ve been fortunate I guess in not being famous or doing anything that attracts the jealous attention of such people.

More dog charities than you could throw a stick for

Among my followers I count loads of writers, a smattering of lawyers and barristers, including a QC and two criminologists. Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to learn that I follow and am followed by more dog charities than you could throw a stick for including my beloved A.C.E., Battersea Cats and Dogs Home, Dogs Trust– just a few among many. Plus other tireless animal charities and individuals who campaign to end cruelty – Peter Egan, Animals Asia, SAMPA and C.A.R.I.A.D. and their supporters. And far too many others to mention here.

All human life is here

So dogs and cats in all shapes and sizes, tigers, monkeys, bears and other four-leggeds all feature on my Twitter account. Some of the cats and dogs even follow me! As to the humans – they come in all flavours. Serious, funny, interesting, erudite, kind, resourceful, helpful, engaged, creative and more. They come from every corner of the globe – or would do if the globe had corners. I’ve swapped rants about public transport with a writer in New York, exchanged views with a jazz trombonist who is into neuropathology, followed the tweets of a Canadian involved in fishing rights and the law. Truly, as they say, all human life is here. And long may it continue.


The Joy of Travel


No. 5  Pardon?

I have no idea how many people pass through Stanstead every year – millions, possibly billions. And I assume most of them reach their destinations, with or without their luggage. Which is something of a miracle if my recent experience is anything to go by. The incomprehensible screeching that passed for public announcements would do a good job of shattering glass and put any self-respecting parrot to shame. As to fulfilling its purpose – forget it.

Where on earth do they recruit these people? What criteria do they use in interviews? Maybe they select perfectly normal people with perfectly normal voices, though with a preference for those on the shrill side. Or maybe you really do have to speak on a frequency that would have even dogs whimpering and covering their ears. Perhaps it’s all in the training. Maybe in boot camps where recruits are required to begin  at a normal speed – getting faster and faster and higher and higher as they progress towards their diplomas. Somewhat along the lines of the old speed typing tests except with the added requirement to run the words all together so as to be indistinguishable, one from the other. With extra brownie points for slurring.

Bad as it was in the departure hall, the situation at the boarding gate was even worse. I was a going to try to replicate it here to try and give some idea of what it sounded like but the nearest I can get to describing the tone is the sound of nails being scraped down a blackboard or the high pitched shriek of metal grinding against metal. The only two words I caught were ‘the back’. Whether that was to say we were to board from the back (no sniggering please) or that the plane was for some unaccountable reason going to fly backwards it was impossible to say.

A long line of hopeful passengers milled about like sheep that were one dog short of direction. I approached the desk hoping for enlightement. It did me no good. I still couldn’t understand a word. All it achieved was more confusion, a cold stare and hurty ears. It wasn’t much better on board. Given the vital importance of some safety instructions this is less annoying than alarming. We are all a bit blasé these days about life jackets and whistles and oxygen masks – we know they are more to reassure us than a having any practical use. But the stuff about electronic equipment really does need more than a quick slur. And why not spell it out – mobile phones, MP3 players, iPads and computers can all make the plane crash.

The captain has just made an announcement. All I understood was that we are makings good progress, despite being bounced about like a celestial tennis ball. Whatever he did say was I imagine meant to reassure us. A bit pointless really since he too seems to have been to boot camp with the rest of them.

P.S. For those of you who have yet to see it, this video is hilarious. But it does rather prove my point; I could only catch about one word in five. Nevertheless, I wish all the flights I was on had attendants with such a sense of humour. There’s an interview with Ellen here.

Is it just me?


CallImportantI know I’m not alone in being irritated by call centres, scripted responses and having to press a million options to get to speak to a real person. However, while I have a very short fuse when it comes to such matters, it’s nothing to my reaction to the current proliferation of automated voices. The real ones are bad enough. They obviously recruit them from some Stepford-inspired suburb, sort of artificial posh but not really posh. A bit Mrs Thatcher after the elocution lessons but with the underlying, and not entirely disguised, shade of Estuary. They always sound so bloody smug as well.

Let me waste even more of your time

Before I jump up and down about the automated voices – I’ll get there in a moment – there’s something else that has me chewing the furniture. Yes, that’s right, it’s the spiel about the Internet. More or less compulsory, these days, it goes something like this.

“Lucky you, we’ve finally answered! You have pressed eleventy ten buttons and perhaps, just perhaps, if the planets are not in retrograde and the fibre optic fairies are not having a bad hair day, you have got to the right department. So let me just waste a bit more of your time, and money, telling you that you’d be better off going on line and finding out what you need on our website. Oh, and by the way, I’ll take my time telling you about it. ”

Listen, lady – or bloke – if I could do whatever it is that I want to do online I’d bloody well do it online, wouldn’t I!” The only reason I’m wasting the precious minutes I have left on this earth, making this stupid phone call in the first place, is because I can’t do whatever it is I want to do online. Doh!

Your call is important to us. Oh yeah!

Equally infuriating is the moronic phrase ‘your call is important to us’. Oh really! If our call was that important you would surely have found some way of making it easier for us to speak to you. So please, don’t insult our intelligence. I am convinced that, somewhere in an evil empire, there’s a gaggle of intensely annoying creatures whose sole purpose is to think up moronic phrases guaranteed to have normally peaceful customers smashing their handsets in fury. You know, the sort of people you try to avoid at social gatherings and who cling like limpets. Whiney voiced and supremely irritating,

Hearing voices

Speaking of voices. I don’t quite understand why it is, since there’s so much else that’s infuriating, but automated voices push every single button (no pun intended). Including some I didn’t even know I had. It’s partly the voices themselves. There’s something very superior about them – ‘de haut en bas’. A smug sort of nannyish ‘I know best tone’ that raises the hackles. They ask you a question. You start to reply but hardly have you begun than they interrupt with an example. As if you were a complete numpty. So then you have to wait for them to repeat the question. And when you finally get to speak you inevitably get the reply ‘Sorry I didn’t hear that!’ and they repeat the question as if to a recalcitrent child. You can almost hear their sigh of exasperation. You try again.

“I didn’t hear that.”

“Oh for f***** sake. I said MAKE A F*&$$$ PAYMENT.”

“Sorry, I didn’t hear that.”


“Sorry I didn’t hear that. Did you say …


These so-called service providers obviously don’t give a stuff about their customers. I think it goes further than that. I believe there’s a sinister purpose behind it all, a cunning plan. I believe they aim to wear us all out, give us strokes or heart attacks or goad us into violence so that we end up incarcerated in prison or in the asylum. And then they won’t have to bother with us at all. Except to take our money. Of course.


SuitcaseBearIt started with Twitter. Many good things do. For all the unpleasantness you hear about, my experience of Twitter has been ‘A Good Thing’. I’ve read articles and posts I would almost certainly not have come across in any other way. I’ve met and tweeted with some lovely people. Still do. And Twitter also provides a rich source of topics for blog posts. Like bears.

I love bears. All bears. Live bears and toy bears. I still have my original teddy, Sandy. Boring name I know but I was only small. He sits on the shelf with my very first toy, Panda (equally unimaginative – no clue there that I would become a writer). Both animals are missing eyes and ears and have had much of the stuffing knocked out of them. Bearing this in mind (sorry, hadn’t even realised) you won’t be surprised to hear that when I discovered the pocket bears on Twitter, I just had to follow them. And of course find out about their history.

‘Pocket’ or ‘Mascot’ bears were made around the time of the First World War, most of them by a British company J.K. Farnell. Although accounts differ, there seems to be no doubt that, while originally toys, they soon became very popular with the troops in World War I. Often given as gifts by sweethearts, sisters, spouses or children, they went into the trenches with the soldiers and many perished along with their owners. There are records of bears being found in the pockets of dead soldiers and sent back to the grieving families.

While researching the pocket bears, I came across the story of another bear. A real bear. Wojtek, companion to the Polish 2nd Corps in World War II. Left an orphan after his mother was shot, he was found near Hamadan, Iran, by a local child and later sold to a refugee who donated him to the soldiers. He became their beloved friend and mascot and travelled with them across the Middle East. When the troops sailed for Italy to fight with the British 8th Army, the only way they could take Wojtek too was to enlist him in the Polish army as a private.

There is no doubt at all that Wojtek was much loved by the soldiers, who treated him as family. Indeed it’s been said that he thought he was a person, not a bear. He remained with them throughout the war and travelled with them to Scotland in 1945 where they were to begin the process of demobilisation. The unit now disbanded, Wojtek ended his days in Edinburgh Zoo. And while it seems he was much loved there too, it was nevertheless a zoo and I don’t like to think of him being behind bars; I hope he was happy.

Maybe we’d do things differently, who knows. However, I am unwilling to judge the past by today’s standards. Those soldiers saved Wojtek, they looked after him and they loved him. That’s the important bit. Anyone who treats animals kindly is a hero in my book. Although we may profess to be more enlightened these days, there’s still massive cruelty in our world. Bears and other animals suffer horribly, every day. Among them the Moon Bears, (and Sun Bears and Brown Bears) imprisoned on bile farms in China, milked for their bile in the most cruel and painful way. Charities such as AnimalsAsia work tirelessly to free them. Please help them if you can. They desperately need your support.


There we all were. Sitting on the bus. Minding our own business. More or less. As less as you can be in these days of mobile phones. The woman seated directly behind me was sharing her complicated love life with everyone within earshot. A Tractor1man at the very back was bellowing into his phone, which was to all intents and purposes redundant. Tinny, discordant sounds were leaking very loudly from the earphones of a pie-faced youth at least three rows away. In other words, just a normal, everyday journey on a London bus.

The bus stopped. As they do. And more people got on. Including a yummy mummy, her progeny and her fancy tractor. When my nieces and nephews were babies and toddlers, pushchairs were small, light and could fold up so that they resembled something akin to an extra large, particularly unwieldy umbrella. It wasn’t easy. Trying to fold the chair with one hand with a wriggling, squalling baby clamped under your arm while attempting to disentangle small fingers from the mechanism. Simultaneously clutching a couple of splitting plastic bags and hanging onto the collar of a toddler with a death wish. No it wasn’t easy but that was how it was. Everybody managed.

I’m not suggesting that those folding pushchairs were ideal but we’ve gone far too far the other way. By all means have a sturdier type of chair. But theres no call to take the piss. I mean, really! The modern pushchair seems to be a hybrid of a small car, an off road vehicle and a tractor, judging by the wheels alone. Unnecessarily large, completely antisocial, these engines of Beelzebub have no place on a bus. Literally. There is no room for them. Modern buses allow up to two pushchairs; one of these monstrosities causes enough problems on its own.

They protrude into the aisle, making it impossible to get past unless you are thin Pushchairand agile, and even then it’s a squeeze. God forbid you should be on crutches, a bit shaky on your pins or somewhat overweight. No chance. The bus is effectively cut in two with people crammed on either side of the obstruction. Bags and clothes get snagged on the handles, shins get scraped and yummy mummy herself adds to the problem as she blocks the passageway, impervious to the glares of the other passengers. No spatial awareness to speak of. But she wouldn’t care anyway.

There’s a whole class of mums these days that believe they have a divine right. I have a friend who calls them ‘Putney mothers’, the sort of mothers with these antisocial pushchairs, who cluster on pavements with their progeny, forcing others to walk in the road. They let their children take up seats on the bus when there are older people standing. Of course they’re not confined to Putney, nor are they all yummy mummys. They come in all shapes and sizes and types. The thing that puzzles me is why they are on the bus at all.

Judging from the size and opulence of the pushchairs, they’re not short of a bob or two. I’m pretty sure they all have cars. So why don’t they drive them? Of course there’s the obvious fact that the engine of Beelzebub may not fit in the boot of an urban hatchback. Making mummy a bit stupid as well as selfish. However, most of them drive enormous cars that wouldn’t be out of place in Texas – all bulging cattle bars and Humvee tyres – so the Xtra-Xtra large pushchairs should be no problem. I’m not saying I want them to drive. I don’t. However, if you are going to use public transport have a thought for others. Don’t try and fit the pushchair equivalent of a tractor on a bus. Since many of these mothers persist in doing so, with the pushchairs getting ever larger and more antisocial, I can only assume it’s an extreme case of showing off. The female equivalent of a small penis.